Another Christmas Away

Five days. They only had five days. We only had five days to get to them, to show Nahuel to the Volturi.

We couldn't run as fast as I would have liked; Nahuel slowed us down. Huilen was understandably terrified as well; we'd had to spend ages convincing her to come at all, so all in all, this was taking far too long.

At least they spoke English. If we'd had to find someone to translate everything, we would definitely have been too late. As it was, we actually stood a chance. A tiny chance, to be sure, but it was better than nothing, and so we were running full pelt across two continents to get home.

Huilen, Kachiri and Nahuel were hunting in town right now while Jazz and I took down a couple of deer. I had an ironclad promise from them that they would grab the first human they came across. It sounded so wrong, referring to humans like animals, especially after meeting Bella. If we had been like Huilen and the others, my sister would have been reduced to nothing but a drink; meetings like this just brought it all home. Nevertheless, this was hardly the time to be worrying about anonymous human lives, and I kept telling myself not to remember that these victims were someone else's Bella.

There was another similarity between these people and Bella, though, past the mere coincidence of species (even though Bella wasn't human any more, so that didn't really count anyway). I couldn't see Nahuel's victims because of their proximity to him, and I couldn't see Bella because she was always with Renesmee. Little Nessie. She truly was a miraculous child. Not just in the sheer impossibility of her conception, or in her gift, but because of the power she held over all of us Cullens.

At night, I could see our house in Forks, when Bella, Edward and Nessie had left for the cottage we had restored for them, and I could see the numbers of immortals Renesmee had inspired to help her. Some I knew: Peter and Charlotte were close friends and I had got on very well with Kate whenever we visited Denali. Others I knew by reputation: Stefan and Vladimir were very distinctive, as were the Egyptian coven. Yet more I had never seen before: I didn't know Benjamin's mate or one of the male nomads. The huge number of vampires gathered in Forks was staggering. I watched them from afar, all of them, but I watched my family the closest.

I watched Esme and Carlisle, the perfect hosts. I saw them talking to Alistair, courteously persuading him that he would be safe, I saw them talking to Eleazar, Carlisle trying to ascertain which of the Volturi's gifts would be most harmful to us. I saw the way that she never left his side as the fight grew closer.

I watched Rosalie and Emmett, seeing their strength in the face of battle, his enthusiasm, her tenacious refusal to be afraid. Once I had seen them out shopping for Nessie. It was the only way I could see how much she had grown, my little niece. It did surprise me slightly how much Emmett participated on this particular trip, eagerly searching through rails of children's clothing, holding up hideous pairs of miniature shoes, until I realised that they were Christmas shopping.

Christmas.

"Jazz!" I called.

He came bounding through the trees, a streak of blood on his face telling me that I'd interrupted his meal. "What is it? What's wrong?"

I hadn't realised that I felt quite so sad, that he could feel it that strongly. As he reached me, I stretched up to kiss the blood away from his cheek. "It's Christmas day."

His eyelids half-closed in understanding. "I'm sorry. Another Christmas away."

"Don't be," I told him. "It's hardly your fault."

"I'm still sorry," he persisted. "I know how you love Christmas."

It was true: I absolutely adored the festive season. It was a brilliant excuse for me to decorate the house in reams of tinsel and boughs of holly, to get Emmett to help me find the biggest pine tree we could and bring it back to the house and then cover it entirely in sparkling lights and dainty ornaments. The colour scheme for the tree was different every year. Then there were the presents, which required shopping trips, and no matter how hard they tried to hide them from me, I always saw all of mine. Half the fun was pretending to be surprised when I ripped the paper off, and Edward would laugh at me, spoiling the game, but then the whole family would fall apart laughing and it wouldn't matter a jot.

"And that's two in a row," Jazz continued.

"Well, you can hardly pretend last year's was going to be any fun whether we were there or not," I pointed out.

Christmas hadn't really happened for us last year. Edward had, of course, been off tracking Victoria, not that he told us that at the time. Carlisle, Esme, Rose and Emmett had met up for December, but the family gathering only highlighted the gaps. It was around about that point when we all started counting Bella as part of the family. Ironic that the transition occurred when Edward was determined she should never be a Cullen. Anyway, Jazz and I had joined the others for a couple of days because it was nearly Christmas and because we hadn't seen them for a couple of months, having been looking for my history, but we couldn't stay. It hurt Jazz too much every time Esme walked past the unoccupied room, or dusted the disused piano, or when I'd catch sight of him with pitch black deathly eyes whenever someone mentioned his name. Carlisle's profound sorrow, as stifled as it was, probably hurt the most. I insisted we leave only the day before Christmas Eve. It was just getting worse and worse.

It would have been the worst Christmas imaginable if we were there, and it was worse when we had left; I saw Bella's Christmas. I saw the eyes that were so different and yet so similar to Edward's; different because of the beautiful deep chocolate of them, similar because they held exactly the same lack of life. Not pain, neither of their eyes betrayed pain, only emptiness. Nothingness. And I saw Bella smiling at her father as she unwrapped a shapeless, formless gift, and her eyes never even flickered.

It was certainly the worst Christmas I had ever had. I shuddered delicately, remembering.

"When will the others be back?" Jasper asked, distracting me from my melancholy train of thought, gently buoying my spirits with a little bit of hope that I bet he thought I didn't notice.

It was easy to see the return of Nahuel, in one sense. I just flicked through my own personal future until it abruptly disappeared. Really, I didn't see anything, but who was I to quibble over verbs? My tenses were practically incomprehensible a lot of the time anyway. No, sorry, scrap that; most of the time. Almost all the time. I mean, in what tense was I supposed to recount a vision, especially if it had already come to pass?

I noticed the lightened tenor of my thoughts. Bless Jazz.

"Ten minutes," I replied. Something occurred to me. "Jazz, it's Christmas! They're killing people on Christmas day!"

"It's necessary, love," he reminded me gently. "Huilen couldn't have gone on much longer."

"I know, I know." I sighed. "I know."

There was a pause, and then Jasper sat down, pulling me onto his lap. "Ten minutes? Alright, my little psychic, you have ten minutes to tell me how Christmas is going in Forks."

"But Nessie'll be there," I protested.

"Look around her. Check the rooms of the house one by one."

I nodded and relaxed against his chest, my head tucking neatly under his chin.

I let my consciousness filter through to my family, taking care to avoid Bella, Edward and Rosalie since they were most likely to be with Nessie. I looked for Carlisle first, because he was more likely to be talking to the people who were less fond of her. Sure enough, he was talking to the leader of the Egyptian coven, Amun. I half withdrew back to the forest and Jasper's body to mutter a description of the scene, still enough in another place that my words sometimes ran into each other and all the inflection was lost, but Jasper knew me, and he understood every syllable that slipped out of my lips.

I moved systematically through the house, finding Emmett and a nomad, who I believed was called Garrett, animatedly discussing battle tactics. I detailed to Jasper Emmett's enthusiastic gestures and the way he flexed his muscles for the benefit of Rosalie, chatting with Kate across the room.

"I thought Rose would be with Renesmee," Jasper said softly, not breaking my concentration.

"Nessie's not there, not in the lounge, downstairs, first floor, she's not in the house," I realised, sweeping the building with my gaze. I felt a tiny twinge of irrational fear when I couldn't find the patch of blankness that meant my niece was around.

"Charlie's" I realised. "Bella must have taken her to Charlie's. She's not home, either. Or Edward."

"Not at the cottage?" Jasper asked.

"No," I replied with certainty. "It's empty." A thought occurred to me with another little thrill of panic. "They haven't run away? To save Nessie? No," I immediately answered myself.

Jazz agreed. "They know Demetri would find them. Maybe not Nessie or Bella, but certainly Edward. He would have stayed."

"And if he tried to lead them on a false trail, he knows it would only delay the inevitable," I added. "Plus, Bella wouldn't let him. No, they'll stay together."

"They could have sent the others home if they weren't planning to show Nessie to Aro," Jazz pointed out.

"They could wait for Aro to see someone's thoughts…" I trailed off. "No. They'll stay together. They won't leave home."

Home. It was an odd word, and not one which had a definite translation into many languages. French, for example. In French, you'd just say 'je suis rentrée à la maison' for 'I returned home' but it really meant 'I returned to the house'. Or you could use 'chez moi', but that really meant 'my place'. Yet in English, 'home' was an essential part of our vocabulary and the foundation of many a clichéd expression. 'Home is where the heart is.' 'There's no place like home.' 'Make a house a home' (or was that last one an advertising slogan?). Home was more a concept than a place, but right now, Forks was home to me. Not all our houses became home, especially if we had to leave them in a hurry, but we all had an emotional connection to Forks now. So much change had happened there, especially for such static creatures as ourselves. I imagined our house there would become a regular haunt if Charlie could deal with us not aging, and even if he couldn't, we'd almost certainly return after his death.

No, our family wouldn't leave home. We knew them too well so suspect anything else, I reflected, and I felt Jazz nod above my head.

"So, my seer, carry on. Where's Esme, what's she doing?"

My eyes slipped once more from the sight of the verdant forest around me to the house near a little logging town in the Olympic Peninsula which had somehow gained the accolade of being called home.

"Esme's in the dining room, talking to Siobhan and Liam," I said absently. "She's laughing, and so is Siobhan, but Liam only smiles, hard, and Esme stops. Siobhan asks a question, Esme looks sad, and—wait. Another vision. Connected to Esme."

I pulled the vision so it flooded my senses and I stopped talking to Jazz, allowing myself to become immersed. Esme was sitting on her powder blue bed, writing what looked like a letter. With a little concentration, I shifted my focus to the finished letter, and if I'd been in the present moment, I would have gasped when I saw the addressees. I read the letter once, glad that my supernatural memory allowed me to spend the minimal amount of time reading in order to remember the whole thing perfectly.

"She's going to write us a letter," I told Jasper. Most people would have jumped at my sudden statement, apropos of nothing, but Jazz was well used to the oddities of my visions.

"A letter?" he questioned.

"Hoping I'd see it. Which I have."

Suddenly, my own future sputtered out of existence. I'd found this feeling disconcerting when it first happened, but after so long with werewolves and Renesmee, I'd got used to it, and I looked up a fraction of a second earlier than Jasper did, to see Huilen, Kachiri and Nahuel emerge from the trees.

"Shall we go?" Kachiri asked, without any introduction. The Amazons were like that: they only said what needed to be said.

"Of course!" I said, leaping up.

We began to run, Jasper and I leading the way, Kachiri and Huilen guarding Nahuel's back. It was annoying, having to slow down for Nahuel, but it would be even slower to carry him. Not for the first time, I wished we could have taken a plane, but none of our companions felt comfortable with the idea. Huilen and Nahuel hadn't even left the forest before, so the idea of flying in a strange metal contraption had seriously scared them. Plus, a plane was the worst place to be for a human-drinker: the close pressed bodies pulsing with heat and blood provided such huge temptation that chances were we'd lose just as much time as we'd saved, and then we'd get killed by the Volturi. Seeing as it was the Volturi we were running to meet, it was best we didn't invoke a mass human slaughter.

Anyway, we kept running, on and on, in as straight a line as we could manage. The days of travel passed quietly; Nahuel was apt to get out of breath if he spoke too much. It had been so fascinating at first, watching what my niece would become, but now it just became a nuisance, and a slow one at that.

After a few hours, we paused for a short while to let Nahuel rest. He sat gratefully on the mossy ground. I couldn't help but love the moss; it meant we were getting closer. It also meant we could risk running a little closer to populated areas without worrying about the sun lighting us up like a beacon.

"Alice?" Jasper asked. I looked away from the moss to meet his golden gaze. "Did you see Esme's whole letter?"

I nodded. "I'll tell it to you tonight, okay? I'd like to look a bit more."

Presently (the most ridiculous word in the English language with its strange tense confusion), Nahuel climbed to his feet and we were off again. The miles flew away behind our heels; my mind wandered ahead to my family, as it often did. I wondered if Rosalie had given Nessie the green dress she had been designing by night. I wondered if Bella was actually making use of her lovingly stocked wardrobe. I wondered why on earth she had sent me a message saying just 'Rio de Janeiro' and whether it was a coincidence that she and Esme were trying to contact me in the same way.

Time stretched by. It was so strange, even now, to be locked in the linear, stuck in the here-and-now. I could never decide whether it was relaxing or stressful.

It was around two hours after sunset that Nahuel became tired enough to slow us down more by running than he would by being carried. Huilen insisted on being the only person to carry him, even though it would have been far quicker to have Jasper or Kachiri do it, so we paused to let Huilen pick Nahuel up, cradling him in her arms like a baby so he could fall asleep. He'd felt a bit awkward at first, especially with my blatant staring, but he got used to it. Well, he didn't have much of a choice. Plus, we weren't looking down on him. If anything, I was a bit jealous. It would be nice to escape the overwhelming tension, just for a few hours. And I was blind anyway with him around; I may as well be unconscious.

We had to slow down even further to account for Huilen now; it was practically a jog. It was frustrating to be moving so slowly, but I kept telling myself it was better than not moving at all. Sometimes I even believed it. Nahuel looked too exhausted to be frustrated or tense and he fell asleep within minutes. As always, we spread out a little into our separate groups to talk, Kachiri and Huilen slipping into their native language. At least, I thought they shared a native language. I spoke Portuguese, but I didn't know any other languages of the Amazon, and I couldn't tell them apart. Thankfully Kachiri spoke English fluently, and Huilen and Nahuel spoke enough. Nahuel was better; he obviously shared Nessie's quick learning style.

I stayed close to Jasper's side now, like the shadow that flickered in and out of view in the dappled moonlight. "Can we run ahead?" I asked. "I want to see if Nessie's back at the cottage."

"Shall I carry you, sweetheart?" Jazz asked teasingly, and with no further prompting I leapt into his arms, imitating Nahuel's position of a sleeping child. It didn't slow him down at all.

It was nigh on impossible for me to concentrate enough to run while I was in a vision, though I was gradually getting better at multitasking. In the beginning, I hadn't been able to control my visions at all, to focus on one thing or one time, and I definitely couldn't talk coherently in the midst of the future, like I'd done earlier. It was so much easier, even now, to just slip away entirely, so I did, losing all sensation of Jasper's strong arms under me and the continual rock of his fluid gait. I was home, floating through the living room with its wall of glass, drifting up the sweeping staircase like a ghostly spirit, a benevolent haunting presence. I sometimes wondered if it was possible for people to be conscious of me watching them, but so far, no one had been. Maybe someone out there had a talent that let them know they were being spied on. Maybe I could look for them, one day.

I quickly established that neither Nessie nor any werewolves were in the house, and a quick glance towards the cottage told me that she was home. If I tried, I could probably ignore Nessie's room and see Bella and Edward, but bearing in mind the time of day, it was probably not a scene that I'd find pleasant viewing. Instead I returned to the main house to look for Esme. Just by thinking her name I focussed on her and I could see her sitting on her bed, writing the letter. I scanned it again, checking for changes she had made over the day, rememorizing it. Then I withdrew back to Jasper and the whisper of the wind through my hair, the muted regular rhythm of his run.

"She's writing it now," I told him, looking up into his eyes. "Shall I read it to you?"

He nodded and smiled at me, so I began. We laughed and sighed together, the looks of concern and yearning mirroring each other as we let the words sink in. It wasn't very long, and it was only a few minutes before my voice faded out again, leaving the hollow silence of homesickness.

"We'll be there soon," Jazz reminded me.

"Five days," I agreed. "Please let it work."


Esme

My dear Alice and Jasper,

Merry Christmas! Bella and Edward have taken Renesmee to Charlie's for the day, and they're at the cottage now, so I hope you see this.

It's so strange without the two of you around—the house is much quieter, it seems, even with all our guests. Of course, you contribute much more noise than most, Alice! If you're seeing this, then you've probably seen all our guests, but in case you haven't, we found everyone you told us to, plus a few extras. Siobhan's coven has a new addition: a young girl called Maggie with the gift of seeing lies—I think you would get on well with her, Alice. Peter and Charlotte are still here of course. You'll be glad to know that Charlotte is quite besotted with Nessie, though still far too shy to do much about it. They couldn't tell us where you were going. Zafrina and Senna got here, though. I hope you're still safe and well.

This is starting to sound like a plea for you to come back, but trust me when I say it's not. You had your reasons, and I trust you. I'm not going to speculate, because what point would there be? Neither is this a goodbye. With each day, it seems more and more likely that we will succeed, though I am inescapably scared.

Nessie's grown such a lot over the past month. In any other case I would say you wouldn't recognise her, but I think even if she lived to two hundred you would know her. Bella gave her a locket for Christmas which has a picture of our entire family in it, yes, that includes you. I think Nessie plans to change the photo every day, if not more often, but she won't forget you. She still asks about her Auntie Alice and Uncle Jasper. I continue to hope that we will all meet up again once this is all over.

But I won't dwell on what might be. I wanted to tell you that Rose gave Nessie a green dress you may have seen her designing. I don't know how many times she had to alter the measurements; she only made it up last night. She gave Emmett the sweetest red shoes to give to her, too. They were very expensive—you would approve. Carlisle gave her a Bible to read (she continues to peruse the more child friendly of our books, when not being distracted by everyone) and I gave her a scrapbook. Jacob gave her a little bracelet, apparently in the style of a Quileute engagement ring, which ruffled a few feathers, as you can imagine, but I think it's adorable. Edward gave her an MP3 player, complete with almost all his compositions and at least another fifty CDs worth of songs.

Edward was teaching Nessie to play the piano while Bella was practicing fighting the other day. Like everything she tries, Renesmee is a natural. Whether she can maintain the concentration to learn more is another matter!

I'm trying to think of moments to recount to you, but it seems there are so many: Emmett teaching Bella to fight was much more amusing than it should have been, given the gravity of the situation, Kate is falling in love but trying to deny it (the object of her affections is Garrett, one of the nomads), Carmen and Zafrina both adore Nessie, and Tanya remains amazed at the change in Edward!

I've just remembered that you presumably don't know that Eleazar worked out what Bella's gift is. She is a shield, which in hindsight seems incredibly obvious. Kate is trying to train her to project, and she is having some success. She really is the most remarkable newborn, but of course you know that.

My dears. I miss you so much. Everyone sends their love, though I haven't told them I'm writing. I think it would upset them, Rosalie and Bella at least.

Merry Christmas, and all our love,

Esme, Carlisle, Rosalie, Emmett, Edward, Bella and Renesmee.

I pressed a kiss to their names at the top of the page, concentrating hard on my decision to do so in the hope that it would catch my daughter's attention. Then I looked up, alarmed, as the door opened, and relaxed when I saw it was just Carlisle who came in.

"I came to find you," he said, smiling. "You've been up here for a long time." He noticed the sheet of paper held close to my heart. "What's this?" he asked gently.

"A letter," I replied. "For Alice and Jasper. Siobhan asked if I knew whether they would return, and I remembered how Alice loves Christmas, and the idea just came to me."

Shutting the door softly behind him, he came to sit next to me. "It's a good idea," he assured me. "May I read it?"

I placed it in his hands and rested my head on his shoulder as his beautiful eyes sped across the page, taking in my jumbled, disorganised thoughts, hopes and wishes.

"I'm sure she'll see it," he said.

There was a short pause, and I lifted my head, waiting for him to say what he had originally come in to say. We knew each other so well.

Eventually, "The weather forecast predicts snow in the next three to six days."

"And will it settle?" I asked. The trepidation was clear in my voice.

"Yes," he answered, and immediately put his arms around me and touched his lips to my forehead. "We'll be fine; it will all be fine," he whispered against my skin.

"I know," I said, raising my face to his to kiss him.

More fervently than ever, I wished that we really did know that we would be fine, that every single person I cared for would be fine. More fervently than ever, I wished that my son and daughter were with us for these troubled times, that they weren't spending yet another Christmas away.


A/N: I hope you enjoyed it. Bit gloomy, I suppose, but never mind. I liked writing it!