"Spruce and Cactus"


Entry for the Canon tour - 1st round

Summary: Forest and desert, dead and living, cold and warm, immortal and human. They have nothing in common and yet, are searching for each other, along the notes of the same song.


Denali, Alaska. 9 pm. November 24, 2003

She snaps back her head in a fast motion. Her hair, splayed on the pillow, shines like strips of golden fire around her face. Her exposed neck suggests a trail toward her mouth. Hunger. Every kiss is a step leading to her parted lips. She's wicked: with every touch of their skin, the hunger grows. The kisses become ravenous bites by the time the climb to her jaw is completed and the prize is close. A silvery laugh spreads her lips further open as she welcomes my tongue in her mouth and...

"Sorry, bro." Emmett chuckled—though it sounded like a cough—as Edward recoiled from his thoughts. "I wasn't thinking that I had a public." Even he could be embarrassed, apparently.

Edward shook his head, as if he could push out what Emmett's mind had just revealed to him. "It's my fault. I didn't intend to pry," he apologized. He had never stepped in a room where someone had inadvertently left the door unlocked but he could say that he knew how it felt. He rushed to steer the conversation on a safer path. "It's been a good hunt, right?" he offered.

Emmett's laugh echoed in the night. "It's been the best bear I've met in years, not just because of the taste." He pointed to what remained of his shirt after the fight he had just had with his prey.

"Good for you, if you're fine with that." Edward chuckled. He pulled at the hem of his concert t-shirt. "I wouldn't have sacrificed this one, not even for the best cougar."

The notes of Queen's concert at Wembley began to flood Edward's memory, as vivid as if he were still there, enjoying one of Freddy Mercury's last performances.

The two brothers resumed their walk through the Alaskan woods, stepping on the fresh snow. The moon made their skin look like alabaster in the darkness. Going smoothly among the spruces, they resembled a couple of powerful angels roaming the Earth. No man had even walked through the woods where they had just hunted. They didn't detect any sound other than the heartbeat of some deer moving a few miles away.

Even Edward's tone, as he began to hum, would have been easily mistaken for an angel's. But, in lieu of a hymn, his velvety voice let the lyrics of Who Wants to Live Forever resonate in the icy night.

"There's no time for us," he sang. It made him grimace. Time wasn't an issue for him. What would he make of it–that was his trouble.

"There's no place for us," he continued. He had traveled all over the world. On a whim, he had flown to London just to enjoy that concert at Wembley, even if he had had to stay reasonably back, in the shadow. What was he hoping to find as he continued to roam the world for decades?

What is this thing that builds our dreams, yet slips away from us...He wondered if Freddy Mercury had finally gotten his answer, wherever he was.

Phoenix, Arizona. 10 pm. November 24, 2003

"Don't even start, Charlie!"

As she heard her mother raising her voice on the phone, Bella put down the book she was reading. Renée and Charlie's phone calls were rare and much more polite than that.

"What the hell does it mean?" Renée was yelling now. "I have options, do you understand? Options. Just because of a damn mistake, it doesn't mean that I can't have the chance to be happy again!"

Bella moved closer to her room's door. From there, she could follow the conversation as if her mother were speaking in the same room. She had never eavesdropped before, but the worry for her parents became stronger than her usual discretion.

Renée had made many mistakes, Bella admitted sadly. But for the first time, her mother had suggested that one of them had influenced her happiness. Bella recoiled as she heard her mother's voice change: she was sobbing. Her words were still angry but interrupted by gulping sounds as she swallowed back her tears. Nothing had happened to Renée that Bella knew of that could cause such an outburst of emotion, nothing recent, anyway. Nothing could influence Renee for more than a few days, in either a good or a bad way.

Bella thought that Renée would have never chosen Charlie as her confidante; so she assumed that they were talking about something they both knew well, without the necessity of further explanations.

She inhaled sharply as she figured out the subject of her parents' conversation.

Her cheeks burned as her first tears began to fall.

Renée was still crying. Bella cared for her mother and would have never done anything to hurt her. She felt sorry, immensely sorry, as she realized what–or better, who–her mother's mistake had been.

Denali, Alaska. November 24, 2003

Edward stared at the sky, his thoughts wandering among the stars and the moon. He pondered going home with Emmett or continuing for a run; there were woods where he hadn't explored yet. A lonely run sounded better than staying in the same house where Rosalie was waiting for her mate to come back.

"Hey bro." Emmett patted his brother on the shoulder. "What's bugging you?"

Edward shrugged.

Emmett was used to his brother's moodiness, but he also did his best to lighten the mood whenever he saw Edward brooding. "What's up? Are you feeling sick?" He smirked. "Gotta call a doctor?"

Edward snorted at his brother's joke. "Would you share some thoughts?" he asked, serious.

"You need my permission now?" Emmett teased, quirking an eyebrow at him.

"Never mind." Edward resumed walking, his muscles tense as he got ready to sprint away.

"Slow down." Emmett stopped him. "Not everyone is a mindreader, you know? What's the matter?"

Edward resolved himself to open up, for once. "Are you eager to go home?" he asked.

Just the thought of Rosalie waiting for him made Emmett consider that the way home was too long, even at his highest speed. He had always looked at her in awe when she hunted–fierce and powerful; he admired her even when she was angry, but something else was pulling him back home. It was what he could read in her eyes, every time he met her gaze: you are worth it. Those were the words they silently spoke to each other. Even Emmett knew better than forcing his longing for his mate on Edward. "Sure," he limited himself to admitting.

"How does it feel?" Edward asked quietly.

What? Emmett didn't even voice his confusion.

"The bond you have with Rose. It's been decades, Em. I could tell you how many years, months and days."

25,094 days, Emmett mentally counted. The days since he had met his destiny in the woods. He looked at the sky and took a deep breath. "You think too highly of me if you believe that I can explain such a thing," he told him with a half smile. "You know, bro, I left a family behind." His smile faded.

Edward nodded. He had helped his brother prepare a bag of money for the McCarty family; he had even accompanied him when he had left it on their porch. Just recalling that day, he cringed at the memory of the pain of Emmett's family for the loss of a loved son and brother.

"I wasn't a religious person," Emmett continued. "But I guess that my family wondered about what had happened to me. Have you ever noticed how many people come back to religion after a loss that they can't accept?"

Or leave religion because of it, Edward observed. Regardless, he nodded.

"It was a rhetorical question for a mindreader, right?" Emmett tried to joke. "Is there anything you haven't witnessed through people's minds?"

Edward gave him a half-smile. There was too much that he wouldn't have wanted to see.

"I imagine that my family thought...hoped...that if there was Heaven, I went there." Emmett mused. "I don't know if there's a Heaven, or Hell. You and Carlisle are the only ones who still discuss it. But if I could meet my family, even just for a moment, I would tell them that I'm happy. Maybe they wouldn't understand how it is possible, and I couldn't blame them. If everything for me had ended that day in the woods, I would have spent my entire afterlife angry about my fate. But I would introduce Rosie to my family and I'm sure that, then, they would understand what I mean." Emmett's eyes shone with pride when he mentioned his wife's name.

Phoenix, Arizona. November 24, 2003

"What did you sacrifice?" Renée mocked, still speaking with Charlie. "Have you given up your job? Have you renounced your career? Have you had to relocate?"

Bella didn't need the confirmation that she had just been given. What a nice way to recall the old good times, she thought bitterly.

"I didn't want to end up trapped in that stupid shithole," Renée spat.

Bella swallowed hard. It was no mystery that her mom hated Forks, and she knew what had trapped Renée there. She would have liked to meet a different Renée: the one who had been attracted by Charlie, who had considered him reliable and kind. What had put her parents' happiness at stake? If she hadn't been conceived, would things have been different for Charlie and Renée? She imagined them in a cozy home, with a child. A child younger than her, less...unplanned. They would have had enough time to settle down, get to know each other better, start a family without being in a hurry. They would have been happy, perhaps.

Charlie's smiles were rare, his laughs even more so. But Bella could recall that, when her father smiled, he looked younger and carefree – if he hadn't been her father, she would have said that he was handsome. She thought about the sparkle in Charlie's eyes whenever she arrived to Fork to visit him; she could almost hear how her nickname sounded like ringing bells when her father welcomed her. If she could have changed a single moment in the past, she would have made Charlie smile and perhaps even laugh when Renée had told him about her pregnancy. Bella wiped a quick tear as she imagined how her father's reaction at the news of her existence had actually looked.

She cringed, knowing that the very first thing she had done in her existence had been to make her parents freak out.

"I've been dumb, Charlie." Renée softened her tone. But Bella didn't need to hear Charlie's words to know that he was hurt. "But it doesn't mean that I can't have a relationship and keep a boyfriend. I'm going to get married, and I wish you'd consider doing the same, sooner or later."

Bella held her breath. Her mother had just introduced her to Phil. He seemed like a nice guy – maybe too young for Renée, but she had had worse boyfriends. Regardless, the word "married" didn't fit Renée. At all.

What was Renée going to promise to her groom? Intertwining her life with his forever wasn't an option for her, of that Bella was sure. She grimaced, wondering if short-term marriages were available. Her mind went back to the book she had left on her nightstand. Suddenly, it didn't seem a compelling story anymore.

The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means. Just some days ago, they had read The Importance of Being Earnest at school. More than the witty plot that Oscar Wilde had created, their teacher had pointed out Miss Prism's words about fiction. Bella wondered if her teacher were right. Happily-Ever-Afters and everlasting love stories seemed reserved only to fiction. The authors she had considered as friends – who had accompanied her in so many hours of spare time, through the stories they had written – appeared to be a bunch of liars. Why don't they say that, after a few years of living together, even the most charming among the Princes turned out to be a lazy husband who didn't care enough for his spouse, left his things in disorder and deserved to be blamed at every moment?

Denali, Alaska. November 24, 2003

An image of Rosalie–her skin gleaming in the moonlight, the fine gold of her hair on her back, like the mantle of a goddess–took shape in Emmett's mind and made him beam.

Edward mirrored his brother's smile. "Rosalie's given you a new life, when your old one was lost," he observed.

Emmett shook his head. "It's not that, bro," he firmly objected.

When Emmett had said that his mate was an angel for him, Edward had supposed he was talking about the way Rose had saved his life–if creating a vampire could be considered a way of saving a life. But Emmett had just made clear that there was more in his bond with her. Edward tilted his head at his brother, signaling his unspoken question. What is that "more?"

"It's what Rosalie fought for me. Only for me," Emmett said, with force.

"The bloodlust?" Edward suggested.

Both their minds focused on Rosalie's mad dash, with Emmett in her arms, toward the hope that Carlisle could save him. They shuddered just considering the excruciating pain that Rosalie had endured to fight against her bloodlust. Then they stood in silence, contemplating.

Edward swallowed the lump in his throat, finally understanding what Emmett had meant. The one against her bloodlust hadn't been Rosalie's hardest fight. He didn't utter even a word, but his brother saw realization dawning on his face.

"Thank you for your silence," Emmett told him quietly. "You are always a gentleman."

Better than anyone else, Edward knew what Rosalie had had to face before opening up to a man again. He had been in his sister's mind during her change. Through her memories, he had been forced to see the monsters who had destroyed Rosalie's human life. He had been there, when Emmett was still a wild guy in Tennessee – a human guy.

Edward looked at the bulky vampire in front of him and thought about the mate who was waiting for him at home. Forever. He considered the spruce woods around them, the stars that were blinking in the serene night, and the Alaskan landscape that had remained the same for millennia, barely touched by human presence. None could "see" the bond that tied Emmett and Rosalie together, but it was something stronger and more durable than the Earth itself.

Phoenix, Arizona. November 24, 2003

Forever. Bella scoffed at the idea that living forever with a beloved person was considered a blessing. She imagined a younger Renée on First Beach–the place where she and Charlie had met. Closing her eyes, she could almost see Charlie – slimmer, without his mustache, with his piercing eyes full of kindness as he smiled at Renée. If they had been asked if they wanted to stay together forever, they would have said "yes," she'd bet.

Who wants to live forever, Freddy Mercury had sung. Rummaging in her shelves, Bella retrieved the CD that contained that song. She remembered well how she had gotten it.

Those quiet evenings when Renée could stay at home were Bella's favorites. They happened just now and then, between the nights when Renée was starting a new hobby and the ones when she was flouncing the ones that had bored her.

After a good dinner, mother and daughter had ended up on the couch watching an old movie. Renée giggled as Christopher Lambert appeared in all his glory in Highlander. "This movie is older than you," she told her daughter. "Let's say nine months older, if I recall well."

Bella's curiosity was immediately caught. She had read that different people and times had adopted different calendars–moons, years, Calends...–but using movies to mark important events seemed quite original.

"I watched it with Charlie," Renée added, quietly. She bit on her lower lip–a gesture that Bella tended to mirror– and for a moment, she appeared lost among her memories.

More than by Russell Nash's adventures, Bella had been fascinated by the movie soundtrack.

"Blood will tell," Renée told her. "Charlie and I were huge fans of Queen."

The following afternoon, Bella had gotten the Live at Wembley Stadium CD as a gift from her mom.

The notes of the concert began to float across the room softly.

Who Wants to Live Forever. Bella listened to the song as if it was the first time.

Who dares to love forever
when love must die.

Renée walked down the corridor toward her room. The phone call had ended, but from some random sighs Bella could hear, her mother was still upset. The few years of their marriage had been enough to change Charlie and Renée from the couple who wanted to stay together forever into a man and a woman who couldn't stand to talk to each other for more than a short phone call.

So much for forever.

Denali, Alaska. November 24, 2003

Edward looked at the moon.

"Are you morphing into a wolf?" Emmett boomed. "You're staring at the moon more than usual tonight. Will you howl at any moment?"

"I guess I'll stay here," Edward announced. "Sorry if I don't come home with you, Em, but I've got a lot to think about."

"Tanya said that she was coming to visit..." Emmett said noncommittally.

"A better reason to stay here." Edward snorted. "Your idea about howling wasn't so bad, after all."

Emmett shrugged. "You know that she cares for you."

Edward raised an eyebrow at his brother. Care had to be used very, very broadly to fit Tanya in any way.

"Okay, I get it." Emmett waved his hands. "But I can't understand you. You could have...you know what you could have at your beck and call."

"So you also know that it's not what I want." Edward's voice was stern.

Phoenix, Arizona. November 24, 2003

Bella sighed, trying to go back to reading her book. She would have never admitted it, but more than once the words she had read on the pages had made her dream. She had wondered if a passion like the one described by the authors she loved could not only exist, but be possible for her, too. She had read so many words about love, but she had never thought that any of them belonged to her. She could guess how love made people feel, but she had never felt that way herself.

After what she had just heard from her parents' conversation, she wondered if falling in love–in the absolute way she supposed it could happen–could be ever considered a bright future.

She thought about a certain boy. He didn't have even a name, and Bella wouldn't have been able to describe the color of his eyes or his features. Regardless, he was more real for her than the friends she met every day. He was the boy she dreamed about when she read her beloved classics. He was the one who was going to make her heart leap. He would have been worthy of forever. Had it been that way for Charlie and Renée?

She cracked her window open and looked at the other houses she could spot on the street. How many couples had arrived there in the last years? How many had had children since then, how many others had broken up? Bella made a promise to herself that night. It could be ten or fifteen years from then, but she wouldn't ever look at a child and think that had been a mistake.

Denali, Alaska. November 24, 2003

Edward distanced himself from his brother and averted his eyes from him. "Maybe I'm looking for someone who doesn't even exist," he muttered under his breath.

"Maybe she's not born yet," Emmett offered. Think about Carlisle. He tried to give a small comfort to his brother, through his thoughts. Hadn't their father, maker, mentor endured centuries of loneliness?

Edward lowered himself on the snow. His eyes bored into the sky. "Maybe she's looking at this same moon tonight."

Phoenix, Arizona. November 24, 2003

The moonlight caressed the silent neighborhood. It seemed that the tiny barrel cactus on Bella's windowsill was her only listener. "Are you somewhere?" Bella whispered in the night, as if that certain boy could hear her. "Somewhere other than in my dreams and in books?"

"Love of my life - you've hurt me," Freddy Mercury sang. "You've broken my heart and now you leave me."

The song words wrapped Bella as if they were meant only for her. She went to nestle on her bed and closed her eyes. What would be worse? Spending her entire life without meeting the love of her life, or letting him break her heart? The song notes lulled her until she fell asleep.


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Notes

Freddy Mercury died on November 24, 1991. Who Wants to Live Forever was written by Brian May.

Highlander is a 1986 film, starring Christopher Lambert as Russell Nash. Its soundtrack includes several songs by Queen, such as Who Wants to Live Forever, specifically written for the movie.

I'd like to thank my friends Camilla10 and Duskwatcher2153. They've helped me a lot for this story, with great kindness and amazing generosity. Thanks also to Project Team Beta, in particular to Lindsey21412 and SqueakyZorro.

I'm currently posting my first multichapter story, "De Immortalitate," an AU/vamp TwiFic set in the Roman Empire. It's updated every Saturday. Reviewers get a little gift. Romanward is waiting for you!