A/N- My apologies, I've been sick and unable to write. I know in the last update, I said that there would be another chapter before the epilogue, but I decided to end it with the last chapter. I hope you enjoy the end. Thank you all for your kind words, reviews, and support!
10 Years Later
I didn't ever want to move from the spot I woke up in. The woman next to me was so soft and warm, and she smelled like strawberries and vanilla and everything beautiful and comforting.
"Five more minutes," I protested, wrapping my arms tightly around her, as I felt her beginning to stir.
Bella chuckled softly, and snuggled into me. "No can do... we're being watched. Renesmee is awake."
I opened one eye and looked down towards the foot of the bed, where two identical redheads stared at me with big brown eyes, both giggling softly. Renee and Esme, named after their grandmothers, were born 5 years ago to the day, and their uncle Emmett affectionately dubbed them "Renesmee- the two headed monster." The nickname stuck.
"Hi daddy," Esme said sweetly, while her sister continued to giggle uncontrollably.
"Good morning," I grumbled.
"Do you know what today is?" Esme asked.
"Umm... Tuesday?" I asked, furrowing my eyebrows.
"No!" Renee squealed.
"No!" they both squealed.
"Oh, it's Saturday!"
"And?" Renee asked excitedly, bouncing up and down on the foot of the bed.
I shrugged and made a show of laying back down, pretending to go back to sleep. They both pounced on me then and started to shake me. "Daddy!"
"Oh yeah! It's your birthday isn't it? How could I have forgotten?" I teased.
"You have to get up, Daddy!" Esme demanded. "Come on Mommy, you promised cake! And Uncle Emmy is coming. And Grandma and Grandpa and..."
"Alright, alright," Bella moaned. "Go to the living room, and we'll be there in a minute."
I heard the doorbell ring, and the girls jumped up excitedly. "Ask who it is first!" I reminded them, as I slowly sat on the side of the bed. A few seconds later, Emmett's booming voice filled the living room as he greeted the twins.
"He's got an early start today," I muttered.
"Not really, it's almost nine," Bella pointed out, as she reached for my crutches and handed them to me. She helped me to a standing position, and I slowly made my way to the bathroom, cursing myself for oversleeping.
It always took a while for me to get going in the morning. My battle with cancer had left some lingering side effects after the multiple surgeries, one of which was the inability to walk unaided. Though I still had most of my upper body strength, my lower body was weak, and always would be. Even the most mundane tasks- showering, brushing my teeth, getting dressed, took twice as long as they once would have, given my mobility issues.
Another unfortunate side effect, that actually ended up alright in the end, was that my constant hospitalization pushed college back for both Bella and me. Though I encouraged her to finish school and spend less time sleeping on uncomfortable hospital cots, she never left my side. She was my angel. When I was well enough, I ended up finishing college online, while Bella spent her time writing. She made enough money to support us early in our marriage by submitting articles freelance, then after the twins were born, she made a name for herself by publishing a series of children's books about the crazy antics of two hyperactive, red-headed twins. Suffice it to say, we were more than comfortable, and I spent my time caring for the girls, and also teaching a few science classes at the community college in Port Angeles. It took a while for me to come to terms with the fact that I was a stay-at-home-dad, despite the growing popularity of that role.
Nearly an hour later, I was finally ready to join my family downstairs, and saw that my parents had arrived as well. Charlie, Renee, Phil, Alice and Jasper were also due to join us, as well as about ten screaming five-year-olds from our daughter's preschool class.
"Hey Mom, Dad," I greeted, as I slowly made my way to the living room. My mother wrapped me in a hug and kissed me on the cheek, then my dad offered his hand. I made my way over to my favorite chair and sat down. "Anyone else here yet?" I asked. I could hear Bella puttering around the kitchen.
"Just Emmett. Alice and Jasper are on the way."
"Awesome. I haven't seen them in a while." Alice and Jasper were married right out of college, and stayed in Seattle. We usually saw them once a month, when Alice would drive back to Forks to visit her parents, but the visits had become more scarce, since Alice was now seven months pregnant with her first child. I was glad she was able to make the trip out for the girls birthday. The twins affectionately called her "Aunt Alice." Even though she wasn't related by blood, I'd come to see her as a sister, and we remained close.
"Before they come, I wanted to give you something," Mom said quietly, as she fished through her purse. "I found this when I was cleaning up upstairs, and I thought you'd might like to have it." She handed me a photograph. It was of my sister and me, taken on my first day of High School. I chuckled softly at the image, noting the stark contrast between us. She was bright and blonde and smiling radiantly, whereas I stood, all red-headed and lanky, my arms folded over my stomach as if trying to hold myself together.
"Thank you," I told my mother, my eyes never leaving the photograph.
"Who's that daddy?" Renee asked sweetly, crawling into my lap and effectively blocking my view of the photo. I was so engrossed in staring at the picture that I hadn't even heard her come in. I gently brushed her bronze curls aside so that I could see my sister's smiling face once again.
"That's your aunt Rosalie," I answered, brushing my fingers gingerly over the photo.
"Where is she? She's pretty, daddy."
"She was pretty," I agreed. "But she died a long time ago."
"Can she come back and play with us?"
Before I could answer, my mind betrayed me and returned to the scene of a much darker time.
"I have many names, but you've always referred to me as the Angel of Death."
I swallowed hard as I processed what he'd just told me. "So, have you come for me then?" I asked with trepidation.
"You have not yet fulfilled your purpose on this earth, so no. You were on a destructive path, and my brothers and I saw just cause to intervene."
"Your brothers?" I asked, knowing he was referencing Caius and Marcus, but having no idea who – or what - they were.
"Angels as well," he clarified, as both glided into the room.
"What have you done to me? Did any of that really happen?"
"Did it feel real to you?" he asked vaguely.
"Then we've done our job," he answered, turning to leave. His brothers followed silently behind.
"Wait!" I cried, realizing this might be the last time I saw him, my last opportunity for answers. "What am I supposed to do now?"
"Follow your heart, and you'll be just fine," Marcus answered.
"Until we see you again," Caius hissed.
I did take their advice that day. I followed my heart. Whether the brothers were real, or just a figment of my imagination caused by the damage to my brain, I learned something from them either way.
My first priority, besides getting well, was repairing my strained relationship with Bella. We both wanted our relationship to work, and we both worked hard on it. After seeing her in my mind, dying countess times, I knew that I could never take her for granted ever again. And I never did.
After she held my hand through radiation, chemotherapy, and two additional surgeries, I spent the rest of my time worshiping the ground she walked on. We were married a little over six years ago, and five years ago to the day she gave me my two little beautiful girls.
I'll never know if my experiences with Aro were real, but either way I didn't regret them. I learned to cherish life, and most of all, the people around me- my family.
"Daddy?" Renee asked me again, and I realized I never answered her difficult question. "Can Aunty Rose-lee come play with us?" I looked up to see my mother, wide-eyed and speechless as she waited for me to answer. Her expression was one of grief, and one of fear, as she worried I would relapse into my obsession with traveling in time in order to save her.
"No, baby," I whispered, and I watched as my mother breathed a sigh of relief. "She can't come back, but if she could, I bet she would love you very much."
"Party time," Bella called, oblivious to our difficult conversation. I could faintly hear the screeches of Renee and Esme's classmates coming from the backyard, which Bella and Emmett spent most of the morning decorating. I was grateful for the brief reprieve, though I knew that I would have to sit down with my girls later and really discuss what it meant to die, and why their aunt was no longer part of our lives.
As I stared at the photo, I felt Bella come up behind me and place both hands on my shoulders. She carefully took the picture from my hands and placed it on the mantle, before kneeling before me and kissing me softly. "We'll get a nice frame for it tomorrow."
I silently thanked her with my eyes, for her silent strength. She retrieved my crutches and helped me to a standing position. She walked patiently at my side, matching my pace, until we joined our daughters in the kitchen.
Some time later, Bella stood by my side as we watched Emmett and Jasper lead a group of hyperactive five-year-olds through a rousing game of kickball. I watched with just a hint of longing, wishing that I could be out there with them.
Bella wrapped her arm around me as we watched the kids play.
"I can't believe they're five already. Before we know it, they'll be driving and dating."
"Over my dead body," I muttered, causing Bella to chuckle softly.
"They're so perfect," she whispered. "I swear, if I could go back in time, I wouldn't change a thing."
I didn't have to think twice before responding in kind. "Me neither. I wouldn't change one thing."