A/N: Well, here it is. I'll save the thank-yous and stuff for the end. :)
Beta'd by Dinx!
Disclaimer: I don't own any characters you recognize. This story is rated M, and is not suitable for younger readers. Story contains some violence, character death, very foul language and may eventually contain sexual situations. Please do not read if any of these things offend you.
Six months later
"Oh my God, I'm going to die," Bella said, holding up a pair of silver four-inch heels. "Alice, this is going to be torture!"
Alice grinned, taking the heels out of Bella's hand. "It's not going to kill you, Bella. I promise!"
Bella rolled her eyes, flopping down on Alice's bed in her hotel room. "They are kind of pretty."
"They're gorgeous, and my brother is going to flip when he sees you."
For the past hour, Alice had been going over last-minute adjustments to the bridesmaid dresses they would be wearing at Rose's wedding that Saturday, also Edward's birthday.
Bella had been walking around in them off and on, when Edward wasn't around to tease her about falling over.
Her dress, however, was certainly not loathsome. The minute Bella laid eyes on it in a Port Angeles bridal boutique, she was in love with it. She excitedly threw it on, getting Rose's approval, and declared she might never take it off. It was a strapless, cobalt-blue, knee-length, with lace along the bottom, and a navy-blue belt.
Rose had been adamant about a low-key, casual ceremony, and the dresses she had chosen reflected that. Her wedding dress, a sleeveless, off-white number with a lace overlay, was topped off with a belt the color of her bridesmaids' dresses. The dress barely scraped the floor when she wore it, so she had opted to wear flats rather than heels.
All in all, the wedding planning had been a cakewalk. Bella and Edward had flown to Washington twice – once for a weekend of fittings and to give their input.
The other time had been a sadder occasion. Edward had received a phone call shortly after midnight on February third informing him that Marcus had passed away.
He and Bella hopped on the first flight out of LaGuardia that morning, and less than twenty-four hours later, they were sitting in a funeral home finalizing burial plans.
"Should we call his son?" Bella had asked, her head against Edward's shoulder.
"He said not to," Edward answered. He would honor his friend's memory by obeying his final wishes, but that didn't mean he didn't fantasize about looking up Marcus' son, knocking on his door and giving him a piece of his mind.
The next day, they stood at the foot of a nice mahogany casket in a Tacoma cemetery as a minister recited The Lord's Prayer. Bella clasped Edward's hand between her own, her heart hurting for him. It was just the three of them, saying goodbye to a man the rest of the world had forgotten. After the minister walked away, Edward stood still, staring at the casket. Bella said nothing, sensing his need to reflect.
Finally, Edward nodded a little, letting his eyes drop to the headstone, where Marcus' name would soon be carved next to his wife's.
"I'd do it, too," Edward said softly.
Brow furrowed, Bella looked at him. "Do what?"
"I'd do what I have to do to keep you," he answered. "Just like Marcus did."
"But he killed-" Bella started. She clamped her mouth shut when Edward shot her a pained look.
"Yeah, he did. It was an accident. I don't condone that, Bella. Not at all. But he wasn't an evil man."
"Of course not," she replied. "I know that."
Edward sighed. "Do you think he went to Heaven? Even so?"
Bella smiled a little, tightening her fingers around his. "Yeah, I do. He's with his love now."
They had plans to visit Marcus' grave, and Renee's while in Washington for the wedding.
The last six months had been hectic for the both of them, but they always ended up in the same place at night – their home.
There had been no weekend getaways yet, which is why they were treating this five-day trip to Washington like a vacation. Edward had reserved a waterfront suite at la place sur la Mer bed and breakfast in the Port and surprised Bella with it.
The look on her face when they stood at the water's edge to catch a glimpse of the sunset their first night there was enough for Edward. He would never get tired of seeing her smile, of making her smile.
An hour before the wedding ceremony Saturday evening, Bella was helping Alice get Rose ready in a room at the Olympic Lodge when Rose dropped a bombshell.
"We're leaving Washington," she stated casually, looking at them in the mirror.
The curling iron in Alice's hand froze, and Bella's jaw dropped.
"Where are you going?" Bella asked. "This is kind of sudden."
Rose cleared her throat. "We're moving to New York City."
Alice and Bella looked at each other for a moment before the squealing started.
"Oh my God, tell me everything!" Alice said excitedly.
"I applied for an FBI position a couple of months ago. I didn't tell anyone, except for Emmett, of course. He was hesitant at first, mostly because he wasn't sure about the job situation there for him, but he was supportive. I got called to Seattle for an interview, and got the final call last week that they want me to join the team."
"In New York," Bella stated, grinning as she put a pin in Rose's hair.
"Yup. I specifically requested New York, and they had an opening. Since I got the job, I can tell you guys now. I didn't want to jinx it."
"What about Em?" Alice asked.
"He's got a few ideas bouncing around. We'll see. We have a cushion, so even if he doesn't find something right away, we'll be okay. We miss you all, and you know how much we loved New York when we visited, so it just makes sense. There's really nothing here for us anymore."
Alice and Bella squealed again, and Rose rolled her eyes. "Please don't make me regret this."
They laughed, and soon, they piled into Alice's rental to drive to Sequim for the outdoor wedding.
Less than a half hour later, Bella made sure Rose was well out of sight of the groom before heading out to find Edward.
He was standing in the garden, a glass of champagne in hand as he talked to Charlie.
Bella slowed, a smile on her face as she watched them interact. They shook hands, and Edward glanced her way, his eyes widening as he drank in the sight of her.
"You look incredible," he told her when she closed the distance between them.
She smiled. "You look quite dashing yourself," she said, grinning as she lifted a hand to the knot of his tie.
He grabbed her hand and lifted it to his lips, winking at her as he kissed it. "Is Rose calm?"
"Remarkably so," she answered. "I think I'm more nervous than she is. Emmett?"
"Hm, seems to be. It takes a lot to faze him, you know." He gave her hand a squeeze, glancing toward his brother. "Did Rose tell you their news?"
Bella nodded. "I can't believe it. I'm so happy for them. It'll be nice to have them close by. But Esme will still be here, all by herself."
Edward smiled, his eyes seeking out his parents in the small crowd. "I think she'll manage."
Bella quirked a brow, following his gaze. Her eyes landed on Carlisle and Esme, who appeared to be in very deep conversation, and they were smiling, the affection between them evident.
"Are they-" Bella started, but was cut off by the minister, letting them know it was time.
"I'll see you soon," Edward told her, touching his thumb to her chin.
Bella turned and hurried into the building, where Rose was humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic loudly, and Alice had her fingers stuck in her ears.
"Oh my God, make her stop," Alice pleaded when Bella came into the room. "She's been doing this for five minutes!"
Rose smirked, standing. "Is it time?"
"Yeah, everyone's ready." Bella linked her arm through Alice's and they looked at Rose, who visibly took a deep breath.
"Alright, let's do it."
Alice and Bella walked outside arm-in-arm down the aisle, all the while sharing smiles with their boyfriends waiting up ahead.
The small crowd, mostly Cullen family and a few friends, turned and waited for the bride to appear.
Bella stood across from Edward, and he smiled at her, his heart swelling with love.
"What's taking her so long?" Alice whispered to Bella after a minute went by and Rose was nowhere in sight.
The violinist started playing Pachelbel's Canon a second time, and Emmett cast a worried glance at Bella.
She shrugged and started to take a step when a murmur rose in the crowd.
Rose had finally appeared at the doorway, and a collective sigh of relief could be heard amongst the wedding party.
Bella watched Emmett as his bride walked toward him. His smile grew larger and larger with each step she took, and when she was a mere foot away, he stepped forward and took her hand.
"Sorry," she whispered apologetically. "I had to pee."
They laughed, and the minister cleared his throat.
As the couple said their vows, Bella and Edward found it nearly impossible to keep their eyes off each other. By the time Emmett and Rose were pronounced husband and wife, Bella and Edward were each wondering if there was someplace private they could sneak off to.
"You may kiss your bride," the minister told Emmett.
"Hell yeah," he said, grabbing Rose's head in his hands and laying one on her.
The crowd cheered, and Emmett led Rose away, down the aisle and into the main building.
Edward moved forward, offering his arm to Bella, and she couldn't help the lifting of her heart when she realized that this could be them someday, walking down the aisle to a new life together.
Behind them, Alice and Jasper were bickering as they walked, and when they all neared the reception hall, Edward finally turned to face them.
"For Christ's sake, what are you two going on about?" he asked. "Don't you think you can put aside whatever it is long enough to not ruin their reception?"
Alice blinked, then looked at Jasper, who was grinning from ear to ear.
"What? I don't see what the fuck's so funny," Edward said, glancing at Bella, who looked as if she were about to bolt from the confrontation.
"Well, fine, be that way," Alice huffed. "It's not every day your little sister gets engaged. Geez. See if I invite you to the wedding."
Bella gaped at her, as did Edward.
"What?" Edward asked. "You're getting married? To him?"
Bella smacked his stomach, then quickly pulled Alice into a hug. "Congratulations, Al. That's wonderful news."
"When the fuck-" Edward started.
"This morning," Alice said quickly, holding her hand out toward Jasper.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring, then placed it on her finger. "We were trying to decide when to tell everyone. Certainly didn't want to step on any toes," Jasper said, draping his arm around Alice's waist. "So, we decided to keep it a secret. That didn't last long."
Edward narrowed his eyes at Jasper. "Did you ask for permission?"
"Of course he did, Edward," Alice said, rolling her eyes.
The door behind them opened, and Emmett poked his head out. "Um, hi. Would you guys get your asses in here so we can eat?"
They filed in, finding their spots at the long table. The entire room was bathed in the soft glow of chandeliers and candles. Bella found the setting to be quite romantic and intimate.
She was placed next to Carlisle's brother, who proceeded to divulge every single detail about his recent trip to a conference on global warming. Bella listened intently, but found it impossible to keep her eyes from moving a few seats down to where Edward was seated, chatting with Esme's aunt.
He winked at her a couple of times, and she felt the familiar pull in her chest. The one that reminded her how much she loved him.
At some point, a band took over for the violinist, and people began to move to the floor and dance.
Edward was getting frustrated. It seemed that he wasn't meant to spend any time with his girlfriend. Whenever he began to make his way toward her, someone would step into his path. They were so curious about his time in prison and his new life, and he politely answered all their questions.
Bella danced with Emmett, then Jasper. She danced with two of the Cullen cousins, and then she danced with Carlisle.
"My son is really happy, Isabella," he said, smiling at her. "My family owes you a massive amount of gratitude."
Bella shook her head. "No, that's not me. That's all Edward. He's come so far. He did it on his own."
"Even so," he replied. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out the real reason he's finally in a good place."
Bella looked over his shoulder, watching Edward dance with his mother. He caught her eye and held it, and she smiled.
The music cut short when Emmett bounded over to the band and grabbed the microphone.
Edward saw his opening and took it, quickly moving to Bella's side. His arm slid around her waist, and she looked up at him.
"Took ya long enough," she said softly.
He smirked, but said nothing.
"Rose said she'd kick my ass if I did this, because we weren't really doing the whole traditional wedding thing, but I have to."
Rose sighed, shaking her head before finishing off the last of the champagne in her glass.
"I mean, every newlywed couple has to have a first dance, right?" Emmett asked.
The crowd cheered enthusiastically, and the first notes of Bruce Springsteen's If I Should Fall Behind began to play.
He started to hand the microphone to the singer, but quickly pulled it back. "Oh, and baby, it's The Boss. You love him. So, don't kick me out of bed tonight, okay?"
There were some chuckles as the crowd formed a circle around the couple, and Rose playfully slapped Emmett's shoulder as he pulled her near.
Edward held Bella in front of him, his arms wrapped around her securely. He placed a kiss atop her head, and she leaned against him.
"I love this song," she said. "It's beautiful."
Edward murmured his agreement before dropping one hand to hers. He pulled her away from the crowd and through a set of French doors, leading her onto a balcony.
Once they were alone, he dipped his head and kissed her.
"Mmm, I've been wanting to do that for awhile. Happy birthday to me," he said when he pulled away, dropping his hands to her waist.
She smiled, running her fingers down his tie. "This has been an interesting day."
"I'd say. Can you believe Alice is getting married?" he asked, tightening his hold on her.
"You were so cute, being all protective. 'Did you ask for permission?'" she mocked in a deep voice, grinning.
His brow furrowed. "Well, that's how it should be done."
She bit her lip and glanced over her shoulder, spotting Carlisle and Esme dancing together, in a world of their own.
"Your parents?" she asked, looking back at Edward.
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "Needless to say, I really don't think Mom will live in Seattle much longer."
Bella sighed. "That's such good news."
"I guess there is truth to that old saying, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Dad's really turned things around, and Mom is willing to give him a second chance."
Bella laid her head on his shoulder, her eyes closed. "Hooray for second chances," she responded, smiling.
"Hm, your dad appears to be looking for you," he said, his nerves kicking up a notch.
Bella turned, looking for Charlie inside the room. "I don't see him. Where is he?"
Edward grabbed her hand, and she looked back to him, a gasp escaping her lips when she found him on both knees in front of her.
Her free hand flew to her mouth as tears formed in her eyes. "What are you doing?"
He smiled, pulling a small blue box out of his pocket. He opened it, revealing a pear-shaped diamond ring.
"Edward! Oh..." This cannot be happening, she thought, her heart pounding.
"That look, right there," he said, holding her gaze. "You've never looked more beautiful. When I'm ninety, I'm going to remember it, and you're still going to be just as beautiful then as you are right now."
When Bella started to speak, Edward stopped her. "I wish I could go back in time and erase every single moment that we weren't together, because it's clear to me now that having you in my life is the only thing that has ever mattered. I get scared sometimes, waiting for you to discover I'm not worth it. But you haven't, and the way you love me gives me hope that I can be that man. The one who is truly worthy. You're everything to me, Bella. Everything. You've given me a life that I will never take for granted, ever again. I love you so damn much, and if you would do me the honor of becoming my wife, of walking by my side for the rest of our days, I promise you I'll never let you down.
"Will you marry me, Bella?" His question was shaky, overtaken with worry that she might say no.
Bella dropped to her knees, not caring that the wooden floor would likely leave ugly marks on her skin. She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly, crying against his shoulder.
"Yes," she whispered through her tears. "A thousand times yes."
He gently pushed her away, long enough to slide the ring onto her finger, the moonlight catching the diamond. She kissed him, and he tasted tears, but wasn't sure if they were hers or his own.
"I love you, Edward. So much," she said, pressing her forehead to his. "And you are worthy. I exist for you as much as you exist for me." She paused. "Did you get permission?"
He chuckled, kissing her again before answering. "Yes, and he wasted no time in reminding me of his impressive gun collection."
"Yeah, that's my dad."
"He has nothing to worry about, and I told him so. I'm not perfect, and I know you aren't either. We'll make mistakes, we'll fight and argue and make up. It happens. But now that I have you, I'm never going to let you go. I know what life is like without you, and I don't want to go back there. Someone special once told me that when you find an ace, you hold on to it."
"And I'm your ace?" Bella asked.
Edward nodded, cupping her face in his hands. "Until my very last breath."
As the couple embraced once more, the last leaf of a dying tree detached itself from its branch and slowly drifted down, landing beside Edward's feet. A lone leaf, symbolic of happiness and promising a new beginning even as it met its end.
There were thousands more like it on the ground.
~*~ FIN ~*~
Epilogue note: Emmett & Rose's song can be found here: http: / www(dot)youtube(dot)com / watch?v=04mRvBaEku4
Stories that owned me recently: "In Transit," a collaboration between profmom72 and Lillybellis. It's complete at 7 chapters, and has just the right amount of angst, fluff and Edward to get you through a long day, especially as you watch his transformation throughout the story. "Dawn on Delancey Street," by nightorday. It's a WIP, and I was hooked by the end of chapter one. Edward is an "arrogant, distant and demanding" movie star, and shy, sweet Bella suddenly finds herself as his assistant. There was an "a-ha" moment that literally made my skin tingle. This Edward? Delish.
Story end notes: I am so appreciative of all the reads, reviews, recs, notes, etc. this little story received. This story almost didn't happen, and there were times when I thought I'd never survive the world of Twific, but I did because of your encouragement. You've been truly kind, and I've learned so much. Thank you for taking this journey with me!
I also made a ton of new friends whom I am thrilled to know.
I owe a lot to Dinx, who I'm honored to call a dear friend. She's the reason this story posted to begin with.
Thank you so much to all of you who reviewed every. Single. Chapter. That is just amazing. I wish I could give you all a hug!
And of course, thanks to those reviewers who left some fairly constructive criticisms. Even if I didn't agree with them, I still filed them away and appreciate them.
To answer a question I've been getting a lot, yes, I do have some ideas for another fic. No, there won't be an ATL sequel. However, there will likely be an outtake/futuretake or two, so if you want those, be sure to put me on author alert.
Also, I will NOT be pulling this story for any reason, and certainly not to publish. (Another question I get asked a lot. lol)
See you on the flip side!