Well, it's been two years, I figure that I owe this story a proper ending. Especially to those readers who read and reviewed faithfully. It's not a perfect ending, or even the best of endings, but I think it suits the story. Enjoy.
Chapter 39: The Hourglass
The sun is hot and heady upon my back, and the air rich with the scent of crowded bodies. Voices rise and fall like thunderclaps, children scream with annoyance and delight alike. Off in the distance, doves pick at piles of trash and coo with bloated pleasure. The marketplace of Pompeii lives again.
It is strange to be in my mother town after these many long centuries, echos of memory plague my every step. I am hollow and filled at once, a curtain catching the memory of summer's winds. Around my ancient ruin of a city there are cars that snap about, sturdy steel buildings and the stone vomit of many millennia's worth of history. The remnants of Pompeii seem mightily odd in this contemporary setting, and old buildings sag in the light and heat of the modern age. They will not last much longer in the pollution of the 21st century. Still, they faithfully carry the aura of their age, Rome is alive within these crumbling columns.
Edward, ever anxious about me, gently wraps his arm around my waist. He is covered head to toe with heavy clothing, like the rest of his family. Sleek Gucci sunglasses hide our unusual eyes. The sweaty tourists accept us, flowing around us to snap photos and flaunt their knowledge earned during five years of undergraduate study at their respective colleges. A surprising amount of it is incorrect. No bother, the bones of their studies keep Rome and its people alive, and that's really all I ask of history.
Edward notices my distance and pulls us into the shade of the old bread bakery I used to frequent with Philo. The honey cakes sold during the festival of Diana used to be my favorite as a girl. His lips betray his concern, and after so many years together I could guess what he was about to ask.
"Should we leave? Alice and Jasper can caper about the city by themselves, Rosalie expects us for lunch anyhow..." His voice is still silk and honey to my ears. I smile and kiss his cheek gently, reveling in the public display of affection so recently deemed acceptable in the world.
"No, we are right to be here. We should have been here when they first began to excavate. I am not afraid of the past hidden here. It is only a memory within a memory." I came to Pompeii now in order complete the circle, as Esme would say. For so many years I was content to leave Rome and Europe behind entirely. Traveling from this place to that place and then back again. South America was a favorite, as was The United States. But I needed this, needed to come back to pay my respects and finally leave it all behind. I am beginning a new circle, a new life. For too many years I had been a slave to my life in Rome, no more.
"Whatever you say dearest, we'll stay as long as you like." Edward kisses me full on the lips and gives my hand a squeeze. Our wedding bands clink together. This trip from the family home in South Africa is supposedly for our 10th anniversary. The wedding bands are updated every century or so, and have newly set diamonds in them. But the rubies set off to the side never change. They were Philo's final gift to me, before the Cullens left for the Northern territories. I refuse to let them out of my sight, my adoptive father's presence is one I will cherish always. He died shorty after we settled in Germania, and our final goodbye remains within my heart till this very day.
A child's outlandish laughter distracts me from my mood. I am pensive in this place, but the modern world insists upon moving forward. Time waits for no man, or woman. Edward purses his lips again and moves away. Balancing precariously on an old fountain base, the laughing child runs about the ruin, secure in his ability to not fall. He teeters on his perch slightly and Edward rushes to catch him.
With a heavy sigh and a firm hold on the boy, Edward sets him down on the ground and scolds an older child near the fountain's base, our eldest. "Henry! What did I say about watching your brother?"
With his bright green eyes and thick bronze hair Henry is the very picture of his father. At ten years old he is an exceptionally bright child, and a quick study of the world around him. Unfortunately, he also grew into Emmett's sense of humor. "I know Papa, but he isn't gonna get hurt." Henry heaved a sigh and turned to take his little brother's hand. Avery is only four years old, and inherited quite the sense of adventure. I am worried about what will become of him once he's older. He has my features, but his father's build. Esme constantly coos over his button nose, which I am certain he inherited from his grandmother. There is a certain truth to what Henry says, not a one of our children are at risk of getting hurt. But as new parents, Edward and I are unusually anxious. Children were never part of the plan, never thought to be possible. But as numerous other vampiric couples are experiencing, life finds a way. Provided there is exposure to volcanic elements, that is.
My children are part of the reason I needed to return to Pompeii. They know a goodly bit of latin, and are familiar with their parents' story, but there is simply no way to replicate atmosphere and tactile experience. My boys need to know where their roots lie, and I need to close my chapter with Rome, with the bittersweet memories of my mother and father, my brother, and all of my fellow slaves who were as family to me. My children are my future, and they deserve more from their mother. I can no longer live in the past, not with such a pleasant future running about around me.
The sun begins to set and there is a chill in the September air. Edward herds the boys off towards the tour group and Alice and Jasper fall in line behind them. Jasper scoops little Avery up onto to his shoulders and Alice begins to sing an old Roman nursery rhyme. I am struck by the rightness of the moment. I linger behind the group, running my hands over the gritty stones and remembering times long past. The ache in my chest is less painful than I imagined it would be. The people I loved in Pompeii are centuries dead, yet I find them within myself from time to time. Laughing, scolding, encouraging, and loving. I am especially protective of these presences now that there is another child in my belly. Edward is hoping for a little girl, as am I. There is no contest over what her name would be, I've known that since Carlisle announced that I was once again with child. Viola, my precious little Viola, my Silvia.
Edward loops back around to collect me, his hand protectively secured over the small bump in my middle. Before joining the rest of the group, we turn as one and watch as the timeless sun fades slowly behind the modern buildings of Italy, its light kisses Pompeii last of all. The stones radiate warmth all around me. I take one last deep breath and hold it with me until we are out of the archaeological site, the curators hissing at the last of the tourists. In the caverns of my chest I relish the faint taste of ash coating the air. It is a flavor unique to this pace and to my time.
I leave Pompeii with my sons' heads on my lap and my daughter rolling deep within. The taste of ashes on my lips, the taste of ashes in my heart.