Edward shook me gently awake as the plane descended towards Seattle. My dreams had been mercifully Volturi free as I slept through the long flights from Rio to Houston, and Houston up to Seattle. I couldn't remember exactly what I had dreamed of, but I knew it was nice.
After our 'hunt', Huilen had briefly explained what we would need to do once we returned home. She said I would need to have an amount of blood equivalent to what I had just had every day, and more as time progressed; Pire had two deer and a large jaguar the day before Nahuel was born. She also told us that as my strength increased, so would the child's; she warned us of the very real possibility of broken bones, most likely ribs. Edward had stiffened at that, but I stroked his arm gently, trying to be reassuring. It must have worked, because he relaxed almost immediately.
Nahuel had invited us to come back and visit once the baby was born, and then they both vanished into the trees as we boarded the boat to begin our homeward journey
I sat up and stretched, yawning. My shirt rode up a little, exposing part of my rounded stomach. Edward ducked down to kiss the sliver of skin, making me squeak. He chuckled, and I slapped his shoulder, which only seemed to make him more amused. I pouted and crossed my arms, sulking.
“I'm sorry love,” Edward grinned, “I couldn't help myself.”
I made a 'humpf' sound and turned away from him, focusing on the view out of the window. It was only a second before his cold lips began dancing up and down my neck, his hand holding my hair to the side.
“Don't be angry with me Bella, please. You just looked so cute, I couldn't resist. Forgive me?”
I melted, losing all resistance as his nose skimmed my jaw.
“You're evil.” I grumbled.
“Finally, she sees sense.” he mumbled.
I turned and glared at
him. “Don't start that again.”
“Sorry love,” he said, looking sheepish, “Force of habit.”
“Well break it.” I snapped. “I'm not in the mood.”
He grinned. “You're adorable when you're angry.”
The whole family was waiting for us at the airport.
Carlisle and Esme smiled in welcome, no different from any other day.
Rosalie was sulking; I could see that immediately. I understood why, and did not think ill of her for it. In her eyes, I had everything she wanted and could never have – first humanity, then the choice to keep it or leave it behind, and now a child of my own, something she evidently craved.
Emmett, like his parents, was the same as always, grinning widely. I could almost hear the embarrassing jibes forming in his head; it must have been hell to be Edward at that moment.
Alice was bouncing in place, only restrained by Jasper's hands on her shoulders, her face agitated and confused. I could only imagine what it was like for her, to be in a potentially dangerous situation and having the one thing you relied on to assure you it would all be alright not working. I guessed that her outward expression was only half of what she was feeling inside.
“Rosalie isn't happy with me, is she?” I whispered to Edward.
He pursed his lips. “She's more frustrated with herself actually. The jealousy is there of course, but really, she's focused on herself more than you right now.”
I sighed. “I'm going to talk to her later.”
“If that's what you want...” he shrugged.
Alice broke away from Jasper then, sprinting across the space between us and grabbing me in a bone-crushing hug.
“Thank God you're alright.” she said, sounding slightly calmer than she looked.
“Alice,” I gasped, “Too... tight.”
She released me instantly, looking sheepish. “Sorry, it's just that I’ve been going out of my mind worrying about you Bella.” She glared at Edward then and he sighed.
“I know, I know, I’m an idiot. Can you blame me?”
Alice just kept glaring.
Emmett laughed loudly, alerting me to the fact that the others had reached us. Esme pulled me in for one of her soft, motherly, yet somehow incredibly fierce hugs.
“Congratulations darling.” she whispered in my ear. I smiled. Well, that was one person, at least, who approved of my decision.
“Thank you Esme.” I whispered back, squeezing her gratefully.
“Come on, let's get you home,” Carlisle said, putting an arm around my shoulders. “I'm sure Bella would appreciate a chance to freshen up a little, and you can tell us all about your time on the island.”
Emmett snickered and Edward shot him a warning glare. To my surprise, Rosalie reached up and smacked him round the head.
“Get your mind out of the gutter Em.” she hissed, her expression murderous.
Emmett looked an odd combination of chagrined and surprised, and I felt my own eyes widen slightly.
Rosalie turned on her heel and began to stalk towards the parking lot. Emmett hurried after her, already stuttering apologies, and the rest of us followed. No one said a word.
Edward’s sleek black Aston Martin was still in the long-stay parking lot where we had left it, so once he retrieved the keys we were on our way, following behind the others in the Mercedes and the Volvo.
It was early afternoon by the time we got home, the sun shining weakly behind the clouds and a misty, clammy feel to the air. Even after the glorious heat and sunshine of Isle Esme, the cool, fresh atmosphere of Forks felt wonderful; like home. It felt suddenly more significant to be entering the Cullen house, because, for the first time, I was not just a temporary guest. I was family now; this was my home too. It was strange, but also so right, to unpack my clothes into Edward’s closet, to start spreading my belongings through his room, to litter the empty counter of his bathroom with my shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, body wash; all the things he had never seen before, finally open to him.
Despite all our time together, there were still things I was shy about, things he was too much of a gentleman to pry into. He had never seen into the wash bag I carried to and from the bathroom every night at Charlie's. He had never dug through every corner of my room to find all the little knick-knacks hidden there, some dating right back to my birth.
Clearing out my room with Alice the week before the wedding had unearthed two old pacifiers, a teething ring, and countless collages, models, shapeless clay 'bowls' and other assorted elementary school art projects brought to show to Charlie over the years I had stayed there in the summer. Of course, most of the baby stuff had been packed and taken away during Renee’s abrupt departure from Forks, or thrown out by Charlie, but there were some newer things – bits of jewellery, night clothes... underwear – that my modesty had not let me reveal to Edward before, which were now on display, thanks to us sharing a space. He had access to everything that was mine, as I could see all that was his. It was a daunting prospect, but one that we would have to face. I was surprised how easily I could do it, the ease with which I put my underwear in a drawer with his, and left my razor in the shower, and slid a box of tampons – just in case – into the back of the bathroom cupboard. It made me that much more certain that Edward and I belonged together; our two lives merged so seamlessly into one. We truly were compatible in every way.
Edward came up behind me as I finished stacking my books on one of his shelves. The CDs that had previously occupied the space sat on the floor at my feet, kept carefully in order.
“You can take more space if you want Bella. I need to spring-clean my music collection anyway.” he said, wrapping his arms around my waist. His hands came to rest on the bump between my hips – which had definitely grown since I first felt it, enough for me to notice.
I smiled. “That's alright. I’ve finished now, and I can always clear more space if I need it.”
He chuckled. “Yes, you can. This is your room now as well as mine, and you can do whatever you want with it.”
I sighed and leaned back into him, my hands resting over his. “We'll have to find a space for him too,” I mused. “Perhaps we'll have to move sooner than we thought.”
“There's a guest bedroom across the hall,” Edward said in a placating tone, “I'm sure Esme won't mind converting it into a nursery for us.”
I sighed again happily, imagining all the possibilities. I’d never thought of myself as an interior designer, per se, but I found the prospect of decorating a nursery for my baby immensely exciting. Perhaps Alice and Esme were wearing off on me.
“Come on love,” Edward said, turning me around and pulling on my hands. “Carlisle sent me to fetch you for a check-up. He has everything ready.”
I smiled and followed him as he led me out of our room and downstairs to Carlisle’s study. It was unrecognisable from the last time I was here. Space had been cleared in the center of the room for a hospital bed and several humming machines. Carlisle was cleaning his hands with an anti-bacterial scrub, and he smiled at us in welcome.
“Hello there you two,” he said cordially, clearly in doctor mode. “Are we ready to get started?”
I nodded, beginning to feel the anticipation building in the pit of my stomach. Edward squeezed my hand gently. “We're ready.”
“Alright then,” Carlisle moved to the bed and patted the mattress. “Jump up here Bella, and we'll get started.”
I walked over to him and climbed carefully onto the bed. Edward helped me lay back against the pillows, then took my hand again and sat beside me in the chair from Carlisle’s desk.
I sat calmly while Carlisle asked questions, took measurements, listened to my heart and lungs with a stethoscope he didn't need, and took my blood pressure. I relaxed bit by bit under the influence of his gentle hands and calm bedside manner. I was almost falling asleep – again – when he pulled one of the machines closer and took out a tube of pale blue gel. I got excited then, knowing what was coming, but I stayed still as Edward raised my shirt above the bump. The coldness of the gel made me jump as Carlisle squeezed some onto my stomach, which made Edward chuckle softly as he sat down and took my hand once again. He seemed determined to have some part of us touching at all times. I turned to smile at him, and our eyes locked together. It was as if nothing but us existed in the whole world as we waited with baited breath for what was to come.
There was a gentle pressure against my stomach as Carlisle touched it with the little wand and began to move it around. I felt the baby kick the spot softly and giggled, which made Edward’s smile grow.
Then I heard it. A low quick thumping, slightly distorted by the machinery, but unmistakable for what it was.
A thrill went through me as I heard for the first time the sound that Edward had been hearing since before we left the island. Tears welled in my eyes as I listened to my baby's heart beating, strong and vital and so very real.
“Hmm,” Carlisle hummed. “Interesting.”
I looked up at him, worried by the tone of his voice. My wide smile slipped into a frown, and I felt Edward squeeze my hand, whether out of nervousness or a desire to reassure me, I didn't know.
My eyes went to the screen of the ultrasound machine, and I gasped.
The screen was showing nothing but a round silver shape that pulsed slightly in time with the heartbeat. It shimmered and glinted metallically, like it was made of liquid steel.
“What is that?” I whispered, finally finding my voice.
“I don't know,” Carlisle murmured. “I've never seen anything like it before.”
“Do you have any idea what it could be? Any at all?” Edward asked, his voice almost desperate with his need for confirmation from his father; the one person he always trusted to help and comfort him when he needed it most.
Carlisle shook his head. “None. None at all. I would guess from the shape that it may be the amniotic sac, but that doesn't explain why we can't see through it. Unless...”
He paused, contemplating, then moved the little wand from my stomach and placed it on his own arm. The same silvery sheen covered the whole screen, even brighter without the human skin and flesh in the way.
Carlisle nodded to himself. “I suspected that might be the answer. It seems the child is protected by a material of the same composition as vampire skin.” He began packing up the ultrasound machine. “I don't think we're going to get much more out of this, but I’ll want to check you over again tomorrow.”
I nodded and let Edward wipe the gel off my stomach while Carlisle finished packing up the machine, then sat up and jumped down from the bed.
Edward held my hand as we walked back to his... our bedroom. I could feel the tension in his grip as he processed all the new information.
“Hey,” I said softly, pulling him to sit on the bed with me.
He fell heavily, although I had only gently tugged on his arm, and flopped down onto his back with a huff. I curled myself against his side, brushing my hand through his hair.
“Talk to me,” I whispered. “Don't shut me out.”
Edward sighed, turning his head to stare despondently into my eyes.
“I'm sorry. I don't mean to make you feel left out, Bella. But this is just one more uncertainty, one more thing standing in our way.” He shook his head. “It's that same fear again – the fear of the unknown – and I wish I could get rid of it, for your sake. Being afraid... it makes me feel so weak. I have to be strong... you need me to be strong.”
His voice was steadily edging towards sobbing, and he seemed to be speaking more to himself than me; his eyes were looked on the ceiling. I kissed his neck softly.
“You don't have to be anything but what you are Edward. I know you're afraid; most first time fathers are. What you're feeling is completely natural, and nothing to be ashamed of.”
I pulled his chin down, forcing his tormented eyes to meet mine. “I'm not afraid Edward.” I said, repeating my words from our wedding night. “Sure, it would be nice to see our baby like other couples do, but to be honest, hearing that heartbeat was enough; more than enough.”
My hand moved from his chin to his cheek, stroking softly. “You can't always be the strong one. This – us – it's never going to work unless we both help each other, and support each other. You need to see that it's okay for you to lean on me every once in a while.”
Edward sighed and closed his eyes. I watched as each part of him, one by one, slumped forward in defeat. His arms wrapped tightly around me, and he pressed his face into my chest. There was a beat of silence before he began to sob pitifully into my shirt.
I had never seen him cry before, and, as much as it unnerved me, I was glad he was letting himself go; releasing all the pent up emotion that he kept hidden for my sake. I held him to me, stroking his hair and cooing softly to him. I didn't say any words, knowing he would not hear them, but I hoped my voice would sooth him, if only a little bit.
I don't know how long we lay there, but eventually he raised his eyes to mine again.
“Thank you,” he whispered. “I won't be so scared again.”
I kissed his forehead, smiling. “Any time. You can come to me for anything.”
“I love you.” Edward said, smiling up at me with undisguised adoration.
“I love you too,” I replied, smiling back. “And I’m going to tell you that everyday, whenever I think you need to hear. Never doubt that I love you, Edward. Never think you are not loved.”
He leaned up to kiss me, all his love and passion flowing out of him, through his lips and into mine, and I returned each feeling with one of my own. It was like a conversation, speaking without words, communicating only through the movement of our lips and the breath that we shared.
After a while, Edward pulled away with a sigh.”I need to speak to Carlisle. He wants to know everything Nahuel and Huilen told us, to see if there's anything he can do. Will you be alright while I’m gone?”
I rolled my eyes at his unnecessary concern; as if I couldn't find something to occupy my time for however long he would be talking to his father.
“Yes Edward, I’ll be fine.” I quipped, sarcasm evident in my tone. Then I became more serious. “I still have to talk to Rosalie anyway. The sooner I get that conversation over with, the better for everyone.”
He nodded and helped me up, before dotting one last kiss on my lips and vanishing into thin air; the only evidence of his departure was the bedroom door, which stood wide open when it had been closed. I shook my head and went to find my sister-in-law.