Author's Notes: YES, this is the last chapter in our Nessie saga… it is done! Soooo many thanks to everyone who's been reading, and special shout-outs to all my lovely wonderful reviewers: tooki13, xAlexisMariex, Hannah303, MayHopeCullen, lena m., roxanne phair, Aiyami Sakura, FLORA – AN ANGEL, evelyn-shaye, TeenyTinyGirl, Sassy1515, mysteryfan09, NessieR. C. Cullen 888, Miamore, luv2beloved, Ariana Jade, ConradKCat, StarkLuverAllTheWay, mwjen, midtwilight, AriannaKing, SummerFeally, Lus-In, Renesmee is Awesome, MrsTaylorLautner.X, WannaBeStephenieM, BroadwayGlory, NicoleBelikov, Span, and x-rayLady! You are all awesome :-)
Disclaimer: The Twilight saga and all characters therein are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. No profit is being made from this fanfiction and no copyright infringement is intended.
"We're back," said Edward. His face was calm, but his eyes glinted with satisfaction at having interrupted us.
My thoughts were incoherent with annoyance for a few seconds, but then I regained my faculties. It was a lot easier to think straight when Jacob wasn't kissing me. Hi, Dad, I thought, and stepped forward to give him a quick hug.
"How'd it go?" Jacob asked. "Is everyone back?"
"Everyone's here," said Edward. "They're in the next room."
I held Jacob's hand. I guess we should…
"Yeah," he agreed.
I gave him a regretful look. Later…
He winked at me.
My family was indeed returned, all of them. A pile of suitcases sat in the middle of the room, next to the glass coffee table. Every minute or so, Alice added a new one.
"Jeez, Shortie, how much shopping did you do?" Jacob asked.
I waved to the three Denalis, and gave hugs to my mom, then to Esme, Jasper, Carlisle… I paused. "Where's Rose and Emmett?"
Edward, lips pressed together, jerked his head in the direction of one of the bedrooms.
Then I heard it, the low drumming of a familiar sound. The heartbeat of a half-vampire. The scent was new.
"Okay, what's going on?" said Jacob, his voice laced with suspicion. "What's she done?"
Carlisle and Edward shared an uncomfortable look.
"Someone had to take him," said Bella.
"He has no other home!" Esme pleaded.
"I think we'd better explain," said Tanya. "After you all left, we tore down the buildings, smashed the computer and the lab, the office, everything. The two humans were deteriorating, but we were able to keep them alive until it was time."
Jacob winced and glanced at Bella. He must have been remembering the lead-up to my birth. I could tell from the pained look on Edward's face that they were all thinking about it. I dug my toe into the carpet and felt guilty.
Edward glanced up at me and his face softened; he shook his head imperceptibly.
"When it became obvious that they wouldn't live much longer, we decided to offer them their options."
Options. Live or die. I glanced at Carlisle. He looked… shell-shocked, for want of a better term. His eyes were focused on some point above all of our heads. To me he looked like he was trying very hard not to think about something.
Tanya said, "We explained as best we could. That living would mean three days of pure agony, then the immortal life. That dying, we wouldn't judge them or blame them."
"And?" Jacob said tersely.
"One of the women wanted to be turned. The other wanted to die," said Tanya. "The one who wanted to die, we put her under general anesthesia so she wouldn't feel it when the… when the baby was born."
I gripped Bella's hand, feeling woozy.
"The other one, I helped through the labor and then I bit her. Turned her. She woke up yesterday." Tanya looked slightly proud. "She and her daughter have gone off on their own. She was from the mountains, the Andes; I think she's going to live there and raise the child."
"So you did alright?" I asked Tanya. "Your first?"
"She did great!" Kate interjected. "Now we just need to find her a man."
"Psh, no. It's just in case. I don't anticipate settling down with one man any time soon." Tanya tossed her hair.
"So… who's in there?" Jacob asked, pointing at the closed door.
"That's the thing…" said Edward. "You know how Rosalie is about babies."
Esme said, "And there was a baby boy, utterly adorable, dead mother…"
"Oh, no. She didn't," Jacob said, hearty with the appreciation of Rosalie's obsession.
"She did," said Edward tightly.
"She did," Alice echoed, her brow clenched with annoyance.
"Wait, why are you upset?" I asked her.
Alice threw up her hands. "Because it's one more person I can't see!" she almost shrieked. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I'm going to stop predicting anything except the stock market. It's just gotten too crazy for me."
"And what have they named the bundle of joy?" Jacob asked.
"They're discussing it now," said Edward. "They're arguing between Hunter and Henry."
Alice said, "I can't even tell what they're going to name it. It's too much."
I had to agree with Alice. This was too much change for me. I regretted ever freaking out and being jealous and ruining Christmas. If only I'd stayed put in Rochester, our family would still be normal. I'd be getting ready to go back to high school.
"You're still going back to high school," said Edward to me.
"So, our flight home is tomorrow morning," said Bella, picking up a pile of papers. "School starts on Monday."
I stared. Was she insane? I couldn't think about school right now! I needed time to adjust!
Alice smiled at Carlisle suddenly. "Have a nice time," she said. "They won't mind."
We waited to be enlightened. But just then, Edward said, "They've decided," and the door opened and Rosalie walked in, followed by Emmett. Rosalie had a tiny bundle in her arms. I'd never seen her look so happy.
"Everyone, this is Henry," she said. She held him up for all to see. I was shocked to see that he had fair hair and warm brown eyes. He looked like he could be their child.
"Middle name Hunter," Emmett added. "Jazz, you owe me thirty bucks."
Rosalie cooed at the baby.
"He's adorable, Rose," said Bella.
"A little angel," said Esme, holding the baby's tiny hand.
"He's cute," Alice admitted.
Jasper was looking like he regretted ever joining the Cullen family.
"Henry really likes you, Rose," said Edward.
"Is he talented?" I asked.
"I'm going to teach him how to wrestle alligators," Emmett answered.
"Oh, okay, then," I said, laughing.
Jacob just looked dubiously at Henry, and then rolled his eyes at Rosalie. "Maybe she'll be nicer to me now that she has her own baby monster," he said in an undertone.
"Don't count on it," Rosalie said happily, tickling Henry's head with her finger.
"So," said Jacob, all hope of a truce gone, "this pretty much makes you… a high school teen mother. You going to drop out of school now?"
Rosalie glared at him. "I am well over one hundred years old, dog."
"Not according to the State of New York."
"As far as they know, Emmett and I will be transferring away."
"Dare I dream?" Jacob said. "You won't be living with us anymore?"
"Us? They were my family long before we adopted you from the animal shelter."
"Guys, seriously," said Bella.
Rosalie and Emmett went back into their room to feed the new child. Reeling, I sought Jacob's hand. Alice stacked the last suitcase and asked Jasper if he wanted to go for a walk, saying it was the only thing she felt like foreseeing at the moment: their hike up to the famous Jesus statue overlooking the city. Alice dangled her digital camera off her wrist.
"Alice, before you go," said Carlisle. He beckoned to Esme. "No offense to any of you, I love you all… but I… I just need a break. I'm taking a vacation." He took Esme's hand. "We're going to our island, and staying there for three weeks, and I will not be answering the phone."
We were all surprised – except Edward and Alice, of course – and waited for Carlisle to change his mind. But his jaw was set and his normally compassionate eyes a little wild.
Poor Carlisle, I thought. He looks like he needs a break.
"We'll be back soon," Esme assured us.
Carlisle grabbed their two suitcases and said, "See you all later," and then swept Esme out of the suite with him, muttering something about "peace."
"Excuse me? Nessa?"
I closed my eyes against the view: a yellow-painted hallway packed with humans, the swinging of lockers, the laminated wooden doors open to classrooms. I turned. "Nessie," I corrected.
"Sorry, Nessie," said Abby Ullman. "Um…"
I waited. She wore a bright red spring dress – a little optimistic, since it was raining outside. Her gold hoops were firmly fixed in her ears and her fair hair was piled into a high ponytail. Lots of guys stopped to stare at her as they passed.
I knew what Jacob – and my dad – would accuse, that the boys were actually looking at me.
"Listen, I know that you and Jake are kind of an item now. I mean, the whole school knows it. And Jake's my friend, so… I guess that means that I'm having a party for the end of the school year, and you can come. If you want to." Her lips were pursed as if she hoped I wouldn't want to.
"Wow, thanks, Abby!" I said. I was noncommittal in case Alice wanted to play dress-up with me and force me into high school activities. I would hate to deny her. "Maybe I will."
Abby's eyebrows crinkled. "Do you know for sure?"
"It's not an RSVP thing, is it? Because I can have an answer for you next week." I raised my chin slightly. She would be so lucky to have vampires and werewolves at her dumb party.
"No, no, totally casual. In fact, it'll probably be boring. See ya," she said, flouncing off and disappearing in the crowd.
I snickered as I walked out the door. We were having distinguished company for dinner and I needed to change clothes, but there was still time to hang out with Jacob for a few hours after school.
Out in the parking lot, standing tall beneath umbrellas, I found my family: Edward, his arm around Bella, and Jasper and Alice, all next to the silver Volvo. As they'd promised, Rosalie and Emmett had moved to their cabin in the mountains with baby Henry, much to Jacob's delight. They visited us every weekend.
"I'm going to ride with Jake, 'kay?" I said, mostly to Edward.
"You'll get your hair wet," said Bella. "We're having company tonight."
"I know. I'll be ready on time."
"Okay, sweetie." She ruffled my hair.
My family drove off in the Volvo and then I was where I belonged: on the back of Jacob's motorcycle, clinging to him (rather unnecessarily, given my excellent balance), the rain flying into my face, splashing against my impervious cheeks.
I knew that Jacob was torn between wanting to race Edward home, and wanting to extend the time that we had. When he turned off the main route, I knew that we were going for a ride; I smelled the lake. We ended up at a dock at the end of a long, narrow, calm beach. There was a gravel parking lot, empty of cars on this rainy day, and it had the look of a lover's lane.
We walked hand-in-hand out to the end of the dock. The boards were weathered and springy, and water lapped up against the pillars, slimy with moss. A slight breeze sent the rain at an angle.
Almost like First Beach, I thought.
"Almost," Jacob murmured.
Except it wasn't. The dynamics of the pack, so complicated now with imprintees flung across the continents and the inconvenience of my unchanging family… Have you decided what to do? Jake's decision would be final, of course. He was Alpha.
"Yeah, I have." He spun me to face him and pulled me close. "I think you'll like it."
Mmm, really? I liked the way he was holding me, that was for sure.
"Aylen and Nahuel will be living on the rez back home," said Jacob, "but that still leaves us here. There's no getting around that one. So, I'm going to order everybody – the whole pack – to come with us this summer. Back to Brazil."
"Bells is already shopping for real estate, a place big enough for the whole pack to stay. I think it's important you learn from Zafrina how to project your thoughts, because that would be kind of awesome."
It would be… I thought of the possibilities. It would be like a Jedi mind trick. I could plant suggestions in people's heads…
"You already do that with me," Jacob teased.
I try. I leaned up and grazed my lips down his jaw.
He let out a tiny sigh. "Ness… Okay, really, you haven't heard the rest, stop it!"
Laughing, I stopped.
"But this is just for the summer. It'll be good for everybody to see the rainforest, and hunt giant snakes, and all that. Like a vacation. Then you and I come back here for one more year – don't give me that look, you have to finish high school, and so do I, for that matter – and then…"
He stepped back so that he could look into my eyes, long and hard. "Then… we move back to Forks. Just you and me. Ness, we need some time to ourselves. Time away from your family. Is that okay?"
My crazy family. After next year, they were moving to the family house in Dartmouth, where my mother was finally going to do her degree in English Literature. I'd just assumed I'd be going with them, and Jacob… but the two of us, leaving them, going off on our own, back to Forks? I winced, thinking how hard the family separation had been during my ill-starred South American adventure. And it would have been much harder to think about if I didn't know that we had eternity… or at least a very long time. Then it occurred to me. You haven't run this by Edward, have you.
"I've… avoided thinking about it in his presence, yeah."
He's gonna have kittens.
Jacob barked out a laugh. "I can't wait."
He won't let us do it. He'll make us get married first.
"I already have a solution to that."
Oh, no. I took a step backwards. Okay, I loved Jacob. Adored him. Wanted to kiss him. Wanted to wake up every morning in his arms. But a wedding… it just seemed so pointless, like tying a chain around a couple already embracing. I was terrified that marrying Jacob would make me freak out. I needed freedom. I… I tugged on the light scarf around my neck, feeling choked.
"Chill out!" he said, laughing at me. "I'm not saying we should run to the altar, no matter what your dad says. In fact, my brilliant idea is for you to live with Charlie and Sue. They're getting old and could probably use a helping hand around the house."
"Oh!" I said aloud. Jake, sometimes you have really good ideas.
He placed a hand over his heart. "I do, I really do."
Then we don't have to get married?
"Yes, we do. But not until you're ready."
He knew me too well. Once it was back in my hands, I wouldn't feel all stifled and weird about it. So we won't be attending Dartmouth with my parents?
Jacob smirked. "Uh, no."
I couldn't imagine that going over well with my father. He wanted me to have a college education. Several, in fact.
"I already thought of that. You – and I – will be attending the University of Washington. Commuting distance… if you're driving fast."
You've really thought this out, haven't you?
"That's my job. I am Mighty Chief Jacob."
I giggled. You need a more Indian-sounding name. Like… Prancing Wolf.
"Prancing Wolf!" Jacob yelped, offended. "I don't prance." He swept me up into a hug so tight I couldn't breathe. "You'll pay for that slander," he breathed into my ear, sending shivers across my neck.
It was worth it, I replied with a kiss.
A few kisses later, Jacob dropped me off at home and continued back to his boarding house. Our guests were nervous around him. I jumped up onto the roof and opened my window, entering straight into my bedroom, and peeled off my wet clothes, changing into a buttoned brown silk vest and a floor-skimming blue skirt, both Armani. I blow-dried my hair into long curls and pinned them up. One of the guests was rather traditional and I was under orders not to do anything extreme. For my earrings I chose the sapphire studs from Christmas. My shoes were straight out of Alice's closet of ideas: dark purple Prada flats.
A soft knock sounded on my door. "Renesmee?"
"Come in, Mom."
Bella glided into the room, wearing a dress the color of fresh cream, belted at the waist with a brown sash. "You look pretty!"
"I just do what I'm told," I said, turning up my hands.
She smiled. "How's Jake?"
"I guess he's going with you to South America this summer."
I held my mother's hand. Yeah, the whole pack is going.
Bella nodded. "That's good. I don't want you to leave – ever – but I know you have to. It's only healthy."
"Your father will take some convincing about the rest."
"You moving back to Washington after you graduate."
I furrowed my brow, unable to help the quick dart of annoyance that Jacob might have told Bella before he told me…
"No, I just figured it," Bella assured me. "I am your mother, after all. And I understand how difficult it is with your father reading every thought the two of you have for each other." She smirked. "Sometimes I think it's the real reason Edward and I can be so in love. He doesn't annoy me with his mind-reading." She smiled and let our hands drop. "Anyway. Let's go downstairs and get you in place."
Yes, the newborn was coming over, and that meant I had to be in what Jasper called a "defensible position"… in other words, behind the ranks of the family ready to restrain young Nicole. My blood wasn't human, but it was close enough to cause a temptation for her uncontrolled thirst. She was four months into her new life and I knew that she'd already slipped multiple times, feeding on humans… at least she'd managed to restrict herself to criminals, since she was able to read their entire past.
Downstairs, I stood by the fireplace, behind Jasper and Alice on the sofa and between Edward and Bella. "They're almost here," said Edward, listening to the silence.
A few minutes later I heard Carlisle's Mercedes turn into the drive. This is weird, I thought to Edward.
"It's about to get weirder," he said, quirking a smile at me.
Alice giggled, which meant that one of her visions was about to come true.
The car doors opened and closed, the engine cut, light footsteps sounded on the wooden stairs. The front door swung open. My family was inhumanly still, not bothering to put on their façade. My own fingers twitched as my sweet, hot blood thrummed in my veins.
First through the door was Esme, standing aside with a smile on her face, gesturing for the guests to enter.
Then, it was Nicole, her blond hair in a pale frame around her face, her hand resting on the arm of Marcus, who refused to dress in normal clothing and insisted on his old black Volturi cloak.
Carlisle closed the door behind him. "Marcus, Nicole, welcome to our home."
Marcus nodded solemnly. "Thank you, friend." He bowed his head at the rest of us.
"Thank you for having us," Nicole whispered.
"Of course!" Alice leapt up, having had enough restraint. She seized Nicole's free hand; the newborn jerked out of instinct, and Jasper reacted by standing up a little too quickly.
"You would never have worked with us in Volterra," said Marcus sourly, looking down at Alice.
"Please, sit," Carlisle said, waving at Alice to simmer down.
Marcus and Nicole sat on the white sofa; Marcus's motion was liquid smooth, and Nicole's was twitchy and too fast. They were such a contrast and I stared at their fingers, barely touching. Parchment-paper and smooth stone.
Are they a couple? I asked Edward.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him shrug. It must be complicated. Perhaps it was more like a mentor and student, or a father and a daughter, or… I didn't even know what. All I could see was the way Marcus looked at Nicole, like she was the answer to some question he'd been afraid to ask. After all, she was the reason he was freed from his bonds to Aro and Caius, and achieved his vengeance. In the vampire world, that was like a life debt.
As for Nicole, every move she made seemed to be with Marcus's permission, and she looked at him with pure adoration.
Carlisle and Marcus chatted for awhile about human culture – Marcus mostly disapproved of it these days – and recent medical discoveries. Alice hummed in contentment, seeing nothing but good ahead of us. Edward let his focus slip and his arm slide around Bella. I seemed to be safe from newborn attack – after all, she was months old now, she wasn't brand new – and I perched on the edge of an armchair.
"How is the house?" Esme asked.
"Drafty," said Marcus.
Esme had found them a lovely old twenties-era lodge house in the Adirondacks. The area was low in humans, rich in wildlife, her way of encouraging the vegetarian lifestyle by making it convenient.
"Once she is trained, we will be returning to Volterra," said Marcus.
"Are you certain that you want to return?" Carlisle said. "No one would blame you if you didn't."
"Despite my memories," said Marcus, keeping his face carefully schooled, "I cannot let the current situation stand."
"Maybe if you redecorated your castle," Esme suggested. "It can make a place look altogether different. Even a simple change of curtains can help."
"I want to show her the place of our power," said Marcus, nodding at Nicole. "She's interested in our histories. Much more will be coming to her in visions. It's important that we be there for the gathering of the vampires. All should hear the true history as I remember it, and as Nicole sees it. Then, we shall see where things take us."
I couldn't help but smile at the sudden infusion of life into Marcus, the way his hand rested protectively on Nicole's arm, the respectful fascination with which she looked up at his ancient face. Maybe all was well that ended well.
Across the room, I met my father's eyes, and he smiled back at me.
The luggage took up the entire front room. The strains of Edward's piano-playing echoed through the house, notes low and sweet and somehow philosophical. I could hear Bella's hand moving through Edward's hair, nails gentle along his scalp as he played. They'd let Alice do their packing. In fact, Alice had done the packing for all of us.
"Italy," Alice declared, "requires serious fashion. And half the vampire world is going to be in Volterra. We have to represent." She'd been a tornado of energy the past weeks, with loyal Jasper helping her preparations.
While I would be leaving for South America in a few days, the rest of my family would be doing some traveling of their own, to Volterra. To the first political gathering of vampires in the history of vampires. Garrett was in charge of the whole thing, citing his experience of the American Revolution as precedent, and for the past few months the Denalis had traveled the world, spreading word about the Gathering. (Or, as Garrett called it, the Constitutional Convention).
Volterra, meanwhile, would be emptied of humans during the vampire convention. This had been Jacob's idea. "I don't like the idea of all those clueless humans outnumbered by vampires. It's like having a convention of lions around a herd of, like, eight gazelles. Can't you get the humans away? Like your little quarantine cover story about Bella having a weird disease when she was pregnant?"
"Hey, are you calling me a disease?" I'd laughed.
"If you are, I want to catch you," he'd replied.
"Jacob's right." Edward had interrupted our flirtation. "It's dangerous with all the non-vegetarians."
"How about an anthrax outbreak?" I suggested cheerfully.
"A terrorist attack, biological," Jasper had added. "Evacuate the city. Any humans in the vicinity will be in full body suits, no scent, no temptation."
"Okay… so who wants to set this up?" Edward said.
Of course, it had been me: tipping off the Italian police anonymously, hacking into their water control system and altering the testing results, and causing a full-blown panic in the entire north of the country. And I wouldn't even get to see my handiwork on the international news. It was back to the jungle of Brazil for me and the wolf pack.
But, first things first. I had to survive the last day of school: exams in Programming, English, and Calculus.
I rode to school on the back of Jake's motorcycle – he'd stayed the night in the guest room. It had been torture knowing that he was so close, but we were untouchable to each other as long as my father was in the house.
I couldn't wait for Brazil. A whole summer, out from under Edward's watchful eye! Living wild with the wolf pack, and learning from Zafrina! It was going to be awesome. Instead of being the odd one out, I was now part of a constellation of friends and family, bright and unique stars in my life. Werewolves, vampires, hybrids, and even humans: Charlie and Sue, and my friends from the Internet, and Fernando the driver (now in the employ of the Cullen family as a local fixer in Brazil). Newborns, ancient ones, adopted children, soul mates. I liked the pattern of it all. I liked having a place in things.
"Here we are, pretty monster," said Jacob, parking the motorcycle on the street out front of the school. "Ready?"
I swung my helmet off and shook out my hair. "Ready for finals?" I laughed. "Should I show Zuchman what I can really do with a computer?"
Jacob's eyes sparkled as he gazed down at me. "You might scare him to death." He grabbed me around the waist and pulled me against him. "You scare me, too."
"You haven't seen anything yet, mister," I growled, deliberately sending a thought – an image – well, more a fantasy, really – of us in a primitive, stone-hewn jungle hut. Flickering fire torches on the walls. Mosquito netting draped over a large bed. And then, what I wanted Jacob to do to me.
His eyes narrowed as his hands tightened around my waist. "Don't do that," he whispered, his voice breaking roughly. "You'll drive me insane."
I leaned up so my lips were next to the curve of his ear. "What I mean is, I'll marry you. Sooner, not later."
Jacob pulled back and looked me in the eye. "Really?"
"Really. I know what I want. And even though we have forever… well, that doesn't mean we shouldn't live in the moment. After all, the unexpected happens." As I said it, I knew it was true, that I did want to marry Jacob, and soon. Almost losing him had terrified me. Now that I'd had a few months to process things, I felt that it was my conscious choice. Imprinted or not, I loved him. He was my wolf, my Jacob.
And a girl had to be practical. I knew we'd never be able to wait years for each other… and I was done causing drama in the family. By getting married soon, maybe Edward wouldn't have to fight Jacob.
Jake heard this thought and laughed. "We can only hope!"
"End of the summer, then?"
Jacob's answering smile was a ray of sunshine to my heart. "You're on." He leaned down and paused for half a second, hovering inches from my mouth. "I love you, Ness."
"I love you, too," I barely had time to whisper, and then he kissed me.
As we walked into the school together, holding hands, I knew I was ready for whatever came next… with Jacob at my side.
A/N: Finis, the end, all's well that end's well! Thank you for reading!
I might do a small one-chapter spin-off story about the vampire Gathering in Volterra, maybe from Edward's point of view… we'll see how much time I have this summer. Watch my page for updates!