She thrust her little hand so hard at my jaw that it almost knocked a tooth out. And that was saying something. Not many normal people could do that to a werewolf. But, then again, Renesemee wasn't really all that normal, anyway.
A blur of colors whirled around in my head. I paused and tried to watch them carefully, but Nessie was impatient and withdrew her hand before I could discover what it meant.
"Jacob, come with me. I want to show you something that Daddy showed me."
It had been years since Nessie asked me to go somewhere with her. Usually she would simply reflect her memories into my own mind, but she seemed so grown up now—even though it had only been a few years, she had the face and body of a fifteen year old girl. Her hair was longer, much longer—to her waist, almost. It was curly at the end and a beautiful reddish color, like Edward's. It felt like satin and smelled like roses and strawberries. She was tall, and willowy. She had a narrower face and high cheekbones that blended the contour of her features nicely. White skin, no doubt inherited from her father, didn't bother the flawless complexion. Her eyes were still brown, and her cheeks were still rosy and full of life. She was still my Nessie.
Slowly, I lifted myself off the couch and followed her out the door.
"Nessie, why did you bring me up here?"
The meadow was the same as the last time I'd seen it—and I had only been up here once. The same log that had sat there decaying for what must have been centuries was still there, caked in moss and grass. The canopy of trees parted in almost an exact circle at the top, letting sunlight filter through in golden rays. Renesemee didn't sparkle like her parents did in the sunlight, but she did seem to be shimmering right now. Was it her skin or her smile? A trick of the light, or a trick of my eyes?
"Just look around Jacob! Isn't it amazing? Isn't it beautiful? This was where Momma and Daddy met, you know. Well, sort of. I mean this is where it all started… Daddy told me about it. It was so romantic, Jacob…"
She twirled and spun, gracefully. She didn't even make a sound as she floated over the leaves that crinkled beneath my own feet. For a moment I wondered foolishly if she was cold in the autumn wind, but then I reminded myself that she was like me. She was never cold.
Too bad. I wouldn't have minded an excuse to hold her.
I had been staring off into space so dedicatedly that I hadn't even noticed Nessie freeze right in front of me.
"Jacob?" she asked. Her voice was like music. It brought me back instantly, and I focused on her pastel features.
"Yes, honey?" I replied. My own voice sounded tired and weary, even to my ears. She looked worriedly at me for a second, and then touched my face with one pale, extensive finger. A burst of orange. A burst of bright concern.
"I'm fine, love," I said, pressing her warm palm with mine closer to my cheek. I slid it off my face and took it in both of mine, kissing her fingertips. "I'm fine."
Nessie smiled. Even after all these years, it was brilliant. Her cheeks were bright red, just the way I loved them. Bright and living. And she didn't smell bad like her folks, either. On the contrary, it was quite ravishing, her scent. It sent shivers ricocheting down my spine.
"That's good," she sighed, and she snaked her arms around my big waist, laying her head on my chest. A deep breath. I could feel it against my heart.
Slowly, I began to sway to the breeze. To the humming of the wildlife around us, we moved leisurely, calmly. And, bit by bit, we gained a rhythm. These moments were the moments I lived for. The moments with Nessie that I could just relax. No Edward breathing down my neck. No Jasper to suppress my emotions. Just me and Nessie.
It was a while before she spoke next.
"Jacob," she mumbled. I loved it the way she said my name. "What's that imprinting thing that werewolves do?"
I froze. Nessie seemed to know that my sudden halt was coming, for she stopped too, and looked up at me benignly, pressing her apprehension into me again.
"What did Bella tell you?"
Anxiously, Nessie compressed her palm to the small of my back, where her arms were still wrapped. I saw Bella and Nessie laying in the grass and speaking of the way it worked. Nessie had heard the term before. And she was just curious.
I breathed slowly, and removed her hands from my waist, taking them in my own. She was tinier than I was, much tinier, but nowhere near fragile, though she looked it. I was careful with her always. I was careful with her now.
"What's it like when you imprint on someone, Jacob?"
I hesitated. Bella and I had contemplated the idea of telling Renesemee what I really thought about her. But Bella decided not until she was older.
How old was older? Wasn't she technically mature enough now? Well, almost anyway.
"She becomes the center of the universe, suddenly," I sufficed simply. "And nothing matters except for her."
Nessie pressed her forehead to my shoulder, and gripped my fingers gently with her own. "I'll never let you imprint on anybody, okay?" she promised.
I paused, taken aback. "What?"
"I'll never ever let any pretty girl get near you. You won't imprint on anybody. That way you'll stay forever, and I'll still be important. You'll still be Jacob. My Jacob."
My ears stopped working. My heart rate sped, fast and thick. I felt hot, suddenly, hotter than usual. Did she just say what I thought she said?
"Nessie," I breathed, "what did you just say?"
Removing her head from my shoulder, Nessie looked up at me with those big, gorgeous brown eyes. Her hands in mine sent her feelings of confusion shooting from my fingertips to my mind fluidly. Her perfect, adorable mouth curved downward into a frown.
"That I'd never let you imprint on anyone? I'm sorry, should I not have—?"
"No," I said in an undertone, "after that. What did you say after that?"
"…Jacob?" she offered.
"Jacob," I repeated, "Jacob… my…"
"…Jacob," she finished, confidently this time. "Jacob, my Jacob."
Her smile was striking again, shining and glorious. I looked down at her, suddenly perturbed by this strange figure of speech. It was so familiar. Not painfully, but it was just… so recognizable. Where had I heard it before?
Nessie's large, coffee colored eyes blinked twice, and then squinted up at me. She transferred her unease through me again, and this time it was electric.
Those eyes, I thought, they were familiar, too.
"Show me Bella," I begged her. Nessie obliged. I saw Bella, beautiful as any vampire I had ever seen—
"No, human Bella."
It was only one memory. But it was exactly the memory I needed.
I saw Bella, choked in her own blood, distraught and morbid looking—her hair tangled, her face gaunt and petrified from just giving birth—but her eyes. The same eyes. Nessie's eyes.
I heard Bella's voice. My own recollection, now.
Jacob, my Jacob.
"Nessie!" I yelped, scooping her clumsily into my arms and crushing her against my chest. The vision vanished. "Oh, Nessie. You're so much like your mother."
"Jake!" Nessie gasped against me. "Jake—can't—breathe—"
I released her and she stumbled to the ground, still managing to look elegant. I beamed at her.
"Bella used to call me that," I mused, grinning ridiculously. "'Jacob, my Jacob,' she would say."
"Really?" Nessie asked. She straightened her crimson hair with her fingers and gazed up at me.
"Yes," I replied in barely a whisper, and then I bent toward her, pressing my forehead to hers.
"Ness," I said gently, "Imprinting. You can't stop me from imprinting on someone."
"If I keep you at home, I can," she reminded me, enforcing the thought by shoving the image of me shackled and chained to the wall of the Cullen's living room. I laughed out loud, like a bark. She giggled, and I heard her heart race for a second.
I sighed, and closed my eyes so I couldn't see her.
"What I meant, love, was that I've already imprinted."
I opened my eyes. Her frown was two inches from my smile.
"Who is she?" Nessie demanded, brow furrowing. She was becoming angry, I could tell—even without the colorful rage slowly slipping into me through her touch.
I laughed again, and I pulled away from her face.
I took both her hands in mine. It was time to tell her exactly what I had been hiding from her all this time. I took a deep breath and thought, Edward, if you're listening. I'm sorry.
"Honey," I said, trying not to shake. I had been the second father that she needed all this time—would she need anything more? Would she want anything more? "I can't choose who I imprint on. But I imprinted on this beautiful baby girl a few years ago. Daughter of someone I loved. And until she grew up, I swore to just be a big brother to her. As soon as she was my age, she was mine."
"Jacob," she muttered, frowning again, "I don't understand."
I looked her square in the eyes. Perhaps, after all this time of Renesemee showing me things, showing me how she wanted it, how she liked it—perhaps it was time that I show her, too.
And slowly, I leaned forward, and I kissed her.
It wasn't like the time I had kissed Bella. I didn't want to be rough. I didn't try to get the most out of this kiss as though it would be our last. I kissed her smoothly, and softly, and very briefly—didn't want to push my luck with Edward—and then pulled away.
The second I released her, an electrifying shock of red burst through my whole body. It clouded my eyes and made me tingle from head to toe. It took me a moment to remember that I was still holding both Renesemee's hands, and that she was shaking.
"Nessie?" I asked, as the red subsided, being replaced by a deep purple. "Renesemee? Are you okay?"
"You. Imprinted. On me." she replied flatly. Again, the color shifted out, but instead it shimmered into the first time she had ever seen me. I was coming down the stairs, shirtless and ragged. I hadn't showered in days—my hair was a mess, my shorts were torn, and I was wearing no shoes—but my face. I was in shock, complete shock, and my eyes were wide with an emotion even I couldn't name—but I could remember it. Was this what it looked like to watch someone imprint? I compared our two memories silently. She, the beautiful baby, and I, a beast. A great monster with a passion to kill—and she changed my mind in the tiny instant. She changed my mind.
"Yes," I sighed, closing my eyes and squeezing her fingers, "that was the day I imprinted on you."
"Jacob Black," she said seriously, "I cannot believe it."
I looked down at her. Her eyes were narrowed and her delicate mouth was frowning. My confidence faltered. Did I do something wrong?
Renesemee stood on her tiptoes. Still, she only came up to about my chin, but I lifted her by her waist with my huge hands, and held her there, dangling off the ground.
Nessie reached out with her palm and touched my cheek again. I braced myself to feel another memory, a vision or an emotion, anything—but it didn't come. Instead her hand simply sat there, her fingers making tiny circling motions on my cheek.
"You imprinted on me," she murmured again, softer this time. Her head cocked to the side, and her hair flowed with it—long and benignly. I felt a lump rise uncomfortably in my throat.
"Yeah," I whispered, and I set her down again—but before her feet touched the floor, she trapped her hands around my neck, pulling me with her. I didn't fall, but in the moment that I was off balance, she kissed me again.
Renesemee had never kissed anyone before, but she kissed me like she had. She kissed me like she knew what she was doing, and if I hadn't been with her every second and known that this was guesswork, I would have wondered how much practice she had. I kissed her back, gently at first, not wanting to test myself, or her for that matter.
After a few moments, she extracted her mouth from mine and glared at me. I stared back, suddenly hurt.
"You imprinted on me," she snapped, and then she stood on her tiptoes to kiss me again. Rougher. Whoa, Renesemee. Whoa.
I pressed my hands to her shoulders and shoved her back with little difficulty.
"Yeah, so?" I asked, confused. I could still taste her on my lips.
"You imprinted on me!" she shrieked, looking distressed—but she touched the arm that was pinning back her right shoulder and told me that she wanted to kiss me again. And again, and again. "I cannot believe you, Jacob Black. And after all the worrying I did. You imprint on me. And from the moment I was born. I didn't even know."
She scowled up at me. Even when her face was twisted in such anger—which I hadn't ever even seen before—she was beautiful.
Suddenly her palm slapped my chest, straight at my heart. It knocked the wind out of me for a second, but I regained composure enough to listen to her thoughts.
I heard Bella's voice again.
"Once Jacob imprints on someone, she's all he thinks about." Bella's musical laughter. Renesemee's concern. Renesemee not feeling important. Renesemee worrying that I would leave her. Renesemee wanting me to stay with her. Renesemee wanting me. Renesemee wanting me.
"Jacob," Renesemee said slowly, dangerously—but I didn't let her finish. I kissed her again.
It came naturally this time. There was consent from both sides. Shaking slightly as she kissed me, Nessie put her trembling hands on my hips, and I hooked one of my own behind her slender neck, unable to help myself. Her taste, her smell… she clouded my senses completely as I kissed her in the meadow. The meadow that had once been the birth of Edward and Bella's romance was now the birth of ours.
Flashes from Renesemee's touch showed me what she was thinking. The colors I had been able to read easily now sparked endlessly in my mind—red, purple, pink, orange, more red, black, yellow—red, red, red.
I released her, suddenly breathless. Renesemee ran her hands up my arms and around my neck.
Watching me carefully, Nessie twirled a ring of my hair in between her pale, slim fingers. A quiver ran the length of my spine when she smiled.
"Jacob," she murmured quietly relaxing her whole body against mine, "my Jacob."
I bent my head to kiss her hair, thinking how lovely the term sounded coming from Nessie.