visions of you
1. jasper's pov
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There once was a time when I thought Hatred and Violence were the only things that mattered in my existence. Those were dark times indeed. I shudder to remember the dark despair I was in before she came along, my Alice. I learned quickly that Love and Compassion could be just as strong, if not stronger, than Anger. They also felt much different. Being around the two of them combined together in the atmosphere makes me feel at peace. My life went on this new way for a good fifty years before it was threatened to come crashing down again. Everything I'd worked so hard to change would be shaken.
It had been another average day in the life of the Cullen family. Waiting for Alice to get out of school was boring as usual but she'd ditched Study Hall to take a walk with me in the woods behind the building. Bella had returned home with Edward in the afternoon and busied herself trying to beat Emmett at a game of chess. When the two of us entered the front door we were met with the usual inquiry of a worried mother. "Where have you been?" She put her hands on her delicate hips trying to look angry but failing dismally. "I've been worried sick! You should have been home hours ago!"
"Sorry Esme," I replied with a nod from my head. I'd been hit a little hard with Bella's scent and it was making me dizzy. Normally I was a bit more cavalier with my makeshift mother when it came to hugs and affection but I didn't like the notion of Bella seeing my soft side. I wanted her to be afraid of me, especially after her birthday last year. Her unrelenting forgiveness for it astounded me. It was like meeting Alice all over again. Edward's brow knit and he wore a slight smirk as he looked up at me, apparently amused at my trail of thoughts. I spoke to him in thought, "Just trying to keep your Bella safe. I'd hate to see you depressed again. Believe me; I know how it feels to wake up from that."
My brother nodded in agreement at my conclusion and I felt his empathy inundate through the room. Alice's porcelain fingers interlacing with mine brought me back to the present moment. "We got distracted," she spoke in her bell like voice. "I knew Bella would be coming over so while we were already out I decided to take him hunting as a precaution."
Esme sighed and dropped her angry façade. "Well I suppose I can't argue with that."
It was odd to see her looking angry on the outside when her aura told a completely different story. "Checkmate," Emmett declared mightily.
Bella sighed and half laughed, "Again... I'm never gonna get the hang of this game."
I smirked as I ghosted to the chess table. "It's all in the strategy."
Bella jumped slightly at my voice. "Holy crow! Jasper don't do that!"
"My apologies," I winced slightly. Maybe I shouldn't talk.
To my chagrin Edward had noticed my distress. "Bella... why don't you let Jasper play Emmett this round? It's sure to be enlightening."
I was imperceptibly relieved at my brother's rescue but I wasn't one who liked appearing as though I had a weakness in any form. In my former life I was always the one that had to be the toughest. The soldiers beneath me wanted to know they were following order's from someone who was up to par. I traded places with Bella as Alice situated herself on the couch tucking her feet beneath herself. Emmett reset the board at lightning speed, his hands appearing as a blur to Bella's eyes. The game ensued this in silence as my mind strategized at high speed, planning ahead, countering his moves. The chess board looked like a war map to me, two armies fighting for their lives. I wasn't going to lose. The word wasn't even in my vocabulary. After the graveyards on the side of the table were filled with long lost pieces from the board, only one thing stood in my Queen's way of victory; the white Bishop.
Emmett had only two pieces left while I had a good many. There were only so many possibilities of choice for his next move. If he went one way, I could take his Bishop with my Knight and proceed to checkmate his King with my Queen. If he went the other, my Rook would smite his Bishop leaving the King open to either my Queen or my Bishop if I moved them just slightly. The look of concentration on his face was a hilarious sight to see. I felt a thrill of enjoyment I recognized as Rosalie's and glanced askance to find her trying to hide a smile. He decided to move his Bishop to protect his King from my Knight and I was just about to annihilate him when Alice gave a small, "Oh dear."
My head snapped around to find her glassy eyed and the game no longer held any interest for me. I glided to her side in the space of a millisecond and laid a hand on hers. "What do you see?"
"It's dark," she spoke, trying to explain. "You're approaching a building... I can't tell where... Wait! It's an old theater..."
"The one that got boarded up," Emmett questioned.
I gritted my teeth in annoyance and waved my hand signaling for him to keep quiet. "Go on, Alice. What else is there?" I encouraged in my deep voice.
"It's very blurry," she spoke quietly, "as though you're undecided about something. It's like you can't decide whether to go inside or not... I can't see past it..."
"Try Alice," I spoke smoothly. "Why am I standing there in the first place?"
She focused her eyes harder searching elsewhere for the answer. The one that came out sent a cold chill throughout my body. "Maria," she whispered.
Worry; a cause of uneasiness or anxiety generally caused by some sort of trouble, an emotion that coursed through my system at that moment. It was when my cell phone began to ring in my pocket that I realized I'd been staring off into space trying to organize my thoughts for a good solid hour. Bella had been safely returned home since Edward had forbade me from spilling anything about my checkered past to her just yet. He was over protective but then again so was I when it came to Alice so I couldn't blame him. I stared at the caller ID for the space of a moment to see Peter's name. I smiled a little and answered cheerfully as I crossed the room to stand near the window, "Hello."
"To what do I owe the pleasure?"
His voice was slightly nervous as he spoke; something unusual for him, "Who else is in the room?"
My brow knit in confusion as the room fell still, everyone listening intently. "Alice, naturally, Edward, Emmett and Rose. Why do you ask?"
"It would be best not to involve anyone else. Things are already out of hand."
"Peter what's going on? You don't sound like yourself." Alice gasped a little and threw a hand over her mouth. Her dread sent a chill down my spine.
"Charlotte's dead," Peter answered hollowly.
If I wasn't already dead, my heart would have stopped beating. Everything froze as four pairs of eyes flew to me. My body was rigid, much too still to even pass for a human.
"How," I queried in an uneven tone, trying unsuccessfully to remain calm.
"Maria," he spoke the name venomously.
"I thought she agreed to leave us the devil alone," I spoke with forced calm, my anger for my friends anguish present on my face.
"She's trying to start over," his voice suggested danger on every word he spoke."She wants you back, Jazz."
My eyes flew to Alice whose gaze was upon me, listening intently as she tried to scan the future for an answer. "Did you explain that I don't kill humans anymore?" My voice wavered slightly.
"I tried to tell her you'd changed and had a happy life now. She laughed and said the Jasper she knew would be happy to come back and serve her again."
"Yeah, over my dead body," I mused through tight lips.
"Well if you're not careful it will be over Alice's dead body."
A cold tingle of fear struck down my spine and I winced imperceptibly at his words as an image of Alice's body being licked hungrily by flames burned before my eyes. I couldn't let that happen. Without Alice, I had nothing. She met my gaze fearfully. The future was too uncertain. I knew that look well. "Where are you," I asked, my voice an octave lower than before in an effort to keep calm. I had to help Peter. Though I couldn't feel the heartbreak he was experiencing, I knew he was a mess by the tone in his voice. It cut me through to hear him in such pain.
"I'm with her," he answered quietly as though fearing he'd be overheard. An earsplitting scream was followed shortly by a loud crash. "Peter," I yelled into the receiver. Another scream. He didn't answer. The line went dead.
My arm was tense as I hit end. Alice was instantly at my side stilling my arm a moment before I could move it. "DON'T...throw the...phone," she degraded from a demand to a plea.
I sighed as she gently pried the expensive Blackberry from my hand and tossed it gently on the couch away from my reach. I was beyond angry at this turn of events. My mind was already forming some sort of strategy in my mind, clicking at speeds that made Edward dizzy.
"Jasper, relax," he spoke calmly. "We'll figure something out."
"This coming from the guy who nearly killed himself when he thought Bella was dead," I mused heatedly.
That was below the belt, I knew, but I was past thinking my words through before saying them. Alice blurred in front of me and put a hand on either side of my face. "Sweetheart, calm down. I can take care of myself. I'm more worried about your well being right now."
"I'm fine," I replied much too quickly in a low flat tone.
Alice looked around the room momentarily. She heaved a sigh and took my hand, leading me at high speed out the back door and into the trees. The scent of fresh pine mingled with the damp air as our bodies blurred through the topiary. We stopped in a small grove that we frequented often when we needed a moment alone. It was far enough from the house that conversations could not be overheard. Her delicate form settled on a fallen log as she looked up at me, concern in her emotions as well as her topaz eyes. I gazed back at her remaining motionless and still, standing tall as though in an inspection.
"Jasper," her voice was soft, her calm aura inspiring an unwanted calm in myself, "You know you can't lie to me. I know you're worrie. I can see it in your eyes."
I sighed dropping my hard facade, allowing my softer side to show through; something that only Alice could make me do. My fingers pinched the bridge of my nose as I winced in concentration."I just can't fathom losing you. Hearing Peter's distress...Charlotte meant the world to him."
"Hey," she spoke softly, suddenly standing right in front of me and brushing my hand away from my face to look into my eyes."I'm not going anywhere. Do you really think I'm gonna let an old flame stand in my way?"
I couldn't help but chuckle slightly at her joke. "Old flame indeed..."
Her finger on my lips quieted my words. "I have an advantage that Charlotte didn't. You don't need to worry."
I nodded, lightly pulling her fingers from my mouth, "But I do. I love you and it's for that reason I must. Perhaps you should stay here while I search her out?"
"Absolutely not," Alice protested and it was my turn to quiet her with a finger.
"It was just a thought."
"Yeah, well it was a stupid thought," she reprimanded. "You don't have to do this alone anymore."
I sighed and gently moved a flyaway hair from her face. "Simply looking out for your well being, darlin'."
A smile crossed her lips as I sent her a feeling of peace, "How many times must I tell you I'm not concerned for my safety."
"But I am," I argued in a soft tone.
"Hmmm," she pursed her lips in thought. "Well… if we both look out for the safety of the other, in your brilliant military logic, wouldn't that mean a better chance of success? The ratio certainly is higher."
I thought her words through in the space of three seconds coming to the same conclusion and sighing in defeat, "Fine then but I call the shots and you follow my lead without question. Understood?"
"Sir, yes sir," she breathed leaving a gentle kiss on my lips before taking, my hand. "Come on. We need to tell the rest of the family."
"Tell them what exactly," I muttered. They weren't going to take any of this well.
Alice's emotions flinched a little. She knew it too. "The only thing we can tell them… the truth."
Fear is a horrible emotion. It swallows you whole, encompassing every fiber until you can't decide which way to turn. At times it can lead to good choices. For instance, fear of injury can prompt one to move out of the path of a speeding train. In my position, however, fear clouded my judgment.
The entire family was waiting rather impatiently in the living room when we returned to the interior of the house. I allowed a wave of calm to inundate through the sitting room, touching every aura. Alice led me to the center of the enclosure never relinquishing my hand. It was Esme who first broke the rather awkward silence. "Did I hear correctly? Is Charlotte really gone?"
My lips pursed into a thin line as I swallowed hard giving a stiff nod of my head. "Oh dear God," Esme breathed clutching at her heart. Carlisle was instantly at her side setting a comforting hand on her shoulder.
How many times would I find myself in this situation… friends lost and lives overturned? My eyes wandered the room landing on each face for a moment before moving to the next. Every single one of them meant the world to me and at that moment they were all in danger. I'd hoped that once I'd departed Maria would leave well enough alone and for a while there she had. There was only one way to stop this before it got out of hand.
"NO," Edward half growled as he heard my thoughts, unable to get truly angry under my control.
"There's no other way Edward," I argued in a deeply stoic tone. "We must."
The entire coven turned their gaze to my brother seeking a translation. "They're leaving us," he clarified acidly.
His words caused uproar of questions amongst my family. Everyone babbled at once until I glanced at the floor and sighed heavily, waiting for silence to answer. Once I could hear myself think, I explained, "As long as I'm here, you're all in danger. Maria has her own forms of torture. She'll find a way to make Peter talk. I need to lead her away from here as swiftly as possible. I don't want her touching any aspect of our life here."
Carlisle's brow furrowed as his topaz eyes met mine. "Is that really wise, son?"
"I've examined all the options," I replied softly."The greatest chance of success lays in diversion."
"We can help you if you stay." Edward tried to argue his point in a flat, even tone.
My head moved left to right infinitesimally. "No Ed. You don't know Maria like I do. She's not one to be underestimated. My many scars are proof of that."
"Where would you go?" Emmett's voice floated to my ears, sadness in each inflection.
"Back to Texas," I reasoned. "I figure that's where it all started, that's where it'll end."
Carlisle walked slowly forward and put a hand on my shoulder, his brow folded with the concern of a father. "Son, you do whatever you think is best. Just know that you'll always have a place in my home waiting for you if you decide to return."
I nodded once in understanding as Alice lightly squeezed my hand in reassurance. "When do you leave?" Rosalie spoke up for the first time, her voice melancholy and her eyes grave.
"Tonight," I responded in a gentle monotone. "Time is of the essence and it's a long drive from here to Houston, even when pushing three hundred."
Carlisle sighed in response as Esme placed herself delicately on the couch unable to be as upset as she'd like under my influence. He watched her with worried eyes. Esme didn't like the idea of losing any member of the family. "Whatever you need, it's yours," Carlisle spoke, looking me directly in the eyes.
"Regrettably, I think it would be best to leave Alice's Porsche behind," I replied gently squeezing Alice's hand knowing it'd be hard for her to say goodbye to it.
"The keys to the Mercedes are on the pegboard." My father indicated with his eyes though I knew perfectly well where to look. I nodded in affirmation.
My heart was heavy as I once more took in each somber face. Goodbyes were never pleasant and right then I couldn't find the strength to make one.
"I suppose all that's left to do now is get our things together," I stated monotonously.
With hesitance, I finally released everyone from my grasp to feel the immense disappointment and worry at our decision. It was thick like smoke sifting from a flame, choking my mood until Alice left a gentle kiss on my cheek. Out of all the strategies I'd created in war, I'd never been so unsure of success in my favor. Would Maria do as I suspected? Could I really minimize casualties? Too many variables were left unaccounted for. With so many uncertainties I half wondered if I shouldn't surrender. In all my experience, some battles were better left abandoned.
Time flies by ever faster when you wish it to stand still. Sometimes I think it's best to wish it would move faster; maybe then everything would slow down. Sadly, not even pretending I wished for time to pass would work for me because I wanted it to slow with every fiber of my being. The instant I walked out that front door and headed down the drive could be my last exit from the Cullen household and that notion saddened me greatly. So many things could hinder my return and in essence Alice's. Poor Alice. I shuddered to think that she may never see Edward or Bella again. She was so close with both of them. Friends meant so much to her and I would feel her broken heart as much as she. All the enigmas of the world seemed to fall on my shoulders at precisely the wrong moment, this moment.
I had everything packed and ready by the garage door that I would need, decidedly leaving behind a few things for Esme to hold on to. All that was left to do was be patient for nightfall. Twilight came much too soon and the emotional atmosphere of the house was intensely strained. I did my best to relieve the anxiety everyone felt but I knew the instant my presence left the house it would fade away. Curse Maria! She'd made herself out to be trustworthy enough to leave alive; she said she'd never bother me again. Now look at what she's done! Charlotte was gone and Peter was once more under her employ. It was absolute madness! If I knew Maria, she didn't just plan to set fire to the hay bale, she intended to burn the whole barn.
I could only hope to lead them away from the Cullens, from my life here. I wouldn't have the peaceful existence we lived disturbed because of my checkered past. I knew my family. They would fight to the death for me. I'd seen it before. They were good in battle, smart and courageous, but I couldn't ask them to do this for me. I had to do this on my own.
My posture on the barstool in the kitchen was tense. I looked more like a statue than ever. My mind was twisting in circles. How many more would die for me before it would be enough?
"I'd gamble to say the number is infinity," Edward spoke, entering the kitchen and sitting on the stool beside me.
It had been a long while since we'd had one of our insightful discussions. "Too long in fact," Edward mused.
I smirked stiffly. "I certainly will miss them."
He sighed and his face grew slightly somber, "There's always cell phones."
"But would it be the same without you interpreting my every thought?"
My brother chuckled mildly, "No I suppose not."
Silence invaded the air between us like a weight. It was almost too much to bear. The longer I sat there the darker it grew outside.
"I hate twilight," Edward spoke conversationally. "It's so depressing."
"Mmm," I agreed monotonously, "even more so tonight than usual."
I allowed my tense nature to break and leaned against the island, burying my head in my hands as I tried to compute the quickest possible route to the border of Washington.
"You can worry about that in due time." Edward's tone was melancholy.
My head bobbed imperceptibly up and down as I once again busied myself staring out the window. This could very well be our last conversation and I wasn't feeling very conversational.
"Don't think like that, Jazz. You'll be back."
"Unless I die," I observed seeing only the negative aspect in my present mood.
The smirk on Edwards face sung a tale of devious nature. "Well, you're already dead so I don't see how that could be a problem."
I couldn't help the deep velvety chortle that rumbled in my chest, his comment had been so unexpected. After a moment, all was silent again as the sky grew steadily darker outside. Carlisle had the night shift at the hospital and had left already. It had been a very emotional goodbye for him and Alice. It was very upsetting for me as well but I'd handled it with more reserve. Despite my ability, I was not a very emotional person.
Edward sat with a pained expression as he pilfered through my thoughts. Finally he voiced his own aloud, "Jasper can you do me one small favor?"
"Certainly," I agreed despite knowing the condition.
"Please don't hunt any humans to get stronger. I know the temptation will be extreme, given the circumstances, but it would be a most difficult high to come down from and Alice would be beside herself trying to help you start over."
I nodded once at a snail's pace that I understood. The sky was swiftly turning the color of ink outside the large window. My body gracefully removed itself from the stool and I faced my brother with a sigh, "Speaking of Alice, I better go and see that she's all put together."
"Yeah," Edward nodded honing in on her thoughts. "She could use some cheering up."
"Until we meet again," I voiced a little strained as I held out my hand.
Edward took it firmly in his giving it a stiff shake. "Hopefully that won't be too long from now."
I clapped a hand on his back. "I'll do my best to see that it isn't. Whereabouts is Alice?"
"Garage," Edward sighed. "She's a little remorseful over leaving her car."
I smiled a little. Yeah, that sounded like Alice. "Take care of yourself."
In a flash or porcelain white I was soon in the garage where Alice sat moodily on the hood of her yellow Porsche stroking the paint as though caring for an injured child or a wounded animal. My feet crossed the rest of the distance at human speed as I sent her a small wave of contentment. She smiled and her eyes looked up at me, "You always did know how to cheer me up."
I sat beside her and gave a half smile, "It comes naturally." Suddenly I was serious. "Are you all right?"
Alice shrugged and pursed her lips. "Would it make everything better if I told you I love you," I queried slipping my arms around her from behind.
The corner of her lips pulled up just slightly. "It would certainly help."
"What seems to be troublin' you darlin'?" I knew she loved when I allowed my accent to come through instead of disguising it as I always did out of habit. Texas wasn't a part of Jasper Hale.
Her sigh was one of utter exasperation and I was tempted to send her another wave of comfort, this time holding it but I knew she wanted to get this out so I resisted.
"I just..I just can't get past that theater. It seems that both of our futures depend on that choice," her inflection picked up pace as she talked, "and it's all one big haze with a gaping black hole behind it. I can't see if we're going to make it out, if one of us will get hurt, where we'll be after or..."
"Shh," I cut her off gently and kissed her neck consolingly. "Don't worry you're pretty little head about it, none. I'll take care of everythin'. I'm not gonna let anythin' happen to you."
She sighed again and closed her eyes allowing the calm I sent to settle her spirit as she relaxed back into my arms. I couldn't help but think over and over that I was missing some unforeseen detail. Something was wrong. Alice kept seeing this theater in my future but it was fuzzy enough that it had her worried. I was concerned about the path leading up to it. Was there anything I could do to change it? Could I really keep Alice safe from Maria? The only way to know for sure was to trek on… on into the unknown danger and turmoil that awaited.
With the emotional goodbye's out of the way Alice and I were soon speeding down the drive with me at the wheel. Her emotions were all jumbled together as we drove on but I soon straightened them out to give her peace of mind.
"You know you don't have to come," I sighed slowing to a stop at the end of the driveway. "I can turn around right now and you can stay if you like. I'm not forcing you to do this." Leaving Alice behind was never something I would normally agree to, but making her happy was my greatest goal.
Alice's golden eyes met mine with a smile. "Wherever you go, I'll go too. That's how it works. You're the most important thing to me, and right now someone is threatening to ruin everything I've worked so hard for. I'm not about to let anyone steal you away from me."
I smiled imperceptibly and leaned over the center console, leaving a gentle kiss on her lips. I never tired of the way it made her feel. My finger brushed down her nose before I set the car in motion once more.
Forks passed us by in a blur of colors. Soon I pulled onto the main highway taking Alice's hand in mine, consolingly smoothing it with my thumb. How I'd ever gotten by that first century of my existence I'll never know. Hate had been my constant companion and now that love and compassion surrounded me, I simply couldn't go back.
Alice turned on the radio after a bit and began singing along with it in her high soprano as I switched hands on the wheel and relaxed my left arm against the window, propping my head in the curve of my hand. My mind was ticking as always; planning, strategizing, trying to find a hole. I reviewed all that I knew of Maria. She was headstrong and had a bit of a temper; my scars were the evidence of that. Another worry of mine was how much weaker than her I was likely to be. A human diet usually kept a vampire healthy and strong but by becoming a vegetarian my strength would be on a slightly lower level than hers. Not to mention there was the added problem of her little "gift".
It would take quick wit and cunning to defeat her. This time I wasn't going to let her live. One of us was going to have to die at the end; me or her. I wouldn't stop until the threat was eliminated. If I had to kill Peter too then so be it. I hated the thought of having to harm him. He was like my brother, the first family I'd ever had in this new life. If I was lucky, I'd find him before she really sank her claws in.
"Jasper," Alice set a hand on my arm, "you're going to break the steering wheel."
I hadn't even noticed that, as my mind was whirring, my jaw was tightening along with my grip on the wheel of the car. I sighed and loosened it back to a gentle hold. "Sorry."
"Do you want me to take over driving for a bit," she offered gently.
I nodded in agreement after a moment of deliberation and signaled, moving over one lane and pulling off the freeway. I pulled the car to a stop at the first gas station we passed and cut the engine at the pump setting my phone in the cup holder. I exited the Mercedes fluidly and began the transaction allowing the car to fill up with unleaded, leaning against the black vehicle with crossed arms as I waited patiently, an unreadable expression across my marble face. Alice departed the car as well and stood in front of me for a moment as if trying to decide if I was approachable. I smirked and let my arms fall to which she smiled. Her small arms wrapped around me and she rested her head against my chest. I allowed my arms to safely lock around her. My hand made a consoling path up and down her spine knowing she was worried about our future being blurry. We sat like that for a few moments before a man's voice floated from the pump just on the other side of ours, "Don't I know you?"
My golden eyes flew up to his brown ones immediately but I remained calm not wanting give any indication I was less the human. Alice had her eyes closed looking very much as though she'd fallen asleep. I answered his inquiry casually, "I don't believe we've ever met, sir."
I looked as a younger man, probably late teens early twenties to him. It was best to leave it at that illusion by respecting my "elders" as I was taught when I was boy. "You know you look an awful lot like this feller Jasper Whitlock. He was a major in the Civil War. I did my fair share of research on him for a war index I's puttin' together. Found out about him through an old Missing Persons Poster my wife found in an antique scrapbook."
I thought I'd burned all of those. I smiled kindly, "He was my great great grandfather."
"No kiddin'," he exclaimed. "What's your name son?"
"Jasper Whitlock the Third. It's been a family tradition to hand down the name to the firstborn son."
"And who's this pretty young thing," he smiled warmly.
Alice's head popped up just slightly as if on cue. "Alice Whitlock."
Alice moved herself to the side of me to join in the conversation still keeping her arm around me. I could sense her amusement. "James Cadby, " he smiled extending a gloved hand.
I shook it, seeing no harm since his hands were covered. "Say, how much do you know about your great granddaddy?" He seemed to be the inquisitive type.
I shrugged innocently. "I'd say quite a bit…more so than the history books at any rate."
"Would you be interested in an interview with me? I'd really like to get the facts straight. He played a very important part in the First Battle of Galveston but no one knows what really happened. A lot of information got lost."
I could tell he was desperate for these tidbits of information and I figured it couldn't hurt. If they were going to write about me they may as well get it right…mostly. "I'd be happy to," I replied with a nod of my head, "but I may have to get back to you on that. My wife and I have some unfinished business to take care of back home in Houston. Maybe I can get back with you at a later date?"
"Certainly, certainly," the gentlemen beamed from under the dirty cap he wore as he dug in his pocket and extracted a card. "That's my business number and address. Just give me a call when you can and we'll get it all set up."
"Thank you, sir," I replied accepting the card.
"She really is a pretty little thing," he smiled with a shake of his head at Alice.
Her smile was radiant as she responded. "Thank you."
"You're truly lucky to have him," Cadby sighed; "part of great legacy."
"I can imagine," Alice smiled giving me a knowing look.
The gas pump beside us clicked off. I kissed Alice's cheek and went over to tend to it while she continued speaking with Mr. Cadby. "How long have you two been hitched," he asked conversationally.
"Going on three years now," Alice replied.
"Married young then?"
Alice nodded, "I was nineteen." And she still was, in theory.
"Well you seem mature enough for it. A great many young folk make the mistake of marryin' too young and it don't last, but I can see that's not the case with you."
"We've known each other for quite a while," Alice replied as I replaced the nozzle on the pump and closed the gas compartment on the black Mercedes.
"I'm afraid we have to be on the road now," I sighed turning back to Cadby. "It was a pleasure meeting you sir." I shook his hand once more. "I'm certain we'll speak again."
"It was a great honor speaking with you," he replied with a smile, "and you miss. Ya'll stay safe now."
I nodded once, "Will do."
With that Alice climbed behind the wheel of the car and we were soon driving down the road towards my past.
Honesty is the best policy, as the saying goes, but sometimes in life you have to tell a little white lie to survive. My whole existence had been a collection of fabrications, stone cold facades, and near misses. What was it about this day that prompted my past to catch up with me so intrusively?
The air was pregnant with silence for quite some time as we drove on, Alice at the wheel and me in the passenger seat. After a while Alice couldn't take it any longer. "You played that off rather well."
I chuckled very lightly, "It's been a story I've had to recount several times."
Alice smiled wide, "Well what do you expect? History remembers you for your service. You saved a great many innocent lives thanks to your negotiary skills at the First Battle of Galveston."
"Mmm," I mumbled, "just imagine how many more could have been spared if I'd made it to the second battle."
She sighed, "You and I know both sides were wrong anyways. Things worked themselves out."
"Yeah, we're really doing such a wonderful job at taking care of our country after my closest friends and I sacrificed our lives for it," I replied sarcastically. "I'm telling you, Alice, we're heading right into the middle of a second Civil War if we aren't careful. I, for one, don't want to repeat that."
Alice took my small rant as her cue to remain silent. It always astounded me how well she knew me. She always knew when to talk, when stop, when to approach, when to leave me be; the situation worked the same in reverse. We were like two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly when together but made no sense apart.
My mind completely disconnected as I began planning in my head again. Before I knew it, we were soon driving through Texas en route to Houston. I hadn't been through here very often since Maria. Everything had changed since my last visit. We drove through field lands followed by town after town until finally we reached the booming city Houston had become. High rises and big city traffic characterized the landscape. It had certainly come a long way since 1860.
The sun broke through the clouds for a bit so the two of us holed up in a nearby Starbucks, posing as college students working on a school project. As soon as twilight fell, we made our way to a nearby hotel and booked a room to hold up our human façade. With darkness covering the city, Alice practically begged me for a night on the town. She can be very persuasive when she wants to be. With a sigh, I finally agreed and soon we set off from our hotel on a walk down the boulevard. Her eyes grew wide at all the shop windows bringing a smile to my face. She certainly loved a good shopping spree. My wallet, however, did not.
"No, Alice," I complained gently as she tried to drag me into a men's department store.
"Oh please, Jazzy," she begged. "I promise we won't actually spend anything!"
I sighed, "Every time you say that we leave the store with five shopping bags in tow. I just…"
My voice was cut off by the ringing of my cell phone. Alice threw a hand to her mouth as I pulled it out to see Peter's name on the Caller ID. "Pete," it came out a question as I answered the Blackberry.
"Hola, mi amor," Maria's voice came over the other end sounding rich and slightly seductive. "How's my favorite soldad?"
I froze where I stood as the sound of her voice sent a cold chill down my spine. Alice took my hand the other still over her mouth in shock. I couldn't find the words to reply to Maria's ridiculous question.
"Aww baby," she cooed in a Hispanic accent. "I'm terribly sorry; I didn't mean to stun you."
"Where's Peter?" I forced out in a wavering voice, trying to keep my hatred under control as I walked into a nearby ally way with Alice in tow.
"Ay mio! He made the mistake of warning you I was coming! And then he had had the audacity to refrain information from me!" She spoke as though none of this was a big deal. "Me temo que tu amigo está muerto."
If I had a heart it would have stopped beating. I'd spent enough long years with her to understand her native language. 'I'm afraid your friend is dead'. Alice squeezed my hand a little tighter as I replied in an uneven tone, "What."
"I couldn't let him live after betraying me like that," she sighed. "You know the kind of temper I have, Jazzy."
"DON'T… call me that," I very near shouted into the receiver, gritting my teeth. "Only my friends and family get that privilege and you are neither!"
"Now, now Jasper," she clucked her tongue, "there is no reason to be upset, mi amor."
"No reason to be upset," I lost it and began to shout. "NO REASON TO BE UPSET!"
"But Jasper, dear," she interrupted, "you're shouting…is Alice giving you trouble? I could straighten her out you know. After all, I kept you in line with no difficulty."
The scars on my arms seemed to twinge as she spoke of this. A growl emitted itself from the bowls of my chest as Alice and I walked deeper down the alley. "You will stay away from my wife and you will leave me be! I'm not as gullible as Peter! I will not allow you to control my life again! You can just forget about it!"
Maria hissed lightly in annoyance. "The more you fight against me, the more you will lose! I will find you, Jasper Whitlock, and when I do you'll be sorry you ever left me!"
Without warning Alice quickly snatched the phone from my hand and hung up. I merely stared at her in disbelief. "You were done," she shrugged innocently as she gently placed the phone back in my hand.
I couldn't voice aloud the thoughts running through my head; they were much too confusing. Alice remained a small distance from me watching carefully but not coming near. My hand slid the phone back in my pocket as I stared at the brick wall across from me. This did not bode well at all. How was I going to make it out of this? More importantly how on earth was I going to keep Alice out of this? I didn't want to leave her side but at the same time I knew it was only a matter of time before Maria found me. Alice wanted nothing more than to rip out Maria's spleen with her bare hands and she probably would if given the chance. I was at a loss. Peter was gone; the first family I'd ever had… gone. My mind had shut down. I neither moved, nor breathed.
"Jazz?" Alice sounded worried, "Jasper?"
I didn't respond to either attempt to get my attention and she began to panic. Her form was soon in front of me, her hands on either side of my face. "Jasper, it's going to be okay. Please let me know you can hear me. Breathe…"
"Jasper!" She shook my head a little. "Snap out of it! Come on baby… work with me here! Jasper please!"
Finally I sighed. That seemed to calm her down a bit. Her arms wrapped around my neck as she buried her head in my chest. Mechanically, my arms made a vice around her tiny form. After my head was given a few moments to clear itself, I realized that she truly was frightened. My head bent down and kissed her cheeks, her forehead, and lastly her lips. I changed her fear to calm as she placed a hand on my cheek. We simply stared into each other's faces for a while. I felt so lost and so…angry.
Rain began to fall softly around us as I whispered, "I won't let anything happen to you. You have my word."
"Can you give me your word on something else as well?" She spoke softly, tracing my lips with her index finger.
I gently stilled her hand with mine and replied velvetly, "Anything."
"Promise me that you won't let anything happen to you either," she pleaded gently.
I nodded up and down once, slowly. "I'll do my best, darlin'."
Alice stood on her tiptoes and gently kissed my lips as though trying to reassure me that she really did love me and that everything would be alright. My arms automatically pulled her closer as she tangled her fingers in my golden curls. I tried to alleviate her worry with my reassuring kisses. Maria wasn't going to lay a finger on my Alice, of this I was certain. As the rain fell on Houston, Alice and I enjoyed one small moment of bliss in the shadow of the dark abyss coming on the not so distant horizon.
Dawn, a truly beautiful sight to behold indeed; I remember when I was a boy I used to rise early to sit on the hill and watch the sunrise before the day's work began. Now I watched it with my Alice from the porch of our hotel room. The sun glimmered brightly from our skin like a thousand diamonds before it disappeared behind the cloud bank brewing above the town. As always, my mind wasn't captured in the present moment but was instead snared by the ramifications my past was causing all the ones that I love. If only Peter hadn't convinced me to leave Maria alive. Now he was gone and I was left to figure this out without him. How in the blue blazes did I let such a thing happen?
Alice was frantically searching the future from her seat beside me. Peter had managed to let slip how to get around Alice's visions and now Maria was near impossible to keep a lock on. My cell phone began to ring bringing Alice out of her reverie. "It's Edward," she sighed somewhat somberly.
Gently, I pulled the Blackberry from my pocket and clicked the green "talk" button, "Hello?"
"Jasper," Edward's voice floated through the receiver, "Any news?"
I was quiet for a moment before my voice replied stoically, "Peter's dead."
A faint growl of annoyance sounded through the phone, "Does she care about nothing?"
"No," I replied as Alice placed a hand atop mine, "She doesn't. To her this is just one big game and Peter and I are the pawns she can throw out when we've outlived our usefulness. She'll give me two options; death or join her."
"I'm coming out there," he spoke quickly.
"No," I nearly shouted, "I can't have that. She's ruthless Ed. If you got involved you'd be putting Bella's life in danger more so than it already is."
Silence invaded the next few moments and I could tell that Edward's jaw was set with frustration. After a time, he sighed, "I just wish there was something I could do besides worry."
"But you're so good at worrying," I attempted to lighten the mood, "All you need is wrinkly skin and a cat to be considered an old man."
Edward's deep chuckle reached my ear bringing with a small sense of relief that I'd made him laugh; I didn't like my inability to affect his mood with my gift from my location. I heard Emmett shout in the background, "Tell him he owes me the keys to his bike for a week; the Saints won the super bowl!"
I groaned; that's what I get for gambling without Alice's help. "Serves you right," I heard her mutter with a gentle snicker beside me.
"Carlisle wants to speak with you," Edward's voice suddenly turned grave.
Without much pause my father's tone was suddenly pervading my eardrum, "Son, are you certain she is going to follow you?"
"Unless her Motus Operondi has changed," I responded in a softer tone, my mind far off in thought, "Out of curiosity, why do you ask?"
"Because I've just received a phone call from the hospital," he paused as if weighing his words before speaking them, "They've just had three emergency calls."
"What does that have to do with Maria?"
"They were all animal attacks," he breathed the words as if to say them brought him great pain.
"You don't mean…"
"…she could possibly be here," Carlisle stated flatly and I once more wished I could send emotions through the phone.
Alice's hand tightened on mine as her eyes shifted far off into the distance. "Bella," she whispered in a panicked voice.
I didn't need to ask what she saw to understand it. "Carlisle," my voice was urgent, "Tell Edward to get Bella to the house now! Don't let her out of your sight for even a moment!"
The sound of a door slamming floated through the receiver and I knew my message had been heard. "What about you, Jasper," Carlisle spoke in the tone of a worried father, "What are you going to do?"
My mind was already ticking as hundreds of strategies and plans tried to work themselves out in my head. "I don't know," I sighed, "we'll figure something out."
"Call me when you do," he asked kindly, "I want to know you and Alice are safe."
"I will," I nodded, "I'll speak with you soon."
After saying our goodbye's I selected the end button and stared off at the horizon with pursed lips. Alice ran her hand between my shoulder blades wordlessly. Was it possible that Maria was heading for Forks instead of here? Had her M.O. changed? It was certainly probable that she'd switched tactics over the years. It had been a decent fifty or more since I'd seen her last. This would make it considerably difficult to stay three steps ahead. It was like a chess game in which the opponent was unreadable. "Jazz," Alice spoke softly, breaking the silence.
"Hmm," came my muffled reply through my still pursed lips.
Alice took her time selecting her words as though sensing I was in a delicate state of mind, "Are you all right?"
As always, I seemed incapable of lying to her. Swiftly I got to my feet and crossed the small porch, leaning on the railing. "I don't know," I breathed hanging my head. The air rustled slightly as Alice ghosted behind me. Her arms snaked around me in a consoling embrace as she kissed the space between my shoulders and rested her forehead there. We stayed like that for an immeasurable lapse of time before she stood on her tiptoes to kiss my cheek; even when I was slouched she was too short to reach. I changed her emotions of concern to calm bringing a captivating smile to her already glorious features. My index finger brushed lightly down the bridge of her nose as I turned to face her. I couldn't even imagine what I'd be like right now if it wasn't for her. Surely I wouldn't be handling this present situation with any dignity at all. She was like the antidote to the poison Maria had injected into my soul since day one of my transformation. As if sensing my train of thought, Alice's fingers lightly traced the mottled skin of my arm identifying each scar. After a moment her gaze met mine and she whispered softly, "We will stop her Jasper. I promise I'll try harder to track her. You deserve to have this end once and for all."
I gathered my wife's small form into my arms all at once, encompassing her in the circle of my own. Her head rested comfortably under the curve of my chin as I held her close. "You've already done more than you know," my voice came out below a whisper but I knew she could hear.
"But is it enough," she replied just as softly.
My lips gently met the top of her head, "More than enough."
My mind continued to work. Should we go back? Should we stay? What were Maria's intentions? I hated that she knew just how to get inside my head and torment me without lifting a finger. She didn't need Jane's ability to do that. Alice was suddenly trembling in my arms breaking my mind free of its wanderings. "Alice what is it? What do you see," I questioned trying to keep my tone calm though I was anything but.
"Edward," was all Alice could manage, "NO!"
That settled it. We couldn't stay here, our family needed us. My phone was out of my pocket in a flash and dialing Edward as I raced into the room and ensured our things were together. After four rings the receiver finally picked up. "Donde estas mi amor," Maria's voice cooed over the line, "I've searched the whole town for you but all I found was this measly human and someone who claims to be your brother."
My feet stopped cold in their tracks as Alice hugged her arms around herself trying to see farther into the future then she could. My larynx seemed to be out of order as my eyes hardened and my grip tightened on the phone. "Sin palabras," Maria queried, stating that I was lost for words, "As you should be. Now listen to me carefully, Jasper. I will only say this once. You will join me or your brother dies along with his loco novia. I will give you three days to decide. When the sun sets on the third day, I will drink the girl dry and do to your brother worse things than I did to you before he's burned alive," venom shot from every word she spoke.
The anger that boiled beneath the surface of my calm façade was threatening to spill over. I wanted to call her every foul name that existed, to yell at her until I was unable to yell anymore; the words wouldn't come. "Three days," she hissed. The line went dead. Slowly I lowered the phone from my ear and pushed end. My muscles yearned to break something, anything. I was about to do just that when Alice ghosted in front of me and put her hands on either side of my face looking deep into my eyes, "You will remain calm, Jasper. If you so much as wreck anything in this hotel room you will draw attention to us and we'll never make it out of town."
My voice box was still having a hard time working through the insurmountable hatred and anger I felt boiling throughout me. It was as though the last fifty years had never occurred when I simply heard the musical tones of Maria's alluring voice. If Alice hadn't come with me I probably would have gone crazy after that call, breaking everything in sight. Instead, I was instantly filled with worry for her. My hand gently caressed her face as I searched her eyes and emotions, weighing what I saw and felt. She was torn between so many different emotions I couldn't keep up. Instead, I once more replaced them with calm. A sigh ricocheted through her lungs as she collapsed against my chest, wrapping her delicate arms around my torso. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Your comfort and safety comes before mine," I replied as my hand methodically rubbed her back in a consoling manor, "Did you see anything else."
"Not much," she breathed against my shirt, "She has them both but where is unclear, almost as if she's not sure where to take them."
"And the theater," I queried.
"At the moment, you're not standing outside it any longer."
"That's good isn't it?"
"I'm not sure yet," she sighed, "All these visions of you are unclear as if you're undecided or maybe the situation isn't definite. Fortunately I can rest easy knowing that your future hasn't disappeared yet."
"One small bit of good news is better than none I suppose."
We stood like that for only a few fleeting moments before I kissed her forehead and ghosted about the room ensuring we had left nothing behind. Alice stood in the center of the room staring a hole through the floor. It was bad enough that she was always watching my future intently; this was an added stress she didn't need. Her fears were becoming more difficult to quell with my own rising anger and dread peaking to a new height. None of this made any sense. Why was Maria even trying to get us back in the first place? It was a simple question and one that I should have tried to answer before anything else, yet it remained ignored until now.
She could have been building another army but in this day and age the Vampire Wars were over; there was no just cause. If things got any more out of hand I may have to call on the Volturi for help. I loathed the thought of asking Aro for anything, especially after the way he treated Alice and Edward a few months ago when Edward had tried to kill himself. He wanted Alice by his side too badly for my personal comfort. "Are you ready," My voice floated through the room as my eyes locked on Alice. Her head bobbed up and down once causing her inky black hair to bounce infinitesimally. "Please don't hurt yourself tryin' to see farther than you can," I begged softly as she held the door open for me to carry our bags through.
"What else am I supposed to do," she sighed, "Your future is my future."
My icy lips left a kiss on her smooth forehead, "I might have a plausible plan."
We walked on down the well lit hallway towards the elevators. "Funny," her brow furrowed, "I can't see it. It doesn't involve the wolves does it?" My head shook minutely in response as my pale finger called the elevator. "It relies on too many decisions then," she sighed.
The bell above the lift chimed as the doors slid aside to reveal the interior. After checking out at the front desk we were once more driving down the freeway, this time towards home. Rain pelted the windshield as though forewarning of the events to come. My phone was out of my pocket and dialing my father in no time. "Hello," He answered hurriedly. My voice was full of stoicism as I gave a very short reply, "We're coming home."
Thunder crashed as lightning splayed across the skies overhead. Through it all I drove on with an emotionless expression as I did my best to remain calm despite the stressful situation. Alice was silent in the passenger seat beside me. I could sense her worry and did my very best to quell it but it was a feeble attempt. My own emotions were much too unbalanced to substantially alter the ones surrounding me. Alice laid a gentle hand over mine above the upholstered center console, "Give it a rest darling. I don't want you to overexert yourself."
"It's what I do best," I joked in a stoic manner never removing my eyes from the road ahead.
I opened my hand in invitation and soon her smooth icy fingers were interlaced with my own. My lips pursed in a thin line as I pondered on what Forks would hold for us upon our return. It worried me to think that Maria had Bella in her clutches. My soon to be sister-in-law was tempting enough to me; I shuddered to imagine how difficult it would be for Maria to hold off. If I knew her, the second her thirst hit critical she'd deviate from her plan to quench it. Edward was likely to try and intervene which would ensure a tussle of some sort. While they viciously fought, I envisioned Bella screaming for them to stop from the corner of the room. Though I had faith in my brother, I couldn't see him getting out of this one alive; Maria doesn't fight fair.
Alice gripped her head lightly with her free hand as she leaned against the window. As though reading my mind she answered the unspoken question waiting on my cold lips, "There's way too many things going on in the future. The mere thought of it all is making my head spin."
"Perhaps you should take a breather from your abilities as well," I suggested, more concerned with her well being as always, "You could at least lighten the load somehow."
"But that would mean turning a blind eye to several things," She began to protest.
I didn't say another word; I didn't have to. The pleading look in my eyes was enough to make Alice cave. "All right," she muttered, "I suppose I can drop the sales at Macy's and JC Penny's." My eyebrow arched slightly as I glanced askance at my wife. She heaved a sigh, "And Icing." My eyebrow rose higher as my brows furrowed together. "Oh fine," She exclaimed, "And Rue 21, Forever 21, Peebles, Khols, Body Central, and Old Navy."
My mouth twisted in a slight smirk as I turned my gaze back to the rain darkened roadways, "You forgot about all the shoe stores."
Alice's mouth seemed to drop imperceptibly at the thought, "You, my dear soldier, are entirely too observant for your own good."
"And here I thought that was one of the things you loved about me," I sighed in a joking manner.
"Of course it is," She smiled curling her feet under her in the seat, "I just don't want to drop the shoe stores too."
"You have to Alice," I spoke in a more serious manner, "I can't have you stressing yourself anymore than is necessary. Edward already has you keeping an eye out for Victoria and watching the Volturi's every move. You can only take on so much at a time."
The car was silent for a while as I drove on. Alice traced a pattern on the back of my right hand in hers. Every swirl seemed to shoot electricity up my arm quelling my own tense emotions. It awed me how such simple actions could have such a gigantic effect. After a time she finally sighed, "I'll drop the shoe stores if it eases your mind."
"Thank you," I replied calmly as the rain pelted the windshield leaving behind a soft plink sound.
I knew how much those things meant to Alice. She'd been locked up for most of her life in an asylum and the first decade of her vampire existence had been spent alone. Living life to its fullest was her mission. She wanted to have the life that had been stolen and I wanted her to have as much of that as she could. Where others saw an annoying, perky girl who should be avoided I saw a woman who understood the true meaning of existing and who had managed to turn on a light where there was none to be found.
I truly appreciated her effort. It wouldn't be long before she was peeking every so often at such trivial things once more, I knew this to be true, but if her mind was eased even for a few hours it would be well worth it. I didn't even know what was going through my own head as I drove. Speed limit signs meant nothing to me as I pushed the Mercedes to its limits wishing to get home before Maria did anything else. This wasn't supposed to be happening. When I walked away that was supposed to be the end of it. Pellets of water fell harder against the window sounding more like they were crashing against the exterior of the car versus the casual taps they'd made previously. The weather certainly matched my unpropitious mood. As Alice closed her eyes and continued to scan the future my mind began creating a number of strategies and checklists to solve this problem without creating greater chaos.
Maybe if I played this game Maria's way for the first leg and allowed myself ample time to study her behavior I'd have a more decent chance of success. Her tactics spoke volumes of desperation meaning people would get seriously hurt if I slipped up even temperately. Edward could take a beating pretty well and he had an extra advantage on Maria; however, Bella was considerably delicate in comparison. If I pressed the right nerve Maria was likely to snap and Bella's fragile existence would halt. Despite how uncomfortable the stubborn human made me, I'd grown accustomed to her presence in my life as Alice had said I would. I couldn't imagine a world in which her scent didn't linger in the house or her aura didn't grace my gift with its beauty. Though she was more timid than my Alice, Bella had a beautiful soul and created an enjoyable emotional climate for me. It had substantially raised Edward's despondence which was a great relief to my own emotional state.
Time seemed at a standstill as we drove on passing mile marker after mile marker, trying to cross the entire distance apace of the horrid future. Alice still couldn't see where Maria had taken Edward and Bella which greatly concerned me. Either Maria couldn't decide what to do with them or she was purposefully being indecisive to keep Alice away. It was difficult to be infuriated with Peter for divulging the holes in Alice's visions when I knew he'd lost his life to this tyrant; it was with her that my animosity lay. As time dragged on, so did the deafening silence between my wife and I. Neither could bring forth the thoughts pervading our consciousness. The day turned into night and the world inevitably revolved beneath us. I had to fill the car with gas on a few occasions but other than those necessary stops we didn't cease our motion for anything. Anxiety began to wash over me as we crossed the border into Washington. We were so close I could almost smell Esme, Carlisle, Rose and Emmett. "Fiddlesticks," Alice whispered beside me, leaning her head in her hand.
"What seems to be the trouble," I queried with a raised eyebrow.
A sigh racked through her ribcage before she spoke venomously, "The entire families future just faded to black which can only mean one thing…"
"Wolves," I whispered.
Her head bobbed up and down in a minute fashion. What in the sam hill would the werewolves be doing with the others? My anxiousness became more pronounced as Forks grew nearer and nearer. I was pushing three hundred when the car finally crossed the invisible border of town. Fleetly the car sped down the road until we were on the two lane highway that led to our driveway. I was becoming more and more overwrought with every passing tree and shrub that marked our proximity to home. After what seemed an eternity to me, the end of the drive was in sight. Tire's squealed as I made a pinpoint right turn and headed down the hairpin curves of our drive entirely too fast. Alice seemed tense as well; her breathing was shallow and fast as her trepidation washed over me. A warning glance from her told me not to even dare try and pacify it. Esme was already out the door when the car screeched to a stop in front of our luxurious home. Alice ghosted immediately into our mother's waiting arms, feeling relief and happiness all in one; even the short few days we'd been gone had taken its toll on her. Emmett normally would have given me a noogie against my will or chased me around the yard in an attempt to give me a hug that I refused; today was different. With the disappearance of Edward and Bella he seemed to be in the most somber of moods; they all did.
Esme threw her arms around me next. She whispered barely audible, "I'm so glad you're safe." I nodded as she kissed my cheek and pulled away. "Where's Carlisle," I inquired, though I was sure I already knew the answer.
"Oh," Esme waved a hand as though it was nothing, "you know him; always working. He hasn't left the hospital in almost twenty four hours."
My lips pursed slightly in thought as my eyes darted around the yard out of habit. In my mind danger seemed to lurk everywhere, even in the very forest that we called home. As my eyes met my mother's once again another question came to mind, "Have any of the wolves stopped by?" Her head shook in negative response, "No. I wouldn't expect them to break treaty anyhow. Why? What's playing through that brilliant mind of yours?"
I glanced imperceptibly at my wife before answering Esme's harmless inquest, "Alice says our futures have all become darkened. The wolves plan to interfere."
"Why, we haven't done anything," Emmett folded his arms in defiance, "I mean I know I'm a bit childish but…"
"Bella's gone and there have been attacks in the town," Alice chirped with slight melancholy, "They're sure to jump to conclusions before thinking it through; they wouldn't be mutts if they didn't."
Rosalie was silent as she leaned against the frame of the door with folded arms and pursed strawberry red lips. Her topaz orbs seemed to stare a hole through the driveway; I half expected her to start shooting lasers from her eyes. All of us were upset with Edward's disappearance. It was normally him that took the reins, remaining in the spotlight, while I silently kept everyone calm. He and I had a system for working together in times like this; now I had to find another way to make this work. As I followed the rest of the family back inside the house, Alice close at my side, I tried to figure out how to best work this out. In an instant, I was seated on the couch with a mask of stoicism for a face as the cogs in my mind turned. Alice delicately sat beside me and wordlessly pulled my arms around her as her forehead rested against the skin of my neck.
Despite her wishes, I changed her worry to contentment, unable to stand feeling her upset. Her fingers played lithely with the collar of my shirt; her mouth pulled up in a miniature grin, incapable of pouting under my gift. Rosalie rolled her eyes in annoyance at the inactivity of the household; no one was in the mood to do any of our normal activities. With a final sigh of disdain, she disappeared to the garage to relieve her stress by fixing one of the vehicles. "Stay away from the bike," I ordered half heartedly after her. My sister's reply came with a sense of smugness, "I dismantled that yesterday."
The icy curvature of my lips seemed to twitch infinitesimally with irritation. Emmett took this as his cue to leave the room. "She was only trying to keep busy," he shrugged before he disappeared in a blur of porcelain white. I'd had my eye on that beautiful piece of machinery since Edward bought it. Leave it to Rose to take it apart the first chance she got. I just couldn't think under these stressful conditions. Things were getting way too complicated. Alice growled lightly in her chest as my cell phone began to alert of a text message. Did I dare read it? So far all incoming transmissions to my phone had been horrible. The sound of clanging pots reached my ears signaling Esme was cleaning in her distress as an engine revved in the garage. This had to end; I couldn't bear to see my family in this state.
My brow furrowed as I pulled the expensive phone from my pocket to find a message from Jacob Black:
Meet me at the field immediately; come alone.
"What does it say," Alice inquired, clearly strung out from her inability to see the wolves.
"He wants to meet me…alone," I breathed.
With the smallest rustle, Alice was on her feet, "Absolutely not! I'm not letting you out of my sight until I know Maria is dispatched. What if it's a trap?"
"The fact that you can't see what's going to happen clearly implies it really is one of the dogs," I sighed massaging my temple with a finger, "but don't worry your pretty little head; I'm not about to leave you alone… not even for a moment."
Her feet continued to tread, one two, one two, across the floor. I quelled her worry sending her lips into a tight line, "That's not fair."
"Since when has anything in our lives been fair," I murmured looking away from her, a slight sadness in my tone.
The sounds of dishes clanging and tools clattering seemed to silence as Alice sat beside me and ran a hand between my shoulder blades, "Jazz…"
"I'm just frustrated, that's all," I voiced apace of her sentence, "Nothin' to worry about."
Her hand lightly twisted between the curls at the base of my neck as I let out a breath of annoyance at the complexity of the current situation. Nothing was certain, a fact that greatly disturbed me. We didn't know where Maria was, why she was doing this or where she'd go next. From the outside it appeared as though this was an unwinnable game but I refused to give up. I'd either win or die trying; there were no other options. Alice seemed to be watching me intently, waiting for what I'd do next. Judging by the lack of sound or movement in the other rooms, I figured the rest of the family was doing the same."We'd better see what he wants," I finally spoke quietly.
With the sound of a whirlwind the rest of the family was suddenly in the room as well. My eyes flew up to them as my lips parted slightly. "Dude, we're comin' too," Emmet declared aloud, "Don't even try to stop us."
"I may be an overprotective fool as Alice so lovingly points out," I shot her a sideways glance to see her beaming beside me, "but I'm no idiot. Despite the treaty, I don't trust the mutts to keep their word. Esme, perhaps you should stay here and wait for Carlisle…"
"No," she cut me off placing her hands on either hip in a very motherly fashion, "I'm not about to let my children go running off to the wolves with a mad vampire on the loose. She's already got Edward and Bella; I'm not about to take that sitting down."
My lips pursed in slight chagrin as I gave a feeble nod of my head, "You should at least call him and let him know what's going on. What's the…"
"It's eleven thirty P.M.," Alice chirped with a smile from beside me.
I couldn't help but smirk imperceptibly as she supplied an answer before I completed the question, "Thanks darlin'. Emmett, how much gas does your Jeep have?"
"It's got a full tank," he smiled; glad to be in on the plan.
"Excellent," I nodded, "Then let's get a move on. You can ride in the rear; I'm driving."
"As always," he chuckled as everyone headed for the garage.
In a swift blur I was soon in the driver's seat turning the engine over. Esme took the passenger seat while Rosalie and Alice sat in the back. Emmett stood in the truck bed impatiently drumming on the hood of the car, "Let's burn some rubber Jasper!" The garage door rose at a snail's pace causing my jaw to set in impatience; we didn't have much time. As soon as it was clear I hit the gas as speeding down the drive at a hundred and fifty miles an hour. Rain fell in torrents as it always did on our side of the world. Emmett was instantly drenched but he wasn't complaining. "FASTER JAZZ," he shouted at the top of his lungs, "WOO! YEAH BABY!"
"Are you insane," I queried in a normal tone, "You're going to get us arrested for disturbing the peace!"
"And you'll get us arrested for speedin' bro," he gave a hearty laugh, "We haven't even gone through town yet, live a little!"
A sigh floated through my lips as I followed the highway towards the field we used for baseball when the storms came through. My hand was a blur as it flipped the button switching the Jeep into four wheel drive. With a twist of the steering wheel, the car was soon speeding through the trees as the high beams lit the forest around us. Alice came to a realization suddenly and leaned her cheek against my chair just above my shoulder to inquire, "Jazz, why did we bring the car? Running might have been faster."
My lips pursed again as I maneuvered the treacherous paths hidden between the trees, "Because I want to confuse the wolves; I have no doubt Jacob brought friends. They'll expect us to be running through the woods; it's a lot harder to sink teeth into metal then flesh."
"Oh," she sighed as she slid back into her seat.
I could tell she didn't like being unable to see what was going to happen next. If I was being truthful I'd say I didn't like it either. Jacob was an okay human being; as far as his aura went, he cared for Bella genuinely and would do anything for her. Sadly, he also had a large portion of hatred towards my family and I, especially Edward. I wouldn't put it past the mutt to pull something drastic if he thought we'd hurt Bella. Soon we broke into the clearing leaving muddy tire tracks behind us in the grass. The thundering of the nearby waterfall added to the plopping sound of the rain that vibrated in my sensitive eardrums as an overwhelming stench reached my nostrils. "He's here," I muttered cutting the engine, "Stay in the car."
"No," Alice protested gripping my arm to keep me from exiting the car, "I can't see what's going to happen. You can't make me sit here blindly… please Jazz…"
A deep sigh whistled through my mouth and nose as I met her gaze and felt the helplessness she was experiencing. My head gave a stiff nod, "Okay but don't tick him off." Alice gingerly kissed my cheek and hopped out of the Jeep onto the muddy field. The rain made dark spots on my clothing as I slid out of the car and shut the door. My wife slipped her hand gently in mine, her inky black locks already falling flat due to the weather; a fact that was causing her annoyance. "I just bought these shoes," she hissed through her teeth. "We can worry about that later," I whispered in return as my eyes darted around the field searching for a russet colored wolf or a dark skinned human, "I can smell them; there's definitely more than one. Their heartbeats are coming from that direction; no doubt, their watching us from the trees."
"What do we do now," Alice questioned as she gave my hand a light squeeze.
"We wait for them to make the first move."
The rain continued to pour around us as the wolves observed us from one side and my family observed from the other. The spots on my shirt grew together until the whole of my clothes was drenched and my hair stuck to my face. After waiting a decent five minutes in the chilling weather, Jacob Blacks human form emerged from the trees flanked by two dark colored wolves. His bare feet sloshed in the mud as his eyes bored murderously into my own. Sensing the hostility among them, I swiftly changed the environment to peace. Jacob's lips pursed into a thin line until they almost disappeared; Bella must have told him about my ability. "You wanted to see me Jacob," I stated in as kind a tone as I could muster. "I told you to come alone," he replied in a flat voice of forced calm; he wanted to speak aggressively, that much was clear. "Yes, well," I smirked, "It appears I'd be out numbered at unfair odds if I had. Something tells me this wasn't a pleasure trip."
"Where's Bella," he inquired with balled up fists as he tried to fight off my ability.
"If I knew that do you think I would be wasting my time conversing with a mongrel instead of finding her," My tone remained calm despite my own frustrations; a practice that had come in handy during war.
"Don't give me that bull," he spat, or rather tried to, "I know what happened on Bella's birthday. Who's to say you wouldn't do it again. People are dying and Bella is gone. I think you're just on a frenzy that you can't stop."
A harsh growl rumbled deep in my chest, "You've got the gall to tell me you think I did this? To do such a thing would hurt Alice. Use your smarts boy; I know you've got some in that thick tail wagging mind of yours. I'd never do anything to upset her."
"Really," Jacob patronized taking a step closer, "cause I heard all it took was a little paper cut to make you go crazy. That's not even one little drop of blood, leech. For someone who acts so tough you certainly are weak."
I made to lunge forward as a hiss sifted through my teeth but Alice held me back with a gentle tug on my hand. "No Jazz," she spoke calmly, "he just wants to rile you up so he has an excuse to hurt you." I knew my wife was right but that didn't change the fact that I wanted to cause Jacob Black pain at that moment. It wouldn't be difficult to do so without lifting a finger. All I had to do was change his emotions to grief, depression or emotional agony and watch him suffer. If Alice hadn't been there, I might have done just that; she really was much better for me than I realized. "I see your girlfriend keeps you on a short leash," Jacob chuckled.
"You'd know all about that wouldn't you, mutt," I forced my voice to stay calm again.
"I'll ignore that and ask you only once more before I let Quil and Embry tear you to pieces; where's Bella," Jacob gritted his teeth awaiting an answer.
"I've already told you, I don't know."
"Surely your little fortune teller here can tell you."
Alice's eyes narrowed, "I resent that."
"All right children," Esme spoke ghosting onto the field, "That's enough. We don't have time for this."
Despite the fact that Jacob hated all vampires he still seemed to show a small bit of respect for Esme. "Jacob," she spoke kindly to the wolf, "we know who has Bella but we haven't the slightest idea where she is. Maria has discovered how to mess with Alice's gift and she's making things considerably difficult for us to find them right now. Edward is with Bella in Maria's custody. If I know my son, he won't let her near Bella."
"Well that's a great comfort," Jacob mumbled.
"Esme's right," I sighed glancing aside at my mother momentarily before meeting Jacobs brown eyes again, "We don't have time to stand here and argue. Maria's trying to build some sort of army but we're not sure why. Things could get ugly around here."
"That still doesn't tell me what this leech wants with Bella," the mutt set his jaw, unable to shout like he wanted.
"It's not Bella she wants," I muttered as the rain lightened infinitesimally, "It's me."
The entire field was silent as a tomb. Rain cascaded down up on us as six pairs of mongrel eyes glared at me trying to decide which piece they wanted to rip apart first.
Jacob's teeth clenched together before he voiced the thoughts he'd been hiding through the whole conversation, "You'd better let me go bloodsucker." My eyes were soft as my gift created peace in the surrounding area while my face was blank and expressionless, "Why? I don't trust you."
"So I can kick your sorry ass," he retorted.
"I'm afraid you can't," I smirked, "We're still under treaty."
"As far as I can see the treaty is null and void."
My head shook left to right, "Read the fine print, Fido. I haven't touched a human therefore you can't touch me."
Quil nuzzled Jacobs hand and looked off towards the trees as though trying to tell him something. The flea bags brown eyes left me fleetly to lock on their leader, Sam, walking steadily from the trees in human form; this couldn't be good. Something in my instincts was screaming for me to run but my dignity told me to stay put. Casually, my arm pushed Alice behind me a little further so she was out of the line of fire in case something went horribly wrong. Her lips pursed in slight frustration at my over protectiveness but we didn't have time to debate it today. Sam's expression softened as he reached the outer edge of my gift. "Jacob," he spoke in a deep voice, "The vampire is right. You can't end his existence; he hasn't harmed a human."
"He's still the main threat," Jacob retorted waving a hand at me as though I was garbage that could easily be tossed away.
"The treaty still stands; we'll have to go about it another way," Sam sighed as though disappointed he couldn't end my life.
A slight growl of annoyance gurgled in my chest as Alice gripped my shoulders from behind, clinging to me, refusing to let them touch me. I was standing right there yet they were talking about me as though I was miles away. My mouth remained clenched shut to prevent the string of obscenities from overflowing through my lips; it would only make things worse. If I'd learned anything at all in my war years, it was that silence was sometimes the quickest means to an end. I was only mildly aware of the rain that was pouring down upon us, drenching each to the bone. I had a horrible feeling in my gut that I was about to be separated from Alice and that feeling was usually never wrong. As I thought this, my arm subconsciously pushed her just a space more behind me. Jacob wanted to be irritated, that much was apparent; instead he appeared calm and complacent all thanks to me. Sam turned to me with a tight jaw apparently not appreciative of my gift either. He nodded once, acknowledging my presence before speaking, "What does she want with you?"
My lips were dry despite the rain. If I revealed too much of my past they might consider me unstable but if I lied too much, the problem could only get worse. Weighing my options apace in my mind, I finally decided on a straight answer, "I used to be in her employ but I resigned; she wants me to return."
"That didn't answer my question," Sam spoke stiffly, "She wants you… that much I've got. I need the why."
"You say you worked for her," Jacob cut in, "Doing what?"
Esme eyed me askance; she would have been afraid if I wasn't forbidding it. Alice leaned her head against my back, burying it there. I assumed she was trying to see into the future despite is disappearance. What did I say? The actions I committed during that century long time span were horrendous; I'd been exactly the kind of monster they were sworn to destroy. There was no way to sugar coat it. I wanted to lie but Maria was getting violent against the innocent people of Forks; the wolves had a right to know who they were dealing with. I inhaled deeply grimacing only just at the stench of dog in the air; my voice was clear and full of calm as I replied, "Keeping her army under control. It was my duty to seek out the best humans, the ones who would serve her well once changed. I was to train them, lead them, and after a year, destroy them. It's why I have such difficulty with self control as Jacob so patronizingly pointed out."
Sam's eyes seemed to narrow as he studied me. It was evident that he wasn't very pleased with the treaty at that moment; he saw me as a threat. "You were once a human killer," Sam inquired in a calm deep voice. My voice couldn't find itself to answer; the stiff nod from my head would have to suffice. Jacob's face was calm but his eyes betrayed what he was thinking; if I hadn't been holding his emotions tightly, I'd be in the middle of a warzone. "This is ridiculous," I heard Emmett mutter from the bed of his jeep. Sam's eyes flitted to my brother for a fleeting moment before returning to me. His face was full of indecision. I could rest easy knowing that I would live since I hadn't violated the treaty, however I had a terrible feeling that I wasn't going to get off scotch free. Why couldn't my past leave me be? I'd left that world behind long ago yet it seemed to try and worm its way back into my life every chance it got.
"Watch him," Sam ordered the two mangy mutts behind him, "Jacob, come with me." Without so much as a word, the two leaders departed our gathering and disappeared in the trees to discuss the matter. My assumption was that they had transformed in the trees so we couldn't hear their conversation; I couldn't pick up a single word of it. A streak of lightning jagged across the sky. Despite its beauty it saddened me slightly; so many happy memories had occurred on this field. Now it seemed to no longer be a place of solitude for us. Why did I always seem to be at the center of it all when terrible things happened? Whatever the reason, I was prepared to do what it took to make this end. After what had felt like two lifetimes, the sound of feet against the grass reached my ears. My body tensed, awaiting the verdict. Alice's fingernails were digging into my shoulders gradually with every step the mongrels took towards us. Silence befell the field as the mutts stopped before us. Jacob gave a smile of satisfaction which unnerved me greatly. The wind rustled lithely through the trees. The rain cascaded around us. The shrill of an owl. A rustle in the foliage. Laughter in his eyes. Joyful emotions. A voice.
"The leech comes with us," he announced triumphantly.
"NO," Alice screeched from behind me as her head popped up.
Esme was tense, I was speechless. Emmett ghosted from the bed of the truck to stand protectively in front of me. "If you want to take Jasper, you'll have to go through me."
"We can do this the easy way or the hard way," Sam spoke with dignity; he wanted to avoid a confrontation.
"Well then we'll do it the hard way," Emmett countered, putting his fists up, ready for a fight.
"No, Emmett," I spoke with a calm presence that seemed to bring the tense level of those around me down to a more relaxed state, "We have to do this their way for now."
My brother turned to look at me as though I was insane while my wife clung to me all the tighter. Jacob's brow furrowed in confusion at my willingness to be taken captive. My hand rested on Emmett's well muscled shoulder, "Emmett, if this avoids further casualties then it's the best option. You can't go looking for Maria if you're torn to pieces."
"Neither can you," he observed with a hint of sadness in each inflection.
Another bright flash of electricity brightened the surrounding field. "That's a risk I'm willing to take," I replied stoically, "Sometimes in order to protect your king, you have sacrifice a few pawns."
"Jazz," My brother tried to argue but I wouldn't have it.
My demanding tone cut him off before he could retort with another pointless excuse, "Emmett, please just do as I say for once in your life. Everything doesn't have to be an argument."
Alice's arms tighten around my neck, refusing to let go, "Don't Jazzy…please. I can't see what will happen if you do and I can't imagine…please…"
Gracefully, I turned to look into her topaz eyes; she hugged herself closer to me. If she could cry, I knew she would be. "Alice," My voice was soft as my index finger gently held her chin, "You have to be brave for me, okay? Edward and Bella need you. Please don't do anything rash and for the love of all that is holy, do not go anywhere on your own. Precognition of an attack is not enough to evade Maria."
Words escaped Alice in that moment. A simple nodded of her head was the only answer she seemed capable of. "Hey," I mumbled letting go of everyone else and sending her a thrill of joy, "Smile." The corners of her mouth pulled back, unable to help it. The gelid tips of my fingers brushed her cheek before tucking a raven's feather of hair behind her pixie ear, "Be strong, I promise I'll be back before you know it."
Jacob snickered, "Not likely."
Ignoring the buffoon's idiotic remark, I tenderly kissed Alice, allowing as much serenity as possible to flow through her. Lightning flashed followed immediately by thunder; the storm was just above us now. I rested the contours of my forehead against hers quite reluctant myself to let her go and walk away. I was cognizant that if I didn't cooperate, the wolves may not be so forgiving. At that moment, I did the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my one hundred and sixty six years; I phased back a step away from Alice, doing my best to hide the pain it was causing me. My expression remained stolid albeit my inner emotions. Without warning, a high degree of calidity closed upon my arms and I was pulled away from her somewhat reluctantly by Jacob Black. "Come on leech," he growled, "You've said you're goodbyes."
I didn't even get so much as a second glance at my wife before he shoved me off towards the trees impatiently, never releasing his grip on me. Thunder rumbled once more, shaking the ground as though God disapproved of the mongrel's actions. As we disappeared into the topiary my gift reached it limit of focus, slipping away from Alice with every step I took. I managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of her before Jacob impelled me on; she'd sunk to her knees in the muddy grass, crying tearless sobs as her eyes followed me intently, Esme's hand on her shoulder in an attempt at comfort. I winced imperceptibly as I felt a smidgeon of her grief. It soon faded with distance. A prisoner of war, I walked with Jacob holding me firmly, one transformed mutt in front and another behind. In my distraction I hadn't noticed Sam metamorphose and leave our small group. I concluded he was probably leaving word with the elders on the latest turn of events.
Time was idiopathic to me as we walked on in dead silence. Jacob's pride was unsettling; I could tell he'd been dreaming of this moment for the longest time. My feet moved without thought; the only thing I was capable of feeling was sadness and worry. Surely Maria would know of this event. She never worked alone; there was bound to be someone keeping tabs on Alice and I. Even at that moment it felt as though she was watching me. How could I have let this happen? Why had I let Peter convince me not to kill her all those years ago? If I had, this wouldn't be a problem. Look where it had gotten him; he was gone, erased from the earth like a dispensable piece of trash tossed in the garbage can. Would I meet the same fate? If so, I was curious if it would be at the hands of the wolves or if it would be Maria's. Such thoughts were dismal and depressing yet I couldn't help thinking them through the dead air that surrounded our little foursome.
The disgusting odor of more dogs reached my nose as we crossed the La Push border. I examined the terrain intently as they led me through the reservation to a cabin like home amidst the trees, memorizing the path in case things reached a critical level. I would play their game for now but only as long as it kept my family safe from their on the spot, most often erratic judgments. A woman with dark brown hair, even swarthier brown eyes and a marred face held open the front door with a saddened expression; she didn't approve. Who was she anyhow? She was completely human yet she seemed involved in the mongrel's business in some way. She must have been the dogs' version of Bella. The two other mutts disappeared in the foliage to phase as I was led upstairs by Jacob to an empty room floored with mottled wood and furnished by a single couch; the attic. Nothing else filled the space but the disgusting moldy loveseat set against the far wall. Even it smelled of wet dog; did they ever bathe? "Cell phone," Jacob commanded breaking my train of thoughts. My golden iris's moved only a tad to look quizzically at him. The fleabag rolled his eyes as annoyance pervaded the emotional atmosphere; he held his hand out expectantly, "Hand over your phone. No calls in or out to that freaky family of yours."
My lips pursed in a thin line but I didn't utter a word; I handed him the expensive electronic. His dark brown eyebrow rose as he accepted it. "Okay," he muttered departing the room, closing the door behind him, "That's a first." Clearly the dogs were shocked by my willingness to go along with this. It only showed how ignorant the mongrels were. My eyes traveled the gloomy room; there were no windows and only one door. Cracks ran along the walls in patterns that spoke volumes of the house's age. The only light in the dismal space came through chinks in the aged wood of the ceiling. If I wanted to, it would only be too easy to escape but to do so could cause a war between us and the Quileute's. Wolves were hard to outwit due in part to their ability to communicate quietly in their heads. I was good at evading them but it was best not to fight them alone. I remained where I stood, still as a statue, staring at the same spot on the wall for a decent six hours. Alice ran through my mind the entire time. This was the first time we'd been separated in this manner and at present, things weren't looking promising.
The wolves had been discussing me downstairs throughout my statuesque brooding; trying to decide what to do with me. What was there to do with me? Didn't they know they were making themselves targets by holding me here? Maria was sure to change her tactics now by either coming after me, or worse, Alice. It turned out the woman, Emily, was Sam's fiancé. She wasn't happy with this turn of events. She described it as "inhumane treatment" and declared that they should "let me go back to my family without a second thought." Sam, of course aided by Jacob, denied Emily's request, Jacob tacking on that I wasn't human so it didn't really matter. The argument went on for quite a while before an aggravated Emily huffed outside to take her anger out on chopping wood. Sam's gruff voice ordered Quil to take the first watch. "With pleasure," Quil's reply came along with a prideful emotion. It wasn't long before the brown eyed, tail- wagging mongrel entered the small space I was confined to. "Do you ever move," he questioned shutting the door behind him.
"Only when I must," I muttered finally taking to strides to sit moodily against the wall.
The mutt made himself comfortable on the small couch. Nothing else was spoken between us. Again I remained still, saying nothing, doing nothing. Patience was a practice I knew all too well and patient was what I'd have to be if I ever wanted to get out of here. As time moved on, I sat in the same position, never moving, barely breathing. Days turned into weeks and weeks into a month. In all that time, I scarcely uttered a word except when I had to. Depression had set in after the first fortnight followed swiftly by a burning thirst. I was denied the ability to hunt even one small animal. Didn't these mongrels understand the danger of thirst? And they kept a great deal of human company in the house, tantalizing my taste buds all the more. It was a slow torture; I almost wished I could die instead of bear such difficulties. Alice's face in the back of my mind was the only thing that kept me going, the only hope that lit the darkness of the room. I had to make it out of here for her; I would make it out of here and back to her arms again. No one could keep me from Alice. I was tempted to breakout and return to her but I was much too weak with thirst to outrun the wolves; maybe that was their plan. The clock ticked, another week flew by. Emily continued to voice her distaste of this action. I'd learned to appreciate her in that time; she may have been close with the mutts but she had an aura that kept the atmosphere peaceful. A guard was normally always placed in the room or nearby to ensure I didn't escape. Day by day I grew more irritable. Six weeks had passed since my so called arrest and the elders were growing anxious with my presence on the reservation. Every day, they searched the treaty, looking for a loophole, an answer to their dilemma. They turned up nothing. While I was trapped in my own personal hell, Maria was floating about the free world on a killing spree.
A pair of feet padded lightly up the stairs. The door slowly creaked open. My eyes didn't move from their position staring a hole through the floor as the rest of me tensed; I didn't have to look up to know it was Emily. Every muscle in my body, every sinew, every bone longed to ghost from my spot and kill her in cold blood; to stop the beating of her delicate heart that sang a siren's song to my sensitive ears. A noticeable grimace crossed my face as I fought with my starving pith to stay where I was. "Jasper," she whispered trying to get my attention. "I would advise you walk slowly down the stairs and don't return up them again unless you have a death wish," I muttered, every word feeling like a knife grating against the sides of my throat.
"You have a visitor," she smiled warmly, stepping aside.
Emmett's large form soon filled the doorframe. "What do you say we go on a little hunting trip," he grinned widely.
"Great, now I'm hallucinating," I muttered aloud to myself as I gripped my head and winced at the effort exerted to stay where I was; it would be much simpler to just kill her. I couldn't do that. She had been as kind to me as she could, defended me even; to take her life away after that would be against my moral standards. If she'd been any other human, I probably would have just satisfied the urge to attack. Instead, I remained where I was, trembling imperceptibly and feeling slightly sick to my stomach. The imaginary Emmett gave a sigh as he glanced at Emily, "I've never seen him this bad."
"I just couldn't stand to see him suffer any longer," Emily muttered from behind Emmett's large form, "it wasn't easy to hide this from Sam; they'll be back any time now. You should go."
I felt something close around my body before the floor disappeared beneath me. My thoughts were incoherent, spinning in mad circles. "You'd better make yourself scarce," the figment of my brother muttered to the wolf girl and I realized that he'd scooped me up in his arms; I'd never imagined anything so vividly. Maybe I was dying… finally leaving this cursed existence. Who would take care of Alice if I left? Who would keep my past from affecting her future? Emily's alluring scent was tempting despite the mixture of wet dog it mingled with. I was beyond starving, driven to madness. Without thought, I tried to lunge at her with all my strength as we passed her on the staircase. A hiss radiated through my cold lips as something held me back; a pair of strong, bearlike arms with strength beyond mine. How was that possible? Emmett wasn't really here; he was just an illusion conjured up in my head…wasn't he? "Sorry," Emmett muttered, "He's not normally this colorful."
"I understand," Emily gave a warm smile and her kind emotions waved over me. Whatever was going on, I just didn't have the strength to fight back anymore. I allowed this imaginary escape to play out in my mind. The world whipped by at incredible speed as Emmett raced for the border, leaving Emily behind. My eyes caught sight of a very familiar looking black Mercedes that sat just beyond the La Push line with its motor running, a blonde head at the wheel and inky black tresses in the back. The door was thrown open and I was placed carefully in the backseat before Emmett ghosted to the passenger seat exclaiming, "Go, go, go!" Carlisle hit the gas before my brother could even get his door shut. It was too bad none of this was real. My head was in Alice's lap; she gently stroked my hair and kissed my forehead. I felt calmer almost instantly. "We should have come sooner," she complained, "It makes me sick to see him like this."
"Did he say anything," Carlisle inquired of Emmett as the car sped right through Forks and continued on. "He thinks he's hallucinating," Emmett mumbled, worry on each inflection. My father seemed distressed with this news, "I can imagine; his mind must be incredibly fragile due to lack of sustenance. He's holding up much better than I would have thought; by this point I would have expected him to kill everything that breathes."
"He certainly tried," Emmett sighed referring to my attempted escape.
Alice's sweet scent, the familiarity of her emotions and her touch; I couldn't possibly be imagining it. My imagination wasn't that strong. My deep black orbs studied her face intently, "Alice?" My voice sounded almost inaudible; it was dry with thirst. She gave a feeble nod of her head, attempting a smile. I wasn't seeing things at all; they really were here. Despite my newfound weakness, I gently pulled one of her soft hands from my marble cheek and held onto it, feeling strengthened by her presence. We'd never been away from one another for such a stretch of time; it was inconceivable. Her safety was always my top priority; I rarely ever left her side unless absolutely necessary. I'd been craving her company for so long now, to finally have it was a sweet relief like no other. A noticeable grimace crossed my face at the thirst I felt; it burned through my lungs, flaming every breath with such pain. I didn't have the strength to still my bronchial system; the act took more concentration than I currently held. Alice bent over and lightly brushed her lips against mine before whispering, "We'll get you something to eat, just hold on a little longer."
The frigid tips of her free hand stroked my cheek, distracting me only just from the painful starvation that ripped through my stomach. If Alice needed me to wait then I knew I could. "Emmett," Carlisle spoke after we'd made it through the Canadian border, "You're going to have to tail Jasper very carefully. His judgment is shot; he won't think twice about attacking a human that mistakenly wanders by." Emmett gave a solemn nod from the front seat before he sighed, "It's gonna take more than me to keep him on track. He's fast as quicksilver."
"Did you think I came along to enjoy a leisurely drive," Carlisle spoke with the tiniest hint of sarcasm in his voice; about as much of a joke as he was capable of uttering. It wasn't long before my father finally pulled the car to a stop. I hadn't the slightest idea how far we'd gone but through the window all I could see was trees. Alice gave a bright smile that didn't quite touch her eyes; her aura told a tale of worry. "I'll be fine," I defended myself, "You worry too much." This time Alice's smile was more genuine as she helped me sit up and exit the car. Emmett and Carlisle were both standing on either side of me, ready to restrain me if I got too out of hand. Normally, such a gesture on their part would have bothered me but I was much too thirsty to care at this point. My mind was only on one thing; fresh blood, buckets of it not far from our location. I was charged with a new sense of energy and adrenaline at the prospect of the hunt. In a streak, I tore through the trees allowing my senses to take over. Nothing else mattered, no one else mattered.
The hue of the world around me went slightly red as my eyes began pinpointing targets with their raptor vision. Which to tackle first? I needed something big, something strong; a beast with fight left in it. Those types would be the most strengthening. I didn't even notice Carlisle and Emmett carefully circling me with Alice tagging along in the rear. I didn't hear the whispers of concern that flitted between them. In that moment I wasn't trusted; I was a danger. None of that registered in my militant mind as it ticked at dizzying speeds, tracking the emotions of an angered mountain lion patrolling the terrain nearby. Without so much as a warning, I took off like a shot and broke the beasts' neck. My teeth sunk into its veins as sweet relief flooded throughout my body. I could almost feel the blood tingling throughout me as everything became rejuvenated. In no time at all, I'd completely drained the large cat without spilling a drop on my collar.
I took down several more creatures in this manner, never giving my family members so much as a second glance. After a time they seemed to relax a bit, noting that I seemed to be faring well. It was when a much more alluring scent caught my attention that things started to go very badly. "Grab him," Alice commanded a little too late, her eyes slightly glassy. I'd already gotten a decent head start by the time Carlisle and Emmett tore after me. My feet didn't make a sound against the foliage as I tore through the trees faster than the others could keep up. After so long with no blood to satisfy my thirst, there was only one thing that could truly ease the pain; a human. Emmett's arms missed me by a hairsbreadth; I slipped through them lithely like a snake. Carlisle dove at me but I dodged fleetly out of the way, rebounding of a nearby tree and propelling myself onward. The sweet scent of human blood spilling from a fresh wound in buckets fueled me on. It teased my instincts cruelly as Alice called from behind. Her words were lost in the air, unregistered in my mind. I scaled a tree in a flash and crouched on a branch. A low growl issued in my chest as I barred my teeth, hiding from view. Below me, a young girl had her leg caught in a bear trap. She cried out for help as the blood oozed from the large gash in her leg; someone had to put her out of her misery. Venom swirled in my mouth. My muscles coiled. A snarl sounded. I lunged.
I heard a shout of, "NO," just before something hard knocked into me and propelled me through the trees. I smashed into one a mile away. It toppled noisily to the ground, landing atop me. With a feral snarl, I threw it off and made to ghost back to the girl but Emmett's large hand closed around my throat and smashed me into another tree, pinning me there with all his strength. A hiss whispered through my teeth as I struggled to get free. "Calm down," my brother demanded tightening his grip. A tiny sliver of cracks appeared near my temple. "Emmett," Alice chastised, "be careful!"
"Sorry," he muttered, loosening his grip a tad; the cracks disappeared.
"Overgrown ape," Alice whispered walking up to me.
I continued to struggle; my instincts longed to be free. "Jazz," Alice spoke, trying to calm me down, "its okay… she's a person, Jazzy… a little girl… breathe… relax…"
Her words did little to ease my mind, though they did help some. Her hand rested gently on my cheek as she continued to speak softly to me. When this plan started to lose its effectiveness, Alice rested her cheek against mine and whispered in my ear so her breath tickled against my skin, "I love you… and nothing you do will ever change that."
The red hue of the world around me slowly began to fade away as she left a gentle kiss on my lips. As awareness of my surroundings slowly returned I began to feel a sinking feeling in my stomach at what I'd almost done. "I'm sorry," I uttered relaxing under Emmett's grip, ashamed of myself. Emmett released me at a nod from Alice and stepped back a pace. My wife wrapped her arms around me, leaning her head against my chest as she muttered below a whisper, "Shhh… it's all right… you couldn't help it…it wasn't your fault."
Graciously, my arms encompassed her small form as I slowly realized I hadn't held her in well over a month. A different kind of relief washed over me in that moment, the kind that only Alice could bring; the kind that had saved me from myself near fifty years ago when she'd found me in that diner. With the positive, loving emotions she displayed, I found it difficult to be angry with myself. "Where's Carlisle," I inquired glancing at my brother as Alice gave a contented sigh from the safety of my arms.
"He's tending to the young girl," Emmett replied, very much relieved that I was back to my senses, "she got caught in some sort of trap."
"Poor thing," Alice murmured as she fingered a button on my shirt mindlessly.
"I'm sorry," I muttered once again to my brother.
"Dude, you haven't hunted in six weeks," he shook his head, "I probably would have done the same thing."
"Still, you've got to be tired of chasing me down," I mumbled in shame.
Alice pursed her lips as she looked up at me, "You hush up Mr. Strategical Mastermind."
"Yes ma'am," I chuckled lightly kissing the top of her head, "Did the girl see anything?"
Emmett shook his head, "You were moving much too fast."
I smirked at the disgruntled tone in which he inflected his words, "You caught me… eventually."
Emmett chortled in bass as we started walking towards the car, my arm still around Alice's waist, refusing to let her go. Alice beamed at my over protectiveness, not caring in the slightest as she leaned her head against my shoulder. The world seemed right again until a nagging thought pulled at my consciousness; Bella and Edward were still unaccounted for. "Any word from Maria," I inquired, almost fearing the answer. "Yeah," Emmett nodded continuing his pace forward, "she let Bella go."
I stopped in my tracks and stared at my brother as though he was insane. Let Bella go? He had to be joking; Maria would never do such a thing. Emmett seemed to notice my pause and turned to face me. With a slight smirk he said, "It appears Edward has learned a thing or two about manipulation from you over the years."
"Are you sure of that," I inquired now quite worried that I was missing some important piece of information.
"The human's with Esme at the house as we speak," Emmett nodded in conformation.
"Jasper," Alice pleaded, glancing up at me only slightly, "Could you please just give it a rest for one day. You've been a prisoner of war for a month and half; you deserve a break."
A sigh left my lungs filled with exasperation and impatience. I bit back the words I'd intended to utter; Maria never rested. Even at this moment she was hatching some master plan. I could tell by Alice's emotions that she'd missed me just as much as I'd missed her. She needed me to just be there for a little while. I leaned down to kiss the top of her head; a silent signal that I would honor her wish. A smile radiated from her face matching the glowing emotions the simple action caused. The three of us took the long way back to the car to avoid a further repeat of the earlier events. I still held a solemn chagrin that I'd nearly eliminated a six year old girl. Though I didn't outwardly show it, inwardly it hurt me to know how close I'd come. Soon the Mercedes was in sight. Carlisle had pulled into a deserted pull out that was hidden amongst the trees. As always I held the door open for Alice before I climbed in the rear alongside her.
Rain lightly began to pelt against the window as I pondered on Maria's sudden change in modus operondi. Something didn't set right in her sudden change of plans. What in the world was she up to? With a sigh, I lounged against the window feeling the contentment a good hunt usually brought with it. Alice curled up against my chest and purred ever so slightly as I wrapped my arms around her. My eyes closed as I allowed myself to relax for the first time in ages. I hadn't even realized that Emmett had started driving down the road already. For once, my brother didn't have a sarcastic remark to make. Instead of his usual playful mood, his emotions were somber and full of a maturity I'd never noticed he contained. I supposed recent events had caused us all to lose our normal spark; even Alice seemed a little down. It became more apparent to me just how much her absence in my life had affected me as the clock continued to tick on. I'd become an angry, bitter shell of a being without her optimism to keep my spirits lifted; Alice made all the difference.
I knew we were pulling up the drive the instant Esme's worried emotions waved over me and Bella's scent enticed my senses. I swallowed back the venom that gathered in my mouth at the sound of her thrumming heartbeat. It was much easier to resist attacking her just after I'd hunted, though I would be so much better off if Edward would get off his high horse and change her. I was getting tired of wanting to kill her all the time and she spent a great deal of her time around the house leaving her scent on everything she touches or even passes by; it wasn't always as easy to resist as I made it seem. After Emmett pulled the car into the garage and I'd managed to exit it, Esme came ghosting out the door and threw her arms around me, practically bowling me over. "Are you okay," she breathed pulling back to look me over, "No permanent damage, no injuries to speak of? … You look a little frail…"
"Mom," I gave a tiny smile, "I'm fine really."
"From now on we stick together," She demanded, "No more solo missions, comprende?"
I gave a solemn nod of my head even though I knew I couldn't make any guarantees that I would keep that promise. With a smile I quelled her growing concern. She placed a gentle hand on my cheek, "It's been so tense without you around to keep us calm." "I can tell," I muttered softly. Bella stood quietly in the doorframe observing with a soft smile. I secretly hoped my brother would get smart and change her after graduation; it would be good for him to have her around for an eternity. The thought of my brother sent a small pang through my heart as I followed the others inside. Because of my treacherous past my brother was now in the clutches of a mad woman who could potentially bring about his doom. It didn't seem rightly fair that Bella had to go through such terror. Even now I could sense the falseness of her emotions behind her kind smile. Alice gently tugged me into the living room and onto the couch as she mumbled, "Carlisle will be here soon." My eyes followed Bella intently, not with thirst, but with curiosity. Something wasn't right. Her emotions were conflicted as though she was debating something within herself. I soon put such anxiety to rest, allowing the whole room to feel relaxed. Rosalie heaved a sighed as she plopped on the adjacent couch and picked up the latest issue of Vogue, flipping mindlessly through the pages.
We seemed to be back to square one; waiting for something to happen. There were some moments when immortality had its disadvantages. We couldn't sleep to pass the time; we could only sit patiently, lost in thought. I sat comfortably with Alice in the crook of my arm, staring intently at the floor as my mind whirred ever faster. What exactly was Maria building an army for? In the past it had been about land; a fight to rule the territory. Those wars had long since faded in the hidden histories of the world. What could she possibly be after? I knew she was desperate for my help and she certainly didn't care if there were casualties. Edward was likely only still living due to his abilities; I wouldn't put it past her to recruit him as well by threatening Bella's safety. Maybe that was what had occurred. There was only one way to discover the truth. "Bella," my voice was deep and full of a calming presence that seemed to affect the entire room with its intonation, "I know the past few weeks have been terrifying for you but I need to know what happened while you were with Maria."
Every eye in the room seemed to shift between Bella and I, unsure if they should watch or leave the room. Bella shifted uncomfortably under my gaze. She knew me well enough to know that I'd try and get it from her through manipulation if she didn't say anything freely. With folded arms, she bit her lips and stared at the floorboards as though choosing her words carefully. After a few moments of silence, I patiently spoke once more in a smooth, deep voice, "Bella, it's very crucial that I discover what Maria is up to. If you value Edwards life at all, you will give me the information I need without hesitation."
The clumsy human seemed to take my words into consideration before she sighed and met my topaz gaze with her brown hues. "She'll kill him if I say anything," Bella finally spoke, her voice slightly shaky. I instilled a peace in her at once alongside of a self confidence to boost her crumbling one. "Bella," I spoke slowly, not breaking eye contact, "She'll kill him either way if I don't find him. Hundreds of innocent humans could die. If you think I'm good at manipulation, you don't want to see Maria's ability."
Bella shuddered imperceptibly and I knew that my former commander had used her gift against Bella for something, though to what end I couldn't be sure. "What did she make you do, Bella," I inquired in a voice of forced calm. Alice ran her hand between my shoulder blades sensing that I was becoming enraged. Bella shook her head as if she didn't want to remember it. I was losing patience very quickly; when I gave an order it was followed precisely. Bella's stubborn nature was going to bring about my insanity. "Bella," Alice's voice chimed musically beside me, "Please tell us what you know. You're not the only one who needs Edward. He's our brother, Esme's son; our family is incomplete without him."
Tears were beginning to sting the young brunette's eyes. I was about to shift her emotions elsewhere when Alice took my hand in hers and shook her head. My lips pursed as I looked askance at my wife wondering why I shouldn't but I didn't voice my opinion aloud; I'd learned long ago to trust Alice's instincts without question. "I don't even know where to start," Bella shrugged. "Start at the beginning," Alice prodded, "When Maria came to your house."
Bella gave a stiff nod before staring at the floorboards once more, clearly not wanting to remember any of what she was about to divulge. With a sigh, she began, "I was doing my homework in my bedroom while Charlie was watching the game downstairs. Edward said he'd be back before I went to sleep and that he'd come in through the window as always. I got caught up in calculus and didn't even realize that someone had come in. When I glanced towards the window she was standing there, staring at me like I was a piece of meat she couldn't wait to sink her teeth into. I was about to cry out for help when she suddenly covered my mouth with her hand. She whispered things to me like, 'I won't hurt you,' and, 'you're not in any danger.' The scary thing was I believed them. It wasn't that I wanted to attach weight to them, it was like…"
"…like you had to," I finished for her, knowing exactly what she meant; Alice cast me a slightly horrified look which I ignored signaling for Bella to continue.
"Yeah," she nodded, her eyes flitting between all of our faces nervously, "it was pretty terrifying. I was about to lose all hope when Edwards voice floated to me. I was too much in shock to pick up on the words he said. It wasn't very polite, whatever it was. The next thing I knew his arm was around my waist and he commanded of me to keep quiet for my own safety. I was out the window and on his back flying through the trees before I could so much as blink. We camped out in the woods for a while under her watch. If either of us so much as flinched she was ready to strike. Edward was too concerned with me to save himself."
"So you've basically been hiding out with her for the past month," I inquired, staring right into her eyes; she was hiding something.
"Yes," she nodded, glancing once at Alice as thought afraid to meet my gaze, "We moved around a bit… it's all really a blur now."
"What are you hiding from me, Bella," I asked sternly as though speaking to a private who had questioned my authority one too many times; Alice seemed to eye me cautiously.
"Wh—what," she stuttered as her emotions faltered to panic.
"I don't have time or patience to deal with these games, Bella," my calm exterior was slipping fast, "My closest friend and his mate are dead and Edward could be next if you don't tell me what you're trying to keep hidden!"
The human seemed to break out in a cold sweat as the rest of my family stared at me, flabbergasted at my impudence. Carlisle was tense as if ready to pounce should the girl swoon as she appeared capable of doing. My lips were pursed with the effort to not shout at the breakable girl in front of me; her stubborn will would break, I'd see to that. Carefully, I restructured her emotional patterns as Alice squeezed my hand in a silent plea, begging me not to do something foolish. "What are you keeping from me," this time my words were laced with a slight growl. Bella shook her head lightly and replied with a slightly glassy look to her eyes, "I can't."
I muttered a very dirty word under my breath as realization of the situation crashed down upon me. Without hesitation, I jumped to my feet and started pacing, murmuring so fast to myself that the words were inaudible even to my family's ears. If my thought patterns were concise then I was in a heap of trouble as was anyone near me. "Jasper," Alice pleaded in a soft tone, "Calm down. We can sort this out; Bella's just been through a lot. Give her some time to…"
"I can't be calm," I half shouted, cutting her off, "Bella's been given a gag order which means she can't divulge Edwards location or tell me what Maria has asked her to do! If I'm correct, then this whole thing is a setup and we're all heading to hell in a hand basket in no time flat!"
Alice had jumped slightly but otherwise she was completely un-phased by my outburst. With the grace of a dancer, she flitted to my side in an instant and placed a hand on either side of my face, "Listen to me; it's going to be okay. You have a whole family to fight beside you until this problem is resolved. I will not lose you to her again."
After a moments deliberation, I gave tight nod of my head and ghosted to the couch where I sat with my head buried in my hands, deep in thought and full to the brim with stress. Having seen my actions before hand as she always did, Alice reached the couch a millisecond before I had. Without another word spoken between us, she gently began rubbing my shoulders in an effort to ease the strain I felt. Esme blurred to Bella's side and put an arm around her shoulder, "Let's get you something to eat."
Bella was led to the kitchen by my mother as the rest of the family continued to stare dumbfounded at Alice and I. Emmett finally broke the silence, unable to restrain his curiosities, "Wait a minute… are you telling me that this chick has some sort of ability to control people?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes," I sighed, dropping my hands to look up at my brother; again, Alice was disturbed with this bit of news.
"What the hell's that supposed to mean," he demanded, clearly on edge with concern and a slight fear. Without consent, I quelled his emotions, changing them instead to serenity and contentment. His eyes softened considerably though he said nothing about my actions, more concerned with the matter at hand.
"Maria can convince you of things," I tried my best to explain, "It's a sort of manipulative power. She can get inside your head and follow brain patterns until she latches on to just the right one. From there she can whisper things into your mind, much like a second conscience. Even though you know what she says is a lie you have to believe it because you have no choice. It doesn't work on everyone; some people have a mind that's too strong to be broken into." Emmett was horrified as he studied me with wide eyes, "But you're like the toughest guy I know, how could she possibly…"
"Because when I was first changed, I didn't know any better to block her out. I was young and naïve. When she told me that her way of living was the only way I believed her not because I had to but because I trusted her. If I had known then what I know now, I would have noticed that she was slowly brainwashing me until I was almost mindless."
"Can't you shut her out now," Rosalie inquired, worry on each inflection.
My head shook in a negatory response, "She recognizes my brain patterns too easily and knows just how to grab hold of them effortlessly. Trying to fight back gives me a considerable headache and I do mean that quite literally."
The room fell silent. The notion that Maria could possibly still find a way to ruin all that Alice and the Cullens had changed hung in the air like a dead weight. No one seemed capable of uttering a sound. My wife's hands stilled their movement. She instead wrapped her arms around my neck, too distressed to comfort me in any other form. I pulled my gift back in from my brother and extended calm to the entire room, lightening everyone's mood considerably. I fully believed that Maria had let Bella go in an effort to make tracking me easier. Some may question my logic for this assumption considering the tyrant knows precisely where I live, so I feel I should explain. You see, I'm not so easy a man to track down. You can know exactly where I am and still not find me. Even Demetri, the most brilliant tracker of all time, had difficulty keeping up with me. It was common knowledge to many that I never gave up without a fight and had the advantage of a quick thinking logistical mind, apart from the fact that I was fast as quicksilver to boot. Most other vampires, save for Emmett of course, chose not to pick fights with me out of sheer terror of what I could do when provoked.
"Can you see anything," I set the catechism before Alice rather solemnly. She didn't voice a response but instead shook her head. The wolves had to have noticed my escape by now. Why did everything have to be so complicated? "I need some air," I voiced before ghosting out the back door and into the trees. I heard Alice following behind me as I vaulted across the river, landing effortlessly on the opposite bank and continuing on. Trees rushed by, several creatures gave shouts of disapproval at being disturbed, thunder sounded in the distance; I stopped suddenly. The hairs on the back of my neck shot up. My sixth sense spelled out danger. Something was wrong.
Instinctively, my arm closed around Alice at her approach, holding a finger to my lips signaling silence. She nodded. Leaves rustled in the wind. Lightning lit the sky. Creatures began to scatter. "Danger, danger," my mind seemed to scream. My eyes scanned the trees; nothing. The shrill of an owl, more thunder; the scent of coming rain. A chill down my spine, nowhere to run; trapped. The sound of a deep growl, the smell of wet dog, six forms emerged, poised to strike; we were surrounded. "I did nothing wrong," I stated with vehemence staring straight into the eyes of a russet colored dog. It seemed to chuckle. Alice was speechless; terror consumed her. The form of Sam Uley slipped through the trees as a human. Anger was present on his face as well as his emotions; this could not end well. "You made Emily betray me," he spat as the other mutts growled. "You brought that upon yourself," I returned, ensuring Alice was behind me.
"The council has reached a decision," he spoke stiffly.
"Your verdict," I inquired, my muscles tensed to spring if the situation demanded.
"You will turn yourself in…"
"NO," Alice shouted.
"…and Bella comes with us," he ignored Alice's outburst.
"And if I refuse," I raised an eyebrow.
"Then the treaty becomes void and the Cullen clan will breathe its last," he laid down the ultimatum with a slight pleasure to his tone.
I hissed involuntarily at his words. Either choice would bring harm. If I turned myself in, the world was in for a rude awakening but if I stayed my family would cease to exist. "Make your choice," Sam ordered. If looks could kill, my eyes would have stopped his beating heart in that moment. "Give me some time to think about it," I requested, calm lacing my words with force. "Three days," he nodded stiffly, "but Bella comes with us now."
"Very well," I gave a curt nod, "Send Jacob round in half an hour to retrieve her."
Jacob growled lightly at my sarcastic jab. My eyes landed on him for the briefest of instances before I met the dark hues that belonged to Sam once again. "So be it," his deep voice echoed in the night, "No tricks. Any attempt to undermine us and the treaty is automatically over."
"You have my word as a gentleman," I spoke with honesty.
"For your sake, your word better stand true," Sam stated flatly before turning to leave, "Let's go boys."
Without so much as another word the wolves followed after Sam into the shadows, though Jacob made sure to smack me on his way past; I remained unmoved. As soon as they were gone, Alice made to speak but I cut her off stoically, "Let's get back to the house. The others are surely worried." Her mouth closed and she instead nodded her head deciding it best not to argue with me at the moment. As two porcelain blurs, we made our ways speedily through the trees. Normally a run as such would bring me happiness but on that day it brought me panic. Every step took me one closer to the ultimatum that was ringing unpleasantly in my ears. Animals scattered out of the way at our approach as rain began to lightly fall from the cloud cover overhead matched by ruthless bolts of lightning and thunder that shook the earth. It was as if the heavens were foreshadowing the darkness that lay on the horizon.
The house was soon in view, standing gloriously amidst the trees. I'd never realized how beautiful it really was until I thought about never seeing it again. With a heavy sigh, I slowed to a stop and entered the basement door at a humans pace. My feet stopped cold in their tracks; the entire family was standing in the living room to the right with emotions on edge, staring at me. Alice gasped behind me with glassed over eyes as my brow furrowed, meeting Carlisle's gaze. I didn't have to voice the question for him to know what I wondered. "Maria just called," he spoke in a concerned yet calm tone as he took a few steps towards me, "She said she's waiting for you at the old theater with Edward and not to keep her waiting for long."
A chill of fear went down my spine as I glanced at Bella; so that's what she'd been hiding.
At first I wanted to yell at the fragile human but after a moments deliberation I thought better of it; she'd had no choice. As a storm brewed outside my entire family seemed to watch me intently. My mind was blurring through facts as I sat rigidly on the couch. How did this all fit together? The wolves, Maria, my family and this blasted theater; none of it made a lick of sense. It was as if I was being attacked from all sides, closed in on all four corners; I could almost feel myself being trapped betwixt it. My breath was shallow. My hands wrung in stress. This couldn't be happening to me; not now or ever. Alice's arms closing around me from my right sent a sigh through me as I relaxed only just. She was my reminder to breathe and think things through. "Why does it smell of mongrel," Rosalie asked turning up her nose.
I could tell the others smelt it too but only Rose had the impudence to voice her opinion aloud. "Because we just ran into them in the woods," I mumbled staring at my fingernails with intense concentration. "What were they doing there," Carlisle inquired in a kind yet firm tone; the fatherly side of him wasn't very happy with someone attacking one of his sons and taking another for ransom. "They were…I have to go to her," I whispered the last part as though thinking out loud; a sudden thought I couldn't let go of. "No," Alice protested, "Giving her what she wants won't solve anything!"
"Alice, I have no other choice," I spoke in a wavering tone.
"You have every choice! Life is full of choices!"
"And I made a heap of wrong one's when I first started out; this is my mistake and I won't have you pay the penalty for it."
"But I'm already paying the penalty for it, Jazz," her voice softened as she sank down beside me and laid her head against my shoulder, "I worry about you all the time…and if you go with her, I'll pay the price at an even higher cost than non-existence."
"Maybe you should start at the beginning," Carlisle suggested, clearly on edge by the turn of events in our enemy's favor.
"The wolves have laid down a new rule; either I turn myself in and Bella leaves with them or the treaty is hanged and we all pay the price."
"But that's not fair," Bella exclaimed and every eye turned to her, "S-sorry," she stuttered, "I just… it bugs me to see you guys torn up like this and Edward… it's just not right."
Esme put an arm around Bella's shoulders in an attempt to console her. Almost instinctively, Bella curled up in Esme's arms; they looked very much like a mother and daughter seeking comfort and safety in one another. "I agree with Bells," Emmett nodded from where he stood with crossed arms and a tight jaw, "It's not right."
"Think of it from their perspective," I suggested, "They're obligated to protect Forks from vampires. A dangerous vampire that can scarcely be reasoned with or caught starts slaughtering innocent humans left and right and then proceeds to kidnap the one human who has emotional ties with one of their own; Bella. When they discover that I'm the object coveted by this new threat they try to devise a plan in which Maria would get what she wants and they get what they want. It's military strategy in its most basic form. It makes perfect sense."
Emmet stared at me for a full minute; I know because I counted. After that time, he shook his head disapprovingly at me. "Dude," he spoke in a patronizingly soft tone, prolonging each word," …shut… up!" It took a few moments for his words to sink in. Once they did, I couldn't help the mild chuckle that escaped me. "Isn't there a way to get around both Maria and the wolves," Rosalie asked innocently. My head shook left to right once, "Maria gave me three days two days ago and the wolves just now gave me three days to decide. I have less than twenty-four hours to decide the fate of this entire family and possibly the world; the last bit depends on just how crazy Maria's idea is this time."
"Say no," Emmett's face wasn't its normal playful self; instead it was angered, "Tell her hell no! We can take the wolves and we can rescue Edward without you giving her what she wants."
"That's too risky, Em," I disagreed, "I'm not about to ask any of you to lay down your lives for something I did a decent seventy years ago."
"Hang risky," He exclaimed, throwing his hands up in exasperation, "What's life without a little risk?"
"Safe," I replied without really thinking it through. Emmett waved a hand as if to say safety wasn't important but he voiced nothing further. "Say no," Alice begged pathetically with her head buried in my shoulder, "please."
"When I told the wolves I needed time to think about it, I meant it," I muttered speaking directly to Alice.
"You shouldn't even have to think… the simple solution is to get as far away from Maria as possible."
"The wolves are simply doing their duty by keeping the town of Forks safe. It's my duty to keep you safe," My voice was soft, my words sincere, "and I'm not about to go AWOL on my shift."
"AWOL," Emmett scratched his head in confusion.
"Absent Without Leave," I responded stoically.
"Oh… right," He cleared his throat and leaned casually against the mantle, "I knew that."
Normally I would have laughed at my brother and come back with a smart reply that probably would have had us both wrestling in the center of the room leaving our wives exasperated as they tried to pull us off of one another. Today, however, I was in no mood for games. I didn't have to evaluate Emmett's emotions to know that he wasn't in a playful mood either. As the entire family watched me with worried eyes I began to feel slightly claustrophobic. "I just...I… need a minute," I sighed before ghosting to the back porch that overlooked the surrounding forest. The rain was now falling heavily but the awning above the deck kept me dry. A streak of lightning lit up the sky followed immediately by a clap of thunder. What was I supposed to do? For the first time in my entire existence it felt like I was fighting an unwinnable fight. I gripped the railing in a vice, leaning against it in a stressed position. My family or the world; that seemed to be what Maria was asking. It was as though she was mocking me. She always knew just how to find my weaknesses and use them against me; lately I'd acquired quite a library for her to choose from.
The wind rustled through the pines bringing with it the familiar scent of Alice's perfume. A fleeting, imperceptible glance over my shoulder fell on her form leaning worriedly in the doorframe. She seemed to be slightly wary as though unsure if I was approachable. I folded my arms and leaned them against the rail as I sent her calm; the silent sign that I wouldn't push her away if she chose to come closer. She barely left a disturbance behind as she blurred beside me and leaned an elbow casually on the banister, her orbs never wavering from my blank face. Aside from the music the rain sang against the encompassing trees, silence was the only audible sound and in my radar intense hearing it was louder than any sound could ever be.
My head drooped in despair. Alice's gelid finger moved a curl gently from my face as I gave a sigh of vexation. If I refused to give in to Maria's beckoning we would be forced to fight the wolves. Even with my intelligence and agility I knew better than to pick a fight with a werewolf unless absolutely necessary. The thought of Alice being ripped in half and devoured by a pack of mutts sent a shudder through me. I couldn't let that happen to any member of my family yet if I went with Maria to save them the human race itself could be in danger. I still didn't know what she was planning but knowing her it was nothing small. What was I supposed to choose?
Memories of my past life with her flooded my vision as I closed my eyes. It wasn't a pretty sight to see. Even remembering the lifeless shell I had been made me sick to my stomach. I couldn't go back. If I did I would just fall back into that depression that came with nothing but hate and anger surrounding the emotional atmosphere. Images of my family presented themselves and I pondered even further on the possibility of what I was willing to go through for them. If I had to, I would cease to exist for them. Still, terror enveloped me at the thought of what I might have to do in the near future.
Thunder shook the earth as another breeze brought with it a combination of rain and pine needles to my nose. None of this was fair but no one ever said life had to be fair. Why should it make an exception for an undead Civil War soldier? I hadn't done anything to deserve the blessing of the Cullens. I especially didn't deserve Alice. She loved me for who I was and believed in who I could be if I tried. That sort of bond is not one easily broken and it would hurt me in more ways than one to walk away from it. What would happen to her if I chose to surrender? Where would she go? Would she stay with the Cullens? Would I suddenly disappear from their world in the same manner that we had disappeared from Bella's after her birthday? Would they remember me when it was all said and done? Or would Jasper Hale be forgotten?
My grip against my arm began to tighten as all the prospects flitted through my mind to the point of being unbearable. Alice placed a gentle kiss on my cheek and suddenly the urge to break everything in sight vanished. Her hand gently soothed the space between my shoulders. What was the chance of survival if I stayed? Little to none I imagined. We'd have to evacuate Forks and never return, though I suspected the wolves would come after us before we could get away. I couldn't imagine never being able to call this little Washington town home. Even though we could only stay for so many years before we had to leave it behind, we always found a way to come back. There weren't very many places in this world that I could call home but Forks was one of the few that received the title. Both decisions were painful. Both had horrid consequences. Which was I most capable of dealing with?
"You know you'll catch a chill without a jacket," Alice mused trying to lighten the mood. A half laugh escaped me, the sort that sounds like a quick breath through the nose. "Do you want to talk about it," she inquired on a more serious note, stilling her hand and setting it delicately on my shoulder. "What is there to talk about," I replied stoically.
"I hate this," she muttered looking away from me for only a moment before returning her gaze, "I hate seeing you like this. You shouldn't have to choose."
"Shouldn't," I indicated, "but I do. It's the same old story as before, it's just happening seventy years later in a whole new backdrop."
"Jasper," Alice sighed in exasperation as though speaking to a child who'd just made the same mistake they'd gotten hurt from before.
"I don't want to hear your theories about love and kindness, I get it alright," I snapped without meaning to come off so harshly but the damage was already done; her emotions changed from worry to a slight sting that sent a pang through my heart. "Look at me," I shook my head in disgust, "I haven't even been near her yet and already she's starting to infect me again." Feeling ashamed at my outburst I started to walk at a humans pace down the lengthy porch and collapsed on the glider swing, clutching my head in my hands. Alice remained where she stood staring after me with mixed emotions.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I heard it; a musical laughter in my head that sent a cold shiver of fear down my spine. My eyes instinctively scanned the terrain; she had to be within twenty miles at least to manage that. Alice followed my gaze and when it turned up nothing, ghosted to my side and knelt in front of me, taking my face in her hands. "Jazz," she whispered worriedly but I didn't hear. Instead I heard a voice that I'd tried to forget echo in my mind, "Jasper, my patience is wearing thin… come home to me, mi amor."
The familiar headache that usually followed after her intrusion blazed throughout my skull causing me to wince considerably. "Jasper," Alice breathed smoothing my cheeks with her thumbs, "Stay with me, baby. Don't listen to her."
"You belong with me, Jasper," Maria cooed, "Your family is just using you. Come home to me where you are appreciated… and loved."
"Jasper," Alice was beginning to panic, "Jazz, I don't know what she's saying but you know it isn't true! Don't let her get to you!"
It was like a war inside of me as my former self tried to break free of the cage I'd locked it away in so many years ago. I could feel Alice's sincere emotions. How could someone that cared for me that much be using me? The logic didn't add up. It was this notion kept me from believing Maria's words with a whole heart; Alice made all the difference. My head exploded in pain at my disobedience. It was nearly unbearable. I toppled to the floor clutching it in my hands as Alice screamed for Carlisle. The pain peaked for only a moment before it suddenly left; Maria had lost her hold. Alice was stroking my hair as sheer terror consumed her. As my conscious self started to make sense of things again, I noticed my father standing just behind Alice whispering questions inaudibly in her ear.
At a snail's pace, I managed to sit up, breathing heavily and blinking hard. Maria's words echoed in my mind, using you. It was an impossibility. Once again I felt everyone worrying about me and watching me as they often did when I hadn't hunted in a while. Emmett's foul mutterings reached my ears from inside the house as did his pacing. It was then that I began to put all the puzzle pieces together; they weren't going to let me go back even if it meant saving their hides. Faster and faster my mind whirred weaving together a plan that I knew would break my heart as much as theirs. I was careful not to make any decisions for fear of Alice seeing my choice as she so often did before I could do anything rash. This was probably the last time I was ever going to see her again but as long as she was alive, I knew I could survive the future I was facing.
Without prior warning and ensuring I kept my mind bouncing around, I placed my hand at the nape of Alice's neck and gently brushed my lips upon hers. It wasn't a fleeting kiss but one that lasted for quite some time; this was my goodbye. When I pulled back I could feel the confusion mixing with her fear. "I love you," I whispered staring her straight in the eyes, "and no matter what happens I always will." She made to question my sanity but I knew it was now or never. I placed a soft peck on her lips once more and stood to my feet as realization started to befall her. "Jazz," she spoke my name warily. "I'm sorry," I whispered before I ghosted to the end of the balcony and vaulted over the rail. As I landed lightly on the ground three stories below, I heard her blood curdling scream, "JASPER!" It sent a pang through my heart like nothing else could, cutting down the sides like a dagger. She made to follow as I ghosted into the trees but I heard a hand on her shoulder and Carlisle utter the words, "Let him go, Alice."
She was sobbing tearless cries now as our father gently held her back and I moved on, "NO!"
"Alice," Carlisle spoke softly, "we can't force him to stay."
"He's going to die inside," She cried out, no longer resisting our fathers' restraint, "I've seen it! You have no idea what it will do to him!"
That was the last thing I heard before I jumped over the river and continued on, every step breaking my heart all the more. This was not my idea of a happy ending. As I ran on I became aware of footfall behind me. I stopped instinctively and sniffed in a familiar scent; Emmett. A hand swiped at the air but I ducked just in time and whirled around to see the angered face of my brother. "You should know by now that you can't catch me," I muttered stoically as he began to circle me slowly. In his angered emotions I also sensed heartbreak, though one of a different sort than Alice's. Again, the dagger was driven through my heart making me wince. "Good," Emmett growled angrily, "you can feel it. Maybe it'll be enough to make you turn around."
"I have to do this, Emmett," I responded, not moving or making any indication that I intended to.
"No you don't," he growled, "I said it before, we can handle them."
"Think of Rose," I uttered and he stopped dead in his tracks, now in front of me again, "I'm doing this for her, for you. What would you do if you lost Rosalie, Emmett? Think of never being able to kiss her again… is that what you really want?"
"That's not going to happen," he defended weakly.
"But it is," I replied calmly, "If I don't do this, that's the future you face. Let me pass."
"Don't toy with me, McCartney," My anger was beginning to seep through.
"I won't let you do this."
"How do you intend on stopping me?"
"If I have to drag you back by the scruff of the neck than so help me I will," he challenged.
"Have it your way."
Emmett made to grab me but I was much faster. I dodged to the right, to the left, always staying one step ahead of him. With precision, I ducked to dodge his fist and swept his feet out from beneath him. I did my best to mask the pain this ordeal was causing me, appearing heartless and cruel. Standing at my full six foot three above him, I stared into his orbs and begged, "Please don't make me hurt you."
He ghosted to his feet and again we got into a tussle placing missed blows and trying without success to snare the other. In the heat of the moment my foot connected with his chest and he went sailing into an aged spruce tree knocking it to the ground. His eyes were full of hurt and frustration as he glared up at me. "I mean it Emmett," my voice remained smooth despite the internal complications I was facing, "I won't hesitate to harm you. I don't want to but if you drive me to it I'll have no other choice."
"I'm willing to take the risk to make you come back," he worded in a gruff voice, standing fluidly to his feet.
"I'm more experienced than you. Don't be a fool. Brute strength and a hard head are not enough to stop me; you of all people should know that."
Emmett seemed to ponder on this for a few fleeting moments before heaving a heavy sigh; he knew I was right. "I won't give up on you," he stated, his emotions reflecting his words. "I'm not asking you to," I replied with sincerity, "I'm merely asking that you trust my judgment and for once in your life obey orders without question."
"I'm not one to follow the rules," he countered, trying to have the last word as always.
"I need you look after Alice for me," I asked placing my hands in my pockets as another pang shot through my heart, "She's not going to take this very well. I don't want her doing anything foolish."
Emmett gave a solemn nod of his head, "I promise."
As I made to walk away his voice carried to my ears once again, "I promise you something else as well." I glanced over my shoulder at him as he continued, "We'll find you Jazz. You won't be with Maria for long."
"Good luck finding a ghost," I murmured with a hint of a smile, "I'll be waiting."
Not another sound was uttered between us. Emmett gave a nod of understanding as if telling me to do what I must. I nodded in return. Without looking back, I blurred through the trees once more. The rain barely made it through the thick canopy. With every mile that faded behind me I felt Jasper Hale fading with it. How long would it be before he was completely gone? Would I ever be able to get him back? Nothing seemed certain anymore. Finally I made it to the edge of the trees and walked at a humans pace into the rain, trading the shelter of the trees for the open streets of Forks. I walked on feeling pain with every step for each one took me away from Alice and plunged me towards the tyrant that I wanted nothing to do with.
Onlookers stared wondering what a Cullen was doing alone wandering the town in such abysmal weather. Nobody ever saw me without one of my family members flanking my side, watching my every move. I ignored the curiosity that fueled the emotional atmosphere and continued on, drenched to the bone in mere seconds. Soon the tiny downtown district turned into the deserted section of town where only the worst of the human race dared wander. My feet carried me mindlessly. Sadness was already tugging lightly at my mood. How could I have let this happen?
There, at the end of the street, stood the old Forks Theater. It was boarded up with a sign that read "No Trespassing"; letters were mismatched upon the marquee. Once, long ago, it used to be the center for entertainment. People would line up for miles to see plays performed by the traveling theater groups. I took Alice to see "The Twelfth Night" for our third anniversary at this very place. Now it was a haunting reminder of the life I wouldn't be allowed to live ever again. As I reached the building, I hesitated. I could always turn back. This was my last chance to change my mind. Sam's voice echoed in my memory, "Then the treaty becomes void and the Cullen clan will breathe its last."
I had to do this, there was no other way. With new found courage, I resumed my walk forward and headed down the alley behind the building. Once out of sight, I ghosted up the steps that led to the backstage entrance. My hand closed upon the door handle, my lungs took one last deep breath; it broke effortlessly under my grip and despite my growing apprehension, I stepped inside. "Welcome home, mi amor," a voice breathed into my ear almost seductively, "I knew you would return."
The clank of the door shutting behind me echoed through the large empty space. Darkness enshrouded the room but my eyes soon adjusted. I was standing in the right wing of the theater dripping water across the aged flooring. Old theater props were scattered about, some broken others in decent condition. A dingy player piano sat rotting from mildew damage against the far wall. Keys were chipped in some places while many were completely gone. The stench of aged mold and termite infested wood met my nose followed swiftly by the familiarity of my brother's incense. At least I could relax somewhat at the knowledge that he was still alive. A pair of soft lips kissed my cheek causing my jaw to set and my hands to ball. "Welcome home," Maria whispered once again, her breath tickling against my ear.
I wanted to retort, to say that home is where the heart is, but I didn't. My mouth remained sealed as my former commander walked gracefully into view wearing tight skinny jeans, a pair of spiky heels and a form fitted button down shirt. The image of her beauty reminded me of the night its allure had ended my life and a pang of fury shot through me. Maria's smile was dazzling white compared to the cocoa complexion of her skin, "What's the matter, Major? Don't you recognize me?" Again I didn't respond. All the things I wanted to say would only warrant pain and suffering on my part and I wasn't entirely ready to get back to that just yet. "You're brother has been most disagreeable," she mused, "I was tempted to teach him a lesson or two in manners but then I thought it would be so much more entertaining if you took care of it for me."
My form went rigid and my jaw set even more. My silence couldn't be held any longer. "I'm not the same man I once was," I uttered in a voice of forced calm. "Oh, I know it," Maria cooed walking ever closer to me; even in six inch heels she was still three inches shorter than I, "but you soon will be. Edward, mija , you can come out now," she trilled over her shoulder.
It was then that my brother finally came into view looking more rugged than I've ever seen him in all our years together. His lips were in a tight line as his eyes lingered on me. I could tell immediately that he'd been listening to my thoughts from his hiding place this entire time. His emotions were tense but he was forcing them to stay calm as he walked at a humans pace ever nearer to our position. I gave him a single nod of acknowledgement as he stopped a little ways away. "Where's Bella," he inquired stoically trying to keep his anger under control. "She's safe," I assured him.
My thoughts betrayed the agreement with the wolves as he made me think on it with his inquest. In a blur, he closed the spaced between us and joined his knuckles to my nose before I could even blink. The force of the punch threw me to the ground, cracking it where my head made contact. I heard the sickening crunch of my nose breaking and screamed a stream of obscenities at the pain. Instinctively I threw my hands to it and doubled over as Edward shouted, "You gave her to the dogs… YOU GAVE HER TO THE BLOODHOUNDS! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD ITS GOING TO BE TO GET HER BACK FROM THEM YOU STUPID SOUTHERN HICK!"
His words stung me just as much as his fist. I winced and gave a cry of pain as I popped my nose back into place and felt it begin to heal itself. Edward gripped my shirt and made to yell some more but in his anger he paid no mind to my thoughts; my fist connected with his face hard enough to make him stumble back. "I had no choice," I replied in a half shout as I got to my feet and straightened my shirt, "If you'd stop thinkin' like a Yankee for two tenths of a second we can sort this out!" Edward seemed stunned that I'd actually hit him. It was a first for both of us. As a precaution I sent him a feeling of calm and he nodded his head in consent to my wishes. A thrill of enjoyment shot through me reminding me of Maria's presence in the room. Could this day get any worse? "Jasper, it was all a trick," Edward breathed and I felt satisfaction seep from Maria and into me poisoning my very being with hatred and loathing. Apparently it was far worse. "What do you mean a trick," I muttered in disbelief. There was no way this was a setup. I would have seen it.
"Bella let slip that Alice couldn't see past the wolves," my brother confessed in a flat tone, "Maria cut a deal with them. She originally planned to retrieve you from them at La Push but due to a few complications in the treaty the elders discovered that this plan wouldn't work. Maria knew you would do anything to keep Alice safe so she told the wolves to threaten her, to threaten all of us."
The very center of my being began to collapse with every syllable as the missing pieces became clear. Maria's emotions were gloating and prideful as she stared at her master plans success standing before her. "They wouldn't have attacked," I breathed in question.
"Oh, they would have," Edward nodded, "They would have killed every last one of us…except for you. You were to be given to Maria either way."
I felt like my whole world had just fallen apart beneath me. I sunk to my knees in despair and clutched my head as it all fell in to place. The mutts were working with Maria so Alice would be left in the dark, unable to protect me. "They were hoping you wouldn't come of your own accord," Maria purred.
"I knew that human was trouble," I muttered under my breath as I slowly began to unravel at the seams, "I said we should be rid of her but you… and Alice… then Esme… "
"You know you love Bella just as much as the rest of the family," Edward spoke sympathetically now.
I snapped. In a blur I slammed into him and, holding him by the shirt, shoved him into the wall, "I HURT ALICE, EDWARD," I shook him once more, "BECAUSE YOUR GIRLFRIEND OPENED HER MOUTH, I HAD TO HURT ALICE!"
"You know as well as I that Bella had nothing to do with it," Edward seethed and glanced over my shoulder, "Just take a look to your left and you'll find the culprit."
Maria's laughter echoed not in the surrounding air but in my mind, "Very good, major. Anger is still an emotion I can coax out of you yet. Now for our first order of business… I want you to dispatch with your brother."
Edward's eyes were hard as I looked into them and tried to ignore her demands. "Think of Alice," Edward whispered, "Only Alice."
"You hate him. You loathe him. It's all his fault your Alice is grieving…"
I tried to ignore her. Alice's face was present in my mind. I tried to remember her touch, her scent, the allure of her voice but Maria was erasing it.
"…you want him dead. He ruined your life with his loco novia and her all too alluring blood. She makes you appear weak. He treats you like a child that can't be trusted. You are a danger…"
My body was trembling from the effort to remain in my right mind. This wasn't real, this wasn't happening.
"…they don't want you, Jasper. They never wanted you. They only took you in so Alice wouldn't leave."
"You know that's not true, Jazzy," Edward spoke with affection, "She's lying, don't listen to her!"
"He has no choice," Maria hissed, "Jasper, finish him off!"
Without warning Edward shoved me away from him with incredible force. I crashed into the ancient piano turning it into firewood as he took off like a shot across the stage. A growl of annoyance burrowed itself deep in my chest as I stood to my feet and tore off after him. Using all my strength I launched myself atop his form. The two of us toppled in a heap across the stage and smashed through a mirror on the opposite side, shattering it into a million pieces that scattered across the scuffed floor sounding like chimes. We both had an advantage on the other making it a difficult win for both sides. After a fruitless tussle across the floorboards, I attempted to sink my teeth into Edward's forearm. Seeing my thoughts ahead of time, my brother tugged away and kicked me off of him. I flew from the stage and landed amidst the theater chairs. They crunched effortlessly beneath my marble body as I tumbled amongst them. "This isn't you, Jasper," Edward called out as I shook off the hit and got back to my feet, "Snap out of it!"
My head twinged lightly but I ignored it and ghosted back onto the stage. "You know what will happen if you fail, Jasper," Maria cooed from where she lounged watching the scene, enjoying herself entirely too much. "Jasper, wake up," Edward shouted, "Its two against one! We can take her down and get out of here!"
"He's under my control now, you silly little man," Maria chortled musically, "He has been since dia numero uno."
I placed several more blows that Edward parried and visa versa. I narrowly avoided decapitation, ducking just in time. My foot shot out to trip him up but he saw it coming and jumped. It was time to kick my thoughts into overdrive. With a snarl I moved faster, trying to think apace of my brother's ability. He blocked my next three hits and grabbed my wrists in an attempt to cease my movement. "Jazz," he spoke in frustration, "Listen to me! It's not real! What she's making you believe is all a lie!"
In one swift movement, I used Edward's hold on my wrists to spin him around and pin his arms behind his back. "No its not," My head panged again, "I would know! This whole thing is your fault!"
With as much force as I could muster, I threw my brother like a rag doll into the lighting rig at the top of the stage. Glass shattered all about as he was entangled in the twisted metal, singing off the stage. He shook his head to right himself and looked down at me with a hurt gaze; his sympathy waved over me and I felt another slight twinge in my head. "She wants you to think it's my fault, Jazz," He spoke in a smooth tone as he disentangled himself and dropped lithely to the floor, "It's none of our faults. We were all fooled."
I ghosted into him and we became a blur of porcelain as we rolled across the stage, tossing one another every few feet and trying to gain the upper hand, ripping up floorboards in the process. Finally I gained a hold and slammed his head into the rotten wood, gripping his throat in a vice. My fist pulled back preparing to strike his angelic face and once and for all be rid of his annoyances. "Think of Alice," Edward choked out, holding his hands up in surrender as he eyed my fist with apprehension, "She's probably watching this whole thing right now… think of how you're hurting her… she loves you Jasper. You're always on her mind. Trust me, I know…"
"Finish him," Maria commanded, losing her calm edge.
"Think of Alice," Edward whispered again.
"Alice doesn't love you," Maria breathed in my mind, "Forget her, Whitlock. She was using you. You were just a toy to her… a pawn in her little game."
"You know that's not true, Jazz," Edward was speaking with empathy now, "Think of the first time you kissed her… the emotions she displayed, the things you felt; you can't fake that even if you tried."
I began to pause and ponder on my brothers words as Maria continued, "He's trying to fool you. Don't give in! Finish him and then Bella will get what she deserves for ruining your life!"
"You don't hate Bella," Edward countered, "You know you love her as a sister… I've seen it in your thoughts…"
My head panged again only this time it stayed; Maria prodded harder, "He's a Yankee, Jasper. His lineage provided the Union Army with 250,000 soldados. He's a traitor… a spy… the Colonel wouldn't be very happy if you let him live…"
"Jasper, think clearly," Edward begged softly, "I lived during World War One. You're war ended fifteen years before I was even born…"
My head split open as they both fought for my conscious mind. Instantly, I released Edward and grasped it in my hands, stumbling back, "Stop it!" Thoughts bounced back and forth in my mind. Some were true others were false; not complying to Maria's prodding caused my head to hurt all the more. I collapsed to the ground screaming in agony. "JASPER, FINISH HIM," Maria shouted, "THAT'S AN ORDER, SOLDAD!"
Edward was at my side in an instant, his eyes flitting about unsure of what to do. The pain doubled as I fought against her hold. "LET HIM GO," Edward demanded angrily as Maria gave an evil laugh and shook her head. "Run," I ordered my younger brother in thought, "There's nothing more you can do for me… Bella needs you, run!" Another agonizing shout left my throat as I gripped my head tighter. Edward shook his head. "I'll keep her distracted… if you care about me at all you will get out of here! Don't let my sacrifice be for nothing! GO," I demanded in my mind, struggling to not be overcome with anguish. "We'll find you," he muttered so only I could hear.
"I promise," he uttered softly, gripping my shoulder in a brotherly manner before he took off in a blur out the side door leaving me all alone.
Fighting through the pain, I ghosted to Maria and bowled her over. I had to keep her attention, to erase her interest in Edward even if it meant punishment for me, I didn't care; I loved my brother and my family too much. A hiss radiated through her icy lips as she shoved me off effortlessly. I smashed through a set of rolling stairs used for scenery. They were demolished easily, falling atop me. The explosion in my head was too much to work through. I groaned in agony as I crawled out from the wood pile and collapsed in exhaustion, doubled over in pain. "You disobeyed me major," Maria whispered, releasing her gift from my mind. The headache slowly subsided but trying to fight against it had made me weak. "You know what happens when an order is disobeyed," she shook her head lightly as if this was a shame. My eyes grew wide and I stumbled to my feet ghosting lopsidedly towards the door but she blurred in front of me and shoved me roughly to the ground. I didn't want to go through that again; once was enough but I'd been through it a decent thousand times or more. This part of my life was supposed to be gone. Maria started walking menacingly towards me, her heels clicking against the wooden floors with each step. I began shying away as she neared, crawling backwards along the floor as terror consumed me. There had to be a way out of this. This wasn't right. It was against nature.
"Did you really think you could hide from me forever," she questioned with a hint of laughter as though it was a childish notion, "You belong to me, Jasper Whitlock. I made you; my venom runs through your veins. You can't escape me."
"Alice Brandon made me," I retorted with vehemence, "You have nothing to do with who I am."
A sharp sting met my cheek as she slapped her hand viciously across it. "Don't you dare question my authority over you," She hissed as I winced, "I am in control! You are my puppet to do with as I please. I would kill you right now if I didn't need you to ayudarme."
"Why would I help you," I asked sarcastically as my back pressed against the wall of the left wing leaving me nowhere else to go; I was trapped.
"Because if you don't, Alice dies," She stated matter of factly, "Estás esposa días están contados."
You're wife's days are numbered. Before I could even comprehend her words completely she rolled back my sleeve and her teeth sunk mercilessly into the skin of my forearm. The venom already burned. I shouted in anguish as I tried to shove her off of me but I was too weak to succeed. She dug her teeth in harder and dragged them down tearing off my skin as she went. My screams were unheard by anyone but her. As she ripped skin from bone and pulled away I tried to fight back with my gift, concentrating what I felt upon her but she knew me all too well. "You deserve it, Jasper," she whispered in my mind, "You failed me and now you must pay the price."
With no one to tell me otherwise, I believed her words, twisting over in agony and taking my punishment with dignity as she looked on with a smile. She had cheated; she had cheated and come out the victor. I'd found paradise and learned the golden rule of love and kindness but it seemed that blessings were not meant for someone like me. As I lay where I'd fallen, grimacing in an attempt to stop the pain, Maria ordered me to stay where I was as she took care of some last minute details, though of what I couldn't be sure. Visions of the past fifty years flooded my mind as the burning peaked, spreading throughout me. Alice hopping off of a barstool in Philadelphia, Alice teaching me to hunt animals and control my thirst, the first time I felt something more than friendship growing in my own emotions, the feel of her lips when we first kissed, the peace and calm that waved over me when I held her in my arms; our first meeting with the Cullens, Edwards face when he found his stuff in the garage, Esme's loving hug as she welcomed me with open arms, Carlisle's firm handshake and warm emotions as he welcomed me to the family, Rosalie's acceptance, Emmett's boyish behavior, and Alice's calm assurance.
My mind flitted past all of that as the pain climaxed and I shouted out once again clutching my arm in a vice trying to rid myself of the burning. I saw the first intellectual conversation that Edward and I had ever held, the first time Carlisle called me son, Emmett chasing me across the yard after I used my ability to con him out of fifty dollars, Esme chastising Emmett and I for breaking her good coffee table after getting a bit too rowdy, Carlisle giving me some fatherly advice when I told him of my decision to ask for Alice's hand, Alice's giddy emotions as she said yes when I finally got around to proposing, the image of her walking down the aisle in the most extravagant wedding dress ever known to man, the memory of long nights on our honeymoon followed by days of endless exploring and jet setting across Europe, the jaunting of my brothers for weeks afterwards, the coming of Bella Swan, the arguments had between Edward and I over the fragile human, the family meeting that decided she would remain alive, her first visit to the household, Alice's proud emotions as I succeeded in not killing the human as I was tempted to and the scene at Bella's birthday near a year after.
The memory changed again; Bella's forgiveness for my slip, Alice's vision, my wife's willingness to stay by my side no matter the cost, her ability to keep me calm when my world unraveled around me, her gentle kiss of reassurance and lastly our loving and passionate kiss farewell. I didn't want to remember her cries of horror as I ran away. I refused to think past the moment our lips met for the last time. Would I truly ever be free? Would I ever hug Alice to me once again? Or was the life I'd finally found gone forever, lost to me at the hand of the one being I loathed more than any other. My body began to tremble as I righted myself and leaned against the wall staring in shock at the damage Maria had done to me. Though the venom burned as painstakingly as before, nothing within me changed. I gritted my teeth in an effort to silence my groans. I didn't want to give Maria the pleasure. Almost as though she knew my thoughts, she ghosted delicately back to my side. "I've made all the arrangements," she smiled happily, "Jasper Hale has been erased from Forks High and every other record available. You will no longer go by that alias, is that understood?"
I gave an imperceptible nod of my head, grimacing in the process.
"You have a new passport and new papers. You are now Jasper Whitlock once again."
Before I could even get my question out, the door that Edward had disappeared through opened once again and another vampire entered; a vampire with bright red eyes matched in full by the flaming hair that curled in ringlets around her face. "Victoria," It came out of my lips as a question. She waved at me with two fingers and a bright smile as she gracefully perched on a rotting table hidden in the wing. Maria was shortly standing beside her with crossed arms and a raised brow as if inquiring an unspoken question. "It's all taken care of," Victoria assured her, "Just remember our deal."
"You give me your full service and I promise I will teach you how to create a newborn," Maria nodded, "but first you must fulfill your end of the bargain."
"With pleasure," Victoria purred with a wicked smile before glancing in my direction, "We can't take him on a plane like that."
"We won't," Maria put the idea to rest, "If you led them north then we shall head south before we trek east. We can catch a plane in Houston."
"Isn't it a bit too sunny for comfort in that region," the red head inquired, leaning forward just slightly.
"We'll manage mi amiga. Do not worry."
Both pairs of red eyes landed on me. My lips pursed in a thin line as I looked away from them indignantly. "Aww, Jasper mi amor," Maria cooed, "Don't be angry with me. I've rescued you from a life of imprisonment. Now you are free to hunt whenever you want and kill whomever you wish."
"I'm not a killer," I mumbled below a whisper.
"But you soon will be," she muttered smoothly.
"You know, I thought simply killing Bella mate for mate would be fun but taking Alice's mate too," Victoria smiled contentedly, "The whole family will endure retribution now."
"Then we both get what we want," Maria returned the smile, "Did you procure a car?"
Victoria nodded once fluidly, "Do excuse the bodies in the back. I hadn't ample time to dispose of them."
"No matter," Maria shrugged, "We can dump them in the river later."
Victoria, bodies, Alice, Bella, the wolves; my head was spinning faster and faster as things were coming together. The whole picture was viewable and I couldn't help the whisper that escaped my lips, "No." The two women were suddenly standing directly above me as I trembled under the influence of the venom. "Yes, Jasper," Maria breathed, "It's time to say goodbye to your old life. Jasper Hale is dead… Jasper Whitlock is alive once again."
As she said this I felt an undetected vicissitude within me. "Take him," she muttered to the red headed nomad. I made to ghost in the other direction but in my condition I was too slow and Victoria's arms caught me around the middle. "Oh no you don't," she smiled gathering me in her arms and ghosting out the door and down the steps into the pouring rain, "You are going to sit quietly in the back of the car and not make a sound. If you so much as try to escape, Alice will find herself in the middle of a great big bonfire." With these words said, Victoria shoved me in the back of a very expensive looking black BMW and slammed the door shut before returning inside the theater. Two lifeless bodies were slumped motionless to my left; a dark headed male and a blond female. They both bore wedding bands on their fingers which brought a sudden thought to my mind. If Maria was going to make me forget Alice than my wedding ring would be the next thing she took. With a shaky hand, I pulled the golden ring from my finger and clutched it protectively in a vice. Where could I hide it?
Thinking rapidly, I pulled up my jeans and kissed the band before sliding it gently into the empty knife pouch hidden inside my boot. At least it would come in handy once again. A silver liquid was seeping from my open wound as I slid my jeans back down over my gray boots. I knew I had to stop the venom from exiting the wound as such or the skin wouldn't heal accordingly. Feeling slightly ashamed that I had to resort to such a thing, I ripped a shred of fabric from the woman's shirt and wrapped it around my arm, tying it with my teeth. A considerable grimace crossed my features as the injury pulsed under pressure. Rain pelted the hood of the car as I leaned against the window trying to ignore the fire sweeping throughout me and failing to cease the tremors that shook my body. All connections to my past had been severed except for Alice. I couldn't let her go. Maria could demolish my body, tear apart my soul and mess with my emotions but I would never let her rip Alice away from me. The day that happened would be the day I truly died. As Maria and Victoria departed the theater and made for the car I knew it was going to be a very long time before I saw any of my family again but I could hold on to hope. They would search for me and I had no doubt that someday they would find me. There was only one thing that marred this sanguine expectation slightly; how much of me would there be left to recover?
A week had passed since my world was ripped mercilessly away from me. In that time, I'd managed to finally get through the burning flames of Maria's venom. Two pale, raised lines in the shape of Maria's longer and sharpest teeth ran from my elbow to my wrist, joining the other scars from failures past beneath the ash blue of my sleeve. They served as a horrid reminder that Maria was not as innocent as she appeared. I could already feel the light I'd once held inside starting to burn out as Alice's final words rang true in my mind, "He's going to die inside! I've seen it! You have no idea what it will do to him!"
Yes, death; that was the easiest way to describe the failing of my "heart" inside me. How long would it be before I was once again a heartless monster? I had to hold on as long as possible. I had to pull as much of myself together as I could manage before Maria killed it all. I had to do it for Alice, all for Alice. Something about the situation I was in felt hopeless but to give up so easily would disappoint her. I was a soldier by nature. I would fight this fight to its finish. I'd made up my mind to be as impossible to break as I dared. If Maria wanted me so badly, fine; she'd have to work herself into oblivion to get me back completely.
As these thoughts mulled over and over in my mind, I leaned my head against the window of the airplane and stared at the stars that lit up the sky. Each one glowed brilliantly against the darkness of its backdrop appearing as diamonds in the floors of heaven. Maria and Victoria were whispering in hushed tones that I couldn't decipher to my right, occasionally stealing a glance in my direction. Who was I fooling? I could fight back as much as I wanted to but it wouldn't do me much good. Alice would be watching me more dutifully than ever before. It didn't matter what I did. Everything she saw from this point onward would break her heart. The thought of her sobbing uncontrollably and screaming in horror as she watched me falling apart sent my insides twisting as my fists balled in anger. Hurting her was the one thing above all others I'd sworn I'd never do and here I was ripping her heart from her chest and mauling it to death on the ground, the very heart that I'd vowed to protect from harm when I'd realized I loved her. I didn't care that I was hurting too. Pain and suffering was something I'd long since accepted as a natural part of my life, Alice's anguish was unacceptable.
Maria had done her job well. Alice never saw any of this coming. All she could make out was my indecision in front of the theater. Because of our agreement with the mongrels, my family couldn't come to my aid until it was too late. That was exactly how Maria had planned it. If the Cullens tried to take me back too soon the deal would be broken followed shortly by the treaty. I had no choice but to pay my dues to my old commander. Wind whistled past the wings of the plane reverberating methodically in my ears. My eyes scanned the interior out of habit as though worried I might miss some important detail or change. The large man that took up two seats was still snoring abnormally loud as he slumped farther and farther in his chair. Two children were nestled atop one another like puppies just behind us; their parents were taking the moment to steal a kiss. A very bored looking teenager popped her bubblegum as she turned the page of her book. Beside her, her two friends were whispering about the blond guy sitting not too far back who looked as though he could be a movie star. I was used to such idle chatter but normally I had Alice on my arm to show that I was taken.
Suddenly my eyes caught sight of inky black tresses heading down the aisle from the rear restroom. My entire being was charged with adrenaline for only a moment, the equivalent of my heart rate speeding. It slowed back down as disappointment flooded through me when she turned to the rebellious teen and asked her to move her bag; it wasn't Alice. Now that I was thinking more clearly I heard the thud of her heart and smelt the allure of her blood. Why would Alice even be here? I felt something smooth and soft atop my hand and glance down at it to see Maria's cocoa complexion atop my pale and lifeless skin. "Don't fret, mi amor," she breathed and patted my hand gently, "We'll soon be in Italy and you'll be back to your normal self. You won't need her anymore."
I ripped my hand away from her grip nearly breaking the arm rest in the process. Thankfully, no one noticed. "I will always need her," I breathed vehemently, "I'm only here because you cheated."
Maria was unphased by my reaction, "Blessings are for saints my dear Jasper. Did you really think such a failure as yourself could hope to keep one? The Cullens were an accident of fate, mi amor. You are not worthy of forgiveness or amnesty. Fate has simply decreed that you stay where you belong."
Moodily, I leaned my chin on my fist and turned my gaze back out the window. Maria's hand made to smooth my curls consolingly but before she could even touch me I muttered, "Don't." The sting of rejection in her aura met my gift but she quickly masked it and turned back to Victoria. Part of me believed the woman beside me, that I wasn't worthy of forgiveness. I knew I wasn't and yet I had found it. Found it and then lost it. Maybe Maria was right. Maybe fate was just righting itself. The topic stirred a memory within me and I was suddenly lost inside of it as I stared out the window into the abyss.
I'd only known Alice for a few short weeks and already I couldn't imagine leaving her side. She was so delicate and so beautiful. Someone had to protect her from the harsh nature of the world, to keep the darkness away from the light of her soul. I wanted that person to be me but I was just a worthless failure who'd run away from his duties. Someone as tainted as me didn't belong with such purity. Even though Maria was a merciless task master who prided herself in kicking me about when I didn't do as she pleased, I deserved it. As Alice danced around in the rays of light streaming through the canopy of trees I couldn't help but give a tiny smile at the carefree joy she displayed. The smallest things seemed to delight her. She was like a breath of fresh air to me, a much needed shot of hope.
The light sparkled off of her skin making her more beautiful than ever. Such grace and elegance deserved so much more out of life than the loneliness she tried to mask. My mind began doing as it always did, spiraling downward into a depressed fit as I berated myself further and further. Suddenly she was walking beside me along the trail we'd chosen to tread. Without a hint of hesitation she slipped her hand in mine and gave a bright smile as she looked up at me, speaking in a voice like the tinkling of bells, "What are you thinking about?"
"Why did you wait for me," I inquired meeting her topaz gaze, "Why are you still with me now? I'm not…good."
"Because you need me," she replied matter-of-factly, "Someone has to take care of you."
I chuckled, unable to help it, "Take care of me? And why would I need to be taken care of?"
"Because you harm yourself with negativity," she shrugged as if this should be common knowledge, "You could benefit from a little optimism."
"I don't deserve your kindness," I muttered, "or your forgiveness."
"Nobody deserves forgiveness, Jazz. That's what makes it such a beautiful act. But everyone deserves a second chance to start over and become a better person. I believe in you, Jasper. You can be whoever you choose to be."
A slight tingle traversed my body as she left a soft kiss on my cheek. Nobody had ever believed in me before. Somehow I knew that as long as I had Alice, I would always have hope.
A sharp pain across the back of my head pulled me violently from my reverie. "Stop daydreaming," Maria demanded as she took her hand back, "It makes me nervous." Not wishing to endure punishment again I gave a simple nod, rubbing my head slightly and took up staring at my fingernails.
Once more I found myself in the shadow of Anger and Hatred. It was beginning to tax on my own mood like a disease, poisoning the kind heart that Alice had worked so hard to unlock. I could already feel the wall she'd crumbled so many years ago beginning to build itself up once again with every lashing from Maria and every hate filled lie my tormentor made me believe. If Alice did indeed search me out I was concerned that there would be nothing left to find. I'd found the light only to be thrust into darkness once again. One week was all it had been and already I felt lost. Lost without hope, lost without love, lost without her; my beacon in the dark, my moral compass in confusion, my remarkably pure and vibrant Alice.
Save me before it's too late…