"Hope on the Horizon"

Disclaimer: The proprietary elements of Breaking Dawn, including its original treatment and all of the characters, belong solely to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.

Bella's POV

"Edward, I'm pretty sure Bella will be able to manage without you for the next five minutes," Esme chided, motioning for him to join Carlisle, who was waiting at the door.

"You may be right," Edward shrugged, his gaze still focused on my face. "But that's really not the issue."

"Ah. Then, what is?" Esme pressed.

"Isn't it obvious?" he sighed. "I can't leave her. Not now."

"It won't take long, son," Carlisle chimed in from across the room. "There are just a couple of last minute details I'd like to discuss with you before we begin—a final, crash course in 'hands-on surgical obstetrics,' if you will."

The only person on the planet more thorough than Edward was Carlisle, so there was no doubt in my mind that I'd be in good hands tonight. Alice had informed me that the makeshift operating theatre in Carlisle's library was better appointed than the Labor & Delivery floor at Forks General. Nothing to worry about, she'd tried to reassure me, the C-section will go smoothly. But there were other concerns (and I winced slightly as a movement inside me reminded me of that now). Alice couldn't "see" the baby's future clearly—couldn't predict anything about him—and that was more than a little disconcerting. I needed to know that the baby would be all right, no matter what happened to me.

"How are you feeling, sweetheart?" Edward asked warily, turning away from Esme and placing a hand on the top peak of my stomach.

"Go with Carlisle," I encouraged, "I'll be fine. Esme's here."

Edward looked at his mother, then at me. Then at his mother again.

"Go," Esme and I both urged—in perfect unison. I chuckled once, then caught my breath as the baby kicked more abruptly.

Edward immediately took my hand.

I'm okay, I assured him with my eyes, attempting to disguise my temporary discomfort. I knew it would pass—he shouldn't worry.

Edward grimaced—unconvinced—and rubbed small, soothing circles exactly where the baby had kicked.

He was torn. And it was my fault. Why must I always cause him pain? I took comfort in knowing that I wouldn't be the cause of his emotional turmoil much longer.

"Maybe it would be better if Rosalie assisted during the procedure," Edward began again, anxiety plain on his otherwise perfect features, "So that I can stay with—"

"Edward, it really is in Bella's best interest," Carlisle interjected, "That we adhere to the original plan. There's a reason Rosalie's responsibilities are to administer the general anesthetic and attend to the baby postpartum. I'll need your assistance surgically, particularly in the unlikely event that complications should arise."

Edward opened his mouth as if to say something, then thought better of it. With a deep sigh, he leaned forward and cradled my face in his hands.

"Are you sure you're all right?" he murmured. "I don't have to go."

"Yes, you do. Carlisle needs you," I said, gazing back at him.

Edward hesitated, then sighed once more. "Five minutes. Don't leave this bed. Promise me."

I nodded sternly, crossing my heart.

With a half-smile that didn't quite touch his eyes, Edward kissed me tenderly before turning reluctantly to leave.

"He loves you so," Esme whispered, taking my hand after they'd gone. "We all do, Bella."

"I know," I blushed, lowering my eyes, "I love you, too."

"Let's get you ready, dear," she suggested then, reaching to help me remove my silk maternity gown. "Something tells me we have exactly five minutes before Edward walks back through that door."

"Actually, I'd put money on it."

Esme chuckled, "I'll advise Emmett." In one graceful motion, Esme slid the smooth fabric over my body. Then I noticed the replacement garment she held in her hands. Ugh. A hospital gown.

"I realize it's not the most flattering—" she started to apologize, seeing my countenance fall slightly.

"It's not that, exactly. Although I'm pretty sure Alice would object," I said, extending my arms straight out in front of me.

"You know, it's only natural for you to be a little nervous, dear," she smiled knowingly, as if she could read my thoughts. "You're about to have a baby."

Esme's words weighed upon my mind and heart like an impression in soft clay. I was speechless.

"I'm sure you wish your own mother were here right now," she whispered, as tears filled my eyes. "I'm so very sorry."

I shook my head. "Esme, you are like a mother to me," I murmured, my voice wavering. "Thank you for being here. . .for everything."

"Dearest Bella," she crooned softly, wrapping her arms around me.

I sobbed into her shoulder then, and Esme immediately asked, "Are you all right?"

"Oh, Esme. . .what if something goes wrong?" I cried, clinging to her. "What if there's a problem? What if—"

"Shh," she whispered, pulling back to look in my eyes, "Bella, you know as well as I do that Carlisle and Edward won't let anything happen to you."

"I'm not worried about myself so much," I breathed, staring at my hands.

Esme smiled, touching my forearm. "This is Edward's child and Carlisle's grandchild we're talking about," she reminded me. "No infant in the history of the world was ever in better hands."

"But that's just my point," I wailed. "There's never been an infant like this one as far as we know. So many things could go wrong. . ." I persisted, my anxiety level steadily rising.

"Try to relax, dear. Nothing's going to go wrong," she soothed.

No sooner had Esme said those words than the baby's legs extended sharply, inadvertently kicking me in the ribs. I heard a muffled crack and instinctively wrapped my arms around myself, sucking in a quick breath of air. A fraction of a second later, I felt the pain—but there was no time to react before the baby kicked again. Another snap.

This time, I screamed.

Almost instantaneously, the door flew open and crashed against the wall, nearly coming off its hinges.

"Bella!" Edward shouted, blurring to my side and reaching for me, "What's wrong?"

I gasped and shook my head in agony—unable to speak, barely able to breathe.

Edward just about game unglued then. "Esme! What's happening?" he growled.

"I'm not sure—I think the baby may have broken some of her ribs," she answered quickly.

"Let me examine her," Carlisle demanded, placing a hand on Edward's shoulder.

Edward took one hesitant step backward, allowing Carlisle access, his arms still half-extended towards me.

I held my breath as Carlisle began his lightening fast, yet meticulously systematic examination. It hurt to breathe—so I didn't. Much.

Edward noticed that. "Bella, love," his voice was low—softer now, "I know it hurts. But try to keep breathing, sweetheart."

It was a simple enough request, but much easier said than done. Expanding my lungs only accentuated the stabbing pain in my side. Trying not to panic, I shrank back against the pillows and squeezed my eyes shut tight.

Edward gritted his teeth. I could hear him pacing feverishly behind Carlisle now.

"Almost done," Carlisle reassured. "You're doing very well, Bella."

I peaked at Edward and noticed that he was frantically raking his hands through his bronze hair—it looked as if he might start pulling it out by the fistful at any moment.

Esme touched his elbow then, and Edward stopped pacing. He glared at her, obviously upset.

"How could I have let this happen?" he fumed.

"Edward," Esme said calmly, "Please don't blame yourself for something that was clearly beyond anyone's control. Believe me, there was nothing you could have done."

Edward's head snapped up.

"Let me know if this hurts, Bella," Carlisle instructed, as his gentle fingers lightly brushed across one of my cracked ribs.

I bit my lip, stifling a scream, and Edward lurched forward.

Esme put a firm hand on his shoulder. I thought he might lash out at her, but instead, he turned and collapsed into her arms.

"I can't take this. . .I can't—" Edward groaned through his teeth.

Carlisle lifted his head then. "She's stable for the moment, Edward," he reported, "And the baby appears to be fine. Don't worry, son."

"And—her ribs?" Edward choked.

"I'll need a pulmonary film to rule out possible tissue damage," Carlisle continued, "But it would appear that the injuries she's sustained are minimal: Two minor fractures, as far as I can tell."

"Carlisle, just listen to her," Edward moaned, panicking now. "She's not getting enough oxygen."

He pulled away from Esme and stepped around Carlisle to sit beside me.

"If either one of those bones splintered in close proximity to her lungs. . ." Edward exhaled in a strained whisper.

"Then we'll detect it on the x-ray and take care of it immediately," Carlisle said, exuding confidence. "But I don't think that's the case, Edward. Broken ribs make breathing more difficult, but Bella's certainly not manifesting signs of advanced respiratory distress."

Edward nodded, accepting Carlisle's logic, but his eyes were still wild with worry.

"Let's run the chest x-ray and get those fractures taped," Carlisle continued calmly, "That will help. And then, I expect we'll be able to proceed as planned."

Carlisle put his hand on my shoulder and smiled reassuringly. "You, my dear, are going to be just fine. Do your husband a favor, though, and focus on your breathing while I'm gone," he winked and excused himself to prepare the necessary equipment and retrieve his bag.

"I'm so sorry," Edward finally whispered, taking my face in his hands. "What kind of husband am I that I can't even—"

"S-s-shh," I exhaled, reaching for his hand. "Please. Don't."

"I love you," he sighed, touching his forehead to mine. "So much."

"That's why we're h-here," I teased, feebly.

Edward rolled his eyes. "Not funny, Bella."

Thirty minutes later, Carlisle's x-ray machine had ruled out any serious damage to my lungs, and I had long strips of two-inch adhesive tape running over my broken ribs, from my sternum around my back to my spine. The tape, Carlisle explained, would help "decrease the pain by restricting the movement of the fractured area." It was still a little uncomfortable to breathe, but better.

Esme, who'd excused herself prior to the x-ray, had returned and was now reporting on the atmosphere in the "waiting room" downstairs. Alice was apparently bristling with edgy excitement. Jasper was cautiously, but decidedly, optimistic. Seth and Jacob had just arrived and were eager for an update. And, Emmett was orchestrating the placement of wagers on "baby stats" (height, weight, hair color, etc.).

Holding hands as she briefly regaled us (Esme was very good at distractions), Edward and I couldn't help but smile. Occasionally, Edward would chuckle softly in response to something Esme said—or how she said it. But mostly we just listened, enjoying the charming nonchalance in her voice—as if this were all very routine.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," Carlisle began, "But we should probably get Bella prepped for surgery now. Time is of the essence under the unusual circumstances."

"Yes," Edward agreed seriously—immediately switching gears.

"I'll go down and inform the others," Esme offered. "Alice, especially, will be thrilled for the up-to-the-minute news. Oh, and I almost forgot, she said to give you this," Esme kissed my cheek, then Edward's. "I'll see you both soon. I can hardly wait to meet my grandbaby!" she sang.

Edward squeezed my hand.

"Send Rosalie up, will you?" Carlisle requested, as Esme sashayed towards the door. "Tell her it's time."

My breath caught at Carlisle's words, and I unconsciously furrowed my brow. Edward bent down and tenderly kissed the crease between my eyes, trailing his cool fingers down my cheek to cradle my jaw.

"Chin up," he encouraged. "This is the easy part."

"Show off," I muttered.

He smirked, gathering me carefully into his arms. Then, in another attempt to lighten my suddenly somber mood, he playfully groaned as he hefted my weight. Was he serious?

"Maybe you should try working out," I offered, raising an eyebrow.

He laughed louder than I'd heard him laugh in a long time.

I folded my arms across my chest and waited for him to regain his composure. It took a minute.

"Sorry, really. I couldn't resist," he apologized, kissing my hair.

I glared at him for a moment, then sighed and chuckled myself.

"You're forgiven," I said easily. "But I do feel bad. I just wish I weren't such a burden."

He rolled his eyes. "Silly Bella."

Several minutes later, I was lying on a state-of-the-art surgical table in the middle of the transformed library. Edward held my hand as Carlisle strategically positioned several spotlights above me. When he flipped them on, I froze like a deer in the headlights.

"Bella?" Edward whispered, taking my hand. "Are you okay?"

To my utter astonishment, tears overflowed my eyes and gushed down my face.

"Bella!" he said—louder, alarmed now. "What is it, sweetheart?"

Edward wiped the tears from my hot cheeks with cold, frantic fingers, but others followed.

"It's n-nothing. I guess I'm just. . .a little scared," I stammered.

He wrapped his arms around me then, holding me as closely as he dared.

"Everything's going to be all right, Bella. I'm here. I won't leave you," he murmured in my ear.

I nodded and exhaled through pursed lips, "I know."

Edward kept hold of my hand and stayed at my side, while Carlisle began prepping me for the surgery.

Searching for distractions, I squinted timidly around the room, taking in the strange clinical surroundings. In its current state, Carlisle's library was barely recognizable; the perimeter was so dark that I couldn't even see the long rows of bookshelves I knew were there. Focusing on the gentle hum of the machinery surrounding us, I bit my lip as Carlisle started an IV line in my arm.

Edward stroked the back of my hand, his eyes never leaving my face. He knew exactlyhow difficult this part was for me. I could feel the cold liquid entering my blood stream as Carlisle taped the drip line securely into place on my forearm. Trying not to look at my arm, I saw three paper-lined, silver trays exhibiting an impressive display of surgical instruments. I shuddered, my gaze lingering on the needles.

Edward squeezed my hand. "Try to relax now, Bella," he encouraged.

It was then that I noticed the hospital bassinet in the far corner of the room. It was surrounded by an entirely different set of medical equipment—and neonatal supplies.

I stopped breathing.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," Edward muttered. Then he saw the fresh tears in my eyes and worried aloud, "Are you still afraid?"

"I'm fine. I just—I just noticed. . ."

His eyes followed mine and then softened immediately.

"Ah," he smiled.

"I can't believe this is actually happening," I said incredulously, shaking my head slowly back and forth.

"Nor can I," Edward murmured, his face almost severe with the depth of his emotion.

We stared into each other's eyes for a long time.

"No matter what happens now, I will always love you, Edward Cullen," I whispered.

"Nothing is going to happen to you, Bella," Edward said forcefully, glancing at Carlisle who was adjusting the valve on the IV. "I promise you that."

"I believe you," I sighed. "But, it's not me I'm worried about."

With his face just inches from mine, Edward murmured, "Why am I not surprised by that?" Then he added, "Our baby's going to be perfect, love. But you don't have to take my word for it. You'll soon see for yourself."

"I hope he's as beautiful as you," I sighed.

Edward kissed me tenderly—apparently savoring the moment as much as I was.

"I hope she has your eyes," he whispered, kissing my eyelids. "And your nose," he murmured, as he kissed the tip of my nose. "And your mouth. . ."

"Ahem," Carlisle cleared his throat.

Appearing not to have heard his father (which was more than highly improbable), Edward kissed me—passionately—on the lips.

"I love you, Isabella Cullen," he exhaled, his own breathing more labored than usual.

It was too bad Carlisle had just hooked me up to the monitor, because it broadcast my heart's marked acceleration loud and clear. I immediately thought of my hospital stay in Phoenix and was more than a little chagrined. Again.

Rosalie entered the library just in time to witness the embarrassing scene.

"Leave her alone, Edward," she snorted. "I can't administer the anesthesia if she goes into cardiac arrest."

Carlisle grinned, busying himself with the final preparations, and Edward just rolled his eyes.

After a quick inventory of the neonatal supplies, Rose met us in the middle of the room.

"Everything appears to be in order," she reported with a smug smile. "Leave it to Carlisle, though, to go a little overboard. We have enough newborn diapers to pamper the entire infant population of Seattle," she teased.

We all chuckled then, including Carlisle. Chuckling was good. I needed to stay calm.

"Bella, are you ready?" Carlisle asked, placing a hand on my shoulder.

Calm went out the window. "As ready as I'll ever be," I gulped.

Edward squeezed my hand, and Carlisle nodded once at Rosalie.

Rose positioned herself behind me, and I heard her flip a couple of switches before placing a rubber mask over my nose and mouth.

"Take deep breaths, Bella," she ordered.

I stopped breathing altogether, and my eyes whirled to find Edward's.

"Just do the best you can, sweetheart," he soothed. "In and out. . .that's right. Try to relax."

I closed my eyes then, holding Edward's hand. And drifted. . .

Edward's POV

As she drifted away from me into unconsciousness, I panicked. Wanting desperately to look into her eyes once more, my mind raced back to the very first moment I'd seen her. Enough. I was not losing her—Alice had assured me there'd be no complications during the surgery. Then why was my "life" (with Bella, of course, for that's how I measured it), flashing before my eyes, as if I were a character in some low budget film? Enough.

Whatever the reason, the memories continued to lap at the edges of my subconscious mind. Bella was completely under now, and I needed this. So I let the memories come. Images of Bella flooded through me with tsunami force, and I held onto her hand for dear life. Hers, not mine. She would survive this—Bella would be all right. I squeezed her unresponsive fingers and, again, felt a surge of panic.

Suddenly we were seated in that horrid high school cafeteria—the day my gaze had locked with that pair of wide, chocolate-brown eyes for the first time. I remembered my sense of unease at not being able to read her thoughts then. I was reliving it all now: My fascination with those deceptively communicative eyes. My strange impulse to shield her from her less than loyal friends. My growing need to protect her from harm. The short, thoughtless second when I'd sprinted across the icy parking lot, transforming from killer to protector. That first night in her room when she'd whispered my name, and the sun had risen in the middle of my midnight. (I'd known then, as I knew now, that I would always love this fragile human girl, for the rest of my limitless existence.) Our wedding. The honeymoon. This moment. Focused on her pale, heart-shaped face, I felt my love for her settle deeper into every portion of my stone body.

Edward, Carlisle called, bringing me back to reality. I could use your help now, son.

I was instantly at his side—working to focus my scattered thoughts. Carlisle had made a low, transverse incision and had already cut through the superficial tissues, separating them from the muscle and exposing the near impenetrable amniotic sac.

I watched in wonder.

"Feel this," he marveled, as he reached deeper into Bella's abdomen, inviting me to follow his lead. "Palpitate the anterior portion—there."

I did as he directed.

"Amazing, isn't it?" Carlisle continued. "The membrane is as strong as our skin."

Just millimeters below our hands, I felt something else—a tiny movement I recognized at once.

Could a dead, frozen heart beat again? It felt like mine was about to.

"Carlisle. . ." I exhaled in awe, unable to compose a coherent sentence.

He smiled. "Would you still like to do the honors?"

We'd discussed this step extensively, during his last lecture in "hands-on surgical obstetrics," but I suddenly felt unprepared. Glancing at my wife's angelic face once more, I took a deep, unnecessary breath and nodded once at Carlisle.

Bending over Bella's rounded abdomen, I allowed my teeth to graze across the amniotic membrane, judging the exact force necessary to sever the stony tissue. I lingered there a fraction of a second, calculating the physics—I had one shot, and I would not make a mistake. But already, with my nose and mouth in such close proximity to Bella's pulsating blood, I was fighting the monster. I had to ignore the familiar siren call alerting me now to the white hot fire scorching my parched throat. Enough. My hands balled into fists, and I held my breath.

Carlisle put a steadying hand on my shoulder, but it wasn't necessary. I was in control. Determined, I made one more careful pass with my razor sharp teeth, and the membrane gave way.

"Excellent, Edward—nicely done," Carlisle quietly praised, as I stood upright and allowed him access. He proceeded to suction off the amniotic fluid, making more room to perform the actual delivery.

Now, he prompted, Just like we talked about. . .

I nodded and reached my hands forward, sliding into the warmth of Bella's womb. Feeling the baby's soft skin for the first time sent a jolt of electricity to my long dormant heart.

But something was wrong.

"I. . .I think the baby may be. . .posterior," I breathed.

"Let me see," Carlisle offered, changing places with me.

"Yes. . ." he began, "You're right. But that's fine—we'll just turn her slightly. . .here."

I was more grateful now than I ever had been for his preparation and many decades of experience. I watched in wonder as he maneuvered my yet unborn child effortlessly with his gentle, capable hands. Then, I realized. . .

"Turn her? It's a girl?"

"It would appear so, yes. Are you ready to deliver your daughter?" Carlisle asked.

A daughter. I just nodded—stunned.

Carlisle stepped back, allowing me better access.

I moved closer and reached inside once more. As my fingers brushed the baby's cheek, she turned her tiny head slightly towards my hand. I took another deep breath to steady myself. Grasping her head and slippery shoulders, I gently, very carefully pulled her towards me.

As soon as the baby's nose and mouth were exposed to the air, Carlisle began suctioning her small airway. She didn't like that at all—and it required every ounce of restraint I had left to keep from shoving Carlisle's hands away from her pouting, perfect face. She looked so much like her mother. . .

Suddenly a sharp, sweet cry pierced the stillness of the night—like the glorious breaking of a long awaited dawn. Next to Bella's melodious voice, it was the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard.

I staggered backwards then—afraid of doing something wrong, of hurting her. Sensing my distress, Carlisle very capably finished the birthing process. I was spellbound as he gently pulled the baby out, laying her tiny, wriggling body onto Bella's chest. Bella.

"Would you like to 'cut' the cord?" Carlisle smiled, disrupting my thoughts.

Rosalie nudged me, and I stumbled forward to sever the last physical tie between Bella and our beautiful daughter.

"She's stunning, Edward," Rosalie breathed, "Absolutely dazzling."

She is, Carlisle echoed. "Congratulations, son."

Rosalie immediately began attending to the baby, while Carlisle focused his attention on Bella.

Already at Bella's side, I bent to kiss her forehead, then whispered in her ear, "We have a beautiful daughter." My voice was thick with emotion as I continued, "She's perfect, Bella. I can't wait for you to see. I love you. . .so much."

I thought I saw a small smile on Bella's lips then, but I was immediately distracted by another abrupt cry. I flashed to my daughter's side, almost knocking Rosalie over in the process.

"Relax, Edward, she's fine," Rosalie laughed. "She's just a little cold, that's all," she smiled, as she wrapped a blanket around the baby.

"Can I. . .hold her now?" I said in a broken whisper—relieved, but suddenly hesitant again. She was like a tiny soap bubble—so very fragile and ephemeral.

"Of course," she said, putting the baby in my arms. "Just watch her head. . .that's it. Perfect. See, you're a natural."

I shook my head slowly back and forth. "I can't believe it. I'm her father," I breathed, still dazed.

Subtly giving us some privacy, Rose took advantage of the time to check Bella's blood pressure and adjust the anesthesia accordingly.

Carlisle seized an opportunity himself, calling cheerily over his shoulder, "Excuse me, I'm her grandfather. . .do I get a turn?"

"You take care of my wife," I retorted with a smile, my mood exultant, "Then I'll let you hold my daughter."

"Deal," Carlisle chuckled, good-naturedly.

"She's so beautiful," I murmured softly, swelling with pride. "She has Bella's eyes. . .and chin."

"And your dark hair and long fingers," Rosalie chimed in.

"She's exquisite, Edward," Carlisle agreed, looking over his shoulder.

"Thank you so much. . .for everything," I choked, nearly overcome with emotion.

"It's been my great pleasure," Carlisle replied fervently. "The procedure went more smoothly than I'd dared to hope," he continued. "Bella's done wonderfully—in fact, I'm almost finished here."

"Her vitals are excellent, too" Rosalie interjected. "She should be regaining consciousness by the time I've completed the newborn examination."

I sighed in relief, then stopped breathing altogether, cradling the baby closer to my chest. I couldn't let her go. Not now.

"Can't that wait?" I asked.

"I'm afraid not," she said quietly, moving to my side.

My arms tightened protectively around my infant daughter, and I felt a low growl building in my chest.

Rosalie just smiled, her eyes soft and understanding.

"The exam needs to be done immediately postpartum, Edward. But it shouldn't take long. I'll basically be assigning the baby an Apgar score—based on her heart rate, respirations, muscle tone, reflexes, and color—and then. . .well, there are just a few other things."

"What other things?" I pressed, growing more anxious by the minute.

"You know, the usual assessments—skin, craniofacial, neck and clavicle, chest, respiratory, cardiac, abdominal, extremity, and spine. It shouldn't take long," she winked.

I raised an eyebrow. "She looks perfect to me," I smiled, gazing down at her. A pair of tiny eyelids opened in response to my voice, and the baby blinked up at me. I instinctively raised my hand to shield her eyes from the bright lights, and her gaze met mine for the first time. The feeling that washed over me then was unnerving, staggering.

"Elizabeth Alice Cullen," I whispered—so softly. "Welcome to the world, sweetheart."

She blinked twice, focusing on my face. I worried for a fleeting moment that I might look frightening to her—alien somehow—but she seemed well enough at ease. More than that, she was totally content in my arms. Amazing.

Suddenly my knees felt weak, and I hoped desperately that I wouldn't drop her. The love coursing through me, for my daughter and for Bella, was overwhelming. So different, and yet so much the same. I cradled Elizabeth in my arms, gazing into her small, heart-shaped face, and knew that another permanent change was being wrought. I felt it in every fiber of my being: A father's love.

I stroked her tiny cheek with my pinky finger and gently kissed her button nose. "I'm your Daddy," I breathed, "And I love you."

"Edward," Rosalie said warmly, almost apologetically, "I need to borrow the baby now. I promise it won't take long."

I nodded with a sigh and reluctantly, very carefully put Elizabeth in her arms. My eyes followed the two of them across the room, and I experienced the strangest sensation—as if something were being pulled from my chest. I was emptier somehow. Almost lonely.

I turned to Bella.

"How much longer?" I asked Carlisle.

Not long now, he responded, wordlessly.

I took Bella's hand. . .and waited. She looked so pale.

"Carlisle," I called (just minutes later), "Why isn't she—"

"Patience, son," he said calmly. "She'll come around when she's ready."

I was anxious, but I smiled in spite of myself. Typical Bella.

I kissed the back of her hand, then turned to watch Rosalie with Elizabeth. She was extremely gentle with the baby—and exceptionally thorough. I hadn't heard Elizabeth so much as whimper since she'd been in my sister's care, and for that, I was more than grateful. I'd been a bundle of nerves, focused on the baby's breathing and the beating of her tiny heart, since she took her first breath.

"A perfect 10," Rosalie beamed, as she announced the baby's Apgar score from across the room. "How about that?" she cooed at Elizabeth. "We already have something in common."

I rolled my eyes at Rose's antics, but was again overwhelmed by a stirring sense of fatherly pride.

After the newborn assessments were complete, Rosalie placed Elizabeth in Carlisle's arms—it was now his turn—and sped for the door.

"I'll give everyone the news," she called over her shoulder. "I promised Emmett the baby's measurements before anyone else."

I chuckled, focused now on Carlisle holding my daughter in his arms. I stood slowly and crossed the room to stand at his side. Elizabeth was as content in his arms as she had been in mine, a perfect little Sleeping Beauty.

It was then that I noticed the strong emotion burning in Carlisle's eyes.

"Do you realize how special she is, Edward? What this child represents?" he spoke reverently, his voice low and deliberate.

I contemplated his questions, gazing down at her angelic face.

"Elizabeth is nothing short of a miracle," he continued. "She is hope, incarnate—living, breathing proof of the continuation of your soul." Carlisle paused then, letting the words sink into my mind. And heart.

"The creation of life is something that transcends medical understanding," he went on quietly, thoughtfully. "We can comprehend the biological division of cells, quantify gestational growth and development, and even predict fetal outcome with our knowledge of genetic probabilities, but the origination of a soul is an unexplained phenomenon. In the final analysis, we are only ever witnesses to the true miracle."

I placed my hand over my daughter's beating heart, considering the implications of Carlisle's profound insight. After another comfortable silence, I lifted my eyes and saw the wisdom in his.

"Elizabeth. . .is a gift," I breathed—understanding.

"Yes," he agreed, his gaze penetrating mine.

Bella's low moan reverberated softly in my ears, and I was at her side before the glorious sound fell silent.

"Bella, can you hear me?" I whispered, caressing her warm cheek—now tinged with pastel rose.

"Edward," she exhaled.

Breathing an enormous sigh of relief, I kissed her lightly on the lips. She opened her eyes slowly, and I kissed her again, cradling her face in my hands. This kiss was much more serious than I'd planned. I hadn't intended to consolidate each new feeling, every staggering emotion I'd experienced without her into this one demonstrative expression of love and adoration, but that's what happened.

Bella almost lost consciousness. . .again.

But then, the shocked look on her face turned to radiance. Awareness and understanding. She smiled a heart-breakingly beautiful smile. And I was home.

"Where. . .where is—"

"Elizabeth Alice?" I offered.

She stared at me blankly. "We have a daughter?"

"We do," I whispered, squeezing her hand. "Would you like to meet her?" I winked.

"Um, yes?"

Carlisle approached us from behind with Elizabeth in his arms, and I stepped to the side so that Bella could see.

She craned her neck to get a better look as he transferred a soundly sleeping Elizabeth to my waiting arms.

"Time to awake, Sleeping Beauty," I whispered, kissing her dark hair. "There's someone here who's dying to meet you."

Bella reached her hands out, and I bent to put our perfect daughter in her arms.

She gazed down at Elizabeth and then up at me with tears shining in her wide brown eyes. It took her a moment to compose herself.

"Edward, she's amazing. . ." Bella whispered, as our baby opened her eyes and looked into her mother's face for the first time.

I was not prepared for this. Never had I imagined, nor even come close to imagining, the feeling that would course through me as I watched Bella holding our daughter for the first time. Impossible. I hadn't thought my frozen heart capable of holding more affection than it already had for my wife—my one, true love; but, the depth of my adoration and devotion was as yet unexplored. My daughter in Bella's arms. This was the culmination of my existence; the reason for my being. I lived for them now and ever would. Isabella was my beating heart, and Elizabeth my undying soul.

"Can we come in," Alice chirped impatiently from the doorway, bouncing up and down on her tiptoes. Esme and the rest of the family were waiting in the hall behind her.

I looked at Bella, and she nodded once, smiling. I kissed the tears from her cheeks and reached down to engage the mechanism that would raise the back of the surgical bed. Then I carefully positioned myself behind her, gently supporting her upper body so that she could receive visitors with Elizabeth in her arms.

"I love you," I whispered in her ear, as I motioned for our family to come in and meet our daughter.

Cradling Elizabeth in one arm, Bella reached back to stroke my face. I held her hand against my cheek, then turned my head slightly to press my lips against her palm.

"I love you, too," Bella whispered, looking over her shoulder. "So much."

Elizabeth objected then, apparently because Bella had turned away from her. Her little face was twisted into an adorable pout, and one of her arms was flailing about, having escaped the confines of her blanket. If I hadn't been so anxious at her cries, I would have laughed.

"Shh," Bella whispered, immediately turning back to Elizabeth and touching her quivering, purple lips with a gentle finger. "It's okay," she breathed. "We're right here."

Instinctively, I began humming Bella's lullaby, and, to my utter amazement, the baby stopped crying.

Bella smiled. "She knows your voice."

"Nice job, Daddy-O," Emmett chuckled, bounding across the room. "Who knew you were so talented?"

"Well, Jasper's helping," I winked.

"Let me, let me, let me!" Alice squealed, extending her arms out for Elizabeth.

"Only if you promise to hold perfectly still," I warned.

"Of course," she squealed again, reaching for the baby. "Just let me see her!"

Esme, standing next to Alice, wrapped an arm around my favorite sister's shoulders (for which I was grateful), and they gazed down at Elizabeth together.

"Oh!" Alice gasped. "Oh! Oh! I can't wait to dress her up in girl clothes. We'll need a separate dresser for her accessories, alone! Just look at all that gorgeous hair. . .I'm going to need a bow budget."

"She perfect," Esme crooned. "Absolutely perfect," she said again, looking at Bella and I with love and approval shining in her eyes.

"Thank you," I whispered. "We think so."

Rosalie moved forward then, hesitantly stroking the baby's thick, dark hair. "She really is beautiful, Edward," she breathed.

"Rose," Bella began, squeezing my hand and glancing up at me. I nodded, remembering an earlier conversation we'd had. . .

"I want to thank you—and Carlisle—for taking such good care of Elizabeth and I."

Rosalie smiled, looking down at her hands.

"And, Edward and I. . .well, we wondered if you'd do us the honor," Bella paused, then continued quietly, "Of being our baby's godmother."

"Sweet!" Emmett hooted. "Does that make me the godfather?"

"Only by default," I muttered.

Rosalie was stunned. "I-I don't know. . .if I deserve that," she stammered, looking straight at me as Alice placed the baby in her arms.

"Of course you do," Alice exclaimed. "Isn't it wonderful?!"

"Yes," Rosalie finally murmured. "Yes, it is. Thank you so much," she said humbly, cradling Elizabeth to her chest.

"This is a momentous occasion," Carlisle observed then. "None of us ever imagined it possible that our family would expand in this way. Thank you, Bella, for this greatest of all gifts."

"I can't take all the credit," Bella smiled shyly.

"You got that right!" Emmett bellowed, slapping me on the shoulder. Idiot. I absorbed the impact entirely, so that Bella wouldn't be unnecessarily jostled.

"Hey, when do I get to hold the kid?" Emmett asked.

"Never," I stated firmly.

"Come on now! That's just not right! You know I'm going to be her favorite uncle," Emmett complained loudly.

"Wanna bet?" Jasper said, under his breath.

Startled by all the commotion, Elizabeth began to wail.

"Now you've done it," I growled at Emmett. "Will you please keep your voice down?"

"What does she want?" Alice panicked, "What should we do?"

"She wants her daddy," Bella sighed. "Give her to Edward, Rose."

Rosalie placed Elizabeth in my arms then, and she immediately settled down. I didn't even have to sing to her this time. Incredible.

Bella and I exchanged a smile. Then, unable to resist, I winked at Emmett.

He just glared. "Jasper?"

"Nope. It's all him."

"Huh. Impressive, bro," Emmett grinned.

"Let's give Edward and Bella some time alone with their daughter," Esme suggested. "Bella, dear, you must be exhausted."

"Maybe just a little," she whispered.

I leaned over the baby and kissed Bella's forehead.

"You're not the only one who's tired," I said, bending to show her that Elizabeth was now sleeping peacefully in my arms.

Bella smiled again, her eyes wide with wonder.

"Could I hold her one more time?"

"Of course, sweetheart," I murmured, laying our baby in the crook of her arm, as our family filed from the room. Carlisle quietly pulled the door closed behind them, and Elizabeth stirred.

"Should I sing you both to sleep?" I asked, cradling them in my arms.

Bella nodded, a small smile on her perfect lips.

"I love you," she breathed.

"As I love you," I murmured, kissing her cheek and then Elizabeth's.

I began humming Bella's lullaby, and within minutes they were both sound asleep.

Watching the two of them slumber peacefully—Elizabeth nestled in the crook of Bella's arm—my mind mulled over the conversation I'd had with Carlisle shortly after the baby's birth. If my father was right (as I now truly believed), and there was a higher power governing the universe, then I'd been blessed beyond measure, with much more than I deserved. I would strive the rest of my limitless existence to be worthy of it. The happiness I now knew was without precedent, and I couldn't help but feel that there was new hope on the horizon. Gazing down at the two most important things in my world, I did something I'd never done before—not since becoming a vampire.

I lowered my eyes and uttered a silent, heartfelt prayer of thanks.

Author's Note: Please review, then see the chaptered sequel to this trilogy, "From Here to Eternity."