A/N Well, here we are. The last and final chapter of FBR. Writing this story has been an amazing experience, sharing it, even better. Finishing it is a huge accomplishment for me. Over the last two years I have learned a lot about writing and about myself, and I have been blessed with wonderful readers, betas and friends. I could literally devote pages to thanks, but I'd undoubtedly still forget someone, not to mention bore you all to tears. So, I'll limit myself to just a few and hope that in my many replies, PM's, emails etc. I have conveyed how grateful I am to have had so many incredible people share this story with me. I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it. I have, bar none, the best readers in the fandom. xo
Special thanks to -
SydneyAlice and Octoberland. 2 talented fanfiction writers who acted as betas, at different times and played a huge part in this story from grammar help to editing, and so far beyond. I learned so much from each of you.
solareclipses, an incredible writer who beta'd this monstrous epilogue, pre-read for me on several occasions and talked me off ledges. I heart you hard, girl and I'm so proud to post this chapter with your name attached.
Cella72, my Alice, my internet bestie, partner in crime, girl crush, cheerleader, dear diary, giggle buddy and idee fixe twin, lol. You are the best part of my Twilight experience/obsession, Cel and I adore you! Thanks for holding my hand through more things than I can count and for all your help with...everything. xo And LOOK. I DID IT! Lol. ;-)
Falling Beyond Redemption
. . . . . .
Seattle Washington 11/25/2036
There is no such thing as happily ever after. No gentle walk into the sunset and the arms of a strifeless destiny. I should know, living as I have for over a century. I have witnessed wars and the darkest deeds of humanity, and I have witnessed moments of greatness and times of perfect peace. I have watched cities crumble, and I have watched them be rebuilt, and I have seen the most ordinary people rise above and become...extraordinary.
Bella is the most perfect example of all of this. She has walked out of the ashes of devastation, scarred and shaken, her very foundations of trust and belief in others and in herself torn down. She was stripped bare of all she thought was true in her world and reborn in a wash of blood and hurt, fire and ice, to stand before me now as someone new and infinitely stronger.
A phoenix in every sense of the term.
Her strength these last thirty years has been my governing force. She is beautiful and fierce, ruthless and tender, wickedly strong and compassionately gentle. I have watched her use her shield to save an elderly man from a driver who did not heed a crosswalk's flashing warning sign. I've watched her use it again to incapacitate and then destroy a rogue vampire with an appetite for young boys.
Together with Rose, she has opened and funded safe-houses in several continents for women who have known violence at the hands of men. Together with Esme and Carlisle, she hopes to open a clinic for homeopathic diagnosis and remedies, the degree she's pursuing in holistic medicine something she can't wait to hang on a wall and put to practical use.
Three nights ago, I watched her make a frat boy piss his pants in instinctive terror when she pulled him away from the under-aged drunken girl he was attempting to seduce with malicious intent. She pushed him against a wall and held him by his neck, her voice a hiss as she told him in no uncertain terms she would happily rip his throat out if he didn't see the girl safely, and with a gentleman's intent, to her home.
Two nights ago, I watched her hold the hand of a lost little girl and comfort her while I used my telepathy to search for the child's parent. She purchased the child a stuffed toy and a drink and held her in her lap, singing softly to her and teaching her a rhyming game until I could lead the mother to them. When the weeping woman expressed her gratitude, Bella merely smiled and kissed the child's fingertips with a smile and a wink, and acted as though it was an everyday occurrence for a vampire to do such a thing.
And tonight? Tonight I will watch her now silent heart, break.
I move behind her to wrap my arms around her waist and allow her to lean back against me. She turns her face to my neck, pressing her forehead to my throat with a soft hitching sigh.
"I love you, Bella." Small comfort, but I feel her lips turn up against my skin in a tremulous attempt at a smile.
"I know," she answers.
Behind us, I hear Alice enter the house, her high-heeled steps ringing against the tile floor of the hall that leads to the living room. Her mind tells me why she's come, but her gift of foresight isn't necessary. Bella and I have known that Charlie will not make it through this night. When dawn broke over the horizon, we'd heard the tell-tale sound of his heart failing.
The oxygen tank hisses, but it's for comfort only. No respirator to breathe for him, no heroic last measures to save his life. It's what he's asked for, and we are bound to grant his wishes, no matter how helpless it makes us feel.
Alice stops beside us, her hand touching Bella's arm.
"How much longer?" Bella asks, her voice lowered for our ears only, though Charlie is currently sleeping. He's been in and out all day, sometimes aware and sometimes only dozing, other times slipping down into unconsciousness.
"An hour," Alice answers with gentle finality. "He'll wake again soon. When he says he's tired, Edward will help him to bed. He won't suffer. He'll simply fall asleep and slip away, just as he wants, Bella."
Bella inhales sharply. I feel her chest and lungs expand outward. She doesn't breathe out for a long moment. I rock her gently and murmur softly to her – nothing words, sounds of comfort with no meaning. She exhales slowly and nods against my neck.
"Okay then. Okay." She pulls away, and I let her go. I watch helplessly as she straightens her spine and pushes her hair behind her ears. "Do the others know?" she asks, her tone strengthening as well.
"Yes," Alice replies. "They're on their way. Emmett and Rose should be here any minute. Their flight was delayed, but Esme met them at baggage, and they're in the car only a few blocks away. Jasper is outside waiting for them."
Carlisle, of course, is already here. I can hear his thoughts in the kitchen as he putters aimlessly, washing a dish, wiping a counter that's already clean, his mind full of things he could have done if Charlie would have agreed. Heart disease doesn't have to be a death sentence in this day and age of successful transplants. Carlisle could and would have found a way to put Charlie's name on the top of a list, regardless of age and other health ailments, but Charlie would have none of it.
"I've lived a decently long life, Carlisle. I appreciate what you want to do, but we both know between the blood pressure and the age, I'm not making it on that list legally. I won't be responsible for taking a heart from someone else." He'd clapped his hand over Carlisle's shoulder, as though to comfort him. "I've made my peace with this being my last few months. I've got some good weeks ahead of me yet; let me live them without wires and tubes and hospital beds, okay?"
There was nothing we could say. Nothing we could do. Bella tried at first, but Charlie finally fixed her with a hard look and told her, "Enough, Bells. I've respected decisions you've made, no matter how hard they were for me. Time for you to do the same and respect mine." And there was nothing she could say to that. Nothing she could do, save accept the inevitable.
We moved to Seattle, and he surprised us by agreeing to come and live with us there. We'd been searching for ways to make it work so that we could stay with him in his home, even if it meant never leaving the house. Charlie would not die alone; I'd promised Bella that. Instead, when we asked, he simply sighed, looked around the home he'd lived in all his adult life, and nodded once.
A week later, we packed a few small boxes of things he wanted to take with him and left Forks, stopping only once at the town cemetery to let Charlie place flowers on Karen's grave. She'd passed away eight years ago from breast cancer. Her headstone read beloved wife. Charlie had made an honest woman out of her six months before she succumbed to her disease. She never knew about us, but their wedding photo sits in a place of prominence, wherever we live.
We tried to make Charlie's last days good. I hope we succeeded. He is a simple man. He wanted little and asked for less. I've never been more grateful for my gift. It allowed us to see to his every need and desire, despite his reticence. It also allowed me to comfort Bella the only way I could – by assuring her he was comfortable, and more importantly perhaps, letting her know I knew he was content and unafraid of death.
Not that I needed to read his mind to know that. He told me outright once, while we walked along the waterfront during one of his good days. We'd bought a large, beautiful home so Charlie would be near the water he loved so much, and it provided a peaceful place to walk and talk, uninterrupted by others. He told me then, that death wasn't something he feared.
"I remember nearly dying," he said, lowering his voice, his thoughts showing me he didn't want Bella to hear this tale. "When Jacob shot me." His quick glance at me was speculative, as though wanting to make sure he didn't upset me with the name. I'd kept my expression open and devoid of anything but sincere interest, and he continued after clearing his throat. "It wasn't a bad thing. It was like a choice at the time, stay or go, and a big part of me wanted to go. I think I might have if it wasn't for Billy telling me I needed to stay for Bella."
He shrugged then, uncomfortable talking about his former friend. He'd made a somewhat reluctant peace with Billy after learning of the shaman's involvement in saving Bella during her change. But they never regained what was lost, though the past had been put to bed between them at least. From time to time they'd spoken when they'd met up in town, cordial yet reserved. Billy passed away nearly a decade ago, but he kept his promise to Bella. The Pack, for all their faults, protected Charlie right up until the day we took him away.
Charlie was quiet for a while as we walked, but continued once he sat on a bench to catch his breath. "I think that even though there won't be a choice this time to stay or go, it'll still be the same. Like going home. That's what it was like." He nodded more to himself than to me and smiled. A singular smile of such rugged beauty I'd longed for a camera to capture it. He looked so peaceful.
Later, I picked up paper and a charcoal pencil and drawn what I remembered. I've had it framed and carefully locked away for a day when I can give it to Bella. Once the pain of losing him fades a little, she can appreciate that look on his face and know it for what it was.
In the present, Charlie stirs in his recliner chair and opens his eyes. A game is on the television, and he focuses on it for a moment as I hear Esme arrive with Emmett and Rose. The sounds of the car doors opening join Jasper's quiet greetings and his soft spoken words that let them know what happens now.
Charlie's eyes shift away from the TV and over the room, coming to rest on Bella and me. They narrow a little.
"Getting late, Edward. Don't you think you should be heading home?" He's back in Forks, lost in the time where he hadn't liked me much, and for good reason.
"Dad." Bella begins to go to him, her tone slightly censuring as though she wants to bring him back to the present. I stop her with an arm around her waist.
"It's okay, love," I tell her gently, turning to Charlie with a slight, respectful nod of my head.
"Of course, sir. Thank you for allowing me to visit with Bella this evening."
Charlie grunts, running a hand over his face as I kiss Bella's forehead. "It's only for a moment," I whisper in her ear, "and then he'll remember again."
She looks at me with sadness in her eyes but nods and releases my hand. I watch her make her way to Charlie, adjusting his blanket and murmuring soft questions, asking of his comfort. I make my way outside to greet Emmett and Rose and help them prepare. They've been in France for the last six weeks; they won't be ready for this.
Though in all honesty, I know there is no way that any of us are ready for this, least of all Bella.
. . . . . .
Charlie's hand feels cold. I draw the blanket up higher and wonder if I should get another.
"Got any homework, kid?" he asks. His voice is choked by the fluid in his lungs caused by congestive heart failure. His lips are slightly blue, but it won't be the lack of oxygen that will take him from me tonight. I can hear his heart – the sluggish, thick, laboured beats that can't settle into an easy rhythm.
"No, Dad. I did it already."
"Thought I would watch a little bit of the game with you, if that's okay?"
"Yeah?" He looks surprised, and I instantly regret all those days I'd left him sitting by himself in front of the television when I could have spent more time with him. "That'd be nice, Bells. Hey, would you grab your old man a can of Vitamin R? I'm a little worn out today for some reason."
Carlisle appears in the doorway with the can and a glass. His eyes like mine are dark and sad as I take it from him, but I can't think about that. There's only room for my own pain right now. Still, it's a comfort when he cups my cheek for a moment; his unspoken, conciliatory thoughts are clear in his face.
I poor the beer for Charlie, listening to his heart, aching because I know it will be quiet soon. It sounds so tired.
"Sorry, Bells." Charlie's hands shake too much to hold the glass, so I help him. He takes only the smallest sip before easing back and grimacing. His expression clears, and I know he's back in the present when Edward returns to the room.
"Hey, Emmett, Rose. I thought you two were off in France somewhere." Charlie greets them as they walk in behind Edward.
"Hey, Pops," Emmett says with a large smile, leaning over to fist bump Charlie who grins happily. Rose leans down as well and kisses Charlie's forehead. His smile softens.
"Hello, beautiful girl."
"Hey now, Pops. What'd I tell you about flirting with my wife?"
Charlie laughs, though the sound is weak and the crackling in his lungs taints any joy I might have found in hearing what is likely his final laugh.
"If I was just a few years younger, Emmett, I might be tempted to try to win her away from you."
Rose, her poker face in perfect form, chuckles as she gently pats his hand. "You'd give him a run for his money, you charmer, you."
Emmett tries to laugh, but it sounds hollow. He clears his throat unnecessarily instead and turns his head to the TV. "Who's winning?" The question sounds as hollow as the laugh.
"Not sure. I fell asleep for a bit. They haven't shown the score." Charlie frowns a little but then suddenly turns to Edward. "Hey, Edward, we should take the boat out tomorrow. What do you think?" He doesn't seem to notice the light wet snow pattering softly against the large windows or remember that it's November.
Edward smiles. "Of course, Charlie. That sounds like a great idea. The weather is supposed to be perfect for fishing tomorrow."
"Oh yeah? Damn, we'll definitely need to go out then. I haven't caught anything good in a while." He looks up at Emmett. "You should come with us, Emmett." His gaze turns to Carlisle standing quietly by the fireplace and then to Jasper by the door. "You too, Carlisle, Jasper. We'll make it a guy's afternoon out. What do you say?"
"Sounds like a solid plan," Jasper answers, and Carlisle nods, humming some word of agreement. I feel a warm rush of something pleasant buff out the sharp edges of pain spiking through me with each passing second and these plans that can't come to fruition. My eyes close, and the feeling recedes as I block Jasper from my mind with my shield. Only mine. Whatever comfort he can give to the others they can have, but I will take the pain and hold it close.
I sit on the arm of Charlie's chair, resting my hand on his shoulder, and somehow find words.
"That sounds like a great plan, Dad. I'll pack you a nice lunch. You can stay out as long as you like." The lie hurts, the fallacy so weak I don't know how he doesn't see through me. Or maybe he does.
Charlie nods and his heart slows, races, slows, races. He winces a little and rubs at his arm. Carlisle drifts casually over, and without Charlie noticing, he applies a morphine patch to the inside of his arm. In seconds I can see some of the tension leave Charlie. Some of the light leaves his eyes as well, fatigue showing deeply. It grows along with the pallor of his skin until he seems to be shrinking inside of himself.
Oh, Daddy. Please, don't go. I don't think I can bear this. I don't think I can.
I look up at Edward, and he's at my side in an instant, his arm coming around my shoulders so I can lean my cheek against his chest. Just one moment to breathe him in, to ground myself, before I lift my head and lean over to kiss Charlie's cheek.
"I love you, Dad."
He looks a little surprised and embarrassed, but smiles at me. "Love you, too, kid. A lot." He makes a small hmphf sound and sighs. It's like a knife in my chest when he looks around the room, blinking wearily.
Don't say you're tired. Don't say it, Charlie. Not yet.
"Well, sorry guys, but I'm failing."
Something inside of me cracks as I nearly jolt in reaction. Only this rock steady vampire body keeps me from physically showing my shock. Does he know?
"I can't seem to keep my eyes open. Think I'm gonna call it a night."
No, he doesn't know. Oh, God, he doesn't know. What if there is something he wanted to say, or do? Something he's put off? Some final good-bye or peace he needs to make. Do I let him slip away quietly? Is it better if he doesn't know?
Edward's arm tightens around me, reading my body language the way he still cannot read my mind. "He knows." The words are so quiet only we can hear them, and I look up at him, his eyes regarding me softly, dark with his own sadness. He touches my cheek so gently, as if he's following the tracks of the tears I cannot cry. "It's all right, love. He's peaceful. Let him go."
I struggle. I want to cling, to hold onto him, but I know I can't. Charlie has always done things on his own quiet terms; death will be the last of those. I cannot take that away from him.
It's Emmett who helps Charlie up from his chair and into his room. Edward follows, and I wait while I listen to the sounds of my husband gently readying my dying father for bed. Esme is suddenly there, holding me hard to her, and I realize I've sobbed out loud. I pray Charlie didn't hear me and dig down deep for the strength to do this.
I return her embrace for a moment and then nod. "I'm okay. Let me go." She does, but not before kissing my cheek and telling me she loves me. One by one they all go in the room and say good-night to Charlie. I listen to them, to the caring and compassion and affection that come from each word they gently speak. When they come out, they reach for me and I cling to each of them, taking strength while I can. I watch Edward squeeze Emmett's shoulder hard as the physically strongest of our family nearly folds in on himself, dropping to the sofa, his head falling to his hands.
Jasper holds me the hardest. "I can make this easier for you, darlin'. Let me make this easier." I hug him back equally hard and gently slip my shield over his mind, blocking the sadness and pain of the others from bombarding him. He cannot make this easier for me, but I can make this easier for him.
I shake my head at him and find the will to give a small honest smile as he starts to protest my actions. "No, it's okay. I'll be okay. I need to do this, feel this. This is how it works, right? Even if I hadn't chosen this life, I would have had to lose him."
"Take it off, Bella. If you won't let me help you, don't do this for me."
"Let me," I whisper. "I know this hurts enough by itself. You deserve to feel sad for your own sake for a change."
Jasper studies my face and then finally nods. I know he won't admit it, but he's grateful. There are times when his gift is a curse. He's spent enough time with Charlie these last few months to feel pain at losing him, too, and that's enough for anyone. His kiss against my forehead is rough and quick and then he lets me go.
I feel like I should be shaking but I can't. I slip quietly into Charlie's room and lay beside him on the bed. Edward stands at the side, and Charlie turns his head to me.
"Do you want me to go?" Edward asks near silently.
"No, stay." Don't leave me. I can't do this alone. I let my shield enfold him as well so he too can be alone with his grief.
"What's the matter, kiddo?" Charlie asks his voice fading as his eyes cloud over. His heartbeat seems so soft now, struggling, struggling... "Did you have a bad dream?"
He's in the past again, back when I was little and I used to visit and crawl in bed with him in the middle of the night after a nightmare. He raises a shaky hand and brushes my hair away. I take it in mine and clasp it with all the tenderness I've learned.
"I love you, Dad," I tell him one last time.
"It's okay, Bells. You're safe." His eyes close, and he breathes out softly. "You're going to be just fine." He says this last part so softly I wouldn't have been able to hear him if I wasn't what I am. I don't know if he speaks to me as a child or who I am now. I guess it doesn't matter.
He slips into sleep and his eyes begin to move behind his eyelids as if he's dreaming. The crinkles around them seem to soften out, the gray of his moustache looking like polished silver in the darkening room.
His heart thumps, clenches. One tight squeeze, so prolonged it seems it won't beat again, but it does. I listen as the clenching turns to fluttering. As though his heart is trying to shed the scar tissue and damage done by the heart attack he had following the events in Forks, and the several that followed in the last few years since he lost Karen. Irreparable heart damage, congestive heart failure. No cure... There is no hope. I stop wishing for his heart to keep beating and touch his face one last time instead.
"You're right, Dad. I'll be fine. I'll miss you so much, but I'll be fine."
His heart races way too fast and then just...stops.
I hold his hand, kiss his knuckles, and say good-bye for the last time.
. . . . . .
The sun is shining. Lighting up the water, making it sparkle like God dropped diamond slivers out of the sky and they're just floating around on top. I'm alone on my boat. Starcraft Islander ISO 120. She's a beauty. A gift from Bella and Edward. My dream boat. I haven't ever been alone on it before and this is nice. Peaceful. My fishing gear is all set up, ready to go. Bucket full of bait, cooler full of beer, and nothing but time.
I think about Karen. I have a feeling she'll be joining me soon. She'll like this new boat—she always was an outdoor girl, after my own heart. Good thing I was smart enough to give it to her.
We did a some boating before she got sick. Rentals weren't as nice as this, but we had fun. Even did some canoeing a few times out on Lake Sammamish. Little minx coaxed me into some nookie out there once. Ended up tipping the boat and taking a cold swim. Laughed till we nearly drowned.
God, I miss her.
I think about Billy, too. Maybe it's time to make my final peace. It'd be nice to go fishing with him again as well, the way we used to back in the day.
Soon, I think. Yeah, real soon. It feels like a good time to let go...of everything.
I tilt my head up to the sun and lean back in my chair. Going to be a good day, a really good day...
. . . . . .
Forks, Washington 12/02/2036
Black is the color of funerals. I used to think white was more fitting, but black works. I'm wearing it anyway. Edward at my side is wearing black as well. If nothing else, it helps us blend into the wet backdrop of forest as we stand far from where any prying eyes can see, watching Carlisle and Esme shake hands and accept condolences. They too are dressed in black, and Alice has worked movie magic with their appearances. A touch of gray to their hair, a few carefully added strokes of makeup to give the appearance of fine lines around the eyes and mouth. Esme's hair has been styled in a way that makes her gracefully beautiful but ages her ten years at least.
They are still flawlessly beautiful, of course, but it seems fitting they would age well, and Alice was careful to not go overboard. They look mature and regal, and they speak warmly of Charlie to his friends, people who believe I'm long since gone and buried. People who believe Carlisle and Esme were the ones who cared for Charlie solely on their own in his last days. The good doctor and his wife so kind, so generous, bonded with Charlie over the mutual loss of their children.
There is something almost comical about the way no one knows the truth but us now that Charlie is gone. I feel a sudden hysterical urge to laugh, but I tamp it down, aware giving in might crack me in half.
Instead, I watch my half-brother clasp Carlisle's hand in a firm shake and marvel at him, oddly proud. Renee had kept in touch with Charlie after our supposed death, brought him to visit on several occasions. Charlie had taken him fishing and camping, bonded with him. He'd laughed about it over the phone with me during one of our many secret conversations. "Your brother is a good kid. Reminds me of you a little, quiet, keeps to himself." His voice had gone quieter, gruffer. "Your mother seems to think I need a kid in my life. It's hard, knowing she misses you and not being able to tell her... Anyway, guess there's worse things in life than having a twelve-year-old fishing buddy." He'd laughed then and changed the subject, asking about the weather in Scotland.
In 2021, Renee was killed in a car accident coming home from a routine trip to the store to buy groceries. I wasn't able to watch her funeral. Not then, still too unsure of my strength and the sun of a Floridian sky no friend to me. I laid flowers at her grave much later with Edward, as always, at my side.
Watching my brother now, moving to stand beside the others, I'm glad he got to know Charlie. It makes me feel more connected to him somehow.
Issac Anthony Dwyer is tall and handsome. He looks like Phil with a touch of Renee in his eyes and his smile. I've watched him grow from afar, and protected him a time or two from schoolyard bullies and a tainted picnic lunch at an outing that would have made him, and scads of the other sixth graders, violently ill had Alice not seen and warned me. I'd stood in the shadows and watched him graduate high school, university, law school. Watched him marry his high school sweetheart and touched the tiny fingers of his newborn daughter, named after our mother and me, the sister he's never known through anything more than pictures and stories. Isabella Renee Dwyer. My niece; my namesake and Renee's. It seems fitting.
Life goes on in all its different ways, no matter what.
Edward's arm tightens around my waist, and rain begins to fall as Charlie's coffin is lowered into the ground. Unable to watch, I lift my eyes to the sky and watch the drops hit the trees instead, pattering against leaves and limbs, trailing down the trunks like tear tracks.
The sky is crying for me.
"I want to go to the house."
Edward's arm tightens again. His lips brush my temple. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. I need..." I don't know what I need. To say a final good-bye? To face the last of my demons? They say you can't go home again, but I need to. I look up at Edward while he uses the backs of his fingers to trace my cheekbone, the move as tender and careful as it had been when I was still human and fragile.
"It's okay," he smiles. "Whatever you want. Whatever you need, Bella. You know that, love."
I nod because I do.
. . . . . .
Charlie's house hasn't changed much. Karen had added her touch here and there. The kitchen was remodelled, and traces of a feminine hand can be found in accessories I don't remember. The furniture is newer, but the bones, the skeleton of this home, are still the same. I can smell Charlie here; feel him, still so strongly. The silence is thick.
I move through the rooms, memories, faded and grainy, flitting through my mind as elusive as dust motes in sunbeams. Human images seem so two-dimensional now, it's hard to fit them into any context.
Standing in the living room, I let the silence enfold me and carry me back. I don't think of Jacob often anymore. Even less so that night, but here with the pain of losing my father so heavy in my chest, it all comes back. Tainted by the drugs that were in my system and the haze of human vision through which I'd witnessed it all, it's still painful, still hard to make sense of. But it no longer has any power over me. I close my eyes, and let the memories play out as they will, grateful that Edward had agreed to give me time alone to do this.
I smell the blood, hear the window shatter, the gunshot. Hear Jacob's voice, hissing and angry, feel his hands on me...
It's all disjointed, in no particular order. When I open my eyes it seems so strange to see the room as it is now and not how it was then. No broken windows or furniture. The smell of blood and cordite is only in my mind, fading fast – and then it's gone.
I stand for a very long time in the silence that follows, breathing in the last traces of my father. The afternoon light is dimming, the rain falling harder when I hear it. Hear him.
I'm not surprised, not alarmed. The calmness inside of me tells me I somehow knew he would come, that eventually he and I would have to meet, one last time. It seems fitting that it would be here where the ghosts feel the most present. I move from the living room to the front door that I left slightly ajar. I can see him there, sitting on the step, his back to me.
I will never force her to endure the sight of my face.
Well, at least that's one vow unbroken.
I can smell him. The scent doesn't disgust me, as used to Seth as I am, but I do crinkle my nose. It also reminds me of how different I am, now.
It feels so strange to be in this new body. To be this strong, this whole, and to think that once I was afraid of him.
He doesn't move, doesn't speak. I will never force her to endure the sight of my face or the sound of my voice.
Maybe more than one rule will be unbroken. I realize he's waiting for me. To acknowledge him, or maybe even to kill him. I sense instantly he knows the line he's walking and knows the consequences. His muscles are tight. He's leaner than before, dressed in nothing but cut off shorts and a muscle shirt, wet from the rain.
"Feeling brave today, Jake?" I mean it to sound mocking, but instead it sounds quietly threatening. His shoulders flinch inward, but the action is reflex. I can't smell any fear. He doesn't answer but there is a new tension in the lines of his body, easily readable. "Go ahead, speak. You've already broken the biggest rule, coming near me, what's one more? Or do you think Edward will be more likely to spare your life if you don't talk?"
His head lowers, like he's contemplating. After a long moment it lifts again and his voice when he speaks is gravelly, startling. "I didn't come to upset you." I realize suddenly that some of the damage Edward did that fateful day in the woods when he nearly killed him, is permanent. I can still remember the way Edward's hand looked around Jacob's neck, the lethal pressure his elegant fingers exerted, stopping just short of snapping his neck.
"No? That's good. If you had I'm afraid you'd be disappointed. I'm not that girl anymore." Again I meant to mock, but the hiss of my voice is still threatening. I feel strong, competent. I truly am not that girl anymore, but I feel the ghost of her, hovering nearby.
Jacob's head bows slightly in acknowledgment.
"Why are you here?" I demand again.
He stands; his movements are slow and careful, his back still to me. "I came...I..." He stumbles over his words at first and then the rest follow in a rush. "I came here to tell you I'm sorry. For what it's worth. I know it isn't really worth anything, but I felt like it was the least you deserve. To hear it straight from me. What I did to you, Be...What I did to you was inexcusable and horrible and I can't take it back, not any of it, but I would if I could. If I thought - for one second if I thought - that the end of my life could give you any kind of peace, I'd offer it to you right now." He shakes his head, droplets of rain sliding from his hair to his shoulders. "I can't undo it," he repeats softly, the pain of this truth taking the gravel of his voice and deepening it. "But I wanted you to hear it from me. I'm sorry. I will forever be sorry."
My chest aches. I can literally feel the emotional scars inside of me throb under the pull of his apology. They'll never go away, I've always known that, but his presence makes them sting anew. I can't tell yet if it helps to hear him say the words or not.
"Do you expect me to forgive you?"
"No!" His answer is quick and much louder. "No," he repeats, softer this time. "I don't expect what I don't deserve."
"But you want it, don't you?" Finally the mocking tone I'd been striving for comes through.
"No. I don't want that," he says, and I believe him. If he wanted my forgiveness, he would have asked for it. Jacob, for all his faults, has always worn his heart on his sleeve. It doesn't change the fact this is just as much an attempt to unburden himself as it is to truly apologize.
I glance around me, memories still tugging at my mind, born from every familiar angle. Can I find it in me to forgive him, I wonder? Whether he wants it or not seems irrelevant, but maybe I can forgive him for my own sake, in some limited way. Enough to finally – once and for all – let it all go. I deserve that. If it's possible.
I suddenly want to see his face. I want to look into his eyes.
"Look at me."
Every muscle in his back tenses. "I made a promise. I've already broken enough of it."
"You made a promise?" My laugh is bitter. "You didn't do anything," I remind him. "And Edward isn't here. I am. If you have the balls to be here, the balls to own up to what you did, then have the decency to do it to my face. You owe me that much. Look at me."
I can hear his heart beating thickly in his chest. His hands curl into fists for a moment and then relax as he turns. He keeps his head down, but raises it slowly once his body fully faces mine.
He looks the same. Thirty years and he's still as young looking as I am. He seems a little awkward in his body. I wonder how long he spent in only wolf form and if that's the reason he moves the way he does, as though his limbs are all in the wrong position. His eyes, though, those aren't young. They burn from his face, filled with age.
A rush of emotion I don't know what to do with races over me. Regret, longing for the friend I lost, and finally acceptance for the things I cannot change but have survived. The possibility of what he could have been to me is still there, buried underneath all the scars, but the pull of him is gone completely. I no longer feel anything for him, not even anger.
He tried to take so much away from me, but in the end, all he did was destroy himself.
"I forgive you." There is a flash of surprise in his eyes at my soft words, a flash of sadness so deep it matches my own. His hands curl back into fists.
"You should hate me."
"Do you think I don't?"
His eyes meet mine and then he looks away.
"I trusted you, Jake. I believed in you and our friendship, loved you, in my own way. You tore all of that away from me... I still forgive you."
"Don't. I don't deserve that."
"No, you don't, but it's not for you," I cut him off. "I forgive you for me, because I refuse to spend one minute more letting what you did to me taint any part of my life. I forgive you because it means I can move on." I look around one last time, saying my quiet good bye, to my old life, to the sad, insecure, broken girl I'd once been. One last time to the father I will always miss before I look back at Jacob.
His body has healed all his scars with the exception of whatever internal damage has turned his once smooth voice rough, but his eyes show emotional scars. Ones he deserves and some perhaps that he does not.
"I forgive you," I repeat softly, feeling a rush of something akin to freedom come over me with each word. Whatever last ties I had to the events of that night, dissolve. "If that gives you any kind of peace, you're welcome to it." I can see it doesn't, not really. He hasn't forgiven himself, and for a second I could almost pity him.
I step around him and move down the stairs. Something makes me pause, like I haven't quite said all that needs to be said. I ache to be alone with all of this, to let the peace take hold as I turn the final page in this chapter of my life and leave it all behind.
Without turning to look at him, I say the last words I will ever speak to Jacob Black. "I buried my father today. I'm burying you, and all of this, too. Good bye, Jake."
And then, I walk away.
. . . . . .
I watch Bella leave the house, Jacob Black still standing on Charlie's steps, watching her walk away as well. If I wasn't able to read his thoughts, he'd be dead right now, and a part of me knows Bella needed this. Still, as it is, to stand here and not intervene has taken every ounce of willpower I possess. I hear her soft, very final good bye to him, and I want to go to her, hold her. Buffer something of the pain I know she's feeling, kiss her and help her embrace the peace I know is waiting just beneath the surface of her grief. I don't. I can sense her need to be alone, and I know where she'll go now. It's the same place I'd intended to go before I caught his scent and traced it here.
As she vanishes into the woods, he looks directly to where I am. He's known I've been here the entire time, even downwind as I was careful to be. I watch his shoulder's square and he leaves the steps and makes his way towards me. I move farther back into the woods, deeper into growing shadow, away from any prying eyes.
When I stop, he does as well. His expression and thoughts are guarded as he faces me, but I've already read enough of them to know his regrets are real, pitiful as they are.
"I hope her forgiveness gave you some kind of peace. I'd hate to send you to your grave without whatever absolution you were so stupidly seeking." I wait for my words to sink in and for the change to take him in reaction to the threat very present in my words and demeanour. He stays human, his thoughts seem almost resolved to his death.
"I didn't do it for that; you know I didn't."
He's right. I do. At the moment I hate my gift and its ability to so easily read his real remorse for the past. Not that it matters. "Are you suicidal?" I hiss, rage, old and new, tugging at me. "Or just very stupid?"
A small tremor erupts over him but he tamps it down, smothers the urge to change and the anger and dislike he still feels for me, though now it's only instinct and not personal.
"I warned you. I told you..."
"She deserved to know that I'm sorry, that I regret..." He cuts me off, his head tipping back as he growls low in his throat, the sound frustrated and pain-filled rather than threatening. "Don't you get it? I didn't want her to live thinking I wouldn't give my damned life to undo what I did to her. It's all I can give her, and I know it's pathetic and not enough, but it's all I have." He drops his head and shudders, swallows hard. His eyes are wet with unshed tears as he looks at me again. "Now she knows, so do what you have to do."
I'm across the small space, my hand over his throat, lifting him, slamming him into the thick tree trunk behind him. It rattles from root to limbs, showering us in the same rain it was shielding us from. Memories of the last time I did this are as fresh as the taste of the water that trickles down my face and into my mouth with the hiss I suck through my teeth. He doesn't fight me, only hangs limply from my grasp, watching me. It only enrages me more. I pull him back and slam him forward again.
"You fucking dare to tell me what she deserves?" I roar. Leaning my face close to his, I drop my tone back to a low, venom-soaked decibel. "I gave you your life because she asked me to, but I warned you to stay away from her. I would have let you live your one lifetime before I sought you out to end you, but you broke your vow. I don't care why you did it. She could have lived for eternity without hearing your worthless apology." I slam him into the tree again, wanting him to react, to change. He has forced my hand by showing up here. I am as furious at that as I am at his actions, and I want a fight, not this apathetic acceptance. I see a flash of anger and pride, but he smothers it quickly.
"Kill me if you have to. We both know you've only been biding your time anyway, but my blood on your hands won't change anything," he growls, his vocal chords, already damaged, straining against my hand. I can feel the internal ropes of scar tissue from where his supernatural healing abilities failed him, vibrate and twist against my fingers. One squeeze and this is over. In his human form he is nearly as weak as one. I could snap his head clean off his neck. I itch all over to do that very thing but I am also bound by my vow. I'd left myself a loop hole by giving him one lifetime. He and I knew it, though I doubt Bella had noticed. Even now I still think she is oblivious to the trickery in my careful wording.
One lifetime to regret what you've done.
Nearly as immortal as we are, he could live dozens of lifetimes if he chose to. So long as he kept phasing he would not age. But I'd given him one lifetime. Only one. If he'd lived as normal he would be a middle-aged man now, quickly approaching the sentence of death I had every intention of carrying through on.
Shaking my head at him in disgust, I repeat his words as a question full of mocking. "It won't change anything?" I lean closer so my breath is in his face, knowing it disgusts him. "Oh, but I think it will. You have no peace from what you did, I don't think you ever will, nor do you deserve to, but she and I deserve it. Your death will guarantee the vows you were unable to keep from breaking. She can't be forced to see your face or hear your voice, if...you...are...dead!"
Furious, my control faltering, I drop him and pace away. Conflicted, I am so damn conflicted. He lands on his knees and curls one hand around his throat, coughing, gagging for a long moment. Finally, he stands back up, his breathing ragged, his voice rougher as he speaks.
"I'm sorry. Not just for what I did to her, but for what I did to both of you."
"Sorry?" I sneer in disbelief. "For what? For nearly taking away my reason to exist? For trying to rape her? For nearly killing her father? For leaving her so broken physically and mentally I despaired she would ever be whole?"
"For all of it!" he yells brokenly. He drags a hand through his hair and again his thoughts show the truth of his words.
"For all of it." I move back in front of him, mocking again. "Do you even know, "all of it?""
He shakes his head at me, hard. "I know I had no right. I know what I did was every shade of sick and screwed up and I…"
My control snaps again, and I drive him back into the tree, my arm over his chest, pinning him. "I wish you could see in my mind, Jacob Black, like I can see in yours. I wish I could show you all the nights I held her while she cried because she blamed herself. All the days I watched her waste away. Do you know she nearly died, not once, but several times? Do you know that every time I pulled her back, I saw your face and promised myself I would make you pay, eventually? You can't imagine the hell you put her through, put us through with your sick actions. I put her back together, piece by fucking piece and she is whole now." I let him go again and step back. My rage is electric, crackling over me like a live wire. "I brought her here to bury her father, not to face you. Tell me one good reason why I should let you live. Why I shouldn't make you pay for all that you put us through and for breaking the vow you swore you'd keep."
His fists clench and his eyes close and his mind struggles, as though he's trying to keep something from me. He fails. I see the images he can't repress, and as he opens his eyes to look at me again, he quits trying.
I see a woman: dark hair, dark eyes, laughing as she cradles a hand, his hand, over her swelling stomach.
Jacob Black has found his imprint and she is with child.
"She's the reason why," he tells me quietly. "Whatever I deserve, she doesn't. I'll ask for my life for her sake, not my own, because I damn well know I don't deserve any kind of mercy from you."
His thoughts continue to unfold, showing me their meeting, an accidental encounter in the woods while she was hiking and he, in his wolf form, was hunting. He'd imprinted instantly, as his kind does, but he denied himself her. For years he watched her, denying his need to be with her, thinking himself unworthy of any kind of happiness, fearful even that he would hurt her if the demons that had allowed him to hurt Bella reared their heads again. But there was no denying a connection like that. She'd needed him as much as he needed her and eventually, he had no choice but to come out of his wolf form and take her as his own.
"She knows everything. What I did, what I am, what I'm capable of. She loves me, anyway. I tried to send her away. I tried… She wouldn't let go and I…I had to try to find a way to live with what I did and still be something decent for her and for the baby she's carrying." He drags in air and then exhales. He's terrified. Not for himself but for her. He wonders, now that I know, what will I do?
"Do you think I'd hurt an innocent?"
"No," he answers quickly. Too quickly, and his doubts spin out of his head into mine. He could have stayed away, could have kept his imprint a secret, at least until the day came that I would have sought him out to make good on my promise. Instead, he came here knowing he'd have to face me, knowing that this could be his end. Something of the old Jacob has returned. Who he was before that night. The one who'd loved Bella with a pure heart before it had all gone to hell. He wants a second chance to be what he wasn't for Bella. Someone strong, trustworthy, worthy of love and just as capable of giving it without strings or demands or force.
I hate him for making me see that. I hate him for being capable of a selfless sacrifice.
I hate him more for finding any kind of happiness.
He deserves none in my eyes.
My lips curl back and it takes effort to spit the words out. I can see why he would be afraid. Hurting her would be the perfect revenge. The only real revenge. Pity the idea is so abhorrent to me. "Her and the child are safe from me. I don't hurt those who do not deserve it."
His shoulders relax slightly. Silence descends, only the soft pattering of rain and the still harsh rasp of his breathing breaks it as I try to control my emotions.
I have been angry for so long. Biding my time, waiting for the day when I could end his life. It seemed as long as he lived, I could find no peace. I still have no peace, and it looks as though I won't get any this day either.
"You can kill me, but it won't change anything," he repeats.
"If it was her, your imprint, would you let the person who hurt her live?" I ask quietly, lethally. His answer comes without hesitation.
His answer is quick, unvarnished and without buts or exceptions or excuses. I'm surprised. "And yet you ask me for your life?"
"Yes. But not for me, for her, for the baby." There are tears in his eyes and they spill over silently as he leans back against the tree, his arms dangling over his bent knees, head bowed, not absolved and yet still somehow resolved to whatever I choose. "Give me a chance, Edward," he entreats quietly. "Let me redeem myself by being everything I wasn't for…" he falters, then thinks of Bella's image instead of saying her name. Even that galls me, but at least he has the decency to think of her now instead of the way he must still see her in his mind. Human, fragile, the girl he knew and not my wife, my mate. He drops his head, drops all pretence of keeping his vow and looks at me again, not trying to hide the pain in his eyes or the truths from his mind. "Give me a chance to be for my imprint what I never was for Bella."
I feel my lips curl back with a snarl, but my resolve is weakening. He doesn't deserve redemption in my eyes, but then couldn't the same be said of me? I am even less innocent than he is with all the blood that stains my hands. I know only one thing; his imprint and his unborn child are innocent. My hands are tied.
I find myself thinking of Bella's niece, her namesake. The weight of the tiny infant in my arms is still a tactile sensation from the few stolen moments Bella and I shared sneaking into a hospital nursery to see her, hold her. I remember the longing, the sharp spike of regret I felt while watching Bella hold her, knowing there would never be a child for us. The longing that had turned to acceptance when Bella looked up at me and whispered words that Esme once whispered to her.
"Life goes on." Her smile had been tremulous but so beautiful.
It did indeed go on, and I realize now that Bella has moved forward where I have not. I've held onto my need for revenge. I feel it like a solid beam across my shoulders.
She once asked me for Jacob's life, not to spare him but to spare me the weight of his death on my conscience. Once I thought it was a weight I'd gladly bear. What was one more in the midst of a multitude of others?
Yet, as I stand here now, knowing his life is in my hands, I can feel myself thawing. He doesn't beg. He sits silently, waiting my judgement, and suddenly I find it isn't a judgement I want to give. Not now, not under this weight of entanglement that comes from the life he has now.
We've come full circle, but I am not who I once was. Neither is he.
I think of Bella. I know she's waiting for me in our meadow.
"I will let you live, Jacob Black, for the sake of your mate, but more importantly for the sake of mine. Bella has forgiven you and she's moved on, found happiness in her life with me. I won't take away her choice in things the way you once tried to do."
His body relaxes minutely in gratitude and he gets to his feet. We stare at one another for a long moment, silent understanding between us.
"All vows and bets are off from this point forward," I warn him softly, lethally. "Bella has forgiven you, but it isn't in my nature or heart to do the same, and I won't ever forget. Don't let our paths cross again, Jacob Black." I step backwards, gliding deeper into the woods away from him, pinning him with my stare, knowing my eyes are black with my emotions. "One lifetime," I remind him, smiling darkly as he blanches. "It's your choice how long that lifetime lasts."
And then, I walk away.
. . . . . .
I find her, as I knew I would, waiting for me in our meadow. So much has changed and yet this place remains the same. She senses my approach and turns to me, smiling softly, her hair wet from the rain, so beautiful it hurts.
I hold my arms out to her and she comes, sliding into them easily, perfectly. I kiss her brow, her nose, and then finally her mouth until she sighs, drawing back. With one hand she touches my cheek.
"I have something for you," she says sweetly, her eyes alight. She closes them, and without warning, my mind is inundated with images from our wedding. Images of me, of her, of us, saying our vows. Images from her mind and her memories, fuzzy with her human vision, and yet perfect because of that very thing.
"Bella..." Since her change she has never opened her mind to me. I'be long since accepted her silent thoughts would always be secret to me. In the early days and months after her change she tried and I gently encouraged her, but always to no end save our mutual frustration when it never worked. Carlisle and I had hypothesized that her shield was such an integral part of her, it simply couldn't be lifted to leave her exposed, not even for me.
"Shh," she hushes me, her brow furrowing with concentration as more images and moments are shared. She shows me her memories from the first time we'd met. It's painful and bittersweet to see the anger and violence in my eyes from that day, but it's also tinged with her infatuation. I'm enthralled anew at her lack of fear and her wonder. Her desire, her curiosity. I see the days of our burgeoning love, our first trip to the meadow, her understanding and acceptance of what I am. I see it all, and I'm humbled that I ever doubted her.
The images change, race ahead to the first time we made love, tender and beautiful, even in the rawness of those pain-filled days. The rapture she felt, my own rapture mirrored in her gaze. The first time we hunted and those moments in the woods after when we made love as equals for the first time, animalistic, hungry.
I want to see it all but the need to kiss her, touch her, ignites the fire and heat of our connection, overwhelms me. My actions break the tenuous hold she has on her gift. The second I taste the sweetness of her lips, the images shut off, but I can't bring myself to care.
Instead, I tumble her down to the wet fragrant grass and lose myself in making a new memory...
Later, much later, when the last of the afternoon is gone and night is encroaching, I take her hand and we both look around, one last time over the place it all began.
No, there is no such thing as happily ever after. Not for any of us. We are all flawed and we all carry darkness inside. We can all fall beyond redemption, and we can all rise above. And if we're lucky, really lucky, we can have a measure of peace and happiness and a love that conquers all else. We can hold it close and treasure it as it is meant to be treasured. We can heal and move forward from the sins and trials of our past lives, stronger and something more than we were. If it is our choice, if it is our will, if we are not alone.
Our fairytale is flawed and bittersweet and richer in layers and love for it. We do not have perfect forgiveness or resolution, or any easy answers to the questions we never meant to ask. Our dragons are not all slain, and we will never ride on white horses into a perfect sunset. And yet, as I stand with her and look out over the place I first gave her my heart, I realize our fairytale may not be perfect, but it is also far from over.
I squeeze her hand, our fingers linked tightly as we turn away and begin to run in the rain and the growing dark, away from the past and into the future – come what may.
. . . . . .
A/N I know there are those of you who won't like certain parts of this ending. Especially concerning Jacob. FBR is not about perfect answers or fairytale HEA's. It's about healing the best any of us can, and living with our scars.
I wrote this for all us who have survived. We will never be the same, but we are stronger for it.
One last time, to all of you reading, thank you.