AN: Finally! Finally! I've been working on this one for a while, but somehow taking care of a new baby sends fanfic to the background *wink*
Endless thanks go to my beta, Eowyn77, for her inexhaustible encouragement and critique.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Stephenie Meyer does.
The winter sun glinted feebly off the polished marble headstone in front of me. Turning my body a fraction of an inch squared me up perfectly. With a pretense of reverence, I bowed my head, clasped my hands together at my waist, and peered over the top of my sunglasses. I could see the small group now, still tightly huddled together around the casket underneath the tent. And all they would see—if they even bothered to look in my direction—would be a fellow mourner.
However, I was not mourning for…whose grave was I at? Ah, Myrtle Bearn Saunders. I had come to pay my last respects with them. Little did they know, and best that they didn't.
My shrewd eyes instantly—almost instinctually—went to the children, who stood silently next to their grieving parents. I watched as they cast frequent, confused glances up at the adults. In their innocence, they could never understand death. But today would mark the dawning of that knowledge and its overhanging presence in their lives. Like the flowers surrounding the open grave, their unmarred happiness would eventually fade to acceptance tinged with the bitter and sweet of reality and memories.
I knew from experience.
The oldest woman separated herself from the rest and walked slowly towards the casket. Raising a slender gloved hand to her lips, she lightly kissed her fingertips and laid them on its polished surface. She was shaking with silent sobs. A tall woman with familiar blond hair came to the elder woman's side and wrapped her arms around her.
I stood quietly, watching in my own grief as a gust of wind swirled around me, bringing with it the faint salty scent of their tears and whipping my hair across my eyes. I hastily brushed the strands back, not wanting to miss a single second. Greedily, I drank in their features. I was there in the tint of that man's eyes. The little girl had the same bounce in her curls. A few of them even shared the same shape of my chin. Yet I was only recognizable because he and I had been nearly identical.
They were my family—my human family.
Had he ever told them my sad story? Did he ever burden their lives with my...death? A small part of me hoped not, yet if I were being honest with myself, I knew I craved to be remembered. Perhaps, some of their thoughts today had drifted to me already: another tragic loss, albeit a distant one. The human mind sometimes worked in odd ways.
Another gust of wind blew mercilessly through the cemetery. The entire group bunched closer together, and the old woman somehow took this as a sign of parting. She bowed her graceful head for a few seconds before turning and walking towards one of the cars parked a few yards away. The others quickly followed suit and in a matter of minutes, they had all left, leaving me alone with the dead where I belonged.
It was finally my turn to say goodbye.
I strode quickly over to the tent and stepped under the awning. I knew I didn't have much time until men came to lower the casket to its final resting place, but I wouldn't need long anyways. I had already bid adieu to this person long ago. Fifty-nine years ago, to be exact.
With a bitter laugh, I acknowledged that Fate had finally gotten something right. The last of my mother's children to come into this senseless world, he was rightfully the last of us to leave it—officially speaking, of course.
My memories of him were murky, but I could still recall his untidy straw-colored hair and the mischievous glint in his blue eyes as he snuck a cookie before dinner; or when I would catch him playing in his Sunday clothes after church.
My mouth tugged up in a smile, and I didn't stop it. I had so few human memories that I could remember fondly. Remembering the happy ones made me feel almost…normal.
The wind blew again, rustling the piece of paper clenched in my hand. I glanced down at the folded program from the funeral service that I had taken once the church was empty. I hadn't attended the open-casket viewing—I didn't want that memory of my brother forever etched in my perfect memory.
Opening it slowly, my eyes scanned the obituary.
Survived by his wife...three children...five grandchildren.
And his immortal monster of a sister—Rosalie Lillian Hale.
I would outlast them all, eventually becoming the sole keeper of their memories, their last and permanent tether to life. Yet, no one would remember me. Within a decade or two, my human self would be nothing more than a hollow grave with an even hollower epitaph: Beloved daughter, sister, and fiancée.
I felt the lines crease my forehead as a familiar bitterness washed over me again. Why did humans mourn the dead? What was so horrible about leaving that existence, finally unaware, when the alternative was to be the one left behind…to live with constant reminders of what once was and could never be again?
That was my hell. It didn't have to be theirs.
Mimicking my sister-in-law's gesture from earlier, my fingertips rested lightly on the casket. Only where she had let them linger, I quickly pulled mine away.
William was dead, free—I was not sorry for him. He had possessed everything I'd ever wanted in that life.
I could only mourn for myself now.
Ridiculous humans. Even my family members had been ridiculous today. Such inconsolable sorrow repeated across dozens of faces.
My brother was gone, true. But were they all blind? Couldn't they see the love and comfort around them? Perhaps they would be more inclined to feel grateful for the living if I had made my presence known. Immortality had its deadly price, and I could help them see that it came with too high a cost. With a quiet snort, I imagined the gasps—more likely, the screams—that would have followed my revelation.
Instantly, Carlisle and Esme's reactions came to my mind. And Edward's...and Emmett's. Disappointment, disgust, and possibly anger stared back at me from their golden eyes. They were my family now, and in various ways I found in them what I had lost when my heart stopped beating. In many ways, I had to admit, I'd even found more.
I'd had no say in the matter of leaving my human family. The decision had been made for me, first by Royce and then by Carlisle. But, in this existence, I stayed with my family because I chose to, and I knew that I would never let anything jeopardize us being together. Not the chance of being recognized, not even my thirst. I'd be damned—granted, though, I already was—if I was the cause of our true natures being discovered, or if we ever incurred the Volturi's wrath.
My family encapsulated all of the reasons why I was now standing at my brother's freshly dug grave, alone in the middle of winter. I just wanted to be close now—now that there was no longer a chance for me to hurt him or for him to recognize me...no longer a chance to reclaim this tie to my humanity. One more break from the life I had never wanted to leave, but one more reason to embrace the life I had now.
My need for closure satisfied, I stepped back into the open air and began walking to my car. I let the program drop from my hand and heard it scuttling through the dead-brown grass as I opened the door.
Driving up the lane, I didn't look back: leave dead memories buried and gone. It was time enough to go home.