The ringing of church bells echoed through the clear air. It was a truly beautiful night, starlight reflecting off the snow. Two days until Christmas. In another world, my brothers would be sitting in the cozy kitchen, sipping hot chocolate after an exciting day of sledding. Mother would be baking molasses cookies for the neighbors and Father would be out doing the last of the Christmas shopping.
We had been hunting, just me and Edward, for the first time in weeks. More than a year and a half had passed since Carlisle changed me, and Edward and I had finally found a relationship we were both comfortable with: brother and sister. We weren't attracted to each other, oddly enough, and brothers and sisters weren't supposed to be either. Simple. It was silly, really, that it had taken more than a year to arrive at this conclusion.
His eyes, caramel-colored from hunting, all but glowed with intensity as he pleaded, "Don't do it."
I innocently batted my eyelashes at him. "Do what?"
His lips pressed firmly together. "You know what."
"I don't recall discussing any plans with you." What business was it of his?
"But it is my business," he answered. "I love you like a sister, and I don't want to see you...hurt like that."
I barked out a rather unladylike laugh. "You're hardly one to judge."
"Actually," he said archly, "I am."
How dare he! I stopped on the trail and unleashed the full power of my glare on him. "It was you – your rebellion – that gave me the idea."
"I know," he answered patiently, in a fair impression of Carlisle. "And that's why it's my business. It's partly my fault. You can't do this, Rosalie."
"Oh yes I can!" I snarled back. "We're monsters, aren't we? That's what you're always so morose about. And yet even you embraced it once. For years. How many killers did you kill, Edward?"
His teeth snapped together.
"Well?" I demanded. "I know you remember."
We glared at each other for a long moment before he finally conceded, "Six-hundred and twelve."
"And you have the unmitigated gall to tell me to not kill five. Five hunters. Five killers who murdered me."
"Yes," he said, his eyes hard, dropping his Carlisle impression in frustration. "That's exactly what I'm urging. And I'm not trying to imitate Carlisle."
Disgusted, I wheeled downhill toward where our car was waiting, but he grabbed my arm. I swung at him, and he ducked and caught my other arm, too. I growled. He'd always been respectful when I was a newborn and able to tie him in a granny knot, but his respect began to wane with my strength.
He unexpectedly chuckled, but it was a bitter sound. "You're wrong." He released my hands. "My respect began to wane when your plans for revenge began to grow. You're far more dangerous to the family now."
I tossed my hair and crossed my arms, aware on an almost-instinctual level how flattering that pose was. "I'm not going to do anything stupid, Edward."
"Just something wrong."
"No!" I snarled again. "I'm going to right a wrong!"
"But you won't," he insisted. "It won't change anything, Rosalie. It won't give you back your life. It won't take away those..." he struggled for the word, "hellish memories."
He'd never spoken of them before, and I realized with an icy start that he had seen....
"Yes." His hands clenched at his side, his gaze distant. "I've seen it all through your eyes. I've seen them dishonor you, each in turn while the others looked on. I've seen them destroy you. I've seen them break your body. And laugh as they walked away. Every detail of sound and sight and touch, I've seen them all."
"Then you understand," I whispered.
"Yes." His eyebrows rose in grief, but his eyes were kind. "I understand. Better than anyone. And I still don't want to you go through with it."
His words hurt like a physical a blow. "I have to."
"No," he said urgently, "you don't!"
"I have to stop them," I snarled through bared teeth. "You know what they said. Royce will find another woman to woo. Even if he didn't...hurt..." I swallowed down the venom. "I couldn't condemn another woman to an entire life with him."
"That's how it begins," Edward argued, "nobly. You want to protect, defend. But eventually it's all about thirst. I know," he cut me off when I tried to protest, "you don't plan on drinking from any of them. But do you honestly think you can give in to the demon only a little bit?"
"Humans do all the time."
"It will hurt you, Rosalie. You'll be letting Royce hurt you all over again."
"Maybe," I conceded. "But this time, I'll have the satisfaction of hurting back."
He grimaced at that. "It will mar you. Forever. Their faces will haunt your memory with perfect clarity."
I narrowed my eyes at him and annunciated clearly, "They already do."
He hung his head. He had no answer to that one.
"It's not the same, Edward. This isn't about thirst or a god-complex. Five men, mortal monsters, deserving of death. Five. That's all."
"And the next time?"
"Next time?" I wondered, puzzled. I was a vampire now and all but indestructible. "There won't be a next time."
"You'll see someone, or hear something. Another woman in your place. What will you do? Will you play the avenging goddess again?"
He meant to shake me, but I rather liked the term. Avenging goddess. "I wouldn't walk away, if that's what you mean."
"Then where does it end?"
"It would end with me knocking – gently – a few heads together and making sure the young lady makes it to safety."
"You make it sound easy."
"I resist the urge to murder on a daily basis. I could walk away after that."
"You really think that?"
I suddenly grinned. "You know I do."
One corner of his mouth twitched up. "I worry about you, Rose."
"Ed." He hated nicknames as much as I did.
He resisted the grudging smile and lost. "Rosalie," he corrected.
"But you don't worry enough to rat me out to Carlisle and Esme?"
He searched my eyes, no doubt searching my thoughts as well. If everything went according to plan, five solo hunting trips over the course of the next few weeks would be enough. Royce King would die on Valentine's Day and my adopted parents would never even know.
"But they will," he said quietly, his eyes tight. "I won't need to tell them. You will change, Rosalie."
I shook my head wryly. "You're a year and a half too late. I already have."