A/N: Oh, man.
So, here I am, doing another thing I swore I would never do. Vamp fic. Whoa.
A note. These vampires are not quite canon in characteristics. The story is AU, so some things don't line up with strict canon.
Dedication: To all of you who pushed me, over the years, to do a vamp fic. I hope this one works.
He was being hunted.
Of course he was being hunted. He'd known the probability when he came into this territory. It reeked of others. A coven, he surmised. At least, their scents were all enmeshed. There were at least five; more than enough to keep an eye over a large spread of land. So it shouldn't have come as a surprise that one of them caught his scent.
He'd been perched on a rock, entertaining himself listening to a trio of campers. They were patting themselves on the back for being men of the land, but their camping gear consisted of so many luxuries, including canned food. Men of the land his ass.
"It's so quiet out here," one had said.
"Yeah, man. No one out here but us."
Just you and the boogeyman, Jasper thought to himself, and that was when he felt an encroaching emotion on the horizon. Determination. Focus. The familiar feel of vampires on the hunt.
Venom filled his mouth. He hadn't really been hunting the camping humans. He wasn't hungry, and yet, it was his instinct to defend. He pushed off the rock and ran. Maybe there were five of them, but that didn't give them every advantage. He was nothing if not a tactician.
First, he needed more information. What did these vampires want? They could not consider him much of a threat. He hadn't fed, firstly, and there were five of them.
He took to the river to mask his scent, throw off the chase. When the river got deep, he swam, belly to the bottom. When the water got shallow, he leapt up from the water onto a low tree limb. He climbed. Vampires were excellent climbers, but most preferred the ground, where they could be fast.
He settled on a perch, looking over the wide expanse of forest, listening.
The voice was a distance away, across the trees, but he heard it as clear as day. What startled him wasn't the nearness so much as the direction it was coming from. Up. He raised his head. Sure enough, perhaps ninety feet away, sitting calmly on a sturdy limb above his eye level, was a young man. A vampire with bronze hair. Jasper tensed, ready to leap, analyzing weak points in his stance.
The man extended a hand in a placating motion. "Don't be alarmed," he said, his voice friendly though his lips hinted at a smirk. He knew damn well he'd caught Jasper by surprise. Jasper could feel the arrogance coming off him. "We don't want trouble."
Jasper cocked his head. The other vampire held his gaze, looking him in the eyes.
His eyes were golden.
Again, that smirk played at the corner of his mouth. He didn't wait for Jasper to answer. Without another word, he pushed off the branch and plummeted downward.
Well, Jasper couldn't say he wasn't impressed. The emotions coming off the others weren't threatening. They were calm. Cautious, but calm. At least one of them was amused.
He dropped to the ground, landing in a crouch, ready to spring. They had moved so they were standing a good distance from him but in plain sight. Jasper was no stranger to reading body language, and they were easy to read.
The one who had confronted him wasn't the leader. No. Their leader—their sire, Jasper wondered—stood an inch or so taller than the bronze-haired one and, physically at least, perhaps a bit older. Firmly adult, where the young vampire could have passed for a college kid.
The young vampire, however, was very clearly second in command of the coven. Jasper could tell by the way he stood at the leader's right hand, and only slightly behind.
The others consisted of the leader's mate—Jasper could tell by the way her body was angled toward him, as if attuned—and another mated pair. One of them was massive. That was the one who had been amused. He eyed Jasper as though sizing him up, but not in a threatening manner. Jasper had the distinct feeling he was wondering which of them would win in a friendly match.
They all tensed as he stood. Jasper was used to that reaction, and took no offense. His skin, after all, was riddled with scars. He'd fought many others, and he'd won every battle. They knew it.
The leader stepped forward. "Thank you for coming down. I'm Carlisle," he said, his voice gentle. "This is my family."
Jasper quirked an eyebrow at the word but said nothing. He did give a nod of acknowledgement, but looked to the young one before he spoke. "You knew I was in the tree. How?" Tactics, after all, were a fascination of his.
"You have gifts," the young one said. It wasn't a question. "So do I."
When it was clear that was the only answer he was going to get, Jasper nodded again. "And the rest of your family?" he asked Carlisle.
"Not as gifted as Edward, if that's what you're asking." There was the slightest edge to his voice.
Good. He didn't mind the idea of unnerving the steadfast blond. Something strange was going on here, and Jasper wanted to know what it was. He took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of them from right in front of him and all around. "This is your territory," he said, and that wasn't a question either.
"We live here," Carlisle said.
Again, Jasper's eyebrows shot up. The amusement from the giant increased. He sensed curiosity from Carlisle's mate. "Permanently?"
"As permanent as our kind can manage." Carlisle made a visible effort to let the defensiveness slip from his posture.
"And how do you manage that?"
"By not feeding on our neighbors," Carlisle said, touching the pad of his finger just below his eye. It was as golden as Edward's. They all had golden eyes. Not blood red like his, and not black, so they weren't starving.
Ah. "Animals then?" Jasper guessed. "That…"
"Sucks," said the giant with a laugh. The statuesque blond beside him fought a grimace.
Jasper scoffed. "I'd imagine."
"As you might guess, the presence of a vampire who doesn't share our way of life is of some concern to us," Carlisle said. His tone was even. Explanatory. Perhaps a bit apologetic.
Jasper had to laugh. "This place gets more interesting by the moment," he murmured, mostly to himself.
He thought back to what had brought him there in the first place. A graduate school student in New York named Tyler Crowley. He and young Mr. Crowley had spent quite a bit of time getting to know each other in New York, and Tyler had told him all about this place. How much he'd hated it. Forks was an improbable name for a town, and that was as good a reason as any to choose his next location. After all, it was endlessly dreary and rainy—the perfect haunt for a vampire.
Though a tad more overcrowded than Tyler had described, Jasper noted.
The boy had tasted so very sweet. A delicacy that Jasper had savored as long as he could. Part of him had wondered if the other denizens of Forks, Washington tasted the same.
"We have a residence nearby," Carlisle said. "If you'd like—"
"No." Edward stepped forward, his eyes flashing, his posture gone rigid.
The change in the emotions radiating off the young one was palpable. Horror. Disgust. Fury. He narrowed his eyes at Jasper. "I think it's best if you moved on. This is our territory, and we will defend it if we need to."
The others reacted to the change in mood, each of them reevaluating Jasper, reassessing the threat he posed. The large one was no longer amused.
Jasper frowned, indignant. He'd done nothing to cause this; he was certain. But he was also good at the art of defense. There were five of them, and the charge in the air suggested things could get ugly quickly. All on the whim of the young one?
He might have been annoyed, but he wasn't suicidal.
Jasper put on his most charming smile. "Don't worry. I get where you're coming from. I'll be on my way."
Carlisle looked troubled, but he glanced from Jasper to Edward and back again. He raised his hand in thanks.
Before he could say anymore, Jasper turned on his heel and ran. They did not pursue. He had no intention of going back on his word, but he also wouldn't forget.
That was, he thought, most of the problem of his life. He never forgot.
Edward had to run.
What he wanted was to leap at the other vampire. He was dangerous and deserved to be destroyed.
He'd heard the name in his memories. He saw a boy. Bound. Terrified. Pleading. "Jasper. Hey, man, please. You can't do this. You can't do this to me. Not to me." A gasping sob. "Please, man. No more. No. No!"
He wanted to leap, to tear, to rip the monster to shreds. He wanted to snarl. To destroy.
So, he had to run.
Carlisle's voice in his head brought Edward out of his base mode. He slowed enough to let his family catch up.
"Is he a threat, then?" Carlisle asked.
Edward gnashed his teeth. "To us?" He grunted. "No," he said grudgingly.
"Then what's with you?" Emmett asked. "He seemed pretty civil to me."
"He isn't civil. He's the very antithesis." The words came out almost at a growl. In his head, he heard the boy—Tyler Crowley—scream in pain and horror.
They had reached the house, and when they stopped, Esme put a hand on his arm. "What is it, Edward?"
He looked at her, and wondered if he could say the words when looking at the tenderness in her eyes. He swallowed back the venom that rose automatically when he was itching for a fight. "He's a monster."
"We're all monsters," Rosalie said, blunt as ever.
Edward's cheek twitched. He couldn't argue with that, but she didn't see the images in his head. She couldn't hear Tyler—a grown, strong man—dissolve into hysterical tears. She didn't see him curled on the floor, broken. "Not like him." He looked to Carlisle. "Beth and Mark Crowley's son is not missing."
Carlisle's eyes widened.
"His name is Jasper, and he tortured that boy before he killed him." The word seemed inadequate to what the monster had done. He had dismantled the boy. Not literally. When he was finally still in death, his body was intact. He had torn him down systematically. Destroyed him before he let him die.
"You said that about those nomads a few years ago," Rosalie said. "James, Victoria, and Laurent."
Edward shook his head and began to pace. "I said they toyed with their victims. They played with their food. This is a whole other level of inhumane." He looked to Carlisle. "He kept the boy alive for weeks. Fed off him repeatedly while he broke him down."
Esme gasped, her hands going to her mouth. Edward would have gladly ripped the beast apart for putting that look on her face.
Carlisle, Edward could tell, was disturbed, but his gaze was steady. "And what would you have us do?"
"To let a monster like that loose on the humans—"
"Are we to decide who lives and dies now?"
Edward froze. It wasn't the first time they'd had this argument, and he knew well enough how it ended. He ducked his head. "I can't stand knowing what he's doing."
Carlisle stepped forward then and put a hand to his back in a comforting motion. He didn't say anything. He couldn't say anything that hadn't been said a thousand times over.
Edward was a mind reader. It meant he knew everyone's secrets, whether he wanted to or not. And there were a great many people who had done a lot of horrible things. He was as reconciled as he possibly could be with the fact he could do little about what he knew.
Now if only he could escape the feeling that his silence made him complicit.
A/N: Thank you, as always, to Packy, MoH, songster, and eleanor for making my docs crazy town. I love them. So many thanks to Mina. Do you see my gorgeous banner? I love it.