So yes, this is a few weeks late- I'm very sorry. Holiday got prolonged and then I had to deal with University things; excuses, excuses…
But, here's the next chapter. We're on the home stretch now; there won't be too many left.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight.
Chapter 23: The Threat
Desire was something no man alive could accuse me of being unfamiliar with. I knew the many tugs and jerks of lust; the incomprehensible pull and ache of longing; and the burning need and want for the unfamiliar. The equation for such, I had discovered, was quite simple:
Desire brought pleasure. Pleasure brought distraction. And distractions carried the momentary illusions in which one imagined that those things desired could be enough to satiate their appetite.
But reality's a bitch…
And the bitch is gonna break you.
"Jasper, we're going again. Eyes up, man, get it together!"
I bit back my retort to Emmett's remark and prepared myself, once more, for the onslaught of Michal's desire. We been 'training' him for the past week now, and while he had shown remarkable restraint and skill when it came to the hunt, he had been considerable weaker when it came to man's greatest test;
Consequently, I had been forced to deal with not only his desire for the animals we sought, but my sisters' affections also. When I listened to the logical half of my brain, I could understand his lust perfectly--after all, I too had battled to keep my desire in check when I'd first made the move to the Cullen household. However, the irrational, frustrated, lustful side of my brain, which was suffering all the pangs of Michal's lust with no gratification at the end, chose to ignore reason and focus solely on feeling utterly pissed at the situation.
"Focus, Michal!" I commanded as he divided his attention between a wild boar ahead of us and the state of Alice's ripped hunting attire. "You're not going to get any better at this if you can't even focus on one fucking thing!"
His emotions flushed with a combination of embarrassment and remorse, but I dismissed the guilt with a wave of my own irritancy. The past week had not been a pleasant one, and I was far from the only one exhibiting signs of weariness.
The recent pattern of killings in the Washington state area had grown increasingly higher, and while the unseen force had yet to directly hit Forks, Carlisle had deemed it necessary for each of us to take turns in 'sussing out' the murder-afflicted towns. As a result, I had been forced to take leave from Bella for almost 46 hours while Edward and I had poked around at least a dozen different corpses for signs of which vampire, or vampires, were causing such an ordeal. Michal, too, had taken leave from Forks for almost two days at the beginning of the week, only to return on Wednesday claiming that he'd visited Seattle to investigate the number of missing persons and irregular deaths.
To make a bad week even worse, the Volturi had played their illusive 'invisibility card' so to speak, and were now all but unreachable on the matter-- a decision, Carlisle suspected, which reflected their desire to bring our coven's numbers down.
But the cherry on the proverbial shit-week sundae had arrived just today; in the form of an all-night training hunt in the Olympic Park to test Michal's reactions to human and animal scents--thus, effectively fucking up any Saturday night plans I might have had with Bella. Charlotte and Peter had left Forks the day before, and it now appeared that Michal's plans to stay were heading in a more semi-permanent direction.
"How's he dealing with it?"
I shrugged noncommittally as Carlisle moved to stand beside me, his usual marble smooth expression marred with worry. I knew that the array of this weeks events were having the greatest toll on my father figure, but -as it always was with Carlisle- he was choosing to presently focus on helping everyone other than himself.
"His desire for the pig," I began, throwing Michal a wave of my anger, "is nothing in comparison to his desire for a good fu--"
"That's enough, Jasper."
I scoffed softly to myself, but said no more on the topic.
"He reacted well to the human scents," Carlisle remarked to no one in particular, "especially to the dried human blood by the oak."
I nodded. "I'm not questioning his bloodlust, Carlisle. There's no doubt he can muster a hell of a lot more restraint than even I can-- and he's a fucking child!" Carlisle bristled at my language, but otherwise did not interrupt. "All I'm just saying is that desire -in any form- is hard to resist, and if he can't control his feelings towards the women in this house hold, how can we truly ever trust his control to withstand human blood?"
Carlisle shook his head and turned to face me. "We can't ever completely trust him--"
"--Just as we can never completely trust you, Jasper."
I took a step back. "That's completely different."
Carlisle shrugged his shoulders, "it's trust, Jasper; its all the same. Everyone one of us can master self control and awareness. We can each make everyone believe that we'd never intentionally slip up, but in the end, we have just about as much trust in Michal as we all have in each other." I reluctantly met his eyes. "We can't trust, Jasper. We can only hope and believe that we all have the strength to see our struggles through."
I looked away from Carlisle to where Michal had corned the boar between himself and a large cliff face. "Belief," I repeated quietly, watching the boar live out its final seconds in fear. I turned back to Carlisle just as the animal cried out in pain. "So you want me to try believing in Michal's ability? Hoping that he can pull this lifestyle off?"
Carlisle smiled, "it wouldn't hurt."
"It might," I rebutted, "you know, because of this little affliction that I suffer from?"
"Which one is that?" Edward interjected, moving up the slope towards us with a handful of clothes in his arms. "Maybe your 'I'm-a-cynical-bastarditis' ?"
"Why yes, Edward," I smiled tightly, "it is! But I'd take bastarditis any day over your 'I'm-a-flaccid-neutered-virgin-in-love-with-my-brothers-girlosis."
"That sounds nothing like a disease!"
"Oh, and cynical-bastarditis does?!"
"Enough, children!" Carlisle reprimanded, rubbing his eyes roughly with clenched fists. "Edward, if you've got all the articles of human scented clothing, you can go back to the house. Jasper, you stay behind and bring Michal back with you. I'm going to get the others in and then we are all going to sit down and discuss strategies for identifying this recent threat--" Edward and I both groaned "--with no complaints."
Carlisle moved away without another word and Edward turned to do the same.
"Not so fast, Eddie," I said quietly, grabbing him by the shoulder. "I'm sure Bella wouldn't want these--" I plucked a few of her clothes from Edwards arms "--going into the sick Bella-centric shrine that I'm sure you must have created in your cupboard. God knows what you'd do with them. Besides, it's imperative that she have all her things back tonight, and as I'll be heading over later anyway…"
Edward scoffed disapprovingly and tore himself from my grip, shooting towards the house as his emotions burned with irritation and anger.
I snickered softly to myself as I examined the silky panties that I had taken from him. I had snuck them into the bag of human clothing for training Michal as a means to piss Edward off and they had worked all too well.
I spun quickly to find Michal standing not two feet behind me. "Shit, Michal, what are you a fucking ghost?! How the hell can you move that quietly!?"
He laughed lightly but his eyes remained neutral. "I wanted to apologize," he began, circling me slowly as he moved. "I know that you can feel my attraction to your sisters and for that, I am sorry. It's just," he stopped pacing to sigh somewhat dramatically and curse beneath his breath, "I am male, Jasper, I can't help it sometimes, and I hate that you have to put up with it, but I'm afraid--"
"I'm gonna stop you there," I said quickly, placing a hand on Michal's shoulder to balance him. "I really don't care who you're lusting after in this house, as long as the lusting is just fantasy. What I do care about, is the fact that you can't seem to separate your feelings long enough to focus on more important things, such as the hunt."
"But I did well today!" he said vehemently, "I was--"
"Excellent," I finished. "But that's not to say that you'll always be excellent. You have to learn to focus, Michal, it may sound corny and overrated but its one of the most important things if you want to come out of a fight unscathed." His eyes flickered to my arms and chest, the pupils darting rapidly from scar to scar. I took a step back and sighed roughly; "Yes, well, as you can see, sometimes focus isn't always enough to come out completely unscathed."
Michal's eyes darted back to mine and he grimaced with remorse. "I didn't mean to stare."
I shrugged, "I suppose it's hard not to when you don't know how I got them."
For the briefest moment his emotions flushed with something akin to guilt, but in the next second it was gone; swallowed up by a wave of acceptance.
I held his stony gaze for a moment longer, and when the guilt did not return, turned to move away.
"One more thing, Jasper," Michal said quickly, shooting around the path to stand in front of me. "I know my presence here has affected your relationship with the human girl--"
"Bella!" I snapped, seeing red. "Her name… is Bella."
"Yes, Bella," he continued, smiling tight-lipped. "But I wanted you to know I'd be quite restrained around her, so there's really no reason you should keep her away from here at all times--"
"There is every reason," I hissed, now radiating rage at Michal's words. "You think I'm going to endanger her life by bringing her around you!?"
His head tilted only slightly to the left as he regarded my blatant anger at his proposal, before he lifted his hands in surrender, smirked, and moved towards the house without a word.
I took a few unnecessary breaths, flooding my lungs with air, before I flipped my new phone out and begun dialing Bella's number in.
"Yeaahhh, I wouldn't do that if I were you, Jazz." Alice bounded up the path lightly towards me, interlocking her arm with mine and flipping the phone shut. "I can tell you right now, if you go running off to Bella, Carlisle is going to be seriously pissed when you get back."
I contemplated merely shrugging out of Alice's grasp and bounding off to Forks, but the prospect of a seriously pissed Carlisle when I returned home was enough to make me hesitate.
"That's a good boy," Alice said patronizingly, patting me softly on the head. "Carlisle has been through enough this week without adding a petulant son to the list."
I rolled my eyes at Alice but allowed her to walk me down the path towards our home. After a few minutes of silence I breached the question that had been bugging me all night; "What do you think of Michal?"
Alice shrugged disinterestedly but her emotions peaked with curiosity. "He seems pretty nice, and he's clearly harnessed a lot of self control what with all his feeding on the dead…"
Alice smiled. "…But, I don't know, the whole not-being-able-to-see-him thing kinda irks me, and the fact that while he's here I'm reading things all wrong in my visions."
I nodded slowly, considering that. "But other than that, you think he's an okay guy?"
"Yeah," Alice said brightly, relinquishing her grip on me as we moved through the front door. "I think he's a good guy who just doesn't really understand the social dynamic of a group so well. Which, I guess, is understandable considering he was on his own for so long."
"Of course," I replied, understanding dawning on me now at the reason for Michal's somewhat awkward social graces. He'd been living by himself for almost a decade, the only company being the corpses that he fed on. So why was I taking everything he said or did as a sign of his impending turn to evil?
"Alice, Jasper, how lovely of you to join us," Carlisle said slowly, his eyes more bruised and bagged than ever. I felt a twinge of pity for my father now, and his constant desire to be the leader that our coven so desperately required. Our inability to find whoever or whatever was behind the recent attacks had taken a serious toll on Carlisle, and he was now fraught with worry that our numbers would dwindle if we did not identify the threat soon.
Alice and I moved through the lobby, taking our seats around the dining room table as Carlisle dumped a number of maps and notepads on the counter. Esme placed her hand over his slowly, and only then did Carlisle take his seat at the head of the table; surrendering just a little of his anxiety and unconcealed trepidation.
"Alright, now that we're all here we can get down to business." He moved three of the maps down the table, passing one to Alice and I, Michal and Esme, Rosalie and Emmett, and--
"Where's Edward?" I asked, only now noticing his absence from the room.
Carlisle glanced up tiredly. "He went to drop off the rest of Bella's clothes. He said you'd told him it was imperative that she have them all tonight."
"What?!" I barked, slamming my hands on the fragile glass counter top as I stood.
"Jasper, please," Esme implored quietly, her soft, golden eyes wide with pleading. "He just went to drop a few things you didn't already take, he'll be back within the next half hour."
"I didn't even take anything to her yet!" I replied, my rage unabashedly clear. "He's just gone there to piss me off, the little shit! I'm going to--"
"ENOUGH!" Carlisle bellowed, kicking out his chair and shouting perhaps for one of the first times since I had met him. "You can measure dicks with Edward later, Jasper, but right now you need to concentrate! You see this?!" He held up his own map of the Washington state, dozens of red crosses marring the area. "These are the amount of people who have already died because of some volatile vampire on a killing spree! And you see this--" he gestured to the trail of crosses that seemed to point straight at Forks, "--this shows us that someone, or someones, is clearly on their way here; to our home, possibly with the idea of a battle in mind! You want to chase after Edward now in some macho attempt to protect Bella? Fine! But just you remember this moment in a week, or a months time when there may be no one there to protect anymore."
I stood silently for a minute or two, torn between my desire to decapitate my so called brother, and alleviate the weight of stress and panic from Carlisle's shoulders. After a moment, however, I dumped myself back in my chair; causing the back rest to split in two.
"Thank you," Carlisle breathed out, pulling himself closer to the table once more. "Where was I…"
For the next half an hour, we collaborated on every single piece of evidence pertaining to the killings; attempting to identify and locate where the killer may be. And for every minute of that half hour I glanced towards the front door, waiting for Edward to walk through so that I could beat him within an inch of his un-life.
"I don't think you're right, Carlisle." I glanced up to find Rosalie hunched over the maps, more deeply concentrated than I had ever seen. "We're not dealing with a group," she continued, circling a section outside of Seattle. "Emmett and I visited Tacoma, and every body we found had been drained in the exact way. A clean slit across the neck and very minimal bruising. It was almost as if the person wasn't even feeding, they were just making a trail of bodies for someone to find."
"The one's outside Yakima were the same," I added, glancing once more towards the door. "Every body had a clean slice through the neck with minimal other signs of trauma."
"Vampire serial killer," Emmett deduced, pointing at the killer's starting point outside Richland.
"It doesn't make sense," Carlisle said slowly, tearing a hand through his matted hair. "Why would a vampire attempt to garner this much attention to themselves; surely they would fear the Volturi's retribution."
"Unless they are the Volturi," Michal suggested, his emotional aura buzzing with excitement. "Maybe they're--"
"They're not the Volturi," Alice interrupted. "I would have seen--"
"Would you?" Michal replied, growing strangely nervous now. "I thought my presence here was having an effect on your visions, I thought that you were blind?"
"Not to everything. Not to something like this. The reason I had so much trouble seeing you was because we had never met, there was no solid connection. It's the same reason I haven't been able to correctly predict, say, the weather, there's no solid link. And while I may have been able to see it perfectly before, your presence is causing a few wrong predictions. But the Volturi," Alice stressed, locking eyes with Carlisle. "The Volturi I would have seen, I know it."
Carlisle nodded. "I don't think it's one of the Volturi. But that doesn't discount the theory that whoever this is doesn't have some sort of deal with them. I can't see why else they are so willing to overlook what is happening."
"So what are we going to do?" Emmett asked, leaning back casually in his chair.
"I don't know," Carlisle replied. "But we've been at this long enough now and we need a break." I glanced up towards the clock; it was almost midnight which meant that forty minutes had now passed. "We'll re-strategize again Monday--"
"Why not tomorrow?" Emmett said, banging forward on the two front legs of his chair.
"I think we need at least a 24 hour break before getting back into things again," Carlisle replied, cracking the very smallest of smiles. "Besides, we did well tonight; we know that we're dealing with one very-skilled nomad who is likely in an agreement with the Volturi. That's enough, for today."
"So I can get the measuring tape now?" I said with a serious expression, and Carlisle's face cracked into a genuine smile.
"You can get the measuring tape," he repeated, and I threw my chair back and headed for the door. "One thing, Jasper," Carlisle said, moving from the head of the table to stand beside me. "I know Bella is the first relationship you've ever had, and I know that you love her. But please, try not to kill Edward; he doesn't mean anything by his actions, he just doesn't know how else to deal with his feelings."
"You know what I mean," Carlisle replied. I didn't, but I smiled tight-lipped before darting through the front door like a bullet.
My mind buzzed with a thousand different scenarios of Edward and Bella as I ran through the woods; from her drained and lifeless beneath him, to her screaming with pleasure on top of him. And in every scenario I was there; broken-hearted and foolish and desperate for her love.
As I neared her street my heart, so cold and lifeless and so hers, seemed to leap up my throat. I could see her house now; a tiny matchbox almost indistinguishable from the others around it, and every light in the matchbox was out.
I slowed to a jog as I got closer, pulling my watch out beneath a street light-- 12:07. I glanced back up to the house. Lights off meant that Charlie and Bella were likely both asleep; Ergo, if Bella was asleep she couldn't have been having sex with Edward. I walked up her drive way and inhaled deeply; Edward had been here, there was no doubt about that. I moved towards the large oak tree and there, by the base, was a cardigan and a pair of tights. This is where Edward had dropped them? I picked up the articles of clothing and leaped into the tree, climbing up the branches before slipping lithely through Bella's open window.
And there she was: Asleep. No damage. No gaping neck wound. No suffocating smell of sex in the air. Just her, sleeping. I watched, transfixed, as she rolled onto her back; one arm dangling limply over the bed. She was wearing one of my favorite beat-up grey t-shirts and I only wanted to scream with delight and incredulity at my own irrationally jealous predictions of her and Edward.
She mumbled something indistinguishable in her sleep and I leant forward to brush her forehead with my lips, pausing only slightly to ensure that there was no lingering smell of Edward here.
"Sleep well, beautiful," I said quietly, standing up from her bed and heading towards her desk. I scribbled a quick message onto the front of her Biology notepad before slipping through the window undetected.
When I landed at the base of the tree, I knew immediately that something had changed in those few stolen moments.
For one, Edward was standing not two feet from where I was; his face more solemn than I had ever seen it. And for two, his hands -the hands which were so usually impeccably clean and well manicured- were now all but drenched in someone else's blood.
"Edward!" I hissed in disbelief, immediately cutting off my own breathing. The smell of it still flooded my senses though, and I lurched forward towards the blood, eager to find the source which had spilt it.
"Jasper, snap out of it!" Edward said quickly, his eyes darting around the road. Without another word, he ran to the end of the driveway, sloshing his hands into the flooded gutter to rinse them free of blood.
I nodded slowly as he returned, my mind growing clearer. "That's better," I said, breathing deeply. "That's… it's better now. What-- what the fuck happened, Edward?!"
His emotions dipped into fear and sadness; a combination that I had never felt before from him. "She was bleeding out, I-- I was just trying to stop the blood, but her-- the entire neck had been split and I--"
"Who Edward, who was bleeding out?!"
Edward's frenzied eyes met mine for a moment. "Angela. Angel Webber, do you know her?"
I did. She had always been the year below me, but since I had dropped back to the Junior year I had been in quite a few classes with her.
"She's dead?" I asked slowly, already sensing Edward's grief and compassion.
"No, she's…" Edward glanced up. "Not yet. I called Carlisle, he's on his way to the hospital now."
I shook my head in bewilderment. "What happened?"
"I don't know," Edward said hopelessly, pacing back and forth on the Swan's drive. "I came here to drop of Bella's clothes, I wanted to piss you off, but then I heard something. I could hear someone's mind and their disgusting, hateful thoughts which were so beyond human--"
"A vampire? You mean…" Realization began to dawn on me then, frighteningly lucid realization. The thoughts, the slit neck, the purpose to kill rather than feed; whatever had attacked Angela was the exact thing that we had been investigating over the past week. Whatever we had been tracking had finally arrived in Forks.
"You're right," Edward said slowly, reading the answer before I could speak it.
"Where?" I snapped briskly, my eyes rapidly scanning the street. "Where did you find Angela?"
"About a mile south, just outside of--"
"Stay here," I said sternly, gripping Edward roughly by the shoulders. "Stay here and look after Bella--"
"Please, Edward," I continued, pushing the full extent of my persuasion against him. "Just stay."
He nodded silently, and without another breath, I tore away from the Swan residence, darting through the trees as swiftly as I could. My mind was screaming at me; fear for Bella's safety having overtaken all else. Whoever this was clearly had skill and strength well beyond my own, and doubt began to filter through my thoughts as to whether or not I would have the power to protect her if it came to a fight.
Power to defend my Bella.
My Bella, my Bella, my Bella, my Bella, my--
A scent hit me then with the power and weight of a wrecking ball; ceasing my desperate run mid stride. It flooded my lungs, soaking itself into my skin until it was all that I could smell, all that I could taste and feel and choke on, and it burnt me from inside to out.
Fear gripped me, holding me steadfast to the spot. Because this scent, this crippling, foul stench of death was one that I had not encountered for over half a century. This scent, despite everything and anything that I would ever go through, was one that I would never forget.
And just like that, every piece of the illusive puzzle we had been playing fell into place. Every question, every stitch of evidence that we had found made terrifying sense, and I was running without another thought…
…Running, as far as I could, from the scent of Maria Adalina.
Finally! I've been wanting to write her in since the beginning. This is going to be fun…
Oh, and no, Adalina is not Maria's last name. The book never specifies so I simply gave her that one.