A/N: And so we reach the end. This is from Bella's point of view, and picks up when Renesmee goes off to have her bath.
I waved Renesmee goodbye and Rosalie took her upstairs to wash. I didn't begrudge her and Esme the time with my daughter; she was their family too and I really did need to phone Renee. I moved over to the phone, but just as I was about to dial, Edward spoke behind me.
"What about the weather?"
His voice was innocently curious, but realisation struck both of us less than a second later.
"It's going to snow, isn't it?" I asked, horrified.
"And settle," Edward confirmed, hearing it in someone's mind.
"The weather forecast says within a week," Carlisle told us. "Five or six days."
"No," I breathed.
Edward was behind me, his arms wrapped around my waist, and I knew he didn't want me to see his face. He didn't want to make it worse for me. I felt exactly the same way; I didn't want to make this any worse for him, or for him to see in my eyes that we were doomed.
Carlisle moved toward us, placed a hand on my cheek and on Edward's shoulder. "It's been a month; we were expecting this."
I nodded, but it was obvious I was reeling.
"We're ready, Bella," Tanya said. "There's not much more we could do."
"There's a high possibility that they'll stop and listen," Carmen reminded me.
"And if they don't," Emmett began, but Edward cut him off with a sharp growl.
It was at times like this that I wished Jasper was still here as I struggled to pull myself together but I couldn't do it instantaneously. I turned to Edward and buried my face in his chest, breathing in his scent to calm myself, to remind myself that five days was seven thousand two hundred minutes that I still had with my family. It could never be enough, but it was still something.
I spent a minute or so in silence, in Edward's arms, just taking deep breaths that I didn't need and which didn't help, and I tried not to count the seconds that ticked inexorably by. I was practiced now at controlling my emotions, or at least putting them off until I could indulge in them, so it was a relatively short period of time before I looked back up at Edward's beautiful face to reassure him that I was okay, and I kissed him chastely.
"I'll call Renee before it gets too late," I told him, and tried not to think of that in terms of days.
Carmen, a gentle but passionate woman who I'd come to love, stood up, holding Eleazar's hand and giving Tanya her cue to join them and leave us alone. They left via the back door in the wall of glass, taking the opportunity to do some extra hunting. Emmett, too, left the room for a minute, knowing that I was likely to get emotional when I hung up and wanting to avoid it. I promised myself that I wouldn't let myself go that far.
There was no phone in the cottage besides our cells, seeing as it didn't officially exist and it was designed as a private escape, so I was calling from here. It was, in a way, easier to pretend that things were as they would have been had Renesmee never existed, here. I connected the cottage so much with her, with our little nuclear family. I moved back over to where the cordless phone was mounted on the wall and dialled my mother's familiar number in Jacksonville. It was a world away in more ways than one.
"Hello?" my mom answered. Even in that one word I could hear two things: the first that she was utterly content and the second that she was expecting my cal. Just in that one word, there was enough to make me want to break down again.
"Hey, Mom," I replied, trying to control my voice and to make it sound human. "Merry Christmas."
"Oh, merry Christmas, sweetie! Did you get my present?"
"Yeah, it was really sweet of you," I assured her, smiling at Edward. "Did you get ours?"
Thank goodness for the internet and overnight delivery. We'd sent her a digital photo frame, since I knew Phil loved his gadgets and Renee had photos stuck up everywhere.
"Oh my gosh, honey, it's brilliant! I already got Phil to put all your wedding photos on it; I can see it from over here."
"I'm so glad you liked it," I said, for lack of anything better. "Did you have a good day?"
"Oh sure we did, we had a couple of guys from the baseball team round, and I did the full dinner and everything, and I swear I got the turkey right this time. Well, Phil said I did, but you know what he's like, he's probably lying to make me feel better."
"I'm sure it was great, Mom," I said soothingly.
"Honey, you didn't taste it last year. It was dry as a bone—I think I got the calculations wrong, but I got Mandy from my yoga class to help me out with working it out this year."
"Oh, you're doing yoga now?" I asked. It was a little reminder of how estranged I'd become from Renee; I'd only sent her a couple of emails since my marriage, and none at all in the last month. Before, I used to email her every week at least, entire essays.
"Yeah, well I can't have my husband looking fitter than me, can I? It's brilliant, Bella, so relaxing. You should try it."
"Perhaps I should," I smiled. A little relaxation wouldn't go amiss right now.
"But let's talk about you! First Christmas as a married woman, how was it?"
I rolled my eyes fondly. "I don't think being married has that much to do with Christmas. And we spent the day over at Charlie's, anyway, so it wasn't much different from last year."
I realised what an utter lie that was as soon as the words escaped my mouth, and I turned to face the wall to avoid Edward's gaze. Last Christmas, I'd been human, and I'd been a zombie. I couldn't even remember it properly. I'd blanked it out when I was human and as a vampire I'd all but entirely forgotten it.
"With the whole of Edward's family?" Renee persisted, and I was glad her mind wasn't following the same train of thought as my own.
"No, just me and him," I said. "Everyone else spent it here." It was easier to keep close to the truth than to begin concocting stories which I knew I would just contradict in a minute or two. Still, I decided not to mention Alice and Jasper, and hoped Renee wouldn't either.
"Oh, right." I heard a doorbell in the background, and Renee put her hand over the phone mouthpiece to say, "Phil, can you get that." I heard the carol singers at the door and winced at the out of tune rendition of 'Silent Night'. Didn't these people see the irony?
"Oh gosh, Bella, I'm gonna have to go. It's these carol singers, there are so many of them round here! I swear it's just our block, but they're like flies, there's always more."
"Okay, Mom," I said, feeling anything but. Was this my last conversation with her? And was it going to be cut short by some off-key singers?
"Listen, I'll speak to you New Year's Day, alright baby? But let me call you, God know's when I'll wake up!"
Seven days. "Um, we might be busy then. Tell you what, I'll call you, but I'll make it in the early evening, okay?" Don't think that you won't be there. Don't think it. Don't think it.
"Sure thing, sweetie. Say hi to Esme for me, will you?"
"Will do. Say hi to Phil for me."
"Of course. Speak soon, honey. Love you."
"I love you too, Mom."
I heard the click at the end of the line and the discordant carol cut off abruptly. The sudden quiet seemed symbolic. I let out a shaky breath and replaced the phone.
In the following period of waiting for Renesmee to finish her bath, we barely spoke at all. Carlisle was watching the news for updated weather reports. Edward joined him while I merely curled up against my husband and let my mind go where it would, without letting any of my thoughts gain enough weight to affect me too badly.
One of the nicest things about my family was the way that we could exist in silence and never let it bother us. It was never awkward in any way, and even Alice or Emmett, who returned now to half-heartedly watch the news, could remain quiet without letting it bother them. Of course, that didn't mean it happened often for Emmett, but it was more the fact that it could happen that mattered.
Eventually, Esme and Rosalie descended the staircase with Renesmee asleep in Rose's arms. She looked perfectly angelic, innocent and content, like an extraordinarily beautiful human child without the weight of the world on her shoulders.
"She fell asleep while Rose was doing her hair," Esme explained softly.
"I told you she wouldn't last an hour and a half," Edward teased me gently.
"I knew that," I informed him. "The important thing is that it made her happy."
"I see," he smiled. "Shall we take her home then?"
I nodded, and we stood up as one, Edward taking her from Rosalie without jostling a single hair on our daughter's head.
"Goodnight," I said to the room at large, and everyone murmured the same back. It was so human. "Renee says hi," I told Esme as we passed her.
She nodded, and kissed my cheek. Esme really was my second mother, the mother Renee had never been. She had heard our earlier discussion and no doubt had wished to gather me in her arms as soon as I mentioned the word 'snow', and she'd kept her granddaughter entertained while we discussed our impending doom.
I would miss them both, if I could, Renee and Esme. I prayed Esme would be spared.
We left then, running through the deepening twilight towards the little cottage that had become part of my definition of the word 'home'. Edward ran at the same slow pace as I was keeping so as not to disturb our sleeping daughter, though I doubted she would stir if he sprinted. We slipped through the unlocked door to our fairytale house and went straight to Renesmee's room to put her to bed.
Edward lay her down on her miniature bed which she should soon outgrow, and kissed her tumbling curls, fanned out on the pillow like halo of bronze. I pulled her duvet over her, tucking it carefully around her shoulders and kissed her smooth, soft forehead. We had repeated these actions for three and a half months and they never failed to comfort me. Today, though, the sight of my slumbering daughter seemed more bitter than sweet.
We stayed for a moment at the foot of her bed, watching her sleep just as Edward used to bear witness to my dreaming. The steady rise and fall of her chest which used to be so soothing to me now seemed to be counting down the time we had left. I was reminded of my change during the first days of Renesmee's life, how I had counted Edward's breaths to mark the time left. I remembered how those three days had lasted an eternity.
Eternity had never seemed longer.
Suddenly the weather forecast hit me again. How long did we have left? Was the forecast right, was it only five days? Did we really only have five days left to live? Only five days left with my daughter. The thought was unbearable. It didn't quite connect with my heart; I couldn't quite comprehend that the end would actually occur, even with my new improved mind.
"Coming, love?" Edward said softly, running his fingers lightly down my arm to take my hand.
Automatically, my fingers twined with his. He could see how upset I was, reading my face and eyes like a book, but he knew not to ask me. For one thing, of course I was distraught as my family prepared for battle, and for another I knew that he had worked out that I had something to hide, and he trusted me to be hiding it. In another life he would have wanted to know, to protect me, but we had more than each other to protect now. We had our daughter.
I squeezed my husband's hand gently, careful not to hurt him. "Give me a moment," I murmured, turning to drown in his deep golden eyes.
He watched me for only a second, and I wondered what he saw. Then he leaned in to kiss me softly and left me there with Renesmee.
I didn't move any closer to her, or sit on the bed as a human would; I was perfectly comfortable standing and I didn't want to risk disturbing her in any way, even if I knew I wouldn't. Instead I just watched her, listened to her steadily beating heart like a butterfly's wings and breathed in her heavenly scent, reminding myself that she was still here and so was I.
I only spent a minute or two in Renesmee's room; she was not the only person I was leaving unwillingly. I made my way to our white room, the echo of our blissful honeymoon, the time of Renesmee's conception. Edward was waiting for me; immediately he drew me to him and kissed me.
"Are you alright now?" he asked me tenderly.
I nodded. It was a lie, but what good would the truth do now?
"Bella," he whispered, seeing through me as he always did. "Let's just make the most of what we have now. Please?"
To my utter horror, I found myself beginning to tremble with unshed tears. I clutched myself tighter to him, and though I was probably hurting him, he held me tighter too.
He wanted to ask what was wrong, I knew, but he didn't want me to have to admit that I was hiding something, because that would tell Aro for certain that Edward was right. As it stood, he could have been wrong, even if we both knew he wasn't.
"It's our first Christmas," I said in a broken whisper. "Renesmee's first Christmas."
He didn't tell me that it wouldn't be our last because he knew it wouldn't help me in the slightest. Instead, he stroked my hair from my head to my back with long, slow movements and he pressed his lips to the locks he was caressing.
"Shh, shh," he said, but when I looked up, his eyes too were darkening and the same sorrow was inscribed in his face as was in mine. I reached up to stroke his cheek, and he turned his face into my hand.
"Sorry," I whispered.
"Don't apologise," he told me, almost fiercely. "Everyone is feeling exactly the same way. I feel just like you, you know that Bella."
But he didn't know that we wouldn't survive. He didn't know that in five or six days we would be dead and our daughter would be running for her life across continents with our friend, not us. He didn't know that she would be mourning us in less than a week.
Still, I pulled myself together then. He was right in one respect at least. We had to make the most of whatever we had, everything we had.
"I love you," I told him.
"As I love you," he replied.
I kissed him, properly, deeply, until I didn't have to think any more.
At some point close to midnight he wished me a merry Christmas and I had to concede that it was the best Christmas I had ever had, just because it was my only Christmas with Edward and with Renesmee. It was our first Christmas together, even if it was our last. And at least it was only my last Christmas, only Edward's last Christmas. At least it wasn't to be Renesmee's last Christmas.
A/N: Thank you for reading through December to May (I am such a slow writer, sorry) and I hope you enjoyed it.