HUGE APOLOGIES that this AN is practically as long as the actual chapter, but I have a lot to get through. Skip it if you want, but you never know what you might miss :P
Thank you to whoever nominated Guns and Roses for the Twilight All Human Awards (Best Romance) - I really appreciate it, hehe. Voting is open from now until the 25th August and the link's on my profile, in case you feel like swinging by ;)
Thanks as well for being patient waiting for the epilogue. It was surprisingly difficult for me to write, but I got to it in the end. As this is the very last update *sob* I have a lot of 'thank you's to get on with, so bear with me.
Firstly, thank you times a million to Cullenista, my ever-patient beta, who stuck with me even when I scared the living daylights out of her and insisted on doing things my way :P I can't say how much I've appreciated your support, and I honestly don't know where I would ever have found the courage to post the first chapter if you hadn't taken a look at it at my timid request. I bow to your greatness (no, really, I do).
Secondly, THANK YOU to everyone who's read this story - the response has been better than I could ever have hoped for and I have loved reading every single review (well, almost every one :P). Some people have been with me from the beginning, and I love you more than I can say, and some have joined later, which is amazing, too. To everybody who's ever helped me or offered support or advice, I owe you big time :P
Now for some administrative details:
This is the final chapter of Guns and Roses and I have no intention of writing a sequel. Sorry to everybody who was hoping for one, but this is a self-contained story and it is now over. Writing a sequel just wouldn't feel right to me.
I don't know if I'm going to write anything else - ideas are spinning around my brain like crazy but it remains to be seen whether they will settle on paper. Feel free to put me on alert so you know if I post anything new, and with any luck this won't be the last thing I write :)
Mini history lesson:
The offensive in which Edward was injured (Battle of Amiens - August 1918) has been seen as the beginning of the end of WWI. The Allied armies (Britain, France, America, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Italy, Portugal, Japan...) were growing in strength due to extra units being moved to the Western Front, and the German commanders didn't anticipate a big attack at Amiens. There were an estimated 30,000 losses on the first day of the offensive, the 8th August, and the Allied forces gained an average of 7 miles.
The Central powers (Germany etc.) started to collapse from September with Bulgaria signing the first armistice agreement. Dissatisfaction had been growing in Germany during the war years and as a result of a revolution, the country was declared a republic on the 9th November. An armistice with Germany was signed two days later and on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month a ceasefire came into effect. The last peace treaties were signed in Versailles in May of the following year.
The 11th November was declared Remembrance Day by King George V in 1919 and a permanent cenotaph (meaning 'empty tomb') was unveiled on the anniversary of the armistice in 1920. Crowds gathered from the night before to await the procession of the coffin of the Unknown British Warrior through London to Westminster Abbey, where it was buried along with many of the Kings and Queens of England. For more information about this ceremony (which I find incredibly poignant) see the link on my profile to a BBC article.
The inscription on the tomb was as follows:
BENEATH THIS STONE RESTS THE BODY
OF A BRITISH WARRIOR
UNKNOWN BY NAME OR RANK
BROUGHT FROM FRANCE TO LIE AMONG
THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS OF THE LAND
AND BURIED HERE ON ARMISTICE DAY
11 NOV: 1920, IN THE PRESENCE OF
HIS MAJESTY KING GEORGE V
HIS MINISTERS OF STATE
THE CHIEFS OF HIS FORCES
AND A VAST CONCOURSE OF THE NATION
THUS ARE COMMEMORATED THE MANY
MULTITUDES WHO DURING THE GREAT
WAR OF 1914 - 1918 GAVE THE MOST THAT
MAN CAN GIVE LIFE ITSELF
FOR KING AND COUNTRY
FOR LOVED ONES HOME AND EMPIRE
FOR THE SACRED CAUSE OF JUSTICE AND
THE FREEDOM OF THE WORLD
THEY BURIED HIM AMONG THE KINGS BECAUSE HE
HAD DONE GOOD TOWARD GOD AND TOWARD
Consider this a very potted history of the end of the First World War, just intended to contextualise the epilogue. This final chapter, and really the whole story, is dedicated to the sixteen million soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in the four years of conflict:
1,698,000 French deaths.
1,226,000 British Imperial deaths.
117,000 American deaths.
2,477,000 German deaths.
1,240,000 Italian deaths.
3,311,000 Russian deaths.
One more thing: I would really like it if you would play Eva Cassidy's version of 'Fields of Gold' while reading this chapter (possibly on repeat) - link's on my profile. It was in my head when I first conceived the idea for this story, and I always intended to use it for the previous chapter, but somehow it didn't quite work out. Please?
Epilogue: In Me, Past, Present, Future Meet
11th November 1920, London
A cold, sharp wind swept down the street, and each head bowed as its owner tugged their coat closer and huddled into the warmth of their scarf. Frost still lay upon the surface of the ground, the morning unseasonably cold, each footstep crunching on the hard paving stones. By unspoken consensus, a hush had spread over the assembled crowd, permeating through every pore and into, it seemed, my very soul.
There was an expectant air over the gathering, the road lined and packed with onlookers waiting to pay their respects to one of their own, brought home at last. Not a word passed amongst the immense crowd as the guard of honour led the procession, the horse drawn gun carriage carrying the coffin of the Unknown Warrior through London. As the wheels of the carriage rumbled through the street, an audible silence fell over the crowd, the weight of loss and grief pressing down on every person present.
I felt Bella's warmth at my side and subconsciously sidled a little closer to her, hemmed in as we were by the hushed multitude. When I was as close as could be allowed in public, I reached out and took her cold hand in mine, brushing my skin over hers and feeling the ring nestling on her fourth finger. A small smile crept onto my face, despite the burden of sorrow pressing on us, and I squeezed her hand just as the carriage drew to a stop by the new cenotaph and King George unveiled the monument, placing a wreath on the flag-draped coffin.
As the clock struck eleven, Big Ben started to chime, the signal came for the two minutes' silence to begin, and the already mute crowed ducked their heads in a grave salute to the fallen. My mind was flying, the thoughts coming too thick and fast to stifle, and although I tried to maintain respectful musings, I couldn't control the torrent of memories streaming through my head.
So much had changed and yet so little since Bella and I had pledged ourselves to one another, once in the cornfield in Corbie, and again in the little chapel in Forks over a year ago. She was my wife, and I was the happiest man in the world, but it was undeniable that our felicity had come at a price.
The wedding had been beautiful, Bella glowing in a simple white dress, smiling with tears cascading down her cheeks. The front pew where her parents should have sat was conspicuously empty; Charlie had fallen ill again the previous spring and died in Bella's arms not three weeks before the wedding. I had offered to postpone it, wanted to even, but Bella was adamant that it should proceed as before. Perhaps she was eager to replace the family she'd lost, or perhaps she simply wanted to marry me as much as I did her.
Whether it was her aim or not, she had gained a loving family, of that there was no doubt. Alice sobbed and clung to the pair of us, Jasper's ring glittering on her finger with the man himself hovering behind her. Their date was set for the following Christmas, and my little sister looked happier than she ever had.
My mother was ecstatic, of course, and my father brimming with pride as he shook my hand and clapped me on the back. "You've done well for yourself, my boy," he told me gruffly at the small reception after the church. "I don't see how you could've found yourself a better wife."
His words meant the world to me, and I solemnly promised him that I would never forget how lucky I was. This vow was as much for Charlie as for my own father; wherever he was, I was sure he could see us now, and I needed him to know I would take care of his daughter. She may have walked down the aisle alone, head held high even as tears glistened on her cheeks, but I was secure in her father's blessing, given many months before his death. Somehow, I knew he could hear and was glad.
Before we left on our honeymoon, we had one stop to make. In Fork's tiny cemetery, I watched my new wife kneel before two matching gravestones, one smooth and neat and one slightly weathered and dull. She cried again, and I ached to hold her, but she motioned for me to stay back. This was a private moment, just between her and her cherished parents, and I knew I should not intrude. I had never known loss like this and I wondered at Bella's courage. Even when saying goodbye to her beloved mother and father, she was poised and brave.
When she was finished, she stood silently before the stones for a minute more, laying fresh flowers on each mound. Then, she turned and walked straight into my arms, holding herself against my chest as she wept, and I could just make out the words, "Mama," and "Father," through her tears. I cradled her gently and, sweeping her up into my arms, swore that I would protect her from hurt with everything in my power. I only hoped that would be enough.
So Bella and I began our lives together as man and wife with the same bittersweet mix of exquisite joy and sadness that had clung to us from the first time we had professed our love for each other. We travelled, saw the world, just as I had promised Bella – if only by proxy – and she took delight in everything we did. Our lovemaking was sweet and passionate, fuelled often by the same desperate longing that drove us from the first and, for the most part, we were happy.
In the months of our engagement before the war ended, needing to remain a part of the conflict that had so shaped us, we both worked and saved enough to support our travels, with a little help from my father. Bella continued her nursing in a civilian hospital in Seattle, and I took a position in a factory producing ammunition and aircraft parts. It sickened me to churn out the weapons that I had seen do so much damage, but I couldn't bear to do nothing. At least this way I didn't feel like I had completely abandoned my brothers in arms.
With our savings, therefore, and few obligations tying us to Forks, we took our time traversing the continent, though mostly steering clear of Northern France. Perhaps one day we would feel ready to return, but that time had certainly not yet arrived. Although the memories of things I had seen never left my mind, I shuddered to hear them talked of out loud, and Bella seemed to instinctively realise this. We rarely spoke of our time in France, except in honeyed reminiscences, and the names of our lost friends were taboo. I never forgot them, though, and I would bet everything I possessed that Bella's mind was similarly occupied.
In December of that year, we took a break from our foreign explorations and made our way back home, in time to spend Christmas with the family. My mother was overjoyed to see us so happy together, and welcomed Bella like a long-lost daughter. With Jasper safely returned from the war, to Alice's unspeakable delight and relief, the family felt almost complete. Bella slept curled tightly in my arms those nights we stayed in Forks, the pair of us finally recognised by my parents as man and wife. I comforted her as best I could and, though I watched carefully for any reticence, her smiles and laughs with our family seemed genuine enough.
On the 31st December 1919, Alice and Jasper vowed to love and cherish and forsake all others before their proud family and friends in the small chapel. My mother wept with pride and joy, once again, and even my father was misty-eyed. Bella and Alice hugged each other tightly, their happiness and affection palpable to the whole room, and I congratulated Jasper with unforced gladness. He was a good man – it had been some time since I'd pretended otherwise – and he would be good for my sister. Of course, if he put a foot out of line, I wouldn't hesitate to pummel him into the ground, but such brotherly feelings could be put aside until after the reception.
We stayed in Forks for some weeks, celebrating the start of the new year with my parents and the newlyweds, and when they left for their honeymoon, Bella and I too set off on the next leg of our travels. We marked my twenty-first birthday in Berlin, and Bella's a few months later in Paris, and so it was that we had found ourselves in London on the second anniversary of Armistice Day, two years to the day after the very last shot was fired.
Drifting back to the present, I noticed that there was movement again around the cenotaph, the frozen guard coming back to life and the gun carriage once again being pulled forward, on to its next destination and final resting place. It took several minutes for the still crowd to reawaken, but gradually muted chatter broke out again and deadened noise filled the street.
Bella and I remained standing where we were, not yet ready to leave behind the memories that still followed us. Some time later, I felt a light pressure on my hand and looked down to see Bella's upturned face, her eyes fathomless and gazing into mine. I returned her look, trying to convey with one glance everything that was too difficult to say. Somehow, I knew she understood, and I was grateful.
We turned to walk away from the barriers lined with policemen, her eyes still locked on mine and her hand clasped between my fingers, and the world just melted away.
This day was not about the future; we did not think of the day our first child was born, eight months and twelve days from today, when I hovered anxiously outside the room until the midwife called me in, and we beamed down together at our beautiful baby girl.
Nor was it about the past, our paths crossing and inter-weaving from the day I first saw her walking down our street holding her mother's hand, her hair tangled and tousled from playing in the field.
No, this day was about now, this very moment, which was slipping like sand through our fingers even as we lived it. This moment for which we had come so far, battled so hard; this second for which we had sacrificed our youth and innocence, our childlike views of perfection.
Damaged as I was, I was hers and she was mine. We were together: two bodies, two souls as one, her life in my hands and mine in hers. As she sighed gently at my side, her brown eyes looking right into me, I thought, Bella, I love you, and as if in response, she smiled.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.