Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Stephenie Meyer created this little world I like to play in.
Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.
A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you."
Shannon L. Alder
My discussion with Enoch was suddenly put on hold when I heard the thoughts of the visitors approaching.
"Jasper…" I said quickly "…Embry, Michelle, and Ruth are almost here."
The excitement in his mind was a balm to the chaos I was feeling after having spoken to Aro and having to leave my mother in the ethereal world after such a brief and insufficient reunion. Alice's squeal of excitement at seeing Michelle's two-year old daughter brought smiles to most everyone in the house as she rushed down from Jasper's and her room to greet them. Even Stefanie and William quickly scrubbed the sleep from their eyes to quickly rise from the bed beside me and move toward the door. William risked a brief smile at me before mussing Bella's hair.
"Nonna, he got to see Grandmother Masen."
I growled at him for ruining my surprise, but Bella's gasp of excitement was still endearing. Enoch began to leave, wanting to give us privacy, but I called out to him just as he reached the door. "Enoch, I still need some time with you."
He chuckled then said in a mildly sarcastic tone, "Of course. I am at your beck and call." He had not one inch of reverence when it came to me. Giving into my desires, I chucked a pillow at his retreating back. He began laughing at my reaction as he continued out of the room.
Bella was still grinning at me when I spun to place my legs over the side of the bed and focused back on her. "Your mom!" she breathed in excitement, as she touched my wedding ring, which she had returned to me during the first interlude of our lovemaking; she had found it after it had been torn from my finger on the island and worn it on a chain around her neck during my absence. Then she looked up at me, her smile bright. She'd been kneeling beside the bed, watching over me and the twins, so I pulled her into my lap.
"Yeah!" I couldn't help but smile. "But only for a few moments. She promised me that next time I came into the spirit world we would be able to spend more time together."
"Really!" Bella squealed, immensely excited for me. "Edward…that is…amazing."
Running my thumb down her jawline, I grinned unabashedly. "Bella, she brought you to me. She told me!" I shook my head in disbelief. "My mom played matchmaker even from beyond the grave."
She began giggling at my expression. "Silly lion…you fought her plans hard. Did she lecture you about it? Put you in time out, take away any of your privileges?" Her look was full of mischief, the fear and loneliness of the last few weeks gone after our time together at the hot springs.
I briefly considered telling her that my mother was likely in this room at this very instant. If she were human, she'd blush deep red, I was sure. Instead, I growled low in my throat at her impertinence, and I pulled her closer to steal a kiss before lifting her in my arms to begin our travel downstairs. She stopped me at the doorway with a simple press of her hand to my chest.
"You okay to be around Michelle and Ruth?" Bella asked in a small voice. Her amber eyes looked into my red ones.
I could see that it bothered her to have to ask, and I realized that she wasn't sure if my thirst for human blood had returned during my sojourn with Lilith, so I didn't give her a flip answer, assessing the burn in my throat first. I knew that her human blood had virtually satisfied the monster within me for what I thought was eternity; did that still hold? As with my interaction with Leah, I knew that my actions might have significantly endangered the freedom I had with Embry, his imprint, and their little girl. In fact, I was astonished to realize that Embry had risked this. Michelle and Ruth would be my first human contact since I'd…fed.
Stamping down on the guilt that tried to swell, I stood still as the three entered into the house, hearing the wet, gurgling sound of their hearts. Embry's wolf scent was strong, but I waited for Michelle's and Ruth's scents to hit me. The moment of truth was upon me…would my previous control with human blood return with the reinstatement of my memories, or would the thirst drive me to be a predator again? I froze, forcing my muscles rigid with control. Jasper detected the slight panic I felt, and I heard him questioning me.
Victoria held a special place in Jasper's heart…held his heart along with Alice, actually…but Michelle and Ruth were only slightly behind…and only by the narrowest of margins. We referred to the group as Jasper's harem…but only when he wasn't around. Jasper, as he'd proven the last few days, was not a man to be dealt with lightly. I expected cynicism from Jasper or perhaps even fear. What I didn't expect and got, was a gentle reprimand.
Come down here, they want to see you.
So simple for him, so hard for me. The thought forced me to assess just how far we'd come. Now Jasper was the one monitoring my blood lust. What a role reversal.
Daring myself to take a deep breath, I waited for it to hit. When it didn't, my only response being the categorization of Michelle's wonderfully healthy cancer-free scent and Ruth's baby smell, I groaned in relief.
I was fine. Perfectly fine.
Bella's smirk met my stunned realization. I knew you would be okay, she informed me silently, the faint fluttering of her shield passing over me. Let's go.
With her words, I stepped from the doorway of our room down the hallway and stairs.
"War!" Ruth squealed upon seeing us; her chubby two year old legs ate up the floor getting to us. I dreaded the idea of her falling and gashing herself…blood did funny things to our family…but she was intent, and Jasper was right behind her, guarding her.
It was amazing to see him as a protector; more amazing was Ruth's excitement at seeing Bella and me. It had been some time since our last meeting…just before I'd been taken…but for a two year old that was like "forever." I was astonished at the clarity of Bella and me in her mind.
"War!" she screeched again, much to Jasper's delight.
Ruth was attempting to say full names, but mine was proving just too long to say. Instead of settling for "Ed" or "Dard" like Emmett had wickedly attempted to get her to do, Ruth had ironically nicknamed me "War." How prophetic had that been…and how apropos. Of all of those that made up our now immense family, Ruth was the most unaffected of us all; her innocence was a symbol of all we'd attempted to hold dear…all we'd fought for.
Bella wiggled from my arms just in time to pick the plump cherub up off the floor; Ruth giggled as she smacked her hand against Bella's stone-like face affectionately. "LA!"
While Bella kissed Ruth's chubby cheeks, Michelle wasted no time greeting me. "It is so good to have you home." Without fear, without recriminations for my still red eyes, she laid her head against my chest and hugged me tight; her heat delicious, but with absolutely no call to me.
Had I been a man…had the incredible journey of my life not occurred and I'd remained human with the capacity to express emotions in a basic way…I would have bawled. As it was, I, for the first time, felt comforted in the sting of venom in my eyes.
Not long afterward, the rest of the wolves descended upon us like a horde, with wives and children in tow. The noise was enough to wake the dead. Leah opened her eyes as Emily hovered over her in the bedroom, and even Jacob, in the bed next to her, stirred at the noise his pack brothers made. Bella and I had moved back upstairs to keep an eye on both wolves.
The house was chaotic, to say the least, but Esme flitted happily around everyone amongst the arguing and snatched sandwiches. Almost as hyper as Alice, she was in her element, catering to all the hungry wolves roaming throughout, including William, whose appetite for human food was as huge as the others. Soup was sent to the grumpy Leah, while a tired Nessie got a backrub from Henry while she sat in the kitchen being pampered by Esme. The two bickered the entire time as Esme grinned over the food she was preparing. Anna couldn't help but snicker at the blow-by-blow sibling fight. Hearing the words would've caused anyone to believe a war was about to break out, so to find Henry gently kneading Nessie's sore back would have been disconcerting. He was arguing that she needed a break from Jacob's care. She was telling him to go…well do things that were physically impossible.
Even as the storm brewed between the two "siblings," Carlisle and Enoch were holed up in the study, engaged in a scholarly debate. Carlisle was doing his best to get Enoch to reveal his vast breadth of secrets and knowledge, earthly and otherwise. Enoch dodged Carlisle effectively and effortlessly. As my mother, Esme, was in her element mothering everyone, my father was in his. His mind rapidly went through a multitude of things he was determined to uncover. He wanted to know the meaning of life, so to say, and saw Enoch as his walking, living, and…sometimes…breathing treasure trove of knowledge. A veritable bible, one could say. I snorted very quietly to myself.
In the living room, Jasper sat with Ruth perched on his lap, as he and Alice listened to her babble like crazy. I grinned at the images that passed through the young child's mind, while Michelle filled them in on the back stories of her child's jumbled snippets. Rose chuckled merrily at Michelle's enthusiasm, and Emmett watched on with mock impatience; in truth, he was enamored with Ruth as much as the rest of us as she reminded him of both Nessie and Henry when they were the child's age.
Not long afterward, Henry and Anna went up to their room, rejoicing in the tender blush of love with light touches, kisses and low whispers. The couple was not intentionally avoiding us, just reconnecting after a life and death scare.
Next to Bella and me, as we sat on the bed keeping watch over Jacob, Leah and Gabriel attempted to make sense of the new tone of their relationship. Even though Leah felt intensely the pull of her imprinting on Gabriel, she was undeniably in love with the handsome boy at her side, and was feeling awkward in showing her feelings given his age. She was expecting Emmett to break out with jokes about cougars at any moment, and Gabriel must have blushed a dozen times. He reminded me of Bella. The wolves were ready to harass him…and Leah. While I knew that it would be very uncomfortable for them for a time until Gabriel was a more appropriate age, I also knew that it was all a part of the bonding promise between the wolves as a whole.
The observation made me really think about family…the meaning of the word. Observing the occupants of the house through their thoughts and hearing the raucous laughter of vampire, wolves, hybrids, humans…and the knowledge of the spirits that swirled unseen amongst us…I realized I'd never really known the true meaning until I'd almost lost it all.
There were only a few pieces missing, and I couldn't help but grin and groan at the same time when I heard more coming to join us. Bella gasped as she heard the sound of the tires crunching the gravel of the long road. Tearing away from the still unconscious Jacob and me, Bella disappeared in her rush to the front door, knowing that Charlie had come home. I chuckled as Jasper blurred after her, intent on having Victoria in his arms as soon as possible. I wasn't certain whose squeal was louder…Bella's or Victoria's.
I waited in agonized anticipation for my judgment…for Charlie to enter the home.
I feared Charlie's thoughts and assessment of my character. Would he feel I'd let him down? Would he still think I was good enough for Bella? Nothing would tear me away from her again, but I desired the old cop's approval. It would be difficult for us without it. Taking a deep breath, I focused my attention, instead, to Jacob. I expected him to wake any moment as his thoughts were becoming more and more lucid. His temperature was still higher than even normal for him as the last of the venom burned through his body, but by whatever miracle had been granted, he was recovering. Memories of his life blended seamlessly in his mind.
"Jacob, my daughter needs you to hurry up and wake up. She and Henry are downstairs about to throttle one another over you," I informed him gently as I edited just precisely when the two had nearly done so, replacing the now unfrozen ice pack on his brow with a new one.
He mumbled something at my words, but my response was quelled by Charlie's presence at the doorway. Sam greeted him immediately, and I heard enough of Charlie's thoughts to know that he was going to give me the moments to collect myself. Just that…that subtle nuance of thoughtfulness…settled me as I heard his steps coming up the stairs. So when he approached the bed where I sat beside Jacob, I rose out of respect.
"Son, it is good to see you." A simple pat to the shoulder as his brown eyes solemnly assessed me. He didn't even twitch at the color of my eyes, simply nodding in true silent Charlie fashion. "I expect a full accounting later?" It was said as a question but was far from it.
"Of course!" I nodded, stepping to him for an awkward man-hug. He chuckled before patting me again. Charlie's thoughts were calm and accepting, and I felt the last of my reservations fade away. I was well and truly home. His quirky side then appeared as he looked down to the bed.
"Jacob…Jacob….Jacob…" he grinned, shaking his head in mock disbelief "…always finding a way to be the center of attention."
I bellowed in laughter for the first time since "waking" from the spell that had almost brought about our doom. How ironic that Jacob decided at that very moment to wake.
"Shut it, grampa!" Were Jacob's words, but there were too mumbled for anyone other than me to understand. Nessie's shriek from below covered up any others he might have attempted.
I don't know whose gaze was more greedy…mine as I assessed him…or his as he gauged me, but Jacob and I both grinned in relief at each other at precisely the same moment. His thoughts were clear…he was relieved to see me well and happy…and back on "his side." I was glad to hear his clear lungs and healthy heart. His ribs would still need some time, but he was going to be up and harassing me soon; if I ever wanted to catch Jacob in a weak moment…this was it. But my time was up, spoiled by the beauty rapidly approaching. I squeezed his shoulder, as Charlie had done mine, just the moment before my daughter blurred through the door and threw herself at him.
We'll talk later, Edward, he told me briefly in his mind before I was lost to his thoughts, my daughter taking precedence. I moved quickly from the room to keep from hearing things I didn't want to.
Edward and Bella had disappeared again after Jacob was sitting up and speaking. My son had asked, of course, if I was okay with watching over Jacob's recovery, and at receiving the roll of my eyes, he and his other half had bent their heads together conspiratorially and left quickly. Alice's smile had told me how they were most likely going to spend the rest of the day and night.
Who could blame them? Certainly not me.
I was just happy to have my family whole and happy again. We would need to leave for Volterra soon, so I was determined to appreciate the moments we had.
I was enjoying Jacob's irritability immensely. The boy had grown into a man, but he, like most men, resorted to being a baby when they were sick or injured. We'd all chuckled in the middle of the night when Jacob's astonished yelp had echoed out through the house. Nessie had finally tugged on his hair in impatience at his grumbling. Now, they rested peacefully against each other in the bed; I'd checked just a few minutes prior hearing their calm breaths. They were deeply asleep.
Other than Leah, Jacob, and Seth, the rest of the packs had gone home…Sam forcing Gabriel to return to their cottage while Leah rested deeply under the influence of the morphine I'd given her. The triplets were all in bed, sleeping the last of the morning away as they mumbled to each other, while Henry gently snored in the room next to William, eliciting Anna's stifled giggles. Adding to the unlikely symphony, Seth's deep breaths came from the back porch where he'd "crashed." Enoch… he'd gone to kneel beside the river to pray and meditate. The gentle susurrus of his lowly spoken words mixed with the sound of the water flowing over the rocks. Around us, the sounds of nature, as it began to reflect the start of the day, mixed in with the people surrounding us.
It was the music of life. A masterpiece of perfect notes and melodies.
Who would've expected us to come to this…those many years ago when we'd established a home in the Pacific Northwest forest not far from the native tribe who would become our enemy first before our friend?
For decades, it had been just the seven of us, until Bella. Thinking about my family, I couldn't help but sigh in pleasure. With all the changes over the years, it had been a long time since it had been just the few of us; but here, this morning, it was as if we'd purposely gathered, unknowingly embraced and heralded by our new family members and friends.
Across from where Esme and I sat, Alice hummed in good humor, cuddled against Jasper on the couch. Jasper had one arm wrapped around his mate, the other cradling an also sleeping Victoria. The picture was almost too idyllic…considering that Jasper had fought demons for far longer than anyone. But Victoria's presence didn't in anyway ruin the mental image I had of our original nuclear family…because she dreamed safe and secure in Jasper's arms, her mind resting as the others were.
Rosalie sat on Emmett's lap in one of the other chairs; he was lazily playing with her hair. They'd spent time with Anna and Henry, before their son had needed sleep. Henry was still healing, and Anna was determined that he do so in the security of her arms. Looking to my bear of a son, I marveled at just how much he'd changed. Sure he was still a big boy at times, but he was a father more often than not. And Rose… I couldn't help but sigh at the joy of her.
And then our family was complete as the door opened, letting Edward and Bella into the house. Although he was returning with a bombshell…his actions while he was gone surely the basis for new upheaval…I couldn't help but smile. It was good to see his humor and grin, so different from anything we'd ever experienced during the decades he'd spent alone around three mated pairs.
Jasper snickered as he felt Edward's mischievousness, while Emmett whistled in true appreciation as both caught sight of what he had. Rosalie's mouth fell open as Edward nimbly crept up the stairs, intent on pursuing his plan before any of us could stop him…as if we would. Alice just grinned as, shaking her head in disbelief, Bella attempted to act as if she wasn't a co-conspirator in the whole affair. When she met my eyes, she only shrugged without regret. Definitely no angel. Not a minute later, a thoroughly pleased Edward leapt down the stairs like a boy to move quickly to the chair Bella had settled in. He nuzzled her neck as he pulled her into his lap. Smirking and totally pleased with his actions, he met my raised eyebrow with a roll of his eyes.
Taking a deep breath and pulling Esme in just a fraction closer, I decided I didn't really care what it was called.
For now, for us, in this moment, it was…heaven.
Cold wetness pressed up against my face, and I couldn't help but turn my head and scrunch up my nose in an attempt to wiggle away from the sensation, my eyes still closed.
Huh? What? My nose twitched again. I didn't want to open my eyes just yet.
If Emmett was messing with me again, I was going to kill him or at least tear him to pieces for fun. My ribs ached too much to do it right now, so I brushed at the cold distraction, hitting only air. Instinctually, I reached for Ness, knowing from the heat blazing beside me that she was there, watching over me, even if I'd been an ass earlier. I couldn't show her my appreciation just yet, but that didn't mean I couldn't hold her.
The tiny growl that happened as I reached for her startled me…and I blinked open my eyes to see what exactly was going on. Then my eyes widened suddenly at the image in front of me.
"Fuck!" I shouted and pushed up to sit. I couldn't help but gasp at the pain lancing into my ribs and heard something that sounded suspiciously like chuckles coming from somewhere in the house. But my attention was on the tiny face looking at me. Horrified realization dawned at the same time as Ness rolled over to see what I was doing.
"Jake?" she mumbled then gasped in delight as the tiny devil turned to her.
"EDWARD!" I snarled out and heard the outburst of musical laughter below from multiple voices.
"Oh my!" Nessie crooned, ignoring my swearing, as she grabbed the tiny Jack Russell puppy to her chest. I watched in mounting horror as she kissed the mutt's cheek and the beast reached out with a pink tongue to swipe her cheek.
"JACOB!" Nessie admonished me, giving me the stink eye. "You're scaring him." The damn dog was no more scared of me than the man in the moon…or the man below who was the mastermind of this cluster screwup. The dog's dark, beady eyes seemed to twinkle, knowing that he'd already worked his way into my wife's heart. I growled deep in my chest at Edward. Damn leech!
Dawning awareness bloomed across my love's face, and without thought for me, Nessie jumped out of bed, heading for the door, leaving me behind like trash. "Daddy!" she chanted in happiness, destined for the man who I had thought I wanted saved as the puppy wiggled ecstatically in her arms.
I'm going to kill you! I threatened Edward silently as I tried to save face. Damn bloodsucker!
His only reaction was to start laughing…uproariously.
Would love to know your thoughts! I'm working on the last chapter as I am posting this chapter…others are with the betas. If you've never said a word to me about what you like or dislike about the story…now is a good time. HA!
As always, I can't thank ColdOnePaul enough for his faithful editing. Only a few more…and it'll all be over! For those of you that don't know, he keeps me on my toes and makes sure that this comes to you with a degree of intelligence. He puts up with me, what more can I say.
And a kind and happy welcome back to Charles for joining my and Paul's debates. Once he realized where I was in the story and where I was going...he was kind enough to jump back in! Oh...you should see the texts...and the corrections…and the way he dashes my flimsy plot lines…
I would also like to thank Crystal and Dawn for their pre-reading, notes, and corrections. I feel like I need a Team Full Moon Rising shirt for them! ;)