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Flying and Flocking

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I wish you out of the woods
And into a picture with me.
I wish you over the moon,
Come out of the question and be.

- Nickel Creek, “Out of the Woods”

~

What kills her the most is that even though Bella dumped him like a bucket of hot coals into the ocean, he will still end up with a bloodsucker to cool down his bed each night.

Leah doesn’t cool down. She can’t. She tries so hard for a year, because of Seth, because of Jake, because of her mother. Because of Sam. She skims websites on breathing techniques at least three times before shoving the mouse, hard, off the back end of the desk. Each time, it dangles there listlessly for hours after she stumbles out the door with her toes already curling into claws.

She used to think she knew how to handle it when people imprinted.

She was wrong. There are no breathing techniques for this. There is nothing she can do to fix this, even though she wants to, more than she ever wanted to repair the broken pieces of her own life. Every day, the sick smile on Jacob’s face, or the clouds in his thoughts make her lose a little bit more of her carefully gathered control.

At some point, Leah will snap, and break again. She knows this.

It’s why she has to leave.

(She ignores the fact that leaving is a kind of breaking of its own.)

 

Renesmee smiles at Bella again, that perfect sunburst of a smile, and Rosalie feels as though a knife is being plunged into her still heart.

She watches, a hawk in the treetops, as they link hands to form a circle, and they spin, spin, spin, with the tips of their toes twirling in the grass. The circle is impenetrable. They are each two halves of the whole; mother, daughter, neither can exist without the other.

Renesmee has put her tiny hands in Rosalie’s, but they both know that this circle is different. There is no force that runs between their connected fingers like veins of blood flowing through one single being.

Rosalie used to think she envied Bella.

She had no idea.

Every time she hears or feels Renesmee’s heartbeat, she wants to burst into nonexistent tears. Bella has always had everything that matters: a choice, a child. The perfect life, for the girl who does not deserve it.

Bella chose wrongly, and she still got her happy ending.

(If Rosalie thought this could actually kill her, she might be inclined to stay.)

 

When Leah was five years old, she liked pretending to be a wolf. The tribe’s bonfires never interested her much then, except that they allowed her to stay up during those hours taboo for children. She would drift in and out of the stories, gathering the bits and pieces she liked for later. The wolves were the best. Nobody talked about them overly much, but when they did, Leah would sit up, alert, eagerness dancing in her eyes alongside the reflection of the fire. It would take hours of excited squirming in her bed before she would finally fall asleep, and when she did, she would dream of running and forests and maybe chasing squirrels like Emily’s dog liked to do.

Then, morning. Hands and knees already scraped and bruised from climbing too many rocks and trees, Leah would prowl around the kitchen floor on all fours, stalking Seth, who would cry when she growled too convincingly. She got in trouble for all the howling after a while, but she could always get away with pretending to eat her brother, because she would mouth and tickle his rounded, toddler belly until he convulsed with giggles. When he was older, he would join her, and they would race in a pack around the backyard like the wild creatures they would one day become.

Now, Leah plays at being human. Her imagination has become her reality, and she wishes it would go back. Maybe it will go back, if she pretends with the same fervor she used to.

The games aren’t as fun as they were, not in reverse. She is the wolf who stands on its hind legs, tottering like a fool through the city streets of Washington.

Leah hates cities. She thought she’d like them, once. The grit of them, the sheer urbanity of a place made out of glass and steel instead of wood; the clipped tones of the people who lived in them, people you would see but never know. The reservation had been like a trap: once you were there, you stayed. That was the world you would come into when you were born, and it was the one you would leave when you died. Maybe you would do something in between. It might even be important. But no matter what you did, you’d always be standing still. The Clearwaters don’t even have a car anymore.

The transformations—those are another kind of cage, one that masquerades as freedom. You can go wherever you want, as long as you aren’t seen, but you are always tethered to the Pack. You are always needed on the reservation, because now, they say, you are finally something.

So here’s a little something they don’t mention on the brochures: werewolves don’t get to have a future.

Leah prowls Seattle, feeling exposed. She rubs her bare arms, where goosebumps have prickled, even though she isn’t cold. Everything is so closed in, at the same time that it is far too open. Her nose recoils at the scents brought on by every false breeze; this mask of human skin can’t hide the wolf’s sense of smell.

When she tours the local community college, she haunts the campus like a phantom. Her questions go unasked, unspoken. Eyes glance around her and through her. She rubs her arms more, harder; her skin is dry. Someone looks at her finally, and she flips them off.

“Jesus,” the girl says. “Fuck you, too.”

It’s so much harder to hear it back. At home, Leah is the one who gives it. Everyone lets her. She never takes it. It’s her right, not to have to.

These people, in this big city, with their sophisticated bullshit—they don’t know her, and they don’t know anything.

Nobody looks at her again as she leaves the tour group.

Leah hates cities. She’s always been barred from them, and now she knows why.

 

Hitchhiking gets her through Washington. Her mother had always warned her not to hitchhike, and she’s seen enough horror movies to reinforce everything Sue Clearwater told her. But Leah flirts with danger like she used to flirt with Sam, before there was history or even meaning between them. Besides, one of the perks of not being human is being able to defend yourself against those who are.

And anyway, with her dirty, shorn-off hair, faded purple tank top, thinning jeans, and sour expression, she’s the one that mothers warn against. She may as well have a rusty axe strapped to her back, for all the useless time her thumb spends perched in the air.

After Seattle, an old Latino couple take pity on her. Their station wagon grinds off the road, and Leah steps back as the dust rises to meet her eyes. The man rolls down the window—manually, judging by the way his shoulder is rotating—and leans out to speak to her. His dark hair looks as though it has been dusted with pepper, and there are crinkles around his eyes that Leah doesn’t think have come just with old age.

“Where you going, honey?” he asks. His voice has the barest trace of an accent, and more than a hint of kindness, and together, they seem to caress the last word, making her wish that where she is going were home.

“Oregon,” Leah says. “Just across the state line.”

“That’s a pretty long line,” the man observes casually. “Lots of places to cross.”

Leah shrugs. “Surprise me.”

He smiles. “Okay.”

As she climbs into the backseat of the station wagon, the man introduces himself as Ulysses. Leah calls herself Rebecca, and almost blushes when the little woman in the passenger seat turns out to have the same name. Rebeca—“Just one ‘C,’” she tells Leah—has a long, white braid, and squints behind her glasses in a way that makes Leah glad that Rebeca’s husband is the one driving.

The station wagon doesn’t go very fast, and Ulysses and Rebeca don’t seem to be in much of a hurry, themselves, but Leah doesn’t mind, even when they stop at the little vistas carved off the side of the road.

“For just a few minutes, Rebecca,” they tell her each time, cheery, but always slightly apologetic, as if they are the ones burdening her.

Feeling guilty, she gets out of the car every time they stop, except for the few hours she falls asleep to the hypnotic paint swirls of leaves out the window.

When they pass over the Bridge of the Gods into Oregon, though, Leah knows it’s time. The trees are beginning to thicken here, and she can smell real, true forest nearby. The sap and the pine needles seem to sing to her blood.

Between goodbyes, Leah has to repeatedly refuse the twenty dollars that Ulysses tries to press into her hands.

“Take care of yourself, honey,” he settles on at last. Rebeca wraps her in a bony but warm embrace.

Leah walks as the station wagon drives away. She isn’t sure how far she goes, just that she keeps going, pressing onward until it feels right. Until she’s hidden. Then, she strips naked among the trees, relishing the way the cool air touches her skin, and tucks her clothes and sandals into a small bag that she attaches loosely to her leg.

It’s time to run.

 

Where the hell are you?

Seth is in her head an hour later. The connection is faint, but there, like fishing line.

Watch your language, she snaps.

That’s real funny, coming from you, y’know.

I’m older than you.

So? You’re not acting like it.

She realizes, too late, that the petulance in Seth’s tone is forced; even in her head, there’s a quaver behind his words, one that only increases at her harshness. All of his usual humor is gone; she has taken it away.

I’m sorry, she says.

For what? Being bitchy, or running away? I guess they’re kinda the same thing, though, aren’t they?

Seth, stop—

Stop what? You left, Leah. How could you? I found your note first. I had to deal with Mom. I’m still dealing with her.

Seth—

Just. You’re okay, right? he interrupts.

I’m fine, I...

Good. You better be. I’ll tell Mom.

When she doesn’t reply, she feels his frown.

You’re being selfish, Leah.

She ducks her head and runs faster, till she can’t hear anything but the wind in her ears.

I know, I know, I know.

She doesn’t try to listen for a reply.

 

At some point in central Oregon, the connection she has with her pack fizzles and dies. At first, she thinks that Seth has finally grown disgusted enough with her to push her away for good. He’d been checking in with her every few hours, though he didn’t say much; sometimes, he was merely a presence in her head, like silent breathing on the other end of a phone.

She’d sensed Jacob there once, but that had been too much. Her body had shuddered with emotion, and a white-hot wave had rushed over her like anger. But it wasn’t anger. Leah hadn’t known what it was, but it had made her stumble, and by the time she touched the ground, she’d had human hands to reach out and break her fall.

Leah has never been one to lie on the ground like a wounded animal, and so she had gotten to her feet easily enough. Even so, she had stayed by one, sturdy tree, her hand pressed against its sandpaper bark, her sweating forehead pressed against her hand, for longer than she could count. She didn’t cry, but dry heaved a little, alone in the forest.

Jacob didn’t try to contact her again. Seth had, just once more. Then he couldn’t.

As a wolf again, the solitude pleases her. She has run away from her last lifelines, the last threads that have clung to her for three hundred miles as she continued to unravel.

But there’s a small part of her, hidden beneath the floorboards of her heart, that’s grateful she’s the one who broke the connection, not them. She couldn’t stand to be abandoned by two of the last people in the world who still care about her.

 

Leah smells the California redwoods from miles away, and she flies into them as into an embrace.

 

“Rose?”

Rosalie has decided to answer her phone this time. Because it amuses her in the stretches of nothingness, she’s made a game of it: she keeps a tally in her head of the times the phone rings, who’s calling, for how long each caller tries before giving up, and who’s clever enough to make her pick up. For instance, since she left Forks three days ago, Emmett has called her one hundred and sixty-seven times. For the last one hundred, he’s hung up before the third ring.

Edward is too far away to read her mind, but she thinks that he and Alice have been teaming up in trying to contact her. They’ve succeeded three times. Once, by calling a pay phone just as she was walking past it; she had answered for the sheer curiosity of it, a half smirk curling at her lips, and had waited for exactly two minutes before hanging up. Again, by calling her cellphone from a phone in New York. The area code was so familiar, even though it had been implemented in her post-human times, that she was too startled to remember her game. The third time, they had used Esme’s phone.

Esme is the only one she still talks to. Esme will love anyone, and judge no one with an ounce of kindness in their hearts; but Rosalie once—and only once—saw the way she looked at Renesmee, the way her hands unconsciously fluttered to her stomach, and thought that if anyone could understand why she had to leave, it would be her adopted mother. Hearing Edward on the line when she expected Esme, however, has made her cautious.

Sometimes, she likes to imagine Edward and Alice, sitting together on the floor like children, with their legs crossed, Indian-style. They whisper at each other, “Will she? Or won’t she?”, and play with her as much as she is playing with them.

This afterlife is a game. Rosalie approaches it with a cruel flippancy that still shocks her family.

It wasn’t always like that, of course. At one point in time, her optimism outweighed her bitterness, but gradually, they’ve come to switch. The games had started only when she’d realized the scales were perfectly balanced. Now, she can be anything she wants, do anything she wants, and act any way she pleases, because in this game, that is the only way to survive.

This time, Emmett is calling her.

She stays silent for a while, taking false and stolen breaths as, on what may as well be the other side of the world, Emmett does the same; they simply exist on two ends of the same phone line, connected by wires and empty space. With her phone pressed against her ear, she can almost feel him there, his hand tracing the outline of her cheek and jaw instead of the plastic that is there. For a moment—a simple moment—she wavers; but this electronic caress is already so much warmer than any of them will ever be again.

God, to be human. Not simply the vestiges, the scraps, the walking carrion.

“Will you come home?” Emmett finally asks. Rosalie almost laughs, but doesn’t.

“Will you at least talk to me?” he tries again. “Tell me—”

“Tell you what?” The voice of the queen of ice cuts quick and deep.

“I know something happened. Something set you off. I get it. You need space. I just... Rose, please tell me where you are. I just want to know you’re okay.”

When she bites her lip, sliding her teeth back and forth along it, she can feel the slickness of venom like the slime of a snail.

“Please, baby.”

“It’s not you.”

“Okay, but—”

“Don’t look for me.”

“I won’t, I swear. Just—”

“California.”

She snaps her phone shut with a too-loud click before he can finish saying the three words she knows she doesn’t deserve. The game continues on.

 

The normal people of her frozen age—what is it they do? She is eighteen and ninety-three, out of her time, but never out of time itself. She supposes eighteen is when you’re supposed to graduate from high school, and leave with your friends to backpack around Europe, and sleep in questionable youth hostels. Eighteen is when you’re supposed to open up your eyes, and see the world for the first time. It’s when your heart is lightest, and your head is at its most foolish, and your life—your life is full of emotion and promise.

The first time Rosalie turned eighteen, she had been primped and primed for marriage. That was to be her grand adventure, the maiden voyage of her adulthood. A husband was the only promise she had needed, back then.

And so she is caught. She should be in Paris, snapping photographs with strangers under the Eiffel Tower, or getting drunk around a campfire to keep away the cold and the raccoons.

The first time Rosalie turned eighteen, people her age still went to California, looking for different kinds of gold. Those were often the improper people, the ones who left their homes to see a white-lettered sign on a hill, or the ones so poor all they could afford to do was continue moving until they reached the end of the line. Those were the sorts of people that Rosalie Lillian Hale, banker’s daughter, had been bred not to become. Proper girls stayed where they were—were swept away only to be settled down a few miles from home, like dust carried on a faltering wind. If a girl traveled to Paris, it was with a ring on her finger and a man on her arm. If a girl traveled to California, her name was spoken in hissing whispers behind satin-gloved hands.

At least, it was in the rising social circle of the Hales.

And so if Rosalie Hale is to defy the laws of everything—life, death, the universe, herself—she may as well defy her parents’ ghosts. Rosalie Hale has gone to California, and it feels like setting fire to old photographs: the last connection she has to an ancient, long-lost world.

Of course, she’s been here before—to California. She’s been everywhere. The world is her oyster, prised open with pointed, glittering teeth that have masked the beauty of the pearl.

In the south, she finds beaches and too-bright sun. Palm trees sprout from the earth like weeds, but Rosalie loves the sound of the wind moving through their fronds, dry as dune grass.

Care must be taken, though. Oversized sunglasses obscure her golden eyes, and she wears hats to shade her like an old movie star. Hours tick away as she meticulously paints liquid foundation all over her skin. She is constructing herself, just as she has always done. On a whim, she even dots freckles over the bridge of her nose with eyeliner.

Sometimes, she longs for freckles as much as she does for a child. Both are little kisses from the sun, little signs of humanity. At age thirteen, Rosalie had despaired of freckles, waking up each morning to bleach them out of existence with lemon juice and Orchard White. She had wanted porcelain skin like the dolls’ of her childhood; beauty and status were unblemished. Only laborers’ children, her mother had said, showed signs of overexposure to the sun—this, from knowing firsthand. Every little detail taken together would define you. Look and act better than you are, and that is what you will be.

Look wealthy, cultured, desirable, and you will be murdered in the dark by a man you are meant to love, like attracted to like.

Look otherworldly, and forget to rejoice in your own pulse. Look human, act human, and never be human again.

Her mother had been wrong. You are not what you pretend to be, because sooner or later, someone will find you out, and it will not set you free.

For now, Rosalie forges freckles and tanned skin, knowing she will have to relinquish them soon, these borrowed pieces of her persona.

The life of a vampire is both stagnant and full of motion. It is the juxtaposition of miles of still sand and churning, endless gallons of ocean. They bleed together, each wearing at the other, and yet that they exist together is an unquestionable fact.

Standing at the meeting point, Rosalie finds that the wave-tossed sand stings her legs. It chips at her paint. But the longer she stays, the more the sea breezes comb their fingers through her Rapunzel-golden hair, pulling it behind her as if trying to grasp and plait it, as if just trying to touch, to connect. The gentle intimacy of it all makes her disregard, for a while, the growing shimmer of her calves on the water.

The life of a vampire is both stagnant and full of motion. It is both the desire for solitude and the craving of a simple touch—the right touch. It is the constant longing for the thing that will make you whole.

For a few minutes, Rosalie feels it: the emptiness shrinking.

Then she remembers the touches, the connections, she left behind—she, the spoiled girl who always wanted more—and stumbles backward out of the water.

As she runs back to her hotel room, heedless of witnesses, she becomes the wind herself. And the makeup, the persona, it comes off in peach streaks in the basin of a fiberglass hotel shower.

 

In the end, it’s the North that draws her in again. Wasted time should mean nothing—not to her—but it does. It catches up. Normal humans can go outside without spending three hours beforehand working carefully to blend in. They don’t always—she remembers this, so well—but they can, as their right. They can walk outside with the early-morning sunlight dusting their pajamas, their unmade faces, to fetch the newspaper, or post a letter; and while they may worry about being seen, it is not the most pivotal thing. They may have dark circles under their eyes, and lips too thin and pale, but these are expected and understood. Natural, from worry and lack of sleep and caffeine deprivation.

Rosalie would like to step outside one morning and not have to worry. Not have to waste time doing something that everyone else can do and be so effortlessly. She has always wanted to look her best, but sometimes she wishes she could look her worst, and be accepted for it by all the passers in the street.

San Francisco promises her this, but does not come through for her. Too many places, the people, the streets, the buildings, the air itself—reek and rot. She finds herself choking, and she doesn’t even need to breathe.

Cities are different now. Or rather, she is too different to be in them. Once, they had been home, the harshness of them comforting. Now, with her heightened senses, San Francisco overwhelms her.

Another thing taken from her. She had stayed away so long, because cities held too many people, too many temptations, too much blood, pumping and alive. But that had been her choice, to follow Carlisle’s advice to retreat. She had always thought that the day would come when she could go back.

Now she knows. And she keeps moving away.

 

She doesn’t run. Sometimes she walks, and sometimes she can’t even remember what is carrying her—cars, buses, trains. BART is too fast, but Amtrak rumbles along slowly enough that she can look out the window and pretend to see the world. The stations are often deserted, and these are the ones she likes to stop at, to visit. When the train pauses for only a minute or so at each, Rosalie simply catches the next one. She has no luggage to worry about, after all.

She sees California in patches, judges it by its railroad tracks. Nearby diners allow her to pretend; if she keeps moving the food around on her plate, no one will notice that she isn’t eating. If she yawns as she checks into a motel, no one will think that she doesn’t sleep. Funny, how even though she knows her mother’s rule comes to nothing, she still follows it like the threads of fate.

Ever the human-pretender, she craves to leave her footprints in the earth. Of course she can travel discreetly. She can be invisible if she chooses. Rosalie does not want to be followed, but still, she insists on leaving a trail behind her, an emblazoned sign above it reading, Notice me.

This is a different kind of attention, different from the kind that comes from lipstick, curls, and coquettish glances, low-backed dresses or scooping necklines. It is different from the men and women who lust and envy. She may glory in her vanity, but it is never enough.

She wants to be seen. She wants a stranger to ask her, without agenda, to smile. She wants to exchange a glance with the woman behind the counter as she hands over the room key, a glance that says, I know that you are here. She wants to leave an imprint of her body in the bed, and her name in the guest register, with a few quick thoughts about her stay. She wants to hold open the door for someone who, like her, is just passing through; and her fingerprints will stay on the glass for hours after they have both gone.

This is what she wants, and it is what she tells herself she wants; but the pretending—always the pretending, the forced normality—breaks her pretend heart all over again. The cycle never ends: want, take, have, lose. Try to pretend, never forget. In limbo, she screams and screams, and the sound recycles back to her as the wind that snaps at her face.

Rosalie Hale remains in the cycle for one week.

Then, despairing, she decides to disappear. If no one sees you in plain sight, what is the point of even trying? What is the harm in hiding if no one will know that you have gone?

 

Another week passes. Feral, she darts among the redwood trees with dirt under her nails, killing, surviving, never living.

Then one day, Rosalie smells another shadow. Her lips curl, and her nostrils flare.

This is where the wild things are.

 

Something has changed. Leah senses it immediately. Even the dirt smells different as the water droplets from her hair splash and ripple into it; and the way the particles cling to her wet feet, mixing themselves into shoes of mud, are not the same as they were. There is a heaviness to everything.

The warning is mixed, though, like an interrupted radio transmission from faraway. The birds have not quieted as they should. Rather, they continue to flutter like unconcerned butterflies among the tree branches. Animals peer from their sleepy hollows, blinking in the sunlight of any other day. No cries of alarm burst from the brush.

But Leah knows. Something has been here. Something is still here. The smell has been too corrupted to tell if it is human; and if it is, she can’t phase. If it isn’t, she will have to wait until it reveals itself to act. Jacob has always been the one who can so easily shift back and forth, choosing fur or flesh like a half-second whim. Leah never mastered the skill. Even with a proper catalyst, it might still take a heartbeat too long to grow into her own defenses.

Her Swiss Army Knife is still buried under a corner of the three-man tent she had found in a dumpster the week before. (The tent had been discarded because of a hole in its side like a wounded beast. She had patched it up with duct tape and a piece of the rainfly. Like her mother, Leah had never had the patience for learning to sew, and wouldn’t have known where to begin looking for a needle and thread, anyway. She wouldn’t have even bothered to fix it, if not for the mosquitoes. The knife she keeps buried when it isn’t in her pocket because she’s afraid that someone will find her camp and steal the only real thing of value.)

Warily, silently, Leah stalks her own campsite. She is careful next to the pile of firewood, swaddled in the rest of the rainfly. A few crumpled balls of newspaper have been moved around in her absence, but they are too haphazardly scattered to be anything but windblown. The tent’s zipper hasn’t changed position.

Slowly, she backs toward the tent, toward the corner that hides the knife. One of the tent stakes acts as a shovel, and she pries the knife out of the ground. Like lightning, she pulls the blade out of its red sheath. There are over twenty tools on this knife, and Leah knows which ones cut the deepest.

It always feels unnatural when the deadliest tool isn’t one attached to her body, but at least now she feels less weak, less vulnerable. Trusting the feeling of the plastic and metal in her hand, Leah closes her eyes to listen, and to smell.

She can see, smell, hear, taste, touch, just like any other human being; but when the wolf stirs within her, pacing in her belly, everything is utterly transformed—even when she is not. Her senses become unrecognizable. They become the master sixth sense: the Wolf. When Leah closes her eyes and concentrates, its silent howl resonates in her throat, taking control of her as easily as a child bends the limbs of a doll.

With the wolf peering out through her, she is unbreakable.

There.

Her eyes startle open when she finally recognizes the scent.

Sweet, sweet death. The kind that fights.

Leah could use a fight. Words and claws. She doesn’t phase yet, because she needs to yell at this thing, to taunt it, to let it know exactly why it is going to die. The wolf, after all, is still in her throat.

And anyway, Leah Clearwater is just the kind of batshit-crazy girl who would take on a vampire with a pocketknife, just to make things interesting. Sam may have stripped her of some of her confidence, all those years ago; but what he left behind was a space for an assuredness of a different kind to take its place: arrogance. Leah knows she is going to win this fight. She is not just going to snap; she is going to explode.

And she wants to make it last.

“Okay, bloodsucker,” she says, gripping the knife. Her throat feels dry and scratched from not speaking aloud in so long, but she knows her words will carry far enough. There is only one other being to hear them.

Leah expects the vampire to run at her straightaway, and she braces herself for the impact—her body has hardened, but it’s nothing like stone, not comparatively. Her feet, still bare, grip into the dirt. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she dimly notes that she’ll have to find new clothes, after she ruins the ones she’s wearing when she eventually phases.

But Leah doesn’t expect what steps out of the trees. Who.

“Still intent on killing my family and me?” asks the blonde bloodsucker—Rosalie, Leah thinks. “How unfortunate for me that they aren’t here to help fend off that little weapon of yours.”

“It’s not the weapon that matters; it’s how you use it,” Leah shoots back without pause.

“I believe that’s a misquoted euphemism,” says Rosalie, sounding bored, “which normally deals with the male preoccupation with phallic size. In case you’ve failed to notice, that sort of thing has no place here. It’s just”—she comes closer, stepping deliberately in time with each word—“us—girls.”

Neither of them is smiling.

The last time Leah had seen Rosalie, Rosalie had looked the part of the spoiled, undead beauty queen. A near too-perfect part of civilization. Perfect hair, perfect face, perfect body, perfect clothes. Like all of them, really, and yet so much more beautiful that Leah had wanted to sneer. Beauty has no place on the face of a killer; Leah would know.

Now, though. Now, Rosalie’s golden hair shines with a different light, styled only by the spiny hands of leaves and twigs and wind, and it’s curlier now—it has clearly not been tamed in some time. Instead of the ridiculous style of clothing her family always seem to wear—designer, and matching, for fuck’s sake—she’s in a simple blue top and jeans. The boots are a bit overkill, and the jeans probably do cost more than Leah’s college fund could pay for, but the part that involuntarily sends a thrill down her spine is that they’re ruined. So ruined, in a way that’s almost deliberate. Rosalie does not simply move through the forest, she is a part of it, and it suits her in the strange way that it suits Leah.

The ruination is not the downfall. It is the climax.

“Lose your mirror?” Leah asks casually.

You certainly haven’t found it.”

Now Leah laughs. She hasn’t looked into a mirror in weeks, it’s true. She’s pleased with what she sees in the river, with her reflection bubbling, rushing, changing, living, as if the outside is only just beginning to reflect what’s hidden within. The ratty shirt, the jeans she’d ripped into shorts earlier in the week... The only difference between them and what Rosalie wears is that Leah’s clothes had started out beyond repair.

“So?”

“So, what?”

“Are we gonna fight?”

Rosalie almost cackles. “Fight? Hardly.”

Leah quirks a brow. The action stretches a thin scratch she’d gotten a few days before—maybe around the same time she’d had to rip her jeans, she doesn’t remember or care. “Did you come to bring me back, then? Is that what you want?”

A very small part of her hopes, but doesn’t really believe.

“No offense,” Rosalie says, wrinkling her nose, “but I leave the fetching to the dogs.”

“So do I,” Leah replies pointedly. “Do I need to repeat my question?”

“Very funny. I’m certain this must be why you’re so popular back home.”

“Right.” Leah snorts. “Yeah. Let’s talk about popularity.”

Something like a smile flits across Rosalie’s face—too fleeting for Leah to dissect, and too ambiguous to arouse too much curiosity.

“So...” Leah doesn’t lower her knife, and Rosalie doesn’t even look at it. “You’re not here to fight. You’re not here to kidnap me. You look like absolute shit.” (She doesn’t, though.)

“Thanks.”

“I doubt you’d bother to go this far hunting. So that begs the question: what the hell do you want?”

“Would you believe me if I told you I’d found you by accident?” Rosalie smirks. “No, of course not. I could smell you, just as you could smell me.”

“It took a while, though. You’ve been in the woods too long. You’re starting to smell like them.”

Like rotting leaves instead of rotting flesh.

“You’re one to talk. I wouldn’t have believed you’d been bathing if I hadn’t seen it myself.”

“Ah. I guess creepy stalkers kind of run in the family, don’t they?”

Rosalie tosses her hair, a gesture Leah guesses is based on habit, rather than intent. They’re both silent for a few minutes; the knife feels less hot in Leah’s hand, and after a while, she closes it up and pockets it. The plastic bulges against her leg. At the same time, Rosalie leaves the outskirts of the campsite, finally coming into its center. They are still standing too far apart for this to be a conversation; it’s still an encounter, guarded.

Leah knows from experience that bloodsuckers are as likely to explain everything they’re thinking as they are to dance around in full sunlight, and Rosalie doesn’t disappoint when she eventually does speak.

“You’re not the only one who left,” is all she says.

Of all the explanations she could have given, this, strangely enough, is the one that Leah finds she can accept. The magic words. Abracadabra. Open sesame.

“Okay.”

For now.

 

It isn’t easy, sharing a camp with a vampire. Not that Leah can remember agreeing to it, or even extending an invitation. One moment, they were separate, staring at each other from opposites sides of something, and the next, here they are, moving fluidly within the same space. The usual division of us and them has crumbled while neither of them were looking. If anything, the only separation they seem to think of is here and there, no other names or labels; and that distinction, though ever-present, remains the elephant in the room. The question, What are we even doing here? rings out in Leah’s head at least once every hour for the first few days. Not I, but we. Why does this routine even exist for us?

Half the time, when she thinks about it, she can’t even put her finger on what the routine is. It isn’t like they talk and roast marshmallows around the campfire and sing Kum-ba-fucking-ya. But the days, all the same, still pass.

Rosalie doesn’t share the tent. Sometimes, she simply disappears, and Leah can only guess where she’s gone to. (It takes her a while to remember that vampires don’t sleep.) She isn’t hunting, most of the time; Leah doesn’t often wake up in the middle of the night, scenting blood on the air. Rosalie prefers to feed in the daylight hours. Sometimes, she returns to the camp, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand when she thinks Leah can’t see, and Leah turns back to the rabbit on the fire with a snort. The woods have made Rosalie a lot less ladylike.

Then again, Leah had noticed that the first time Rosalie had stepped into her camp.

 

The first time Leah shows Rosalie how she’s been getting her food, almost five days in, Rosalie isn’t sure whether to be disgusted or impressed. But then she remembers, as she disdainfully regards the snare Leah has set, that this is humanity, the thing she has been craving. Humanity, at is barest. Even in weakness, it will survive.

“Why can’t you just hunt the normal way?” she has to ask, because she doesn’t want Leah to follow the zig-zagging train of her thoughts. This is another game she’s always played: disagree, even if you don’t.

“This is the normal way,” Leah snaps. “Just a few hundred years outdated. It does make me feel like I’m about to get shot in the back by fucking John Smith, but it works.”

Rosalie smiles involuntarily. “It takes longer, though. You know, there’s a grocery store not too far away—it isn’t as if we’re that deep in the woods. For us, I mean.”

Leah doesn’t look up, just continues affixing the rope to a young, narrow tree. She brushes the dirt over the loop she’s made with the rope on the ground with the care of an artist adding a final brushstroke to her masterpiece.

“I know,” she answers after she’s done. “But it’s not like there’s a whole lot to do here in the middle of the woods.”

“Then why stay?”

Leah snorts. “You tell me. Besides, I don’t have any money.”

Rosalie crouches down next to the half-buried rope. With her vampire eyes, she could probably detect and avoid it from over a mile away. It amazes her, sometimes, the things that animals will fall for—especially when she is an animal, herself. She reaches out to touch the trap, then stops, her hand hovering above it. The weaker animals still have enough sense to avoid places containing her scent.

“It’s okay.”

Rosalie looks up.

“It’s like I said. You know. When you first got here and invaded my camp.” Leah shrugs. “You’re starting to smell like the woods. Like one of them. Makes you a little more bearable. You can touch the snare if you want, just don’t fuck it up or set it off.”

Rosalie shakes her head. She could paint a portrait on a gnat’s wing with a thousand controlled strokes. A clunky swirl of old rope will hardly suffer for her attention to it. Somehow, though, she doesn’t want to touch it anymore, this thing that Leah has constructed, poised with so much potential for the future.

“Where did you learn to do that, anyway?” she asks instead.

“They taught it to us in school,” Leah says. A lock of hair sticks to her skin as she wipes her forehead with the back of her hand. “That was the lesson right after we made our own bows and arrows, and the one before we went after the buffalo. Oh no, wait, that was after the basket-weaving, and the buffalo came—”

Stop it,” Rosalie interrupts suddenly, forceful. So forceful, the sardonic twist of Leah’s mouth goes slack.

This is what it’s like, living with Leah. Rosalie will be resting on the sweet cusp of enjoyment—of peace, even—finally letting down her guard; and then Leah will say something sudden and sour, as if she is taking careful measures to destroy any mutual happiness. The peace shatters, the connection broken. They will never move any closer to each other, but continue butting up against the other like a boat to a dock—never staying still, leaving bruises in the wood with the curls of little waves.

Rosalie desires the closeness of a simple companionship, that place past acquaintances, but not quite friends. For the first time since finding this place, she has begun to wonder about Leah in a way she never has before. What makes her tick, her cogs turn? How much of their inner clockwork is actually the same? What differences lie beneath her copper skin, hidden, but keeping her alive like blood through veins?

“I’m not trying to be rude, so please stop making it out as though I am,” Rosalie says.

“Sorry,” Leah replies off handedly. “Habit.”

“Maybe you should try to break it.”

Leah laughs hollowly. “Says the ice queen to the bitch.”

Rosalie flinches.

“And anyway, the real story is much less interesting. No room for sarcasm. It involves Google and an episode of Survivorman. Although,” Leah adds, “they did teach us other tribal stuff in school. More cultural aspects than survival skills, though.”

For a moment, she almost forgets what Leah is talking about, and the words make about as much sense to her as babbled Swedish—one of the only languages someone in her family doesn’t speak. She’s still shaken from Leah’s retort. She knows she shouldn’t be, and that she is—an ice queen, that is—that it’s something she calls herself all the time, and knows other people call her behind her back. The shock comes, then, from the frankness of it, in the place where they are both seeking a kind of utopia, free from the pressures of a mask. It frustrates her so much that the only time in her unlife she wants to help and be helped, it’s like trying to claw her way through a brick wall with human hands.

“Now, let’s go forage.”

“Leah, please—”

Leah dusts her palms off on her shorts and stands. Her smile is a peace offering. “Hey,” she says. “I was actually being serious this time. I used to watch a lot of Discovery Channel. I know what I’m doing.”

Together, they move deeper into the forest, searching for bushes, and rubbing leaves between their fingers. Bemusement plays with Rosalie’s hands and the curve of her brows, but she gathers berries and roots in her cool palms until they are brimming and stained with dripping shades of blacks and reds and browns. Leah knows the names of some, and eventually murmurs them under her breath like a hum when the silence grows too heavy. Blackberries, thimbleberries, huckleberries—the fruits of a late summer. Closer to the camp, they pass a carpeted growth of what looks like tiny lily pads trumpeting from the earth; Rosalie wouldn’t have noticed it, but for the stick jammed into the ground beside it, a little piece of Leah’s jeans—she recognizes the scent, not the fabric—tied around the top.

There’s something... not quite wonderful, but perhaps novel, about the fact that it is Rosalie who has something to learn, and not to teach. Very little still holds any mystery for her in the present world; the unknown will come steadily from the progression of time, and then she and her family will scramble again to find ways of disappearing. For with time, the human race carries on, growing and changing, falling and thriving; Rosalie knows this like a fact recited from a textbook. What she’s never known—or at least, has long since forgotten—is how.

This is what Leah has to teach her. The knowledge comes too little, too late, but there is a part of her that is grateful to be taught that humanity is not fueled by power or magic, but the sun-soaked seeds of a blackberry, or the insignificant sprout of green from grainy dirt. A fundamental hunger runs through living bodies, too. Rosalie has forgotten this, somehow, but welcomes the reminder. Somehow, the differences between the gentle gnawing at one person’s stomach and the lustful fire that consumes another’s seem small. Ignore one too long, either way, and it will destroy you.

Like Leah’s, Rosalie’s steps are silent on the forest floor, but even so, Leah notices when Rosalie has stopped.

“That’s Indian Lettuce,” she says, nodding at the green patch Rosalie hasn’t realized she’s been staring at. “Good source of Vitamin C. People call it Miner’s Lettuce sometimes because the gold miners in the eighteen-fifties used to eat it so they wouldn’t get scurvy.”

Flashes of spots, swollen gums, and jaundiced skin pervade her mind, things she wishes she had never been told about. (Of course she had heard of it before then, but had never seen it. Not like Carlisle had, at least, holed up amongst the rats and steerage passengers of a ship he never should have boarded, not realizing the help that even he could offer would never be enough.) Rosalie almost shudders.

“More Discovery Channel?” she asks with a thin smile, tossing her hair to disguise the revulsion in her thoughts.

“Where else, right?”

At this, Rosalie’s brows rise, visions of scurvy startled away. Leah’s tone isn’t sarcastic. Her words don’t try to bite at Rosalie’s skin like angry horse flies. They haven’t, in fact, since Leah apologized for herself, however flippant that apology may have sounded, and the realization of this pleases her more than she likes.

Leah frowns. “What?”

“Nothing. Just...”

“Let me guess.” One by one, as if she is counting them, Leah flicks three strands of black, sweat-laced hair out of her eyes. Her breathing isn’t quite uneven, but much less so than Rosalie’s would be if she were still human—much less so than anyone not used to moving through the woods. “You miss my witty Squanto jokes.”

Rosalie scoffs, but without malice. “Oh, hardly.”

Leah pauses. One of the strands of hair she’s just pushed away falls back into place, but she doesn’t attend to it with the same effortless nonchalance as before. Instead, one hand reaches for it jerkily, reflecting the slight moment’s uncertainty in her eyes. “Want me to really shock you?” she asks, and the uncertainty is gone like a blink.

Rosalie crosses her arms. “Try me,” she challenges.

“Okay.” Leah smiles, not with mirth, but mischief. The shifting shadows of the trees play with her expression like wind. “When I was younger, before all this wolf and vampire shit happened, I used to read a lot. Like, not just fiction, but the stuff that told you how to survive in the wild, and how other people’d done it, and basically just what it was like, being there. I guess that pretty much ranges from Walden to trail guides to The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. They were having this thing at a college once, for kids, you know, smart ones, that my dad signed me up for. It was on the whole ‘edible plants’ thing. My mom kept flipping out every time I kept eating the stuff I found growing on the side of the road, so my dad figured that, at least this way, I wouldn’t end up killing myself. Of course, he taught me some stuff, too.”

A shadow darkens her expression for another brief moment. Leah glances to the side, where they’ve come from, but there isn’t anything to see, because they’ve rounded a corner. “He liked fishing best, but he remembered catching rabbits with his grandpa in the summer when he was a kid, and figured, hey, this is something my psychotic daughter would enjoy. Anyway. Pretty much from the time I was seven, I figured I was going to run away and live in the woods like some hermit, or something, only I’d never stay in one place for long—I was good at sitting still, I just didn’t like to. So I guess I’ve been preparing for something like this for most of my life. I only ever watched TV when my mom thought it was too cold to go outside, or I had to babysit Seth. Which I guess was a lot. So I brought the outside in and took notes.”

Rosalie waits a beat. “That’s shocking?”

Because it isn’t, what Leah’s just impulsively shared. It so perfectly fits with the picture Rosalie is forming of Leah in her mind with little puzzle pieces of information that she feels as if she knew this already. Leah is becoming predictable, in a way—in a good way. Satisfyingly.

Leah snorts. “It’s shocking because I told you something without you having to torture it out of me first. That’s rare, you know. My mom’d kill to be let in on that kind of introspection. It’s hot gossip.”

“Your strange obsession with subsisting on dirty weeds is hot gossip?”

“People are lucky if I tell them what crap cereal I have for breakfast.”

Lucky. Rosalie considers the word, and surprises herself by finding that she doesn’t disagree.

All she says to this, however, is a “Hm” through thoughtfully-pursed lips.

Leah bends down to pluck up a few shoots of Indian Lettuce and put them in her mouth.

“We should check the snares,” she comments, after.

 

“You know I can’t eat like this, right?” Rosalie asks two weeks later. Leah never catches more than she can consume in a day or two, either by luck or design. Cooked, the meat will keep for as long in the cool night temperatures of the woods—but not much longer, even as summer creeps ever closer toward autumn.

Usually, Leah’s snares are fraught with rabbits, captured and shaking, frightened of what they must sense is ahead. Squirrels make an appearance on occasion. Leah ends all of their fear more gently than Rosalie has ever thought possible, kindly and swiftly, gratitude in her single stroke across the throat. Among these trees, death is a gift, and in spite of her persisting sarcasm, Leah never truly seems to take it lightly. (There are so many things Rosalie has pretended not to care about that she recognizes it in the hard glint of Leah’s eyes.)

Today, Leah has tired of rabbits, and decides to try for fish.

“Well... You probably could if you really wanted to,” she reasons as they move toward the sound of the river. The path they follow is a deer trail they have widened over the course of the last few weeks with feet that are not as slender as the ones it is accustomed to. It takes them now over a short but steep drop in the terrain, flanked on either side by a natural arbor of trees. Ahead, the river water glistens. Leah’s enthusiasm for this wild life puts her ahead of Rosalie on the trail; Rosalie could outstrip her easily, but chooses to remain where she is, a few paces behind, watching the way Leah’s hair tickles the back of her neck with each step, the heightened pulse just an inch or two away. She can practically see the blood flowing through Leah, up through her legs, her hips, her back, the hardened lines and curves, the extension of the life force out through her fingers.

Fascinated by humanity, Rosalie has forgotten to hunt recently, and she notices her thirst all the more each time Leah’s heart beats.

Rosalie looks away for a moment, suddenly ashamed. “It isn’t as easy as Anne Rice makes it out to be,” she manages.

Leah catches the strain in her voice and gives her an odd look. “You’re not going to lose your shit and eat me, right?”

“Wet dog is hardly an unbearable temptation.” Rosalie tries to sound prim. “I doubt you’d taste very satisfactory.”

This, while it’s still quite difficult to keep her eyes away from Leah’s pulse, and the almost visible warmth radiating from her skin, the seeming human—or almost-human—softness and pliability of her despite all the muscle. Rosalie’s eyes follow the curve of Leah’s shoulder hungrily.

Leah snaps her fingers. Rosalie blinks. Another odd look.

“Uh huh,” Leah says. “Now stop drooling.”

Slowly, slowly, Rosalie regains control of herself, pushing the aching and burning in her throat back within herself. Once her focus is removed from Leah, she begins to notice how loud the thrum of the woods around her is. It hums and teems with life, pulsing like Leah’s veins, swelling with the intake of collected breaths.

Rosalie.”

It’s funny, almost, but Leah never says her name. They converse with one another well enough, but when Leah gives the words to begin their exchange, they begin beyond the point of specified address. Rosalie hasn’t noticed until now that this is something that’s been missing, like a gaping hole obscured by the dark of a nighttime shadow, only to be discovered at dawn. She supposes that names are unnecessary, in a way. Only the two of them are here; to whom else would either of them be speaking? One may assume that any words spoken are meant for the other’s ears.

But she realizes it, now, Leah’s refusal to call her by name, no matter how friendly Leah has become in the past week. If she weren’t so thirsty all of a sudden, she might be able to make sense of this, a monumental acceptance of her presence.

Liquid and dark, Leah’s eyes survey her with genuine concern. “You’re not okay,” she states.

Venom, like saliva, builds in Rosalie’s mouth. “I’m hardly a newborn. I can control myself.”

Leah shakes her head. This is a mistake. The little breezes that have shyly surrounded them all day, unnoticed but not unwelcome until now, grasp the scent from Leah’s hair, and pull it along until Rosalie is nearly suffocating with it. Vampires don’t drink from werewolves. Yet absent from civilization so long, slick with sweat and the memory of river water, Leah’s ancestry is unrecognizable. Masked, her blood is so very human.

And it has been so very long since Rosalie has tasted any. Like la tua cantante, it begins to sing to her.

“No,” Leah tells her. “You can’t.”

Can’t what? Rosalie struggles to think. Can’t kill her, drink her, drain her?

No. Control. She cannot control herself. All of that practice, all of that routine, interrupted and remolded too much, too far beyond her. It has been too long.

At this point, she barely registers the fact that Leah is pulling her own shirt over her head.

 

It has been too long. This is the first thought that races across Leah’s mind like a startled rabbit after she phases. A traitorous thought, no doubt. She’s spent so much time lamenting her removal from humanity, cursing the bloodsuckers that inflicted this fate upon her like a mortal wound, and here she is, longing for fur and claws and vibrant belonging, welcoming the change like a cat stretched to the sun.

It takes her a few too many seconds to remember Rosalie, the cruel, hungry twist of her mouth marring her face. The forest has made her wild, but the hunger, the thirst—this pushes her off another edge. Yet while there have been leaves in her hair and a recklessness in her eyes, she has still carried herself delicately, wiped her bloodied lips with a habitual primness, held her chin up and standards high. Leah has seen Rosalie feral, but never on the brink of savagery.

The wolf locks not onto the threat of this, but the thrill, like the time it had first scented the air and found the intruder in the camp. Rosalie is even more beautiful on the edge of losing herself.

Leah had noticed Rosalie’s eyes blackening over the days, but hadn’t said anything, because it wasn’t really any of her business. Rosalie leaves her alone, to a certain extent—she follows Leah with a shadowing curiosity and amusement that is sometimes annoying, and at other times makes Leah feel fond; she would be furious at someone making her be the experiment under their microscope if she weren’t doing the same thing to Rosalie. Pressed between the same strips of plastic and glass, they study one another. Personal questions, for the most part, do not permeate their coverings.

Questions about why Rosalie hasn’t fed fall under this category, alongside the same ones she has been asking herself since Rosalie’s arrival.

If she left there, why is she here? What does she hope to gain?

Who the fuck is this woman, anyway?

Leah hasn’t been able to get her answers from the careful shifts of Rosalie’s eyes or the sudden stiffness in her shoulders when Leah casually mentions something she shouldn’t—the way she asks without asking. The closest she’s come to an explanation happened on the second or third day, before they’d started having anything that much resembled a conversation.

At the same time she’d found the tent in the trash, she’d unearthed an unopened pack of cigarettes—probably from somebody resolving to quit, because the woods inspired shit like that—and she’d started savoring maybe one a day, because she’d liked the way the cigarette felt poised between her fingers, something hotter than her skin. Rosalie had found her once, leaned up against a thick redwood tree, ants tickling her shoulder, and Leah had regarded her with a challenge amidst the apathy with which she fixed her.

Rosalie had smirked—“May I?”—and Leah had tossed the half-empty pack at her, just slightly too low, because she knew Rosalie would catch it anyway. She had considered doing what people did in the movies, all smooth and uncaring as they plucked the cigarette from their own mouth and gave it to the person who asked for it; but there was something about such a gesture that had seemed frighteningly intimate, and she had discarded the idea.

They had smoked in silence after the mandatory dry quips about smoking killing—except how it wouldn’t, not them, although maybe vampires could catch fire from this kind of thing, so be careful, blondie—their exhalations making dirty clouds drift toward the covered sky. When Leah’s cigarette had burnt into a stub, she had tossed it to the ground and kicked dirt over it to put it out—she hadn’t been wearing shoes just then. Rosalie had copied her first gesture a minute later, a slight mocking curve to her mouth, but when Leah had started to scuff the dirt toward Rosalie’s still-glowing castaway, Rosalie had firmly said, “Don’t.”

And Leah had looked at her weirdly (pretty much like she’d always looked at her), because she was fine with smoking and whatever ramifications there were for nicotine-laced werewolves, but she wasn’t about to burn down the whole goddamn forest. She’s fucked up. Just not that fucked up.

“I’m tired of not existing,” Rosalie had said quietly—sadly, even. “Everywhere we go, we’re supposed to act like we were never there.”

“You sure picked a hell of a place to get noticed,” Leah had replied, but they had watched until the thin spiderweb of smoke ate itself up and died, and only after Rosalie had left soon after had Leah smothered their pair of cigarette butts and picked them up to throw away.

The more Leah thinks about it, the more Rosalie’s black eyes suddenly seem like an answer to a question she hasn’t thought to ask—one she doesn’t even know. She cannot comprehend the crypticness of this explanation.

Leah regards these eyes now, eyes which have lost some of their hardness, despite the sharpening of Leah’s own vision. The ragged breathing—a habit, surely—that had rattled Rosalie’s frame softens.

When Leah controls the wolf, the excitement of seeing the predator who is the prey abating, pity begins to well within her. Or—not pity, precisely; she pities no one, because the thought of being pitied, herself, always rips a snarl from her throat. It’s somewhere between concern and kindness. Rosalie needs no one to lead her, and yet, in her wildness, she is lost.

Let’s go, Leah thinks, and even though Rosalie can’t hear her, they both run.

 

Without a mediator to translate their thoughts to one another, it should be difficult to hunt together as a coordinated team.

Except, it isn’t.

 

One summer when she had been human, Rosalie’s mother had made her take vocal lessons in the spirit of old fashioned, nineteenth-century accomplishment. Rosalie had hated it dutifully, because her voice had never matched the silken elegance of her instructor’s, and she had scorned the way the breathing exercises had made the muscles in her stomach ache. But she would always remember, later, that no matter how how reedy her own solitary voice sounded with the melody, it seemed transported when the instructor had joined her with a harmony. Together, they had created music, building upon each other into something that could not exist with only half of that total contribution.

Hunting with Leah is like that.

Though neither of their skills is directly parallel to Rosalie’s abysmal singing, the end result of their hunt—the lightning-paced weaving through the trees, one on either side of the racing buck, the strengths of one compensating for the weaknesses of the other—is the same: harmony.

They strike in a brilliant crescendo of synchronization.

 

“Sated?” Leah smirks after their second hunting trip.

Rosalie smirks back. “You have blood on your cheek.” Her eyes never leaving Leah’s, she leans forward to whisk the single, paint-like drip of red from the flushed skin by Leah’s mouth. The blood still hasn’t cooled by the time Rosalie’s tongue darts out to lick it from her finger. How curious; werewolves do make things hotter.

“Huh.” Leah tuts. “Violent and ill-mannered. What would your mother say?”

Rosalie raises a sly brow. Vampires do not tire, but she finds herself sprawled upon the ground amongst the dirt and dead leaves and hidden insects with Leah, who, despite her supernatural strength and endurance, is finally panting with exertion. She had practically somersaulted out of her wolf form so that she could share in Rosalie’s laughter—laughter whose origins seemed to bemuse them both, but which they welcomed well enough at the sight of the leaves in each other’s hair. Rosalie likes the glimpses of Leah’s skin underneath the shirt that isn’t quite pulled down far enough; she likes the living bow of Leah’s stomach every time she inhales. (Leah had been quick to wriggle into her clothing, Rosalie had noticed, like she had been the first time. She was seamless and practiced in that regard, even to a vampire’s eyes, though it had taken her a moment to unknot the now overlarge pouch wrapped loosely around her leg. Rosalie hadn’t noticed until then that Leah always seemed to carry that pouch, as if just living in wait for the moment she would need to explode.)

“Which one?” Rosalie asks, recalling Leah’s provocation. She had loved her birth mother until her death, and then some, but she recalls the feeling of Esme’s embrace and understanding, and knows that Mother is not a title merely once filled.

“The one that probably just rolled over in her grave,” Leah says with a snort.

“That doesn’t seem to narrow it down much, does it?”

Rosalie’s tone is light, but Leah appears to consider this seriously. “You know,” she says after a pause, “you get all pissy at me for being bitter and sarcastic about shit, but you do the exact same thing. You think your angst is so high and mighty, but it’s not. You can act all haughty about it,” she adds, noticing Rosalie’s frown, “but it’s true. You’re all fucked up inside because you think you hate being a vampire.”

“I do hate it,” Rosalie almost growls, annoyed. Her pale hands clench. “I have always hated it.”

“Have you? Do you?” Leah questions mildly. “Do you hate what we just did? Are you just going to sit there and deny that you feel completely and totally buzzed right now? That the memory of the hunt, of all that exhilaration, doesn’t set you on fire? It’s like...” She takes a deep breath, exhales quickly. “It’s like me saying I hate being a werewolf. It’s so awful, but it’s so amazing, too, and I love it. I fucking love it, and that’s what it’s like for you when you let it. We both hate ourselves for it, because it’s the thing that we blame all our problems on, but it’s still true.”

“I don’t like being the predator.” Rosalie’s denial is cold now.

“When you were human, you thought Man was at the top of the food chain,” Leah reasons, disregarding Rosalie’s tone. “How is that any different from now? Even if you weren’t killing back then, you were still having someone kill for you indirectly by buying meat. You’re just doing the dirty work yourself now. Cutting out the middleman.

“And you can’t tell me you don’t like being strong. You can’t, because being strong means that you aren’t weak, and being fast means you can outrun anything you aren’t strong enough to face. You can’t tell me that you don’t like that power, and that you don’t wish you’d had it before, so that you could’ve dealt with whatever it was that turned your life to shit.” Leah’s words begin impassioned, but now they are angry and biting and vibrant.

Royce’s disgusting, drunken face seems to materialize before Rosalie for a moment, the aching memory of her too-feeble fists beating against his chest drowning her in hate. “You know nothing about me,” she snarls, body tensing.

“Maybe that’s because you won’t fucking tell me anything!” Leah jerks to her feet, eyes hard. “I gleaned enough from your bitching, though, to figure out that you were perfectly fucking happy before you died. You had no idea what was coming, and what pisses you off is that you couldn’t do anything about it, because now, you can, but it’s too late. I bet you got back at whoever did this to you. I bet you killed them, and I bet you bathed in their blood and danced on their graves. And I bet you fucking gloried in it. I bet—”

“Stop it!” Rosalie interrupts, furious. Her words come as a roar to the hushed forest. “You, but a foolish child, know nothing—nothing—of what I have felt! They took everything from me! Everything I have ever wanted, within the span of a single hour. They broke me, and I should have died, but I was granted the possibility of a second chance—not in the form of this false life, but of a true life. When Carlisle found me, he did not try to save me.” Her voice is a hiss now, like hot air meeting ice. “Whether it was within his centuries-honed skill or not, his first thought was not to save me, but to preserve me for his collection. And it was his hand—his hand—that dealt the final blow to my fate, to my aspirations. It is his fault I will never grow old with my husband at my side, that my body will never bear my children. In creating his own child, he sacrificed my motherhood—my right! That right was the only damn thing keeping me from turning hollow in those last years. So tell me, Leah Clearwater, how I am to glory in that loss? How am I to rejoice in a life without possibility?”

It is everything she has never said.

But Leah’s next words are sharper and icier than hers. “You think that being human would guarantee you anything different?” she demands. “You think that even if Carlisle had saved your life, that you would have been anything but broken for the rest of your life? You think your fucking ‘sacred right’ couldn’t have been compromised at any time if none of that had happened to you? There was nothing to guarantee, one hundred percent, that you wouldn’t die in childbirth, or that your child wouldn’t be stillborn or succumb to sickness a month later, or that you wouldn’t miscarry before it even had the chance. There was nothing to guarantee that you could even get knocked up in the first place.”

Rosalie shakes her head violently, her hair a golden tornado of dissent—at this last concept, most of all. “There was nothing to guarantee I couldn’t, either! That kind of thing isn’t common.”

“No shit, Sherlock.” Leah laughs humorlessly. “Why do you think I’m the only female werewolf on the reservation? My plumbing was fucked up even before I became a wolf—it only got worse after.”

These words sink into Rosalie hard and fast. If she has been expecting anything at all from this exchange—anything about Leah in general—then this has not been it. This is something else she never saw coming.

“Life. Isn’t. A guarantee,” Leah grinds out. “And obviously, neither is death.” Her breathing is heavy again, as if she’s just run another chase, and Rosalie is startled out of her anger for a moment as she realizes that she can almost physically detect the wolf trying to claw its way out of Leah’s skin, ready to shred Rosalie to pieces. Fists clenched to her sides, breathing in and out and in and out, Leah is restraining herself with all of her might.

Just let it out, Rosalie thinks in a snarl, but these thoughts drip with less malice than before.

“Don’t fucking follow me,” Leah snaps. She shoves an ugly glare at Rosalie before running again, this time a human, but nearly as fast as the deer they had killed what feels like an eon ago, a time separated by billowing thunderclouds and this acerbic taste on her tongue.

And because Rosalie rarely ever does as she’s told—if only out of spite—she follows a minute later. Pace slow, so that she has time to think of what she will say, what new words she can shout, she lets Leah’s scent lead her blindly until it connects with the path they had traipsed down another day—another time, again—toward the river.

The trees frame a section of the water with their curved trunks, just as she remembers from before, only this time, a dark shape bends in the middle of the river, plunging furiously under the surface. The sun is positioned blindingly, glaring on the water and her own incandescent flesh so that it is impossible to see Leah until the clouds shift. When they do, Rosalie waits.

Eventually, Leah surfaces. Her back is to Rosalie, but her earthen skin is bare, slick with water, and Rosalie can just see the swell of her breast until she angles herself away, and all Rosalie has is the curve from her waist to her half-submerged hips. Leah’s clothes lie in a careless heap on the riverbank, her shorts partly-floating on the lapping shore; Rosalie experiences the strange urge to tug her own clothes over her head or to her toes and fling them next to Leah’s in the same furious abandon, to feel Leah’s heat in juxtaposition with the coolness of the water and Rosalie’s own chill, but the desire is jumbled together with all of her other conflicting, tumultuous thoughts surging through her like a world spun round.

Rosalie comes to the water’s edge, where it rubs at her feet with the sand of fine stones. It reminds her so much of that day on the sunny beach, only this time, she hides nothing under makeup, freckles, hats, and looks of impenetrable mystery. Though the wind is still, she nevertheless imagines that something is pulling and tugging at her, seeking connection.

“Are all blondes deaf as well as stupid?” Leah says bitingly once minutes have passed by. The comment reminds Rosalie of Jacob Black. She waits for Leah to turn around—to see her face, so that Rosalie can sneer right back into it; however reminiscent the comment may be, she won’t deign it with a reply.

“Because seriously,” Leah continues, “what the hell is your problem? I don’t get you at all.”

In truth, Leah’s eruption had proved otherwise, most of it cut with truth, but Rosalie is hardly in the mood to acknowledge this. This woman—this child... Rosalie has sought to make something with her, but there is a part of her now that wants to petulantly seize what they have wrought and break it irreparably, to retreat once more into her thoughtless games.

“I mean, what are you even doing here? I’m sick of your cryptic, bullshit answers and your moping like you have nothing better to do. Don’t you have a husband? So what if you can’t grow old together. Aren’t you, like, ‘living happily ever after,’ or something? What does he think of you here, with me? Or does he even know? Did you just take off?”

“You mean, like you did?” Rosalie asks.

“You don’t know what I did.”

“I can guess well enough. You’re not the only one who’s good at that.”

“You still haven’t answered any of my questions.”

As Rosalie gazes across the water, Leah turns to face her, suddenly unabashed where she has been so chaste. Rosalie frowns. The twisting challenge in Leah’s expression makes it clear that she is trying to shock out her answers. She is not teasing; there’s no smile playing at any of her features. Rosalie shifts her stare away. The water lapping at her toes feels even colder than she is, and she watches as the little shining pebbles roll backward and forward beneath the shallow surface; but in her mind’s eye, she can still see the outline of Leah silhouetted against the sun.

What is the point of her being here? What is the point of Leah even being here? They seem to dance around one another in hypocritical circles.

“Emmett will be waiting for me when I get back,” Rosalie decides to say, because she knows it’s true, and something is compelling her toward truth, the something within her that is just so tired sometimes.

“And when will that be?”

Another truth: “I don’t know.”

Leah shakes her head, her short, wet hair sculpted to her skull like a seal’s skin. When she gives a snort, it sounds tired, too. “What are you doing here, Rosalie?” she asks without her usual force.

The pause is long. Rosalie gives in.

“I can’t... bear it,” she admits slowly, whispering. In a gesture she has not used in so many years, she self-consciously tucks her hair behind her ear. “The happy family. It’s such a farce, and it kills me, because I’d give anything for it not to be.”

Something in this seems to surprise Leah, and she lets out a bark of laughter. Rosalie tilts her head to one side, comprehension dawning like a trickle of light over mountaintops.

“You left because of Renesmee, didn’t you?” she asks.

Leah shrugs. “The family farce, among other things.”

The light grows into a stronger stream. “No... Renesmee isn’t what set you off.” Rosalie considers thoughtfully. “No, it was Jacob. You left because of Jacob.” She isn’t sure why this makes her want to frown.

The shrug is quicker this time, jerkier and more mechanical. “It’s that thing’s fault he’s like this now.”

“Like what?”

“Wrong. Forced. It’s sick. I couldn’t be near him anymore, and I—”

“And you wanted to be.” Rosalie’s voice has tints of unfathomable hollowness. “Why?”

“Because he could see me,” Leah admits, her voice faraway. “He was always good at that. It took a hell of a long time, but eventually, he saw me.”

“Is that all it takes?” When she asks this question, she wants to force it back inside of her, because it is nonsensical and unbidden, and she hates that it has an answer she wants to know, even if she doesn’t know why. This question matters to her, and it brings a strange look to Leah’s face.

“What?”

Rosalie shakes her head. “Nothing.”

Leah looks at her several moments longer; she’s heard the question, indubitably, but Rosalie cannot read her reaction to it, because her expression is one Rosalie hasn’t seen before. Seventy years of watching, and they have left her just at that: the outsider. Happiness, anger, lust, fear—Rosalie has seen these emotions play out across canvasses of faces like billowing storm clouds. She is not used to inscrutability, and Leah has so much of it painted on her skin.

“So are we still pissed off at each other?” Leah asks eventually.

“Are we?”

“I mean, I’m always angry at somebody,” Leah says. “I just shift the focus. But what about you? You’ve gone from wanting to eat me to wanting to kill me—yeah, there’s definitely a distinction in there—all in about an hour. How are you holding up? Are we going to weep over our shriveled ovaries, or what?”

Rosalie nearly chokes. Leah laughs.

“I like shocking you,” she says outright.

Living with Leah is like getting constant emotional whiplash. One moment they’re screaming, the next, confessing their deepest secrets, and the next, joking as though nothing has happened at all. It’s a kind of exhaustion that Rosalie doesn’t... mind, really. In a way, it’s therapeutic, cathartic. The things she has screamed at Leah are things she’s never told anyone before, things that have existed inside of her head for decades, buffeting at the walls for escape. They’ve only been here a few weeks, but it seems like it should be longer, because it feels more important than less than a month’s worth of shared days.

“I’ve noticed.”

Leah glances down at herself. “Hey, whatever works,” she says. Her skin ripples with gooseflesh—the water really must be cold; Rosalie again looks away quickly.

Leah’s tone sounds so perfectly casual and joking that Rosalie almost doesn’t catch the uncertainty in it, as if what Rosalie says, or the way Rosalie looks at her, so exposed, is something else very important.

“Such a prude,” Leah chuckles at Rosalie’s averted eyes. “You must be old.”

Despite the teasing, Leah sounds pleased. Rosalie has passed her test.

“Now, turn around,” Leah continues. “I’m getting out, and I’m not giving you a full frontal.”

Dutifully, Rosalie closes her eyes, and hears the almost imperceptible sluice of water as Leah rises from it, the crunch of sand and stones under her feet as she comes to the shore, her quickened heartbeat, the stir of air as she walks past, laden with her scent—even with the dirt and grime scrubbed from her, she still smells like this place, like what she is, but less repellant.

Rosalie can see her without seeing her, but that doesn’t stop her from taking a peek.

 

In the nights that follow, Leah has a confusion of dreams. She twists and turns with them in her weathered green sleeping bag—another rescue from the dumpster, and one she had washed carefully in the river with the last of her biodegradable soap before sheathing so much as a foot inside. Perspiration dews from her brow in what feels like—in her waking moments—the heaviness of fat raindrops.

Pieces of her life trickle into her consciousness. Her brother, her mother, her father—God, but she misses him—Jacob, Emily, even Bella fucking Swan—Cullen. It’s been so long since she’s dreamed about anyone in particular, about anything in more than vague shapes and colors, and now she is dreaming about them all.

And Rosalie Hale. Rosalie is everywhere, pale curves, long legs, and golden waves. Leah is drawn to each fleeting image of her like a magnet, the glitter of her ridiculous skin catching Leah’s attention out of the corner of her eye.

In one dream, she and Rosalie are running and running and running together until a mirror blocks their path, and they stand before it, but don’t see themselves, never themselves; they see Emily Young and Bella Swan. The corridors fall away until it is just the mirror, Leah reflected as Emily, and Rosalie reflected as Bella: the pale afterimages of the wolf girl and the vampire girl. Leah reaches out her hand to touch the mirror’s surface at the same time that Emily waves goodbye, and then Leah realizes that it is she and Rosalie who are the reflections, trapped inside the mirror.

And Leah is little again, crawling around on the kitchen floor as she howls up at a casserole dish on the table as if it is the moon.

 

It rains one morning. It’s so different from Forks and La Push, where the surprise comes with a sunny day; though the weather has been cool ever since she curled into this little spot in the woods, it’s the first time it’s actually rained. Leah stretches out her arms and her toes until they each brush against the walls of the tent. Somehow, she feels exhausted and stiff, though she’s been asleep for hours, and has long been used to the hard feel of the ground against her body at night. The rain patters against the outside of the tent in a familiar rhythm that reminds Leah of campouts in her backyard, and her mother’s face peering through the flap, trying to convince her—in vain—to come inside where it is dry and warm.

Crows call through the rain, invisible when Leah unzips the tent and steps outside. A moat of mud surrounds the tent, but she likes the way it squishes between her toes.

For the most part, she doesn’t remember her dreams. The rain seems to wash away the memories she does have of them, the same way it washes, droplet by droplet, the mud from the tops of her feet. All that remains is the feeling that something was there, and the faintest ghost of what it was, both unrecognizable in the grey daylight.

A not uncomfortable twist in her gut at the sight of Rosalie watching her, a book in hand, hints at who may have been a feature. Leah thinks something about self-centeredness and the theft of other people’s dreams, but doesn’t really mean it.

“Good morning,” Rosalie says.

“You’re ruining your book,” Leah replies.

“It isn’t mine. You’re quite a sight in the morning, you know.”

Leah runs her fingers through her hair to comb it, feeling the thick strands of it poking out in different directions like the twigs that grow off tree branches. She’s looked worse, and Rosalie’s seen it. At least she’s clean. It shouldn’t matter as long as she’s clean.

Rosalie looks different this morning. It takes Leah a few sleepy seconds to realize it’s because she’s done her hair—or something like it. There’s nothing stuck in it anymore, at least, and it appears, by the softened waves, that it’s been brushed, possibly washed, though vampires produce neither sweat nor oils, and could probably get away without touching a bottle of shampoo for a thousand years if the dust in the air didn’t cling to them like old books. Leah sniffs the air and smells camping soap, which stirs up something pleasant within her. No fancy floral scents here; just the stuff that can double as dishwashing fluid in the wilderness. Even cleaned up, Rosalie is still a part of the woods, and Leah likes it.

“You could’ve come inside,” Leah says, nodding at the book that is not Rosalie’s.

“And risk being stabbed by your pocketknife like an intruder?” Rosalie teases. “I think not.”

Leah has started sleeping with the pocketknife in her tent, but not because of Rosalie—she had heard some wild pigs rooting about the camp one night—and she’s surprised that Rosalie has even noticed to begin with. Then again, she shouldn’t be. She’s felt Rosalie’s eyes observing her since the first day, boring their curiosity into her with more and more blatancy as time passes.

Leah glances around. Their campsite is a clearing in the center of a forest of fog; the trees stretch out of it like hands out of water, the whole mass of grey swirling in patterns made by the rain disturbing its slow drift.

“What do you usually do on a rainy day?” Leah asks.

Rosalie smiles. “I go outside. Or at least, in public. I’ve never been very fond of wet clothing.”

Leah smiles back. “I go outside, too. Not in public. And I make sure I get my clothes wet.”

“That certainly sounds like you.” Leah is startled by the fondness underlying Rosalie’s dry tone.

“It’s weird, though,” she says, and a part of her means the way things seem to have changed between them since the day they fought. It’s a good weird, a slight shift in the air. “We’ve been outside so long that it feels like we should be going inside for the rain.”

“Like people who don’t live in Washington.”

“Like normal people.”

Rosalie’s smile widens at the word.

“We should,” Leah says. “I’ve gotta”—she gestures vaguely to the woods behind the fog, indicating a myriad of necessities for partial humans—“and then we can.”

“Is that tent even dry inside?” Rosalie asks skeptically, eyes regarding it and then Leah.

“As opposed to what, the open sky?” Leah snorts. “How was that working out for you and your book?”

“Dismally.”

Mm hm. I’ll be back in twenty minutes. Try not to track mud in the tent.”

Rosalie mock-scoffs. “As if I could.”

“I’m serious. Oh.” Leah pauses. “Shit, I actually need to check the snares, too. I really don’t want to deal with drowned bunnies after the rain stops.”

“I’ll do it,” Rosalie volunteers, looking sure. Then she gives a small laugh. “I’ll check the snares, I mean. I don’t have a particular desire to deal with drowned bunnies, either.”

“Okay,” Leah agrees. She usually prefers to check the snares herself—she is the one who needs them, after all, and the one who knows best how they work—but she’s always known, deep down, that Rosalie is capable; she’s known that, for all of Rosalie’s wallowing, she’s also been trying to help, in her own way: sometimes, it’s easier to help others than it is to help yourself. And certainly, both of them need help, whether they welcome it or not. A part of her is very pleased that Rosalie has offered to do this small task, because it is only a piece of a larger one—the one that involves sticking around, not giving up on her no matter how off-putting she can be. “You should probably disable them, while you’re there. It’s still early, so anything could get stuck in them throughout the day.”

Ahhh,” Rosalie drawls. “Now I understand why you’re letting me do this. You want me to wreck your handiwork.”

Leah smirks, but shakes her head. “Do me proud,” she says. “I know you have it in you.”

 

Rosalie is waiting in the tent when Leah returns. True to her word, the only mud inside is what follows Leah’s own feet after her. Rosalie sits with her legs on top of each other, and her knees bent, a position better suited for someone wearing a dress, and surely only comfortable through practice. Leah zips the tent shut and comes to settle across from Rosalie—cross-legged, nothing fancy about her—on the sleeping bag.

“You’ve rearranged the furniture,” she remarks. The sleeping bag has been tidied, zipped and smoothed, and positioned so that she and Rosalie can sit easily on each end without being pressed against the tent’s fabric walls. The tarp-like floor looks cleaner than it was, and the few belongings Leah has are folded and organized to one side, resting far enough from the walls to avoid contact with moisture. Even the duct tape on the side of the tent has been attended to, another layer added; earlier, she had noted dimly that the rain had still found a way to dribble through her patchwork, but the narrow trickle has ceased. The book Rosalie had been reading lies, closed and bookmarked, near the door.

“It’s all right?” Rosalie asks, as if nervous she has stepped over a boundary too fast.

“Yeah,” Leah reassures her, because it is all right. “Not that there was much in here for you to rearrange.”

“I believe it’s called living simply.”

“I’m pretty sure we’re living anything but simply,” Leah says, but her tone is light enough that it’s not about to spark another scene. “How were the snares?”

“Empty, but for one,” Rosalie says. “You had caught a baby raccoon. I let it go, and disassembled the other snares.”

“Good. That’s good.”

“Did you find something for breakfast?”

Leah wonders briefly whether they will pay more attention to each other’s eating habits now, after realizing the first thing she did when she stepped inside was check the color of Rosalie’s eyes. “Berries, and leftover rabbit.”

“Don’t you ever tire of rabbit?”

Leah laughs. “You know, the thing I always used to notice about camping is that anything tastes good, even if you’re eating the same thing for weeks. Of course, you don’t want anything to do with it afterward, and there’s a good chance you won’t eat that thing for years because the thought of it makes you want to puke, but you don’t think about that while you’re camping. Besides, we’ve had those deer.”

The others in the Pack hadn’t eaten much like that after they’d gained control of themselves, when they’d had months of adjustment instead of days or weeks, and could balance their human side with their inner (and outer) wolf. Sometimes they would, out of necessity on long runs or patrols, but nobody really liked to. Leah doesn’t mind it as much as she used to. In the last year, she had welcomed the wolf instead of cursing it, because it had allowed her to escape; by surrendering to the wolf and all its instincts, she could avoid the pain of being human. Hunting as a wolf to live had eventually seemed natural and logical. The only part of it she hated was phasing back, and still having the taste of blood in her mouth. It never felt right, as if now that she had opposable thumbs, she should know better.

Much of this philosophy had remained the same for Leah and Rosalie’s hunts, but they had felt different. The movement had felt necessary and joyful, and there was a sense of belonging to it all, a sense of being a part of something, of not just surviving, but living. She isn’t sure how to thank Rosalie for showing her this distinction without it being awkward, so she probably won’t; but she will always, always remember it.

Leah runs her hand absently along the sleeping bag, and it feels like a river that stretches out to carry them both in its invisible current. Though they are more or less on in opposite corners of the tent, Leah realizes she has never been this close to Rosalie before—at least, not in so small an area. Their campsite is a large bubble of space they call their own, in which they share and exist; they can move around without being in each other’s way. Here, inside, they are enclosed; it is impossible to avoid the other, to get by without breathing the same air, without smelling the same scents. The tent is their wolf den, safe from the rain and the distances between them.

A wolf, though, would never let Rosalie in. Leah has. She’s struck, once again, by the mildness of Rosalie’s scent, and begins to wonder if it’s not the forest that’s made it bearable, but Leah’s own acclimation to it. The underlying sweetness is so familiar that she isn’t sure what she’ll do when it’s gone, no longer lurking in the air like the blonde curls of her fading dreams.

“I’m afraid I don’t quite know what to do, now we’re inside,” Rosalie admits.

Leah is struggling, too. The suggestion to get out of the rain had felt right, but like the dog who spends its life chasing cars, only to one day catch one, she doesn’t know how to proceed with the new situation.

“Small talk is always good,” she suggests. “We could talk about deep, emotional shit, but I feel like we’ve already covered that.”

Rosalie gives a faint sigh. “Just thinking of that makes me tired—and I’m quite difficult to tire out. Small talk would be lovely, especially as, I believe, it’s something new for us.”

Leah likes the shape Rosalie’s mouth makes when she says the word ‘us.’

“So I guess this is where I ask you about hobbies, then?” she asks a little dryly.

Rosalie smiles. “I’m a bit of a mechanic, actually,” she says.

Amazingly, it’s so much easier after that.

Rosalie tells her of some of the degrees she’s earned, of her struggles in studying medicine, because she hadn’t been altogether interested in the subject, and of course, the blood hadn’t made it any easier. (A couple weeks ago, Leah would have been jealous and scornful of the way Rosalie talks about several lifetimes’ worth of college educations, but today, she merely listens with interest.) She talks about how, even though all her family has an interest in cars, it’s up to her to fix them when something goes wrong, or enhance them when there’s nothing better to do. She lists all the places she’s been—on all seven continents—ticking each one off on her fingers until she has gone over her hands multiple times, pausing on the ones that make good stories—like avoiding the sun in Egypt and encountering mummies that weren’t actually mummies, but vampires; or the time she had bundled up in a thick, fur-lined coat in Alaska not because of the cold, but because she had forgotten to eat, and had to use the hood to cover her nose at the starting line of the Iditarod because the dogs were too close; or the winter during World War II they had lived in Maine, and Esme had taught Rosalie how to knit woolen socks for soldiers. She doesn’t mention her husband, even though he leaves gaps in many of Rosalie’s stories like random but important sentences cut out of a newspaper article. She lingers only briefly on her human life, on her parents and two brothers, and the house they had lived in but had never really been able to afford.

In return, Leah shares her own life: the nonfiction books she read growing up, her tastes blossoming from pet-owner guides (not that the Clearwaters ever had any) to nature books to philosophy with time. She smiles over the best family vacations, and her mouth becomes rueful at the worst—they had never been able to afford many trips, so the best and the worst were often the same, like the one and only time they had gone to Disneyland (she had liked Adventureland best), and Seth had puked on her last change of clean clothes, or the time they had driven to Arizona, and Leah had broken her leg in the flat desert after spending a summer scrambling up and down trees. She talks about how she had enjoyed Biology in school, but not so much the other sciences, and never English, because she had hated being told what she had to read, about how she’d have joined the track team if the reservation’s high school had had one. She even stumbles over a few sentences of Quileute, probably the same ones she and Sam had practiced together, where she had been bothered by how perfectly he had seemed to wrap his head and tongue around the words and inflections. (She doesn’t mind mentioning Sam, somehow, doesn’t avoid him the way Rosalie avoids talking about Emmett. Perhaps it’s because the pain that Sam had left her with had been dwarfed over the last year by other pains, other things to challenge her heart. She doesn’t wake up every morning with him as her first thought, like she used to. Most days, she doesn’t think of him at all; he still slips in, like an old habit—but not a current one. Leah wonders how often Rosalie thinks of her husband, since her days aren’t broken by sleep and therefore must blend together.) She recounts some of her favorite stories, of how she had delighted too much as a child in the tale of Dask’iya the ogress’s defeat by a young girl she had planned to eat, and how she had loved to hear about the time when Q’wati, the Transformer, saw two wolves and changed them into the first Quileutes.

And, even though they aren’t supposed to, Leah talks about the first time she had phased, and how it had killed her father.

“I’m so sorry, Leah,” Rosalie says, and strokes Leah’s cheek once before telling her in a rush how right she had been, thinking that Rosalie had gloried in killing the men who had tried to kill her; how some things are purely accidental, and others happen through poor choices, and how the latter are the ones you should regret. Leah has heard the gist of this message before from nearly everyone who knows the truth of what happened that day, but hearing it from Rosalie, killer to killer, makes her remember to believe it. (And even though she knows Rosalie is deadly, she keeps replaying the feel of Rosalie’s cold but gentle hand on her skin, distracting her from the guilt that she will still always carry with her somewhere like a faded scar.)

They remain in silence for a few minutes after that, the hitches in Leah’s breathing drowned out by the rain. Then Leah swipes the back of her hand across her eyes, and apologizes for the heavy subject, making some sarcastic comment she won’t remember thirty seconds later, but which strikes the match of conversation, all the same.

 

“What’s it like, not sleeping?” Leah asks one day when a different rain has thinned to a mist, and crickets sing in the dark. They are in the tent again, having crawled into its shelter at the first sight of rain that afternoon. Hours have passed, but it feels as though the time could be measured in heartbeats or intakes of breath.

“Feel lucky you don’t have to experience it,” Rosalie answers.

Leah’s eyes are good in the dark, and she can see Rosalie as if there were a full moon bathing their tent in light. Everything has taken on a dim blue sheen that somehow makes Rosalie’s hair look white and glowing, and her eyes look human. During the day, she is made of angles; at night, she is softness and curves. Leah wonders if this is how Rosalie looked, before. The sight of her doesn’t make Leah want to launch a thousand ships, but the tickle in her chest makes her suspect, with a wry, inward sigh, that she might be heading toward the harbor. This disturbs and terrifies her deeply, at the same time it doesn’t bother her at all.

“I do,” Leah says at length, belatedly remembering she should comment on Rosalie’s response. “It sounds shitty.”

“I can pretend, though. Sometimes, if I relax enough, I can almost fool myself.” Rosalie shakes her head, and the pale light shifts among the strands of her hair. “My mind goes... blank, if I try. At the very least, it can make time pass. It’s almost like sleep—not that I remember much about human sleep; so most of the time, in this regard, I can’t remember what I’ve lost. Mostly, I miss something to break up the days. One has so much time, when one is immortal. You can’t imagine how much more of it you get when you don’t sleep.”

“That definitely sounds shitty,” Leah tells her. “I mean, I’m getting to live extra long because of this freaky werewolf stuff, but at least I can still sack out when I need to.”

Rosalie’s lips curve into a strange little smile. “You’re older than me, you know,” she says.

Leah furrows her brows. “What?”

“You’re older than me,” Rosalie repeats. “I was eighteen when I died. You’re twenty.”

“I never got that,” Leah says, frowning. “The whole thing with your age. You’re not eighteen. You look eighteen, but people never really look their age, whether they look older or younger or whatever. Your brain is, like—”

“Ninety-three,” Rosalie supplies, and Leah blinks.

“Okay,” she says, recovering. The age shouldn’t shock her, but Rosalie has become so humanlike to her recently that it does. “Ninety-three. You’re ninety-three. You may look like a teenager, but mentally, you grew up a long time ago. You’ve experienced a hell of a lot more things than I have. I’m not older than you. Besides,” she adds, “my body’s stopped aging, too. I mean, it’s temporary, but still. If we’re going by the way you count, we’re the same age.”

“I’d rather think of it that way, then,” Rosalie says. “Otherwise, I’d have to start thinking of you as I might a great-granddaughter.”

“And that would be bad?” Leah’s heart stamps a double beat. Never mind that there’s no way in hell she and Rosalie could ever be related, would ever be more than complete strangers if Rosalie looked her age, if she were no more than the little old lady Leah passed on the street sometimes. Logic tells her that Rosalie would have no claim to her as anything but a stranger if Rosalie were ninety-three, that Leah should say something snarky to this effect, that ‘great-grandmother’ is pushing it, but she doesn’t. Because Leah’s suddenly hanging onto Rosalie’s response more than she should, and she feels like such a fucking idiot, like a dog waiting to be thrown a bone, but she can’t stop running her tongue over her lips in anticipation.

“I think so.”

The space between them is impossibly narrow. Leah doesn’t remember either of them moving closer on the sleeping bag, but it’s been a half a day since they sat down, interrupted only by necessary breaks; they must have shifted around at some point, but she doesn’t remember it. She doesn’t remember getting so close to Rosalie that their knees could almost be touching if they were sitting the same way, or how their bodies got angled toward one another, regardless.

“Why?”

Rosalie’s voice is a whisper no human ears could hear. “Because then I would feel too old for you, and I couldn’t bear it.”

It’s like Rosalie has shot fire directly into Leah’s chest. Emotion bubbles up from it with the heat, spilling over the sides like a fountain of things she can’t truly name. Her heart is pounding now, like a furious drumbeat that vibrates in the very tips of her fingers, and surely Rosalie can hear it as clearly as she can feel it when she reaches to touch the pulse on Leah’s neck. Rosalie’s hand lingers there for a few seconds, until her fingers spread, and she traces one along Leah’s cheek like she did once before—only this time, without the pity and sadness, and instead for the simple sake of contact. With the pad of her thumb, she follows the line of Leah’s bottom lip, which sticks slightly, because Leah had wet it only moments ago with the flick of her tongue. Leah barely even notices the cold.

She has exploded so many times before, but it has felt like so long since she has exploded like this. She ran away to this place to keep from breaking; she would stay forever if it would happen this way. The way Rosalie is looking at her right now is so determined and sure and hungry and sensual that she feels the need to physically capture it and prevent it from escaping.

Leah strikes. In a blink, she’s up on her knees and flying forward, burying her hands like claws in Rosalie’s hair and crashing her lips against Rosalie’s. Rosalie pushes back, not in resistance, but as another force that desires the same thing and refuses to simply be taken. Leah may have initiated this kiss, but she isn’t leading it; neither of them is. It’s somewhere between a struggle for power, and two people trying to dance the same part while being paired together, scrabbling over each other’s feet, fumbling for balance until they give up trying to fit into the rhythm of the music and simply make up their own.

Rosalie pushes back once more, hard, until Leah falls back into a sitting position, her legs forced out by Rosalie’s knees until Rosalie forces them together again by straddling her. They’re almost the same height, with the same slim build—even though it makes Rosalie look more feminine, and Leah just thin—and so, several inches higher, Rosalie’s mouth is abruptly difficult to reach. They both groan at the halted contact, and Leah seizes the moment to slip her hands out of Rosalie’s hair and under Rosalie’s shirt, over the smooth plane of marble skin, stretching out her fingers until they grope the round swells of Rosalie’s breasts, Leah’s palms rubbing against cold, stiffened peaks.

Rosalie arches her back and neck. Dimly, Leah registers that Rosalie isn’t wearing a bra, thinks vampires must not need them, because Leah hadn’t noticed the absence until now, even though she certainly should have, but the thought soon flies out of her head at the moan Rosalie makes when Leah roughly massages upward. Rosalie’s body is hard, but so is Leah’s, and somehow, this makes them both soft.

Rosalie snaps her head forward and deftly snatches up Leah’s wrists, extricating them from under her shirt and pushing Leah backward in the same movement, pinning them above Leah’s head. Rosalie’s shirt hasn’t settled back into place, one side of it bunched up around her ribs, exposing the underside of her breast, but she doesn’t fix it. Golden hair falls around Leah’s face like the autumn branches of a weeping willow tree as Rosalie bends to kiss her again with a need that should bruise both of their lips, but won’t, and Leah’s own lips meet Rosalie’s greedily, trying to gain back the control they are both continually surrendering.

There is cold, and there is heat, and they are everywhere—everywhere

And it’s too much.

Leah stills, Rosalie’s weight on top of her suddenly too heavy. Immediately, Rosalie straightens. For a moment, the look in her eyes reminds Leah of the wildness she had detected in them the first day she had met Rosalie in the forest, of the feral sheen they had taken during Rosalie’s unbearable thirst, but when Leah blinks, Rosalie’s eyes have become guarded, unsure for the first time. Something in Leah’s own expression must give away her thoughts, because Rosalie instantly closes off, the wanton curve of her lips stiffening into a boundary line.

Leah stares at her for a moment, heart still pounding out their rhythm. Then she slides out from under Rosalie, unzips the tent, and runs. She tries not to wonder why the coldness of the air is such a shock compared to the humidity in the tent when Rosalie’s skin hadn’t been, and as her legs pump, her mind dizzy, she tries to forget the hurt on Rosalie’s face before it had been closed away.

 

Rosalie doesn’t come out of the tent for a long time, until Leah’s trail is faint. She doesn’t follow this time, just chastely and self-consciously adjusts her shirt, and brings her shaking hands to cover her eyes. Mist collects on the wayward frizz of her hair like snow—but it isn’t snow, and she misses home then, desperately, because it is the place where she feels safe in the familiar, despite everything unfamiliar that has happened there. Here, there is a whole other species outside of the knowable and norm. The kiss with Leah is only one of its many forms.

Rosalie’s hands shake harder, suddenly, at the thought of kissing someone who isn’t a man. Of feeling something, deep within herself, for another woman. She had been raised (the first time) to think of such things as abominations—so unnatural that they were not even brought up in polite conversation—but her second upbringing had broadened her mind and her world. She simply hadn’t realized how broad it could continue to grow, if she let it. But things have started clicking into place.

For an instant, she is paralyzed by a wave of terror. She thinks about her time in the woods with Leah, of the way they have grown and changed around each other, and doesn’t think she could stop this—whatever ‘this’ is—if she wanted to. Only Leah could. And Leah had been the one to run.

But Rosalie hadn’t.

It is this realization alone that slightly stills her hands, allows her to lift them from her eyes. She hadn’t run. The thought of kissing a woman might have made her twentieth-century sensibilities scream, but the actual, physical act of it—

She hadn’t run. It had felt wonderful and lovely and anything but wrong.

How could she flee from that?

How could Leah?

 

Leah is gone for two days. For two days, Rosalie doesn’t think of anything else but this absence.

Then, Leah comes back, and won’t look Rosalie in the eye. Rosalie doesn’t expect an apology, but she does anticipate an explanation. She gets neither. Just like in the very beginning, they spend almost an entire week in silence, only speaking when it’s absolutely necessary. She should be angry—normally, she’d be angry—but all she feels is hurt.

For the first time in what would seem like forever if she didn’t know better, Rosalie checks her cellphone. There’s no service where they are, regardless of how expensive her phone is, and one day, she keeps moving until she finds a signal. There are only about twenty missed calls. None are from Emmett. A part of her hates herself for missing Leah so much that she doesn’t have room within her to be angry at Emmett for listening to her the last time he had called.

She could leave. She could go away. There’s a road nearby, curving through the trees toward civilization; it’s what got her phone working again. But the more Rosalie looks for it, the more leaden her legs feel. She calls Esme.

“Mom?” she says. Vampires can’t cry, but no one would know it just then from the hitch in her voice like that of a lost child. It makes her feel weak, the feeling she has always despised.

“Rosalie?” Esme exclaims in surprise—and relief, Rosalie notes guiltily. “Are you all right, darling?”

She can hear rustling in the background, exactly like the conspicuous shifting of eavesdroppers. “Please,” Rosalie whispers, and Esme understands. She hears Esme excuse herself from the others, and for several minutes, the phone is filled with the sound of rushing wind and the quick tread of light feet.

“It’s just me,” Esme soothes when the wind stops. “What’s wrong?”

Rosalie tells her everything, from Renesmee, to the beach, to the trains, to the pretending, to the forest. To Leah. She expects Esme to be surprised by the name—and the associated pronouns—but Esme isn’t.

“Alice saw your future go black,” she explains, and there is so much meaning and comprehension in this single sentence that it almost hurts. No one knows her better than her second mother. Not even Emmett. Not even Edward. Not even Leah.

 

Leah doesn’t need this—any of this—

Except that she does.

She didn’t come here for this—it fixes nothing that she ran away for—

Except that maybe she did, and maybe it does.

She doesn’t want this—

Except that she remembers the way Rosalie felt under her hands, writhing at her touch, and she thinks of all the little things Rosalie has told her and gotten her to say, the way her anger and guilt and heartache have been easing ever so slowly so that she is finally able to start breathing again.

She isn’t in love with Rosalie. Sometimes she thinks she barely even likes her, but Leah still wants her and needs her and craves her all the same, after this slow buildup that has suddenly ignited like a wildfire. It’s so completely fucked up, and it scares her to death. She’s been trying so hard since Sam to make herself not care about anyone or anything, but people have still slipped through the cracks at the edges of her universe. Leah isn’t made of stone.

Neither is Rosalie.

When Leah was a kid, she had spent a lot of time at Jacob’s house. Only, she hadn’t thought of it as Jacob’s house then, because she had considered him too little to bother with. Instead, it was Rachel and Rebecca’s house. The twins were slightly older than her, but not enough that she would look up to them while they looked down on her. They were all friends, all wild children who played each other’s games without much complaint, even though Rachel and Rebecca were so girly, and Leah such a tomboy.

Rachel and Rebecca were each other’s best friends, of course, because no one had been able to separate them until they separated each other. Leah’s best friend was Emily. But Emily didn’t live nearby when they were small, and so Rachel and Rebecca had agreed that if one of them were gone, and Emily were gone, then the remaining two would be best friends for the time being. It was only very rarely that it wasn’t the three of them, but it happened enough that Leah got to know the twins as separate people, rather than the two-headed package they claimed to be.

That was how Leah had come to know Rebecca.

Rebecca was the only person in the entire world who was eventually allowed to braid Leah’s hair. Leah had liked the way Rebecca’s fingers felt in her hair, combing against her scalp; it was different from the way her mother tried (and failed) to do it, even though there was still yanking and tugging. She’d never thought much of that. It wasn’t until middle school when Leah’s stomach felt fluttery around David Abel that she realized she had felt that way before.

Leah got over Rebecca before she realized there was even anything to get over in the first place, but she never forgot about it. It had lain, hidden beneath fallen, scattered papers in her mind, collecting dust, but never disappearing. Its presence was felt, but not truly remembered, only enough that when she had been trying to get away from home, and had been asked her name, it had been Rebecca’s she had given.

So it isn’t the fact that Rosalie’s a woman that freaks her out—though it does freak her out a little, to be honest, since she had been eight the last time she liked another girl; Sam had come after David, and with Sam, there was no reason to look at anyone else. Nor after him, either, really. She had had that dream about Bella, but that was Jacob’s fault for more than a few reasons, and not out of any attraction of her own.

It isn’t really even the fact that Rosalie’s a vampire. Leah has seen her as a person, and smelled her as one of the wild things of Leah’s childhood—fantastical, beautiful, but tangible and snarling, something to be discovered in a hollow log or beneath a rock and coaxed into the sunlight. Leah has seen Rosalie’s ugliness, and Rosalie has seen hers, and both stem largely from things they haven’t been able to control.

So it comes back to the closeness, the caring, the cracks that are threatening to let too much through: not just a hand or a heart, fractured pieces reaching for her, but a whole being. It’s the very thing she’s been wanting for, and the very thing she tries so hard to push away.

Sometimes, things push back.

Jacob had seen her, she’d said. But what terrifies her is that Rosalie has, too. When you get to be where Leah is—hurt and lonely and pissed off and full of less hope than a funeral home—that really is all it takes.

Sometimes, all you really need is for someone to notice you.

 

Rosalie is gone, but she hasn’t left. After a week of skirting around each other, performing a complicated dance that doesn’t allow even their glances to touch, Leah knows that Rosalie will always come back. She doesn’t take this for granted; she simply knows it, because she knows that Rosalie had kissed her, too, in the tent, that Leah had come back after running away, and that this is the game they are currently playing.

Besides, Rosalie left her book. It isn’t by the door of the tent anymore, primed to be stepped on or forgotten. It lies open, with its pages down against the woodpile, as if its owner—or not-owner—has only stepped away for a moment, in the middle of a paragraph or a thought.

Leah glances down at the title. Lord of the Flies.

She snorts. “Seriously?” she says aloud.

“Seriously,” Rosalie replies, seeming to materialize, and Leah almost jumps out of her skin. Nobody can sneak up on her anymore—except, apparently, when she’s rolling her eyes at famous, and almost situationally-appropriate literature.

“Is this what we are?” Leah asks. “Stranded on a desert island, doomed to deteriorate into the basest levels of humanity?”

“Our circumstances are quite different.” Rosalie sounds ready enough to banter, but there’s still a guarded edge to her voice. “If we’re stranded here, it’s by choice. And last I checked, we weren’t a group of little British schoolboys. The book is a coincidence, anyway—my finding it, I mean.”

“You keep saying it’s not yours.”

“It isn’t. I borrowed it off a hiker.”

Leah’s dark brows rise. “All the hikers in a twenty-mile radius, and you pickpocket the one carrying Lord of the Flies. Well done.”

Actually, Leah had enjoyed the book when she’d been made to read it in high school several years ago, but, like most students, had begun to dislike it after weeks of analyzing it in class and homework assignments. She had liked all the symbolism and the wilds of the island—that didn’t mean she wanted to write about them. A part of her would rather construct the verbal equivalent of an essay with Rosalie right now; even though she’s ready to talk to her about what has happened, and what will happen, she doesn’t quite have the right words to start.

“It certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice,” Rosalie admits. “The violence is a bit distasteful.” She considers. “Although, it’s certainly fascinating, as a study of humanity. Something I’ve been rather interested in lately.”

“It’s a study of one side of humanity, at least,” Leah points out, ignoring Rosalie’s last statement, because she isn’t sure what to do with it. “You get a bunch of girls together, and you’d probably end up with a different result.”

Rosalie smiles for the first time. “I believe William Golding himself once said something to that effect.”

“What, did you know him personally, or something?”

She rolls her eyes. “I’ve been going to high school since before that book became a part of the standard curriculum. You tend to pick up on a few details if you read the same thing once every four years or so.”

“That’s kind of sad.”

“It is. But at least I’m well-educated, I suppose. So you’re done ignoring me, then?”

She’s moved seamlessly into this last question, without so much as a pause or a change of inflection. Leah fiddles with the dirty hem of her shirt. It’s more brown than purple now, in spite of her frequent attempts at washing it. There’s an ant carrying a piece of a dried leaf near her right foot.

“I guess,” Leah replies stubbornly, not meeting Rosalie’s eyes. She isn’t sure if Rosalie will work out that what she’s saying is code for yes, and that it had been almost impossible to actually ignore Rosalie because of how attuned to her presence and body movements Leah has become; the words are just too difficult to grind out, though they writhe stubbornly on the tip of her tongue.

“And?” Rosalie prompts.

“And what?”

Rosalie sighs tiredly. “Leah, please.”

Leah shivers at the sound of her name, so much emotion packed in the simple, four-letter label she has responded to her entire life. She looks at Rosalie, the beautiful walking tragedy that makes Leah’s chest tight.

“Things have changed,” is all she says.

“Yes. They have.”

“We’re just making more problems for ourselves.”

“Is that what you think?” There’s a frown in Rosalie’s eyes that she’s obviously trying to conceal.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you know?”

“Do I have to say it?”

Rosalie blinks. “Yes.”

Leah swallows, fighting the still-squirming words she cannot help but keep locked away. “It doesn’t... fix anything,” she says eventually. “But I guess... I want to be around you. I don’t know what the fuck to make of that, but it’s all I’ve got.”

“Maybe that fixes some things,” Rosalie tells her, a little wistful. Stepping closer, she threads their fingers together, and seems to wait for Leah to pull away.

Leah doesn’t.

 

They pass the remainder of the summer together in the forest. They hunt; they swim; they hike and explore. Rosalie surreptitiously steals and returns more books, and they take turns reading aloud to pass the time when it crawls, hot and slow, before them. The season is glorious and golden, despite the weather that is almost reminiscent of home, and it smells deep and rich like the earth.

They fight; they heal—sometimes from wounds that are older, like scars. They bicker; they snap. They laugh, and feel, and live, licking the dark juice of berries from each other’s fingers and lips and wondering how it is that something like that can’t do them any good.

 

The question comes again only when the smaller trees that stand beneath the shade of the redwoods begin to change their colors. This time, it’s Rosalie who asks, a patch of her arm caught in sunlight:

“What are we doing here, Leah?”

The summer cannot last forever. They could live here forever, Leah thinks, with the days of eternity stretching together; but lately, more and more, their campsite has felt like a vehicle of procrastination, as if some looming deadline approaches. Among the trees, they are stagnant, floating in the pool of their escapism.

The autumn’s wind is starting ripples.

“I think we were running away,” Leah says.

 

Everything is temporary, Rosalie thinks, and worries when she realizes that she is no longer an exception to this rule. Her body may carry on unchanging, but the body is just the hull of a seed that houses what’s inside, that protects her from the outside forces until it is time for her to come alive. She can plant herself here, but inside, she will always be waiting, and she will watch as her world changes around her.

Leah is the catalyst, the one who has made things different.

She is the wind that can carry Rosalie away, and bring her back home.

But doubt stirs in her—impossible doubt, and Rosalie laughs, because it is the kind of doubt that she has not had to experience in seventy years. Everything is temporary. She and Leah have been living in a state of stasis, their happiness born of a purgatory made from sticks and stones and found things. When they leave this place, will it crumble to the ground? Is everything they have built suspended in their own suspension?

Rosalie knows it is time to leave, grows tired of the restlessness she feels when she looks at the turning leaves of the forest, but for all of this urgency, she is reluctant to take the first step outside of their circle.

She would stay forever, if this were the only way to keep her whole.

 

“I wish we could,” she says, later.

Leah is distracted, trying to read in the flickering firelight. The logs shift and crackle, and the smoke trails upward to the stars, the heat making them seem to quiver in anticipation. Rosalie is always careful of the flames, but tonight, she sits closer to them than usual, warmed by their light and the casual touch of Leah’s knee against hers.

“You what?” Leah asks. Her fingers slide along the dry pages of the book—to keep her place, Rosalie thinks; Leah is listening now.

“I wish we could stay here,” Rosalie clarifies. “But we can’t.”

“I know.”

“It would be nice.”

“It would. Except...” Leah’s voice fades.

“Except that we are sorely lacking in things to do,” Rosalie finishes, “and there are people we’ve left behind that we shouldn’t have.”

Rosalie feels Leah stiffen beside her, Leah regarding her sharply. Rosalie meets her hard eyes, confused for a moment, before she realizes what her words sound like. She touches Leah’s arm hesitantly; the thin, dark hairs there straighten and stand on end to greet her hand.

“I mean our families,” she adds, trying to keep from smiling at the way Leah’s body responds to her now.

Leah’s expression doesn’t lighten, and again, it takes a collection of moments before Rosalie notices the full extent of her blunder. Both of them have families, of course; but Rosalie’s family includes a husband.

She sighs. “I mean our mothers,” she says. “Our brothers. My sister—sisters. I don’t mean—” It is so difficult to explain. “I mean that there are people we love, Leah, no matter how far we distance ourselves from them. And then there are people whom we would no longer love in the way they want us to, even if we were standing beside them. I am... selfish. I have always been selfish. I want so many things, and I take them when they are within my grasp—even if they aren’t, I suppose. I want...” She pauses. “I want, simply and selfishly, to be happy. My—Emmett. He tries so hard, but he doesn’t make me happy.”

She wants to add that Jacob and Sam can never make Leah happy, either, but it’s already there, in the little half-smile on Leah’s lips: one side curving upward in pleasure, the other sloping downward in a resigned sort of pain. Rosalie wants to kiss her until all of Leah is smiling, but she doesn’t. Now is not the time.

“This is why we have to leave,” she continues, urgently. “We could be happy out there, too, but we wouldn’t know...”

The things they have built could crumble, or they could stand. To leave is a risk, a gamble; the added pressures of reality and the outside world could make them fly, or turn their togetherness into dust.

When Leah remains silent for a while, Rosalie worries that Leah might long for this destruction. Leah’s awkward confession earlier in the summer might, Rosalie thinks, have only applied to this—this: this tiny bubble of a summer, meant only to be fleeting, meant only for recuperation from life until, the job done, they both depart, whole but separate.

“Yeah,” Leah says at length.

This time, it is Rosalie who waits for Leah to continue. She would hold her breath, if it meant anything.

“Let’s just...” Leah shrugs. “Fuck it. Let’s just go for it.”

Everything is temporary.

But there are some things that will last for a while, first, before the natural cycle of the world retires them gently into slumber.

 

On their last day, they follow the winding road into town. Leah has shoved her tent and sleeping bag back into the dumpster where she found them, in hopes that perhaps someone else will go digging for gold and survival. She keeps the Swiss Army Knife, though—shoving it into the pocket of Rosalie’s jeans, of all places.

There’s a little diner—it’s the first building they see. Leah jokes that she can order up a sippy cup of blood so that they can both eat, but Rosalie recoils, only half disgusted at the memories that dislodges in her mind. She has done so well at repressing all thoughts of home in the last several weeks, but now they have resumed their weight upon her shoulders. She concentrates instead on the pressure of Leah’s hand.

Through the diner comes a steady flow of people that rushes around them as though they are boulders jutting out of a river. Leah eats, and Rosalie pretends to eat, and they chat with their waitress, and the people around them when they move to sit at the bar a few hours later. Everyone is so friendly it makes Rosalie want to cry sometimes. There are a few people who frown at Leah’s hand on Rosalie’s thigh under the table, or the way Rosalie toys with Leah’s hair, but no one says anything. They mostly concentrate on asking about Leah and Rosalie’s travels, how they’ve fared camping so long, and aren’t they glad to be eating something other than boxed macaroni and cheese and freeze-dried scrambled eggs now? When a family of five walks, laughing, through the doors, and Rosalie’s eyes linger on the baby who regards her over his mother’s shoulder, the hand on her thigh tightens with reassurance. The mother smiles at her, and Rosalie finds herself smiling back.

In the weeks that Rosalie had been on her own prior to finding Leah, she had swept in and out of diners like this, in and out of the lives of strangers. Not once had she felt this human.

Being in the forest for so long has taught her many things, even if it is only to see the possibility in circumstances that are already there.

 

The inevitable end comes, one that they each must face before they truly leave the woods. There’s a battered old pay phone by the bathrooms in the diner, the wood paneling around it carved and scratched by hundreds of hands desperate to leave their marks, however insignificant, on the world. Rosalie feels a pang of something in her chest. All of the decades she has spent trying to belong, and everyone else has been doing the same thing.

She retreats a respectful distance from the phone while Leah drops in coins, one by one, and dials a number known by heart. It’s hard not to listen, but Rosalie manages, somehow, despite her sensitive ears. It’s even more difficult when she inevitably catches the hushed sob lodged in Leah’s throat; Rosalie isn’t sure if Leah’s talking to her brother, or to Jacob. She isn’t really sure she wants to know.

Leah comes away a half-hour later, wiping her eyes furiously with her hands to keep Rosalie from seeing, though of course, it’s too late for that. When she catches Rosalie’s concerned glance, she tries to roll her eyes.

“Is everything all right?” Rosalie asks.

“As all right as it can be, I guess,” Leah replies with a sigh. “Mom’s pissed, Seth’s pissed, Jacob’s pissed and still imprinted on a baby vampire... But...” She shrugs. “They’re all talking to me. They’re glad I’m coming home. Seth actually cried, which makes me feel ten times shittier. I think it’s going to be a while before I can talk to Jacob like... like we used to, because it’s still hard, you know? But I think I can... I think I can deal with it now. I didn’t explode into a wolf when I talked to him, so, hey, that’s progress.”

Rosalie can’t help it; she frowns at Jacob’s name. Leah rolls her eyes more successfully this time.

“I’m not gonna run off and try to shack up with him, okay?” she says. “I’m a lot better at this whole ‘moving on’ thing now. Give me some credit, here.”

“So, you’re all right, then?” Rosalie asks, trying to shift the subject away from Jacob with her hands on her hips.

Leah smirks, leans forward, and gives a brief tug on Rosalie’s lower lip with her teeth. “I’m getting there,” she says. “Just watch me.”

 

Rosalie looks almost as though she’s aged ten years when she gets off the phone with her husband, but Leah thinks it probably could be worse. Life will find a way to leave its mark, after all. There’s no escaping it, even if you’re tougher than normal.

“Bad?” Leah asks, a little wary. Rosalie had spent a lot of her phone call with her face and free hand turned to the wall, so Leah isn’t certain what emotions to expect.

“Bad,” Rosalie agrees. “But not awful. Emmett still loves me, but... we’re on a break. Indefinitely. He wants to talk about it in person, but I won’t change my mind, and he knows that. I suppose I owed him the initial explanation in person, but... I didn’t want to tell everyone I was coming home, and have him hope... And I’m afraid I’m a bit of a coward, really. His face would have...” She trails off.

Leah tries not to be jealous, and mostly succeeds. She’s still a work in progress, after all.

“Hey,” she says, “we both just spent two months in the middle of fucking nowhere so we could avoid all our problems. That pretty much makes both of us cowards. So no judgement here.”

“No judgement?” Rosalie teases. “Is that even possible for us?”

“We don’t judge,” Leah corrects. “We snark, and we bitch. Mostly at each other. Even though we’re both big softies on the inside, underneath all that angst. It’s what makes us so sensitive.” She wiggles her fingers.

Rosalie snorts and shakes her head. Her hair gleams with the motion, even in the shitty diner lighting, and it’s something that will never stop being fascinating.

“So are we going, then?” Leah asks.

“We’re going,” Rosalie confirms, and seems to marvel at the thought.

Leah can just see the deep blue-black of the night sky out the diner window, flecked with the white glow of stars. She slips a hand in Rosalie’s back pocket, keeping it there as they move away from the bathrooms and out amongst the people again. Once, her fingers brush against the hard plastic of the pocketknife.

For a brief moment, she glances back. With her wolf eyes, she can clearly make out a brand new carving on the wall around the phone.

Rosalie Hale and Leah Clearwater were here, it says.

Leah smiles.