Acknowledgement: Thanks, as always, to HollettLA. And to Mully Hollett, who so graciously shares her.
A/N: A few housekeeping items before we get started:
This is a "Twilight"/ "Remember Me" crossover. If you haven't seen "Remember Me" and don't want to be spoiled, I suggest you avoid continuing with this story. If you have seen "Remember Me" and are familiar with how it ended, you will understand the possible triggers that may exist in this story. If you are unsure, please feel free to PM me and I will be happy to explicate.
Many of the song lyrics used in this story come from Bruce Springsteen's The Rising album, which he wrote in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001.
"We'll let blood build a bridge over mountains draped in stars
I'll meet you on the ridge between these worlds apart
We've got this moment now to live, then it's all just dust and dark
Let's let love give what it gives."
Even after all these years, a crystalline sky is still the first thing I remember. That perfect, uninterrupted expanse of bright cornflower blue, cloudless and idyllic, a world-famous cityscape sparkling beneath a crisp Indian summer sun. Today's sky is a similar shade of cerulean, but puffy white clouds sail idly overhead, their reflections sliding along mirrored skyscraper façades.
The soft roar of cascading water is nearly enough to mute the sounds of the city around me: the intermittent rumble of the subway underground, the background roar of traffic like blood through the veins of city streets, the scrapes and clicks of pedestrian traffic. If the nearby trees had leaves, a small breeze rustling them would likely be enough to drown out the urban pulse entirely. As it is, the few leaves that cling to the limbs are brittle and brown, remnants of a fall long past, the branches otherwise starkly barren. The young trees are uniform in size, organized in rows like soldiers awaiting the signal from Mother Nature that the long, harsh winter is over and they can burst back to life.
The only perennial that doesn't seem to belong is a weary warrior to this sentry of enlisted saplings. A twisted knot of metal and rubber embraces its mangled girth to keep it upright, and great, gaping craters dot the trunk where boughs were ripped away. Allegedly, it will bloom in late spring; I doubt I'll see it flower. Still, despite its scars, its imperfections, I suppose there is consolation to be found in the simple fact of its survival, however dismembered.
I tip my head back and the crisp not-quite-spring sunshine is bright, but not yet warm enough to counteract the chill of cold stone beneath me. Visible through the branches of the rescued tree before me is a pillar of glass that rises into the sky like a sword. A giant mirror echoing the day's idyll, it is a tower of perfection until the top, where a crane hovers and the highest floors remain unfinished, the structure's bones visible from the outside. As I contemplate its incompletion, my eyes refocus on something in the closer distance: a small bird's nest in the uppermost branches of the Callery pear, the wounded soldier tree braced by steel ropes and knots. The Survivor Tree, memorial literature has christened it.
There are no birds in sight, save the ever-present pigeons, but the nest is there, made more obvious by the lack of leaves or blooms on the branches – a clump of debris salvaged and culled and relocated just out of reach. I rise, warm blood rushing to the backs of my thighs as I part ways with the cold stone, and approach the gnarled tree, around which a cluster of people stand with cameras and iPhones, snapping pictures and reaching out to touch the places on the tree where limbs have been lost – out of curiosity, grief, sympathy, or voyeurism I can't be sure, but I step closer to consider the tree without touching it. It isn't until I'm standing right beside the silver steel ring that creates a mockery of a barrier around it that I note the tiny almost-buds peeking out along the surviving branches. My eyes flick back up to the nest once more before I step back, absorbing the image of old, damaged tree in foreground, new, shining tower in background. Someone knocks into my shoulder and mutters what sounds like an apology in a language I don't understand. I nod, move on.
Stepping toward the nearest of the two square pools, I can feel the faintest spray on my face, very nearly unnoticeable. Closing my eyes, I let my hipbones rest against the bronze parapet, breathe in the faintly damp air. When I open them, a barely-there rainbow appears in the mist cast off by the falling water. The sky is a perfect, robin's egg blue, its brilliance reflected in the gleaming new architecture bordering this now-open space. Mirrored glass reflecting light, reflecting perfect blue skies, reflecting billowing white clouds and bright spring sunshine. Perfect tranquility where there was once chaotic devastation.
I squint as I stare upward, the parapet unforgiving against my bony hips, and to either side of me, people reach out and touch engraved names with single fingertips and entire palms. I don't touch the name etched in front of me; instead, I bring my palm up to my sternum and press it flat against the space where my heart beats steadily in my chest beneath wool coat and fleece top and cotton bra before sliding it down and beneath my arm, above xylophone ribs and inked skin. My face still tipped toward the sky, I close my eyes and remember. A perfect blue canvas marred by twin curls of acrid smoke, then a billowing cloud of dust, the everyday sounds of the city yielding to the roar of destruction and pealing screams of terror.
As I stand blind, hand registering only the faintest echo of my own heartbeat, I do what I've made it my life's mission not to do: I look back.