Thanks to SusanQ, Nicffwhisperer, Kikki7, Vampshavelaws, Pam, Julie, Stephanie, Jaime, Nolebucgrl, and Sydney Alice for all of their help pre-reading/betaing/supporting me. I'm always tinkering until right before posting and any mistakes are mine.


NOP Holiday Future Take

~Edward~

I'd always been a reductionist, breaking down complex issues into simpler parts to understand the whole better. I supposed the same could be said when I analyzed my life.

It could be broken down into two basic parts: before Bella and after Bella.

When I really looked at it, the truth was that I never lived much of a life before Bella. I was accomplished, admired, even desired and envied by most everyone around me. I'd once thought that was enough.

But I was wrong. I'd never been more wrong.

The last four and a half years have brought me so much more than I ever imagined possible. Much more than the thirty-eight preceding ones combined.

More happiness. More fulfillment. More meaning.

Before Bella, I was content with being successful in business, even at the expense of personal relationships.

After Bella, my satisfaction was found nowhere near the billions of dollars at my fingertips.

It was in her smile. Her laughter. The way her eyes lit up when I told her how beautiful she was.

It was in our son. Our Xander. In our twin daughters she still carried.

There wasn't a moment during my days when they weren't at the root of my thoughts.

Were they safe? Were they happy? Was there anything more I could do to ensure both of those necessities were met?

I had been particularly cautious the last couple of months with Bella's protection. As her belly grew bigger with our children, I couldn't help but be reminded of what happened during her pregnancy with Xander.

How I'd made the biggest mistake of my life by letting go of her hand.

Everyone told me it wasn't my fault, that there was nothing I could have done to prevent it if Kate was determined to hurt Bella. I'd tried to let go of the guilt over time, but it was always there in the back of my mind. With that one lapse in judgment, I'd almost lost the best thing that had ever happened to me.

I'd almost lost them both.

And with every cell of my being, I knew that if I had lost them, I would have followed them soon after.

Some might call those thoughts morbid, but I just called them honest.

My life could be broken into two parts: with Bella and without. And it was no longer possible for me to return to an existence without her.

~~~*~~~NOP~~~*~~~

"Higher, Daddy!"

I was attempting to balance and keep a grip on a wiggling Xander, who was standing on my shoulders and reaching to put the star on top of the tree. Bella giggled from the couch, where she had her feet propped up on a pillow and gave us instructions on where each ornament should go. Her pregnancy was thirty-three weeks along, and her swollen feet bothered her daily.

"I can't lift you much higher, Buddy. Can you reach it?"

Xander jumped a little, his sock-clad toes digging into my shoulders when he landed.

"I did it!" he yelled, clapping.

Bella laughed again. "It's crooked, Xander. Have Daddy lift you higher to fix it."

I growled and turned to send her a mock glare. She didn't appear the least bit repentant when she stuck her tongue out at me. My pretend threats obviously meant nothing when she knew I was wrapped around her little finger.

I had been from the start.

"This way," Xander said, hopping on his right foot.

I returned my attention to my excited son, extending him as far as I could while he fiddled with the star.

"That's it," Bella said. "You got it, Xander."

He squealed again, jumping off my shoulders in a swan dive as I held him in my grip. I turned him in a mid-air somersault—his laughter ringing in my ears—before setting him on his feet. He took off running toward his mother.

"Careful, Buddy. Remember, no jumping on your mom. You have to be gentle with the girls."

He slowed down, first hugging Bella and then her belly.

It had been interesting trying to explain to Xander about the upcoming arrival of his sisters. He was excited, but I wasn't sure he really understood how small and "non-functional" they would be at the beginning. He thought they would be here and immediately be his playmates.

"Will the babies get here before Santa?" he asked Bella, patting her stomach.

"Well..." she started, ruffling his hair. "They aren't due until after Christmas, but they may come early. You came a little early."

I plugged in the lights and walked over to them, taking a seat on the couch and putting her legs on my lap.

"Won't they be sad if they miss Christmas?" he asked, turning his big green eyes on me.

It was hard to believe he'd be four in just a few months. It seemed like the time had flown by.

"No, they won't be sad. They'll be too little to remember this year."

He didn't seem to believe me, his face inching closer to Bella's stomach. "Babies, come out!" he yelled. "Presents are fun!"

Max suddenly appeared at the sounds of shouting, sending a suspicious growl my way before licking Xander's face and standing guard next to him. That damn dog and I never really saw eye-to-eye, but I loved how protective he was over Bella and Xander.

"You don't need to yell," Bella explained. "They can hear you when you talk to them."

He liked that, because he could talk all day and all night and then some. He proceeded to squeeze himself in next to Bella and chatter on about everything Christmas. From chimneys and sugarplums to Baby Jesus and mangers. I'd been told by friends and family that there was nothing quite like having kids his age around the holidays.

The word magical was used a couple times to describe it.

I wasn't sure about all of that, but it was fun to watch him enjoy himself, and maybe some of his enthusiasm rubbed off a little, too.

I certainly needed it.

A shiver ran through me as I massaged Bella's calves and feet, and I briefly glanced over to find her snuggling Xander while he prattled on. This pregnancy had been hard on her, for completely different reasons than her first.

We'd moved back into our home in the city about a month before, to be closer to Dr. Nash and the hospital. Bella had one brief spurt of energy during her second trimester, where she felt good and attacked me constantly for some adult activities. I'd been so happy—not just about all the sex—but because it seemed she'd turned a corner. Then she grew lethargic and nauseous again, not quite as bad as the first trimester, but enough to worry me and Dr. Nash.

She'd had weekly visits to the doctor for the last two months, only recently those being upped to at least twice a week. Dr. Nash had been concerned she may be showing symptoms of preeclampsia, but then her blood pressure would normalize.

At this point, they didn't know exactly what was wrong, and it would be a miracle if I wasn't completely grey-headed by the time the twins were born.

My eyes flickered back over to Bella, and she lifted her head as if she felt my stare.

"I love you," she mouthed.

Even silent, those three little words from her made my heart pound against my chest.

I watched her close and could tell by her fidgeting she was starting to become uncomfortable.

"Hey, Xander," I said, interrupting him. "It's about time for you to brush your teeth."

"But I'm telling the babies about Christmas." He held on to Bella tighter.

I stood up and put her legs back on a cushion, before moving down to tickle Xander until he let go of his mom.

"Come on." I placed him on his feet. "You go on up and pick out a book. I'll be there in a minute to read to you."

"I want Mommy to read to me," he whined.

Sometimes it was a trial getting him to settle down at night, but I couldn't complain. He was generally well-behaved.

"Not tonight, Buddy. Let Mommy get some rest."

She grabbed Xander's arm before he could take off. "Give me a kiss before bed."

It tugged at me the way they held each other and said their goodnights. But my heart almost stopped when she cradled his face in her hands and told him she loved him with watery eyes.

Something was wrong.

As soon as Xander scampered off, I knelt down beside her and brushed her hair back off her face.

"What is it? Are you okay?" I asked, rubbing her belly.

She reached for me, trying to pull me closer. "I'm okay. Just overly emotional, I think." She kissed me and sighed. "Maybe it's the tree lights."

I was far from convinced. "Baby, we can go to the hospital right now. Hannah can stay with Xander."

She shook her head. "No, it's fine. I promise. Just a little queasy, but it's okay." Her hand joined mine, rubbing circles over the twins. "They're really active tonight. I like that."

Her smile was brave, but her eyes still teary. I was torn about what to do. She obviously didn't feel well, but she didn't want to leave. I wasn't going to force her out in the cold and snow tonight if I didn't have to.

Besides, we had another appointment with Dr. Nash the next morning.

I pressed my lips to hers again, before kissing her nose, her cheeks, her forehead. When she finally giggled, I felt a little less nervous.

"Are you sure you don't want to go tonight?" I asked again.

She nodded. "Yes, I'm sure." She squeezed my hand. "Go on up and check on him. He's probably covered his bathroom in toothpaste by now."

"Do you want me to take you to bed first? Are you okay to wait here?"

"I'm fine. I'll stay here with the lights. You two did a good job decorating."

I watched her face for a few moments, looking for any more signs of distress. She either really was feeling better or she was hiding it very well.

"I'll be right back," I said, giving her one more kiss.

She chuckled, both of us knowing it'd take longer than that until Xander fell asleep. I stood up and stretched my legs, walking slowly toward the stairs.

When I glanced back, her head was turned toward the tree. She almost looked like an angel with the lights reflecting off her hair and her face.

She was an angel.

My angel.

~~~*~~~NOP~~~*~~~

Bella's fingers dug into my hand as we watched Dr. Nash enter the room again, her face stony. We'd been in this examination room for over two hours now, while Bella had been poked and prodded without pause.

"Bella, we're going to get you admitted to the hospital. Your blood pressure is still much too high, along with your protein levels."

Preeclampsia.

I tried to remember to breathe. To not flip out and scare Bella even more than she already was.

"What does that mean?" Bella asked, the fear rolling off of her. "You have to take the babies out now?"

"We're going to keep monitoring you, but yes, if your blood pressure doesn't improve, we'll deliver soon. Your twins are slightly under what I'd consider term weight, but both of their heartbeats are strong. They may have to spend a little time in the NICU adding weight, but I fully expect two healthy babies, even if we deliver immediately. I'm more concerned about your health right now."

Bella seemed to calm a little at Dr. Nash's assurance the babies should be fine. However, I was still a mess worrying about her.

As soon as Dr. Nash mentioned preeclampsia weeks ago, I'd read everything about it I could get my hands on. Basically the placenta from carrying the babies was making Bella sick. It was poisoning her. There could be progression to eclampsia, HELLP syndrome, liver failure, kidney failure, convulsions.

Death.

I swallowed the lump in my throat, grabbed Bella's clothes, and stood up. "I'm taking you now." There was no time to waste. Why were we still in this fucking room? I glanced at Dr. Nash. "You're meeting us there?"

"Yes. Take her straight to Labor and Delivery. They'll be expecting you."

I contemplated just carrying Bella in the gown she was wearing, and probably would have if it wasn't so cold outside. Instead I helped her get dressed, calling Felix to pull the car up at the same time.

The next few hours went by in a blur. Bella was quickly ushered to a room and hooked up to a million machines, doctors and nurses coming and going constantly. I left her only to call home and check on Xander, returning to find Dr. Nash at her bedside.

"Oh, good. You're here," she said, seeing me rush in. "I was just telling Bella that the good news is her blood pressure has stabilized somewhat."

I ran my hand through my hair and let out a gust of air.

"What's the bad news?" Bella asked, squeezing my hand.

"We're going to keep you here. You're going to finish out your pregnancy in this bed. I'm sorry. I know it's the holidays, but it's safer to keep you on complete bed rest and under observation. We're going to give you steroid injections, which will help mature the twins' lungs. This blood pressure monitor will take measurements every ten minutes, and we'll continue taking daily blood and urine samples, along with daily ultrasounds."

Bella and I were both quiet for a minute.

"How long do you think I'll be here?" she finally asked.

"It's always best for the babies to mature as long as possible inside you, but at the first sign your health is being compromised, I'll deliver them." Dr. Nash marked something off on Bella's chart before looking back over at us. "It could be hours, days, a week. It's difficult to give a firm timeline right now."

As soon as Dr. Nash left the room, Bella burst into tears. I wrapped her up in my arms as much as possible without disturbing all the monitors. I hated seeing her upset.

I tried to comfort her, but she kept rambling on about how sorry she was, what a failure she was, how she hated disappointing Xander, how she was ruining his Christmas, all in between sobs.

"Bella, stop," I finally demanded, hovering over her and putting my hands on her wet cheeks. "Don't blame yourself for any of this. Quit wasting your energy being sad about things out of your control. Concentrate on yourself and the babies."

She hiccupped and wiped her eyes. "It's just frustrating. I feel weak. Like I'm letting everyone down."

"You're not letting anyone down. The only thing I want is for you to be okay. For you and the twins to come home to me."

When her crying had been reduced to sniffles, I pulled a chair over to sit next to her.

"Edward Anthony Cullen, don't even think about it."

I lifted my eyebrow. "What?"

"You are not going to camp out here and leave Xander at home. You go be with him."

"I'm not leaving you here alone. He's okay with Hannah right now."

She crossed her arms over her chest and frowned. "I don't like him being without both of us for too long."

She was right. But so was I.

I needed reinforcements.

Another nurse came in to check her monitors, and I started making calls. First to my parents, then to Alice and Rose. It was obvious she wouldn't be happy if I stayed with her all the time, so I needed help if I was going to split my time between home and the hospital.

"Mom and Dad are going to be here soon," I told her after I finished my calls. "When they arrive, I'll go home and have dinner with Xander."

"Come here," she said, holding her hand out.

I stood over her bed, letting her pull me down close.

"I want you to promise me something." Her eyes started watering again.

"Anything."

"No matter what happens with me, promise me you'll put our kids first."

"Of course," I answered automatically.

It wasn't until later, and I was on my way home, that her request really sunk in. When I really understood what it was she was asking of me.

She was making me imagine a reality where she wasn't with me. She wanted me to promise the kids came first, even if my world was again without Bella.

I watched the lights of the city whiz by as we drove home, praying I'd never truly have to face that situation.

~~~*~~~NOP~~~*~~~

Six days.

It had been six days since Bella had been admitted to the hospital. Six days of constant worry. Six days of splitting time between home and her bedside.

It was also six days before Christmas.

I had taken Xander to the hospital a few times, but he was confused and sad to see his mom in a bed with all the machines. It hurt to see some of the light in his eyes fade each time he asked if Mommy would be home today and I had to tell him no.

My parents and our friends had been a huge help; someone was always there with Bella when I couldn't be. As I walked into her room today with Xander, I found her there talking with Mom and Dad.

"Hi, Mommy!"

Bella's face lit up with a smile and she held her hand out. I let go of Xander and he ran over to her.

"How's my boy today?"

I watched the two of them talking, and my father walked over to stand next to me.

"It might be today, Edward."

I turned toward him. "What happened?"

"Bella's been having some pain in her chest and headaches this morning. Dr. Nash just left right before you walked in. I imagine she'll tell you the babies are coming today when she returns."

I walked over to Bella, leaning down to kiss her as Xander stood on a chair talking.

"And then Aunt Rose took me to see Santa. I got a picture and sat on his lap, and he asked what I wanted for Christmas."

Bella sniffled, looking at the picture. "What did you ask for?"

"It's a secret, Mommy!" He jumped around and Mom put her arms around him with a laugh to keep him from falling off the chair.

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry." Bella winced a little.

"Are you hurting?" I asked quietly.

She turned toward me. "I'm okay. Dr. Nash should be back in a minute."

This time I knew for sure she was trying to hide her pain. Either from me or Xander. Or both.

Just as I was about to go roaming the halls for Dr. Nash, she walked back in.

"Okay, I'm going to have to ask the family to make their way to the waiting room. It's time to deliver the babies." She said it with a smile, but there was also a sense of urgency. Like it needed to happen in a hurry.

Mom kissed Bella and took my hand. "I'll make the calls and keep Xander with us."

"Xander, give me a kiss," Bella said, tears in her eyes.

I picked him up so he could properly say goodbye.

He kissed and hugged her. "I love you, Mommy."

"I love you, too."

More nurses came in, shooing people out, and I put Xander back on his feet and knelt down to talk to him.

"Now you mind your grandma and grandpa. Okay? I'll see you in just a little bit."

He nodded, his face serious. "Daddy, can I tell you a secret?"

"Sure, Buddy."

He leaned in to whisper in my ear. "I asked Santa to bring Mommy and the babies home."

I almost choked on the lump in my throat, not even sure how to respond. Not that he waited for a response anyway.

He grinned and patted my head. "Bye, Daddy!" Then he was off, running out in front of my parents.

I didn't have long to ruminate over his secret because I was shuttled out to change into sterile scrubs. When I made it to the operating room, the screen had already been put up and Bella had been prepped for surgery.

She was shaking a little when I took her hand.

"I love you."

A tear fell from her eye. "I love you more."

People bustled around us, this scene much more harried than Xander's delivery had been. I tried to ignore them all and focus only on her, because I knew as scared as I was, she had to be much worse.

"Lilian Esme and Natalie Renee," she said.

I nodded. "Lily and Nat. I like those."

Dr. Nash started asking Bella questions and talking to her through the procedure. My eyes stayed on Bella's face, looking for any signs of pain.

It wasn't until I heard the first baby's cry that I let out a breath of relief. Then the other baby. My whole body seemed to relax somewhat, like I hadn't even been aware of how tense I'd been. I got a glimpse of our twins when they were carried over to a different area and checked over, but knew it was a good sign that both of them were wailing.

"They're okay, Bella. They're great."

She nodded once and then my world crashed around me.

A dozen different alarms started blaring at the same time and Bella's eyes closed as her body shook with tremors.

"Bella? Bella!"

She was unconscious, and I was suddenly being pushed out of the room.

I struggled against whoever held me. "What the fuck is going on? What happened?"

A couple more people joined in, practically dragging me out into the hall.

"Please wait out here, Mr. Cullen. A doctor will be with you shortly."

That's it. That's all I got.

My fucking wife was cut open, convulsing, and fuck knows what else, and I just had to sit here and twiddle my fucking thumbs.

I tore the hat and mask off, throwing them to the floor as I paced back and forth in front of the door to her room.

She had to be okay. She had to.

I couldn't do this without her.

Had she somehow known this was coming? Was that why she made me make that promise?

Nurses and doctors ran in and out, and each time the doors opened, the blaring alarms mocked me.

Every minute that passed sucked a little more out of me. My mind was a dark place as I slid down the wall and hunched on the floor.

Please, God. Please. Don't take my Bella.

~~~*~~~NOP~~~*~~~

My life could be broken into two parts: with Bella and without.

A couple of times now, I'd almost had to contend with losing her.

But both times she endured.

"Mr. Cullen? Edward?"

I lifted my head, my eyes bleary with grief and worry, and found Dr. Nash standing over me. I had no idea how long I'd been out in the hall waiting.

"Bella?" I could barely get her name out of my mouth.

"She's going to be fine. She's in recovery now."

I jumped up and almost tackled her in a hug. It was hard to even listen to everything else she was telling me, my mind was stuck on the fact Bella would be okay.

She was alive. She was okay.

My world was righted again.

I learned over the next several days that Bella had a seizure during delivery and the magnesium sulfate they gave her to counteract it had caused her heart rate to stop. Her bad reaction to the drug had been unexpected, but they revived her and she seemed to not have any lingering effects from the preeclampsia.

Bella had been out of it for almost a whole day, before she became fully aware and cognizant again. The first thing she asked for was her babies.

Lily and Nat were both perfect, thriving in the NICU incubators over the next several days and my heart almost burst out of my chest the first time I got to see Bella hold each of them.

I had come close to never seeing that. Ever.

"I told you, Daddy!" Xander patted my leg, before running ahead and yelling for Hannah.

Yes, he'd been right. Or at least he'd gotten his wish.

It was Christmas morning, and we were bringing Bella and the girls back home. I escorted a slow-moving Bella into the den, and my parents followed, each holding a baby in their own carrier.

Xander wrestled with Max on the floor while I helped get everyone settled. I turned on the tree lights and Hannah appeared with food and drinks.

I'd never felt more in the Christmas spirit than I did at this moment.

I had everything I ever wanted right here in this room. Love, family, everyone safe and happy.

I didn't know whether to thank Dr. Nash, thank God, or maybe even thank Santa, but I was more grateful than I could say to all of them.

"Hey, Buddy?"

Xander ran back over to me.

"Guess what time it is?"

His face turned serious and he shook his head. "I don't know, Daddy."

"It's time to open all your presents. Look at all those gifts under the tree."

His eyes popped out and his mouth fell open. "But I got my present already." He leaned in close and whispered, "Don't you remember, Daddy?"

I laughed and hugged him. "Yeah, you did. But you were such a good boy this year, Santa decided you needed a bunch of toys, too."

He squealed and ran back over to the tree, grabbing box after box. I sat down next to Bella, holding Lily while she held Natalie.

"Babies!" Xander shouted. "Watch me!" He started tearing into his gifts. "Do it like this!"

We all laughed. Apparently we'd have to talk with him some more about what the babies could and couldn't do.

Bella leaned over and kissed me. "What was he whispering to you about?"

I pretended to zip my lips. "It's a secret."

She scowled a little, but couldn't hold it very long. There was too much around us to be happy about.

It was a very Merry Christmas.


AN: It was rocky there for awhile, but Bella and the babies made it through. I think Edward may need a lot of hugs though. Anybody else love Xander?

I hope you all had a great holiday season!

This future take serves as a segue between NOP and a sequel. I am planning to start working on a sequel, but there is currently no set date on when it will begin posting.

If you haven't already, I hope you all check out my new story called Changing My Course. Bella is the daughter of a Senator and presidential candidate, and Edward is a Hollywood star. Their personalities are worlds apart, but they also have an intense connection from the start. I hope you take a look and let me know what you think of it.