Chapter Summary: Fuck. FuckfuckfuckFUCKfuck! FUCK! I almost said it. I almost God-damn said it to her. God damn fainting right into my arms, exposing her neck like that, and then GIVING ME HER GOD-DAMN PLEADING EYES! Fuck. Please, God: take her. Before I do.
The world came to me very slowly, I was aware that I was lying down, and that I was breathing.
I suppose 'breathing' is a good thing, I guess.
Then the world came to me all at once. My head was on a pillow, my body on the bed, all bundled up under the covers, and I was unencumbered by clothes, for the most part. I verified that by rubbing my legs together, no boots, nor socks nor jeans, and I felt my arms against the sheets.
I was wearing a tee and panties, however, thanking God for the small miracle that my modesty was preserved, even if my dignity wasn't.
Fainting. Fainting just like a scared, little girl.
The tee shirt felt crisp, you know? Like how a new or freshly washed shirt does, and the panties didn't have that icky worn feel to them that walking a mile outside in the snow would give to them.
I guess, for the time I was being changed, my modesty wasn't preserved. I grimaced, but could I begrudge Rosalie changing me? She probably thought if I can't walk in a straight line to the potty and back without fainting, then I probably couldn't manage the extremely difficult task of being able to undress and then redress myself.
Can't blame her. She was probably right.
And yes, I have sunk this low. Thanks.
I sighed and opened my eyes, turning my head to greet the world.
The world looked right back at me.
Rosalie was sitting on the floor right by the bed, apparently, for I opened my eyes to look right into hers.
Her perfect, heart-breakingly beautiful golden eyes.
Her chin was resting on her hands, and she regarded me with endless patience.
I wonder how long she had been sitting here like this?
I turned away and covered my eyes with my arm.
Maybe if I couldn't see her, she'd go away.
"Don't you have anything better to do?" I mumbled petulantly.
I didn't add the 'than.' That was obvious:
... than sit there and watch a total screw-up like me?
I didn't need to add that last bit.
It was obvious to everybody in the room.
"Hm," Rosalie's voice floated over to me an easy drawl, burning into my soul with the lazy way it hung in the air, so nonchalantly.
My arm tightened over my face, and I wished I could actually bury my head into my pillow.
"I suppose you're right, Lizzie," Rosalie said slowly, mocking a thoughtful air. "I could be working toward world peace right now..."
I turned away from her completely, grabbing my pillow, and coiled up into a ball around it.
"The world is at peace, Rosalie," I retorted spitefully into my pillow.
Then I instantly regretted saying anything at all. She had baited me, and, like the fool I was, I just swallowed it right up, didn't I?
It's so great to know you have a button that someone can press to get you to react a certain way. I had blamed everybody else for being boring and predictable, but here I was being exactly that, and to the very person I didn't want to be, too.
That stung: being manipulated, and knowing you're a person who falls right into it.
"Well, then," Rosalie responded easily. "Cross that one off my list. 'Work toward World peace.' Done. So, no, Lizzie, I guess I don't have anything better to do."
I heard the smirk in her voice. My arms tightened around my pillow.
"What about poverty?" I asked querulously, "or hunger, huh? What about those? People are dying, and what're you doing about that? You're just ..."
... and you're just sitting here watching plain, little me.
"Yes, 'people,'" Rosalie spat out, scornful and resigned at the same time. "so long as none of those 'people' are you, right, Lizzie? So you can indulge in a nice, long sulk?"
I felt a hand very lightly touch, then rest on my shoulder blade.
I shivered all over. My whole body shook. It wasn't like her hand was cold on my back. It was, but it ... I can't explain it ... it was a cold that let me know I wasn't alone, that somebody cared for me, and I would've just let myself get sucked into that, forever — 'forever,' one of Rosalie's favorite words — but I shivered because I knew I didn't deserve it, her sympathy.
I shook, but she didn't remove her hand.
I wondered, idly, how tightly I could squeeze the pillow before it burst.
"Yeah," I said sadly, admitting my shame.
Then I felt my back tense up around her hand, and I felt a bit of resolve. "All I wanna do right now is just lie here and ..." I sighed hard. "Just lie here, is all, I guess, and not have something wild or crazy happen, okay? Is that too much to ask?"
I mean, was it? I had been through a lot, and just today, or this morning, already. Didn't I deserve a nice, long sulk?
"So you'd rather ask for too little instead of too much?" Rosalie chided.
My eyes squeezed more tightly closed, and I snarled, quietly, into the pillow.
Apparently it was too much to ask, or too little, I guess, but either way, I didn't care. I wasn't up for her guilty jibes right now.
Rosalie chuckled lightly at my snarl ... not the reaction I wanted her to have, by the way.
"Okay," she said easily, "I'll leave you alone to your sulk, little girl."
She removed her hand from my back.
I hurt. I hurt double. Her hand there ... I needed it, I needed her love and support, and when she took it away, there was a hole left on my back that was almost physically painful.
But her taking her hand away also meant I couldn't shrug it off in anger. She anticipated me and preempted my angry shrug, taking away even that shred of dignity that I didn't have anymore.
I whipped around and glared at her furiously. "I told you not to call me that!" I shouted.
She looked at me impassively. "Because it's true?"
My jaw worked furiously, and I so wanted to scream something at her. But nothing came out, so all that was left is me, my fury, my tight jaw, and my glaring eyes.
And Rosalie took all of that, unmoved, just sitting there, like a stone statue, a kind and caring stone statue looking at a little girl being angry at the truth.
And I saw, in her eyes, how I looked.
I dropped my eyes, feeling stupid.
"Yeah," I whispered down to my chest, forced to agree with her, and hating myself for it: "'cause it's true."
And saying that, I was nearly overcome by shame. I had tried so hard to be worthy, to be grown up, or at least try to pretend to be that way, you know? capable and reliable, confident, independent, somebody who could take care of herself, you know? A ... okay, a girl who could carry her own weight.
But not somebody who faints and then has to be changed and put to bed.
I think that if I could, I would die of it now.
Rosalie's lip rose in a sympathetic smile. "Do you remember outside when I offered you a choice between being an adult or being a little girl?"
I sighed a long, ragged sigh. "Yeah," I said sadly. "I guess I made the wrong choice."
I guess she didn't like me saying that.
But her voice remained impassive. "Maybe, maybe not," she said coolly. "But did you miss the part that there was no shame in what you chose? I think you missed that part."
"You did say that, Rosalie," I said sadly. "I didn't miss it. But I said some things, too, and they still apply. I'm not a little girl, Rosalie. I can't be. I've done a lot of stuff. I've looked after Pa. I've ..."
I felt it somehow necessary to convince her of this.
She looked unconvinced.
I sighed. "I can't be a little girl, Rosalie. It'd be just ..."
"'Shameful'?" she supplied.
I shook my head. "I was thinking more along the lines of 'wrong.' I wouldn't be acting my age."
"Because ...?" she probed.
"Huh?" I asked.
I didn't get her. You're supposed to act your age. There's no because to that. You just are because you are is all.
"Hm," she paused thoughtfully. "What are the consequences if you don't 'act your age,' as you say?"
"Oh," I said, getting her.
I grabbed my pillow, hugging it again, looking into her eyes.
"Look," I said. "You told me what a burden I'd be to you, and, okay, I'm a burden already. I..." I said, then I swallowed.
"I don't want to be a burden to you, Rosalie. I don't wanna be a burden to anyone, and that's exactly what I'd be if you had to take care of me, because I can't take care of myself, and I have to be treated like a little girl. I wanna help, see? I wanna do stuff and take care of stuff, and ... I wanna, you know, contribute, and make it easier for you ..."
I looked imploringly at her.
"Do you see?"
Rosalie slowly rocked back into a more upright position, regarding me thoughtfully.
Finally, she said, "Yes, honey, I do see that. Thank you."
"So, ..." I began.
At the same time she said, "But do you help me by pretending to be what you're not?"
I was silenced, forgetting what I was going to say.
She continued. "If you're weak, pretending to be strong only makes it harder for me, because I have to deal with your pretense as well as your weakness. I am strong, sweetie, so you can be weak. It's okay to need help, to ask for it, or not even be able to ask for it, but just to get it when you need it. You can be a little girl with me, and it's okay. I can manage."
"But you're not strong, Rosalie, you are weak." I said emphatically. "I told you that. You don't think you are, but you ..."
Rosalie held up her hand, then smiled faintly.
"I'm doing fine now, baby," she said kindly.
"And when you're not?" I asked her pointedly.
She smiled at me.
"What?" I said, not being able to take her silence.
"You seem to be doing better," she said.
I hugged my pillow and looked down, blushing a little.
It was always so hard for me to take praise.
"Yeah, I guess so," I admitted grudgingly. "I don't know what that has to do with what we were talking about, though."
Rosalie snickered. "Tough girl, hm?"
That earned her a glare from me, which only made her laugh quietly even more.
"What I'm saying, Lizzie," she explained, "is that you have a lapse. Being weak in a moment doesn't brand you as such, just be yourself, and when you're weak, be weak, and ask for help if you need it. When you're strong, be strong, and do what you will from your strength. But saying 'I'm not a girl,' when actually your whole being is crying out to me to 'please, please, see me all grown up, don't look at my hurt, don't look at my weakness, ...' Lizzie," she scolded gently.
I dropped my eyes again, not being able to face her critical stare.
I felt the touch of her knuckle on my cheek, then it went away.
"I never got to be a girl, either," she said softly.
I looked back at her.
"That's what I saw in you," she said. "You were trying so hard to be strong and mature and self-reliant..."
"The thing is," she continued. "You can be, and are, those things. But you can be a little girl, when you want to, and let go, and ..."
She smiled and shrugged. "... and play, and laugh, and ..."
She shrugged again. "... dance and sing and do whatever your heart desires. You can be a little girl, and let go, and just shuck off all the weight of responsibility that you've put on yourself all these years."
Her eyes shifted away. "I can't be a little girl, Lizzie. I simply cannot; I have responsibilities. But you can, and ..."
I took in her words.
"Rosalie," I said seriously, "you say it's okay, but I have responsibilities, too; we're equals, you know," I reminded her, "and if I let go, or whatever, then you have to ... well, I'm making it harder for you, because you have to be strong when I'm weak."
Rosalie nodded. "And you don't want to be a burden on me."
"Yeah," I said. "I don't want to be a burden on you."
"Or on anybody," she added.
I shrugged. "Well, yeah," I said.
Rosalie was quiet for a moment.
"Did you ever think that being a burden might actually be a gift?" she asked.
I tilted my head, trying to fathom what she meant.
How could being a burden on somebody be a gift? I mean, a being a burden meant being a burden, and you helped by helping somebody out, not by making things harder for them because they had to take care of you.
I didn't understand.
"No, Rosalie," I said in defeat. "I never thought that. And I don't get what you mean. If I'm a burden, then you have to pick up the slack."
"Yes," she said simply.
Sometimes with Rosalie, she just didn't explain things. Some people might find that frustrating. Or irritating.
I shrugged, silently asking for elaboration.
"Hm," she hummed thoughtfully. "Put it this way: if you're weak, and need my help, and I give it to you, and that does help ... then wouldn't what I did be a gift? And your 'burden' be the thing that allowed me to offer it, and you to accept it?"
She smiled a small smile.
"If you never needed my help, nor anybody's, wouldn't you be perfectly self-sufficient? An island, totally free to isolate yourself from everybody else? And wouldn't you do just that if you burdened no one?"
She looked more pointedly at me on that last question.
"Um ..." I said, knowing that I would do exactly that, because that's exactly how I had lived my life up to now, and I felt embarrassed for working so hard to do that.
I had constructed around myself a perfect wall, where I didn't let anybody in, because I didn't have to.
In my defense, ...
Boy, am I defensive.
In my defense, when people did get near me, I always ended up hurt or embarrassed, so why bother?
"Put another way," she continued. "If you do stop trying to be strong when you're not, and you do let go, and be a little girl, and just have fun, Lizzie, ..."
Rosalie leaned in, and was almost pleading with me.
"If you just let go, and were yourself, and smiled if you wanted to or cried if you wanted to or ran, or played or whatever, ..."
"Rosalie," I interjected, "I'm crying all the time," I said forcefully, "and I hate it."
"No, Lizzie, ..." she began.
"Huh?" I burst out. She had to be kidding; there's no way she didn't see that I was crying all the time.
She got that chiding look.
I glowered, but I stifled my retort.
"No, Lizzie," she said more softly. "What you do is you hold it in, and hold it in until you can't anymore and the tears burst forth in a torrent. If you just simply cried when you wanted to, you'd actually be productive with your tears, releasing the emotion, instead of destructive with them, bottling up your pain until you actually hurt yourself by repressing yourself."
"Lizzie," she said, "you don't cry because you're hurting. You cry because you try not to cry so hard you actually hurt yourself more. You cry twice as hard as you actually need to, and then you blame yourself for crying, wounding yourself triply."
A tear fell from my eye, and I gulped. "Okay," I said quietly. "ouch."
I had never cried up to now. I just did what I had to. So I had never had me crying put under the microscope, dissected, and then analyzed to show exactly how I was a little cry baby at each step of the way?
Like I said: ouch.
Rosalie brought her hand up to my cheek. "It's okay, baby, you can cry."
"I...don't..." I was whispering each word, and each word hurt my throat as they forced their way out of my mouth. "...want... to."
"I know, baby," she said consolingly. "I know you don't want to, but it's okay with me."
It got harder to breathe and more tears fell, shaming me.
"You say it's okay, Rosalie," I said sorrowfully, "but it's not okay. It's not. I'm not like that, and you saying I can be won't just make me."
Rosalie smiled sadly at me. Fortunately, her hand was on my left cheek — the uppermost one — so my salty tears weren't touching her perfection.
"I know, sweetie," she repeated patiently. "I know you see it that way."
She shook her head, then continued. "And I'm also giving you that option to take, when you want to ... when you feel strong enough to, ... when you feel safe enough to. You can cry, if you want to, you can be a little girl, you can be strong. You can be you around me, when you want to."
Rosalie removed her hand, giving me space.
I barked out a little laugh. "And I can sulk like a little girl when I want to?" I asked disbelievingly.
"Yup," she said easily, a ghost of a smile on her lips.
"Then how come I feel a thousand times better sulking like a little girl right now after all that, than when you were all mean-like saying, 'go ahead and sulk, little girl,' huh, Rosalie?" I demanded.
Rosalie shrugged dismissively.
"I don't do wallowing," she said coolly. "Before you were wallowing, blaming yourself, and there was nothing productive in that. But now, I think, ..."
"What do you think?" I dared, swallowing, my tears going away.
"What do you think, Lizzie?" she asked right back.
I took a deep breathe. "I think I'm doing a little better, I guess..."
I grimaced. I guess I was breaking all the Rosalie-Hale-Rules-of-Grammar, or something, but I said I was doing a little better, I didn't say I was in tip-top form, because I wasn't, and she'd just have to deal with that, whether she liked that or not.
Besides, she said she could, anyway, so she may as well put her money where her mouth was, and starting right now, too.
"Baby," she said gravely. She brushed her finger against my cheek, then returned her hand to her lap. "It's okay to be you. You don't have to be something else. You don't have to be strong, or an adult, or pretend to have it all together, or anything that you're not. You can just be you, and that's fine."
She smirked. "Preferable, even, if you please."
I looked down. "Okay," I whispered humbly.
"So," Rosalie's tone became crisp and businesslike. "Anything I can get you while you're being you?"
"Huh?" I asked, surprised.
"Cup of water?" she added.
"Oh, um ..." I answered. I suddenly realized how very thirsty I was. "Yes, please." I said politely.
She was being very ... polite. It was odd, somehow, her, being solicitous to me. I watched her closely. I mean, before she took care of me, but it was like she was very businesslike about it, but now she was ...
Well, she still was businesslike, but now it seemed less formal, maybe, and more caring.
That was it, it was like she was truly concerned at how I was doing. It was like she cared for me.
I mean cared for me like an older sister cared for a younger sister, I guess. But I didn't know for sure, never having experienced that before, first hand. And the other sisters I saw, they were ... they were tight, like a unit. Like, they would turn on each other and fight and be vicious and spiteful with each other, but as soon as somebody else threatened one or the other, they were like ... scary how they defended each other and how they just savaged anyone who so much as looked funny at a sister, or said an untoward word. I never said anything mean to anybody, but when I saw other girls ... well, they didn't pick on a little sister ... that is: twice, and not without scratches and a shiner for it.
Rosalie was kind of like that to me. She was hard on me, all the time, but then she's like this now: solicitous, kind ... maybe even almost sweet.
Okay, maybe that's a stretch.
Rosalie rose from her seated position. I saw she had been sitting Indian-style, but, and here again I was so reminded I wasn't dealing with a person, instead of clambering up, using the bed as a support, she just simply rose. She pushed herself up from her ankles, it looked like, and then simply uncrossed her legs, sliding her leg in front to her side.
Have you seen gymnasts do that? Just rise up from a sitting position? If you have, then you know what I'm talking about, they make it look graceful, but you know it's taking everything to lift themselves up like that.
With Rosalie, she just ... rose. Gracefully, purposefully, almost carelessly, she rose to a standing position, and she didn't even look to see if I were looking, she just turned from that position, went to the sink, got a cup, and filled it from the big pot of water on the stove, and came back to me.
Nothing to see here, folks, just Rosalie Hale getting water for little me.
She handed me the cup with an apologetic "The fire's gone out," and sunk, gracefully, back down to the side of the bed into her prior sitting position.
I took the cup and took a small, careful sip.
The water wasn't even warm. It wasn't cold, but ...
"How long has the fire been out, Rosalie?" I asked carefully.
"How long have I been out?" I looked at her face closely as I asked.
"Not long," she answered. Not a trace of an expression on her face.
My eyes narrowed. I knew what that expressionless expression meant.
"That long, huh?" I demanded.
Rosalie rolled her eyes. "Lizzie, it doesn't matter..."
"It doesn't?" I shot back.
"No, it doesn't," she came right back, and then bossily: "Now drink up. You're dehydrated."
I glared at her, then harrumphed and tipped the cup back, drinking.
The water tasted really, really good. I guess she was right: I was thirsty.
She didn't have to be so bossy about it. So right all the time.
I looked out the window as I drank. It was still light outside, which meant it was before four p.m. ... unless ...
"Rosalie," I said, handing her the empty mug.
She rose again, heading toward the stove.
"... is it still today?" I asked plaintively.
Rosalie filled the mug with more water. She was being very careful, but I saw the tightness in her back, and I didn't know what that meant. Was she angry about something?
"Yes, sweetie," she said quietly, "it's still today."
She turned around, heading toward me, and I saw that she was smirking.
I also saw her eyes were pitch black.
I was starting to realize I couldn't tell if there were shades to her eyes. When her eyes were that black, obsidian, they made her look so dangerous.
But the thing is, ever since she took me out here, her eyes have been that color unless she was holding her breath.
I couldn't tell when she was dangerous, when she was about to snap, and when she wasn't, and she was ... 'okay.'
'Okay' for a ravenous vampire, that is.
"I meant," I said, "today, like today when we went outside so I could use the ..." I blushed, "... you know, ... go."
Rosalie chuckled very lightly, handed me the cup and sank back down beside me.
"Yes," she said easily. "Today is still today, baby."
I sipped the water carefully.
She didn't really answer my question, did she.
"You didn't answer my earlier question," I said, wondering if I should add an 'either' to that, or would that be pushing it?
"Which was ...?" she prompted gently.
Oh, the one you steered the conversation away from, Rosalie, that one, I thought, knowing full well that she knew full well what I was talking about.
Of course, I didn't say that out loud. If I did, she probably would've told me that didn't clear anything up, and she would be right, as she never seemed to answer any of my questions with a straightforward answer. She wouldn't say, yes, or no, or give the answer, like 1.77, like I wanted to know what the square root of pi was, and yes, I know that already, I'm not stupid, okay?
No, she's steer the conversation away from the question she didn't want to answer. Or she'd ask me right back, and demand that I answer it to her liking. Or she'd tell me a really long story that had a moral to it showing that asking the question was silly of me because wasn't it obvious by now after her telling me that long story that had nothing to do with anything that we were talking about, but no: Cinderella was soap, so that made her bad, so God exists, and next question or aren't you tired, girl, and go to sleep.
Don't worry if you said, 'um, what?' just now. That's my usual reaction, too. Consider yourself lucky you don't have Rosalie scolding you every time you say that (like: all the time).
So I tried the direct approach. "I asked you ... you said I could be weak, but what if you're weak, too, then, Rosalie? You're not strong all the time. What if you're weak when I am, what happens then?"
That was all that Rosalie said for a while, and then she just got that faraway look.
I sipped my water, wondering if she was just going to get up and ignore that I even asked her, again.
Then: "That's not really the question, sweetie."
I wondered if hell had to freeze over for her to give a straight answer, ... ever.
I tried not to roll my eyes. "Okay, Rosalie, what is the real question?"
Her lips twisted upward into a grimace. "It doesn't matter whether you are weak or if you strong, if I'm weak ... we'll have to figure out then what to do."
Then she shrugged.
"But you already know that, sweetie," she added softly.
My eyebrows creased.
"But ..." I said.
Rosalie nodded her head up once, encouragingly.
"But what happens if we don't figure out what to do?" I asked.
The smile was gone from her face, so only sadness remained in her impassive look from her black, black eyes.
"Then," she said simply, "you die."
"Uh, ..." I said.
Rosalie just looked at me.
I didn't really know what to say.
"You'd ..." I broke the silence finally, "kill me, even though ..."
I broke off.
"You'd kill your own sister, even?" I asked finally.
Rosalie smiled sadly, then very carefully touched my cheek.
"Baby, I am immortal, you are not. One slip ..." she shrugged, "and it doesn't matter who you are. You are mortal, and one mistake from me, and ..."
She dropped her eyes. "And you're dead. Just like that."
"But ..." I said.
She looked back at me.
"You're a Hale." I said. "You don't make mistakes."
"Yes," she said quietly.
Then she tilted her head to her side, regarding me closely.
"What?" I asked defensively.
She smiled, amused at something.
"You're a Hale, now, too, baby," she said, smiling.
"So, between the two of us, we'll figure something out."
She seemed pleased, but so, so serious, both at the same time.
"... or we won't."
"Oh," I said, not being able to process everything she was throwing at me.
I took another thoughtful sip.
"Does that mean I can't make any mistakes?" I asked quietly.
Rosalie gave me a small smile.
"No, baby," Rosalie said solemnly, "it means ..."
She stopped, then she got really interested in her hands in her lap.
"It means...?" I asked, hanging on her words, barely breathing.
This seemed crucial, somehow.
She looked back at me, and smiled.
"It means you are my little one," she said, "and I..."
The smile was empty. It was sad in a way that I knew she was crying.
Then it was gone.
She rose smoothly.
"Have to get the fire restarted," she said brusquely. "Have to get you fed."
And she was gone. Just like that. Just like her empty smile. The only trace of her was the blast of cold air from the door, now firmly closed again before I even saw it open.
A/N: Chapter title inspired by Beck's eponymous song on his album Sea Change.