Disclaimer: - Not mine. The characters are the sole property of Stephanie Meyer. I'm just playing with them and promise to return them back as soon as I'm done!
A/N: - This is it. The last chapter. Oh, Happy Day! I know its been a long time coming – and most of you at one point of time or the other must've despaired of this ever happening – but I do hope the ending is worth all the time and love you guys have put into this.
Thank you once again for sticking with me to the bitter end! I really appreciate it!
Here's wishing all the wonderful mommies out there a very Happy Mother's Day!
7 and a half months later
"I can't believe you guys haven't found out whether you're having a boy or a girl yet!" Lisa exclaimed for what felt like the millionth time in the last few months. "How could you resist the temptation? I probably would've begged the doctor to tell me as soon as she knew!"
It was Friday night and considering that I was as huge as a beached whale and about ready to pop at any moment, Jake had conspired with everyone to have them come over to our place in Seattle so that we'd be close to the hospital in case of any emergencies. Not that he'd ever admit to doing anything of the sort if questioned but then, I wasn't an idiot. It was the only logical explanation as to why Seth, Embry, Quil and Dylan suddenly felt the need to have a Lord of the Rings marathon on our 70" high-def Plasma TV when most of them had televisions with similar specs of their own.
But seeing as how I was exhausted and uncomfortable most of the time lately I didn't put up too much of a fight. And so it was that Quil, Embry, Seth, Leah, Lisa, Dylan and Sara (As in Lisa's aunt Sara) had come over with Thai take-out (Yet another of my crazy cravings – a need for Crispy tofu, spicy red curry and Pad Thai!) and pajamas. (There was no way anyone could go home after a crazy night filled with vodka shots and 12 hours of straight, non-stop television.)
"You've got to let that go, hon!" Seth laughed, giving Lisa a conciliatory hug. "It's their decision."
"I know that! It's just… I want to know, okay?" Lisa huffed dramatically. "Do you know how impossible it is to shop for a baby without knowing if it's a girl or a boy first?"
Jacob and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. "It's been hard for us too, trust me." Jacob answered. "There've been more than a few close calls when one or the other of us caved, especially while choosing the baby furniture and clothes. But since I want a girl and Bells wants a boy we figured it might be prudent to wait until the last minute to avoid any unnecessary gloating on either of our parts."
"Still… I don't think I'd have been able to hold out for this long!" Sara piped in.
"Actually, I think it's kind of cool to wait." Leah said. "I mean think of how amazing it will be to find out together after waiting and wondering for all this time!"
"Yeah, cuz, you're such a patient person sweetheart!" Embry drawled sarcastically earning himself a quick swat on the head from a glowering Leah.
"Ow! What?" Embry groused, rubbing his head. "Patience just isn't one of your virtues honey, admit it!"
"I will not admit any such thing!" Leah huffed. "I'll have you know, I'm a very patient person."
"Right!" Embry managed to infuse the word with a wealth of incredulousness. "Seth, buddy, help me out here!"
"Nuh uh!" Seth intoned with a mock shudder. "Dude, I ain't saying shit! I learned a long time ago not to get on my sister's bad side! She's evil, that one!"
Leah smirked. "Yeah, he's a quick learner alright. I only needed to beat him up, oh what was it, about a hundred times before he finally caught on!" She teased, tousling Seth's hair lovingly.
Looking around at this happy tableau, I couldn't believe how normal and routine our life seemed now. An outsider could never have guessed that we'd been through such a harrowing ordeal less than a year ago. But the so-called road to recovery hadn't been easy at all.
Life would never be as it had been a year ago. Nothing and no one could ever replace the hole left behind by Collin – the pack would never be the same; Jake would never be the same – but at least we had all found a semblance of peace so to speak.
The days following the battle had been fraught with heartbreak and worry.
Selfish though it seemed, my foremost worry had been for the baby. From the moment that Vladimir had dropped the bombshell, I'd been overwhelmed by my feelings for the life inside me. I'd already lost one baby, there was no way in hell I was losing another one. I'd fought Vladimir like a madwoman, not just for my life or for Jake's but for the life of my...of our baby. Thankfully, Carlisle had been able to run an ultrasound as soon as the battle was done and had reassured both Jake and me that the baby was doing just fine. (It'd been an incredible miracle that Vladimir's little tantrum hadn't done any lasting damage to the fetus but Carlisle suspected – and I had to agree – that we probably had the resilient werewolf genes to thank for that.)
Once that worry had been put to rest I could finally concentrate fully on the loss of Collin. It was such an awful, senseless tragedy – a young man cut down in his prime over the whim of a madman. He'd be so incredibly young, so full of life and energy. He'd had his whole life ahead of him for heavens sake.
The whole Rez had been in mourning – especially the pack. I'd felt horrible for all of them, but especially for Collin's family. They'd not been a part of the council and so they'd never even know why or how their son had died. They'd just been told the official cover story that we'd come up with (Charlie finally being in the loop had really come in handy) – that he'd been joyriding with his friends and he'd lost control of the vehicle resulting in a terrible accident. I felt terrible that they'd never know the truth about their son – that he'd died a hero's death, protecting me... protecting all of us from a tyrant.
The funeral had been particularly heartbreaking. Collin's mom had been inconsolable – I'd found it so hard to face her – even though I knew she was in the dark over the whole vampire-werewolf dynamic, I still couldn't help but feel as if her eyes followed me around accusingly wherever I went. The guilt was overwhelming.
If I'd been badly shaken by the loss, then Jake had been completely devastated. He'd blamed himself for the loss, despite everyone's best attempts to convince him otherwise. He'd borrowed power from Collin to fight Vladimir and he couldn't help but feel that that had caused Collin to be more susceptible to attack. He'd been like a zombie in the first few days – hardly eating or sleeping, barely talking to anyone. Thankfully, there'd been no time to wallow. About 37 of his employees (including Dylan) had still been missing – presumably buried under the rubble of the explosion. His way of dealing with his grief and guilt had been to throw himself into the search and rescue efforts without eating or sleeping or taking a break for that matter.
Lisa and I had been terrified for Dylan, of course, praying incessantly for him even in the face of the overwhelming odds we were up against. Thankfully, our prayers had been answered. He, along with a few others had been found sheltered beneath a natural rock outcropping that'd protected them from the worst of the explosion. Not everyone else had been so lucky and the final death toll had been 29.
Jake had blamed himself for that too. He'd kept telling everyone who tried to tell him differently that the people who'd lost their lives been his employees and therefore his responsibilities. The survivor's guilt had been immense and it wasn't as if he could just go to a therapist and talk it all out. Thankfully for him (and for our relationship) Jasper had taken to spending a lot of time with Jake immediately after the battle. He would join Jake on most of his patrols and they would end up being gone for hours together. I'd once questioned Sam about what they spoke and he'd told me, to my utter surprise, that not a single word was ever exchanged between the two. Jasper just silently used his gift to temper Jake's emotions...not change them in any way, but to siphon off the worst of the guilt. I was pretty sure that it was Jasper's invaluable input; along with the anticipation over the baby that had pulled Jake back from the edge of a total nervous breakdown.
Dylan's injuries had been touch and go for a while there (The impact from the blast, the shrapnel combined with prolonged exposure to the elements had taken a heavy toll on him) and we'd had a few sleepless nights thinking that he might not pull through. Thankfully Carlisle and Edward had managed to pool their vast medical knowledge to pull off a miracle and save his life. Which wasn't to say that he just woke up completely cured. He'd suffered severe injuries to his spine and was bed ridden for a good 3-4 months after the whole incident. Even now he couldn't walk without the use of crutches but the doctors believed that given time and intensive physical therapy he'd manage to get back to a normal active lifestyle.
The thing that'd helped his recovery tremendously – in my opinion – was his budding relationship with Sara. Being with her seemed to center him, to help him grow as an individual while it did the opposite for her – she could finally stop being a responsible adult all the time and just have fun. They'd only been dating for a few months now and it was mostly long distance for now – what with him being temporarily tied down here and her living in Boston but I had high hopes that they'd work things out despite the odds.
The Cullens had left for Alaska just as soon as all the medical emergencies from the battle had been taken care of, but not without setting up a charitable trust in Collin's name for the Quileute tribe – sort of as an apology for coming back to the area and triggering their transformations. (Jasper, of course, was the exception. He kept coming back to the area for his weekly 'therapy sessions' with Jake.)
It hadn't been easy saying goodbye to them but it hadn't been as heartbreaking as it'd been the last time. I was a different person now. I'd finally grown up, embraced life with all its shortcomings and finally abandoned my childish fantasies. And besides Alice had secretly promised me that she'd come back to see my baby as soon as he/she was born and that assurance that they'd all still be a part of my life, no matter how peripherally, had helped tremendously.
Edward and I had finally had a long talk and resolved some of our most long-standing issues. We'd talked about my first pregnancy and the abortion and he'd finally admitted how wrong he'd been to force the issue even though he'd done it with my best interests at heart. We'd also spoken about Jake and my relationship with him and I'd admitted to being deliriously happy. Edward had also admitted to knowing about my current pregnancy and had wished me all the best for the rest of my life. (I knew that he wasn't being totally sincere about that yet, but I could sense that he was trying his level best to accept my decisions and move on and that had been enough for me.) Edward and I would probably never be best friends, but at least now, I could stand to be in the same room as him without wanting to curl up in misery.
When all was said and done, and as cliché as it sounded, love was what had pulled us through the toughest of times. Jacob and I had been inseparable ever since that night in Vladimir's cave. As soon as we'd both recovered from our injuries Jake had asked me to move in with him and I'd accepted his offer without even blinking. A mere month later, we were officially living together.
Leah and Embry had been going strong too. Once they'd told each other how they felt, there had been no going back. It was like the floodgates had been well and truly opened. Now the acerbic Leah we'd all known and sorta loved had been transformed into a smiling, happy, carefree woman and we all knew that it was due to Embry's love.
The surprising twist in the tale had come from Seth and Lisa. Lisa had saved Seth from Jane's clutches and they'd been wildly in love and dating exclusively ever since. And looking at them now, I had no doubt in my mind that it was the together forever kind of love. It looked like the bad boy of La Push had been well and truly tamed.
La Push and Forks were still struggling to rebuild in the aftermath of the fires. It was a time-consuming process, especially with the weather slowing down all construction efforts but most of the houses that'd burned down were almost entirely rebuilt. More immediately for me, Charlie's house had been rebuilt and he'd actually gotten permits to expand so that he could add on a couple of guest rooms to the original structure (For when his grandbabies came to visit – his words, not mine.)
It had taken a long time for Renee and Phil's injuries to heal too but their will to survive had overcome all odds. Now Renee was extremely excited about being a grandma and was busy planning a visit as soon as the baby was born.
"Have you guys decided on names yet?" Embry questioned, bringing me back to the present.
"Well, we're kind of thinking either Adrian or Ian if it's a boy but we're still struggling with the girl names." I explained.
"Hey Bells, how about Hermione if it's a girl?" Jake piped in suddenly.
Everyone including me burst out laughing.
"Awww how sweet! Widdle Jakie reads Harry Potter!" Leah teased mercilessly.
"What?" Jake exclaimed defensively. "I love that series!"
"But, Hermione…? Really?" I just had to ask.
"What's wrong with Hermione?" If anything, Jake sounded even more defensive.
"Nothing!" I explained hastily. "I love Hermione! I think she's awesome and that Harry wouldn't have gotten through even his first year without her but I'm really curious about why you'd want to name our daughter that."
"Oh, that's not such a secret." Embry explained laughingly. "Jake went through this whole 'Hermione Granger' phase!"
Everyone burst out laughing.
"So I find smart women hot, sue me!" Jake grumbled. "Plus, Emma Watson…? Do I really need to say anything more?"
"Oh God, Jake!" I cried, almost peeing my pants with laughter. "I didn't know you were into younger women!"
"Yeah Jake!" Embry chimed in mischievously, "I always thought you had a thing for older women!"
"Okay, A – Older woman; singular. And B – She's not that much younger. Or rather, I'm not that old!" Jake huffed.
"So what're you telling me…?" I retorted with mock annoyance. "That you're into Emma Watson now? And you're realizing this just now…? When I could have your baby any moment? What am I supposed to do about that, huh?"
"You know you can always run away with me like I've been telling you to, Izzy!" Dylan offered graciously.
"You better quit propositioning my pregnant girlfriend, asshole, before I decide to rearrange your ugly mug!" Jake threatened laughingly, in what was quickly becoming an ongoing joke within the group. Jake knew as well as I did that Dylan had no 'romantic' interest in me. And yet, he loved nothing more than to keep informing Jake that he'd steal me away from him if he didn't get his act together and make an honest woman out of me.
I always rolled my eyes at their antics but to be frank, I was kinda wondering what Jake's thoughts on the issue were myself. In all the time that we'd been together the word 'marriage' had never come up, not once, and that was really surprising. It wasn't as if I was a traditionalist in any sense of the word but Jake absolutely was and considering the fact that I was about to have his child any day now, I'd have thought that he'd want to make things 'official' long before now. And a part of me was terrified that with all the things I'd put him through in the past I might've scared him off the subject completely.
And therein lay the irony, because having come so far in life, proclaiming far and wide to not believe in the institution of marriage I now found myself desperately wishing for the title of "Mrs. Jacob Black". And not just the title but the whole nine yards – a nice house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, the requisite 2.5 kids, a minivan, the whole works.
And if that didn't tell me how transient and immature my feelings for Edward had been then nothing would. After all, back then, I'd had to be coerced into getting married – it'd been the one condition Edward had placed on my change and I'd been so desperate to stay young and beautiful forever that I'd given in to his demands, albeit reluctantly. Now, however, I was the one who was dying to get hitched while my boyfriend seemed more than a tad averse to the notion. Life sure had a weird sense of humor sometimes.
But thankfully, if all the stuff I'd gone through in life had taught me anything, it was to appreciate all the things I did have and so even if Jake never wanted to marry me, I wasn't going to wallow in misery over it. He loved me and I loved him. We were having a baby together, hopefully the first of many. We were a family in all the ways that really counted.
The only thing that continued to mar my happiness at times was the unresolved issue of imprinting (Aka the elephant in the room). Although, the longer Jake and I were together, the more I found that I could sideline my worries regarding that. And that was overwhelmingly due to Jake himself. He was utterly confident that it would never be a problem for us because apparently his 'wolf' liked me too much to even look at any other person. And his confidence was rubbing off on me. Granted, it wasn't the most quantifiable proof in the world but it was hard to argue with the guy regarding something like that. I mean if anyone knew what was going on with the wolf, it'd be Jake himself. Besides, I loved his wolf and if the guy was equally sold on me, well, who was I to argue?
A burst of raucous laughter brought me out of my quizzical musings. With an internal shrug I tuned back into the present to find that all the guys had been put in charge of the clean up while Lisa took care of the popcorn; leaving Leah in charge of getting the first movie started. As we all settled in to our respective seats I couldn't help but realize how lucky I was to have not just the love of a truly special guy but also a group of loyal, dedicated and wonderful friends.
It was halfway through the The Two Towers that I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore.
"I think I'm going to head to bed guys." I said, trying hard to suppress a yawn.
Jake popped off the sofa to help me to bed. "Are you okay, Bells?" He asked, the concern evident in his voice.
"Yeah, why?" I questioned.
"You just winced." Jake answered.
"I did? Huh. Don't worry I'm fine! Just really tired I guess." I said, brushing off his concern with a smile. He'd gone into this overprotective, overly concerned mode lately. In fact, the further I was into my pregnancy, the more close to a panic attack he seemed, which was why there was no way I was mentioning the slight twinges I'd been having in my lower back all evening. He'd probably freak out and end up calling 911! If it were up to him, he'd check me into the hospital over every little pain I felt, no matter how fleeting. Telling him that I was still a few weeks away from my due date (and that even if I did go into labor early, we'd still have plenty of time to reach the hospital because most first time deliveries tended to take forever) seemed to make no difference to him. If anything, the thought of me being in labor for hours together seemed to make him even more nervous. It was sweet really, and it just made it all the more clear how much he loved me.
A round of hugs, kisses and goodnights later, I was waddling down the hallway to our bedroom.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Jake continued to hover, apparently not convinced with my answer.
"Yes I'm sure!" I retorted a tad sharply. No matter how sweet his concern was, the constant loitering was definitely beginning to get on my nerves. "I'm not going to break for heaven's sake! Now will you quit worrying and just let me go to bed? Jeez!"
"Okay, okay don't bite my head off for caring! I'm just worried about my girl and my daughter. Is that so wrong?"
I melted. "No, of course not! And I'm really sorry for jumping down your throat. It's these damn hormones, I swear. They're turning me into a damn shrew! And by the way, you meant to say your son, didn't you?"
"Oh, did I say my daughter? Oops! My bad!" Jake apologized, not very convincingly I might add.
"Hmmpf!" I harrumphed sternly before closing the door in his face. The moment the door shut though, I couldn't help but smile. He was so excited about the baby and so convinced that it'd be a little girl. Couldn't really be upset about that. Honestly the only reason I wanted a boy was that I was kind of hoping for a miniature Jacob, with his smile and his sunny disposition and loving nature. Other than that I didn't really care, as long as the baby was hale and hearty.
It took me a while to get undressed and get into bed. That was followed by a lot of tossing and turning while I tried to find the perfect position. Damn, my back was killing me today. I just couldn't seem to get comfortable. And then, just as I was about to finally fall asleep I realized that I had to pee. Again. I sighed in resignation. I couldn't wait to just have the baby and not be pregnant anymore.
The moment I entered the bathroom I felt a popping sensation followed by a huge gush of water running down my legs. Oh shit! My water had broken. I think.
I tried to stay calm as I took care of my business. After all there was no point in worrying Jake anymore than I had to. I'd just change out of my wet clothes, call my doctor and then let Jake know in the calmest of voices that it was probably best if we started getting ready to head to the hospital soon.
I steadily went through the motions of getting out of my wet clothes, freshening up and putting on new clothes. I even managed to mop up the worst of the mess I'd made on the bathroom floor. Then I figured I might as well make use of the restroom before I called my doctor. The moment I got up off the loo though I noticed the splashes of bright red blood in the water. That was when I freaked out.
I just kept thinking of my first pregnancy and its outcome. All this blood couldn't be good, could it? Oh God, this couldn't be happening to me. Not again!
I must've made some noise because the next thing I knew Jake had rushed into the bathroom to check up on me and Seth, Embry and Leah weren't too far behind. Surprisingly, Jake didn't have a nervous break down at the sight of all the blood. Instead he took in all the evidence silently, connected all the dots and took charge.
"Leah, call up Bella's doctor. Her card is next to the phone on the nightstand." He ordered, picking me up gently and placing me on the bed. Leah picked up the card and the phone and hurried off into the other room to make the call.
"You okay Bells?" Jake questioned me, palming my hands in his huge, hot ones. "Are you in any pain? Are you having contractions?"
He sounded so calm and competent that some of my terror receded a little. I took a deep breath and managed to focus on his eyes and the sound of his voice. "I…I'm okay." I responded shakily. "I'm not in any pain right now and as far as the contractions go, I don't know, honestly. I've been having twinges in my lower back all evening but I just thought it was regular backache to be honest. What if I've been in labor all this time and didn't even notice? What if it's too late to get to the hospital now? And why am I bleeding so much? That shouldn't be happening should it? Oh God, what if it's the baby?" I was in full-blown panic mode again, unable to prevent horrible thoughts from entering my head. So much for calm.
"Shhh…Its okay, its alright." Jake soothed. "You're going to be just fine Bells, both you and the baby. I'll get you to the hospital in time, even if I have to phase and run all the way there. Everything will be fine honey, you'll see. We'll figure it out, don't worry."
I clung to him and took comfort in his presence and his warmth. Despite my misgivings I couldn't help but believe him. I knew he wouldn't fail me, no matter what.
"Jake, Bella's doctor said to get her to the hospital right away. She's on her way there as we speak." Leah called out.
"Alright baby, its go time!" Jake murmured. "You ready?"
"Um hmmm." I managed a weak nod.
"Alright, here we go." He picked me up off the bed again. "Embry, go start the car." He snapped out orders as we went. "Seth, Bella's hospital bag is in her closet. Can you please pick that up? Good. Lisa, Dylan you're with us. Bella's going to want you guys close. The rest of you, follow in Seth's car. Oh and somebody call my dad, Charlie and Renee would you? Tell them they're about to be grandparents." He paused. "Oh, and call Alice. Tell her to get here as soon as she can!"
"Are you sure you want them here?" I questioned gently. I'd love for Alice and Rose to see the baby but I didn't want to make things uncomfortable for Jake. After all, this was the birth of his first child too and I didn't want anything to mar the experience for him.
"Are you kidding me? She'd kill me if I didn't tell her!" He joked. "Besides, they should be there for this. All of them." He added resolutely.
And that's when I knew that I would love this man until my dying breath. Not just because he was willing to give me something that I wanted but because he had a heart big enough to even accommodate his natural born enemies and make them a part of his life.
Things seemed to progress really quickly after that. I started having contractions, albeit erratic ones. Jake quickly bundled me into the back seat of the car and before I knew it we were pulling up to the emergency entrance of the hospital. Our call ahead had resulted in orderlies waiting for us at the doors with a stretcher. Jake quickly lowered me onto it.
"Don't leave me!" I begged him, grabbing onto his hand.
"I won't!" He promised me fervently.
Then I was being rushed through the corridors, up the elevators and into an examination room where my doctor waited with the necessary medical instruments.
The nurses quickly hooked me to an IV while simultaneously checking my blood pressure and temperature. Then the doctor took over, examining me internally as well as doing a quick ultrasound to make sure everything was okay with the baby.
Once she was done, she looked both Jake and me in the eye. "There's no way you're having a normal delivery Bella. We're going to have to do a c-section."
My blood froze. "Is it the baby…?" I questioned tremulously.
"No, no." She hastened to assure me. "The baby's doing good. So far, there's no reason to be concerned about that."
"Then why…?" I couldn't help but ask.
"Your previous pregnancy followed by the abortion has left your uterus weak. If you try to do a normal delivery, there's a chance that it might rupture and you might bleed out. So trust me, a c-section is our only viable option at this point of time."
"Just do it!" Jake said instantly.
"Wait!" I yelled. "Wait. Is there any danger to the baby during the procedure?" I had to know.
"I don't fucking care, Bells! I need you to be safe!" Jake yelled, sounding as if he was on the verge of a full blown panic attack.
My heart shattered. To know that he loved me that much after everything that I'd put him through…
"Don't worry Bella," the doctor soothed, "You guys got here on time. The baby's heartbeat is strong. There's absolutely no sign of any distress."
"Okay, then…" I relented. Then, "Jake can be in the room, right?"
"Absolutely." The doctor reassured.
"Good, that's good." That left just one thing. "Just please make sure my baby's okay!" I begged.
"We'll do our very best!" The doctor promised and hurried away to make the necessary arrangements. I took a deep breath and tried to calm my racing heart.
"Bells…?" Jake called.
"Before we go in there, there's something I have to do. I've been meaning to do this for the longest time but like an idiot I let my doubts and uncertainties get in the way. But life's too short and I don't want to waste any more time being scared or nervous. I just want to spend it with you."
"What're you talking about?" I questioned distractedly.
"This." Giving me a nervous smile, he dropped down on one knee right there in the middle of the examination room. I don't know where it came from or how it got there, but the next thing I knew, he had a little blue velvet box in his hand. "I know we've had our ups and downs but even through it all, you've never been far from my mind. I've never been able to forget you, or stop loving you – even for a single minute. There will never be anyone else for me but you, because you are all I see. You light up my world just by being in it and you will make me the happiest man alive if you agree to become mine forever. Isabella Swan, will you marry me?"
I burst into tears.
"Alright, ummm, that's not too encouraging I suppose. Should I take this as an indication of your response?" Jake questioned, sounding anxious.
"No, you idiot!" I sniffled.
"No, this isn't an indication or no you won't marry me?"
Ugh! That dolt! "Yes! Yes, I'll marry you! I love you, you idiot! Why would you ever think I wouldn't want to marry you?"
"Er, because you don't really believe in the institution of marriage?"
"But I do believe in us and God, it feels like I've been waiting forever for you to ask me!"
"Then I'm an even bigger idiot for making us both wait so long!" Smiling tenderly, Jake slipped the ring on my finger. It was a simple ring – a medium sized princess cut emerald enclosed by a couple of solitaire diamonds on both sides. It was nothing like my first engagement ring, thank God! That one had been huge and ostentatious and had felt more like a statement of possession than a symbol of love. This one was understated and unconventional and utterly… me! It was perfect!
"Oh Jake, it's beautiful!" I gasped tearfully.
"I'm glad you like it." He whispered, leaning down to kiss me soundly.
Our tender moment was interrupted by the nurses coming in to tell me that the doctor was ready for me. After that everything proceeded at a lightening fast pace. I was prepped, while Jake left to get scrubbed up. Letting his hand go even for that little amount of time was the hardest thing I'd ever had to do.
Then, my stretcher was being pushed into the operation theater; one of the coldest, most sterile places I'd ever been in. Before I even had the time to panic, the doctors walked in, followed closely by a visibly shaky Jake and then I was given the anesthesia.
Just like that, everything faded to the background. The only thing I could see was Jake. The only thing I felt was his touch. After what felt like mere seconds, I heard the baby's first cry coming from what felt like a distance.
"Congratulations daddy!" The doctor said, putting a tiny wrapped bundle into Jake's huge arms. "It's a girl!"
"A girl…?" He whispered. "Look Bella!" He said reverently, bringing the baby right up to my face. "It's a girl! We have a beautiful little baby girl!" He sniffled, looking surprisingly close to tears.
All I could do was smile.
Just a few hours into the whole parenting gig and we could already feel our life and our priorities changing. It was a series of firsts – the first diaper change, the first feed, the first swaddle. It was wonderful and nerve-wracking all at once. Jake still looked a bit shell-shocked but thankfully, he'd taken to his role as a father like a duck to water. (Of course he was pretty possessive about the baby already and starting to get suspicious about the nurses taking her away so often. Thank God, the nurse who'd given the baby her first shots would never know how close she'd come to having a pissed off werewolf on her hands. It'd been touch and go for a while there, honestly. I'd had to talk Jake down, convince him repeatedly that the good lady meant our daughter no harm. And to think this was just the beginning!)
"Can we come in?" Charlie asked, peeping in cautiously, interrupting yet another of Jake's mini meltdown's. I looked up excitedly to see Billy and Charlie by the door, waiting impatiently to be let in.
"Dad! Billy!" I exclaimed happily. "Come on in!"
They came over, looking nervous and ecstatic both at the same time. "Dad, Charlie, meet your granddaughter, Ava!' Jake made the introductions, finally revealing the name that we'd both agreed on a little while ago. "Ava, here are your grandpas. Your grandpa Charlie is a sheriff, so you better not sneak around or give mommy and daddy a hard time, okay? And no dating till you're at least 30, or I'll sic him on all your boyfriends!"
"Jake!" I reprimanded laughingly.
Both Charlie and Billy laughed but I could see them giving Jake a look of understanding while they thought I wasn't looking. Ugh! Men! I was definitely going to have my work cut out for me if I didn't want Ava to be locked away in an ivory tower for more than half of her life.
"Bells, I've called your mom and she and Phil are flying out tomorrow to see Ava." Charlie explained just as Jake handed Ava to Billy.
"Wow, so soon?"
"You really think your mom has the patience to wait any longer? As it is, she was pretty darn upset that Billy and I would get to see her first!"
I chuckled. I could totally imagine that happening.
"Dad? You okay?" Jake questioned gently, prompting me to look over at Billy who looked like he was having a hard time controlling his emotions.
"She's gorgeous!" He exclaimed shakily, holding Ava as if she were fragile. Charlie nodded fiercely, giving both Jake and me a big hug. When he pulled back, I could see that he had tears in his eyes too. "Thank you!" Dad mouthed first to me and then to Jake.
"What for?" I asked, surprised.
"For giving us this huge gift!" Billy responded on my dad's behalf. "For giving us a reason to live! We've always been best friends – Charlie and I – but now, by giving us a grandchild together, you've tied us together with this unbreakable bond. I don't think either of us can ever tell you how much this means to us."
I looked over at Jake, smiling through my tears, only to find him more than a little teary-eyed too. Overcome by emotion, he pulled both Charlie and Billy into a hug while I looked on misty eyed.
"Hey!" Dylan interrupted, thankfully preventing the oncoming deluge. "You guys up for some more visitors or should we just come back tomorrow?"
"No, no, come on in!" I beckoned eagerly. I was dying to share our little wonder with the whole world.
I'd barely said the words before the whole gang was in the room. And I literally mean the whole gang. Lisa, Dylan, Sara, Embry, Seth, Quil and Leah were there as expected but Sam, Jared, Paul and Brady had driven over from Forks too, along with our dads. (Emily and the rest of the girls had reluctantly agreed to stay back so as not to overwhelm us all together. Although knowing them I knew they'd probably be here first thing tomorrow.)
All of them hugged and congratulated Jake and me before oohing and aahing over the baby appropriately. Jake was the proud papa, showing his newborn off. Charlie and Billy couldn't get enough of their granddaughter, peering over everyone's shoulder to make sure they were being careful with the baby and were holding her right.
After the baby had been passed around and appropriately cooed over by everyone, Embry cleared his throat. "Jake, Bella, can I talk to you guys alone?"
"Sure!" Jake answered, looking at me curiously.
I shrugged. I was just as in the dark about whatever was going on as Jake.
Everyone else took that as their cue to leave. "Leah, can you stay?" Embry requested just as she was about to step out of the room too. "I hope you guys don't mind but what I'm about to share with you pertains to her too. Actually, everyone in this room needs to know about it but I figured since you're the alpha you deserve to know first. Sorry guys!" He said, addressing the rest of the pack. "Hope you don't mind."
Everyone brushed his apology away and said their goodbyes, promising to visit again soon.
"So, what's up?" Jake questioned as soon as we were alone.
"While you guys were in here pulling off your little miracle, we kinda pulled off a miracle of our own." Embry spoke with barely suppressed excitement. "Or at least, Rafe and Reeves did."
"What do you mean?" Jake questioned, echoing my sentiments.
"You know those tribal records that we had them looking over…? Well apparently they were still going over them and they've found something very interesting in there that you guys are going to love."
"What the fuck are you talking about?!" Jake burst out.
"Language, Jake!" I gasped, covering up the baby's ears, even though I knew exactly where he was coming from. But we were parents now and Jake's vocabulary was going to need a major overhaul!
"Oops! Sorry! What in the deuce are you guys talking about?" he amended hastily.
For some reason Embry and Leah found that to be hilarious, bursting out into raucous laughter over it. "Shut it!" Jake grumbled good-naturedly.
"Oh for heavens sake, just tell us already!" I urged, almost dying of curiosity.
"Right, so, apparently imprinting was a lot more prevalent in the olden times than we were led to believe." My heart sank. Imprinting, right. And just when I was beginning to think that my life was pretty much perfect!
"I don't want to hear this Em! Not now!" Jake interjected harshly.
"Trust me, you'll want to hear this!" Embry insisted.
"No, I won't! Bella and I just had a baby and we're getting married as soon as she's up to the ceremony and nothing, especially not some mystical bullshit that I don't even believe in, is going to change that!"
"You're getting married?!" Embry burst out, interrupting Jake's tirade. "About damn time you asked her! Congratulations man!" He was smiling so hard I thought his cheeks would crack for sure.
Leah, looking stunned, congratulated me before giving Jake a tight hug. "I'm so happy for you! For both of you!" She said fiercely.
"Thank you." Jake responded. "So now you know why some long forgotten, totally irrelevant piece of information about imprinting doesn't interest me one bit!"
"You're so wrong about that!" Embry insisted. "This just makes it even more relevant!"
Oh God, I was going to be sick. What if he was about to tell us that imprinting was real and that it would happen to all of the wolves eventually? What then? What was I going to do? How would I ever live with that? And more importantly, how could I ever be with Jake knowing that his perfect mystical soulmate was out there just waiting for him? The answer was, I couldn't. This was it, my worst fear brought to life on what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life.
"Let it go Embry!" Jake spat. "Can't you see you're upsetting Bella? I'm telling you nothing you say is going to make one bit of a difference in my feelings for her! If the powers that be think they have someone else all primed and ready for me, well screw them!"
I was too emotionally drained and terrified to even yell at him for swearing in front of Ava again. "Lets just hear what he has to say Jake." I urged hopelessly. "Ignoring whatever information he has isn't going to make it any less real."
"Fine!" Jake relented, sounding pissed. "But Bells, whatever this is, it doesn't change anything! Please believe that!" He pleaded with me. "And, you!" He pointed threateningly at Embry. "I'm giving you fair warning that I'm going to beat the shit out of you as soon as we get back to La Push!"
"And I'm willing to bet that you'll do the exact opposite!" Embry snapped back.
What was the opposite of beating the crap out of someone? I was too exhausted to even try to figure it out.
"So?" I prodded, wanting to get this over with as soon as possible, like ripping off the proverbial Band-Aid. At least then, I'd know where I stood, right?
"Our ancestors have kept detailed records about imprinting as a phenomena – including information on all known past imprints and their supposed 'purpose' in a wolf's life and get this… Imprinting is supposedly an alpha's choice!" He finished jubilantly.
What did he mean by 'alpha's choice'? How could it be a choice if it was supposed to be fated?
"What do you mean?" Jake questioned impatiently, mirroring my thoughts. "Isn't it supposed to be this mythically preordained bullshit?"
"Not according to our ancestors!" Embry crowed. "The records clearly state that the pack typically mirrors the alpha's attitude towards imprinting!"
"What?" Leah, Jake and I gasp-yelled simultaneously.
"So you mean an alpha can choose whether to imprint or not…?" Leah was the first of us to get her bearing enough to question.
"Exactly! And because Jake is our alpha and he hates imprinting, its more than likely that none of us will imprint either!" He declared triumphantly.
"Bu…but how is that possible? Sam imprinted! So did Quil and Jared!" Leah argued.
"Well Quil and Jared imprinted because Sam, who was the alpha of the pack back then, imprinted!" Embry explained.
"I…I…" Leah stuttered.
"What does this mean…?" I interrupted.
"It means that Jake can choose who to be with! He won't imprint and abandon you!"
Suddenly, the news seemed to sink in for all three of us simultaneously. Jake hugged me fiercely while Leah gave out a whoop of joy and jumped into Embry's waiting arms. "Lets get married too!" She declared. "I'm sorry, I know I should wait for you to ask me, but who cares? I love you and I want to marry you! In fact, lets have a double wedding, that is, if Bella doesn't mind sharing the spotlight!"
Jake and I burst out laughing as Embry hastily escorted Leah away to 'further discuss the issue'. I couldn't help but notice how happy he looked, and of course, the fact that he didn't exactly say no!
I was relieved of course, a huge worry had been lifted from my mind, but even more than that, I was thrilled for Embry and Leah. I couldn't think of two people who deserved happiness more than those two. They'd been through a lot, especially Leah. I could see how this news could be very bittersweet for her. To be told that everything you'd gone through could've been avoided if only your boyfriend had just believed in you and loved you more…? I couldn't really imagine what that must feel like.
Not that I could blame Sam entirely. He'd just been a teenager when he'd gone through the change and he'd had the added stress of being the first one. And then to have something like this added on top of it…? He'd had no reference point, no catalogue to guide him, no one to turn to for guidance. He'd just been doing the best with cards he'd been dealt.
But all the excuses in the world aside, I couldn't help but think that Leah was better off without him. Not because he wasn't a great guy (he was) or that he wouldn't have loved her as much as she deserved to be loved (I couldn't really make a judgment about what would've happened if they'd stayed together). I just knew that Sam had taken the easy way out by giving in to his imprint. He'd never had to fight for love. He hadn't had his heart torn to shreds over it.
Leah, on the other hand had been through a harrowing ordeal and not only had she survived it, but had emerged stronger for it. The whole experience had forged her into a formidable person – unbreakable by the small ups and downs of life. And most important of all, it'd helped her find something in life that was very rare and therefore extremely precious. True love.
"Can you believe it Bells?" Jake's reverent tones interrupted my train of thought.
"What?" I asked.
"We're free! We're finally free to love each other fully and to live our life the way we want!" He breathed.
"I know!" I said, almost vibrating with excitement and joy.
"I'm going to quit phasing." He stated abruptly.
"What? Why?" I sputtered, totally at a loss as to where that had come from.
"I want to have a life with you, to grow old with you. I want to live with you and die with you and that won't happen as long as I keep on phasing."
"Oh Jake…!" I breathed, my eyes swimming with tears of joy mingled with sorrow. A few years ago, I'd wanted to die in order to live forever and here he was giving up his one chance at immortality, for me! I didn't know what to say – nothing I said would be enough anyway. I just knew that I'd spend the rest of my life making sure he'd never regret his decision.
"I love you so much!" I declared fiercely.
"I love you too!" He whispered, kissing me gently.
"Are we interrupting anything…?" A familiar tinkling voice interrupted the precious moment.
"Alice!" I cried happily, wiping my tears away. "You're here!" Could this day get any better? It was like the heavens were smiling down on me somehow.
"Well I promised I'd be here, didn't I? And look, I've bought everyone with me."
"Ummm…" Everyone – including Edward? I didn't know how to react. Some of my joy dimmed. It wasn't that I was unhappy to see him, I wasn't. But it felt wrong to be so happy around him, like I was rubbing it in somehow.
"It's alright Bella." He spoke up gently, already knowing what was going on from reading everyone's thoughts. "I'm really happy for the both of you. You deserve every happiness – now and in the future."
I searched his gaze, looking for any signs of deception. All I found was a bittersweet acceptance. "Thank you." I whispered softly, trying to convey my regret as well as my thankfulness through my eyes.
He just smiled softly. "Congratulations Jacob." He said, formally, breaking our gaze.
"Thank you." Jake sounded equally formal, although not in a bad way. They'd never be best friends but I think it would be safe to say that they'd finally come to terms with each other's presence. "And thanks for coming."
"Thank you for inviting us!" Carlisle spoke up for the first time. "It was very kind of you to share this moment with us, it was more than we ever expected."
"You guys are Bella's family and that makes you my family." He grimaced a little. "Jeez! I can't believe I actually said that." He smiled self-consciously. "I can't promise you that I'll ever be perfectly comfortable with your presence, but I'm willing to try if you guys are."
"We'd really like that." Esme spoke up softly. "Bella is like a daughter to Carlisle and me and like a sister to Alice, Rosalie, Emmett and Jasper. We'd love to be able to talk to her once in a while to find out how she's doing."
"Bella is her own person and she doesn't need my permission to talk to whoever she wants but just to make things easier on everyone, I, Jacob Black, the alpha of the current pack of the Quileute wolves hereby dissolve the treaty."
The Cullens went still while I gasped.
"You guys are welcome on our land as long as you refrain from feeding from and turning human beings."
"Of course!" Carlisle acknowledged formally, his eyes filled with admiration and respect. "I, Carlisle Cullen, the head of this coven humbly accept the new terms and hereby promise to abide by your rules for as long as I shall live."
"I'd also ask you to be responsible about your visits. I don't want my daughter; or any future children I or any of my pack members have; undergoing the same transformation that I did. I'd like them to live nice, safe human lives far away from all this madness."
"Of course!" This time it was Edward who spoke up. "We will never settle down in this area again for as long as you and your immediate family still reside here."
"Good. Are you guys finally done?" Alice complained daintily. "Because I'd really like to meet my niece now! She and I are going to have so much fun shopping together!"
"Alice!" Edward, Jake and I groaned together.
"What? A good fashion sense is very important and it's never too early to get started! After all, with Bella as her mom, she's going to need her Aunt Alice more than ever! No offense, Bella."
After what felt like eons, Jake and I were finally alone with the baby. All our visitors had left and Ava had just been fed, changed and swaddled. "Is it just me or does she have your appetite already?" I teased Jake, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a yawn. I was exhausted, the craziness of the past few hours beginning to take its toll on me.
"Oh, she's a Black alright!" Jake agreed, smiling contently.
"Is that what she is – a Black?" I questioned curiously.
"What? You want her to be a Swan…?" He reiterated uncertainly.
"No, no… I wasn't saying that. I was just curious, whether she'd have your last name or mine."
"Well personally I really like the way Ava Marie Black sounds, but then I'm biased. Besides, I was kinda hoping we'd all have the same last name."
"Oh, were you?" I smiled. "So you think I'll change my last name after the wedding, huh? Rather presumptuous of you, isn't it?"
"Damn right I do and you can call it presumptuous or even chauvinistic if you want but this time around you're going to be mine in all the ways that count. Besides, Isabella Black sounds even better than Ava Black, don't you think?"
"I think it sounds absolutely perfect!" I declared vehemently, pulling him closer for a passionate kiss.
Later, when we'd finally managed to turn off the lights and squeeze into the tiny hospital bed together I couldn't help but think about how far we'd come – the pale, silent, broken hearted girl from Forks and the dark haired, happy boy from La Push who'd managed to fix her with his sunny smiles and warm hugs. It'd been a long, tedious journey for the both of us, but through it all, he'd always been my best friend and I hoped to God that he always would be.
As I drifted off into sleep, I found myself thinking about Jake's proposal; about how he'd never stopped thinking of me over the years and I realized that the same thing applied to me too.
Through my marriage to Edward, through the divorce and the subsequent years, I'd never truly been able to forget Jake and his love for me. Edward's actions and my own indecision might have put an end to our relationship but the cracks to the foundation had been developed in a dingy garage over warm sodas and a couple of dirt bikes. Jake had burrowed his way into my heart then and I'd never really managed to get him out, despite my best efforts.
After my wedding to Edward, I'd figured that I'd left Jake behind for good, but I couldn't stop thinking about him, couldn't help wondering how he was doing. I'd been wracked by guilt; wondering if there was something wrong with me because I'd missed him desperately despite having everything that I'd ever wanted from life. (Or what I'd thought I wanted at the time.) But now I knew there'd been nothing wrong with me at all. The reason I'd missed him so much was because he really, truly was the love of my life. Now and forever.
That's what you are.
Though near or far
Like a song of love that clings to me,
How the thought of you does things to me.
Never before, has someone been more…
In every way
That's how you'll stay
That's why, darling, it's incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am
A/N: - Thank you so much for sticking with me through this long and sometimes tedious journey. I won't say it's been all fun and games but I can't ever regret it either because without this, I wouldn't have met all of you, my wonderful readers! Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your love and support and patience. I'll always cherish and love you guys!
If you've followed my story over the years and have liked it, please don't forget to leave me a line telling me what you thought of it. I'd really love to hear from all of you one last time.
And lastly, a huge thank you to my friend, soulmate and partner in crime Erin for being such a huge part of this journey! Thanks soulmate! I couldn't have done it without you!