A/N: Whoa. Comic Con was Ah may zing. Like whoa. It was such a great time. I did miss writing though. Hah. Well... let's get to it, yeah?
In the wake of Esme's death, her loved ones lost, but they all gained. Edward and Bella found each other again. Alice found freedom. They all gained purpose. Bittersweet as it was, their lives were changed for the better.
He had plenty of good days. As he'd predicted, Carlisle found peace and a sense of purpose in his day to day life at the hospital. He'd always been good at what he did. He had Edward, Bella, and Mae with him every day. Alice was finding her way in the world, and her success brought him satisfaction.
Still, an essential part of him was missing. Some days, it was as though Carlisle had died when Esme had, and his body was just waiting to catch up.
On those darkest days, Carlisle would most often sit in his favorite chair facing the backyard. Bella never asked, but she thought he might be imagining Esme out there, tending to their fledgling garden. Edward and Bella tried, but Esme would have made the space a verdant wonderland. He would stare for hours ignoring everyone. Edward and Bella couldn't reach him.
When he got in those moods and Mae found him in his chair, she would take his hands and tug. "Play with me, Grandpa. Play with me."
Carlisle would always resist at first. Bella understood depression and the way it seeped energy from the marrow of your bones. But Mae was a stubborn girl. She was gentle but insistent. She never failed to get her grandfather up and out of his chair to play. If anyone could make him smile again, it was her.
Mae was nothing short of a miracle in so many ways. She was the physical embodiment that something beautiful could come out of a love that had gotten as twisted as Bella and Edward's had. Oh, they could have had wonderful lives without each other, but that wasn't the hand fate had dealt. Four years after Esme's death, they were stronger than ever - head over heels in love with each other and in love with their little girl.
Looking at her baby with her grandmother's eyes and her endless capacity for love, Bella couldn't help but wonder if Esme had sent her as a gift to them all. It was learning Mae was on the way that gave Edward and Bella that final push. Bella moved in with Edward and accepted his help with school. Aching with the realization that his daughter would never know his mother, Edward decided he'd found his calling in the organization he'd founded. He wanted to help give people a second chance to raise their families and be with their loved ones.
And, of course, there was the comfort Mae brought Carlisle.
Mae's tiny girl giggles wafted up from the lawn below. Bella smiled as she watched her daughter dart back and forth across the grass, zigzagging to avoid Charlie and Carlisle as they chased her. She squealed as Carlisle caught up and lifted her high in the air. His grin was wide as he drew her close and pressed a big smooch to her cheek. Still tittering, Mae wound her skinny arms around his neck.
It was good to see Carlisle looking so light and happy. The anniversary of Esme's death could have been such a bad day. But for the third year, the day was instead filled with family, friends, and a grinning birthday girl covered in cake.
Bella was startled out of her thoughts when arms wrapped around her waist from behind. She smiled and relaxed, pressing her back against Edward's chest. He nuzzled her hair with the tip of his nose, winding their fingers together.
"I think I might be psychic," he said, his voice a rumble near her ear. Bella shivered at the vibration it sent through her bloodstream.
"What makes you think so?" She tilted her head up so her cheek rubbed along his. She loved the feel of his stubble against her skin.
"You remember when we were looking at this house?"
She chuckled. Life had looked so different there - hopeful but one big question mark for each of them. "I remember."
"You were standing here, looking out the window just like this." As he spoke, he brushed her hair over her shoulder and began to press kisses along the line of her face. "And I saw a vision clear as day. I saw you here in our room, watching our children play on the lawn."
Bella sighed, tilting her head to the side so he could nip her neck. "Children? We only have the one."
"Well, I wanted to talk to you about that." His hands had been brushing along her sides, but he brought them around, cupping both his palms over her belly. "You've graduated, started a job..."
"I just started at my job." She had a feeling she knew where he was going.
He hummed against the skin of her cheek. "But if we were to begin to think about giving Mae a sibling. Just start thinking about it. It could be months before you were pregnant. And then they do take nine months to bake."
Bella sighed and turned in his arms. She wound her arms around his neck.
When they were young and first in love, they'd talked about children. Five kids were part of their original, airtight plan for life.
They would have to talk about it to see if they were on the same page, but Bella was fine with the idea of two. And she had been thinking it would be nice to give Mae a sibling when there was still only a small age gap between them.
Bella took Edward's face in her hands. She took a moment to appreciate the love in his eyes, the easy set of his smile, and she kissed him soundly. "We should think about it."
His smile could have lit the room.
"But first, we should go pay attention to the child we have."
He nodded. "Alice and Jasper will be here in an hour. Jasper already warned me their back seat is full of gifts."
Bella groaned. "And she already has a mountain of presents from everyone else. It's going to take us an hour just to peel her off the ceiling tonight after all the excitement."
Edward leaned in, kissing her once more and stroking her cheek. "I love you, you know."
"I love you, too. Always."
That night, when Mae finally passed out, she was in her grandfather's arms. Edward followed Carlisle up to Mae's room and watched as he tucked her in bed. When he didn't make a move to leave immediately, Edward went to his father's side.
For long moments, neither of them spoke. There was a strange look in Carlisle's eyes as he carefully wrapped one of Mae's caramel colored curls around his finger.
When he finally did speak, his voice was soft and far away. "In a moment of selfish weakness, I asked your mother how I was supposed to live without her. It was painful even to imagine. It still is. Thinking about all the years I have left without her..."
Edward was startled. Carlisle could rarely be coaxed to talk about Esme at all, let alone her death. He put his hand to his father's shoulder, simply lending him a comforting presence.
Carlisle sighed. "She told me, 'Living is a choice. You choose to embrace it. Pain and all. And you have a lot to live for.'" He shook his head. "Maybe it makes me a bad father-"
"-but I just didn't see it. I couldn't see how life was worth living, even for you and Alice. There is such a thing as dying of a broken heart. For a long time, I was... angry it didn't happen to me."
He brushed his fingertips down Mae's cheek before he looked up at Edward. "Your mother was right. It's a choice, isn't it? A daily choice. You breathe through the pain because there's so much worth living for." He reached forward, squeezing Edward's arm. "I'm glad I'm still here."
Edward didn't know what to do except hug his father. "I'm glad too, Dad."
A few minutes later, after he'd wished his father a good night, he paused outside the master bedroom door, collecting his thoughts.
He thought about the choice to finally breathe through the pain of what Bella had done to him once upon a time. He thought about Bella's choice to forgive him for every vile, nasty thing he'd said and done in his anger. He thought about their choice to unravel the complicated mess that was their past and present so they could have a future together.
He thought about how he chose to live after eight years of only surviving.
Edward closed his eyes and whispered a quiet thanks to his mother. She was his conscience, the voice in his head that drove him to better his life, to choose love instead of apathy. She was the one who'd taught him how to love and how to fight for what he wanted. She was the one who'd taught him how to forgive and how to beg for forgiveness.
His heart ached, and he hoped she could see him now, see how happy he was.
And then he pushed the door open, returning to his wife, and hoped he would love her this way, as deeply as Carlisle loved Esme, for the rest of his life. Hell or high water, joy or pain for as long as they both should live and longer.
A/N: Phew! Now that was an adventure. Picking up a story that's already been started isn't the easiest thing out there, but what a great experience. Thanks to GinnyW and sshg316 for letting me run with it. Thanks to all of you who seemed to enjoy the journey. I know I did.
What's next? Well, I have Suddenly to finish, and I am thinking about extending All I Have to Give... definitely hate the idea that James would "win", eh?
And, of course, I'm continuing writing Ofics. My first novella is available on Amazon for all those interested. It's called Duplicity by Kristina M. Sanchez (that's me!).
But, for now, many kisses. I hope you enjoyed this peek into their lives.