Chapter 3: The Curse of Clarence

Jsyk, if I didn't have my Beta, I'd fail geography. The road map (along with grammatical assistance) is courtesy of Room340C.

I'm keeping the A/N short because you've waited long enough. Wishing you all a Happy New Year. Love you bigtime!

Last time: Danny led Clarence forward on his rope as John set a ramp to the back of the pickup. Clarence trotted blithely in.

"Bye, Clarence," Edward said happily.

"Moo," Clarence replied, making cow-eyes at him.

Soon, the Wolfe men and Clarence were gone. Edward slipped his arm around Bella and nudged her to go indoors.

"Let's hope there's no more excitement for a couple of days," he said grimly.

Bella stopped dead. "That may be …impossible."

"Why?"

"I think my water just broke."

Edward stared at his bride. "What?"

Bella rubbed her tummy. "Get the bags." The man did not move. "Cullen!"

"Huh?"

"Get the bags!"

He blinked. "You're having the baby? Are you sure?"

Bella wanted to stomp her foot. "Edward, I'm sopping wet. Go and get the damn bags."

Instead of moving, he reached down and confirmed her exclamation. His eyes widened. "You're soaking wet." This time, Bella actually did stomp her foot.

"Edward Cullen! Unless you want to deliver this baby, go in the front hall, grab the suitcase and my purse, find your car keys and wallet, and get your ass back here."

He nodded, but failed to budge. "What was the first thing, again?"

"Oh, brother." Bella rolled her eyes and marched into the house. "Mother?" she yelled.

Renée wandered out of the Great Room. "No need to yell, sweetie, I'm right here."

"I'm having the baby."

Renée smirked. "Too much sex on the honeymoon. I told you it would induce labour. Lucky you, getting off a week early."

Bella counted to ten. "Can you get the car keys, please? They're on the dresser in my bedroom."

"Oh." Renée's eyes widened. "Okay." She went back through the doorway and glided up the stairs. Bella turned as Edward came into the house. He set his working hand on his hip.

"So," he said, and nodded.

"Get the bags," Bella growled.

"I need the car keys," he reminded her. It seemed to take Renée forever to come back. At last, she swept down the stairs elegantly and Bella held out her hand for the keys.

"The car keys aren't in your room, but I brought your purse and Edward's wallet," she supplied helpfully. Bella spun on her heel and gave her hapless mate the hairy eyeball.

"Where are the keys?" she asked sweetly.

He stuck his hand in his pocket. "Oh. I do have them." He pulled them out and dangled them. "See?"

Bella huffed. "Okay, can you drive?"

He held up his casted arm. "Hasn't stopped me so far."

"Super. Hurry up."

Emmett entered the front hall via the animal clinic. "Where you going, Bee?"

Bella hefted the suitcase sitting by the front door and growled at him. "I'm having the baby and nobody seems to be in any hurry at all to get me to the hospital." Pushing the door hard, she aimed her body at the driveway and the waiting red Taurus.

Emmett looked at Edward, who was staring after Bella through the glass door. "Uh, Eddie?"

"Uh-huh?"

"You should take Bella to the hospital."

"Uh-huh."

Some sort of intervention was seemingly required. Em took Ed by the shoulders and shook him. Just a little. "Eddie!"

With difficulty, Edward focused on his big brother. "Yeah?"

"Bel-la is ha-ving your ba-by. Now."

"Yeah. She wants me to take her to the hospital."

Emmett spun Edward by his shoulders. "Take her to the hos-pi-tal now."

"Okay." But Edward didn't move. Em swatted him on the bum.

"Now!"

Finally, Edward was in motion. "Okay! You didn't have to hit me."

Emmett waved. "Good luck!"

Renée blew big kisses. "Let us know when she or he's here!"

Edward waved vaguely as he folded himself into the driver's seat. Bella scowled as she buckled her seatbelt. The tires chucked up gravel as Edward threw the car into reverse and sped out of the drive.

"Well," Em said, dusting off his hands. "That's that."

It was then that they all realized the suitcase was lying abandoned in the driveway.

"Edward, we left the suitcase in the driveway. We have to go back for it," Bella informed him.

That seemed like a really rotten idea. "No. Forget the suitcase. Em can bring it later."

Bella gripped her sides as a powerful contraction hit. "Nnngh." Edward did a double-take.

"Yeah, we're not going back for some suitcase. Breathe, Bella! Like we practiced: who who who who pshhhht!"

"Cullen," she growled. "I want my bag. My CDs and my essential oils are in that bag. Turn the car around and get me my bag now, or I will hurt you."

"Swan," Edward said sweetly. "I love you and I love this baby. The best place for you right now is at the hospital. There is no way I'm going back for the bag."

Bella clamped onto his thigh and squeezed hard, making him stomp on the gas. "Go back right now and get me my fucking bag!"

The brakes squealed as Edward righted the wheel. "Okay, fine!" he panted. "We'll do this your way." After checking in all directions, he executed a perfect three point turn and took them back the way they had come. When they reached their drive, Em and Renée had not moved. Emmett snatched up the suitcase and ran for the car like a quarterback for the win. He opened the rear door, tossed in the bag, and slammed it shut. Edward waved and stepped on the gas. Avoiding the flying gravel, Emmett ran back to the front stoop and gave his brother two thumbs up.

It was quiet in the car for several minutes. Bella peeked at her husband. "Edward? Thank you for going back for the bag."

He nodded curtly, not turning his frightened eyes from the road. A small, red blotch morphed into an old red pickup. There was a large bull calf in its bed and Edward felt his lip curl up into a smile. "Whadda ya know, it's Clarence."

Bella waved at John and Danny Wolfe as they sped by. "Mooooooooo!" mooed Clarence.

"Bye, Clarence," Bella murmured. Edward put the pedal to the metal until the pickup was lost to view. After half an hour, they reached town and Edward brought the car down to a respectable speed. It wasn't long before they pulled into the hospital parking lot. Edward ripped open the door, ran pell-mell around the car and helped Bella out. He reached into the back seat and forcefully liberated the suitcase, then reached for her hand with his casted left. Gingerly, she wrapped her fingers around his bicep and waddled toward the doors. At last, she would be taken care of! Whew!

The automatic doors slid open, revealing Dr. Angela Weber. She was leaning on Ben, looking sick as a dog. "What are you doing here?" she wondered aloud.

Bella panted through a contraction. "She's having the baby!" Edward supplied.

Angela shook her head. "How long have you been having contractions?"

"I dunno, I've been having a ton of Braxton-Hicks. I'd say about… a couple of hours."

"How far apart?"

"About ten minutes."

Angela shook her head. "Then you should go to Seattle."

"What?" Edward snapped. Hadn't it been enough of a challenge just to get his wife to Forks' hospital? "That's almost four hours away!"

Angela shook her head again. "You have time to get to Seattle. All of us went to a charity supper last night. Every last doctor and most of the nurses have food poisoning. A couple of the doctors are trying to tough it out, but there are three women here in active labour and there aren't enough experienced staff members to tend to them. One of them is Jessica and Mike's making a scene."

"Ugh!" Bella wrinkled her nose.

"You have time. Go somewhere other than Seattle if it's too much driving for you. There's a fine women's hospital in Olympia."

Edward didn't have to be told twice. He marched Bella back to the car and strapped her in, careful to tuck the suitcase back into the rear seat. Bella closed her eyes and pressed a hand to her forehead. She tried not to fret. Edward rested his aching, casted forearm on the steering wheel.

"You okay?"

"I'll be okay," she promised. "Let's just get to a hospital, all right?"

Edward backed the Taurus out of its spot and onto the road, thanking God that the afternoon was young and the highways would all be open. After making several turns, he took the 101 south, where he planned to remain for over a hundred miles. Once established in the middle lane, he chanced a look at his wife. Bella was staring straight ahead, clutching her stomach and looking highly uncomfortable.

He gnawed his lip. "Maybe I should look for a closer hospital."

"My contractions are still ten minutes apart. We should go to the hospital Angela recommended." She groaned as a harder contraction began. Nobody ever told her it would feel like she was being poked with a big metal stick while a giant corset tightened around her belly. An inadvertent whimper escaped her.

"Are you sure?"

"Just drive."

Edward resisted the urge to speed and checked his cell for service, but he had no reception. After about fifty miles of inland travel toward Hoquiam, he cleared his throat. "How far apart?"

Bella consulted the clock on the dash. "Eight minutes."

Edward nodded and released the right-handed death grip he had on the steering wheel. He wished he could scratch underneath his cast; the itch was driving him bonkers. "That's pretty good, right? We should make it in plenty of time. We're almost halfway there."

"Yeah," Bella grunted. He could actually see her abdomen constrict.

"Do you want to put on some music? Can you reach the suitcase?"

"Yeah."

Edward saw no other traffic as Bella undid her belt, reached into the back seat and hauled the small suitcase into the front seat; she was careful not to bash him in the head with it. Unzipping the outer compartment, she extracted a slim, padded case of CDs and put on one with nature sounds and stringed instruments. Edward ducked a few inches to the side as she tipped the case over the top of the seat into the back. It landed with a dull thunk and Edward prayed that none of the bottles of essential oil she'd packed would be broken. He tensed as the scent of oranges diffused into the air, then realized that Bella was holding a small bottle of oil and rubbing her belly. He allowed himself to relax a bit and with the oil's prompting, a sense of joy crept into his heart.

"How do you feel?" he checked.

"Better," Bella told him.

"Kalaloch was pretty today."

"Beautiful."

"Mountains, too. Not often that we get blue skies." Another forty miles passed uneventfully. Edward followed the highway east (with a thankful heart) to Aberdeen and turned left onto Heron Street. They were in the home stretch to Olympia! "We'll be there in about an hour. How are your contractions?"

"Manageable," Bella grunted. She didn't sound like they were very manageable, in Edward's opinion. And she was pretty sweaty.

"How far apart?"

"Um…" she had to pause before she could answer. "S-still about s-seven minutes."

"Good, good, that's good," he smiled, surreptitiously easing back on the gas. It wouldn't be good to be caught speeding, right? Although, surely, the Highway Patrol would understand…

"Cullen, do we have any bottled water?" she asked a short time later.

"I'm sorry, Swan. I'll look for a gas station and I'll run in and get you some."

"No, no, that's all right." Her voice was strained. "Um, you aren't going to run out of gas, are you?"

"No, we have plenty. Highway driving uses less gas, you know."

"Good."

He drove for another ten minutes before she started to pant. "Bella?" Unbeknownst to him, he whizzed past the exit for State Route Eight and continued on Twelve. When he saw the sign for Chehalis and Centralia, which were south of Elma (where he was supposed to turn), he realized his mistake. "Shit! I missed the exit."

"How far are we from Olympia?" Bella's voice was very small.

"Well, I missed the exit about ten or fifteen minutes ago. So when I find a way to get onto Route Eight, we'll have about another 25 miles to go before we get to Olympia."

It took him twenty minutes to get onto Route Eight. Without any warning, Bella screamed a gut-wrenching scream and doubled over. Edward almost damn-well drove off the highway.

"Swan?"

"Edward!" she cried, turning red all over. "Edward, stop the car!"

His eyes got round. "W-what?"

"We aren't going to make it to the hospital."

He attempted to smile reassuringly. "Of course we are. I know it must be terribly painful, Love, but your contractions are seven minutes apart, so we have lots…"

It was about then that he absorbed that Bella was shaking her head, looking sorrowful.

"… of time."

"I lied."

Edward's heart flew out of his chest, did ten laps around the car and jumped back down his throat. "What do you mean, you lied?"

Bella was too busy clutching her stomach and whimpering to answer.

"Oh, God!" He knew Elma didn't have a hospital. Snatching up his cell phone, he discovered it had service. He punched in the number for the Highway Patrol, to ask for instruction. The cell phone battery promptly died. Shit! Shit! Shit!

"Um, Bella? Can I have your cell phone, please?"

"Sorry, I forgot to bring it."

"Oh, crap. We'll have to find a place to stop." But he didn't see any gas stations or restaurants, just open stretches of clear-cut land with Mount Ranier in the background. Then, he saw a sign advertising The Elma Mountain View Motor Inn. It would have to do!

Edward scanned the road for the inn and -at last- he saw another motel sign, with an arrow pointing down a service road. "I'm pulling into the motel. Hopefully, we can use their phone and get you some help." He swerved onto the narrow road, which was rather overrun with tall grasses, counting the seconds until he could use a phone.

But when he reached the secluded motel parking lot (invisible from the highway as it was behind a stand of conifers) he discovered that the inn had been long abandoned. "Crap! We'll have to get back on the highway and try closer to Olympia, Love." He turned the wheel and aimed for the entrance to the lot.

"I can't."

"Huh?"

"I'm sorry I lied to you," she sobbed, "but I didn't want you to worry."

"You didn't want me to worry?" For some reason, he couldn't close his mouth. Comprehension dawned. He put his foot on the gas and floored it.

"Stop the car!" Bella shrieked.

He shook his head frantically. "We're in the middle of bum fuck nowhere. How far apart are your contractions?"

Bella grabbed the front of his t-shirt and he could have sworn her eyes glowed red. "Stop the fucking car. Right. Now."

"Oh, Jesus!" Edward slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop at the edge of the parking lot, mere yards from the service road. After carefully putting the car in park and yanking out the key, he ran around and opened Bella's door, noticing that her window was starting to fog up.

Her breaths were shallow and kind of squeaky.

"What are you doing?" he demanded, shifting from foot to foot. Bella gave him a look that left him no doubt: he was an idiot.

"You're the veterinarian," she managed to snarl as she kicked off her shoes and slid down her leggings.

Edward shook his head. "You can't give birth in the car. It's not antiseptic."

"Fine!" she snapped, putting one hand on the doorframe and the other on the handle. Lugubriously, she stood up. Judging by the poisonous look she was giving him, it was not fine. At all.

"Can you help me squat?"

"Oh, no! No, no, no!" Edward argued. "This is even worse. Get back in there right now!"

Bella turned back toward the car, put both hands on top of it and groaned. Edward put both hands in his hair and pulled it. After her contraction, Bella panted. "Edward, dear… would you … who who who… be a sweetheart… who who who… and get my robe out of my suitcase? Aaaarrrrrgh!"

Edward shook his finger at her back. "You can't give birth in the middle of BF Nowhere, Swan!"

"Who's gonna stop me?"

"Me. Now, get back in the car!"

She turned to look at him, eyes flashing, grasped his hand surprisingly gently, and placed it between her legs. His fingers slid over something foreign. He knew exactly what it was.

"Okay," he said quietly. "Okay, Love. We can do this." Without thinking, he wiped his hand on the front of his t-shirt.

Bella grimaced and placed her head on her arm on top of the car. Too late now to back out of it; the baby was on its way. Abruptly, she regretted her complaints about being big as a house and not being able to tie her shoes and wishing the baby would just come out, already. Why couldn't the kid have hung on for one more hour? Blasted Cullen impatience! Her knees started to shake.

Something touched her foot and she realized that her husband had spread out her terry bathrobe on the ground. A couple of his clean t-shirts fell onto the robe with a plop.

"Do you have any of the plain oil you use for a base?" Edward asked softly. She swallowed hard and a sense of peace enveloped her. They would be fine. Cullen had brought all kinds of babies into the world. What did it matter if they weren't human ones?

"Yeah, it's in the small outside pocket. Hurry. I can feel the next contraction coming on."

"It's going to be okay." Edward unzipped the compartment and picked out the largest of Bella's small glass bottles. He managed to get the lid off and pour massage oil into his good hand as Bella sagged to her knees. He sank to his good knee behind her and gently massaged her perineum in hopes that it wouldn't tear. This can't be much different from birthing a goat, he told himself. Well, except that I won't be hauling this kid out by its hooves.

"Aah!"Bella yelled. "Aaaaaah!" My hoo-hah's on fire!

"Don't scream,"Edward ordered. "Save your energy to push."

"You're never touching me again!"

"I know. Breathe."

"Who who who. This is what happens when we have sex."

"I know, baby, I'm sorry."

"Did you really have to knock me up the first time? Couldn't we have practised a little?"

"Sorry." Can I help it if I have good swimmers?

"We are the fucking poster family for the inefficacy of the withdrawal method. Why do you have to be so fuck-awesome? You should have come with a warning label!"

She thinks I'm hot! "Sorry." But he really wasn't.

"I really, who who who, really hate you right now."

"I love you."

"I want to push."

"Go ahead."

Bella took a deep breath and held it. Then, she pushed with all her might and something eased.

"Oh my God, oh my God, the head is out. Reach down. Feel."

Bella touched the back of her baby's pointy head as she rested. "I can feel hair."

"Yeah, it's really thick. I can see the little face. It looks just like you."

"You can see the face? Really?" Bella began to feel excited.

"Yeah. You might have to push maybe… twice more?"

"It's starting," she growled as the iron vise clamped down.

"I'm right here."

Bella pushed, but when she stopped pushing, the baby slid back in. She rested her head on the seat of the car and panted.

"Okay, next time, I'm going to try to get hold of the baby under its arm," Edward informed her.

Soon, the wave of pain crested and she bore down, knowing she was nearly done.

"I've got it. Push!"

It would be the last time she had to push. There was a small tug and then all the pressure was gone and Edward was laughing or crying or maybe both. The new baby yelled its guts out, husky-voiced. Bella sat on her bare feet and rested.

"Esme. Esme Elizabeth Cullen. Hello, duckling!"

"Esme," Bella breathed.

"Do you think you can hold her while I get you cleaned up?" The baby cried as Edward towelled her off with a t-shirt. Bella tried to twist around so she could see, but it was just too difficult, even if she was excited.

Bella nodded. "I can hold her."

"Be careful of the cord, I'm not cutting it." The ropey thing pressed against Bella's thigh as he brought the baby before her.

Edward's face was incandescent as he placed the small, t-shirt wrapped bundle in her arms and wrapped his arms around them both. "Hi, Mommy."

Bella looked down at her daughter's face. "Hi, Baby. Couldn't you have waited one more hour?"

Esme opened her eyes and moved her head from side to side. "Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh!"

"Did she just tell you 'no'?" Edward chuckled.

"She's hungry." Bella stiffened as she felt rapid spasms. She grunted. "Afterbirth."

"Okay, um," Edward gnawed his lip. He didn't want to let go of the baby and he only had one useable hand, but Bella shuddered and expelled the placenta without much effort at all. "You okay?" he checked.

"My feet are going to sleep."

"Okay, first, let me deal with the placenta and then I'll lie you down and get you all fixed up."

Bella's forehead creased. "What are you going to do with the placenta?"

"I know it's kind of gross, but I'm not separating it from Esme. I'll wrap it in a t-shirt and then wrap it around her. It will help to keep her warm until we get to the hospital." He worked as he talked.

"Can I see it?"

"Yeah. It's huge. Almost looks bigger than the baby." He held out the placenta on a blue t-shirt. It was kind of maroon-coloured, shiny, lumpy and pizza-shaped.

"How much do you think she weighs?" Bella counted tiny fingers, relieved to find ten.

"I dunno. Five or six pounds?" Edward wrapped the blue shirt around Esme like a taco. "Sorry I don't have a pink blanket for you, sweetheart."

Esme started squeaking again and turning her head from side to side. She sounded angry.

"I know you're hungry, but you'll just have to wait a minute while I get Mommy comfortable."

Bella kept her mouth shut. She couldn't imagine how he was going to make her comfortable. All three of them were covered in unmentionable goo, her robe looked like a murder had been committed on it and she was naked from the waist down. Next to a highway.

Edward crawled into the back seat and chucked the suitcase on the ground next to his wife and daughter. Then, he tugged the infant carrier and base out of the car and put them in the trunk.

"Hey, aren't we going to need that?"

"I think it would be best if you lie down in the back and cuddle her. I don't know how to strap her in that seat with the cord attached." Not to mention that it would ruin the car seat.

It seemed to take a very long time for Edward to get Bella cleaned up. Esme squeaked when he set her in the driver's seat. Edward dressed Bella in a soft tunic that buttoned up the front and managed to help her put on a pad and underwear. Then, he sat her gingerly on the edge of the front seat while he flapped out the robe and folded its spoiled parts so she could lie down on the dry ones. When she was relatively comfortable, tucked up with her face toward the back of the car, he positioned the baby in his wife's arms and helped to get her latched on to nurse. Then, he watched the sun set and tried to compose a prayer. He couldn't, so he just whispered, "Thank You." The phone was dead so he had nothing to do but wait. After stretching, he stooped to ask Bella if she was ready to go, but found her asleep. He shut the car doors gingerly and fell in behind the wheel, where he rested his head.

He couldn't sleep. He needed to get his family to the hospital. Tears of exhaustion rolled down his cheeks. Had he ever been so tired?

The world went black.

Back at Cullen House, the natives had finally gotten restless enough to try calling the local hospital directly.

"What do you mean, she's not there? They left at two o'clock this afternoon! It's been almost nine hours!" Emmett paced in the kitchen. Rosalie, Mrs. Cope and Renée watched him anxiously. "Okay. Okay," he said five or six times, then, hung up.

"They never reached the hospital," he announced, trying Edward's cell for the fiftieth time. "Apparently, all six obstetricians at Forks General are ill with food poisoning, so they probably went somewhere else, but nobody matching Edward's description even came to the desk, so far as they know."

Emmett desperately wanted to go after his brother and Bella, but he had no idea where to start looking. They might have gone in any direction. There were several highways, some of which became dangerous to navigate in the dark. There were forests, cliffs and bogs and all manner of wild creatures, including bears and mountain lions. Emmett prayed to God that if they had car trouble, they had stayed in the car.

"We should call around to other hospitals," Renée suggested.

"I'll get the phone book," Mrs. Cope said, hurrying into the clinic.

They tried every hospital within three hundred miles. None had news of an Isabella Cullen.

"It's been nearly ten hours," Emmett choked. "Something's happened to them."

"I'm sure they'll turn up soon." Rosalie put her arms around him. The front door opened and Ben Cheney walked in, eyeing them all with surprise.

"I came to check the boarders; I thought you guys would be on your way to Seattle."

"Seattle?" Renée asked, frowning.

"Yeah. Angie told Edward to take Bella there because there were no doctors available here. Or, no, wait! Angie said they should go to some women's center in Olympia."

Emmett snatched the phone book and scanned it for the number, which he punched into the phone. The women waited, holding their breath as it rang. "Hello, do you have a patient named Isabella Cullen there? In maternity?"

A moment later, he set down the phone, wondering if his heart would finally break. His personal demon whispered in his ear: They're dead.

They aren't dead! He answered it back.

They went off the road.

No!

You should have driven them.

I should have.

Your brother –your only family- only had one hand to drive with.

Eddie is always careful. He's going to call soon.

Call your dealer. Just one hit.

No.

Just to get you through this until you have news.

No, I don't need you. I need my family. I need to be the strong one since Eddie's not here. God, where is Eddie?

Paul, the security guard, sat in a chair near the door, reading an old gossip rag. The night was deader than dead. He yawned. Who cared about TomKat, really?

An old red Taurus bumped up against the curb outside. Finally! Something to do. As he stood up, a dishevelled white guy with a filthy cast on his arm got out of the car and weaved around to the passenger's side. Was he drunk?

Paul dropped his magazine, grabbed a wheelchair and pelted to the car. The man was covered in blood. "Hey! Where are you injured? Have you been shot?"

The guy smirked at him through puffy eyes smudged underneath with purple. "We're okay." He opened the back door of his Taurus and spoke to someone lying down. All Paul could see was a pair of feminine feet, streaked with gore. The man crawled back out of the car, a tiny baby cradled in his arms. He looked surprisingly smug. "Could you possibly get my wife out of the car? My knees are killing me."

The phone rang at five AM, scaring Emmett shitless. Swerving upright, he stared at the phone on the desk like it was going to bite him, not recognizing the number on the display screen. Please, God? They're all the family I have left. "Hello?"

"Em, it's me. Everything's okay, we're in Olympia."

"Where the fuck have you been? We've been worried sick!"

"Your niece was impatient to get here. Bella had the baby in the car."

Emmett gaped as Rose, Ben and Renée came into the reception area. "In the car?"

"Yeah. Well, not actually in the car. In a motel parking lot, next to the car. And my cell died. But we're here and everyone's fine. We're all safe. I'm going to bed, okay?"

"Wait! Tell me where you are, first."

"We're at the Olympia Women's Center. They're transferring us to a private room shortly. I have to go."

"Eddie! It's a girl?"

"Esme Elizabeth Cullen, seven pounds, five ounces, 20 inches long, born at 7:43PM. Tell everyone not to show up before noon, okay?"

"Yeah. Hey, give everybody our love, okay?"

"Yeah, love you, too."

Emmett hesitated outside the door; there were no lights on inside the room although it was after ten o'clock in the morning. Renée pushed past him to peer into the little window. He caught her arm gently.

"Hey, he asked that they not be disturbed before noon."

Renée rolled her eyes. Clearly, Bella got it from her. "I'm not going to wake them, I just want a peek."

When they had all gathered in front of the nursery window, a nurse had asked which baby belonged to them. They asked for Baby Cullen and she informed them that the baby was with her parents.

Renée pushed on the swinging door and it opened silently. Feeling intrusive, Em tiptoed in. Renée stopped at the foot of the bed and jiggled on her toes, smiling broadly. She turned, eyes shining, to beckon Emmett in. He manoeuvred the large vase of hot pink roses (from his mother Esme's garden) carefully through the door. Rosalie followed him in, hugging a large, pink teddy bear.

"I knew if I told you not to come before ten, you'd be here at eight," Edward said groggily. Em set the roses on the small bedside table.

Unshaven, Edward sat on the bed next to Bella, one foot on the floor. His broken arm was covered in some kind of sock and imprisoned in a black sling. The baby was tucked up between her parents, swaddled in a pink blanket and hat, and Bella was asleep with her mouth open. Edward put up his right hand and Emmett clasped it.

"You look like hell, Buddy," Em announced, feeling giddy.

Edward just smirked. "You try delivering your own kid sometime."

"No, thank you. I'll leave that to the professionals." Emmett took his hand back and rocked on his feet, feeling awkward. "So she wouldn't wait for the hospital, huh?"

"No," Edward purred. "She's a Cullen. Hundred percent." Eyes shining, he reached over with his good hand and plucked the baby's hat off. Rosalie clapped her hands together once and Renée started to giggle, but Emmett's heart swelled up with pride. Esme Elizabeth Cullen had a full head of riotously red hair that clashed horribly with her blanket.

"She looks just like Mom," Emmett husked.

"She has Bella's mouth and my hands," Edward said, putting his finger in her palm so that she grasped it.

"Esme and I used to joke that you and Bella weren't good at sharing," Renée hinted.

"Oh," Edward blinked. "C'mere, Rose. You'd better get your turn before these two get hold of her."

Emmett and Renée looked at each other, then glared at Edward. "Hey!" they growled in stereo. Rose skipped past them and happily accepted first crack at holding the baby. When Esme's blanket fell open, they noticed that she was wearing a yellow sleeper with O.W.C. stamped on it in black ink.

"Oh, they are so boring, dressing a redhead in yellow," Rose cooed. "Just you wait until Auntie Alice gets hold of you. She'll dress you properly." After a few more minutes (while Em and Renée breathed down her neck), Rose gestured at them to see who wanted to hold the baby next.

"Ladies first," Em growled. Thrilled, Renée held out her arms and accepted her granddaughter.

"She's gorgeous!" she declared. Esme wiggled and started to cry. "Ooh, don't cry for me, baby, I'm your grandma."

The newborn did what newborns often do, filling the room with the worst odour ever. Emmett couldn't help cackling. She's a Cullen, all right!

Huffing a laugh, Edward got up, whisked away the baby, laid her in her bassinet and peeled her out of her now-unwearable sleeper. Expertly, he cleaned her up (one-handed!), put a new sleeper down on the bed and dressed her in it. He grabbed the pink blanket, flipped it up over her feet, tucked one side around her front and wrapped the other side over it. The baby was burrito'd up so tightly she could hardly move. Em was enormously impressed.

"How did you do that with one hand?"

"Practice. Take this brat while I wash my hands," Edward plopped Esme down in his arms without warning. For a moment, Emmett froze. Then, his niece peeled open one little slate-grey eye and fixed it on him.

"Hi," Em breathed. "I'm your Uncle Em."

Esme Elizabeth Cullen flexed her dainty fingers, yawned and snuggled into her blanket. She sighed and went to sleep. Emmett rocked from foot to foot, enchanted.

"Do you like her, Em?" Bella murmured.

"Yeah." I want one. He looked up when everyone chuckled. Blushing, he realized he'd said it out loud.

Bella held out her arms and gave him a sly look. "This one's mine. I worked hard for her. But you can be the best uncle ever until you can get one of your own."

"Do I get to be an aunt, Bella?" Rosalie asked.

"Of course." Bella took her daughter in her arms and accepted a kiss from Emmett.

"Congratulations, Bee."

Edward dried his good arm, wishing he didn't have a cast. When he had explained to Bella's doctor that he'd been ordered to have his arm examined and he'd missed the appointment, the doctor had cheerfully told Edward that they'd make an appointment for him in the afternoon and that in all likelihood, due to the condition of the existing cast, it would be removed and replaced with something waterproof. Edward sauntered back into the room, yawning.

"Just promise me that you'll get married before you knock somebody up. We almost didn't make it to the altar before popping this kid."

Emmett cleared his throat, not chancing a look at Rosalie. "I heard you tried to get married three times in all. What happened?"

Edward yawned again. "Tell you another time. Renée, do you have your camera?"

"Yes! I almost forgot!" Renée produced it and took about a hundred pictures.

"While you have that out, will you take a picture of my arm?" Edward pushed up the sleeve of his t-shirt.

"Why? Are you going to sue Mrs. Marques?"

"No, you can't get blood from a stone. But I made a promise to Bella that I don't plan to break." He flexed his bicep, bending his broken arm up near his face with a cheeky grin. "Make sure the shot is really clear, okay?"

"Are you really going to get a tattoo?" Em wanted to know.

"Yeah, I am, and I don't want to forget what the drawing looks like." The Sharpie cow was already starting to fade.

Em was unduly excited. "Can I go with you when you have it done?"

"Sure."

Rosalie's nose wrinkled up. "You aren't planning on getting one, too, are you?"

Em refused to look at her. "Maybe. But it would have to be of something cooler than Clarence." Getting up, he hugged his brother goodbye and reached for Rosalie's hand. Renée followed them out, gushing on and on about her photographs.

"This is all Clarence's fault, you know," Edward claimed, reclining on the edge of the bed.

Bella was intrigued. "How do you figure?"

"Well, when Mr. Weber was about to bless us by saying 'The Lord give you peace,' Clarence interrupted."

Bella shook her head, brow furrowed. "Are you telling me Clarence has doomed us to a life of chaos?"

Edward rolled his eyes. "I wouldn't be surprised."

"It's a good thing I love you, Cullen," she growled. "Gay bull calves with crushes, insane pet owners, bearing our baby at the side of the highway, a constant parade of animals through the house? Man! And you dared to tell me you were low maintenance?"

He grinned at her. "You're stuck with me now." He placed his cheek gently on her shoulder and took in the sight of their sleeping daughter. "You're both stuck with me forever."