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Rosalie hits her with her car and, okay, so the vampire says it's an accident and Emmett is usually inclined to believe her. After all, Rose is known for her brutal and often violent truth. This time, however, there's a gleam in her eye, a playful twinkle just in the corner. Her lips are curved ever so slightly with a hidden smile as Bella rolls backwards off the hood of the car, "fucking whAT?!" shouted at them as she goes.

A few students gasp and run over, others reach for their cellphones, but Bella jumps right back up. She shakes her strong shoulders loose and grins, quick to reassure them that she's fine and, no, don't call an ambulance. Really.

It takes some convincing but after a few minutes, everyone goes back to their business. Rosalie taps her fingers against the steering wheel while Emmett hides his face in his hands, Bella's dark eyes wandering around the inside of the car until they find Rosalie. She doesn't even hesitate in her tapping, merely raising an inconspicuous eyebrow, as if daring Bella to accuse her of something.

The challenge is reflected back in Bella's borderline feral grin and the tall girl leans down to press her palm against the hood of the car. "Didn't see you there," she says, barely above a whisper. Emmett twitches and Rosalie inclines her head ever so slightly as way of response. "Sorry." Bella winks and drags her hand down the hood, nails digging in enough to scratch the paint before she turns to jog off.

Emmett has to reach over and grab Rosalie's door while the blonde snarls. "No, no! Hah, nope. That was called for, you hit her with your car. No strangling the puppy for you, missy."

She swallows her rage and focuses on not ripping apart the steering wheel as she parks.

By the time she's done staring at the hood of her car, trying to quell the desire to march through the school until she found the damn dog and throttled her, the late bell has rung. The teacher's muttering something about detention in her general direction as she walks through the door (it's not like any of them actually ever talk to her, the quivering, cowering beasts) and she casts her eyes around the room until they find their target.

The wolf, Rosalie has noticed, likes to surround herself with humanity. She constantly has humans clinging to her, a ring of mortality to keep the vampires at bay, and Rosalie hates how well it works.

Three months they've been here. Three months of having to put up with this wolf. Three months, and they've exchanged a handful of sentences.

Plus one more. Bella leans back in her chair, arms stretched over her head until the sleeves slide up and reveal colourful ink etched into her skin. "Car trouble?" she asks innocently as the vampire passes.

And Rosalie hates her even more.

She lifts her lip in a silent snarl that makes the colour drain from the faces around Bella, until Jessica and Lauren snap their gazes down to their desks. Typical and predictable-

But Bella only laughs. She laughs and Rosalie's feathers are ruffled, her anger flips and turns to bewilderment, and she very nearly misses a step, catching herself on Michael Newton's desk. He looks up in surprise and she glares at him until he looks away.

(And Bella is still laughing, damn it.)

"Miss Swan, that's quite enough," the teacher huffs at the disruption.

Rosalie is too distracted to stop herself. "Yeah, Swan," she echoes childishly and wants to drown in her mortification when she realizes she said it aloud.

Bella laughs harder and Mr Banner sets his textbook down on his desk. "And you sit down, Miss Hale."

"Yeah, Hale," Bella chortles.

"Miss Swan!"

"Shut up."

"Miss Hale-"

"Bite me!"

"M-Bella, that's enough. Rosalie, sit down and Bella-"

"I'll do more than that, dog."

"Principal's office, now!" Mr Banner snaps and cracks his ruler down on the desk.

Rosalie clenches her fists tight enough that she can feel the spiderweb cracks in her fingers and her jaw pops. Black eyes bore into Bella's face, fury making them swirl like beautiful chaos. Her pocket won't stop vibrating with her phone and the calm, collected part of her brain knows it's either Edward or Alice trying to talk her down.

She swallows a mouthful of venom and nods briskly, turning for the door of the classroom. She's not entirely sure if she'll end up at the principal's office, but she definitely needs to leave.

"Ta ta!" Bella calls after her.

The ruler cracks on the desk again. "Detention, after school!"

"Ah, fuck."

"Isabella Swan, do you want to join your friend in the principal's office?"

The wolf perks up, blinking rapidly. "No, sir. Sorry, sir."

.

.

.

When lunch rolls around, it's safe to say that Rosalie is pissed off and the rest of the family can feel it. The rest of the school can feel it, too, but that doesn't change much for them. They maybe give her a wider birth of space in the halls, but people usually went out of their way to distance themselves from her anyway. Her family, however, decides the best course of action is to walk on eggshells, and it just bothers her more.

The sandwich on her plate jumps when she slams her tray down onto the table in the cafeteria, bottle of water rolling across towards the edge on the opposite side. Edward doesn't blink as he catches it and places it back in the middle of the table. "We're trying," he tells her softly.

"Try harder," she snaps and crosses her leg over the other. He huffs and crosses his arms instead, looking away.

Alice sits up in her chair, elbows resting on the table, mischief making her golden eyes sparkle. She opens her mouth, ignoring Edward's vigorous head shake. "Land yourself in a wee spot of trouble, sister?"

"Drop dead."

"Been there," Alice chimes brightly. "Done that."

A thought occurs to her and Rosalie turns to her sister, dark eyes narrowed in a glare. "Why didn't you warn me against going to class?"

"I can't see you when you interact with B-"

"Don't say her name."

"-ae."

Emmett's brows furrow. "Bae?"

"Something the children call their significant others," Edward leans over to tell him with a pat on his broad shoulder.

"Rosalie's bae, to be more accurate," Jasper corrects.

Black eyes flick to him, a rumble in Rosalie's chest. "You're supposed to be on my side, brother."

Edward's eyes widen and he turns to his other side, blinking big eyes at Jasper. "Does she?!" he exclaims softly.

Rosalie's jaw pops again.

"Oh, but you're getting so good at hiding your thoughts, Rosalie!" Edward praises the blonde with a charming smile. "I had no idea."

Emmett and Alice exchange looks and the pixie pouts. "I am cruelly and unexpectedly in the dark. What are you guys talking about? What does Rosalie…?"

"Nothing!" she barks out, hand on the table with cracks spreading from it. The others stare down at the damage, not used to such an outburst from their most controlled sibling. "I don't care for your little asinine games, Edward. And you're testing my patience, Jasper."

He inclines his head, golden curls bouncing. "Apologies."

"Whatever," she scoffs in response and looks away.

The others continue their snickering, making jabs at her expense, and fine. If they want to act like children, they can go right ahead, but she refuses to be goaded into another confrontation. It gives people the wrong idea, like maybe she actually cares. And she doesn't.

Her eyes scan the rest of the cafeteria, in search of nothing particular. Truly, it's just happenstance that her gaze lands upon the wolf's table. The table she claimed as her own, right by the door, so Rosalie and the others are forced to walk by her every day. So Rosalie's control is tested and she doesn't flip the table up into Bella's face like she deserves.

Less animated today than most days, Bella's chin rests on the tabletop. She's slouched low in her chair, arm tossed out to the side, while her other hand rolls an apple back and forth on her tray. Her dark eyes are dull and she feels like she's a million miles away as her table chatters on.

Curiosity burns Rosalie like acid.

What could possibly have the over-energized puppy so sullen?

It's not as if Rosalie was overly mean in class. She didn't say anything today that she hadn't said before. And even if she did, so what? Who cares. Maybe Bella shouldn't go around pushing buttons if she doesn't want the trouble that follows. Or, at the least, she should grow a stronger hide.

"She got a phone call," Edward says so suddenly she almost jumps out of her chair. At her raised eyebrow, Edward nods over to Bella's table. "I was also wondering why she looks so upset, and while I cannot read her, I can read those around her. She was fine all morning until she got a phone call just before lunch. She's been upset ever since."

"I could not possibly care any less than I already do," Rosalie tells him blankly.

"Liar!" Alice sings and catches the bottle of water thrown at her face.

Rosalie runs her tongue along the backs of her teeth. "You're insufferable today."

"I'm insufferable every day, according to you." A light bulb goes off and Alice tilts her head, big golden eyes drifting over to the shifter's table. "I bet Bella and I would get along swimmingly."

Shackles rising, Rosalie straightens in her chair and lifts her hand. "Wait…" Alice gets to her feet and Rosalie's eyes widen. "Wait! Alice, sit down."

"Say please."

"Not even if you were on fire."

A challenging eyebrow is raised and Alice steps back.

Rosalie slides forward in her chair anxiously.

There's a heartbeat of silence between them before Alice turns, places a loving kiss on Jasper's cheek, and dances across the cafeteria. Rosalie ponders just how it might feel to frisbee throw her tray into the back of the pixie's head and just how angry Esme would get.

On the other side of the cafeteria, the chatter around Bella's table subsides the closer Alice Cullen gets, until it cuts off completely when she bounces to a stop in front of them. The Cullens have been in Forks for three months, and in those three months, they've reached out to others outside their family exactly zero times. Not only that, but any inquiries and invitations sent to them have been met with polite, but distant declination.

And while Alice may be the friendliest Cullen, she is also the weirdest Cullen, and this was not what anyone was expecting.

Bella's dark eyes flick up to look at Alice and the pixie smiles brightly, doing a cute little curtsy. It pulls a smile from the wolf who releases a tired sigh and sits up properly to rest her chin on her fist with one hand and give a two-finger salute with the other. "Hello, kitten."

"Hello, puppy," Alice replies seamlessly and she can practically see Bella's tail wag. "Angela, Lauren, Jessica, Tyler, Michael, Eric," she greets as well after a moment.

"H-Hi, Alice!" Mike shouts and winces. "I mean, hey. Hi. Sup?"

Jessica blinks at him a few times and looks back at Alice. "Do you need something?"

"Rude," Angela warns under her breath.

But the teenager doesn't care. She only scoots her chair closer to the wolf's, hooking her arm through Bella's. "So? Rosalie bitched Bella out this morning for no reason, excuse me for wanting to make sure her sister doesn't have a turn, too."

"I would never!" Alice exclaims earnestly, hand over her heart and stretching up on her tiptoes. "Not unless she deserved it, and even then I would probably feel very, very badly about it. Of course, if she deserved it, then we probably wouldn't be the type to get on well, in which case, we would not be friends. In that case, I would likely not feel very badly at all."

The table watches her in confusion and Bella's heart thumps in her ribcage.

(Exciting, these vampires are exciting.)

"Thankfully, I don't deserve it," Bella finally says with a grin stretched across her cheeks. Alice lights up again and decides that she's found her new best friend. "So what can I do for you, Cullen?"

Alice slides up closer again, gesturing to the table beside Bella's tray. "May I sit?" Bella chuckles and sits back in her seat, waving to the spot with a nod. She watches the pixie hop up onto the table, smoothing her skirt down while she gets comfy. Alice pauses halfway, looking down at Jessica. "Can I help you?"

"... no," the human grumbles after a breath and sinks back in her chair next to Mike.

Bella drums her fingers on a stone knee, gaining Alice's attention again. "Time is money, friend."

"That's just not true."

"Says who?"

"Me."

"And you're an authority on the matter?"

"I should think so!" Alice gasps dramatically. "I've had enough experience with both."

"Moneybags, eh?"

Alice only flashes another smile, fangs and all.

Bella shakes her head. "I feel less bad about Hale's car, then."

"Oh, she's very upset about that. Rosalie loves her cars, more than anything in the world, except maybe Esme."

"Then I must battle her at dawn."

Brows furrowed, Alice tilts her head. "Rose?"

"Esme."

"Esme?" Alice echoes. "Whatever for?"

"For challenging the love of a vehicular automotive, of course."

Realization breaks across Alice's face like the sun over the horizon. Excitement has her bouncing on the table. "You're odd!" she chirps.

"Unusual, sure."

"Strange!"

"Bizarre."

"I'm having the most intense case of deja vu," Alice declares thoughtfully as a perfectly manicured finger taps her chin. She studies the shifter's face, the way the honey specs in those dark eyes catch the light and make them look like smouldering earth, rich and unending. The scars that others can't catch unless they looked closely; little jagged half a centimetre gashes that frame the side of her left eye and disappear in her eyebrow, the bold crack of a scar through her lip and cutting down into her chin. "Have we done this before?"

Bella's tongue snakes out to run across that scar on her lip and Alice catches a quick glimpse of a tongue stud, delightedly surprised and curious at the same time. "Not to my recollection, kitten, but my memory isn't what it used to be."

"What an old man, you sound like!"

A lazy fingergun is shot at her with another wink. "So, you just swung by my table to call me names?"

"I knew it!" Jessica fumes, shooting up in her seat. "What gives you the right? You Cullens and your holier than thou attitude, singling out Bella because, what, she doesn't put up with your shit? Because she actually stands up for herself? Well, I have news for you! Bella is amazing and thoughtful and generous and she's been through a lot this year, and you don't deserve her kindness. I don't care if your sister is scary, I'll kick your ass before I let you push her around anymore!"

All the others around the table stare at the panting teenager, Jessica's face flushed from anger or embarrassment, who knows. Her chest heaves, brown eyes wild and flicking around each face. Bella's eyebrows slowly climb back down her forehead, staring at Jessica with mild disbelief. "Jess, honey, are you in love with me?"

Jessica's hand blindly shoots out to grab Bella's shoulder, bunching her shirt in her fist while she nods. "A little bit, I might be. That was too much, yeah?"

"You're rocking an eleven on the drama meter, and we need you at about a four."

She's still nodding, staring across the room at the wall. "Did I just threaten a Cullen?"

"Yup."

"Is she still here?"

"Yes!" Alice chimes happily.

"I wanna die."

"That's fair," Bella nods with an amused grin on her face. She pats Jessica's back and turns to Alice. "Jess is very passionate and didn't mean half of what she said."

Alice hums and watches Bella again, watches her.

(These vampires are always watching her and she doesn't know why.)

The pixie sways side to side and comes to a decision. "I think I know now."

"Know what?"

"It's not important."

Bella's eyes narrow curiously. "Sure," she drawls.

And Alice grins. "Well, it is important. Quite important, but I have an even more important, and immediate question for you!"

"Fire away, Cullen."

"Should I marry Kocoum?"

The wolf's eyebrows jump up again. While being a fan of Disney absolutely does not seem out of the norm for Alice, she swore the other day she heard Rosalie humming a tune from Hercules. Which had floored her, at the time, and hasn't actually left her ever since.

Her gaze wanders past Alice, to her family's table where a certain blonde is very suddenly absent from. Bella blinks and looks back up at Alice curiously. "You could," she says evenly. Alice's head tilts again and it's damn cute. "But damn, isn't that riverbend tempting."

"Excellent," Alice breathes and hops down from the table. "Thank you, Bella. You've been very helpful."

"Always."

"Hand, please." Alice holds hers out expectantly, waiting while Bella slowly offers her own. "Text me before you go to sleep tonight."

Bella watches Alice scrawl a number on her palm, staring down at the ink, and looking back up at her in confusion. "Why?"

"That's what best friends do," Alice tells her. She juts out her hip, bottom lip a little larger, eyes very slightly watery. "We're best friends now, Bella, aren't we?"

"Uh oh."

"So you'll text me?"

"I think so."

Alice bites her lip, staring down at the hand she still holds. "Is that okay?"

"Definitely not."

"I don't want to get you in trouble."

"Too late." Bella grins. "And I think you do."

Alice smells like bubblegum and mischief, Bella notes. "Only the good kind."

.

.

.

Rosalie glares at the hands on the clock, every second ticking by slower than the last. Two minutes she's been here, alone, staring at the clock while she waits for the only other person who has detention today. Who is, of course, late because why wouldn't she be?

Why wouldn't Bella get off more easily than Rosalie?

The door opens with a click, Bella slinking in with her backpack between her hands. The teacher looks up at the clock and back to Bella. "Running a bit late, Miss Swan?"

Rosalie watches with an annoyed growl in her chest as Bella ducks her head sheepishly, shoulders hunched up to look smaller than she is. "I couldn't find the room, miss. Sorry."

"This is your first detention, Bella, so I'll let it slide." Rosalie snorts and rolls her eyes. Of. Course. "Now please have a seat at Miss Hale's table."

Golden eyes snap open again quickly. "Literally any other table is free," she points out. She even turns in her chair to scan the empty classroom. "Thirteen options, right there."

"Sorry," Miss Wright stands from the desk, ushering Bella to Rosalie's table, "did you think this was merely a time out? You should know, Miss Hale, that's not how I teach. I'm much more interactive."

"Unfortunately."

The woman laughs softly and shakes her head. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that, as you're one of my favourite students. Now, let's get to the bottom of this conflict, hm? You two very clearly don't get along."

"How astute of you."

Miss Wright raises an eyebrow and holds her fingers an inch apart. "The ice, Rosalie? Really thin. Be careful." She looks at Bella, waiting for the wolf to drop down into the chair on the opposite side of Rosalie. "Why don't you tell me where the animosity stems from?"

"She's a Capulet, I'm a Montague," Bella informs her with a crook on her lips that could be a smile or a smirk. "We're destined to be enemies."

Miss Wright hums thoughtfully and watches the two girls. Rosalie scowls at the wall across the room while Bella flips between watching her hands on the table, and glancing up at the blonde every few seconds.

And suddenly a piece of the puzzle clicks in place.

"Were Romeo and Juliet enemies?"

Black eyes glare at her and Miss Wright staggers back a half step at the hostility in Rosalie's face. She finally sees what the rest of the school sees, and feels the very real fear everyone keeps talking about when dealing with Rosalie Hale.

A boot kicks at the vampire's chair until she blinks and looks down at Bella. The wolf has a rather serious look on her face and shakes her head, a warning against the aggression towards her favourite teacher.

Rosalie lifts her chin in the air. "I think that's rather inappropriate to insinuate."

"That's the great thing about insinuations, Miss Hale," Miss Wright says after she swallows the cold fear. "You drew your own conclusions and interpreted it how you did. Would you like to discuss the path your mind took?"

Jaw clenched, Rosalie looks away from the teacher and to Bella. The wolf lifts her shoulders in a shrug, an oblivious shrug that is frustratingly endearing and unhelpful. "My thoughts are my own."

"And you, Bella? Thoughts?"

"Not usually." It earns a snort that Rosalie is ashamed of but cannot stop. She glances at Bella to see the biggest puppy-dog look on her face that Rosalie's ever seen, and quickly looks away again. "I don't know, I guess I'm more of an ass than usual, when I'm around her."

"Why is that?"

Another shrug, surprise surprise.

Miss Wright sighs, more than a little disappointed at two of her very best students. Although she could have guessed, as they happened to be her two most stubborn students as well. "Okay, if you don't want to talk about why, let's discuss how we'll fix it instead."

"If she just leaves me alone, there will be no more issues from me," Rosalie says quickly.

Bella sticks out her tongue and Rosalie growls again, leaning forward in her chair threateningly. Bella points. "Aggressive! I don't feel safe."

"Bella," Miss Wright chastises. "Rosalie. You two really are more alike than you realize," she says and smiles. "I think you might get along better if you discovered more about each other."

"I disagree-"

"Five questions," she tells them and sets out a sheet of paper and pen for each girl. "I want five meaningful facts about the other and you guys can leave."

"Or," Bella says with an eyebrow wiggle. "Maybe we just wait out the detention hour."

"Maybe you were late and maybe you were mildly insulting, Rosalie, and maybe you both have detention again tomorrow after school."

An annoyance, to be sure, but Rosalie is fiercely curious when the smile falls from Bella's face along with the colour in her cheeks. "Yes, ma'am."

"Whatever," Rosalie scoffs for the second time that day.

Because she doesn't care.

Not because Bella's startled her and actually made her concerned. She's not concerned. Just curious. Only curious. And she doesn't care, so if it helps Bella, then whatever. It's not the worst thing to be nice sometimes.

Esme might even be proud.

Miss Wright hums happily and returns to her desk, leaving the two alone for the first time all day. For the first time ever, if Rosalie thinks about it. No intrusive siblings poking, poking, poking, and no ring of mortality to protect the wolf.

Rosalie looks down at her paper and across to Bella's, sighing at the doodling that's already happening. "Can you not sit still for two seconds?"

"Nope. Too much energy." Bella looks up and smiles again, but it's weak. "I don't sleep much anymore because of it."

"I don't sleep at all, you don't see me crying about it."

"Didn't you just?"

Rosalie snaps her jaw shut, glaring at the wolf and then the teacher. She takes a breath and looks back at Bella, jotting down her first answer. Bella doesn't sleep. "What's… god, what's your favourite colour?"

"Meaningful!" Miss Wright says loudly and goes back to her book.

Taking pity on the vampire, Bella leans forward and lowers her voice for a modicum of privacy. She taps Rosalie's paper. "I like white." She drums her fingertips on the table and looks around before meeting Rosalie's eye. "I got suspended for kissing Megan on the playground back in the seventh grade, in Phoenix. Her homophobic mother said I assaulted her daughter, and that was the end result. It's also how I came out. I thought my mom was gonna kill me. Or maybe disown me."

Rosalie blinks once, her face a stoic stone mask. Her mind whirls, heart clenching painfully for a young child penalized because of discrimination and senseless hate.

"She didn't," Bella says happily. "She took me to the museum instead, we spent the entire day surrounded by art. I like doodling, and she figured it would comfort me. Studying people's interpretation of life. She told me that, technically, white is all the colours. Something to do with the way it reflects light and junk. But it's kinda like a hidden rainbow, and… you know, that if I wanted to hide, that's okay, but if I didn't, that's okay, too. It was the day she told me that she doesn't care what colour I am, that she loves all of my colours."

The pen scratches the paper as Rosalie jots it down.

Bella's favourite colour is white.

The wolf barks out a laugh. "Okay. Basics are important, too. Just ignore my heartwarming story." She sits back and stares at the vampire, trying to pick a good question. All of the usual ones come to mind but that's too on the nose. "Does Emmett give you roses?"

"How is it any of your business what Emmett does or does not give me?" The reply is shot off quickly, reflex more than anything, but Rosalie's okay with it.

Fingertips drum on the top of the desk again, Bella's shoulders rising and falling in a shrug. "Roses aren't the right flower for you, is all. A little on the nose. I know the perfect flower he should give you!"

"Why does my brother need to give me flowers?"

Dark brows furrow on confusion. "Well none of you are actually related, yeah?" she asks quietly. Rosalie slowly nods while she tries to board the train of thought Bella's on. "And you're all dating each other?" Another nod, this one a little more hesitant as Rosalie's face sets into a hard mask giving nothing away. "So he's also your boyfriend."

"No…" Rosalie slowly shakes her head. "Emmett is Edward's boyfriend."

She watches as Bella's eyebrows jump again, sitting back in her chair. The wolf hums and nods while her mind very obviously reels. Rosalie can almost see the gears turning. "I didn't see that coming."

"If you thought Emmett and I were a couple, I hardly see how he and Edward being a couple is that much of a stretch. Much as I'm loathed to admit it, Edward and I are… more similar than not. If Emmett could be with me, he could just as easily be with Edward."

Bella blinks and jerks forward against the table. "Good for them, then."

Rosalie scoffs. "What a patronizing thing to say. Good for them."

"I feel like it's less patronizing from another queer."

Rosalie twitches at the name. "There's more history tied to that word than you could possibly understand."

"Probably," Bella agrees quietly. "But words are powerful things and I don't think that one should be left in anyone else's hands. It's ours and I'll wear it with pride, I'm not ashamed."

A ring of honey swirls back into the inky black depths of Rosalie's eyes. She's not sure she agrees, but she appreciates the thought behind it.

Bella taps at the desk with her fingers, staring down at them. "I won't say it, if it makes you uncomfortable."

"Why do you wear ties?" she asks abruptly and Bella suspects that's not the question she had in mind.

Still, the wolf relents because this is going much better than she expected. "What's the one thing that separates us from the beasts?"

"Logical reasoning."

She hums and sways a little in her seat. "Close. It's actually style. Style separates man from animal."

"That's very incorrect but go on."

Bella frames her hand under her tie, grin a tad on the wild side, but an oddly serious look in her eye. "Bowties are my humanity. Or at least how I hold onto it. Wolves don't wear ties," ink-stained fingers tug at the tie around her neck, "so I must be me and not the other one. For now."

Bella struggles with control.

"Oh, sure. Read into that one but not my deeply touching favourite colour." Bella stares at the unamused vampire for a few uncomfortable moments before shifting in the seat. She glances towards the front of the classroom and Miss Wright engrossed in her book. Golden eyes blink at her when she looks back at Rosalie. "If…" she clears her throat and circles the next number on her own list. "If you could explore space or the ocean, which would you choose?"

"The ocean isn't all it's cracked up to be," Rosalie tells her dismissively. "Fish, sand, and a whole lot of pressure."

"Are you telling me you've explored the ocean before?"

This time it's Rosalie's turn to shrug. "Never to the very bottom, but there's something comforting about sitting in the middle of the ocean with nothing but water for miles in every direction."

"So," Bella drawls and squints at the vampire. "What you're saying is that you'd rather further your understanding of something you already know, to discover the depths and intricacies of it… than explore something new. For example. You would know your own self completely before knowing someone else."

The gold is gone, onyx pits glaring at Bella once more. "If you want to bullshit your way through this ridiculous practice, be my guest."

Bella isn't good at talking to people.

The wolf's eyes widen, a grin stretching across her face even as her jaw falls open. She slams a finger down to the last fact, staring up at Rosalie and shaking her head. "As if! You're bad at talking to people! I - You don't even talk! How, okay, first of all. That's not. I am charming and. Fuck you, Hale."

"Congratulations. Those were almost full sentences." Rosalie's face is stoic, a neutral mask of nothing while she traces over her answers. And yet… Bella can feel the humour. She knows that if those eyes met hers, she would see amusement.

Bella falls back in her chair, palms against the table. She taps one of her fingers four times and nods. "Okay, fine. I'm-I could say things… more gracefully."

"Eloquently," Rosalie corrects.

And Bella just snorts. "Some of us actually have to work to be half as lovely as you, Hale."

The plastic of the pen cracks in stone fingers. Rosalie glares at the paper. "I'm done."

"But that was only four-"

Bella is stupidly kind and even more naive.

The words are carved into the page before it's snatched up and slapped onto Miss Wright's desk. The teacher says nothing as Rosalie storms out.

Bella sits at the table for a moment, trying to figure out just how she offended the vampire. Slowly, she gets to her feet and shuffles over to the desk, holding out her paper. Miss Wright reads over each fact and her face softens in a way that makes Bella blush and scratch the back of her neck. "Bella," she sighs and hesitates. "Have you ever heard the saying a gentle heart hurts the most?"

Dark eyes stare down at the human. "Only fools listen to their hearts anyway." Bella smiles, albeit strangely. Humour tinged with sorrow. "I may be an ass but I'm no fool."

.

.

.

It was the most they had ever said to each other and it had been all in one day. After that, both parties kind of expected more interaction, maybe greetings and farewells. Something. But, as it turns out, all things will regress to the norm unless conscious effort is put forth. And conscious effort is not something either girl is capable of yet.

So they don't speak.

There are silent meetings of their eyes, an awkward hesitation around each other, but nothing has really changed. Well. Mostly nothing. Rosalie is annoyed to see that Bella and Alice have become closer through it all. The pixie had spent the entire night giggling and smiling at her phone, gushing about how funny Bella is, how charming she is, how clever she is. Blah, Blah, blah.

By the time morning rolls around, Rosalie is ready to crush the phone in her hand.

Instead, she's forced to listen to her sister coo and press her face against the windshield when they spot Bella. Or, more specifically, when they spot Bella in Rosalie's parking space. It says something that she's never noticed Bella rides a dirt bike to school.

(It says something else that her chest flutters when she watches Bella pull off her helmet and shake her wild hair loose.)

"How can you stay mad at her? Have you ever seen a cuter puppy?" Alice asks excitedly.

Rosalie sighs and sinks back in her seat. "I thought denim coats were allowed to die in the 90's like they deserve?"

"Unless they're black denim and accompanied by a pastel bowtie."

"Why is she in my space?"

"Perhaps because you refuse to acknowledge her unless she is actively pushing your buttons?" Edward ventures thoughtfully. His face slams into the back of Rosalie's headrest when she taps the breaks. "You deserve each other," he grumbles and fixes his hair.

Emmett leans down to press a kiss to Edward's cheek before he's between the seats up front. "When do the rest of us get to play with her?"

"Have you forgotten who she is?" Rosalie asks the rest of the car. The others' cheer fades and she glares out the window at Bella. "She's one of Sam's Shifters. She was at the treaty re-establishment, snarling like all the others."

"Bella wouldn't!" Alice tries.

Rosalie doesn't even blink. "Ask her." She's opening the door before the others can react, shoes on the pavement and wind blowing pale blonde locks. "Dog."

"Ouch. Hi."

The wolf looks at the others with confusion, Alice's anxious face. But Rosalie blocks her view. "Were you at the border? When we returned, the first night. With aggression and hatred in your eyes."

Bella's eyebrows slowly pinch together and it's the first time anything other than jovial energy has been directed at them. Gone is the wide grin, and in its wake, a shadow is born. The fluttering in Rosalie's chest drops into a lead ball of regret and she's startled to realize she can't breathe. "I didn't have a choice," Bella tells them in a flat voice.

And since when has Rosalie ever been able to let things go? To just leave her mess alone? Even as Alice clutches at her arm and silently pleads with her to drop it. "Yes, because having a mind of your own is so difficult when prejudism is so much easier."

"You very clearly don't know what you're talking about," Bella snarls. Actually, literally snarls. Her hands tremble and everyone looks down at them, Edward and Jasper in alarm. Bella clenches them into fists to make them stop and staggers back a few steps. "Forget it," she breathes in a shaky voice.

Alice jolts forward when the wolf turns away. "No, wait! Bella, please."

"I'm not-" Bella whirls around and her heart breaks when they all flinch, when her passion is mistaken for aggression. She watches them relax, one by one, until they're all as loose as Alice is. "I'm not going to hurt you," she says in a small voice. "Who's prejudice now?"

Rosalie blinks. "I know what I saw at the border. On your own, you're a puppy, but the second the others are around, you're Kujo."

"You don't know me," Bella tells her earnestly. "You saw what you saw, but you still don't know."

"I know that you're dangerous to my family and just because you wear a bowtie doesn't change that."

"What an excuse!"

"Excuse or not, it's true."

Bella squeezes her fists tighter, Rosalie officially breaching her bubble. Daring her, challenging her maybe. "I'm not like him," she grounds out between her teeth.

"You're a wolf."

"And you're an asshole!"

A silence falls after the outburst once again, Rosalie is surprised. She expected leech, vampire, even bitch. Something equally as offensive as she is being.

Perhaps Bella is wrong. Perhaps her control is better than she thinks.

Rosalie scoffs and turns away. "What else is new."

A warm hand clamps around her wrist and - okay, she immediately knows she's overreacting. The grip is strong but gentle, much like Bella herself. It's (again) unexpected more than anything, and she suspects that's why she lashes out. People don't reach out to her. Strangers don't keep trying. She's rude and people run until she's calm again. They're afraid of her.

(Or her anger, in her family's case.)

Only ever afraid of her.

Is this how Bella feels too?

That black coat is bunched up in Rosalie's fist, Bella shoved up against the fence at the head of the parking space. Black eyes burn her, right down to the bone, Rosalie's silent snarl fearsome. "Just let it go," let me go, "it's done. Vampires and Shifters don't mix. It doesn't make sense."

Alice visibly deflates behind Rosalie but none of them say anything.

Bella looks back to Rosalie, away from the silent siblings. The anger. The anger. Her fingers are still wrapped around an impossibly pale, marble wrist. Her free hand grabs the lapel of Rosalie's coat, holding her close. "Since when does life ever make sense?"

And Bella smells wild. Like nature and the mountains. Rich earth from deep in the forest, but the clear sharp scent of the ocean, too. She smells like a place Rosalie could get lost in. So she pushes her away instead. Yanks herself free and takes large steps back. "Leave my family alone."

Leave me alone.

"I did."

I can't.

Their staredown is broken when Alice shoulders around her sister to grab Bella's hand. She glares defiantly up at Rosalie. "I can decide who is and isn't too dangerous to be in my life. Bella is my friend. I don't want her to leave me alone."

Rosalie refuses to blink, to close her stormy eyes even for a moment. "Fine." She looks around at the others, Emmett lowering his gaze and ready to follow her lead, Edward conflicted, Jasper torn between agreeing with her and supporting his wife. "Don't come crying to me when-"

"What?" Alice snaps. Her hand is on her hip, eyebrow climbing up her forehead with more sass than anyone was expecting. "When what?"

It helps. It does. The frustration and melancholy that had weighed down her shoulders is gone, and a tentative smile slides onto Bella's face. The wolf ducks her head bashfully, squeezing Alice's hand. "Thank you," she whispers.

Alice leans against her warm wall and looks up at her. Maybe there's a moment, or potential for one, at least, but it's quashed before it has a chance to develop. Rosalie turns on her heel and is gone, cutting through the parking lot like a warrior-goddess of Fury. Students part like the Red Sea.

There's no time to even try to go over everything that happened.

"It's because I know you a little better now, isn't it?"

"For the love of God," Rosalie growls. She glares sideways at Bella, annoyed that the wolf is tall enough to match her long strides. "You have my sister, what more do you want?"

"Anything you're willing to give me."

"Leave." Though she doesn't keep poking, she doesn't leave either, and the vampire can hear the students beginning to notice. Rosalie Hale and Bella Swan walking to class together. Bella even gets the door for her. "That's quite the switch. All is forgiven so soon?" she mocks and ducks into the building.

Bella sighs but her smile is strong. "I try not to let my anger control me."

"And how is that going for you?"

"Not great, but it could be worse."

"How many times do I have to say that I actually don't care? How offensive do I have to be for you to take a hint?"

Bella snaps her fingers. "I knew it!"

"You don't know anything."

The wolf leans back against the lockers while Rosalie goes through her own, nodding to a few students who dare murmur a nervous hey, Bella around the vampire. "You're mean when you want people to back off, when they get too close, or you feel vulnerable."

"No, I'm not." The locker door swings to the side enough for Rosalie to give Bella a gruff, curious look. "Aren't you?"

A shake of the head and a shrug. "Nope, I'm a phantom. I drop off the face of the earth when I'm upset with people. I figure it spares them, especially with this new… explosive reaction."

"Does it?"

Dark eyes stare up into the fluorescent light and Rosalie marvels at the amber rings. Bella puffs out a breath. "Not sure. Sometimes people want a confrontation, you know? It might be bad, but you're there, so you must care." She shrugs again, but it's… different. Like she's trying to shrug off a memory. "I've been accused of not caring enough many, many times in life. It's not true."

"I can see that." Rosalie makes a point of closing her locker and staring at Bella, who is very much there. "Feel free to ghost away anytime now."

"Would you miss me?" The smile is charming and Rosalie's gut does something… weird.

(As much as the moon misses the sun at night.)

"Not even slightly. You're not good at the hint game."

"Or am I excellent at the unspoken version?"

"Leave. Begone. Retire. Cease and desist. I cannot possibly make it any more clear than that. I don't want you in my life."

A heartbeat passes. "Is that true?"

"Yes!" Rosalie exclaims with sheer exhaustion.

Bella watches her and it's a tense moment they have. The vampire can feel how stiff and taut her body is, knows that her entire being is pulsing with regret. But she can't make her lips move, the words won't come out. So Bella nods and shoves her hands into her pockets. "That's all I'll ever be to you. Just another wolf." She nods again, one last time, and Rosalie's fingers twitch. "Goodbye, Hale."

And the rest of Forks is oblivious as a vampire shatters in the middle of the hall while a wolf walks away.

Chapter Text

As it turns out, Bella is very good at keeping her word. There is absolutely no interaction between her and Rosalie for the next three weeks. She and Alice still text but the pixie refuses to share any details with Rosalie, very clearly upset. Claiming she's the reason Bella won't hangout with Alice in person. Even Edward is tight-lipped as he sends her sympathetic and knowing looks, Jasper much the same. She almost can't stand to be in the same room as the two of them.

And Rosalie is happy. Mostly. Her life is what it was, how it's always been, and it's comfortable. She's used to it, and it works. Bella is a chaotic unknown and dangerous… but maybe more dangerous to Rosalie than anyone else. She's not oblivious, denial is weakness and Rosalie isn't weak. She likes Bella, likes her stupid smile and charming laugh more than she should. But liking her doesn't change facts. Doesn't change the fact that she's a Shifter and Rosalie is a vampire. Doesn't change the fact that Bella might not even like her, or if she does, always will. Shifters have that annoying Imprint thing and there's just no way Rosalie is Bella's. Her genetics (that reject the vampire so violently that they make people explode into wolves) wouldn't allow it.

So say everything unrealistically works out in her favour and she falls in love. Bella turns out to be her mate. What's to stop Bella from Imprinting? And leaving Rosalie ruined. Cold and alone, dying in an empty street.

Again.

This is for the best. It is. Sure, it hurts. Sure, she spent seventy-three hours face down in bed. Sure, she can barely stand to look at Bella, to watch the wolf just… exist without her. Like Rosalie had never been born. "I wanted her out of my life and she is."

Rhoda clutches her chest at the other end of the table in the middle of math class. The first and only words she's ever heard Rosalie say. "That's your voice?" she rasps out. "How are you real?!"

The vampire curls her lip and says nothing else.

They get back to work but eventually, Rhoda's heart calms down and her curiosity grows. Forks can be… oblivious, but nobody's ever accused that of Rhoda. She's a clever girl, mostly because she's observant. Much can be learned if only you stop to watch and listen. And she does.

So she noticed all these months that Rosalie and Bella liked to play with each other, even if they called it something else. And she's noticed they no longer do it. She's noticed how sullen the two have become and while she's pretty sure neither girl is human, she's also noticed that they're genuinely good people. Ones that deserve better than their stubborn natures will allow.

"I'm sure she would come back into it if you just asked," she suggests quietly.

The vampire blinks down at the equation on her page, pen freezing on the paper. She can hear the human's heart-rate spike again. "Correct me if I'm wrong," she turns to catch a set of grey eyes, "but I didn't ask for your opinion."

Rhoda nods and is fully prepared to let it go. There's a chill crawling up her neck, a voice whispering at her to run away and never, ever stop. But then she remembers that Bella's smile hasn't reached her eyes in weeks, that Rosalie is far more volatile as of late.

(She impaled Jason's pen in his textbook on Monday when it rolled onto her desk, stunning the entire room into silence while ink dripped down her hand.)

"Some people electrify life," she whispers to her papers. Rosalie remains stoic, apparently more patient today than Monday. "And those of us that aren't used to electricity might think it's a bad thing. Who wouldn't, right? And maybe it'll hurt, it'll sting in the end...but before that? Dancing lights and beautiful chaos." Rhoda taps her pencil against the table and looks up at Rosalie. "The dark may be safe but that doesn't mean it's not killing you. Don't you want a little light before you go?"

Again, there's more evidence to support Rhoda's 'The Cullens Aren't Human' theory as Rosalie just sits and stares at her. Without blinking, without breathing, without motion. Just a beautiful, angry statue. The human chuckles anxiously. "Who are you?" Rosalie finally asks.

Genuinely.

"Rhoda!" she's quick to introduce herself. "Sorry, hi. I didn't mean to intrude, but I thought it must be… something if you said it out loud."

"And just how well do you know Bella?"

The human hums, resting her chin in her palm. Rosalie isn't stabbing things, so it's a good sign so far. "We've been neighbours all our lives, except for the three years she spent in Phoenix, and she lets me hide out at her house when my stepfather…" she falters and coughs, shaking her head. "When I'm bored. I don't know, we just kinda get each other."

"So is this advice for my benefit or hers?" Rosalie asks. Her poker face is phenomenal, and Rhoda's not sure what she wants to hear.

She shrugs. "Mine? I gotta believe someone like me has a shot at, well, more than this. And if you two can't, what hope do I have?"

"A shot at what?" This question is decidedly more hostile than the last.

"Oh, but I know a trap when I see one," Rhoda laughs nervously. "Budding friendship?"

Rosalie studies the human with mild interest. The buzzed undercut, thick, wild curls pulled back into a tie, her dark skin that Rosalie couldn't begin to guess at her ethnicity. She's one of exactly seven punks in all of Forks, including Bella, and Rosalie finally remembers her. The outcast Edward is always frowning at. Rosalie is convinced he's talking himself out of bringing her home like a little stray half the time. God knows Esme would be on board.

When my stepfather…

Golden eyes flick down to the scrapes and bruises that cover Rhoda's knuckles. The very circular scars on her arm. The bags under her eyes that take nothing away from righteous, indignant fire.

An agonizing stereotype.

Rosalie traces over her latest answer with her pen. "Your glasses have no lenses."

"Well damn, no wonder I can't see the chalkboard."

There's nothing more after that and Rosalie is too stubborn to put forth an actual question. If the human wanted to talk, she'd talk. Which meant she doesn't, because she isn't. So… good. There's no need to feel concern for the mortal, no need to feel - anything.

Her jaw sets and she has to suppress a growl.

"You're doing that wrong."

Rhoda blinks and looks up at the vampire curiously. "Huh?"

"Huh is a noise, not a question," she tells the girl firmly. "I said that you're doing that wrong, you're going to get the wrong answer."

"Oh," Rhoda stares down at her paper and scribbles a little more before turning it to face Rosalie, "nuh uh."

Rosalie stares at her and battles against the regret of ever showing up to this damn class in the first place. "You children are incapable of speech." She sighs and looks to the paper, pointing at… Rosalie's head tilts. "That's not supposed to work. That. You. Huh."

"Who's incapable of speech now?"

"Shut up. Do it again, for this one." Rosalie points to the next question and watches as Rhoda goes through her weird steps. And comes up with the correct answer, a more precise answer. Golden eyes search the table for a calculator. "Why are you in this class?"

"Why are you?"

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the conversation is over. Especially when Rosalie gets up in the middle of the lesson and leaves the classroom.

And yet, it's not at all shocking.

.

.

.

Rosalie isn't starved for affection. She's not. She just… craves Bella's attention, apparently. So what. That could mean anything. Maybe she just needs a new friend. Which is exactly why she's been more civil to Rhoda. To see if new friendship quenches this craving. An experiment, if you will, for scientific curiosity. Not because she has an issue with the way Jessica Stanley touches Bella. That would mean she's jealous and Rosalie doesn't do jealous.

But Jessica touches her a lot and maybe Rosalie wants to put her fist through the human's chest and show the girl her own heart.

The vampire groans and lets her hands drop to her sides, glaring up at the converter in Carlisle's car. The garage is one of her few safe havens and if she's under a car, Alice can't see her face when she tells the pixie she just doesn't care what Bella did that day.

Turns out, she really, really does care.

Life is cruel. This is a lesson she's learnt a thousand times over and it never gets old. The universe constantly comes up with new and exciting ways to deliver devastating blows. And yet, she wasn't prepared for this one, wasn't prepared for the temptation that is Bella Swan.

The warmth of her skin against Rosalie's. The playful air around her that wakes something up in Rosalie. The kindness in those dark eyes and-

Rosalie pinches the line closed too late, oil soaking her face and coveralls.

Resisting Bella is a lot like resisting the sunrise, and she can't believe she's the moron that actually thinks they can resist a damn sunrise.

An oil rag is being held out when she rolls out from under the car and Rosalie takes it grudgingly. Edward is never this generous unless he wants something in return, so she's rightfully wary.

He smiles and ducks his head. "Only conversation, dear sister."

"Pass."

"Do you not think you should talk to someone about this?" he asks, perched atop the hood. "Who better than someone who already knows?"

She scoffs and begins collecting her tools, refusing to acknowledge his point. "Literally anyone else in the world. I hate you."

"I love you," he replies seamlessly. Not for the first time, she wonders if he would be so smug if he couldn't read minds, and his snort is all the answer she needs. Edward sighs and picks nonexistent lint off his knee, smoothing out his pants. "Are we still playing the denial game or have we matured enough for a conversation?"

"Does your arrogance truly know no bounds?" she fires back.

"Does yours?"

Rosalie tosses the rag at his face, her fury growing when he simply leans to the side to dodge it. "When I want your opinion, I'll ask for it."

He frowns and leans forward. "But by then it could be too late."

The garage is painfully silent and she's tempted to run a few engines, just for the noise. Rosalie blinks and stares down at the socket wrench in her hands, feels its weight. "I'm not playing your game, Edward."

"Why must you fight me on everything?" he groans dramatically. "Is it because I wouldn't have you? Or because Emmett is my mate?"

His next words are caught in his throat, pinned to Esme's rover by his shoulder, hard enough to crack her window. "Consider option number three," Rosalie growls with black eyes ablaze. "You are a spoiled, intolerable brat who cannot even conceive not getting his way."

"Or is it your aversion to mirrors?" he whispers defiantly. Rosalie yanks him forward but he holds up a finger quickly. "Uh-uh! Think of Esme!"

Rosalie drops him like she's been scalded. He waits a few tense moments until he's certain she won't hit him, before he straightens out his clothes. Rosalie glares at him. "You're a child."

"And you're a barbarian," he mutters darkly.

Utilizing all of her patience, Rosalie turns away from him and goes back to Carlisle's car. It's sleek and shiny, she can see her reflection in it, and she wants to put her fist through it. God. She hates when Edward is right. "I would laugh if it didn't ache so badly," she tells him.

"It is breathtakingly brutal," he agrees in a sort of awed way. "I'm sorry if I've made it worse. I really do want to help."

Though Edward is an arrogant ass, he does usually have the best intentions. And she knows he only clashes with her. That if she had the patience of the rest of the family, they wouldn't fight half as much as they do. Of course, the rest of the family isn't half as private as Rosalie, so the whole point is moot.

She sighs, already exhausted by a conversation that hasn't even happened yet. "I have… affection for the mutt."

Edward whistles. "A little hard with the judgement."

"You're one to talk."

He considers this and relents, only a little. "True, however, I judge people based on the opinions they think no one else can hear. Their most very true selves. The people I judge deserve it."

"And you're saying she doesn't."

"I'm saying I don't know if she does, so I won't and neither should you." Edward watches Rosalie make herself look busy by putting away her tools. "Rosalie, you know my reservations about being a vampire, and I know yours. I'm not sure either of us will ever be comfortable like this. But I am thankful every time I look at Emmett, and they balance each other out. For the most part."

She scoffs again, crossing her arms and rounding on her brother. "So you're saying if I have a girlfriend I'll be happy?"

"I'm saying… you were noticeably less miserable with Bella in your life." He smiles, more patient and less arrogant. "Let's talk about that."

God, why does he always want to talk? Who died and made him coven leader? "Why are you such a brat?"

"Ah," the smile grows, "but that's not what you really want to ask, is it?" The toolbox warps in her hand. "Such pride! It's kept you from the answer for seven decades, but now it's relevant, hm?"

"Enough, Edward, I'm done-"

"You were meant for me so why didn't I pick you?"

Whatever patience Rosalie had is gone. Her eyes harden and Edward falters. "Let's instead talk about the sick mindset of here, I saved this girl only for you to claim. I was never 'for you', Edward."

"I-yes," he agrees quickly, bronze hair bouncing with his head. "I hadn't meant, no. Okay. It was a different time and Carlisle was just trying - no, yes, I agree, no excuse. He didn't intend - can I just say one thing?!" he debates with her thoughts. "I'm making a point. You thought that I turned up my nose because there was something wrong with you. That you were fundamentally unlovable. After everything you'd been through, that kind of thinking was understandable, but you never let me correct it. That was never the reason. Rosalie, you were never for me. Even back then, I knew it. I am… sad, and you are angry. Those don't pair well. We both need a smile to love."

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when she hears smile is Bella's. A flash of white teeth, dark eyes crinkling. Charming and genuinely happy and Rosalie feels that flutter. Like a bird is loose in her chest, like the ground beneath her feet is actually clouds she could fall through at any moment.

Realization crashes over her like a cold wave on a hot day.

The science behind Vampire Mates is… iffy at best. Quite similar to the human soulmate concept, if you ask Emmett, Carlisle, or Alice. More like traditional wolves, if you ask the others. Nobody can agree if the mate is predetermined or not, but they all know firsthand that a vampire may only love once, and for the rest of their life (whether they choose the person or not).

Rosalie isn't sure when it happened. If she chose it or if Fate did. The only thing she does know, grudgingly, is that she will always and only ever love Bella Swan.

Edward is there, hovering outside her bubble. Close, but never daring to touch. He has an anxious frown on his face. "You have a choice to make here, Rosalie, and I don't usually trust people enough to make it themselves. I love our family but they're blinded by sentiment and their pure hearts. I know you, Rosalie. I know whatever you choose, the decision won't be made lightly."

Later on, she'll regret those thirty seconds it took to make her choice, but in the moment she's breathless and uncertain.

But Edward steps aside, letting her pass through the door. "So be it," she hears him mutter after her.

.

.

.

It's not like she planned on intruding, but Bella wasn't home when she knocked, and if she left she might never come back. Her only option was to wait. However, she was not waiting on the girl's step like some teen drama, so she… entered. She's fairly certain Bella would have invited her in anyway. And it's not like she looked around. Rosalie found a chair and dragged it to the corner of Bella's bedroom, and sat down.

She can't help it if Bella is very bad at being a wolf and doesn't notice Rosalie when she comes shuffling in. A chaotic mess of energy, her shirt is yanked off and messy curls obstruct her face. Rosalie's fingers dig into the arms of the chair and she thanks the stars that Bella wears tank tops underneath her shirts. Of course, now all her tattoos and defined arms are on display and - the bloody shirt lands in her hamper, black eyes glued to it.

Blood.

It's then that Bella notices her, towel held to her nose, one blue converse kicked off her foot. In the grace department, Rosalie is by no means near Alice's level (frankly, she's certain there's no other soul out there who is), but her confidence gives her a modicum of grace. Her assuredness comes off as elegance.

Bella is a very literal disaster. She's the bull-in-china-shop and Rosalie cannot believe how charming she finds it.

So she simply tames the smile she can feel creeping up and inclines her head in greeting. Bella's posture relaxes as she huffs. "Breaking and entering? Really?"

"What can I say, I'm an old romantic." Rosalie waits for… courage, maybe. Something. Bella just watches. "I didn't break anything so technically it's just 'entering', and I wish to speak with you."

The wolf chuckles but it's dry and she kicks off her other shoe. Rosalie takes it as a good sign, that Bella's comfortable enough around her to go about her business. "I thought you didn't want me in your life?"

"I have a habit of lashing out at people who don't deserve it."

Bella scoffs and dabs at her face with the towel. "And I'm supposed to forgive you?"

"No," Rosalie answers truthfully. Dark eyes glance at her. "The others do anyway. I was hoping you might."

Rosalie has never envied Edward's gift until now. Watching Bella study her, wiping at her face. "Give me a reason to."

But the conversation is forgotten when golden eyes spot the dark bruising around Bella's nose. Her broken nose. Rosalie is out of the chair in a flash, cool stone fingers ghosting over the throbbing heat of Bella's face. "You're hurt."

The words are low and dangerous, almost impossible to force out.

"Not for long," Bella marvels, past the thundering beat of her heart.

She's never been this close. To a wolf, to this wolf, to another person. Not like this. Willingly, because she wants to. Intimately. Bella is surprisingly receptive despite her initial gruffness. Eyes wide, tracing over Rosalie's features with surprise but also something softer. One hand holds the towel while the other hovers over Rosalie's wrist close enough to feel the heat. Like she was going to stop the vampire from touching her but decided against it.

Neither girl says anything. They just orbit each other closely, waiting for the other's next move, and Rosalie refuses. This is a moment she's never experienced before, not even when she was human.

(Royce was never tender.)

Something new after seventy years of repetition.

And she wants more.

But she doesn't know how, she's never been in this position before, she doesn't know if Bella's been in this position before. She doesn't know Bella.

It's a startling realization. Ever since the wolf walked into her life, or she walked into Bella's, things have been too chaotic to stop and take account of it all. She spent so long trying to run from how she felt, there wasn't time for anything else. Like analyzing her actual feelings. Like getting to know Bella.

How can she have feelings for someone she doesn't know? How can she be here, trying… something new, when she doesn't know Bella? How can they ever have anything if they don't know each other?

She wants Bella. That much she knows. In any capacity she can get.

But there's a right way to do it and a wrong way.

And she suspects Bella is worth doing things the right way.

So she swallows down the venom that pools in her mouth, lets out a shaky breath, and steps back.

Breaks the spell.

Bella blinks a few times, jump-starting into motion, and clears her throat. She reaches up to adjust glasses that aren't there (Rosalie spots an old pair on the dresser that haven't been touched in a long time. Probably since Bella first Shifted), and instead runs a hand through her hair. "Wiped out on my bike, smashed my nose on the pavement," she says with an embarrassed chuckle.

Rosalie recognizes a lie when she hears one though, and she's… well, not an idiot. "You wear a helmet."

Tacky; neon green with dinosaur spikes down the middle. But very practical and safe.

"Skipped it this time." Bella shrugs.

And she wants to stop. Wants to let it go, to give Bella her lie and talk, maybe. Start the process. But, god, she can't because- "There's no broken skin, the pavement would have chewed up your face."

"I don't know what to tell you," Bella says with a smile that's equally charming and disarming. She waves the towel around a little. "Plenty of blood, guess it healed already. The break will take longer."

Rosalie appreciates a good lie - she has to, living her life, her family's life. It's one giant lie, and so when other people do it, she has to entertain the thought that they might have a valid reason. Bella doesn't seem the type to lie just for the hell of it, so Rosalie relents and walks back to her corner of the room.

A habit they've all picked up over the years, giving humans as much space as possible. As beautiful as they are, they still make mortals uneasy.

The distance is instinct by this point, and maybe a little heartbreaking if she was more poetic than she is.

"Why are you friends with Alice?" she asks quietly and leans against the windowsill, turning back to face Bella.

The Shifter that should hate her, hate them all, once upon a time might have. A wolf that could be snapping and snarling at Rosalie right now and she wouldn't be surprised, but is instead watching her intently.

Bella also steps back, half sitting and half leaning against her dresser. "She's funny and sweet and genuine."

"She's a vampire."

"I actually did notice that, yeah."

Golden eyes roll to the ceiling. "You're a Shifter."

"And you're super good at pointing things out."

Rosalie works her jaw a few times and rephrases. "Is it not forbidden or something, by dumb dog law?"

"This is a conversation and not a verbal duel, right? I'm pretty tired for duelling." Bella grins and shakes her head, staring down at her shoes on the floor between them. "It's a big no-no, yeah."

"So why do it?"

She shrugs again. "Last I checked, this was my life."

"Do you not get in trouble?"

And Edward's words come rushing back. We both need a smile to love.

Bella's is wild, almost feral, a visual dare painted across her face, with eyes that blaze in defiance and mischief. Rosalie has never seen a soul before, and she doubts she'll ever see one again, certainly not one that burns like Isabella Swan. "I walk in the shadow of trouble, Miss Hale. They can't give me anything I won't give back tenfold."

Pale fingers brush against Rosalie's shirt, the fluttering stealing her breath away.

"Good," Rosalie says softly in the night. A wind blows in from the window behind her, carrying a few loose curls of her hair, and Bella melts a little into her dresser. Something clicks. "You don't smell like the other wolves."

"You smell like sunshine and moonlight tonight," Bella blurts out. There might even be a blush under the bruising. Her eyes dance back down to the shoes between them."Yeah, I don't know. Sam noticed, he doesn't like it. But I've only got the one Quileute relative a few generations back. I was never meant to be a wolf."

"Do you regret it?"

"Do you regret being a vampire?"

Rosalie falters, crosses her arms over her chest and forces herself not to glare at the wall. "Usually."

"I've got bigger regrets," Bella shrugs again, "being a wolf isn't the worst." Her pocket vibrates and lights up, making both girls jump, and Bella fishes it out. She laughs but it's short and sharp. "Speak of the devil. Sorry, just one second." She taps the screen and holds it to her ear. "Fuck off, Paul!"

The phone is tossed onto the bed after she hangs up and Rosalie's not really sure what to do with all of… that.

"So," Bella says after an uncomfortable second, rubbing her hands together, "what did you want to speak to me about?"

Rosalie blinks. "My apology."

"You never actually apologized."

The room is quiet and Rosalie wonders where Chief Swan is. Bella's smile starts to grow and Rosalie frowns. "It was implied."

"Come on, what would your mother say? That's very nearly rude," Bella laughs. She swoops forward to approach the vampire, leaning against her bedside table. Rosalie watches her closely, little alarms going off inside. Alarms she would strangle if she could, alarms that make her feel like a foolish child with a crush. "I'll even make it easier. I promise to forgive you."

The gall. The audacity. The smugness. The cheeky smile on her face that makes Rosalie's lips twitch.

How infuriating.

"Over my cold, dead body."

She doesn't get the reaction she expects. Bella lights up and that dare is back, and Rosalie is thankful she doesn't actually need to breathe. "Deal!" Bella declares and in one motion tackles the vampire to the floor of her bedroom.

Weight and warmth settle over her like a blanket, Bella's wild scent invading all of Rosalie's senses and making her delirious. Dark hair tickles the sides of her face and she's swimming in delirium, desire, and instinct. She's not sure if she's about to kiss the wolf or bite her. But Bella's eyes appear, the yellow flecks glowing in the night.

"I'm over your cold, dead body. Where's my apology?"

"I'm sorry," Rosalie breathes, cold hands splayed over Bella's strong back.

They stare at each other, watching again. Bella's gaze lingering on each feature of the vampire's face, heart pounding like a hammer in her chest. This isn't even on the list of things Rosalie expected to happen tonight, never mind the bottom. It's going… better than well, actually, and she expects the other shoe to drop any moment.

But Bella keeps watching her in the moonlight that spills through the open window. Hands on either side of Rosalie's head, content in her eyes, and a smile on her face. "I forgive you."

There are things Rosalie wants to say. Things she wants to do. Many things, actually, and her head is swirling, she's getting dizzy trying to decide which to choose first.

But there's no time.

Because Life is cruel.

And yet she is still surprised.

The bedroom door swings open and there's a heartbeat, old but strong, that Rosalie simply cannot believe she didn't hear until now. How it made its way all through the house, up the creaky stairs, and into the room without her knowing… what is Bella doing to her?

Charlie shuffles through the mail in his hands. "Renee sent a birthday card, the second one, apparently. But I dunno, bud, I don't remember seeing the first, I suspect foul play. Did ya get it alr-oooooh. Shit. Shoot, I mean! Ah." The mail is held up in front of his ever blushing face. "I didn't see nothin'! Sorry, kiddo."

Bella stares up at her father with a wicked grin. "Heyo, pops. This is Hale. Hale, this is Papa Swan, Destroyer of Fish Fry."

"Shush!" Charlie hops forward and waves the mail at his kid. "I'm Chief Swan," he says with a pointed look. And then actually looks at the girl beneath his daughter. "Uh, or Charlie. Bells! You got a Cullen under ya!"

"No!" Bella gasps in faux surprise.

It's now that Rosalie finally scrounges up her dignity. She shoves Bella off off her, only partially enjoying the shocked yelp the wolf lets out. She jolts to her feet and straightens her clothes, watching Charlie and trying not to scowl. "I was just leaving. Chief."

"Sounds about right," Bella mutters from the floor as she watches the vampire leave. Charlie's eyebrows twitch up and Bella shrugs. "I don't even know, man. I have no answers."

And that sounds about right so Charlie just nods.

Chapter Text

She finds him on his break at the hospital. Which means, she wanders over to the hospital on the weekend when Bella heads down to the Res, and Rosalie has nothing better to do. Nothing better, and a few questions. Carlisle isn't one for taking breaks, so when Rosalie shows up she has to drag him from his office.

And because Edward is very much his son and had to learn his dramatic ways somewhere, Carlisle goes through the motions of grabbing a disgusting cup of coffee to complain about with the nurses before they go.

He's blowing on the dark liquid, eyes bright and eyebrows wiggling just over the cup at Rosalie. "They think I'm drinking this!" he whispers excitedly.

Rosalie sighs and leads them towards the stairwell. "I need to talk to you about the wolves."

"Is there a problem?" He sets the cup of coffee down on the thick railing of the stairs to put his hands on his hips.

Ready to kick ass, maybe? If it were anyone else doing the power move but Carlisle?

She waves the thought off. "No more than usual. I merely have some questions I hope you might have answers to."

"If I have them, they're yours, Rosalie. You need but ask."

That's one of the things she loves most about Carlisle. His generous soul that gives so freely without a second thought, without conditions, without question. Sometimes she wishes she was a little more like him, that life hadn't carved her into the sharp, violent person that she is. Or that she had the fortitude to remain soft even after her hardships.

The world is still worth being soft to.

But wishing doesn't change things, doesn't change who she is, and the family needs it. Needs her, as she is. Because they're all like Carlisle. Soft and caring and giving. And the world is all too ready to take, take, take. Greed courses through the veins of humanity and someone has to protect those who don't even think of the need to protect themselves.

So she merely blinks at his kindness, just barely managing to curb the instinct to sneer at him, to attack his vulnerability in hopes that maybe next time he won't give it so freely. "What can you tell me about them? In general."

"Not as much as I'd like, I'm afraid." Carlisle frowns and slides his hands into his pockets. "A lot of it is legend, rules that cannot be applied today. Supposedly, their ability to Shift is old magic. Tracing back to one of their original Chiefs. A vampire attacked his tribe and his love for his people mixed so perfectly with his rage against the Cold One that he very literally exploded into a wolf to tear it apart.

"There are rumours I've heard through other covens that they've come across other tribes that Shift into different animals. The conversations I had with Chief Black the last time we were here support that. My thinking is that the wolf is a variable, and their ability lies solely in the shapeshifting. Besides this, the general things you should be aware of are the dangerous aspects they carry. A single wolf alone isn't quite a match for a vampire, but more than one is lethal. This is why they hunt in groups or the full pack.

"Rage triggers the Shift, and in this case, the wolf loses control. They are more beast than man when they don't choose the Shift and it is forced upon them. Always be patient, Rosalie, and try to de-escalate the situation." Carlisle hums, his brows furrowed. "As for more general information… while Shifters are more vulnerable and open to injury than a vampire -and our marble-like skin- they heal much faster than we do. They might go down in a fight quicker than we do but they also get back up quicker. Remember that."

That's not a lesson Rosalie is soon to forget. Esme in particular likes to discuss the safety and benefit in running from a fight if you can't prevent it. While vampires are mighty and a force not to be reckoned with, their venom betrays them in a fight. As it rushes to the damaged area to begin repairs, muscles become stiff and locked, to the point that movement is impaired and you're left more vulnerable than before. Something Rosalie learned the hard way in her fight with Tanya.

Carlisle watches her closely, his lips pressing together, brows slowly furrowing. His thinking face. "If there is anything else you wish to know, I would need a specific question."

And Rosalie's not one to back down from a challenge. Even a challenge that wasn't actually issued. "What do you know of their Imprinting?"

"Many believe it to be a myth," he says with an air of surprise. "Chief Black believed his brother had Imprinted but there's a chance he was just infatuated and truly in love. There hasn't been a case since. Not that they've shared, at least."

"How does the process work?"

He hums thoughtfully and holds his cup of coffee again. "It was said that the moment you saw your Imprint, the connection was established. You were linked. The wolf would know. I fear it was flimsy and vague, at best."

"Were there limits to this? Men Imprinting on men? Age? Anything like that?" she asks as casually as she can manage.

By the way Carlisle blinks rapidly, she knows she was less than casual. He taps his fingers on the cup. "I'm not sure. I know that, supposedly, they have no control over it. They don't get to pick their Imprint. Rosalie, is there something you would like to discuss."

"Nothing more than we already are," she shoots back quickly. "And now I'm finished. Good day, Carlisle."

.

.

.

The wolf is fishing around in her locker when Rosalie spots her, mumbling to herself or maybe humming. She doesn't notice Rosalie on the other side of the door at first, not until she's reaching to close it, and jumps.

Rosalie quashes the urge to smile, and very desperately rips the wings of the butterflies in her stomach. "I have a question that I would like no follow up questions to once I ask it."

"Um," Bella's brows furrow curiously and she tilts her head, "sure."

"Do you have an Imprint?"

And those eyebrows shoot up, surprise dancing across her face. She shifts her books to one arm, brushing her knuckles against her jaw, and watches Rosalie closely. Too closely. "Not sure," she eventually replies and then grins. "Catch you in History."

Rosalie waits only until Bella ducks down another hallway before leaving the school, sprinting home, and face-planting in bed for the next two days.

.

.

.

The Cullens are more than used to Rosalie's Moods, and know that when she retreats up to her room for days at a time, they're to leave her alone. It's the most difficult for Emmett and Esme, who have, on numerous times, ignored the warning issued by Rosalie, and ventured up. Only to race back down the stairs minutes later, warning everyone that, yeah, maybe we should just give her time.

Alice tries to give Bella that same warning when the wolf comes strolling through the front door, whistling while she balances a bat over her shoulder. The pixie hops in front of the spiralling staircase, eyes wide and happy. "Bella! I know what you're thinking but Rosalie specifically - wait, did you knock?"

Bella only raises an eyebrow, looks back down the foyer to the front door that still hangs wide open. "Nah," she grunts. "Family doesn't knock."

"That's fair," Alice agrees with a nod. "I'm confused but also heartwarmed. Rose doesn't let people in her room."

A feral grin is flashed at her that, maybe, has Alice swooning very slightly. "Oh, don't worry, kitten. I'll knock this time."

She watches Bella saunter up the stairs and can only shake her head, looking down the hall towards Edward who's trying to tame his anxious face into something less like a caricature.

On the second story, Bella strolls down the hallway. It's a nice hall, and she has to remind herself to come by for a more casual look some time, to truly take in the house and appreciate it. She follows sunshine and moonlight to a particular door, the only one that has nothing adorned on the outside, and nods to Jasper at the end of the hall. He's peeking out of his bedroom door, curious but decides not to intervene. His door quickly shuts when Bella winds the bat up.

It's a metal bat, which is probably the only reason why it doesn't snap in half when Bella brings it down on the handle of the door, and instead goes through, taking the handle with it. The music that had been blaring inside, pours out like blood from a wound. It's heavier than she expected, but she admits it's one of her favourite songs.

Inside, Rosalie looks up from her lounging position on the bed, head resting in her palm, elbow propped up on a blue pillow. She only mildly relaxes when she sees the wolf standing there, leaning on the bat like it's a cane, smooth smile and carefree eyes.

Like she didn't just pry her way into Rosalie's most sacred and private of areas. Like she isn't violently intruding just by standing there.

Rage wells up inside the vampire's chest and she leans up. "What the hell is wrong with you? How dare you smash your way into my room, into my space. What do you think you're doing?"

Just as she slides to the end of the bed to stand, Bella launches herself forward and pins Rosalie back down to the mattress, straddling her hips. She presses the bat lengthwise against Rosalie's shoulders, dark hair a curtain around them, wolfish grin in place. "Teaching you proper communication skills."

It's… it's surprising, to say the least, and not even on the list of things Rosalie was expecting, never mind the bottom of it. She does nothing at first, but stare up into dark eyes that are specced with molten gold, precious metals hungry to consume her. A look she has never received.

(Merely the pale versions of it she spots in men's eyes every day she leaves the house.

Who knew someone was capable of such passion for her?)

Black pits glare up at her, Rosalie going slack enough to slide out down beneath Bella. She grabs one of her legs, heaving Bella up and across the room.

The wolf slams back into the wall, into a large portrait of the Cullen family, done in black and white. Their clothes are outdated, time-stamped, as are their styles, but they all look the same. It's startling and endearing and makes Bella's heart beat painfully in her chest.

The portrait cracks in half, the wall covered in spider web cracks, and they both land on the vanity. Glass from the mirror rains down around her, caught in her hair, slicing her cheek. "There's a chance," glass digs into her palms, "that I may have made a mistake here."

"Get out of my room!" Rosalie snarls, and the blood makes it worse. The aroma of Bella, pure and unfiltered, saturates her room. Invades her mind, her senses. Rational thought is buried deep below layers and layers of instinct.

"You said no follow-up questions," Bella grunts as she pushes herself back up to her feet. She rolls a shoulder until it cracks, and - swings the bat down hard, across and into Rosalie's side when the vampire charges. The wall above her bed cracks around her and she bounces twice on the bed beneath, that rage in her eyes building. "You can't start a conversation with me that I'm not allowed to be in. This is give and take. You're not the only one here."

"I should be!" Rosalie snaps and blurs up to her feet. Her mind screams at her to stop but the vampire roars its demand of satisfaction. "I should be the only one in my room - get out!"

The metal bat warps in her grip, slamming Bella back into the vanity again, pinning her this time. Rosalie's thighs pressed against the wood of the vanity, Bella awkwardly sitting atop it. Solid. She's solid. Strong. She won't break. A warm hand grabs a fistfull of her shirt on Rosalie's shoulder as the vampire shakes her head, forearm across her chest and keeping her back. "And then! Then you run home to pout! Unfair," Bella accuses with another grin. Her eyes widen when Rosalie snaps her jaws in her face, and Bella forces her foot up onto the vampire's hip, kicking off with as much force as she can muster in their positions.

Rosalie skids back only a few feet, but it's enough for Bella to duck under the swing and roll across the bed, grabbing a lamp on her way to throw.

It smashes against Rosalie's elbow as she covers her face. She's strong. She's here. She's ours. "This is my room. You can't be in here."

"Too late!" Bella ducks under the mattress that's flipped up and at her, listening to something else crash behind her. "I had no choice in the matter, you know, I don't know why you're angry at me."

Closer. More. She's mine. "Get out!"

"I can't!" Bella kicks the frame of the bed into Rosalie's knee, rolling across and straddling her back this time, desperately trying to pin her arms. "You're in my room and I'm in yours, okay. That's just how it is. Stop fighting."

"Get out!"

She yelps, soaring through the air, back connecting with the ceiling and cracking before falling back down onto the enraged vampire. "I'm starting to think this was maybe a bad id-oof!"

Into the closet she goes, hangers and shirts raining down on her as the entire room spins. She wipes her palm under her nose, looks down at the blood and - yup. The break wasn't healed properly. Set the nose, always set the nose before it heals.

Fingers dig into her shoulders and she's lifted into the air, Rosalie turning to look at her window. "Oh, hey, no! Not going through the window, definitely not a fun time. Hale. Hale!"

Rosalie takes a step out of the closet and Bella blinks, stretching her legs to wrap around the vampire's waist. She lifts her arms between Rosalie's and slams them sideways, knocking her hands off Bella's shoulders, long enough for Bella to wrap her arms around Rosalie in a hug. She buries her face in a neck that smells like sunshine and moonlight, squeezing her eyes shut.

The embrace is warm, Bella is always so warm, and tight. It's… it's a solid hug, Bella is moulded right to her. She can feel the wolf's heartbeat right over her own still heart. It's… it's almost like having one herself. It's…

Rosalie swallows the venom pooling in her mouth, standing in the middle of the room awkwardly, with Bella squeezing her tightly. A gold ring glows faintly around her pupils, the rage that had churned like acid in her stomach fading back to the embers they always are. She looks out at the destruction of her room, replays it all back in her mind.

Had she really attacked Bella like that?

Are her hands truly only capable of destruction?

"I'm sorry," she whispers absently.

She attacked Bella? Just for entering her room?

The wolf pulls back enough to peer up into ever brightening eyes. She swallows and also looks around the room, sheepish. "Well, I - you know, maybe, um. Could have handled this better. I should, I'll take half the blame here. Impulse control - really control of any kind, is not my strong suit. I'm-I'm sorry."

"No," Rosalie sighs with disappointment. "I did this. Trust me. I'm very skilled at wrecking things."

She turns to look at Bella, their eyes meeting and noses almost bumping. She's reminded of their position and her posture gets very rigid once more. Bella hums. "I mean, it's not totally ruined. Couple of mistakes were made, a few cracks and broken pieces, nothing you can't fix."

Golden eyebrows tug together ever-so-slightly.

Bella snorts. "Unless you'd rather run away again?"

"No."

Those dark eyes trace over Rosalie's face tenderly again and it's just as debilitating as the first time. Bella slides down to her feet, hand on Rosalie's shoulder. "Good. I'd… well, I'd miss you more than my shadow. Later, Hale."

Bella stops only to pick up her mangled baseball bat before she's out the door. Rosalie's shoulders sag and she stares down at the chaos of her room, reaching down to pick up one of the picture frames of her family, and sets it back on the nightstand.

Down below, Esme huffs up at the ceiling. "I feel like that would have been better suited to a conversation." She goes about her painting, muttering to herself the whole way. "Dramatic children. Let's destroy a room instead of talking to each other. Worse than when Emmett brought home that bear…"

.

.

.

The line moves up, everyone taking a step forward. Rosalie can hear the hesitant half-step the others take behind them, and crosses her arms over her chest. She shifts ever closer to her brother, feels his tranquillity wrap around her like a comfort blanket. "This is moronic," she mutters.

Jasper chuckles and shakes his head. "I think it is terribly sweet - ow! What did Miss Esme say about pinching?!"

"A pinch over a punch."

He rubs his arm with a scowl and they both watch the line behind them take a step back. Hear the hearts around them stutter, as their fear slowly starts leaching into the air around them. Rosalie sees his black eyes fall to his boots before he smoothes out his face to something more neutral. She looks over her shoulder and lifts her lip in a silent snarl, something worthy of being feared by the snivelling masses.

A few kids leave the line altogether, and Jasper shakes his head again. "That's not helping."

"I don't care."

"Care enough to endure the dance for Bella. To stand in line for tickets just to have the opportunity to ask."

She steps forward with the line, taps her fingers against her elbow rhythmically. "I'm not asking. She's going."

"Seems a little pushy."

"She owes me a door. A dance will suffice."

The grin is back. "You old romantic," he teases. "Going to woo your girl on the dance floor?"

Golden eyes roll to the ceiling. "Remind me again why I brought you with me?"

"You took a swing as soon as my lovely wife asked, Emmett lost his keys on the way out the door, and Edward… well, you know your relationship with him. Plus, I'm your favourite."

"I need more siblings."

Golden eyebrows hop in a challenge. "If you'd rather I purchase my tickets some other time…" He makes it half a step before his sleeve is captured in an iron grip. "I enjoy this back and forth you have going with the wolf."

Rosalie eyes him wearily. "I sense a but."

"You can sense my butt, Cullen!" The statement is punctuated with a whistle.

That dies in Mike's throat when Rosalie turns to face him in all her enraged glory. "I will end your bloodline," she tells him seriously.

He visibly pales before them, shrinking back and looking away. His eyes light up when he spots something down the hall. "Bella! Tell your girlfriend to relax!"

Surprise and mortification battle in Rosalie's chest in the few seconds it takes for her to turn around. Bella catches her eye, leaning on the ticket table as she slides a few bills to Angela. She grins, slow and wicked. "Relax, Hale." Rosalie holds her breath, smothers the growl as her mate saunters past her. Bella stops to shove Mike out of line. "You're lucky she didn't face-butt your creepy-ass mug, Newton. Scram."

Rosalie waits until she's confident enough that Bella is gone, before spinning around to her brother. "What does all that mean?"

"I think it means you have an anger issue. Rosalie, you cannot go around headbutting people. They're children!"

"Not-" she scrubs a hand down her face, "I should have brought Alice. Not that. Everything else."

Jasper snaps his fingers. "Ah, the Responding To Girlfriend And Not Denying It thing?"

"Yes. That."

"I also noticed it."

Rosalie stares at him for a few silent moments. The line movies a few more paces and she blinks. "Are you doing this to me on purpose?"

"I can help with that paranoia, if you'd like."

"I hate sneaky psychics, I really do."

Jasper barks out a laugh that startles nearby students. "Technically, only Alice is psychic."

"You're all the same and I hate you all," she grumbles. His face is too happy when she looks back up and her lips twitch, threaten to crack into a smile. She scoffs and looks away, replaying that last few minutes of her life. "You refer to her as a wolf more than the others do."

The smiles on his face eventually dims again and he clasps his hands behind his back. "Lest we forget what she is."

"Do you think I'm unaware?"

He considers this as he watches his sister stare ahead in line, refusing to meet his eye. "Sometimes I think you choose to ignore it. This is difficult enough, without the added complications of her being a wolf and you being a vampire."

"She's not like the others," Rosalie mutters.

"No, but she's still one of them." He steps forward with the line again, the next ones to purchase tickets. Angela tilts her head to look at them past the students currently paying and Jasper inclines his head. "You and I have always gotten along, Rosalie, from the begging. If only for the reason that we both understood the other would protect the family at any cost."

A rumble builds in Rosalie's chest as they step up to the ticket table. "You will not touch Bella," she warns under her breath.

"Afternoon, Angela. Mighty fine setup you have here," Jasper greets as he leans down to write his name and Alice's on the attendance list. "I pray I will not have to, but Alice comes first. Always."

He nods at them both, tucking the tickets into his shirt pocket. Angela smiles nervously at the energy she can feel coming from them both, eyes widening when the pen cracks in Rosalie's fingers. Ink pools around Bella's name like blood on the page, before she carves her name beneath.

.

.

.

Esme is beaming beside her and it's very difficult to hold onto her furious mask. The woman is damn near bouncing, and Rosalie digs her fingers into her hips. "This is the ugliest door I have ever laid eyes on."

It's a gross yellowy-green, the shade you might find inside a baby's diaper. A large chalkboard is attached to the front, Rosey-Wosey's Room, no entre scrawled across it.

Esme coos, fingers flitting over her daughter's arm. To be quite frank, she had been in a bubbly mood ever since Bella stopped by that afternoon, while Alice had kidnapped Rosalie to take her dress shopping.

"She's simply lovely, Rose! I'm so happy for you!"

But her words might as well have been shouted into the void. Nothing sinks in, Rosalie utterly perturbed by the sight of her door. "She stapled sunflowers to it."

"Oh, um," Esme fights the smile on her face, "I did notice she was carrying a nail gun when she left."

Rosalie's eyebrows shoot up and she quickly opens the door (internally sighing at the ornate squirrel door handle), and looks at the other side. The other side, where sharp nails poke through and threaten to impale those who get too close. "Literal nine-inch nails."

Considering the music she was listening to when Bella barged in, she isn't surprised.

God, she adores this wolf.

"I hate her."

"Oh, yes, we can all see that, dear," Esme hums happily.

Chapter Text

She shows up to Bella's house in a pair of sweatpants and an old shirt stained with black splotches of oil. Honestly, she doesn't think anything of it until Charlie opens the door and looks down at her on the step.

He scratches the top of his head, moustache twitching. "You alright, kiddo?" he asks in that sort of cop mixed with a papa bear way of his.

It makes Rosalie wish her father hadn't been such a garbage person. That there was any shred of pure, unselfish love in her house, growing up.

She looks down at her clothes, wonders if she had originally grabbed shoes before she left and lost them somewhere along the way, or if she had really been so distracted that she forgot them altogether. She can't remember anything other than staring at the tickets clutched in her hand, and looks back up at Charlie. "Yes, I'm fine."

One might naturally expect her to further elaborate on the situation, as out of the norm as it is, but only if one hadn't known Bella as well as Charlie does. Used to it by now, he simply shrugs and nods. "Want me to grab the kid for ya?"

"If you would be so kind, Chief." Rosalie inclines her head.

She listens to him mutter about Cullens and their weird manners. Like talking to the freaking Queen. "Bells! Visitor!"

Rosalie grimaces at the noise and looks back down at the tickets again-

"Oof!"

She jumps very slightly, looking up in mild alarm on the other side of the porch. Leaves still float to the ground, where Bella sits up and pats her ribs. "Did you just fall off this roof?"

"I didn't not fall off this roof," Bella agrees and hoists herself to her feet. She's in a tank top again, pale skin creamy white in the moonlight, marked by the dark ink of her tattoos. "Was gonna try to scare you."

"Bella!" Charlie shouts in the house. "Door! C'mon!"

"I'm-!" She shakes her head and laughs, vaulting over the railing of the porch to knock on the front window. Inside, Charlie jumps this time. "I'm here, I got it, thank you."

"You're a trainwreck," Rosalie mutters, mostly to herself. She's mated to a trainwreck. She's falling in love with a goddamn trainwreck.

Dark eyes wander back over to her, an eyebrow raised in challenge. "And where are your shoes, Miss High And Mighty?"

"This was a choice," Rosalie tells her. "A conscious decision that I made because I don't need shoes."

"I also chose to scare you."

"Did you choose to fall off your house?"

"I - okay, you. This, this is a weird way to go about asking me to the dance," Bella says in the end. She nods to the tickets being mashed in Rosalie's fist.

"My door-"

Bella perks up. "Was replaced!"

"By a monstrosity that I have to remind myself every day not to physically fight. That door devours the souls of small children, Bella."

The wolf snorts, a surprised laugh torn from her chest. "God, I love… you have a good sense of humour, I'm glad."

The butterflies in Rosalie's stomach threaten to fly off with her. She licks her lips and looks down at the tickets. "Must I ask?"

"Such pride," Bella sighs softly. Her dark eyes dance with, well, with affection Rosalie would say if she wasn't in as much denial as she is. Bella approaches cautiously, still not entirely convinced Rosalie isn't always about to strangle her. Fury and indignation glow in those golden eyes more often than not.

Honestly, it's part of the reason Bella can't look away. She finds this vampire particularly breathtaking.

Rosalie bristles when she feels the heat of Bella on her skin. She watches closely, turning her head as Bella circles around. "What are you doing?"

"Mapping," the wolf murmurs thoughtfully. Rosalie turns her head the other way to catch those eyes again. "Well?"

"What?"

"Are you going to ask?" Bella chuckles. Rosalie lifts her chin and she relents. "Fine, fine. Be that way. I think Mike was planning to ask me tomorrow-"

A pale hand strikes like lightning, snapping around Bella's wrist gently but firmly. "You cannot go with him!" she growls furiously.

"I can do whatever I want," Bella snarls, well and truly snarls. Her own righteous anger spikes in those eyes, the pulse beneath Rosalie's fingertips jumping erratically. Anger, the likes of which Rosalie only caught a glimpse of once before. Bella sucks in a jagged breath, and lets it out slowly. Calmly. "It's my choice," she says softer this time, and repeats it to herself under her breath. "It's my choice."

Rosalie lets her wrist fall, her face smoothing out into concern. She's seen that look before, a version of it, at least. It has her stepping back, lowering her gaze to her feet. "I… apologize. Please don't go with him."

"He hasn't asked yet," Bella says to the floor of the porch. "Nobody has."

There's a pointed look at her and Rosalie groans quietly. "Bella, would you… consider going to this irrelevant high school event with me?"

"Yes!" she gasps happily, throwing her hands in the air. "A thousand times yes! Dad!" Bella steps back to bang on the front door and Rosalie perks up in alarm. "You have to ask my dad permission as well, this is my first dance."

"Wait, Bella, you're not serious-"

"Dad, come out here! Hale needs to ask you something!" Bella shouts. "Of course I'm serious, I'm his only daughter."

Rosalie jerks forward, hand on her forehead. "Bella, I'm not - Chief," she greets through clenched teeth.

He looks just as confused as her. "What's goin' on here? Everything good?"

"Better than good, father of mine. Papa Swan. Mine own blood, head of the house, big man on campus-"

Charlie holds up his hand and looks at the vampire. "Why's she being weird? What'd you do? Why does she always drag me into it?"

"I have…" Rosalie simply shrugs and sighs. "No idea."

And she hates that she's actually not certain if people still ask fathers for their permission to court their daughters. Television is mostly how she keeps up to date on the ever-evolving culture of society, but in this regard it is unreliable. Half the shows would have the boy ask the father, and half promote the idea that only the daughter has a say.

Bella could fall under either category. A strong, independent girl who doesn't let anybody tell her what to do… but a girl who values her father's opinion above all else.

Rosalie clenches her jaw, studying the wolf's face with narrowed eyes. Bella only grins, and Rosalie sighs deeply. "Chief Swan."

"Cullen?" he replies when she says nothing else. Looks between the two curiously.

Rosalie glares at Bella as she asks. "I would like your blessing to take your daughter to the school dance."

A lightbulb goes off above his head and his hands come up to rest on his hips. "You wanna take my kid to the dance? You?"

"...Please," she grinds out as patiently as she can.

Charlie nods and scoffs. "Isabella Marie Swan, are you gay?"

And golden eyes snap wide open, Rosalie jerking forward and holding up her hand because, no. No, no. Bella did not just use her to come out to her father.

But Charlie snorts and breaks. "Ah, shoot! I couldn't hold it. Did ya see her face, Bells?"

The wolf is starting to make a lot more sense and Rosalie wants to die.

Again.

He slaps her on her shoulder, grunting in surprise at how solid it is. "Just givin' ya a hard time, Cullen. 'Course you can take her, the kid's crazy about ya. Won't stop talking about you and how ya-"

Bella's hands snap over his mouth, dark eyes frantic. "Who won't stop talking now, huh?! Ignore him, he - actually, this man is insane. Very unstable, I should get him back inside."

Rosalie watches as Bella all but shoves her father back inside the house, listening to him snicker the whole way. She raises an eyebrow when Bella turns back to her, cheeks on fire, and decides she likes Bella with her feathers ruffled. A lot. God, it's cute, even.

"I detest you," she tells the girl.

Who merely snorts and rolls her eyes. "Yeah, I got that when you ran me over with your car."

"You were never under my car. At most, I hit you with it." She lifts her chin. "And you were being vexatious."

"Not even gonna pretend I know what that word means."

"Annoying."

Bella snaps her fingers. "Ah, should have taken the guess." She wanders down the porch, towards the corner of the house, and hoists herself up onto the railing. Rosalie hesitates a moment before joining her, leaning against it a few feet away. "So why the change of heart?"

"You'll have to be more specific, I'm not Edward."

Again, Bella looks a little confused but overall cheerful. "I'm not sure what that means, either. I meant, you went from hitting me with your car to asking me to the dance. I'm just wondering what changed."

Ah, yes. A question Rosalie was hoping the wolf wouldn't think of, or at least not bother to ask. Of course she would. She was born to get under Rosalie's skin, there wasn't a soul more skilled at it. Still, despite knowing she should have prepared for it, Rosalie didn't. Honestly, it isn't a question she wants to answer, nor does she think it deserves one.

What does it matter, in the end? She did change her mind. She does like Bella now.

Maybe she fears the truth. "My heart remains unchanged."

There was never a time she didn't like Bella, if she's being truly honest. Yes, her mind changed, but her heart did not. She simply decided to take a chance for the first time in decades.

She can see the gears turning in Bella's head, and leans back to look up at the night sky. Splotches of stars shine through gaps in the clouds. "Why did you change yours?"

"Me?" Bella echoes.

Rosalie hums and nods. "You ignored us the first week, scowled the second, and started… poking during the third."

"That wasn't me the other times, I've only ever tried to seduce you, Hale."

The railing cracks under her fingers as she chokes on a surprised laugh. "Seduce me?"

"You can't blame me for not being good at it," Bella says around a chuckle. "I don't have much experience."

Rosalie relents and nods, switching to stare down at the porch instead. She waits to see if Bella will continue, if she'll answer her question on her own. The silence is very telling, and part of Rosalie wants to leave her be. She doesn't want to push Bella, she can appreciate privacy.

But her family is involved. Her family will always be involved in her life, and… and Jasper was right. Alice, all of them, they come first. Always. Before her and her selfish desires.

"In what way was it not you?" she asks.

Bella sighs on the railing, shrinking in on herself to hold her cheeks in her hands. "You don't know much about the pack," she says or maybe informs her. Rosalie shakes her head anyway. Those dark eyes fall away, the shadow of the night creeping across Bella's face. "His biases are my biases. His hate, my hate. His rage, my rage. What you saw before, that wasn't me…" she shrugs dejectedly and smiles somewhat sadly at Rosalie. "It was him."

"I-"

Bella clears her throat and hops down from the railing, rubbing her hands together. "Anyway. I think we're both just bad at… being regular people?"

A scoff. "Some more than others."

"I'll take that." Bella grins. Her eyes lift back to Rosalie and some little poetic part of her prays that they never leave. She very quickly suffocates the thought. "Are you wearing a dress or a suit? Or another tantalising pair of sweatpants?"

For the first time in her life, Rosalie has no comeback. No sarcastic retort, or witty line. "Forget you," she sighs with upturned lips. "I was in a hurry."

"A hurry to ask me out."

"To the dance. Because I'm being dragged there and I refuse to go stag. And you owe me."

Bella shakes her head. "Excuses, excuses. Too scared to admit you adore me."

"You wish."

"Sometimes." She lifts an eyebrow. "You wanna match colour schemes or not?"

"You sound like Alice," Rosalie frowns. "Since when do you care about colour schemes?"

Bella scoffs this time, holds up her arms. "Excuse me? Do you think my outfits happen by accident?"

"You look like a pack of highlighters vomited on you and then you tried to hide it with black, more often than not."

Bella clutches her heart. "Ouch, right for the jugular. It's called pastel punk, look into it. Because I look smokin'."

"Green, you gigantic dork. I'm wearing green."

She takes a moment to mentally store away the information, and nods. Rosalie looks out to the trees, threatening to get lost in the lull of conversation. Their night is coming to an end, both can feel it. Unfortunately, neither can hide out on the porch forever.

Rosalie sighs softly, knocks her knuckles on the wooden railing, and looks back up at Bella. "I have to leave."

"I'm a fool."

She smiles, soft and gentle, the warmest Bella has ever seen her face. Golden eyes swirl before her. "Of this, I have no doubt. Goodnight, Bella."

"Sweet dreams, midnight siren."

"You know we don't sleep, ri-"

"Oh, come on, you couldn't let me have that one? You know I'm trying to seduce you, now."

.

.

.

"Do you think she'll wear a dress?"

It's a typical day in the cemented routine of the Cullen life, the 'kids' trapped inside on a rare sunny day, having just gone hunting the day before. Emmett and Jasper sit on the floor in front of the couch, furiously mashing buttons on their game controllers. Edward taps at a few keys on the piano while he stares dreamily at his boyfriend, Alice upside down on the couch and tapping on her phone. Rosalie sits in the corner under the lamp, book in hand, and doesn't spare a glance up.

"No."

The pixie pouts but also doesn't look away from her phone. "No? Why not?"

"She's not the type," Rosalie tells her. And then considers it, with furrowed brows. "Although, she is the type to wear one just to spite me and my assumptions. Unless, of course, she also considered me coming to this conclusion. Hmm. I'm not sure, Alice, sorry."

"She's not wearing a dress," Esme calls from her studio upstairs. All the children look up and wait. "She sent me a picture of her tie, asking if the shade of green matched Rosalie's outfit."

Alice lifts a finger, though in her position it points to the floor instead of the ceiling. "Unless she's wearing a tie with a dress!"

"What does it matter?"

"Dresses are fun and pretty."

"To you."

"Yes."

Rosalie blinks. "You are not everyone, why does it matter if someone else is wearing a dress or not."

"My perception of the world filters what I see, Rose," Alice says. "It would bring me personal joy to see everyone in a dress."

A golden brow lifts. "Even Emmett?"

"Especially Emmett!"

The boy lifts an arm to flex his sculpted muscles and Edward misses a key in his song. "Damn straight, Tink!" He glances back with a wicked grin, just in time to see Edward duck his head, and looks over to Rosalie instead. "So, how'd you ask? Was it romantic?"

"Oh, oh! Yes! Was it super romantic? You went late at night, with the moon shining high, like a fairy tale!" Alice gasps and clutches her chest.

Rosalie rolls her eyes. "It was overcast, as it always is, and she fell off the roof."

"Because of you?"

She glares over at Edward. "Are you accusing me of pushing her off a roof?"

"No," his eyebrows shoot up and lips curve into a smile, "though it's interesting your mind went there. As if, perhaps, you've considered it. I was merely asking if the sight of you asking her to the dance caused her to swoon so severely she fell right over… off the roof."

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Rosalie scrounges up all of her patience. "What is this, the forties? Do you think women go around fanning themselves, lest they succumb to a tizzy, and collapse at the mere mention of romance?"

"It would not be the first time your beauty caused… distress," Jasper points out while he glares down at his controller, trying to make his character jump. "This blasted-! Why?! Why can't I jump? Foolish, juvenile, infuriating little contraption!"

Emmett snorts and pushes a button for him. "Relax, grandpa." He rubs his chin, turning back to the rest of the room with a thoughtful look on his face. "You remember that one guy? I wanna say it was the late sixties, maybe early seventies. He had that wild hair, and you gave him a heart attack?"

Even up in her studio, the others hear Esme bark out a laugh. Rosalie scowls. "It wasn't a heart attack, it was a… murmur, and he was very obese."

"What about that other boy who fell down the flight of stairs?" Alice points out.

Edward perks up. "The professor who caught his blazer on fire?"

"The woman who hit a fire hydrant!"

"The worker who fell off the scaffolding."

"The other woman who rear-ended the first woman and the fire hydrant!"

"Bella, who fell off a roof!"

Rosalie holds up her hand with a stormy look. "Enough! I get it, enough! That has nothing to do with whimsical fairy tales, and everything to do with hormonal stupidity."

"Even Bella?"

Alice flips up to her feet in time to dodge the book that is hurtled her way. "We're merely friends going to a school function together."

Both Emmett and Alice pout, visibly. "No, don't tell me you're back on the denial train…"

"She worries Bella isn't interested," Edward corrects. "She doesn't doubt her own feelings."

The bench is yanked out from under him, both it and Rosalie disappearing up in her room, with the slam of a door.

A most hideous door.

.

.

.

Despite all of their teasing, come the actual day of the dance, Rosalie's siblings are mercifully quiet. Or busy. Probably busy, the bunch of assholes. Still, peace is peace, no matter the cause, and Rosalie takes the opportunity to have a mini-meltdown in her room because apparently she is not an immortal being well on her way to being a century old, and she is, in fact, a ridiculous schoolgirl with a huge crush.

And she's so nervous she can't even be embarrassed by the fact, she's too busy hugging her biggest pillow as tight as she dares. "Stupid, stupid, stupid…" she mutters into it.

She's going to a dance. A school dance. With a girl she asked.

If you had told her this just one year ago, she would have laughed. Actually, she probably would have thrown you through a wall, but still.

And now? Now look at her, glaring holes into the dress laid out on her bed, willing it to catch fire and give her an excuse not to go. Like some kind of child.

There's a knock on her door and she bristles, looks up from her pillow. There are only two people willing to knock on her door (well, and also one willing to "knock" with a baseball bat), and she knows Alice is probably a tornado of fashion in her own room.

Esme smiles at her through the crack Rosalie opens the door, simply beaming from ear to ear. She lifts what looks like a flower. "I have something for my youngest daughter, if that's alright with you."

It's mostly not, everything about this request. From the unknown plant in her hands, to the intrusion she's requesting of Rosalie's room, all the way to yet another thing she has to think about tonight.

But saying no to Esme is like… well, she's just never met anyone capable of it, to be quite honest. So she sighs and steps aside, twitching when Esme crosses the threshold of her room. She watches Esme hum over her dress, reaching down to pinch the fabric between her fingers, and turn to face her.

Esme holds up the flower again. "Alice drew me a picture of you in your dress, as I'm certain you won't stay still for any pictures." Rosalie blinks. "Right, so I went searching for this. I wore a dress on mine and Carlisle's first date, the colours identical, and he had brought me this flower."

It's a fake, obviously, but in mint condition. Not surprising, considering its sentimental value and the fact that nothing withers in Esme's care.

"It was a sort of… joke. A flower that will never die on its own," Esme explains with a soft smile. "Kind of like us. Anyway, I know this is probably terribly silly, but I thought maybe you would want to wear it? Alice and Jasper were already together when they joined us, and Edward was very secretive about Emmett at first."

With another sigh, Rosalie wanders closer, her arms crossed tightly. She stares down at it in Esme's hands. "I'm not really the flower type..."

"It's silly, I'm sorry. You don't have to wear it."

She turns to leave but Rosalie holds her hand up in her path, a scowl on her face. "No, I'm gonna wear it all night. Back off." (1)

And Esme's smile is radiant, full of love and appreciation. "Do you know how to put it in your hair?"

"... damn it. No."

The excited squeal threatens to shatter her windows as Esme blurs around the room to help her get ready.

.

.

.

"What are you wearing? What are you wearing?! What are you wearing?!"

"Run, Bella, run! You've offended Alice's eyes, run-!"

"What could have possibly compelled you to wear this?!" Alice demands and Rosalie can't help but grin as she descends the staircase.

By the time she gets down the stairs, Jasper has his hands clamped on his wife's shoulders, a look of pure concentration on his face. Alice takes a deep breath and Rosalie rolls her eyes, looking to see what all the fuss is about. She snorts when she finds it, finds Bella in a pair of black jeans and a tuxedo t-shirt, looking all too sheepish, rubbing at her tattoos.

Bella's eyes widen upon seeing Rosalie and the vampire is delighted at the blush that creeps across her face. "Fuck," her graceless mate says sharply and she feels the flutters again. "I did look better, I promise. I had a tie and everything - you, I - I wear bow ties casually!"

"What. Happened." Alice seems to be scrounging up every ounce of her patience that she can.

And Bella ducks her head. "I… I got upset."

"Upset?"

"...And threw it all out the window."

Everyone looks outside at the storm. "You ruined your whole wardrobe?"

"Not all of it!" Bella holds up her arms earnestly, eyes wide and so… innocent? Rosalie clenches her jaw and looks back at Alice.

"Why?" the pixie bemoans.

Bella shrugs and looks away. "Little stressed."

This time Rosalie steps forward, a light frown on her face. "You're not obligated to go if it's bothering-"

"No! I want to go with you! I'm not passing this up for anything. Sam's just an asshole and it took me off guard. I don't know why, considering he's always an asshole." She laughs nervously and runs a hand through her hair, looking back at Rosalie again. "You look really, really pretty."

Tender. Tender. How is she so tender?

"You're a disaster," Rosalie replies.

There's a disapproving tsk from Esme but Bella grins happily. "A disaster for you."

"Awww!"

"God," Rosalie scoffs and shakes her head, "let's get this over with."

Edward chuckles and swings his keys by the keyring. "Who's riding with us?"

"Dibs!" Bella gasps half a second before Alice, and the rest of the room stares at the pixie in surprise.

Alice blinks. "I thought I had more time, I didn't see it coming…"

Oblivious to the reaction of the rest of the room, Bella turns to Rosalie and holds up her hand for a high five. "Whooop! I rode my bike, my pants are still soggy. We need a ride, babe!"

Rosalie sighs and turns to Edward. Edward, who twitches his eyebrows up and she knows exactly what he's pointing out. But now's not the time to dwell on babe like some whimsical teenager. "Where are the keys to the Rolls?"

He looks at Alice. "You took it out last, didn't you?"

"I put the keys back on the wall!"

Again, everyone turns to the large board just inside the door, and Bella marvels at the dozens of hanging keys. "Damn!"

The spot for Rosalie's Rolls Royce is very vacant and she sucks on her teeth. "Where did you have them last, Alice?"

"Here! I didn't - are you really - I didn't lose them," Alice huffs with a stern look. "If Bella wasn't here, I could find them and prove it."

"Ouch."

"Not-!" Alice grabs her arm with an alarmed look. "Not like that! You affect my visions, that's all."

"Oh, okay. Wait. Wait. What?!"

Rosalie crosses her arms. "Well, who had them last?"

The front door swings open with a crack of thunder and lightning, smacking the wall and making everything in the front foyer shake. Emmett shoulders in, kicking the door shut behind him, holding his dark coat over himself to protect from the rain. He shakes the water off of it, bending down to quickly snatch up all the keys that fell from the board.

Kill Bill sirens go off in Rosalie's head as she watches him randomly and haphazardly hook keys back in any open space. Emmett looks up at everyone else. "Sup, guys? I brought the Volvo and Rolls around the front, I don't think we'll all fit in one car."

Edward staggers forward in Rosalie's path when she takes a step. "He's your best friend and I love him!" he gasps quietly, with wide eyes.

Rosalie grinds her teeth, glaring daggers at Emmett who shrinks back in confusion. "Emmett, there's an order to-"

"Rosalie," Esme murmurs at the sharp tone in the blonde's voice. "He didn't mean to."

She considers this. Watches Emmett look back at the board, and the light bulb go off. He sheepishly grabs a few keyrings and swaps them into their rightful places. "It's fine, Emmett. I'll fix it later," she says slowly.

He sets the last keyring down on the counter gingerly and nods. "Sorry, Rosie. I didn't even think to check." His golden eyes roam the foyer until they land on Bella and light up. "Hey! I was gonna wear that shirt, too! Alice found a stuffy, monkey suit for me though."

Emmett opens his coat to reveal the dark, midnight blue suit beneath. Thin-cut, like he and it were carved out of marble, looking like he belongs in a magazine and not in the hallway. His rebellious, curly hair is styled down, looking more like Clark Kent, and Edward shifts from foot to foot beside Bella.

The wolf looks at the boy beside her and grins. "You're so gay," she whispers.

"I'm dating Eros," he replies with a shake of his head and Bella nods agreeably.

It's not the first time people had compared the Cullens to Olympians. Adonis, Eros, Aphrodite, one of the Muses, Atlas, she'd heard it all many times. All it does is make her wonder. Why she's here, why they chose her, what they want from her.

All it does it fuel the claims Sam snarls at her every night.

All it does is leave her sitting in the bathtub, dissociating and lost, until Charlie finds her and drags her down to the couch to catch a game until words return to her again.

But yeah, they're pretty, and it's nice to know they think the same about each other.

Fingers brush against her arm, Bella's attention dragged down to the pixie beside her. She raises a curious eyebrow, watching Alice big golden eyes crinkle with concern. Concern for her, for a wolf. "Are you alright?" she whispers.

And Bella nods in a choppy motion, even as her eyes sting with tears. Inexplicable tears, and fuck Sam. "Sure, kitten," she agrees and flashes her best smile.

"You know," Emmett drawls by the door. "Carlisle called Rosalie kitten for a wh-oh shit!" he ducks under the table stand thrown at him.

Esme is behind him, catching it a moment before it can smash against the door. "That's two weeks without television for you, Emmett, including your video games. And a two-week ban from the garage for you, Rosalie."

Rosalie takes Bella's hand wordlessly, stalking past her brother with a glare. "You're back on the list."

Chapter Text

The car ride to the school is a little tenser than Rosalie was expecting but she assumes it's mostly because of her rather than the situation. Which is… nice. At least it's her own fuckups that are ruining the evening and not the concept of spending time together or (more prominently in her mind) attending date-esque events together.

Bella traces raindrops and their paths on the window, oblivious to how hard Rosalie has to clench her jaw so she doesn't yell about streaks. She glances over now and then, as Forks whizzes by around them, dark eyes tracing the vampire's face. "Are you mad at me?"

"Should I be?" is Rosalie's automatic reply. She blinks at Bella's anxious face and feels her lips twitch up in a smile. "What?" she asks at Bella's stunned face.

The wolf shakes her head lightly, as if breaking from thought or a spell. "Your smile… wow. I've never seen it in such a pure form."

There are questions Rosalie wants to ask, and one in particular that she's been desperately trying not to obsess over for a long time now. Sometimes, times like these -in a quiet so soft it feels like a blanket, the darkness her protective cover interrupted only by flashes of streetlights that fall over Bella and illuminate her gentle eyes- she thinks she might know the answer. She thinks that these thoughts she's been having aren't so ridiculous. That, yes, Bella is very sarcastic and very playful, but this is not a game. That she's being genuine and they both feel the same way.

But Bella breaks - she grins and looks down at her lap, their moment ended before Rosalie can… do anything, really. "About my shirt, I guess. Are you… tch, embarrassed to roll in with me? Uh, you know, covered in tattoos, wearing a dumb shirt, being… a girl… why are you looking at me like that?"

"I asked you, did I not?"

"Well, yeah."

"I know you, do I not?"

"I mean, the important parts, I think. Yeah."

Rosalie tucks the answer away in the back of her head, glancing at Bella from the corner of her eye. "Then assume I am a grown woman who can make her own decisions. I don't care what they think, they will stare no matter what."

"Do you resent how beautiful you are?" Bella asks quickly. "Sorry. That was kind of rude."

Golden eyes stare out at the road, past the wipers battling against the rain. "It takes from me, more than it gives. I've bled for it, so I make sure others bleed for it too. But… Esme has taught me that resenting things about yourself is a dangerous way to live. I simply don't look anymore. There are a number of reasons why one might stare."

"Like that intense scowl? Holy shit, okay, your rage is breathtaking," Bella gushes as she bounces in her seat. "I mean, you? So beautiful, tell me you're Aphrodite and I won't fight it. But your eyes, dear god. They're something else. That's why I stare."

Rosalie looks at her with a small amount of alarm but mostly heaps of surprise at the outburst.

And it all catches up with Bella whose eyebrows jump. "Not that I… I glance in passing, sometimes. Or, like, maybe get lost - in, fuck, in thought. Lost in thought. Oh my god, I really do suck at speaking. Can you take classes for that? I feel like you can take classes for it."

There's a thoughtful lull after that, where Bella stares off into space, and Rosalie simply waits. The energy is… off, not the wolf's usual casual air. It's electrified, giddy… manic. "Are you alright, really?" Rosalie questions.

"Yup," Bella agrees quickly and wipes at her eyes. "Fuck. I am, okay, this isn't me. Sam is… testing my control, and I. I hate him so much, I could just-" The growl that emits from her chest vibrates through the car until Rosalie raises an eyebrow. "Sorry. He made everyone shift and it's like, it's like people prodding my head, trying to get in, while someone else pulls at a thread and slowly unravels me. Does that make sense?"

"More than I can express, yes," Rosalie agrees honestly. Edward likes to poke around in her head, and she's almost thankful she can relate to Bella. She also imagines the second half being similar to if Jasper were an asshole and wanted to mess with you.

Bella nods and wipes her eyes again, clearing her throat as they pull into the parking lot. "I really am fine, Hale. Thank you for inviting me."

"Thank you for saying yes," she whispers to an empty car once Bella is outside. She glances in the rearview mirror, meets her own eyes, and fights the scowl before getting out.

Emmett drums on the top of the Volvo excitedly. "Took you hosers long enough!"

"You're a hoser," Bella instinctively shoots back and Rosalie watches them fondly. Watches Bella get Alice's door for her, leaning down to flash a grin and offer her hand. "Hale is too good to let me get her door."

Golden eyes twinkle, Alice meeting her sister's eye while Rosalie's mind reels. "Her loss."

Did Bella want to get her door? Would they have held hands? Does she want to hold Bella's hand? Does Bella want to hold her hand?

Her stomach sinks when the two lace their fingers, Jasper chuckling as he locks the door behind them. "Excuse me for evolving with the times," Rosalie mutters.

"Bella!"

They all turn towards Jessica's voice from the entrance to the gym. Her group of human friends are huddled off to the side, waving her over.

Bella waves them back this way.

Jessica waves harder on her end.

Bella sighs, shoulders slumping. "Sometimes I wonder if you guys will ever get along."

"We're never around long enough to find out," Rosalie says dismissively. Alice and Bella look up at her sharply, and she's very suddenly hit with the realization that she will either have to stay, or Bella will have to come with her, if things… work out how she hopes.

Bella shrugs her shoulders simply. "Lucky. Some of us are stuck here. They're good kids, though, no reason you can't hang out in the meantime."

They all stand in a silence that gets more and more awkward as the seconds tick by. Rosalie gives in first, deciding that even the horrors of a high school dance have to be better than this, and starts off to the gym.

She makes it a few feet before Bella's warm presence hovers at her side. "Hey, um, so weird request. But would you mind if I held your hand going in there? Really hit the nail on the head that I'm not alone, so Mike doesn't get any ideas."

Rosalie says nothing but takes her hand, praying to a god she doesn't believe in that Edward didn't hear her think about how their hands fit like goddamn puzzle pieces. His snort behind them is all the answer she needs and she instinctively tries to tug away from any and all contact, her vulnerability a sensitive nerve.

But Bella doesn't let go, and is instead tugged into Rosalie's side until they naturally meld together and fall into step. Close. Intimate. And somehow less awkward than holding hands two feet apart. "Woah, you smell good," Bella murmurs, the yellow flecks in her eyes catching light and looking a little more feral than usual.

Rosalie consciously stops herself from shattering all the bones in Bella's hand in surprise when the wolf leans down to ghost her nose across a marble shoulder, sniffing the vampire.

She pops back up while Emmett guffaws to himself. "How do you always smell like sunshine?"

"Don't… sniff me," Rosalie says slowly, trying to comprehend the words coming out of her mouth. And it's just- weird, because, okay. Look. She's not asking Bella to sniff her, but she also doesn't want Bella to not sniff her. There's really no good way to react to that and she kind of wishes she just hadn't said anything, and Edward is cackling behind her, and-

"Don't smell so good then. Damn."

There's an affectionate squeeze to her hand as they cross the threshold of the gym, and she turns to look at Bella even as the room turns to look at her.

(Her, them, who cares. She can feel eyes.)

She watches Bella marvel at the room, glancing up at the lights strung from the ceiling. All the different colours catching multiple disco balls and Rosalie fights off a deeply buried memory of Emmett's sad 'fro in the seventies. The kids look… young, jumping and swaying and bopping to music, shuffling off at the sides of the dance floor, or mingling around tables. Bella's excited, her manic energy spiking again, pupils as big as her grin, and starts dragging Rosalie to her group of friends.

Much to her horror, her family wanders off to find a table.

Jealousy is something Rosalie is very familiar with, on each end of the spectrum. She's not unaware of her envy, how easy her family finds life, how complete and full they feel. She's also seen jealousy poison the souls of men and women alike, simply by entering the room.

While mild, Jessica doesn't hide hers very well. Rosalie can see the strain in her clenched jaw when they stop by the table, notices her pupils dilate when she looks at Bella, hears the upbeat in her heart.

If she were a kinder soul, like that of Alice or Jasper, she might pity the girl. Instead, she leans on her hip, brushing closer to Bella who naturally gravitates to her.

She must feel this too, she must, her mind whispers while Bella goes through needless introductions and Rosalie tries not to smirk at Jessica.

"I, uh," Mike scratches the top of his head, a weak laugh playing at his lips, "When I told you to chill your girlfriend out, I didn't know you were actually dating."

Their eyes meet at the same time, and Rosalie swears her own question is reflected back at her. Bella's smile creeps onto her face, gaze lingering on the vampire's features. "I don't know who, but one of us is out of the other's league."

"Agreed," Jessica mutters and turns a very bright pink when Rosalie aims daggers her way. "Sorry. I just meant that you're very pretty."

Bella clutches her heart playfully just as Angela reaches out to grab her hand. "So are you, Bella! Jess! Come on."

"Not that you aren't, Bella. Oh my god," she groans and covers her face. "Don't put me in this situation, you brought her over here. How am I supposed to be a person while standing next to that?"

"Angela somehow finds a way."

The rest of the group doesn't even have to look at each other. "Angela is a saint," they tell Tyler.

The girl blushes and shuffles back closer to Ben. "Or you're all a bunch of dicks."

"Probable," Bella laughs. "Okay, I'm done sharing Hale with you ingrates, we're off to find her family."

They're chased off by a series of "Later, Cullen."

Students don't exactly part like the Red Sea for them as they cut through the middle of the gym, but nobody gets close enough to touch, never mind bump. Still, it feels… closed off, with all the noise. Like they're in their own little bubble, hands still laced together. Rosalie wonders if Bella even realizes, and knows she won't let go until the wolf does.

It's not a position she ever thought she would find herself in, even as she wondered about her mate through the years. She figured it would be a man (despite being attracted to women as well, if only for the fact that another woman wouldn't put up with her bullshit) and quite similar to Emmett. Which, she supposes, Bella is. In fact, she thinks that Bella and her brother would quite get along.

Never in (almost) a hundred years would she have guessed Shifter finishing high school. And as such, never considered the possibility of ending up here.

With a girl. Uncertain if her affection even can be reciprocated. Standing in the middle of the gym. During an insignificant high school dance.

And yet, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. To look over and have Bella just there. By her side. With her. Almost to the point where Rosalie swears she's been there all along, all these years.

Bella's dark eyes roam over the room, her thumb brushing against the back of Rosalie's hand, and the vampire is comfortable. She doesn't feel like the lone puzzle piece, solitary in the middle of the table, all eyes on her, unable to fit in anywhere. She's part of the sea of dancing kids, tucked against Bella's side.

And it feels good.

She ghosts her fingers over the bold lines of Bella's sleeve of ink, revelling in the heat coming from her. She glances up to see Bella's eyebrows hike up, and stops. "Did you want to dance?" the wolf asks.

But Rosalie shakes her head. "I don't do this kind of dancing. Too much jumping. Ask Emmett or Alice."

"Do you slow dance?"

The question is genuine, no smirk or laugh. An honest wonder in her eyes. Rosalie can't decide if she's asking her to slow dance or if she's just curious.

"Depends," she replies and watches the lights flit across Bella's face. "Do you dance?"

"I… flail?"

And she can't help but laugh, the very thought of Bella on the dance floor, all limbs and left feet. "Alice can teach you, if you'd like."

Bella grins down at her feet as Rosalie watches a blush swirl into her cheeks. Dark eyes look up at her. "Can you?"

"Is that what you want?"

The playful edges smooth into something else, something a little more serious. Something that has never been aimed at Rosalie before. She finds herself leaning in, absently, drawn towards it. Towards Bella. The wolf licks her lips. "I want-"

Bella catches an elbow in her side, hard enough to feel. Her reaction is immediate, instinctive, with her fingers bruising the delicate skin of the human. "Ow, fuck! Bella, let go, I didn't mean to!"

Rosalie blinks. Feels the humming vibrations coming from Bella's chest. Smells the hint of fear starting to saturate the air around them. Her eyes lift, automatically looking for Jasper.

"Bella, you're hurting me!"

Marble fingers slip around her taught wrist, down into her palm. They gently pry her hand open, Rosalie sliding between the human and the wolf. The yellow flecks in Bella's eyes have formed a thin ring around the pupils - large, dilated pupils. "Bella," she calls quietly.

Those eyes shift up to Rosalie's in a fraction of a second, snapping to attention. The wolf shines through, clawing its way to the surface. Bella pushes forward, her hand in Rosalie's.

But Rosalie does nothing that she doesn't want to, moving included. She allows one step away from the human and stops, Bella pushing against her. "Stop this. It's not you."

"Yes, it is," Bella growls.

"So you hurt that kid?"

She flinches back. "No!"

"Don't let him do this to you," Rosalie murmurs quietly. She blinks, hesitating before stepping closer. "Don't let him take your choice, Bella."

Her pocket vibrates and they both look down. Bella fishes out her phone with jittery fingers, and the screen lights up with the fourteenth message from Paul.

You don't get to turn your back on the ones who took you in. Play make-believe with the Pale Faces all you want, you belong to  us.

The screen cracks around her fingers, her wrist yanked out of Rosalie's hand. She's gone before the vampire can do anything, shouldering through the crowd of students towards the locker rooms.

At once, Alice and Jasper are at her sides. "What was that about?" he asks urgently, his posture stiff as he scans the crowds.

But Alice is much angrier - perhaps angrier than Rosalie, or just more comfortable showing it. "She doesn't belong to them! How can they talk to her like that?"

"Is that why she's so upset tonight?" he wonders aloud. "Her emotions are all over the place."

Rosalie blinks as the door of the girls' locker room slams shut. "Can you feel them?"

"... No, still I cannot. I'm sorry, I would ease her pain if I could." He hangs his head until Alice squeezes his hand. "I can… sense them? I'm familiar enough with the subtleties that I can notice them, and she's been shuffling through extremes all night."

Rosalie nods. "It's Sam, he's doing something to provoke the wolf. Trying to ruin her night or, worst case scenario, get her in trouble with the Council, perhaps."

"If she Shifts in public, in front of all these kids…" Alice shakes her head. "What would they do to her?"

"I'm not sure," Rosalie replies absently. The door still hasn't opened again, and thoughts churn like a dizzying swirl in her mind. Bad idea. Very bad idea. "I imagine Sam believes it's not something she would risk, and will go home before then."

"But she won't leave you," Alice huffs out in frustration. Her eyebrows shoot up and she looks up to Rosalie whose eyes fade numerous shades. "I mean, I assume. Maybe. I don't know for sure, she hasn't mentioned anything to me. Someone should go make sure she doesn't Shift."

Jasper eyes his sister warily. "And how does one stop a Shifter from Shifting?"

Black eyes slide over to him, a golden brow raised in challenge. "The same way we stop each other from snapping."

"Rosa-"

She's gone, slipping through the crowd of dancing kids. Her eyes lock onto the door, siblings' voices fading away. "Give her something else to focus on," she mutters to herself and pushes into the locker room.

The room is dark, except for the light from a group of girls, their phones lit up as they fix their makeup in one of the mirrors. "Leave," she commands. Her voice is sharp and cold, harder than her skin, and leaves no room for argument. They stumble over their purses to get out of the room, and Rosalie looks for the wolf.

Bella sits on the bench by the showers, hugging her knees to her chest, fingers digging in. The rings in her eyes glow when she looks up at Rosalie in alarm, whimpering and squeezing her knees even harder. "Get out!" she snarls.

"You cannot Shift here," Rosalie tells her calmly, slowing her approach but never stopping.

Bella nods jerkily, resting her forehead on a knee. "Yeah, no shit," she snaps sourly. An erratic heartbeat passes. "Sorry. Please leave. Now. Please."

"You're not going to hurt my feelings, like I'm some kind of child or Edward," she scoffs. The heat coming from Bella is like a furnace, and Rosalie feels warm for the first time since she can remember. "Bella, look at me."

"I can't."

"Please," Rosalie requests, standing directly in front of the wolf. Hunger and rage stare up at her helplessly, Bella's jaw clenched around another snarl. "You have to breathe."

"You have to leave!" The warning is punctuated with Bella slamming her elbow back against the wall, a tile crumbling to the bench. She buries her face in her knees again, fingers digging into the back of her neck. "Please. I don't want to hurt you."

"It's me or them," Rosalie says with a sigh. "I will heal, they won't."

"No!"

"Then control it."

"No!"

"Yes! Breathe, Bella. Control it. It's your body, it belongs to you, not him."

She's on her feet in the blink of an eye, palms against Rosalie's bare shoulders. Fire and ice. Her back connects with the wall, more tiles cracked. "Don't tell me what to do," Bella warns in a voice rough with… something. The wolf, maybe.

They stare at each other, Bella panting and glaring. Her face red, flushed, eyes wild. Rosalie calm and collected, a tranquil sounding board for Bella to leech off of. It's the closest they've been since their tussle in Rosalie's room, face to face like this, and neither wants a repeat. With such a loose grasp on her control, Bella is unpredictable and dangerous.

And yet, she seems to be calming down. Her eyes are still hard, burning with raw emotion as they scorch a path along Rosalie's skin, tracing her features. Her breathing is still shallow, but not as violent, and she's leaning on the vampire more than grabbing her.

Rosalie doesn't look away, doesn't blink. She holds Bella's gaze like a lifeline, holds onto the little bits of Bella hidden in the wolf. Her fingers pinch the fabric of Bella's shirt, holding here there because… she wants to. She wants Bella close, and it's hardly noticeable, with everything happening it's not like-

The door swings open with a bang, blaring music pouring in like a rush of acid in Bella's veins. The oblivious girls make their way to the sinks while Bella snaps her head to the side to glare at them. Her fingers dig into Rosalie's shoulders again, chest rumbling, and she turns towards them.

Rosalie's actions are immediate, and for someone who has felt how slowly time drags itself on, this happens before she can truly consider it.

A pale hand snatches the front of Bella's shirt and yanks her back to face Rosalie. Chilly fingers ghost along a heated jaw, guiding their lips together. Like a thief in the dark, armed only with a kiss, Rosalie steals Bella's attention (and heart).

And it's kind of like watching an elastic band snap. The yellow ring in Bella's eyes die out, endless brown staring at her in shock, the snarl in her chest whooshing out with a surprised gasp. The volatile energy that seeped from Bella before evaporates and her Bella is back. Light and carefree, awkward in an endearing sort of way, and always so receptive to her.

Rosalie pulls back just enough to gauge a reaction, just enough to collect her thoughts, just enough to ask herself if she truly did that… and if Bella's lips are seriously that soft, dear god.

"H-Hale!" Bella squeaks and the girls at the mirror look up.

The vampire turns just enough to bare her fangs in a sneer. "Get out!" she barks at them.

They disappear in a fit of whispers and giggles.

Bella's eyes follow them, narrowing ever so slightly as the wolf tries to creep back in.

Rosalie slides her hand from Bella's jaw, up into her hair to bring her back. "Stay with me," she tries to say in anything other than a purr because this is a distraction, that's all. She's trying to help Bella, not lose herself.

It doesn't help when Bella hums and sinks back into Rosalie, noses bumping clumsily. A smile she can feel on her lips, a kiss less controlled and more playful. "Rose…" she whispers, resting her forehead against the vampire's. Her hands are braced on the wall, fingers digging into the tiles.

Suddenly it's not just Bella's control being tested. The gold of Rosalie's eyes swirls together with black, the primal beast of her nature awaking with Bella's breathless calling of her name.

Her actual name.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Bella asks in a voice dragged through gravel. She nips at Rosalie's sharp jaw, listening to the rumbling in her chest.

But someone has to be responsible. Someone has to keep them out of trouble and god knows it can't be Bella, Rosalie knows it can't be Bella. Not when she walks in the shadow of trouble or whatever nonsense she spewed last time. Not when she actively chooses trouble.

"You need fresh air," Rosalie tells her and has to grab those hips to keep them from touching.

Hell. She needs fresh air.

She's never faced such tenacious temptation. Bella is an ocean of desire Rosalie could happily drown in.

The dark abyss stares back at Rosalie, something between Bella and the wolf reflected in her eyes. "I need you."

"No," the vampire squeezes her eyes shut, "back away."

"I can't."

"Bella!-"

"I can't!" she repeats a little more desperately. "Why did you kiss me?!"

"To save those moronic children!" Rosalie snaps back. Her hands brace against Bella, unable to push her away, though there's apparent restraint as the wolf also holds herself back. "Breathe."

"I'm confused and emotional and a Shifter, I can't breathe," Bella growls. She squeezes her hand into a fist, tile cracking around her knuckles. "It was for them?"

"It… Bella. Can we talk about this later? We need to get you outside."

She squeezes her eyes shut as the warmth that rolls off her turns into a heat that's stifling, that's overbearing. "Why would you kiss me?"

"Bella, please-"

"It was for you." They stare at each other, the yellow slowly overtaking the brown in Bella's eyes, right there in front of Rosalie. "Mine was for you."

Rosalie cradles Bella's face with one hand, the other going to her thigh and the strap underneath her dress. "Foolish girl." There's a pinch in Bella's neck that has her gasping and stepping back, rubbing the sore spot. "There is only heartbreak for you here."

Bella shakes the fog from her head, movements sluggish… like she's underwater. The fire in her heart simmers, and she stumbles back another step as something clicks. "Oh, clever vampire…"

Rosalie sets the needle down on the bench, hand outstretched for Bella. The wolf rolls her shoulders. "There's enough in that shot-"

"To drop a rhino?" Bella scoffs. The shadows of the room close in fast, and she sways on her feet.

*thunk*

"...a herd of rhinos, actually."

.

.

.

"How long have you been carrying a tranq?!"

"Just help me get her to the car without drawing attention, Emmett!"

"And on your thigh?! Who are you? Jane Bond? That's so badass."

"Emmett! Car!"

.

.

.

It's really much more sedative than she needs, Rosalie realizes halfway to the car in the parking lot. Bella is out, down for the count, stone cold under, without even a flutter of eyelashes. She is entirely dead weight, and so solid, long limbs making it difficult for anyone other than Rosalie and Emmett to carry her.

She curses her dwarven siblings as they walk helplessly behind, trying to block visual from the gym entrance where kids hang out in the night air.

"She didn't even last an hour!" a random student calls after them, laughter follows shortly after.

Inebriation is as good an excuse as any.

.

.

.

"Her face is in my lap and it's making me uncomfortable," Edward tells the rest of the car. He glares up at Rosalie in the rearview mirror she glances back in. "Why do you need to drive every vehicle you enter?"

"You don't do it right."

"I do too!"

Alice cradles Bella's head against her chest, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Jasper's better at sharing than Emmett is," she whispers to the unconscious wolf.

A warning rumble comes from the front seat. "You could sit up here."

Alice gasps theatrically, hand over her mouth. "And let poor Bella bash her head during your maniacal driving? I should think not!"

Edward frowns. "I can protect-"

"Shush, brother," the pixie swats at his chest until he huffs and looks out the window. "You should be thanking me, Rosalie."

"Thank you."

It's as sarcastic as she's ever heard but Alice doesn't even blink. "Imagine being stuck back here with Bella on your lap and Edward in your head."

"How horribly would it hurt if I just opened the door and fell out now?" Edward wonders aloud, face against the window. "You are my two least favourite people to be stuck with together, I hope you know."

"I'm your best friend, Edward, that's just not true," Alice tells him. She watches a smile tug his mouth up and grins, turning back to Rosalie. "I'm only teasing, Rose. I just don't want you to spiral."

"Too late," the blonde mutters, scowling at the road. She breathes in deeply, careful not to crush the steering wheel in her hands, and looks back at the headlights of the Rolls. "She likes me."

"Duh."

This time Edward knocks his knee into Bella's to make her other one knock Alice. "Patience."

Alice blinks at him and looks at her sister. "I mean, yes. We all suspected as much. Isn't that a good thing?"

"It's too easy to be selfish now," Rosalie says. To the others, to herself, to an unconscious Bella. "She will have to give up much to be with me, and I want to ask her to. I want her to leave her friends, her family, her father, to be with me. And I think she will," she scoffs and shakes her head. "I think she will with a smile on her face and a wound in her heart."

"Rosalie-"

"And I couldn't even say yes! I couldn't tell her that my kiss was for her. I don't care about those idiotic children. I have been consumed with the wonder of how it would feel to have her lips against mine, and that the last shred of my willpower to not know had torn. That I was kissing her because I wanted to, because I want to."

Bella's hand flops down onto Rosalie's shoulder, surprising the vampire who perks up only to roll her eyes and flip her siblings off. Alice lifts Bella's arm again to make the wolf touch Rosalie's cheek. "Hale," the pixie mimics Bella's voice fairly well. "Don't you think I already know that? A blind man in Alaska can see how much you adore me."

Edward snickers from his side of the backseat. "But Bella," his imitation of Rosalie's voice is a little deep, but otherwise spot on, "how do I know if you feel the same way about me?"

"Well you hit me with your car and I still wag my tail whenever I see you," Alice replies. "But I have to be honest with myself. I'm in love with your sister. She's so beautiful and spunky, the moon shines for her-"

"Okay!" Rosalie growls and looks over her shoulder to swat at Alice's hand. "Stop… playing with my mate."

Edward's giggles turn into a howl of laughter that Alice dissolves into, much to Rosalie's annoyance.

.

.

.

The moment the car stops in front of the house, Rosalie is out and darting up the porch. The driver side door doesn't even have time to close, and she passes a concerned Esme. "I cannot tolerate your imbecilic children a moment longer," she snarls and the bedroom door shuts seconds later.

Esme looks back at the car where Edward and Alice still sit, laughing and grinning to themselves. It's difficult to be mad, seeing such joy, but she knows it's at her most sensitive daughter's expense. So she allows herself this brief moment to capture in her mind forever more, Edward resting his forehead on the back of the driver's headrest as he struggles for air he doesn't need, Alice covering her eyes as her chest heaves with each breath of laughter.

She gives them until Emmett and Jasper pull up in the Rolls Royce, and then sets her face into a disapproving frown. "Edward Anthony and Alice… Alice, get out of the car this moment."

Two pairs of big golden eyes peek at her from the car. "Is she mad?"

"She might be mad. She's counting in her head."

"Counting to keep you out or counting how long she's going to ground us if we don't get out."

"To keep me out - oh, both now. Thanks, Alice."

"Hey, we are made of time. I'm calling her bluff."

"Are you going to live here forever?"

They continue to watch her and she slowly raises her eyebrow, hands on her hips. "I won't ask again."

Off to the side, Emmett elbows Jasper and points. "Dude, what did they do?"

"Shhh!" Jasper perks up when Esme looks at them and they both blur over. "Miss Esme, we were just bringing the car back. Whatever they did, we had no part in."

"I'm your wife, traitor!"

Emmett's at the car in an instance, reaching in the window to unroll it all the way and pull Edward out. "You and I got a date this weekend, you can't be grounded!"

"Unhand me, you brute!" Edward huffs with his shoulders up around his ears, suit rolling up. Emmett shrugs and lets 's go but not before Edward clutches to him, arching his back so nothing touches the ground and gets dirty. "Hand me! This is a brand new suit, Emmett!"

The behemoth sighs and scoops his boyfriend up over his shoulder. "Well make up your mind. Damn."

"You look ridiculous, Edward," Alice tells him as she walks over with Bella hooked around her shoulders in a fireman's carry. Which is quite the feat, considering their drastic height differences.

Esme sucks in her laugh, turning her head to control her face and not let the frown slip. "Alice, what in the good graces have you done?"

"You think did this to Bella?!" the pixie echoes with wide eyes. "I am her knight in shining armour, I'll have you know. I rescued her after Rosalie drugged her!"

This time Esme's eyes widen and she turns to look back into the house. "Rosalie drugged Bella?"

"In her defence - Emmett, please set me down." Edward straightens his clothes. "In her defence, she never wanted to be forced to fight Bella, should Bella have lost control. She's been carrying a tranq with her since her conversation with Carlisle."

"Carlisle told her to drug Bella?!"

Emmett snorts and Jasper coughs, both of them grinning at each other. Edward frowns. "No, not… not really, no. She came to that solution after he warned her to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible."

What a mess.

Esme pinches the bridge of her nose and takes a moment. How their lives manage to complicate themselves after so long, is just beyond her, but alright. Stuff happens. Just roll with the punches. "Okay. Alice, take Bella up to mine and Carlisle's room and leave, you're not to bother her or Rosalie." At a look, Alice decides it's best not to argue and blurs inside with the wolf. "Edward, please go collect Carlisle from the hospital so he can make sure the dosage Rosalie used isn't harmful."

He nods and disappears back into his Volvo, peeling out shortly after.

"Jasper, please go park the Royce. And Emmett." The stare at each other, Emmett rolling back and forth on his heels. She tilts her head. "How are you not in trouble?"

His grin is mischievous and boyish. "Weird, right? Want me to, I dunno, break a window?"

"Get inside, you giant goof," she laughs and leads him into the house. "You've been gone… not even two hours. What happened?"

He scratches the back of his head and follows her to the stairs. "I don't even know this time, ma. One minute Ed and I are dancing on the dance floor, and the next Bella comes shouldering through, rushing to the locker room. Rosie goes in after her, some girls run out, but Alice said it was fine! I figured they were boning, I didn't know Double Oh Sexy was tranqing her girlfriend."

Alice hovers in her bedroom doorway, at the opposite end of the hall from Esme's room. She lifts onto her toes to peek down. "Bella was going to Shift!"

"At the dance?" Esme asks in surprise. "Whatever for? What happened?"

The pixie shakes her head with a pout. "Not on purpose, Sam was bothering her. There's something wrong there. I don't like the wolves as much as the next person, but this is… weird."

"Bella Boo down there is a wolf and she's not weird," Emmett muses with a thoughtful look. He flashes a grin when Alice's lips twitch. "Well, she is, but in a good way. Shouldn't they be as cool?"

"Bella might be the exception, not the example."

Right. That makes… a modicum of sense, from what little Esme knows at this point. Far too many secrets being kept from her these days, particularly from her youngest daughter. Speaking of which… "Why is Rosalie so upset?"

Emmett shrugs unhelpfully while Alice sags against her doorframe. She motions to the floor above theirs with a roll of her eyes. "Bella likes her."

"I… you're all making me go grey, I swear to god. Is that not a good thing?" Esme sighs.

Again, Alice scoffs. "Yeah, welcome to the club. We don't know why it's upsetting her, other than she feels guilty about it."

With Jasper comes a serenity that nurtures patience, his presence is ever-calming and warm, compassionate and inviting. The hallway relaxes when he steps into it. "That is entirely her business, but if it makes you all feel better, I can attempt to assist her."

"Please," Esme waves him towards the stairs at the opposite end of the hallway. "And you, missy, are still in trouble. You get back in that room and write an apology to your sister."

"You don't even know for sure that I did anything!"

"I know you."

.

.

.

She's scared.

It's something Jasper is familiar with, her distinct brand of fear, and something he's never come across in all of his years.

(To be fair, he mostly avoids people, so this may actually be all too common. But it's unique in the family, and very… Rosalie.)

Rosalie wields her fear like a weapon, she wears it like armour, and forces it to serve her, instead of debilitating her like it would most people. Her fear is something to fear because it's sharp and jagged, a knife in the gut if you're not careful enough. Rosalie's fear is a strength that has kept this family safe for a very, very long time, and so Jasper is hesitant to ever touch it.

He's hesitant to ever touch any of Rosalie's emotions, lest she retaliate or that it leech into him and therefore the rest of the room. Truly, sometimes being an empath is a nightmare; a hostage amongst your family, a threat to their mental health.

The flowers nailed to her door are still as pristine as ever and it somehow fits that they're fake. He can't see Bella tearing up a living plant, nor can he see her ever letting a joke like this die.

The door opens a crack before his knuckles make contact with the wood. Rosalie's black eyes glare at him from inside. "Don't bother."

"You are worthy of love, Rosalie."

Her palm smashes against his chest, shoving him into the bathroom across the hall and slamming the door behind them. The shower turns on in the same second, his knees hitting the edge of the tub and sending him backwards into it.

The water soaks his curls until they hang in his eyes, suit ruined, boots thankfully dry as his long legs hook awkwardly over the side of the tub. He stares up at his sister patiently. "Does that make you feel better?"

Under the spray, with the sound bouncing around the room, they cannot be heard by prying ears. "What gives you the right to force a conversation with me? If I wanted to talk, I would have invited you in."

"You would never invite me into your room," he points out helpfully.

She stares harder.

It's no secret that she is as stubborn as he is patient and their stalemates last days at a time until Esme begs one of them to give in. This time, however, they don't have the luxury of time. Bella is out cold but for how long? The issue needs to be resolved by then. "Why are you afraid of her loving you?"

Rosalie steps forward, hand in the air squeezing into a fist. "I'm warning you, Jasper. Stay out of my head."

"I'm not Edward."

"Close enough," she mutters darkly.

"I love you, Rosalie," he says simply.

And she flinches. "Stop that!"

"Why? Please, just tell me why you reject love so severely? I have wondered for so long, I have waited for an explanation, a hint, something. Anything. I thought it was sexual desire that offended you but it's more than that," he explains in that gentle but firm voice he uses.

When things are important.

When he can't let them go.

(He can't let her go.)

"Please, stop," Rosalie requests softly. Her eyes are dark, refusing to meet his. Fingers digging into her elbows. "Just leave me be, all of you, please, leave me alone. I don't want her. I made a mistake."

"What if she loves you?" He watches her shake her head, back away. Shut down and shut off, like always. Giving up and running away. "Don't you want to know if she loves you?"

The bathroom counter cracks around her fist, pieces falling off. "Damn it, Jasper! No! Love will kill you, don't you get that? Love will tear you apart, down to your bones, leaving you broken and bare in the middle of the street, bleeding in the night. Love makes you soft, makes you weak and vulnerable. Love will ruin you."

It's… not something she talks about, her change. How she joined the family. As far as he's aware, only Edward and Carlisle know the true details, while the others have agonizing suspicions. Jasper can feel it though, the emotional scar of an old, old wound. How it always itches, and burns around the edges. He can feel it throb now and then; a particularly lecherous man on the street, an ignorant human too oblivious to notice her discomfort.

And it makes it all the more important that he's seen Bella reach for Rosalie's arm, only to pause and tap her shoulder instead. He's seen her sit between Rosalie and a stranger if only so she can relax even a little. He's seen Bella look at her so gently, so tenderly that he truly believes she would die before she let another soul hurt his sister.

(Bella is strong enough to be with Rosalie but, more importantly, she's gentle enough to be with her too.)

"That was not love," he says quietly. She glances towards the space next to his head, not quite able to meet his eye. The wound aches through her entire being, and he hurts. It carves itself deeper into them both. "You were… killed by a lie. Not love."

Another thing the two share, with Carlisle. The only ones of the family who didn't simply die for this life, but were killed. It marks you. A shard of loss lodged deep inside, a piece of you not just missing, but stolen. To end and to be ended are very different things, and he's never been able to express it quite right to Alice, but Rosalie?

They need no words. There's an understanding there, one that's always been there between them. A look in her eye, a nod from him. The only difference between them is that Alice fills the holes that death carved in his life, and Rosalie's gape freely. Their emptiness echoes through the rest of her life, only ever silenced when Bella steps into the room.

Which is why he can't drop it, why he wipes the water from his brow and leans up to reach for her. "You deserve this, Rosalie, and I ask only for the chance to prove it."

The chance for Bella to prove it.

His sister glares at him with stormy eyes, her rage lying just beneath a calm surface. That pain and fear ready to be unleashed in waves of torment at a moment's notice, drowning any who dare get too close.

He pushes himself up to his feet, water oozing from his clothes. "Please take a chance one last time."

"I can't." It's the quietest, weakest, most broken he has ever heard her voice and his chest clenches tightly.

But if life has taught him anything, it's that the good outshines the bad. It does. Alice is worth enduring Maria a thousand times, and he would do it all again in a heartbeat if it meant reaching this. "You can, Rosalie. You're the strongest person I've ever known."

Down below they can hear the front door, Edward and Carlisle's return.

Jasper reaches for the door handle, Rosalie watching him intently. "You don't have to do anything, Rose. Just don't shut down, please. Just be open to her and let her make her choice."

Black eyes flutter and she finally looks away.

.

.

.

Esme makes a horrified noise in the back of her throat when they go to check on Bella. Bella, who is face down in the middle of the mattress, missing a shoe, with her arm at a weird angle. Esme quickly flips her over, tucking a pillow under her head, and turns to the open door. "Alice Cullen, that is two more weeks without your computer."

"She's heavy!"

"I've seen you lift trees, you small maniac!"

Carlisle bounces on the balls of his feet when Esme turns back to them, thoroughly delighted by every aspect of the exchange. Esme rolls her eyes and he swoops forward to peck her cheek, before going back to Bella.

Rosalie leans against the windowsill across the room, staring at the corner of the bed. "She's fine, I just wanted to make sure she was out."

"She looks dead," Emmett hums on the other side of the bed, eyes just peeking over. He snakes his arm up to grab her hand, lifting it and letting it fall with a thud. "She feels dead."

"Oh my actual god, I went to medical school," Rosalie snaps with a scowl. "She's fine."

"But she's the size of a horse!"

"She's shorter than me, Emmett."

"By half an inch, Amazon. And she's a wolf!"

She pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs deeply. "Carlisle, please tell them she's fine so I can leave."

He sits back on the bed after shining his penlight in her eyes to check her pupils, all while timing the beat of her heart. "Healthy as the horse you claim her size to be, Emmett. However," he holds up his hand just before Rosalie can make it to the door, "he's not wrong about her being a wolf, and we don't know for sure how she will react to it. I have every confidence she will be fine, but she should not be left alone until she wakes up."

Rosalie shrugs. "Then send Alice up here."

"Alice did not drug her," Esme says with a click of her tongue. "You did, and you will stay with her to make sure she is fine, Miss Medical School Graduate."

The room watches silently as Rosalie and Esme stare at each other. Esme just smiles while her daughter struggles not to glare, and instead slowly sinks back to sit on the bed. "You're not grounding me, I'm not some child."

"No, you're a very responsible adult who takes care of the messes she makes and the people she involves them in," Esme replies. She holds out the book that's been tucked under her arm. "I brought your book so you don't get bored."

It's snatched up quickly, the cover pressed against her chest as Emmett tries to peek. She growls at him and hugs it closer. "Fine. I'll watch the mutt, but not with you all watching me. Leave or I will."

Jasper all but drags Emmett to the door, asking him about a rematch on their game. Esme and Carlisle linger only to give one last look at the sleeping wolf and their daughter, before departing with a happy hum.

Rosalie sighs and rolls her eyes once the door closes. "It's stupid, how much they care," she tells her unconscious mate. Bella does nothing but breathe. Breathe and exude her warmth, a beacon of comfort beckoning the vampire in. She reaches out to brush the hair back from Bella's face, her eyes soft as they trace strong features. "They don't understand that I have nothing to offer in return, Bella. When you realize that… one can only break so much before there's nothing left."

.

.

.

It was definitely more sedative than she needed, Rosalie realizes the next morning when Bella is still out. Her father calls twice, and Rosalie is forced to send him a text that says I'm crashing at Hale's, be back tomorrow and is both relieved and alarmed when he buys it.

Bella moves only once and that is to curl around Rosalie and rest her head on her thigh, while Rosalie sits and reads her book. If her hand drifts and fingers start running through Bella's mane… well, she hardly notices and can't be held responsible for it.

It's a very serene Saturday morning and Rosalie is horrified that she's imagining every weekend like this. Relaxed in a nest of pillows and blankets, with her own personal heater curled around her body, sound asleep, as she reads poetry. It's a dream that she's had for as long as she can remember and... damn it, Bella fits into it perfectly.

What a dangerous game to play.

.

.

.

The night is calm and soft, a heavy but gentle rain falling consistently against the side of the house and the windows across the room. Outside is dark, with the wind whistling a lullaby, while inside glows warmly from a lamp beside the bed.

Bella's head rests against Rosalie's chest, her arm tucked around a stone waist. She breathes deeply, in almost a snore, no longer zonked out, but sleeping peacefully.

Rosalie drags her fingers up and down Bella's strong back, her eyes trained steadily on the words in her book, and she has never been farther from the world than she is now.

"Look down and see those shapeless forms,
Which ever keep their dreamless sleep
Far down within the gloomy deep,
And only stir themselves in storms,
Rising like islands from beneath,
And snorting through the angry spray,
As the frail vessel perisheth
In the whirls of their unwieldy play."

And for the first time in nearly a century, Rosalie knows peace.

Chapter Text

When Bella wakes up, she's not entirely sure where she is. A door clicks and that's what shoves her out of the Inbetween, where a dream and reality collide and melt into each other. But with that click, her eyebrow lifts, and consciousness crashes into her.

The bed beneath her hands in much softer than her own, she notices that almost immediately. It smells… clean and that's unusual enough that she's on guard, because the beds she usually crashes in smell like her or smoke from a bonfire. Her face is buried in a pillow that calls forth a faint memory too weak to latch, and she's left fumbling for answers.

She's forced to open her eyes and peer around, lifting up onto her elbows.

… It doesn't help much. Everything in the room is neat and organized, it has a place where it belongs and it nestles there in a tidy fashion. The room actually looks like it belongs in a magazine because there's no way someone actually lives in here. There aren't even any socks on the ground.

Bella has her answer when she wiggles her way to the edge of the bed and spots a picture on the nightstand. Esme and Carlisle Cullen grin back at her from the silver frame. "Well hello," she greets awkwardly and grimaces at how rough her voice sounds.

Fucking hell, did she Shift?

Images from the dance come shooting back, playing like a nightmare on the backs of her eyelids. The memory of Rosalie's lips on hers, an explosion of sunshine in her system, moonlight on her tongue.

Bella closes her eyes and buries her face back in the pillow to groan. She only lifts it enough to glare out the window at the sky and whatever god mocks her. "Why do you hate me? What could I have possibly done to you?"

The wooden floor is chilly against her feet and she stumbles forward into the wall against her shoulder. The tranq left her body a little more groggy than her mind, apparently. She yawns and stretches, opening the bedroom door to peek out into the hall and is immediately hit by the aroma of bacon.

She needs no other prompt to start her search for the kitchen.

Family pictures line the walls of the Cullen home and Bella feels warm walking down the hall. These smiling faces staring back at her through the ages, each one from a different location God only knows where in the world. Bella wants to know. She wants to hear the memories behind each one, the stories of that day. What each Cullen was like at that time. She wants to have been there, she wants to be in the picture with them.

She wants to belong.

But instead, she's a stranger with a dad who isn't banging door to door looking for her, and a mom who hasn't called her in almost two years. She's stuck. In a dreary little town, amongst dreary little people, caged in a dreary little pack that at best tries to tell her how to live her life.

She looks back at the picture beside her, sometime in the fifties if she had to guess by their clothing. She's not sure if it's a black and white picture or if someone drew it, even when she squints, but it's beautiful either way. Soft eyes and wide grins, and even Rosalie looks… happy to be there. Her face is aglow with affection as Alice hugs her from the side.

"This one is my favourite."

"Good-fuck!" Bella gasps and drops to her knees in surprise, popping back up a second later. She squeezes a handful of Edward's shirt in her fist, staring at his wide eyes as she pants. "Don't do that, Pale Face! You scared the hell outta me."

He nods until she lets go and steps back to give her space. "I would point out your semblance to an albino, if only to even the scores, so to speak."

"...wut?"

He smirks, crooked and charming. "You are also very pale."

"Oh. That." Bella scoffs and waves it off, leaning back against the wall. "You know pale isn't white, right? Jake isn't white but that dude got so sick on this roller coaster, we were calling him a Pale Face for months. Drove him crazy, he uh… well, he really doesn't like vampires. Ahem. Sorry."

He shrugs and also leans back against the wall, mirroring her. "I take no offence. How are you feeling?"

"Hungover but missing the fun memories," she replies with a wink. "I'm not really sure how to react to everything, you know?"

"Please clarify?"

She nods and brushes her knuckles against her jaw, looking down the hall and back to his patient eyes. "Right, so. You all brought me back here last night-"

"Two nights ago."

"- and I… two nights? What the hell did she give me?!" Bella stares down at the floor with wide eyes, hand in her hair. "Just because I kissed her? Damn. Okay. Well, that's another thing, Eddie. I kissed your sister. But she kissed me first. But it wasn't for me. I woke up in a nice bed, and you guys are really nice - I don't want to go back to the Res, my whole life feels tiny and insignificant in the face of a vampire who has been alive as long as you, I miss my mom but I'm not sure she even thinks of me these days, I can't tell my friends about my life because they're human but I need them, I feel like I'm drowning, my dad probably definitely knows what I am but is just too awkward to even broach the subject so we just pretend things are normal but I'm so sick of pretending, I just want to be me, and I can't breathe."

Esme is there just in time for the sob to wrench itself from Bella, and the wolf clings to her like her life depends on it. Face buried in her shoulder as she cries, Esme cooing softly and patting her back, Edward horrified and concerned. "Shhh, shhh… it's okay, honey, I have you," Esme hums. "You're okay."

"I'm having a bad year," Bella cries into her shoulder and hugs her tighter.

Esme's heart threatens to break. "I'm here now. It's going to be okay."

They stay like that for a few minutes while Bella empties her soul of its pain and ache. Esme holds tight and offers what comfort she can, trying to keep up with the muttered explanations Bella tries to spit out. Things like I'm not usually so emotional, and he's a good guy he just doesn't know how to be a dad, and something about Sam that Esme can't make out for the life of her.

Eventually, Bella's sobbing calms down to sniffles and choppy breathing. The hallway is a quiet comfort around them, but Esme waits until Bella is ready to let go first.

"... have you seen my shoe?"

Edward snorts at the pitiful question that's mumbled into Esme's shoulder but one quick reprimand in her head, and he ducks back out of the hallway.

.

.

.

Six pairs of eyes watch her as she chews on a piece of bacon, mostly excited. Bella reaches up to wipe at her cheek and sniffs. "Those were angry tears… before… if you heard me. I wasn't really crying."

Alice snorts but Jasper shoves her sideways before she can open her mouth, a smile hidden in the corner of his mouth. She glares playfully at him before tucking into his side again. "Well I, personally, didn't hear anything, Bella."

"Nope! Didn't hear anything and it wasn't super sad!" Emmett agrees earnestly with a nod. "Don't worry, bud."

Bella sighs, smooshing her cheek on her fist to lean on the table. "Kill me." They all just keep watching her and it's… weird. Like they've never had a guest before, but that can't be right. Not with how old they are. "Okay, seriously, blink or something. It's so creepy," she says and her eyes drift to the only one who doesn't stare. The only one who hasn't even looked at her yet.

Rosalie stands by the kitchen sink, leaning back against where the counters meet, hands braced on them. She stares down at her boots like they're the most interesting things in the world and Bella feels something in her chest fall.

Jasper leans more fully on his elbows, propped up on the kitchen island. "We've never entertained a Shifter before," he tells her and her eyes snap back to him. "This is an unusual situation for everyone involved."

"Yeah," she scoffs and pushes the eggs around her plate. A quick glance has Esme leaning in eagerly. "You never seen someone eat before or somethin', lady?"

"Forgive me," she says around a smile and looks away briefly. "I don't have much opportunity to use my kitchen, not since they… asked me not to partake in school baking."

"Banned, you mean?" Alice teases. She, once again, moves to hop up on the edge of the table next to Bella's plate, taking her hand to hold in her lap. "Esme has been forbidden after the sheer volume of the last bake sale. Manchester still refers to it as the Sugar Cookie Debacle. Esme, you caused a debacle!"

"Well honestly, the average person could eat five whole cookies in one sitting without blinking an eye. How was I to know they would grow sick of cookies so quickly?"

Alice catches Bella's eye and leans down to whisper. "Small school children were using them as baseballs. You could not walk two blocks without finding them in the street. We were forced to move early when it caught local news."

"Good god," Bella marvels at the matriarch of the family. "What are you?"

"Someone with a lot of time on her hands," Esme sighs and flicks a crumb from the toaster at Alice. "And mad little demon children."

"Just one!" Alice chimes brightly, batting her eyelashes. She turns back to the wolf with a rather serious look on her face and leans down close. "Bella, I need to sketch you."

"Why?"

Edward and Jasper snicker at the wary tone.

But Alice doesn't even blink. "You're beautiful and I have zero drawings of you, I don't even have a picture. It's an affront to me, to you, to my room."

"I… Jesus," she gasps softly at the righteous indignation on Alice's face. "Um, okay? Just relax, kitten. Now?"

Alice sits back and folds her hands on her lap, looking very pleased with herself and all too comfy. "No, not now. I have to prepare and you have to decide if you'd rather be clothed or not."

Bacon lodges itself in her throat and Esme is at Bella's side in a second, patting her back gently while she coughs it back up. In all the commotion of Alice and Emmett cackling, Esme asking if she's okay, and her own choking, Bella can see Rosalie shoulder her way out of the room and into the hall.

She pounds on her chest one last time, pointing an accusing finger at Alice, before she also ducks out of the room. She catches Rosalie outside the door connecting the garage and slides into her path. "Hey!"

"Move."

It says something that she doesn't deflate at Rosalie's tone even a little. "Are we back to the prickly flower routine?"

Golden eyes glare at her. "Get out of my way."

"I get it," the wolf shrugs and leans against the door, "we had an awkward moment the other night. You kissed me and I took it the wrong way. I didn't mean to react so severely, I was already… messed up."

Rosalie grinds her teeth together, arms crossed while her fingers dig in painfully. She scowls at the floor by Bella's feet, and sighs. "That wasn't… your fault. I should not have done that. I beg your pardon."

"I-forgive you? You don't have to apologize… if that's what that was. You're so old." Bella shakes her head as the realization dawns on her, and curiosity threatens to drown her point. "I know your kiss wasn't for me, that you were just trying to distract me."

Her fists clench and Rosalie reaches for the door handle, yanking it open and sending Bella tripping across the hall. "Go bother someone else, I have better things to do."

"Would you wait one damn second? I'm trying to tell you something." Bella follows her into the garage and whistles. "If you tell me you're a mechanic I'm gonna blow an O' right here in the middle of the room, holy shit. You were smokin' before but this just isn't fair."

"Bella…"

The oblivious wolf follows her farther into the room, running her fingers along smooth surfaces she shouldn't touch. "Not to reduce you to your looks, I don't wanna make you bleed. I still think you're lovely, too."

"Those are the same thing," Rosalie mutters and flips open her wrench case.

Bella pops up over her shoulder and hums. "Not really. One is skin deep and the other makes my heart pitter patter."

Golden eyes fade numerous shades and Rosalie turns in an annoyed huff. "Stop saying that abo-mm!"

Their lips lock for the third time in as many days, and Rosalie is stunned into inaction. Bella is soft and warm and inviting, rough fingertips featherlight against Rosalie's jaw as if to hold her there. Lips firm but pliable, as they move and glide against the vampire's. Solid hips beneath Rosalie's palms, fingers sliding under the hem of her shirt, splayed across the surface of the sun.

Scorched down to her very bones by everything that is Bella Swan.

The wolf pulls back to grin. "Mine is still for you. I thought you should know."

.

.

.

Wet earth stains her jeans, knees digging into the ground. The rain pours down harder than usual, more weight added to her shoulders, and the air is thick enough to suffocate in. She used to wish it would just take her, that Forks would just get it over with already. That her small, bleak existence would wash away in the rain.

But that was before sunshine and moonlight strode into her life, before her happiness hit her with a car.

Now she submits in the hopes that Sam will grow bored and leave her alone, in the hopes that she can hide the fight that burns in her heart, the fury that courses through her veins and gathers in her fists. She submits in a way she hopes is how she always submitted but she truly can't tell, she was never really there before.

Rainwater drips from her jaw, in her eyes as she glares up at the alpha stalking around the yard. He looks almighty with the backdrop of a storm behind him, lightning cracking across the sky with his smile. She wonders what it would be like to strike a god, and squeezes her fists until her knuckles threaten to pop.

The others stand along the yard line, tall and dark and apathetic. At least on the outside. She knows some of them share her sentiments. Jacob, Seth, Leah, Quil. Embry is still on the fence, still just wants life to be easy, wants to be one of the wolves and not make waves. She can't judge him for that, even if it stings like betrayal. It's not easy saying no when with a snap of his fingers, your body bows to Sam. When half a dozen voices in your head scream at you to say yes.

"Do you see what happens when you play with the leeches, Bella?" Sam shouts to be heard over the rain. He points at Quil, bruised and bleeding, a lump on the grass a few feet away from her. The boy groans and flinches, shielding his face, and she drops her chin to look away. "Your brothers suffer for your curiosity, Bella. By your hand, they bleed."

Her knuckles are scraped and bruised, throbbing in pain. Her hand might actually be broken, but it's hard to feel past the pounding of her heart.

"If you're with them, you're against us," Sam tells the rest of the pack. He holds up his large arms, rain dripping from them, and lightning flashes again. "We are your family, we share destiny. Look nowhere else for your purpose, look nowhere else to belong. You are all my wolves, and you belong to me, alone. I am your Alpha!"

The wolves pound their fists over their hearts, while Bella and Leah dig their fingers into the earth, into the tree Leah leans back against. Their muscles twitch, bones aching, and Bella clenches her jaw until she tastes blood.

Sam's strong hand grips her chin painfully, wrenching her face up to meet his blazing eyes. "You are mine, Bella Swan."

"No," she chokes out.

He shoves her back and runs his hands through his hair, gathering the water. "Why do you insist on hurting us? How long must we suffer for your selfish desires? Hasn't Quil bled enough for you?"

"Wait!" she gasps.

He points over to Quil's huddled form. "You're breaking my heart, Bella…"

"Sam, please-"

"Finish him."

Jacob, Seth, and Leah jerk forwards until he holds up his hand to them. Leah snarls angrily and Seth ducks his head.

Bella grunts as she pushes herself up to her feet and rolls her shoulders. "Sam, please, don't do this. I'm begging you!"

Jacob whines and his fists tremble. "Sam, stop this! You've made your point!"

"I don't think I have," he insists. "Quil, does it feel like Bella is loyal to our family?"

The boy whimpers, cradling his bruised and swollen jaw.

Angry tears mix with the rain, rolling down Bella's cheeks. Her red fingers grab Quil's torn shirt and roll him over to face her. She swallows thickly, taking in the damage from her fists. "I'm sorry," she whispers in a broken voice. "I'm so sorry, Quil."

"I said finish him, Bella. That's what you want, isn't it?"

Her fist collides with his jaw again and she drops to a knee, winding up for another. "Sam, I'm sorry! Please, stop. Please. I'm begging you!" He covers his face and her knuckles crack across his. She looks up over her shoulder at her alpha beseechingly. "Please, forgive me!"

One of Sam's eyebrows twitch up with intrigue and Bella feels her muscles relax. Her fist loosens. "Excuse me?"

She blinks down at Quil again, the boy no longer even conscious. His face is already mending but… she squeezes her eyes shut and collapses to the ground beside him, palms digging into the mud. "Forgive me," she requests weakly. "I didn't mean to disobey. They're… interesting."

Sam's hand rests on her shoulder as he crouches down. She looks up and he is paper thin compassion, all show but nothing underneath. His eyes are empty and she looks away to the trees in defeat. "I understand. I'm not the bad guy here, Bella. I understand your plight. You have to live there with them, among the whispers of their otherworldly beauty. How many legends do we have of them? Your curiosity is your weakness and I would never fault you for it. You're not strong enough to fight it, but together we are. We'll get through this. I will speak to the council on your behalf and come up with a solution."

He lingers there until his fingers dig into her shoulder, bruises staining her skin. She grinds her teeth together and sinks lower. "Thank… you…"

"Of course." Sam stands back up to his full height and looks around the pack. "Don't blame your sister, boys. Her blood is weak, she isn't like us. Her wolf is… weak, faint. It's our job to protect her and we will. Even from herself. That's what families do, we build each other up… even if we have to tear them down first."

Bella feels all the eyes on her and sighs. She can feel each poke and prod as one by one, the boys Shift, and tear off through the trees. She waits until long after she can't feel the ground tremble, and looks up to see Jacob, Seth, and Leah still there. Still watching through the trees.

The second Leah nods, Bella is scrambling over to Quil's body, wiping the mud and blood and water from his face. "Oh my god, oh my god, Quil. Quil! I'm so sorry, oh my god, I'm so sorry. Quil, wake up! Please! I'm so sorry. You're okay. Please be okay."

Jacob drops to his knees beside them, yanking off his shirt to wipe at Quil's face. "It's not your fault, Bella."

"My hand still aches from smashing his face, Jake! Don't try to tell me this isn't my fault." She hauls the boy into her lap, holding him close. "I hate him. I hate him! How could he do this? How could I let him do this?"

Leah sinks to her knees between her brother and Jacob. Her face is hard and severe, a judgment in her eyes that never truly fades. The world may judge her but Bella knows there isn't a force on this earth that Leah won't retaliate against, in some way. "Stop playing house with the vampires, and Sam won't have anything to take out on the rest of us."

Jacob frowns at her. "Leah…"

"What if it's Seth next time? What if it's your dad? My mom? There's a simple solution here and she's not taking it."

"I won't hurt Seth!" Bella snarls. Her face softens and she catches the younger boy's eye, reaching out for his knee. "I will never hurt you, Seth. I promise."

Leah jolts up to her feet and snatches up Seth's hand, pulling him along. "Think about that as you carry Quil home, and realize nobody on this side of the border has a choice."

.

.

.

Alice looks ridiculously cute in an apron, Bella discovers. The fact that she begs Bella to come over and make cookies with her? Adorable. It's all too much for one person to resist, and so Bella finds herself in the Cullen kitchen, half a dozen mixing bowls full of cookie dough lining the counters. The island is… full of flour and sugar, egg drips from the edge, and she honestly doesn't know how it got so messy, but she's pulling eggshell from Alice's chaotic spikes.

The pixie stands on her stool, bowl in her arm, wooden spoon pointing at Bella. "So you're saying that you can turn into a big dog at will."

"Wolf," Bella rolls her eyes with a grin, "and yes. I'm also in a much better mood if choose it, and mostly me."

"But if it's forced…?"

Bella shrugs. "I blackout and can't remember what happened when I wake up."

"So mostly wolf and not much of you. Got it, good to know," she hums. She reaches for the bag of M&M's, flashing Bella a grateful smile when they're handed to her. "Edward says that the wolves can read each other's mind?"

"Yeah. Well." Bella wobbles her hand and makes a face, leaning against the warm oven. "In your wolf form, you just… have access? You can hear what they're thinking, feel what they're feeling, see the most recent memories."

"That must be unpleasant, sharing your mind with a dozen boys?"

"That's what Leah says. I wouldn't know, they can't… hear me. I'm silent on all fronts, which I think causes some of the divide between me and them." She shakes her head and scoops some dough into her mouth. "Whatever, I wouldn't want them in here anyway."

"They would discover your not-so-secret crush on me!" Alice gasps dramatically.

"Pretty sure that's obvious even without the mind reading," Bella teases and boops the flour on Alice's nose. "You're a mess."

"Yes, but I'm cute so it's okay."

Bella rolls her eyes and takes the bowl she's handed, stirring in the chocolate chips. "If you say so."

"What do you want to do with your life?" Alice asks her after a moment of consideration. A moment of standing on that stool, looking at her with thoughtful eyes and curiosity. With something akin to hope.

Bella looks away and shrugs. "Live it. Maybe." She sets the bowl down, popping a few chocolate chips into her mouth, and glances back up at the attentive vampire. "That must sound dull to someone who has seen and experienced so much."

"Do you want to know what I've discovered, through all of my many years?" Alice leans in to whisper conspiratorially. Bella nods and also leans in. "Nobody's life is ever dull. It's just not possible. Waking up is an adventure, a dare to face the unknown! Bella, the future is full of chaos and surprises, the likes of which you cannot anticipate!"

"That's… fair…" Bella agrees reluctantly. "Things just tend to fall into a very anticipatory routine around here."

Alice taps her finger to her chin with furrowed brows as she considers this. "Then move!"

"Hah, right. I'm broke as hell," Bella scoffs.

"You were incredibly poor, yes," she agrees simply.

But Bella spots it all the same. "What does that mean? Alice? Hey, what does that mean?"

"I-" For once, the pixie is at a loss for words. Her wide eyes blink slowly, and she brushes her hands on her apron. "I have… done something that I hadn't considered overstepping until this very moment. Bella, as your best friend, I need you to promise to forgive me."

"Forgive you for what?" Bella demands. She moves to try and catch Alice's eye, sighing deeply when the vampire lifts her chin to stare at the roof. "Alice, I promise to forgive you if you tell me what you did."

She nods but still doesn't meet Bella's eye. Instead, she wrings the dish towel in her hands. "Well I… I may have made a few investments in your name…"

Bella pinches the bridge of her nose. "Alice. What does that mean?"

"I opened a few accounts in your name; banking, savings, stocks, etc… and made educated investments."

"You."

Alice watches her earnestly, waiting for more of a reaction other than the blank stare aimed her way. She shuffles her feet on the stool, leaning side to side, but Bella's gaze doesn't follow her. It's like watching a computer reboot, waiting for the loading screen. "I'm very good at the stock game," Alice tells her when still Bella says and does nothing. "I cheat. I'm a cheater. Bella, can you hear me? You made seventy-two thousand dollars last week. Are you mad? I don't do it a lot, just a little bit. Enough to stay off the radar but live comfortably."

The timer on the oven goes off.

"Well, maybe a little more than comfortably. Poshly? Somewhere between I don't really think of money and I laugh at money."

Slowly, Bella sinks to the floor to lean against the cupboard door, staring across the kitchen to the big window. "Why would you do that?"

"I truly didn't consider how invasive or - or rude it could be, I forget money is a touchy subject. I'm very sorry, Bella. You can donate it? I work with a number of reliable charities who do very good work, I can contact them for you. I'm sorry, please forgive me, I won't do it agai-"

A warm hand covers Alice's, the pixie kneeling on the floor beside her friend. "I'm not mad, Alice," Bella says firmly. "That was… sweet? I'm just, I'm uncomfortable and confused. Why did you do it? I'm not… family, so why would you worry about me financially?"

Alice stares at her for an awkward length of time. There is no trouble-making twinkle in her eye, no playful smirk on her face. It's possibly the most serious Bella has ever seen her and she just looks for a long time.

Their fingers lace together and slowly, genuinely, softly, a smile slides onto Alice's face. "You could be."

.

.

.

Bella is noticeably… absent at school.

And that's not to say she isn't there, because she is. Every class, every day, like clockwork, but the Cullens begin to notice her lack of presence in their lives at school. She doesn't walk Edward to class anymore, nor does she sit with Alice at lunch. She doesn't linger by Rosalie's locker (a brief stop to catch her eye and murmur "Morning, Hale," with a grin caught between her teeth). Emmett's study-buddy hides in the shelves at the library rather than sit with him, and she's the last one out of the school before she finally ventures over to the parking spots.

By the end of the week, Emmett's had enough. His hands are on his hips, a disapproving frown on his face, while he waits for her to approach.

She does so hesitantly, dragging her feet the entire way. "What, uh, what's up, big guy?"

"Why are you ashamed of us?" he fires off and Edward winces. It's not the gentle questioning they agreed on, but Emmett's never been good with impulse control. "Huh?!"

"I'm not?" Bella replies. She's thoroughly confused and kinda glad this isn't about her breaking his Nintendo Switch on Tuesday.

But Emmett scoffs and motions to himself, to his siblings. "We haven't seen you all week!"

"I come over literally every other day."

"After school!"

Alice grabs his hand and nods with a huff. "Eight hours a day, you're a ghost."

A memory tickles the back of Rosalie's mind and she shifts, leaning on the Volvo in a new position. "Have… we done something wrong?" The words stumble from her lips gracelessly. "Have they upset you?"

"No, I'm." Bella steps forward, a weak smile on her face and a rosy colour rising in her cheeks. She glances at Rosalie shyly. "You remember that?"

Rosalie lifts her chin with a light scoff. "Vampiric memory, of course I do. I'm incapable of forgetting."

The wolf nods and scratches the back of her neck. "Yeah, well, I'm not. Ashamed of you. Avoiding you? Little bit."

"Why?" Edward inquires curiously.

And Bella sighs. She leans back against the fence and looks off in the distance, to the group of kids hanging out on the track field. "Sam can't see into my head, but Forkians love to gossip. He sees me through the grapevine."

"Are you getting in trouble for interacting with us?" Jasper asks after a moment. "You were…" He hesitates. It's… difficult, trying to explain that he can recognize a look in her eye. The same one he used to have when Maria got him to deal with the hopeless newborns that couldn't be trained. It's difficult to explain that pulling into yourself is the wrong move, and that the Cullens, of all people, know best how to help. Are experienced in helping that. Helping him. Helping her.

It's not a conversation for the school parking lot, and definitely not to have in front of an audience. But Bella and Jasper are the least close of them all, and he wonders why. Wonders if she suspects he can read her better than the others, wonders if that's why she avoids his eye the most. Why she looks so guilty around him.

Reaching out won't be easy, but it couldn't have been easy for Alice reaching out to him, either. But she still did. It was still the right thing to do, and Jasper will spend the rest of his days earning that kindness.

Bella shrugs and grins, happy smile on her face. Light and breezy, and she is so good at reducing her emotions to micro-reactions so easily overlooked. "They bitch and moan a little, it's more annoying than anything, and stresses me out some. I'd rather avoid that, if I can. Which means pulling a little Phantom Of The Opera during the school day. Sorry."

Her eyes lift to Rosalie at the end, and the vampire rolls her own. "Do what you want, we don't need you holding our hands all day."

"But do you want me to?" Bella wiggles her eyebrows and shuffles closer. "Because fuck the Forkians, I'll hold your hand until mine falls off, if you ask."

"Unnecessary and disturbing," Rosalie scoffs even as her lips twitch up in an amused smile.

Emmett's hand is on her shoulder and Bella looks up at him. "Are you okay, though?"

She blinks and nods, punching him in the shoulder. "Ow, yeah, I'm fine," she says and shakes her sore hand. "Seriously, don't worry, it's not a big deal. I'm sorry for ghosting you guys."

.

.

.

Sometimes. Sometimes Bella thinks that, yeah, maybe all the bad shit is worth the good stuff. Because the good stuff? It's so… good. There is no price too high to pay for days like these, days she's never known before. How… good it is to lounge by a beach with the Cullens, waiting for the sun to depart from the clouds.

Bella lifts her head to peek over her shades at the others, checking for the diamond statues she was promised. So far there's, well, maybe a dusting of glow if she looks hard enough.

Her heart does that full thing that happens whenever she stops to appreciate the moment. Esme and Carlisle walk along the edge of the water, collecting rocks because apparently, that's something they do. Emmett and Jasper build what can only be classified as a Sand Empire because the castle is bigger than she is and as tall as her knees. Edward sits under a tree in the grass a ways back, writing in his notebook, while Alice floats on a big plastic turtle in the water.

Rosalie sits beside Bella in her lounge chair, giant sun hat looking like an enormous UFO, eyes hidden behind sunglasses. She reads her book silently, creamy pale skin exposed in a bikini as per her deal with Bella, but by god the sun still isn't peeking through yet.

"Alice, how sure are you?" Bella hollers from the sand.

The pixie waits for the floaty to turn so she can peer over her sunglasses. "I'm offended you even asked that."

"If Alice says it will happen, it will happen," Rosalie murmurs as she turns a page.

"Even if I'm here?"

There's a moment of consideration where the vampire tilts her head very slightly. "She seems especially confident, so my bet remains with her."

"Fair," Bella sighs. She flips over onto her butt and brushes the sand from her stomach. As always, her gaze wanders back over to Rosalie, and she reaches up to tap the back cover of the book. "Whatcha reading?"

"Open your eyes."

They both blink and look at each other, and golden eyebrows climb up over the tops of Rosalie's sunglasses.

She closes the book to look at the front cover. "Sorry. Habit. Dark of the Moon, by August Derleth." At Bella's blank stare, Rosalie finally breaks and smiles softly. "It's a collection of poetry."

"Dark fantasy?" Bella questions as she reads the back cover. "Wait, poetry? Rosalie Hale reads poetry. Dark, macabre poetry. Oh my god, you're an emo?!"

The book is held up threateningly but the vampire can't actually bring herself to throw it, so she scoffs and lifts her chin. "I am how I've always been, I don't care what name they refer to it as these days."

"Oh, but it fits," Bella mumbles to herself. "The sweats and overalls hide it well, like a Sexy Mechanic mask, but my girl is deep."

The arm of the chair cracks under Rosalie's fingers as she repeats the last part over and over in her head. "Most people are."

"Sexy mechanics?"

She snorts and shakes her head. "No, deep. Most people have substance, even if they hide it, if they ignore it. Life is too severe, we are incapable of not becoming cavernous canyons to hold the experiences of it all."

"Wh…"

"The shallow have not truly lived," she finishes simply. As if she's not spitting straight philosophy. "Are you nervous?"

"I - what? Hold on, I'm, okay. Just let me lock away that take on life for later," Bella chuckles and shakes her head. "I feel like I need to take notes during our conversations. Alright, so am I nervous? Of what?"

Rosalie nods in the direction of her family. "Our little agreement. We show you our glitter and you show us your wolf."

"You make it sound so tawdry," Bella mutters and wraps the towel around her shoulders. "Why would I be nervous, are you going to judge me?"

A moment passes and Rosalie turns to look at her again, to lock eyes even through the reflective surfaces of their shades. "Do you think I would?"

"How should I know?"

"You should know." She sighs and hugs the book to her chest. "If you don't know, I apologize. I have not been a good enough friend, if you have any doubt."

Bella deflates and leans up to rest her fingertips on Rosalie's arm. "Hey," she says softly and waits for that gaze to circle back around. "I'm… it's not about you. I mean, it is. You asked, specifically, I wouldn't have agreed otherwise. I just don't do this, you know. It's,"

"Painful?"

The wolf chuckles and shakes her head, leaning against the chair and looking out at the trees. "Like a motherfucker, but not for long. That's not an issue." She sighs heavily and scowls, scrounging up her courage. "Okay, here's the thing. I like you. Like, a lot. Which I think is pretty clear by now, but hey, maybe it isn't, so now you know. But you're a vampire and I mean, I don't have any issue with that. I don't even care that you drink blood, I have this morbid view on the circle of life, that's what my mom used to say, anyway. There's too many people, you know? And badguys deserve to be eaten, but whatever. What was I saying? Oh, yeah. I just… imagine that there might be biases on your side of the border, too? I, uh, heard you complaining that first night we re-established the treaty. Which is reasonable, mostly, you know, but maybe it's easy to forget I'm a wolf when I'm human, and if you see it, you won't ever… not see it? I'm worried that - I'm worried about losing you," she whispers in the end, staring at the sand of the beach.

Time drags by painfully slow and Bella doesn't hear the others. They're exceptionally quiet, pretending to mind their own business, but she's more preoccupied with Rosalie.

Rosalie who hasn't said anything, who lounges back in her chair silently. A marble goddess untouched by the world. Bella wonders what that must be like; that cold certainty in everything you do. Such control over oneself.

She doesn't know if she's jealous or thankful. Her shaky control gets her in trouble but being calm is… scary, to her. Apathy is a pool she could easily drown in.

Pale fingers tap at the back of her hand and she jumps slightly, looking back up at Rosalie. The vampire stares out ahead of them, still holding the book to her chest. "I'm aware of you, Bella. Always."

Which is great but does nothing to ease her worries. Well. Not really. It makes her feel special and giddy and warm because if Rosalie turned around and told Edward she had no clue who he was, Bella wouldn't even blink. Rosalie is either very good at hiding how important people are to her, or very difficult to become important to.

Honestly, Bella could die happy knowing that she's important to Rosalie.

"The sun is coming," Rosalie sighs out and sets her book down on the towel Bella's partially sitting on. "Last chance to back out of our deal."

The wolf shakes her head and shoots up to her feet, bouncing with excitement. She's tempted to look out at the others but Rosalie is the first one she wants to see. "Are you kidding? How many people get to say they looked upon the heavens?"

"And ran away howling? You are a Wild Child, daughter of the moon. Don't think me so above you," Rosalie almost reprimands. It sounds like a reprimand, at least. There's a scowl there, faint as it is, but it kind of feels like she's talking more to herself.

But Bella shrugs, all the same. "Okay, Glittering Sun Goddess," she scoffs because two can play at the weird nickname game.

There's no time for a rebuttal, though knowing the vampire it would have been devastating and Bella's a little sad she has to miss it. The clouds part and beams of light cascade down to the beach, hitting the sand and hitting pale skin.

What the light touches, lights up like diamonds and Bella can't swallow her gasp of surprise. Rosalie crosses her arms over her chest and looks away, jaw visibly clenched and Bella wants to say something, wants to reassure her, but she's speechless. She is enthralled, enraptured. She can't even blink.

Rosalie's skin glitters with divine lights, like something out of a dream. She lights up in a way that has poems sprouting in Bella's heart, and the wolf staggers forward. She can't not, she has to be closer, she has to touch.

Alarmed, Rosalie takes half a step back and holds up her hand. "What are you…?"

Bella's rough fingertips brush against a sparkling abdomen that she can feel shiver under her touch. "Tell me to stop," she whispers and continues to marvel at the vampire before her. Her palm lays flat against Rosalie's skin, her eyes dragging along her body and leaving burning trails behind. "You are exquisite."

"I know."

"Do you?" Bella echoes genuinely. Her other hand is smooth against Rosalie's glittering neck, sliding higher into her hairline. "Do you see yourself the way I see you? Does it take your breath away? Does it make you want to live?" Rosalie's breath hitches and Bella's thumb brushes her cheekbone before lifting the sunglasses.

Golden pools watch her with equal parts caution and disbelief. "Bella."

"You make me want to live," Bella tells her in a gentle voice that hides a dark edge. "How come the others don't glow, too?"

Rosalie has to blink a few times and tear herself out of the moment. She shakes her head and focuses on Bella, who looks over her shoulder at the others. "What do you mean?"

"They sparkle but don't glow. Why do you glow? Are you like Alice and Edward and Jasper? Wait, are you really a fucking sun vampire, for real?" Bella asks with a chuckle.

But Rosalie is at a loss, because she's never heard of glowing vampires, and it would so be Bella to have a stroke and get out of her end of the deal. She scrutinizes the girl, looking for dizzy eyes or twitching face muscles, and deduces that she might just be the biggest, hopeless romantic Rosalie has ever met.

She's watching the others sparkle in the light as they play in the water, Emmett trying to dunk Alice off her floaty, but Bella's hand remains on Rosalie's hip. Heat seeps out around it, rolling across her skin, and she feels so warm that she doesn't need a mirror to know her eyes are going black, she can feel a purr building up in her chest and no.

No.

She swore long ago that she would never fucking purr for anyone like some damn house cat in the sun. Not like Alice, who bristles and makes that infuriatingly cute noise when you touch her.

Whatever god decided that vampires would be this similar to felines was an asshole.

"Your turn," Rosalie says and steps back. She crosses her arms again and clears her throat, nodding at the confusion on Bella's face. "Time to Shift, dog."

Instead of being offended (Rosalie can see she did something wrong as Esme squawks in the distance and gives her a look), Bella laughs - startled and delighted. "Ouch!"

"No, with… with affection. Like Alice."

"Okay, Alice calls me puppy because it's cute and sweet," Bella tells the adorably gruff vampire who looks confused and concerned and affronted. "Calling me a dog is like… it's the difference between radiant beauty and a hot piece of ass. Both are technically correct but one is nice and the other is barbaric."

"Oh. That's… I don't like this," Rosalie says with distaste.

And Bella chuckles again, shaking her head. "Doesn't offend me anyway, coming from you. Call me whatever you want, Hale."

"Not in polite company."

The teasing grin is flashed so quickly Bella almost misses it and she's reeling from the playful look Rosalie has. She hums and drums her fingers on a stone hip, tilting her head at the vampire. "And just what do you want to call me?"

"You'll know when I call you," Rosalie replies ambiguously and it's possibly the longest Bella has ever seen her smile. She nods her chin and steps back out of reach. "And don't think I'm unaware of the stall tactic."

A ragged sigh and she drops her shoulders. "Fine. God. Okay. I, uh, I need to do it in the trees and come out." Rosalie lifts an eyebrow and Bella kicks at the sand gently. "It's not, uh, pretty? Not like yours. Bones break, and grow, and morph… happens quick but with your eyes, you'll probably see everything."

Her touch is featherlight, Rosalie's fingers looped loosely around her wrist. The concern is touching and Bella chews painfully on her lip. "No one will judge you here, Bella. I will never… I wish you were more comfortable around me."

The last part drifts away to more of a bitter mumble and Rosalie looks away to the trees. It's a thing Bella is starting to recognize, how she recoils every time she reaches out. As if she expects to be burned, to be punished for making a connection. Honestly, Bella wishes Rosalie was more comfortable around her.

But even that is… kind of comforting? It gives her a reason to ignore her own nerves if only to make things easier for the vampire. So she rolls her shoulders and digs down, searches for the wolf to pull up and out. "You should," her voice is rough again, more than before, like it was dragged down the back road, "you should stand back."

Rosalie blinks and looks up in mild surprise. "My intention was not to guilt your cooperation from you."

Either way, it's too late. You can't unbreak an egg, you can't put the cat back in the bag. Bella grinds her teeth together, heart pounding in her chest like a jackhammer, and shakes her head. She tries not to glare, not to grimace while she looks at her… whatever she is to Rosalie. Whatever they are. Friends, maybe. Definitely something more. "N-Not guilt. Trust - fuck!" she gasps and doubles over as her ribs crack and slide.

Carlisle is at her side in a moment, hands like dry ice against her blazing skin. "Bella, that doesn't sound-"

"Don't touch!" she snarls and blindly shoves him back. Her shoulder muscles rip, bright glowing yellow eyes looking up at them. "Back!"

They both skid back half a heartbeat before there's an agonizing grinding noise and a sort of… pop, mingled in with a whimper and snarl.

Bella is gone and the wolf is there, panting in her place.

She looks… different from the other wolves. Sam is large, he's easily bigger than a horse while the others are roughly that size, maybe smaller. Rosalie suspected Bella would be much the same, especially considering she's a girl, but Bella is mighty. Smaller than Sam, but the wolf's shoulders are broad and strong, her body is lean but sturdy. It carries power over grace, with enormous paws that dig into the sand. Her fur is mostly grey, with patches of red and white, and black ears. It's not as shaggy as the boys, but Rosalie desperately wants to call her a fuzzball.

Those eyes still glow a bright yellow, big and wide and anxious. She lets her butt drop with a thud that kicks up sand, and tilts her head.

The rest of the beach jolts back into animation again, and Emmett whistles from the water. "Maybe warn a dude, next time. Usually exploding wolves is a bad thing for us."

She whines lowly and huffs.

Rosalie's fingers play with the ends of her fur when she finally ventures close enough. Her face is hard, guarded, but her eyes are soft and kind and… affectionate? Maybe? Bella lowers her head and stone fingers find her ear.

Alice snorts when Bella's tail thumps as she fights the urge to wag. She prances over to them, burying her face in Bella's fur and hugging her the best she can. "Hello, puppy."

The resulting bark! is like thunder and cuts through the air. Everybody jumps and Esme clutches her chest. "My word!"

The wolf snickers and it's endearing enough for Rosalie to smile and rest her forehead against Bella's snout. "You absolute ass," she whispers.

A ball of sand pelts her right behind her ear and she shakes it out of her fur, glaring over at Emmett. He holds his arms up and pounds his chest. "Let's see what you got, kid!"

Those glowing yellow eyes return to Rosalie long enough for her to nod, and then Bella crouches down. Her ears pin back and she swishes her tail once before launching herself over the vampires to land right before Emmett.

Sand rains down on them all and her landing is loud, heavy, kicking up more sand. She is a beast that commands fear and respect, but playfully bounces once Emmett cracks his eyes open again. "Not bad!" He grins and ducks under to hoist her onto his shoulders and throw her into the water.

"Emmett!" Esme chastises but has to fight her coo when Bella's big wolf head pops back up. "Okay, who has my camera?"

Chapter Text

A storm shakes the house, loud and booming, echoing all down the street, but muted inside the walls. Bella sinks further into the couch, watching the rain pelt against the window, trying to squint to see outside in the dark. Charlie's game plays quietly in the background, his tranquil breathing like her own personal lullaby. The room glows softly in the light, the rest of the house dark, and she hugs her blanket tighter around herself.

Most of her memories of her father are like this. Sharing a moment, without any real words. Truly, she's not always confident he even realizes she's there, but it's… good enough. For them. It works.

Lightning cracks outside and the lights flicker. They both look up, waiting to see if the storm wins, if it knocks out the power…

The game continues and Charlie grunts.

Bella sighs.

Her phone buzzes.

Waifu:  Of course I have. Poe is too popular not to have come across in all my time. Jasper despises his writing but even he has the complete collection.

She snorts. Well, excuse the damn out of me for wondering about you.

Despite knowing that the family is out playing baseball (yeah, like lunatics, in this weather), the reply comes relatively quickly. She doesn't even have a chance to drop her phone back on her chest.

Waifu:  And how often do you wonder of me?

Bella stares at the words, her cheeks reddening. Across the room, Charlie sips at his can, and glances at his kid. "That, uh, that better be PG over there. I am Chief of Police, and all," he warns awkwardly.

"Sexting up a storm, pops," Bella doesn't miss a beat. "Dick pics coming out the wazoo. Pretty sure my phone has an STD now."

He sighs an echo of the ancients and thanks his god that he was gifted Bella. "I'm sure Cullen wouldn't appreciate you saying she's viral."

Bella lifts an eyebrow but still does not look away from her phone. Away from the question. Away from the challenge. It feels like a challenge. Rosalie always feels like a challenge, and Bella? Bella isn't one to back down easily. "I think I can take her," she mumbles.

Her father scoffs and goes back to his game. "My money is on the girl who isn't related to her family but somehow still has their eyes," he mutters.

"And who says Forks is oblivious?" Bella replies cheekily. "Willful ignorance is bliss, yeah?"

As often as my heart beats.

Charlie prickles, some young part of him shaking off the dust. The kid who used to wonder what his town held, who devoured its history in hopes of uncovering its secrets. The young man that sat around bonfires on the res, listening to tales too… emotional to be a myth. Too close to the heart of his best friend.

But the adult wins. The tired old cop who has had to sleep with the cold chill of fear entwined down his spine most of his life, forced to carry memories of mutilated bodies drained of their blood between here and Seattle. Ignorance isn't bliss, but it's safe. Knowledge can be a nightmare that haunts you for the rest of your life. God knows, it drove Renee away, to the point she trembles outside the sunlight.

"Yeah, whatever," he grunts and chugs the rest of his drink.

The phone in her hand creaks and Bella forces herself to loosen her grip. She glares at her father, at his weakness. His fear. Too scared to look too closely into her life. The way he clutches to lies and false safety. Unwilling to risk the plastic peace of his town, even for his own daughter.

She hates it. Hates that he has the luxury of being weak. Being scared. Sometimes she might even hate him for it, and that just makes her hate herself.

It's hard not to drown in the rage of the wolf.

"Just close your eyes, pop," she snarls and rips the blanket off of her. She angrily shoves her phone into her pocket. "Bury your head in the sand until it's over, like always. God knows those with a choice never use it."

He scowls fiercely, up on his feet. "Hey, pump the breaks. Where do you get off talking to your father like that?"

"I'm talking to a coward like that!" she booms back and squeezes her fists to keep from poking him.

He points at her. "Watch yourself. You want to be grounded?"

"Go ahead. Ground me. Lock me away in my room. Tell Sam no, when he comes banging on the door for me." She blinks against the sting in her eyes and watches her dad falter. "Tell him no. Dad. Tell him no. Don't let him take me."

And she watches. Watches the pain crackle through his eyes. Watches his shoulders droop, and the fight leave him. Watches him give in. The shame clutches at him and he allows it. He can't even meet her eyes. "If it's important, uh, I can… It's probably important if Sam needs you. He's big in the community, Bells. Does a lot of good. Really keeps this place, you know, running and safe," his voice breaks on the last word and he drops to sit on the arm of his chair.

Hot tears spill down her cheeks and she shoves him backwards into his seat. "Coward."

Her bedroom door cracks with the slam.

.

.

.

Sam sends Leah banging on their door in the morning, but Bella's long gone on her way to the Cullens. Charlie tells Leah that Angela beat her to the punch and the girls are babysitting her brothers today.

.

.

.

"For a wolf, you almost look unnatural in the woods," Rosalie tells her.

Bella holds her arms up while she walks along the log over the creek. She waits until she's across and hops down, holding out her hand for Rosalie to take. "I spent 99% of my life being unable to walk across flat surfaces without slipping or tripping. Old habits die hard."

"I'm-"

"And then die hard with a vengeance. And then live free or die hard. And then a good-"

Rosalie takes her hand and steps down, and Bella's words melt away at the look on Rosalie's face. How close she is, her scent and pheromones mingling in the air, sunshine invading her senses. Rosalie's touch is featherlight on her jaw, and this is something they've taken to doing. Being close and touching, always touching, Rosalie never denies her anymore. These silent actions that scream things neither can understand from the other. But they never address it. They never talk about it.

Not since there is nothing but heartbreak for you here.

And Bella is prepared to back off. Really, she is. She's super ready to try, at least. To give the whole platonic friends thing a good effort. But it's hard when Rosalie is so inviting during these small, quiet moments. Moments where Bella swears they feel the same. And then she forgets to try, forgets that she's not crazy about the vampire.

Sometimes she's convinced Rosalie knows. That she can see it, or sense it. Those golden eyes smoulder just a little more, they burn just a little brighter. And she leans in until her lips brush against Bella's ear. "You forgot Die Hard Two."

"I'm obsessed with you."

The vampire's grin is predatory as she walks away from the heart-eyes aimed her way. "Well, really," she says over her shoulder. "It's maybe the easiest sequel to remember."

"It's not as fun a title," Bella whines and follows her… friend. Deeper and deeper into the woods they go, until she's not really sure where she is. Rosalie could be bringing her out here to murder her. They're far enough no one could hear her scream. She was totally bluffing when she told Charlie she could take Rosalie. She'd get her ass kicked.

They keep walking down a faintly trodden path for a few minutes while Rosalie glances back now and then. "Stop thinking so loud. I'm not going to murder you."

"How'd-!"

She scoffs and rolls her eyes. "You look entirely too buggy. You're either anticipating an attack or about to propose." Bella doesn't have the chance to even try getting down on one knee. Rosalie grabs her backpack and keeps her up, fury and panic in her face. Enough that Bella doesn't know if she should be flinching away from the vampire or protecting her. "Don't! Not even pretend," Rosalie snarls.

Bella holds up her hands. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I was just joking."

"No, I... " She shakes her head softly and steps back. A shadow falls over her face and she clears her throat. "It's fine… I just don't like having a fiance. Even a pretend one." Rosalie breathes out a shaky breath and smooths her hands down her shirt. "I don't want to think of you like that."

Bella deflates. Like she was given a lethal prognosis. Like she found out the world is a lie. Like the sky came tumbling down. "Oh."

It's jarring and horrifying and brutal but it's clear. The clearest Rosalie has been since meeting her. A firm, solid answer to Bella's question. And that's nice. Having an answer. Not wondering anymore. It's nice.

Super nice.

"Hey, um, ahem," she clears her throat and forces a grin, but doesn't actually look up. "You know, uh, ahem. Something in the air up here, kinda scratchy. So. I'm, you know, uh, I actually remembered something. About-about my day, that I need to do, ahem. Fucking air, it's almost choking me, haha. Lucky you can't breathe." Bella runs her hand through her hair and nods back towards the path. "I should probably get going."

The vampire is watching her with furrowed brows when Bella finally looks up and away. Unable to bear the weight of that gaze any longer, Bella makes for the path. An exit. Escape. Freedom. She just really, really needs to not be here right now.

But Rosalie is there when she turns. All up close and personal again, fingers at her wrist, hair blowing into Bella's face, golden eyes bright and angry but concerned. "I was engaged long before you were born. It ended with my death."

"I'm sorry," Bella murmurs. Her hands slide up Rosalie's forearms, under her elbows, closer. Always closer. The vampire just stands there, eyes a million miles away, and Bella's dissociated enough to recognize what it looks like. But she's selfish and she wants to keep Rosalie here with her. "Do you miss them?"

At first, there is no reaction.

Rosalie continues to stare at nothing, and Bella's convinced that she's gone. That she will be gone for a while, and to get comfy. She'd seen Rosalie not twitch a muscle for an entire class before, so she settles against the vampire for the long haul. Patience is her strong suit, after all.

But then Rosalie's brows slowly pinch together and her stone body becomes stiff. Violently rigid and unmoving. Her lips tug down in a faint frown and the fury in her eyes grow until they blaze. Rosalie blinks and looks at Bella and Bella tries not to flinch.

"I killed him, so no."

They stare and Bella nods. "Sure."

"I did."

"I know."

"Why aren't you pulling away?"

"Do you want me to?"

The rage in Rosalie's eyes dims with curiosity and intrigue. The anger is still there, it's always there. It will always be there. She is angry and she fears she'll never separate herself from it, sometimes. But her curiosity outweighs all else this time. "You truly have no issue d… being with a killer."

"I told you I had a fucked up circle of life morality." Bella shrugs. She hums and searches those amber eyes. "Does it bother you?"

"That you're not horrified with me? No, absolutely not."

"No, that I…" Bella shakes her head and sighs, stepping back to stuff her hands in her pockets. "Okay, you are somehow even more stubborn than me and then we get stuck in these patterns of does she like me? And I can't keep doing it. I don't have the emotional constitution."

Rosalie sighs and rubs her forehead. "Bella-"

"I get it!" she insists earnestly and holds up her hands. "I do. My life is… nothing compared to yours. I don't really bring anything to the table, my whopping nineteen years to all of yours. And I'm kind of an asshole, and not nearly as smart as you. But sometimes I'm funny and, like, super supportive, I have my own bike, and I'll work really, really hard to be worthy of you."

Something in Rosalie's head misfires and doesn't click. She stares at her mate blankly. "What?"

Bella hops forward, shaking the nervous jitters from her hands. "I-I have a lot of baggage. My mom, my dad, the pack. Fuck. The pack. That's a lot of baggage. But I can carry it myself and I think if you gave me a chance-mmf!"

For the second time in their relationship, Rosalie steals a kiss.

Of course, Bella is prepared this time, damn it. The moment she feels lip on hers, she grabs the vampire and surges forward. They bump awkwardly and Bella can feel Rosalie's smile, but she's too focused to be embarrassed. She follows Rosalie when she pulls back but only a little, only enough to pout at her. "Please tell me that one was for me," Bella whispers.

Rosalie hooks her fingers in Bella's belt loops and shakes her head. "They were all for you. Do you truly believe I would kiss anyone just to spare obnoxious teenagers?" Her eyes soften and she tugs Bella closer. "Do you truly believe you are not worthy of me?"

"Well." Bella bites her lips and shrugs bashfully. "You must have seen everything by now, experienced so much, and I'm just… me. I don't really have anything to give you…"

It's not a lesson she can soak in. Not immediately. She's aware of the irony that she is telling Bella, since the thought has haunted her all her life, but. "I want you. Only you. Without anything to offer, Bella, I have always just wanted you."

.

.

.

"How do you express yourself, Bella?" Esme asks one morning, as she fries more sausages at the stove.

Mornings at the Cullens' is the most peaceful part of Bella's life. She wakes up curled around Rosalie (her girlfriend, her girlfriend. They're girlfriends now and Bella spent twenty minutes bouncing with Alice after she said yes) while the vampire reads her books. Then she blearily ventures downstairs to the kitchen where Esme is buzzing around, making enough breakfast to feed a small army. The house is always soft and quiet and she wonders if it's always like that or if the others are being considerate to a potentially sleepy, grouchy wolf.

But she loves it. She loves sitting at the table, picking at her food, watching Esme make more. Having these little chats that open up her eyes to the family more and more.

Bella pops another piece of bacon in her mouth, cheek against her fist, elbow on the table. "We mostly just kiss right now."

Esme pauses, spatula in the pan, and smiles softly. She shakes her head. "I meant artistically. Do you draw or paint? Or are you more analytical and less creative?"

"Oh," she burns with a blush. Well fuck. Off in the house somewhere, she swears she can hear snickering. "Uh, not… maybe? I don't know. I do metal work with Quill. We make stuff together, like knives and swords. That's for fun. But also mailboxes and those things people hang on their houses that say their names? Big house number decorations for yards. We're working on pieces for cosplayers online right now. I, uh," she adjusts to fish around in her pocket and drops something on the table. "I made that for, you know, Hale. I didn't think it was a big deal-" Esme is over at the table in a flash. "-but then I got nervous and just didn't give it to her and it's been in my pocket since."

It's a simple ring, as far as rings go. Smooth and polished silver, and that in itself was the trickiest part of it all. Actually getting her hands on good quality silver. Etching the phases of the moon was even easier, and it felt poetic at the time.

But now it all feels silly.

Now it just sits in her pocket.

Esme's face is impossibly soft, her eyes infinitely gentle as she looks down at Bella. "It's beautiful," she says quietly and gingerly hands it back to Bella. She tucks a lock of hair behind the wolf's ear and sighs softly. "I wish…"

Eventually, Bella puts the ring back in her pocket and tilts her head. "Yeah?"

"I'm not sure." She studies Bella for a moment. "I am so very thankful to have met you both, the way you are. I love this version of you two. But I ache from the hurt that defines you."

"Well that's," Bella coughs and looks away, "I'm fine. You don't even have to feel bad, I'm okay."

A cold hand covers her own but she can't look away from her plate and why does she feel guilty about it? "Then why is the ring still in your pocket?"

"What ring? Bella, are you proposing to me?" Alice chimes brightly and stops dead as realization dawns. "Oh my god, are you proposing to Rosalie?!"

Bella launches out of her seat. "Shhh! No! Shush! I'm not!" She swings the pixie over her shoulder. "And you're gonna freak her out if she thinks I am, so stuff a sock in it."

"Oh my god, it's really happening!"

She drops Alice on her feet to cover her mouth with her palm. "Holy shit, shush! You are unbelievably loud, kitten. I'm not proposing, okay? I don't have any intention of - did you just lick me?"

Alice wipes her lips when Bella pulls her hand away. "Yes," she winks, "you taste delicious."

"Can we just drop the whole… alright," she murmurs with an amused edge and points at the grinning pixie. "I'm watching you."

Esme goes back to the stove with a sigh and Alice's face sets into something more serious. "Bella, as your Friend Wife-"

"That's not a thing."

"- Yes, it is, it's like a Work Wife but with your friend," she explains without missing a beat. "As your Friend Wife, I think you should pop the question."

The sigh that releases itself from Bella's chest is impressive, even to Esme. She runs a hand down her face. "Can you please close your mouth so the words stop coming out."

"Relax, she's in the garage." Alice waves the concern off.

Bella's hands launch into the air with her voice. "So?!"

"So she blasts music in her earbuds that she might ignore us and the rest of the world. She can't hear us."

"Okay, can we spare me from this conversation?"

"But I've seen her in a wedding dress!" Alice exclaims on her tippy-toes.

She looks at Bella like the wolf is missing something obvious and Bella shrugs violently. "So?"

"What are you, a quilt maker?" The sass is very real and Esme snorts. "So I don't have visions of the past, do I? And Rosalie's not the type to try out wedding dresses for fun, is she?"

"Oh, that's clever."

Alice grins mischievously. "Thanks, mom."

Bella stares hard and tries to decide if Alice is messing with her or not. "Are you telling me to marry your sister?"

"I'm telling you that you will marry my very most favourite sister," she replies matter-of-factly. Like it's a certainty, like she's explaining three plus three is six.

"Okay, ouch."

The sympathy on her face is endearing and ridiculous but Alice still leans up to cradle Bella's cheek. "I'm sorry, Bella, that's nothing against you. I just can never truly think of you as a sister."

She staggers back and clutches at her chest, looking over to see if Esme witnessed that murder. "Wow, ouch, man."

"Again, it's nothing against you," Alice reassures in alarm. Her big golden eyes sweep over Bella and she steps forward. "I just have impure thoughts about you sometimes that prevent a sisterly connection."

"Wh-..."

"..."

"..."

"Jasper knows, don't worry. Does that make you uncomfortable?" she asks curiously. Genuinely. Like, actually for real.

Bella sinks in on herself again and shuffles towards the table. "I need a drink. Or sleep."

Alice pouts. "You just woke up."

"Did I though?"

Over at the stove, Esme finally intervenes. She looks a little too amused but she points the spatula at Alice. "Let's maybe give her some air, yeah? Go think about the conversation and come back to it."

"Fine!" Alice huffs and spins on her heel. "Forgive me for having good taste. It's not like I'm jumping her."

"You licked me!"

"I'm affectionate!" she shouts down the hall.

Bella shakes her head with a grin. "You're cute as a damn button!"

Eventually, Bella wanders off to leave Esme in the kitchen. No matter how many times she offers to help clean up, the matriarch shoos her away. And, frankly, if Bella's being honest, she's really okay with that. Dishes are the worst.

Renee used to make her do the dishes every night, without fail, to the point that acid churns in her stomach at the mere sight of her fingers pruning. But, to be fair, that's safe to say about anything that reminds her of Renee.

Whatever, it's best just not to think of her.

Not like she's thinking of Bella.

The wolf grunts and shoves through the door to the garage, stopping short as the anger in her veins fizzles out to nothing. Absolutely nothing. The acoustics in the garage are impressive, they probably help, but she's convinced Rosalie could sing into a paper bag and still sound angelic. Midnight Siren was closer to the mark than Bella realized.

Her voice carries throughout the garage, hitting the walls and echoing back. Throaty but smooth, and deep with power, despite the low volume she carries. Bella swallows roughly and follows Rosalie's voice, entranced as she passes each car, looking for her vampire.

It's a pop song, she's pretty sure, but Rosalie sings slow and quiet, to the point it's tinged with sorrow and Bella can't actually place which song it is. Something on the radio, or maybe something Edward sent her. She's tempted to pull Rosalie out from under the Mercedes and ask, but instead lays back along the hood.

The clicking noise of whatever Rosalie was doing beneath pauses for a moment before continuing, but her singing does not. Bella can just make out the noise of her headphones and figures they were pulled out.

"Good morning, Bella."

"Morning, Hale," she replies with a scratchy voice. God. How can Rosalie be true perfection and still stand to be near Bella, never mind date her? Bella clenches her jaw and covers her watering eyes, swallowing down the pain that won't stop coming up today.

Rosalie's tinkering never falters but still, she waits to say anything.

"How old are you?" Bella asks once she's confident she won't sob or scream.

Rosalie's tone is mildly confused, mostly flat, and holds the barest hint of concern. "Very."

"Seriously."

She sighs. "One hundred and three. I was turned in nineteen thirty-three."

"Cool." Bella nods and stares up at the ceiling, at a light that's just a little dimmer than the others. Faulty wiring maybe. Still doing its job, just not as well. Just not as bright. "I'm nineteen. I kinda flunked last year, whenever I did go to class, so I was held back. That's when all the wolf stuff happened."

"That's not unreasonable, Bella. Nobody expects you to manage chaos and a perfect GPA."

"You do. You're a vampire and you still-"

Rosalie is out from under the car and pulling Bella up to look at her. "Don't do that. Don't assume to know someone and then compare yourself to them. Don't judge yourself until you love yourself, Bella. It's… it does more damage than you realize in the moment. Please."

The wolf slumps forward, shoulders drooped. It's an answer she expects, really. It's something people say to other people. It's really the only decent response.

But Rosalie sees through her. Always. She lifts Bella's face by the chin, touch always gentle. "Do you want to know how many tries it took for me to graduate? Four," she says firmly and settles between Bella's knees. "Four tries before I could focus past my hunger. Four tries before I could move past how stupid it felt to sit in a classroom, like I was just another kid. Like I wasn't… this."

They stay like that for three thunderous heartbeats. Rosalie can feel the tautness of Bella's body seep out of her as she straightens up some. Those dark eyes find their way to Rosalie's again and the vampire can breathe. "Four tries," Bella murmurs with a wry twist to her lips. "Even I'm graduating this year. That's only two."

"Oh, shut up," Rosalie huffs and rolls her eyes. Her hands slide around Bella's waist to pull her closer. "Do you feel better now, knowing my own shortcomings?"

Bella scoffs. "Oh, please, that is hardly anything. It's not even a blip on the radar, I heard you singing in here. You are enchanting, by the way."

"I know."

"It's a good thing I'm not with you for your modesty."

A smirk. "If I have to walk this Godforsaken planet, I might as well be the best at it." She hums and scrutinizes Bella, drags her gaze along a face that brings nothing but comfort and warmth. "Why are you with me?"

"Head trauma, I think."

"Okay."

Bella grabs her shoulders and laughs, pulling her back when Rosalie tries to leave. "No, no, no! I'm joking, come back." The scowl aimed her way makes her heart stutter but not with fear. It's full, it's never been this full before. She's never felt like this before. "You improve my quality of life," she says thoughtfully. Rosalie watches her, watches the gears turn. "I know that's hardly romantic, no you light my soul on fire, which you do. But yeah, you just… bring colour into my life. You bring pain and confusion, joy and wonderment, ecstasy and hope. You make me feel things, and I… don't. On my own. So it's selfish, why I'm with you. I just feel alive when you're around. I want to do more, see more, be more than I am. You make me wanna live."

Black eyes regard her with an intensity that catches her breath in her throat. A rumbling comes from Rosalie's chest, and stone fingers dig gently into warm thighs. "Don't you want to know why am with you?"

"Oh, I know why," Bella breathes and sucks in air sharply when Rosalie lifts up onto the hood. A knee on either side of Bella's thighs, forward more and more until she's forced to lay back against the hood. "I'm the only one who laughs at your lame jokes."

The vampire's body slides against her own until she feels the cool, smooth curves of her stomach against her own fiery skin. Rosalie settles on her and it's almost like pinning, Bella can't move, though she's not sure she would if she could. She reaches up to tuck pale blonde hair behind Rosalie's ear to see her face, and marvels at the beauty staring down at her.

Rosalie is beautiful and people say it often enough. But it's… painful almost, how beautiful she is, to the point that you don't focus on the details. Bella has spent so long getting lost in her eyes, or looking at her out the corner of her own, that she is struck by the angel looking back at her.

She wonders if people actually see Rosalie or just her beauty, anymore. She wonders if that's why Rosalie doesn't like mirrors. It has to be hard to see yourself when nobody else can.

A chilly thumb swipes under Bella's eye to catch a tear and Rosalie frowns. The heavens frown, and God, Rosalie needs to stop reading poetry while she's falling asleep because she's never been touched by beauty before. She's never been brought to fucking tears over a pretty face.

"What are you thinking?" Rosalie whispers.

Bella blinks and feels the tears streak back into her hair. She laughs, self consciously, weakly. "You look like heaven," she repeats her thoughts aloud.

"You look like freedom," Rosalie tells her. Dark amber eyes trail over her face. "You can't see the wild air around you, the dare that lingers deep within your eyes. Your smile is untouchable, and your laugh echoes the wind through the trees."

Bella laughs more, her chuckling building up and up, stronger and stronger, as she tries to wrestle it down. "Oh God," she sighs deeply and the smile is haunted. "That's painfully ironic."

But Rosalie is less amused. She leans on one elbow, reaching up to tuck her hair back again, staring at her mate. "Tell me about Sam, Bella."

"Tell me about your fiance."

It's maybe a little more aggressive than either girl was expecting but Rosalie doesn't even blink. She breathes deeply and closes her eyes to concentrate on the warmth seeping into her body. "He took from me things he could never return," she says slowly. "So I took his life." She opens her eyes to catch Bella's. "And even that is more words than he deserves. I won't speak of him again."

Bella nods and folds her arms back under her head. "I'm sorry," she says. "For asking, I mean. Not that I regret knowing more about you. I just didn't mean to bring up… stuff." And Rosalie does that thing where she merely waits. Where she is nothing but receptive, even when she's reserved, and Bella finds nothing but patience in her eyes. Which is annoying because it makes refusal very difficult, when she's being so understanding. Damn it. "He doesn't take. He just… he makes you give and there's something very wrong about that. There's something very wrong with people who think they deserve more than they do and will get it, no matter who they hurt."

"I'm sorry, Bella," Rosalie murmurs and rests her cheek over the wolf's heart. It beats like a drum that fuels the world another rotation around the sun. "Say the word and I will tear his heart from his chest."

She chuckles again and it shakes the vampire. "Don't make me swoon. I… that would make things worse, I suspect. And start a war between the groups. I would be forced to… to hurt you." She squeezes her eyes shut against the acid in her veins, the repulsion at the very thought of hurting Rosalie. "No, no, I can't do that."

"I'm well aware of that, you can barely tie your shoes, let alone fight," Rosalie says so casually that Bella almost misses it.

Almost.

She frowns. "Hey, um, what the fuck? I could kick your ass."

"You literally could not."

"I-" Bella wiggles until she's leaning up on her elbows and Rosalie rolls back onto the windshield and props her cheek against her fist. "I will physically fight you, Hale."

The vampire sighs and relaxes against the glass. "If you're looking for lessons, I can teach you."

"Oh my God, that's it. I'm gonna-"

"Fall." There's just enough time for Bella to look confused before Rosalie's foot is on her hip and shoving her off, down the hood. She waits for the thunk and smiles. "If you were truly a fighter, you would have anticipated that."

"Fuck me for assuming my girlfriend was on my side," Bella mutters from the floor. "Please tell me we can at least makeout in that old stingray over there."

There's a second before Rosalie summersaults backwards off the hood and strides to the car. Bella scrambles up to her feet moments after, and nobody sees the girls for the rest of the day.

.

.

.

It's a relatively nice day in Forks when he teaches her how to drive. And not that she doesn't know how to drive, she just… never has. Nothing besides her dirt bike and Edward says it's very different from a car. He also makes her swear to never let Rosalie know he taught her but she enjoys the thrill of the risk.

Rosalie would kill them both if she knew.

He seems to know this, there's some kind of vengeance in his reasoning. She's not sure what, exactly, but he's excited and eager to teach her. Or he was, until she grinds the gears a third time.

His grimace is painful and his wincing is dramatic. Her skin itches and she glares at him. "It's your own damn fault for teaching me in the world's nicest car!"

"I didn't say anything!" he fires back and jerks his hand forward to hover over the gear shift. "Easy! Smooth motions, Bella."

"Oh my God, Edward, I know how to drive!"

He flinches and holds his breath as they turn in the corner of the parking lot. "You know how to ride," he corrects. "A car and a motorcycle are very different - slow! Slow!"

"Dirt bike," she growls and pushes harder on the gas.

Edward closes his eyes. "It takes truly coming face to face with one's own mortality to appreciate what a gift life is. Never will I ever think of running off to Italy again."

"I don't know what that means but I don't fucking like it!"

"Keep your eyes on the road, Bella!"

"We're in a parking lot, there is no road!"

"Sweet Jesus, forgive me, Lord!"

The car slams on its breaks before crushing Lauren Mallory and her boytoy of the month, and the most alarming thing about the whole situation is Edward's screech of despair that cracks the rearview mirror.

.

.

.

"I feel like we should know each other better," she tells him after the silence stretches on just a little too long to be comfortable.

They sit before an enormous portrait done by some famous painter whose name she couldn't even dream of pronouncing. It's nice, in a dark and macabre sort of way. A black and white with vivid red, a look back at history. Some bloody battle that Jasper examines wistfully.

Bella turns on the bench when he says nothing, to find him watching her curiously. "Alice is my best friend and you're her husband, so I feel like we should be buddies, you know?"

"I agree."

"So why aren't we?"

His lips press into a firm line, thoughtful eyes flicking away. "I'm not sure. You don't talk to me, really."

"Well yeah, you're intimidating."

This seems to surprise him, or maybe hurt him. He shrinks in on himself some more. "I apologize for the scars, I know they're unsettling."

Bella looks down at his arms, watches him tug at his cuffs. She shakes her head with a scoff. "Um, your scars actually help? I don't know if you don't own a mirror, but you're like damn pretty. And quiet. Like it easily goes Hale, Alice, you. And Alice is a ball of sunshine and easy to talk to."

"I'm not sure I follow anymore," he replies and scoots forward. As if the distance between them is the cause of his misunderstanding. "You don't talk to me because I'm pretty?"

"Yeah, exactly."

"Why?"

She shrugs unhelpfully. "I don't know, dude, I think it's a vampire thing, you're all beautiful. You were probably decent before though, that's why it's so enhanced now."

"No, I. Thank you." Jasper sighs and tries to find the words that will express what he's feeling. "Why does my… attractiveness deter you from speaking to me?"

A light bulb goes off and she grins shyly. "Oh! Uh, not sure? I got self-esteem issues, I think. Fuck."

"I'm sorry," he says sincerely.

Bella shrugs. "Why don't you ever talk to me?"

Jasper's answer is a lot more simple but much less flattering and much less tactful. Still, he figures Bella deserves honesty, especially after how honest she's been. "I was afraid of you."

"Oh," she echoes herself and deflates a little.

"I still am, Bella, and I'm sorry about the position that puts you in. I do like you, I think you're wonderful. I think you're funny, and genuine, and kind, but…" he motions to her helplessly, sheepishly and with no small amount of shame. "I think you're dangerous, too."

"Because of my lack of control," she finishes.

He nods once. "I say this as a dangerous man, myself. My own control is not nearly that of my family's, and I would not trust myself around humans alone. I don't think we can be blamed for what is beyond our control, personally," he muses thoughtfully. "But I also do not think it should be overlooked simply because we are decent people."

"That makes sense," Bella agrees quietly, staring down at the bench between her thighs.

And Jasper remembers he's not talking to another vampire. That while Bella appears to be a teenage girl, she also is one. There is no deceptive surface that hides an old soul who has been around long enough to recognize the things he does.

Nobody has ever told her that she's dangerous before.

She's never been dangerous before.

"I'm sorry, Bella." Jasper hesitates before placing his hand on her shoulder and ducks to try and catch her eye. "Carrying the weight of what if can be unbearable but you are not alone. I am… I am here for you, always."

Their eyes meet and the bond is formed, Jasper no longer agrees with his previous sentiment of Alice first, no matter what.

Bella cannot fall under no matter what.

Bella is his friend.

Chapter Text

When Alice shows up at her door after the ominously vague text of put on something nice, Bella is rightfully wary. But when Bella sees her standing there, swaying side to side, playfully impatient, in her lacey dress from the dance, she relaxes. Things make a little more sense, and butterflies flap their wings in her chest.

Alice says nothing, even when Bella greets her, and holds up a small bouquet of wolfsbane and sunflowers. The joke is not lost on Bella, who is weirdly bashful when she takes it, and sniffs. "Please sneeze," she hears the pixie whisper.

"Okay, there it is," Bella laughs. "You smartass."

"What? It would be wonderfully ironic, wouldn't it?" Alice chimes with a tilt to her head. Bella sighs, her adoration for the beautiful punk princess that is her best friend only ever strengthening. "Well, come, come. We'll be late, at this rate."

"Please stop rhyming."

The Rolls is waiting for her again this time, Alice blurring up to open the door. At Bella's raised eyebrow, Alice's smile brightens. "She lost a bet, this was my condition."

"I thought we weren't supposed to bet against you?" Bella asks with an amused air.

She blinks and Alice is in the driver's seat, checking the mirrors. "And yet some of you still try. God only knows why."

"For real, the rhyming thing is creepy and you know I hate it when you do it."

Alice holds the back of her hand to her forehead dramatically. "Spoil all my fun, then. All I ever do is love you, Bella."

"And I love you but I'm still not playing Creepy Stephen King Rhymes with you," she fires back while she buckles up. Alice watches her happily as they drive down the road and God, she's suspiciously quiet tonight. "What?"

Deceptively delicate shoulders shrug. "I'm just surprised you can throw around the term love so casually. You don't seem the type."

"First of all," Bella points at her, "there's nothing casual about it. I do love you, Alice. You're the second most important person in my life. And, you know, shit happens so it's good to let people know you care about them. I'm not embarrassed that I have people to love. Some people don't."

Chilly fingers pinch her cheek until she swats them away. "Aww, that's so sweet, Bella! I love you, too."

"You said it first, that's not too. You - god, Alice."

"I still love you, it can be too."

"Not if you say it first! Then it's just love. I also love you, so I get too."

"You don't make the rules of love, Bella!"

"It's the rules of grammar!"

"It was a brand new sentence, there is wiggle room!"

Bella presses her palms against her forehead and groans. "Oh my god, why do I even love you?!"

"Because I'm pretty and funny and soft and your favourite person."

"I hate you."

Alice leans across the console to press a kiss against Bella's cheek… jaw… area, and they bounce on a bump. "Jeez, I really can't see with you in here," she mumbles in surprise and reaches up to wipe the lipstick smudge on Bella's face. "Now it looks like we were kissing."

Bella flips the visor down and turns her head, looking at the purple smear of lipstick on her jaw. "You're so weird," she tells Alice and rubs at it.

"You're also the second most important person in my life, Bella," Alice declares and turns down the road that will eventually lead to their driveway. She glances over at Bella. "Which is not an easy realization to come to. I've known my family for a long time."

The wolf blinks. "I'm… sorry?"

"Don't be, I'm certain they understand. I've never clicked so well with someone before. Even Jasper had to use his ability in the beginning. I am… overwhelming."

"I think you're electrifying."

The smile she gets is so full and warm, and a little… flattered, maybe? "Thank you, Bella."

But it's kind of awkward for Bella. Yeah, telling someone you love them is easy and nice to do, but actually being affectionate is difficult. So she shrugs and looks out the window. "We're not really recreating the dance, are we?"

"Almost none of us actually got to enjoy it, that night," Alice replies casually. "And we were waiting very patiently to ask you to dance, so."

"By we, you mean you, right?"

"Bella."

"Alice."

She huffs playfully but says nothing else when they finally reach the driveway. It's… pretty. Lights strung up between posts all down the length of the driveway, to a porch that's beautifully decorated. Bella hopes the rain doesn't ruin anything, and quickly follows Alice inside, trying not to get wet.

The foyer matches the driveway, with more lights put up. None of the regular lights are on, and the mansion glows, the atmosphere is soft and quiet. Music plays in the distance and Bella can't tell if it's Edward or the sound system until violins join.

She tugs at her bowtie nervously until Alice laces their fingers and leads her down the hall.

At the end, stepping into the living room is a lot like stepping into the twenties. An old jazz club feel settles around the room, vintage record player in the corner where Edward selects the next record. He smiles at Bella, wiggling his fingers in a wave, before focusing on his task again.

Which proves difficult with Emmett lounging back on the red leather couch next to the player, leaning back to reach up and play with Edward's tie. Edward smiles softly but continues shuffling through records, and Emmett tips his cap to Bella.

Jasper and Esme stand by the fireplace, his fingers hooked into suspenders. He talks more animatedly than Bella has ever seen, while Esme nods along. "And I swear, Emmett throws it straight across the lake!" he finishes with a grin and Esme laughs.

In the corner, Carlisle puffs on a pipe and watches his family in content. His eyes are old and kind and feel like home, to the point that Bella's heart aches. She longs to have something like this, she longs to stand back and look at her place, her home, her family.

Is that what they are to her? Is this her family…? What is she to Rosalie, exactly? Do -god- do vampires have Imprints?

Alice squeezes her hand until she looks down at the pixie, and concern stares back at her. "Are you okay, Bella?" she whispers for a modicum of privacy.

Useless, but Bella is touched to see that the others in the room pretend they can't hear. These vampires are so damn thoughtful all the time.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Bella rasps back and clears her throat. "Seriously. I'm just super fucking emotional sometimes? I'm still getting used to it, so, uh, beware the up-flares."

Her arm is hugged tightly to Alice's chest. "That's okay, Bella. I think it's endearing."

"Okay, liar," Bella mumbles and wipes her eyes with a watery chuckle. "It's alarming, is what it is."

"Maybe a little, but it's still okay."

Bella scoffs. "So where's Hale?"

"Waiting for Alice to release my girlfriend," comes that low, sultry voice that always has goosebumps rising along Bella's skin.

She shivers and turns, grin already stretching across her face.

The unbridled joy on Bella's face takes Rosalie's breath away and leaves her reeling. Never, in all her years, has anyone ever reacted to her like this. People light up, they get excited, but it's the anticipation of waiting to look at her. The excitement of seeing her.

Bella is still impatiently waiting for her, and Rosalie swears the wolf is about to start wiggling. She's… she's happy to see Rosalie. To be with her.

It helps untangle the knots in her stomach and smoothes out the scowl on her face until she's smiling softly. Even Alice's hand in her mate's doesn't bother her anymore. Not when she's convinced the room could catch fire and Bella wouldn't notice.

Rosalie steps into the room and lightly crosses her arms over her chest, circling the edges to scrutinize the wolf. "You certainly took your time getting here."

"I had to pull down the barricade I set up against Alice's alarmingly vague text," Bella replies.

The pixie huffs and leaves to join Esme and Jasper by the fire.

Bella is by her side in a heartbeat, and warm palms rest on her hips. Rosalie tilts her face up by her chin. "How do you have lipstick under your jaw?"

"Alice-"

"We kissed!" Alice chimes brightly.

Golden eyes roll to the ceiling. "Yes, I can see that. I'm merely surprised you missed."

"Cars are bumpy," Bella pouts. "But I did dress up this time, so that's a win for me."

"Dork."

"Dork lover. Liker. Oh no," Bella gasps and covers her mouth.

Later, she'll demand to know if Edward did it on purpose, but for now, Rosalie cannot believe the record literally scratches and the music stops. She clenches her jaw until she hears the soft cracking of her own skin and is forced to relax. Or rather, forced to force herself to relax.

Carlisle swallows absently in his corner and grimaces, coughing out the smoke from his pipe. He beats on his chest once, Esme patting his back the next second, and rests his hands on his knees. "Oh, gross. It's in me, now. Stuck in me. Forever. Why did I think this would be fun?"

"Carlisle, you're a doctor. You know that's not true," Esme murmurs and rubs his back.

He looks up at her miserably. "But it feels true and gross."

Always helpful, Bella yelps and hops in place when Emmett reaches into her back pocket for her gum. He bounds over to his father and pops a piece of minty gum in, crouching down to look at him. "Chew it and swallow the minty breath!"

"Am I the only adult around here? Is this house truly full of children?" Esme asks herself while her husband fiercely chews the gum and swallows air. "You are a man of science!"

"Mint cleanses, right?"

Carlisle grips Emmett's shoulder and straightens up. "Thank you, son." His eyes travel to Esme. "My own wife."

"What?"

"Would just watch me wither away."

Esme pinches the bridge of her nose. "God help me. Not even Edward is this dramatic."

The boy whips his head up. "Excuse me?"

Rosalie sighs and resists the urge to mimic her mother and pinch her nose. But only just barely. She's glad that Bella, at least, looks amused by it all, and reaches out to tuck some of that wild hair behind the wolf's ear.

Brown eyes lift back up to her and it's a moment. Honestly, she'll never grow tired of how smoothly, how simply she is pulled into a moment with Bella. How easy it is to share something with her. How comfortable it is to simply be with her.

There are no words to express what that means to Rosalie, so she settles for a kiss and hopes her actions convey the message. Alice coos off to the side, so she has to be doing something right, and she can feel Bella's smile against her lips.

The absolute radiance beaming back at her when she pulls away threatens to make a dead heart beat again. "Whatever am I going to do with my awkward, bumbling, bowtie-wearing wolf?" she asks rhetorically.

"Anything you want," Bella promises and blushes almost immediately after. "That sounded dirty, like sex stuff. I was going for the romantic approach - also, also the sex stuff, too, my interests are varied so I - uh, please… please make me stop talking. I can't stop. I'm nervous. And thinking about the sex stuff. Everyone can hear me. Is Esme looking at me? I wanna die."

Rosalie shakes her head lightly. "That was painful."

"Imagine saying it," Bella groans and drops her forehead against Rosalie's bare shoulder. "You still smell really good."

Deciding the poor girl had enough, Edward flips the record and music fills the room. The others slowly break off, back to their own things, and the room relaxes. Bella lifts her head to look at Rosalie and the vampire has to look away. It really is too easy to get lost in Bella, and while that's okay as she sleeps and they cuddle, waking hours require attention. More or less, she can't decide, but it's only fair to stay in the moment. "Edward insisted we do this for you. He was… sorry that a human experience was stolen from you, and the part we played in that."

"It was Sam's fault, not yours."

She nods once. "I'm quite aware but my brother is fond of his guilt. Penance? Even more. Allow him to repent, it's easier that way."

"You must know them really well."

"Who?"

Bella motions around the rest of the room, her eyes lingering on Carlisle and Esme who sway to the music in the middle of the room. "Your family," she says softly and breaks her gaze to look back at Rosalie.

It's a fair guess, and Rosalie leads them away from the wall. She places one of Bella's hands on her hip and holds the other. The wolf clearly doesn't know how to dance, as she stumbles after Rosalie, but the effort is there and Rose can remember the request from that night. "Better than anyone else on the planet," she agrees quietly.

"That must be nice."

"Knowing someone so well?"

"Loving someone so well. Being loved by someone so well," Bella admits. She adjusts her fingers and looks down at her feet, falling in step with Rosalie's simple movements. "I'm not sure my dad knows what my favourite colour is. He didn't even realize I failed a grade until I gave him the papers in the middle of the summer. And my mom?" She blinks a few times and shakes her head. "I don't even know what it's like to have a mom."

When Rosalie glances around the room, there are encouraging golden eyes looking back at her. An empty space, ready to be filled. A spot waiting for a wolf.

She looks back down at her mate. "I'm sorry your parents aren't what you deserve, Bella."

"Ah well. You can't choose your family, and all that."

"Bullshit. That could not be less true. The family you choose is stronger than any biological bond, Bella," Rosalie says firmly. She catches Bella's eyes, and her heart flutters at the hope in them. Maybe… maybe this is what Bella wants? Maybe she's actually good for Bella? "There is power in choice."

And Bella nods. "I know, I do… I've just never been given a choice before."

"Bella," rage claws up her throat and she swallows harshly against it, scraping together her patience, "what does Sam-"

The wolf's pocket lights up when her phone rings and Bella smiles sheepishly. "Sorry, lemme just silence, uh…" She stares down at Leah's name for a moment before pushing a button and silencing the phone. "Sorry, what were you saying?"

"I… nothing, Bella. It can wait," Rosalie replies. Her nerves come back with a vengeance and she very suddenly feels awkward for some reason.

Bella's phone vibrates and lights up again. Her brows furrow. "Why is she calling me?" Another push of the button silences it and she looks up at Rosalie. "I think she mostly hates me, so this is weird."

"Perhaps you should-" The phone rings again. "-answer it?"

With a sigh, Bella holds the phone up to her ear. "Seriously, what do you-"

"Get your ass down to the border before I kill you, Bella. I swear to God, if he hurts Seth, I will kill you. We begged you to leave the leeches alone. Move, now, I don't hear running!"

Bella steps back and plugs her other ear, and Edward stops the music. "Wait, what? Leah, what happened?"

"Sam is dragging Seth down to the border, Bella, and I'm - you better pray - if he so much as scratches my brother, I will kill both of you. Get down to the border, now!"

The colour drains from Bella's face and she staggers back into the coffee table. "I… I…"

"Bella, please move! I have to catch up, just please be there. Fix this. You promised, Bella. You promised he wouldn't be hurt."

The other line disconnects and the phone slips from Bella's fingers. Esme catches it before it hits the ground and sets it on the table, her hand on Bella's shoulder. "Honey?"

"Fuck!" Bella whimpers and holds her face. "Fuck. This wasn't… no. No, no, no."

"Bella, we have to go stop him-" Alice tries.

The wolf looks up in disbelief. "No! I can't - no, Alice. If I go down there, he'll make me kill him. He'll make me kill Seth. I-I can't… but if I don't go, he'll make someone else. Oh my God. Oh my god, is he going to kill Seth? Fuck. I didn't mean for… I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Oh, Seth."

Quicker than anyone is expecting, Bella darts out of the living room and down the hall to the front door. There's moment enough for the others to look at each other, but Rosalie is a blur the next, and they follow quickly after.

She catches up to her mate quickly - really quickly, surprised to find that Bella hasn't shifted. But perhaps that gives Sam more sway over her, or the wolf more control. So she tears her dress up the side of her thigh and stops in front of Bella, holding up her hand.

The wolf is frantic words, an air of chaos. "Don't try to stop me, Rosalie."

She shivers, still not used to her name rolling off of Bella's tongue. "You're pitifully slow and I am not, get on my back."

"I…" It's clearly not what she's expecting and the gratitude that shines in her wet eyes is… no, focus, Rosalie. Why? Why is she having such a hard time not getting lost in Bella tonight?

It was an important night. You were going to ask her-

"Thank you," Bella says quietly and awkwardly shuffles closer. "Should I, uh, just…"

Golden eyes roll to the stormy sky and Rosalie is swinging Bella onto her back. "Hold on," she says over the wind whipping at them.

The storm's storms rolling in. She can smell it.

.

.

.

By the time they reach the border, the rain has soaked them, and the sky lights up every few minutes with lightning. The Cullens stop short, just clear of the trees, and look on at the wolves.

The wolves who watch as Sam and Jacob Black have a yelling match. Jacob stands before Seth, who kneels on the ground, hugging himself tightly against Leah's leg. He shivers, or maybe quivers, with fear or from the chilly wet air.

Sam is outrage while Jacob is determination, and Rosalie isn't sure where her mate stands here. What her role will be. What Bella will bring into the conflict. She hopes it is the compassion she watches Bella give freely, day after day. The patience she expends with every interaction with each Cullen. The mercy she shows to ignorant humans, and Rosalie's emotional shortcomings.

But fury glows in those yellow-specced eyes and Rosalie suspects she has her answer.

Bella jogs closer, holding her hand up to the Cullens who anxiously wait to follow. "Sam, please stop this!"

He doesn't even look at her. Merely lifts his arm to point at her and snarls, "Kneel!"

All her patience shrivels up when Rosalie watches Bella grunt and drop to her knees in the wet earth. Esme's outrage echoes throughout the woods and Carlisle has to hold her hand to keep her from flying across the border.

Emmett brushes his fingers against the back of Rosalie's hand. "Breathe," he whispers. Patience. Be patient. Act, no not react.

Act. Do not react.

Rosalie breathes in deeply through her nose, wiggles her fingers. She will be calm. She will remain civil and level-headed.

Jacob steps towards Bella helplessly. "You shouldn't be here," he groans. "I was handling it!"

"She caused this," Sam interrupts. "She should be here. She should watch firsthand what her actions have wrought."

Bella lifts her head with no small amount of strain. "Fuck you, Sam!" she snarls.

"And still she doesn't care," he sneers. "Seth, come here."

The boy whimpers and Leah grabs onto him, feet digging through the mud as he drags her along with him to stand by their Alpha. "Please," he whispers.

And Leah spits acid. "Don't you touch him, Sam. Don't you dare touch him. I will kill you-"

"Enough!" he commands and the Cullens watch her jaw clamp shut, angry tears in her eyes. Edward steps closer, black eyes glaring at Sam. "Do you see, Jacob? It's spreading. Her insubordination is spreading. I'm losing control of my wolves, which puts every single human at risk. We are their guardians, but how can we protect them if we're sabotaging ourselves? We must be unified."

"I understand this, Sam, but what you're doing-"

"I am ruling through fear. Yes, I know," he agrees gently. Sam locks his hand down on Seth's shoulder and some of the wolves flinch. "I tried compassion. I tried patience and understanding. I begged her to fit in. To be better than she is. I gave her chance after chance, and now she's fucking a leech, Jacob! Don't tell me I'm wrong in my actions, when fear and violence is the only way to get through to them!" He stomps through the rain, grabbing the front of Bella's vest and hauling her up to her feet. "This is your fault!"

At once, seven silent vampires are at the very edge of the border. "Release her. Now," Rosalie demands firmly.

"We will ask only once," Carlisle warns him.

And Sam scoffs. He looks at the rage in their faces, the contempt in hers, and shoves her backwards to the ground. "What do you see in them, Bella? I… I truly cannot see past the death. Walking corpses. What do you see when you look at these vampires?"

Rosalie drags her eyes from him, down to her mate. Awe stares back at her, and despite everything, Bella smiles. The corners of her lips twitch up and the dark, sharp anger in Rosalie's heart is snuffed out like a weak flame. Hope replaces it, a warmth so smooth and gentle she can feel it all the way to her fingertips. Bella sucks in a breath and shrugs. "Life," she replies. "Mine. Ours? A future. Something to fight for, something to try for. I see the Cullens. I see Rosalie Hale."

Fate is funny. Cruel and devastating, most of the time, generous and forgiving rarely, but always… funny. The universe has a sense of humour.

Sam sighs, his shoulders drooping. He scratches the back of his neck and nods, dropping down to sit in the wet grass. Tired. He looks so tired, so worn out. So done. "I hate to admit it, but that's beautiful, Bella. I don't see it, but I understand it." He laughs weakly. "You can't tell a heart what to do, eh? Can't tell it not to love, can't tell it not to break."

The others eye him warily. "Sam…" Jacob ventures hesitantly.

"No, I know," he scoffs. "Can't tell it not to break." A sigh heaves his shoulders and he scrubs his hand down his face. "And you're breaking mine. You're breaking mine and you're gonna break Seth's."

Leah groans, grabbing for her brother.

Bella's head snaps up, her eyes wide. "Sam, no-"

He waves toward the young boy. "Yeah. Yeah, this is how you learn, Bella. See where your actions have brought you. See Seth's heart, broken and bleeding, in your hand."

Bella gulps in air like a fish out of water, and the dread in the air is palpable. "Sam, no. Please!"

"Now, Bella."

Two of the wolves in the trees howl, a mournful wail echoing up towards the stars. Bella's muscles burn and ache, and her body forces itself to her feet. "I won't," she grinds out between her teeth. "I won't, I won't, I won't."

Carlisle runs his hands through his hair, disbelief as he paces along the border. "Sam Uley, this is madness! Stop this, at once! I beg of you!"

"Couldn't leave my wolves alone, Pale Face? You just had to come back here?"

Leah stands before her brother, fierce determination, a glare on her face hard enough to crack steel. She jabs her palm against Bella's shoulder and shakes her head, tears streaming down her face.

"I won't," Bella chokes out, even as she snatches Leah's wrist in her hand, yanking to the side, hooking her ankle. Down into the wet grass she goes, and Bella stands before Seth.

Sam places his foot on Leah's back. "Stay down. Nobody else moves."

Rainwater drips down their faces, off their chins. Jacob snarls and yells at Sam in the background, while the Cullens shout and holler their fury. Bella squeezes her eyes shut, face up to the sky, fists clenching so tight her knuckles pop.

"It's okay," Seth says shakily. When Bella's dark eyes open again, he nods. Tears mixed with rain, a watery smile. "I know it's not you, Bella. I know. Leah knows, too. Just, uh, don't let this ruin her."

Her hands grab him, one squeezing his collar painfully, the other over his heart. "Seth," she snarls and the specs in her eyes glow, they light up with the spirit of her wolf. "Run! Please!"

"I can't." He shakes his head sadly. "Watch-" he grimaces as her fingers slowly dig into his skin, and his heart races. Fear jolts his system and he gasps lightly. "Watch out for them, okay?" He speaks quickly, urgently. A message to get across before it's too late. Before he can't. "Watch out for Leah, for my mom. You have to, if I can't. That's all I ask in return. Bella."

Emmett pounds his fist against his chest. "Stop this! Tell her to stop! This isn't right!"

"We need to cross," Jasper growls, rolling his shoulders. His eyes trained steadily on Sam. "We need to cross, Miss Esme. We need to stop him."

Sam points at them with a scowl on his face. "Cross and start a war. Cross and be hunted down, like the rats you are!"

And Esme desperately tries to catch Bella's eye, but the wolf has her back to her. "Bella, you can fight this! You are in control of your own body!"

Amber eyes rest on her mate's strong back. Rosalie ignores the others, focuses on the deep beating in her chest. Inhale chaos, exhale peace. She's two seconds from tearing out Sam's spine, but there is a lesson life has taught her. There is a realization she has discovered. And she will not let Sam force her decision.

Because it is a war he wants. She's not sure if the others can see that.

"Don't let him take your choice, Bella," she says gently. Gentle but strong, firm. Her voice carried across the wind.

And Bella's fingers stop. Her bloody fingertips lift off of Seth's chest.

But none of that matters.

Not when Jacob tackles Sam off his feet.

.

.

.

Things happen… fairly quickly after that. Nobody is really sure what to do because technically - technically the pack is rightfully Jacob's and this feels an awful lot like a challenge for Alpha. Which means none of the wolves can move, especially considering Sam's last command was Don't Fucking Move.

So everyone gets a front row seat to the admittedly pathetic wrestling match between two boys who very clearly have never had to fight before. No matter who wins, their image of authority will be damaged.

Especially when Jacob slaps Sam, who scratches at his face.

Alice turns to Carlisle with raised eyebrows and nods to the fight in a perplexed way. His shoulders hitch up with his hands and… the Cullens are lost.

Hands on her hips, Esme shakes her head and watches on.

The boys roll through the mud and up close it's a little more intense. Between the two of them, it is teeth and claws, snarling and snapping. A fight to the death, with honour and glory on the line. The rain beats down on them and Jacob swings, but Sam yanks him to the side by his shirt.

The fabric tears, exposing Jacob's wet, muddy abs. Blood drips from his nose, and lines Sam's teeth. They are godly warriors, each strike against the other's body punctuated by a crack of lightning.

Emmett crouches down when Sam awkwardly somersaults backwards on his shoulder, getting a face full of earth. "Get him, kid! While he's down, get your knee between his shoulders," he advises Jacob. "Come on, buddy. You got this."

Children scrap in the mud and the Cullens try to wait patiently.

But the wolves don't care as they skid and collide. Ancient spirits of the forest, battling for Destiny. Sam clasps his hands together and brings them down on Jacob's back as he attempts to tackle again. They are wolves, born for war. Fighting ingrained in their bones. Hunters and predators out for their chunk of flesh.

Sam squeezes his arm around Jacob's neck. "Yield!" he bellows.

Jacob scratches at his arm, at the slippery mud. He snarls and swings, kicking at the ground.

"Yield to me, pup!" Sam orders fiercely. "You will all yield to me!"

The fight in Jacob weakens. His muscles begin to relax against their will. Submission floods him.

Rosalie twitches forward.

Bella grips Sam's right shoulder with her left hand and his jaw with her right. Angry tears roll down her cheeks, and fury glows in her eyes. "I will not," she tells him darkly, her voice rough and scratchy.

His eyebrows jump in surprise a moment before his head is wrenched sideways and his neck is snapped.

She lets his body fall to the ground, water splashing up at her and Jacob.

There is no sound besides the heavy rain. There is no motion besides Jacob's heaving chest. They all stare at the ex-Alpha's body laying in the puddle. The sky lights up in a flash, dark the next.

Seth's knees buckle as Sam's command fades. Some of the wolves shift back now that they are allowed to. Leah works her jaw a few times.

They all gape up at Bella.

Who stands above Sam's body, dripping with rain, fists trembling at her sides. Her glare is something to behold, her rage divine. Brilliant and breathtaking. She glares down at his body and snarls, beats her fist against her heart, and roars her feral fury. Jacob shakes his head as he looks up at her, and she stares down at him. "Dobby is a free elf…"(3)

"Bella," Rosalie calls softly. Her hand up, beckoning her mate back to her.

The wolf scrapes her knuckles off her chin and staggers back from Sam… from the body. She looks at Rosalie with wide eyes, and back down. Jacob skitters over, shaking hands hovering over Sam's back. "What… what have you done, Bella?!" he whispers up at her.

She looks around at the other wolves. Surprise and disbelief colouring their faces. She shakes her head and looks back down at him. "You were - you were weak, Jake. He was winning. I can't… I couldn't let him win. I couldn't just give him back all that control!"

"You killed him, Bella!" he yells and shakes Sam's body. "You murdered him!"

She flinches back. Rosalie growls deeply and steps to the very edge of the border. "Stop that. She saved your ungrateful ass. She did what you could not. Bella, please come here."

Bella's chest heaves and she sucks in breath like a drowning man. "I'm not a murderer, Jake. I didn't… he deserves it! He - you, don't look at me like that! The only way this day ends is with me killing someone and he did that. He forced it! It was him or it was Seth."

Jacob shakes his head. "There is always another way-"

"No. Fuck that. Sometimes there's just one. Just one shitty way."

"Do you even regret it?!"

She tugs at her hair, flinging a hand down toward him. "No! Okay? No. I would do it again and again and again. Always him. Never Seth. Never any of you."

Her patience wanes and Rosalie steps over the border, but the wolves' reaction is instant. All of their heads whip up and they glare at her, even Bella somehow knows, and looks over. Jacob snarls. "Get back!"

"Can I just," she points down at the invisible line, "she's hurting, can I cross? Please?" she grinds out.

A large grey wolf leaps over in one mighty bound, forcing her back across the border to her own side. He snaps his large jaw, barking loud enough to make the vampires wince. Jacob pushes himself up to his feet. "No. Never. You are never allowed to cross, under any circumstance. Get that through your diamond-crusted heads. You don't belong here. And…" he regretfully looks over at Bella. At his old friend. "And neither do you."

And she laughs. A short, sharp burst, maybe a little hysteric. "Is that right? I don't belong anymore because I freed us? Jake?"

"Because you killed our Alpha!" he snaps.

Bella sighs and shakes her head. "That's great. That's fantastic. I'm banned from the Res because you were too weak to save us. Great. Charlie is gonna be pissed."

"No, Bella…" Jacob says softly. He looks at the others, watching them bow their heads, and back to her. Realization dawns on her face and he hangs his head. "You're banned from Forks, too. From our lands. From everything we are bound to protect. You can't stay here."

"What do you mean-"

Paul and another wolf block her from stepping closer to their new Alpha. Glares on their faces, lips curled back over canines. Snarling beasts, warning her.

She shakes her head. "This is my home!"

"You can't stay!" he repeats loudly. "Bella, you killed Sam. You think that's somehow alright just because we're wolves? You think laws don't apply to us? You think our rules don't apply to us? If you stay, you… killing a pack member is punishable by death, Bella. If a leech did it, we would burn their entire coven."

"I'm not a vampire!"

"No, but you killed him for them!"

"No, I - are you fucking kidding me?" Bella snarls and the wolves growl. "Shut the fuck up, Paul, I swear to God, I'll-"

"Kill him?" another wolf shouts from the trees.

Rosalie laces her fingers behind her neck and breathes deeply. "Bella, please, please come back across the border."

"Just… hold on…" Bella waves at her weakly and looks back at Jacob. "You would kill me? Ignoring how hypocritical that is, you would actually kill me?"

Alice blurs up next to her sister. "He wouldn't get the chance, Bella! Come with us."

Jacob is the epitome of regret, every fibre of his being echoing with sympathy. "Bella, please go with them. If you stay, you know, I can't promise you anything. I can't promise your safety. The council can't. Everyone loved Sam."

"They were afraid of him!"

"Either way," he shakes his head, "either way, Bella. He was important. I can keep them from going after you. I can work out a deal, I can. You'll be safe. But not if you stay here."

She scoffs. "Not if I'm in my home. Because you couldn't-" She clicks her tongue and looks up at the sky that has finally stopped pouring down on them. Her muscles burn, her eyes sting, her heart aches, but she is free.

She is free.

"Do you understand what you did, Bella?"

Her eyes drift open and she looks at him lazily. "Do you?"

"Leave for me," Leah says. They look over at her, at Seth tucked under her arm. The light in her eyes, the stress melting from her face. How breezy she feels, and fluidly she moves. "Bella, you truly can never comprehend how thankful I am to you. I mean it. I owe you more than my life. But the council will make Jake make us hunt you down. Please. Please do me one last favour and spare me from that. Spare Seth from that. Run, far and fast."

Bella looks around at the faces of her pack. Her ex-pack, and can feel the flimsy connection break. Some look grateful, and others look like they want her head.

Leah glares at them and looks back to her friend. "Go, Bella! Run!"

And in a split second, her life changes again. She and the Cullens are gone.

Chapter Text

The house is quiet in the early hours of the morning. Charlie slumbers on the couch, the television playing quietly. Wind makes the house creak on the east side, and Rosalie listens to Bella pace her bedroom.

She had dropped Bella off almost half an hour ago, and tagged off with Esme when she rolled up in the Royce. The others are packing, much faster, and more efficient than Bella.

Because she can hear Bella sit on the corner of her bed, can feel her hang her head, and hear her sigh. She wonders if Bella can hear her father drag himself up the stairs. When he knocks on her bedroom door, Rosalie leans back against the car and crosses her arms.

Inside, she listens to Bella scrape her shoes over the hardwood floor. "Come in."

"Hey, bud, I was just about… Hey. Hey, look at me. What's wrong?"

Her mate sucks in a sharp, jagged breath. "I did something," she says around tears and Rosalie has to grab the door handle to keep from flying up those stairs. "I-I did something."

"Hey, okay," Charlie soothes and the bed springs squeak again. "It's okay. Talk to me. What did you do?"

Bella sniffs. "Something bad. I did something really bad, and I - I'm sorry. I had to, it wasn't wrong, I know it. But it was really bad and now I'm in trouble."

"You're okay, bud. I got you. You're okay and I can fix it."

Rosalie's heart aches when Bella sobs sharply. "No, actually, y-you can't. I have to go. I can't stay."

"Why are you packing? Kid - Bella, why are you packing? Where are you going?"

"I killed Sam, dad!"

The house is silent, other than the wind whistling through cracks.

"...What do you mean?"

"I mean, he's dead. I k-killed him and he deserved it and now I have to leave!"

Charlie is up on his feet, his footsteps are heavy. "Like hell! Ain't no kid of mine rotting in prison for that bastard. I'm your alibi, Bella. They can't prove it. Did you touch anything there, we need to go-"

"No, dad… Dad, listen to me. Dad. Dad, listen!" Bella snarls and the walls shake. Rosalie can hear Charlie's heart stutter. "The pack saw me do it. Everyone saw me do it. They told me to leave and never come back."

"But I…"

"It's complicated, dad. And you know that. For all the reasons you're too scared to talk about. Because of that thing you know but won't face. For the same reason I can smell your fear."

"Then…" his voice is soft and hesitant. Hurt. Scared. "Then they know why you did it. They know what he does. It was self-defense."

"There are rules and I broke them."

"Rules that protect him and not you?!"

"Rules that protect you. And I jeopardized that. I can't be trusted, and now I'm a risk within the pack. A wrench in the gears. Which means they can't protect you. I… I have to leave."

His breathing is bumpy, slow. Rosalie can almost hear how fast his thoughts race. "But I didn't fix it, yet. I thought… I was gonna fix this, Bella. I was gonna make you proud, I was gonna talk to Harry and the others. I was gonna save you. I was gonna fix it."

"I don't need anybody to save me," Bella mutters darkly. There's shuffling, a hand on a shoulder. "Probably thanks to you, though. You raised me, tough as nails. Enough that I could… well. I'm grateful for that. And," she sniffs again, and Rosalie is happy to hear her heart calming down, "and listen, I'll call you. Okay? Wherever I land, I'll call. We'll figure something out. Promise."

"Do you need money?"

"No, I got a weird best friend who took care of that. Don't worry about me."

"That's my job."

"Then do." She listens to her mate shrug. "But I'm golden, pop. Life is fucked, but it's done its worst to me and I'm still standing. Carved me into something stronger than itself. Take comfort in that, yeah?"

"I do. Bella. I'm sorry."

A bag is swung around, buckles and pins. "You know what's crazy? I'm not. I'm not sorry. Not even a little. I'm… I'm free, dude. And I got a smokin' girlfriend that I'm pretty sure is waiting for me outside. I got some kickass people outta all this. Wouldn't trade it for anything."

"Can't you stay a little longer?" Charlie's voice chases after her and Rosalie listens to the wolf bound down the stairs.

Eager little puppy.

She examines her nails, feigning disinterest while Bella calls back a rushed, "Nah, I gotta go. They're coming for my head, I think. She's outside. I can smell her."

And she's going to have to tell Bella to stop informing people how much she's smelling them because it's kind of weird.

The front door swings open with a crack that echoes through the yard and has birds flying off from nearby trees. The corners of Rosalie's lips curve up ever so slightly and she lifts her eyes to gaze softly at her mate. Bella stops short, a few feet away, with Charlie standing on the porch. His eyes are watery, puffy, but hers are dry. Red - Rosalie knows she was crying, but dry.

She nods at Bella. "Swan."

"Hale," Bella replies. She rubs her hands together, looking down the street, and back. "You going my way?"

A single shoulder rises and falls. Barely. "Perhaps. Which way are you going?"

"Wherever you are, babe. Stuck on you like glue… if you'll have me."

She works her jaw, a little better at taming the butterflies in her chest. A little more used to them. To Bella. A little better at… this. "You're not going to actually make me say it, are you?"

"Nope." Bella grins and hops forward another step. "But it would be super romantic if you did."

Golden eyes roll to the sky and Rosalie scoffs. "Always, Bella."

"Nerd."

"You're the one who wanted me to s-!"

She's cut off with a kiss. A kiss she sighs into, slumping back against the car, and cradles Bella's face between her fingertips because god, her girlfriend is cute sometimes.

It's ironic every time Bella melts into her, because she burns like the sun, but it might just be Rosalie's favourite thing in the entire world. How simply and wholly Bella's desire of being close to her is.

So trusting.

A vulnerability that Rosalie's first instinct isn't to attack.

How far she's come, in such a short amount of time. Esme would be proud. She should probably talk to Esme.

Esme's probably waiting. Worrying.

Rosalie hums and pulls away. She smirks, feeling Bella's pouty growl in her chest, and shakes her head. "We need to leave. Wolves are coming for your head, remember?"

"I still think it's dumb you guys let them on your land when you're violently banned from ours - theirs, I mean," Bella says and sighs.

Rosalie is on the other side of the car in the blink of an eye, and she can hear Charlie's startled gasp. "It was Carlisle's attempt at peace. Very effective, no?"

"Right," she snorts and slides into the passenger's seat. "So sassy."

"You knew what you were getting into."

Forks passes them by quickly. Maybe a little too quickly, for Bella, who has her face glued to the window. Rosalie tries to slow down, but she's… excited. Add to that the guilt she feels for being excited, and she kind of feels sick. Dizzy, maybe. Delirious?

Content.

Much more than she usually feels, at least. She's drowning in her emotions, and that's all the more reason to speed, to reach the others faster. Reach Jasper.

The wolf leans her head back against the seat and looks over at Rosalie. A smile stretches across her face, to the point Rosalie looks away, flustered. "I did, you know."

"What? Stop smiling like that."

"No," Bella says and sticks out her pierced tongue. She motions towards the vampire lazily. "I knew what I was getting into," Bella explains finally, her brows furrowed in a serious sort of way. "I watched you, in the beginning. A lot. I, uh, god, I don't know what it was but I just couldn't look away."

Rosalie hums thoughtfully, biting her tongue against the borderline demands of knowing everything. Why did she stare, what was it, what made her keep pursuing, what did she think?

But patience is a virtue, or so Jasper keeps telling her. And Bella is worth Rosalie's best self, so she struggles to be better.

The wolf nods to herself and shifts in the seat, sitting mostly sideways to look at Rosalie's profile. "It was the fourth day, it was Thursday when you finally spoke to me. It was in gym class, we were doing laps, and I'm still not sure if you're aware that you were racing me."

Golden eyes widen. "Okay, first of all - I, damn it, Bella, I remember that! You just had to be faster, you couldn't stand being slower than me."

"I wasn't racing! You were running too fast, and the Cullens already stick out a little too much! I was helping, they know I'm human."

"They don't know I am not, and you were laughing."

Bella chuckles, much to Rosalie's aggravation, and pinches her nose. "You were just so obstinate and angry about a dumb gym warm up."

"I was not."

She gestures to the death grip Rosalie has on the wheel. "You're angry just talking about it, Hale."

"I am not," she grinds out and forces her hands to open.

Bella shakes her head, a fond smile on her face. "Okay. Well, we got to the end. Forty-two laps in ten minutes, how nobody noticed is beyond me. And after that, when he blows the whistle, you stomp over and snarl in my face."

"...I have a few regrets in life, Bella, and-"

"I will physically end you if you ever so much as look in my direction again."

Rosalie groans and hangs her head at a red light, holding her face in her palm. "I am… I'm sorry, Bella."

Bella leans closer, eyes narrowed. "... Are you, though?"

And Rosalie bounces in her seat to glare at her girlfriend. "No, okay?! That last lap should not have counted, you got forty-one laps, and only because you were going to blow our secrets. had to be the responsible one, otherwise I would have won."

God.

Bella falls back in her seat to laugh. Her dark eyes water and she holds her stomach, gasping for breath while Rosalie struggles to hold onto her scowl. Bella grins, and any sorrow from the day is a distant memory in that moment. Joy shines in her eyes. "That's when I knew."

"Knew what?" Rosalie grumbles.

And Bella shrugs. "That I would fall for you, if I wasn't already."

Golden eyes snap to her and the two just sit there, watching each other.

Bella… could love her?

That's what that meant, yes?

She didn't actually say she loves Rosalie, but that she would.

Does she yet?

Or will she?

Rosalie licks her lips. "Bella…"

"Don't," the wolf warns and holds up her hand. "A lot of shit happened today and most of it was bad. I don't want to spoil the good things with it, you know? So I won't say it. Won't say what I feel."

Blonde eyebrows inch up.

"But I do. So you know. I do, and, you know. I don't wanna freak you out again, so don't read too much into it," Bella grunts and awkwardly fishes around in her pocket. She hesitates, staring down at her fist, and holds it over to Rosalie. "Promise you won't freak out, if I give this to you?"

"No," Rosalie whispers but holds out her open palm anyway.

And it might just be perfect, the timing of it all. That the next song in her Disney playlist happens to be this one, at this moment, with Bella in her car.

A ring falls down into Rosalie's open palm.

No chance no way I won't say it, no no
(Give up, give in, check the grin you're in love)
This scene won't play I won't say I'm in love
(We'll do it until you admit you're in love)
You're way off base I won't say it
Get off my case I won't say it
(Girl don't be proud it's okay you're in love)
At least out loud I won't say I'm in love.

The End