The fallout from the Volturi's grand scheme had far-reaching consequences that lasted longer than any of us could have possibly imagined. Through the gift of Alice's visions, and sparse information gathered from the odd roaming nomad, we bore witness to their plans in the south and across the seas. As they continued to corral people, interrogate them, and kill where they found guilt. Those that survived the experience were written down in the ledger, the luxury of anonymity gone forever, the luxury of never meeting the Volturi also gone.
They didn't return home to Volterra for years, but scoured their way across the continents, searching towns, cities, and wide open expanses – there was no escape from them.
The exact number of killings was unknown, some said whole covens had been wiped out, others were more skeptical. But no one seemed to know the exact number of vampires in existence, the number of covens or nomads, so the impact became yet another myth, and for us, almost went unfelt.
But the impact of their actions did not.
We gave up life in Oregon, shut up the house, quit school and jobs, and instead remained with the Denali's. Our two covens and our nomadic friends stayed together, unwilling to leave the safety of the group until we knew the danger had passed, or at least lessened somewhat.
As much as I loved our extended family, and grew to care for the extra three, seventeen people in one house was a trial at times. Arguments were a given, so many differing personalities and beliefs, different kinds of people. Frictions grew sometimes, then waned and eventually dissipated. Kindness prevailed most often, or people simply accepted that they would have to beg to differ. But arguments and all, the benefits outweighed the occasional tiffs.
Comfort could be found in a multitude of places. Something that was well needed when trying to come to terms with my own experiences – having once again been manipulated by Aro's schemes, and believing I would die. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Difficult to come to terms with, and it took a long time to finally feel safe.
Perhaps, fuelled by my constant state of unease and the ever-present fear of being vulnerable again, using my once dormant shield, came somewhat naturally. Any difficulty I came across was swiftly overcome, for the sound of Jasper's screams still rung loudly in my head – they were not something I would forget in a hurry. His pain and the feeling of helplessness was a wonderful, if not dreadful motivation to master the gift I had so long taken for granted.
The feeling of proficiency was affirming, of being accomplished in defence rather than violence, it was a new and wondrous feeling. Until it became almost natural to keep people shielded rather than not, and the need to protect became almost obsessive. For the first time in our lives, my gift now worked at odds with Edwards.
His lifetime of monitoring and listening was suddenly cut off. The novelty of that initial silence soon wore thin, and while I was antsy to protect via my shield, he was equally antsy to protect with his mind reading. He didn't wish to ask, didn't want to make me rein back a gift I was only just discovering, something that I was using as a crutch to make me feel safe. But I watched the prolonged silence take its toll, it made him uncomfortable and put him on edge. His own safety net gone.
Despite the fear, I did rein it in, and unshielded the minds I had been possessively holding onto since we had left the Volturi meeting. Telling myself, the danger had passed, and there was no current need for my shield to encompass everyone. The mantra continued until the fear subsided, and layers of my shield once again felt at home with me.
The singularity of feeling unsafe did not just start and end with Edward and I, it took a long while before the general feeling of unease finally dissipated, before people stopped fearing Alice's visions, and Jasper could finally feel content. With the Volturi half a world away, things began to return to normal.
The delights of hunting in smaller groups returned, going further afield and enjoying the wilderness of Alaska. Hunting something other than deer.
So came, an odd but not entirely unwelcome outcome - George decided to change diet. He was not joined by either Elias or Amos, but that was not a surprise, both had seemed unimpressed with the whole notion of drinking animal blood. But George seemed determined despite his coven mates disgust. He listened politely to the bombardment of advice that everyone gave him, nodding along, taking the odd cynical comment in his stride.
He didn't think much of the taste, but didn't complain, and seemed to find great enjoyment in the pursuit.
We spoke often - for ignoring each other was impossible when under the same roof – and discussed a great many things pertaining to the past. He told me about life after the incident, of living in New York, about the shoe shop, and the events surrounding his death. In turn, I told him about my own past, filling in the gaps about my beginnings in the south, and what happened during the Massacre of Fifty.
I mentioned the old ring I still had- he couldn't remember it - but we laughed over my description of its garishness, and then laughed at the utter absurdity of our lives back then. The laughter was bittersweet but welcome.
When we grew tired of talking about the past, we spoke of our current lives. I told him about school, the jobs we held, the near-constant traveling we did every couple of years, of the things I had seen and done. He listened with rapt attention, seemingly interested in everything about our lives, even the mundane.
I didn't see it for what it was. Not until Edward told me.
George wasn't merely interested in my rambles out of sheer politeness, he was enthralled because he wanted what we had. He wanted to exist alongside the humans like us, to integrate back into society. Of all the things I had said, it was the idea of education that excited him more than anything. He wanted to learn.
So, he changed his diet, and when his dedication to the cause could not be disputed any longer, he respectively made his petition to the entire Denali clan and asked whether he could stay.
They assented without so much as a query. George's politeness had endeared him, void of malice and full of kindness, there were no reservations about him joining.
After nearly two years together, the vision we had all been waiting for finally appeared. In some far-flung part of the world, an apathetic Aro gave a familiar, well-worn speech, to a group of terrified nomads, before dismissing them with a snap of his ledger and a flick of his wrist. Soaked to his bones, Aro barked out a weary order to his guard and told them to head for Volterra – their reign of terror now at its end.
The Volturi were finally going home.
It took some further months before we all began to depart: Elias back to his beloved New York, Amos off to search the world, and we, to our new home. Reopening an old secluded house out in Maine, with the intention of gradually reintroducing ourselves back into the human fray.
Normality did not come all at once, it took time. We had a constantly watchful eye upon Aro and his brothers, and ears open for any news along the nomadic routes, but for the first time in an age, both borne nothing. It seemed, once again, despite their manipulations, heavy-handedness, and questionable morals… the Volturi had succeeded in getting what they wanted. Through threats and killings, they had finally rid the south of conflict.
Further years passed, Carlisle went back to work at the hospital, Esme, alongside Alice, began to build her architecture empire, while the rest of us tried new and old ventures at college. Having grown tired of education, myself and Emmett did not last the length of our courses, but decided to make our own fun – oddly enough partnering in a business venture.
I opened my own small publishing house, with Emmett heading the marketing - a job at which he excelled. And eventually, we coerced Jasper away from his degree. The threat of inaccurate historical manuscripts going to print, too much for him to take, he joined us as a specialist editor.
We returned to the usually boisterous and chaotic life that a family of eight created, fighting over who had the largest kill, who was riding shotgun, or who owed Esme the most money – I may have been able to shield Edward now, but his skills did not pertain to card games. Normality had crept up on us without our knowledge.
Ordinariness was a wonderful thing, and its longevity could not be overlooked. So, after a century of wondering, and four years of truly knowing, I finally made the decision to return to where it all started.
It was high time I went back to the place of my birth.
The view from the tiny oval window showed nothing but a great expanse of blue, touching the horizon in a haze of bright white, only ever broken up by traces of cloud below us. We were far over the Atlantic, closer now to Europe than the America's we had left behind. If there was ever a way to traverse such a large expanse of water, this was it. I was finally getting the chance to take advantage of transatlantic flight – and a private charter made the whole journey even more tolerable.
Leaving the shore of one continent to arrive at another was something I had never experienced before - at least not in this life. As we left the east coast behind, I wondered if my human-self had felt the same trepidation I did at leaving home. George had spoken of nothing but the excitement we had for the voyage to New York, and while I could well imagine being excited about traveling to a foreign country on a luxury ocean liner, there must have been some fear of the unknown.
I must have watched the coastline of Europe grow smaller, and missed the comforts and safety of home. Never able to truly comprehend that I wouldn't return for over a century… or that I wouldn't remember what that home even was.
But I had my family with me on this trip. A family that against all odds and disbelief, now contained George. He hadn't hesitated in the slightest when I asked him to come and seemed almost relieved at my asking, telling me, he had not wished to go alone, or without me.
It was definitely something we had to do together. He had been right all along, even though I didn't see it in the beginning. I was the only one that understood. It was an understanding that went beyond memories, or physical recollection, more a yearning for the same thing.
"How much do you think it would be to buy one of these?" Tanya said, gesturing around her. "I'm not saying that I want one… but I do."
Edward laughed, "Emmett is already one step ahead, he's been looking at plane specs since we boarded... don't think you'd get much change from thirty million."
"Maybe more if you wanted a really nice interior, maybe fifty" I added. "You got that kind of money?"
She whistled at the amount, "That's a lot of money…. Think I could just charge it to my card, see what happens?"
Tanya missed the odd look George sent her way - half smiling, half frowning - as if he wasn't sure if she were joking or not. It seemed to be a perpetual confusion. In the beginning, he had been utterly overwhelmed by the sheer force of nature that was Tanya, utterly bewildered, and more often than not, happy to be invisible to her. At what point that changed, I didn't know. But now he seemed to be as equally charmed, as he was baffled by her.
There were not many things Tanya kept a secret from me, in fact, she was more prone to over-sharing if anything. But her own thoughts and feelings about George were unknown. I thought it telling that she, and she alone, had accompanied George on this trip, and maybe that said more than actual words. It was a comfort to have her here with me, and I got the distinct impression that George felt the same way.
"You could try, but I bet Garrett will cancel your card before the payments even gone through," I said, grinning at her pouty face.
"He's probably already put a limit on your card," Edward said, laughing when Tanya swore at the two of us.
"I was under the impression that you were not a fan of flying, wouldn't buying a plane be rather counterproductive," George added, laying his travel guide on the table between himself and Tanya.
"My enthusiasm for flying has suddenly grown," she said, "or my tolerance has, at least. But if you're planning on taking me anywhere in the future, the bar has been set very high. I'll accept nothing lower."
"Right… dually noted," said George, nodding his head as a smile tugged at his lips. "I'm afraid you'll be waiting awhile, though. I've hardly had the time to gather a small fortune, never mind a large one, and certainly nowhere near enough to buy a plane… or even hire one."
She simply shrugged, unbothered by his logic. "I can wait," she said, twisting his travel guide around to face herself and reading the same article he had been.
I turned away to hide my own smile, mashing my lips together tightly, and turning into Edward's shoulder. Feigning interest in the view from our window, instead of the two of them, as they fell into easy conversation about viewing some obscure sights in London.
"Anything to see yet?" Edward questioned, craning his neck to look out the window.
"Land wise, no," I said, scrunching up my nose in faux annoyance. "Just more prime views of the Atlantic."
"Shouldn't be long now, though," he said, pressing the wrinkled skin between my eyes. "Only a couple of hours left till we get there, so can't be far from Ireland… think you can wait that long?"
"Yeah, I guess, if I must," I complained, crowding his space when he allowed me to put my legs across his lap. "When we finally see some land, either expect me to combust because of excitement or because of fear… I don't think there's going to be an in-between. Think you can handle that?"
"I am fully qualified and prepared for both," he said seriously, before smiling and kissing my forehead. "Everything is going to be fine, maybe not always easy, but no regrets… you wanted this."
"I do. I do want this," I said, nodding to assure myself. "I want to see the house… and the graves. I want to go with Carlisle and George, see all the places they remember. Plus, all the usual things people do in London – if I don't get a photo outside Buckingham Palace, I will be very upset."
"We can do all those things, and more, even the pictures," he promised, shaking his head at my dramatics. "I think Alice and Emmett's combined list encompasses every tourist attraction in and around the city, not to mention the shopping… someone should probably ask what the maximum luggage load is before she's let loose."
"It's nice that you think that'll stop her," I laughed, "she'll just find a way around it… ship it home… or hire another plane just for her things."
He guffawed, "Don't give her any ideas."
From further down the front of the plane, Alice's indignation at our comments could be heard, yelling out our full names for good measure.
"Sorry," we both yelled automatically, hiding our laughs.
Over her continuing mumbles about our cheek, Emmett's loud voice cut through - announcing with gusto that he could finally see land.
He was right.
The view of the sea that had been our companion for some five hours, remained the same, but at the point where it met the sky, the blinding white had been replaced by ranges of green mountains. Ireland was finally in our sights, as such was my first glimpse of the British Isles.
I didn't combust from fear, nor did I from excitement. The feeling was unexplainable. A deep longing for something I couldn't remember, but felt keenly. I had been afraid that nothing would resonate with me, that I would simply be unfeeling towards everything I saw – but this simple view of land was proving it all wrong.
While some – Emmett – had clambered to the galley to get a better view, George came to join Edward and I on the divan. He seemed pensive to take in the view, but fought past the onslaught of memories that undoubtedly plagued him, and cast his gaze across the sea.
I squeezed his hand in mine, keen to offer what little comfort I could. Together we sat watching Ireland grow closer, then pass beneath us in a haze of emerald green, before another coastline formed across a narrow straight of water, and then Great Britain formed before us.
"I guess… welcome home, Isabella," he said with a small, wistful smile.
"Welcome home, George," I replied.
London was quite unlike any other city I had visited before, different to anything we had across the Atlantic. With its curiously winding streets - oddly named, but delightfully crooked – an abundance of greenery in between a mirage of mismatching buildings from almost every point in history. It was modern and quaint, with intimate hideaways in the middle of the metropolitan chaos, trees, and metal, old and new – London was a conundrum.
A conundrum I loved almost immediately.
While the weather was cold, grey, and more often than not, exceedingly wet, it was more than ideal for us. Exploration on foot was far easier than driving, and with ten of us in total, we often parted ways on individual adventures, but came back together for the important, personal ones.
Carlisle had long since known the Borough in which he had been born, now ceased to exist as it once had, the Great Fire had seen to some of it, a Victorian clearance had seen to the rest. But surrounded by new development, a tube station, and several pubs, remained one old relic that had survived fire, demolition, restoration, and also the ravages of time on Carlisle's memory – the parish church.
It was a poignantly fitting survivor. His own father had been the leader of the congregation, and used his position to spread word of unnatural creatures roaming the streets. Subsequently beginning futile hunts against our kind, and bringing his son into a fight he could not hope to win.
The church was Carlisle's beginning.
We sat in the pews at the back, all of us spread out across several, admiring the atmosphere and the flickering candles, and listening as Carlisle told us about his human life. He spoke with genuine respect about his father, but said he was glad to have proved him wrong when it came to our kind – that we did indeed, have souls – and cited us a testament to that.
But remaining inconspicuous was never really an option for us, eventually we garnered the attentions of the current rector - who was exceedingly welcoming, and even more so, with a half-truth about us tracing our ancestors. We stayed for evening prayer, made an exceedingly generous donation, then departed back onto the busy London streets.
From the church in St Giles, we ventured to Mayfair, to view what was left of my former home, and that of George's. Yet, other than a pretty park, and neo-classical architecture, nothing remained. The mock façade giving a mere glimpse at what was once there. My house at number four was now a hotel.
As for George, who had lived a short walk away, his house still stood, but now reimagined as flats.
He stood and admired it regardless, pointing to the window that had been his, where the parlor was, how his mother had been fussing the morning of April tenth, almost making them late for the train to Southampton. Everything was described with a fond nostalgia and a deep warmth for his human family, the tragedy of their deaths had not touched his childhood home, and he seemed at ease recalling the handful of memories he had. Titanic could not touch them here.
It was several days later, after being forced to hide from the unscheduled sunshine, that I finally got to come face-to-face with something tangible of my own.
Right from the beginning George had eluded to the extent of my family's financial situation, a somewhat formidable wealth, that I later learnt, had been accumulated through both land ownership and a merchant shipping company. Living in the right part of London was fashionable, but retreating to a country house come the end of the season… was even more fashionable.
The absurdness of it all was only amplified by the fact that the large Victorian country house, to which my own grandfather had purchased and redesigned, was still standing… and you could take tours around it.
So, we did.
Nothing could properly prepare me for seeing it, the images online did not do the house and grounds justice. It was ostentatiously splendid. The long sweeping driveway, the imported trees, and the lay of the land, everything framed the house in such a way that no one could fail to notice its stately importance.
The house was all pinnacles, chimneys, and decorative tracery. Build in heavy stone, then surrounded by delicate hedges and flower beds. Ridiculous in a way that only country homes can be – gothic revival and all.
We left the cars, only to progress no further, and stood staring at the house rather dumbly.
"Dude," Emmett said, with an appreciative whistle. "You're loaded. You're like Richie Rich rich, like The Queen rich."
"It's a lovely house," Esme said, giving Emmett a pointed look.
"This is so weird," I muttered, shaking my head in disbelief as I watched a flock of people enter my house. "I can't believe this… Here? You sure?"
"Of course you lived here," Rosalie said, raising her brows in some sort of bemused challenge. "When have you ever done things normally? Don't see why your human life should have been any different. You couldn't just live in a normal house, could you? Had to live in a mansion."
George gave me an encouraging smile. "She's right… about the living here part, I mean. Even I can remember coming here a few times, but I think I was too busy being overwhelmed to admire the fittings."
"We're going to have to split up," Alice said, opening a bright pink umbrella above her head. "If we all go in together were going to attract too much attention… and considering some of the things in the house, it would be difficult to explain our presence."
I grimaced at the idea of parting company with any of them, but rather bitterly, excepted the validity of her statement. We could not draw attention to ourselves, not when there was a possibility of me being recognized, no matter how slim it was. I wanted nothing to jeopardize this moment, so agreed to her plan.
With umbrellas already aloft, the majority of my family traipsed off towards the gardens and grounds, leaving behind Edward, George, and I, to venture into the house alone.
We entered amongst a horde of humans, arguing over the trivial matter of admission, fumbling for money, amidst exclamations about the beauty of the foyer. They were right. The marble floors, the grand sweeping staircase, the rich wall prints, the dark wood furniture, the paintings on the wall… everything was stunning.
Yet, it was one of the eeriest things I had ever seen. Familiar in a way it should not have been. I had no memory of this house, and no reason to feel anything other than empathy towards its former owners. But the more we progressed into the house, the more rooms we passed through, and the more things we saw, the stronger the feeling became.
Humans sometimes spoke of déjà vu, the weird feeling of having experienced something before, but having no recollection of having done so – it felt like that. This odd feeling of misplaced nostalgia, came tinged with frustration, that no matter how hard I chased the ghosts, I'd never see them. The memories were gone, but I could still feel the remnants of them.
It felt cruel. To be so near, and still so very far away.
Perhaps, it was my grip upon his arm, or my unusual lack of snark considering the ridiculousness of the situation, but Edward had noticed my tumultuous disposition since the beginning. His questioning gaze had been deflected by a shrug of the shoulders, or a shake of my head. And while I knew he was unsatisfied by my answers, he did not push, but simply squeezed my arm tighter and placed his hand over mine.
I took every bit of comfort from him. Appreciating him even more for upholding the conversation, and asking George about his memories.
While sparse, and often rather humorously self-deprecating, George's recollections offered a welcome insight that the house guides could not. They spoke of the original owners, how the house had passed from multiple families. How it had been redesigned repeatedly since, until its final incarnation in the hands of my family, before being donated to The National Trust. They spoke of the beautiful furniture, the landscapers, the extravagant cost of piping in gas for the lighting.
As interesting as the information was, it did not have half the charm of George's accounts – he spoke of some important person or other, almost choking on a Snap-dragon raisin during a soiree, or how he had almost set fire to my companion's dress while trying to light a gas lamp. Odd memories that had stuck with him after so many years.
Regardless to their sparseness or oddity, they did a job in bringing my nostalgia to life and making this airy house feel more tangible.
But nothing could quite beat physical proof.
The rain that had been steadily flowing since our entry, suddenly turned heavy, lashing against the windows in sporadic gusts. In a move, so characteristic of mortals, the humans were captivated, attention caught and moving towards the windows to express their astonishment at the turn in the weather. At their dispersal, something across the room caught my own attention – an old grand pianoforte.
The piano itself held no real interest to me, its beauty and age did not entice like it should have done, and went very much underappreciated. Instead, my gaze was taken by the cluster of items atop its closed lid, in a bounty of different shaped frames, sat a collection of black and white photographs.
And there, captured in various degrees of monochrome, was human me.
The likeness was stunning. Almost identical.
In some, she was younger, smaller, a child. In others she sat primly, poised and older, framed in old tortoise shell. There were photos of others, elderly people I didn't know. Images taken outside the front of the house, myself included amongst a group of men and women. To the left, there was another formal portrait, of myself and a woman seated, while a man of considerable height, stood behind us.
The realization of who they were crept up on me with a warmth I had not felt before, almost a melancholy happiness. To see the faces of my parents after well over a century, was indescribable. Never, in all the years I had existed, would I have imagined it possible to gaze upon them. My small mother and tall father, immortalized in black and white.
I had long since felt the tug of familial love towards them, they had been esteemed to me from the moment I began to learn about their lives. Now the people to whom I loved and revered, had faces.
"Alice was not wrong," George said quietly, "it would be exceedingly difficult to explain the likeness... for such old photographs they were remarkably well preserved. The Trust has taken good care of them."
"They have," I agreed with a nod. "I can't believe these exist… after all this time."
"You finally have a chance to see yourself," Edward said, gesturing at the lone photo of human me. "Have you found the imperfection you were so keen to find?"
I smiled at the reminder, pretending to squint my eyes at the picture in mock study. "No… not as far as I can see… pretty damn handsome, if I do say so myself. Slightly upturned nose, mismatching lips…. but human me is working it. I'm content with what I see… especially now I can see where I get it from."
"I'm glad these are here for you, love," he said, kissing the top of my head. "I'm glad that you get to see them."
"Me too," I said. "It's more than I imagined."
I looked at them, and studied every minute detail of them, until it was no longer possible to do so. As the humans crept back from the windows and began to take notice, I very reluctantly had to part ways with them. Leaving behind the only tangible proof I had of my human family, and the last reminder of the mother and father I would never know. They should have been mine to covert, to own and cherish, but I couldn't have them. I couldn't even touch them.
Instead, I had to leave them to the vague interest of the mortals, who seemed beyond all else, fascinated by the tragic end of my family. Rather than the lives of the people in the photos.
It was painful having to give up something I wanted so badly. But as we left the house, and reunited with the rest of my family, I berated myself for being ungrateful. Getting to see them at all was a blessing and a privilege, something not often afforded to our kind. So, I gushed over the interiors with Esme and assured everyone that the house had met my expectations.
With the rain still falling steadily, we borrowed umbrellas from the others and ventured off into the small park. Giving George a well-needed respite from the crowds of humans inside, and the others the chance to visit the house without me risking our secret.
It was edging towards the late afternoon, by the time we had thoroughly finished our exploration of my human house. Such was the time of year, that the sun had already begun its descent towards the horizon, the temperature had dropped, and it smelled like approaching snow. But even with the wintery conditions and fading light, enough of the day still persisted for us to make one last stop, and visit a place I had been anxiously anticipating.
I had read about it while searching old newspaper articles, the name was barely legible in the old style print, and I had almost missed it at the bottom of the feature – the feature being my mother's obituary. They had written a great deal about her life, her dealings with White Star Line, and her philanthropy, then at the end simply finished by listing where she had died, and her burial location – a small, unknown parish church.
She had requested to be buried in the family plot, near my father, and the grave that bore my name.
Now a century after his death, and nearly eighty after hers, I was getting the chance to visit them.
For the second time in so many days, I found myself visiting a church. Trailing around the graveyard of a medieval nave, in search of a particular cluster of graves. Despite the disorder of the markers, I found the plots with ease, it was not difficult to spot the line of concurrent graves, five in a row. The entire Swan family stretching back two centuries, laid to rest together.
It was poignant to see that my mother had been granted her last request, finally being reunited with the family, her marker at the end of the row as the last surviving Swan. It warmed me to see her name with the rest of us, back where she belonged with people who loved her unconditionally. No tragedy could haunt or touch her here.
That tragedy was not mentioned. Its name did not feature on any grave, and there was no indication of anything amiss at first glance. Moss grew across all the markers in varying degrees, the older ones were a little crooked, but all were well kept. It wasn't until one began to look at the dates, that the first inclinations of misfortune took root.
Two death dates were the same. One victim a middle-aged man, the other, an eighteen-year-old girl. And to those who knew, one grave was very much empty.
I stood with Edward at the empty plot, holding his hand tightly, and looking at the sight of my own name, chiseled neatly into a fine slab of stone.
"Your sentiment about standing at your own grave holds true," I told him, looking critically at the condition of the stone. "It's definitely an odd feeling… kind of morbidly final."
"It's definitely strange," he murmured. "I can't say I enjoy looking at yours anymore that I enjoy looking at my own, perhaps even less so. I find them an uncomfortable reminder, more than anything."
"I don't find any enjoyment looking at it, but I'm still glad it's here, and I'm glad I get to see it… maybe because I don't remember being her, it's easier," I said, gesturing to the grave. "Human me is still practically a stranger… but I'm glad she's remembered alongside my parents. It looks proper. That's where she should be. They should all be together."
He squeezed my hand. "So where do you fit into all of it? I was under the impression that the house had changed your mind about things."
"It has," I nodded emphatically. "But I don't really understand… I felt nostalgic, just didn't know what I was nostalgic about. Which annoyed me. And I don't know if it was genuine, or I created it through wishful thinking. I guess, in the end, I was just grateful not to be apathetic about it all - feeling nothing would have been the worst."
"I don't think it matters if it was wishful thinking or not, it was still real, no matter what the context. And you can't say you're unaffected by the graves and photos-"
"No, not at all, they do affect me. Getting to see their final resting place, is a somewhat melancholy honour. And those photos… it never crossed my mind, not for a single minute, that those kinds of things could exist. I finally know what they looked like, what I looked like, what we looked like together as a family, and no one can take that away from me… even if I can't have the physical proof, I'm just happy getting to see them at all."
If getting to hold the tangible proof was not possible, I had resigned myself to remembering them with vampire clarity, a recollection that would not fade no matter how long forever was. I would remember every detail of them, and from the heartbreaking epitaph on my grave, know that I was loved and missed by them – and that was worth infinitely more.
"You know all I ever want is for you to be happy, right?" he told me.
I turned to him with a bemused, but very puzzled smile, and clutched him closer in appreciation. "Yeah… and you do, you make me happy."
He dropped his arm from around my shoulder, to open the top of his coat, and retrieved something from the inner pocket. "I was going to wait…but, here," he said, handing the postcard shaped item to me, "this belongs to you."
I took it with the utmost care - my fingers barely touching the corners of the old photography card - as I held the monochrome photo of my parents and I. It didn't seem possible, the very item I thought out of my reach only moments ago, was now in my hands. The photograph of the parents I would never know, but loved so dearly, was mine. Their wonderful faces and proud expressions belonged to me.
The burning behind my eyes was immediate.
"I really, really wanted them," I said, swallowing back the thickness in my throat as I touched the edges of the picture. "I was jealous that I couldn't have them… they had so many and I couldn't even have one."
"I know," he said, tucking a piece of hair behind my ear.
"Did you steal this for me?"
He demurred. "Technically Alice did the acquiring, at my request. But I'd not call it stealing. They belong to you, and you should have them. Those are your family photos," he said simply. "It seemed wrong for you not to have at least one. And if I could have gotten away with it, I would have taken them all."
I bit my lip to stop it from wobbling, overwhelmed by both the gift, and thoughtfulness behind it. With the photo grasped carefully in my hand, I hugged him with all my might. Hoping my actions would suffice where my words would undoubtedly fail.
"Thank you," I said, the words muffled against his shoulder. "I wanted it so much… why are you so good to me?"
He chuckled, and kissed my hair. "I love you, that's why. Retrieving one photo seemed like a small risk, compared to how much it means to you."
"I love it. And I love you," I said, standing on my tiptoes to press my lips against his. "Thank you for getting it for me… especially this one… They won't miss it too much, will they?"
"Not too much," he said, "they'll notice something's missing, but Alice has deflected the attention away from the idea of theft. Its missing frame is all part of the elaborate ruse. They won't suspect anything."
I lightly traced the outline of my parents; the feeling of the card under my fingertips a welcome comfort. The cryptic fate of its frame didn't bother me, not if it meant I could keep the photograph, not if it meant I could keep something of theirs. It made being here, at their grave, all the more poignant.
While their mortal remains lay before me - beneath the trimmed grass and granite markers – it no longer seemed to define their end. To me, with their picture in my hand, and their faces burnt into my memory, nothing could touch them, not even death. The photo had immortalised them, and made them so nearly palpable. No matter where I went, no matter how far I strayed from the place where they lay, they would be with me.
So, when the last of the daylight faded away, and the rains returned in all their icy furor, I was able to depart content with the knowledge I had paid my respects. It wasn't goodbye, because in some way, they were coming with me. We were together, finally.
Human me had died, that much was true, but she wasn't dead.
I wasn't lying in the grave next to my beloved parents, I was alive. Although terrifying, and sometimes bleak, immortality had offered me a second chance. The chance to live again, to find Edward, and become a part of a family. They had shaped my morals for the better, and allowed my ambitions to flourish, and had done so with unconditional love.
I wanted to be a testament to that family, and now, I also wanted to be a testament to my human one.
I hoped that wherever they were, if it were possible, they knew I loved them. That they could still see I was the same girl - I was still their daughter even after all this time. I hoped that they understood the choices I had made, and could forgive the bad things I had done. I hoped they saw how happy I was, and how much I loved my family.
But mostly, I hoped beyond all reason, and after all this time, they were proud of the person I had become.
My past had finally been reclaimed, and now only the scope of my future remained left to be discovered – and what a terrifyingly, wonderful prospect that was.
A/N: After an incredible five years, this story is finally complete. I said I'd eventually give this story an end, and I'm so happy that I can finally do that! Thank you so much to everyone who has been a part of this, to those who have been here from the beginning, and those who have joined throughout. Thank you for all the reviews: I have loved reading your comments and feedback, and being able to communicate with so many of you has been wonderful.
Now off to edit the crap out of the beginning chapters.