Final chapter, final thank yous: to QuothMe, for donating so Dru and I could spend maniacal hours concocting all sorts of evil fates for Edward and Bella, and the occasional nice one too. Thank you Dru, for always being the Brain to my Pinky, the cream in my coffee, and were it still legal, the coke in my Coke.
And thank you: for reading this story, which is strange, to say the least and since you've made it this far, for trusting us.
A Matter of Life and Death
"I'm dead?" whimpered the scrawny man, his eyes widening above his beak-like nose.
Edward rolled his eyes and leaned back against the wall. "Boo hoo."
"I'm really dead? Like really, actually dead?"
"Yes, really and actually dead. Like a doornail. Or any other metaphor that comes to mind," Edward said, trying to maintain a blithe tone.
"It's for the best. Trust me. God has a plan, Eric… for some people. But don't worry, at least Darwin has a plan for you."
"But how can I be dead?" Eric seemed unable to comprehend his current status. Suddenly, his dull eyes brightened with horrified, regretful understanding. "The peanut I ate…"
Edward nodded. "Yup. You know, when doing something—say, eating even a crumb of a peanut—results in such a scary sounding term—for example, anaphylactic shock—you should really listen to your doctors and not eat any peanuts."
Eric whined—no, he whinnied, like a horse. Edward was rather tempted to slap him. "But… I just wanted to see what it would be like…"
Edward softened, his mind wandering back to when a girl had said those same words to him, albeit for a much more enticing action. Inwardly, he shrugged—one man's kiss of death was another man's peanut, he supposed. He was just about to attempt to offer some condolences to Eric, when he was interrupted by the shrill ringtone of his Blackberry, blaring out "Don't Fear the Reaper." He frowned and suspected that might have been the work of one Bella Swan.
"Joy to the world," he muttered as he saw the caller ID. Aro. Just what this day needed—another idiot.
He answered reluctantly, holding the phone to his ear as if it were slimy. "What now?"
"Your presence is required," said Aro's pompous voice.
"Wonderful. I'll grace you with it in about an hour."
"Pardon me, Mr. Cullen, but I mean to tell you that your presence is required now."
"Then call one of your underlings. I expect you in two minutes, or you'll be filing paperwork for the next fifty years."
Edward irritably ended the call and gave Eric a half-hearted sneer. With a snap of his fingers, his prissy blond minion was at his side. "Deal with this, Carlisle," he said, waving his hand disinterestedly at Eric, who was staring at a jar of peanuts with profound despair.
Carlisle, endlessly overworked, did little but nod somberly. Had Edward been a little less proud, he might have commiserated with his employees. After all, the death biz was all about tedium for everyone involved, especially now that Death's heart had been broken. Having an asshole for a boss was bad enough. A miserable asshole was almost intolerable.
But Edward didn't have much energy for things anymore, so he simply thought of Aro's office and teleported himself straight to the gaudy thrones of Past, Present, and Future.
"What do you want?" said Edward with more weariness than belligerence. He wanted to keep working. He didn't have to think much when he was on the job.
Marcus, the eyes of the Future, smiled with an "I knew this would happen all along" sort of look. Edward thought he might actually giggle. Caius, as usual, looked like a student who wasn't quite following the lesson—he had always been a little behind. Aro folded his hands in a theatrically villainous manner.
"We've had a bit of a staffing change, you see," announced Aro. "It has come to our attention that your job performance has declined over the past few weeks. As you know, we take great pride in our work here—"
"Get on with it."
Aro seemed unperturbed by his interruption. "So we've decided that given recent circumstances and a decline in your customer relationships, we are forced to hire a co-manager. Until further notice, you will work cooperatively with this individual, who will report to us regularly. If your ratings are not sufficiently high, your position will be reevaluated."
"Reevaluated? You can't reevaluate me! I'm Death."
"And now you're Death plus one," intoned Marcus. "If you don't like it, you should have done your job better."
"Your new co-manager will arrive later today," said Aro. "I suggest you behave."
Edward had always felt unlucky, but this was excessive. Were he a little less tired, he would have put up quite a fight, but he settled for brandishing his middle finger at Aro.
And so Edward went about his day, feeling quite strange, since he was, for the first time while on the job, anxious. At each task, he found himself looking over his shoulder, wondering if his new co-worker would suddenly pop in, and subsequently contemplating what this person would be like. Would they be bitter and unpersonable, just like he was, over this eternal duty? He'd much prefer that to someone who was overly cheery and chipper—he didn't think he could handle that. Even if he had recently spent a great amount of time with someone, that someone was Bella, the exception to all his rules, Bella, whom he still loved and would never stop missing, Bella, whose sweet smiles and challenging words he still played in his head, like a favorite movie.
So when, as he was hauling away a bawler—he hated when they threw tantrums of "why me?"—by the collar, he heard a soft, but authoritative voice call, "You know I'm going to have to report you for that," he scarcely paid attention.
Until he realized that he recognized the voice, and promptly proceeded to drop the man in his hands. The gentleman—Alan? Alex?—groaned, but Edward could only spin around and watch incredulously as Bella leaned on the wall behind him, making a face.
She pushed off the wall and approached them, helping the gentleman up and dusting off his sleeves, saying "I'm sorry for that Alec,"—Edward had been close—"we're going to work on him, I promise."
Edward merely stood there, mouth agape. When he could finally speak, he merely said, "We?"
Bella stepped away from Alec and faced Edward, unable to control her smile. "I was informed by Aro, Cauis and Marcus that you'd be notified of my new post."
"Your… you… you're…" Edward babbled, his eyes wide.
And even if there was no other indication—such as the meld of shock and relief and awe that now dominated Edward's disposition or the love disguised in the impish smile Bella wore—surely the fact that this girl had effectively rendered Death himself speechless was an indication that she was best for the job.
Walking towards Edward, Bella held her hand out. He took it almost mechanically and squeezed it once, twice, thrice, before comprehension set it and he pulled her roughly into his arms.
Even with the tangible softness of her hair on his nose and solidity of her body that sparked a thousand different emotions in him, he could only croak out one word: "How?"
Forgetting that they had a rapt audience, Bella explained the turn of events after Edward had left her.
"These singers—they really have it down," Bella says, sounding a little bewildered herself. "Because what I had to do was knock-knock-knock on Heaven's door, quite literally. And then the door opened and led me to a stairway to heaven."
For Edward, who had no real exposure to human pop culture, the significance was lost. But Alec, who, until that moment, had been distraught at the thought of his own death, perked up with the idea that he would be privy to this knowledge.
"Hey," he asked, watching as the two in front of him snapped out of their trance to remember he was still present. "Were there tears in heaven?"
Bella smiled and giggled, excited to have someone recognize the significance of her words; it made her look like the girl Edward had fallen in love with and served to solidify his belief that yes, she could somehow be here.
"I'm sure there would be, had I ventured to find out," Bella said. She continued to explain that upon realizing that she was to go into the light at the top of the stairway, she was suddenly seized by the same sense of defiance she had first felt when she had started to create the serum. So she had walked right back to where Edward had left her, and sat on the stoop of Heaven, effectively throwing a tantrum. Eventually, one of Cauis and company's minions had told her that the Monsieurs Past, Present and Future wanted to meet this girl who kept thwarting them. Once there, she had explained her story from start to the grand finish.
"They started to talk about exceptions and sending me back if I promised not to work on the serum—they were very impressed that I hadn't stooped to using it to prevent my own death. But I told them the only thing I wanted was to be with you," Bella said, eyebrow arched, looking every bit like a woman who could take on time and come out the victor. Edward, on the other hand, couldn't help but sink a little deeper into the hope she provided him with.
"And so they decided you would work with me?" he clarified.
She nodded. "Yes. I brought up that being someone who had experienced death acutely, both of those close to me and my own, and had spent time getting to know Death quite personally,—" at this she smirked, "— I could perhaps serve as a customer service specialist. You still do your job but I make sure that no one feels like crying because big, bad Death picked on them."
There were a million retorts on the tip of Edward's tongue to her words; but the time for them was later, he decided.
"You know you're stuck with me forever now, right?" Edward asked, pulling her into his side.
She pretended to contemplate that for a few moments. "Ugh, really? I hadn't thought of that." She raised her head to her approximation of where Heaven would be located and said, "Deal's off. Show me the light, I'll go happily."
She shrieked when he playfully bit the space where her neck met her shoulder as he said, "Forever and forever and forever. You're in it now."
She turned her head to face him and gently brushed her nose along his. "I can kiss you whenever I want now," she said quietly.
His smile grew. "Whenever you want," he said, tilting his head so he could do just that.
Just as their lips were to touch, they were interrupted by a whiny, "Excuse me? Hello? What do I do now? Why did you take me? Is this Hell? Why me?"
Alec's patience had run out.
They pulled away from each other and Edward made a face. "You understand now why I am the way I am?" he asked.
Bella laughed as she walked toward Alec and called over her shoulder, "I don't think I will ever understand why you are the way you are."
Edward scoffed. "Perhaps because genius isn't meant to be understood." Bella rolled her eyes and together, they delivered Alec to the doorstep of wherever it was he was going to go. Edward summoned Carlisle and after a brief, reluctant introduction, asked him to take over his duties for an hour or two.
"Please," added Bella, well aware of the face Edward made from behind her.
Carlisle smiled, hoping that perhaps, now that his boss was getting some, he'd be a little less miserable, and went about his duty.
"So what shall we call you?" Edward mused aloud to Bella, ignoring Alec and Carlisle, who had not yet left. "I don't think you'd settle for assistant. And Co-Death is just silly."
Bella laughed. "How about 'Lady Death'?" She frowned. "No, that sounds terrible. 'Angel of Death?'"
"Really?" Edward asked, skeptically.
"What?" she said, pretending to be offended. "I'm not your angel?"
He snorted. "In that shirt? You're no angel at all."
"Excuse me, you told me to wear this shirt. I didn't think at the time, it'd be what I wore for eternity."
"You're the one who had such a risqué shirt in the first place!"
"Don't think that—"
"Seriously, is this how it's going to be?" Carlisle asked. "You two on the job together? Like this?"
Edward smiled. "Yes, yes, I think it shall."
Bella smiled back at him and he was surprised when, within a few seconds, they were located back on the beach he had once taken her to. It seemed that she now shared his gift.
"Impressive," he complimented.
"So…" she said innocuously, swinging their clasped hands between them. "We have an hour or two. What shall we do?" Her smile turned devilish.
He tugged on her hand and pulled her into his arms, kissing her once, twice, thrice before pulling away just a hair's width to say, "That's where you're wrong, love. We have the rest of eternity."
But for the next hour or two at least, they didn't bother with words.