Chapter 20- Of Forever Afters and Happy Endings

But also the rose of the garden where you live.

Always the rose, always, our north and south!

Calm and ingathered like an eyeless statue,

not knowing the buried struggle it provokes.

Pure rose, clean of artifice and rough sketches,

opening for us the slender wings of the smile.

(Pinned butterfly that ponders its flight.)

Rose of balance, with no self-inflicted pains.

Always the rose!

Federico Garcia Lorca

oOoOoOo oOoOoOo oOoOoOo oOoOoOo oOoOoOo oOoOoOo oOoOoOo

Six months later…

oOoOoOo oOoOoOo oOoOoOo oOoOoOo oOoOoOo oOoOoOo oOoOoOo

I planted the roses over the weeks following our move. Pale pink but mostly white, the Alba roses surrounded every side of the contemporary home we fell in love with upon first sight. They grew wild and unrestrained on the grounds now, climbing up the wood panelling walls and the concrete structure of the façade, but especially over the glass and iron greenhouse we had built by the west wing overseeing the garden; Alice's design. She insisted we needed a sheltered area where we could oversee the children.

When all the flowers bloomed during the months of autumn and the beginning of the winter, the air became permeated with their scent, mingling with the moss and humidity that forever lingered in the rainy woods of the peninsula. The natural looking building blended well with the greens and browns of the damp forest; becoming almost a part of it. Everything here was damp. The few times the ever-present drizzle stopped, the sun would make the briefest appearance only to disappear quickly, as if surrendering to the unrelenting clouds.

Not only did we not mind the 'Godforsaken rain', as Charlie called it, the mellow grey of the climate seemed to give us a peace we sought. Maybe it was the rain and endless waters of these terrains that called to us in the first place. The rain, to us, was like the sacrament of baptism. It cleansed and released and brought a purity once thought lost. I wasn't really sure when we had both become so in love with rain.

Actually I was.

I was sure it had begun during all those endless days and nights at the hospital. Days filled with waiting and uncertainty, admissions and forgiveness, and bittersweet reunions. Days of praying and dreaming of a new life perhaps not deserved but very much yearned for. I remember the ever present veil of water over the windows of the tiny room, almost making it feel as if we were underwater. The soft pounding of the rain was a constant backdrop murmur, a noise that became comforting, longing to heal. Washing away some of the pain.

Inside it was quiet most of the time. Even when someone did talk, it was all in hushed tones and gentle voices. I imagined everyone had plenty to talk about, but it was almost as if we all were afraid it would break the bubble of the temporary truce we had all silently agreed to respect. Deadly enemies so close to one another, eyeing each other with suspicion, perhaps unwittingly rotating around the new and growing life that was yet to be announced. Alice had kept her word and not spoken to anyone. I felt it was only fair for Charlie to be the first to know. It was his grandchild after all.

I think Charlie's face forever will be seared in my brain when I told him about the baby. Yes, that task had fallen on me alone. I should have known it would come to that. I didn't know how to lay the news on him gently, so I just gave it to him as it was. No overture, no explanations and no apologies. Just a simple 'we are having a baby, Charlie,' in a coarse voice that sounded unused for the longest time. Before he had the chance to even process the words I assured him we were getting married; we loved each other. Nothing and no one would get in the way of our family. Of my family.

The longest silence followed, so long I began questioning whether he'd heard me. He didn't seem angry, he seemed a man shipwrecked, stranded and lost in peril infested waters. The small ICU room seemed to fill up with tension. I reached out and took my love's hand, damp and shaking. I wanted Charlie to leave just to make that hand stop its tremors. I myself felt a calm that was almost bizarre, on the verge of a questionable state of mind. Yet I never felt so lucid.

He finally stood up ever so slowly, took his coat from the back of the chair where he had been sitting and quietly left the room, closing the sliding door on his way out. We remained silent for a very long time. We still held on to each other's hands, th e only the bed and hospital equipment permitted us.

I couldn't very well pretend this was a surprise. Having Charlie extend his blessing was a delusion. Perhaps we should aspire at best to be expelled from his life? I had to admit I cared little about the outcome of that relationship. I simply wanted to move ahead. I wanted to search for that elusive concept called happiness. Then again I knew, I knew that in order to be happy myself I needed a certain other little person to be happy. And that's where Charlie came back into the picture. I would have to wait and give it the needed time.

"I suppose we really can't be surprised, Bella. We both knew your father would not approve, love. Perhaps in a way it may be better, we can all make a clean break and start anew."

I'm not sure whether the tone of that last sentence came out as statement or question. Before another word was uttered between us, the glass door reopened and Charlie came back in looking both slightly pale but determined.

"No one will do any such thing, Edward. This is my grandchild, you are marrying my daughter and that makes you my son now. And as such, we are all family and from this moment on whatever has happened in the past will remain in the past." He gave a brave go at a smile, but came out looking almost like a smirk. The attempt itself was enough to communicate some sort of approval, I supposed. "I extend you both my deepest and most heartfelt congratulations and a warning to you Edward: -"

His demeanour became grave, his expression murderous. This was the infamous Johnny Boy legends had been built upon. The most feared man in the eastern coast. The cold-blooded killer who had murdered Edward Masen Sr. I was not the least surprised by the change. I knew how he functioned, how the screws and wheels in his head clicked and turned, almost to a disturbing degree. I knew him too well; perhaps we resembled one another more than I cared to admit.

"If you ever hurt either of them in any way, if you are ever deceitful to my daughter, if you ever put her through any unnecessary pain…" He briefly closed his eyes as if the mere thought of his words pained him, and continued in an even harsher tone, "I will make sure you wish you had never laid eyes on her. You will beg me to kill you when I'm through with you, and even then, I'll still keep you alive and in pain only for the pleasure of watching you plead."

With a wink meant to make it all look like a sinister joke ,something we were both too smart to believe, and a slight bow of the head, Charlie once again left the room.

So much for leaving the past in the past when it came to the mob. And so it goes.

"Edward, don't worry my love. If you ever do hurt me, I'll get to you before Charlie does." Soft words spoken to my ear, in a hushed tone that could almost seem loving was it not for the dark meaning behind them.

I looked into the eyes of the woman I loved, the one thing I cherished more than anything on this earth, the person I would do anything and go through anything for, and knew she was perfectly serious. Even after facing an almost certain death in the hands of her father, severe torture, a shot in the back that pulverized bone and organs, four different major operations to try and get me back to working almost right; I would have chosen to go through all of it again rather than face the wrath of a scorned Isabella Francon.

I do believe pain would acquire an entirely new meaning coming from her hands. She was after all, Charlie's daughter, and my lover. I'm sure she'd learned a thing or two. I was marrying into the right family.

"I can assure you it will never come to that." I paused for a beat before adding: "again."

I wanted her to know I'd rather die that cause her any additional pain. I would dedicate my life to making sure hers was protected and shielded from any sorrow, as much as I was physically capable of, and even beyond. My desire to keep her out of harm's way was more than a promise I had made to myself that sunset when I first learned about her pregnancy, but during the last couple of days, it had begun to take root and grow and develop into a dark obsession.

Bella had to remain by my side at all times, going against hospital policy on visitations for delicate patients as myself. I'm sure Carlisle had taken care of that particular loop, he was always good at going round bureaucracy and was still known as the brilliant doctor he had once been. Even when I was unconscious, I needed her close in order to properly rest and mend.

"Good." She smiled that wonderfully warm smile that melted the chocolate of her eyes and leaned down again to press our lips together tenderly. The warmth from her kiss dissolved my lunatic inner ramblings. I was in awe of the power she had over me. How she could heal with one touch what no amount of medicine could ever reach. Oh yes, I would take this woman's wrath as well as anything else that came from her. It was all mine and I would have it all.

My Bella.

She sighed contently and then seemed to remember something. "Hey, we never talked about getting married."

"Are you saying you won't have me?" I asked in mock hurt, my voice now beginning to give out. It had only been a couple of days since the breathing tube had been removed from my trachea and it still felt raw and weak, making it very hard for me to speak.

"Well," she returned the warmth of her lips to mine once more, sensing my pain and silencing me. Only this time there was an ardour and something much more primal behind the kiss. I felt the familiar pangs of desire begin to simmer at the pit of my stomach, and for a second I forgot the issue at hand. I wondered when I'd be capable of feeling much more than only her tender lips, but as I tried to sit up to get closer, I felt the pull of ripped flesh and bones realizing with annoyance it would be much longer than desired.

Still bent over me, half sitting on the tiny hospital bed that had been my prison for what seemed to be infinite weeks, her warm breath washing through me, she spoke softly again. "I just don't know if I'm the marrying kind, Edward," her smile reminded me of how cunning she could be.

And for the life of me, her mind was not saying anything that might have led me to believe she was not dead serious. Oh well, I sighed. Did I really expect anything to ever go smoothly between us?

After my discharge we had to remain in Chicago until I had somewhat healed enough to be allowed to travel, and the alleged investigation of my case had run its course. Several witnesses could attest that I had been shot while trying to protect my pregnant girlfriend from an obviously deranged mad man who was convinced she was carrying the devil's child.

Carlisle and Charlie had come up with the story and I was sure found great amusement in it.

Charlie had insisted we stay with him while we waited. He wasn't too happy about our decision to move west and wanted to see his daughter as much as possible while he could. It was Bella who finally decided we would stay with Alice and Jasper. She told him it made more sense, all her belongings and Robbie were already there, and Alice was my sister after all. Charlie had been extended the invitation to come and visit whenever he desired, an invitation he never took.

Bella and I were summoned to his townhouse every Tuesday for supper. Had it not been for the delightful Miss Sarah and her superb cooking, I don't think I would have been able to cope. Charlie and I barely spoke to one another the first couple of visits. Were it not for Bella, I'm sure we would have both been reaching for the fireplace pokers and having an impromptu sword fight. Good thing she was there, in my current physical state, Charlie would have massacred me.

After Carlisle decided to join us on one such evening, the armistice seemed to return. For all the hate that festered in each of us, a feeling of fraternity hung over us. We did after all, share more than a mere profession. Only Bella remained unimpressed and very annoyed whenever the conversation veered towards anything remotely resembling our dark businesses. I could hear Bella's warning coming from the deep confines of her wondrous mind.

You have given that life up, Edward. You will not return. Ever. Do you understand? She looked square at me and held my eyes, making sure I knew the gravity of her statement. Take my hand if you are listening and understanding.

Of course I always took her hand, and wondered idly about what sort of profession I could undertake. What was I trained for? I was guessing there wasn't much demand for retired gangsters. Money wasn't an issue (or so I thought at the time), we could live more than comfortably on the fortune I had amassed for the remainder of our days, maybe even our children and grandchildren, but I would eventually need to do something with my time, something other than Bella.

Her belly was beginning to grow and she looked more beautiful than ever. I would have to keep her pregnant often, it seemed. That was something I was sure could keep me busy for a good couple of years to come, but I still needed to convince her. Bella was still skeptical about us having sex, convinced I was still too frail (a term I loathed) and not nearly strong enough. So other than kissing and embracing, we had done little else. I was sure the frustration was infinitely worse to my health, both physical and mental, than any damage that I might sustain from the encounter. Physical wounds, as I very well knew, healed.

She told me to stop whining. That was the word she had actually used: whining. It's confusing to want t strangle someone you desire so much.

The investigations on the case didn't last two months. I wasn't surprised it had all blown over after only a few weeks. This is how my world worked. Most mob related crimes never make it to the courts, especially when it came to inside matters. We had our own judicial system, much swifter and much less merciful. And besides, other than me, there had been no casualties, no loose ends to tie.

My brother Emmett remained in Chicago only until the doctors announced I was completely out of danger. Shortly after the news he left without saying goodbye to anyone. I was not surprised. He had stood guard by my bed often. Whenever I briefly woke from the stupor of the drugs, it was Bella and one of my siblings that were always there. Emmett would sit beside me, motionless, his eyes lost in the texture of the sheets that covered my mangled body. I don't think he uttered a single word.

I wasn't sure if it was the weakness, the drugs or simply the lack of trying, but everyone's mind, with the occasional exception of Bella, were sealed to me; so I couldn't tell what Emmett was thinking. Even with Bella, we had to be touching for me to get a glimpse. This I'm sure, was an undeserved blessing. I could only imagine the things everyone was thinking. However I didn't need to listen into Emmett's thoughts to know the acute pain he was in. He had the look of a man waiting for death, his eyes filled with devastating despair.

I knew Alice had hoped Emmett would recover with the natural passing of time. That he would eventually find his way out of the haze of misery and grief, and come across new meaning in life. The fact that I had done so perhaps made her more optimistic. No matter how mad Alice might be with my past actions, I knew she was overjoyed about Bella and the upcoming baby. She believed her brother saved, at least in some way. Unfortunately, when it came to Emmett, I knew better.

Bella may have somewhat released the pegs that anchored me to the past, but this was exactly what convinced me that we would never recover our brother. Emmett had found his saviour in Rose. She had been his love, his world, the way Bella was mine. I knew better than anyone how I could never recover from losing her now. He had found Rose only to have her ripped from him in the most atrocious way. The thought of losing Bella was enough to make my heart stop beating. I ached whenever she left my side for a moment, something I was grateful she seldom did.

Bella would be close by always, I knew this even in my comatose state. When she did move away from my bed, it was only to rearrange the blinds or to eat something Alice had brought her. She hardly ever talked, but she had taken on the habit of humming softly, as if trying to lull the baby or me to sleep, maybe both. Whenever the pain got worse, she would press her forehead to mine, inviting me into the whispering forest of her dreams that had become a sort of haven for her.

When I finally awoke I couldn't speak because of the tubes wedged down my throat to aid my breathing, something she said was best for everyone. She said it was better she did the talking for a change, even if it was so little of it. No more explanations or apologies, she'd had enough of both. Whenever she did talk, she talked mostly of the baby. If it was a girl, she wanted to name her Elizabeth. I wanted to tell her to use her own mother's name instead. Perhaps it was indeed a good thing I couldn't talk then.

Alice would blabber incoherently about how much better I was getting and sob uncontrollably whenever she was in my room. Thankfully, she was the less frequent visitor of the three. She mostly came only to bring food and toiletries for Bella. For the first time in her life, Alice had nothing to say about my actions and decisions. I realized she was probably saving them for when I was somewhat strong to really give it to me. I was undeniably grateful to my sister for keeping Bella safe and loving her as her own sister, but something was telling me she would not hold back when given the chance to have free rein to her wrath.

While still in Chicago, Bella and I began searching for a place to live. At first I thought Dartmouth might be a good choice, but Bella insisted she wanted a place that held no history for either of us, a place where we could start building a whole new life and a whole new set of memories. So we began searching for a place that held what we craved: trees and water. We wanted forests and the sea, a quiet town, peace. It was Bella who came upon the tiny town of Forks Washington, a town known only for its timber and trout fishing.

We contacted a real estate agent from the nearby town of Port Angeles since Forks had no such services and made a pre-selection of four houses to look at. Three and a half hours after we landed at Seattle Tacoma Airport, we stood before the house that would prevent us from looking at any others. It was by the Olympic Highway, right between the two towns, following a muddy, unpaved, twisting road that had been built just to reach the property.

The house had been abandoned for years. It was built by a rich and eccentric family who soon after finishing it had moved back to Alaska, where they had originally come from. Their family had been quite big, it seemed, so the three-story house had six bedrooms distributed between the second and third floors. This in addition to a studio overlooking the back gardens on the third floor, a library on the second and private balconies for two of the bedrooms.

Whatever had happened to the owners, they were not interested in either keeping the property any longer or making a profit from it. The house was severely underpriced, something that came especially handy since I was officially destitute.

After one Tuesday night at Charlie's, Bella and I had had our first official relationship quarrel, over what else: money; more specifically, my money. Bella didn't want any of it, and furthermore, she wanted me to have none of it either. So after close to nine hours of yelling, slamming doors, not sleeping, and not even coming close to any kind of make-up sex- I was scrapping the bottom of the barrel by this time- I had given in.

I knew I would have to from the moment she reluctantly brought up the subject in the cab on the way back to Alice's, but I needed to at least have her believe I wouldn't give in so easily. It was one thing I couldn't deny her anything; it was another to have her know it. Giving money away is much easier than earning it, and much faster. All my money and properties where swiftly sold, divided, liquefied, drawn and sent to several charities. All of it. The fifty dollars I had in my wallet Bella gave to me. I grinned at the thought of being a kept man.

Personal belongings were not part of the bargain, it took me years to amass the collection of furniture, antique objects and art and I simply would not give any of my things up. Bella knew well where to stop pushing. My beloved horses were a different matter, I couldn't well keep them, at least not until we had a stable home and enough income to care for them, so they were shipped off to Carlisle's estate in New York. This way I knew Joseph, who was now Carlisle's right hand, would look after them. A trust fund was set up for Emmett but I knew that money would remain forever untouched.

We kept all my books, my piano and interestingly enough, Bella wanted to keep the furniture from both rooms she used during her stay, many of which had to be restored after her last evening there. But most importantly, we got to keep Mary. Mary had arrived at Forks only a week after us. Ecstatic about Bella's pregnancy, they had begun working on the nursery right away.

I left the nursery and most of the family areas to them, and instead concentrated on the more public spaces of the house and the garden, areas more attuned to my taste and less indispensable to the inhabitants. It took me a long time, I was still weak and would run out breath easily. It was challenging to force myself to work slowly, to take things gradually; it was interesting to see what it did to my character. I never thought myself capable of patience, especially towards myself. But in the end not only did I accept it, I embraced it. I would spend entire days under the sun and the company of Robbie, my constant companion.

I especially found pleasure working in the garden. There was something very soothing and eternally gratifying about working with my hands, feeling the damp earth between my fingers, working on something that would live and breathe and grow. All that garden activity left me dirty and sticky giving me the excuse to coax Bella into giving me nightly baths. She couldn't understand why I was capable of digging and planting but not scrubbing my own hair. I don't believe she was looking for an actual explanation.

Did I mention I was still not getting any? These baths were as far as the skin to skin contact went.

My relationship with Bella turned into something deep and mellow, almost soft. It wasn't a lack of desire, the unrestrained craving I had always felt for her had if anything, only intensified. But the way we related to one another had rooted into something… truer. We came to understand each other better, silences included. Bella had become very quiet with the pregnancy, almost folding into herself. I had to admit it made me faintly jealous, but I had to respect her need to have the baby all to herself for the time being.

We would touch whenever we were near. I couldn't pass Bella in the hall without reaching for her, my fingers softly caressing her arm, her ever-growing tummy or any other part I could reach. The electricity between us was boiling to the point of detonation. Even Mary palpably felt it; she'd avoid being in the same room as the two of us as much as possible. I began fantasizing about Bella constantly, day-dreaming like a love sick teenager whose raging hormones had complete control over his mind and body.

Everything about her called to me- her skin, her scent, her voice, her movements. I would find myself mesmerized with menial activities like Bella combing her hair at night, or rubbing lotion on her shoulders. And the nights were becoming unbearable to the point where I would simply stay up and sit on a couch by the bed and watch Bella breathe and dream. I had never needed much sleep in the first place, but now it was simply unthinkable to lie in a bed next to this woman. This woman who was slowly torturing me into insanity; I don't think she knew how reckless I was close to becoming

"Stop looking at me, Edward," Bella scolded without looking up from her laptop. She'd been working through most of the morning on her resume and sending it to the few schools that Port Angeles and Forks held. We were in very real need of a breadwinner in this house. Love doesn't pay the mortgage or the groceries, as it turned out. "You are supposed to be working on those scores and all you do is sit and stare at my legs."

Besides the gardening, I had started writing down my music after Bella's urging. I had been composing most of my life, I would sit at the piano and let the music flow through me, but I rarely jotted it down. Bella seemed to believe music might be a tangible path for me.

"I will let you know, Miss Swan," I made particular emphasis on the use of her maiden, made-up name, my finger still not off that particular line, "I was not looking at your legs."

"Oh, really? What were you supposed to be looking at then, Mr. Masen?" Her eyes were still glued to the screen. It was unnerving how little attention she was paying me. How could she not be as edgy as I was?

"Your cunt." My voice was low and hoarse, but by no means had it been a whisper.

"Don't be rude, Edward," Bella sighed struggling to be patient. At least I had accomplished my goal and she finally looked up from the screen, her fingers still on the keys.

"Bella." It was a plea; I had been reduced to begging.

Her eyes changed, the look of exasperation slowly melting into something else. And I saw it in her mind, finally. Desire. A simmering flicker at first, but slowly building and threatening to over flow and grow beyond control. Had she been locking down her own longing so tightly?

I stood up from my chair and slowly walked to her. Her eyes glued to me with every step. My bare feet made no sound over the carpeted floor.

"Bella," I whispered her name even more softly, still pleading. I towered over her and saw her place a hand defensively over her round belly. I saw fear in her eyes.

"I won't hurt you, Bella." This hadn't occurred to me. I did not think she was protecting anything other than me. "You or Elizabeth."

I heard her small gasp at the news. "It's a girl?"

"Yes, I can hear her now. Sort of. She can't form words, of course, but her voice is most definitely female."

She pulled up her t-shirt, revealing the milky skin underneath. She slowly caressed her stomach. "Hi Elizabeth," she whispered almost in reverence. I allowed her some time to let the news sink in, her hands drawing circles on the tight skin, before I wedged her bare knee with my leg.

"I'll be gentle, Bella." I moved between her and the coffee table and kneeled down on the floor, "but I can't stand not being with you another minute."

Gently I spread her legs and positioned myself between them, placing my hands on hers over her belly. Her breath became short and I could see the faint blush that began spreading through her delicate features.

"But that's just it, Edward," she struggled to get the words out. "I don't want you to be careful, and I'm afraid I'll end up hurting her."

I could feel myself smile, and knew it must have looked devilish to her.

"Well, I guess you'll just have to trust me to be in charge then, huh?" Her complaint was swallowed whole by my mouth.

And swallow her whole I would.