A/N: Does anyone want to see this story from Jasper's POV? I could write it, but I don't want to if there isn't any interest.

Twilight and the characters do not belong to me, and I have tried to stay true to the books, though the some of the finer details may have escaped me. Title comes from the song by Rascal Flatts.


This was going to be trouble. If there was one thing I had become familiar with over my long, long life, it was that my gut instincts were usually right, and my gut was screaming that these two vampires were trouble. Or, more specifically, one of them was.

Alice, the petite female, had charmed all of us from the first moment she arrived. Moving through our home like a sprite, she had not only stolen Edwards's room right out from under his nose, but actually done it with barely a mummer of complaint from him. Quite a feat, considering no one sulked quite like Edward.

The girl was very easy to love, because there were no secrets with her. What memories she had, she shared freely, never bothered by embarrassment or fear. If she had no memories, she simply said so and didn't seem overly bothered by the fact. She slipped into our lives as though she had always been there.

No, it was the other one that was going to be a problem. The male, the one who barely spoke. Despite being the far larger, and unless I missed my guess completely, older, of the pair, he was seemed content to allow Alice to speak for him. Odd, but I've had seen any number of strange thing in bonded pairs.

Jasper, as we would come to find out his name was, bore the scars of a thousand fights fought, and all of them won. In his voice, I though I detected a hint of a southern drawl, which explained a lot. One of the reasons I have always avoided taking my family to places there because of the violence, of the covens that ran together and fought like wild animals to ensure their survival.

The nearly round marks covered the younger vampire's face and hands, the only skin that was ever exposed. The doctor in me wanted to so something to help with the marks, but the vampire in me knew that Jasper wouldn't react well to being touched. Not yet, anyway, it was too soon for trust. I wasn't sure what I thought I would do anyway; the marks were all long since healed and no longer painful.

Still, I see the way my other children backed off, having never seen scars like those before. There was no way to explain them as anything other than bites, as each one bore a perfect imprint of a set of teeth. It was a side of vampirism that I had hoped my children would never find out about.

I have been worried about Jasper, about how a creature who had spent decades (or was it centuries? There was no way to be sure) fighting for everything he had ever had. How could he possibly adapt to life in a normal family? But he seemed to be willing to try, and that was all anyone could ask.

At the moment, the pair of them were sitting in the living room, sharing the couch while they read. Alice was laughing at something, her book held out to Jasper. He took it and smiled back, the first real smile I had seen from him yet. It gave me hope. If Jasper was still capable of bonding to Alice, he might be capable of at least living among the rest of us peacefully. Of course, I hoped he would come to think of us as his coven, and eventually his family but in the meantime, I had to take steps to ensure my family's safety, as well as that of the humans around us.

A day passed, then two. We all found out more about their newest additions, as Alice loved to talk. She spun a story that started with her waking up in a field, abandoned and alone. Her golden eyes turned sad for a minute, causing Jasper to appear from nowhere and nuzzle up against her, a soft rumble coming out of his chest. She smiled at him and purred back, her expression growing calmer. "But it was alright, because I already knew that I was going to find Jasper. I didn't know when then, but I knew he was coming."

Her confidence was striking and I wasn't about to let that go. "How did you know he was coming? You two hadn't met before."

Unease appeared in her expression, and she turned to Jasper. His eyes flicked between me and his mate, clearly weighing his options. Then he shrugged and gestured Alice to continue. She leaned towards me as if she were about to share an amazing secret. "Umm…well, you see, I can tell the future. Not all the time, just what's defiantly going to happen. I saw Jasper and I meeting, and then us finding you guys." Her voice turned small. "You believe me, right?"

"Course he does." Jasper's voice was low and reassuring. So reassuring, in fact, that I felt myself calm slightly.

"You aren't the only one with a gift, Alice. Edward is quite an accomplished mind reader." I understood the silent exchange between them a few minutes earlier. Jasper had probably warned her not to say anything about her premonitions, at least not until he was able to better assess this family and the strange situation he had found himself in. By telling them about Edward, I hoped to establish the beginnings of trust between the pair of them. My secrets for theirs.

"Anyway, I knew Jasper would find me if I went to Philadelphia and waited at this diner. So I went. I waited, and waited and waited, just like Cinderella with her prince. And you know what?" She hurried on, not giving me a chance to guess. "He was late! I waited at that diner for two weeks before he showed up!"

She shot a mock glare at Jasper, who ducked his head. I had to chuckle at the sight of the battle-scarred fighter backing down to a woman a foot shorter than him. "I said I was sorry."

"I know, and I love you anyway. So, Dr. Cullen, can I call you Carlisle? Jasper and I stayed together for a while, just me and him, and then I knew we had to find you guys. So here we are, you were sort of hard to find."

"I'm glad you were able to find us. Both of you." I tacked on the last part for Jasper's benefit, though the blond didn't seem to be paying us much attention. He added nothing to the conversation, only seemed interested when Alice became upset or needed him. The pair of them seemed to have developed some alternate way of communication.

Suddenly Alice cocked her head. "Edward's home!" She flew off the couch and out of the room, leaving Jasper and I alone together. I tried to repress a smile. Edward adored Alice, and treated her like any big brother would. He teased her a lot, calling her "freak" and "psycho", but would fight anyone else to the death for looking at her wrong.

Much as he loved his new sister though, he didn't seem to have much use for another brother. The feeling seemed to be mutual, and Edward and Jasper had spent the past two days on pretty much opposite ends of the house. The night before, Edward had confessed that he couldn't get a good read on Jaspers thoughts. He wasn't being confronted with silence, but the other vampire was projecting too much static, his thoughts jumping around so quickly that Edward couldn't focus on one before it was gone. What Edward could glean, was that Jasper was scouting the place out, looking for exits and weapons, always aware of where the other family members were.

It was worrying, that Jasper was that good at blocking us out, and I wondered if Edward wasn't the first mind reader the man had encountered. Or maybe he was just that tense and worried all of the time. Given the rarity of mind reading, and what I suspected about his past, the latter seemed far more likely. I hadn't wanted to share that with my oldest son though, so I had just reminded Edward that it was rude to eavesdrop on someone else's thoughts. If he was curious about Jasper, he could ask some questions. Not that that seemed like it would happen any time soon.

A soft scuffle broke his thoughts and he looked up to find Jasper backing out of the room. That was another thing, Jasper refused to turn his back on any of us, save Alice. A left-over habit from a time when he had had to be constantly on alert for a pending attack. Their eyes met and I did my best to smile. "Anything you want to add?"

The dark eyes studied mine deeply, and I was struck with an eerie sense that Jasper knew exactly what he had been thinking, and felt the wave of pity being sent to him. "No, sir." Then he was gone, upstairs to hide or outside to run free of prying eyes and worrying new family members. Fuck, this wasn't going well.

Another two weeks went by, and we began making some progress with Jasper. Well, some of us did. He and Emmett had taken to hunting together and playing card games when they were inside. Jasper taught him some new ones that depended on fast reflexes rather than strategy, and the two of them had taken to playing several hands in the evenings. They don't play any sort of slap game, as Jasper still will not let us touch him, but I've seen him smiling more and more often as they play.

Edward still keeps his distance, though they do talk a bit. I want them to be able to be friends and brothers, but something tells me it won't be easy. Oddly, Jasper seems to submit to Edward, and leaves him alone completely. Any moves forward are the choice of my oldest son. It's almost enough to make me wonder if Jasper doesn't have some power of his own, something that's helping him navigate the mental and emotional minefields of this family.

Then there's Rosalie. My oldest girl and by far the most difficult child. No, I take that back, she was the most difficult. Now that we have Jasper, I'm finding out exactly what difficult is. I've had my others for as long as they've been vampires. I've molded and shaped their every experience, making them understand that their lives had changed, but they still had a family who adored them and they were still safe in the world. Jasper had found out quickly that there was no safety unless he was aggressive enough to create it for himself. Attack first, and hope that by the time the consequences caught up with you, you had established yourself. Poor kid, no wonder he was having so much trouble. He was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Whether she would admit it or not, Rosalie knew what it was to suffer. To not be able to rely on anyone but herself, and sometimes not even that. She's bonded to Jasper without any of us knowing when or how it had happened. I had thought they were ignoring each other, the way Jasper and Edward did. I would probably still think that had I not pulled into the driveway last night and caught sight of them sitting side by side on the roof of our house. I hadn't disturbed them, though I had been curious. The rest of the family was out hunting, except for Alice, who was working quietly on some schoolwork I had left for her. I need to get my newest kids enrolled in school this fall, but I have to know where they stand academically first. Alice is clearly several years behind the age she appears and God alone knows where Jasper is. I haven't done much for his future yet. I'm too busy trying to deal with his present.

The tiny girl leapt up and gave me a huge hug as soon as I came thought the door. "Carlisle! I missed you, how was work?"

As always, I felt my heart melt at her eagerness. "Work was about the same, Alice. How are you doing on your schoolwork?"

Her face clouded momentarily. "It's hard. I know some of this stuff, but I don't know how I know and some of its just symbols. I guess I didn't go to school for very long when I was human." The she was back to her perky self. "But it's alright. Jasper will help me when he comes back inside."

She must have seen my eyebrows raise, because she smiled knowingly. "He and Rosalie sit outside together every night. I guess they talk, I don't know." She spun in a happy circle, her eyes thoughtful. "I had really hoped that Rosalie and I would be best friends because I've always wanted a sister, but she's going to be Jaspers best friend instead. I'm going to have to wait a while for my sister to come."

Again there was a certainty that suggested she had seen it all play out. I wanted to ask, but I knew by now she would only give me a mysterious smile and say that nothing was certain yet. Sometimes her visions were hers alone, and she was reluctant to share them. Then the other part of what she had said struck me. "Jasper helps you? So, he's pretty good at schoolwork?"

"Yes. He's very smart, Carlisle, he's just a little bit shy."

He had more problems than being a little bit shy, but her words did comfort me. At the very least Jasper was capable of reading and doing basic math. If he could do that, he would be easy to place in high school, provide he could control himself when surrounded by a thousand teenagers. And the adults. Good God, the adults would probably be a bigger problem then the kids.

Despite making progress with the rest of my kids, Jasper, Esme, and I were at the same level of trust we had been at two weeks ago. Which was none. That's not to say he was rude, or doing anything wrong, but neither one of us could get past his shell. He avoided conversation with us, and if trapped, would respond with as few words as possible.

"Yes, sir."

"No, sir."

"No, thank you, ma'am."

The last bit was in response to Esme asking if he needed anything. It frustrated me, because I knew did. He and Alice had arrived without much in the way of clothing or possessions. If he would ask for something, anything, it would give us some clues as to his personality. But whether he was still suspicious of our motives or just didn't like the idea of being indebted to us, he remained stubbornly mute. I didn't look at Esme when he refused yet again, unwilling to allow him the pleasure of seeing that I was frustrated or attempting to play us off each other. "Alright Jasper, please let us know if there is anything we can do for you."

"Yes, ma'am."

Jasper and Alice had been with us for almost six weeks my worst fears were realized. The fears that I would never completely tame him, that he would be turned into something that wasn't quite like our family, but completely unlike a normal vampire either. In essence, that he would remain feral.

I was alone in the house that day. Edward was up in Alaska, spending a few weeks with another vegetarian clan up there. He was still upset about our new additions, and I had thought a break from the family was in order until we sorted things out a bit better. Esme had taken Alice shopping, her offer causing the tiny girl to squeal and throw herself into her new mother's arms. Rosalie was supposed to accompany them, but she was being punished for a fight at school (no, I did not consider a boy touching her behind enough provocation for her to break his nose. Or his arm). In the end, she went hunting with Emmett and Jasper. They had been reluctant to take her at first, no doubt planning on spending the hunt male bonding, but she had used the magic words 'I know where there's a bear', and gotten herself the invite.

The purported bear was quite a ways away, and I was looking forward to having the day to myself. I expected everyone to make it home from their various adventures about the same time. So it was a shock when Rosalie appeared alone only two hours after she left, her eyes wide with terror. "Carlisle! Carlisle! I need help!"

I was at her side in an instant. "What's wrong?"

"Jasper attacked Emmett! I was afraid to try and get them apart, so I came to get you. He's going to kill him!"

I wasn't sure who she thought was going to kill whom, but I was following her out the door without any conscious thought. "What happened?"

If she could have cried, she would have. "I don't know! We found the bear and Emmett got it. Then Jasper and I moved in on a herd of elk. We each got one, then suddenly Emmett was there and Jasper just grabbed him! He didn't growl or act funny at all, just lunged forward and bit."

"So Jasper defiantly broke skin?" Fuck, this was getting worse and worse. The venom would have already settled in my son's body, causing the burning to start. There would be nothing I could do for the pain, despite all of my medical training. All I could do was hope that Jasper had only bitten once, and not too deeply. The more bites, the longer Emmett would have to suffer before the venom dissipated. I refused to let my self consider the possibility that it could be worse than a few nips.

Together Rosalie and I raced through the woods, my mind spinning in a thousand different directions. Why had Jasper snapped now? Despite his troubles with Esme and myself, he seemed to be relaxing into his new surroundings. You knew he was dangerous. You knew it from the first minute you saw those scars. And you still took him in. Look at the lion the great Carlisle Cullen managed to turn into a tame house cat. See, anyone, no matter where they came from can turn peaceful. Now you got one of your children injured, or worse.

Rosalie stopped, her head turning as she scented the air. "Down by the stream!"

It was too quiet. I expected to hear the thunderous sounds of the pair still battling it out. A true vampiric fight could be heard for 15 miles or more, the snarls and sounds of bodies being slammed against rocks and trees echoing through the distance. At the very least, we should be able to hear Emmett's cries of pain as the venom coursed through him.

I burst into the clearing, skidding to a confused halt at the sight before me. Both Emmett and Jasper were still there, sitting a few feet from the elk Rosalie had mentioned earlier. It was only half drained, the blood still leaking from its torn throat and covering everything with its cloying scent. The fight had ended quickly, and neither one seemed to have moved since, which was odd. Besides being noisy, most true fights ended in death, with one competitor chasing the other for miles until the deed was done.

But it wasn't any of that that caused me to pause. The pair of them sat closely, neither one speaking. I could easily see where Emmett's sleeve had been torn and the mark of Jasper's teeth in the skin. But the bite looked no more fresh than any one of Jaspers own injuries. Even as I watched, Jasper leaned forward to lick the mark several times. There seemed to be a purpose to what he was doing, and I was reluctant to interrupt. A quick flick of the blond head in my direction told me that Jasper was aware of my presence, but he gave me no real acknowledgment. He was far too focused on what he was doing.

Time passed, almost an hour if my watch was to be believed, though it seemed like seconds. Jasper continued to lick the injury, never taking his eyes of Emmett's face. Emmett sat quietly, showing no signs of the pain he had to be feeling. The abruptly it was over, and Jasper gave his new brother's throat a quick, almost apologetic, lick and stood up, stretching his muscles. Our eyes met and he ducked his head, clearly anticipating some sort of confrontation.

I was too shocked and confused to think of anything to say. Even Rosalie, famous both her protectiveness of Emmett and her big mouth, was silent. The tension in the air grew, then ebbed away sharply, leaving us still standing. Finally I spoke. "Come on now, both of you back to the house. Emmett, are you alright to walk?"

He grinned, the golden eyes laughing at me. "Yeah, it barely hurts."

I wondered what exactly Jasper had done to him. I had never heard of anything that was able to prevent the pain from a vampires bite. Could Jasper possibly have a healing talent? I had waited and babied him long enough. I needed some answers.

The walk back was spent in silence as I formulated a plan. I needed to get the full story on what had happened from both of the boys, but I was afraid they would back each other up if I talked to them together. Emmett loved his new brother and might lie to keep him out of trouble. Jasper was more likely to take Emmett's side than mine, especially since he probably figured he was about to be kicked out of the house.

When we got to the house, I took a steadying breath and tried to speak in my calmest voice. "I need to know exactly what just happened. Emmett, my study. Jasper, go on upstairs, I'll come get you when I'm done with Emmett. You aren't in trouble." I did my best to broadcast sincerity with my eyes. If Jasper bolted on us while I was talking to Emmett, I would never catch him. I was pretty sure his bond to Alice would keep him here, but there was no way to be positive. I was just going to have to trust he would be there when I called.

Whether he believed me or not, Jasper nodded once and fled up the stairs, feet soundless as he ran. I listened until I heard the door to his room close before I turned to Emmett and pointed at my study door. Reluctantly, he went forward, looking very much like a condemned man on his way to the gallows.

I took a seat behind the desk and stared my son down, raising my eyebrows expectantly. Emmett squirmed under my gaze, but didn't speak. I waited. 15 seconds, 30, one minute….

"It was my own fault, ok? Please don't be pissed of with Jasper." Emmett finally spoke. "It was my fault."

"It looks like you came out worse in the fight, so what did you do to provoke Jasper?" Not that he deserved to get bitten, but between my three children, I'd come to find out that fights were very rarely completely one-sided.

Emmett looked down. "I didn't mean to." He sighed an unnecessary breath and continued. "He'd never taken anything as big as an elk down before, and I could tell he was a little nervous. But he did great, didn't even make a mess out of if like I did the first time. I was just going to pat him on the back, but as soon as I got close enough, he bit me. I shouldn't have tried to touch him."

That explained it all. What Emmett saw as a normal, brotherly, gesture of congratulations, Jasper saw as an aggressive move towards the food he had barely gotten to taste. It was a reflex to respond violently to what he perceived as a threat.

"I see. Let me look at the bite."

The arm was extended with a trust that made my heart ache. Would Jasper ever be able to do this? Or would he always nurse his hurts in silence?

The injury itself looked surprisingly good. It was very slightly raised, but not like I would have expected to see. The tooth marks were clearly defined, leading support to my theory that this had all been a terrible accident. Jasper hadn't twisted as he bit, or ripped at the flesh. This had been a quick snap, and he had released as soon as he realized what he had done. "And it doesn't hurt?"

"Just a little bit, but nothing like when I was turned. He took care of most of it."

That was the other thing I had been curious about. "By licking it?"

"Uh-huh. He said that's what they used to do for bites, you know, in his other family" Emmett sighed again. "Am I in trouble?" I shook my head. "Is he?" Another shake. "Good, because, like I said, it was my own fault, and he fixed it anyway."

That was Emmett in a nutshell. He didn't believe in holding a grudge, which was probably how Rosalie got away with so much. He might have been angry with Jasper when the bite first happened, but Jasper had atoned for his mistake and now they were back on level ground. My sweet natured boy.

"Ok, you can go now. Please tell Jasper I want to see him now."

"Ok." Then he was gone, running up the stairs with all the grace of a herd of elephants. I listened to his calls getting fainter and fainter. "Jasper! It's your turn and boy is he mad!"

I groaned quietly. Great, now Jasper was going to be terrified before he ever got down here. Before I could think about it too long, though, Jasper was there, standing quietly in the doorway. I gestured him in. Unlike Emmett, he didn't sit on the couch in the corner. He stood stiffly, eyes locked on mine and giving nothing away. Not exactly the frightened waif I had been imagining. But then, a good part of Jaspers life had been about hiding fear or weakness.

"Jasper, I'm not angry with you. I just want to know what happened."

More silence as he weighed what he wanted to say in his mind. I waited. 15 seconds, 30, 1 minute, 2 minutes….Jasper was not proving as easy to break as Emmett. Finally he spoke. "He startled me."

"Emmett?" It was an unnecessary question. There were only three males in the house and Jasper and I accounted for two of them. Emmett was the only one he could mean.

"Yes. I was very focused on the kill, and I didn't see him until he was practically on top of me. So I bit him." There was almost a hint of defiance in his tone. I did what I had to, to make sure I survived. Do you want to know more Carlisle Cullen? Do you want to hear about all the things that made me feel like a bite should be the first defense rather than the last?

No, I didn't. There would come a day when he would tell me all about it, but not yet. I didn't want it to be a bragging thing, or something said to shock me. I only wanted to hear about these things when he was ready to be healed of them.

"So, you didn't really intend to hurt Emmett, you were just frightened because he had snuck up on you."

Something flared in those sooty-gold eyes when I suggested his response had been fear based, but he didn't call me on it. "I like Emmett. I wouldn't deliberately harm him."

I released an internal breath I hadn't been aware I was holding. As much as I believed that Jasper hadn't deliberately attacked Emmett, it eased me to hear him say it. "I didn't think you had. I know that accidents happen." Maybe if I kept repeating that, Jasper would come to believe it.

Still no change in expression, but I hurried on anyway. "I am curious about what you did after though. What exactly is the licking for?"

He startled, clearly expecting I would already know. "I always lick bites. It makes them burn less."

He should certainly know the best way to deal with the pain of being bitten. I started to ask something else, but he continued on. "It works best when it's your own bite. I guess your spit works against your venom. It's why your mouth doesn't burn so badly when you attack."

Centuries of being a vampire, and decades of medical training, I had never once considered such a thing. But he was right. Even when my venom was flowing hard, I barely felt a tingle of pain in my mouth. It was something I had always accepted as simple fact, just part of being a vampire. Still, I should have thought of it! Mucus membranes, such as those in the mouth, should have been the most sensitive to the poison.

Jasper seemed to have picked up on my sudden irritation, and thought it was directed at him. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have hurt him." His voice was quiet, so low that human ears would have missed it.

"I know that. Like I said, accidents happen. Sometimes they happen a lot in this family." I smiled at him "Don't let anyone tell you different. I remember one time, a few years ago, that I had taken all three of the kids to this amusement park. I didn't think it was a good idea, but somehow they talked me into it. It all went fine until this group of kids went by us. Emmett went absolutely berserk trying to get to them. Esme and I were holding him back, big as he is, and everyone was staring. The park officials wanted to call the cops, which wouldn't go over too well."

The blond was entranced by my story, leaning in and giving me his full attention. For the first time, I felt a connection spring up between us. "What did you do?"

"I pulled out the doctor card and told them that Emmett was epileptic and having a seizure. Then we managed to drag him to the car. If he had been any smaller, I think he may have tried to go out a window after them."

"How come he tried in the first place?"

It was a good question, and one I had asked myself many times. "I don't know. There must have been something about one of them that called to him specifically, because Edward and Rosalie barely noticed them."

A nod. "I know how that is. Sometimes Maria would pick one human out of thousands to go after. She said it was the smell."

Funny, that was the same thing Emmett had said, once he came back to his senses. "Odd. It's never happened to you, Jasper?"

"No. I can't really tell the difference in the way humans smell. It's easier to recognize them by the way their-"Here he froze, clearly realizing he had said too much. "Nothing."

By the way their what? I was almost certain that he couldn't read minds, but he must have some sort of special talent. Was one of his senses stronger than usual? By the way their voices sounded? By the way they looked? By some other intangible thing? I could guess all night and never come close. Not that he would tell me if I did. If life had taught Jasper anything, it was not to reveal any secrets.

We might have stood there for hours if the sound of a door slamming hadn't caused us both to look up. Alice and Esme were back; both of them chatting at a thousand miles an hour and calling for help with what I was sure were dozens of bags. My companion gave a pleased rumble in his chest and bounced off to greet them, barely remembering to tell me good-bye and thank you, Carlisle.

Somewhere along the line, I had gone from being "Sir" to being "Carlisle". It wasn't much, but at least it was a start and that was enough to give me hope.

"Jasper, knock that off. She's going to think you're some sort of pervert." Alice gave her mate a sharp nudge in the ribs. She leaned closer to him and whispered. "I'm the only one you're allowed to be perverted with."

"Alice!" Jasper's horror echoed my own. Much as I loved Alice (and was coming to love Jasper, with his strange but loveable ways), I did not need to hear about their sex life. Poor Jasper looked like he wanted to melt into the floor. On the up side, however, it served to pull his attention off the human girl he had been preparing to go after.

Despite almost 4 months of living with us and practicing a vegetarian lifestyle, Jasper still didn't do well when placed with humans. He quickly became aggressive and distractible, his already exaggerated startle reflex growing even worse. In some ways, he reminded me of the way Edward had been when he was first turned. Too many voices assaulting him at once and he would become overwhelmed and flinchy. Jasper certainly behaved like a creature on some sort of sensory overload, though he would lunge where Edward would retreat.

I had to shake myself there. It wasn't fair to compare Edward and Jasper, any more than it would be fair to compare two biological children. The two of them had completely different personalities, not to mention over a century of completely different experiences. It wasn't any surprise that Jasper's tolerance was much lower.

Still, he needed to learn some appropriate behavior before I could even consider enrolling him in school, so here we were, dragging him through the mall. It was obvious he was miserable, which made me feel terrible, but we both knew it needed to happen. I had tried to soften the experience by offering to take them both to the bookstore later, something I knew thrilled Jasper to no end.

Somehow, it always fell to Alice and I to take Jasper on these outings. Her because she was such a calming influence on her mate, and me because I was willing to grab him quickly if he went out of control and risk being bitten. It hadn't come down to that yet, though I had been forced to coax him from more than one store so he could calm down. Not this week though, this week had been a good one. Whether it was due to more control on his part, or just Alice and I being able to better read his signals was a matter of some debate, but I was willing to accept any improvement.

Currently he was watching two boys, probably brothers, as they chased each other around the food court. His body was relaxed, eyes normal, so I didn't feel like an attack was eminent. In fact, a tiny smile quirked around the corners of his mouth. It made me wonder about his previous lives. Did he have a human brother to chase like that? Or even a vampire friend. Someone to be close to. The kids disappeared and his attention wandered somewhere else.

His gaze settled on a set of teenage girls, eyes dilating slightly. There was a petite, dark haired girl among them, which seemed to be his favorite target I tensed, wanting nothing more than to try and help him, but something held me back. He knew what was expected by now, and he needed a chance to do it on his own. I watched him jerk his head to the side, shaking it and swallowing venom rapidly. Be calm Carlisle, you know how sensitive he is. Don't get him any more upset then you need to.

He stared for a minute longer and took two steps backwards, his eyes searching for Alice's. She jumped forward to give him a big hug, not to restrain him, but to tell him how proud she was of him. Soft purrs, too quiet for humans to hear, rumbled out of both chests.

It was something else I had noticed about both Jasper and Alice. They were by far the noisiest of my children when it came to sounds other than talking. Both purred and growled and hissed at each other and the rest of us, seemingly without thought. The others stuck mostly to human noises, because they had always lived among humans and didn't want to draw undue attention to themselves. Jasper on the other hand, had been raised with only other vampires. To him, growling was as natural as speaking, maybe even more so. I could tell he was puzzled at times, when he had growled or postured in a way that I recognized from my earliest days as a vampire and none of his new brothers and sisters responded appropriately. There were days when I felt like the father of a toddler, constantly having to repeat "use your words, Jasper." Alice, having learned everything about being a vampire from him, was better at responding, and the pair of them frequently had conversations that none of the rest of us understood.

If I was being honest with myself, I had to admit that I loved the sense of wildness about them. They were retaining a sense of what a vampire was supposed to be, even without the killing. It made me wonder if I wasn't somehow disenfranchising the others, making them into creatures that weren't vampires, but could never be humans either. Certainly, any one of them could growl, and would when upset or angry, but they didn't understand what they were doing. None of them ever purred, at least not where I could hear it. It was a learned behavior, and I hadn't taught them like I should have. I barely remembered how myself, having not done it since my newborn days.

Maybe I had made some mistakes with my new family. I had let my disgust at what I was overwhelm some of the good points of my life. Unfortunately, I had passed that on to Edward more strongly than the others. There were times when I wondered if it was his own self-recrimination that was preventing him from finding a mate and causing his loneliness. How could I expect him to love another vampire when he so clearly disliked himself? Would he ever be able to choose someone, when they were also the thing that he hated most? I tried to remind myself that he would, that I had found my Esme. After all, it wasn't like he was going to have a whole lot of choices other than other vampires.

Neither Jasper nor Alice seemed to be overly concerned about such things. Jasper obviously loved what he was, though he didn't like some of the things he had done. He enjoyed stretching the physical limits of what he was capable of, whether it was racing Edward around the forest, or wrestling with Emmett. Sometimes in the evenings he would lay on the floor with Alice, her head against his neck and they would purr at each other, both looking entirely content with who and what they were. It made me jealous of them, that they so clearly accepted what the rest of us had trouble with.

Over the past few months, I had heard these noised often enough that I could interpret their meanings fairly well. There were growls for playing, for anger, or just to prove a point. Jasper was particularly fond of punctuating is arguments with Edward with a throaty snarl, knowing it drove my oldest crazy. The purring seemed to be a comfort thing. He would purr for Alice when she had a vision or her for him when he was getting too aggressive and needed to calm down. He would also purr when he was alone and stressed, as though he wanted to comfort himself. He had become much better about letting the rest of the family touch him, but still only wanted Alice's reassurances.

There was something else he seemed to want from me, though. Something he was waiting for right now, pale eyes locked on mine. Over the past few weeks, my approval had suddenly become very important to him. The quiet power struggle that had marked our first few months together was over, and he had accepted me as the leader of his family and his superior. My gut feeling was that he would have taken this entire thing a lot better if he had been alone. A single vampire, particularly a male, was lucky to be accepted into a new coven instead of being killed, and he knew it. But he had Alice to be concerned about, and he wouldn't willingly submit to someone he didn't feel would care for her at least as well as he did. It was strangely touching, that I was being trusted with the most important thing in his world.

"Good job, Jasper." And he had done well. This was the first time he had backed off entirely under his own power, without Alice and I coaxing him verbally, if not physically to make the correct choices. He gave me a quick, nervous grin, still unsure of how to take my compliments. "Are you ready to go home?"

Something clouded in his eyes, but he nodded. It was Alice who spoke up. "I thought we were going to the bookstore."

That was right, I had promised that. "Jasper, if I forget something like that, you need to remind me. It's alright, I did promise that."

He nodded, even though we both knew he wouldn't. He might be more comfortable with now than ever, but not comfortable enough to directly contradict the leader of the group and risk injury to himself and his mate. It was one aspect of vampirism that I was glad not to have my kids learn about. So maybe I hadn't made as many mistakes as I thought I had. I wanted all of them to feel comfortable arguing with me if they didn't feel like I was acting in the best interests of the family. It was something that had saved us on many occasions. But now was not the time to argue about it. Not when this entire day was going so well. "Come on."

The bookstore was attached to the mall and huge, covering more than two stories. Jasper and Alice split, each going for a different level. "One thing only, you two." Given the chance, Jasper would look at everything and not choose anything at all, and Alice would pick a dozen books for the rest of the family and forget herself.

I briefly considered following Jasper, who had wandered off into the nonfiction section, but decided against it. The bookstore was virtually empty, and he seemed so calm that I thought I would have time to look at a few things for myself. After all, I could easily pick both of them out by their smell and the noises they made, so it wasn't like they could slip by me. Plus, Jasper didn't seem to have as big of a problem when he had something else to occupy his attention. It was when he was bored that he started feeling a stronger urge to hunt.

I got distracted some books in the medical section, and stopped paying attention either Alice or Jasper. In fact, I was so involved with what I was doing that I jumped when I felt a light touch on my shoulder. My surprise seemed to transfer back to Jasper, who jumped himself, eyes going wide. I nearly laughed out loud. The great and wise Carlisle Cullen had been snuck up on by a vampire in his own coven! In a human bookstore none the less!

My attention was diverted to the book in Jasper's hands. It was a huge volume on the Civil War, complete with pictures and illustrations of the battles. It seemed an odd choice, but then I remembered the slight accent I heard on occasion. Could Jasper have possibly been alive during the war itself? Was he a vampire already, or would it be one of those dim human memories? Would he even answer if I asked? "Is that what you want?"

He shrugged, then opened the book to somewhere in the middle. The pages pictures of two important figures (were they generals? Majors? I was never very good with military terminology). Gerald Sanders and Jasper Whitlock. Jasper Whitlock. The picture was blurry and old, but it was undeniably the man standing before me. Just when I thought I would never solve the mystery of who he was and who he had been, he pulled something like this, just giving the information away. I was so shocked, by both what I had learned, and the amount of faith it had taken for him to show this to me that I couldn't speak for a minute. Jasper waited, a slight sense of worry in his eyes.

I walked over to a pair of overstuffed chairs and sat down, reading what had been written. Jasper Whitlock, aged 23, born in Texas, one of the youngest majors of the civil war. Led his troops to victory after victory. According to the book, he was absolutely adored by his troops and they would have followed him anywhere. Major Whitlock had gone missing, and was considered to have been killed in action during a run to bring news to a superior several towns over. His body was never recovered, but he was considered highly unlikely to have deserted. He left behind a wife and young daughter.

"I wouldn't have either. Deserted, I mean. I would have stuck with my troops, even though I knew we were going down by then." His voice was distant. After a few minutes, in which I still couldn't formulate my thoughts well enough to say anything, he held out his hands to take the book back. "I just wanted you to know."

I didn't relinquish the book. "Thank you for showing this to me. Listen, you can go pick something else for yourself, I want to keep this. You should be very proud of the man you were."

He shrugged again. "Keep it if you want, but it isn't correct."

"Which part?"

"My age. I was only 20 when I died. I lied about my age to join up. Plus, I didn't have a wife or daughter; I don't know where that came from. I sure would have liked to have them though."

Then he was gone, and I knew the conversation was over. It was alright for me to keep the book, and to show it to the others when I got home, but Jasper didn't want to talk about this any more. Maybe in a few days he would say something, or a month, or maybe this would all I would ever know. That the Major Japer Whitlock who had lived and died a century and a half ago led his troops to victory and disappeared following a long battle. But it was still more than I had known 5 minutes ago. I closed the book, but kept it in my lap as I sat there. Jasper was trying. In his own way, he wanted to be close to me, to let me in on his secrets, he was just still a little bit afraid. It might not have seemed like much to my other kids, who had always shared everything with me, but it was huge for Jasper. For the first time, he had voluntarily given me information about himself without being asked first or needing to be cajoled. We were getting there. Slowly but surely, we were getting there.

Then suddenly the spring and summer were over and it was time start thinking about school. Alice had done a wonderful job of catching up since January, and I was prepared to enroll her as a junior. I would have preferred to try and pass her off as a sophomore, which was closer to her actual abilities, but I knew it would be too difficult. She was petite enough to pass, but her eyes betrayed her as being far older than 15. Not for the first time, I wondered what had happened to her, even before her abandonment by her maker. Edward would be a junior this year too, and he was more than willing to help her. He had bonded with her in a way that he and Rosalie had never quite managed.

I was still on the fence about Jasper. On the one hand, he was doing very well, and he was so eager to learn that I felt bad keeping him home. On the other, I just didn't know if I quite trusted him yet. The worst of his aggression seemed to have dissipated, but he was still standoffish with new people and skittish when he felt cornered. I just didn't know if throwing him into a high school, where he was going to be the center of attention for a thousand students or more, was the best thing for him right now. I hadn't really broached the subject with him yet, though I could tell he wasn't unaware of the issue. He could hear the rest of the kids talking about it and complaining.

But there was still three weeks to make that decision. Right now, the entire family was out at the park. It was Rosalie's birthday, and even though she didn't want an official celebration with gifts, we all agreed to do whatever she wanted for the day. It was cloudy, and she was determined to take advantage of it and get us all outside. She, Esme and Alice were sitting together on a blanket, laughing over some joke. Emmett and Jasper had been playing Frisbee, but were now just wandering aimlessly, never straying too far. I had taken Edward to play catch, but my attention was split between him and the rest of them. We looked like a family. Granted, a family with an inordinate amount of teenagers, but a family none the less. Alice was smiling at Esme as if my wife was the one who had given birth to her. Jasper and Emmett bounced around, playing some game I didn't understand. When Jasper arrived 10 months ago, I would have never expected to see him like this. He was relaxed, grinning at Emmett as he prepared to move again. He looked genuinely happy, and I could feel his pleasure washing over me.

The day was a bit chilly by human standards, and the park was virtually deserted. Because of that, I wasn't expecting company and didn't see the mother with a stroller until she was almost on top of us. I reflexively looked to Jasper, but he wasn't paying any attention to them. Instead, he was focused on Esme.

I turned to her, knowing what I would see before I moved. Her heart would be breaking at the sight of that baby, her thoughts only on her own lost son. None of the other kids seemed to notice, they were all caught up in whatever it was they were doing. Only Jasper was watching her. Then, in an extremely rare gesture of affection, he knelt down next to her on the blanket and put his arms around her. It was the first time I had seen him do such a thing and it shocked me. Esme appeared shocked also, but hugged him back, her expression turning to one of love for her new son.

But I was no longer focused on them. Something had become very clear to me, something that I should have seen months ago. It was the little things about Jasper that had begun to finally add up. The way he reacted to other people, almost like he could read their minds. The way he had known Esme was upset, before any of the others had, even though they had been with her for far longer. Or the way he responded to each member of the family differently, always seeming to know exactly how to act without any visual clues. He wasn't reading their minds, he was reading their emotions. Fucking Hell, I had found an empath.

I was so busy staring at Jasper and having this revelation that I failed to pay attention to Edward, who promptly nailed me in the head with the baseball. The force of his throw knocked me to the ground and I lay there for a minute, head reeling from both the blow and the thought that had preceded it. I had been so blind. I thought back to the way he had been with the other boys from the beginning. Emmett had accepted him instantly, wanting a partner to hunt and play with and Jasper had responded in kind, showing back the playful feelings and wildness. Edward had been nervous, unable to read him, and Jasper had respected that by giving him his space. I shouldn't have needed to have it all spelled out to me like that.

"Carlisle? Honey, are you alright?" They were all above me now, staring down with worried eyes. A hit like that shouldn't have kept me on the ground for more than a few seconds.

"Yes." I took Emmett's offered hand and allowed him to pull me to my feet. "I guess I just got lost in my thoughts." I wanted nothing more than to speak to Jasper and be able to confirm my suspicions, but I knew he wouldn't allow me to ask in front of the others. I had been patient for nearly a year now, I could be patient for a few more hours.

It was hard to keep a straight face for the rest of the day. My thoughts were a confused jumble, and I had to try and keep them down low enough that Edward wouldn't pick up on them. He and Jasper had quite a rivalry going by this point, and he would have delighted in having this forbidden knowledge and the edge it would give him. Jasper himself looked at me quite frequently, so I must be putting off some odd emotions. I tried to send him a wave of reassurance, as a bit of a test, but he only gave me a stranger look.

We stayed at the park for another hour or so, until Rosalie decided we could go home. After all, Emmett had gotten her a special present, and she was eager to get to it. The way both Jasper and Edward visibly shuddered at her words told me exactly what sort of present it was and that none of the rest of us were going to get any peace. Had I been thinking, I would have had their room soundproofed for a gift. A gift for the rest of us, that was.

I could tell the rest of the family was getting ready to scatter, so as not to have to hear what was about to start upstairs. I had to act quickly, as this was a perfect chance. "Jasper, will you please come to my office?"

He was only too glad to do so; probably assuming we were going to be having that talk about whether or not he would be starting school with the others. I waited while he spun in a contented circle and flopped down in the big chair, eyebrows raised.

It hurt that I was about to do something that might destroy the peace that had sprung up between us. I stopped for a minute, trying to figure out the best way to present this. If I was wrong…

Luckily, Jasper saved me. "So, you know about me, huh?"

So that was what the funny looks had been about. I must have been putting off some feeling that clued him in to my revelation. "I think so. Do you have the gift of empathy?"

"Yes." For all of the evasion he had given me on other subjects, he was straightforward with this. "But there are other things. I can kind off…not exactly force emotions, but kind of make someone feel what I want them to."

If there had been a feather in the room, I could have been knocked over with it. Empaths were fairly rare, especially since most of them went mad as newborns, but manipulators were almost unheard of. One of the rarest creatures in existence had been living right under my nose for almost a year and it had never even occurred to me. "How do you mean?"

He sighed, twisting his hands as he tried to organize his thoughts. "Well…If you were calm, I could make you get excited, or if you were excited, I could calm you down. That would be pretty easy. But if you genuinely have one strong emotion, it would be hard for me to change it. For example, I couldn't change the love you feel for Esme. I can't destroy that emotion. But I could shift it. Once I got a hold of that emotion from you, and memorized it, I could make you feel like you wanted someone to have sex with else." He grinned, a goofy smile that suggested he was reliving a fond memory. "Even someone like me or Emmett. But it would still be hard."

Here he rolled his shoulders, clearly wanting me to understand. "Some emotions are easier than others, because some are more common. Your fear is very similar to my fear or Edward's fear. So I could make a stranger feel very frightened, because there isn't anything special about that emotion. Excitement is the same, just a form of arousal. But love, that's different. Alice is my bond mate, and Esme is your bond mate, but the love we have for them is different. So it would be hard for me to manipulate you emotions there, because they are very different from my own. I could make you think you were sexually attracted to anyone, but not be in love with them"

It made sense. "Why didn't you tell me about this?"

He looked uncomfortable. "When we first got here, I didn't trust you, you know that. Alice did, because she had seen it all, but I couldn't. I was responsible for both of us, and I didn't want to give everything away. Especially since Alice messed up and told you about her visions right away. I had to hold something back."

I suspected as much. "But why didn't you tell me later? You trust us now don't you?" Didn't he? Or had he just become a very good actor?

"Yes! I do trust you now. I've trusted you since what happened when I bit Emmett. You were patient and gentle and I knew you would take good care of both of us after that. But…." He stopped, eyes downward. "Well, I thought you would be mad if you thought I was hiding things from you. Then it just went on and on and I couldn't figure out how to tell you. Plus…" He stopped again, sighing softly. "Once I tell someone that, it messes things up. They always look at me like I'm some sort of mind controller, and they think I can do things that I can't. They don't trust me after that, and I wanted you to trust me. And you did, even when I was having so much trouble keeping calm around the humans. I've never had one of my superiors trust me before, and I liked it."

My heart broke a little for him. He had been trying so hard to hang on to the only real family he had ever known. I came around the desk to lightly touch his shoulder. I didn't try and hold him, even though I wanted to, because he still didn't take well to being restrained, but my touch was enough to get him to continue. "I kept thinking, 'I'll tell him tomorrow, I'll tell him soon' but of course I never did. Then it went on for so long that I almost couldn't. But I saw the way you were looking at me today, like you had never seen me before, and I knew that you knew. Especially when you almost knocked me over trying to tell me to calm down a little."

I couldn't help it then, I laughed. "I wondered why you were looking at me like that.

He laughed back, dark eyes sparkling. "Yeah, a little bit of feeling goes a long way. You don't need to focus that hard, I can pick it up pretty easily now."

Another thought occurred to me. "Have you used this manipulation thing on us? On me?"

"Well…" He squirmed uncomfortably. "Not very often. I mean, just when I had to."

I clamped down hard on my irritation, knowing that he was afraid I would react that way. "When?"

He thought. "I'm not sure. Sometimes when you guys fight, it makes me really nervous and I try to calm everyone down. I hate to see people fight, it usually turns violent. I didn't want that. Umm...sometimes I do it when I don't mean to. Like if I'm really happy and in a good mood, I make other people happy too. Same with being in a really bad mood, but I can usually control it better than that."

Now that I thought about it, I could see the truth in his words. We had been fighting less recently, even Edward and Rosalie. Before I could say anything though, Jasper remembered something else. "Oh, I know a good example. Remember when I first got here, and I bit Emmett?" At my nod, he continued. "When you and Rose got there, you were both ready to attack me, and I couldn't let that happen. Especially since there was still a lot of venom in the injury. So I kept both of you calm until we could get back to the house. It didn't matter what happened then. I wouldn't do anything just to do it, I promise. That would be rude of me"

I remembered that day, and thought I could pinpoint the minute he had unleashed his power on us, the way all of my tension had suddenly disappeared. It had seemed a little odd at the time, but everything that followed had been surreal also, so I hadn't paid much attention to what was, after all, just a feeling.

Jasper twisted around in the chair, clearly wanting to be anywhere but here. He didn't say anything else, probably waiting for me to ask something else. But I couldn't think of anything. Finally, he spoke, more to break the silence than anything else. He wasn't as comfortable holding out on my as he had been in the past. "You can tell the others if you want. It's not fair to have some people know and others not."

For a creature that had essentially been raised feral, Jasper had a surprising sense of fairness, and of right and wrong. I wondered who had taught him that, if it was his human parents, or another vampire. Somebody had clearly loved him a lot, or he wouldn't be as sweet natured as he was. Certainly, he had his quirks and moods, but underneath it all was a good personality.

There was a growing sense of nervousness in the room. I had felt it before, but now knew that I could attribute it to Jasper, and the fact that he was worried about how I was taking all this. My opinion was important to him, and he wanted desperately to please me. I smiled reassuringly and the tension level dropped.

"Umm… can I go now? I promised Alice I would take her hunting tonight."

"Yes." He all but fled the room. Despite months of work, he still had to get outside and be free when he was feeling stressed out. Even the airy open plan of our house left him feeling claustrophobic. At least I had convinced him to go out the doors, instead of going through a window or leaving a hole in the nearest wall. I sat down heavily behind my desk, trying to process everything. An empath. What in the world was I supposed to do with an empath? They were notoriously unstable and hard to handle.

Still, it explained a lot, not just about his reactions to my family, but the reason he had come to be alone in the first place. One of the reasons most empath's became emotionally unstable was that they were forced to feel the pain and terror their victims did. It drove some of them crazy. Others refused to feed, and were driven mad by the hunger. Still others managed to block the humans, but were mentally pulled apart by the emotions of other vampires in their coven. It was rare to find an empath that was able to make it past the newborn years. Jaspers gift at manipulation had probably helped him there, by keeping him mostly mentally intact.

This was one of those times when I wished I was on better terms with other vampires. I wanted the advice of someone more knowledgeable then myself on how to handle this new situation. Jasper seemed to be doing fairly well on his own, but like most mental gifts, his talents should be nurtured by another empath, and I had no idea where to find one. A sudden grin nearly split my face in two. Well, I could say one thing about Jasper. Since he had arrived, life certainly wasn't boring.

"Come on, Jasper! Just a little higher and you have it."

I heard a faint grumble, almost a growl, from the other room. Esme had decided to start putting up Christmas decorations, and had commandeered Jasper to help her. They had been at it all day, moving different pieces all over the living room and I could tell his patience was wearing thin.

After much debate, I had decided not to enroll Jasper in school just yet. I was incredibly pleased with his progress, but I still didn't trust him entirely on his own. He had been disappointed, but more than a little relieved. I had contacted the school board about getting home schooling materials for him, wanting to keep him interested and learning. It had taken a little bit of creativity, but I was finally able to explain that he was a foster child who just wasn't ready for public school yet. Too many past traumas and all that. Not too far from the truth, really.

Emmett had been immediately jealous, wanting to stay home all day himself, but I had sent him anyway. Much as I wanted Jasper to have a companion and not be home alone during the day, I had seen the way the two of them interacted. The house would be in shambles after a week, and they would have terrorized the deer into having collective heart failure.

For some reason, they had taken to herding the deer through our woods, splitting up and chasing the poor creatures across the back yard, around the house, and back to the woods. They never killed them, so they weren't motivated by hunger. It seemed to be a game to them, a way of testing their communicative skills when they couldn't be side by side. It took my nonexistent breath away to watch them sometimes, the natural way they moved together without words. I had made them stop the game for a while, after a frenzied deer crashed through one of our picture windows, but I knew they would be back at it as soon as I left for work. Sometimes they can be worse than little children.

Jasper had sulked for a day or two when I broke the news, especially since everyone else was getting new supplies and making plans, but he got over it quickly. In a way, I think he liked the quiet in the house when everyone else was gone. Plus, he had Esme, and this was a perfect opportunity for them to get some much needed bonding time.

There had been something in the air over the past few weeks, a sense of change in Jasper. He was spending more time inside with the family instead of vanishing into the woods to be alone. He talked more, and seemed to be making a concentrated effort to get along better with Edward. That was the good part.

But there were other things. He had become more jumpy, startling at small noises that he had never noticed before. His eyes had taken on a shadowy look, like he was worrying about something. Sometime he seemed to shut down entirely, looking at all of us blankly, as if we were strangers and he had no idea how he had come to live among us. His schoolwork could be picture perfect one day, and nonexistent the next. He had always been a bit moody, but now the swings were extreme. He had even snapped at Alice a few days back, something I had never seen before.

All in all, I was getting a sense of a storm brewing. I supposed it was inevitable. He had given up leadership to me months ago, and now he was worrying about it. I knew he had suffered badly in the past, all one had to do was look at his scars to know that. We still hadn't talked about where he had come from, though I thought that might be part of what was happening now. He wanted badly to trust us, but he was still afraid to do so completely. He was at war with himself, and much as it hurt me to watch him struggle, there was nothing I could do to help.

I could tell he was getting close, though. All this week he had been extremely clingy to Esme or myself, always wanting to be close to one of us. Sometimes he would even sit at home with us rather than go hunting with Emmett. I had been through this with Rosalie also, so I could recognize some of the signs. Unlike Edward or Emmett, both of whom had moved from loving human families to a loving vampire one, she had suffered horribly before her change, and continued to suffer afterwards. It was not as easy for her to accept us, or tell us about what had happened to her. I had known what her injuries were when I changed her, but even knowing that hadn't prepared me for the brutality she had suffered at the hands of a man she had thought she loved. It was only after she had been with us for a few months that she was able to tell Esme about Royce and his betrayal. She too had developed a seemingly split personality, biddable and fun sometimes, but just as quickly turning cold and temperamental.

I decided to move in and help the poor boy out a little. "What's going on in there?"

Jasper bounded through the archway, a grimace of mock-terror on his face. "Help, Carlisle! She's never going to be satisfied!"

He was wearing sunglasses in the house, something that never failed to make me smile. Whatever the reason, he was crazy about them, and must have had 10 pairs by now. He was so quiet when it came to asking for anything that when we did find something he liked, the entire family went overboard to make sure he had it. The current pair was mirrored, doing an excellent job of hiding his eyes. Still, I was pretty sure they were grinning at me.

"Esme, let him have a break. You've been at it since dawn." She did tend to get a little obsessed about decoration placement. I had once watched her arrange and rearrange them for 36 hours straight. Somehow, I doubted that Jasper was going to put up with that.

My wife appeared, and her loveliness took my nonexistent breath away. The previous nights hunt had brought a slight flush to her face, and it was all I could do not to jump her right there. "Esme…"

"I'm leaving." Jasper couldn't seem to get himself out of the situation fast enough. Oops, I must have given him a little taste of my lust for her. "I'll be back when everyone else gets home." And after I'm sure you guys are done with whatever terrible thing you are getting ready to do.

He disappeared in the direction of the woods, no doubt planning on being at least several miles away with in minutes. Esme watched him go, before turning to me. "That's new."


"Him caring what we're doing. He never used to be offended by that, remember?"

Suddenly, I did remember. When he had first arrived, Jasper had seemed oblivious to what was going around him sexually. Rosalie and Emmett could be getting ready to scream (or knock) down the walls and he would barely glance up before going back to whatever he was doing before. Unusual in any vampire, but flat out bizarre in an empath. He could also be shockingly immodest. I was willing to bet that every other member of the family had seen what was rightfully Alice's. He didn't give the impression of sexual ignorance, and could in fact be quite loud with Alice on occasion, but nor did he seem to see anything odd about knowing exactly what others were doing.

I had finally come to the conclusion that things like this must have been normal in his other family. It made a certain amount of sense. After all, most covens were quite large, especially in the south, and there must not have been much room for privacy of any sort. So you did what you did and pretended that no one else was around. But now he was responding in a more normal manner and granting us some privacy. It really was better for all of us, but I couldn't help feeling a little bit sad about it. Like I was taking a little bit of his innocence away. Which was ridiculous because, after all, Jasper was probably the least innocent among us.

Esme smiled at me. "Well, he's gone for whatever reason. We should take advantage of all the kids being gone."

"Sounds good to me."

Needless to say, the Christmas ornaments were forgotten for the night. By the time we were finished and straightened up, the sun had set and the rest of the family was hiding out. Vampire or human, no one likes to have to be able to hear their parents having sex. One by one they reemerged, giving us somewhat reproachful looks. Alice was the only one who spoke. "Gross."

Esme couldn't let that pass. "You should hear yourself with Jasper sometimes, dear. You two can be rather loud."

"Amen." That was Edward.

Alice wasn't fazed in the slightest. "You could always tell us to be quiet, if it bothers you. Anyway, he's the one who gets loud. You would be amazed at the noises he can make when I-"

"Alice." Jasper's voice was low but amused. He smirked at bit at Edward, who no doubt had heard the rest of Alice's thoughts and knew exactly what she had been referring to. I wondered if Jasper had somehow put Alice up to this in yet another small battle in his and Edward's war.

I was suddenly glad that I didn't have Edwards gift. "What are the plans for tonight? Are we hunting?"

Rosalie rolled her eyes. "The rest of us have already been hunting. We've had plenty of time to kill tonight. I'm taking Alice shopping; we'll be back sometime tonight. Esme, why don't you come with us? Edward and Emmett are going to patrol the wolf's boundary line. Carlisle, I need some money."

No, she didn't. I knew Rose well enough by now to know that she wanted something else, something she wasn't comfortable saying in front of the rest of the family. "My wallet is upstairs."

We walked together in silence until she felt like she was far enough away from the rest of the family. Then she turned to me and whispered softly. "I have enough money in my purse. Listen, I moved everyone out but you and Jasper. He wants to be able to talk to you, but he's afraid. So be patient with him. He's ready to tell you about it all; everything that's happened to him, but it could take a while. I'll hold Alice and Esme at the store for a few hours, and Emmett is going to keep Edward distracted. Just listen, Carlisle, and don't judge him. He's had a bad enough time already."

I felt a sudden tug of love for her. She had been there for Jasper when he would trust none of the rest of us with his secrets. It hardly fit with the cold, shallow front that she presented to the world. I was glad that Jasper had been able to see beyond that and share his worries with her. "Don't worry, Rosalie. His secrets will be safe with me."

She smiled, the sort of smile that made men fall all over themselves for just a chance to speak to her. Then her dark eyes hardened. "Carlisle? If you upset my brother, I'll kill you, got it?"

I had to smile at her protectiveness. Despite the trouble it caused sometimes with Edward, Jasper and Alice were the best thing to happen to this family in…well, since Emmett had joined us. "I won't, Rose."

The perfect lips quirked up into a smile and she gave me a hug. "I'll keep them away as long as I can."

With that she flipped her hair and marched off down the hallway, the very picture of a supermodel. A supermodel that was showing me the softer side she tried so desperately to keep hidden. Her and Jasper, who would have thought?

I came back downstairs, to find Alice hugging her mate tightly. "You're sure you don't want to come?"

He smiled at her, golden eyes shining with love. "No, you have fun with the girls. I'll be just fine here with Carlisle." His expression saying that if she pushed the matter he would go. He would go to the ends of the earth and beyond to see her happy.

"Ok, I guess. I know, I'll pick you up a surprise!" Her momentarily clouded expression became animated again. Alice loved to shop, even more so if she could share the trip with Rosalie, but she hated having to be separated from Jasper, even for a few hours.

"Go on, Rosalie's getting ready to leave without you." He grumbled low in his chest and gave her a gentle nudge forward. "You know I don't shop well."

She looked between Jasper and myself, a realization dawning in her lovely eyes. She stepped forward to give him another hug, lingering longer than necessary and whispering something in his ear. Rosalie honked the horn impatiently, and our sweet little Alice responded with a finger gesture that I never would have believed she knew. One last look and the girls were gone, leaving Jasper and I standing in an awkward silence. He shuffled from side to side, studying the carpet with way too much interest.

I gave him a few more minutes, then took pity on him. "Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?"

"No, but I think I need to." He spun in a slow circle, something I noticed him doing more and more lately. It had to be stress. "Can we go outside?"

"Sure." He clung close to my side as we walked out back to sit on the porch swing. I knew he would get too nervous in the house, but I wanted him next to me, close enough so he could draw comfort from my presence.

We sat down in silence. Jasper pushed us back and forth in the swing, long legs extended out in front of him as he studied the wood line. My stomach clenched with tension, which had to be a left over emotion coming off of him. I gave him an encouraging smile. "Just start at the beginning, Jasper. We can take as long as you need."

He stared at the ground, seeming to gather himself. I waited. After all, how bad could it be?

Almost three hours later, I had my answer. It was every bit as bad as I could have imagined, and worse. Jasper talked calmly and steadily, never once taking his eyes off of his beat up boots. He ran his fingers back and forth on his leg, his slow, almost hypnotized movements suggesting that he had long since forgotten he was doing it. I stroked his shoulder experimentally, and he surprised me by leaning into the contact.
"Anyway, I guess that's the story. Now you know everything about me."

I did and I didn't. I had heard stories of pain and terror, of being locked up for weeks to ensure that starvation would make him especially vicious, of bonding with the newborns and having to experience their feelings of betrayal and terror when it was time to destroy them. Of fight after fight after fight, the burning of someone else's venom becoming a near constant sensation to him. Of losing everything, including himself, Jasper Whitlock.

He pulled up the sleeves of his shirt to show me more of the scars there. "I could tell you about them, name each of them. Patrick, Sunny, Devon, Mary, Sean, Maria, it could go on and on. But that wouldn't serve any purpose, would it? Suffice to say, I remember all of it, everything that happened in that life."

But there were other stories too. No existence is entirely bad, and there were obviously parts of his old life that he missed terribly. He gave those funny half smiles when he talked about them running like a pack, hunting and resting and playing all together. Or how they would run the empty villages, setting up families among themselves in a glorious game of pretend that could last for weeks. Or just lying around the fire, contented to be together. He had loved the constant movement, never staying in one place for more than a month or two before setting out for a new home. And then there was Maria.

I got the impression that Jasper was somewhat conflicted about the Spanish beauty and everything that had followed her coaxing him off the road one dark night. On the one hand, he hated her. He hated everything she had done to him, and everything she had forced him to do to others. Without her, he would have gone on, to deliver his message, or marry or die in the next battle, whatever fate had in store for him. It was easier to hate her, than to hate that part of himself.

But he loved her also. She was his maker, the mother figure. He had been dependant on her to provide everything for him, a fact that she never let him forget. She had been his lover also, for more than a half century. Though he had not been with her alone (switching partners seemed to have been a common occurrence in his previous family), she was the only one he had loved. He had loved her, and he had hated her, and he had bled for her, the blood given to him by her. No wonder he felt confused and out of control for most of his time with her.

My gut told me that Maria had probably loved him back. However, she had placed him in what was, by default, as highly stressful and emotionally charged life. He had lasted there far longer than he should have, and I was willing to be that she had been the reason for that. Her love, like Alice's, went a long way towards soothing the emotional wounds. For a minute I felt pity for Maria. To watch someone one loved deteriorate before your eyes, and to neither understand it or be able to stop it must have been heartbreaking.

But he wasn't thinking of any of that now. He leaned his head back against the swing and stared up at the sloping roof of the front porch. When he spoke again, I was surprised. "I miss them."

"Your other family?" Now that he was trying to open up to me, I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by.

"Sometimes. I think I would miss it more if it wasn't for my gift. It was hard being around all of them and trying to keep them under control. I miss Peter and Charlotte a lot though. I wish I knew where they were now."

"I do too." I hoped he was caught up enough in his story that he wouldn't sense the little white lie. It wasn't that I didn't want Jasper to be able to speak to his friends again, but I worried about him letting them know where he was. If they were still in contact with Maria…well, as his maker, she would have a certain sway over Jasper. Or maybe she wasn't needed at all. Maybe seeing his old friends would remind Jasper of a lifestyle he missed and he would go with them willingly. Selfish that it might be, I wanted him to stay here with us. After his being here for more than a year, I could barely imagine life without him.

"I wouldn't." Jasper was watching me with an amused look on his face. "Leave, I mean. This is my home now, and Alice's. If I had wanted that life, I would have stayed with them in the first place. "

I guess I wasn't as subtle as I thought I was. I had to remember that Jasper was old, much older than the rest of the family, and he had had more than a century to hone his gift. In his own way, he read thoughts and intentions better than Edward. He touched his shoulder to mine briefly. "I like it here. I couldn't go anywhere without Alice, and she would never leave you guys. I love my new brothers and sisters, and you and Esme have been really patient. So better or worse, you guys are stuck with me for eternity. Like the wedding vows from Hell."

Just like that, he had said the perfect thing. He loved us to the best of his ability. Maybe he would never be as open and trusting as Alice, even within the family, but he didn't need to be. All he needed to be was Jasper, his strange, sometimes aggressive, but wonderful self. A soft rumble filled the air as he purred contentedly. After a minute, I was shocked to feel the answering vibrations in my own chest. Seemed our wild one was teaching us all a few new tricks.

We sat there nearly an hour, a two vampire chorus. Then the roar of Rosalie's car filled the air, bringing the women we loved home. Almost simultaneously, Edward and Emmett burst out of the woods, excited and from running the boundary line for hundreds of miles. The quiet disappeared as if had never been there. Japer exploded off the swing to run in wild circles around Emmett, boxing with him playfully and getting his scent. Then the three of them were off, ready to meet the girls in the driveway and carry in their bags.

I sat for a minute longer, thinking about the past year, and all that had happened. Somehow our coven, which I had thought complete at five, had expanded to seven. Maybe in the coming years it would expand again, hopefully with a mate for Edward. As if my thoughts had summoned him, his face appeared around the side of the house, eyes bright with laughter. "Carlisle, are you coming? They bought half the store and we need help getting it all in!"

"Yes, I'm coming!" I just wanted one more minute to sit here, listening to their laughter. Jasper was laughing at Emmett, teasing that the larger vampire ought to be able to carry twice as much since he was twice Jaspers size. Rosalie was calling to them to be careful, that she, Alice and Esme were going to model for us later. The thought of Esme in new clothes was enough to get me off the swing, and walking around the house. But that wasn't the only reason. I was just as interested in just being around them and loving them. Finally, things were falling into place.

The joy lasted only six months. Quite a while for a human, but less than a blink for a vampire. But it wasn't Jasper that caused the trouble. No, it was one of my older kids, one I never would have suspected.

It happened on a Thursday. Emmett and Edward were out hunting, Rosalie was out shopping for Alice's birthday in a few weeks, and the rest of us were in the living room. Alice and I were playing a game of chess, while Esme watched television and Jasper roamed in restless circles. He was set to play the winner of this game, and was probably already forming plans in the back of his mind. He thought better when he was moving, so I kept his form in the corner of my eye.

Alice was contemplating her move, knowing she was beaten, but refusing to give in without a fight. Not wanting to stare at her and make her nervous, I looked the other way instead, towards Jasper, and found him standing silently by Edward's piano, his fingers running quietly over the keys. It surprised me, as I had never considered that he might have musical talent. "Do you play, Jasper?"

He looked at me quietly, eyes foggy with distant memories. "Not very well."

"Play something anyway. Come on." I tried to sound encouraging, but not too forceful. I didn't want him to feel like he had to.

"No. The piano is Edward's, not mine. I shouldn't fool around with it without asking him first."

Despite the fact that Edward and Jasper had never really bonded and seemed to enjoy tormenting each other on occasion, they did respect each other, and observe certain boundaries. Not touching the piano seemed to be one of those unspoken rules between them. I didn't want to disturb their fragile peace. "Alright then, maybe later."

There was no way for any of us to know that that it would be a long time before any of us saw the piano, or this house again. But we were ignorant, and Alice piped up before the silence could become awkward. "He plays the guitar!"

"Really?" I had no real musical talent myself, but was glad to nurture it in my kids.

If he could have blushed, I'm sure Jasper would have been bright red. He looked down at his hands, still on the keys and muttered. "Yeah, but I haven't played in years. Kind of hard to keep up with an instrument when you're moving so much."

"You should have told me you enjoyed playing. We would have found something for you."

He opened his mouth to reply, probably to tell me that it wasn't necessary, but he never got the chance. Edward came blasting through the doors, dragging Emmett behind him and bellowing at the top of his lungs. His panicked eyes met mine. "We have a huge problem."

I didn't need to ask what the problem was. Emmett's eyes, nearly as terrified as Edward's, were glowing a bright red. Fuck. This was bad. "What happened?"

Edward spun wildly. "I don't know! I only had my back turned for a minute, and then this guy was just there and Emmett had him drained before I could do anything."

Esme was on her feet in an instant, getting ready to put the Cullen's emergency plan into effect. I grabbed the phone to call in my resignation, barely pausing to give Emmett's shoulder a reassuring pat. "It's alright, son, It'll be alright."

He didn't respond to me, too caught up in his own misery, but I didn't have any extra time to comfort him. We had to be gone by tomorrow. So I let him press himself into the corner, eyes blank and terrified. It had been decades since one of the family slipped up like this. Alice ran for the stairs, her gift allowing her to know exactly what to do, even though she had never been told. Jasper, having no idea what was going on or what he could do to help, crept towards Emmett and the corner he was in. Like a large cat, he lowered himself slightly, trying to look as small as possible. Emmett growled warningly and snapped when Jasper continued forward. The blond jumped a foot or so backwards, out of his brother's range and stared.

My mind had split, torn between telling the woman on the phone about my nonexistent sister's tragic death, and her three small, orphaned children, and what was taking place on my living room floor. Again Jasper came forward, and again Emmett forced him back. And again, and again. Jasper didn't seem frustrated, or really to react at all. His eyes were fixed on some Emmett's, and he would not be dissuaded.

"Thank you, Doctor. I'm terribly sorry for this, but I have to be there for my family. Yes, I do hope to return eventually, but I'm not sure when. No, I think its better this way. I've always thought highly of both you and the institution." Finally, I got him off the phone, and was able to turn my attention to the other things that needed to be done.

I was about to tell Jasper to leave Emmett alone and help me, but I thought better of it. My son seemed to know what he was doing, and I didn't want to make matters worse. Jasper tried again, and was again rebuffed. He stiffened slightly, and growled at Emmett, eyes intense. He continued to growl as he slunk forward, and this time, Emmett let him come. Jasper sat back against the wall, looking very small against his brother. They had turned so their faces were almost touching, and stopped, seeming to breathe in each other's scents. That worried me a little, as I didn't want Jasper to get the scent of human blood off Emmett and go wild himself. The last thing I needed was to have two of the seven family members down.

Though I was sure he was aware of it, Jasper didn't react to the smell at all. Instead he pressed his forehead to Emmett's and murmured, so softly not even my vampire ears could pick it up. Emmett nodded back, not speaking himself. Jasper purred at him, then made a soft noise, almost a hum before standing up and offering his hand. Emmett took it and the two of them faced me. "What do we do?"

For a minute, I couldn't tell one's voice from the other, and it threw me. But there would be time later to worry about that. "Emmett, you and Jasper get packed up, just the most important things. We need to be ready to go by the time Rose gets home."

Not for the first time, I wished I had some way of getting in contact with my children instantly. Telephones were wonderful things, but I had no clue where she might be right now, so calling a store was out. If only someone would create a telephone that could fit in one's pocket. Then, in an emergency like this, I could have called Rosalie immediately.

By the time I had everything sorted out with the house, the cars were packed and we were waiting in a tense silence. Edward spoke first. "Where are we going?"

Good question. "Well, I thought I would give you guys a choice. We could go back up to Alaska, or down to Charlotte."

"We're going to Alaska." Alice's voice was dreamy and soft. "I know, I can see it. We'll stay there for years, but then we'll move down to…Forks is it? Yes, Forks. It's very important that we go there."

"Why's that, freak?" Edward's eyebrow was raised. "Do you even know where Forks is?"

She smiled evilly. "Don't you wish you knew? And no, I don't know where Forks is, but it's where she's going to be, so it's where we'll be. But not yet. Not for a long time."

"Who's 'she'?" Esme took the words right out of my mouth.

Alice giggled. "You'll find out. Especially Edward."

I stepped in before it could turn into a fight. "Fine, Alice says Alaska. Does anyone have an objection to that?"

Heads shook all around. Edward's curiosity was piqued, and he wouldn't do anything to disturb the future she had seen. Jasper was willing to do anything as long as it made Alice happy, so he was on board. Not to mention Charlotte was a little too close to his old hunting grounds. Esme and I were willing to go to either place, and Emmett was in no condition to offer an opinion. Rosalie disliked the cold, and would have voted for Charlotte given the chance, but she wasn't here now and had thus forfeited her vote.

"Alaska it is, then."

We fell into a sort of strange silence then, none of us sure what to say to try and make things better for Emmett. I could almost see the waves of calm and reassurance that Jasper was sending to him. They seemed to work better then anything we could have said so I let it go. It seemed to be an almost unconscious thing, as much to soothe himself and the rest of us as to soothe Emmett.

It was a little over an hour later that Rosalie came home. Whether she had a sixth sense of her own, or saw Emmett's eyes before we could say anything, she nodded once and wrapped her arms around her husband. "Let's go." She didn't ask what had happened, or how it had happened. To her, the fact that it had happened was enough.

We split into two cars, with Esme, Edward and Alice in one and Jasper, Rosalie, Emmett and I in the other. Jasper sat shotgun, very stiff and silent. He was still sending waves of calm, but they were weaker now, like he was getting tired. A quick glance confirmed that he was still, with his head back against the seat and his eyes half closed. I got the impression that he would keep going until he was past the point of exhaustion, just to keep the situation calm and under control. I touched his shoulder, causing him to startle. "It's alright now Jasper. You can rest."

He nodded vaguely and let his eyes close all the way. Had he been human, he would have been on the verge of sleep. As a vampire, he was just trying to block enough out that he could rest and regain a little strength.

"Thanks, brother." They were the first words I had heard Emmett speak since it happened.

Jaspers eyes flickered open, much darker then they had been before. He gave Emmett a soft smile and a quick thumbs-up. "Welcome."

The pair of us were quiet again, while Rose and Emmett talked among themselves. Abruptly my daughter broke the silence. "Are we going to school in Alaska?"

It was such an odd question that for a minute I couldn't answer. What was she up to? "Yes, but it's only June." She had to know what month it was.

"Jasper too?"

I confirmed it. "Jasper too." Even when he had scented the human blood on Emmett, he had remained calm and focused on what he needed to do. He could be trusted, I knew that now.

She was quiet for another minute or so before whispering "Jasper?"

"Hmmm?" His eyes were closed again, and he seemed to be only half-listening to the conversation.

"Do you want to be my brother?"

That got his attention. "I'm already your brother."

She gave a soft huff. "No, I mean my real brother. We could be twins this time."

Her attention turned to me. "It will look less suspicious to the humans. If we have five different teenagers in one family, that's too many. It looked strange enough with three. But if you claim Jasper and I are twins, then it won't look so bad. You can't make any of the mated pairs be real siblings, and Jasper and I look nothing like Edward. I guess you could make Alice and Edward real siblings too, if you wanted. What do you think, Jasper?"

I wondered if Jasper was capable of understanding the enormous gift he was being offered. Despite us loving her, and her loving us, Rosalie was still very aloof, never showing any interest in taking the name Cullen. Even before Emmett, she had insisted on hanging on to her own last name. It was hers, the last little bit of a human life she dearly missed. Now she was offering to share it with Jasper.

It seemed that Jasper understood just fine, because when he smiled at her, it was like seeing the sun. "I would love to be your brother, Rose. Jasper Hale, I like it. Or did you want to be a Whitlock?"

He must have picked up some emotion from her because he hurried to reassure her. "I like Hale better, myself. It would be a little strange for you to take another man's name when you already have a husband, wouldn't it? Besides, it's been so long since I've used that name I can barely remember who that man was."

Rosalie reached out to smooth his wild hair down before leaning back against her husband. That was all it took for things to be decided between them. I would have to remember to get some documents with Jaspers new name on them. Speaking of Jasper, there was something else that made me curious, and now seemed as good a time as any to ask about it.

"So, Jasper Hale, can I ask you a question about your gift?" I always tried to give him a choice in the matter. It seemed to me that he had had far too many people forcing him already in his life.

"Shoot." His eyes were open now, but they were circled and heavy lidded. Far too circled and dark, considering that he had had a successful hunt the day before.

"Does it bother you to use your gift? You seem very tired now." I kept my tone light. Even though he's been with us for a year and a half, Jasper is still very sensitive to criticism, or what he perceives as criticism.

"If I have to use it for a long time, or on a large group of people, it can get wearing." Jasper shifted back against the seat. "But just now and then I barely notice.

I had to marvel at how easily he revealed this weakness to me instead of trying to hide it like he would have a few months before. "That's very interesting. Edward doesn't seem to be tired out by his."

Shit. Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I regretted them. Edward and Jasper already had a difficult time getting along, and I didn't want to fan the flames of their rivalry.

But Jasper didn't seem upset at all. "Edward has a passive gift. He listens to others thoughts, that's it. If I was just reading emotions, I wouldn't get tired either, since that's the passive part of my gift. But manipulating, which is active, takes more out of me. I'm tired now, and I'll have to hunt as soon as we get to Alaska, because it's an effort to keep it up."

It was a simple, but effective, explanation. There wasn't much else to say, but he was giving me an expectant look. "I see." It was a silly thing to say, but at least it was something.

Apparently it was all that was needed, because he gave me one of those enigmatic Mona Lisa smiles and closed his eyes, his long body relaxing against the seat. It made him look deceptively young and fragile.

Over the hum of the tires I heard Esme telling us to pull over, that she needed to stop for gas. Got to love vampire hearing. The cars pulled to a halt, and Jasper stirred out of his daze to jump out and greet Alice. I watched them circle each other and kiss, acting like they had been separated for days instead of hours. Young love. Well, as young as it got when one of you was about 150 and God alone knew how old the other was.

Rosalie took over driving when we got back in the car, as I was getting bored with it. I had offered to let Jasper do it, but he had shrugged and told me he didn't know how. It surprised me at first, but I had to admit that I had never actually seen him try. Alice could, and he seldom went anywhere that he wasn't with her and he couldn't run. He did move into the back with Emmett though, giving the better seat to the one with higher rank.

He still seemed tired, but he leaned against Emmett, purring quietly. My biggest son shifted to put and arm around the smaller shoulders, grumbling back at him. Rose followed my gaze in the rearview mirror. "Let them be. Brothers speak their own language. Let them have their secrets because, God knows, there aren't enough of them in this family. Not with Alice and Edward around."

Family. That was the word I had to hold on to. We were a family, not a clan or coven. Everyone had a say, and the decisions weren't unilateral, dependant on the whims of one leader. I might have made mistakes with my children, not letting them get in touch with their deeper natures, but I had done things right, too. My kids stayed with me by choice, not because they were afraid or dependant on me. If I ever needed proof of that, I could look at Jasper, and the changes in him since he had come to us.

This wasn't the first time we had faced a slip-up like this, nor would it be the last. Tonight it had been Emmett; tomorrow it might be Edward or Jasper. But we would get through this, and anything that might follow. I looked at the three of them in the flickering streetlights that lined the highway. Up ahead, I could make out the blurry forms of my mate and other two children. I had thought our family would be complete at six. Esme and I, Rosalie and Emmett, Edward and his mate, whoever she might be. Alice and Jasper had come from nowhere, bringing our family to seven. Still, now that we had them, I couldn't imagine how we had ever lived without them. Alice with her bubbly nature and loving attitude, and Jasper, who was teaching us all the things we had forgotten about our vampiric lives. Maybe in the coming years our family would grow to eight and beyond. Alice had spoken of a mysterious "her" that Edward would be looking for in Forks. A mate? Hopefully.

But for the moment, it was just the seven of us, driving to Alaska. And for the moment, seven was enough.