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welcome to wonderland

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There's a noticeable difference when Bella comes back alone, a quiet sombre to her that's the older echo of who the Cullens saw when they first returned to Forks. Her eyes hold shadows that the human pixie scorched away with optimism and general joy. Those strong shoulders drop, slouched in on herself as she holds the pale blue ribbon the human had in her hair when she left.

Esme reaches for her daughter with a slow, hesitant hand that can be knocked away all too easily. She takes comfort and hope when her fingers curl around Bella's wrist, pulling her into a firm hug that the stiff girl merely leans against. It's enough. It was always enough for Esme. "I'm so sorry, Bella."

"I left her."

"It's what she wanted, honey."

Bella squeezes her eyes shut and falls into the darkness, the absence of light. That's where she left Alice. Alone. Without any sliver of light. "It hurts."

"I know," Esme reassures, rubs the girl's back as she hums. "Oh, Bella. It's complicated and painful but it does work out in the end, and if you can at all take any solace in that, please do. She's upstairs with the Lafayette sisters right now."

"I can't," Bella mumbles and finally pulls away. Out of her peripherals, she can see her mother tilt her head. "Take solace. Comfort. Peace. Not until she's safe."

And on her way to Jasper.

They all jump or flinch when she just appears in the closed room; Alice, Victoria, Anne, Jasper, and Rosalie. Sometimes Bella forgets that they really don't know what she can do but there's no time to explain or even revel in the satisfaction of surprising Alice. Which happens so rarely. Not until she saves her.

"Took you long enough," Victoria sighs and crosses her arms.

There's a not-so-subtle hip bump from Anne but Bella couldn't care less in the moment. She does, however, take note of Rosalie standing very specifically between Jasper and Alice, and the way the boy's eyes flutter in a much-more-subtle flinch whenever she moves. Bella wonders if, perhaps, Rosalie's rage cannot be as easily contained as her anger. She remembers back to her first few moments as a vampire, and how red cracked through the gold of Rosalie's eyes, and wonders just how much the blonde held back when kicking her across the field.

Part of her hopes she held nothing back against Jasper.

"Victoria was just catching us up on what is going to be happening since only Jasper can go with you," Alice explains tensely. Even her smile is strained but Bella can see the genuine delight in her mate's eyes at her return, and feels the little hiccup in her heart. It's nearly enough to jostle her from the dark fear that plagues her heart, and has her wiggling her fingers in a wave. "It's… not good."

"It's barbaric and stupid, and history is endlessly lucky you are not allowed to bring me or I would leave a large bloody stain on the timeline," Rosalie mutters darkly. Her eyes catch Bella's, sharp and insistent. "You need to be careful. Control yourself."

Which is… alarming? To say the least.

It has Bella's shoulders bunching up as she looks between them all. "What does that mean? What's wrong? What happens to her?"

Jesus, but it says something that Alice drops Bella's gaze and crosses her arms, folding in on herself like the younger vampire has never seen. Bella looks over to Victoria who lifts a shoulder in a careless shrug. "James had me do his homework for the more important, challenging trophies. Mrs Brandon will have a lethal accident, following a very insistent daughter's warnings and accusations against Mr Brandon for orchestrating the whole thing. A paid off lawman will declare dreams insufficient evidence, with a strong alibi for the poor widower and he will be ruled innocent. A month after that, this poor widower will then regretfully place his eldest daughter into the care of the Biloxi Sanitarium as she will be deemed unfit to take care of herself. Trying to explain her visions of the future will have the opposite desired effect and the young girl will only get herself on the list of a new, highly experimental treatment involving electroshock therapy that I am sorry to say will catch on and last far longer than humanity on a whole deserves."

The room falls into silence and while Victoria doesn't seem to care, Anne looks on nervously. "Bella?" she asks gently when the silence grows heavier. "Bella, you-"

"He threw her away in the madhouse?" Bella asks quietly. Flatly.

Victoria sighs and picks lint from her shirt, letting it fall all the way to the floor before she meets Bella's eye. "Little Mary Alice cannot remember you or anything else because her brain was scrambled right before she was turned."

She only makes it a step forward before Anne and Rosalie grab her. "Watch your mouth or I'll stuff it full with your own elbow," Rosalie snarls at the redhead and yanks Bella back. "And you settle down, this is exactly what I was saying. You need to be in control when you go back."

The holes that Bella is trying to bore into Victoria's face with her eyes alone never ignite and so she settles for the finger instead. "You need to get over what happened between us. You killed me, you got your vengeance, stop being a bitch and leave it in the past."

"Oh, that's rich coming from you, Little Fist. You're so hung up on the past that you dragged her into the future to play house," Victoria scoffs. "She's standing right next to you and you're losing your mind over what happened one hundred years ago."

"It is still happening for me!" Bella snarls at her and the floor cracks beneath a stomped boot. Rosalie's hands dig in tighter on her hip and shoulder, dragging her back another two feet. "It wasn't a hundred years ago, it was twenty minutes!"

"Then give it five hundred years and come talk to me. You left me in my hate, what else do you expect from me?" The fire is gone, no longer is she poking, just a detached explanation. Even her stance relaxes as she eyes Bella. "This is your design."

"This-" and just like that, the fire is gone from Bella, too. She blinks a few times, chest heaving less and less as her breathing evens out. "This isn't what I wanted..."

It feels like a pick lodged in the top of her skull, rooted down into her brain. How many things has she done a certain way simply because she thought they had to be done that way?

How long has she been following poorly laid tracks only to find out that she was the moron who laid them down in the first place?

What is the point of time travel if not to fix things, to fix even one thing? The timeline deserves to crumble if it relies entirely on broken hearts and ruined lives to uphold it.

And - god, if there was ever any one heart worth risking all of time for, Bella knows exactly who it belongs to.

Her eyes cut over to Jasper as the gears turn, as she follows the threads she will cut and discover where they end, how she can loop them back into the original.

Alice is worth the risk.

"You."

"Me. What?" he asks weakly, already bracing for whatever she's going to say.

She gently pries herself out of Rosalie's grip. "The tracks will stay the same but that doesn't mean we can't add to them." His brows furrow and he opens his mouth, probably to question what the fuck she's talking about but she doesn't let him. "You are going to fix what you did."

"I don't underst-..." His eyes widen very suddenly, glazing over like he's lost in thought.

"We'll find the moment you made the worst decision of your life," Bella tells the unresponsive man and watches his eyes flick back and forth rapidly, almost as if he is dreaming. Following those new threads, a split from what was. Nothing to drastic, but just different enough.

Different enough to take away one broken heart from the timeline.

Victoria tugs Anne back, finally unsettled enough to be wary of the young vampire. Staring at the intensity that is Bella Swan as she growls at this man. "And you will be the conscience you so desperately needed."

Rosalie steps forward. "Bella, what the hell are you doing?"

"And you will love her, as you always have," Bella continues, her voice degrading into something rough, something dark. "But you won't fucking touch her heart."

Alice gasps behind them all, her hand reaching up to her chest. "What-!"

-while Jasper quickly shakes his head, his eyes clearing. "What. Bel-. I have… a memory that I did not have a minute ago. What did you…?"

"We have to make a pit stop on our way back to the present," Bella tells him with a dangerously reckless grin and turns to the pixie. She rushes over, hands on thin shoulders, ducking her face to try and catch Alice's eye. "Please tell me I didn't fuck things up worse?"

But the pixie merely stands there in shock, clutching her chest. "I… my heart. It's. Bella, it's gone."

Her eyes widen in horror-

"No! Not - sorry!" Alice rushes to explain with a smile. "My heart is there and fine. Better than fine, the pain is gone. For him, the bond that was there is… it's just not!"

Rosalie looks confused and pulls the two apart to inspect Alice. "Wait, hold on. Jasper has a new memory and now you were never mates?"

"We never were to begin with."

"You know what-" Rosalie pinches the bridge of her nose. "Don't do that, you know what I mean."

"Then… yes? I feel… nothing for him, I mean. I'm angry still but it's… things are the same but have shifted very slightly."

Rosalie looks over to Bella. "If he didn't make her think they were mates, then why didn't she say yes to the human you and prevent all this from even happening?"

Bella points at Jasper, her other hand clenched in a fist. "I still need him to dampen what she felt for me," she admits between clenched teeth.

"And I still felt guilty, like I was betraying a relationship of seventy years, even though we knew we weren't mates. Without being certain she was mine, I…" Alice looks up at Bella, a lovely frown on her face, and reaches out to cup the chilly vampire's face. "I was still too scared to say yes, even without his lie. It was… me, more than it was him. I did this to us. I'm so sorry, Bella."

"This was never to change what happened," Bella tells her softly, with her own bittersweet smile. "I just wanted to spare you needless pain and help an asshole right some of his wrongs. He's not the worst person I've ever met."

"Thank you, Bella," Jasper murmurs gently.

"I will leave you legless in 1302, I swear to god. Don't talk to me."

The snort that comes from across the room reminds Bella that they're not alone and still have a lot of shit to do. Victoria looks… mildly impressed when their eyes meet again, and Bella sighs. "Okay, so. What. I pop back to a certain date, Jasper and I find James, kick his ass, bite Alice, and set her free?"

"Essentially? Yes."

"But you're there so… are you going to try to kill me?"

The redhead looks like the cat who ate the canary when she smiles. "Oh yes."

"How-"

"Mister Frown over there will have to break my neck, it's the longest injury to heal and will give you enough time to do what you need to. You will have to break James', bite Alice, and take her away. He'll lose interest once she's been bitten."

Bella nods and rubs her hands together. "I like it, two on two."

"Well…" Everyone looks back up at Victoria. "He has four others with him besides me."

"Wha-"

"Those you can feel free to kill, you certainly did the first time."

"How?"

This time she shrugs. "That, I'm uncertain of. Even I was impressed when I found out. Blondie chases me off before he snaps my neck, I have no idea how you dispatch four vampires and incapacitate a fifth." Her red eyes drag across Bella's profile in a scrutinizing manner. "I assume you're far more capable as a vampire than you were as a human?"

"Kinda?" Her reply is anything but confident as she looks over to Alice and Rosalie. "Are you sure I didn't bring Hale?"

Victoria bumps her shoulder up. "No, just this pouty one. I'm not sure how you did it in the beginning, but you must do it again. If you fuck this up, will find you in whatever future you bring upon us, and I will end you once and for all. You won't take my sister from me again, good intentions or not."

"Threaten her again," Rosalie says evenly and steps between the two. Something cracks when she rolls her shoulders and though Bella can't see her face, she can see the apprehension in Victoria's. "Go on. You're the tough, angry one, right? Throw your weight around my house, again. Hm?"

There's a quick grab on the back of Victoria's shirt from Anne, and it has the redhead settling for a scowl.

Rosalie ticks her chin up. "No? Nothing more? Shame. I really wanted to see what happens."

Honestly, the drama that haunts this fucking house drives Bella crazy. She's not sure if she's ever had a single regular day here. Vampires are moody bitches, every single one of them, god.

She presses her palms against her eyes until arcs of light flash against her eyelids and a dull throb starts to form. "I miss sleep."

"You never slept anyway," Alice informs her in a soft, absent sort of way. Her eyes haven't lost that Hundred Yard Stare since she made plans to change the past, but really the pixie could be thinking about anything at this point. So much has happened to her in such a short (and long?) amount of time.

Still. "I treasured what few hours I got," Bella whines and drops her forehead against her mate's shoulder, slouching low to do it. "Are you okay?"

"I will be, I think," Alice reassures her. Sort of. Her words are still spoken like an afterthought. An echo of her attention. "He killed my mother and locked me away."

"Want me to kill him?"

"Can you?"

"What, like emotionally or physically?" Bella wonders and lifts her head. "Because yes to both. I killed my own dad, I don't mind offing yours."

"No, I meant - you killed Charlie!?"

"Charles," Bella corrects.

Alice's eyes widen. "Why would you do that, he's done nothing but his best to care for you!"

"My. Oh. Didn't I tell you about my biological dad? Who knows Esme is my mom? There's been so much information exchange recently," Bella muses somewhat helplessly. There are a few important pieces that she really isn't sure she can ever bring herself to voice again. Hopefully Alice already has them or they die with her. "I can kill him, my point remains."

"Are you allowed to though?" Alice clarifies with furrowed brows and the most tired look Bella has ever seen. "How do you know what you can do in the past?"

Huh.

Bella considers the question for a moment, her hands slowly sliding to her hips as she pops her bottom lip. "Well I didn't really care in the beginning, I just did what I wanted and if the world ended, that was alright with me. I've only recently become concerned with the continuum, I guess."

"What a brilliant idea to give the horribly depressed, young teenager a superpower with the potential to end the world," Rosalie bites sarcastically.

Victoria scoffs and rolls her eyes hard enough she swoops back with the momentum to go look out the window. "We don't have time for this!" Anne tilts her head but her sister merely shrugs. "I mean, we do, but I cannot stand another moment of it. The sooner she leaves and returns, the sooner we can be free of them."

"Then tell me the date and scram already!" Bella snaps, irritated.

"Believe me, I eagerly await the moment I never have to see you again. This needs to be done right, however, so do what you must to prepare."

She tosses her hands in the air, an angry grumble in her chest. "I'm ready! I've been ready! Everyone here is ready. I'm really ready," she finds herself insisting to Alice, as if to reassure her. "I'll get you out of there and everything will be okay."

"I know, Bella," Alice tells her with that same sort of sad smile. It has Bella faltering, her brows drawing together with concern, stepping closer. Alice sighs and lightly shakes her head. "A version of me will always be there, even once you save me. I'm. I'm really starting to understand it, the whole… well, versions of ourselves. Looped forever, in the cycle." She sucks in a sharp breath and tries to force her smile to brighten. "I hope to make better choices from here out, if only to spare those versions of myself."

And, you know, yeah. That makes sense, after everything they've been through and learned. There are versions of them out there, who haven't even met. One of her first landing in Biloxi. Another watching Esme jump. Moments that will forever echo in their own timelines.

But damn, what a horrible thing to bring up right before Bella has to make some very crucial choices.

So she nods and tries to smother the absolute terror in her chest and eyes, turning away kinda numb. "Holy shit…" she whispers, more to herself than the room but it has Anne chuckling and Rosalie giving the pixie a certain look.

"Sorry, Bella, now isn't the time for that," Alice is quick to apologize. "You'll do great, we already know. It all turns out in the end."

"Yeah. Yeah."

Soft hands tug her face back around and down towards Alice's level where mirth fills a burning amber gaze. "I'm very sorry for filling your head with worries, I was just thinking aloud. You are going to be absolutely fine, darling, and I'll be waiting here for your return. You can do this, Bella. I have faith in you, always."

"But what if-"

Her face is smushed between those hands before she can finish the thought.

"No buts, other than yours right here back with me once it's done," Alice tells her matter-of-factly. That little twinkle back in her eye, something she hasn't seen since before they left. "You and I will be having our second first date."

"What?" Bella's eyebrows jump with surprise and delight. "Where?"

"Spoilers, my love. Now scoot. I'm a damsel, I'm in distress, and your belt buckle is shiny enough."

The kiss pressed to her lips is full of promise and hope, and has Bella's head spinning before she's lightly shoved back and stumbles towards the empath. "You ready?"

"I-"

"Good, let's go!" She doesn't wait for his response before she grabs his hand, trying to ignore the gasp of wonder that tears from his chest as the decades melt around them, fading back through time like the world's most intense rollercoaster.

It's not. It's not exactly something that ever gets boring, really, but one can get used to anything and she doesn't realize it until Jasper's reaction. Watching him turn his head this way and that way, squinting and trying to make out details. She clenches her jaw, trying to shove away the wonder of what he sees, what he's looking for.

Trying to resist the connection that's trying to form.

"No, please, it was only a bit of bread. Please!"

"Better a quick death at the end of my knife, thief, than a long one wasting away in whatever ditch you've claimed as your own. I'm doing you a favour."

"No… no, please! I want to live! I'm not done yet! Please!"

"Well, what the hell is that, then?" she wonders aloud, squinting through the centuries. "Hey! Asshole!"

"Wh….wha...w…" the words themselves never actually manage to fully leave Jasper's lips. Like trying to move through stone as he turns his head excruciatingly slowly towards Bella.

Who very simply and easily tugs him along behind her, like a wraith sifting through the years to one particular moment only she can pick out amongst the chaos that blurs by them.

When they finally stop, Jasper goes tumbling forward, ass over teakettle into the dirt to land in a heap while Bella merely skids a little, with practiced ease. She reaches out for the large man's elbow, wrenching him around to face her as his face pales with fear. "Where the fuck-"

"When the fuck," she corrects and shoves him to his ass, stepping over the man on the ground. The red of her eyes fades to a hungry black as she stares at the blood seeping from his stomach that he weakly clutches to. A slow rumble erupts from her chest and she glances at the large man. "Because of bread? All because he was hungry? Or simply because you could?"

"I-I-I-"

"Am a monster," she finishes darkly for him. "But you're in luck. I refuse to leave a version of myself here with you."

"Wh-wha-"

She strikes like lightning, hauling the man up to his feet with little effort. He catches sight of the moonlight reflecting from eyes black as death. "Go."

He's tossed, well, really much farther than he should have been, farther than any human could throw, but Jasper has absolutely no idea what year this is and how important their cover is. Once upon a time, belief in vampires was average and normal, there was no need to hide, really. Regular people were accused of it, and those who actually did try to do something about it… well, crosses and garlic are the tools of a foolish, dead man.

Still. "I thought for a moment you might hurt him," Jasper says as he struggles to his feet and tries to make the world stop spinning.

"I'm trying this new thing called mercy," Bella mumbles and kneels down next to the man on the ground. "I'm sorry."

"P...please...p…" his words are gurgled more than anything, a bloody hand reaching for Bella's arm. "I want t...to live…!"

She lifts his other hand, ignores the way he cries out in pain, and tries to assess the damage. Her dark eyes scan the horizon and she clicks her tongue, looking back down at him. "Your wounds are too severe. Even if you did manage to hang on until the hospital, I don't think you'd survive the procedure. I don't think they have what you need here."

"Please!" he begs.

"Wait…" Bella squints again, her hand on his forehead, pushing his hair from his eyes. "I know you… how do I know you? Who are you? What year is this?"

"F...fifteen..f…" His dizzy eyes roll back ever so slightly as consciousness fades.

Bella shakes him as gently as she can. "Hey! Hey! Who are you? What's your name? Why do I… god! I know him!"

Jasper crouches next to her. "How?"

"I don't remember! I was fucking human and slowly dying for most of my time travelling career." She scowls at him fiercely before just staring for a moment. Considering something there in the dark, crouched over a dying man. "Shouldn't you be tearing into him right now?"

"I can smell colours and the world is slowly spinning. I don't think I was meant for time travel."

"You're useless, fuck off," she snaps softly, idly, and focuses back on the dying man. "Who the hell are you?"

They wait there for a dangerously long moment while Bella burns holes in the man's face with how hard she stares at it. Jasper can't imagine how many people she has met and from how many years. The last time he saw, she'd had more than a dozen dates on her right arm alone. There really is nothing he can do to help her, though, and so he waits patiently.

So very patiently, in fact, that he doesn't even realize what she's doing at first when she lifts the man's shoulders into her lap and bends over to place her lips at his neck.

"H-Hey!" Jasper gasps quickly and jolts up to his feet. "What are you doing?!"

"I know him."

"...And?!"

She glares up at him, her mouth still right close to the man's neck. "I can't very well ask a dead man his name, can I?"

"So you're just going to - you're biting him!" he howls in utter disbelief as he watches Bella sink her fangs into the man's neck. Jasper stands there, his hands in his hair, eyes wide while his stomach churns from the jump still. "Bella, biting someone isn't a whimsical decision. You have just changed this man's life forever."

There's a half snarl not aimed at anyone in particular when she finally wrenches her face from the man's neck. Jerking up to her feet and stepping back, her shoulders rising and falling with each heavy breath. "Pretty sure I just saved it," she tells him in a gravelly, rough voice. She wipes the blood from her face on the back of her hand, grimacing as she stares at it against her pale skin. "How fucked up is it that people taste good?"

"Wh…" the hands fall from Jasper's hair to his sides, uselessly. He looks from Bella and to the man, a sort of disbelief in his eyes. "Pretty fucked up. I've wanted to get to know you better for so long now."

"And?"

"I'm regretting it a little bit."

Finally, she cracks a smile and looks at him. "Most people do. He's the one who helps me change Anne. I'm eighty percent sure."

Jasper's eyebrows bump up in surprise and delight. "Oh? Hey, nice. So what should we do with him?"

"I dunno." Bella looks around the field again and back to the man. Shrugs her shoulders and steps over to Jasper, taking his hand. "He'll live. Sort of. The rest is on him, I'll find him sooner or later."

"Wait! Are we jumping again? Let me just collect myself, let me - wait! Wait!"

.

.

.

He ends up in a swampy ditch when they land again and Bella takes no small amount of joy in it. It's short lived, however, a look of disgust playing across her face. "I hate this weather."

"Do you choose where you land?" Jasper asks casually, his elbow propped up against the grass of the ditch, his lower half still submerged. He runs a hand down over his face, gathering the water from it. "Was this on purpose?"

If Bella hears him, she makes no show of it. Too busy shrugging out of her coat and stuffing it into her bag. "The whole city is like stepping into a sweaty sock. Yuck."

"No sunshine, at least." He straightens his soaked clothes, squinting up at the sky as they walk. "Not for a couple days, looks like. That helps."

"I hate this place," she tells him. Jasper looks at her quietly, patiently. He doesn't seem to mind that she's avoiding his eyes. "Always have. From my very first jump, this city just had this… atmosphere isn't the right word. Just a sense of foreboding. Like I already knew something bad happened here even before she told me about the darkness."

"If time isn't truly linear, I suspect you probably have some kind of inkling to most things that have or will happen to or around you. Alice doesn't always have visions, sometimes just a feeling."

Bella nods and finally drops her head, staring down at her bloodstained hand. "I'm not sure how I'm going to keep my cool. I want to erase this city from the globe."

Gravel crunches beneath his boot, soft and quiet but she hears it, she knows he does it to give her the chance to back away. She knows consideration guides the majority of his actions. But she also knows what they had to fix. Knows he broke Alice's heart at least once.

His hand rests on her shoulder. "You will keep your cool because you must. You're doing it for Alice and… and we both know there isn't anything we wouldn't do for Alice."

"Don't touch me."

His hand falls away, a dejected but accepting sigh escaping his lips. "Are we doing this now?"

Bella clicks her tongue and starts walking into the town. "Nightfall. Less people on the streets, less people working the… hospital, and it will give Victoria a chance to realize I'm here."

"You don't think she'll bring friends for the fight?" Jasper asks as they pass people on the streets who stop to gasp and marvel at the beautiful people in their town.

"She won't risk someone else taking her kill. Right now she thinks I butchered her sister."

They push into one of the little diners around town, making for a back booth. Bella smiles charmingly at a familiar looking waitress and is pretty sure she brought Alice here a couple years ago for a milkshake. Pre… this year. Jasper sinks into his side of the booth, shoulders hunched up and trying to block himself from people as much as he can. "But you just changed her, yeah?"

"Well…" She drums her fingers on the table sheepishly at his shocked look. "There was a little butchering... I needed it to look real!"

"Bella…" Jasper chastises. "You're going to tell that poor man to tell you to butcher that psychotic woman's sister in front of her?"

"She was a kid back then," Bella finds herself correcting and even she has to take a moment to wrestle with the horror of that realization. "I'm a fucking monster, jesus. I just needed her to push me off the roof."

"Is this one of the things you can kind of change? Like, you can just ask her to at a very specific time and year now? Leave her sister with her?"

Mind racing, Bella begins to hypothetically cut some threads, following their new path. Tracing them down and through, discovering where they end and if she can weave them back into the original. Very much what she did before but…

It's too different. Making someone think they love you is one thing, but killing somebody and taking them nearly five hundred years into the future is far different. Too many threads to cut, that can split into something new.

Slowly, she shakes her head, trying to find even one. "No… she needs to be dangerous enough to be a threat at the baseball scene. The family must be split to go save Charlie, even if she was never after him. She also needs to be here now, to fight us. If her neck is broken, with a threat in the area, and Alice is changed… James wouldn't risk staying. He can't know about me again until I'm human. That's not even taking into consideration all the things Anne has done and their own impact."

"But-"

Bella looks at him. "Your lie stayed the same, we just made sure it didn't cut as deep. We didn't stop it. Some things just are, Jasper," she tells him firmly. If not a little darkly. "Your choices will always have consequences, nobody is guaranteed to come along and fix them. We live with the things we do… for better or worse."

"It just seems…"

"I know." Bella's head drops in shame, remembering the horror on that little freckled face. "I didn't then, not for a long time. Everything felt bad. I know now. And… I'm living with it."

"Thank you, Bella."

Her chest rumbles very faintly. "You'll never forget what you did. Might not hurt her anymore, but it did once. You hurt her, once. Don't thank me, just… try to be better than you are."

An underwhelming philosophy that has worked miracles on herself. Leaps and bounds that seem like baby steps to everyone else.

"Hey, can I ask you a weird question that hasn't left my mind since we got here? Do I have too many fingers?"

.

.

.

As far as final showdowns go, this is pretty fucking dope. Biloxi really comes through for the drama that vampires sustain themselves on as surely as they do blood.

A thick fog rolls through the city late into the evening and by the time the sun goes down, it's difficult for even her to see across the street. And as toe-curlingly delightful the aesthetic of it is, she realizes with minor relief that it severely reduces the chances of any humans catching sight of something… inhuman.

Not everyone feels the same as she does though and she watches Jasper wipe at the moisture on his face. "It's been so long since I've been this far south. Excessive. That's what this is. I can't breathe."

"Thankfully, you don't need to," Bella points out. Tilting head curiously as she watches him wrench his coat off and throw it to the road.

He runs his hands back through his hair, pulling it from his sharp, handsome face. "I don't have particularly fond memories of Mississippi."

"You were in the civil war, yeah?" she asks as a murky memory clicks. "You were a confed-"

He holds up his hand quickly. "My parents…" And sighs deeply. "I helped people flee and hide. The only men I killed wore the same uniform as me. I was - charismatic, I could influence people. They liked me. I rose through the ranks. I helped more people. I killed more men. I failed more people… I butchered plantation owners while convincing them that I was fighting for them."

Fucking hell. "I really hate how good a dude you are."

"I know. I could always feel it, that's what made it all worse. I'm sorry, Bella."

This time it's her grabbing his shoulder, searching his eyes and looking beyond the grief and regret. "I know. Lets-"

"Well, well, well… look what the cat finally dragged in," Victoria purrs. Her heeled boots clack against the sidewalk, echoing all the way down the street towards the two until they can barely make out the outline of her. Of one of the most dangerous vampires to walk the earth. Another soul born for immortality. "Only took you, what, four hundred years?"

"Closer to three ninety," Bella calls out awkwardly. "I gotta step up my banter game if we're gonna keep bumping into each other."

"Oh, we won't. You end tonight," she threatens.

"Afraid not, I got plans, Freckle."

"How dare you call me that!"

"Ja-"

"Go, Bella!" Jasper gasps and lurches forward to intercept the infuriated redhead, colliding like boulders that send an echoing crack into the night air. "Get it done!"

.

.

.

She skids around the corner of a bank, shuffling through human memories to try and remember just where this fucking hospital is. Maybe, perhaps, just a little bit of internally cussing at herself for not scoping it out during the overcast day they had. She takes an angry swipe through the dramatic fog and decides Jasper was right.

This is excessive.

"I knew it was you."

It's a voice she hasn't heard since she was human. A very young, very careless human who thought if she was going to die, it was better to die in place of someone she loved. Who, she still isn't sure. Her mother? Maybe. Edward? Possibly.

His eyes. His eyes kept skirting over to Alice in that baseball field. Obsidian glittering with something outside of desire but still too close… hunger. He was like a dog salivating over the pixie and nobody knew why.

Dying for Alice, then? Maybe. But yes, now. Here, and always. Yes.

Bella clenches her hands into fists and listens to him chuckle, his voice bouncing around the end of the street where she can't see. She can hear the grin in his voice. "I've never seen Victoria quite so passionate. My cold queen has always been just that… but you? Oh, you light a fire in her the likes of which I've never seen."

"Spare me the villain monologue and let's just get this done with," Bella snarls down the street. Red eyes flicking to every motion, every swirl in the fog, every shadow bouncing against a building. She's ready.

James full out laughs. "I promised her that I wouldn't kill you. I would leave that for her. I never promised to leave you intact, however."

"Big words coming from a shadow. You were a coward then and you're a coward now. I only regret not being able to kill you tonight."

"Such riddles… alas, I have an appointment with a sweet, delicious little human and I simply cannot reschedule. Boys? Leave the scraps for Victoria to finish, and do have fun."

Bella tenses but even she couldn't have prepared for the man beside her literally just appearing from nowhere, his image blinking into existence. In the time it takes for his fist to connect with her face and send her back into the bank wall, she wonders if he's a teleporter like she is.

Dust and bricks rain down on her in a cloud of chaos until she can pull herself from the wall and look around. "I can't kill him tonight but you guys? You're fucking dead." She turns towards the lightning quick footsteps coming at her, preparing for the large man but not for the tall one who steps from the fog behind her. His arm hooks around her neck, the other twisting her own up behind her for Big Boy to drive his knee into her gut with a painful crack. "Yep," she wheezes and scratches at the arm around her neck with one hand. "Definitely dead. Assholes."

Tall Guy squeezes her tighter and she can feel her shoulder slowly being ripped from its socket as she snarls angrily, listening to the tiny cracks beginning to form. In front of her, Big Boy swings his fists to her ribs again and again until she waits for her opening. Waits for that mid swing to bring her feet up and kick off his chest.

She and her would-be-murderer go flinging back into the bank wall again, tumbling through to the stone floor inside. Bella rubs at her aching shoulder, pushing up to her feet, and catches his wrist before his fist connects. Dragging him forward with the momentum to crack her forehead against his nose, letting him crumple to the ground howling in pain and cradling his face.

Maybe Teleporter pops back in, cracking her across the face and sending her to one knee. She brings her fist up and gasps as it slams against some unseen force just inches from him. "Shield?" she manages to garble out in a confused slur just before Big Boy tackles her out through the hole again, beefy man fists raining down on her like… nightmare meatballs or something.

Can vampires get concussions?

"Last chance to - uughhfff! Fuck off, already!" she snarls up at him, trying to block her face.

This… this is not going to plan at all.

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.

.

"Three, four, five, thank god," she rasps, counting her cracked fingers before pointing the middle one at Definitely Not Teleporter, ducking under his boot's roundhouse kick. "Eat shit!"

She tucks into a backwards somersault, her palms bouncing off his knee, and brings her own foot around to catch his ankle and flip him off his feet. In the same moment, she brings her arm up to take the impact of Big Boy swinging a signage post at her, feeling the metal bend against her arm.

The sun is going to be coming up soon, her window is closing. She needs to reach James. (What if she's too late? What if Alice is-) She has to assume he isn't there. Or… or he's villain monologuing to Alice, too. Or he can't find her. Something.

She'll make it.

She will.

Tall Guy doesn't tackle her, exactly, he mostly just throws himself at her, but she's on her back and staring up through the fog towards the stars in the sky. She can feel his big hands wrap around her neck, squeezing and squeezing, cracking and cracking. Her own shoot up around his neck, black eyes locking with desperate black eyes.

"I got a secret," she tells him in a choked voice. The others behind him get to their feet, dusting themselves off as they chuckle. She plants her feet on the ground, wincing at the deeper cracks she can feel webbing out. "I know how this ends… I'm from the future."

"And I'm the King of fucking England," Big Boy spits down at her. "Just end it, Henry. Victoria can throw her hissy fit all she wants. Emotional creatures, women."

Bella's eyes roll. Of course they're misogynistic, too. Tall Guy stares down at her, his face twisted up in a snarl, his eyes full of terror. Honestly, if she didn't know any better, he looks like he's on the verge of tears. "You all die… f-forgotten. Nameless."

"Henry, snap it already!" Not Teleporter growls at him and straightens his tie. "We need to regroup."

But Tall Guy just keeps squeezing, just keeps staring. "I never wanted this…" he whispers. To her. Himself? The others, maybe. "Does it get better? The world?"

"She was lying, moron!" Big Boy shouts angrily. "Kill her! Man up!"

Bella stares at him, her own hands relaxing. Just holding onto him, studying his face. His eyes. More cracks form, splitting up her neck towards her jaw. The ghost of a smile playing at her lips. "The world is only as good as we choose to make it."

Not Teleporter stomps over, his hand on Tall Guy's shoulder. "If you can't-"

And Tall Guy moves.

His hands slide from Bella's neck, and shoot up lightning quick as he turns. Faster than Bella can track, Not Teleporter's neck is ripped from his body and his head tilts back before disappearing behind his shoulders. His whole body slumps like a sack of potatoes with a disgusting, horrifying gargle. Tall Guy is up just as fast as Bella and the two round on Big Boy, making quick work of dispatching him. Tearing a man to pieces until they're standing above what's left of his body.

Bella looks over to her new… ally? Regarding him warily, still ready for a fight. "Thanks?"

"I didn't…" he stares down at his once-companions. A lanky, shell shocked looking man who might normally have a kind face, if Bella looked hard enough. "I didn't want this. I didn't want to hurt anybody. I didn't want the bite…"

"I'm sorry."

"James."

Bella sighs. "He's gotta… he'll die, but not tonight. It's important for, you know, the future."

"Does it get better?" he asks again and finally looks at her. "For people not like other people?"

She watches his eyes drop to her pants, her boots. Can feel some kind of kindred… part of him, some unspoken acknowledgement. Her gaydar has been wrong before but… "Yes," she says with a nod. "Some places more than others."

"I'll take care of these… well, I don't think they were ever men. But I will take care of them. And… sorry."

"Apologize again in a hundred years and we'll call it even," Bella tells him with a wink. She's, perhaps, beginning to suspect that life might not suck as hard if you don't search for the shitty parts and expect them around every corner. "My secret weapon. Thank you."

"The hospital is northwest from here," he tells her and begins to gather pieces of the other two. "I'll be gone by the time you're finished. If Victoria and James don't find me, I'll… I'm not sure."

She grabs his shoulder, a reassuring squeeze as the cracks in her neck finish sealing. "Good luck."

.

.

.

"Mary had a little lamb… little lamb… little lamb," James sings, his smooth voice echoing down the tiled hall of the hospital. Pools of blood with footprints through them, splattered and sprayed across the walls. A horror scene to walk into, something from a CSI episode as she walks past all of the bloodless bodies. Everyone spared the creepy cliche except for her.

Honestly, Bella would prefer the concussion over whatever Bond Villain rendition James is about to play out.

She sighs heavily, jamming the metal door closed behind her. "Sooo clever, so original, hilarious," she comments, words dripped in sarcasm. "I killed your boys. Tall one wasn't much of a fighter but boy did he make an excellent fire pit."

"Pawns can always be replaced."

"Is that what Victoria is to you?"

His chuckle reverberates in her bones. "I already told you about my queen. Tell me, is it some sort of sapphic quarrel between you? I don't mind sharing, if you ever decided to drop the pitiful Save The Humans policy."

"I don't have enough fingers to list all the ways you're wrong," Bella tells him. Sneakers scuffing against the floor, eyes peering through every window, studying every door. Searching for that familiar heartbeat. "Besides. You don't have much time left. About a hundred years, actually."

"Is that so?" he challenges.

Bella nods, her lips ticking up in a smile. "Yeah. A hundred years and the hunter becomes the hunted. And what will you have done with your time? What will you have to show for it? A queen that couldn't care less for you."

"She adores me!" James finally snarls.

And ah, yes, there it is. His button. She really wants to be the bigger person, to not make this personal, to at least go for something dramatic and dangerous and cool… "Bitch, don't nobody love you, you're gonna die alone."

"I'm going to enjoy ending you," James taunts her, his voice dark and twisted. Angry, for the first time she's ever seen. No cocky smile or smirk, no snide remarks.

It only makes Bella laugh more as she turns down the next hall, checking doorknobs as she goes. "Bit of a sore spot, hm?" she calls out. Her foot pauses mid-air, feeling the pulsing beat of an intimately familiar heart down at the end of the hall. She's okay. Now all Bella has to do is keep the psycho hunter away. "Your parents didn't love you enough as a kid? First girlfriend brutally dumped you? Chose a dashing, handsome, good man over you?"

Unintentional as it is, Bella realizes she's projecting and her own amused mood sours rapidly.

"You disappoint me, James," she continues. Tries to ignore the irony of her now Hero Monologue. "You were given time, so much more time than most. To do better. To be better. And you wasted it, you didn't even try."

The door beside her smashes outwards, an enraged vampire snarling in her face as he grabs her shoulders and slams her against the opposite wall. "I am perfection! I am the apex predator! I am beyond skill and talent, I am a god among mortals. I don't need to change when everyone around me will bend or break instead!"

"Straight white man…" Bella sings tensely, bringing her legs up to hook her thighs around his neck, twisting violently to the side.

His feet come up and he's flipped through the air, landing on the floor and skidding away. "Now, Adam!" he snarls, looking up from the floor to hiss at her.

Bella lurches up to her knees, hand on the floor to push up when suddenly her left wrist is crushed in a vice grip. It's yanked up high, her shoes slipping on the tile as she looks up into the face of the biggest vampire she's ever seen and watches in horror as he opens his mouth to stuff her hand inside. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!" she gasps, wildly pulling back and cries out in pain as she feels his teeth sink through two of her fingers.

She drives up instead, slamming her elbow down against his face, her legs around his torso. Smashing against his face over and over as she pulls, feeling something pop, something break, before her hand comes free.

Adam grabs her shoulders and rips her from his body, throwing her down the opposite hall and sending her skidding as she cradles her hand to her chest.

Panting, Bella turns onto her side and looks down at her hand. Her pinky barely holds on and she knows it will heal but… "You ate my fucking finger, dude?!" she snarls down the hallway at him. Watching in muted disgust as this behemoth literally chews and crunches whatever is in his mouth.

Which just so happens to be her ring finger.

For the first time since she's gotten here, Bella truly fears she is about to lose.

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.

.

"Nothing has changed!" Bella shouts from her end of the hall. Adam throws another chair that she ducks under. "You lose tonight. Finger Eater dies here and you die later. That doesn't change. But the more you fight? The more it will hurt."

"Little Lamb, I don't think you realize the position you're in," James calls out to her. He sits on the floor in front of Alice's door, watching with that damn grin on his face. "I like your spark, truly. I still want you. You're funny, you're strong… far stronger tha Victoria led me to believe. Bend, and I will take you in. All will be forgiven."

"How about you bend and take it in!" she growls. Too upset to wonder if that even made sense. "Adam, I'm willing to consider forgiving the whole finger eating thing if you say sorry and mean it."

"I'm gonna eat your face!"

"What the fuck?!"

James groans and gets up to his feet, holding his snapped ribs. "Chips laid bare, this isn't my first hospital visit. I've recently learned you'll find the strangest talents in places like these. Adam is a useful talent, as was Philip the Shield. Henry… he just let his break him, so I suppose I owe you my thanks for taking care of him. Saves me from doing it."

"Who the fuck-"

"The fire pit you mentioned, very tall young man? Curious little talent of putting himself in people's shoes, reliving their memories."

Bella's brows furrow, mind racing. "And you made him kill people? You turned him into this? So he would relive his victims' deaths as they die?"

"I hadn't even considered that… what a squandrance of such a gift- Adam, there!" he shouts and points at Bella.

Over the previously thrown desk, Bella blurs down the hallway with a vengeance. She waits for Adam to lift his hand and bring it down, blipping out of the space to pop back in beside James and grapple him. "You don't deserve one hundred more years," she snarls in his ear and listens to his body crack.

But James plants his feet and flips her forward over him, in time for Adam to grab her ankle and drag her back, slamming her through an empty room's wall.

She pops right back up, climbing through the debris, and has only a second to stare up at the blood-dripping grin of Adam as he slams his boulder fist into her chest hard enough to shoot her back out through the entire building.

Bella doesn't even realized this fucker literally punched her back through time until she lands.

.

.

.

Ironically, it's Victoria who catches her as she goes toppling backwards over the Cullen's couch while everyone in the room jumps up. Her black eyes flick around the room wildly, rasping in air as she grabs at her own cracked chest. Feels the fistprint that's almost caved her lungs in completely.

Bella drops to her knees in the same second Esme goes rushing forward. "Bella!" she gasps out, grabbing for her daughter. Trying to pull the stubborn, squirming girl into her lap as she assesses all of the fresh cracks along the younger girl's skin.

Somewhere else in the room, Bella can hear Carlisle asking her questions, trying to get her to focus on a light he's holding, while Edward asks where Jasper is.

But she's not done. Even with Alice calling her name, reaching for her from Rosalie's arms, Bella pushes back up to her feet. "Not done," she growls and winces.

"You can't, Bella, just wait for-"

"Not done," she repeats and pulls herself from Esme and Carlisle's grip, stepping back through the century.

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.

.

As soon as her feet touch the hospital floor again, she's launching herself at Adam's back and working her arm around his neck. "Give… me… my fucking… finger… back!"

He just snaps his bloody jaws, tossing his arms as he reaches back for her, fingers digging through her coat, dragging across her marble skin and leaving more cracks. "Elbow stew!" he roars and Bella snarls in pain as his fingers dig into her shoulder blade. Enough of a grip to yank her back over his shoulder and to the floor, his boot in her ribs and sending her through another patient's door.

Outside, she can hear James knock on the metal door at the end of the hall. She tries to get up, crying out in pain at the sharp stabbing in her chest, and collapses back against the floor. "J-James, wait!" she calls out desperately.

"Little Lamb, you are interfering in things beyond your comprehension. Your sire didn't give you a tight enough leash, he let's you run around like a stray, rabid dog," James tells her. His voice is gentle, drifting down the hall to her room. "No discipline. Unbridled chaos… I have to recind my offer. You're too far gone to be taught. I'm sorry, Little Lamb."

"Why her? James… James!"

She hears his annoyed hiss but knows his mouth and ego are bigger than his stomach. So to speak. "There are certain mortals… special mortals who are more than others. Singers… little Mary is mine. By consuming her blood, it only makes me stronger. Better."

"I thought you were perfection."

"I am perfection," he declares darkly, and it rumbles down the hall. "And I got this way by draining every single mortal whose blood sang to me. Their sacrifice fuels my greatness. Is it so hard to understand? Do these schools not teach of the old ways? Goats given to gods hardly bat an eye, but a human to a vampire and everyone loses their mind." She can hear his excited gasp. "Little Lamb… is that why you're here. Are you my sacrifice as well?"

"I thought you were just dangerous," she wheezes and turns onto her side. Get up. Get. Up. "I'm starting to think you're legit just insane."

Adam ducks his head under the door frame, his boots stopping before her face. She doesn't even bother bracing, and grunts as his huge hand closes around her neck, dragging her back out into the hall. James is still at the door but looks over, smirking. "He's taken a shine to you. Nobody else has put up as much of a fight."

"Goodie for me."

His smirk falls into a disappointed frown. "What, no smart comeback. Is the well all dried up already? Really?" He walks over to crouch down while Adam sits her up, holding her there. James clicks his tongue and reaches out to tuck a lock of her hair behind her ear. "For how hard you tried, you gave up so easily. Come on, there must be something left. You had such confidence earlier. Here, I'll even close my eyes."

Bella watches him, watches the arrogance wash over. She clenches her jaw as he slowly closes his eye, jutting his chin out to expose his neck. Her fingers dig painfully into her thighs, glaring holes into his face. "I told you already. One hundred years."

"Still holding to that, Little Lamb?"

When he finally looks at her again, James balks. He leans back. Away. Just a little. His eyes losing their confidence, their arrogance as he scrutinizes the look on her face. She inclines her head slowly. "Adam will die, just like the others. Tori will be spared because she's a slippery shadow who I still have plans for. And you get to walk away tonight. But Mary Alice will turn, she'll be with me, and you'll never see me coming if you ever try to lay a finger on her again."

"Now…" James swallows and glances up at Adam. "Now that would be something. That would impress me, might even give me pause." He shakes his head and stands back up. "But it's not going to happen. You're here with us. You're about to die. You! You're the one who is going to die alone."

Bella's head tilts to the side curiously. "... who said I was alone?"

Four other sets of boots touch down in the hall and James looks up at the new hooded figures who join them. His cowardly eyes widen as he gasps, scrambling backwards towards Alice's door but instead bumps into the woman who pops in behind him. Her long, deep red coat a stark contract against the pale white hall, her black hood pulled down far over her face. Quick as a flash, she grabs at James and Bella spots the missing ring finger as she throws him back down the hall to the other two.

Another young woman in a high collared white coat drags some kind of blade across Adam's neck, a blade that glitters in the light and has him grabbing at his sliced throat. But he doesn't grab fast enough, too slow for the ruby red eyes in yet another hood to jump onto his back, gripping under his chin and violently ripping it back.

His large body slumps backwards and Bella gets up to her unsteady feet. She listens to the cries and whimpers coming from James as he curls in on himself, trying to deflect the blows from the hooded women literally just beating the ever-loving-fuck out of him. Bella grins - and sucks in a sharp breath, cradling her ribs as she hobbles over towards him. Watching as one by one, each hooded figure she gets close to blips back out of this year, until it's just her. Just Bella and James, in the hall with Adam's head burning in a wastebasket.

Bella kneels down over a weak, cracked, and broken James. She works her arm around his neck and glances up to the clock on the wall. "You have no idea what I'm capable of. Your best and only chance to kill me was finding me as a human." She squeezes until he whimpers and leans her head down to his ear. "A hundred years to flee from me, to keep running from her and I… starting now."

His neck gives an audible, satisfying pop before his body slumps and she let's him drop. If Jasper held up his end and broke Victoria's neck when he was supposed to, she should heal just in time to find James and clean the vampire part out of this nightmare equation before the next shift of humans arrive.

With another grunt, Bella gets to her feet and hobbles back down the hall towards Alice's door. She gently knocks on the iron door and expects… well, she's not sure what she expects. But the heartbeat inside remains ever steady and Bella's mind is already latching onto the assumption of sedation before she even opens the door and sees her pixie out cold.

Her broken little human…

And Bella chokes back a sob. She limps into the room and kneels beside the little metal bed with a poor excuse of a mattress under her. "What did they do to you, Alice?" she whimpers and her trembling fingers touch that delicate, warm face. Her hair, once long and luscious, like an endless wave of ink, is now chopped short and awkward. The bags and circles under her eyes not a touch from immortality, but a nightmare's fingerprint left behind. Those lips bruised, stained bloody in the corners from biting into them, and she looks so frail…

Bella drops her forehead against the human's shoulder to sob quietly. She knows this place will be ash by the end of the day, that Victoria won't leave it standing, but it's still not enough for what they've done to Alice.

To Alice.

"My sweet Alice…" Bella whispers and presses her lips against the human's forehead. "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I couldn't save you from the darkness. I broke my promise."

Glass crunches and she turns with her teeth bared, glaring up at Jasper. His hands are held up in surrender as he lingers in the doorway, cracks in his face and arms still sealing. New scars amongst the old. "Bella… we need to leave. She'll be up any moment and on her way here."

"I can't…"

"You already did. Please, Bella. Bite her. We have to leave."

Bella sobs harder, a sharp, short noise in her throat as she hugs the unconscious human to her chest. "Jasper, I can't leave her here alone again, I can't!"

It takes him a few slow, hesitant steps until he's close enough to crouch down. To place his hand on her back and push out as much acceptance as he can. "She won't be alone, Bella. I will find her. I promise. I'll bring her home for you. And I will protect her with my life."

"You better!"

"I will," he promises and gets back up. "It has to be now. I'm sorry."

Bella chokes on - another sob? A growl? Who knows. She lays Alice back down, brushing her hair back out of her face. "Alice… I know you probably can't hear me. I know you definitely don't remember me. But if something stays, if anything stays, at all… find Jasper Whitlock. And then find the Cullens. They're your family, our family. Find them and wait for me, so I can find you. I will, I promise. Wait for me and I'll find you."

His boots crunch against the glass again, waiting for her outside.

Bella's lips drag across Alice's neck, a feather-light kiss pressed against it. "I love you, Alice… please don't ever forget that."

And with the gentlest pressure, Bella sinks her teeth into Alice's neck.