A/N: We're done. :)
Boy, this one went a lot longer than I expected it to! Sorry about that, loves.
Thanks so much for all your wonderful thoughts, and I'll be working my way through reviews calmly now. :)
Most characters belong to S. Meyer. The rest belong to me. All mistakes are mine as well.
In the Mist – Chapter 17
And so, with this Last Great Truth, I finally see how nothing could have changed. Fate simply must be acknowledged.
In the darkness, the small ravine behind Alcatraz Penitentiary resembles an Amazonian jungle. The rich boscage is kept perennially verdant by the bay's cool stream flanking it from all sides, by the wet climate, and by the mist which clings to its natural foliage. Flocks of seabirds, who call the Bay their home, nest on the conveniently-placed isle. They chirp and wail from the rocky cliffs below.
"Edward," I murmur.
The steep slope pitches downward at a sharp gradient, and in my reckless haste, I lose my balance. My breath leaves me in a rush as I lurch forward into obscurity. Cold air bites my cheeks as I fall, and I prepare for whatever awaits below. I'll survive, yes, but it will hurt.
Right before my feet completely abandon the rocky, muddy ground, I manage to grab hold of a thick shrub. As I land hard on my knees, I cry out in pain. For a while, I kneel in the murky twilight, breathing hard.
"Edward," I call again. "Edward, I'm here."
Waves crash against the rocks down below in reply.
I draw in a series of short, successive breaths. "Okay. Okay, I'll come down."
I stand, and with somewhat more caution, make my way downslope grasping the shrubbery surrounding me and using it to steady my descent. The needle-like branches dig deep into my palms. My flats sink into the mud. My knee joints ache from where I banged and scraped them. Nonetheless, I relegate the pain and injuries to that part of my mind reserved for unimportant matters. I'll heal soon. I always do.
When the ravine ends, it gives way to ivory, uneven, and rocky terrain.
"Edward, I'm here. I came."
The rocky ground opens up onto a bluff – a beautiful, white cliff overlooking the bay. As I stand at the cliff's precipice, San Francisco comes to life just across the water, and for the barest fraction of a moment, as the modern city's lights glow in the darkness, I almost forget where I am and why. That is, until a brighter light beams from behind me – Alcatraz Island's lighthouse, turning on its searchlight for the evening more out of habit now than necessity.
In that moment, as I squeeze my eyes shut, I can almost feel what Edward must've felt that night long ago, standing in the same spot, gazing out at the same city at the end of the same treacherous waters, and debating his limited options:
Remain imprisoned for the rest of his days…or risk it all for a slim shot at freedom. He made it; somehow, Edward survived the almost inconceivable swim…yet his freedom only lasted a few hours.
The lighthouse's glow reflects behind my closed lids as I stand there and allow the memories of our few hours together to wash over me.
The wind whips up my hair and wraps it around my damp face; it blows cold and wet breaths against my back. It propels me forward. The tips of my flats overhang the cliff.
There's rustling behind me; whistling in my ear, and for a handful of seconds, I actually hope…I believe...
"Edward, please." My voice breaks. "I'm here. I came. Please answer me."
The first sign is always the absolute silence; though, this one is more pronounced than I've ever experienced. Waves, birds, creatures and insects, the air itself – all of it stops. My hair falls limply around my shoulders. The entire city across the bay falls into inertia; falls dormant.
"You knew he wouldn't be here."
I neither reply nor turn around.
A deep sigh ensues. "There's no such thing as ghosts, Isabella, as you, daughter of an archangel, would know better than almost anyone."
"I wasn't even allowed to guide him," I cry quietly.
A pause follows. "No, you weren't, because by then, you'd lost sight of your duty."
"I never wanted this duty," I seethe, "not in the way it was forced upon me."
"Nevertheless, as Charles' daughter, it is your duty, an eternal duty, and a duty which has rules; rules which you broke."
"I broke the rules, and Edward paid the price."
"Isabella, Edward received the punishment that was due him for the life he led."
"He regretted that life, and he wanted a second chance; he would've been allowed a second chance if not for the fact that it's what I wanted most for him."
"There was an efficiency to the way it was handled, yes."
Here, I do spin around. Behind me, I find…nothing more than a thick, dark mist.
I recognize the voice wafting through the fog. It's that of the small, old man who spoke to me by the Oakland cliffs, by the viewfinder. I suppose I knew, even as I touched him and pretended I didn't know, that he was no regular, old man.
Nevertheless, I lash out with an indignant, unsuppressed fury almost sixty years in the making. Perhaps even longer than that.
"My brother spoke to me once of that which is Fate, Mercy, Vengeance, Clemency, Compassion, and Judgment combined."
"And you think you stand before it now?"
"I don't think it exists!" I retort.
"Nevertheless, you had questions you dared not ask – not then, though you should have."
"Where does Love fit in there?" I scream into the mist.
"Do you not believe all those things combined equal Love?"
"No, I don't!" I shout. "For if they did, my love wouldn't have been taken from me! Edward wouldn't have been doomed to the Eternal Mist of Nothing to punish me." I choke on the last words, hanging my head. The rest carries through the air in an agonized whisper. "How is that love – dooming him to never remember me, while I'm doomed to never forget him?"
The Man in the Mist is quiet for a long while. In the silence, the city across the bay comes alive again. The birds below us resume their cawing. Waves crash against the cliff once more. Yet, I know the old man is still there.
"If you could have it otherwise, what would you change, Isabella?"
My brow furrows. That's not what I expected the Man in the Mist to ask. "I don't understand."
"I think you do," the man counters calmly. "What would you change? How far back would you go? Would you return to that pier across the bay, to when Edward emerged from the water? Would you stop him from killing Michael?"
"Michael deserved to die," I say through gritted teeth. "He beat women. It's why I was sent to take care of him."
"Nevertheless, allowing Edward to do the final duty just added to his list of transgressions."
"I…I was still trying to obey then," I reply.
"Very well. Would you scream afterward, so that the authorities might have apprehended Edward and returned him to The Rock? At least, he might have been allowed to live out his life under that scenario."
"I…he wouldn't have wanted…he said he'd never return to Alcatraz."
"Would you have allowed him to be killed at the warehouse before you learned what was physical love with him?"
"Physical or not, I already loved him."
The Man in the Mist sighs. "Perhaps then…we should go back to the moment in which you first disobeyed and set the rest in motion." He pauses and waits.
"Janey," I breathe.
"Yes. Janey. Would you go back to Janey, Isabella? Would you return to the moment when you offered her that which wasn't yours to offer?"
"Why wasn't it mine to offer?"
"Again, these are questions you should've asked a long, long time ago."
His words, the chastisement in them, refuel my indignation. "I was expected to allow her soul to depart in anguish?"
"You'd done so many times before, Isabella. What made Janey so different?" When I don't respond, the Man in the Mist continues. "You don't comfort the soul, Isabella. It's what you were taught, and with Janey, you disregarded those teachings."
"I did," I admit.
"So now, I ask you: would you be willing to return to that moment and retract that comfort?"
My eyes narrow. "With what purpose?"
"So that you might obtain your own comfort. We've already established that's where it all went wrong. Would you allow Janey's soul to be claimed in the way it was always meant to be claimed so that you would never need to be punished?"
My heart thrums painfully against my chest as all manner of possibilities swim before my misted gaze.
"If I did retract the comfort I gave her soul…would Janey still find peace and comfort?"
"You know the answer to that, Isabella. Of course, she would find peace and comfort, but afterward, after her soul departed this realm, just as it has always been. There is a reason for this, Isabella: offering the soul comfort before it departs this realm just makes it harder for some to let go. Then, we get into pleas for second chances."
"She didn't request a second chance," I point out.
"No, but her brother did." When I don't counter, he adds, "Isabella, we do what we must to ensure uniformity."
"To ensure efficiency," I say, repeating his words from before.
"Janey was always meant for the best of all the mists. And had you allowed her soul to depart in the manner to which it was meant, you would've spared yourself the anguish you've experienced for almost sixty human years now, an anguish you'll likely experience for the rest of your existence. Our kind does not often feel such extreme emotion, but when we do, it is an inseverable emotion."
"Had I allowed Janey's soul to depart in the manner to which it was meant…" I breathe almost silently, "Edward wouldn't have been doomed…?"
"If Edward regretted, he would've received a second chance. So, what's your answer, Isabella? Would you undo your act of benevolent disobedience to spare yourself unnecessary anguish? To save Edward from the Eternal Mist of Nothing?"
At that moment, the mist before me lifts, parts, and reveals a scene wholly unrelated to Alcatraz:
It's my…our cabin, Edward's and my cabin. Its wooden logs are rich and strong, not the decayed wood I left behind. Its roof is bathed in sunlight. Golden rays dance around its perimeter like heralding trumpets. When the front door opens, a strangled sound escapes me.
Edward emerges from our cabin, young and strong. His emerald gaze searches the surroundings, stops, and…and smiles in my direction; a smile so like his little sister's smile – her final smile; a joyful smile; a peaceful smile.
"Isabella?" the Man in the Mist prompts.
My lungs feel as if they'll explode from the force of my outburst. It doubles me over, makes my legs go weak, and drops me to my knees.
"No! No, I would never take away Janey's final smile, her knowledge that her brother loved her wholly and unconditionally, no matter what! No! I will never regret that! I will never trade her final moment of human happiness for my eternal peace! No! I will never trade Edward's knowledge that despite what was done to her, his sister died peacefully! No!" I cry wildly, grabbing my chest. "Edward recognized me because he saw me with Janey, he saw me comforting her! And…and he came to regret because of that same moment! No! I won't trade all of that for my peace!"
"Leave me! I don't want to be an Angel, not this way!"
The San Francisco skies open and leave the Bay awash in a sudden and torrential deluge – a deluge so powerful I can't see an inch in front of me. I can't think beyond my all-encompassing pain; every part of me feels crushed and battered. I can't breathe through the heavy downpour.
I'm completely undone.
"Are you sure, Bella? Despite your infraction, you've always been beloved."
Uncontrollable sobs rack my frame and comingle with the rain.
I throw my head up to the blackened skies and howl. "LEAVE! ME!"
Time transpires. I'm not sure how much. Another sixty years, for all I know as I lay prostrate on that cold, hard, damp terrain. The downpour soaks me, streams in rivulets down my cheeks – cold tears my kind can never truly shed. Eventually, however, the storm passes, my clothing dries, and the muted sun rises through the mist. We all have our eternal, inseverable duties.
Alcatraz Tours begins its daily runs. I rise from the river of mud and muck and make my way to the dock, where I catch a – late morning? early afternoon? – boat back to the mainland. There's only one place I want to go, and once I'm there, Time can proceed in any manner it wishes – quickly, slowly, in fits and starts. Either way, I don't plan to ever leave our cabin again.
Once outside the pier, I hail a cab. When it stops, I open the back door and climb in, leaning forward to touch the driver's arm.
"Please take me to the entrance to Muir Woods."
The cab driver startles slightly at my touch, turning to look at me over his shoulder.
He frowns. "You look like you got caught in a serious storm, Miss; and by the way, you really shouldn't do that nowadays."
I'm somewhat startled myself, as my appearance is rarely remarked upon in negative terms.
"I shouldn't do what?" I ask.
"Go around touching people." He turns back around. "Entrance to Muir Woods, you said?"
My brows furrow in bemusement at his clipped tone and demeanor. Usually, my touch calms them, but I suppose he's feeding off my own disturbed mind.
"Yes. Yes, please."
The cab weaves through Bay Area traffic. As it approaches the Golden Gate, I shut my eyes and lean back, resting my pounding head and fighting images of what was…what could've been. When I touch my cheek and feel a strange dampness, I bring my wet fingers in front of me, frowning once more. I would've expected the raindrops on my cheeks to have dried by now. Shutting my eyes, I try to shut off my mind as well.
"Miss, I said we're here."
With a gasp, I sit up straight, disoriented by both the lingering loss of time and the continuing headache. Our minds are strong and usually shake off such things rapidly. When I scan my surroundings, I draw in a breath of relief at my familiar woods. A rare sun shines over the forested path that'll lead me home. It reminds me of the sun's rays which surrounded our cabin in my earlier vision.
"I'll be home soon," I murmur quietly, "and I'll never leave you again."
The cab driver clears his throat. "Miss?"
Leaning forward, I reach out and once more touch the driver's arm.
"I have no money, but thank you, and when you return to the Bay, may you have a prosperous day."
With a tired smile, I drop my hand from the driver's arm and reach for the door handle.
"What the- hold on there, Miss. Seriously? What do you mean you don't have money? This was a long-ass trip for you to pull that crap. I mean, you're a beautiful lady, yeah, but your looks aren't going to get you a free ride."
I stare at him.
"Did you hear me, Miss? What, are you on something? Well, I'm sorry," he says, shaking his head, "but you need to pay."
"My touch…" I murmur, "it didn't…persuade you?"
For a moment, he scrutinizes me as if weighing my level of sanity. "Persuade me to what? To let you take me for a ride?" He snorts. "It sure as hell didn't. Like I said, you may be gorgeous, but I've got bills to pay."
My mind swims in a veritable sea of incomprehension. Again, I bring my hand up and in front of me, open it wide, turn it from side to side, and now…now I note the scrapes on my palms from the shrubbery back at The Rock. They should've healed by now…disappeared.
"What…?" I touch my face, which still feels strangely moist. Swallowing, I reach for the bottom hem of my pants and begin to pull one pantleg up over my ankle and knee.
The driver yelps a curse in protest. "What the hell are you doing?"
When I manage to guide the pant leg past my knee joint, I stare, dumbfounded, at my scraped and bloody knee. The gash is worse than I imagined. It might need…it might need stitches.
I draw in a wild gasp.
"All right. Forget the fare, and just get out the cab, miss. Just get out of the cab."
Crying actual tears, I obey the driver's request. "I don't understand."
"What do you mean you don't understand?" he says indignantly, misconstruing the cause of my distress. "Next time, make sure you have money to pay! We cab drivers work hard and don't need to be cheated by pretty women looking for free rides!"
He's still yelling as he drives off and leaves me standing dirty, bloody, and reeling at the entrance to Muir Woods.
My heart beats frantically. It…beats. It's not an imagined sensation derived from vast yet second-hand knowledge of what such a thing should feel like. My lungs feel constricted. My legs ache – really damn badly.
Ignoring the physical pain, I take off at a sprint through the woods, run in between redwoods and shrubbery. In my bewildered state, I obtain more scrapes and scratches, yet I don't stop nor slow down to examine them. I lose my balance and fall – yet more scrapes. When one of my flats breaks, and I abandon it, pebbles and rocks dig painfully into my sole.
Finally…finally, I emerge from the thicket and into the clearing leading to my cabin – to our cabin.
The cabin is shrouded in the eternal white, soft, and gauzy mist that's kept it hidden for decades. The only way I know it's there is because I know it's there. For the first few moments, as I stand watching the all-encompassing, vaporous haze blanket our cabin, I forget all my physical aches as another, much more deep-rooted and profound sensation lances through me. It's fury – a boundless fury aimed at myself for allowing my stupid imagination, my longing for him, to raise useless hopes yet again.
But then…as in my vision on the cliff, the mist suddenly lifts. It rises upward; it parts like the Red Sea. The day's rare sun somehow manages to break through the thick canopy of redwood leaves and willowy vines. It streams rays upon the cabin's roof – the cabin's strong, hale roof – and along its well-built, rugged, logged walls like heralding trumpets – heralds announcing the opening of the front door.
My shoulders shake from the force of my sobs. Of course, it won't be him. After all, I refused to retract that comfort which was not mine to provide.
Perhaps I'm still on that cliff, overlooking the dark bay, finally felled and overpowered by the storm – an angel of Death who's lost her mind and still dreams wishful dreams. I hold my breath, fist my hands at my sides, refusing to allow myself hope…
But my heart…my too-human heart has always been my downfall. Or…has it been my salvation?
Either way, that overactive organ slams against my ribcage as he rushes toward me, to where I stand frozen, immobile, and still unable to entirely believe. Not even when I'm pulled hard into his embrace, locked within his arms and caged within his warmth. Not even when I smell his familiar scent. When my legs give…when they fold…Edward holds me up.
His voice is ragged, strangled, infused with the same disbelief I feel, yet his mouth skims every inch of my face as if he doesn't care one way or another whether this is real or not. His breath bathes me in unimaginable…yet wholly remembered warmth as he breathes my name over and over.
"Bella. God, Bella. Bella."
His voice breaks, and he pulls away only enough to cradle my face in his strong hands. Emerald eyes, the color of the ocean's foam, meet mine. Tears streak his angular jawline. His thumbs wipe the tears streaming down my cheeks.
"Are you really here?" I whisper, and then cry louder, "Are you really here?"
He nods, lips quivering through a shaky smile. "Yeah. Yeah, I think so."
His voice is rough; hoarse, yet so tenderly familiar. "I…I'm not really sure. Garrett…he pointed the gun at me, and all I could think was how damn glad I was that you were all the way on the other side of that car. The next thing I knew, I was looking up at you, while you held my head on your lap."
"He shot you. You died," I say bluntly, crying. "Then, the Mist took you."
A series of short, successive breaths escape him. "I know. Afterward…there were moments full of haze…of blankness, where it was so hard to think…to hold on to reason." He looks past me, casts his gaze toward the woods. "I wandered, but I don't…really know for how long. You were right about how Time transpires in the mist. It can't be measured. All I know is I awoke in the woods outside our cabin." He sweeps his emerald eyes back to me so suddenly, my breath catches. His grip on my face tightens, his nostrils flare, and wariness darkens his gaze.
"Bella, how long has it been since that day on the bridge?"
"Edward, my love," I breathe, "you died almost sixty years ago."
For a moment, he stares at me with an expression full of incredulity, shock, and abject horror all mingled together. Then, he shuts his eyes and shakes his head, and when he reopens his eyes, they're alight with indignant outrage – on my behalf.
"Did you feel it, Bella? You once told me you don't feel Time the same as humans, but did you feel our separation for all those years? Decades? Did you feel them?" he asks fiercely.
Slowly, with my gaze locked on his, I nod. "Yes. Yes, I felt them."
He draws me into his arms, so hard and fast it's as if he's trying to erase Time itself. But Time can't be erased.
When he speaks, his words are garbled, half-strangled with emotion.
"How the fuck could they do that to you? My God, how could they do that?"
Again, he pulls away only enough to meet my gaze with his fiery one.
"Bella, you were right about Time in the Mist, but you were wrong about something else. I didn't feel Time in its normal manner, but I never forgot you."
I choke on a sob.
Never," he stresses fervently, "not for one single moment. The memory of you kept me going; the love we shared kept me sane. Your love saved me from that Mist."
He crushes his mouth to mine, and that…is the moment…when I believe.
Edward breathes his human life into me, and I know this is real, because nothing has ever made me feel so alive.
"I never forgot you, either, Edward," I breathe against his lips. "Never."
"I'm sorry, baby," he murmurs. "I'm sorry you spent so much time…you felt so much time without me."
"It's okay." Unbelievably, I manage an actual chuckle through my tears. "It's okay. As long as you didn't feel it. It was my transgression, and I paid their price, and it's over now, and it's okay."
He pulls back and meets my gaze with a frown.
"What transgression, and what was the price?"
"I was never meant to comfort Janey, and as punishment, you were taken from me. The price was our separation, and…and my fall. Edward…I'm human."
He nods, takes my hands and guides the right one up between us, kissing my scraped palm.
"I know. These look kind of deep, and…" his thumb traces a path down my temple, "you have one here too that looks as if it's been there for a few hours." He grips my hips tightly. "You feel different. Still wonderfully you," he grins wistfully, "but different."
"You always saw right through me."
He smiles, and for an immeasurable moment, we simply hold one another, caressing, remembering.
"Edward, it's a new world out there beyond the woods. A lot has changed, more in the relatively short period than I've ever experienced."
He raises his eyebrows, then looks up and sighs.
"It's a second chance." Then, he nods with that sense of confidence I remember he always possessed. "We'll learn this new world together." His eyes pan back to me swiftly as if he can't bear to pull them away for too long.
"Bella, my heart and soul have been yours since the first moment I saw you with Janey, acting as an angel of mercy, Bella, not of death," he stresses fervently. "In truth, my heart and soul were probably already yours long before that. If your punishment is no longer being their angel, know that you've always been mine."
"My love for you never died, it was never forgotten, and it never will be," he whispers, his mouth close to mine, jaw set tight in determination. "I'll be a good man for you. Like I promised you once, almost sixty years ago, I'll live a life worthy of this second chance…a life worthy of the choice you've made to stay with me."
It's a new world, in so many ways, in ways I'm sure neither of us can fathom at the moment. For one, I'm no longer an angel, and I must learn to be human in this time period. For another, Edward must learn to be alive again in this time period.
I, Isabella, daughter of Charles, sister to Emmett, was born into a duty I never truly understood, into a duty where emotions are meant to be suppressed, rarely felt. I couldn't exist that way, not for an eternity – and not once I met Edward. I suppose the Mist finally accepted that. So, I leave the eternal duty to those who can exist with it, as I'm ready to live with what was finally my choice.
With a deep breath, I cast my gaze around the woods, to where the mist ends just at the threshold…to where my brothers, my sisters, and my father stand smiling wistfully at me for the last time. I offer them a peaceful smile in return. Fate must be acknowledged, and I'll see one of them again someday, when my time arrives.
For now, I lean upward and brush my human lips against Edward's human lips. When I take his hand, I weave together more than our fingers…I acknowledge the weaving of our futures.
"I know you will, Edward. I know you will."
As we make our way back into our cabin to plan our life together, it's with sunlight warming our backs and guiding our way.
For the final time, here are the songs which kept me inspired. Please keep in mind that most of these are covers for the originals (since a GR seemed to miss that part and called me an idiot for "not knowing who the songs belong to") ;)
Mad World (Featuring Michael Andrews)
Everybody Want to Rule the World by Lorde
Que Sera Sera by Pink Martini
For What It's Worth by Malia J
Sympathy for the Devil by Jane's Addiction
Wings by Birdy
Uninvited by Alanis Morissette
Iris by Kina Grannis
Unchained Melody – both the original by The Righteous Brothers and the cover by Lykke Li
And as another helpful GR was passive-aggressively anxious for me to acknowledge, I will add here that the 1998 Film, "City of Angels" and the 1987 film "Wings of Desire" might also be construed as inspiration for this story. I'll happily acknowledge any similarities. No passive-aggressiveness needed. :)
Great movies, by the way. I definitely recommend them.
Thank you, and "see" you again soon!