A/N: Be aware of the time jumps. Here we go!
An Epilogue in Three Scenes
For the first time all day, Edward's smile fell.
His six-month-old son was missing.
He spun around in a circle, looking for Nathaniel's familiar form. He concentrated, trying to hear his baby coos and giggles over the din. No luck. He glanced to his side, about to call Bella away from where she was talking to her parents, but then, finally, he spotted the boy.
Relieved, Edward strode over to the a table toward the back of the venue and sat down with one chair between him and Tanya. "Hey. Sorry. He must have gotten away from...whomever had him last." He smiled sheepishly. Nate had been in a different set of arms every time he looked. He reached over and ran a hand over his son's downy hair. "I can take him."
The boy was fast asleep, his head on Tanya's shoulder. She had her hand splayed over his back. "He's okay, actually."
Edward arched an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Yeah." She ducked her head, skimming her nose along Nate's hair. "I always forget how good babies smell."
He scoffed. "Spoken like a woman who's never changed a diaper."
"I've changed a diaper." She scowled at him, but there was no venom there for either of them. They both laughed, and her scowl gentled into a smile. "He's a beauty, Edward."
She sighed, a wistful expression coming over her face. "Is it weird for me to be here?"
"You were invited."
"Edward." She gave him that look.
He smirked. "You were invited because we knew if Eric came, he'd bring you anyway. I wanted to make sure you knew you were welcome, if you wanted." He paused a beat. "Though no, I didn't expect you to actually come."
She snorted. "I didn't expect me to come either. Curiosity killed the cat. I figured if I was going to obsess over your wedding, I might as well know what it actually felt like to watch you marry someone else."
"So, what's the verdict?" Edward asked, keeping his tone light.
"It sucked." Tanya rolled her eyes and smiled at him. "Surprisingly, though, it also felt really good."
Edward arched a disbelieving eyebrow.
"I know, I know. I was supposed to sit there and think bitter thoughts about how you promised me all those things first. Love, honor, and cherish until death do us part." She waved a hand. "But I watched you up there—and you looked like you were about ready to float through the ceiling, you big goofball—and I was surprisingly happy for you. Like really proud and happy. I only imagined Bella falling in the cake once."
Edward's lips twitched, but Tanya continued before he could say anything. "You know, I'm never going to regret being married to you. You were always my biggest champion. I wouldn't be where I am today, who I am today without you. We were good for each other in the early days, weren't we? In school, when we were deciding what we wanted to be when we grew up, and when we were both newbies in our fields."
"Yeah, T. We made a good team for a while there."
Tanya's eyes twinkled with mischief. "And Bella couldn't have done that for you, what with her being a child and all."
She chortled, but then her smile gentled. "What I realized today was that you were there when I got everything I wanted; when all my hard work paid off. You smiled, you clapped, and you were proud of me. Today, I realized that I felt exactly the same. I was proud and happy for you, because you got what you've been working hard for all your life today."
Edward couldn't help his smile. After the officiant announced that he could kiss his bride, someone had brought their son to them, and they'd walked down the aisle together—the three of them.
Nathaniel stirred then, waking with a whimper. Edward reached for him automatically, and Tanya gave him up. "Shh, baby boy. Don't wake up."
"You really taking the year off work?" Tanya asked when Nathaniel was asleep again. "I couldn't imagine that."
"No kidding." Edward flashed her a grin so she knew it was a joke. "I have the savings. Bella's doing incredibly well. We decided not to move out of the apartment for at least a year so there was no reason for me not to stay home."
"And you wanted to," Tanya finished for him.
"I'm pretty happy with the arrangement, yeah."
"See?" She grinned at him. "It's getting harder to be bitter when we're both pretty happy these days."
Edward turned in his seat, his smile broadening as he saw Bella coming toward him. He'd hardly taken his eyes off her all day, and yet she still stole his breath. His wife. The mother of his beautiful son. She was radiant today—elegant and stunning. The corners of her eyes tightened only the slightest amount as she saw Tanya. She put a possessive hand on Edward's shoulder. "Hi, Tanya."
Tanya looked amused. "Hello, Bella. Congratulations. This is all so beautiful."
Bella's cheeks turned pink, and her smile got more genuine. "Thank you." As Edward stood, she wrapped an arm around his waist and kissed their sleeping son's head.
Eric came back then, and Edward and Bella made their excuses. "This whole wedding thing has actually been a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be."
"More fun than you thought, hmm?" Edward teased when they walked away a few minutes later. He shifted Nate to one arm so he could take Bella's hand. "Well, I'm glad I'm not boring you, Mrs. Cullen."
"You could never bore me." She stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek, vaguely aware the photographer was close by. "I meant that I expected the wedding to be a pain in the ass to plan, but it was fun." She smirked. "I think that has more to do with letting your mother, Jake, Alice, and Embry duke it out rather than do any of it myself." She grinned.
Edward chuckled. That had been fun, actually. The four of them argued themselves hoarse, presented Edward and Bella with three ideas, and narrowed it down from there. It had been like their own private reality show.
"Speak of the devil." Edward turned slightly to smile at his mother.
Esme quirked an eyebrow and looked at her new daughter-in-law. "Did he just refer to me as Satan?"
"He sure did." Bella poked him in the side. "You're in trouble."
"Nope. I have a surefire cure to angry mother disease." Edward put Nate, who was blinking awake again, in her arms. "Hold this."
Sure enough, his mother's pursed lips turned into a smile as she cradled her whimpering grandson. "Oh, Natey. None of that. Where's my smiling boy who looked so precious at the ceremony. Look at you, so handsome." She peppered him with kisses until the baby giggled.
"Come on, you," Edward said, tugging Bella the opposite direction.
"Where are we going?"
"They're playing our song."
"This isn't our song," Bella said as he pulled her onto the dance floor. She furrowed her brow at him. "We have a song?"
"We do have a song." As he took her by the waist, the music started. Lady in Red. Bella's confused look melted into a tender one.
"I'm not wearing red," she said, her look soft and her eyes adoring on him.
He hummed to her, pulling her closer against him. Around them, the dance floor cleared out as if they knew. "There's nobody here," he crooned next to her ear. "It's just you and me."
It was the song they'd danced to when Tanya had sent Bella to a ball with him instead of going herself. On some level, it had always bothered Edward that Bella fell in love with him that day. That she'd been there in his arms, looking up at him, looking into his eyes and falling head over heels.
Looking at her now, he had no idea how he hadn't fallen for her right then. How had he ever looked on her with anything but this consuming emotion? But that was fine, he supposed, because he was making up for it. Right there on the dance floor, he was falling in love with his wife all over again.
It was, he thought, a good thing that those tattoos didn't reappear randomly every time he fell in love with the same woman. If they did, he'd be covered head to toe in vines.
"I still don't understand how this happened," Bella muttered.
"You wrote a story about serial killers," Eric said, glancing at her as they drove to the airport. "It was well-received."
"Yes, I know that. But I interviewed serial killers in jail. This is an active serial killer I will definitely not be talking to. That's a whole other kind of journalism."
"Congratulations, Bella. Your name is linked with serial killers." Eric chuckled. "We don't look a gift horse in the mouth when it's a piece in Time magazine. This is big. You know that, right?"
Bella's stomach gave a twinge of nerves. "I'm not complaining."
Eric sighed. "I'm going to lose you soon. I can see that one coming a mile away." He shook his head. "You ready for this one?"
"Oh, sure. It's going to be fun. I'm going to have to look at those crime scenes." Bella grimaced. This freak actually took the tattoos from his victims as trophies. "No, really. I'll be fine. I don't know how I stumbled into being some kind of expert on violent crimes, but I'll be fine."
"Well, at least your career will be interesting. No writing about visiting foreign dignitaries at boring state parties."
He parked the car, and they headed into the airport. The line for security was long as always, and Bella busied herself scrolling through the pictures and video she'd taken right before she left the house.
In the video, Edward held their tearful son at his hip. Nate had one hand extended toward the camera and was babbling at her. "Mama. Mama no."
Edward gave the camera—and Bella behind it—a rueful smile. "He doesn't want you to go, Mama."
She heard herself give a disgruntled sigh. "You're both terrible."
"How's the kid?" Eric asked.
Bella smiled at her boss. "He loved your gift on this birthday last week. Especially the box. I swear he's part cat. He loves boxes." She tilted her head. "By the way, really? That play center makes twenty-seven different noises. Twenty-seven, Eric. It's not that I don't appreciate it, but that's a major party foul."
Eric looked like the cat who ate the canary. "Tanya was the one who bought it. I just signed the card."
"Ah, well, that explains that." She fixed him with an equally bratty expression. "So you going to marry her, or what?"
"Gosh, Mother, I didn't realize I was bringing you along on my business trip. We're happy as is."
Before he could quip back, Bella's phone rang. She smiled when she saw it was Edward. "Hey, you. I'm—"
"Bella." His tone made her stomach churn.
"We don't know yet."
"I'm at the hospital with Nate."
"Jesus. What happened?"
"I don't know. He woke up with a horrible fever, and he's lethargic. He's dehydrated, and they're admitting him."
"I'm coming." She had already ducked under the line.
"Bella," both Edward and Eric said.
"My kid is sick," she said over her shoulder to her boss. "I'm coming," she said to Edward.
He was too tiny for the crib. It was too large to look cozy. A child could have fit easily in it, but Nate wasn't a child. He was just a baby.
Bella sighed and rested her cheek on the bars of bed. She stroked her fingers through Nate's sweat-damp hair. Her heart ached in a way she had no idea it was capable of.
The infection had hit out of nowhere. It had taken most of thirty hours—hellish hours of uncertainty and fear—but Nate's doctors said he was out of the woods. He'd be fine. He was just a little miserable at the moment. Well, he was miserable when he was awake which was—both mercifully and nerve-wracking—not often.
It was the early hours of the morning. The hospital was as quiet as hospitals ever got. Edward had finally passed out only half an hour before, and he was slumped in the seat on the opposite side of the bed. Bella was somewhere beyond exhausted. She'd passed exhausted twelve hours ago, but she still couldn't sleep. She was afraid to close her eyes. Afraid of what would happen when she couldn't see her son.
Watching Nate's chest rise and fall, Bella's heart squeezed. It was too much. Too tight. She squeezed her eyes shut, but she couldn't stop the tears from falling. She clapped a hand over her mouth, not wanting to wake her husband or son.
"Fuck," she muttered under her breath minutes later when she was semi-coherent again. She sniffed hard, her fingers trembling as she ran her fingers through Nate's brown curls. "I have a confession to make, baby." She wiped at her eyes again. "The last time I cried that hard was when I found out I was pregnant with you."
She flipped her hand over and traced the tattoo of the dragonfly on her wrist. It matched the one on her son's ankle. She and Edward had both gotten the tattoo shortly after Nate was born. She smiled. "These tattoos are such a funny thing. I've always wanted to talk to whomever was in charge of this system. Romantic love is too fickle for this kind of permanence. That's what always made me so angry about these damn tattoos.
"Not that I'm saying what I feel for your daddy is fickle. Oh god, Nate. I love your daddy so much, sometimes I think it's going to kill me. It's one of the scariest thing I've ever experienced, and I've been in the same room with monsters, little man." She sniffled, wiping away the fresh tears that fell from the corners of her eyes.
"But if I thought falling for your daddy was scary, it was nothing to how I felt when I had you." She took her son's tiny, pudgy hands in hers. "That love, Nathaniel. That's permanent. And I guess, maybe that's the reason. A tattoo would be redundant. My love for you was etched on my bones, sewn into my soul, the second they laid you in my arms. I love you so much."
Her voice cracked and she pressed a knuckle against her lips, trying to calm down. She had no idea why she was still so scared. She just wanted her baby home. She wanted to be home in her bed with her baby in her arms and her husband holding them both.
She shouldn't have been surprised when she felt Edward's strong arm around her shoulders. She hadn't heard him get up, but now he was in the chair beside her. She turned and buried her face at his neck, crying out her residual terror and helplessness. "I'd take it all for him. Everything," she whispered raggedly.
"I know," Edward said, his hand stroking up and down her back.
Bella raised her head, looking at him. "I just… I didn't ask for either of you. There was a time when I didn't want either of you. And now, sometimes I feel like someone's going to take it all away." She shook her head hard. "I'd give it all up. Everything else. Everything."
"Shhh." He took her face in his hands and wiped away her tears with his thumbs. "Nate is going to be fine, sweetheart. He's here, and I'm here, and you're not going to lose either of us because you want more than us."
"You're everything to me. You and Nate."
"We're the most important." He kissed her forehead. "But not everything. And that's okay. That's perfect, because we're going to teach him he can want as many things as he's willing to work for, right?"
Bella nodded and let him pull her back into his arms. She rested her head on his shoulder. "He really scared me," she whispered.
Edward shuddered. "I know. Believe me, I know. But give him a few days. Then we'll be back to tearing our hair out, wondering how something so small has so much energy and brattiness in him."
"Well, he is your son."
"Nate. Why in God's name are you naked? Again?"
Edward's two-year-old son, sitting in the middle of his room surrounded by his toys, shrugged. "Don't like pants."
"Okay," Edward said slowly. "What do you have against shirts?"
Nate looked up at him with an expression Edward was familiar with. It was Bella's 'Edward is being dumb' look. "Shirt goes with pants."
"I see. And you're not a fan."
Nate shook his head and pushed to his feet. Edward had to cover his smile. He loved how Nate always pushed himself to his feet ass first. It was three times as funny because he was naked. Oblivious to his father's mirth, Nate went to his toy box and bent over it—again with his ass in the air. Edward chortled to himself.
Then there was a crash from the other room that had Edward on his feet. He looked at Nate—who appeared not to have heard—and then headed down the hallway quickly. He gasped when he saw Bella was on the floor.
"Are you okay? What happened?"
She was laying on her back, her cell phone clutched to her chest, looking pale. "I'm fine," she said in a small voice.
He took her hand and pulled her into a sitting position, squatting beside her. "Why are you on the floor? Did you fall?"
She looked stoned—her eyes unfocused and her mouth hanging slightly open. She made a vague motion behind her. "I fell out of the chair. I'm fine."
"Okay. What happened?"
"Um." Finally, her eyes focused on him. "How do you feel about California?"
His eyebrows arched. "We're moving?" He'd been ready for this announcement for over a year. She'd been invited to too many events with too many of the big names in journalism.
"I thought… Well, I thought they wouldn't want me now. But they said it wasn't a problem."
"What wasn't a problem?"
"That I'm pregnant."
Edward blinked. He replayed the words in his head. They didn't add up. "Excuse me, what?"
Bella winced and looked at him again. "And I told them before you. Crap. I'm sorry. It's just, this is one of the big guys. The really, really big guys. And I know. I was published in Time magazine, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they even know my name. And true, it's one of their smaller magazines, but these are the big kids, Edward. This is intense."
They stared at each other. "Wait a second." He wiped a hand over his face. "Can you go back to the part…"
"Where I said I was pregnant?" A tiny smile tugged at the corner of her lips. "Yeah. That's true."
He stared at her. He laughed once. "And we're moving."
"Uh. I said I had to talk to you."
"No, you didn't. You knew what I would say."
She grinned. "Yeah. I told them yes straight out."
"After you told them you were pregnant."
"After they said that wasn't a problem." Bella nodded.
They stared at each other. And then they both started laughing. "We wouldn't even think of making it uncomplicated, would we?" Edward said between chortles, sitting beside her and taking her into his arms.
"It wouldn't be us if it was uncomplicated."
He pressed his hands over her belly, a thrill going through him. "Another baby." He kissed her cheek. And then kissed it again. And again. Then they were giggling and kissing.
"What you doing? Me too!" Nate announced his presence by wiggling between them.
"Why are you naked?" Bella asked, laughing as they rearranged themselves with Nate between them.
Nate shrugged. Edward huffed and shook his head. He ruffled his son's hair and kissed his wife one more time.
It was hours before they could really talk about it. Nate took their time and attention—especially talking him back into his clothes. Dinner had to be cooked, served, and the kitchen cleaned. Then there was bathtime and storytime. Nate got out of bed once, twice. They finally let him sleep in their bed and ended up stretched out there on either side of their sleeping son.
"Are you really okay with this?" Bella asked.
"Which part? The baby or the move?"
She smirked. "I know how you feel about the baby, goofball. You haven't stopped smiling; do you know that?"
"Yeah." He sighed. "How about a girl this time?"
"I'll log your request in with management." Her smile gentled into something more tender. "I meant the move. It's a lot to think about. To be away from your family."
"This is my family." He reached out, resting a hand on her hip. "We've had this discussion a hundred times over, Bella. This isn't a wagon train across the wilderness where we'll never see our friends and family here. We've got planes and Skype. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but since when was life ever easy? It's the right thing for us."
"You're good to me, you know that?"
Edward shook his head. "What you've given me, love, is far beyond anything I could have expected from life." He looked down at their son. "Are you okay? About the baby, I mean. We didn't plan this."
"We didn't not plan, either," she said wryly. "I knew what I was asking for when I stopped being careful about the pill. It's not ideal, but I never wanted Nate to be an only child, and a huge age gap wouldn't have been ideal either."
He nodded. "So this is our life."
She grinned. "This is our life."
Life was good.
A/N: Many thanks to MoH, Songster, Eleanor, and especially Mina and Packy. I'm surprised they didn't disown me today.
Thanks to all of you for your love and support.
If I may, I'm getting ready to release my fourth book, Spaces Between Notes (no relation at all to my fic of the same name). The summary is as follows:
Nikolai Amorosa is one of those men's men. You know the type—allergic to feelings, couldn't have a heartfelt discussion if he tried, which he never did. Then, he lost his voice, and any chance of communication went out the window.
Unable to speak or otherwise interact with anyone, Niko's anger was off the charts. It could've been worse; he could've been in jail. Instead, he found himself doing construction on Carys Harper's house. Carys talked—a lot—both with her voice and her hands. She was also at the beck and call of her deaf little brother, Benny, which drove Niko nine kinds of crazy. Not that he would've said anything, even if he could.
Something else that drove him crazy? Carys was stubborn. She wouldn't let him wallow. More than that, she seemed to hear all the things he couldn't say. She understood him like she understood music. She heard what existed in the spaces between notes. She knew that sometimes silence screams the loudest.
Follow me on my blog, KristinaMSanchez dot com, or on my Facebook page for more info. Spaces Between Notes should release on October 13th.
Thank you, friends. With that, Marked Complete is...marked complete. *smug grin*