Chapter 15

Introspection

Laurent finished writing Lauren's eulogy, a distasteful task he'd put off for as long as possible. He wasn't a disingenuous man by nature and the praise he'd heaped on Lauren's memory stuck in his craw. He supposed it was the same for every eulogy. To listen to them, you'd think that mean, selfish people never died from the way their kin and friends made the deceased into posthumous paragons of virtue.

Still, Lauren was useful, or rather the memory of her, the memory that he and Bree were crafting. She was more useful dead than alive, actually, a thought that had occurred to him over a month ago when they first moved headquarters to New York. Dead, she was a wonderful figurehead, someone whose portrait could be silk-screened on a t-shirt with one of her slogans printed below. Dead, she was a martyr to the cause. Dead, she was the 'Mother of the Revolution.' Alive, she'd simply been a pain in his ass who'd started a revolution but had no idea what to do with it. Bree had done really well with repackaging her into an idealistic fighter who had struck the first blow against their oppressors, shedding her blood as promised in support of the Cause.

Yeah, he liked Lauren dead much more than he'd liked her alive.

Still, he had to give her some credit. She had tapped into an unsettled undertone in their society and had turned it into an uprising that grew more popular by the day. Laurent was organizing territories, appointing governors (and the irony of installing a new fait accompli government was not lost on him), organizing the army and organizing their financial support system. It was a job of staggering complexity and occupied most of his waking moments, but he was building something of lasting importance, writing himself into their histories. In a few months, he'd have an "election" which would install him as the first president of the Vampire Union. As Stalin had said, 'It doesn't matter who votes, it matters who counts the votes.' He wasn't very fond of using such tactics, but it really was for the better good of the people. He didn't know anyone else capable of accomplishing the Herculean task set before him.

First President. He liked the sound of that. Viva La Resistance.


There was a fog rolling in off the sea as Bella returned to the burned-out shell of her house. Little was left, only some blackened timbers in the hole that had once been her basement. Bella hopped down into the hole, Emmett following after. She didn't really know why she was here, but something had pulled at her to return.

It had rained since the fire and the ashes had formed a black muck that stuck to the bottom of her shoes, making her grimace with distaste. But she persevered because she was looking for something. What, she did not know, but she had to look. She poked around, nudging clumps with the toe of her shoe until a glimmer of metal caught her eye.

She crouched down and used her fingers to wipe away the muck. She had found one of her silver serving spoons, misshapen and blackened from the heat. She held it for a moment and thought about the meals she'd made, the small bit of joy that she'd brought to the lives of those she fed. When they sat at their makeshift table bedecked with fine china and a lovingly cooked meal, they'd had something that was often denied to them: dignity. They had the comfort of knowing at least one person cared about them, cared about how they were doing, cared that they got a nutritious meal three times a week. It was something to be proud of.

She put the spoon in her pocket.

Emmett saw something and he scraped away the dark ash to investigate. "Bella, look." Bella knelt beside him and gasped softly. It was the ushabti from her living room, the one her mother had brought back from a trip to Egypt. Bella picked it up and wiped it off on the hem of her skirt and marveled that it hadn't been destroyed. It's gorgeous blue faience color gleamed as brightly as ever.

"This was bought during the last trip my mother ever took," she said. "She wanted me to go with her and I wanted to go, too, but I just couldn't. You know how bad my ... issues were." It was nice that she could now speak of them in past tense. She wasn't completely free of them. She still wanted her environment to be stringently clean and washed her hands frequently, but she no longer felt the compulsion to bleach everything in sight. She could shake hands now, handle cash without squirming and sleep in hotel beds without fretting over dust mites. (Emmett had told her that insects avoided vampires, repelled by their scent.)

"I wouldn't have been able to function in a place that hit all of my triggers for germs, blazing sunlight and crowded conditions," Bella continued. "I didn't want to ruin it for her because I knew how badly she wanted to go. I think she was a little mad at me about it. She always believed that I could overcome my issues if I just tried hard enough." Bella's voice held a little bitterness at this last, but she could forgive her mother now. Renee simply hadn't been able to understand and in the end, all she'd wanted was for her daughter was for her to be happy. Her methods may have been wrong, but the intentions had been good.

"My dad and I stayed home while she went and had the time of her life. And it was nice for me and dad, too. As I told you before, he accepted me completely, and loved me just the way I was. He was the only person in my life who'd ever done that, until you came along. Actually, I think he would have liked you very much."

"He sounds like a good father. You were lucky to have him."

Bella smiled at the little blue mummy in her hand. "Yeah, I was." She hopped out of the hole and held a hand out to Emmett. "Come on. I got what I came for."


Mr. Greyson was having trouble sleeping again. His back pain was bad and he couldn't find a comfortable sleeping position. So he walked. All of his people were tucked in their makeshift beds inside their shelters except for Maude who sat alone, near one of the pillars, rocking and quietly mumbling to herself. He made a mental note to keep an eye on her. She seemed to be getting worse.

He went "topside", as the residents called the street above the bridge, and walked into the nights he spent wandering like this, for he enjoyed this time alone in the darkened nooks and crannies of the urban jungle. Always interesting, sometimes dangerous, sometimes heartbreaking, little dramas played out in the dark while the metropolis slept.

He didn't believe his eyes at first when Bella Swan stepped out of the alley. Behind her was the big vampire he'd seen with her the last month she'd brought them meals. Her hair was short, shorter than he'd ever seen it, curling under her ears and she was wearing a dress, but not the long, shapeless sacks she used to wear. It was pale green, form fitting to the hips where it flared out in a knee-length skirt. Over it she wore a light cream-colored coat. Her pale skin seemed to glow in the moonlight. She smiled at him and stepped forward.

When he got closer to her, he could tell. "You're one of them," he said, sadly. "Everyone thinks you're dead."

"I am," Bella said, and the fact didn't seem to bother her much. "But I had to come back and say goodbye to you, and thank you for all that you did for me. Do you remember that night out on the cliff behind my house?"

"I do," Mr. Greyson replied. "You were lost and alone. I just gave you the little nudge you needed to find yourself."

"You saved me in more ways than one. I'll always be grateful." She smiled up at the giant beside her. "If it hadn't been for you, I never would have met Emmett."

"Are you happy?" Mr. Greyson asked. He hated that she was now one of the blood-suckers, but she was still Bella, despite a few outward changes. She would never harm anyone. Eternal life, he mused. For her, it would mean eternal youth and beauty, never having to feel her body break down around her with age, never have to endure the pains that came with arthritic bones, never have to endure sickness nor watch the one she loved suffer any of those things. His mind flashed an image of his beloved Arlene. He still could not think of her without pain though she'd been dead for over ten years now, killed by the cancer that had eaten her alive.

Bella smiled and threaded her arm through that of the giant. "I am happy. Happier than I ever thought possible." She held out her hand and showed the ring Emmett had given her last night: a pink diamond solitaire in the shape of a heart. Inside the band, it was inscribed, "Thou art beautiful, o my love, as Tirzah."

Mr. Greyson dutifully admired it and turned to Emmett. "Take care of her," he said simply. There was so much more he wanted to say but his throat was clogging with unshed tears.

"I will," Emmett promised.

Mr. Greyson kissed Bella's cheek, something she would have never allowed in life. "I will think of you every time I dine in your lovely restaurant."

"I want you to have this," Bella said, pushing a wad of cash into his hand. He tried to demur, but she insisted. "Use it for your people. I know they have things they need now that it's getting colder."

She said goodbye and disappeared into the darkness. If not for the ridiculous sum of money in his hand and the lingering hint of freesia in the air, he would think it had been a dream.


Bella surveyed her restaurant from across the street. It was open 24 hours a day, but this late, there were only a couple of customers, probably those, like Mr. Greyson, who couldn't sleep or needed to get out of the chill for a while. She saw a waitress stop and refill the coffee cup of a ragged woman in a yellow hat, giving the woman a kind smile.

And she saw something that touched her. In the vestibule, there was a portrait of her on the wall with a small shelf below that bore a burning votive candle. A carnation had been laid on the shelf, someone paying respects to her memory. Beside it- Bella stared harder wondering if her new, sharp vision was deceiving her- was a Hershey's Kiss. A small ache formed in her heart. Maybe a child had left it; it was possible. But she somehow knew it had been Edward. He had come here, perhaps for the same reason as she was, seeking closure.

"Would you like to go in?" Emmett asked.

"No, no need," she said. Tears swelled up in her eyes. "Emmett ... that's our legacy. If not for you, it would have stayed a dream in the back of my mind, but you actually built it. And now, thanks to you, I have something I can point to and say, 'I did something with my life.' Something important that will touch lives for years to come. I left a mark on the world and I will be remembered. Thank you."

He kissed her cheek. "You're welcome, sweetheart."

She took his arm and they turned, strolling down the street toward the place where he'd parked the car. "Where to next?" he asked.

"I'm ready to leave now," Bella said. "I feel like this was the last chapter in the book of my mortal life and now I've seen the resolution of the loose plot threads, the denouement is finished. And now I can start the next book. I can almost see it in my mind's eye, its pages waiting to be written."

"Any ideas on the plot?" Emmett asked.

"Oh, it's a romance," Bella said with a grin. "A spicy romance set in exotic locations." She could picture him shirtless on the cover, holding her as she swooned in his arms.

Emmett smiled. "I like the sound of that. What do you say we find a decent hotel and write the first of our many love scenes?"

And they lived happily ever after.

.

.

The End


Epilogue

Alice never would have thought she would find Edward Masen knocking on her door, but there he was, standing outside her door, coatless in the cold rain.

It had been three years since she'd seen him last, after the attack on the Queen's estate in New York and it didn't look like those years had been kind to him. He looked strung-out, frankly, his skin pale with dark circles under his eyes, his hands shaking, his suit dirty and rumpled. His hair was longer than it had been when she saw him last and she wouldn't have been surprised if he told her he hadn't brushed it since that day. Vampires didn't get body odor since their skin did not have sweat and oils in which bacteria could grow, but he looked like his last shower was a distant memory.

"Come in," Alice said, stepping back from the door for him to pass. He came inside and Alice led them to her living room, hastily clearing some books and papers off the sofa so he could sit. "What brings you here?" She perched on the coffee table in front of him.

"I need your help," Edward said. He took a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to her. "Have you seen this?"

It was a print-out of a newspaper article. Alice read it silently.

...

Pill could erase painful memories, study shows

By Linda Carroll

What if you could take a pill and erase painful memories? Most of us would probably choose not to lose parts of our past, but for those with post-traumatic stress disorder, such a pill might bring welcome relief.

In a study that sounds very much like a scene from the movie "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," researchers have shown that the right medication might actually help rub out wrenching remembrances ...

...

"Yes, I saw this in the news a few weeks ago," Alice said. "It's interesting research, but what does that have to do with why you're here?"

"I need your help," Edward repeated. He hunched over, rubbing his face, his elbows propped on his knees. He didn't look at her as he spoke. "I can't live like this any more. It eats at me day and night until I think I'll go mad. Nothing helps ... alcohol, drugs, sex. I can't escape it no matter how hard I try."

"Escape what?" Alice asked.

He pulled another paper from his pocket and handed it to her. It was a folded, crumpled wedding invitation still in its envelope. Alice had gotten one in the mail just like it, inviting her to the nuptials of Isabella Swan and Emmett McCarty. The invitation Edward handed her had someone else's name on the envelope, so he'd apparently swiped it.

"I love her," Edward said hoarsely. "I've heard all the bullshit about how time heals a broken heart and the pain would fade. Well, it hasn't. If anything, it's worse. Please, I'm in hell."

"I'm sorry," Alice told him, "but I don't know how I can help you."

"I want you to erase my memories," Edward said. "Not all of them, obviously, but the last four years should do it."

Alice stared at him. "What? Edward, I don't think-"

"Listen to me," he interrupted. "I know that the article was speaking of a theoretical treatment, but something may be possible in our kind as well."

"I suppose it's a possibility," Alice agreed, albeit reluctantly.

"I've also been researching cases where traumatic brain injury leads to memory loss." He handed her a third paper, this about the case of a man known as "HM" who'd had a surgical procedure to correct epilepsy and suffered subsequent retrograde amnesia, wiping out his memories of the last two years of his life.

"Jesus, Edward, you can't want me to perform brain surgery on you," Alice said, aghast. "I never went to medical school. Hell, I've never even dissected a frog."

Edward leaned forward, his eyes intent. "I'm volunteering myself as a lab rat. I know how curious you are. Well, here's a chance to run a series of experiments on vampire brains and memory. There's dozens of things we can try before any type of surgery. I'm sure you've seen soap operas where the character gets a bump on the head and gets amnesia. Well, it doesn't usually happen that way in real life but there are quite a few things that can cause it."

Alice couldn't deny that her curiosity was aroused. "Edward, I'm still not sure we should mess around with your brain, especially since I don't know what I'm doing."

"I'm sure you can learn." Edward stood and began to pace around the room. "I can pay you in the one thing I know you want more than anything?"

"What's that?"

"Knowledge. You want to know why Stonehenge was built or what Julius Caesar looked like? I can tell you. I was there. I've never told anyone how old I am or the things I've seen, but I'll tell you."

Alice was instantly beset by what Rose called "brain lust", a condition which usually sent her into a wild bout of research in which she'd forget to feed, forget everything but the search for the answers. She looked into the eyes of this Ancient, this man who knew so much, who'd witnessed so much history and said, "I'll do it. I can't make any promises that it will work, of course, but I'll try."

Edward smiled. "One last thing. You do have to make me a promise."

"What?"

"You have to promise that if it doesn't work, you'll kill me."