That's what Jacob thinks about as he watches Renesmee run around the yard, giggling as she chases her newly acquired kitten.
He sees her bronze ringlets bounce against her back as she moves. He hears her peals of laughter as the kitten suddenly changes direction and starts chasing her back. He sees her excited smile, the flush in her small cheeks, her bright eyes, and he knows.
He loves her.
He would do anything to protect her. He would lay down his life if it enabled her to stay in this yard, playing with this kitten for the rest of her years. He wouldn't think twice about it.
It's what he was created for, born for, to protect her and make her happy. And this is his life's mission, his fated task.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Bella watching her daughter with a slight smile on her face. He thinks again about fate.
What if this was their daughter, playing in the yard with her pet?
He can't deny how happy and yet how sad the thought makes him. And for a second, just a second, he wishes, no, yearns, for Renesmee to be his and for Bella's heart to still be beating.
Before he can continue to be lost in a daydream that will never be, his nostrils begin to burn worse than normal and he knows she's right beside him.
"Look at how happy she is," she whispers, marveling, never taking her eyes off of her daughter.
Jacob doesn't say a word, the emotions that had overwhelmed him moments before keeping him silent until he recovers enough to be able to speak without a tremble in his voice.
Renesmee giggles loudly again and jumps like the kitten in front of her.
"This was a brilliant idea, Jake." Bella smiles approvingly. "You have to thank Sue for me as well. She's completely in love with the little guy." Bella's chuckle cuts through him in a way he hadn't felt in so long, not since before the imprint.
Without even consciously making the decision to, Jacob reaches up from where he's squatting on the ground and takes Bella's hand. He feels the ice burn through him, making goose bumps rise on his skin all throughout his body, but it soon dies down. He's had time to grow used to her new temperature, the physical intimacy in their relationship never lost to her transformation, to her marriage and his imprint. That is the one thing he thanks God, his ancestors, anyone really who might be watching, for. That is the one thing that hasn't changed in this new world they've now found themselves in.
Her chill is the opposite of his heat and he doesn't miss the fleeting wince across her face. He squeezes her fingers but doesn't release her hand. Instead, he begins to brush his thumb soothingly over her knuckles.
He keeps his eyes focused on Renesmee and grins when the kitten surprises her again and she squeals before chasing him back.
"She could have been ours," he murmurs.
Bella's silent besides him, not one pseudo breath escapes her body.
He pulls her hand up to his lips and gently kisses her pale fingers, letting them linger there, not caring how his nasal passages are on fire. He would burn a thousand times for her, more if need be.
Instead, he focuses on the faintest trace of her old scent and clings to it like a lifeline, closing his eyes and imagining he's speaking now to his Bells.
"This could have been us, watching our daughter run around, laughing, having fun with her cat or…dog." He can't help but smile slightly at the word.
"Jake...," Bella whispers so low that even he, a supernatural being, had to strain his ears to hear her.
He hears the sadness in her pleading, the desire for him to stop, but he can't. He needs her to understand. She had made her choices, had always stood on that soapbox in defense anytime he attacked her decisions when it came to the bloodsucker, trying to plant a single seed of doubt so she would live...live for him.
He slowly stands, keeping her hand encased in his, and turns to face her. She does the same, fear and begging in her now golden eyes. He mercilessly ignores it.
"It's what I always wish for anytime I see you with her. I could've given you her. I could've given you more children if you wanted."
She starts to shake her head, lowering her eyes to his chest. "Jacob, you shouldn't be thinking like this. You shouldn't be saying these things…"
"Why?" Bella's eyes snap to his at the venom in his tone. She sees him glaring down at her.
"You know why," she says so quietly that if Jacob didn't have supernatural hearing, he never would have heard it. "Things are the way they are and they can't change. They won't change. Besides, you imprinted. On Renesmee."
Jacob snorts and drops her hand, turning back to watch the little girl spinning next to the kitten that is watching her in confusion and trying to find the right spot to pounce on her from. Renesmee's giggle cuts through him once more.
He feels Bella's hand chilling his skin through his shirt. She has placed it there to comfort him, to soothe the ache of losing what he had always intended to be his future; what was rightfully his until the bloodsucker stole it from him, ripped it like a rug from beneath him before he knew what was happening.
He snorts again, shaking his head but his eyes never leave the scene in front of him. "Do you really think I can go from changing her diapers to wanting to see her wearing some sexy lingerie? That I could go from giving her a bath where she plays with her toys to wanting to see her naked and joining her in the shower? Is that what you really think of me, Bells?"
Bella's hand drops just as he knew it would. "I thought that with the imprint…in time…," he hears her struggle to get out the words, still recovering from the images he just put into her head.
"Wrong." He squats back down, smiling slightly when Renesmee picks up the kitten and gives it a kiss on its nose, making it meow loudly.
Bella squats down next to him after a few moments and whispers to him, "Jacob, this whole imprinting thing…as much as I'm looking forward to it," Jacob smirks at her sarcasm. "I thought you said that…well, when she gets older…I don't really understand. I thought you would be whatever she wanted you to be. Isn't that what you told me? And told Edward?"
He grimaces at the mention of her undead husband. Technically, Bella not so long ago joined the immortal ranks and is undead herself but Jacob could never think of her that way. She was still his Bells. When they were alone, at least. When the leeches were around, she pulled back into herself and presented the image of Isabella Cullen, the cold undead, uncaring statue that was now part of the coven that had haunted Jacob's steps and dreams for so long. But when she was just with Jacob and sometimes had Renesmee with them, she always let her guard down and let Bells through, almost like she had retracted that powerful shield thing she had and let him in. And those times, she was almost as human as he remembered her to be, almost as human as the leader of the family.
Jacob sighs and sits down on the grass, winding his arms around his knees as they pull up to his chest. He never once looks away from the little girl that owns his soul but speaks to Bella anyway. "Do you remember what I told you, when I explained to you about Sam and Leah and Emily?"
He hears Bella sit next to him on his left. "Yes…"
"Do you remember that even though Sam was with Emily and had to be with her because of the imprint that he still loved Leah?"
Bella doesn't answer him so he continues. "Even though Emily was his imprint and he loved her, more than he ever loved Leah, his feelings for Leah never really went away." He turns to face Bella, seeing her eyes widen slightly in realization. "He still loved her, still loves her and that's never going to go away. Emily may come first but Leah's still in his heart, just in a smaller area than where Emily is."
"Why do you think Leah hated being in Sam's pack so much, Bells? Why do you think she came to me and Seth?"
"To protect Seth. She was worried—"
Jacob shakes his head. "That was only part of the reason. She stayed with us because it helped her to get some distance from Sam. " He turns back to the yard in front of them. Renesmee is now walking around, with the kitten at her side, as she picks little dandelions she finds. "He never stopped loving her, Bella. Leah needed to get away from his thoughts, knowing that Sam still loves her but she would never be enough." He drops his eyes to the ground. "It's hard seeing that all the time," he finishes quietly.
"You mean…you…you're still…?"
"Yep," he mutters. He then turns a sad smile on her. "I still only see you, Bells. That never changed."
Pain mars her features and he knows what's coming next, just like it always does. He turns away, bracing himself for the impact, yet again.
He shakes his head. "Don't worry about it, Bells. It's my problem, not yours. I'm not trying to make things uncomfortable or move in on your bloodsucker or anything. It's all said and done. It's up to me to deal with the fallout."
More quiet moments pass. Renesmee explains to the kitten how to make a flower crown with the dandelions she's chosen. The kitten seems more interested in swatting a few of the flowers when the little girl lifts them, making her giggle.
"But when Renesmee grows older…if she wants you in her life…that way…won't your feelings change?"
Jake shrugs. "They didn't for Sam even though Emily wanted him and they started a relationship. What makes you think mine will when Nessie gets older and might start crushing on me?"
"But, don't you have to give her what she wants, to make her happy? Isn't that what the whole imprinting thing is about, that she's your soul mate?"
Jake frowns and pulls up some blades of grass next to him. "She may own my soul, Bella, but she doesn't own my heart." He drops the grass to the ground. "She never will. She has a choice and I'm going to make sure to help her see each choice perfectly and not allow her to just choose what's easiest and right in front of her. You didn't. But I'm hoping she'll give each choice careful consideration before she makes a decision."
"But…if she does choose you, won't you love her back? Like Sam did with Emily? No matter how he felt about Leah? The imprints may have the choice but you guys don't."
He shakes his head again. "I'm Ephraim's heir, Bells. I'm always going to be stronger than any of them, that's how it works. If she did choose that, I'd fight it tooth and nail. It would be a cold day in hell before I would give in to that."
Bella scoffs. "You make it sound like she's such a horrible choice."
Jake's head snaps to glare at her. "That's not it at all and I just told you that. I don't love her, not like that, and I won't. She's like a daughter to me or at the very least, a little sister. I want nothing more than for her to be safe and happy. I'll protect her as long as I live. I'd die for her. I'll do anything to make her smile. Except that."
He and Bella stare at each other for a minute, wondering, hoping, dreading.
Jacob breaks the silence first. "I love you, Bells." She stays absolutely still, not moving, not breathing. When the appropriate amount of time passes for any kind of response to his declaration, Jacob swallows the forming lump in his throat and goes back to watching the child he's just sworn to protect. "And I always will," he whispers.
It happens so fast Jacob barely has time to react. The next thing he knows are rough lips are pressed against his, kissing them as sweet as any first kiss between two people could ever be. It burned for a second but then the temperature evened out as it always did. He held his breath to keep his nasal passages from burning so he wouldn't interrupt whatever this was.
Within seconds, the moment is over and Bella is back in her position on the ground, next to him, this time her fingers intertwined with his. One glance towards Renesmee confirms that she had been too preoccupied in her lesson with the kitten to have noticed what just happened. She might have heard it but she never paid it any attention.
Jacob is afraid to look at Bella, afraid that this moment was just part of a recurring nightmare he's had for the past year, that she had given him a parting kiss.
Bella sighs sadly. "I don't regret having Renesmee, Jacob, or how she came to be here or being changed in the manner I was. Though I could have certainly done without some of the pain." She chuckles and Jake smiles tightly. "Without Edward, there would be no Renesmee. I'm her mother and Edward's wife, I love Edward, and that's not going to change."
Jake nods and hangs his head in defeat, closing his eyes. He had prepared himself for it, convinced himself he wasn't hoping for a different answer, but he feels the hurt and disappointment just the same.
"I love you, too," she whispers as she lays her head on his shoulder.
His eyelids clench tightly and he lays his head on top of hers, opening his eyes and staring out over the grass sadly. "I know," he whispers back.
He glances at Renesmee's wrist where his promise bracelet sits. The tears start to burn his eyes as they build up but he refuses to let them fall. He doesn't regret Renesmee's existence either but he still wishes sometimes that things could be different, that he could have kept Bella's blushes and chocolate eyes and beating heart all to himself. But that wasn't what fate had planned for him. Instead, he received a part of Bella, an incredibly young version that still had training wheels on her bike that he had put on for her. How fate could ever justify this he had no idea. But he had to believe that something with him and Bella was meant to be, that they went through everything they had, suffered what they suffered, for some greater purpose.
Renesmee may own his soul but as he had told Bella, she would never own his heart. It belonged to Bella and solely to his Bells. It beat for both of them, for what might have been, what could still be and for what, in his mind, was supposed to be.
It was true her heart had stopped beating a while ago and his fight for her was over the moment she died, the moment he imprinted on her daughter. But fate is fickle, your friend one minute and your enemy the next. Maybe, just maybe one day, fate will be his friend again and grant him some reparations for the upside down supernatural world he's been thrown into.
Bella will still be dead, still be in the body of his enemy, still be cold and hard, drinking blood to survive. But, she will always be his Bells. She had never really gone away; she was still there. And when the time comes, if it comes, he won't make the same mistake twice. After all, like he told her back in his room that day, maybe even then…