Disclaimer: We do not claim ownership for Twilight or any of its characters. Stephenie Meyer gets that privilege. However, we do have to take responsibility for the creation of the diva's personality. All bail money we'll need for his crazy self can be sent to us directly.
A/N: Well, folks. We finally reached the end. "About time," we can hear you say - and you're right. But if you're still out there reading, thank you. We hope you've enjoyed the journey. We've had the most amazing time writing this story, and a lot of our fun probably never even made it into the chapters. Oops. LOL Anyway, thank you for your patience, and for your reviews, alerts, and comments. Thank you also to the wonderful people, who have helped us along the way - Heather, Sherry, Lashawn, and Christine. You've been amazing.
Bella fell asleep around dawn after breastfeeding our son for the first time. Right until the moment sleep claimed her, she had stubbornly insisted that she wasn't tired and didn't need any rest – no doubt because she was suffering from the same syndrome I was. It involved staring at the most perfect little boy in the world and…well, nothing else really. I couldn't take my eyes off of him.
Whenever I did manage to do it for a moment, I looked at Bella. She'd been through the ringer, but she had never looked more beautiful to me. Being a mother suited her. I was entirely unprepared for the intense love I felt for the two people sleeping next to me. I had thought I'd already been maxed out on my capacity to love – had thought it overwhelming what I'd felt for Bella before. Apparently there was no limit on love, though.
I looked back at my son. BC. No, Jacob Charles. Jake. Yes, he was Jake. And he was true perfection. Ten little toes and ten little fingers – a fistful curled around my finger as he slept peacefully. Round little cheeks, a tiny button nose. The smallest ears I'd ever seen under his little, blue hat. Fucking hell. Bella and I had made him! And he'd fought his way through a microscopic hole in a condom. How awesome could one little guy possibly be? I'd already taken about fifteen pictures with my phone and a few…okay, more than a few…maybe like fifty with my camera. And a video of him crying, which he really had down like a pro. My kid was fucking smart.
Jake opened his eyes as I sat contemplating with my back against the headboard next to a sleeping Bella. The adrenaline was still running high in my body, and I wasn't the least bit tired although I'd been up all night. I couldn't stop the smile on my face as I watched his dark, blue eyes open fully.
"Hey, little buddy. Did you have a good nap, huh?" I whispered.
His little fist tightened around my finger, which was halfway asleep after being in the same position for so long, but there was no way I was going to move unless someone made me.
"Momma and Daddy are so happy that you finally came out," I told him, still whispering so I wouldn't wake Bella. "We've been looking so much forward to meeting you. The whole family has, actually. They already love you, and I promise you that you're going to love them, too."
I caressed his little fingers with my own and bent down to press a kiss against his forehead. His mouth opened in a tiny O, and I didn't know if he was yawning or about to cry. "Ssshh, please don't cry. Momma's sleeping. You kinda gave her hell earlier, which I know she's already forgiven you for, so don't worry. She's amazing, you know – your momma. We're damn—um, I mean very lucky to have her. And don't listen to Daddy when he swears, okay?"
Jake wiggled his little feet, and I took that as a "Yes, Daddy." Damn smart kid.
A little further into our first father-son conversation, he started crying. Bella woke up immediately and glared at me like I'd caused it.
"I didn't do anything!" I said, letting her take him from my arms. "We were just talking."
The glare faded away. "Sorry," she said, sheepishly. "I think I've officially become mama bear."
"Well, obviously that makes me papa bear, although don't mention that analogy to your dad. He'd just shoot us."
She laughed, and the sound made Jake quiet down. I didn't blame him – I loved the sound of Bella's laughter, too.
"So what were you two talking about?" she asked, cuddling the baby, who had obviously forgotten all about crying.
"Oh, you know. Guns and girls and booze. Boy stuff," I replied.
That made her laugh again. "Listen to your daddy when he talks about boy stuff, okay? We need someone to counter your Auntie James' makeup lessons or whatever."
"No fucking way is the damn diva giving my son makeup lessons!" I stated.
"Watch your language in front of Jake."
"He doesn't understand what I'm saying yet."
Bella gave me that smug look that meant she had me. "But you said that you were talking before I woke up."
The family descended after breakfast. As much as I'd enjoyed our own little bubble with just the three of us, I couldn't wait to show off the little piece of perfection Bella and I had created. To hell with whatever I'd accomplished so far in my life – none of it was even a blip on the radar compared to little Jake.
It was hard to tell who blubbered more – Sue or Charlie. Not that I could deny having shed a few tears myself, but dads were allowed, right? While Charlie was holding Jake and Sue was busy instructing him how to do it as if he'd never held a baby before, Bella grabbed my hand. "I'm sorry your family isn't here."
"My family is here," I replied. The truth was that I hadn't given my parents any thought since joining the parent ranks myself. And when I finally did, I realized two things. One, I didn't miss them because looking at Sue and Charlie, I knew that Jake would never miss an extra set of grandparents. And two, if they ever showed up again, I was going to take a different approach than I had so far. There would be no more letting Bella, Sue, Charlie, or James fight my battles for me. I'd make it clear in no uncertain terms that they weren't welcome in my life until they realized how things looked from my side of the fence. There was no room in my son's life for people who didn't understand the importance of family.
Bella squeezed my hand. I knew she understood.
"I don't care what anyone says. This little guy is the cutest baby in the world," Charlie declared.
Sue nodded. "Like there was ever any doubt."
I watched Charlie blink furiously before he cleared his throat. "And calling him Jacob Charles…well, that's just…that's just kinda perfect."
The moment was ruined by a knock on the door. Alec stuck his head in. "Sorry, guys. I can't hold him back much longer."
I snorted, and Bella shook with silent laughter as she fell back against the pillows.
"Oh lord," Charlie muttered and looked down at Jake, who was still nestled in his arms. "Please don't hold it against us that we're making you put up with crazy personified, little buddy. It was your grandma who told me to hire him."
"Come on in, guys," Bella said. She looked at me and shrugged. "We might as well get it over with."
She was probably right. I had no idea how James was going to react when he saw Jake after being so stubborn about us having a girl despite seeing evidence against it.
"Congratulations, Mommy and Daddy! Where's my little princess?" It was James' voice, but all I saw was about a dozen pink balloons and a three foot stuffed teddy bear wearing a sparkling, pink tutu.
"He's a prince," Charlie replied gruffly. "And if you ever put my grandson in a dress, I'll bury your body where no one will ever find it."
The balloons drifted to the ceiling, and James appeared, looking around wildly. "What? But… Let me see! Clearly the doctors around here don't know what they're doing. Calling Auntie James' little princess a nasty boy…it's a scandal!"
"James Lawrence, that's enough!" Sue declared in her no-nonsense voice reserved for very special circumstances.
"Yes, Mama Swan," James replied, wide-eyed. "But soldier boy did it wrong!"
"Dude, there's nothing wrong with my son or how I did anything," I said.
"But your sperm is wrong or something…oooooh! Look at that cute, little baby. Come to Auntie James, little one."
A clearly amused Charlie let James, who had now moved onto baby talk, hold Jake. I'd never seen the diva treat anyone or anything with so much care and awe.
Alec came over with a big bouquet of white roses for Bella. Then he turned to me. "I would have gotten you cigars, but James insisted that you probably would have smoked them and gotten lung cancer…yeah…um, so here."
"Thanks," I said, accepting the wrapped box he offered me. Inside I found chocolate cigars. I snorted. At least I wouldn't choke like I had the first time I'd tried smoking a cigar. I'd been thirteen, and Jasper had stolen two of his dad's expensive cigars so we could act all cool and stuff behind the bike shed at school. It had been a disaster, and my only salvation had been that Jasper had gotten sicker than I had.
After more visits from everyone, more naps for Bella and Jake, and a lot more staring from me, the doctors decided that there was no reason to keep my wife and son over night, so they were released. Bringing Jake home was both exciting and scary. We were one hundred percent responsible for his wellbeing and happiness, and while I'd been responsible for people before, they'd been adults able to think for themselves. Jake was so little and vulnerable and innocent and—
"What are you thinking about?" Bella asked from the backseat on the drive home. "Your forehead is all wrinkled."
I looked at her in the review mirror and smiled. "Minor freak out. Nothing serious."
"Stop it. You'll be an awesome dad, and I'll be an awesome mom. You know why? Because this little guy deserves nothing less. End of story."
"Beautiful and smart. I definitely married up," I teased, although grateful for the little pep talk. And she was right. With an awesome little son you could only be inspired to be as awesome as he deserved.
"And don't you forget it."
I'd read Bella's books. I'd heard all the well-meant advice. I knew what I could expect. But it still surprised me how completely Jacob Charles Cullen managed to turn life on its head. It was amazing how someone so small could make me want to cry ten times a day. And goddamn, he was a loud one himself. Especially in the middle of the night. The first couple of times I'd jerked awake, thinking for a few moments that I was back in Afghanistan and hearing the air alarm because we were under attack. When I'd foolishly told Bella that our son reminded me of an air alarm, she'd started crying, too. We were just one big, emotional mess. And I loved it. Being a dad was the best thing ever – equaled only by being a husband. Who needed other titles than those two?
James had forgotten all about how adamant he'd been that BC was a girl. He now claimed that he'd always said that we'd be having a boy, and even Alec had had to take second place to Auntie James' little angel boy. At least until it was time for a diaper change. Then James happily handed Jake over and made Alec his first priority again.
Everyone stopped by to meet the eighth wonder of the world. Jessica took one look at Jake and decided that she wanted one, too. Mike looked like he might shit himself at the thought, which Emmett gave him hell about. Rose and James started arguing about who got to babysit first. Sue fussed. Charlie boasted that he had the smartest grandson in the world. And one particular evening, Jake exercised his lungs to a point where I wanted to pull out my hair and Bella was convinced that she was the worst mom in the world because nothing could get him to stop crying. Surprisingly it was Alec, who finally made him settle down. He simply sang him a song.
Jake was a week old the first time I ventured farther away from home than the grocery store. How the hell grown men and women got so addicted to their kids baffled me to no end, but it was definitely true. Sue and Charlie had given me a few weeks off, and I was already dreading going back to work. The whole parent gig really made you into an emotional basket case. One little wail from Jake, and I was sure that he was either choking, someone was kidnapping him, or the diva was putting him in a dress. With frills.
I had to go to Port Angeles, though. Charlie needed some stuff picked up for the bar, but he had the flu. That meant I had to step up for an afternoon and that Sue had to deal with both the diner and an antsy grandfather, who couldn't see his new grandson until he got better. While I felt sorry for myself for missing out on an entire afternoon with Bella and Jake, then I knew Sue had it worse.
James was coming with me so I could introduce him to the people he needed to know to make the next trips to Port Angeles until I was back at work and Charlie was back on his feet. There were a lot of trips happening for reasons only Charlie knew. I just did as I was told.
Fortunately for me, James and Alec were still not past the honeymoon phase of their relationship, so while I drove, James texted Alec like a teenage girl. That meant he was blissfully quiet most of the time, and I even had full control over the radio.
"Does it hurt to get a tattoo?" he asked as we neared Port Angeles. "Like really hurt?"
"It depends," I replied. "Normally it just stings after a few minutes, but if you're getting a big piece that takes a long time, it might start to hurt the longer you're in the chair. It also depends where on your body you're getting it."
"A smallish one – three words on my chest. Would that hurt a lot?"
"I don't think so. Why? You getting inked?"
"Yep," he answered. "Well, unless it hurts too much. Then I'm just using a permanent marker every time I've showered."
I laughed, not doubting that he actually would. "What would the three words be? Viva La Diva?"
"No, although that would be awesome, too. I'd get 'Property of Alec' tattooed over my heart."
"That's actually sweet," I said. I'd willingly get "property of Bella" tattooed across my forehead if I didn't know she'd kill me for it.
"Of course it's sweet, doll face. And it's true, too," James stated. "Will you hold my hand if I get it done? I'd ask Alec, but I want the tattoo to be a surprise."
"Sure." He'd forget all about holding anyone's hand when he realized that there would probably be half-dressed men in the shop. "I'm getting one done soon. I want Jake's birth date tattooed somewhere. Want me to make you an appointment? The guy who did my headdress is really good."
"Yes, please, mister handsome personal secretary," he replied, blowing me a kiss as we turned into the parking lot where we were picking up some stuff. "Make it soon."
I rolled my eyes. "Yes, sir."
When we'd talked to the people and picked up what we needed, I raced back to Forks. I missed Jake like I hadn't seen him for years. James argued that he missed him more because Bella and I hogged him all the time, and he wasn't impressed when I pointed out that we were entitled to hog him all we wanted since we were the parents. Unable to come up with any good arguments, James continued to claim that he also missed Alec more than I did. I just rolled my eyes and promised to put down in my calendar that, for once, he was right.
Bella was highly amused when I came home and refused to put Jake down for almost an hour. I let her be as amused as she wanted because I knew that sooner or later the day would come where she would have to leave Jake for hours at a time, too. Then she'd understand.
"You missed Daddy, too, didn't you, little buddy?" I asked Jake, who flailed his little arms in confirmation.
Bella was exhausted after trying to fit her sleeping pattern to Jake's. I talked her into taking a nap while Jake and I cooked dinner. My little man was going to learn how to make a mean Spaghetti Bolognaise.
A few days later I willingly made the trip to Port Angeles again. Of course, it helped knowing that if I'd stayed home, I would have been forced to endure some sort of girl bonding time or whatever. I'd argued that Jake shouldn't have to suffer through it either, but like in a lot of other arguments, Bella had two votes, and I had one. So Jake was staying home while Leah, Rose, and Jessica came over for whatever women did when they were together. Maybe Jake would tell me.
That meant ink time for me. James was riding shot gun while practicing breathing exercises that would make any Lamaze coach proud in preparation for the pain ahead.
"You realize that I'll be tougher than the Indian princess mama, right?" he asked me.
I chuckled. "When it comes to tattoos, yes, but when it comes to pain, none of us even come close."
"She had drugs!"
"Drugs my ass. She gave birth. A tattoo is just a stupid, little needle."
He pouted. "I'm still tough."
"Yes, you are. Once you've actually gone through with it."
"Bah. I'm one fierce bitch."
I suppressed a snort and rolled my eyes. If he really went through with it – and I still had my doubts – he'd be milking it for weeks. Poor Alec would become his personal slave if he wasn't careful.
"I've changed my mind," James announced as I was parking the car.
"Come on, man. It doesn't hurt that much."
"No, no. Not about that. I've changed my mind about where I want it. I figure there's something Alec would rather have than my heart."
I winced. "Dude. That is going to hurt."
"Please, lamb chop. Like I'd allow anyone near my disco stick with a needle. I'm talking about my ass!"
"You're getting 'Property of Alec' tattooed on your ass?" I asked.
"Okay then." Who was I to judge? Laugh, maybe. Judge, no.
I did, however, want to smack him when he went into the tattoo parlor singing, "Where's the lucky guy who's gonna draw on my ass?"
Fifteen minutes later he wasn't so coy. "It huuuuuurts! Save me from the big, bad needle, soldier daddy!"
"Dude, he hasn't even started yet," I informed him.
"Are you sure you want this?" Marty asked. I could tell that the diva amused him, but you had to know James to see past his diva act and determine if he was serious or not.
"Damn right, hunky needle boy. Decorate my ass!"
At this point everyone in the shop was laughing, and James was lapping up the attention.
Marty did his thing, James wailed, threatened, and begged, and I snapped photos with my cell phone on James' request. Apparently he was going to make a scrap album. When the tattoo was done, he admired himself in the mirror for a while before realizing that sitting down was going to be difficult for a while. Clearly he hadn't considered that tiny detail beforehand.
When it was my turn, Marty showed me what he had done with the image I'd sent and what I'd told him over the phone when I had made the appointment. Once again, the guy turned out to be a mind reader, as he'd drawn exactly what I'd been picturing in my head.
"Perfect," I told him.
I had asked him to make some modifications to my family's crest. Not just because I felt I was different from my parents and sister, but mostly because I wanted it to represent my family. The lion in the centre stayed because strength was necessary in life, and I'd met few people stronger than Bella. Next to the hand that symbolized loyalty, I'd had Marty draw a swan for obvious reasons. And at the bottom, the trefoil had been altered so there were now two clovers and a heart as my love for my family was forever. Above the crest that was on the left side of my chest, I had Marty tattoo my wedding date, and underneath it Jake's birth date. Marty commented that there was plenty of room for more dates underneath it, and while I very aware of that, I still decided not to mention it to Bella just yet. There was every chance that she'd hurt me.
Marty wasn't a big talker while he worked, and James was busy examining some biker dude's many tattoos, so I could let my thoughts drift. I'd wear the tattoo proudly as a badge proving my love for my family. My real family. More than ever I wondered how my parents could act the way they did. I couldn't think of anything that could make me turn my back on the perfect little boy waiting for me at home. Not a single thing. And I never wanted people like that in his life. If they never realized how they'd hurt me or what they were missing out on by not bothering to accept me as I was and get to know Bella and Jake, then I'd do everything to keep them as far away from my son as possible.
While I didn't miss any Cullens in Jake's life, I did wish he could have met his namesake. My best friend would have been the most amazing uncle in the world, and as soon as my son was old enough, I'd be telling him all about the uncle he'd never meet.
"No tears, cupcake?" James asked, stirring me from my thoughts. "You're so tough and manly."
I smiled. "It doesn't hurt."
"Bah. Of course it hurts. I was just in that chair, so I should know."
"You're a wimp."
"Wimp shrimp. You're a big, fat liar. Now sit still so I can take some pictures of your pretty chest to go in my tattoo album. Little Ricky over there let me photograph him, too," he said, gesturing to the gigantic biker dude he'd been talking to before.
Soon we were ready to leave, and I smiled the entire way home. It had been a really good morning, and I could have kissed Marty when I'd seen the finished tattoo on my chest. It was perfect. The squirming diva in the backseat had mostly behaved, and now I was going home to my pretty wife and awesome little son. With a little luck, Charlie was feeling so much better that he'd be stopping by and I could share my pictures of the wimpy diva with him. He'd appreciate a good laugh.
"When is this thing going to heal?" James asked, sounding a bit muffled as his face was buried in the seat. He was lying on his stomach, not willing to risk anything that could cause pain or mess up his new body art. He'd even considered taking off his pants, but I'd made it clear that he wasn't getting into my car with his bare ass on display. So he'd chosen the pants over walking home.
Back home, my tattoo was a hit. Bella peeked under the bandage and looked at the picture I'd taken with my phone.
"I need one of those, too."
I chuckled and took Jake from her. "Because that went so well last time."
"Shut up. I'm serious. Or, well, semi-serious. I love the design. Maybe I need to learn how to draw or paint so I could copy it on canvas. I don't know, but it's amazing, Edward. I really love it."
Jake loved it, too, apparently, because he smacked it with all his might, which, admittedly, wasn't much, but it still smarted.
"Would it be wrong to hope that Jake smacks James' ass?" I wondered out loud.
Bella looked confused. "What?"
"Oh, that's right. I haven't told you yet." I snickered and fished my cell phone back up from my pocket. "Put on some sunglasses and go through the photo gallery."
She took the phone. "Why would I need sunglass—whoa! Give a girl some warning, please. That's one image I'll never be able to erase from my mind. Ugh."
"Give it an hour – max. – and he'll be over here flashing you."
"We're never unlocking the front door again," she decided.
"Works for me." I smiled. I had everything I needed right here in our apartment anyway.
After a night where Jake preferred screaming over sleeping, we bleary-eyed made our way to La Push the following morning. It was a big day – the diner and bar were both closed, and Sue had tried to prepare me for what would happen. Apparently the Quileute tribe had some sort of baptism ritual that Uncle Harry wanted to perform on Jake. Sue had said that the original ritual involved the baby being wrapped in wolf skin and then some chanting. But Harry had twisted it some over the years, and no one actually knew what he had planned. That scared me a little, but even if he'd been soaking in firewater again, I knew that unless he tried to drown Jake in firewater or make him drink it, things would probably be okay. No one else seemed worried at least.
Jake would also be meeting his great-grandfather for the first time. Billy had been bedridden with the flu like Charlie, but had taken longer to recover, so he hadn't seen Jake yet. Everyone else – everyone we called family or friends in Forks – was there, too. We were in some kind of great hall or something on the reservation that was decorated with tribal imagery on the walls and carved poles on each side of the room. To one side Sue had set a very festive table, and on the other side there was a table filled with presents.
The ceremony itself began, and I was actually glad that Alec was recording the whole thing with Bob, as I would probably need to see it again to believe it. I had a great respect for all cultures, and I was eager to integrate Jake's Native American heritage in his life, but weird things were just weird.
Jake was wrapped in wolf fur. That part wasn't so strange. Then Uncle Harry started chanting something that sounded like an old Beach Boys song while he did some kind of rain dance around Sue, who was holding Jake. Next Harry summoned The Great Wolf with a new chant and produced his firewater mug. He poured firewater into a cup and dipped Jake's feet in it.
"That will keep him safe from the bloodsuckers," he informed us.
Then the rain dance thing started again, and this time Leah and Seth joined him. Not one to be left out, James started square dancing. Pretty soon everyone was dancing, and the chant drowned in music from the radio that Leah had brought.
I looked at Bella, who just shrugged. "I never claimed to have a normal family. Wanna dance?"
I laughed disbelieving and looked around. Everyone was laughing and smiling. Jake was sharing his first dance with his adoring grandmother. There were as many different dances as there were people, and I realized that it wasn't about some ritual or ceremony. It was about family and love. Jake might not have been officially initiated in the Quileute tribe or whatever that had been about, but he was part of an amazing family that danced at ten in the morning and loved him no matter what.
"Yes, let's dance," I told Bella as Mike moon-walked past us.
Late that night, Bella and Jake were both asleep, and I watched them full of gratitude. Sure, my life had sucked in the past, and it would sure as hell suck again in the future. Bella would be stubborn. I'd be an idiot and do lots of inventory. We'd fight. Jake would become a teenager and hate me for not letting him borrow the car. We'd be happy together just as we'd be angry and sad together. But the most important difference was that I wouldn't be alone.
Forks had been good to me. Dead or alive, Jake would have led me there regardless, and I owned him an enormous debt that I could only repay him by doing my best to make sure that his family was happy.
Then it hit me. I'd never done what I'd come to Forks to do.
The following morning, Bella went back to bed after breakfast to catch up on her sleep. I bundled Jake up and brought him with me as I went back to the cemetery. It was funny how I'd come to Forks to say goodbye to my friend only to end up in his family and – in many ways – get to know him better than I had before.
And as I stood holding his little namesake in front of the headstone bearing his name, I realized that I didn't have to say goodbye. Jacob Swan was everywhere. He was in Sue's smile, in Charlie's wit, in Bella's tears, in my son's name. He was at the bar, in the diner, and everywhere in town. He was – and always would be – deeply ingrained in his friends and family. In our hearts and in our memories.
"You were named after a very special guy," I told my son. "Your Uncle Jake was…well, he was my best friend. I loved him, and your momma loved him. Everyone loved him. When you're old enough, I'm going to tell you all about him."
I lowered my head and kissed Jake's nose. He scrunched up his face, making me smile. "You know what? Daddy's been an idiot. And 'idiot' is an okay word to use as long as it's appropriate, by the way. Daddy's been so scared of coming here to visit Uncle Jake, and all along there's been nothing to be afraid of. Uncle Jake is somewhere up in heaven laughing at Daddy. And it's okay. I hope you never have to be afraid, little buddy, but I hope you learn the difference between real fear and cowardice. And not honoring your friends because it might make you feel bad is cowardice."
Taking one last look at Jake's grave before walking back toward the car, I knew I'd be coming back often. It was a peaceful place, and remembering wasn't as painful as it used to be. The dust had finally settled after the wars I'd fought, and my life was looking more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.
"All right, little man. Let's get back to Momma," I said. With flaily arms and a big yawn, Jake agreed. We were going home.
A/N: We hope you enjoyed the end of "When the Dust Settles." (Finally!) From the bottom of our hearts - thank you. See you some other time. :)