A/N: This is it, the final chapter of Little Hell! I hope you like it. Thanks to LaPumuckl for pre-reading.
To clarify - the epilogue alternates between the present and flashbacks of the time that's passed since the last chapter.
I sigh as Edward's hands press against my back, thumbs digging into the aching plains of muscle either side of my spine. His fingertips are warm as they run across the top of my arms; his lips burning hot as they press against my neck. His chin comes to rest against my shoulder as his strong arms wrap around me, perfectly framing the huge bump where a flat stomach used to be. The smile he tries to hide in my skin causes my lips to curve and I stare at our reflection in the window, two happy faces and one heart mirrored back at me.
"My little lady still kicking?" he asks, body pressed fully into mine.
"Always. You're going to have a fighter on your hands with this one," I tell him, trying to hold back the giggle that bubbles up.
"Oh, I am? Funny how she's my daughter whenever she kicks," he says as he moves his hands to tickle my sides. I laugh and my heart feels full when he laughs along with me, the vibration of it moving from his chest to mine. I close my eyes as our daughter joins in and shifts around, feeling a lump in my throat when Edward moves his hand to sit over the place she's resting. She always stops whenever he does this - at first he was annoyed he never got to feel her kick, but now he claims it's because she can feel him there. I don't doubt it.
It was about 3 months after Edward reconciled with his Mom that we moved up to Seattle. I'd been accepted into the culinary school I wanted and Edward was able to transfer up to another construction project there. It felt bittersweet to finally leave Port Angeles knowing I probably wouldn't be back any time soon. It was the only home I'd known my entire life and the memories of love were just as strong as those of hurt. It felt like a goodbye to all that had held me back for so long - no more sadness over Charlie or Billy's deaths and no more bitterness toward Jake. It seemed as if karma had dealt enough of a blow to him - he'd been caught stealing from the garage and Sam fired him, meaning he'd lost all his friends and he and Leah were now living in her little house surviving on her teacher's salary alone. I wanted to be glad he'd gotten some of what he'd deserved but ultimately I felt nothing, and in some ways that was the best outcome of all; his life had no impact on me anymore. I was truly free to be whoever I wanted, the sadness that would always be around pushed back by the burst of happiness I felt waking up with Edward every morning.
Edward never wavered in his feelings for me, his love a strong constant that I feel every day. Having his mother back in his life removed the shackles of guilt he'd been bound by, and he gave himself to me fully after that. Esme and Carlisle insisted on giving us some money to put towards a down payment for a house and Edward surprised me by accepting with nothing but grace, letting his mother make up for her mistakes by taking care of him. Esme doted on him and on me, insisting she and Carlisle move to Seattle to be closer to us. Edward told her it was unnecessary but the excitement in his eyes gave him away and they moved not long after we did.
Our house was a four bedroom mess when we bought it, falling to pieces in places and horribly decorated in the others. Edward was resolute that he could fix everything, though, and so we took the chance knowing we'd never be able to afford anything of the same size unless we used all of my savings. We lived mostly in one room, a fuchsia-walled bedroom with a bathroom that was barely functional, but they were some of the happiest times of my life. We didn't have a kitchen, no living room or landscaping, but we had dreams and that seemed to be all that mattered. Weekends consisted of Edward working on the house while I picked out paint swatches, nights spent laughing and loving in our own little home. It wasn't always easy – there were days I'd come home from school and wish we'd bought an apartment instead, and there was the time Edward managed to piss off our carpenter enough that he quit, but my memories of that period of our lives are filled with joy because it was Edward and I living the life we'd never been able to before, happy and just together. And a year and a half later, when the last bit of furniture had been delivered and Edward declared the room down the hall from our bedroom should be the nursery, I knew it was all worth it.
"What's got you thinking so hard?" Edward asks, his arms still tight around me. I move my hands so they lay over his, my heart still skipping after all these years when he intertwines our fingers.
"Just about how awful this house looked when we bought it. We must have been insane," I answer, shaking my head.
"Jesus, there were times I thought I'd go crazy if I ever saw a paint pot again. Especially when you changed your mind four times over what kitchen cabinets to have," he grumbles, but I know him well enough to hear the smile behind the complaint.
"It was an important decision! I was going to school to learn how to cook; I couldn't have an ugly kitchen!"
"Oh yeah, because the difference in wood makes a huge difference in how your food turns out," he teases, and I turn around to cover his mouth with my own. We kiss for seconds or maybe minutes, the way his lips move against mine making me curse my belly for getting in the way.
"I can't get close enough to you!" I whine and to Edward's credit, he manages to stifle his laugh. He pulls me over to the counter and lifts me awkwardly, trying to pick me up without pressing too hard against my bump. He finally manages it, though, and I reward him by softly running my tongue over his bottom lip, smiling into the kiss when he pushes forward impatiently.
We pull apart and I stare at his face, so similar to the one I saw in the diner 10 years before. He's still the most attractive guy I've ever seen, aging in that way only handsome men can. The lines around his eyes speak of the years we've spent smiling, the ones framing his mouth detailing every laugh we've shared. He's always beautiful and I don't think that will ever change; not with age or with the number of people who stare at his scar. It's faded with time but it will be there for the rest of his life, just like the scars littering his heart and mine. We've healed one another, I know, and I'm thankful every day that I met Edward. I smile as my eyes roam his face. He attracts women's gazes everywhere we go, wide eyes and lustful thoughts directed at him – he's gorgeous after all, and he's still so in shape it makes me want to cry and jump him at the same time. He's maybe even more muscular now; broader and bigger, and he continues to wear leather jackets even though he rarely rides his motorbike. I've grown used to the stares he seems to garner just as he's grown used to the looks I receive from men – usually before they see I'm with Edward – and mostly we're oblivious anyway, eyes trained solely on one another.
"I'm definitely glad we picked such sturdy counters now," Edward says, and my mouth drops before closing again in indignation as his face splits into a smile.
"You jerk!" I reply, poking him hard in the chest as he laughs. He moves forward to kiss me but I rear my head back out of his way, denying him access which just causes him to laugh harder.
"I'm kidding!" he says but I ignore him, facing the other direction and sniffing. I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing as he looks at me, trying my hardest to look upset. "Aw Bella, you know you're beautiful. I tell you every day," he tries again, but I still refuse to face him. He starts to pout as he rubs my thigh and I finally give in, giggling at his sad face. His eyes widen and then narrow again as he watches me, lips twisting into my favourite smirk. "You little sneak. I should have known you'd do anything just to watch me squirm."
"You're damn right. That's mostly why I changed my mind on the cabinets so much," I tease before putting on a smirk of my own. "Well, that and I liked watching you with your shirt off when you had to carry the materials around the yard."
"Oh really?" he asks, stepping forward into the gap between my legs. I look down at my nails as he traces a hand up the side of my ribs, silencing the moan that almost comes out when he reaches my breast.
"Yeah. You looked so hot back then," I say, sighing and gloating inside when his hand immediately halts.
"Back then?" he questions, and the rough note in his voice is enough to tell me I'm going to like what comes next.
"Sure, you know, before you became an old ma- EDWARD!" I shout as he bends and throws me over his shoulder, bump and all. I giggle endlessly as he walks us up the stairs, barely even breathing heavily as he mutters about showing me who's old. My head hangs upside down, my face level with Claire's tattoo on his hip. In that moment my life seems pretty perfect, and as we make love the cold metal of his wedding ring against my face when he cups my cheek is enough to make me sure of it.
Edward proposed two years after we moved to Seattle and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't waiting for it to happen by that point. It wasn't that I doubted Edward loved me - he showed it all the time in the small things he did. I'd come downstairs an hour or two after he'd left for work to find the coffee machine refilled and a note telling me he loved me, or I'd find that he'd set Vampire Diaries to record even though he hated it. I knew we were right for one another, yet I also knew that Edward didn't have good experiences with marriage. Seeing him Mom and Carlisle happy had gone some way to improving that but I feared there was a large part of him that thought marriage would somehow change him or that he'd become this horrible person as soon as he went from boyfriend to husband.
I spoke to Esme, to Carlisle and even to Edward's friend Emmett. Each said the same thing - that Edward was crazy about me whether he proposed or not. I couldn't deny that I felt I needed to marry Edward, though; a part of me yearned to be his wife and have the fairy tale romance along with that. I kept it to myself, too scared it would never happen to voice the words. I tried not to want it, made a concentrated effort to go back to being happy as just his girlfriend but I couldn't hide the wince when I'd refer to him as my boyfriend, the word acerbic as it rolled from my tongue. I batted down that cliché need for commitment and tried to be content.
It wasn't long after that when Edward told me he had to go to a training course in Portland and would be gone for the weekend. It was almost a relief to have the time to myself, to sort out the deep discontent sitting in my stomach like a rock. Esme came over on the Saturday evening, dragging me out of the house and away from my Bridget Jones DVDs. She told me in no uncertain terms that my behaviour was going to cause a divide between me and Edward, and I knew she was right - there had been times in the weeks before where I'd feel as if there was a wall between us, and it was so unlike our usual relationship. We didn't hide things, and sitting in that restaurant I realised that I was being unfair to Edward by keeping such a huge issue from him. When he came home on the Sunday I greeted him with the love I hadn't recently, and as his warm arms tucked me tightly to him I wondered how I ever considered our life to be lacking.
I approached the topic over dinner, pushing my food around my plate and trying not to cry. "I uh, I've been really upset lately," I said, my voice wavering horribly even over those few words. I only became more upset as Edward moved to kneel next to me, stroking my hair and looking at me with eyes full of concern. "Do you ever want to marry me, Edward? Because if not then I... I can cope with that, but I just want to know," I finished, my stare aimed directly at my lap and the wet spots that formed on my leggings as my tears fell. I prepared for Edward to shout or tell me he wasn't ever going to want marriage but instead my head snapped up as he sighed and got up, walking out of the dining room. I sat staring at the cream paint of the wall until it was nothing but a blur of off-white; my chest tight with pain as I thought of Edward packing a bag to leave the house. I cursed myself for pushing him, doubling over and sobbing when I pictured selling the house we'd worked so hard on and having to face a life without him.
That's how he found me when he came back in and knelt beside me. I spoke before he could, the pleading in my voice matched by the desperate way my hands scrambled to grab on to him and hold him so tight he couldn't leave. He clasped my hands in his own and wrenched them from his body and I sat inconsolable as I waited for the blow to come.
"I'm sorry, Edward, I shouldn't... it's just good things don't last for me and I wanted this to last. I thought if we got married it would stay this way, but I'm sorry. We don't have to get married if you don't want to," I told him through my hiccupping cries, the tight spasms of my stomach making it hard to speak. He placed two of his fingers over my mouth and stroked the dampness away from my face with his free hand, shushing me all the while. He waited until I was silent again and reached into his pocket, pulling out a square box covered in black satin. I blinked away the last remnants of my tears and frowned, my confusion only growing as he moved to open it. And just before he lifted the lid, I realised that Edward was on one knee in front of me with a square box in his hand, and my heart skipped and then sped again.
Nestled in white cushion was a silver ring with a stone that sparkled even in the dim lighting - though not as brightly as Edward's smile; the diamond eclipsed by the shimmer of his eyes.
"When I told you that I had a conference in Portland - that was true. I didn't tell you that I'd also arranged to meet a friend of Carlisle's who owns a jewellery shop. The whole way home I was trying to think of a way to propose to you but none of my thoughts could have matched up to this, where you showed just how neurotic and irrational you could be and I got to sweep in like the hero," he said, and I laughed gratefully as he smirked before sobering. "But really all I ever needed, all I will ever need is you. I adore you, and I know I'm not good at telling you that but I hope it's never in doubt. You took the pieces of a broken, angry man, and you loved me until I felt whole again. You're the most beautiful, desirable and batshit crazy woman I've ever met. You've shown me how to live, how to laugh and love and how to be a good person. You've given me so much, and now I want to give you my future. I'll never stop trying to take care of you, Bella. Please be my wife."
The happiness that blossomed from deep inside stole my breath until I could no longer speak, my chest heaving as I frantically nodded. Edward lifted me from my chair and spun us around, refusing to put me down even as he handed me the ring. He held me firmly to his body as I twisted it around my finger, beaming as his mouth came down hard on mine. We kissed and laughed and cried, his tears mingling with my own until every point of contact between our faces was wet with liquid joy.
Our wedding was small and quiet, no big declarations or frivolous parties needed. Instead we married under the apple tree in our garden in front our family and a few friends, saying the traditional vows and saving our personal ones for later that night when we were alone. We ate and we celebrated and when everyone had left, we danced barefoot on the grass. And as Edward sang 'we found each other in the dark' into my ear, there in the twilight of the evening in the shadow of our house, I don't think I'd ever been happier.
"Okay, so you aren't so old after all," I say through panting breaths, rolling off of Edward onto the bed and sprawling out.
He says nothing, but barks a laugh as he moves to wrap his body around mine. I rest my forehead against his and bask in the silence of the house.
"That'll show you not to tease me, woman," he says, pressing a kiss to my mouth.
"More like that'll make me tease you every day," I reply, his resulting laugh making my stomach clench.
"You already tease me every day! You know what you do to me with those little looks and smirks, and don't get me started on this body of yours."
He runs a hand over my new shape, feeling my generous hips and the curve of my thighs. Pregnancy has been just as gruesome as everyone makes it out to be, and there was a week or so at the beginning where I thought I'd never keep food down again. Yet if there's one good thing about it, it's the changes in my body and how Edward responds to them. Going from a teenager to an almost-thirty year old has given me extra pounds and pregnancy just exacerbated that, but the subtle touches and dirty whispers that Edward showers me with have me more confident than ever.
"Yeah, yeah, I get the picture. I'm hot."
Edward's head snaps up as he looks at me, and it's barely a second before I burst out laughing. He just shakes his head, a smile that's full of warm affection across his cheeks.
"You've gotten crazier over the years, Mrs Cullen."
"Oh well thank you, Mr Cullen. It must be your influence," I tell him sarcastically,
"What did I teach you about teasing me?"
"That it leads to wonderful things?" I question, eyes wide as I flutter my eyelashes at him. He smirks, the warmth of his mouth covering my body as he trails kisses down my chest and stomach, and my moan when he reaches where I need him most makes me resolve to tease him more often.
"How long do I have before the boys come home?" he asks, and it takes me ten seconds before I even register the question. I squint at the clock by the bedside and do an internal fist pump when I see there's still an hour left.
"An hour. They're being dropped off at 4," I reply, arching my back as he brings his fingers up to stroke and tease.
"Good. I'm going to need every minute," he tells me, lowering his mouth between my thighs. "And Bella? I'm going to need you to be loud."
It was maybe a year before I graduated from culinary school that I decided I wanted to go on to become a high school cookery teacher, and with that came a need for in-school experience. I shadowed the culinary teacher at a local high school for a few weeks, gaining not only the knowledge that teaching was definitely what I wanted to do but also finding out more about the various organisations and charities in the area via the guidance counsellor I became friendly with. She told me about a foster home for troubled young men in the area and how they were always looking for people to help and something about it hit home – maybe because these were children with nowhere to go, just like I'd been at one point.
Edward wasn't keen on me going alone, considering they had boys up to age 18 there. He came with me and we offered to help out, both taking on mentor type roles with the children. Edward was wary at first, not having spent much time around teenage boys, but he shone. He had a knack for speaking to boys who were like he'd been as a teen, volatile and aggressive, and getting to the root cause behind their issues. He loved his work there and even encouraged Esme to join in. There were tough days when he'd come home and I'd know he'd seen or heard something that bought back a painful memory – those were the evenings I sheltered him with my body and my heart, a safe place he desperately needed. Mostly he loved his work, though, and a while after he was offered a place working in the foster home. He was worried that due to his background he wouldn't be allowed to work with children but we found that since his conviction had been so long before and was manslaughter rather than homicide, and thanks in part to a glowing reference from his parole officer, he was given the okay.
It brought out a side of Edward that I don't think even he knew he had, a seemingly in-built ability to lead and a natural authority that the boys respected. Unlike many of the other workers who had trained in social work or child psychology, Edward had no formal qualifications apart from the GED he'd gained in prison and yet he was the person the boys felt understood them the most because he'd lived it. Their shitty lives were a sad repetition of his own, but he was convinced their futures wouldn't be, and to this day I'm convinced he's kept more than one of them from going to prison. That's the thing about Edward – on the outside he's the tough, bad-boy stereotype and on the inside he's full of love that he wants to give, loyal to his core. He connects with people who are beaten down and broken, and I couldn't be more proud of all he does if I tried.
That's why when Edward came to me with the idea of adoption just after my teaching qualification was all finished with; I did nothing but smile, the 'yes' that left my mouth tear-choked and happy. The process was long and arduous, especially with Edward's past, but the support of Esme and Carlisle and our belief in what we were doing pulled us through. Friends didn't quite understand our thought process considering neither of us were infertile, and yet to Edward and I adoption seemed natural, an extension of our love to someone who wouldn't have it otherwise. We spent a year waiting for a phone call that never came, and over the months it became little other than a wishful thought at the back of our minds; a pipe dream that wouldn't happen. We struggled as time wore on – Edward particularly, seeing as it was undoubtedly him that held our application back – but then as we'd almost given up, the phone call came to tell us there were two twin boys with a mother that didn't want to be involved. We waited to hear about their birth, keeping our hope hidden for fear we'd curse ourselves, and at 4:52am on August 6th, we travelled to the hospital after receiving a call. Esme had asked us very seriously whether we could care for an adopted baby and though we'd told her we could, Edward and I had stayed up many nights discussing how we'd feel looking at features that weren't ours; speculating over where certain traits came from. But I thought of the years I spent with Billy, nothing to link us but love and I had my answer. And when I walked in to the room only to see two perfect boys, a shock of black hair atop each of their heads; that was when I knew biology didn't matter. They were mine and Edward's, and the sight of his face as I picked up one of our sons was enough to convince me he felt the same.
"Mommy, where are you?" I hear as I blink into the dark of my bedroom, thankful Edward helped me get dressed before he left to go wait for the boys. I shake my head as I hear them pounding up the stairs, laughing when I hear them telling each other to be quiet so they don't wake me. I lie on my side silently as they creep in, both tearing off their shoes and crawling into bed with me. I barely contain a happy sigh when I feel two small hands rest on my swollen stomach, the whispers about who can feel the baby better making it impossible to contain my smile.
"Mommy, you're awake! I saw your smile! Joshua and I are back from school now so you have to get up!" Ryan says in a muted yell, knowing Edward won't be impressed if he hears shouting when I'm meant to be resting.
"I know you're back from school, Mr Ryan, because I could hear you and your brother hoofing up the stairs!" I tell him, using my hands to tickle them both. They both still have black hair, their skin darker than the pale complexion that Edward and I share. They like to tell their friends that we're special parents because we chose them, and neither Edward nor I have ever disagreed.
We were worried that the prospect of us having a biological child would make them feel uneasy, but as soon as we told them I realised we'd underestimated just how wonderful our sons were. They were both very excited and still are now, even though they know life will be slightly different when she's born. They asked to buy a baby name book with their allowance that month, pouring over the pages in their room and telling me we should name the baby Grace because they'd seen that it could mean blessing. Edward and I agreed, bowled over by their caring nature, but that was nothing compared to what came next. They moved to sit either side of us and quietly suggested that we should include Aunt Claire in her name, to make sure the baby was 'awesome'. We agreed to think about it and I held Edward as he cried later that night, tears of my own coming when he called Esme to ask her permission.
I'm brought back to the present by the heavy weight of Edward jumping onto the mattress, causing two squealing children and a lot of jostling. And as I sit in the middle of the bed surrounded on all sides by the smiling faces of my boys, I can't help but think of how lucky our daughter is to be born into a family as full of love and happiness as this one.
A/N: It's all over! I know it might seem abrupt to some, but in my mind this story was always meant to be about Bella and Edward finding each other and beginning a life together.
There may be one or two outtakes in the future but I have nothing planned as of yet. Thank you so much for reading my little story and investing your time in my characters, I hope you were happy with how it ended. Thank you to everyone who favourited, followed or reviewed and please take this opportunity to tell me what you thought for the last time!