Disclaimer: I own no part of the characters or original story, but hopefully nobody will sue me on my last chapter.


When The House Goes Up In Flames

Chapter Fifteen – Ghost

The snow obscured the sky outside their window, creating one monolithic white flurry. It disgusted Bella. Maine was a nice place to live, but she wasn't getting used to the snowy winters any time soon. She thought global warming was supposed to take care of all of that snow business. The idea of snow everywhere - clinging to her hair, her eyelashes, her clothes, and worst of all, inside her boots - made her roll over and groan. She wished for sleep so that she might have some excuse not to get up and go out into that... that... torture.

Across the room, the door opened almost without a sound and shut in a swift motion, but not before throwing ungodly light over the bedroom floor. If she squeezed her eyes shut tight, he might forget that she could not actually sleep. Wishful thinking, really.

He rested his chin on the edge of the bed, a few inches away from her face. She absolutely, positively refused to open her eyes. Gripping her shoulder, he shook her - gently, of course - trying to illicit a response. "Wake up, sleepyhead."

"No, go away," she pouted, turning to press her face into the pillow.

"Not until you get out of bed. Then I will go away for as long as you like."

"Promise?"

"No." She could tell he was grinning that damn crooked smile of his, even with her eyes closed.

"You have to get up eventually."

"I'm going to live forever, remember? I can spend the rest of eternity however I want. And I don't want to get up. Therefore, I don't think I have to do anything eventually."

"You really want to spend all of time in a bed?" She didn't like the sly tone creeping into his voice. "I mean, I'd be happy to oblige, but I was particularly looking forward to today."

"Why? In case you haven't noticed, it's a wet, cold, fluffy, white hell out there and I don't feel like being damned to that today. I've already gone through high school how many times? I think it'll last a few days without me. The foundations won't crumble or anything." As she spoke, she felt his head lift off the edge of the bed and heard his feet dance around to the other side.

"I never said anything about school," he murmured as he crawled onto the bed behind her. "If you don't get up, you'll never get your surprise." He covered her arm with his and wrapped his fingers around her clenched fist on top of comforter. Without missing a single beat, he brushed her hair away from the nape of her neck and began a series of tentative kisses on each of her vertebrae. She really, really wished that he wasn't so intent on making her a productive member of society.

"I hate surprises," she said, trying to concentrate on proper words.

"You'll like this one." That voice he used should be illegal.

"You always say that, but it never happens."

"Now that's not true," he started as he reached up and twirled her necklace between two fingers. At the end of the chain she never took off, a small golden wedding band rested just above her still but living heart. It was her way of remembering their marriage while they posed as high schoolers. "Remember the photo album last year? You loved it. I wish I could show you the look on your face."

"Of course I loved it, but that was our anniversary. Even though I said - very clearly and several times, I might add - that I didn't want anything, I knew you would get me something. So it didn't really count as a surprise." Edward's fingers had moved their way from the chain at her neck to the dip of her clavicle, but Bella was not going to open her eyes. Nothing he said or did would sway her.

"Trust me, Bella, you will love this one. You just have to move." She kicked him. "Not like that. Step one, open eyes. Step two, remove covers. Step three, stand up. Step four, get dressed."

"No fun can come of that many steps." Unfortunately, though, she had opened her eyes unwittingly. He smiled and then pressed his lips gently against the back of her head.

"I'll see you downstairs."

--

Of course nobody would find a teenage couple sitting in an airport terminal on a school day bizarre. Not even if one of them had a prosthetic arm and the other wore more layers than anyone would even consider close to the realm of necessary. It made perfect sense to Bella. Nobody even looked twice at them.

A little further south, where the airport was, the snow hadn't even begun to hit yet. The sky was cloudy and grey - perfect vampire weather - but none of the flights going west were delayed or canceled yet. Inside, the building was toasty and even Bella began to feel a little bit warmer. "So, where are we going?"

"Like I said, it's a surprise. You're not supposed to know until we board."

"I could just go read the sign and figure it out."

"You could, but you won't," he said, smiling down at her. "I think that for once, you actually want to be surprised. Just maybe." She stuck her tongue out at him and turned back to look at the rest of the people in the terminal. A few seats away, an old woman was eying them, but as soon as Bella met her gaze, she looked away. So someone had noticed them: the bizarre couple. Edward smirked beside her and kissed her forehead lightly. "You may have noticed... we have an audience," he said in a voice only intended for Bella's ears.

"I'm sure we're very confusing to her. We're very confusing to me."

"Well, that's an entirely different story." His fingertips danced their way down her arm, tracing unable objects in the six layers of clothing she wore. "You know Bella, I'm not sure I'm a big fan of that coat. It's far too puffy. Barriers shouldn't be that puffy. In fact," he said as he lowered her lips to her ear, "I'd rather prefer you had no barriers at all."

"Edward Cullen, you are simply trying to distract me and I don't appreciate it," she replied, trying to sound incredulous. It came out more as a breathy whisper. "If you tell me where we're going I'll take off the coat."

"Woman knows how to bargain. Sadly, that doesn't tempt me nearly enough."

"I can think of a large number of things that I can pull out to tempt you, but here is neither the time nor the place."

"So eloquent today."

"Just tell me where we're going, it's not that difficult!"

"You'll find out soon enough." After that, Bella fell silent, crossing her arms over her chest and staring at the constant movement down the long terminal. Edward knew his wife well enough to know that this fit of pouting wouldn't last very long, and most likely it was a ruse to get him to cave. All these years later, she hadn't learned very many new tricks.

She didn't let up for almost twenty minutes. Realizing that she was perfectly capable of going for the rest of the trip without speaking to him, Edward was forced to weigh his options. Really, he was only holding out on her to be a nuisance - something that remained a pleasure well into their fifty years of marriage. Teasing her was so easy, sometimes he wondered how it ended up being so much fun. With a sigh, he finally said, "Fine, I'll tell you." Bella, however, didn't budge. She continued staring off into the distance, ignoring him. "I guess if you don't want to know, then..."

"No, no, tell me!" Springing suddenly to life, Bella had twisted in his grip to face him.

The real reason he hadn't told her yet was out of fear. Plain and simple. While it was true that she rarely liked surprises, he was sure she would appreciate this in the long run, even if it enraged her now. He was worried about her initial reaction - she might dash out of the airport before he could get a grip on her, she might start screaming at him about what the hell he was thinking. Anything. He had no idea of how to gauge her reaction.

"We're going... somewhere kind of... illegal..."

"What, Cuba?" Of course Bella would be completely oblivious. He would have laughed if he weren't so anxious. A few seconds passed, and he saw her face fall gradually. "No." Her response was curt, direct.

"Bella, hear me out on this." She shook her head, but didn't remove herself from the seat beside him. "You never got to say a proper good-bye. We'll fly into Seattle, and make a day trip out to Forks. For all we know, the wolves are gone by now." Her head continued to move. Back and forth, back and forth. Speed increasing bit by bit. "Fifty years, Bella. We'll be in town a few hours."

"You're breaking the treaty."

"Yes, but nobody will know."

"No. Edward, I can't do this. I'm sorry. I'm not going." The resolve in her voice shook him.

"Why?" No response. "It can't just be because of the treaty." Still, though, she made no move to leave. "Bella, please, be rational."

"No, you be rational. Do remember what happened the last time the wolves thought we had broken the treaty? I nearly lost you, Edward. I don't want to go through that again." Her eyes scoured the depths of his, searching for something. "If there's any chance that the wolves are still alive, then there's a chance that us even being in Seattle will set them off. What's to stop them from hunting us down?"

"First of all, there are plenty of vampires in Seattle that the wolves never once did anything about. Second, there's the fact that they are completely rational people. Last time, Bella, you couldn't hear what was going on in their heads. There was a lot of turmoil and confusion in the tribe and especially among the pack. If things had been even the slightest bit less stressful for any of them, that war would never have been called. Third, even if there are still wolves in Forks, we can be gone and back before we even show up on their radar screen."

"Werewolves use radars?"

"I don't know. Some sort of scent-based echolocation or something equally as ridiculous- oh I don't know, they're dogs, okay?" Bella couldn't hide her smile - Edward so rarely got flustered, and even though the werewolves were a sensitive topic for him, she enjoyed seeing him in her shoes. He took a deep breath and refocused on her. "The point is, there is something I want you to see back home. I think it will do you a lot of good."

Bella did not say anything, but instead tucked her legs into her chest and let her body fall into Edward's lap. He took this as a concession.

--

What else would it be doing in Forks but raining when they arrived? The drops landed lightly on the roof of their car and the slushing sound beneath the tires got louder as they approached the town. Edward could drive perfectly well with the one hand, at least in an automatic car, and he didn't really trust Bella to drive. He would constantly wonder whether or not she would do a one-eighty and zoom off in the other direction. Sometimes he felt nauseous, thinking how unfair it was for him not to trust Bella - good relationships are supposed to be based on trust. That's what everyone always said. At the same time, Bella still didn't completely trust Edward either. He knew how nervous she got when they were apart, thinking that he might not come back. That made him even more sick.

He just closed his eyes and pushed that out of his mind. This wasn't about trust. He liked driving. That's all he needed to think. He liked to drive. It made him feel human. Just driving. No trust issues.

"Edward, look at the road, please," Bella whispered from the passenger seat. His eyes snapped open, but it was just to appease her. He could drive perfectly well with his eyes closed, and she knew it. He didn't blame her for being on edge - he still hadn't told her exactly where they were going.

The turn-off appeared just ahead in the drizzle; it was a small road that Edward had never taken before, even though he had driven by it countless times back when he called Forks home. Something about cemeteries made Edward incredibly uncomfortable - there was never any reason for him to be in one, it was part of the immortality deal. As the road changed from pavement to gravel, Edward slowed the car until it rolled to a perfect stop. The engine still purred beneath their seats and the rain still pattered on the roof over their heads, but those sounds seemed to be galaxies away. Edward opened the door and walked to the other side of the car to take Bella's hand as she got out. Time felt like it was getting sucked out of him and each movement took ages to complete.

He opened the door. He took her hand. She stepped onto the gravel. They walked. They walked.

Bella, like Edward, had never been here before, but she knew exactly where they were headed. The Forks cemetery was obviously not the most popular hang-out spot among the living or the undead. From where Edward had stopped the car, she could see the short stone wall encircling the cemetery and the tops of headstones peaking out in the rain. It hit her the second they came into view.

It was her final good-bye.

Once, she had truly wanted Edward to change her. She was willing to become like him, to spend all of eternity with him. It was all about him. The plan - the hope, really - was that she would get a proper farewell for her parents and friends before the change. But everything veered completely off course. She had been blind, really. So many things, pure human things, that she would never have - that she never thought she'd regret.

Edward knew that. Fifty years, he knew every aspect of humanity that she longed for; fifty years, he watched this shadow on his wife.

With their hands linked, the two of them found the graves. Charles Swan. He had died about ten years after Bella's disappearance. He did drink occasionally, and was in relatively good health. At least, his doctor thought so. One night, he fell asleep and just didn't wake up. Not that anybody knew it, but that night, he dreamed that Bella came home looking exactly the way she had when she disappeared. Except in his dream, she was bright-eyed and practically glowing - actually happy.

Right next to Charlie's headstone was Isabella Swan's. Born 1987, disappeared 2006. A simple marker, proof that she was once here.

Bella dropped Edward's hand in silence and knelt at the foot of her father's grave. The rain fell around them, plastering her hair to her forehead and darkening the stones a few feet ahead of her. It was just another day in Forks.

Edward stood behind her, enthralled. He had never visited his own grave marker - he wasn't even sure he had one. However, he never felt the need for closure in his own life. While he never chose this, and while he had a hard time accepting it at first, there wasn't much regret for the life he hadn't had a chance to lead. He was dying anyway - his mortal time drew to a close by the time Carlisle arrived. Eventually, he learned to live day by day. Nothing could be changed, and so he did nothing to change.

Until Bella.

A mere glance from her would set his soul on fire: something he knew, absolutely knew, that he had now. He may be a monster, but with Bella, he truly felt like a man. What more proof did he need?

Eventually the rain let up, leaving a musky smell in his nose and a fine mist hanging in the air. When the rain stopped, Bella stood and turned back to Edward. "Thank you," she said, taking his hand once more. A brief smile danced across her face, making her pure gold eyes twinkle and sending a shiver up Edward's spine. He returned the smile.

It was so easy to get lost in one another's gaze. Eyes matched eyes, skin matched skin. At first, waves of anger had taken Bella over, knowing where they were. Edward had no right to do this, especially considering that she had never wanted to come here. Once she laid eyes on the stones, though, she knew no proper repayment existed. Edward was right - she loved it. Though the image in front of her face tore at her heart, making it hard to breathe, she understood now that it was time to finally live. All this time, the two of them were consumed by the past when they had an entire future without pause to look forward to. The past had its wrongs and its confusion and its turmoil; the future probably would, too. Hadn't she once told him that she was ready to move forward, to spend forever fully with him? Fifty years and she was still stuck wondering.

Closure. That was the word. She could not describe the relief. So she simply thanked him, hoping it was enough. Then she was adrift in his eyes, losing all ties to the world around her.

The two turned away after a few very long minutes, heading back to the stalled car. The mist enveloped them, two pale creatures in the grey haze, leaving nothing but the faintest footprints in the wet grass. Soon, the cemetery was completely empty, and they were only whispers. Legends. Ghosts in the forest.

The End.

"when the house goes up in flames, no one emerges triumphantly from it."


Thank you to everyone who has read this fic and made it completely worth it for me. I hope you enjoyed it (those of you who stuck around), and I really, really appreaciate all your feedback. Thank you!