AN: So we are really on the home stretch now. I had hoped to have this done sooner than later. But you know how that goes. Stupid life keeps getting in my way! Anyways I would like to say that we're almost to her Birthday party so we have two more chapters before the Volturi arrive. I am still working on writing ch 34 and will probably not get the time to until the end of this semester. So look for another update sometime during the holiday break in Decemberish time. I love you all for sticking with LIT and I wish I could churn out more chapters but that's the life of a pre-med! After this will be the big birthday party in ch 34.

Enjoy!

Chapter Songs: Everlasting Light by The Black Keys, Crystalline Green by Goldfrapp, Windowsill by Arcade Fire, Between Sheets by Imogen Heap, Arabesque by Debussy, I Would Do Anything for You by Foster the People, and Right Way to Hold a Spoon by Massive Attack


Chapter Thirty-Three: From the Heart

The confrontation grew nearer with each passing day as it had for the last six months, but this last week would be pure torture. Anticipation was wearing down everyone. Carlisle looked nearly ten years older if that was possible. The worry on his face was ever present and made him look exhausted though he hadn't aged and couldn't sleep. He'd joked that it helped with the human facade at the hospital. No one questioned his age much anymore. I was surprised he even kept doing it. I supposed it was the mundane that kept him grounded much like it did for me.

The more traditional guests within my family's home grew restless and anxious as the final week approached. What made matters better or worse, depending on who you were, the wolves had essentially moved headquarters from our house on the reservation to here. Four to five wolves were stationed here round the clock, some in human form, others patrolling the perimeter. Jacob's idea was that by closing ranks it wouldn't allow for any surprises. Staying on guard just in case they decided to show up early. "Alice, exactly where are we going to meet them?" Jacob asked, wanting to nail down the logistics.

"In my vision before, I saw the old baseball clearing," she replied. I shuddered, remembering the last time the Volturi had shown themselves there. I squeezed Jake's fingers, using his presence to keep me in reality and away from the negativity that threatened to cloud my judgment.

Jacob looked to Bella then, a silent exchange between them. She nodded in agreement with whatever they were discussing and didn't want to share with the class. A growing trend between them lately. Shared looks and quiet conversations. If I didn't know any better, I would think they're planning something. But what good would anything like that do? Certainly any idea for a battle strategy or preemptive strike would just ensure carnage on both sides of the coin. Still, you know what they say about curiosity. Sharing is caring, you know, I projected, garnering his attention. He smirked at me and shook his head.

"Later," he replied but I had a feeling later wasn't going to happen. He'd always find something to distract me with. Especially lately. Between pack gatherings at the home and what precious moments alone that we had in the late hours of the night. Mildly disgruntled, I turned back to the conversation at hand.

"It will be important how you word your answer, Renesmee," Carlisle added, running a hand along his face. The purple circles under his eyes were more pronounced than usual which was normally only associated with the thirst. His eyes were a bright burning gold, however. Mental and emotional exhaustion had to be the cause.

I agreed. Didn't want to insult them now, did we? Though I was sure my refusal, no matter how polite, was going to infuriate Caius. Especially because I was already so involved with a species he detested the very existence of. "Trust me, I'm aware. I've been trying to delay thinking about it. I figure the most sincere answer would be one off the cuff but with tact."

"What's tact again?" Jacob asked, snickering.

I laughed a little. "It means a verbal filter, strange concept for you I know." I shook my head. "But yes, I understand completely. It's a very sensitive subject. No matter what I say, Caius will want a war. I hope Aro won't indulge his whims."

Carlisle nodded grimly. "I hope that as well."

Eleazar pursed his lips for a moment. "Aro doesn't indulge Caius often though. There are few times he ever really let Caius off his leash, so to speak. The Children of the Moon were one thing. In my years with the Volturi, I have heard stories of Aro in the early years of the coven. He loved a good victory but would only attack when he knew his opponent was at their the most vulnerable. Just ask Stefan and Vladimir. They lost their entire coven in that war. Many of Aro's warriors back then had perished as well. I believe it's why he insulated himself so well. They won but the margin of victory was slim. Aro has insatiable ambition, but with Bella, Fred and Zafrina here, it would certainly give him pause to find a way out of any battle scenario."

"Like last time?" I asked, wondering if we were really on the right track with this. The Volturi didn't forgive such humiliations like we had served them over sixteen years ago.

Jacob agreed. "I think Eleazar has a point, Ness. Aro would stand to lose more than he'd like I'm sure."

"Certainly, Jane and Alec are arguably his most valued assets."

"Offensively yes, that is true. But you're forgetting Chelsea. She's his linchpin," Eleazar reasoned.

"Bella's shield renders her ability to even find our ties useless. Marcus can see them because he doesn't need to manipulate them mentally. He sees the bonds like physical ties that line up the covens and friendships. The imprint fascinated him last time."

"Yes, it's not something he's ever encountered before. You wouldn't know it by looking at him. His mind was the most alive it's been in quite some time."

Eleazar sighed. "Marcus is such a tragedy with what he's been through. To live so long without his mate."

"What happened to her?"

"Died mysteriously. They never found her murderer. It's why Sulpicia and Athenodora are so well guarded. When Didyme died, from the stories I heard, Marcus went into a rage for vengeance, but when that could not be sated, he turned suicidal. Caius and Aro realized that could be them if their wives were murdered. That's why the wives hardly ever leave the tower. Leaving them without the protection the guard provides would be as if they'd signed their death warrants. They certainly don't trust the Romanians not to make a bid for the throne."

"That would be suicide," I replied. If the Stefan or Vladimir made a play for Volterra, it would only start a war. When the Volturi would return home, they would have to fight it out. A gruesome battle indeed. The Romanians had lost so much once; they would only align themselves with the powerful covens of the world. Covens like my family had that kind of power. Power that wasn't acquired in battle but through friendship and diplomacy. My grandfather's social influence weighed heavily upon his shoulders these last six months. He'd only ever wanted to live his existence peacefully with the family he's created around himself. If anyone is more deserving of his influence, I would be hard pressed to find such a vampire. Carlisle welcomed friendships with all walks of life. Human, vampire, hybrid and shapeshifter all respected him, trusted him to the fullest because he was truly a man of his word.

"But Aro wouldn't put it past them to try," Edward reminded.

I sighed and looked at my hands. Jacob squeezed my fingers back and thumbed over my index finger. Gently, I pressed my finger tips into his skin, letting him know I appreciated the gesture. Bella leaned on Edward and caught my eye in my peripheral vision. So much uncertainty and craziness that surrounded us at a time like this. Esme stood by her own husband, keeping a hand at his shoulder.

"So, what are you going to do tomorrow night? With the party and everything at your place, wouldn't that mean none of the wolves can be here?"

Jacob shook his head. "Most of the red-eyes are going hunting up in Alaska and down in California, right?"

"Yes, everyone is hunting more frequently with the confrontation coming up in a week."

"It'll be fine. I don't think we'll have to worry about it. Besides, I'd rather have the entire pack at the party if only to make the human scents less noticeable. I realize Siobhan has that willpower thing going for her, but I'm still a bit sketchy on letting the new veggie vamps on our land."

Esme nodded in understanding. They'd all been through it. Even I had weaned myself away from human blood once in my life. For Bella and I, it was easy to resist. Her human memories and thick ties in the mortal realm kept her humanity at the forefront of her conscience. Others like Alice or Jasper, who had barely any human memories left if any at all, found the transition more difficult. Siobhan had been successful in her latest trip with Carlisle to test her control. There was something to be said for her will power. If it was an ability or just a very good personality trait, we would never know for certain. Eleazar had tried to get a read on it, but it seemed to present itself as almost an emotion than a physical or mental force upon the situations around her. Hardly quantifiable in any sense of the term. "Is there anything you need for the party? Food, cake? The pack surely can eat more than a large battalion of soldiers."

Jacob smirked. "We should be good. Everyone's bringing food. I'm more concerned with the kids who will be there. Only vamp they know is Ness."

Zafrina grinned at the mention of children. "How old are they? I could always entertain them with my gift. I seem to remember a certain hybrid enjoyed it quite well."

I smiled at my dear friend. "Of course, Zafrina. I'm sure Eli would love you. He's only a few months old but he quite enjoys my little picture shows."

Jacob took a breath and I nudged him. "I know it's not going to be easy, but no one would disrespect Carlisle or me for that matter by doing anything to hurt them."

Zafrina smiled at Jacob reassuringly. "It is his family, Nessie, that he worries about. I am very interested to hear your tribe's legends, Jacob. I would love to converse more with your father, Billy."

Zafrina was entirely fascinated by the existence of such a strong native tribe that had survived so long even with white colonization. Her coven had survived the millennia because of their resourcefulness in the forest and the ability to beat back the colonization.

"Sorry, Zafrina. It's not that I don't trust you, personally. I get a little itchy even with the Cullens on our land. Old habits."

Within moments, we were alerted to a loud argument going on in the backyard. Carlisle looked and pinched the bridge of his nose. Everyone gravitated to the vitriol outside. Fred stood on the periphery as did Siobhan who was trying to calm her mate down. "Oi, you two are gettin' on me last nerve. I have little patience for useless nobles like you," Liam spat at Vladimir and Stefan.

Siobhan reached for her mate but he shook her off. "Liam, stop!" she hollered as Liam took a step towards the Romanians. No one seemed to know what set Liam off. Perhaps it was just the two ancients had grated on his last bit of patience. Tensions were running high in the house as it was. Collin and Brady trotted up to the house, teeth bared and ready to break up a fight if necessary. Jacob pushed me behind him and his form blurred at the edges.

Vladimir sneered at the Irish coven. "Filthy excuse for a vampire that one."

Rage rolled off Liam as he went to lunge at the loose lipped Romanian. Fred was faster, locking his arms around him as Jasper darted over, blanketing them with calm energy. "Let it go, Liam. They're not worth it. Not even worth the flick of a zippo."

Liam shoved Fred off of him. "Boyo, you best not be getting in me way again."

Siobhan bristled more and she stood in front of her mate. "And you will not do something stupid and start a fight because of two ancients who don't know when to control their mouths," she reasoned. Liam breathed harshly as he listened to the command of his coven leader. She may be his mate but it was quite obvious who made the rules in their coven.

Maggie went to Liam's side and offered him a hand. He sighed gruffly and shook his head. She grinned half heartedly and hugged him. "The hell just happened?" Jacob asked as he looked around.

"It's not easy keeping so many vampires near one another for prolonged periods of time," Jasper explained.

Siobhan sighed. "Certainly. Liam, let's go hunting and you can take out your frustrations on a bear or a mountain lion." Liam seemed enthusiastic about that plan. He was in need of hunting to regulate his temper. A fully satiated vampire did have a greater propensity for emotional balance. Still, the Romanians must have said something pretty horrendous for Liam to come out swinging like that. Liam wasn't exactly a verbose man. He was often content to observe rather than waste time on inane speech. He favored letting Siobhan do all the talking since she was so talented at it.

"Still doesn't explain why Liam almost decked out the Dracula twins," Jacob muttered. I snickered when the Romanians hissed at the despised nickname Jacob had given them so many years ago. Jacob rolled his eyes and shot them a challenging glare. "Should have let him, Fred, would have been fun to watch," Jacob added.

Fred shook his head. "No. That's exactly what the Volturi would want. Infighting would only show weakness at a time like this. It's important to keep a united front, isn't it, Stefan and Vladimir?"

The two ancients passed off Fred's reminder of their purpose here. It was becoming more and more clear just what the Romanians had said that had pushed Liam over the edge. Their insatiable lust for revenge against Aro's coven was enough to annoy anyone. I couldn't imagine having to deal with it for weeks at a time. Even when I was living here, I had tried and often failed to ignore and avoid them.

Carlisle rubbed a hand over his face. Weary and overwrought. "We have a week left before the Volturi arrive. Can we keep it together until after they leave? Please. You are all my dear friends and to see you fight isn't conducive to our goal. Stefan, Vladimir, I beg you to abandon your vengeance. It's of no use. Aro isn't going to jeopardize what's left of his influence in our world just so you can satisfy an ancient vendetta. This isn't about you. This is about my family. My granddaughter's ability to make a life for herself. Please remember that."

Garrett stood behind me, trying to hide his amusement at the shamefaced looks upon the Romanians' faces by stifling a snicker. Being scolded like common school children wasn't something that either ancient were used to. Neither of them would make an overture against Carlisle. They viewed him as entirely harmless. A lesser being who chose to feed on filthy animals instead of delicious humans. Garrett leaned down to my ear. "Check out the looks on them. Oh how far the mighty shall fall."

I snickered and punched his shoulder. "Jerk."

Garrett smiled and squeezed my shoulder. "Well, at least something exciting happened today."

Kate gave him a withering look, and he just smiled sheepishly beneath her glower. "Idiot." He grinned even wider and kissed her cheek.

Jacob gave Brady and Collin the okay to go back to patrolling the perimeter. Jacob scratched his head, still not quite getting how tensions were running so high for the vampires. I took his hand. Still confused? I asked. He nodded, so I took pity on him. Vampires usually don't flock around each other in such large numbers like this. My family and the Denali coven are rare exceptions. The Volturi are not because it's Chelsea and Corin who keep everyone happy and not at each other's throats all the time. Vampires are territorial and solitary creatures by nature. The most a coven traditionally has is at maximum three. The fact that there are more covens with larger numbers is quite different from the norm.

"It wasn't like this last time, was it? Or maybe I was sleeping when it happened."

I chuckled. Remember Alistair's stunning exit? He's probably still hiding somewhere in Europe.

"True," he replied, kissing my temple. "I'm just glad it didn't start a fight. Because then we'd probably have to break it up."

I shuddered at the thought of Jacob, Brady and Collin having to break up a full fledged vampire fight. Their incredible capability aside, the idea of my Jacob or any of the wolves in a dangerous situation made me jittery as all get out. Liam and Siobhan disappeared into the forest not long after the tensions had dimmed. Everything began to calm down then, and the willowy ancients went inside, clearly annoyed with what had occurred. Quite certainly, they weren't exactly accustomed to being called out for their ridiculous rhetoric. I was glad, at least, that it hadn't resulted in any infighting aside from the brief verbal quarrel. As much as I was dreading the confrontation, it seemed that the week couldn't pass by quickly enough.


"Oh come on, you don't get to turn down presents for your birthday, Nessie," Amber whined.

I sighed and took the gift from her. "You didn't have to do this, Ambs. I really don't want anything for my birthday."

"Too bad. It's your seventeenth!" She exclaimed with a flourish of her hands. I rolled my eyes, entirely amused with her excitement.

"Technically my family celebrated my seventh as my eighteenth," I replied as I undid the bow on the box.

"Really? Why?"

"Because I stopped aging a bit after my birthday. A month or two after my birthday, my growth had slowed so much that Carlisle could barely detect it. For weeks afterward, it continued to decline until there was no real way to quantify it any longer. I haven't changed physically since."

"Wow, I can't even. Just wow. I mean, when Carlisle and I started working on our project, I assumed there had to be something going on genetically, but what you said just completely clicked as to why."

I gave her the most puzzled look as I opened my gift. Inside the box was a framed lithograph with information upon it. It looked like genetic code. "Gene sequencing?"

"Yours to be exact."

I blinked twice and looked at the information in front of me in astonishment. Here was the entire sum of my being right here. My own DNA laid out for me. "How?"

"Carlisle asked me to borrow the sequencer at the genetics lab. We sequenced hybrid DNA. There's one for each of the hybrids, and then one for the genome. You're your own species, Ness. It's entirely fascinating. He's working on trying to quantify all the genes and their specific functions. But you can see, twenty-four chromosomal pairs. But it's not like you have an extra gene that says vampire. Vampire DNA is mixed in throughout your human base pairs seamlessly. Sometimes it's even complementary with each other. It's quite a find."

I looked up at Amber, not knowing what to say or tell her other than thank you. This was so genuine and sweet. "This is amazing, Amber. Really amazing. Thank you."

"You're welcome but I can't take all the credit, Carlisle came up with the project idea."

Leah smirked, kissing her girlfriend on the cheek. "Mine next!" she proclaimed. "Well, this is kind of from both of us. Amber made it, I just did everything else."

I took the second box, flat and the same size as the lithograph's box. I opened it and inside was a picture frame, a digital one. Leah reached over and pressed the on button and suddenly there were pictures playing in a slideshow. Moments from here at the house. The pack gatherings. Amber and I, as well as each of the imprints were woven throughout. But the best part was, intermixed within the slideshow were pictures of Jacob and I. It wasn't just recent photos of us either. There had to be dozens of photos taken over the years. From a picture of Claire and I the first day we met back when we were both very small children to now, adults and dearest friends.

Pictures of each birthday as I aged. Not only had Amber and Leah given me the molecular basis of my life, but they'd also given me the defining moments of them, forever captured in stillness. I felt tears prick the corners of my eyes. Seventeen years of life. Every important moment captured with similar constants and notable additions over the years. Early images of my life with Billy and Rachel. The newest of all images were of my extended family within the pack. Eli, Rachel, Sarah and I making sandcastles on the beach with the two of them in windbreakers and boots. The day I graduated college, with my cap and gown and my parents flanking either side of me. Yet in many photos, my eyes were drawn to Jacob. Unchanging and beautiful. Happy in each and every one of them, even ones from when I was a feisty little girl who loved to play hide and seek in the woods.

I wiped at my eyes, feeling the moisture there. "You guys..." I said, my voice going hoarse with emotion. I got up from my spot and enveloped Amber into a tight hug. Amber grinned widely as I pulled back from her.

"You like it?"

"It's perfect. This is amazing."

"Esme gave me enough photos to get through your childhood years. By the way, you were so cute as a baby!" she mused.

I rolled my eyes and hugged her again before moving on to Leah. Leah pulled me in, and I pressed my fingers to her bare shoulders. You have no idea what this means to me. Thank you. Her arms tightened around my shoulders as I projected the thought to her. She'd be forever my greatest ally. We were kindred. We both knew what it meant to be entirely unique. I broke away from her and we both chuckled. I moved back to sit next to Jacob and he wrapped an arm around my shoulders. I took the opportunity and curled against him into our side of the breakfast nook and stared at my life in pictures. All in vibrant color and beauty. A blessed life of seventeen years so far. If anything, this served to remind me of how beautiful my life was in spite of the darkness that was looming.

"There's more space on it too, you know, to add to it someday," Amber hinted, smirking and wiggling her eyebrows.

I narrowed my eyes at her. "I assume you're talking about kids."

"Hell yes, I am." Amber replied snicker-snorting.

I rolled my eyes. "Maybe someday. I want to survive the Volturi first. Then we'll see, right?"

Jake grinned. "I'm in no rush. I agree, let's survive the week and then we'll plan for the future. How about that?"

I smiled wide and snuggled into him. "Sounds perfect to me." Amber and Leah both started clearing the dinner table. Jacob moved to help them but I refused to budge.

"No, you stay with the birthday girl, we've got this tonight."

"My birthday's tomorrow."

"Tomorrow, schmorrow. Everyone will be here tomorrow night for the party. We are giving you a quiet celebration tonight," Jacob replied, finding my fingers with his own.

"So where's the big surprise you didn't want me to go into the garage for? Since we're celebrating tonight."

"Nope, you're getting that tomorrow."

I pulled away and arched one eyebrow suspiciously. "Oh really? Because you just said—"

He flicked his finger, cutting off my statement. "I know, but it will be before everyone comes over. But I have other plans for you tonight."

My suspicious glance grew wry and knowing. Yeah I'm sure he had plans for me. Plans that involved our bed and lots of skin. "I'm sure you do."

He chuckled and leaned forward, capturing my lips. I sighed and scooted closer to him. Amber came back over to the table grabbing another plate and glass, interrupting us. "Oh don't mind me. I'm just going back to the kitchen. As you were, lovebirds!" she called, disappearing into the kitchen.

I shook my head at her ridiculousness as Jacob caught my chin with his thumb and forefinger, turning me back so he could kiss me again. I hummed against his lips and pushed myself closer, taking his lower lip between mine. A perfect evening so far. Good friends and good dinner. Followed by two excellent gifts. Best birthday I could ask for and it's not even my birthday for another. I ran my tongue along the outer rim of his lower lip. He groaned softly and grabbed at my waist, trying to situate us better. Lightly, I moved my hands up to his neck, tracing the hinge of his jaw with my thumbs. I poured myself and everything in my head into the kiss, reveling in the sweet crackle of electricity between us. His hands coasted up my sides as the kiss deepened. I breathed him in, barely noticing a flash of light from somewhere around us.

Jacob did, however, and pulled back. Amber grinned sheepishly with her Canon in hand. In front of us, on the table, was a cake, chocolate decadence with seventeen candles pre-lit and just begging for a wish to be made before extinguishing them.

"Do you want us to sing?"

"No, please don't. At least tomorrow I can lean on Bella when we get bombarded with the dulcet tones of dying cat."

"Hey! I'm not a bad singer," Amber protested. In actuality, Amber wasn't half bad for a human with no discernible musical talent. The boys in the pack, however, couldn't carry a tune if someone handed it to them.

"Wasn't referring to you but about ninety-five percent of the pack. They're horrendous at singing. I think some of them try purposely to sing off key."

"Oh they do. It's more fun that way," Jacob reminded as Leah and Amber returned to their seats.

"Make a wish!" Amber ordered. I chuckled and thought about it for a moment. What I really wanted more than anything wasn't entirely out of reach. It couldn't hurt after all to wish, to hope for the best. I took a deep breath and leaned forward, exhaling and blowing out all of the candles. Little streams and spirals of smoke rose up in the absence of flame while all three of my companions clapped.

"By the way, Ness, you have excellent taste in cake. This is one of my favorites too," Leah replied as she began dishing up four plates with large pieces. I took my piece and saw that there was raspberry filling swirled inside.

"Oh wow. Where did you get this?"

"There's this bakery in Olympia. So good. Their pastries are to die for. I asked for this, special since Jake told me how much you love chocolate and raspberries."

I grinned. "Best combination. Especially dark chocolate."

"Agreed," Leah replied sticking a spoonful of cake into her mouth. I piled more cake into my mouth, enjoying the company and atmosphere of the evening. What a relaxing birthday this has started out to be.


Much later into the night, I sat in bed, sheet wrapped around my chest, but left my back bare to the slight chill in the air. The coolness felt like pure heaven against my sweat sated skin. I pulled my hair off to the side, letting more of my back exposed to the air. A book open upon my lap. Jacob came back into the bedroom, joining me. Instead of leaving me to do my reading, he pressed his lips to my shoulder blade. I sighed, closing my eyes and tried to ignore the onslaught of heat. "Seriously?" I asked incredulously.

Chuckles emanated from him punctuated by warm breath against my back. "You keep reading. I'll just be back here, trying to get your attention," he teased, nipping at my shoulder. One would think once would be enough for one night. Apparently nothing was ever enough in our case. I wondered if this phase ever lessened. The other couples in my family, from what thankfully limited knowledge I had, would usually go off on their own as couples when needing to reconnect intimately.

I tried to ignore him and resume my nightly ritual of reading before bed. This was definitely a difficult thing to do what with his fingers skimming along my spine and his lips moving along my shoulders, inching to my neck. "Jacob," I sighed.

"Hmm?" He hummed against my collarbone.

"You're being really irritating."

"Really? Or are you trying to ignore me and failing."

I huffed and tossed the book to the side and fell back against my pillow. "You're so frustrating sometimes," I scolded, feigning annoyance. In reality, I was happily distracted. I'm sure that's why he did it. That or he just wanted my attention that badly.

He smirked and kissed me. A hand pulled at my side, rolling me toward him and peeling the sheet from between us. I pushed my hair back over my shoulder and slid closer, aligning our bodies and sighing as warm skin met even warmer skin. His chest rumbled in a content hum. I grinned against his lips and pulled back. "I'd say you're an incorrigible cad but that wouldn't be entirely true."

"It's kind of a big deal you know," he began. "Things transitioned this year for us. Seventeen years ago, I imprinted on you. Can you blame me for being happy?"

"No, I really can't. I'm happy too, but you know that already."

"Amazing what changes in seventeen years."

I nod in silent agreement. "Did you ever think this would be our future?"

"Back then? I couldn't fathom that far ahead. And in some respects, I didn't want to. I wanted it to be a surprise. To know the ending of the story just kind of ruins the journey for me, I guess. I just hoped you would live a safe and happy life as you grew up. At your first birthday, I tried to imagine what the future would hold, but my estimation was so off in so many ways. I'm glad I was wrong. You don't realize it, but you're so different from the little girl you were."

"I should hope so."

A rolling laugh echoed in his chest. "Not what I meant. I meant you personality wise."

"How so?"

"You're still you, but you're different than even six months ago. And that I hope I can say is partially related to me."

"Of course it is. Remember back in January when you questioned whether you could make me happy? Do you see now how impossible it is for me not to be happy with you?"

His face softened and his hand pushed some of my hair off my cheek. He didn't say anything for a few moments, but he didn't need to. I understood the warmth and happiness he felt around me. Just the same as we both felt an inexplicable pull to one another. We fit, in every single sense of the term. Puzzle pieces in a giant jigsaw. I watched his expression change as his fingers traced the lines of my face. Fingertips along the ridge of my cheekbone, his thumb along my bottom lip. I grabbed his wrist, holding his hand against my face and met his eyes as I pressed a kiss to the inside of his wrist.

"I love you, so much." He whispered, his voice tender.

I leaned in, not breaking eye contact and kissed him. "I love you, too. More than anything."

Jacob grinned and glanced over me. "Happy birthday."

"That's tomorrow."

"Nope," he replied, popping the p at the end. "It is officially the eleventh."

"Oh," I added, flushing. "Happy anniversary then. You know, since you imprinted on me exactly seventeen years ago today."

"You know, I'm glad that imprinting is involuntary. I don't know if I would have been smart enough to realize you're worth protecting or what you'd become."

"Jake..."

"No, let me finish, you gave me something to fight for again. I thought everything was lost and it wasn't. You fixed me. You'll never understand what that meant for me. The absolute relief it was to be rid of all that pain. I remember all of it but it's just a memory now. An echo. It doesn't matter anymore, but you matter more than any of it," he explained. I cut him off with a kiss, pressing my lips to his mouth.

He sighed and slid his hand down my neck. I pressed my hands into his back crushing our torsos together. He lessened the kiss, pulling back to look at me again. "Do you want your present?"

"I thought you weren't going to tonight."

"Eh, it's daylight somewhere, isn't it?"

I laughed and watched him shift out of bed, pulling on a pair of sweats that had been draped haphazardly over his dresser. "Hand me a shirt of yours, please."

Rummaging through his dresser, he grabbed then tossed me a long sleeve dark blue henley. It was so huge on me it could double as a dress almost. He came around behind me and pressed his hands over my eyes. "Jacob! Is this really necessary?"

"Yes, deal with it."

I huffed and let him lead me out through the hallway and passed the living room from what I remembered from the layout of our home. Pushing me gently forward, he stopped me just before the sliding glass doors out to the deck and then turned me towards the wall. The smell of wood and varnish was heavy in the air within the space. A moment later, he pulled his hands off my face. "Surprise," he murmured while my eyes refocused.

I looked in front of me. Sitting against the wall was an absolutely breathtaking upright piano. The marbling of the wood stood out in the panelling. Warm mahogany stood out so beautifully against the white wall behind it. I stood speechless for several moments. A hand went to my mouth. No one had ever given me a piano before. No one ever needed to. Growing up in my family's homes over the years, we were never without musical instruments throughout. Especially a piano. Where my father's tastes in pianos resided in ostentatiously beautiful baby grands, the masterpiece in front of me was a relic. An old Baldwin from what looked like the 1940s. Perfectly preserved and even new touches had been painstakingly added in artful carvings across the front panels.

"This is my present?" He nodded in response and my hand covered my mouth. I didn't know what to say. "Jacob," I gasped. Where did he get this? What made him think to get me one? So many questions flooded my brain. "It's so beautiful. May I?" I asked, almost too timid to touch such a work of craftsmanship.

"It's all yours. You didn't have a piano here, and I know how much you love playing. It relaxes you so much."

"But Jacob," I started, interrupting him as I sat on the cushioned bench. "This is too much! These things cost a fortune. Especially an antique like this."

"You would be surprised. Actually I picked it up for a hell of a deal, honey. It was in really bad shape. I was nervous that it wasn't going to be salvageable, but I had help," he began to explain.

"You had help?"

"Edward. He restrung and tuned this baby to perfection. I didn't even know pianos had strings! I restored the wood and replaced the broken panels. Refinished everything to bring out the natural grain. Edward drew up the schematic for the carving, but I did the work of it. His design was very helpful. I can't draw people to save my life. I can carve you and just about anything but drawing it out? Yeah right."

I looked closely at the ornate carvings in the front panels. I couldn't believe my eyes. I could pick out the scenes, the lines of dialogue perfectly from how it was laid out, yet all there was, was images. In one panel, four people, with two fairies overlooking the scene. In the other, a group of hapless troubadors. I'd recognize this imagery anywhere. "Midsummer?"

Jacob grinned. "He said you'd get it."

"It's my favorite Shakespeare play, Jacob. Of course I would recognize this," I replied through tears. He did this for me? Even enlisted my own father's help to create something so wholly wonderful and unique for me. In the image, my eyes immediately drifted to Helena. Dearest Helena. How I'd identified with her in my younger years. I choked out a laugh through joyous tears. "Do you have any idea what this means to me?"

He grinned and sat down on the bench next to me. "A bit. You love music."

"No, Jake, this, the piano... Midsummer. Do you know why it's my favorite?"

"No, just that you like it. I'm not that familiar with it. I like the bloodier ones."

"Hamlet and Macbeth, yes."

"And Titus Andronicus, sure."

"You see this woman here," I said pointing to the carving of Helena. You could tell the difference between them. Hermia was far more beautiful than Helena, even in carved wood. That fact was apparent. "Her name is Helena. I always identified with her."

"Why's that?"

I took a breath. Uncertainty swelled in my chest. I wasn't sure if I wanted to share this with him, but it was entirely important. He needed to know just how this generous gift had touched me. "You have to realize when I was younger I didn't understand this," I said, motioning between us. "Knowing the past between you and Bella wasn't easy for me, you know that."

"What does that have to—" he started but I raised my hand to stop him.

"I'm about to tell you. In A Midsummer Night's Dream there's this beautiful girl named Hermia who's in love with someone other than who her father has betrothed her to. Lysander, her love and she decide to run away and elope. Her betrothed finds this out and follows them into the forest, his name is Demetrius. Helena is in love with Demetrius but he hated her. He wanted nothing to do with her, but she still follows him into the forest that night. Through the meddling of magical fairies like Puck and his king, Oberon, things get muddled and messed up when they place nectar on the sleeping lovers eyes. When they awake, the first person they see they love unconditionally. It's only through this magic that everything is set right. Hermia and Lysander, and then Demetrius and Helena."

I waited, seeing if he would get it. I could see flashes of recognition run across his face but he remained silent. Another deep breath and I began my next part of the explanation. "I've always identified with her. Because I've always loved you in one way or another. For what seems like a very long time, I thought that my life mirrored hers and there is some truth to that.

"The magic that brought her Demetrius, I always equated to us. To imprinting. Whatever magic there is in your blood, your heritage is what bound you to me. That took me a very long time to come to terms with when I knew you had loved Bella before. I had thought that magic had forced you to love me even as my protector and best friend. I know different now."

"Ness," he whispered. I could barely look at his face for fear of what I would find there.

I stared at the carving longer. "So yeah, you giving me this piano with this carving on it. It's such a twist from what I used to think. How my own biased opinion has changed over the years. I would read it and wish that somehow you could really love me someday. But now when I read it, I see that you've always cared. Aside from my parents, you've been the one constant in my life that makes sense. Sometimes, when I reread it, I'm still Helena, and you're still my Demetrius, yet I can comprehend it better now. How everything fits together in the grander scheme. I owe that to you," I finished, turning back to look at him. His face was the better side of what I expected. Soft and full of love and shock at my admission.

"Why did you never tell me that before?" He asked, a small crease forming between his brows.

I shrugged. "I don't know. I kept it to myself for a very long time. It's time you knew."

He chewed on his lower lip for a moment. I placed my hand on his. He shook his head. "You can tell me something like that but you won't marry me?"

My shoulders sagged. "Jacob, please don't,"

"No, you don't. I don't get it. Please explain to me why? And no lines, no shutting me out. You just told me something about you that you've hidden from me for years. We are together, we're supposed to be in this together. Fifty-fifty, remember?"

A fresh influx of warm air sated with his scent pulled through my nose and into my lungs while I tried to figure out what to say. "I don't believe in the concept."

"Why?"

Another deep breath. I could debate this with him. I could present my side in an intelligent manner. "In college I studied a lot of subjects and you know I ended up majoring in Women's studies. To me it just seems so un-modern and archaic. It feels like a complete subjugation of women in my opinion. A woman has to change her name. A woman has to wear an engagement ring. A woman's parents, customarily, are supposed to pay for the wedding as a dowry. Essentially paying a man to marry their daughter. It's a woman who makes the sacrifices in a marriage. Putting family over career or sacrificing family for career. Marriage is an old fashioned notion when it wasn't acceptable for people in love to live with one another without some legal documentation. It doesn't make sense for us. We're so committed to one another. I will never love anyone else the way I love you. You imprinted on me and you love me. This year has been a huge transition for us. I finally understand what it means to really love someone. My entire life, I yearned to understand what it meant, to feel what I could see in my parents and my family."

"Do you think I would subjugate you? Do you really think that's why I want to get married?"

"Then why do you? Why else do you want to marry me other than some archaic ingrained notion of tradition?"

He shook his head. "No, we're not talking about my reasons here. No deflecting to me. Do you think I would do that to you?"

"I don't know. I don't think you would do it consciously but sometimes we do things that are considered socially acceptable when they really shouldn't be."

"Renesmee, really? Do you not get how much I respect you? Do you not see how I value your opinion above even my own blood relatives? You've become my family, Ness, don't you see that?"

I softened and squeezed his hand. "I know. But why is marriage so important? It's not important to me. It's just a silly piece of paper."

"So now it's just a silly piece of paper? First, it's ownership of a gender but now it's just silly? If it's so silly then why do you care so much about not having it?"

"Because I don't feel the need to go through a spectacle of commitment when the most important person in the equation knows how committed I am to him. In a week, I'm standing in front of the Volturi and telling them where they can shove their offer in no uncertain terms because I am in love with you."

"So let me get this straight. You think that, number one, marriage is some archaic way to force women to be submissive to men. Number two, that it's just a piece of paper that only holds meaning with governments and social standings, and three, that it doesn't matter because you are already committed to this relationship. Do I have that right?"

"Essentially. I don't think it's necessary. I love you. A toi toujours. I mean that more than any ridiculous spectacle that Alice has up her sleeve. It's not important to me because, for lack of a better definition, I already feel married to you. We live together, we spend our time together. Everyone knows we're in a very serious relationship. It just doesn't feel necessary to go through the motions for the sake of archaic traditions that were put in place millennia upon millennia ago when women were considered property and not a person."

"You know I would never do that to you though, right?"

Nodding, I laced our fingers. "Yes, I know. But it doesn't take away the connotation associated with it. Look at wedding ceremonies in general. All eyes are on the bride. If it were a real partnership being forged, then why all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the bride? Why is it so important that jewelry companies and entire industries rely on the ceremony to generate revenue. Not to mention the divorce rate."

He smirked then. "I think you'd find the whole imprint divorce rate is quite a bit lower, like zilch."

I chuckled. "Yes, I know. And that's another piece to it. You imprinted on me. What do the legends call Taha Aki's imprint?"

He grimaced then, seeing my reasoning. "The third wife."

"Exactly. Wife. His true spirit wife. Meaning they're bonded in a way that no inconsequential human rite could ever touch. And that is why I don't think it's necessary for us."

He let out a long sigh. "I do see your point." I grinned only to have my hopes of never having this argument again dashed. "Don't act so smug. This isn't over."

"Jake," I nearly growled in exasperation. He was still wanting to hammer this out? I should think it was entirely moot at this point.

"Nuh, uh. We're done for tonight about it. But I need time to organize a rebuttal to your argument, right?"

I sighed and nodded, just acquiescing. What argument could he come up with that would change my mind? I turned to the present in front of me. This beautiful expanse of keys and wood. "Want me to play something?"

"That is why I got it for you, so yes, please," he responded grinning and letting my hand go, freeing it to tickle the ivories. I pulled out an old favorite for him. Debussy's Arabesque would certainly lighten the mood.

"And you think I can play this someday?"

"Of course. You'll learn only if you want to though," I reminded. He could learn anything he wanted so long as he had the drive for it. That was normal with anyone, vampire, human or wolf. When one's mind was set to something, there was little deterrent that could deviate their course. Slowly, Arabesque faded in favor of the song I played for him the other day. "I should have mentioned, this entire song, I wrote for you." I admitted, after all, tonight wasn't just a night of celebrations but a night of full disclosure, at least on my part.

"I had a feeling you did. Especially this part," he said referring to how the music changed, transitioning from the light melodies of childhood into the strains and harmonies of adulthood. Smiling, I played longer, my fingers floating across the crisp keys. He nudged me gently, careful not to disturb my arms. "So does this top the tree house?"

Light tittering laughter bubbled up in my throat. "Definitely. This is the best gift you could have ever gotten me. But the tree house is a very close second."

He grinned and kissed my cheek while I played on with my newly acquired and most prized possession, letting the music flow throughout the house even at such a late hour. Amber and Leah's heartbeats were even and steady, denoting their slumber. Jacob sat here with me, listening to me play as I felt a lightness lift my senses. He knew now, exactly how much I loved him and had loved him for longer than I even held understanding of. Despite our disagreements, we were stronger for it tonight. In this place together, I knew that nothing, no threat of violence from the Volturi or disagreement over our future could jeopardize what we've built together.


AN: Thank you all for reading and your patience!