a/n: Written for the Twilight Exchange community on Live Journal as a gift. Many, many thanks to HMonster04 and Pogurl for the pre-reading and beta-reading support! Y'all made it so much better.

All things Twilight belong to Stephanie Meyer and Little, Brown (and other corporate entities, perhaps) and I make no claims of ownership or copyright infringement.


Coming Home

Away. She'd needed to get away for a while, to have that time that fully human children got to have when they reached a certain point in their lives--time to live outside of the family and get a sense of oneself without every one hovering. Hovering and gently, not on purpose, pushing their expectations and roles and this is the way we do things, Nessie and it's pushing our luck to live anywhere for as long as a decade, and these are the rules, and a Cullen is always meticulous, and we can't make friends with mortals (not that mortals want to make friends with anyone besides her and Jake anyway; the others are too intimidating) and and and...there are always more rules to follow. More roles to play. Be this way at school, call Mom and Dad "sister" and "brother" or sometimes "cousin."

She's wanted to spread her own wings for a long time, now. Home has become synonymous with restriction for her. It no longer feels like a welcome space, though she knows everyone there loves her unconditionally. Nonetheless, she stayed. She couldn't stand the look on Dad's face when he caught the stray "I want to go away" thought that crossed her mind, so she learned to bury those thoughts and wants deep inside her head. She couldn't bear to see her beloved Jacob look rejected when she mentioned living in a girl's dorm like a regular college-age kid, so she learned to keep those thoughts internal.

She's waited. Her accelerated growth meant that she looked college-aged when she was still chronologically young, so emotionally none of them were ready for her to leave. She had waited so that Mom and Dad and even Jake could get used to the idea that little Nessie wasn't so little. After the second time she'd gone through high school with her family, Ness decided she was ready to attend university courses, to have the college experience.

Alone.

No Mom, pretending to be an older sister to strangers who could never understand that they were really mother-daughter.

No Dad, growling and glowering at anyone who so much as thought she was attractive.

No Jake, always there and earnest and perfect and smothering without meaning to be.

Jake, who at some point over recent years had stopped being Jake, the best friend, and had become Jake, the man her world revolved around. Ness at first had not known what to do with this new perspective and avoided Jacob for months. Then, a talk, a hug, a kiss, and they were "boyfriend and girlfriend." That transition had been simultaneously seamless and awkward for her. Seamless because it just felt right, and awkward because the toasty warm hands she had always associated with comfort were suddenly a turn on, his enormous feet suddenly sexy, and her thoughts a sudden chaotic mix of waking lustful dreams and shock at thinking of Jake that way. (And hadn't that been fun, and a great incentive to get away from the family: Dad hearing her sex-laden thoughts.)

Those three aside, it had been Aunt Rose who had been the toughest sell. Aunt Rose had always hung fiercely onto her. She'd heard from the family the circumstances of her conception, of her birth. Of how Aunt Rose had been her defender before Dad could hear her thoughts and had come to see his unborn child as a real being and not a monster.

Aunt Rose, she'd had to work on separately from the family. In the end, the bulk of the Cullens found a home for Esme to renovate near Copenhagen ("the Washington State of Europe for weather" said Mom, though Ness isn't so sure about the comparison) while Jake had grudgingly gone back to Washington to take classes at UW and be near La Push. Ness was now safely enrolled in university in one of the sunniest cities on the continent--a decision made in a fit of pique that she now regretted, but wouldn't back down on--and meeting people on her own.

They all, each one of them, had a chance to become their own person, to develop a personality, grow into themselves, before they joined the family. Even Alice, who has no memory of her human life, had the years between waking up as a vampire and meeting Jasper, and then imposing herself on the Cullens, to become comfortable in her own skin on her own time. Ness has never had that option, and that's why, she feels, she needs this time away and on her own. The four years more or less on her own are her attempt to capture the years of development her family members all had before coming into the family.

"Madrid? There isn't much cloud cover there. We won't be able to enroll with you, Nessie."

'That's kind of the point, Dad.'

She could meet people as just herself, Renesmee Carlie Cullen, new student. American. Individual. Her own person.

Not one of the Cullens.

Not Bella's/Edward's/Emmett's sister or Alice's/Rosalie's/Jasper's cousin or Carlisle's ward or Esme's niece or Jacob's girl (though she was, in her heart) or or or.

Herself.

Yes.

No lying to people about her familial relationships, at least not for right now. She can say, honestly, "most of my family lives near Copenhagen." If she doesn't want to elaborate, she doesn't have to. If the picture of her with Grandpa Charlie when she was little is the only family photograph she put up in her room--if her parents do come visit she can't very well have baby pictures with them up for friends to wonder over--it marks her as more art-oriented than nostalgic. If she makes her own mural of cut-out flowers and trees on the wall over her desk, the colors garish but striking and complementary, there is no hyper put-together vampire aunt there to unsubtly tell her how to arrange them. If she tries to get out of the attention her looks inevitably garner by hiding her body in loose clothing and dying her hair a mousy brown, there is no hyper gorgeous vampire aunt there to tell her to be confident in her inhuman beauty, and to enhance it with designer clothing. If she shops for clothes with her flat mates at second-hand shops, pretending her own budget is similar to theirs, and donates the bulk of her embarrassingly large allowance to charity, no one has to know.

No acknowledging, either, the hole in her chest that formed when she left, the hole that she tries, with some success, to fill with studying, friends, study groups, lectures. She knows that the only thing to truly stitch the hole back together is six and a half feet of over-warm imprint mate and her parents. She also knows that she will never be able to look herself in the mirror in the future if she does not allow herself this time apart.

Necessary, she learned early on in her life, is not always easy. Rarely is, as a matter of fact. If her family did easy, they would snack on humans and her mother would have been food for her father, rather than a mate.

She refused to bring her shiny little Alfa Romeo to school with her because, truly, what twenty year old has a sixty-thousand dollar car? Her family called it a joint present from her aunts and uncles for her eighteenth birthday, but it was, honestly, too ostentatious for her to bring. Fun to race Dad or Aunt Rose in out in the middle of nowhere, yes. Ok to bring to university? Absolutely not. Her family knew it, too, but she still saw the disappointment there when it stayed in the enormous Cullen garage when she moved.

She hadn't told them, yet, that she'd found a beat up Mini MkVI and repaired the engine herself, eschewing help from over-eager male classmates and putting Aunt Rose's instruction on car maintenance and repair to good use. Ness was fairly certain her father would be horrified. It was not shiny, fast, sleek, or a classic. It was a just a little car, basic transportation, to take her where public transit could not. It was decidedly not "Cullen" and that was, in the end, the reason she'd picked it up.

Her friends in university call her Carlie; it's how she's introduced herself since she moved in. She doesn't hate her cumbersome given name, Renesmee, nor her nickname, Nessie, but this is about redefining herself. Renesmee and Nessie are for her family. Ness is for herself, in her head. Carlie is for the wider world she's exploring now that she is out of the nest.

It is mid November, now. If she'd chosen to go to school in the States, she'd be looking forward to being back home in Forks. She and Grandpa Charlie would be going to La Push to have dinner with Emily, Sam, Jake, and company, where they'd have a moment to remember Billy, who passed last Fall, and then stuff themselves full of Emily's excellent cooking. She still prefers blood, as she had when she was small, but long exposure to Charlie, Jacob, and the La Push extended family has encouraged her to move from merely tolerating human food to actually enjoying some of it. She enjoys Emily's recipes especially; she thinks perhaps she could taste the love and care the other woman puts into it. Before the end of the day, the entire pack would have come in to say hi to the hybrid they call their own by virtue of Jake's imprint, and she'd be smelling like wet dog again for the first time in months. She'd complain about smelling like dog, but love it all the same, knowing it means she's part of their family.

She gets homesick just thinking about it.

But this is about finding her way as herself, not attached to anyone else. Standing on her own two feet. So she savors the homesickness for a moment, imagines the much-missed wet-dog aroma, then buries both deep, where they won't interrupt her studies. She has a study group for her literature class in an hour, and it won't do to be melancholy there. Dodging the grabby hands of Adolfo and making herself blend in with her fellow students, who are bright but don't have her eidetic memory, is strenuous enough.

Adolfo. Ness is afraid that if she gives into the urge to slap him, she won't have enough self control to only leave the pink mark on his cheek her peers would leave; she's genuinely concerned she'll break his jaw. As someone who has grown up wrestling with vampires and werewolves, she doesn't trust her strength in such a potentially violent situation with someone as fragile as a regular human. Nonetheless, if he plants himself next to her at the large table the group studies around, so close he's practically in her back pocket, she just might risk it and slap him anyway. How often can you outright tell someone you aren't interested, and then still put up with what Grandma Esme calls "shenanigans?"

The end of Fall term will come soon, and she'll be with her family, and Jake will be flying in to spend time with her during her break between terms. The self-imposed ache in her heart will ease. She'll put her cold feet on Jake's warm ones, and they'll dance around the family room like the young people in love that they appear to be. She'll be faced with his delicious, warm brown eyes that beg for her to ask him to join her, with the battery of golden eyes that only want to spend time with their miracle daughter/granddaughter/niece. Ness will kiss and love on them all, and then with a heavy heart return to university--which she really is enjoying, despite her lack of a familial support system on campus--and work out again how she can be her own person inside of such a large, well-intentioned family.

xx-xx-xx

Fall term over, she packs what she needs into her tiny car and begins what will be a two (maybe three, if she stops a lot)-day drive from the Iberian Peninsula to the island of Zealand, where the newest Cullen residence sits. She delights in imagining the expression on her father's face when he sees what his daughter is driving. Ness is in no hurry. This drive is her last chance to be by herself and on her own terms until school begins again in the new year. Her route takes her through what is rapidly becoming her favorite spot in all of Spain--San Sebastian. The geography is gorgeous, and she makes sure to pull over and simply take in the view for an hour or two before she crosses the border into France and winds her way to and through the Bordeaux wine country. Her plan is to visit at least two wineries as she goes, enjoying what her vampire family cannot: two thousand years of wine-making experience in a bottle.

She picks a winery at whim, following a narrow and immaculate drive back to a beautiful building that fairly screams "country estate." There are several cars parked off to the side, so she pulls her own in next to them, then makes her way to the sculpted front doors. Before she knows it, she's been taken under the wing of a delightful woman named Laetitia and is being regaled with the history of the winery--it is a fifth generation endeavor, she says--and, then somewhere between tasting a mouthwatering merlot and agreeing to try a (truly delicious!) camembert, Laetitia has gotten Ness's life story, edited only to keep out the supernatural element.

Laetitia smiles kindly at her and pats the space on the carved wooden bench next to her. "My child," the affable woman begins, "you are out from under your parent's roof for the first time. You are away from your young man for the first time. You are at university, focused on your future, are you not?"

Ness nods cautiously, not sure where the older woman is going with this series of statements and a question.

"But not just on your future. On your present, too. Confusion is natural; do not worry over it." She nods decisively and Ness finds herself wondering if she really looks that lost. By the end of the day, Ness has become Laetitia's assistant. She doesn't really know what she's talking about, wine-wise, but then she isn't talking with visitors to the winery so much as she is carrying things--bottles of wine, bundles of cheese and bread, linen napkins, tablecloths--wherever the older woman directs. If feels good, Ness reflects, to have someone as no-nonsense as Laetitia around. (Though, she notes, when Laetitia henpecks her husband, Aubert, perhaps there is such a thing as too much bossiness. She won't order Jake around like that when they're married, she's sure.)

Laetitia and Aubert offer Ness a couch to sleep on for the night, though they refuse her offer of payment. It seems that being their runner for the day is payment enough. She gratefully crawls into the warm quilt provided to her, and snuggles down into the soft cushions of the couch. She tells Laetitia she'll be up and on the road early tomorrow, and not to be concerned if she's already gone when they wake, and they both smile indulgently and bid her good night.

She wakes up to the heavenly smell of coffee and what she could swear is fresh bread. A quick glance out the window tells her that the sun isn't up yet. After a short visit to the wash room to make herself presentable (her mass of hair, coppery roots showing up against the brown she's dyed it, is pulled back into a serviceable chignon), she follows her nose to the family's kitchen. Aubert is slicing bread while Laetitia pours three cups of coffee. Ness blinks at them in surprise for a moment, then grins. "Good morning! I wondered while you smiled at me like that last night. I didn't realize you woke so early!"

"Good morning," Aubert greets in return. "We run our own business, dear. We are nearly always up to greet the sun. Also, we could not send our guest off with no food." He gestures to the small table in the kitchen. "Please, sit. We have jam to go with the bread. Today, too, we have some fruit." He winked at her. "I believe my wife will send you off with a baguette, too."

Aubert is right. When Ness pours herself into her Mini with the sunrise, Laetitia, the darling woman, hands her a bundle with bread, jam, plastic cup and knife, and a bottle of their amazing wine. "I'll visit you on my way back to university," she promises them. It feels rather like she now has an additional aunt and uncle--something she never thought she would want, because she already has so many.

Driving through the French countryside, she considers stopping in Orléans for no other reason than she loves New Orleans in the U.S. and wants to see the city it was named for. In the interest of time, though, she simply drives through the city and marks it in mental list of "places to explore with Jake" at a later date. Similarly, she decides not to go through Paris because she doesn't want to deal with the crush of humanity that was sure to flood the city during the holiday--and why be in such a romantic city alone?--she'll come back to it with Jake someday in the near future. Perhaps during her next term break the two of them can tromp through Europe together.

Once out of France and in Belgium, Ness entertains the idea of visiting the zoo in Antwerp, but decides against that because she worries it will be too much temptation. She's been ok during the school term, eating human food and supplementing it with bags of blood smuggled into her flat and the tiny refrigerator in her room (she's never asked Carlisle how he arranged that, and isn't sure she wants to know) but she doubts the zoo's mixture of delicious smelling humans and animals will be good for her. Instead she decides to channel her aunts and spend some time shopping in the prettiest mall she's ever seen, Stadsfeestzaal. She very soon regrets her tiny car, but adjusts by buying only small gifts for her family, so that she can actually transport it all home.

When she drives through Hamburg, she makes one last stop before her final push home. When she was a kid, she toured through Europe in December with her parents and delighted in Germany's Christmas markets. She could think of no better gift for her parents than one bought at the Rathausmarkt, reminding them of that first family-of-three trip they'd taken. The market is just as she remembers it to be: festive with lights, stalls of blown glass and hand-painted wooden ornaments, aromatic with sweets, and crowded with people with wind-chapped cheeks who are bundled up against the cold North Sea wind. The sun has just set when she arrives, and it is a delight to her to see the holiday lights reflecting off the eyes of her fellow shoppers. Without the imposing forms of her vampire family there with her, she can get caught up in the movement of the crowd (no one subconsciously gives her a wide berth, as they do for her relatives) and so she allows herself to be gently moved from one end of the market to the other, slipping out of the stream of people to check out the occasional vendor that catches her eye. Before she leaves the city, she deposits her treasures in her car, then walks through the Speicherstadt--the warehouse district--imagining what the long canals lined with warehouses looked like when they were busy taking in goods from all over the world, at a time when her Grandma Esme and Dad were still human.

She's leaning against a bridge railing, lost in thought, ignoring the icy bite of wind that cuts through her thick winter coat, when a man she'd call handsome if she hadn't been spoiled by her family's preternatural good looks approaches her. She humors him for a few minutes, indulging in some harmless flirting that nonetheless makes her feel guilty when she thinks of Jake, who has been picked up from the airport and brought to the Cullen home by now. Ness gives the man a gentle wave, then heads back to her little, green, dented, not-at-all posh Mini to make the final leg of her journey home to her family.

As the ferry crosses the Fehmarn Belt and she crosses from Germany to Denmark, Ness starts to get excited about seeing her family again. The months away have been more difficult than she's ever admitted to them over the phone or via e-mail. She's enjoyed her courses and her classmates, certainly, but the hole in her chest that started as soon as she said goodbye to her family, that she was only able to ignore when she was busy busy busy with studies and social outings is gaping large, now. The nearly complete bridge joining the German and Danish islands is off to the side, almost spanning the long gap between the two countries. Ness feels a spark of kinship with the under-construction bridge. She, too, fills that span between two disparate places; human and vampire, vampire and werewolf. The bridge is a few years behind schedule. Maybe, she reflects, it will be completed about the same time she will.

Back on the road in Denmark, it takes only short time to find her way to the family home. It isn't as remote and removed from neighbors as their home in Forks was, but it is set aside from the nearby town by enough of a buffer of greenery to give them privacy. She counts less than three seconds between the time she stops her Mini and her Dad is there, opening the door and giving her a hug before she's gotten out of her seat. Ness puts her hand to his cheek. I missed you, she sends. I love you. She knows he can pick the thought up from her mind, but she wants to send it to him as she does to other people, to put the effort forth to communicate with him in the way that she's best able.

"I missed you too," he murmurs in her ear. "I love you." Then he passes her to her mother, who just gathers her into her arms and holds her in a fierce hug from which Ness has no escape, not that she wants to.

Cheek to cheek with her mom, Ness sends her the same messages she'd send her dad. I love you. I missed you.

"Are you happy?" Bella asks.

Yes. Ness answers. A little homesick, but happy. She sends memories to her mom of her study group, of her walks through Madrid with her flat mates, video game marathons and study sessions. She doesn't intend to send it, but a melancholy memory of moping over her missing Jake sneaks in, and her mom squeezes her even tighter, then pulls her head down slightly to kiss her on the forehead. Ness smiles at the loving gesture, then smirks because she's half a head taller than her mother, which occasionally makes Bella grumble, as she does now.

Over her mom's shoulder she sees Jake, tall and all muscle and long arms and legs, leaning against the front of the house. His side is gently illuminated by the tiny white Christmas lights Esme and Alice have strung along the door to his right, and it gives his beautiful form a warm glow. He's kicked off his shoes and socks, so his bare, crossed feet peak out from the hem of his jeans, attracting her gaze, and she grows a little warm. He knows she has a thing for his feet, the sneaky man. She glances up and catches his eye. He's been watching her, and he smirks that Jacob smirk, and she's lost. Ness doesn't let her mind dwell on how well the dark denim forms to his thighs, or acknowledge the hitch in her breath at how the cotton of his black t-shirt stretches across his lats. She instead launches herself at him, trusting him to catch her because he always has, and presses her nose and lips against his neck. She is selfishly glad that as long as he chooses to phase into wolf form, his body is as frozen in time as hers is; she wants him in her life forever.

I'm sorry, she sends to him. I missed you. I love you. I missed you so much. She feels a bit like a scratched CD, repeating herself like this, and she sends that to Jake, too. He pulls her even closer, enveloping her in his warmth and his love.

"It's ok," he whispers in her ear. "If this is what you need, it's ok. I miss you, too, but we have all the time in the world. If you need time alone, you have it." She feels him kiss the top of her head, and inside her is a confusing mix. She wants him to miss her as she's missed him. She wants what she has--his understanding--she wants him to demand time together, to tell her he can't stand the time apart. Ness hears her father quietly snort and knows it is because of her contradictory thoughts. It is enough to make her realize, too, that everything in that stream of thought was about her, what she wanted, and not one was about her Jacob. She felt shame well up in her at this. Jacob was always so attentive to her needs, the imprint seeing to that. How could she not reciprocate? It made her crazy sometimes, the need to have Jake in her life even as she struggled not to take advantage of his devotion. How did Emily find that balance with Sam? In the back of her mind, she decides to call the older woman for advice.

Are you ok? She asks him. Is this time too much to ask of you? What have you been doing? Along with the questions go her memories of missing him, but at the same time being glad for her time to develop, her plans to drag him to Paris for a romantic trip, and her joy at knowing she'd see him at Christmas.

"It's ok," he reaffirms for her. "I do miss you, so much, but I'm not exactly moping around the house gnashing my teeth in despair." Jacob pulls back a couple of inches and cups her face in his large warm hands, cradling it as though she were the most delicate china. "If we were a normal couple, college would be a normal stumbling block; we wouldn't necessarily be at the same school. We'd make it work, then, I know. Even without the strength of the imprint." He bends so that they are forehead to forehead, and Ness swears she can feel their bond strengthening even in this simple pose. Trust me as I trust you, it seems to pulse. Let me be your strength.

Ness gently runs her hands from his chest, where she's been clutching his t-shirt, up to his neck, which she cups as tenderly as he is holding her head. Visit me in Madrid. I want you to meet my flat mates and friends. I want you to put the fear of God in Adolfo (at this he snickers). We can take a trip to San Sebastian, where I can show you the most beautiful little cove along the coast. Visits are good. You in Madrid is good. Then her thoughts are all a jumble, and it is like she's small again, not always precise with her gift.

Jacob makes soothing noises and rubs her cheekbones with his thumbs. "Of course I'll visit. I want to see this new life you're building, baby." They are still standing together, their own island, forehead pressed to forehead, and something in Ness settles. Jake's concerns are not a smothering burden now so much as they are an encouraging gift. Ness will not be lost to JakeandNess or to RenesemeeCullen. She can do this. She can balance discovery of self with the life she's grown up with. Independence and Jacob (and family) are not mutually exclusive. She is not defined by her family, by the extended family of the La Push packs, or by Jacob. She is a person who draws strength from those who love her rather than being over shadowed by them.

Happy Christmas she sends to him.

"Merry Christmas," he whispers in return. "Welcome home."

For the first time in several years, she hears the truth in that statement. She truly feels welcome, and home, here with them.


a/n: Leave a review and lemme know what you think of my first foray into Renesmee story-time. :)