“Let me hold her!” Rose grouched, holding her arms out towards Alice.
“Girls,” Carlisle cautioned, “Be nice.”
I chuckled at their antics, and Renesmee giggled along with me, then yawned widely, her tiny pink lips stretching into a sleepy 'O' as her eyes slid closed. There was a chorus of 'aww's from all the girls.
“Give her to Edward,” Esme suggested softly. “Let's give our sleeping beauties some privacy.”
The others nodded and murmured in agreement, and filed out one by one, dropping soft kisses on Bella’s forehead as they went. She might have been embarrassed by all the attention, but she had already fallen asleep.
Alice was the last to go, gently handing me the sleeping Renesmee before she gave Bella a kiss.
She's perfect, Alice thought, smiling at me. You did a good job, brother.
I shook my head, speaking in a whisper. “Not me. It was all Bella.”
Alice rolled her eyes at me, winked and flitted out of the room, closing the door almost silently behind her.
I sat down on the bed beside Bella, careful not to jostle her or the baby in my arms. My baby. The thought was mind boggling.
I have a child. I’m a father.
I looked down at Renesmee. She was looking at me sleepily, her beautiful brown eyes half open and a soft smile on her lips.
My Daddy, she thought, her mental voice infused with love and wonder.
I smiled. “That's right. I’m your daddy. You're my little baby girl, and I love you so much.”
I stroked her cheek with my finger, marvelling at the warmth beneath her skin. So warm, so soft, so tiny. The overwhelming urge to protect her surged through me, as strong as the need to keep Bella safe, maybe even stronger. I wanted to hold them both close to me, keep them away from all the dangers of the big wide world.
Renesmee was still smiling at me.
I love you Daddy, she thought, the words slightly slurred as she drifted off. Momma?
“Yes,” I whispered. “Momma loves you too. She loves you even more than I do. Everybody loves you, baby girl, and we barely know you. You are so special, so loved.”
I rocked her softly, murmuring and humming to her until she fell asleep in my arms. Her dreams played through my head, bright and colourful and full of love.
I sat there, watching Bella’s sleeping face and Renesmee's dreams, knowing that all was right with the world.
Soft sunlight, filtered by layers of cloud, shone through the window. A glance at the clock showed that it was almost eight, and I had heard the others begin to emerge and go about their daily business already. I refrained from waking the sleeping angels beside me, knowing they would both be tired after yesterday's events; it helped that they were both absolutely enchanting to watch.
Renesmee stirred first, yawning and stretching her little body. Her tiny nose wrinkled, and her delicate eyelashes fluttered like butterflies. Then her eyes opened and she smiled at me, a shining smile that made my heart melt. It was impossible not to return it.
“Good morning,” I whispered, and she lifted a tiny hand to wave at me. Her deep brown eyes, the exact same shade as Bella’s, stared up into mine with an awareness and intelligence that seemed almost out of place in her young face. Her hands reached up, fingers clenching and unclenching as she kicked her little legs excitedly. I laughed and leaned down to kiss her forehead. She hummed contentedly, and pulled at my chin until I moved back a little. Then she leaned up as much as she could and delivered her own hot little kiss to the tip of my nose. I laughed again, and Renesmee gurgled with delight.
Beside me, Bella began to stir. Renesmee noticed, and began to fidget and wriggle, trying to reach her mother, growing frustrated when I didn't let her go.
“Shh,” I soothed. She just huffed indignantly. It was incredible, listening to her thoughts; not even a day old, and the range of emotions she was able to express rivalled that of most adults. Everything seemed to come to her instinctively, without the need for teaching or practise.
Very carefully, I laid her down beside Bella. She immediately rolled over onto her stomach and began pulling herself up onto her mother's chest, holding her head up all on her own as she crawled upwards.
Bella shifted, her eyes blinking open slowly. I hovered, ready to catch Renesmee if she slipped off, but not wanting to make her feel like I was stunting her independence; she obviously wanted to learn things on her own, and I had a feeling she was just as stubborn as Bella.
Bella was almost awake now, blinking a little sleepily against the light, and clearly wondering where she was. Renesmee managed to pull herself up, raising her head to smile at Bella. I saw Bella’s eyes light up, and a matching smile spread across her face. The love in those eyes as they stared at our daughter reaffirmed my conviction that this had been a good thing after all.
I didn't know for sure what tomorrow would bring, but I did know that whatever it was, we would face it together, as a family. As long as I had Bella and Renesmee, the future was brighter than it had ever been.
Those early days passed by quickly, but happily. After two days in bed, Bella had healed enough to get up and move around with minimal discomfort. I did my best to help her, but, Bella being Bella, she rejected anything that made her feel weak or like a burden (a ridiculous notion, of course); I often found myself toeing the line between helping and coddling, trying not to provoke her still unpredictable mood swings.
The timing had worked out perfectly; that third day was her birthday, and she grudgingly allowed a celebration, though I was fairly sure it was more for Renesmee's enjoyment than hers. It was much more subdued than the disaster that was last year's party; just a small cake that Esme baked herself, a few small gifts, and a quiet evening for the two of us after Renesmee went to sleep.
Renesmee, of course, had become the primary focus for both of us – and the rest of the family for that matter. Every morning, as soon as she was awake, Bella went straight to the nursery to fetch her. Renesmee slept right through the night, right from the beginning, and was never grouchy at being got up if she was still half asleep. On the contrary, she was delighted to see her mother first thing everyday.
Carlisle took Renesmee's measurements four times everyday, tracking the changes in her size, and mentally calculating the speed of her growth. I was keeping track in my own head as well, and she was definitely growing slower each day than she had the day before, although still fast enough that Bella noticed each morning and the copious photographs that Alice and Rosalie took could easily pass for a baby album spanning months rather than days. We probably would have been frightened by the speed of it, but we knew from Nahuel that it was perfectly normal, and would tapper off eventually.
It was amazing how quickly we developed a routine. One of the girls, usually Alice, would pick out Renesmee's clothes for the day before she woke up, and then left them out for Bella, who dressed her before bringing her into our room, where I kept her occupied while Bella showered and got herself dressed. Then we would go downstairs and Bella would feed her the bottle that Esme always had ready, and eat her own breakfast. We then spent the rest of the day playing together, only interrupted for Carlisle’s measurements and another bottle at lunch time.
Around eight o'clock was the beginning of bedtime. The family would crowd round to wish us goodnight, then we would retreat to the third floor; our safe haven, almost like a little home of our own. Bella dressed Renesmee for bed while I got myself changed, then I gave her her evening feed while Bella got herself ready. She went back downstairs, ate a quick dinner, then came back up and showered before putting on her pyjamas and joining Renesmee and I on the bed. We stayed there until one or other of my brown-eyed girls fell asleep, then I put Renesmee to bed, and settled in for another night of holding Bella close and watching her sleep.
While the routine remained the same, the days were always different. Something would happen that made the day exciting, and it usually related to Renesmee. She advanced at an astonishing rate, crawling on her second day of life, sitting up by herself a day later. She was very curious, constantly asking questions or making observations in her head, most of which she shared with Bella through her talent. She was very observant, spotting things that some adults would never have noticed in the world around her.
Her brain was developing even faster than her body.
About a week after Renesmee was born, I was playing with her on our bed while Bella took her evening shower. She wasn't amused by repetitive, childish games like Peek-a-boo, so we were actually playing Tic-Tac-Toe; I did all the drawing, while she slapped her little hand down on the space where she wanted to place her symbol, laughing and shaking her head when I went for the wrong square.
Bella emerged from the bathroom, already dressed for bed in a tank top and sweats. I had to remind myself that it would take her another five weeks for her to fully recover from our daughter's birth, and that said daughter was still in the room; I was sorely tempted to jump across the room and ravage her.
She stood in front of the window wall, using it as a mirror, drying her hair with a towel. She studied the reflection of her face critically, frowning slightly and making me wonder what imperfection she was imagining on her beautiful face.
Renesmee turned towards her, momentarily forgetting our game, and tilted her head to the side as if her mother was the most engrossing thing in the world. Then, calmly, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, she opened her mouth and spoke.
“Momma, you look pretty.”
Bella turned around, and we both stared at her in shock. She looked between us, frowning slightly when we didn't speak. She tried again.
“Doesn't she Daddy?” she asked me, her eyes worried. I quickly composed myself and focused on giving my daughter what she obviously wanted.
“Of course darling,” I smiled and looked up into Bella’s eyes. “She's beautiful.”
Bella shook her head and smiled weakly, bending down to pick up the towel she had dropped and going to put it back in the bathroom. She came out looking much calmer, her smile much more genuine and shining brightly.
“Such a clever girl,” she cooed, giving Renesmee a kiss on the head as she sat down. Renesmee beamed with pride and pointed to another space on the grid. I drew an X in the space, then put a line through the row she had made.
“You win again,” I observed, and she giggled. Bella laughed along with her, and our evening continued as normal.
A few days later, Jacob came to visit for the first time since Renesmee was born. He apologised profusely to Bella for staying away so long. His sister Rachel had finally come back from college, only to be imprinted on by Paul, and he had felt the need to stay home and keep an eye on them. Also, some members of the pack had grown uncomfortable with him spending so much time with us, so he had stayed away to reassure them that he wasn't going to leave permanently. Now though, he said he couldn't bear to stay away any more, and asked if he could see the source of all the trouble.
He took one look at Renesmee and forgot what he was doing, his mouth dropping open and his breath blowing out in a whoosh. Bella realised what had happened before I did, and her response was amazingly calm.
“Please tell me you didn't just imprint on my daughter Jacob.” she said, giving him a weary look.
He gave her a weak, sheepish smile and shrugged, never taking his eyes of the child in her arms. I snarled angrily at him, but he barely flinched. Surprisingly, Bella was the one to calm me down. She passed Renesmee to Rosalie and pulled me round the corner into the dining room, out of sight of the others.
“How can you be so calm?” I grumbled at her, wondering why she wasn't as angry as me.
She sighed. “There isn't really anything we can do about it Edward. Imprinting is involuntary and all consuming; that's what Jacob's told me at least. He didn't do it on purpose, and this both explains and negates his feelings for me, which I for one am relieved about.”
I looked at her, confused, and she rolled her eyes and gave me a scathing look, as if it was glaringly obvious.
“It was never me he was attracted to. It was always her, from the very beginning.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” I asked, still disgruntled. I was aware that I was acting like a sulky child, but I couldn't quite find it in me to care.
Bella just smiled. “Think about it this way. You know what imprinting is like – you've heard it in the pack mind – and I’ve seen it in action, with Sam and Emily and Jared and Kim. At least we know that there is someone to take care of her, someone we know and trust, and that he will love her almost as much as we do.”
I sighed; I couldn't argue with her logic, as much as I wanted to.
Jacob was thinking of his friend Quil, who had imprinted on Emily's little niece Claire. He remembered seeing them on the beach, how Quil was little more than a glorified babysitter, how Claire laughed and smiled as they played, even as Quil kept her away from the roaring waves. His thoughts flickered back to Renesmee, comparing his own desires to the pictures.
He just wants her to be safe and happy, he thought directly to me. And that's all I want for Nessie. I’m not trying to claim her or take her away from you.
He had come around the corner to find us. I glared at him.
“Perhaps that's what you want now. But I don't particularly like thinking of my daughter dating a mutt while she's still feeding from a bottle.” I really did sound sulky now, but I still didn't care.
Bella stroked my arm, pursing her lips like she was trying not to smile. Or maybe she was holding in a laugh. I couldn't quite understand either reaction to this situation; perhaps she was laughing at me. That would be perfectly understandable.
Jacob shook his head, speaking aloud for Bella’s benefit.
“I don't think of her like that; it's not even on my radar. I just want her to be happy, to see with my own eyes that she is alright. I can't promise to stay away, but I can respect that she is yours first, and I won't interfere.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but Bella beat me to it.
“Well, I can live with that, and you,” she poked me in the ribs, “can learn to live with it. All I ask, Jacob, is that you respect Renesmee's choices as well. If she doesn't want you around, you leave her alone as much as you can, even if it just means leaving the room or the house. Understand?”
He nodded, face serious. Bella raised her eyebrow at me, challenging me to disagree with her. I couldn't; her condition was fair, and could apply throughout Renesmee's life. I had just one more thing to add. I looked Jacob in the eye, trying to look as menacing as possible.
“I'm going to tell you the same thing I told you on the day you kissed Bella, Jacob. If she chooses you, so be it, but you wait for her to tell you that she does. You wait for her to say the words.”
Again, Jacob nodded, and I relaxed. Bella leaned up to kiss my cheek, and the three of us headed back into the living room.
Renesmee was on the floor playing with one of her many dolls, and she looked up at as with a smile. She was curious about Jacob, and felt a pull towards him. I cringed as she thought of him as hers.
Bella went to pick her up, but she shook her head and reached for me.
“Daddy,” she said in her sweet little voice, stretching towards me and imagining herself in my arms. I couldn't help the smile that spread across my face as I lifted her off the floor and held her close.
“I love you Daddy,” she cooed, the same way I always said it to her last thing at night. Bella laughed and smoothed her hair. I just smiled and kissed her forehead, secure in the knowledge that she would be my little girl for a while yet. I had at least seven years before I would have to give her up; plenty of time to get myself ready. For now, I decided to enjoy the time I had with her, and make enough memories to last for eternity.