Beauty never slumbers;
All is in her name;
But the rose remembers
The dust from which it came.
AUTUMN CHANT, Edna St. Vincent Millay
Denali National Park, Alaska
I was never supposed to be needed.
Well. Not really. Certainly there were always those who looked at me and thought what they felt was need. But I was - I am - a work of art. You may call that vanity. I call it truth: I am a work of art, beautiful to look upon, but no more necessary to life than a painting, or a statue, or an exquisite jewel. I was made to be loved, praised, adored, coveted, perhaps even worshiped. But I was not made to be needed.
So, really, is it any surprise that when my moment came, when for once in my life another person was depending on me for her very survival, I turned out to be a complete and utter failure?
She lay in the bed before me, small and frail and deathly pale, her breathing shallow and her limbs utterly still. She'd survived, but I could not yet say if she would live. I had known her such a short time, but I'd seen her living, seen her blurting uncomfortable truths and babbling away about the things she loved, watched her hands flying and her eyes shining in excitement as she spoke. If you had asked me to describe the ideal addition to our family, I don't think I ever would have described her: some geeky, awkward, hopelessly naïve teenage girl who dyed her hair red and thought it made her interesting, who thoughtlessly quoted poetry at any given opportunity, who made terrible jokes that only she and Alice really understood. I would never have described a girl who could not see her own beauty, could not understand why she was loved, could only ever see herself as a burden. If pressed, I think I would have described someone much more like myself. In retrospect, if that had been the girl who had stolen Alice's heart, I think I would have loathed her.
In any event, there she was, Bella Swan, the little sister I'd given up wanting long before she came. Just hours before, I had nearly been torn in two trying to protect her - my wounds still ached, though they'd already mended - only to watch in horror as she cut herself and bled to lure my would-be murderer away. She'd done something to him. Something impossible. And it had cost her: in that moment, she had fallen to the ground, seizing and foaming at the mouth. She had been warned not to use the powers that had seemed sure to kill her, and she'd done it anyway.
She'd sacrificed herself for me.
I'd raced to her side as soon as I could. I'd plunged my teeth into that pale, soft flesh, again and again, trying to get as much of my venom in her as I could, fighting against the call of her blood. She'd grown still, and quiet, and her wounds had started to mend, but she was too still, too quiet. She should have been screaming her throat raw, ranting and babbling, incoherent from pain. Instead, she just lay there, even as we regrouped, even as we took her and her father to safety, even as we tucked her into bed. If I hadn't known any better, I would have said she was sleeping. The very scent of her blood was shifting, and I could practically see her body changing, moment by moment, but her mind…
I feared her mind was gone. It was the only explanation that made any sense. There was nothing left of her to respond to the pain, and so she just lay there. Maybe she would lay there forever.
There was nothing I could do about that.
All I could do, really, was stay with her. Talk to her. Read to her. She liked that - when she'd been in the hospital after her last seizure, I'd brought her Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and she'd been almost like a child, shyly asking me to read aloud and do the voices. I'd been powerless to resist. I didn't have Harry Potter here. I wasn't sure there was any fiction here she'd like. But I'd found an old volume of poetry, and I supposed it would have to do.
I cleared my throat as I turned the page, glancing down at the neat text, ready to commit it effortlessly to memory. Perks of being a vampire. Perks of being me, really. We've never understood why this is so - why even my human memories remain bright, when they should have faded long ago - but I remember everything, no matter how much I might wish to forget. I had an excellent memory as a human. As a vampire, it's perfect.
This time, however, I didn't need to memorize the words on the page before me. I already knew these four stanzas by heart - and knew, also, that there was more to the poem, and that the title listed on the page was wrong. But I pushed forward regardless, caught up in all the memories the verse inspired.
"The Old Astronomer to His Pupil, by Sarah Williams," I read.
Reach me down my Tycho Brahé,—I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then till now.
Pray, remember, that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data, for your adding, as is meet;
And remember, men will scorn it, 'tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.
But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learnt the worth of scorn;
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn;
What, for us, are all distractions of men's fellowship and smiles?
What, for us, the goddess Pleasure, with her meretricious wiles?
You may tell that German College that their honour comes too late.
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant's fate;
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too truly to be fearful of the night.
I stared at the page, unseeing, as my voice faded. Something stirred inside me, fluttering against the chambers of my heart, and almost without thinking, I shut the book, setting it aside. My eyes flicked to Bella, still and silent, a dreaming princess in her slumber. I reached out for her, taking her hand, curling my fingers around hers and feeling the faint pulse of her heart. I thought for just a split second her lips twitched; I fancied I could see a faint smile. In the back of my mind, if I listened very closely, I could just about hear her whispering.
"Tell me a story, Rose," she murmured. "And do the voices."
"Okay," I said aloud, my voice scarcely rising above the volume of a quiet breath. "You want a story? Then the first thing you need to understand is this: I remember everything."
Rochester, New York
My first coherent memory is of Christmastime, when I was three years old, just four months shy of my fourth birthday. The Great War had just ended, though I was far too young to understand what had happened, or just had fortunate my family had been. I only knew that everyone had been tense and unhappy for months, but that had finally changed, and now we were celebrating. Sequestered away in Rochester's upper class, we had been spared the worst of the horrors, but even our wealth and status couldn't shield my parents or their friends completely, and so everyone was particularly merry that year, a month or so after the signing of the armistice.
A week before Christmas itself, we had all gone to a party at the Williamson house. Mr. Williamson was one of my father's coworkers at the bank, and had only recently returned from Europe. I don't know if he had ever actually been at the front - he never liked to discuss the war, and it was hardly a suitable subject for young ladies in any event - but whatever he had seen, he was eager to celebrate his good fortune in escaping it. We didn't have anyone to watch me at the time, so my parents had taken me along, immediately placing me in the care of the Williamsons' governess, a cheerful Irish woman named Moira. She led me carefully away from the foyer and into a playroom done up all in pinks and whites, with a little play tea table set up to one side, a brightly colored trunk against the wall, and an enormous dollhouse in the center of the room. I could hear high, squealing laughter before the door had even opened, and the source of it was a little girl just my age, her strawberry blonde hair an utter mess as she rolled on the floor with an outrageously fluffy white puppy about half her size. The puppy was the first to notice us come in, and perked up at once, his tail wagging as he grinned up at us. The girl sat up next, wiping the slobber from her face, and Moira tried to give her a stern scowl, but her lips and cheeks twitched.
"Vera! Just look at the state of you," she scolded, laughter in her voice. "Where's your ribbon, then?"
Vera grinned, looking around and then pointing at a torn scrap of pink ribbon across the room, and Moira sighed, shaking her head. "Right, I'll just have to get you a fresh one. And a brush. And a clean frock. Just what am I going to do with you, lass? Oh, Vera, this is Rosalie, she's visiting with her parents."
My mouth had been hanging open this time - even at three years and eight months, I knew my mother would never have allowed anything like this in our house. But when I heard my name, I snapped my mouth shut again, giving her a bashful smile and a little wave. "Hello."
"Hi! I'm Vera," the other girl said, with a bright smile, as though I hadn't just heard her name twice already in the last two minutes. She wrapped her arms around the puppy, pulling him up, and he licked her chin as his tail flipped wildly back and forth. "This is Maxie. Wanna pet him?"
"I - can I?" I asked, looking up at Moira, knowing in my bones that I needed a responsible adult's permission here.
"Well, why couldn't you? Just be careful not to mess up that pretty dress of yours like this one," she replied, giving Vera another stern-but-not-really look.
My eyes widened, and I nodded vigorously, and Moira laughed, gently pushing me toward Vera and Maxie. Cautiously, I reached for his furry head, and he watched my hand draw near until my fingers reached his snout. Suddenly, his tongue slipped from his mouth, flicking across my palm, leaving a wet trail. I jerked back, and Vera and I both started giggling.
"Ewwwww," I protested, still laughing, looking at my hand and almost wiping it off on my skirt before remembering what Moira had just said.
"No, he likes you! He kissed you," Vera told me, putting him back down on the floor where he could wind between us, looking up at us with big brown eyes and an open-mouthed grin. "Wanna play? He's got a ball."
"Yes, please!" I agreed, breaking into a grin of my own, following Vera as she hurried to grab the toy, Maxie at our heels. It wasn't long before she had me laughing and running and playing, rolling on the floor with her and Max as though none of us had a care in the world. Later, of course, my mother would give me the scolding of my life, and Moira would catch hell for indulging us. But those few hours were some of the best in my young life.
It's such a simple memory, really. Almost meaningless. But that was Vera: wild and free, endlessly cheerful, with the uncanny ability to get under anyone's guard. She was an only child - the only child her parents would ever have, as I would later come to understand - and her parents loved and cherished her and denied her nothing. Somehow, it didn't end up spoiling her, not in the way I was spoiled. Maybe it was because she had a freedom I lacked. Maybe she was always just a better person than I was. Whatever the reason, she was sweet, and kind, and generous, and her friendship was the kind that would have lasted a lifetime.
If only we hadn't been parted.
Honestly, Bella, the less said about our first meeting, the better. After our first conversation, I was ready to hate you, apologies or no. Alice talked me down from the worst of my anger, but I still didn't think much of you.
Even when you apologized again, and we talked, a few days later...I tried so hard to hold on to my dislike. Alice wouldn't say it outright, but I knew your future was far from certain. I told myself I just found you off-putting, that you acted like a spoiled little brat and it wasn't worth knowing you. In truth, looking back, I think I just didn't want to get too attached. And if I'm honest, I think it was already too late, even then.
You had said something that kept whirling through my head as Emmett and I tried to distract ourselves in the forest: We're more than the worst moments of our lives. I kind of have to believe that.
We both knew the worst moment of my life, of course. All of us were open books to you. But I couldn't help but wonder what haunted you. Part of me wished - perhaps for somewhat petty reasons - that there was a book about your life, something that would lay all your secrets bare. But another part of me, this still, small voice that still possessed some sense of grace and mercy, refused to wish that on anyone. Even you.
We didn't really hunt, that day. We didn't even have sex, honestly - we got a little amorous, maybe, but that was it. For the most part, we just...sat up in the treetops, and I snuggled into Emmett's arms as he stroked my hair.
"Rose?" he asked, after a long period of silence. "You want to tell me what you're thinking?"
"No," I muttered, and I felt his chest rumble as he laughed, softly. It should have infuriated me - being laughed at - but when Emmett did it...I knew there was nothing malicious about it. He might tease and laugh, but there wasn't a cruel bone in his body. Would it surprise you to know that? To know that he's never even liked fighting, that he knows how to do it and understands the necessity but he takes no joy in it? I guess maybe it wouldn't. Those books of us seemed to give you a good read on all of us.
"Em," I said at last, when he was done laughing. "Why do you like her?"
"Same reasons why I like you." I shifted to look up at him, arching an eyebrow, and he chuckled, shaking his head. "Okay, easy, not all the same reasons. But there's this...fire in her. This stubbornness. Sometimes it gets her in over her head. She's kind of funny and a little fierce. And underneath it all...I can tell that she wants to be kind. She's just not always good at it. And the way she looks at Alice, the way Alice looks at her…"
I snorted. "It's not fair. Alice sets eyes on her one time and she's magically in love with someone who may not ever return those feelings."
"She does, though. She just hasn't figured it out yet," Emmett returned. "You really don't see it? She already looks at Alice like...like Alice hung the moon and stars. I give it a month, tops, before they're officially an item."
"She does seem...interested," I allowed. "And I did tell her she should go for it and see what happens."
Emmett grinned. "See? Deep down, you're both marshmallows."
I raised my eyebrows at him, and then, quick as a flash, I scrambled out of his laugh and shoved him, hard, catching him by surprise and dropping him all the way to the ground. As he crashed to the forest floor, I daintily made my way down, until I landed on the earth beside him. "I am not a marshmallow."
Though unharmed, he remained prone as he chuckled. "Yes, dear."
"Hmmm." I walked around him, briefly, considering him, then lowered myself, straddling his legs. "That didn't strike me as very sincere. Try again?"
He pouted at me, giving me those damned puppy dog eyes of his, the ones that almost always made me melt. Not that I'd ever admit it. "I'm sorry, Rosalie. You're not a marshmallow. Every inch of you is hard and bitter."
"You almost had it that time," I purred, toying with the fly of his jeans, smirking a little as he groaned. "So close. But I think it's time we made our way back to the house, don't you?"
I stood, smiling brightly, and moved to lean against a tree, watching him get up. He dusted himself off and offered his hand, and I took it, only to find myself shrieking in surprise and delight as he pulled me in, kissed me fiercely and scooped me up in his strong arms. Holding me close, he turned and began to run back toward the house.
I bit my lip thoughtfully as he carried me home, sighing at last and looking up at him once more. "Emmett, what if she breaks Alice's heart? This isn't like Maggie or Tanya, she's just...she's so invested. And the thought of losing her…"
"She won't. Didn't I just say she's like you? A swan. Ha! Literally," Emmett said, endlessly pleased with himself. I rolled my eyes, but he paid no mind. "Ferocious, not to be fucked with, and the kind of bird that mates for life. You'll see."
"I suppose I will," I allowed, very quietly.
As we approached the edge of the clearing where our house sat, I could hear you in the living room, singing. I patted Emmett's chest and he stopped, setting me down on my feet. We both lingered there, just inside the forest, listening to you swing sweetly and mournfully.
You were like the shining sun above
Guiding me through every day
Your strength, your patience, and your love
Set my feet upon this way
There were dreams you dreamed for me
And tales you wove when the nights were long
Now I must dream what's next to be
And weave all my own tales and songs
All things fall, and all things rise
All that we were, all that we are
From earth below to fertile skies
From dust to dust, from star to star
In ending, there must be some grace
Or all ends in futility
There's so much of you I can't replace
But some part of you must live in me
Now let your pilgrim soul fly free
Past setting sun and evening star
Through time and all eternity
To a bright and boundless world afar
All things fall, and all things rise
All that we were, all that we are
From earth below to fertile skies
From dust to dust, from star to star
We commend you now to earth and sky
All that you were, all that you are
All that falls again must rise
From dust to dust, from star to star
I stood there, silent, enraptured, even enchanted as I listened. I didn't know yet what could have inspired you to such feeling, I hadn't learned enough about you - hadn't wanted to learn, I suppose. But I heard Esme telling you your mother would be proud, I heard your answer, I heard her say she'd have to be proud enough for herself and your mother and...I suppose I had a glimpse, for a moment. Into your pain, your sense of loss. You had lost an entire world, while you were still in mourning for someone who had been your world, and for the first time I felt like I understood. Just a little.
"What did I tell you?" Emmett murmured, but it didn't quite feel like he was teasing this time, as he put his arm around my shoulders. "Marshmallows."
Denali National Park, Alaska
"Hey, babe." Emmett's voice jerked me out of my reverie, and I looked up to see him ducking into the room, offering me a brief, tight smile before glancing over at Bella. "Heard you talking. How's our girl?"
I let out a long breath, shaking my head. "Nothing's changed, Em, she's just...laying there. And I've been trying to talk to her, read to her, in case she can hear, but…"
"Maybe she can. We don't know one way or the other, but - she's alive, right? She's changing. I can smell it. So...there's hope," he replied. "Shit. It's almost funny. Here she is, just laying there, and we're all freaked out because she isn't screaming her lungs out in unspeakable agony. I mean, any one of us would've loved to be spared all that shit, right?"
"Yeah. We would. But God knows what's actually going on in there. If this really is some kind of cosmic joke...I've heard better." My lips twisted, and I squeezed her hand, stopping and jerking back as I heard a slight cracking noise in her fingerbones. "Shit."
"Rose, babe. You need to go hunt," Emmett said, frowning at me. "Your eyes are black."
"I'm fine. I'll be fine. I'm not leaving her." I scowled, looking back up at him. "I'm not."
He raised his hands, stepping back. "Jesus. Okay, just - one of us can stick by her if you change your mind. We're not going to abandon her."
I hesitated, then got to my feet, stepping into his arms. He pulled me close, kissing my temple and running his fingers through my hair for a long, silent moment. Then, with a soft sigh, he pulled back.
"Listen, I came in here to tell you something," he said. "We got in touch with Jasper."
"You did? Then - wait. Jasper? Not Alice?" I could feel my lips twisting into a frown. "What is it? What's wrong? Did those women who went with them turn on them? Damn it, I knew we shouldn't have trusted -"
"Rose, no, it's not that," Emmett interjected. "Honestly, Eleanor and Jessamine sounded just as freaked as Jazz about the whole thing. Alice...she just collapsed. She's unconscious, has been for hours. Near as we can figure, it happened around the same time Bella dropped."
I stared at him in silence for several seconds before I found my voice again. "What."
"Yeah." He raked his fingers across his scalp, through his short, dark curls. "I don't know what to tell you. Not exactly the first time those two have been fucking weird in some way, but this has to be some kind of new record."
"I have never heard of anything like this happening. Has Carlisle?" I asked.
"I mean, I can ask. And I'm sure he'll take a look at Alice as soon as Jazz and the others can get her up here. He kind of has his hands full with Charlie right now, though. Setting up all the medical equipment - hell, getting the medical equipment out here in the first place...it was a lot. Even for us."
"Oh. Yeah." I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling a pang of guilt. "How's he doing? Do they need my help?"
"Unconscious. Carlisle's...he's doing what he can," Emmett replied, glancing away. "And Kate, uh...well, she took one look at him and got that look. You know the one."
I groaned. "Seriously? What is with this family and love at first sight?"
"Something in the blood, maybe," Emmett joked, cracking a small smile before turning serious again. "Look, Rose, you stay with Bella as long as you think you need to, okay? Carlisle, Edward, Esme, they have the medical stuff covered, and Kate's not leaving his side. You look after our girl. I mean, we'll all help, but...I can see how much this means to you."
I nodded tightly, dropping back into my seat beside her bed. "Can you stay? For a while, at least?"
He gave me that huge, wide, boyish smile I'd fallen in love with in the first place, and took his seat beside me, slinging his arm around my shoulders. "Sure, babe. I can make some time. What's the story so far?"
"I was telling her about my friend Vera," I told him, leaning into his embrace, and carefully taking Bella's hand in mine once more as I did. In the space of our conversation, her fingers had already healed, the venom in her system working its magic, and I felt another surge of guilt mingled with gratitude. "Let's see. Where were we?"
Rochester, New York
Vera was an only child. Eventually I learned it was because her mother had nearly died in childbirth, and afterward, she either couldn't bear more children, or she and Mr. Williamson simply didn't want to risk it. Whatever the reason, Vera became the most precious thing in the world to them. They denied her nothing, and no matter how esoteric or unfeminine her interests might be, they did whatever they could to help her pursue them.
For a long time, I thought my life was much the same. It was only with distance that I saw the truth: my parents spoiled me rotten, yes, but only if I followed the path they laid out for me. I had all the pretty dresses and jewelry and girlish indulgences I could ever ask for, but girlish was the key word. I was not to do anything that might leave me dirty, that might be in any way unflattering, that might even hint of the masculine. I was their perfect princess. I would never - I could never - be anything less.
I threw myself into the role. What other choice did I have, with the pressure they put upon me? I came to prize my beauty and femininity as highly as they did, and I let myself become vain and spoiled. I think on some level I knew this wasn't what I truly wanted, that Vera's life was the truly charmed one. Our precious time together, free from my mother's careful supervision and stern judgments, represented my only taste of freedom, and so I clung to her like a life raft. Sometimes, even now, I wonder why she ever put up with me. I needed someone like her so badly. And she didn't really need someone like me at all.
Over the years, I grew fixated on the idea of having someone who did need me. Who would never leave me, the way I feared Vera might. A little sister, I thought, would have been perfect, and my parents tried to give me one, but I just ended up with a pair of brothers, a couple of years apart, and it was the governess who was meant to look after them, not me. I was meant to do nothing more than grow into the full blossom of my femininity and marry some handsome young man with excellent prospects. That was all.
My youngest brother was born when I was ten, and my mother soon fell into a deep malaise - what we'd understand now as severe postpartum depression. The governess had her hands full looking after a toddler and an infant, and my father's attention was divided between his work and his wife, with no time left over for me. The Williamsons agreed to take me in, and soon I was spending all my time with Vera and Max, still her faithful hound in his old age.
I enjoyed spending time with my best friend, and a dog like Max was an indulgence my parents had never allowed me, but I didn't exactly act grateful. I sulked, most of the time, scarcely remembering my manners, and frequently losing them when I was alone with Vera. She was far more patient, and far more kind, than I deserved. I think she realized I was hurting, too, and she just wanted to help.
"Rose, do you want to look through my telescope?" she asked, one sultry summer night when all her windows were open, and the doors to the balcony. Astronomy had become one of her latest passions - her uncle was a professor at Cornell, and had made an enormous impression upon her during a recent visit.
"No," I said flatly, from where I sat on her bed, arms folded around myself. Looking back, I had begun to develop an interest in the stars as well - but it scarcely mattered. I'd never be allowed to be anything but a devoted wife and mother, so why develop interest into skill? It was just one more reason to resent my lot in life. Still, after a moment, I did remember myself, and softened my voice. "Sorry. Thank you."
Max whined, jumping up onto the bed and nosing my side. I couldn't help a small, sharp burst of laughter as I reached over to scratch behind his ears. Vera smiled at the sight, coming over to sit on the edge of the bed as well, sighing softly.
"Rosalie, are you ever going to tell me what's wrong?" she asked, putting her hand on my shoulder.
"Nothing's wrong," I replied automatically.
She folded her arms at that, drawing herself up, looking as severe as a ten-year-old girl possibly could. It made me laugh again, a little, and her lips briefly quirked before she got them back under control. "Rosalie Lillian Hale, we do not lie in this house. Not to one another. So there."
"I'm not lying!" I protested, but I gave her a sidelong look. "...what would happen if I did?"
"You are, I can tell and - I'm not sure yet, but the consequences will be dire!" Vera promised, shaking her fist. "Dire and terrible! Maybe I'll drive you out into the forest and...make you live among the trees!"
I rolled my eyes. "That just sounds like an excuse to go to your treehouse."
"Well, yes. But you won't enjoy it! I'll set Max as a guard and feed you nothing but bread and water!"
I looked over at Max, who flopped over on his side to show his belly, his tongue lolling. "Do you have another dog named Max? Because this one can be bought with a belly rub."
"Well - I'll tie you to a chair, or something!" Vera returned. "Okay, fine, I haven't thought this through. But I know something's wrong, Rosie, and I'll pout until you tell me."
She pouted as promised, turning big, vulnerable eyes on me, and I squirmed in place before sighing softly. "Oh - fine. Fine, just stop it. I just...I didn't want brothers, all right? I wanted a sister, someone I could play with and look after, someone like - you. And instead I got stupid baby brothers who made my mama sick, somehow, and now I'll probably never have a sister."
"Is that all?" Vera asked, relaxing.
I groaned, shutting my eyes. "I know, it's stupid."
"Well...yes. But only because - why would you need a sister when you have me? Aren't we practically sisters?" she replied, taking my hand and squeezing until I opened my eyes. "I never got a little sister either, and you don't see me complaining, because I have you."
I felt a warm glow at that, and smiled, slightly, for a moment, before I sighed again and looked down. "It's not the same. You're my best friend, Vera, but we're not blood sisters."
"Oh! I can fix that! Let's see," she said, getting up and going over to her bureau, rummaging through the drawers for a moment before producing a pack of sewing needles. "Here!"
"I...what is sewing going to do?" I asked, baffled.
"We're not going to use them for sewing, silly. We're going to use them to become blood sisters. Here." She tore the pack open, pulling out a needle, and drove it into the tip of her thumb, grimacing and groaning a little at the pain. Blood welled from the wound, and she pulled out the needle, handing it over to me. "Your turn."
I stared at the bloody needle, my eyes wide. "Um...that looked like it hurt."
She snorted, shrugging. "Well if you're going to be a baby about it…"
I scowled, taking the needle. "I am not a baby," I declared, pushing the needle into my thumb and gasping at the sting of it. Blood welled, though, and I pulled it back out, putting it on the bedside table. "Ow, ow...what now?"
"Now we do this," she replied, pressing her bloodied thumb against mine. "Rosalie Hale, I swear by God and my family's name that I will be as close as a sister to you until the day I die. I will forever be your bosom friend and closest companion, and if you are ever in need, I shall drop everything to aid you, no matter the cost. You are my sister by blood and I will love you for eternity."
"Oh. Um. Thank you," I said, a little awkwardly, slowly beginning to smile.
"You have to say it back, Rose, it's important," Vera said, looking solemn.
"Oh! Of course." I sat up a little straighter. "Vera Williamson, I swear by God and my family's name that I will be as close as a sister to you until the day I die. I will forever be your - I'm sorry, bosom?"
"I got it out of a book, keep going!"
"All right, all right! I will forever be your bosom friend and closest companion, and if you are ever in need, I shall drop everything to aid you, no matter the cost. You are my sister by blood and I will love you for eternity."
"There! See? We're sisters now, by blood and everything," Vera said, pulling her thumb away and moving to hug me.
"Wait! Um…" I waved my bloodied hand.
"Oh, right. Clean up first, then hugs," Vera said, nodding and getting to her feet, offering her hand to help me off the bed.
I wrapped my fingers around hers, biting my lip as I stood. "Is this...really official?"
"We made promises! We shared our blood, Rosalie," Vera told me. "It is really really real. You're my sister now. Too late to back out."
I broke into a slow, shy smile, shaking my head. "I don't think I'd ever want to do a thing like that."
Alice has never quite felt like my sister, not in the way Edward or Jasper have come to feel like my brothers. That sounds harsh, I suppose, and don't get me wrong, Bella: I do love her. She is a dear friend and I'd destroy anyone that dared to hurt her. But she's never needed me, and I've never needed her, not the way I needed Vera.
You needed us. You needed me. And that crystallized the first time I failed you, when you knocked yourself into a coma because I let you try and do something nice for me. When you woke, you'd all but given up on your old life, you'd forgotten huge chunks of it, you'd become Bella Swan.
Nearly a week after your episode, when Carlisle finally gave you a clean bill of health, I came over to help you get ready for your first official date with Alice. I'd told everyone it was because I wanted it to be perfect for her. I'd almost convinced myself. But even then, I was beginning to admit that wasn't quite true.
Even if I didn't fully realize it at the time, I wanted it to be perfect for you.
I was so focused on making everything perfect that I suppose I didn't pay enough attention to you, to any cues you might have been giving me or hints you might have been dropping. I shushed you when you tried to speak, intent on getting your makeup just right, on drawing out the beauty I could see in your features. I didn't realize anything was wrong until we were standing in front of the mirror and you were watching your reflection in shock.
"Rose, that's...how is that even possible?" you asked, reaching for the glass.
"I'm just accentuating your best features," I said, leaning in, putting my arm about your shoulders and meeting your eyes in the mirror. I could sense that something was off, but I still didn't know what, I just knew I had to fix it, somehow. "You're beautiful. I'm just drawing it out."
It was the wrong thing to say. You shut your eyes, screwing your face up and shaking your head. "Bella Swan is beautiful."
I chuckled softly, confident that I'd figured it out. "You're Bella Swan. Congratulations. It's a girl."
And then, like a summer storm suddenly letting loose all its rain, you were in my arms and you were crying, burying your face in my shoulder, your tears soaking into my shirt, hot against my cold skin. I was frozen, for a moment, shocked and uncertain, and then I did the only thing I could, wrapping my arms around you for what little comfort they might offer, murmuring nonsense and hushing you as gently as I could.
You were always apologizing, it seemed. That night was no exception. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Shh, you don't have to apologize," I whispered. "What is it? What's wrong?"
You shook your head, your face still pressed into my shoulder, your voice muffled. "Nothing. Everything. I don't-" You hiccuped suddenly, shaking against me, derailing your train of thought. "Damn it."
I laughed, a little nervously. "Do you need me to give you a good scare?"
"No - no. I need water."
"All right." I let you go, watching you for a moment before going to fetch you a glass, keeping my eyes on you as you pinched your nose and took a series of rapid, shallow sips. And then, once it was clear you'd successfully overcome your sudden affliction, I took you by the hand and led you back into the privacy of your room, shutting the door behind us.
"What is it?" I asked quietly, searching your tear-dimmed eyes.
"I don't know. Or I'm not sure." You dropped to the edge of your bed, sitting restlessly on the mattress. "When you said that...it's everything I ever wanted. You know that? All my life I've felt like a freak, and for so long I didn't even have the words to understand why. Even once I knew who and what I was, I felt - wrong. And it didn't help that there were plenty of people out there ready and willing to tell me I was wrong. Broken. An abomination. There were times I just wanted to vanish into the woodwork. To find a way to pass perfectly and never, ever come back out. I hated myself for it, but I still wished for it. And here I am now, and it's like a fairy tale. The cursed, ugly troll wakes as a beautiful princess, safe and loved and surrounded by everything she ever wanted."
I wasn't sure, in that moment, what to tell you. I hummed thoughtfully as I moved to join you, considering it. What could I say, Bella? That I felt just as broken, even now? Would that have helped, or would I have just been making your problems, your anxieties all about me? As usual, I ended up letting my tongue run a little ahead of my brain. "You're also in mortal danger from a coven of evil vampires. Or will be. You aren't exactly living happily ever after yet. That's leaving aside the fact that your own magical powers could kill you if you use them again."
I realized too late that you were staring, and that nothing I had just said was any kind of reassurance, and rushed into a new topic. "But are you telling me you weren't loved in your own world?"
"No...of course I was," you said, after a moment's hesitation. "I had family and friends who loved me dearly, cared for me. I knew they'd miss me if I was gone. I wonder what they're going through now. I was doing well, for the first time in a long time. I felt like I was finding my place. I wasn't with anyone, and whatever magic existed in my world was subtle and meager, but I was getting by. Still, there was so much I yearned for. I wanted to be loved, romantically. I wanted to stick out less, or at least stand out in different ways. And all of this is…"
You gestured silently, gasping for words, and I took a guess. "Too perfect?" I asked, and you nodded. "You're still worried you're going to wake up, or go back, aren't you?"
"Yes. And it feels wrong that I'm worried about it. Isn't that only fair? What did I do to earn any of this? What right do I have to Bella Swan's life?"
I couldn't help laughing bitterly at that, as I slung an arm about your shoulders. "As though we always get what we deserve," I muttered, before trying to answer your question. "Nothing, probably. But what did you do to earn all the things that happened in your old life, good or bad? How much came to you because you'd worked hard for it, or because you'd made mistakes, and how much was random chance? The rest of us ask these questions too, you know. I didn't deserve to be assaulted and left for dead. I didn't earn eternal life. I didn't do anything to deserve Emmett. What matters is what we do with the chances we're given. You've been given a chance at a new life. It's not a dream or a fantasy, and maybe it wasn't earned, maybe it was just random chance, but here you are. I don't think you've screwed things up too badly yet. Not for lack of trying, of course."
I kept my tone light at the end, and it must have worked, because you laughed softly in response, sticking out your tongue. "Gee, thanks. You're a sweetheart, Rose."
"Believe me, I know," I breezed, fanning myself and preening until I'd won another laugh from you. Only then did I turn serious once more. "I'll tell you something else. I don't know what you looked like before. I doubt you were ugly, but so be it. You are beautiful, here and now, but that's not why Alice loves you. She loves you because she saw something special inside you, and every day she understands you better and cares for you more. The rest of us cared for you first because of Alice's feelings, but as you've shown us more and more of yourself, we've found our own reasons to welcome you into our lives. If we had met you as you were, in your old body, Alice would still have seen what she saw that first night, and we would still have embraced you."
"You know I was in my thirties," you said, with a sharp, humorless chuckle.
"I turned ninety just before you arrived. Ninety! Don't tell anyone," I said, feigning shock and looking around dramatically as I put my finger to my lips. You giggled, much more genuinely, and I let myself laugh with you. "As if age matters to us. As if beauty truly matters to us, where friendship or love are concerned. Do you love Alice only for the way she looks?"
"No - she is beautiful, of course," you said, that cute, splotchy, imperfect little blush of yours spreading across your cheeks. "But she's kind, and forgiving, and smart and funny. She's...comfortable and exciting all at once. I feel like I've known her forever, like I can trust her with anything."
I wondered, briefly, if the same was true of me. Not that I wanted you to feel for me as you do for Alice, of course, but...once upon a time, Bella, I would have said I could trust Vera with anything. That even if I didn't love her the way I love Emmett, I did love her deeply. That she was my sister in all but blood, the answering call to my soul. I wanted so badly for you to feel that. I wanted so badly to be one of the people you would feel that for.
I said none of it, of course. That night wasn't about me. Instead, I took your face in my hands and I kissed your forehead as tenderly as I could. "Then trust that she feels the same way about you, and she'd love you no matter how you looked or where you came from."
And then I pulled away, smiling brightly. "Now. I know you're feeling sensitive right now and your mind tends to pull you down the same tracks, but do try to enjoy yourself with Alice tonight, Bella. And try not to ruin your makeup again, hm? Waterproof mascara can only go so far."
You laughed once more at that, and then, to my surprise, you pulled me into another hug. "I'll do my best."
I didn't hesitate, that time, before returning your hug, but I could feel you begin to shiver in the chill of my embrace almost immediately, and had to pull away at once, though I tried to cover my dismay with a smile as I stood and helped you back to your feet. "Well, then. Let's get you all fixed up."
I moved you to your desk chair and set to work again, adjusting your hair carefully wherever it had fallen out of place. You stayed quiet the second time around, obedient, watching me work, and I found I didn't like it much. I was the first to break the silence.
"How old were you when you began transitioning?" I asked, and nearly kicked myself the same instant for asking something so delicate.
You didn't remark on it, at least. "Twenty. Or - just about. It's a little fuzzy now."
"So not until college? Your - sophomore year? Junior?"
"Freshman. I took a year off. I still spent most of my freshman year presenting as male, and…" You shut your eyes, taking a deep breath. "Trying not to ruin my makeup, promise. Um, I missed a lot. From before. Went through puberty the wrong way. You know."
"It's okay. I'll fix it if I have to, I - shouldn't have said that," I replied, a little guiltily. "I was just joking."
An awkward silence hung between us, until at last I spoke again. "I'm sorry. I can't imagine what it must have been like to...go through any of that, honestly."
"It felt wrong. It felt - like my body was turning into something I didn't recognize. I didn't know how to explain what I wanted, why I felt this way, even to myself, but I was down on my knees every night begging God to stop it. To change me into a girl." Your voice caught, and something in my heart cracked, just a little. "I had a little sister, sometimes she was my only friend in the whole world, and we were growing apart every day that I was changing. I think that was the worst part, I mean, I don't know if it would have been any better if we'd both been girls from the start, but...I felt so alone, and scared, and I didn't have anyone to talk to. The one time I tried…"
Tears glistened in your eyes again, and you shook your head, and I stopped my fussing to put my hand on your shoulder. "Bella, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
"No. No," you croaked softly, before clearing your voice. "I mean - who else am I going to tell? I told my mother once, when I was twelve, somehow...somehow I'd heard the words 'sex change operation' and I told her I wanted one."
"She didn't take it well?" I asked quietly.
"Honestly? It's like she didn't take it at all, like it just - didn't compute. My mother was not quiet. She always made her opinions known, and she had a hell of a temper...honestly that's kind of where I get it from." Your lips quirked, so briefly, into a sheepish grin before you shook it off again. "But she stayed quiet on that one. She wouldn't talk about it. Later, when I came out again at twenty, she accepted it. But she didn't remember talking about it when I was younger. Sometimes I still wonder if I just dreamed it. I remember my little sister being in the car, too, but - we never talked about it again, either, even after I came out and started transitioning. Like I said, I just felt...alone. Like I could scream at the top of my lungs and no one would even hear a sound, like they wouldn't even react badly, at least that would be something, but instead they'd just - just freeze. And nothing would change and I'd just be stuck. I was so scared to say anything that second time, Rose. I was so scared it wouldn't matter."
"Oh. Oh, Bella." I wrapped my arms loosely around you from behind, wishing I could just warm up, just for a little while, and hold you properly. "I...I felt the same way with my parents. So many times. I was so scared to show them who I truly was, so I went along with all their plans, right up...well, right up until the end."
You shuddered, and I started to pull back, but suddenly you grabbed my hand. "God. Listen to me going on like this. Rose, my parents - they came around eventually. That second time my parents and my sister listened, and they accepted me for who I was. I was so, so lucky. I didn't have to - I didn't get stuck with anything I couldn't survive. And even before that, they didn't expect so much of me that I was totally suffocating. It...wasn't anything like what you went through. I'm sorry."
"No. Bella, you don't have to be sorry," I said, quietly but firmly. "Listen. Let's come to an agreement: we both went through our share of awful things. We don't have to compare those things to one another to agree that they were awful, and - and neither one of us deserved them. You deserved to be loved and accepted for who you were, and so did I, and if we had been...both of our lives would have been very different."
You opened your mouth to object at once, and I swiveled the chair around, meeting your eyes and arching an eyebrow. Your lips snapped shut and, finally, curved into a sheepish little grin.
"Okay," you agreed softly.
"Good." I grinned back at you, then began inspecting your hair once more. "My friend Vera...she was the closest thing I had to a sister. I would have been completely lost without her, you know. All I had for company were two little brothers, and - well, I do miss them more than I ever would have expected, before, but...they weren't quite the same."
"It's hard, isn't it? Being the eldest," you murmured. "Everyone expects so much of you, everyone expects you to keep an eye on the kids, no one really gives you room to just...be."
I hummed in thought, nodding. "I suppose I always thought it might have been easier if I'd been a boy."
"It's not. It's just a different set of expectations. Not as different as you'd think." You swung your feet in slow, narrow arcs, glancing into your lap briefly before shyly looking up through your lashes. "I always thought I would have liked to be a middle child, honestly. Part of me always wanted a big sister looking out for me."
I couldn't help breaking into a broad smile. "Isn't that funny? Part of me always wanted a little sister. At least I would have known what to do with a girl."
Your lips curled into an answering grin. "You know, I actually think you'd be pretty good at it."
"It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world?" I teased. "Having me looking out for you?"
You shook your head, your smile softening. "No. I mean...if you think you could stomach the job, that is."
I sighed dramatically, beginning to fix your makeup. "It's a sacrifice, but I suppose I'll manage."
You giggled, and you spoke so softly I'm sure you thought I couldn't hear...but I caught every word, and the feeling behind it. "Love you, too, Rose."
Denali National Park, Alaska
I kept talking and talking, my stories turning back on themselves, until I found myself telling Bella things she already knew, recounting conversations she'd participated in. My hunger was clouding everything else, even my grief. It was getting harder and harder to deny it. If I didn't go soon…
I was broken out of my reverie by Esme's arrival. Alice was cradled in her arms, unconscious. She looked like she was sleeping, and her skin - it still glittered, faintly, to my eyes, but it was changing, growing darker, becoming more human. The dark circles under her eyes were beginning to fade. There was even a flush to her cheeks.
"Rose," Esme breathed, before looking down at Alice, at a loss for words.
I stood, darting out of the way, shoving my hand at my mouth and biting down on one of my knuckles until I came back to myself. It was still difficult to speak. Esme set Alice on the bed beside Bella, hesitated for a moment, then gently took their hands and intertwined their fingers.
"What happened?" I choked out, my voice low and feral.
"We don't know. Carlisle's never seen or heard of anything like this," she replied, before turning to me, setting her hands on her hips. "Rosalie, you need to go hunt. Now. Or - Carlisle's working on getting some blood for a transfusion, in case Charlie needs it, or Bella once she's changed, he could-"
"No," I growled, and Esme stepped back, raising her hands placatingly. "No human blood. And I - I can't leave. I won't leave them alone."
"Rose, they won't be alone. I'll stay with them until you get back, I swear."
My eyes drifted across the pair of them, and then they fixed on Esme's face. My expression must have been horrific. Her lips parted in shock and her eyes searched mine. I could scarcely manage another feral little growl. "Promise?"
"Yes. I promise. On my life, on Carlisle's, on the lives of all of you - everything I hold dear, sweetheart. I won't leave their bedside for a nanosecond, no matter what."
I shut my eyes, screwing up my face, trying to regain some sense of control...but I couldn't wait any longer. I nodded, sharply, and bolted out of the room, down the hall to the door.
Emmett, Jasper, and the two new vampires - Eleanor and Jessamine - were all gathered outside by Jasper's SUV, arguing in hushed voices. I wasn't sure what they were saying. Emmett called out to me as I passed, but I shook my head and raced off into the wilderness, only returning fully to myself once I'd slaked my thirst on a grizzly bear or two. I wiped at my face as I started thinking properly again, crouched over the hulking body of an adult male bear, licking the last traces of blood off my lips and my fingers. The taste was as dissatisfying as ever, but the burn in my throat eased, and my thoughts came clearly once more.
Bella, I thought, and it was all I could do to dispose of the corpse more properly, tearing it open more completely, making it look like the result of some deadly clash between beasts. I knew Esme would be true to her word, but I still wanted to be there, still felt like being at her side and Alice's would help, somehow. At last, the work was done, and I turned on my heel, racing back toward the settlement and thinking of what I might tell the two of them next.
Rochester, New York
Sheltered as I was, I scarcely realized how the world around me was changing as Vera and I became young women - and the truth is, within our privileged little community, it didn't change much. Somehow, despite the stock market crash, despite the runs on the banks and the way our economy spun into freefall, the bank where my father worked just...kept going. Our wealth and privilege endured. We tightened our belts a little, perhaps, and I remember my parents didn't buy me nearly as many dresses or hats or other useless little thrills in those last years of my life, but we still had a fine home and plenty of food on our table, and so did the Williamsons.
Looking back, I'm sure Carlisle had a great deal to do with it. He had arrived in town before the Depression really hit, together with Esme and with Edward, who was presenting himself at the time as Esme's unmarried younger brother. Even before Alice joined the family, the sheer momentum of Carlisle's immortality, his intelligence and his good judgment meant he had more wealth than he could possibly spend over the course of multiple lifetimes, and I'm quite certain he spread it around quietly but widely, ensuring that our town continued to thrive as best it could. I've seen the books, and I know some of his investments failed too - even the Cullens couldn't completely escape economic collapse on a global scale - but he had his eggs in many baskets and he weathered the storm.
Dr. Cullen, his wife and most especially his brother-in-law largely kept to themselves. Of the three, Carlisle himself had the most contact with the community. We had all seen Edward, of course, and we had all done our best to draw his eye - even Vera mooned over him, just a little - but he was absolutely and resolutely a confirmed bachelor, and eventually we tired of the effort and returned to our own affairs.
Vera's passion for astronomy had grown, and where my own parents had no interest in anything that would not help me win a fine husband, hers continued to indulge her. Her uncle, though now working at the Lowell Observatory out in Arizona, continued to send her books and arrange for some supplies to be sent to the Williamson home. On his last visit, he had even helped her father construct a little observatory for her own use: a shack, really, equipped with a large telescope, set some distance back from the house and well away from the lights of Rochester's main streets. Officially, Vera's father had forbidden her to go use the observatory unless he was available to escort her - but in practice, Vera was quite the escape artist and frequently defied his wishes, particularly when I was staying over.
I had needed a little more persuading than usual to accompany her that late spring evening - the weather was pleasant enough, but I still felt a strange sort of chill in the air, somehow, and it set my nerves on edge. The night was dark, and only grew darker as we walked on through the woods, with only Vera's hooded lantern to guide us.
"Are you sure you know the way?" I asked, hugging myself as I looked around in the gloom, convinced of a thousand dangers lurking in the shadows. "There and back?"
"Of course I do! And so does Percival," Vera insisted, patting the lanky half-grown hound at her side. Max had, sadly, passed on three years ago, and Percival had joined the family after Vera had been given time to grieve. To be quite honest, he wasn't half the dog Max had been, and my eyes narrowed dubiously as his face dropped into a canine grin at the attention, his tongue lolling.
Vera looked back at my silence, her lips curling into a sly grin. "You're not scared, are you, Rosie?"
I bristled, but refused to rise to the bait this time. "If I were, I'd have every right to be. It's the middle of the night, and we're out in wild country, there could be - robbers! Or bears, or some kind of wild beast!"
"There aren't any bears. Or robbers. Not that I've seen," Vera said, laughing softly. Her laughter soon stilled, though, and I saw her turn her face toward the sky, clear and moonless and full of glittering stars on deep blue velvet. "Besides. It's worth it."
"How is it worth it?" I asked, raising one eyebrow at her.
"Because I have loved the stars too truly to be fearful of the night." Her voice was quiet, reverent, and I had no answer. She glanced back at me, and I could just make out her smile in the gloom. "It's from a poem my uncle found - it's in a book he brought back from England once. The Old Astronomer. It's an old man talking to his student on his deathbed, comforting him, instructing him, and there's this one part...though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too truly to be fearful of the night."
I frowned, looking up at the sky as well, feeling...something tug at me, very briefly, but back then I thought myself too practical for such nonsense. "They're just stars, Vera. They're beautiful, sure, but - are they really worth all this?"
"They're worth everything, Rose, don't you see? We've been looking up at the stars as long as we've existed, telling stories about them, legends written across the sky. And more than that, they're comets and asteroids, other worlds, other suns like ours with worlds like ours spinning around them. Some of them could have people on them. People from another world! Can you think of anything more wonderful? And - well, you've heard about Pluto, haven't you?"
"I...think I remember hearing that name," I allowed.
"It's a planet. A tiny little world all the way out on the edge of our solar system. They've been searching for it for years, out at the Lowell Observatory, and they just announced the name a few weeks ago," Vera went on. "You can scarcely see it, even with a good telescope. It's just a pinprick among the stars, and it moves so slowly you have to track it, night by night, until you can tell where it is by its movement. My uncle told me where to look for it. I've been trying to track it."
"That's what we're doing out here? Looking for a speck? Vera," I said flatly.
She turned her best pleading look on me, pouting, and Percival picked up on his owner's mood and whined softly at well, nosing my leg. "Rosalie, come on. Don't you want to see it? A whole other world, farther than anywhere anyone has ever been?"
We arrived at the shack, and I looked at the telescope poking through the crude aperture, sighing. "I…"
"Shh," Vera said suddenly, sharply. Percival perked up at that, turning to look at the shack, his hackles rising and a low growl in his throat. I glared at her, briefly, but then I heard it: the scrape of paper on paper, just barely audible, coming from inside.
"Vera. Vera, if someone's here we should go," I hissed.
"No. This is my observatory, and no one enters it without my permission," she said, straightening. She walked up to the door, Percival at her heels, and threw it open, raising her lantern high. "Excuse me, may I help you?"
Edward was standing inside, broad sheaves of paper in his hands, and he blinked against the glare. I had thought his eyes a sort of light brown before, even gold, but in the harsh light they looked almost black. Percival growled at him, and he snarled in response, setting the overgrown puppy to whimpering and hiding behind Vera's legs. I rolled my eyes. Seriously not half the hound Max had been.
"Mr. Platt," I said, stepping up next to Vera. I felt a thrill of fear at his countenance - I wasn't sure why - but somehow, seeing Vera face him down made me all the more determined to stand by my best friend, my near-sister. "Perhaps you didn't realize this, but you're on the Williamsons' land. Do you make a habit of breaking into other people's sheds?"
He stared at me a moment, his face contorting, and his eyes flicked to Vera. Finally, he forced a small smile on his face. "My apologies, Miss Hale, Miss Williamson. I was on a long walk when I came across this...observatory. I was curious. Miss Williamson, are these star charts yours? They're very good."
"They...they are. Thank you," Vera said, briefly thrown off. "You still shouldn't have gone through my things without permission."
"I didn't know they were yours. But you're quite right," Edward agreed, setting the star charts back down on the table. "You've been trying to chart Pluto, I take it."
"Yes. I haven't quite gotten a fix on it," she affirmed.
Edward gestured at the charts. "If I may?" He waited until Vera nodded, momentarily speechless, then picked up the charts again, picking out two of them and pointing at one of the smaller dots. "I believe you've spotted it here...and again here. The movement is subtle, but - I have an eye for detail."
Vera snatched the charts from him, examining them closely, and I sighed. "Please excuse my friend's manners, Mr. Pratt," I said. "Though I suppose we're hardly on ceremony at this point."
"We're not. It's all right," he told me.
"This...it might just be error on my part," Vera said at last. "I'd want to observe for at least a couple more weeks, until the moon becomes too bright again…"
"I truly don't think it is error, Miss Williamson. Don't sell your powers of observation short. You could make quite the astronomer, I imagine. Have you ever heard of the computers down at Harvard? A group of ladies who do very similar work, I understand, out in Boston."
"That's not exactly work suitable for a woman of breeding," I interjected, struck by the sudden fear of Vera, free and wild, making her way down to Boston and leaving me here all alone. "I'm sure they're all old maids who never found a proper husband."
Edward looked back at me, an oddly sour - and decidedly presumptuous - expression on his face. "Well. If that's what matters most to you," he muttered, before glancing around again in the night. "Ladies, I don't think it's safe to be out unescorted tonight. You never know what could be hunting in the darkness. Would you allow me to see you home?"
"We're - not exactly unescorted now. And it's a new moon, conditions are perfect," Vera said.
I hissed her name, nudging her in the side. "We can't be out here alone with Mr. Platt, who knows what people might think?"
"Rosalie, what do you think my parents will think if he brings us back now? We didn't exactly use the front door, remember?"
Edward chuckled, a low and surprisingly pleasant sound, though it seemed as though there was a bit of strain beneath it. "Ah, I see. I'm afraid I'm expected home myself, Miss Williamson, but you do have a point. Perhaps I could see you close enough to home to be assured of your safety, and then be on my way?"
Vera chewed on her lip, and I gave her a pleading look of my own. Some instinctive fear was rising in me by the moment, held at bay only by the spit and vinegar with which I met the world, my own streak of contrariness, and I wasn't sure how long I could hold out. Finally, she sighed heavily and nodded.
"All right, Mr. Platt. If you insist. Thank you."
"Of course," he said, inclining his head. "I shouldn't like to think of either of you alone in the dark."
It's hard to believe, now, how much happened in the week following your first real date with Alice. First your friend Callie appearing as though by magic - pun definitely intended - and all the revelations she brought with her, then the grand council meeting with Leah and the pack just a few days later. I can't say I blame you for becoming so exhausted that you fell asleep while we debated the finer points of strategies and boundaries and agreements.
But even after you woke, you were quiet again, and distant. I couldn't blame you for that, either, but I couldn't quite leave it alone. Once I'd set the last of the curlers, I put my hands on your shoulders and leaned in carefully, smiling at you in the mirror. "Penny for your thoughts."
You started briefly when I spoke, but at least it stopped you from chewing on your lip. "Oh. It's - nothing. Stupid, honestly."
"But not stupid enough that you can let it go," I murmured.
You cracked a weak little smile. "Well, maybe I'm just an idiot."
I sighed, standing upright and grabbing a chair, moving it so I could sit beside you and take your hand. "You're not, you know. I'm not going to let you call yourself that, Bella."
"Only you're allowed to do that?"
I tensed, but fought off the instinctive urge to squeeze your hand, fearing my own strength in that moment. "Bella, if I've ever made you feel that way, I'm sorry."
"No. I'm sorry. That wasn't fair - you've never made me feel stupid, Rose. Foolish, maybe, but - it's all right," you said. "It's just...that spell Callie did. The one that seemed to show I belong here."
"Isn't that a good thing? You've been so worried about switching back," I said. "About what it would do to Alice, to all of us. Now you know you won't."
You laughed, then, with more than a little bitterness. "Do I? Do I really know anything anymore? I don't even remember the world I came from, not really. Ten whole years passed, a whole decade that's just - gone. And that's on top of all the memories. I don't know what happened, I don't know how I got here, Callie doesn't even have all the answers, so how do I know I'll get to stay?"
"You will. Bella, why on Earth do you think you would lose all this now?"
"Because I already lost one world, apparently. What's two?" You looked down at your lap, shaking your head. "And even if whatever force brought me here doesn't sweep me away again...it feels like my powers have me living me on borrowed time."
I stiffened again, my eyes widening. "Bella, you haven't been trying to use them again, have you? You promised, you promised Alice."
"I did - I haven't. I swear I haven't," you said. "But that's just it. I don't have to try at all. The first time I used them I just - touched Alice and thought, just for a second, about how much better it would be if her powers worked differently. And suddenly they did. I - I'm so scared now, Rose. Every time I touch any of you, I'm scared of what I might be thinking, and do you know how hard it is to not think?"
"I had no idea. I didn't realize you were going through any of that, but - it hasn't happened since, right? You have it under control?" I asked, even as I glanced anxiously down at our joined hands.
"No. It hasn't. But...it could just be a matter of time." You were silent for a moment, and then, when you spoke once more, your voice was very small. "What happens if I go away again? One way or another, if I just - if I just end up alone in the dark?"
I opened my mouth, then shut it, then took your other hand, leaning in close. "We are not ever going to leave you alone in the dark, Bella. Do you hear me? Not ever. If anything happens to you, if you go away, we will find you. No matter what. We will find a way to reach you."
Your eyes shone, and you swallowed, hard, nodding sharply. "You promise?"
"I promise." I pulled you into my arms, holding you close. "I promise you, little sister."
Denali National Park
Those words kept echoing in my head as I lapsed into silence, watching Bella and Alice sleeping. With every moment, Bella slipped further away from humanity. Alice slipped closer to it. Would they switch places, in the end? Would Alice regain the mortal life she could not remember, leaving Bella perfect and sparkling in our midst? What would it mean for our family? For Charlie? For everyone we had left behind in Forks?
In the end, it didn't matter. I had promised not to leave her alone in the dark, and I had meant it. So if she needed a guide, a lifeline...somehow that was what I had to be.
I took her hand. Her eyes twitched beneath the lids, classic signs of rapid eye movement. She wasn't just sleeping, but dreaming. My eyes flicked over to Alice, and I could see the same subtle movement in her face. Bella's heart was beating faster than a human heart could bear and - after a moment of listening intently - I could hear a beat from Alice's chest, just as rapid, almost but not quite in time.
I swallowed hard, squeezing Bella's hand so very gently, so very carefully. "I don't know what's happening. I don't know how to reach you. But I'm keeping my promise, Bella. I'm here, I'm waiting, you're not alone. You and Alice - you're not alone. Come back, please, just hear me and come back."
Bella shuddered, just once, in her sleep. Her eyelashes fluttered. Her lips parted, breath emerging in a soft and rising sigh.
Everything seemed to stop, just for a moment. The world held its breath.
And then her mouth opened wide, and she began to scream, her voice ragged with agony, and all I could think for a second was, thank God.
Rochester, New York
The hour was well past late, but I was still sitting in Vera's parlor, playing peekaboo with her son Henry and beaming every time he giggled. Vera watched us both, smiling broadly and finally laughing out loud at our antics.
"If the townsfolk could see you now," she teased. "Rosalie Hale, the Ice Queen of Rochester, sitting in my humble home playing peekaboo with the son of a carpenter. They'd never believe it. It'd be a complete scandal."
"A scandal, huh?" I asked, grinning wickedly at her. "Well, I can think of worse ones. There was that rumor I heard about Vera Williamson marrying a carpenter at seventeen…"
"Oh, that." She waved it off. "Don't go around repeating idle gossip, Rosalie. At least not without adding that they're still very happily married."
I paused, my smile fading. "Are you? Really? You married so far below your station…"
"I married for love," Vera said gently. "That's worth more than all the money or status in this world. And anyway, Michael's very good at his job, and he's much in demand. He makes more than enough to keep us fed, and housed, and clothed. That's all that really matters. So yes. I'm very happy. And so is Henry, especially since his Auntie Rosie is keeping him up playing well past his bedtime. Yes, Henry, I am talking about you."
He giggled as his mother scooped him up, beaming down at him, and I felt a pang deep in my heart, watching the two of them together. I wanted a child so badly - or that's what I'd told myself, anyway. And I'd also told myself that I'd be married to Royce King II in just a week, and he'd surely get me with child soon enough, and then Vera and I could raise our babies to be best friends just the way we'd always been.
It wasn't enough. I had been so caught up in the thrill of winning such a fine man for a husband that I'd ignored that thrill of warning, at first, but I was beginning to understand what sort of man he was. How much of a constant balancing act our marriage would be, his temper and vices set against my impatience and stubbornness. I would be married, I would have children, surely it would be enough, but some part of me whispered it wasn't, that it never could be.
I tried to bottle up that voice deep inside, but, as always, Vera saw through me, and drove to the heart of the matter.
"Speaking of marrying for status, how are things with Royce?" she asked, somewhat pointedly, as she looked back at me.
"Oh - wonderful, of course. I couldn't be happier," I lied, offering her a bright smile. "I'm not just marrying him for his status. He's so thoughtful. He brings me roses and violets every day, and he's always complimenting me...it's almost enough to make my head spin."
Vera raised her eyebrows. "Oh? And what is he complimenting? Your sharp wit? Your keen mind?"
I looked away, hugging myself and shifting in place. "The usual sort of compliments. You know."
"I do." She fell silent for a moment. "Rose, you haven't done anything yet you can't undo. You shouldn't be with a man who won't look past your surface, and there are plenty of other men in Rochester - what about that Edward Platt? There's a gentleman under that standoffish exterior, you know that, and he'll have to marry sooner or later. He's more than handsome enough."
"Handsome, maybe, but I'm still not sure he even likes women," I sniffed. "He was a gentleman to you and he's your friend. Not even that - acquaintance. He hardly comes calling. Anyway, he doesn't seem to care much for me. Royce is a good man, Vera. He's polite, he's charming, he's very handsome, and he's always treated me very well. It's a good match."
Vera looked me in the eyes, then sighed. "If you're sure he's what you want, then who am I to object? I just...I want you to be as happy as I am with Michael and Henry. That's all. You deserve it."
"I will be," I promised her, trying to convince myself as much as anyone. "You'll see. I'll have a son of my own soon, and he can be Henry's best friend. Or a daughter, and...well, actually I suppose Royce will have to chase Henry away from her sooner or later if that happens."
I giggled, and Vera smiled, very briefly, but it didn't reach her eyes. She opened her mouth, but whatever else she was about to say, it vanished into silence the second her husband walked through the door.
"That's a very fine automobile parked out front - oh, Miss Hale, I didn't realize you were here. Or that you drove," he said, nodding in deference as he spotted me.
"Oh, it's Royce's car. He let me borrow it, isn't that sweet?" I asked, with a slightly pointed look in Vera's direction. I made no mention of the wheedling and wiles I'd had to employ to win that fine automobile for a night. "And I've told you, Michael, please call me Rosalie. You're married to my sister, after all."
Vera grinned. "In all but blood - oh, wait, no, we did that, too."
I shuddered, but smirked. "I still can't believe I let you talk me into that. It's a miracle we didn't get lockjaw or something."
"It was a clean needle!" she protested.
Michael glanced between us, letting out a low, rumbling chuckle. "The pair of you should take this act on the road," he joked. "But for now - it's gotten awfully late, Rosalie. Would you like me to help you home? I'm sure your fiancé could pick up his car tomorrow."
"Oh, no, I'd better drive it back to town for him. Thank you, but I'll be fine," I assured him, glancing back at Vera and giving her a wink. "How does that poem go? I have loved the stars too truly to be fearful of the night."
Vera smiled softly in return. "Well, watch out for bears anyway. Or robbers. Just get home safe."
"I will," I promised, pulling her into a hug and beaming down at the baby in her arms. "Goodnight, Henry. Sweet dreams."
I said my farewells to the adults in the room, then headed out and drove back into town. It wasn't long before I'd parked Royce's car in front of his townhouse, and I was just getting out when I heard raucous, drunken laughter from a group of men just coming up the walk. I turned to get a better look, and froze as I saw Royce - my Royce - leading the pack, his cheeks red from drink. He stopped as he spotted me and gave me a look of exaggerated shock, putting a hand to his chest.
"What's this? Why, it's Rosalie Hale! And she's been driving my car!" he exclaimed. "Did I say Rosalie Hale could drive my car?"
I scowled, despite my better judgment. "You're drunk."
"So what if he is! You stole his car!" one of his friends jeered.
"I didn't steal it. Royce, you said I could borrow it, don't you remember?" I asked, trying to soften my tone as I spoke to him.
"Hmmm. Let's see. I remember you batting your eyelashes...and swishing your hips...and letting your tits strain against the front of that fucking dress…" I gasped, sickened and shocked at his coarse language, but Royce ignored me as he rambled on. "And then, when I was half at attention, you asked so fucking sweetly if you could borrow my car to meet that whore friend of yours, the one who married that workman. Yes. Yes, I remember now. But we never discussed what you'd do for me. Come on, Rosie-girl, give us a kiss."
He grabbed me, pulling me close, and I nearly gagged at the stench of alcohol and cigars on his breath. I tried to pull away, but he held me fast, and all I could do was turn my head while he slobbered all over my cheek. "I'm not going to kiss you while you're drunk! Or after you've said such - such rude, awful things to me. What has gotten into you?"
"Oh, come off it! What's gotten into me? The fucking truth, Rosie, and no mistake," he growled, as his friends hooted and hollered. He shoved me roughly against a brick wall, his bloodshot eyes boring into my soul. "I finally see you for what you really are. A tease. A temptress. A goddamned succubus. Except you're never really going to give up what you promised, are you? Not unless I take it."
Tears flooded my eyes, rolling down my cheeks, and I shook my head. "I will. I'm going to, on our wedding night...Royce, please let me go. Please."
"Oh." He shivered and shut his eyes, his lips curling in a blissful smile, but his grip remained firm. "I like that. You keep begging, Rosie. Maybe if you beg real nice, one of us'll stop. But then - maybe not. Might as well try."
You know what happened next, Bella.
Somewhere in Alaska
And you know how it all ended. A snow-covered field in the wilderness. An overturned SUV, you and Charlie knocked out as we fought for your lives.
As I began to lose that fight.
That redheaded bitch Victoria had picked Emmett for her sparring partner, and her powers meant she could avoid his blows while keeping him distracted, unable to come help any of the rest of us. Carlisle and Edward were evenly matched against Laurent and Victor. And lucky me, I'd drawn the eye of James.
"Think you'll have an easier time with a girl?" I hissed, as I feinted briefly and then tried to get in under his block.
"Any old girl?" he taunted, kicking me hard in my stomach, driving me back. He gave me a lazy grin as he stalked forward to resume the fight. "Nah. But you? Yeah, princess, I think I can take you."
He grabbed my jacket, and I heard it tear as he pulled me forward. I dug my heels in to fight him but it wasn't enough. Finally, growling, I fumbled until I was free of the thing, sweeping away. "I'm no one's fucking princess!"
"Well with a mouth like that you sound more like a whore," he snapped, throwing the jacket aside and lunging forward. I tried to dodge, but he caught me by the arm, swinging me into a tree and cracking the trunk. "Gotta say, sweetheart, this is the hardest I've had to work for my prey in a while. I should thank you. Tell you what, I don't know what that human girl is to you, but I'll think of you for a second or two when I tear her open, her and her daddy."
I snarled, slamming my head into his, and he reeled back for a second, just enough time to let me escape. I went to grab a boulder, thinking I'd smash his head in, but he was on me again in a flash and searing agony shot through my body as he tore my arm off at the shoulder. I tried to grab it back, but he used it to smack me hard across the face, so hard that I was seeing stars just for a second.
"What do you think, is 'stop hitting yourself' too cliche?" he joked, smacking me again.
I don't know how many times he hit me. Somewhere in the middle of it all, my vision cleared just enough that I could see you crawling from the wreckage. My eyes widened involuntarily, and I tried to gesture to you just out of James's sight, but he caught me. He looked over his shoulder, and I punched him hard in the stomach, and for a moment he staggered. But he recovered himself, and when he'd turned back to me, his face was split into the nastiest grin I'd ever seen. He threw my arm into the trees and then he was back on me, grabbing my legs, ready to pull me apart from root to branch.
This was how it was going to end. I'd failed you. We'd all failed you. I was going to die, and then Emmett would go, and Carlisle and Edward, and when all your defenders had fallen, they'd take you and Charlie. I smacked James with my remaining arm, trying to get him off, but he wouldn't let go. He just ripped off one of my legs instead before setting back to work dismembering the rest of me.
And then I smelled it. Human blood, sharp and clear, some of the sweetest I'd ever smelled. And all of a sudden James was off of me, he was running at you, so fast I couldn't hope to catch him. Certainly not on one leg. I moved as swiftly as I could to put myself back together, to go help you. Your arm was up, you were bleeding, I didn't know what the hell you were thinking but I knew you had done it deliberately. For me.
I was furious. I was terrified.
He reached you, and you grabbed him, and all of a sudden it was like he was flying apart, piece by piece. Not literally, but - the sparkle fell away from his skin. His face melted and reformed, his pale flesh regained the flush of life, his heart began to beat. I saw you doing it, and for a moment I could have cheered, until I realized the cost. You fell toward the Earth, dragging him down with you, and I ran for you, tossing the weak, pathetic human James had become aside and letting venom fill my mouth. Screwing up every ounce of willpower I had, I drove my teeth into your flesh, letting my venom into your wound.
"Stay with me, Bella," I gasped, once I'd come back up, spitting the taste of your blood from my mouth, fighting my urges, searching for another place to bite. "Just stay with me a little longer."
Denali National Park, Alaska
The screaming was almost worse than the silence. It was a normal response, at least, but now I had to watch Bella in agony - and Alice was still fast asleep, still silent, and I still didn't know what was happening with her. I kept telling her almost every story I could think of. I didn't tell her what Royce and his gang did to me - she knew more than anyone needed to already - but I told her about Carlisle finding me and saving me. I told her about meeting Emmett, about Alice and Jasper coming into our lives. I recounted all my favorite moments since she had joined our family. And through it all I held her hand, I rubbed her shoulder, I whispered soothing words when she babbled incoherently from the pain. I listened to her heart beating faster, and faster, waiting for that one final beat before it stilled forever.
But this story didn't go the way I thought it would.
Her heart was still beating fast as a hummingbird's when her eyes snapped open and she took in a loud, gasping breath. She sat bolt upright, her gaze wild but lucid, and her eyes met mine.
Her eyes were mine. The same shade of blue I'd had as a human, looking out at me from a face caught somewhere between human and vampire.
"Bella," I breathed. "How...how is this possible? How is any of this possible?"
Rochester, New York
In all the chaos surrounding the final hours of Bella's transformation, I didn't get to the final part of Vera's story, decades on, after nearly everyone else I'd known in my human life had died or grown senile or drifted away from my hometown. By the 1980s, my parents were gone, and the bank my father had worked for had been lost through merger after merger, becoming just another branch of a massive Manhattan-based conglomerate. My brothers had taken their families and left. The King family never recovered from Royce's death, and died out along with his parents. Henry, I'd been sorry to learn, had died in the Korean War, and Michael had died of a heart attack, leaving Vera alone.
I knew it was dangerous to go and see her. I knew it had been risky to dig into her life in the first place. But I was just a few hours away at that point, working on my master's degree in astrophysics at Cornell. When I found out she was languishing in a nursing home in Rochester, her mind plagued by Alzheimer's and her health failing with each passing moment, I couldn't pass up the chance to see my best friend, my sister, one last time. I could never have forgiven myself if I'd wasted the opportunity to say goodbye.
Emmett understood, of course. He always does. That's one of many reasons why I love him.
We waited for a heavily overcast day, and made our way out to the home, and some fast talking convinced the staff that I was in fact Vera's grandniece of sorts, the granddaughter of her best friend from her youth. A nurse led us to her room, warning us that she had been growing less and less coherent over the last few weeks. When we arrived, and I saw Vera laying in her bed, frail and wrinkled and gazing listlessly out the window at the rain splattering against the glass, I feared the worst. But when the nurse announced she had company, Vera turned to look at us and her whole face lit up.
For a moment - just a moment - I could see the girl I remembered with perfect clarity shining through her faded eyes.
"Rosie!" she cried, in a hoarse, creaky voice. "Look at you. Oh, you're just as pretty as I remember. And who's this tall drink of water?"
"Emmett McCarty, ma'am," Emmett said, smiling broadly at her and putting his arm around my shoulders. "I have the pleasure and the honor of being Rose's husband."
The nurse smiled softly, excusing herself, and we walked over to Vera's bedside as she chuckled. "Oh, I like him, Rosie. So much better than Royce ever was. Are you happy with him?"
A dark cloud passed through my mind at the mention of Royce, but Emmett seemed to sense it, squeezing my shoulders and leaning in to kiss my hair. I turned to look up at him, smiling fondly. "Oh, yes. Happier than I've ever been."
"I can tell. I'm so glad," she said. "Oh, you two have to stay for dinner. Michael should be home any minute, and Henry...well, God knows where that boy's gotten off to, but I'll find him. I told my mother how much trouble he is and she just about laughed her ass off. Serves me right, I suppose."
My smile became slightly forced, for all that I tried to fight it, but she didn't seem to notice, lost as she was in her own world. "I don't think we can stay, Vera. We live down in Ithaca now, it's a long way home. I'm...I'm studying at Cornell. Astrophysics."
"You are? Well, that's wonderful! You must be working with Uncle Felix, then. Can't believe he never told me…" Vera shook her head, scowling slightly.
I felt a pang, and reached out to take her hand, trying not to wince at the feeling of her trembling fingers and papery skin. "He's very busy, it probably just...slipped his mine. Vera, don't blame him. I should have told you I was all right. I should have reached out...long before now. It's been so long, and I'm so sorry…"
"Oh, Rosie. Don't start crying, you'll get me crying," she said, sniffing softly and shaking her head, giving me a shaky grin. "Gracious, your hand's ice cold. Is it that time of year already?"
"Yes, it's...it's very cold outside," I lied.
"Ithaca really is a long way away, especially in the dark. Are you sure you don't want to stay the night? I'm not feeling very well, but Michael'll make up the guest room if I ask. He's a good man. I think I'll keep him." Vera smiled dreamily.
"We'll be fine," I promised, smiling sadly. "I have loved the stars too truly to be fearful of the night."
"Oh. That's nice. Is that from something?" she asked, meeting my eyes again.
My breath caught in my throat as I tried to speak, and I nodded, slowly, before answering. "From a poem a very good friend told me about. A long time ago. Would you like to hear it?"
Vera beamed. "If you have the time. I always loved poetry."
Emmett squeezed my hand, and I looked back at him, at his steady, reassuring smile, before I gathered my thoughts and began to recite the verse.
Reach me down my Tycho Brahé, — I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then till now…
Denali National Park, Alaska
Days later - after everything - I went out into the cold winter night and found Bella laying back on the roof of the house Kate, Tanya and Irina shared, gazing up at the starry sky. It barely took me any time at all to climb up the side of the house and join her, and she turned to smile at me as I drew near, her blue eyes - my eyes - gleaming in the starlight.
"Hey," she said softly.
"Hey," I echoed. "Mind if I join you?"
"Go for it. I'm not really doing anything, just…" She gestured up at the sky. "Stargazing. And thinking."
I lay down beside her, looking up, my eyes seeking out the constellations Vera had shown me, long ago. "It's a good night for it."
"Mmm. Which one?"
I chuckled. "Both, I guess. What were you thinking about?"
"Oh...this and that. Almost dying. Coming back. The dream I shared with Alice, the changes we've both been through. James," she said, with a little shudder.
I turned my head to look at her. "We...did what we had to do. With James. He would only have been trouble."
She nodded slowly. "I used to be a pacifist. I knew violence was sometimes necessary, but...I never wanted it in my life. Never wanted to start a fight, hell, never wanted to be in one at all. Now here I am ordering executions and planning to start an all-out war."
"You didn't order me to do anything. I knew what you were thinking. And I agreed," I told her, reaching out to take her hand. "He's not the first person I've killed."
"I know," she replied, very quietly. "I'm sorry I asked you to kill someone else."
"He tried to kill you. I was more than ready to do it."
"Still." She sighed. "He won't be the last person we have to kill. This fight is going to leave blood on all our hands. So much of me is so sure it's necessary, but a part of me...a part of me just isn't convinced."
"Well...it's not just on you. It's on all of us. We voted. We made this call together, and the allies we bring in, they'll decide for themselves if this fight is worth it," I said. "You weren't wrong. The Volturi are dangerous. They've crossed plenty of lines, killed plenty of people, and not just the humans they've slaughtered to slake their thirst. We always figured they'd keep trying to get Edward and Alice. You just opened our eyes to what they'd be willing to do."
"I guess you're right. I hope you're right," Bella amended. We lay in silence for a moment before she turned to look at me. "You know...I haven't had a chance to really test out my powers, now that I'm a hybrid. I guided dad's transformation, but I haven't done a whole lot else."
I hesitated a second before asking, very gently, "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Alice already cleared it," she replied, but she bit her lip lightly. "Unless you don't want to. What Eleazar said-"
"I...don't know what Eleazar was reacting to. But I'm not afraid of you. Or your powers, I just - don't want you getting hurt," I said. "And if Alice is sure you won't, then...okay. But you don't have to tinker with them, I just...I just want to know, Bells."
"I'm pretty sure I can do that." She sat up, and I shifted to join her as she took my hand in both of hers, shutting her eyes and concentrating. I felt something shift and come loose, flowing away from me through our connection, drifting from my body to hers. For a second I felt slightly lost. Unsure, adrift. Then whatever she'd taken came flooding back and the feeling passed. She opened her eyes and her whole face lit up as she giggled.
"What? What is it?" I asked.
"I - you're you. That's your power!" she replied, still laughing.
I tugged my hands free, folding my arms and raising my eyebrows. "Seriously? My power is I get to be myself?"
"No, it's more than that, it's - how do I explain," she said, still snickering as she thought for a few moments. "Okay. Your power is that you can hold onto yourself, no matter what. Your memories, your sense of self, your feelings, no one can take those things from you. You get to keep a clear head. And more than that, you sort of...project your self-image to others."
I blinked a couple times, slowly shaking my head. "Yeah, I don't think I get it."
"You know how Chelsea can manipulate relationships? And that other one, Corin, she can make you feel content? I think you're immune. Anything that would alter your sense of who you are and what you want wouldn't work on you. Anything that would take your memories or identity wouldn't work. Your power is keeping your true self."
My eyes widened, and I nodded slowly, my lips parting. "Okay, that...could be useful."
"Totally. Especially with some tweaks," she said, flashing a grin.
"But what about the projecting part? How does that work?"
"Oh! Mostly it manifests as your beauty. Everyone thinks you're super hot because you think you're hot shit," she replied with a smirk.
I reached out to swat her, but she leaned away, laughing, and I narrowed my eyes at her. "Oh yeah, this is going to get annoying."
"Oh, sorry not sorry for my super hybrid reflexes," she breezes, shrugging one shoulder. "But seriously. Your charisma is a little supernatural. You are beautiful and you can be charming, but because those traits are part of your self-image, you have a little extra pull."
"Huh." I turned that over for a moment. "...do you think I could learn to turn that off? Or use it selectively, or - change what I'm projecting?"
"Maybe. Mostly it would mean changing your self-image, which is harder than it sounds. Believe me," Bella replied, shrugging, then waving her hand. "But remember, I have magic fingers. I might be able to make some modifications."
"Okay, one, we're not using that term for them again. Two...I'll think about it."
"Fair enough." She settled back beside me, turning to look at the stars once more. "You know...I've been thinking of this poem all night."
"Wait. Let me guess." I smirked, holding up a hand. "Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too truly to be fearful of the night."
She gaped at me for a second, and I laughed, shaking my head. "What, you think you're the only one who's ever read a poem? Please. Anyway, if you'd been listening the last few days, you'd know exactly how I know that one. For all I know, you stole it from me."
"Um, yeah, I was a little busy with a weird mystical dream quest," Bella retorted. "Anyway. I do love that poem, but I was thinking of something else I read once."
"Yeah?" I asked. "What?"
She glanced back at me, thinking for just a split second before she began to recite the verse.
Now the autumn shudders
In the rose's root,
Far and wide the ladders
Lean among the fruit.
Now the autumn clambers
Up the trellised frame
And the rose remembers
The dust from which it came.
Brighter than the blossom
On the rose's bough
Sits the wizened, orange,
Bitter berry now;
Beauty never slumbers;
All is in her name;
But the rose remembers
The dust from which it came.
I sat in silence for a moment once her voice faded, leaning back on my elbows. "I am not sure if that's a compliment or an insult."
"It just...is, Rose. It's who you are. The rose that remembers," she replied. "Even before you let me check your powers...even with that weird dream and everything...I don't know. I feel like you were talking to me, when I was out? Like I could almost hear you. And I think you said something like - I remember everything."
My mouth felt dry, not with thirst but with surprise, and I shifted closer to Bella, wrapping my arm about her shoulders. "Yes. I was talking to you. Almost the whole time. And yes, I said that. Do you remember anything else?"
"Not really. What were you talking about?"
"I don't know if I want to go over it all again. I probably repeated myself. Told you things you already know. I had to make the story last something like three days, after all," I said, and she pouted, and I sighed. "I was telling you about my human life. And my friend Vera. I have to warn you, it's not entirely a happy story. And like I said, it's a long one."
"I can handle it. And we have all the time in the world. Not to mention a really long drive back to Washington," she pointed out. "If you want to share it, I want to hear it. I'm never going to say no to one of your stories."
I smirked again. "Okay. But I'm not going to do the voices."
She flung her arms out, rolling her eyes dramatically. "What is the point if you don't do the voices?"
I stuck my tongue out at her. "Spoiled brat."
"Conceited jerk," she returned, making a face in return, then moving in close, curling up against my side. "Begin, please."
"At least you're saying please. There's hope for you yet," I grumbled. But I looked at her, the little sister I'd always wanted but never expected, the family I certainly would never have asked for, and I couldn't help but smile. "The first thing you need to understand is this: I remember everything."