A/N: My apologies for the delay in posting. Vacation + work = poor fanfiction punctuality. SereneInNC ... what can I say? Thank you. In case you're interested, I listened to this on repeat while writing: http : / / www . youtube . com/watch?v=nI56fiyre8E
Alice and I bask in sunshine as we sit on the picnic tabletop out back behind the hospital. After weeks of rain, spring has made a dazzling reappearance. Bilious white clouds float across a sea of deep blue. Sunshine warms the surface of my skin at the same time a brisk breeze manages to make my hair stand on end.
Alice sighs, leans back and closes her eyes. "Mr. Jenks is on his way home."
"That was a long time coming, huh?" I ask.
Alice has been butting heads and locking horns with a taciturn man dying of esophageal cancer. He was twice as tall as Alice and ten times angrier, and he had a habit of looming over her threateningly while he swayed unsteadily on his feet. His scowl grew as his upper limbs went spindly, his legs filled with water and his skin turned gray.
"He lodged a complaint about me with the administration."
"It won't stick."
A smile hovers about Alice's lips. "It'll probably go down on my permanent record."
"I wouldn't worry."
A cloud passes over the sun and I shiver. These days I am increasingly sensitive to the cold. Spring blooms around me yet I still prefer to wrap myself in thick blankets and Edward's arms at night. I've taken to closing the windows and turning up the heat, which tends to drive Edward out back in search of fresh air.
The silence Alice and I have fallen into is interrupted by a noisy flock of geese that descends, taking over the strip of grass across the back parking lot. I watch as they industriously go to work on the grass, pared off two by two.
"Hey, Bella?" Alice asks, her eyes intent on the geese.
"I didn't like Mr. Jenks."
"No one liked Mr. Jenks."
"Someone did once. He has kids."
"That doesn't necessarily mean he was liked, just sexually active once upon a time."
Alice bites her lip. It fleetingly reminds me of Edward and I try to quell a shudder that works its way from the inside out. I cross my legs and wrap my arms around myself. My white coat taps against my leg, flustered and fluttering in the cool breeze.
"Do you ever feel bad when you don't like them?" she asks quietly. "Do you feel bad when you're glad you'll never see them again?"
My eyes sting and I tell myself it's because of the pollen on the wind.
"I guess I just treat them like people. Some people you love, some you hate, but they're people either way."
"Mr. Jenks was definitely a person."
If I were Mr. Jenks, I'd want attendees at my funeral to talk about how I was a stubborn old man who only grew more taciturn with age. I'd want them to recount how I fought my disease the only way I knew how: with anger and contempt, so that I was as difficult with others as the cancer was with me.
I am not Mr. Jenks, though. I don't know what they'll say about me. I hope they'll talk plainly: I've mostly kept to myself. I tried not to burden others, and maybe that was unfair to all involved. It kept up a wall between me and the world. It left me open to one thing: death, and I skipped everything in the middle… Until, of course, a man picked me up in a bar and fucked me silly, scared me nearly to death and fell in love.
Across the parking lot, one errant goose comes too close to a pair. Tempers flare, and with honking and an angry flap of wings and stomping of webbed feet, the single bird is driven across the ground. The other geese make room for battle, looking on dispassionately between bites of grass.
"You know, you can stop losing weight now," Alice says offhandedly with a nudge of her elbow. "The wedding's over."
"You're too skinny."
"You're too short."
The victorious goose waddles back toward his mate, feathers ruffled, holding his head high. He has sunshine, green grass and the warmth of a female goose for his reward.
"Do you think geese would mate for life if they lived forever?" I wonder out loud.
Alice giggles. "Are you serious?"
"If geese lived forever, the world would be covered in goose shit."
"Come on," I laugh.
"An hour ago you're talking mTORs and renal cell carcinoma and now you want to discuss immortal geese?"
"Immortal anything," I insist. "I mean, look at any of those devoted couples that cling to one another when they walk into the office, completely unwilling to let go. Would they feel the same about each other one hundred years from now?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Bella. What do geese know about death? For them, they are together forever. They're alive, and they find that mate, and that's the end of the story. What do we know about death? Those people that are still in love after fifty years, they are in love forever. Death doesn't change it. The only difference between us and the geese is the length of our forevers."
"… portacaval shunt… splenectomy… nine years in some studies of pediatric patients… unlikelihood of another successful transplant…"
There is no joking in Doctor Webber's office today. His smile is sad and determined, and it frequently flees the small room. I'm relieved that I left Edward at home. There is no doubt he would have also fled, most likely with me in his arms.
"This turn of events is unexpectedly rapid, but in cases such as yours -"
"I'm lucky." I laugh bitterly. Doctor Webber flinches. I am the embodiment of his success. I am his pride and his failure wrapped in one. I am the one he will remember.
"Ursodeoxycholic acid preserved your liver as long as possible."
"You preserved my liver as long as possible," I assure attempting a sincere smile.
"You have some time to think this through."
As if I have done anything else since I was six years old.
"Well, if I have a choice, I'd rather go out with a massive, unprecedented infection," I confess. "Cirrhosis isn't a romantic way to die. And don't even get me started on esophageal varices or obstruction." I try to smile and make light, but Doctor Webber calmly holds my gaze. The truth lies in his eyes and I settle down and meet it head on.
"Splenectomy is my best option." My voice sounds hollow in my ears. It seems to echo in the office.
"I'm sure there's nothing I could tell you that you don't already know."
He holds my hand and I surprise myself by clutching back. I know this visit well. This is the one where you move from the living to the other group of patients – the group slowly marching toward the window at the end of the hall. If I had cancer I would be offered palliative care or salvage chemotherapy. I wonder what Doctor Webber calls my options.
I look in his eyes and I don't have the heart to ask such a question. He doesn't want me to go. His eyes are wet. He has failed.
"I appreciate everything you've done, Doctor. I couldn't have done this without you."
"What? Sit in my office?" he asks.
"Live. They prepped me to die, and you helped me to live."
Hours pass like instances, days like sparkling grains of sand. Time is measured in shades of skin gone yellow, growing incrementally darker and more severe. I am filled with something that I struggle too long to give name to. I discover what it feels like to despair. The only meaning I find in my existence is time spent with Bella. Left alone, I contemplate her permanent loss. My existence is reduced to worthless wandering by her ephemeral human existence.
Desperation drives me to search out the answers Carlisle failed to provide.
There is one other in the world besides Carlisle, so old and wretched that I do not recognize myself in her. Carlisle asked if Bella knew what was happening, yet it dawns on me how little I truly understand. I know that she moves my heart and lungs, I know that her blood is my balm and I hold her together with my heat.
Yet it is unraveling day by day, second by second. Seasons pass in the blink of an eye and I watch weathering mountains to pass the time, but with each missing ounce of flesh and each new bruise, I am shaken to the core. I dare not close my eyes.
"I have to travel to Iceland on business."
If she's surprised to hear about this while I'm between her thighs, she doesn't let on.
"Investments?" she asks with a gasp as I move, as the earth tilts, as I watch the life slipping and surging through her fragile veins.
"You're the only thing I'm invested in." My finger traces her jugular, bumping with her blood. From her neck it dips deep within. Another day, another body, I'd aim for its source and devour. Now I am impudent. I love gently, infinitely and with reverence. I am no longer recognizable.
Bella and I both need this knowledge. I cannot stand by and observe as she slips like water through my fingers.
"Business," I repeat. "Urgent business."
I fuck. I hold her in my hands. I cannot close my eyes. She melts beneath me. I will make her say yes, one way or the other.
"I want you. There. With me." I finish with insistent fingers and teeth and the full force of my hips. Lightening burns from the inside out, and I hold tight with the pain of life moving heart and lungs. Humans can take more than I'd ever bargained for. I can hardly stand the potency of our fused bodies. How is it she hasn't shattered?
She pants, catches her breath and glistens, grinning with eyes closed. I kiss damp skin and taste the sourness of jaundice. I work to make time suspend itself. I'm granted a half-second and I take it greedily. In that moment I was gifted with golden brown hair fluttering across a pert nipple flecked with blood.
"I don't know about Iceland. I have -"
I close my mouth over hers. She loses her train of thought. She loses the regular rate and rhythm of her heart. She loses herself as I devour and trap. She should be no match for me, but she should also be my equal. She is better. She is made for this.
"Don't say you have work," I implore, my lips moving against hers, my hand between her thighs. "You have me. You could always have me." The flash of pain in Bella's big eyes holds me in check. We do not linger long on that line of thought. "When can you get away?"
"I don't know."
"Please find out immediately. Come."
With lips searching for her salt and fingers finding the sweet spot deep within, I make certain she does just that on command. Then I fold her into myself, wrapping limbs around, tangled in her damp and warmth, vowing to find answers, committing her scent to memory.
"Always, Bella. Always mine. My heart and my life. No matter. No matter."
At work, she is not mine. She belongs to the dead, like I belong to the dead. Of course, she is gentle where I would strike, but it is very nearly the only difference. She is self assured and calm. She is a master of death and I am indelibly owned.
"It's not fair. I'm fifty-five. This shouldn't be it," a woman cries.
"It isn't fair." Bella is being honest. She feels it.
Her fingers close over the hand of the woman charged with death, both being eaten from the inside out. Her patient would taste bitter, like dirt and nails. An unlikely breath and she will be gone.
"But this isn't it. You are more than cancer. Your life is more," Bella insists.
"It's all I do, though: appointments, pills, how I eat and sleep and how much water I drink. I think about it when I shit."
"Stop. Take two weeks. Eat, sleep, shit, play with your grandchildren. This is not what you are."
"Is it… safe?"
She is dying. She is not safe.
Bella's eyes convey this information and her patient accepts. I have done this. I lead helpless women to their end.
"Call if anything comes up. Don't hesitate. Otherwise, take back your life."
Bella talks of life while she sentences with death. She hugs the dying woman. She holds hands. She commands the office staff and signs paperwork. She wipes her eyes. She rocks in her leather chair and quietly cries.
She will come with me to Iceland. Her death will end my world.
A/N: Thank you for reading and for each of your reviews. Much love until next time, xxx ~bdc