The Cullens were tense as they sat in the living room. Alice had been taken by a vision of Aro on their snowy front stoop, accompanied by the worst of his ebony-cloaked guard. The snow had begun to fall that morning. Now, books lay half-read and scattered across side tables. A multi-board chess game was unfinished. Both Jasper and Emmett claimed that they had been winning, but neither had the fervor to argue it. They were still - unbreathing, unblinking.
"What do they want?" Rosalie snapped. Her hand had curled so tightly into fists that her manicured nails were cracking the skin of her palm. Alice shot her a deadly glare. "I've told you. I. Don't. Know."
"Girls, please," Esme said, "this is difficult enough without you two arguing. I'm just glad Renesmee's in Switzerland, this would be too much stress for such a young girl."
She sighed softly and rested her fingers in Carlisle's waiting hand.
"I wish Edward were here to read Aro's mind," Emmett said, "That Dick's never straight forward. If people would just say what they fucking mean . . . sorry Mom."
He had caught Esme's stern look.
The distant crunch of snow under foot. The strong perfume of sweet roses with the trace of stale human blood. Aro and his guard had crossed the threshold of their property. The Cullens stood in preparation. Jasper clasped his hands behind his back, squared his shoulders, and subtly positioned himself in front of Alice. Though Aro desired her for her gifts - it practically leached from him - he would never have her.
There were three quick raps on the door.
"Aro," Carlisle greeted, opening the door. His smile was forced. His emotions were a mess of confusion and worry.
Aro appeared with his guard, black-cloaked, crimson-eyed and foreboding. There were four of them, Aro at the front, Jane and Alec flanking him. The fourth figure was a curvy redhead, her nose beakish. When set together, they resembled a murder of crows.
"What a pleasant surprise," Carlisle continued, greeting each in turn, "Jane, Alec, and . . . I don't believe we met."
Jane gave a tight smile. Alec's muscles did not even twitch towards a reaction. The wind howled through the open door. The Guard did not step inside.
"Ah, Carlisle, my old friend," Aro gushed, "this is Lilliana. She is a recent addition to our guard."
Lilliana simpered at Aro's attention, curling her hair through her ashen fingers. She looked more like one of their silly, girlish receptionists than a stony-faced guard.
Carlisle said, stiffly, "Pleasure."
Aro took a step into the threshold.
The tension is them room thicked. Jasper shifted his weight to his back foot. Emmett crossed his arms across his chest. Rosalie swallowed a hiss.
"Surely, Aro," Carlisle said, "you aren't just here for a visit?"
Aro shook his head. "No. I'm afraid I'm here on business. I need to speak with one of your . . . children."
At the snide remark, a wave of disgust rippled through the Cullens, then lit like a fire in Esme. She fought the curl of her lip.
"Jasper, will you join me for a walk?"
"No!" Alice screamed, her eyes still blank with a vision. Before Jasper could react, his arms were wrapped around her waist. Dread began to consume him, the emotions of his family heaping onto his shoulders. He was Atlas. This was his burden.
Aro gifted Alice with a placating smile. "Very well."
"What is this about?" Jasper had found his voice and was forcing it to sound steady and strong. Though he had faced death a million times over, his survival instinct had never dulled. He was on a knives edge, the closest to death he had ever come. Staring into Aro's apathetic - no, slightly amused - eyes.
Aro said, "Maria. She has broken our laws and has been punished accordingly."
He paused, letting the gravity settle. Maria was dead. There was no need for innuendo.
"All of her associates," Aro continued, " will have to be punished as well."
"I haven't been involved with her in over a century," Jasper said. Surely, in all the years that had elapsed and all of the vast knowledge the Volturi had, they knew his actions and his intent.
"Ah." Aro clicked his tongue. Patronizing. "But we have no statute of limitations. And you did, in fact, break our laws."
He spread his arms in a wide, theatrical shrug. 'It's out of my hands, Jasper', he seemed to taunt, 'what can I do?' It set Jasper's teeth on edge. The earth seemed to protest as well. Trees groaned under the weight of heavy snowfall. The wind beat into their backs.
Carlisle spoke on behalf of his son. "What laws has Jasper broken? Surely you are not trying to claim he is guilty by association?"
Did it matter? Vampires had no Constitution. No Bill of Rights. No rights at all. The Volturi's word was law. Unquestionable and unchanging, barring some revolution. No. Jasper halted that line of thought. If Aro were to read his mind now, it would be over. Not just for him, but for his family. For Alice. He would not allow that.
Aro said, "He was a willing participant is activities that exposed humans to our kind. The punishment for that crime is death. Please, let's not delay this any longer."
Jasper closed his eyes. He imagined his limbs being ripped from his body. This wasn't a new pain, he had been dismembered and reassembled more times than he could count. He had felt the fire in his joints, and the corrosive acid of venom spilling from his skin. Yet he did not know how it would feel to be burned. To die. To feel the eternal fire of Hell.
"No, Aro, please," Alice begged. Desperation was pouring from her like a river. "Do you want me to join you? I'll do it, just don't hurt him. Please."
"Allie," Jasper murmured, rubbing her arms, "don't."
Esme took a step towards her daughter, reaching for the pixie of a girl. Jasper gladly handed her over. It was another barrier between his Wife and his fate. Every inch of separation between them was a blessing.
Aro smiled. There was an idea blooming in his mind, his emotions ranged from amused to exacting. "No, My Dear Alice, we would like you to join us of your own free will. Not because you feel you have no other choice."
He paused, relishing the drama. "Though, perhaps I could offer an . . . alternative punishment? Considering the circumstances?"
Jasper looked wearily at Jane, and her crimson eyes glinted like coals - eager to satisfy her more sadistic bent.
"Oh, no," Aro cooed. Jane's face fell. "I think that it will be Lilliana who assists us. Lilliana?"
He brandished his arm, inviting the woman forward. Her hair bounced and her eyes twinkled. "Whatever you wish, Sir."
Syrup. Fake. Revolting.
Alice closed her eyes, trying to pull a vision from the ether. Her hysteria mounted with each ticking second. Her nails dug into Jasper's skin. "Why can't I see?"
"You can't see the things you don't understand, correct? You don't see the wolves?" Aro said. The Cullens stiffened. Their alliance with the wolves had been a point of contention in the narrowly-avoided battle. With dancing, calculating eyes, Aro continued. "Perhaps Lilliana's gift is too unique?"
"Perhaps," Alice conceded. She pouted, but her glassy amber eyes remained focused. She had given up on visions.
"Lilliana," Aro stated, "has the ability to move people through time. Backwards . . . forwards . . ."
He paused, seizing the sojourn to look from Cullen to Cullen. Wonder, bewilderment. Every emotion was written on their faces. Jasper wore a mask of calm, but it concealed fear and rage. Murderous thoughts were creeping in once more. It would be easy enough to dispose of Aro. One quick movement would rip his smirking face from his body. If not for Alice's safety . . .
"Of course, I will have to learn more about you, Jasper," Aro said, "to find a suitable punishment. It will require some creativity."
And he treason would be revealed.
Aro held out his hand for Jasper, moving his fingers in a delicate invitation. Jasper stepped forward, grabbing Aro's hand as if to shake it. Aro's eyes twinkled, dancing around unseen images, impulses, and desires. Through the centuries that Jasper had lived.
"Ah," Aro smiled. "You present a very special case. I don't think I will be sending you anywhere. Perhaps, I will bring someone to you. She will arrive shortly. Goodbye, Carlisle . . . Alice."
He looked longingly after the petite vampire. Almost hungry in his fervor. And, in a swirl of black cloaks, they were gone.
"I have to call Peter," Jasper announced, as soon as the Guard had left their property. He shook Alice from his arms - she had been clinging to him with the strength of a frightened child, unwilling to go to Esme - and stepped toward the dining room. He waved off his family's attempts to stop him, to talk to him. What chance did he have that Peter and Charlotte would still be alive? One in a hundred? Or was it futile? He pulled the silver cell phone from his pocket and called his brother. The phone rang only once.
"Major," Peter greeted, "What's up?"
Jasper sighed in relief.
"Woah," Peter said. He had heard the heavy ode. "What happened?"
"I don't know how much time I have to share this, so listen carefully," Jasper began. His voice was rapid and low, teeming with urgency. "Aro came to me. Maria is dead. He is going to kill everyone associated with her. We managed to talk him into some kind of alternative punishment for me. It's . . . bizarre, to say the least."
"What the fuck?" Peter interrupted.
Jasper heard Peter scream it through the phone.
"Come here, Char! Or pack or somethin'. I don't know. Fuck!"
Jasper could picture his brother pacing, hands in his silvery hair and a sigh forcing it's way from his lips.
"Pack," Jasper ordered, "leave and cover your tracks well. We'll meet when we can"
The scent of lavender and honey drifted on the breeze, warming the room like sunshine. It was distinctly feminine and undoubtedly young. And human, with her blood spilled across her skin. It was strong for the distance between them. Jasper breathed in the scent, momentarily distracted from his brother. There was vague familiarity, but nothing concrete.
"Human?" Carlisle muttered, "Jasper? Do you recognize . . .?"
Jasper shook his head.
"I have to go," he muttered into the phone, "stay safe, Brother."
"Good luck, Jasper," Peter said as the line went flat.
Jasper took off towards the scent, his family in his footsteps. Upstate New York was behind them as they neared the Canadian border, and the edge of their property. It was steep with jagged woods, a deadly place for a bleeding woman, especially in the icy depths of the New Year.
"Why is some random human your punishment?" Emmett asked, falling into step with his brother, "what the hell, man? Is she you singer or something?"
"Her blood does not appeal to me any more or less than another's." But Jasper's mind had been swimming with the same question. Perhaps the goal was to kill someone he loved? But there were so few humans, in the whole of his existence, that he had come to care for. Bella, as well as Renesmee and Seth, but neither of them were fully human, and this was not the scent of Bella's blood. Perhaps Aro was trying to force him to kill a vampire he loved by bringing them forth in their human state. But his family was with him, and he had just spoken to Peter and Charlotte. Did the current incarnation cease to exist if a past self appeared? Though it was impossible, Jasper's head hurt.
The scent of blood was filling his nostrils. The girl was close.
He slowed to a human pace. No need to frighten the poor girl with a monsterous display.
A woman was prone on the ground, curled around herself, scrapes at her knees and elbows. A pink calico dress. A mess of blonde curls.
"Abigail," Jasper breathed.
He was consumed by memories.