A/N… Okay, I'm finally marking this story complete. See me at the bottom for a few things…


Chapter 35 – Epilogue


"Uncle Edward! Like this?" Caleb called from the side of the new barn.

I couldn't help but let out a light laugh because it seemed Edward had put all the kids to work painting the new barn. And yes, it was red with white trim because all the kids had said that was what color barns were supposed to be, so Aunt Kate just laughed and waved them on.

We were nearing the end of the kids' summer vacation. We'd finished in Seoul, but we'd all laid low in Alaska. It had given time enough for the media to calm down over the events at Twi Tower, for everyone to pitch in to finish rebuilding Aunt Kate's barn, and for all of us to calm down from all the shit we'd survived.

"Yeah, just like that," Edward instructed with a sweet, patient smile and nod.

He was painting the white trim, and he'd built temporary scaffolding so painting the upper portion of the barn would be easier for everyone involved. My husband had outdone himself with this project. He'd not only rebuilt the barn but replaced Tom's apartment. There were new stalls for the horses, a bigger, stronger hay loft, and a small wood shop for when Edward had future projects.

I glanced across the front yard as I sat down next to Lock and Load on the front porch steps. The military tents were gone, as were Eleazar's prisoners. I had a feeling that Ji-Yun, the mother to Kim's son, would suddenly disappear into the wind along with her parents and little boy. I'm sure it was the Carlisle Cullen and Eleazar Platt witness protection program at work there, and that was perfectly fine.

"No, Marcus!" I heard Bethy giggle. "You're dripping!"

"It's not on purpose," he argued back with a laugh.

Grinning, I shook my head. Dean and his family were healing, and they were fitting in like they'd always been there. He and Miranda had remarried almost the minute we returned from Seoul. They'd never wanted a divorce in the first place, so they were simply correcting the situation. However, they were looking into moving to Forks to be closer to Gravity.

I heard the screen door open, and I smiled up at Esme, who took a seat beside me.

"You're not helping?" she teased, pointing to the barn.

"Not today. I'm not interrupting that. He needs them," I told her. "He needs to lose himself in the kids and silliness and the purity of it all."

Esme hummed that she heard me, and her eyes were warm as she drank in the activity at the barn – Sammy ducking when Katelyn flicked paint his way, Caleb and Bethy singing some song as they painted, and Abby and Marcus threatening each other with red paint–laden brushes. It was perfection.

"He's so very much like Elizabeth" we heard behind us, and Aunt Kate stepped through the screen door to lean on the railing. "He's more like her than Carlisle, though for a bit there he lost that part of himself. But Liz… She used Edward to make all the bad things better. She'd teach him how to ride horses or save baby squirrels that fell out of the nest. She lived to take him for hikes and picnics in the woods. She'd take him into the kitchen just to make a mess to bake cookies. She needed that boy, probably more than she needed Carlisle."

There was a wistfulness in her tone that made my eyes prickle with tears. She missed her best friend, but she loved her best friend's son. Just truly loved Edward, and she'd done her best to love him in Elizabeth's absence.

"Edward does that with them. All of them, but truly with Sammy and Bethy."

Despite what Edward had come to believe before he'd saved me from Miller's basement, he was the epitome of love and comfort. He was patience and protection. It was lost for a little bit, but it was always there. He was always going to be that sweet, stuttering boy I met so long ago.

And it was that part of him that was teaching all the kids how to paint – but not only that, it was a bigger lesson. It was a lesson in responsibility; the cleaning up of Aunt Kate's property needed to be done because we'd brought that here. It was a lesson on teamwork, working together as a flawless unit for one big goal. And whether Edward knew it or not, it was the lesson that family didn't always mean blood.

Having lost every bit of my real family, I knew just what comfort my chosen family could bring. Watching them all laugh and work together was just as healing to me as it was for Edward.

This last mission, which had been forced upon us by all sorts of reasons, had taken its toll on all of us. There had been the loss of Felix and Boris, and so many of us had been injured. It could've ended so badly, but somehow, we'd all dug deep to find the strength to push through, to end what needed ending. Cho was no more, and Kim Min-Jun was already on his way to Cuba. Twi Tech was slowly cleaning up and rebuilding; in fact, Carlisle and Alec were there for a few days to check on things and get the employees back into the building and back to work.

But it was Jacob Black who everyone wanted constantly watched. Not just watched, but completely and totally monitored. And Alice was happy to do it. As much as we wanted to chip my asshole ex with a GPS tracker, she decided to monitor him through every damn device he had. Cell phone, laptop, and desktop were all under her control. Even his office at Twi Tech was hers to watch. Hell, I believed she'd hacked his home network at his apartment, so his Kindle, Alexa, and fucking smart TV were hers. That thought made me smirk. The funniest, or maybe the most karmic, part was that when Billy found out why they were suddenly being moved to New York, he flat out refused to go, nor would he let JW go.

After a long talk with Carlisle, Billy decided to let his son face his fate alone. And he'd dared him to argue. JW wanted to stay in Seattle with his grandfather. Not one of us had a problem with that. However, visitations would have to be in New York. Jake couldn't even come here to visit his son.

There was a part of me that knew my ex. I knew he'd eventually mess up. He hated Edward and Carlisle too much. He hated me, too, but that was a sour grapes type situation, or maybe it had grown beyond that. I knew he'd eventually test the boundaries that we'd given him, because Jacob simply couldn't do what he was supposed to do. He couldn't be faithful to a significant other, he couldn't stop his derisive tone concerning his boss, and he most likely wouldn't stay loyal to Twi Tech.

Honestly, if he decided to test those boundaries, then he was on his own. And I knew for a fact that Carlisle and Edward would fly to New York on "business" without much discussion. It would be Kenny Porter all over again, and I wasn't even a bit worried.

I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. The laughter of the kids met my ears, and I couldn't resist it any longer. Aunt Kate and Esme were chatting about what they wanted to do before we all packed up and left.

But I stood, brushing my hands on my jeans, and made my way toward the barn when Sammy called me.

"Mom! Look, we're almost done with this side!" Sammy pointed out excitedly, and his happy, crooked grin and backwards baseball cap had him looking like Edward made over.

"I see that, buddy. Awesome job, guys!" I praised, walking into the barn and leaning against an empty stall.

"Hey, sweetness," Edward said, shooting a glance my way as he painted the white trim of the door. "Everything okay?"

"Mmhm," I hummed, my gaze raking up my husband.

He was simply delicious – tight, worn-out, and now paint-splattered jeans, tight black T-shirt, and backwards baseball cap. However, it was his eyes that I finally met that made the smile creep up my face. He'd finally relaxed and come down from this last mission. The weight had lifted from his shoulders, his eyes were bright and happy, and his smile was sweet yet curling into something carnal and deadly.

"Sweetness?" he called again.


"I asked you if you wanted to help the kids paint," he said with a chuckle laced through his words.

"Oh! Yeah, sure."

His brow wrinkled, and he set his paintbrush down. He walked to me, immediately cupping my face.

"You okay, love?" he asked, his eyes searching mine, and he was probably looking for panic or leftover bullshit.

Nodding, I leaned in to kiss him softly. "Yeah, I think… I think maybe this time it's me who can't come down from this shit."

He dropped his forehead to mine. "Okay. What can we do about that?"

"I dunno. I'm just… I'm second-guessing letting Jake survive. I'm not sure where I stand about going home and Gravity. I'm just… I don't know, Edward." I cupped his face, brushing another kiss over his lips. "This was so damned big, and I feel like we were running and chasing and fighting for a fucking year," I blurted out in a whisper and through gritted teeth. "Russia wasn't as bad as this, and that was just…ugh."

Edward's mouth lifted a little in a smile. "Yes. All of that, sweetness. And I get it. Truly."

I leaned into him, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. I really didn't mean to interrupt his time with the kids, but I wasn't quite sure I could stay away from him either. I nodded that I'd heard him, but I didn't say anything.

Edward brushed his lips across mine. "From experience, Bella, I could tell you to focus on something else, something that doesn't require research or fighting or worry." A carnal, evil smile quirked up on his face, and he added, "I'd say get laid, sweetness, but last night—"

I broke out into a laugh. "No, that's not my problem. Like ever, Edward."

His smile was gloriously beautiful and cocky. "Good to know, love."

The memories of last night flickered in my mind. He'd loved me thoroughly, deeply. He'd loved me until my body was still feeling it with every move, every time I sat down.

Edward cupped my face again, studying me. "C'mere," he ordered, taking my hand and guiding me to the opposite side of the barn, where another temporary scaffolding had been erected. "Grab a brush and a can of white paint, sweetness."

I did as he said, but he took me back around to the side where all the kids were.

"You can help me with the trim, baby," he whispered in my ear. "I want you to take your time, and I want you to focus only on this right here." He tapped the piece of trim in front of me. "That's it. No work, no Jake, no Gravity. And then, while you're doing that… Just listen to them."

My gaze raked up the trim and along the sides, not to mention the X in the middle. "Should I start up top?" I asked him, and he grinned.

"Don't overthink it, sweetness. For all I care, you can start in the damn middle."

I'm not sure I could love him more, but I did. I saw he was giving me something that helped him; he was using his experience here. And honestly, I really needed it.

Me being me, I couldn't start in the middle like he'd teased, so I climbed the scaffolding to start at the top, left to right. I figured I could work my way down. Edward stayed below just long enough to watch me get started, and then he went back to the doors.

The trim was meticulous work. It was clean, straight lines, and because it was those things, I had to pay attention. But Edward was right on another point, too. The kids' chatter was just…everything.

"So are we all taking a kitten home?" Abby asked.

"Heck, yeah!" Caleb answered. "I'm naming mine Tiger."

"I can't decide what I'm naming mine," Sammy said, his brow furrowed as he slapped paint down the wall.

"I thought about Ariel for mine, but she's a fish, so…" Bethy trailed off, and I so heard her father's humor in there. "I want something girly. She's gonna be fluffy and white."

Abby laughed at her. "Marshmallow."

Then it became a list of names that made me fight my smile.


"How about Princess?"


"I said girly, not…that," Bethy snapped, and then she really did sound like her dad.

Then my son piped up decisively. "I think I'm going with Max." Everyone chuckled, but he just shrugged. "What? Max is a good name."

I snorted, shaking my head, but it was the movement below that made me grin at Edward. He was a raised eyebrow and a warning glare not to say a fucking word, because more than once he'd defended pet names like Steve the cow or Pete the dog that exact same way. I waved him away, and he went back to his own painting with a deep chuckle.

"Max is good," Bethy mused softly, dipping her brush into her paint. "Maybe Molly. Max and Molly. Yeah?"

I loved it so much, but I wouldn't interrupt this brainstorming for all the money in the world. Not a fucking chance. It was everything I'd been needing. And it simply made me love Edward all the more for knowing it would help.

"I like it, Bethy." Sammy's voice was soft but firm.

"Huh. Me, too," she sang back.

"Then I'm taking Ariel, because she's still the best princess," Abby decided with a grin.

After that statement, the debate on the best Disney movie started. It was hilarious and surprisingly heated. It reminded me of our crew and the stupid conversations we'd have while in the most direst of moments – bouncing quarters off fine asses, whether Katniss ended up with the right boy, or whatever else we'd debate. And I realized just how much they sounded like us.

By the time I'd finished the white trim across the top half, the kids had finished with the red on that side of the barn, and Aunt Kate called us for a lunch break. Edward met me at the other end of the scaffolding, lifting me down to the ground.

"Thanks for that," I whispered, my brow furrowing a little.

"Yeah, I get it," he admitted, nodding once and pressing kisses to my forehead and then my lips. "You're welcome to come back out here after lunch."

"I probably will."

"Good, because I usually lose their help to TV and video games after lunch."

I chuckled. "Whatever you need, Edward."

"So… Max and Molly?" he asked, draping an arm around my shoulders as we walked toward the house.

"What? They're good names," I defended, sounding like our son.

Edward laughed, his head tilting a little. "Yeah," he said softly and slowly, also sounding like Sammy. "I think I'll wait for those cat climbing things for after we go home. Something just with them."

Nodding, I turned and kissed his cheek. "Sounds good. You're the bestest dad ever."

He huffed a sweet laugh, kissing my temple. "Thanks, sweetness."



I took a walk around the chopper as the fuel pumped. Most of our stuff was loaded, and we were leaving for home as soon as everyone was ready. Pulling myself up into the pilot seat, I checked the gauges again, and I cracked a smile when I was in deep trouble.

"Oh, I don't think so! You're not doing that without me!" Bethy was as fierce as her mother when she wanted to be.

Grinning her way, I shrugged as she clambered up into the co-pilot spot. "You gotta stick to schedule, little sweetness. If you can't keep up—"

"Stop it." She pointed a finger at me. "I can keep up fine. You tell Aunt Kate I can't give her hugs and find out what happens."

My eyes widened in fear as I shot a glance across the yard to the house. "Uh, not a chance. You're forgiven. Get her ready then, Bethy."

"Mmhm, I thought so."

My baby girl was amazing to watch. After her Poppy had used her piloting skills to come to my aid at the top of the Denali trails, I knew she was made to fly. And while she still wore her pinks and girly hair thingies, she was also in a backwards baseball cap, studying everything in front of her as if she'd been doing it for twenty years.

She was eleven. And she was Bella's and my first amazing success. Her beauty was starting to shed that "little girl" look and was taking on a more grownup version. She had my temper, my zero tolerance for bullshit, but she was methodical and smart like Bella. She had green eyes that everyone said were from me, but really, they were my mother's eyes. Warm and sweet, kind and gentle, they'd study people and the things going on around her, and she'd stay quiet like Bella until she came to whatever opinion she decided.

Our second most awesome success was currently flying his drone around the front yard, through the new barn, and aiming my way. Sammy had inherited all my shyness from when I was his age, but his calm intelligence was from Bella. He loved his gadgets and games, he loved the outdoors, and he was the one kid in the growing group of Gravity kids who already knew himself pretty well. He was comfortable in his own skin, knew his limitations, and that came solely from his mother – because she was the exact same way. I chuckled at the little black kitten happily snuggled in the front of his partially zipped up hoodie.

"Where's your kitten?" I asked Bethy.

Her smirk was so familiar as she pulled the front pocket of her overalls open a little. White, fluffy paws stretched out and pulled back in, and the purr was loud enough I could hear it in the cabin of the chopper.

I laughed, shaking my head at not only her crooked smile that matched mine, but the fact that my kids had earned their love of animals from me, which I'd learned from my mother. Bella loved animals, but she hadn't grown up with pets, only the horses she'd ridden as a child. This was different. This was growing up surrounded by non-human things that become playmates, protectors, and friends.

But as I watched my daughter, a question popped out of my mouth without thinking. "When you get your pilot license, what are you gonna do with it, little sweetness?"

Her smile was beautiful, but she shrugged. "I don't know. I don't think I want to join the Air Force like you. I mean, it's cool, but it's scary. You know? I mean, you told me about your crash and stuff. And then we watched that movie about the Blackhawk… I don't know. I don't think I want to be a soldier…not like that."

Turning her way, I cupped her face. "Commercial pilot is a good job if you find the right company. Hell, flying tourists over Alaska is good work. Not to mention the medevac choppers. I just was curious, Bethy. You've been gung-ho to fly since you could talk."

Bethy giggled. "What would you do with your pilot license if you didn't have all of this?" she asked, gesturing to the whole farm. "Like no mercenary job or Gravity…"

My brow furrowed because I honestly didn't have an answer. I leaned in and kissed her forehead. "I don't know. Flying was all I wanted when I was your age, and I did it. I worked hard at it, following in Poppy's footsteps. Now…" I swallowed thickly. "Now, flying is like driving a car, just a means of transportation, because if I didn't have all of this…" I mimicked her sweep of the arm over the farm. "I wouldn't have a damn thing, little sweetness. That's just… Y-You g-guys a-and M-Mom, y-you're w-way m-more i-important th-than a-any j-job, f-flying o-or n-not."

Bethy stopped fiddling with everything and glanced over at me. That look was all Bella, the understanding that my stutter meant I was nervously truthful.

But she leaned in, kissing my cheek. "Can I keep her steady on the way home?"

Chuckling, I nodded. "Yes, ma'am. Let me finish topping off the fuel, and we can say our goodbyes."

I slipped down to the pad, pulling the fuel hose. Once the chopper was good to go, I walked back toward the house. Dad and Alec were already back in Seattle, and Emmett, Rose, and Caleb had flown out with them because Rose had to get started with her doctor's appointments. Sarah and Abby had left that morning with Mack, who was eager to get started on her reconciliation with Wes. Dean and his family had already flown back because they wanted to start looking at places to move to in Forks. Mickey, Obie, and Katelyn were going to stay the rest of the week with Aunt Kate. Alice and Jasper were heading to Texas to check on his dad.

Bella wanted a couple of weeks with just the kids and me before school started, and as I watched her say goodbye to everyone, I could still see the tension, the furrow to her brow, and maybe a touch of anxiety. She still hadn't completely let this last mission – if it could be called a fucking mission – go. Some of it had dissipated when we painted the barn, but not all of it, and she hadn't given anyone an answer concerning Gravity. She'd told them all to take their time, that we'd aim for the start of the school year.

Something was holding my girl up, and while I completely understood it, I couldn't wait to get home to talk to her about it. If I had to put a name to it, I'd say she was about a breath away from a panic attack, but I knew my girl; she'd wait, she'd hold on to that shit until we were alone. Or she'd hold on to until it finally bubbled up and out of her.

That thought made me frown, but I buried it into the back of her hair while she spoke to Aunt Kate.

"Edward Anthony, come love on me," Aunt Kate commanded, holding her arms out. Once I wrapped her in a hug, I kissed her cheek, but she added, "You didn't have to do it, but I want to thank you for the barn and Tom's apartment. Your dad, however, still owes me a new lawn and some damn trees."

I cracked up, kissing her head. "I'll be sure to pass that on."

She grinned, cupping my face as that grin fell away just as quickly as it had appeared. "You should know, Edward… Your mother would be so very proud of you. Beyond your looks, son, I see so much of her in you."

Nodding, I glanced down to my sneakers but then back up to her as I yanked my baseball cap off to rake my fingers through my hair. Once my cap was back on, I whispered, "Thanks, Aunt Kate."

"Mmhm. Now just let me know when you guys land safely."

"Yes, ma'am." I turned to see Bella helping Sammy up into the chopper, and I let out a sharp whistle. "Lock and Load!"

All four huskies came barreling out of the barn at top speed, making me grin with their eagerness. "Just my two," I said with a chuckle, ruffling the heads of Ada and Zeke.

I lifted Lock and Load in through the door and spun to Bella. "All set, sweetness?" I asked, and she smiled and nodded, but she squeaked when I suddenly scooped her up and set her bottom on the edge. Staying in front of her, I couldn't resist a quick kiss. "Love you, Bella."

The hum and smile against my lips made me chuckle.

"Love you, too, Edward."

I kissed her softly one more time, stepping away so she could pull the bay door closed. "Okay, Bethy, let's do this."


The house was quiet early on Saturday morning. The kids were all at Poppy's Forks house for the weekend. We'd been back home from Alaska for a week, but there was some must-see movie all the kids had to see, so Poppy and Gamma were doing the spoiling.

I sipped my coffee, turning the page of the newspaper. I'd already been for a run with Lock and Load, the kittens were happily snoozing on the new cat tower that the kids had not only designed but helped me build. Yin and Yang, black and white, male and female – and officially Max and Molly. They were due at the vet's next week for shots and future appointments for getting fixed.

A slow, sneaky hand slipped by my vision, reaching for my coffee cup.

"You know, woman, there's a whole fucking pot of the stuff in the carafe."

God, I fucking lived for the giggle that came my way. It was everything to me.

"Yeah, but this is already fixed – all sweet and stuff."

"I'll show you sweet and stuff," I muttered, grinning at another giggle. I turned to face her; she'd slid up onto the stool next to mine at the kitchen counter. "Morning, beautiful. Want breakfast?"

"You haven't eaten?"

"Nope. I was waiting for my gorgeous date to finally get that sweet, lazy ass outta bed," I teased her, kissing the middle of her forehead.

"I'd apologize, but I'm not sorry," she said through an adorable yawn. "Sleeping in is fantastic. You should try it sometime, Mr. Gets-up-before-the-sun."

She wasn't fooling me. She'd been having a few nightmares, so her sleep was spotty at best. Something about this whole thing we'd just been through was pushing on her hard. I debated asking her, forcing her to talk about it, but years of being with her had taught me that she had to work through this shit herself. I had to wait for it.

"Oh, I love sleeping in, sweetness. I like naked Bella before dawn better than anything in the world."

She snorted, sipping more coffee. "Breakfast, Edward. Then we'll negotiate nakedness."

"Now that's a fucking good plan for the day," I sang, getting up from the counter. "How's eggs, hashbrowns, and sausage sound?"

"Perfect. I'll help you," she offered, setting the mug down.

It seemed I didn't have to wait for long, because the second she opened the basement door to go down for potatoes, that panic attack hit her like a fucking freight train. There hadn't been a bad onion when I stored the bags back down there two days ago, but there sure was one now. It was a pungent punch to the senses.

"Ed—" she panted out, her eyes wild and her hands reaching for me.

"Okay, okay, okay," I chanted soothingly, not giving two shits that I sounded like Alice. "I've got you, sweetness," I told her, gathering her up into my arms and walking us to the sofa, keeping her on my lap. "Don't you dare let it win, my strong girl."

I knew she needed touch, my voice, the feel of me in her hands. I took her palms and placed one on my chest and the other on my face.

"You're okay. You're safe. I fucking swear it, Bella." I raked my hands through her hair, down her back, and over her arms in a constant circuit. She was a trembling, panting mess, so I added, "Breathe, love. Breathe for me. In with the good shit, out with the bad shit. In through your nose, out through your mouth. C'mon, sweetness… You got this."

I cupped her face, bringing her forehead to mine. "I love you so much, Bella. I know you can hear me. Let it go, love."

Finally, the panic gave way to tears and racking sobs. I let a slow breath out as I wrapped my arms all the way around her, anchoring her whole body to mine.

"You're okay. I've got you. Always."


"If you fucking apologize, Bella—"

I heard a short, sniffly laugh, but suddenly she just melted down.

"I've tried… I wanted… I could've lost my whole fucking world, Edward," she mumbled into the crook of my neck. I felt hot tears against my skin and fingers digging into my shoulders. "In Twi Tower and at the farm. My whole world!"

"Hey," I whispered against her shoulder, trying to pull her back so I could see her face. "Baby, lemme see you. C'mon, sweetness."

She pushed back, keeping her hands braced on my chest, and I could still feel the trembling in her touch. She sniffled a little, and her brow furrowed. "I'm just so…fucking angry, Edward. Like finishing Cho wasn't enough, like I feel like ending Jake myself…"

Nodding in understanding, I tucked her hair behind her ears and then wiped her tears away with my thumbs. "Get it out, sweetness. All of it. Because if you don't, I fucking promise you, it'll become a part of you – the anger, the bitterness, the hate. It'll stick to you, owning you. I don't want that for you."

She made no move to leave my lap, and she went quiet for a minute. "I know the rational part of me can see everyone's okay, but I just…" She shrugged a little. "We lost two people, baby. Two! Both were protecting us, and I think how close we came to losing more…" She shook her head.

"You're right. We did have some fucking ridiculous close calls," I agreed with her. "But, sweetness, I need you to look at what we were able to save." When her eyes snapped to mine, I smiled a little. "There were a couple of moments where I thought I'd lost you, where a piece of shrapnel to the arm—" I leaned in, pushing the sleeve of her T-shirt up a little so I could kiss the small scar she'd received when the boat exploded in Port Angeles. "Where shrapnel was way better than the fucking alternative.

"I get it, love. I do. I've lived this feeling. It became easy to stay fucking angry." I kissed her lips softly. "But then I met this beautiful brunette who taught me that angry wasn't always the answer, that being angry didn't help when someone needed love and patience. I used to tell you to stay angry, to use it, to zero it in on the problem in order to push through, but no. Bella, that's not the way it needs to be, not with everything. Anger is a part of the grieving process, and it can occasionally fuel determination and motivation, but don't let it stay, baby. Please. If you ever trust anything I say, trust that. I'm… B-Bella, I-I'm s-speaking f-from e-experience."

More tears than I could possibly capture welled up and fell down her gorgeous face. "I love you," she barely said aloud through sniffles and hiccups.

Grinning, I kissed her lips softly. "And that was the best fucking thing I'd ever heard the first time you said, sweetness. Not even kidding. It never grows old, it never sounds silly or trite, and it never sounds any less than it did the first time. And it's what keeps me going. If I didn't have you or the kids, I'd be this angry, miserable sum-bitch."

She cracked a smile – finally.

"You saw this coming." It was a statement more than a question.

"I did, love. I'd like to think I know my girl, but I also know this was big – bigger than the usual bullshit we get wrapped up in," I explained, kissing her again. "I'm not blaming you for holding it in, but please don't let it own you, Bella. You're too loving and smart and beautiful to let the hate take root. Okay?"

Bella nodded, her fingers softly tracing my Air Force tattoo – along each line, each star, and the script. She switched to the Cullen crest on my arm, doing the exact same thing. I waited for her eyes to meet mine. Honestly, I was simply grateful that the tears had stopped.

When warm, chocolate brown eyes finally met my face, I smiled and traced my fingers along her sweet face.

"We're okay. You and me, the kids, Carlisle and Esme, the crew. We're all okay. I just…" She trailed off, shrugging a shoulder. "This was…"

"Big," I finished for her, and she nodded. "Yeah. Like I said, sweetness, I totally get it." I kept her on my lap until her whole being gave a shiver, like her muscles could finally let go a little. "Now, I still want breakfast, but you're to sit this gorgeous ass at the counter. There will be no work or chores today. In fact, since the kids aren't due back until tomorrow, then today, we can stay in pajamas all fucking day."

She broke into an adorable sniffly laugh. "Okay."

"Good. We'll veg out on the sofa, or we can debate this nakedness situation you teased about, or we can plot and plan how to put a hit out on Jake."

Bella cracked the fuck up. "Sure, Edward."

"Excellent!" I stood up with her still in my arms, taking her to the kitchen and setting her down on the stool. "I'm glad you see things my way, sweetness."


"You guys have all the supplies on your lists, right?" Bella asked the kids as we pulled into the school on the first day.

"Yeah," Sammy answered in his own slow way as he patted the new backpack.

"We're good, Mom," Bethy assured her, looking out the window. "Abs is here. I'll go in with her."

Grinning at Bella, I turned around. "Okay, guys. Have a good day. And if you could keep a watch for Katelyn… It's her first day of kindergarten. And Caleb's starting here this year."

"We're all here this year," Sammy said with a smile. "Except Marcus. He's starting at Forks Middle School."

Bethy reached for the door, as did Sammy, but Bella stopped them. "Guys, what did I say about school this year?"

Bethy rolled her eyes but stopped when she saw my raised eyebrow. "Okay, okay, okay. If someone is picking on one of us, that we're to tell a teacher."


"No fighting," Sammy added.

"You can defend yourselves, but don't open up a can of whoop-ass just because someone trips you and you get pissed off," I told them, and Bella snorted, shaking her head. "There had better be a damn good reason you just start swinging. I'm not kidding."

"I don't even know why we have a swear jar if you and Alec aren't going to pay the stupid thing," she grumbled, poking my arm.

Both kids broke into the best sound – full laughter. "Love you. Be safe," they said, getting out of the car.

"Love you," we called back, but they were already greeting their friends.

Bella was quiet as we made our way back home. Everyone should be arriving at the Gravity office this morning. We'd given everyone a chance to truly heal and relax. Bella and I had done things with the kids and without, because Poppy wanted time with all the kids, too.

The last day of the kids' summer vacation had been a barbecue at our house. It was a chance to call everyone in, set a start date for us to get back to work, and let the kids go crazy one last time before things got serious again. And we'd all decided that the first day of school would be the first day back to work. It seemed to work for everyone.

I pulled into the driveway and parked the Volvo, turning to Bella. "You ready for this, sweetness?" I asked her softly, tucking her hair behind her ear so I could see that beautiful face.

She'd finally let go of the stress, the anxiety of the whole thing with Kim Min-Jun. It had taken longer than I'd expected, but at least the only panic attack had been the one with just me concerning the basement.

She smiled and faced me. "Yeah, let's go on in."

The Gravity office was its usual din of chaos and noise. Alice was in the computer room, and I grinned briefly as she was watching Jacob Black way closer than I'd bet he knew. Mack was on a computer, going through emails and the messages from the website. Rose was on the phone with potential clients. Alec, Jasper, Emmett, and Dean were all at the table with cups of coffee and their cell phones out. Mickey was walking in behind us.

"Excellent, everyone's here," I told Bella, giving a brief whistle.

"Guys, come sit. I want to say something before we get started," Bella told them.

Once everyone was seated around the table, she stayed standing. "First, I want to thank all of you for your hard work and determination to get us through this last job." She smiled at the scoffs and eye rolls but went on. "I know that the running joke with Carlisle was that he needed to retire, but his reasons why he wasn't retiring have given me something to think about.

"Carlisle and my dad worked together for many years doing many things, and sometimes those things come back. Because he was still CEO at Twi Tech, we were able to stand as a barrier between one of those things and the rest of the world." She took a deep breath, and she let it out slowly as she eyed each and every one of the crew. "I can't imagine what would've happened had we not been involved…" She trailed off a little but met my gaze. "I know we've labeled ourselves as PIs and personal security. I know that we don't want to overwork ourselves to the point that our lives and the lives of our families suffer. There's a world of good things out there, and I want to encourage you all to go be in it.

"But I'm not in any position to tell you or promise you that something like this could never happen again. I simply can't make that the truth, no matter how badly I wish it were true," she told them, shrugging a shoulder. "So I need to know if any of you would like out. There's no way I would ever hold it against you. And Carlisle, Edward, and I would write you all glowing letters of recommendations, should you need one."

She faced Dean. "This goes for you, too, Dean. I realize you're new, and I know the circumstances as to how you got here are a little rough, but as far as Edward and I are concerned, you've proven your loyalty."

"You're serious, Bellisima?" Alec asked her, glancing to me and then back to her.

"I am so very serious," she replied. "I really struggled with the events at Twi Tower and Aunt Kate's, and I'm willing to offer anyone in this room a break, a way out."

"No, not a fucking chance," Emmett stated, shaking his head.

"Nah, darlin'," Jasper said in his usual drawl. "We're okay," he added, pointing to a nodding Alice, who chanted, "For sure, for sure, for sure."

"Bellsy, no. I'm good." Makenna was waving her away.

"Rose?" I asked her, glancing down at her still small but obviously rounded stomach.

She laughed. "No way. I'm in."

"What the hell else am I gonna do?" Mickey teased but shook her head.

We all looked to Dean because he'd been quiet throughout this whole meeting.

He huffed a laugh but cleared his throat. "It's been a long time since I worked with a group of people I trusted as much as my Raiders team. You guys saved my family even when you thought I was the enemy. No… Nah, I'm in. I'm so good."

Smiling, I tilted my head to Bella. "There you go, sweetness."

There was a touch of emotion on her face, but she smiled my way, nodding once.

"Okay then, let's get to work. We'll figure out our next case."


A/N… It seems like some of you are under the impression that this is the END…like no more Gravity ever. But I honestly wanted to leave this open to not only interpretation, but that "just in case" ending. ;) I've learned long ago never to say never, so I'll simply say that if Mercward decides to tell another story, I'll happily write with him again.

I'd like to thank everyone that worked with me on this. Truly this took way too long on my part to finish. My pre-readers Suebee, Maplestyle, Pamela, and Bethany were ever so patient when it came to this story. JenRar has always been a huge, irreplaceable cheerleader and guide. Without these ladies, I have no idea where I'd be. So big hugs and thanks to them.

Thank you to all the very patient readers that hung in there for this long haul. Thank you for checking on me, for the wonderful reviews telling me to do what it was I needed to do, that you'd all be there. So thank you!

Lastly, my goal now is to get back over to Judas. I've left him in a good place, but I think it's time to finish that fic too. And then… who know what's next? We'll see. So until next time… Mooches, Deb ;)