Thank you guys, as always, for the wonderfully awesome reviews. Well, this is it… The Epi. Feeling kind of nervous about posting the finale, but… see you at the bottom!
Recap: …do you really need one? ;)
Disclaimer: I do not own twilight, but the mermaids and other original points are mine. Please don't take them.
Epilogue: The Meadow – BPOV
Two weeks later
After everything that had happened, after everything we'd gone through, going back to the mundane routines of everyday was both an immense relief… and really jarring. Were we supposed to just pick up the threads of our lives and carry on as if none of it had ever happened? How? Well, with the twin threats of Mara and Balthazar no longer hanging over our heads, I could come and go as I pleased, so I decided to start by bringing lunch to Charlie at the station.
Edward was a little reluctant to let me out of the house alone – I could see the flicker of worry in his eyes – and Charlie, likewise, was uneasy about letting me drive home afterwards. No surprise considering what had happened the last time I'd attempted the trip. But it was an important step I had to take. A way to retake my life. And both of them had manfully managed to set aside their fears and put up minimal resistance. Although, I mused as I pulled out of the station parking lot, I'd bet they were on the phone to each other the second I was out of sight, hanging on both sides of the line until I got home.
As if to prove my point, when I pulled into the Cullens' driveway it was to find a very relieved looking Edward perched on the front steps. He'd been waiting. And he beamed when he saw me.
"How was Charlie today?" he asked as he opened my door.
"Happy," I clicked, clambering out and delivering a peck on his cheek. "I took him a toasted bacon sandwich with jalapeños and barbecue sauce."
Edward wrinkled his nose in the most adorable way. "Sounds delightful."
I laughed as we scaled the steps; it still came out high and chiming. "I made one for Mark too, his colleague. He'd said before that he would like one. He seemed happy about it."
"And you… managed to talk okay?"
That was still an issue, of course. Mermaid vocal chords were a bit more of a hindrance when dealing with everyday things on land than they had been while I was closeted away in the Cullen manor.
I sighed. "I managed. Shrugs, nods, and general expressions made-up for a lot. When Mark said 'thanks' I gave him a big thumbs-up. At least my dad knew what to expect. I think he'd told the other staff there too. They already seemed to know that I couldn't talk."
He nodded his understanding, his hand nestled on my lower back as we wandered into the lounge. Rose and Emmett were currently out with Kali, and Carlisle was at work, but Jasper was propped in one corner reading a book and Alice was working away on some project on the computer. Through the doorway to the kitchen, I could Esme flitting about. It was pleasant seeing them like this, functioning as a normal family, with no stress or worries to hold them back. We'd had enough of those already to last several lifetimes.
"Jacob rang while you were out," Edward said as we sat on the sofa together.
"Oh?" Pulling up one of my legs, I shifted to face him. "What did he have to say? Is Riana okay?"
"Yes, she's fine, recovering very well at Billy's. Apparently she's already making herself at home amongst the pack. Jacob said she and Paul have been tag-teaming Embry on Halo. There was a lot of shouting and laughing in the background."
After we had returned home, Riana had slept for the next full day before waking. Once she had, she'd been a little miffed that she had been unconscious for the entire epic voyage home, but once she got a glimpse of my memories… she wasn't so miffed. The part that troubled her most was that she had been unable to defend her sisters during the attack.
Once some time had passed and she had more fully recovered, Riana had taken a deep breath and told me that, although she was happy to live here with the Cullens, and that she would always be grateful for the hospitality and friendship they had shown her, she felt that she didn't feel quite right in their house. She was going to live on the reservation with Billy and Jake. I wasn't surprised. I could have seen that one coming a mile off.
"I want a family of my own," she'd said, twisting the sheet between her fingers where she sat in bed, "and with Jake I think I can have that again. I don't mean that you aren't-"
I stopped her fretting by touching her hand. She dropped the sheet.
"It's okay, I understand, believe me. Edward is my family now too. And I bet Jake still has our old motorbikes. You'd like them." I could just imagine them both riding together.
Her eyes bugged. "Motorbikes?" Then she had smiled… slyly. "Awesome…"
Kali had cried profusely when Jake had come to pick her up. She was now staying with Rosalie and Emmett permanently, and she did not like the idea of one of her last remaining sisters leaving her. But before going, Riana had set down her small travel bag and touched her cheek, explaining that she would not be far and that she would visit Kali and me often. And that, now the treaty had been lifted, we could visit her whenever we liked.
It had been hard to let go. I hugged her tight before Jake whisked her away, whispering into her ear that she would always be my sister. That that would never change.
That had been several days ago now.
"Most of her burns have healed, like your own." Edward was saying, and when I looked over at him, I noticed he was scrutinising one of my arms. Holding one hand in his, he traced the pinkish skin. His cool touch was delightful. "The only real difference to either of you is that your skin is a shade darker now. You've both healed remarkably well, faster than a human would have." Looking into my eyes, he smiled and placed an icy palm against my cheek. Ahhh, my eyes slipped shut as I leaned into it.
"I wonder if mermaids can get skin cancer?" I mumbled.
He shrugged. "If you do we have an easy solution."
My eyes snapped open. We did… but we hadn't really talked about it. I wasn't ready to, not yet, not when everything was just getting back to normal. Plus, there were other things to consider now…
His calm amber eyes were searching mine and he gave a slight nod. He must have seen the hesitation. It wasn't that I didn't want to become a vampire. I was just… not ready yet.
"I spoke to Kiera earlier, while you were out hunting with Jasper," I said, cannily steering the subject away– it was the first time he'd conceded to go since our return. "She had Sam call me from the beach, so I picked up Riana and we stopped by."
Kiera had taken over the colony after Mara's fall. It had been utter chaos until she and her two elder sisters had returned. And now she and Randall were working to bring the place back into order. She was instigating a regime change too: no more human hunting. It seemed that with Mara's demise, her hold over the other sisters had gradually waned. Her suppression of their emotions was lifting. They were leaving their blind-obedience trance-like state and beginning to feel again. And no longer wanted to cause harm like that.
"She had some exciting news," I went on. "She says she's successfully re-established contact with a number of other colonies: Tirran (the Aussies), Afrikan (near Africa), and one I'd never heard of before, Vannby (Norway). Apparently the lack of socialisation between us really was just a case of Mara's ethical choices. The other colonies do not condone human killing to get blood, or the suppressing of emotion in those they turn. But as our policies have now changed, they felt that they can once again extend the hand of friendship."
A delegation had arrived yesterday and Kiera brought them to First Beach to meet with Riana and I. I don't know what I had expected, but for some reason I was shocked at how similar they were to us, if a little less… feral. Some of them were very elegant and refined, almost regal in their demeanours. One colony's mermaids wore shirts. Another brought males… so it turned out that men could be turned too. Mara just hadn't wanted them in our colony. Needless to say, that news had been greeted with a good amount of excitement amongst our girls.
"Their colony leaders sent several representatives," I continued, "and two of them, Riddian and Bronwyn, sent word of Giovanni's search for his daughter, Solie."
Edward's eyebrows rose in surprise. "That was fast."
I nodded. "That's what I thought. They seemed to think that he may have a chance of finding her. Apparently, a girl of her description was taken from these waters to live in the Irish colony. Mara turned her some years ago but the girl wouldn't settle so she sent her away. Kiera has no memory of her face – Mara kept her secluded after her change – and once she was gone, Kiera and the others forgot about her. And now, of course, Mara is gone and there's no one left to ask. Giovanni is on his way to talk with their leaders, Sarayu and Mirala, as we speak."
"Good news all around then." He grinned and, leaning in, his lips captured mine. The kiss was clearly meant to be chaste, short and sweet, but it didn't stay that way for long. Soon my breathing was hitching and I was clutching at his shirt, grasping the nape of his neck…
It had been that way with us ever since the wedding.
We'd gotten married last week. With the help of Alice, Edward had managed to pull something together as soon as I was feeling better. It wasn't anything like the marvellous spectacle Alice had originally envisioned. Most of my high-school friends had left for college now and I wanted to keep it small. Instead, we'd gotten married on the beach at sunset with a small gathering from Forks. Riana and Kali had been my bridesmaids, along with Alice. Carlisle had presided, Emmett and Jasper had been bestmen, Esme and Rosalie had played violins. Charlie had given me away while Renee cried in Phil's arms, and the mermaids had gotten to watch, subtly, from the sea – we had another celebration with them later.
Even the pack had attended. Jake had been my goofy bestman, Seth the ring-bearer. And even Angela and Ben had returned just for the event. As had a few others… but I'd barely noted who… Once I'd seen Edward waiting for me at the make-shift altar, in a dapper suit of charcoal grey, with his hair sleeked back, I hadn't been able to focus on anything else.
His eyes had shone as I'd closed in, brighter than I'd ever seen them.
"You're a vision, Bella," he'd whispered as my dad had passed my hand into his.
"Likewise," I managed to breath.
Everything else had been a blur but him. I couldn't take my eyes away. I managed to speak my parts, and when asked "Will you take this man?" I'd nodded, emphatically.
When Edward had placed the ring on my finger his hand had discernibly shaken. I'd squeezed it and as he'd looked up, his face had knocked the breath from my lungs. Beyond ecstatic, he was euphoric. Then we'd been turned to face the gathering, all of whom applauded loudly. Renee had bounced in her seat next to Phil, Charlie had had tears in his eyes, and my new family all wore dazzling smiles. As I'd watched them all, with tears rolling down my cheeks and my heart leaping in a joyous beat, I'd known… Mara no longer had a hold on my emotions. They weren't stunted or dim. They were well and truly my own again.
Alice sent wedding notifications to Volterra the day after – according to a vision she'd had they were planning a visit, but she saw that her move would delay that indefinitely.
And now I was officially Mrs Edward Cullen.
We'd talked about college on and off since then, we'd touched on my potential change, but we hadn't really spoken of anything seriously. We'd just been enjoying our time together, finally unencumbered by fear and danger. Although… our honeymoon hadn't exactly been what I'd thought either. The Cullens had been good enough to let us have the house to ourselves for a night, and they had all gone off together for a celebratory hunt. But Edward had been too worried to take me any further from home just yet. After all, I was still recovering, and with my mermaid traits travelling was a little difficult. He promised we'd have a proper honeymoon in the future, he planned to take me travelling across the world, but all of that didn't really matter to me. I just wanted him. When I told him as much his kiss had been scalding… I remembered it clearly, it was very similar to the way his lips moved now, exploring, deepening… Someone cleared their throat and through the daze he'd created I remembered that we were still in the lounge… and making a spectacle of ourselves. Oops.
His breathing was heavy as he pressed his forehead to mine. "Let's go upstairs" he said.
He got no argument from me.
Lifting me in his arms, bridal style, he flew up to his room.
I wondered how different it would be, experiencing physical love as a vampire. Would the sensations feel stronger? The emotions blaze brighter? My heart would no longer be trying to leap its way from my chest whenever his fingers caressed the length of my naval, or his lips decorated my collarbone in scintillating kisses… Although we hadn't spoken much about the change, it was a topic we always spiralled back to. It seemed that now Edward knew it was possible for me, he was having a hard time leaving it alone. Strange turn-around from how he had been just a few months ago, wishing to avoid any mere mention of it. To be fair to him, he did try to restrain himself, but I knew it was hard for him, not talking about it. He didn't know what I was thinking, what I wanted, and that's what was eating at him.
So as we lay about in his room that afternoon, swaddled in ruffled bedsheets, I finally brought it up again myself, to relieve his suffering. He'd just gotten up to select some music when I spoke. "With the new situation in the colony, and with Kiera now the newly designated leader, it appears that Randall is now a little reluctant to change her."
Where he stood by his bookshelves, I saw his back tense. "Understandable," he said calmly, smoothly, perhaps only I could notice the little hitch in his tone. He probably thought I no longer wanted to become a vampire. That wasn't the reason why I was deliberating…
Flipping onto my stomach on his bed, I regarded him closely. How would he take this?
"There is another reason Randall is reluctant to change Kiera so soon…" I paused.
He turned then, giving me a slight smile. "I cannot read your mind, Bella. Remember?"
"It might upset you." It was both a warning and a preparation.
"You can tell me anything, Bella. I will always listen."
Deep breath, dive in… "After several centuries, she has started to think that she might want children…" I spoke slowly, watching his expression carefully. He just about managed to suppress the flinch. "And if he changes her that will no longer be a possibility…"
Edward nodded, knowingly. Though his face remained blank, there was a slight slouch in his stance. It looked like defeat, or resignation. He came to crouch before me.
"Bella, I've always told you that if you ever want that I will never stand in your way-"
"-All I need is you," I answered quickly. Which made him smile, albeit sadly.
"Yes, you've said, but if you do want children… I would never stand in your way. I just wish, with all my heart, that I was able to give you them myself."
As if I would want another man's child. The very idea made my skin grow cold. If I ever did want children, I'd only want his. Which was what led me onto my next point…
I nodded, and smiling, touched his cheek. "I know. But if I ever want children, you wouldn't need to worry about that. You see, Randall knows a bit more about mermaid lore than he perhaps let on, and he has been speaking to this vampire he met in South America. I think he said his name was Jonah… Joham… something. Anyway, Randall is reluctant to change Kiera right now because… if he did, that would stop her from carrying his child."
I watched him closely but the second those words were spoken Edward seemed to freeze. He'd never looked so much like a marble statue. He'd even stopped breathing.
I waited, patiently.
Eventually, he blinked. "But… that's not…"
"Possible? Apparently it is. There's evidence, half-vampire children in South America. It's been done before. Apparently we're not as rare in couple terms as we thought."
The breath he expelled sounded more like a choke. "We could have a child together?"
His eyes darted between mine as if he was sure he had misheard.
"We could." My smile became a grin. I couldn't help it. "Although, Kiera said that any pregnancy would have to be closely monitored. There would be blood-drinking involved," I shrugged, "but then, what doesn't involve blood-drinking these days?"
"We could have a child." He was still stuck on that part, it seemed.
His brow darkened. "And you would be safe?"
Of course that would be his first priority, and I loved him for it. That was my Edward, always taking me into consideration first.
"From what I gather, yes. We should still do more research and take care, but from what Randall said, it is much less dangerous for a mermaid. If I were still human it may have killed me, but my body is much stronger than it used to be and could endure it now."
In a flash I was off the bed, clutched in his arms as he swung me about in a circle, laughing. I laughed too, throwing my head back and giving myself up to the sensation. His happiness was infectious! When he slowed, it was only to press his firm lips to mine. That, there? What I saw in his eyes? That was utter exuberance.
Finally, he set me down safely on my feet.
"I can give you that…" he breathed, nuzzling my neck. "We'd have to talk to Carlisle, do research, be very careful indeed. Anything with my genetics might be very strong."
His brightness was beginning to dim a little as he thought it through, but I didn't want him to worry about that, not right now, we could fret about the details later. For now I just wanted him happy. With all the stress and upset he'd had recently he deserved at least some.
I cupped his cheeks, pulling his face up to plant a delicate kiss on his cool marble lips.
"Of course, so… you would want that?" I ventured.
"Of course," he gasped, eyes brimming with happiness again. "I want everything with you, Bella. As long as you want it too."
I grinned. "You'd be okay with having a merpire then? Or would it be a vampmaid?"
He scoffed. "As opposed to Jacob and Riana who will be having merwolves? At least our offspring would have a more definite idea, genetically, of what species to lean towards, but theirs? Fish, wolf, human… Who knows what those two might cook up between them?" He grinned. "Good genetic matches, indeed. So much for imprinting."
I couldn't stop smiling. Pushing back his beautiful mop of bronze hair, I said, "We might have to start thinking of baby names?"
"Already?" He laughed, eyebrows high. Then his face froze, his voice went sharp. "You're not… already…?" It sounded like he was choking.
"Oh no! No, no! At least, not that I know of…" Now that he mentioned it, it wasn't like it couldn't be a possibility. We hadn't exactly been careful.
As if on cue, we both looked down to my stomach. Still flat as a pancake, from what I could tell. Not that that meant anything in the early stages…
"I'm almost certain I'm not."
Still, Edward's eyes were fixed and slowly, he placed his palm over the bare skin of my stomach, making the flesh beneath quiver. He didn't move. His face didn't change. Slowly, I brought my hand up to place over his. That was when he blinked, returning to me, his eyes lifting.
"But if I was…?"
He swallowed hard. "Then it would be a miracle…" Breathing deep, he shook his head, plastering on a smile over the slight worry etched over his brow. That was my Edward though, even if we were both human he'd still worry. "So, baby names?" I could tell he was trying to revert to a lighter track.
"Hmm, well it might take some thought," I said, playing along. "It would have to be something special for such a unique child. How about mixing up our parent's names? Fathers' for a boy, mothers' for a girl?"
"You have been putting thought into this already. Go on then, what do you have in mind?"
"Well, how about Carlie for a boy? Carlisle and Charlie. And something like Renesmee for a girl? Renee and Esme."
He tried to control his features, he really did. But my mermaid enhanced vision was too sharp – it caught the slight crinkling of his nose.
"You don't like them," I surmised. "I know they are a little odd."
"It's not that exactly," he hedged. "It's just… Renesmee? I know any child of ours wouldn't exactly be of the standard mould but the shortened version of that is Nessie… Do you really want to name our potential half-mermaid daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?"
I sighed. "I see your point."
"So," I said, more seriously now, "this might be something we could consider?"
He grinned again – his classic, crooked smile that lit up his entire face. "Yes, Bella, I think this definitely merits further thought." Then he canted his head to one side – that was his thinking face. "You know what? This calls for a celebration!"
"What do you have in mind?"
"Don't get upset…" He started warily, holding up his hands. "There's a present I was saving for your birthday. It's not quite complete, but… I'd like to show you it now."
Present? He knew how I felt about those… but as I looked into his handsome face, and saw the grin he was trying to suppress, I just couldn't bring myself to ruin his mood. Instead, I smiled and held out my hands. "Okay then, let me see it."
But he was already shaking his head. Ah, so it was not the kind of present you handed over then. My trepidation upped a notch but I managed to quash it.
"Come on, get dressed and then I'll show you."
After hurriedly throwing on jeans and t-shirt – even now I was always slower than him – he'd moved to open his window and, turning around, presented his back to me.
He looked over his shoulder. "Hop on, Bella."
Wind whipped the hair from my face as we flew through the woods, rushing through ferns and tress. It had been a long time since I'd been carried like this on his back. I didn't realise until that moment just how much I'd missed it. A smile stole over my lips as I closed my eyes, held my face into the wind, and clutched my vampire close.
Soon, there was a change in the air. Hints of salt and… fish. The sea! My eyes snapped wide. He'd taken me to somewhere we'd never been before; a cliff-top meadow with swaying grasses and wildflowers of white and deep purple. The sea breeze danced amongst them.
As we emerged from the trees, Edward pointed towards the edge of the cliffs, where a wattle-and-daub cottage overlooked the glistening blue sea. The entire thing was plastered in white, with dark brown beams. It looked like something from the English countryside.
"There it is," Edward said quietly. "Your present."
As I slipped from his shoulders, all I could do was gape. "This… is for me? For us?"
He was tentative, not meeting my eyes. "Do you like it? I built it myself."
"Like it?" I gasped. "I love it! Edward, it's gorgeous!" Tears sprung to my eyes; they came so easily these days with my emotions liberated. A laugh burst from my lips as I covered my face. "You built this for us?"
"I thought it would be nice to have a place of our own," he said, eyeing me meaningfully, "now that we're married. A place for us to get away to, to be alone…"
His lips descended, nuzzling my neck as he peppered my skin with heated kisses. Eyes slipping closed, I let my head fall back. He was very good at that. As I ran my fingers through his hair I could feel my skin heating, his breathing escalating, his kisses building…
Somehow, he pulled himself away, clearing his throat. He must have missed my sigh; he was looking away at the cottage again.
"It's not fit for habitation just yet," he said. "Half of the rafters and floors have been pulled out to be replaced, but I just wanted to show you."
His eyes danced as he looked back to me and like so many times before I was struck speechless. He'd given me such a beautiful gift, and yet I had nothing for him in return… Then it came to me. I did have something. Just as his lips returned to mine I pulled back.
He frowned. "This word," he growled playfully, "I don't like it."
He dove back in to nuzzle my neck and I laughed. "Oh, I think you'll like this."
I pushed him back once again and his frown depended. "I'm not liking it so far."
"Shh," I said. Holding his arms, I made him step back a few paces. "For this to work, I'll need total concentration."
He was watching me with interest now. I saw that before I closed my eyes and tried to shut out everything: the sound of grass swaying, the smell of sea-salt, the caress of the breeze… Then I plucked a memory from my mind, focussing it, honing it, sharpening it like a knife, until it had perfect clarity. I chose the moment I'd first seen him, across the cafeteria in Forks, then, when I was sure the image was perfect, I pushed it out with all of my might.
I couldn't be sure it was working, reaching him, not until-
"Shhh," I grinned, focussing on it as the image swayed. "I need to-"
His kiss silenced me, slamming into my lips, and as the image shattered I laughed. Yep, he'd seen it. I opened my eyes to find him dumbfounded. His expression was pure shock.
"That was you? Your mind?" he asked, caressing my cheeks as his eyes darted between mine. "Did you… what did you do? Open it to me?"
"Not exactly," I grinned. "Riana has been teaching me how to project my thoughts."
This was something he'd wanted for a very long time – to see inside my head – and I was so glad I could finally give him that, if only a glimpse of it.
"Close enough." He looked contemplative. "Can you do it again?"
"Only if you don't distract me."
His hands dropped from my face in a flash, so I closed my eyes, trying once again. This time I chose another memory. Something fresher; the way he'd looked at me on our wedding day, as we'd exchanged vows on the beach, his joy, his dazzling smile. I didn't just push the image out this time but my emotions too, recalling just how I'd felt in that moment, the utter jubilance-
Again his lips slammed into mine and I couldn't help but laugh as the image dispersed. He just couldn't help himself. "I love you, Bella Cullen."
My laughter subsided as I touched his cheek. "I love you too, Edward Cullen."
Before my abduction, I'd always been in such a rush to have everything with Edward, feeling that if we didn't cram it all in it would be lost. I was ageing, he wasn't. Our time together was finite. But now? Whatever our future plans: college, careers, vampire-change, children… It didn't matter so much. We didn't have to rush into anything. All of it could wait for whenever we were ready. Because now, neither of us were ageing, and all of those options were open to us. We didn't have to pick and choose. Potentially we could have it all.
Forever stretches out before us, I mused as he held me close and the wind buffeted us on the clifftop, all we have to do is take it one step at a time.
So, there you go. That's the end, folks. It's been one wild ride and thanks to everyone who's joined it – whether you're a silent reader or a vocal reviewer. I cannot express how much your support has meant along the way, over the years (wow, it's been how many?!). Sometimes I'd get very kind reviews or PMs or fav/fols at times when they really made a difference; they'd prompt me to type again. Artwork too! (Have you seen the links on my profile? Big thanks to LittleNudgerLove and Silverhawkk88 for making such awesome pieces). And thanks to Rob Attack too for their lovely review/article a while back. When I said to myself back in 2011, 'I haven't read a mermaid twific, maybe I should write one.' I never anticipated this epic monster, or just how long it would take to write. But then, I'd never attempted to write anything like this before. Hell, I hadn't even written a short story since high school! This was my first big fic. And I'm so glad I wrote it. Creating it, posting it, sharing it with all of you and hearing your responses even encouraged me to write and submit original fiction too – to big scary publishers. So a huuuge thanks to the whole twific community, who create such amazing works and prompted this, and thanks to all you awesome guys who kept me writing, right up to the final word, pushing this over the finish line. All this is just as much for you as it is for me. Hope you guys had a fun read. I know I certainly enjoyed writing it for you. All the best, Nemma x
P.S. For those who asked - I have a few other twifics half-done, but in the last year, I've found it harder to find time for SS, RL demands and all that, hence the gaps between updates. But… should I ever get time to finish any of them, I'll add a note on here to let you know. It probably won't be in the near future though. For now, if you want something else to dig your teeth into, you can always check out my fav list. ;)
A/N: (09/02) Just heard that SS has been nominated for fav August complete fic over at Twifanfictionrecs! So, erm, if you had fun reading this story, and you feel so inclined, I'd certainly appreciate your votes. As I'm sure would the other fab authors on the list - more juicy fics to add to your TBR right there. :)