Chapter summary: Rosalie has a gift for me, but she's not sure if I'll like it. Her gift? Her. She gave me herself. I have a gift for her, but I know she likes it, more than she can even admit to herself. Me. I'm giving her myself, right now, and forever ... if she'll have me, that is.


"R-rosalie," I said softly, "are you angry with me?"

Rosalie sat across from me at our table.

Our table.

This was our table. This was our cabin.

Because I was Rosalie's ...

But also because Rosalie was ... mine.

I may belong to Rosalie Hale, the little nothing human being that she finally granted to be her sister for what reason I didn't understand... but, by making me hers ... she made herself mine. She was my Rose.

Rosalie regarded me coolly, then she smirked with an evil amusement.

"Why would I be angry with you, Lizzie?" she asked innocently.

I stirred the peanut butter in its jar for a moment, mixing the oil back in with the nearly solid butter.

"Oh, I don't know, Rose," I said, watching my hands work, not daring to think how brave I was being by calling her 'Rose.' "Maybe because of everything?" I ventured quietly.

I dared to look up at her.

Her smirk became a grin, and she wagged her eyebrows at me conspiratorially.

"Perhaps," she said, mirth in her voice.

I looked down at the peanut butter. From her almost killing me how many times this morning, and I don't know how many times anymore, because I've lost count, and I really don't want to go back through today to count my near-deaths today, thanks.

Living it once (barely) was painful enough. I don't think I could last through a second time, reflecting on it.

I thanked God for one thing. Rosalie said she was furious with me, but she wasn't mad. She was in total, and complete, control of herself, so much so that she could even laugh at me now.

And I wasn't thanking God for that, because I've seen how quickly she just flips from cool to cold to furious, giving me no time to anticipate her sudden and vicious mood shifts, so there was no comfort in her cool demeanor now.

No, I thanked God that, even after all I said and all I did today, and all that she did to me, ... that she was still talking to me, and that she even found it funny.

'It' being 'me.' Funny, little me that she could smirk at.

"It's just that ..." I said, biting my lip.

"Lizzie," Rosalie said.

There was warmth and affection in her voice.

I looked up at her shyly.

She smiled. "You told me you were capable of feeding yourself. Are you, actually, going to do that, or is this your test of my non-existent patience?"

"I..." I said, and I broke off and looked away.

Why was I so weak? I mean: besides being beaten nearly to death and having everything, everything taken away from me.

But besides that ... it felt like there was nothing left in me to be me.

I felt Rosalie leave her chair, and then I was gently lifted from my chair, and then, very, very gently, put down on her lap when she sat where I had been sitting.

"Lizzie," she scolded softly.

"I'm sorry," I whispered. "I'm sorry."

I felt her smile on the back of my head. "For what are you sorry?" she asked softly.

"Everything," I said. I dropped the peanut butter onto the table, and I rested my head into her shoulder.

I couldn't hold either of them up anymore.

Rosalie wrapped my whole body in her arms, and she held me.

...

"I'm getting better at this," Rosalie said, a tinge of pride coloring her voice.

Rosalie was spreading peanut butter over a slice of bread. It didn't clump; the bread didn't tear.

Somehow, resting in Rosalie's embrace, I felt infinitely more complete than I felt sitting alone, sitting across from Rosalie and her imperial stare.

"That's 'cause I mixed the butter," I said. "It's creamier now than before, so it goes on better."

I felt Rosalie smile. "Yes," she said simply.

She spread a nice, thick layer of peanut butter on the bread, then she reached over to the jar of jelly and opened it, and scooped out a big glob and started to spread that over the peanut butter.

"I'm doing it backward, aren't I, Lizzie?" Rosalie asked, evenly, as evenly as she had spread the peanut butter onto the bread and now, the jelly on the peanut butter. "I was supposed to put the jelly on first, then the peanut butter, according to you, right?"

I watched her as she worked. Her moves were deliberate but also smooth; there was not one wasted movement as she spread the jelly on the bread and then closed the sandwich.

"Your way seems to work, now, too," I admitted finally.

"Yes, it does," she said primly.

I realized something. She didn't make the PBJ 'backwards,' because she was used to doing it only that way and she forgot. She did it her way to prove a point.

Her way. That's how to make a sandwich. Her way, not because it was the right way, but because it was the only way.

"You were right, Rosalie," I said for her.

"Thank you," she acknowledged.

"You always have to be right, don't you?" I asked.

Rosalie was quiet for a second, then she said quietly, "Yes."

"Why?" I asked.

What made it so important, so essential, to Rosalie that she always had to be right about everything?

"Because when I'm not," she answered me, "everything goes to shit."

She offered me the sandwich in her hand.

I looked down at it.

"You know," I said, "you don't have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, Rosalie. You know that, don't you?"

"No, I don't know that," she said firmly. "If I don't, then who will? You?"

I grimaced. She had a point there.

I tried again. "The world goes on just fine without you, or ... well, anybody carrying it, Rosalie."

"No, it doesn't," she said.

I puzzled over that for a second. "So you make the world go 'round?" I asked quietly.

"Yes," she said. "Or, to your implied point, I am the center of the Universe."

I shifted my head to look up at her, but I could only really see a little bit of her face, just mostly her chin, and her wise, ancient, pure black looking down at me in utter seriousness.

I wanted to say something to her, that there was no way that what she was saying was true.

But I couldn't say anything to what she said. I couldn't. She spoke from a position of absolute certainty. She spoke the truth, as she saw it, and if that wasn't how anybody else saw it, well, ... then that was their problem, not hers.

She smiled, lightly, down at me. "Will you take your sandwich now, Lizzie?"

I looked up at Rosalie Hale, the center of the Universe.

"Yes," I said quietly.

She handed me it, and she lifted me up as if she were going back to the other side of the table.

I shook my head no.

"I'm getting you a cup of chicken broth, you silly goose!" she exclaimed in mock exasperation.

But it felt she knew I would react this way to her leaving me, and it felt like ...

It felt like she wasn't displeased that I didn't want her to let me go.

"You'll ..." I said.

"I'll get you a cup of soup," she said, glaring down at me, smirking.

"And you'll come back here?" I said.

"Yes," she said, gently.

"And you'll hold me still?" I pressed.

"Yes," she said, just as gently.

"'Kay," I said humbly.

Rosalie's smirk became even sharper, even more teasing.

It said: you silly, little girl!

She left my side, and, in the leaving, I felt all of me leave me and go with her.

I wondered: did she feel herself being pulled from her, as she left me, as I felt myself being pulled out of me to go with her? Or did she feel me go with her as she left my side?

And I wondered... did she, feeling me taken with her, ... did she like that I went with her, or did she ... hate that I needed her more than I needed my next breath?

...

I dunked my PBJ into the cup of soup.

"Your old-country magic spell," Rosalie remarked drily.

"Yes," I said humbly.

"Is it working?" she asked. "Does your sandwich taste better?"

"Actually," I said, "you made the sandwich good this time."

Rosalie sighed. "Yes, I made it well," she corrected resignedly, "but," she added as an afterthought, "I did have good instruction."

I was quiet as I ate the soupy sandwich.

"Do you feel better now?" Rosalie asked. "Stronger?"

"Yes," I said as I finished the sandwich, "I feel a little bit better."

"Good," she said, and lifted me up easily, one-armed, as she got out of the chair, and picked up the cup and brought it to the sink.

I looked up at her face as she did this. It was calm and unreadable: impassive.

"What ..." I asked softly, "what happens now?"

"Now," Rosalie said, "I must decide whether to give you your gift, or not."

"Oh," I said, then I looked away from her, "because I don't deserve it?"

"No," she said, "because I do not know if I have the courage to give it to you."

I looked back up at her.

There was not one trace of irony in her voice nor in her face. In fact, her demeanor was very grave.

What was her 'gift' that she was afraid to give me, because she thought I may not 'like' it?

Was it death? Was she going to kill me now, to spare me from suffering anymore? To spare herself from having to take care of me anymore, and not have to worry anymore when she came back whether I'd be dead or alive or almost dead puking all over the floor?

Was she afraid to give me the gift of death? Freedom for me from going on, freedom for her ... from me, her burden?

But what would she do anymore after she killed me? I mean, wouldn't she be bored, not having somebody to scream at all day? Wouldn't her day be more ... even? ... now that nobody was telling her their 'ignorant' assumptions, asking to help when she needed no help at all, and then, failing that, telling her 'fuck you,' and driving her absolutely insane with fury that somebody as stupid as me would dare say those words to her?

But if she were bored, after I was dead and gone, ... wouldn't that be a ... good kind of bored for her?

"It's okay, Rosalie," I whispered. "You can ... you can give it to me. I'm ready."

Rosalie looked down at me, searchingly.

She smiled at me, sadly. "Perhaps you are, my Lizzie."

My Lizzie, she called me, and I felt a warmth in the pit of my stomach, and I don't think it was entirely from the chicken broth.

She put me down in the center of the room, away from the stove, the table, the triptych, the tub, the bed, everything. It was just me in the center of the cabin.

And Rosalie, facing me.

She regarded me for a moment, then went to her canvas "Santa Claus" bag of things she had got from town today, and pulled out a tin of saddle soap and placed it on the stove.

She turned back to me, regarding me levelly.

Then: "Lizzie," she said, then indicated with her hand to the towel wrapped about me.

Her hand flicked in a dismissive motion, and I knew exactly what she meant.

I ...

My heart. I couldn't hear anything anymore, because my heart was beating fit to burst in my chest, and I felt the heat rise from my chest and cover my face, burning my cheeks.

I held my breath, almost, taking small sips of air, and I couldn't see, I couldn't look anywhere.

But I obeyed. I felt my hands, completely numb, undo the knot holding the towel to my body and pull it off me.

I held the towel, my arms clasped over it, crossed in front of my body.

Rosalie stood, a statue, a goddess, only her hand moved. It flicked again, a casting motion, away and to her side.

I took in a breath and moved my hand away from my body and let go of the towel. I heard it drop in a heap on the floor.

I didn't know what to do with my hands.

Rosalie did. "Hands," she commanded softly, "down by your sides."

I put my hands down.

She regarded me coolly.

Then she was in motion, a stone, filling the cabin, no: the whole Universe, with her will, her indomitable presence, as she walked around me, encircling me, taking in every inch of me, my utter smallness.

"You're ashamed," she said, walking around me then returning to her place right in front of me.

"Yes," I whispered, blushing hard, looking away.

"Because you're naked," she said.

"Yes," I said.

Her hand reached out, carefully, and lifted up my chin, making me look her in the eye.

"Lizzie," she said. "When I am naked, am I ashamed?"

I bit my lip. I was trembling, I felt it in my entire body.

"No," I said.

"Why?" she demanded.

"'Cause you're you," I said.

She was Rosalie Hale, clothes or no clothes. She was herself, and nothing else mattered.

"Yes," she said, her hand holding up my chin, and she looked directly, intensely, into my eyes.

And I felt it. I felt my soul being sucked into her eyes again.

And I couldn't look away.

My breaths came in little, tiny gasps.

She was going to suck out my soul, and when she had done that, she's snuff out my life, like she were extinguishing a candle.

"Lizzie," Rosalie said. "I will give you your gift now."

She took her hand away from my chin and turned away.

I almost collapsed.

Rosalie spun, whirled in place, and caught my shoulders, steadying me.

"Stand," she ordered.

"I don't know if I ..." I gasped.

"You will stand, Lizzie," she almost snarled. "You are a Hale, and you will stand on your own two feet, now."

She glared at me balefully, and deliberately removed her hands from my shoulders.

I stood. I gritted my teeth, and held back my tears, and I stood, held up by Rosalie's intense, critical stare.

Rosalie's hands reached out and pulled my hands away from myself, pulling them down to my sides. I don't know how they had got there, by my right hand had covered my breast, and my left arm was wrapped around my stomach.

Rosalie pulled away my hands from covering myself. There was nothing, now, between me and her. There was just me, and just her.

She regarded me coolly for a second, ensuring that I would stand on my own.

"Stand," she commanded gently.

"Yes," I whispered.

"You must be strong, Lizzie," she said, "to receive this gift, just as I must be strong to give it to you, for the gift I am giving to you ... is me."

She smiled softly, then turned away from me, to the stove, picked up the tin of saddle soap, opening up the container, then spat into it.

She regarded me with eagle eyes as she stirred the soap, now a liquid, with her index finger, mixing in her spit. She spat again, deliberately, then again, stirring the mixture into a viscous soap-soup.

The whole cabin became perfumed with a cloying rose scent.

She put the tin back onto the stove, and I saw little bubbles form in the soap and break as they bubbled to the surface.

Rosalie return to the canvas bag and pulled out a wooden box, the size of a dictionary, or the Bible, and brought it over to the stove, she opened the box, but her body blocked my view, so I didn't see what she pulled from the box. She tossed the box aside, carelessly. It flew across the cabin and landed on the bed, right below the pillow.

I watched the box as it arced across the room.

When I looked back at Rosalie, she had turned back to me.

She had a snake in her hand, and she was anointing it with the saddle soap.

No. It wasn't a snake. It seemed alive as it writhed in her hand as she massaged the soap into it, but it was actually a ribbon of leather: a black, thin band.

She put the tin down beside the stove, its purpose fulfilled, and she approached me, holding the strip in her hand at chest-height, the strip dangling down freely.

"My gift to you, Lizzie," she said: "Me."

I looked from her eyes to the leather strip, and I felt my throat constrict.

It was a choker.

She lifted up the lose end with her free hand and held it out to me. She lifted her chin to me.

I stood, frozen, transfixed.

"Take it, Lizzie," Rosalie said.

I felt my hands, like two heavy mauls, rise and take the choker from her hands. It was warm from the heated soap, but had cooled by her icy touch.

"When you put this on, Lizzie," Rosalie said, "you put on me. You will never be without me from now on, because when I am not with you, I will always be with you. When you are naked, you will be clothed in splendor, because I will clothe you." Rosalie glared hard at me. "Do you understand me, Lizzie?"

"Yes," I whispered.

"Lizzie," Rosalie said, "put it on."

It ... barely fit over my neck, and my fumbling fingers almost dropped it onto the floor as I was trying to fasten it at the back of my neck.

But on it went, despite my clumsiness, and despite my fear of it being too tight, and choking me, it actually molded into my skin, fitting onto and around my neck perfectly, like a second skin.

Rosalie looked me right in the eye. "It will always be on you, now, Lizzie, because it is me, and you are mine, now, and forever more. You may take it off when you must, when you bathe, for instance, but it must always be near you, in easy reach, so that, when off, it may be grasped and put back on so you know, so all know, you are mine, Lizzie Hale."

She regarded me, coldly, commandingly. "You are mine, Lizzie Hale," she repeated authoritatively.

"Yes," I whispered, looking right back into her eyes.

"Now, and forever," she reaffirmed.

"Yes," I said.

A smile flashed across her lips, briefly. It wasn't triumphant: it was sad.

Then it came back to her, slowly, o, so slowly, and it stayed.

Then she stepped into me, and wrapped her arms around me, and lifted me up into a full, strong, tight hug, and she held me, hard and long.

I felt the light dimming from the edges of my eyes before she let me go, but she did, and she placed me back down on my feet, gently, and took a step back, regarding me, taking me all in with her eyes.

"Lizzie Hale," she said solemnly, "you are a Hale, and I am proud of you, my Lizzie."

My breath caught in my throat, and I felt the choker tighten almost unbearably, actually choking me as I became choked with emotion.

Rosalie smiled again, lightly, and reached out with her hand to my cheek, capturing a tear.

She brought her hand to her lips, and I saw the tear touch her lips, and I saw her eyes become molten golden flames as she inhaled the tear into her being.

And she visibly grew before me. It was if her skin couldn't contain her magnificent being anymore. She just stood in place, glowing, vibrating with power and energy, uncontained by the shell that was her body.

She smiled, glowing.

"Before," she said, humming with ecstatic pleasure, "you were ashamed to be naked, my Lizzie. Are you ashamed now?"

I swallowed quickly and bit my lip.

The smile that wreathed her face was pure joy.

"I wasn't," I admitted, "... until you mentioned it now."

"Yes," she hummed, so happy and contented.

Of course, it was easy for her to talk about nakedness, her being clothed in flannel and denim, but I knew this was weak of me. If she were completely naked, and I was fully clothed, she would still be supremely confident, and I would still be blushing a bright cherry red, as I was sure I was doing now.

I saw her eyes had shaded: no longer a bright burning gold but now a syrupy amber, darkening in luster.

"Lizzie," she said, "why do people wear clothes?"

My tongue moistened my lips and I cleared my throat. We had had this discussion, but its significance was different now, I felt. "For protection," I said, "and warmth."

"You're warm now, Lizzie," Rosalie pointed out.

More like burning up. "Yes," I said.

"People wear clothes because everybody else is wearing clothes, Lizzie, right?" Rosalie said. "That's what everybody does, because people are not individuals at all: they are sheep, and their only self-worth, their only sense of safety and security is that they are exactly like everybody else."

"Okay," I said.

It didn't help me much, knowing that everybody wore clothes, and that I was a sheep because I wanted to be like everybody else.

The only thing that helped me — the only thing — was the absolute certainty, the unwavering surety in Rosalie's eyes.

"Lizzie, why do I wear clothes?" Rosalie asked.

"Because," I said, dredging through the memory of all her hard lessons to me, that she beat into me, literally, or through her disdainful delivery, "because ... so you can get close enough to someone ... to ..." I said, "to ..."

"To kill them, Lizzie, yes," she said. "I wear clothes because everybody else does, so I can look just like them. In this way I can get close enough to someone, and have them thinking that, 'Oh, nothing extraordinary here: she's just another person, just like me.' And then, when I am close enough, it is far too, too late, even if they do, finally, realize the difference, because at that point I am sucking their very life from them, gulp by bloody gulp."

She was completely alien, so chillingly an otherworldly being now.

"Lizzie," Rosalie said, and smiled wickedly, "I'm that close to you now."

"Yes," I whispered, my little heart driven to beat out a beat to end the world.

She took a step to me, into me.

I almost fainted dead away as she looked down directly into my eyes.

"So," she said, "why am wearing clothes now?"

Her hands wrapped around me, supporting me, holding me up.

"I don't ..." I gasped. "I don't know why, Rosalie."

She smiled sweetly down at me, just as a lion smiles down at a little, white frightened rabbit.

"I'm wearing clothes now, sweetie," she said gently, "because your poor little heart goes pitter-patter, pitter-patter, and you can't even see out of your sweet, little, soulful eyes if I were to reveal to you what I truly am. I am clothed now for your benefit, so that you remember to breathe, my dear, sweet, little Lizzie," she purred.

I gasped. "Not sure, ..." I said, "not sure if I'm remembering that now, R-rosalie."

She smiled down at me and lifted me up. "I know, honey, I know, and if your heart keeps doing what it's doing now, the internal blood pressure will cause your body to explode like a balloon inflated to bursting, which would be a most unfortunate circumstance and a rather unpleasant mess to clean up."

She sat me down on the bed.

Somehow, though, I got the feeling that me exploding into a million bits would be the funniest thing in the world to Rosalie right now, she was just so ... euphoric. It was scary just being near her!

She went back to our make-shift 'closet,' the neatly folded piles of clothes, and pulled up the bed-sheet. She came back and wrapped me in it and sat next to me.

"Do you feel better, Lizzie, being covered?" Rosalie asked.

"Yes," I said, relieved, "thank you," I added humbly.

"Lizzie, ..."

Rosalie's voice was chiding, disappointed.

"You do know," she continued, "that clothes do not make you better or worse than you are. It's you who determine this, not your clothes."

"I know," I said, looking down, "I know, Rosalie. It's just that ..."

"It's just that you want to be like everybody else," Rosalie supplied, "even though there is nobody left in this little world of ours. There's just you, and me, and I don't care about the non-exant everybody else and what they think. The discomfort stems entirely from you, sweetie, because you care about what? Nothing. Nobody here to render their judgments on you."

"Just you," I whisper.

"Just you and me, Lizzie, yes," Rosalie said.

She didn't pull me to force me to look at her, and I was relieved by that. I didn't want to look into her critical eyes.

"So you don't have to be embarrassed by yourself, by your body," she said, "I do not judge you as harshly as ..." Here she laughed softly. "I do not judge you as harshly as you judge yourself, you know that."

I bit my lip. "I know that, Rosalie," I said, "I know. It's just that..."

Rosalie then did turn me to face her.

I was so ... relieved that the sheet covered me. Her fully clothed, she was just so beautiful, and me, naked, was just so ... ordinary. I was relieved to have my ordinariness covered.

"It's just that you are you, Lizzie, isn't it?" Rosalie asked, smiling lightly.

I didn't answer, looking into her kind, critical eyes. I couldn't.

I didn't need to. I was looking at the answer. Her. And she was looking at the answer. Me.

Nothing needed to be said.

Rosalie pulled me into an embrace. I tried to fight it. I tried to pull back, and not be held by her.

I tried as hard as a human could against a vampire, which was as hard as a leaf tried to fight its way against an hurricane-force wind.

She pulled me into her, my chin rested on her shoulder and hers on mine.

And I breathed her into my being, and the honeysuckle and rose perfume of her scent filled me with a peace and well-being that I had never experienced anywhere else in my life.

"I know, sweetie," she whispered.

And she held me.

And I held her.

...

"I bought you something," Rosalie said, softly, into my ear. "A little something for you."

She pulled back from our embrace, and I felt myself being pulled out of me and away from me as she broke our embrace.

She held me at arm's length, examining me, smiling a soft, sweet smile.

"A little something for my little Lizzie," Rosalie said, her smile still small but radiant.

She stood and went to her bag, stooping down, then she smiled at me with delight.

I blushed and looked away.

Why was she so fascinated in me? Or, not 'fascinated,' but delighted and playful with me?

She came to me, and held out a little slip.

"A camisole," she said.

I looked up at her.

"Well, don't be shy," she scolded, "put it on!"

I blushed and looked away.

Rosalie chuckled lightly and left my side.

I heard a scraping and looked to the sound. Rosalie was setting up the triptych.

Rosalie came from around the triptych and, pulling me up from the bed, propelled me over to the changing area.

"My shy, shy Lizzie," Rosalie said, laughter in her voice.

Her on one side of the triptych, me on the other, I felt a little better and found my voice again. "It's not a bad thing to be ... modest, Rosalie," I said quietly.

At this Rosalie laughed liltingly, and her laughter stung, even if it was filled with warmth.

"No," I said, blushing with anger. "I've thought about this."

It was quiet on the other side of the triptych.

"I'm sure you have, my thoughtful little Lizzie," was Rosalie eventual reply.

"I have," I said firmly as I pulled the slip ... the, what did she call it? the camisole over my head and pulled up the panties.

Both were demure, the panties a plain white cotton, and the camisole ... well, it wasn't a white tee, which was what I had grown up wearing as an undershirt, but it wasn't flashy or alluring. I thanked God for the understated nature of these undergarments, even as I marveled that they would come from Rosalie.

From her, I expected something ... first class, you know? Like a corset with whale-bone support and red silk panties, or black lace.

If she gave me something like those, I think I would've died first before she tried to force them onto me, telling me a lady in the first circles wore only the finest undergarments, so I had damn well better.

So I was surprised she gave me these, and marveled at her. Was she exercising restraint with me?

Maybe she figured one more shock today would have done me in.

"And your thoughts led you determine modesty is a good thing, why?" Rosalie demanded.

See?

She gets to ask why-questions all she likes.

I gritted my teeth. "Well," I said, trying to remain calm, "I thought about this when I was in the potty..."

"When are you not in the potty?" Rosalie teased.

Okay, trying to remain calm wasn't working. "Now," I snarled. "I'm not in the potty now, Rosalie Hale."

Rosalie was quiet, hearing the bite in my words.

I sighed and steeled my resolve. I peeked around the side of the triptych.

"I ... put on the undergarments, Rosalie," I said shyly.

She smiled at me, and held out a long, red floral garment to me.

I looked at it suspiciously. "What's that?"

Rosalie's lips twitched with amusement. "A dress," she said, then by way of an explanation, she added, "for you."

"Oh," I said, surprised.

I didn't know what to say. "I don't ... Rosalie, I don't really wear dresses."

"I noticed," she said, her eyes dancing with amusement.

Her hand didn't waver; it continued to offer me it. I looked down at the dress. It looked ... pretty. It was simple and plain, a house dress, very practical, so I couldn't fault her for trying to kill me by offering me a ball gown with a train and everything for me to get all twisted up in and trip over myself, breaking my neck.

But still.

"Just try it," she pleaded, "for me, hm?"

And she gave me the big eyes.

I think she was onto me with the big-eyes thing. I hated feeling that I was so easily manipulated, and I thought Rosalie just took what she wanted, but now I saw her strategy: why force people into giving her what she wants when she would much more easily make them want to throw themselves, and, heck, the whole World, at her feet?

I sighed, capitulating, and glared at her, letting her know I was onto her and her manipulative little parlor tricks.

"Okay," I said, as I grabbed the dress, "but if I'm gonna wear this, it means you have to start wearing dresses, too!"

"Oh, yes, please!" Rosalie breathed, hugely relieved.

Oh. Shoot. I forgot, seeing her always in sweaters and blue jeans, that she preferred to get up in these girlie clothes.

I harrumphed and grabbed the dress, ducking back behind the triptych.

I pulled the dress over my head. When I got it over me, I saw a long, blue ribbon of transparent cloth hanging over the top of the triptych: a belt. I pulled it down and tied it around my waist.

I looked down at myself.

I sighed. I was slim, to be sure, but ...

Okay, time to face the music.

I stepped out from behind my protective covering into the room to get judged by my tormentor, knowing that, no matter how harshly she judged me, just by her being there, so godlike, would be enough of an indictment.

Rosalie stood there, coolly appraising me.

I couldn't look at her anymore. I turned away, blushing.

"So, what do you think?" she asked.

I could hear the smile in her voice.

I bit my lip. I looked down at myself.

"Ah, ah, ah!" Rosalie said, and lifted me up by my arms and deposited me in front of the mirrored side of the triptych.

Like looking at myself in full would help!

I looked at me.

"The dress ..." I said, "it's a little short. You can see my ankles."

Rosalie smirked. "Above the ankle is coming back into style again, finally, thank God!"

"I guess you like dresses more revealing," I offered.

"Oh, sweetie, I so resisted getting you an off-the-shoulder dress ..." she laughed.

"Thank you!" I said.

Off-the-shoulder? And above-the-ankle?

I think she actually did want to see me die of a heart attack.

"For now," she added, purring.

"Uh ..." I gasped.

Now I couldn't look at myself in the mirror anymore. I didn't want to see tomato-faced me in my matching red floral-print dress.

"Yes," Rosalie said, business-like, "the dress is a little bit shorter than full-length, but I felt you'd be more comfortable not having to hold it up continually nor tripping over the hem, see?"

"Oh," I said.

Apparently she had thought this through.

"So," she said, "but how do you think you look in a dress?"

"Uh, ..." I said, and looked back into the mirror.

I looked at an alien image. What I thought was that I looked stupid in a dress. That's what I thought. I looked gawky. I didn't look feminine at all. I looked like a tomboy told to wear a dress to go to church, otherwise she'd get a whipping, and asking if she could just get the whipping instead, and told, yep, getting whipped, and then having to wear the dress, anyway.

That's what I looked like. That's what I felt like.

"Do you think you look pretty, Lizzie?" Rosalie prompted.

I looked back at me in the mirror then looked away quickly, shaking my head no shamefacedly.

"I think you do," Rosalie whispered into my ear.

That sound in her voice, that pride, that pleased-with-herself tone, brought my head around quickly. I glared at her in the mirror.

"Is this all part of your plan to make me a lady?" I demanded angrily.

Rosalie's face was completely unapologetic. "Oh, dear! I've been found out!" she exclaimed lightly in mock-dismay. "And I had thought I had you completely taken in by my evil plot!"

My eyes narrowed. "You have to get up earlier in the morning to fool me, Rosalie Hale! I'm not the dullest tack in the barn!"

Rosalie smirked, but then her face became serious. "I don't sleep, Lizzie, and, no, you aren't a dullard, in fact, you are my bright, shining light."

"Are you teasing me?" I asked, heat on my face, because I suspected just that.

She wrapped me in her arms and rested her chin on my shoulder.

Her eyes were pitch black.

"No, sweetie," she said. She was looking at us in the mirror.

She wasn't looking. That doesn't accurately describe what she was doing. She wasn't 'looking'; she was admiring.

She smiled softly and picked me up. "Come," she said. Like I couldn't? "I want to show you something."

She set me down by the bed, which she had made, I guess while I was changing, and then, gracefully, lay down on it. She looked up at me, smiling, and patted the bed right beside her.

I looked down at her, stunned. "What's this?"

"Exactly what you wanted, right, Lizzie? You wanted me to sleep with you, so here I am," she said.

I looked down at her.

I blinked. Up to ... well, just now, she had been adamant that she would not get into the bed with me, and now she was just lying there, as easy as you please.

"It's ... mid-day, Rosalie," I hemmed.

"Yes," she said, "perfect time for a nap, right after your lunch."

"Um, ..." I said, hesitating.

Suddenly, I was very, very ... careful about all this. What was this about?

"My shy, little Lizzie," Rosalie purred. "Come. Come here, sweetie," she said sweetly.

I dithered.

"I won't bite," she added, smiling.

I heard the wickedness in her tone for sure now.

"Ah..." I gulped.

She held out her hand and raised her eyebrows expectantly.

I hung my head, defeated.

I felt so ... desperate before, when I was asking her to sleep with me, so demanding and from that need I felt strength, but now that she was offering this, I felt weak and scared, and I had nowhere to run, and why would I run, anyway, from exactly what she said I wanted?

I took her hand and let her pull me, slowly and gently, into the bed.

She covered me with the sheet and the blanket, me in my brand new dress, and I worried that it might get wrinkled.

Was it girlish of me to have this little girlish worry?

I worried about me worrying, too.

I tentatively, shyly, looked at Rosalie and placed my arm over her chest onto her shoulder.

Rosalie smiled encouragingly at me then took it one step further, sliding her arm under my neck and pulling my head into her neck, pulling my body into her side and holding me to her.

Holding me tightly.

I sighed. I almost wailed in relief. This felt so ... so God-damn right, so comforting. This was where I was meant to belong: me, in her arms. The whole World could go to hell now, for all I cared, because nothing else mattered.

Only this did.

I snaked my right arm under her. She let me, and my right hand joined my left on her shoulder, and as tightly as her arm pulled me into her...

I pulled her to me. Tightly...er.

And please don't get all ... well, Rosalie on me and correct my wording. You get what I mean, and 'tightlier' was exactly what I meant, even if it wasn't a word.

I snuggled in closer to her. She let me. I felt Rosalie's even breaths, strong, steady, sure. I felt my heart beating against her chest, and I felt her feel me against her, and I wondered what she felt about that, but I tried not to care too much. She wanted to hold me, and I tried to let her do just that and not let my stupid head and my stupid thoughts get in the way of this little bit of heaven right here and now.

"What did you want to show me, Rosalie?" I asked softly, drifting in the ocean of her embrace.

"Eternity," Rosalie said.

I felt my eyebrows crease. I was silent as she held me.

I breathed her in.

"This?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

I was quiet.

"I don't ... understand," I said.

I felt Rosalie smile. "It's okay, sweetie. It's not to be understood. Just ... does anything else matter right now?"

"No," I said.

"I'm holding you, and you will sleep," she said, "and, do you feel time passing as you sleep?"

I thought about it. "No," I said, "I guess not."

"Exactly," she said. "You sleep, and time passes, but you do not feel it. And I will hold you as you fall asleep, and when you wake, you will find yourself awake in my arms, just as you slept."

"Oh," I said.

"Eternity," Rosalie said.

"Oh," I said.

I breathed and swam in this timeless time in Rosalie's arms.

"Is that how it is for you?" I asked her.

She was quiet.

"Yes," she said, "this moment will be with me forever. You will be in my arms from this moment, now, into forever."

I shifted slightly, which caused my nose to nuzzle her neck, a little bit.

"Oh," I said.

I felt Rosalie tense up when I brushed up against her neck, then, ever-so-slowly, relax again.

But she didn't let me go. She held me so, so tightly.

"And you said you were giving me a gift," and I felt the choker tighten on my neck, then, when I relaxed, I felt the pressure ease there, too. It was there, it was a constant sensation, but I had become, already, a little bit used to it.

"Yes," Rosalie said.

"But I'm giving you a gift now, aren't I?" I said.

Rosalie chuckled lightly.

I blushed.

I thought I was supposed to be ribbing her. She turned that right around, though, didn't she?

"Yes, sweetie," she said, "thank you."

"Can we please, please stay like this forever?" I begged.

Rosalie was quiet. Then her chin nuzzled against my forehead, and she breathed me in deeply.

Her whole body sighed.

"Lizzie, my little one," she sighed, "you are so, so close to forever, right now, and you don't even know it, do you?"

"Oh," I said.

She said 'my little one.'

That's all I could think.

"Now I do," I admitted quietly.

But I wasn't scared. I was in her arms, and I was at complete peace.

I wondered, idly, if this were a recipe in her vampire cookbook. You know: 1. make girl comfortable in your arms. 2. let her fall asleep. 3. enjoy a nice, slow, relaxing drink at your leisure.

I didn't care if it were. If it were, it sure as hell worked on me.

And I was so glad it did.

She held me.

"Did you want me to tell me about your thoughtful revelation on modesty, Lizzie?" Rosalie asked gently.

I breathed in her scent. "Doesn't matter," I mumbled. My voice sounded indistinct and far off.

"'Kay," she said easily.

"Just that," I said blearily. "It's good that I'm shy, right, Rose?"

It was so easy to say 'Rose' now.

"How is that, sweetie?" she asked.

"'Cause," I said, "'cause this." I explained, but I knew that it was inadequate. "You said 'vrything's sexual, so that means this is, but it isn't."

Rosalie was quiet.

"'nd," I continued. "'nd I'm glad, 'cause I don't want this to be cheapened. 'm too important to you now, Rose, somehow 'nd I dunno why, but I am. And so you don' wanna look at me as a thing just to take advantage of, you wanna hold me and I wanna hold you and this is special and so it's good that 'm shy so this is special, not taken for granted."

I wondered if I were making sense anymore.

Rosalie was purring so softly, so sweetly, and she felt so good. She was so cool in contrast to the heat in the cabin from the stove.

Her hand shifted and captured my head wrapping it more securely into her neck.

"My Lizzie," Rosalie sighed.

"'m sorry," I said and sniffled.

"What are you sorry for, sweetie?"

Rosalie's voice was so clear and cogent: a mind awake. Mine was a sad, little, muffled mumble in her neck.

"None o' my words're making sense, and I wanna explain but 'm too tired and 'm sorry," I said sadly and sniffled again.

"You explained," Rosalie said consoling, "and I understood." She paused for a moment, then added: "And I'm holding you, sweetie."

She held me. "Do you like me holding you, Lizzie?" Rosalie asked.

Her voice was ... so small. Almost vulnerable.

"Yes," I whispered into her neck.

Yes. I liked her holding me. I liked it very much.

"I like it, too, you holding me back," she said.

It sounded like a realization for her. An admission of a guilty pleasure.

Like something she regretted.

I held her back, tightly.

My left leg slid out from under the covers and pulled itself over hers, and my heel hooked around her ankle, securing my entire body to hers.

There was no way she was getting away from me to feel the guilt from this pleasure. There was no way I was going to let her go. Ever.

"Thank you for the dress, Rose; it's pretty," I said, casting about, trying to make everything better, to make everything perfect for her, who was making everything perfect for me now.

"Shh, sweetie," Rosalie said as she held me, her voice pleased. "Sleep now."

I slept.


A/N: Rosalie is absolutely serious about holding her Lizzie forever, even though our little human may not know the full breath of that assertion. Because why? Rosalie is fully prepared for what happens when Lizzie dies in her arms, right now. And it may not happen now, but it could have happened in chapter 22. A side story "Reminiscence" explored what an empty life for Rosalie would be, centuries later, if that happened, but another possibility is "An Interview with Dr. Catherine Halsey."

Rosalie will never, ever let her Lizzie go.

Not now. She's gone too far now, and there's no take-backs to this game she's playing. Or being played by.

Ramifications? Rosalie knows those and will pay the price. But what happens when her Lizzie wakes fully to this?