A/N: Yes, I'm alive! Thanks to all of you who are still reading despite my long and unexplained hiatus. I have no excuses other than a wicked case of writer's block, busyness at work and a general lack of motivation. But I promised to finish this beast of a project, and I will. I truly appreciate all those of you who have still been reading, favouriting and kindly reviewing during my absence.
And extra thanks to my ficwife extraordinaire, katinki, for gently encouraging me to keep going with this without ever getting bossy about it. *hugs*
"Edward," Bella moaned quietly. "That's it exactly...right there...don't stop..."
A smug grin creased my face of its own volition as I hoisted one of my wife's legs higher up my shoulder and watched her eyes roll back in her head, her eyelids fluttering closed immediately after. As it turned out, I was a very quick learner when it came to discovering what would make her new body react in certain ways, and easily committed to memory each angle, each touch, each variation in speed and what the approximate result of every change and stroke would be. She was deliciously responsive, and had so quickly seemed to let go of any inhibitions or self-consciousness that may have lingered from her human life.
And to my great benefit, not only was she responsive to me, she was as eager to please me and learn my body as I was to please her and learn hers. So far, our desire for each other had been equal in its intensity and frequency: we were both virtually insatiable, and the fact that we never tired and never physically ached meant that we could spend many long hours giving in to that desire.
In fact, if it hadn't been for Renesmee and our obligations to the family and to Charlie, I suspected that Bella and I may have disappeared to our cottage in the woods indefinitely, emerging only to hunt. There weren't enough hours in the day for me to satisfy my physical need for her. Given the decades I had gone without sexual contact without exactly missing it, it surprised me a little to find that I had so quickly become so...horny, as Emmett might say. I had enjoyed making love with Bella when she was still human—immensely—but now that I could love her without restraint, holding nothing back, the experience was in a different league altogether.
I simply couldn't get enough.
Emmett in particular found this change in me quite hilarious, and enjoyed teasing me about it almost as much as he enjoyed trying to embarrass Bella. "I knew you had it in you," he'd cackled the third morning after Bella's awakening as a vampire, when we'd appeared at the main house to get Renesmee's breakfast still dishevelled from the night before. "You just had to break the seal."
The rest of the family was a little more dignified in their observations, noting primarily that I seemed much more relaxed than I had ever been, and that both Bella and I were nothing short of blindingly happy. Sickeningly saturated with bliss.
The reasons for that were more than just sexual, however. More than anything, I was beyond ecstatic at Bella's contentment, her joy with her new life. Ever since I had agreed to change her, I had always worried that she would regret it, that she would hate becoming a monster and resent me for my role in it. She had repeatedly assured me that that would never and could never happen, but I had reserved final judgement for when she had actually been changed, and would know first hand all that that meant. I had doubted she could appreciate it until it actually became her reality.
But she had adjusted beautifully, beyond my wildest dreams.
So her euphoria was mine also. I was starting to accept that perhaps she really was meant for this life...meant for me. As I was meant for her. And without this rather unique confluence of circumstances, we would never have met, never have found each other.
For the first time in over ninety years, I was learning to appreciate what I had become so long ago. I was learning to appreciate Bella's choice. And since I couldn't think of her as a monster, I was learning to let up on my instinctive self-condemnation as well.
I wasn't there yet. But I felt as though one day I could be.
Some of this was also, of course, attributable to Renesmee, a dream too wild for me ever to have had. In my many years, I had never had even the remotest appreciation for the depth of the joy I would feel at being a parent, at sharing that experience with my wife and knowing that we had created this miracle of a child together when we had never expected to be able to do so. Her every gesture and every thought moved me in a way I hadn't thought possible. She was a blessing in every sense of the word.
When I had first realized that I was in love with Bella, I had thought my dead heart would never be capable of holding more than that profound, all-encompassing love. But with Renesmee, I found that my heart had simply expanded to accommodate this new love, so different from what I felt for my wife.
And Renesmee had been more than a gift in the lives of her parents. The Cullen family, unaltered for so many years, bound by the inevitable sameness of our unchanging existence, was positively transformed. They couldn't get enough of our child and the newness she brought to each day as she grew and learned about the world and its possibilities. The freshness of her observations and reactions let us experience it anew, too, particularly when we could share it with her as she saw it, through the gift of her ability to let us into her mind.
Renesmee had kept Charlie in Bella's life, too, and led to even greater stability in our relations with the wolf pack. Charlie visited whenever he wasn't working, and Sue Clearwater accompanied him most days. She of course knew more about our world and what we were than Charlie would let himself understand, and she remained somewhat uncomfortable around us most of the time. She had been raised to mistrust vampires, and couldn't quite get past her prejudices. She was careful not to voice them aloud to Charlie, however, and he simply attributed her reservation around us to the inherent quietness of her nature. Her silence and calm were among the things he liked best about her.
Happily, the rest of the pack—apart from Leah Clearwater—were more accepting than Sue. Since Jacob couldn't resist being around Renesmee, the other wolves were at the Cullen house often as well. Quil and Embry were as easy-going as Seth, and even Sam Uley and his Emily were more than cordial. A detente had definitely been achieved, and it could be credited to Renesmee.
Not that the idea Jacob Black had imprinted on my daughter still didn't cause me many moments of consternation. His thoughts about Renesmee always remained pure and concerned above all with her happiness and well-being, but on occasion he couldn't help his mind wandering to the future—what she might look like then, what their relationship might be then.
Fortunately for him, he was respectful enough to quickly bring his thoughts back under control and shoot me an apologetic glance when he heard my low growl on those occasions, indicating he knew I had caught him speculating. Bella would look at each of us with narrowed eyes, knowing something was up but unwilling to hear the details. The idea of Jacob as her future son-in-law was something she wasn't ready to try and wrap her mind around just yet.
Quite frankly, neither was I.
"Oh...oh!" Bella managed to croak out beneath me. I sensed her inner walls starting to clench down around me, a sign that her orgasm was mere seconds away. I increased the pace of my thrusts slightly and began to let my own body relax into the sensation, knowing I didn't need to hold back for much longer before we could topple over that precipice together. She dug her short nails into my back in response, and I had to bite my lip to keep from roaring aloud.
"That's it, love..." I murmured, watching as her euphoria transformed her facial expression. She was never more beautiful to me than she was like this, in my arms, taking pleasure from my body. "That's right. Let—"
Reflexively, my rhythm faltered at the voice in my head, interrupting the quiet that had been punctuated only by our low moans and soft words for hours. I hadn't even noticed it, but the sun was already up.
Renesmee was awake. It hadn't taken her long to figure out that I didn't need her to touch me in order for me to hear her mind, so despite her newfound ability to speak, her preferred method of letting us know when she woke in the morning was to call out to me silently.
Sensing my momentary hesitation, Bella's eyes snapped open. "Renesmee?"
I nodded and bit down harder on my lip as I resumed the previous motion of my hips, circling to meet Bella's and give her friction in the exact spots she needed. We were both so close, I was determined Renesmee could wait for another few seconds.
Her calls were distracting, but I didn't falter again...the tightening in my lower abdomen was too intense, the draw of my impending release too compelling...I had been bringing us both close to the edge and then teasingly pulling us back for the past hour, and I had no intention of abandoning the race to the finish line now.
"Edward," Bella murmured, looking at me now and no longer moving to match my thrusts. "We'd better..."
Rather than answer her, I shifted so that I could reach down between us and rub her most sensitive spot with the pads of two fingers. Her words died in her throat as her eyes rolled back again and her body clamped down around me.
"God, yessss..." I hissed as quietly as I could as I came just a moment after she did, burying my face in her neck to muffle the sounds I couldn't help making while I released inside her. Renesmee's hearing was almost as good as ours.
Although my legs were still quivering, I chuckled. Renesmee, like me, was not terribly patient.
"Something funny, Mr. Cullen?" Bella asked wryly, raising an eyebrow at me.
"I could swear she knows sometimes...the exact wrong moment to be awake, that is."
"Well, given how we spend our nights, any moment she wakes up is likely to interrupt something."
"I suppose that's true." I pressed my lips to her neck. "And I'm incredibly grateful for it."
"We aim to please," she smiled, turning her head for a kiss.
I had just slid my tongue into her mouth when a voice called out from across the hall. "Momma? Momma, are you there? Where is Daddy?"
We broke apart and looked at each other in surprise. Although we had all only recently discovered that Renesmee could speak, she didn't do it that often, and had never actually called out to us in the morning like that before.
"I guess she's getting more comfortable using her words," Bella said.
"So it would appear." I pulled out of my wife's body gingerly, sighing inwardly a little at the idea that it would be at least another twelve hours before I would have an opportunity to get back there again. "I'll be right there, Renesmee," I called in a louder voice.
I'm hungry! was the response. Oops...a quick scan of her thoughts told me that she had actually been awake for a while, and had simply lain in her bed watching the birds through her window until she had decided it was time for breakfast. I had been too preoccupied to notice that her mind was awake until she had actually called for me.
I decided to keep that information to myself. Bella was already slightly paranoid about Renesmee hearing us.
I climbed out of bed and reached for my jeans from yesterday, which had been hurriedly discarded on the floor at some point last night. At least they appeared to be intact for once; Bella and I had both been going through an inordinate amount of clothing the past few weeks, seldom exercising enough patience to get whatever we wearing off of one another in one piece. Alice rolled her eyes at us teasingly when we sheepishly confessed what we needed, but was more than happy to shop for us every day or two at the same time as she shopped for Renesmee.
In Renesmee's case, of course, it was her extraordinary rate of growth that dictated her need for new clothes every few days. She seldom wore anything more than once. This was partially because her aunts took hundreds of pictures of her each day in an attempt to create a baby album that appeared to cover many months rather than just a few short weeks and wanted her in different clothing to maintain the illusion. But it was primarily because she grew out of everything so quickly.
It was her rapid development, in fact, that was the only wrinkle in the fabric of our family's contentment: the unknown that was her future. Not her future with Jacob Black or any other suitor, but her future at all—specifically, the length of her life.
While according to Carlisle's measurements Renesmee's growth had slowed down at least somewhat, she was still remarkably advanced for her age, and it suggested a maturation that would bring her to adulthood within a matter of a few short years. We could only speculate as to what that might mean for her life expectancy.
As a result, whenever she did something that was well beyond her chronological age, it was met with admiration forced solely for her sake, barely camouflaging our fear. When she had spoken her very first words at the age of one week, for example—in a complete sentence, no less—everyone in the room seemed to get impossibly paler. Only Bella had been able to quickly swallow her concern and answer our daughter's question without letting on that anything was amiss. Jacob had actually left the house for a few hours directly afterwards, carefully hiding his thoughts from me before he phased into wolf form and disappeared at a run into the forest.
I didn't need to read his thoughts to understand the depth of his concern. It was a faint shadow of my own.
As I hastily yanked my jeans on, Bella watched me from the bed, where she still lounged amidst the tangle of the sheets. Her long hair was a mess, tousled and knotted around her face and fanned out across the pillow. Her pale skin glowed in the faint morning light streaming around the curtains over the windows, and she gave me a lazy half-smile. My heart skipped at the sight of her so relaxed and beautiful.
"What?" I asked, returning her smile with a smirk of my own.
"You," she asked, sighing the single syllable. "I don't know if I'll ever get over how gorgeous you are."
"Funny," I chuckled as I perched next to her on the edge of the mattress, reaching down to stroke her cheek with my fingertips. "I was just thinking the same thing about you."
"In that case…" she began, but was interrupted by the impatient wail from the other room.
"Daddy! I'm still hungry!"
I chuckled and gave my wife a quick kiss on the forehead. "I'd better go get our spoiled child before she decides to test her strength on the crib."
"Do you mind if I take a shower and meet you at the main house in a few minutes?"
"Of course not, love. Take your time," I told her, trying not to think about her standing in a hot shower, water pouring over her shoulders and the tight planes of her…
I shook my head and chuckled, reaching for a t-shirt as I headed out the door to Renesmee's bedroom.
I found my little girl standing on her mattress, clutching at the wrought iron railing of her crib. It wouldn't be long before she was able to climb right out of it, and I made mental note of the fact that we would have to look for a child's bed for her soon—and a lock for the master bedroom door. Her face lit up with a beatific smile when she saw me. "Good morning, Daddy."
As always, I pushed away the sense of unease I felt when she spoke a full sentence, sounding so much more like a toddler than an infant barely a month old. I focused instead on her beautiful face, framed by bronze ringlets tousled from sleep. "Good morning, my little love. You're ready for breakfast, I take it?" She reached out for me as I reached for her to lift her from the crib and placed her soft palm against my cheek, still her preferred method of communication. I saw exactly what she had in mind for her meal: human blood from her favourite cup.
As yet, we weren't having much luck convincing her to make the switch from the human blood Carlisle managed to obtain from the hospital to animal blood. She wanted what she wanted.
"We'll see, sweetheart," I told her, cuddling her warm body against my cold chest. "Aunt Rose probably has something waiting for you already."
Within moments we were at the main house. As usual, I hadn't bothered to brush Renesmee's hair or change her out of her pajamas—Bella and I had quickly learned there was little point to that exercise in the morning when either Alice or Rosalie would inevitably change her again and do something else with her hair once they got their hands on her anyway.
"There you are," Rosalie sighed as soon as we stepped through the back door into the kitchen. She swooped to my side instantly, already pulling Renesmee from my arms. "I was starting to think you and Bella were planning to keep her to yourselves today."
"We wouldn't dare," I replied with just a touch of sarcasm. Bella and I had decided to spend a couple of extra hours at the cottage enjoying our little three-person family unit on only two mornings to date. On the first, we'd been hounded by our cell phones ringing every five minutes with someone anxiously demanding to know where we were and when we'd be by. On the second, we'd found Jacob and Rosalie not-so-subtly lurking—hunting, as they had insisted, ridiculously expecting us to believe that they'd go on an outing together voluntarily—about fifty yards from our front door. After that, we'd decided to give up and simply resign ourselves to sharing our daughter's time with everyone else who loved her.
Though we didn't say it aloud, it was difficult to be selfish when none of us knew how much time we might have with her.
"Ah, Edward..." Carlisle looked up from his chair at the kitchen table pleasantly. Several books and a stack of haphazardly-arranged papers were spread out in front of him. "I think I've come across something new you might want to have a look at. It concerns the Ticuna legends we discussed."
He pushed one of the books toward me as I pulled out a chair and sat across from him. I knew immediately from his thoughts that he had found a book about the ancient tribes of South America, a chapter of which was an account of certain tribal legends. One of them concerned the Libishomen and, surprisingly, a vague allusion to their ability to procreate with human women.
Carlisle and I—with help from Jasper and Emmett both on occasion—had spent much of the last month buried in research, digging for hours through primary and secondary sources written in various languages over the span over centuries, hoping for any mention, even the slightest clue that might assist us with the mystery that was Renesmee as a half-human, half-vampire child. So far we had found precious little other than the odd reference to the legend of the incubus and bold pronouncements from the superstitious that were such a human-vampire hybrid ever to exist, it would have to be exterminated immediately as an abomination in the eyes of God. The texts were concerned primarily with the best methods for accomplishing that goal.
Nothing we hadn't known before, and certainly not helpful.
And nothing that would help us understand what to expect as our daughter grew, how she might develop, what her needs might be.
How long she might live.
I skimmed the excerpt Carlisle pointed to, tapping the page with his fingertip. We knew from my conversation with Kaure on Isle Esme and the thoughts I'd been able to pick from her mind that the Ticuna had old stories about the possibility of a vampire impregnating a human woman, but as far as Kaure had been aware, neither mother nor child ever survived childbirth. This particular book recounted the legend of a vampire-human who lived—lived to terrorize the village, of course, but still...it was the first mention we'd come across of such an individual reaching adulthood.
"It's just a story, of course," Carlisle shrugged when I finished reading and looked up at him with what I'm sure was a hopeful expression. "But it's the first reference we've seen to such a person surviving."
"I certainly think it's worth checking out," Alice chirped as she floated into the room with a vase of fresh flowers, pausing where Rosalie sat with Renesmee on her lap to kiss my daughter's soft cheek. Carlisle told me about this book earlier, Edward. And no, I don't know what you find out if you go down to Brazil...the Ticuna have to decide to talk to you first, and that might be difficult if they recognize what you are and are afraid of you, she added silently. But I still think it's worth a try.
"Absolutely it is," Rosalie stated flatly, adjusting Renesmee's position on her lap.
"It can't hurt," Carlisle nodded. "Esme and I could go, make a bit of a holiday of it, check the place on the island..."
"Not without me. I am definitely going with you, Carlisle," I said, just as Bella stepped through the back door, hair still damp from her shower.
"Going where?" she asked lightly, smiling when she saw that Renesmee had noticed her come in and was already reaching out her arms to be held by her mother.
Carlisle and I exchanged a look. He knew I was reluctant to get Bella's hopes up but firmly believed she should know everything we knew when it came to our child. I agreed with him, but had to fight against my natural inclination to shelter her from anything that could be remotely negative.
"Brazil," I answered after just a moment's hesitation. "Carlisle's found something about a Ticuna legend...about someone like Renesmee." I suppressed a shudder at the comparison. The monster described in the legend, attacking the people in their beds while they slept and savagely draining them of blood before they even woke was not like my sweet, good-natured daughter.
"Ticuna?" Bella's brow creased, presumably trying to search her faint human memories. "Weren't those people on Isle Esme Ticuna, the housekeepers?"
"Gustavo and Kaure, yes," I nodded. "The Ticuna are a tribe in Brazil, on the mainland."
"And you think they might know something?" her eyes lit up, hopeful.
"It's a possibility, Bella, but we don't know for sure," Carlisle told her gently. "The idea would be to go talk to the elders there and see what they really know, if anything."
"Well, I'd like to do a little more reading first. To see if I can find anything else out. I'd like to be as well-prepared in advance as possible, in case they're reluctant to talk to us."
"Why would they..." she began, then stopped suddenly, glancing around the room at us and then down at her own pale, cold hands. "Of course. They may be frightened."
I rose to my feet and went to her side, wrapping my arms around both her and Renesmee. "I know you never saw us as scary monsters, love, but they might." I kept my voice light and kissed the top of her head, hoping to alleviate her tension at realizing not everyone was as accepting of our kind as she had been.
Bella chewed her lip for a moment, her eyes fixed on Renesmee's beautiful face. "Hmm. Their loss," she muttered. I grinned and hugged her closer to my chest.
The sound of the front door opening and closing and heavy footsteps halted the discussion. Emmett's booming voice rang out from the other side of the house. "Hey, I'm just saying, man...I think it's awesome. But the chances of the girls thinking it's appropriate are pretty slim..."
"She's not a china doll, for pete's sake. I think she can handle a game of catch..." we could hear Jacob reply.
"Oh, goody, the dog's here..." Rosalie grumbled quietly. Renesmee's face, by contrast, had lit up with joy at the arrival of her friend. She was patting Bella's cheek with her palm anxiously, asking to be taken to see him. Bella chuckled and started toward the living room once I released her from my arms.
"Good morning, Cullens," Jacob's face broke into a wide smile when we entered, his eyes all for Renesmee. He held something in his hands, and I smirked at realizing what it was and what he and Emmett had been debating. I had to agree with Emmett on this one...while Bella might think it cute, the chances of Alice and Rosalie acquiescing without an argument were slim.
"Hi, Nessie!" he cooed, getting a giggle from her when he tapped her on the end of her nose with one large fingertip. "Have you had your breakfast already?" Bella wrinkled her nose at the nickname but Renesmee beamed at him, reaching out to put her hand on his arm so she could tell him everything about her day so far. I got a perverse sense of satisfaction when he winced as she got to the part about how long it had taken me to come get her from her crib this morning, putting the pieces together quickly to figure out why I had been delayed.
"Well, that's good!" He recovered quickly and focused on the rest of Renesmee's story, finishing with the fact that she had indeed had her breakfast—a blend of deer and human blood she found only marginally less appetizing than a cup of pure deer blood. "Because I brought you something!" He grinned and held up a small t-shirt styled like a football jersey, and a small football, bright blue and plush, just like a stuffed animal. "Do you want to learn how to throw a perfect spiral?" He gave the little football a squeeze and it squeaked, getting another giggle from Renesmee.
Suddenly Rosalie was between them, her hand a blur as it snatched the football from Jacob's fingers. Her eyes were wide with outrage. "Is this a...Did you bring a...Is this your idea of a joke?" she spat. "You brought my niece a...a...dog toy?"
Jacob scowled. "Well, what did you expect? An official NFL pigskin? She could get hurt with something like that! This is the only soft one I could find small enough for her hands. I thought we could..."
"You thought wrong!" Rosalie screeched, flinging the toy across the room so hard it hit the wall with another sharp squeak. Renesmee giggled again, squirming in Bella's arms now so she could get down and investigate this new toy.
"Oh, Rose," Bella chided her with amusement as she set Renesmee down on the floor. Like a shot, Renesmee crawled quickly in the direction the football had taken. "It's just something to play with. What can it hurt?"
"That abomination will hurt my eyes if it gets put anywhere near her, much less on her," Alice sniffed, glaring at the little t-shirt. Typically, she was more concerned about the possibility of a fashion crime than her niece playing with a dog toy.
Jacob rolled his eyes while Emmett chuckled, singing I told you so under his breath. "Fine. She doesn't have to wear the shirt. But she likes the football. Look!" Renesmee sat on the floor near an armchair, having already found the ball where it had landed under a large plant. She squeezed it experimentally, laughing when it squeaked. Mirroring what she had seen Rosalie do, she threw it in Jacob's general direction and clapped when he caught it with one hand. She missed it when he tossed it back to her with a soft underhand throw, but didn't hesitate to crawl after it.
Rosalie grumbled something about a dog teaching others to play fetch, scowling even more when Emmett eagerly joined the game, taking a spot on the floor at Renesmee's level so he could throw to her more easily. Alice merely sighed and shook her head, then went back to what she'd apparently been doing before—flower arranging. A big box of fresh blooms sat on the coffee table, and she gathered armloads to fill the various vases Esme had around the room.
Bella reached for my hand and pulled me to one of the sofas so we could watch Renesmee play with Emmett and Jacob. I nestled into a corner and tucked her against my chest. "So...back to Brazil, huh?" she murmured quietly.
"It appears to be our best option for information at the moment, yes," I nodded, pressing my lips into her hair. As always, it smelled faintly of strawberries and strongly of pure Bella.
"Do we do that before or after I go to Italy?"
I stiffened at her mention of Italy, the source of the only argument we'd had over the past month. The goddamn Volturi, yet again.
While we'd been on our honeymoon, Alice had had a vision of a group of the Volturi guard visiting Forks, coming to see Bella to check and ensure that the edict we'd been given our last trip to Volterra had been followed and that Bella had indeed been changed as we had promised. In an effort to delay their visit, Alice had sent them a wedding announcement, and two weeks ago a package had arrived in the mail for Bella, from Aro himself. Inside an ornate and ancient carved wood box inlaid with pearl and both precious and semi-precious stones had been a necklace: a single, massive diamond the size of a golf ball hung from a thick gold chain. Carlisle had recognized it as medieval, probably one of the original English crown jewels.
Accompanying the extravagant gift had been a single piece of paper, a brief note of congratulations addressed to us both, innocuous enough in its handwritten message apart from the parting line: "I so look forward to seeing the new Mrs. Cullen in person." Although she didn't know Aro as Carlisle or even as I did, Bella had recognized the threat: he was planning to ensure his command had been obeyed, one way or the other. Her answer? Show him she had been changed by travelling to Italy. Alone.
We had argued bitterly over her plan. I could not fathom for a moment the possibility of her doing something so incredibly dangerous as to present herself to the Volturi alone, and forbade it immediately. Anything could happen. Aro was not only a conscienceless killer, he was eccentric to the extreme—bat shit crazy as Emmett said, not to put too fine a point on it—given to vagaries of mood and unpredictable impulses. What if she offended him inadvertently and he decided to kill her? What if she didn't offend him and he liked her so much he decided to keep her? What if that was his way of finally acquiring me and Alice for the guard? Although Carlisle thought it unlikely, he couldn't put it past Aro entirely.
But to Bella's way of thinking, it was the only way to protect Renesmee. Bella was the only one of us whose mind Aro could not read, who wouldn't betray the fact of Renesmee's existence inadvertently. And if Aro learned of her existence, Bella feared, Aro would want her, too. She had a gift, and she was unique—probably the only one of her kind in the world. Exactly the sort of possession Aro coveted most.
I couldn't disagree with Bella's assessment of the situation, and neither could Carlisle. But I still couldn't find it in myself to agree that she do something so fraught with peril. There had to be another way, and until Alice actually saw Aro planning another visit to Forks or any other reason to decide otherwise, I was determined to put any such trip off until we figured out what the better answer was.
We still hadn't come up with one.
I was about to reply to Bella's comment about Italy, but movement across the room caught my eye. Alice had glided over towards where Jacob, Emmett and Renesmee all sat on the floor tossing the stuffed football back and forth. Her arms were full of another load of flowers, and she reached her destination gracefully, shifting the bouquet to one arm so she could grab the large crystal vase sitting empty on a side table. Renesmee was watching her aunt intently, tiny brow furrowed in concentration. Jacob lobbed the ball in her direction but it flew over her head, landing several feet behind her. She turned to look at where it landed, then simply rose to her feet and walked across the floor to retrieve it.
Both Jacob's and Emmett's lower jaws dropped open, so perfectly synchronized in their reaction that it would have been comical if what had provoked that reaction weren't so...disturbing. It wasn't just that Renesmee had walked, on her own, with no coaching and no hesitation whatsoever.
It was that it was yet another indication of her alarming rate of development, and evidence of how little we knew about what to expect with her.
I glanced at Bella and saw that she, too, had watched what Renesmee had just done, and was as astonished and, frankly, frightened by it as I was. The silence in the room was, as they say, deafening, and seemed to stretch on for a long and uncomfortable moment.
In fact, it was probably only a second or two before Jacob had the presence of mind to react to what we'd all just witnessed, and in the only way that wouldn't scare Renesmee: he burst into applause. After another few seconds, the rest of us joined in. Even Bella managed to force her hands to clap together, though the panic in her eyes was unmistakeable.
Renesmee, fortunately, did not appear to notice. Her lips curved up into a pleased smile at our reaction, and she made a point of gracefully stepping back over to her spot on the floor, clutching the football as though it were the prize for her performance.
I turned toward Bella and met her eyes as she turned toward me. "Brazil," I murmured quietly. "And soon."
A/N: Yes, I'm aware that this is not where this chapter ends in Breaking Dawn. However, I felt that the original skimmed over these months too quickly, so I wanted to fill them in a little. I'll pick up with Irina seeing Ren in the forest next chapter...