Author note: Apologies abound right now. The wait between chapters was extreme this time, and I'm very sorry for the delay in updating. I had a case of pneumonia that lingered and then had an eye surgery that was moved up a couple months. It took me longer than expected to be comfortable staring at a computer screen long enough to write a chapter. As I'm posting this, all is well with my eyes, though, and I have fabulous vision. Thank you for your patience and for all of you who checked in with me during this time and who understand that sometimes real life steps in and blocks our plans.


Previously:

"And you," she looked back at Bella, removing her finger, "your death will be all the more sweeter knowing it will be at his hands."

"Whose hands?" I asked before I could stop myself. James was gone.

She began to giggle, again the sound of a tickled little girl. "Oh, that's the richness, Jasper." She paused to regain her composure before looking at me seriously. "Yours, of course," she said with a look of sheer giddiness on her face.

Her maddened eyes seemed to burn in front of me and then with a quick breath beside my face, the burn lit up my whole body.


Chapter 27

Bella

"Yours."

The word seemed to hang in the air, and I couldn't wrap my head around what Victoria meant. I didn't get the opportunity either. Before I could give it more thought, or even see her move, she roughly shoved me out of the way and against the bathroom door.

I hit the door hard enough to knock the wind out of me. It took a second before I was able to take in a strangled breath and push all the hair out of my face. When I pushed up to a sitting position and my vision was finally clear, I saw Victoria kneeling on the floor and leaning so close to Jasper, it was as if she was whispering in his ear. It was only when I glanced at his face—purple with anger or lack of oxygen, veins prominent in his forehead, and his tendons taut in his neck—that I realized how tight her hold on him was. She had one hand on his arm, pushing him against the outer wall of the bathtub, and the other was squeezing into the flesh of his chin. He struggled against her grasp and had a look of panic in his eyes.

What was she saying to him? I shook my head. What could I possibly do? Then I saw the slow trickle dampening the collar of his shirt. Victoria wasn't saying anything to him, she was feeding.

Nothing else mattered in that moment. I at least had to try something before she drained him. Knowing it would hurt me far more than it would hurt her, I awkwardly stood and then stomped as hard as I could on her foot. The jolt reverberated through my foot and continued all the way up my leg. Despite the pain I'd caused myself, I was successful, because she pulled her blood-smeared face away from Jasper's neck and turned to look at me.

She smiled slowly in what might have been an approximation of sweetness and then closed her eyes before saying, "Thank you, baby. It wouldn't have done to kill him on accident." She then looked at me again, and I couldn't be sure if she even knew I'd stepped on her foot. Her weird bouts of talking to a dead James were both confusing and terrifying.

Running a hand over her unruly red hair, she stood up at a slow pace, blocking my view of Jasper and making me automatically scurry as far back as I could. She laughed at my fear of her but paid me no mind as she glanced into the bathroom mirror, seemingly forgetting about Jasper. I took that opportunity to look down at him, and I moved to go to him, but one of Victoria's hands shot out to stop me. She held me so tightly it burned my skin as she nonchalantly finger combed her hair with her other hand.

I could tell Jasper was still alive by the heavy wheezing noises he was making while breathing. I looked around her again and saw that the panicked look was still on his face, and his hands were hovering around his neck, seemingly not knowing where to land. When he started to cough, both of his hands found the bleeding wound in his neck and began to scratch at the flesh there, causing more blood to run.

"Jasper!" I called out to him, my vision now blurred with the tears running down my face.

Not letting go of my arm, Victoria turned me to face her. "Shhhh," she whispered, and she ran one of her fingers around the bloody rim of her lips before dragging it down from the tip of my nose, over my lips, and to the bottom of my chin, smearing it on me. "You're going to have to put up with a lot more than this, Pop-Tart," she said with mocking disdain. It turned my stomach to realize how long she must have been listening outside of the cabin and even to hear her use Jasper's nickname for me.

"Just kill me," Jasper said with labored breaths, and when I looked at him, he'd thankfully stopped making himself bleed more profusely. Victoria's gaze didn't move from my face until he said, "I was the one . . . who killed James. Don't you want—" As difficult as it was for him to speak, he didn't get a chance to finish. Victoria kicked him hard in the side and then threw me down on top of him.

The pitiful sound that came out of Jasper's mouth wasn't human. I tried to crawl off him as quickly as I could, but I accidentally put my knee on his already broken hand, and he simply whimpered before blowing air out of his lips.

Was this her plan? Would she slowly break us and throw us around like rag dolls in this small bathroom?

"Kill me . . . Bella," he said softly. I was going to ask him what he meant, but Victoria was suddenly crouched in front of us, her hair close enough to touch my raised knee.

"Someone understands my plan," she said to him, her face unmoving. "Brilliant, isn't it?"

Jasper didn't answer; he just moaned a low mournful sound. Victoria gave a short, appreciative chuckle. "It's remarkable you've even said this much." His eyes were closed, and he didn't respond again; he just kept moaning.

"Jasper?" I asked, panicked, never having felt so useless in my life. It was then that it clicked and I gasped.

"Ooo," Victoria said with delight. "Do you get it now, too? Do you see how perfect it is? How painful it will be for all of you?"

She was crazy.

"Why?" I choked out. Why did this have to happen to us? In all of the times that I'd thought about me and Jasper together and all the fantasies of us living our lives as vampires or humans—something I'd never really thought to bring up to him—I never thought we'd get cheated out of both of them.

"You wanted to kill me. Do it!" I taunted her, fully realizing what she meant when she'd said yours to Jasper.

"But Jasper would probably be so much better at killing you than I would be." She still hadn't moved away from me, and my back ached with how hard I was pressed up against the bathtub to give myself every millimeter of available space between us. I didn't want to stare at Jasper's blood that was still smeared around her mouth.

"Think of how tragic it will be once he someday comes to his senses and realizes what he's done?" Her face took on a dreamy expression. "Oh, Pop-Tart, he'll really go at it, too." She giggled. "It's perfect. You'll be locked in this tiny room absolutely redolent with human scent. The smell of his own blood will still hang in the air, you're bruised enough to smell like a ripe peach on a hot day, and—mind you, this is just for fun—I threw in your used sheets for a touch of flare." She closed her eyes and finally rocked back an inch.

"I just wish I could see it. He'll open his eyes and see your body torn apart, your flesh littering the walls . . . Will he comprehend it then? Will he realize who you were when he sees and smells the evidence of your maidenhead sprinkled on the sheets? Or in true newborn fashion, will he just not care?" A deep laugh began to echo in the room. "I'm not sure I really care which it is. Whenever he does realize what he's done and who you were to him, he'll be just as destroyed as I am."

She stood up then as if she'd completed her business with us.

"Yes, I only wish I could see it for myself."

Jasper's moans started to grow louder, and I tore my eyes away from Victoria to look at him. His eyes were shut, and there was a sheen of sweat on his tight forehead. Perhaps in solidarity, the scar on my wrist seemingly burned, and I could clearly recall how excruciating the small amount of venom had felt coursing in my arm before Edward had sucked it out.

Could I possibly suck the venom out of Jasper?

The thought had just come to my mind when I heard the door click. I looked up and Victoria was gone. Quickly glancing back at Jasper, who was panting, I pushed myself up to standing and tripped to the door. It was clearly locked. The door opened inward, and without the room to run at it, I doubted I would ever be able to break the door down; even in optimal settings, I knew I could never break down a door with a vampire standing on the other side. Instead, I pounded on it with both fists.

"Victoria!" I yelled. I wasn't sure what my goal was in calling out to her. Would it truly be better if she came back? I just knew that any option had to be better than allowing Jasper to go through the change and then take me as his first meal. I had to hope that when he woke up as a vampire again that he wouldn't be like the raving newborns I'd heard him describe in the past. Maybe he would completely skip that phase the second time around. If there was the chance that he wouldn't, though . . . It wasn't even a fear for my own life that made me so worried about Victoria's plan. If the roles were reversed, and I was in a position where I had to live the rest of my immortal life with Jasper's death on my hands, I wouldn't want to live at all.

Giving up on the hope of Victoria coming back, I knelt back at Jasper's side and took stock of his condition. Blood was no longer running freely down his neck, but it still glistened at the site of the wound. The moaning had temporarily stopped, but Jasper's eyes were at turns squeezed tightly shut in pain and then widely open in panic and terror.

"Jasper?" I asked, unsure if he could even hear me. In response, he clutched my sleeve with his uninjured hand; the other was purple and swollen, laying at his side. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out but a pained rasp.

Oh, God! I cried to myself. I didn't know what to do. For a moment, the panic started to rise up inside of me, but I tried to push it down. I was the only one here now, and I needed to do something to help him.

"Jasper," I said again. "I'm going to try to suck the venom out of your neck." His eyes shot open again, and though he couldn't make a sound, his head shook in the slightest. "I don't know what else to do," I told him, my hand smoothing away the sweaty hair stuck to his forehead. His head shook again. "I'll spit it out. If you're worried about the venom getting into my system, at least we'll be changing together." I said as if I was joking, but at this point, it sounded like the best option.

As I looked at Jasper's neck, my usual squeamishness about blood was completely lacking. I needed to do this for him. Without another thought, I latched my mouth over the injury and tried to suck whatever liquid I could into my mouth. At the first taste of it, my stomach heaved, but a quick breath through my nose quelled the urge to vomit. Jasper's grip tightened on my arm, and I sat up enough to spit whatever was in my mouth over the rim of the tub. I watched the red fluid run down into the base of the tub, and I couldn't tell if there was venom mixed in or not.

Jasper's eyes were still tightly closed and he didn't look like his pain had lessened at all. I tried the sucking technique a few more times, but eventually, I wasn't getting a noticeable amount of liquid anymore. In fact, the wound on his neck had been gradually healing, stopping any hope of getting the venom out.

"No, no!" I cried, watching his flesh knit together before my eyes. Earlier I had tried not to panic, but the sadness I couldn't keep at bay. I told myself I would allow myself to feel it just for a couple minutes. I would let the grief for the life we would never live wash over me just once. After that, it wouldn't be helpful for either one of us.

The low moaning was back, and Jasper's eyes remained closed. I gently held his uninjured hand to my chest.

"I'm sorry, Jasper. I'm so sorry," I cried over and over again, at turns bending my head to kiss his fingers. "I don't know what to do."

After a minute, I tried to dry my eyes and think about our situation the way Jasper would. The easiest way to get help would be to get through the door. From pounding on it, I knew it was solid. Perhaps if I could get all the way through the drywall, I could reach my arm through and unlock the door.

Yes, I told myself. That was exactly what I would do. Feeling calm now that I had a plan, I reached over to see what tools there might be under the sink, but the only things under there were a plunger and extra rolls of toilet paper. Standing up, I didn't think our toothbrushes would be that much help; same with my few toiletry items. I rifled through Jasper's kit on the counter and made note of his razor.

I looked up, and seeing my reflection in the mirror, I gasped. Blood was smeared all over my face. It wasn't the blood that disgusted me but the fact that it made me look like Victoria. I quickly washed it off my face and decided to take a moment to clean Jasper, too. I wiped his throat and under his collar with a wet washcloth before wiping off his damp face.

"I'll figure this out," I promised him.

While the plunger handle might work to get through the drywall, the shower rod would probably be my best bet. The curtain had already been ripped down, so I just needed to loosen the tension rod. Once I had it down, I removed the rubber cap from one end before quickly ramming it into the wall. I was happy to see it definitely make a dent in the wall. I kept hitting in the same spot until there was a complete hole. I walked up to it and then started to pry away more pieces with my hands. Now I just needed to go through the other side of the wall. Thankfully, there wasn't insulation or plumbing between the studs.

I took a step back and rammed the rod again, but I hit something hard, and the shock of it ran up through my shoulder. I screamed in frustration and tried it again a few inches to the right, but I had the same result. It was then that I remembered there was a dresser on the other side of the wall. Still, if I could remove enough of the drywall, perhaps I could reach through the studs and push the dresser over.

I kept slamming the rod into the wall over and over again until my arms were burning with the effort. I stepped up again to look inside the wall. I had busted the drywall on the other side and could clearly see the back of the dresser. I pushed and pushed as hard as I could, but it wouldn't budge. I wasn't going to give up, though. I climbed onto the bathroom counter next to the destroyed wall, and I tried to push through the open hole with my feet. My arms might not have been strong enough to push over the dresser, but perhaps my legs would be. Still, nothing happened. I kicked and pushed and kicked at it again, all the while grunting with the effort. It wouldn't move.

Undeterred, and now angry, I hopped back down to grab the rod again and hit it higher and higher, knocking down the drywall all the way to the ceiling. I didn't stop until I could see the light of the other room shining through. I climbed back up on the counter and tried to push the tall dresser over from the top corner of it, but the piece was too substantial to be tipped and my arms weren't long enough to reach around the top of it and grasp the doorknob.

I tried to squeeze my body through the studs, thinking I could just crawl through the wall, but they were too close together. Again, I screamed out in frustration. I quickly brushed my hair out of my face. In anger, I bashed the rod against every surface of the room, hoping perhaps I could get out through the other wall or through the ceiling, but I hit wood planks everywhere else once I got through the drywall.

I collapsed on the floor panting and cursing Victoria. The louder my cries grew, the more noise Jasper was making. At least he wasn't screaming yet; Jasper had said that was normal. I just needed to thinking for a minute. I moved until I was right next to him, and I tried to move his body until it was in a more comfortable position. Once he was lying down on the floor, I pushed the fallen shower curtain under his head like a makeshift pillow, and I lay down with my head on his chest.

His heart was still beating in his chest, albeit more quickly than normal. The muffled sound still brought me some solace, as did the rise and fall of his chest. What else could I do? What else could get us out of here? Not believing I hadn't thought of it earlier, I patted Jasper's pockets to see if his cellphone was on him, but of course, it wasn't. I closed my eyes in defeat and tried to think, but the stress was too much.

Sometime later, a noise woke me from my thoughts, and I sat up at the sound of Jasper's wails. I couldn't believe I had fallen asleep. I touched his face, not sure what comfort I could provide. He was burning up.

"I'll help, Jasper. I'll help." I could at least make him cooler, I thought. I started to run the water in the tub as cold as it would go, and as it filled, I struggled to get Jasper out of his shirt and pants. His body was covered in dark bruises from where Victoria had thrown him about and kicked him. I wanted to be gentle as I tried to heft him into the tub, but I just needed to get the job done, and I gracelessly deposited him with a splash. I turned off the water and grabbed another washcloth to wipe the cold water over his heated face.

"Does that help at all?" I asked him, but there was no response. At least there was no more blood on him.

Blood. That's what would fix this. I rushed to the sink and grabbed Jasper's razor from his toiletry kit. I knew I could use it to cut my skin, but I wasn't sure how best to do it with a safety razor. I tried running it in a variety of directions over my forearm, and I pushed it at a diagonal, but it didn't do anything more than tug at my skin, breaking through only a layer. How was it that I could cut my legs shaving from time to time but not get out drops of blood when I wanted?

I threw the razor down on the floor and stepped on it, hoping to break it enough that I could separate the blades. At the sound of the plastic breaking, I stopped my efforts and grabbed the pieces, seeing that I was successful.

I ran the thin edge of one blade across my arm, close to the scar from James. Blood instantly sprang to the surface, and I wiped it on my finger. Kneeling back by Jasper, I quickly shoved my blood-covered finger in his mouth. The first time, he'd only had a few drops. Maybe my blood could stop the change from occurring.

I looked at him, but nothing seemed to change, so I grit my teeth and cut an even larger stripe into my arm. Tears stung my eyes as I wiped up the blood and again pushed some into Jasper's mouth.

Nothing.

This has to work, this has to work, I chanted to myself. I said an apology to Jasper before cutting his arm in the same place and then pushing our bleeding arms together. Maybe if my blood came into direct contact with his, it would work.

Angry that nothing was happening, I threw the razor blade toward the sink. Maybe my blood only worked on actual vampires, not those in the middle of the change. I could always hold on to the hope that if Jasper did try to feed on me—and didn't destroy my body in the process—maybe he would instantly revert to being human once he took a sip.

My thoughts were interrupted by the start of Jasper's screaming, and I cried in frustration, not knowing how to save him. How much longer would it be? I buried my head in my hands and tried to block out as much of the painful sound as I could. Each of his cries was a reminder of how I'd failed. I wasn't able to get us out of the room. It was my fault Victoria even wanted to hurt us. I was the one who turned him into a human. I was the one who ran away from him at the airport in Phoenix. I was the one who turned James's head in the clearing. None of this would be happening if it weren't for me.

I was so angry that every time Jasper cried out, I would scream right along with him. I did this until my throat ached and I could hardly get a sound out anymore. I gave a sick laugh at the thought that perhaps Jasper's vocal cords would go soon, too.

It was hopeless. I didn't even have an idea of how long we'd been in the bathroom. It was supposed to take three days, I thought. It hadn't been that long, obviously. I ran my hand over Jasper's wet chest in the bathtub. He was still screaming periodically, though it was quieter with his throat so raw. I let my fingers dance on his flesh, and I thought about how beautiful he was. He was so smooth and . . . I looked carefully at his chest and realized that all of his freckles were gone, as was most of the bruising. It was all disappearing. I looked at his injured hand and saw that the swelling had started to go down and the color was only slightly darker than his regular skin tone.

It was happening. He was definitely changing. His hair was wet and stuck to his head, but I wondered if it would look any different if it were dry. Could I just sit here and watch him transition from my Jasper into whatever he would become? Would he look just the same as he had when I'd first met him but just without the scars? I was glad he would be without them during his second time as vampire, not that I would have minded them.

I ran my hand gently over his face, completely free from any kind of scruff or blemish. "I love you, Jasper," I said, and I leaned over to kiss his lips. I told myself I would say it over and over again in my hoarse voice until he woke up. I wanted it to be the first thing he heard when he woke. I supposed it would be the last thing I would ever say. What else could be more important than that?

It was then that a thought of Alice flickered through my mind—not that she might appear—but that she had woken up alone and remembering nothing of her human life. I wouldn't let that happen to Jasper. I would tell him everything. I would tell him whatever I knew of his life before the Cullens—perhaps many of those memories would be best forgotten anyway. I would tell him about how he'd met Alice, how she brought him to a new way of life and new family. I would tell him how awkward it was with them at first, but how he'd been able to truly bond with each one of them over the decades. I would tell him everything he'd told me about being a vampire so he might not be so lost when he woke up.

Then there was us . . . Maybe I shouldn't. Maybe it would be easier if he wasn't reminded about us. Maybe it would hurt less once he found out he'd killed me. Knowing he killed some brown-haired girl his family once let hang around would be much less of a problem than knowing he'd eaten the girl he'd once called his mate.

It was a gift I could give to him, but that didn't mean I wanted to forget myself. I wanted to live my last hours with those memories on a loop. He was still moaning, but the screaming dwindled as I talked to him. I would start all over at the beginning again soon, but I wanted to take some time to think about our happier times. I thought of the electricity that seemed always to spark between us, even when we'd been particularly nasty to each other. I thought of how attracted I'd always been to him, whether he was vampire or human, and how he'd thought I was worth it. There were so many jokes we'd shared at Newton's or whenever he would come over for dinner. Charlie really liked Jasper, and I smiled when I thought of how he'd always laugh when Jasper would arrive in the mornings, even though I was fully capable of getting myself to work.

"This wasn't exactly on your puddle list, was it?" I asked him quietly with a little sob. I knew I couldn't take in all the changes with my eyes, but he was steadily growing different. I leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips before mouthing the words I love you.

I tried to think of our first kiss in Port Angeles. How scared and angry Jasper had been. Mine, he'd said. I'm so yours, I thought. I choked back a sob when I thought of our ruined weekend here in the cabin. It seemed unfair that the best day of my life would be paired with the worst. On the other hand, maybe that was the ultimate fairness. Maybe this was the price I had to pay for being allowed such happiness in the first place. How could Jasper deserve this, though? He'd already paid so much.

My hand dipped into the cool water, and I felt that his skin wasn't as hot anymore. Soon, I supposed it would be cold and hard. I wondered if I should get him out the tub. I should eventually get him dressed again. I thought that if I were going to wake up as a vampire, I would want to do it in more than my underwear.

I quickly lifted my head up from the bathtub rim where it had been resting. That could be the answer. I'd tried stopping his change with my blood. Maybe I just needed to start mine. I sat up and pulled Jasper's lower lip down with my fingers to inspect his teeth. At what part in the change would he have venom? When would his teeth grow sharper? There was only one way to find out. I pried his mouth open and pushed my wrist in between his teeth. Then, I awkwardly tried to get him to bite down on my arm. When that didn't work, I rubbed my flesh back and forth over his teeth, but they still weren't sharp enough to break the flesh. Not giving up, I took whatever saliva or potential venom I could gather from his mouth on my fingers and rubbed it into the cuts on my arm.

Other than the sting from the pressure, there wasn't a burn. I contented myself with the thought that it was just too early. I would just bide my time with my memories and telling Jasper about his time with the Cullens until I could try again. I would keep trying to turn myself until it either worked or I was too late.

This will work, I vowed. I wasn't going to give up. I still had more time to try.

Feeling that his skin was probably as cool as it was going to get from the bathwater, I reached over to drain the tub. I wasn't sure if getting him out of the tub would be as feasible as getting him inside of it. I planned to let him air dry and then try to get him back in his clothes.

Standing up and looking at his cooling body, I realized I would never see this body again. Even in an hour, it would be slightly different.

"Oh, Jasper," I said in a cough of despair. Without another thought, I tossed a towel on top of him and started to shed my own clothes. I climbed into the tub in only my underwear, and in the cramped space, I lay on top of him as much as possible, pulling the discarded shower curtain over us like a blanket.

The tub was still cold and damp, as was Jasper, and the space was much too small to fit the two of us comfortably, but I didn't care. This might be all I had with him, and I was going to take it.

As I lay my cheek on his hardening shoulder, I gave myself permission to doze and to dream about the life we might have once had, what we had been allowed to have just the night before. I closed my eyes and relived the sight of Jasper above me, the feel of his hands, and the beautiful sight of him asleep in the sunlight. Images of what were and what could have been swirled in my mind until there were no thoughts left to have.

.

.

.


Author Note: As always, thank you for your patience and for reading.

I'd love if you'd share in your review what you're reading right now or what you've been reading lately. Because of my eyes needing time to adjust, I haven't read much fic lately, other than when this chapter was in the beta stage. I did recently read the book Outlander, which I really enjoyed and am on to the second book in the series. Jasper may have some competition with Jamie.

I found all of these fic recs from reading the weekly teasers posted on The Fictionators, which is a great site to hit up for recs and reviews.

Fic recs:

"When You Least Expect It" by Kare183: A broken man hires a broken single mother as his personal chef. As time wears on, she becomes so much more. A tale of what happens when you least expect it. (WIP, E/B, AH)

"Adore, Adore" by ooza: Bella is in a bit of a financial pinch. Can one night with Edward solve all her problems? "What do you want to do to me?" she asked. "Everything." One-shot written for SFFR, now expanded! BxE, AH, Rated MA (WIP)

"Luckless" by NinaQ: Everything about her was the same. Even after all these years, he'd recognized her, but it made no sense. There was no way she was the same woman. It couldn't be. He had watched her die. (E/B, AU, WIP-This one is such a mystery. I'm on the edge of my seat.)