A/N: Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. Any similarities to the original characters or themes from the books or media franchise are used here for entertainment purposes only, with no monetary gain for me, the FanFiction author. All original content, ideas, and intellectual property of Rm w/ a Vu are mine . . .

. . . but the responsibility for the replacement of any ruined articles of clothing due to spontaneous combustion after reading the citrusy parts of this story is all yours.

I apologize for taking a few weeks to update this story. Forgive me, Father was talking pretty loudly, so I focused on that . . . plus, I always get a little sad when I come to the close of a story, and I try to avoid the inevitable end. Alas, I could not ignore it any longer—especially since I left you all on a pretty big cliffhanger!

So, here it is . . .


Chapter 36. Nurture vs. Nature

Irina looks up at us from her wheelchair, her hands moving over her protruding belly and her forehead glistening with beads of sweat. "Oh, good," she says breathlessly. "You got my messages." It's the first time I've seen her not looking perfectly made up, and I'm somewhat ashamed to take pleasure in it . . . very briefly, and I'm not entirely proud of it. I'm not a total monster. I realize that she's going through something excruciating and know that one day I'll be where she is, so I quickly push the feeling aside, letting my concern rush forward instead.

I look from Irina to Edward, who's patting his pants pocket and then his chest, looking confused. "No," he replies. "I must have left my phone in my jacket pocket." He glances down at me, and I'm immediately reminded of where his jacket is—back in the coat room at the reception hall. We'd been so rushed to get here for my parents that we'd forgotten his jacket.

Irina looks confused as to why we're here if we didn't get her message, so I quickly explain. "My parents are here." She surprises me by looking concerned, so I offer her a smile. "Oh, they're fine. They, uh, had a baby, actually."

She finds this amusing, and I have to admit, so do I. This sort of thing only happens in those daytime soap operas, and yet, here I am, living it.

Another contraction rips through Irina, forcing her to double over and cry out into her lap, and my concerned gaze moves from Edward to each of the nurses as they fuss around her. They take her to a nearby room, and Edward and I quickly follow as Irina answers their questions.

"When did the contractions start?"

"Three hours ago, but they weren't regular until about a half hour ago."

"How far apart are they?"

"Five minutes."

"On a scale of one to ten, how's the pain?"

"I'm going to want the epidural," is her reply, making the nurses chuckle. Finally, something the two of us have in common.

Edward and I stand near the door as the nurses get her situated, and when they proceed with the initial examination, we step outside until it's finished. Apparently she's at about seven centimetres already, and the nurses all figure she'll progress quickly from here on out.

The anaesthesiologist, a kindly gentleman with dark brown hair and deep blue eyes, comes into the room and goes over all the ins and outs of the epidural before she signs the consent forms. Edward and I are at her bedside as she sits up, turning to face us so the doctor can put in the catheter that will administer the drugs. He explains what he's doing as he does his thing, and just as he's about to thread the catheter in, Irina cries out through another contraction.

Without thinking, I reach out and take her hand, allowing her to squeeze it while the doctor finishes up. She clamps down so tightly that pain blisters through my hand and up my arm, but I ignore it, because I know that what she's going through has to be so much worse. It surprises me even further when she pulls me closer to her and leans her head on my shoulder, breathing through the pain, and as soon as it's all over, she sits up, brushing a few stray tears from the corner of her eyes and releasing my hand.

"Sorry," she says softly as the doctor helps her lie back on her bed.

"Don't be," I assure her. "Can I get you anything?"

"Thanks, but I think I'm okay for now," she says, grabbing the cup of ice chips that the nurses had left for her off the table at her side before looking at Edward. "I've got the papers signed. They're in my bag over there." When she gestures to where her bag sits in a chair across the room, Edward moves toward it. "Front pocket."

Edward opens the front pocket and pulls out a manila folder, opening it and pulling out the small stack of legal papers that say she's going to sign over all her rights.

"Everything's in order, I just wanted to make sure you got them beforehand," Irina tells him, grabbing another ice chip and crunching it as her eyes travel down to her toes.

I follow her gaze and see her toes wiggling, which, I assume, can only mean the drugs haven't kicked in yet. I'm not sure how long this is supposed to take, but she's got to be coming up on another contraction soon, and I'm not sure my hand can take that again.

"Should I grab the doctor?" I ask. "To make sure everything's okay with the epidural?"

She laughs softly, shaking her head. "Nope. Everything's working perfectly," she informs me. "I'm having a contraction now, actually."

Confused, I look at her belly and see that she's right; it does seem to be a little more tense than it was only a moment ago. "But, you're moving?" I say, still confused.

"Yeah, and it's weird. Almost like an extreme case of dead-leg . . . without the pins and needles."

I watch, slightly amused along with her, as she tries to lift her leg. She claims it's heavy and she can't lift it off the bed, but she's able to move it with a lot of concentration. Before Irina can try to lift her other leg—not that she's going to be successful there, either—her doctor comes in.

"Well, I wasn't expecting to see you in here quite this early, Irina," she says kindly, tucking her greying blonde hair behind her ear as she reaches for the chart at the end of Irina's bed.

"Guess this guy had other plans in mind," Irina replies.

The doctor notices us, setting Irina's chart down on the end of her bed. Her hazel eyes move over us appraisingly before she thrusts out her hand. "I'm Dr. Troy."

Edward takes her hand and shakes it. "I'm Edward," he says, the roughness of his voice surprising me. I know he's got to be nervous, but I never realized just how much until right this second. I reach over and take his free hand in mine, giving it a gentle squeeze until I feel his tension ease. "This is Bella. I'm the . . . uh . . ."

"Parents," I interject without pause. "We're the child's parents." The pronouncement seems to startle Edward at my side, but I honestly didn't even think about it before I said it. It just . . . slipped out. It's the first time I've acknowledged the child as partially mine to anyone but Edward, and I love the way it makes me feel inside. It's like my heart swells and my stomach flips over with anticipation.

The doctor does another exam while Edward and I step out into the hall again. Once we are called back in, we're informed that she's progressing quite quickly, and the doctor says she won't be surprised if there is a baby born shortly after midnight. I glance up at the clock and am surprised to see it's already eleven-thirty. How long have we even been at the hospital? When did my parents call? It had to be around nine, right?

Yes, I remember looking up at the clock before meeting Claire, and it was just after eleven.

Hard to believe how quickly this is all happening.

Before the doctor has the chance to leave, Edward asks if being five weeks early will affect the baby in any way.

"I won't know for sure until he's here," she replies honestly. "But Irina's had a model pregnancy, and, other than maybe being a little on the small side, I think he'll probably be quite healthy. We might have to keep him here for a little while—standard procedure with all preemies—but I won't know for certain until he's here."

After the doctor excuses herself to go check on her other patients, Edward and I stay with Irina, talking to her and helping her focus on anything but the fact that she's about to push something the size of a watermelon out of her vag.

Okay, so Edward talks, because I really don't know enough about her to carry on a conversation.

Because of the epidural, none of us pay attention to how many contractions Irina is having or how long we've been sitting here until the doctor strolls back in at five after midnight. We step out of the room while she does another exam, but this time when she opens the door, it's to tell us it's time.

Instinctively, we reach for each other, holding hands as nervous and excited energy crashes through us, resulting in an uncontrollable tremble in our limbs. The doctor tells us that Irina has requested we wait in the waiting area. I can tell Edward's disappointed based on the very brief look he gives the doctor before nodding his assent, and I understand his feeling this way; truth be told, I'm a little disappointed he won't be witnessing Masen's journey into this world, too.

But I also understand Irina's request, and I respect it; she's come this far alone, detaching herself from everything as possible, so it makes sense that she'd want to do this one last thing alone.

Edward and I go to the waiting room and pace, occasionally—okay, so it's more like every ten seconds—looking up at the clock to see how much time has passed. The saying "a watched pot never boils" also holds true to watching the hands on a clock move; the more you stare, the longer they take to circle the clock.

My dad comes back to the waiting room, sans Claire, and we fill him in on what's going on before he lets us know he's heading home now that Mom's asleep. I feel like a bit of a tool for not going and congratulating Mom after meeting Claire, but my dad assures me that he explained what he knew was going on to her and that she'd see us the next day.

I give my dad one more hug before he takes off. Yes, he'd offered to stay until we heard something, but he'd already been here long enough, and if he wanted to be here first thing in the morning, I knew he'd want to get home and get a little bit of sleep.

"I'm going to go and grab some coffee," I tell Edward at one in the morning; it's been a long day, and I'm starting to fade, despite the adrenaline of tonight's events. "Would you like some?"

"Sure," he replies sweetly, leaning down and kissing me lightly and reaching into his pocket for money since I left my purse back at the reception hall.

Not wanting to risk missing the announcement, I half-walk, half-run the ten feet down the hall and around the corner. The coffee isn't great, but it'll get the job done and keep us alert enough. I'm both surprised and a little bummed to see Edward is still alone in the waiting room, but I smile and hand him his coffee. The poor guy is so excited and nervous that his hands tremble slightly when he reaches for his coffee, and I realize that it's my turn to comfort him the way he had helped me through the excruciating wait for my mom to give birth.

Now, I know he's too big for me to pull him onto my lap—wouldn't that be a sight?—so instead, I take his free hand and lead him toward one of the chairs, perch myself onto the arm as I set my coffee down for a moment, and I begin to give him a scalp massage. His soft, contented moans and the collapse of his rigid posture tell me he's relaxing a little, and I smile while I continue my efforts. The tips of my fingers begin to tingle, and I use my nails to lightly scratch his scalp.

"He's going to be here soon," I say quietly, leaning in and kissing the side of Edward's head. "Masen."

I sit back up just in time to see the side of Edward's lips turn up into a goofy smile, and when he turns his head to me, my hands falling from his head, he sighs blissfully. "I know. It's crazy, right?"

Smiling, I nod, but before I can say anything, a nurse I recognize from Irina's room appears in the doorway, a bright smile on her face. Edward and I are on our feet in a flash, crossing the room to her. She's empty-handed, which is more than a little disheartening, but I can tell from her expression that everything has to be just fine.

"They're just finishing up and then taking him to the nursery. You should be able to see him soon," she tells us, making no mention of Irina.

"And Irina?" I ask out of nowhere, truly hoping she's doing all right.

Hey. Not a monster, remember?

The nurse smiles. "She did quite well. The doctor suspects she'll be out of here sometime in the next day or two. She's asked for rest tonight, but understands the two of you may want to see her at some point tomorrow, and she's all right with that."

Edward and I nod simultaneously as the nurse motions out into the hall. "Come on," she says. "I'll take you to the nursery so you can meet the little one."

Our timing is impeccable, because the second we arrive at the nursery, Masen is just being put into his basinet. Of course, this isn't a conclusion I come to on my very own, because there are a lot of babies in here; I only know it's Masen because another of Irina's nurses is the one tending to him as she sees us walk in, and she waves us over.

We're both a little too eager, picking up our pace as we weave through the rows of basinets of sleeping babies. I wonder if Claire is among the babies swaddled in pink. While I want to visit with my new baby sister a little more, there's a baby boy I'm also pretty desperate to see and hold.

And given my apprehensions to this entire situation a few months ago, who'd have thought?

I see movement beneath the tightly wrapped blanket—his feet seem to be fighting against his restraints. I laugh, because Edward hates his feet being covered up, too. Cute. He's got a blue knit cap on, similar to Claire's little pink one, and he looks a bit smaller, even bundled in this blanket.

"How is he?" I ask, worried about his size amongst a sea of slightly bigger babies.

The nurse smiles. "A little on the small side, but nothing to worry about. He checks out just fine. The doctor wants to keep him for a few days to be sure he puts on a little more weight as he's only just over five pounds, but he's got a healthy set of lungs and is a good colour. Everything checks out just fine." Her eyes wander between the two of us, and when I look over at Edward, he's not looking at her, but down at Masen. "Would you like to hold him?"

"Can I?" Edward asks quietly, his voice croaking and seeming more nervous than before.

"Of course," she replies with a laugh, leaning forward and picking Masen up gingerly.

The instant he's in Edward's arms, he smiles, looking down at the tiny bundle of blue in his arms. There's a little noise—tiny grunts and squeaks—coming from Masen, and his feet continue to kick against the blanket.

As I watch the two of them, something inside me shifts, my stomach flipping with excitement as I find myself at a new revelation . . .

"Yes, there will be sleepless nights and some stress in the beginning as you both learn to adjust, but it's all so worth it," the memory of my mother's voice sounds in my head. "The minute you see him with that baby, your love for him will change. But in the best way. He won't just be your partner anymore, baby. He'll be a dad."

I inhale softly, my heart pounding just a little bit faster as warm tears fill my eyes, and I step toward the two of them. Edward is so lost in his own world at first, but the minute I step into their bubble, he looks up at me, acknowledging my belonging by his side with a wide smile.

He's a dad.

I didn't think I could love this man any more than I already did, but I do. It's unexplainable, but seeing him cradling his son in his arms has caused my heart to swell with so much pride and love. The way he'd taken this unexpected turn in his life—our lives—and turned it into something special and amazing has given me a whole new respect for the man he is. Yes, not everyone would make the decision that either of us had, but, through a lot of talking and compromising, we'd decided this just felt like the right thing to do and that we'd do whatever needed to be done to make it work.

Still smiling as I move even closer to see the baby, Edward leans forward and kisses me softly before I pull the blue blanket away from Masen's face. His eyes are open and a shade of deep blue, something that could change over the course of a few months. They don't seem to hold any indication to what colour they will become, but I'm holding out hope for Edward's brilliant green, because, even though his features are much tinier and smooshier, he looks exactly like his daddy.

A lone tear escapes the corner of my eye, and I sweep it from my cheek with the pads of my fingers. "He's perfect," I whisper as his eyes fall closed and his flailing ceases. His breathing pattern deepens as he falls asleep, and Edward and I continue to stare and marvel over this tiny human that has changed our lives for the better.

::: Rm w/a Vu :::

Masen has to stay in the hospital for two weeks. It isn't that he's unhealthy, but because the pediatrician wanted to be sure he put on enough weight before signing his discharge papers. By the end of his two-week stay, Masen tipped that little baby scale at six pounds, 3 ounces—a whole pound and three ounces more than when he was born; he likes his food.

We've been home just over a week now, and it's been great—although tiring at night, which I know is normal.

Edward's taken time off work to be home with Masen, and I'm done with school now, so I've been home except for when I have to go to work. I've picked up a few extra shifts to start putting away money for when school starts back up in the fall, but not so many that I'm never home. In fact, I find that the entire time I'm at work, all I can think about is being back at home with Edward and Masen.

Today's been one of those days. Tomorrow is Masen's meet-the-baby shower, and after working all day long, I'm lying in bed with a book open in my lap. I'm not really reading it, though, instead listening to Edward through the monitor as he tries to comfort an inconsolable Masen. This seems to be the routine. Regardless of having just been fed, changed, swaddled, unswaddled, or snuggled, Masen just isn't content. It breaks my heart to hear him cry like this all through the night when he's not being held, and I know it must affect Edward the same way, or he wouldn't be bolting out of bed every couple of hours to soothe him.

Edward's both exhausted and frustrated, and I get that, but he's unwilling to let me help with this. I'm not sure why—pride, maybe? Or perhaps he's still stuck on not overwhelming me with all of this for fear I'll decide I was wrong and don't want any part of it. Whatever it is, it's stupid, because I'm not in school right now, and I don't start work until eleven most mornings that I do work, so why shouldn't I help him?

Finally, the noise of Masen's cries quiets, and all I can hear is Edward's voice taper off as he finishes his lullaby. I hold my breath, visualizing Edward putting him into bed carefully so as not to wake him again. A series of soft "shh . . . shh . . . shh . . ." noises carry over the baby monitor as well as drift across the hall before my old bedroom door clicks into place.

Edward appears in the doorway, his hair a mess, his jaw riddled with stubble, and his green eyes looking weary. "I think it's getting easier," he says, sounding hopeful; I don't have the heart to tell him that I disagree.

Sighing, Edward flops down on his side of the bed, and I pick my book back up, hoping to at least get through the chapter I'm on. We haven't made love since before Masen was born, and I know it'll be a little while longer as we adjust to having him in the house. I'm fine with that—really, I am—because I'd like for us to settle into our new routines and have Edward a little less exhausted than he is now. I don't think my pride could take the hit of him falling asleep in the middle of sex.

"Mmm," he sighs, draping his arm around my waist and resting his head against my stomach as I continue to lean back on the headboard and read. His thumb dances over the sliver of exposed skin above my shorts, and that familiar pulse of desire trickles beneath my skin, even though I know this is not his intention. How do I know this? Because he's done this every night since we brought Masen home, and it's usually followed by . . . yup, there it is: his gentle snoring.

Smiling, I run my fingers through his hair as I read, and he settles in even more comfortably against my body. Eventually, his snores subside as I tease the strands of hair at the nape of his neck, and I'm just flipping to the last page of my book when a shrill cry through the monitor startles me.

Edward's eyes snap open, looking confused until realization sparks in his eyes. Moaning, he pushes himself up, running his hand over his face as he prepares to get out of bed. Before his feet can even touch the ground, I slam my book closed and toss it to the foot of the bed.

"No," I tell him firmly. "Turn off the monitor and get some sleep. I'll go."

"Bella, that's not—"

I turn on him, narrowing my eyes. "Don't tell me it's not necessary, Edward. I love you, but have you looked at yourself lately? You're exhausted, and it's not doing either one of you any good." I lean on the bed and kiss him softly. "You need to learn to share, love," I tell him, using one of his terms of endearment for me and loving how easily it rolls off my tongue.

He must see the look of resolve in my eyes, because he simply nods and lies back against his pillow while I exit our bedroom and cross the hall. I close Masen's door behind me and head to his crib. His poor little face is all scrunched up and red as he fights against the expert swaddling job that Edward had done—probably because being unswaddled didn't seem to soothe him either. The poor kid doesn't know what he wants.

"Hey," I whisper, leaning over the side of his crib and reaching for him. "You sure do make an awful lot of noise for such a tiny little guy, don't you?" I pick him up, supporting his head as I tuck him against my body and bounce lightly in place while swaying back and forth. I don't know why I do this, but something about it just feels right, you know? Like a primal instinct to nurture sparking to life.

Keeping him pressed securely against me with one arm, I use my other hand to unwrap the blanket from around his feet while keeping his arms secure. In an instant, he kicks them free from the cotton prison and then settles. I smile triumphantly. "Well now," I coo as he sighs against me. "You really are just like your daddy, aren't you? I guess he must have forgotten how he doesn't like his feet covered up, either, huh? What a silly, silly man."

Masen's face returns to its usual fleshy pink colour as he inhales a shaky, yet contented breath and closes his eyes. I don't dare put him down yet, knowing that he likely still needs a few minutes, but I can feel my own exhaustion after a long day starting to sink into my body, making me feel heavily weighted. I give it a bit longer, fighting back yawn after yawn as I hum to Masen, hopefully lulling him back into a deep sleep.

When I suspect he's ready, I move back to the crib and attempt to set him down, but the minute I start to pull my arms from around him, his face scrunches up again as he prepares to cry. I don't let it get that far, though, picking him back up and tucking him against my body; I don't want Edward to come flying in here and taking over. He needs his sleep right now, and I need to prove myself as his equal at this.

However, I'm not sure how much longer I can stand, so I move to the rocking chair, but the minute I sit down and start rocking, my eyes flutter closed and my head falls forward. I immediately stand back up, refusing to allow myself to fall asleep with Masen in my arms. How horrible would I feel if that happened and I let go of him? I would never forgive myself.

That's when I spot my old bed and remember Esme had bought and stored some removable rails under the bed. While I know Masen isn't likely to start rolling over at his age, I'm not going to take any chances. I carefully set Masen in the middle of the bed, continuing to hum and talk to him softly so he doesn't wake, and I set up one of the two rails before moving to the other side of the bed and lying beside him. The second my head hits the pillow, I yawn, no longer strong enough to hold it back. I don't intend to fall asleep in here, but I figure I'll rest my eyes for a few minutes and get Masen into a deep sleep before I put him in his crib and head back to bed with Edward.

I keep Masen close to me, and he must sense the warmth of my body, because he turns his face toward me and inhales deeply, letting the breath escape somewhat fluttery before he starts to suck on his bottom lip. Through sleepy eyes, I watch him sleep for a few minutes, taking my index finger and tracing delicate lines over his forehead and down his cherubic cheeks, then over his nose and chin.

The right side of his mouth curls up into a half-smile, and I'm pretty sure what I'm feeling in my chest is my heart melting at the sight of it. I know that when babies smile, it's said to be gas, but there's no way that's what this is. This is a legitimate sleepy-smile.

Revelling in the moment, I lean forward and kiss his forehead, closing my eyes as I inhale the intoxicating smell of his baby-soft skin over and over again. It's like a drug, and it relaxes me even more. I let my eyes remain closed, telling myself over and over again that I'll give him just one minute more . . .

A soft touch on my shoulder startles me, and I gasp sharply, turning toward the body behind me. My vision is somewhat blurry, and I blink rapidly in an attempt to clear it as Edward's face comes into focus. He's level with me, meaning he's kneeling next to the bed. I find this weird, until my vision continues to clear and I realize I'm not in our room, but the nursery instead. Then I remember coming in here to soothe Masen, and how I'd lain with him on the bed . . .

Masen!

Instantly alert, I snap my head back toward the middle of the bed, scared that maybe I rolled over on him in the few minutes of sleep I'd gotten. I find him in exactly the same position he'd been in before I'd closed my eyes, and I watch his chest for movement. When he inhales deeply, I release the breath I'd been holding and place my hand over my hammering heart.

"Oh, thank God," I whisper, flopping my head back on the pillow and turning it toward Edward. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to fall asleep in here, but he wasn't ready to go back in his crib." My eyes burn slightly, yet my mind feels alert and well-rested—probably thanks to the adrenaline rush of thinking I'd rolled over on Masen!

"No need to be sorry," Edward says, smiling so wide it reaches his eyes . . . his bright green eyes that are no longer surrounded by dark circles of exhaustion. What? I lift my head and look at the clock on the bedside table, my eyes widening in shock as the time registers: 6:00am. Edward chuckles. "Yeah, he slept all night. I can't believe it."

I can't either; Masen has never slept in a stretch longer than a couple hours at a time, and now he'd slept almost seven straight hours! It's unbelievable, yet I feel rested enough that I know it to be true. Of course, regardless of how long he'd slept, I instantly feel guilty for sleeping with him on the bed—isn't that dangerous? I mean, I'm sure I've read horror stories about people who've rolled over onto their babies in the night. What if that had happened?

I apologize again, the guilt of what could have happened weighing heavily on my heart. "I didn't even realize I was that tired," I add onto my apology.

"Sweetheart," Edward says, standing up and moving to the other side of the bed, pulling the railing off and pushing it back under the bed before he joins us. "You have no need to apologize. I consider this a victory. You were able to get him to do something I couldn't, and I should be thanking you."

Sensing a disturbance behind him, Masen stirs as the bed dips beneath Edward. I reach out, not quite ready for him to wake up yet, and stroke his face in the same manner as I had the night before. He releases that soft, shaky breath of contentment again before smiling. Just as it had the night before, seeing his lips twitch up like that turns my heart into a puddle of goo, and I look up at Edward, who's staring down at his son in awe.

"Did he just . . .?"

I find it hard to contain my own smile, and I nod once. "Yeah. He did it last night after I did this, too," I explain quietly, still stroking his soft skin and eliciting a quiet and cutesy baby noise from him. "Pretty cute, huh?"

Edward is rendered speechless as his eyes continue to move from Masen to me, and then back again, and I lie back on my pillow, feeling more like a family in this moment than I have all week. It's a pretty amazing feeling, and I can't believe I was ever worried about any of this. What was there to be so scared of?

Then, out of nowhere, Edward says, "Marry me, Bella."


A/N2: Oh no, I didn't! *snickers*

2 chapters and an epilogue left. I know, I know. This is sad news :( There will be an EPOV chapter up next and then a BPOV chapter that will detail a few things that happen over the next few years, and then a VERY special epilogue in a BRAND NEW POV. Can anyone guess whose POV it will be?