Title: The Life and Times of Bella Swan
Author: Sare Liz
Disclaimer: The characters do not belong to me.
Beta: Colleen P.
Summary: Edward never came back and Bella got on with the business of living... and it's been an interesting life.
Bella was aware of many things, things of the sort other people stood unaware. She was aware that whether or not you believed in something had no bearing on its actual existence. A thing could exist independent of your opinion on the matter. A person could believe in ghosts, or not, in vampires, fairies, werewolves, and sea monsters or not. A person could believe in life after death, the presence of aliens in this Universe, God, hell, the supremacy of non-violent conflict resolution as a viable alternative in our time, but it didn't actually matter what a person believed. Or, it did matter what you believed, but only insomuch as it impacted your own life and eventually the lives of others around you. What any given person believed about things they could not taste or touch had no bearing on that thing's actual existence. It existed or failed to do so based on other criteria completely removed from one person's belief in it, or even the belief of billions.
Bella was aware of the fact that she was mortal and would die some day - most people lived their entire lives pretending this was not the case, or at least not for them.
She was aware that none of this really mattered, if 'this' could be defined as all of the bits of life that most people took so seriously, created so much drama over.
She was also aware that these were the only things that mattered, these little minutiae of life, the slings and arrows right along with the smiles and laughter. Far from dwelling in the past, or the future, Bella was aware that the present moment was the only one she really had.
Bella liked going to the gym. A person just never knew where they were going to meet someone they might not wish to, but back in the darker days she'd always felt safe at the gym. Gym memberships were superfluous to some members of the planetary body with whom she had no desire for further contact. It had been, perhaps, a silly superstition given the distances and number of times she had moved, but her reasoning was sound, even then. The particular reasons were things she'd actually grown out of, and she no longer avoided anyone, but her body was a highly habitual thing, and it remembered not just the endorphins, but the sense of safety and security, even if Bella's consciousness had moved on to other things.
Bella liked sunny days. She'd grown up in a desert, but that's not why she craved the sun on her skin (which pinked up and then went straight to burning red), or the heat soaking through the fabric of her clothes, of her bones. Sunny days reminded her that she was alive. It wasn't that she feared death by any means. Bella was on speaking terms with the gentleman on the pale horse.
When Bella joined the State Department, there were a lot of hoops to jump through. Some of them were a little morbid, but as mentioned, Bella didn't shy away from the thought of her own death. She had two truly identifying markers, should the worst happen and a body identification need to occur. She had one tattoo and one scar. The scar was an old one, from when she was a teenager, but it was prominent and somewhat inconveniently located. The scar was easily misconstrued for the physical detritus of intravenous drug use gone wrong, as it was located on the inside of her right elbow, but that was not how Bella got the scar. Anyone who was given the opportunity to examine it while she had her arm fully extended would be able to clearly see that it was a deep and disturbing bite mark made by an adult human. People were rarely given this opportunity, however.
The tattoo was also inconveniently located, and also from her teenage years. It was the reason she kept long hair, and never wore it swept up completely. Just inside her hairline at the back of her neck in twelve point Times New Roman font was the word 'Human'. This was originally intended as a guide.
Bella enjoyed working in Moscow, but she missed the sun. She had a gift for picking up languages and mimicking pronunciation, as well as a swiftness in understanding nuance and the need for tact and metaphor, so her work as a translator was both easy and fulfilling. It was more than she'd ever hoped for in the dark days, and so much less than she had dreamed of in the adolescent ones before that. Still, she preferred the warmth and the sun. She had brushed up on her Tamil while in Moscow, preparing for a change even then.
Bella Swan had found Enlightenment. She stumbled on it one day when she was considering suicide for the forty-third time, and it was rather like falling into a pothole.
Bella met one of her in-laws in Moscow, shortly before her transfer to India. In-law was a convenient way to describe the individual, however inaccurate. It was the marriage that never occurred, for specific reasons on which she could only speculate. Generally they hadn't gotten married because he'd left. Generally, they might have been completely mismatched because he was the sort who could leave, and because he was the sort who tended to take important group decisions into his own hands and make them unilaterally. Not a good prospect for a long-term relationship, to say nothing of marriage. Also, he wasn't human. But then, at that point in her younger years, Bella hadn't intended to be human for much longer. Parity had always been important to Bella.
Justice was one of those things that Bella believed in, whether or not it existed in any given place or not. She was a bigger fan of distributive justice than retributive justice as she was also a big fan of mercy, but on the whole she found the concept of justice a compelling one. It was one of those things that despite belief, despite existence, despite tangible evidence that people could hold in their hands, it was something that should exist, even if it didn't. Bella liked to think that her work as a translator in the U.S. State Department was one tiny effort in a huge and complex system that helped to enable justice to exist. She knew she could be wrong about that, but it's what she liked to think.
Bella understood that everyone came from their own perspective, their own culture, had their own preoccupations, hopes, dreams, desires, frustrations and fears. It was a sort of compassion that helped her mitigate the stress of her occupation, and helped her navigate her own life. She liked to look deeply. It was a great hobby, to sit in a street cafe and watch people walk by, looking deeply at them, opening herself up to the great connectedness that we all shared, all who walked the planet. It was a calming way to pass the time. Bella was never bored.
When Bella was a junior in high school, self-centered and angst-ridden as most high school juniors tended to be, she fell in love with a vampire. He fell in love right back. Life is a bit of an emotional roller coaster when you fall in love with a vampire. The percentage of time you end up lying to the people you love increases dramatically as you are suddenly keeping way more secrets than normal. Most of the lies were quite small, but a few were huge, and those few huge secrets were quite painful to keep.
The State Department did not need to know about vampires, that much was clear to Bella. And if, in fact, they already did know about vampires, they did not need to know any more about them. This was the main reason that Bella did not flinch when she saw her erstwhile in-law walk by her in the square, fifteen feet away and making perfect eye-contact for just enough time to not raise suspicion. The secondary reason Bella did not flinch was the level of suspicion she would come under from her superiors for having contact with an unknown during business hours. Bella's face was a perfect and serene mask of equal interest in everything and everyone as she got into her designated black SUV. She didn't hold any grudges or resentment by that point in her life, but she could admit to some curiosity. It was very clear to her that the sighting, brief and obscure as it was, was orchestrated. She wondered why on earth that might be. She couldn't read the look in the woman's eyes. They had once been best friends.
Bella became a Buddhist in college. She hadn't been raised with any religion, though she knew both her mother and father had abandoned their particular flavors of Christianity independent of one another. Bella was fairly certain that each religion had its good points and bad points, and she was fairly certain that if you managed to have a decent moral compass to guide you through the bullshit that was inevitable anytime humans started struggling with power then anyone could get what they needed from any religion. Bella saw heaven and hell as metaphors for life right now. She liked Jesus, thought Moses was weird but cool, and had warm and fuzzy feelings for Mohammed as well. She approved of the idea of a moralistic, merciful, benevolent God force. Still, the Buddha was the one who seemed to speak the clearest truth, so a practicing Buddhist she was. When she was younger she thought about running away to a monastery, but in the end she and her priest both agreed that a person needs to run to a monastery as opposed to running away to one. Still, she'd spent her last vacation at Plum Village in France. She meditated for two solid weeks. It was bliss.
Bella has learned that when you are exposed to something-to information, to experience, to feeling-you can't unexpose yourself to it. You can't pretend it never happened, at least not with great success for long. What you can do is totally accept that it happened. It's a simple concept, but it really does fly in the face of denial, to say nothing of all sorts of other standard coping strategies including drinking to excess, random sexual encounters, anesthetizing with TV and social media, and eating yourself to death. It's actually easier, much easier, to let the truth, and sometimes the pain of it wash over you. It's easier to feel it deeply, profoundly, to be keening and in pain for precisely as long as you need to be so that when it is over it is well and truly over. This was how Bella handled the death of her father, besides other sundry griefs.
Nothing unreal exists. This Bella holds to be true. Since the real is not to be feared, Bella rarely lets her fear get the best of her, or even really a foothold. Then again, Bella is on a first name basis with Death, and very few people are, these days. She is content with her life, and she's sure she'll be content with her death whenever it happens.
In her first year with the State Department, Bella was a hostage. The entire incident was hushed up and went completely unreported in all mainstream media. Not even The Daily Show got wind of it, which was unusual.
Bella had gone through basic hostage training, roughly the same thing that flight attendants got and because it was very serious, she didn't crack a single smile, no matter how much she was inclined to do so. She had already been in a hostage situation. It was the reason she got her scar. She learned in that training that she had done absolutely everything backwards. She wondered only briefly if he might not have left, had she shown a little more brains, a little more common sense, a little more self-preservation. Still, she had done what she thought was right at the time and honestly could ask no more of herself.
All the same, Bella was not unacquainted with violent and fatally dangerous situations. She'd had her share before she was even legal to drink. Vampires aside, she'd had a year as an adrenaline junkie, and nearly died several times that way as well.
Bella was a confirmed bachelor. She didn't like the word spinster. It had too many negative connotations. No one was a confirmed spinster. If you were a spinster, you were resigned, to say nothing of old fashioned and archaic in your speech patterns. Spinsterhood was something that happened to you, not something you chose yourself. To hell with spinsterhood.
She'd fallen in love once, of course. Totally apart from that experience, she'd had a period of time in which she had been very, very sexually active. She still masturbated when the desire struck and time permitted. She hadn't had sex with someone else in over seventeen years, though.
It wasn't that her career was more important than her sexual or social or personal life. It was more that she had never, since being jilted, felt anything approaching enduring love and affection for anyone else. It wasn't that her emotions were turned off. She had friends and loved ones. It wasn't as it her hormones were turned off. She was attracted to movie stars, media personalities, and the occasional coworker and barista. The romance, however, was definitely gone. It had left the building. She wasn't prepared to settle for second best, and she had yet to meet the man who inspired the depth of devotion she had once felt. She sort of figured it would probably never happen, so she wrote it off. After time and some healing, that was easier than some of her old high school friends might have imagined for her. She had a feeling that her in-laws had anticipated her, though.
Part of her healing process had been to look back at her former fiance and look deeply at him. She realized during this many-month process just how full of despair and self-hatred he had been. It was shocking, at first, to consider it. At the time she had been able to see no fault at all in him, right up until the point where he had left her. Now she could see that he was flawed like the rest of us. He was arrogant and prideful, and certainly a product of the era that gave him birth. He was also deeply cynical, and that was something that was perhaps a product of the despair. She also realized that he had lied to her. Things just didn't add up, otherwise. He'd given reasons for leaving, but they hadn't made sense even at the time, however much she had been completely incapable of seeing it clearly. Bella had been too ready to assume all of the responsibility, as had been her habit for a few years at that point. So she had assumed the responsibility, and his parting words had helped that along, but she now accepted that he had lied. She wasn't sure what the truth was, or what his real reasons encompassed, but could definitely see that she had been lied to.
It took her eight years and seven months to forgive him of that. It finally happened when she realized that if he magically appeared before her, if he erased his parting words, if he had never abandoned her, taken his family and exited stage left... even if all this were true, she wouldn't actually want him. As a person in a relationship, Bella needed more than a self-hating, despairing, prideful, arrogant and cynical man could give her, beautiful vampire or no. And if all that had happened, if he'd never left, if Bella had managed to grow this far as a person, and most importantly if he had not, the eight year and seven month mark would have been the day that Bella went to file divorce papers.
Vampires were like the Mafia, Bella reckoned. If they left you alone, you either thanked your lucky stars, or were completely oblivious. If they didn't leave you alone you became a member of the family, or a victim. There was no grey area. All four of these things were true, except Bella had still been left in a difficult place. She had become family, and yet she had been left alone. Abandoned, if you prefer. It left her vulnerable in ways that her in-laws never had imagined. That was an assumption on Bella's part, really, but she knew that they were not intentionally cruel people, so she could only assume that they had not truly thought their actions through, or they would not have abandoned her.
Bella had had exceedingly, shockingly, pants-wettingly close brushes with death thirty-five separate times. (After the how to be a hostage workshop, she'd made a list which she kept first in her Daytimer, and then in her iPhone. It was encoded, but she kept it up to date. Thankfully, she'd only had to make two more entries. She didn't count the incident in the plaza in Moscow.) This was why she liked to read Terry Pratchett. That man knew how to write the character of Death.
Tripped while crossing street.
Hit by van.
Held hostage; tracker.
Bled by fiance.
Papercut in front of J.W.
Motorcycle learning curve.
Chute didn't open.
Made J.B. mad.
Tracker's girlfriend returns once.
Tracker's girlfriend returns twice.
Tracker's best friend returns.
Tracker's girlfriend returns last time.
Shark swim gone bad.
Held hostage; Bolivia.
A.C. & M. came to visit.
All things considered, it was surprising that Bella had only one major and permanent scar.
She was intensely curious to find out how they knew about her, and how they had found out about Bolivia. Also, she wondered why in hell they bothered to track her down and come to visit her in such pomp, if not circumstance.
"The U.S. State Department does not need to know about vampires. And if they do already know something about vampires, they don't need to know anything else, and they certainly don't need to know from me. Now, if I could register a preference, I'd ask you to get on with killing me, or let me live out my life in peace. I recognize I don't actually get to choose, but I thought I'd let you know my preference."
There were three of them who seemed to be the important ones, but there was one in charge, or at least there was one mouthpiece of the three, and he seemed to find her amusing. He held her hand for a very long moment, but it only seemed to annoy him. Bella wondered why anyone would do things that annoyed themselves. They had companions who ranged in size and apparent age, but they were all surly, and didn't seem to brighten even slightly as the brief meeting occurred.
"Why did they cast off their pet, I wonder?" spat a little girl who could have used a time out or two. No one answered her, and she did not speak again. Bella only gave her a disbelieving look. Clearly this was one deeply dysfunctional group of people. She really didn't think that their dysfunction came from their ontological state. Even vampires were capable of maintaining reasonably healthy family bonds. Bella would know.
They did leave. It was the penultimate time she would ever see a vampire in her life, and it was the last time she would have a close brush with Death. The next time he actually came to collect her, not ride by and say hello.
Being dead wasn't like she had expected, but then no one really knows what to expect, even when they really do. A person can only truly and deeply know what and how to expect something that they have already experienced.
Bella didn't see anyone the moment she died, all of her thoughts about being friendly with the gentleman on the pale horse aside. She was enveloped in the sensation of white light that wasn't quite a sensation, as she no longer had any sense organs. But she realized many things in that moment, most of which were things that everyone will eventually figure out. Some of them were highly personal realizations, however, like the fact that her fiance continued to desperately love her, even though he didn't know how to live with her. She realized that by a highly convoluted and complex chain of events he'd misunderstood one of her close brushes with death to be her actual end, and then had affected his own. It was the trio who had, in the end, consented to kill him, vampires being otherwise rather durable and generally lacking the morbid motivation of Romeo. The trio had better information, however, and sought her out, though only after graciously acquiescing to the foolish colt's proposition. So, later on, had her once and never in-laws, who had never been able to manage her fiance when he was being single-minded.
He loved her still, and most importantly, he was free of the pride, the arrogance, and all the rest that so encumbered him in life. He had waited for her, as much as something like him could, keeping his energy in one place, together, separated from the rest of the blissful white. It was a purgatory of his own choosing. When she died, he chose to end it and joined her as she joined the immortality of the bliss.
Bella Swan had found Enlightenment. She stumbled on it one day when she was considering suicide for the forty-third time, and it was rather like falling into a pothole. Dying didn't change that. Nothing could.
End Note: Hello. So, what did you think of it? Do review and let me know.