There was the sound of wolves howling outside. Everyone froze at the sudden cacophony. The ensuing silence was only broken by Edward.
"They're coming for Bella."
In the quiet of the Cullen homestead, I finally spoke up. The calm, firm tone of my voice surprised me. "I want to see my daughter."
"Bella..." Edward began.
"I want to see my daughter," I repeated, though this time my words were laced with anger. "Damnit, Edward! If I'm going to die today, I want the chance to say goodbye to her!"
Everyone in the room - Rosalie, Edward, Carlisle and Esme - stared at me in silence.
"And I'm not gonna make you all fight for me, either," I added. "The person you all should be worrying about now is Renesmee. I'd do whatever's necessary to keep her safe. I want you all to do the same."
I walked over to Edward, stood close to him; I could see in his face such deep pain, as if he were feeling all of his hundred-and-change years. I had seen that look once before - when he had lied to me, in the vain hope of saving my life.
"Edward." When I spoke, my voice was soft; I needed to make him understand. "This isn't just about us anymore; it's about our little girl. So don't do anything foolish. For her sake. She'll need you." I reached up, lacing my fingers into his hair and pulling his head down to mine. When our lips met, his arms wrapped tightly around my waist, as if he'd never let me go.
Pulling back, I breathed, "I love you."
Edward nodded slowly. If our kind were capable of crying, we both probably would have been by now.
He swallowed hard and, when he spoke, his voice was rough. "We'll go see Renesmee."
I don't know what I was expecting when Edward and I went up to the third story of the house to see her. They'd been keeping her from me, all this time, waiting until I had my bloodlust under control. But I couldn't afford to wait anymore. I needed to say goodbye. To somehow let her know how much I loved her, even sight unseen.
Alice was holding a swaddled bundle as she rocked back and forth in an ornate, antique rocking chair. Emmett stood over the tableau, a sentinel to the domestic calm of the scene. I approached Alice, arms extended with palms upward. My strongest need right now was to fill my arms with my child.
Alice's eyes darted along me, then she stopped rocking in the chair and stood. Her movements slow and hesitant, she placed her precious cargo in my arms. My arms closed around the infant, pulling her gently to my chest and gazing down at her.
Renesmee looked like a normal newborn baby: pink and a little wrinkly, with a thatch of peach-fuzzy hair atop her head, big brown eyes that were wide with wonder, and a button nose that was a little runny. But she was mine, and that made her to me the most beautiful child in the world. Her scent was also very distinctive: exactly like how Edward once described my human scent, but somehow a lighter perfume compared to what I had smelled on my old clothes. I immediately calmed at the smell of my daughter; it was my smell, marking her as mine.
My daughter stared at me for a long moment, her little brow furrowed as if in deep contemplation, and then her expression broke into a big smile. I found myself grinning back like an idiot.
"Alice, can you get me a kleenex?" She immediately zipped forward, a box of tissues in hand. I pulled a tissue from the box and dabbed my daughter's nose with it, wiping away the snot. I then gave a carefully measured toss of the used tissue into the waste bin about ten feet away. It teered on the edge of the bin, then fell into the container.
"Two points!" Emmett crowed. Of course, he had to play the clown to jolly along everyone's mood.
I couldn't keep my lips from lifting upward as I gently kissed my daughter's head. I felt peace, filled with love for my little one. Nothing like the newborn vampire I'd been when...
My eyes popped back open and my thoughts began to whirl. No. Nonononono...
I swallowed hard against my now eternally unshed tears. "I love you, sweetheart," I whispered to the bundle in my arms, just before I handed her back to Alice. My silent heart cleft in twain. "I always have and always will."
I took a breath I didn't need as I stepped outside to meet the wolf pack. Though their padded feet had been silent to my old human ears, my vampire hearing now rendered their closing in on me with the thunder of a herd of wildebeest. I exhaled and stepped off the veranda; my movements were slow, so that I'd not be seen as gunning for a fight.
I didn't want to hurt anyone. Enough blood had been spilled by me, and enough lives taken in my name. That would all end as of now.
Unbidden, the memory of the newborn vampire my new family had attempted to rescue - Bree, my mind supplied - popped into my head. I had all but ignored her, even as she had strained with all she had not to kill me. She was no more than a child, turned into a monster. But the same could be said for me: a girl barely out of high school, married, a mother and now a killer.
This new life had come too fast, and I'd not had the time to fully adapt to it. I certainly had less control than Bree had had, and she'd expressed a desire to convert to the Cullens' more pacific ways - something she'd been brutally denied by the Volturi, but with which I was privileged. Bree's death was my own damn fault. She was yet another innocent who died for me. Though Victoria had converted her, had it not been due to my hopeless inaction, Bree and the newborns would never have been changed in the first place.
What a spoiled brat I'd been: expecting privileges I had not earned, receiving adulation I had not worked for, making demands I had no right to request, taking rewards I was too immature to appreciate...
Wanting to shove off my humanity, when I hardly comprehended what the word even meant.
I cleared my throat, my voice quiet and polite as I could make it, even though it audibly quaked. "I'm not going to fight you, and I have ordered my family to stand down," I informed them. "But, if I'm permitted, I'd like to say a few words before you carry out your judgment."
The answer I received was silence. I could detect no movement; the wolves must have been listening, so I pushed this small advantage while I had it.
"My actions were mine alone. No one put a flamethrower to my head and ordered me to take anyone's life," I said, my heart growing heavier with the truth of each word. "I only ask that you not cause my family to suffer for my crimes. They did all they could to make me aware of the true nature of a vampire's instincts. I acted only in my own best interests without contemplating the repercussions." I sighed. "And, while it's not enough and it can't give back the lives I took, I am deeply sorry. For all of this, for all the pain and suffering I've caused, for the lives that have been lost because of me."
I heard a whine among the assembled wolves. Jacob. My heart ached for my friend. But I soldiered on, ending my soliloquy with, "If you intend to kill me, I won't fight you. My death is deserved." My chin dropped to my chest and I closed my eyes, steeling myself for a large furry body lunging and sharp teeth tearing at me.
But the attack never came.
I heard the popping and snapping of bones as they became more compact. I opened my eyes, and Leah Clearwater was standing before me in her human form, naked as a jaybird and unashamed of that fact. Her arms crossed over her bare breasts, not to conceal her nudity, but to send a clear message of her mood. My best guess was that she'd taken issue with acting as the go-between for the pack that barely tolerated her and a murdering leech like me. But I couldn't blame her, really.
"We heard everything," she told me, her tone stiff and formal. "Given your willingness to surrender, the pack is divided on whether or not to kill you. For now, you will remain under house arrest, until we can figure out what to do with you."
I stared at her in confusion. This was completely unexpected. I had prepared myself for a premature ending to my ostensibly eternal life, and they were now giving me a little more time to prove my... well, maybe not innocence, but certainly a capacity for rehabilitation.
For a little while longer, they were going to let me live. And that would be more than enough.
I found my incarceration not at all difficult. I was amenable to this small measure of mercy they were showing me, and I made certain that this attitude was reflected in my actions.
Quil Ateara, Embry Call and Leah herself were my jailers. The wolves had always performed as a group, something which had stood them in good stead during the battle with the newborn army, and they were not about to let down their guard now. Nonetheless, I cooked for them and provided them with clothing, using the comparatively small allowance I'd been given by Carlisle and Esme, in order to provide them with some measure of comfort while engaged in their duties.
The money was also used in living expenses, as well as repairs of and furnishings for the quaint, rustic single-floor bungalow on the Cullen property that was now my, Edward's and Renesmee's domicile.
There was only three actual rooms in the house: a living area with a kitchen sconce, a bedroom with an attached bathroom, and an enclosed back porch. At about five hundred square feet, it wasn't as roomy as the Cullen's main house, but the three of us didn't need much. I'd never been particularly acquisitive, save for my love of books, so I simply converted the back porch to a library and small study. Edward's musical pursuits, meanwhile, were satisfied with an upright piano in the living area. Renesmee's crib was placed in a corner of the bedroom, which was already dominated by a twin-sized bed for my husband and I to curl up and relax.
It was small, but it was home. The size of the house made it easy for the wolves to cover the exits and patrol the area, and I applied myself to the upkeep with little difficulty and great pleasure. The repetitive actions of housework, though not at all physically taxing, were an effective kind of meditation to my vampiric mind. I could see now why Esme had chosen to remain at home; focusing on such simple tasks was soothing, and helped lull my less peaceable urges into hibernation. It was a salutary lesson in remaining closer to my humanity.
Edward, having a century on me in controlling his urges, was now taking classes at the local community college. Though he knew he wasn't leaving me alone, he still claimed to feel unsettled by my isolation. But my calm demeanour reassured him.
So, by day, I entertained visitors, tended to my daughter's needs, maintained our home and made conciliatory gestures toward my wolf sentinels, all while Edward was away at school. By night, I would sing my daughter to sleep, catch up on my reading list as my husband did his homework (I was already months behind, with dozens of books retaining their bookmarks within the first several chapters), then we would take advantage of the remaining darkness and Renesmee's propensity to slumber deeply (we'd figured out how to avoid breaking things in our ardor, though we'd also begun to explore the heretofore unknown pleasure at a more naturalistic setting).
It may have not been a perfect piece of our forever, but I knew the closest thing to contentment my kind was allowed.
I was reading a hardcover volume compiling two Jack London favourites (Call of the Wild and White Fang, a reading selection inspired by a moment of impish humour on my part) when Jacob finally came to see me. Rosalie was also present, having volunteered to shop for me while I was still under house arrest, and having returned from her latest excursion with a passel of groceries.
I had felt the pull of bloodlust in the intervening weeks but, I found through the very meditation practices my mother had taught me, I could supplant the instinct at least somewhat. But it also meant the sexual element of my vampire hungers became particularly rapacious, though my husband had no qualms about satisfying that particular urge (and, at any rate, one might expect a young couple to possess a thriving carnal appetite).
I was working on understanding the psychological component of vampirism, and learned that the killing instinct was at least partly in one's mind. I had developed a theory that I could avoid killing altogether, provided I remained in complete control of my mind. The way I saw it, I could choose to destroy life and devolve to the instinctual behaviours of the animals, or I could take what I needed in less damaging ways while adhering to the reasoning and laws of man. And the beauty of it was that, the farther away from my last kill I got, the less inclined I felt to feed. Edward was worried for me, concerned that I was neglecting myself when I'd gone for weeks without hunting, but Carlisle had complete faith in me that I was close to a breakthrough.
It was into this idyll that Jacob walked in, and so nearly overturned months of solid effort in mere minutes.
It began simply enough. There was a quiet and awkward exchange of pleasantries, inquiries about each other's lives and health, discussion of some world events and the latest films we might consider seeing. We did no more than scratch the surface, falling into the polite mannerisms of near-strangers and keeping our conversation shallow, as we pointedly ignored the elephant in the room.
It pained me, as we'd once been so close. But we'd both changed, in our respective psychologies and physiologies. We might as well have been meeting for the first time, because we were getting to know each other all over again.
Renesmee cut into the tableau, informing me in no uncertain terms that she had completed her nap and required my attention immediately. Albeit not in as many words; her protracted yowl was signal enough, and I had become a connoiseur of her cries. My daughter could communicate her needs and desires, perhaps not in words like the adults surrounding her, but I understood her nonetheless. It only took a good ear, though I certainly could not have been the first new mother to learn the individual meanings of her child's vocalizations. A castrati shriek indicated the unpleasantness of a dirtied diaper, tearful bawling meant hunger or thirst, a thin wail was a sign of exhaustion (or a need to be held, when accompanied by outstretched arms), and an octave-ascending squall indicated either general displeasure or infantile rage at something she found objectionable.
I went into the bedroom, and lifted her from her crib. She was immediately soothed by my presence, and ceased her whimpering when I held her in my arms. I carried her back into the living room where my guest awaited.
Renesmee fussed in my grasp, wanting to see this new person in attendance. I shifted her so she could get a better look around without my shoulder in her way. She could now hold her head up by herself (quite an accomplishment for her age) and she glanced around with keen interest, everything always new and exciting for her young eyes.
She stared at Jacob, thumb wandering to her mouth, and his eyes met hers. I saw his expression melt into a fatuous smile, and he begged me to hold her. Reluctant, I said no. His face fell. Though I knew most people tended to be enamoured of new babies, his seeming so completely stung by my rejection struck me as odd. When he continued to stare at Renesmee with a look that could only be described as longing, as if he were a blind man seeing the sun for the first time and yet had to remain inside, it finally hit me.
He'd imprinted on my daughter.
My body began to tremble with anger and, with my eyes remaining on Jacob, I said, "Rose, take the baby. Now." She said nothing in protest of my order, but stopped putting the groceries away and took my daughter from my arms. Then I demanded of Jacob, my tone cold enough to make Antarctica look like a tropical vacation spot, "You. Out. Now."
He backed away from me, edging closer to the door. "Bella, I..."
"Get. Out." My normally melodious voice had altered to an inhuman basso growl that would have made Toni Braxton green with envy. "Get out of my house!" I snarled. In the back of my mind, I marvelled at how I wasn't foaming at the mouth in rabid animal fury. No, I was still in control at the moment.
"Bella..." Jacob pleaded.
Having had enough already, I opened the door to my home, grabbed him by the shirt collar and tossed him out onto a shrub outside. The throw had been calculated to have him well clear of the house, while providing him with a relatively soft landing. I wasn't inclined to crack his skull open. Yet.
He scrambled to his feet, as I approached him. "Bella, please! You know I can't control it! It's instinctive!"
"Killing is instinctive, too," I pointed out. "It doesn't mean it's right." I glared at him. "I will not have my daughter groomed as a future fucktoy for a feckless shapeshifter who believes himself entitled to some magically induced pedophilia. You couldn't have me, so you want her as a replacement. Is that your supernatural rationale?"
"Bella, it's not like that! She can refuse, when she's old enough to understand..."
"I'm her mother, you stupid mutt! I understand well enough, and I have all the right in the world to refuse for her!" I roared. Then I added, my tone becoming softer and more vicious, "And Emily's refusal of Sam clearly went so well! Tell me, do her scars still hurt?"
I realized that I could kill him for my daughter's sake, and I wouldn't feel a thing.
This was not good. He had to leave before I lost it.
For a brief moment, I wondered why my wolf guards weren't interfering. Perhaps the nature of imprinting made it a higher law to them than even their protection of humanity. In a way, I understood; my daughter's health, happiness and safety were of the greatest priority to me. I would never let anything happen to her.
I couldn't kill him, not if I wanted peace with the wolves. But I couldn't, in good conscience, permit him to remain in my daughter's presence either. With a flash of intuition, I figured out how I could possibly fix this tangled mess of a situation.
"If your intentions toward my daughter are truly pure, then you won't mind staying the hell away from her till I deem otherwise," I said, after taking a fortifying breath to calm myself. "Until she is an adult, and I have determined for myself that she will be able to understand the implications of this bond and choose for herself, you are not permitted to see her, speak to her, or be within one thousand feet of her. This is not negotiable."
"Bella, you know I can't..."
My tone was not angry, but one of calm certainty, as I cut him off. "If you refuse to accept these conditions, I will kill you."
His complexion altered to a strange shade of taupe as the blood drained from his face. His eyes were wide with a mixture of fear and animosity. "Bella..."
"Leave. Now. Before I change my mind."
But I'd never known Jacob for his possession of great sense, and he proved yet again this astounding lack in his character. His body shook, his flesh stretched and bones popped as - in the space of two human heartbeats - he transformed into the great red wolf.
He growled at me and I snarled back.
Then I slammed the palm of my hand against the bridge of his nose. The movement had all the speed and impact of a punch, and it knocked him back into the line of trees.
He quickly righted himself and charged me. I sprung, my body twisting in the air until I landed astride his back. I held on as he tried to buck me, then I increased the pressure, tightening the grip of both my thighs and my arms around him. I could feel his ribs beginning to give under my force, until one gave a satisfying snap and he howled in pain.
I felt the discs of his spinal column grinding against each other, as my thighs retained their vice grip. He collapsed underneath me, and I rolled off of him, landing on all fours on the soft dirt. The pain of his injuries must have caused him to lose his grip on his transformed state, because he immediately changed back.
"Am I to take this as a refusal?" I asked, making no move to aid him.
He shook his head. "No," he rasped from his fetal position on the ground. "I give. I'll do what you ask, just please..."
My eyebrows shot up and I stood up straight. There were a number of things I was thinking about him right now, but forgiveness wasn't exactly in the cards at the moment. "I'll think about it. But remember: you have agreed to my terms. I do not want to see you anywhere near my daughter, or hear of you attempting to communicate with her, until she's of age."
He gave a painful nod. "Agreed."
I felt a twinge of sympathy, as I recalled that the tortured shapeshifter before me had once been a bright and happy kid. He had been my friend, with a smile to light up Seattle for a week and the ability to fix almost anything - including a teenage girl's broken heart. I missed my friend. What the hell became of him? I wondered.
"Go home, Jacob Black. Go back home to your father. Your hour is up, here."
Then I turned and went back into my house, leaving him behind me.