A/N: Apparently, this time of year is full of miracles. Yet another chapter to post in one month. And this, despite the fact that both of my computers had hard drive problems and needed to replaced.

Things I own: A drawer full of various Twilight merchandise.

Things I don't: Anything Twilight. That's all Stephenie Meyer's.

Thanks to mycrookedsmile for getting this beta'd over the busy holidays.


Carlisle finds me as I bring my kit back to the car.

"You okay?"

While my brother does razz me every chance he gets, he always looks out for me, too.

I stop what I'm doing for a moment to consider his question before I reply. Am I okay? As a surgeon, I was trained not to get involved in self-reflection following a case. By the time I was a surgical resident, it was expected that I would know how to keep my emotions compartmentalized—I had to wall them off and lock them away in a separate place in my brain. Emotion is an unnecessary companion in the surgical suite. Once a case is complete, you clean up, you talk to the family, you dictate an op note, then it's over and done and on to the next case.

"Yeah, I guess I am. I know I did a clean job. She'll heal beautifully, but it was a lot rougher than I remember it being with my kids."

"Well, from my perspective, you handled it like a complete pro. You always impress me, baby brother."

I'm never prepared for remarks like that from my brother. Carlisle Cullen is the smartest man I know. For him to give me such praise leaves me humbled. All I can do is shake my head in disbelief.

"It's funny—you're the one I always looked up to. You do know that, right? If ever I wanted to emulate someone, it was always you. You were the smartest, nicest, handsomest guy in school. I would have killed to be you. I always felt like I followed in your shadow."

"I felt the same way about you, you know."

"Oh come on, brother. You were perfect. How could you have possibly been envious of me?"

"You were so altruistic. Even as a kid, you had a halo on your head. I couldn't have been a more giving person than you were if I tried."

"What?" I say with astonishment. I can't believe what I'm hearing.

"Look, you were always the kind of guy who gave everything you had to everyone else. When we were little, if I asked you for your last dime, you would have given it to me without asking a single question."

"I knew you'd never ask me unless you needed it."

"You did it for everyone, not just me. You were born with a giving soul, Edward, and I think Bella is your reward for living such an earnest life. It's good to see you reap the rewards of your goodness at last."

I'm surprised that my brother is being so forthcoming today—what's gotten into him? We're in our 60s and he's never said anything like this to me before. I can't imagine what's making him open up like this—he wasn't even this supportive of me while Jessica was ill, or at her funeral. From the time we were little kids, our relationship has always been competitive and based upon humor. Why all these high praises and compliments?

The answer comes to me suddenly; I finally get it.

"You never did like Jessica very much, did you?" I ask, smiling at the memory of his warning to me the day I got engaged.

"She was pretty high maintenance," he starts.

When I hear him use that phrase, my mind goes back to my observation of Rosalie. With that realization, I understand a bit more why Emmett was attracted to Rose—she reminds him of Jessica. He was always the apple of his mother's eye; it's only normal he'd want to find someone similar to Jess.

"Look, Ed, it's not that I didn't like her—I grew to love her as part of our family—I just felt like you should have chosen someone who lifts you up rather than pulls you down."

"I did love her, you know," I explain. "By the time the cancer diagnosis arrived, though, I wasn't sure that I really liked her. God, that sounds awful to say. Without question, I supported and loved her until the very end."

"I know you did. You were a good husband. No one could ever fault you for moving on too soon."

"I'm going to marry Bella, Carlisle."

"Are you serious? So soon after you met?"

"At our age, you don't have the luxury of time. I'm absolutely certain that she's my one."

"How soon are we talking about here?"

"As soon as I can convince her. She's a little bit more risk averse than I am."

"How is that even possible? You're a pretty tightly wound guy," he laughs.

"I'm loosening up quite a bit due to Bella's influence, trust me. In terms of getting married, though, she's got colder feet than I do."

"Huh," Carlisle shakes his head slowly, as if he's in disbelief. "Well, be sure to warn me ahead of time. I can't deal with a last minute trip to Vegas."

I give my brother a crusty look and roll my eyes. "Please. Vegas? Do you even know me at all? Now quit your touchie-feelie yapping. I need to go see to my girl."

I slam the trunk shut and head inside with my big brother, pushing each other on the shoulders as if we're a couple of adolescents.


I'm sitting at Bella's dining room table, surrounded by a large, buoyant crowd. It's noisy and people are talking over one another. Despite Bella's knife wound incident, all is well within our families. She's preoccupied by the stories our grandchildren are trying to tell her all at the same time. I'm finally able to slip away from the table, unnoticed.


I sneak into Bella's room to find what I'm looking for. I pull it out of my briefcase and look through it once again, just to be sure. Yep, all in order. I sneak back to the kitchen and grab a bottle of champagne, so I have everything that I'm going to need.

I arrive back at the table with a lighter than air mood, handing the bottle of champagne to my startled brother.

"Once I ask Bella," I whisper to him, "I'd like you to open the bottle, okay?"

He looks at me like I've grown an extra head, so I reassure him. "Just trust me, brother. Please."

He nods his head slowly in silent reply, still obviously unsure. I kind of love the fact that I just threw my uber-smart big brother for a loop.

It's time; I gather all the children and grandchildren around us.

"Excuse me, everyone," I state loudly so everyone can hear. "I need your attention, please."

Surprisingly, they all comply, faces awash in curiosity. Grandpa Cullen has never raised his voice, or made an announcement quite like this before.

The look of anticipation on everyone's faces as they surround me makes me so happy, I beam a smile. I'm surprised to be enjoying this moment of suspense and drama, to be honest. When Bella's eyes meet mine, they're open wide, making her appear to be slightly scared. I'm astonished to find her looking at me like that, since she's the bravest and strongest woman I've ever known. Before I start to speak, I walk over to her and kiss her on the forehead.

Now I'm ready to begin my assault.

"We met on a delightfully gray afternoon in a Laundromat, of all places…"

"Edward?" she states simply, confused by my actions.

I lean over and whisper into her ear, "This is another good surprise, I promise. Please go with it?" I ask.

She nods in agreement.

"You helped me figure out my laundry and you made me laugh about sneaky little fu…foxes. I never imagined that in you, a stranger in a Laundromat, I'd met the one woman with whom I wanted—"

I pause and nod in Carlisle's direction, giving him his cue. As the champagne cork pops from its nest, I lift Bella's chin with my fingers so I can look her in the eyes. I can see she's almost imperceptibly shaking her head "no." Without pausing, I place the envelope that was previously hidden into her palm.

"Bella Swan, will you please do me the honor of accompanying me to Tahiti?"

Everyone in the room is silent, even the little ones. Bella looks adorably confused. I know she thought I was going to propose, so I wait a moment for her comprehension of my words to sink in.

"What? Tahiti?" she asks, uncertain about what she's heard.

"Yes, Tahiti," I confirm.

"Just Tahiti? Only Tahiti?"

"Do you need more than Tahiti?"

Her face breaks into a bright red blush. "I…oh, I didn't—it's not like that. I just… I mean…"

"Yes?" I say, smiling at her.

She gives me a huff and then breaks into a big smile. "Yes, Edward. Of course. Yes. Thank you!"

The room erupts into noisy cheers while I give my Bella a nice, long kiss.

I whisper into her ear, over the noise of our families, "Thank you for saying yes. For not freaking out."

"For a minute there, I thought you'd misunderstood me earlier," she chides.

"Who, me?" I grin at her. "No, I heard you. I just need you to remember my side of our conversation. Eventually."

Carlisle is busy giving everyone a round of champagne and naturally feels compelled to give a toast. I can't deny him; he's totally in his element when he does crap like this.

"To my baby brother and his Bella—please be sure to make like Gauguin and bring home some exotic pictures," he winks at me. "If you don't remember what his pictures are like, you can Google it." I can only groan in reply as everyone, including Bella, laughs.

"Who's Google?" Alice's son Max asks innocently.

"He's the person who tells you that it's time to leave the table and go play," she laughs.


"Really. Grab your cousins and go run around and make lots of noise, okay?"

With Max's dismissal, the grandchildren scatter, leaving the adults to talk over champagne and coffee.

Bella seems to be content—smiling, quiet—observing this happy mess in our midst. I pull her chair close to mine and whisper into her ear.

"I'm definitely going to go all Gauguin on you, but I promise to keep it all to myself."

"Damn straight you are," she says, nudging me in the ribs with her elbow.

I stand up and ask the guys to help me clear the dishes so the women can relax for once. When I reach the kitchen, I find myself in front of the dishwasher. The memory Bella's gorgeous ass bent over the machine floods back into my brain, as if she's right in front of me once again. I shake my head and chuckle to myself as I realize that Bella is slowly but surely and perversely tainting all household appliances and modern conveniences for me: washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, cell phones—nothing is safe. Thank god for that.

The sound of Emmett's voice breaks through my reverie.

"Tahiti, Dad? Really?"

"I'm sorry?" I say, confused by the tone of my son's voice.

"You're taking Bella to Tahiti? You never bothered to take Mom on a trip like that. You've known Bella how long and you're already going to Tahiti?"

I'm stung by the implication of my son's accusation—that I love Bella more than I loved his mother.

"Emmett, where I go on vacation and with whom I travel is strictly by my own choice. You don't have to like all of my choices, but I do ask that you respect them."

"What about respecting our memories of Mom? Are you going to do that? You never took her anywhere like Tahiti, not even close."

"Son, your mother would have had no interest in traveling to Tahiti. I know that better than anyone, because I happened to have tried convincing her several times in the past. Bella is a very different woman than your mother was. I'm in a completely different phase of my life and I've always dreamed of going to Tahiti. I finally have someone in who will willingly, happily accompany me to exotic locations like Tahiti. Your mother has been gone for a long time. I don't owe you any explanation. I had hoped that as an adult with children of your own you'd be more understanding and accepting."

He just shrugs his shoulders at me in response and we remain momentarily at an impasse.

"FROG FACE. Bathroom! Now!" Alice states, poking her older brother in the chest.

"What's your problem, Short Run?" he sulks.

"You," she says while dragging him where she wants him to go. While my daughter may be incredibly petite, she's small but mighty. I have no doubt that she's going to snap Emmett into shape. I glance at the dining room and the look on Bella's face tells me she heard everything.


There goes my theory about how nice it is to have adult children. Sometimes, we can't help but revert back to our old roles.

I rush to Bella to do some damage control.

"Baby, I'm so sorry—" I start.

Her arms are crossed in front of her body, like she's pulling in on herself.

"Would you have taken her?" she asks quietly. Sadly.

"Does it matter?"

"Yes. To me, it does. It's important to your children, so it's important to me, too."

I sigh deeply, regretting having to say this. It's not a nice picture of my dead wife.

"Jessica wasn't much of a traveler, to be honest. She was an incessant complainer no matter where we went. She liked what was familiar, so we spent a lot of vacations at fancy resorts, nearly all of them within the continental United States. All the places you might expect: Palm Springs, Scottsdale, the Florida Keys."

"Are you sure she wouldn't have gone to Tahiti with you? Maybe it's just because you never asked?"

"And risk foreign food, a 24 hour plane ride, having to drink bottled water, and no one who speaks a word of English? Believe me, I asked. And her answer, in a word, was always no. Never. "

"I don't want to talk about this now. Let's just get everyone on their way," she says with sadness in her voice.

"Sure. It's going to be all right," I say, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze.

"If you say so."

We stand up together to help everyone pack up. I'm handing Carlisle his jacket when I see Emmett in my peripheral vision with Alice and Rose standing behind him. Carlisle and Esme give Bella a kiss goodbye when I hear Alice's voice interrupt us.

"Daddy, Emmett has something to say to you and Bella," she begins, elbowing her brother.

"Yes, we've decided that since he's acting like his 7 year old son, we had to intervene and threaten him with a timeout if he didn't apologize to you," Rose adds. Emmett looks as ashamed as he did when he was 5 years old and got caught hiding beets in his napkin at dinnertime.

With a deep breath, he begins. "Dad, Bella, I'm sorry I got upset about your trip to Tahiti. I jumped to conclusions and it's none of my business."

I open my mouth to speak, but I'm surprised when Bella beats me to the punch.

"You're right, Emmett—it is none of your business," she starts, shocking us all. "But I'd also like to think that you'd give us your approval to have a relationship that's different from the one your parents shared. I have no desire to take her place in your lives or in your hearts. Jessica was your mother and I know no one will ever fill that role for you again. Make no mistake, though—I love your father. I'd go to hell and back for him. If you don't approve, that's your choice, but he's in my life for as long as he chooses to be here."

Emmett's jaw gapes, but I can see that he feels chastised.

"Hey, Bella, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, honestly. This is all new for me. I overreacted. I'll try not to do that again."

Bella smiles sweetly at Emmett then stands on her toes to place a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you. I appreciate and accept your apology."

That's my girl—always doing the unexpected, so wise and compassionate. I should have known she'd also be quick to forgive.

Emmett draws Bella into a big bear hug just to prove he means what he says.

"My brother tends to speak before he thinks, so Rose and I have to keep him in line when he does," Alice apologizes. "He does usually mean well.

"And if he ever does that again, I'll be here to kick his ass," Rose adds.

"That won't be necessary. I'm tougher than I look," Bella explains.

After a round of hugs have been distributed, we watch as our families depart one by one with the grandchildren in tow. It reminds me of Make Way for Ducklings, where the ducklings follow their mother single file all the way to the water. Each car goes through the process of fastening our precious cargo safely into each seat, and then they drive off into the distance.

The shock of returning back inside, with its complete silence, is no small thing. The boisterousness of our patchwork family was delightful, but I can't say that I'm sorry to have Bella all to myself again. The best thing about grandchildren is that you get to enjoy them and spoil them, but they go back home with their parents.

I turn Bella in my arms so that I can see her face. Placing my palm on her cheek, I try to see for myself if she's okay. She gives me a small smile, so I know she's getting there. She surprises me by standing on her toes and delivering a warm kiss on my lips.

When she pulls away, I look at her, confused.

"Thank you," she starts to explain. "That was just about the best thing I've ever experienced."

I'm still confused by her words. How was Emmett's problem a good thing?

She pats me on the cheek. "Seeing our families together, being overloaded by grandchild energy—it was all so imperfectly perfect."

Now that I see what she means, I return her smile. "It was pretty nice, wasn't it?"

"You did that for me, all of it. And now I don't need to be scared anymore."

"You were scared?"

"I was so scared of Carlisle and Esme, but you were right. There was no reason to be."

"They're about as tame as they come. I knew you'd like them."

"I was more worried about their liking me. But it was the kids—how did you coordinate all that?"

"A Master never gives away his secrets," I waggle my eyebrows at her.

I wrap my arms around her, just needing to feel her warm body close to mine. When we aren't looking directly at one another, things feel calmer. I try to cradle her wounded hand gently in mine.

"Thank you for fixing me."

"Bella, I'll always fix you. There's no thanks needed. It's my job."

"Leah talked to me."

"Did she?"

"Mmhmm. I think you earned a merit badge today, Silverfox."

"Well, that's good. I'm always prepared, I had hoped that would pay off some day."

"It takes a lot to impress her. She was most definitely impressed."

"Good to know. You could tell she was well trained from her police work. Very level headed."

"She's been like that from the day she was born. So serious. Such a protector. You should have seen her once Seth was born. She was like a mama bear with her cub."

"I can picture it in my head. She hasn't changed much. She's a good caretaker."

"Mmm, she is. Syd has softened her around the edges quite a bit. And having kids, I realize protecting Seth and me was nothing compared to her own children."

I notice that the sun is starting to set outside; I have an action plan that needs to go into action.

I take Bella's good hand in mine and tug her along with me, out the front door.

"Silverfox, what—"

Once I plop myself onto the porch swing, Bella's eyes open wide as she follows suit, her face blooming into a huge smile. Making sure that her injured hand is well out of the way I pull her onto my lap so she's straddling me. As I rub my hands over her backside from her shoulders to her ass, I revel in the feel of her body, so warm and soft, over mine. I'm not sure how long we sit there, rocking, just taking comfort in the physical presence of each other. Time tends to become irrelevant wherever Bella is concerned.

Wanting to feel her skin under my fingertips, I untuck her shirt. Once I make contact, she hums happily.

"No one has ever made me feel more alive than I am when I'm with you. I used to think I was an independent person, but since I met you, all I want is to be next to you. In you," I whisper into her ear and then bite her earlobe. Her gasp makes me grin against her skin.

I start rocking the swing with more energy and my hands find themselves on her beautiful apple-shaped ass. I revel in the sensation of the swing's inertia that forces our bodies together, creating a wonderful friction. We've stopped kissing, stopped moving anything else; we're just swinging and looking intensely into one another's eyes.

"I want you," she says, so softly I could have missed it if I wasn't waiting so intently for her to say it.

"Always," I assure her.

Without another word, I stop the swing and help her to her feet. We're both so eager to undress ourselves, we make the job ten times more difficult than it needs to be.

"Fuck!" I hear her curse.

"What is it?" I whisper.

"I need some lube."

I place my hand on her shoulder, pushing her back far enough that she can see my face. With a huge grin, I pull a small bottle from the pocket of my jeans. Once it's firmly in my grasp, I wiggle it around with my fingers.

Her surprise quickly turns to a mischievous grin.

"You planned this?" she says, slightly shocked.

I drop my face into my hand, pretending I'm supremely disappointed. "You know, my feelings are really hurt right now. You act surprised that I would be prepared to have sex with you. I literally have lube with me every minute of the day, just on the odd chance I'll be able to bang you. It's like you don't even know me at all," I tease her.

I uncap the lube and squirt it onto my fingers. Her jeans are down to her knees, but her panties are still in place. I slip them down to her knees, then run my lubed fingers over her lips, making them nice and slick. I give myself another squirt, then use it to slip my fingers gently inside her. She moans at my touch and it goes straight to my cock. I'm always amazed at her ability to get me going. I'm so hard, I just want to drive right into her. Apparently, Bella is on the same wavelength as I am, because she grabs the lube bottle and uses it to coat my cock. Groaning, I pull her body over mine once again, and she slips herself onto me. Whenever I make that first thrust into Bella, she makes the same sound, the one drives me insane. It's a combination breathy gasp-moan that's so incredibly sexy.

I weave my fingers into the hair at the nape of her neck and pull her fiercely to my mouth. She puts her small hands on either side of my jaw—gingerly using her wounded hand—and pulls me into her with just as much force. It never ceases to amaze me that somehow, in moments like these, she wants me just as badly as I want her, and she's never afraid to show it.

My hands move to her hips, where she's circling slowly around my cock. We're as deep as we can possibly be in each other's bodies, and it's still not deep enough. I can't possibly get as close to her as I want to be. When we're having sex, it makes me frantic, this not being able to ever have enough. I keep pulling her hips, driving her deeper, and she keeps pulling my jaw, our tongues warring within our mouths.

There's a seductive rhythm to our movements, a constant clunk clunk clunk clunk as the swing moves forward and back. It's interesting, because it's perfectly timed to meet our thrusts. Bella breaks the kiss—only slightly—to pant and moan out my name, but our lips never fully separate.

Ed clunk ward clunk clunk oh clunk my clunk god clunk

I move my finger to her clit and she squeaks out a slight groan. Her face is so focused on the pleasure I'm giving her, eyes closed, mouth wide open.

"Edward, I'm going to… I'm coming. I'm coming!" she warns me, as if I'd ever do anything to keep that from happening.

"Yes, baby, come for me," I encourage.

I feel the sensation of falling, not unlike the drop you get in your stomach from going down in an elevator. I've never experienced another orgasm like it, until it registers that I'm not having an orgasm. The fucking porch swing is falling down, hard.


Bella is still panting through her climax when we hit the porch floor, and she can't focus on anything but that until her twitches cease. Apparently, the momentum of the swing hitting the floor was enough to initiate my own climax and I find myself caught up with her at the same time. She rests her forehead on mine until we both calm down and finally catch our breath.

When she opens her eyes, they're wide and surprised.

"Silverfox?" she asks, uncertain what just transpired. When it finally registers in her brain, she starts to giggle uncontrollably, and I start laughing along with her. We're holding each other tightly, I'm still inside her, and we laugh until we can't breathe anymore.

Once we've calmed down, Bella beams a smile at me.


"We broke the swing."

"Yes, I noticed that."

"You know what that means."

I raise an eyebrow at her. "I do?"

"One more thing we can cross off the bucket list."

"God, it's so hot when you say stuff like that."

"Know what's even hotter?"

"Nope," I shake my head.

"Going skydiving in your near future."

I feel all the blood drain from my face. "Uh, what?"

She pulls back to see my entire face. "It's on the bucket list, too. I signed up for the tandem jump, so it will be easy-peasy. No worries about not knowing what to do."

I didn't really think Bella had been serious when she mentioned skydiving, so the alarm I feel is very real.

"I don't feel comfortable with you doing that. I never dreamed you were serious."

"Well, you'd better get comfortable, because you'll be joining me," she grins.

END NOTE: Just a small Christmas gift from me to you. Two chapters in one month. That has to be some kind of record for me. Sadly. Everyone have a wonderful holiday season, and thanks for spending this last year with me on this story. Just a few more to go, and our ride will be over.