A/N: Sneaking this in just before Christmas is over! Schmoop, schmoop, sugary schmoop... mostly.
There was a soft hand on his shoulder, Edward realized as he woke slowly. His lids were too heavy and his thoughts too groggy.
"Wake up. You don't have to wake all the way, but just enough so we can walk to bed."
His father. There was something wrong, something off about his father being there. Edward couldn't figure, for a moment, why it bothered him. He sighed and shifted. When he moved, something warm and tiny in his arms made the softest of snuffles. Edward's eyes flew open and his arms tightened around the bundle he held against his chest. "Avery?"
"Careful, Edward. You'll wake her."
Edward blinked at the baby in his arms. As his eyes got used to the dim light, he could make out her features-her button nose and the shell-pink of her lips, pursed lightly in sleep. He let out a breath and looked blearily up at his father. "Dad, what are you doing here? Where's my husband?"
Carlisle smiled. "Your mother put him to bed. She's working on your son. Now it's your turn."
"Nothing. Nothing at all. Jasper called. He said the babies wouldn't stop crying, and you needed help."
"I didn't want him to call you."
"Edward. You're exhausted. What did your mother and I tell you when you brought them home? One baby is hard enough. We're here to help. We want to help."
Edward opened his mouth to argue, but he slumped back down again. He ran his hand over his daughter's back, marveling again now that he was more awake. "They coordinate. I swear they do. As soon as one of them knocks out, the other one starts screaming. They're doing it on purpose."
"I'm sure that's true. I thought the same thing about my collicky newborn and my raumbunctious four-year-old back in the day." Carlisle ruffled his hair affectionately. "Let us take care of them. You get some sleep."
Edward hummed. He was very tired. The idea of getting up from the couch wasn't appealing, especially when he had his baby girl in his arms, radiating baby heat. What was wrong with falling asleep on the couch?
"Come on. I promised Jasper I'd send you up."
Right. Of course. It felt as though it had been forever since he'd so much as cuddled with his husband. It hadn't, of course. The twins were only three weeks old. But if Edward and Jasper could sneak a catnap in, they were lucky. It seemed like one of them was always up with one of the babies. "Sleep in the same bed at the same time? That's a novel concept."
Edward stood and yawned. He let Carlisle take Avery and followed obediently up the stairs. In the twins' nursery, they found his mother in the rocking chair with an alert but quiet Aiden. "Hey, sweetheart," Esme greeted, grinning that proud-grandma grin that hadn't left her face in three weeks.
"How's Thing One?" Edward asked.
"Fighting it. He's going to be trouble, this one."
Edward hummed and stroked his fingers against the downy hairs on Aiden's head. His expression must have been more pinched than he wanted, because Esme sighed. "I see that look, Edward Cullen. You have not had enough sleep to overthink things."
"Hey. This is my don't-lie-to-me face. Learn it. Use it. Love it."
Edward grinned, but his smile fell almost as quickly as it appeared. He sighed. "I don't know, Mom. I've just been wondering lately if I'm good enough for them. And then I get frustrated, because I wonder if the depression is coming back again. What good would I be to them like that?"
"It's not the depression. Every parent feels like that, I think." Esme's expression turned just the slightest bit sad, her eyes far away as she spoke. "That you won't be enough and can't be enough are probably the greatest pains of being a parent."
"But it's like anything else, better than anything else." Carlisle shifted Avery to one arm so he could put his hand to Edward's shoulder. "You're a strong man, Edward. Stronger than me and your mother. These kids will be stronger for it."
Edward was quiet as he stared at his children. He was beginning to realize, with stunning clarity, the depths of his parents' guilt and devastation over what had happened to him. He couldn't imagine… "I don't want them to have to be so strong."
"It's late, sweetheart. You have the rest of your life to enjoy all the worry and the joy they'll bring you." Esme stood, careful of the now sleeping baby in her arms. She kissed Edward's forehead. "I'm still your mother. Mind me, and go to bed."
"Yes, Mom." Edward pressed a kiss to Avery and Aiden's foreheads, and with one last look, he ambled to his bedroom. Fatigue drained at his ability to worry. Seeing Jasper's form in their bed drove every other thought from his head.
After so many years, Edward could tell how tired Jasper was by how he fell asleep. That night he was sprawled, limbs askew, across his side of the bed and most of Edward's as well.
Edward perched on the edge of the bed, his lips pursed in a rueful smile as he watched Jasper sleep. He regretted being too stubborn to call his parents sooner. He'd run them both into the ground. But then, that's one of the reasons they worked, and one of the reasons he didn't need to worry quite so much about their babies. He had backup-a system of checks and balances.
They made a good team.
With lethargic movements, Edward unwound the blankets from Jasper's grip. He laughed when his husband's brow furrowed and he growled, trying to pull the blankets back. Edward dipped his head to brush his lips at Jasper's ear. "It's just me, babe."
Jasper relinquished his hold on the blankets to wrap his arms around Edward's neck. "Come to bed," he mumbled, pulling him down.
"Trying. You need to let me in."
"Can't right now, sugar." Jasper opened his bleary eyed and yawned. "The kids might walk in."
"That would be impressive." Edward got his legs under the covers and slung his arm over Jasper's waist, curling up with his head on his chest. "They can't even lift their heads."
"They're smart though. They'll figure it out." Jasper nuzzled his chin in Edward's hair and splayed his hand over his back. "They're asleep?"
"Mom and Dad have them. Thank you for calling them."
"I didn't do it for you. You passed out and left me all alone with Aiden. I don't think the noises he made were human. Are you sure he's not part banshee?"
"Mix up at the clinic? Oh well. We have him now, and you know how lazy I am about returning defective products. We'll just have to keep him."
Jasper hummed, already mostly asleep again. "I kind of like him. Defects and all."
Unconditional love had always been what Jasper was best at. Edward raised his head to kiss the underside of his chin. "Sleep."
"Sleep," Jasper agreed.
~Three Years Later~
"Oh, my goodness. Look at you two. You grow at least a foot every time I see you."
"Hi, Aunt Bella." Avery hugged one of Bella's legs while Aiden wrapped himself around the other.
"We're three today. Did you know?"
Bella reached down to ruffle both kids' hair. "I do know. I was there when you were born."
"You were?" Aiden asked with wide eyes. "You remember that far back?"
Jasper had to laugh at the wry look on Bella's face. Considering she was, biologically, the twins' mother and she'd given birth to them, he didn't think she would be forgetting anytime soon. She looked up at him, her expression wry, before she turned her attention back to the kids.
"I have a good memory for these kinds of things," she said.
"Who's older?" Avery asked, a challenge in her voice.
"Aiden. By seven whole minutes."
"See, Avy? That makes me the boss of you." Aiden looked smug.
"You're not the boss of anyone yet, bud," Jasper said, lifting his son up onto his hip.
"Then why is Henry the boss of Clara?" Aiden asked, pointing to his cousins across the lawn.
"Because Henry is seven years older than Clara, and Clara is one."
"She's just a baby," Avery said in her duh-brother voice.
Jasper turned his head to hide his eye-roll. "Okay, kids. Go play. I'll take care of Bella."
"You should have punch, Bella," Aiden called over his shoulder as he ran off. "I made it."
"By made it, he means he helped Esme stir the 7-Up and fruit punch," Jasper said.
Bella grinned, but before she could speak to this, she was being spun around in Edward's arms. She squeaked and hugged him as he set her down. "Hello to you too."
He kissed her cheek. "I'm glad you're here."
"You know I wouldn't miss this."
"Well, before we go back out to the madness, we have something for you," Jasper said.
Bella raised an eyebrow. "For me? It's not my birthday."
"Yeah, but we wanted you to know, we haven't forgotten, we'll never forget they're part of you."
"They both have your pretty eyes," Edward said.
"And Avery has your ears."
"You're thanking me for that?" Bella stroked her ears self-consciously, but her eyes were shining.
Edward hugged her close. "I love your ears."
Jasper sidled up on her other side so they could hug her between them. She laughed and wrapped one arm around each of them. "Easiest decision I've ever made in my life. Watching you guys with them is enough of a gift on its own, but you spoiled me enough when I was pregnant."
"Well." Edward slipped an envelope in her back pocket and put his hand to her as of yet flat belly. "I know you get to keep this one, but since you're pregnant again, you can still enjoy a spa day on us."
"Yeah, and I've seen your boyfriend's massages," Jasper said. "He sucks. Get a professional to do it when you're big and achy."
Bella blushed and smirked at them. "You're too good to me."
"Hardly, but enough of that. We should head out to the party. Mom and Alice outdid themselves." Edward shook his head. "We've got a superhero theme going on. There are capes for everyone. It's crazy." He gestured that Bella should walk on ahead of him and reached his hand back.
Jasper threaded their fingers together as they followed Bella out into Carlisle and Esme's backyard. "Hold on," Edward said, tugging him back to his side before they could step out into the lawn.
"Nothing." There was a faraway look in Edward's eyes, but when he turned to Jasper, his smile was serene. "I just… need a minute."
Jasper looked out at the lawn where their friends and family had gathered. Maybe next year, when the twins were in school, there would be a bunch of kid running around, but for now, it was the people who'd stuck by them through thick and thin. Carlisle and Esme - the epitome of the proud patriarch and matriarch, watching over their brood with proud smiles and cuddling their grandbabies close at every opportunity. Bella, who'd helped Edward and Jasper have their precious babies. Alice with her six month old daughter, Cynthia on her hip, Peter with Garrett, Emmett, Rosalie, and their kids.
And of course, their babies. Avery with her button nose and sweet smile. Her hair fell straight in spun gold. Those who were chronically obsessed with her biology took that to mean she was Jasper's daughter, but her blond genes could just as easily have come from Carlisle. Aiden, their too-curious-for-Daddies'-comfort little boy, had light brown hair that could have come from either family. Edward and Jasper couldn't have cared less. The kids were cherished and loved exactly as they were, biology regardless.
"I'm lucky," Edward said.
Jasper kissed him soundly. "We all are."
Edward and Jasper both stood and hurried out into the yard where the kids were playing. Avery ran at them and leapt up when Jasper opened his arms. She looped his arms around his neck in a stranglehold and buried her head against his skin. He could tell she wasn't seriously hurt. Her little whimpers were more miffed than anything.
Aiden skidded to a stop in front of his parents. "I didn't do nothing. I swear."
"I told him to stop, Daddy. I told him to stop, and he didn't."
"I was just tickling her. She likes to tickle."
Avery raised her head to glare at her brother. "Not today."
Jasper glanced at Edward, and they both sat on the grass. Edward pulled Aiden onto his lap. "Did we talk about this before, bud?"
Aiden made a face. "But she liked it yesterday."
"Yesterday isn't today," Jasper said.
"But whose body is it?" Edward asked, his tone even and patient.
"It's my body," Avery said, screwing up her nose. "And no means no."
Aiden put his finger in his mouth, sucking in consternation.
"Did you want to make your sister upset?" Jasper asked.
Aiden shook his head. "I wanted her to laugh," he said around his moist finger.
"Was she laughing?"
"A little. But she got mad and yelled."
"Okay. Do you think you should have stopped when you saw she was upset?"
Aiden considered this. Finally, he nodded slowly. He took his finger out of his mouth. "Sorry, sister."
"It's okay." Avery scrambled out of Jasper's arms and clambered up into Edward's lap so she could hug her brother. Jasper covered a laugh as Edward winced under the onslaught of bony elbows and knees.
When the twins ran off again, Jasper scooted over to Edward's side. He tucked him under his arm and kissed his forehead. "So this is what happily ever after looks like, huh?"
Edward rested his head on Jasper's shoulder. "I'll take it."
PSA: When I said rather than teach our girls how not to be raped, we should teach our boys (and girls, tbh) not to rape, a reader asserted that it couldn't be done. Well, I respectfully disagree. This is just one tiny example of how you can begin to introduce the issue. I got this scenario from the Big Comfy Couch.
I think this is so important. We've all heard the statistic that one in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. The corollary we don't think of is that one in four men, therefore, is a rapist. Granted, it's a rough statistic. Contrary to what we'd all like to believe, rapists aren't dark and devious men who wait in dark alleys. Most rapists are people we know, people we love, people we trust. So can we teach our young people not to rape? Well… I think we'd better try, because obviously, what we're doing (and not doing) is failing. Like Aro, most rapists have no clue that what they've done is rape because what they've done doesn't match the violent stranger scenario we all have in our heads.
Just something to think about.
A/Ns: Thank you for making it through another tale of mine. It is a subject that's so important to me, and I hope I've handled it with sensitivity and realism.
Many thanks to jessypt, songster, and barburella for everything they do for me.
Jfka06 - it goes without saying I love you. Thanks for coaxing this story out of me. I'm proud of it.
The rest of you - kisses and love for all your kind words. They mean more than I could ever express. Much heart, and I'll catch you next time.