"Pardon me, I need you to repeat that," said Rosalie in a low monotone.
"I am, so, so sorry," blubbered the neighbor. Her little boy was balanced on her hip, clinging to her shirt and sucking on the lollipop she'd given him to shut him up. "I'm so -"
"Not that part," Rosalie snapped. "Tell me again from the beginning what happened to my niece."
"She -" The woman choked. "She wanted to take Mr. Goodbar into a little cluster of trees, and I let her - I'm so sorry, Miss Hale -"
"I don't care if you're sorry! Get on with it, tell me again, don't leave anything out," growled Rosalie. "Any detail could -"
"Rose," said Emmett, approaching and dropping his hands onto her shoulders. "She already told us, and the cops, everything she knows." He pressed his face into his wife's hair to hide the motion of his lips and went on, pitched high: "Carlisle called back. He left work and found the trail. It was definitely a vampire, but they went into the lake. This lady can't tell us anything useful, Rose."
Rosalie's hands clenched at her sides and she looked away from the humans, mother and son. "Fine," she said. "Fine."
The neighbor backed away, skittish on some subconscious level about being near an enraged vampire even if she didn't know it, and took her boy into the house next door.
Rosalie leaned back against Emmett. "The lake," she whispered. "How can we find her? Why did it have to be today, when I wasn't with her, that someone decided they wanted to steal her away...?"
"Don't blame yourself," Emmett said. "We all thought she'd be fine."
"I should have gone along. If I wore enough little Christmas-tree air fresheners a dog might put up with me. I should have at least gone to the park even if I couldn't get near the dog without it freaking out."
"Rosalie, you've been with Elspeth day and night continually for the last two months, and nearly that much even when we were in Denali. You couldn't go on forever without a break. This is only bad luck." She could have gone on forever without a break. Emmett, feeling neglected, had coaxed her to do otherwise, but she couldn't bring herself to blame him. She hadn't been obliged to agree when he asked her to let Elspeth out of her sight for one day. She could have said no, and if she had, they'd still have their niece.
She took a sudden step forward, and Emmett's hands fell away from where they rested. Spinning to face him, she said, "You have ten minutes to pack."
"Pack?" he asked.
"We're going to Tennessee," Rosalie said.
"I don't think this is a good idea," Emmett repeated, for the twenty-sixth time.
"Alice won't begrudge us this," Rosalie said. Her voice was high and tinny, keeping up the appearance of silence for the humans. "She loves Elspeth too. Besides, she and Jasper have been lying low more than long enough. They'll probably come back to Michigan with us after Alice finds the right blindspot. They're probably only still in Nashville because they can't think of a polite way to leave Peter and Charlotte." There was hope in her voice, but it was the resolute, dutiful sort of hope, unwilling to expire until every option was gone.
"That sounds really hard, Rose," Emmett said, "looking for something she can't see..."
"As long as we find her quick, there's only so far they can have gone," Rosalie said. "She can do it. And then we can find Elspeth and end whoever took her."
"I don't think this is a good idea, Rose," Emmett said. "If they're pissed off at us for showing up - I can't actually take Jasper, not in a real fight, let alone Alice, and -"
"Jasper and Alice aren't going to attack us," said Rosalie, picking up the Skymall magazine and flipping through it just to look occupied to the woman in the aisle seat next to her.
"I was going to say, even if they don't, Peter and Charlotte might," Emmett said. "I don't know if we can take them or not."
"I would have just called Alice on the phone but she didn't exactly leave the option open for emergencies," Rosalie hissed under her breath. "That leaves showing up where we expect they are most likely to be, which is Nashville, which is where Peter and Charlotte live, and yes, showing up in someone else's territory uninvited is dicey, but Elspeth is missing and Alice is our only realistic hope of finding her."
"I know," he sighed.
Rosalie moved the magazine to her left hand and rested her right on Emmett's knee. "This is as close as I get," she murmured. "I'm not going to give up just because some vampire jumped into a lake with her."
"We could adopt," Emmett said in response to the first sentence, but it was a tired, old conversation and Rosalie didn't feel like rehearsing it again. She just shook her hair out of her face and turned the page of the catalog.
"Even if we were going to do that, we couldn't give up on Elspeth," she said.
Emmett didn't have a rebuttal to that, and fell silent.
The greater Nashville area was big, and Peter and Charlotte had no permanent address. Wearing enough fabric to get odd looks for the summer weather, Emmett and Rosalie searched separately, moving as quickly as they dared to cover more ground and have a better chance of crossing a scent or finding a good vampire hideout where the precog might be.
Rosalie scrambled for her phone when it rang. "Emmett?" she exclaimed into the phone, waiting for him to tell her the intersection where she should find him and Alice, who would search her vision for blankness and tell them where to find Elspeth -
"Rose, this is Alice we're looking for - if she wanted to be found wouldn't she have met us coming off the plane, or at some time in the last few hours?" he said instead.
"Until we plan on going someplace she'll be, she doesn't necessarily know to expect us!" Rosalie half-shrieked. "Or she could be concentrating on looking for something else. She could have missed us that way."
"Okay, Rose," said Emmett, and Rosalie hung up, hissing under her breath. She knew he thought it was hopeless, but it still rankled. He'd have been the last person to give up if the kidnapper had been present, standing in front of him and shouting a challenge that could be met with violence. As it was, he was humoring her. Maybe he'd written Elspeth off as soon as he heard the trail ended at the water. He expected to come up empty, expected Rosalie to admit defeat after however many days or weeks and trudge home.
Rosalie stalked up the street with brisk steps, inhaling in little bursts to hunt for a vampire's scent that wasn't her own, and focused. She could focus. She'd killed seven men as a brand-new vampire without spilling a drop of blood, she'd gotten through medical school without anyone noticing one thing off about how she handled the stuff. If she could focus to the exclusion of blood, she could focus to the exclusion of her husband's fatalism. It did not matter that Emmett had already given up, as long as he covered his half of the territory: what mattered was that she had something she could do, and when she'd done it, she'd have Elspeth back.
Thirty hours later, she'd found nothing, and Emmett hadn't called again. Rosalie might tease later (after they had Elspeth safe and sound at home again) about expecting him to call her just to propose taking a break, checking into a hotel, and continuing to catch up with accumulated neglect. But whatever the family jokes said, he was capable of addressing other needs, and, finding nothing and no one, did not call.
She'd gone past the limits of the city itself, and was searching through nondescript suburbs and generic town centers. She wasn't sure how far from Nashville proper Peter and Charlotte ranged, if she and Emmett had already missed them and were only getting farther and farther away. She wasn't sure if they were still in Nashville at all, instead of having relocated to Memphis or someplace in Arkansas - or just having abanoned the maintenance of a territory altogether and beginning a strictly nomadic lifestyle. She wasn't sure if Alice and Jasper had elected to join the latter's old friends, rather than striking off on their own.
She wasn't sure, and until she found at least one of the people she was looking for, she wasn't going to get more sure.
So she jogged, and breathed, and focused, and, at hour thirty-one, she smelled vampire.
Rosalie called up the memory of the last street sign she'd read, noted the number on the nearest mailbox, and texted them to Emmett as she crept forward, following the scent. "Alice-Jasper-Peter-Charlotte?" she guessed in sequence, but Alice wasn't really her first guess; there wasn't any of the familiar citrusy tartness to the trail. But that was all right. Any of the other three should be able to tell her where to find Alice.
She approached the likeliest building, a ramshackle house missing all of its shutters and most of its paint where vampires might find a congenial hideout. "Alice? Jasper? Peter? Charlotte?" she called again. "It's Rosalie -"
A blond head peeped out of the attic window, on the side of the house shaded by ivy-choked trees, and peered down at her. "You're Rosalie?" she asked.
"Charlotte?" asked Rosalie, and when the pale yellow fluff of curls bobbed yes, she said, "Yes, I am. I'm looking for Alice, it's an emergency -"
"Oh honey," said Charlotte, drawing her eyebrows together and pursing her lips in sad sympathy.
"What?" asked Rosalie, looking around for human observers and deciding to risk scaling the side of the house.
"Oh, honey, I'm sorry," said Charlotte, and Rosalie was at the attic windowsill when the tiny woman said, "Alice... died."
Emmett arrived at Charlotte's hideout half an hour after the text, in a shiny car he'd probably driven off a dealership lot for a "test drive" to shave off transit time. Rosalie thought he might have called for more detailed directions, but he spotted the dilapidated house without trouble, let himself in, and climbed up to the attic.
"Alice is dead," Rosalie told him without preamble, staring into the dust that spun around in the air when he opened the door. That much Charlotte had managed to convince her of, with considerable effort.
"Happened back in November," said Charlotte, wringing her hands. "Demetri an' Alec an' one we didn't know, burns like Jane, an'... another half-vampire, not your niece. Alice couldn't see 'em coming."
"Why would they kill her?" asked Emmett, dumbfounded. He reached for Rosalie without looking, and she caught his hand and squeezed it. "They - they wanted her to work for them. Why kill her?"
"Didn't explain themselves," Charlotte apologized, "Alec didn't even leave us sighted at the time."
"Then how do you know?" demanded Rosalie. "If you didn't see it happen, how do you know?"
"Jasper," guessed Emmett, and Charlotte nodded solemnly.
"He felt it," she said. "He's... not well anymore. Peter's looking after him, a ways east of here. We switch off, usually. Jasper sees things ain't there - us, even, but if one of us is there for real we can tell what's actual for him."
"He's seeing things?" Emmett repeated. "I've never heard of that in vampires..."
Charlotte shrugged helplessly. "Me neither, but he does, and can't tell when they ain't real. Picked a fight with some poor vagrant a month back thinkin' she was Bella, but we knew she was dead. The witch like Jane bragged about it, an' Edward too... Alice couldn't see that when it happened neither. Wolves."
Rosalie nodded, looking numbly at the attic eaves. "We knew that. Bella's father told us about the fire in La Push."
"We need to tell Charlie about Elspeth," said Emmett quietly.
Rosalie's head snapped around to look at him. "Not yet," she said.
"Without Alice?" said Emmett, gentle. Their hands were still linked, and he moved his thumb in circles on her palm like he always did when he wanted to calm her down. "Carlisle and Esme didn't have any luck searching the lakeshore or they'd have called us."
"I'm real sorry about your niece," said Charlotte. She said it like Elspeth had died.
Rosalie wrenched her hand away from Emmett, thinking to stomp her way to the corner of the attic and shout at them both for acting like Elspeth could just be gone one day, irretrievable, but instead she flung herself towards Emmett and let him wrap his arms around her. She didn't make a sound, just curled herself against him and willed him to somehow, impossibly, comfort her.
"We should go home," he murmured into her hair.
"Not yet," Rosalie said. There was nothing left that could help find Elspeth in Nashville, but that only made it the same as everywhere else, if Esme and Carlisle had been out of luck searching the border of the lake. But home had the essential disadvantage of being where Elspeth had gone missing.
"Okay," Emmett soothed.
"D'you want to see Jasper?" asked Charlotte tentatively. "...Maybe take him back with you?"
Rosalie was about to say yes, unconditionally agree to take her brother back, but there was something off about the request, and how Charlotte batted her eyes when she made it. "Why hasn't he found us on his own?" she asked. "If the Volturi have been and gone and let him live?"
"Er," said Charlotte, and she shuffled her feet. "...Off his diet, y'see."
"He's slipped up before," Emmett said, puzzled. "So have I. Why wouldn't he come back just because of that?"
"Didn't say slipped," said Charlotte. "Changed his mind, more. Doubt he's gonna change it back."
"Why?" asked Rosalie.
"Well, y'know how he first went veg, with the not wanting to feel what the prey felt?" Rosalie nodded, and Charlotte went on, "Now he figures that's better'n remembering what Alice felt. We've all been hunting together. I'm not out here to get food, I'm just here to take a break from the crazy. Jasper ain't such good company lately." She huffed a sigh. "Wouldn't blame you if you didn't want him back between the eatin' people and the crazy."
"How crazy are we talking here?" asked Emmett, clutching at Rosalie. She didn't think he was aware of it; it was a natural response to hearing about how his erstwhile brother was coping (or failing to) with his mate's death. She leaned back against him.
"Besides seeing things ain't there?" asked Charlotte. "When he's not doing that he's... I feel awful complaining about it because I know I'd be just alike if anything happened to Peter, heaven forbid, but I could count on my fingers the sentences he's spoken in the last five months didn't have something to do with Alice. Can't drop the subject. He ain't keeping control of the empathy neither. Sprays sad around near nonstop. I don't think he specifically wants us miserable, just can't understand why we ain't and tries to make us understand. We'd've ditched him if we didn't owe him so much, more'n likely."
"Carlisle would say we ought to bring him home if he'll have us," Emmett said dubiously, trailing off.
"And Esme would agree with him," Rosalie said, "but they're not here."
"If it helps, I doubt Jasper wants t'go anywhere," sighed Charlotte. "Like you said, he could've found you. He's stable enough to do that if he takes it into his head."
"He might just need a while longer away," Emmett speculated, glancing at Rosalie. "Back before you and me were turned, Edward went off and ate humans and came back after a few years." It was a weak comparison. Edward's issues were much more self-contained; Rosalie had listened to the story of his internal trauma with contempt, whereas she did sympathize with the circumstances that had driven Jasper away from the family and off the deep end. But it was the closest simile they could make.
"And I doubt he's easy to live in a permanent residence with while staying discreet, at the moment, or that the irresponsible empathy would be any help trying to... to go on with nothing to do about Elspeth anymore," Rosalie murmured. It wasn't that she didn't want to patch up her family. It was just so destroyed already that attaching a broken Jasper to it didn't sound like an improvement. "...We'll take your phone number and Peter's, and Jasper's if he has a phone?" she asked Charlotte, closing her eyes as though tired. "We'll keep in touch. If he gets better... hell, if he doesn't get better but decides he'd rather live with us again... we can go from there. But not today. I don't want to see him today."
"Fair 'nough," Charlotte said, not sounding like she'd had much hope of fobbing off her charge. They recited numbers. Charlotte showed them out of the crumbly house like she owned the place in all its disintegrating glory. Rosalie and Emmett got into his test-drive car.
"We'll return this to the dealership," Emmett said. It was phrased like a statement, but he was saying it to check for Rosalie's approval. If she fell in spontaneous love with the car, he was all set to buy it for her. He probably wouldn't raise more than a token objection if she wanted to steal it instead, or drive it off an embankment, or take out her frustration by ripping it apart with her bare hands.
"Yeah," she said, listless. "Dealership."
They loitered in Nashville for two days, and then Rosalie said she was ready to go home, and they boarded another airplane headed back to Michigan.
She walked the shore of Lake Huron exactly once. Any hint of a scent was long gone - neither Elspeth nor the vampire kidnapper tended to shed dead skin or other debris that would hold the clue in place longer, the way a human would have. There was no point to the journey. She did it anyway, hearing her internal predictor of what Alice might say teasing her about being a masochist. But the walk didn't actually hurt. She didn't feel much of anything as she made the circuit, staring out at the water.
It was hard for Rosalie to be around Esme, who grieved, obviously and constantly, for her lost grandchild, departed daughter, and mad son. She'd been wretched after Edward and Bella had died, too, but this only piled on more bereavement still, leaving the woman a woeful wreck. Rosalie didn't have the patience for it. She should have identified more with Esme, who had similar regrets to her adopted daughter about the sacrifice associated with immortality, and had lost the same people as Rosalie, but Esme's anguish was so passive. She loitered around the house, bursting into fresh imitations of tears whenever an object reminded her of the absent child. She let Carlisle pet her and coo at her and try to cheer her up, doling out enough halfhearted smiles that he didn't assume he was having no effect. She waited, inactive, for the universe to bring her replacements. The way it had brought her facsimiles of children when her own real baby had died and she'd tried and failed to follow. Facsimiles like Rosalie herself.
Rosalie couldn't mourn that way, and it made her itchy to be near Esme when she was doing it. So Rosalie went around the lake, and then she packed up all of Elspeth's belongings right down to the bath towels and the barettes and the panda-bear slippers and stowed the boxes in the basement. She personally tracked down every person who'd been on a boat on Lake Huron the day Elspeth disappeared and questioned them, even though the police had already done the same thing and come up empty. When she found the same nothingness they had, she dove into the lake and searched the floor of it for some dropped object that might be a clue. There were a lot of objects, but nothing that Elspeth had been wearing or anything Rosalie could identify as belonging to the abductor.
Emmett shadowed her during most of this, although she made her trip around Huron alone. He didn't talk much, waiting for her to tell him what she needed. She didn't talk much, finding that she couldn't come up with any needed thing he could provide beyond his consoling presence.
"I want to go to college again," Rosalie announced abruptly in mid-July.
"Where?" Emmett asked her.
Rosalie picked a big, anonymous school that she hadn't attended before, in a rainy climate. Emmett quietly made the appropriate bribes and recycled their old admissions essays to get the pair of them in at the odd time of year. They moved into an apartment near the campus and Rosalie signed up for a credit load so massive she needed special permission from the registrar.
Carlisle and Esme sold the Michigan house and moved to Prince Edward Island. Rosalie and Emmett visited them when school broke for Christmas, but otherwise only called on the phone and e-mailed on a regular, appeasing schedule. They stayed at school for the summer sessions.
In three years Rosalie and Emmett had both graduated with new bachelors' degrees, hers a double in electrical engineering and photography just because she hadn't done either before and his in French literature because he'd chosen at random. She'd managed, mostly, to sink the loss of her niece under a sea of other, shallower considerations, and when she and Emmett moved to the PEI house with Carlisle and Esme, she felt almost normal.
"We could adopt," said Emmett.
It was a tired, old conversation, but it was one they hadn't had in a while, and one that was in every respect a normal part of how they were together, or at least how they had been. "No," she said.
"The Volturi routinely go decades without caring what we're up to. We'd have time to raise the kid," he said. Then he hesitated, and something that wasn't in the script passed his lips: "Especially now that we're not attached to anyone with a power they want to collect."
Rosalie ignored the insertion about their fractured family. "Raise them to adulthood, and then what? Hope the Volturi leave them alone until they're eighty-six and dead and buried, hope they leave their children alone, leave their grandchildren alone? We can't hide what we are over that kind of time span. They'd know, and eventually the Volturi would notice, and that's a death sentence. And not the gentle kind, in their sleep of old age."
"Not if we turn them," Emmett said. "Death or turning."
"Death one way or death another." Involuntarily, her hand moved to rest over her sculpted, unchangeable abdomen. "They wouldn't have a choice, any more than I did, or you."
"We aren't dead," he murmured. "And I don't regret turning."
"I do," she said.
This was the part where he folded his arms around her and nuzzled the back of her neck. "I wish you didn't."
"Well, that's another thing I regret losing," she said. "The capacity to change. I'm not going to take it from a child. My child."
"Okay, Rose," he said into her hair. "Okay."
"I love you, you know," she told him.
"I love you too."
Rosalie never told anyone, but part of why she missed Elspeth was the dreams.
When she told Elspeth the right bedtime stories, then the images that came out of her hot little hand overnight were those same stories made - not solid, but experienced in a way that Rosalie couldn't do herself with a pen and paper or her own imagination. Rosalie selfishly cast herself as a mother in every tale that called for one, suggesting that maybe the character had yellow hair and smiling encouragingly when Elspeth said "Like you, Aunt Rosalie?". Rosalie invented for herself passels of children, one at a time or in batches, imagined them born the usual way from a human version of her who'd never been hurt, who'd gone on living the blissfully orderly life she'd been set up to lead.
And then Elspeth, in sleep, gave those fantasy children faces, and dreamed them cavorting around lawns and playing and laughing around a pink-cheeked, gray-haired dream-Rosalie, and the real Rosalie, still as a statue and as cold, got to watch.
Elspeth herself was not Rosalie's daughter. Rosalie couldn't claim her as such, and wouldn't anyway. Elspeth belonged to the lucky dead who'd made her from scratch, and knew it, and Rosalie was only a very attentive guardian.
But not attentive enough.
And with Elspeth went the dreams.