Chapter Summary: It's ironic, isn't it? That she called me her hope, when what I see in her is that she is the one whose inner purity shines forth, untouched, even by the blackness of my soul. It's ironic, isn't it, that she's unable to move, unable to care for herself, but still she reaches out to me, to make sure I'm 'okay.' Did God make her selfless to allow me to be selfish? This sophistry is getting me nowhere but closer to damning her. Her goodness only makes me hate the evil that is me all the more.

"What do I do with you?" she asked, looking down into my eyes.

I shifted them away.

She stroked my hair softly.

"Feed you first?" she continued unabated. "Or bathe you? You need both rather desperately."

I concentrated on breathing.

I had no strength in me. No strength to move, or to think, or barely even to breathe, so I concentrated on just that, because that was all I could manage for now.

"What do you say, Lizzie?" she asked.

After a while, she said quietly, "Are you still in there?"

I shifted my eyes back to hers.

She smiled hopefully, cautiously at me. When I didn't respond, the smile went away.

She brought her face right up to mine. She rested her forehead against mine and looked deeply into my eyes for a long time.

It was if she were looking into me to find if there were anything left worth salvaging.

It looked like she found something, but I don't know what, for she broke her stare, abruptly pulling away from me.

"Feed you first," she said, businesslike, and lifted me up, going to the sink, getting my mug, filling it with broth from the chicken soup in the pot on the stove. Then she sat us down at the table, and she ... fed me.

She put the mug to my lips and she let the liquid rest at the lip of the mug, allowing me to sip at my speed.

I was grateful for it, her care, and, at the same time, I saw what I was, what I had now become: the very thing I had told her I so desperately wanted not to be, a burden.

I sipped the soup, and swallowed gall and bitterness.

And, at the same time, I saw her. And I saw that she wasn't burdened by me, she just cared for me, and she set everything about herself aside, her cares, if she had any, her concerns, and what she had to do for herself. I didn't know any of these things. I didn't know her at all, really, just that she had to hunt occasionally, and right now, in fact, her black, black eyes and her pale face and the dark circles under her eyes showing this. But that's all I knew about her needs: nothing at all. And she knew everything about me.

But she radiated an unperturbed calm. She was caring for me, and it occupied everything in her to do this, but it didn't bother her like it bothered me, this burden.

It was like she said: the burden of me was my gift to her, because she got to do something about it, when I couldn't.

I finished at about half the mug. I couldn't take any more of the broth into me.

She looked down at the mug and at me, and she looked disappointed.

"More?" she asked.

I shook my head.

She pursed her lips. "We have to do something about this," she grumbled, but she wasn't speaking to me; she was speaking to herself.

Then she did address me directly. "You are starving yourself. Try to eat some more soup later, okay?"

I nodded mechanically. I was too weak physically and mentally to do anything other than what she told me to do. If she said, 'Here, Lizzie, walk off this cliff into the river.' I'd be like, uh, okay, and I'd just do it. Consequences, thought, all these things seemed too hard for me to manage right now.

Rosalie frowned and set the mug on the table, then lifted me easily, and moving to the basin, placed me gently in it.

I grimaced as my bottom hit the tub.

She stripped me, after her own fashion. She just ripped my sweater and tee shirt in one motion, right in half, and right off my body, throwing them both in a wad by the stove.

They made a sweaty-wet thud as they hit the floor, and I got the image of her as a butcher, and those, my remaining clothes being my entrails that she had just carved out of my carcass.

I blinked the image away as she receded, filling a pitcher with water from the stove.

"It's warm now," she announced, pleased.

I shook my head.

She stopped. "What is it, baby?"

"Pee," I whispered.

"Oh," she said, "you have to go?"

She put the pitcher down on the floor and came to get me.

"No," I whispered.

She looked at me quizzically.

"You have..." I said, making the effort, "You have my pee on your pants."

And I wrinkled my nose at my stinkiness marring her perfect scent.

She her head snapped downward, and she saw the drying stain over her front.

"Well, well," she exclaimed, smirking. "I do, indeed!"

My eyes shifted away, embarrassed at what I had done.

"I suppose I should bathe, too, then," I heard her say, and I heard more tearing.

I looked back, and she had removed her clothes, her hand going down her body, her fingers, her claws, turning cotton and denim to shreds, just like that.

She took the tattered remnants and threw them beside the wet mess that used to be my sweater and tee then picked up the pitcher, coming to me, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.

I shook my head slightly in wonder.

"You have no shame!" I sighed sadly, no longer shocked that she didn't have the slightest bit of modesty or hesitancy about herself.

That gave her pause. She looked at me critically.

Oh, ... I suppose I may've just insulted her.

"I mean," I said softly, "you're very comfortable with your body."

"I am," she said. "And you're right, Lizzie, I have no shame about my body. I know what I am, and am not ashamed about it..."

She looked at me consideringly, and I blushed under her scrutiny.

"Why are you so uncomfortable and ashamed of your body?" she asked quietly.

I looked away.

"You have nothing to be ashamed of, you know," she said.

A small laugh escaped my chest, even though I tried to crush it.

"You're right, Rose," I said sadly, "I shouldn't be ashamed because I do have nothing ..."

... nothing compared to you ... nothing compared to anybody.

I heard a long sigh, and the the pitcher being placed back on the floor, firmly.

"Okay," Rosalie's voice was firm. "I've had just about enough of that kind of talk."

I heard some dragging on the floor, and I looked over toward the sound.

Rosalie was unfolding the triptych, and the mirror cast reflected light across my body as it came into full view.

Oh, brother, I thought with annoyance.

Rosalie came and picked me up from the tub and carried me over to the mirror, unfolding me from her arms and letting my feet touch the floor, but still holding me tightly in her embrace, a bear hug from behind, one arm over my chest under my arms, the other wrapped around my stomach.

We both knew if she let go I would crumple into a heap onto the floor.

"Lizzie," she said quietly, "look into the glass."

My head was turned away from the mirror, and turned away from her.

"I don't want to," I said in a small voice.

Rosalie was quiet for a moment, then, commandingly, she said: "I didn't ask what you want, and I don't particularly care at the moment either. Now. Please. Look at yourself."

I bit my lips.

And I looked.

She was looking at me, at my reflection, harshly.

"Lizzie," she said.

There we were, two girls, but one, her, in total control, holding me in her arms.

"Tell me," she said, "are you mine?"

I drew in a ragged breath. "Yes, Rose," I sighed, "I am yours."

"Then your body is mine?" she asked.

I looked at us in the glass, her chin on my shoulder, her arms about me, modestly covering my breasts, but not so modestly not covering down ... lower.

I could see me, everything ... and see the nothing that I was, and still be ashamed of it. Of me.

"Yes," I said sadly. I was hers.

Her eyes narrowed. "To do with whatever I so desire, right?" she continued relentlessly. "You are mine, Lizzie; your body is mine, right?"

I felt my chest rise and fall and her arms rise and fall with it as I breathed.

"Yes," I said. She could crush the air right out of me, and right now, if she wanted to.

"Then," she said, "when you insult your body, and belittle it, you are insulting and belittling what is mine, do you understand me?"

Her eyes became intense as she glared at me.

"Oh," I said.

I hadn't quite seen it that way.

"'Oh,' she says," she replied sarcastically.

I kept looking into her eyes in the glass, glaring at me. I didn't dare to look away.

"Just so you know," she informed me. "I take grave offense to insults levied at what is mine. And I become particularly angry at the insulter. Lizzie," she said, "you know this quite well already: you wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

"Now," she added, "I think we both know what you meant by your body being 'nothing,' don't we, Lizzie?" she demanded.

She waited.

"I..." I said.

"So, let's address that, again," she spat angrily.

Her hands shifted, and I gasped in shock.

Her arm on my tummy had shifted upward, and her hand around my chest had moved, too. Her hands were crossed and now cupping my breasts, showing them to me in the glass.

My face burned with shame as I saw myself, my breasts, even my nipples, fully exposed, completely displayed in my nakedness.

"Lizzie," Rosalie said evenly, the false calm in her voice covering over the power and possessiveness and anger I felt rumbling in her being, "who's tits are these?"

My face was beat red, and I couldn't look at myself, but I couldn't look away.

"O-oh," I whispered.

I was sucking in air in smaller sips than the soup broth from moments ago.

"You say 'oh' quite a bit, don't you, Lizzie," Rosalie said coolly. Then she continued. "Your body, these tits, they are mine! Got it?"

She snarled those last word fiercely.

My breath stopped in my throat.

"So," her voice calm again. "When you think insultingly of these tits, my tits," her hands gave a very slight, gentle squeeze, "then you are actually insulting my tits, because that's what they are! MINE! You got that?" she demanded harshly, her voice dropping its earlier, false, calm.

She waited again.

Then her glare got angrier.

"Yes," I said quickly.

"I don't think that you do," she countered. "So I'll put it this way..."

But then she didn't. She kept looking and looking at me in the glass...

Then she turned her head away, and put all my weight into her right arm, supporting my whole weight, what it was, easily, and she took her left hand and rubbed her chin thoughtfully for a moment.

"I already told you, Lizzie," she said so softly, her head turned away, her eyes closed, "that you are beautiful, and it's a crime for you to denigrate yourself so ... callously. I don't know if you can hear me when I say that. So I will say it this way: I would rather," she said, "that when you even start to think these thoughts of self-immolation that you walk right up to me and slap me across the face and insult my breasts. Do you understand me? I hate it," she spat forcefully, "you hurting yourself in this way, so when you go to do that, just know this: you are intentionally hurting me."

She turned back and faced me in the mirror again. "You are mine, Lizzie," she snarled, then her voice became pleading: "so when you hurt yourself, you hurt me. Please stop hurting yourself in this way. It is so tiring for me to deal with."

Her glare became hard and burned. "Look at yourself," she commanded.

I looked, burning, hurting, ashamed.

"See yourself, Lizzie," she ordered, "and know you are beautiful and perfect. If I did not find you so, I would not say it."

I looked at me. I looked at her, looking, balefully, at me. I looked at me again.

I didn't see what she saw in me. What I saw was ...

I saw a god holding a girl. I saw absolute, incredibly powerful and immoveable certainty in one face, and I saw ...

... plainness, ordinariness, shame, ... in the other.

"You are beautiful, Lizzie," she said. "Say it."

I closed my eyes, and hung my head, and drew in a long, ragged breath.

Her hands shifted again, re-encircling me in her arms, and I felt my heart, fit to burst, trying to beat its way out of my chest as she held me.

Eventually she sighed.

"Well," regret tinging her voice, and then ... resolve. "Not now, but one day."

"I wish I could see me as you say you see me," I whispered, my head still bowed, into my chest, into my soul.

She whispered back into my ear, speaking directly into my soul, just like I did. "I don't need to wish that you'll see yourself as I do, because one day," she said with such certainty it was terrifying, "you will see yourself as you actually are."

"I don't see that, Rosalie," I whispered. "I can't!"

"Shhhh," Rosalie hummed, "sh-sh-sh."

I sighed a long, ragged, helpless sigh.

She picked me up and brought me to the tub.

She bathed me.

There was no room for both of us in the tub, so she held me upright, in one arm, as she poured water over me, and sometimes she flitted into the tub, her body next to mine, pressed against it, as there was no room, really for both of us to be apart, even standing, and she poured water over us both then. She circled so effortlessly around me, it was if she were a tiger, circling her kill, looking for the perfect place to strike, or ... no ...

It was like she were a dancer, knowing how to lead her partner, so that I had to do nothing, and she did everything, so easily, but I was the center, and focus, of attention, and she were the one, attending to me, admiring me, ... bathing me.

She asked me to help. She handed me the washcloth, well-soaped, and stepped into the tub with me, molding herself into me, and all I had to do was move my arm up and down her back, her perfect back.

And I did. Or, I tried to. There was no strength in my arm, so it made sad little jerking motions. And while I tried, she put her forehead to mine again, looking into my eyes, measuring me.

And I could she was ill-pleased with my frailty, my weakness. I saw disappointment in her impassive eyes.

But she said nothing, and her face didn't change expression. She simply moved her hand behind her back, grasping my elbow lightly, and moved my arm for me.

I was a puppet on a string, a pinocchio, a little animated wooden girl who was supposed to be filled with her own life, and was supposed to be able to move on her own, ... who was supposed to be able to help.

But I couldn't. Rosalie said she was stone, that she was a dead thing, but she was wrong.

I was the dead thing.

And she was the one with strength to spare. She pulled the strings, and I moved, and if she let me go, I would crumple into a heap.

"Rosalie," I whispered shyly as she moved my arm to rub her back.

"Yes?" she asked carefully.

She could sense it. She could sense everything in me, and know what I was thinking and feeling, even before I could, even if I didn't know myself.

"Why did you ask me to lie to you?"

My arm moved up and down her back, guided by her gentle hand. I felt her thinking as she had me wash her.

"Did you ever want something so much," she asked eventually, "that you didn't care what price you would have to pay for it? Or what the consequences would be?"

It was my turn to be quiet now.

"No," I said.

To want something that bad, I would have to want something in the first place. I wasn't a person who wanted anything, as I could always make do with the way things were.

"But," I said, "I know you did then, didn't you?"

"Yes," she said. "When you said those words to me ..."

She was quiet.

"You know you hurt me, when you said that to me?" she asked quietly.

"Yes," I said.

"But you don't know how much you did, sweetie, because ..." She was thoughtful. "How to explain it to you? I am in Eternity. I don't forget things, but it's not because I have a perfect memory. No, I don't have memory at all anymore, I just have this Now, and everything that has happened and is happening, and when it will happen, happens, is all in this Now, all right before me, ever present. So when you said 'fuck you!' to me, so ... so ..."

Rosalie was at a loss for words.

"Well, you saying that to me?" she said finally, "It's happening in this Now. It's happening now, as I held you as you cried, it's happening now as you wash my back, it'll happen tomorrow whether you laugh or cry or shout at me or ..., and then next day, and the next and on until forever. Ever now will be you, coming up to me, so furious that your face was white with anger, and you say those words to me, now, and again, and forever more."

She was quiet again.

"I just wanted it to go away," she said finally, "and I just didn't care what price had to be paid to make that go away. If you didn't say it, if you said you didn't say it, then I could lie to myself, every time, every now, this image imposed itself on me, and say, 'See? She really didn't say it,' and at least console myself with that lie, instead of facing this harsh truth of you saying those words to me, and meaning it."

My arm had fallen to her side, for she had let go of my elbow, taken the washcloth from my hand and was now gently rubbing my back with the washcloth.

I rested in her shoulder. "Rose," I said very quietly, "I am so, so sorry!"

I felt her smile at my apology. "And even as you say this with all your heart, I still see you coming up to me, furious, angry, hurt and confused, and lashing out with those words, right to my face, with all the strength you could muster, and saying those words to me, and meaning it."

I swallowed. I didn't know how to make this better.

She pulled back from me, holding me by my shoulders.

"You hurt me," she said.

"Yes," I said despondently.

"Now and forever," she said, looking right into my eyes.

I breathed in a huge gasp of air.

"Rose, please," I said helplessly, "yes, I'm sor-..."

"But do you know who it was you hurt more?" she demanded.

Uh, oh! My throat was bouncing up and down, trying to swallow as I tried to breathe.

But I knew what was coming now.

"When I saw you come right at me, your tiny hands coiled in fists, so passionate, so determined, I was like ..."

Rosalie shook her head.

"But then, baby, you surprised me, and shook me to the core when you said those words, but you? when you said them?"

She looked hurt as she looked at me.

"Baby, this was you."

Her face changed.

She became angry and furious, and then she said the words.

"Fuck you, Rosalie Hale. Fuck... YOU."

And as she said them her expression was blank with her determination.

And I flinched, looking at her saying that as me, and hearing those words I promised never to say again, hearing her say them as me almost felt like I was breaking my promise.

But then her face ... a realization crept over her features, like she just heard herself say those words.

And her face fell. Her jaw became slack. She looked shocked and hurt. And then she looked down and away, petulant and chastised.

She looked like she was caught in the act of being herself: a girl who said 'fuck you' to somebody else, and meant it.

And she kept this expression on her face, the realization, the hurt, the shame, for a moment. It was like she didn't know what to do with herself anymore. It was like she didn't know where to look anymore.

It was like she were me, exactly as I felt, in that moment after I said those words.

Then she looked back at me, herself again.

"Baby, ..." she said, "Sweetie," she added gently. "You wanted to hurt me, and you did, but in doing so, you hurt yourself so, so much more, and I realized..."

She rested her forehead on mine. "I realized I did this to you. I've done exactly what I feared, I've made you into a ... monster; I turned you into ... me."

Suddenly, she wasn't looking at me anymore. She dropped the washcloth into the basin and wrapped her arms around me, and held me in an embrace so tightly I feared I would burst. My chin was resting on her shoulder and her chin was on mine, and she held me, shoulder to shoulder, my toes barely scraping the basin bottom, her arms powerfully encircling me, her breaths came and went in a slow, steady rhythm as she held me.

I tried to hold her back, but my arms were pinned to my side, encircled in hers. So all I could do was lightly touch and rub her sides. I tried to tell her it was okay, and that she didn't do it, that I did this, but I couldn't even breathe, she held me so tightly.

Just like I wanted her to. Always.

Eventually she loosened her grip, and I could breathe again, thankfully, and the grey spots receded from my eyes.

"Rosalie," I whispered when I had air back in my lungs, "you didn't turn me into anything. I ... I did that. I said that. You didn't make me do anything. I'm the one who chose to say that, and I did."

"Baby," she said quietly in my ear, "before you met me, did you even know that word existed? Did you ever think it in your thoughts to yourself, ever?"

"Well, no, but ..." I said quickly trying to counter her argument.

"I rest my case," she said with finality.

"Rosalie, I ..." I tried again.

"Shhh," she said softly, and her arms tightened about me, squeezing the air out of my lungs and silencing me. "By assuming your own responsibility in this matter is noble, and I applaud you for it," she said solemnly, "but this, this is my doing. I wrought this in you. This is my fault, and the blame is mine. That is how it is, and how it rests with me, and I don't wish to hear any more of this."

She pulled me out of her tight embrace, holding me by my shoulders, so we could look eye-to-eye. "Do we have an understanding?"

No, we didn't. We had her side, and we had mine. She took the blame for what I said, but so did I.

But, the way she was looking at me, so intensely ...

I closed my eyes and bowed my head forward.

I didn't intent it, but my forehead touched hers.

"Okay, Rosalie," I said sadly. "Okay."

"Good," she said, pleased.

I opened my eyes, "But I still think ..." I began.

"You know," she said, glowering, "I'm just so tempted to silence those lips of yours by ..."

"By spanking me, huh?" I bit back.

Like that was the answer to everything that didn't go her way?

Her eyes smoldered with anger. "Baby," she said coolly, "I spanked you for a reason. I beat the fuck out of you, because 'fuck' is not something in you, like it's in me, a part of me, but for you, that word hurts you more than I could. I'm not going to resort to that for you being you, because you are not that. You can disagree with me, and I may not like it, at all, but I will not trespass on it either. I beat what is not you out of you. I have no interest in breaking you nor in unmaking you. Do you understand me?"

She glared intently into my eyes.

"Yes, I understand," I said humbly.

But I wondered, then, how she would silence my lips.

Then I became very aware that I was inches away from her, if that, and she from me.

And we were both naked.

And ... her smoldering look that I took to be anger?

I decided not to wonder about how she would silence me anymore.

And she had asked me out on a date, and ... but ...

I was blushing. And I wasn't supposed to be wondering. I dropped my eyes from her intense glare. I suddenly didn't have the nerve to face her.

She rinsed me, and then, she lifted me up out of the tub and then even rinsed my feet and between my toes, taking care that not even a hint of soap was left on any part of my body.

And, yes, she dried me. The towel was damp when it left my body, but it seemed to suffice to get the water off hers, too. She took care drying herself, holding me, but she needn't've, it seemed to me, because the water seemed just to fall off her. It seemed unable to touch her, or it seemed afraid to.

"Rosalie," I said.

She bit her lip. "Yes?"

"So, but ... why did you ask me to lie, a second time?"

Now she didn't look at me.

She brought me to the bed, and gently sat me on her lap.

Her face got thoughtful ... reticent.

"I just couldn't believe it," she said, by way of explanation.

She looked to me for understanding.

She couldn't believe what? That I said those words? Frankly, I couldn't believe I said them, either, now that she explained what I did to myself, and to her.

I hated myself for hurting her like that ... forever.

I looked away.

She said, "I asked you to lie, and told you the consequences, but you didn't; you refused to, even though you knew you would pay a very heavy price for your refusal. You seemed incapable of duplicity or complicity."

Oh. I guess she couldn't believe something else.

"And I thought," she said, "was this me grasping at straws? I thought I had destroyed what you were when you raced out and profaned yourself, but no, immediately afterward you showed a resolve that could not be shaken. And I wondered: was there a purity in you that I could not corrupt? Had I ruined everything, or was your being, your self, still somehow intact? I had to know."

I gasped in shock. "Rosalie," I exclaimed, "you tested me?"

"No," she said quickly, "it was just that I ..."

"Rosalie," I cut in, "I suck at tests. What if I failed? What if I gave in? What? Were you gonna stop spanking me because I proved I wasn't good enough not to lie? I don't get it."

She wouldn't look at me.

I raised my hand up to her cheek. I was surprised I was capable of doing that.

"Rosal-... Rose?" I said.

She wouldn't look at me.

And I thought so, so sadly: My Rose. She was just so incredibly ...

She was so angry and forceful, punishing me. And now I saw she was beating herself when she was beating me. I couldn't believe it. And she was testing me, too? What if I failed? If I failed, I would've failed for us both. And she put me up to this? She put us up to this?

What if I failed in that moment of her weakness?

"Baby," she said, but she was speaking to the wall. "You didn't fail. If I had beaten you to within an inch of your life, and I told you, 'this next blow will kill you, but if you lie I will stop, and you will live. Now, lie,' would you have lied even then?"

She did look down at me then, looking intently for the answer in my eyes.

I blinked under her intense scrutiny.

"Rose," I said, "I don't know. I ... can't say what I would've ..."

She smiled. "You don't have to know. You wouldn't've compromised yourself. You cannot. You say you don't know, but I do. I saw it: your purity. I saw it in you that I have not seen, ever, in any other being. Everybody compromises in everything, in great ways or small. That's human nature. But in this one thing, ... you stood firm, not because you're principled on the matter, but because, for you, it is your very matter, your very being."

I shook my head. "I'm not pure. I'm not. I ... said that to you, and ..."

She stroked my hair gently. The gesture was admiring, almost ... tender.

"Yes," she said, "you said that. And you do have your faults." She smiled warmly, almost happily, then. "But there is to you a core that I did not alter, and ..." Her smile became wan. "And I'm relieved that you are still you, no matter what my corrupting influence may have exposed you to."

I closed my eyes for a second. Then I sighed.

"Rose," I said, opening my eyes. "All I know is, I'm shaken. I'm shaken to even that core of me that you said you didn't, um, shake or whatever, okay? And ... I was this close to ..."

I looked away, remembering the screaming in my ears, inside my ears, to lie my head off. And I remember how close I came to giving into the demands from her without and from me within. How so very close!

"Don't test me, Rosalie," I said. "I will fail you. I will."

"I wasn't testing you," she huffed testily. And I had to smile at that. She continued, still angry, ignoring my smile. "I had to know. I had to know that I hadn't irrevocably corrupted you."

My smile remained. "Now you know," I said, and I touched her cheek again, lightly, and let my hand fall to my lap; it felt so heavy, like dead weight. "Please don't go finding out on me again, huh? I'm not up for it."

She smiled sadly at me, chuckling softly. "My little one," she said. "And you say I am your hope?"

And she rested her head on my head.

I looked into her eyes, opaque, impenetrable, and tried to understand what she meant by that.

A/N: An analysis of this chapter is available at twilight-dad-dot-blogspot-dot-com /2013 /05 /amazing-saving-grace-dot-html