This has been done for a really long time; I'm just an asshole and forgot about it getting it beta'd.
Anyway, there will likely be one more outtake before I'm completely finished with these two. There's one last thing that keeps nagging at me from EPOV.
Thanks to my prereaders, stephk0525, twilover76, and claireoth for reading this ages ago and letting me know that it didn't, actually, suck with all the fluff.
Thanks to Stratan for the beta work.
Bright, turquoise waves rolled and crashed against the white sand. Gulls called in the distance. A pelican dove and scooped up a fish. The brush behind us rustled in the breeze, and I closed my eyes, tried to remember every last piece of this moment.
The sweet, gurgling sound my daughter made at my feet had me smiling.
I'd been sliced into so many times. Poked. Prodded. X-rayed and tested on more often than I could count. But Edward made me feel beautiful every single day. Having Maggie made me feel strong. And yet, standing here with my toes buried in the Bahamian sand, I couldn't seem to find the guts to take off the white swim shirt that hid the top half of my body.
It had an SPF of fifty. And my skin was prone to burning.
So of course, I should keep it on, was all I could say to myself, even though I knew better. I was using logic as a crutch. A quick way out of doing something I'd avoided since my first surgery when I was a teenager.
I felt Maggie shift on the blanket, opened my eyes, and found her trying to stand.
"If she keeps this up, she's going to walk before the month's up," Edward muttered.
I glanced over at him, fighting off another smile at how pitiful he sounded, how good he looked in those navy board shorts and a slight tan on his shoulders, scars revealed to everyone. He'd gotten over all of the physical reminders of where he came from at some point over the years; though, I couldn't exactly pinpoint when it had happened. Maybe it was when Maggie was born, when there was this huge shift inside my husband that made him let it all go. Every last bit of it.
Now, he seemed to be more accepting than even me, and I'd been the one to push him in that direction in the first place.
"She's been early on everything."
"Yeah. But I really don't want my nine month old fucking walking around the house. Do you know how weird that will be? She's tiny, and-"
This time I let my lips turn up in a smirk. "We should do this again."
His eyes shot to mine, huge with disbelief.
"Not through me, obviously. But the way we originally planned it."
"Didn't I threaten to get snipped before she was born?" he retorted. "I fucking swear I did."
"You didn't mean it. And you don't mean it now."
"Like hell I don't."
"You need to start paying attention to that mouth of yours soon. She'll be talking before you know it. I don't want her first word to be 'fuck'."
He laughed with that, and bent down to sweep Maggie up in his arms. The pink, wide-brimmed hat on her head flopped forward, and he gently pushed it back, checked the chin strap to make sure it wasn't too tight. Her hand slapped at his chest, right on the scar over his heart, and her mouth curved into a still partially gummy smile. She was all Masen, from the green of her eyes to the toenails on her feet. Her white-blond hair was getting longer now, curling just like her aunt's had. He murmured something and went to get a handful of the banana flavored puffs she loved so much out of her diaper bag.
He was perfection when he was with her.
"Her first word will be 'daddy'," he said confidently.
I had no doubt that it would be.
"You don't want another one of these?"
"You are such a liar."
"Bella, she's not even a year old yet."
"There's a process, though. It takes a while."
He huffed, stared down at her as she shoved the little rice bites into her mouth. His frustration morphed into something else; the lines in his forehead smoothed out when he brought her closer.
I grinned triumphantly.
"Don't even fucking start."
"I didn't say a word."
"I know you didn't," he replied, and then started off toward the water.
I hung back with the camera, content to lie in the shade of the umbrella and watch my family play in the surf. Maggie splashed and giggled, and Edward laughed at it almost every single time. She was the sun that shone down on his world, more important to him than I thought he ever knew she would be. And while I admittedly felt the same, there was a weight that came with my love for her. In truth, she had only been theoretically possible. The statistics were still too low, stories of successful births too few. I'd been naive about it when I was younger - blasé when talking about it - but I'd never really allowed myself to even think of it. We'd planned to have a family a different way. A safer way. The day I knew she existed, as happy as I'd been, I'd been so scared. Because she was right there at my fingertips, and one, slight change in my body could cause a chain reaction... could destroy that little, happy existence of ours.
So I prayed. Every day marked off a milestone, got me closer to meeting her. Now that Maggie was here - living, breathing, laughing - I knew why my mother had always been so protective of me, so overbearing. The thought of losing her to my disease was something I couldn't even fathom.
Thanks to her father's insistence, his need to know her genetic makeup the moment she was born, I knew I wouldn't have to.
I inhaled sharply and leaned forward, gathering my courage and slowly taking off the last barrier that kept strangers from seeing how marked up I was now. I had been willing to risk everything to bring that little girl into the world.
I could conquer a meager bikini.
Inch by inch the shirt was drawn up until I pulled it over my head and laid it down on the towel beside me. I sat there, watching, waiting - panicking slightly - and then I rose up and walked over to where Edward was, Maggie's hands fisted around his index fingers as he let her wobble in the shallow, salty water.
He noticed my shadow and glanced up. His hold on Maggie faltered in his surprise; she toppled slightly before she was caught smoothly by her father. He grabbed her up, even though she squirmed in protest, and stared at me.
A couple passed by, and I shifted my body a little so that they couldn't see. I didn't want them speculating about the two of us, why we had matching lines down the center of our chests.
"Say something," I whispered, feeling a blush creep into my cheeks.
He started back into motion and took a step closer to put his free hand at the base of my neck. "Do you know how fucking gorgeous you are?"
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.
"God, I want to just..." He shifted Maggie, bent to kiss me. Lips trailed over my skin, stopping at the hollow of my collar bone. His hand moved down, thumb rolled over the tip of my scar.
I could feel our daughter's hands grab at my shoulder.
"I almost want to tell you to go put the damn shirt back on."
"What?" I blinked. "Why?"
"Do you know how many fuckers will look at you? Your tits?" A dark, possessive look passed over his face. "I'm realizing that I've never had to deal with that before."
"With me being looked at?"
"No, you get looked at. Christ, you always get looked at. Just not when you're half naked unless it's by me."
"Oh." I pulled away enough so that Maggie's hold loosened and her nails were no longer digging into my skin. "So I don't look ridiculous?"
He merely lifted his brows.
"Take her," he instructed, and passed Maggie off to me. "I need to make a call."
I frowned but didn't argue any more, opting instead to take Maggie out into the water myself. I walked into the ocean and felt a wave roll up and tickle her toes. She shuddered, looked at me questioningly, and then grinned when a second wave lapped at her skin.
"You like that, baby?" I asked rhetorically, and turned us around to face Edward.
On the phone, pacing, he spotted us and stopped. He didn't talk for a moment before abruptly bursting into laughter. He said something else, dropped the phone back into the diaper bag, and hurried to join us.
"Were you serious earlier?"
If it could, my heart would have jumped.
"Listen, I..." He dragged a wet hand through his hair and gazed out at the horizon. "How long were we engaged?"
"I-" Baffled, I cut myself off to organize my thoughts. "I wanted you to be ready."
"I was, though. From the very fucking second I asked."
"Never said anything because I wanted you to do everything you wanted before tying you down."
"Edward, you're not making any sense."
"I wasted all that time thinking that you were too young or that you needed to see more of the world or whatever before we had a wedding. I don't want to waste any more. If you want this, we'll do it. Now, not later. I want you to have it all in case-"
He choked on his words, glanced away, and left me spinning.
"Okay, in case," I finally returned. "What if something happens? You want to be left with two kids to raise alone?"
"You're not going anywhere, though."
"You just said-"
"Fuck, I know," he snapped. He took a steadying breath and turned those green eyes on me. "I still don't think you understand. I'd be willing to do anything if it made you happy while you were with me."
My heart reacted, pounding, wanting.
"Don't do something like this just for me."
"But that's it. I want it, too. And if things were normal, I'd have made it known the day she was born. I'd have told you that I was so full of shit and blind all that time because Maggie's... God, she's the best thing I'll ever do, baby."
A tear suddenly streaked down my cheek, and Maggie made a noise of distress in my arms. I kissed the top of her head through her hat and said, "You're sure?"
"Yeah. I want her to have what I didn't as a kid. Don't you?"
I nodded. "But I'm almost eight years..."
"And you're still healthy as fuck."
My lips twitched with that. "For how long, though?'
"Are you trying to talk me out of it?"
"No. I'm making sure you've thought this through."
"I haven't. But that's why I called home. I want to talk to Banner about it when we get back."
"Holy shit," I breathed.
"You should probably start paying attention to your mouth, Bella."
I laughed, and then somehow found my way in his arms, forehead against his chest, Maggie wiggling between us.
"Okay," I said, and tilted my head back to see him.
The smile on his face stole my breath.
"Good. 'Cause I made an appointment for next Friday at three."
It was a typical Seattle day: cool and crisp air, overcast skies. However, the day was anything but typical. Our house had been turned into a venue for Maggie's first birthday party due to her slightly overzealous aunt, Alice. A white tent took up the expanse of our backyard; streamers, paper lanterns, and balloons were meticulously hung from its rafters. Tables were set up underneath, black and hot pink tablecloths covering them, and big, coordinating tulle bows were tied to every chair.
"It looks like a wedding."
Edward chuckled and let the camera in his hand follow my gaze. It wasn't just something we took on vacations. It was a staple in our household; the one thing he and I had been adamant on from the very beginning.
To make sure Maggie had document of everything - of me, specifically.
Because that "just in case" was a little too great a chance to take lightly.
"You wanted big."
"I wanted special," I countered.
Edward hummed and moved to film the cakes sitting on the counter. He stopped recording and scratched his head. "Bella, our daughter's cake has a fucking tiara on top of it."
"I know," I sighed.
Bewildered green eyes swung to mine. "Why does a one year old need a tiara?"
I shrugged. "Guess that's what happens when she's the only little girl in the family."
"Jesus Christ," he muttered. "Can't my brother ever get a handle on his wife?"
"Can you get a handle on me?"
"Good point. But, baby, she doesn't need all this."
"At least the entire family will be here to enjoy it. And we can talk to them about-"
"Talk to us about what?" Rosalie asked.
"Nothing." I smiled at her. "You're early."
"Gavin wanted to play with Edward."
On cue, our nephew came crashing through the door, toy machine gun in his hand. He pressed the trigger, and it sounded.
Little, plastic shells came tumbling out of the magazine.
"You're dead, Aunt Bella!"
"Oh. Uh..." Having no idea what to do, I closed my eyes, cocked my head to the side, and stuck out my tongue.
Edward snorted out a laugh.
Gavin rolled his blue eyes and came over to me. "Guess what I can do?"
"I don't know; what?" I returned.
"Pick Mom up."
My eyes darted to Rosalie's in terror.
Before I could finish the sentence, he had his arms wrapped around my waist and had lifted me a few inches off the floor.
"My God, it's a mini Emmett," I grunted out.
Gavin dropped me and grinned, and I noticed he was missing one of his front teeth.
"Okay, pick your crap up and get out of my house," Edward said with a smile. "We'll find your dad and play out there."
"Away from the tent!" Gavin screamed. "Aunt Alice told me she'd kick my butt if I messed it up."
"What kind of idiot do you take me for?" Edward replied, and led him out the front door.
Rosalie bent down and picked up a stray shell. "I hate this thing."
I giggled. "I bet you do."
"If it wasn't so expensive, I'd pitch it in a dumpster when no one was looking." She glanced around, her brows lifting as she took in all the food on the counters. "Wow, this is some spread."
I shrugged. "Alice."
"I get the feeling that's not all."
"Everyone will be here."
"And by everyone you mean..."
She pursed her lips and stared me down.
"I hate it when you do that," I grumbled.
"I invited the Carrs. And... Edward invited Elizabeth. "
"What the fuck for?"
"Lower your voice! Maggie's sleeping still," I hissed.
"Fine. What the fuck for," she repeated, hissing right back at me.
"She won't be invited every year. Just this one and maybe... I don't know. Other really special occasions."
"Special occasions like what, Bella?" she pressed.
I glanced away. "Nothing."
"You've said that twice now."
"You are aware you're the world's worst liar, right?"
"Yes," I answered, and looked her way again. "Promise not to tell? We're announcing it later."
I nodded. "We have an appointment with a fertility specialist in a couple of weeks."
Her violet eyes widened, and a smile stretched across her face. She gasped, jumped a little, and then just froze.
"Wait, is this a good idea?"
"I had a biopsy last month."
"No sign of rejection yet."
She let herself smile again. "So how does this work?"
"Um, Edward..." I coughed awkwardly and decided to glaze over that part, "into a cup, and I have eggs harvested. Then they make a baby in a petri dish. You know, the usual."
"Do you have a surrogate?"
I didn't respond.
"Oh, my God, you do!"
"Why do you keep shouting? Have you been hanging out with Alice a lot or something?"
"Bella, I live in Forks. I barely get to see you guys. Just let me be happy for a second, okay?"
She inhaled deeply, eyes flashing excitedly. Her hands came up, flailed, and then quickly went back down to her sides. "Okay, I'm done."
"Good, now will you help me finish all this up? I'd actually like to live to see this party."
Rosalie frowned. "Not. Funny."
"Your opinion," I said with a laugh.
The appetizers were in the oven and family was slowly trickling into the house, so I made my way back to Maggie's room and found her cooing happily in her crib. She spotted me at the door and grinned, reaching up for me to release her from her prison. I went to change her and put the little shirt Alice had custom made for her over her head, and in a wild shift in mood, she fought me the entire time.
I huffed in frustration and just looked down at her as she wailed.
"You were fine just a minute ago."
"She's like her father," I heard from the door.
I kept my hand on Maggie's stomach and glanced behind me. Elizabeth stood there awkwardly, almost as if she was waiting for an invitation to come inside, even though Edward had been particularly adamant that she come in the first place. As much as he kept it to himself, his daughter's first birthday was a big deal; he'd wanted to share it with everyone.
Even his biological mother.
"Oh, you mean she's moody like her daddy?"
She laughed a little and took a step inside. "She's so beautiful, Bella," she said in wonder.
I gave her a curious look. She'd been sent numerous pictures over the last year.
"I'm sorry. Sometimes I still can't believe Edward lets me see all of it."
"Oh." Finally managing to get her dressed, I picked her up and set her on my hip. "Everyone's outside waiting for her I think..."
"I know. I just wanted to sneak a peek of her." She paused and glanced away, this strange, far off look in her eyes.
"Are... you okay?"
She cleared her throat and nodded, but I got the distinct impression that she was hiding whatever it was bothering her.
"Don't do that," I snapped. "We didn't invite you to pretend everything's perfect."
"I'm sorry," she sighed. "You're right. I was thinking of my Maggie and didn't want to dampen the mood."
"Elizabeth, it would be weird if this wasn't a little bittersweet for you."
She relaxed a little and smiled.
"Baby, everyone's-" Edward stopped and stared for a moment, dragged his hand through his hair. "I didn't know you'd gotten here yet."
"Just now," Elizabeth answered. "I should've probably said something to you first, but I wanted to see her so much..."
"It's fine," he said tightly. "But seriously. We're about to have a fucking riot on our hands if we don't get her out there."
"I thought you were watching that kind of talk," I chastised with a grin.
"I'm allowed to slip," he chuckled. "Give me my girl."
"I just got her."
"And now you've lost her."
He came over and pulled her away from me, smiling and bending down to press a kiss at my temple. "I'll make it up to you later."
I lifted a brow in response.
Outside now, dark clouds loomed in the distance. The rain held off though, giving Maggie - and more importantly us - a perfect afternoon with our family. Edward filmed everything, from the time she spent with the Carrs to her first taste of sugar, the chaotic mess of cake that followed. He came with me into the kitchen where I gave her a quick bath in the sink to wash all the cake from her hair.
Maggie's soapy hand reached up and tried to grab the camera from Edward. He jerked back and laughed.
"Not so fast there, little girl. I spent a fortune on this thing."
She babbled, followed it up with a slurred version of "daddy", and I picked her up to wrap a towel around her before changing her yet again, this time into the turquoise dress I'd picked out for the day.
I clipped a white bow into her hair, let Edward take her, and was overcome with something I hadn't felt in such a long time now. If everything went accordingly, we'd be doing this again in a couple of years with another baby, and it was almost like I couldn't wrap my mind around the possibility all of a sudden, couldn't wrap my mind around this life I had now.
I shook my head and drew in a sharp breath.
And then promptly burst into tears.
"Hey," Edward soothed. The camera was shut off. "What the hell happened to you just now?"
I shook my head again, too far gone to really answer him. Or know, even. I didn't know what had happened. All I knew was I felt this immense sense of gratitude for being able to have all that I did, when so many others in my situation wouldn't.
"I just... I love you guys so much, and we're- And I- didn't think I'd-" I hiccupped, and somehow, managed to laugh at myself. "I'm sorry."
He chuckled and put Maggie down so that he could focus on me. "I know," he said quietly. His lips ghosted over my forehead, hands gripped at my waist. "Believe me, I know."
I nodded and clung to him, because he did know. Everything I felt, he felt. It might not be for the same reasons, but never when we first met did either of us expect to have this.
To have it all.
"They're waiting on us," he murmured.
I sniffled and straightened up. I wiped at my eyes and gazed up at Edward. "How bad is it?"
"Not bad. You've got a spot..." he trailed off and gently ran his thumb over the corner of my eye to get the mascara off. "I love you, Bella. I don't say it a lot, but-"
"They're just words," I interjected. "I know you do."
One side of his lips pulled up a little. "Which is exactly why I do. I never have to tell you anything. You can read me like no one else can."
He was quiet for a moment, his eyes flickering over to Maggie playing behind us, and then back to me again.
"I think about it still, too, you know."
He nodded. "About how I'd be living if I hadn't-"
He cut himself off, held me tighter.
And I knew he was thinking of something from his past. Some wrong he was slowly making right.
"Did you see Liam and Siobhan with her?"
He cleared his throat and pulled away some. "They're great with her."
"We should make sure they get invited to everything, even if we know they won't be able to make it because of the distance."
"I think they'd like that." He paused. "Are you ready to tell everyone what's going on?"
I took a steadying breath and noticed that whatever just happened had passed. "Charlie's going to freak."
"Charlie?" Edward snorted. "Try Esme. She's been hinting at more grandkids for months. Jasper's about to grab a suture kit from the hospital and sew her mouth shut."
I smiled up at him, thinking of the conversation I'd had with my father just a few days ago, of how the subject of kids - Maggie, specifically - had come up, along with my only child status.
He wanted Maggie to have more.
And so did I.
"I'll take that bet, Cullen."
His brow arched slightly at my smug tone. "Know something I don't?"
"I just might."
"Then why would I bet against you?"
"Because if I'm wrong and I lose..." I snuck my hand between us, grazing over him long enough to illicit a reaction from him.
He picked Maggie up and took hold of my hand. "I want these people out of my fucking house, Bella."
"Mouth!" I shouted at him.
"You started it," he argued back.
I laughed and let him lead us back outside where our entire family was chattering with one another. They spotted the birthday girl and became entirely focused on her again.
Maggie ate every last bit of it up.
Presents sat on a table waiting for us to open, and Alice flitted around, trying to set up chairs in the perfect spot so that everyone could see us and take their own pictures.
She blew a piece of hair out of her eyes and made a face of frustration, and I giggled to myself. She hadn't had time to get a decent haircut in months.
I knew exactly how to thank her for all her work today.
Once she was satisfied with the arrangement, we walked over to the gift table. Edward let Maggie toddle around, watching her closely as she started playing with the bows and slapping at the wrapped boxes.
His hand found mine, and he inhaled sharply. He was always so unsure of himself when he had something important to say, and it still sometimes took him a few minutes to gather his thoughts, say them concisely.
But not with this. He was sure of us. Of our lives and where we were headed.
"So Bella and I thought that it would be best to tell you all a little something while we were all together."
"Saves excess carbon dioxide in the air," I joked.
"Are you saying I'm full of it?" he asked with a laugh.
"I'm saying nothing," I replied solemnly.
Our family laughed along with us.
"We've been planning this for months. Years, actually," he said, and let his eyes drift over to Maggie. "But things don't always go according to plan, and for that, I'm grateful. My life is better now because of it. Because of her."
Esme gasped and slapped her hand over her mouth.
"Mother," Edward groaned.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "Keep going."
"Well, there's no point now. You've already given it away."
"Did I?" she returned. Her eyes glimmered, and she glanced at me questioningly. "I don't think so."
Edward huffed, and muttered, "I hope she doesn't think I knocked you up again and she gets this kid by this time next year."
"Then I guess you'd better stop talking to me and tell them what's going on."
He dragged his free hand through his hair, seemed to realize something, and then flashed me a lopsided, cocky grin.
It took me a second to catch up with him, but when I did, I couldn't help but giggle under my breath.
Esme hadn't even heard the words yet, and was already buzzing with excitement, whispering into Carlisle's ear and smiling each time she stole a glance at us, at Maggie.
"Oh, fine," I huffed. "You'll get the spoils of victory tonight."
A playful smile turned up his lips.
"You're damn right I will."