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Common sense tells her that they're human.

Of course they're human, she knows this. What else would they be, if not human? No. Nothing else is possible, the world doesn't work that way, so she shoves the very thought from her mind and instead focuses on the things that everyone else does. How beautiful they are, how quiet they are, how isolated they are, how perfect they are, and how perfectly out of reach they are. What does it matter that they don't share genetics but somehow share the same eyes, when those eyes are the colour of gold? When precious minerals shine back at the world where dull eyes should sit? What does it matter that she has seen those eyes, those golden eyes looking at her with intrigue one day, and glaring at her, darker than the abyss the next?

It's her mind playing tricks on her, she knows this. Her subconscious fear of, what, rejection? Does she fear them taking one look at her and deeming her unworthy of their attention, like everyone else at the school? Perhaps. She likes to think she's above the petty mindset of her fellow teenagers, that her worries run a little more deeply than oh no, the popular, pretty kids don't like me, but if not that, then what else does she fear? It's all in her mind, either way. Giving perfection an imaginary flaw, to humanize them or to make herself feel better, she doesn't know. She just knows it must be in her head because no one else comments on it.

They talk about how Edward turned Jessica down again this week, and how that makes it five times now. Once a day, for every day the Cullens had been at school since arriving on Monday. "I don't know what his problem is," Jessica grumbles down at her lunch tray.

They sit around their table by the door and it's the perfect angle. The perfect angle for what? Watching the Cullens. That's all Bella seems capable of lately - and yes, she knows how pathetic it is, but she's very good at masking it. Her glasses are thick and reflect the lights, people usually can't see her eyes unless they're up close at the table... and the table is too busy staring at the Cullens to notice her anyway.

Nobody would blame her, either way. Not when every other head in the cafeteria is angled towards the back, each student, teacher, and lunch lady/man sneaking peeks at the table of supermodels.

Not when a pixie dances through the room to that very table, twirling and spinning, all while balancing a truly tragic looking lunch on her tray. There wasn't a soul on the face of the earth who didn't find that utterly charming and captivating. Bella was confident her argument would stand in court.

So she stares - watches, she watches the Cullens. She's still not entirely sure on all their names. It's only been a week and as much as she's obsessed with them, she's actually pretty bad at partaking in gossip. It's unusual to catch Bella Swan without her headphones on and if they aren't, they're usually hanging around her neck, playing music just loud enough to be heard.

Admittedly, everything about Bella Swan screams fuck off, but that's neither here nor there, because her friends seem to ignore it anyway.

Bella inspects the toes of her boots (they're big and black and police issue, perhaps her most treasured hand-me-down from Charlie) before shifting her gaze half an inch up, dark eyes flickering over the Cullen table again. "Maybe he's gay," she says diplomatically.

Amber eyes blink and - they're on her, staring at her, through her, to her very depths. Probing, curious, bewildered, and then frustrated. She swallows, rough and large and awkward in her throat, trapped in a gaze more powerful than any she's ever encountered before.

He sees her. He sees her, and she's freaking out. Because beyond the curiosity and intrigue, there's something else. Something dark and twisted, growing, morphing, overtaking the bewilderment, and... yup, those are black eyes. Those are black eyes glaring at her from across the cafeteria and she's going to die.

Of this, she is absolutely certain. There is not a single shred of doubt in her mind. This is not a person staring back at her, this is the epitome of hunger and desire, of true want, this is what craving looks like, and it's terrifying. Bella will never look at addicts the same way ever again, her appreciation for their struggle has tripled because if they felt even an iota of what she sees in his gaze... her heart goes out to them.

She's about to tell Angela to clear her browser history once she's dead, that she wants her father to remember her as he does now - pure and not the shameful, awkward owner of a bunch of lesbian porn. She doubts her claims of research, it's purely for scientific research purposes, I'm not really sure what I am, would hold up with, well, anyone. Maybe Renee, but Renee was always a wild card. Trying to anticipate that woman was like trying to anticipate... insanity, she guesses.

Alas, the universe has her back - today, at least, and someone else at his table shoves his lunch tray into his chest. Edward blinks, breaks his horrifying gaze to scowl at the large boy across the table from him. Bella also finally blinks and it feels like dragging sandpaper over her eyes. She let's out a small, shaky breath, and watches on.

The large boy is frowning slightly and for some reason it looks foreign on his face. His lips move quickly, too quickly for Bella to read - not that that's something she can do, but damn it all if she doesn't try. Edward also frowns, but his is more pronounced and full of guilt, full of grief. He hangs his head and doesn't look up from the table for the rest of lunch.

Common sense tells Bella that the Cullens are human, because everything else is impossible, but...

Bella's never been very good at listening to her common sense.

.

.

.

Common sense tells Bella to avoid the Cullens.

It's not that wild of a request, especially when it appears that the Cullens are actively avoiding everyone else. All it requires is Bella not putting in the effort of seeking them out, and not putting in effort is something Bella excels at. By the following Monday, Bella is committed to her faze out the Cullens plan because she's decided that she doesn't want to be involved in the obsession that is sweeping the school. She doesn't want to be that girl, so she won't be.

She does well, better than she thought, in fact, by mostly humming and hawing her way through conversations that centre around the Cullens. She catches another name - Rosalie, but she doesn't think that counts. Knowing their names and knowing the thread count on their shirts that day, were not the same thing. Every now and then Jessica asks if she's seen Edward's hair today, or Mike tells her to check out Rosalie's rack - ah, that's how she knows her name, Mike's been gushing for the past ten minutes.

Nose in her book, meticulously shading her latest sketch (while somehow standing beside her friend's locker in a bustling hallway, it's a miracle), Bella sighs. "Yup, it's a nice set of boobs, Mikey. A solid eight outta ten."

Somewhere off in the distance there's a disgruntled huff that Bella can feel.

"Come on, Bella," Mike whines lightly and slams his locker door shut. She feels him turn to look at her and pours more of her focus onto her art. "You don't care about them at all?"

Her brows furrow, curiosity pulling her into a conversation against her will. "What, her boobs?" she asks as she looks up at him, head tilting to the side.

"No, not-" he harrumphs, giving her clunky headphones a pointed look until she turns the volume down just a little. "Not her boobs. The Cullens! Any of 'em."

"Well," she closes her books, shifts them under her arm and stuffs her pen and marker in her back pocket, "why would I?"

"Because they're beautiful!"

"So?"

"No, like, really beautiful. I've never seen something so beautiful before."

She shrugs. "I have."

"Pfft," Mike scoffs, nudges her shoulder with his own, and they start down the hall towards the cafeteria. "Where? Who was it?"

Heaving a sigh, Bella fishes her phone out of her pocket with her free hand, fingers sliding across the screen to unlock it. It's even more busy in the cafeteria but at least it's spaced out and she has room to breath. She sticks close to her friend's side anyway. Someone bumps into her despite this and she curses under her breath, too distracted to scowl at them, and shifts her notebook to her mouth. Clenched between her teeth, she can use both hands to play with her phone. "Oooh! 'ere! Hith nerm urth-"

"Can't understand you, Bella," Mike laughs, turning around to motion towards his mouth and the notebook hanging from hers. She offers her phone and he grabs it, staring down at the image while she tucks her notebook back under her arm. "Yeah, see, it's nice but I'm not all artsy like you. I find people much more beautiful."

Huffing, Bella grabs her phone back and shoves it into her pocket. They shift further down the lunch line and she plucks a chocolate milk from the buffet counter, spinning it around and around in her hand. "Ah, whatever. You'll appreciate it more when he's dead."

"Twisted," he warns.

She silently mocks him, mouthing twisted with a dumb face behind his back. "Angie said I'm allowed to talk about death as long as I stopped talking about my own."

"We both know it's a slippery slope for you."

Resting her forehead against his back, Bella heaves a long, tired sigh. Truly tired, this one is more genuine than the last. Her exhaustion creeps up around her edges, rearing its ugly head, reminding her of its presence. As if she could forget, as if she dared to think that, perhaps, just this once, she'll actually go home and get a good night's rest. "You know me too well," she says into his back instead.

"Happens when you've been best friends with someone since you were in diapers," Mike laughs and they step forward in line again. "Which is how I know that you care more about the Cullens than you're letting on."

She groans and wraps her arms around his waist, hands full with her book and chocolate milk, leaning more fully on him. "First of all," she mutters into the back of his shoulder. "We had a solid five year gap when I went to live with Renee briefly. And secondly, I don't care about the Collins."

"Cullens."

"So I guess you don't know me as well as I thought."

Mike tosses a couple bills onto the counter for his lunch and Bella's milk, grinning at the lunch lady and pulling Bella along to their table. He can hear her dragging her feet and rolls his eyes. "It was three and a half years," he corrects her.

"Felt like five."

"So," he eyes her mischievously as she pours herself into one of the chairs, resting her face against the table, and sets his tray down to stare over at the Cullen table. "Which one of them has captured your interest?"

"Ugh, grow up, Mikey. None of them. My life does not revolve around pretty faces."

He snorts and sits down, but does not stop scrutinizing the table. They always look so stiff and uncomfortable, he often wonders why they even bother showing up for lunch. They obviously know everyone is staring at them, and if it bothers them that much, why wouldn't they just avoid it? "You've got an artist's eye, so it's either Alice or Edward."

"Which ones are those ones?"

Mike grins, looks back over at his friend who still has yet to lift her face. "The little one and the redhead."

"His hair is bronze."

"So it is Bedhead?" he clarifies with intrigue, blonde eyebrows shooting up. "I suppose that makes sense, you guys were locked into quite the staredown on Friday."

Finally, Bella shifts her position until her eyes peek up over her arms that she crosses in front of her face on the table. They squint up at Mike before flickering down towards the Cullen table. "That dude was gonna eat my face. It wasn't a staredown, it was a duel."

"I take it that you won."

"My face is thus far intact, yes."

He shrugs and starts poking at his soup with one hand, the other shoving Bella's chocolate milk into the side of her arm until she groans and sits up properly. Part of him still breaks each time he has to remind his dearest friend to take care of herself. "So you gonna ask him out?"

"What the fuck, Mike?" Bella spits out, looking at him in a mix of disbelief and annoyance. He stares at her with wide eyes until she relaxes and lifts a shoulder in a half shrug. "I don't know, maybe."

"Really?"

"No."

Mike deflates, clicks his tongue when she smirks. "Why do you do this to me? Why can you never just answer a simple question?"

"Why do you keep asking me simple questions? You never ask me what the meaning of life is, man." She shakes her head, clicks her tongue, like she's disappointed in him. "When's the last time we had a conversation of substance?"

He sighs. He sighs and gives up, takes the bait, even if he knows where it's heading. "What's the meaning of life, Bella?"

"Forty-two."

"Fuck's sake," he mutters into his soup. He glares at her out the corner of his eye, sees the twinkle in her eye, and softens. It's nice, when she's in these moods. When she comes to life, when there's a spark in her usually dull eyes. It's enough to distract from the dark bruises under her eyes and he can pretend that she actually sleeps at night. "I'll ask you a meaningful question when you give me a meaningful answer, how's that?"

"Deal," she agrees amicably. She sighs again, a mask to cover her yawn, or maybe that's her way of yawning these days. Scrubbing her hands down her face, she leaves smudges of ink on her cheek and jaw, dropping her head into her arms again. Glassy eyes stare across the cafeteria. "What's the dancer's name?"

He follows her line of sight. "Alice."

"Alice." Bella tests the name out on her tongue, unaware of the shiver that rolls through deceptively delicate looking shoulders across the room. Ink stained fingertips drum against the top of the table while she considers this new piece of information, and she can feel her friend's gaze on the side of her face. Coming to a decision, she shifts to lean back in her chair, pushing her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. "Alice. I like it. Do you think she knows how well her name suits her?"

A chuckle shakes Mike's shoulders that he shrugs moments later, spoon in his cheek. "You could ask her."

"What's the deal here, M-Dogg?" Bella half-demands. She leans forward again, propping her elbow up on the table. "Why are you so desperate to get me to talk to them? Why don't you go talk to them?"

"I just like seeing you out of your funk and these new kids seem to be really good at pulling you out."

"My funk is charming," she scoffs dismissively. "You wish you had a funk like mine. I'm going to class."

"We just sat down for lunch," he points out without looking up from his phone. He knows Bella well enough that he's aware her internal alarms are blaring; he got too real. She's in Fight or Flight mode now and he also knows she hates fighting, hates confrontation, despite how surprisingly good at it she is. Even better, is she, at running away.

Her chair scrapes against the floor as she gets to her feet, already cranking up the volume of her headphones around her neck to block out the world. "Who knows, maybe I'll bump into one of your precious Collins on my way."

"Cullens!" he calls after her.

She ignores him, well, she scoffs and keeps going. A couple kids glance up at her as she passes, and she knows they do this sometimes. She's not entirely sure why, as she's never stopped long enough to ask, or lingered long enough to listen, but she's noticed the looks. Any time she asks Mike, he just tells her they're jealous that she gets to hang out with him so much. She suspects it's something less flattering, but doesn't dwell.

The cafeteria doors swing open, or they start to, and she's already walking through. Entering doors are mostly instinct at this point, as they are for most people, so she doesn't put much thought behind it. From then on, she promises herself that she will, if only to spare her nose from exploding in pain again.

"Motherfucker!" she snarls into her hands that are cupping her face, staggering forward in the hall to lean against the wall while she blinks the stars from her eyes. She only has enough wits to leave the cafeteria, lest the majority of the student body witness her pain and embarrassment (her eyes are watering from the sting, she's not crying, fuck you). "Oh my god, that hurts so bad!" she exclaims in wonder, tilting her head back while she massages her nose. "Oh man. I don't think I'm bleeding. Holy shit. Ow. Ow, dude. Wow. Okay. Are you - are you okay?"

Bella blinks the tears from her eyes until she can see, until she's peeking over her fingertips that are still pressing against her face. And then she's blinking up into a pair of burning amber eyes boring into her, enough that she shrinks back against the wall again.

Rosalie is terrifying, evidently.

"Watch where you're going," Rosalie snaps at her, reaching for the door again.

Later Bella will blame a possible concussion for her actions, but in the moment she can't stop herself from sliding in front of the door and pressing her back against it. Her brows lock down over her eyes in her own glare, mood officially soured from this encounter. "Excuse you? You just busted my nose and I asked if you're okay. Some manners would be nice."

"Pay attention to where you're walking and your nose won't get injured next time."

Dark eyes widen in disbelief. "Are you kidding me right now?" Bella looks around for the hidden cameras. "Is this really happening? In real life? Can you be more of a cliche?"

"Move."

"Apologize."

Rosalie's lip curls back over fangs, fucking fangs, and Bella's instincts flare. Something primal, something deep down in the very core of her being, is begging her to run the other way. To stop poking the bear.

Common sense is telling her to back down...

But Bella's never been good at listening to her common sense.

"I will bust my fucking nose on your face again if you don't apologize in the next five seconds, I swear to god."

Hard eyes stare at the human, Rosalie looking for any shred of doubt, any signs of a bluff, any uncertainty. She's surprised at the resolute determination that greets her and, personally, a little impressed. She rolls her eyes instead. "Sorry you're too dumb to walk through a door properly."

"Oh my god, I have to hit Barbie in the face-"

"Just relax," Rosalie says when a fragile human fist clenches tightly at the girl's side. Her disgruntled expression melts into something mildly amused, much to Bella's surprise and alarm. "Cool it, Rocky. You clearly were not paying attention, I should have waited for you to leave the cafeteria first. I'm... sorry, I guess."

The air leaves Bella in a relieved whoosh, hands on her knees while she gathers herself again. "Oh man, thank goodness. I've never punched anyone before, I'm not sure I even know how. I feel like I'd break my hand? There's gotta be a technique in there, right?"

"You're an odd little person," Rosalie tells her seriously. Bella only lifts an eyebrow, staring up at the blonde curiously. The vampire shakes her head, clicks her tongue, and reaches for the door again. She waits until she's through before looking back at Bella. "A blind odd little person; they're very clearly a ten."

"Nine and a half," Bella counters as the door closes. She pops up in the window with a grin, sees annoyance flash across the blonde's face, and smiles even wider. "Always room for improvement," she shouts through the window.

.

.

.

The room fills up around her, students trickling in like the rising of the tides. Bella feels her anxiety levels mimic the tides, she sucks in a shaky breath through her teeth while she steels herself against it. Sometimes she wishes she was just a little bit like the other kids, the others who don't even seem to notice each other, who don't blink at the thought of being surrounded by strangers. By people.

But then she remembers Renee telling her that people are different and that's what made them so great, that's what made Bella so special. That she wasn't like anyone else. Why be them when you can be you, Bella? It was too complex and abstract a question for a little kid to try to answer, that she had to assume Renee was correct. It was better to be her than them. She supposes, looking back on it now, that that was her mother's goal the entire time. Convince her daughter that it was better to be herself than someone else.

It's gotten her this far in life, she's still somehow convinced it's better to be Bella than not be Bella, and sometimes she's impressed with Renee's mothering skills. Not the typical mom, not much of a mom at all, but damn it all if she didn't get some things right.

A shadow falls over Bella's sketchbook and her brows furrow, a frown marring her face, and she's getting ready to tell whoever it is to fuck off outta my light, Tree. She hopes it isn't Mr. Banner again, she really can't afford another suspension.

Words fail her when she looks up into Edward's curious, pained face. She blinks as he stares, neither saying a word, neither making a move. The room buzzes around them with white noise, but the music from her headphones creates a bubble of peace between them, acting like a barrier between them and the real world.

Danny Devito sings about the hardships of training demi-gods and witnessing their downfalls, and Bella can't stop her knee from bouncing along to the tune. Golden eyes glance down to it and she swears a ghost of a smile flashes across Edward's Adonis face (great, now she's thinking in Greek Mythology analogies).

"What?" she snaps, more annoyed at herself than the boy but he's there and it's gotta be healthier to take out your frustrations on someone else other than yourself. Wait, that doesn't sound right. She shakes her head, desperately trying to get out of her head and focus on the world around her again.

He's watching her curiously still, but the frustration is creeping back in. He looks confused, perplexed, and a little fascinated. But... but like it bothers him, too. "I beg your pardon?"

"What do you want?" she repeats, a little more politely, but slow enough that her displeasure of the exchange is clear.

Finally Edward moves and she flinches, she tries really hard not to, but after that day in the cafeteria she's a little on edge around the guy. He stills his movements, bushy eyebrows twitching up, and makes sure to move slower when he points to the chair on her other side. "I would like very much to sit down now, please."

"Find another spot."

He opens his mouth before slamming it shut. Golden eyes fade to a darker amber in the time it takes Bella to blink, his frown becoming more pronounced. "That is my spot," he tells her while trying very hard to keep the growl from his voice.

"Since when?" she asks and looks over her shoulder at the spot quickly.

Edward's giving her a disbelieving look when she glances back, a hand running through his hair. "Since last Monday, since we've arrived to Forks. I sat there all last week, did you... did you really not notice?"

"Well, I..." Bella brushes her knuckles against her chin and looks at her table again. She tries to picture last week, if it looked a little more full than usual, if she remembers sitting next to someone. "I suppose there could have been a person... there." She gestures to the space next to her without looking, still staring down at the table.

His face is open again, friendly. Much nicer than the scowls and glares, the probing frustration, the mild hostility she was slowly becoming accustomed to. He leans forward slightly to tap a pale finger next to her hand that's resting on the table. "That is a refreshing change."

They stare at each other again, both acutely aware of how awkward this whole interaction has been, but neither really knowing why or how to make it stop.

"I was a drab little crab once," Bella sings under her breath because - fuck, this is her favourite song right now and it's unreasonable to expect her not to sing along, but damn it, Universe, this is really not the time. "Sorry."

The chair scratches the floor as she slides in closer to the table to let Edward skirt around behind her to his spot. "My sister is obsessed with that movie," Edward tells her. His voice is fond and Bella assumes that he has a good relationship with his siblings, his sister at least, and smiles.

She used to wish she had siblings. Until she realized Mike was basically her brother anyway, so technically she did.

"Alice, right?" she asks. For some reason she can't picture Rosalie being obsessed over a kid's movie. And yet, she is, so now she feels a little self-conscious about it. Maybe she should stop watching kids movies. Fuck that, I'll stop watching them when they stop being excellent.

Edward's nodding and placing his pencils out next to his papers. He's a very neat guy, very organized, she notices. From his crisp, pristine clothes to the way that his pencils are sharpened perfectly and his name is scrawled at the top of his page like a computer did it.

Her own writing looks more like someone dipped a chicken's feet in ink, placed it on a paper, and electrocuted the poor fowl. Something Mike, Angela, and Renee have been teasing her about mercilessly throughout the years. You're an artist, Bella, your work is breathtaking but how is your writing so atrocious?!

"Yes, Alice," he answers and looks up at her again. Amber eyes study her intently, trace over her face, until she shifts awkwardly and lets her hair fall down between them like a dark curtain. "I think the two of you would get along well."

"I thought your family was too good to associate with outsiders?" Bella can't stop herself from snarking, not that she would if she could. Poking people is a hobby of hers, she's a bit of an asshole.

She feels Edward still again, wonders why he does that. People don't just... freeze like that. She's pretty sure he even stops breathing when he does it, and it's weird.

Her mind whispers that something isn't right, again, but common sense tells her that it's fine. That he's normal and life is regular and don't think too hard about it. But thinking is all she has because it's either that or talk and fuck talking, talking just advertises the fact that she's weird and a bit of a fool and a bit of an asshole and just, she doesn't want to advertise anything about herself. Not when she's such a mess of a person, not while she's still working on the mess, trying to refine it into a reasonable individual.

Edward turns to her finally. "We keep to ourselves to in an attempt to battle the overwhelming reception we often received everywhere we go. It's... tiring."

She considers this and nods, though her focus lies elsewhere with her sketching again. "I can see that," she says thoughtfully while she smudges some of her pen with her thumb. "You're all this school can talk about and it's been a week now. I can feel everyone looking over here."

"Yes, it's quite unpleasant," he agrees softly. He reaches out to touch the edge of her paper before she holds up her hand, as if to stop him, and he pauses. "Why do you draw in ink? You cannot erase your mistakes, should you not use pencil first?"

Running her tongue along the back of her teeth, Bella leans back in her chair to look at him. Dark eyes flicker over his face, his perfect face, and down to his notes. Perfect notes. Everything about this dude was perfect. "You want the creative, artsy, cliched mistakes are beautiful and real and mean more than perfection? Or something a little more personal like I can't stand the sound pencil makes on paper, so I always use pens instead? Something in-between? I make a lot of mistakes but somehow manage to turn them into something good, something useful, and it's good practice for real life."

Pale lips press together in a line. Edward's eyebrows inch lower while he stares. "Which one is true?"

"They're all true."

"Okay, but which one is the true reason?"

"They're all the true reason."

He frowns harder, his hand back in his hair again. She makes a mental note of his tick, his tell. "Which one is the deciding factor that keeps you from switching to pencils instead?"

"Well right now, because I don't have a pencil on me."

Edward sighs deeply and they both feel his phone buzzing in his pocket, against the table. He rolls his eyes and pulls it out, shifting and angling away from his table partner. "You're frustrating," he tells her over his shoulder with a gruff voice.

"You're a little vexing," she replies and goes back to her sketch.

.

.

.

Another week passes and the two make small talk during class. Anything more and they start digging at each other, and sometimes their conversations end in venom and glares, but for the most part they get along.

She asks about his family but he's typically tight-lipped regarding anything personal. He talks about them at briefly, but there's always hesitation, as if they're just around the corner listening in and he's afraid they might hear. Through his vague, lacking stories, Bella finds herself more and more intrigued by the pixie. The pixie who she has yet to meet, despite a couple of fleeting glances in the cafeteria and hallways.

Edward holds her hand on the way to biology one day and she's startled enough that she doesn't smack him in the face. He looks awkward, eyes shifting from the floor to the ceiling to the lockers they pass, anywhere but her direction, and she stifles her laugh. It's amusing enough that she doesn't pull her hand away.

By the end of class, the school is abuzz with rumours that they're dating.

Mike throws himself against her locker when she shuts it, leaning down to catch her eye. He reaches out to steady her as she gasps and jerks back, glaring up at him like an angry puppy. "What the shit, dude?!"

"You're dating a Cullen?!"

"What?"

"Edward," he clarifies with a huff of impatience. He motions down the hallway to the lanky boy who stands beside his blonde brother, the one who always looks like he's in pain or going to be sick. Their eyes meet, she nods at him, he flashes her a crooked grin, and the blonde winces her way. When she looks back, Mike is astonished. "Holy crap, you're dating Edward Cullen."

"Am I?" she asks, and though it comes off a little coy because of her chuckle, she's honestly asking because... is she? Since when? How?

Her friend groans, smacks his forehead, and slings his arm around her shoulders. "Oh my god, Bella, I know I told you to go talk to them, but I didn't think you'd actually start dating one. They're so weird!"

"I thought they were pretty?" she challenges because just two weeks ago he was begging her to look at them. "What happened? Rosalie shoot you down again?"

"Hah, like any of us mere mortals could ever talk to her," he grumbles sourly and they start dragging their feet to the gym. "Besides, she's dating Emmett."

"Who's Emmett?"

He laughs again, shakes his head, and squeezes her closer to him affectionately. "You really need to start paying attention to the outside world. Emmett Cullen."

"Her brother?!"

Mike laughs harder this time and drops his arm to hold open the door. They walk through the gym, his sneakers squeaking on the polished floor, while her boots earn the ire of Coach Clapp (the man has learned better than to tell her to wear regular shoes. He's just happy she wears the uniform). "They're not actually related to each other. They're all adopted."

"Not related at all?" Bella asks. Thinks back to golden eyes and pale pallor. That same otherness they all carry.

He shakes his head. "Nope. Rosalie's dating Emmett, and Alice is dating Jasper. The only single Cullen is Edward... well, was Edward."

"Alice is dating Jasper?"

"Yeah, are you okay? You seem pretty out of it lately," he says quietly and tugs on her arm until she stops. She blinks up at him, uncharacteristically agreeable as she lets him lift her glasses so he can look at her eyes and the dark circles beneath them. "You look dazed, Bella. Shit. When's the last time you slept?"

She rubs her eye and let's out a deep breath, all before shrugging and stepping back to let her glasses fall back down onto her face. "I dunno. The day before yesterday? I think?"

"How many hours?"

Her agreeable mood sours and she roughly grabs the strap of her bag across her chest, scowling down at the floor. "I don't know! A couple hours - who cares? I'm fine." She glares back up at him. "How long have they been dating?"

"Who?"

"Fucking," she huffs and shakes her head, punching him in the shoulder, "who's dazed now? Jasper and Alice!"

He looks more and more confused as time goes on. "What? A while, I don't know, they joined the family last but sounds like since then, at least." He leans down to squint into her face, studying her. "Why do you care? You got a thing for your boyfriend's brother?"

"Excuse me for caring about my friend's family."

"You never ask if my brother's dating anyone."

"Your brother is a doofus."

Mike sighs but nods, looking out at the gym as they hesitate near the boys' locker room. "Yeah, he's kind of a dick. I don't know, man. Just... just do me a favour and be careful around the Cullens, yeah? I'd hate to bust Pretty Boy's face because he messed with the wrong Swan."

"I can take care of myself."

A snort tears from Mike's throat before he can smother it and he's dodging another punch, scurrying into the boys' locker room with Bella hot on his heels. A couple guys let out surprisingly shrill shrieks until one of the football players carries Bella back out to the gym over his shoulder, all while she curses her best friend in Italian.

.

.

.

They don't talk about the rumours surrounding their relationship status and Bella doesn't really know why. If it's because he's too awkward, she's too awkward, or it's just abundantly clear to everyone but her, so she also doesn't bring it up. Nothing else ever happens, either, so maybe there's actually nothing there and Edward just doesn't want to dignify it with a response.

He still holds her hand, though, and she still let's him, and she still doesn't know why, and she's still not sleeping.

She's considering maybe seeing a doctor about it, but she doesn't know which kind. If this is just in her head, and therefore a psychologist would better help her, or if there's some kind of chemical reaction happening in her body, and a medicine doctor would help more. So perhaps a psychiatrist, then.

Maybe it'll be easier to just ignore it instead, maybe it'll go away on its own, maybe it's just stress and she needs to calm down.

Maybe she won't wake up tomorrow.

.

.

.

Another month passes by before she ever talks to the other Cullens. They're sitting at their own table in the cafeteria, she and Edward, because Mike was out sick one week and Angela was studying in the classroom one day, and Bella had no one to sit with. So Edward sat with her. And he's been sitting with her since.

Mike's a good friend and didn't want to intrude, neither did Angela, but Bella kinda wishes they did. She doesn't say it aloud though.

A third tray drops to the table beside them as they sit across from each other. Bella jumps in her skin, startled out of her thoughts, and Edward pauses in the middle of his story. He looks frustrated and amused at the same time, and Bella's fingers twitch with the instinct of putting that look on paper.

She sketches Edward a lot, and maybe that's why people think she's in love with him, maybe that's why they keep telling her how cute her lovey dovey devotion to him is. She doesn't think it's love, she doesn't feel like she loves him, she's not even really sure she likes him, but she has to admit that she sketches him far too much.

It's just... he's fascinating to watch, his face is beautiful and holds emotion so well. Not just one emotion, either, it constantly looks like differing emotions are battling for space on his face. She's never met anyone who looks like they're feeling all their emotions at once, and such vastly different ones, to boot.

She's an artist and Edward is beautiful and she's pretty sure that's why she's sketching him, but she's been wrong about herself before, so... who knows.

"Good afternoon, Alice," Edward greets politely while he stares up at his sister.

The pixie drops into her seat with perfect poise, a brilliant smile on her face that she aims at Edward first. "Hello, brother," she chimes.

Bella's jaw clenches as a shiver rolls down her spine and dear god, that's what Alice's voice sounds like? She blinks her eyes heavily, stares down at the top of the table, while briefly glancing up at the other girl every few moments in a desperate attempt to not blatantly stare.

Alice looks much different up close.

Maybe not different, but her beauty is enhanced, it's right there, it's so close she could touch it. She could touch her. Alice doesn't seem real, Bella's pretty much convinced that she dreamt the girl up most of the time because people like that don't truly exist. They don't have eyes that literally sparkle, that make dark and enticing promises, the likes of which you never knew you actually desired. A voice so alluring that it kept whispering to you long after she stopped speaking. Her movements so graceful that she must be some Water Goddess that's mesmerized you into a trance.

Bella blinks and stares down at the table again, squeezing her plastic fork tightly in her clenched fist.

"You must be Bella! Edward has told me so much about you!"

She swallows roughly. "Yup," the word is forced out and it's awkward. She already knows, without looking up, that it's awkward. In fact, it's probably awkward because she hasn't looked up. "That's me."

"I'm Alice!"

"Right on."

Silence falls over them, kind of like a cow tipping sideways. Slowly, and then all at once. They're suddenly sitting there, nobody saying anything, Bella staring at the table as if she can light it on fire with just a look. She wants to fix it, she desperately wants to be charming and funny and friendly to Alice, she wants Alice to like her, but she also doesn't want to look up.

"It's so nice to finally meet you," Alice says and it sounds different. Bella can't tell (because she can't see her face and fucking hell, she's gonna have to look up soon, isn't she), but she thinks she can hear amusement and confusion. It's fair. This is one of the stranger introductions she's been part of. "Bella?"

"Hm."

"Are you ever going to look at me?"

Whether it was her intention to shock Bella out of this weird funk she was in, startle her into eye contact, or not... Bella can't tell, but it works either way. Her head jerks up, wide eyes locking onto bright golden ones that she swears flash in surprise. The surprise melts quickly, fades into delight, and Alice perks up in her seat. Wiggles her fingers in an adorable fashion. "Guess so," Bella replies absently.

"Hello there," Alice giggles and Bella melts. She's ooze, literal goo in her seat. "Darling, you look positively dead on your feet. Do you not sleep well?"

Bella's mind is still reeling over the term of endearment, playing darling on a loop over and over and over again. Her heart is trying to beat right out of her chest (she notices both Cullens glance down at it briefly), but she shrugs her shoulders and goes for nonchalance. "I sleep great. When I sleep."

"So you don't sleep often."

"Do you?" Bella asks before she can stop herself, fingers tugging at the dark circles under her own eyes as she motions towards them, too. Jasper and Edward's are usually the most pronounced, but Bella has seen each Cullen with dark circles at least as severe as hers.

Alice's head tilts while Edward's hand on the table clenches into a fist. She opens her mouth to say something before her brother jabs her in the side and Alice yelps, turning to look at him with wide eyes. He gives her a meaningful look and she smirks, but relaxes back in the chair.

"I sleep a reasonable amount for someone in my position," Alice finally replies ambiguously.

Bella points a finger at the pixie but even she can't fight her own amusement amidst the awkwardness that's quickly fading. For some reason she can't really pinpoint in the moment, Alice makes her feel very comfortable. Not like Edward, who appears as if she's stabbing him with a pencil most of the time. Alice is soft smiles and twinkling eyes, she's terms of endearment and giggles, she's darling. "I'm going to remember that."

"Whatever for?"

"Because it's sounds like one of those things that aren't supposed to be important but really are," Bella explains as her grin grows. A dark brow lifts over Alice's golden eyes, intrigue staring back at Bella. "I read a lot."

Edward is glaring holes into the side of Alice's face but the pixie is oblivious as she stares back at Bella with a thoughtful look, leaning forward onto her arms on the tabletop to peer closely at Bella. The human digs her fingers into the hard surface to keep from shrinking away. "You must already have cause to pay attention if it sticks out to you," Alice says, and her own lips twitch up into a smirk. "You were already looking for something, weren't you?"

"Your family is..." Bella considers this thought as the Cullens hang onto her words; Edward with anxious desperation and Alice with delighted curiosity. "Noteworthy," she decides in the end.

He's scoffing and shaking his head, leaning up in the chair to appear taller. His cold hand reaches across to her own warmer one on the table, patting in a suspiciously patronizing way. "No, no, we're nothing special, Bella. You're just bored. A creative girl of your calibre must find dreary Forks underwhelming, you're looking for adventure everywhere you turn."

She slowly slides her hand out from under his.

"Yeah, unless you're a mind reader I'd say it's a safe bet you don't know what the fuck you're talking about, so." Bella shrugs but it's mildly hostile even if her tone is sweet. Too sweet, perhaps. Edward's eyes widen and he's shrinking back but Alice looks like she's desperately trying to tame her ever growing grin.

The scowl on his face in impressive and, she's loathe to admit, kind of intimidating. It sends a chill down her spine, wipes the glare from her face, and she leans back into her seat again. There's something frightening about Edward, she's noticed. About all of the Cullens, but him moreso and she can't decide if it has something to do with him personally or just because she's spent the most time with him. Either way, she's glad when he aims that scowl elsewhere, turning to his sister. "Alice," he says quietly, harshly. "You've upset Bella."

Both girls look at him in disbelief, though Bella is more indignant because, fucking, again this dude is trying to tell her how she feels and what she thinks. Alice seems... used to it, her patience is learned, measured, practised. She smiles softly and shakes her head. "Just how have I upset Bella?"

"She was fine before you got here. Two minutes talking to you and we're fighting," he points out in an aggravated voice.

And Bella's just... she can't believe it. She can't believe it. She stares hard at the boy, incredulous, because... he... actually... believes his own words? He honestly thinks that she's upset because of Alice?

The pixie considers this. She holds her chin in her palm, pivots on her elbow, and looks over to Bella. Her brows are furrowed in thought, as if she's honestly considering that perhaps her brother is correct, and taps her perfect nails against her lips. "Am I upsetting you, Bella?"

"N - No, not - never!" The words are rushed and run together in Bella's haste to quash that thought right then and there because she's pretty convinced Alice could never upset her. That she's incapable of it, that Alice is perfect, that Alice isn't actually real, that maybe she's dreaming, or maybe she's dead.

She's not entirely convinced she isn't dead most days, but she doesn't tell anyone anymore. They give her weird looks and ask her to explain a feeling. How do you explain feelings?

The smile is back, or more accurately, the smirk is back, and aimed towards her brother again. Alice is delightful and mischievous and Bella can't breathe. "There you have it, Edward. Not never. Must be you."

"Impossible," he remarks with a shake of his head. He looks to Bella. "I haven't done anything upsetting, I am exactly how I was before she sat down."

"No, it's you," she informs him simply with a nod.

Alice snickers, caught in her throat as she covers her mouth with her hand and tries to muffle it. Edward shifts his confused look to her and back to Bella, inching forward in his seat. She can see the gears turning in his head and is surprised he does so well in class if it's really taking him this long to catch on. "You shouldn't be upset with me."

"Don't tell me what I'm thinking and I won't be."

"I - have you been talking to Rosalie? Did she tell you to say this?"

This time Bella is confused. "No? What the actual fuck, dude?" She shakes her head, stares down at the table while her mind whirls, before looking back up at him. "You keep telling me what I'm thinking and how I'm feeling, and you don't fucking know, you're not me. So stop. It's patronizing as shit."

"I am not, you're misinterpreting my words," he tells her. Alice's eyebrows raise and he blinks, pauses. She sees his head tilt ever so slightly, golden eyes flicking to his sister. Understanding floods over his face moments later, followed quickly by a sheepish look. "Oh, I didn't... I didn't realize. I'm sorry, Bella, forgive me. I - I mean, would you please forgive me?"

"Sure thing, kiddo," she says simply, her easy-going nature shining through. To be fair, Bella finds it hard to stay mad at anyone. That requires caring enough to give a shit, to actually be mad, and that's just not something she's usually capable of.

Her eyes slide back to Alice who watches her with mild fascination and while Bella is thoroughly pleased to have this much of the pixie's attention, she knows that she's bound to fuck it up soon and it's probably time to leave. So she get's to her feet, pushes her glasses back up the bridge of her nose, and jerks her thumb over her shoulder. "I gotta start heading to my next class."

"I'll walk you-"

Alice is up and next to her in an instant, effectively blocking Edward off from sight. "May I walk you to your next class?" she asks politely.

As if Bella could possibly say no to such a blinding smile.

"I guess," she replies with a shrug of her shoulders and the two head out into the hallway. The moment the doors close, Alice's hand is in hers, and Bella juggles her books in her free hand while she stumbles. "S-sorry," she mutters while Alice laughs.

"You're quite stiff," Alice comments with a giggle.

She's not really sure why but Bella looks down at her pants anyway, blushes, and looks back up. "No, I'm not."

"You're also odd." Alice leans against Bella as they walk, hugs the taller girl's entire arm. "I thought it was because Edward looked so uncomfortable holding your hand, that you couldn't relax around his intensity, but it's all you."

"Probably," Bella agrees with a disappointed sigh. "I don't like people touching me-" Alice starts to pull away but instinct has Bella tightening her hold. "-not you! I, um, I don't mind some people touching me. I don't mind you touching me."

They come to Bella's classroom, stopping just outside the door. Alice releases her more slowly this time, noting that Bella lingers closer, seems to be forcing herself not to follow. The vampire bites her lip, nods to herself, and looks up at the awkward girl. "That's good. It wouldn't bode well for my plans if you didn't."

"Plans?" Bella asks breathlessly at the teasing lilt in Alice's voice. Did that mean...? Was she...?

"Yes, silly," Alice bounces forward to boop Bella's nose, "you and I are going to be great friends."

Bella deflates.

Friends.

Friends.

"Right," she agrees absently. Her fingertips tap nervously against her jeans and textbook until she shakes her head and shuffles back another step. Distance between them. "Right, yeah, good friends."

"Great friends," Alice corrects and she sounds disappointed, but Bella can't think of why. "Have you met Jasper yet?"

"No." Bella runs her tongue along the back of her teeth and forces her mouth to form words. "He's your boyfriend?"

"Yes! He's lovely, I think you'll get along well. I'm very excited for you to meet the rest of the family, Bella, and I'm so happy that you and Edward found each other."

"Alice," Bella says and the girl perks up, eager to hear what the human has to say. Bella stares at her, at those large golden eyes, at that friendly smile, at a face that appears happy but feels deceptively sad. Her courage scatters, leaves her there alone and afraid and feeling very, very stupid. "You have a pretty name," she says and ducks into the room.

.

.

.

Jake stops hanging around her house and instead gets her to go down to the res, which Mike is happy to oblige with. They sit on his porch; Bella with her legs between the poles of the railing, feet dangling above the ground. Jake sits on the railing, while Mike is next to her and facing the house, leaning back against it.

"You don't actually believe those tales, do you?" Bella asks with a snort.

Mike huffs, glares sideways at her, and jabs her with his elbow. "You can't deny there's something off about them, Bella. You, of all people, should have noticed it by now. You're always at their house."

"Yeah, so don't you think I would have mentioned something by now? I'm telling you, they're normal. Okay?"

Jake is uncharacteristically quiet, his eyes stormy each and every time they mention the Cullens. He hasn't said a word since telling the tale of the Pale Faces. He just stares at Bella, his nostrils flaring, her old friend becoming more and more of a stranger as time goes on.

Sometimes she's convinced they're still friends only because of Mike.

Sometimes she thinks he lumps her together with the Cullens, that she's less friend and more foe these days.

He blinks and looks away, breaking their hold, and she lets out a ragged breath. A bottle is passed towards her without him looking up, something fruity and sugary and sour all at once. Her face screws up, eyes watering, and hacks once it's down. "The fuc-"

"You look dead," he says flatly and takes the bottle back. "Just making sure you aren't."

"I'm not so convinced," she murmurs.

Mike bumps his shoulder against hers as he takes the bottle from Jake. "Death jokes," he warns and she sighs, but a smile curls her lips. "Bleh. Energy drinks are... god, Bella, you might be better off dead." He coughs and pushes the bottle away again, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

"I just might be."

.

.

.

Esme Cullen is the mother that Bella never knew she wanted but deep down knew she needed. Renee is a bit of a nightmare that Bella mostly puts up with because biology and law demand it, but a woman with whom she never truly identifies as mother.

Esme Cullen is a mother in each and every sense of the word, she simply oozes maternal instinct and nature, and sometimes Bella's heart aches when she thinks about it.

So it's natural that she gravitates towards the woman.

Escaping Edward in the Cullen Manor has become a bit of a game that she's particularly good at, and often her end location is wherever the matriarch of the family resides. Sometimes she wanders off to find Alice until the warm ache in her chest turns sharp and acidic and dark. The other Cullens are still... scary.

Emmett's big and fearsome, intimidating in stature, but he's got a boyish grin that Bella finds endearing. She suspects that the two of them could probably become good buddies, but he follows Rosalie around like a puppy and Rosalie is...

Terrifying. All around. There are no soft edges, no dark misunderstandings, no maybe she has a kind heart - Bella's certain she does but she's also certain the blonde would have no issue in ripping hers out.

Jasper is polite but-

Bella avoids Jasper.

And that just left Carlisle, the busiest man she's ever met. Being a doctor, that made sense, but Bella feels like he works maybe a little too much. He's never home and she wonders where he sleeps and-

Her reflection stares back at her in the shiny surface of the dark marble countertop. Often she sits at the kitchen island while Esme cooks or cleans. She prods at the dark circles under her eyes and thinks of the ones she finds on the Cullens sometimes. Not as often as her, but sometimes more severe.

She thinks I sleep a reasonable amount for someone in my position.

"Esme," Bella begins thoughtfully, listens to the woman hum in response, and props her chin up on her fist. "I don't suppose you're a vampire, are you?"

The dish in Esme's hand shatters and Bella has her answer in an instant.

.

.

.

Edward explains to her that they're mates. He takes her running and - okay, yes, it's the happiest she's been in a while. Not that she's unhappy. Well. Not always. But running with a vampire is a bit like flying and it's awfully hard to be unhappy when you're flying, so Bella's grinning and laughing more than he's ever seen before and he takes it as a good sign.

She sits on the highest branch of the tallest tree while he explains it. Explains Singers and bloodlust and Vampire Mates; Emmett and Rosalie, Esme and Carlisle, Alice and Jasper, he and Bella. He speaks of a bond so beautiful that tears come to his eyes, ones that will never fall, and she can - she can feel it. Big and full and in her chest, in her heart, she can barely breathe around it and she knows, she knows deep in her bones that she is a vampire's mate.

But it's not Edward's golden eyes she sees in her mind as he tells her about hearts bound together by destiny. It's not his smile that makes her heart flutter. It's not his laugh that catches her breath in her throat.

Telling him this is the responsible thing to do, the right thing to do.

Common sense tells her that honesty is the best policy. It's not complicated, and in the end it spares more than it hurts.

But a little voice in the back of her head counters this. They brought you in because you're Edward's mate.

I'm not Edward's mate.

They think you are.

The Cullens are wary of humans. Humans are dangerous because the Volturi are dangerous. So the Cullens go out of their way to avoid them, even as they blend in amongst them, grasping for some semblance of a life stolen from them.

They didn't start talking to Bella until Edward did.

"So, what do you think, Bella?"

Her mouth moves but no sound comes out. Water tracks down her cheeks and Edward melts, his adoration shines through, and he's brushing away the tears. "Who am I to fight destiny?" she laughs and the sound is watery. Edward is hugging her and telling her that if he could cry happy tears too, he would.

She tries to ignore the fact that her chest has been ripped open, her heart torn from its ribcage.

.

.

.

Alice avoids her for a little while after that. Bella notices, she does, she tells Edward but he insists that she's just busy, that she's a little... "Alice is unique, Bella, she's different from most people. Just be patient with her."

But Bella knows when she's being avoided - she's avoided enough people in her life to recognize the signs.

Rosalie's more disgruntled lately too, but Bella's not sure if she's done something wrong or if it's just the blonde's distaste of her flaring up.

.

.

.

Things go back to normal, or as normal as Bella's life allows. Alice comes back to her and they're closer than ever. Too close, sometimes, Bella's broken heart whispers. There's smiling and laughter, sleepovers, lingering looks, seemingly innocent touches here and there that feel... significant, but... ultimately nothing.

Just in her head, she realizes, as Alice gushes over yet another romantic thing Jasper had done that weekend.

Thankfully (she's aware and concerned that she's thankful about it), James comes around shortly after that. A fateful game of baseball and the Cullens quickly explain the dangers of travelling nomads and tell her to try and blend in among them.

Alice grabs her hand tight, holds her close, her energy bold and panicked and protective and anxious and all these other things that make Bella's head spin. Clutched tightly to Alice's side, she doesn't feel like Edward's mate.

James' eyes linger on her and Edward's head tilts, his defensive stance loosens as his curiosity grows, but it's only for a moment. Victoria laughs about something that has Laurent grinning and James licking his lips.

"Ah, but Fate is funny, isn't it?" she purrs.

"It's giving you a chance to lose twice," Edward declares and steps forward menacingly.

Though one of the smallest Cullens, next to Esme and Alice, Bella remembers that he's still more frightening than the others. She still can't place why, but she notices that these strangers seem to agree. Laurent shuffles back, Victoria sidles up next to James and watches Edward closely. Even James considers him, finally backs down, laughs, and they all leave.

Things happen very quickly after that.

.

.

.

Common sense tells her to stay with Alice and Jasper, that she's safe with them.

They're in a crowded airport and Alice is using that silvertongue and Cullen charm to get them tickets on the next flight. Jasper stands beside her, just out of reach but close enough, and he looks nauseous. Bella feels similar but she's not sure if it's because a vampire is stalking her, he might have Renee, or because Alice and Jasper have kissed in front of her six times on this trip now.

She pokes the back of his hand and he startles, looks down at her as if he's just remembering she's there. "Sorry," she murmurs in the noisy airport.

He shakes his head, swallows thickly, and inches closer. "I'm not used to people other than Alice and Esme touching me. I apologize."

"I get it," and she hates that she does. He smiles very slightly but it's tinged with that wonder that usually accompanies the looks he aims her way. "How much longer?"

He glances away, across the room to where Alice is leaning up against the desk and batting her eyes. A chuckle shakes his shoulders. "Not long. She's wearing him down." He looks back at her and winks. "It's very hard to say no to Alice."

"I've noticed."

His head tilts. "You are an echo, Bella."

"I - fuck. What?"

He laughs fully this time, loud and boisterous and tosses his head back. She watches him with wide eyes and can't help her lips from ticking up at the corners. "I think I would very much like to be friends with you, Bella, and I'm sorry my fragile control keeps us from it." She shakes her head in confusion and his smile softens. "Edward's gift does not work on you at all, Alice says you confuse her - or you confuse her visions, rather. I'm still not clear on how. But with my gift... you feel like an echo. I can feel you, but it's... delayed and," he clicks his tongue, shakes his head, "it's very hard to describe. Faint, like traces of an emotion that has come and gone, barely enough to register it. You feel..."

"Like an echo," she finishes.

"Yes."

Bella breathes in deeply, holds it, and let's it out slowly. "Okay," she agrees. Jasper chuckles again when she looks away, hands in her pockets. A moment passes, the conversation done, and her decision made. "I gotta hit the loo, text me if you move or if she gets the tickets."

"Should I..." he hesitates and makes a face. "I shouldn't wait outside the bathroom for you, should I?"

"I know you won't intentionally listen, Jasper, but-"

He shakes his head again and even steps back. "Yeah, I'll wait here. Just be quick."

"Will do." She salutes his back.

He watches her until she get's to the bathroom and averts his eyes politely, looking back towards the front where Alice is. Bella's gaze also lingers on the pixie, on the elegant slope of her neck, the brilliant upturn of her smile, the profile of her face.

She shoulders her way out the door and hails a cab quickly.

.

.

.

"We've played this game before," he taunts her.

Bella swallows down her scream and pulls the shard of glass from her thigh.

He holds the camera in her face, crouched down over her, his smile wide and teasing, his eyes fascinated. "Tell me you remember, Bella. You must. We had such a... wild adventure. Show me the scar."

She spits blood into his face, into the camera, and realizes that maybe that's not such a good idea when your enemy is a vampire. The growl it produces is entirely too hungry, too dark, and she rolls her eyes at her own stupidity. "I don't know you," she says to distract him.

"Liar."

Another finger snapped like a twig that he pinches between his own fingers. Her breath gets caught in her throat but so does the scream and-

And a little piece of her is proud. He wants a scream, she knows this, and she's proud he hasn't gotten one yet. "Fuck you!" she snarls instead.

"I don't think little Mary Alice would like that very much," James teases and circles her again. "Just as possessive now as she was then, hm?"

"Alice?" Bella echoes with furrowed brows.

"Yes, you always did drop the Mary part. Think, Bella, remember her. Remember me. Remember us."

"You knew Alice when she was human?" Bella asks. She knows it's a sore subject for her pixie; her lack of memory. A life stolen from her, completely, utterly, totally.

"Yes, we did," James says quietly. He stands off to the side with the camera, watching Bella intently. "Do you truly not remember?"

"I said no!"

She presses her hand against the wound on her leg, the pain making the room around her spin. James reflected back at her in each and every mirror.

"Mary had a little lamb,"

She prays the Cullens are on their way.

"With eyes black as coal."

Bella groans, her head lolling forward. "Can we not do the creepy villain routine?"

"Eyes with a rage that will swallow you whole."

Cold fingers dig into her jaw, James forcing her head back into the glass behind her, making her look up at him as she stares back at black eyes.

"Eyes that will consume your entire soul."

Her own dark, dizzy eyes blink up at him.

"Eyes that made lions fear the lamb."

Consciousness lingers long enough for Bella to feel James' teeth sink into her hand, long enough to feel him get ripped away from her. Long enough to watch Alice tear through the ballet studio like a tornado of carnage.

She falls sideways as the room spins, her head connects with the ground and the blackness swallows her whole.

But not before she watches Alice twirl up James' body, wrap her legs around his neck, and bring him down to the floor hard enough to make the entire building tremble.

.

.

.

Everyone visits her at the hospital.

Renee is an air of annoyance, tells her that maybe it's time for her to come back to Phoenix. She plays the concerned mother roll long enough to appease doctors and nurses, until she's sitting in a chair across the room with her phone, and telling Bella about her wedding. Telling Bella that she needs to stop chewing her nails, that she's had the same haircut (or lack thereof) for too long now and it's time to spice things up, that maybe Bella wants to try contacts so she can lose the big clunky glasses.

Until she's picked apart everything in Bella's life and made her doubt it all, doubt herself, feel bad about the things she likes, until...

Esme chases her out.

Bella can breathe and Esme is hugging her the best she can without disturbing her injuries, telling her how scared she was when she heard about Bella's spill (their cover, of course, and Bella hates how believable it is). Esme kisses her forehead but refuses to let go of her hand - her good hand, that is. The one that isn't broken, that doesn't have a scar that has each Cullen wincing.

(Rosalie tells her sometime when Bella's not sure if she's totally awake or not, that a human who was bit but not turned is unheard of. That she may be the only human in the entire world with a scar like that.

It makes her feel a little better and Bella wonders if that was the blonde's intention.)

"Sorry for scaring off your mother," Esme apologizes but it feels hollow and she's smiling, a deviant glint in her eye. "It seems she does not share your affinity to ignore your human instinct telling you to run."

"It's cool," Bella says in a rough voice, one she hasn't used in a few days. "Where's Alice?"

Esme sinks into herself a little. She picks at Bella's blanket and avoids her eyes for a moment before looking up at her. "Processing. That man was... the only link to her past, and she was forced to end him. To burn that bridge."

"I'm s-sorry-"

The vampire hushes her with a serious look. "None of this is your fault, Bella, don't you dare try to blame yourself. Nobody else does. She's just. Dealing with it. Don't worry, Jasper is helping her."

"Right."

"Honey." Esme sighs and shakes her head. "Can I get you anything?"

Bella lifts her left arm, feels how heavy the cast on her hand is, and groans. "A new sketching hand?" she jokes and grins, happy to see Esme light up again. "No? I'll take a juice then, if I'm allowed."

"Absolutely. Give me two literal seconds."

With a wink and a kiss to her forehead, Esme is gone.

.

.

.

Honestly, with how quickly the Cullens disappear from a room, she should have guessed how fast they could disappear from her life.

It was like foreshadowing, when she thinks about it, a hint in the sick and twisted game they played.

Bella's not entirely surprised when they leave (they all distanced themselves before, it wasn't like she was blind, she just didn't know why. She thought maybe it was because they feared how she would see them after James' attack. Alas, it turned out to be because the attack changed how they saw her) but that doesn't stop it from hurting.

Doesn't stop her from falling to the forest floor.

Doesn't stop her from laying there for five hours, clutching her history textbook.

Doesn't stop her from screaming when she drives out to the Manor the next day to find it boarded up, everything covered in sheets, surrounded by a hollow home.

.

.

.

By now Bella knows she actively goes out of her way to tell Common Sense to fuck off, but even she doesn't understand why she's climbing up to the roof of the Cullen Manor. It's been almost a year, maybe a full year if she thought about it, but Bella doesn't think about it.

She tries very hard not to.

In fact, she thinks of them so little, she's not entirely sure what possessed her to do this in the first place. But she's up on the roof, her shoes in one hand and a bottle in the other. "This is a decidedly bad idea," she sings to the moon and tips the bottle towards the sky as if she's toasting it.

Her arms swing wide as she twirls on the roof and - she's flying again, up so high like that day in the tree. She can see well into the woods surrounding the tall mansion and it's the most exhilarating she's felt in a long, long time.

With a flick of her wrist, her shoes sail through the air and down to the lawn below. "I'll tell you something," she says to the moon quite seriously. "It hurt. More than the hand. It hurt bad. Still does. Sometimes I can't breathe."

The moon listens patiently and a smile slides onto Bella's face, wistful and bittersweet.

"I think I liked it better when she tore out my heart." Bella brushes her fingers over her chest, squeezes her eyes shut. "Hurts too much to have it back."

The trees around her spin and she takes another sip from the bottle to try and keep up.

Her toes hang over the edge of the roof and she holds her arms up, tilting her head back to the stars. "I bet you, even, that it would hurt more than falling off this roof."

"Let's find out."

Bella gasps and twists on the spot, looking over her shoulder. A flash of red has Victoria across the roof, the snarl on her face enraged and heartbroken, her clawed hand swiping across Bella's face and sending her over the edge.

Suspended in the night air, Bella waves her arms as the ground comes up quick. Her heart jumps up into her throat, the backs of her eyes burn bright like a flame is held to them, and her entire body feels like painful pins and needles.

She braces her arms over her face a moment before impact.

.

.

.

It did hurt pretty bad, she notes.

Worse than she thought it would, but at least she's alive. Well. She thinks she's alive. Only the living felt pain, right? If she's in this much pain, she must be alive.

It makes sense.

The sun on her face, warm and glowing against her closed eyelids, however, does not.

Bella blinks dark eyes up at the blue sky.

She closes them quickly again and her fingers rubs them under her glasses.

Blue sky greets her when she opens them and -

"Oh, shit!" Bella gasps and flings her arms over her face at the intruder.

"Finally, you're here!" a soprano voice chirps and Bella's stomach flips while her broken heart seizes in her chest. She cracks an eye open to peer up into a pair of electric blue ones and the brilliant smile that accompanies them. The human smile that accompanies them. "You kept me waiting, you know. Hi. You call me Alice."

"Uh..."

"Don't get up, I'll come down to you."

Alice drops to her knees - one on either side of Bella until she's straddling the taller girl, hands braced on either side of her head. Bella opens her mouth to ask if she's insane, ask just what the hell is happening, ask Alice why she left, why she's with Jasper, why Bella was ever born in the first place. Was she destined to hurt this much?

Warm, chapped lips capture her own instead. Bella's eyebrows shoot up in surprise, a strangled noise trapped against Alice's lips that move with hers surprisingly gracefully. The pixie pulls back before Bella can do much of anything.

"What was that for?!"

Alice tilts her head to the side, blue eyes flicking over Bella's face curiously and eagerly. "Because you kiss me when you land here."

"What? What?! Why?"

She sits back on Bella's lap, tapping her chin thoughtfully. With a grin, she swipes her tongue over her lips and hums. "You taste of alcohol, I think you're drunk."

"Or dead," Bella breathes, her hands on the pixie's hips.

"Not yet."

She rolls her eyes. "So dying."

"Aren't we all?" Alice counters with that damn mischievous smile Bella knows too well.

But it's different. It's human. Alice is human.

"Not you," Bella tells her softly. She sits up, holding Alice more in her lap while the pixie locks her hands behind Bella's neck.

Blue eyes trace Bella's lips, travel back up to her gaze with an intensity she's only seen on Alice's face a handful of times before. "Lucky me."

"What the fuck." Bella shakes her head. "Alice. Alice! Why are you human?"

"What else would I be?" Alice asks curiously.

"Not-" Bella bites her lip. No.

No...

Impossible.

No!

That's not... what the actual fuck. No. "No. You're. Okay. This isn't. Fucking hell, Alice, what year is it?!" Bella demands, if only to quash this idle thought then and there.

"Silly girl," Alice hums and taps her nose. "It's nineteen twenty."

Chapter Text

It's been so long since she's felt the sun and she thought she would be grateful, thankful for that familiar heat against her skin. Like a hug of pure warmth, and the nostalgic memories of afternoons with Renee, maybe even the faint smell of paint if she concentrated hard enough. Instead, her skin is sticky with sweat, her clothes hanging heavy from her body as she trudges after her friend… or maybe a ghost. Breathing in air is like breathing underwater, and dear god, wherever they are isn't even close to Arizona and its dry heat.

This is heavy and moist and clogging her lungs.

Or maybe it's the hangover.

Alice skips ahead of her, leading her down a back gravel road. It's secluded, despite being so open, nothing but fields on either side of them, and houses off in the distance. Trees farther to the left, she thinks, it's kinda blurry. She's still not entirely sure she didn't die, falling off that roof. That this is some kind of… of hell, maybe. Or heaven. Alice is here. She can't decide which.

Her pocket vibrates and she fishes around, looking at Charlie's name flashing across the screen, before grunting and stuffing it back in her pocket. Blue eyes watch her with interest and she scowls at them until they look away.

But not for very long. They're back a few heartbeats later. "Why are you so upset?"

"I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

"No."

"Yes!" she chirps happily and twirls again, to walk backwards while she watches Bella. "Do you need to vomit again?"

Bella's lips twitch and she fights her smile. "No. I'm-"

"Hungover?"

And she sighs. "Maybe. I don't… I've never. I don't really drink, except for the odd party here and there. I just-" she holds her forehead, grimacing at the slick sweaty skin, "my head is killing me."

"You do look dizzy," Alice says with concern and slows her pace to close the distance. She watches Bella shuffle to a stop before her, caution in those dark eyes, and tries her best to smile wide. "May I?"

Bella looks at the offered hand reaching to press the back of Alice's palm against her forehead and awkwardly, hesitantly leans down for her to reach. They both jump at the crackle of energy that passes between them. "It's just a migraine, I'll pop some Advil or Tylenol when we get back to your place."

"Oh!" Alice lights up excitedly. "You're adept with medicines?"

Which is… kind of a weird thing to say… and supports the claim she made earlier that Bella totally and completely wrote off as being insane. It's not nineteen-twenty. It's not. Alice is just messing with her, or she's hallucinating, or… "No… Alice, who is president?"

"Woodrow Wilson, of course," Alice replies like Bella is the silly one, and looks even more concerned than before. "You fell pretty hard."

"Damn, I wish I knew if that was right." Bella frowns and shoves her hands back in her pockets, shrugging again. "I gotta start paying attention in History class more."

Alice spins again and falls in step with her. "Are you a fan of history?"

"Nope. Boring. Old dead white dudes that fucked everybody else over. I'd rather look to the future."

A shy smile curls at Alice's lips and Bella's heart beats painfully in her chest. "I also like looking to the future."

"Yeah," Bella agrees and coughs, a blush creeping up her neck. "But you're better at it than me. Or anybody, really."

"H… do… you know me, don't you?" Alice asks after a long moment. "That's how you know I prefer Alice, why you keep glaring at me. You know me, and you don't like me."

Kill Bill sirens go off as, for the first time, the smile falls from Alice's face. And, okay, her Alice has only ever been patient in every aspect. She was always encouraging smiles and bright eyes, even when Bella was, admittedly, being a jackass. There was nothing Bella could do to upset her friend.

So when this Alice glares at her, she is taken aback. "W-"

"You're mad at me, here and now, when I haven't even done anything yet!" she grumbles and shoves Bella.

Shoves her.

Bella stumbles sideways but the world is already still spinning, and she can't catch her footing, so she goes toppling down into the, thankfully, dry ditch.

A startled gasp spills from Alice's lips. "Oh, no! Sorry!" She's down in the ditch a few seconds later, trying to help Bella turn over, off her face, and straighten her glasses. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, that was so rude of me, I'm sorry! My mother keeps telling me I'm too impulsive, I tend to act before I think. Please, forgive me."

Bella wheezes in hot air, grimacing at her sore ribs, and shakes her head. "Nah, it's fine. I," she grunts and lays back in the grass, "I probably deserved that. I don't mean to glare. I'm just… tired."

"You look sad," Alice says quietly and cradles her new friend's head on her lap. She tucks wild, dark hair behind the girl's ear, looking down into those brown eyes. "Why are you sad?"

"Life hurts," Bella tells her just as softly.

And Alice nods, because this is not new information. She knows exactly how much life hurts, for her and the people she sees at night. Life is devastating. "What year did you think it was?"

"It's-" Bella licks her lips and shrugs. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"I bet you that I would."

A chuckle shakes them, and for the first time in a long time, Bella's heartache dulls, if only slightly. "And we all know, never bet against Alice. Alice. Hmm. What's your actual name, if you only prefer Alice?"

A question her Alice could never answer, as hard as she tried to remember. And at once, Bella remembers that this? This was all stolen from Alice, taken from her and buried so deep that it was lost to history.

But - apparently - not to her.

"I asked first," Alice argues playfully and boops Bella's nose before getting to her feet and helps the taller girl to her own. "Answer mine, and I will answer yours."

Bella huffs and climbs up out of the ditch, offering her hand to a much slower Alice than she's used to. And warm. So warm. The temptation of knowing Alice's name, her real name, is too much. "Fine. I, uh, I thought it was twenty-eighteen."

The reaction is comical, Alice's eyes growing huge with wonder and awe, her mouth agape. She blinks a few times and leans closer to Bella, looking her up and down, scrutinizing every inch. To the point that Bella does up her coat, even in the heat, and crosses her arms. "You're from the future!"

"I - what? No? I - no? No. No, no. Definitely… no. No, I'm not. Don't be silly. That's - no."

Alice waits patiently, a skeptical eyebrow raised. "I dare you to say no one more time."

"... no."

"You're from the future!" she shouts and Bella ducks, looking around the empty road.

She wrangles Alice close to her chest, hand over her mouth. "Shhh! Would you just - holy shit, you're so loud. I'm not from… I'm not, okay? I'm just - yuck! Did you lick me?!"

Alice stumbles forward when Bella lets go to wipe her palm on her jeans, turning around to look at her. "I knew you were from far away, and I knew you were special - of course you are, you fell from the sky, from nowhere, but I had no idea just how far in the future! This is marvellous!"

"This is not marvellous, this isn't. This…" Bella heaves a sigh and rubs at her throbbing forehead. She really needs to get out of the sun, she's absolutely roasting. "I don't know what's happening, but I will try my best to explain it when I understand it, okay?"

The concern is warming, it's… it's familiar and painful and has Bella looking away, but Alice grabs Bella's hand. "I can be patient, despite what mother and Cynthia say. I won't push too hard, I promise. We're almost to my house, it's the second one down at the end of this path."

.

.

.

True to her word, Alice doesn't press anymore on their way back to her house. She watches Bella a lot still, but Bella can hardly notice past the cold pain in her eyes and the ringing in her head. She blearily follows her friend. Her ghost. Her… whatever, and is oh so thankful when they climb the steps to a front porch and stop before a nice door.

She sways on her feet, hand braced against the frame of the door, and tries to focus when it opens. Another Alice greets her, or close enough to her blurry vision - about a foot taller, older, with warm brown eyes, and long, long hair. Bella's brows furrow and she turns to the pixie. "Wait a minute," she hums and pinches the braid between her fingers, flicking it back over Alice's shoulder. "You have long hair."

"Mary Alice?" the woman questions, equal parts concerned and amused. "Who have you brought home this time?"

Alice laughs nervously, jerking forward to wrap an arm around Bella as she shuffles back to balance herself. "This is Bella. Bella, this is my mother."

"Mrs Alice's Mom," Bella repeats and shoots a finger gun at her. "You don't look like Esme."

"That is a very familiar name…"

Alice's mom watches the two of them fondly, arms crossed as she leans in the doorway. "A pleasure to meet you, Bella, though I wonder if you'll remember this when you sober up. Mary Alice, might I get an explanation?"

"She fell from the sky," Alice begins and holds up her hand when her mother's eyebrow jumps. "Which, yes, sounds crazy, so don't tell father. But, I promise it's the truth. Ask her! Bella, where did you come from?"

But helpful is not something Bella is capable of currently. She doubles over, dry heaves once, and groans. "The future. Oh shit, I don't feel good."

Again, Alice laughs nervously. "She's just being silly. She fell from the sky… out of a tree, technically. And I thought to help her. She's very nice."

"I'm an asshole, but only because you broke my heart," Bella tells her weakly. Maybe too weakly for either woman to hear her. Her breath curls through the air and she tilts her head curiously. "That doesn't make sense."

In fact, the frost on the toes of her socks makes even less sense. A shiver tears through Bella's body and she straightens up to wrap her arms around herself. Alice's eyes widen in surprise and she slides in front of Bella, smiling brightly at her mother. "You're the one who told me to try harder at making friends."

"Oh, honey," the woman softens. "I didn't… I said it much nicer than that. I just don't want you to be lonely anymore. And when I suggested it, I didn't have this in mind, she's very - Bella, dear, where are your shoes?"

Bella nods and lifts a finger. "I threw them off the roof."

"As one does," the woman laughs softly. "Why did you do that?"

"I was dancing with the moon and my heart hurt."

A deep sigh heaves her shoulders and she looks between the ragged stranger and her daughter. An excited light shines in those brilliant blues, one she hasn't seen in a very long time. And while utterly strange this girl seems, she has a kind face. "Oh, but she's oddly charming. Fine, Alice, you may bring your guest inside. I think she should rest, however."

"Yes, of course! Thank you!" Alice calls behind her as she drags a clumsy Bella along. "You're freezing up!" she whispers fiercely through the halls, twisting and turning in the weirdly intricate halls of a surprisingly large house.

Teeth chattering, Bella nods and lifts a trembling hand to pull off her frosty glasses. "S-Something's wrong…"

She's shoved into a room and by the time the door slams shut, she falls face first into a bouncy bed. Blankets are piled on her moments later, and she can feel Alice running around the room to toss more and more on her. "Does this not usually happen when you time travel?" she asks curiously.

But Bella can only curl up in a ball, trying to hug herself, trying to keep what little warmth she has left. "I d-don't know…"

"You've never done it before!" Alice asks, but it sounds more like a victorious declaration. A puzzle she's slowly but surely figuring out. She stops for a moment, hand over her heart. "Oh, I'm flattered you came to see me your first time."

A grumble comes from under the heap of blankets. "I had no choice in the matter."

"What must I have done to deserve such animosity from you…" Alice sighs to herself.

There's a quiet moment where Bella maybe starts to drift, before the bed jiggles and the blankets move. She cracks open an eye, scowling at Alice's big grin. "Get out."

"It's my room, my bed, and my blankets. You get out."

Her pout is mighty but Alice doesn't budge. She merely waits a moment before prying one of Bella's chilly hands from her chest and rubs it between her own, trying to work warmth back into her skin. Bella watches her with guarded eyes that threaten to crack, watches as Alice moves between her hands, blowing warm air on them. As this… stranger does her best to care for her.

Alice has always been kind.

"I've read a few books on time travel," Alice whispers quietly. She glances up to catch Bella's eyes, light spilling in through a small crack between the blankets and the bed. She's met with an ice wall - figuratively, Bella is starting to warm up again. "I have a unique interest in time. I've read almost seven books on the subject, and none of them have ever mentioned this cold effect."

Bella's not really sure what to do with that. She's never read any books on it, and even the shows she's seen - well, she can't quite remember if they've ever mentioned anything like this before… also, they were fictional. Time travelling isn't real. Time travel isn't real.

So how is she here?

Where is here?

Fucking… fucking when is here? Nineteen-twenty.

Impossible.

As impossible as vampires?

"F-Fuck," she grumbles and burrows closer to the mattress.

Alice smiles softly - she's so damn soft as a human! It churns like acid in Bella's stomach and has her looking away instinctively. "You're so grumpy, Bella." There's nothing else for a long while, just the sound of Bella's teeth chattering against each other, and Alice's hands rubbing hers. The pixie doesn't dare inch any closer, nor move her ministrations any higher up the girl's arms, lest she face the chilling wrath that pours from her magnificent stranger like the night air from an open window.

The grandfather clock in the hallway ticks and eventually, curiosity gets the better of Alice.

It always gets the better of her, in the end. She hums quietly and looks up to find cautiously curious eyes, to see that Bella is bracing herself for a question she can feel. "What's the future like?"

"Ugh," Bella groans and sighs. "Same old, same old. I don't want to play this game."

"Please?"

"No."

A frown tugs Alice's lips downwards. "Okay, fine." She reaches out from the blankets to grab the corner of her pillow and yank it under the covers with them to rest her head on. Bella shivers violently at the rush of cold air and reaches for Alice - for her warmth, but cold fingers barely brush against Alice's ribs before they curl away and she hugs herself tighter instead. "Sorry."

"It's fine," Bella repeats from earlier.

And Alice can't resist. "Do you probably deserve it?"

"Shut up," Bella chuckles softly. "God, I really do sound like Edward, don't I?"

"Who's that?"

Her smirk grows. "Ah, but ignorance is bliss this time. Trust me. He's kind of an asshole."

"Like you…?"

An eye cracks open again to look at her. "Easy. And worse than me."

"Is he your friend?"

The sigh that comes from Bella is… tired. More tired than anything Alice has ever heard before. "We had a black president," she says instead and Alice perks up. "Yup. Pretty good dude, did a lot for us. Now we have an Oompa Loompa."

"I - wait. You're joking," Alice huffs playfully. "That would have been wonderful though. Not the Oompa."

Bella turns until she's on her back, knees holding the blankets off their faces. "I wasn't joking, for real. We had a black president before this guy, and Oompa Loompa would be an upgrade. Can women vote yet?"

"We will, very soon," Alice says excitedly. "It's good to know it sticks." She chews on her lip thoughtfully for a few painful heartbeats, trying to get a read on this broody girl. "Fashion seems to have changed quite a bit. Is it common for women to wear pants?"

"Yeah. I mean… mostly, yeah. Pants are unisex."

"What's you knee sex?"

An eyebrow hooks up and Bella turns her head to look at Alice's fuzzy face. She's not entirely sure where her glasses ended up, but that's a worry for when her head doesn't feel like it's splitting open. "Unisex," she corrects slowly. "Means it's styled for anyone, any gender."

"Aren't there only two? Wouldn't it be either? Or both?"

"And why on earth would we limit ourselves to only two genders? What if I want to be neither?" she counters and watches the wonder dawn on Alice's face. "I didn't think things had changed that much."

Alice shakes her head slowly. "It's like you're from another world."

"That's… good?" she replies, a little confused. "I seem to recall most of history pissed me off. So. Nice."

"Bella?"

She shifts again, onto her side, and looks at Alice quizzically. "How do you know my name is Bella?"

"Sometimes I just know things." Alice shrugs and looks away. "If you're from the two-thousands, how do you know me?"

"That's complicated," she admits softly. Her eyes trace Alice's face; the tan on her skin, the freckles that vampirism stole from her, her humanity. Which, granted, is quite difficult without her glasses, but she squints while Alice stares up at the blanket above them. Her chest rises and falls with each breath she needs, the tips of her ears red with blood, with a blush?

Alice is human.

Alice is human.

Those blue eyes blink and she tilts her head to look at Bella, biting her bottom lip in a smile. "I'm a fan of complicated."

"I'm quite aware of that."

That smile grows until it shines in her eyes. "Who are you, Bella Cullen?"

"What?!" she sucks in a quick breath in a wince.

Alice's eyes widen. "What's wrong?"

"Why did you call me that?"

"That's your name?"

"No," she flings the covers off of them, pushing backwards out of the bed. The edge is closer than she guessed, and she falls to a knee before shooting up again, backing up into a dresser. "No. That's not my name. Why - you don't - that name is not…"

"I'm sorry!" Alice slips out of the bed, her hands raised. She follows Bella slowly, like she's trying to herd a skittish animal. "I'm sorry. I - I didn't mean to upset you. I won't call you that anymore, I promise. Please, calm down. You need to get back under the covers."

"I'm fucking fine!" Bella snaps and snatches up her glasses from the top of the dresser. She blinks at the room covered in sketch paper and fabric, antiques that look brand new, and seriously outdated furniture. "I need to leave."

And Alice gasps, surging forward just a second too slow to catch Bella from darting out the door. "No! Bella, come back!"

Jittery adrenaline fuels her as she sprints back down the twisting hallways, and through doors. She passes a kitchen and a startled Mrs Alice's Mom, before finding an open window, and wiggling out through it, landing in the backyard below.

Footsteps pass by inside the house, an anxious Alice searching for her and reassuring her mother that everything is fine.

It's the first time in her life that Bella has ever managed to hide from Alice, and part of her enjoys it.

The other part really, really wants to run.

So she does.

And just barely makes it to the back lane before she collapses as the world goes black.

.

.

.

"Are you ever going to look at me?"

"Bella, you and I are going to be the best of friends. Trust me."

"I won't let James hurt you. I promise."

"Bella? I… never mind. It's silly."

.

.

.

By the time she wakes up again, her headache is a mere whisper in the back of her mind. The least of her immediate concerns, and easily ignored. Which means focussing on everything else is much easier now, and god does she miss the mind-numbing pain. At least then she didn't have to deal with anything.

Now she's gotta open her eyes and see if she's in her room or if the nightmare hasn't ended yet, and then she has to try and make sense of which she would prefer.

Alice is here. This is… seriously fucked up and makes literally no sense, and she's pretty much totally lost and alone, but… but Alice is here. Here, with her, not pushing her away. She's here. She didn't leave yet.

"Are you feeling better, Bella?"

A warm hand is pressed against her forehead, sliding down to cup her cheek, before lifting away again. Bella clenches her jaw and sits up, leaning back against the headboard. "Yeah, uh… yeah," she says in a rough voice and takes the glasses pushed into her hands. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Alice whispers with a bashful smile when Bella blinks a few times. She waits a few moments, slowly rocking back and forth on her knees as a clock ticks in the distance. Eventually, her head tilts to the side and she smiles. "Nope, not going to say it, I guess. Well, I'm sorry for chasing you from my home. I didn't know you were sensitive about your name."

And the look on Bella's face goes from open and curious to closed off and bitter. The shift is jarring enough to give Alice whiplash, and just about one hundred more questions. "Yeah, well, yeah," Bella blurts out in a huff that dies out. "Sorry, too, maybe. I probably could have behaved… differently. You're not her."

The realization hits her like a slap in the face.

This is the same Alice.

It's Alice, but a completely different Alice, with different memories, different experiences. Life had shaped her a completely different way, so far.

This is… this is a second chance with Alice. To be - well, she doesn't know, and doesn't want to think about it. Her heart hurts still. But friends, at least, and better friends this time. The kind of friends who don't abandon each other.

Oh, holy shit.

It's Alice and she's been a total nightmare.

Bella sighs roughly and runs a hand through her hair, the other grabbing Alice's warm hand. It's still a little unsettling. "No, fuck that, I am sorry, Alice. You've been very kind and generous and I've been a dick."

"Bella!" Alice laughs as her cheeks tinge pink. "Such language!"

A grin curls her lips up. "What an innocent little thing you were, back in the day."

She doesn't want to be a dick anymore but it still hurts. It'll take some time to adjust.

"I like when you smile," Alice tells her after a moment, her voice and eyes equally soft. Vibrant blues that keep tracing Bella's face, a smile caught between her lips, and that blush ever present. She shakes her head, flicking the long black braid over her shoulder, and leans forward to hold her hand against Bella's forehead. "Good news! You're not freezing anymore."

Grunting, Bella swings her legs over the side of the bed and cracks her back. "That was weird. I mean, all of this is beyond weird, but that was particularly out of the ordinary."

"I'm calling them Echo Effects. You know, because they take some time to catch up to you. Maybe a symptom of time travel; the effects are having a hard time pinning you down."

She watches Alice explain her thinking with an adorably serious face, and can feel the dusty butterflies stir in her chest. She clears her throat and looks up at the ceiling. "That… damn it, that makes a certain amount of sense. Jas… this guy I know, he said something similar once. About me and… that means it wasn't a fluke. It's me. I did this, got here."

Alice's head tilts to the side. "How so?"

"It was always just… fucking there. Before the roof, before Victoria. Before you guys left." Bella hangs her head and sighs. Answers are… good. This is good, discovering the details. Good but shitty, dude. God, she just wants to be normal, she just wants a normal life of mediocrity. Without weird, without heartbreak. "I was doomed from the start."

There's some rustling and the bed jiggles before Alice sits shoulder to shoulder with Bella. "That's a pretty bleak outlook on life, Bella. Have you considered the possibility that you've been given a gift?"

"I don't want it."

"But without it, you never would have come back to meet me."

The declaration is whispered hesitantly, hopefully. Alice looks… meek, when Bella glances at her out the corner of her eye. Uncertain, hesitant, cautious. All these things she never imagined in a million years that Alice could be.

Alice was always certain! She had visions of the future to guide her, that gave her confidence beyond measure. She was bold and unapologetic and so very Alice, that it makes this girl feel… different. Such different Alices.

But their eyes…

Their eyes, even with such a vast difference in colour, remain the same. Watching the world turn with wonder, full of light and life and love, a mischievous twinkle. With that same shadow of sorrow, hidden deep, deep down.

Bella's heart slams against her ribcage painfully and she tears her gaze away, jerking up to her feet. "Yeah, uh, yeah. No, that would be bad. I-I mean, not bad, but sad? Because this is nice. You know, meeting you. Being friends. Um, or friendly acquaintances."

"Okay," Alice says, rather amused, and watches Bella ramble and pace before her. "You're kind of weird, you know that?"

"That is rich, coming from you."

A feigned gasp falls from her lips, hand over her heart. "Rude!" she says and breaks, giggles. But then she does gasp, for real, and her eyebrows jump. "Oh! Bella."

Bella blinks. "Yes?"

"I went through your pockets," Alice admits and has the tact to look sheepish, even if she smiles while she does it. "One of them was making noise! I had to investigate and I found a rectangle that produces light and images!"

Again, Bella blinks. "My phone?"

"In your pocket?!"

"Well, yeah, I - oh!" This time Bella gasps and slaps at her pants, fishing around in the pockets. "Oh my god, I didn't even realize before. Dude, my phone rang, Charlie was calling me. Here! That's impossible. I fucking knew it, this is just a hoax!"

Somersaulting backwards, Alice picks up the device from the table beside her bed. It vibrates in her hands again and she almost drops it, holding it out gingerly. "I don't know what any of that means!" she says excitedly. "Are you saying that people can call that thing?"

The screen lights up when she touches it and she can see seventeen missed calls from her father, half a dozen from Angela, and even a couple from Jacob. Jeez, she's only been gone, what, a day? Okay, actually, that's a while to not check in.

The phone rings when she holds it to her ear and she stares at Alice with an unreadable expression. Fake. It was all fake. She should have known, should have trusted her first instinct. This was all a trick… but it didn't feel like a trick. Alice is warm, her eyes are blue, and she's so soft. You can't - you can't fake being human.

But you also cannot call nineteen-twenty.

The line crackles like a mechanical growl in her ear. "Bella? Bella! Can you hear me? Bella, where are you? What do you see?"

"Dad?" she asks. She can barely make out the words he's saying, it's like listening to someone underwater. "Dad, can you hear me?"

"Bella, I will find you! I promise!"

A frown tugs her lips down, to the point that she pulls the phone away from her ear to look at. The battery is literally at 0%, and her reception bars are blue. Which is… well, she's not really sure, and life is starting to feel like a dream again. "This isn't possible."

"Bella, can you hear me? Where are you? Are you hurt?"

Slowly, she staggers back into the wall and slides down, all while staring up at Alice. Blue eyes watch her with concern and sympathy, a nervous look on the pixie's face. "I'm lost," she whispers to the phone.

She hangs up before Charlie can say anything else and the room is silent once again. Bella lifts the phone to click a picture of a very human Alice, and lets it drop to her lap again.

"This is real."

Alice nods. "I've been trying to tell you that."

"I'm in the past."

Instead of more sympathy, instead of hesitant words and awkward smiles, and a long, uncomfortable silence for Bellanto drown in… Alice hopes the bed and lands in front of Bella, a grin on her face. "Wanna see it?"

"See what?" she questions cautiously.

Warm hands slip into her own and she's pulled up to her feet. Close enough to feel the warmth radiating off of Alice, to count the freckles on her face, to- "The past! We should go into town. How different is it from the future?"

"I… alright."

.

.

.

"What was wrong with my clothes?"

Blue eyes roll up to an equally blue sky and Alice grins, twirling down the sidewalk next to Bella. She swings their joined hands together, ignoring the way other people on the street watch them and whisper. "Besides the fact that they are from the future? Or besides how obvious it is they're not from now?"

She huffs and follows along, scowling at the people who blatantly stare at them. "Was it really that obvious?"

"Your shirt has a monster on it!"

"He's a super-oh forget it."

Alice continues as if she hasn't spoken. "And unless you want to wear your heavy coat in the sun all day, you're going to have to cooperate. I just wish you would have let me pick out a nice dress for you. You look like a dockworker."

"I draw the line at dresses, Alice," Bella grumbles and pushes her sleeves up to her elbows again. "If I had to choose, I'd rather be naked."

Blue eyes cut to her quickly, lips curling up and - Bella looks away, off to the other side of the street and the little shops that line the sidewalk. "Not everyone would appreciate that. Trust me."

Which is a weird thing to say…

"Alice, please tell me you haven't streaked through the streets."

She laughs and hugs Bella's arm tighter to her chest. "Not the streets. Just, maybe, the woods outside of town, once or twice."

"Alice!"

"Well, I'm sorry, but you can't do a rain dance with your clothes on! I don't make the rules," Alice grins.

A blush fights its way up Bella's neck. "You do naked rain dances?"

"Only when we really need the rain," Alice replies helpfully. She looks up at Bella, head tilting slightly. "Do I no longer practice in the future?"

"Practice… what…?" Bella wonders aloud. Her eyes widen slightly. "Witchcraft?"

She's tugged closer to the pixie, who looks around the street quickly. "If that's what you want to call it, but please, lower your voice when you do."

"Oh, yeah, they're scared of witches back then," Bella frowns, "er, now, I mean. Oh shit, don't they burn you for that kinda stuff still?"

Alice stares in wonder at her stranger flung out of time. "Even your questions are fountains of knowledge. People are no longer scared of magic in the future?"

"Well, we kinda turn towards science over make-believe, you know? Magic isn't real, so it's left for the fairy tales."

"Magic is real!" Alice insists and winces, lowering her voice again. An elderly woman sits on a bench they pass, spitting on the ground behind them. Alice's grip tightens when Bella pauses, and she's tugged along. "It is."

"Prove it," Bella challenges.

The look she receives is - there are no words, none that she can explain, and she desperately wants to pull out her phone and take a picture because it's so damn cute. "You can travel back in time and I can see forward in time, Bella. What more do you want?"

Uh… huh.

Oh.

Damn.

Bella's hands go to her hair, her eyes wide and full of disbelief. "Oh my god, magic is real!" she gasps.

"Lunatic."

The word is snarled at them by the man handing out newspapers on the corner of the street. He sneers when she looks up at him, and her gut sinks. "Fuck you, dude."

"Bella, no!"

He drops the paper into the box by his feet, turning to her with a raised eyebrow. "What'd you say to me, butch?"

"I - okay, that is fair. I have suspenders, but I don't like your tone," Bella warns with a raised finger. "And I am fully prepared to kick your ass, man."

Alice pulls on those suspenders furiously. "No, please! Sorry, she's just - she's in a mood! Please, just ignore her. Bella, stop it!"

He works his jaw a few times, a chuckle shaking his chest. He's a fairly decent sized man, not anything impressive like Jake, but no Erik Yorkie either. He lifts his cap and runs a hand over his buzzed head before pulling it back down. "Scram, freaks. Before I teach you some manners, yeah?"

"Not before you apologize to my friend," Bella snarls and shoves him.

Alice gasps, but he staggers back over his box, crumpling the side of it. The surprise on his face is gone in a flash, replaced by annoyance. "Fine, you wanna dress like a man, learn to fight like one!" he growls and pops her one in the jaw, right quick.

Which just so happens to be the very first time in Bella's life that she was ever punched in the face. The realization hits her, no pun intended, as his knuckles collide with her jaw and off her nose.

She drops embarrassingly quick, dazed and on the ground. The world spins and her mind reels, but she's got enough sense left in her head to make a bad decision. His knee threatens to pop under the force of her foot, and he topples back again.

Bella's suspenders are ripped from Alice's hands when the man grabs Bella by the shirt and heaves her up to her feet. Her shoulders and back are slammed against the brick wall of maybe a bakery, it smells nice, and she grunts while Alice shouts. Another meaty fist catches her in the eye and - yup. She's done.

She's done.

Bella raises her hands and slumps to the ground when he lets go, surrendering. He mutters angrily to himself, gathering his ruined box, and storms off down the street while Alice drops to her knees next to Bella. "What is wrong with you, Bella? He could have seriously hurt you!"

"What are you talking about? I totally kicked his ass," she murmurs. Small fingers gingerly touch her cheekbone and she sucks in a sharp breath. "Ow!"

Alice's disapproving frown is too much but Bella only smiles. It's enough to make Alice struggle to keep a straight face, and sighs instead. "What am I going to do with you?"

"Any-uh oh."

The dread in her voice kills whatever moment the two were about to have. Alice perks up in alarm, looking for the man, seeing if he came back. "What? What's wrong?"

"Pins and needles," Bella says quietly. She stares down at her trembling hands and back up at Alice. "That's how it started last time. There were pins and needles, and-and-and, no!" Her heart hammers against her chest, adrenaline coursing through her veins. "No, I don't want to leave, I just. Alice. I just-"

The explosion of white against her eyes blots out the rest of the street.

Chapter Text

She's shivering before her shoulder even connects with the pavement, the frosty bite sinking through her clothes and skin. Settling into her bones again and - fuck. If she literally wasn't bouncing off the pavement, rolling down the road, and scraping to a stop, she would… well, no. That's a lot of shit happening to her and she loses her train of thought.

The chill becomes a light seasoning to the entrèe of her pain.

By the time the world stops spinning and she's staring up at the stars trying to deduce if they're real or cartoons, she groans quietly.

"...ouch."

Her body shivers violently and her ribs scream in agony. Scraped hands press down on them and she sucks in a sharp breath. Literally. The breath she takes feels like a knife between her ribs. Dear god. How hard did that dude hit her?

Groaning, she rolls to turn on her side and watch her breath curl out like smoke in the night. Oh. Oh, great. Another shiver rips through her body and she chokes on a painful breath, closing her eyes. Seeing things isn't so important right now, not with the splitting headache trying to tear her skull open. Not that it matters either way, with her glasses frosted over.

Okay.

Okay, so she jumped again. Through time. Farther back? With - with Alice, still? They were touching, could she have been dragged along?

She pushes off from the wet pavement, struggling up to her feet. Or tries to. She gets to her knees, cradling her ribs, and has to take a breather. "Alice," she breathes and squints to look down the road. A kind of familiar road. "Alice!"

Nothing but the wind replies but even that, she cannot feel. Not past everything else.

So with teeth chattering, she forces herself up to her feet and walks on. All the while trying to convince herself she isn't where she thinks she is, and that if she is, then she should be happy. Thankful, at least. Not heartbroken again. Again.

Alice is gone again.

Is she doomed to lose her over and over and over, forevermore?

The thought amplifies the pain in her head, to the point that she can't actually see the road anymore and has to climb up out of the ditch a couple times. If she… if she jumped twice now, there has to be a way to do it on purpose. If this is part of her, before the Cullens, or even after them, then she should be able to control it.

But how do you control something you don't even understand?

She doesn't know how she does it, which makes doing it on command very tricky and almost hopeless.

Hopeless. What a grand state to be in again. Welcomed back with open arms.

Fuck.

By the time she finally wanders into town, she's pretty sure she has frostbite on her fingers and cheeks, if only minor. The cold has faded but the pain never lessens, it might actually be getting worse. Maybe getting blackout wasted before a jump is the trick.

This… this fucking hurts.

And it's kind of ironic or maybe just lucky that she comes stumbling off the road, into the parking lot of the hospital in Forks. It's a little optimistic for her tastes, and it isn't until she's dragging her shoulder along the glass doors, dropping to her knees inside the foyer that the other shoe drops.

Carlisle Cullen's eyes widen in shock and alarm and she manages to cling to her consciousness long enough to see him jog over with two other nurses.

Then everything goes black and the pain finally fades.

.

.

.

Charlie's badge is the first thing she sees when she cracks her eyes open again. He's across the room in one of the chairs, slumped back against the wall, snoring into his own chest. Four cups of coffee rest on the window ledge beside him, a chart clutched in one hand.

It falls with a clatter that has him half out of his chair, one hand on his gun, and big brown eyes looking around in alarm. They fall on his daughter and she can see the dark circles beneath them, the burst blood vessels, how tired her father is.

"Hi."

He visibly deflates, relief pouring from him in waves she can almost feel. He runs a hand through his hair, moustache twitching with a small smile. "Gave me quite the scare, kiddo," he tells her in a raspy voice.

Almost like he was crying.

Or maybe screaming.

She shrugs and looks down at her hands - white bandages wrapped around six of her fingers, the scrapes on her knuckles cleaned up and healing. She feels better than she has in a long time, but that probably has more to do with whatever is hooked up to her arm. Her eyes flick back to Charlie. "Sorry."

"Don't-" he scooches forward in the chair before giving up and standing beside her bed. He gingerly takes one of her hands, the most careful she's ever seen him be. "Don't apologize. I should have… I didn't find you. I didn't protect you. It's my fault."

Is this where she gets all her guilt from? God knows Renee never felt a lick of guilt a day in her life.

Bella squeezes his hands, ignoring the way her fingers burn. "I don't think there was any stopping what happened to me, dad."

"What happened to you, Bella?" And cop mode comes out, along with his little notepad. He wipes at his eyes instinctively, flipping pages, and looks back down at her. "What happened two weeks ago, Bella?"

"Two weeks?!" she echoes in surprise. No… no, she was gone maybe two days. Maybe.

But a small voice in the back of her head reminds her that time travel is tricky and magic is real. Anything is possible. Three days for her could easily have been two weeks for him; nineteen-twenty for her was twenty-eighteen for him.

Charlie nods. "Angela said you never made it to her house, you left ours around six thirty pm."

"I… went for a walk," Bella says absently. Her mind reels. Two weeks. Has she been in limbo for those two weeks? Is she two weeks older now than when she last saw her dad? Or is she merely three days older? Did she just not exist for eleven days?

He quickly writes it down anyway, nodding along. "Where did you walk? Why didn't you take your truck?"

"I was," she shakes her head and tries to think back to that night, "I was upset." God, it does feel like it was two weeks ago, at least. A lifetime, maybe. "And compromised. I didn't want to get behind the wheel and risk hurting anybody."

His moustache twitches again. "That's very responsible, Bella, but you shouldn't have gone out to begin with, in that case."

"I know. I remember thinking the same thing, but I couldn't breathe inside."

"Where did you walk to?"

Her mind drifts back to that night. Remembers the gravel of the Cullen driveway crunching under her boots. The wood of their front door against her knuckles. Seeing all the sheets covering the furniture, any signs of life just… gone. Gone, like them. Nothing left. An empty house that they abandoned.

She had never related to an inanimate object so much in her life.

"Th-the school," she tries to say as certain as possible. She looks up at her dad who frowns and wonders if he can see Liar written across her forehead. "I think."

He presses on. "And did you see who took you, Bella? Who else was there? Did you get a good look at them?"

"No - well, yeah." Victoria's face, twisted in a snarl. But beyond that, the pain… no, the fear. She was afraid. Why was she afraid? "She didn't - I mean-"

"She?! Who? Bella, who?"

Why would she be afraid? It's not like Bella can hurt her. What did her face look like? Something between pain and fear… panic, maybe? A frenzied sort of panic?

"Bella!"

"Hm?" Bella blinks and looks up at her father. "What?"

"Who is she? What did she look like?"

Well, it's not like she's just going to send her dad off to drag a vampire down to the station. And even if he did, Victoria wasn't the one to take her. Nobody took her. She did it. Time travel is a hard sell, though, and being locked up in the looney bin is the last thing she needs.

So she shrugs again. "I don't recall."

"You don't recall?"

"Nope. Not even a little. Might have been a he, actually. Or me, my reflection. I just don't know," she explains slowly. "My head's a little fuzzy."

And Charlie sighs, deflating again. He nods and his face softens, hand squeezing hers reassuringly. "Alright, kiddo. That's okay. We can try again when the meds wear off. You're safe now, they won't even get near you again."

She has to cover her snort with a cough, and nods. "Right, good. Good. Hey, dad?" she asks suddenly as a newer memory hits her in the gut and takes all her air with it. He perks up again and she glances at the door, heart hammering in her chest. The monitor beside her beeps faster and she scowls at it. "Did I… is Carlisle Cullen here?"

"Yeah," Charlie says. So easily. As if the one word doesn't tear right through her ribcage and impale her heart. As if that simple little answer doesn't break his daughter all over again. "They've been back just over a week, Bells. Came to help look for you, tirelessly. Doc and Mrs Cullen have been leading the search every night since coming back."

Her brows furrow. "Search?"

"All of Forks and even some of the Res have been looking for you this whole time, Bella. I…" he chews on his lip and clears his throat. "You're - you're important to us, Bella. You matter, okay? I know you're sad, but people around here care about you. More than you know."

The machine beeps even faster but she can hardly hear it past the blood rushing around in her head. "Oh."

He clears his throat again. "Yeah. So, uh, shouldn't be long before we hunt down those bastards who took you. We're thinking somewhere near water."

"Why?"

His warm hand covers her forehead and it's more comforting than he realizes. "You were covered in ice, freezing, kid. Got some frostbite, too, and just… so cold to the touch. The weather's dipped low a couple times lately, but you would've had to have been kept in water for something like that. Near as we can tell, at least. Shrinks down the search area quite a bit."

"I popped up in the middle of the highway though," she says distractedly. Not so much as a pond nearby and - wait. Don't try to make sense of their assumptions.

It's too late, though. Charlie has another piece of the puzzle and jots it down in his notepad. "Right. We can talk more about it later, Bells. You should be resting right now, recuperating. I'll go let the Doc know you're awake."

"Hey, no!" Bella gasps and yanks on his coat, her fingers aching. She quickly lets go and flexes them a few times. "Ouch."

"Careful!"

She scowls up at him. "No, really?" He lifts a brow and she winces. "Sorry. Just, uh, my head's all… um, not Cullen, okay? A different doctor."

"Carlisle is the best-"

"Dad!"

He holds up his hands. "Alright, alright. Easy. I'm gonna go get, eh, Hanson? Is Hanson okay?"

She bites back the urge to snap I don't give a fuck, as long as it isn't a Cullen and instead nods with a tight-lipped smile. And proceeds to nod along to everything the hack that Hanson is says to her, knowing he's wrong about at least three things he tries to diagnose. But whatever, at least he's not a vampire.

The bar is real low these days, apparently.

When they tell her it's hospital policy for her to leave in a wheelchair, she just about has an aneurysm and honestly, it's the most restraint she's ever shown, it even has Charlie snickering. But she abides and lets her father push her down the halls of the crisp white hospital, just thankful nobody else is poking and prodding at her, or asking stupid questions.

They're very nearly to the front foyer again when he slows down and leans over to whisper to her. "Don't be mad."

"Too late for that, dad, oh my god, I hate the hospital," she growls to herself. And then processes what he said, looking up at him warily. "Why? What did you do?"

He fidgets and slows the wheelchair down to a stop. "I, uh, I know you had a hard breakup with Edmund there." Her heart sinks into her gut and it must show on her face because he speaks much quicker. "Okay, and listen, I get it. Like, you wouldn't believe. If I so much as see his face, I'm bringing out the shotgun, kid. I won't let him hurt you again, okay? I'm on your side - always."

"But?" she grinds out between her teeth.

Charlie smiles sheepishly. "But the Doc is a good man and his wife is just as nice, and they flew all the way back just to help look for you, Bells. That's nothing to blink at. They were up in Alaska, kid. And came back for you."

"That means nothing to me," she tries to explain.

"Well, hold your horses. You don't gotta skip off into the sunset with 'em or nothin' but I think you should… I don't know," he sighs and scratches the back of his neck. "You don't even gotta thank 'em, Bells. Just let them see you're okay and safe?"

Her nails dig into the arms of the wheelchair. "I don't want to do that."

"For me?"

"... fine."

He brightens immediately, perking up like a puppy. "Great! Okay, I'll go get him - them. Be right back."

"Sure." She waits long enough to wonder if maybe her father has a man-crush on Carlisle, and shudders at the thought, before hoisting herself up out of the wheelchair. Her ribs ache in protest, but she silences them with her arm, and grunts as she quickly ducks around the corner into the front foyer.

Being as this is Forks and the population is already pretty small, the front is quiet enough for her to slip by unnoticed.

The glass doors slide open just as her father comes back down from the hall. "Bella!" he calls with no small amount of disappointment.

She turns and holds up her free hand, letting her eyes linger on their shoes and only their shoes. Her heart still hiccups painfully and she grimaces. "Still alive." And then she stumbles backwards out of the hospital into the parking lot.

"Bella!" Edward's voice calls from the left.

Her breath leaves her in a gasp.

They all came back?

Did… did she come back, too?

The world spins but she manages to drag her gaze up to the tail end of a familiar canary yellow Porsche. Her heart's hiccups leave, a powerful drum slamming against her ribcage. No. No, no, no. The driver's side door opens-

"Need a lift, B?"

The newer voice is unexpected and surprising enough that she's pulled from an agonizing moment, turning to the right to see Leah Clearwater leaning against an old truck. A smirk curls her lips up at one side, dark eyes glinting with a dare as she stares over Bella's shoulder. Her knuckles knock against the truck.

Charlie will probably kill her for ditching literally just after he found her, but technically it is his fault in the first place… Bella climbs into Leah's truck with a breathless, "Thanks!"

.

.

.

It's not a very long drive to the Swan residence but they do it in silence anyway. To be totally blunt, Bella has always been ninety per cent sure Leah hates her guts. There's always been a lot of scowling and glaring on her end, especially when Bella moved back and became a little closer to Jacob.

The fact that Leah came to her rescue was surprising but mostly suspicious. She's about to tell the girl just that when Leah leans over and sniffs her, what the fuck?! "Um?!"

Leah pulls back again, her nose crinkling. "You smell like a hospital."

"Don't smell me!" Bella snaps. "What the hell, dude?"

Dark eyes roll to the ceiling of the truck. "You also smell like… water."

"Okay?"

"Still water. Water that's been sitting for a long time, not like the water around here. Something smaller. Boggy, almost. Mossy."

Which is impressive but still wildly confusing. "That's a pretty cool party trick, but why?"

"Oh." One of her eyebrows bump up and she looks Bella up and down. "We were looking for you. Should have found you right away. What's with the clothes? They make you dress like that?"

"I'm-" Bella looks down at herself, at the Dockworker clothes, as Alice had dubbed them, and has to admit they look pretty outdated back in Forks. "I'm leaving, now."

The truck door slams behind her but Leah's does too, after a moment. Bella groans and storms up the porch, jiggling the locked handle. Great. "You don't seem overly traumatized."

"Give it another minute. This conversation is a doozy."

Leah hops up to sit on the railing of the porch and watches Bella thoughtfully. "Most kidnap victims are freaked out after. You got Stockholm or something?"

"Something like that. Can you leave me alone now? Please?"

"Was it the Cullens?" Leah asks, a little more seriously. "I don't think it would traumatize you that much if they took you. Bit of a leech lover, yeah?"

This time Bella yanks Leah off her railing and down the porch, fingers burning all the way. "What do you know about the Cullens?"

"At least as much as you," Leah sneers. "Did they take you?"

"Get off my property," Bella growls.

A rumble comes from Leah's chest and Bella is tired enough that she's not really surprised. Another type of vampire, a werewolf, a goblin. Who cares anymore? "Was it them? Is that why you're avoiding them?"

"You know less than nothing," Bella snarls and shoves her back towards her truck. It's mostly like trying to shove a warm wall, but Leah relents and staggers back. "Do you think a vampire would only give me a black eye?"

This does seem to sink in for Leah who looks over Bella's face with traces of concern. They linger on the purple bruise around the human's eye, down to her bruised jaw, the scrapes on her knuckles, and she nods. "You admit you were taken, then?"

"Leave."

She saunters back to her truck, opening it and climbing up. "I'll be back with Jake. We want some answers, Swan."

"Fuck off!" Bella calls back cheerily and waves until the truck disappears down the road. Charlie's cruiser passes it on his way to the driveway, and Bella watches him pull up and shoot out of the car. "Before you get mad-"

His arms lift her off the ground, squeezing her tightly to his chest. "Don't run from me again. Please. If it means you're going to run, just tell me, and I'll always back off. I wouldn't have made you even look at them, Bells. I'm so sorry. Please, please don't run."

One of the buttons on his uniform digs into her bruised jaw but she only hugs him tighter. The mix of his minty cologne and coffee bring a wave of nostalgia with it, and she takes a deep breath, buried in her childhood.

But those blue eyes follow her anyway. Chase her to the far recesses of her mind. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay. You're okay, and that's all that matters. You're here, you're safe," he tells her and leads them both inside. She didn't even realize how much she missed her house until she's surrounded by the familiar walls again. "Are you hungry?"

Bella snorts and nods. "Food. Yeah, we can do food."

"We can do food," he echoes and smiles. His hand pats her shoulder once more, lightly shoving her towards the living room. "I'll nuke something in the microwave quick and we'll watch that show you're in the middle of. That, uh, that scary one."

"You hate scary stuff," she points out with a smirk.

He only shrugs and mutters about spending time together, shuffling off to the kitchen. Bella flops down on the couch, tries not to miss the comfy fort of blankets she was buried in not too long ago. Tries not to picture the smile aimed her way each and every time she looked up at her new friend. Tries not to remember the pink tinge to her cheeks when she was caught looking.

Alas, it's the last thing she thinks of before sleep overtakes her right there in her own living room, tucked into the couch.

.

.

.

It's the middle of the night when she startles awake, jerking up to look around the living room. Her heart hammers away in her chest, almost painfully, and her eyes immediately dart to the window across the room. She can see the moon peeking out around the corner of a cloud, shining moonlight into the dark room.

The light lands on the coffee table in front of her, on a magazine and the remotes that are angled towards her. Charlie's recliner is empty, his snoring loud up on the second floor. Blankets are layered on her, her bedroom pillow tucked into the arm of the couch - a makeshift nest to sleep in for the night.

She sighs and runs a hand through her hair, huffing when the bandages wrapped around some of her fingers get caught, and just gives up. It was weird, but she'd had the very strong sensation of being watched. Enough that it woke her up, but the house is so still. So silent. Memories creep around in the dark corners, heartache lurking somewhere beyond.

Her eyes drift to the can on the tv tray beside Charlie's recliner and in the dead of night, a very bad idea occurs to her.

Twenty minutes later, she's wiggling her way out of the hallway window, hands grabbing the gutters that line the house. Half a six-pack dangles from between her teeth, skin scraping against the rough shingles of the roof. She grunts and hisses in pain, her elbow nicked right good, and rolls fully onto the roof to catch her breath.

All in all, it's probably gonna hurt like a fucker in the morning. But the first half of that six pack dulls the sting, at the very least.

She waits a moment before pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose, and takes a deep breath to hoist herself up to her feet, swaying only very little. She's really getting good at this. "I figure I don't have much time," she says to a mostly obscure moon. "Hi again, by the way. But, uh, yeah. They might give me some space tonight because I… you know, freaked out," she waves her hand and a freshly opened can around, "but their curiosity will get the better of them. Always does. Curious creatures, vampires are. And so stubborn."

The wind dances through the branches around the house.

Bella nods to nobody. "Yup. Puh! Yeah. I don't think they'd let me jump off the roof. Frustrating vampires. Vexatious vampires. Agony causing, migraine-inducing, heartbreaking vampires. Whatever. Who needs 'em, hm? I can travel through time - oOoOoOoooh!" She wiggles the fingers of her free hand through the air. "Maybe. We'll see, right?"

It's probably a bad idea, and more than probably cruel to Charlie, but he'll understand. She'll call him after it's done. Explain the whole thing. He'll understand; Renee broke his heart. He'd probably hide away in the past if he could too.

"Bleh." She swirls her tongue around her mouth and grimaces, pulling another can from her pocket. "I don't like that one. Bad aftertaste. Too strong, too sweet." It falls down, down, down to the grass below. "Oh! I got an idea - hey. Hey. Watch this."

There's not really much time for anyone to stop her, not that anyone but the moon is there to witness it. Still. Clumsy Bella Swan walks to the middle of the roof only to sprint back to the edge and launch herself off the side, squeezing her eyes shut and preparing for the pins and needles.

Ones that… never come.

The realization hits her a second before she hits the ground.

Chapter Text

The next time she wakes up in the hospital is much less pleasant. There's an angry buzz in the back of her head and when she lifts her hand to block the sun, she only gets a couple inches from the bed before something tugs at her wrists.

Suicide straps… nice.

"For fuck's sake…" she groans and drops her head back against the bed. "Let me out!" she shouts angrily.

A few seconds go by before the door opens and a painfully familiar face greets her. The anger in her stomach boils into a rage that steals her breath and she has to look away out the window to calm down. "B-"

"Get out!"

"Bella," Carlisle sighs softly. She turns her head to glare back at him and he flinches, hanging his head. Still the same. Exactly how he looked before they left. An entire year gone. Hair just as blonde, just as pristinely styled, his suit just as crisp and wrinkle-free, coat just as white. Eyes… just as golden and kind. What a bunch of bullshit. "How are you feeling?"

Her hands jerk up as far as the straps will allow, a violent noise in the otherwise tranquil quiet room. "I've been better."

"Those are for your safety, Bella," he tells her earnestly and steps closer. "To keep you safe."

God. She takes a breath and shakes her head lightly. "Funny. Doesn't feel like it from my end."

"You could have died!"

And at once, she forgets about the straps and shoots forward, straining against them to snarl at him. Not nearly as impressive as a vampire's snarl, but decent for a human. "And that is my choice!"

"So you were trying?!" he gasps, incredulous. As if it's unfathomable. Unthinkable.

"It's also none of your business!"

His hands are in his hair, so much like Edward - or maybe Edward is so much like Carlisle? "Bella, you can't do that! Don't you understand how, how, how bad that would be? You wouldn't get into Heaven-"

"Oh my god, are you serious right now?" she groans and slumps back into the bed. Really? This talk? From Mister Vampire over there? Come on. "There are so many better reasons to reject a person, dude, and - no, no! We're not having a theological debate right now. Just unstrap me, okay?"

He deflates, as if remembering why they're actually there. He sighs again, coming to stand right next to her bed, holding her charts in his hand. "Bella, Charlie signed you into my care and has to be the one to sign you out. You're still a minor."

"Fuck that?" she tries weakly and he smiles slightly. "I don't want to be in your care, just - just go get my dad. Tell him I'm awake. I wanna talk to my dad."

"B-"

"Get my dad. Dad? Dad, I'm awake! Dad!" she shouts towards the door, scowling up at Carlisle. "Get out of my room, I have nothing else to say to you."

He frowns deeper. "If you would just let us-"

"Get out or I scream vampire."

The surprise in his face is almost comical. Carlisle's head tilts, his eyes studying Bella for a moment, something like disappointment in his gaze before he nods once. "So be it. Please, Bella, reconsider talking to me."

"Get. Out."

The door closes softly behind him and she's left alone with the thought of maybe it was a fluke. Or worse… maybe it wasn't even real. A dream she had out in the Cullen's backyard, knocked right out from the hard landing. Maybe Victoria was never there, she never went back in time, never met a human Alice.

The thought claws at her chest with talons of agony.

Maybe she'll never see her again? Another Alice - gone. It's an unbearable thought and leaves her feeling more empty than she expects. Her chest constricts, her heart aching, and the void grows just a little bit bigger until she stops tugging at the restraints.

What's the point of getting up if she has nowhere to go? No one to go to?

.

.

.

The days blend together.

She spends most of them in the hospital, with doctors coming and going. Carlisle might even be in the mix once or twice, but she doesn't notice. She doesn't notice much. Just watches the clock tick on the wall.

One of them - Hanson, maybe, tells her and Charlie that it's post-traumatic stress. Charlie grips the arms of his chair beside hers, the office small and suffocating as this man tells him that his daughter is broken. That the damage done runs deeper than scratches and bruises.

He begs her to speak. To say something - anything! Anything at all, Bella, even a curse word. Please. Talk to me. But she only stares at the nearest clock, watching the seconds tick by.

It had felt so real

.

.

.

Her friends come to visit her at the hospital. They still won't let her leave, not when she's like this. Not risking any more rooftop parties.

But her friends drive down to the hospital; smiles on their faces, balloons and bears in their arms, a card with everyone's signature on it. Mike hugs her until she can't breathe and Angela cries, but she doesn't feel it.

She's starting to think maybe Hanson isn't quite the quack everyone thinks he is.

Something's wrong.

Why can't she feel anything?

.

.

.

It's the first dream she's had in months. She's pretty sure it's a dream - maybe a memory. It feels more authentic than a regular dream, like she's going over information she already knows.

They're up in the trees again. The really tall ones. She feels like she's flying again and her lips curve up, a laugh breaks free - warmth in her chest, the first in a long, long time.

"It means I will always be yours, Bella," Edward says to her, balancing on the branch so high up above the ground. "Being a mate means… there is no me without you. Not now that I've found you. I will never be complete without you in my life."

She shakes her head, laughing nervously. "Okay… that's totally not super intense and a bit much. You're lucky I'm fond of your dramatics," she laughs.

"A mate is empty without their other's love, Bella." His eyes flash black and the loving smile on his face twists into a grimace. A ghostly scowl. Her shoulders dig into the bark of the tree behind her, his hands on either side of her head. "So why do I feel empty then, Bella? Why am I so cold?"

Again, she shakes her head. Fear stutters in her chest. "I-I… I don't know, Edward. I-"

His fists slam against the tree on either side, pieces of wood raining down from them. "Why won't you love me?!"

"I'm sorry! Edward, I'm so sorry! Please! I'm sorry!"

Marble skin, cold as ice, wraps around her throat and he lifts her off the branch. "I would have given you everything…"

"E-Edward…" the forest around them fades darker and she scrapes in a breath, "please, Edward… I love h-"

.

.

.

They come for her after the sun goes down.

She's alone in the room again, strapped to that damn bed, like every other night. It's not that it doesn't make sense - if she were in their shoes, Charlie's shoes, she might very well do the same thing. As far as he knows, she was kidnapped, and immediately tried to kill herself once she was free.

Kinda worrisome. Especially since she hasn't said a word to him or anyone else since.

So she gets the straps but that doesn't make her any less upset about being restrained to a bed all night long, alone in a dark room, with nothing but her thoughts and sharp memories. It's certainly not the way to make someone better. But hey, what does she know? She's not a doctor.

Still. It's pretty boring. So when they come for her, she's already invested in whatever is disrupting the restrictive cycle of nothing.

A shadow pops up in the window and her heart jumps up her throat because holy shit she's three floors up. The straps dig into her wrists and her eyes dart around the room, looking for… anything. Something to fight Victoria off.

This has to be her. Who else would be crazy enough to scale the side of a very visible building?

She's just about ready to scream when the top of the window flips open - tall enough to not be able to reach from inside, and a man less-than-gracefully wiggles through and falls to the floor inside. So… definitely not a vampire. He curses and rubs his head, hair sticking up after, and looks up in time to see another follow closely after.

"Paul, no!" he whispers too late and half-catches the boy, half lets him fall.

Bella merely blinks, watching them push apart and get to their feet. The smaller one, Paul, growls deeply in his chest and smoothes down his clothes. "Sorry," he says roughly and flicks on the lamp light in the corner of the room.

Everyone squints and blocks their eyes for a moment before they adjust and Bella can see who her midnight callers are. Sam Uley and Paul the Dick. Perfect. They both look tired, dishevelled, but… friendlier than usual. Or maybe she's just not as scared of them anymore. What's the worst they can do to her?

Sam clears his throat awkwardly. "Morning, Bella." She just watches him and he chuckles. "Heard you were less talkative these days. I can appreciate that though."

"Fuck you."

He grins. "There it is, the old Swan charm," he says and elbows Paul. His eyes drift back eventually and the smile on his face dims into something like sympathy. "How are you feeling?"

Paul snorts and tosses his big hand towards her. "How do you think she's feeling? They got her strapped to a bed and the leeches are back in town. I could smell her anger from outside."

"What do you want from me?"

They both look at her for a brief moment before Sam shrugs and shuffles closer. "Wanted to check in. We, uh, we didn't find you."

A deep sigh heaves her chest. "I am so sick of people telling me they didn't find me, and just… just dumping all of their guilt on me. I don't give a shit that you didn't find me. You couldn't have found me. I didn't need or want anyone to look for me. I was fine, I wasn't in danger, I wasn't taken, I was just gone. Okay?"

Their eyebrows slowly pinch together as understanding creeps in, and she braces for the lecture. Their anger. For them to march down the hall and bring Charlie back in, demanding answers. An endless parade of questions and accusations from the rest of town for the rest of her life.

"Huh," Paul mutters and looks at Sam. "You owe me five bucks."

And he grudgingly fishes around his pocket for a wallet that he pulls a bill out of and slaps into Paul's waiting hand. "Damn it."

"What's… what's that?" Bella questions suspiciously.

Sam sighs and rolls his eyes. "Paul swore you just up and left. We made a bet. I didn't think you'd leave your dad so willingly."

"Where'd you go?" Paul asks and drags a chair over to drop down in, kicking up his boots on the end of the bed. "North, right? Up towards the border?"

"Uh…" her eyes shift between the two. "No, I'm pretty sure it was somewhere down south." She lifts a hand, the leather of the strap digging into her wrist, and sighs before letting it drop. "I don't suppose you'll do me a favour and free me now that you know I don't have Stockholm."

They both exchange a look, serious thought in their faces while they murmur. Paul flings his hand toward her again, but Sam whispers something, and they both look at her. "But you did jump off a roof."

"No, I didn't!" she groans. Her glasses slide down her nose and she has to wiggle them back up. "I saw something out the window. Or I thought I did. But I wasn't going out there with a bunch of vampires lurking around."

"Like the redhead," Paul mutters with a light scowl.

Bella nods vigorously. "Yes! Yes, I thought it was her. Or could be her. I didn't wanna risk it though so I went to get a better view up on the roof. She'd have to climb the house and it would give me enough time to call Jake."

The boys both nod and Bella just about can't believe how gullible they are. This is much easier than she thought it would be.

"I was drinking. I've had a bad couple of days. I got too close to the edge and I…" she trails off and sighs, clenching her jaw in faux annoyance. "And I… fucking fell. Okay?"

They both smirk, Paul snickering. Sam nods in sympathy and pats her shin. "Still Little Clumsy Bella, eh?"

She swallows the bitter taste in her mouth and doesn't have to act anymore. "Fuck you, Sam."

"At the very least, it'll mess with the Pale Face," Paul says and quickly unbuckles her right wrist. His nostrils flare and Sam jerks his head up to look at the door. "Speak of the devil…"

Sam nods and they both crowd back around the window, lifting the little trash bin on the windowsill to step on. "Shoot a text if you need something, Bella," Sam whispers before climbing back out the window surprisingly gracefully.

It gives Bella a very bad idea.

But her door cracks open the next moment and she looks over quickly, praying Carlisle won't notice the restraint is unbuckled. The breath in her throat catches and she has to swallow her heart back down, staring at Alice Cullen in her doorway.

"Bella!" Alice breathes and the relief pours from her in buckets, in waves, in oceans. It plants a seed of guilt that Bella has to bury deep, deep down, and Alice staggers into the room. The least graceful Bella has ever seen her, the most dishevelled. "Bella, you. Bella," she repeats her name.

It claws like agony in Bella's rib cage and she has to grab the bed sheets to keep still. "Alice," she croaks and winces.

"I couldn't see you, Bella!" Alice whispers pitifully. Her black eyes are impossibly sad, her deceptively delicate looking shoulders permanently drooping. Her fingers anxiously fiddle with something Bella can't see in the dim light. "We thought she went North. If I knew she didn't - if I even thought she might turn back, I would have… she's dodging my visions, and I couldn't… she took you, Bella."

A jagged breath escapes Bella, the only noise in the otherwise silent room. That she can hear, anyway. God, Alice can probably hear the thunder in her chest. "I'm fine," she says softly.

Where is her anger? Where is the rage that burned in her heart when she first went back to the Cullen manor and found it empty?

"You're not though, are you?" Alice asks weakly. She motions to the bed, the straps probably. "If I had just listened to my gut and came back before the others… Jasper and I could have protected you, Bella."

The jagged breath catches. An ocean of sorrow breezes over in moments, that cold bite that's been haunting her with each… jump she takes through time. The thunder in her heart stutters to a stop and she fights to keep the scowl from her face. She closes her eyes and relaxes back in the bed, blinking up at the ceiling.

"Bella?"

Her heart sinks farther and farther down into the dark, murky depths.

"No, Bella, look at me. Keep talking. Please, come back. You need to come back. For Charlie, for your friends, for us. Please, Bella…"

And she remembers why it's easier to not care.

"I'm so sorry."

She remembers how good she is at not caring.

The door clicks shut eventually and she waits only a moment before moving. She makes quick work of the other buckle and gets up, stretching her tired limbs. Her movements are jerky, shaky, adrenaline coursing through her veins, fueling a stupid idea. A very bad, very dumb, very stupid idea… but an idea that makes a sliver of sense.

It takes her almost three times as long to climb up and out the window, which she almost immediately regrets. Three stories doesn't sound that tall, but up there, literally on the ledge, it's dizzying. With each gust of wind, she's certain death is upon her, but still she inches down away from the window.

The first time she jumped, she was actually shoved off the roof of a house much taller than her own. And super confident she was going to die. But instead, she fell through time. The second time she jumped, it was after a gorilla pummeled her face. She didn't think she was going to die, but it definitely fucking hurt, and she was kinda scared he might seriously hurt her worse. The third time she tried… she was certain she would fall through time and not land below, thus remaining, mostly, unhurt.

A smarter brain than hers might theorize that she does it defensively? Maybe?

It's a dangerous theory to test but she can't feel anything and that seems very nearly as dangerous.

So she decides to play Chicken with… the universe, or maybe herself. Her subconscious? Her own nature. Something like that.

A fall like this could very well kill her, and will definitely injure her severely. And she knows this, she feels it, right down to her bones. Jumping off this building is a bad idea and she doesn't want to do it, but it might just be the only way back.

With even the smallest chance to find Alice again, Bella falls forward, arms outstretched. She closes her eyes, feeling the wind in her hair, against her face, bracing very slightly-

An explosion of pins and needles and heat catches her a heartbeat before the concrete can.

Chapter Text

Colours blur together in a swirling vortex that churns her stomach, pulsing with energy, arcs of light streaking across them all. There's that very abrupt momentum, like when someone slams on the breaks in a car and your seatbelt catches you. Coming to a stop so suddenly that your body hasn't quite realized it yet.

Thank God somebody catches her because she had no hope in Hell of doing it.

She staggers to a stop, catching herself on the wall and holding the petite stranger to her, a face full of feathers. "Jesus!" she gasps and sways, fingers digging into the smooth surface of the wall to keep balance. "Sorry."

"Bella, you sneaky, conniving, shifty, charming… jerk!" Alice gasps and a sparkling, bedazzled purse is swatted at her again and again.

She ducks and holds up her arms, wincing and shuffling backwards. "Hey - oh! Stop! Hey! Come on!" There's a pause long enough for Bella to peek through her arms, oceans staring back at her in surprise. "Alice! I found you!"

The pixie touches her hand to her heart, confusion colouring her face. Her very fancied up face. Alice is covered in sparkles, feathers, and colours, the makeup around her eyes painted with artistic precision and makes the blue of her eyes glow. Bella's lungs give and she has to consciously tell herself to breathe in again.

A pale finger is jabbed into her chest. "Two weeks I waited for you! Two weeks before you brought me back here, and you're just going to up and disappear again? What are you wearing? What is so important that you'd leave me out back alone? Do you have any idea how dangerous these streets are at night? No, you don't, you never spend any time in nineteen-nineteen. I swear to God, Bella-"

There isn't really much time to do anything as Bella tries to absorb the rambling coming from an upset Alice. She looks upset, at least. Kinda. Honestly, Bella's a little confused, and she's even more confused when glossy lips capture her own in another kiss holy fuck. It's a quick, affectionate kiss but Bella feels stars in her chest, sees galaxies burst behind her eyelids, and feels the entire earth tilt on its axis.

Alice kissed her.

Alice kissed her.

"Seriously, Bella, what are you wearing?" Alice asks when she pulls away, wiping the smudge of lip gloss from the corner of her mouth.

Bella sways and maybe blinks. "Why do you keep doing that?" she asks in a small voice.

"What do you…" Dark elegant brows tug together very slightly and Alice steps closer. They're a little more similar in height; Alice in heels and Bella in socks. Warm fingers ghost against Bella's chin. "Where's your scar? What-" A gasp tears from her throat and those big blue eyes widen. "Oh, honey. How many times have you been back to see me so far?"

But Bella is still drowning in the ocean and fighting the frosty headache she can feel building behind her eyes. "Uh, that's… this is two?"

"You look so lost," Alice says, more to herself than Bella at this point. Her warm hand cups an oddly cold cheek, concern and sympathy shining up at Bella. "And so young."

"You look old… er. You don't look how you did," Bella says and marvels at the fact. "Not nineteen."

Alice looks different. A shade closer to Future Alice? Present Alice? Vampire Alice. Her eyes are older, they hold so much more than they did last time. Laugh lines around them, a maturity that's just barely starting to age her. She even carries herself more like an adult. But that smile… that smile will never change, apparently. Not in one hundred years. "Would you like to know a secret, just between the two of us?"

"Yes." She really didn't mean to sound that eager.

But Alice laughs and leans in closer. "I've been jumping with you for three years."

"Wh… I… seems dangerous…" Bella mutters and braces against the brick wall. The cold bite blooms into a more and more familiar ache, and her breath curls into the night.

Alice hops a little and turns to grab something from atop the crate behind her. "Here! Sorry. You told me to hold your coat and boots, said you would need them."

"What?"

"I assume you meant you specifically," Alice laughs and shakes her head.

She helps a shivering Bella into the heavy coat, doing the buttons all the way up the collar. And she has to completely guide Bella's feet into the boots, knowing that her younger friend is quickly losing an impossible battle against the pain in her head. "What?"

"Oh darling," Alice sighs and clicks her tongue. She grabs Bella's hand between her own. "I stopped trying to make sense of you a long time ago. I mostly just go along with it."

"Okay."

"Yes, just like that." Alice grins and pulls her along, through the crowd of people gathered on the street in front of the building they're next to. "I assume you knew this would happen and expect me to take care of you. Typical."

Bella frowns weakly and her skull gets ripped open by the band inside the bar they step into. Holy mother of god. "No?" she whimpers.

"Not you. You," Alice corrects and they make a B-line for the actual bar. She leans up on her tiptoes and holds up two fingers, flashing a smile at the man while Bella hunkers down on a stool. Blue eyes scorch a path over Bella that she can barely track against the white pain in her eyes and Alice slides her a glass of something. "A step up from your cursed rum, darling."

One sip and Bella's face twists up, pulling forth a peal of laughter from her pixie. "That's strong!" she croaks and coughs once.

"Well of course it is, it has a lot of pain to numb!" Alice leans in to reply, her lips brushing against Bella's ear. Another shiver, slightly different from the ones produced by the cold. Dark eyes follow Alice as she leans back, flick down to the way her red lips curve in the corner, up to the way her blue eyes sparkle with something that looks like hunger and a promise.

Or maybe a dare.

Bella clears her throat and looks away, taking another grudging sip. "Oof. Right. So, it's still nineteen-nineteen?"

"For now," Alice agrees with a nod. She sips at her own drink, a lip gloss print left on what looks like a martini glass. "You asked me where I wanted to go for my last time, you know. Maybe back to Italy, sometime in the fourteen hundreds. There's a bakery we went to that almost swayed my decision but…" she spins on the stool to look out at the room. A sweaty band playing till their hearts burst on the stage, gyrating and bouncing people on the dance floor, grouped around tables. All laughing, talking, smoking. Living their lives, back in nineteen-nineteen. "I wanted one last look at what I'll miss. All those other years and countries, the places we've seen… they're beautiful but they're not mine, you know? They're not home. I had to see home one last time."

The empty glass is slid out of the way, Bella reaching a shivering, trembling hand to rest on Alice's wrist. "The last time?"

"Before the darkness," Alice replies with a soft smile. She lays her other hand on top of Bella's. "I'll tell you about it, don't worry. Well, I won't but you know what I mean."

She does and it's already driving her crazy. Bella licks her lips, nodding at the bartender when he brings her another drink. The warmer her belly gets, the more the room spins, but the less her head hurts. "Do I, hey," she shakes her head, "what is that? They really don't water it down back in your day, eh? Do I learn how to control it?"

There's a moment where Alice watches her and doesn't really say anything. They both just sit there, with the humming energy of the room, the music of the band playing between them. Until Alice's eyes flutter and her cheeks tint pink. She smiles a little bashful and leans forward to brush her thumb against Bella's chin again. "Get this scar first, learn how to protect yourself before you go jumping all over time, darling. And please, please stop leaping off of hospitals."

"You know-"

"It's the white, I really should have placed it sooner."

Bella nods and holds her glass between her hands, staring down at the dark liquid inside. Even the smell is potent and makes her wrinkle her nose, but it certainly does the trick. Her stomach is warm and the searing pain in her head is slowly being tamed into more of a dull throb. When she peeks up at Alice again, she's startled to see the pixie watching her closely. A soft glow in those eyes that trace her face in a surprisingly wistful manner. "What?" Bella snaps defensively.

It only makes Alice's smile grow. She shakes her head and sips at her drink again. "I forgot how… grumpy you used to be."

"I'm not grumpy," she growls and they both just stare for a moment. "Sorry."

There's affection in the pat on her arm, but the whole world might implode and Bella wouldn't notice when Alice actively rubs her thumb on Bella's wrist. "It's fine," she says around her smile and winks. "It's cute."

"H…"

Again, Alice has to try and smother her smile. She focuses instead on pushing the cuff of the coat up Bella's arm slightly. "No tattoos yet. You haven't been anywhere, have you?" Bella simply shrugs when she looks up, still unable to form words yet and not just because her teeth won't stop chattering. "I finally get it. To want to tell someone everything they don't know yet and you do. Is this how you always felt with me?"

This is a question Bella finally has an answer to. "Yes," she whispers softly and grabs Alice's hand between her own. "I won't let the darkness get you, Alice. I won't let you forget this time."

"You've been saying that for three years," Alice tells her with a sort of sad smile. Melancholic… but resigned. "Besides, you have far more important things to worry about in the meantime."

Bella's eyes sweep over the room. "Where's… me? Where did I go?"

"Oh somewhere nearby, no doubt," Alice says with an offhanded wave around the room. "Biloxi is too dangerous to let me out of your sight, apparently. I don't know what you know about this place, but it scares you. Sorry, pull aside the collar of your coat, please?" she asks very suddenly.

Frankly, it's a little chilly to pull away the collar, and she doesn't really want people staring at her more than they already are with all the white she's wearing, but also it's a weird request. So she takes a moment before awkwardly grabbing the buckle on the collar to hold aside. "Uh…"

"Clever, clever," Alice murmurs and sighs. Her fingers play with the ring on the sparkly chain around her neck and Bella watches as Alice Cullen's trademark Pout slowly tugs at this Alice's lips and her worlds briefly collide. But then Alice pulls the necklace off to slide the ring off the chain. "It's the Chicken and the Egg all over again."

"Oh, I hate-"

"-that question, yes, I know," Alice laughs softly and shakes her head. "But you sure do love applying its theory every chance you get, don't you?" At Bella's confused face, Alice motions towards one of the many pockets on the coat. "You leave me puzzles quite often, or just… bring attention to your unique abilities. Bit of a showoff you are, hm? Can you check your pockets, sweet thing?"

Still totally lost, Bella pats through the weirdly empty pockets until she feels something. Alice doesn't look surprised when she pulls out a leather string with a small brass clasp at each end. "What is happening?"

"You're playing a game with yourself and me," the pixie tells her helpfully and slides the ring on it. A simple silver ring, smooth with something engraved along the side in a language she can't even name. "You've had this necklace for almost as long as I can remember and you finally gave it to me a month ago."

"So you could give it to me?" Bella questions and her brows furrow. She groans after a moment, chin propped up in her palm. "Who got it first? Where did it come from, if you got it from me and I got it from you?"

"The chicken or the egg?" Alice laughs. "It supports my theory that time isn't so linear as it is… circular."

"At least criss-crossy."

And that sadness is back, that shadow that has always followed Alice around, for as long as Bella has known her, each version of her. Hidden away, past the mischievous sparkle in her eye. A haunted shard of sorrow. It's a startling realization, to think that Alice could ever be anything but joyous and bubbly.

It must come with the territory, if Bella thinks about it. Knowing things you shouldn't know, that has to have some kind of price.

Her heart clenches. She wishes she could pay it for her friend instead. But Alice merely sighs softly, wistful again, maybe even longingly. "I'm going to miss you, Bella." Bella licks her lips, leans forward, but Alice stares down at the counter and smiles softly. "I won't know that I do, won't realize it, but I will feel it. I know I will. Your absence will carve into me for one hundred years."

"I-I won't let it happen," Bella tries to insist weakly. She's so, so tired. So sore. So cold.

Blue eyes flick up, search her own. "Do you remember the first time you met me?"

"Yes."

"The other me."

"Yes."

Alice shifts closer. "Did it seem like something clicked? Like I… like I realized something?"

"I don't know," Bella whispers softly and regret eats away at her like acid. "I didn't look up. I couldn't look up." Alice's brows tug together, confusion sliding across her face. "You were, uh, you were more than I was anticipating? Your voice, your eyes, your smile… sorry."

The smile is tender and Alice is all at once too close, too bright, too nice. Her warm fingertips drag along Bella's icy cheeks, over her scarless chin, featherlight. Bella's eyes flutter and she sucks in a shaky breath. "I can't say no forever, Bella. Not to you. Please don't give up on me."

"Wh-"

By the time Bella forces her eyes open again, Alice is gazing above her. She wiggles her fingers and sips at her drink, and Bella tries to turn before marble fingers dig into her shoulders and keep her steady. Her heart slams against her ribs, adrenaline coursing through her veins. Vampire.

Her hands clench into fists. The vampire leans down to whisper in her ear and the words vibrate in her soul. "Her future, your past - don't forget. James will always be a threat."

Those hands grab her coat and she's yanked out of her chair, shoved violently over the bar counter. Glasses smash, she can see Alice's disapproving frown, and she manages to catch those red eyes of the vampire just before the pins and needles consume her again and everything goes white.

The last thing she sees is herself, red eyes aglow, smirking at her.

.

.

.

When she pops back out, she manages to catch her footing. How? She has no idea, considering she'd been toppling over a bar before jumping but hey. Take your wins where you can get them. And man, does she ever deserve a win.

One of the men walking by turns abruptly as she skids to a stop just before hitting him, his face twisting from surprise to animosity. He sneers at her, raising a fist, before deciding she isn't worth it and merely spits on the pavement next to her before going on his way.

"Charming," she mutters and rubs her hands together. She can see her breath in the air again, but she can see everyone else's too, can feel the moisture in the air. Wherever this is, whenever this is, it's cold. Not as cold as she is - ice frosts over the toes of her boots, climbing up, up, up. Her knuckles are cracked with the chill, blood creeping towards the surface. No frostbite this time, though, as she examines her bandaged fingers. The old frostbite doesn't look like it's spreading either.

All around, good news.

Alas, her victory is short lived as a sonic explosion of agony blooms in her skull, enough to drop her to her knees. The ringing is like a drill digging deeper, deeper, deeper into her head and the air in her lungs whooshes out in a strangled gasp. She drags it back in, squeezing her eyes shut, and crumples to the ground, fingers digging into the pavement.

The darkness swims back out, the rest of the street coming back screaming. Headlights streak by and she shoves herself back out of the way, a phantom car passing through her.

Another explosion of pain and darkness - a church bell ringing in her ears, echoing down to her very bones. The chanting, holy mother of god, deep and primal and everywhere all at once before-

The darkness swoops back in and she takes a breath, desperately grasping at it before it's snatched away from her. She falls sideways, rolling to her back and stares up at the circling murder of crows. Their caws echo down the street as they fade to nothing and the sky pulses with light.

Her fingertips are bloody when she pulls them away from her nose. Time beats down on her relentlessly, echoes of eras lost screaming to be heard throughout history, ghosts clawing at the only one who can see them anymore.

"Bella," Alice whispers playfully. "Bella, are you awake?"

The grumpy teenager rolls onto her side away from her little pixie friend. "No."

It's weird when Alice wiggles closer and the chilly bite of her skin doesn't come, knowing she's warmed up through the night just by laying under the covers with Bella. It makes her feel… more human than normal. Like they really are just a couple of girls having a sleepover. Not that they aren't, but one of them happens to be dead. Or just not alive.

Alice walks her fingers up Bella's arm towards her shoulder, delighting in the goosebumps that arise in her wake. "Liar, liar, pants on fire."

There's a moment of silence before Bella snorts and then sighs. "If you already know the answer, why do you ask?"

"I miss talking to you," Alice admits in the dark. Bella's heart beats twice and she shrugs. "It's weird, I know. But sometimes I… sometimes I miss you, even when you're right in front of me."

She waits a moment, where it seems Bella may have fallen asleep again, and nestles closer to the human. But Bella hums in a rough, sleep-heavy voice. "Well, I'm not going anywhere."

And this time she waits even longer, until she can hear the soft snores. Until she's certain her human is asleep again, and buries her face between those strong shoulders, her arms wrapped tight around a warm waist. "Then why do I miss you so badly?"

When Bella finally manages to open her eyes and only a dull sting meets her, the sun is once again peeking through all the grey clouds in the sky. She swallows, wincing against her dry throat, and licks her lips. Her breathing comes a little easier and she manages to turn on her side, blinking out at the street.

Green eyes blink back at her.

"Ugh," she groans and rolls onto her back again. "What a horrible year this is."

There's some shuffling and a presence she can feel by her side. A second passes and then a wild mane of orange and red appears over her, two big green eyes blinking down at her once more. "The date or the measurement?" a small voice asks.

"Yes."

The girl tilts her head curiously but smiles anyway and the dazzling, happy quality of it distracts from the sunken eyes and gaunt face. Right out of Oliver Twist, accent and all - a starving orphan, if Bella had to guess. "You're weird."

And Bella's eyes grow because, um, "What the fuck?" She scowls up at the kid. "You're weird, you little orphan child."

"Urchin, ma'am, and I ain't one of 'em," she corrects with a proud jab of her thumb to her own chest. "I'm thirteen this year, a grown woman!"

Bella shudders. "Eww. God, I hate history." She gives the kid a serious look and sits up, pointing at her firmly. "Don't let any man touch you. Kick them in the balls and don't stop running."

"I-what? You're so weird!" the girl laughs. She holds out her arms while Bella gets to her wobbly feet, as if she could possibly catch the older girl. "Your face is bloody."

It's dry but caked to her upper lip and stains the white front of her shirt and the bandages around her fingers. "Cool story. Go away."

"Are you from over the ocean?" the girl asks instead and follows Bella into the street. "Alphonse's inn is just down this street and over two buildings if you need a place to stay. If you got money, at least. What kind of accent do you have there?"

A few people on the street give her odd looks but mostly people keep to themselves, something this girl appears to be incapable of. Bella stalks down the street with the little redhead on her heels, chirping questions at her the entire way. She gets to the corner and whirls around. "Can you just shhhh?!"

"No." She pauses and shakes her head, smiling at herself. "Well, yeah! I could, but I don't wanna, so no. Come on, I'll show you Alphonse's, I work there with my sister. Not with her, but she also works there. With the people though, she's a dancer, I just clean their stupid rooms all day."

Giving up, Bella lets the little girl pull her down the street. Her body is exhausted, her head aches, and she's unbelievably thirsty. Maybe this Alphonse will take pity on her and let her have some water, at least. Water doesn't cost anything, right?

Not two minutes after stepping into the inn does Bella regret that very thought.

And remembers why she hates people so much.

She wipes the lukewarm water from her face in one scrub, glaring at the dirty old man sitting at the bar and his toothless smile. He holds up his now empty mug and cackles out another weak laugh. "Still thirsty?"

"I will literally murder you," she tells him and the group only laughs harder. The little girl pops up with a rag and starts dabbing at Bella's damp shirt until Bella shoos her off. "It's fine, cut it out. I'm leaving anyway."

Alphonse leans against the bar, his large hands braced atop the counter. He's a mighty mountain of a main; all muscle and grin, his dark skin littered with more scars than the average person. For such an intimidating looking man, Bella does note that he has kind eyes that watch her with something close to concern, his dark lips twitching up in a soft smirk. "And just where will you go with no money, Little Fist?"

Even his stupid French accent is charming. Fuck this guy. "That's really none of your business, Alphonse, you dick."

The old man whistles… sort of. "Feisty. My kinda woman."

"Settle your libido before you break something, Tucker," Alphonse says with a mighty chuckle. He hums, watching Bella scowl at the room, and rubs his chin. "How'd you get the shiner? The blood?"

"They're unrelated," she admits grudgingly. "Do I get water outta this conversation? Like a regular person, fucking Tucker?" she adds and points at the old man in warning. "I swear to God, I will snap your fingers right off your hand, man."

A dry tongue runs along equally dry lips, but Tucker places a couple coins on the counter. "I'll pay for something with just as much kick as you got if you sit beside me, little lady."

Bella's fist is snatched from the air as soon as she steps close, Tucker flinching back as Alphonse reaches out to grab her wrist. "Easy, Little Fist! Take a breath, have a drink and ignore Tucker. I have better adversaries for you."

"What?"

He nods at her and the stool she's standing next to, waiting for her to hesitantly sit down. "I don't think there are many men who could stand here with eyes as dizzy as yours and a shirt full of blood, never mind take a swing at someone," he says and pours her a drink. "I have an idea if you're interested in earning a room."

The little girl pops up on a stool next to Bella, leaning on her elbows against the bar. "Are you gonna make her fight? She's heavy! I pulled her the whole way here and it was like trying to pull a donkey."

"Okay, rude."

Alphonse grins and walks around the bar, twirling a coin between his large fingers. He towers over Bella, in every sense of the word, and motions to the floor before her. "This is yours if you can take a hit and get back up."

"Oh! Oh! Exciting! You'll be like Malia!" the girl croons loudly and all but shoves Bella off the stool, spilling most of the gulp Bella tries to take of her drink. "You can do it, weird girl!"

"Stop calling me tha-fuck!" The word is spat from her mouth in a bloody gob as Alphonse's beefy fist smacks the word and sense right from her face. She doesn't even feel herself hit the floor, she blinks and she's down, inhaling dust and dirt.

Shockingly, the pins and needles don't come. There is only the pain in her face from Alphonse's fist, the hard floor beneath her palms, and Tucker's howling laughter. Bella blinks until the room stops spinning, swirling her tongue around her mouth to gather the blood and spit it out, swallowing what dripped down her throat. Choking on her own blood is the last thing she needs right now.

Alphonse leans on his left side, arms crossed. "Come on, Little Fist. Stand back up, earn your money. You can do it, I see the fire."

She pushes up to her hands and knees, shaking the black spots from her vision. The little girl cheers her on and Tucker wheezes as he drags in more air to laugh. Bella clenches her throbbing teeth, feeling the rough wood of the stool legs in her hands, and hauls herself up to her feet, bringing the stool with her.

Which Alphonse easily catches but it's unexpected enough that he stumbles back a few steps with it, barking out his own surprised laugh. "Thadda' girl!" he bellows proudly and lets the stool drop again. He claps a hand to Bella's shoulder, catching her as she drops like a sack of potatoes, and sits her at the bar. "Here, drink this. It'll warm you up and numb the sting. You did well."

"The most important skill to have in fighting is being able to take a hit," the little girl recites. She picks up the coin from in front of Bella, inspecting it in the air.

Even with one eye closed, already starting to swell, Bella easily plucks it from her little fingers. Alphonse chuckles around the bar again, wiping his knuckles with a dish rag. "The most important skill to have in a fight is the ability to avoid the fight in the first place, Tori. You know that."

"Yeah, but if you have to fight," she agrees reluctantly and grins up at Bella. "I'm going to be a fighter when I get a little bit bigger. Malia is going to teach me so Anne can stop dancing."

When Bella glances over, Alphonse's eyes flick to the ceiling and the rooms above the bar before meeting hers again, eyebrow raised. "That's right, Freckle. I think Anne would appreciate it and Malia loves teaching you, but I'd stick close to Little Fist here. I have a good feeling about her."

"Well don't," Bella snaps and slaps the coin down on the counter. "Does this get a room?"

"For a night," Alphonse agrees curiously.

The stool screeches against the wooden floors. "I'll find an empty one. Leave me alone, urchin."

"But-!"

"Alone!"

The coin flips through the air, caught in Alphone's dexterous hand. He taps it on the bar next to Tori, holding it out for her until she smiles and takes it, and looks back at Bella before she reaches the stairs. "Does that mean you'll fight?"

"For as long as I need a room," she calls back and trudges up the stairs.

Hopefully just the one night.

Chapter Text

The next time Bella shows up, meandering around the kitchen and poking at the fridge, Charlie doesn't take any chances. He whisks her off in the back of his squad car, down to the station, and locks her in an interrogation room. It raises a few eyebrows but he barely notices - this room is the most secure place he knows in all of Forks.

He posts two of his most trusted suits outside the door, barks at them that, "Nobody enters, nobody leaves. This door does not open." and marches down to bang on the Cullen door. The Doc and his wife are surprisingly cooperative and don't ask too many questions as he all but drags them down to the station, and even their kids want to come, but Charlie merely glares at the youngest boy and tells them to stay put.

His suits assure him that nobody has so much as blinked at the door since he's been gone, and they turn on the two-way mirror to the room. Inside, Bella leans forward against the table, cheek smooshed against her fist. And he can't put his finger on it, not really, but she looks different. It's not the clothes she wears, not her cracked glasses or even the fading bruises that litter her body, it's not even the nasty looking gash on her chin that's haphazardly stitched up.

There's just… something different about his kid.

"What's wrong with her?" he asks the other two.

"We won't know until we-okay, that's a filthy habit," Esme says and clicks her tongue in a disapproving manner when Bella lights the cigarette between her lips. "She smells like a brewery and she's smoking, it's time for the tough love act. Coddling didn't work last time."

Charlie looks to Carlisle who shrugs unhelpfully. "My wife is the one who has a doctorate in psychology, Chief, not me."

He sighs deeply and the vampires note how exhausted the human looks. All the long hours he's been putting in to find his daughter, the fear of the unknown. His worries and nightmares that keep him from getting a peaceful night's sleep. He taps on the window absently and nods, looking at Esme. "Go find out what happened to my kid and give me something to help stop it."

She nods once and opens the door, slipping into the room quietly, slowly. She watches Bella look up, wince, and roll her eyes before looking away. Even when she sits down across the table, Bella kicks her boots up onto it and leans back, arms crossed.

Not a great start, but at least she isn't yelling to get out. That's one up from Carlisle. "Good evening, Bella. How are you-..." Golden eyes lock onto the bit of silver peeking out from the holster on the front of Bella's large belt. "Bella, you have a firearm."

"Eh?" An eyebrow ticks up and Bella follows her line of sight. "Oh, the gun. Yeah. Hey, actually, do you know much about them? Mine keeps - it clicks just all the time, and I can't figure out why. I've taken it apart and cleaned it, like, seven times now."

"Does it make you feel safer?"

Her brows furrow slightly. "Than…?"

"Not having it," Esme explains softly. "You don't need it here, Bella, you are safe. I promise."

She sighs, an echo of her father's exhaustion, and scrubs a hand down her face. Again, she winces as it passes over her chin, and she pushes her glasses up her nose. "Listen, if you don't know why it clicks then you have nothing I want, and we got nothing to talk about."

"B-"

"Do what you do best, Cullen. Leave."

There's a moment where they both just stare at each other, gold clashing against brown. Bella's heart stutters painfully in her chest, her lungs burn with smoke, but her bloodshot eyes never wavering. Esme drums her fingers on the table and crosses a leg over the other. "How long have you been gone?"

Bella blinks, licks her dry lips, and shakes her head. "The first time?"

"This last time."

And it feels like a test. Like there is a right answer and a wrong answer, and it feels like Esme knows that Bella doesn't know, but Bella doesn't know why she asked. Why it's important. What Esme wants from all of this.

Tests. God, she hates tests.

She knocks her knuckles on the table twice and sits back. "A while."

"Three days."

"Oh, that's not even that bad!" Bella huffs. "Throwing me in here like it's been a damn month or a year. Three days is nothing. Dad, let me out already. This is ridiculous."

Esme scoots forward on the chair. "How did they get you last time? Bella, you were on the third floor of a hospital crawling with police."

"I mean, it's Forks, that's not saying much." She glances up at the mirror and shrugs. "No offence to any officers listening."

The vampire takes a breath, unfolding her hands to place them against the table. Her head tilts very slightly, angled towards the mirror, and Bella knows she's listening for something. After a moment, her focus is back in the room and the polite, patient mask on her face slips. Raw emotion lurks beneath, hurt and anxiety, frustration, fear. It's all there. "I'm done playing games, Bella."

"What games would those be?"

"You know what games," Esme sighs and shakes her head. "Why are you protecting her? How does she keep getting to you, Bella? And why do you let her? You're a clever girl, you know better than to fall for any of her tricks."

A scowl drops Bella's face like a brick. All pretence flies out the window and her fist lands with a solid thunk against the metal surface of the table. "I fell for your games, didn't I? Can't be that clever. I was convinced that you all actually cared about me. Turns out you were bored. I imagine Victoria is pretty bored too, without her mate now."

"That's not true, we never-"

"Used me?" she finishes with a growl. Even the glare on her face is different, it holds a dangerous quality it never had before. The faint blue and purple under her eyes give them a haunted quality that Esme's never seen in someone so young. "I fell for it once, it won't happen again. Save your breath."

"Bella, please-" Esme tries to beseech.

She leans forward, up out of her chair to press her finger against the table painfully. "You come in here all soft and kind, thinking you can fix me? Thinking I'm the one that's broken, because I've been gone a while?" She scoffs - violent and hollow. "You've been gone longer than me and what's worse is that you might actually think you love me. You're broken, Cullen. Not me."

Esme's chair screeches against the tiles. Her breathing is laboured and her eyes swirl with inky blackness. "Bella Swan, you think you understand half the story. Maybe I'm broken, but you're arrogant and hurtful."

"And you abandon those you claim to love!" Bella snarls. "Let Victoria take me, it's better than staying here with you for one second longer!"

The door slams behind Esme, plunging the room into a suffocating silence that Bella tries to catch her breath in. She glares at the door, clenching her fists against the painfully cold shards running through her veins, and throws herself back down in the chair. "You have seventy-one more hours to hold me before you have to charge me with something or let me go, dad," she calls out and settles in.

.

.

.

And he does.

It was a bluff, really, she's not actually sure if he can or can't hold her, nor does she know how long he's able to, as her father. But she spends the night in the interrogation room, waking up only briefly to find a nest of pillows and blankets on the ground, and a bag of takeout beside it. She's too tired to argue the morality or sense of it all and merely collapses into the nest to sleep the rest of the night.

The door cracks open the next morning and Bella pries open an eye, gun clicking in her hand. When her eyes finally focus through the lenses she can see Charlie with his hands up, a frustrated look on his face, and lowers her weapon. "Sup, dad," she croaks and coughs.

"Kid," he greets around a sigh, and circles around to sit at the table. He watches Bella pull herself up sluggishly, patting her pockets down for a match to light her cigarette with. His face sets into a stern frown. "Put out that smoke and gimme that gun."

She blows out a lungful of air and smoke over the flame of the match until it goes out, setting it down on the table. "That's just not gonna happen."

"Both of those things are gonna get you killed, don't you understand that?"

Her shoulders lift and fall. "Not one of my concerns."

"I'm sorry." Her brows furrow and he shakes his head, motioning towards her. "You already look half in the grave most of the time these days, Bells. You don't care if you live or die, you don't give a damn about anything anymore."

"That ain't your fault," she tells him quietly.

Charlie scoffs. "Yeah, it is. I'm your dad, I'm supposed to protect you. Keep you happy and healthy."

Something like guilt flutters in her chest. She takes another puff. "Can't save someone who doesn't wanna be saved. After a while, it's not anybody's fault but their own. I'm past that point, dad."

"No," he chokes out and clears his throat. "No, I'm not giving up on you. Not ever. You give me that gun, Bella, right now."

And just like that, the guilt is gone. Her walls shoot up, defences hardening them into sheets of impenetrable steel. "I will not."

"I'm being serious." He holds out his hand, right before her. "You need a permit for firearms and you - Bella, damn it, you're just a kid!"

Her arms cross. "This gun saved my life which means I have more use for it than I have for you." They stare each other down. "You want it, then you gotta take it from me."

A moment passes, tense and painful, before he kicks his chair back and storms out of the room. The door slams shut behind him.

The clock on the wall ticks and Bella taps ash onto the table. That was a shitty thing to say. She's said a lot of horrible things lately, but that? That felt bad. That was particularly shitty. Fuck. "Only a couple more hours before you gotta let me go, dad!" she shouts back at the door.

It opens again and she gets ready for round two of the guilt trip, turning with a sneer on her face…

That falls away, along with the colour in her face. "Edward." Wake up. Wake up, wake up, wake up. "Wh-what are you doing here?"

He's exactly how she remembers, but… more. His features had dulled in her memories, the sharp look in his eyes hadn't cut so cleanly in them. That foreboding presence about him hadn't been as severe, his beauty not as enchanting. Frankly, she had forgotten…

She had forgotten that Edward is the perfect vampire, in all of the hauntingly beautiful wonderment that omes with it. A perfect blend of unease and allurement.

Edward pulls out the chair across from her without a word, sitting down gracefully. His pale hands clasp on the surface, topaz eyes never blinking, never shifting from her face. She shivers even before he speaks in his velvety voice. "Bella."

Bella licks her lips, putting the cigarette out on the table. "What do you want from me?"

"Nothing, Bella," he starts fiercely and sits back when she flinches. He watches her closely, brows slowly tugging together in concern. "Bella, I don't want anything from you, I just want to make sure you're okay. You've been gone for weeks, taken by a savage vampire because of us. I want to apologize, to protect you, Bella, to keep you safe."

Annoyance bubbles in her veins but she bites it back, takes a breath instead. "I don't need you to save me. None of you get it. You all think I'm some kind of victim."

"Victoria-"

"Pushed me off a roof and that's it," Bella groans. "I haven't seen her in weeks. I'm not being taken, I'm leaving. So please, do me a favour and just… go back to wherever you were. Alaska, Charlie said? I don't need you here."

Inky pools swirl into the gold of his eyes, slowly but surely overtaking the iris until black pits regard her. His lips twitch and she forces her hands to stay flat on the table. "That's not true," Edward says slowly. "Victoria still lurks around and is a danger, whether you believe that or not. You are my responsibility, no matter how mad you are, no matter how much you hate me. I will keep you safe."

The gun on her belt is heavy with promise, a solid weight she takes comfort in, despite knowing it would do nothing against a vampire. Esme was right, she does feel safer with it. Safe enough to scoff and cross her arms again. "Do whatever you want, Edward, I don't care anymore."

"That isn't true either," he whispers and leans forward. Her muscles stiffen and his eyes scan over her frame briefly. "You're afraid of me."

"Am not." Totally freaked right out of my mind.

He doesn't blink. "Why do you fear me?"

"I said I don't." You're a freaky ass dude, man.

Another moment passes without him blinking and Bella feels cold. A frown finally slips across Edward's beautiful face and he leans back in his seat. "I ruined this."

"You all did." She watches him break, just a little bit more, and sighs. "I mean, what did you expect? You'd come back and I would run into your arms, ready to pick up like nothing ever happened?"

She scoffs when he says nothing, knowing that's exactly what he expected, or even just hoped. What little respect he must have for her, assuming she would put her life on hold until he decided to come back to it. A plaything left on pause for his return.

Her fingers dig into her palms and she can feel the prickling of pins and needles behind her eyelids, coursing through her veins. The instinctual need to run, knowing there isn't a soul in the world that can catch her.

"I'm sorry, Bella," he says softly and hangs his head.

"Go back to Alaska."

"Is that truly what you want?" At her hesitation, his eyes lift from his lap to meet hers. Pain shines back at her in obsidian. "Do you want us all to leave?"

"You'll do it anyway," she says after a moment. "When you get bored. When I get old. When you lose interest and it isn't fun anymore. You did it once, you can do it again. I'd have to be a fucking idiot not to believe that."

"Lucky us that you're an idiot then," Rosalie sighs from the doorway.

Edward's lip curls back in a silent snarl, rage welling up in those dark eyes, in that chiselled face. His beauty twists, morphs into the primal hunger that always lurks just beneath the surface. His fingers dig into the table, chest puffing up.

Rosalie's golden eyes roll to the ceiling and she pushes off from the doorframe. She circles around the table, the white of her clothes giving off a deceivingly angelic glow, her hair flowing in pale golden waves down her back. "Swallow your tongue, Edward, I'm only intruding for a second." She leans down, hand on Bella's shoulder, sparing her a fleeting glance before smirking at Edward. "Then you can have the fool all to yourself again, nice and uncomfortable. Just how you like it."

A snarl tears from his throat but she merely lifts a brow, and Edward storms out of the room in all of his dark cloud glory. "Jesus," Bella breathes and runs a hand through her hair. "What was his - hey!"

Rosalie's hand yanks away in a blur, a piece of Bella's shirt collar with it. "I'm not interested in listening to you pout about your tragic life and broken heart," Rosalie tells her and leaves just as swiftly as she arrived.

Just as she's about to, fuck, who knows, maybe have a depression nap, Bella realizes that the door never clicked. She whirls around in the seat, seeing it half-closed, just before it can latch, and grins.

She spares only a moment to grab her coat before she books it out of the room and down the hall, narrowly avoiding the sleepy officers in the wee hours of the morning.

.

.

.

It's shockingly easy to avoid the cops in this town and Bella makes a note to tell her dad that just because it's Forks doesn't mean his officers don't have to be good at their jobs. If she actually was in danger, they wouldn't have a chance in hell of keeping her safe, and that's probably not a good thing.

It is now because it gives her the freedom to move around town, and while she can't go home to shower, Forks High has a relatively nice locker room with showers. Nobody even really notices her, just another kid in the sea of students, and she knows the areas to avoid, where to keep her head down, until there's nothing but her and the empty locker room.

Granted, there are the pesky vampires following her, but she's not terribly concerned with them, not until she steps out of the shower to find her clothes gone and a gym uniform left in their place. "My collar wasn't enough for you?"

"We needed more," Rosalie says in a bored tone. She inspects her nails, scrubbing them on her shirt until the engine grease is gone. "The dogs said we got our stench all over their piece, despite ours now smelling like rotting garbage."

"I don't even…" Bella shakes her head, thankful that they had at least left her stuff. Even as ridiculous as she looks in boots, shorts, and a belt. "I see you brought muscle. Thinking of dragging me back down to the station?"

Emmett waves one hand, the other still covering his eyes. "Hi, Bella."

"Make no mistake, I am the muscle here," Rosalie scoffs. "And I let you out, did I not?"

"So you could follow me and see if I lead you to Victoria."

"Told you she would figure it out," Emmett mutters and his massive shoulders droop. Rosalie yanks his hand off his face and he blinks, a lopsided grin on his face. "Hey, Boo. How are you feeling?"

She lifts her lip in a sneer and feels around the pockets of her coat for her phone, it was damn risky stopping by the house for it, like hell she's leaving it behind this time. "I'll save you time and effort. I don't know where Victoria is, I don't care where Victoria is, and I want nothing to do with whatever group project you have going on with the wolves."

Both vampires stare at her for a long moment and while Bella's feeling mostly confident in her abilities to continuously tell off the Cullens, she still taps her fingers on her thighs nervously. Rosalie shakes her head, looks at Emmett, and back to Bella. She stalks closer, dark eyes scrutinizing the human. "Esme was right. Something doesn't add up."

"It's not my job to make sense for you."

A golden brow inches up and something like respect flashes across Rosalie's face. "No, but I'll figure it out. Sooner or later. In the meantime," she motions towards the door, "we've been tasked with bringing you back to the house."

"I knew it, I knew you all were-"

She holds up her hand. "Cram it, mortal. You're the last one to have seen Victoria and she has some vendetta against you. We're trying to catch her before she can hurt anyone else in Seattle or your precious Forks. Run off after that all you like."

"Oh." The fire in Bella's words dies out, her heart settling back in her chest. "Do you think she would hunt in Forks?"

Rosalie shrugs. "She has nothing left to lose."

"And is ballsy enough to do it and get away with it," Emmett agrees.

Well fuck. Something like guilt wells up in Bella's gut, images of her friends dancing behind her eyelids. The thought of one of them getting hurt or worse, because of her. God. It's like acid on her tongue. Fuck. Worse than even the thought of being in the same room as a Cullen.

"Fuck!" Bella repeats out loud, pinching the bridge of her nose. She sighs deeply, slumping in on herself. "I never asked for any of this."

"Since when does life wait for permission?" Rosalie scoffs.

Bella doesn't have an answer for that. In fact, none of them do, and maybe there's a fleeting sense of camaraderie in that itself. Life has battered the shit out of everyone in the room, they can see it in each other's eyes, and it soothes some of the fire in Bella's gut. Numbs the ache just enough for her to sigh and motion towards the door. "Lead on, Cullens."

By the time she actually gets into the car, though? Gone. Anger and resentment sizzling like burning embers in her chest and she has to fight to keep the scowl off her face - mostly unsuccessfully if Rosalie's amused snort is anything to go by, and Emmett's wounded puppy-dog face.

It infuriates her even more and she clenches her fists until her knuckles threaten to pop.

Probably not the best headspace to show up in, but beggars can't be choosers, and the car rolls to a stop in front of the Cullen Manor. It looks the same as it did all those months ago. Maybe a little taller now that she knows firsthand how far a fall it is. She takes a breath, shivering against the chilly wind, and stares up at the ledge.

Something like longing echoes in her chest. A flash of electric blue eyes and a confused but delighted smile.

God, she misses Alice.

God. She does not want to see Alice.

Dread pools in her stomach and she stops on the porch just before the door. Her heart hammers painfully in her chest and her lungs won't hold onto air long enough for her to really breathe. Alice will be inside.

Alice will be inside.

She has to see Alice.

This Alice.

Jasper's Alice.

Rosalie hooks their arms together just as Bella twitches backwards. "Uh, uh, little human. You agreed to play nice."

"Eat my dick."

"Charming as ever," Rosalie sighs softly and leads them inside. It's warm and cozy and smells like damn Christmas baking and-

Bella's head tilts. "What month is it?"

Curious gold eyes hold hers for a moment. "December."

Okay. Okay, it was just April a few days ago. So it's not the same moment just different years. She's completely moving through time. Is she gaining or losing, then? It's like Daylight Savings on steroids. Bye-bye pointless birthdays, apparently.

"I've changed my mind," she whispers and digs her heels into the floor. Rosalie is forced to stop. "I don't want to do this anymore."

"You can't change your mind."

She bristles. "It's my mind, I can do what I want with it."

"And choices hold weight, you'll know better next time," Rosalie counters. "This time, you have to follow through. Let's go."

"You can't make me do anything."

"I can."

The dare in Bella's eyes is enough to make Rosalie hesitate, to consider her words. "Wanna bet?" Bella challenges with an air of knowing. The kind that usually surrounds Alice. The kind that signals a trap.

The kind that says Bella knows something they don't.

Another piece of the puzzle falls into place, not necessarily making sense… yet. Rosalie motions towards the living room where she knows her family anxiously awaits. "Then follow or do not follow, oh mighty choice wielder. I don't care about the Forkians enough to argue with you."

The smirk on Bella's face drops quicker than a brick and her shoulders slump. "Damn it."

"Your memory is concerning," Rosalie comments. "Why are you not retaining information?"

"I - none of your business!" Bella snaps defensively. She grumbles, following the blonde down the hallway as her heart sinks further and further. "I am, though. I just have a lot on my mind these days."

"Shocking."

"I think about stuff, you big blonde b...astard…"

Merely an eyebrow lifts curiously at her, Rosalie says nothing and stops just outside the living room. She leans against the entrance frame, crossing her arms, and jerks her chin inside. "Doom awaits, child. Fare thee well."

"Fuck you," Bella sighs when Rosalie smirks wickedly.

She gets maybe two, three feet into the living room when there's movement. Esme lifts from the arm of the couch, her hands reaching towards Bella, and only stops when the human shrinks back. Her fingers curl into her palms and Esme forces herself to stay put, looking back at Jasper and to Bella again. "Bella," she says softly. "How are you feeling?"

"Like an echo, if memory serves." She eyes Rosalie's general direction. "Which apparently it doesn't, these days. So who knows?"

There's a distinctive clearing of a throat off in the corner of the room, near the piano. Which isn't as surprising as maybe he hoped for, and Bella clenches her hands into fists in her pockets. Edward lifts his chin, his dark eyes flicking from Bella to the gun on her belt, and to Carlisle. "I don't feel comfortable with it in the house."

"She has a name, Edward," Rosalie says with a click of her tongue. Her eyes sparkle when Bella scowls back at her.

And so does Edward. "You know what I meant. There is no reason for you to be carrying such a dangerous weapon, Bella."

"That's an assumption. An incorrect one, too."

"You're going to hurt yourself!" he growls.

Her heart maybe stutters in her chest but she clenches her jaw against the spike of fear. "Better me than someone else, no?" The confusion on his face slowly turns to horror. He sucks in another breath, but Bella turns away, to Carlisle and Esme. She stares just beside their faces. "I'm not here to talk about my personal life. I'm here to… actually, I don't know why I'm here. To be the bait in a plan to catch Victoria?"

Esme gasps in surprise. "Rosalie Hale, you did not tell Bella she is to be bait."

"I didn't!" Rosalie grumbles and shoulders past Bella to stand behind the chair Emmett throws himself into. "The second assumption of the day. Although, if she's into it…"

"No!" Esme exclaims.

Jasper frowns. "It's really the only viable option, Miss Esme. She wouldn't have to be bait, per se, just… a lure."

"Those are the same things and I absolutely refuse to allow it!" Edward snarls.

Bella scoffs. "Too bad it isn't your choice. I'm in. Bait time, tell me where to stand, let's get this done and over with."

"Bella!"

She shrugs at Esme. "What? It's a good plan. How else are you going to anticipate where she is?"

"I will do that," Alice says suddenly. Like she forgot she's supposed to be a part of the conversation.

Bella licks her lips. Wipes her palms on her shorts. Fights back her shiver, buries her heartache, and forces herself to stay focused. Here. In the room. Don't drift. "You… you can't see me," she whispers and clears her throat. "You've never been able to see me."

"But I can see her," she counters.

Jasper moves out of her way to get up and approach. Bella blinks. Adjusts her glasses. "Then why do you need me?"

She doesn't. She doesn't need me. She's never needed me. She has Jasper.

Bella squeezes her eyes shut until the voice stops. "Victoria can adapt extraordinarily well. She always escapes, even with both Edward and I chasing her."

"Hate to break it to you, but I'm much slower than the two of you."

"You're worth being caught," Alice tells her softly. "Vengeance is driving her, Bella, and the only thing she wants is you."

"Well, somebody should."

"Wh-"

"So, she doesn't run if I'm the bait. She'll, what, die if it means killing me?" Bella sighs and scratches the back of her neck. "I'm not even the one who killed her damn boyfriend, why isn't she obsessed with Edward?"

"You think Edward killed James?"

"She wants him to be without a mate," Jasper says. He glances at his brother with sympathetic eyes. "To forever mourn that particular loss, as she must."

Bella scoffs. Laughs, hollowly. "My god, I'll never get over how dumb vampires are." She sighs, glancing around the room and curious eyes. "Oh come on, I'm very obviously not his mate. And say that I was, she is… is fixating on me. She hasn't done anything to him. Not to torment, not to hurt, not to taunt. She keeps popping up around me. This isn't about him!"

"Esme was right, then," Emmett says from the couch. He shrinks back at Edward's glare, and the rest of the room is forced to watch him storm out of the house. The doors slam shut behind him. "I meant about the Victoria thing…"

Rosalie hums. "Sure, just the Victoria thing. So, Swan. What did you do to piss off Big Red?"

Carlisle and Alice snort, but Bella refuses to be pulled into A Moment with the Cullens. She crosses her arms over her chest. Stares at the wall. "I don't know. I was born? Pretty sure I'm the Universe's punching bag."

Golden eyes roll to the ceiling and Rosalie sighs. "Right then. Ready to be the worm?"

Chapter Text

Seconds tick by in the quiet room and it's hard not to focus on the noise, the only noise in the whole house. It is her life raft in a sea of awkward as Emmett and Jasper stare at her from across the room. They're still as statues and she wonders if the human rouse bothers them, if it's an annoyance they have to keep up and drop as soon as they're able to.

It has to be.

Pretending to be something you're not is exhausting, and they've been doing it for nearly a century. Oof. Maybe being a vampire isn't all it's cracked up to be.

"You don't look scared," Jasper finally says and it might as well be an explosion of sound.

Fingers tap on the arm of the chair and Bella pushes her glasses up her nose. "Nope."

"Why not?"

"Well, I'm no expert, but probably because I'm not scared."

Emmett's lips twitch and Jasper turns to look at him. "Burn," he mutters and Jasper sighs. Emmett shifts in his seat, elbows on his thighs. "Not that I don't appreciate courage, but why aren't you scared?"

She shrugs. "After everything is said and done, I'm walking away from it. Or falling away from it."

"You seem very certain of that," Jasper muses thoughtfully.

"They're never gonna get me."

"More friends who break you out of the hospital?"

A smirk curls her lips ever so slightly and those eyes, those tired, tired eyes shine with mischief. "Wouldn't you like to know."

"I trust we don't also have to give you the talk about how dangerous vampires are?" he questions and she's surprised to see actual concern there.

Confused, really. "What, don't feel like sharing your plaything?"

They both frown. Emmett slides to the edge of his chair. "Bella, you don't really believe that, do you?"

"Save it," she scoffs and holds up her hand. "I know who my friends are. Despite the fact that he punches me all the time, but I have vague assurances it's good for me."

"What?"

"Yeah, could have worded that better," she mutters. Makes Alphonse sounds abusive and not like he's teaching her how to fight and actually protect herself. "Listen, just. Just back off, okay? We're here to catch a vampire and that's it. Then you can pack up and run off to Alaska."

Jasper runs a hand through his hair and looks at Emmett again. "It caused more damage than it saved."

"Don't look at me, I voted against it."

"Bell - Bella!" Jasper shoots to his feet, out in the hall with Emmett on his heels. "Bella, you're supposed to stay here while the others set up the trap."

Bella rolls her eyes, wiggling her fingers in the air. "Oh no, Victoria is gonna come crashing through Edward's bedroom window to get me just because I walked down the hall!"

No sooner does she say these words, the window at the end of the hall smashes in with the vampire crashing through it. Shards of glass and wood rain down on the fine hardwood floors, Victoria crouched with fingers digging into the floor. Her wild red curls sparkle with broken glass and those red, red eyes glow with malicious amusement. "Speak of the Devil and he will hear you," she taunts with a lilt in her voice.

"There ain't no devil," Bella whispers and slowly steps back towards Emmett and Jasper. "Only Death and I'm not afraid of him."

"Good. It's not him you should be scared of," Victoria says and straightens up. Her movements are unlike the Cullens; fully embracing her supernatural grace, she moves like a dangerous cat. Her eyes track Bella, only sparing half a heartbeat to flick towards the other two before they land back on the human.

"I… uh… I'm out of witty banter, actually," Bella mumbles. "Can I offer you the beating of a lifetime instead? Nope, brought it back around, haha! Oh sh-"

She ducks down just as Emmett launches himself over her, colliding with Victoria in the middle of the hallway. The sound ricochets off the walls, vibrating down to Bella's very mortal eardrums that threaten to burst, and she claps her hands over her ears.

Hopefully, as loud as it was, the Cullens heard it in the woods.

A stone hand wraps around her wrist and she looks up at Jasper in alarm. "Come on, we have to get you out of here."

"Just get her now! Two against one!" Bella gasps.

Emmett is thrown through the wall and Victoria turns to snarl at them, big and in her chest, like a damn tiger or something. Fear finally trickles down Bella's spine and she starts backing away again. "Go, Bella!" Jasper shouts and squares off. "You won't touch her."

"I'll do more than touch!" Victoria grins.

Down the hall, Bella tries to keep her feet under her on the stairs. At the very least, she's thankful to the Cullens for lying to Charlie so he keeps looking for her anywhere but here. If he got caught up in this, she might just die. She can't be responsible for her father's death, she just can't be. The thought's haunted her in the back of her head for at least as long as she's known the Cullens.

She skids to a stop in the foyer, pieces of ceiling and Jasper crashing down in front of her. Drywall and dust fill the air, cracks in his face slowly mending. Not really sure how to help him, Bella steps around and makes for the door awkwardly, wrenching it open.

Victoria crashes through the roof of the porch, though much less graceful than before. Emmett beats on his chest once with a snarl as she goes through the porch and into the ground beneath, leaping down to land on the gravel a few feet away. "I'll rip you apart!" he growls and looks up at Bella with black eyes and maybe Edward isn't the scariest Cullen. Maybe the boy very much the size of a bear and snarling like a wild beast is at least tied for second place. "Back in the house!"

"Sure!" she gasps and slams the door closed again, booting it back to the stairs. "A little repetitive, but okay!"

Jasper slams against the door just as it comes bulging in. "Go, Bella! To the attic!"

"She's one fucking vampire!" Bella shouts and drags herself up the stairs. "Even I did better against James."

Her heart jumps up into her throat when she spots someone climbing in the hole Victoria made at the other end of the hall. But relief very quickly pours over her when she catches Edward and Rosalie's gaze. Mostly, at least. She's beginning to suspect that all vampires are truly terrifying if in a bad enough mood. Matching black eyes and faces void of compassion, they look more like their mythic roots.

More creatures of the night and less charming family of seven.

The stairs behind Bella shake and tremble, she turns to look, catches sight of fiery red hair-and is quickly yanked back into one of the bedrooms, the door slammed shut. Alice holds her close, hand over her mouth and Bella wonders what good that will do when her heart is hammering so hard.

But the music catches up to her slow mortal ears a second later. The heavy base that vibrates through the entire house, makes it pulse, and fills the yard and woods around them.

Okay, so maybe Alice is more clever than Bella gives her credit.

(Which says a lot, because the credit Bella gives her is boundless.)

"She's very hard to catch," Alice whispers in her ear.

Too hard to fight this time, Bella shivers and sinks back into her friend. Bubblegum invades her senses, delirium dancing at the edges of her psyche. God, she could drown in Alice. "So am I," she insists weakly.

Why? Why does she become putty around this vampire?

"I caught you," Alice murmurs with a smile in her voice.

"By the time I knew to run, it was already too late."

There's a moment of stillness where Bella can feel Alice thinking harder than usual. She takes the time to pull herself free from Alice's gentle grip and flinches back away from the door when a pale fist comes smashing through it. "Jesus! Get lost, Jack Nicholson!"

Victoria rips the door apart, knocking Alice's hand to the side and snaps her own around the pixie's neck. Alice lifts her feet against Victoria's chest and stretches, fingernails scraping against her neck, like nails against stone. The noise it makes, an ungodly screech that has Bella's teeth aching. And then she spins, twirls with Victoria's arm between her legs, and flips the redhead completely over and onto the floor.

Bella might swoon if she wasn't so fucking scared.

"Run, Bella!" Alice gasps and brings her knee down into Victoria's spine.

Not needing to be told twice, Bella scrambles towards the door. Victoria bucks and flips the two of them over, in her way, and pins Alice to the floor with her arm across the pixie's neck. "We both know you can't leave little Mary Alice, Bella."

"Fuck you, get off of her!" Bella snarls.

Bullets embed themselves in diamond hard skin when they don't literally ping off into the walls. Victoria snatches Alice's arm, wrenching it behind her back and pulling taught. Her red eyes slowly drag back up to Bella in a mocking manner. "Not half as scary as you used to be, hm? Not as strong, not as fast, not as clever."

Contrary to the statement, Bella pieces together that this must mean they've bumped into each other before. In the past. In the past? Holy shit. She doesn't have to fight the vampire if she can find the human.

Bella grins and Victoria falters. "Clever enough."

"I'll kill her, Bella!" the vampire snarls and pulls.

Alice's whimper turns into a snarl and she claws at the floor with her free hand. "Just go, Bella!"

"I may not have a lot of sense," Bella says and digs around in her pocket. "But yours is easy to steal." Two pairs of black pits snap to attention, a pocket knife dragged across Bella's palm. "My blood sings and you're not Carlisle."

Victoria's fingers dig into the floor again, Alice completely forgotten. Wild, frenzied eyes track each drip, drip, dripping of blood. Bella prays the tingling in her hand isn't just from the wound and steps backwards.

In a heartbeat, Victoria lunges towards her with Alice's hand reaching for the redhead's ankle a moment too late. They collide just before the pins and needles engulf her.

.

.

.

She's pretty sure she knows where she is when she has to block the sunlight with her arm. She flinches - something dripping on her face, and cracks open an eye to inspect her bloody palm. Oh yeah. Feels like years since she sliced open her hand, which, technically it is. With a groan, Bella sits up in the backyard of a heartwarmingly familiar house.

And immediately slaps her bloody hand to her forehead and the onslaught of agony that blooms like a flower of anguish. Bella clenches her teeth to the point of them throbbing in pain, falling back to curl up as if that might protect her from the effects of time travel. "G-God…"

It takes a long time, longer than the last time. Than normal. The sun climbs across the sky and lowers beyond the horizon, all while Bella clutches at her face and endures the agony of time. It isn't until the last of the sun's light has dipped below the horizon and crickets sing, that she finally relaxes back in the cool grass. A soft glow comes from over the fence of the backyard and she's very tempted to drift into nothing, to embrace an icy grave.

Instead, a head pops up over the other side of the fence and the light catches red hair. Terror fills her for a second before she realizes she didn't bring Victoria with her, and that a human woman stares down at her. Brown eyes blink. "You must be Bella."

"I'd rather not."

She chuckles, shaking her head. "Bloody, bleary, and belligerent. You must be Bella."

"Fuck you, I'm not belligerent." They both wait a moment and she sighs. "Right there. You must know Alice."

"Her reputation precedes her then," the woman notes with interest. "Interesting. Yes, I know Alice. She asked me to pass along a message when you show up."

Again, they wait and Bella blinks. "Today, or..?"

"You could say please."

"I could, yes."

"Some friend, you are."

Bella thrusts out her uninjured hand. "And you're a ray of fucking sunshine, do I get the message or not?"

"There's a fair in town," the woman says and disappears behind the fence for a moment. She pops back up and throws a pile of clothes down at Bella. "Get dressed and save her."

"Wait." It takes two tries, but Bella sits up. "Wait, save her? She's in danger?"

"Oh yes," the woman agrees and drums her fingers on the fence. "Alice is on a date."

Fucking hell no. Bella did not travel through time, jump off a building, get her face pummelled by Alphonse, and risk Victoria just to watch Alice be with someone else… again. Not without telling her this time. Not without - not - not if…

She hops on one foot, pulling her leg through the other hole, and yanks the shirt on. "Wash your face!" the woman calls after her.

The second she reaches the street, she realizes she doesn't actually remember where the town is and has no idea how she's going to find Alice. And maybe some smarter part of her is starting to recognize the pattern of how her life revolves around finding Alice.

(Not that it matters. Even the chase is worth it.)

The sound of music and laughter eventually leads her to an admittedly grand looking Town Fair. She takes the opportunity to borrow a shocked and appalled woman's glass of - water, she hopes, and splashes it over her face. She scrubs her hands over her face a few times and ties her wet hair back. "Thanks."

"W… how dare… do you need a d…"

And thus she promptly leaves a dumbfounded woman in a sea of people enjoying the fair. As she searches for Alice, Bella pulls her gym shirt out of her coat pocket and uses her teeth to rip off a piece long enough to tie around her wounded hand, tossing the rest of it in one of the trash bins they dragged out into the street.

It's actually a nicer fair than she was expecting. Sure, technology has come a long way, but the spirit has never been stronger. Maybe because they rely on showmanship rather than technological wonders? Or life was simply easier to enjoy when it wasn't as obvious that The Man is robbing you blind? Either way, there is not a face without a smile anywhere Bella looks. Just… not the face she's looking for.

Catching an elbow in the back, Bella grimaces. "Sorry, my bad," she mumbles to the boy.

"Maybe if you ever cleaned your glasses." The dig awakens dragons in her chest and Bella turns to catch those blue eyes. "Glad you made it, Bella."

"Alice."

"This is Albert Weins. Albert, this is Bella Cul…" The three of them stare at each other as the words falter in Alice's mouth, the pixie not wanting to offend her friend again.

Albert smiles and holds out his hand. "Pleasure to meet you, Miss Cul. That's a, uh, unique attire you're wearing. Not many ladies wear suits around here."

"Oof. Assimilating to your patriarchal bullshit society is not high on my priority list, Alby," Bella replies with a sympathetic smile and pat on his shoulder. "I don't do dresses, they make it twice as hard to kick ignorant ass."

His eyes widen and Alice hides her snickers behind her hand. Albert puffs up his chest and points at Bella. "You watch your mouth, young lady! That's no way to speak to me."

"Alas, it's the only way I know." He blinks and the smile drops from Bella's face. "Fuck off, Albert."

Albert huffs and turns to Alice. "Miss Brandon, allow me to accompany you away from such vulgarity. A dignified lady as yourself shouldn't bear witness to horrendous manners like Miss Cul's."

"I'd prefer to stay, actually. Thank you, Albert," Alice tells him pointedly.

He waits - a moment, before sneering at the two of them. "Your father will hear about this. I was your last shot."

"Here's hoping," she grins and waves.

They watch him shoulder his way through the crowd waiting to get on the Ferris wheel until they can see him no longer. Bella leans against the small fence to keep people at a safe distance and crosses her arms. "That was cold. I think he was crying."

"Oh, hush you," Alice laughs and looks back at her. Pink tints her cheeks and she bites her lip, looking away and back again. "I was worried you weren't going to show up."

"And risk your wrath? Not in this lifetime."

Alice's smile rivals the sun. She taps her chin twice, blue eyes glittering. "Are you saying you're afraid of me, Miss Cul?"

"The way Fate fears Destiny, Miss Brandon."

Alice laughs. Shakes her head. "What?"

"Yeah, I don't know. It sounded more poetic in my head."

The sigh is wistful and fond. Alice laces their fingers together, tugging Bella along with her towards the line of the Ferris wheel. "All these fancy words just to tell me you have a crush on me."

"Well, I…" Bella swallows against her dry throat. Okay. Okay. Alice knows. Okay. Be cool. Okay. "It's a little more than a crush."

"I know, but I'd rather you tell me than I tell myself," Alice says with a wink over her shoulder. "How many people can say they have someone willing to tumble through time for them?"

"Three, off the top of my head. But two of them are you, so."

Alice clicks her tongue but her eyes dance with amusement and approval. She hums, gently prodding at Bella's wounded hand while they wait in line. "How did you hurt yourself?"

"You don't know?"

"Not when it involves me. The other me."

Huh. Good to know. "It was nothing, really," Bella says and shrugs. "Had to distract a vampire."

"Okay," Alice laughs and shakes her head again.

Bella blinks and watches her. Watches the information go right over her head, written off as a joke. Oh my god. Alice doesn't know about vampires yet. "How much do you see, Alice?"

There's a peaceful moment where Alice simply looks at her. "I'm not really sure how to answer that," she replies with furrowed brows. "I think the answer may be relative? To you it could be a mountain, to me it could be the tip of an iceberg." Thoughtful eyes study Bella until they take their seat on the Ferris wheel. "How would you define my ability?"

"Same way you do. Or will, I guess," Bella says and grips the safety bar. Still not a big fan of heights. "Your visions are subjective. You see all the options laid out before you. All the paths. All the choices, and the consequences of them if taken."

"Is that it?"

"Is it not?" Bella shoots back, confused.

"Does she not also know which option will be chosen?" Alice wonders. "How. Does she not. Does my ability become less in the future?" She shakes her head, scooting closer on the seat next to Bella. "What does the darkness take from me?"

Bella frowns. Remembers her last encounter with a human Alice. Remembers the darkness that stalks her. Three years to stop it, three years to protect Alice's memory. "Nothing," she promises. "I won't let it take anything from you, Alice. I swear."

"Do you know what it is?"

Eventually, the music and laughter from the fair down below fade to faint noise in the background of life. Their seat creaks, old metal bolts grinding as they gently rock back and forth. Bella's grip on the safety bar tightens and she looks up, not down. Never down. God, they're up high. "No. No, but I'll find out, Alice."

"I should hope you're not assigning me the role of damsel in distress." Startled, Bella blinks and looks back down at her friend, watching Alice place her hand over hers. "We'll find out, Bella. I'm not completely helpless."

"That might just be the last thing I would ever describe you as," Bella muses with a quirk to her lips. "But yeah, sorry. I meant we."

"No, you didn't. You have a habit of unnecessarily carrying things. Burden, guilt, obligation."

Bella frowns softly and rolls her shoulders. "Alright, Sigmund. Have I mentioned how weird it is that you know me and I don't know you?"

"Have I mentioned how weird it is that you know the future better than me?" Alice fires back with a grin.

"Hey, it's not all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes I don't remember what year it is."

"How tragic for you!" Alice laughs.

Bella jabs her side, unable to smother her smile when Alice yelps and wiggles away on the seat. "Listen, you little pain in the ass. Just wait until I bring you with me and we'll see how easy you get confused about things. It's a lot to keep track of."

"And who says I'm going with you?"

Brows furrowed, Bella pouts softly. "As a matter of fact, you did."

"I did?" Alice echoes. "From the future?"

"Yeah. Well. Not the far future. You from three years from now," Bella replies and has to think about it for a second, nodding. "Yeah."

"You met us from three years into the future?"

She shakes her head. "No, just you were three years into the future. Me was older. I think there are different… stages? Of you. But it's always just me. Or something like that. I pop into your life, which means we have different timelines, I think."

Blue eyes stare at her. "...what?"

"N-ahha! Not so easy to not get confused now, hm?"

Alice stares at her, with that same glow of affection. But curious. Like she's looking for something. "You're so…" She clicks her tongue and looks away. "Weird."

"Give it a hundred years, you'll find me charming."

"Oh I will, will I?"

Grin in place, Bella nods. Thoroughly enjoying this simple little moment they're having at the top of a Ferris wheel. Reality has to sink in eventually, though. Bella is acutely aware that all good things must come to an end, and their descent feels like the end of a dream.

She sighs, staring down at her boots, hooking her arms over the safety bar. "Unless she was lying. That's very possible. Probable, really. I don't know what's worse," she says thoughtfully. Gaze drifting over each roof in the city. "That they used me until they got bored, or that they pitied me until I became a burden."

"Bella, I like you," Alice says softly. Her hand clutches Bella's arm, big blue eyes full of sympathy and concern when Bella looks over at her. "I truly do, you're the best friend I've ever had and you… I can't even put words to it. Time cannot touch what I feel for you."

And she wishes she could believe that or hold onto it, at least. That it did more than just make the gaping holes in her heart sting and ache. "Maybe," she murmurs. Adjusts her glasses. Looks away. "But you forget me, Alice."

"No, I won't, Bella. I couldn't, not you," Alice insists fiercely. She studies those dark eyes that just won't meet hers anymore, no matter how hard she tries to catch them. "That's why you were so mad when we met. No, not mad… heartbroken. I forget you and I - and I hurt you. How… why?"

Bella clears her throat. Blinks away the heaviness in her eyes. Brushes her knuckles against her jaw. "I, uh, I'm not very remarkable. You Cullens are - gods compared to me, really. Aphrodite's got a look that could stop a train in its track. I don't always feel like a person. Can't even compare."

"Bella, don't say that!" Alice gasps.

The safety bar lifts and a younger guy holds out his hand to help them down. Bella hops down on her own, looking back to make sure Alice doesn't trip - insane, but weirder things have happened. "Nah, it's fine. More incentive to prevent this damn darkness, right?"

"You're not okay, Bella," Alice tells her gently. Looks… well, worried.

But Bella just smirks. "Ouch. I think I'm pretty decent."

"Stay with me." They both kinda just stare at the other in surprise. Alice licks her lips, glances down at her shoes shyly before looking back up. "Stay here with me, Bella. For a little while, at least. Let me help you."

Broken walls are walls still, though. Bella huffs. "I don't need anybody's help. I'm fine on my own."

"Then stay with me because I asked, because I'm asking, Bella. I want you to stay." Alice watches her anxiously, at the edge of this little fair.

It's not much of a decision, really. Not a difficult one, at least, there isn't a whole lot to consider. In the present, Alice left her. Used and abandoned. Like she doesn't mean anything. Like Alice doesn't care.

In the past, the pixie begs her to stay. Stares at her like her heart might just break in two if Bella leaves. And Victoria? She had one thing right, at least.

Bella can't leave little Mary Alice.

Chapter Text

"Bella."

"Mm. Hm."

"Bella?"

"Huh."

"Bella!"

"What?"

"Bellaaaa!"

She roughly turns over, burying her face in the pillow. "Oh my god, you little gremlin. What do you want from me?"

The grin is very apparent in Alice's voice. "Look!"

"I can't. I have no eyes."

"Just put on your glasses, Bella, and look!"

"Glasses? Never heard of her."

Weight settles on her, Alice laying along her back. Heels and shoulders dig into the back of her thighs and her own shoulders, and she grunts. "Fine, I'll just have to tell you about your photo-taking rectangle."

"Will wonders never cease?" The quip is muffled and sleep slowly claws at her, trying to drag her back to its murky depths.

But Alice is a ball of sunshine and chases the comforting shadows away. "If you don't require someone taking the photo for you, do people take nude photos?"

"And thus the send nudes meme was born," Bella marvels.

Alice giggles on her back, wiggling to keep balance. "Bella…" she drawls playfully. Apprehension builds in Bella's gut and she slowly lifts her face from the pillows. "Do you take nude photos?"

And promptly slams it back into the pillow. "What? No, Alice. God. Of course not. Do you know how easy it is to hack a phone? A-And I would never even - so that's not - how does one even consider - Alice, please hand me my phone."

"Pose for a photo with me first?" Alice asks politely. She leans to the side, sliding off of Bella's back beside her.

But Bella merely grumbles to herself. "I ain't taking a selfie, Alice."

"Please?"

"No."

She pouts. "Then you don't get your telephone back."

"It's not a - and it's mine!" Bella scoffs and finally leans up on her elbow to scowl at Alice. "That's theft."

Blue eyes sparkle with mischief. "I'm sure you'll find it in your heart to forgive a gremlin like me."

The two stare each other down and, damn it, Alice still has that knowing smile even in the past. Bella chews on her lip, eyes flicking between Alice and her phone. The pixie tenses and she lunges, snatching at the air where her phone used to be. She rolls forward, reaching as Alice stretches her arm towards the opposite end of the bed. "Alice! That's mine! You thief!"

Alice giggles again, flipping over and crawling away, but Bella grabs her ankle and drags her back. Laying across her legs, she stretches along Alice's back, fingers brushing against the plastic of her phone. "Cheater! You're bigger than me!"

"Eat a cheeseburger then," Bella grunts and chuckles. She sticks her tongue out, feeling her muscles burn, and wraps her fingers around Alice's wrist. "I swear to God, Alice, I will crush you."

"Someone's a sore loser."

"Fine." Bella digs her hand into the bed and bounces, making sure she doesn't accidentally fucking paralyze Alice by driving her knees into her back. It's a little awkward - her chin bumps against Alice's shoulder, still healing and a little tender, but she can reach around and grab her phone finally.

The flash goes off and she's blind. Blinking, blinking, blinking. Alice hums. "See?"

"No, actually."

"Was that so hard?" she laughs breathlessly. "Is there a way to look at it or do you still have to wait for them to be developed in the future?"

Exhausted, Bella flops sideways onto her back. "The jarring differences between our technologies are almost unfathomable. Tap the home screen button."

"The what?"

"Pass me my glasses." They're pushed into her hands and she blinks a few times, tilting her head back to look at the screen. "Okay, at the bottom there? Push that button. It brings you to the Home Screen, or the main screen, I guess. All your apps are on the background. I'm guessing you don't know what Google is."

"Oh, what's a google?!" Alice asks excitedly.

Bella waves her off. "Too complicated to explain. Basically, it will answer any question you ask, as long as you ask it the right way." Before Alice can voice her visible awe, Bella points to the phone. "Now tap that little square on the screen that says photos."

"Marvelous," Alice whispers in wonder. Her eyes fly across the little screen, squinting to try and make out the details of the pictures she can see. "So advanced, but I'm not sure I like it as much. You can hardly see anything."

A tired snort pulls itself from Bella. "Tap on one of them."

"Oh!" she gasps. "Oh, wow! Is this your home, Bella?"

"One of them." Bella rubs at her tired eyes and sighs. "That's, uh, that's my house in Forks. Charlie's cruiser is always out front. Uh, a cruiser is a police vehicle that runs on a combustion engine-"

"I know what cars are, Bella," Alice deadpans.

"Excuse the hell outta me, Miss What's A Microwave."

"Commonplace automobiles are just around the corner and I know some things," Alice giggles and looks away from the phone to grin at Bella. "I know you drive a very large red truck, and I know a very familiar blonde girl is always tinkering under its hood when you're not looking-"

"I fucking knew it!"

"-and I know that you live with your father, but not your mother for some reason," Alice says thoughtfully. Those bright eyes slowly travel back over to Bella. "Why do you hate your mother so much?"

"I don't," Bella huffs defensively. "I, I don't. I just, I'm just."

Thankfully, before Bella has to stutter through a complicated explanation or a fragile lie, there's banging at Alice's bedroom door. They both look over in alarm. "Mary! Mary, who is in there with you? By the Almighty, Mary, if you have a boy in this room. My room, under my roof. Open this door now, Mary."

For some reason, it hadn't even occurred to Bella that Alice might have a father, and she finds herself floundering while she gapes at the door. She doesn't notice the way Alice tenses beside her. "It's open!" the pixie calls back.

Not a second passes before the door is swinging open and a man is barging in. Dark eyes, dark hair, and a red face. "You insult the Weins, you insult me, and for… for… oh…" his indignation sizzles down to almost nothing when he sees another girl in the bed. "Who is this?"

"This is, um. This is Bella, John," Alice explains quietly. "She spent the night after the fair so she wouldn't have to walk home in the dark."

John scoffs but nods, one hand in his pocket and the other wiping his mouth. "Right. Whose kid are you?"

"P...aul… Bunyan," Bella ventures slowly and not very certain at all.

He stares for a moment and then shakes his head. "Mary, I didn't say you could have a friend over. Bid her good day and join us for lunch, your mother wants to hear about the fair."

There isn't even an opportunity to respond, he's out the door and slamming it behind him before Alice can take a breath. She sits up in the bed, leaning back against the headboard, and stares at the door. "I think I hate him."

"Bit of a nob," Bella agrees and suffers an awkward quiet. She sits up, scooting back next to Alice and bumps their shoulders. "Sorry your dad sucks."

Alice shakes her head. Fiddles with the end of her braid. "He's not my father. My dad…" she clears her throat and forces a weak, reassuring smile. "My dad died seven years ago."

"Oh." Fuck. Fix it, fix it, fix it. "Sorry." Yeah, okay, nailed it, genius. "Oh! Oh, hey. Alice loves dancing. I know a place back in the - uh, here. Now. The past. I know a place! Let's go dancing."

Blue eyes peek over at her, curious and - and hopeful. Defeat fades away, like an old pattern dropping off her shoulders. A flower blooming, excitement takes its place, and that light Bella is so used to seeing in Alice's eyes brightens. "But you hate dancing."

"I can't dance, I don't hate it," Bella corrects and slides off the bed. She holds out her uninjured hand. "And I love seeing you smile, so. Dancing it is."

Bottom lip captured between her teeth, Alice lightly shakes her head and takes Bella's hand. "You don't see it, do you?"

"Probably not. I think I need a new prescription for my glasses, but that shit's expensive. What do you see that I don't?"

"That you're wonderful." Bella tugs Alice to her feet a little too roughly at the admittance, and the pixie bumps into her. They sway back, Bella's arm around her waist and Alice's free hand on Bella's side. The pixie doesn't even blink at their proximity, doesn't seem fazed by their objectively intimate position. She lifts her hand to tuck Bella's hair behind her ear. "I can see beneath the layers of hurt you wear like armour, Bella."

"H…" Bella shakes her head. Drops her hands. Steps back awkwardly, and clears her throat. "A, uh, just more layers of dirt, eh? I should - do you guys have showers yet?"

The moment between them fades until finally, Alice heads for her door to press her ear against and listen. "What about them?"

"Your step-dad's a dick but it's not like he's gonna murder you." Bella shrugs. "We can stay if you want and I can leave, come back later. Or we could go and let the chips fall where they may."

It only takes a moment to consider before Alice smiles and grabs her bag, following Bella out the bedroom window.

.

.

.

As it turns out, it's very easy to cause mischief in the past, despite their very empty pockets. Bella makes a joke in passing about burying her money like a pirate to come back to each year she pops up in and while Alice laughs, something about the idea clicks.

So they rely on a sneaky psychic's excellent timing to get them into most places, and an awkward yet charming girl's smile to get out of most trouble. They spend the day bumping around town and making their way into the city, reaching it by the time the sun begins to set.

Bella expects to see her breath in the air as night falls and temperatures drop, but it never comes, and they have to be down South. Mississippi or near it, by Alice's drawl. She decides not to tell the egomaniac how adorable she finds it and instead leads Alice down the street to a familiar building.

"How do you remember how to get here but not what year it is?" Alice asks breathlessly as they jog.

"I dunno," Bella says with a shrug and they stop at the end of the line. "I just pictured it in my head and kinda… went in the direction I thought it might be?"

"Part of your time travelling abilities?" Alice wonders thoughtfully. "Like a built-in coordinate calculator? You can't exactly manually punch in the year, longitude, and latitude."

Bella snorts. "An organic GPS?" Before Alice can ask, Bella shakes her head and waves it off. "Literally what you just said in a computer."

"What's a computer?"

"A box people sit in front of."

Alice lights up. "Oh, is that what it's called? With the clicky thing? I've seen that." A rather serious look comes to Alice's face and damn it, why is she so cute? "Bella, your computer is very slow."

"I know," she groans. "It's as old as you." And then eyes Alice warily. "What, uh… what did you see me looking up on my computer?"

It's very obvious, the smile that Alice tames on her lips. Her eyes twinkle, and the tips of her ears turn pink. "Nothing really. Mostly just vampires." Another lightbulb goes off and Alice hops. "Which you mentioned earlier. You were being serious, weren't you? Sweet heavens! Those creatures are real?"

"Shhh!" Bella reaches to cover Alice's mouth but thinks better of it, dropping her hands to her sides again. She looks around at the few faces who give them weird looks, and smiles sheepishly. "That would be insane, Alice."

Curiously, Alice flinches when she says that and blinks a few times. "Well, that's rather rude."

"What?"

"That's not a term to throw around lightly or as a joke, Bella."

"I wasn't - or, I mean, I was, but… I'm sorry, Alice," she says softly. Something about trying to explain why Alice shouldn't be upset feels vaguely similar to the way Edward used to demand she be fine because he did nothing wrong. "I won't use it like that again."

The pixie nods and, at closer inspection, seems almost… jittery? She looks around every few moments, her fingers fiddling with her bag, and hovers closer to Bella than normal. "It's okay. Thank you."

"Are you okay?"

She nods vigorously. "Yes, I'm fine. So. You've been to this place before?"

Not really buying it, Bella doesn't want to push too much too soon. Or at all, really. Alice has walked out of her life without a second thought before, there's really nothing stopping her from doing it again. Who knows. Maybe Bella drove her off, drove them all off last time. She sure as hell isn't going to do it again.

So she looks up at the building they're in front of as the line slowly moves up. "Yeah, once so far. You have, too."

"I have?"

"You will, I guess."

Alice's eyebrows pinch together slowly. "So… have you been here in your past or your future?"

"Yes."

"What?"

"Both."

She shakes her head, a short disbelieving laugh. "You're an odd bird, Bella. Do you know that?"

"Bella?" They both look up quickly, face to face with a tall blonde woman. Like, a truly big woman. She towers over them both, Alice particularly, standing at least six and a half feet, and strong. Bella feels tiny, like a child, and shrinks back until she meets maybe the most cheerful green eyes she's ever seen. The woman tucks wild blonde curls behind her ear and offers a bright smile. "How do you look even younger?"

A second passes before Alice elbows Bella in the side, and she blinks. "...L'oreal's Perfect Glow Renewal Cream?" she says though it comes out sounding more like a question.

For a moment, the two of them just stare at Bella. Then something seems to click and this large woman hops like Alice and snaps her fingers. "This is your first time, ain't it?" she asks and shakes her head, holding out her hand. "I'm Willowdean. You and I met before."

"Sure."

"You were different then."

"Okay."

"You look human now, actually."

"... what."

Alice grabs Bella's hand, leaning against her to point up at the sign above the door they're not in front of. "Are you going inside, too?" she asks Willowdean.

Who looks up for a moment and then grins. "I should hope. It's my club."

"What?!" Alice gasps excitedly. "Really?"

Willowdean smiles, nods, and then shrugs. "Well, kinda. In all the ways that count, even if a baboon has to be the face of it all."

"You. I was. You know… stuff," Bella says. The other two look at her oddly and she lifts her glasses to rub her face, heaving a sigh. "Sorry. I'm just trying to keep up with myself and it's super difficult."

"Yeah," Willowdean agrees sympathetically. "You're kinda an ass like that, always messing with yourself. Gotta stop punishing yourself, Bella."

The exhaustion that hangs around Bella's body hardens into shards of anger. She adjusts her glasses, stares up at the woman with a set face. "Don't touch that," she warns once.

Thankfully, it seems like something the woman was expecting, and Willowdean nods. "I know, I know. Sorry. Come on, let's go get a drink."

Alice hugs herself tighter to Bella's arm as they follow Willowdean inside the loud club. "Be nice," she leans up to whisper in Bella's ear.

Bella grunts. Grumbles. Pouts. But always, always melts for Alice. "She started it."

"She's nice!"

"I'm nice!" Bella counters. Alice looks up at her, tries to smother a smile. Bella sighs. "I could be."

"Yes, you could," Alice agrees and pecks her cheek before skipping off to catch up to Willowdean.

Lagging behind, Bella touches her cheek with wide eyes.

And so they spend the night, getting to know this strange woman who simultaneously owns and doesn't own a club in nineteen-nineteen. They drink and laugh, and drink some more, and dance until Alice can't feel her face, and drink just a little bit more until the laughter dies down. Until Alice maybe isn't having fun anymore. Until… "This seems like a very bad idea!" Alice shouts over the band and shakes her head.

Bella swings her head around, dizzy eyes floundering for a moment before they find Alice and light up. "Heyyy… no, it's fine! It makes sense, you said I didn't have my tattoos yet. It's-"

"Stop moving."

"-it's actually brilliant!" Bella insists and winces, sucking in a sharp breath. The needle pricks her skin again, a cloth wiped over it. Truly, she's felt worse, but damn if this isn't painful. And so damn slow. She wonders if it hurts as much in the present. "Now I won't forget what years I've been to."

The man currently giving her a tattoo ignores this as drunken imaginations. He lifts his head to give Willowdean a tired, minorly amused look, and she shrugs. "Time travel. Why not," he grunts and goes back to work.

Alice stares nervously into her mug, tapping her fingers on the sides. "Bella, aren't you a little concerned you made this decision after many drinks?" She shakes her head. "Aren't you concerned how many drinks you've had? Twice now, I've seen you like this."

"Well, one was while I was mourning, and this one is a celebration. It's not that bad, Alice," Bella tells her seriously. "'Sides. You're the one who gave me my first drink in here. Said it would help the headaches."

Whether Bella made a point or Alice decides it's no use arguing while she's still very much intoxicated, the pixie lets it go for now. She waves Bella off, sinking back in her seat, and stares out at the club of dancing people.

Still in her chair, Bella frowns. Watches Alice fade away from her. Again. Fuck. She keeps fucking up. Keeps trying to hold onto someone who was destined for so much more. Chaos clinging to grace like maybe it can save her.

Instinctively, Bella reaches up to her glasses and the needle jabs deeper into her arm. "Fuck!" she hisses against the needle… and the pins. The tingling pain of something familiar that brings both dread and hope to her chest. "No! No, I don't want to leave!"

She grits her teeth against the heat in her eyes, blinking furiously. Stay. Stay. Just stay. "Bella?" Willowdean calls her in alarm.

Ruby red eyes twinkle back at her, blood dripping from an inhumanly beautiful face. Fangs glint beneath carnage, and Bella's heart jumps up into her throat. "What the fuck?!" she gasps and pushes back in her chair.

"Stop moving!" the man barks. Sunken grey eyes stare at her, bone peeking out through the lifeless skin on his cheek. Dirt stained hands yank her arm back into place, towards his mouldy suit.

Her boot presses against his chest, kicking off until her chair tips backwards and she clumsily rolls away. "Jesus!" A couple more men stand from their nearby seats, horrors and nightmares staring at her. Walking corpses and - god, she really likes watching zombie movies but this is, this is horrible. They're just-

Bella collapses to one knee, bracing against the high pitched whine in her head that screeches like an ache in her mind.

"Bella?"

At Alice's voice, she forces herself to look up into the dark, dark room. There is nothing. No light. No shapes. An echo of nothing that bounces against cold walls, seeping in, in, into her chest. A void that swallows up everything she's ever known, anything that's ever been or will be. Gone. Lost forever in the abyss that engulfs her.

No monsters, no angels, no demons. Only the darkness. Only the absence of anything. Beyond thought and reason and time, she ceases to be, the universe ceases to be and  no , it's so  wrong .

Nothing drags her down, down, down to the tile floor. She can feel it against her fingertips, tapping them against the floor. Pressing her hands flat to try and stay grounded, to not be swept away in the void.

She follows the floor, flinching when her knuckles bash against a metal pole. No, not a pole… she follows it up to some sort of rough, scratchy material. A blanket. A thin cushion - a bed! A bed? Someone sleeps here? She runs her hands along the edge until they find something new, new and familiar. Rubber straps, a buckle - her wrists burn at the memory of how hard she had yanked and pulled, struggling in her own restrains.

Someone's kept here. In the dark. In a dark so thick, so heavy, that she feels like she's drowning.

Bella rips her head away, squeezing her eyes shut. Light plays behind them and she's pretty sure if she opens her eyes, she'll be back in the club, but it's almost not worth it. She can't, she can't be in that room. Not one more second. She might rather never open her eyes again than find out she's still in that room.

"Bella?" Alice's voice is soft and close. So warm, concerned, and hands cup her cheeks. Cradle her face gently. "Bella, you're trembling. What's wrong? Is it another headache?"

Her fingers find Alice's coat, gripping onto it for dear life. "H-Help me…" she whispers and clutches to the pixie.

"Bella." Alice's voice breaks halfway through her name. "Bella," she repeats with determination. "Tell me what's wrong."

"I'm lost."

"Look at me. Bella, please open your eyes. You're right here. You're with me and you're safe. I promise."

A trembling hand feels its way up to Alice's face, fingers brushing against her warm neck, feeling her shiver, and cups Alice's cheek. Alice is here. She's right here. She wasn't in the room, she doesn't see any room. Bella can't be in the room. She's here. In the club. With Willowdean. A very suddenly vampire Willowdean?

She's not in the dark. She's not. She's here.

Bella's eyes flutter open, squinting against the lights behind the band on the other side of the room. Red eyes stare back at her hopefully. A cheek glittering with diamonds. Not quite Alice Cullen, not quite Alice Brandon… an Alice from before and after, all at once. The girl who went looking for a family in a new life.

Alice nods. Her lips tug up in a reassuring smile, revealing her fangs. It should scare Bella. It should. Like Willowdean did. But it doesn't. She used to tease Alice that the little vampire didn't scare her, but it was the truth. Alice could rip Bella's heart from her chest and still, there would be no fibre of fear in it. "Better?" Alice asks.

The voice is the same. Alice Cullen's voice. Alice's Brandon's voice - perfected. No rough edge of humanity. Bella sighs, her shoulders drooping. "Yes."

"What did you see?" Alice lets her face go to hold her hands, looking down at them and back up. "My mother has awoken me from certain dreams that leave me in a similar state, Bella. I know you saw something."

Bella finally blinks, her dry eyes watering in relief. She looks at the rosy cheek beneath her hand and up into the most beautiful oceans she's ever dreamed of. Her heart settles in her chest again, her taut muscles slowly relaxing, letting her look over her shoulder. Willowdean stands a few feet away, ringing her hands, green eyes full of concern. Bella shakes her head. "It's nothing. It's fine. Too much to drink. Let's, uh, let's get you home. Okay?"

The walk back to Alice's house is mostly silent. Willowdean walks them to the edge of the city, bidding them good night, and the two are left to themselves for the rest of the trek back. Alice tries to reassure Bella that she's okay, that whatever she saw couldn't hurt her, that she would protect Bella…

But Alice is still human. Alice was human when James knew her. Between him and that room, Alice isn't safe, and Bella came back here to save her. Not party, not drink. Not even to hide.

She waits until Alice is finally asleep before slowly and carefully pulling herself free. She scrawls a note; a promise to return, and grabs her things.

Maybe James is a vampire. Maybe he is a single name in all of time. But everybody knows somebody, and time is on Bella's side.

Chapter Text

"Tori, move!" Bella barks and digs her heels into the wooden floor, bracing herself back against the door. "I said get out!"

The little redhead frowns, holds up her finger. "No fair! I made the mark!"

"Exactly why we're running in the first place." She skids forward, the door handle digging into her back. "You're not a thief!"

"Yes, I am!"

"Not a good one!" she growls and throws her shoulder into the door. "Hood up!" She steps back away from it, her revolver clicking and pressed against the man's forehead as he comes barging in. Effectively halting him in place. "I think you've got the wrong room, mate."

"That urchin stole my-"

Tori leans forward on the chair she's taken as a perch, pointing a dirty finger his way. "Ain't an urchin, I'm fourteen, you old git!"

The fire in his eyes blaze and Bella presses the barrel of her gun into his forehead harder. "The theft is neither here nor there. She stole from you but I'm holding the gun. You want your money or your life?"

"You better kill me," he snarls and jabs at her shoulder. "That scarf can't save you from me, I'll find you. Both of you."

"I don't think you understand how okay I am with killing you," Bella warns calmly. She holds one hand behind her back, bringing the gun up under his chin to step nice and close. "Do I look afraid to you?"

It takes a moment for common sense to catch up to him. He glares between the two of them, chest heaving with furious breaths. He works his jaw a few times before tugging at his nice vest. "This isn't over."

"I think it is. Say bye-bye, Sue."

Tori perks up. "Bye-bye!"

As soon as the door closes, Bella's holstering her gun and shoving Tori back against the wall in one motion. Her back meets it with a thud and she blinks up into her friend's angry face. "That was stupid!" Bella growls again and Tori, not for the first time, wonders just what kind of company Bella keeps to come back more and more like some kind of wild animal. She considers begging Bella again to bring her along.

"Anne is tired, Bella. And sick, she can't keep dancing," Tori explains weakly. "She deserves better and so do I! Why should you get to come and go, pockets full of coin, while we scrape by, starving and cold?"

Incredulous, Bella turns to pace the room. "Do I not bring you money?" she asks. "Do I not leave you infinitely richer than how I find you each and every time?"

"Enough to pay off debts!" Tori shouts. "That's nothing! Bring me with you and I can earn my own way."

"Stop breaking the law and you wouldn't owe anybody anything!" Bella shoots back.

The young teenager rolls her eyes and yanks down her hood. "Whatever," she scoffs and makes for the window on the other side of the room. "Not all of us get to run away from our problems, Bella. Antony owns this city and everybody in it, maybe if you stuck around more than a couple days at a time, you'd know that. There's no such thing as living free without debt."

She's gone by the time Bella looks back at her, the window left open. Bella sighs and picks up the chair that was knocked over by their rushed entrance. "You're not my fucking responsibility," she mutters.

The inn's a little more quiet than she's used to when she finally makes it down the stairs. Alphonse stands behind the bar, cleaning mugs and glasses, and lifts a brow when he catches sight of her. "Ah, that makes more sense now." He sets down the glass, leaning forward against the bar. "There was a very disgruntled man who doesn't seem the type to let things go that left just before you came down."

"Yeah, what else is new."

He waits a moment while Bella slumps against the bar, looking towards the stairs. "Where's Freckle?"

"Who knows."

"Little Fist…"

She holds up a finger. "I told you to stop calling me that."

"Ah, but it is a form of endearment! And Bella is so, so… common," he explains with a grin. It slowly dims and he sighs, setting down his hand towel. "Okay, what's wrong? You're more broody than usual and it's almost unfathomable that Freckle isn't trying to attach herself to your hip."

Bella shrugs. "Maybe she's getting wiser with age."

"Better at hiding, at least," he agrees.

"Good." Bella groans, setting her glasses aside to let her face thunk against the bar. "I can't find Jaaaaaaames, Alph! How has nobody ever seen this dude? How old is he? I've been searching for six months and haven't caught a whiff of his scent. He's a ghost, he has to be a ghost. That's it. I'm chasing a ghost. Great."

A big warm hand rests atop her own, silencing her rambling. She lifts her face enough to squint up at Alphonse. "Breathe, child. Today's worries won't seem so bad with a full belly. Let's go back to the kitchen."

"You're too good at that," Bella complains softly. She sighs, long and tired, and grabs her glasses to slump off the stool…

.

.

.

"Oop!" she gasps, and just past the pins and needles does she feel the chair digging into her back before she slides right out from it, to the floor. Alphonse's voice rings in her ear, echoing in and out, and she sits up to get her bearings. The table jumps above her when she smacks her forehead. "Fuck!"

"Bella! Bella, oh honey. I found her!" Esme gasps and kicks the table aside. It skitters across the kitchen floor, dragging the chairs with a screech, and she kneels beside Bella to flit her hands over her. "You're okay, you're okay. Oh, Bella, I was so worried. She's gone, you're safe."

Between the ringing, the jump, and the ache in her forehead from time travelling and bashing her damn face on the table, Bella's dizzy eyes struggle to focus on Esme. She reaches up, hand over the woman's face, confused and disoriented. "How?"

Esme pulls her hand away gently, tilting Bella's face up. "Bella, how many fingers am I holding up?" Her glasses are placed on her face, and the blurry world makes a little more sense.

"Four," Bella says confidently. And then blinks a few more times. "No, two. Definitely two."

She shivers violently and Esme pulls her chilly hands back, more or less holding Bella on her lap. "Carlisle?" she calls out.

In a second, the room is much more full. Carlisle's face is there, his kind golden eyes scanning over Bella to check for injuries. He pulls out the penlight from his pocket, lifting Bella's glasses to shine it in her eyes. "Bella, can you count to ten for me?"

"One. No. Why?" She squeezes her eyes shut to blink open wide as if that will clear the mess in her head. "What year is it?"

He smiles slightly. "That answers my next question. Bella, you may have a concussion, I need you to just lay there for a moment and stop struggling."

It's only then that she realizes she's been trying to sit up and flops back against Esme. "Sure."

"I don't understand," Esme says and looks up at the others in the room. "I don't understand anything that's happened since we left. Victoria came to the house, she wasn't in the woods."

Alice ducks her head. "She somehow knew where to go to avoid us and dodged my visions. I'm sorry, Bella," she whispers.

When Bella blinks, brilliant blue eyes stare back at her sadly. She blinks again and they're golden. Esme cradles her close. "Victoria got in here, in our home, and the boys fought her off until Alice made it back."

"She's - I couldn't." Jasper's words falter and his shoulders strain, rigid in their posture. Very much a disciplined soldier. "She must have some kind of ability. I couldn't grab her, she's not as fast or strong as a newborn, but she's wildly elusive. It was like sparring with Alice or Edward, she knew exactly where I would be."

Esme nods. "Alice arrived before the rest of us, where you confronted her."

On the other side of Bella, Alice kneels down. She reaches out to brush Bella's hair back behind her ear, smiling sadly at the dazed girl. "I thought I could get her out of the house, to the rest of you, at least. Maybe into town where Victoria couldn't follow. She knew, though. I don't know how. I - couldn't touch her, either."

"Could you see her?"

"Yes - I mean, sort of. I can see her, but she's constantly changing her mind. Every time I anticipate her, it's like she knows, and decides on something else. I see dozens of paths for one decision, and I see her take them all, but I don't know which one she will choose at the last second."

Emmett, rubbing his cracked shoulder, looks at Edward. "That's not good, dude."

"Clearly," he agrees. Looks at Emmett's shoulder and is gone in a flash, back with a warm cloth that he puts over it.

Alice shakes her head. "What I don't understand is how Victoria managed to pounce on Bella and yet Bella was not there when they landed on the floor. She was just - gone. I was in the doorway, she couldn't have made it out."

"A good point but I'm more alarmed about the woman who showed up after us?" Rosalie says suddenly. "Are we going to ignore the Amazon that dragged Victoria out of the house just because she happened to help us in the moment?"

Carlisle hums. "She's not part of the Amazonian coven."

"Not an actual Amazon," Rosalie sighs, the bridge of her nose pinched in frustration. "She didn't stick around to kill Victoria, they can't be enemies, which means they could be allies."

He considers this, head tilting. "Do you think she was here to punish Victoria or save her?"

"They didn't look like friends," Jasper says. "She was… angry. Enraged, almost, and Victoria was surprised. Yet Victoria still lives."

Slowly, the echoing in Bella's ears begins to fade. She huffs sadly, forcing her eyes to stay open. God. When did she sleep last?

"Time travel," Rosalie says declares. The others look at her, confused and doubtful. "She keeps disappearing and doesn't know what year it is when she returns," she points out and literally points down at Bella with a toss of her hand. "Look at her cuff, there's ink there. She didn't have a tattoo this morning, the scar on her chin is completely healed. Hell, look at her, you're not blind. She's aged."

"Time travel is preposterous," Carlisle tells her… and yet, he stares long and hard at an older Bella than he had seen this morning. "No. But? No. Bella?"

Another shiver rips through her and Esme looks on helplessly, unable to decide if her cold lap or the floor is better for Bella. "That's not possible," she says, more to herself than anyone else.

"Any better ideas?" Rosalie sighs and hoists herself up onto the kitchen counter.

Edward shakes his head. "She's human, Rosalie. She's only human. That's just not possible, it doesn't make any sense."

"Why don't we ask her?" Emmett asks. Again, the room looks at him and he shrugs his massive shoulders, wincing against the stiff pain. "Boo."

She jerks her chin up. "Hm?"

"Can you time travel?"

"Uhhhh yeah. Yup," she agrees and rubs at her eyes.

Carlisle hums. "She's concussed."

"Are you sure she's not drugged?"

Bella frowns. "Hey, listen. I'm… up," she grunts as she pushes herself up to her feet, only swaying a little. "I'm a little hungover, a little beat to shit, and reeling off a four hundred-sixty year jump, okay? Let's see you do better, princess."

A scoff and Rosalie hops off the counter, leaving the kitchen. "She's alive, I'm done playing nice. I'll be in what's left of my room."

"Bell-"

She shoulders past Edward and Emmett, jogging across the room to empty her stomach in the sink. "Uuggh…" she moans groggily and lays her head against the counter, reaching to turn on the tap. "I don't feel-huurlgh!"

"Just get it all out, honey," Esme murmurs and gently rubs Bella's back, holding her hair up out of her face. "You're okay. You'll be okay."

Bella shivers into the sink. "Sometimes I think my first mistake was being born," she mutters into the drain.

Beside her, Edward lifts the revolver from her belt, pinching it between two fingers to place in a bowl up in the cupboard. He helps Esme pull the coat off her, wrinkling his nose at the smell of old cigars, saltwater, and alcohol. "She smells like a dockworker."

She rears her head up, turning to look at him. "There's nothing wrong with an honest living working down at the docks, okay?"

He uses the dish towel to wipe her chin, his pointer finger pressing against her cheek to turn her face back towards the sink. "Bella, you make my soul sing but I cannot handle the whole vomit aspect of… this."

"You literally rip throats out of living creatures to drink their blood and this is where you draw the line?" she scoffs. "It's not even that b-huurlgh!"

Edward dry-heaves and turns his head away. "I c-hrgurrk! No! Esme, I can't!" he whines and heaves again. "I have to leave. I have, I need fresh air," he says and opens the large window Alice likes using to get to her tree.

Watching him fling himself outside, Emmett shakes his head. "Rookie." He claps his hands, rubbing them together, and turns back to the rest of the room. "So. Time travel? That's exciting."

"And still impossible," Jasper reminds him. "There has to be another explanation."

"Do you have one?" Alice asks. "I see the future, can she really not travel to the past?"

He shakes his head. "But you don't travel to the future, your physical body remains in the present."

"I look through a window, she walks through the door."

"That's putting it rather simply," he says with a slight frown. "Time travel is-"

"A bitch," Bella groans.

Ever the patient man, Carlisle hums and checks on Bella. "I'm not sure how you keep getting frostbite, Bella, but I suggest staying out of the cold whenever possible." He takes her hands, inspecting her fingers as the bowl in the sink fills with warm water, and ever so carefully dips them in. "As long as we're pointing things out, she didn't say past, Alice."

"Pardon?" the pixie questions with a tilt of her head.

Esme's eyebrows jump and she looks at her daughter with intrigue. "That's true. You said past, so certainly, but she didn't mention from when she… jumped, I believe she put it?"

"Oh, I…" Alice shakes her head, very suddenly confused. "I'm not sure why I thought the past. I just assumed, I guess."

"Are you sure you can't see her? There didn't seem to be much doubt, even with fifty-fifty chances."

"I've never been able to see her properly, no."

Bella sighs, wiggling her sore fingers in the bowl of water. "Not entirely true."

"Bella?"

They wait a moment, two, and when Bella doesn't continue, they give up on relying on her for any actual information. For the moment. Jasper, instead, pulls his hand out of her pockets to stare down at the coins he finds. And blinks. Twice. His mind scrambles for logic and comes back with nothing. "A guess or not, you are correct, Alice. These coins are quite outdated."

"What?" Everyone but Esme huddles around Jasper and Bella's coat, leaning in to look. "This is a total breach of privacy," Emmett says and looks around them. "Just so we're all on the same guilt-page here. It's cool, I don't think we should stop, but it's definitely not a nice thing to do to someone who doesn't trust us anymore."

Alice pinches one of the coat pockets shut just before Jasper can stick his hand back in. "We shouldn't look, then. We're trying to gain her trust back, this is the absolutely wrong way to go about it."

"Don't you want to know what she knows?" he asks. "Alice, you, in particular, have more reason than most to go poking through a time traveller's things, especially one who travels to the past. A past that you cannot remember."

Holding the coat close, Alice simply stares at him. Such excellent points he makes, but that doesn't make them right. That doesn't give her any rights over anyone else. Not over Bella, not over her best friend that she hurt so deeply the girl doesn't even look at her anymore. "Then I better hope she's forthcoming with her answers when I ask questions because I refuse to go through her things. I also refuse to let you."

"Alice," he says with a concerned frown. "I didn't mean to offend." A moment passes between them and his shoulders slump. He looks over at the girl with her head in the sink and sighs. "You're right, of course. I should not have even found these coins. Bella, I'm sorry," he says to her, blurring over to lean down beside her. "I took these coins from your pocket."

"They're Tori's, actually," Bella mutters and grabs them in her fist, shoving them into her back pocket. "I should go-"

Esme easily catches her when Bella's knees give out, holding her close. "I know you're upset with us, Bella, but I must insist you let us take care of you. You're not well."

"I'm fine!"

"When did you last sleep?"

"Dunno. A day or two, I don't - I'm fine!"

Esme smiles softly down at the young girl, bringing the blanket up to her chin. "Honey, you fell asleep in my arms. You're up in Edward's room already."

"Oh." She cracks open an eye, looking around the fuzzy but admittedly familiar bedroom. A distorted memory of going with Edward to buy this stupid bed plays in the back of her mind. "Well, okay. But I'm leaving when I wake up."

"Of course. Just rest, Bella."

The light is flicked off, Esme pulling the door closed behind her and sparing only one last look. Bella sinks back into a pillow bigger than Charlie's couch. "...'m sick of hurting 'cause of you."

In her hand, the doorknob warps and Esme squeezes her eyes shut until she can bring herself to close the door gently. She rests her forehead against it. "I'm sorry, Bella."

Chapter Text

When her phone vibrates, it hums throughout the entire room and the perfect acoustics can only mean one thing. "I'm in fucking Edward's fucking room," she groans into the pillow. Which means that everything she can remember about yesterday, granted it isn't much, actually happened. So that's nice. She's back at the Cullens', who rifled through her pockets, accused her of time travel, and took her in for the night.

More debt to pay off to people she hates. Great.

Her phone buzzes again and she's got just enough of a headache that it's obnoxious and tempts her to throw the thing across the room. Precious pictures are stored within though, so she grudgingly picks it up and squints to read the screen.

Be nice.

Bella blinks and leans up onto her elbow, rubbing at her eyes. Whose number is that? And who the fuck is telling her to be nice? They don't know her, they don't know what she's been through. "Who-?"

You.

A frown latches onto her face, halfway pouty and halfway resigned. What an asshole Future Her is. "Fuck you."

Try to have fun, Gus. Don't forget to breathe.

She stuffs the phone into her pocket angrily, snatching up her glasses and kicking off the blankets. Easy to say from the future, when everything is said and done. Bella yanks the door open, looking down the hall on either side. Rosalie staples one corner of a tarp over the enormous hole in the wall, glancing back over her shoulder to scoff. "You look less dead."

"You look…" There are no insults she can actually hurl at the blonde, they both know Rosalie is stunning even in paint-covered overalls. So she turns away instead, taking the stairs down two at a time and heading for the kitchen. Fucking vampires taking her damn gun like they know anything at all.

Esme looks up from the stove, flipping a pancake. "Bella! Alice suspected you might wake up this morning, I made you - oh dear…"

"Not hungry," she grunts, dragging bowl after bowl out of the cupboard. "Where did he put it?"

"Edward feels very strongly about-"

"Shockingly, I think this is where I'm finally stronger than a vampire," Bella snaps. "I guarantee I feel more strongly about this than he does. Where is it?"

Esme sighs. "Bella."

"Where. Is. My. Gun."

She brings it up out of her apron pouch, holding it in her open palm. "Please be careful."

"That's the idea, maybe even the point," Bella grumbles and can't quite meet Esme's eye. "How long have I been asleep for? It feels like days."

With a nod, Esme flips the pancake onto a plate. "Three days, actually. Your father is still asleep on the couch in the living room."

"Wh-"

"He's been told things are not quite as he understands them," Esme explains patiently. "When you didn't wake up the first morning, we contacted him. People were still searching for you, Bella, and he deserves to know when you're safe and when you're not. It was killing him."

"How am I supposed to explain where I've been?" she exclaims and runs a hand through her hair, shaking her head. "Does he know about vampires? Or why there are holes in your house?"

This time Esme shakes her head. "He knows only that you're momentarily safe and strange concepts need to be discussed. If you feel he needs to know about our nature, knowing that it places him in danger…" She smiles reassuringly. "Then we will tell him. I think everyone deserves to know what is happening to or with you, though."

"You don't deserve anything."

Esme flinches and then Bella does, realizing how cruel a thing to say that was. "You may be right," she whispers and turns back to the stove, pouring more pancake batter into the pan. "We can clear out to give you two privacy if you'd like."

Be nice. Be nice. Be nice.

God. The arrogance. Does she have any idea how difficult that is? Yeah, but no. Maybe. Fuck. Why? Why do they deserve any kindness from her? Why does she have to be the bigger person? Why does she have to be nice?

It's so easy to be cruel.

It's so hard to be nice.

Fuck.

Bella taps Esme's shoulder, awkwardly clearing her throat. "I, uh. Sorry."

"It's fine, Bella," Esme says with a sad smile. "Are you sure you're not hungry? I can make something else for you, I could even run out to the store, I don't mind."

She shakes her head. "No, really, I'm fine. I can't stay, I have things I need...to...do…" she trails off at the anxious look on Esme's face. "This was an accidental destination, I'm still learning how to - aim?"

"You were telling the truth?"

"I usually do."

"Why lie when the truth is so much sharper," Rosalie muses from the entrance to the kitchen. She wipes drywall from her hand onto her thigh and flashes a sarcastic smile. "Always happy to hear when I'm right."

Emmett crosses his arms on the windowsill over the sink from outside. "Time travel is pretty damn cool, but Carlisle thinks it's killing you."

"What?" Bella and Esme echo each other.

He visibly deflates, open horror on his face when he realizes he said the words out loud. "Oh, wait. There's probably a better way to tell you that."

"Bells?" Charlie rasps with a voice heavy with sleep. He blinks bleary eyes at her, braced against the other side of the entrance to the kitchen.

She looks between him and Emmett, feeling one solid thud in her chest from her heart. She takes a breath and holds up a hand. "Wait…" No, he's wrong. It can't. It can't be. What kinda bullshit would that be? To be bestowed this great and powerful gift only to have it actively kill her? "Killing me?"

That's not.

That can't be true.

Sure, a big jump takes a lot out of her. The headaches, the nosebleeds, whatever that chill thing is… but that's it. Right? It can't be killing her.

"You're wrong," she snaps, cutting through everyone else's heated conversation. She didn't even feel Charlie's hand on her shoulder and looks up at him. Shrugs off his hand. "No, you're all wrong, you don't get it. You have no idea what I can do and… you're trying to trap me. Again."

It's not killing her.

It's more Cullen Head Games.

She points an accusing finger at Emmett. "Just another way to cram me back into a convenient box. What, you're the only ones allowed to be special? You don't like that I can come and go as I please, you have to chain me down? I need to be stuck here in Forks for you to play with whenever you're bored, is that it? Fuck you, Emmett. Fuck you, Cullens."

Benicebenicebenice.

She plugs her ears and glares up at the ceiling. "And fuck you, too!"

Bella doesn't even try to fight against the heat of the pins and needles.

.

.

.

Maybe there are better ways to go jumping than in the middle of an explosive emotional episode. Maybe it's a good idea to not go jumping at all when you're not actually sure if it is or isn't actively killing you.

On the other hand…

Maybe life sucks and then you die.

What's the point in waiting, if that's the case?

Surprisingly, she has an answer. If life does, indeed, suck and then you do, indeed, die at the end, the only reason - at least, to not run off to go jumping through time is so you can avoid a mouthful of dirt and grass.

Bella rolls twice more before she manages to spit it out, coughing and hacking in the air. Chaos. Her life is chaos and falling to pieces around her, scattered across the entirety of history. And the worst part is, she doesn't know why. What did she do to deserve this? It's not like she's a bad person, she's actually kind of decent most of the time.

She's always been a good friend to Mike, she's always worked hard to put him before herself. As a daughter… well, she's not the worst. She might even be a good kid when it comes to Charlie. Minus the whole disappearing thing, which she mostly can't control (except that time she jumped off the hospital on purpose). And Renee is - complicated. That's mostly balanced though, a bad mom deserves a bad kid. She feels like, anyway.

Even the people she doesn't like, she just - she just avoids them! She tried avoiding the Cullens, and she's been supremely patient with them, all things considered.

She's not a bad guy, why is her life like this? What did she do to deserve it? It's not fair.

It's not fair.

"It's not fair," someone weeps.

Her heart jumps up into her throat for maybe a second before she swallows it down and turns on her side. It would be too much to ask, you know, landing in an abandoned field to bask in her misery alone. No, she has to share it with a blurry stranger.

Bella sighs, adjusting her crooked glasses and leans up on her arm. The stranger - less blurry now, looks… kinda… vaguely familiar. And, alas, Bella is a sucker for weeping damsels because she is a fucking decent fucking human fucking being who doesn't deserve this shit. She clears her throat, pushing up to her knees and notices they're actually on a rather beautiful cliffside.

There's even a nice sunrise beyond the stranger that paints the sky a beautiful pink. "H…" She swallows against the dirt lacing her throat and shakes her head. "Hey…"

"I'm sorry…" the woman sighs and raises her arms.

Dread strikes Bella's heart to a standstill before coursing through her veins. The longest and shortest second of her life passes where she realizes she knows exactly who this blurry stranger is and it's cruel (again) how clear she becomes with a final blink. Esme's profile glows against the sunrise and Bella reaches out helplessly.

Time rushes back in the moment Esme steps off the cliff. Bella might scream. Or gasp. There's rushing air in her chest but all she feels is the grass and dirt against her fingers and knuckles. Muffled noise as she scrambles to the edge of the cliff, hands digging into the ground.

Holy fuck. Holy fuck, holy fuck, holy fuck. Esme just jumped. Esme just jumped. Esme just jumped.

Look.

Just peek.

Or don't? Wait for Carlisle to find her?

"Fuck, fuck, fuck."

Does Carlisle find her? How-how-how did Esme's story go? What did Edward tell her? Who found Esme?

"Who finds you?" Bella asks the edge of the cliff. The sunrise. A god that never responds. Just a still morning, quiet and peaceful as the world still shakes off sleep. Tranquillity marred by tragedy and nobody fucking knows.

Peek.

Or don't.

Look.

Or wait.

"It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair," she whispers and leans forward. Grass, grass, gravel, gravel, cliff, cliff, air, gr-Esme. Blood. She falls back on her ass and stares out at the pink sky. That's not something she should see. That's not something anyone should see. That's, that's, that's - no.

What the fuck.

That's messed up.

That's really messed up. The universe is fucked up. Life is so fucking unfair.

She breathes in a jagged breath. "Where do they find you? Okay." Bella closes her eyes and takes another breath. "Okay. Esme fell. He's being kind. I jumped after I lost my baby. She was very lucky, she managed to survive the fall, and Carlisle found her in the morgue of the hospital. Destiny kept her alive long enough for him to find her. That's a rather romantic twist on the morbid, Edward. He's not wrong, though. It was… meant to be, I think."

A shaky hand covers Bella's mouth and she can feel the warm tears run down her cheeks.

Esme survived the jump.

She's alive down there. Bleeding. Dying. Alone.

"Esme, just hold on!" Bella's watery shout echoes through the morning air. She violently wipes at her eyes, looking back down over the edge. "I'm on my way, just... Obviously, you're not going to move but. You know. Don't move!"

Fuck this tall fucking cliff. Fuck her inability to walk across a flat surface, never mind scale a damn mountain. Bella digs her fingers into the gravel, lowering her legs over the edge to feel around for a lip to stand on. There's always a lip or a root, a larger rock to hold onto. Something.

Maybe if she-"Fuck!" she gasps, fingers sliding through loose gravel until she can dig them harder into the dirt beneath. Her fingertips throb, sharp pebbles under her nails, and she whimpers against the sting. "Okay, okay, okay. Alright, another game of chicken. J-ust!" She slides another foot and dangles over the side of the cliff.

Jesus. That's a long way down. How did Esme survive that?

Pins and needles, come on. Come on. Come on. Esme needs her. Esme needs her and, and, and she deserves this. If it's killing her, she deserves some semblance of control over her life. She can direct it, she has to be able to direct it. Life isn't fair but damn it, you always have a choice and "I choose to pop up down there right now!"

Her hands let go and she plummets through the air, feeling the sharp tingling sensation of needles and pins…

Pink and green blur together for half a heartbeat and then she blinks, landing in the grass with a thud. The sky spins and she blinks again. The top of the cliff stares back at her, up, up, up there. "Holy hell…"

Someone whimpers beside her.

"Esme!" Bella gasps and shoots up. "Oh, no. No, no, no. Why would you do this? Wh-why?" Her trembling and bloody hands flit over Esme's bruised and broken face. Tears land on her dirty, bloody dress and Bella can't stop weeping, can't stop sobbing over the only woman who ever truly felt like her mother. "How could you do that to them? Edward saw, he saw it all! Anytime you remember, he sees this! How could you do it to him? Don't you know how much they love you?"

She's unresponsive, of course. Nobody ever answers Bella. Always, she will be left alone. Always, she will be left wondering why. What she did wrong. Why people reach for you only to fucking leave you in the end.

She beats her fists against the grass beside Esme, sitting back on her feet to let her anguish out in a wail. "What if nobody found you?" she snarls and wipes at her cheeks again. "What if I never met you? What if you just died here, Esme? Don't you know how much I love you?!"

Doesn't she know what she means to Bella? Doesn't she know what she did, leaving her? Can't she see Bella's broken heart? Can't she hear the shards pretend they're whole?

By the time Bella's done screaming at a woman who clearly can't hear her, the pink sky is gone. It's brilliantly blue, the sun shining high up above the cliff, and Bella sits there hugging her knees while she waits. And waits. And waits.

She's not that dumb, not really, but things aren't always as they seem. Time is… tricky and so, so fragile. "Who finds you, Esme?" she asks weakly.

It's a suspicion she's had ever since she realized it was Esme up on that cliff, one she still tosses around in her head even as she drags the woman through the field as gently as she can. Which is not nearly as easy as it sounds, Bella decides, huffing and puffing as she goes. Bodies are damn heavy and maybe she needs to start working out. Less cardio, more weights. Something. Jesus.

Going through town is a little more difficult but mostly just not being spotted. The wheelbarrow at the edge of the field made things ten times easier and it only takes her ten minutes to realize they're very luckily on the side of the city with the hospital on it.

As gently as she can, she sets the wheelbarrow down and hovers long enough to make sure it doesn't tip. Grabbing the door handle, she prays isn't locked. It's the back of a hospital and her life sucks so it's probably locked but one can hope. Bella closes her eyes and pulls-

Shocked to hell and back when she has to catch the door, realizing it was just propped up there. She leans back to look at the hinges and inspect the ripped metal, and briefly wonders if Carlisle wasn't always so good at controlling his strength?

Inside a metal gurney is waiting for her and she pauses only long enough to narrow her eyes in more suspicion.

Covered in her surrogate mother's blood and dirt from the cliff she threw herself off, Bella tries to ignore the cold pain of a whine in the back of her head and wheels the woman down a dark hall. Ignores the windows she passes, the doors that remain closed, and rolls her shoulders until the ringing in her ears gets a little quieter.

The morgue is - cold. Quiet. It feels… she doesn't like it. Something familiar, like a nightmare you can't remember.

Bella brushes the dirt from Esme's cheeks. Uses her sleeve to wipe the blood from Esme's face, and combs her fingers through matted hair. She gently and lovingly places Esme's hands over each other, on her stomach, and presses a kiss to her forehead. "Your family is waiting for you," she whispers.

The morgue doors swing shut again and a man's shadow dips around the corner at the end of the hall. Bella turns the opposite way and sprints to the end, slowing down only so she doesn't kick open the door to the stairwell, and takes them two at a time to the next floor up.

One of the nurses on the other side of the door gasps when they see her - a girl who looks like she just dug herself out of her own grave, with eyes dark and hard as death itself. The woman shakes her head and steps back, watching Bella lift a bloodstained finger over her lips.

A towel is held out to her, small and wet and also stained, but she takes it with a nod and the nurse leaves at once. Bella wipes at her face, her hands, and leans against the wall. Exhaustion clings to her, despite the fact she just slept for three days.

But she can't stop. Can't rest, not here. Carlisle might see her even with his hands full, so she slides forward against the wall until the next hall. It's a little busier but hopefully she looks less like Death Incarnate, and takes the corner to slide down the hall against the wall.

She only stops when she gets to a long window, looking inside at the newborn babies. Fucking adorable.

Really, Bella's never been crazy about kids. Maybe she's too young, but the itch just never took. Kids are fun, don't get her wrong, and she's not immune to how cute some of them are, but. She can't imagine having to raise one. So much responsibility, so much riding on you to shape a life and then do right by it.

Knowing firsthand how much it can damage a kid if you don't do it right, Bella doesn't understand how people get past the crippling fear to the excitement. Who's gonna protect all these babies from the world? From the decades, upon decades, upon decades of bullshit they'll have to endure? Racism, sexism, carnage and cruelty.

How does something so small and soft survive that?

"I-I-I came through on my end of the deal, Charles! I'm just saying, I - you need to pay me! Miss Platt was devastated when I told her we lost the baby and I can't get it out of my head. She left the hospital!"

"That's good, Allan," a darkly amused voice murmurs.

Bella tilts her head. Listens closer.

"She was broken, Charles. I'm worried. And-and broke. You owe me m-money, okay? Or I-I'm going to go find her and tell her the baby lived."

There's a small yelp and some scuffling. "Now, Allan. Why would you threaten a man who could very easily crush your head like a melon? Does that seem wise, Doctor Sir?"

"I-I-I'm just-"

"Breathe a word of it to anyone and I will go find your wife, Allan. Do we understand each other?"

After a moment of silence, Bella leans back against the wall to look around the corner. A man in a white coat slumps to the floor, a look of fear and defeat on his face, while a behemoth of a man shoves open a door at the end of the hall. A blue bundle is tucked into his large arm, cradled close.

And the gun in Bella's belt feels heavier than ever.

.

.

.

It's not that difficult to follow them home. They're not that far, Bella realizes from the beginning, since he decided walking was no issue for a newborn. She's careful enough to make sure he doesn't realize he's being followed, and careful not to run into Carlisle.

Still not as good going unseen tailing someone as Tori, but she gets the job done.

Thankfully there's not a whole lot of chance of Carlisle spotting her, not with the sun shining high in the sky. She's actually not even sure how he managed to get to work or how he's going to get Esme out of the hospital but that's his issue. She's done there.

She's got a new goal now, a better goal. She couldn't save Esme, but she sure as hell can avenge her.

Maybe she just wanted a nice and quiet day to decompress. To try and adjust to her life a little bit, to this new and shocking information. Time to absorb the fact that she may be dying and now, you know, deal with the trauma of watching Esme try to kill herself… but life goes on. What's that saying, ain't no rest for the wicked?

Just how wicked does the universe judge her to be?

Twenty minutes pass by the time they end up at a house just outside of the city. Plenty of land for kids to run around on, a big tree excellent to hang a swing from. Nice sized porch, and Bella can almost see Esme sitting out here, watching her family play together.

She can almost see the life Esme worked so hard for.

A life that was taken from her.

By this asshole.

Her fingers twitch and she runs them along the smooth wood of the railing. So familiar. Almost like stepping through an echo.

The door wasn't even really latched, it bounces off the wall inside when she kicks it in and has to kick it again. "You better kill me or-"

She jabs the barrel against his chest and he stumbles back, holding a hand to a forming bruise. "People really need to stop telling me to kill them!" Bella growls and aims the gun between his eyebrows. "I might just start listening to them."

Is it some kind of power move? Do they think it makes them tough? Though, to be fair, who is she to judge someone who dares the world to kill them?

Nope, never mind. Fuck that. Self-reflection is a dangerous game and there are certainly better moments for it.

"Who do you think you are?!" he booms as his face twists in fury. "Do you have any idea who I am? What you've just done?"

She steps forward and he steps back into the living room. It's nice enough, pale blue with a white couch, paintings on the walls. Shockingly homey, but she supposes Esme could make a home of just about anything. "I'm the asshole that's gonna blow your face off your skull. You're the asshole about to die. And I just spelled out your fucking doom, dickhole."

"You stupid child," he spits and wipes a big meaty hand down his face. He's smiling when his hand passes over his mouth, brown eyes crinkling with humour. "Oh you stupid, stupid little girl. Who are you, really?"

Bella digs the barrel into his muscled shoulder. "Sit the fuck down."

And he does, willingly. Helpfully. Calmly. The couch sinks with his mighty weight and, damn, this is one big dude. Heavy. Broad. "You're a cousin? Sister, maybe? Esme told me she had no siblings, should have guessed she was lying to me. Always lying, thinking she's clever enough that I won't know. What a fool, my wife is."

"Shut up," Bella snarls and the gun clicks when she draws it back up to his face. How dare he speak of her like that. "Shut the actual fuck up, stop the noise coming out of your mouth."

He nods, holds up a hand and relaxes back into the couch. Laces his arms along the back, unable to tame his charming smile. "Right, yes. Have your moment, let's pretend you're in control here. That you might actually pull the trigger. What's your name, child?"

This is the guy who hurt Esme. The arrogant fuck who thinks it's okay to tell someone their baby died. To threaten a man using his wife.

Scratching at her eyebrow, Bella yanks her hand away and squeezes her fist until her knuckles try to pop. "I'm having a bad day," she tells Charles. "You're making it worse and that's a very dangerous thing to do. What, exactly, makes you think you're walking away from this?"

This is the man who put Esme up on that cliff. This is the man responsible for her death.

"You have her eyes," he says and points a finger-gun at her. "Kind. Hurt. Scared. She couldn't pull that trigger and neither can you. But hey, don't let it get you down. I'm in a good mood, I'm having a good day. I'm a father now. I'm even going to let you walk away from this, no hard feelings. No lessons to be taught."

Fury bubbles in her veins against cold hatred. Her muscles ache. "Is that what you think you were doing all that time? Teaching lessons?" She has to take another breath and squeeze the handle. Rub at her eyebrow. "You… fuck. You delusional, controlling, twisted… no. No, I'm taking that kid. You'll never see him again, you'll never get anywhere near your baby."

The smile drops from his face in a heartbeat. "Don't threaten me." He shakes his head, up on his feet quicker than she expects, and knocks her hand aside to shove her back into the wall. "You petulant brat. I was going to let you leave, don't you get that? I was being generous but you Platt women are too stupid to understand simple courtesies! You think you're going to take my child from me?"

"St-"

His hand snaps around her neck, digging into her jaw, and catches the very words in her throat. "Who threatens a man's child? You? A woman? You should be grateful I'm here to raise her. To protect her from the very ideals that poisoned your family. She will be a proper woman, not some street-whore in breeches-"

Bella slams her elbow down on his, enough to bring her forehead forward against his nose in a headbutt. "Su-ck my d-ckk!"

"Foul-mouthed demon!" he roars and lifts her up to slam her against the wall. "I hope Esme comes crawling back again after licking her wounds, after she washes off the shame of losing a child. And then you-"

"K-kill… you…!" Bella rasps between his fingers and jabs the gun up under his chin.

It's not fair.

It's not fair.

He scoffs, chuckles deep in his chest. "Again with this game? Go ahead, little girl, pul-"

The rest of his words are a gurgle of blood that splatters every surface of the room, of her face, against her glasses. Her ears pop and a headache tears through her brain like a cold icicle, but she drops to the floor, gasping in air like a drowning man.

She drops her hand with the gun against the ground, wiping his blood from her face with her other hand, and swallows down another gulp of air. Her lungs sigh in relief, the black spots in her vision fading until she can see the blood against her glasses and she sucks in another gulp of oxygen.

It's… it's fair. Balanced. A life for a life.

She had to. She had to do it. It sucks, it's horrible, but… this… this is how it has to be.

A baby's cry echoes through the small house by the time she finally catches her breath. His body lays there, ever still. She stares at Charles' boots, feels herself slipping, slipping, slipping…

The baby cries again.

Bella blinks. Grunts. "Yeah. Okay." She gets up, prying the revolver from her stiff fingers and tucks it back into the holster. Charles has very large feet. Had very large feet. He's got big boots. Had.

Another cry.

"Right." She nods and walks down the hall, bloody boot prints left behind. Her fingers leave red streaks on the wood of the door and she peeks in. The room is yellow. Nice. Monkeys painted on the wall. A crib across the room. Very nice. "Hi… uh, kid," she whispers and it wails some more. She creeps ever closer, fingers curling around the bar on the crib to blink down at the baby.

White stains red when Bella uses some of the soft blanket to clean her glasses enough to see out of. She blinks a few more times and stares down into big brown eyes.

Uh… huh.

Bella steps back. "Well, that's. Um." She scratches the top of her head. Rubs at her eyebrow. "No. No, that's." Brushes her knuckles against her jaw. "H…" Digs her fingers into the back of her neck.

The baby cries harder.

"Okay, okay. Lets, you. Come on, then." She reaches in to pick it up and doesn't think twice about the blood until it soaks into the blue blanket the baby is wrapped in. "Sorry."

With another shaky breath, Bella turns to look out at the hall. Catches sight of those large boots, and the two girls blip out of time.

.

.

.

"So, the nineties aren't that bad," Bella tells the little girl in her arms as she carries her up the familiar driveway. "I was born in the nineties." She pauses, stops in the middle of the driveway, and shakes her head. "Actually, no, I wasn't. I'll have to ask Esme what year she jumped… but, you know, I was raised in the nineties. You'll like it, I liked it. Much better than the eighteen-hundreds. Felt like the eighteen-hundreds."

She doesn't like the eighteen-hundreds, she decides. Definitely not. Won't go back. Definitely won't go back.

Lights are on upstairs, music drifting from the window. Renee's probably painting again, Charlie either watching her or watching tv. Or - no, he only started rotting in front of the television after she left. He used to read. He used to read a lot.

He's probably reading.

"Sorry about your mom, she's gonna… she's gonna be a pill but you'll do fine. Charlie's cool. You'll like him. A good dude." She shifts the baby in her arms, crouching down in front of the door. "Hey, listen. I gotta go, I'm - I feel sick, I'm just. I gotta go. But you? You're gonna be fine. I'm fine. We're fine. I just, um, remember to sleep and eat, we forget sometimes, and breathe. Breathing is key. I can't breathe. Bye, kid. Bye."

She stumbles away from the porch, only remembering to knock at the last second, and sprints back down the driveway. She waits long enough for the door to crack open before stepping into another year.

.

.

.

Bella doubles over, hands on her hips in the Cullen's backyard. She circles the house, her tongue dry and heavy, until she can spot the police cruiser and stumbles up the steps. "You didn't tell me. You never. All these years and you never said a word."

She shoulders through the door, trying to shove Carlisle out of the way but only shoving herself into the wall instead. Her legs feel like jelly. So wobbly. He steps forward to catch her, throwing his hands up and stepping back when she screams at him.

A shivering, trembling, bloody girl screaming like a banshee at him. All it takes is seeing her tears and he steps close again, reaching for her. "Bella! What's wrong? Bella, you're covered in-"

"Is that her blood?!" Esme gasps from the second floor, her hand over her heart. "Bella!"

She's down in a second but Bella's back up, she's - they watch her blink out of existence, a tear of light and darkness woven together, gone as soon as it appears. And in the same moment, she's across the room. Carlisle's mind reels and he rubs at his eyes. "How did you-"

"You never told me!" Bella screams down the hall.

They follow her and-... damn it, they listen for her heartbeat, hear it in the kitchen with Charlie's, and blur across the ground floor.

Inside the kitchen, Bella hauls her father to his feet by his uniform shirt. Tears streak down through the dirt and blood on her cheeks while Edward and Jasper watch on with black eyes, uncertain what to do. "You never told me!" Bella shouts, her breath visible in the chill of a winter air.

"What, Bells? Told you what? What happened?!" Charlie asks and his voice quakes. His hands cup her frosty cheeks. "What's wrong? I'll fix it, I swear."

Her eyes flick down to her bloody hands clutching his shirt. She lets him go like she's scalded, shoving him back into the table to stare down at her hands. "I wouldn't have… or-or I could have…"

"Bella…?"

She stalks forward to point an accusing finger at him. "I'm not yours. You should have told me! You should have told me, I had a right to know! I would have been more careful, I would have… now he's dead and it's-me. I did it."

Charlie holds up his hands, inching closer. "Bella. Bells, breathe. You're not breathing properly."

"I'm f-fucking freezing," she snarls quietly and shivers. The edges of her glasses are frosty, coat stiff with frozen blood. "And I can't even look at you, I can't, I can't stop seeing him. Holy shit. Holy shit. What did I do? What did-what did I do?"

Charlie's fingers brush against her shoulder-

And she's gone, across the room with a sharp glare. "D-Don't you fucking touch me! Nobody touch me, I'm not…"

"Bella," Esme calls to her softly. Warm and gentle and kind and all the things Renee never was, all the things stolen from her. Stolen from a child that just needed a mother to love her.

She squeezes her eyes shut. "I need-"

.

.

.

"Alice," she breathes in relief, staring down into comforting blue eyes. She sucks in a sharp breath, lifting a trembling and bloody hand only to drop it. "I…"

Alice nods. "I know. I'm so sorry, Bella. I didn't see, not until you were gone."

"I feel - empty," she admits in a broken sob. "Esme is… and my dad, he's not - Alice, it shouldn't have been me. I never should have followed him home. And, and she still left me. I'm hers and she left me. Twice."

God, her brain is so noisy! Chaos churns like acid, a barrage of sharp thoughts cutting her every time she blocks one out.

Something warm takes her hand and she blinks, staring down at Alice. Such kindness. Such warmth. So gentle as she leads Bella towards the creek and it's only then that Bella notices the candles set up.

They've been out here before, on one of their walks. It's peaceful and secluded in the woods a few fields down from Alice's house. The sun's still setting, an orange sky, but it's dark at the edge of the woods here. Or it would be, without the soft glow of the candles and lanterns.

Nimble fingers help unbuckle Bella's coat and pull it from her sore shoulders. A towel and fresh clothes sit on a nearby rock, next to a basin with sponges. Alice yanks Bella's belt from the loops, sets it and the revolver in a bush, and helps Bella disrobe.

The water is… warm. Maybe from the Southern heat that borders on boggy most days or maybe because frost still clings to Bella's cheeks. It's nice though, brings her out of her head long enough to sit on a flat rock in the middle of the stream at Alice's request.

Wading in behind her with the basin, Alice pays no mind to the water up to her hips or her dress potentially being ruined. She rests the basin on the log that's either fallen or been knocked down as a makeshift bridge across the deeper part of the creek here.

She drags the sponge over Bella's shoulder, across the ink there. A small, simple tattoo of a church front with 1532 scrawled beneath it. New since Bella last showed Alice her map. The fourth addition.

"It's going to hurt for a long time, Bella," she whispers against the tattoo and wraps her arms around the unresponsive girl's midsection. "And I'm so sorry for that. But you will get through it, I promise. I've seen it. These shoulders will bear a lot but you can do it, don't ever forget that. Even if it takes a while, Bella, you're worth waiting for. Everyone who knows you knows this. So take your time, let the wounds close. We'll be here for you when you're ready."

And they stay like that, with Alice holding her until Bella stops shivering and the blood that stains her hands rinses clean.

Chapter Text

"Ow… ow!"

"Oh hush, you big baby," Alice murmurs and dabs at the wound with a wet cloth. "If you insist on getting into fights, you're going to have to learn how to not whine about getting stitched back up again."

A powerful pout tugs Bella's lips down but Alice cannot see it from beside her, too focused on closing the knife wound on Bella's ribs. "I did it for y-"

"Don't say you did it for me, we both know it was for you," Alice cuts her off before she can finish. She clicks her tongue, staring hard at her nimble fingers making quick work. "I refuse to be the reason for your senseless punishment. If you want to hurt yourself, I can't stop you, but please do not blame me."

Bella turns quickly, wincing as the needle jabs her side, and holds Alice's hands gently. Her knuckles are bruised and bloody, raw from the fight an hour earlier, and she still can't see too great out of her left eye. She can't actually feel if it's swollen though or just blood, but she knows she's a sore sight. A horrible sight. Alice deserves so much better. "Alice, I don't blame you. I never blame you. I don't even know why you would - when I say I do it for you, I'm not. I."

"How am I not supposed to feel like it's my fault you're hurt when you say it's for me, Bella?" she asks with a weak smile. Tired eyes. "How am I not supposed to feel like it's my fault when I can see you hurting yourself and can't stop you?"

It's not something Bella had considered, apparently. She sits there floundering for an explanation, something to say to release the burden from Alice's shoulders. She'd never meant for it to touch Alice, for the pixie to feel any part of it.

Hell, she'd brought the girl back to fourteen ninety-two Italy just to get away from all the drama. And now she's ruining it. Again. Typical. That's all she's capable of, all she knows, just blood and destruction. Devastation, and she's dragging Alice into it all. What kind of person does that?

Alice scoffs. Laughs in a sad sort of disbelieving way and cradles Bella's face between her palms. "I can see you, Bella. I can see you doing it right now, you foolish, foolish girl. Please, stop punishing yourself."

"We'll find a play," Bella says instead and forces a smile onto her face. She holds Alice's hands against her cheeks, takes comfort in the warmth they bring. "We'll find a play and, and a bakery! Or we could jump again, find a new year? A better year!"

"You have to face what happened, Bella," Alice tells her seriously. She sighs, feels Bella pull away from her and is forced to drop her hands back down to her lap. Running, her friend is too good at running. Nothing catches Bella Swan unless she wants it to. "Bella, you need to talk to Esme. You need to tell her."

"No! Why?" She paces the small room they've rented, her shirt in her hands. "She doesn't need to know. She's gone this long without knowing."

"You need her to know!" Alice insists and gets to her feet. Pointedly wipes her bloody hands on the rag and throws it down onto the mending kit she carries with her these days. "I'm sick of stitching you back up, Bella! Can't you see how much it's hurting me?"

Bella covers her face with her shirt, groaning loudly. "Alice, everything is fine! It's fine how it is! I'm fine, I don't need to talk, I just want to be with you. I just want to make you smile and show you ev-everything."

"I'm not smiling, Bella. I'm not seeing everything. I'm watching my friend slowly kill herself."

Her shoulders slump. Her eyes sting. She stares at Alice and bites her tongue, rubs at her eyebrow. This isn't how it was supposed to go, this isn't what she wanted. The past wasn't supposed to hurt. "You said you'd wait. As long as it took."

"I'm here, Bella," Alice whispers and jolts forward to hug the taller girl. She squeezes as tight as she dares, careful of Bella's broken rib. "You're the one that's running away."

.

.

.

She can't stop fighting - not yet. Not yet. But Alice deserves better and, yeah, okay. Bella doesn't have a lot to offer. She  does  but it comes with blood, her hands can't be washed clean. Everything she touches is or will be stained and... and it's something she's dealing with. Trying to, at least, for Alice's sake. Alice.

She'd punch the sun if Alice asked and what's a little self-improvement? What's wrong with making yourself better for someone else? (A lot, okay, she knows that. You should be better for you and not anyone else and all that - fuck, self help shit Renee always recites. But...

But she looks at Alice and sees a fucking light. A star shining hard and bright against the darkness that lurks light vultures in the sky. She sees a smile; kind, free, happy.

She sees the best person she's ever known and how can. How can she ever be worthy of Alice when she's like this?

So maybe she doesn't want to be a better person with Alice. Maybe she just wants to be someone worthy of Alice, with or without her. There's value in that, Bella decides, watching the pixie trade flowers with a little boy in a rural town of Greece. She's done a lot of bad, she has a lot of bloody baggage, but... she wants to be worth it. She's willing to try for that.

.

.

.

The sun beats down on them, bright and angry in the sky. So damn bright. Too bright. Damn. Maybe they're hungover. Bella leans against her shovel handle, draped over it with sweat dripping from her brow. "I've been thinking," she puffs.

Alice laughs breathlessly, her legs still dangling in the hole. "You have, have you?"

"Don't make me come over there."

She lifts a hand that sways before beckoning the older girl. "Bring it. I… I dare you."

"Fine." Bella flops to the grass and dirt beside the pixie, careful of her glasses. Alice snorts. "What was I saying?"

"You were doing the most unexpected. Thinking."

"Fuck you," Bella grins and rolls over to stare up at the sky. She blocks the light, flipping her arm over to stare at the ink. "Does this tree not look like that tree there?"

Squinting, Alice inspects the tree they're digging in front of and then wiggles closer to Bella. She grabs her arm, wiping away the dirt, and sighs deeply. "Bella, I adore you."

"Uh oh."

"I well and truly adore every little thing about you."

"Just say it."

"But you're a bit of a dumbass sometimes."

"I need a new prescription, don't I?" she groans and kicks at the ground beneath them.

Alice shakes her head, leaning up onto her hand and over her friend. She stares down into those dark eyes that have lured her all across history and sighs softly. "In what way does this tree look like that tree?"

"Well." Bella swallows. Hopes her face is already red from the heat and that Alice doesn't notice her blush. "Well, this blurry part kinda looks like that blurry part."

The smile is breathtaking and joyous, and Alice tucks Bella's hair behind her ear. "Darling, it's time to go back."

"Noooo…"

"I hate to say it as much as you hate to hear it," Alice tells her and rests her chin against Bella's shoulder. "I'll wait here."

"Easy for you to say," Bella grumbles. "It's a few minutes for you."

"I could go with you," she offers offhandedly. Bella freezes, the one question she was hoping Alice would never ask, and the pixie's eyes widen. "Wait. Bella. I could go with you! I could see Charlie, I could meet him! And I could see me, oh my god. Bella. Bella."

"No, Alice!" Bella gasps and grunts when an elbow drills down into her gut in Alice's excitement. "Alice, hey, no. That's not a good idea. Alice? Don't get excited, we can't do that. Alice."

Alice throws her leg over Bella, straddling the girl and pinning her with a wicked smile. Her hair falls in obsidian waves that tickle Bella's face until she reaches up to tuck some behind Alice's ear and. Fuck. They need to stop with the innocent touching. It's really confusing Bella. "Please?"

"Nah. Can't do it, Alice." Bella shakes her head, tries to look away from those mesmerizing blues.

"I'll trade you."

"Trade me what - no! No, we can't. Alice. I can't bring you back. It's too dangerous, what if you see… you?"

She sits back fully on Bella's lap. "That is, in fact, almost the whole point."

"Why do you do this to me?" Bella whines and throws her arm over her face. "There is one chunk of time that is off limits, for one specific reason, and you want to go to that time for that reason, like a completely unreasonable person."

"Are you saying you wouldn't want to meet yourself if given the chance?"

"Absolutely not-"

Alice taps her chin thoughtfully. "That's not fair, you don't like yourself. I like myself very much, I would greatly appreciate meeting me."

"Listen, Narcissus, it ain't gonna happen," Bella tells her seriously. Firmly. "It can't and it won't, and I'm sorry, but this isn't something I can budge on."

The pixie blinks.

.

.

.

"Okay, we need to be very careful," Bella warns her. "This could rip the spacetime continuum. Or something. I've seen it on a show before."

"Didn't you already meet yourself?" Alice wonders quietly from the bush.

"No, I threw myself over a bar and through time, it's very different."

Blue eyes burn a hole in the side of her face. "You can't not see the poetic irony in that, right?" She hugs Bella's arm tightly to her, trying to smother her in as much affection as she can. "Bella, you need to learn to like yourself. At least not actively hate yourself."

"One thing at a time, damn," Bella breathes. Her lips twitch and she fights the smile, glancing down at a grinning pixie. "Okay, I'll be nicer to me. Now, I'm pretty sure Alice drove me home today."

"I know how to drive!" Alice marvels excitedly.

Bella smirks. "Well. That's up to interpretation. Remember, don't say a word when they pull up. She can hear us, but two heartbeats in the woods isn't that strange and since this already technically happened, she didn't hear us the first time. That I can remember."

"I don't know how you keep this all straight in your head," Alice hums. "You're tripping over butterflies while I set up dominoes, and I think it's almost… perfect that we found each other. Did we set it up or did the universe? Bella?"

Burrowed down against the tree beside them, Bella shrugs with her arms crossed over her chest. "Hell if I know, Alice, I'm just tryna live my life. It's a very graceful analogy you've provided but I've always felt more like an unmanned fire hose just whipping about chaotically."

"That's ridiculous but it fits," Alice snorts and shakes her head. She watches Bella, smiles softly at the pink that spreads over the girl's cheeks. "You're kind of a Grumpy Gus, Bella."

It takes a moment but Bella's eyes slowly widen and she looks up at Alice blankly. "What did you just call me?"

"No offence! I just meant-"

"-no, I know, but I've heard it before-"

"-affectionately, even."

They both stare at each other until Alice looks away, her own ears feeling rather warm. "Anyway," she sings awkwardly and smiles. "Thank you for bringing me to see me, even if I'm not allowed to meet me."

"Yeah. Sorry," Bella sighs and scratches her jaw. "It just seems particularly complicated with both of you seeing the future, but one of you having amnesia."

"Weird to think of," Alice agrees with furrowed brows. "I can't even imagine forgetting everything. All that I've seen just… gone. What a waste."

"It won't happen this time," Bella reminds her. "I'll stop it. Worst case scenario, we just hide out in the past until whatever happens, you know, happens."

"But you don't know what causes it."

"That's where James comes in."

"You don't know where James is."

"That's where Victoria comes in."

"The redhead that's trying to kill you."

Bella frowns. "Someone's being a Negative Nelly." She grunts and shifts to stretch and look at the driveway, and back to Alice. "Look, I've got this. I've got you. I won't let anything bad happen to you, Alice. Trust me."

"Trust the unmanned fire hose whipping around chaotically?" Alice teases.

And Bella grins. "If not total, utterly unpredictable chaos, then what can we trust?"

Another look lingers between them while blue eyes blaze and dark eyes smoulder. That charged, jittery energy that crackles between the two of them like electricity. Alice bites the corner of her lip and Bella's smile hooks up in a charming tilt.

A car door shuts and they blink, the connection broken. Bella presses her finger over her mouth but stares at Alice, at this Alice, she doesn't look beyond. Can't look beyond. Won't.

Not like Alice does, up on her knees to peer through the bush. Eyes wide and eager, excited as ever to see the future, ready to fully embrace it. She leans forward, watching an exceptionally graceful pixie twirl onto the hood of an expensive looking car so she can slide across and open the passenger door.

The vampire gives a flourishing bow while Bella chuckles in the car. "I aim to please, you know!" she tells her human friend and holds out a hand.

"Such manners," Bella says with a teasing lilt and lets Alice pull her up out of the car. So young. Sad but... Unburdened. A weird sight to behold. History doesn't yet cling to her shoulders. "They have classes for that now. Did they back in your day?"

"Probably," Alice says and shrugs, spins beneath Bella's hand and pulls her along towards the porch. "Maybe. I'm not sure, we should ask Edward! He would know."

"Or we could wonder," Bella counters and fishes around in her pocket for her keys. "Wondering never hurt anyone. I mean, it does, but not as much as a concrete answer can."

Alice tilts her head curiously. "Bella?"

And the human jumps, shakes her head. Smiles sheepishly. "Oh! Just, you know, what if we find out that they definitely didn't have classes? That would suck. Maybe. For some people. Potential feels better than nothing, that's all. For knowing stuff. Like etiquette classes."

"Of course," Alice agrees with a blinding smile. "Shall we, study buddy?"

Bella watches her for a moment and opens the door, standing aside. "Okay, but no more creepy rhyming, it doesn't help me remember it just freaks me out."

Alice literally hops inside and the door closes behind them.

The girls wait a moment at the edge of the woods and blue eyes look back at Bella anxiously. She holds a finger over her mouth again and holds out her hand, waiting a heartbeat for Alice to take it without a second thought.

.

.

.

"I have golden eyes!" Alice gasps the moment her feet touch the ground. "I have golden eyes, Bella, and I'm so beautiful. I've never seen someone so beautiful - yes, I know what you're going to say, I'm being Narcissus again, but Bella. Did you see how beautiful I was?"

Staring down at her feet, Bella nods with her fists clenched in her pockets. She works her jaw. "Yup. Beautiful."

"Breathtaking, Bella. I've never been so beautiful before and strong! Did you see how easily I slid across the car? Like it was nothing. That's what a vampire is? That's magnificent!"

"Perfection, remember?"

"And you become a vampire? I can only imagine - oh, Bella, you must strike hearts just walking down the street as a vampire! You're pretty now, too, of course."

"Of course," she echoes quietly.

"You looked so young there. How long ago was it?"

She scratches her cheek and shrugs weakly. "I think I was fifteen or sixteen? About a year and a half from my present. Almost three years for me personally."

Warm fingers are at her chin, lifting until she meets Alice's look. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"No more lying to me, you promised."

She frowns. "Fine. Something."

"What?" Alice asks again. Bella just blinks at her and she sighs softly, brows furrowing. "You were fine, you were - you're still mad at me. Her." Bella pulls back to look away and Alice's heart clenches. "Why? What did I do?"

"You didn't do anything," Bella grumbles and waves a hand off towards the woods. "She did. I don't wanna talk about it."

"But she's me!"

"No, she isn't!" Bella growls and spins around. "She doesn't have to be, Alice. I can… I can stop that, I can keep you as you are. You can remember me."

Alice shakes her head slowly. "You're mad at me because I forget you?"

"You don't forget me," Bella explains frantically, tapping her hand against her palm. "She does. That doesn't have to be you, that doesn't have to be us."

"That-!" Alice takes a breath, covers her face for a moment because, god, the last thing she wants to do is hurt Bella. "That is us, Bella. You know that. There is no this without that. You get that… right?"

Bella shakes her head this time. "That's not true. It hasn't happened yet."

"But it also did," Alice tells her softly. "It's still me, Bella. Human or vampire, in the past or in the future. They're both me."

"No-"

"Why not?!"

"Because you broke my heart!" Bella shouts. She blinks at Alice's surprised face and steps back, shrinks away. "You don't get it, you never get it. Not then and not now. Alice, I love you. I love you, and if you forget me, you pick him." She rubs her eyebrow, stepping back again. Refuses to meet her eye. "If you pick that, you pick him."

Wind blows through the trees, playing with the leaves and their branches. Birds chirp and sing in the distance, the sun shining brightly in the field.

Alice drops her chin to her chest and fiddles with her fingers. So frustrating. She looks back up, determination painted across her face. "Bella, I pick-"

"You have to remember me," Bella whispers against her forehead and Alice latches onto her coat, grabs on for dear life. Tries to anchor her here or hitch a ride and follow her.

But she should have known. She should have felt the heat against her skin, even through the chill that follows Bella like a shadow.

She's back home.

And Bella's gone again.

.

.

.

"Grab him! Somebody grab him, he's got the damn key on him! Some-"

A grubby face opens in surprise and shock, the man desperately trying to backpedal as a woman just appears from nowhere. "What the fu-"

"Bonjour!" Bella greets cheerfully and grabs him by the lapels. "Any particular reason you're scampering away from my friend's liquor basement while my friend happens to give chase?"

"L-Lemme go! Fuck off, lady, let go!"

She yanks upwards while she hooks her heel behind his, bringing him off his feet and letting him slam to the wet pavement. "That's not very nice."

Alphonse's large shadow falls over them both. He wipes the blood from his mouth, flashing a feral smile. "Always show up in the nick of time, Little Fist."

"Dude, I asked you to stop calling me that. Especially in front of the assholes we beat to a pulp. It undermines my authority, my power. Now I gotta break one of these little fists on his face."

The man looks up at them with wide eyes and begins to frantically shake his head. "No, you don't! You really don't! I-I respect your authority and your, um, your fists? What was the other part? I have great respect."

"Nah, see? He's just saying that because he's scared," Bella pouts and kicks him in the ribs. "Look, he's flinching before contact! Damn it, Al. My hand just finished healing."

"No, please! I swear it! I swear it on my mother's grave, I respect ya!"

A deep, booming chuckle erupts from Alphonse's chest like molten lava from a volcano. "Ah, yes, I do miss you when you're gone, Bella."

"Good to see you, buddy," she mumbles into his shoulder and feels her spleen threaten to burst in his bearhug. "Jesus… spine… Al, my… spine…"

Lightning quick footsteps come shooting around the corner of the building, into the alley where the back entrance is. Bella reaches for her revolver but Tori's smile grows even bigger when she catches sight of her friend. "Bella! You're back!"

"Hey kid!" she grunts, catching the young teenager who uses the man as a stepping stool to hug Bella. "Alright, everybody relax."

"Everybody move!" Murphy snarls and starts shoving them out of the alley. "Where's the wagon?!"

Tori rolls her eyes extra dramatic like and scoffs, hooking her thumb over her shoulder. "It's just around the corner. This isn't my first time, you old git."

"Still with the git thing?" Bella wonders aloud.

Murphy elbows Bella, hoisting a case of glass bottles into her arms that smell - sweet Jesus- "Molotovs?!"

"Just go!" he barks.

With a quick glance to Alphonse, Bella sighs and follows Tori around the corner with her case. She watches the little redhead climb up into the back of the wagon, under the tarp, and a pale hand stick out to beckon her under. "No," she whines.

A big meaty hand lands on her shoulder, Alphonse tipping his cap up. "We really could use you, Little Fist."

"I'm pretty sure I also told you I didn't want in your gang, dude."

"It's not a gang!" he insists and hoists the crates Murphy brings into the wagon. "It's a gathering of people united under a shared goal, motivated by the obscene amounts of coin we can bring in."

She throws her hands up, eyebrows jumping. "What part of that doesn't sound like a gang?"

"All of it, now get in!" he grins and slips under the tarp like he isn't half-mountain.

Murphy shoves the guy from before towards the wagon, a pistol jabbed into his ribs. "Get up there. No fuss now, ya hear? One wrong twitch and the girlie here will gut you."

He looks at her with palpable fear and she scoffs. "I don't like you, I don't even gotta know what's happening to be okay with stabbing you. Get up on the wagon."

"Please, they'll kill me if they trace it back to me! Please, don't - I'm going. I'm going…"

Murphy wiggles his eyebrows, nodding to the back of the wagon before he climbs up front. Bella sighs. Her shoulders droop. "You guys know my dad's a cop, right?" she mutters as she climbs under the tarp. "And what is Anne gonna say when she finds out we brought the twerp along?"

"Oh, probably murder us," Alphonse chortles. "But what an end she'd give us. The Lafayette's are nothing, if not creative."

"Theatrical and borderline psychotic," Bella grumbles and scowls at Tori. "No shenanigans."

The girl makes crisscrosses over her heart with a shallow smile.

Chapter Text

"Ugh, why do you keep bringing me here?!" Bella groans and shakes her fists up at the sky.

A curtain in one of the upstairs windows moves and in seconds the yard is filled with Cullens. Damn it. Esme shifts from foot to foot, reaching out, but always drawing back. As if she's afraid this might be the time she scares Bella off for good. "Bella," she breathes in relief. "You're safe."

It's actually the first time since… since the whole Charles thing, that Bella's seen her m-... seen Esme up close. And it's like the first time she's looking, she can spot everything she missed before or dismissed before. The way the light brings out shades of red in Esme's hair, the curls at the end that never seem to fade. Her eyes, so expressive - golden, but Bella can still see the brown in them if she looks hard enough. Even the way she taps her fingers on her thighs, a hereditary twitch? Is that a thing?

Is she making connections where there are none? You can't inherit twitches and mannerisms, can you?

Fuck. More homework.

Bella flinches back, drops her chin to her chest and stares down at the grass until she can wrangle her thoughts together again. Tell her. Tell her, tell her, tell her. "Yeah, I. Yeah."

"Are you alright though?" Esme asks gently. Hovers ever closer.

Again, Bella takes half a step back. The vampire is - caring. Nurturing and concerned, gentle. Lovely. A dream stolen from her and all Bella can see, all she can hear when she looks at Esme... is the gunshot. A spray of red across the wall and Renee's critisizing. Smile, Bella, you never smile, you never come shopping, you never go to sleepovers, you never talk about boys, you're not fun enough, you're not popular enough, you're not pretty enough. Why don't you try contacts? Stop biting your nails, why don't you try this haircut? Maybe if you just-

"Bella?" Esme presses gently and offers a reassuring smile. "It's okay if you're not alright. We'll figure it out."

"Oh, uh. No, I'm fine. I'm. Yeah. The past is… traumatizing, but… worth it?"

"Bella, I am so, so sorry!" Emmett gasps as he skids to a stop in the yard next to her. She looks up in surprise, takes in the anxious look on his face. "I didn't mean to blurt it out. I'm so used to having a mind reader in the house but that's no excuse. I'm so sorry."

She shakes her head. "Not your fault. I knew. Mostly."

"Why would you keep doing it then?" he asks in a small voice.

"I'm not sure. Maybe it hurts worse not to."

Bubblegum drifts through the air, a mouthwatering, intoxicating scent that lures Bella into delirium like no other. But she knows what it means, knows to tilt her head to the side and look away from Alice. She can feel the pixie at her side and wills her heart to beat steady. "How long have you been gone, Bella?" Alice asks with soft wonder in her voice. "You look different."

"A while," she replies vaguely. "I'm not so good at measuring time. Sorry." There's gotta be a reason she keeps coming back here. A point. Every time she jumps for Alice, she ends up here first, there must be a reason. "I don't want to fight anymore," she sighs out. Tired. Always, always tired. "I don't want to be angry anymore."

"Anger is heavy," Alice agrees after a breath. "But that doesn't mean you aren't entitled to it. I just - I want things to be how they were."

"A weird thing for the psychic to say."

She sways back a little, blinking up at Bella curiously.

Edward clears his throat very pointedly. "Bella, might I steal you for a moment? I would very much like to apologize properly."

"No," she says and shakes her head, smiling a little. "Proper and I don't get along, it feels… I dunno, fake? Anyway, you don't owe me an apology," she sighs and rubs at her face. "Or maybe you do but I don't want it. I just want to let everything go, I don't want to be tied to it anymore."

"That doesn't seem healthy," Carlisle notes. "Does Charlie know you're here?"

"That's… complicated. And my business."

He inclines his head, holding up his hands in a mild surrender.

Bella pops her lips a couple times and claps her hands together, rubbing them. "Okay, excellent. All is forgiven, I can move on, and uh, enjoy your lives, Cullens. This feels good. Closure is good. Take care."

"Wait!" Alice gasps and latches onto Bella's arm, hugging her close. "You can't leave."

Blue eyes stare up at her, rosy cheeks with ears tinged pink at the tips. Bella blinks, focuses on the pale skin and golden eyes. Here and now. Not the past. Here and now. "What year is it?"

"Twenty nineteen," Alice answers.

"Yes. Yes, I know that. Okay."

"Bella?"

She stares harder at the grass just over Alice's shoulder. "Hm?"

"I think you should stay."

What a mess her life is. How is it this messy? She keeps trying to tie up all the loose ends but they just frey even more. It's like the more she fixes things, the worse they break. That's pretty un-fucking-fair.

As gently as she can, Bella pulls her arm from Alice's grip and brushes her knuckles against her jaw. "Uh… why?"

"Tell us about the past?" Emmett suggests hopefully. "I mean, you must have seen some cool things and you look pretty tired, maybe you want to rest? And, and the past doesn't have a playstation, I remember that, maybe we could play something? Esme could make dinner! It could be like old times and, well, you said we're forgiven, right? Why can't we - shouldn't we hang out?"

She tries not to groan and only rub her eyes until she sees stars. "Sure, why the hell not. Let's go out with a bang."

If it means they'll just let her fucking leave after, it's the least she can do.

It's only an hour later she's sitting on the couch and basking in her own regret. She anxiously taps her thumb against the arm of the couch, eyes flicking between Alice and Jasper and the nearly nonexistent space between them, the way their hands are clasped and fingers laced together. Oh, and back to the screen every time Emmett points something out like-

"Okay, see that? It wasn't even a little bit like that in the comics," he explains with a frown and leans even closer to the screen. "I get that it's a cinematic universe but sometimes they really butcher my favourite things. I just don't get what they're thinking, you know?"

"Mhmm."

Jasper's thumb rubs the back of Alice's hand and Bella fills her chest with hollow air. Jealous. She's always been jealous, it's not something new, she's envied Jasper from the moment she met Alice. Being possessive though? That's new. Wanting to rip off his fucking thumb and make him choke on it is a decidedly new and unpleasant thing she's discovered about herself.

And it just makes her feel worse.

This was a horrible idea.

"Bella?"

The amount of strength it takes to bite her tongue and look up at Jasper, to answer him is- "Mhmm?"

"Are you okay?"

She nods, lips pressed together firmly. "Mhmm."

His brows pinch together in concern. "You don't seem okay."

"Can you feel me?" She doesn't wait for his answer. She knows he can't, not properly. "Then you wouldn't know, would you?"

"No, I suppose not," he agrees quietly and leans into Alice when she pats his shoulder reassuringly. Bella blinks down at the floor. "It doesn't seem like the right time to ask but I doubt there is one, so I'm going to just jump into it."

"Jas, no," Alice tries.

But he holds up a hand, dragging his eyes back to the prickly girl sitting across the room from them. "Bella, I was hoping you might… go back to Alice's past."

"What?"

Nobody seems to notice all of her breath sneak out in the single word. Jasper nods and looks hopeful, scooting forward on his seat. "I don't understand how large of a request it is, I'm not even sure how it works, but I know Alice has always… mourned the loss of her past. Can you understand that?"

Huh. Right. He's sitting here trying to explain Alice to her? No. This Alice. Not her Alice. This one that she knows as much as she doesn't know. "I can imagine," she works out between her clenched teeth.

He seems to perk up with the admission. "Excellent. Alice, your first memory is late in nineteen twenty-one. Perhaps Bella could… can you pick years? Maybe a year before that?"

"I can't," she tells him. Watches the entire room droop. "I mean, I-I won't?"

"Why not?" Edward growls. Blinks. Smooths down his shirt. "Forgive me. It's something that's haunted Alice for as long as I've known her and it seems-"

"Selfish?" Bella asks with a chuckle. "News flash - I don't owe you anything."

Esme sits on the arm of the chair nearest the couch. "Bella."

And Bella can't look at her. Every word she says, every move she makes - it's a knife in the heart. All she can see is that cliff. Every time Esme so much as twitches, Bella has to keep herself from reaching out, from grabbing her and stopping her from stepping off that fucking cliff. From leaving her. Again.

Traitorous eyes drift up towards her mother's face. Esme smiles at her, bright and hopeful. It's not fair. Bella flinches and looks back down, drops her chin to her chest and blinks the tears clear from her vision. Fuck.

Fuck.

"No." She chokes out and rubs at her eyebrow. Why did she come back? Why did she stay? Why is she here? "I'm not here to fight. It's not malicious, I just won't go to nineteen twenty, it's off limits. For now."

"What does that mean?" Carlisle inquires with interest.

She shrugs. "Some things are. I'm not explaining this right, I have a constant cold headache after jumping that makes it hard to think sometimes. So." Bella flexes her fingers and scrapes together enough patience to actually have a conversation with them. "Something happens in nineteen twenty but I ironically only get one shot at most things."

He nods. "Right."

"Right," she echoes and shakes her head. "I try not to go bumbling through time, as much as possible. I generally like to know exactly where and when I'm going because tripping over butterflies is very complicated."

"I-"

"Hadn't considered that." Again, she laughs. Or scoffs. Or both. "Yeah, it's actually really easy to forget. My life is one long game of catch-up. I go where I go, when I go. Very rarely is there a choice."

Jasper frowns. "So you can't pick the year?"

"I can."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"You don't."

"So you won't?" he clarifies.

She points at him with a wink. "Bingo."

"This is weird," Emmett says. His brows are painfully furrowed and he looks like his ass just got kicked by a complex riddle. "I've seen some weird stuff in my day but this is next level weird. This is Twilight Zone weird. This is Black Mirror weird."

Her lips twitch and maybe for a moment she forgets where she is. What they did. How she feels. "Okay, you wanna know something really weird?" she asks and pulls out her phone. "As long as it's on me, this thing holds a charge and finds a signal. A shitty signal, but a signal."

"No way," he scoffs. Looks down when she tilts the screen towards him. "What does a blue battery mean?"

"It means I got service before the telephone was even invented."

Carlisle cannot contain his smile of wonder and awe as he watches them, his hand running through his hair. "Truly, Bella, this is extraordinary. The things you must have seen and will see. I can barely wrap my head around it."

"I have an idea," Alice chirps excitedly. In a blur of movement, she's at Bella's side. One hand in a warmer, rougher one while her fingers ghost along the years and pictures etched into Bella's arm with ink. Her eyes blaze a path across the map, up, up, up until they meet Bella's gaze. "If you're up for it, that is."

And since when has Bella ever been able to say no to Alice? "Always."

"Good." The smile stretches across Alice's face, reaches her eyes for the first time Bella's seen in a long time. "Don't move."

"I-"

The pixie is gone and back before she can get another sound out. "How far back can you go?" she asks while holding something behind her back.

"As far as I want," Bella replies and grimaces. "But the bigger the jump, the more it hurts." When Alice's face drops, she quickly backtracks, desperate to hold onto a playful pixie. "But! I can go pretty far before it hurts. Like, a hundred years is nothing. Three, and I need a nap. Five, maybe give me the day. I've never been farther than five yet. And that's just in one jump, I can always make pit stops."

"That's." She pauses, head tilting, and reaches up for Bella's face… but thinks better of it, letting her hand fall back to her side. "I don't want to cause you pain."

Too late.

"It's fine," Bella says and flashes a smile. "I'm pretty sure I know what you're thinking, anyway. You want me to bring proof back and take a picture to show you all now."

"What? No. Of course not. That's so immature, Bella, and," Alice nods, bringing a stuffed bunny around from her back, "yes, I do. Is that okay? Is it weird?"

She takes the bunny, surprised how soft it is, and inspects his sparkly bow tie. "Yeah, but when are you not?"

"Bella!" Alice pouts playfully.

"Nah, sorry, you're just a little weirdo, that's how it is," Bella teases. It's light and freeing and she looks at Alice to enjoy the moment until she realizes which Alice stares back at her. "Um. Anyway, yeah, I can do that. Back in a jiffy."

"Wait!" Alice holds her hands up again. "How long will you be?"

"That's relative." She licks her lips, tucks the bunny under her arm, and hesitates before putting her hand on Alice's shoulder. Looks away. "Not long for you."

.

.

.

It's a relief when she pops back up in a more and more familiar time. Comforting, almost, the feel of passing through the dredges of time. Between Now and Then. Feels… safe, even. Nobody can touch her, nobody can follow her.

But god. "The lines are starting to blur something fierce, Alice," she says, staring down at the bunny in her hands.

Her human pixie jumps out of her skin, spinning around with a hand over her heart and the other grabbing Bella's arm. "Heavens, Bella! Don't do that!" she whisper yells. "I told you no popping up on me."

"But it's so fun," Bella grins cheekily. "You're so cute when you're surprised and that, tragically, almost never happens."

Alice yanks her closer, finger over her mouth. "We're not exactly allowed to be here, darling, so if you could not draw everyone's attention that would be great."

"Oh." Bella winces and tucks the bunny into her belt, slouching more to Alice's height. As if that would somehow hide her. Alice shakes her head, eyes wide and amused, hands up in the air questioningly. "My brain is still in twenty nineteen, it takes a minute to catch up," she explains in a whisper. "Sorry."

"Whatever am I going to do with you?" Alice wonders fondly, her smile warm and tender.

"Anything you want." Bella's eyes grow wide as realization crashes into her. "Jesus, did I say that out loud?"

"Oi! Who's down there? This area is off-limits to the public," a man calls from around the corner and down the hall.

It's only then that Bella realizes they're in a darkly lit hall, tiled floor beneath her boots. A single, flickering light just around the corner. Alice starts shoving Bella back towards the darker part of the hall, footsteps sounding closer. She looks up at Bella and seems to decide something. "Kiss me."

"What?"

"Bella, kiss me," Alice whispers frantically, sparing a glance over her shoulder towards the corner of their hall.

There's enough alarm in her eyes and panic in her voice that Bella ignores her better judgment. That and, honestly, it wouldn't take much to convince her to kiss Alice. The fact that Alice asked her to is some kind of miracle with nightmarish undercurrents because… fuck, it's gonna hurt later.

When Alice turns back to her, Bella's there, dipping low to press Alice back against the wall and capture her lips in a kiss. Oddly enough, there's no awkward wall to get through. No, oh jesus what do I do now? Or uncomfortable realization that they're kissing. Alice melds into her perfectly, like she was expecting it the whole time - entirely possible. Bella might even feel a smile in there before Alice sighs softly and swipes her tongue along Bella's lip.

It's just an act. It's just a disguise. A trick, Bella tries to remind herself. That they're trespassing, maybe, and have been caught? This is just a way out, it doesn't mean anything… but it doesn't stop her from groaning, digging her fingers into the wall when Alice playfully flicks her tongue with her own.

Yup, definitely a bad idea. Alice giggles into her mouth, dear god, and her heart seizes in her chest. She melts, always melts for this pixie, and is consumed by bubblegum and magic. Electricity crackles along her skin anywhere it makes contact with Alice, her nerves alight with life and wonder.

More. More.

Her hands slide from the wall to Alice's hips, fingers playing along her shirt's hemline until they find skin. She can feel Alice shiver under her touch, marvels at the goosebumps under her fingertips.

Someone clears their throat; loud, exaggerated, and obnoxious. Alice's hands are on Bella's face, holding her there to peck her lips once more in a chaste kiss, and turns to look at the man under the light. "Hmm?"

"You can't be back here, miss. It's not open to the public!" he exclaims rather awkwardly.

Alice smiles, slightly breathless. "Oh, we didn't even realize. Sorry! Just married, couldn't keep my hands to myself."

"That's not - I mean, congratulations, miss, but you still shouldn't be back here. My boss is a very strict man."

She nods, the very image of sympathy. "Of course, I'm so sorry. We don't want to get you in trouble, we'll leave immediately."

"Thank you, miss. Please, enjoy your day."

Alice doesn't release Bella's face until the man turns back down around the corner. She bites her lip, trying to contain her smile, and looks up at Bella with blues that glow. "Well, I'd call that a successful stakeout." Her smile widens. "And makeout. You're looking thoroughly kissed, my lovely wife."

"Wife…"

"I don't think he could actually see you from this distance but he bought it, so technically," she says with a shrug.

Finally, Bella's legs move. Jelly and unstable, but she steps back to lean against the wall on the opposite side of the hall. "Don't do that."

"What, the kiss?" Alice asks. Bella's heart just about breaks when the pixie wilts. "Why?"

She groans again, fingers digging into the back of her neck. "You can't do that, Alice. I… damn it, Alice, I like you. It means something to me."

"What part of this is confusing you?" Alice scoffs and steps forward. She hesitates when Bella tries to look away but surges forward to grab her hands. Squeeze them. "Look at me, Bella, and listen, really listen. I like you."

"You can't!"

"Why not?!"

"Because!" Bella shouts in disbelief, and pain, and heartbreak, and everything she's been trying to keep inside. "You're married to Jasper, Alice. Because he's your husband, so I can't be your wife."

Her eyes drift back to the hall where the man undoubtedly heard that. "... Okay, I can see where the confusion comes in." She glances back up at Bella, releases one of her hands to brush away one of the tears streaking down her cheek. "I'm not sure who Jasper is but that sounds like a conversation for later. We need to leave now and you need to know that I choose you, Bella. Always. If you stuck around long enough, you might notice that."

"Wh…" Before Bella can finish her half-buffered thought, the man pops his head back around the corner. Alice flashes a brilliant smile, grabbing Bella's hand, and drags her down to the opposite end of the hall and out the door into the hot, humid day.

"I'm not naming names but someone is horrible at espionage."

Maybe it's the sunlight that finally kickstarts Bella's brain or maybe jogging is forcing the blood to flow up to her head again, but Bella blinks a few times and scoffs. "Well honestly, who tells someone they're not allowed to trespass and then just takes their damn word that they'll leave? Who was that? He's terrible at his job. And why were you staking out your stepfather's jewellery store?"

"There's a chance I just wanted the opportunity to kiss you," Alice replies cheekily.

The blush that stains Bella's cheeks is charming. "This seems a little too specific for that."

"Am I not allowed to have my own mysteries, Bella?" She twirls once to look back the way they came and catch the look on Bella's face before falling in step properly, hooking their arms. "Okay, a serious conversation. I hadn't considered your interactions with me outside of… this, what I know right now."

"It's exhausting."

Alice nods. Hugs Bella's arm reassuringly and rests her head against the taller girl's shoulder. "I can only imagine. Sorry. I could have made this easier for you here, I didn't think I had to be clear, just… I wanted to have fun, you know? I wanted to dance."

"Alice loves dancing," Bella agrees. A small smile plays at her lips and some of the weight that's been draped over her shoulders since she met Alice lessens a little bit. Enough to breathe a little easier. Some of the pain dulls to the point she can ignore it. "If it was just this, I like to think I'd have picked up on it a little more. Been charming and playful and everything you deserve."

"Bellaaaa…" Alice drawls in an exasperated kind of way. "How do you not see yourself?" Bella shakes her head with furrowed brows and Alice grins. "You spent an afternoon doing puzzles and making brisket with my momma. We snuck into a theatre house only because you managed to convince the director you were an understudy and played a scene when Rhaul couldn't get his brace off."

"It was totally a girdle."

Alice grabs Bella's coat to halfheartedly shake her and, yeah, Tori wasn't wrong. The girl is basically a walking wall, she's damn dense in every sense of the word. "You took me jumping through time, Bella! How is that not charming and playful and more than anyone deserves?"

"I might have smiled more," Bella mumbles. "Alright. Well. Okay. Hey, wait, so what was with the laughing, Giggles McGee?"

They pass another couple down the sidewalk who turn and look at them go by, and while Bella bristles, ready to drop someone, Alice doesn't seem to even notice. She hums and glances at Bella with a smirk. "I'd just realized you have a bunny in your belt," she says with a teasing lilt in her voice. "The infamous Captain Izzy Swan has a bunny. With a sparkly bow tie. In her belt."

"Oh, my boat!" Bella gasps, stopping in the middle of the street to smack her forehead. "Damn it."

"What?"

"I lost my friggin boat," she whines.

Alice closes her eyes. Takes a breath. And pulls Bella across the street and out of traffic. "First of all, it's a ship, Bella. Secondly, how is it even possible to lose an entire ship with a crew?"

"I don't remember what year I left it," Bella explains in a small voice. "Fuck. That was the only bet I've ever won."

"Because you cheated."

She gasps, dragging Alice in front of her to hold her close and smother her. "Shhh…"

It takes a little bit of creative maneuvering but Alice manages to slip out of Bella's grip and dash down the gravel alley beside the loan office. "We could always go looking for it? Or a new one?" she calls back with a wiggle of her eyebrows. "Maybe Paris? To take your photo!"

She doesn't even ask how Alice knows about taking a photo. The girl knows everything.

"Oh, we're definitely hitting all the landmarks back in their day," Bella agrees… and then pats her pockets. "We just need funds... and a shovel."

"Did you get new glasses?" She shrinks back and Alice sighs, holding out her hand while Bella pulls her sleeve up. "Lemme look or we'll be digging for weeks. That's a new one… where's this?"

Bella holds her arm up, squinting at the fresher ink. "Ehh… Looks like thirteen eighty-nine and a glass? Or a doll? Oh! Eragorn, he's a doctor - kind of. Really good dude, little weird, but he pulled an arrow out of my thigh."

"I… no, I don't think I want to know that one," Alice decides. "You need to be more careful, Bella, you have more scars than tattoos at this point and you have a lot of tattoos." Her eyes soften, tracing over Bella's face, the scar on her chin. She reaches up to brush her thumb over it, tilting Bella's face down for a slower kiss. One that they both willingly get lost in until hearts threaten to burst. "When do you become invulnerable."

"Hm." Bella grunts, keeps her eyes closed. Lets bubblegum fill her up and sooth her painful edges. "Vampires aren't invulnerable, they just don't scar as easy."

"When does that happen?"

She shrugs, just simply enjoying being this close to Alice. Who cares how many scars she has, when Alice looks at her like she glows? What does beautiful perfection matter when Alice likes her here and now like this? "Soon, maybe. Every day I look more and more like the vampire."

"You and I have been jumping for about a year," Alice muses thoughtfully. "That means we have at least two left together, but who knows how old you were in three years for me if vampires don't age?"

"Young," Bella snorts. "Definitely a childish move, throwing me over the counter like that."

Alice grins. "Maybe, but with some luck, hopefully you never change."

"I don't know how any of you put up with me. I swear to God, I'm decking me the next time I see her."

Another chaste kiss is pressed to her jaw, Alice grabbing her hand and tosses the other out towards the alley. "Let's go dance under some French stars."

.

.

.

Cold air is - thin, dry, generally hard to breathe in. Makes it way too easy to hyperventilate. Also, probably a little more personally, makes her teeth hurt. She can't decide which is worse; a Washington winter or an English winter.

Doubled over, Bella tries to drag in enough air to keep her going. She flexes her aching fingers, watching the others sprint through the hills ahead of her. "Why… why do we always… have to… have to set stuff… on fire!"

"Fire is fun, Bella!" Tori snickers. She stops long enough to pat Bella's back before vaulting over the small wooden fence and into the fields with the others.

With a groan, Bella pushes her legs harder and sort of… falls over the fence, stumbling back up to keep running. "I just wanted a nice meet and greet," she puffs and slides down the hill, catching up to Murphy. "A nice hello, how are you?"

"Then why'd you bring her to meet us?" Malia barks out with a laugh. She grabs Bella's sleeve, dragging her up the next hill where they catch Tori dive down the front on her stomach.

Bella pouts, knees screaming as they drop to slide. "I thought you'd be at the bar!"

"It's just a bit of cardio!" Alice calls back with a string of laughter. Neck and neck with Alphonse, the quick-footed giant. "Come on, Bella. If you beat me to the wagon, I'll let you pick the next jump, too."

"It's my, uh, secret… um," she glances warily at Tori and Malia, "thing. I can pick whenever I want."

The pixie sticks out her tongue and dear god, she's damn cute. Long peacoat billowing as she runs, braid bouncing behind her. Sparkling blue eyes and rosy red cheeks - jesus, Bella could die from how cute she is. "How about a special kiss then?"

"Fuck." Horrifyingly, as they scramble up to the top of the hill, they can see the wagon sitting at the side of the dark road down below. A single lantern hangs on the side, the horses restlessly waiting for them. "Okay. Come on."

There's a minor flare of tingling sensation, less like the intense pins and needles she's used to and more like her foot fell asleep.

Alice slips back into the snow right on Alphonse's heels, taking the steep incline on her knees.

"Fuuuck." Knees that aren't screaming at her, like Bella's. "I'm old!"

At the very back, Murphy guffaws and maybe growls at her.

"C'mon," she whispers and can't help but reflect Alice's big smile. The pixie leans back enough to look back up at Bella higher on the hill and - and this is everything that Bella's ever wanted. It's missing some pieces but it's a shard of a whole that she's been chasing for so, so long. No heartbreaking goal, no fear, no anger. No pain or abandonment, no sting of rejection and sinking feeling of longing.

Just her and Alice, friends and family around them… having fun. Living in the moment and laughing, and yeah okay, there's probably gonna be knives and fists and boots if they're caught - life without danger isn't life at all, but this is peaceful.

This is simple.

She just wants to enjoy something simple.

So caught up in this thought, in this moment, she doesn't even care that Alice is waiting at the bottom of the hill for her. Back against the wagon, tapping her wrist and the watch that definitely isn't there.

Bella skids to a stop through the snow and ice, hands slamming against the side of the wagon, pinning her pixie. "Caught you," she pants, breath curling in the night air.

Alice's chest heaves with the breath she's still trying to gather. "I didn't realize you were chasing me."

"Always. I was born to."

She shakes her head, smile brighter than the moon as she glances around bashfully. "Laying it on a little thick and in front of your friends, to boot."

"They're not paying attention," Bella counters.

Tori pops up from on the wagon, throwing the tarp back. "Not true. It's incredibly cute and we're very happy for you, Bella."

"Oh, good," Alice laughs. Slides her chilly hands into the collar of Bella's coat to warm them against her neck. "Here I was, needlessly worrying a jealous little redhead would be the end of me."

"Much as I love Bella, she isn't my type. Too nice."

Both girls look a little confused and Bella chuckles. "That's a first."

"Pack it up, lovebirds. Malia's bringing Murphy down and we gotta go!" Alphonse booms as he hauls himself up onto the front seat.

Bella looks back over her shoulder to see the crotchety older man tossed over Malia's shoulder as they skid down the hill. Near the top, the glow of torch and lantern light is just starting to peek over. "Bunch'a knobs," she laughs.

"You're a knob!" Alice giggles and drags her around the back of the wagon. "After you, Miss Cul."

She scoffs but hoists herself up, offering a hand to literally just pull Alice up, like god, she weighs almost nothing. "Yipp, yipp!" Alphonse cracks the reins and the wagon lurches forward, sending Bella forward into Alice and then backwards on a crate of moonshine.

The pixie lands on her with an audible noise of surprise, beyond that Tori and Malia snickering. "Jesus," Bella croaks and reaches around to her aching back. "I mean this in the kindest way possible, Alice, but get the fuck off."

Again, the wagon lurches to the side or maybe just over a harder piece of snow. Alice gasps, falling sideways, and Bella has to brace herself to keep from crushing her. "Bella, I mean this in the nicest way possible," Alice hums and leans up to nip at Bella's ear. "But get the fuck off."

"H…" Synapses fire but Bella's brain takes a second to actually register anything. Alice pulls back to lay against the floor of the wagon, staring up at Bella with brilliantly golden eyes that smoulder in the dark. Those charmingly rosy cheeks are pale like the snow they ride through, icicle fingers playing under Bella's coat, seeking warmth. "Alice."

"Bella," the pixie purrs in a teasing manner. Bella's fingers dig into the wood of the wagon. "I might be persuaded to reward third place."

"What if I let you win and would have been first?"

Those golden eyes blink and then roll sarcastically. "Well, now I kinda just want to shove you off the wagon."

"Then who will protect you from the tawdry advances of Alphonse's patrons back at the bar?"

She shrugs. Simply. Cheekily. "You're confusing me with one of them prim and proper southern belles, Miss Cul. Tawdry is, in fact, the main ingredient of your lost reward."

Tori looks between Malia and Murphy, throwing her hands up. "The hell are they saying?"

"Some kind of weird flirtation," Malia scoffs dismissively. "Just kiss already, spare us this torment."

Bella looks up to give her friend a scowl but it freezes on her face, her jaw locking in place at the red eyes staring back at her. Fuck. She looks back down at Alice Cullen, trying to ignore Emmett's words. Trying to find any other reason for this… this bleedthrough of time.

There is none, though. Not that she can find, that she can think of. None that make more sense than this insane gift she was given is killing her. Killing her so softly she didn't even realize she's dying.

It certainly puts things into perspective though. Wondering how much time you have left, knowing that things need to be done. She needs to stop putting them off. It's… damn it. It's time to find J-

"Oi! Fuckin' move!" Alphonse gasps and the wagon jerks to the side again.

Bella rolls until her back collides against Malia and Murphy's feet, Alice elbowing her in the gut. Everyone looks over the side of the wagon, Tori grabbing the edge and leaning out. "Wow! Bella, look!"

It takes a few tries, but Bella manages to pull herself up enough to peek over the edge. A second, it's all she has before momentum drags her back down to the floor of the wagon, but a second is all it takes.

James stares back at her curiously from the side of the rode. Lifts his hand to wipe the blood from his chin.

And Bella falls back against Alice. Warm arms catch her, though they land against the front of the wagon. "Bella? Bella, your nose is bleeding. Bella?"

"We have to leave."

Alice's warm hand cups her cheek, turns her face until they're looking at each other and concerned blues study her eyes. "What?"

"He can't find you. We have to - we need to leave."

Alice tries to protest - maybe. Her words are lost to time, the wagon ripped out from beneath them. Another second (how precious they are, how important and life changing seconds can be) and they land in a heap on a dusty gravel road.

Smells like Rome.

Tastes like the sixteen hundreds.

The pixie drags Bella up to her feet, holding her steady. Her lips move, words Bella can almost read, but the sound hasn't quite caught up. Muffled, like they're underwater or separated by glass. Bella staggers back, waits for the colours of the land to settle.

Hooves clack against stone and rock. Voices bargain and argue about prices within the market they landed beside. Heat beats down on them, soaking through their heavy coats.

"Bella! Who was that?" Alice begs.

Finally, she turns back and everything sort of… slides and locks into place. Into focus. Bella wipes the blood from her nose and grimaces. "James. He's who I'm looking for. He's a… he's a very bad man, Alice, if you ever see him you need to run. Anywhere. Just run."

"He was a vampire, wasn't he? His eyes were red though, mine were golden when you took me to look," Alice muses thoughtfully. "Where does the difference come from? And why are you so scared of him? Didn't you say your friend Edward kills him?"

"Not - I don't know, Alice!" Bella groans and rubs at her eyebrow. "Everything is jumbled in my head."

"Sorry, I know we just jumped. Let's find a place out of the sun," Alice agrees and grabs her hand, starts pulling her towards a larger tree. "I can find something for you to drink."

"No, there's no time." Bella digs her heels into the road, forcing them to stop, and fishes around in her pocket. "Here, this should be enough for, uh, anything for now." She dumps a bunch of coins into Alice's hands and the ground at their feet. "You're safe here, I need to - I got distracted, I forgot about him. I need to find him, Alice. I'm sorry, I'll be right back. Five minutes, tops."

Alice gasps, drops the rest of the coins to latch onto Bella's hands. "No! No, no, Bella, wait!" She shakes her head, eyes wide with alarm. "Don't go."

"It's five-"

"No!" she begs. Searches Bella's eyes or just, just takes them in. Burns them into her memory, like it's the last time she'll ever see them. "It's five minutes for us but we still feel how long it is for you. Don't you get that? You always come back different and we feel it, even if it's only been a second for us."

"I…" Jesus. How is she supposed to leave Alice after that? "I'm sorry. Alice, he'll hurt you if I don't stop him, I-"

Alice yanks her close, pulls her down until their foreheads press together. Kisses her hard and deep and frantic, like her lips alone could keep Bella here. "Bella, please," she whispers. "You're different after this one and I'm not done with this version yet. Please. Stay with me."

"I'm so sorry." One last kiss, one last moment of peace. One last apology…

And Bella's gone.

.

.

.

"I almost never pop back in the same place," Bella tells the room and watches as they each look away from where, she assumes, she had last been. "What were we doing again? Has anybody seen Victoria recently?"

Carlisle blinks. Looks back from the spot in front of the couch and to Bella again. "How long has it been for you?"

"How." Her eyes narrow in suspicion, like maybe she's about to get in trouble, and she steps back. "How long has it been for you?"

"Mister Bunny is filthy, Bella!" Alice gasps and blurs over to gently pull him from her belt and delicately wipe at his face. "Where have you two been?!"

Bella snaps her fingers. "Oh, right! We were doing the picture thing, yeah?" And frowns. "For real though, has anyone seen Victoria? How long has it been since she did this to the house?"

"A month," Rosalie snaps. She's leaning against the entrance to the living room, her arms crossed over her chest. "Why didn't anyone tell me the chaos machine was back?"

"Bite me."

Edward points at her casually, a raised eyebrow. "That's why. You two don't get along."

She bares her teeth in a silent snarl. "Have we at least found out who the blonde was?"

"What blonde?"

Rosalie sighs. Drops her forehead against her palm and takes a breath. "I'll take that as a no. Alright, meatbag, a giant blonde dragged Victoria out of the house shortly after you Snap, Crackle, and Popped out."

Oh shit, do I like Rosalie?! "Uh... " Bella shakes off the flabbergast of Rosalie's fucking word pun?! And focuses on what she actually said. "Was it you?"

"She made me look like Alice."

"Damn. Sounds like Willowdean," Bella replies and taps the scar on her chin thoughtfully. "Maybe Malia. Was she nice?"

"She was snarling like an animal."

"Sounds like Malia, but she ain't that big."

Emmett throws his hands in the air. "How are we talking about this and not time travel, actual, real life time travel?!"

"Time travel is boring," Bella tells him simply. "I'd rather piece together the puzzle that is my life, I like knowing what vampires stalk my immediate waters."

"Us, Victoria, that blonde, who knows where Laurent went," he says, ticking them off on his fingers as he goes. "Whatever vampires you may have met in the past that you can jump to whenever you want. It's all relevant, Bella - can you take people with you?!"

The thought strikes wonder and curiosity in all the faces that stare back at her expectantly. She considers the possibilities of each answer and frowns. "Nnnnno…?"

"She totally can," Emmett leans down to whisper to Edward.

Bella pinches her nose and sighs. "I'm actually very specifically looking for Victoria, if you could just point in the direction she was dragged away."

"Time travel or no, she is still incredibly dangerous," Carlisle tells her sternly. "Bella, while you have extraordinary abilities, you're still very much human and I wouldn't feel comfortable sending another vampire after her even."

"What about her odd?"

His head tilts curiously and Alice snorts just over his shoulder. He glances back at her but she schools her features, shaking her head very slightly. "I'm inclined to agree, Bella, I'm sorry. We can help track her down, we will stop her, I just don't think it's wise for you to try on your own. As elusive as you are."

"I don't want to stop her, I just need some information," Bella groans. The urgency in which she left Alice seems kinda pointless now and maybe the pixie had a point. She probably could have stayed longer. Fucking time travel. "Okay. Okay, she's bound to show up again if I hang around, right?"

Emmett's eyes widen with excitement. "Yes! Absolutely! You should definitely stay here, she's going to pop up, just like last time. We'll get her then but definitely stay here in the meantime. And, like, if you want, you could tell us about the past and maybe show us if you took pictures?"

She works her jaw a few times, a sharp twinge in her chest from his eager face. So familiar. Just like old times. Fuck. She's falling back into old patterns. "I guess."

What a damn fool she is.

Again, it doesn't take long for her to regret those very words. Back on the couch, back in the living room, forced to watch Jasper and Alice sit together. Like. Like, do they not get it? Is it not so very fucking painfully clear? They have to know it hurts, she has to know it hurts.

But how could she? She can't even remember Bella.

She can't remember me.

Everything they've done, everything they will do… it's gone. It doesn't even matter, it's always going to be lost to time. How do you prevent amnesia? Even if she can find James and somehow stop him, it's not like he pulled the memories out of Alice's head.

What causes amnesia? Trauma? Sounds vaguely familiar. So… so maybe it is his fault?

Fuck.

"This is…" Edward shakes his head, golden eyes scrutinizing every pixel in the television. "This is the installation of Lady Liberty."

She's forced to tear her eyes away from Jasper's arm around Alice's shoulders and look at the screen. "Yeah. Figured it would be funny to hit all the touristy places as they were being built. Not the pyramids though, they're shockingly difficult to find."

The gasp that tears out of Emmett's throat is loud enough to shake the pictures on the wall.

Well, metaphorically. Bella cracks, grins, and ducks her head. "I'm just messing with you. That's too far back, I'd get lost and, I dunno, my head might explode."

"Damn," he pouts and slumps in the chair. "Okay, next one. No, the next one in the p-oh."

Bella sucks in a shaky breath, staring at the big blue eyes on the screen. Bright pale sand, blue sky and blue water, how could she not have fallen asleep at the beach? And how could she not assume Alice would be the little sneaky sneak she is and take a picture? Fuck. Fuck! Why didn't she check?!

Heart thundering in her chest, Bella can't help but study the image fondly. Longingly. The way sunlight dances off of Alice's skin, flush with warmth, the water sparkling behind her. (she ignores herself in the picture, completely buried except for her head - Alice was too amused by it). "I… I didn't know she took this," she mumbles.

Jasper's arm falls from Alice's shoulders as she lifts to walk closer to the massive screen. Her head tilts, fingers reaching out as if she could touch the image and suddenly remember. "Blue eyes."

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

The rest of the room remains silent and Bella doesn't even see Alice turn, the vampire is just looking at her all of the sudden. Heartbreak and betrayal painted across her face. Confusion. Hurt. All of the things she promised she would never put on Alice's face. All the things she tried to protect the pixie from. "You said you wouldn't?"

"I-I-" Bella licks her lips, up on her feet and hands in her pockets. "I said I don't owe you anything and I don't."

She blinks and the golden eyes Bella oh so adores are replaced with shattered ebony. "Bella!" Alice gasps? Accuses? Sobs? Everything. All of it. "This goes beyond any fight we have! This is, this is me, this is my life and you kept it from me?! How could you? I… do you have any idea what all of this means to me? Do you have any idea what was stolen from me?"

"Yes!" Bella snaps and deflates all at once. "I was there, I was there, I'm there. I know and I'm." She jerks back a step, rubbing at her forehead, and sucks in a sharp breath. "You weren't supposed to see that."

Alice stalks forward another step. And another. "You said you couldn't!"

"I can't! Or, more… I haven't," she explains weakly. "I really haven't, this is - actually, that felt like maybe eighteen hundreds, maybe seventeen. But you? That you? Is not, you don't, she's from nineteen-nineteen. I haven't been to nineteen-twenty. And, and I still don't owe you anything!"

Her fists are clenched so tight Bella can see the cracks splitting in her knuckles, can see the Cullens wince out of the corner of her eye. Watches Alice bite her lip to keep back whatever Bella truly, objectively deserves at this point. Hate probably, hurt definitely.

Ruined. Ruined again.

When is she going to stop ruining everything?

"I have to go," she chokes out.

And Alice gasps, finally. A blur of movement, she gently grabs Bella's hands, dark amber eyes staring up at her in fright. Panic breaks through the hurt, the confusion and anger. Panic and concern flood her eyes and block out all the rest. "Wait! No, Bella, wait! Please don't leave again."

"Just a walk."

Pale hands grab at her shirt, her belt as Alice tries to root her to the spot. "It's never just a walk, Bella, you're always leaving before we can even talk. We need to talk," she vaguely gestures towards the screen, "about this, about you, about everything."

Bella shakes her head. Tries to pull free. "I-I don't want to talk."

I want to run. I want to run. I can't fix this.

"Stop running from me," Alice whispers. "Please. I can't fix it if you run away."

She stares down into Alice's face. Her open, frightened face. Watches gold and blue and red swirl together until the icy headache slowly begins to form.

Stop James, save Alice.

Stop James, save Alice.

Find Victoria.

"I'm sorry."

Chapter Text

"Sh-should'a seen it sooner," Bella chokes out in a bloody, shaky smile. "All in the… in the smile, Tori."

Victoria sneers down at her, dropping to one knee just to lean close and grin. All vampire, none of the little girl Bella once knew. "This is going to hurt you, Bella. A lot."

"Do what you gotta do, Freckle," Bella agrees and screams out against the fire poker impaled down into her abdomen. The wail of agony it tears from her chest is wild and frenzied, every nerve lit aflame, fingers burning against the hot metal as they grab at it.

Red eyes flutter and Victoria shakes her head, wrenches the poker in her hand until the sobbing turns into another scream. "I should have left you on that street, bleeding into nothing. Into a sweet, soft death. That's what you deserved."

"I-can't-" the words are broken noises of pain and Bella can't even see the redhead past the tears in her eyes. Fucking mother of holy hell, the pain is unbearable.

"Now you'll burn." The poker is twisted the opposite direction and Bella has time enough to drag in another breath to scream before the pain has her passing out there on the floor.

.

.

.

A few of the boys around the table cheer while Alphonse retells the story of their latest successful scheme. Malia rolls her eyes but even she seems to be enjoying herself at the next table, hiding her smile in her mug.

Tori jabs her knife down into the table, sweeping her other hand out. "The fields aglow with flame, casting shadows in everyone's eyes. It was spectacular, right out of a play!"

There's an amused snort and Bella turns to see Murphy plucking at his lyre, feet up on the table. He watches fondly as Tori embellishes Alphonse's tale before his eyes lazily travel over to Bella. "Quite the storyteller, inn't she?"

"I don't know how anyone trusts a word that comes outta her mouth," Bella scoffs. "Wiley little fox."

"As easy as we trust you, Little Fist," Alphonse tells her. Knocks back his shot and slams it on the table with a smirk. "Say what you will about the ever elusive fox here but she's not the one who disappears for months at a time."

Bella bats her eyelashes. "I have to at least check in with the second family now and then, don't I?"

Tori falls backwards on the table, arm over her eyes and hand clutching her heart. "We're hurt, Bella! Truly betrayed on this day."

"And I'm okay with that."

The redhead sticks her tongue out at Bella.

And so the rest of the morning goes, with the gang drinking until the sun comes up. Until Tori snores on the table, resting back against Alphonse who's slumped forward onto the table. Bella looks around at her friends, at these people who are skilled like no others at distracting her from her pain.

If she's being completely honest with herself, which - god, she rarely is. But if she is this time, dragging herself up the stairs towards her room, then she really does miss them each time she leaves.

It's… getting harder to leave Tori. To jump back in months later and find her so different, to see her grow up so quickly and feel like she's missing it all. Alphonse grounds her in a life so chaotic she might actually drown in her own confusion and hurt, but he always manages to pull her back out long enough to catch her breath.

The others, they're cool, they're great, but these two are… fuck. They're family. They're actually her second family, and this was never the plan.

She wasn't supposed to get attached.

This is where she's supposed to run away to. A place, a time to lose herself in when she needs to hide. When she needs to detach from everything and everyone that means something, so she can simply be. Not more responsibility, not more ties.

Not more heartache.

This was a mistake. She never should have stopped here.

Now she belongs to them. Belongs to more than just herself. Again. More people to lose.

Bella sighs, shoving her shoulder against her door, and stumbling inside. "Bella, help me!" Anne gasps around the man's hand.

It takes a second for her inebriated mind to catch up, to tell her what's happening, and she reaches for the revolver on her belt… touching the empty space it belongs in. "Fuck."

"Should'a killed me," the man grins. "Not Sue but close enough. Nearly identical."

In the same moment Bella places his face, he plunges the knife down into Anne's chest and rips it back out. Dark red pools up and drips down her pale skin, staining her dress. "B…" she falls backwards, down to her feet-

And Bella launches herself at the man.

.

.

.

When Bella comes to, the pain in her stomach is almost enough to take her right back out. She blinks away the black spots in her vision, licking her dry lips. A wheezy breath moves her chest too much and she whimpers against the pain that tugs at her skin.

Victoria flips the knife in her hands, holding the blade over the small fire she built inside the shed they're in. "This is the way it has to be," she recites without looking down at Bella. "You told me that."

"Yeah," Bella groans. Blinks. Wishes she was dead. Or maybe that she was never born to begin with.

A quiet fury settles over the vampire, Bella can hear the cracks in her skin when Victoria squeezes her fist. She tilts her head towards the human, eyes the cold poker still embedded in her gut. "You're not even sorry."

"Not even a little."

Victoria is on her in a second, pressing the blade of the knife against Bella's ribs until the human squirms and screams. Until tears roll down her cheeks and thought is replaced with instinctive pain.

.

.

.

Tori stares in open horror at Bella. At her bloody sister that Bella clutches in her arms, sitting in the middle of the room. At the bloody knife in Bella's hand and the disbelief that covers her face. She swallows and steps forward, into a puddle of blood, and flinches back. "B-Bella?"

Okay. Okay. Yeah, okay. It's gotta be done. "It's gotta be done," she repeats. Stares up at Victoria. And slips the knife in between Anne's ribs.

Tori gasps, hands flying up to her mouth. "No-stop! Bella,  stop!"

"This is the way it has to be," she tells Tori softly. And pulls the knife out to drive it back in, biting her lip hard enough to draw blood. She drops Anne to the floor, gets to her feet, and covered in her sister's blood, shoves Tori back out of the room to slam the door shut.

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.

.

"I swore I'd track you down," Victoria tells her, sits back on her thighs as she cleans her knife on Bella's open shirt. "Hunt you across the globe and tear out your throat. I didn't expect time travel - teleportation? Yes, very much. Not time travel, though. Not until I saw you with them, all these years later. As a human."

Bella swallows, body lurching. "O-one of my many party, party tricks."

"Jokes until the end?"

"Even after, if I… if I have my way," Bella says with a bruised and bloody grin.

The smile on Victoria's face drops. "Why? I deserve to know. I have waited long enough, Bella. Why?!"

"Had to-" she gasps against the hot metal sliding between her ribs. "-to be this way…"

.

.

.

"Why?!" Bella begs. She cradles Anne close, hands over the wounds as best as she can. "Why this? Why her?"

The vampire crouches beside them. Red eyes blink and gaze at her thoughtfully. "It has to be this way," they tell her simply. "I didn't ask you why, it didn't seem necessary until now. You know her, don't you?"

"Yes, I fucking know her!" Bella snarls quietly. Holds Anne closer. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

There's a scoff and right when Bella's gonna just - just fuck it and beat the shit out of this vampire, they pull a rather large needle from their dark robes. She can't see a smile past the mask they wear over their mouth, but those red eyes crinkle. "You are not without some mercy."

"What's…" Bella watches the vampire jab the needle into Anne's heart. Squints down at the liquid before it's all gone. "Are - you're changing her?"

The needle drops to the floor and they stand back up. "No, you are. I care little for being someone's sire and I had only a small debt to pay. I have now, you will not see me again until you do."

"Wh-duh," Bella says with a shake of her head. "That's how that works. What am I supposed to do with-"

She's shoved forward, into the floor, and looks back only in time to see a cloak thrown over Anne before she's alone in the room with a familiar chill.

.

.

.

For someone who can literally jump through time, measuring it really isn't Bella's strong suit. Knowing the year, now that is actually a pretty good party trick she can do. Drop her down in any year, any year in all of history, blindfolded… she can tell you what year it is down to the month.

Ask her how long she's been sitting in a room for, and forget about it. Who the hell knows. Time is fucking weird and she feels it like no other.

So she can't even guess how long she's been in the damn shed with Victoria when consciousness comes crashing against the back of her eyelids again. When the peaceful tranquillity of her dream is ripped away by the raw pain that scorches across her body.

"What's the worst thing you've ever done?" she asks in a voice that cracks twice as much as the fire Victoria sits in front of.

It's the most pensive she's ever seen the vampire, even when she was a kid. Thoughtful eyes full of dark promise, a lethal grace to the way she moves, right down to the the flutter of her eyelashes. "I brought you into my life," she says very simply, very gently.

"Well that hurt," Bella tells her with a cold fire poker still punched through her gut and into the ground. She drags in a wet breath, staring up through the hole in the old shed roof to the stars above them. "I've done some pretty shitty things in my life."

"I'm very aware of this."

She shakes her head. Maybe. Her vision swims and warm tears roll back into her hair. "No, like some truly horrible things. I close my eyes and I still see them, and time may be bathed in blood, but I've added so much to it. Killing is a lot like eating Pringles."

"How very enlightening," Victoria mutters as she stares into the embers of the fire. Spins the knife in her hands. "How do you choose? I pick the ones that remind me of you."

A snort and painful groan that makes the edges of her vision get fuzzy and black again. "I don't pick, I just… do and that might be worse." Her brows furrow. "I did choose once. My very first time. I think it broke me."

"Anne?"

Bella blinks. Blinks again. "No."

"Why her?" Red curls glow against the light of the fire, shadows dancing in Victoria's eyes as she braces herself over Bella. The snarl on her face is - heartbreaking and heartbroken. "Why her, Bella? Tell me. I deserve to know, I deserve at least that."

And Bella just sighs. Sadly. So sadly. "I'm so sorry I hurt you, Tori."

"Don't," she snarls and grabs the weak hand that reaches for her face, squeezes it until Bella sucks in a pained breath. "Tell me."

"This is the way it has to be."

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.

.

"A month? A month, Bella?"

She sighs, leaning forward against the table to brace her chin against her fist. She traces patterns on the top of the table, listening to Charlie rant about how long she was gone for. How unfair it is to just disappear after showing up covered in blood.

About all the things that Alice already gave her hell for when she'd finally started talking again. But they don't get that she had this conversation a hundred years ago - or almost a year, depending on your perspective.

Maybe. She's still not great at measuring time.

When it's quiet again, Bella drums her fingers against the table. Looks up at her father and doesn't feel that sharp tug in her chest like last time. "I didn't want to come back right in the middle of it. I figured everyone deserved some time to absorb everything that happened. I've… I've moved on? I'm not in the same place I was and coming back to it seemed. Counterproductive."

"Counter - okay, how about the fact that you think it's okay for you to just pop in and out whenever you like. Why am I put on pause while you traipse around the past like some goddamn superman."

A moment passes and she leans forward. "I don't fly, you know that, right?"

"You know what I mean! Superpowers or whatever. And that's not the point," he huffs with pink cheeks. Crosses his arms. "I didn't birth ya but you're still my kid."

Oof. Damn. Bella lowers her head, rubs at her eyebrow. Fuck. Well, that hurt. "I know. I'm sorry. I couldn't go through it a second time. I just wanted it to be done, I didn't want to talk about it again."

"I think we gotta," he admits and sighs. Pulls out the chair at the table and smiles feebly. "You were left on our doorstep."

She nods again and taps the table. "I know. I wasn't sure where else to take her. Me."

"Y-" Charlie blinks. Says something, though the sound never quite reaches his lips. "Jesus."

"I really don't want to talk about it, dad. I worked through it, it's… it's been more than a month for me. I'm fine now, okay? And I just want to forget about it," she explains.

"But-"

"No buts, dad. I'm really tired. We can talk more in the morning, about different stuff," she offers weakly. "I have so much to tell you, actually. But I'm exhausted. Can I, you know, can I go up to bed?"

He jumps in his seat. "Oh! Yeah, of course. Yeah, kid, it's your room still. No matter what. Go on, I'll be here. I'll make breakfast in the morning."

"Sounds good." She taps the table a final time, patting his shoulder on her way to the stairs.

In all honesty, she really is tired. Beyond tired, really. She can barely bring herself to drag her feet up the stairs and by the time she reaches her bed, she merely belly flops into it. So soft. Modern beds are so fucking nice.

Especially hers.

She sighs, fully prepared to embrace sleep…

But the world is cruel and she kinda deserves it.

Jasper folds his hands in his lap, clearing his throat across the room. Bella groans, lifts her head to peek at the blurry figure sitting at her computer, and wonders if it's worth grabbing her glasses. "I think it's about time you and I talk," he says.

Definitely not worth grabbing her glasses. "'Bout what?"

"Don't do that." His voice is low, heavy, but ever calm. Unflappable. It's something she envies about him - one of many things, really. Dick. "Everyone's pretending nothing's happening. Doesn't help none, does it? So. Let's address it."

With a groan, Bella turns onto her back. "Fine. I'm not the same young girl you all left. You want a conversation? Let's have it."

"You're in love with Alice."

"Yeah. I am."

He swallows a mouthful of venom and her chair squeaks. "She's not in love with you."

"That…" Bella scoffs. Shakes her head and works her jaw until she doesn't feel like telling him to go fuck himself. "Excuse me for not taking your word for it."

"I'm her husband."

"Big whoop, I'm her wife."

The room creaks in the silence and Bella hates that he can hear her thunderous heart. Damn cheating vampires. "That's not true."

"Isn't it?" she challenges. "How would you know?"

"Are you her wife, Bella?" he demands and it's the first time she's ever heard a snarl in his voice. Jasper clears his throat and gets up in slow, measured movements. Moves to the open window in her room. "Bella, are you her wife?"

"It's complicated."

"Of course it is, you're involved." Jasper runs his hands through his hair. Rolls his shoulders. "Look, I don't want a fight, Bella. I really don't, I like you. You're a good kid."

"Fuck off."

And he has the audacity to chuckle sadly. "I love her."

"I know." She hates it. Hates that she knows. Hates that he does. Would hate him if he wasn't such an annoyingly good guy. Fucker. "I love her."

"I know." He hesitates. "I'm sorry."

Again, she turns until her back is to him. Until she can stare at the other end of her bedroom and pretend she doesn't exist. "Leave me alone."

The wind whistles through her open window.

.

.

.

"If you don't stop crying, you're going to dehydrate yourself. It will only make things worse."

If she didn't know better, if she could get her dizzy mind to focus at all, Bella might suspect that the vampire sounds… guilty? Alas, her concentration extends only to her shallow breathing. "She told me to stop punishing myself."

"You don't have to worry about that now. I'm here," Victoria says with a deadly grin. "I'll do it for you."

"That… that was the idea," Bella agrees weakly. "It all seems, well, it seems kind of d-dark when it's said aloud. We've both done things though. Horrible things. I think the universe balances itself out. You're here to punish me and I'm here to punish you."

Chilly fingers grip her chin, tilt her face towards the fire. Victoria sighs and roughly lets her go. "I've never met a human who didn't ramble on about inane things when faced with death."

"I'm sorry I did it to you. I'm sorry that you're here, that you felt you deserved to be here," Bella whispers. "I don't think I could have unless you told me to. I hope."

"But at least theirs made sense. What are you saying?"

Bella forces her heavy eyes to stay open. "She was right, of course. She always is. Infuriating as it is charming." She turns her head to look at Victoria and smile sadly. "Don't punish yourself anymore. The world will hurt you enough without you helping it. I don't want to punish myself anymore. I don't want to continue this cycle of… of hurt."

"Stop talking."

"It was the only way to save her, Freckle."

Victoria snaps her hand around Bella's jaw. "I will tear out your throat."

More tears roll back, a trembling hand holding Victoria's against her face. "I'm so sorry. You had to push me off the roof. You had to hate me, it was the only way to save her. I'm so sorry, I'm so very sorry."

"Bella."

"I don't know if it was arrogance, I don't know me, but we decided saving her was worth hurting you. For so long," Bella chokes the words out around a sob. "I hurt you for so long, Tori. I'm so sorry."

Victoria grabs at Bella's shirt. Shakes her and wills those dark eyes to focus. "Bella. Bella, what are you saying? Save - Bella, what did you do with Anne's body?"

"I thought she might like the eighties."

"B-"

The shed door is torn from its rusty hinges and Bella plunges into the darkness. Alice's golden eyes blaze with fury and Victoria has only a moment to gape up at her in confusion.

"Tori!" Anne gasps from Emmett's hold out in the field. "Let me go, let me see my sister! Tori!"

Victoria grabs the unconscious girl's shirt, her wide eyes staring out past Alice's shoulder. "Bella, what did you do?"

.

.

.

"We need to have a conversation, Bella," Alice tells her rather seriously. It's almost weird seeing it on the usually carefree face Alice has around her.

Dark eyes shift their gaze to the floor and Bella bites back a groan. "God, why? Why does everyone suddenly want to talk to me? I hate talking. Talk to Edward."

"This is exactly what I mean!" Alice exclaims. There's a blur of motion and she sits on the arm of the chair next to the couch, only briefly in Bella's line of sight until the girl looks away. "I lost my best friend and I don't know why because you won't even look at me."

The scoff is almost a snort but either way, it's painful as it's pulled from Bella. She scowls at Alice for only a second before she looks away again, shaking her head. "So, I jump timelines and you jump realities now?"

Alice sighs. "Bell-"

"No. No, you wanted to talk," Bella insists and braces herself, forces herself to look at Alice. To stare down those golden eyes and snatch back the breath they take from her. Forces her heart to remain steady. "Let's talk. How is it even possible for you to pretend you don't know what's going on here anymore?"

Golden eyes blink and come back darker than before. Alice scoffs and finally looks away, out the french doors. "This isn't about Jasper."

"The hell it ain't," Bella growls. Selfish. Selfish. Fuck. Broken. "You, you, you just want to be Fine and Good without actually trying to work through or fix anything. Ignore the problem until, what, it goes away? But then you don't actually want it to go away, you want to keep poking at it. How is that fair, Alice?"

"Fair?" she echoes in disbelief, her elegant brows jumping up her forehead. "How is it fair that you won't be my friend just because I'm married to Jasper, Bella? The state of my romantic life should have no bearing on our friendship. Do you know how offensive and - god, Bella, do you know how hurtful that is? We can only be friends if I'm dating you?"

Surprise flashes across Bella's face and she leans forward on the couch. Digs her elbows into her knees. "Oh! Oh, ho! A little bit of honesty for once!"

"This is what you want, isn't it? A confrontation?"

The hurt in her eyes has Bella flinching back. "No, I… Alice…"

"A fight?"

"No."

The pixie bites her lip. Stares up at the ceiling to blink back the sting of tears that will not fall. "To make me feel worse than I already do."

"Alice, stop."

She shakes her head, glares at Bella. "Refusing to let a wound heal, to try and work with me to find a peaceful solution, to-"

"A peaceful solution?" Bella repeats slowly. The fire in her eyes dies out, her body groaning when she lifts to her feet. "I'm standing right here. Right in front of you, and still… still you don't see me." She scoffs and wipes at her eyes. "There is nothing peaceful about my broken heart, Alice. It's broken, I am in pain, and the only thing that makes it worse is you pretending everything is fine.

"Pretending that there is no gaping wound in my chest that won't ever stop bleeding. Pretending that I don't gasp for breath when you smile at me, that you can't hear how hard my heart beats when you enter the room. Pretending that I'm not consumed by everything that is you. I can't, okay? I can't pretend that I'm not in love with you, Alice," she forces out the watery words. Angrily wipes at the warm tears streaking down her cheeks. "So be with Jasper, if that's what you want, but don't ask me to sit here smiling while I'm dying inside.

"Don't rip open this wound I'm trying to protect. Don't pull all of this out of me and force me to - fuck, Alice, to force it on you! That's not fair. I'm hurting you again and. I can't keep doing that, it's not what I want, Alice. I just want you to be happy. That's all. I'm sorry."

Their fingers lace, Alice desperately trying to catch Bella's eyes. "Bella, I don't know how to fix this. I don't know how to make it better."

"You can't. Not yet. I've tried. I'm trying. I…" Bella shakes her head. Steps back until they're forced to let go of each other so she can rub at her eyes. "I don't know what I'm doing anymore. I don't know if I'm supposed to stop it or let it happen, Alice."

"Bella, wait."

"I'm trying to be a better friend." She nods once - a quick motion, and blips out of sight.

"Bella…"

Alice turns to flip the chair, her chest heaving with a snarl she holds back. She instead lets it out in a shaky breath, forcing her fists to relax and open.

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.

.

Victoria holds up her hand, her other on Bella's neck, and it's the only thing rooting Alice to the spot. Rosalie and Jasper snarl from just beyond her, circling the small shed, looking through the cracks for any moment of opportunity.

The redhead digs her fingers into Bella's neck. "Move. Is that Anne? Move, Mary Alice! Show me my sister or I will take Bella from you."

"Let her go!" Alice growls and jerks forward a step, only stopping at the blood drawn from Victoria's nails. "Stop!"

Just as Anne wrenches one arm free, Emmett has it back in his grip. She strains against him, ever closer to her long lost sister. "Wait! I can stop this, I can fix it. Tori, stop! Don't hurt Bella!"

"Give me my sister!"

"Give me my wife!"

Victoria's hand sinks to the ground and, as they all know her to do, Bella vanishes.

Chapter Text

The first thing she sees when she manages to crack open her eyes is her breath in the air, against a dark, dark sky. Absent of light, absent of life, absent of death. No shadows of the stars' dying light, no full and ominous clouds.

Just nothing.

She jerks up to look around with a start, desperate to know if she's back in the room. The possibility of it - the terror, it overrides everything, even the agony in her chest. She gasps in air; dry and stale, and grabs fists full of the snow around her. A stark white against the black sky.

Thank god.

With relief comes pain and she curls back against the snowy ground. It stains red around her and she wonders if finally, finally, finally…

But no. She knows no. Somewhere rattling around in the back of her head, she knows she has the whole puzzle. Bits and pieces break off here and there, sinking through to the forefront. Clues to the whole. But it's there. Either now or then or in the future - it's all relative.

It simply is.

There's almost a comfort in that, even if it's lined with rage.

A boot lands on either side of her, crunching snow the only noise echoing on and on for miles. The vampire crouches down, crosses her arms over her knees, and red eyes stare down at Bella. "It's kind of… sad seeing it from the other side."

She glares up at herself. "I hate you."

"I know." The vampire tilts her head. "I remember. We grow out of that, don't worry."

It only fans the flames within her heart and if she wasn't literally laying here with an iron poker impaled through her, she might take a swing at the vampire. "Why are you here?"

"Reasons."

She groans. "Just leave. I don't have time for the Chicken or the Egg conversation."

"My favourite question," the vampire purrs with delight. "Suit yourself but this is the only conversation you get."

"Besides the teasing," Bella scoffs. The necklace, the damn texts, the clues left for her.

"Yes. Besides that."

Her brows furrow, eyes tracing the scars that litter her face, her hands. The ink that peeks out beneath her cuffs, curls up from the collar of her shirt and coat. "How old are you?"

"A matter of perspective," the vampire says and Bella can almost mouth the words along with her. "You know that, kid. Quite old, if that helps. Old enough to forgive. It takes us a while to get there."

"I forgave the Cullens already."

The vampire clicks her tongue, shoots a finger gun down at the human. "No, you didn't. Not really. Not yet. But I ain't talking about that." The lull between them is painful for one and amusing for the other. "Fuck off!" They both shout at each other while the vampire grins. Bella grinds her teeth, squeezes the snow in her fists until it melts. "So angry!"

"What do you want from me?"

The vampire shrugs very simply. "Effort."

Of course. This is all just, what, a game to her? Something she's supposed to do because it happened already? "I'm trying! I'm trying to save Alice. I'm trying to forgive her. I'm trying to be happy for her. I'm trying."

"You keep running away and you don't have time for these games," the vampire finally says with an air of seriousness. The playful glint in her eye fades - doesn't disappear, but it fades.

"I have all the time in the world."

She clicks her tongue. Braces one elbow on her knee to hold her chin while the other flick's the human's earlobe. "No. No, you don't get it yet. Your timeline is set, you can jump through others but you can't jump through your own. He's going to find her, no matter how long you put it off."

It's said entirely too casual for Bella's comfort, considering everything. She's not sure if she should take that as a good sign or not. Surely even in the future, all she cares about is Alice's wellbeing. Right? "But we. We save her, right?"

"That's complicated."

"Stop telling me that! It's not complicated. We save her or we don't."

Again, the vampire shrugs. "Then we do."

Bella sighs. "Doesn't instil confidence. Tell me how."

"No."

Her jaw throbs from how hard she grinds her teeth. "How could I ever stop hating you?"

"When you start trying," the vampire says and her face softens. Softens beyond her years, centuries of patience reflected back at the young girl. "You're doing your best."

"You just said I wasn't."

The vampire hums. "He was right, you know. It is killing you."

Bella scoffs. "Do I make it?"

"Just as funny the second time," the vampire chirps with a grin. "I have to go."

"Why?"

She raises up to stretch her limbs, stepping over the human and looking out at the frosty field they're in. "You're unpleasant sometimes. Especially when you're pouting."

"Fuck off then," Bella snarls.

"Maybe I will."

She makes it a step before Bella reaches for her, grimacing at the pain that only finally begins to well up again. "Wait. Wait, aren't you gonna. You know. Turn me?"

Red eyes peer back at her, scan her state and linger on the poker still sticking out of her gut. She raises her chin. "I shan't. That's not how this goes."

"What the fuck." Bella blinks. Shakes her head. Tries to compute what she just told herself. "Why not?!"

Popping her collar, the vampire shrugs and crosses her arms, almost like she's cold. "You gotta do it, man. I can't save you, you gotta choose to live."

"I do choose to live!" Bella shouts. "Right here, right now, choosing to live. Asking you to save me."

"Why? Why even try to lie? I was there, I was right literally where you are, saying those words. I'm you, you can't lie to me."

She frowns. "I'm not lying."

The vampire blinks and puffs out air between her lips. "Well, I'm off, back to the old balls and chain."

"Who?"

"Edward." She waits a moment before the corner of her mouth curves up in an amused smile and chuckles. "That's actually funny the second time around. You should have seen your face."

Unbelievable. Un-fucking-believable. How does anyone put up with her? "Wait, don't go!"

"Thought you wanted me to fuck off?" she asks with a raised brow.

Bella sighs. Lays back in the snow to stare up at a black, empty sky. "Can you just. Can you just tell me what I'm supposed to do?"

"It's your life, kid. Do what you want with it… but if you want your advice? Stop punishing people." She shakes her head. "That's not your job, the world will take care of it. Put aside your anger long enough to remember that you love them."

"They left me," Bella whispers.

This time it's the vampire who scoffs. "And you left them. And maybe they will leave again. And maybe they'll die or maybe you will. What does that matter in the end? You want to be with them now. So do it."

"But she's with Jasper…"

And the vampire laughs, a sort of disbelieving laugh and hooks her hands on the back of her neck to stare up at the sky. "Jesus, do I have to solve all of your problems for you? Look at the way you are with the human and look at what you do with the vampire. How will she ever remember you when you're two different people?"

Bella leans up to snarl at the vampire, "It's not that simple!"

Who lifts her arms up to showcase the field. "We are sitting in the crack that runs the length of time. We are sitting in the vein of the universe, right here and now. Beyond comprehension and logic, beyond the laws of known physics. We simultaneously exist in every moment of every second that there ever was or will be… and not at all." She leans down again, red eyes burning into the human's. "But you, you're trying to tell me that the most complicated thing here is your love for a girl."

"… a pretty spectacular girl," Bella quips quietly.

"Believe me. I know."

The vampire gets up again and starts wandering to the only tree as far as the eye can see - completely white with frost and ice. "Where are you going?" Bella calls after her.

"Back."

"Back where?"

Utterly carefree in the moment, the vampire twirls with a wide grin on her face. "To a spectacular girl." She raises a hand to wave, walking backwards through the snow. "Take care, me. Try to lighten up and don't let the others give Victoria too hard a time. It was mostly our fault."

"Wait!" Bella shouts and reaches out again. "Wait, who's going to help me?"

"You are!" the vampire calls back.

"No, you're not! You asshole." She drops back in the snow when the vampire blips out of sight, sighing roughly. "What an absolutely unpleasant experience."

What a vexatious, sarcastic, infuriating vampire she is.

What a supremely bad day she's having.

Perhaps it's a little nice to know, however, that it seems like she's at least marginally happier in the future. It plants a small seed of hope in Bella's chest that she ever so gently cradles close to protect.

It makes her, maybe, a little more inclined to find a way back. Dying here, in the crack of the universe, where time does and does not exist simultaneously, doesn't sound as pleasant as it did a few minutes ago. It's not until the choice is threatened to be taken from her that she finally makes it and…

Jesus. She misses the Cullens. It's been so long since she's allowed herself to miss them. Clutching to her anger like it might save her and it's the thing that's been killing her this whole time. Poetic irony, she supposes.

Poetic irony is almost worth dying for.

Almost.

.

.

.

.

"Where is she?!" Alice snarls like an animal.

Victoria pulls her hand back a little, startled eyes gazing down at Bella in surprise. "Bella!" she gasps and for half a second, there isn't anything else.

Just an old friend looking down at her in relief - no dead sisters and lifelong vengeance, no betrayal and rage, no broken hearts.

Just Freckle and Little Fist.

"I'm sorry," Bella croaks.

Some of that pain, of that hurt cracks through the red of Victoria's eyes. She shakes her head ever so slightly, smiling sadly down at Bella. No words come though, she's not sure there are any. What do you even say when you find out the woman you've been chasing for hundreds of years to avenge your sister's death and kill… only tricked you just to save your sister?

All that time. All those years, chasing and hunting and waiting to kill someone, to torture them and hurt them as badly as they hurt you - stolen. In a moment. How do you go back to what it was before? How do you go back to friends? How do you reconcile the betrayal? And how do you not when you know it was to save the one person you love most in the world?

So Victoria sits back in the grass. Just stares at an old enemy and an even older friend. Doesn't even feel the big one wrench her arms behind her back, or hear the shouting around them. She just sits there, trying to string together the events of her life. All the things she's done to get here. Tries to make sense of the person she became because of it.

Tries to measure and balance everything she knows and decide what it means for the two of them.

Alice drops to her knees in Bella's line of sight to her old friend. She blinks bleary eyes up at the pixie, realizes that she can't actually feel Alice cradling her face or hear the words she can read on her lips. Her eyebrows pinch together. "What?"

"... not even a little fu… so if you think you can… going to be fine, I prom…" Alice shakes her head, pulls Bella into her lap. "And this is not getting you out of trouble for holding my past hostage, okay? So you're going to pull through because I'm not done being mad."

Bella's lips twitch up into a smile. She brushes her bloody, burnt fingers against Alice's cheek, watches her eyes flutter as she leans into Bella's hand. "Mary Alice Brandon, I can't help but love you."

"It's going to be okay," Alice promises her. Those eyes. Those eyes have chased her hundreds of years. Those eyes are beyond time. "Carlisle is going to fix everything, okay? You're going to be fine. He's going to fix it, he's going to help you. Bella? Bella, hey, look at me."

Those eyes… now they're worth dying for.

"Bella. Bella!" Alice looks up at Carlisle in alarm - a frazzled doctor inspecting the rod still punctured through the girl. "Do something! You let - we can't let. Carlisle." She looks over her shoulder only long enough to snarl at a numb looking Victoria. "You better pray to your god that she lives!"

Esme drops to the ground, carefully cradles Bella's head on her lap. Gently tries to rouse her. "Bella, honey. Bella, open your eyes. Bella. Bella, please."

"Bite her." Edward throws the new redhead to the ground, shoving through his siblings to look at the dying human. "Bite her, Carlisle."

Rosalie steps into his path, stopping him from getting too close, staring at his black eyes. "She wants nothing to do with us, don't you dare force that on her."

"You don't know her!" he growls.

She steps closer, lifts her chin. "Wait for her to say the words, Edward."

"Oh, this is no time for-" he runs his hands through his hair, pacing just outside the shed. "She hates us already, what's the difference!"

"This isn't about hate!" Rosalie snarls and shoves him farther back into the field.

Alice leans down, drags her bottom lip over Bella's neck and feels her fangs throb. "This is about love."

And sinks them into her best friend.

.

.

.

Regret and indecision churn like chaos and acid in her head. It's not something she has to deal with all that often - knowing the outcome of your choices is kind of like a cheat code to life, and she's always been liberal with its use. Certainty is like a shield or armour she uses to protect herself from a sharp and callous universe, and it's given her the grace everyone so often compliments.

She only ever fumbles when indecision seeps into her world like a plague. Shadows of the unknown whispering secrets she can't hear, ready to drown her if she gets too close. Blindspots. They're crippling. They're frightening.

And she really doesn't know if she did the right thing this time, blind instinct fueling her actions. The desperate plea for her wife that was so painfully torn from her throat, from the very depths of her being. Her wife? Making a decision - one with such a heavy weight behind it, in that state, in her confusion and panic... it wasn't right. She should have waited. But how could she? And now, god, now who knows how Bella will react. She is oh so difficult to anticipate. Alice sighs, tucks a lock of Bella's rich, vibrant hair behind her ear. Drags her fingertips along a pale cheek, feeling the edge of a rigid scar turned smooth - small, hardly noticeable, but Alice notices everything about Bella.

She knew Bella would be pretty. All vampires are and Bella was beautiful to begin with, even at the end when she looked so… drained. So tired and absent. But now? Enchanting. She's not sure if she's biased - probably, she can admit to herself, but dear god Bella could give Rosalie a run for her money.

Give me my wife!

"I'm not sure how I keep driving people away," she says into the quiet room. It's the spare, Esme wasn't sure where to put Bella while they waited. Each choice seemed… complicated, and so she was given the spare up on the top floor. Nice. White. Comfy. But bare and lacking anything - personal. "I mean, I know how, literally, I just am uncertain how I keep doing it, again and again."

Alice stares down at that face - the most peaceful she's seen it since before they left. Before they abandoned her and the seed of hate was planted. When life was like a dream and felt so good. "First it was you and, Bella, I think you had the most right, but still I didn't learn my lesson. Rosalie isn't speaking to me right now, she's quite upset. The most upset she's ever been at one of us, actually. I stole your life and your death, how talented I am."

Furious. Rosalie is absolutely furious with her, to the point she won't even look at Alice and hasn't stepped out of her room in days. Her fury isn't something Alice has ever felt before and… and she thinks she may, perhaps, be breaking her own family.

Give me my wife!

"Jasper won't talk to me because… well, I need not elaborate there. I don't think I could, it's so. Complicated. I worry that maybe by the end of the day, I won't have anyone left and that's my greatest fear, Bella," she whispers to the unconscious girl. Holds a hand in her own and counts the scars she can see. "I've never told anyone that before. I spent so many years looking for my family, searching and searching, missing… something."

Golden eyes study the elegant angles of a face perfected. "Someone. Always there, in the back of my head, wondering where they are, who they are. Do you want to know a bigger secret?" Her smile is as soft as it is heartbroken. "I stopped wondering when I met you. I stopped searching the future because I found it, I found my future. I knew that, on some level, I knew. That makes it worse, that I left. That I spent so long looking for you and then I left. I'm not sure who I hurt more, doing that."

Give me  my wife!

Another shard in her heart and who can she blame? Who can she blame other than herself? All the evidence is there; her life crumbles before her eyes and in her hand is the mighty hammer she used to shatter it all. In fear of making the wrong choice, she's made none at all, and it's ruining her.

How did she get here?

"I've found you to be quite difficult to hate."

Alice looks down with a start. Red eyes stare back up at her, aglow with newborn vitality, and if she needed breath Alice would be suffocating. Mesmerizing. There isn't a word strong enough to explain the effect Bella has on her. "That's because you're in love with me."

"Yeah. Probably." The smile on her face is radiant - untouched by the cruelty that feeds on her life. Alice is almost afraid to speak and turn this beautiful thing to ash as well. "But they love you too, I think you'll be fine."

"I hope so. I don't know how to fix it."

Those red eyes blink a few times and Alice watches the marvel that enters them, watches as Bella looks around the room they're in. To the position she didn't even think to adjust - Bella cradled close, tucked into Alice's side and resting in the pillows. "Shockingly, most things are out of our control," Bella tells her distractedly. "It's a concept I'm struggling with but fighting it led to a fire poker punched through my stomach like a human shish kabob." Alice chuckles and Bella's smile broadens. "So. Maybe take my advice and try not to force things that can't be forced."

Definitely not what the pixie was expecting - no snarling and shouting, she hasn't been thrown through a wall yet. Bella Hard To Anticipate Swan strikes again. "You're in an oddly good mood for having woken up dead."

"And that is a weird way to phrase things." A dark brow raises curiously and Alice flashes a playful smile. Bella sighs wistfully. "I lied before when I said I was tired of being angry. I wasn't. I wanted to be angry, I was angry. And scared." Bella sits up against the headboard, more like Alice, and looks at her hopefully. Alice's breath catches again. "I am tired now. And done and… I don't want to lose you again, Alice. I just want you to be happy and I just want to be in your life, in any capacity you'll have me."

She can't help herself, not really. Not when Bella is being so kind and gentle, not when half her family won't talk to her, not when she's been so strong for so long, and has fought this with everything she has… just to end up here anyway. Alice brushes her fingertips along Bella's chilly cheek (which in and of itself doesn't make sense, she shouldn't be cold to the touch) and down to her chin. That scar. That scar that looks so… right there. Like it belongs, like it was always supposed to be there. "How did we get here?"

"I'm not sure." Bella takes Alice's hand, brings it back to her cheek to hold it there. "Literally. I have a bunch of years all jumbled up in my head and I don't think they're in the right order."

Alice chuckles and shakes her head. "It's a lot of information to process and can be confusing at first. It will settle, you'll find a groove soon."

"Okay."

"You really are beautiful, Bella," Alice murmurs thoughtfully. Another thing she cannot help, that refuses to be buried any longer.

"H… you bit me." And she says it like she's only just now realizing that.

Alice's brows furrow in concern. "Yes." Is the hate finally catching up? Is her dream snatched away from her yet again?

"You bit me," Bella states blankly.

"I-I'm sorry, Bella. I couldn't, I just couldn't lose you," Alice begins quickly, fully prepared to apologize until the end of time.

But Bella still holds her hand against her cheek, still stares at her with soft wonder. "You want me. You want me in your life, you all do. They let you bite me."

Alice's head tilts. Her heart clenches in her chest and the agony of regret burns her more and more. "Bella, we always - It was such a devastating mistake we made, leaving you," she tells her vehemently. Fiercely. "If I could take anything in my life back, it would be that. I'm so sorry we ever made you doubt that we love you. I'll make it up to you, even if it takes forever, B-ella." Rather unexpectedly, Bella surges forward to almost tackle Alice right out of the bed, pressing her down against the mattress. "What… what are you doing, Bella?"

"You smell like bubblegum." She drags her nose across Alice's neck and a soft, continuous rumble comes from her chest.

Alice swallows a mouthful of venom and blinks up at the ceiling. Bad. Bad. Breathe. Okay. "And you're running on pure instinct right now, newborn instinct. Just breathe, Bella, just! Okay!" she gasps at Bella's lips against her neck, the tips of her fangs scraping against Alice's skin. "Space, you need space. I need space. We need space. Bella, Jasper is still - god, there's the pheromones. Fuck, Bella."

At the guttural groan coming from her pixie, Bella sinks into the bed, melds to her body until there's nothing but clothes between them. "You smell so good…" she whispers against Alice's shoulder.

"Those are." Alice takes a shaky breath, tries to keep her eyes open and digs her fingers into Bella's strong back. Hears, feels Bella moan and has to bite her lip and grab the bed beneath her instead. "Those are my pheromones. Oh god, Bella, please stop. Please. I don't want to hurt anyone else."

To the shock of both delirious girls, Bella's body stiffens. The pheromones that were pouring out of her in tantalizing waves cut off like a floodgate was slammed shut on them. She slides her hands off of Alice's body, digging her fingers into the mattress, and pushes herself up until there's room to breathe. Black eyes blink at the lamp on the bedside table. "A difficult burden to bear," she whispers in a rough voice. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I… sorry."

"Don't. Don't apologize," Alice tells her and sits up - too fast. Bella's in her lap and their noses almost bump, the ghost of Bella's lips on hers. All she has to do is tilt her head, just a twitch of movement and they'd be kissing. Alice squeezes her eyes shut and pulls back. "It's not your fault, it was never your fault, Bella."

"Al-" Bella's shoulders droop, looking at Alice across the room with her hand on the door. "It's not your fault, either."

The pixie nods, smiles feebly and opens the door. "I need to speak with Jasper. Who do you want me to send in?"

"Edward, maybe. I can't be alone, can I?"

Her answer is another small, apologetic smile before Alice ducks out of the room and Edward pokes his head in not a second later.

Bella sighs roughly, sitting back on her heels in the bed. "Sup, Eddie."

"Bella, your visage could make angels weep," he tells her so damn charmingly.

Bella smiles sweetly. "Cram it up your ass, Edward."

"Why did you even ask for me if you're going to be this way?" he huffs and the smile on his face drops.

She chuckles as some of her memories rearrange themselves in the correct order. "Because I'm as strong as you now, you creepy bastard. You're a scary dude and I don't want you pursuing me anymore, got it?" It's not the gentle discussion she was hoping to have, a reasonable conversaion to set boundaries between them. She owes him that... but then again, he left with them all the same.

"It was never my intention to make you uncomfortable!" he gasps with a horrified face.

She shrugs. "And it wasn't my intention to ruin your family but look where we are. Now back off, Bedhead." She stretches her back, sliding backwards out of the bed - and right out through the wall on the third floor. She lands in a heap down below, a mess of wood and debris. "Fuck!"

Esme is there when she blinks, looks back up at the giant fucking hole in the side of the house. Nothing but golden concern shining down at her and… no. What? Why was she avoiding Esme? "Bella! Are you alright?"

You need to tell Esme, for  you , Bella. It's not good, keeping it in like that.

Blue eyes beg her, beg her to go home and tell Esme the truth.

But Bella shakes her head. Blindly reaches out for Esme's hand. "Yes. No. Oh no." Memories flash through her mind in the time it takes for Esme to pull her up to her feet again. She stares down at her hands, half expecting them to be dripping with her biological father's blood. "No, oh no, no, no!"

"What's wrong?" Esme asks. Her alarm rings out through the yard, to the point that Emmett pokes his head out a window.

But Bella hardly notices. Information and years catch up to her - she looks at her arms and the ink still etched beneath her diamond hardened skin. A map that will never fade but never be added to. "James. Victoria - Anne! Oh my god, no. Fuck. There's so much to do, to set up."

"Bella, wait-" Esme tries to grab her hand again but-

Bella's across the yard and smashing through the front door. She blows a puff of dusty air, wiping the front of her shirt. "Jesus. Sorry! That's fast."

"Bella, you need to adjust still," Carlisle tells her slowly, holding up his hands as he closes in. "I know your mind must be racing but your body is vastly different now."

"I have to go."

Emmett wraps his arms around her, squeezing tighter than he's ever been allowed before - and still, she barely feels it. "Just hold on a second, Boo. You're not in control yet and you're gonna hurt someone."

"You don't understand," she tries to explain and grabs his hand, pulling one of his arms loose. He winces and she drops him, stepping out of his grasp - and into another wall. But she doesn't go all the way through it this time, so that's progress.

Rosalie rolls her eyes and hops the railing of the stairs, landing in the foyer down below. "Alright, Bull, take it easy," she snaps. Her muscles tense a moment, eyes closing, and when they open Bella watches a brilliant red crack its way through the gold.

Her grip is much, much tighter than Emmett's and Bella finds that, actually, she's having a hard time wiggling loose. "The psychotic sisters are fine, Jasper's watching them in the basement," Rosalie grunts and wrenches her closer, locking her wrists.

"Holy fuck, try to keep up, she's still human! I haven't changed her yet!"

"She's a damn vampire!"

"I was human, I'm only now a vampire, she hasn't been changed because I didn't have venom until now! What is difficult about this?!"

Rosalie looks to the others for help but they merely shrug. She sighs sharply. "I hate to admit it but we need another Time Voodoo Specialist. Someone get Alice."

"There's-" Bella grabs Rosalie's arms, "no-" plants her feet, "time!" she gasps and flips the blonde over her shoulders.

The pins and needles come much easier this time and a whole lot quicker. Free as a bird, Bella knows there's nobody in the world who can catch her… so imagine her horror when Rosalie tackles her back through the wall in the same moment.

Chapter Text

"Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?!" Bella roars when she catches her footing. She hauls a disoriented Rosalie to her unsteady feet, shaking her solidly once. "What if you slipped? What if I dropped you in some random year along the way? You'd be lost to time, Rosalie! I wouldn't be able to find you!"

It's heavier than she meant to be, hotter than she was aiming for. The words come tumbling out with the force of great typhoon, panic and fear fueling the fire in her eyes. She almost lost Rosalie. She almost lost Rosalie. Fuck. Fuck.

"Unhand me!" the blonde snarls and smacks away Bella's hands. She holds her own out, blinking and trying to orientate herself. "And stop yelling, I'm hearing colours."

She doesn't understand. She doesn't get it, none of them get it. Do they not know that she can't lose them again? Not any of them, not one more time, she can't. She won't survive it this time. The thought buzzes around in her stomach like a wasp - sharp, angry, electrifying until she's a bundle of nervous energy. Jittery fingers and snapping words.

Bella scoffs. Crosses her arms and paces off a few feet away. "That's great. That's just great, Rosalie. You're in the fucking past now and-" the red in her eyes fades, fades, fades to pitch black. Her words die off and she turns her head as if she can stare through the wall in this alley to the beating hearts beyond it.

What the fuck is  that?

Golden eyes snap up as her words cut off, Rosalie frowning and watching the shift. The change. This time it's Rosalie who grabs Bella and yanks her close. "And that, you moronic monkey, is why we didn't want you running off so soon. You're going to kill someone."

"Smells." Bella shakes her head, swallows down a mouthful of venom. Again. "Good."

Hands grab her face painfully, wrenching it sideways to meet Rosalie's eyes. "You focus on me, listen to the words I'm saying, and block out everything else. You're losing thought and reason to hunger and instinct as we speak, Swan, and in a few moments there is no logic strong enough to keep you from tearing into someone's throat."

Heartbeats. Wardrums? A lullaby luring her towards temptation. Satisfaction.

"Burns," she whimpers.

And Rosalie nods, the most patient Bella's ever seen her. "While I like to poke fun at my brother and his dramatic melancholy, he's not technically wrong. This life is… the painful reflection of a true life. It's not sunshine and sparkles for the rest of eternity. She shouldn't have bit you."

"Blood!" Bella gasps against the intoxicating aroma singing to her. She tries to pull away, to turn and look, but the cracks of red are still glowing in those golden eyes, and she can't do much of anything between her internal tug-of-war.

Pale fingers dig into her face and she might even be able to hear the cracks that start to form. Rosalie glares at her but doesn't move, doesn't blink. "Foolish, foolish girl. You should have stayed away. Edward should have stayed away from you. Look at everything it's cost, look at yourself."

"Are you ever going to look at me, Bella?"

She flinches. Blinks rapidly.

"You and I are going to be great friends, Bella, and that's just never going to happen if you don't sleepover! Come on, it will be fun! We'll watch movies and stay up late!"

"You can't actually sleep, Alice."

"I can pretend, Bella, and you're missing the point entirely."

"Just what is the point, Alice?"

"That… oh, Bella, don't be silly! The point is that I want to spend time with you!"

Alice. If Edward stayed away, if she had stayed away from the Cullens, she wouldn't have those moments. Those memories. She wouldn't have befriended the nicest vampire that ever walked the face of the earth. She never would have gotten her heart broken by a smile. She never would have gone tumbling through time just to find Alice again. Never would have bounced between Present and Past.

Between Pain and Promise.

Alice wouldn't have dragged her out of the hole she was so very content to bury herself in, and Alice wouldn't have helped her dig it in the first place. She wouldn't have found Esme up on that cliff and dragged her to the hospital. Wouldn't have met her biological father and killed him, wouldn't have left herself on her dad's doorstep.

She never would have run back to the only girl that can heal her as deep as she can cut her. Never would have shown Alice the world, and showed the world the bright soul that is Alice. Never would have taken a chance, never would have found love just to lose it just to find it again.

Her life is a series of loops, of repeats and rewinds, of being forced to look at her pain from each and every angle just to see if she'll make the same choice again. And she's found her answer is the same each time.

"Worth it," she tells Rosalie firmly. With heat and fire and passion, with heartbreak and hope, sorrow and love. She tells Rosalie beyond any shadow of a doubt, beyond reason and logic and all the things that her hunger eats away at.

Alice was, is, and always will be worth it.

Something in those eyes, those golden eyes harder and sharper than diamonds, something softens. Curious and… maybe touched, if she looks close enough. She nods, just a slight movement, but understanding lingers between them.

Bella smiles. A twitch of her lips and the world blurs for Rosalie, colours blend together before they're ripped back apart and the alley is no longer the alley. It's a field full of holes, some freshly dug, others with grass beginning to poke out of the dirt again. She lets Bella's face slip from her fingers to look around them, look down at her glittering hands. "Where are we?"

"I come out here to think," Bella says and holds up her hands. "I think it's somewhere in Canada, East coast maybe. One of the islands up there - up here."

The blonde bends down to pick up a golden coin, flipping it between her fingers. She eyes Bella wearily, knows that Esme and Alice changed her into fresh clothes but she usually looks something between a pirate and a hipster. "I swear to God, Bella, if there are chests of treasure beneath my feet..."

"Depends. Do you think this tree," she holds up her arm and points to the tattoo, "and that tree look the same?"

Rosalie glances between her arm and the enormous tree they stand beneath. She sighs. Pinches the bridge of her nose. "Take me home, Bull."

"I can't."

"What?"

She shrugs. "I can't. A double jump usually takes me off my feet for a day or two. What will a triple jump do?"

"Well, you're already dead, so I imagine not a whole lot," Rosalie snaps, hands on her hips. "Why would you bring us out to a fucking island?"

"No people?"

Her eyes narrow. "You really piss me off sometimes, Swan."

"Yeah, I know. Get in line." Bella's eyes widen and she holds up her hands a second before Rosalie's boot lands square in her fucking chest holy shit ouch! And Bella's launched back through the trees. She bounces when she lands, rolling through the grass and dirt a few yards until she finally stops and everything is silent. "What the fuck!"

By the time she scrambles to her feet, Rosalie is leaning against one of the trees. Her arms are crossed, inspecting the nails of one hand with a bored expression. "So, who have you told?"

"Told what?" Bella grumbles and wipes the dirt from her clothes.

She gives a pointed look to the scoffing blonde. Rosalie shrugs lightly. "Everything. It's not just you bouncing through time, we all saw that picture. Two lives, you're trying to live. That's… complicated and a lot to hold on your own. Who carries this burden with you?"

"Why would I ever put that on someone else?"

It's not the answer she's expecting. Golden eyes study this young girl. This stubborn, foolish, chaotic, kind girl. "It'd be easier, for one," Rosalie tells her.

"Nothing's easy."

"I said easier not easy but have it your way," she concedes with an inclination of her head. "What was the plan, anyway? Hide a human Alice away, hope amnesia never finds her?"

"No," Bella snaps. And falters. Droops a little, wilts. Scratches the back of her neck sheepishly. "Okay, maybe. It was… for a while. I don't know anymore."

"Is it the realization that this already happened or do you not want to take her family from her?"

Bella groans. "Fuck, I hadn't even thought of that."

"Too preoccupied with wanting her to remember you, to not forget you in the first place."

"Okay, who the fuck are you?!" She throws her hands in the air. "Where were you, like, five years ago? When I started down this twisty fucking path of confusion?" Bella sighs, dejected, and slumps against a nearby tree. Birds sing off in the distance, an odd chorus with the wind whistling through the trees. She holds out her hand to stare at the glittering skin. "I was so busy I never stopped to wonder if this is something I'd want."

There's a loaded silence. Rosalie lifts her chin, glances away. "And do you?"

"I'm still not sure." She hums. Shrugs. "I wouldn't take it back."

"But you'd have liked the choice."

"I had a choice."

Rosalie scoffs, rough and violent. "You were dying and unconscious, you had no choice."

"I'm a time traveller, Rosalie. I had a choice."

A moment lulls between the two of them. Whether Rosalie takes this declaration or dismisses it, Bella's not sure, but the blonde regards her with curiosity. "Has it really been five years?"

Bella shrugs. "More than three, less than six. I'm not sure anymore."

"And still you haven't forgiven them?"

"I did," she insists in a small voice. "I did as soon as I realized what they'd done. That's why it still hurts. That's why I'm still angry. Because I forgave them. Because I love them."

A shake of the head and Rosalie laughs - callous, hollow, aggravated. "They thought they were protecting you."

"They didn't. I've done enough horrible things in my life to know that intentions only get you so far." Bella shrugs again, a little helpless. "They don't comfort the victim. Sometimes they just cut the wound a little deeper. You left me."

"You were human-"

"I was family! Family left behind. Family forgotten."

Rosalie glares at her. "They never forgot you, they just-"

"Left me alone."

She works her jaw, tempers the annoyance and anger that simmers beneath her calm surface. "You have family!"

"And even that was taken from me!" Bella snarls. Pushes off from the tree she's slumped against, slamming her fist against her chest. The burn in her throat aches, like breathing in dry ice. "He's not-! What." The words get caught in the ice, jagged shards of frosty anger in her throat. "What. Mad. Wh-fuck. What."

Rosalie is there - gently but firmly holding the hands that Bella claws at her neck with. "Breathe, Swan. Damn it, Alice. I am not the person to help train a damn newborn. Just breathe, Bull." She sucks in a breath to let it back out in one smooth motion. "In and out. Try to calm down, your emotions aren't what they were. They have the tendency of burying logic and thought. You have to watch out for hunger, rage, lust, sorrow, bliss. Just think of Alice again, it worked last time."

"Don't like. Don't… don't tell me. What to do."

Her hands switch to Bella's shoulders that heave with each breath - too large, still violent, but it's something. A fragile grasp on a technique that's helped all of the Cullens through the years. "There you go, Bull."

"Why Bull?" Bella manages to ask with a voice cold as a frozen lake, red eyes that blaze with untamed fury.

Rosalie scoffs. "The manor is barely standing at this point."

"Wasn't just me."

"So are you sure we're alone?" she asks and gazes around their hole-y area. She can almost picture Bella out here, digging in all the wrong places. Her lips twitch with a smile. "No people?"

The newborn looks up from her boots, lifting a brow and giving a blind glance over her shoulder. "Mhm. Why?"

"I have some questions and they're probably going to make you mad. Like, why do you think you're allowed to just come along a ruin a marriage?"

Her eyes widen in surprise. "What?!"

"Alice and Jasper have been happily married for almost as long as I've known them," Rosalie tells her simply. "And I've known them for a long time. Then you came along."

"You think it's my fault?"

She sighs in a bored fashion. "I'm just pointing out what I've noticed."

"I didn't do that, it's not some choice I made, Rosalie," Bella snaps and tries to smother the growl in her chest. Breathe. Breathe. In and out. "What the fuck kinda person do you take me for? You think this is fun? Do you think I benefit from this at all?"

Those golden eyes, not soft or hard, consider her for lingering seconds. "No, actually. I just wanted to see for myself. It doesn't make sense and it's hurting my family, I'm just trying to…"

"Force it to make sense?"

Her shoulders lift and fall. "Maybe. Why you? Did you do something in the past that somehow lingers, a century later?"

"No! I mean… well, no. Not. Not really," Bella answers weakly and scratches the back of her neck.

"Are you together in the past?"

Digging her fingers into the back of her neck, she's a little unnerved to hear the cracks form. Not unnerved enough to stop though. "W-Well… okay, it's kind of complicated-"

"How do you feel about her now?" Rosalie presses. Stalks forward, brows drawn together as if she's trying to solve a puzzle. "As a vampire?"

"That's hardly your bus-"

"Is it more or less than before? The same? A pale reflection or like opening your eyes for the first time?"

"Can you just fucking back off?!" Bella shouts and staggers back with wide, disbelieving eyes. Overwhelmed. Mildly panicked. She shakes her head. "Stop it. Stop. It's none of your business, I don't owe you anything, just fucking stop. Stop poking at it, stop picking at it, stop giving me a hard time! Why do you hate me so much? What the fuck did I do to you?!"

"Just as ignorant as Edward…" Rosalie mutters into her palm. She sighs, scraping together what little patience she has, and forces a sarcastic smile. "This isn't about hate. This is about… listen, Swan. Bella," she corrects, an attempt at a peace offering of some sort. "Something is breaking my family. Something isn't fitting right anymore, like a spiderweb crack through my family. They're already hurting and none of it makes sense. I have to, I have to make sense of it. I have to fix it. Okay? That's my job. I have to protect them and I don't understand how she can love you both? How can a vampire have two mates? How can she love the same way twi...twice…"

The fire between them sizzles out and Bella frowns. Leans forward, eyebrow quirked up curiously. "What? What is that, what's that thought you just had? Why'd your face do that?"

"Nothing," Rosalie says and blinks once. Sinks back towards her tree. Thoughts race across her eyes and she fades from the moment.

Which Bella can fucking see with her own damn eyes, and shuffles forward. "What? You were just ranting at me like some kind of lunatic and now you're Quiet Joe with a thoughtful look."

"You need to take me back. I need to talk to someone." She pushes off from the tree again, her posture stiff. Distant. Cold, even. "You need to take me back right now."

But Bella's still trying to catch up. Still trying to connect the dots. She was just on the receiving end of an interrogation, now it's Rosalie's turn. She deserves just as many answers. "Who?"

"None of your fucking business, Bull. Take me back!" Rosalie snarls and finally, finally those eyes are black and angry. No gold, no red, just pits of emotion that burn to look at for too long.

"I told you, I can't!"

"How do you usually do it?"

"I just - it's not that simple-"

She jabs Bella in the shoulder, enough to shove her backwards. "Take me back."

Bella's own eyes fade shades of red until they're hard as obsidian. "Rose-"

"Take me home, Bella!"

"Triple jumping is-"

"Take." Poke. "Me." Poke. "Home!" Poke.

"Fine!"

With a mighty snarl, Bella rips into the blonde's timeline and drags her through.

.

.

.

As soon as their feet connect with pavement, Rosalie spins on the spot and throws Bella up against the nearest wall. She snarls, loud and deep and in her chest, a dangerous warning with eyes black as ink. "Keep doing that to me and I'll-"

"What?!" Bella demands, knocking her arms down. "You'll what? What do you think you can to do me, Rosalie? What do you think I'm afraid of?"

Her eyes blaze. "Me. I'm the one to be feared. I don't give a damn about you, I don't care if you come back, I don't care about stepping on toes and scaring you off, Swan."

"News flash," Bella grabs Rosalie this time, a strong pin. Sturdy, with newborn strength that has the wall cracking around her. "I'm your only way home, asshole, and I don't give a damn about you."

In the time it takes for her words to click, Rosalie realizes it's not the Cullen backyard they're in. Not the house, not even Washington. Bella releases her and she spins to inspect the cold, wet street they're in. The lamplight bouncing off the bricks of the road, the smell of cigarettes and rain in the night air.

Her fingers tremble and Rosalie steps back, flush with the wall, pressing her fist against her stomach. No.

No.

Rochester.

"Bella," she breathes and stares out at the street. "Bella, wait."

The younger vampire crouches, elbows on her knees, and watches a group of humans stroll down the street. They laugh and giggle, friends out on the night for a good time, maybe. Perhaps even college students - the fashion is really fucking with her and everybody has a damn moustache. "What?" she grunts and glares at them.

Definitely students.

"Take me home," Rosalie asks, almost begs. Maybe the closest Bella's ever heard her to a genuine request and not forced patience.

It's enough to make her look up - brows furrowed. Concern sinking through her anger. "I tried. We ended up here. I told you all, I don't always get to pick where I go."

"Please," Rosalie whispers. Clears her throat and finally blinks. She stares up at the sky and rips her eyes away, squeezing them shut. "I can't be here."

"Relax. I just need to, I dunno, recharge or something. We can leave in a couple days."

"There's my Rose! Come here, sweet thing. Meet some o' the boys, will you?"

"I can't be here," Rosalie insists. Claws the memories from her mind just as fast as they surface. Buries them, tears them apart, would burn them if she could.

Bella scoffs. "A day or two away from Emmett isn't gonna kill you."

And she laughs - a bubble of disbelief she chokes out and stares down at Bella. Smiles a shaky, trembling smile. "Ironic to say, standing in the very street I was killed on."

"...wut."

"Bella, I don't care where or when we go, I can't be here. I won't-I can't. Bella.Please."

She shoots up, darting over to the blonde and grabbing her hands, her shaking hands. Wincing at the cracks from her grip. "Hey, woah, Rosalie. It's okay, you're okay. Just breathe."

"I'm not okay and I just want to leave," the blonde snarls and bunches Bella's coat in her fist, glares hard enough that Bella can't breathe. "Take me away from here, get us away from here, just bring me back to my fam…"

Bella blinks.

Looks from side to side at the walls of the alley they're in. Stares up at Rosalie, follows her line of sight over her own shoulder, and turns as much as she can to find what has the blonde faltering.

Which, you know, fair enough. It's her human self and Bella knows first hand how fucking weird it is to see yourself not in a mirror. "Oh, wow," she whispers and stands there with Rosalie, watching the human go. "You look so different."

Her smile is… honestly, Alice is the most beautiful face Bella's ever seen. Everything about the pixie draws her in, mesmerizes her and leaves this giddy, breathless - butterfly effect in her chest, but bigger. Eagles or dragons, maybe.

But damn if Rosalie isn't a close second, and damn if a human Rosalie doesn't make Bella's heart thump one last time.

"It won't last," Rosalie says softly. Absently as ghosts drag her down into the murky depths she drowned them in. "Reality has a way of catching up, no matter how far you run."

The fuck? Bella looks up at the vampire warily.

Boisterous laughter drags her attention back, another group of students. No, just young guys - oh, drunk, nice. Public intoxication still a thing, even in the past. Bella scoffs, her eyebrow ticking when one of the men calls Rosalie's name. Her head tilts. Watches the blonde light up with recognition and step into the street to meet the men.

"Wh…" Bella licks her lips, turns towards the vampire but can't drag her face away from the humans talking on the street. Like a car crash you can't look away from, some instinct in her gut telling her to pay attention. The primal part of any person whispering that danger lurks nearby. "Do you know them?"

"My fiance," Rosalie says in a distracted kind of way. "Ex."

"I don't like this," Bella tells her. Something's wrong, Rosalie is acting weird and those men are so drunk and… something's wrong. Doesn't sit right. Doesn't feel right. "We should go break that-" one of them grabs the human's wrist, tight enough that she yelps, and Bella surges forward-

Rosalie's arm locks across her chest. "Don't!" she snarls in Bella's ear.

"What the fuck?!" Bella gasps and wiggles, tries to slip out. The man drags the human closer into the group, into the middle, and fear drifts down to them on the wind. Carried down the street, and fills the alley. Bella wrenches her arm free and they fall forward, fingers digging into the pavement. "Let me go!" she snarls.

Hooking her arm, Rosalie drives her elbow down into Bella's spine, smashing her face into the road. "Don't. Move."

Helpless and immobile, Bella focuses inwards, and the two are gone before the echo of a human girl's scream reaches them.

.

.

.

They sit atop the stone wall, feet dangling over the choppy waters down below. Dark waves crashing against pale stone, over and over and over. It's kind of therapeutic, a soothing rhythm. A safe pattern. Even the saltwater is nice, distracts from the heavenly call of blood a few miles south from them.

Bella finally blinks. Drops her chin to stare down at the water instead of the horizon. "I killed my dad," she says into the wind. Feels Rosalie turn to look in her general direction. "Not the same, but. I dunno. I, uh, I shot him? It was loud. And then I saw me and, oof, turns out Esme is my mom."

"Huh." An air escapes Rosalie's lips. "I wasn't actually expecting that."

"Nah, me neither," Bella agrees. Rubs the back of her neck. "Is there such thing as a non-tragic vampire?"

Another wave crashes against the wall way down, down below. Seagulls sing to each other in the distance, and shadows creep as a cloud covered sun peeks over the horizon. "Emmett's pretty close, he just got eaten by a bear," Rosalie finally says. "Alice too, maybe. Nobody knows how she was changed but I'd wager it wasn't nice if she's managed to erase all memories tied to it."

Bella scoffs or chuckles maybe and Rosalie cracks a smile. The odd kind that's neither happy nor sad.

She shakes her head but still doesn't quite look at Bella. "How bad does it have to be, for that to happen? We've been through no picnics but suffer the memory still."

"I'll let you know."

"You won't stop it?" she wonders.

A mighty sigh heaves Bella's shoulders. She bounces her heels against the stone. "Try as I might, I haven't been able to yet. Esme, me, you… I keep failing."

"Hey." Bella looks up and is surprised to see those golden eyes on her, finally. They're sharp and angry, always angry, and make so much sense now… but they're… there's something comforting about them that Bella can't put her finger on. Protective? "I hated this for a long time, Bull. Longer than you've been alive, longer than your grandmother's been alive."

Bella ducks her face in shame-

But Rosalie flicks her chin and forces her to look back up. "I don't know if it's something I want… but I wouldn't take it back."

"Right. Some choice."

Rosalie shrugs. She looks back out over the water, towards the horizon again and finds peace in the stillness of the morning. "You've given me a horrific, horrible, awful choice. A painful choice." She nods and hesitates before patting Bella's knee once. "But it's a choice."

"I'm gonna just lay here on this wall for a couple years, if that's okay."

"Aren't you hungry?"

Bella flops lengthwise against the wall, her cheek smooshing against the stone. "Yeah."

"Why can't you ever be normal in any regard?"

She sighs. "I don't wanna eat animals if I don't have to and I'm scared of what that makes me."

There's a confused pause. "It doesn't make you anything."

"Says the vegetarian vampire. I've heard Edward go on and on and on. How proud Carlisle and Esme are of you for never having tasted human blood."

Rosalie snorts. "Worried your mommy is going to be ashamed of you?"

"Fuck off, Rosalie. Leave me to my wall in peace," Bella grumbles with a smooshed pout, gaze drifting out among the waves. Sleep would be nice. To sleep beneath the waves. Forgotten by the world.

"Don't be sensitive like Edward." The blonde shoves at Bella's boots. "I'm here, okay? The least we can do is… ugh, bond or whatever. Talk to me."

"You'll make fun of me."

"Yes, that is a risk."

Hell. This has gotta be what Hell is like. "Just leave me alone, Rosalie. Please."

"Nope," she grunts. Kicks at Bella's feet and lays the opposite way along the wall, hands behind her head. "You dragged me out here, you won't bring me back, now you have to deal with me. You owe me a conversation, at least. Making me go through… that."

"Add it to the list of disappointments I'm responsible for."

She lifts her head enough to frown at her sombre… whatever Bella is to her these days. "Hey. Swan. Hey, look at me. I don't know what your deal is but you're shifting through all of the stages faster than I can keep up. Sounds like this is depression. Don't go down without a fight."

"I'm sick of fighting," Bella whispers after a tired moment.

"You're Isabella Swan, all you know is fighting. Come on, seriously, I can't bring back a defective vampire. My one job is protecting this family."

Being turned into a vampire is clearly highlighting some worrisome aspects of Bella's personality and maybe Rosalie should have figured that mentally sound individuals don't go seeking out the people actively trying to kill them or throw themselves off roofs or drink themselves stupid (something she seems to have stopped doing).

Maybe the rest of the family knew? She thought they just didn't want a newborn going on a bloodbath rampage, but maybe they could see it, could see whatever this is? Why the fuck did she grab Bella?

"Lucky for you I'm not part of that family," Bella mutters and finally closes her eyes.

"… you don't really think that, do you? Are you really that dense?" Yeah, this is definitely not in Rosalie's wheelhouse. Damn it. Even Edward would be better suited to this.

"Sure."

"Bull-Bella," Rosalie laughs in mild disbelief. Sits up to glare at her. "What part of this is confusing you? The part where we raced back the second Alice found out you were missing? Or maybe the weeks that we spent in the woods, scouring every fallen leaf, arguing with the wolves to let us look for you on their side? Oh, oh, I know! It's the part where we've waited with bated breath every time you pop out of time, hearts prepared to break because we don't fucking know if you're ever coming back again."

In a blur of movement, Bella's finally sitting up again. Her black eyes blaze and while it's not Rosalie's first choice, it's better than the… nothing that lingered in them before. "No, actually, it's the part where you said hey, we love you, Bella and then ripped every piece of yourselves away from me for a year. It's the part where Alice says she loves me but chooses him. It's the part where I found out that I share Esme's blood and she still left me! It's the part where I can't touch this family, my family, without breaking it more than I already have."

"Big whoop," the blonde scoffs. "Get over yourself, Swan. Clearly you don't know us at all if you think this is worth going Full Emo for. It's complicated, it hurts, but it's not going to ruin us. We've been through worse, and we'll go through worse. Now open your eyes and fucking see that Alice hasn't chosen anyone."

"She's with-"

"They've always had separate bedrooms, Dumbass!" she snarls and throws her hands in the air. What a bunch of bullshit. They're really aching and breaking over this? Over stupidity? "Think back on your fuzzy human memories, pathetic as they are. Did you think all of the fabric busts were Jasper's?"

Bella deflates, confusion popping her bubble of angst. "But. But they're married."

"Married and separate because try as Jasper might, Alice has always been reluctant about commitment. Something's held her back as long as I've seen them together. I just didn't realize it was you."

"How so?"

Rosalie sighs. "Ugh. Okay… how would you describe Alice? This Alice."

Bella shrugs simply. "Bold. Beautiful, I don't fucking-" she sighs roughly, "kind and generous, wicked smart but wickedly mischievous, too. Free? She doesn't blink at the attention people give her - good or bad, it's like she doesn't even see them. She's just… herself, in every aspect, to the fullest extent. She's… wonderful."

And Rosalie watches this like she's tasted something a little too sweet. "Barf. I'm not going to lie, Bull, that was difficult for me to hear, I didn't know you were such a sap."

"Oh, fuck-"

"Off, yes, I got that." She grins radiantly - for a second, and then it's gone. Making Bella wonder if she actually even saw it in the first place. "Would you like to know how I would describe Alice? As someone who's known her for decades upon decades?"

It feels like a trap, but… "Uh. Sure."

Rosalie sits up a little straighter, chin in the air like she's won a match. "Alice is brilliant, kind, generous, and wickedly smart. However, I would say that she is also uncertain and hesitant, distracted. It was ironic, how Alice would know all the choices but refuse to make any of them. I'm not sure meek is the right word to describe her but it's close. She… waits to read a room, to watch each and every reaction before she says or does anything. Alice has always been an enchanting wallflower, but a wallflower nonetheless."

What? "That… that literally doesn't even make sense, there's no way that's ever been Alice. That's, that's not Alice. I don't believe you."

No. Nope, that's so very un-Alice, like clashing magnets. It just… doesn't go. Doesn't work. Rosalie's a fucking liar.

"Ask anyone else, then," the blonde tells her. "Ask your mother, ask Edward. The two of them used to be closer, they were rather similar. We called them the Weird Twins."

Bella's brows pinch together. "But she…?"

"Became so much more when she met you. Like she was done looking and waiting, like she unfurled her petals to draw you in and we finally saw her. Like, damn it, Bella," she jabs the newborn in the shoulder painfully, "like she peeled herself off that wall and hasn't stopped dancing since."

"Alice loves to dance," Bella agrees thoughtfully.

"Honestly, looking back on it all, I'm a little embarrassed I didn't piece it together sooner. I wasn't aware people were cheating."

Red eyes widen in surprise and defensive panic. "Hey! I didn't - I wasn't, you know, we didn't even. I had just woken up dead and the closest we got was maybe almost biting her?"

A seagull squawks off in the distance. "I'm not sure I want to touch any of that but regardless, I wasn't talking about you."

"Wh-" Bella's pocket lights up, an obnoxious ringtone shattering the ambience of a grey morning by the shore. She huffs and yanks out her phone, looking down at the screen.

Bella,

You said that you could receive messages even in the past. I hope that is true, I don't think the others would allow us to speak alone right now, and that is my fault. This is all my fault. I've done something truly abhorrent and I think you're the only person who can understand why, but I need help fixing it now. I don't want to lose anyone. Please seek me out when you and Rosalie return.

Yours,

Jasper.

"Okay, I know this is a serious moment right now but have you ever experience the phenomena of Jasper sending you a text?" Bella asks as she stares in wonder down at her phone. She glances up at Rosalie in time to see those golden eyes roll away with amusement. "He's so old."

"He's worse than Carlisle, yes," Rosalie agrees.

She nods and looks back down at her phone. "I'm surprised I didn't get hit with a Dearest Bella, man. Jesus. Now I feel kinda bad for wanting to kick this nerd's ass." Bella sighs, a little fondly, a little sadly, but mostly just tired, and sets her phone back down to stare at Rosalie. Shrugs her shoulders. "He's doing it, isn't he? He's the reason this happened."

"That is my fear," Rosalie says quietly with a nod. "I pray to Carlisle and Edward's god that I'm wrong."

"What if you aren't? What if you're right, what happens then?" she asks anxiously.

It's been very difficult to hate Jasper just because of how good a dude the guy is. And she's probably in the easiest position to hate him. She can't even imagine what that would do to the others who love him.

But Rosalie's eyes are hard. They hold shadows of a person who does what needs to be done, no regard to how much it might hurt her. Rosalie scoffs, stares down at the wall beneath them. "Good people do bad things, Bella."

"I can't tell if you're trying to defend him or explain that he deserves to be punished."

She shakes her head. "Me neither."

"We can ignore it," Bella says suddenly. Rosalie quirks an eyebrow and Bella flings her hand out behind them. "For a little while, I mean. I can take you anywhere, wherever you want. I can show you the whole world."

"Shining, shimmering, and splendid?"

"I - what?"

Again, Rosalie chuckles and gets to her feet. She holds out her hand, yanking Bella up in one quick motion. "I'm not a fan of putting off pain, Bull, and I'm not a psychiatrist, but I think you have an issue with bottling things up."

"Thanks for the insight, Sigmund," she snaps.

Rosalie points at her. "See, right there? That's about something else entirely and you're taking it out on me."

"Fuck off."

"I've been trying but you're very stubborn and won't take me home. Alas, we're stuck with each other." She hops down off the wall, landing twenty feet below to look up at the newborn. "Well? Don't you think it's time to end this?"

Bella lands a little more roughly. "You shouldn't have to deal with that. I can - I'll do it."

"Nope," Rosalie shakes her head, shoves Bella back a step, "not a chance, no. Besides the fact that you're a newborn - a weird one, but a newbown still, you've got your own things going on. A lot of them. A lot. Too much. You need to start tying off loose ends."

"I'm fine-"

"You're not," Rosalie snaps. The mildly playful air that lingered between them on the wall is gone. Back to cold, hard silence. The thinly veiled animosity Bella is used to from the blonde. "It's time to grow up, child. Time to deal with your shit. This whole running away from your problems was charming for half a second, but this is the real world. You're an adult, start acting like it."

"Who are you to tell me to do anything-"

"Part of the family you hold in your clumsy hands!" she snarls and grabs a fist full of Bella's coat, dragging her in close. "And I won't let you hurt them, even if they deserve it. I won't let you hurt him. There's a solution to this that doesn't end with more pain, even if I have to be the asshole who finds it."

"Rose?" Emmett asks from the back door to the Cullen house. The blonde blinks, looks around in surprise, and wonders just when Bella brought them back.

Stormy black eyes glare back at her, squeeze her wrist until it cracks, and wrenches it from her coat. As suddenly as they arrived, Bella is gone again.

Chapter Text

Turns out being a vampire is actually wildly inconvenient. As cool as sparkling in the fucking sunlight is, it means she can't actually go anywhere when the sun is up. Being a time traveller makes it a little easier but she doesn't particularly like missing chunks of time, ironically. So she sits up in the tree in behind the Roman Empire's version of a Motel 6, careful to remain out of sight and in the shade, watching over the building.

It's slow.

Really fucking slow.

People come and go, and she's not sure if it's luck or torture that Alice remains indoors all day. Carts get wheeled by, one that's selling flowers stays out front for a couple of hours. It's oh so tempting to go buy Alice a bouquet and those three years in Austria learning to curb her hunger feel like a fucking waste as she's forced to stay up in the branches.

The sun's sunk just below the horizon when Alice finally steps out the door. The sky's painted pink with cotton candy clouds drifting across the sea, gravel crunching under her sandals. Her beautifully pale skin is sunkissed and damn it, Bella's been gone longer than she thought.

Alice looks pissed, actually.

Maybe she doesn't wanna hop down from the tree, after all.

"Well?" Alice asks, hands on her hips. Her robes flare dramatically, golden and sapphire bracelets jingling and making sweet music to Bella's ears. Much nicer than gunfire and the wails of war (but what better place to learn discipline over your hunger?). "Are you coming down or are you going to make me climb up there?"

"You can't be mad," Bella replies hesitantly.

Alice closes her eyes. "Even your voice is different now, Bella. You couldn't give me a few more days with you?"

"Do you not like this version?"

Her jaw tightens. "You know that's not true, I just…"

"Miss a different me," Bella finishes softly. "I'm sorry. I've been hasty. I've been reckless."

"Please come out of the tree," Alice whispers. She doesn't have to wait a moment, boots lower from a shaking branch, and in one shockingly graceful motion, Bella's straightening up before her. Bella but… different. Vibrant red eyes and creamy pale skin - blue eyes latch onto the jagged-turned-smooth scar on Bella's chin, warm fingers brushing against the chilly skin. Almost like touching ice - a perpetual state of Echo Effects? "Hi."

Though cold to the touch, Bella melts at the shy greeting and dusting of pink on Alice's cheeks. Her throat burns, agony clawing at her, but it's weaker than the magic that surrounds Alice. The butterflies in Bella's stomach, the breathless feeling she knows shouldn't be possible anymore.

She's hungry, always hungry, but she's pretty sure she could never hurt Alice.

"Hi," she repeats instead, leaning into Alice's hand on her face. "I'm sorry."

Alice shakes her head. "You keep saying that."

"I've made mistakes," Bella tells her with a nod. Ducks her head and holds Alice's hands, awaiting judgment she knows won't come. "I was too afraid to admit I didn't know what I was doing that I made decisions I didn't understand. And ran away. I kept running away, Alice. How long have you been here?"

"Just a few weeks."

Bella scoffs - sad and hollow, and shakes her head. "How could I have done that to you? I… I don't want to be an unmanned fire hose whipping around chaotically anymore. I keep hurting people."

"Well, you've died between now and then," Alice says and frowns. Squeezes Bella's hands. "I think you can go a little easy on yourself there."

"It's been three years since then."

And Alice flinches back. She licks her lips and nods softly, shuffling forward to snake her arms around a stone waist and hug the taller girl. "I don't think you understand how much I trust you, Bella. If it was three years, it was a good reason."

"A good reason made to face the consequences of a bad one," she murmurs. "I'm sorry."

"You found Victoria?" Alice asks into Bella's shirt and hugs her tighter.

The pink in the sky fades, a blue tone falling over the area and with it comes the evening air. "She's Tori." Bella can feel Alice's quick intake of breath. "I feel kind of stupid for not realizing it sooner. Tori, Victoria. I just… I didn't think we'd ever not be... "

"I'm sorry."

There's something about the apology, some seed of guilt in there. Different from sympathies, but like she's truly sorry.

Psychic. Alice is fucking psychic. "You knew."

Bella feels like she's lost more of the puzzle than she's found.

Alice pulls away, staring down at her feet. "I was pretty sure, yes. It made sense and their faces, they were just as much the same as they were different. I'm so sor-"

Maybe it's not the wisest action, even with how certain she is that she'll never hurt Alice, but Bella leans down to capture the apology on her lips. Alice holds her there, wraps her arms around Bella's neck until she sees galaxies burst in her eyes. Bella presses a soft kiss to her cheek, pulls back to look at her pixie with black eyes that contain glowing red rings. "I don't think you understand how much I trust you," she repeats Alice's words back to her.

"I missed you," Alice laughs with watery eyes. "Now show me the world, for as much time as we have left."

Bella nods. Flashes a smile that's all fangs and makes Alice's heart skip a beat. "It'll be different now. Any city we find, we have to go through at night."

"As long as you're there," Alice agrees. Holds Bella's arm between her own, oceans shining up at her. "That's all I want, Bella, all I've ever wanted. You."

.

.

.

It's a pressing issue, she knows. Bigger than her own mixed bag of feelings she has about literally every aspect of her life, and that all of her own drama needs to take a back seat to the immediate situation. She knows all of this, she sorts through it and analyzes it in just a few short seconds, but that doesn't mean it makes it any easier.

So she stands in front of the house, cradling Alice in her arms, staring up at a porch still under repair. Seems like someone's much better at putting things on the backburner than she is… house repairs are hardly distracting though.

She'd like to repair a porch right now. Cathartic. Make something instead of ruining things.

"I don't mean to be a bother but I'm actively dying right now, so maybe you could wrap up the inner monologue."

Her attention is stolen, thoughts scattered, and Bella looks down into dizzy blue eyes. Alice is more pale than normal, despite the light tan she still wears, and trembling. Always trembling. But she lives - Bella knows that, Alice is somewhere in the house right now. It takes some of the urgency out of the situation even if it does nothing to ease her gut.

Still. Just handing over the upper hand isn't what their relationship is about. "I was having a moment," she scoffs. "Not my fault your frail human body is on strike."

"I'm so sorry my illness is such an inconvenience to you," Alice quips with a roll of her eyes that makes the sky spin.

Bella misses it, staring up at the billowing curtain in one of the upstairs windows. Well, at least they don't have to make an awkward entrance. "That doesn't sound apologetic," she murmurs and glances down to catch Alice's smile. "Okay, so I think this is okay. It's either going to fuck up the whole timeline, melt your face when you see your face, make you sad and mourn the people you're going to forget, make you happy to meet the family you'll one day have, or-"

"Too fast, Bella," Alice says, pressing her fingers against the vampire's lips. "I can't even separate the words you're saying."

"I think it'll be fine," she says instead of repeating her panicked spiel. Bella takes a breath, smiles bigger than she feels. "You're probably going to forget anyway which in and of itself is tragic and horrifying but we don't have time to unpack all of that right now. Alice in there should be fine because this is current and I'm allowed to do whatever the fuck I want. One win for the present."

"Relatively speaking," Alice corrects. "Technically there's no such thing."

And Bella's smile shines a little easier. "Don't make me swoon."

"Why? I'll show me how it's done-"

"Hey, hi, how's it going, Esme?!" Bella coughs over the pixie when the door finally creeks open. And then immediately turns around… and again when Alice tries to peek over her shoulder. "You, cut it out."

"But-!"

"Hush now, Measles Factory."

Esme stops a few feet away, her hands shooting up to her mouth. Big golden eyes look between Bella and the human in her arms, Esme's head tilting to the side. "Is that… is she... ?"

"Human Alice. Yeah. Yup. Alice when she was human. From the past. Who all is home?" Bella asks nervously.

The pixie wiggles her fingers in greeting, violently coughing into her elbow. "Ow. Hi."

"Oh my God," Esme breathes. She hooks her hands on her neck and it's the first time in Bella's life that she's ever seen Esme tired. She looks exhausted. The purple circles under her eyes are severely dark, her classic silent movies era hair is tossed back in a messy and frazzled bun, her clothes are dishevelled and dirty. She looks like she's been through the wringer. Esme rubs at her eye, shuffling forward. "Everyone's home, Bella, and everything is wrong but…" her smile is still radiant with kindness and she brushes some of Alice's hair back. "It's very nice to meet you again, dear."

Alice stares up at her eyes big blue eyes, a red ring around them that threatens to break out in more rash. But it's Alice. Her Alice. Her eldest daughter. "You're right, Bella," the human croaks and smiles. "She is lovely."

Fucking hell. Meddling pixie.

Esme looks up at Bella with something like hope glowing in her eyes. Bella clears her throat, steps back out of her mother's reach and holds Alice tightly to her. "Yup, she's okay. Kinda devastating. Um, so measles is pretty much nothing anymore, right?"

Much like a flower, Esme wilts and nods. She sucks in a breath and smiles, looking back towards the house. "Of course, treating anything now is one hundred times easier than treating it in the past. Science has come a long way, Bella. Measles aren't nearly as dire as they used to be."

"Agree to disagree," Alice hums and coughs again.

The concern that blooms on Esme's face is heartbreaking as she visibly stops herself from approaching Bella again and Alice in her arms. "How would you like to do this, Bella? We've a house full of curious vampires. Two are actively fighting, one is heartbroken, one is very confused, and another one killed you."

"I'd prefer to just… not do it."

Alice clears her throat.

"But someone couldn't hold off getting sick for a few more years, so…" she sighs, shoulders slumping and stares down into her girlfriend's face. "Quick like a bandaid, I guess. Let's do this."

"Up to the spare room, then," Esme replies and holds open the door. "Carlisle will be right behind us and can begin treatment as soon as Alice is comfortable."

No sooner does she finish saying the words, does Bella drops Alice down into the bed on the third floor and wait anxiously by the door. Carlisle's smile doesn't falter even as he's dragged into the room, the door closed behind him.

He stares with wide eyes at the human on the bed. "Alice, it's… my, but this is weird, isn't it? I can hardly wrap my head around it. You're a vampire out in the hallway and human in here."

"Sure," Alice agrees distractedly and more or less tunes out the rest of Carlisle's wonderous rambling. She reaches for Bella, beckoning her to the bed. "Bella, it's hot in here! Come lay with me…"

The vampire pouts. "But you're yucky right now, all leaky and gross."

"You've been a vampire for all of five minutes and already climbed up onto their pompous high horse? Tragic. Where is the rebel I fell in love with?"

Her pout breaks and Bella snorts, dragging herself to the bed, flopping down beside Alice. "Relax, leper, I'm here. And you're one to talk, the arrogance you exude as a vampire is something else."

"Well, yes, but I'm genuinely fantastic and therefore earned it. You're a Grumpy Gus," Alice retorts and yanks the blankets up to cough into. She tucks herself into the vampire's side, resting her cheek on Bella's chest. "Too many layers, Bella! Take your clothes off."

Bella makes awkward eye contact with an uncomfortable looking Carlisle. "That's… that's her fever. Thank god these rooms are soundproof," she laughs nervously.

He sinks back into himself. "The personal bedrooms are soundproof, yes. And we definitely are getting around to soundproofing the guest rooms."

"Oh, kill me," she groans. "Why can't anything in my life go the way I want it to?"

Her sweaty, feverish human clings to her ever tighter. "Fate has greater plans for you, Bella. It hurts right now but you'll be thankful in the end."

"Who am I kidding, you're arrogant now," Bella grumbles into her hair before pressing a kiss there. She looks up at Carlisle, rolling her eyes at how he melts. "So, you gonna cure her now or wait until she's dead?"

"Be nice."

She huffs and frowns. "Sorry," Bella apologizes to Carlisle. "Would you please help Her Highness?"

"He's going to think we do nothing but bicker," Alice giggles. "What kind of image does that send? He's my father, you know."

"I assure you, Carlisle, I treat The Bane with nothing but respect or she pouts like you wouldn't believe."

"I pout? I'm sorry, who dumped who in Brazil in the sixties when I-"

"You were mean!"

"-when I said one thing about your shirt, it wasn't even a bad thing-"

"You said it looked like a bird threw up on it!"

"-and who, no." Alice struggles to lean up on her elbow to scowl at Bella. "I said it looked like a flock of birds pancake'd themselves against your shirt, Bella."

"And how is that not mean?!" Bella explains.

Alice scoffs indignantly. "Because I could have said nobody deserves to bear witness to such a travesty. Bella, it had seventeen birds on it. They were all different colours!"

"But-"

"Orange and green don't go together like that!" They pause long enough for Alice to look down at the needle in her arm and up at a sheepish Carlisle. "Oh, that's clever. I don't like needles."

"I know," Bella says around a smirk. "I figured we should spare you breaking your hand on Carlisle when he's just trying to help."

Drowsy eyes drag themselves back over to her broody vampire and Alice smiles. "You… Bella, you're much more clever than you give yourself credit… my beautiful, smart, funny, tragic wif-"

Bella catches her before she faceplants into the mattress, easing her back into the pillows. Out like a light, it's the most peaceful rest Bella's seen her face in a few days now. She tucks the blankets around her pixie, pressing a kiss to her clammy forehead, and slides out of the bed. "That went much better than I expected."

"Did it?" Carlisle chuckles in disbelief. "Good Lord, Bella, nobody can say you lead a dull life."

"I crave dull most days," she agrees thoughtfully. God, how sad is that? Bella sighs, slips her hands into her pockets. "Okay, so I don't actually know that much about measles other than mostly kids get it?"

He nods and goes back to his bag. "Usually, yes, but it's not unheard of for adults to get Measles as well. They ran rampant back in, well, Alice's day here. Today, not so much. My only worry is that I believe she has pneumonia as well."

"What?! We were in Greece! It's not even cold there!"

"It's a risk that comes with Measles," he explains quickly while Bella tucks the blankets tighter around Alice. "And, frankly, you're quite cold to the touch, Bella. Despite feeling hot with her fever, you should keep your distance until she's better."

"What the fuck, are you saying I gave her pneumonia?"

His eyes widen and he reaches for her wrist, dropping his hand when she steps back. "Of course not, Bella. I'm merely stating an observation. While vampires do not produce heat and seem cold, we don't actually produce a chill either… you do."

"Yeah, it's a whole thing," she mutters.

"Perhaps the cause of your frostbite?"

"Definitely yes." She crouches down to hug her knees, watching the way Alice's chest rises and falls. Rests her chin on her arm. "I'm tired, Carlisle. Are you tired, as a vampire?"

Choosing the dresser instead of the ground, he hoists himself up onto it with a reassuring smile. "I've been awake for nearly four centuries, Bella. I'm very tired."

"I'm starting to get why Edward and Rosalie said this life is a nightmare."

"It has its drawbacks… as well as its rewards. Forever doesn't seem nearly long enough when you get to spend it with those you love." He watches her closely for a moment, long enough for her to look up and meet his eye. "I would like to be selfish and ask for the chance to actually apologize to you, Bella. I haven't yet."

Her knuckles crack and the red of her eyes fades darker but otherwise, she makes no movement.

Which is… kind of reassuring? He nervously clears his throat. "I am so terribly sorry for everything you've been through. I know, the others know, you know, everyone knows we should never have left you. I'm not sure I could ever explain just how deeply I regret the decision. I'm sorry, Bella. I'm so very sorry."

"Fine. Cool." She grunts, blinks. "Whatever, you're forgiven."

"Would it be a step too far to tell you how proud of you I am-"

The door slams shut behind her, cracking up the middle and making the hallway vibrate. She swallows down a mouthful of venom, black eyes flicking from each end of the hallway. She scrubs her hands down her face and sighs again, trying to remember what it felt like to just fucking sleep.

A few away from the stairs, that's how far she gets before another fucking Cullen finds her. And this one? This one really shouldn't.

Jasper smiles feebly, his hand on the railing. He's got a couple of fresh scars in his eyebrow and off his chin and Bella reminds herself to never so thoroughly piss off Rosalie. His smile turns into a grimace. "Word around the house is that you've brought home a human Alice."

His shirt rips very slightly in her fist, her hand around her wrist as she presses him a little further over the railing. "Stay away from her. First and final warning. Don't go into that room. Get off this level of the house."

"Of course," he agrees solemnly and nods. Lets go of her wrist. "I just… I wanted to speak with you?"

"You and I have nothing to say to each other."

"Nothing nice, perhaps, but we have many things to tell the other," he counters.

Bella grunts again, looks down to the foyer and tiled floors. Still cracked from Victoria tearing through the house. From Jasper protecting her, fighting Victoria off long enough for her to run. "Does she know?"

"Everyone does. Rosalie was… is quite upset." He sighs, relaxing back against the railing to hang his head. "First you were turned without your consent and then you were betrayed. I fear I've ruined my family, Bella."

"Yeah, good job, dipshit," she snaps. He looks up with a pained expression and she shrugs. "What, you want a pat on the back for admitting you did shitty things? No reward for that, believe me. I fuck up every other choice I make. You just gotta live with it, live with the guilt and regret."

"A daunting future, if I've ever heard one." He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose, black eyes staring back down the hallway. "I don't know how it happened. I just… I met a wonderful girl who liked me back. What was the harm in amplifying that into what she craved, watching all of the mated couples around us?"

"You took that from me," Bella tells him with a scowl. Glares at him with burning hatred… and pity. "That's the harm."

"I couldn't. I tried. I'm so ashamed to admit that I tried." Jasper looks at her, doesn't flinch against her fury. Accepts it, accepts his punishment. "I couldn't take it no matter how hard I tried, I was so scared of losing her. I just kept burying it, dulling it with each new wave of adoration she felt. She loves you so much, Bella."

"Fuck off."

"I'm sorry," he whispers and drops his gaze to the floor again. "I ruined that as well, I don't know where the two of you go from here. God. It was one bad choice that snowballed into many! I'm so sorry, Bella."

Again, she swallows down her venom. Works her jaw a few times, and crosses her arms to keep from throwing him out a window. "Why did you want to talk to me? I got your text."

He lights up, briefly. Some of the wonder that she finds each time she speaks about her gift with anyone who isn't familiar with it. "You did? That's… extraordinary, Bella. Truly remarkable." Her look makes him wince. "I love her."

"I know."

Jasper's smile trembles and he nods slowly. "I genuinely wonder, Bella, would you have done anything differently if put in my position?"

"Yes."

"Why?" His brows furrow. "How do you know?"

"I love her." Bella steps up against him, shattered onyx boring into his eyes - an angel's angry scowl. "I would never hurt her like that."

It takes a second, a moment where he digs in and tries to hold on, but the sob breaks free and he staggers back. Presses his palms against his eyes as the guilt and regret finally breach his last wall. "Fuck…"

"And it's the only thing that's keeping me from kicking your ass as we speak. I know she wouldn't want that," she warns him. Scoffs and grabs the railing, leaning against it as she grinds her teeth. "She's too good for us."

Jasper slides down the wall to stare at the opposite wall with black eyes. His wrists rest on his knees, scarred arms bare of sleeves for the first time since Bella's met him. Dishevelled. All the Cullens look like they haven't slept in years. A sombre, uncomfortable atmosphere hangs around the manor with hushed voices she can barely hear.

This place, it used to be bright. It used to be alive with happiness and wonder. A strange, unique family with an extraordinary secret. She can almost see herself and Edward in the foyer, the first day he brought her home. Ghosts that haunt a broken home now. A broken home… with broken people. And she played a part in that - even if she didn't have a choice.

Bella glances sideways at Jasper who spirals deeper and deeper. A place she's been, many times. Maybe he's projecting his own despair on the rest of the house or maybe it's affecting him or maybe he's created his own safe bubble. But… he could certainly help in fixing it.

She kneels down in front of him, hesitating a moment before she reaches out to tap his hand. He startles, blinking rapidly at her. "Good people do bad things sometimes. A lot of times, really. I think…" She sighs, licks her lips and forces herself to let go of the anger. To see the sad boy who made a horrible decision when he was scared. "I think what matters more is that they realize their mistake and, and the really good ones try to fix it."

"How?" he croaks sadly.

And she shrugs, shrugs but smiles softly. "I don't know. It might be impossible but it's still worth trying. Don't you think?"

Slowly, he nods. Some of the shadows in his eyes fade, a small glow of hope. "Yes. I…" he ducks his head, looks down the hall to the door she came from, and back again. "I can ease her pain, help her rest more peacefully. I don't have to enter the room."

"Wh-" Bella's jaw tightens and she has to swallow the protective snarl in her chest. He's staring at her hopefully when she looks back and damn, it would be so easy to take it all back. To snarl at him, tell him he's a fucking tool who stole her mate from her for selfish reasons.

But she's trying and he's trying and the family is worth trying. "Trust me. Please," he begs quietly. "I won't let you down again, I won't. Never again."

"Okay," she murmurs tensely. Tries not to think about the fact that he can fuck with Alice's emotions still. Can "dull" and "bury" what she feels for Bella right now. "Okay."

"Are you sure?"

"Okay."

"Do you want me to leave you now?"

"Okay."

He nods and gets to his feet, waiting half a heartbeat before he's standing just outside the door. She lingers long enough to watch him close his eyes in concentration, fairly certain he's not going to enter the room, before she turns-

"He won't go in there, don't worry."

"Jesus fuck!" she gasps and staggers back, clutching her heart and gaping at Edward. "What the fuck?! Oh my god. That legitimately scared me just then. Hahaha. Hoo. You're so creepy sometimes, Edward. Damn. I haven't been legit startled once since being turned. Feels kinda nice. Holy fuck. Can vampires get heart attacks? I feel like mines racing… but not, you know?"

He stares at her with mild disbelief and slowly crosses his arms over his chest. "I… am sorry, I didn't mean to surprise you."

"You need a bell."

Edward frowns. "While I appreciate that we've grown to a point where you're no longer uncomfortable around me, I'm not sure I enjoy being the butt of your jokes as well as Emmett's."

"Aww. That's kinda sad." He continues to stare at her and she shuffles her feet. "I probably won't stop though, if you want an honest response."

Shoulders slumping, Edward sighs long and exasperated. "I was merely coming up here to advise you of the fact that Alice hasn't left her room in days. We're worried."

"Wait, Edward, no, come back," she says flatly, following him down the spiral staircase.

He sticks his chin in the air, continuing down to the first floor while she stops off on the second. "You got mean, Bella."

"I got many things," she agrees thoughtfully. The hole at the other end of the hall looks much better than it did last time, all freshly patched and in the middle of being sanded. It only takes a second to deduce that Rosalie's probably been the one doing all the home improvement projects and that kidnapping her for a couple days wasn't very good… structurally speaking.

Which begs the questions - what's Esme been up to?

You know, besides guarding or taking care of the Lafayette sisters. Oh, damn. She forgot about that for a hot second. Victoria. Fuck, that's another fucking conversation.

She knocks on the door, careful not to put her fist through it and takes a moment to straighten her clothes. And then shimmy out of her coat, letting it fall to the side in a heap of dried saltwater, smoke, and dirt. Another moment passes and she leans in to press her ear against the door. "I actually have no idea if you've said to come in, damn that's some good soundproofing… unless you didn't say anything. Then I'm just being awkward. Fuck. Can you hear out, too? Fuck."

The door cracks open as horror hits her, mortification paralyzing her until she realizes that the door was just opened for her. She wasn't actually greeted.

Hmm. Bella slides her fingers along the wood to the edge, slowly easing it open more until the soft light of Alice's room beckons her in, slipping inside. It's… darker than she remembers and her eyes land on the sheet over the lamp making shadows bounce around the room. It's actually kind of cozy, like stepping into a hug.

Stepping back away from the door, Alice's fingers fiddle together, with her chin tucked tight against her chest. Bella steps forward and she steps back again, still staring at her feet, but her shoulders tremble. "Alice?" The pixie flinches and Bella staggers forward. "Alice, what's wrong?!"

"I - don't, please," she chokes out and shakes her head. Black eyes peer up at Bella between her dark bangs, full of tears. "I can't handle it right now, I can't - you can't hate..." She sucks in a breath and squeezes her eyes shut. "I ruined it."

A lot alarmed and a little helpless, Bella shakes her head questioningly. "What?"

And much like Jasper, Alice presses her palms to her eyes, to her forehead - like she has a headache or a migraine and, fuck, Bella's chest aches and she just wants to hold her friend. "I ruined it. I said no, I kept saying no, despite what I felt and I - I was so sure it was real, I never thought he could… but you kept trying and I pushed you away."

"Alice."

"I don't know how I feel," she says - to the walls, to the room, who knows. So soft, so idle. "I don't know what I'm supposed to feel anymore."

"Alice..."

"You deserve a soft beginning," Alice tells her and finally, finally looks at her. Looks at her and breaks just a little more. "Everything that's happened to you because I said no, Bella."

Bella shrugs again, helpless. "I don't think life is about what you deserve, Alice."

"You died because of me," Alice sobs and folds in on herself, wraps her arms around herself like that alone will hold her up. Bella's fingers twitch at her sides as she forcibly keeps herself from reaching out. She can't imagine what the pixie is going through right now. The confusion and betrayal - Jasper was her husband.

"I didn't feel alive until I met you."

Alice shakes her head. "I broke your heart."

"It was yours to break."

Still shaking her head, Alice drifts back until she leans against the wall behind her. She's a mess, frazzled like all the others; the chaotic spikes of her hair are more messy than normal like she can't keep her hands out of them. The bags under her eyes are so dark they look black more than purple, making the amber specs glow. Paint-chipped nails tap anxiously on her arms, unable to stop, unable to just be still. "I didn't want to break it, I never wanted to break it."

"Things happen, Alice," Bella tries to say. Tries to ease the guilt that Alice wears like a cloak, and turn this back to something that will help. Something that will heal. "I don't know how to tell you that it's okay."

"Because it's not!" Alice snarls. Snarls. At Bella. Anger making those eyes smoulder, lip curled back over her fangs. Is it grief? Hunger? Something inbetween? Alice has always been magical, mesmerizing in a consuming sort of way. Bella has always fallen into her beauty, the wonder that graces her elegance. It's a different kind of beautiful than Rosalie's. One of disbelief and fairy tales.

Otherworldly.

God, Bella is so in love with her.

"I can't get it out of my head," Alice tells her with a trembling voice, squeezing her eyes shut. "Every look, every glance, I knew. Bella, I always knew, you weren't subtle, and I could have said yes so many times. We could have… but I was scared and cruel and-" those eyes flash open, fierce and fiery, "and I can't pretend it didn't happen. You can't pretend that I didn't break you."

"Then what do you want to do about it?" Her tone wasn't meant to be so much of a growl but that hopeless feeling is degrading to… defensive, maybe. Anger, if she digs deep enough. "You want me to yell at you? To punish you? You want me to keep breaking, myself and this between us? Or do you want to finally move on? To focus on the possibilities and not the missed opportunities.

"Okay? Because, yes, it does hurt and I am angry still. I'm scared I might always be angry but… I don't know, fuck. As much as I'm angry, I'm also thankful because I'm here. You're here, we're both here, Alice. That's not nothing. And maybe that's contradictive, maybe those things don't make sense to feel all at once, but that doesn't change them. I look at you and I'm just… I'm happy, okay? I'm angry and frightened and happy and hopeful, and I don't want to fight. I just want to be here with you."

The clock on the wall ticks, the only sound in the silent room. Alice bumps her head back against the wall. "Stop that, stop being so…" she raises her chin, blinks rapidly like she's trying to will away her tears. "Stop being so kind, Bella. This isn't right. This wasn't how it was supposed to be."

So she sighs and sits on the end of the bed. Tries not to get lost in the murky human memories tugging at the edges. "Okay, but we did have a soft beginning, a very sweet one. You just can't remember it."

"Right. With the human upstairs that won't stop flirting with you," she snaps, hands on her hips.

Bella tilts her head. "Are… are you jealous of… you?"

"Should I not be?" Alice scoffs. Rubs at her eyes and sniffs once. Bella tries not to melt. "You have history with her, you have a relationship with her, you have ease with her."

"With you," Bella corrects slowly. "It's… you."

"Well, then I should keep my hands to myself!"

A pout slides onto her face. "I'd rather you didn't."

Amber specs slowly rise from the black depths of Alice's eyes. Frightened and hopeful, all at once, and how long has this family been looking at her like this? God, she fucked up somewhere along the way. "Which me?"

"They're all you!" Bella laughs in a frustrated sort of way. "You have no idea how long you've been drilling that concept into my head." She sighs, shaking her head, and smiles reassuringly. "I'm so sorry, Alice. I haven't been clear." The pixie wipes at tears that won't fall - again, looking at Bella curiously. "You haven't ruined this, you couldn't. Nothing can. Nothing can touch this, what I feel for you. Being in your life, that is all I need. I want more, but nothing that you're not willing to give. I just want y-oof!"

She's pretty sure they do a complete backwards summersault, her back connecting with Alice's headboard and the back of her head smacking into the wall. It even takes a whole second for her mind to catch up, to register the cracked headboard and drywall debris on the pillows around her. To realize that Alice is in her lap, her arms around Bella's neck, noses brushing against each other.

"Hi," she gasps in surprise and maybe her brain glitches, just a little.

Alice's smile - what she can see of it as they narrowly avoid bumping each other but refuse to leave the other's orbit. As if she could ever pull away from Alice. "Hi."

"Are - do you feel better?" she wonders in a strangled voice. Alice's hips beneath her palms. Alice's hips beneath her palms. She has to consciously keep her fingers from digging in.

A sigh escapes the pixie's lips, bubblegum against Bella's tongue, and she presses her forehead against Bella's. "No." She hums. "Yes. I'm not sure."

"That's okay."

This is probably too fast. This is probably a bad idea. She's still technically married - everything only just happened for her. This could all be a spiral. This might not even be about Bella.

"I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do anymore," she admits and shifts ever closer.

Bella pulls her closer, absently. Instinctively. Because when has she ever been able to say no to Alice? Spiral or not... Bella is hers. "We're finally in the same boat."

"No offence but this is a horrible boat."

She grins. "Welcome to the SS Unmanned Fire Hose. Nobody has any idea what's going on and every now and then I light the ship on fire just because."

"At least I can finally tell you how charming I find you," Alice murmurs. She sits back, resting in Bella's arms, and tucks a lock of that unruly hair behind her ear. "I think that might have been the most difficult part. You would say and do all these little things, each time another hook into my heart."

Oh, fuck. Bella hadn't really considered how difficult it was for Alice back then. So distracted by her own pain, she didn't even notice her friend's. Honestly and cruelly, she'd assumed it was more of an inconvenience to Alice than anything else.

What a blind kid she'd been. Selfish. Unjustly cold.

Bella winces, ducks her head. "I'm sorry. I could have helped more. I could have been patient, could have talked to you, instead of shutting you out like I did."

"Nobody can blame you," Alice whispers sadly. "I might've done the same thing. I did, actually. I haven't left my room in days, I wouldn't have gone looking unless you came to me, I…" She sighs and rolls her eyes to the ceiling. "I know that's me up there, I do, but it still feels like acid in my stomach to hear the two of you."

It's another mixed bag - Alice's jealousy. Part of Bella swoons, maybe just a little, but the reasonable part of her knows that it's not healthy and will probably bite her in the ass sooner or later.

"This is a nice cardigan," she says instead. Not that it isn't, it really is. Nice material - she rolls it between her fingers. It's a little big bigger than Alice and makes her look super comfy, and now all she can think about is if the human upstairs would be jealous of them right now. "Damn it."

Alice's face falls when Bella slips out from under her, an apologetic smile on the younger girl's face. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, nothing's wrong. I just gotta stretch."

"Bella."

She raises her hands and shoulders. "Well you're jealous so now I don't know if you upstairs is jealous, too. And if you're going to split hairs, then technically I'm dating her."

Because that's not awkward at all. Nope.

"Of course," Alice chuckles weakly and falls back against the bed. "It's certainly what I deserve, after everything I've put you through. Seems only fair that I taste my own medicine."

"I'm not punishing you," Bella pouts. Presses her knees against the bed frame and leans forward to try and catch Alice's eye. "I just feel guilty now."

"Yes, I know all about that. It's fine, Bella." She sighs. Turns on her side away from the rest of the room. "You should probably go check on the human."

As if she could ever leave Alice while she's hurting.

With a scoff, Bella lays down behind the pixie, wrapping an arm around her waist. She presses her forehead between Alice's shoulder blades, and sighs. "I'm here with you."

"Then why do I still miss you?"

An eyebrow climbs up Bella's forehead and she lifts her head to look down at her friend. Tugs on her shoulder until Alice is laying flat against the mattress again, and amber eyes stare up at her - hopeful and guarded all at once. "Because you forgot me," Bella tells her gently.

"I'm sorry," Alice says. Closes her eyes. "I'm sorry, Bella."

People really need to stop apologizing to her. It's almost counterproductive at this point, makes her feel guilty and like a victim, keeps reminding her that she was angry and sad. Why she was angry and sad. Forcing her to relive it.

That's not something she wants to relive.

… but there is one thing she wouldn't mind reliving.

Red eyes trace Alice's face, the shadows that dance along creamy pale skin, the way her eyelashes rest against her cheeks. Bella's heart clenches in her chest, enough to have her instinctively dragging in a rough breath, and Alice's eyes flutter.

She closes the distance between them, hands digging into the bed as she leans down. Cuts off Alice's surprised gasp and feels that familiar surge of crackling magic against her lips whenever they kiss. Relief pools in her stomach and the tension in her shoulders gives way and loosens up to the point that she has to catch herself from dropping on Alice.

The rest of her anxiety melts when Alice's hands grab at her back, cup her neck and tangle in her hair. Being pulled in and not pushed away - a thought, a fear in the back of her head that had refused to be buried.

"You taste like alcohol," Alice murmurs against her lips. Smiles and giggles into her mouth.

And - Bella groans. Drags her thoughts back from the farthest recesses of her mind and tries to concentrate past the feel of Alice's lips and the explosion of bubblegum that's oh so tempting to drown in. Alice's fingers dig into her shoulder, her laugh breaking off into a soft sigh.

Focus. Focus. Foc-

Her leg hooks over Bella's, a playful swipe of her tongue that deepens the kiss. The intoxicating presence Alice always has is like a delirium fog in Bella's head and she's not quick enough to swallow down her growl, it vibrates in her chest against the purr in Alice's. Fabric rips and Bella's fingers tear through the blanket, the mattress.

Fuck.

She sinks down into Alice, rests against her and lets herself get lost in the dream she's had since she first laid eyes on Alice. Gets lost the wildest hope she's ever dared to hold. Lets go of everything and anything else and finally, finally just lets herself be with Alice.

That's all she wants. All she's ever wanted.

To simply be with Alice.

Chapter Text

It's kind of freaky, how sombre the usually carefree and boisterous giant is. He stands on the other side of the stairs leading to the basement, large arms crossed over his broad chest and a firm look on his face. It's… it's actually a little intimidating and Bella finally sees why nomads would go out of their way to leave this family alone. She's pretty sure Carlisle is the only one she's not afraid of on some level.

Emmett's eyes light up when they land on her though. He shifts in his spot, hands dropping to his sides after waving at her. "Boo!"

"Bull," Rosalie greets from the other side of the stairs, leaning back against the wall.

The nickname's beginning to make a little more sense, too. It'd probably be hard not to adopt that habit with how much time she spends around Emmett and Bella's pretty sure she's never heard him call anyone by their actual name. "Sup, guys?"

His firm face breaks out into a grin. "We're on guard duty!"

"I can see that," she agrees and lingers between them. "What gives? Have the sisters been giving you trouble?"

Golden eyes flick to her and Rosalie scoffs, her eyes twinkling with genuine amusement. "Not a whole lot but we decided caution was the best approach, on account of the fact that one of them killed you."

"Oh, right."

Rosalie tilts her head. "How long have you been gone?"

"Uh." Bella licks her lips, leans closer to lower her voice. "Couple years."

She nods, losing interest again while Emmett squirms beside them, wiggles as he tries to hold in all of his questions and excitement. "You seem… different," she says offhand. "Not so angry, not so childish."

"Are you calling me old?"

Her lips twitch but she's otherwise checked out of the conversation and Bella turns back to Emmett. He hops slightly, eyebrows bumping up. "Where'd you go? Why? Do you - are you-you took Rosie and I was wondering, I thought maybe, I mean, it will probably be Alice, but maybe after her, could I have a turn?"

It's not until she's faced with him, rambling nervously in a manner very unlike what she can remember of him, that she realizes that… she kind of… misses Emmett? They weren't particularly close when she was human before the whole abandonment thing, he was more of a concept than a person. Edward's big brother, the mightiest Cullen. He'd crack jokes now and then but mostly kept his distance, by preference or by request she doesn't know.

But she's pretty sure they used to get along well enough.

So she shrugs, slips her hands into her pockets, and nods. "I don't see why not?"

"Nice!" Emmett gasps with wide eyes, punching a fist into the air. "How far back have you been? How far forward? Can you go forward? Is it just time or space, too? Can I meet me from the past?"

Bella frowns and shuffles back a step, a little less comfortable. "I don't know, man. Do you remember meeting you?"

"Uh… no?"

"Then no," she replies simply. "We'll… we'll figure it out. Listen, I gotta go talk to the sisters. So…"

A light bulb goes off and, while shrinking back to his "station", Emmett still looks hopeful. "Oh, sure. Nobody really knows what to do with them so we've been… well, Esme gave them the basement until we figure it out."

She fires a finger gun his way, making one last fleeting glance at the quiet blonde, before descending into the basement. It's not dingy in the slightest - this is still Esme's house, but it's very clear that the basement doesn't get nearly as much traffic as the rest of the house.

It looks more like an art studio and storage than anything, really. Bella traces her fingers down the railing, stepping off the stairs next to a stack of canvases leaning against the wall. The walls are covered in art, the ground is covered in art and paint, boxes of supplies weaving a labyrinth through the space. Sculptures and moulds, maybe, beneath sheets that have been sloppily thrown over half the surfaces.

An artist's madness.

"Well, well, well," Victoria purrs from off in the room. "Look who grew up and got scary. We're not playing with a scared little girl anymore, Anne."

Bella ducks under another hanging tarp, eyes adjusting to the darkness in seconds. "You never were," Bella tells them, tells her. "I stopped feeling fear long before I ever met you."

"Liar," Victoria sings with a lilt in her voice.

Someone clicks their tongue - Anne, Bella realizes moments later. "I don't suppose you'll be any more forthcoming with the answers to my questions?" she asks.

"Depends on the questions," Bella replies instead of demanding they fucking show themselves already, this is ridiculous. How fucking big is this basement? What kind of villainous cliche are they playing?

Anne looks up from her book, legs hooked over the arm of the chair she sits in. A child, Bella wonders just how old she was when she… when Bella killed her. Maybe eighteen? Nineteen? God. Bella feels ill and Anne tilts her head curiously. "For starters, what in God's name is this thing between the two of you? You used to be two peas in a pod."

"She thinks I killed you," Bella answers truthfully, if a little apathetically. Anne's brows furrow. "She didn't see him, she only saw me."

"Well, why didn't you t-"

"I needed her to hate me."

Victoria snarls, nails digging into the back of Anne's chair. Red curls bouncing over her shoulders like enraged flames. "Because she's a manipulative bitch, Anne. You're better off with no answers than her answers."

And Bella shrugs, nods once. "That's probably true."

"I should have killed you long ago, the pathetic little human clinging to her vampires. I should have-"

Victoria rambles on in that cliche way that villains do and Bella jots it down to poke fun of later, but her attention is ripped from the basement to the front door that slams shut and makes the entire foyer rumble. "Well, he won't budge! Too afraid of scaring her off to actually be her parent. Can you believe that? He's her father, Carlisle. She's never going to come home if nobody asks her to."

"-broken like some pathetic little girl when they left-"

"The good news, my love, is that she's still here waiting for Alice. Human Alice, I mean."

"Oh?"

"-and I have never regretted knowing you, more than I do right now."

Eyes on the ceiling as the heads of the Cullen coven fall silent, Bella feels very much like the child with their hand caught in the cookie jar. Like maybe she's doing something she shouldn't be and a tidal wave of parental wrath is on the horizon.

She skirts around Anne's chair, blindly holding up her hand in front of Victoria's face. "Shhh, shut up, shhh, quiet. Do you hear that?"

"No?" Anne ventures after a dejected and hopeless sigh.

Bella nods, starts backing towards one of the walls. "That would be the sound of scheming parental figures. I've been fearing this for a while."

"Fearing what?"

"Shh!" she violently shushes Anne and winces. Tilts her head to listen and press back against the wall. "As time went on and things hurt less, I… took the time to reflect and decided that even totally reasonable, smart adults can make inconceivably dumb mistakes no matter how much they love a person. In fact, it's super easy, which is fucking bull, but whatever."

"So because you fucked up suddenly you're able to forgive them for fucking up?" Victoria scoffs.

Bella frowns. "Cram it, Freckle. And yeah, okay? You only love Anne and you never made mistakes there because you were a stupid kid. You're like my arm, losing you was like losing a piece of me, but I still let you think I killed her because I'm a dumbass and couldn't think of a better way to achieve a fairly decent goal. People make shitty decisions and you gotta decide if it's worth forgiving or just let them go. I made my choice."

"Bella?"

"And now because I'm pretty sure they do love me, they're going to try and retroactively parent me and I've never actually had a real parent before so I'm fucking nervous - stop, stop snickering, Anne!"

Very much feeling every hour of the many, many years she's been walking this God-forsaken land, Victoria leans against her sister's chair and sighs. "I'd, I just, I would rather burn than endure this sugar-sweet revelation in this goddamn family."

"She's downstairs alone!?"

Three pairs of red eyes dart to the stairs, widening in alarm. "Oh, fuck!" Bella grunts and dives towards the corner of the room just as the sheets billow nearby the stairs. Esme and Carlisle are there when everything stills.

One the face of patience, the other looking like she's about to start kicking some ass. "Isabella Marie Swan, did you come down here by yourself after Victoria killed you?" Esme snaps, hands on her hips.

Bella sinks lower to the ground, eyes just peeking over an old bookshelf in the process of being restored. Fucking screwed is what she is - cornered and shoved back into a family she fell out of. No easy dipping of the toes, no nervous smiles and practiced patience.

She's fucking in it again.

Why is everything about her life so severe?

"Bella, you answer me right this second, young lady."

Hackles rise. "Maybe!"

And Esme's eyebrows jump, face whipping around to zero in on where her voice came from. "Watch your tone."

"Or?"

Holy shit, that's more challenging than she aimed for.

Esme's jaw tightens. "Or you'll be grounded."

"From?!" Stop. Stop saying words. Just stop.

"Jumping!"

The scoff that tears from her chest is just as chaotic and rough as her life even while she watches Esme stalk closer, ducking between a bust. "You can't stop me, you're not my-" the words don't actually manage to force themselves out of her chest, "you. You!"

"Yes," Esme agrees heatedly. "Me. If no one else will, then I will be the parent. You are a scared child, Bella, who has been running for so long now. It's time to come home. It's time to fix this, we can't wait any longer." The fire in her voice, in her face, it simmers to passionate embers that Bella watches in muted pain. "We're losing so much time with you. I'm losing so much time. How old are you now?"

Even Victoria looks mildly interested, her gaze trailing over towards where she last saw Bella. The younger vampire swallows roughly, wiping her palms on her thighs. "I-I don't know," she answers weakly. Truthfully. "Older."

"Stop running," Esme begs her and-

And Bella blinks, looks up from her hiding spot at Esme. Her mother. Her mom. The earth grinds to a halt and a gunshot echoes in time with her blink. Charles drops. The baby cries. Bella drowns in her own dawning horror.

Someone squeezes her shoulder and she blinks again. Back in the basement, Esme helping her up from her corner. Hopeful light sparkling in her golden eyes, a soft, small smile tugging her lips up. "Stop running, Bella. Come home… please. Let me fix this."

Trembling lungs drag in air, too big and too large for her chest - it whooshes out painfully. "Okay," she wheezes.

"Barf. You even look the same," Victoria groans and rolls her eyes.

One hand on Bella's shoulder, leading her back towards Carlisle at the stairs, Esme turns to snarl a warning at the redheads. "I wouldn't be so comfortable in your position, Victoria, your fate has yet to be decided."

Anne elbows her sister in the ribs. "Knock it off! I just got you back."

And, shockingly, Victoria settles. She scowls at the Cullens until they leave but make no other remarks towards them.

Upstairs, Bella is led towards the living room. The house is still eerily quiet and Carlisle breaks off in the hallway to go check on the human. Nerves dance like nauseous butterflies in Bella's stomach as she follows her mother down the hall and into the ever familiar room. Fond memories and painful ones sit there waiting for her, like greeting an old friend you're not entirely sure you miss.

She avoids the loveseat altogether and instead makes a b-line towards the cabinet wall set to pour a glass of whiskey. At Esme's raised brow, she grimaces sheepishly. "It's not. I don't, I stopped drinking a while ago. While I was, you know, human. This is like oven mitts for the chicken pox. Doesn't quite scratch that burning itch in my throat but helps me pretend it doesn't bother me as much as it does."

"So you're still in your newborn years then?" Esme notes with interest.

"Dunno, when does that end?"

Esme leans against the arm of the couch, crossing her ankles. "Everything becomes much more manageable after five years, give or take."

"Maybe I'm on the last stretch then."

Esme nods. "Without any gold in your eyes."

"No." The glass cracks and Bella tosses back the rest and sets it down.

Her eyes slowly drag up until they meet Esme's patient smile and kind gaze. "That's alright, Bella, you're not in trouble. Life is about making choices you can live with and if this is yours, then it's yours. We know who you are. You have nothing but our support - always."

"I broke your family," Bella tells her quickly. Blinks and leans back against the cabinet.

"Not possible."

Yeah, okay. So then what is all of this, why can she feel the fucking air in the house like a blanket of sorrow? "What I did to Alice."

Always patient, always so infuriatingly patient. "Yes?"

"I brought Victoria here."

"What are you testing, Bella?" Esme wonders aloud. Her brows pinch together in a thoughtful sort of way, arms crossing as she leans close to inspect… something. "Forgive me if I'm wrong but I get the very distinct impression that you might be more angry with me than the others."

Bella clenches her jaw tight enough that they both hear the cracking. "No."

"Alright." An uneasy silence lingers between the two of them and Bella searches for a new glass, putting conscious effort into being gentle. "It would be alright if you were."

"I fucking know that," she snaps and winces. "Fricking. No, fucking, I'm an adult."

"Adult or child, manners benefit all."

She sets the cup down before she can break this one too, a harsh sigh pulled from her chest. Taps her fingers on the stained wood of the cabinet as she stares down into the bottle of whiskey. It's actually pretty decent, she can almost taste it. Must be old. "You left me," she says without looking back at her mother.

No way is she seeing the reaction to that, not a fucking chance. Would probably hurt no matter what and, shockingly, she's sick of hurting. Looking to heal, like some goddamn healthy adult.

Esme's heel bounces anxiously and she hums in her throat, staring at the floor. "Yes." She clears her throat, eyelashes fluttering. "I have four regrets in my life, Bella, and that might be the most painful."

"Then why did you do it?!" Bella snarls as her fingers dig through the wood. She steps back, holding up her hands and clenching them into fists. Destruction and ruin. Hurt and anguish. How? How did she become a pillar of all these horrible things?

"We thought-"

Red eyes blaze, burn holes into Esme. "No, not the others. People make mistakes, I get that, I can see the flawed logic of your decisions… but… you. How could you leave me?"

Esme breaks before she can finish the sentence. Drops her chin to her chest, blinking black eyes rapidly as she chokes in a breath. "I'm sorry, Bella, I never meant-"

Tell her. Tell her. Tell her. Tell her.

"-and I swear to you on everything I hold dear, I will never leave-"

It'll hurt. It will hurt her. Just more pain. That's all you bring.

Shaking her head, Bella pushes through the doubts and fears. She hops the loveseat, latching the cage around her fury to kick aside. Ignores the gunshot and instead focuses on Esme's startled look.

Pain is a cycle and Bella's sick of running its course.

She doesn't know. She doesn't know. She doesn't know.

But…

"Who you were to me," Bella says and it so effectively stops the words that spill from Esme's lips with frantic desperation. So suddenly that she sucks in a breath and blinks her watery eyes. Bella listens to the wood of the cabinet groan beneath her fingertips as she tries to stop herself from digging them in. "Who I was to you… you were still able to walk away from me."

"Bella-"

She swallows harshly and glares up at Esme, watches her flinch back. "I am mad at you, more than the others, so much more." The words cut like knives through the air - Bella can see the gold fade from Esme's eyes like paint washing away in a storm of grief. "I didn't need another best friend. I didn't need Edward. I didn't even need siblings or a father, I just needed you. I just needed a mom."

The sob gets caught in Esme's throat, choked back as she bites her lip hard enough to crack, and nods.

And Bella wants to stop, she wanted to end this cycle of pain but how do you break it without acknowledging it? Everyone wants her to stop running but at what cost? If she stops… they all have to face it. She has to face it.

She staggers forward and desperately tries to smother the embers of her anger. "You left me!" she snarls instead and points an accusing finger. Esme sinks further back against the arm of the couch, drops her chin to her chest. "Alice left me. Edward left me. You all left me when I needed you the most!"

"I'm so sorry…"

Another snarl and she roughly turns away to dig her fingers into the back of her neck instead of tearing the room apart. Focus. End it. "But what does it matter in the end?" She drops her arms to her sides and sighs, hanging her head. "Mine is the only past I cannot change. An agonizing irony, hm?"

"Bella, please-"

She waves her hand dejectedly. "I did forgive you, much as I scream and shout. I'm angry," she growls with a dangerous curl to her lip and a glare over her shoulder again. "But I'm working through it."

"Tell me what to do," Esme begs. Sniffles and swallows back the tremble in her voice. "Please, Bella, tell me how to help fix this."

"Keep making choices you can live with," she fires back too quickly, too carelessly. "That's what life's about, no?" Bella wanders closer, not quite directly, and stops about a foot away from her mother to wring her hands guiltily. "I-I miss you."

"Don't leave."

She nods and blinks back the infuriating tears that won't fucking fall. Looks at her mother and lets the watery smile crack through their shared grief. "Then don't leave me."

.

.

.

It doesn't take long before Alice is awake again. It takes even less time for her to call for Bella, and the vampire hesitates just before her knuckles make contact with Alice Cullen's bedroom door. It's a bit of a slap in the face, at least sort of ironic, and maybe even poetic that she's very literally being pulled in opposite directions by the same woman.

And she doesn't know what to fucking do.

So she taps her fingers on the door and looks back towards the spiralling staircase, wondering what her next move is. Until she remembers that Jasper is outside the human's door, just as completely unable to say no to the pixie as she is.

He's reaching for the doorknob when Bella skids to a stop on the hardwood floor, grabbing his wrist and wrenching his arm up. "Try it and you lose your fucking hand, boy."

"Did you just call me boy?" he asks, flabbergasted.

Considering their ages, the standing they hold in the house, and everything they've been through… "Uh, yeah. Yeah! I did," she insists awkwardly and isn't really sure why.

"Okay," he concedes and steps back away from the door. "A little odd, is all."

"Well, I'm odd and I'm angry and I'm violent, so watch your step!" she snarls and slips into the room to slam the door shut behind her. Presses her hand to it, heaving in a calming breath, and tries to scowl at him through the wood. "Fucking cowboy."

"Bella?"

Jumping only very slightly, Bella whips around. "Oh, hey. I don't like that guy," she explains needlessly. Alice quirks a brow. "I mean, I do, which is why I don't. It's complicated."

"He's Jasper?" she asks… or really, just states and nods to herself. She wiggles in the bed to try and sit up, flashing a grateful smile when Bella adjusts the pillows to make it easier for her, and pats the bed until the vampire sits on the edge. "He's your friend?"

"No. Kinda." Bella sighs and scratches the back of her neck. "I don't know."

"Are you jumbled?"

"Not from jumping," she agrees with a nod. "How are you feeling?"

Alice smiles, weak and tired, but genuine. "So confused now that my fever's broke. You seem-"

"I kissed Alice," Bella blurts with wide eyes.

"Oh, nice."

Well, that's… that's not the reaction she was expecting. "A lot. I kissed her a lot. All night."

Blue eyes crinkle with happiness. "That's excellent!"

And Bella blinks, trying to tame her incredulity. "Is it?"

"Why wouldn't it be?"

She throws her hands in the air. "Because I kissed her?"

"She's me. You kissed me, Bella," Alice explains slowly with a tilt to her head. She studies her girlfriend with scrutiny. "Why would I be-ohh. I'm jealous of me, aren't I?"

Fucking hell. Bella crosses her arms, watching the mirth and excitement spread across Alice's face. "N… no."

"That's pretty funny," Alice murmurs between them. She shakes her head, chewing on the corner of her smile, and chuckles. "So does that mean we're not allowed to kiss? Because technically, technically you're dating me and not her."

"Don't tease me!" Bella groans and flops forward onto the pillows next to her. "I'm in a very difficult situation."

Warm fingers tuck some of her hair behind her ear to trace down her cheek and jaw. Blue eyes sparkle fondly and some of the colour is returning to Alice's face. "I'm sorry, it's just so terribly hard to resist. You're cute when you pout."

"Hmph."

Alice coos and leans forward to brush her lips against the vampire's. "Just like that. Adorable."

"What am I going to do?" Bella mutters and plays with Alice's hand in hers. Soft and gentle, you can't even see Bella's heart in the palm.

"I think you should keep going," Alice tells her quietly. "Ignoring how hilarious I find her jealousy to be, I think it's good?"

"You don't sound certain."

"It's tricky, at least," Alice hums. Drags her fingers through Bella's hair as she stares up at the ceiling. "You're making progress, we're making progress. Do you know how amazing that is? With how stubborn you are and how frightened I am? Me, not meI'm not afraid, but I already have you."

"So does she."

"But does she know that?"

Bella huffs again. "Riddles. God, what a mess I've made. How do I even begin to explain it all?"

"You could start by not running away every time you feel something," Alice teases gently. Boops Bella's nose when the vampire leans up on her elbow to scowl at her. "Or have you stopped yet? I'm trying to figure out which memories are real and which ones are just the fever painting pictures. We are in your present, yes?"

"Yup."

Roses dust across her cheeks and glances at Bella bashfully. "Did I ask you to take off your clothes in front of Mister Cullen?"

Bella snorts. "Demanded more like, you deviant."

"Oh, gods. Thank goodness these rooms are soundproof."

Oof. If only. "Well, actually, about that-"

"Can you imagine if I'd said that in front of your mother?" Alice continues obliviously.

Bella's eyes widen. "Oh, shh, these rooms aren't really-"

"By the way, she is lovely, Bella, you need to-"

"-stop, dear god-"

"-tell Mrs Cullen that she's-"

"-wait, Alice!-"

"-your mother."

Bella drops into the pillows, all of the air in her lungs whooshing out in a muffled noise. "...fuck."

"What's wrong?"

"I just watched the last shred of my sanity blow away in the wind." She lifts a hand to dance through the air blindly. "Didn't you see it?"

"These rooms aren't soundproof, are they?"

Suspicion bubbles up and Bella lifts her head to scrutinize the pixie's face. Her voice, god, her voice always gives her away. Too casual - Alice is deceptively deep. Her light tone lessens the sharp edge her words carry as they embed themselves in your psyche. "No," Bella says and pushes her back until she can straddle Alice's lap and keep her from looking away. "Did you know? You knew, didn't you? Damn it, Alice."

Blue eyes study the quilt that separates them, Alice's fingers nervously playing with the hem. "You really need to stop saying that I'm too good for you. I'm selfish and stubborn and have very little impulse control, Bella." She glances up at the vampire. "Are you mad?"

"You fucking think?"

"At me?" she clarifies in a small voice.

"Yes, you little troll!" Bella groans and sits back on her thighs. Shakes her head and glares up at the ceiling. "Sweet Jesus, you're lucky I like you or I'd."

"What?"

Red eyes trail back down, mostly annoyed but a little playful. "Fucking bite you, maybe, you dick."

"How tawdry," Alice purrs. Warm fingers hook on Bella's belt buckle and - fuck, there she goes, biting her lip again. Damn it. Alice's smile is languid, her brilliantly blue eyes heavy and darker than normal, while she trails her fingers along the waistband of Bella's jeans.

"No, not the nice kind. The bad kind. The painful kind," Bella insists weakly. She can feel Alice's heart beating in her chest, smell the excitement in the air, taste the pixie's mischief. Fucking hell. Her fangs throb and delirium seeps in like an unstoppable current. Her control shudders and Alice slips her hands up beneath the hem of her shirt. "Stop looking at me like that, I'm mad. Alice. I mean it. Get your hands out of my shirt. Alice."

Burning fingers dance up marble sides, leaving a scorching path behind as she drags them down a strong back and pulls herself up. Bella lets out a ragged breath between her fangs, lifting a hand to tuck back one of Alice's longer curls. The human's eye flutters, noses bumping as her lips ghost against Bella's. "Bite me."

"Don't tempt me, mortal," the vampire murmurs. Falls in, and in, and into those oceans staring back at her. Alice's skin is heated, lingering from her fever or her excitement - Bella doesn't know, but she cups her hand against the back of the pixie's neck. Alice sighs and closes her eyes, leans forward…

Bella pushes her back instead, guiding her back into the pillows. She knows a distraction when she sees one - as effective as it is. She licks her lips, tastes the faint bubblegum and grins wide enough that Alice mirrors it. She tsks her human, grabbing those wandering hands and pulling them back out of her shirt.

"Yes, because pinning my hands above my head is much less provocative. Bella…"

Those wicked, wicked warm fingers tangle with hers, pressed against the pillow behind Alice. Bella drags her nose up Alice's neck, sinking against her and squeezing black eyes shut. "Why did you say it, Alice?"

Her heartbeat jumps and Bella can feel it, can feel Alice arch beneath her. A warm, soft body pressed against her own - heaven on earth. Peace. Her peace.

She can hear the stutter in Alice's breath, how it catches in her throat. "Because I know you and I love you," Alice whispers and tries for a kiss. Tries to distract from a painful truth… but Bella sways back, just out of reach, always just out of reach, so black eyes can pull the very words from her. "You look at her and think it doesn't hurt to not know. You look at me and see someone I can never live up to. Please stop saying I'm too good for you. It makes all my mistakes hurt worse. "

Bella's face softens. "I'm sorry."

"I know. I am too." Alice sighs and closes her eyes, relaxing back into the bed. "You're just… you're so close to her."

"To who?"

"You," she replies simply and smiles up at Bella. "The you that I see. The you that I dream about. Bella, you will grow and become a magnificent, inspiring woman."

If she could blush, she would be. As is, she can barely meet Alice's eye. "Well, that's. Uh. Thanks?"

"You're going to do wonderful things," Alice promises. Bella releases the pixie's hands, swallowing the rumble in her chest when they cup the back of her neck. "You just need to stop running first."

"I'm here," she remarks with a gravelly voice.

Alice shivers. "Then be here. Talk to Esme. Talk to Alice. All of them. It's time to come home."

"Easy for you to say."

The light in those blue eyes dims. Alice forces a weak smile to be stronger than it is. "Not so easy, Bella," she says softly. "I feel like a past life sometimes. I miss you already."

Then stay lingers on Bella's lips, almost comes forth but stalls at the last second. There is no Alice Cullen without forgetting Alice Brandon. She can't have both. She's living in a dream right now and morning is just around the corner.

So she presses a kiss to Alice's cheek, lets the human hug her as tight as she can. "I will carry you with me forever," she whispers into her ear, a truth shared just between the two of them. Not for the future and not for the past, but for this moment, here and now.

True to form, Alice favours mischief over a serious moment, and arches up to steal a kiss and giggle against Bella's lips. "Do you think she's seething with jealousy right now?"

"Thankfully, you didn't hear and you will forget it anyway," Bella scoffs in that frustratingly charming way of hers.

But Alice has never been one to back down, certainly not when poking is half the fun. She smiles, bright and cheerful, and maybe just a little sharply. "How much do you want to bet Esme is on the other side of the door?"

"Fuck."

Chapter Text

There's a hesitant knock on the door and Bella's on her feet in half a second, fingers lightly pressed against the wood as if to hold it shut. She looks at Alice - wide blue eyes, mouth falling open in maybe an apology or encouragement. Bella vigorously shakes her head, yanks her hands back like they were burned and stumbles into the dresser back across the room.

Silence beats down on both of them, painful and heavy.

"Come in," Alice calls in a voice that cracks, wincing and shrugging when Bella scowls at her. "Well? Are you going to hide in here forever?"

"Don't give me that look as if it's impossible, I don't even need to breathe anymore. The world and this room are my oysters."

The door opens and Bella braces herself… letting out her breath when Carlisle steps inside with a jittery smile. His kind golden eyes linger on Bella, she watches as he studies her, traces her features with recognition and fondness. A softness that wasn't there before, seeing her in a new light or seeing something different about her, and god this sucks already.

Victoria's words come back to her. You even look the same.

Charles said they looked the same.

How had she never noticed before?

And how could she expect Carlisle of all people not to notice, not to react? The dude has been looking at the face of her mother for literally almost two hundred years. He can probably pick out each and every little bit of her that looks like Esme.

She tries not to scowl. Tries not to shrink in on herself, hide those parts. Those soft parts that feel like hope and second chances.

"Bella," Carlisle says with every ounce of compassion she expects from him. Even his words are like verbal hugs, she can feel herself relaxing against her better judgement. "I hate to be a stickler, truly, considering the circumstances… but you must give the human room to get better. You're… you're just very cold, I'm sorry."

Oh, fuck. Okay. That she can deal with.

Both girls sag with relief and Bella scoffs, looking at her pixie in time to catch the tongue that's stuck out at her. She blows a kiss from her middle finger. "Can do, Papa C. Sorry."

"Actually, if it isn't too much trouble, I was hoping maybe you could stop by the store to pick up some rich soups?" he adds brightly, perking up. "We don't have food in the house and soup goes a long way in the recovery process. Esme was going to but-" finally his words falter and Bella flinches. "She's… she's busy."

"Doing what?" Bella asks weakly. She's gonna be sick. She's gonna be sick. God.

Carlisle tilts his head. Bella blinks. The internal struggle is very apparent and his jaw tightens. "... Gardening?" Bella lifts her hand up with a twist, a universal wtf? and he nods, pressing his fingers together and into his lips. "Yes. Yes, she does this sometimes. Usually only once a year but we're not supposed to disturb her in the garden."

"Is it because-?"

"Mhmm," he hums, his eyes crinkling, and the man has never looked more uncomfortable.

"Is it taking everything you have to not pry and try to fix this for her?" Alice wonders from the bed.

Carlisle doesn't look but he points at her. "Bingobango. However, this is not about me or my feelings on the matter, I am merely hoping to. Well. Help any way I can, you or her, Bella. I hope you know that."

"You're doing a fantastic job," Alice reassures.

Bella scoffs again, hand in her hair. "Uhhh… okay. Okay. Soup? I can do soup. I can't do - none of that, I'm not, I don't… just text me if mo-Esme is looking for me. Don't. Don't say it," she warns both of them as they coo at her. "What kinda soup do you want?"

"I don't hate cabbage if I must eat it," Alice says around a grimace.

"Oh my god."

"What?"

"Nothing, I'm just about to rock your world." Bella leans down to press a kiss against those dark locks, patting Carlisle's shoulder on her way out of the room.

Only to skid to a stop when Alice is there, a puff of bubblegum and sunshine as she bounces on her heels. "May I please join you?" she asks quickly. Hopefully. Nervously?

In the doorway of the human's room.

Carlisle shuts the door and Alice's golden eyes roll to the ceiling for the briefest of moments. Long enough for Bella to catch the playful glint that always lingers, to see Alice's lips twitch as she fights a smirk.

Alice. Alice. Alice.

Bella clenches her fists in her pockets and shrugs. "Depends," she declares and starts down the hallway. Alice follows quickly, giving her a curious look when Bella glances down. "Is this request borne of jealousy?"

"Bella!" Alice huffs and shoves her sideways.

One of her hands goes through the wall and she gasps. Looks at Alice wide, alarmed eyes while the pixie freezes. "...I'm tellin'."

"Bella. Don't be a brat," Alice grumbles and helps pull Bella's hand back out without causing more damage. She glares lightly at the younger girl.

Who has to fight her own heart eyes, instinctively leaning closer, closer, closer. God. That bubblegum really is intoxicating. "Do you even know what you do to me?"

Amber fades to dark honey, Alice's thumb caressing where a pulse used to beat not long ago. "Sometimes," she admits quietly. "It used to hurt."

"And now?"

Her eyelashes flutter. "I can't stop."

"Then don't," Bella dares her.

"Get a room!"

Bella's face twists up, embarrassment burning through her, and she stands. Her hand pulls free from Alice's so she can glare at the floor. "I have seen the rise and fall of empires, you old mushroom!"

"Did she call me a mushroom?"

"Has she seen the rise and fall of empires?!"

There's a moment of consideration before Rosalie replies. "No, you haven't."

"I might have."

"No."

Her teeth threaten to chew right through her lip. "Soup. We're getting soup. Shall we?" she asks and absently holds out her hand, so used to reaching for Alice. Always reaching.

Alice seems surprised, maybe shocked, but it quickly fades into delight as she takes Bella's hand. Such a simple action, mindless and untouched by the drama that plagues their lives, their relationship. Their relationship.

Their relationship.

Alice hums and tries to keep her focus on the road as they drive through Forks but it's oh so tempting to watch Bella. To study her old friend that has changed so drastically in such a short amount of time. Relatively speaking, she supposes.

And Bella taps her fingers against her jeans. She can feel Alice's gaze on her each time it leaves the road and. Why? Why, why, why? Why do people always stare at her? She has to resist the urge to crawl right out of her own skin, unable to stop nervously tapping. Tapping. Tapping.

"Are you alright?" Alice questions just as she pulls into a parking space at the end of the parking lot. She doubts anyone would ding her doors but you never know… at least, not with Bella around her.

Bella nods, squints at the bright sign hanging above the automatic doors. Jeez. How long has it been since she's gone to a grocery store? "Yes, I'm always okay," she says idly and steps out of the car. She's at Alice's door in the same second, silently scolding herself for using such speed in public, and grimaces as she holds open the door. "Are you okay?"

What a loaded question, one she's been dreading to ask all while pushing herself towards it. How are you supposed to ask someone who just found out their husband of, what, seventy years has been manipulating their emotions and lying to them their entire marriage if they're okay?

And that is, objectively, the simplest situation in her life, currently.

Her actual mate is a time traveler that woo'd her one hundred years ago before the amnesia took and recently (relative to particular individuals) just died, all while in a desperate race to… save her? Make sure she gets amnesia so this all happens? What is she even doing these days other than randomly tripping through time and lives?

Are you okay.

God. Bella feels like a schmuck.

"I'm not sure," Alice replies honestly. Still staring. Still studying. Golden eyes full of concern, full of uncertainty. Daggers dug deep in Bella's chest with a mere look. "I don't think you're okay, Bella."

"Probably not. I actually don't have any current, uh, currency," she says sheepishly and pats her pockets. "Do you think they'll take these?"

Alice smiles faintly at the golden coins held out towards her. "I've got the bill, pirate, come along."

.

.

.

There's something cathartic, something stabilizing about standing in the middle of the soup aisle late at night. When most of the store is deserted, quiet with just the hum of the fluorescents above you, a hefty can in the palm of your hand. The rest of the world fades out beyond the automatic doors, waiting on the edges of reality to come crashing back in the second you sit down in the car again.

She appreciates how patient Alice is, that the pixie has simply waited while she's stared down at this can for almost twenty minutes. It's just that… she can't read the label. Her mind keeps drifting, wandering back to the garden behind the Cullen manor. Wondering, wondering, wondering. How will she react? What will she say? What will Bella say?

Is there any way to ruin this even more? Will Bella find it - that, actually, is a horrible question. Of course she'll find it.

The can begins to warp and Alice has to gently pry it from her hand. Bella finally blinks, red eyes staring through golden ones, not quite meeting Alice's gaze. Lost within. Buried beneath the waves as she so often is.

Even with the girl standing right in front of her, Alice still gets that same untouchable feeling she's always gotten.

"Sometimes I get the distinct impression that I'm digging my own grave," Bella tells Alice quietly. Thoughtfully.

"Sometimes you surprise the hell out of me," Alice scoffs back. "I wish I could take the burden from your shoulders, Bella. I fear all I can do, for now, is help you choose soup."

"Cream of chicken, right?" She moves again, expects stiff muscles and is unnerved by the absence of pain. Seems a waste, seems a little twisted - missing pain, that is. Can't be healthy. "I'm pretty sure I used to like cream of chicken best."

Alice places it in the basket by their feet. It's almost full, more soup than the human could possibly eat before they leave. "It always smelled good," she agrees. "I'm sure I'll love it."

Eyelashes flutter and Bella finally looks at her. Breaks free from the trance that had fallen over her since they stepped into the store. "I thought she was she and you were you?"

"It seems… painful, differentiating like that," Alice says after a moment and a thoughtful tap to her chin. "Mostly to you. I'm done hurting you, Bella. I promise."

"You may be, but I fear you are not."

Before Alice can do much of anything, really, they're joined by another woman stepping into the hall. Alice slides closer to Bella, the taller girl taking her hand as they watch. Elisef Bowdry glances towards them, smiling politely, before making her own selection of dried soup at the other end. As she wanders closer, her eyes drift down to their clasped hands, their laced fingers, and her eyebrow ticks up.

A disarming smile is flashed her way by Alice who perks up, bouncing up onto her toes. "Good evening, Miss Bowdry! How are you tonight?"

"I'm well, Miss Cullen, thank you." Her eyes linger on Bella, appraising, and Alice leans back into her when she feels the young vampire tense. Without hesitation, Bella drapes her weight on Alice, an arm over her shoulder. "You're looking much better, Bella, I'm so glad."

"Yeah. Thanks."

Alice's disarming smile twitches into something more amused by the grunted response. "She's doing much better now."

"In no small part to you Cullens, I hear," Elisef murmurs with thinly veiled interest. "How is dear Edward these days? He was particularly torn during the search."

"He's fine," Bella snaps and holds Alice closer.

Elisef's eyes trace the hold, the lack of space between the two of them, and she nods. "Well, I must be off, girls. Have a good night." Bella scowls at her until she reaches the end of the aisle, sucking in a breath when the woman turns back a final time. "The two of you make a much cuter couple, by the way."

And with that, she's gone.

Bella's scowl falls into surprise. "I - what?" She shakes her head. "That was, that was the opposite of what I was expecting."

"She's not wrong," Alice says in a pleased purr. She doesn't let go of Bella's hand, tugging her towards the front of the store again. This is way too much soup.

Bella follows along, still sort of dazed. "I mean, I know that. If you're in the couple, it's cuter than any other. But, like, that was so nice? My present has been a nightmare for… years now. That was. Small. Simple. But good. I feel like I can breathe a little bit easier."

Alice's head tilts, her lips curving up. "Thank and I'm sorry? I think you've given me whiplash."

"Sorry.."

"No, it's... " Alice trails off and sighs. "Where do we go from here, Bella?"

The teenager behind the counter does her best to give them privacy while ringing them through. Bella grimaces, looking out towards the windows. "The parking lot?"

"You know what I meant." Alice taps her card, grabbing the bags. "Thank you. Bella, I don't mean to… I know you're going through a lot right now. I'm not sure what I'm allowed to ask about and what I should avoid, but avoiding it all doesn't seem like a sound idea."

The doors whoosh open and Bella resists waving her hand like a Jedi. She forgets how delightful technology can be. "Nothing is off limits to you, Alice."

"That's just not true," the pixie grumbles but her smile remains steady. "Which questions will cut?"

"All of them."

"But they still need to be asked!"

Bella shrugs and takes the bags to place in the back. "Then ask them?"

"How am I supposed to when I know they'll hurt?"

"Life hurts. I might as well be dead if I don't ever want to feel pain again." Bella groans up at the cloudy sky, raising a fist to shake at it. "Gettin' your kicks up there, hm? I'm done squirming for you!"

"Bella?" Alice asks with wide eyes.

Her arms drop to her sides and she grins lazily. "I don't actually know if I believe some old dude is up there ruling or, like, creating or whatever. It's just nice to yell at him sometimes, on the off chance."

"What an odd bird, you are."

She drums her fingers on the top of the car, nodding a couple times. As far as Forkian nights go, this one isn't too bad. It's not raining anymore, though the pavement still holds that wet shine. The woods smell fresh, the air crisp.

This is… one of the nicer nights she's had in this decade for some time now. If she thinks hard enough… she might even miss it. Miss home.

"Should I have told her myself?"

"Esme?" Alice wonders quietly. Bella nods but still doesn't look over. "I think so. By not telling her, I think you've already created this rift in the conversation."

"Really?"

Alice winces. "She wouldn't have the opportunity to run to her garden. Space allows doubts and fears and assumptions to grow."

Bella droops, her shoulders slumping, and she turns to lean back against the car. Alice freezes and while not as picky about her vehicles as Rosalie, she's not entirely okay with people leaning against hers. "Assumptions? What assumptions?"

"Oh, just…" Alice shrugs and leans against Bella, swallowing down the urge to yank her off instead. "All the fears that might linger in one's mind when they find out their daughter is their biological daughter that they assumed died so, so long ago." At Bella's horror-struck face, Alice hums. "Like, perhaps, you're angry that she's your mother?"

"I am angry she's my mother," Bella fires back and sighs when Alice flinches. She flings her hand out towards the empty parking lot uselessly, letting it drop against her thigh again. "I mean. Not in any horrible way. Just in the whole why-weren't-you-there-when-I-needed-you way. And then the part where she was there but left me."

Alice waits, ever patient.

Boots scuff at the ground and Bella grumbles to herself. "Fuck. I guess I'm scared that there's an unspoken reason you left, she left." Golden eyes are watching her carefully when she glances up and away, working her jaw. Trying to… ugh, open up and communicate with her family. "God. Okay so I kind of have this thought that's been following me around like a shadow. That maybe… I dunno, it's my fault you left."

"What?"

Jolting up, Bella scratches at the back of her neck and stares at the ground with wide eyes. "I'm kind of an asshole. I'd understand that, you know? I brought the nomads around, I almost exposed you guys in Phoenix. I was a dick to Edward and I ruined your marriage. I'm - hell, Alice, ask Renee, I'm a shitty daughter to have. Look at you and Rosalie and then look at me, how could she ever pick me when she has you two?"

"Bella," Alice snarls. Dark, rough, angry - enough that Bella flinches and stumbles back, alarmed at the vicious change in her friend. Black eyes glare at her. "Don't you ever talk about yourself like that again."

Too stunned to argue, Bella can only nod vigorously and stare at Alice with alarmed eyes. Holy shit. What the hell? "Sorry?"

"You can't…" Alice swallows roughly and takes a breath, smoothing down her coat to gather herself. "It's going to take time. She said it was worse than we thought but… okay. Okay, it's okay." Alice shakes her head, clears her mind. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have snapped like that. I'm just… violently against you feeling that way, apparently. Bella, please don't say things like that, they have an effect."

"Okay…"

She smiles hopefully, reassuringly and shuffles closer. Thankful when Bella doesn't run off - so elusive, so hard to catch, her mate is. "It's not going to change overnight but you'll feel differently, Bella. We're, I'm going to prove you are worth so much love. More love than we could ever give."

Again, Bella flinches and looks away.

Alice's heart cracks, just a little. Gods, I'm so sorry. We shattered an already broken heart. "I love you, Bella."

Red slowly rises, an eternity of climbing, until Bella looks at her from under her lashes. Hesitant. Hurt. Full of doubt, but there. Still there.

"Please don't slip away," Alice whispers. Takes another step, her hand reaching for Bella's.

Scarred fingers lace with hers. "I won't." She gives a soft tug until Alice bumps into her and she rests her chin against dark chaotic spikes. "I have been running away for so long. It doesn't work. So… I'm gonna try the opposite and hope for the best. I'm. I'm here."

The smile Alice gives her is bashful and teasing all at once. Bubblegum invading her senses, noses bumping as Alice leans up just when Bella leans down. Her thumb traces the scar on Bella's chin - a shared habit, no matter the year, apparently. Affection burns like glowing embers in her heart, another tally added to they're both just Alice.

Glass cracks, just a shred too much pressure from Bella's fingers against the window, and she can feel Alice smile before their lips meet. Bella's huff or growl, a charmingly disgruntled noise, is lost against Alice's muffled laugh. "You are absolutely the Bull In China Shop," Alice tells her when they pull apart again, running her fingers against the crack in the glass.

"I know!" Bella pouts and drops her head against Alice's shoulder. She was clumsy as a human and now she's a walking wrecking ball. "You have no idea how many doors I've had to replace."

"Bella."

"Hmm?"

There's hesitance, Alice not quite meeting her eye, instead fiddling with one of the buckles on Bella's coat. Her smile is anxious, just a small curve to her lips. "The only way to move forward is to talk to her."

"She's the one that's hiding!"

Something clicks and Alice's smile comes a little easier. "I guess you get that from her." Bella grunts, no comeback for the excellent shot. "Bella, Esme loves you. She loved you before this and she will love you after. But you've just slapped her in the face with her worst nightmare and her greatest dream."

Bella's brows furrow.

"Your birthday isn't in September, Bella. I believe it is May ninth," Alice explains. "A day that Esme spends alone in her bedroom. Untouched, undisturbed. She never forgot you."

"Ouch."

She winces, hugging Bella close. "Sorry. I was hoping it might be nice to know."

"It is. Mostly." Bella sighs and rolls her shoulders, staring out at the trees by the edge of the parking lot. "This is gonna suck, isn't it?"

"It's going to hurt." The smile she gives Bella is both sympathetic and wry. "But when has that ever stopped you before? Go on. I'll make sure the human gets her food."

Pressing a kiss to her cheek, Bella zips across the pavement faster than eyes can track. She stops just inside the trees, watching Alice by the car, and grins. "I don't know where we're going from here," she says, knowing Alice will hear her. "But I've always been yours, Alice. I'll follow you anywhere."

She's gone in a mess of coat and leaves, Alice pressing her hand to her chest. "I'm going to murder that tease."

.

.

.

The garden behind the Cullen manor is… substantial. No mere plot in the ground with a couple of sad little flowers poking up, Esme has conquered half the yard with explosions of colour. Bushes and trees walling it off for a modicum of privacy, narrow stone paths weaving through it all to protect the plants from being stepped on.

Another level of anxiety as Bella tiptoes onto one of the flat stones. It would be really easy to trip and tear through this beautiful garden. One little mistake to leave a path of destruction behind her, and why do flowers have to be so delicate? Fucking hell. Okay. One step after the other, one step. One step.

Bella finds her mother deep within the paths, right in the centre of it all. On her knees, her frame trembling, as her hands dig through the dirt sporadically. Bella stops short, bending at the waist and throwing her arms out to balance herself over the daffodils. "Jesus, sorry," she breathes and straightens up. "Esme?"

No response, no sign that she's even aware Bella's here. Yup. Yup, that's exactly what Bella feared would happen. Why did she listen to Alice? Esme doesn't want her, doesn't want Bella to be her daughter. Not that perfect baby that's been held on a pedestal longer than - well, a long time. How could she measure up?

That was a dream and Bella is… Bella is a painful reality.

The only way forward is through.

Bella groans, digging her fingers into the back of her neck. "I'm sorry it's me," she says roughly. Esme claws at the dirt and flowers, making a nice purple mulch. "It should have been someone else. You deserve someone else." Her actions are frantic, her fingers blur.

Like she's not even here. Like her daughter isn't standing five feet away, trying to reach out. Bella grinds her teeth, drags in a breath of wet air and scowls up at a grey sky.

None of this is right. Not how it was supposed to go, and she doesn't even know how it was supposed to go. Just not like this. "But it's not. It's me. We just, we gotta deal with that. Okay? Esme?" Digging, digging, just digging. Furiously. Frantically. Obliviously? "Mom!" she snaps and steps forward.

The word cuts through the air and Esme flinches back. Drops the fistful of flowers in her hand, sitting back on her heels and looking up with dazed eyes. Black and full of tears that can't fall, they land on Bella and widen. "Bella?" she questions, as if she can't trust her own vision, and pushes up to her feet as the young girl skitters back in mild alarm. "Bella, I-" The words don't come and Esme helplessly shakes her head.

There aren't words. There aren't words for a conversation that was never supposed to happen. Esme wasn't supposed to jump. Bella wasn't supposed to kill her father. She wasn't supposed to lie. They weren't supposed to hurt each other just by existing.

But here they are.

"Are you… alright?" Bella wonders aloud and holds up a distant hand. "You feeling okay?"

A million miles away, Esme doesn't even look like she's on the same planet. Her eyes drift and Bella wonders if that's what she looks like sometimes when reality is too much and you have to fade away, just a little bit. Just enough to breathe. The circles under Esme's eyes are severe, the most Bella's ever seen. Her dishevelled hair is messy, pulled into a tight bun with petals and stems in it. Clothes that are too nice to be worn working in a garden, stained with dirt. "I believed him," Esme says softly in a stunned voice. "I don't know why. He always lied, he was incapable of telling me the truth, but I believed him."

"Esme…"

She blinks, back in the present for only a moment. Only enough to smile sadly at Bella, and then she's gone. Folding in, and in, and in on herself. Hiding. Running. God, this really is where she gets it from. "It was his baby too, why would he ever lie about something like that? I should have waited. Should have verified with my own eyes. I believed him."

Bella doesn't say anything. She stands there, hands clenched into fists tight enough that they start cracking along the knuckles. But she's here.

They're both here.

"Everything I missed because I didn't check myself, because I was naive and broken and couldn't bear the world any longer." Esme crumples, her chin tucked against her chest as her frame shakes. "Your first steps, your first word. Skinned knees and playing the tooth fairy. Charlie is absent, Renee is cruel, and you suffered because I couldn't wait to die. Because I believed him."

There's sudden motion - Esme drops but Bella's quick, she still has some of that newborn speed left, and catches her mother in her arms without thought. "Hey, whoa, it's okay!" she gasps as the sobs wrench through Esme's entire frame. "Nope, not equipped to handle this. Okay, um. You're alright. I'm alright."

"It was all for you," Esme gasps and drags in jagged breaths. Her eyes squeeze shut, arms wrapped so tightly around Bella that she couldn't breathe if she wanted to. Life hurts, life hurts, life hurts. "I got strong. I got smart. Clever, I became so clever, for you. I built us a life, away from him, I got us free. I set it all up. And then I lost you.

"And I couldn't breathe," she explains with words muffled by Bella's shoulder. "No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't breathe. So I jumped. I jumped and found love, found kindness, and swore that I would fill the world with my love for you, Bella. If I couldn't be your mother, I would be Edward's. And Rosalie's. And Emmett's. Alice's. Jasper's. I would be strong, and smart, and clever for those who needed me because you needed me and I failed once. Never again."

Stiff and uncomfortable, Bella stands there awkwardly as her mother hugs her tightly. Ironically, she can't breathe anymore either. Every instinct in her body screaming to jump.

Be here.

A broken smile is angled her way and Esme pulls back enough to look at her but never step away. There, her hand on her shoulder, her coat - scared her daughter might just fade away again. "But I did. I found you. I found you and lost you, left you," she croaks. The anguish claws at Bella's chest. "I left you. I left you."

"You came back," Bella hears herself say. Feels it, feels things - distantly, maybe. All pooled at the surface, a gap between her and an overwhelming force. How do people go around feeling things all the time? She can barely stand the reflections she let's through here and there.

Esme nods. Wipes at her eyes instinctively and sniffles. She smiles feebly, sadly, and cups Bella's cheek oh so tenderly it makes the young vampire want to sob. Just a little bit. "And you hate me for it."

"N-"

She sucks in a quick breath and yanks her hand away. Maybe tries to turn away, to gather what composure she has left, but doesn't seem to be able to actually look away from Bella. Away from her daughter. "I don't mean that in a woe-is-me way, I'm not trying for guilt. Feel how you feel, Bella, and never stop just because it makes someone else uncomfortable."

Good advice… for literally any other scenario. Jesus.

"I…" Bella clenches her jaw and huffs out a sharp breath.

This is. This is - god. This isn't good, this doesn't feel good. It feels worse. Esme feeling bad is worse. What made her think this was a good idea, again?

Fix it. Fix it. "Fuck! I'm mad and angry because I feel like on some level you don't want me-" she holds up her hand when Esme gasps and her eyes widen. When her… mother looks horrified at the very thought. "And I know that you do, I mostly know that. I can see it. I broke you, look at your garden. Leaving broke you maybe as much as it broke me, maybe even more. And I don't know how to fix what I'm feeling but it's not hate. I don't hate you. Okay. Even before I knew you were my mom… you were my mom. That's why I'm angry at you. It hurt worse. But, you know, I guess it's also why I forgave you. You're my mom. I love you, and shit," she finishes lamely. Uncertainly.

Wondering if she really just said shit the first time she told her mother she loves her.

There's a moment of silence. Of stillness. Where water drips from the leaves of flowers, and setting sunlight bounces a reflection off a wet petal. Trees creak and groan in a gentle breeze, and frogs croak in the distant stream. Esme rocks back and forth, chewing her lip thoughtful while her eyes dance.

A quiet moment to take in each other's words. To try and figure out where to go from here and how.

"It's okay if you do hate me, Bella," Esme ventures after an uncertain beat. "Frankly, I cannot even imagine how you wouldn't, after everything."

Shoulders bunched up, Bella looks off across the yard, having had her fill of eye contact for the day. She grumbles some kind of gruff noise and scuffs her boot against the flat stone. "I got a lot of negativity in my life and, fuckin', my soul? I'm trying to clear that out. I don't want to hate you."

Esme nods and stares down at her feet. For an old, powerful vampire as she is, she feels more like a frail tulip desperately trying to hold on for dear life in a thunderstorm.

It makes Bella itchy. And twitchy. And uncomfortable as a whole. "And I don't. Dunno how but, you know, why split hairs at this point? Hate is exhausting."

"That is-" her mother pauses, a surprised and proud look shining in those obsidian eyes. "You are everything and more than I dreamed of, Bella."

Little cracks spread like spiderwebs across Bella's pale knuckles, slowly creeping from her jaw towards her ears as she clenches every muscle in her body. The burning amber that had been struggling so hard to shine through the inky pools of her eyes drown, until there is nothing but black left, staring hard at a particular tree.

Nobody seems to notice the monstrous beast with grief-stained claws tearing apart her chest, trying to get at her heart.

Another hesitant step forward, a twitch of Esme's fingers to almost brush against her cagey daughter's. "Would it… Bella, would it hurt you if I told you just how much I love you?"

"Everything hurts me," she chokes out and squeezes her eyes shut because. God. Damn. It. She really didn't mean to say that out loud, and definitely not in such a strangled voice.

This is.

This is too much. Too much, too soon, and not at all the way she'd planned or even dreaded it to go. She didn't prepare for a positive outcome and… and is this positive? It must be.

Esme isn't insisting there's some kind of mistake. She's not screaming at her mother. No fistfights broke out. No horribly devastating, painful talk of "it's time for us to move on…"

Just, what, acceptance? Is that what this is? Is that where they're at? Or just… quiet acknowledgement of fact? What is she supposed to do now? What is-

Fingers hook around her wrist, smoothing out and dampening the building intensity of pins and needles that she hadn't even noticed. A subconscious bail out backup plan. Interrupted, as Esme slowly and cautiously tugs Bella closer.

Hackles rise, she can't help it - not really. There are two people that seem to get away with freely touching her, and maybe she's beginning to feel a little guilty about that. But Esme doesn't seem to notice or if she does, she doesn't seem to mind. She merely wraps her arms around the tall, stoic girl in a warm, tight embrace. Leaving Bella to stand there stiffly. Awkwardly. Black eyes wide and staring as her mind races.

"This family has a really bad habit of jumping off tall things," Bella finds herself stating.

And can feel Esme's watery chuckle, the way she holds on just a little bit tighter.

Gunfire cracks across the sky like lightning, smoke heavy in the air. The taste of blood and ash on her tongue.

Bella blinks. Very slightly shakes her head to clear the sensations.

Hooves clack against the gravel road, most metal bearings of the cart grinding with the motion.

A pout slides across the younger girl's lips. "I have good news and bad news."

"What?" Esme asks. Hesitantly. Anxiously. Her eyes plead with Bella to stay when she releases her daughter, stepping back once. Don't leave, don't leave, don't leave.

And for once, Bella doesn't want to. For once, she does the right thing. But the right thing hurts, and she belongs to more than herself. "Generally, when I start hearing and seeing through time that means something is wrong. Something or someone needs my attention. I have… people to check on. More family."

Less careful than she was, Emmett lands on the stone path behind her. The sunflowers whip back from his momentum. "I'm so sorry," he rushes out and grabs her shoulder. "Really, I am. This is such a personal conversation and a delicate atmosphere, I didn't wanna wreck it. But it's definitely my turn to go jumping through time."

"Wh-"

"I brought your coat!" he says quickly, holding it up with his big golden eyes. So earnest. So hopeful. Such a giant kid. "And I wore some of my old clothes to fit in, Alice picked out my suspenders and cap."

Face buried in her palm, Bella tries to summon her own grave. How is she the youngest and feels the oldest? "Fucking fine. Just. Jesus, don't touch anything."

"You don't have to bring me," he tells her. His voice small. Dejected. Massive shoulders slumping.

Her resolve cracks. "You giant puppy, how am I supposed to say no?"

"I'm wondering if that's a good idea?" Esme worries aloud and looks between them warily.

She loves the two of them with her entire heart, she does, but neither are known for their impulse control. In fact, they're both rather known for their lack of it...

But Bella has to go. Needs to leave before she can't. Before life gets busy and distracting and bad shit happens while she doesn't look. So she smiles, charming and lopsided, placing her hand on Emmett's shoulder. "It'll be fine. We'll be two literal seconds, just a quick pop back."

It might even be fun.

.

.

.

"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god," Bella chants again and again. Blood stains her white shirt, splattered across her face and clumping her hair that she runs her hands through. "He's going to kill me. How did that happen? Carlisle is going to murder me!"

Emmett's bloody fingers scoop his cap up, tucking his hair back to adjust it on his head. "Carlisle won't kill you, he doesn't kill anyone. That's where the whole diet came from," he says with a smirk.

And maybe it would be reassuring, maybe it would distract from the carnage of the room, but she can't really focus past his red eyes.

Chapter Text

It's a little relieving to be back on the water. The others might poke fun, might crack their jokes about her piracy with flippant amusement. A roll of their eyes or a teasing lilt in their voice because oh, such a silly thing! A pirate, Bella? That's ridiculous.

She's not sure why it's ridiculous. It doesn't feel ridiculous, standing there with salt on her tongue and the comforting creak of wood beneath her boots. It feels liberating, freeing. Nothing but her and miles upon miles of open water, blue as far as her eyes can see. An ocean of possibility, a world to discover. She misses it, misses the simplicity of the waves.

"Everything makes sense on the water," she says. To herself. To the ocean. To whomever, really. Her fingers dig into her knees, crouched down and hugging them to her chest. Balanced precariously on the side of the ship, not totally against falling in and never coming out. "Everything makes sense on the water."

"You gonna wash that blood off?" Emmett asks cautiously from somewhere over her shoulder.

"Are your eyes still gonna be red if I turn around?"

She doesn't, just keeps staring out at the horizon, and Emmett deflates. "Sorry."

It's kind of heartbreaking, how small and frightened his voice is. Enough that Bella blinks and straightens up to hop down. He perks up like a puppy waiting to see if he's in trouble. It's sad as it is endearing, and she tilts her head and touches his shoulder. "Hey, um. I'm not… mad at you?"

He merely nods but doesn't look away from his feet where he scuffs his boot against the wood of the ship. His massive shoulders still slouched, hands in his pockets. Looking like someone just popped his balloon.

Bella rolls her shoulders like she can scratch the itchy sensation that feelings give her. "Sometimes I forget how scared I was that you all might hate me and my red eyes." Her brows furrow and she chews her lip, scrutinizing his face. "I guess I'm just scared still? That you did this because of me. That I did this to you, I… I broke your resolve or whatever."

"You didn't," he says softly, his eyes climbing up to meet her.

And she sighs. Hands on her hips, glancing up at the sky. "Okay, but a hundred years you had golden eyes. I show up with red ones and you fall off the bandwagon literally your first trip with me."

Emmett is uncharacteristically patient when she finally looks at him. He feels like an old vampire for once. "I'm going to be honest with you, Bella. We've never lied to each other and I think that's a good thing between us. This," he waves his fingers towards his eyes, "is a little bit because of you. Only in a way. I've fed on animals since the day Carlisle changed me, except for one instance when I met my singer. I thought… that I had to. That they might look at me differently if they knew how okay I was with our nature. How good my singer tasted, how jealous I was of Edward's hunting days. I just - I never saw the difference between feeding on animals and feeding on people, other than some people deserve it?

"And then you came along. With your red, red eyes. Our dark little cloud, broken and strong. I heard what Esme said when you tried to use it to poke her. Everything I'd hoped she would say to me if I ever got the courage to make my own choice." He shrugs, a slight smile on his face. "It was kind of a dick move doing it now, here, with you. Without warning. Sorry. But yeah, so… it's a little bit because of you, but it's mostly me. I like animals, they're innocent, and bad guys deserve to be eaten."

Well.

That was… unexpected.

The two stare each other down, red clashing against a darker red. Similar in height, in build ("Solid like a donkey!" Tori used to say), a charming smile, even the shade of their hair. Siblings. They look like siblings. Had she really lucked out so incredibly to have stumbled upon her own family?

Bella sighs and rubs a hand down her face. Her face covered in the dried blood of a man she brutally killed and Emmett drained. "It's ridiculous but I feel literally the same way," she chuckles slowly. "Jesus, it's gonna be a conversation when we get back."

"Yup. I'm a little nervous."

Her eyes crack open and she smiles lazily at him, gently shoving his chest. "I got you. And listen, I knew that dude. He was bad. I don't just kill anyone, I'm not…" she clicks her tongue instead of finishing that thought. "He murdered Anne."

"So he deserved to get eaten," Emmett agrees fiercely.

She fires a finger gun. "Exactly. I ain't no Carlisle but I figure a code never hurt nobody. So we lay some ground rules. No kids."

"No pregnant people."

"No redeemed souls, sometimes people make mistakes."

"Yeah, yeah. No good guys, not even Singers. I felt really bad about her. Like, really bad."

Bella nods, ticking them off on her fingers as they go. "We're talking scumbags. The type of people who follow victims into abandoned locations, murderers, assaulters -not sure if it's a word or not but you know what I'm saying- and, like, those shitty people who take advantage of other people. Racists - nazis! Always Nazis and - hey, can you believe this shit? I literally just came back from the 1940s and there's Nazis again?"

A large hand claps her on the back of the shoulder as Emmett nods. "Humans are infuriating, you'll come to learn. They repeat all of the horrible things they've done the second they finally forget about it."

"That's a horrendously depressing thought."

"They have redeeming qualities, too," he's quick to reassure. "Like you!"

"That is not-"

"Right, you're all messed up inside-"

"-it almost makes me… wait, what?"

"-warned us when you dropped her off. What?"

Bella pins a look on him, hands on her hips. "What did you just say?"

"Nothing. Maybe." He glances around nervously and back to her. "I'm not sure if I'm supposed to say or not."

The two stare at each other for a moment, with birds singing in the distant afternoon sky, and water lightly crashing against the underside of the boat. The gentle sway does nothing to disrupt them, and Emmett might actually be more patient than Bella ever thought. She's coming to realize she doesn't know any of the Cullens half as well as she thought she did.

Eventually, though, she breaks. Evidently, she's not nearly as patient as she likes to claim. "What is that even supposed to mean? All messed up inside." She leans forward to squint, as if she could summon Edward's ability and take the answers she wants. "Do I even want to know?"

"You have a lot on your plate," Emmett says in-way of an answer. A sympathetic twist to his mouth that has her diamond hard skin itching again. "I was actually kind of hoping to help you with that."

"With being messed up inside?"

His eyes widen. "Oh, no. God no, not me. I'm not… Esme or Jasper would be best for that, they've got degrees and all." He turns instead to thrust his hand out towards the horizon, smiling wide. "The past! I thought maybe I can help. I've made a list of what I have gathered that I think needs to be done? Which is far more difficult with you involved."

Sweet.

Why is he being so sweet?

No.

People can be sweet and want nothing from you. People can just be kind.

Bella shakes her head and reminds herself of this, reminds herself of the very bad habit she has of drawing in the very bad kind of people. The worst society has to offer, whether to use them or end them.

It's been too long since she's surrounded herself with decent people other than Alice. Emmett is a good man.

He doesn't seem to notice her internal falter as he pulls the little notebook from his pocket and hoists himself onto the side of the ship to sit. "Okay. You already killed Anne but I don't think you've brought her to the 80s yet."

"So I still have to find the vampire that will give me their venom to actually turn her."

"... we'll call that 1.A," he murmurs and makes another little note in the book. "Human Alice needs to be brought back to her own time so she can lose her memory and you can bite her."

Um- "Wait, what?!"

Emmett looks up curiously and then confused. "I assume you're the one that bites her?"

"She was a vampire for a long, long time before me. How the hell did I bite her?"

"Well, you were a vampire before her, too. It's all a matter of perspective," he tells her, as if it's obvious.

Her own words used against her and yet...

Bella collapses back to lean against the side of the ship next to him, scrubbing a hand down her face. "Wait, I'm confused again."

"Were there any vampires in her town the year she was turned?"

"I haven't been there yet-" she pauses mid-sentence, thinking back to Willowdean and the… Time Freakout she had back then. "Maybe. I mean, I guess James for sure? And possibly Victoria, too? Oh god, how many times am I going to have to interact with Victoria in the past now?"

"We could ask her, just to make sure."

Bella groans into her hands and turns to bury her face in her arms, pouting against the wood of the ship. "I hate this."

"It's all about baby steps," Emmett chuckles. His mighty hand drops onto her shoulder in a solid thunk that would have had her collapsing under the force as a human but now merely feels like a warm, solid point of contact. A grounding act that she really needs. "I've watched a lot of shows and movies, not to mention all the comics and books I've read, that all deal with this. Don't put so much thought into it. You'll do what you do and, more likely than not, it's what happened already."

She peeks around the edge of her arm, red eyes searching his. Looking for doubt or any spec of uncertainty. Something to shake him, something to pull at as a good enough reason to just run away.

But she promised she was done running. For better or worse.

So she sighs and stands up again, squeezing his arm in a silent appreciation that feels less and less stiff. The trepidation that has followed her like a shadow with each and every tentative interaction with the Cullens lately is fading… quickly. She's not entirely sure how she feels about that, the fear is still there.

The fear will never leave, she's pretty sure. It will stay with her for as long as she walks this earth, it's part of her now. A wound that's scarring over, but large enough to shape her.

She just needs to learn how to live with it.

"What's the first step?"

Happiness shines through his gaze and Emmett sets the notebook down. "First thing's first. Catch me up!"

.

.

.

Alice stands outside the white door, balancing a precariously full bowl of soup on the bed tray. She assured Bella that she would take care of the human, she's good at taking care of humans! She took care of Bella more than any of the others, except perhaps Esme, but even she has to agree that besides Carlisle, Alice has the most experience with humans.

It's just who she is, she loves the interaction. The new experiences, the different points of view. Some… cruel, yes, but by and large, people are kind.

So she's not really sure what has her hesitating outside the door. What has her staring at the wood and listening to the steady heartbeat within while she lingers with the soup. What has her carefully holding to the tray tightly instead of reaching for the doorknob.

It's because it's her inside there. That's what she will tell the others, should they ask. There's something truly weird about meeting yourself, something wrong about it, even in the mystical world of vampires. Nobody was ever meant to meet themselves, she really believes, and Bella would be the one to bring this all about. It would be her, in particular, to have such a special… yet disturbing ability. Dangerous, is what it is.

Bella has always been dangerous, in every aspect of the word.

That's not truly it, though. Alice can admit that to herself - herself, not the human in the other room. It's not because it's her in there because it doesn't feel like it's her in that room. It doesn't feel like one person. It feels like two. She is herself, and that one is that one, despite what she told Bella. But she's strong enough to give her mate the kindness of not complicating her life more than necessary. After everything Bella has been through, Alice can pretend.

But when it comes right down to it? Alice seethes with rage and jealousy of the human on the other side of this door. The girl that has such ease and open affection with Bella. The one that got a soft beginning, got a charming human Bella to dance through the fun hoops of courting and dating. The one that didn't have to say no.

The one that never broke Bella's heart.

The wood of the tray creaks and Alice takes a deep breath, relaxes her grip before opening the door and stepping inside.

She can be civil. She can.

Inside the room is quieter than she was expecting, though the human is wide awake and reading one of Edward's books. Alice sets the tray on the end of the bed, studying the girl before her with open intrigue, as blue eyes do the same to her.

Blue eyes. Clear and bright and oh so human. Her hair is long, braided and hanging down towards her hips. A light blush in her cheeks, with a more natural shadow under her eyes from lack of sleep. Because she sleeps. Because she's human. It is a weird experience and, perhaps, even if there wasn't the issue of jealousy, Alice might still limit her time with herself. Being in this room is unsettling, and she's beginning to regret promising to do this herself.

"I'm certain Bella has lectured me about this before, something about a spacetime continuum?" the human wonders aloud, her voice scratchy. She clicks her tongue. "Still a rule breaker, I guess."

Alice presses her tongue against the back of her teeth while she tries to shuffle the majority of her reaction to such a surreal experience to the back of her head. "I don't remember this, so I think we're safe."

A smile blooms on the girl's face. "This is weird, right?"

"Just a tad."

"So… where's Bella?"

Alice's jaw tightens and she sees the human's eyebrows bump up, a mischievous delight curling at her lips. Damn it. "She is out back talking to her mother."

"Oh," her human counterpart wilts slightly. "That's… overdue, at least. I'm glad she doesn't have to hold that burden alone anymore."

"She never had to."

The human reaches towards the end of the bed to pull the tray up over her lap. She leans in and smells the soup, humming with pleasure.

"She didn't," Alice insists and she doesn't know why, really. Why she steps closer, hands curling into fists with a flash of annoyance. "I have always been here for Bella."

"Until you weren't."

Until-! How - "How dare you!" Alice gasps indignantly. "You have no idea how complicated things will get for you, for us. You can't understand the position I was in."

"I understand how I feel about Bella," the human begins with a fierce look in her eye. "And I even understand Bella, cagey and stoic as she can be. I truly don't understand how you could walk away from her because I have never been able to. She is my sun."

Angry. The human is angry, Alice… isn't actually surprised to find, at all. She is angry, at herself. Of course a better version would be too.

(And oh, maybe that's the true reason she lingered outside. Not the inherent weirdness of this exchange or even the jealousy. Maybe it's because, deep down, she truly fears one is better than the other. And the vampire? She's almost certain it isn't her.)

With a scoff, Alice finally turns away and heads for the window. Looks outside at the front yard while she tries to release her own anger. Takes a breath and thinks of Bella instead. "She is my dreadful little black cloud," she says fondly and closes her eyes.

"Why did you leave?"

Alice traces her finger down along the path of a raindrop against the window.

"Why did you leave? Why… why would I ever leave her?"

"You know very well we would do anything for her," Alice finally answers softly. "I was… well, mistakes were made and I was led to believe we could not truly be for each other but I knew how drawn to me she was." The smile on her face is gentle and full of warmth, of a love she's no longer afraid of. That she doesn't have to flinch away from. "She refused to look at anyone else with me around and I didn't… couldn't get in her way of finding happiness."

"I'm not afraid of dying," the human tells her just as softly and it almost feels like an echo. Alice looks back at her curiously, just in time to catch the shocked and delighted look as she takes the first taste of her soup. "My lord… this is the best thing I've ever had."

"Enjoy it while it lasts. Food will taste like ash very soon."

The human nods, remembering where she was going. "Bella has told me some things about vampirism, like she's trying to prepare me, no matter how much I remind her it won't matter in the end. I know they die… we died. That I will die," she murmurs and lightly shakes her head. "I'd do it a thousand times, I'd face the darkness again and again. But I'm…"

"Scared?" Alice guesses or maybe reads it on her face. On her face.

"I'm not me anymore. You're not me. I thought I would be, I spent so long convincing Bella that we are. We're not."

"No, we're not," Alice agrees quietly and looks down at her feet. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault."

"I'm sorry you have to follow through with it, knowing you'll lose yourself. I think I pulled the longer stick," Alice muses with a humourless chuckle. She feels a sympathy she didn't have when she first entered the room. A loss that she's never felt before.

Forgetting everything wasn't half as painful when she didn't know what she was forgetting.

A thought occurs to her, something that has her pausing very briefly. The human doesn't even realize she leaves, when she's back in the time it takes to sip at her soup. "Do you… we have family?" she manages to ask and keeps most of the emotion from her voice.

Blue eyes flick up to her, widening. As if a thought, too, occurs to the human. One she hadn't considered before, and Alice watches the sadness creep in. "Mother and Cynthia. She must be… she must be gone by now. Just over one hundred."

Pale fingers tremble slightly and the loss Alice has finally tasted blooms into sorrow. "Unless Bella has…?"

The human shrugs lightly and stirs her soup with the spoon, a distant and dejected look on her face. "Not unless it's a life cut short. She has… hangups on the whole vampirism thing."

"She was all but obsessed with being turned when she learned our secret."

"She was obsessed with being part of the family, not growing the fangs." There's a certain bite to the words that has Alice stepping back, if only to give her more space. The human sighs and leans back against the pillows. "I suppose there's a silver lining to losing my memories. I know I'll grow to love this family, your family, but I don't think I will ever stop being angry at them. You."

"You had to pick up her pieces."

"There were so many, and they're all so sharp."

Alice tilts her head and smiles softly, knows that Emmett is on his way to ask for help picking clothes. "Try to finish your soup while it is still hot. Carlisle will be in to check on you soon."

"She loves you," the human says quickly when Alice takes a step. Even holds up her hand, as if to grab herself. "Both of us, and maybe something to do with mates, but… it started with you. She loves you."

Alice sets an empty journal on the bedside table without a word, merely a feeble smile, and leaves.

.

.

.

"So the good news is that you're a time traveler," Emmett declares after about five whole minutes of silence. Of nothing but them and the sun shining high in the sky, lighting them up like disco balls.

For offering her whole tragic life story in painful details, she may have expected a little more than that. You take what you can get, though, it's a lesson she is slowly but surely learning. Emmett also happens to be one of the harder Cullens to anticipate, so she's not entirely sure what, exactly, she was expecting. Definitely more than that, she's pretty sure.

"You don't say."

He clicks his tongue. "But that attitude you still have? You're less prickly as a vampire but damn, Bella." Emmett bumps his shoulder against hers with a lopsided grin. "I just meant that there isn't a big rush for some of these things. Saving Anne? As long as you eventually do it, it will be done, because it already happened for her right now. Alice is tricky because we have two."

"One who nothing has happened for yet," Bella follows along aloud. "And if it doesn't happen how it should, we risk vampire Alice."

"So you've decided to make sure what happened the first time still happens, that she… forgets?"

Bella drops her chin to her chest, sighing deeply. The beast with agony-stained claws is back, and she'd be more than content to let it carve her heart right from her chest. The thing only ever hurts and she's sick of it. "How am I supposed to make that decision, Emmett? If she doesn't forget me, we all lose this Alice. If she does? I lose my Alice. Everything we've done, everything we've been through."

"It's not lost if you hold onto it, kiddo." Emmett hesitates, knows Bella isn't a fan of being touched but his heart aches for her and has him reaching out. Wrapping his mighty arm around her shoulders to squeeze. "She won't be gone, not really, just… different. Hidden somewhere inside. The outer layers may change but the core stays the same, Bella. Alice is Alice, memories or no."

"How can you know that?"

And this time he chuckles. Thinks back to the conversation he'd overheard waiting for Alice in the room and Bella in the garden. Two very personal conversations he's gonna have to keep to himself for the rest of his life. "They're both stubborn, and jealous, and angry at the other. They both love you more than anything else. They're both infuriating know-it-alls. They're Alice, Boo, you've just been too afraid to try and see her in our Alice."

"I'm trying to remember the last day I didn't feel this desperate need to cry and cry and never stop crying, and I think it was a Tuesday when I was seven years old. They were serving free Tater Tots for lunch at school. That was a good day." She hangs her head again.

"Hey!" Emmett barks very suddenly.

So suddenly, in fact, that Bella topples forwards off the ship with eyes wide and a scowl right before she hits the water. He's cackling when she comes back up, dripping with literal ocean, feeling it ooze out of her sneakers. "What the hell, dude?"

"Sorry!" he wheezes, hands on his knees. "Sorry, Boo… oh boy. Wow. Okay, I didn't think that was gonna happen."

"You barked at me!"

"I did." He takes a deep breath, big dumb smile still on his face. "I just wanted to snap you out of your funk before you got too lost in it."

Bella's shoulders drop. "Thanks."

"Anyway." Emmett's fingers blur over her coat, straightening and adjusting the soaked garment. "Your life? Not so bad."

Her head tilts incredulously.

But Emmett is quick to assure her. "Really! Think about it. You've got some bumps in there, sure, but look where you are. Look at where you started."

It's… an infuriating point he's trying to make, in an infuriating way, but he looks so hopeful. He wants to help her so badly. So Bella groans and unclenches her jaw to close her eyes.

"I was… alone. And now I'm not."

"I feel like it's a little more complicated-" she cracks an eye open and he quickly shakes his head, backtracking. "No, you're exactly right. Simplicity is underrated. You are right, though, Bella. You're not alone anymore. The whole Alice thing is scary but you have her. Then and now. And you have… you have your mother," he says, even softer.

He doesn't miss the way she flinches.

"You also have us. I'm not sure exactly what that means to you, but you have us. A family. Whenever you pop up, always happy to see you."

He doesn't press, she can appreciate that. Out of fear? Maybe. None of them have ever pressed her, though, except for Rosalie. That, too, she appreciates. Sometimes she needs pressing. Sometimes she needs…

Well.

It's always been clear, even if she spent so long running from the fact, that the Cullens are exactly, precisely, and undoubtedly what she needs.

Bella looks at him out the corner of her eye. "It means something." She works her lip between her teeth for a moment and is getting to her feet in the next, holding out her hand. "Wanna take a look?"

"At what?"

She shrugs, recklessly probably. "The big bad year. Nineteen-twenty."

"And?" The way Emmett watches her - carefully, cautiously, she feels like an animal. Skittish and dangerous, like the Bull in the China shop that everyone keeps calling her. But a nicer China shop. An important one.

Like she's one step away from ruining something. (Maybe herself, if she reflects hard enough.)

"Make a choice? I'm not sure. I'm not looking to hide this time, I'm just…" she trails off and casts her eyes out across the water. "Searching for answers. Hoping they'll find me."

Emmett hops off the side of the ship, his shoes against the deck. Calculated and certain in a way she's never been. "I think the biggest problem you've had with finding answers is that you refuse to ask the questions, Boo."

Bella tilts her head.

"You want to know if you should hide the human away or let what happened happen to her?" When he shrugs, she has to admit it has more effect than hers. "Ask her. You aren't alone. The decisions? Not all of them are yours to make anymore."

The wind blows harder against the sail.

The ship rocks to the right.

And Bella slumps a little bit. "Was I ever good at the whole family thing, even before you left?"

"No."

She grins and enjoys the deeper, throaty laugh her companion has, let's it ease the tension from her shoulders. "As abrupt as realizations can be, I suppose change comes much slower than that. I really hate homework."

"Give it seventy-plus years and you'll catch up."

The scoff comes automatically, like second nature. "Yeah, because we all have that kind of time." They both wait half a heartbeat for her eyebrows to jump. "Oh, right."

"Did you forget you are a-"

"I have so much on my mind right now, okay?"

He smiles, sympathetic and amused, and holds out his hand for hers this time. "Let's go knock one off the list then?"

.

.

.

It's not half as bad as she feared it would be.

When they return, Esme is startled and stares at her son's eyes for a solid minute in silence, but the smile on her face never wavers. Even when Rosalie joins them, there's no yelling or accusations. She reaches out to brush her thumb beneath his eye while he holds his breath, and sighs very softly. "I'll have to find myself a new hunting partner, then."

And that's that.

Nobody else mentions his eyes when he disappears inside, with Esme and Bella following closely after. Jasper glances up from the couch in the living room, his black eyes curious (and maybe even envious, if Bella looked at him long enough to notice).

The choice of having to pick who she goes to find first is made for her, thankfully. Esme looks like she wants to say… something but Alice appears by her side, a gentle touch of her elbow and smile towards Bella. "The… other me would like a word with you, Bella."

Sparing them a final, fragile smile, Bella darts up the stairs and to the door. She gives a quick knock before slipping inside, feeling some of the weight across her shoulders lessen as she all but melts onto the bed next to her human. "You are a sight for sore eyes," she mumbles.

"Someone is in a chipper mood," Alice remarks with delight. A warm hand cups Bella's cheek, as blue gazes into red so gently that it smoothes out even the most jagged of cracks in the vampire's heart. "It went well?"

"As if you don't know."

Alice gives a light grunt and roll of her eyes. "If I never asked the questions to which I already know the answer, we wouldn't have half as many things to talk about."

"True, but in asking them, I feel it gives you the upper hand in the conversation," Bella explains and scoots in even closer. Alice is looking much healthier than the day before, more colour in her face.

Her pixie giggles and wraps her arms around the vampire. "Oh, Bella. My sweet, beloved Bella. Even without my gift, I'd have the upper hand. You're much too madly in love with me."

"You are, without a doubt, the most gremliest of gremlins that I've ever had the misfortune of meeting."

"Gremliest isn't a word, darling."

"I'm gonna toss you out the window," Bella laughs and revels in it, in the simple joy she always has with Alice. The smile never dims as she hooks her hands behind her head to stare up at the rather plain ceiling. "How was your soup?"

Alice adjusts next to her, tucked into the side of her love. Taking a deep breath of the saltwater that still clings to Bella's coat and wonders just where the girl got off to this time.

There's a certain comfort in that. Knowing that, wherever or whenever she may be, Bella could be just around the corner. Stuck in the past, as she is, so privileged to get this lengthened glimpse into the future. She is… more than grateful to know that she'll never be out of reach for Bella.

Even if her heart feels so heavy, knowing their time is almost up. "In a word? Extraordinary."

The vampire clicks her tongue with a smug little smirk. "Knew it."

"Bella." It's almost a game they play, Alice able to know just what topics Bella refuses to bring up. A sad, tragic sort of game. "She's not as good at it, as I am."

"Sometimes, my tiniest of dancers, you pick up in the middle of a sentence and run with it, as if the rest of us have any clue what you're talking about."

"Hm, yes, but I think you do. Another reason why we just work."

There's a very subtle rumble in Bella's chest that isn't quite a growl, but isn't… not. "Is that your roundabout way of telling me I'm bad at talking to people, then?"

"She won't be able to broach them, if you don't bring it up first," Alice explains softly. "She can't see you as I can."

"That-"

A warm hand holds tight to Bella's shirt, cups her cheek again to turn her face until they can look at each other. "And she sees you in ways I never could."

"Alice…"

"I'm sorry," she hums and blinks back the stinging in her eyes, the heat of tears. "It's so hard to see past her, past the woman you'll be. I fell in love with an old vampire, as I tried my best to help the human catch up."

The steady rise and fall of Bella's chest stops, it's the only indication of any kind of reaction.

"She fell in love with the human, Bella. She sees you as you are." Her smile is warm as it is heartbroken. "Her dreadful little black cloud…"

It's embarrassing, how Bella's stomach flips and fills with butterflies, her chest warm. Knowing that at some point, Alice… this Alice, Alice Cullen, had said those words. Had claimed her, as she is.

That doesn't make the rest of this any easier, though. "I don't want to lose you," she tells the human earnestly and searches that gaze for doubt. For second thoughts. Uncertainty.

Foolish, she knows.

Alice is never uncertain.

"Well, allow me to reassure you then, my love. You will never lose me. This, I swear."

Bella presses her forehead against a much, much warmer one. Brushes her nose against Alice's as she commits this moment to memory, let's the sound of her heartbeat fill the room, fill her soul.

How did they run out of time so fast? Wasn't she just jumping off the hospital? "So. What does that mean, then?"

She feels Alice's scoff more than she hears it, the smile in her voice. "I think it means I put up with your bullshit more than I should. I'm going to start calling you on it like she does."

"Alice."

Her human sighs and presses a kiss to Bella's lips, warm and sweet. "It means… I would and will do anything for you. I'll forget you if it means I can have you one day. For good."

"Aren't you afraid of the darkness?" Bella asks quietly.

"No." They both hear the tremble of a lie. "But this is what I want, more than I've ever wanted anything."

Bella nods. She holds to Alice as tight as she dares, careful not to hurt her, and takes a deep breath. "One last hurrah through time? Before I bring you back and then meet you on the other side?"

"Then you can finally tell me how I lose my memories."

"I don't think I can be there, Alice." Bella swallows the painful lump in her throat. "I'm not sure I could let it happen if I have to watch."

Alice nods, she-

But something smashes down in the basement, the sound loud enough that Bella's face snaps towards the door as she blurs up to her feet. "What's wrong?" Alice gasps in alarm.

The door opens for Victoria, who saunters into the room as if she hadn't just destroyed the stairs to the basement while Anne cusses down below and tries to explain something to Rosalie and Emmett. "I'm not in the habit of playing Helpful Sidekick," the redhead purrs with an edge of ice as she gazes between the two.

Esme comes skidding to a stop at the door, hesitating only when Victoria holds her hands up in an admittedly sarcastic manner.

"But if everything must happen the way it happened for us to get here, with my sister alive…" she sighs, lip curling back over her fangs in annoyance. "Then I suppose I might mention that you were there. You and the mopey blonde one covered in scars, you stopped James from killing little Mary Alice, and turned her."

Chapter Text

"You're a real pain in my ass, Victoria!" Bella snaps, not unkindly so much as frustrated.

The redhead's lips curls back in a distasteful snarl. "The feeling is quite mutual," she shoots back… very unkindly.

Bella supposes that's the least she deserves, all things considered, and sinks into the guilt that she can feel slowly eating away at the edges of her heart. She wonders, not for the first time, if they'll ever be able to get back to some kind of friendship. If they'll ever stop hurting each other. But maybe… maybe the kindest thing Bella can do for Victoria is to save her sister and then leave her alone.

Does it hurt just as much to look upon her, as it does for her to look upon Victoria?

It's a question that she will probably never get the answer to and so she tucks it away with a hundred other little sharp thoughts for another time. Right now, there are far more pressing matters to attend to, like all the Cullens rushing into the room.

"Oh wow, there are so many of you!" Alice gasps in wonder. The human one, that is. Her blue eyes fall onto Rosalie and widen. "Oh my!"

The blonde frowns, shifting uncomfortably as she stares back at an outdated version of her sister. "Stop that."

Bella steps into the path and gives Rosalie a look. "You stop that."

"I'm not doing anything."

"Don't do anything over there, then, beside your husband."

Alice groans. "Bella, jealousy is hardly becoming."

"It's a time issue, I'm not jealous. She's far too easy to get lost in."

Emmett tilts his head. "Hey, you stop that."

With a long, drawn-out sigh, Victoria drops her forehead into her palm. "I truly hate this family, with every fibre of my being. Everybody shut up and listen."

"Beautiful buffoons," Anne mutters with an amused lilt and twinkle in her eye. She shares a smirk with the smallest of vampires in the room, while Alice merely rolls her golden eyes.

Victoria waits a moment for everyone's attention and clasps her hands behind her back. "As I know how you all struggle with critical thinking, given just how easy it's been to evade you, I know that I must spell everything out. I simply cannot risk you all screwing things up and taking my sister from me a second time."

"You know, it was my idea to save your sist-"

"What part of shut up was beyond your comprehension?" Victoria snides with a point of her finger. Bella sucks in an indignant breath, but the human takes her hand and she lets it back out in a grumbly sigh. "Am I correct in assuming that the human cannot know the details surrounding her turning?"

Both Alices shake their heads. "I cannot remember how I was turned."

"It's always been a chunk of darkness in my future."

The redhead clicks her tongue and nods as she thinks. "Probably for the best, if I'm being honest. Much as I dislike you, it seemed particularly cruel to me."

"What-!"

The human is almost dragged out of the bed, clinging to her angry vampire. "Bella, no! We can't know, and you aren't supposed to stop it!"

Her vampire counterpart is there in the blink of an eye, lightly shoving Bella back onto the bed. "She's right. It's done."

"It's not!" Bella snarls.

Golden eyes crinkle with warmth and sadness both, her pale hands cupping the time traveller's chilly cheek. As always, she is nothing but compassion and patience to Bella's impulsive hotheadedness. "But it is, Bella. Just listen, okay? I'm so sorry it's on you."

"I…" Bella swallows roughly, searching Alice's eyes for… she's not even sure anymore. She already has her answer, they've both given it to her. This is what happened, and what they want to happen. It's their… her choice. "Fine."

Doesn't make it any easier, by any means.

Victoria's red eyes linger on Bella for the briefest of moments. There is no sympathy or pity, nothing heartwarming in the least, but for a second the animosity fades. For a second. "Right then. Go drop her off in nineteen-nineteen and come back, I'll give you the exact date you need to go back to."

Honestly, it's just fucking mean when Edward's eyes widen and he covers his mouth. She knows he saw whatever Victoria is keeping from them.

She knows it gave him that reaction.

She has no idea how she's supposed to just go ditch Alice in the past now.

"Get out." They all stare at her, a solid heartbeat passing, and she glares up at them. "All of you, get out!"

Bella sighs and drops to the floor, her back against the leg of the bed, palms against her forehead. The frame shakes as Alice crawls to the end, laying on her back with her head on a stone shoulder. "It's okay."

"No, it's not."

"I mean that I give you my permission."

"I know," the vampire growls darkly.

But Alice only chuckles. "Are you mad at me now?"

"Maybe." Red eyes fade many shades darker as venom churns. "Yes. This isn't fair."

"Darling, neither of us have ever had it fair. I'm not sure we'd know what to do with fair."

Bella scoffs and tosses her hand out. "Yeah, but this is particularly cruel!" She clenches that hand into a fist and brings her knees up to her chest. "I can't do this."

"You can."

"No, I really can't, Alice-"

"You have, actually. Does that not reassure you?"

Pale fingers dig into her legs, her eyes filling with tears that will never fall. "But how? How did I ever manage to do it?"

Alice sighs softly. Content. A smile on her face in the darkness. "Because I asked you to."

"You're an asshole for asking."

That startles a laugh out of the human who clearly wasn't expecting it, to the point that she starts coughing on it and Bella has to stand up and gently pat her back. "My lord, Bella!" she wheezes around a grin. "I will simply never not be enamoured with you. You are correct, though, I know it's… cruel of me to ask. Yes."

"I wish I could cry. Like, for real. Without the tears it's… stupid," the vampire pouts and her shoulders droop.

And Alice coos. She steps from the bed, up to her best friend and lover, warm hands cupping cold cheeks while Bella ducks enough to let her. "I want this. I want you. And I will pay whatever price I need to. I am so sorry it relies so crucially on you, Bella, and I would take the weight if I could, I promise. But I cannot. And I know these shoulders," her hands slide down Bella's neck to her shoulders, "are made of stone. They've held far more, for far longer."

The vampire says nothing. She lets her eyes flutter closed, resting her forehead against Alice's.

"It's one last trip, my love," Alice whispers. "And one last fight against a man who truly deserves it. Then it's me and you, forever."

Bella grumbles again and it feels as if it's the only thing she can do these days. A dark, grumpy little grumble but, in fairness, it's got to be an improvement on her actively and literally snarling at people. We take wins where we can get them. Alice's smile turns extra sweet as she leans back enough to stare at the pouting vampire face between her warm hands. "Are you even well enough to leave? Do you want a moment with any of the Cullens?"

"Fit as a fiddle, and why would I?" She asks quizzically.

Bella's brows furrow. "Because you're about to leave and forget friggin' everything?"

"I'm not leaving them, I'm down there with them right now."

"Ugh, not gonna miss that," the vampire scoffs. She looks at Alice, in that faint sort of scrutinizing way she does when she's thinking. "How was it?"

"What?" Alice plays ignorant. Her hands slip from chilly cheeks to instead start fixing the bed.

"Well, well, well, who is pretending to not know the answer of the question whose answer… wait. Who. No, wait. What the fuck?"

Her heart utterly charmed by the angrily confused girl struggling in the middle of the room, Alice sighs and sits on the edge of the bed. "Just let it go, it was barely witty to begin with. And it went fine, she's fine. Perfectly fine."

"That is not how you describe yourself, either of you!" Bella gasps in amusement and tosses herself onto the bed, chin in her palm. "Tell me everything!"

"There's nothing to tell, Bella, stop giving me that look. She brought me soup, we had a really weird conversation, and then she left."

"Did you talk about me?"

"Narcissist," Alice scoffs.

"Well, what else are you gonna talk about?"

"We talked about me, actually."

Again, Bella looks mildly confused. "You or you?"

"Yes."

Gold studies blue quietly. "You make my head hurt."

And blue crinkles happily. "Maybe your head is far too easily hurt?"

"The meanest gremlin I've ever met."

"I wonder why," Alice snaps and jabs at Bella's side. Her vampire is generous enough to pretend it might actually do something, and wiggles out of reach. "Is there anyone you need to talk to before we leave?"

"No - well? No. But? No. Yes." Alice watches her fumble through the entire thought, ever patient and ever amused, as Bella taps on her chin. "I think so. Once I drop you off, I'm not going to want to wait to… rescue you. You're safe right now-"

"Right now is relative, darling, there's no such thing. I am always and never safe."

"-so I have some time."

Alice waits for her to finish the thought and tilts her head to the side, voice soft and a little hesitant. "Do you need to speak with Esme?"

"No, I…" Bella's eyes widen. "Wait, do I? We did the whole reveal thing and addressed it. I think… I think we're both just kind of absorbing it?" She shakes her head. "I can't anyway, that's one too many things right now. I wanna focus on you until you're relatively," she makes a face and sticks her tongue out, "safe and sound."

A moment passes. "You need to talk to her, don't you?"

"I literally cannot handle any sliver of jealousy right now." It's different now, she notices. Maybe because they had a conversation? It's the only thing she can think of that has changed since she left, since the human was teasing her and her vampire counterpart. Now it's… shallow. A flimsy smile and shadows in her eyes. "Do you want me to… send someone in?"

Alice tilts her chin up. "I, in fact, have working legs and will not retain anything I learn by walking through this house. I'll find someone. Maybe Rosalie."

"Okay but… just be careful, she can be real mean sometimes. She kicked me across a field once and I'm still not over it."

Again, Alice looks mildly confused. "Why is she your best friend then-"

"Shhhh! She's not! She's not, you misheard!" In the blink of an eye, Bella is across the room with her hand over the human's mouth and clearing her throat. "I said she's my chest… bend...er…"

"You are such a dork!" Alice laughs- muffled, and skips down the hall when Bella gives her a light shove.

.

.

.

Finding herself back outside the pixie's room, Bella sighs deeply in her chest and stretches her back until something cracks delightfully. She's not even really sure it's supposed to but by god, it feels good. Her pale hand raises, extra careful not to put it through the door.

It opens before she can even touch it - Alice is there with eyes as black as her hair, the softest of smiles hiding the sharpest of pain. She looks entirely too small these days and Bella misses the enormous personality that's usually taking up the whole room. "You took your sweet time."

"I-"

"I'm joking, Bella. You poor thing, I really should be nicer to you," she laughs gently.

Bella slouches, a pout across her jaw. "At least spare me the tag-team."

"Of course, darling," she promises with another little chuckle, brushing her thumb over the scar on her mate's chin. "I'm much better at it, anyway. All of her jokes are outdated."

"I give up," Bella sighs out, ever tired.

The smile on Alice's face just widens. "What brings you to my corner of the house?"

"I'm here to - hey. Will I move into your room now?"

Those black eyes widen, startled, and Alice pauses. Like a motionless cat caught off guard, trying to calculate a graceful reaction. One of the many watches in the room ticks, and she turns to head back towards the laundry she was folding before. "Is that something you want?"

"Is it something you want?" Bella fires back. When was the last time someone just answered one of her damn questions? When was the last time either of the Alices just answered her question? "It's your room, after all."

"I want you to be happy and comfortable, Bella."

"Pretty sure it was a yes or no question," Bella grumbles and picks up an old wind-up clock. Possibly Jasper's? Is he still in the process of moving out? Did she just slap the elephant in the room?

"Then yes."

Red flicks up quickly, studying that hauntingly lovely face. "Yes?"

"Of course, I want to be around you as much as I can," Alice explains but there's some kind of frustrated echo in it. "How do you feel about it?"

Bella lifts and drops a shoulder, a subtle smirk on her lips. "I simply cannot get enough of you, Alice. I'd love to share a space."

"I feel as if we are somehow both in the middle of and having completely skipped the courting aspect of our relationship."

She hums and puts the clock back down, careful not to disrupt anything. She can't even imagine the horror of breaking something in here - Alice's or Jasper's, and maybe she gets what the pixie is saying. She feels like a life-long lover and stranger all in one, stepping on eggshells in a room she's not sure will ever be hers too. "Oh, there was courting. I wooed the hell out of you."

"Did you?"

"There were ferris wheels, I may have punched a guy, espionage at a jewellery store, I took you sailing in Greece, we had a moonlit picnic in France. We're romantic as fuck, Alice."

Fabric rips and Bella looks up in time to see the torn shirt in Alice's hands before she can ball it up and toss it to the other end of the bed, roughly straightening out her pile of folded shirts. It's the most hostile she's ever seen the vampire... that she can remember clearly. Her death is still mostly fuzzy and unclear. "Good. Great. I'm glad."

"Did I-"

Each girl steps towards the other until they bump into each other, Bella's hands on Alice's shoulders as Alice holds up an accusatory finger to the sky. "I never used to have a problem not remembering anything!"

"Am I-"

"And now it is absolutely all I can think about all day!" she continues heatedly. Staring through Bella, glaring at something or nothing at all. Her entire frame trembles very slightly, with anger? Sorrow? Jealousy? Maybe all of it. "Now I am consumed by what I have lost because… it's you." Alice shakes her head slowly and looks up at Bella finally. "I lost you and I can feel it."

There's not much Bella can say to fix that, she knows, and she knows that Alice knows that. But they tried ignoring it and here they still are, it's not something that can be ignored, it's just a. A thing. A stupid, tragic thing.

Bella gently squeezes Alice's shoulders. "This is kind of what I came here to talk about."

"The fact that I lost you?"

"No - well," she wobbles her hand in the air and shrugs, "kinda, actually, yeah. You've been… honestly, patient like a saint with all my shit? I wanna return the favour. I know you're going through things."

Alice sighs and looks away. "You have far more important things on your plate to deal with."

"Not really!" Bella insists. Tries to duck her head to look into Alice's eyes but gives up on the stubborn girl, and instead goes to sit on the end of the bed. "You're on my plate. There's two of you, but they're you. You are what I find important, in every regard. The other one is… vulnerable? Just a different situation, but I'd be here with you every moment if I could. You're getting a divorce because of me."

Finally, Alice looks at her with those uncharacteristically dark eyes, like she's dissecting something. It's a little jarring to go from one Alice totally open, honest, and happy to share anything she feels… to another that's practised in selecting what she says and does, careful of who sees and hears it. "We never should have been married in the first place, it's not because of you."

"Fair."

"He was my best friend."

She feels. Well, she's not sure how she feels about defending the man, but… "He made a very, very bad mistake with good intentions."

"He manipulated my feelings, Bella!" Alice snarls, well and truly snarls, loud enough it shakes the walls.

Red eyes widen and dilate, and Bella swallows the drastically different feelings she's having now. She does wonder, though, how it happened. If Alice snarled and yelled at Jasper, or if she simply gave him the Cold Boot out of her life. He lingers and wallows around the lower floors like a wraith of sorrow, unable to look anybody in the eye, but she's not sure if he'd still be here if Alice was hostile like this.

Maybe this is what she needs, then? To vent? Get it out?

"It was a horrible thing to do-"

"It was despicable! Horrible was simply not telling me we weren't mates. He went past that and forced a bond, a deep, deep bond that only strengthened over seventy years, knowing one day it would rip. That I would have to feel like this!" she gasps out, clutching her chest.

Alarmed, Bella jolts to her feet, hands out uselessly as she tries to - nope, not sure. She just flounders there, uncertain. "Alice?"

"I have to mourn a false mate lost," she explains in a hoarse voice. "Perfectly copied, perfectly crafted, a mirror to our own bond, you and I. It's not just gone, it's torn… and it hurts."

Bella swallows roughly as she listens. Closes her eyes when she feels the rage clawing at the inside of her chest like a caged beast, an echo of her life stumbling through history without either Alice. A life she buried, a life she wants nothing to do with anymore. She wants to be better.

She promised she would be better. Try harder.

"I'm sorry, Alice," she whispers and pulls the pixie into her arms, ignores her ribs cracking at the grip Alice has on her. "I can't imagine how that feels, I'm sorry he did that to you, and that you have to suffer it now. I don't know what I can do to help but I promise I'll do it when I do."

"Just." Alice's voice is muffled against Bella, hugging ever tighter. "Don't move for five minutes. You are absolutely like trying to hold onto smoke."

"Okay."

They stand there in silence for a while, clutching each other like it's their first and last hug.

"Hey, Alice? Can we move into the attic?"

"You're such a dork, Bella. Yes."

.

.

.

"And then we just kinda hugged for like, two hours? In silence. Is that weird?"

Alice, done up in white feathers, sparkles, glitter, and beads stands in line next to Bella, waiting for their turn to get in. She's never really sure why they still wait in lines, ever since Bella was turned people literally trip over themselves trying to get on her good side. Whether that's because of her beauty or the dangerous glint to her grin, Alice still isn't sure, but it's there. "It seems weird to me but that's mostly because I don't think I could stay still that long. You are half statue, I swear, sometimes I poke you just to make sure you still can move."

"Really? And I try so hard to be better at it than the Cullens, it always used to freak me out," Bella murmurs thoughtfully, brushing her knuckles against her jaw. "Hm. I'll have to try harder, I suppose."

"Either way, it sounds like things are on a healthier path for the two of you," Alice continues and they both step forward as the line moves. "I'm proud of you for going and initiating it on your own. Good job, darling."

The vampire scoffs and looks away, embarrassed at how much of an effect Alice's words have on her. "Yeah, whatever. I'm pretty good at conversations now, I guess."

"I wouldn't go that far."

Her eyes widen. "You-!"

"We could just tell them we know Willowdean, I'm sure they'd let us in."

Another grumble, but Bella stuffs her hands in her pockets and makes sure the leather string is inside one of them and smirks just a little bit. They step forward again. "Despite how horribly you treat me when all I do is love you, I do have something for you."

"Do you ever think perhaps that I treat you so horribly because you have such a smart mouth?" Alice challenges without missing a beat. "You'll recall your very first jump, you were literally punched in the face because of it."

Something of a memory is dragged to the surface, old and faded, the details fuzzy from a life she's been simply and effectively removed from. An entirely new… thing? is she, that the memories of the other are from entirely different eyes, an entirely human mind. Like a journal worn and torn with degradation still holding information, if only just. Still, Bella rubs her jaw and grins. "I do, actually, haha. Fuck that guy."

"What do you have for me, my love?" Alice asks after a moment before Bella can get too lost. She does that sometimes, and Alice is ever curious as to where she goes. What happens behind the ruby red curtain of her eyes.

"Hm?" Bella blinks a few times and then snaps her fingers. "Ah, right. So, I know you've had your eye on this for a while…"

Alice watches Bella pull the ring on a leather strip from around her neck, eyes widening. "No, Bella! I couldn't, you've had that ring for as long as I can remember."

"I know."

Even as she tries to decline it, Alice smiles excitedly, gets that light in her eye whenever Bella does something sweet for her. She hops in place and quickly pulls off her own simple necklace - a silver chain, and holds out her hand. "Thank you, Bella. It's beautiful, where did you get it? It looks quite old."

"Oh it is, but I'm sure you'll figure it out," Bella tells her with another wide grin and starts looking around as they get closer to the door. "Hey, can you do me a favour?"

"Anything, of course."

She kicks off her boots and shrugs out of her heavy coat, holding them out to the pixie. "Keep an eye on these for me, I'll need them in a second, I just have to do something real quick."

"I really need to start asking what the favour is before I agree." Alice sighs, lightly shaking her head. "Fine, fine, abandon me to wait in line with your items, darling."

With an all too charming chuckle, Bella slips from the line to the corner of the building. "Whatever would I do without you? I'll be two relative seconds and whatever you do, don't look at this crate back here."

She waits. Really, she does. As long as she can, which… you know, might have even been a whole minute, but when Bella acts so vague it's hard not to do the exact opposite of what she says.

So Alice hesitates just a moment before slipping out of line as well, walking around the corner to look at a very ordinary crate. "I swear to the gods, Bella, if-"

"Jesus!" The word is more or less garbled as a warm, clumsy body nearly tackles Alice off her feet.

.

.

.

Their shoes clack against the wet pavement of a street bathed in midnight, two lone lovers walking hand in hand. An endless sea of stars above them, a moon very nearly full and illuminating the city around them. A crisp night breeze plays with Bella's loose mane of hair and Alice's dress, it has her crossing her arms for warmth.

"You'd think the future seer would have brought a coat," Bella murmurs fondly and slips out of her cardigan to drape around the pixie.

Alice scoffs. "Why would I do that when I know you've taken to wearing layers for me? Also, you are on my list!"

"Is it a good list?"

"No, it's - when is it ever a good list?"

Bella shrugs. "Santa?"

"He has a Naughty List and a Nice - Bella, you gave me your ring to just give back to you!"

"Oh, that." A slow, sly grin spreads across the vampire's lips and she chuckles fondly. "Yeah, that was great. I found that kind of stuff infuriating in the beginning but I'm starting to see the appeal. She was a little shit."

Alice gasps and lightly smacks her girlfriend. "Bella! No! You were so cute!"

"I-" She looks down at Alice incredulously, stopping in the middle of the street. "I was rude, angry, and physically done with everything. There was frost clinging to her seat!"

Alice sighs, a fond smile on her face as she clasps her hands under her chin. "Yes, but you wore it all so well. So grumpy and gruff and lost, I just wanted to hug you and make everything better."

"You will. Did." Pale hands raise, a knuckle brushed against Alice's warm cheek as Bella commits this face, this moment to a crystal clear memory. Things get jumbled, sometimes momentarily out of reach, but never forgotten, not anymore. "You changed my life, Alice."

"That is. Quite the understatement," she agrees around a bigger sigh. "Any regrets?"

"No."

"You sound quite certain of that."

"Good."

Alice pulls away to go into her bag, pulling a small leather notebook from it. Bella listens to the pen scratch the paper, not an uncommon phenomenon these past two or three weeks. Many nights she's come back from a hunt to find Alice still awake, huddled close to a dying candle, scribbling away in that journal. This one happens to be her second, nearly complete.

Shoulders slumping, Bella waits patiently. "I was sort of building up to a moment there."

"Hm?"

"A real romantic one," she drags her hand across the air, ever the showman, "leading to a fireworks worthy kiss framed by moonlight. Perhaps some of my best work."

Alice grunts but doesn't look up. "Oh, sorry."

"What if I was about to propose?"

Still not looking up, Alice laughs in that little delighted way she does that makes Bella's chest feel like it's full of helium and she might float away. "My love, you've proposed to me four times now and I cherish every single one, but the gravitas of it was left behind with the first one."

"Just wait a hundred years," Bella grumbles around a pout. "Gonna blow your mind when I propose again."

The book snaps shut and Alice wraps the string around it twice, looking up with a big smile. "Done!"

"Done?" Bella echoes curiously and tilts her head. "You've been quite the little author of our exploits lately, any chance I can get a peek at the first edition?"

"Sometimes I think we use too many words just to say one thing. And no." Bella opens her mouth to say… something, but Alice has moved on by the time she actually thinks of anything to say. "You've met yourself."

"That was just throwing me over a bar. Another time though, yes, I did. One of the weirder conversations of my life."

"I believe that," Alice agrees, perhaps one of the few people who could truly appreciate it. Her brows furrow, a complicated thought churning in her mind, Bella can see it. "Was it… you? Did it feel like you? Or someone else entirely?"

Bella places her hands on her hips, dredging up another set of poor quality memories. Sometimes she feels as if her entire vampiric life is just trying to remember the human one, and wonders how long until it becomes irrelevant. "I mean, I was separate from myself, she was another me. Physically." She closes an eye, replaying that moment in her mind again and again. "An absolute ass but… happy? It felt like me, like I was alone there, talking to myself, almost like a reflection and vexatious inner monologue? If that helps."

For a moment she says nothing, just tucks that away and stares at Bella. Long enough to make the vampire twitch before she smiles and nods. "Yes, actually."

"Was it not like that for you?"

"Is my doorstep our very last stop?"

And, well, Bella is nothing if not patient when it comes to Alice, so she lets the very obvious deflection go. Slides her hands into her pockets and looks down the lone road, still too far to actually see her house. "I suppose."

"It's… something," Alice says with a click of her tongue and wonder in her voice. Her blue eyes study Bella closely, fondly, with a glint of disbelief. Like she is something out of a fairytale because, if not a fairytale, what exactly would you call this? Call her? "Thank you, Bella."

Of course, the vampire doesn't see it this way. Far from it. Ask the same question and she might tell you she was a nightmare thrust upon unsuspecting, endlessly kind people. "In the end, we're together, yeah, and I love that, I do, but you die, Alice. So maybe don't thank me."

"Darling, we're destined to die for each other, it's nothing to feel guilty about."

"Okay, Romeo, it's kind of a dark and dangerous view on it all," Bella chuckles weakly. "Nothing's more romantic than living for each other."

Alice merely hums and pulls one of Bella's hands from the pocket to hold in her own. "Are you nervous?"

"Are you?"

"Will you ever just answer my questions, Bella?"

"Will you?"

Another click of the tongue and shake of her head. "You are, by far, the most infuriating woman I have ever and will ever meet."

"The pot said to the kettle," Bella all but growls. A few beats pass, footsteps echoing on ahead of them, simultaneously here and there, and if that's not just poetic at this point, she's not sure what is. "What if I can't save you?"

"You will."

"I can't kill him. How am I supposed to absolutely stop him from harming you, without ending him completely? It's a very specific amount of shit-kicking to do, how do you measure that?"

Alice leans her head against a stone arm. "You'll figure it out."

"I have to bring Jasper."

"Do you still hate him?"

She considers it for a moment, doesn't have to look to know her eyes fade from the ruby red to an inky black. "Maybe more than before. I talked to Alice, the other… you know. It's worse than I thought it was? I thought it was just a lie. He's gonna really fuck you up, Alice."

"Well I don't look forward to that but, in the end, it brings me to you. I'll suffer what I must."

"You're so fucking tragic, Shakespeare."

The pixie scoffs and shoves Bella to the side with a hardly tamed grin. "Have you met you?"

"Objectively, my circumstances were really tragic and I wanted no part in them. You're, like, into it!"

"Forgive me for being enthralled by you, being consumed by my love, that I'm not pouting about things I cannot change."

"Well, now I sound like an ass."

"Mhmm." Alice sighs and falls back in step with her vampire, burrowing deeper in the sweater. "A whole year without you, moment by moment without jumping forward… I am nervous. How long will it be for you?"

Bella's shoulders rise and drop in a shrug. "A few hours, maybe." She winces when jealous eyes flick up to her, and clears her throat. "When you left… when you will leave, before my first jump… I'll wait about a year before you first meet me and I see you again."

"If you can do it then I definitely can."

A playful snarl erupts from the vampire's chest in the same moment she scoops Alice up into her arms. "I'm gonna throw you off a cliff."

"You're far more likely to throw yourself off, given your history with tall buildings."

"I am telling your future self on you, she's very concerned by how often I fall from tall heights, and now she'll know it's because you planted the seed in my head."

Warm hands cup Bella's cheeks, Alice's smile radiant in the moonlight, her blue eyes sparkling with affection and mischief, and Bella is so thankful that she is a vampire in this moment, that she can lock it away in perfect clarity for the rest of her days. "I like you, Bella Cul."

"And I think you're pretty alright, Miss Brandon. Not the worst."

A dusting of pink crosses those pale, human cheeks, a sight so rare that Bella can count how many times she's seen it on one hand. "When we get to my house, before you leave, let me give you something."

She can't help it, not really. Her eyebrow is bumping up suggestively before she can stop it, before she even considers the double entendre.

Alice sighs good-naturedly, pressing her forehead against the quite thick vampire's. "A ring, you delightful dolt. For me, this time. It was my mother's from my father but she no longer wears it with… well, it's been put away for me."

"Oh…" If she had a heart that still could, Bella knows it would have skipped a beat. "Of course, Alice."

The blue is ringed with red, tears that the stubborn pixie refuses to let fall for an impressive amount of time. "And Cynthia, when you get back, remind me of Cynthia, she might still be… I mean, if nothing bad happens…"

"I will check on her often, Alice, I promise. Nothing bad will ever happen to your sister, I swear."

The tears finally fall as Alice desperately tries to hide them by burying her face in the vampire's shoulder, hugging her as tight as she possibly can. "Bella, please… I know it's a painful irony, but please…" she sniffles and pulls back to look at her friend. Her lover. Her wife. Her future. "Please don't forget me."

"Never," Bella swears.

Never.

Chapter Text

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?"

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.

.

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!"

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.

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.

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.

.

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.

Chapter Text

The wind whips at their coats and hair, threatening to carry off Alice's scarf altogether, and if Bella could fight the wind, she would. The audacity it has to try and take anything from her girlfriend.

 

But the wind is the wind and Bella is trying to learn that even she has limits to what she can do. That, and she'd really rather not embarrass herself in front of Alice by taking a swipe at nothing. Besides, this is neither the time nor place, and it's a moment Bella won't disturb.

 

Her eyes scan over the headstone again, tracing that old, familiar name. She wonders what Alice thinks, how she feels in this moment. How you're supposed to mourn someone you knew and don't know. A sister you cannot remember anything about. She wonders if that might make this easier or if it isn't harder because of it. Grief is a terrible burden. She can't imagine complicated grief. 

 

"There's no date, when did she…?"

 

Bella crouches down to pull some of the autumn leaves from the face of the stone. "Nearly twelve years ago. I didn't attend in person, I went myself later, in case you'd ever like to go yourself."

 

"Was it-"

 

"Peaceful," Bella says with a soft smile, glancing up at the pixie and her stoic face. "She had a long and happy life full of children and grandchildren, with a loving husband who adored them all. It was a good life."

 

Glittering obsidian shifts to Bella, scrutinizing her like a puzzle, and if not for the spark of warmth inside that gaze, Bella might feel threatened. "And what of our father?"

 

"Oh, that. Tragic luck. Seems he succumbed to a terrible bout of paranoid schizophrenia. Delusions of a red-eyed demon hunting him. Poor widower got himself locked away in a dark little hole to rot the rest of his days."

 

Alice's lips curve up ever so slightly. "Bella…"

 

"What? Nothing to do with me," she murmurs, oh so innocently. Bella stands back up, brushing off her hands and looks down at the grave. "All the years I knew her, she had this… familiar twinkle in her eye." Bella glances over at the calculating pixie and nods, pointing at her face. "Yes, that one. As if she knew something I didn't. What are you scheming?"

 

"In due time, my love," Alice coos and holds out her hand, lacing their fingers together. “For now, we have far more pressing matters to attend.”

 

“Like our first date.”

 

Alice’s head tilts and her sad smile turns to something much more fond. “Technically, yes. Literally, it will be our… well, you’d know better than me. But we’ve been dating for one hundred years, darling.”

 

“If you wanna melt your brain trying to define and quantify our relationship through actual time travel, be my guest. I gave up before I died and I have no interest in taking up the mantle again,” Bella grumbles. “Pretty sure it literally gave me a nosebleed.”

 

“Besides,” Alice sings and rolls her eyes. “I was talking about one of the other many, many loose threads that still need to be dealt with. Victoria?”

 

Bella holds up one finger as she begins to count. “She and Anne are going to travel back to England. Something about a fresh start, to finally pick up where they left off, and find Malia.”

 

“Did you turn her?”

 

“Hell if I know. I don’t think so? England was full of vampires back in the day, though. A Pale Face hotspot, it was the country that went bump in the night. Only one I’ve ever known to compete with their numbers was China.”

 

Alice’s eyebrows bump up. “Please tell me you don’t have any loose threads with the-”

 

“The Red Scale? Maybe. But! In my defense… I was super depressed and technically human at the time. Second!” Bella holds another finger up and decidedly ignores Alice’s incredulous look. “I’m pretty sure Willowdean is my little, eh, progeny? So we have to go visit her and have a conversation at some point.”

 

Shaking her head, Alice lets a heavy sigh heave her shoulders. “Anne was crossed off the list, as was I. We’re keeping an eye out for someone named Henry.”

 

“Oh, I forgot about him. That dude almost killed me.”

 

“Bella-”

 

“So did Rosalie, you can’t hold it against him.”

 

“She did not try to kill you.”

 

“She kicked me really, really hard.”

 

“You have to let that go, darling-”

 

“Over my cold, dead body!” Bella declares loud enough to make one of the graveyard groundskeepers give her a weird look. She shrinks back down and takes up Alice’s hand again, walking at a more brisk pace. Her next point is a little more sensitive and needs to be broached with tact but tact has never been Bella’s strong suit. She waits until they’re back in the parking lot, staring at Alice over the top. “Jasper sent me another text requesting we go see him at his place.”

 

The rigidity with which Alice had been slowly losing from her shoulders comes back. She looks up at Bella sharply when the girl mentions his name, to the point that Bella holds up her hands in surrender. “I don’t-”

 

“I’ll tell him to get fucked,” Bella rushes out and drops into the seat. She waits for Alice to get in, the engine roaring to life. “If you want me to. If you want to see him, that’s okay, too. We’re all taking this at your pace, Alice.”

 

“And if I asked you to rip his throat out?” she grumbles darkly.

 

“He’d be without a throat in the forty-three minutes it took me to run there.”

 

The pixie stares out the windshield for a long moment, her hands on the steering wheel. Thoughts churning like gears in her head, that darkness creeping back in. A new crack that, while isn’t bleeding anymore, still hurts. Haunts her, in the memories that were replaced. Jasper changed her from who she was. That betrayal, the lie… it’s the burden they all have to carry now, to make this possible. Being here. 

 

But it still changed them all. Marked them.

 

Alice shakes her head and takes a deep breath. “I’m not ready to deal with that yet. I gave him seventy years, he can give me a few weeks.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“What else is on the list?”

 

Bella hums and pulls out an actual little notepad from her coat, flipping through the pages. “Alphonse needs help moving his bar across the city, Edward asked me to look into what the hospital did with his mother’s body because he and Carlisle had to leave in a hurry. Am I going to have to steal her body?”

 

“It was before my time,” Alice frowns and reaches over to pat Bella’s thigh. “Mass body burning isn’t unheard of in-”

 

“Wh-”

 

“Best not to think of it now, sweet thing. Rosalie and I will go with you. Think of the date instead.”

 

Bella’s head tilts to the side and in the same moment, she’s pulling her sleeves up to study the ink etched into her skin. Her eyes narrow. “Which date?”

 

There isn’t an immediate answer and after a few moments of searching and waiting, Bella looks up again to see Alice watching her. The smile on the pixie’s face is fond and warm, and the sympathetic tension Bella was carrying in her shoulder eases. She merely lifts a questioning brow and Alice sighs softly. “My, but if all of that hasn’t been worth this, here…” she muses gently. Her hand reaches out, tucking a lock of Bella’s wild, dark hair behind her ear. “You make me happy, darling.”

 

The other eyebrow ticks up and Bella melts just a little bit. Her rough, sharp edges soften and smooth under her girlfriend’s gaze, and though her smile is small, it’s genuine. “Well… good, that’s. Honestly, that’s all I’ve wanted for a long time now.”

 

“I’m not sure I deserve you.”

 

“Oh, I’ve been an absolute shit to basically everyone,” Bella scoffs and chuckles just a little. Regret burns subtly within but she’s slowly making her peace with the past. "Besides. Who in life has ever actually gotten what they deserve? We take what we get and make it our own."

 

Alice's thoughtful face lights up with more of that warmth, of a small, glowing pride as she stares at her girlfriend. "What a very reassuring point you make. I suppose that makes you mine?"

 

"Always."

 

"Past, present, and future too, hm?"

 

.

.

.

 

The grandfather clock at the end of the hall ticks and Bella can hear it echo all the way back to her, back to this office, with the two of them. She listens to it bounce off each wall and ring in her ears, feels it settle in her chest with a hum while she waits for the next one. How acutely aware she is of time, she has always been of time. Each moment, each second as it passes. When she was human, how agonizingly slow it went, each brutal hour she was made to endure, knowing thousands and thousands of more were next in line. Counting years until she could be done.

 

And now eternity stretches out before her. 

 

Forever.

 

They say time loses its meaning for an immortal. That once you escape its prison, you see it for the joke it was. The cruel, horrifying joke it was.

 

She suspects that there is a good chance she might be waiting for the punchline a long while. 

 

"It's a process, Bella. A commitment. There is no two-step fix for this situation because this situation is your life. You know it's never the same anger, it's new and different each time, for each occurrence. I'm not here to fix you, I'm here to help you cope with it, to help you live with it, and help lessen its impact on your life."

 

Carlisle's voice breaks through the barrier she never really intends on putting up and yet finds it up, all the same. The ticking fades away to background noise, buried under layers of life that fills this house. Of bustling vampires, of her mortal father awkwardly making small talk in the kitchen, of Sam meeting with Esme to update her on Council relations. Life thrives over, under, and within the noise. 

 

Life thrives.

 

Bella adjusts in her chair. She presses her fingertips against her chin, hugs her elbow against her ribs while she drags her crimson gaze over to her… father figure? Another father that isn't actually related to her? A future father-in-law? "Emmett told me your theory," she tells him patiently. Her issues, these issues, they don't happen to be his fault and he's gone out of his way to help her. The least she can do is give him effort. "That how you die stays with you for the rest of your life - unlife, I think, were his words." 

 

"It is one of many theories I have, yes," Carlisle agrees with a placating smile that rings just a little too genuine to be merely a therapeutic tool. There's irony, somewhere in here, being able to see that they actually do care about her. "From patterns that I have witnessed."

 

"Edward died in his depression, that's why he's…" Bella clicks her tongue and tilts her head to the side. "Like that. And Emmett was having a grand old time before he died, but he's just a little too skittish beneath all his bravado. Esme's heart was broken over her loss, that's why she loves so hard . You made your peace, you were ready, and Alice got a… clean slate," she all but growls.

 

His golden eyes watch her closely, study her. She can see the gears turning in his head just as surely as he must see her own. "I wouldn't disagree with those observations."

 

"Rosalie… I'm not sure anyone else is capable of such fury." A thought occurs to her and she sits up, reaches out to ghost her fingers along the polished corner of his nice desk. "Does she come here-"

 

"I help any who ask," is his answer. Confirmation or not, it's all he'll give, and she can respect that. "What about you?"

 

"What about me?"

 

He smiles in that faintly amused way of his, even as she grumbles and crosses her arms, sinking back into her chair. "Your… transition is fairly unique."

 

"I was at peace," she huffs. He simply waits, watching her, and Bella gets up from the chair. She makes a b-line for his bookshelf, feeling just a little more comfortable with his gaze on her back instead of her face. "I wanted to be at peace, that must count for something. I was okay with dying."

 

"Were you?"

 

"Yes." She runs her fingers down the spine of a title she cannot pronounce in a language she can't even name. "I think? I was before. Maybe… maybe I just wanted to be okay with dying, too." She drops her chin to her chest, squeezing her eyes shut. "When I was angry, I wanted to be over it. And when I wasn't angry anymore, I wanted to be. That's fucked up, isn't it?"

 

"We have very little choice in how we feel, Bella. Our control only comes in when we decide what to do about it," Carlisle tells her gently. "Do you want to be angry now?"

 

"No, that's why I'm here with you!" she turns to snap at him, feeling her eyes grow heavy with their own darkness. She clenches her fists and breathes deeply. Once. Twice. Until the pins and needles fade, until she can feel the red coming back to her eyes. "I didn't die angry so why am I always angry?"

 

Slowly, for her benefit or his, she's not sure, but slowly Carlisle stands up and clasps his hands behind his back. "I don't think you are."

 

Again, her head tilts, but it's confusion colouring her face, her brows furrowing. "I don't-"

 

"You said yourself, you wanted to be okay with dying," he explains and walks around the desk to lean against the end in a more casual, less heavy manner. "But you weren't. You weren't okay with dying, you weren't okay with us leaving, you weren't okay with Alice being with Jasper, you weren't okay with your life. It was too much or perhaps not enough. Whatever the cause, it was hurting you, and you were desperately trying to defend yourself."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

He shrugs very simply. "Your anger, reasonably so, became a tool for you to use to protect yourself. I suspect that's why you tried so hard to hang onto it even after you were no longer angry. I have seen you… pop out of rooms, arguments, fights, more times than I can count. And if you're not running, you're enraged. Spitting fire, as Edward has so delicately put it," he says with a little smile. "Bella, I don't think your anger is a problem, I believe it is a habit. I am of the mind that your issue lies in trust, in your desperate need to protect yourself, to defend yourself. Against it all, good or bad."

 

She steps back and watches his golden gaze drop to her shoe, like some kind of confirmation, and she forces herself to stay there. Some subconscious act of defiance that roots her to the spot. Keeping herself here, calm, not angry, and not fleeing. Trying to prove him wrong, but why? "I'm not… how do I… that's not something I can fix."

 

"No," he agrees and Bella feels her dead heart drop in her chest. Feels the walls set in just a little tighter, the air just a little less breathable. "It's something we broke, it will be something that we fix. With time and the extraordinary patience you seem to have, even as a newborn."

 

Bella nods, faintly, registers what he says but already she can feel herself trying to bury it. Trying to think of ways she can do it, on her own, and pretend that they helped her, that they did it. Because if she can fix it, it will get fixed or she won't fix it. Those are the two finite options.

 

But that's not the situation, that's not the case. It's not up to her alone, it involves the others. 

 

And who knows if they can fix it? Fix her? An unknown option, open-ended…

 

That's trust, isn't it?

 

.

.

.

 

"So… you were a pirate, then?" Theo asks.

 

Rivia hooks her little elbow around one of the bars on the spinner, leaning up as she scrutinizes Bella. "Or she still is, if she can go back there whenever she wants!"

 

The vampire let's out a less than dignified puff of air and grabs at the bars, careful to most gently spin the ride for the kids gathered on it. Paul's little cousins squeal with excitement, clinging to the metal bars as the world blurs around them. Bella rests her hands on her hips. "I'm not sure I qualify, there's a dreadful lack of plundering. I'm also the world's most forgetful vampire and I keep losing my boat."

 

"Ship," Rosalie corrects across the empty park. Her eyes never leave the kids on the swings as she pushes them, ready to grab up anyone whose tiny hands slip from the chains. 

 

The irony of two blood-drinking vampires watching a bunch of children alone, yet those children never having been more safe in their lives, is not lost on Bella. "Boat, ship, same difference. They both float."

 

"That is why you are not a pirate," the blonde murmurs. "And your head was never meant for hats."

 

"I'm literally gorgeous."

 

"You look like a puppy anytime you put on a hat, Bull." Those golden eyes flick up in the same second they drop back down to the kids. "My puppy."

 

Theo watches her each time his side of the spinner comes around. He holds his cheeks in his palms, they're mushed up around his eyes, and he's got quite possibly the cutest pout Bella has ever seen in her life. "Well, now I need a new thing to bring in for Show And Tell," he huffs.

 

Bella grabs at the bars and spins it again, stepping on with unnatural ease. She sinks down to sit next to the little boy, looking out into the trees that surround the park. All the colours blurring together only if she unfocuses her eyes, reds running into oranges, into yellows. Autumn is beautiful. "Why's that?"

 

"I was gonna bring you in, I kept bragging about my auntie being a real life pirate! They're gonna make fun of me now."

 

She tilts her head to look down at the little fella. His little furrowed brows, the way they pinch together, the way his fingers curl into his puffed out cheeks. "Alright," she tells him with a heavy sigh. "I'm pretty sure I know where I can get my hands on the Scuttles Medallion."

 

"What-"

 

"The pirate king's necklace. Very fancy, very old. Would that satisfy your classroom critics?" she asks. Theo's eyes light up and he nods, watching her intently as she pulls out a marker and digs her feet into the ground. "This is gonna be complicated because, you know, time travel. But I want you to go to that tree over there and look for an X that marks the spot."

 

She's hardly finished saying the words before Theo tears off through the park as fast as his legs can carry him. He's halfway there when Rivia gasps in wonderment and claps her hands, watching Bella blip out of the park. "Here? Is it here?" Theo calls back to her and wilts a little when he doesn't find the vampire.

 

By the swings, Rosalie merely shakes her head.

 

But the boy is adamant and studies the bark of the tree closely. He drags his little fingers over it, searching for an X, scrutinizing each and every groove. The seconds tick by and his excitement dwindles, his shoulders slowly slumping. "It's not… it's not here…"

 

"Oh for f-udge sake," Bella grumbles and steps back from the tree… three trees down from his. She scratches at the back of her neck and cranes her head back to look up at it and over to his, comparing them. "I got the wrong tree. Well, same sentiment, at least," she tells him and holds out the old, muddy shovel in her hand. "Should be four feet down right… here."

 

At the click of her tongue, Bella looks up towards Rosalie who holds onto the chains of Sean's swing. "You need a better system."

 

"Hey! It's not my fault all trees look the same."

 

.

.

.

 

They've got a nightly routine that Bella isn't sure who, exactly, is holding onto. Is it Alice holding onto a habit she developed with a human Bella, falling back on familiar mannerisms as they explore their new and exciting (scary? Scary.) relationship? Or is it Bella, ever forgetful, going through the motions for an Alice that is no longer human and no longer needs her to take care of her? Honestly, Bella doesn't have a fucking clue, she just knows that this is What They Do.

 

Each night or sometimes in the very early hours of the morning, when everyone has drifted off into their pairs, to their rooms or out for a walk, or on a date, Bella finds herself up in their attic room with Alice. Going through the motions of unwinding from the day, kicking off her pants to flop back in the bed and just breathe for a while. And each time, Alice gets ready for bed, like she might actually drift to sleep. She picks out one of her many ( many ) nightgowns, goes around turning out all the lights, brushes her fingers over the cover of her book on the bedside table, and settles in.

 

Usually, Bella will crawl or fling her way up to the pixie for cuddles, but tonight she merely flops onto her side to look at her girlfriend. "You've touched the cover of that journal every night for the past four months, Alice. Are you ever going to read it? Or tell me what it is? Is it another one of Henry's manuscripts? Is it yours?" 

 

"Yes, to all but one," Alice replies with an affectionate smile. Her hand reaches out to brush Bella's hair back out of her face before the pixie's palm is pressed hard to Bella's forehead and the taller girl is shoved off the side of the bed. "Bella, you are covered in mud! This bed was clean!"

 

She hits the ground with a solid thud, flabbergasted, and can only lift herself to peek over the edge. "Did you just kick me out of our bed?"

 

"I pushed you out."

 

"You kicked? Me out?"

 

"Pushed, darling."

 

"Of our bed? Our marital bed?"

 

"I see no ring on my finger." 

 

Bella shoots up to her feet. "The gall? The audacity? After all we've been through, and you just kick me?"

 

"You're not a cat, I'm not sure where these theatrics are coming from," Alice muses mostly to herself as she settles back against her enormous pillow. Once she's found her perfect spot, she looks up at Bella and lifts an eyebrow. "Are you quite finished?"

 

"Can I come back to bed?"

 

And those golden eyes roll to the ceiling. "Bella, you are absolutely filthy. If you insist on wrestling with the dogs, you have to shower afterwards."

 

"Oh, I see what this is," Bella says, her fingers tapping rhythmically against her hips. She sucks on a fang, a sly twist to her lips while Alice's eyes narrow suspiciously. "You're trying to get me naked, trying to lure me into your bed."

 

A startled laugh is pulled from the pixie who barely has time to cover her mouth, her eyes wide and dancing with amusement. "I thought it was our bed? Our marital bed."

 

"So, you're asking me to perform wifely duties."

 

She can't stop the smile stretching across her face. "Bella, my darling, I was the one who made the one year rule-"

 

"But then you got thirsty."

 

"-and!" Another bark of laughter tinged with disbelief as Alice sits up. "Thirsty? Me? Oh, that is priceless, as if you didn't go stumbling through time for but a mere kiss from me, sweet thing."

 

"I-" Bella falters and looks away, up to the corner of the room as she uselessly points at her girlfriend. "Got me there. But I stand by my thirsty point, nonetheless. I've got my feminine wiles and you broke!"

 

"You're covered in mud, need I remind you. You have twigs in your hair like a preschooler's rendition of antlers." 

 

"You wanna hop aboard the Bella Train-"

 

"I'm certainly glad Esme helped soundproof this room, if only to spare my beloved such embarrassment."

 

"-a one way ticket to Boneville, backstage passes to the Swan Tour-"

 

"I am desperately, irrevocably in love with you."

 

"My ass is grass and you wanna mow it, you wanna pick up what I'm putting down, you'd like to taste my rainbow-"

 

Alice sighs softly, touching her chest over her heart as she sinks back into her pillow and reaches for the actual book she's been reading lately. "Are you quite finished now?"

 

"Yeah, I'm gonna go shower."

 

.

.

.

 

It's a weird thing to be bonding over. Their relationship has never been normal, exactly, her entire experience with the Cullens, from the very beginning, has been… unusual. Her experience with Emmett? Maybe moreso, she thinks. He was Edward's older brother for most of her time as a human, big and intimidating and never allowed around her unsupervised. He was the apologetic smile after every interaction she had with Rosalie. The boisterous voice saying what everyone was thinking but knew to keep quiet. 

 

Then he was the puppy dog eyes trying to reel her back into their family. The face of loss where she least expected it, someone mourning a broken relationship where she thought none was. He was the reassuring grin in the face of an overwhelming time traveling list of absolute shit. And then he was the only other pair of red eyes she knew well, lived with.

 

Now?

 

A brother, maybe? 

 

Definitely a fellow stalker of the dark, Seattle night streets. Looking for mortals who think they're preying on people, who have no idea that they're even on the menu, never mind the next one up. He's the large, looming figure in the dark that rapists and murderers run from, into her own awaiting arms. He's…

 

He's doing a handstand on a fence.

 

"Not that I don't enjoy your antics immensely," she begins and walks towards the fence, stopping with her face just a few inches from his hands. "But what the hell are you doing?" 

 

"I almost joined a circus, you know."

 

"I don't, that's news to me."

 

He looks at her a second before that lopsided (and now upside down) grin latches onto his face. "That's right. New and old, all at the same time. That's you."

 

"Will wonders never cease?" she deadpans.

 

Emmett rolls his eyes and even that is made more charming in the middle of his gymnastic act. "You don't really know anything about me."

 

"Or do I know everything and have been keeping it to myself?"

 

His ruby red eyes stare hard for a few moments before he scoffs. Twists until he can sit on the fence instead, and they both listen to it bend under his weight. "No, you don't know. Not really, you know the everyday stuff. Nothing deeper." 

 

"I know about your singer," she tells him.

 

"Bah, everyone knows about my singer." Emmett hums and looks down at her. "My first kill."

 

There's a twist of shame in his voice, in his face. Bella knows (she does know him, not everything, not even a lot, but she does know him) that he doesn't have hard feelings about killing people. Killing is, as he's agreed with her, very easy. People die so easily, killing them is just giving a little push, just speeding up the process. It's the people they kill. The ones that die, and if they deserve it. That's where their morality comes into play, and she suspects that Emmett knows it wasn't his singer's time. It shouldn't have been her.

 

"It stays with you. Marks you," Bella comments. She's not telling him, not exactly. Just… talking. "I can still hear the ringing, it was so loud that it took me off my feet. It was so loud."

 

She can still feel the weight of the gun in her hand. Can still feel the warmth of his blood splattered across her face.

 

"Shitty, the things that we remember and the things that we forget," he says around a sigh. Bounces his heels off the fence a couple times. "I only know how many sisters I had because Rosalie told me. I can't remember their faces."

 

"Hideous, if we go by family resemblance," she muses, her hands framing his face.

 

He hops off the fence to shove her back, his laugh echoing down the alley. She ducks under his neck swipe, pushing him back into the fence. "Handsome enough for the most beautiful woman in the world."

 

She scoffs. "Thanks, but you're not really my type."

 

"I was talking about Rosalie."

 

"Now, she is my type."

 

He pats at her shoulder, yanking her into his side for a mini bear hug. "Imagine my horror when I realized that you're hers, as well. Lucky me, you're mesmerized by Tink." 

 

Bella pries her face from his immensely impressive pec, her fingers digging into his ribs as he crushes her against himself. An infuriatingly warm bear hug. "I wouldn't do you dirty like that," she grunts and drives her elbow between his ribs just enough so she can slip out. "Rosalie, on the other hand, I would do very dirty." 

 

"I'm gonna put the moves on Alleycat."

 

"You can't, you won't. She's your sister. Rosalie is my incredibly enchanting Maybe." Bella straightens out her coat and re-ties her hair back into a messy bun and eyes him. "Who's yours?"

 

"My Maybe? What is that, my maybe in another life?" he asks. The sigh heaves his chest and he glances away, deep in thought, reaching up to scratch at his jaw. "I guess that's Eddie."

 

"No way!" Bella gasps in surprise. "That's wild, dude! I was shocked to hell when he and Henry started dating, but you too? Wow…" 

 

The smile on Emmett's face is bashful but there isn't a lick of embarrassment to be found. He nods, like even he is a little surprised by it. "Yeah, I don't know. He can be a bit of a tool sometimes, when he gets all up in his mind reading nonsense. Gotta shake him out of it, think of something that makes him all flustery and run off. I like doing that. And when he isn't being a tool, he's actually super sweet and thoughtful. He's a good guy."

 

"Plus, Jess never let me forget how beautiful he is. Every single day, my god, every other sentence was about the dude's face." Bella thinks hard, tries to drudge up her old, murky human memories. "What did she call him, what was it… it's a shoe now. Fuck, it was kind of pretentious… A-Adonis, yeah, that's it."

 

"You thought she called him Adidas?"

 

"Dude, Renee cannot remember anything. She got me, six year old me, to remind her about her own doctor's appointments. I can't remember anything and that was before the head trauma time traveling." Bella sighs softly, arms crossed as she stares at the friendliest giant she knows. Sees the way the moonlight catches the red of his eyes, and realizes how weird this is. What they're out here doing, that they're hunting humans to kill , to drain. And talking about crushes. "Edward, though? Edward?"

 

"Hey, I didn't make fun of yours!"

 

Bella laughs and lifts herself up onto the fence, away from his massive grabbing hands. She wobbles unsteadily for a few seconds, holding her arms out to the side. "That's because mine is a goddess and yours is Edward. There's a joke somewhere in there about him being a daddy's boy." 

 

"And I'm the incorrigible one," Emmett scoffs. His eyes narrow and Bella doesn't have enough time to brace herself- he grabs her shoe and lifts it, tipping her backwards off the fence. "I'm telling Rosie you have the hots for her."

 

"She knows," Bella informs him casually from the other side of the fence, flat on her back. "I'm very open about my ogling, it feels more respectful that way."

 

"I'm telling Alice."

 

"You'll be a widower and she'll be a widow."

 

He chuckles and hoists himself over the fence, his boots landing beside her face. "Yeah, but who would she kill first?" 

 

"You are twisted, my friend."

 

"Maybe. Now, let's go rip this dude's throat out before the woman notices he's following her." 

 

.

.

.

 

It's a cliche she finds herself partaking in more and more, that she's mostly on the fence about. On one hand, it's creepy and dramatic, tiring in the way that vampires always were to her when she wasn't part of the club. On the other? It's so stupid that it's funny and Bella has zero issues enjoying the small delights life has to offer. Life has, and always will, drag in the middle. The little things make it go faster, the small moments - big, too, but there are fewer of those, and they distract from how special the small ones can be.

 

So she's here, sitting on a chair in the darkest corner of an already dark room. Listening to the mortal drag his feet up the stairs, his heart beating in a steady rhythm. She can practically see the blood pumping through his entire body, running its track, straight through the wall. Her fangs throb as the bite in her throat burns, aches in its infuriating way.

 

(Carlisle has gone on and on and on about her self-control, about her mastery over her thirst. A mutant among vampires, that she doesn't suffer the bloodlust like everyone else does.

 

She doesn't have the heart to tell him that he could not be more wrong. It isn't patience or even some miraculous effect that keeps her from craving blood as much as the average vampire. She does , oh. Oh, she dreams of bathing the world in red, every mortal, every heartbeat runs the risk of having their throat ripped out just so she can soothe the ache in her own.

 

But she doesn't.

 

She won't.

 

Not because she's a saint, far from it. But because she's stubborn. She hates her thirst and has decided to make it the vampire in her's problem. Motherfucker wants to burn in her throat? Gonna burn and burn and burn then, asshole.

 

She's not sure Carlisle would understand even if she tried to explain that to him. Her offense at her own hunger is the only thing keeping the mortals around her alive.)

 

The door opens and light spills halfway into the room, though she remains untouched in her corner. She watches him fumble with his shoe, tossing it back at the door to close it again, and faceplant onto his bed. A tired groan escapes, muffled against the mattress, and his heartbeat slows ever so slightly as he begins to relax.

 

"You didn't set your alarm," she points out helpfully.

 

That slowing heartbeat kicks up into overdrive as the boy screeches and bolts up. His human eyes squint into the dark while he, ever so slowly, searches for his metal baseball bat in the dark. "Who the fuck-?"

 

"Me the fuck," she replies and sighs when he raises the bat. She lifts to her feet, stepping forward. "That's useless and you're going to hurt yourself."

 

He places her voice just a little too late, surprise across his face as he's swinging the bat down. "Bella?"

 

"Usually." The bat lands against her palm and she holds it there steadily. "That was kind of rude."

 

Mike's blue eyes blink rapidly, trying to force his sight to adjust to the dark. He let's go of the bat to instead grab at her shoulders, dragging her (dragging himself, really, she doesn't move. Forgets to move) into a hug. "Bella, what - how. You. I'm going to, to… fucking kick you! What the actual hell?"

 

Her own eyes squint as she tries to line up the dominoes of her life, her past. "Yeah, it's been a weird year for you, right?"

 

"Um…" The disbelief in his voice is palpable , and she feels kind of bad. Just a little. "Well, my best fucking friend disappears one day, just gone. Just gone , and the whole town spends weeks looking for you. I spend weeks looking for you. Thinking the worst because I'm the stupid idiot that knows you, knows what you became when they left you. Knows what you’re capable of doing to yourself."

 

"In my defense-"

 

Mike shakes at her shoulders and this time she does remember to move with him. "And then you turn back up and mostly nobody knows how, nobody knows what happened, we all just think you're back. But rumours start, someone hears from someone else that you're in the hospital because you look like death. Your disappearance starts to get weird in that Small Town kind of way. And then you escape from the hospital and disappear again. Not as long this time, but you come back even more different. No calls. No texts for me. You don't stop by, you don't say a word to me.

 

"You drop out of school? I think? You certainly don't show up, some people see you wandering around town sometimes but you're gone the next second. Some other students swear they see you out in the woods, drunk off your ass, swinging a gun around. And again, the stupid idiot I am, I go searching and again, of course, I never find you."

 

Yup. Yup, she definitely feels more than a little bad. Holy shit.

 

Mike sighs heavily and let's go of her shoulders, dropping to sit on the edge of his bed. He reaches for the lamp on the desk beside it, blinking against the light as he looks up at her. "Your dad stops looking for you, even when we all know you're not here. He must know where you are, he isn't losing his mind anymore. School goes back to normal, mostly. People still make up rumours about you, about the Cullens. That they're, like, fucking mormons or something and brainwashed you into joining their cult."

 

"I think I'm too gay for most cults."

 

He snorts, his eyes crinkling in happiness and familiarity, if only for a brief moment. But it fades, as does the smile on his face, and his shoulders slump. "You look so different."

 

Bella taps at her thigh, a comforting four beats. "Better?"

 

"Older. Impossibly," he says instead. "I know you."

 

"Yeah. Yeah, I couldn't hide this from you."

 

The room falls into a silence that isn't unbearable but far from comfortable. It stays like that for a little while, neither one knowing what to say, what to do. Bella tries to remember the hundreds of times she's been up in this room… but it feels like someone else's life. Far and distant from her, not hard to care about but. But like caring about a memory, like she's already made her peace with it.

 

They both have, she's pretty sure. He's not angry , he's just. Tired. 

 

"Bella, what the fuck, you're not breathing," he sighs and flings his hand out towards her. "What is that, what - do I want to know?"

 

"I mean, kinda? It's super fucking cool but also horrifying. I'm not sure," Bella fumbles with her words, wobbling her hand. "Maybe not."

 

“You’re hard to be friends with.”

 

The gravity in the room gets a little stronger, she can feel her shoulders being dragged towards the ground, and she slumps back down onto the chair. “Yeah, I’m an asshole.”

 

“No-” he pauses and lifts one of his shoulders. “Well, yeah, but that’s not why. I love you, you know that?”

 

Her hackles rise, just a little, and she looks off towards his tiny excuse for a bedroom window. Out into the street below, houses lined up and full of families, of people living their normal, regular lives. “That might be something I am vaguely aware of.”

 

“Always difficult,” he chuckles through a sigh and runs a hand back through his hair. “I have school in the morning, I need to sleep.”

 

Bella jolts back up to her feel like she’s been electrocuted. Feeling like… yeah, like she should leave. The conversation is done, things are - finished, in here. She makes it to the door, her hand curled around the handle when she stops. Stares down at her shoes. "Mike?” He grunts and she consciously takes care not to crush the knob in her hand. “Do you like your life? Besides the little things, the bullshit, do you like your life? At the end of the day, do you sleep easy?"

 

"Yeah… uh, yeah, I think I do." He flops back in his bed, kicking his other shoe off as he settles back.

 

She nods, once. Twice. "I was pretty sure. That's why I stayed away, why I'll stay away after this.” He sighs again and she opens the door, stepping into the light, unable to look back at him. “You're my best friend, Mike, and I will ruin your life. In the most extraordinary ways, and I know you'll never blame me for it. But I'll still do it."

 

“Bella,” he… just says her name. Almost helplessly.

 

And she gets it. She already knew, but now she knows. “You’re the one thing in my life I never broke, I never did wrong. I want - I need to keep it like that. I love you, Mikey.”

 

She waits another beat and finally smiles, closing the door behind her.

 

.

.

.

 

"The year is almost out."

 

Bella looks up from her book, turning to look over the back of the couch towards Alice tossing tinsel at the tree. Her brow quirks up as she watches her pixie dance around the enormous piece of fucking wilderness that these damn vampires call a tree. "...and?"

 

"Aren't you forgetting something?" she asks in that way. That way she does when she knows something that Bella doesn’t know - so pretty much the only way she ever talks, always talks. A sexy little Know-It-All, and Bella’s chest rumbles.

 

And then she registers what her girlfriend actually said, snorting to herself. "Is that supposed to be ironic?"

 

"Bella!"

 

Red eyes roll to the ceiling and she tucks her bookmark into place, setting the hardcover down on the couch next to her. She hooks her arm over the back of the couch, shifting her weight to lean there instead. "Yes, I'm forgetting something. I'm forgetting many things, that's kind of my deal."

 

Alice sticks her tongue out. Over a hundred years old and her go-to is tongue-sticking-out. "You are insufferable."

 

"And yet, you're madly in love with me. What does that say about you?” Bella purrs and smirks as Alice rounds on her, hand on her hip. Bella makes a smoochie face and Alice rolls her eyes this time, flinging a handful of silver tinsel. “The year is almost out, so it hasn't been a full year. I can't have missed an anniversary."

 

The pixie skips over with an amused chuckle, dextrous fingers helping pluck the tinsel from Bella’s wild mane of hair. "I don't know if I should enjoy watching you struggle or take pity on you and give it away."

 

"Keep your pity, wench. I'll figure it out."

 

She flicks Bella’s nose and turns away again. "Yes, I think I'll enjoy it twice as hard now, you absolute buffoon."

 

But before she can get too far, Bella reaches for her, snaking her arm around those hips to tug her backwards to the couch again. “It’s not an anniversary and I’m the only one who knows your birthday,” she hums into Alice’s ear, resting her chin on the girl’s shoulder.

 

Who reaches back with her hand, lightly slapping Bella’s cheek a couple times. “Are you, now? You know what they say about assumptions.”

 

“That I’m fantastic at them, of course,” Bella replies. She tilts her head down, kissing her girlfriend’s shoulder before bouncing her forehead off of it. Trying to think, trying to remember what she could be forgetting. “Is there a party we’re missing?”

 

“Darling, I never miss a party.”

 

“A dinner.”

 

“You’re getting colder.”

 

“Maybe you can warm me up?” she wiggles her eyebrows and Alice lurches forward, tugging Bella over the back of the couch, letting her scramble to her feet. “Alright, alright. I can take a hint.”

 

“I really don’t think you can. Even if I had a journal full of them and beat you over the head with it,” Alice laughs softly.

 

“I can too!”

 

She coos and cups Bella’s cheeks, lifting up onto her tiptoes to kiss that pout. “You are my favourite person.”

 

“You’re mine, usually,” Bella grumbles but cannot stop herself from melting for her pixie. Leaning into her, always pulled closer, needing to be closer, unable to look away. She’s beyond feeling embarrassed about how obvious the awe on her face is when she looks at Alice, the nauseating hearts in her eyes. “When you’re not teasing me.”

 

Alice hums and studies Bella’s face for a moment. Seemingly deciding something, she gives her girlfriend one last kiss before giving her a shove as well, sending her toppling back over the couch the other way. “I’m not teasing,” she sings and goes back to decorating the tree. “I’m dancing.”

 

.

.

.

 

She fiddles with the ribbon, staring down at the stack of cards in her hand. Stack is… relative, she supposes. She got a lot of strange looks in the store, and hiding these bastards has been a hell of a chore, but that’s all besides the point. This was a good idea.

 

“This is a horrible idea,” she whines and re-ties the bow. “This is a shitty present, I should have just bought her, like. A car. An island? Carlisle did that already, right? Is the moon purchasable? That’s weird, right, if I’m buying anyone the moon, it should be Alice. What if I tell Carlisle to buy Esme the moon and that can be my gift to her, giving her husband the most romantic idea ever.”

 

Edward watches her fret, a smile on his face as she lounges at the table. They’ve been spending more time together lately, particularly since he started dating Henry, and. They were wrong for each other romantically, nobody doubts that, and Edward is still a bitch sometimes.

 

Lots of times, really.

 

But their friendship is solid and she does find that she actually enjoys his company fairly often. He’s… nice to have around when he isn’t being a terrifying, possessive vampire boyfriend. 

 

He chuckles and hands her the scissors. “The bow is too big, and this is a wonderful present. She’ll love it, I know it.”

 

“Easy for you to say, Momma’s Boy,” she grumbles at him with a scowl on her face. “What is wrong with this bow?”

 

Edward sighs and lifts to his feet, gently pushing her to the side. He gracefully clips pieces off of it, bringing them together before adjusting the length again. “It’s too long and you’re strangling it more than you’re tying it,” he explains to her and goes through the motions of tying it himself. “There.” His eyes rise to hers. “Have you been practicing being gentle, with Emmett?”

 

“Yes.” He stares. She blinks. “Mostly, I have. It’s Christmas, I’m busy.” He keeps staring at her. “I… maybe got mad and sparta kicked him off a cliff - it’s fine, he’ll cool down. We’re fine, and I’m pretty good at being gentle now, anyway.”

 

“With people,” he agrees and juts out his hip. “How many cell phones have you gone through in the last month?”

 

“They’re made to break, Edward, it’s a scam by the phone companies!”

 

“Of course, yes, I believe-" Edward's head tilts to the side, listening to something she cannot hear. He presses the stack of cards into Bella's hands, a reassuring and touched smile on his face. "She's decided to start baking today instead of tomorrow, less to do while making the feast."

 

"Now? You want me to do this now?" Bella asks incredulously. It's happening, it's going to happen, it's-

 

No big deal, in the grand scheme of things. They're cards. Nothing overly fancy, even if it was one of the hardest things she's ever done. Hours standing in the store, going through every card. Driving to the next store to find others. And then sitting down to write in each? Finding the words?

 

Honestly, she'd rather fight Adam again. 

 

Edward grips her shoulders and gives her a little shake, bringing her back to the present. He always seems to know when she starts to spiral, and always brings her back. Perhaps one of the reasons why that relationship is becoming… important to her? Or at least - eh, improving? "Yes, now. It's not something that should have an audience when we're opening presents tomorrow. You can do this, Bella."

 

"I got this," she agrees quietly, staring at the hall that leads here into the kitchen. She's vaguely away that Edward takes Alice's window out instead, giving the two of them privacy, but her main focus is on trying to swallow her dead heart back down. "I got this. I do. I got this, I got this, I - MOM!"  

 

Why she shouts? No clue.

 

But it makes Esme jump midstep, her eyes wide and alarmed as she looks at Bella. One hand over her heart, the other reaching out as she blurs farther into the room, looking around. "What? What happened? Are you alright?" 

 

"No, I - well, yes, I mean. I'm not. I'm fine." Each word is a new undead bear she has to wrestle out, and part of her - the small, tiny rational part of her in the back of her head. It watches on in mild horror and macabre curiosity, like Frankenstein watching his monster take its first few steps. "Everything is fine, promise."

 

"Okay," Esme agrees with a small, reassured sigh. Her hand hesitates over Bella's shoulder, uncertain, as new nervous energy settles over her. "It's just that you've only called me… that a handful of times."

 

Bella nods and takes extra care not to crush the cards between her hands. She focuses on keeping her grip light and pops her lips a few times instead. "Yeah, I'm working on that. Apparently, I have trust issues."

 

"Take all the time you need," Esme is quick to reassure her and steps back.

 

So Bella steps forward. "No, I. Have something for you?"

 

"Honey, Christmas isn't until tomorrow."

 

"I know what day it is," Bella huffs with a roll of her eyes. Esme watches her. "Usually. God. Anyway, this is personal or whatever, okay? None of anyone else's business."

 

She all but shoves the cards into Esme's hands and blurs back a few steps, staring hard at her feet. In her peripherals, she can see Esme looking between her and the cards before she sets them on the table to untie the ribbon. She sucks in a quick, soft breath and ghosts her fingers over the cover of the first card. More delicately than Bella has ever seen her, Esme opens the card, her black eyes rapidly reading the first of many, many, many awkward inscriptions.

 

Each one ending in love, Bella.

 

Who flits anxiously on the other side of the table. "I was gonna get you something cool and new but you guys already have everything, so I tried to think of something you don't have, and then I realized that maybe there's something you haven't gotten this whole time… and, you know, you've been my mom for ninety-nine years even though I'm only… probably under thirty. So I just figured, uh, there was an outstanding debt for the cards that might make a decent present."

 

"Bella," Esme looks up at her with such potent, raw emotion that Bella has to look away, "these cards are… thank you."

 

The younger vampire clears her throat needlessly. "Yeah, maybe wait until card thirty-seven before you go thanking me. Your name rhymes with literally nothing and I am far from being a poet."

 

All it gets her is Esme wrangling her into a hug that is as tight as it is loving. She feels her feet lift off the ground and smiles freely, allowing herself to finally just… hug her mother. Nothing held back, just clinging to her as tight as she can. Holding out against the onslaught of memories of all the times she wished she’s had something like thing, had this to turn to growing up. Every single time she had needed a mother. Her mother.

 

Bella’s grip tightens and she chokes back her sob, burying her face against Esme’s shoulder as the woman coos and rocks them comfortingly. “I’m sorry,” Esme whispers in her daughter’s hair. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

 

The cracks don’t ever go away. They’re always with her, always there, a reminder of… everything. But another one seals up, another crack in her heart closing off. 

 

"Day,"  Bella gasps suddenly. "Way, may, hay, pay, fray. Lay. God, everything rhymes with your name!" 

 

.

.

.

 

"Vape?" Leah asks from her spot on the back deck.

 

Bella joins her, sliding her feet through the bars of the railing, hooking her elbows around to let her head hang out between. She kicks her feet back and forth, and looks over at the wolf in much the same position. Beneath them, the little kids of the pack are all bundled up while playful vampires and shifters run around them. Everyone having a good time in the fresh snow, multiple snowmen littering the yard (some successful, some immediately ordered destroyed before the children see, Emmett, come on ). 

 

The vampire smiles down at the scene beneath them, at all the warm breath curling like smoke in the air. She remembers when hers did that. She can still remember what it feels like to have a heart beating in your chest. To have life coursing through your body. "No thanks," she replies easily. "I'm dead."

 

"Jesus," Leah mutters. "You're so fucking dramatic - and I saw you drinking whiskey in there with Paul!"

 

Bella wobbles her hand, lifts her red gaze to Leah's confused one. "Liquid is different, we can still process it. Your vape is wasted on me."

 

"... so like, you still gotta… eh, number one? Whenever you drink?"

 

Her face twists up in repulsion and amusement. "What? No. No more mortal bullshit like that, it's. Uh, okay, so we drink blood and our body takes the fuckin, the white blood cells and iron and whatever, it takes the vampire nutrients , we'll call them. Then the rest has to go somewhere, obviously, but we don't mess around with… all that. Something about venom and stomach acid and, I dunno, dude, it like. Boils away? Burns away? Evaporates?"

 

"Oh. So… gas?"

 

"No, that's so mortal. It's - you know what, gimme the vape. I'd rather needlessly suck on this than explain vampirism," Bella grumbles and takes a deep pull. She waits a beat and passes it back, tilting her head. "The whiskey burns nicely, still. It's how I deal with my version of munchies."

 

Leah's brows furrow as she pieces it together. "Bloodlust?"

 

"The lust makes it sound sexy."

 

"I thought vampires are sexy. The sexiest of monsters."

 

Again, Bella wobbles her hand. "Some get it down to an art. Alice? When I was human, I would have paid her to kill me. Others range from Awkward Feeding Face to Was There A Fucking Blood Tornado?"

 

A curious hum escapes the wolf's lips as she considers this and eyes her friend. "So which are you?"

 

"I'm." Bella closes her eyes. Thinks back to each and every startled gasp cut short, every scream. The trembling voice of every asshole who begged for their cruel little lives. "A nightmare to those who deserve it."

 

"Honestly, drama has to be a prerequisite for the fangs," Leah scoffs. She swings her foot to the side, knocking against Bella's shoe. Ignores how endearing the dead girl's pout is. "You look better now."

 

"Right? I could stop a truck with this face."

 

"No," she laughs and kicks harder at Bella's shoe. "You're such a fucking dork. I mean you look, you know, happy or whatever. Being human didn't suit you."

 

"It was killing me," Bella agrees with a grin just a tad too sharp. "I really thought the pack would take more issue with it. Some kind of mini supernatural war between groups."

 

The wolf waves that idea off. "Nah. I mean, maybe? If it was a different circumstance. We knew you before, we know you now. It's an improvement. An adjustment, understanding all that shit, the hunting habits of you and the big one. But, yeah, if anyone can try to see things from another's perspective, my money is on the group of people forced into each others' heads."

 

"I hadn't considered that."

 

"Yup. Imagine if Sam and the others were assholes. Real assholes," she clarifies. "How much damage they could do around here. Technically, he can force his will on any of us in the pack."

 

"Yikes." Bella blinks and looks over at her. "He ever get close to that?"

 

A lazy grin spreads across her face. "He sneezed so hard once that we all sneezed together, but that's the closest he ever got. Makes him uncomfortable, I think, because of how controlling his dad was."

 

They sit there on the deck for a few long, quiet moments. A comfortable silence between the two of them, neither one feeling the pressure to actually talk. Or pry , jesus, Leah might be the first person in Bella’s life who just lets her be , who doesn’t ask questions all the time. Doesn’t try to drag issues to the surface to air them out.

 

It’s a friendship she hadn’t expected she’d value as much as she does.

 

Still…

 

“He sneezed and you all sneezed back?” Bella asks.

 

Leah snorts.

 

.

.

.

 

“You really try my patience, do you know that?” Alice asks.

 

The others are all downstairs, everyone crammed into the house yet again. So soon after Christmas, but now the house is done up for New Years. The thrumming of music has the very walls of the house beating like a heart all around them, Bella can feel the vibrations through the soles of her shoes, to the very tips of her fingers. 

 

She adjusts the little pointed hat on her head, stepping out of the bathroom again. “I didn’t even spill it, Colton did. Dude can’t dance, he’s just swinging his arms around down there,” she says self consciously. Looking down at the wet spot on her t-shirt where she rinsed the vodka cranberry from. “Should I just change completely?”

 

“Yes, but-” Alice shakes her head, her palms against Bella’s shoulders and shoves her back into the bathroom, knocking the door closed behind her with an equally impressive and threatening height of heel. It’s one of the few times the two have ever been so close in height, especially with Bella pressed back against the wall to catch herself. “That’s not what I’m referring to in this moment.”

 

Bella’s head tilts to the side, confusion on her face that Alice cannot resist. Her deceptively slender hand strikes out like lightning, a gentle but firm grip on Bella’s jaw as she holds her still. The pixie brushes her nose against the side of her girlfriend’s, hooded eyes fluttering as Bella breathes in deeply, delirious on the bubblegum scent that is Alice. Her own hands find their way to Alice’s hips, fingers digging in. “If you wanted to steal me away, all you had to do was ask,” she chuckles under her breath, pushing forward.

 

Their lips brush only briefly when Alice pulls her chin back, just out of reach. Her own smirk winning over Bella’s pout. “I do believe it was you who stole me,” she points out.

 

“Nuh uh. You did plenty of stealing as a human.”

 

“I did not.”

 

“You did. I was there, I’m the only one left who remembers it.”

 

“You are not!” Alice laughs.

 

Bella feigns dramatically, the back of her hand against her forehead. “How tragic I am, to be the only one who remembers what a scoundrel you were.”

 

“A scoun-” Alice gasps and actually steps back in disbelief, shaking her head. “You are just full of lies, how did I never notice?” Bella opens her mouth and Alice points at her sharply. “Ah! If it’s a lie, I’m biting your tongue.”

 

Slowly, one of the younger vampire’s eyebrows begins to rise, a glint in her eye. “In my defense, in the face of such heinous accusations of me stealing you away… you made the first move.”

 

Alice’s brows furrow. “I did not, I was very patient waiting for you.”

 

“Oh, please, my first jump you were all over me-”

 

“It was one kiss, and you were drunk! And tried to kick me out of my own bed!”

 

“Well, it was a hell of a kiss, it left an impression on me!” Bella huffs, her hands on her hips. Her mind - quick and sharp, finely tuned with immortality - it stumbles over a realization that has her face scrunching up in confusion again. “Wait, how do you know I kicked you out of your bed.”

 

“I said tried , nobody kicks me out of my own bed.”

 

Bella’s eyes widen, her hand brushing over her heart as she looks at Alice again. Really looks at her this time, sees her standing there. A bold confidence tucked into the very center of uncertain edges. An understanding in her eyes that wasn’t not there before, it just hadn’t gone as deep. But now she reads Bella like a book, like a journal-

 

Like a journal. 

 

The pixie’s smirk softens into a more intimate smile, her hand coming to rest on her hip. “I’m still waiting for you to blow my mind with that fifth proposal.”

 

“Alice, do you remember me?!”