A/N: Here it is! A HUGE thank you to all of my wonderful reviewers for "Bless the Broken Roads." Honestly, I was hoping for 10 or 12 reviews and you guys blew me away! I think I got the weird spacing issue fixed for this one (hopefully- I'm not quite sure what went wrong) Again, thank you guys and I hope you enjoy this one!


This was a huge mistake. I was an old veteran, having survived both human and vampire wars, and I knew a few things about life. The way to survive was to keep under the radar, unless you were sure you were going to win the battle. This was a two versus five situation, and the odds were not in our favor. But I couldn't deny Alice anything she truly wanted, and she was insistent that we were meant to be with this coven. No, family. She had said they were a family.

"It will be ok, Jasper, I promise." Her hand ran across my shoulder, its chill seeping through the thin shirt. "I saw it all, and we're going to be part of this family. They're going to love us."

No, they were going to love her. Everyone who met Alice loved her, loved her giving nature and her beautiful smile. Well, everyone except the vampire who had made her. I preferred to think that he had been destroyed himself, or didn't realize that he had changed her, rather than thinking that he had deliberately abandoned her. How anyone could do such a thing to such a special vampire was beyond me, and I had witnessed quite a bit of cruelty over my lifetime.

Anyway, I had been part of vampire "families" before. I could all too clearly remember the violence and the terror, and I didn't want Alice involved in any of that. I could keep her safe myself, without having to involve others of our kind. I growled without thinking, something she heard immediately.

"It won't be like that." Though she doesn't have a gift at reading emotions, Alice is well aware of mine. "This family is different. They live more like humans, with a mother and father and the three kids. It won't be like before."

I lacked the heart to tell her that her words were virtually meaningless to me. After nearly a century as a vampire, I had almost completely forgotten my human life, especially the younger years. What I could recall was a hazy mixture of faces and feelings. I dimly remembered being a soldier, but I had no idea how many siblings I might have once had, or my mothers name. I get the feeling that I loved them, but don't know for sure, and had no way to transfer that emotion to these new vampires.

I did remember running with Peter and Charlotte, but we had been a coven, not a family. The three of us had relied on each other, yes, but not in the way we had when we were with Maria. Decisions were made by the group, not a single leader, and we each had an equal say. When I decided to leave them and go out on my own, that decision was accepted without a fight. When I was with them, I lacked the sense of fear that I had always associated with other vampire groups.

I wouldn't be like that now; I could tell that from what Alice had told me already. If they were posing as a human family, then the father figure would make the decisions. The rest of us would either have to go along with that decision or fight the father for his position.

Her grip abruptly tightened on my arm. "They're coming. Act right, Jasper, please."

She didn't need to say anything; I had been tracking their approach for a minute or more. Two vampires exploded into the clearing, attracted by our scent. Years of experience and training allowed me to size them up in an instant. The one was huge, clearly stronger than myself, but he came towards us in an ambling way that suggested he didn't fight often. I had taken down bigger vampires before, and knew how to use his size against him. The other one was smaller, but feeling much more aggressive. His yellow eyes locked mine, and I felt the oddest sensation, like spiders crawling over my brain. I hissed at him, showing my teeth in a gesture that couldn't be misinterpreted.

They startled and backed up a step or two, eyes roaming over my body. I could feel their aggression turning to nervousness and even fear when they saw the scars.

I knew that my appearance frightened other vampires, something I wasn't above using to my advantage. I had tried counting the scars at one point, but got confused by their overlapping nature and stopped somewhere around 150. That had been several decades before I left Maria, so there were hundreds more now.

It was almost comical to watch them both back up, staring at us as if we were ghosts. I met their eyes challengingly, telling them that Alice was mine, and I wouldn't back down to them or anyone else.

Just like I had predicted Edward's (or maybe he was Emmett, Alice hadn't actually told me who would be who) eyes were drawn to my scars, especially the one over my eye. I gave him an evil smile, glad I had taken the time to push up my sleeves so the marks on my forearms were on display. That's right you two, look at this and know who you're thinking about challenging. I was relieved to feel the immediate waves of nervousness coming off of them. This was good, because I wasn't sure if I could fight both of them and protect Alice at the same time. But I couldn't let them know that, so I sent their own fear back at them, amplifying it.

Alice broke the stalemate, easily going to the smaller one and giving him a hug. "Come on, Edward, let's go home. I'm sure everyone else will be wondering what's going on out here."

Dumbly he followed her, allowing her to keep chattering. He and Emmett exchanged a quick look, in which an entire conversation passed between them. "So, is it alright if Jasper and I share a room? I'm Alice by the way. I know there's two extra, but I'd much rather share with him. Can I have the room that faces out over the woods? I've never been anywhere where I could just watch the animals come right up to my window. I know that that's your room Edward, but maybe you'd consider switching? You could get the one that's on the first floor and closer to your piano anyway."

Poor Edward seemed to be having the same reaction to her that I had had in the diner so many years ago: stunned silence. I saw him start to reach for her hand, then dart a quick glance at me and think better of it. Touch her and I'll rip your hand off and hide it somewhere where you'll never find it, that is if I don't just eat it. Let's make it clear right now; you're dealing with someone who is very unhappy, and very very dangerous.

We would have his room before the hour was up, and that she would have gotten it without any fight from him. The other brother, Emmett, and I stared quietly, sizing each other up. Finally he gestured for me to go ahead of him, apparently back to the house. I wasn't really comfortable turning my back to him, but Alice and Edward were getting further and further away, and I was less comfortable with having her out of my sight.

"So, Jasper, right? That's your name? I'm Emmett, and that's Edward in case you didn't catch it. How does Alice know so much about us already? Edward tried to get a read on both of you, but he could only get her. He's a mind reader, you know. He doesn't think she's going to try anything, but he isn't sure about you. I figure anyone who could sneak right in on our property like that could have snuck in a lot closer and caught us off guard, so I'm not too worried."

He talked on and on, revealing far more then he should have. By the time we made it to one of the largest houses I had ever seen, I knew quite a bit about my new coven. Emmett had a mate in the house, Rosalie, who had a temper on her and didn't trust strangers. The leader of the coven was Dr. Carlisle Cullen, and from what I understood, he was the only vampire in the house older than I was. His mate was Esme, who seemed to act as the mother figure. Emmett spoke of all of them with obvious affection, something that was surprising to me. I had always held a sort of fondness for Maria, but it was tempered down with respect and no small amount of fear. I didn't sense any of that from Emmett.

Before I could puzzle out the mystery, however, we were through the doors and into what I thought might be called a foyer. It had been so long since I had been in an actual house that I had forgotten most of the rooms, as well as probably all of my manners. Edward trotted off to go find the leader, lending me another clue about his ability. He could read minds, but he didn't seem capable to pushing his thoughts to someone else. If he could do that, he would have summoned Dr. Cullen mentally, and stayed with Alice, Emmett and I.

I made a soft noise, somewhere between a purr and a growl. Emmett gave me a surprised look, but Alice read it correctly and returned to my side. It wasn't that I didn't trust this mysterious Dr. Cullen…actually; it was that I didn't trust him. I didn't trust any of them, not even Emmett, though he had been nothing but kind to me. When this went bad (and it was definitely a when in my mind, not an if) I wanted Alice at my side, where I could protect her.

I felt him before I saw him, a swirling mix of curiosity and apprehension. He was shorter than I was, though I never discounted the strength of one older than myself. This was familiar to me, meeting one in a superior position, and I bowed my head respectfully.

He stared at both of us, nerves increasing at the sight of my body. I had to give him credit though, he didn't physically react. If it wasn't for my gift, I might not have noticed it at all. Granted, I didn't much care for the wave of pity he sent my way, but I ignored it in favor of not revealing myself.

Alice spoke for us. "Hello, Dr. Cullen. I'm Alice and this is Jasper. We wanted to know if we could stay with your family. We've never met any other vampires like us, ones that aren't human drinkers I mean." Her voice grew softer and she dropped her eyes to the ground. "We've been sort of lonely, with it just being the two of us."

It was a nice act. Of course, that was all it was. She and I had gone over and over what she was supposed to say until she could do it perfectly. It had been a bit of a fight at first, with her insisting we should just tell the truth, and me arguing that we didn't know anything about these vampires, other than they were animal drinkers and we would be spending some time (I refused to entertain the possibility that it could be more than a short time) with them. I allowed her to speak, because I knew her gender and small size were far more likely to invoke an invite to stay than my battle scarred body and moody nature.

Dr. Cullen looked at me again, and I stared back evenly, letting him see that my eyes had no trace of red in them. Slowly, carefully, I extended feelings of trust and complacency towards him. I had to strike an extremely delicate balance, knowing that he was on alert for strange behavior from either of us, but also knowing he was unsure about this situation.

Abruptly he relaxed and gave us a gentle smile. "Of course you can stay with us for a little while. Edward, why don't you show them to a room so they can rest for a bit?"

Alice looked like she might object to the assumption that our stay would be brief, but I sent her a sharp rebuke. We couldn't do anything that might make him suspicious, and insisting that we were destined to be part of the family defiantly qualified.

With Edward's somewhat reluctant blessing, we were escorted up to what, up until a few minutes ago, had been his room. Alice bounced off to the attached bathroom for her first real shower in days. I sprawled out on the bed, making sure to keep watch on the door. The rest of the house was quiet, though I could hear them moving around on the lower levels if I strained. I was so busy keeping tabs on them that I startled when Alice laid down next to me. Her emotional signature was recognizable in an instant, and I let her curl up against my back, her lips on my neck. "I wish you would trust them, Jasper."

I grumbled. "You know I can't."

"Trust me then?"

That I could do. I had trusted her completely, from the moment she stood up in that diner and offered her hand. I nodded, feeling the wave of contentment that came off of her when I did. "Always

She gave me a gentle kiss, running her hand over my side. "Don't worry about it then. The trust will come in time."

I wasn't holding my breath.


The next few days passed in a dizzying blur. I met the other two females, Rosalie and Esme, and learned more about the males in the family. Rosalie had looked me over quickly, and huffed once before disappearing back upstairs with Emmett. Though her main emotion was one of disdain, I couldn't help but be interested by her. She was the only member of the coven with enough courage to meet my eyes and hold them, not at all afraid of my appearance. Indeed, she gave only passing interest to my scars at all, before focusing on the disruption Alice and I had created in her life. She was strong, maybe the strongest one in the family.

Esme was kind and loving, everything I thought my human mother might have been. Her emotions soothed my battered soul, and I had found myself wanting to let her hold me more than once. But I always came to his senses and backed away from her. Maria could be kind and loving too, right before she turned on you. I didn't sense any deception in Esme's emotions, but I just couldn't let myself be fooled like that again. I knew it hurt her when I pushed her away, but I couldn't help it.

Emmett was as interested in studying me as I was in studying him, though for different reasons. He had apparently been longing for a partner to spar and wrestle with, and was hoping that I would fit the bill. He would try and coax me out to the wood line, promising he wouldn't injure me too badly. I gave a mental snort at that, but politely refused. A part of me liked him already, and I was afraid I would lose control and things would turn ugly. It had been so long since I had fought for anything but my unlife that I barely remembered how to pull punches and kicks. I was pretty sure that Carlisle would not be pleased if I injured one of his kids within the first week.

Edward on the other hand, was cool and moody towards me. Which may or may not have had anything to do with the fact that I felt cool and moody towards him. It wasn't personal, but I couldn't trust anyone who read minds. God alone knew what he might see if he looked hard enough. The constant tension got wearing after a while, probably for him as well as me, and we tended to keep away from each other as much as possible.

Currently, Alice and Dr. Cullen were talking. He was prying into her past, gently but firmly. I remained on the periphery of the conversation, monitoring what Alice was saying, but mostly watching Dr. Cullen and his reactions. Alice was unusually subdued as she told her story, the pain and fear of the abandonment still with her after all these years. Without thinking, I came to her side and rumbled in my chest, reminding her that I was here for her, and I loved her. She responded in kind, telling me that she knew all that, and she was glad to have me. A sense of ease and contentment filled the air and gave her the strength to continue. "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."

Dr. Cullen's curiosity spiked, and I knew she had just made a huge mistake. "How did you know he was coming? You two hadn't met before."

Alice turned to me, her golden eyes frightened. I had reminded her over and over not to say anything about her abilities or mine, just until we were sure about these vampires and their intentions. I had never raised a hand to her, or even been harsh about mistakes she had made, and it broke my heart to think that someone had, or she wouldn't be so nervous about making them. If I ever found the person (or vampire) who had treated her poorly, I was going to kill them. Painfully.

The doctor was still looking at us, so I shrugged and nodded at her to continue. At the same time, I sent a wave on nonchalance at Dr. Cullen, making it seem as if this was something I had just forgotten to mention, no big deal. Thought I had to admit, a part of me, one I had thought had vanished long ago, was waiting to see that unflappable expression disappear off of his face. It reminded me of the silly newborn I had been, one who enjoyed getting in trouble now and then.

Alice took a deep, completely unnecessary, breath, her emotions telling me she was relieved not to have to keep this secret any more. "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." Then her worries took over again. "You believe me, right?"

I couldn't stand to see her so uncertain. "Course he does." I made sure to send her some comfort, knowing how hard it was for her. Hell, at least she was willing to tell him about herself. I would never talk about myself and my gift, too many things could go wrong.

I did get the momentary joy of seeing Dr. Cullen blanch, but he recovered quickly. His feelings were of awe and surprise, no revulsion. Good, because I was ready to leave and take Alice with me at the slightest provocation. Oops, he was speaking again, better pay attention. "You aren't the only one with a gift, Alice. Edward is quite an accomplished mind reader."

He was obviously trying to win some trust, probably with me, but I didn't give him the satisfaction of reacting. I did wonder what he would think if he knew that Emmett had already told me that, two days before. This entire family needed a good lesson in keeping secrets. I had made a promise to Alice that I wouldn't harm them, but there were others that would. Maybe he was relying on his coven's small size and strange lifestyle to keep them safe, but I wouldn't have counted on that myself. After all, I had taken down covens with as few as three members, and their lifestyle was more of a fascination to a normal vampire than anything else. But I said nothing, just watching him with a carefully practiced blank expression.

My mate gave me a sharp look, clearly sensing the tension that would have been invisible to anyone else. "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?"

Oh, God, I knew what was coming. I had spent the past two years hearing about this, and would probably hear about it until the end of time. Still, if I could hang on to Alice for that long, it would be worth it.

"He was late! I waited at that diner for two weeks before he showed up!" She gave me an evil look, which was what she always did. I pretended to cringe away from her, my part in the game we always played. A surge of amusement from Dr. Cullen told me that he knew it was all for fun, too.

"I said I was sorry." I was, too. If I had known what was waiting for me in Philadelphia, I would have been a lot quicker to get there.

Her smile was radiant, something I would never tire of seeing, even if I lived to be a thousand or more. "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."

They had been hard to find. Alice had run us from one end of the country to the other, insisting that she knew exactly who she was looking for, but they moved a lot and she couldn't be sure where they were. I had once made the mistake of suggesting that her visions might be mistaken, and that this family might not exist. At that indignity, she had uttered a snarl that rivaled Maria on her worst day. It was enough to effectively startle me back into submission. That had been two weeks ago.

"I'm glad you were able to find us. Both of you." I ignored that comment, knowing that he didn't really mean it. It didn't bother me, though. The Cullen coven didn't need to like me; they just needed to accept that I came with Alice, a package deal. Beyond that, I didn't need them for anything. I had fended for myself since I was turned, and saw no reason to give that up now.

Luckily, we were spared any awkwardness by the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Alice shot to her feet, running from the room. "Edward's home!"

A part of me was glad that she had found a friend in this house, though I wasn't quite sure what she saw in him. He seemed sort of boring to me, like he had no idea how to have fun. But he made my Alice happy, and that was all that mattered.

Dr. Cullen was distracted now, no doubt playing fantasies of his perfect family, and how these strange newcomers would fit into it. It seemed like a good time for me to vanish, so I backed carefully towards the door, cursing these stupid boots that made too much noise. Vampires were designed to run barefoot and wild, but if I wanted to keep my place in this family, I had to abide by their rules. I was so careful trying not to make noise that I backed into some expensive looking vase and caught the doctor's attention. His smile turned pained as he looked at me, more pity coming off of him. Poor savage little Jasper, who knows what he's been through? "Anything you want to add?"

There was plenty I wanted to say, especially now with the anger washing through me, but I shook my head. I wanted to blurt it all out, to tell him things that would haunt his days and nights, but I knew better than to try starting a fight with a vampire both older and more powerful than myself, even if my shelter wasn't depending on it. "No, sir."

With those words I bolted, even breaking my own rule and turning my back to him to get out of there quicker. It took seconds for me to hit the wood line and push through it, running back towards the edge of the property. I didn't slow even then, knowing that Edward could outrun me easily, and that he might be sent to retrieve me.

I ran until I was off the Cullen property, into dark twisted woods that belonged in some child's nightmare. The trees were tall, but no match for a determined vampire, and I made it easily into their branches. Once there, I pulled my knees to my chest and sat still, trying to control my trembling and nervous thoughts. I wanted to run away, I wanted to fight, I wanted to give up, but most of all, I wanted Alice to be with me right now. But she was with Edward, and I had no way to summon her over the hundreds of miles that separated us now. I purred quietly, the vibrations traveling up and down my limbs and providing a sort of phantom comfort. What was wrong with me? I had almost revealed things to Dr. Cullen that were better left buried forever. How had he done that? I heaved a miserable sigh and laid my forehead against my knees. Fuck, I hated it here.


Thing started to get a little bit better after that day. Not great, but better. I was slowly working out my place within the family, especially with my new "siblings". I had never had equals before, just subordinates and one superior, so this was new experience for me and one that wasn't all bad. Not that I would say such a thing out loud.

I gave most of the credit for this to Emmett, who seemed to know when to reach out and when to just leave me alone. I was getting the impression that he was used to Rosalie and her mood swings, so maybe I wasn't as much of a challenge. Still, he had brought a deck of cards in a few days before, and we were now spending our evenings playing. I was trying to teach him a few speed games, or variations on poker. It was an enjoyable way to spend time, no worries that he was going to want to touch me or anything like that.

His size no longer worried me the way it once had, not now that I knew it was mostly a front for a gentle soul. There was no doubt he would be formidable in a fight, but I felt confident that I would come out the winner. For some reason, the thought bothered me though. I didn't want to have to fight him, just like I hadn't wanted to fight Peter all those years ago. Could I possibly be getting attached to the big brute? My soul, or what was left of it, told me yes, even as my mind refused to entertain the possibility. It was far better to focus on the members of the family that I wasn't doing so well with.

Like Edward. Even though I had tried to stay out of his way, surrendering most of the house to him, there was still a tension between us that turned my stomach if I spent too much time paying attention to it. I understood his position completely. I was a stranger, one who had a dangerous past and an aggressive nature, and I had somehow managed to work my way into his family.

I had never actually dealt with a mind reader before, but if his gift was anything like mine, the top thought (or emotion) would be easy to read, and anything else would be work. So whenever we were together, I buried my true thoughts underneath a mountain of insignificant ponderings. Wondering about why the sky was blue or if nuclear war was really a threat was so much less dangerous than mentally asking myself what I was doing here, surrounded by these strange and sometimes frightening vampires.

He didn't like or trust me, something his emotions made very clear any time we were within twenty feet of each other. Not that I blamed him, I wouldn't have trusted me either. To make matters worse, underneath the dislike was a quick dose of good old-fashioned jealousy. Apparently he disliked the amount of time Dr. Cullen was spending with me, trying to work me into the family without there being bloodshed. I wanted to tell him that he was welcome to have his fathers attention back at any time, that I certainly didn't want them, but there was no way to do so, even if we had been on speaking terms. The emotion was well hidden, and any reference to it would bring up suspicions about my abilities. So we settled into an uneasy alliance, never getting to close to each other.

"Jasper." As if my thoughts had summoned him, there was Edward, leaning against the doorframe of the kitchen.

"Edward, hello." I kept my voice neutral and my thoughts focused on a song I had heard on the radio last week.

His annoyed expression told me he knew what I was doing, but also that he couldn't read what I was really thinking. Good thing, considering that my thoughts towards him were not particularly flattering this evening. "Emmett and I are going hunting tonight; I thought you might want to join us."

Even if I couldn't have read his emotions, I would have known he was forced into asking by the strained tone of his voice. Resentment, nervousness, and disgust all warred to be the dominant emotion, with resentment finally winning out. He had been coerced into asking, probably by Emmett, though possibly by Carlisle.

Honestly, I've never met a coven leader so obsessed with delegating responsibilities. If he wanted Edward and I to get along better, he just needed to sit us both down and tell us that that was how it was going to be, and if we had a problem with it, he would use force to keep us in line. Back when I was in charge of the newborns, I would have never let a rivalry get as bad as the one Edward and I were currently embroiled in. It made me want to push things even further, to know how far this would go before Carlisle stepped in and made us behave.

"No, but thank you for asking. I told Alice I would help her with her schoolwork." Relief flooded through me as he figured out that he wasn't going to be stuck hunting with me tonight. I had lied to him, but he wasn't paying enough attention to me to notice. Excellent, I had just found another weakness in the mind reading ability, or maybe just the vampire who possessed it. If it didn't directly involve him, Edward took much less interest in reading thoughts. He wasn't as suspicious of me now as he had been a week ago, or he would have been more focused on me. He still didn't like or particularly trust me, but he wasn't looking for an excuse to get me in trouble either.

"Maybe next time?" This time the emotions were a little calmer. He was trying. He wasn't quite ready to make friends, but he was trying as hard as he could. I understood that, hell, I was going through the same battle times five. So I took pity on him and nodded.

"Sure, next time." Unless one of us can think of another reason not to when that day comes. We will, both of us are smart. But there will be a time after that, and after that, and eventually we'll go, if for no other reason than we've run out of excuses. I didn't have to be a mind reader to understand that, since his thoughts were an echo of my own. He felt it too, and for the first time, we exchanged a smile that wasn't forced or strained. It was a small thing, but even small things were better than nothing.

He vanished back outside, calling to Emmett that it would just be the two of them after all. I listened to the two of them running off to the woods, feeling like I should have gone after all. I wasn't hungry, but maybe I did need to make more of an effort to bond with my new coven. It certainly didn't seem like Alice and I would be going anywhere in the near future.

"Hey." Good grief, I wasn't going to get any peace tonight, was I? Now it was Rosalie, her caramel eyes locked on my dark ones. "Come sit with me, Jasper."

It wasn't a request, so no reply was needed. I followed her up to the room she shared with Emmett, and out on to their balcony. With a quick leap, she was on the roof, holding out a hand to help me up. I didn't need it, but I took in anyway. I had been intrigued by her since the first day, but I had been so busy dealing with the males in the house I had almost forgotten her.

She led me over the crest of the house so we could watch the driveway. It was a classic defensive maneuver, and I found myself wondering why she felt the need to be on alert like this. Or was she doing this for me, so I would be able to relax and listen to her? Something told me she was keen observer, though her gifts were not mental ones. She pulled my hand gently, guiding me to sit next to, though not quite touching, her.

When she finally spoke, I wasn't surprised. "Why are you here?" Her tone was fierce and hostile.

Good question. "I don't know." It was a poor answer, but a true one. "I have no idea what I'm doing here, except that Alice thought it was a good idea."

"And you don't?" Her voice softened slightly.

"I don't know. Things could be worse, I guess." They could be better also, but at least I didn't feel a constant sense of danger here.

She nodded. "Yes, they could be a lot worse. But you know all about that already, don't you?"

Whatever else could be said about Rosalie Hale, she was no coward. The others danced around the issue of my past and my injuries, all too frightened to bring it up. Her courage deserved my honesty and I found myself nodding. "Yes, I know about that."

"Me too. Human cruelty, not vampire, but I understand. I know you, Jasper, in a way that none of the others can, not even Alice."

Her words didn't offend me. I loved Alice, and told her everything, but she hadn't shared the experiences I had had, and was thus incapable of understanding them. She could sympathize, of course, and comfort me, but I hoped she would never truly understand.

"Just so you know, this is my family, and I won't have you or anyone else disturbing it." Don't fuck with me, stranger, I'm more dangerous that you've ever dreamed of.

"I know." I can't promise anything, but I'm trying, Rosalie. I might not like things here, but I'm trying.

Another silence fell, but it was a comfortable one. The human response would have been to put an arm around her, but I did no such thing. There was a sense of dignity about Rosalie, something that kept us equals. Two soldiers who had somehow stumbled into Switzerland.

"You need a haircut." Her tone told me that the serious part of the conversation was over, that we wouldn't talk about this again.

"Good luck with that." I always needed a haircut. My hair was thick and curly and unless it was either extremely short, which I didn't like, or long, it would always look scruffy. "Alice didn't put you up to that, did she?"

The soft smile told me that even Rosalie wasn't immune to my Alice's charms. "No, but if she told you the same thing, she's right."

Headlights came up the driveway, splashing across our faces and causing me to squint. The sound of the engine told me that it was Dr. Cullen, home from work. I stood to go down and greet him politely, though I hated the hospital smell that always clung to him when he first got home. The balcony was solid under my bare feet before Rosalie spoke again.

"You can trust them, Jasper. We're safe here." I froze at the balcony door, and she continued in a voice too soft for a human to hear. "Do you remember what safe feels like?"

No, I didn't. Safe was a concept I had lost a long time ago. I gave no indication that I heard her, knowing that she already knew I had. It wasn't the words themselves that put a clenching feeling in my stomach. No, the thing that worried me was that I was actually starting to believe them.


The easy calm lasted only a few weeks. Naturally, I was the one who messed things up for us, though I didn't mean to. Of course, I never meant for things to go poorly, it just sort of happened around me.

Emmett, Rose, and I were hunting towards the back of the Cullen woods. Trying to search out a bear that my new sister swore she had smelled. I had my doubts about that, but she was good company. For once, there was nothing but excitement in the air, no worries or hatred. I was with the two family members who had accepted me.

We could have been any three vampires, from any coven, out roaming in the woods. Emmett and I mock charged each other, wrestling playfully and then releasing. Rosalie rolled her eyes at us few times, but her feelings were loving and gentle.

Emmett abruptly stopped, scenting at the air. "It's close." His body stiffened, and for a moment he looked as wild as I did. It was fascinating, because I had never gotten so switched on by hunting an animal. Maybe it was a bigger challenge to hunt a predator, as opposed to a deer.

Rose nudged my shoulder, and whispered "watch." Emmett stalked forward, as focused on the bear as I had ever seen him on anything. He was utterly soundless, his dark eyes fixed on the creature that I had just now heard. Without warning, he bolted forward, leaping on top of the bear and wrestling it to the ground.

Unlike the docile deer, the bear fought with everything it had, it's teeth snapping within centimeters of his face. The pair of them rolled over and over on the ground, neither willing to give up. Claws tore at the vampires clothing, and sharp teeth ripped through the thick fur and muscle. Venom pooled in my throat as I watched, the long-forgotten thrill of a hunt coming to the forefront. My muscles trembled, wanting badly to charge and join the fight. Whether I fought the bear or Emmett himself was immaterial, just as long as I could injure something.

Then it was over, and Emmett was enjoying his meal. Rosalie rolled her eyes again and sighed. "Pig. Come on, Jasper, if we want to eat tonight, we better find something else."

Oh, goody, more deer. My disgust at the thought, especially since Emmett had just gotten to have fun with his dinner, must have leaked out, because she laughed. "What about an elk? They're bigger and have horns. Sorry, Jasper, that was the only bear."

Elk didn't sound particularly appetizing either, but I was hungry and not in the mood to fight. "Fine."

My mood did improve significantly when I actually saw the herd and the sheer size of the males. I chose one, and stalked towards it on silent feet. Rose mirrored my movements, her eyes fixed on her own prey. Having her at my side reminded me of hunting with my old family. They prey was different, of course, but the sense of closeness, the unspoken communications brought back such sharp memories that I nearly stopped. Where were they now, the vampires I had once hunted with? Dead? Still with Maria? Wandering about, as lost as I had been before Alice?

I was so distracted by that thought that I missed the tensing in Rosalie's limbs that preceded her leap. She was in the air before I caught myself and jumped after her, a little confused by the sudden explosion of movement from the herd. It took a second to locate my buck, but once I did, his life was over. He didn't give up without a fight, though, and made a valiant attempt to gore me as I slammed him to the ground.

Though I didn't feel an animals emotions the same way I did a humans or a vampires, the moment he realized his life was over was clear in my mind. I soothed him as best as I could, not wanting to be cruel and prolong his agony. His eyes slid closed as his body relaxed, and I used that opportunity to tear out his throat.

The blood tasted like shit, not at all what I was truly craving, but it would fill me up. Or it would have, had I not caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I had fought for too many meals already, and I wasn't about to give this one up. So, acting on instinct, I lunged forward and bit the offending vampire in the arm, releasing a mouthful of venom. At the same time, I snarled loudly, telling him in no uncertain terms that I would not give up my meal.

I hadn't even heard the yelp of pain before I realized my mistake. I released my grip and rolled Emmett onto his back, trying to get a good look at the wound. I knew I had given him a larger dose of venom than normal, and I cursed the fact that my first reaction to everything was always so violent.

A quiet clatter of footsteps told me that Rose had bolted, probably to go get the rest of the family so they could some back with torches. As terrible as the situation had just become, I held on to the thought that at least Edward was in Alaska, and wouldn't be around to say 'I told you so.' But it would take at least 20 minutes for her to get there and back, plus however long it took to explain what had happened. Plenty of time for me to try and fix this.

Emmett was quiet and still now, except for the involuntary pants and trembles as he struggled with the pain. His gleaming gold eyes were locked on mine, fear showing at my unprovoked attack. I whined softly and lowered my head, trying to tell him that I submitted to him, and I was sorry. He quieted, the vampire in him understanding the vampire in me.

Keeping my movements slow and steady, I eased the torn sleeve away so I could assess the injury. It was deep, my bites always were, but clean. The skin had already begun to raise, but I knew I could take care of that. "Hold still. I know how to fix this." He gave me a questioning look, and I hastened to clarify. "From my other family."

As much as I had rolled my eyes and grumbled about the idiotic faith this family had in total strangers, I was glad for it now. Emmett would be calm, not because of my gift, but because I had told him to, and he trusted me. I gave the injury and experimental lick, flinching inwardly at the taste of dirt and bear blood on top of the venom. I licked a few more times, blowing intermittently on the injury to lessen the pain. I had a filmy human memory of someone (my mother? A sister?) doing the same on a scrape, so it must have some value.

There were only so many things I could do at once, and between trying to get as much venom as possible out of Emmett's injury and manipulating him so he would stay calm, I couldn't keep watch on my surroundings. It was only by chance that I caught a glimpse of Carlisle (when had he become "Carlisle" to me? I always tried to think of him as Dr. Cullen) and Rose reappearing at the clearing. I turned my head to them slightly, but didn't actually look. There were more important things happening here.

Finally I wasn't tasting venom anymore. The injury still looked red, and would probably leave a nasty scar, but the pain should be gone very soon. I licked his throat once, asking him to forgive me, even though I knew he probably wouldn't understand the gesture. Now I just had to face down Carlisle and Rosalie.

I stood carefully, keeping my head down and sending waves of calm out to diffuse the situation as best I could. Emmett rose also and came to my side, watching the scene curiously.

Carlisle was silent, watching me without expression. I watched him back, refusing to speak. It was unfair and I knew it, but I was testing him. If he reacted violently now, for a minor bite on another vampire, how would he react when I killed a human? Not that I was planning to, but I wasn't naïve enough to think that it wasn't a possibility. I had to know.

After what seemed like days, he found his voice. "Come on now, both of you back to the house. Emmett, are you alright to walk?" His emotions projected worry and confusion, but none of the burning anger I had anticipated.

My brother gave my back a tap, so quick and light that I almost believed I had imagined it. "Yeah, it barely hurts."

Carlisle's emotions changed to suspicion as he looked at me. What was he concerned about? Anger for harming one of his kids I could understand. Even fear, because he was seeing what I was capable of for the first time. But suspicion meant he thought I had an ulterior motive, or that I was being sneaky. I had bitten Emmett by mistake, and then cleaned the wound to minimize the pain. It was like he had no idea what I had been doing, but that was ridiculous. Every vampire knew how to clean an injury; it was one of the first things you learned as a newborn. He gestured both of us forward, making sure to stay where he could keep an eye on me. I didn't like having him at my back like that, but I wasn't in any position to argue.

We must have looked a little bit like soldiers on a death march, with the way we trudged back. Rose didn't complain, Emmett didn't make jokes and Carlisle made no move to try and fix things. Just a heavy, weary, silence. I was completely fucked. There wasn't much I could do about my own situation, so I focused on hoping that A) I would escape this with my life, and B) That they would still be willing to keep Alice. It would hurt me terribly me to be separated from her, but she deserved this, a family who loved her completely and would keep her safe.

Carlisle was outwardly calm, but his emotions were simmering with worry and stress. "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."

Of course not. Even though I couldn't detect any aggression, I didn't trust his words. The punishment for an unprovoked attack was always severe; otherwise the coven would descend into complete chaos. I had destroyed more newborns for this than anything else. I didn't think Carlisle would go that far, but this incident drove home how little I really knew about these vampires and their ways.

Still, I would face this with grim dignity, the same way I had faced everything else so far. It would be shameful for someone who had been a soldier as both a human and a vampire to do anything else. So I nodded calmly at Carlisle and ran back up to my room.

Unfortunately, Rosalie was waiting for me, her golden eyes cold and fury wafting off of her strongly enough to make me shy away from her. She instantly pressed her advantage, stalking forward until I was against the wall. Neither one of us spoke; we just stared at each other, silent and unblinking.

Her hand came up to touch my arm. It was gentle, but I flinched anyway. If Maria had taught me nothing else, it was that females were more dangerous than males. Carlisle might kick me out of the house, might even destroy me if he thought it was necessary, but he would do it with a heavy heart. Rosalie would send me straight to Hell, and she would make damn sure I suffered before I went.

I knew that, and she knew that I knew. Her eyes softened slightly before she spoke. "If it were Alice…"

For whatever reason, Rosalie and I got along much better on what we didn't say. If I were to attack Alice, to injure her and make her cry, would you let me go? Or would you have attacked me there in those woods, torn me apart before I could even dream of offering an explanation?

"Hard to say." Why do you even ask that? You know I would, know I've eradicated other vampires for far less. But tell me Rosalie; are you better than me, or worse? Or are we just the same, two sides of the same ruined coin?

"Yes." The hand moves up to my throat, a warning. The fact that I don't move away tells her that I understand. I wonder what she means, which part of my unspoken question she was answering, but decide that maybe I'm better off not knowing.

At any rate, there is no chance to ask, because Emmett is bounding up the stairs, his voice laughing. "Jasper! It's your turn and boy is he mad!"

Rose drops her hand, and smiles that enigmatic smile. "He's better than either of us." If he forgives you, Jasper, than so do I. Just don't let it happen again.

"I know." It won't. I won't let it.

The walk back down to Carlisle's office seemed longer than the one upstairs. I didn't rush it, moving slowly and deliberately to let Carlisle know I didn't fear him, that I would come in my own time. It was false bravado, but I wasn't about to show him any weakness.

His eyes met mine in the doorway and he gave me a tense smile as he invited me in. There was a small couch and a comfortable looking easy chair, but I stayed standing. I knew he was waiting for me to speak, but a sudden wave of worry closed my throat, and for a minute all I could do was look at him.

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

The words themselves were mostly meaningless, but the calming tone helped me out a bit and my throat unstuck. Only now I was left with a new dilemma. What did I tell him? How much should I reveal, and what did he already know? Seconds ticked by while I thought. "He startled me." There, that was safe, and true and completely obvious.

"Emmett?" Dr. Cullen, too, seemed to be stuck for words and throwing out whatever came to mind.

His hesitance gave me some of my courage back. I hadn't come down here to cower like a beaten dog. "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." I could hear the slight boast in my voice, but did nothing to temper it. The good doctor was going to find out what I was sooner or later, and it was better this way.

My confession caused him to sit back for a minute, his emotions changing so quickly I couldn't get a hold on them. Not for the first time, I wished that I could borrow Edward's gift for a few minutes.

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

I didn't recall being frightened. Even as I had that thought, Rosalie's words echoed back to me. "Do you remember what safe feels like?" If we were to use feeling safe as a standard, I guess I was always frightened. In the end, I chose to neither confirm nor deny his words. "I like Emmett. I wouldn't deliberately harm him." It was the closest I was willing to come to admitting my mistake out loud.

The tension in the room dropped noticeably, as Carlisle came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to savage them all in their beds one night. "I didn't think you had. I know that accidents happen."

Would he have felt the same way if I had actually mauled Emmett, the way my instincts had been telling me to? To bite over and over until the larger vampire was completely incapacitated? Or when I finally messed up and killed a human? Would his gentle, fatherly composure desert him then?

He must have read the mistrust on my face, because he started talking again. "I am curious about what you did after though. What exactly is the licking for?"

Who was this vampire? I studied his face and emotions, looking for some indication that he was teasing me, and found nothing. How could he possibly be as old as he was and still be so ignorant about vampires and our lives? Did he not realize what a disadvantage he had put himself and his family at, leaving them without even this basic defense? "I always lick bites. It makes them burn less."

I wondered if I should stop there. This was a strange family, and even with my gift, I was never entirely sure what to do or say. They were vampires, but they weren't. They almost seemed to be some freakish fusion of a vampire and a human, denying many of the strengths that came with being vampires, and embracing some of the human weaknesses to keep up the pretenses that they, too, lived in a mortal world. How could living among humans be that important?

I gave myself a mental shake. Why any of this was important didn't matter. What mattered was that, to Carlisle at least, it was. I had agreed to join this family, and that meant respecting their rules and helping out to the best of my ability. "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."

Sudden anger blasted through me, so hot and harsh that I hunched reflexively. Not my own, his. Dammit all, I had pushed too far and talked too much. I made myself as small as possible and dropped my voice to a whisper. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have hurt him." It was a pathetic attempt to get Carlisle's focus back on what had happened and away from what I had said.

It seemed to work. The emotions quieted and he was giving me that paternal smile again. "I know that. Like I said, accidents happen. Sometimes they happen a lot in this family. 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."

Despite myself, I crept a little closer to him, even though I could hear just fine from across the room. It was shocking to me to know that the other kids in the house had issues with the bizarre eating habits, that, they too, felt the hunger that was so hard to deny. It shocked me and gave me a small amount of hope. "What did you do?" I was within grabbing range now, but the thought barely entered my mind.

The golden eyes were a little distant, going over what had happened in his mind. "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."

It was a hard scene to imagine. Emmett was such a cheerful, joking vampire that it seemed like he should be almost immune to the bloodlust. Imagining him foaming at the mouth and trying to slaughter some girl didn't fit what I knew of him at all.

"How come he tried in the first place?" We were nearly touching now, my face close to his. If he decided he was angry after all, and tried to snap at me, I would be helpless. But, somehow, I knew that he wouldn't.

"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." The confusion was still evident, even after all these years.

His words reminded me of something, something that had happened so long ago I had nearly forgotten it. There had been that girl in Texas, the one that Maria had been willing to abandon a battle to go after. "I know how that is. Sometimes Maria would pick one human out of thousands to go after. She said it was the smell."

One eyebrow quirked up, but he didn't share his thoughts. "Odd. It's never happened to you, Jasper?"

Like I ever noticed how humans smelled. "No. I can't really tell the difference in the way humans smell. It's easier to recognize them by the way their-"Stop it! To my utter horror, I had been about to reveal my biggest secret without even thinking. That was what living like humans did to you, it made you sloppy. Desperately, I tried to back up and hoped he hadn't noticed. "Nothing."

The curiosity in the room rose to an almost unbearable level. Please, please, please don't ask me, Carlisle. Because I was pretty sure that I would tell him if he did. Then I would hate myself, and by extension hate him, effectively ruining any chance of us turning into something resembling a family.

Whether he sensed my worried thoughts, or read my face, Carlisle said nothing. The curiosity morphed into a sense of unease, as neither one of us knew what to say to the other. We weren't family, we weren't even really friends. Just…housemates, I guess.

Even as I had the thought, another image of my human life floated into my mind. The cranes. They came every summer and took over the pond where we swam. They had been strange to us then, with their thin necks and legs a mile long. But the most interesting part of the cranes was how they courted each other. The male and female would spin in circles around each other, a complicated dance that a group of 10 year old boys could never hope to understand. Spinning, twirling, but never once touching. That was Carlisle and I, locked in our own strange dance. Not willing to leave, but too afraid to touch.

Luckily, our stalemate was broken by the sound of an approaching car. Not just any car, but the one with my Alice in it. I was out of the room, and halfway down the staircase before I realized how rude I was being. I paused on a stair and called "Thank you, Carlisle!" as loud as I dared. I knew it would make him happy if I called him that, even if I wasn't exactly comfortable doing so.

I had no idea why the thought of calling him by his given name upset me like it did. I had always called Maria by hers, and never required any of the newborns to address me by anything but my first name, so it wasn't a rank thing. The only thing I could think of was that it implied a familiarity that I wasn't ready to assume with him. It was alright to do with my foster siblings, and even with Esme if I had to (though I generally preferred to wait until she was looking at me to talk to her, just to avoid the awkwardness of what to call her), but I was still unsure of Carlisle, and knowing what to call him was just another part of that.

But that was in the past now, and I wouldn't have to think about it for a while. Alice ran out of the car and into my arms, talking at top speed about clothing I would never care about, even if I lived into eternity.

"And did I tell you about this dress? The green one with the lace trim?" Alice was barely pausing to get enough breath for her words.

"No, darling."

So I listen while she tells me the story again, and I let the worries of the day drop away. We were safe for now, and now was what counted.


There she was, laughing and talking on her cell phone. Her throat was bare, and if I looked carefully, I could see the blood pounding inside of it. It would literally take a second for me to kill her, only a few more before she would be drained entirely. Carlisle would barely have time to realize what was happening, much less stop it. A slow burn started in my throat, venom pooling and making me even more alert.

A flare of pain in my side brought me back to reality. "Jasper, knock that off. She's going to think you're some sort of pervert." It wasn't as easy to lull Alice into a false sense of security as it was with Carlisle. Her fingers ran across the ribs she had just bruised, hitting the spot where she knew I was ticklish. "I'm the only one you're allowed to be perverted with."

"Alice!" I couldn't believe she would say such a thing in public. No, not just in public, in front of Carlisle! I wasn't ashamed of her, or what we did together, but I did know that that was highly unusual and I didn't want him to feel uncomfortable. Which, if his emotions were to be believed (and emotions never lie, which is one of the reasons my gift is better than yours, Edward), he was. Still, it was the distraction I had been looking for and the girl vanished into a store, not sensing how close she had come to death.

I really was trying, and trying hard, but I didn't know if this was going to work. I could tell the rest of the family was getting annoyed with me, but I couldn't help it. I had spent too much time hunting humans, and too much time hungry to not want to get a meal when the chance presented itself.

You're doing this for Alice, you're doing this for Alice, you're doing this for Alice. I chanted miserably to myself, trying to block out all the people and focus on my mate. It was hard to say what bothered me more, the blood or all the emotions that each person seemed intent on putting off. Damn, it would be worth killing a few of them just to shut them up.

Beside me, Carlisle cleared his throat in a gesture for us to move forward. I felt an unaccountable surge of irritation at him. After all, if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here at all. I would be back at the Cullen mansion, playing with Emmett or reading or having sex with Alice instead of just thinking about it. I would be perfectly happy to stay there at all times, and not have to interact with humans at all, but no, the rest of the family was convinced that I would be bored and lonely. I wanted to explain to them that after the life I had led so far, just being able to curl up on the couch and not worry about being attacked was a luxury that wasn't going to get old any time soon, but couldn't think of a way to do it that wasn't terrifying or likely to invoke pity. So here I was, on another patented Carlisle death march through a big city mall. Yippee.

I had to do it right this time though. Alice was incredibly patient, and would probably always be, but Carlisle wasn't going to hold out forever. The past few times, I had sensed an undercurrent of frustration at my lack of self-control, but I couldn't tell if it was coming off of him, or I was projecting my own emotions. Either way, I needed something to get myself into his good graces.

Letting my eyes roam around the food court, I saw two little boys playing together. There, they would be a safe thing to look at, because they didn't evoke any memories for me. Say what you like about my own life, but I never, ever, fed off of a child. Of course, this was solely due to the fact that their bodies contained relatively little blood and I was always hungry, but it didn't make my not feeding off of them any less true.

The boys laughed and spun, clearly pleased to have escaped adult influence for at least a few minutes. Did I have a brother? Hard as I searched my memory, I just couldn't remember. I did now, though, two of them. Well, one and a half. Edward didn't really count yet. Soon. Soon I would try and make up with him. If I could get through this trip without there being a slaughter.

Things were going pretty well though. I would still be glad to get out of here and to the relative peace of the bookstore at the end, but I was doing much better than last time, when Carlisle had been forced to not so gently drag me out of a clothing store. If I didn't know better, I would have almost thought he was glad for the distraction from having to watch Alice model her thousand and twelfth outfit of the day. At least, things were going well today until I saw her.

She was tiny, with nearly black hair down to her waist. Just the sight of her was enough to trigger an automatic reaction, causing my muscles to tighten and the venom to start flowing. My fight or flight reflex was on high alert, and with Carlisle behind me, and Alice blocking my side, I couldn't run. I had to kill her; there was no other choice now.

It was the last reflex that saved me. The one that told me to make sure both sides of me were clear before lunging, because I would be momentarily incapacitated with draining her. When I looked to the left, I saw Alice, and the horrible urge passed. This was a human girl, not Maria. It wasn't fair to punish this girl for something that had happened half a country away and before her grandmother was even born. I swallowed hard and backed away, letting both the girl and my anger go.

Alice was hugging me almost before I had started to move. Of course she did, she had seen my decision to back down as soon as I had made it. She didn't say anything, just trilled deep in her chest and sent love and pride at me, as well as a vague suggestion of lust. I responded in kind, letting her know I was defiantly interested. But there was something else, something nearly as important. I turned to Carlisle, giving him an expectant look.

A part of me hated that I had turned into a little puppy around him, desperate for a treat or kind word. After all, I had run armies all over the south and destroyed more vampires than he had probably met in his entire lifetime. I was a temperamental alpha male who had always needed other vampires for a grand total of two things: fucking and fighting. Anything beyond that was superfluous. At least it had been.

Slowly, so slowly that I had barely recognized it was happening, I had changed. For a while, I had thought it started with Peter and Charlotte, and their love for each other, but it must have been earlier then that. Normally, I would have destroyed the pair of them without a second thought, but I was so tired that day. Tired of the fighting and the pain and trying to keep them all under even a modicum of control. In a moment of extreme bravery (or stupidity, depending on who you asked), Peter had pushed the advantage and I had let the pair of them go.

Maria would have been pissed, but I simply didn't tell her what had happened. Secrets and lies were common between us, and she hadn't pushed when I told her the job was finished. A simple lie, one that she forgot seconds after I told it. But I didn't forget.

Instead I grew increasingly distant, irritable in ways I had never been before. The unfortunate newborns bore the brunt of my wrath, forced to train past even vampire endurance or risk a short trip to the fire pit on the edge of our camp, but my girls felt it also. Neither Lucy nor Nettie would have anything to do with me, suddenly afraid of a vampire decades their junior. Maria made one valiant attempt to dominate me again, and for the first time, I bit her back. She had retreated to the opposite end of the bedroom, red eyes blazing at me, but not daring to come any closer. It hadn't been a harsh bite, just a warning one. I would no longer submit to her or anyone else.

Word that I had actually attacked and beaten my maker had spread quickly among the newborns, and the mere thought of incurring my anger was enough to terrify them into line. It took less mental energy to keep them under control, which left me with plenty of time to spend alone with my thoughts, miserable as they were.

A year passed, then two, with no improvement in my circumstances. Indeed, with my new reputation as a biter, I was given a wider berth than ever. In some ways, it was a relief not to have to feel the emotions of every vampire in the room at all times, but I was getting lonely. Maria, like a true woman scorned, kicked me out of her bed, and while I didn't lack for female company among the newborns, I didn't bother bonding with any of them. There was really no point, as very few of them lasted more than a month or two. I was deeply lonely, even surrounded by members of my own kind.

I had suffered bouts of depression like this before, but they generally passed in a few weeks. Not this time. For the first time, I lacked Maria's comfort. Though she didn't actually understand why I was so easily upset at times, she always did her best to soothe me, taking some of my responsibilities for a time, or just laying with me and purring until I fell into an emotionally exhausted sort of half-sleep. But this time I had nothing. No Maria to tell me it would be alright, no Lucy trying to make me laugh, nothing. I couldn't even take any pleasure in hunting. The human's pain and terror, and worst of all, their acceptance of it all in the end, bothered me in ways it never had before. I was drowning, and I none of us could do a thing to stop it.

So when Peter reappeared, it had taken very little to convince me to come along. His booming voice had laughed at me, holding out a hand. "Come on, Jasper. What do you have to lose?"

The answer was nothing, of course. I had already lost everything. I went with him calmly, without regrets, and without looking back. Charlotte met us a few miles away, her crimson eyes filled with joy at seeing me again. I wasn't quite sure why, after all, I had been ready to destroy her the last time we met. As if she sensed my discomfort, she stepped forward to nuzzle at my throat. "But you didn't. The last thing is what counts."

If only that were true. But I remained with them for several years, happy years, at least compared to where I had come from. It still bothered me to hunt, but I found that if I used my gift correctly, I could minimize the pain that we both felt. It was like putting a band-aid over a bullet wound, but it was enough for a time.

In a way, staying with Peter and Charlotte was like being with the Cullen's now, at least in the early days. Neither of them said anything, but I know they noticed the way I watched them constantly, never closing my eyes. I knew they were both powerful, I had trained them myself. But they had backed off and let me adjust at my own pace. It had taken months, but I suddenly found myself craving their company rather than wanting to be alone all of the time.

Though I would like to give the credit to Alice, it was really the pair of them who had saved me. Without them, I would have never allowed her to remove me from the diner. I would have stared at her hand and growled, or even attacked her. Through their patience, Peter and Charlotte had taught me how to trust other vampires again.

Suddenly Carlisle's insistence that we go on these trips made more sense. I was capable of trusting and interacting other vampires, but now my world had shifted and I needed to be capable of doing the same for humans. I still didn't like it, but there had been many things about my life I hadn't liked, and I had made it through them all.

It had made me sad to leave Peter and Charlotte, but I had the sense that something was waiting for me and me alone. Before I had left, Peter had written down an address, telling me I could send him a letter at any time, that whatever I needed, he would make sure I got. If I needed him to come and get me, I was always welcome to come home. The piece of paper was still in my wallet, a reminder that, even if I failed here, someone was still willing to take me in.

Carlisle's sense of pride drug me back into the present. "Good job, Jasper."

I gave him a smile. Not a huge one, but not the nervous one he was used to seeing either. "Are you ready to go home?"

We were supposed to go to the bookstore, but he had apparently forgotten. I didn't think he would deliberately make a promise and not follow through, but I was afraid to point out this oversight to him. He wouldn't do anything here, not in front of so many witnesses, but when we got home…well, I wasn't about to take a chance.

Unfortunately, Alice had no such compunctions. "I thought we were going to the bookstore."

He startled his mind apparently on other things. "Jasper, if I forget something like that, you need to remind me. It's alright, I did promise that."

I nodded at him, not quite meeting his eyes. I wouldn't correct him like that; it went completely against both my instincts and my training. I could tell he didn't believe me, but he didn't press the issue. "Come on."

By the time we made it to the bookstore, I was nearly bouncing with excitement. Shocking as it might seem to the average person, I could remember a time when I had never even seen a book, other than the Bible. To see so many of them in one place and covering so many different subjects was dizzying. I had always liked to read, but due to my nomadic lifestyle, never had much of a chance. Carlisle must have seen the light in my eyes because he chuckled. "One thing only, you two."

My first stop at a bookstore was always the Civil War section. Skimming through the books always brought back human memories that I had thought were lost forever. If I closed my eyes and stopped breathing for a minute, I could remember it all perfectly, the bright sun and the sounds of hundreds of men and horses and the acrid smell of gunpowder.

Today I was in for a surprise. There was a large volume that I had never seen before, one that had such details about the battles and key military members that I wanted it immediately. A quick look at the back confirmed that it was more money than Carlisle would be willing to spend, so I contented myself with just paging through it, smiling sadly when I recognized a few of my superiors, caught forever in the glossy pages.

One more flip and my nonexistent breath caught in my throat. There, on page 217 was….me? For a minute I didn't recognize the man in the photo, with his laughing eyes and easy grin. But there it was, in bright type: Jasper Whitlock, aged 23.

The words brought back a small man with suspicious eyes, his emotions apprehensive. "You sure you're 20, son? You don't look much older than 16."

"Yes sir, 20 this spring." My own voice, sweet and low, charm oozing out of it.

But I hadn't been, had I? No, I had been 17, I remembered now. The reason I had lied was still fuzzy, lost in the century that had followed, but it was clear that I had. I tightened my grip on the book without thinking, staring at the glossy pages. It was the only photograph I had ever seen of myself as a human, and I was reluctant to part with it.

A sudden idea occurred to me. Carlisle had become very interested in my past recently, but had refrained from asking directly. I couldn't imagine actually sitting down with him to talk about it, to have to look into those golden eyes and reveal things I hadn't even told Peter or Charlotte. But now that I had this, maybe we could compromise. I wouldn't have to actually tell him anything, but he could learn at least a little. Not the worst parts, those I would have to tell him myself. Later, though, later when I trusted him more.

Closing the book, I reached out with my gift and my senses, tracking Carlisle across the store in a section filled with medical guides. He was deeply involved in what he was doing, but he was always aware of me, so I reached out and touched him lightly.

I was flooded with surprise as he jumped. The unexpectedness of it all made me jump also, and we stared at each other in shock. Then his feelings turned to amusement, and I relaxed. His eyes drifted over the book in my hands. "Is that what you want?"

A part of me wanted to say yes, knowing he would probably get it for me, but I shrugged instead. I hated to take advantage of him like that. With deliberate actions, I pulled the book open to the correct page and held it out, showing him what I had found.

His pale brows rose up, nearly into his hairline as he saw what I had. His eyes met mine in shock, before he tugged me forward gently, moving so he could sit in one of the reading chairs. I perched next to him, watching as he read. He was really reading it, giving it his full attention. I could tell, because he moved his lips when he read.

I knew he was getting near the end of the page. "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." I didn't know why it was so important that he know that, after all, the Civil War probably hadn't even been on his radar then, but I felt compelled to tell him anyway. I reached out to take the book back. "I just wanted you to know."

He held on, his grip gentle but firm. "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."

That man was probably the only part of me I should be proud of. That easygoing man with the happy smile and blue eyes. Still, the compliment made me like him just a little bit more. But I still couldn't tell him that, so I shrugged again. "Keep it if you want, but it isn't correct."

It was as far as I could force myself to go. I still couldn't tell him some things, but I didn't want him to have the wrong information either. Just a few months ago, I would have delighted in putting him on the wrong track. But I was changing again, and I didn't like the thought of deliberately lying to him. A little voice in the back of my mind piped up. Aren't you lying to him about your gift? Lies of omission are still lies, Jasper. Just when are you planning on telling him that the reason you're doing so well within the family is because you're reading the emotional pulse of every vampire in it? Soon. I would tell him soon.

"Which part?"

Carlisle's voice was soft, but it still startled me. I was letting my guard down around him, not as constantly wary, and it was starting to show. "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." It took a little effort to remember what was wrong with the book. Actually, it took quite a bit of effort to remember that life at all, but I wasn't going to let go of what I did remember.

The conversation seemed to be over, so I wandered back into the stacks, looking quietly at the different titles. Carlisle was probably still curious, but I had just told him most of what I could remember about my human life. Still, it should be enough to satisfy him, at least for a little while. A part of me felt better for having told him something, even if it wasn't the parts of my past he wanted to know about most. There would come a time, one in the not so distant future, where I would be able to tell him everything, I was sure of it. For the first time, I was sure of it.


Months passed, more quickly than they had before. Summer came, and my new brothers and sisters were home all of the time. Carlisle had taken Alice to the school, so that she could be tested and placed for the next year. I ignored the fact that he didn't take me, just like I ignored most things that bothered me. If life had taught me nothing else, it was that things would happen, and whether they were fair or not, I no control over them. The best I could hope for was to escape the situation unscathed. If I got out with only a few new scars, I would still consider it a win.

Still…I would have liked to have gone. Even though the others complained constantly about boring teachers and homework and having to deal with the other students, it would have all been new to me. I had a sense that I had never been to school before, even though I was capable of performing most academic tasks. Even if I had, the one room schoolhouses I was thinking of had been replaced with far more interesting buildings.

I could understand why he didn't want me to go. Hell, if I had been in his position, I wouldn't have let me go either. I hadn't harmed a human yet, but a closely supervised walk with Carlisle on one side and Alice on the other was far different from being placed in an enclosed space with dozens of hormonal, emotional teenagers. Carlisle seemed pleased with me, but he wasn't one to set me up to fail.

Even through my disappointment, I knew that this was better for the rest of the family. Though there were other safe houses, Carlisle had built a career here, and wanted to stay at least another year. It wasn't fair to jeopardize that to test out my rather shaky self-control.

A blur came from my left, and I barely gathered myself in time to fumble with the Frisbee that Emmett had thrown. He hooted. "Got to be faster than that, Jasper!"

I stuck my tongue out at him, a little shocked at my own immaturity. When was the last time I had just had fun like this? I held the Frisbee, not throwing it back. Emmett rolled his eyes and snapped his wrist. "Like this. Come on, you've been doing it all afternoon."

I still didn't throw it back. If I did, he would whip it at me as quickly as he could have, just to see if I could catch it. Barely looking, I tossed it down to the blanket, close to Alice and Esme. They were so caught up in their conversation that they didn't even look up.

Emmett was grinning at me now, anticipating a more active game. I signaled him with a look, the same way I had signaled countless armies over the years, and we were off. It wasn't as much fun to play at a human speed, but Rosalie had insisted on coming to the park for her birthday, so we had to make nice.

She had been very insistent that there was to be no celebration, and no gifts, but I had made her a card anyway, and shoved it under her bedroom door this morning. I loved her as well as I was capable of loving anybody, and I wanted her to know that. She was the Cullen (or Hale, I guessed it was) that I was the most attached to.

Emmett whined irritably that I had started a game but wasn't paying any attention. Without warning, I rushed him, nipping at his neck. He leapt away before I could touch him, yellow eyes glowing. This was an easy game; one I had started the newborns with in my second life. The emphasis was on speed and determining your opponent's strategy, rather than aggression and injuring them. It was alright to put teeth on them, but if you broke the skin, that was a huge penalty.

This game was less serious than with my new family. Emmett was much more interested in elaborately charging me, then backing away laughing. His good mood was infectious, and I found myself doing the same. We remained at a human speed, which must have made us look completely ridiculous, but we were the only ones in the park, so I didn't worry overmuch.

My joy was replaced with sorrow, so sharp and sudden that it made me freeze. Emmett slammed into me, nearly knocking me over, but I barely felt it. I searched my family quickly, getting a brief read on each of them before settling on Esme. The heartbreak on her face bothered me far more than it should have, and I found myself desperate to do something to make her happy again.

I disliked touching other vampires, and I liked being touched myself even less, but Esme's misery was enough to override all of that. So I knelt down and wrapped my arms around her neck, pressing my cheek against hers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a mother and child, apparently the source of the distress, but bloodlust was the furthest thing from my mind.

Esme's emotions switched to surprise and then tenderness, sliding her arms around me in return. My muscles twitched once and tried to tighten up, but I forced myself to remain calm. It was just Esme, trying to love me back; she wasn't going to hurt me. I relaxed cautiously against her, allowing her as much time as she needed.

Without warning, another wave of emotions assaulted me, sliding into my mind like a blow. Fear, anger, and shock swirled around me, a mix I recognized in a heartbeat. I kept my eyes down, but focused quickly on each family member, trying to figure out who had realized my gift. Carlisle, of course, it had to be Carlisle.

His mouth was opening, no doubt getting ready to blurt out my secret, when fate stepped in in the form of Edward and a wild pitch. The ball smashed into the side of Carlisle's head and knocked him to the ground. We all got up and surrounded him, laying there in the grass. He didn't get up though, just stared at me. I stared back, trying not to challenge him with my eyes. Please, Carlisle please let me explain this in private.

Whether he understood my silent plea, or just the panicked look on my face, he nodded minutely and allowed Emmett to help him up. I turned away from him, retreating back to stand with Alice. The patriarch still didn't meet my eyes but a sudden rush of comfort washed over me. Strongly. Too strongly. I held me flinch at bay, but gave him a look so he would know I had felt it. I was going to have to let him know that I was pretty sensitive, and a little bit of emotion was all it took.

We only stayed at the park for another hour, though it felt much longer. Tension coiled in my stomach, choking it and making me feel rather glad that I hadn't hunted the night before. I tried to clamp down on the feeling, not wanting the others to know something was wrong, but something must have leaked out, because Rose gave me a sympathetic touch to my back and decided that we could go home. She covered it up by thinking what must have been particularly vulgar thoughts, because Edward actually flinched and made a face. I quickly mimicked him, not wanting to give her secret up.

The relationship between this particular brother and sister was a strange one, and I didn't want to get in the middle of it. Rosalie would throw a raging fit if Edward dared to call her shallow or conceited, but she tended to show him nothing but those behaviors. When she was doing something to help someone else out, like now, she hid it from him. I wondered if she did that to the rest of the family also. Was Emmett the only one who got to regularly see the gentler side of her? What was she afraid of?

Thinking about fear brought me back to my own situation. Why hadn't I just told Carlisle the truth when I had the chance? Sure, he would have probably never trusted me again, because no one ever did once they found out that I was capable of manipulating their every emotion, but at least he wouldn't have been angry.

Alice raised her eyebrow at me, and I leaned in to whisper in her ear. "He knows" I kept my voice as low as possible, not wanting to alert my siblings, or worse, Carlisle himself. I kept my head close to hers, breathing in her scent and trying to calm myself down. She leaned back against me, offering what comfort she could. Her mouth quirked, but she didn't try and reassure me. She knew I didn't really believe her, no matter what her visions were trying to say.

The ride home was a quiet one, a sharp contrast to the excitement of the ride out to the park. I knew it was my own fault, that I was leaking worry and nervousness, but I felt it so strongly that I wasn't able to keep it all in. I mingled in with my siblings as we left the car, hoping for a chance to bolt out into the wood line, but Carlisle wasn't about to let me go. "Jasper, will you please come to my office?"

I nodded and forced a front of cheer at him. It took some work, but I was able to pull the human I had once been to the forefront. What would the human Jasper Whitlock have done in this same situation? He would have been good natured and charming, two things I was certainly not feeling at the moment, but I could pretend. At the moment, it was far better to be anyone besides myself, even if the person I was pretending to be was just an early copy. If I was just Jasper, the vampire, this wasn't going to go well. My first instinct would be to respond to Carlisle's anger with my own, and it would turn violent without me meaning for it to.

We came to his office, with me spinning in circles to entertain the pair of us. It kept me from having to meet his eyes, to see the revulsion and cold fury in them. I could do this; I could be calm and sweet. With dramatic sigh, I flopped into one of the chairs and gave him my most winning smile. There was still a small chance that I was wrong, that he was confused about my gift. "So, you know about me, huh?"

He seemed a little surprised by my cheer, but nodded slowly. "I think so. Do you have the gift of empathy?"

So much for that small chance. But I was tired of hiding what I was from him, so I nodded. Even though it would have been in my best interests, I just couldn't stomach the thought of directly lying to the man. "Yes."

I could have stopped there. I had answered his question, and that was that. But for the first time, I wanted to tell him everything. To see if he would still trust me, the way I was just now realizing I trusted him. "But there are other things. I can kind off…not exactly force emotions, but kind of make someone feel what I want them to."

It was a poor explanation, but the best one I could come up with. I had met two newborns who showed traits similar to mine, but neither one had lasted past a few weeks. They had both destroyed themselves, but had suffered terribly before they did so. The memory of their rolling eyes and foaming mouths would have given me nightmares if I were capable of sleep. They couldn't have helped me anyway; I needed an older vampire who had direct experience with a gift like mine. Lacking that, I had been forced to piece together my abilities and limitations on my own.

Shock was still radiating off of him, and I knew I wasn't going to get out of this easily. Carlisle's yellow eyes were focused directly on my dark ones, making it hard to look away. "How do you mean?"

This was exactly why I hadn't told him. He was going to want to know things I didn't understand myself, and be angry when I couldn't explain it properly. I stalled as best I could. "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. Even someone like me or Emmett. But it would still be hard."

Despite my nerves, I had to smile a little bit at that thought. Back in my old life, when I was still trying my best to sort out my gift and everything that it entailed, I had decided to see if I could send wave of lust to the entire army, and what would happen. The resulting orgy had lasted three days and caused the loss of several limbs. Not mine, thankfully, but it had been enough to convince me to ease off on the powers until I had better control of them.

I desperately wanted to explain it all to him, to have him believe me and believe in me, so I kept trying. It was hard to put what I knew about emotions into words, because it was something I understood instinctively. "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"

Understanding dawned in his eyes and his emotions slowly changed from shock to sadness and a slight annoyance. "Why didn't you tell me about this?"

How could he not know the answer to that? Had he entirely forgotten how Alice and I had arrived, and I had been then? "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 hoped he understood that. After all, would he have revealed anything if he thought Esme was in danger? What about Edward? It wasn't personal; I was just doing what I had to to ensure that I survived.

He nodded. "But why didn't you tell me later? You trust us now don't you?"

Of course I did. I rushed to reassure him. "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…." I had to pause and get my thoughts together. "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…" This was the part that was hard to admit. "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."

Now he felt pitying, but I could live with that. I didn't like pity, but it was a lot less dangerous that anger. He pushed back his desk chair and stood, his presence looming over me and making me a little nervous, especially when his hand came up near my face. But he just stroked his hand down my shoulder. The contact allowed his emotions to come through more clearly, as if I had moved the dial on a radio. The pity was stronger, but so was a desire to soothe my nerves. For the second time that day, I let a vampire besides Alice touch me and nothing bad happened. I felt I owed it to him to explain the rest of if. "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."

He chuckled. "I wondered why you were looking at me like that."

I had to laugh back at him and his embarrassed expression. "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." Learning the emotional signature of every vampire in the house had been one of the first things I had done. It gave me an advantage that none of the others would have.

Distrust filled the air as Carlisle thought of something else, something that I had been praying he wouldn't think of. "Have you used this manipulation thing on us? On me?"

"Well…" Yes, about three times a day. This house is an emotional train wreck sometimes and I'm barely hanging onto my sanity as it is. For a terrible second, I thought I had actually uttered those words out loud, but he was still watching me expectantly. "Not very often. I mean, just when I had to."

Now I was feeling the anger I had been expecting. "When?" His voice was tightly controlled, but his emotions remained clear.

I didn't know what to tell him. I had gotten so used to using my gift as a reflex that most of the time I didn't even realize I was doing it. Fear made me sloppy, and I couldn't think of a single instance to tell him about. "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."

He was quiet as he thought about my words, and tried to come up with some situations where I might have been manipulating them. His emotions grew calm, and I started to relax. Then a sudden thought occurred to me, a way to make him happy. "Oh, I know a good example. Remember when I first got here, and I bit Emmett?" Of course he does, Jasper, it isn't something he's likely to forget. "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 really didn't want him to think I had absolutely no manners, though it was more than a little true. I guessed it was a good thing, that I wanted him to think well of me. I couldn't remember ever feeling that way about Maria, and it was making me panicky again. I wanted out, out of this conversation, out of this room, out of this house. The silence between us grew, and I was going to explode if one of us didn't say something. "You can tell the others if you want. It's not fair to have some people know and others not."

There was no faster way to create dissention in a coven than to keep secrets and I didn't want to be responsible for making trouble in this one. Carlisle nodded slightly, smiling at me and giving off an emotion I couldn't quite recognize. I ought to know it, it was right in the back of my mind, but something was blocking it. Not pride exactly, though that was part of it. It was a mixture of several emotions and I was having trouble pinpointing them. Pride, a slight tinge of worry and….was that love? A sudden surge of realization went through me. Carlisle was feeling paternal towards me. He wanted me to be one of his sons.

If I had been worried before, I was in a panic now. I might trust Carlisle, but to be part of his family? No. My breath caught, causing me to lose my sense of smell and get even more upset. I jerked my head nervously, but still couldn't draw air. Finally I managed to take a gulping breath. "Umm… can I go now? I promised Alice I would take her hunting tonight."

It was a lie, but Alice would be glad to back me up on it. Hell, she would be so excited that I had finally told Carlisle the truth that she would have backed me up if I claimed I was the reincarnation of the Queen of Sheba. I barely let the murmured "Yes" leave his lips before I was out the study door.

The walls and stairs became a blur as a vaulted down them, aiming for the back door that would let me out into the woods. I would have just as soon gone through one of the enormous windows that dotted the house, but then Esme would be mad, and I didn't want that.

I didn't run that far this time, barely into the woods before settling back against a tree trunk and closing my eyes. For some reason, I didn't want to be too far away from them. So I crept just out of earshot and rested, letting the memories of the day wash over me. I could have heard Carlisle explaining the situation to the others if I had tried, but I didn't bother. They would do what they wanted with the information, and there was very little I could do to affect that. Not now that they knew I could influence them, at least. There was something nice about this feeling, though. To know that I was only responsible for my own wellbeing and emotional health, not everyone else's. It was defiantly a feeling I could get used to.


"Honey, do you think you could go down just a little bit? No, not that much, a little less. Perfect!" Esme's voice and emotions were so genuinely happy that I couldn't say no, but this was starting to get on my nerves. The way I was holding the banner now was exactly how I had been holding it a half hour ago, when she had decided it was to low and needed to be raised a bit. At the time, her chief complaint would be that she knew that we would be constantly jumping up to try and touch or grab it, and it would get pulled down. She had smiled and lightly touched my back. "I know how you boys are, so don't even try to tell me you wouldn't."

She was right, so I contented myself with a half growl and looking down. The darker side of me wanted to pick a fight with her, but I kept that at bay. Mostly. The changing seasons always brought out the worst in me, and this year was particularly bad. Whether it was the fact that we were farther north and the days got short sooner, or just all of the stresses put forth in my new home, I found myself becoming surly and ill-tempered, even more so than when I had first arrived here.

Contrary to popular belief, I didn't like being nasty to others, or upsetting them in any way. I was just…. I didn't know what I was. I felt like the doctor in that book, the one who changed from being a nice guy to a raving monster without any warning. Even Alice had been caught in my ire, causing me to yell without meaning to. The pain in her eyes had lowered my mood even more, despite my efforts to reassure her.

For the first time in my memory, my emotions betrayed me. They spun in frenzied circles, urging me to run, and then stay. To fight, then relax. To trust the Cullen's, then not to. If there was one thing I hated completely, it was not being in control of things, and I had lost that several weeks back. Actually, now that I thought about it, I had lost that as soon as I came to the Cullen house. Now I was adrift, and nervous as hell about it. Logically, I knew that I was fine, that I could trust them completely, but emotionally I was a wreck. Things couldn't possibly be as easy around here as they had been so far.

It made me hate myself that I couldn't relax and just trust Alice and her visions, but I had seen things go badly in the past. Everything suffered, my mate, my relationships within the home, and my schoolwork. I could tell I was worrying Carlisle, especially with the last part. He had been incredulous a few days ago when I gave him a paper to grade that had most of the answers wrong. At any other time, I would have been ashamed to turn in such sloppy work, but I could barely remember getting the assignment, much less completing it. Worry was coiled so tightly in my body that I felt half-sick with it, making it hard to concentrate on anything else.

Carlisle had sat down with me, his amber eyes disturbed. "What happened, Jasper? You did this right on Tuesday; did you not understand what you were supposed to do? Do you need Edward or I to help you?"

I did need help, but not with the assignment. Though it would have been far easier to lie and say I hadn't understood, it wasn't true, and I was so sick of all the deception. So I looked at the carpet and my worn out sneakers and shrugged, not telling him anything. His stare softened and his hand twitched, like he wanted to reach out to me. "Is something wrong?"

Only everything. For a minute we stood on the blade of a knife, and I contemplated taking a step forward and letting him touch me. After all, I was letting Emmett touch me these days, and he was a lot bigger than Carlisle. But he wasn't powerful like the doctor, and I couldn't force myself to move. I kept looking at the floor, as if it would tell me what to do. The ill feeling increased, and I found myself wondering what he would do if I threw up blood on his expensive looking white carpet.

Whether he sensed my discomfort, or just wanted to save his rugs, Carlisle nodded and backed away. "Alright then, you can redo the same assignment, and if you are still having trouble, please ask Edward or I for help. That's what we're here for."

I had redone it correctly, determined not to draw so much attention to myself. I knew that Carlisle had gone to a lot of trouble to get me this work, and I had to do my best on it. Plus, I enjoyed it. The answers to the problems would always be the same, concrete and comforting. Not like the answers to my current problems.

Even though I had been initially disappointed that everyone else was going to school and I wasn't, I had to admit it was probably for the best. Unlike some of my previous leaders, Carlisle wasn't being mean for the sake of it, it was trying to make things as safe as possible. I didn't like having Alice gone for most of the day, but I had to grudgingly admit that Edward would take excellent care of her.

The first few days, I had hidden in my new room, waiting quietly for Alice to come home. Then, when I hadn't been able to stand looking at the walls one more time, I had come out, wandering the house aimlessly. Carlisle was at work for most of the day, which meant the only one I had to avoid was Esme. Unfortunately, she was far less interested in avoiding me, and caught me before the second week was out. She was gentle, but made it clear that she wasn't going to let me feel sorry for myself.

So we spent our days in a relaxed companionship. Much as I knew her constant mothering made Edward and Emmett crazy, I liked it. Her emotions were pure and calm, and it wasn't long before I was looking forward to everyone leaving so I could have her attention all to myself.

It was an unusual feeling, wanting to attract the attention of my superior, rather than avoid it, but not one I found terribly disturbing. Esme, at least, could be trusted. It was Carlisle that I worried about, though even that was a little less each day. Though with the way Esme had trapped me into helping her this morning, maybe I was focused on the wrong Cullen.

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

Now I did growl, though I smiled at her also, trying to make the sound seem less aggressive. I didn't want her to be afraid of me. Her soft chuckle told me not to worry, that she read me just fine. Her serene face comforted me, and I smiled back at her.

Soft footsteps told me that Carlisle had risen and was coming to see what we were up to. Probably heard you snarl at his wife. Nice job, Jasper. I briefly wondered when my inner voice had become so nasty. "What's going on in there?"

Suddenly the entire scene struck me as absolutely hilarious. Here we were, three wild, dangerous vampires, trying to hang Christmas decorations in our mansion. The new holy trinity: The serene Virgin Esme, Father Carlisle, and Baby Jasper. If the world was going to rely on me to be the savior, it was going to Hell pretty quickly. My mood rocketed up from dark to giddy, and I had to stop myself from snickering. Damn these mood swings! I couldn't quite keep the laughter out of my voice as I leapt up to meet him halfway. "Help, Carlisle! She's never going to be satisfied!"

His face was dark and slightly blurry through the fascinating pair of glasses that I had found in Emmett and Rosalie's room. Wonderful things, they were not made to improve vision, but to keep the brightness of the sun out of one's eyes. They put an entirely new perspective on the world, and I found myself playing with them over and over. Rose had initially rolled her eyes at me, but within the week had bought me two pairs of my own, saying that she was tired of me stealing hers. We both knew that that wasn't the real reason, but I accepted it so she could save face with the rest of the family. He gave me a tolerant half-smile. "Esme, let him have a break. You've been at it since dawn."

Try before dawn. If the clock in the kitchen was to be believed, I had started getting boxes of decorations out of the attic sometime around midnight. Really, I didn't mind helping Esme, or working beside her, but there was a limit to my tolerance, and we were rapidly approaching it.

Esme appeared behind me, stroking my back with her free hand. I pressed backwards, letting her fingers dig into the tense muscles. Suddenly the lust in the room rose, scaring the hell out of me. Esme was acting as my mother; she wouldn't dare make a sexual move towards me, would she? Was that what it was like in this family?

"Esme…" Carlisle sounded like a man who had found an oasis in the middle of a desert. Oh. My nose wrinkled in horror. Six months, or even six weeks, ago, I might not have minded, but now I was uncomfortable with the thought. Back when I had run with Maria, I had never noticed such things. To us, sex was a natural act, nothing to be ashamed of. I had zero qualms about interrupting any of the newborns if they were needed elsewhere, and expected no privacy for myself. But things were different here, and I had adapted to their way of thinking.

I bounced to my feet. "I'm leaving." They were so caught up in each other that neither one of them even looked my way. I headed for the front of the house, not sure what to do. I was a little hungry, but hunting alone was boring. A look at my watch confirmed that the rest of the family would be home from school soon, so I settled on top of the fence to wait.

It had been dreary out, but the sun was starting to break free of the clouds. The scattered rays fell down on me, and I tipped my face to them, enjoying the warmth. My skin sparkled, at least where it wasn't scarred up, but the house was far enough away from the road that I wasn't concerned. The sun was thrilling, not only for it's beauty, but because I knew my siblings would be coming home sooner.

"What happened, Jasper? They kick you out of the house?" Emmett's laughing voice pulled me from my thoughts. Rose threw open the car door without slowing down, and I vaulted down from my post and into her lap in a human's blink. She chuckled lightly and pushed me into the seat between her and Alice. Emmett, caught my eyes in the mirror. "Really, how come you were out there?"

How could I say this? I ducked my head, sure that my face would be scarlet if that were possible. "Uh…well….Carlisle and Esme were…."

Apparently everyone understood my stammering because they all started laughing. Even Edward was snickering. Emmett roared. "Poor thing! Did you actually walk in on them, or just hear it? Because I walked in on them once and-"Here he gave a visible shudder. "Let's just say that I never want to think of Esme like that again."

"No, I didn't see or hear anything. I could tell what they wanted and I ran."

Edward laughed again. "Smart choice, I'd have done the same thing."

Emmett pulled the car up into the driveway and killed the engine. "So, what do we do now?"

Alice gave my foot a quick kick. "Let's hunt. Rose and I are going shopping later tonight, and I feel peckish."

"Good idea. I know, let's play boys against girls. Whoever gets home last has to be the ones to go into the house and see if Carlisle and Esme are done in there."

Rosalie objected instantly. "No. All three of you can outrun us."

I thought about that before speaking up. "I think it's fair. We run faster, but it takes more to fill us up. It has to be a real hunt though, no finding a squirrel right by the house and running back."

Her brows drew together as she studied me. I gave her a quick grin and a sharp shot of adrenaline. "Come on, Rose. It will be fun."

She sighed dramatically, like this was a true hardship on her, but gave me a gentle nudge in the ribs. "Oh, alright. But if I see Carlisle tying Esme to the bed or something, it will take a lot more than one night of shopping to make me happy."

Emmett whooped excitedly and we all took our places at the edge of the woods. "Ok, teams have to stay together, first complete team back wins. Ready, set, GO!"

The trees became a blur as the three of us ran. Decades of practice allowed me to keep track of Edward and Emmett without effort or stumbling into them. We ran for a few miles before I called them to a halt. We needed a plan if we were going to win this, and I, for one, was not about to lose and have to risk going into that house first. "We need to stop and think about this. Who hunted last?"

Edward raised an eyebrow at my sudden interest in taking charge, but put up his hand. "I was out yesterday."

"Where? Was there any sort of pack or herd there that would feed the three of us?" It would be much easier and faster for us to all feed in the same place.

He thought briefly, then nodded, his golden eyes lighting up. "Moose. Some of the bucks are big enough that we might only need one each." He was looking at me curiously, and no wonder. Though everyone had been told I had led armies before, I had been careful to take a more passive role here. I didn't want to step on anyone's' toes, or make it look like I thought Carlisle didn't know how to lead.

"Good. You go first and show us where you were." I stood back a bit, letting him take the lead. Edward and I were still figuring each other out, and I didn't want to push too hard.

The herd wasn't too far away, and we were able to get in position fairly quickly. I held up a hand, holding the other two back for a second as the herd moved nervously about. They sensed something was wrong, but were still unaware of our presence. This was it, if we made a mistake now, we were going hungry tonight. Emmett and I were regular hunting partners and I knew how he would move, but Edward was a bit of a wild card. I counted down on my fingers, silently cueing them to lunge. With three vampires coming at them at the same time, the moose panicked and began running into each other, trying their best to avoid the attack. Edward, being the fastest, grabbed his in an instant, knocking it down and biting into its neck. My buck slammed into Emmett's and we both took them before the moment passed. Side by side, we gulped at the foul tasting blood until the moose were drained.

Edward was already bouncing on the balls of his feet. "Come on! We're going to lose if you don't hurry up!"

I wiped my mouth with my sleeve, something that would have mortified Esme, and got up. Edward took the lead again as we ran home, allowing me to keep my senses open for Rose and Alice. I didn't hear them until we were almost at the house, coming from the opposite side. The beast in me rejoiced. This was going to be a true race.

Alice and Edward burst out of the forest at the same time, with the rest of us following closely behind. I was just about on the porch when something slammed into my side, hard enough to send me to the ground. Moving on instinct, I grabbed the offending vampire and pulled her with me, my senses telling me it was Rosalie. She squealed, but held on to me grimly, keeping me from the porch.

The property was on an incline, and we rolled down it, still trying to get purchase on one another. Despite not understanding what was happening, and being startled by her sudden movement, I found I had no desire to attack her. If I waited, she would explain her uncharacteristic actions.

Sure enough, as soon as we were at the bottom of the hill, she released me. She leaned forward, keeping her voice low enough that the rest of the family couldn't hear. "I can get everyone out of the house tonight but you and Carlisle. If I do that, will you talk to him?"

How could Edward ever think she was shallow? Getting everyone away from the house without arousing any suspicions must have required hours, if not days, of planning. All this without any guarantee that I would be able to talk to Carlisle at all. I had tried twice before, but had lost my courage both times before even asking him for an audience.

"Yes." Maybe. I still didn't want to, but it had become a necessity. I was drowning, and I was going to go under if I didn't reach out to him soon. Easy to know and say, difficult to put into action. "Yes." It came out shaky.

"Good." Then, without giving any clues, she leapt up, shoving me back to the ground. She was on the porch before I even got to my feet, leaving the boys the losers of the contest. Emmett and Edward scowled at me, no doubt preparing to make me be the one to actually enter the house. Luckily, no one actually ended up with the duty, as Carlisle and Esme were exiting the house (and fixing their clothing) just as I got to it.

Alice, who always had a comment, wrinkled her nose. "Gross."

Esme smiled fondly at her, her golden eyes serene. "You should hear yourself with Jasper sometimes, dear. You two can be rather loud."

As if that wasn't bad enough, Edward felt compelled to chime in. "Amen."

As was her habit sometimes, Alice spoke before she thought. "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!" As horrified as I was, I couldn't help but notice that Edward was far more so. Poor guy must have gotten a clear mental picture of what Alice and I had been up to the night before.

Carlisle raised an eyebrow, but wisely chose not to comment. "What are the plans for tonight? Are we hunting?"

Rose stepped forward, smoothly taking control of things, just like she had promised. "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 wolves boundary line. Carlisle, I need some money."

The family split up, with Carlisle and Rosalie going into the house, and my brothers vanishing back into the woods. Esme went to go get her purse, leaving Alice and I alone. Her small hand slipped into mine. "Do you want to come with us?"

I gave an internal shudder. Anything, even being stuck revealing all my secrets to Carlisle, was better than having to go shopping with the girls. "No, darling, you go out with Esme and Rose."

Her eyes went vacant, telling me she was having another vision. I waited

patiently, worrying about her. No matter how many times I saw her do this and how many times it all came out alright in the end, I couldn't help but think that one day, I would lose her forever. She twitched slightly and gave me an appraising look. "You have a lot to do tonight. You and Carlisle."

There was no way to ask what I needed to without sounding insecure and needy, but it was only Alice. She had seen worse out of me. "Is it going to be alright?"

She smiled again. "Jasper! Would I have brought you here if you weren't going to be fine? Don't worry so much."

I couldn't help but worry, and she sensed it and grew serious. "This is exactly what both of you have been needing. Are you sure, though? I've seen it two ways, and you don't need to do it right now."

If I waited, I would lose my courage again. "I can do it."

Her arms slid around my neck, even though she had to stand on her tiptoes to reach. "You're sure you don't want to come?"

I appreciated her offering me this last chance, but my mind was made up. She knew it too, as one of her vision suddenly disappeared. "No, you have fun with the girls. I'll be just fine here with Carlisle." If he doesn't kill me when he finds out exactly what I am.

"Ok, I guess. I know, I'll pick you up a surprise!" I groaned under my breath. Alice's surprises usually involved her using me as a living mannequin, trying on all of the latest fashions, most of which were hideous, and then returning to the store and repeating the process, but with different colors. It wasn't until I came to be with the Cullen's, and read the books in Carlisle's library, that I realized what a surprise from Alice really was: A circle of Hell, just Dante got stuck in. Still, I loved her, and would tolerate it to make her happy.

"Go on, Rosalie's getting ready to leave without you." The longer she lingered, the more likely I was to lose my nerve. I gave her a light push. "You know I don't shop well."

She glanced over at Carlisle, before giving me another hug. "You can do it. Just go slowly and don't panic." My reply was cut off by the sound of Rose blowing the horn. Alice, spun around and, just as I had taught her, raised her middle finger. Esme and Carlisle were shocked, but Rose bent over with laughter. She gave my hand a final squeeze and ran for the car.

I watched them disappear down the drive, fighting the urge to chase the car like a dog. Carlisle stood a few feet away from me, close enough so I didn't feel abandoned, but far enough away so as to not be threatening. I stared downwards, not sure of what to say. How much had Rosalie told him? Finally he spoke. "Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?"

Good, she had spoken to him. "No, but I think I need to." I turned in circle, both to check my surroundings and to blow off a little tension. I hated spinning like that, as I was aware that it drew attention to me, but there were times when I just couldn't help it. "Can we go outside?" I was almost over the fear that he would do something to me, but I liked to have a little running room anyway.

"Sure." I allowed him to lead me out to the back porch and toward the swing in the corner. It was easily large enough for the pair of us, and I sat down next to him and started the swing going. I was stalling, but my thoughts were too chaotic for me to get anything out.

"Just start at the beginning, Jasper. We can take as long as you need."

How about eternity? It was probably going to take that long or longer before I could explain everything. It was good advice, though, to start at the beginning. But which one? I had had a human life, and a wild one, then a rest with Peter and Charlotte, and now a third life with the doctor and his family. With a steadying breath, began with my first death. "It was right after the second battle of Galveston, but you know that already from the book. I was almost there when I saw these three women on the side of the road. I thought they were lost, so I stopped to help them…."

Once I started, it became quite a bit easier to keep going. I told the story in fits and starts, sometimes jumping ahead when things became too confusing or painful to talk about. Vampires have long and crystal clear memories, but we also have extremely strong self-preservation instincts. Parts of what Maria had done to me were very distant and fuzzy, and even more things were gone entirely. I wasn't conceited enough to think that I had gotten away from her completely, or even mostly, mentally and emotionally intact, but I recognized that things could have been a lot worse. I supposed that someone, someday, would come up with a term for this, for the forgetting of some of the terrible things that had happened to me, but for the moment, I just considered myself lucky.

Carlisle listened in silence, never interrupting me, even when I rambled and probably became incoherent for a while. I had never told the story like this, laying it all out from start to finish. Alice knew most of the important points, though I kept the worst of it to myself. It wasn't that I didn't trust her, because I did. It was just that she seemed so fragile, and no one should have to hear these things, much less suffer through them.

The doctor's emotions swung back and forth as I talked moving from pity (which I was finding far less offensive than I used to), to rage, to sadness and finally settling into shock, where they remained as I completed my story. I was surprised to find a part of me that welcomed, almost craved his rage. For the first time in a long time, I had someone who was angry on my behalf, rather than angry at me. It was a sweet feeling, one that made me feel protected. In a sudden flash of realization, I realized what Rosalie had meant when she asked if I knew what safe was. Safe was having Carlisle worked up into a murderous rage against a vampire he had never met, just on my say so. He didn't doubt me or my story for even an instant, and I loved him for it.

But I couldn't let him stay that way. Maria was my problem, and a powerful vampire, made more so by the armies I was sure she still commanded. Besides…a part of me didn't want to see her harmed. Despite what she had done to me, I had run with her for almost a century, and a part of me would always be loyal to her, and even love her. At some point, his hand had come up to rest on my shoulder, and I allowed the contact.

So instead of fueling his fury, which would have been easy to do, I told him other things. I told him about Peter, making it clear that I hadn't been alone all the time. That I had had friends and even socialized with the newborns when I felt like it. It might be hard for him to understand, considering that he had a real home and a family, but to us it had been quite a game, splitting into families and taking over the towns we had just decimated. We had been behaving like savages, I supposed, but it hadn't felt like that at the time. At the time we had been more like the Lost Boys in Peter Pan, completely carefree.

I wanted him to understand that, that I had been mostly happy there. Not at the end, but for most of my existence, I had no idea that things were as bad as they were. It was just my life, and like all creatures, I adapted to it. To me, it was no better or worse than the life I had lived as a human. Lots of fighting and bloodshed, a little down time, and going right back out to fight.

The curiosity was still coming off of him in fairly strong waves, so I pulled up my sleeves to show him some of the scars. My arms were probably the worst marked, as they were easy targets if some of the newborns decided to gang up. I could cover most of my body, but shirt material was thin and no match for even a glancing bite. My neck and throat were marked too, but I had wised up enough to put a thick leather band, almost like a collar on any time I was likely to encounter a fight. The tough leather gave the newborn something to chew at while I gathered myself for the attack. That isn't to say more than a few of them didn't manage to bite through, but not as many as had gotten my arms.

"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." I don't know why I bother to tell him their names at all. After all, names don't tell him that Devon is the one who showed me how to play the guitar, or that Mary had one brown eye and one blue. A name doesn't show the betrayed look in Sean's eyes, or the fury in Maria's. It certainly didn't tell him that by "all of it" I meant the newborns, not just the scars.

His silent acceptance of the physical proof of what I had once been gave me a surge of courage, enough to tell him something I had kept from even Alice. "I miss them." It came out a lot quieter and more broken than I had hoped it would.

"Your other family?"

I wanted to correct him, to tell him that, no, I had never had another family, unless you wanted to count Peter and Charlotte. I had been part of a coven which was an entirely different thing. But it seemed confusing, so I nodded instead. "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."

That was the truth. Thought I had a number to leave a message with, they could physically be anywhere in a nearly thousand mile range. I could get into one of their several houses and wait, but what good was an empty house? All I wanted was the vampires that would be in it.

"I do too." For the first time, there was a note of insincerity in Carlisle's emotions. I felt it in an instant, and it surprised me. He ought to be glad that I had somewhere else to go. That way, if I did end up not being able to stay here, he could avoid that overactive sense of guilt that seemed to plague his every move. It wouldn't be like he was putting me out into the streets, after all. Just returning me to my own kind. Then it hit me. Carlisle didn't want me to leave. He was afraid that, on some level, I preferred Peter and Charlotte, and by extension that entire lifestyle, to what I had now. I wondered how to tell him that it was the fact that he worried about these things that made me want to stay with him. I loved my friends, but they would never have fought to hold on to me like Carlisle would. Fought for me, sure, but they would have allowed me to leave, whether it was in my best interests or not.

"I wouldn't." I tried to reassure him that I wanted him and the family as much as they wanted me. "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. "

The tension relaxed, even without a little nudge from my gift. I gave him a quick shoulder bump. "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."

It seemed to be the correct thing to say, because he smiled back at me. I didn't have anything else to say, but I wasn't quite ready to leave either. So I leaned against him happily, perfectly calm in his presence for the very first time. Without thinking, I purred, not an uncommon occurrence when I was content. What was an uncommon occurrence was Carlisle purring back. He jumped at little at the first sound, clearly shocked that he could do such a thing. I kept my head turned away so he wouldn't see my slight smile. I knew that if I kept at it long enough, the rest of my family would find their voices.

For a while the world shrank down to just me and him, sitting together on the swing. I was aware of Edward and Emmett crashing through the woods a few miles away, but they were far enough back that I didn't feel compelled to get up. I just wanted it to be me and Carlisle for a few more seconds.

The sounds of them breaking the wood line coincided exactly with the rumble of Rosalie's car. For a second I was torn between the desire to investigate where my fellow family members had been and the need to see my mate immediately. I decided to split the difference and head towards my brothers first for a quick sniff and then back to Alice.

Emmett was a wild mix of excited emotions and it amped me up to just be near him. He spun around, playfully nipping and sparring with me while I ran in circles around him. The smells that clung to him told me that they had gone north, almost into Canada, and that they had hunted while they were out. Moose, I think. Maybe next time I would ask to go along with them.

"Jasper?" The voice was soft and questioning, and familiar in a way no other voice could ever be. "Do you want to see what I bought?"

Not really, but I was dying to see her. Emmett apparently felt the same about Rose, because he nearly knocked me over in his quest to get to her. I growled half-heartedly at him and followed at a slightly faster pace.

Alice saw me coming and leapt into my arms, her tiny body dangling several feet of the ground as I lifted her. She nestled against me, leaning close to my ear. "Was it terrible?"

It took me a minute to realize she meant my talk with Carlisle. "No, not really. It's better that he knows."

She nodded her agreement, not saying what she was probably thinking, which was 'I told you so'. Instead she leaned her cheek against mine. "My Jasper."

There was only one correct response to that. "My Alice."

Dimly, I heard Emmett greet Rose, and Esme calling to Carlisle, but none of that really mattered now. What mattered now was that I had Alice, and my family was together again. Anything else was just a bonus.


Another six months passed, with the seven of us settling into a calm routine. School let out for the summer, and I spent the majority of my days and nights playing with them. Since we were spending so much time together, a lot of the tension between Edward and I mostly dissipated. We still argued and sulked when we didn't get our way with each other, but there was an edge of playfulness to it now. We would probably never be close, but I would defend him to the death if it became necessary. In other words, we were brothers, just like a pair of humans. Emmett and I were much closer, his continually happy and easygoing demeanor one I enjoyed being around. We wrestled and watched television and generally acted like a pair of children. The only downside to being with Emmett was that he sometimes reminded me so much of Peter that it made my heart ache. But all and all, I was happy being with my new brothers.

Rosalie remained my best friend and roof buddy. The rest of the family understood that our time spent together was ours alone, and nobody bothered us when we were balanced on the steeply pitched tiles. For the first time, she told me her own secrets, reminded me that humans can be just as cruel as vampires without the excuse of bloodlust to fall back on. In a way I had known it already, felt the traumas that she was compelled to hide behind her bitchy exterior. I could recall doing the same thing myself. With her every movement, she made it clear that she was happy that I was there and a part of the family.

For the moment, things were as relaxed as they ever got with seven vampires in the house. Well, technically only four of us were here, and Emmett, Edward and Rose were all out, which probably accounted for both the quiet and the lack of lust floating around. Alice and Carlisle were playing chess, which turned out to be a fascinating game that greatly resembled moving two opposing armies around. Ever since Carlisle had taught me the basics a few months before, I had taken every opportunity to practice and had become quite proficient at it. Alice was losing, and I wanted to give her a few tips, but I knew that would be frowned on. Instead, I paced the room restlessly, trying to organize my restless thoughts. Without thinking, I ran my fingers across the piano keys, careful not to press down hard enough to make a single sound.

I could have played a few of the classics, as well as some hymns. A slow memory washed over me, of sitting next to my mother, squirming and ungrateful, as she tried to properly position my hands. "Now, Jasper, a gentleman knows how to play the piano. Come on now, show me a scale."

It was so real that I could feel her breath on the back of my neck, and thus I was surprised when Carlisle spoke. "Do you play, Jasper?"

For a second, I couldn't reply, caught between two worlds, two lives. "Not very well." It was the truth, especially compared to Edward. I had never been good about practicing, and eventually war broke out and my mother resigned herself to having a soldier instead of a gentleman.

"Play something anyway. Come on." His tone was gentle, and I wanted to oblige him, but I knew better.

"No. The piano is Edward's, not mine. I shouldn't fool around with it without asking him first." That was an understatement. Whether Edward is persnickety about all of his things, or has taken to treating his piano like the mate he doesn't have, he is obsessed with it. He tunes it and dusts it, which are both normal things, but I actually caught him talking to it a month or so ago. Our newfound respect for each other kept me from repeating that story to the rest of the family, but just barely. However, we all had things that were just ours. I wouldn't want Edward in my room, handling my things and I would give him the same courtesy.

Luckily, Carlisle seemed to understand. "Alright then, maybe later."

Maybe. I supposed I could ask Edward nicely to use his piano (which I had privately named "Edwina"). I let my fingers move slowly, tapping "Amazing Grace" out on my thigh. Yes, I remembered. Then Alice had to speak up. "He plays the guitar!"

Darn it to Hell, now Carlisle was staring at me. His eyes were warm and appraising. "Really?"

A tension coiled low in my stomach, making me look down instead of into his eyes. The emotion didn't really fit the situation, and that worried me more than anything Carlisle could have done. What was happening? What line had I crossed this time, to cause such tension to rise in the air? "Yeah, but I haven't played in years. Kind of hard to keep up with an instrument when you're moving so much."

He smiled at me, but the tension grew into a sense of panic. Nervously, I extended my senses outward, trying to figure out where the rouge feelings were coming from. They were increasing at a rate too quick to be anyone in the room. Carlisle was oblivious to it, and continued to speak. "You should have told me you enjoyed playing. We would have found something for you."

Even as I was opening my mouth to give him a warning, I knew it was too late. The fear and terror overwhelmed me as my brothers burst through the door. That in itself wasn't unusual. What was unusual was the scent of human blood that was being carried with them. The combination of the smell and wild emotions actually made my head swim and my vision grow blurry.

Luckily Major Whitlock, who was apparently still lurking around in my mind, stood up and took control of the situation. First order of business, figure out what was wrong. That was easy; Emmett's eyes had turned a dark crimson. Second, figure out what could be done to fix it. That one was a little harder. The human was already dead, that much was obvious. I assumed Carlisle had some sort of emergency plan in effect for a situation like this, but he had never gone over it with me. Probably because he assumed I would be the one to snap and kill someone.

So, I couldn't do anything to help out there, but I had to do something. Edward was babbling away about what had happened. Carlisle was half listening to him and half trying to resign from his position at the hospital. Alice bolted up the stairs, probably to pack our clothing. For the moment, everyone was ignoring Emmett, who had retreated to press his back against the wall in terror. Poor guy, I wondered if this was the first time he had slipped up like this.

Watching him there, I remembered all the times he had been kind to me, even when I wasn't sure enough to be kind back. I kept my movements slow and easy, lowering my body downwards so I would look less threatening. It wasn't enough, and he gave me a throaty snarl. Right now I wasn't his brother, or his friend, or his wrestling partner. Right now I was a stranger, one he would have no qualms about attacking. I backed off.

Carlisle was still talking on the phone, only now he was sending a wave of irritation my way. I knew he wanted me to leave Emmett alone, but I couldn't. This wasn't the first traumatized vampire I had dealt with, and if my life kept going the way it was, he wouldn't be the last. I simply had to be patient and let Emmett know that I wouldn't leave him, and that I wouldn't be provoked into attacking.

It took four more tries before I had had enough. I growled back at him, keeping my eyes locked on him. Though it had never been made clear before, I was dominant over him, and I would not put up with his disrespect. Finally, he allowed me to approach him.

Despite his earlier aggression, I felt no fear about putting my face to his. He had reaccepted me as family, and I wasn't in any danger. Carlisle felt nervous, though whether he was afraid for my safety, or that I would freak out on him was debatable. Emmett put a hand up to my shoulder, holding tightly enough to badly injure a human. I ignored that and laid my forehead against his. "It's alright."

"Carlisle's going to kill me." His whisper was so soft it barely met my ears. It would have been impossible for Carlisle himself to overhear us.

I wasn't quite sure what to say to that, considering I had no idea what Carlisle was going to do. But, if it came down to it, I would take Emmett's side over the doctors. "I won't let him." I purred softly to him, the vibrations flattening out and traveling through my body to his. He didn't speak further, but allowed me to pull him to his feet. Good, we were making some progress.

"What do we do?" I kept my voice level and my hand on Emmett's back. I could do this; I could keep myself under control as long as I had someone else to worry about. Never mind that I wanted to lick the tiny droplets of blood that I could still see at the corners of his lips. Settle down Jasper, think of Alice. Think of disappointing her, and of having to abandon Rosalie. If you freak out, who's going to help Emmett? Face it Major, at least some of them need you. Edward would be alright, and Carlisle and Esme have each other, but the other three? They need you to keep it together.

"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."

I figured that Alice would be able to handle our things, so I coaxed Emmett up the stairs and into the room he shared with Rosalie. He didn't actively resist me, but I had to tug him up each step. "Get some suitcases."

He obeyed me without comment, opening the suitcases and laying them on the bed. "Come on now, do you want to piss Rose off when I pack the wrong things?"

Emmett still seemed to be in shock, but the thought of Rosalie's anger was enough to make him move. I grabbed a photo album, as well as the entire jewelry box, shoving them into the other suitcase. I tried to remember things I had seen them use, or things that seemed important to them. It was a difficult task, but I reminded myself that time was of the essence here, and anything that was left behind could be retrieved later.

We were done in minutes, and dragging suitcases down into the waiting cars. Then back up to retrieve the single suitcase from Alice. It might not look like much, but we were used to traveling much lighter. The six of us huddled in the front hallway, waiting for Rosalie so we could run before dawn. I hoped that Edward had had the sense to hide the body, but one could never tell with him. Obviously, this family wasn't used to having to cover their tracks, at least not where dead humans were concerned. It was almost certain to stay hidden until dawn, and, with any luck, a day or two beyond that. We still might manage to come out of this more or less intact.

Finally Edward spoke, more to break the increasingly uncomfortable silence than anything else. "Where are we going?"

Good question. Major Whitlock seemed to have gone back to wherever he had come from; because that was something he would have asked 15 minutes ago. "Well, I thought I would give you guys a choice. We could go back up to Alaska, or down to Charlotte."

I barely stopped myself from blurting out that I didn't want to go to Charlotte. Though my hunting grounds had never been anywhere near there, I had had enough of being south of the Mason Dixon line to last a lifetime, thank you. But I held my tongue. As the newest member of the family, I would have the least say in things. I should just wait until I was asked directly for my opinion, if I was asked at all.

Suddenly, Alice stiffened beside me, her emotions going wild then blank. She was having a vision. "We're going to Alaska." Thank you, Alice. This is going to work out after all. "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."

Everyone stared at her, not as used to her visions as I was. She had probably seen more, much more, but I knew she would never tell. She liked to keep a little mystery in the future for the rest of us. That was fine with me, I trusted her to keep us both out of danger.

Edward was a little less sure. "Why's that, freak? Do you even know where Forks is?"

Any other vampire would have lost a limb for being so disrespectful to my mate, but this was part of their bond and I ignored it. Alice could take care of herself.

Sure enough, she was right back on him. "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."

Hopefully "she" was a mate for Edward, or at least a female companion. That ought to soften the loss of Edwina, and hopefully make him a little more friendly and less dependant on his music. His moodiness and hurt was enough to send an empath into a migraine headache.

"Who's 'she'?" Esme spoke for the first time, no doubt envisioning another daughter to love and care for.

"You'll find out. Especially Edward." Alice grinned and let her tiny hand slip into mine.

The emotions in the room rose, with everyone stressed and on edge. I hoped Carlisle could pull them under control, because I had my hands full trying to soothe Emmett, who had retreated into himself. I moved to touch my free hand to his neck, letting the skin to skin contact increase the calm I was sending at him.

I needn't have worried. I had to remember that he had been a coven leader for a long time, and he knew what he was doing. "Fine, Alice says Alaska. Does anyone have an objection to that?"

None of us responded, but at least no one was arguing. He gave a weary smile. "Alaska it is, then."

Questions swirled in my mind, but I didn't voice any of them. I was afraid of disturbing the peace that had settled on the family. The minutes ticked by, first five, then ten, and beyond, but no one moved.

It was nearly and hour and a half later that we heard Rosalie's car pull up. Her emotions were telling me that she was happy and smug, no doubt having gotten what she considered to be some excellent deals while shopping. It took less than a second for her to comprehend the situation and make her choice. I released my hold on Emmett so she could hug him tightly. Her eyes met mine and I could feel the gratitude she would never admit out loud. "Let's go."

There was no way for all of us to fit into one car, and for a moment I was torn between staying with Emmett and going with Alice. On the one hand, he had his mate now, and probably wouldn't need me. On the other, he still hadn't said a word, and that frightened me. My playful, joking big brother had turned into a mute, terrified stranger. Alice gave me a quick shove in the direction of the car that Rose and Emmett were in. "Go."

Due to the fact that he was the size of three normal people, Emmett and Rosalie took up the entire backseat. Not that it mattered that much, I was more then capable of manipulating over a distance greater than that of the car. I just had to be careful to focus only on Emmett, or risk causing Carlisle to lose his concentration on the road.

It felt good to curl up in the seat, even though I still couldn't fully relax. It had been a long time since I had had to keep my focus up for an extended period, and I was sorely out of practice. Years ago, I would have thought nothing of keeping control of an entire army for hours on end, and now I was worn out focusing on a single vampire. Because you're worried Jasper. You didn't care what happened to those newborns, but you do care what happens to your brother. Your own tension is making it hard to soothe his.

I was so busy entertaining that thought that it surprised me when Carlisle touched my shoulder. His face swam a bit as I looked up at him. "It's alright now Jasper. You can rest."

It surprised me that, with so many other things on his mind, he would take the time to notice me and the fact that I was tired. The back part of my mind, the one that was still wary of these vampires and their intentions was telling me that they were too close and I had no escape route, but the larger part of me knew I was as safe with him as I was likely to get. So I nodded and relaxed, letting my eyes close.

Barely 10 seconds later, I heard a voice that I hadn't been expecting at all. "Thanks, brother."

The words startled me so badly that my eyes flashed back open. Brother? I certainly loved him like a brother, but I had no idea he felt the same about me. After all, he had Edward, who was funny and social and didn't have to be watched at all times. Why did he need me? But he did, and it made me smile and shoot him a thumbs-up. "Welcome."

He smiled back, his red eyes telling me that we were good. Rose nudged him and they started to talk to each other. Both Carlisle and I tuned them out in an attempt to give them some privacy. I leaned my head against the seatbelt and hummed softly to myself.

Rosalie leaned between the seats and poked Carlisle. "Are we going to school in Alaska?"

Like I said before, this family worries about the strangest things. Carlisle's eyes met mine, noticeably confused. "Yes, but it's only June."

"Jasper too?" Now I was interested. It would be nice to have the family show a little trust in me now and again. Still, she must have more reason for asking than idle curiosity.

"Jasper too."

She was quiet again, for so long that I gave up and closed my eyes. Knowing Rosalie, she might take hours to come out with whatever she needed to.

"Jasper?" Her voice was soft and slightly nervous.

I really just wanted to retreat from all of them and curl up by myself for a few hours to heal up, but that wasn't an option right now. "Hmmm?" I hoped she could tell from my tone that I wasn't up for any sort of debate.

"Do you want to be my brother?" Both her senses of nervousness and anticipation rose.

For a minute I was confused. She had told me over and over with her actions (though not her words) that she loved me and considered me her family. Why was it suddenly so important to hear me say the words? "I'm already your brother."

She rolled her eyes, their color a shocking contrast to the red of her husband's. "No, I mean my real brother. We could be twins this time."

I barely had time to process that before she was talking to Carlisle. "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 thought it was a great idea. I loved Rosalie completely, and I knew how hard this was for her. The last name Hale was a clear connection to her first life, one of the only connections she had left. Her anxiety was increasing as I kept silent, so I gave her my sweetest smile. "I would love to be your brother, Rose. Jasper Hale, I like it. Or did you want to be a Whitlock?"

Her eyes clouded over and I knew I had pushed her too far. Without missing a beat, I kept on going. "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."

She gave me a soft smile that said she knew exactly what I was doing, and she appreciated me not calling attention to her insecurities. She unbuckled her seatbelt and leaned up to muss up my hair. Well, make it more mussed that in usually was. I gave her a playful growl, low in my throat, and she rolled her eyes.

Carlisle was looking at me again, but this time there was something in his eyes that I had never seen before, at least not directed towards me. "So, Jasper Hale, can I ask you a question about your gift?"

It never failed to amuse me that, after a year and a half, he still felt like he had to tread lightly with my emotions. Really, I wasn't as fragile as he thought I was. "Shoot." I liked saying that, ever since Emmett and I had gone to see several cowboy movies over the winter.

He paused probably thinking of the best way to ask his question. "Does it bother you to use your gift? You seem very tired now."

A part of me wanted to lie, to keep him from knowing anything about me or my weaknesses, but I choked that down. Carlisle wasn't looking for a way to use this against me. "If I have to use it for a long time, or on a large group of people, it can get wearing." Extremely wearing. "But just now and then I barely notice.

Carlisle smiled at me, his yellow eyes reflecting something I couldn't quite name. "That's very interesting. Edward doesn't seem to be tired out by his."

The words were followed by an immediate wave of regret, strong enough to make me want to giggle again. Edward and I were locked in a power struggle that might take years to resolve, but the foundations had long since been laid and not much was going to change it now. I knew that Carlisle liked Edward best, and I was fine with it. Well, I was fine with it as long as he never said anything like that in front of Edward.

He was still looking at me expectantly, so I took a minute to think about how I could best explain it. "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."

I wanted him to understand that I wasn't infallible either, but that I was willing to put forth the effort. I hoped he got it, because I didn't think I was ever going to be able to say it out loud.

Apparently he didn't because he just gave me a simple nod. "I see."

Alright, I would just have to try harder to convince him with my actions, rather than my words. But not right now. Right now, I just wanted to rest for a few minutes, and block out this terrifying day. A half hour or so passed in a comfortable silence, none of us willing to risk saying the wrong thing.

Esme's voice broke the quiet, but by the time I realized she was speaking, the moment was over. Still it was pretty obvious what she wanted when we pulled into a gas station.

Alice was already bounding out of the car in front of us, so I forced myself up to greet her. Just seeing her smile was enough to make me forget my tired mind and body. She smiled and all but leapt into my arms, please to see me even after such a short absence. It was a sharp contrast to our early months together, when we had never separated. She had been afraid I would leave, or worse, she would forget me the same way she had forgotten everything else. I was afraid she would realize she deserved much better that a chewed up old fighter with nothing to offer her. But that anxiety had faded long ago, leaving nothing but love and affection in its place. I would always have Alice, no matter what else the future held.

All too soon, we were back in the car, where Carlisle shocked me by asking if I wanted to drive. No one, not even Alice, had ever considered trusting me with a several ton machine before. I did want to, and thought it looked pretty simple, but I didn't want my first try at it coming when I was so tired. So I shook my head and climbed into the backseat with Emmett. This served two purposes. It allowed me to be close to him, in case he needed me, and it gave the front seat to Carlisle without there being any debate.

The backseat wasn't as comfortable as the front, so I leaned against Emmett instead. He tensed, clearly still upset and out of sorts, so I head butted his shoulder and purred lightly, not wanting him to move and disturb my peace. He made an odd noise back, like a strange combination of a purr and a growl, but his emotions told me it was all in good fun. His arm came to rest heavy on my shoulder, and for once, I allowed it without protest. Carlisle and Rosalie talked up front, but their words were too soft for me to understand.

Carlisle raised his gaze up to the rearview mirror, looking first at Emmett, then at me. I kept my eyes half-closed to avoid making eye contact, but watched him back. Even after all of this time, he was still somewhat of a mystery to me. Everything was so different here than in my previous coven that I still got overwhelmed and worried sometimes. Just sometimes, though, not every single day like I was in the beginning. Progress, a little bit at a time.

By my best calculations, it would take at least a week for us to get up to Alaska. A week stuck in a car, sometimes with Alice, sometimes without. Always surrounded by other vampires that I couldn't get away from. But these weren't any vampires, they were my new family. I trusted that Carlisle knew what he was doing, and that he knew enough to keep us all safe.

Emmett gave me a quick poke in the ribs, breaking my concentration. His emotions were unreadable, but I was happy that he was at least attempting to engage me. I poked back, not really sure of what I was trying to do. He chuckled softly, and it turned into a silent war, with both of us trying not to alert Carlisle and Rose as to what we were up to.

18 months in this coven and I had somehow reverted back to a completely subordinate role. Not only that, but I was fine with it. At any other time, in any other situation, I would have been panicking, attempting to get myself back into the top position for my own safety and Alice's. Now I was content with the way things had turned out. Terrible as it was, what had happened today was the last piece I needed to fully accept this new family. This was probably the worst thing any of us could have done, but he accepted it with his usual good nature, fixing things without becoming violent. Impressive.

Emmett took advantage of my roving thoughts to give me a particularly vicious jab somewhere around my nonfunctioning right kidney. Keeping my movements slow enough not to attract Carlisle's attention, I pressed my lips to his ear and whispered "Just wait until we get to Alaska. I'll get you when you least expect it."

His red eyes sparked with delight at the thought. "Bring it on, little man. Bring it on."

Poor fellow probably thought he was messing with Edward, who, despite his gift, was not particularly good at planning things out. After the life I had lived, battle plans were my specialty, and I could already think of a dozen ways to get back at him. But for the moment, I was content to lean my head against his arm and close my eyes. There would be plenty of time in the coming week to plan things out. Right this second, I just wanted the chance to rest and relax with my new family.