Entry #55 - AU

Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest
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Title: The Dark Man and the Pale Man
Picture Prompt Number: 32
Pairing: Jacob/Bella & Edward/Bella
Rating: T
Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 2967

Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): Two sworn enemies come together to assuage a common grief. What had life granted them? How had events unfolded in the past that neither felt the unforgiving sting of losing to the other, nor the satisfaction of winning the prize?

Warnings and Disclaimer: Angst

This story is based on the characters, settings, and events from the Twilight series of books by Stephenie Meyer. All recognizable and/or trademarked elements, including, but not limited to, characters, settings, events, plot points, dialogue, etcetera, are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended. The author of this specific story is in no way associated with Stephenie Meyer, or any other affiliates involved with the Twilight series of books, the stories within or any other media productions based on them. This story is intended for entertainment purposes only, and no profit is knowingly generated as a result of it.

Author's Note: AU – This story takes place in the distant future. Events have broken away from canon at an unknown time after New Moon but before Chapter 5 of Breaking Dawn.

As always, they met outdoors in a public place, yet still away from strangers in search of the quiet solitude required for this moment. The sky was overcast, but a hazy, grey light still managed to infiltrate through the thick clouds. Neither would call this friendship, but it had become amicable now.

The tall, dark man walked with confidence. His eyes looked intently at his surroundings, revealing ages of sorrow and bitterness that were in conflict with his young body and face. He was wore a thick, winter jacket he didn't need.

The slim, pale man walked languidly. His eyes were devoid of emotion, as though a long life of loss had made them empty. They hinted at a maturity that was in opposition to his young body and face. He was wore a long, winter overcoat he didn't need.

They met, nodding to each other but exchanging no words as they walked side by side. They had a destination, but neither needed to talk about it. It was the same place they went every time.

"You look the same," the pale man commented, ignoring the snowflakes clinging to his bronze hair.

"Don't have a choice," replied the dark man, shrugging his shoulders. "World's become a dangerous place — too many of your kind." He shook the water from his black hair. It was all that remained of the snow, having melted on contact.

"Not exactly my kind."

"A tick's a tick, close enough."

The two men stood, looking ahead at the path before them, but neither walking. After a brief silence, the tall, dark man asked, "How often for you?"

"Every minute," replied the slim, pale man.

"Still?"

"For you, too, every minute of every day. Why would you think it would be different for me?"

"Just asking."

The two men began to walk along the deserted path. They advanced at a pace that appeared brisk but was in fact much slower than what either had become accustomed to.

"All that time," the bronze-haired man began, speaking as he walked, not looking over to his companion. "She had always wanted this, the two of us getting along, and it came after both of us had lost her."

"Hey, I'm not your friend," the other grumbled as his warm breath formed clouds.

"You don't hate me like you used to." No clouds formed when these words were uttered through marble lips.

"I've always hated that about you, the fucking mind reading. It's annoying as hell." The tone was irritable but not laced with hatred.

"I would have thought you'd be used to it by now, with all the others in your head so often." The tone was perfunctory but without condescension.

"Them I can get away from when I phase back."

"You could get away from me, too, if that's what you wanted."

He didn't answer, but his warm, brown eyes revealed reluctant concurrence. The slim, pale man was the only one who truly empathized with the tall, dark man — the only one he could commiserate with. Even his friends — brothers, really — didn't understand why he still couldn't let her go, even after she hadn't chosen him above all others, so long ago. But he understood because she hadn't chosen him above all others, either, yet he also couldn't let her go.

"Ever think she would have been better off if she had just chosen you?" the tall man queried in a husky voice.

"I always wished for it, but I never believed it would have been better for her," the slim man answered in a melodic voice. "I always wanted her to have a normal, human life and experience everything humans cherished. I couldn't give her that."

"I always thought she'd have been better off if she had just chosen me." Deep, brown eyes looked in the distance as he wished for for something he could never have.

"I know." Empty topaz eyes became glazed as he wished his heart was as unfeeling as it was silent.

"I know you know, asshole," the dark man grumbled, irked. "You can't just let me say anything out loud, can you? That's how a fucking conversation works, you know. You need to participate in life with other people once in a while."

"There is no one left to 'participate' with," a sad, melodic voice responded.

"I guess there's that. If it were anyone else, I might actually feel sorry for you," a sympathetic voice — poorly veiled by an artifice of indifference — returned.

"Thanks," whispered the bronze-haired man.

"That wasn't exactly sympathy," muttered his companion, rolling his eyes.

"It was," the man with the topaz eyes replied smugly.

"Prick."

The tall, dark man's irritability was brief, and a softer expression appeared on his face. He looked over at the pale man and asked, "You really miss them all that much?"

"Every day, but no, not nearly as much as I miss her."

"I didn't ask you that."

"But you wanted to know."

"Can you stop doing that?"

"Why? We have no need for secrets anymore."

An exasperated sigh escaped, releasing a cloud of warm air. "So, back to what we were talking about at the bridge… you were actually okay with the life she had chosen?"

"My answer is the same. I'm selfish enough that I wish I had been everything she had wanted, but I'm happy with the life she chose in the end. It was what I had always wanted for her — to remain human, go to college, have children and raise them, with Charlie and Renée in her life until it was time to bury them."

"Seriously, seeing her kids, another man's kids, who were conceived doing something you never could — that didn't rip you to pieces?" a husky voice asked skeptically.

"You think I am the same as you because I loved her, too?" a melodic voice asked in return. "I wish it could have been me, but that would have been impossible. It was what she wanted, and she loved those children. In the end, she got everything she had wanted, and that kept me from being 'ripped to pieces' as you so eloquently put it."

"I hated every minute when she was… knowing she–"

"I know," the slim man interjected, attempting to stop the resentment from taking over.

"Can you just fucking let me talk?" the tall man shouted. "I let you talk. We both know this whole… thing we do is about talking to someone who knows. We don't exactly like each other, you know."

"Yes, of course. Please, continue."

"Forget it. You ruined the moment."

The pale man smiled. The dark man's humor entertained rather than infuriated now.

"It was worse for you anyway," the tall man muttered under his breath.

The pale man's smile faded, knowing the truth of this statement. He made no retort. He knew the dark man was expressing pity, not trying to be hurtful. The pity wasn't just for the pale man. The dark man pitied himself just as much, actually more.

They arrived at their destination. Both men looked down, somber.

The tall, dark man's eyes welled with tears. Every time he came here, he told himself he wouldn't cry, but he always failed.

The slim, pale man wished his eyes would fill with tears. Every time he came here, he told himself he would find a way to outwardly express his grief, but he always failed.

They both knelt to the ground, in unison. There was a time when she was the only thing they had had in common. Now, their lives were more alike than either of them would admit. Each shared the same sorrow, emptiness and isolation that only the other understood.

The pale man's recklessness after losing her had finally put his family at risk. Some died as a result, and those who remained could no longer live alongside him, unable to forgive the loss of their spouses.

The dark man's family had all died, after living long, natural lives, leaving no progeny beyond two generations. He still had a few "brothers," who ― along with the sons of past wolves ― had remained eternally youthful, to protect humanity from the alarmingly growing numbers of their natural enemy. But his brothers couldn't understand him. They couldn't fathom how a woman, who had never truly given herself to him and was not his mystical soul mate, could keep him bound for so long.

The dark man reached out and touched the stone in front of them. His fingers traced the script carved into the light granite, melting the light layer of snow. More tears escaped from his eyes.

"They all had happy, normal lives, honey," he whispered. "They saw their own children grow up to be adults, and I was there for all of them, just like I promised I would be." His hand dropped to the ground as he sat down on his heels, head hanging.

The pale man held his head erect, staring at the stone, reading the words silently. He did not cry, and his cold hands did not move from his sides. He whispered words to his lost love as well.

"I've never regretted a moment, love. Never feel guilty for what you decided. It made you happy, and you were able to experience everything I've always wanted for you. Nothing made me happier than seeing you grow old with your children and grandchildren around you. I'm just happy you allowed me to be part of your life at all."

The two men remained in front of the tombstone for some time. Neither spoke further, nor did the dark man shed any more tears. In unison, again, the two stood up, as though both understood when the time had come for this visit to end.

"You still at the old house?" the dark man asked.

"Yes."

"You don't find it… painful?"

"I do."

"Punishing yourself isn't going to bring her back."

The pale man merely shrugged without answering. They had had this conversation before.

The two men walked until they got to the fork in the road where they had met earlier.

"Are you still avoiding your old house?" the bronze-haired man asked.

"I'm not avoiding it. It's just out of the way, and there's no reason for me to go there now."

The pale man nodded without responding. He already knew the truth, and it was not what was said; it was that which was thought.

"All your grandchildren now, Jacob? How did Thomas…?" The question was in response at an unvoiced comment.

The dark man's eyes began to moisten again. He wiped them with his hand, angry with himself for losing control of his emotions.

"He was ninety-seven, and he never did phase. None of them did."

"Quite unusual, especially given the progeny of all the others did. It almost seems as though her love for me–"

"Please," the tall, dark man interjected. "I get that you're forced to see all my fantasies and memories, but I'm not used to getting a view into your head. I'm sorry. I know it's not fair, but I can't hear things like that, especially on a day like this."

"Of course, I understand." He didn't mind the inequity, having always felt he had cheated fate one too many times.

The two stood awkwardly, as though wondering if they should shake hands but neither wanting to. To a stranger, it would have appeared as though this were the first time they were faced with this situation, but it wasn't. This was how their visits ended every time. This was far from the first time they had met here.

"So, again, same time?" the dark man finally spoke.

"Yes, if you prefer."

"Don't feel you have to put yourself out on my account," the once friendly voice snorted, turning bitter and resentful.

"I didn't mean it that way," a melodic voice answered calmly, in an attempt to soothe the other's growing impatience.

"Yeah, I know. It's just… weird, even after all this time."

"Yes, it is."

The two nodded and parted ways.

The slim, pale man went into his car, speeding away. He was filled with sorrow as he remembered the many decades he had shared with his love. His mind drifted to a memory that he often recalled after these visits.

It was Bella's fiftieth birthday. She was a handsome woman, with only a little grey just to one side, along her hairline. Her face showed the experience and age of a lifetime of wonderful, human experiences. Edward held Bella's hand, as they lay together on the bed, a comforter between them to keep her warm. In many ways, not much had changed from the nights he used to visit her in her father's home when she was seventeen. He stroked her hair gently with his fingers while she laid her head against him. They spoke in soft tones, recalling many of their shared experiences. Even after so many years, his every touch still sent her heart racing.

She had never been entirely his, but he was grateful to have had her at all. Sharing Bella was worth it to see her experience everything he had always wanted for her. It had brought him joy when she received her bachelor's degree, and then a few years later, her master's. He felt his dead heart might come back to life when he'd seen her eyes sparkle as she showed him pictures of her children, telling him about every one, her voice becoming more animated with each sentence.

Every visit, she had changed in such subtle ways, but every change was a new discovery for his too perfect, topaz eyes. One day, he would notice a new but faint line, one that only eyes like his could detect. The next, he would feel a few strands of chestnut hair that had become just minutely coarser. He knew each change meant she was closer to leaving him, but it never caused him sadness, not until she was lost to him forever.

The tall, dark man went to his motorcycle, putting his helmet on and lowering the tinted visor. It wasn't needed for safety but did a good job of hiding the tears as he wept. The bike rolled along the slushy highway as he recalled the many decades he had shared with his love. His mind drifted to a moment, like so many he had shared with her, one that he reminisced about often after these visits.

It was night, all the children were asleep, and they were alone. She was still a vibrant woman. Her smile was luminous, and a pink flush glowed on her cheeks. Her eyes shone with happiness as the fine lines around them revealed years of laughter. Jacob held Bella's hand as they lay together on the bed, naked and so close that it seemed even air could not come between them. In many ways, not much had changed from the nights they had spent together when they were both young, before their children were born.

He stroked her hair gently with his fingers while she lay on him, her head resting on his chest. They spoke in soft tones, recalling many of their shared experiences.

Jacob wondered if she died happy and content with the life she had chosen or if she was filled with guilt, as she so often had been.

It had been difficult — especially in the beginning — sharing Bella with Edward, but Jacob was grateful to have had her for as long as he had. He was grateful that his family was his own, never shared with him. He was grateful to have been the only one who had made love to her, raised children with her, and knew how her eyes lit up when she held her newborn baby for the first time. The times she had spent with Edward, away from Jacob and their children, were reluctant concessions, but he had made them, for her. No, he had made them for himself, to ensure he would never completely lose her.

Jacob went around a corner too quickly, swerving to avoid an oncoming truck. It wasn't like him to lose control like that. His heightened reflexes usually made up for any loss of attention caused by drifting thoughts.

It was because he still couldn't get rid of the bitterness. He still hated knowing that she never loved him enough to give him up. Jacob hated that he had never been able to refuse her anything, never able to give her an ultimatum, for fear he would be the one to lose. He hated that Edward had agreed to all of it and wanted her to remain human as much as Jacob had. If Edward had insisted that she had to be changed, especially after the children were born, Jacob believed he could have had her all to himself. But Edward had never done that. He had never wanted that, and like Jacob, he could never refuse her anything, nor could he give her an ultimatum.

Jacob's mind drifted to the memories he had buried but could never keep entirely covered. He remembered the days when she left him and their children to go to Edward. At first, she had asked to take the children with her, but he wouldn't allow it. He told himself it was out of concern for their safety, but deep down he knew it was to keep Bella's time with Edward short.

Jacob wondered if he would live forever, like Edward seemed destined to do. He wondered if either one of them would ever love another woman.

He didn't need to wonder long, or at all. Jacob had known the answer to that all along, just as Edward had.