Valley of the Sun
Chapter One: Mirage
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
, the Twilight
saga, and any other recognizable elements in this story, are being used here for entertainment purposes only, and remain the property of their respective trademark and copyright holders, which are resoundingly not me.
Timeframe: For Buffy
, an alternate Season Five is taking place at the same time, though this will probably not be important except in very vague terms. For Twilight
... this is a slightly AU prequel.
If you have not read it, my ficlet The Misplaced Key
is intended as the prologue to this story, and I suggest you read it now.
A/N: To readers of my previous fics (notably, the Lady Liberty
tales or Faith Manages
, or my recent 'hit' The Courier
), thanks for coming. I hope to present you with a new, different, and mostly unrelated tale here. As is my usual custom, it probably will not be heavy on the romance (kinda unusual for a Twilight
fic, I know... but you'll see).
A rock shifted underfoot, and I began to tumble forward, face-first into the rocks. I instinctively threw my hands out to break my fall, but a second pair of hands yanked back on my day pack, restoring my ever-challenged balance by external force. A voice from behind me warned, "Watch yourself there, Belladonna. The rocks are out to get you. As usual."
I twisted loose from my savior's grasp, turned around, and suddenly found myself looking at the mirror image of my own face. "Like you
should be the one to talk, Graceless
." Gesturing at the waves of heat turning the glittering city of Phoenix below into a desert mirage, I frowned. "Maybe we should get down off this mountain, before we wind up with matching casts."
"Again." Grace nodded, seemingly in perfect agreement with me. The one thing we could usually agree on was our own mutual clumsiness. We had started no less than three school years with matching broken bones (though our mother, Renee, had each time insisted on color-coded casts, so that she could tell us apart, at least temporarily). We had no plans to make it four, with junior year of high school starting so soon, not to mention the wedding coming up in six days.
Well, we agreed on two things, actually. The other was that both of us positively hated
our parentally given first names. Who, in modern times, victimizes their twin daughters with archaic names like Isabella Marie
and Charlotte Grace
? At Horizon High School, down below in Scottsdale, we were universally known (except to each other) as Bella and Grace. Our family - if you could accurately call
the Swans a family - usually went along with it as well.
We managed to get off the Echo Canyon Trail with no further close calls, and to our mutual surprise, Renee was actually waiting in the car at the trailhead, just as promised. She wasn't the most responsible mother, especially since she'd started dating Phil. In fact, sometimes it seemed that we
were mothering her
"Have a good hike?"
I just glared straight ahead, as if the world was out to get me - since it usually was - so Grace answered. "Less than the usual number of injuries."
"Well, that's good, since I wanted to talk about the wedding." Renee was staring straight ahead - which was a very good thing, since she was driving - and said, "I need you girls to do something for me. Besides
being my bridesmaids and my wedding planners."
I turned sideways in my seat, looking at Renee. In the corner of my eye, I could see Grace watching the rear-view mirror, since she was in the back seat. But with eerie synchronicity, we both adopted a wary tone and asked, "What's up?"
"I'm worried about Charlie." She lifted one hand from the wheel, fluttering it as the car began to drift into the next lane, then grabbing back on when I urgently motioned toward the road. "Not about him emotionally, 'cause we all know that
would never happen, but about him showing up and causing a scene. Even though he said he wanted to be there more for you two, than for any other reason."
I nodded. "I'll talk to him." Personality-wise, the differences between Grace and myself ran directly in the direction of our parents. I was so much like Charlie sometimes, thirty-five, going on seventeen
, Grace sometimes accused... and I could just as easily compare Grace to Renee. It had led to clearly defined roles in the family, if you could call it that; when we were in Arizona, I handled the majority of the phone calls, and on the occasions when we were somewhere with Charlie, that responsibility usually fell to Grace. She usually got along with Renee much better than I did.
"We'd better get the school shopping done before the wedding, since it is on Labor Day weekend." I mentioned after several minutes' silence, as we drove right past Horizon High School.
"Of course." Renee nodded.
Glancing through the gap between the front seats, I saw Grace holding out her hand and staring at it, probably thinking about various possible fingernail polish colors. Maybe I'd let her talk me into wearing nail polish for the wedding. She liked to wear it herself, but on formal occasions, it was sometimes better to play the part of the perfect identicals, so she would have the excuse to sulk in a corner pretending to be me, if one of her moods struck and she didn't want to be sociable. She was normally much more outgoing - she took after Renee that way - but... like me, she could not
dance. Or, most days, walk in a straight line on a flat surface without tripping. Especially
in heels, which hopefully, Renee wasn't sadistic enough to suggest for either of us, much less both
Thinking on the idea of nail polish, I decided that it would depend on the color of the dresses. Hopefully, Renee had picked something dark, maybe in the chocolate brown that both of us liked to wear, or the lighter, desert brown that both of us proclaimed as our favorite color. Or, perhaps, a nice navy blue or a classic black (surely, at least, the formal-wear rental company I'd found for her would at least have black!). Certainly I hoped that Renee would not even suggest forest, leaf, or moss green! We had gotten more than enough of those
colors on all those childhood trips up to Forks; thankfully, a shared temper tantrum in eighth grade had led to Charlie suggesting vacations elsewhere - mostly to Southern California - for his two weeks' custody in the summer. As a result, we had not recently been to visit the small town on the Olympic Peninsula where Charlie served as police chief. Both of us had, in fact, long ago taken to calling the coastal rain forest of Washington State the 'wet green hell'. We hadn't been forced to set foot there in three years, and were grateful for that.
A place being that dark, and wet all the time, just didn't seem natural, whatever anyone else might say. You could take we twins out of Scottsdale - or Phoenix, for that matter, being that Scottsdale was just a suburb of Phoenix, and we usually referred to Phoenix as our hometown, because everyone knew where that was - but... taking Arizona out of us
was another matter altogether.