Once Upon a Time
It was an evening fit to be staying indoors. It had been a cold day, but as darkness fell, the temperatures were dropping even further, and fast. Glancing out of the kitchen window, I could see the leaves rustling in the wind, which seemed to be picking up. Stray raindrops drew strange patterns on the windows as they slid across the glass. Despite the grim weather, it was warm inside the cottage. I lit the fireplace an hour ago, and soft creaking sounds came from it every now and again as the flames slowly consumed the logs. As I wasn't really bothered by the cold, it wasn't so much for my sake as for the person who was sharing the cottage with me tonight.
The thought made me smile. I gave the mug on the counter another careful stir. I still found its contents revolting, and learning to contain my disgust had been an everyday struggle. But as of now, hot chocolate was the only human food my daughter would consume, and as far as I was concerned, it had always been an unwritten rule that whatever Renesmee wanted, Renesmee got, human food included.
I walked back into the living room and set the mug on the coffee table. Renesmee was right where I had left her, playing with the pieces from my chess set under the table. The chess board itself remained on the coffee table, where I had tried to teach her the rules of the game earlier. She had found the pieces themselves more interesting than the principals of the ancient game. She barely even acknowledged me when I reclaimed my seat on the sofa.
At two and three months, Renesmee looked like a child of four, all dimples and a mass of chocolate ringlets. Whenever I watched her, it was with awe. I still found her existence miraculous, but at the same time, I could barely imagine our lives without her. They had revolved around her. She had completed us in every possible way.
I was watching her tonight thanks to Alice, who had insisted on taking Bella hunting. Normally it was something Bella and I, and Renesmee as well on occasion, had done together, but Emmett and Rosalie were away, and Alice was desperate for some girls' bonding time. Not even the weather forecast had deterred her. She wouldn't leave Bella alone until she had finally relented. Right before they took off in her yellow Porsche this morning, Alice had promised me she would bring Bella back later this evening. Knowing my sister, though, I tried not to get my hopes up. Christmas was two weeks away and, for all I knew, she would use the opportunity to complete her Christmas shopping.
It was nice to spend some time alone with my daughter. She spent the morning and most of the afternoon with Jacob, but now it was just her and me. It was oddly quiet in the cottage, something I had only just noticed. It was amazing how the absence of a person could alter a place so completely. It felt strange. Ever since her change over two years ago, Bella and I had hardly ever separated. The living room was already decorated for the upcoming holiday, but it seemed somewhat bare without her. I wasn't sure when she and Alice were planning on coming back, but I found myself glancing at the digital clock over our television set every few minutes or so, waiting for her return, yearning for it.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one.
"Daddy, when is Mommy coming back?"
I looked away from the clock to find my daughter looking up at me with certain pleading in her eyes. I lingered on the image that flickered in her mind, Bella's smile as she said goodbye to us that morning, her laughter, the way her hair shimmered in the faint sunlight. I shook my head, refused to be distracted by the vision. "I'm not sure, sweetheart. She'll be here when you wake." Or at least, I hoped so.
She nodded, and then as an afterthought, crawled from underneath the table. She crossed the small room and climbed on the sofa next to me. "I want to wait for her."
"She might not be in for a while," I told her, brushing a finger against her smooth, rosy cheek. The sorrow in her eyes was a perfect reflection of my own. "And you had a long day with Jacob in the woods, didn't you?"
She nodded again, her dark eyes glimmering in the dim light. The image in her mind shifted, from that of her mother to the endless green of the thick woods, her tiny fists clutching russet fur, and the trees moving in impossible speed on both sides of her. My brave little girl; she was afraid of nothing, not even speeding into the depths of the forest on the back of an enormous wolf. She had never felt safer and more confident than when she was with Jacob. This fact had hardly dismayed me these days. I had long come to terms with the fact that Jacob was family now, as odd as the circumstances may be.
I reached for the coffee table and handed her the mug of hot chocolate. I watched her as she wrapped her small hands around it. "Don't burn your tongue."
She took a sip, and smiled at me. I could read the approval in every inch of her face even before the images and the inner sound of her thoughts. I held back a sigh of relief. I was getting better at this. I couldn't help feeling a little smug. I couldn't wait to tell Bella. She would tease me endlessly, but I didn't care. At least I wasn't completely hopeless as a father.
I watched Renesmee as she had slowly finished her drink, and answered her questions about the approaching Christmas. Carlisle and Esme were going to host a small party, one which had been Alice's idea of course. She had somehow convinced us it was all for Renesmee's sake, but it was clearly for her sake as well. Charlie, Jacob and Seth were invited as well, and we all hoped Emmett and Rosalie would be back from Kenya by then. The joy of the previous Christmas, our first as a family, had been overshadowed by the Volturi and everything that had happened. I hoped that this year's holiday would be better than the previous one, and so I was secretly looking forward to the party. There was definitely a reason to be merry this time around.
"Will you tell me a story, Daddy?"
It was a moment before I even realized she had asked me something. I blinked, and the room came back into focus, in all its Christmas glory. Renesmee was watching me pleadingly, still awaiting my reply.
The query caught me somewhat off guard. Usually she was adamant about reading her bedtime stories to us, and not the other way around. Despite the fact she was merely two, Renesmee was reading as fluently as a child of eight or nine. The shelves in her room were stocked with dozens of children's books, and there a few more, the best of children's classics, resting under the Christmas tree for her to unwrap in due time. Alas, she had preferred our classics over everything else we had attempted to read to her.
Truth be told, I was a bit distraught when she asked me a question about the French revolution a couple of weeks ago, after reading Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and even more so when I found her reading Wuthering Heights aloud one day. There was this spark of fascination in her eyes as she was reading from her mother's tattered copy. The text sounded so strange in her thin, childish voice. Whereas we weren't so perplexed by her rapid growth anymore, I wished she could enjoy the obliviousness of childhood for a little longer, and relish simpler books fit for children her age. But it wasn't just her strange fondness for Brontë she had inherited from her mother. She was just as persistent, as well.
But that didn't mean I had stopped trying to dissuade her.
"Of course, Renesmee. We could try reading Pollyanna today. Or maybe The Secret Garden. It was your grandmother's favorite book as a child, you know."
"No, Daddy," she pouted irresistibly. "I want you to tell me a story." Her eyes met mine, and her meaning dawned on me then. No book would satisfy her tonight. I had to be more creative. She smiled as though she found the realization she had been seeking in my eyes, and nodded. "Once upon a time…" she started, and her fingers clutched my shirt, an encouragement of sorts.
I didn't know why her request had baffled me so. It shouldn't have. Wasn't this exactly what I wanted, for her to act her age? A girl her age would want to hear fairytales about princes and princesses, where magic existed and love prevailed. The problem was, in my entire existence, I had never faced a similar challenge. I could come up with sophisticated compositions for my piano on the spot. I could circle the forest in less than six minutes on demand. But telling a story? Suddenly it felt like the biggest challenge of all.
But then my eyes met hers again, and it dawned on me. It wasn't the biggest challenge of all, not really. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought I would become a father. If anything, I should consider this my biggest challenge, but my biggest victory as well. If I had managed to face that, I could face anything. Besides, whatever Renesmee wanted, Renesmee got. No exceptions. There was really no way around it.
"Alright," I said softly. I leaned back on the sofa. She climbed onto my lap. The movement sent a whiff of her scent my way. It was an irresistible, impossible combination of flannel, lavender, and something else that was so uniquely her. I inhaled deeply. Her warmth surrounded me, but I couldn't afford the distraction. I had a story to tell.
"Once upon a time, in a faraway land, lived a princess. Her name was Isabella."
"Like Mommy!" she rejoiced.
"That's right," I smiled at the image that formed in her head; Bella again, but in a white gown, as though my story had suddenly come into life. In the vision, Bella was spinning again and again, and her ruffled skirt wrapped around her like the softest cloud.
"Princess Isabella wasn't an ordinary princess. She didn't care for luxuries or jewels or fancy dresses. She didn't like spending time at the castle where she had lived. She was lonely there, with only her father to talk to, and he was very busy most of the time, running the kingdom. The thing the princess liked most was dressing up like a simple girl, going to town and pretending she had lived there, among the townspeople."
"And no one knew she was the princess?" My daughter interrupted me. Her eyes glimmered with interest, as children's eyes had often done.
"Very few people knew. There were rumors about the princess' favorite pastime, and of course, her father did not approve, but she couldn't help herself. She was curious to see how other people had lived; she was fascinated by it. Her disguise was perfect, and she had managed to blend in unnoticed.
"There was only one bookshop in the village, and the princess had frequented it. She found she could spend hours and hours among its shelves, and still it wasn't enough to quench that curiosity that was burning within her like fire. There were so many things she wanted to know, and so little time to learn it all, and so she kept coming back. It was in one of her visits to the bookshop when she met a young man."
Her mind was three steps ahead of me. I didn't even need to give him a name. I could see him, me, in her mind's eye: brownish hair, worn out boots, a dark cape which had seen better days.
"He was banished from a neighboring village for a crime he had not committed, and came to live with his aunt and uncle. Whereas his parent suspected he had something to do with the crime, his aunt and uncle had never doubted his innocence in the matter. They received him to their home with open arms. Not having children of their own, they treated the young man as a son, showering upon him all the love and affection his own parents failed to give him."
"Did he… kill anyone, Daddy?" Renesmee whispered, her eyes wide with horror at the thought that he, I, might.
"There were bad people in the village the young man left behind, ones who would easily accuse innocent people and let the real criminals go free. The damage had already been done though, and the young man came to believe he was corrupted, even though he had never done any of the things he'd been accused of.
"Incidentally, it was his uncle who owned the bookshop Princess Isabella had frequented. This was how they met; ran into each other, as a matter of fact." I sniggered, delighted to put a bit of realism into the story I was weaving. "The princess was a bit clumsy, you see, often stumbling over her own feet. Often she was wondering if she was even a real princess, for they were known to be charming and graceful. She couldn't even dance without stepping on her partner's toes."
My daughter giggled, and I could see she had found this small detail hard to put together with the image of her own mother, always graceful and agile. I held back a wistful sigh. If only she knew.
"So they ran into each other, the princess just stepping out of the shop with a pile of books in her arms, him just stepping in to bring his uncle's lunch. For a moment, neither of them noticed the disarray the scattered books had formed around them. Their eyes met. She had the prettiest eyes he has ever seen, huge and deep and brown."
"Exactly like yours, little one," I whispered, reminiscing.
"What happened next?"
I smiled at the impatience that sipped into her question. "She blushed as she uttered an apology. When she looked at him like that, from beneath her thick lashes with her cheeks all flushed, he could barely speak. He thought he has never seen a woman more beautiful than she was. He helped her up, gathered her books, and handed them back to her. They didn't speak much. She seemed flustered, and he was a man of a few words. Only when she had left did his uncle reveal the truth to him. She had visited his shop so often that he had figured it out by now. He told his nephew that she was the princess, and probably engaged to another. That he mustn't think of her in that way.
"But for the young man, it was as though lightening had struck him. He couldn't stop thinking about her for days afterwards. He knew it was silly to hope for her return. Even if she had returned, he couldn't be carried away by false hopes. She would never choose a simple man, and a criminal at that, when life had so much to offer for the likes of her."
"But she did come back, Daddy, didn't she?"
"She did, several days later. The shop owner fell ill and so his nephew covered for him at the shop. He didn't notice her when she walked in. He was an avid reader himself, and he could read his book uninterrupted since so few people had walked into the shop. Only when she came forth to the counter with a fresh pile of books, he recognized her. She did too, it seemed, for she was blushing again at the sight of him.
"He knew he should adhere to his uncle's advice. He knew she deserved much better than the simple man that he was, but he was intrigued by her. Even in simple clothes, her beauty was startling. And she was regal, in an odd sort of way. So he started talking to her. Their conversation was hesitant, slowly picking up as they grew more comfortable around each other. They spoke for hours, until the sun set. She came to the shop the next day, and they spoke some more as she helped him sorting out books and arranging them on the shelves. They never ran out of topics to talk about, it seemed."
"What did they talk about?"
"Oh, all sorts of things. From small, insignificant things like their favorite books and authors to serious conversations about the state of the kingdom, their hopes and dreams. He told her what happened in his hometown. He was reluctant to do so at first, thinking it would scare her away, but she was braver than she had let on. And wiser. So much wiser.
"She saved him from himself, you see. She made him realize there was so much more to life than his searing, baseless guilt, that he could break out of there, go to some distant country, and never look back. When he confessed he didn't want to go anywhere without her, she told him she was willing to follow him wherever he'd go.
"So she took him to the castle and appealed to her father. He was more than surprised, but since he lost his wife, when the princess was merely a baby, he had decided to deny his daughter nothing. She was everything that had been left to him from the woman he loved so dearly. When the princess told him of her wish to set out with the young man, he reluctantly granted her wish. His only request was that she would come back and visit him once a year, during the summer.
"With her father's blessing, Princess Isabella married the young man who had become more important to her than anything else in life. And together they set out to explore countries unknown, going back to visit her father and his aunt and uncle every summer, as promised. Wherever they went, everyone stopped to look at them. Their happiness was apparent even for those who had briefly passed them by. And to this day, they're wandering around the world, bringing love and joy wherever they go."
The final words of my tale echoed as silence took over the room again. Renesmee remained quiet, and for a moment I thought she might have fallen asleep, her cheek pressed against my chest. I took a moment to listen to her thoughts. There was nothing in particular on her mind. The images of the princess and her lover still lingered there, but not as clearly as before. Then, after a moment, she looked up at me, her eyes strangely urgent. "Daddy?"
"Is Mommy a real princess too?"
I considered my reply carefully. "No. Not in the usual way. Not like in the books or in my story. But to me, she is. Both of you are."
She nodded with satisfaction and yawned. The vision in her mind was quickly blurring in the edges. More and more colors began to appear, and I knew it meant she was getting drowsy. She was trying to resist the colors, fighting off sleep with all her might, but at some point it became a lost battle. Her breathing began to change, and I knew she was finally asleep.
I cradled her against my chest for a few more minutes, hating to disrupt her when she looked so cozy and peaceful. Then, knowing she would be much more comfortable in her own bed, I got up with her in my arms, and carried her to her room. I tucked her in carefully, and leaned over to kiss her forehead. "Sweet dreams, princess," I whispered. In her sleep, she was smiling. When I walked back into the living room, I found myself smiling as well.
Once back on the sofa, I picked up the book I had started hours ago. I only had one chapter left, and I was eager to finish it, but now I found myself unable to concentrate. My mind was too wrapped up in the story I had told Renesmee. That was why it was only about an hour or so later I that I realized that the sweet scent that was all over the room wasn't Renesmee's at all. I placed the book I was reading on the sofa and sniffed again, just to make certain, which really wasn't necessary. I was so attuned to her; I would recognize her scent everywhere. And there it was.
I got up and walked into the hallway. Now I could see the faint light that was coming from underneath our bedroom door, one which I was sure I had not left earlier. Two seconds later and I was by the door. I was hoping to surprise her, but she seemed to be waiting for my entrance because she was by my side as soon as I had opened the door. In her human life, the way she pounced at me would have caused her some fatal injury or other. Now it was just amusing. I laughed softly as she wrapped her legs around my waist, easily balancing herself by wrapping her arms around my neck.
"You're home," I stated the obvious, my mind already sidetracked as my palm traced a path up her bare leg. She fastened her grip around my neck and just nodded in reply, the sweetest smile curling on her lips. I stole a glance from over her shoulder. There were candles burning in every corner of the room, which explained the scent of wax that carried heavily in the air. Their flickering flames created a dance of light and shadow all around us. It was mesmerizing.
Then my hand made contact with an unfamiliar fabric, and my eyes shot back to her as I suddenly realized what she was wearing. Renesmee and I walked her to the house that morning, and so I knew for a fact she didn't wear that pretty black negligee to her hunting trip with Alice. To say this one looked much better on her than the dark jeans and sweater she had left with that morning would be the understatement of the century. The lace clung to her breasts like second skin. The fabric fell in soft ruffles around her hips. I growled under my breath. It was a moment before I managed to compose myself. "How long have you – "
"Oh, about three minutes," she flashed a devilish grin at me. I knew that even now, two years or so after her change, she had still reveled at the enormous speed she had gained in her new life. Her grin widened as she looked down. The tips of her hair drooped into her cleavage. I gulped. "Do you like it?"
At that, I buried my face in the crook of her neck and growled into her shoulder. She giggled; my mind could barely register the sound with the way her fingers were toying with the hair at the back of my neck.
"I thought you might," her voice dropped an octave, shifting into that seductive murmur I'd come to know so well, one I could never associate with human Bella. "You know what, though?" she asked, and closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, it was as though someone had removed a curtain from in front of me as she unveiled the mysteries of her heart to me. I can think of a better use for it.
A tenth of a second later we were sprawled on the bed with her on top of me. I laughed at her urgency, one I had been well familiar with. Once the craving for blood had been satiated, it had made way for cravings of a different sort. And yet, I'd never seen her so valiant before. "I think you should go hunting by yourself more often," I whispered, laying my hands on her waist. The fine lace felt dangerously frail between my fingers.
I couldn't agree with you more, her voice echoed sweetly in my mind. I smiled at her. We were getting better at this mind reading thing. But I didn't linger on the thought, or stopped to share it with her. Her hair cascaded across my face as she leaned towards me. There was still this tiny smile curling on her lips when they finally met mine. I could taste her latest prey on her tongue. It made my throat burn. Venom pooled in my mouth as I deepened the kiss. She moaned softly as though she knew exactly how I felt.
The pretty black negligee didn't last long after that.
Afterwards, I picked up a shred of lace from under my back and held it out to her. "I really hope you know where to get one of these by yourself. It's starting to get embarrassing when Alice needs to be involved."
She let out this throaty laughter, took the fabric from my hand and tossed it over her shoulder. "I've got it covered," she assured me. She shook her head, grinning. "Thank goodness it's only that and not the bed this time."
"Practice makes perfect?"
She laughed softly as though she remembered she was the one who had used that argument against me before. Then she frowned and let her fingers flutter against my shoulder. "Sorry I bit you, by the way."
"That's alright. I barely felt it." Better that than waking Renesmee, who had somehow slept on through all of this. I guessed we were quieter than we'd realized. She smiled timidly, the same thought flickering through her mind. Then she sighed and lay her head against my chest, spent. My fingers threaded in her hair, untangling it. It smelt like rain, mist, the forest. "I didn't dare to hope you would come back so soon. I was sure Alice would keep you away until Christmas."
"Going back wasn't her decision as much as it was mine," she admitted sheepishly. "I think she might never ask me to join her again." She looked up, and her eyes met mine. They were almost the same color now, hers just a tone darker. "I missed you."
"Well, that makes two of us. Or three, actually."
She glanced at the door. I couldn't hear her thoughts now, but one look at her was all I needed to know that there was nothing in her mind but our daughter, sleeping obliviously in the room across the hall. "Is Renesmee – "
"She's perfectly fine," I assured her. "We had a nice evening together."
"Did you have time to miss me at all?" she pouted, looking so much like our daughter it made me laugh. I reached out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.
"Your name came up once or twice." It seemed to puzzle her. I smiled, thinking of the princess in my tale. "She asked me to tell her a story."
A slow smile appeared on her face. "What did you do?"
"I made one up, of course. I've never done this before, but I think it went well. She seemed to really enjoy it."
"Hmm," she said, and for a moment I thought of asking her to allow me access to her thoughts again. The sound intrigued me. Then, a moment later, she looked up and lay her hands on my chest. "Tell me."
"It's just a silly fairytale, Bella," I protested.
"You didn't seem to think so a second ago. In fact, you looked a little smug; like you were really proud of yourself for being able to come up with a story to tell her. And so," she concluded, and pulled herself a little closer, "I want to hear it too."
I hesitated. It was true Renesmee was not an ordinary child, but she was a child nonetheless. She liked my story, but what if she had done so from the exact same reason, it being fit for children her age? What if Bella would think it silly and infantile? Would she think any less of me if she did?
"Funny." I blinked at the pensive tone her voice now carried. "My memory is a little blurry, of course, but I seem to remember you saying once you wouldn't deny me anything. You've always been so keen on giving me things. Has that changed? Maybe it's true what they say about marriage."
"Silly," I murmured. I reached for her hand and pressed my lips to her wedding ring. "You know it hasn't changed."
"Really? Because I also seem to remember you were unwilling to give me the one thing I have ever asked of you."
With a flash of a smile, she let her fingers drift down my chest. I caught her hand halfway, rolling my eyes. "Surely you understand now why it was necessary at the time."
"I guess," she conceded. "Are you really going to make me beg like I did that last time?"
I smiled wistfully. I would never forget the night she had finally agreed to be my wife. "For someone who is not supposed to have human memories, I'd say that once again, you defy our kind in every possible way."
"Are you trying to change the subject? You're not very good at it."
Like I said. Persistent.
"Fine," I sighed. "I'll tell you the story." She had inspired it, after all. Even if she thought my tale was a complete disaster, I thought this small fact would flatter her.
Now smiling contentedly, she cuddled against me, getting comfortable. I refused to let the sensation of her naked skin against mine distract me. I reached for the quilt and tucked it around her shoulders before I threaded my fingers in her hair again. The smell of wax was less potent now, when the candles had almost burnt out. The silence in the room was one of anticipation. I took an unnecessary breath before I spoke again.
"Once upon a time…"
A/N: I hope you enjoyed my little holiday gem, you all. All I want for Christmas is a nice review... pretty please?