A/N: Gah. What a journey. Mush after the... mush.
It took Edward a moment to remember where he was.
First of all, it was too warm. Washington was almost never too warm even in the summer. The mornings were cool enough to necessitate blankets, and yet he found himself stirring to the odd sensation of air against his bare skin. It wasn't uncomfortable but merely unusual. Automatically, he flexed his arms, assuring himself that his Bella - his wife - was safe in his arms. He didn't mind where he woke up as long as she was there with him.
However, waking up in the balmy air of Rio on his thirty-fourth birthday was probably one of the better ways to wake.
Yawning and stretching slightly - not enough to wake Bella - Edward gained on alertness. He pulled away from his wife, his eyes following the line of her back to where it disappeared beneath the sheet.
Bella had already made it very clear - around midnight the night before - that as it was his birthday, his every whim would be catered to. As such, Edward made it his first order of business to devour her naked body with his eyes.
He lifted the sheet, admiring her body in full. It had taken some time before he could do this. It had been a long, long while before Bella could bear the thought of complete nudity let alone the idea that he would see. For a long time, she felt as though her guilt and shame - the ugliness of the monster's vile touch - was branded on her skin. She felt it every day, and when she was nude her psyche was sure it was visible.
They'd worked through it together. They'd conquered. As a result, he would never take for granted the gift she was giving when he woke to her naked body pressed against his.
And what a magnificent sight. How could he ever tire of looking at her body? He had his favorite spots - the slope down low where her back met her ass, that space on her shoulder where there was a perfect divot for his lips, the tender skin just around her bellybutton where, if he licked, she would make the most delicious little squeal-gasp.
He traced her fine curves with his eyes, lingering at the two tattoos on her shoulders. Only very recently she'd had them touched up, the damage from the burns she'd suffered repaired to an extent.
She didn't mind the imperfections so much, she'd told him when the tattoos were healed and they were standing together looking in their bathroom mirror back home.
"I survived," she'd said. "And I choose to be proud of that."
Responding to his gentle touch, his fingers traipsing along her spine, she sighed in her sleep and rolled onto her back offering him yet another fantastic view. He drank her in from her lips - slightly open and always inviting - down to her feet.
Automatically, a pleased smile lit his features.
The day before their wedding they'd gotten another tattoo together. They each had a phrase decorating his left foot, her right, in the shape of half a heart. Hers read "my sun and stars" and his "moon of my life" - a nod to Game of Thrones, a series and TV show they both loved. When they put their feet together - and they often did - the heart was complete.
Perhaps it was cheesy, but it was only for them; they were the only ones, besides Leah who'd done the ink, that had ever seen them.
She was his, this amazing, passionate, beautiful woman.
Sliding down the length of her body, Edward began to press kisses along the inside of her thigh. She whimpered, still asleep, the sound not one of fear but of titillation - burgeoning pleasure.
He pressed on, nuzzling his nose in the coarse curls between her thighs. Inhaling her scent only stoked his hunger for her, and he darted his tongue out, licking in languid strokes. He let his fingers climb her body, brushing and stroking at random.
When her little sighs and tiny whines became breathy words and her body started to come alive, he moved his mouth to her clit. He sucked gently and flicked his tongue against her. Feeling her hands tangle in his hair, he grinned wickedly against her skin.
Sure now she was awake, he kissed a trail back up her body. In no rush, he stopped to elicit that sweet sound he was so enamored of, sweeping his tongue around her bellybutton. Only when he'd had his fill did he move on, pressing a kiss to each of her nipples before he finally claimed her lips.
His body pressed hers down, pulling back a little to look down on her face, into her eyes. She blinked back, her brown eyes lit at the center like embers still sleepy but sparked with energy, with want. She spread her legs, welcoming him. He took the invitation gladly.
He set an easy pace, the kind of lovemaking that built slowly. He took the time to worship her lips with his - little nips, soft pressure, his tongue sliding along hers. Bella responded with her hands sliding over his back.
After some minutes of this she angled her hips up, lifting her legs to wrap around his hips, taking him deeper inside her. Throwing her head back, she arched, her body coming up to meet his thrusts.
His hand between them, fingers on her clit, Edward brought Bella to orgasm first, staving off his own release because this was still very new to them. It was the last sexual hurdle they'd cleared, climax being a loss of control Bella hadn't been comfortable giving over.
The sound of her pleasure drove him absolutely crazy.
Minutes later, they were curled together face to face, legs and arms entwined and kissing lazily as they decided whether or not to stay awake.
Awake had so many more possibilities.
"I love you," he murmured, fitting his hand to her cheek.
Her smile was tranquil. Happy. "I love you, too." She kissed him - a serious kind of kiss. "Happy birthday."
"So far? Best. Birthday. Ever."
She rolled her eyes. "You said that last year."
"Well, it was true then, too." He simpered at her. She rolled her eyes at him again so he licked the tip of her nose. Laughing, she pounced on him, and they played the games that lovers were wont to until it all devolved to fervent kisses.
It used to be, at a gathering of Edward's family and friends, he could count the other attendees on one hand. Those days were long gone. Now to get the people most important to him together took a whole section of his favorite restaurant.
What a noisy, happy mish mash of people they made.
He watched, entirely bemused - and more than a little smitten - as a frazzled Rosalie told her and Emmett's nearly four-year-old son to go prattle to the people at the other table if he wasn't going to be quiet. Amenable, Daniel climbed down from his seat, ambled over to the unsuspecting couple in the booth nearest them and sat his happy little self down. "Mommy said I should talk to you!" he proclaimed before Emmett caught up to him.
Chuckling, Edward glanced at Bella. Her lips turned up in a private smile as she met his eyes.
Jasper leaned over to whisper to Edward. "I love the kid, I do, but he's a walking, talking advertisement for birth control."
Edward only smirked, clapping his brother-in-law on the back.
The blond man tilted his head, looking at Edward curiously. "What, you suddenly don't agree?"
Bella raised her eyebrows. "You agreed in the first place?
Edward grimaced. He put his hand on Bella's knee, squeezing soothingly.
When Edward turned back to Jasper, the man had a blindingly wide grin on his face. "I see what's going on here."
"What's going on here?" Carlisle asked, coming up to the table. He and Esme were the last to arrive. Everyone was in motion again - the whole crew going to greet the mother and father figure who had adopted them all as family.
When they all settled, Edward cleared his throat, bringing everyone to attention. "Before the food gets here, I have an announcement to make."
There was an excited murmur, and Ben laughed. "I know! You're stepping down from Doggy BTN to create a new company where you match people with their preferred gemstones."
"That's not the name of my company, and you're just jealous. After all, you didn't get a letter from the President of the United States." Edward was preening. Just a bit.
"The President already has a husband," Ben returned. "Her daughter needed a puppy... but who knows. Her son is almost of age. Maybe there's hope for mycompany yet."
Edward grinned. They were teasing words. As far as everyone - Ben included - was concerned, Edward was the figurehead of both companies. A few years back, back on her feet and feeling more independent, Bella had officially joined the team - a welcome asset given her considerable skills. They were all a big happy family.
"Wait, you aren't actually starting another company, are you, Edward?" Angela asked.
"That wouldn't be a good business decision," Carlisle interjected. "The Pet Match is doing phenomenally for such a young business, but-"
Jasper interrupted them all by laughing so hard he nearly fell out of his seat.
"What's so funny?" Alice asked.
Rather than answer her, Jasper looked at Edward. "Being a recluse sure made it easier to get a word in edgewise didn't it?"
Esme waved her hands at everyone. "Settle down. I believe my son was trying to say something."
No one at that table would ever think to argue with Esme; they all settled down.
Edward's grin was sardonic. "Thank you, Mom. Like I was trying to say I... we," he corrected, taking Bella's hand and smiling at her, "have an announcement to make."
He didn't need to say more than that. The table burst into a joyful noise again.
"You're pregnant?" Alice squealed happy, grabbing Bella's hands.
Bella laughed and nodded, ducking her head shyly. "Eight weeks."
"Guess we know what you gave Edward for his birthday," Emmett teased.
Rosalie smacked him upside the head. Unfortunately for her, Daniel thought that was great and tried to repeat the process with Jasper.
"Good luck," Emmett said, still rubbing his head when he could finally get close enough to Edward for a congratulatory hug. "You're going to need it."
Bella and Esme both turned. The instant she saw the woman coming toward her, Bella shrank back a little, her hand automatically going to her distended belly in a distinctly protective gesture. Responding to her obvious unease, Esme was at her side in an instant, her posture guarding.
The woman had the decency to look ashamed. "You know who I am."
"I remember," Bella said evenly. "I saw your picture." Swallowing hard, she had to remind herself she had nothing to fear from this woman though she was wary of why she was there. "You're Jessica Stanley."
Nearly seven years before, after discovering her high school ex-boyfriend had turned into a serial killer, Jessica Stanley - already a studied psychologist, had begun to do more research into the minds of men like Mike. She'd contacted Bella some years back to ask for an on the record talk. Bella was no where near ready to consider that, and the woman had not pushed.
Now, Jessica nodded slowly. "It's only chance that I'm in town tonight, and I heard you were going to be speaking here. Under the circumstances, I thought it was only fair that you knew I was in the audience." She held up her hand in a gesture of peace. "I swear I have no intention of using the information from this-"
"Please," Bella interrupted. "The talk I'm here to give is information I want known. If it's useful to you, then you're welcome to use it as part of your research." She was pleased at how steady her voice was.
Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward, offering her hand. Jessica smiled as she took it and they shook. "I'm not sure this is the right sentiment, but I'm glad to finally meet you."
Bella nodded. Stepping back, she gestured to Esme. "This is my mother-in-law, Esme Cullen."
Jessica smiled, shaking Esme's hand warmly. "It's nice to meet you."
Just then, Bella smiled as she heard her name being called. Turning, she saw Edward making his way down the hallway to where they were. His expression was tight - he was also well aware of who she was talking to - but his anxiety eased noticeably when he saw she was at ease.
Actually, Bella had been feeling quite nervous about the whole thing. It wasn't easy - what she was about to do.
A little less than two years after her kidnapping, Bella began to volunteer with the Cullens when they worked with the rape crisis centers. She'd started with the kids - the impossibly young boys and girls who had been through a torment she couldn't comprehend.
She'd learned so much about strength from those kids. It was how she got so invested in Edward's business. Giving faces to the otherwise nameless kids they were helping had gone a long way to stoking her need to give back, to help others who'd been through anything close to what she had.
The last year, she had been visiting colleges and universities. Their human sexuality and psychology courses often had her in as a guest speaker. The smaller classes she could definitely handle.
Tonight, though, she would be addressing an auditorium as part of the University of Washington's attempt to educate a wider range of students on the subject of sexual assault.
After another round of introductions, heedless of who was milling around them, when Edward looked at Bella, they were in a bubble made only for two.
"I'm glad you're here," she said, letting him tuck her against his chest.
She remembered distinctly thinking she would never be safe again. In Edward's arms, she felt loved and secure - content.
"You know I wouldn't be anywhere else," he said quietly, brushing her cheek with the backside of his hand. Tilting her chin up, he kissed her softly. "How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. Really." Taking his hand, she pressed it against her chest so he could feel her heart. "See? Very calm."
Smiling, he let his hand drift down to the swell of her belly. "And our girl? This is her first time on stage, too."
"That explains why she's been dancing all day." She put her hand over his. "Feel?"
He grinned. "She isn't shy at all."
They all spoke for a few minutes before the dean came. "They're ready for you, Mrs. Cullen."
Edward kissed her, and Esme gave her a tight hug. "We'll be here."
Before Bella went out, she touched Jessica's arm. "Find me afterward." She breathed deep. "I think I'm ready to talk."
The look on Jessica's face was one Bella never got used to. She thought Bella was very brave.
Shaking that off, Bella followed the dean on stage.
It was a little daunting, but once Bella got going, she knew her subject well.
She spoke in a clear voice, telling some of the stories of women and men, boys and girls she knew personally.
"What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. One of the biggest myths behind rape is the idea that men cannot be raped. They can. You might not think women can be rapists. They can be."
She went on to dispel the myth that rape was always violent. Most were not. Because of the environment, she spent a good deal of time talking about the fuzzy area - being drunk, high - of consent.
From there, she spoke about the culture of victim blaming, the shame. She had trouble keeping the fury from her voice when she explained the sad facts. Rape was nearly impossible to convict. Juries, particularly female jurors, were quick to judge, quick to want to place blame on the victim.
She went on, talking about what to do, what to say if it happened to a friend.
Finally, she paused, looking out at the crowd. "Statistically speaking... A lot of you are living with a secret. You're suffering in silence. You're blaming yourself. I know you won't believe me, but it is absolutely not. Your. Fault.
"And I'm here to tell you, it does get better. I've been where you are. I know what it feels like when living through the next five minutes is more than you can bear. I felt like a monster. I felt soulless. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that I could have a future. Thinking about death was actually a relief to thinking of...everything else."
Even then, the very memory of that bleak time made her dizzy, made her feel briefly helpless. But then she pressed her hand to her belly, feeling her daughter's strong kicks. Glancing to the side, she saw Edward and Esme waiting, their expressions proud.
"It does get better," she repeated. "You can survive, and you can thrive.
"A wise woman once told me, you never know who you're going to meet, who's going to become important to you." She smiled. "Or who you'll be important to. Six years ago, I had no family, no hope for a future. I didn't think I deserved love and didn't think I was capable of loving. I was wrong. There were... There still are so many people waiting to help you, waiting to love you.
"Try to hear these words. I know they're difficult.
"You are worth it."
Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433
Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Sexuality Support: 1-800-246-7743
Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
Rape and Sexual Assault: 1-800-656-4673
Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272
Runaway: 1-800-843-5200, 1-800-843-5678, 1-800-621-4000
Exhale: After Abortion Hotline/Pro-Voice: 1-866-4394253
A/N: Immense thanks to GinnyW, Shug, jfka06, jessypt, and barburella for putting up with me through all this.
And to all of you for coming on this journey with me. Your words are my inspiration for... a lot. Mwah.