A/N: Hola, my doves. Here's a little futuretake that should answer some lingering questions for you.
Edward was strolling down the long hallway at a lordly pace when he heard the unmistakable sound of his wife yelling. He picked up his pace, dashing forward until he'd reached his destination—his estate's west wing.
Entering a set of three conjoined rooms, one functioning as a sort of office, Edward found his wife, her face twisted with rage as she railed at her eldest brother. "You've sold my child away like nothing. Like chattel," she fumed, hand pressed to her nine-months gone belly.
Emmett looked exasperated. "Bella, you're exaggerating."
"Oh, hells," Edward muttered under his breath. That was the exact wrong thing to say.
Sure enough, Bella's face had gone bright red. She took a step forward and shoved a finger right in her brother's face. "Emmett Swan, I swear you come anywhere near my child, and I will end you. I've killed one king already. Don't think I won't kill you."
With that, she whirled and strode from the room, fury giving her a surprising amount of grace for someone so ponderously pregnant. She was so angry she didn't even see him as she marched past him.
Emmett groaned and slumped in his seat, covering his face with his hands. For a moment, he looked like a pouting, overgrown boy. Edward glanced over his shoulder but saw that Bella's handmaid had gone after her mistress already. So, Edward cleared his throat to alert the king to his presence.
"Ah." Emmett grimaced but sat up straighter. "Lord Edward."
"Your Grace." Edward gave a nod of his head as a bow.
"No doubt you've come to threaten my person as well after seeing the state your wife was in." He gestured to the seat across from him.
Edward sat and offered his brother-in-law a small smile. "If I threatened every man who left my wife in that state of late, I would be obligated to castrate myself. Although, I'm not sure that's an idea I want crossing Bella's path. She'd be prone to take me up on that offer given her current condition."
Emmett snorted. He made a gesture, and his page boy came up to pour them both a cup of strong wine. He drank heartily, and Edward joined him. He had a feeling he'd need the fortification.
"I am, however, curious as to what you said and what it has to do with my child," he said, keeping his tone easy.
Emmett sighed, drumming his fingertips on the desktop and looking out the window. "I spoke out of turn. I shouldn't have told Bella anything without coming to you first. After all, it's only by your leave that anything at all will happen, but it just slipped out."
It was a credit to how Emmett saw himself that he said anything was Edward's choice. His orders would be obeyed, and they both knew it. However, Emmett prefered to keep his direct orders to a minimum. "And by anything at all, you mean…"
Emmett turned to look at him, his expression cautious. "We're close to bringing House Denali into our fold. Lord Eleazar has a son of four years old."
Edward raised his chin, understanding instantly what had probably happened. "And if you were to promise him a match with the high House Masen…"
Emmett nodded. "Exactly." He spread a hand wide. "These are murmurings at best. I was just speaking out loud, and my sister is talking like I don't adore my niece. I love that little girl, Edward. You know I'd do nothing to harm her. You know I wouldn't even ponder if it wasn't in her best interests, but how can we know at this point what those are? Who's to say for certain?
"It's an informal betrothal at best. To be reevaluated as time presents itself. Anything could happen between now and then. Situations change, and the agreement would have to be stricken. The boy could die. Gods forbid, but it's possible."
"Or Nicolette may go from her home to her betrothed's home at fourteen only to learn afterward that he is a sadistic, tyrannical ass and then live under his thumb with no hope of escape, being abused for years until finally being tossed at his much older, black sheep of an uncle as though she were trash. Valuable trash, but trash nonetheless."
Emmett made a face. He stood, goblet in hand and paced to the window, staring out at the sea. "Should I employ a fortune teller for some form of guidance, then? Who else may say for certain what the future holds?"
Edward was quiet at that. He sipped his wine and considered his words. "Lord Eleazar is a good man. He's kind and more even-headed than many. I expect he is raising his little Vasilii to be as good a man as he is." He took a deep breath and spoke quietly. "It's a fine match, Your Grace, and a good plan. I had thought to offer a marriage pact to the Denali family already. They're not an old family, but rising quickly. To have their family name tied to one of the great houses would be just the boon they're looking for."
"But you hadn't thought to offer your own House." Emmett didn't ask. He turned and quirked a curious eyebrow, though.
"Well." Edward swirled the wine, watching it circle for a moment. "I suffer from a father's bias. Nicolette is so young, the idea of sending her so far away is as abhorrent to me as it clearly is to Bella." He flexed the fist of his free hand convulsively. His inside roared as loudly as Bella had. Send his little darling away from him? Only over his and the king's dead bodies.
"However, every Lord and Lady has a part to play in our history," Edward continued. "Whether or not I wish it, my duty as a father dictates that I make a fine match for my daughter." He looked to his brother-in-law. "That, and I knew well enough what her fate would be when I agreed we should make Casterly Port the capital of the realm. To share my city with you is an honor. To share my home while your palace is being built is my privilege. Don't think for a moment I don't understand what you did for my name."
When Emmett had secured his claim to power, declaring himself king of the realm, by all rights, the Masen name should have been dirt. Aro, of course, had been the puppeteer behind King Felix, and most of the realm had known it. Jane, both as Queen and reagent after Felix died, had been well known for her cruelty—more subtle than her son's but no less capricious and petty. She'd been taken captive, tried for her crimes, and beheaded. Alec had lead the final charge and had died by Emmett's own sword.
Then, Edward. The people of Casterly Port had accepted him as the rightful heir, but that didn't mean his name had been what it once was. Volterra had been all but destroyed in the final fight, and so when deciding on a city for his throne, Emmett had declared it was much more rational to rule from the center of the realm, not the bottom.
The city still belonged to House Masen. House Swan was elevated to the highest in the land, and House Masen kept its place as the second most powerful family. Edward was hand of the king; his most trusted advisor.
He'd known then that it meant Nicolette would be a particularly valuable match to any Lord's son, second only to any daughters the king would have. At the time the decision had been made, his daughter was hardly more than a baby, not even walking yet. At nearly four years old, she was still young, but many Lords and Ladies grew up knowing to whom they'd be wed.
Edward nodded. "I shall extend an invitation to Lord Eleazar that he might visit in three months time. By then, Bella will be recovered, and we may all agree on terms."
Emmett studied him a long moment. "And my sister?"
"Your sister has a good head on her shoulders. She knows all of this as well as you and I do."
Emmett polished off his wine and waved the page boy away when he attempted to pour another drink. "I don't envy you, brother. Thank the Gods, my Rose has given me two fine princes. My life as a father is much different than yours."
"Yes, well, you may be singing a different tune come next Spring, or so I hear."
At that, Emmett grinned. "I shouldn't be surprised anymore at how much you know even when you're not supposed to know. We've not told anyone."
"I'm observant, that's all. Congratulations." Emmett and Rosalie's first son had been born six months after Nicolette. Their second son had been born a year later. An heir and a spare. A blessing, of course, but also exactly what a brand new king needed. His lineage was secure, and so the minds and hearts of the common people were at peace with the regime change.
"If there's no pressing business at this time, Your Grace, I shall go speak to Bella."
"Of course." Emmett tilted his head. "I do love Nic, Edward. You know this, right?"
Edward smiled. Nicolette cared not at all that her uncle was the king of all the land. To her, he was her favorite playmate. No one could toss her higher, and he was more fun to climb than her own father. "He's more taller, Papa," she had said.
"And you know your niece returns your affections. Worry not, my king. Bella knows full well what your intentions are." He put a hand to Emmett's shoulder, giving him a reassuring squeeze. "It falls on you to make decisions for far too many people. This game, Your Grace, is a delicate one. You do what you must to keep the balance of power. Always walking such a fine line. We're your subjects. We shall play our part."
Emmett smiled and nodded at him. Edward nodded back and took his leave.
Once in the hallway, his step quickened. Regardless of his words, he wasn't sanguine with the idea of signing away his daughter's future. He had a desperate need to see his family, to have them safe in his arms again. Only then could he convince himself he wouldn't have to send his precious jewel away so soon.
It wasn't difficult to find Bella. When they'd arrived for good, they'd found, as Edward expected, Caius had kept his property in good order. The only thing he found in shambles were the once-beautiful gardens. Bella had made it her task to restore and improve them.
He found his wife where he expected on a beautiful, shady porch that looked out over a wide expanse of grass. She sat at a table, her arms propped up and her face in her hands. He could tell by the up and down movement of her shoulders that she wasn't crying.
But she had been, he realized as he sat across from her. He could see her eyes were red rimmed and her cheeks splotchy. Only experience kept him in his seat. Bella toward the end of her pregnancy was a volatile creature. There were times she couldn't stand to be touched. Instead, he laid his hand palm up on the table between them as an offering.
To his relief, she took it, squeezing tightly as she shut her eyes. "Hush now, my darling," he whispered in the same soothing tone he used when she woke from terrible nightmares. "You're all right."
She sniffled and opened her eyes. "If I had said such a thing to any other king, he would have my head on a spike." She sighed. "I used to be good at surviving."
Edward reached out and cupped her cheek. "You know, in your heart of hearts, that you're safe now, beloved. You may lash out at this king without worry of reprisal."
Bella shivered. "Safe," she said, exhaling a long breath. "Are we safe? The realm is, as of yet, unstable."
"So it shall always be to some extent." He stroked his thumb under her eye, wiping away the remnants of her tears. "There is no such thing as complete safety. You have more cause than most to understand that, but it's a much different world our children will inherit."
Bella was quiet at that. She stared out across the lawn to where their daughter played with Alice and Jasper's daughter, Nettie, under the watchful eye of Esme Cullen.
Now that he was certain she was centered and calm, Edward stood. He helped his wife to her feet and guided her to the lounge. He sat first, spreading his legs wide on either side. She settled herself between them, leaning back against his chest. She sighed, and something in Edward grew peaceful.
They liked to sit like this. She felt safest, she'd told him once, when he surrounded her like this, ensconcing her in his warmth. He liked holding her close. He liked to be able to kiss her hair, and he especially loved it now, when he could cup her big, rounded belly in his hands. Their son moved as though to greet him, and Edward smiled.
He sighed, breathing her in before he spoke. "So it comes to pass that I am in what was once my father's position, with so many people as my pawns, for better or worse. At my direction, men may ride into battle. At my command, disputes are settled and criminals are sentenced to death.
"Then, there is you." Edward stroked her hair back over one shoulder so he could kiss the skin near her ear. "You and my children." Resting his head against hers, he looked out to where his darling Nicolette played.
His beautiful little girl. He watched, amused, as Nicolette, heedless of her pretty dress, leaped up to grab the branch of a tree. She hauled herself up despite Esme's vehement protests. Edward chuckled. "I think, my lovely wife, that it can be no wonder that Nic was made in a field when we were not tethered by our station. I do worry for her happiness. She has your spirit, but will she be content to her duty?"
Bella scoffed. "That child will be the death of me before she can come of age regardless. She's not a child of the fields. She's part cat—too stealthy and wild to be tamed."
"Yes," Edward said, smiling fondly. He sighed again. "And yet it's my duty to find her a good match."
Bella stiffened in his hold but said nothing. Edward chose his words carefully. "We'll play host to Eleazar and his family in three months time so that we may meet them and come to know them. I've met Eleazar, and his father before him. They're a good sort."
"So you approve, then, of the match Emmett suggested." Her voice was tight and controlled.
"I don't know yet." He paused a beat. "She'll have to be betrothed to someone, my love."
"I wasn't betrothed until I was thirteen."
"Yes. When the king cast his attention on your father, and therefore, your family came into more power." He hugged her tightly. "To be honest, it's a surprise that the squabbling hasn't started sooner. Jane was promised straight out of her crib."
Bella made a disgruntled noise, but she took a steadying breath. "I know. I just wish…"
She didn't finish her sentence, and he didn't need her to. He kissed her hair. "I know." They stayed quiet for a long moment. "You must know I would die before I let anything like what happened to you happen to our daughter."
"I do know." Bella shuddered. "My father died much the same way."
"Yes, but that is not at all typical. Felix"—he spat the name through gritted teeth—"was not typical in any respect. Not for any man, king or otherwise." He took a deep breath, trying to dispel his tension and worry for his daughter. "Most men are not monsters and most marriages aren't miserable. It works out well enough. Did not your mother marry your father having only known him face to face for two days?"
"Yes, and they loved each other well."
"So it goes for your brother and Rosalie. They're quite happy."
"Yes." Bella turned her head and nuzzled his cheek. "And I'm so very happy with you, My Lord."
Edward smiled and his chest went warm. Still, considering, he tensed ever so slightly. "You know you're a gift I never deserved, Bella. But that being said, I would not wish the terms of our union on the daughter of a sworn enemy, let alone my own precious girl."
"Of course not. I'm merely saying that I do know she has every chance of being just fine. If we managed to live happily ever after given the hell we went through, Nic will have a beautiful life." Her hand found his knee and she patted him. "You're not your father, Edward. He didn't care about his children's happiness, nor even his people. He cared only for power. While you recognize that power keeps us and our dear ones safe, I'll never believe you would put that over your family's well-being and happiness." She put her hands over his on her belly. "It's not so bad to know your life is lived at the whim and will of a man when you trust that man with everything."
He rocked her in his arms. "May I never stop earning your trust, my brilliant wife."
He kissed her then. It was a long kiss—slow and deep. "You're my soul, Bella," he murmured against her lips. "And my children, the beautiful children you've given me, are my heart." He kissed her, and swallowed the whimper that vibrated against his lips.
"Papa! You are eating Momma again," a tiny voice admonished.
Edward and Bella broke their kiss. Edward grinned, watching as his daughter climbed onto the lounge. She settled in that way children do, finding space where none existed until she was likewise cradled in her father's arms.
"Maybe I should eat you instead." He rained kisses on her face so she squealed.
Bella hissed in pain, and Edward curled an arm around his daughter, stilling her movements. "Sorry, love," he said.
"No. It wasn't you." Bella winced, rubbing at a spot on her side. "It was the baby."
Nicolette shifted again until she could put her ear against Bella's stomach. She listened intently. "No hurt Momma. It's not nice, Brother." She was quite insistent that the baby just had to be a boy, as she had informed them she had no desire for sisters. But then, everyone referred to the baby as they'd referred to her before she was born—a little lord.
By then, Esme—little Nettie at her hip—had caught up. Her smile was, as always, gentle. "Your little hellion is very fast. It's a shame she may not enter the running games at the festival. I can bet she would best any man out there when she's old enough."
Esme was delighted with Edward's forward thought, allowing both his wife and daughter to 'play' with swords and the like. Though he was often terrified Nic would break her neck, he didn't mind that she was rambunctious.
Edward tilted his head at Esme. "You're still joining us for dinner, yes? You and everyone?"
While Edward and Bella gave many dinners for many important people, he looked forward to none as much as he liked entertaining the Cullen family. Emmett, again, no fool, had taken Carlisle into his confidences just as the Volturi family had, but he and Edward remained true friends.
Their visits had become even more frequent of late, which was what Esme was doing here in the first place. Though she didn't say it—his wife was a very strong woman—Edward knew she liked having the older woman around. Especially when she was so close to the birth, Bella needed a mother with her.
"Of course, My Lord," Esme said with a smile. "We'll all be there."
Edward nodded, quite content.
It was a good life.
A/N: And so, we say goodbye to these kiddos.
Thank you for taking this journey with me. Thank you for all your feedback and support. It all means more to me than you can know. Even negative feedback helps. Thank you. Hearts.