I had been raised to know God. My mother had used God as a way to keep me in line. I feared him. For every malicious action, there would be consequences. God would damn me if I lied. Damn me if I had premarital sex. Damn me for any sin committed.
I would send silent prayers, asking for forgiveness, in fear for my soul if I didn't. But where was God? Where was he now?
In the past few months, there had been many close calls. Was God the reason we had prevailed? How could that be, if His plan would lead me to die next to the man I loved? And allow for someone so horrible to get away with murder?
With a taut rope around my neck, I thought, this should be the moment when a person would ask for forgiveness, so he or she might enter the Kingdom. I should beg God for mercy, but I couldn't. I was too angry. I didn't care if I entered any kingdom.
Michael walked down the line with his nasty grin, and he stopped in front of me and asked, "Any last words?"
It was a challenge. He wanted me to say something that would give him the right to hurt me one last time.
"You'll burn in hell for all the blood on your hands. I'd be only too happy to join you, so I may witness it for myself."
I took the bait.
He grabbed me by the hair and pulled roughly. I heard Edward thrashing beside me, growling unintelligibly through the device on his head.
"Michael Newton. Let her go."
My heart stopped, and the audience all turned their heads to look toward the voice. Michael let go, but only because he, too, was stunned.
He stepped out of my way, and I could see who was speaking.
It was Benjamin. The very same man who had once worked under Sam. The slight man who had moved out to the woods to forage for food for his family and had left the Resistance behind.
I shook my head involuntarily. I knew Benjamin was no match for what we were up against.
"Wittle Benjamin Cheney," Michael mocked. "Are you back to face your punishment for deserting your post?"
"You and your men are under arrest."
Michael laughed, and I had to admit, I wished I could join him. What was Benjamin thinking, coming here and taking on this new Resistance and Michael Newton? Even if he managed to find enough soldiers for his plan, it wouldn't be enough. Michael had a home-court advantage.
"You think you can take me all by yourself? Arrest him," Michael said lazily towards one of his followers.
"That's just it. I'm not by myself."
He looked towards his left, and immediately, the east entrance of the square filled with men dressed in similar attire and carrying guns. On the west side, another group came filing in, and I recognized another face I'd never thought I would see again.
"Jasper," I whispered.
Jasper slowly advanced toward the stage. I saw Michael's assured face falter, as he took a slight step backward towards Sam.
"Surrender yourself, Michael Newton. We will not warn you again," Jasper ordered.
Michael's feet moved another step back, as he came to the realization that he no longer had the manpower to overthrow both companies.
He looked scared. His jaw was tense, as his eyes darted around the plaza. Finally, they came to rest on me. He knew he could not win, but that didn't mean he couldn't try to take me down one last time.
He pulled a device from out of his pocket and held it up.
"Always have a Plan B," he said, glaring at me. His finger hit the small button, and a loud explosion blew out all the windows from the Governor's residence.
St. Dismas Square erupted into a chaotic mess, as people were screaming and running for their lives. But the explosions didn't cease with the Governor's residence. They continued throughout the square like dominos falling.
One after another.
Jasper jumped on stage and moved to free me. He cut the rope down quickly, and I pulled it off my neck. He moved on swiftly toward Edward, and while Jasper took the time to free Edward from the contraption on his head, I moved towards Sam and tried to free him from his rope, but he pushed his body away from me.
"Don't. Leave me," he said. His eyes begged me to listen to his orders.
The whole square was crumbling around us, and we would be lucky to have even a minute to escape, before the buildings collapsed on top of us.
I looked him in the eye, wondering if I should grant his final wish.
"Please, Bella. Go," he whispered.
Edward's hand on my wrist broke me out of my contemplation. We only had time for a quick embrace, before we ran hand in hand towards the steps of the stage, leaving Sam Uley behind to die.
The people were desperately trying to get out of the square, but the entrances were small and blocked by rubble.
"Come on! Move it! Get out of here!" I heard a voice shouting up ahead, and I squeezed Edward's hand, knowing who it belonged to.
"Emmett!" I yelled.
Emmett jumped down from the table he was standing on to help usher people to safety, and with Edward's help, they pushed their way through, keeping me safe from the falling debris.
In all the pandemonium, I had nearly forgotten about Michael. I instantly stopped, and Emmett and Edward slammed to a halt.
"Come on!" Emmett yelled.
"Michael!" I growled to get his attention.
Edward grabbed my hand harder. "No. Not now. We have to get out of here! The whole damn place is coming down!"
I knew he was right, but my blood burned knowing Michael would escape. I wanted justice. Everything we had been put through was because of him. I wanted to know he would get his justice due.
I didn't want to listen to Edward, as I thought about all the people who had died because of this war. People I had personally witnessed die, all because of Michael Newton.
Amidst all the chaos, Edward looked me in the eye and whispered a plea that was so hard to hear, he might as well have stayed silent.
There were no more images of Carlisle, my sister, or my broken father that I saw before me. Instead, I saw my child in his eyes, and as much as I would have loved to be sure Michael Newton was dealt with, now was my time to put vengeance behind me for the sake of my family.
I nodded, and we pushed along with the crowds, trying to flee the horrifying conditions of the square. How many people had died here today? But even with Michael being able to escape with his brilliant "Plan B," I knew this war was finally coming to an end.
The farther we got away from the wreckage of what had once been the main square, we began to feel the crowd thin. There were people sitting on the sides of the road, using the curbs to rest, as they applied bandages to various wounds.
I saw women crying in the arms of their loved ones. Parents were holding the bodies of their injured children, while the soldiers from Jasper's company and the former Resistance tried to steer people in the right direction.
I was amazed at how quickly they had set up areas to take in the wounded. Benjamin stood off to one side and was speaking with Jasper, which was where we headed.
"Thank God, you made it out," Jasper said upon seeing us.
I looked at the pair and was still confused as to what had transpired in order to allow this partnership to ensue.
"How are you both…?" I held up a pointed finger. "I…I…"
"Why don't you sit, Bella," Jasper advised.
"I'm fine. I'm just…confused. How did you both manage this?"
Jasper looked over to Benjamin. "There's a lot to be discussed, but first, we need to tend to the people. Once we can assess the area and know it's safe to go back into the square, we'll need to pull out survivors and get them to the hospital," Benjamin explained. He looked to Edward and Emmett and asked, "Can I count on you two for help?"
They agreed, and I had to admit, I felt a little put out that he'd asked Emmett and Edward, but not me.
"Bella, stop it," Edward remarked.
Jasper and Benjamin got back to their duties, but I guessed my face displayed everything I was thinking.
"They're only asking us, because there'll be heavy boulders to lift. Don't take this as a chauvinist thing. There are plenty of areas where you can be useful. Look around, Bella. It's over."
He put his arm around me. The sight before us was grim, but no one else would die for this cause, and that put a shine on it all.
After the bomb technicians were able to go in and assess the area, they came out and let us know there were no more incendiary devices. Edward and Emmett followed along after all the soldiers, as well as every other able-bodied man, to see if they could find the hurt or deceased and bring them out.
I helped man the aid area, right next to the only open entrance left. I wanted to see every single person as they were brought out. My hopes of seeing Michael Newton among them were twisted, but I couldn't help myself. I would feel better about everything, if I knew he hadn't survived.
The men worked well into the early morning hours. Body after body was brought out, and the dead were placed on the ground to the side. Sam was there, but my hopes to see Michael join him dwindled, as the bodies emerging became fewer. The last person was unearthed, just as the sun was coming up. Michael Newton was not among the living or the dead.
Overwhelmed by my disappointment and exhaustion, I moved away from the tent and tried to find a small corner in which to hide.
My back slid down a wall. As my bottom rested on the ground, my hands covered my face for the tears I prayed no one would see.
Edward was yelling for me. I was sure my absence was worrying, but it took me a minute to gather myself before I could face him.
By the time I made it out from my hiding place, Jasper and Emmett had begun calling out for me as well.
"I'm right here. No need to wake everyone with your shouts," I huffed.
"Where did you go? We didn't find Michael. He's still out there. He could hurt you…"
"Well, then, I say, I hope he tries. Then, maybe, I'd have one last opportunity to take him down!" I snapped.
Jasper stepped up and held his hands out to calm Edward and me. "We're all tired. Let's get some sleep, and then…" Jasper began to say.
"No! I want to know what the hell is going on! How did you come to know Benjamin…to work with him? How are you here? Is my son alive? Did everyone make it out safely? Alice, Esme? How did you manage to get back…?"
"Okay!" Jasper barked. "I'll answer all your questions. But not here. I have a room nearby. We'll go there."
We followed Jasper the few blocks to his "room." I didn't know why, but I was expecting he meant a hotel room. However, he showed us to an abandoned factory, where he had a small room that looked to have been an office at one time. There was a sleeping bag in the corner, with a small table and a few chairs. Jasper's men were still out at the site, but from the looks of it, they stayed here as well.
Jasper pulled his communication device off and set it down on the table. I took a seat, and Edward pulled up the other open chair. Emmett leaned against the wall, while we waited for our answers.
"Your son and everyone made it to the island your parents owned," Jasper said to Edward.
I was more relieved than I thought I would be. A part of me always believed they were okay, because I couldn't have done what I needed to had I been worried that something had happened. Hearing the confirmation set my heart back to a normal rate.
"Benjamin reached out to us a few weeks ago. He knew Sam was being controlled by Newton. When he worked with Sam, he tried to get Sam to see Michael couldn't be trusted, but Sam wouldn't listen.
"The conditions here were getting worse, and the people were starving. Benjamin managed to get a few of his friends to come over to his side, and as the weeks went on, more and more soldiers were abandoning the original Resistance plan and moving over to side with Benjamin.
"However, he knew with all the ammunition Sam and Michael had, they couldn't obtain control without help. So…he reached out to us, and I told my father I'd take only a few units with me, in case it turned out to be a trap.
"We've been waiting to make a move, but Sam and Michael have been smart and not come out of the residence. They knew things are bad, and as long as they stayed in their hidey-hole, they couldn't be touched. We couldn't risk infiltrating their residence, because we knew Michael would've done everything he could to keep it impenetrable."
My mind, as tired as it was, wouldn't shut off. I wanted to believe it was over, but was it? Thankfully, Emmett had the good sense to ask a question I would have liked to ask, if I'd had half a brain to do so.
"So, now what? The war is over? The Resistance will…just cease?"
"Benjamin, my father, and a few other key people are meeting tomorrow to begin negotiations," Jasper explained.
"Negotiations?" I asked.
The word sounded foreign. This must be the exhaustion taking over. Of course, there would have to be negotiations for all the Resistance to be willing to lay down their arms. The war might have been over, but we were far from finished with reconciling the country.
Jasper set us up with a couple of cots so we could rest. I wanted to go to sleep, but my brain wouldn't stop. I thought about Edward. Not my fiancé, Edward, but Edward, my son. For the first time, I could imagine seeing him again. A part of me always wondered if that would be possible, but now, it seemed our reunion was in the foreseeable future.
I wanted to ask Jasper how quickly they could get us to the island where everyone was, but it was clear the next morning that we were expected to be at the negotiation conference. I guessed I was a little surprised that we would be included. These kinds of things were far too important for someone like me to witness.
Not only were we invited, but we were also given seats at the round table. I recognized Jasper's father, dressed to the nines in his military uniform. Jasper's uniform wasn't nearly as fancy as his father's, which had shiny buttons and crisp corners.
Benjamin spoke first once everyone was seated. The room was filled to capacity…not even a spot to stand was available.
"Let's begin. For decades, this country has been run on a system that benefits only a small percentage of the people. We've agreed to come here today after witnessing a horrific period in our history, with the hope that we can do better for all our people. Is there anyone here who'd disagree that our system needs…revision?"
My eyes scanned the room, but no one said a word.
"Good, then we should begin. First, in order for this to work, we, the Resistance, will agree to cease all combat actions. The Resistance is being called back in accordance with an agreement that the rest of our country will cease certain government practices. Every governor will be suspended until such a time that we can all approve who will replace them in their positions."
Jasper's father cleared his throat and said, "And just how are we to decide on who'll replace these individuals?"
"We can come to a decision, but in order for all the people to feel they're fairly represented, I personally believe we should have a fair mixture of lessers and diamonds…"
"They're not many diamond men left after what the Resistance did," he spat.
I scoffed loudly, and everyone looked at me.
"Not what they did," I spoke up, unable to control myself. "Sam only ordered the killing of all those men, because Michael Newton manipulated him to do so. One of your own…diamonds is the reason they're dead."
Jasper's father narrowed his eyes and argued, "that could be hearsay."
"From the lips of my condemned sister she confessed to what she witnessed her husband do," I growled.
"Let's calm ourselves," Benjamin warned.
My hands rubbed my temples, and I stood up, irritated.
"Why am I here?" I snapped. "This is…this is…"
I couldn't continue, because I was too frustrated.
Benjamin looked confused. "You're here because…you deserve to be…after everything you did…"
"What do you mean? What did I do? Break into a couple of white wards and rescued a few men?" I said, gesturing to Edward and Emmett. "I wanted Michael Newton to be punished, and now he's gone. This country…it'll take years to fix it; to change it into what it needs to become."
Benjamin slowly stood. "Which is why we want you to be here. You've done more than just help a few individuals escape. You were the reason I decided to come back and fight. I know your mission was to make it across the border to safety, but instead, at your own personal risk, you came here in hopes you could reach Sam and talk sense into him. You were able to get Sam and Michael out into the open. You've been asked here today because...this government could use a voice like yours."
Jasper added, "A person who could represent both the lessers and the diamonds. A person who could...govern a territory."
My brow furrowed, as I processed what they were saying. They wanted me to govern?
A memory popped into my head of Edward and me having this very discussion so long ago, and I wondered if it was a dream. He had once asked me what I would do if a woman was allowed to govern, and I refused to answer, believing it wasn't a possibility. This was what I had wanted. This was a dream come true.
"A few months ago, I dreamed of a world where someone like me could have a voice. Be considered. When I was pregnant, I was terrified the baby I carried would be a girl, because I knew that, in the eyes of our society, she'd be unimportant. Unimportant as I was raised to believe I was. It warms my heart that you'd extend me this honor. But I'm afraid it's an honor I cannot accept."
I paused, stopping from giving my reason just yet. First, while I had their attention, there were a few issues I wanted to get off my chest.
"The white wards should be disbanded immediately, and the inmates rescued. Turn the places into rehabilitation centers. No matter the crime, the people who are imprisoned have paid their dues, and then some. Anyone who disagrees with me should go and spend a week in one, and then see how you feel.
"Secondly, it's not enough to just have the rich and poor well represented. You should seek a governor who can give a voice to men and women, equally. All races should be represented as well. If you really want to go forward and find a way to make this country...decent, then you should learn from the past. Not cover it up. There's a man in the woods a few miles away from the train stop in Krai. His name is Boyce, and he's a wealth of knowledge on how the past government systems operated, and how they failed. You should seek him out and learn from him.
"And last…" I looked to Ben, "Stop calling yourselves lessers. If you want the people to believe this is a new dawn, get rid of the derogatory term. It'll only hurt your campaign and remind everyone of a world where they were thought of as less than."
I pushed my chair out and took a step back. "I need to arrange transportation. There's someone who can't go another day without me. He's the reason I can't stay here, even if it'd be a dream come true. It's time for me to think of another…and not just myself."
Edward stood up, too, and prepared to follow me out. Emmett followed Edward. Once we were out of the room, I breathed a huge sigh, as I felt this enormous weight come off my shoulders.
I was going home.
"Bella, are you sure about this?" Edward asked.
I nodded. "It could take them years to get this country to where it needs to be. I can't have our son living in this uncertainty. I trust Benjamin and Jasper. I know they'll do what they can to help the people. This just isn't my fight anymore."
Jasper had a plane ready for us the next day to fly down to South America. We would need to take a boat to get to the island.
They shut down the labor camps the day negotiations began. My father had died three days before. The very same day I had been set to be executed. I couldn't help but wonder if God had replaced one Swan with another.
As the plane took off and flew over the land, I looked down, knowing it would be the last time I would ever lay eyes on this country. The country that had taken nearly everything from me.
Emmett, Edward and I got on a small boat, whose captain promised us we would be arriving at our destination within a few short hours.
I had been away from my son for nearly seven months. I tried to picture what he must look like, but all I kept seeing was how he had looked the last time I had seen him.
Edward walked up and took my hand, as we finally approached the island. My stomach was full of butterflies for what we would find.
Jasper had said the island wasn't equipped with a signal, so the only way he had been able to communicate with Alice was through a mailbox on the mainland, which Alice or Esme would frequent once a month. Meaning, there was no way to let them know of our impending arrival.
Edward helped me down from the boat, and my shoes filled with water, as I splashed onto the beach. I looked over to Emmett, who seemed to be having a fine time in the water, but then he stopped, as he looked around for the house, and I could tell that he, too, was nervous.
The three of us walked along the beach in silence, carrying the small packs that had seen us through the last seven months, not even bothering to ask Edward how much further we had to go.
We came around a bend, and there was the house up ahead. A long, white, one-story home with many windows.
It was beautiful.
We drew closer, and my feet stopped, when my eyes caught sight of Alice sitting on a chair under an umbrella. Nearby, a small child was sitting on a towel, playing with a few blocks.
Edward also slowed down, and his hand tightened around mine.
"Bella," he whispered.
I couldn't form a word, as I took in the sight. Alice looked up, and we were close enough to see the shock register on her face at the sight of us.
"Oh my! Oh my!" she began screaming. "Esme! Rosalie!"
Alice jumped from her chair and grabbed Edward and began running towards us. Our legs unfroze, and soon, we were quickly heading towards her.
Rosalie slammed open the screen door and nearly fell off the step, when she saw what the commotion was about. She, too, began to run, screaming as she went. Emmett dropped his packs and collided with her first, before we could make it to our son.
There were many tears falling down Alice's face. Rosalie's face. Emmett's face, and even Edward's.
I pulled my once small bundle of joy into my arms, and I just couldn't believe how much he had grown. Esme nearly pounced on Edward, when she finally made it to us.
I handed off the baby to Edward, so he could meet his son, and Alice and Esme took their turns hugging me. When I pulled apart from them, Rosalie let go of Emmett and walked towards me. Her body was shuddering, as she attempted to control her emotions.
"Thank you, Bella. I can never repay you," she sniffled.
I looked at Emmett and replied, "I'm pretty sure Emmett repaid that debt ten times over."
Rosalie grabbed me by the shoulders and forced me to look at her. "No, Bella," she sobbed. "You've given me back my future."
She crushed me to her chest with a hug that was so tight, I knew I would have bruises.
"She gave us all back our future," Edward added.
It was a perfect moment. The kind that people would cry over, but I didn't have one tear to shed that day. All the times I had hated my tears, because I had felt they made me weak, and after everything I had been through, it seemed as if this would be the price to pay.
They never found Michael Newton. It bothered more than I should have let it. Emmett told me it was justice, because, for the rest of Michael Newton's life, he would be forced to endure what we had. He would always be on the run…looking over his shoulder, wondering if he was going to be caught. Feeling as if he could never make it to safety.
They all wanted to know what had happened, but it was a story I could never bring myself to tell. Edward did his best, along with Emmett, to give them a version.
I couldn't sit around, talking about the months of pain and fear I had endured. It was something that would stay with me for the rest of my life. Flashes would go through my head every single day, reminding me of what I had seen, and what I had lost.
The only days I found I wasn't plagued with images were on truly happy days. The day Edward and I married. The day I had my second son. Those days were far too precious, and God would give me a reprieve.
I never returned to the country I had once called my home. Alice eventually did return to be by Jasper's side, as he took governorship of the southern states. She and Jasper would come every Christmas with their four children to visit. Some years, we were lucky to see them twice.
Emmett and Rosalie moved back to the south as well. We would receive cards from them, but after they returned, we never saw them again. However, Rosalie...crazy Rosalie, she named her first daughter after me. I didn't know how that made me feel. I guessed, if it made her feel that she had done right by me, it was just fine with me.
Esme stayed with us, and you could never find a happier house. When I would see her smile, it felt as if Carlisle was looking down and proud that we had helped with putting it back on her face, after she had lost the man she loved.
And Edward...well, we did have our fair share of fights. Sometimes, I think we fought because we found how exciting disagreeing could be, when we were able to come together at night in accord.
For a while, I felt guilty whenever I looked at my first son…wondering if my leaving would eventually give him a complex. But then, I would remind myself of where Edward would be if I hadn't gone ...if I hadn't left my baby.
I used to believe what they said about me.
I would never be pretty.
I would never marry.
I would never be important.
But now, I knew I had used their words as an excuse.
I was not a loser.
I was not a lesser.
I was Isabella Swan. The girl who had brought a war to its knees.
AN: I cannot begin to express my gratitude for following this through to the end with me. This was so not how I first imagined this story but it became something I am insanely proud of. I appreciated all the reviews and encouragement I received from my friends on Facebook.
This would not be what it is without the help of two amazing women. Fran and Dollybigmomma were instrumental in helping with editing. I was incredibly blessed by their help and wish I could convey how thankful I am for sharing their time and talents.
Currently, I am working on something a little less intense. I hope to begin posting in the new year. Below is a summary.
Bella fled her small town and the kids that bullied her the moment she graduated high school. After moving to California, she has become a completely different person. When she gets fired and is unable to afford living in the state, Bella must move back home with her eight-year daughter and face the demons from her past. Her daughter wants to join the local Wilderness Troop but is turned away for being a girl so Bella advocates for her daughter and wins. However, she didn't know that the Troop would be headed up by her biggest demon of all, Edward Cullen, the boy who made her life a living hell. The hardest struggle will be for Bella to realize that Edward just might not be the person he once was.