I stood comparatively at ease, while the rest of the family took somewhat more aggressive positions toward the strangers, who were themselves poised as if ready for a fight, the male slightly in front of the female, as if acknowledging that she would fight to defend him even as he would defend her.
The two vampires watched us with bright red eyes, the female still but watchful, waiting for her mate's lead, the male agitated, barely in control. He studied us with fierce eyes, looking for weaknesses, anything he could use to his advantage.
"Do you know where he is or not?" The male spoke slowly, enunciating every word clearly, his tone angry. The female's focus switched to him while he spoke, then back to Emmett.
She thought he was the leader of our coven, being so obviously the strongest and most fierce-looking. And so she watched him, waiting for him to decide to attack, just as the male had assumed the same and made his query to Emmett.
He wouldn't attack, not unless they attacked first, and only in self defense. He knew how I felt about violence, and would not go against me as long as no one was in danger. He growled. "I asked you why you were looking for this guy." He replied, his tone remarkably even for the amount of stress he was under when what he wanted most was to knock the male's head in.
"If you don't know him, than it's really none of your concern." The male retorted, his words still carefully clear.
"You don't look particularly like an old friend merely hoping for a visit." Rosalie decided to add her opinion. "I wouldn't point you in the direction of anyone."
The male snarled at her, which set Emmett off. The tension in the air had made him volatile, and this had frayed his last bit of patience. He lunged at the male.
The female threw herself into the fray with a growl as Emmett slammed into the stranger. Rosalie went after her a second later.
"No! Stop him! Carlisle, do something!" I heard Jasper shout as he appeared out of nowhere, racing at top speed. "Call them off!" He snapped, throwing himself between Emmett and the male. HIs emotions, usually under control, were frightened, anxious.
Rosalie got in a blow then, which sent the male into a rage. He snarled, and lunged towards her, but Jasper was in the way, shoving him backwards and quickly becoming entangled in a fight that looked more like a game of cat and mouse than any fight I had ever seen.
The female hesitated, torn between continuing her attack on Rosalie and helping her mate. It was enough to allow Emmett time to lunge forward and grab her.
"Emmett-" Jasper broke off into a fierce yell as the male sank his teeth into my newest son's arm. He grunted but merely used the hold the male had on him to his advantage, somehow pinning the man with his body so that all he could do was bite deeper in the hopes of getting Jasper to let go.
Jasper looked sick, his eyes fluttering shut for several seconds as he winced, but never altered his grip. "Emmett, let her go." He said, his voice strained.
"Do it!" Jasper snapped, his eyes drifting to me. "Carlisle-" He hissed as the male tried again.
Trusting that Jasper knew what he was doing, I told Emmett, "Let her go."
Emmett shot me a betrayed look as he let her go. She jerked away from him, glowering, before turning to face her mate and his attacker. To my surprise, Jasper let the male loose, jerking back and away from him as he did so, grimacing as his arm came free.
The male wheeled around as if to finish Jasper off, then froze. He stared at Jasper for several long seconds before finally groaning.
"What the heck's going on?" He finally demanded, a bit of a southern accent slipping out now that his words were not being so carefully spoken.
"She attacked his mate." Jasper replied evenly, standing warily, ready should another fight break out.
"She attacked mine." The female spat out.
"And he threatened hers."
"She started it."
"And I've ended it. I thought you were already past the newborn stage when he met you." I was confused now, and, apparently, so was everyone else. I found myself wishing Edward were here, or maybe Alice, she might have seen how to avoid this whole scene.
She hissed. "I was. I'm not a newborn."
"Then why were you acting like one?"
"Easy, Jasper." The male spoke up. "Take a minute and calm down."
Jasper rolled his eyes. "Well what did you expect? We've got everyone trying to rip each other apart, never mind that you just bit me."
The male winced. "Sorry about that."
Jasper shrugged it off. "I knew it was coming."
The male shifted uncomfortably. "So who are these Yankees that you're so fond of anyway?" He asked.
"That's my family, or some of it." He said, and the strangers stared at him for a moment in silence, eyes wide with disbelief and amazement and confusion all at once. Then the male grinned, and was beside Jasper in a second, grinning and slapping him on the shoulder. The female also seemed pleased.
"Let me see your arm." The male said as everyone finally began to relax. Jasper shrugged him off. "It's no big deal." He said quietly. But I had seen the look on his face before, and knew that it had been bad.
The male glared at him. "Don't you try lying to me like that. I know better." Jasper rolled his eyes.
"Carlisle's going to insist on looking at it later anyway." Piped up a bright voice. Alice had rejoined us, Edward with her. She grinned at the strangers in greeting before turning to Jasper. "Sorry. By the time I saw what was happening, it was too late for me to be able to do anything anyway."
"And still you came." He commented.
"So you would let them look at your arm, Jasper."
He knew better than to argue. "Now? Or after the introductions?" He asked.
"Now." Alice said firmly. "Now everyone knows that you know everyone, they won't be so quick to kill each other. Use your office, Carlisle, nobody else wants to see Jasper's pale, skinny arms."
"Ha, ha." Jasper retorted, but their eyes met, and his were grateful. I led Jasper and the male into my office, while Alice kept everyone outside, as if to offer us some privacy.
Jasper closed the door behind us before extending the injured arm for me, or us, I supposed, to examine. The male darted forward and slowly, even gently, began lifting his sleeve, freezing as Jasper grunted.
A swift movement of his hands, and he had produced a rip in Jasper's sleeve that ran up past his elbow. He peeled the pieces of sleeve away carefully, revealing the muscular arm underneath.
And arm that was as scarred and marred and covered with bites as his hands, his neck, and his face. Even more so, really. And the newest bite, still fresh, midway between his wrist and his elbow, stood out among the rest.
The bite was deep, I realized, and jagged. Jasper had ripped his arm from the male's mouth, I realized, as he had moved away from him. I winced as I made the discovery that the male had also hit bone.
The male waited impatiently for twenty seconds for me to get out of his way before he gave an exaggerated sigh of exasperation and disregarded me. "Give me your arm." He said, and Jasper obliged, glancing worriedly at me, not wanting to offend me.
I started as the male raised Jasper's arm to his mouth and Jasper let out a groan, pain flashing in his eyes. "What are you doing?" I demanded, my tone a bit sharper than was normal for me.
"It's okay." Jasper said tersely. "He's drawing the venom out."
"What?" I asked, not understanding.
"When you bite a person, your venom enters their body, correct?" His words were nearly hissed. I nodded.
"That is how they are changed." I commented.
"So if you bite a vampire, your venom still enters the body. It doesn't have the same effect, obviously, but it's still rather painful to have the venom from another vampire coursing through your body until it is essentially diluted throughout the venom that naturally runs through your body." He paused to draw in a quick, sharp breath. "If you draw the venom out before it gets to far into your system, it saves you a lot of trouble."
I considered this, and a thought hit me. If it worked on vampires, would it work for humans the same way? Hypothetically speaking, because the situation would be highly unlikely, but if you were to bite a human without killing it, would it be possible to draw out the venom before it spread to far in the body? Could you, in that way, keep the transformation from happening?
But how long was too long to wait? "How can you tell if you can still draw the venom out?" I asked. "How can you tell it hasn't already spread?"
Jasper's expression turned grim. "Do you remember how the fire started when you were changed, Carlisle? Do you remember how the agony began first in the bite, then began to spread, just around the bite until it got into your bloodstream, when it suddenly seemed to hit you in several places at once and begin working it's way to your heart?" I didn't remember being able to think clearly enough beyond the pain, but it sounded right.
Then another thought occurred to me. "Do you remember that from when you were changed?" I asked him. He shook his head, and his eyes took on a slightly haunted look.
"I only remember enough to recognize that it's the same way when a vampire bites another vampire. When the pain jumps to several places at once, it's too late. You just have to wait it out."
I didn't miss the sympathetic glance the male gave my son, and wondered why until I realized that every scar that he carried was the result of a bite from a vampire, a bite that had caused him to go through the pain he had described, unless he had somehow managed to draw the venom from the bite before it spread.
The male stopped, apparently satisfied. "How's your arm?" He asked. "Does it still hurt?"
"Not enough to bother with, just some slight pain where the venom managed to already start spreading, and the bite itself, of course." Jasper replied, extending his arm to me, knowing I would want to look it over again.
"Of course." The male retorted. "So are you going to explain why you have a coven leader who can't fight and lets you guys get so mouthy?"
Jasper chuckled. "This is Carlisle." He said easily. "Carlisle, this is Peter."
Peter nodded politely. "Howdy." He said.
"Hi." I replied. "It's nice to meet any friend of Jasper's."
"He can't fight." Peter said to Jasper, as if I weren't even there. "Don't deny it. He doesn't have a clue. He'd be as bad as a newborn, if you could get him to fight at all."
Jasper shrugged. "He doesn't need to. It isn't really a coven, Peter."
Peter scoffed. "Then what is it?" He asked.
"A family." Jasper said matter-of-factly. Then he excused himself, leaving the two of us alone.
Peter stared at me, sizing me up. Judging me. Deciding whether I was good enough for Jasper, I supposed. Finally he spoke. "You're a family?" He asked, incredulously. I nodded. "His family." He continued, thoughtfully. "He trusts you. He cares about all of you, is willing to put himself in harm's way to protect any of you, and I saw how his eyes lit up when she arrived. He seems happy."
I was silent, uncertain how to respond. What was I supposed to say to that? What was there to say about any of that?
Peter's next words sent a chill down my spine. "He isn't Jasper anymore." Seeing my reaction, he hurried on. "Not the Jasper I used to know, that is."
"The Jasper you used to know?" I repeated uncertainly.
Peter almost growled. "Certainly not the Jasper I used to know. He was moody, depressed, emotionally unastable." He was silent for a second, debating whether to say more. "He was dying, Carlisle. The stress he was constantly under, the stress of being involved in all that, all the hatred, the violence, the anger, the bloodlust. It was slowly killing him. Slowly driving him insane." He turned to look out the window, Jasper had rejoined Alice, and they were speaking with the female, Peter's mate.
He turned back to face me. "Whoever you people are, whatever you are, you've done him more good than I'd ever dreamed anyone was capable of. He's alive like he hasn't been since Maria found him, I'd guess." He grinned at me.
I found myself grinning back, elated by his revelation, pleased to see he had decided we were alright. I was glad, too, to know that we meant something to Jasper, and had helped given him a better life. Sometimes it seemed that our way of life was nothing but torture for him, and sometimes I wondered if he wouldn't be better off giving it up, I hated to seem him in such turmoil. But if it were a part of a better life for him, something he truly wanted, I wanted it for him too.
"Will you be staying with us for a while?" I asked, letting him know he was welcome to.
"We wouldn't want to impose." He replied carefully.
"You wouldn't be." I assured him. "And I'm sure Jasper would enjoy seeing you again."
"In that case, we would be delighted to stay for a few days." He said, as we left the office to rejoin the others. "Out of curiosity," he said easily, "Why does he suddenly have gold eyes like the rest of you? Why do the rest of you, for that matter?"
The others were now joining us inside the house. "Later, Peter." Jasper said from the other room. "Right now I have some people I'd like to introduce you to.