A/N:Allison - honey. Your review wasn't signed. You're welcome to pick my brain anytime. Just send me a PM. :)
Okay. Here we go!
~5 Years Later~
Bella was feeling a little frantic, stressed as the elevator opened.
"Bellisima!" She was instantly greeted by Felix and engulfed in a hug. He held her an arms length away, his eyes raking over her form hungrily. "You only get more gorgeous as the years pass." He leaned in to whisper in her ear. "If you ever get tired of Edward, you know where to find me."
It used to make Bella uncomfortable, the way Edward's cousin looked at her. Any man looking at her that way made her skin crawl.
But though she'd learned to be cautious, the passing years had eased her paranoia somewhat, at least with familiar men. Felix was a harmless flirt - annoying perhaps, but harmless.
"Oh, Felix," she said, patting his arm. "No."
He'd been even worse than usual since his wife, Jane, had asked for a divorce six months prior. The man, according to Edward, had the worst taste in women.
Bella thought Jane had to be a cursed name. All the Janes she'd known were horrible: Felix's wife, Alec's sister, and the little demon in Riley's former preschool class who apparently thought pulling her daughter's hair was an Olympic sport.
He chuckled, getting into the elevator.
Running into Felix and the friendly smiles she got from Edward's co-workers as she found her way to his office served to steady her nerves somewhat. Reminded of her sedate, pedestrian existence, Bella could rest assured in the fact her life wasn't so easily destroyable as it had once been.
Still, the letter she clutched in her hand made her stomach twist, and she needed to see her husband and daughter to make herself believe everything was okay.
Luckily, both were conveniently located in the same place.
As soon as she reached the door to Edward's office, Bella finally felt like she could take a deep breath again. They were there, as she'd expected them to be. Riley was perched on Edward's lap, and their heads were bent together over his drafting table. Edward did all of his real work on his computer, but he'd kept a drafting table in his office for sentimental reasons. After Riley got old enough to color or draw, it became her art table when she visited him at work.
They made a pretty picture, her family.
Edward looked up and smiled instantly when he saw her standing there. He ducked his head, whispering something into Riley's ear. The little girl looked up, her bright eyes shining. "Mommy!" she cried, wiggling down from her perch. She ran a few steps. Stopped. Gasped. Ran back and grabbed the huge sheet of draft paper she'd been working on before she ran over to Bella again. "Mommy, look! I build-ed a building like Daddy!"
Bella swooped down and enveloped Riley in a hug, lifting her right off her feet. She closed her eyes, kissing the side of the little girl's hair.
"Mommy." Riley said the word with a whine, wriggling, trying to push away from Bella. "You're squishing my building!"
"I'm sorry, little bird." Bella caught Edward's worried eyes on her and gave him a tight smile, letting him know it wasn't anything dire. Setting her daughter down, she put on a happy face. "Why don't you tell me about it."
Riley set her work down on the coffee table and got to her knees while Edward and Bella sat on the couch behind her. Edward twined his fingers with hers instantly, and his touch soothed the remainder of her nerves. She squeezed his fingers, once again reassuring him she was fine.
Piece by piece, the little girl explained the haphazard shapes that made up her building. "An' this is a rowanda."
"A rotunda?" Bella laughed.
Riley gave her a dirty look. "That's what I said," she responded saucily.
"Really, Edward, rotunda?"
He smirked. "Riley can speak architecture," he said proudly.
Bella's chest filled with warmth at the smile on his face. No one could deny how much he loved his daughter.
Never once in the last five years had Edward's love ever faltered. He cherished Riley, adored her. He was a wonderful, loving father.
Still, especially days like today, Bella couldn't deny where Riley came from. She looked a lot like Alec and Jane. Her eyes were the exact same color - though warm instead of chilling - her hair as dark as Alec's, and some of her features as fine as Jane's.
Bella let out a shaky breath.
"Little bird, why don't you pack up all your things so we can go home," Edward suggested gently, his eyes intent on Bella even as he spoke to Riley.
"Okay," the little girl agreed cheerfully.
Edward bent his head closer to Bella, so he could talk low, near her ear. "What's wrong?"
Wordlessly, Bella handed him the letter she'd received in the mail earlier that day.
It wasn't the first time Alec's parents had written with their plea to let them be a part of Riley's life. They'd wanted to see her. They tried calling her at first, but her ever protective husband had put a stop to that. Bella wasn't anything but grateful.
The first year had been the hardest. Bella had been jumpy, paranoid, and haunted by the image of Alec's dead body whenever she closed her eyes. Edward had been a godsend. He never lost patience with how often he had to calm her down, never failed to hold her after a nightmare, and kept his hurt from her when she had to push him away.
It had been hard work, and a lot of therapy, but she'd recovered both physically and mentally from her ordeal. Some fears lingered - she still couldn't go in smaller enclosed spaces, among other things - but mostly, she was happy.
Still, it was well over a year before she agreed to talk to Santiago and Renata Rossi, Alec's parents. Renata didn't bother to hide how much she blamed Bella for Alec's death. Edward had retaliated by providing them with a limited copy of the official police report glossing over Bella's injuries and how they'd been incurred.
Then there was James.
He was caught only a week after the attack, brought in initially on parole violations. His confession - part of a plea bargain - implicated not only Alec, but his twin sister Jane. Jane - serving a 25 year sentence for other crimes - had something over him. What that was was never clear, but James gave the cops enough to add another decade to her sentence in exchange for them getting him transferred out of the Washington prison system, away from Jane's reach.
The last two years, Alec's parents' letters had been apologetic. It was a lot to deal with, they explained. Since he had reformed as a teen, Alec had been their pride and joy - their only solace after losing their daughter to crime. It was difficult to accept he'd been a different kind of monster.
The latest letter was a plea. Jane, finally too bereft without her twin, had committed suicide. Riley was the only connection they had left to either of their children.
"We don't owe them anything," Edward told her later that night, after Riley was asleep.
With his arms tight around her, Bella could think rationally. Nothing she knew about the Rossis suggested they were dangerous. They were upstanding citizens. Perhaps ironically, the worst that could be said about them, if Alec could be believed, was that they were as demanding and cold as Edward's grandfather ever had been.
"I don't know what the right thing to do is," Bella admitted.
She was quiet for a moment, trying to organize her thoughts and fears.
"We always knew we had to tell Riley the truth someday," Bella said shakily, a tear slipping from the corner of her eye.
Edward's body stiffened beside her, and Bella's heart ached. She knew he worried. It would kill him if Riley thought he was any less her father just because they had no biological tie.
Shifting, Bella caught his face in her hands. "She knows who you are, Edward. Nothing's going to change that connection."
His eyes were cautious but soft as he looked back at her, putting his hands over hers on his cheeks. "You really think it's time to tell her?"
"I think I'd like to put it off forever," Bella muttered truthfully. She'd known for years this would be the hardest thing she would ever do. "But it's time."
They'd discussed this. They both knew it was better to let Riley know earlier. Not everything, of course, but what her five-year-old mind could handle. It would be easier for her to understand if they explained little by little as she grew. It would be easier for her to accept.
Edward closed his eyes and breathed deep. "Okay," he agreed. He took her hands and kissed her fingertips. "Let's get that done first, and then we can figure out if we even want to let the Rossis see her at all - or if she wants to see them."
Bella's head spun. It was a lot to consider, and she was terrified it would all hurt Riley, hurt her family.
"We'll be okay," Edward assured, kissing her softly.
With him at her side, Bella felt like she could handle anything.
Edward felt sick to his stomach with nerves. He balled his fists at his side and released, trying to manage the tension.
There was a fierce protectiveness inside him that roiled, looking for the threat he felt lurking in the shadows. He wanted to pounce. He wanted to annihilate anything that threatened or challenged his right to be a father to his little girl.
His little girl.
But there was no physical manifestation for the fear he felt. He could growl all he wanted, a tiger ready to defend what was rightfully his, but ultimately, no one was going to take Riley away from him.
Still, he couldn't deny he was afraid.
Bella's hand in his calmed him considerably.
Riley sat across from them looking pensive. She was picking up on their anxiety - he could tell - and was probably nervous that they asked to talk to her. She kicked her legs against her chair idly, waiting.
"Do you know how we explained to you about your cousins?" Edward finally began.
"Uh huh," Riley said, nodding. "Peter grew in Aunt Alice's belly just like I grew in Mommy's belly," she recited dutifully. "Henry grew in someone else's belly, but he is Aunt Rosie and Uncle Emmett's baby."
"That's exactly right," Edward said, smiling gently. His little girl was so smart. "There's something we want to tell you about how you grew."
Bella took over then, leaning forward, speaking softly. "See, it takes a man and a woman to make a person. You are Daddy's and my baby, but it was another man who helped me make you." Her voice cracked, and her fingers trembled. Edward switched his grip, putting his arm around her shoulder.
Riley blinked, her eyebrows furrowed in consternation. Her eyes flicked between her parents worriedly. "What's that mean?" she asked in a small voice. "Henry has a maker man and a maker girl and a mommy and daddy? And I has one maker and a mommy and daddy?"
It took a few moments for Edward to puzzle out her logic, but then he gave a little laugh. "Uh. That's... Yeah. That's about right, actually."
Standing, Riley darted the few feet over to them and clambered up on the couch, wedging herself between them. "So, the maker man gave me to you to love?" she asked, looking up at Edward with big eyes.
Edward's heart grew larger in his chest, filled with the impossible love he felt for this little girl. "Yes, little bird. I love you so much."
"An' you're not going to give me back?"
"No. Not ever."
"An' the maker man won't take me away?"
"He's... not around, baby," Bella said softly, stroking her hair.
Riley craned her neck to peer at her mother. "An' you won't give me away?" she verified.
"Never ever," Bella promised.
The three of them cuddled on the couch for a long minute.
"Okay," Riley said, nodding. "Can we has pizza tonight?"
Edward and Bella glanced at each other and they both had to laugh, the tension slipping from the atmosphere.
One hurdle cleared.
"I don't like this."
For once, Edward agreed 110% with his grandfather's assessment of the situation. He sighed. "I don't either," he admitted. "But it's the right thing to do."
The old man grumbled, his sharp eyes watching the couple across the room almost as carefully as Edward was.
Actually, the majority of adults in the house had their eyes surreptitiously trained on Renata and Santiago. After a great many conversations and strict instructions that they not speak to Riley without someone else around, the Rossis had been invited to the little girl's sixth birthday party. So far, everything had gone well. As everyone watched them, they watched Riley, happy for the time being just to see a living embodiment of their lost son.
Though Edward wasn't remotely comfortable having them near his daughter, he tolerated their presence.
Rather than dwell, Edward took a deep breath and forced himself to concentrate on the good side of the situation.
It was heartening, for instance, how protective his family was being. It wasn't so long ago he sat on the fringes, alone and unable to fit in either with his grandfather or with the rest of his family. So much had changed. He was part of the whole now - accepted and loved. His little family melded in perfectly with his ever expanding family, his relationship with his brothers and parents ever evolving, repairing what had been broken between them so many years before.
Most surprising was exactly how much Edward the First had changed over the last six years.
When Carlisle had confronted his father, he'd unknowingly shaken the man straight to his foundation. It had not been an easy journey, and if Carlisle hadn't been who he was, the rest of the family might not have forgiven Edward the First for all he'd put them through so readily.
Though it hadn't been easy, Grandfather Cullen proved to be an old dog who could learn a few new tricks. It was a heartwarming thought. The man was getting on in his years, getting noticeably more frail, and though it might have been his own doing, the family was only happy that he wouldn't live out his final years alone.
Riley had no small role in the change the family had seen in the old man over the last six years. Maybe it was because she was the first child he could actually just enjoy, whom he had absolutely no dominion over. Maybe it was because of her name - he called her Riley Elizabeth almost without fail. Either way, he doted on the little girl, and she was, in turn, gentle and loving toward him.
Edward couldn't help but wonder how different their lives would have been had his grandmother lived.
But then, as with every bad thing in life, if things hadn't gone terribly wrong, Edward likely would never have been born, would never have lived through the rough times and come out the other end more capable of appreciating what he had than most children who took their families for granted.
Such was life.
So yes, despite the trials and tribulations, despite the discomfort of having to deal with things like the Rossis persistent insistence on being in his daughter's life, Edward couldn't be anything but grateful for how his life had turned out.
Bella looked in the mirror, studying her reflection as she brushed her teeth and got ready for bed.
The longer she lived, the more Bella realized the old saying of turning a new page in life wasn't entirely correct. Life came in chapters - so many chapters for each story - but it also came in longer stretches.
Life, she decided as she stared at herself, was not merely one book but a whole series, each tome varied and unique in its challenges though the characters might only change a very little.
It seemed to her that her last book had ended without her being aware, and what an eventful time it had been. She'd found a family. She'd found a place in the world and a job she loved. She'd learned how to be a wife and mother. She'd defeated the demon in her life and the shadow he'd cast on her psyche, though she would always bear the scars he left behind, mentally and physically.
Now, a new book began, its pages fresh, old beloved characters ready and new characters yet to be discovered.
Happy and a little bemused by her own thoughts, Bella went to join her husband for bed.
She lingered in the doorway a moment, a long familiar warmth spreading through her bloodstream, filling her chest, making her feel like she could fly. Sometimes it still seemed so unreal that he belonged to her. How was it possible she found him when she was so lost - a dot of sand on an unfamiliar beach. And why had he been drawn to her - a strange, sobbing, pregnant stranger amidst all the insanity that was Las Vegas? A little girl with nothing when he'd long been a grown man with everything?
As though he felt her gaze, Edward looked up and, as always, he smiled. He shut his laptop, putting it on the nightstand as he stood.
Bella reached for him as he reached for her and tilted her head up to catch his kiss. They'd long ago perfected this dance.
It had yet to stop sending thrills through her body.
His kiss was greedy tonight, his hands beginning to roam almost as soon as he brought her up against him. Bella's thoughts became thick almost instantly and she moaned a little against his mouth in anticipation.
She had something to say.
He was trying to rewrite her prologue.
Her hands on his cheeks, she regretfully held his head still as she pulled back a little, trying to catch her breath.
"Is everything okay?" he asked, concern leaking into the desire in his eyes and body language.
Bella's heart sped but she couldn't help but smile as she looked up at him. "I wanted to tell you something before we..." She laughed, feeling giddy. "I'm pregnant."
It didn't escape Bella's notice he was the first one who'd ever heard her utter those words. What a world of difference. The first time she said it, her world had been falling down around her and he'd been the unfortunate stranger who happened upon her at the worst moment of her life. Now, he was the love of her life, her husband, her protector, and she was overjoyed at the prospect of taking this journey with him.
Then, he had looked a little like he was going to be sick. Now, his eyes absolutely lit up. His hands gripped her tight around her hips and his lips turned up in a grin so joyous, Bella couldn't help the giggle that bubbled up and out of her.
He kissed her. He kissed her lips, her cheeks, all over her chin. "Bella," he breathed. "You're sure?"
Though Riley never lacked for love, this pregnancy was already so, so different. This baby had been planned - Bella was done with school, settled in her job and they were ready. They'd been sans birth control for going on five months now. He or she was cherished from when they were merely a twinkle in their parents' eyes and conceived in love.
"Do you have any idea how much I love you?" Edward murmured reverently against her lips. "You and my babies. You're everything to me, Bella. Everything."
She kissed him long, slow, and serious. "I love you. So much," she whispered.
He sat on the bed, pulling her down with him, their lips parting only to whisper sweet nothings, affirmations of love for each other and their children. And before he made love to her, Edward peppered a thousand tiny kisses across her belly, greeting the child they'd created for the first time, beginning the newest book of their story with all the sweetness and adoration the world could hold.
A/N: Ginny is awesome. That is all. *eyeroll* Ginny wrote that, but it isn't untrue. And she's the father of this fic. She was with me through its conception (which is not as kinky as you might think) and a troubled pregnancy and now it's here... all finished and complete and beautiful and stuff.
So yes, thank you to GinnyW, and a healthy helping of thanks also to Shug, barburella, jfka06.
And youz guyz! Omg. Do you realize this is my first fic to ever hit 5k reviews? It's thrilling. I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did. I love reading your kind words and your reactions. I wish I could reply to each and every one of you. I'm so sorry I can't.
Right now, I have two other E/B stories going. Just a Number is another olderward fic. Lost Half is a pretty dark kidnapping creeptastic mc angstersons fic. I have more coming in the future, but it's all hush hush stuff right now *shifty eyes*