I'm not sure what to say before this one. It's hard to write, both the epilogue and this note, knowing that this is it for this story. I honestly don't know if I'll write anything of length for Twilight again. I have other non-fanfic projects in the works, and time is very precious these days. If I don't, just know that I'll miss you, and that I enjoyed the hell out of writing HDIL.
A week ago, I threw my first party in my own apartment. It was a celebration in honor of my one year anniversary of becoming single, or singleversary, if you will. It was amazing. I had all of these friends, these beautiful and strong and kind people, all around me, and they all got it. See, I really thought it was the end of everything when I lost him last year. Now I know that it was just the beginning. Not only did I survive, but I have found so much sweetness in life that I never would have without that separation.
The fact is, for nearly all of us, the would-be soulmates don't come back. We get up, brush ourselves off, and do our best to forget what we'd hoped for, what we'd believed in. For nearly all of us, goodbye is just that.
Thank god for fairy tales, huh? Thank god for literary misunderstandings and pivotal epiphanies and redemption at any price! These sparkly stories aren't denial or even outright lies; they are the focal points of the faith that we desperately need on those nights that we're finding our way back from where love left us.
These stories aren't lies. For some of us, love is forever. For some of us, the first time is the charm. And I personally believe that all of us, myself included, deserve to end our stories happily.
So that's what I'll leave you with. You deserve a happy ending, a real one, and believing as much is half of getting one. So believe it.
Part 4: Faith
This is how it works
You're young until you're not
You love until you don't
You try until you can't
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath
No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again
-Regina Spektor, "On the Radio"
Charlie Swan lived each day much like the one before.
First, there was coffee. There was a time when he would have made it a full breakfast at the diner, but he didn't want that much company most days. Harry Clearwater's silent companionship while fishing was about as much as he could handle, and even that had ended when Harry had died of a heart attack six months ago.
Jacob had been at the funeral. It was the first time he'd been seen in Forks since Bella had taken off for the last time. There had been a good deal of speculation then from the local kids that the two of them had gone off together, but Charlie knew better. As much as he would have liked it, and as healthy as it might have been for her, Jacob just didn't push the girl's buttons the way the other one had.
That one Charlie still wondered about. Bella had screamed at him before she'd gone, and it had been completely unlike her. She'd said it was about Edward, that the two of them had fallen out again, for good this time. Charlie didn't quite buy it.
He'd asked Jacob about it at the funeral. The kid's eyes had narrowed, and he'd looked away, uncomfortable.
"Bella's okay," Jacob had said at last. "I caught up with her before she left town, and I didn't let her go until I saw for myself. She's going to be fine, Charlie, but she won't be back, not ever."
He wouldn't say if she were alone or not. At the mention of Edward's name, Jacob had tensed and made a quick exit from the funeral home. He hadn't been back since.
After coffee came work. That started as early as possible, and Charlie stretched it as late as he could manage. The house was too quiet now, even if the echoes of Bella's parting words still rang in his ears every time he walked in the front door.
Maybe she was right, and it was a mistake bringing her to Forks. Maybe she would be in college in Phoenix right now if she'd stayed there or gone down to Florida when she'd had the chance. And maybe the house wouldn't feel this stale, this empty, if she hadn't filled it so beautifully for all those months.
Charlie still tried to keep the house a little better than he had before she'd come to stay with him. He told himself that it wasn't because he was hoping that one day the knock at the door would be her, back to visit or to stay. It would be foolish, after all, to think that, if the place was clean, she might decide to stay.
So he washed the dishes, ran the laundry, and swept the floor most nights. He did so tonight, and even ran the broom under the edge of the fridge to pick up some of the crumbs that collected under there. As he did, the bristles hit something that made a dry, crinkling sound. Curious, he got down on the floor and fished out a small, folded paper covered in grit and dust. He brushed it off, saw what was written on it, and struggled to get to a chair before his legs went weak.
Charlie didn't cry when Bella slammed the front door and left him alone in Forks, and he didn't cry when his best friend dropped dead in his backyard at the age of fifty. He cried openly, though, as he unfolded the note in his hands and read:
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for the way I took off. It's not fair, and it's not your fault. I know I haven't been a great daughter lately, but you never stopped being a great dad. I'm so glad I came to Forks for so many reasons, and you're one of the biggest ones.
I'm sorry that I didn't do more with our time together, Dad. I hate that now, because I'm leaving, and I don't think I'll be back. I know that telling you not to worry won't work, so I'll just say that I'm going to be fine. I'm going to be better than fine.
I have to say that I'm sorry, too, because I always thought that you and mom were stupid for what you did, running off and thinking that love will take care of everything. That wasn't fair at all; I know that now. Really, I have to thank you for it. It's the best thing you ever taught me, even if you didn't mean to.
I love someone, Dad, and even though I know it won't always be perfect, I really believe that it will always be right. I believe that enough to make the choice now to be with him, start a new life with him. I'm going away to do this, and I really think it's the right thing.
I know that you hate Edward, and I know that it's only because you love me. I love you, too, Dad, and I love him. I know that he messed up when he left. The truth is, we've both messed up, and we'll probably do it again and again if we're lucky enough to love each other long enough to have the chance. We're learning, though, Dad, and we're not giving up. You taught me that, too.
Everything I am is because of the people who loved me – you, Mom, and now Edward. I'm grateful to all of you, and I love all of you forever.
I love you, Dad, and I'll miss you, forever.
P.S. Look out for Jacob for me.
P.P.S. Please, please don't worry about me!
"Fat chance," Charlie murmured, wiping his eyes.
I don't miss as many things as I thought I would.
Food, for example. Food is only tempting when you have the ability to enjoy its taste, digest its nutrients. I thought I would miss things like chocolate, Thanksgiving turkey, and grape Popsicles. I don't. I think about them now, and it's a little like imagining how much a cow must enjoy eating grass, or how a car must enjoy getting filled up with regular unleaded. Human food just isn't fuel for the machine I've become.
No, this machine runs on something else, something so powerful I can't even think the word without feeling as though my throat is going to burn hot enough to ignite the rest of my body. If I think "fuel" instead of "blood," the burn stays in my throat, at least most of the time. I want it to stay there now, because today the thirst is annoying, humiliating. I don't want today to be about that, but it still is. My constant, crazy thirst was a part of this even before I started physically feeling the burn.
I wasn't surprised to hear a knock on the door. It's unnecessary, one of the polite motions the family goes through for my sake while I adjust to an inhuman life.
"I'm fine," I said. A few months ago that tone would have been the one I used while grumbling quietly to myself. Now it's practically a shout, and I know that Jasper can hear it clearly from the other side of the door, and that Edward and the others can hear it easily from where they wait downstairs.
"No, you're not," he said, and opened the door without knocking again.
I was curled up on the bed, facing away from the door. If we'd stayed in Forks, I would be looking out through a wall of glass. As it is, the tiny window in this remote cabin only gives me a view a few feet deep before the thick growth of forest interrupts it.
"I'm fine," I said again, knowing it was useless. "I hunted yesterday, twice."
"And you'll hunt again today," he said. Jasper is, as always, calm. Why wouldn't he be? He always wins.
Still, I'm in the mood for a fight today.
"You don't hunt every day," I argued.
"I never said I did," he said.
"I don't want to hunt now," I said.
"I didn't ask," he said.
"Go away," I said.
His tone never changed from its even insistence, but I found I was even angrier than I was when I heard him approach the door.
"Not now!" I snapped, sitting up in a jerky, too-fast movement.
I saw him in the doorway and realized with some surprise that he wasn't as calm as he sounded. His expression was more than irritated, and his eyes were black.
"Yes, Bella," he said, extending a hand to me. "Now."
I went with him then, because I really was painfully thirsty, and because I knew what would happen if I didn't. The rest of the family is careful with me, kind until I want to scream and throw furniture at them, but Jasper is never anything but direct. He never feels sorry for me or tries to tell me he knows how I feel. He never changes his mind, and he always wins these fights.
We don't fight as much as we used to. The thirst is still the worst thing I've ever felt, but its place in my world is a little smaller than it was during those first awful months. Back then, everything in me wasn't enough to stay in control most of the time. I was never able to be alone, even for a minute. And, as much as I tried not to, I almost constantly plotted ways to get to human blood.
Animal blood tasted like almost nothing. It never satisfied, never quieted the urge. Feeding heavily made me a little more sane, but when I was truly thirsty, the deer and bears that populated the land around the cabin were the last things I wanted. What I wanted ran in the veins of the humans we'd passed on our hurried journey north. It ran in the veins of the friends and family I'd left behind me.
It took nearly all of the Cullens to hold me back from that scent at times, but we'd made it to this place, this hunting retreat the family had occasionally visited over the last few decades. It was rustic, dirty, but blessedly removed from human temptation. It had been our home for the last year, and would continue to be for some years to come.
I couldn't smell human blood while I was at the cabin, but I sure could remember it. And I wanted it. At times, I wept and screamed and begged for it.
Those first days had been awful. Edward had apologized to me. Carlisle had tried to reason with me. The others tried their own methods of calming me, comforting me. Jasper was the only one who seemed to know that gentleness was irrelevant in that delirium. He'd said nothing, only dragged me out, often literally, to hunt. Edward had been furious at first, but tolerated it when he saw that nothing but feeding would touch my panic. It nearly killed him not to intervene sometimes, but, after my change, we both owed Jasper a lot, our trust at the very least.
So Jasper had reluctantly become my handler as I struggled through my first year as a vampire, and in that year, I had not taken human life.
Yes, we both owed him a great deal.
Once I'd decided to hunt, instinct took hold. It wasn't long before I'd taken a half dozen animals. The thirst quieted, and I was able to sit calmly at the edge of a ridge that overlooked the valley that held our cabin. It was lonely and beautiful here.
"Feel better?" Jasper asked. His voice was gentle now.
I nodded, not looking back at him.
"Thank you," I said. "And I'm sorry. I hate it when I get that way."
"You haven't let yourself get that thirsty in a while, Bella. What's going on?"
"I just hate how weak I am compared to the rest of you."
"Weak?" Jasper laughed. "You're over a year old and you can still overpower any one of us. It's a really good thing you don't test that so often anymore."
"But I still do sometimes," I said, remembering the last time, about three weeks ago. It had taken Edward, Carlisle and Jasper to stop me from fleeing the woods and drinking the first human I found. I shut my eyes against the humiliating memory.
"You're really doing very well, Bella," Jasper said. "Try to be patient with yourself. The first year is always overwhelming, even for vampires who aren't avoiding human blood."
I felt a lump form in my throat and had a fleeting wish for the ability to cry.
"I just hate being like this, still. I hate being the one everyone else has to take care of. I thought being changed would make me one of you, but in some ways I feel like even more of an outsider."
"You are one of us," Jasper said. "And we've all been where you are. Carlisle was the only one of us who was born a Cullen; for the rest of us, it's something we had to work for. We do understand how hard it is."
"I don't want understanding, Jasper. I want…" I broke off before I finished the sentence.
Jasper didn't urge me to speak, and I felt a suspicion begin to nag.
I glanced at him.
"You already know, don't you?" I asked.
He smiled, scratching the back of his head in an embarrassed human gesture. "I'm an empath married to a psychic, Bella. Of course I do."
I sighed. "Then why don't you just say it?"
"I was trying to be polite, let you talk about it when you were ready."
Of course he was. More consideration, more gentleness and patience for Bella. I wanted to cry.
I squeezed my eyes shut before I spoke.
"Edward wants me to marry him," I said. The words felt strange, faintly wonderful, not-so-faintly terrifying.
"Of course he does," Jasper said. "Is it really so surprising?"
"Yes. No. I don't know, Jasper. I hadn't been thinking about any of that. Things had just started getting more… normal between us." I would have blushed if I'd still been human.
"That's good. It's another sign that your thirst is getting under control," he said with a nod.
For weeks after my change, I was aware of little other than my thirst and the struggle to control it. The love was there, though, mine and his, all of the time. Edward's voice was gentle even when his hands were hard and restraining. When I was falling, spinning, all but lost in my drive to feed, Edward was there, holding me, always.
It was months before we'd made love again. Edward was more than patient, waiting for me to come to him again. I caught him looking, from time to time, watching me with an expression of pained hunger that would disappear the instant our eyes met, smoothed into an easy smile. And I wanted him; even thirsty and half out of my mind, I wanted him. Fear held me back, though.
I had been so afraid of being unable to find my desire for him ever again in the midst of the thirst, but once I became brave and desperate enough to try, it had only taken a few touches, a kiss unrestrained, to let loose the flood of need that had built between us. There were no thoughts of seeking control then, though, and when we finally lay together, spent and satisfied, Carlisle's gentle knock on the door was to ask after Edward's safety, not mine. We laughingly assured him that all limbs were still attached.
The family had stayed away from the cabin most of the time, then, falling back to a perimeter that would allow them to give us some privacy while still keeping humans out and me in. They came closer every few days to check in with us, make sure I was hunting, and to make sure I hadn't crushed Edward with my newborn strength and teenage lust.
I might have been embarrassed if I didn't understand how crucial both things were.
Their concern had mellowed in the last few months. Because of Jasper, they knew I wasn't lying when I said that the burning thirst had lessened. Because of Alice, they knew I wasn't planning escape and murder. Because of Edward, they knew that the 'ouches' between us were mostly good ones these days.
And it had started to be pretty good. In the morning, I would go and kill animals and drink them. In the afternoon, I would be with Edward. We would make love or swim in rivers or climb trees and jump from them, and it felt like flying and dreaming and like finally, finally waking up. In the evening, I would go and kill animals and drink them. Edward would pretend that he needed to do that, too, just so I wasn't the only one covered in red stuff that wasn't blood, not really. I had to hunt every day, usually twice, in order to feel sane enough to think about anything but real blood.
At night, Edward would hold me. We would lie in the dark, and I would close my eyes and pretend that such a thing as darkness actually still existed for me. We would talk, then, about everything we couldn't say when I still had real blood in my veins. I would tell him about wanting to be good enough for someone, anyone that I loved, and how he had been the first person to make me feel as though that were possible. I would tell him how much that had scared me, and about how grateful I was that he had never stopped telling me, showing me, that I was good enough. I would say it out loud, and then I would reach into the darkness, touch his face, and show him that my words were true.
He was the only one that I usually let inside that way, with my touch and with my gift. I had shown Carlisle once, because he had been going crazy with curious fascination, and descriptions just hadn't been enough. I had shown Alice because I needed her to see that Edward really had forgiven her for choosing to kill me to save Jasper. I had shown Rosalie because she had been making fun of the life-threatening nature of my sex life, and I wanted her to know that I didn't hold my tongue because I didn't know the dirty words she used, but because I was too polite to say them to her face. Her expression when I had drawn my hand back, closing that connection, had been one of fury, and of grudging respect.
I'd shown Esme because I missed my mom, and I needed her to see me, all the way down to the center of me, the way a mom should, the way mine never had. I needed her to know me, the good and the bad and the boring, better than almost anyone, and still kiss my hair and call me 'sweetheart' and say she loved me. And she had.
And now, as we sat together in the grass on the ridge with the sun beginning to sink into the horizon, I showed Jasper. His eyes widened when he saw me lift my hand, reach toward him.
"Are you sure, Bella?" he asked. "I can feel that you're afraid. You don't have to do this." I think he was a little afraid, too.
I swallowed, shook my head. I needed to do this, because I needed someone else to know.
My fingers touched his cheek, and he drew a tight breath.
Sunlight. A sun rising, pink sky, a million colors playing over Edward's skin, my skin, my fingers stroking over him.
"Bella." His voice, beautiful, saying my name, making it beautiful.
He's turning toward me, smiling. We should be exhausted. We're not. This isn't resting, more like digesting. We'll be hungry again for each other very soon.
I'm smiling too, imagining it.
His smile changes, just a little. There's a rippling under the surface. Shock. Revelation. Disbelief. Fear. Another kind of hunger.
I see it, and I'm curious. Not afraid.
"What is it?"
His hand, warm, against my cheek. He draws me closer, looks into my eyes, and it's eternity in there.
The words should be small, expected. They should be nothing. I see in my mind a white dress that is just a costume, a role, a single identity in an existence that would contain a multitude. It's nothing, a paper wrapping over eternal skin.
Edward's eyes make none of that true. His eyes are serious, waiting, and assuming absolutely nothing. For him, these words are everything. They're us, and they're the difference between taking things a day at a time and holding to nothing but each other and blind stupid faith as we plunge into the unknown. For Edward, 'marry me' means forgetting all of the lessons we'd received about the uncertain nature of life, and saying that we are certain of each other.
And still, such a thing should be nothing. Of course I'm certain of us. Of course I want tomorrow as much as today, and a thousand thousand tomorrows after that, all with him, only with him.
But it wouldn't just be me saying I'm certain of him, it would be me saying I'm certain of of me. It's saying that I'm up to this, that I'm strong enough to love him with as much courage and faith and endurance as he has me.
And I can't do it, not now.
I run from him. I hide in the cabin. I refuse to hunt. The thirst comes back, and it reminds me of how many ways I am less. And I hate myself, and I want him, and he thinks I don't, so he gives me horrible, horrible space. My throat burns, and I wish repeatedly for the ability to go back to that perfect sunlit moment so I can fix it with my yes.
Just one word…
I drew my hands from Jasper's face slowly. We were both shaking, and he was breathing hard, overwhelmed by the emotion of the experience I'd shared with him.
"You can fix this," he said, making it simple.
I ran my hands through my hair.
"I'm scared, Jasper."
"I know," he said.
"I messed it up," I said.
I looked at him with helpless eyes.
"Will he forgive me?"
"Oh come on! Empath married to a psychic, right? Just tell me!"
He laughed. "Okay, okay! Yes, he forgives you. Did you really have to ask?"
"Yeah," I said. "I really did."
Jasper hugged me, a little awkwardly. After opening my mind to him, it felt a little bit like shaking hands with my brain surgeon.
They were all waiting for us when we returned. Edward looked a little nervous, but not as much as I'd expect. Alice was beaming beside him, and I knew at once that she'd not kept him in suspense about my decision. Thank god; I hated every mistaken minute that had passed since I should have told him yes.
He hurried to me, stopping short when he would have caught me in his arms. His eyes hesitated, asked me for permission. I yanked him to me.
Even as a vampire, I was better known for my passion than my grace.
I kissed him, clung to him tighter and tighter until Carlisle had to remind me to be careful.
"Yes?" Edward asked as we broke apart.
"Yes," I said. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, I'm so sorry, yes."
He was laughing then, crying and kissing me senseless, and the family wanted to hug us, but it would be hours, days maybe, before I would let him go long enough for that to happen. Esme cried. Carlisle welcomed me to the family, again. Alice started talking wedding plans with me as Edward held me in his lap. She ignored the excellent suggestions he was whispering in my ear as we set a date about a decade away. It would make the fittings easier, after all, if I wasn't trying to eat the seamstress.
It was ages before they left, or perhaps an hour. He loved me then, and whispered to me in the purple light of nighttime. He whispered about forever, and about the world beyond these log walls and green trees, about all of the things he wanted to share with me. No, not what he wanted to share, what he would share with me.
Life is uncertain, but not for us – not that night, and not for as long as we believed in the beautiful promises we had no right to make. Love had transformed desire into will, will into belief, and no lesson of yesterday or fear of tomorrow could convince us that our promises of forever could ever be made into lies. There was now, and there was this, and it could simply not be broken. If anything could stretch such a moment into forever, it was this reckless, beautiful faith that wrapped around us and everything tonight.
We held each other, laughing, declaring without words that our love was eternal, our future invincible, and silently challenged anyone or anything to disagree.
For once, none dared.
Story End Notes:
End with gratitude.
Thank you to my Twilighted beta, whynot, for everything.
Thank you to my thoughtful reviewers. I would have scrapped this thing a chapter or two in without your encouragement and insight. If that makes me shallow and non-committed to my art, well, there you go.
Thank you to the friends who stayed my friends even after I was pathetic and angry and hygienically-challenged for those first awful months. You swam with me all night while we cried and drank cheap wine, and you just might have saved my life.
Thank you to every awful person I tried to date that first year. I wasn't really ready to meet anyone, and your blatant disrespect and fumbling advances helped me hold that space for myself.
Thank you to every new friend I've made since then. I had almost no one after the day I put him out, and finding all of you has restored my faith in the world and myself. I didn't need him to be loved after all.
Thank you to Stephen King for slapping my hands when I stuffed too many modifiers into my sentences. On Writing – read it, writers out there, and you'll be aware of how frequently I made the mistake of not listening to him.
Thank you to Gina-bean for her story Full Dark. Beyond being hugely inspiring for my own work, it was a hell of an enjoyable read. It's on Twilighted, guys. Go find it. Seriously.
Thank you to Mr. S. for taking me to see Eclipse tomorrow (yes, I'm a bad, bad fan who works a really twisted schedule during the week and therefore has not seen this yet), and for never making me feel stupid for enjoying a little sparkly good fun. You're not my Edward or my Jacob or even my Bella (as I first suspected), but you're a hell of a friend, and I'm grateful for you.
And I know I mentioned the reviewers, but the real thanks is for everyone who has read, whether you've reviewed or not. Heartbreak is a lonely thing, and having all those ears out there has made it less so for me. I know we say a lot about how fic writers create their stuff for free, but it's not true. Being heard, reading a few words of encouragement from people who have experienced much the same thing, has been invaluable for me. I owe you all, huge.
From the bottom of my heart,