Recap: Last chapter, Rosalie invites herself into Bella's house and gives her a talking-to, but nothing sticks until Rosalie describes what Edward's reaction will be to his mate's death, a reaction Edward confirms without apology. So Bella says yes, but there are arrangements to be made even as her body falls apart: Bella offers her property-stealing neighbor Sharon her car; Jacob agrees to an exception to the treaty in exchange for Cullen land and the Cullens' expulsion from the peninsula; Bella and Edward visit Arizona, and her surrogate mother, Yolanda, and Charlie in Laconia. Edward arranges for Bella and Charlie to come to terms with past sins, and the flight back, as Bella's liver fails, proves climatic.
This is the last chapter, or perhaps epilogue, whatever you prefer. But, you know, the end.
Thanks, thanks, thanks: Camilla10 – and I'll remind you again, you should check out her stories - has been a wonderful, patient editor throughout all this, and so has Mr. Price, even when I've stayed up writing instead of, say, cuddling with him.
And thanks to the readers: some of you have been here since the beginning, some of you have reviewed every chapter, some of you have been more insightful about my characters than I am. And some of you have shared your stories about your experiences with cancer. So many of us are affected by it.
And of course, to Stephenie Meyer for being a good sport about all this, and not complaining even when some fic writer talks about "my characters." They're her characters, with a twist.
Chapter 21: There's a Word for It
The afternoon was hot and humid and sticky, and perfectly pleasant. Perfectly pleasant for us, that is; for the little band of islanders, it was time to doze and wait for the daily storm to pass and the return to work or play.
We followed their example, though we didn't need to. A thatch of branches and leaves identical to that used by the islanders shielded us from the sun and rain; the sand was smooth and fine under our backs. I contemplated politeness markers in verbs and pronouns; Edward contemplated me.
"What are you thinking about?" he asked, his eternal question.
"The connection between Des and Noe, it seems to be her name, the woman with the burn marks," I said. "Noe uses indirect pronouns with him even though she's older, and even though he gives her the best part of his hunt. Why would that be?"
"I would imagine that there's something about her family history that makes her lower-ranking than him despite her age. I'll keep an ear out."
"The relationships here are so complex," I said, sighing.
Although the islanders' vocabulary was not, by Western standards, wide-ranging, the grammar was so complicated that it could make an Anglophone or Hispanohablante's head spin. The inhabitants here might not know a Civic from a Mercedes, but they had verb prefixes to distinguish practically every single person around them.
Edward slid his hand up the inside of my bare thigh. "I think we should think about our relationship," he said in a tone that was delightfully familiar.
"Do you?" I said, smiling, rolling gracefully so that I straddled his hips, equally bare, his body ready for our pleasure. I glided up to his tip and down to his base and up again as he groaned.
"I think it would be obvious to absolutely everyone what our relationship is," I purred.
Ten years earlier
Edward was right: It seemed that every single bit of pain that comes in dying of cancer was concentrated in one second, then another, then another, and the morphine was unable to quell it. The shots I had been given rendered me still, not insensate. That had the advantage of keeping me silent as the plane refueled on its many-leg journey to central Alaska, but I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was the burn of agony.
The cure for cancer was fire, incinerating wayward genes, searing the ends of telomeres into agelessness.
And then, almost imperceptibly, the agony receded. My body evolved from pain's abject victim to its traveling companion to its master and finally, its extinguisher. The fire was out, and so was the disease.
No aspiring vegetarian vampire woke up to a better welcome. I was supported by people who loved me (or at least tolerated me, thank you, Rosalie); surrounded by taiga abounding in animal life; far away from human blood.
I had what I was repeatedly assured were the usual newborn experiences: tearing doors off hinges, ripping books in half, embracing my lover until he gasped in pain. Because I was a vampire, most of those things happened only once, but I would always remember them, just as the torture of changing would always be my first ineradicable, crystal-clear memory. And for all I knew the morphine had indeed lessened the pain of changing, because I had no basis for comparison.
I sure as hell hoped I never would.
And I sure as hell hoped I never hurt Edward again. Our first time that we were both of the same substance, I felt like a flailing virgin again, like that ridiculous Katy Perry song Edward told me was played at the Holiday Hop in Forks, where we danced together and I hated myself for lusting after a student.
You make me feel like I'm losing my virginity/ The first time every time when you touch me
"Ow," he said, when I kissed him too hard. I jerked back so quickly I flew into a tree, and he urged me to try again. "I'm not damaged," he said, smiling.
"I feel so awkward," I moaned. "Awkwardly dangerous." We were in the wilderness miles and miles from trails, and even the creatures that didn't need trails were giving us a wide berth. I was well-fed and even-keeled from hours of running – my God, the running. As a human, I had always been thrilled by the point in the run, sometime after the first mile, where your joints were lubricated and your legs were awake and your breath was easy and you felt you could just run forever. Which you couldn't, of course, because the point always came where your muscles burned and your lungs burned and that fucking hill was going to kill you. But that point never came when you were a vampire – it was just a perpetual runner's high. Like sex, it never got old.
Or I presumed it would be like sex, if I managed to have it without maiming my partner.
That partner was still smiling. "And so the tables are turned," he said.
"But you never hurt me," I said, pretty sure I was remembering that right.
"I did, in fact," he said. "You had to tell me I was holding you too tightly. But I damaged only furniture." He pointed to the aspen behind me, its white trunk gouged by my stone trunk. "Just like you."
His pointing hand turned into an open palm. "Come back to me."
I did, slowly, as much as I wanted to just launch myself at him with my hungry body. He grabbed my arms and held them tight to my torso. "When you deflowered me, you told me to essentially just relax and enjoy the ride." He chuckled. "It was one of the most difficult things I had ever done, and the possible consequences of failure were much higher then than they are now. Stay here."
He dashed off and returned a few seconds later with a thick deadfall black cottonwood limb. "Catch," he said, which I did automatically, "and don't let go."
He urged me down on my back, onto the duff of needles and cones, arms above my head, fingers digging into wood. "I'm going to take care of you," he said, kissing my scar, then down, over the fabric covering my breast, my belly and further, pulling off the hiking pants I wore for appearance sake, over my bare feet. "Hold on," he said, and lowered his mouth to my sex. I screamed in lieu of bucking him off, razor nails mulching wood, concentrating more on keeping my thighs still instead of the sensation, but oh, what a sensation.
And then it was as if I could feel my mind dividing, a pathway to control my body and keep my mate from harm, a vampire neurogenesis, parallel to the pure delight I felt.
My scream softened to a moan. "That's it," I could feel Edward murmur as my flesh bloomed under his tongue, my hips arching up harmlessly while he tasted my climax, the first in my new body.
"Better?" he asked, and I nodded eagerly as he climbed up my body, yanking down his own pants before his hands joined my mine in the new piles of wood shavings. I tasted myself on his lips as he slid in, grunting.
"A little less tight with your hands, please, that's good," he mumbled.
I obeyed. "And what about my pussy? Too tight?" I asked, slyly.
He groaned and jerked, and I watched avidly as his face strained then relaxed, and he let all his weight settle on me and chuckled again. "Damn, you always know how to make me come too soon like a 17-year-old," he said. "Now we'll just have to do it again till I get it right."
His thrust reawakened my moan, and I matched his moves as the sky darkened and the Arctic stars shed their light on our skin.
There were discoveries unique to me too. Several days later we headed home, our clothes torn, our hair tangled by twigs and mud. Edward stopped short of the house, his mental ear hearing the thoughts ahead.
"We have visitors," he said. I tensed and inhaled, but we were too far out for me to perceive anything. "Friendly ones," he assured me. "Our cousins who've been eager to meet you."
I looked down at my filthy hiking pants and sighed. "You'd think that Alice could have made them wait until I had a shower."
He touched my undoubtedly dirt-streaked cheek. "They have interesting news that it wouldn't be fair for me to tell you," he said. "And you are absolutely beautiful." I had to believe him, because he looked absolutely magnificent, a rip in his T-shirt showing a peek of abs and … gah. Focus, Bella.
We continued our approach, and soon I could smell everyone in the chalet-style house, with its steeply pitched snow-tolerant gables, that sheltered us: The familiar - Carlisle and Esme, Alice and Jasper, Emmett and Rosalie – and the strange, two vampires with their tell-tale scents. We rinsed off our muddy feet and burst into the living room to see my family, Alice practically vibrating in her husband's arms, and a man and a woman new to me, dark-haired, pale-skinned and elegantly slim.
"Bella, these are our cousins, Carmen and Eleazar," Carlisle announced. "Carmen and Eleazar, our daughter Bella."
They stepped forward and offered their hands at first, then the man, Eleazar, suddenly wrapped me in his arms. I pulled back in surprise, noting the new dirt on his very expensive cashmere sweater. Edward put a hand on my back in reassurance.
Eleazar didn't seem to notice my recoil. "Soy tu abuelo," he said excitedly, and I gaped at him, not remembering that either of my grandfathers back in Laconia was a vampire. Or, you know, this gorgeous.
"We're related? How?"
He smiled at me, compounding the gorgeousness. "I should say rather, I am your many-great grandfather. Your tatartatartatartatarabuelo." Twelve generations back, my God. "When Carlisle told me of your family history, that your grandmother was an Isabel Salazar from Galicia, my curiosity was piqued.
"Carmen and I did some research, and managed to trace Isabel's ancestry to ... me. I am Eleazar ben Yacub -" he put his hand on his still heart "- but Jewish practices aroused suspicion in the Kingdom of Spain even in the most tolerant of times, so for the outside world my family adopted the surname Salazar, which had a certain prestige in Galicia..."
"See, I told you that you were Jewish," Edward murmured to me.
"And so," Eleazar went on, "my son, another Yacub, was Carlos Salazar in the official records. Not that I knew him, truly; when the Austrians and French were fighting over the Spanish crown, the confusion made for excellent hunting conditions for vampires, and the Volturi went looking for recruits of their own."
The War of the Spanish Succession … wow, so he was almost as old as Carlisle, if he was turned in the early 1700s.
"Only a few generations separated my son from Isabel, and we were able to make the connection through some effort," Eleazar said. "I cannot tell you how delighted I am to find that we are related, however distantly. I would never have imagined that I had descendants – or, I should say, descendants I could introduce myself to."
"Me too, Pops," I said, using the English word for effect. I meant it too: my parents were dead or dead to me, and it was a comfort knowing that I had this connection in my new world.
"And that makes me your abuela," Carmen said, and I had to smile at that, since my guess was that she was younger than I when she had changed. She had big dark eyes and outrageously long lashes that with a few blinks could bring a man to his knees, I imagined, like the operatic Carmen.
"Was there a lot of cancer in the family, do you remember?" I asked Eleazar.
"Not that I can recall," he said thoughtfully. "There is a theory that the BRCA cancer mutation is only from the first century C.E., though before the Diaspora. Perhaps your mutation is even more recent, or from someone who married into the Salazars after my human era. But on the topic of genetics, I wonder if you are proof of Carlisle's theory that supernatural talents are inherited."
I stared at him, but Edward asked, "Because you have a talent, and Bella has one as well? They seem hardly similar."
"Perhaps it's the propensity for a talent that's inherited rather than the talent itself?" Eleazar suggested.
"Hey, hey, wait," I said. "My talent? I'll be eternally grateful Edward can't read my thoughts –" Rosalie snorted in derision and envy "- but that hardly seems to be a talent. It's more like neurology."
Eleazar was shaking his head. "A talent," he insisted. "A shield to protect your mind, and others, if you develop it." With his index finger, he drew a circle encompassing him and Carmen and the Cullens. "You might save us all one day."
Rosalie eyed me speculatively, as if I might turn out to be useful after all.
Things that happened in the world while I was in my own little world:
The memorial service that Angela arranged was touching, Alice, Carlisle and Esme reported. The adolescent tears were indeed quite contagious, affecting almost everyone except vampires and Seth, who had had to be elbowed repeatedly by Raquel to keep the smirk off his face. A photograph of me joined the Forks High glass display case of dead students, alongside Eric Yorkie and Erin Teague.
My students scored two 5s (one guess which ones) and two 4s (Gracie Alvarez and Eliza Teague) on the AP English exam, and a respectable clutch of 3s, thanks to Alice's special tutoring sessions. Take that, Val Berty.
Gracie and Eliza made it through the University of Washington, Eliza deciding to become a teacher, Gracie appealing to the Pacific Northwest Trust for aid getting through law school. The trust's "administrator," Jason Jenks, eventually hired her on to his own firm, where she ran a completely separate (and legitimate) practice specializing in immigration law.
Rob Sawyer was able to move into my old house in Forks, the one that Sharon Stanley and Brenda Clapp stole from his grandmother.
Sharon and Brenda had short stays in a minimum-security prison, while the masterminds of the mortgage-fraud scheme, able to afford better lawyers, escaped punishment. At least until Esme got after them.
Jessica Stanley escaped being indicted; she moved to Boise for a fresh start. Bruce Clapp never managed to have a winning football season, and as evidence about football-related concussions mounted, the district decided to abolish the team. Justin Stanley knocked up an 11th grader, leading to a quickie wedding followed by a quick divorce.
Sharon got the keys to my Civic, and last I knew, was still driving it.
The Truant Javelinas had a few good years of college-radio hits and tours with indie-respectable ticket sales, and then Aidan and Gabriel decided to disband and focus on producing other groups' records.
The Cullens' Passivhaus was bought by a Seattle dot-com millionaire.
Mike prospered as his store benefitted from the boom in visitors to the national park, and Tyler rose in the short ranks of the Forks Police Department. They both married, Mike to a through hiker on the Pacific Northwest Trail he became smitten with when she came in to replace a disintegrating boot, Tyler to Lakshmi/Lauren. "Karma," he told Angela and Raquel, shrugging.
Ben Cheney's graphic novel was a critical success, and sold enough for him to get a contract for a sequel, and for him to get the confidence to ask Angela to marry him. They settled in Forks, and promptly popped out a pair of twins destined to tower above their father. He made them superheroines in a new series for tweens in which girls did everything and the boys looked on admiringly.
Seth and Raquel split their time between their two reservation towns, La Push and Sells. Raquel got picked up by a major dealer in Los Angeles who had hired her onetime curator, Bree Tanner; Seth found himself managing the tribe's new/restored land and, as Rosalie had warned, fending off clear-cutters and developers.
Jacob Black stopped changing as soon as the Cullens left the peninsula.
And Charlie, Dad, fulfilled his own genetic destiny. As Edward had feared, my father developed early-onset prostate cancer, an aggressive variety. Yolanda and his current girlfriend cared for him, loyally, to the end, and Jason Jenks arranged things so that it was discovered that Charlie had named her the beneficiary of a surprisingly healthy retirement account.
Raquel stared at me for a long time, long enough that even a well-adjusted vampire might start to fidget, and Edward touched my hand to calm me.
"Bella," she said finally. I watched her tilt her head in the Skype screen. "You look like you, only, I guess, Photoshopped? I mean, you look great. But, well … the eyes? Your eyes changed?"
"Yeah, they did," I said into the mike. "I'm wearing contacts for now, because the color would freak you out more than I already am doing."
"You're not freaking me out," she protested. "Okay, a little –"
"Hey, Bella!" Seth shoved his head into the frame. "Jesus Christ, that vampire juice turned you into a swimsuit model, didn't it? You'd have to pose on an ice floe at night, but man—
"Go away, Seth," Raquel and Edward said simultaneously. Seth whispered in Raquel's ear, but not discreetly enough for vampires: "You are a thousand degrees hotter, baby." Raquel grinned and I laughed as Seth disappeared from the screen.
"That's better," Raquel said. "Although your laugh's different."
"A lot's different," I agreed. Even Raquel was different from my memory of her from several months ago. It wasn't anything in particular – she was just more mature, in a way I never would be without artifice, like Edward's medical-resident glasses.
"But good?" she asked. She'd been asking the same question of Edward, with increasing insistence, since my change, until I had decided I could handle this conversation. In preparation, Edward had supplemented my hazy recollections of her with his own sharp ones.
"Better than good," I assured her. "I'm not sure how long I can talk to you without needing to go for a run, though."
"Or a blood snack?"
"Or a blood snack," I said. It was so like Raquel to call out my euphemism. "There's a lot of moose up here."
"I guess it's like you've got ADHD? I've had a few of those kids in my classes."
"Yeah, so catch me up on what's going on with you and Angela and everyone before I have to go do my own freakout."
So she did, consulting a list from time to time, and asking me questions that had come up for her as executrix of my estate and administrator of the endowments for the food pantries in Forks and Laconia.
"If I'd known you were giving me this much money, I would have stopped you," she said.
"Consider it payment for keeping me up on the news."
"Anytime," she said, shrugging. "It's great to finally see you, even this way. Do you think we'll be able to do it person one day?"
I smiled, happy to hear Raquel sounding more comfortable with my new self. "Absolutely."
"What language do you want to learn first?"
In two years, I had calmed down enough to the point that I could sit, or stand, and read for fairly long stretches, my thirst for blood or exertion quiescent. My first trip into Fairbanks had been dicey even with my phalanx of vampire guards, but now I could venture there without too much discomfort. I'd even met Raquel in Anchorage, Seth glued to her side, Edward glued to mine. I looked up at him from "Don Quijote" and contemplated the question for an instant.
"Dutch," I said. I felt a little sorry for Dutch, since nobody bothers to learn it since everybody figures that the Dutch know every other language instead.
I flitted to the house library for the ancient Dutch grammar book there, and discovered that Alice had already ordered Dutch language tapes and picked them up in Fairbanks. So it was only a few days later that Edward said, "Laten we naar Amsterdam gaan!"
Cullen Air was a lot more convenient than a commercial flight, and not long after we landed we were in a café in the Jordaan where no one seemed to care how long we lingered inside over our untouched coffee. I listened for the nuances and accents that you could learn only from exposure, the newest slang, the fleeting memes, a screenshot of an always-changing language.
Then when the clouds came, I negotiated bike rentals at a shop whose owner, Edward told me, had no idea that I wasn't a native and was surprised only that we didn't already have bikes of our own. We rode out of the city and toward the sea, along pancake-flat paths next to fields of tulips whose colors glowed for us in the dark. Between two villages, there was a grassy border separating a field of red and a field of yellow, and we laid down our bikes, and then ourselves, amid the bobbing heads of flowers that provided a kaleidoscope as we discovered each other yet again.
Learning a language easily was indeed a vampire superpower, but it would pale next to this.
I did them both repeatedly.
Armed with several languages and time-tested control, I went to grad school for applied linguistics, my human ambition – though at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, not Penn - and with Edward.
We didn't truly fit in with the linguistics students, of course, but we were popular with the professors since we came with funding from the Pacific Northwest Trust - it had developed a sudden interest in documenting endangered languages - that allowed for research projects in cold, dark places with many languages and few speakers of them. We spent winter evenings collecting stories from wary Inuit in Nunavut and Yupik in western Alaska, Professor Lieberman shivering on her visits and marveling at how quickly we transcribed Inuinnaqtun into the 163 symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet. With her human ears, she'd never realize how many nuances it missed.
And now we were here, in the middle of the Andaman Sea, on a 28-square-mile island where outsiders were greeted with javelins and arrows, treated as poachers and invaders, their corpses left to rot on their boats. The islanders had, reasonably enough, tried to kill us too, and when they had failed, retreated to consider the matter. We didn't know the language well enough to follow their debate, but apparently they had decided that we weren't like the Indian, Thai and Burmese fishermen who threatened them, and not gods, because their religion didn't seem to allow for that, but not human either, with our glittering, impervious skin.
That was fine with us. We didn't want them to think of us as human, to think that other humans would act as we did. Based on the experience of the other indigenous peoples of the Andaman archipelago – sickened and exploited and disappearing – the islanders should continue to keep other humans as far away as possible. Indeed, the government of India, of which the island was officially a part, had established a three-mile exclusion zone around it to protect the inhabitants from outside predators.
For the same reason, we had arrived with nothing – no recording equipment, no cameras, no clothing that could harbor germs. We had swum from the mainland and set up our shelter on the western shore, out of sight of the settlements of the other islands of the Andaman archipelago. We hid in the trees and listened, absorbing all we could of the islanders' language – which as far as anyone knew was like Quileute, an isolate unconnected to the tongues of the never-visited neighboring tribes. Our goal was to preserve, perhaps for distant posterity, perhaps just for ourselves, a few details of a language and culture that rising seas or famine or economic forces would inevitably destroy.
To that end we had been compiling, without the benefit of any cooperation from native speakers, a Swadesh list of everyday terms. We filed away in our minds the islanders' words for food (lobster, turtle, boar, sapodilla), colors (they had black, white, red and green, but no blue or yellow), and their three counting terms (one, two and many). They divided seasons by rainfall, and always had someone watching the communal fire, since fire-starting wasn't a skill for them. Their only clothing was shell jewelry and tree-fiber belts to hold tools and weapons tipped with metal, flotsam like the coconuts that also washed up on the beaches.
Every couple of weeks, Edward and I swam back to the Thai mainland to dump data and hunt, since we didn't want to unbalance the islanders' ecosystem with our appetites. The rest of the family had set up base in Ranong, an isthmus province along the sea known for its forests and its rain – it had more rainy days than even Forks had. Esme made meticulously detailed drawings of the island's flora and fauna based on our descriptions; when he wasn't treating patients, Carlisle experimented on samples of the tree sap the islanders used as an antibiotic to see if he could synthesize it. They and the other couples were also working with local groups to block plans for a gigantic shipping canal through the isthmus.
Under me, Edward had his eyes closed, his lips moving slightly and silently, singing to himself. I started to lift myself up and off him, but he grabbed my hips.
"Don't go yet," he murmured, and I settled back down against him so we both gasped.
I asked him his own question. "What are you thinking about?"
"You," he said a little dreamily and a lot post-coitally as he rubbed circles with his thumbs over my thighs. "There's a word for you, but that word does not exist in any language."
"It will never be uttered by a human mouth," I sang out the next line of the old song, touching his lips.
"No, it won't," he said with some ferocity. Fortunately for us, with our possessive vampire streak, the islanders found us ugly – unpleasantly pale, with the wrong kind of hair, our too-tall naked bodies lacking in the compact grace they were used to. It was a respite from the ardent glances from all sexes that clothed Edward attracted on the mainland.
"Should we go back to work?" I asked, but only for form's sake. The rain had stopped as suddenly as it had started, leaving the air just as humid as before.
"Not yet," he repeated.
I put the time to productive use, trailing my fingers over smooth, perfect skin and hard muscle, over the spot on his chest where a steel-tipped javelin had bounced off harmlessly when the islanders confronted us. Edward had tossed the weapon back so its maker could repair it.
"Dammit," he grumbled, the sound traveling under my fingertips.
"What?" I asked even as I could hear shouts in the distance. We jumped to our feet.
"Fishermen." He paused for a moment. "Who speak Burmese."
So, poachers from Myanmar who had breached the line of exclusion. If history repeated itself, there would be violence ahead.
We ran into the lagoon along our stretch of beach, careful not to damage the coral with our stone limbs, and started swimming north. When we stuck our heads up a few minutes later to reconnoiter, we saw a flotilla of outrigger dugouts filled with armed islanders. I recognized the young man Des standing in the middle of one, balancing effortlessly, bow ready, as the canoe bounced on the surf.
Farther off, on the other side of the reef, was a fishing boat - not a giant commercial trawler, but large enough to carry several men and plenty of spiny lobsters back to a mainland port.
"Son of a bitch," I breathed, sighting the boat's deck. There was a man aboard holding an automatic weapon of some sort, and as we watched, a shot rang out. Des screamed and flinched, but prepared to aim again.
The paddlers shouted in rage, and the woman with the burns, Noe, shrieked from the shore, where she and the other islanders had gathered. I sank so my nose was under the water, safe from the scent of Des's blood. With one accord, Edward and I kicked our legs and propelled ourselves around the dugouts and through the reef.
The poachers' boat wasn't anchored, and it was easy enough for the two of us to jostle it so that the bastard on deck aiming at Des lost both his balance and his weapon, which flew out of his hands and disappeared into the sea. We disabled the propellers underneath the hull next and used them to push, and the poachers dashed around frantically trying to figure out why their vessel was skimming away from the reef. The yells of the delighted, triumphant islanders faded in the distance as we carried the boat into the empty reaches of the Andaman Sea.
By the time we'd decided that the poachers were far enough away to no longer be a threat, they had vowed to the heavens to never err again, as long as the demons controlling their boat would just leave them alone, Edward told me later. We left them near enough a shore so that they'd be picked up by the coast guard or other fishermen … eventually. Since they had shot Des, I didn't much care about how long it would take for eventually to come.
When we returned to the island, the canoes were back on land, and the islanders in their clearing in the interior. We shook ourselves off in the moonlight, and made our silent way through the forest to the collection of shelters, eager to hear what would be said around the fire tonight. If the conversation was about the confrontation with the poachers, we could make major steps in our comprehension.
We climbed into our favorite tree for observation, and were pleased to find that Des had survived. He was leaning against Noe, his chest wrapped in tree fiber, looking exhausted, but he was alive. The flames flickered off his new necklace, a bullet hanging from sinew.
An older man, the closest the group had to a priest, was talking about how God had driven the poachers away, another sign of how It (since God had a special pronoun, it was unclear what gender, if any, was associated with the deity) watched over the islanders, just as years before when the land shook and a giant wave washed over, It had preserved this clan. I looked at Edward – I couldn't understand everything, but clearly the man was talking about the 2004 tsunami that had killed so many in Asia.
And Edward had discovered something else: "Noe's remembering the disaster," he murmured to me. "She's from a rival group, one that didn't survive." He paused, concentrating. "She lost her baby, and this group took her in, because Des needed a wet nurse, it appears." He paused again. "Because she's an outsider, she's lower-ranking than everyone else, even though Des treats her as his mother. That explains the pronouns. And –" his eyes widened " - she spoke another language – oh, damn, it's slipping away from her. There's no one for her to speak it with. She's realizing how much she's forgotten."
I felt a stab of grief for Noe and her lost life, and her lost language, which was also the world's loss. Edward's arm circled my waist. "She's sad about that, but she's happy now, so happy that Des survived, that no one was hurt," he said. "We can't save her language, but we could do that for her. We saved her new family today."
I leaned my head against Edward's shoulder, taking comfort in his own durability, in his immortality. And in my own. I hadn't always known I wanted to live, but Edward had saved me too.
I told him that, and we slipped away, abandoning the islanders to their stories. We would create our own stories tonight, in private.
Life is a matter of trying to achieve balance. I haven't killed anyone, yet, but the possibility is there, always on the edge of one track of my mind. I can try to contribute something to the world to make up for my future failure, just as Carlisle tries to alleviate the suffering in his emergency room to counterbalance the failures not of himself, but of the children he created, just as Esme puts her skills to work for environmental organizations to make up for her losses of control, just as Alice and Edward manage Pacific Northwest Trust to atone for the deaths that came at their hands.
Life is a matter of choices, choices whose consequences you don't see but are there: whether you drive when you could have walked, whether you buy an item made across the ocean by a repressive regime or one made in your neighborhood, whether you throw something out or make the effort to have it repaired.
Life is a matter of necessities as well: eating, drinking, breathing. It is our collective choices that determine whether we, or other people's children, will be able to do any of those things on a planet we're destroying.
The only choice I don't have is being with Edward. It's a necessity, a compulsion, a desire. I don't even know the word for it, and it may not exist in any language we ever learn.
Chapter title is from the Talking Heads song "Give Me Back My Name": "There's a word for it…/That word does not exist in any language/It will never be uttered by a human mouth." Thanks to Mr. Price for the suggestion.
(November update: This story has been nominated for a contest at TwiFanfictionRecs dot com, if you have a second to cast a vote.)
Bella and Edward's islanders are based on the Sentinelese, one of the world's few remaining "uncontacted" peoples. Of course, since they're uncontacted, not much is known about them, so I've borrowed details about language and culture from the neighboring peoples of the Andamans. What is obvious, though, is that the Sentinelese don't trust outsiders, and other humans – missionaries, fishermen, linguistics students - should stay away from them. (I'm a little uneasy about even B+E, as smart and germ-free as they are, being in contact with them.)
You may notice there's no mention of a wedding - I didn't want to shoehorn a marriage in here. Besides, I don't know if you can demonstrate your commitment to your partner any more thoroughly than by agreeing to study grad-level linguistics.
Thanks so much for reading and reviewing. And again, a special thanks to those of you who have stuck with this story since the beginning - who knew that 21 chapters would take so long? – and an extra, extra special thanks to those of you who have reviewed every chapter; your kindness has been a balm to a writer's insecurities, your loyalty a spur to keep writing.
To my surprise, I have another idea for an AU, so put me on Author Alert if you're interested.