A/N: Back again! Finally made it to the last bit. Even though I think in terms of word count this story is almost exactly the same length as New Moon, it felt longer, maybe because the update schedule was slower.
I have to admit, I've been dreading putting this one up. Hopefully I'll still be alive when you read the last half of this chapter. (If you don't like where my Breaking Dawn seems to be going, there's always WinterSunshine's version to look forward to, and it's already several chapters in. It's always nice to have alternatives, eh?)
Anyway, as always, hope you enjoy, and see you at the end!
Edit June 2021: I actually cut the original second half of the epilogue here entirely. Notes at the end for slightly more on that.
"So, just how long is this going to take? Huh, Black?"
I didn't turn to look at Lee, where he'd sauntered up to stand beside where I sat, on the hard rock on the edge of my cliff. This was my place—the place I'd always gone to get away when I needed a place to get away to, even before my life had changed into some crazy circus of mythical monsters. Not that I'd needed it all that much before then.
"I mean," Lee continued, sprawling himself out on the bare rock face beside me, head propped up on one elbow, "You're starting to give me ulcers. I really don't know how much more of this I'll be able to take."
I glanced in Lee's direction for the first time.
This spot had always been my place, a place only I knew about, where I could go to be alone. At least before I joined the pack, and every little thing in my mind became common property. No secrets—that was part of the sisterhood of the Quileute wolves. But even then, the others had all kept away, let me have my space. All except Lee, who loved nothing more than to get in my face and grind my last nerve.
Before he'd joined the pack, a lot of the girls had thought he was kind of dreamy—those deep, dark eyes, and wavy black hair. I'd always found him a bit too boy-band for my taste, but now that he was a part of the pack, no one thought he was even remotely good-looking anymore. If the pack was a well-oiled machine, then Lee was a squeaky bolt, a constant annoyance. Or at least, he tried his level best to be.
"Go jump off a cliff, Lee," I said calmly. "There's one right here. If you need any help, just tell me."
A few months ago, I had been pretty easy to set off. All it took was a little needling, and I'd feel the fire shudder down my spine as my entire frame shook and tried to be taken over with the wolf—but the control came naturally to me now. I didn't shudder, no red haze tinted my vision.
Lee continued as if I hadn't spoken. "See, look at things from my perspective. Your little obsession with this leech-lover is affecting me, too. Last night I dreamed I was making out with the guy—I mean, what the hell? I shouldn't have to go through that."
I felt a tinge of heat creep up my face, but I kept my expression even. That was typical Lee—other people's heartbreak was nothing, all that mattered was how it affected him personally.
"Sorry to be such an inconvenience," I said, drawing out the words in mock-penitence. "Want me to pay for your therapy?"
He shook his head. "I don't need therapy, I need for this to be over. How about I give you some free advice?"
I was still gazing out at the ocean, the waves rolling far out on the horizon. My nose wrinkled. Advice from Lee was about as welcome as wet socks, and smelled almost as bad. "I have a better idea," I answered. "You take your little fantasy that all the stars and planets orbit the little place where you're standing, and go away."
"Here's the thing," he said, ignoring me. "Beau Swan's gone. He's going to marry that thing—end of story. So give it a rest and move on."
I was sitting very still now, no longer relaxed. I stared straight ahead.
Lee had hit a nerve and he knew it. His mouth twitched in a triumphant smile.
"He's going to be one of them before long anyway," he continued, pressing his advantage. "If he even survives. All the stories say they die more often than not. That would be better closure than a wedding if you ask me." He was grinning full on now, showing his even, white teeth.
This time it was a fight. I could feel the hot taste in my mouth, the fire trying to slide its way down my back as my body tried to shake apart. I wrestled with it, forcing it back down, forcing myself to keep it together.
When I was still again, I turned my head to give Lee a cold look. He smiled back. He loved that—getting a rise out of me. After everything went wrong in his life, he thought it gave him a bit of control. What a moron. Because the very weapon he could level at me, drawing the most painful thoughts of my mind to use against me, I could also use against him—and he was even more of an idiot if he thought I wouldn't.
"You know, Lee," I drawled, "I might try being more considerate if I were you. If you think sharing my thoughts is bad, think of how the rest of us feel being forced to share a mind with you. Catching ourselves making doe eyes at Sam, you honestly make us all feel kind of pathetic. You might as well daydream about kissing Beau some more—you have about the same chance of that happening."
I was prepared to keep going, warming up to some more devastating attacks. However, Lee didn't have near the same tolerance or control as I did, and I watched his face contort, first with a sharp twist of pain, then anger.
He leaped to his feet, cursing me furiously, then spun and ran for the trees, vibrating like a tuning fork.
I watched him go with mingled satisfaction and guilt. Sam would probably give me grief for poking at his wounds, even though it was his own fault for acting like a jerk. He shouldn't be dishing it out if he wasn't prepared to take it. Maybe he'd think twice about bugging me now.
I turned again to stare out at the great, vast ocean, listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the jagged stone cliff below. I tried to shake off Lee's words, but I couldn't—not the very thoughts that had been going through my mind again and again, etching themselves there until they would never be erased.
I'd given up fighting. Now that I had, it didn't seem so completely unbearable—I could live with the fact that I'd lost, and Beau had chosen someone else. I could live my annoyingly long life alone.
But a fear continued to curl in my stomach—two fears, like twin blades, impaling my insides from two angles.
If this were a normal world, then Beau's choice would only mean that I would be alone—that I wouldn't be the one to share his life, wouldn't have his kids or be allowed to be the one there for him in the hard times. The loss was a heavy blow, almost overpowering, but I could take it.
But this wasn't a normal world, and Beau had chosen a vampire. And soon, he would become one of them—one of the very monsters who haunted the nightmares of all our tribe, who made our nostrils burn and our blood boil with the need to kill. His heart would stop beating, his skin would ice over and his eyes would burn red. His mind would crystallize into that of a deadly predator, consumed by only one thing—could the creature he had chosen to become still be Beau? Or would he be a stranger?
And then, of course, he may not make it through the transformation—he could die in the process. Beau had seemed confident he would make it, but Lee was right, all the stories said otherwise. Maybe the bloodsucker had sugarcoated the chances—she sugarcoated a lot of things.
And a small part of me wondered if Lee was right about something else—if it would be better if Beau did die, and didn't have the chance to become a monster, to become what the Beau of now would surely hate. How could I bear to see the person I loved hurt someone? Kill someone? I didn't want to see anything happen to him, but for Beau... wouldn't allowing him to betray himself be the worst betrayal of all?
I watched the swells roll toward the beach, disappearing from sight under the edge of the cliff. My thoughts continued to brew, like a coming storm, indecision pulling me in two, pain burning in my chest, and of course, an unquenchable, slowly building anger. I knew I was about to lose the most important person in my life, and I was helpless to do anything to stop it. I wished I could escape—to allow my shape to shift and change was often a relief, to escape my human mind and find refuge in the simple needs of the wolf. But I knew Lee was out there now, and the last thing I wanted was to have him in my head.
I don't know how long I sat there on the edge of the cliff, gazing out at the water. But the sun had long since sunk behind the horizon when I finally climbed to my feet.
I didn't really want to go home. I'd been staying away more and more lately—I probably seemed like I was turning into some kind of delinquent, but I preferred to be out running in the woods as opposed to sitting around the house, or even working in my garage. It felt like that life was far behind me now, and the garage especially now held too many painful memories, colored with regret and the bitter aftertaste of failed hopes.
But I was hungry, and unless I wanted to go foraging in the forest for mushrooms, I didn't have much choice.
I forced my arm through my sling and picked up my crutches—just props, of course, I was already completely healed from my injuries. But Charlie had seen me that day and everyone knew about my "motorcycle accident." So I had to keep putting on a show.
When I walked in the front door of my house and got a look at the expression on my mom's face, I nearly turned around and walked out again. I knew that look—that overly casual, nonchalant look she got when she had something to tell me she'd rather not.
She talked more than usual, too, rambling on about the day and some mundane plans to go fishing with so-and-so next week. The rambling was another sign. She didn't usually talk so much.
I decided to pretend like I hadn't noticed, focusing my attention on the food in front of me. I'd get it down as fast as possible, then I'd be out the door again. Maybe I'd get away before she worked up to whatever it was she was avoiding.
"...and Saul stopped by today," she was saying. She spoke a little louder than usual, making it hard to ignore. "Good father. It takes a lot of grit, raising a daughter in the pack. And now he has a son, too. I don't know how he's managing it, and from what I've heard, that Lee was a handful before the change."
She waited briefly for my response, but I said nothing. Even hearing Lee's name briefly set my teeth on edge, and I wished she'd turn the conversation to something else.
"Sarah's been taking all this very well—but then, she was always much better behaved than her brother..."
I finished the last of my meal. I briefly considered getting up and trying to make a quick exit—but, avoiding hard truths wasn't exactly me, even with the mood I was in. So instead, I just let out a long sigh, staring out the window, as I waited for her to get to it.
She paused for a second too long. "We got a letter today."
It was abrupt, so abrupt I knew this was what she had been putting off telling me.
"A letter?" I echoed vaguely, still gazing out into the darkness through the window pane.
"Yes," she answered, trying to sound casual, but with her wary eyes focused on my face. "A... wedding invitation."
I was silent. My body had frozen where it was, and I didn't see what I was looking at.
She continued, "There was a note inside addressed to you. I didn't read it."
My gaze had slipped down to the table now, and I was concentrating on sitting very still—stopping the sliver of fire that tried to slither its way down my spine. All my instincts screamed for my transformation—not just the anger, but also the feeling of a threat closing in, as though a predator, an enemy, was charging in with teeth bared and claws extended. Every instinct screamed at me to ready myself for a fight.
My mom drew a thick ivory envelope from where she had stashed it between her leg and the arm of her wheelchair. She set it on the table between us.
"You probably don't need to read it," she said. "Doesn't really matter what it says."
I lifted my eyes from where my empty plate still sat to the envelope. Slowly, as though it were someone else, I watched my slightly shaking hand raise up over the table and take it.
Inside was the invitation. I didn't look at it closely, but it seemed to be a simple, ordinary invitation on nice paper. Not overly fancy, just black words in a simple but tasteful type-face. I didn't look at the words, and instead my fingers found a slip of paper tucked inside, folded in half, my name handwritten in an elegant script I didn't recognize. It wasn't hard to guess whose it was, though.
Not at all sure what to expect, I flipped it open.
I don't think Beau would have intended me to invite you—he wouldn't have wanted to hurt you by imposing on you any sense of obligation. But I know that, had things gone the other way, I would have liked to have the choice.
Don't think I'm unaware of how deeply I owe you. Thank you—for everything.
I stared down at the note in my hand, numb.
I had known it was coming. Been expecting it. So why did it suddenly feel like a hammer blow to my chest, driving in the final nails of a coffin? Why hadn't it felt real until this moment?
Agony burned through my veins. I'd given up the fight, made up my mind to back off and let it be, to keep from hurting Beau. But despite my decision, as soon as I saw the invitation, and this cursed note, I knew the truth—even as I ordered myself to pull back and stop the fight, to rest, I knew the desire to keep fighting, to not let go until the bitter end and perhaps not even then, was still raging inside me, trying to get out. I couldn't tell if it was the wolf or the human—or some indistinguishable blend of the two.
Perhaps the kind words should have helped me find some peace. I knew she loved Beau—I couldn't deny it anymore, as I had in the beginning. She loved him more than anything, more than her own life. Loved him enough to feel something almost cordial toward an enemy who had done everything she could to try to wrest from her the meaning of her existence.
So why did I feel like this? Why, when I looked at the elegant script running across the page, did I feel so sick?
Because I couldn't push it away. I couldn't push away the sense that, beneath the elegant writing, and the thoughtful, sincere words, though maybe she did love Beau, it was still the love of a vampire. It was love, but a monster's love—perhaps seemingly perfect, selfless love at first, but once you dug a little below the surface, really a hideous, truly terrifying love.
Beau didn't understand that—of that much I was certain. I knew I had to give up, that it was over and done. And yet the pain felt like it would rip me apart from the inside out. The pain of my regret, my failure, and the pain of the fear of what my failure would mean.
The emotions swirled in my head, swelling until they were too much to contain, a storm.
I let the letter fall from my hand, where it hit the floor with a soft thump. Then I pushed up from the table, so violently the dishes jumped and rattled. Without a word, I turned toward the door.
"Don't stay out too late," Bonnie murmured as I shoved my way through the door.
The words of the note continued to play in my mind, in her perfect, soft, bloodsucker voice. They closed around me like a threat—and in response my mind chanted back two options:
I longed for the first—but that was what I had been doing all along. I had failed, and all it would do was continue to hurt him, to tear him in two.
So I gave myself over to the second.
I propelled myself over the uneven ground, feeling the gravel and thorny twigs digging into the soles of my bare feet.
It was almost too easy to phase now. My body knew what I wanted before I'd even given it the command, and the moment I hit the cover of the dark trees I felt my body shift, and suddenly it was no longer my own—not my human body.
The trees were a black blur on either side of me as I flew through the forest, feeling the muscles of my legs contract and release in a steady rhythm. I could run for days like this and never stop—and that was exactly what I intended to do. Run and run until my complex human emotions faded, until I was nothing but a simple animal, with simple wants and simple fears, free from this crippling agony and heavy burden that pressed against my head.
But it was hard to be a wolf with other human voices in my head.
So sorry, whispered Emma in my mind. Apologetic at her intrusive look into my pain. I could see through her eyes—she was far to the north in the forests there, but now she turned, racing back to meet me.
Wait for us, Quil demanded, the tone of her always slightly bossy thoughts worried. Quil was closer, near the village.
I repulsed them, pushing out a wave of anger and defiance. A vicious snarl escaped between my teeth, a warning. However, they ignored me and kept on running.
I tried to block their human emotions from my mind, focusing only on the sound of the wind and the forest.
But I felt it anyway, felt their worry, their desire to help. But worst of all I could see myself through their eyes—see my own pain as though through the eyes of a stranger, and feel their pity.
Hatred surged through me.
Leave me alone! I snarled. Neither responded, or stopped.
However, there was a new voice in my head, softer, but with the unmistakable ring of authority.
Let her go, said Sam quietly. It was an order, and I sensed the moment when both Em and Quil slowed to a walk.
I wanted to stop hearing, stop seeing what they saw. My head was so crowded, but the only way to be alone was to be human, and I could not stand to be human anymore. Not with a human's overpowering, complicated emotions, not with their irreconcilable conflicts, fears, and loves.
Phase back, Sam directed the other two. We'll come and pick you up, Emma.
First one human voice faded, then another. Only Samantha was left.
I had enough human left in me to allow myself to feel one last human emotion.
Thank you, I thought.
Come home when you can, she answered. Then the sound of her mind faded to silence as she, too, phased back. I was alone.
Blessed relief. Alone in my mind. The wolf thought of nothing but the faint rustle of the matted leaves beneath claws, the whisper of an owl's wings as it soared through the trees, the ocean in the far west moaning against the beach—nothing existed in the world but the feeling of rushing through mile after mile of forest, and the pull of muscle, sinew, and bone, working together in perfect harmony.
If the silence only lasted, I wasn't sure I would ever change back.
I could not fight. Fighting was at an end. So all that was left was to run. Run, and run, and run, until the human Julie Black, with all her regrets and fears and every other tangled emotion, was left far behind.
A/N: And, that's it for this project. It's always exciting to get to the end of something, and as I said when I reached the end of New Moon, in some ways it feels like it's gone very fast, at least by my usual posting standards.
Next up is Midnight Sun Reimagined. Just as a warning, many of the chapters are quite long—I'm constrained by the fact that, particularly for conversations, I have to go by what is in Life and Death and in many cases there didn't seem to be a good way to cut down or summarize. But, I'll be doing my best with the editing, and at the same time putting in as much work on Breaking Dawn as I can before it comes time to post. As far as rough drafts go, I'm working on the very last chapter now.
June 2021: So, as I was reading over this story and doing some rewriting and typo correcting, I decided to cut the second half of this epilogue dealing with the Volturi entirely. I felt like I needed it at the time to give a sense of what to expect in the new version of Breaking Dawn, but now that Breaking Dawn Reimagined is pretty much finished, the truth is there was really nothing in it that wasn't later explained in a better way in Breaking Dawn itself, and I decided it just felt redundant and overly long.
Thank you guys so, so much for all your support and for keeping with me all this time. (Some of you reading through these monsters multiple times, wow.) I appreciate every single one of your thoughts, and I've loved having in-depth character discussions along the way. I hope to see you over at Midnight Sun if you get the chance, the prologue of which should be up either later today or tomorrow, along with the first chapter—thanks again, and hope you have a great year!