Chapter summary: Gratitude. I didn't expect it. I've saved her life 4 times; I've hunted 6 times this week. For her. But this: "play with my food"? This needs to be corrected. Now. Ah? Oh! her scent. Her BLOOD! Just one little sip won't hurt her, will it?


She leaned in toward me, eye to eye, and I was painfully aware that put her teeth just above my neckline, but I couldn't move.

And why was that? First of all, I was effectively bound to the bed, rolled up, as I was in the blanket — corn dog à la Bella. I could just imagine rolling out of the bed only to trip over myself and the blanket, cracking my head open on the the floor. Some escape that would be! That would be tantamount to me simply slashing my own neck and pouring my blood in a bowl for her to drink. Fat lot of good that would do, my graceful escape. Second of all, I couldn't even lift my arm, anyway, much less my body, as I was so weak from my adventure to the outhouse. And third of all, I was completely mesmerized, her eyes seemed to pull my soul right out of my body, and the scent wafting from her, especially from her parted lips, enchanted me. Mesmerized, terrified, pinned. I probably wouldn't even know that the blood was being sucked out of me, or even feel it go, until after I was dead.

And fourth of all, my hand was sandwiched between her hands. Because I asked her to. No, because I begged her to. Yup, that's me: Bella-the-genuis.

Her eyes were an inch from mine. She held that position, and she stared into my eyes, and I couldn't look away from hers. Any second now she would rip my throat right out. My heart began to accelerate, until it was racing faster than I had ever felt it. I thought it would burst! It was pounding so hard, as if it were trying to escape my chest to its own freedom or trying to keep my alive for one more second ... or trying to pump the blood into her perfect mouth when it latched onto an artery. My breaths came in ragged gasps as her eyes fixed me to this moment. And then she spoke with precision and determination ...

"Rosalie Hale does not drink human blood."

... and she leaned away from me, slowly, rippling with pure but caged power, easing into her seat.

Holding my hand.

I couldn't process what she said. I was stunned, and the walls started to shimmer, moving on their own.

"Breathe, girl."

Oh, yeah. Right. Breathing would help. When she had spoken, terror had completely closed my throat and stopped my lungs. I restarted my heart; it began beating rapid-fire and then I panted, feeling the air fill my lungs, electrifying every cell in my body with life again. It took me a few moments before I could control the hyperventilation. As I was doing that, I watched Rosalie ... as if I could do anything else? If I was gulping in the air, then she certainly wasn't. She had only taken that one breath; now, her chest wasn't moving — she wasn't breathing at all. I saw the black fire in her eyes caramelize to a dark gold and then eventually brighten to a yellow. Flecks of red danced in her irises as she looked at me, dispassionately.

As my breathing returned to normal, I reviewed what she had said to me. She didn't drink blood? That didn't make sense. I saw what she was doing to Dolly. I saw it. No, wait. She said she didn't drink human blood.

Huh. "So, ... that's why you left this morning when I told you my dream?"

A nod.

"Wow! Would my blood really taste that good?"

She paused and shook her head slowly at that. It wouldn't taste that good? Then, why the reaction that she had to ... Waitaminute! "You mean, it would taste better than that?"

She nodded her head slowly, looking at me the whole time.

"But, how do you know that?"

She pulled her right hand from under my hand and then touched a finger to the side of her nose. Oh, of course; she could smell it. But then she touched a finger to her lips and then to mine.

Huh? Had she been kissing me? On the lips? When? While I slept? And, why? I blushed really, really hard.

"You kissed me?" My fears about living the story of Carmilla had just materialized. I just didn't know how to handle this revelation. I had never imagined that I would be living in the stories I read. The thought seemed just too surreal for me.

She rolled her eyes, however, and smacked her forehead, shaking her head from side to side vigorously. A definitive no from her. Okay, she hadn't kissed me. That was a relief. Or, at least, one less thing to worry about. As it stood I had plenty of things on that plate already. I had told myself to develop a relationship with her, so as to make killing me more difficult for her and escape easier around her relaxed guard, but I had in no way imagined a relationship developing in that direction!

But if she hadn't kissed me, then what did her gesture mean? Gosh! This was just so frustrating, this silent game of questions! I had forgotten the no-talking rule, and I guess the rule was back in full force ... but wait, she had talked to me just a minute ago!

"How come you're not talking anymore now?" She looked at me, considering.

Everything stopped.

I wondered what she was thinking about. Carefully, she raised her legs onto the chair where she sat and crossed them, Indian-style. She straightened her back. That is to say, she straightened her back more: sitting up ramrod straight. She then closed her eyes, turned her hand in mine so that the back of her hand was in my palm. Now, both our palms were facing up. What was going on with her?

She became very still — her face unreadable behind her closed eyes — and then she opened her mouth and breathed in a gasp of air through clenched teeth quickly. Her left hand in mine balled into a fist. I could see the strain she exerted to hold herself together by looking at that hand: it seemed like her knuckles wanted to burst through the skin. Her hand trembled ever so slightly in mine, vibrating with some unseen force.

She gasped out: "The temptation's ... almost too great ... for ... right now. We'll talk la..." and her mouth finished what her empty lungs did not allow: later.

Wow! I would never take the ability to speak words for granted. Not ever again.

Her eyes remained closed for a full minute, and her rigid position did not relax. Every one of her muscles, from the ones in her hand in mine, to her arms, to the ones rippling across her neck and strained on her face, were working to keep her rooted in her position. Kept her from pouncing on me, I guessed. Then, after a time, I saw the very slightest release. She didn't relax, as "relax" was much too strong a word for the rigidity of her frame. But it appeared she had won some internal battle. It was then that she opened her eyes. They were my color. Chocolate brown. No: golden brown. No. They were changing color, as before. I watched them as settled on the brightest of yellows, the one constant in her eyes were those rare flecks of red.

She smiled at me.

I had never in my life seen anything as beautiful. She was the angel of my dreams; the angel on the snow. And finally, I think I understood why angels were always saying "Be not afraid." Rosalie was the most beautiful and most terrifying vision I had ever beheld.

Without her hand in mine, I wouldn't have believed that she was real. I wanted to touch her face, to strengthen that belief, because my sight alone wasn't enough. I tried lifting my hand from under hers, but I couldn't even make my muscles twitch anymore, so overcome by everything.

"Can I ..." I cleared my throat, its pain bringing me back, slightly, to the here and now. I whispered in awe: "May I touch your face?"

She considered from a moment, tilting her head to one side, and then gracefully uncrossed her legs, rose from her seat and stood by me, all in one fluid movement. Before I knew what she was doing, she leaned in again quickly, and put her cheek to my cheek.

Um, well. That wasn't exactly what I was going for: I had just wanted to touch her cheek with my fingers. I was expecting her to lift my hand to her face. But now that she was right here, her scent blotted out all ability for me to reason, and all I could do was to try to remember to keep breathing: her presence completely overwhelmed me.

I don't know how much time passed like this. Three million years? I wouldn't have been surprised. Then she pulled back smoothly. Wasn't her skin supposed to be cold? My cheek where her cheek touched burned as if I had been stung over and over again by a hornet. Not really like that: my cheek didn't hurt, per se, but it burned like a brand. Did frostbite feel like that? So hot and numb in the affected area?

Then she did lift my fingers to her cheek. It was warm. Well, not warm, but it wasn't cold. Did my skin burn her, like hers burnt mine? We just touched cheeks for a moment in time, for an eternity, but so much went on in that moment, that my mind felt overloaded. It was too much information for me to handle. What did it all mean?

She smoothly returned to her seat. If England had a Queen, she would be taking pointers from Rosalie on how to sit just so.

What had happened? She told me she didn't drink from people, but that my blood was better than I dreamed, but now it looked like I was on my own for figuring things out, because talking for her came at such a high price. I came at such a high price. Why? Why bother? I mean, I guess vampires really are made to kill people. "If I taste that good, why settle for animals? What's to stop you from taking me instead? Why not just take my blood?"

She straightened up in her chair at that question and looked down her nose at me, one eyebrow raised condescendingly. I remembered that proud look from our forest getaway chat.

"Oh. Because you're a Hale?"

She didn't even deign to nod. She just looked at me as if I were a small child stating the obvious.

Well, what did that mean for me? She was going to kill me, but then she wouldn't drink my blood? Big whoop. Dead was dead, right? It seemed somehow very important to her, however, how she killed people, so I repressed my sarcasm and anger and pushed forward.

"Okay ..." I worked very hard not to roll my eyes and not to add the careless "whatever". Very hard. "I suppose that's one way of interpreting what I asked, but there's something else. I come from a small town, but my Pa's the sheriff, so I hear things, not from Ekalaka, but it comes across the state. There are people who aren't good folk. Even in law; especially in law. Pa's not like that, but even where we are, he has to step in at times, you know? Settle disputes, or calm down a drunk. Even in a small town, Pa's word is law. People listen. He could abuse that, but he doesn't."

"My Pa is a good man." I looked directly at her, emphasizing each word.

"But not everyone's like that. I've heard the stories. The crime's bad in Butte, but you know what's worse? The law. Pa doesn't tell me, but a girl hears things. When something happens in Butte, there are some law men you don't want to see. They settle things first and ask the questions later. And the way they settle things ... well ..."

I looked down.

"You know, they run that city. Everything. Nothing goes on that they don't know. There are the crime bosses, but even they know who's on top. It's a game to them, those lawmen: they play all friendly. They give you enough rope for you to wiggle around in, and then they jerk it back, arbitrarily, and hang you with it. Literally. They're vicious, dangerous, ... charming people. They've got everybody cowed: the criminals and the common folk. Because when that law comes to break up a situation, everybody's a victim. This is the New West, after all, and justice still comes quickly and brutally, even in this day and age."

I looked at her intently. Her face looked uninterested. She was Town, after all: maybe she had heard this or seen this already. Maybe she had seen this personally, as her own fate unfolded before her eyes. I guessed the King family and the police were in tight. After all, the Kings practically owned Rochester, from what I had gathered from my research. Who else would the two guards be that night with Royce? Who else but the best, I was betting. Cops. Off-duty cops making some extra bit on the King payroll.

I pushed on: "So, I'm not saying you're doing this to me: you don't look like the type. But what do I know? I don't have the advantage of perspective and distance from the situation. I know the victim often loses the ability to think rationally. So, if this is your game, if you like to play me and then reel me in, if somehow you need to feel better by bringing me low, then I want to let you know that you've won, okay?"

A shocked look crossed her face, she started to rise from her seat.

"No!" I interjected quickly, then coughed a couple of times — watch the throat, a little voice warned me — "I know this is ridiculous, okay? But just let me finish, please! This is what I see happening: you let me go, I get into trouble, and then you rescue me, time and again."

She glared at me.

"Yes, I know it's my fault, okay? I'm not blaming you, all right? But these situations keep happening over and over again. What if they aren't random? I have to ask that question! What if you are setting them up for me to fall into? If you're breaking me down, it's worked, okay? I can't even move my body, and my mind's a fog. You've won. If you need to hear that, I'll say that. If you want me me to beg, I'll beg. If you don't want me caving in like this, because it takes away the fun, I'll fight as best as I can ... not that I'm up for much more. If you want me to scream, you've already seen plenty, but I'll do whatever you want."

I looked down at my hand, and at her perfect hand in mine.

"I don't have the strength to go on anymore. If this is what you want, you've won. All you need to do is give me the sign, I just have that much left in me ... one more little thing, and I'm broken. Whatever you want, you've got it. You don't even need to knock me down with a feather: I'm already down. Just snap your fingers" — your angelic fingers, I thought looking at her perfect hand — "and it's over: you won't need to waste your time with me any more, and you can play a new game that doesn't require all this trouble."

I shrugged my shoulders. I couldn't imagine, in this case, or in any case, for that matter, why anyone would go through all this trouble for me, anyway. I just wasn't worth it.

I looked back up to her face, waiting for a sign from her. I got one, all right. She was shaking her head slowly from side to side, disgust evident there, as if I had vomited all over her instead of spoken, as if I had ruined another one of her Chanel dresses, ... as if what I had just said was the most revolting thing she had ever heard. Maybe I had. I did, after all, just call her a monster, again, and probably, as I saw in her eyes, one worse than the ones that just fed on human blood. I sighed.

"Look," I began angrily, but that was a mistake. I had forgotten how delicate a position I was in, and the word, spoken in a normal tone, and not a whisper, irritated my throat. I coughed. That hurt. But then that cough brought on a fit of coughing that wouldn't stop, and my throat hurt more and more. I also started to feel wracking pain through my ribs as the convulsions shook me apart from the inside out. Tears of pain ran out of my eyes, and the coughing upset my sitting position. I started to topple off the side of the bed, and my eyes widened in desperation, but I didn't have anything in me to catch myself.

But Rosalie did: her look of revulsion turned to one of surprise as I slid, her face probably mirroring my expression. She caught me, righted me, and held me in a gentle bear hug through the fit, but I felt my lungs trying to squeeze their way out of me. "Tighter!" I gasped in a hoarse whisper. She tightened her hold a fraction. However, my throat was so raw that that whisper set off a new round of coughs, and my frame began to shake itself loose.

Was she deaf? I was being torn apart, and this is all she was doing? I desperately conveyed through the fit as best I could for her to tighten her grip more.

She did. I could barely breathe in her hold now. What a relief! The coughing fit subsided under her steel grip. I lived. It felt like only just, however. I meekly cleared my throat, experimentally. I managed that without pain, but my throat sent me a clear warning sign not to try much more.

"Okay," I whispered in her ear, "I think I'm okay now."

There was no reaction from her; she still held onto me tightly, as if it were she who was holding my innards together. Maybe she thought I would explode if she let go?

"It's okay," I reassured her with a whisper, "you can let go now." It was kind of hard to breathe; all I could do, under her hold, was take in little sips of air.

Again, there was nothing from her for a minute, but then, slowly, she eased the pressure of her hold. After a moment of just holding me in the lightest of hugs, she seemed to accept my words. She carefully extricated herself from me, and as she returned to her chair, never taking her eyes off mine, her left hand trailed down my arm and returned to rest in my hand. Concern wreathed her face.

"Thanks," I whispered. I filled my lungs, experimentally. I didn't explode, so that was a good thing.

"Now, where was I, before I so rudely interrupted myself?" I tried to make light of my situation, and put a warm smile on my face. She returned the smile tentatively, but it didn't touch her eyes: they were still watching me with concern.

Oh, yes, I remembered, I had just finished calling her a monster. Well, there was one good thing about my coughing fit: it pretty much proved that that wasn't the case.

"Oh, right." I was very careful to make sure my voice stayed even. My throat was raw; I really needed a drink of water, but I had to say this first before I allowed us to be sidetracked with my frail human demands. "So this isn't just a game for you, but I hope you can see given the circumstances why I had to ask the question, right? I mean, really: wolves attack me — did you herd them to me? — and you providentially save me at the last possible second. I fall in a river and would have died of the cold, but there just happens to be an abandoned cabin with a lighted fire all nice and warm to restore me. I get lost in the snow, and just as I'm giving up, you show up out of nowhere. Three times in a course of a week where I could have died, but each time you're there to save me. I've never had a close call before, so what was I to think? So, I'm glad that you've actually pulled me from the jaws of death each time, that this isn't a game for you. But no matter what your intentions are for me, the result is turning out the same ... as you can see, this is killing me, Rosalie."

I couldn't look at her to see how my words were affecting her. I just looked at her hand.

"This is killing me, Rosalie," I repeated, "so if you don't want me to die soon, you have to help me live, okay?" I did look up then and met her intent gaze.

"You say that you never forget anything, so you know from your own human past that I need three square meals a day." She looked surprised at that ... how could she forget her human experience? "Yes, three. And the soup, although it's good, is not a square meal. I need a variety of food to get the protein and vitamins and minerals and grains I need to say alive. Do you know what that means?"

She shook her head.

"Okay, so you don't know. That's a relief." At least she wasn't breaking down my body bit by bit on purpose. "That means that I need oats or cereals in the morning for the bran, with milk for the calcium. And usually eggs and bacon ... my Pa likes three eggs in the morning, but I just take one. And juice for the vitamins. I need some kind of meat for lunch and for supper, but I also need to eat fruits and vegetables, too." I felt a little bit like I was a school teacher the way I was lecturing, but I reminded myself that she didn't know and pushed on.

"And water, Rosalie, especially water. The last few days I've only been able to drink — what? — less than a cup? I'm supposed to drink like a gallon or so a day to stay alive." Again, Rosalie acted surprised, mouthing 'a gallon?' "Yes, about that much. So, if you want me to stick around for more than one more day ... may I please have a drink of water now?" My throat really was parched, and I feared another coughing fit.

She instantly grabbed the cup by the bed and pressed it to my lips. I drank and I drank and I drank. I finished the water off, but my throat was still dry and parched.

"Do you have any more?" I asked her, but she shook her head no, holding up one finger. She pulled her hand out of mine, taking the empty cup with her, and disappeared outside. Not even seconds later she came back in and placed the cup on the stove. I bet she got some snow or ice and was melting it.

She placed her hands on the stove — I would never get used to that! — and grimaced, somehow displeased. I saw why right away, because she went to the pile of wood by the door and grabbed a couple of big logs. She undampened the stove, opened it up — the fire was burning pretty low; not that I would notice, bundled up as I was — and placed a log at a time into the stove, adjusting to her satisfaction the logs in the fire and embers with her bare hands. She closed the stove doors and readjusted the damper.

A normal person would have checked the fire visually to see if it needed more logs. A normal person would have used a poker and tongs to place and then to adjust the logs in the fire.

I would never mistake Rosalie for a normal person. Ever.

Rosalie brought the cup of water over to me, but instead of placing it to my lips — thank goodness she didn't; I didn't relish the thought of scraping my burnt lips off the cup still hot from the stove! — she reached down and brought the other cup, the cup of soup, to my lips. I took a sip, but I nearly spit it out all over the place.

While her right hand was coaxing soup from the cup to my mouth, her left hand returned to mine. It was warm. After becoming accustomed to the iciness of her touch, the surprising warmth of it caused my heart to skip a beat. Her hand almost felt as warm as a human hand, and the unfamiliar feel of normality coming from this unearthly being in front of me was too confusing for me to accept or to comprehend.

I did manage to rein in my shock and to swallow the soup, but I couldn't help but to steal a glance down at her hand. Rosalie noticed, of course. She grinned at me and lifted her hand to my cheek gently rubbing her knuckles in one stroke before returning her hand to mine again.

It felt like nothing I'd ever felt before. Her cheek was cold marble, but her hand was marble smooth, but warm, and the area where she stroked my cheek felt as if it were soothed but scarred at the same time. The heat of it stayed there a long time, as she continued to pour the soup into me. Then I realized the heat was there because I was blushing. I blushed at the realization. I really wished that one blush would cancel out the other, because I knew it reminded Rosalie of her lost humanity, and I hated the thought of paining her in this way.

But if she were pained, she didn't give the slightest hint of it in her face. She seemed just to be concentrating on tending to me, so I tried to put my own embarrassment out of my mind. That actually helped: I felt my face cooling as Rosalie put the empty soup cup down and brought up more water for me to drink. I finished cup again, and she left right away with both cups, going outside, putting one cup on the stove and filling the other from the soup pot. She put the soup cup on the table and returned to me, sitting as before, her left hand in mind. It was cold again, of course, but this somehow seemed normal to me now.

I looked at her and whispered: "So, are you ready for the next thing?"

She smiled at me.

"Thank you for giving me the soup and the water, but that brings up another human need. In the morning when I wake up, about a half hour after each meal, and just before bed, I need to go. I actually need to go right now, as you've been helping me drink for a little while now ... so, would you take me to the outhouse?"

It was rather funny, actually. She was the kidnapper, but I was making all the demands on her. Crime does not pay, kids! I almost sniggered at my thought, but her serious face didn't leave any room for my frivolity.

Thankfully, she didn't look annoyed. She disappeared, and then reappeared with the ember pail, filling it with embers, by of course lifting the cheerily burning logs she had just put in the fire with her bare hands to collect the embers from underneath, and then disappeared again. Not a minute later she was gathering me up and a race through the night — a race that took no time for her, but one that had been a fruitless three hours for me — had me sitting on the seat in front of the "Poop here" sign in an outhouse that was already saturated in heat from the steam. I didn't follow the instructions behind this time, but I did get rid of a lot of water.

And somehow, without me seeing her do it, she still remembered to bring spare panties and a pad.

I would have forgotten that minor but important detail in all the whirl of activity, but she didn't.

She had to pull down my panties, sit me down on the seat, and snake her arm under me hold me up, because I certainly didn't even have the strength to sit upright. She had to dress me in the new pad and panties, too, as I was a jellyfish adrift in the ocean. She had to do everything for me.

And I had spent the day accusing her of monstrous crimes. After she had just saved my life. Again.

Would I be so generous, so selfless, to someone who had just been so hateful to me if our positions were reversed? For someone I had absolutely no reason to extend myself in that way?

I didn't want to think about those questions, because I couldn't trust myself to give the same answers Rosalie so obviously demonstrated. If she were a monster, what did that make me? Again, I was utterly crushed, humbled, before everything that was her. She wouldn't let me call her kind, but her kindness was a mountain next to any handful of sand that I could offer of my own kindness. I really didn't see myself as kind, anyway: I just saw myself as taking care of things that needed to be taken care of. Rosalie wasn't just kind: she was heroically kind.

"Rosalie, thank you. I wish you could know how kind you really are, but I always tell you the wrong way, so I'll just say 'thank you', and hope someday you'll understand."

She didn't even bother to look at me to acknowledge what I said as she washed me, dressed me and spread the lime.

Yeah, I guess I said it wrong again. She was obviously too tired with my continual screw-ups even to bother being cross with me. I was silent as she raced me back to the cabin — I didn't want another swim in the snow ... not today — I looked a her face the whole time on the way back, but she wouldn't look at me: she looked straight ahead, her face set in hard lines.

When we were inside the noticeably warmer cabin, she placed me gently into the bed, and I called out to her before she made to run off.

"Rosalie!" She looked at me. "Thank you, again, but you can't be with me every second, you just can't. You're going to need to go, like this morning, or like yesterday," — could those centuries of experience have all happened in less that two days? — I continued: "That means I need to do these things by myself. Rosalie, I need boots, I need a jacket, I need a hat and gloves. In fact, I've ruined pretty much all the clothes you got for me, so I need all new clothes, too."

She nodded her head in agreement.

Wow! That went easier than expected.

"But you also have to teach me how to get to the outhouse, too. You have to mark a path or something, and you have to make sure I know how to get there, and that I know how to get back to the cabin, because, if not, this morning, or worse, will happen all over again. You've helped me, but you've got to help me help me. Okay?"

Again, she nodded. Again: wow!

"Um, just one more thing?"

She raised an eyebrow.

"Well, just one more thing for now, all right?" Jeez! Gimme a break! It wasn't as if I were making all these demands, or anything ... oh, wait a minute ... I was. Oh, well, there it is. She wants to be kidnapping me, she'd just have to put up will all my needs. I'm not your normal, everyday hostage, after all.

"You wouldn't happen to have a tooth brush and powder, would you?"

She made a show of checking her pockets before she shrugged. Well, at least she had a sense of ... humor? about it. Hmmm, Rosalie and humor. Those two words were oddly juxtaposed.

"Well, then, add that to your list ... clothes, over clothes, a variety of food, tooth powder and brushes ... and a bath, you know, some day, right?"

This time, she did roll her eyes.

"Good, now hand me that cup of water."

She smirked at me and crossed her arms. She had an expectant look on her face. Oh, yeah. She probably wanted to make sure that I knew she was in charge. For such a terrifying and powerful ... well, vampire, she had such a delicate ego.

Well, whatever floats her boat. "Um, please?"

Her smirk widened into a smile. She got the water off the stove and put it beside the bed ... I hoped she would be here later, for that would be hard for me to reach down to get it. Well, reaching down to get it wouldn't be all that hard — my strength was returning — but pulling myself back up on to the bed after I fell off reaching for it? That would be a different story.

Actually, she looked like she was preparing to go, she turned to leave ...

"Hey! Where are you going?" I demanded in an indignant voice.

I gave her indignant; she gave me impatient: she turned back to me and gestured rapidly toward the table and the much reduced pile of clothes on the floor. Her brows formed a stormy cloud over her eyes.

"No, that can wait!" But she shook her head angrily at me. "No!" I responded, but she noed right back to me. "Well, okay, at least stay with me until after I fall asleep, all right?"

A look of disbelief crossed her face and she spread her arms out, palms out. An obvious why?

I looked down: "Well, 'cause ... I'm scared of the dark ..." When I looked up, the expression of disbelief was replaced by scepticism. She didn't believe me. So I had to explain. How embarrassing!

"Yeah, you know," I blushed and hid behind my hands — hey, my hands worked again! — "because of all the scary monsters that come out in the dark ..."

I heard an indrawn breath, and then the strangest thing: strangled laughter. I looked. Rosalie was bent over double, laughing — at me! — arms crossed over her stomach, holding herself together. But she was staring straight at me with pitch black, ravenous eyes, and the teeth in her laughing mouth glinted in the cabin light, and her bent over position was half a crouch and half a ... what? I didn't know the word for it, but I could see her bracing herself, holding herself back ... holding herself from attacking me. I just stared as her terrifying laughing fit died away. I guess she had enough air left for a sigh, because she hummed it out as she straightened and wiped away an imaginary tear.

I watched as her black eyes turned golden again before I timidly patted the side of the bed. I wasn't so sure about my invitation anymore, but to back out now? Would she be hurt that I rejected her? Or was I being foolhardy at ignoring the danger? She regarded me for a moment, her head tilted to one side. Was she thinking the same things, from a vampire perspective? Was she thinking: sit with her, with the risk of eating her? Or hurt her feelings by leaving?

I was actually pleased! I may have been entirely off-base in what I thought her thoughts were, but it felt like I was starting to see things, maybe just a little bit, from her perspective.

Apparently my invitation was accepted. She seemed to brace herself. She came and, pulling me down from the sitting position so that my head rested on the pillow, she pushed me a bit to make room for her to sit and did so.

"Thank you," I murmured, for everything. For sitting with me, and not killing me, for putting up with me, for not being the monster you think you are, for your kindness that dwarfs mine.

"You know," I yawned, "this little talk of mine was probably just a wasted effort, so I'm sorry I said all those mean things to you. I don't know if you know this, but we humans are fragile little things. I'll probably cough myself to death tonight or get a throat infection and waste away, because you can't bring me to a hospital, right?" I yawned again. "Well, anyway ..."

As I drifted off, my hand reached out and covered the hand of my own scary monster watching over me this night.

"Thank you," I whispered again, and I slept.