Flying and Flocking
Rosalie is waiting in the tent when Leah returns. True to her word, the only mud inside is what follows Leah's own feet after her. Rosalie sits with her legs on top of each other, and her knees bent, a position better suited for someone wearing a dress, and surely only comfortable through practice. Leah zips the tent shut and comes to settle across from Rosalie—cross-legged, nothing fancy about her—on the sleeping bag.
"You've rearranged the furniture," she remarks. The sleeping bag has been tidied, zipped and smoothed, and positioned so that she and Rosalie can sit easily on each end without being pressed against the tent's fabric walls. The tarp-like floor looks cleaner than it was, and the few belongings Leah has are folded and organized to one side, resting far enough from the walls to avoid contact with moisture. Even the duct tape on the side of the tent has been attended to, another layer added; earlier, she had noted dimly that the rain had still found a way to dribble through her patchwork, but the narrow trickle has ceased. The book Rosalie had been reading lies, closed and bookmarked, near the door.
"It's all right?" Rosalie asks, as if nervous she has stepped over a boundary too fast.
"Yeah," Leah reassures her, because it is all right. "Not that there was much in here for you to rearrange."
"I believe it's called living simply."
"I'm pretty sure we're living anything but simply," Leah says, but her tone is light enough that it's not about to spark another scene. "How were the snares?"
"Empty, but for one," Rosalie says. "You had caught a baby raccoon. I let it go, and disassembled the other snares."
"Good. That's good."
"Did you find something for breakfast?"
Leah wonders briefly whether they will pay more attention to each other's eating habits now, after realizing the first thing she did when she stepped inside was check the color of Rosalie's eyes. "Berries, and leftover rabbit."
"Don't you ever tire of rabbit?"
Leah laughs. "You know, the thing I always used to notice about camping is that anything tastes good, even if you're eating the same thing for weeks. Of course, you don't want anything to do with it afterward, and there's a good chance you won't eat that thing for years because the thought of it makes you want to puke, but you don't think about that while you're camping. Besides, we've had those deer."
The others in the Pack hadn't eaten much like that after they'd gained control of themselves, when they'd had months of adjustment instead of days or weeks, and could balance their human side with their inner (and outer) wolf. Sometimes they would, out of necessity on long runs or patrols, but nobody really liked to. Leah doesn't mind it as much as she used to. In the last year, she had welcomed the wolf instead of cursing it, because it had allowed her to escape; by surrendering to the wolf and all its instincts, she could avoid the pain of being human. Hunting as a wolf to live had eventually seemed natural and logical. The only part of it she hated was phasing back, and still having the taste of blood in her mouth. It never felt right, as if now that she had opposable thumbs, she should know better.
Much of this philosophy had remained the same for Leah and Rosalie's hunts, but they had felt different. The movement had felt necessary and joyful, and there was a sense of belonging to it all, a sense of being a part of something, of not just surviving, but living. She isn't sure how to thank Rosalie for showing her this distinction without it being awkward, so she probably won't; but she will always, always remember it.
Leah runs her hand absently along the sleeping bag, and it feels like a river that stretches out to carry them both in its invisible current. Though they are more or less on in opposite corners of the tent, Leah realizes she has never been this close to Rosalie before—at least, not in so small an area. Their campsite is a large bubble of space they call their own, in which they share and exist; they can move around without being in each other's way. Here, inside, they are enclosed; it is impossible to avoid the other, to get by without breathing the same air, without smelling the same scents. The tent is their wolf den, safe from the rain and the distances between them.
A wolf, though, would never let Rosalie in. Leah has. She's struck, once again, by the mildness of Rosalie's scent, and begins to wonder if it's not the forest that's made it bearable, but Leah's own acclimation to it. The underlying sweetness is so familiar that she isn't sure what she'll do when it's gone, no longer lurking in the air like the blonde curls of her fading dreams.
"I'm afraid I don't quite know what to do, now we're inside," Rosalie admits.
Leah is struggling, too. The suggestion to get out of the rain had felt right, but like the dog who spends its life chasing cars, only to one day catch one, she doesn't know how to proceed with the new situation.
"Small talk is always good," she suggests. "We could talk about deep, emotional shit, but I feel like we've already covered that."
Rosalie gives a faint sigh. "Just thinking of that makes me tired—and I'm quite difficult to tire out. Small talk would be lovely, especially as, I believe, it's something new for us."
Leah likes the shape Rosalie's mouth makes when she says the word 'us.'
"So I guess this is where I ask you about hobbies, then?" she asks a little dryly.
Rosalie smiles. "I'm a bit of a mechanic, actually," she says.
Amazingly, it's so much easier after that.
Rosalie tells her of some of the degrees she's earned, of her struggles in studying medicine, because she hadn't been altogether interested in the subject, and of course, the blood hadn't made it any easier. (A couple weeks ago, Leah would have been jealous and scornful of the way Rosalie talks about several lifetimes' worth of college educations, but today, she merely listens with interest.) She talks about how, even though all her family has an interest in cars, it's up to her to fix them when something goes wrong, or enhance them when there's nothing better to do. She lists all the places she's been—on all seven continents—ticking each one off on her fingers until she has gone over her hands multiple times, pausing on the ones that make good stories—like avoiding the sun in Egypt and encountering mummies that weren't actually mummies, but vampires; or the time she had bundled up in a thick, fur-lined coat in Alaska not because of the cold, but because she had forgotten to eat, and had to use the hood to cover her nose at the starting line of the Iditarod because the dogs were too close; or the winter during World War II they had lived in Maine, and Esme had taught Rosalie how to knit woolen socks for soldiers. She doesn't mention her husband, even though he leaves gaps in many of Rosalie's stories like random but important sentences cut out of a newspaper article. She lingers only briefly on her human life, on her parents and two brothers, and the house they had lived in but had never really been able to afford.
In return, Leah shares her own life: the nonfiction books she read growing up, her tastes blossoming from pet-owner guides (not that the Clearwaters ever had any) to nature books to philosophy with time. She smiles over the best family vacations, and her mouth becomes rueful at the worst—they had never been able to afford many trips, so the best and the worst were often the same, like the one and only time they had gone to Disneyland (she had liked Adventureland best), and Seth had puked on her last change of clean clothes, or the time they had driven to Arizona, and Leah had broken her leg in the flat desert after spending a summer scrambling up and down trees. She talks about how she had enjoyed Biology in school, but not so much the other sciences, and never English, because she had hated being told what she had to read, about how she'd have joined the track team if the reservation's high school had had one. She even stumbles over a few sentences of Quileute, probably the same ones she and Sam had practiced together, where she had been bothered by how perfectly he had seemed to wrap his head and tongue around the words and inflections. (She doesn't mind mentioning Sam, somehow, doesn't avoid him the way Rosalie avoids talking about Emmett. Perhaps it's because the pain that Sam had left her with had been dwarfed over the last year by other pains, other things to challenge her heart. She doesn't wake up every morning with him as her first thought, like she used to. Most days, she doesn't think of him at all; he still slips in, like an old habit—but not a current one. Leah wonders how often Rosalie thinks of her husband, since her days aren't broken by sleep and therefore must blend together.) She recounts some of her favorite stories, of how she had delighted too much as a child in the tale of Dask'iya the ogress's defeat by a young girl she had planned to eat, and how she had loved to hear about the time when Q'wati, the Transformer, saw two wolves and changed them into the first Quileutes.
And, even though they aren't supposed to, Leah talks about the first time she had phased, and how it had killed her father.
"I'm so sorry, Leah," Rosalie says, and strokes Leah's cheek once before telling her in a rush how right she had been, thinking that Rosalie had gloried in killing the men who had tried to kill her; how some things are purely accidental, and others happen through poor choices, and how the latter are the ones you should regret. Leah has heard the gist of this message before from nearly everyone who knows the truth of what happened that day, but hearing it from Rosalie, killer to killer, makes her remember to believe it. (And even though she knows Rosalie is deadly, she keeps replaying the feel of Rosalie's cold but gentle hand on her skin, distracting her from the guilt that she will still always carry with her somewhere like a faded scar.)
They remain in silence for a few minutes after that, the hitches in Leah's breathing drowned out by the rain. Then Leah swipes the back of her hand across her eyes, and apologizes for the heavy subject, making some sarcastic comment she won't remember thirty seconds later, but which strikes the match of conversation, all the same.
"What's it like, not sleeping?" Leah asks one day when a different rain has thinned to a mist, and crickets sing in the dark. They are in the tent again, having crawled into its shelter at the first sight of rain that afternoon. Hours have passed, but it feels as though the time could be measured in heartbeats or intakes of breath.
"Feel lucky you don't have to experience it," Rosalie answers.
Leah's eyes are good in the dark, and she can see Rosalie as if there were a full moon bathing their tent in light. Everything has taken on a dim blue sheen that somehow makes Rosalie's hair look white and glowing, and her eyes look human. During the day, she is made of angles; at night, she is softness and curves. Leah wonders if this is how Rosalie looked, before. The sight of her doesn't make Leah want to launch a thousand ships, but the tickle in her chest makes her suspect, with a wry, inward sigh, that she might be heading toward the harbor. This disturbs and terrifies her deeply, at the same time it doesn't bother her at all.
"I do," Leah says at length, belatedly remembering she should comment on Rosalie's response. "It sounds shitty."
"I can pretend, though. Sometimes, if I relax enough, I can almost fool myself." Rosalie shakes her head, and the pale light shifts among the strands of her hair. "My mind goes... blank, if I try. At the very least, it can make time pass. It's almost like sleep—not that I remember much about human sleep; so most of the time, in this regard, I can't remember what I've lost. Mostly, I miss something to break up the days. One has so much time, when one is immortal. You can't imagine how much more of it you get when you don't sleep."
"That definitely sounds shitty," Leah tells her. "I mean, I'm getting to live extra long because of this freaky werewolf stuff, but at least I can still sack out when I need to."
Rosalie's lips curve into a strange little smile. "You're older than me, you know," she says.
Leah furrows her brows. "What?"
"You're older than me," Rosalie repeats. "I was eighteen when I died. You're twenty."
"I never got that," Leah says, frowning. "The whole thing with your age. You're not eighteen. You look eighteen, but people never really look their age, whether they look older or younger or whatever. Your brain is, like—"
"Ninety-three," Rosalie supplies, and Leah blinks.
"Okay," she says, recovering. The age shouldn't shock her, but Rosalie has become so humanlike to her recently that it does. "Ninety-three. You're ninety-three. You may look like a teenager, but mentally, you grew up a long time ago. You've experienced a hell of a lot more things than I have. I'm not older than you. Besides," she adds, "my body's stopped aging, too. I mean, it's temporary, but still. If we're going by the way you count, we're the same age."
"I'd rather think of it that way, then," Rosalie says. "Otherwise, I'd have to start thinking of you as I might a great-granddaughter."
"And that would be bad?" Leah's heart stamps a double beat. Never mind that there's no way in hell she and Rosalie could ever be related, would ever be more than complete strangers if Rosalie looked her age, if she were no more than the little old lady Leah passed on the street sometimes. Logic tells her that Rosalie would have no claim to her as anything but a stranger if Rosalie were ninety-three, that Leah should say something snarky to this effect, that 'great-grandmother' is pushing it, but she doesn't. Because Leah's suddenly hanging onto Rosalie's response more than she should, and she feels like such a fucking idiot, like a dog waiting to be thrown a bone, but she can't stop running her tongue over her lips in anticipation.
"I think so."
The space between them is impossibly narrow. Leah doesn't remember either of them moving closer on the sleeping bag, but it's been a half a day since they sat down, interrupted only by necessary breaks; they must have shifted around at some point, but she doesn't remember it. She doesn't remember getting so close to Rosalie that their knees could almost be touching if they were sitting the same way, or how their bodies got angled toward one another, regardless.
Rosalie's voice is a whisper no human ears could hear. "Because then I would feel too old for you, and I couldn't bear it."
It's like Rosalie has shot fire directly into Leah's chest. Emotion bubbles up from it with the heat, spilling over the sides like a fountain of things she can't truly name. Her heart is pounding now, like a furious drumbeat that vibrates in the very tips of her fingers, and surely Rosalie can hear it as clearly as she can feel it when she reaches to touch the pulse on Leah's neck. Rosalie's hand lingers there for a few seconds, until her fingers spread, and she traces one along Leah's cheek like she did once before—only this time, without the pity and sadness, and instead for the simple sake of contact. With the pad of her thumb, she follows the line of Leah's bottom lip, which sticks slightly, because Leah had wet it only moments ago with the flick of her tongue. Leah barely even notices the cold.
She has exploded so many times before, but it has felt like so long since she has exploded like this. She ran away to this place to keep from breaking; she would stay forever if it would happen this way. The way Rosalie is looking at her right now is so determined and sure and hungry and sensual that she feels the need to physically capture it and prevent it from escaping.
Leah strikes. In a blink, she's up on her knees and flying forward, burying her hands like claws in Rosalie's hair and crashing her lips against Rosalie's. Rosalie pushes back, not in resistance, but as another force that desires the same thing and refuses to simply be taken. Leah may have initiated this kiss, but she isn't leading it; neither of them is. It's somewhere between a struggle for power, and two people trying to dance the same part while being paired together, scrabbling over each other's feet, fumbling for balance until they give up trying to fit into the rhythm of the music and simply make up their own.
Rosalie pushes back once more, hard, until Leah falls back into a sitting position, her legs forced out by Rosalie's knees until Rosalie forces them together again by straddling her. They're almost the same height, with the same slim build—even though it makes Rosalie look more feminine, and Leah just thin—and so, several inches higher, Rosalie's mouth is abruptly difficult to reach. They both groan at the halted contact, and Leah seizes the moment to slip her hands out of Rosalie's hair and under Rosalie's shirt, over the smooth plane of marble skin, stretching out her fingers until they grope the round swells of Rosalie's breasts, Leah's palms rubbing against cold, stiffened peaks.
Rosalie arches her back and neck. Dimly, Leah registers that Rosalie isn't wearing a bra, thinks vampires must not need them, because Leah hadn't noticed the absence until now, even though she certainly should have, but the thought soon flies out of her head at the moan Rosalie makes when Leah roughly massages upward. Rosalie's body is hard, but so is Leah's, and somehow, this makes them both soft.
Rosalie snaps her head forward and deftly snatches up Leah's wrists, extricating them from under her shirt and pushing Leah backward in the same movement, pinning them above Leah's head. Rosalie's shirt hasn't settled back into place, one side of it bunched up around her ribs, exposing the underside of her breast, but she doesn't fix it. Golden hair falls around Leah's face like the autumn branches of a weeping willow tree as Rosalie bends to kiss her again with a need that should bruise both of their lips, but won't, and Leah's own lips meet Rosalie's greedily, trying to gain back the control they are both continually surrendering.
There is cold, and there is heat, and they are everywhere—everywhere—
And it's too much.
Leah stills, Rosalie's weight on top of her suddenly too heavy. Immediately, Rosalie straightens. For a moment, the look in her eyes reminds Leah of the wildness she had detected in them the first day she had met Rosalie in the forest, of the feral sheen they had taken during Rosalie's unbearable thirst, but when Leah blinks, Rosalie's eyes have become guarded, unsure for the first time. Something in Leah's own expression must give away her thoughts, because Rosalie instantly closes off, the wanton curve of her lips stiffening into a boundary line.
Leah stares at her for a moment, heart still pounding out their rhythm. Then she slides out from under Rosalie, unzips the tent, and runs. She tries not to wonder why the coldness of the air is such a shock compared to the humidity in the tent when Rosalie's skin hadn't been, and as her legs pump, her mind dizzy, she tries to forget the hurt on Rosalie's face before it had been closed away.
Rosalie doesn't come out of the tent for a long time, until Leah's trail is faint. She doesn't follow this time, just chastely and self-consciously adjusts her shirt, and brings her shaking hands to cover her eyes. Mist collects on the wayward frizz of her hair like snow—but it isn't snow, and she misses home then, desperately, because it is the place where she feels safe in the familiar, despite everything unfamiliar that has happened there. Here, there is a whole other species outside of the knowable and norm. The kiss with Leah is only one of its many forms.
Rosalie's hands shake harder, suddenly, at the thought of kissing someone who isn't a man. Of feeling something, deep within herself, for another woman. She had been raised (the first time) to think of such things as abominations—so unnatural that they were not even brought up in polite conversation—but her second upbringing had broadened her mind and her world. She simply hadn't realized how broad it could continue to grow, if she let it. But things have started clicking into place.
For an instant, she is paralyzed by a wave of terror. She thinks about her time in the woods with Leah, of the way they have grown and changed around each other, and doesn't think she could stop this—whatever 'this' is—if she wanted to. Only Leah could. And Leah had been the one to run.
But Rosalie hadn't.
It is this realization alone that slightly stills her hands, allows her to lift them from her eyes. She hadn't run. The thought of kissing a woman might have made her twentieth-century sensibilities scream, but the actual, physical act of it—
She hadn't run. It had felt wonderful and lovely and anything but wrong.
How could she flee from that?
How could Leah?
Leah is gone for two days. For two days, Rosalie doesn't think of anything else but this absence.
Then, Leah comes back, and won't look Rosalie in the eye. Rosalie doesn't expect an apology, but she does anticipate an explanation. She gets neither. Just like in the very beginning, they spend almost an entire week in silence, only speaking when it's absolutely necessary. She should be angry—normally, she'd be angry—but all she feels is hurt.
For the first time in what would seem like forever if she didn't know better, Rosalie checks her cellphone. There's no service where they are, regardless of how expensive her phone is, and one day, she keeps moving until she finds a signal. There are only about twenty missed calls. None are from Emmett. A part of her hates herself for missing Leah so much that she doesn't have room within her to be angry at Emmett for listening to her the last time he had called.
She could leave. She could go away. There's a road nearby, curving through the trees toward civilization; it's what got her phone working again. But the more Rosalie looks for it, the more leaden her legs feel. She calls Esme.
"Mom?" she says. Vampires can't cry, but no one would know it just then from the hitch in her voice like that of a lost child. It makes her feel weak, the feeling she has always despised.
"Rosalie?" Esme exclaims in surprise—and relief, Rosalie notes guiltily. "Are you all right, darling?"
She can hear rustling in the background, exactly like the conspicuous shifting of eavesdroppers. "Please," Rosalie whispers, and Esme understands. She hears Esme excuse herself from the others, and for several minutes, the phone is filled with the sound of rushing wind and the quick tread of light feet.
"It's just me," Esme soothes when the wind stops. "What's wrong?"
Rosalie tells her everything, from Renesmee, to the beach, to the trains, to the pretending, to the forest. To Leah. She expects Esme to be surprised by the name—and the associated pronouns—but Esme isn't.
"Alice saw your future go black," she explains, and there is so much meaning and comprehension in this single sentence that it almost hurts. No one knows her better than her second mother. Not even Emmett. Not even Edward. Not even Leah.
Leah doesn't need this—any of this—
Except that she does.
She didn't come here for this—it fixes nothing that she ran away for—
Except that maybe she did, and maybe it does.
She doesn't want this—
Except that she remembers the way Rosalie felt under her hands, writhing at her touch, and she thinks of all the little things Rosalie has told her and gotten her to say, the way her anger and guilt and heartache have been easing ever so slowly so that she is finally able to start breathing again.
She isn't in love with Rosalie. Sometimes she thinks she barely even likes her, but Leah still wants her and needs her and craves her all the same, after this slow buildup that has suddenly ignited like a wildfire. It's so completely fucked up, and it scares her to death. She's been trying so hard since Sam to make herself not care about anyone or anything, but people have still slipped through the cracks at the edges of her universe. Leah isn't made of stone.
Neither is Rosalie.
When Leah was a kid, she had spent a lot of time at Jacob's house. Only, she hadn't thought of it as Jacob's house then, because she had considered him too little to bother with. Instead, it was Rachel and Rebecca's house. The twins were slightly older than her, but not enough that she would look up to them while they looked down on her. They were all friends, all wild children who played each other's games without much complaint, even though Rachel and Rebecca were so girly, and Leah such a tomboy.
Rachel and Rebecca were each other's best friends, of course, because no one had been able to separate them until they separated each other. Leah's best friend was Emily. But Emily didn't live nearby when they were small, and so Rachel and Rebecca had agreed that if one of them were gone, and Emily were gone, then the remaining two would be best friends for the time being. It was only very rarely that it wasn't the three of them, but it happened enough that Leah got to know the twins as separate people, rather than the two-headed package they claimed to be.
That was how Leah had come to know Rebecca.
Rebecca was the only person in the entire world who was eventually allowed to braid Leah's hair. Leah had liked the way Rebecca's fingers felt in her hair, combing against her scalp; it was different from the way her mother tried (and failed) to do it, even though there was still yanking and tugging. She'd never thought much of that. It wasn't until middle school when Leah's stomach felt fluttery around David Abel that she realized she had felt that way before.
Leah got over Rebecca before she realized there was even anything to get over in the first place, but she never forgot about it. It had lain, hidden beneath fallen, scattered papers in her mind, collecting dust, but never disappearing. Its presence was felt, but not truly remembered, only enough that when she had been trying to get away from home, and had been asked her name, it had been Rebecca's she had given.
So it isn't the fact that Rosalie's a woman that freaks her out—though it does freak her out a little, to be honest, since she had been eight the last time she liked another girl; Sam had come after David, and with Sam, there was no reason to look at anyone else. Nor after him, either, really. She had had that dream about Bella, but that was Jacob's fault for more than a few reasons, and not out of any attraction of her own.
It isn't really even the fact that Rosalie's a vampire. Leah has seen her as a person, and smelled her as one of the wild things of Leah's childhood—fantastical, beautiful, but tangible and snarling, something to be discovered in a hollow log or beneath a rock and coaxed into the sunlight. Leah has seen Rosalie's ugliness, and Rosalie has seen hers, and both stem largely from things they haven't been able to control.
So it comes back to the closeness, the caring, the cracks that are threatening to let too much through: not just a hand or a heart, fractured pieces reaching for her, but a whole being. It's the very thing she's been wanting for, and the very thing she tries so hard to push away.
Sometimes, things push back.
Jacob had seen her, she'd said. But what terrifies her is that Rosalie has, too. When you get to be where Leah is—hurt and lonely and pissed off and full of less hope than a funeral home—that really is all it takes.
Sometimes, all you really need is for someone to notice you.
Rosalie is gone, but she hasn't left. After a week of skirting around each other, performing a complicated dance that doesn't allow even their glances to touch, Leah knows that Rosalie will always come back. She doesn't take this for granted; she simply knows it, because she knows that Rosalie had kissed her, too, in the tent, that Leah had come back after running away, and that this is the game they are currently playing.
Besides, Rosalie left her book. It isn't by the door of the tent anymore, primed to be stepped on or forgotten. It lies open, with its pages down against the woodpile, as if its owner—or not-owner—has only stepped away for a moment, in the middle of a paragraph or a thought.
Leah glances down at the title. Lord of the Flies.
She snorts. "Seriously?" she says aloud.
"Seriously," Rosalie replies, seeming to materialize, and Leah almost jumps out of her skin. Nobody can sneak up on her anymore—except, apparently, when she's rolling her eyes at famous, and almost situationally-appropriate literature.
"Is this what we are?" Leah asks. "Stranded on a desert island, doomed to deteriorate into the basest levels of humanity?"
"Our circumstances are quite different." Rosalie sounds ready enough to banter, but there's still a guarded edge to her voice. "If we're stranded here, it's by choice. And last I checked, we weren't a group of little British schoolboys. The book is a coincidence, anyway—my finding it, I mean."
"You keep saying it's not yours."
"It isn't. I borrowed it off a hiker."
Leah's dark brows rise. "All the hikers in a twenty-mile radius, and you pickpocket the one carrying Lord of the Flies. Well done."
Actually, Leah had enjoyed the book when she'd been made to read it in high school several years ago, but, like most students, had begun to dislike it after weeks of analyzing it in class and homework assignments. She had liked all the symbolism and the wilds of the island—that didn't mean she wanted to write about them. A part of her would rather construct the verbal equivalent of an essay with Rosalie right now; even though she's ready to talk to her about what has happened, and what will happen, she doesn't quite have the right words to start.
"It certainly wouldn't have been my first choice," Rosalie admits. "The violence is a bit distasteful." She considers. "Although, it's certainly fascinating, as a study of humanity. Something I've been rather interested in lately."
"It's a study of one side of humanity, at least," Leah points out, ignoring Rosalie's last statement, because she isn't sure what to do with it. "You get a bunch of girls together, and you'd probably end up with a different result."
Rosalie smiles for the first time. "I believe William Golding himself once said something to that effect."
"What, did you know him personally, or something?"
She rolls her eyes. "I've been going to high school since before that book became a part of the standard curriculum. You tend to pick up on a few details if you read the same thing once every four years or so."
"That's kind of sad."
"It is. But at least I'm well-educated, I suppose. So you're done ignoring me, then?"
She's moved seamlessly into this last question, without so much as a pause or a change of inflection. Leah fiddles with the dirty hem of her shirt. It's more brown than purple now, in spite of her frequent attempts at washing it. There's an ant carrying a piece of a dried leaf near her right foot.
"I guess," Leah replies stubbornly, not meeting Rosalie's eyes. She isn't sure if Rosalie will work out that what she's saying is code for yes, and that it had been almost impossible to actually ignore Rosalie because of how attuned to her presence and body movements Leah has become; the words are just too difficult to grind out, though they writhe stubbornly on the tip of her tongue.
"And?" Rosalie prompts.
Rosalie sighs tiredly. "Leah, please."
Leah shivers at the sound of her name, so much emotion packed in the simple, monosyllabic label she has responded to her entire life. She looks at Rosalie, the beautiful walking tragedy that makes Leah's chest tight.
"Things have changed," is all she says.
"Yes. They have."
"We're just making more problems for ourselves."
"Is that what you think?" There's a frown in Rosalie's eyes that she's obviously trying to conceal.
"I don't know."
"What do you know?"
"Do I have to say it?"
Rosalie blinks. "Yes."
Leah swallows, fighting the still-squirming words she cannot help but keep locked away. "It doesn't... fix anything," she says eventually. "But I guess... I want to be around you. I don't know what the fuck to make of that, but it's all I've got."
"Maybe that fixes some things," Rosalie tells her, a little wistful. Stepping closer, she threads their fingers together, and seems to wait for Leah to pull away.
They pass the remainder of the summer together in the forest. They hunt; they swim; they hike and explore. Rosalie surreptitiously steals and returns more books, and they take turns reading aloud to pass the time when it crawls, hot and slow, before them. The season is glorious and golden, despite the weather that is almost reminiscent of home, and it smells deep and rich like the earth.
They fight; they heal—sometimes from wounds that are older, like scars. They bicker; they snap. They laugh, and feel, and live, licking the dark juice of berries from each other's fingers and lips and wondering how it is that something like that can't do them any good.
The question comes again only when the smaller trees that stand beneath the shade of the redwoods begin to change their colors. This time, it's Rosalie who asks, a patch of her arm caught in sunlight:
"What are we doing here, Leah?"
The summer cannot last forever. They could live here forever, Leah thinks, with the days of eternity stretching together; but lately, more and more, their campsite has felt like a vehicle of procrastination, as if some looming deadline approaches. Among the trees, they are stagnant, floating in the pool of their escapism.
The autumn's wind is starting ripples.
"I think we were running away," Leah says.
Everything is temporary, Rosalie thinks, and worries when she realizes that she is no longer an exception to this rule. Her body may carry on unchanging, but the body is just the hull of a seed that houses what's inside, that protects her from the outside forces until it is time for her to come alive. She can plant herself here, but inside, she will always be waiting, and she will watch as her world changes around her.
Leah is the catalyst, the one who has made things different.
She is the wind that can carry Rosalie away, and bring her back home.
But doubt stirs in her—impossible doubt, and Rosalie laughs, because it is the kind of doubt that she has not had to experience in seventy years. Everything is temporary. She and Leah have been living in a state of stasis, their happiness born of a purgatory made from sticks and stones and found things. When they leave this place, will it crumble to the ground? Is everything they have built suspended in their own suspension?
Rosalie knows it is time to leave, grows tired of the restlessness she feels when she looks at the turning leaves of the forest, but for all of this urgency, she is reluctant to take the first step outside of their circle.
She would stay forever, if this were the only way to keep her whole.
"I wish we could," she says, later.
Leah is distracted, trying to read in the flickering firelight. The logs shift and crackle, and the smoke trails upward to the stars, the heat making them seem to quiver in anticipation. Rosalie is always careful of the flames, but tonight, she sits closer to them than usual, warmed by their light and the casual touch of Leah's knee against hers.
"You what?" Leah asks. Her fingers slide along the dry pages of the book—to keep her place, Rosalie thinks; Leah is listening now.
"I wish we could stay here," Rosalie clarifies. "But we can't."
"It would be nice."
"It would. Except..." Leah's voice fades.
"Except that we are sorely lacking in things to do," Rosalie finishes, "and there are people we've left behind that we shouldn't have."
Rosalie feels Leah stiffen beside her, Leah regarding her sharply. Rosalie meets her hard eyes, confused for a moment, before she realizes what her words sound like. She touches Leah's arm hesitantly; the thin, dark hairs there straighten and stand on end to greet her hand.
"I mean our families," she adds, trying to keep from smiling at the way Leah's body responds to her now.
Leah's expression doesn't lighten, and again, it takes a collection of moments before Rosalie notices the full extent of her blunder. Both of them have families, of course; but Rosalie's family includes a husband.
She sighs. "I mean our mothers," she says. "Our brothers. My sister—sisters. I don't mean—" It is so difficult to explain. "I mean that there are people we love, Leah, no matter how far we distance ourselves from them. And then there are people whom we would no longer love in the way they want us to, even if we were standing beside them. I am... selfish. I have always been selfish. I want so many things, and I take them when they are within my grasp—even if they aren't, I suppose. I want..." She pauses. "I want, simply and selfishly, to be happy. My—Emmett. He tries so hard, but he doesn't make me happy."
She wants to add that Jacob and Sam can never make Leah happy, either, but it's already there, in the little half-smile on Leah's lips: one side curving upward in pleasure, the other sloping downward in a resigned sort of pain. Rosalie wants to kiss her until all of Leah is smiling, but she doesn't. Now is not the time.
"This is why we have to leave," she continues, urgently. "We could be happy out there, too, but we wouldn't know..."
The things they have built could crumble, or they could stand. To leave is a risk, a gamble; the added pressures of reality and the outside world could make them fly, or turn their togetherness into dust.
When Leah remains silent for a while, Rosalie worries that Leah might long for this destruction. Leah's awkward confession earlier in the summer might, Rosalie thinks, have only applied to this—this: this tiny bubble of a summer, meant only to be fleeting, meant only for recuperation from life until, the job done, they both depart, whole but separate.
"Yeah," Leah says at length.
This time, it is Rosalie who waits for Leah to continue. She would hold her breath, if it meant anything.
"Let's just..." Leah shrugs. "Fuck it. Let's just go for it."
Everything is temporary.
But there are some things that will last for a while, first, before the natural cycle of the world retires them gently into slumber.
On their last day, they follow the winding road into town. Leah has shoved her tent and sleeping bag back into the dumpster where she found them, in hopes that perhaps someone else will go digging for gold and survival. She keeps the Swiss Army Knife, though—shoving it into the pocket of Rosalie's jeans, of all places.
There's a little diner—it's the first building they see. Leah jokes that she can order up a sippy cup of blood so that they can both eat, but Rosalie recoils, only half disgusted at the memories that dislodges in her mind. She has done so well at repressing all thoughts of home in the last several weeks, but now they have resumed their weight upon her shoulders. She concentrates instead on the pressure of Leah's hand.
Through the diner comes a steady flow of people that rushes around them as though they are boulders jutting out of a river. Leah eats, and Rosalie pretends to eat, and they chat with their waitress, and the people around them when they move to sit at the bar a few hours later. Everyone is so friendly it makes Rosalie want to cry sometimes. There are a few people who frown at Leah's hand on Rosalie's thigh under the table, or the way Rosalie toys with Leah's hair, but no one says anything. They mostly concentrate on asking about Leah and Rosalie's travels, how they've fared camping so long, and aren't they glad to be eating something other than boxed macaroni and cheese and freeze-dried scrambled eggs now? When a family of five walks, laughing, through the doors, and Rosalie's eyes linger on the baby who regards her over his mother's shoulder, the hand on her thigh tightens with reassurance. The mother smiles at her, and Rosalie finds herself smiling back.
In the weeks that Rosalie had been on her own prior to finding Leah, she had swept in and out of diners like this, in and out of the lives of strangers. Not once had she felt this human.
Being in the forest for so long has taught her many things, even if it is only to see the possibility in circumstances that are already there.
The inevitable end comes, one that they each must face before they truly leave the woods. There's a battered old pay phone by the bathrooms in the diner, the wood paneling around it carved and scratched by hundreds of hands desperate to leave their marks, however insignificant, on the world. Rosalie feels a pang of something in her chest. All of the decades she has spent trying to belong, and everyone else has been doing the same thing.
She retreats a respectful distance from the phone while Leah drops in coins, one by one, and dials a number known by heart. It's hard not to listen, but Rosalie manages, somehow, despite her sensitive ears. It's even more difficult when she inevitably catches the hushed sob lodged in Leah's throat; Rosalie isn't sure if Leah's talking to her brother, or to Jacob. She isn't really sure she wants to know.
Leah comes away a half-hour later, wiping her eyes furiously with her hands to keep Rosalie from seeing, though of course, it's too late for that. When she catches Rosalie's concerned glance, she tries to roll her eyes.
"Is everything all right?" Rosalie asks.
"As all right as it can be, I guess," Leah replies with a sigh. "Mom's pissed, Seth's pissed, Jacob's pissed and still imprinted on a baby vampire... But..." She shrugs. "They're all talking to me. They're glad I'm coming home. Seth actually cried, which makes me feel ten times shittier. I think it's going to be a while before I can talk to Jacob like... like we used to, because it's still hard, you know? But I think I can... I think I can deal with it now. I didn't explode into a wolf when I talked to him, so, hey, that's progress."
Rosalie can't help it; she frowns at Jacob's name. Leah rolls her eyes more successfully this time.
"I'm not gonna run off and try to shack up with him, okay?" she says. "I'm a lot better at this whole 'moving on' thing now. Give me some credit, here."
"So, you're all right, then?" Rosalie asks, trying to shift the subject away from Jacob with her hands on her hips.
Leah smirks, leans forward, and gives a brief tug on Rosalie's lower lip with her teeth. "I'm getting there," she says. "Just watch me."
Rosalie looks almost as though she's aged ten years when she gets off the phone with her husband, but Leah thinks it probably could be worse. Life will find a way to leave its mark, after all. There's no escaping it, even if you're tougher than normal.
"Bad?" Leah asks, a little wary. Rosalie had spent a lot of her phone call with her face and free hand turned to the wall, so Leah isn't certain what emotions to expect.
"Bad," Rosalie agrees. "But not awful. Emmett still loves me, but... we're on a break. Indefinitely. He wants to talk about it in person, but I won't change my mind, and he knows that. I suppose I owed him the initial explanation in person, but... I didn't want to tell everyone I was coming home, and have him hope... And I'm afraid I'm a bit of a coward, really. His face would have..." She trails off.
Leah tries not to be jealous, and mostly succeeds. She's still a work in progress, after all.
"Hey," she says, "we both just spent two months in the middle of fucking nowhere so we could avoid all our problems. That pretty much makes both of us cowards. So no judgement here."
"No judgement?" Rosalie teases. "Is that even possible for us?"
"We don't judge," Leah corrects. "We snark, and we bitch. Mostly at each other. Even though we're both big softies on the inside, underneath all that angst. It's what makes us so sensitive." She wiggles her fingers.
Rosalie snorts and shakes her head. Her hair gleams with the motion, even in the shitty diner lighting, and it's something that will never stop being fascinating.
"So are we going, then?" Leah asks.
"We're going," Rosalie confirms, and seems to marvel at the thought.
Leah can just see the deep blue-black of the night sky out the diner window, flecked with the white glow of stars. She slips a hand in Rosalie's back pocket, keeping it there as they move away from the bathrooms and out amongst the people again. Once, her fingers brush against the hard plastic of the pocketknife.
For a brief moment, she glances back. With her wolf eyes, she can clearly make out a brand new carving on the wall around the phone.
Rosalie Hale and Leah Clearwater were here, it says.