Entry #47 - AU

Pen Name(s):

Twitter or Facebook:

Title: Impulsive Decisions

Picture Prompt Number: 15

Pairing: ExB

Rating: R

Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 4132

Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation):

Some decisions are irrevocable. Choices, especially when coupled with fate, can lead down a completely unexpected path.

Warnings and Disclaimer: contains character death. In fact, it's all about character death.

A/N – Thank you to everyone- my betas, the contest creator, the judges and mostly, to anyone who actually takes the time to read this OS. Thank you!

I own nothing. I just have fun putting my versions of the characters in different situations.

IMPULSIVE DECISIONS

Five years, three months, twelve days, four hours and some change, that was how long it had been since Bella had made one of the stupidest decisions of her life—well, death, she corrected herself. Five years, three months, twelve days, four hours and some change since she had chanced jumping off a cliff in an ill-fated attempt at feeling something other than the hopelessness that had consumed her. Five years, three months, twelve days, four hours and some change since her heart stopped beating—and not in the way she had expected. She was now a member of the undead, just the wrong undead—or was she just simply dead? She didn't know exactly.

Now, she was bound to this plot of earth, waiting—for what she couldn't be sure. All she had were memories of what the living thought of the afterlife, mostly things people made up to enforce proper behavior. But this place had no bearing on what she'd been taught. Where were the angels and harps? Or the fire and brimstone?

Was she bitter? Definitely. And she had cause to be. She'd been told nothing since dying. There'd been no grand trial, no pearly gates, no explanation of rules—zip, nada, nil, nothing. All she knew was that one moment she was giving up the ghost—so to say—as the red headed fiend neared, and the next she was standing under a tree looking down at chunks of grass placed together in the semblance of a turf puzzle. Not long after, a grey hunk of granite arrived to mark the grave of Isabella M. Swan, aged 18 years.

She was so detached, upon watching the men place the stone, that she didn't even cry—though she wasn't even sure if tears were even possible. How would that work in her current state? Would they exist or would they be like the rest of her—wispy and insubstantial? Again, she had no answers.

So here she stayed; so here she bided her time.

As she waited for something to happen, she didn't grow tired or hungry or thirsty. In fact, she felt nothing other than dejection as she fruitlessly attempted to leave time and time again, constantly butting up against an unseen wall—what was the definition of insanity? Wasn't it something about doing the same thing multiple times and expecting different results? At least, that's the way she remembered it.

Finally, after many attempts to leave—she'd given up counting—she tossed the possibility of leaving into the loss column. Bella wasn't stupid, but she was stubborn, and it took a while before she realized that she was incarcerated by this parcel of soil, watching the world pass in solitude. She had held out hope for so long, possibly too long, instead of finding out her purpose. Now with the realization that she was trapped, she was forced to watch what little she could see as an outsider; the distance was overwhelming, and she shut down.

As time passed, she sat or stood or paced, reliving the last moments of her too-short life, time dragging on agonizingly slow. There was nothing she could do but stay and hope that he would show up at some point. That hadto be why she was waiting. Ghost shows always talked about stuff like that. People were bound to the earth until their unfinished business was taken care of, and he had to be her unfinished business. What else was there? Why else would she be doomed to wander the earth? Well, maybe not the entire earth, just a miniscule godforsaken lot.

All this time, she had been alone—really and truly alone, lonelier than she could have ever assumed. Had she really thought herself isolated before? Now she would have relished sitting surrounded by teenagers in a high school cafeteria, even if they were ignoring her. Human contact—hell, any contact—would have been heaven. But even if she could roam the halls of Forks High, Jessica Stanley, Angela Weber and Mike Newton wouldn't have been there anyway. They'd probably all moved on and had lives of their own by now, possibly filled with love and friends—unlike her afterlife.

Bella rarely saw anyone, let alone had any actual contact. Over the years, she had watched this place fill with crowds that stayed for twenty minutes or so, sometimes accompanied by tinned music, and then dissipated. Every so often, they would leave and another ghost, a person bound to their land as she was bound to hers, would appear. But these others never acknowledged her. Gradually, those people would fade, languishing until their wispy outlines all but ceased to exist. Throughout it all, she was the one who remained, the one who refused to weaken, even with knowing what she had done and the ramifications of her ill-conceived choice.

About a year after she had found herself on her plot, unable to leave, she was surprised to see a group gather around her. She recognized many of the faces, including that of Sue Clearwater, Harry's wife, in the forefront, anguish written on her features. Bella thought it strange that Harry wasn't there when his wife was clearly forlorn, but she didn't hold onto the thought—perhaps she couldn't.

She had seen Sue accompany her father more and more often on his periodic trips to see his daughter's final resting place, and had Bella not been so self-involved, she would have noticed that the pair was becoming closer, perhaps even intimate. Had she known of Harry's passing, she would have realized that her father's and Sue's mutual loss would have been enough to pull them together. But she didn't know and she was too miserable, lost in her own self-pity, to actually have taken the time to think about it. It was with great surprise—the first real emotion, other than pain, she'd felt in ages—that she saw Sue there, in Bella's neckof the woods.

Sue sat in one of the chairs under a canopy, protecting her from the ever-present rain, while the rest of the group assembled around, huddling together under umbrellas and groaning collectively as the bitter wind whipped through them, chilling them to the bone. Sue looked tiny compared to the men surrounding her, even her son who had to be still in his mid-teens. Seth was huge. Had he joined the pack? Bella watched as Sue sat in her chair shivering, her arms wrapped tightly around her, her face a mask of pain.

Bella mimicked the position and marveled how she couldn't feel the weather, how it never bothered her anymore. However, she never wondered why so many people were so close to her new home, why she knew practically everyone there or why Sue seemed to be the one mourning the most. That thought process would have taken Bella seeing beyond her own pain, beyond her own little bubble, and that was just asking too much.

Around Sue stood Billy; his son and Bella's former best friend, Jacob; and Sue's two children, Leah and Seth. Bella remembered seeing Seth and Leah on the rez from time to time but she didn't really know them, so she couldn't register any emotion as she looked at them. Grief shot through her, though, as she looked at her best friend.

"Jake," she whispered, reaching out to him ineffectually.

The misery etched on Jacob's face was tangible, making him look so much older than his seventeen years. Bella knew he would feel that he had failed her when she had first understood that she was dead. He had meant to go diving with her. Instead, he'd been sidetracked by Victoria and left Bella alone.

She once more tried to reach him, her face mirroring his. When that didn't work, she tried talking, yelling, whining, pleading, anything to garner his attention—to no avail. She screamed during the entire ceremony, and while the others walked to the coffin and consoled Sue. After most of the crowd had left, and only a few of the Quileutes remained, Bella finally began to wonder what was going on.

A strangled sob left Sue's lips as she was ushered to a black car, followed by an animalistic howl from Jacob.

"I should've done more," Jacob sniffed. "I f-failed Bella and now Ch-Charlie."

Sue blubbered again, covering her face with her hands, and disappeared into the vehicle.

Charlie? Bella thought. No. No, not him.

She wondered how that wooden box could house Charlie. He'd been so healthy, so vibrant. Sure, he enjoyed a beer every so often, but he rarely overindulged in anything... and he ate so much fish. Wasn't that healthy? What had happened? Had her death been the catalyst?

Jake knelt down and ran his hand along the edge of the coffin, his body quivering with each labored breath. "I'm sorry, Charlie. So sorry."

No. No. No. This isn't happening. Denial had been her companion for so long; it was near impossible to live without it.

"There was nothing you could have done, man," Seth said, placing a hand on Jacob's heaving shoulders.

Nothing he could've done? What had happened?

Bella forced herself to stay calm. Her frustration wouldn't help; she needed to listen.

Jacob stood and shrugged Seth off, shaking his head. "I failed at protecting both of them. I should have... " He walked away from the open grave.

"No," Seth disagreed, following Jacob over to Bella's tombstone. "It was the red headed leech. She was too quick and there were too many of the others to keep everyone safe. You couldn't have kept Charlie out of the woods."

Victoria? Others? What the hell happened?

Bella had never wished to have been heard as much as she did at that moment.

"I should have—"

"No." Seth's voice was strong in its conviction as his hand came to rest on Jacob's shoulder. "You know how he was since we lost Bella. He's either lived at the station or my house."

Jacob nodded, his lips held in a tight line.

In that moment, watching the tension between the two boys who were far too young to have seen so much, Bella realized just how her death had not only affected them, but also crushed her father. Of course it did. He'd lost his only child—his entire family—in that one moment.

"You knew when the 'bear' attacks started again that he was going to go out there."

Bear Attacks? Was that why there'd been more activity around her than usual? More new residents.

"I know." Jake's voice was quiet as he looked down at the stone. "You go take care of your mom." He gestured to the car that now sheltered Sue from the bitter wind. "I'll meet you later."

Bella hadn't heard the rest of their conversation. She was too busy replaying Jake's revelation in her head.

So Charlie had died in the woods. More than likely, he'd met his end the same way Bella had. Endless questions filled her mind. Was the bitch going to destroy everything Bella held dear? Was Renee next? Had she already been taken care of? Was Charlie frightened at the end? Bella hoped it had been quick and as painless as possible. He hadn't deserved to suffer. He hadn't deserved any of this. Nobody did.

Bella was as near to hyperventilating as possible for a ghost. She looked to Jake and found him weeping again, chanting her and her father's names over and over while he rocked, searching for solace.

Little did he know that there was a wispy brunette standing next to him, who wrapped her right arm around his waist, gently so as not to actually pass through him, and laid her head near his chest, trying to comfort him. She couldn't actually touch him, but she could try. "I'm sorry, Jake. I never should've jumped. If I hadn't, things would've been so much better. It's all my fault. Everything."

His distress would help no one. But Bella wasn't sure how to really comfort him. He didn't even know she was there. She attempted to squeeze him, her skin not making any real contact, and left to sit on her headstone.

After many minutes and several attempts at apologies, the remaining stragglers left. Bella was once again alone. During the next months, Jake came by frequently—at first—not leaving until his tears ran dry. Finally, one fateful day, the last day Bella had seen Jake, he came by with some interesting information.

"Bells," he started while wringing his hands together. "I've got some new, some great news. I mean, you'll never guess."

Bella had grown to like these "conversations." Jake was the only one who still talked to her like she was around. She stared at him, noting the difference in his demeanor, in his gate, even in the way he stood. He was... happy. No, jubilant. The expression was so out of place that it took her by surprise.

"What's up, Jake?" Bella asked. Though he'd never hear her, she could hope.

Jake smiled wistfully. "I never thought it would happen. I mean, they were just stories and…"

"Tell me already."

"Well..." He paused dramatically, only causing frustration for her. "I... um, I kind of... sort of... imprinted." The last word was quiet, almost indiscernible.

Bella's jaw dropped open.

"Yeah, I know," Jake said. "Everyone else was surprised, too. It was like... I just can't explain it. It's impossible without having experienced it." He sighed. "But well things are kind of complicated..."

"How, Jake? How?" Bella was confused. He'd found the love of his life. Why would he not want to be with her? Or maybe she didn't want… Bella could understand that. She'd lived through it

Jacob sighed again, rubbing his face with his hand. "She's not from around here. She's just visiting. She doesn't want to leave her life." He looked to the ground, running his hand along his jaw and to the back of his neck. "And well... I'm-I'm leaving next week. To go with her." He kissed his fingertips and placed his hand on the cold stone. "I won't be around much anymore. I'll come to see you, though. Whenever I'm in town."

After closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Bella watched him walk away as emptiness engulfed her. Why she didn't fight to make him aware of her, she never knew.

That had been ages ago, years. He'd been the last person to visit her. Sue came to see Charlie, but he wasn't ever there—he never had been. Other than that, after Jake's last visit, no one came. She guessed that, during her zombie days, she'd done some irreparable damage to any earlier relationships she had forged. So she sat, pining, on the hard, cold stone, longing for another hard, cold stone.

It came to be that one evening, after a particularly sunny day, a young man walked into the cemetery. Bella didn't notice him at first Her world had dwindled to the small patch of grass before her. Besides, what would she have done if she did? It's not like she could have run into his awaiting arms. She was stuck… Oh! And invisible. A shadow. Worse, even.

It wasn't until he was mere feet from her that she was bowled over by his presence, almost literally—even in the afterlife she was clumsy. He neared and his scent brought back a million memories, each tinted with the bitterness of loss. She stood in his path, hoping to stop him, wishing he would know she was there. Unfortunately, he was as oblivious as everyone else had been—if even the mythical creatures couldn't see her, she was doomed.

His steps didn't even falter as he walked right through her.

She sighed and turned around to face him, all the while pinching the bridge of her nose, a nervous habit of his that she'd picked up. When she released her grip, she saw that he had sat down before the headstone. With a soft sigh, she took the time to look at him as he sat there. It looked like he was trying to cuddle the stone, to almost snuggle into it, like she would reach out to him if he could only get close enough.

Of course, he hadn't changed, at least not physically. But she could tell from his demeanor and casual dress that he no longer took the care he used to. He was almost slovenly—for him, at least— in jeans and an over-sized, crumpled white tee. His posture was that of a defeated man—his shoulders hunched and head leaning on his hand as if it was just too heavy to hold up without some help. His forehead rested against the stone, attempting to take strength from it.

"Bella," he sobbed tearlessly. "Love, I miss you so much. I'm so sorry."

Love? Love? Did he mean that?

He had to. He didn't know she was there; he had no reason to lie.

Right?

Had he loved her the entire time? Had she mourned for no reason?

If that were true, then she'd died in vain—not that there'd been any real motive before—and the last few months of her life had been unbearable for no reason.

How could he have done this to her? No, she needed to place blame where it belonged. How could she have done this to herself? Well, really, how could they have done this to each other?

The hole that had taken residence in her chest ever since his departure filled with regret and sorrow. If only she'd known... if only she'd taken care... there were so many "if onlys" but in reality, none of them could be. She was left with what was, with no possibility of changing it. Death was so permanent.

At Edward's pained outcry, Bella was pulled from her reverie. She couldn't help but react, dropping to her knees behind him and running her hand along his spine, in an attempt to ease his tension. To her dismay, there was no reaction. As with everyone else, he didn't even know she was there, not even when she tried to touch him.

He sat there for ages, his body wracked by tearless sobs. Bella had never seen him lose proper deportment in such a manner before, and it unnerved her. Fear for his safety flooded her mind. She wondered how to help but came up empty.

What could she do?

After his weeping calmed, he grew motionless. For hours, he sat, still as the stone he rested against, his eyes closed, and a folded piece of paper clutched in his tight fist. Bella knelt behind him, her hand on his back, all the while willing him to notice her. Thoughts of those six weeks after her almost accident with Tyler's van came to mind. Had she really thought of that as torture?

Long after the sky had grown dark and the surrounding woods foreboding, Edward let out another anguished wail. The sound ripped through Bella, excruciating and never ending, reverberating long after the actual sound no longer pierced the air. She couldn't understand how so much pain was possible when she didn't have a body to feel it. After a few moments of silence, he finally spoke again.

"I can't live in a world where you don't exist." His ominous words hung around them, an almost touchable presence. Were they a portent to the future?

"But I do, Edward," Bella bellowed. "I do exist. I'm here. See me. I'm here. I'm right here."

Edward stood, the missive falling from his slack grip to land on the base of the granite at his feet. He wished for the tears that would never form or fall.

Bella jumped up, rushing in front of him, in a poor attempt to gain his attention. "I'm here, Edward. Right here. Look at me. Please." Though her voice was broken, her words were steady, if he could have heard them.

As was expected, he didn't react to her pleas. While she knew it was pointless, she shrieked her appeals louder. His face remained impassive, his carriage dejected.

Bell was crestfallen. How could she make him see this echo she'd become? She was desperate. Desperate for him to notice her, to know she was there.

He in no way did.

Edward stared at the stone as if it held every answer in the world, then he turned and took stilted steps away, forcing his unwilling limbs to comply. As he walked away, Bella followed. She trailed after as far as she could, grasping for his sleeves, her fingers slipping through like they were mist. When he'd stepped beyond her boundaries, her voice rang out in that same tone of despair his had earlier, a matching sound that no one but herself could hear. She wailed and screamed all to no avail. Everything she did was so futile, every move, every word, even when she did nothing, it was inconsequential.

Finally, her attention fell upon the white paper at the head of her grave. She returned to the stone and looked down at the document. As with most things, she was unable to pick it up, her skin as insubstantial as air, though that didn't stop her trying. From its position on the ground, Bella was only able to make out one word in Edward's elegant script: Italy. Her invisible heart plummeted as realization hit. Italy. She knew what that meant.

"No!" How could he?

The boy stopped and knelt down at the stone in the plot next to her. "Sir," he whispered, his words punctuated with strange breathing patterns. "I'm sorry I didn't keep her safe. I promised… and I didn't. I wish I had made better decisions." His smooth voice broke. "But regrets are all I have. " He paused, overwrought with emotion, then continued. "I found her, just so you know. I ended the vile creature that stole your lives." He couldn't control his snarling when speaking of Victoria, and in truth, he didn't want to. Discretion didn't matter anyway, not anymore. "She no longer taints this earth with her presence. I wish I could have done more... sooner. But I failed." He dropped his head to the ground. "I've served my purpose. Now it's time."

Bella noticed the weary edge to his voice, the sound jarring in his smooth tone and cadence. All the while, she knew what his decision had been. She noted their distance; there was no way for her to reach him. Besides, what would she do if she could? She couldn't touch him, couldn't speak to him. She couldn't do anything, but stay and watch. Despondency overtook her, despair all she could feel.

She knew what would happen next. He'd walk away, where she couldn't ever follow, and all she could do was watch it happen, unable to stop the horror playing before her and useless in preventing what would happen next. She was certain of it at that point.

Her fate had been cast. This was Hell.

Edward rose, oblivious to the hopelessness of the girl not five feet from him. He brushed the dirt from his hands as he walked away from Charlie's grave. "Goodbye, Chief. I'm so sorry."

"Edward, I'm here," Bella screamed one last time, finally breaking fully from her daze, her words nothing more than the breeze that ruffled his shirt sleeves. "I'm here. I'm here." She fought to move closer, to reach out to him, anything but it was impossible. "Please see me. Please." She was bound to the site, unable to traverse even the few feet that separated them. "Please," she sobbed. "God, please."

Impossibly, the red-haired boy turned to stare at the spot where his invisible love stood, his eyes seeing nothing. His heart begged him to go back to her, to stake claim to the last place that held her body and never leave.

For a moment, Bella thought he knew she was there—it looked like he was going to walk back. Instead he shook his head, sighed and whispered, "Goodbye, love." Then he turned his back and silently walked over the hill and out of Bella's vision, never for her to see again.

In that moment, Isabella learned the ramifications of an impulsive decision made by a child who thought herself an adult—one transgression that equaled an eternity of debt. She stared into space, her mind only able to replay how incompetent she'd been: unable to stop him, unable to end herself, unable to leave her prison, unable to finish the business that bound her to this earth. It was never to be done.