Author's Notes (March 16, 2012): This is it, guys. :') I yammer at the bottom.
Chapter music: bit(dot)ly/sotpm34-music
"SINS OF THE PIANO MAN"
CHAPTER 34: A HEART AT REST STAYS AT REST
I never thought I could feel this way.
I never thought love could be true
For someone so independent—
Then along came, along came you…
My days, my nights, my life:
They start and end with you.
"Lay Me Down" by Ashley MacIsaac
At the bottom of the hill, the park glowed with life. Paper lanterns had been strung up around the perimeter of an outdoor stage, where they bobbed in the breeze like oversized fireflies. Humans lounged on blankets in the neatly trimmed grass, watching the musicians on stage. Some couples swayed together, enjoying the warmth of a summer evening; few would go home alone on a night such as this. To one side of the stage, a few children danced in jerky pirouettes to a tune of their own making. They lost sandals in their unbridled, simple joy.
Depending on the direction of the wind, fragmented melodies drifted up to where Bella and I sat on the hilltop. It didn't matter that the music came in bits and pieces. We knew it already and the stories behind each song. After all, we had penned the notes and words ourselves.
Did the spirits of my victims dance, too? I wanted to believe they did.
A piece I'd once worked on with Alexander Jang smoothly transitioned into Charlie's song, though the musicians knew it by another name. I was pleased to see Bella smiling while watching them. Time had done much to heal wounds caused by old losses. The world was too big and beautiful to accommodate endless grief.
Our dog Mozart half lay across Bella's legs; he gazed at my pants pocket, where he knew I kept bits of jerky. His brown eyes were so like Lucky's. I smiled and scratched behind his one floppy ear.
"I wish we could stay here," Bella said, turning to me.
"I do as well," I sighed.
The Cullens had moved on a year earlier, but we'd stubbornly held out another fourteen months. Now, though, it was time to join them again. Even with humans' anti-aging efforts steadily moving along, we couldn't pass for being in our upper thirties. Not for the first time, we would need to start a new life.
"Chicago is…" I searched for words as I looked toward the city's bright lights in the east. "It's a far cry from being anything like it was at the turn of the century—"
"Last century," Bella corrected with a laugh.
"Yes, thank you," I replied dryly. "Last century, in the time of the horse and buggy." Bella giggled. "Anyhow, it's nice, even if different from when I was a boy." And much improved since the dark days from my time as a newborn. Chicago had its problems, like any major city of the world, but at least it no longer had to contend with Al Capone and me.
"Do you ever wish you'd been able to stay here?" Bella asked. "I mean, maybe if the Spanish Flu had never hit and taken your parents, you could have grown up, been some successful businessman—married a Mary Jane or Mary Sue?" She bit her lip, then added, "You could have had a human life."
"You know I blew that chance." On depression and alcohol, some of man's most worthless ventures, on the whole.
"But say it'd all gone differently…"
I looked up at the moon. It was full and seemed close enough for one to reach out and hold. As I stared at it, I imagined a perfect human life, one where love was endless, where lies never hurt or perhaps weren't told at all, and where no one ever, ever had to die. The things of dreams, not realities.
Love didn't come without its share of struggles, lies were sometimes necessary, and death was needed for there to be life. I saw in hindsight what Alice must have seen all along—the events and choices that connected Jacinto, Maria and Jasper to me. The entangled threads that led me to my victims. How Lucky lived on through his descendants. The way brown eyes became red, then golden.
When I was younger, I'd believed the world demanded balance, that every push was to come with a pull, every joy with sadness. More than half a century later, I still saw evidence of this.
I'd tried to cheat nature and take more than I deserved, but against all odds, I'd changed my ways since. Now, I cared more for sowing than reaping, and I'd been rewarded accordingly. Not perhaps in the ways of dreams or of perfect human worlds, but in the way that suited me and made me a better man. So much of it came back to the woman beside me.
"Bella, no life would be worth living without you."
She lifted a hand and touched my cheek. Venom gathered at the corner of her eyes. "I'm glad it ended up the way it did, you know. All of it. Even the stuff that really hurt."
I smiled. "So am I."
AND THEY LIVED IMPERFECTLY EVER AFTER
Closing Notes: (1) Yes, that was an intentional Mary Sue joke. (2) The chapter's title is in reference to (not Mike) Newton's First Law of Motion, which states, "An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force." Both Bella and Edward are disrupting forces in each other's lives; it's only through coming together and growing through love that they achieve balance and come to accept the pain caused by mistakes and nature itself.
Final Remarks Probably Few Will Read:
If you made it to the end of "Sins of the Piano Man," thank you. If you enjoyed it, I'm all the happier! To have had so many read has been a true pleasure for me, and I've really appreciated your comments and support along the way. Much of what you've said has made me smile and encouraged me to continue even if I wasn't always able to take the time to tell you that directly. It also meant the world to have so many of you share your personal experiences with cancer and what Charlie's story in SotPM meant to you. I'm thankful that you thought I handled it well and realistically; I certainly attempted to. Your words will stay with me long after I click "complete."
I know SotPM's a strange story in places. Any story about death and redemption is maybe bound to be. There are parts I'm proud of, some strangeness that's 100 percent intentional whether anyone likes it or not, and other parts I would edit more heavily if this weren't fan fiction. However, at the end of the day, it is what it is, flaws and all: my fan fictional version of the saga, plus a little chaos theory.
It contains ideas I agree and disagree with regarding death, loss and fears of the unknown. Bella goes through the stages of grief, several characters learn how to forgive themselves and others (or perish when they're unable to do so); by the end, most learn acceptance and how to be compassionate, rather than lash out at the world. No one in this story is perfect or pure, and they still aren't at this closing. I believe in a world of grey, not black or white. For this reason, SotPM does not end with manic happiness or perfect characters.
I wish to give special thanks to my lovely betas and friends, Aleeab4u, duskwatcher2153, GreatChemistry, and smexy4smarties, all of whom helped me make sense of the last section of this story. There would be all sorts of plot holes and confusing phrases if not for them—and even more typos (bane of my existence that those are). I learned a lot from their comments, much of which I'm carrying with me. More than anything else, I'm happy this story connected me with them. They're all really lovely people (and writers/betas!) who have been sweet to me. You should get to know them if you haven't.
So, SotPM is done. As planned, I'm going back to my original writing, for the most part. I will continue to pop in on occasion to (maybe) write outtakes for this or maybe a one-shot or something short (think fewer than 30k), but this was the big one for me. It can't get much bigger than rewriting the saga, I figure—or, at least, I don't think it should. I don't want to tell the same story a thousand times over.
You're welcome to download this story, share it, translate it, masturbate over the inexplicit sex scenes, etc. I more or less release this creature into the wild (that's what the internet is, didn't you know?) and can only hope you'll treat it and me kindly.
Because I believe in going out with style, I'll be replying to EVERY review for this final chapter, so if you have any remaining questions, please log in (so I can reply!), review and ask away. It may take me a while to reply, but I most certainly will.
Thank you again to everyone who has read. It's meant a lot. Now I'm going to go hit "complete" and feel emo for a little while.