Title: … and a silver sixpence in her shoe.

Summary: A tale of true friendship and never-ending love, the expectations of an imprint and the beauty of a wedding. The past and the future lies within a piece of driftwood and a heart-shaped stone.

Rating: T

Pairing: Claire/Nessie

Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer.

and a silver sixpence in her shoe.

Claire walks slowly beside the high chest of drawers in her old room, tracing the lines in the cracked paint. Her eyes drift over the treasures from past times; a childhood filled with sunshine and laughter, and a confused adolescence troubled by worries and muddled feelings. She remembers the story behind each and every one of them; they lie safely guarded in her heart.

A small piece of driftwood, smooth and white, in the shape of a bird, with a thin silver chain attached to it.

A small wolf, carved from a piece of wood.

A stone, perfectly spherical, jet black in colour.

A blue silk ribbon, crumpled in the middle, its ends frayed.

A porcelain doll, fair and fragile.

A love letter, the first one that really mattered.

Her first memory of Nessie is a hand the size of her own offering her the smooth, silvery gray piece of driftwood. She remembers the soft, bronze curls on Nessie's head and the way the sun shone on them, making them gleam like gold…

Claire wanted to touch her hair, to pull the curls to see if they bounced, but she didn't dare.

She decided to reach out for the piece of wood, and as she raised her hand she noticed the difference between her sunburnt, dirty skin and the clean, alabaster complexion of the girl in front of her. She furrowed her brows, thinking it odd that a girl her age didn't get dirty while playing. Nessie reminded her of a porcelain doll, like the one Aunt Emily had on the shelf in her living room. Claire wondered if the girl would break if she played with her, and prayed she wouldn't. She loved playing with Quil, but sometimes she really wanted a girl friend. Maybe this girl could be her friend?

As Claire took the drift-wood from Nessie's hand, their fingers touched. She was warm, not like Quil, but warmer than Mommy and Emily. An image appeared her in her mind, and she recognized herself. It was like she was suddenly in Nessie's place, seeing herself through Nessie's eyes. It was strange, but she accepted this peculiarity with the openness of a child to whom the boundaries between fairytales and reality are indefinite. She saw herself standing at a pebble beach, small dark stones at her feet and huge logs of sun-bleached, salt-drenched driftwood framing her form. The sun lit her up from behind, creating a halo above her black hair. She looked like an angel.

The image changed, and now she saw two little girls, one with straight black hair and dirty tanned legs, and one with copper ringlets and fair spotless skin, running along the same beach. She saw them holding hands, laughing and squealing as the waves rolled in and threatened to soak their shoes. A final image appeared, showing herself and Nessie sitting on the beach, their heads close together, picking out pretty stones and whispering in each others ears, and then it faded away.

Clare decided she liked those images, and prayed they would come true. She smiled shyly at the bronze haired girl, took the silvery piece of wood and in return gave her the most precious thing she'd found on the beach that day – a white heart-shaped stone, polished smooth by the water.

Claire smoothes her new, white dress, designed by Aunt Alice, with her hands, following the curves of her bust down to her waist. The silky fabric is covered with lace and pearls, weaving an intricate pattern resembling the waves of Rialto Beach on a windy day. Something is missing, something blue, and she searches the room. Her eyes fall on the blue silk ribbon, and she takes it from its place, blowing the dust of many years from it. The feel of the ribbon brings back memories of a day a long time ago.

Claire discovered early on that her new friend was different from other people. It didn't bother her much – after all she spent most of her time with someone who now and then took the form of a wolf. She was sad when she realized Nessie grew older somewhat quicker than she. She fell behind, and Nessie's rapid growth forced the two girls apart.

Nessie stayed hidden from the world, but when her rapid aging became too apparent, her family decided to move away for a while. She left Claire a stone from the beach, perfectly round and black, telling her that every time Claire missed her she could kiss the stone and Nessie would feel the kiss on her cheek. Jake followed the family, not wanting to leave Nessie, and they didn't come back until several years later. During that time, Claire carried the stone wherever she went, kissing it good night every evening before bedtime.

Claire had just started school when Nessie returned. She was still Claire's best friend, but now resembled a young teenager, and hung out with people a lot older than Claire. She watched them from afar at the school yard, wanting to join her, longing for her friend, but not daring to approach. She saw Nessie was yearning for her as well, in the way she lingered behind when recess was over, searching for Claire with anxious eyes and looking relieved when she found her. A small wave with the hand to say hello and good bye at the same time, and then she was gone.

Nessie stopped by after school every now and then, often followed by Jake who hovered around her like a lioness protecting her cubs. He had always done that, much like the way Quil looked out for Claire, but she thought she saw a difference in the way Jake looked at Nessie. It wasn't only protection like it was with Quil and her; it was also a streak of jealousy and some sort of… waiting. Claire couldn't come up with another word to describe it, but Jake seemed like he was waiting for something.

Nessie seemed uncomfortable with Jake's proximity from time to time, and Claire noticed she tried to find ways to escape him. One day she showed up without him, asking Claire's mother for permission to take her for a walk in the forest. Claire had wanted time alone with her friend for so long, and jumped up and down, pleading for her mother to say yes.

The walk took them back to Nessie's house, the small cottage in the outskirts of the Hoh forest. They hid outside, between the rose bush and the cold stone wall, next to a window. They sat there for a long time, listening to Nessie's parents arguing with Jake. Claire didn't understand a lot of it, but she sensed that Nessie knew more about it than she wanted.

Jake seemed displeased with something that wasn't happening soon enough, something involving Nessie. Her father, on the other hand, sounded like this event wasn't something he looked forward to, and he embraced the delay wholeheartedly. Nessie's mother seemed sad – for both Jake and Nessie. She emphasized that Nessie's choices were hers, and hers alone, to make, and that she wouldn't allow anything to push her in one direction or the other.

Nessie's face glistened with tears as she listened to her loved ones quarrelling, and Claire reached out to caress her cheek. Nessie leaned into her hand, sighing deeply before she turned to her and whispered:

"Please grow up, Claire. I need someone to talk to."

"You can talk to me now, Nessie," Claire whispered back. Nessie stroke her hair and shook her head.

"No, sweetheart. I can't. Not yet. You won't understand." She smiled at Claire and pulled a blue ribbon out of her hair. "Turn around. Let me braid your hair."

Claire lifts the hem of her dress, bends down and ties the blue ribbon in a small bow around her ankle. She already has something borrowed. The shoes are Emily's. She wore them to her own wedding a few years ago, and Claire had admired them. They look like the shoes on the porcelain doll Emily once had on the shelf, the one that resembles Nessie and now sits on the chest of drawers in Claire's room. She isn't sure why she loves these shoes – if it is because they are like the ones on the doll, or if it is because they are like the ones on a doll that looks like Nessie.

On the day of Emily's wedding, Quil came to her house. He wanted to see if she needed help, asking her if she was nervous, seeing as she was the maid of honour and all. She was pleased to see him, until she recognized that look in his eyes – that same look Jake had when he watched Nessie. Her heart fell, as she knew things were going to change now. She feared the simple friendship they once had was history, gone like the sun's rays in the deep dark green of the Hoh.

She wondered what the future held for her, and for Quil. She knew the tribe placed expectations on them. Most imprints lead to marriage, like it had for Sam and Emily. She now knew that was what he was waiting for, in the same way Jake had been waiting for Nessie since she became a teenager. When Claire searched her heart, she couldn't yet find that kind of feelings for Quil. She wondered if there was something wrong with her. She should be able to love him. Maybe it would just take time. Maybe she wasn't ready. Maybe it was just a phase. Maybe…

Before she left the house to join Emily for the walk down the aisle, Quil gave her a small wolf, carved from a piece of hemlock and polished until it shone. She turned it around in her hand. It looked like the one Jake had given Nessie, and she remembered Nessie's mother wearing one like a charm on a bracelet. Quil cleared his throat, and told her it was a symbol of the way they were tied together. He said that it meant he would always be there for her, in one way or the other, depending on what she needed. She felt a tear trickle down her cheek, and as he left she whispered that she only needed a friend.

The letter on the chest of drawers catches her attention. She lifts it gingerly, turning it around in her hands, tracing the familiar handwriting on the envelope with her fingertips. "To Claire" is carefully written in ornate letters, but still with the handwriting of a teenager. She knows the content by heart, but opens it anyway. Her eyes fly across the lines, savouring the words, hearing them spoken out loud, imagining the voice behind them.

This letter wasn't the first token of love she had received from someone, but it was the first from the one that mattered. It was a poem written by a foreign poet, translated into words she could understand. The words conveyed the confusion and pain of loving someone, not knowing if the love was mutual.

"How can I tell if your voice is beautiful.
I only know, that it penetrates me
and makes me shake like a leaf
and tears me to shreds and splits me.

What do I know about your skin and limbs.
It makes me tremble that they are yours,
so for me there is no sleep or rest,
till they are mine.

Karin Boye"

She knew who sent it the moment she saw it. She recognized the handwriting, the scent, the stationary; everything about it was overwhelmingly familiar. As she read the words, took in the full meaning behind them, she finally understood herself. They were a mirror of her own bewildered feelings, her confused love put into phrases and paragraphs. This letter meant her love was answered.

She gazes at her reflection in the mirror. Only one thing left now, before it is time: something old. Reaching out for the chain with the piece of driftwood, she wonders briefly how her new life will be. There are obstacles to overcome, difficulties to conquer. She will have to make sacrifices, and the choices she has made will eventually cause her to lose some of her loved ones.

A small knock on the door lets her know that it's time. She opens, greeting Quil with a smile. They will walk together down the aisle, the protector and the protégé, towards her new life, her new way of being. He will accompany her into her future, being for her what she needs him to be.

"Let me help you with that." His soft, full voice caresses her, smoothes away her worry, like it always has. She turns her back to him and watches in the mirror as he fastens the thin silver chain around her neck. The small, bird-like piece of driftwood comes to rest against her chest, a reminder of old times, a symbol of friendship that reaches beyond all limits, and a love that knows no bounds.

She packs her childhood treasures in a small wooden box. They are on their way to a new home, as is she. They will unite with their counterparts, their other halves, just like her. She places the box on her old bed for her mother to retrieve later, and turns around, bidding the room of her past a silent farewell. Quil offers his arm, and she takes it, following his lead down the stairs, prepared to face her future.

Jake and Nessie are waiting in the foyer, matching them in clothing and style. Jake leans forward and kisses her on the cheek, before giving Quil a firm handshake. His burly form seems broader than usual in the tuxedo and his long black hair is neatly combed into a ponytail. When she looks into his eyes she sees the same tranquillity as she now does in Quil's – they hold a sense of quiet devotion and profound certainty in a way they didn't before. Their purpose has been uncovered, and they are at peace with it.

Claire lowers her eyes, suddenly shy, barely breathing as she finds courage to look at Nessie. Her dress is also designed by Aunt Alice, and matches Claire's in colour and style with one difference. Where Claire's dress has a pattern resembling waves in water, Nessie's embroidered pearls and lace presents the image of pine needles, fern and maple leaves. Sea and forest combined, like driftwood on the beach. Like Claire, Nessie has no other jewellery except one single pendant – a white, heart-shaped stone from the beach, hanging in a thin silver chain, a reminder of the first day they met.

Nessie's bronze curls float down her back, shining in the ray of evening sun that is slanting through the window. It is almost time now; twilight is falling and the guests are waiting.

A gentle tune starts playing, Nessie takes Jake's arm, and they walk slowly out the door. Quil squeezes Claire's hand in a comforting gesture, before giving her his arm to hold on to. They follow Jake and Nessie through the crowd seated in the yard. The scent of roses floats through the air, mixing with the warm smell of burned wood. The altar in the front is surrounded by small driftwood fires, their colourful sparks casting a glimmering light, bathing them in a warm glow.

As Jake and Nessie reach the altar, Jake kisses her and steps aside. Claire quickens her pace, falling out of sync with the soft music, desperate to reach her destination. As she gets closer, Nessie slowly turns around, greeting her with a soft, loving smile. Claire lets go of Quil's arm, steps into the ring of fire, and takes her place beside the woman she loves.

Nessie reaches out her hand, their fingers lace and their eyes lock, and as they stand there, the world around them disappears. As Carlisle's voice fills the chilly evening air with words of love and respect, Nessie surrounds her with pictures of beloved memories, images of their shared past, and her hopes for their future.

"Our brides have chosen to write their own vows. Let us listen to their words." Carlisle falls silent and takes a step back, directing everybody's attention to the two lovers.

The stars glitter above; the quiet hiss from the small fires permeates the silence of the evening.

Claire raises her right hand and places it on the white, heart-shaped stone that rests on Nessie's chest, close to her heart. She smiles as she looks at her hand against Nessie's skin – tanned and alabaster – and feels the heat radiate from her, spreading through her hand, along her arm, reaching her heart. Nessie mirrors Claire's motion, placing her hand on Claire's chest, enclosing the driftwood pendant. As they look into each other's eyes, they raise their voices and speak as one.

"You are the light of my life, my reason to live. I will love you, always and forever, until my heart stops beating. And when that happens, I will love you for eternity."