A/N: As much as other things needs to be worked on, this serves as a writing exercise to try and get back in the habit. Too many things have happened and my emotions are too much of a wreck to keep things from turning depressingly awful in anything I try to update, so I thought this was appropriate to try and get all of that out. Plus the idea kept torturing me, so I thought I may as well get something out. Before you begin, let's pretend for a moment that Edward's relationship with Bella was a little more healthy and deep than it actually is, that she actually had a decent, loving relationship with all of the Cullens (including Rosalie), and that Jacob was a little more successful in keeping Bella from going bat-shit crazy and himself from turning into a complete jerk so she never took that cliff jump. Edward is portrayed how I always saw him, and this is basically how I imagine things could have gone if Bella had tried living. And just as a forewarning, I have nothing against Jasper - I just saw things heading the way they did as I was writing. The style it's written is a little wonky - I think I fixed all of the tense changes - but I was trying to lean more towards Alice's view of things while showing an overall effect.
Ashes to Ashes
When Edward commanded that they had to leave immediately, it took Alice a good few seconds to realize he meant just the family. She was stunned beyond belief to hear that not only did he want to leave Bella behind, but also that he fully intended to go out of his way to make sure she didn't know until the very last moment. This was something she had not seen coming, and her shock cost her precious time to debate his choice. As it was, her silence was damning - Edward had used the emptiness to form a solid argument against anything she could have said. Carlisle listened with grave solemnity as Edward detailed that they had already nearly cost Bella her life with their monstrous nature, and it was better to leave now before they finished the job. Alice jumped in as soon as she could, arguing that it would do no good at all to leave now, after everything that had happened. It would only cause more pain.
But Edward was absolute and unmoving, standing firm when she pushed and pushed to stay. Esme began to argue for it, as well, when it seemed that Alice was fast losing a battle that couldn't be won. Emmett and Rose were quiet during the shouting match that was quickly escalating, neither wanting to leave but knew the futility in fighting it. Jasper was absent, having left the second he was able in the onslaught of his guilt in nearly draining Bella. It was two against one, but in Edward's vehemence he easily equalled the might of three people.
In the end, however, Carlisle spoke up and aided Edward in his decision, stating that this was his choice and we as his family should support him. Alice still strained frantically, knowing that Edward was trying to romanticize the human life with his hatred of their vampiric nature. He understood nothing of the bonds the family had made with the human he was constantly berating for spending all her time around them and none with her superficial human friends. All he saw was his guilt and anger, and it drowned every voice of reason out. When Alice still refused to give in, Edward snapped and said he would force them all away by exposing his nature to the whole town if they didn't leave of their own power. There was no denying the truth of his words when she countless visions assaulted her of ways he was already planning to do just that.
In the end, Edward got his way and Alice was forever silenced.
The move was somber and laden with reluctance and pain. Edward had sent them away first, saying that a clean break would be the best course of action - and just like before, they were all forced to abide by his command through Carlisle's acceptance. All the main furniture was covered in protective sheets, to save for a day when they would return. The 'kids' packed away all their rooms while Esme dealt with the school and Carlisle tendered his resignation at the hospital. Heavy rain pelted the ground from a large storm that had rolled in to stay for a while, and a cold mist settled in the air. Alice likened the feeling to that of a blankent settling on top of the world, leaving them as the only ones left standing. Left to suffocate under the weight of Edward's oppressive guilt and their helplessness to speak out against it.
It was a day that promised to burn itself into Alice's memory for all time.
When everything was packed into a moving truck, the keys turned into Mr. J. Jenks with instructions to keep the house maintained for innumuerable years, and their hearts weighing heavy in their cold, dead hearts, the Cullens with the exception of Edward made their way out of Forks, Washington. No one spoke as they rode to the airport to catch a plane to Alaska, where the Denali's lived. Outside the window, Alice watched the trees fly by in an unvoiced, unheard farewell to the place she thought of as her true home...and the one best friend she would never see again. She wasn't sure she would ever be able to forgive Edward for this, and she knew that this would be disastrous for both their entire family and Bella. But he was unwilling to listen and she had to swallow the words that held the ashes of her love for him in her mouth.
Jasper did his best to comfort her, but there was only so much he could do while everyone felt the exact same way and he was suffering under his own emotions. Edward was still absent when they arrived at the airport, and it was only after they lifted into the air did he notify Carlisle that he wouldn't be joining them for awhile. That he would need some time to himself so that he wouldn't burden the family with his broken heart. They were meant to be seen as kind words aimed to make them feel sorry for his loss, but the damage had already been done and no one wanted to be around his poisoning influence. Alice, especially, didn't feel as if she could keep from tearing his face off if she saw him anytime soon.
The plan, then, was stay in Alaska until Edward joined them and then move on to their next 'home' for as long as they could, but Alice knew it would be a long wait. Edward was just drifting through the world, barely forcing himself to feed when the need became too great. He was constantly fading in and out of her visions, too indecisive to register a solid presence. Carlisle remained hopeful, however, that Edward would come to terms with his decision within a reasonable time and they would be able to choose a more permanent residence. In this, too, Alice's voice was crushed in one fell stroke and she had to stand by and watch her family fall apart with each passing day.
For the first few weeks, everything meshed and flew together in an indistinguishable seam of pain and disbelief. The Cullens could barely focus on anything, communicating only be necessity with the Denali's and each other. They rarely stayed in the house for long, preferring to spend as much time hunting or searching for a place that didn't remind them of Bella. Carlisle was the one exception to this, doing his best to not encroach on their Alaskan family's hospitality more than was needed. He was civil, polite, and helped around the house in an effort to seem more like a guest and less like a ghostly presence. It was enough to keep Tanya from questioning the Cullens' deep depression.
Time went on, with the weeks turned into a month and that month into several. Alice and Jasper spent the long days and nights sitting in silence deep within the snowy wastes, trying to save themselves from their own hell. It took a great toll on Jasper to even remain in the same house as his family, and Alice knew the best option was to distance themselves. For herself, it took every ounce of her willpower to not look into Bella's future. She knew, without a doubt, that she'd be too tempted to go running straight back at the first sight of the young woman - something she just couldn't do alone. It was pure agony to keep herself in the dark of something she desperately wanted to brighten. Jasper was her only saving grace, helping her through the worst of her fits and she, in turn, helping him with the guilt of having attacked Bella. Together, they barely managed to get by but it was more than could be said of the others.
There was still no sign of Edward, and even Carlisle found himself descending into quiet moments of pain in memory of happier times. Tanya could take no more, and on a rare occasion where the entirety of the Cullen coven was inside the house, she finally forced their hands and demanded to know if Edward had been killed and they were just unwilling to admit it. Everyone froze instantly, their tasks forgotten. It was terrible, absolutely terrible, the stunned silence that swept over the entire house, but it was even more terrible the thoughts that popped into Alice's mind. An awful hatred choked her, and the simple assumption that they could feel sorry for that selfish bastard was so ludicrous that Alice couldn't stop herself from bursting into hysterical laughter.
All eyes landed on her, but she could only laugh harder and louder, a multitude of emotions squeezing and twisting her insides that only made her release that much more...relieving. She was so consumed that she didn't notice her family's shocked looks, or their alarm when her anguish turned to gasping sobs. For the first time since before Edward had destroyed her world, Alice almost felt like she could breathe again. In her loss of control, she had found a safety to mourn what had been taken without worry or concern of the others. But all too quickly the moment was gone, and she found she could not bear to stay there any longer. The little vampire fled into the endless night without a backwards glance, Jasper hot on her heels.
Carlisle was left to finally own up to his son's failings as he told Tanya and the rest of the Denali's why his family was so broken. There was sympthathy at first, of course, but that quickly turned into confusion at how the Cullens could have felt so strongly about a measely little human. None could easily answer that question, and it was the proverbial final straw that broke the camel's back. Arrangements were made to leave as soon as possible, with Carlisle and Esme giving the family's formal goodbyes as the others handled the possessions hidden away in storage. Alaska was swiftly left behind in another painful wake and the vampires settled into another house where it was warm, flat, and empty. A place that held very little resemblance to Forks.
Word finally came from Edward as they were unpacking. He had sent only a short text message to all of their phones with the information that he would not be joining them - not for several years at the least.
Esme took the news especially hard. She spent several days crying in the only way vampires could, her heart unable to take the dual loss of both Edward and Bella. All of the activities she enjoyed that had kept her from breaking apart while in Alaska failed for the first time in her long life, leading to her staying locked away in a small room on the top floor to grieve in private.
For the rest of the family, there were mixed reactions. Carlisle was disappointed at first, but then that turned into resignation that his eldest son could never have had a happy life with Bella. He hated being a vampire to his very core, and with such strong beliefs in heaven and hell, Carlisle quickly came to the conclusion that Edward would have spent his days keeping Bella human until her natural death. At that point, Carlisle was also certain that Edward would not have hesitated to swiftly take his own life next. It was a vicious blow to the kind man, and he soon regretted letting Edward cling to his unhealthy views, and even more so the fact that he had let so much control slip into Edward's fingers.
Emmett was angered. He couldn't believe that Edward had forced them to this with the large and unfair influence he had within the family, and then couldn't even make himself own up to his actions. It disgusted the large and heavily muscled vampire, a sentiment that was shared with his wife. Rosalie had, at first, been happy with the prospect of the safe removal of the human from their lives, but it was a very short-lived thought. Even if she wouldn never admit it aloud, she could at least acknowledge to herself that the same human she treated with such disdain was the one who spread such joy and happiness to each member of her family - including herself. The only reason she never openly liked Bella was because she envied the human and what she could have, and couldn't understand why she would want to throw it all away. At the end of it all, Rose was appalled that Edward would turn coward, and severely hoped that he was suffering well and truly for his selfish actions.
Jasper felt only sadness. The loss of a dearly loved one was something that should never be dealt with alone. He wanted nothing more than to lend his help and soothe the hurt in the only way he could - by taking it all away. Being an empath, he understood more than the average person of the power of emotions and could only hope Edward would realize this someday soon and return to where he belonged - at his family's side.
And then there was Alice - Alice, who felt a fierce joy that she would not have to deal with her self-entitled, selfish, and childish brother who had taken everything away from them (her). Alice, who experienced an even stronger hate than what she had felt in Alaska. This was a startling surprise to Jasper, and led to him innocently questioning her in his need to know why she felt the way she did. Alice couldn't understand how he could not bear any ill will towards their errant brother. Jasper, on his part, couldn't understand how she, as Edward's favorite sister, could hate him so much. It was a gradual fall down a slippery slope from there, but it was also an inevitable slip.
They spoke and debated all hours of the day when together, and spent long hours apart when no satisfying conclusion was reached. Soon, these discussions turned into full-blown arguments without a resolution, and their relationship groaned and strained under the weight until they found themselves staring at each other from across a giant chasm so wide, the earth could fit inside. An effort was then made to try and salvage what they could, but it was of no use. Alice could only feel the twisting, suffocating sorrow and hate for what she had lost, and Jasper the staggering pain of the entire household. The two formally ended things with a permanent divorce, and Jasper left to find Edward. Alice stayed to help in what ways she could, but she knew something had to give sooner or later. It was just one more gaping hole in whatever was left of her heart and soul.
Jasper's departure was the first, but it wasn't the last.
The fights he would have with Alice were just one more thing to drive the family bonds into the ground before they went their separate ways. Emmett and Rosalie often left the house to get away from the tension, and Carlisle would excuse himself to comfort Esme. When Alice and Jasper finally divorced, the others were devastated. The two had been happily married for so many years that a permanent separation just seemed like a passing fancy in the nightmare they were all trapped in, but when Jasper went to find Edward, no one could deny that the Jasper-Alice romance was well and truly dead.
Esme and Carlisle took it the hardest. In the aftermath of their failure to raise Edward right in their eyes, they saw the divorce as just another failing on their part, especially as Alice grew to become more distant and acerbic as the time went by. The Alice Cullen that once existed slowly faded into a well-loved and mourned memory.
Emmett and Rosalie began to feel a strain on their own relationship, and so quietly took their own leave to keep things together.
It left the Cullens with only three of what had been a blissful eight. They who remained mourned what they had lost, and what could have been.
Time ceased to have any meaning. The days flew and drifted by like leaves in the autumn wind, and the bitterness grew like a weed in their hearts. Years passed them by with barely any word from the others, and with even less notice of the last three. Alice stopped having visions when Emmett and Rosalie finally returned, restoring some balance to the family's equilibrium. But Jasper and Edward remained away, and the most of the damage remained like a giant shipwreck strewn carelessly around at the bottom of the sea.
Several more years went by. Moves were made, and the world changed and became unfamiliar time and again, while the vampires remained forever the same and physically untouched. Unmoving, unchanged, and unhappy.
When time finally slowed for the Cullens, the hurt had barely diminished. They were still the strangers they had turned into at the start of the whole thing.
And so it came with a pained shock when Carlisle announced that they would be returning to Forks. All of their other homes had been used, and in their normal cycle, Forks was up next. It was with heavy reluctance that they returned to Forks, having no where else to go.
Alice thought it would be in her best interest to inform Edward and Jasper of their move, to watch the expressions on their faces. She was all malice and harsh words and took great delight in her distant brothers' pain. Esme absently chided her, but there was no heart behind it. The Cullen matron was now a shadow of her former self - the bright and warm mother left forever behind with Bella.
Carlisle, of course, tried to cover where she failed but he, too, fell just short of the mark. He was too afraid to either be too strict or too lenient after what had become of Edward under his tutelage. The end result was that Alice continued to enjoy inflicting pain upon others, leaving Carlisle and Esme to deal with whatever was left in her wake. Many afternoons had been spent imprisoned in the principal's office at whatever school the others had been attending, apologizing and "punishing" Alice for the awful deeds she had committed to her fellow classmates.
Yes, nothing but the old house in which they were now returning too had stayed the same over the years. Mr. Jenks had done an admirable job in keeping the house in top shape over the years. His grandson was being groomed to take over his father's job (his grandfather having passed away at the age of 73), and had been the one to formally welcome them to Forks after handing the keys over. The young man had been professional and impressively well-composed during such actions, but he quickly turned anxious and apprehensive when moving onto his next set of business. With sweaty hands and a quickened heartrate, he informed them that a package was waiting for them in the dining room - set up with his grandfather to be delivered and waiting for the Cullen family upon their arrival at Forks.
There had been no doubt in any of their minds of who it could possibly be from, and had raced over faster than they really should have. And thus they ended where they remained for a very long time... standing around their dining room staring at the package.
It was an old silver tin box, dented and slightly rusted with age. Nothing but the scent of wood, polish, and the underlying odor of old metal emanted from the box, but it was what was sitting on top of the box that had their attention. An old envelope heavy with the ripe aroma of aging paper sat comfortably on the old tin lid, with all-too-familiar handwriting across the front.
Alice was the first to step forward, hesitantly reaching her hand to gently touch the envelope. While it had sparked a foolish sense of hope, she now knew that whatever was inside had been written and adressed a very long time ago. There was no possible way that Bella was still around to have done so in recent years - who would probably be in her very late years by now, living in a retirement home or with her grandkids.
With a shaky breath, Alice slowly opened the letter and just drank in the sight of what she thought to never see again in her life. The others crowded around to get a glimpse, as well, but it was Alice who began to read aloud:
This will be the final, and very last, time I will ever write that sentence. For the past few years I've written dozens, maybe even hundreds, of letters to a single member of your family without a single one being sent. How could they have been? You never let me know your address. But that's not what I really want to cover in my last words to you, my true family. What I need to say - foolishly, some may reprimand - is that I am dying.
I don't know how many more years will pass before you finally return to Forks. Ten? Twenty? Half a century? Whatever the case may be, chances are I will be dead by the time you get around to reading this. I've had a lot of health complications for awhile now, and none are easily dealt with in the slightest. But before you start jumping to conclusions that I'm going to start blaming you for leaving me to die this way, I want to say one thing.
I forgive you.
Whatever your reasons may be for leaving me behind in your insignificant dust, I've finally come to peace with them. That is the whole point of this letter - to counterbalance what I have previously written and what will be in the tin box for you to peruse through when this is finished.
Alice paused and glanced down to eye the box with a near fevered curiosity before quickly returning to the letter.
That's why this letter will be sitting on top of the box to be read first and foremost. I've had to arrange this with someone else just to be certain it will actually get to all of you. You have no idea how long I had to search around to find this guy - J. Jenks, I think is his name. He is the only one who will even consider following my instructions to the letter with what measely money I have. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion he knows you because he instantly became agreeable when I mentioned your name. It's a shame I'll never know for certain.
Before you go digging through what I've left for you, though, there are some things I have to cover for you first so you aren't caught completely off guard like I was with Edward.
They all instantly flinch at the sound of his name, and Alice grinds her teeth together to keep from crumpling the fragile paper in her suddenly tense hands. Carlisle comforts Esme, and it is only another painful reminder that Alice no longer has someone to do that for her. She resumes reading with difficulty.
First off, there is a copy of my medical files that I have left for Carlisle. Call me a coward, but I can in no way detail everything that is wrong with me. Too much doctor jargon, too many emotions, too many things I can't and want to say. I only ask that you not blame yourselves for what you find.
Second, I have left a letter for each of you beneath that, written these past few weeks. These are private and I rather they not be read by any other than who they are intended for, but with Edward running around I know it is an impossibility to keep anything I say private. Please - don't pry.
It takes all of Alice's self control to not lose it when Bella directly addresses Edward. She continues in an effort to contain herself, and to ignore the looks the others send her.
Last, I have placed all of the e-mails, letters, notes, and random scribblings I wrote over the years but could never send. They are in chronological order from when you...left, to when I stopped - starting from the bottom. You may go in whichever order you prefer, it matters not to me. I just ask that you take any and all angry words with the knowledge that I deeply regret having written them, but I am also proud that I managed to move on from the darkness of those days.
To conclude, I hope you all have managed to find happiness. I love and miss you all,
Alice's breath left her when she finished the letter. The others remained similiarly paralyzed as they processed the emotions and information unleashed in the wake of Bella's final words. They were as one as they simultaneously shared glances before stepping to open the lid. Esme pried the old lid off with a gentle hands, setting it aside when finished. Just as Bella stated, there was a manilla folder with a note to addressed to Carlisle waiting for them. He picked it up and eyed it for a long moment before gently setting that aside as well. Despite what Bella may have thought, no one was very eager to find out what had taken their Bella from the world. Morbid curiosity would probably end up winning in the end, but for now, they all desperately wanted some speck of light in their dark lives.
Again, just as Bella had said, there a stack of letters to each of the Cullen family as it had been in Bella's days - before Edward and Jasper had left. Those were safely tucked away in Esme's pocket before Alice could set them on fire, but Alice couldn't care less about what was within those letters. All of her attention was riveted on the one with her name on it.
She quietly drifted away with the letter held reverently with both hands, stopping only when she found herself on the back porch. Everything felt as if she had stumbled down the rabbit hole and landed in an ocean of water so deep, anything could gobble her up in one bite without a care in the world. Nothing made sense - she should be ecstatic that Bella had written to her one last time, but the only thing she felt was the choking pain that had plagued her that day that Edward had commanded they leave Bella behind. She didn't want to read what her best friend had put down on paper for Alice to read after her death. She didn't want to even be alive anymore.
She wanted Bella to be alive - breathing, healthy, and whole - to repair what Edward had broken.
Without a word or thought otherwise, Alice took off towards the Forks graveyard. If she was going to read the letter, she needed to accept that Bella was gone... and was never coming back.
It didn't take very long to find the right grave. Forks remained a very small place, and thus it's graveyard barely grew with each passing year. Bella's gravestone was very unassuming and plain, lacking any of the standard decorations. Tell-tale giveaways were a small wolf, and fang, roughly hand carved in opposite corners of the stone. With trembling fingers, Alice traced the professionally carved words at the top.
Bella Maria Swan,
Beloved Daughter, Taken Before Her Time
September 13, 1987 - June 15, 2010
May God Soothe Her Shattered Soul
The wind blew gently over the green grass, and fresh flowers laid upon the grave gave up a few petals to the slight breeze. It showed that Bella still had someone around that cared enough to keep her resting place clear of debris and surrounded by living beauty. Alice plucked a petal from the air absently, smoothing it between her pale fingers as her mind drifted farther and farther away.
The letter sat heavy in her pocket.