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I made the wall of shadow draw back,

beyond desire and act, I walked on.

…Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,

oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.

Oh the mad coupling of hope and force

in which we merged and despaired.

And the tenderness, light as water and as flour.

And the word scarcely begun on the lips.

This was my destiny and in it was my voyage of my longing,

and in it my longing fell, in you everything sank!

from "Song of Despair"

(Pablo Neruda)

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Once upon a time, arms reached up from the sea,

fingers grasping wet and human flesh

pulling down, down, down

until limbs are caught,

surrendered to tendrils of the deep

"I'm going to tell you a story," the selkie whispers

into the sailor's ear.

+.+.+.+

Article in Washington Post Business section (April 25, 20-)

Masen Global Enterprises (MGE) named its CEO's son as the company's new Chief Operating Officer as the Manhattan-based company shifts its focus to commercial development abroad.

Edward Cullen will replace Stephen Hansen effective immediately, assuming control of MGE's European headquarters in Paris amid "a broader consolidation of the company's worldwide sales and business development activities," a spokesman for MGE said today.

Cullen "has a deep understanding of both US and European markets that will be invaluable as we position our effort to develop quality, energy-efficient properties."

In addition to the new position, Cullen will maintain his role as president and co-fund manager for Cullen Consulting, LLP, the investment firm started by his great-grandfather in 1921. The firm was ranked as the world's sixth-largest hedge fund with $35.8 billion in investor assets under management and a 1.22 percent stake in Wells Fargo.

"I look forward to further acquainting myself with the company started by my father," Cullen said in a statement released by his office this week. "We're excited about what the future has in store."

+.+.+.+

The first days are strange.

Edward keeps me close to him, eyes distant and burning with the self-recrimination of an addict as he kisses, takes, pulls me to him in the middle of the night.

I am a silent but equal partner, letting him clutch me, fuck me, shudder and groan against me when I come apart around him. The city surrounds us, serenades us with the comforting hum of its bustle, distant beneath us in Edward's ivory tower as we fall into a boneless sleep.

And when the morning light encroaches, bleaching the cold room even cooler, Edward's first waking expression is one of surprise as he finds me, still in his bed.

"You're still here," he remarks and I touch his face, erasing every trace of surprise.

"Are you happy?" I ask him, and his smile is my answer.

+.+.+.+

There is a struggle sometimes,

arms and legs battling the weight of a sea

She strokes his face, cooing

secrets, water lullabies —

anything to make him remember

the monotony of the old land,

the bondage of his native soil,

and the promise of the sea that he's given her.

+.+.+.+

Excerpt from The New Yorker magazine's profile on Charles Swan

Swan has many times looked people in the eye and stoutly denied the Kingmaker mythology. On the other hand, it doesn't seem to torment him that he's the center of attention and speculation, or that he's thought of as all-powerful. Swan is complicated. His usual mode is one of irony — sometimes there seems to be a twinkle in his eye as he professes outrage over the unfair attribution of enormous influence to him.

His obvious intellect isn't what's been in the news lately, however. Rumors of private discord within the Swan family have swirled since the sudden death of Renee Higginbotham Swan three years ago. To Washington insiders, the reported estrangement currently between Swan from his daughter Isabella is indicative that the family life Swan touted to be "the American dream" was not all apple pies and picnics.

For any other political heavyweight, this would be less of a revelation and more of a given. But in the case of the Kingmaker, his credibility seems to hinge on more than just instinct and media savvy — it is entwined with the life, and family, that he attempts to idealize in the American consciousness: the devoted husband and father, the supportive wife, the beautiful child.

In recent years, Swan has become visibly agitated when asked about his family. "It's nobody's damn business," he told a reporter in the months following his wife's passing. But today, he is the very picture of professionalism.

"We're doing just fine," he assures me, his eyes drifting to a dated portrait of the family on his desk. "Just fine."

+.+.+.+

Our first months in Paris are heady things, a whirlwind of possession and decadence and freedom.

We are star-cross'd lovers, unable to believe our luck — fondling, kissing, fucking on every surface like teenagers in the first throes of puberty. We are uncontrollable, ravenous.

He spends hours inside of me, sweating and groaning and cursing as he comes, reveling in the instincts of a territorial beast as he paints my walls white.

"Do you feel that?" he asks me often, his breath hot on my neck as his fingers prod gently between my legs, opening me where he was only moments before. "You're mine."

I grant him these moments, nodding my assent and later marking him in turn, scoring flesh with teeth and nails until I can trace my touch in the map of his skin.

It is an odd partnership, joining together in the violent abandon of fucking, other times circling each other like wary animals, learning the other with the sharp eye of an adversary.

I want to know every part of him with a fervor that scares me.

+.+.+.+

But every bubble bursts.

And although there is desire,

although there is passion, possession,

there is not,

and never will be,

any such thing as a fairy tale.

+.+.+.+

"Isabella."

Knocking.

Go away, I mutter, lips against wet.

"Bella, open this door."

Slowly, I open my eyes to stagnant water still against the sides of the tub, encasing the pale of my naked limbs. The knocking sounds again against the bathroom door.

"Isabella."

I stand on unsteady legs, water sluicing across skin, rivulets traversing the length of my back.

Step out and reach down, fingers closing again around the scrap of black silk on the floor, shoving it into the pocket of the terrycloth robe I wrap around myself.

Edward pounds against the door and I unlock the latch to face him.

"You've been in there for hours," he tells me, a question unasked in his eyes.

I was only thinking, mulling over this creature I've become.

But I do not tell him that.

"Are we happy?" I ask, dripping wet on the carpet.

+.+.+.+

"Look at the man behind me," Edward tells me quietly as he hands me my glass of wine. "The one with the dark-rimmed glasses."

I comply, looking beyond him, scanning the party to find the man in question.

There he is — smiling at something that the blonde on his arm just whispered in his ear. He is a scrawny gentleman, those long arms in his tuxedo giving him every appearance of a praying mantis at a funeral.

"I see him," I reply, watching.

"That's Nicolas Belland."

"Carlisle's friend?"

"His spy," Edward corrects, his mouth set in annoyance. "My father's keeping tabs on me."

I keep staring at Belland; after several moments, we make eye contact as he tries to give us an inconspicuous glance. I smile at the man, raising my glass in salute.

He colors slightly, looking away. But we are still in his eyeline.

"What are you doing?" Edward asks me, eyebrows arched in amusement as I set down my wineglass. I put my hands on his lapels and pull him closer.

"Giving Nicolas something to take home to daddy," I answer, a breath away from his lips.

And I kiss him until Nicolas rolls his eyes, turning his attention to someone else.

"What would I do without you?" Edward laughs softly.

I smile.

+.+.+.+

We are one of them, but not.

"There's something poisonous about you," Alice has told me earlier, her lips against my ear as if we are sharing secrets. "Something monstrous."

"Sticks and stones," I answer with a smile, and she steps back.

"That's funny. You know what else is funny?" she lowers her voice. "A Swan chasing a Masen. The apple hasn't fallen far, has it?"

"I believe he's a Cullen," I reply sweetly.

I tell Edward this as we slide into the car at the end of one his father's fundraisers and he sighs, taking my hand in his and staring straight ahead.

Sometimes, it is easy to forget why we cling to one another.

+.+.+.+

Time passes.

We are partners, bound by a pull we do not understand and the hunger to feel, even when there is only pain.

But Edward surprises me sometimes, a startling dichotomy of passion and passivity.

"What do you think?" he asks me one evening as we walk home from dinner. I frown, confused until I see that we have stopped in front of a jewelry store's plate glass window.

I remember my mother's oval diamond, the glimmer of it next to the gold band that never came off. I think of my father, alone in his home in the District.

I think of inevitability, of the never-ending curve of the ouroboros.

And I tell him yes.

+.+.+.+

"I'm leaving," I tell him one afternoon, cold and angry and glaring because I am tired of this life, the monotony of it all, the cage of money that always surrounds me.

But Edward only smiles grimly as he sits at the piano, his fingers gently playing a slow and somber melody.

And so I go, slamming the door behind me. I hail a cab to the airport.

When I return hours later, the apartment is dark and he is lying, fully dressed, on his bed. His chest rises and falls evenly beneath the silk of his necktie.

I catch a glimpse of my face in the vanity mirror: white and drawn with eyes large and dark, the fierce caves of the shipwrecked. I look lost, deserted as the wharves at dawn.

Long moments pass before I move to the bedside, lifting a hand to sweep through the russet mess of his hair, now tinged with hints of gray. Too quick for me to register the movement, his hand circles my wrist.

I meet his gaze, and I cannot read it.

"You're back," he says evenly.

"Yes."

"It's been six hours."

"Yes."

He pulls me down until I relent, straddling his hips, reclining across his chest. My face is turned toward him, lips pressed against the column of his neck as he swallows.

"I won't leave again," I whisper.

And we sleep, our bodies separated only by the silk of my dress, the starch of his shirt.

+.+.+.+

We are married by a French clerk, and I wear red dress.

That night, he kisses my hands, sucks my fingers into his mouth, bites down lightly on my ring. I laugh at the delight in his eyes as he examines the stone.

"I love you," he later groans into my neck as I come around him. "I love you, I love you, I love you."

+.+.+.+

Days and weeks and months gather, and then they are years.

I lie awake in bed tonight, still and quiet as Edward shuts the bedroom door. He is back, his footsteps a parenthesis to the three weeks he has spent working in New York.

Will he wake me? I wonder. The last several weeks have been filled only with brief, terse conversations because he is busy, and I am cold.

Moments later, fingers roam restless across the curve of my back.

He moves his lips over my shoulders, down my back as his hands tug, tug, tug again at my nightgown until it is pooled at my waist.

I do not understand what he says at first, caught in the surprise of his touch until I finally hear it, words falling from his mouth without thought.

Hungry for you, he says against my skin. I've been so hungry for you.

He is still fully clothed as he climbs onto the bed, spreading my legs and lifting my hips, his fingers hurriedly seeking my wetness before freeing himself from the confines of his trousers. I feel the warm metal of his wedding ring as he holds onto my hips, impaling me, uttering a curse as I cry out, but the silk drag of his black tie against my shoulders is nothing compared to the sting of him as he bucks against me.

His mouth is on my neck as he comes in a series of violent, uncoordinated thrusts and a desperate-sounding cry against my skin.

We are both panting, sweaty and limp. He pulls away and out, collapsing beside me on the bed.

"I'm sorry," he breathes. "I missed you."

"Are we happy?" I ask him, watching the silhouette of his profile.

"Of course," he replies, and I pull back to look at his face, trace my fingers along the lines of his lips as I smile, pretending to believe him.

+.+.+.+

"Mrs. Cullen?"

I look up from my book to find a young man standing at my table. I come here to this café often, its quiet service and proximity to our home ideal for reading, for thinking.

"Yes?"

"Garrett Springer," he says, offering me his hand. He is American, young and handsome and well-dressed, and his hand lingers around mine a moment too long. "I work for your husband."

"Of course," I rejoin politely. "Would you like to sit?"

"Thank you. What are you reading?"

"Akhmatova."

"He any good?"

"She's quite good."

"Ah. Poetry?"

"Yes."

"So you like poetry… Isabella?"

I sit back, assessing him evenly. He looks ill at ease for a moment, staring at my face, my neck, my breasts.

I smirk; I am closer to forty than he is too thirty, and he is such a transparent, awkward thing.

"Did you need something from me, Garrett?" I ask him coolly.

"I… I saw you and thought—"

"Thought you'd say hello?" I interrupt.

"Yes."

"Well then, hello. Thank you for stopping by."

Understanding the dismissal, he stands. "Goodbye, Mrs. Cullen."

"Goodbye, Garrett."

He walks away before turning back quickly, back at the table in a few quick strides. Before anything can be said, he takes my hand from its place on the table, lifting it to his lips.

"Goodbye," he mutters again, hurrying away.

I smile and return to my book.

But it is not over.

"You went to the café today?" Edward asks over dinner.

"I took a volume of Akhmatova and disappeared for a little while."

When there is no reply, I look up from my wine and sigh.

His jealousy has become as refined and as sleek as its master, the hot blade of passion tempered by time and age into something sharper and more dangerous. I have stopped questioning how he knows who I see, what I do. There is nothing to hide anymore.

But now, a young man's lips have rested on my hand and I know that I will feel the sting of Edward's pique, renew my allegiance to him in the guttural groans that still claw their way out of my throat as he fucks me.

It is not me he is angry with. He hates only himself and the men he thinks he should be.

"You love me, don't you?" he asks that night, eyes as sharp as ever, his still-boyish mouth soft in a vulnerable pout.

"Silly man," I reply with a smirk, running fingers across his forehead, through hair that has not lost its wayward tousle. I pull him down for a kiss, but he resists.

"Tell me," he insists.

I think of his face, the beautiful twist of his features as he comes, the deceptively calm set of them as he watches me dance with younger men.

He misinterprets my pause for reticence, his frown deepening. "Say it, out loud," he presses.

So I do.

+.+.+.+

Article published in Business section of The New York Post (February 12, 20-)

The father-son business team of Carlisle Masen and Edward Cullen has done a good job of projecting unity throughout Masen's much-publicized legal woes, but behind the scenes there's a growing tension between them, sources tell the Post. Edward Cullen became a powerful figure by heading the US division of MGE, the real estate development firm founded by his father over thirty-five years ago.

Among the main sources of tension: Cullen's insistence that he maintain his position as chairman of the board at Cullen Associates, LP, the firm established in 1952 by Liam Cullen, father of former CA president Elizabeth Cullen, and grandfather of the current chairman. Masen has reportedly asked his son to hand control of the firm to the company's board of directors - a demand which Cullen may be loathe to accommodate, given his father's recent troubles with the Federal Housing Administration.

"Our only interest is ensuring that all developers comply with building regulations so that buyers can be guaranteed safe housing," FHA spokesman Brian Sullivan told reporters. "So far, MGE has not been forthcoming with evidence that they've attempted to meet these regulations."

"Edward Cullen is his own man," said an anonymous employee from MGE's headquarters. "He doesn't see the point of giving up his birthright with a successful consulting firm in order to go down with a possibly-sinking ship."

Sources say that Masen and Cullen have begun communicating exclusively through proxies, although MGE's regulatory woes in the U.S. are only the tip of the iceberg in the familial drama. Last year, Cullen's elopement with Isabella Swan, daughter of uber-politico Charles Swan, reportedly caused further tension inside the Masen-Cullen camps.

When reporters asked about his new daughter-in-law after news of the wedding broke, Carlisle Masen himself was less than diplomatic.

"She's crazy," he told reporters. He later apologized, citing personal stress and fatigue as reasons for the outburst.

Nonetheless, these tensions have reportedly raised doubts about Masen's successor at MGE — as daughter Alice, unscathed by negative publicity or surprise weddings, jockeys in the background, the question lingers as to whether MGE can survive at all.

Both Masen and Cullen, through representatives, declined interview requests.

+.+.+.+

I am not unhappy.

There are moments of ecstasy, of excitement. There are days when I cannot believe he is mine.

But the world does not exist to keep us happy.

There are endless social functions, hours of monotonous conversation heralded by the zipper of a designer gown, Edward's fingers brushing lightly on the back of my neck as he tells me I look beautiful.

I am smiling now, nodding at the words spilling out of the woman in front of me like I am interested, captivated by her ceaseless drivel—

"Is that Rosalie McCarty?" she asks suddenly, looking behind me.

I turn to follow her gaze, spotting the object of her interest — the statuesque blonde beauty now speaking to my husband.

Her face stirs a memory: the young woman at the Bootlegger's Ball all those years ago.

"Is the food that good?" I'd asked her then, curious as to why she attended so many functions when she was forced into the indignity of purchasing a ticket.

"No," she'd replied. "But the fishing is."

Judging by her gown, her perfectly preserved face and figure, it seems she has landed a keeper.

Edward laughs at something she says, his eyes drifting down to the cut of her décolletage. I do not blame him — she is stunning.

I sip my wine and watch, every inch my mother's daughter.

+.+.+.+

"Are we happy?" he asks me.

It is the question that echoes through every touch and look and word.

I look at him now, handsome features furrowed by age and work. That hair, once the color of a burnished penny, graying more every year.

"I am happy," I answer. "Are you?"

He nods, kisses my hand.

And I believe him.

+.+.+.+

This will end eventually, no matter what I promised Edward all those years ago.

Breath will leave him, or me.

Time will still a heartbeat,

and one of us will roam through the last years like a lost memory.

That is the way of it – old worlds are constantly passing before us as new ones come to be.

Mine is no different. But for now, I have him, and keep him.

And the ghosts of old goddesses grow fainter.

+.+.+.+

Transcript taken from NPR's "All Things Considered" (October 23, 20-)

Charles Swan, the man many considered to be the one of the most influential voices in conservative politics, died Wednesday morning at the age of 61.

Paul Strickland, Swan's chief of staff and longtime confidante, said the man known as "the Kingmaker" died in his Georgetown, Maryland home from complications related to heart disease. He is survived by his only daughter, Isabella Swan Cullen.

As a young man, Swan parlayed his anger at the secularization of American society into organizing rallies while president of the College Republicans at Dartmouth, and publishing several sharp-tongued diatribes against the evils of liberalism throughout the 1960s-70s. His influence continued to grow as he involved himself in the grooming of young politicians and coordinating more successful politician campaigns than any other figure in US history.

Swan also championed social values rooted in Christian traditions — and against the regulation of business and the economy.

Above all, Strickland remembers, Charles Swan sought to make conservatism a force to be reckoned with.

Over the past several years, as his health declined and as he mourned the death of his wife, Swan's life became much tougher. Strickland paraphrased Shakespeare in thinking about the conservative titan's life and death.

"I released statement via e-mail this morning to the news outlets," he said. "And I found myself unable to resist quoting a line from Hamlet:

'Take him for all he was worth, Horatio. He was a man, and I shall not look on his like again.'"

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

And there you have it: years crammed into one last hurrah. I've been neurotically worried about every single update except these last two. I am happy with them, and that will have to be good enough.

Thank you, everyone, for your patience. I hope it was worth it.

Thank you, Myg, for making me finish this. Your brain is a wonderland.

Thank you, fandom, for being big enough to indulge so many of us and our writing hobbies.

And finally, thank you, thank you, thank you to the readers and reviewers. You've all been wonderful and fun and kind, and I hope you've been sufficiently entertained.

Love,

Hollelujah

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