A/n: Thank you SO VERY MUCH to all of you who have stuck with me and my terribly slow writing as I've worked on this story. If I could hug and kiss you each, I might. You have all been models of patience. Bless you.
A huge thank you to pogurl, for proofreading, offering suggestions, and kicking my butt to keep writing this thing. Y'all don't know how important she's been to getting this done.
Twilight Counsel peeps: If it weren't for the WCs you host, chapter fifteen and this epilogue wouldn't have gotten written when they were. Thanks!
And now, the conclusion. :)
The epilogue is set seven years after the events in chapter fifteen.
The mobile phone, one they'd altered so it would work in the Otherworld, was ringing. Cáer frowned at Aengus. "You changed the ring to sound like one of the old rotary telephones?"
"You had it programmed to play Jimmy Buffett."
"Well, yes. A part of—oh, not home, but my mortal life. You know that Bella carried forward more than the other mortal lives have. I like having reminders." She nuzzled his neck as the last notes of the ring echoed through the room.
"You're not going to answer? You know it was Alice. She won't be happy about getting voice mail."
"Or Renee. Either way, it will be about our visit to Forks for Thanksgiving. I much prefer to be here with you than talk about flying over the Atlantic in an aluminum and steel tube with wings. Does she have to know our flight information? We're hiring a car to drive from the airport. I've talked to them both half a dozen times already. They know when we're coming in."
"They're just excited, my heart. They haven't seen you—us—in a year."
"I remember, I know, that one of the reasons, besides you, that Bella wanted to stay in Ireland was to have some distance between her and her family. I understand why. At least with Boann and Brigid we can go decades without seeing them."
Aengus' laugh rumbled under her head, which was resting on his chest. "But when we do see them, they just pop in unannounced. At any rate, the girls only call once a week."
"Each. Alice, Esme, and Renee. Once a week each." Despite her words, and her honest frustration at what felt like a constant intrusion in a life she was used to living in isolation from the mortal world, she appreciated the outpouring of love and concern from her mortal family. Her own parents, despite one being an otherwise immortal Tuatha, had died less than a century after her marriage to Aengus. It wasn't until her time with the Swan family—immediate and extended—that she'd realized how much she missed family.
Their yearly trip to Forks to see Bella's—her—family was something she looked forward to each year. She was starting to notice, though, that they were all aging, her parents and aunt and uncle in particular. Carlisle, who had always looked so young, suddenly looked his age, and it no longer surprised people when he said he was a grandfather. Esme and her sister Renee, too, had wrinkles and loose skin where before they'd been smooth and firm.
It hurt to see them get older, even though it was a delight to see Alice and Jasper's children grow up year by year. Now with Rosalie and Emmett pregnant (twins, Boann had predicted when her they'd visited Ireland early in her pregnancy), they'd have the pleasure of seeing the journey of two more Swans grow into the world.
"Can we be there for their birth?" Aengus had whispered into her ear when Rose and Emmett had shared the good news.
Of course, she'd said in return, mind-to-mind. But why are you so excited?
I want to see if she'll geld Emmett in the delivery room. Alice nearly did so to Jasper when she delivered Austin.
She'd started laughing, and at the couple's confused looks, she'd told them she'd had a mental image of Emmett trying to change diapers—which had started Rosalie on a giggle fit, to Emmett's affront.
"Bella!" As was tradition on their annual Thanksgiving visits, the moment Cáer-as-Bella stepped out of the car in front of Renee and Charlie's home, Emmett was there to scoop her up into a giant, brotherly bear hug that involved spinning and her delighted squeals.
Aengus snickered to himself. In their lives in the Otherworld, there were very few who were familiar enough with Cáer to be so physical with her. Their mortal family here in Washington, however, had no such limits, and they all manhandled both of them with a casualness that was, even after seven years, somewhat shocking. More shocking to him, he supposed, as he did not have Bella's experiences and expectations within him as Cáer did.
About the time that Emmett set Cáer down, Renee walked up and wrapped her arms around Aengus' torso in a strong hug of her own. "We're glad to see you," she told him. "It never quite feels right around here unless the whole family can come."
As he hugged her back, he grinned. "As long as I can sample those amazing pies, I'll be here every year, Renee. You'll never get rid of me." Not that I would leave anyway, he amended mentally.
She took his hand in hers and started dragging him inside. "Esme wants to say 'hi,' but she's chained to the kitchen right now, so you'll have to go to her." She turned her head to face her children. "Emmett! Unload the car!"
"Mom! It's not like Edward can't unload his own stuff!"
Aengus smirked at the whine in his brother-in-law's voice. No matter how old they got, Emmett could instantly revert to his childhood. With the small remote that came with the rental, he opened the trunk.
"Get to it, Emmett. I need to go say hi to everyone, too." Cáer playfully shoved him toward the car, and then jogged over to Renee to wrap her human mother in a long hug. "Hi Mom."
It warmed him through to see the glow that seemed to emanate from his heart. The Swan family was so good for her, for them. He worried what would happen when they inevitably passed on from this world. Already, Carlisle and Charlie had given into the creep of gray and silver across their heads, and Rosalie and Alice were complaining about how difficult it was to dye the grays out. Crows feet were decorating the corners of everyone's eyes, and –
"Uncle Edward!" And the next generation was growing up, too. Chloe, who'd been a baby when he'd first visited seven years ago, was now three and a half feet of high energy kid. With only his name as a warning, he wouldn't have been able to brace himself if he'd been human. She was wrapped around him, giggling up a storm. "Uncle Edward! Come see the puppy!"
He grinned and disentangled himself so that he crouch down in front of her and meet her piercing blue eyes. She really was a little doppelganger of Jasper with the fair coloring. "You have a puppy?"
"Aunt Renee found him and gave him to us! Come see!" She was bouncing on her toes, and he smiled hugely at her. She might have had Jasper's coloring and features, but she was much more like Alice and Emmett than her father.
"Tell you what, munchkin, how about I give you a piggy back ride in. You can navigate and tell me where to go to see the puppy. I need to give Aunt Esme a hug, too." She nodded her agreement, blonde ponytail bobbing behind her head, and bounced behind him so that she could clamber onto his back.
He stood up and they shifted a bit until she was comfortable. "In the front door, Uncle Edward. Aunt Esme is in the kitchen. She's making my favoritest pie."
"Rhubarb?" He asked, knowing full well her preferred pie was apple.
"Ewwww. I don't know why Uncle Charlie likes those. They're gross. She's making apple."
Aengus didn't have to pretend to be excited. He loved the apple pies, too. "Do you think she'll let us sample them?"
She laughed. "You know better. No one gets to." Chloe leaned forward so that she could whisper in his ear. "Uncle Emmett tried this morning and she hit him on the hand with her spoon."
He chuckled. "Uncle Emmett isn't sneaky like I am."
"As sneaky like you are about what?" Esme stood in the kitchen doorway, arms folded over her chest, covering the blue apron that Aengus knew was embroidered with "World's Best Grandma!"
"Illegally swiping pie samples from under your watchful eye, of course." He beamed at her, and scooped her up into a hug, careful not to unbalance her granddaughter from his back.
Esme's voice was affectionate. "Smart ass."
"Grandma!" The amount of shock Chloe managed to shove into that one word nearly sent Aengus into a fit of laughter.
Esme made a tsking sound. "Don't repeat that." She shooed them out of the kitchen doorway, herding them back into the living room. "Go say 'hi' to the puppy. Leave me to my cooking."
Aengus pouted. "No pie?"
"No pie until after dinner tomorrow. Now out."
He kissed her on the cheek, and then obediently turned around and left for the living room, Chloe still on his back. As he walked away, he used his magic to take a sample from the pie filling she'd been working on before they'd interrupted her, transporting a spoon-sized bite directly into his mouth. Mmm. Apple.
"Show me your puppy, midget. Where is she?"
"He, Uncle Edward. In Uncle Charlie's man cave. Daddy says he's gonna be bigger than Mom when he grows up. He has giant paws."
"That big?" Aengus navigated the stairs down to the basement room stocked with a sagging tweed-upholstered couch, two worn leather recliners, and a top-of-the-line television that Carlisle and Charlie had bought together just two weeks previous in honor of the Thanksgiving bowl games. Esme'd been horrified at the monstrosity, so it had ended up in the basement entertainment room. The end result was that Alice, Esme, and Renee were football widows—Rosalie watched the games her husband and in-laws.
When they reached the bottom of the staircase, Aengus could hear both the boom of the television's sound system, and the excited yapping of a puppy. His ear twitched. It was a bark of a magical creature, one he knew, one with a dire reputation. How had Renee gotten one?
He knocked on the door as he opened it. "Incoming," he warned.
As he spoke, Chloe shimmied her way down his back, hit the floor and ran inside. "Grandpa! Uncle Edward is here. I wanna show him Coo!"
Aengus, knowing what 'Coo' was probably short for, sighed silently. Trust a small child to mangle the name of such a beast. He shook his head. There was no way the Whitlock family could have a Cù Sìth.The hounds were huge. Surely even Charlie and Jasper would notice the it had flaming eyes.
He fully entered the room and saw the gangly puppy with the undignified name. It was half laying on Jasper and Alice's oldest, Austin, his head taking up most of the boy's lap. He smiled as he saw it. Not full-blooded, then. He cocked his head and whistled, crouching in the doorway as Coo looked like the most exciting thing ever had happened and came bounding over to him, nearly tripping over his own, quite large, feet.
As he rough-housed with the puppy he grinned up at the other men. "Part Wolfhound? By the paw size, it's either that or Mastiff."
"I don't think even Mastiff accounts for those paws. He's only seven months and he's already the size of pony." Jasper shook his head. "I half think he's the spawn of Cerberus, even if he has only one head."
Aengus laughed. "Cù Sìth is more likely."
"You've obviously been talking to your mother-in-law," Charlie groused. "She found this guy as a puppy, insisted he was a 'fairy hound,'" Charlie used air quotes, "and that you and Bella would appreciate a bit of Ireland here when you came to visit."
Jasper's expression said there was more to it than that. Aengus raised a querying eyebrow up at him. "Alice insisted the kids needed a pet, and so I came home from a client site to the most ridiculous puppy I'd ever seen, cuddling with my wife on the couch. She didn't even warn me."
Snickering in appreciation of Alice, Aengus scooped up the half-mythological puppy and settled on to the couch with him on his lap.
"Oh no," corrected Charlie. "That thing might be allowed on the furniture at my niece's house, but not at mine. Dog on the floor. That's no lap dog."
Aengus obliged his father-in-law and set Coo down on the floor, and as he did, he sent a faint pulse of magic through him. What he felt made him pause. Cù Sìth, definitely. Wolfhound, and yes, Mastiff. It'd been an age since he'd seen such a mix, and now his in-laws had one as a pet. He'd lay many a treasure on his protective sister—who had a tender spot for Bella's relatives—having conveniently set this youngster to Renee as a guard where they, his family, could not actively protect them.
Cáer and Alice shared a long look with each other as they watched her husband, self-satisfied and smug as only a Love God could be, sopped up the last of the gravy with a small chunk of bread, stuffing it into his mouth, and then leaned his chair back on two legs, his hands folded across his stomach in contentment.
"Four legs and two feet on the ground," Alice corrected him, just as she did with Austin.
Aengus didn't move. "You're not my mother," he mocked back at Alice. It lacked any malice, but Cáer smirked at Alice anyway, moving her index finger just the slightest bit, toppling her husband onto his back with a crash.
Emmett leaned over in his seat, offering his brother-in-law a hand. "You should know better than to mouth off to Alice by now, man. It's bad karma."
"Karma. Right." Aengus grumbled and muttered to himself, making a production of getting himself back together and upright at the table. The glare he sent Cáer's direction made her giggle.
Aren't you glad, she sent him, that I convinced you that this was best?
What he sent back through their telepathic link was the equivalent of an eye roll. Yes, wife. You are always right. I was foolish to have reservations.
She grinned broadly at him as she plucked a pea from her plate and hit him on the nose with it.
"Bella Marie Swan Masen! Who told you you could throw food at my table?" Renee sounded as though she was only fussing at her daughter so that the younger kids wouldn't get any ideas.
Cáer beamed her most innocent expression down the table to her human mother, and Renee laughed.
"You haven't been that innocent since you were a baby, Bella. Don't try that face on me. Your father is the only one who still buys it."
Charlie snorted. "Not since she was a teenager and I caught her kissing that boy Mike at the high school football game." He looked at Bella with exaggerated horror. "That was a hard way to learn my little girl was growing up."
Her husband was glowering. She was pretty sure he'd been in Bella's head, bitching and moaning the entire encounter. Aengus definitely wouldn't want to be reminded. Sorry, she sent to him, with a pulse of understanding and regret.
Aengus' love flowed back to her.
Alice turned toward Bella, her expression echoing Charlie's horror. "Bella. You kissed Mike? Mike Newton? Gross."
"I know. I know. It turned me off of boys for the longest time. I couldn't understand why all the girls were always after Emmett. I mean, when I was in seventh grade I saw him and that cheerleader—Lauren?—making out in the woods behind the playground, and they looked like they were enjoying it. After Mike, I didn't get it." As she dropped that tidbit about Em and Lauren, she watched Rosalie turn to look at him, her hands resting on her pregnant stomach, silently demanding an explanation. Cáer was fairly certain it was all for show, so she grinned at her "older" brother. He glared at her in return.
Emmett held up his hands in an "I don't know" gesture. "I was a teenager," he told Rosalie, "and by definition, teenage boys are idiots." He leaned over a bit and placed his hand over hers, believe me, Rose, if you'd gone to school with us, I don't think I would've noticed any of the other girls."
Her sister-in-law looked pleased with this announcement, and she smiled over at Cáer; she knew as well as Cáer that Emmett had nothing to explain, even if it was fun to make him squirm.
Emmett's glare, directed at Cáer, made her laugh. She did love being around this family.
That's all, folks! Review and let me know what you think!