SMs characters, my story. Thank you so much for joining me on this journey

Much love to getshorty, co-author and partner in crime. Many of the events of these chapters came from her brain, as did almost all of the Aesop morals. I'm looking forward to July when I get to actually meet her in person.

Eternal gratitude to nicnicd who stepped in part way when all other betas lives went crazy to take over for them. I warned her that I was cursed, beta for me and your life goes to hell in a handbasket, and yet she took up the challenge (then spent weekends in the hospital with sick loved ones; see, the curse is real). She took the remaining chapters and whipped them into shape, resulting in a much better story. "Show, don't tell" is my new mantra.

Lots of love to whenpoetryrises who has been with me from the very beginning. In spite of illness and huge uni workloads (the curse continues), she gave me the encouragement to do this and always says the nicest things when prereading. I'm glad you're in my life, sweetie.

Thanks so much to the many lovely people who have read, alerted, favorited and reviewed this story. I have become great friends with many of you. For fear of leaving someone out, I won't mention names, but you know I love you.

Dang, I feel like I'm giving an oscar acceptance speech! On to the reason we're here...

Chapter 25 – Happily Ever After

Like will draw like, The Charcoal Burner and the Fuller, Aesop

"Bella, he's here," Edward whispered against my neck as we lay in bed.

Smiling to myself at the feeling of his strong arms around me, I began to reminisce. The last seven years had brought me more happiness than I had ever anticipated. We had found so much joy in each other that all the heartache and mistrust diminished in comparison. Our days had been filled with watching Liz grow and develop. Edward had actually opened a practice in Ketchikan with Carlisle, leaving us time to enjoy family life. Our nights were filled with desire and love-making.

Our adjustment into married life had gone rather smoothly considering the difficulty we had begun with. We had the normal marriage issues, like whose job it was to take out the trash. That was something vampires weren't used to doing much of anyway, but with a half-human child who needed to have meals prepared for her it was a necessity.

I chuckled as I remembered our argument over this simple thing. I'd resorted to asking him to send his mind to the thoughts of others on whose job garbage duty typically was. Five minutes later he just grumbled something about women ganging up on men to have them do the unpleasant tasks and grabbed the garbage can. I then offered to let him clean the toilet if that was something he preferred. He stopped grumbling.

The first real fight came when Liz was two. He thought we should take her into public; I thought the humans would be upset over seeing her grow too quickly. We argued back and forth about her education, her ability to interact with humans—apparently Charlie wasn't human enough—and how best to ensure a normal childhood. I wanted to protect her at all costs. I was so angry I wouldn't allow him to even touch me.

It was Charlie who calmed that first fight and taught us both how to listen and react.

He sat us down and asked, "Have you ever considered that you both may be right?" It really helped us to quit talking enough to listen to what the other was actually saying, and not just the words being used. What surprised me most was when Charlie and I went for a drive after I had spurned Edward's attempts at reconciliation.

As we were looking at the mountains he took a sip of his coffee and said, "Sex isn't a weapon, Bells. You aren't a prostitute, so don't offer it up in trade for getting your way. I understand being upset and not wanting him to touch you then, but when things are resolved, then everything needs to go back to normal." He never said anything more on the subject; there had been no need to. I understood what he was saying.

Liz was grown now; ready to become a woman, and thrilled with the prospect of leaving childhood behind. At the agreed upon tender age of four (at the time she appeared to be around twelve) we had enrolled her in the local high school, telling people that she was small for her age. We explained away her fast heartbeat as a defect that kept her out of sports, something that amused her greatly. Having been 'taken in' by her young uncle—who just happened to be a doctor—the school administrators just assumed that she was in capable hands. Her intellect had led to them asking us if we thought she might want to go straight to college after just a few months, but Edward and I were resolute that she needed to learn to interact with the humans.

Her graduation from high school had occurred two weeks ago. Charlie had been thrilled to wrap her in a hug at the ceremony, ever the doting grandpa. We all laughed at the looks we got from the townspeople when they found out he was my father. There simply was no mistaking that Liz had Charlie's eyes. But, true to human nature, they just assumed there was a reasonable explanation and ignored what was staring them in the face.

The feel of Edward's hands leaving from my body brought my full focus back to the present, and I moaned in protest, not quite willing to let him go.

"You don't want him to wait for us to get dressed, or worse, take her out without seeing him again, do you?" he asked me, pulling me from the bed. "Besides," he whispered, gathering me back into his arms next to the bed. The satiny feel of his skin sliding against mine immediately set my body on fire again. "We have all day once they're gone."

"Fine," I grumbled as I pulled away from him to get dressed. "How much time do we have?"

He tilted his head to one side, listening intently. "He's about a mile and a half away right now. He's walking at a human pace in order to not attract too much attention, but—" When he took too long I huffed, making known my displeasure with having to wait. "People are still taken with him. He is attractive to them."

I couldn't help but chuckle as I pulled on my clothes. "I wonder what they would think if they knew the truth."

"There are some who think he looks like Liz and are wondering if they're related."

I sighed loudly at that. "I suppose I should get used to that idea. We will soon be related, after all." Another thought crossed my mind. "Did Huilen come with him this time?"

Edward chuckled, "Oh, yes. She most certainly did. She has some very old-fashioned ideas on courtship and intends to keep both of them in sight the entire time." He looked over to me and gave me my favorite smile. Even after our time spent together, it never failed to have the same effect as that devastatingly handsome look had that first time. "That'll make our job easier. We get to be the cool parents who only hover slightly in comparison."

Rolling my eyes at this, I left the room. "You know, Liz gets that from you," he called after me. Yes, I did know—but I didn't want to admit to that.

I had met the Denali coven years ago, learning from Eleazer that I was a shield. Working with it from time to time I had learned to push it aside occasionally in order for Edward to hear my thoughts, but it was still very difficult. I only did it when I felt it was important for him to fully understand what I was thinking or feeling. It happened frequently after love making. I was tempted to drop it now and tease him silently, showing him that she got her absolute conviction that she was always right from him, but decided against it. I had a more important task in front of me.

Walking into our daughter's room brought a look of joy to my face. Today was her first date. We had given Nahuel permission to court her when she came of age—but not before she finished school. She had shown no interest in any of the guys in school, even though that feeling was definitely not mutual. She had set her sights on Nahuel since she was around the one year mark and aware of the unique circumstances of her birth and its limitations. Her feelings had been unchanging since then.

It still astounded me how fast the time had gone by. Most parents got to keep their children as children for over twenty years, so our relatively short time with her had flown. I had been glad to see her finally quit growing seven months ago, but I was even more thrilled when I realized that her cycle had continued. Maybe we would become grandparents after all. For her sake I hoped it didn't continue forever, though. One of the best parts of becoming a vampire had been never having to deal with my monthly cycle any more. The idea of spending eternity with it was downright depressing.

Carlisle had warned her that he had no idea how birth control would work for her and so she should save herself for whomever she decided to wed. I was so glad when she agreed, stating that she didn't want to have to go through the worry and confusion she remembered Edward and I suffering after she was born. Of course, we all knew what Nahuel's intentions were. As far as anyone knew, they were the only dhampirs in existence who weren't related. We all hoped they would be happy together.

Shaking my beautiful girl awake with a smile, I whispered to her, "Honey, Nahuel is almost here. You'll want to get up."

She stretched with a happy sigh. "Did his aunt come with him this time?"

"Naturally," I replied. "Someone has to chaperone you two." I laughed when she rolled her eyes at me.

Huilen had been making yearly visits with Nahuel as Liz grew. He had shown up on the year mark of Liz's birth with his aunt in tow, introducing them to each other. Huilen had been quiet and reserved, assessing us to determine if we were worthy of her cherished nephew.

Once she had met Liz, though, she was convinced.

That little hand placed on her cheek had shown her just how happy Liz was that Nahuel existed. Edward had surmised that once you had encountered Liz, and her gift, you couldn't dispute the truth of what she was showing you. For all that they came from such different cultures they had formed a bond of knowing just how unique they were.

I could hear Nahuel and Huilen's quiet steps as they walked to our house. I knew people would be looking at them oddly, but perhaps not as strangely as years ago. Their yearly visit would leave people asking Edward or Carlisle questions, since they often were seen with us. Luckily, ever since Huilen had embraced the vegetarian lifestyle in support of her nephew, the last two years had been a bit more manageable. At least now her eyes were a soft topaz rather than the startling red.

Nahuel had embraced our diet after deciding that he was going to court Liz when she was of age. He'd wanted to start on it right away so she wouldn't have to worry about any slips around her grandfather. What amused all of us was how much they both loved lasagna. At least their dates could appear to be normal, human activities.

Liz was rushing around, humming the happy tune she always sang whenever she found something new in her closet courtesy of her Aunt Alice.

Alice and I had become much closer than I'd ever expected. We had a few bumps in the road, of course. Mostly it was me convincing her that, no matter what vision she had, she really should check with me before just going off and doing things. Thankfully she had a vision that showed her that as well. The first time she told me that she saw that if she had just done what would have made me happy—without telling me that I wouldn't be as happy as if she asked first—I just rolled my eyes. Her, 'Oh, I get it' moment had me laughing for a very long time. Edward and I often spent time with her and Jasper attending concerts and plays.

Of course, the plays we loved to go see were down in Ashland, Oregon at the Shakespearean Festival there. The first time I heard Carlisle argue with one of the scholars over what Shakespeare had really intended I laughed, up until Edward pointed out that Carlisle was born shortly after Shakespeare died and so had been acquainted with a few of his contemporaries. He had even seen a couple of the plays in the original Globe Theater, at least the histories. His father had approved of those.

Rose and Emmett were expected back in town tomorrow. They had decided to do an extended trip around the world, and had been gone for just over a year. Emmett was particularly interested in 'sampling' the variety of 'food' to be found, but I secretly thought he was most interested in wrestling with his prey. If it didn't put up a fight, he wasn't as interested in it. Rose wanted to see the sights, her favorite being Emmett having a good time. I think they were planning on making it back simply so Emmett could try to intimidate Nahuel some more, as if Edward weren't bad enough.

I stood at the front door of our home waiting to greet them as they walked up. I had yet to master their native language and so had to make do with my insufficient Portuguese. Thankfully Huilen greeted me in English.

"You're doing much better, Bella," she said, trying to hold in her laugh. "I'm sure in another decade you'll do fine, if you make time for it."

"I suppose whether or not I have time all depends on what Nahuel and Liz's plans are," I said as I opened the door wider to admit them into our home. I gave a little wave to the neighbor from a few miles down the road that typically used our property for jogging.

Edward had told me that it was just a pretense; that he was secretly worried about us, thinking we looked off or strange, but I knew kindness would probably win him over eventually. Then again, it had been seven years.

"Mom," Liz hissed from her room and we all laughed. One problem of living in a house where everyone had enhanced hearing was that everyone knew she had hissed at me. Those of us who were older found it amusing. However, I could see that it was embarrassing Nahuel as well.

"To be honest, Bella," Nahuel said to me, "we really haven't discussed that yet." He gave a small shrug. "We both know there isn't anyone else for us, and are really just glad that we get along so well. I had thought we might split the time between countries, but we have yet to discuss where we should settle to have children."

I gave a small shudder. The thought of being a grandparent when I had only lived twenty-nine years was more than I wanted to think about. Not to mention we all worried about her pregnancy if she could get pregnant. Would it have the same effect on her as it had on me? We all knew there was only one way to find out, although none of us really wanted to face that concern.

"Naturally we would want to be around Edward and Carlisle if she does become pregnant," he was continuing. "I would want the best care possible for her."

Edward had walked into the room and my eyes shot to his. He still couldn't read my mind unless I allowed him to, but my expressions were another thing entirely. I wondered if they had been intimate, but he calmed my fears with a small shake of his head. I should have known better: Huilen never let them out of her sight and Edward had threatened Nahuel that he could read his thoughts and he better not read any like that.

Making his way over to stand behind me he asked our future son-in-law, "What are your plans for this evening?"

"I thought we would get some dinner and catch the current movie. Whatever Liz wants would be fine."

Nahuel had discovered movies on one of his visits here and had been enthralled with them ever since. Liz knew she had created a monster—something we both laughed about—after he saw the first major blockbuster loaded with action.

Now he spent part of the time he visited watching every one that had come out during the time he was gone. Thankfully Liz liked them as well, and we could see the strength of the budding relationship in the simple fact that he was just as willing to watch movies she wanted to see, even if they weren't his preference. This small start of compromise would serve them well in the centuries to come.

Liz finally made her appearance, looking older than even I did in her finery that Alice had provided. Carlisle and Esme arrived at the front door just as the young couple were leaving for their date. They asked Huilen if she wanted them to go along as well so she would have someone to talk to, but her old-fashioned sensibilities wouldn't allow for it. She refused to be distracted.

We all gave them kisses and hugs at the front door as they left, admonishing them to have a good time and to be wary of the humans. Hand in hand they left into the night, with their intrepid chaperone following fifteen feet behind at all times. It was just enough space to let them speak confidentially while still being watched over.

Carlisle and Esme followed us in, taking up their favorite spots on the couches we had arrayed around the living room. Edward and Carlisle immediately fell into discussing their patients' health and what either of them might have found in searching the internet to help remedy their ailments, everything from the common cold to cancer.

They knew they had to keep their work hidden but weren't being very successful. The byproduct of no sleep, unlimited access to published articles, the ability to read other's work regardless of the language they were written in, and their two minds going over every new finding resulted in some novel approaches that had garnered some high level attention. But they couldn't stop: they simply cared too much.

Esme and I discussed the renovation of a nearby home she had been hired to do. Because of our proximity to the sea, the elements had done some severe damage to the exposed wood. The original beams had been formed from lumber in the area, from trees that were now protected. Matching the exposed wood with new would prove very difficult if you weren't aware of another species that was very similar and the humans would have a hard time distinguishing between. It was another task being performed by Rose and Emmett. We had recently received word that many large tree trunks were on their way to our small city for milling for Esme to use. Word had spread quickly, and as a result Esme was now a very busy restorer of old homes.

I had decided against opening another bookstore, instead using my time to teach adult literacy classes. At first many of the elders from the local tribes had told their people to not come, even though it was free. It turned out they had their own legends of cold ones and were sure we fit the description passed down from their ancestors. Jacob had thankfully met with them, using his influence as chief of his own tribe to convince them we were safe. I noticed he didn't try to convince them we weren't vampires.

After a few hours of talking with Carlisle and Esme they decided it was time to head home. I glanced over at Edward with a smile after waving a last goodbye to my beloved in-laws and saw that he was holding his hand out to me. We usually waited until Liz was sound asleep before spending the rest of the night in each other's arms; for a moment I thought he was going to take advantage of the empty house instead.

He surprised me.

"Want to go for a run?" he asked, the half-smile I loved brightening his face. I could see he had an ulterior motive in his eyes.

"Spying, dear?" I asked as I met him halfway with my hand out to his.

Weaving his fingers in mine he leaned over to brush my lips with his. "Only a little, but I think you'll be glad we did, momma." Whenever he used Liz's term for me I knew he was about to share something important. I looked at him expectantly but he simply shook his head. "Nope, you'll not want me to spoil this."

"But you already know," I said. There was a bit of a whine in my voice, causing him to laugh.

"Of course I do, but you'll prefer it as a surprise. Trust me."

He whispered the last, his lips once again trailing over mine. I pulled at our entwined fingers to try and force his lips down further, wanting to feel a real kiss. For a moment he complied with my demands. I lost myself in the pleasure of tasting him and feeling his warm lips pressed against my own as his hands wrapped around my body and held me firmly against his.

All too soon he broke away. "No distracting me now, we don't want to miss anything," he said with a chuckle as he pulled me to the door. He looked around, but I knew in reality he was listening for any humans who might be out walking. We didn't want them to see us take off from the house at a run. With one last smile he said, "Try to keep up!" Then he was off like he was shot from a gun.

I was almost as fast as he was and knew he was pacing himself slightly so he could hear my footsteps. Soon, I could smell the scents I knew we were looking for. Edward was greeting Huilen and I searched the area for where my daughter and soon-to-be-son-in-law stood.

I spied them standing on a rocky outcropping, both hands entwined as they faced each other. They were quite a sight with the moonlight behind them. It was easy to see they were discussing something of great importance to them and I couldn't help but wonder what it was. I got my answer when I saw him drop to one knee in front of her.

I had reached Edward and Huilen by that time. Since his ability to hear thoughts ranged farther than the sound carried, he was whispering the conversation we couldn't hear. He was doing a perfect mimic of their voices as well; it was almost the same as if we were standing right beside them.

"I don't want you to think I'm proposing only because you are the only one of my kind that isn't my sister. Even if the world were populated with dhampirs, I would want only you."

My breathing hitched as Edward recited Nahuel's words.

"I feel the same way," was my daughter's reply. "I knew you belonged to me even as a child. It's almost as if the fates had destined my father to find my mother simply so I could find the joy of becoming your wife."

By now I was swallowing down sobs, not wanting to give us away. Knowing she felt that way made all my lingering worries fade away as I accepted her belief. Perhaps she was right: all that Edward and I had gone through probably did have a higher purpose. Higher even than allowing us to form a bond stronger than I ever imagined. The fates had wanted us to fashion a creature to bring happiness to one they cherished, and had rewarded us by giving us joy of our own.

"So you accept me then?" Edward's perfect imitation continued. "You'll be my bride?"

I could see her nod. "Yes, with all my heart I accept you and offer myself in return."

Edward's arms reached out to me, pulling me firmly into his embrace as we watched the scene unfold before us. I reached back and took Huilen's hand, wanting to include her in the now increasing circle of our family. Nahuel rose from his knee with the grace of a jungle cat.

"We belong to each other," was his reply to my daughter as he took her face gently in his hands and sealed their promised union with a kiss.

When his arms wrapped around her waist to pull her in close to his body I began to drag the other eavesdroppers away.

"Let's leave them to their moment," I whispered so that I was barely heard.

They both nodded and we began the run back to our home. Huilen decided to stay in Rose and Emmett's house, since it was unoccupied and they had offered it before they left knowing that she and Nahuel would arrive before they returned. We waved goodbye as we quickly made our way to our own abode.

Edward didn't even stop as he pulled me through the front door, barely slowing down enough to allow me to swing the door closed. I gave a small laugh as he led me straight into the bedroom, reaching back to pick me up in his arms as we crossed the doorway. His lips met mine firmly as he placed me on the bed, our clothes becoming a pile of ripped material all around us as we rushed to join our bodies.

The emotions of all we had witnessed only served to heighten the passion we always felt. It was as if the culmination of our lives up to this point had finally been reached. As I held him in my arms I realized that I was now the happiest I had ever been. Knowing my daughter had an eternity of love ahead of her, coupled with the love I felt for the man who held me so tightly now, caused my heart to overflow. I could feel my shield move aside on its own, as if it had conscious thought and knew I wanted to share the depth of my feelings with Edward.

His hands flew to my face as he acknowledged what he was seeing. I knew we would both be crying if that were at all possible, we were so wrapped up in each other. Our eyes were locked and I could see that his joy mirrored my own.

"Oh, my love," he whispered with his lips against my own. "I am yours and you are mine."

"Yes," I replied. "We also belong to each other."

There was no more talking for quite a while as we loved our way into our future.

I currently don't have another full length Twilight story I'm working on, but I do still update the fictionista workshop challenge almost daily.

This is your last chance to review this story; don't pass up this opportunity (LOL!). Hugs and kisses to you all!