A/N Here's the epi, folks! That's all she wrote! Big thanks are in an AN down below.
"Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife – to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?"
"I do," Emmett nodded to the Justice of the Peace, his chin quivering as his eyes welled up with tears. I caught eyes with Bella – she was standing up at the front with Rose, and couldn't have looked happier.
To see Emmett, the hyper-masculine goofy guy with tears in his eyes was quite something, and he made no attempt to hide it. Charlie stood up next to him and casually passed him a Kleenex from his suit pocket.
The wedding was held outdoors under a big canopy in the middle of a field that had been cleared out in preparation, and the weather had finally cooperated perfectly. Wildflowers surrounded the ceremony, and sunshine was breaking through the trees, casting moving shadows on the guests.
Rose was a knockout on a regular day, but she looked absolutely beautiful standing up at the makeshift altar. She and Emmett spent months arguing over the type of wedding they wanted. Emmett wanted a casual country get together, while Rose wanted a formal, elegant affair. They finally reached an agreement – the ceremony would be held at the Ranch, and the reception would be held at the lavishly decorated community hall in town. Their wedding was a testament to two of the most important fundamentals of a relationship – compromise and balance. Even though they didn't see eye to eye on a lot of the details, they made it work, and made it suit them both.
As the JP recited words of wisdom to the crowd, I thought back on my time here. The winter was emotionally long and hard on everyone. Tension ran high. After Charlie's heart attack, a lot of changes with staffing and responsibilities came about, and that led to a lot of arguments. There were arguments between Sam and Emmett, between Charlie and Emmett, between Charlie and Quil. With Seth being new to the program, he brought a whole slew of troubles with him. His adjustment hadn't been an easy one. Finally, a solid eight months later, things were starting to settle down.
In addition to the emotional challenges of the winter, the physical difficulties that came with the true North were outstanding. The days were dark, cold and exceptionally long. Just going from the barn to the main house was rough. My ears would sting, and my eyelids would freeze together after only being out for a matter of minutes. My clothes were constantly damp, and I thankfully learned the true art of layering. There were stretches of days where you couldn't leave the property, as our road would be completely snowed in and we'd have to wait to be plowed out. Unlike winter back home, there were no breaks. No warm days where the snow would disappear for awhile. It was pure winter, and pure cold all the time.
I flinched a little in surprise as Esme reached out for my hand. She was always so emotional at weddings, and it was sweet. She and Carlisle had flown up for the big event, and I was glad to see them. Staying was the right choice, but I missed having them around.
Carlisle was right when he said that staying wouldn't be easy. Not only was the work hard, but my new relationship presented challenges of its own.
I started noticing changes in Bella when the snow finally came to stay. As the dark days settled in, she slept more and more and was constantly tired. When I brought up my concerns to Rose, she gave me the rundown on Seasonal Affective Disorder – or SAD. Bella didn't want me to worry and didn't like talking about it. I went through periods of blaming myself, and got angry when she shut down. It was eye-opening and devastating to see first-hand, but we made it through. Bella was a fighter – she never gave up – and after a few weeks of dreariness, she was back to her regular self. Being on the outside of mental illness, I knew there were aspects I'd never fully understand, but I did my best to learn more and be as supportive as I could. As time went on, the close friendship Bella shared with Jasper made more and more sense to me – they could relate to each other in ways others couldn't.
Jasper and Alice had jumped through many hurdles of their own. Everyone knew they were a couple, but they were still taking things slow. Jasper would pull away at times, but Alice was steady. She didn't let him shut himself off and seemed to know just what he needed and when he needed it. They weren't jumping into anything, but the bond between them was clear.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride." The crowd erupting in applause snapped me out of my head, and I snapped a few pictures as Emmett dramatically dipped Rose back for a kiss.
A few hours later, I found myself sitting at a table with Esme, Carlisle, Alice and Jasper. Dinner had finished and the dance was just getting underway. The community hall had been completely transformed with twinkling lights, candles and flowers – the hard work the girls had put in getting it ready had clearly paid off. Bella and Sue's daughter, Leah, had already kicked off their shoes and had taken to the dance floor. They were partnered up with a pair of very enthusiastic little boys.
"She looks really good, Edward," Esme leaned over and called out to me over the music. "You should get out there!"
We had gone to Seattle to stay with Esme and Carlisle over Christmas, and as I had expected, Esme fell in love with Bella. She took full advantage of having another woman in the house – they got their nails done, went to a bistro for lunch, went shopping together. Seeing them get along so well just made me love her more. I was a part of her family, and she was a part of mine.
We caught up with Angela and Ben while I was home as well. Angela and Bella hit it off – their interests in the same books and movies made for easy conversation. I was pleased to see that Ben was back in school and doing a lot better at staying out of trouble. I'd become his northern pen pal, which had worked out well. For a kid who couldn't express himself well in person, he was great on email – I'd get weekly updates of at least a couple thousand words on his thoughts and ramblings.
"Edward, buddy," Jake's deep voice called out from behind me. He had come back to town for the wedding and to visit his brother and cousins. I expected it to be awkward, as I hadn't seen him since that horrible night in the very hall we were sitting in, but it wasn't. He was getting his life together, and I was happy for him and his family. "Think it'd be ok if I asked your lady there to dance?"
"It's fine with me, man. Just stay off her toes, eh?"
I watched Bella and Jake sway to the somewhat slow song, and felt relieved. It was pretty incredible that we'd come far enough that this was ok. Bella and I were going to be living in the city in the fall, and we'd probably see a bit more of Jake. Just a few days prior to the wedding, we'd received our acceptance letters in the mail. Bella had re-enrolled in the animal health tech program, and I had enrolled in a social work program. Bella was nervous to go back to the city, but since we were going together this time – moving into a place together – we both had high hopes for success.
We had made the decision to see where the year would take us, but both of us felt strongly that we would end up back at the Ranch. It was familiar, and it was home.
After the song ended, I made my way over to Bella and Jake. I wasn't overly jealous, but it felt natural to move in and dance with my girl. Jake gave Bella a hug, saying he was leaving and that he'd stop by the Ranch before he left for home. We shook hands, and I pulled Bella back to the dance floor, finding a spot in the middle amongst the growing crowd.
"You look amazing, you know," I said into her forehead, leaving my lips pressed there.
"You clean up pretty nice yourself," she smirked.
"Did you have fun today?"
"Tons of it," she sighed as we swayed. "But I'm tired. Aww!" she cooed, nodding in the direction of Emmett and Rose dancing close together while they whispered to one another. They were completely lost in each other – unaware of anyone or anything going on around them.
"Think that will be us someday?" I chuckled, trying to keep things light.
"I know it will be," she said softly, wrapping her fingers in mine. "We're the real thing."
The rest of the night was spent mingling and dancing. Alice caught the bouquet, and Quil battled it out with Seth for the garter. Older women came up to Bella and me all night asking when it would be our turn. We grinned at each other and gave the same, "Oh, who knows!" answer to the nosey biddies, but it was exciting at the same time. We were young, and who knew what the future would bring. One thing for sure though, was that we were in it together – ready to face any obstacle that life threw at us.
Many, many years later…
This kid was new. At three minutes to six am, I was about to call this attempt at punctuality a fail.
Much to my surprise, the front door swung open and the boy burst through it while simultaneously attempting to button his coat and pull on his boot. He was 18, tall, thin. His hair was cut in a Mohawk, and he had a sorry attempt at a goatee growing in patches along his chin.
He was going to be a challenge – at least until he realised his potential.
"You're late," I barked, kicking at the tire of my quad with my boot.
"What? It's not even six yet!" he huffed, pulling himself together in front of me.
"It's not six yet, Sir," I grunted. My daughters had been telling me to let the "Sir" thing go – that it was "old school." I couldn't. Bella understood – she knew the history. She was the history. "I know what time it is, boy, and I also know what I told you. Do you always leave things to the very last minute?"
"I guess so," the kid mumbled, confusion and defiance written all over him.
"In your life, kid, you're gonna meet many people who have high expectations of you." I locked eyes with him, remembering the wise words from a very wise man just as they were presented to me. "You aren't just going to meet those expectations. You're gonna go above and beyond them, then blow them out of the water, you hear?"
"Um, yes, Sir?" he choked out.
"Alright, kid," I nodded, satisfied in the delivery of my first lesson in my new role. With Emmett retiring to focus on other things, it was my turn to carry the torch.
"Follow me, boy. Today, you're doing the chicken coop."
THE ACTUAL END.
This whole thing wouldn't be half of what it is without the help of my amazing beta, Robzbeanie (swill39 over on ADF). She's been reliable, insanely helpful, and has become a friend through this whole process. Thank you so much, bb. Major thanks also to my lovely British prereader, CShepherd91. Her cheerleading, guidance and reassurance have been wonderful. Looking forward to working with you both on future projects!
Thank you to everyone who has read, rec'd and reviewed this story. Starting out a little late in the fandom, it was nerve-wracking to throw something out there, but you guys have made it so much fun. Thanks for sticking with me, and for all the kind words.
It'll be hard to let these guys go, and there may be outtakes sometime down the road. Let me know if you have any suggestions! xoxoxoxo