Butterflies of excitement fluttered in my stomach as we approached the house. I had heard, through the pain of the venom's fire, my eldest daughter telling me all about her days and her brother and sister, but even so, I really didn't know them all that well. I’d never seen them, never heard them, never held them. Edward had, and that made me feel jealous. I knew that jealousy was irrational, and in the next second I felt guilty for even feeling it. All the sensations and emotions running through me were beginning to give me whiplash; there was just so much going on around me, and everything seemed to draw my attention. Flipping again, my emotions circled back around to nervousness as Edward led me through the back door and into the living room.
Alice appeared and handed me a plain blue blouse, which I was grateful for; my hunting hadn't exactly been neat and tidy the way Edward’s was, and I was covered in blood and dirt with big rips in my dress. Once the shirt was buttoned up, it hung just long enough to cover the worst, leaving the relatively undamaged lower hem hanging like a skirt. I got a proper greeting from the whole family, with hugs and smiles and kind words, though Rosalie was still conspicuously absent. Just as I was about to ask where she was, I spotted her sitting on one of the big white couches with her back to me, talking quietly to something in her arms. Edward sat beside her, also cradling something, and I moved towards them almost in a trance. All of the others vanished as I moved, and Rose looked up and smiled at me.
“Hey Bella,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
“Good,” was all I could manage, distracted as I was by what she was holding. The soft pattering heartbeats of the babies and Nessie, who hovered at the end of the couch, seemed to fill my ears until I couldn't hear anything else.
Rosalie stood up, leaving her seat vacant and nodding for me to take it. I sat down gingerly, moving at almost human speed in my nervousness. I was wary of the new strength and speed I could feel singing through every cell of my body, still unsure how I was supposed to control it all. Out of habit, I bit my lip, and the action felt strange and foreign; the feeling of strong sharp teeth on impenetrable skin was incredibly odd. Edward gave me a reassuring smile, and I relaxed minutely. Rosalie held out the bundle of blankets in her arms.
“Here, you take EJ. He's getting impatient.” she said with an adoring smile. The bundle wriggled and cooed excitedly, and she laughed lightly.
“Alright little man, here's your Momma.” she murmured, leaning down to place my son in my arms. As nervous as I was, I felt instantly calmed when my arms curled into the familiar position around him and I looked down into his face.
EJ stared up at me, his wide green eyes sparkling like two emeralds in his pale face. His wriggling had dislodged the blankets around him, revealing a pale blue onesie and a full head of crazy bronze hair. He smiled at me, showing off two rows of pearly teeth. He was the spitting image of his father, and just like with Renesmee, I was instantly enchanted.
“He's perfect.” I whispered, my voice full of wonder.
“I know,” Edward whispered back. “They both are.”
A soft, happy giggle drew my attention to his arms and the other baby that he held. Smaller than EJ, this baby had slightly longer, wavy hair and longer eyelashes, pink lips and slightly pink cheeks which made her skin look like fresh cream.
“A girl?” I asked softly, and Edward nodded.
“Elizabeth Rose.” He smiled sheepishly. “I named her. I hope you don't mind.”
I smiled back at him and leaned up to kiss his cheek.
“Of course I don't mind.” I said like it was obvious. “It's a beautiful name.”
Elizabeth laughed again, reaching out towards me and kicking her legs. EJ copied her, grabbing hold of a lock of my hair that hung near him and pulling on it. Edward chuckled while I gently uncurled his little fist and kissed his forehead with a smile.
“Ma!” Elizabeth suddenly yelled, straining out of her father's arms in an attempt to get to me.
“Alright my precious.” he soothed her, shifting his weight so she didn't fall. He slid slightly closer and carefully showed me how to balance EJ on one arm so that I could hold both of them at once. When I was human it would have been awkward at best, and almost certainly impossible, but now it was effortless; I was more aware of every part of my body than I ever had been before, and that new awareness made everything I did feel like the easiest thing in the world. It helped that the babies were far more developed than other children their age and didn’t need someone else to hold their heads up for them. Both of them cooed happily when they were settled, seeming glad to be near each other as well as me. Edward put his arm around me and reached around to stroke Elizabeth’s hair softly, leaning in close and resting his chin lightly on my shoulder.
“I am so proud of you.” he whispered softly into my ear, his voice burning with love, and kissed my cheek tenderly. I couldn’t help but smile and lean back into him contentedly. I could see Nessie still hovering nervously, though she had edged closer and closer with each passing minute. I nudged Edward gently with my elbow, and nodded minutely in her direction. He smiled at her and held out his hand.
“What are you doing all the way over there Ness?” he asked teasingly. Her face lit up in response, and she bounced over to us and into his lap, curling against his chest. I leaned over and kissed her forehead tenderly.
“What do you think?” I asked her, smiling happily. “Shall we keep them?”
She laughed, as did Edward, and nodded.
“They’re fun.” she informed me matter-of-factly. “They talk to each other all the time, and it’s so funny.” She giggled.
“Ne’mee!” EJ shouted suddenly, clapping his hands excitedly.
“Luboo Ne’mee!” Elizabeth added, also clapping.
“They’re talking already?” I said, surprised by this new development.
“If you can call it talking.” Edward replied with a soft smile. “They don’t master things overnight the way Nessie did. It takes them a bit of practice. They seem to have conversations with each other, and they understand the words we say and what they want to say in response. They just can’t quite connect that knowledge with the muscles in their mouths.”
“They talk another way too!” Nessie said, bouncing excitedly. “They can talk in their thoughts!”
She touched her hot little hand to my cheek, showing me a memory of a discussion she’d had with the twins just that morning. They’d sat on the nursery floor in a circle, holding hands, and the twins had asked her questions – mostly about me – just by thinking, and she answered them in the same way.
“Wow.” I breathed, then gasped as the twins each laid a hand on my arm and joined in the conversation.
We love you Momma, they both thought at once. We missed you.
I smiled, trying out the rather odd sensation of thinking my answer.
I missed you too. I thought. And I love you too, very much.
I knew it had worked when they gurgled happily and took their hands off my arm to clap in perfect unison. Nessie giggled and Edward and I both laughed.
“I could hear you.” He whispered in my ear wonderingly. “I heard you in their thoughts. Your mind is so beautiful love.”
I smiled bashfully, embarrassed by his praise, and waited for a blush that would never come. The absence of the usual rush of heat to my cheeks threw me for a moment, before Edward distracted me with a soft kiss behind my ear and another whispered, “So beautiful.” that sent an entirely different heat rushing through my whole body.
“Ick.” said EJ, and we laughed again. There was a lot of laughing and smiling that day.
I carefully pulled a blanket up over the sleeping twins. They both slept in the same crib, waking up and crying if they were separated, and they had automatically curled up side by side when I put them down on the soft mattress. Their hands were clasped together between them, and Elizabeth had her other thumb in her mouth, seemingly unaffected by EJ's soft snoring in her ear. I smiled as they shifted slightly in their sleep, glad that their peaceful faces were free from stress or sadness.
I turned to say goodnight to Nessie, who had scrambled into the rocking chair I had just vacated. While I was changing, Alice and Emmett had gone to Charlie's house and told him that I missed the comfort of my old room, and that I’d asked them to come and get my rocking chair. Charlie, still worried as he thought I was ill, quickly agreed and helped them get it into the back seat of the Volvo, sending them off with a get well soon for me and making them promise to get me to call him as soon as I could. In actual fact, the rocking chair had been a surprise gift for me, and one that I greatly appreciated.
“Come on missie,” I said softly, trying not to wake the babies as I scooped up my oldest daughter. “Time for bed.”
She cuddled into my side as I carried her to her new 'big girl' bed and tucked her in. She was unusually quiet, a pensive look on her face that had me worried. She'd seemed detached and upset all day, and I knew Edward had seen it too, but we hadn't brought it up while she was busy playing with the twins.
“Are you okay honey?” I asked her now, stroking her hair softly. Instead of answering, she gave me a question of her own.
“Momma, will you
and Daddy still love me even though you have the twins now?”
I was taken aback for a moment, but when I thought about it her worries made sense; with Edward shut away with me and everyone else most likely focused almost completely on the babies, she was bound to feel a little left out.
“Of course darling!” I told her. “Why would you think that we wouldn't?”
She shrugged and looked down at her lap, twisting her fingers around the legs of a stuffed wolf that Jacob had given her.
“Nessie, look at me.” I said seriously. She peered up at me through her lashes. I put a finger under her chin and gently guided her face up so I could see her properly.
“You have no reason to think that we won't love you anymore. That's not possible.” I paused, seeing her speculative look.
“You know,” I said softly, releasing her chin and looking down at me hands. “There was a time when I didn't think I could love anyone more than I loved my parents, my mother especially. But then I moved here.” I smiled softly and looked back up at her now fascinated little face.
“And I met your father.” I went on. “And I found a love I’d never felt before in my life. Then you came along, and it happened again. But just because I fell in love with Daddy, doesn't mean I don't love my parents anymore. Just because I love you, doesn't mean I don't love Daddy anymore.”
I tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear and cradled her cheek in the palm of my hand. “And just because I love the twins, doesn't mean that I don't love you. That's the wonderful thing about love.” And I leaned in close and whispered like I was sharing a great secret with her. “We can always make more.”
Renesmee's eyes were wide and shining.
“Really?” she whispered, her voice in awe.
I nodded. “Always. You know it too.”
“I do?” she asked with a little frown.
Again, I nodded, still smiling. “You do. You love your brother and sister don't you?”
She nodded furiously. “Of course I do!”
“But that doesn't stop you loving me and Daddy, does it?”
She shook her head.
“Well there you go.” I said. “It doesn't matter how many people you love, you always have enough to go around. You love everyone equally, no matter if you've loved them for days or years. And hey,” I grinned. “Even if we're busy with Elizabeth and EJ, you'll always have Jacob.”
I patted the head of her little wolf and she giggled.
“Silly Momma, that's not Jacob!”
I pretended to be astonished. “It's not?”
She giggled again and held the wolf up in front of my face. “This is Wolfy.”
“I see.” I said, nodding as if it was obvious. “Well, can you and Wolfy give me a goodnight hug?”
She smiled and nodded, leaning up and wrapping her arms around me.
I love you Momma, she thought with her hand on my neck.
“I love you too Renesmee.” I whispered. “Never doubt that.”
She hummed contentedly, then yawned.
I chuckled. “Time to go to sleep now, little princess.”
“Okay,” she sighed, lying down with her head on the pillow. I tucked the covers in around her carefully and kissed her forehead softly.
“Goodnight darling.” I murmured.
“Goodnight Momma.” she mumbled sleepily.
I checked on the twins one more time – they were still sleeping peacefully – and paused at the door to turn out the light. Even in the darkness, my newly enhanced eyesight allowed me to see my children's faces as clearly as in daylight. The sight brought yet another soft smile to my lips as I quietly closed the door and crossed the hall to mine and Edward’s room. I stood still for a moment, listening to the sounds of the house. It was mostly quiet, just a few soft conversations going on downstairs. I didn't listen too closely, but I couldn't help overhearing the muffled moaning and groaning already coming from Rose and Emmett’s room any more than I could stop the way my face twisted into a grimace in response. Ignoring them, I opened the door to our room. It was empty, but I could hear water running in the bathroom.
“Edward?” I called, keeping my voice at a normal volume since he could hear me anyway.
“I'm in the shower love.” he called back, also quiet.
“I guessed that.” I said with a smile, rolling my eyes. “What are you doing in there?”
“I'll be out in a moment.” he promised, avoiding my question.
Curious and confused, I went to sit on the edge of the bed with my back to the bathroom door and began pulling off my shoes and unbuttoning my blouse.
“Did you hear Nessie just now?” I asked over my shoulder.
“Yes I did.” he sighed. “I'll have to have a word with her in the morning. Although I think you pretty much covered everything. That was very impressive.”
I smiled. “Thank you.”
I slipped off my shirt and reached behind me for the zipper of my ruined dress. Before I found it, I heard the water shut off and the door open behind me.
I turned around, and my jaw dropped. Edward was standing in the door way of the bathroom, wearing nothing but a pair of black boxers. His hair was still wet from the shower, crystal water droplets glistening amongst the copper strands, which stood up in their usual wild disarray. His perfect face was set in a cheeky grin, but I could see the same old familiar hunger in his eyes, burning deep and intense just below the surface.
“Need some help with that?” he asked, his voice low and slightly amused. Unable to find my voice, I simply nodded slowly and watched his lithe, graceful movements as he approached me. As soon as he was close enough, he reached out and ran his hands up and down my sides. But rather than going for the zipper as I expected him to, he gripped the fabric on either side of my waist, ripping the already damaged dress down the middle and pulling it off my arms.
“Edward!” I exclaimed, astonished.
“What?” he shrugged, his face the picture of innocence. “It's not like you could wear it again. Besides,” He leaned in to whisper in my ear huskily. “Zippers take too long.”
His words ignited the fire that had bee smouldering gently in my stomach since our kiss in the woods, and I couldn't hold back a moan as I gripped his hair tightly between my fingers and tugged his mouth to mine. Our lips moved together softly at first, but they quickly grew more frantic and hurried, an almost feral need taking over my mind completely. My fingers continued to pull at his hair while his flexed around my hips, pulling me impossibly closer. Without really realising how it happened, we ended up on the bed, still kissing as I lay flat while he hovered over me. Our underwear quickly went the same way as my dress, and our bodies, his now warm to me rather than cold, pressed tightly together; the space between us was non-existent. I was at the mercy of his hands as he caressed every curve of my body, and -
“Oh Rosie,” Emmett moaned downstairs. “Just like that baby.”
I broke away from Edward and he groaned in frustration, burying his head in my neck.
“Well that's distracting.” I muttered.
“Tell me about it.” he mumbled sullenly.
“You think this is bad.” I heard Jasper say. “Wait until they really get going.”
Alice giggled, and I was struck again by the sensitivity of my new hearing; it was almost as if they were in the room with us.
Edward huffed angrily and pulled away from me slightly as the noise downstairs intensified. I utilised my enhanced strength to keep him close, wrapping my arms around his shoulders and my legs around his waist, but I couldn't stop him from raising his head and speaking over his shoulder.
“Can you at least try to keep it down Emmett?” he said tersely.
Emmett snorted. “You're not exactly quiet yourself Eddie.” he cackled evilly.
Edward growled and there were several laughs from various rooms in the house.
“Behave boys.” Esme scolded gently. “We've gotten along fine for the last however many decades, don't let's start fighting now.”
Edward just huffed again, and I couldn't stop the giggle that escaped through my lips.
“Just ignore them darling.” I whispered, drawing his head back towards me until our lips brushed softly together. “Focus on me.”
We kissed, deep and slow. I nipped at his lower lip, and he grunted, pushing against me in a way that made the most delicious sensations spark through my limbs and set every nerve ending in my body tingling. His mouth pressed tighter to mine and the rest of the world faded away as our lips parted and our tongues tangled.
Needless to say, the noise of the other couples in the house didn't bother us for the rest of the night.
Being a newborn meant that my appetite was bigger than everyone else's – I got thirsty much more quickly and drank more at each feeding. I found myself needing to hunt every day to begin with, and it was on one of theses daily hunts, about a week after I had my talk with Nessie, that the first major drama occurred.
Edward was my hunting partner, and that day we were joined by Nessie and Jacob. Jake didn't actually need to hunt, but his presence encouraged Nessie by bringing out her competitive streak and allowed Edward and I to relax a little and focus on our own feeding.
The four of us had come to a long open stretch of grass, and Nessie and Jake had stopped to play in the slowly gathering snow that fell from the sky gently, like a picture on a Christmas card. Renesmee was jumping as high as she could, trying to catch the flakes and seeing how long she could hold them before her body heat made them melt. Jacob acted as a sort of ladder, letting her stand on his shoulders so she could jump higher, and was always careful to be near her so he could cushion her fall if needed. Edward and I followed behind them, smiling and laughing at their antics. I reached out a hand every so often, catching a snowflake on the tip of my finger and studying the bright facets of it. Even in the weak light of the sun filtering through the clouds, it was like looking at a cluster of little diamonds, each one glittering and shooting out tiny eight colour rainbows. Edward seemed slightly amused by my fascination with the tiny crystals, but his eyes were warm and tender as his fingers gently combed the tangles from my hair; I was neater now than I had been on my first hunt, but I still made a little mess taking down a stag earlier. All in all, we were having a very enjoyable afternoon.
I knew something was wrong when Edward’s fingers froze in my hair and his whole body went rigid. I looked away from where Nessie was throwing little snowballs at Jake, glancing at his face.
“What is it?” I asked, but he wasn't listening, staring off into the distance. I followed his gaze, past the snow and the trees to the mountains, where my attention was instantly drawn to something shimmering on a cliff face. My eyes focused like binoculars, and I saw that the shimmer came from the almost silver blonde hair of a woman clinging to the rock. Even at this distance it was clear that she was a vampire, but I couldn't clearly see her eyes, and that had me immediately on edge.
“Who is it?” I asked, whispering for no reason I could think of.
“Irina.” Edward replied just as quietly.
“Can you hear her?”
“No, she's too far away.”
Renesmee leaped into the air again and Irina seemed to focus on her for a moment before she glared at us.
“Should we go and talk to her?” I asked Edward, wanting very much to find out the source of her anger but unsure if approaching her was sensible. He hesitated, then nodded.
“We're going to look further up in the mountains.” he called to the others. “Stay here, and we'll be back soon.”
Jacob nodded his big shaggy head and barked in acknowledgement. Nessie nodded distractedly, still fixated on the snow.
We took off into the trees towards Irina, and I let Edward run slightly ahead; he knew Irina's scent and would be more able to track her if she ran off. Being in the trees made me anxious, since I couldn't see the mountains anymore, so I climbed up into the branches until they came back into view. Edward followed my lead, and I happily copied the way he leapt and swung through the branches so that he didn't sacrifice his speed for a better vantage point. I kept one eye on Irina even as I watched him, and we both saw the moment she realised we were coming towards her. She started to clamber up the cliff, and we sped up in response. She was fast, but we were faster, and we caught up to her just as she got properly into the mountains. Over the wind that whipped past me, I heard Edward gasp, “No!”, his voice horrified, and he sped up again. I wasn't expecting it, and I fell behind for a split second before I ran faster as well. I wasn't sure where the extra speed kept coming from; every time I felt like I couldn't go faster, I somehow managed it.
“Irina!” Edward yelled. “Wait!”
She didn't slow.
“Please!” he tried again, sounding almost desperate. “Please, stop and listen to us!”
To my surprise, she did stop, wheeling around suddenly with a snarl. I skidded to a stop, almost slamming into Edward’s back as he too came to an abrupt standstill.
“Why should I listen?” Irina hissed. “How can you possibly condone what you've done?”
“She's not what you think.” he insisted, holding out his hands pleadingly. “I swear to you Irina, none of us would ever be so callous, not after what happened to your mother.”
She spat into the snow, clearly not believing him. Edward’s words had caused something to click into place in my head, and I suddenly understood Irina's anger. I had thought perhaps it was to do with our comradeship with Jacob, that she was still sore over Laurent’s death and the part that the pack played in it. Now I saw what had really set her off.
She thought that Renesmee was an immortal child.
Everything Edward and Carlisle had told me about that dark time in the Denali sisters' history came rushing back, despite it being a human memory, and I recalled at once that their experience had made all three sisters very vigilant when it came to the law. I had no doubt that Irina would, having made her assumptions about my daughter, go immediately to those who would deal with it in the proper way.
Irina quickly confirmed my suspicions.
“Give me one reason to believe you.” she told Edward, still half snarling. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn't go straight to the Volturi and tell them what you've done.”
“No!” I hissed, my protective instinct instantly kicking in at even the possibility of a threat to my family. I slipped automatically into a defensive crouch and bared my teeth. Edward put his hand on my arm in an attempt to calm me, and he too was tensed, though for a different reason. I was tensed to spring; he was ready to stop me if I tried.
“Shh Bella,” he murmured softly, placatingly. “Let me.”
He held out a hand to Irina again in invitation. “Come with us.” he begged her. “Come and meet her, and let us show you why you are wrong. If you still don't believe us, we'll let you go.”
I gritted my teeth, holding back the part of me that wanted to snarl at him for even suggesting we let her tell lies to Aro, lies that could get us all killed.
Irina seemed to consider the idea for a moment, and I suddenly realised how hard the choice must be for her; the Cullens were, after all, the closest thing she had to family besides her sisters. It would not be easy to condemn them to death, even if she believed she was justified, and any alternative would likely be very tempting.
“Alright.” she conceded at last. “But if I am not convinced...”
“We won't stop you.” Edward promised, wincing slightly.
Irina eyed me suspiciously, arching one perfect eyebrow in silent question. I just nodded stiffly, afraid to speak in case my emotions took over and ruined everything.
“Alright.” she repeated, and gestured for us to lead the way. I took off at once, eager to get back to Renesmee and let her know what was going on. I didn't look back to see if they followed, and I didn't care; I just wanted my little girl safe in my arms, where I could protect her from all the evils of the world.
I only just made it back to the clearing first; I had just enough time to grab hold of Nessie, and respond to Jacob's questioning look with a quick, “Irina.”, before the vampire in question arrived, Edward just behind her. Nessie stiffened and hugged herself to me tighter at the sight of an unfamiliar and clearly hostile face. Her hand was pressed against my neck, and her mind was full of worried, frantic questions; who is she, what is she doing here, do you know her, is she dangerous, why is she looking at me like that? I wanted to calm her, but since I wasn't calm myself that wasn't going to be possible anytime soon.
Irina stared at Nessie, not even blinking.
“Do you see now?” Edward murmured softly.
“I don't believe it.” she muttered. “What is it?”
I had to hold back a growl; I didn't take kindly to people who called my children 'it'.
“She,” Edward emphasised, “is our daughter. Not our creation, our biological child. She was born while Bella was still human, and she's half human herself.”
Irina came closer, moving slowly until she stood right in front of us. She glanced swiftly at Jacob, standing right beside me now, and wrinkled her nose before returning her attention to Nessie. Edward came with her, placing his hand gently on her shoulder. She stiffened a little, but didn't shrug him off.
“Just look at her Irina.” he said softly, soothingly, trying to diffuse the tense atmosphere. “You can see the flush in her cheeks. You can hear her heartbeat. She isn't an immortal child, she isn't a danger.”
Irina still looked sceptical.
“Let her show you.” Edward insisted, holding a hand out to Renesmee in invitation. “Go on Nessie, tell her about yourself. Let her see you aren't a threat.”
Nessie looked back and forth between her father and Irina, then looked up at me.
Should I Momma? she asked. Is it okay?
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, trying to calm down. When I felt like I wasn't going to explode at any second, I opened my eyes and nodded for her to go ahead. Cautiously, carefully, she leaned out of my arms towards Irina, stretching out her hand. Irina took a step backwards with a little hiss, and she shrank back too, frightened.
“It's alright.” Edward assured them both, taking hold of Irina's wrist and pulling her hand up to hover near Nessie's still outstretched palm.
“She won't hurt you,” he said softly, and again he was speaking to both of them. He gave Nessie a little nod and let go of Irina, leaving the choice up to her. Though she still looked suspicious, after a second or two of hesitation Irina's curiosity got the best of her and she touched the tips of her fingers very gently to Nessie's hand. Nessie's eyes closed, and, through the hand still on my neck, I saw what she was showing to Irina.
She started at the very beginning, with her first memories of the sounds of voices, mine and Edward’s muted and muffled but still clear to her, and the steady thump of my heart from somewhere above her head. She remembered darkness and warmth, comfort and security. Then came a bright light and cold hands, soft blankets and Rosalie’s soothing voice, followed quickly by my face and then Edward’s. She remembered her first bottle, and meeting the rest of the family. She remembered measurements being taken, half overheard conversations about how quickly she was growing. She remembered my birthday, and the weeks of our developing routine, and being told she was going to be a big sister, and the rapid expanding of my belly. She remembered the frightening birth of the twins, the three days of nervous waiting while I changed, and finally our conversation from the other night. Then she pulled back, shy again, and rested her head on my shoulder. I kissed her forehead, told her quietly how well she had done, how brave she was to relive all of that, how proud I was of her.
Irina blinked as if awakening from a trance, and her stare now was utterly disbelieving, without a hint of suspicion or malice.
“Incredible.” she whispered, and Edward chuckled.
“Do you believe her?” I asked, nervous. She blinked again, then nodded slowly.
“How could I not?” she said, her voice still sounding a little startled. “Such a vivid gift... I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nessie smiling, practically glowing with pride at Irina's praise. I couldn't help but smile too, giving her another gentle kiss.
“There are others?” Irina asked Edward, and he nodded.
“They're back at the house if you want to go and meet them.” he offered. “And you could borrow our phone to call your sisters if you would like. I know they're very worried about you.”
That seemed to make up her mind; I saw a brief expression of guilt flash across her face before it set in determination and she nodded.
“I'd like that.” she said with a little smile.
We ran straight back to the house, and Irina almost seemed surprised by the warm welcome she got, even without any warning or advanced notice that she was coming. EJ was a little wary of her at first – he seemed inclined to be suspicious of strangers – but Elizabeth seemed to like her well enough, and Irina was more enchanted by all the children the longer she spent with them. By the time she got around to calling Tanya, she was even smiling and playing with them. We tried our best to give her privacy when she was on the phone with her sisters, but we gathered that her apology for running off was easily accepted and she had quickly moved on to telling them all about our latest additions to the family. She decided to go straight home, not wanting to be away any longer, but promised to come back and visit sometime in the new year, and bring the rest of her family with her. Rosalie gave her some pictures, in case the other Denalis wanted to see what the children looked like, and she accepted them gratefully.
Just before she was going to leave, Irina pulled me aside and unexpectedly apologised for her actions in the summer.
“I shouldn't have reacted the way I did.” she told me, her eyes sad. “I knew Laurent wasn't committed to our lifestyle, and it shouldn't have made me angry that your friends destroyed him when he was killing innocent people. I just...”
She bit her lip, clearly unsure how to go on. I waited, not wanting to push her.
“I felt like... maybe... I was starting to really feel something for him.” she finally admitted. “Something more than normal friendship. My sisters and I have been alone for so long... to think that I might have had the chance to end that loneliness and it was taken away from me...”
I put my hand over hers. “I understand. And I don't judge you for what you did Irina.”
Irina shook her head. “You should. I was petty and selfish and childish... Carlisle’s never asked anything of us before, and it was my fault Tanya refused our help when you had most need of it... I refused to come to your wedding for crying out loud. The biggest day of your life, and Edward’s, and the biggest celebration our families have had in decades, and I didn't come because I was still holding a grudge over someone who didn't deserve it. How can you even begin to forgive me?”
I smiled and squeezed her hand. “Easily. Like you said, you thought you had a chance for something more with Laurent, and losing it can't have been easy. I just hope we can be friends from now on, and stop this split between our families getting any bigger.”
She nodded and smiled back at me. “Of course. I’d love that.”
We parted that evening on much better terms than we'd met, with warm hugs and promises to call soon before Irina disappeared into the forest with a wave.
“I like her.” Nessie told me as I was putting her to bed that night.
I smiled. “Me too honey. Me too.”
The next day, the talk of moving started. Dartmouth had lost any lingering appeal for me, and I wanted to stay in Forks a little longer for Charlie's sake, as well as to minimise the big shake up for the children while they were still so young. However, there were other things that needed to be considered, like Carlisle’s physical age versus the age he claimed to be. As the member of our family with the most human contact, it was vital that he avoid suspicion at all costs to prevent the Volturi from coming down on our heads.
Jacob didn't like the moving talk, and I could understand why. His imprint on Renesmee had made her his top priority, but he couldn't just leave La Push when we moved on; he still had his father and his sister to think about, as well as his responsibilities to the pack. I shared his reservations; though I hadn't spoken to my father in over a week, I still felt obliged to stay close to him for as long as possible.
Unfortunately, when the twins were about a week and a half old, my choice was taken away from me.
It was a day like any other. The twins, slightly more human than Renesmee, were in the habit of taking a short nap after lunch and they had just settled down to sleep. The rest of the family was scattered through the house; Esme and Carlisle were both in their respective studies, Carlisle reading and Esme sketching, and Rosalie and Emmett were setting up a game of chess in the living room while Alice flipped through clothing websites on the computer and Jasper arranged cards for a game of solitaire at the dining room table. Edward was playing the piano, lost in his music, and I was playing with Nessie in the back garden. Well, she was playing, chasing birds around and giggling madly while I watched with a smile on my face, making sure she didn't run straight into the river.
After about fifteen minutes, we both looked up at the sound of Jacob's heavy paws beating against the forest floor, his heavy heart pounding as he raced towards us. Nessie's already happy face lit up even more, and she seemed to forget the birds entirely for a moment as she bounced up and down with glee.
“Jakey!” she squealed when he finally came into view in human form across the river. I smiled and waved to him, but he didn't smile back and his answering wave was distracted. He leapt across the river, only just reaching the near bank without getting wet, and Nessie instantly wrapped herself around his legs. He patted her head and smiled a little, but there was evidently something else on his mind. He walked across the lawn towards me, Nessie skipping along at his side and chattering happily. While he didn't seem to be ignoring her, he didn't look like he was really paying attention to what she was saying either.
“Hey Bells,” he said when they reached me. “Do you think I could talk to you inside? It's kind of important.”
“Sure Jake.” I replied, perplexed, standing up to lead the way in.
“Stay out here honey,” Jacob murmured to Renesmee. “I need to talk to your mom and dad for a minute.”
“Okay Jakey.” she said breezily, looking only a little bit confused.
“Stay away from the river darling.” I told her sternly, and she nodded in acknowledgement before racing off after the birds again.
Jacob and I went inside, meeting up with Edward in the living room. He had stopped playing, though he was still sitting on the piano bench, and he was frowning in confusion.
“What's going on Jacob?” he asked. “I can't understand what you're thinking.”
Jacob looked upset. “I'm sorry. I’m really sorry you guys. We didn't know... Dad didn't mean to... We weren't trying...”
He seemed muddled and confused, unable to finish one thought before moving on to the next one.
“Jacob,” I said, my frown matching Edward’s. “Just explain slowly and calmly exactly what is going on. Did something happen to Billy?”
He shook his head. “No, Dad's fine. Okay...” He took a deep breath to calm himself down. “Okay, so you know how Charlie helped Sue out a lot when Harry died?”
I nodded, not sure where the link was.
“Well, they've been getting pretty close lately, and Sue invited him to a bonfire we had the other night, just for fun. And Dad... he wasn't really thinking about it, he just asked Charlie if he wanted to hear the legends. And of course Charlie said yes.”
“You mean the same legends you told me?” I asked, dread beginning to take root in the pit of my stomach.
He nodded, looking guilty. “He didn't mean anything by it. He didn't think... well, he was hoping Charlie wouldn't make the connection-”
Edward growled, cutting him off, and appeared suddenly at my side.
“Charlie knows.” he snarled.
Horror washed through me as the look on Jacob's face and his slow nod confirmed that he spoke the truth.
“Charlie called our house this morning,” he said, very quietly. “Started yelling at Dad for keeping secrets and telling him lies. He barely let him get a word in edgeways. Then he said...” He trailed off abruptly, as if he'd said too much.
“What, Jacob?” I said, taking a step towards him and clenching my hands into fists. “What did he say?”
“It will make you angry.” he hedged, not meeting my eye.
“I don't care.” I snapped, angry already. “Tell me.”
Jacob paused for a moment before he sighed, resigned.
“He thinks Edward forced you to marry him.” he finally admitted. “That he's got some kind of control over you. He said he was coming to get you out of here and take you home.”
My anger evaporated and I froze, shocked beyond comprehension by the conclusion my father had drawn. I could feel many eyes on me, waiting for my reaction.
“But I am home.” I mumbled numbly. Edward wrapped his arms around me from behind and held me to him tightly.
“I won't let him take you.” he murmured in my ear. “I won't let him come between us.”
“Neither will we.” Rosalie added fiercely, and Alice, Emmett and Jasper all nodded in agreement. Carlisle was frowning and Esme looked worried, but they both nodded as well. The whole family had gathered in the living room by this point, with the exception of the children, and they stood in a circle, as if they were forming a protective barrier around us.
In the distance, the wail of a police siren approached, getting louder and louder. Rather than passing and fading away as the sounds of most cars did, it continued to get closer, and it was clear that the car had turned onto the driveway and was coming towards the house. Quickly.
Upstairs, the babies woke up, the foreign sound stirring them from their sleep and setting them off crying. In no more than a few seconds they were howling pitifully, panicked and frightened by the noise. Reacting on instinct, I broke out of the circle and dashed upstairs to the nursery without a backward glance. I could focus on nothing but the crying of my children and the wailing siren getting closer all the time. The noise, heard through my now more sensitive ears, threatened to deafen me, and I had to stop outside the nursery door for a second, screwing my eyes shut and clamping my hands over my ears to try and block it out before I could continue. Then I pushed the door open and rushed to the crib, scooping up both of the twins at once and trying to shush them gently.
A moment later, there was a shout and a screech of brakes outside, followed by a shrill scream and a low metallic crunch. The front door opened and slammed shut, and over the crying of the babies in my arms, I heard Nessie whimpering in terror.
“He's not alone.” Edward hissed angrily, and sure enough not one but three doors slammed outside.
Elizabeth and EJ were still wailing, their little faces red and tear stained as they clung to me and each other, their cries almost indistinguishable from the blaring siren.
“Shh my darlings,” I murmured to them. “Momma's here, Momma's got you. Momma won't let anything hurt you.”
Not even your grandfather, I added mentally, and braced myself for the coming storm.