A/N: I want to thank each and every one of you for reading There is a Light. This little snippet from the future is for you… I think the story may have been complete without it, but, well, you all held out faithfully for an HEA, so I wanted to bring you the best that this Edward and Bella could offer along those lines…
I squinted through bright rays of light, cursing the dark sunglasses I'd left sitting on the nightstand in the hotel room. I'd be squinting in each and every shot.
"But now I get to gaze into your big, beautiful eyes," Edward murmured in my ear. "There's always a silver lining."
His finger traced along the underwire of my bikini top. A wry smile played at his lips.
"How many years have you waited for this?" I asked.
Edward silently counted then shook his head. "Too damn many."
I didn't care to do the math, either. Neither of us had a head for numbers; it was the memories that mattered. Our lives were a patchwork of them, and they were woven into an existence that had led us to this moment - to one another forever.
"I bet you didn't picture this exactly, though," I mused, tugging my sarong tighter, glancing at the kids playing in the surf and then at Seth making last minute adjustments by the pier.
Edward paused. I was right, of course.
"Well, no, of course not," he chuckled. "But you were the world to me, even back when I didn't want to believe it. I just wanted you – everything. And now I have it. Different definition, same person."
"Just older and wiser?" I asked.
"You were always wise," he smiled, a glint in his eye.
"Nice partial save, Mr. Cullen," I laughed as Edward wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me close.
Twenty odd years later, I still came to life when his body was flush with mine, when he gazed into my eyes… when it looked like he was ducking his head for a kiss. I was still overwhelmed by his presence - just like I'd been as a child. But these days Edward was more than willing to actually kiss me, and these days I was a grown woman in a bikini near the Malibu pier, instead of a skinny girl in a wet T-shirt near a swamp.
These days he wasn't afraid to touch. These days he wasn't afraid to say, "I love you, Bella Swan."
These days his eyes hungrily roamed my curves, and his hands eagerly followed. I batted them away, but looked forward to the time we'd get to spend together after Thea and Elizabeth were in bed for the night.
"And now that you've realized your life's purpose?" I asked, smirking.
Edward twined his long fingers with mine, his eyebrows raised in question. We hadn't specifically spoken of life's purposes. We lived them.
"You know… getting me in a bikini on the beach in Malibu," I clarified.
Edward's smile came easy.
"You got me. I did it all for a bikini," he laughed. "And now, I'm outta here."
He made to leave for the road, but I held his hand tightly in mine. "Seth would never forgive you if you disappeared now," I argued, laughing and anchoring him to our spot on the beach.
"That implies there's a chance the man might forgive me… ever," Edward chuckled sardonically, glancing over his shoulder at the four figures milling near the pier as the sun began it's purple and red descent towards the horizon.
The other members of our party were silent, black silhouettes from where we stood, but the set of Seth's shoulders and the way he held his hands gave away his nerves.
"Seth's just jealous. You're the man that lives with his only daughter."
"And I'm the man he despises," Edward added.
"And the man that I love and make my life with. The man I can't live without. Seth will manage, for me. He's dealing."
"How are you dealing?" Edward asked, bringing his attention back to my face instead of Seth's nervous form.
"You don't need to ask, Edward. You know."
Edward let me pull him close again, never tiring of an opportunity to press his lips to mine. We had a lifetime to make up for and we were giving it our all. I let myself momentarily forget the significance of the day, opting to bask in the setting sunlight and lose myself in the ebb and flow, the feel of my love against me. His jaw was rough and unshaven and his lips were chapped. His arms were dusted with fine sand that tangled in curling hair and hardened in place with dried salt water. Rough, gritty – I'd take him however I could get him, and I couldn't get enough.
Edward's tall, lanky body was the only one I'd ever wanted – and the feel of it's fit against mine was pure sun-kissed perfection. His lips brushed, pressed and parted, while a large hand cupped my face and the other slipped beneath my sarong. We shifted, moving in a miniscule, subtle duet, so that with a brush and a slide we reminded one another of all the possibilities we could explore once we were alone.
"… always kissing!" I heard Thea laughing in the distance, her voice partially muffled by the breakers.
"… happy," Elizabeth replied, her voice mostly lost to the wind and the surf. "… don't care... good."
Edward and I rested lips and leaned foreheads with eyes smiling, as his long fingers ran through my knotted, windswept hair. He was happy this afternoon. We were both happy. That was good. Really, that was an understatement.
Elizabeth's first month in San Francisco with us had gone remarkably well; we'd all be sad to see her go at the end of the summer. Shy and quiet, her presence had grounded Thea a bit. Edward and I would wake up late to find the two of them reading books over breakfast. They told each other stories while lying on their backs in Golden Gate Park as fog drifted in patterns across the sky. There were times like this moment, when Edward and I were free to wander off, getting lost in one another, while the girls played at the water's edge.
We didn't have the luxury of getting lost for long, though.
Seth's sister, Leah jogged towards us from the pier, calling to the scattered members of our extended and unconventional family. It was time.
The sun's rays made the whitecaps glitter in gold.
Thea grabbed my hand and Edward hugged us both before the two girls ran ahead in a spontaneous race, kicking sand up at us as they went.
"You ever think you'd see this day?" Leah asked me as we headed for the pier.
"Well, I might have daydreamed about it when I was sixteen," I admitted.
Edward jabbed me in the ribs. "Seth likes men," he whispered in my ear.
I jabbed him back.
"I settled for you," I giggled back.
Edward tickled instead of jabbed. Leah rolled her eyes.
The minister cleared his throat.
I looked up to see Little One's arms thrown around her father's waist and Jared shifting uneasily from bare foot to bare foot. My heart swelled to bursting as Edward slipped an arm around my shoulders.
Edward and I had talked about marriage – from time to time late at night as we lay wrapped in each other's arms. Honestly, we saw no point. It was our love that had kept us connected over the years and across continents, not an institution. I was his everything. He was my forever. Those were bigger words than spouse.
That didn't dull my overwhelming happiness for my best friend in the world, though. In fact, with Seth's willingness to publically declare that he found a mate that would love him without shame, our lives finally felt right.
Of course, I knew Seth would always jokingly threaten Edward's life.
I knew that between Seth and Edward, every one of my meals would be prepared for me for the rest of my life.
I knew that Thea would have not one, but three men that would love and protect her.
I knew she'd start pretending to have a British accent like Elizabeth any day now.
I knew I'd never doubt Edward's heart again.
I knew he loved me.
I knew he always had.
I knew that love wasn't always easy, and that there would be times when it's existence couldn't overcome sadness and heartache.
But I knew that through it all, Edward and I had one another, and we would hold on forever.
Rays of setting sun shone around each of the members of the small wedding party on the pier.
"For as long as we all shall live."
With tears in my eyes and light in my heart, signing off until my next project, xxx, M