The noise of the bus traveling down the abandoned highway sounded especially loud in the silence of the morning. Of course, everyone was awake by now. There wasn’t a soul aboard that could’ve slept through the screaming match a few hours prior.
Supplies were running low, the last three gas stations had been bone dry, and Bella was still sick.
Not just that, but worsening.
Carlisle’s increasing worry has been a wordless thing at first. But now that they were halfway through the state, they weren’t just running low on necessities, they were running low on time.
Bella’s fever had gotten worse, and Edward’s fragile mental state was beginning to crumble. And then when he started rifling through their scant rations he and Rosalie had gotten into it. And when Carlisle sided with Rosalie, Alice had checked out again. Mentally, that was. And with his hands already full with trying to keep Bella’s fever under control, Carlisle was having to split his time between the girls.
Of course, Alice was still fully conscious. (They were pretty sure.) But whether it was seizures or some form of psychosis that would send her still and quiet, wholly unresponsive to outside stimuli for hours and sometimes, days at a time, Carlisle couldn’t know.
The only reason she was among them now was because Esme had outright refused to deny her entry onto their makeshift home a few months back. Despite her strangeness, she was a sweet girl. And with her size, none of the other inhabitants of the bus had felt threatened by her. Even as deep as they were into Gate Keeper territory, their initial fears had been for her, as opposed to from her.
And when her strange quirks began to present themselves, the group collectively found themselves wondering…
The words shattered the heavy silence of the hollowed-out bus. Esme responded first, quickly moving from Bella’s side to Alice’s as she blinked herself back into awareness. She glanced over at the older woman, her eyes full of wonder.
“Who is here, darling?” Esme grabbed Alice’s hands, stumbling slightly as the girl scrambled onto shaking feet.
“He is,” and suddenly, Alice was beaming. It was the first smile she’d given any of them since the night they’d taken her in. (Her long dark hair had been matted beyond repair and was unsalvageable; one close haircut from Rosalie later and she’d spent the remainder of that night running her hands over her fuzzy head and laughing.)
“Whoever ‘he’ is better be fucking Jesus himself.” Emmett chimed in from the driver’s seat. He adjusted the visor in front of him, squinting into the sunrise ahead of them.
“To bring forth the rapture?” Edward deadpanned.
“I was going to make a joke about wanting wine and a miracle, but okay drama queen.” Rolling his eyes he thanked Rosalie softly as she handed him a pair of sunglasses from where she sat beside him. Then, turning slightly, he asked over his shoulder. “Alright, have we reached a consensus? I have about an hour’s worth of gas left.”
“We can’t go further,” Edward’s voice was weary. “We’ve already risked enough time.”
“It’s a risk if we stop,” Carlisle reminded him gently, wiping sweat from the back of his hands, “but we have to at least try to get through the tunnel.”
On the other side of the tunnel was a massive, abandoned city. They’d been driving the perimeter of the promising-looking metropolis for three days now, looking for a way in. On the other side of the tunnel was likely where they would find absolutely everything they needed. But, if they faced another blockade, that was it.
And if they were forced to turn back around, they’d run out of gas. And if that happened, they were back to scouting by foot.
That would end in death no matter what.
“He’s here,” Alice nearly jumped with excitement as she skittered to the front of the bus, pulling Esme along with her. Everyone’s attention moved back to her.
“Who?” Rosalie asked, equal parts disturbed by the girl and annoyed by her weird antics.
“He’s going to help,” she beamed at the blonde girl, her smile a little too wide and her eyes lingering a second too long. “I can’t believe I’ve found him.”
“Fuck,” Emmett swore under his breath and suddenly the bus was rapidly decelerating. By the time he’d slammed on the breaks, Edward was already cussing him out, rushing to Bella’s side to keep the unconscious girl steady in her cot.
Rosalie was already leaning forward out the window, looking through a pair of binoculars. “Oh, no…”
About a quarter-mile up the road, they could see it. The tunnel. There was nothing in front of it.
But it had been claimed. The rim of it pained bright red.
“Fucking Keepers,” Emmett spat, smacking his palms against the steering wheel. Letting his head flop back onto the seat he groaned.
“Turn around,” Edward snapped at the same that that Rosalie said, “Keep going.”
The two glared at one another. “Its empty. No one is there.” Rosalie commented.
“Not on the outside.”
As the two began to argue once more, Alice wandered past them. Emmett found himself raising a freshly-stitched-up eyebrow at her as she leaned over the dashboard and pressed her forehead against the glass.
From the back of the bus, Esme called toward her. “Alice, sweetheart. Don’t get to close to—”
But before she could even finish, the entire windshield shattered, gunfire deafening.
They were screaming for a few, several, incoherent seconds after that, everyone hitting the deck as they scrambled to avoid the flying bullets.
And when the noise ceased, the sound of laughter pulled their attention from where they’d all taken shelter against the ground to where Alice still stood, staring forward.
She turned toward them, still smiling, and tears in her eyes. Blood gushed heavily down her face from where the glass had sliced her face open. “He’s here.”
“Alice, get DOWN,” Edward screamed as Emmett army-crawled toward the front of the bus, ready to yank the girl to the ground himself.
But just as she was in reach, she climbed up onto the dashboard and pushed through the caved in windshield with bare hands. The glass fell onto the front end of the bus with a crackling sound.
“Alice!” Emmett bellowed as she crawled out onto the glass; Hello Kitty sneakers stained red with blood.
“It’s okay,” she laughed, as if she didn’t look like something out of a nightmare. “He’s here.”
“Alice, no,” Esme called out brokenly as the girl stumbled her way off the bus.
All they could hear over the sound of her shoes running across the pavement was Rosalie’s sobs. “Turn the bus around, turn the bus around, please,” and that’s when they took note of the gunshot wound in her shoulder leaking blood onto the floor of the bus.
“Oh, my god—”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck—”
“Alice!” Carlisle screamed as he scrambled his way into the driver’s seat, putting the still-running bus in reverse. They had to get out of there and quickly. But the girl was still running forward.
“I’ll be back!” Alice voice called to them cheerily as she jogged away. Turning slightly, she waved an exaggerated hand toward them. “Don’t worry! Don’t go far!”
Before he could turn the vehicle around fully, he saw it then. And with one hand on the wheel he picked up the discarded binoculars and stared toward the tunnel.
A blond man stood at the entry, holding a rifle in his hands, staring straight at them.
The last thing Carlisle saw before he peeled away, whisking the remainder of his crew to relative safety, was the man lifting his gun back up…
And Alice, skipping happily towards him.