Apologies if the italics appear again. It's a formatting fault with FFn that I don't know how to fix.
Well, here goes *deep breath*
Important A/N at the bottom.
See you on the other side…
"Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you."
~ Lao Tzu
I walk along the beach, feeling the sun beat down on my bare chest and the sand creep silently between my toes. The smell of the ocean is in every breath I take and the heat wraps around me like a comfortable jacket.
Pausing, I allow myself one brief moment where I close my eyes and take it all in.
I listen as I stand there. I hear the sea lapping gently at the shore, while my stupid, brown lab, Oreo, barks at the waves. I hear the birds over head and I hear laughter.
The laughter is my favourite part. It's my favourite sound in the world, the sound of my wife laughing.
Well, maybe my second favourite.
It floats on the warm breeze and greets my ears like an old friend. Without fucking emasculating myself, the sound of it makes me feel all the butterfly type things in my stomach. It always has. I like it. It reassures me that she's happy. And that's one of the most important things to me.
I reopen my eyes and look down the beach.
My heart clenches when I see…
She's running, well, stumbling through the sand, bikini on, giggling as the water runs over her small feet. I watch her enraptured. My God. She's just about the most perfect thing I've ever seen in my life.
She splashes and laughs and the sound travels across the beach beautifully. I catch it in my ears and store it in a place that I'll go to on a gloomy, rainy day a long time from now. I laugh when she stumbles again. She's so inelegant. But she's exquisite. Her hair catches the sun as she twirls, kicking up the sand, and it flashes red and chocolate.
My laughter alerts her to my presence, as does Oreos' incessant barking. She looks at me and the smile that appears on her face, damn near floors me. I hold out my arms and she takes off, running at me as fast as her legs can carry her. She stumbles a couple more times before she reaches me, and, when she does, I lift her into the air, throwing her to the sky, catching her as she squeals with delight.
She places her small hands on my cheeks and squeezes them. "Daddy," she smiles, all tiny teeth and gums.
"Hey baby," I reply and place my lips on her chubby cheek.
I blow on it, making a loud farting noise that makes her laugh and squirm in my arms.
Her laughter? Yeah, that's my most favourite sound.
I hold her tightly to my chest. I hold her tightly because I don't want her to fall. I hold her tightly because I love feeling her so warm and perfect in my arms. But I also hold her tightly because I want her to know that she's safe with me; that I love her more than I ever thought possible. I need her to know that that will never change.
I don't want her to grow up the way I did, thinking that no one cared or gave a shit.
Because, I do care.
I fucking adore my daughter. I adored her when Bella first told me that we were expecting her, the night of our second wedding anniversary. I adored her when I first heard her heartbeat and I adored her when she came out of Bella, two and a half years ago, kicking and screaming and stealing my entire fucking heart.
Like any father will tell you, I'd lay my life down for her in a second. I love her with everything that I am.
Since she was placed into my arms - all six pounds three ounces of her - Maisie Rose Cullen has been my entire world. Of course, I was scared shitless, (who wouldn't be) but, once I got over the fear of dropping her and when I realised that, after a few diaper changes and bath times, she wasn't as delicate and fragile as I initially thought, I found that I slipped into the role quite easily.
I love and I'm loved. I even have the word inked on my wrist under my watch.
It reminds me of what a lucky motherfucker I really am.
I keep Maisie in my arms, as I continue walking down the beach towards the white house that my grandmother used to own. We live there permanently now. Sometimes we head back into the city to the Tribeca apartment, but Bella and I love the house so much. It means so much to both of us. Plus, I like having my daughter in the open air, away from the hustle and bustle of New York.
"Papa come now?" She asks me quietly, playing with the hair behind my ear.
"Papa's coming later, baby," I tell her, cupping the back of her head gently. "He's coming for dinner."
Papa is my father, Carlisle.
Yeah, I know.
It's weird, really. Since Maisie was born, my relationship with him has definitely improved, which is bizarre to me considering our history. Our reconciliation was so fucking stressful to begin with, but Bella insisted that I at least hear him out and make some effort to build any kind of bridge from the tatters left between us.
So, of course, because I can't say no to her, I did.
He and I fought, we yelled, we ignored one another until, sick of the pain and anger, we both gave in. At first, I found it hard to understand how he had so easily abandoned me, walked away from his responsibilities, which, being a father now, I could never imagine doing. The more we talked, however, the more I realised that he had simply been trying to do the best he could in a situation that was beyond fucked up.
My mother's family were so awful to him that doing what he was told by them and the courts was the easiest option. Obviously, I didn't help the situation with my teenage angst. But how was I to know? He protected me from a lot of things that left me livid when he finally told me. Truth is he struggled because he was too fucking stubborn to ask anyone for help. He was determined to do it by himself, stand up to my mother's family, and it backfired.
Bella likes to tell me how alike he and I are.
Maybe she's right.
Regardless, we met his new wife, Esme. She seems pretty nice. Sadly, despite all the the will in the world and the never-ending niceties, I doubt my father and I will ever be best friends, but we speak and he visits a couple of times a month. Annoyingly, both my girls love him.
We've celebrated birthdays and Christmases together, along with Renee and Nana Boo. I've learned that I love family Christmases, especially now I have a child. I never had proper Christmases as a kid so I tend to go a little nuts with decorations and shit. Bella, God bless her, tolerates the little boy in me that gets excited about pinning stockings and tinsel to the fireplace. I love the presents, tree, and food and having people around.
Oh, yeah, just call me a fucking domesticated family man.
I chuckle to myself.
It's crazy. If you'd have told me that this would be my life six years ago, I would have laughed in your face.
I sigh as I feel my baby girl's tiny finger trace the lines of ink on my shoulder. She does it when she's tired. Most nights she'll fall asleep on me, her finger circling the swirls of colour on my skin. Those are the best times.
My most precious times.
She lifts her head, snapping awake, and I chuckle when she shouts at the dog, "Oweeo! Come home!"
He trails behind us, running in and out of the water, still barking and growling at the waves.
"You tell him, kiddo," I say, kissing her forehead. She smells of sweet jello and ocean. "Have you had jello?" I ask with wide eyes, "Without me?"
She shakes her head, her brown and red curls bouncing around her ears, "Momma, haved it. She shared me." She puts her fingers in my mouth so I can taste the leftovers. They're sweet and sticky and etched in sand. I don't care. I suck them and gobble at her hand.
"Momma did?" I laugh. "I bet. She likes jello now, huh?"
"Who likes jello?"
I turn to see my wife, standing on the end of the wooden path that leads to our home, bowl of jello and ice-cream in one hand and a spoon in the other. She's dressed in a floor length, strapless, white dress that's almost transparent and looks fucking amazing against her tanned skin. It's been a hot summer in the Hamptons.
"You do," I smile.
"Have you been telling on me, Maisie?" Bella scowls lovingly at our daughter who hides in my neck, laughing. Bella tickles her and she giggles more. She looks so like Bella when she does that. My lungs give a familiar squeeze as I look between the two of them.
Christ, it still hurts to think that I so nearly lost all of this.
I try not to think about my stupid choices and the risks I took all that time ago, but they come back every so often, unexpectedly, a little voice in my head that whispers, "This is your second chance, Cullen. Don't fuck it up." And I won't. I swear to God, I won't.
Maisie claps her hands and squeals. "Play with Oweeo, Daddy!" She wriggles in my arms until I place her on the floor and she runs over to Oreo, chasing him, trying to catch his tail. The dog loves it.
Bella walks to me and I wrap my right arm around her, placing my other hand on her beautifully rounded stomach. It's an amazing feeling, knowing that the new life growing inside of her I helped create. My daughter was an amazing, terrifying nine-month experience. This time, I feel a little calmer. I've played Daddy pretty fucking well so far. And, truthfully, I've loved every minute.
Obviously, it helps that Bella is the most incredible partner, wife, mother. I swear, without her...Christ, I can't even imagine. She works part time at a young boy's correctional facility now, teaching English. She loves it but I worry. I worry all the fucking time, but I know that she's so much stronger than I ever give her credit. I underestimate her terribly, even after all this time. We've been married for five years and she still surprises me every day.
Every day with her is better than the last and, if it's possible, I love her more every day too.
I rub my palm lovingly across her bump and she hums into my neck. I smile down at my hand, reading the word Peaches that is tattooed around my ring finger. It matches the Cullen that Bella has tattooed on her ring finger.
Jesus, that was the hottest thing, seeing her have my name inked on her.
I think she's got a taste for it, which I'm all for, by the way. She has a few now: an E on her hip along with the date of our wedding and a C behind her right ear for her father. Maisie's name is on her wrist.
I have Maisie's name above my heart, next to the B I had placed there during our honeymoon.
"Are you okay?" I ask he when she rubs her tummy and winces.
"I'm great," she replies, kissing my jaw. "Baby just keeps pressing on my bladder."
She nods and I turn my head, kissing her soundly.
And it's like the first time, all fireworks, heat and fucking golden.
I pull back and look at her.
"You're beautiful, Mrs Cullen," I tell her.
I always tell her.
"You too," she smiles up at me. She holds out a spoon filled with jello and I take it into my mouth.
I snort with my mouth full, "Peach jello?"
She elbows me in the ribs. "Shush! I like it. It's my favourite flavour!"
I laugh and kiss her hair, pulling her back into my side.
"Mine too," I whisper, closing my eyes and breathing her in. "Mine too."
Holy…they lived happily ever after, Batman.
I am truly humbled by all of your amazing comments about this fic over the past twenty-nine months. The fact that you are still with me, is a testament to how incredible you all are.
Never for one moment did I think that I would have completed this with nearly 19,000 reviews. I am speechless.
I have made so many new friends during the writing of PoF and I will treasure you always.
The original PAW Princesses: Sal, Sash, Irene, Nikki, Caro, Rhian and Babs. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you.
To the US girls: Michelle, Pauline, Barburella, Vio, Pam, my beautiful fic wifey Rachel, Steph, Kim, Khar for your amazing and continued influence, Jada (RoseArcadia) for the amazing pimpage, Kassiah and JaimeArkin for the same and to all the amazing sites that have mentioned, reviewed, recc'd or nominated PoF, thank you.
To all the Twilighted girls and the girls on Facebook, you are awesome. Never change. Thank you for sticking by me.
And to every one of the Twitter girls…I am without words. I cannot express how much you all mean to me. You have talked me off the ledge so many times with this fic and built me back up when I've needed you to. I owe you so much.
There are hundreds of other people that I could mention who have supported, RT'd and helped me along - you know who you are – but I'd be here until Christmas. Just know that I love you and thank you.
I am sitting here with a huge lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes, feeling like I'm closing the door on a huge chapter in my life.
All I hope is that, when the next one opens, you'll all come through it with me.
I have more fics to come so keep me on author alert.
I will miss PAW and Peaches more than I can say, but I am so grateful that even I had them at all.
Much love, Oreos, kisses and hugs to all of you.