"What was she like?" Renesmee settled back against the cold, familiar chest. "My mother, I mean."
There was a soft sigh and hard arms wrapped gently around her. "What do you remember?"
She turned around and laid a hand against the cool marble of his face, showing him her only memory of her mother--naked, bleeding, and in agony. "What was she like before the pain?" she asked, turning her back to him again. "Before me?"
"Vibrant. Alive. Human. Self-sacrificing to a fault." Renesmee felt his cold breath stirring the curls on the top of her head. "She was our family even before the wedding. We all loved her very much, and I believe she loved us all, as well." She could hear his smile as he continued. "She loved you the most, of course. She died for you. There is no greater love."
Renesmee nodded. She knew he meant well, but it gave her no comfort to know that she'd killed her mother.
"And my father?"
Another sigh. "One of the best men I've ever known, though he'd never have believed it."
She shifted in his lap so she could turn and look again into his warm golden eyes, a frown putting lines in her small face. "What do you mean?"
"Edward was . . . a far better person than he gave himself credit for. Sometimes I think the best thing I've ever done in my life was saving him . . . but the worst thing I've ever done was changing him."
Her frown deepened. "What are you talking about, Grandfather?"
For a moment, it looked as if he might say something terribly important, the sort of thing that changes one's perception of the world . . . but then he smiled in a kindly dismissive way and Renesmee knew her chances of getting a real answer had just dropped significantly.
"Only that he blamed himself for things he couldn't help. Now, aren't you getting hungry? Would you like to go hunting?"
She locked her eyes with his, refusing to be distracted. "You're not telling me something. Something important." His smile wavered. "What aren't you telling me about my father?"
"It's nothing that anything can be done about now, Renesmee," he said in a calm, firm voice. "If you still want to know when you're grown, I'll tell you. But it's nothing you need to know now."
She asked him several more times, insisting she was old enough to know, but Carlisle had his mind made up. Whatever it was, he wouldn't tell her. Neither could she get any information from her aunts, uncles, or grandmother about whatever they were hiding about her father.
As the years went on and Renesmee grew into a beautiful young woman, there always seemed to be a part of her that remained forever empty--some secret corner of her heart that nagged like a sore at the rest of her being.
The party was dying down, most of her family, as well as the pack, having moved outside for a pickup game of something-or-other. Renesmee dawdled purposefully, assuring Jacob that she would come out after changing into tennis shoes.
Instead, she went to the kitchen and cornered Carlisle as he was cleaning up plates left by their shapeshifter friends.
"Nessie," he said, smiling, as she stepped in front of him. "Did you enjoy your party?"
"Very much," she replied dismissively. "Will you tell me about my father now?"
His smile fell and he looked at her sadly for a moment, then nodded. "Come with me."
He led her outside, slipping past the rest of the family and the numerous guests, though she knew their passing didn't go unnoticed. When they reached the tree line, far enough from the others that they would not be so easily overheard, he sat down on a fallen log and motioned for her to sit beside him. She did so, and waited for him to speak.
"Renesmee," he said, "as you know, our family is not exactly typical."
She snorted at the understatement, but didn't interrupt.
"It is very difficult for vampires to live as we do, and most don't even see the need to try."
She frowned impatiently. This was all stuff she'd known her whole life.
"You see, Nessie," he continued, "most vampires, even those who might otherwise want to change their ways, believe that there is no reason to do so, that there's nothing to be gained from it. Most vampires believe that we are inherently evil creatures, that no action on our parts could ever make up for the simple fact of what we are. I myself wonder sometimes whether it truly changes anything in the end--but I must try. And even if there really is no hope for us, it is still worth doing the right thing for its own sake."
"Grandfather, I know all this."
"Yes, of course." He took a moment to refocus his thoughts before speaking again. "Your father believed as most do, that there is nothing waiting for us beyond this life. That we have no hope of redemption. That we have no souls."
Renesmee didn't respond, but merely absorbed the information. She couldn't fathom the thought that any member of her family didn't have a soul. How could her father have believed it?
"When Edward met your mother, he was irrevocably changed. That's the way it is with us, you know. When I think of the man I was before your grandmother, it's difficult to believe my life was ever so empty. I can't imagine what I would do without her. But I know I have a purpose, a hope, beyond Esme. Edward had no such hope. Bella became Edward's reason for living. When she died, he was inconsolable. There was nothing any of us could say to comfort him as none of us truly knew what he was going through. Except for Jasper, of course, and he was nearly incapacitated by Edward's pain."
Renesmee blinked back the tears that had begun to form in her eyes. "But . . . he had me."
Carlisle smiled faintly. "Yes, he did. But . . ."
He didn't finish his sentence. He didn't need to. Renesmee knew how it ended: you weren't enough.
"How did he die?" she asked, her voice faint, her heart already breaking with what she knew the answer must be.
Carlisle looked at her appraisingly for several seconds as if trying to decide if she could handle the truth. "The Volturi had wanted Bella to become a vampire. They were greatly displeased to learn of her death. Edward let the Volturi kill him as punishment for letting her die."
The Volturi. She knew the stories, but her family had worked hard to keep her hidden from them so far, for which she was thankful. She knew they were not to be trifled with.
"So," she said, hating how weak her voice sounded, "he just . . . gave up?"
Carlisle nodded and put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry. But you must understand, the pain he was going through was unbearable. I'm not condoning what he did--in fact, we tried everything to stop him--but I can, in a way, understand it. He felt as if he had no other choice, as if simply continuing to live--or, as he put it, exist--was too much for him. I suppose in the end he proved that it was."
Renesmee was staring at the ground, trying to understand. Her father had not only chosen death over staying with her, he'd chosen oblivion. He didn't love her enough to even be.
As she felt Carlisle's arm wrap around her shoulders to comfort her and barely registered the tears streaming down her face, she realized how much better off everyone would have been if she'd never been born. Her birth killed her mother, which led to her father's death, and those things caused great pain for the rest of her family. It was not self-indulgent guilt or a need to assign blame; it was simply a fact. She should not have been born. In that moment, she swore to herself that if ever a chance came to fix that mistake, she would take it.
She had no idea what Richard Bolan looked like, but she was sure she'd know him when she found him. He'd be the one without a coat.
The weather was below freezing, after all. It was cold in northern Alberta. Fortunately, the cold didn't bother her any more than it bothered her quarry. But she did try to blend in better.
Renesmee was fortunate to have been living with her grandparents, Rosalie, and Emmett in their house in Jackson, Wyoming when Eleazar and Carmen had stopped by for a visit--she'd only just come back from staying with Jacob in Oregon the week before--and she was even more fortunate to have been in the kitchen when Eleazar happened to mention running into a vampire with a singularly powerful and dangerous ability.
As soon as Eleazar had said his name and given his location, she'd taken off, ran away before Alice could see what she was doing and stop her. No time for goodbyes. Just run and hide until she found him.
It wasn't that hard. Kinuso was a village one-fourteenth the size of Forks. His scent was everywhere, but it didn't take her long to spot the guy wearing a t-shirt and shorts in two feet of snow. When she stepped in front of him and got a look at his eyes, the blazing red of a newborn, she knew she'd found him.
"I need your help," she said quietly. "I know what you can do. I need you to take me somewhere."
He smirked. "And why should I, love? Maybe I'd rather just eat you."
"Sorry, can't. Half-vampire. You wouldn't find me very palatable."
His brow knit in confusions. "Huh."
She didn't have time to convince him. Acting on a hunch, she grabbed his face in both her hands and poured a torrent of thoughts and memories into his head.
He could have tossed her aside with a gesture, but she succeeded in overpowering his mind with hers, and just as she hoped, his new, undisciplined talent activated. A rip appeared in the air beside them, a tear in the fabric of spacetime, and she released him and leapt through before he could utter another word.
The hot air felt like fire after the cold she'd just been in. The sun blazed around her as she shucked off her coat and hid in the trees.
She was early.
The light of the setting sun flashed blindingly off the water, and as Renesmee stood in the shadow of a palm tree, she realized that this would be her last twilight.
There was still time, she thought. Time to change her mind. She couldn't go back to her own time, but time held little meaning for the likes of her. She could simply wait it out, then show up at the same time she'd left and everything would go back to how it was.
But, of course, if that had ever been an option, she wouldn't have bothered coming in the first place. Renesmee was not one to change her mind after she made a decision. Her mind had been made up for thirty years. She'd broken the laws of physics to act on her decision. The time for second thoughts was past. All she really felt now was relief that her plan would soon be complete.
Some time after night fell, she heard the hum of a boat engine and she knew that her parents had arrived. She wanted to run to them, take them in her arms, and tell them everything she'd always wished she could have said.
But she didn't. She simply waited and watched.
It wasn't long before a figure made the short journey from the house to the beach.
As she watched from the trees, keeping her mind carefully blank, she saw her father step onto the sand. He walked toward the water's edge, stopping a dozen feet before it, and look out to the horizon, his red-brown hair brushed out of his face by the breeze.
Renesmee watched him for several minutes, standing as silently as he was. It was not difficult to think of nothing. She was just in awe that she was actually seeing her father, alive and happy.
When he moved his hands to undo the top button of his shirt, she knew the time had come to announce her presence.
Edward, she thought.
He froze, and she knew his senses had jumped to high alert, seeking out her location.
The wind shifted, giving her away.
He looked directly at her, through the darkness, his eyes narrowed dangerously. She knew he would never have encountered something with her scent before. She had to use his momentary confusion while she could.
Stepping out into the moonlight, she said, "I mean no harm."
His gaze never left her eyes, but a look of shock came over him.
"What are you?"
"I'm a half-vampire," she said.
"Unlikely," she corrected. "Unusual. Not impossible." She took another few steps toward him, and he didn't back away. "I know you can tell by my scent that I'm neither human nor vampire. What other explanation can you give?"
He just kept looking at her, having no answer, and his expression hardened. "What are you doing here? This is a private island."
"I know," she said, and walked closer. "Why haven't you asked me who I am?"
He flinched, just slightly--if she'd been human, she wouldn't have noticed.
Renesmee took another step forward. She was nearly to him now. A few more steps and she'd be close enough to touch him.
"Who are you, then?"
She stopped moving and stood up straight. She'd practiced this in her mind, prepared herself for any reaction he might give. In a clear voice, she said, "My name is Renesmee Carlie Cullen. I'm your daughter."
"No," he growled. "That's impossible."
She reached out to him, but he leapt back, staying well out of her reach. "Please, Father, listen to me! Believe I'm lying if you want, but you can't deny what your own senses are telling you. Look at me--my face, my hair. Can you see nothing of yourself? And I know you've already noticed I have my mother's eyes."
Edward was shaking his head, looking like he was either going to attack her or run away at any moment.
"It's a trick! Vampires can't have children, and even if we could, I've never--" His gaze shot back to the house where Renesmee knew Bella was, then back to her. "It's completely impossible that I have a child."
"Yes, I know," Renesmee said, struggling to explain before he did something rash. "I--I'm from the future."
He looked at her as if he thought her mad.
"I know how that sounds, but I found someone with a certain talent . . . Please, Father, just--"
"Don't call me that!"
His words cut deeper than any knife could, but she brushed them aside, reaching toward him again. "Edward, please, just let me show you."
"How?" he sneered.
"I have an ability. Grandfather says it's related to yours, only inverted. I can project my thoughts, my memories, into other people's minds. But I need physical contact. Please, you have to believe me."
"Because I have something very important to tell you, and you must know that I'm telling the truth."
"Why don't you just tell me and then I'll decide whether I should trust you or kill you."
Renesmee stopped short at the threat, and her arm fell to her side. She stared at him for a long moment, at the fire in his eyes, and reminded herself that her birth had drained that fire from them. "Yes," she said in a quiet voice. "All right."
He folded his arms and waited.
"It's about Moth--Bella. I know this is your wedding night. I know what you've promised her. But you mustn't do it."
His eyes narrowed. "Did Jacob send you?"
She laughed humorlessly at the mention of her own love, who she'd never see again if this worked. "No. He has nothing to do with this. You just . . . Your fears of what it would do to her are well-founded, but not for the reasons you think. If you give Bella what she wants, it will kill her."
Edward's hands moved to his sides, his fists clenched. "Explain," he said in a tight voice.
"It won't be your fault, of course. But, she'll become pregnant--with me. Humans aren't meant to carry half-vampire babies. It's happened before, but every time, the woman has not survived the birth. You must change her now, before that can happen."
"If you're telling the truth," he said, sounding as if he couldn't believe that was the case, "you're talking about negating your own existence."
After a long moment, Renesmee whispered, "Yes."
Edward stared at her. "Why would you do that?"
"Because for me to live, she has to die."
His eyes bored into hers for a long moment, and she knew he was searching her thoughts, seeking out her true motives, but she also knew he would only find echoes of what she was saying aloud.
"One of the most powerful instincts in nature is for a parent to protect their child. If I really am your father, why do you think I would choose her over you?"
Renesmee swallowed hard, choking on the words as she said them. "Because you already have."
He blinked, uncertainty causing the lines of his face to relax.
She reached toward him again, pleading, "Let me show you."
He hesitated a moment, then took a step toward her. Then another. Then another. Then, his face was before her, and she pressed her palm against his cold skin for the first time since she was a month old.
She began gently, showing him memories of her family--his family--joking, laughing, playing. Then memories of them grieving for him and for her mother. Then she showed him the conversation she'd had with Carlisle, when he'd explained what had happened to Edward. Then more memories, some of her earliest, of the short time she'd had with Edward when she'd been only an infant, when he never smiled and looked at her only with bitterness. Finally, she showed him the one memory she had of her mother--of Bella just before she'd died, bloody, naked, clearly in the most hideous kind of pain--
Edward jerked back from her touch, his eyes wild with panic.
"Do you believe me?" Renesmee asked.
"Yes," he breathed, shocked and horrified.
"Then you'll do it?" she asked.
He looked into her eyes as if seeing her for the first time. "You would sacrifice your own life to save her?"
"To save both of you," she clarified.
Slowly, reverently, he took her face in his hands. "You really are Bella's daughter."
"Father, please tell me you'll do as I ask."
"I--" He turned away from her, staring at the sand. "I'm very selfish," he said quietly, as if to himself.
"I know," she replied, just as quietly. "That's why I came to you and not her."
His shoulders slumped. "Thank you."
"Then you agree?"
"Yes," he said. He turned to her again. "I wish it didn't have to be this way."
"Me, too," Renesmee said, tears of relief and fear prickling at her eyes. "But it does."
"Thank you," he said again, his voice weak and laced with shame. "Thank you for Bella."
"You don't have to thank me. It's enough just knowing that the two of you will survive and be happy."
His eyes fell on her hair and he reached out to stroke one of her bronze strands. "It really is the exact same color as mine," he mused, then the corners of his mouth turned up. "But you've got Charlie's curls."
Renesmee laughed and sobbed at the same moment, beaming to see a smile on her father's face. Then she threw herself into his arms and hugged him as hard as she could, memorizing the feel of his arms around her and his hand stroking her hair down her back.
"I love you," she said, emotion draining her voice to a whisper.
"I know," he said, and she pulled back. He looked into her eyes again. "I'll never forget you."
"I know," she said, wishing she could offer a reciprocal assurance. "You must go to her, before she comes down here."
Edward nodded and stepped away. His eyes lingered on her as he turned toward the path to the house.
"Goodbye . . . Renesmee."
She watched, crying silent tears, as he made his way back to the house. Then she waited for the end.
Renesmee did not share her father's belief that they were soulless creatures. She had a reasonable hope that if she died to save her parents, she would go to heaven to wait for them--to wait for the time, far off into the future, when they could all be a family like they were meant to be.
But she wasn't dying.
Yes, she believed in an afterlife for those who died, but what became of those who never existed? Was she well and truly doomed to the oblivion which her father had so willingly embraced?
She waited, keeping the memory of her father's smile before her eyes, and for the first time in her life, Renesmee felt fear.
The sound that ushered her out of the world was the same as that which had welcomed her into it: her mother's scream.