Author's note: This is a Pre-canon AU story in which Jasper and Peter didn't leave Maria till MUCH later.

If my heart were still able to beat it would be smashing itself against my ribcage, as I watch Peter descend into the mouth of the quarry. A lazy patch of clouds drift across the face of the moon, allowing me enough cover to start to move again. I quickly pass through the shadows, keeping him in sight as I wonder what manner of madness has overtaken my friend.

Use to be that I knew how things stood with Peter and me. We have stood together through the years, shoulder to shoulder, fighting and killing. Close as any two of our kind can be, friends and so much more. Now, I'm not so sure. Something's different, can't say what exactly, but it's got me riled. I've takin' to spying on a friend, and I am a far cry from proud of it.

My intentions were to just follow him, maybe reason out the cause of his distracted nature, of late. Try to find out why he's suddenly so shy of my company or any company, for that matter. There are all manner of reasons that could explain his curious behavior, some simple and some not. As the not so pleasant reasons turn about in my mind, I am filled with equal parts of misery and dread.

'Course, I offered up a simple, less incriminating reason for my own departure, saying that I was itching to inspect the burning site. The latest crop of newborns had just been cut down and I told Maria I wanted to make sure they were disposed of properly. Peter's work has never warranted inspection, but Maria accepted the feeble excuse with a wave of her hand. Paying me no more attention a horse would give a bothersome fly. It hurts, knowing that I'm no longer in her favor. It was the first time that I've been grateful that for her indifference. If Maria suspected that something was amiss, I'd be coming to kill, not to council my friend.

I crouch in the shadow, watching Peter perch on the natural ledge created by the crumbling of the earth and rock. His dark eyes scan the area, the nervous energy rolling off him making me twitch. There's a subtle depth in the shadows behind him, and just as he disappears into it, I realize it's a cave. Panic seizes me as I begin to run up the loose rocky path. I do not want to believe that he is been seriously planning to do it. He can't be that stupid or insane.

On occasion, Peter has spoke of us striking out on our own. I thought it was just talk. I was so sure he was still just as devoted to Maria as I am, and would never make good on his "plans." I reach the ledge in a matter of seconds and move to stand in his place, the small indents left in the loose gravel by Peter's feet beneath the toes of my boots. I turn to see the sliver of an entrance and I feel Peter's presence brush against me. With a heavy heart, I step through the narrow entry to the cave.

Peter's fear, anxiety and desire fill the air around me, the last emotion causing a painful twisting in my chest as I catch the hushed tones of two voices speaking.

"You shouldn't, it's not safe." Peter's voice rings clearly in my ears and I pick up my pace. He would smell and hear me soon enough.

"I can't hide here forever. It's too -" I hear the female voice cut short as the sensation of panic overcomes me in an unexpected wave. I hear her footfall just before she strikes. I dive to the ground and come up in a defensive stance. She is somehow in front of me, slamming me against the cave wall, a small blur of growling rage. Her face is clear as she press in close, her teeth shining.

'I know you," I grunt in her face and she rewards me with a vicious smile.

She'd been promising – fearless, lightening fast, and... strange. Newborns are little more than an appetite with teeth and a will to move. Clawing and chewing their way through anything that gets in their path. Their minds calm once the change settles, if they lasted that long. This one was different, she wasn't chaotic and scattered as the rest and even more bewildering, the hunger didn't seem to rule her mind. Peter had told me that she called herself Bella.

I should have known she was trouble when Peter had asked Maria to consider keeping her. I had naturally backed his play, ignorant ass that I am - which was a mistake of the highest order. Our apparent deference toward this newborn female sealed her fate. Maria's face had been passive as she declined our request, but her jealousy tore through me, so strong I thought I was going to scream. She fixed her eyes on me, making it clear as crystal that I was not at liberty to share the inner workings of her mind.

Seeing Peter's disappointment at her decision, I offered to dispose of the newborn myself. Peter had quickly turned me down. Whether it was inspired by his apparent devotion or her jealously, Maria took us into her bed. The spell had only lasted a few nights, but it had served to distract me from Peter's anguish.

"You," she said, her eyes widening in shock. I moved before she could have a chance to react, easily slipping from her hold. I pulled her legs from under her, sending her to floor. I fell on top of her, my teeth bared and ready to tear at her throat.

"JASPER!" Peter fell on my back, wrestling with me with all his strength.

"You dumb son of a bitch!" I shift my weight, throwing him off balance. I grab him by the neck, flipping him over and slam him down to the ground. "What in hell were you thinking?" I growl as I press my boot beneath his chin. My grip tightens on his arm, pulling it at an angle to pin him in place. I could never truly hurt him, unless Maria orders me to and that's most assuredly going to happen when she finds out about this.

"Please stop!" The girl's pleading voice means nothing to me, but the crushing weight of her love is hard to ignore. I turn toward her, and Peter slips from my grasp, moving with speed that's surprising for him, as he stand between us. Her dark eyes fix on mine as he slides an arm around her waist, the intensity of the love flowing between them stifles my ability to focus.

"Bella," Peter whispers as tries to block my view of her, but she shifts to the side, her eyes still focused on me.

"I'll go without a fight, if you promise he'll be safe." The little newborn earns my respect with her words, but Peter's not about to let her go that easy. He surges forward, catching me off-guard.

"Bella run!" He drives me to the ground, as he screams at her, trying to hold me more than actually fight me.

"No," little Bella says in a determined tone. Peter stops, anguish twisting his face and crashing against me as I push him off. "What do you think she will do to him if we run away?" Bella asks as she places her hand against Peter's cheek and I feel him break.

I've seen this coming for so long. Cowardice has kept me silent, as I selfishly distracted myself with my own pain. I watch as Peter's face turns stony. He accepts the inevitable outcome, and the cold hard weight of his grief pours over me. I can't do this to him.

My eyes shift back to the bewitching creature who has besotted my friend. Her face is still, eyes bright and watchful. I wonder if she's got any inclination of what she's done here. If she knows how much it hurts to do what I am about to do.

"Go." I turn my back to them and start to leave, hating them a little as the sound of their joy echoes off the stone walls. Feeling like a petty son of a bitch, I ignore their words and the try to block out the crushing waves of love and relief.

"Jasper," Peter says my name as he places a hand on my shoulder. My own heartache eating a hole in my insides, I stop and reluctantly meet his gaze. "Come with us," Peter says, his eyes sparkling with hope. It's been so long, too long since I've seen him this happy. The fact that I'm not the source burns me a little. I smile as I shake my head.

"You still love her." It's not a question. He knows there's only one reason I would stay. My own regret stings me, almost as much as the hurt in his eyes. Before I can think of what to say to ease his pain, his lips crash against mine. The kiss is so unexpected and yet so long desired. It wipes my mind, leaving only the all consuming need to for more. I pull him into my body, but he pushes back. His lips release mine and I sigh in disappointment, but I don't loosen my grip.

"She will never let us be together, not like this," he whispers against my mouth.

Peter and I have shared Maria's bed through the years and she's even delighted in the vicarious pleasure of watching us together. However, Maria is nothing if not possessive, and she would never allow for such activities to take place without her being present. In her mind, we would be selfish to not share with her. I have agreed with her certain brand of logic for so long, I've forgotten how to question it. Until now. I feel the truth of his words roll through me as I nod.

I turned my eyes to Bella, wondering again if this little twist of fate understands just how much she's changed... everything. She stands there, quiet, as Peter presses his lips to my temple, and it occurs to me that I can't sense any jealousy or anger. We stare at each other, she and I, as hope begins to take root within me.

"We should go now," I hear myself say as Peter crushes me in a tight embrace and the small dark girl's mouth turns up in a smile.

"How old are you?" Bella asks, her dark hair hanging around her face like a curtain, as she dangles from the tree branch above me.

"How many fingers do you have?" I ask, peering up at her sweet face.

"Ten," she says, rolling her eyes and making me grin.

"A bit more than that." I wink and she frowns. Her position distorts the gesture, giving it the look of a crumpled smile. She growls at me and drops from the tree to crouch in front of me.

Normally, the sharp tones of annoyance she's causing to drum inside my head would drive me elsewhere, but I just widen my smile. Bella makes most things more of a sport than a chore, be it through her youthful enthusiasm or damn stubborn resistance to common sense. It should rub me the wrong way, but there's something just downright endearing about it.

"Peter says you were a soldier," she continues, stubborn as ever, as she lays down, propping her head on my crossed legs.

"Still am," I say as I rock my legs in a gently rhythmic motion, intended to annoy her. A shadow passes across her face as the weight of her emotions tugs at me, jarring my senses. It has been a great many years since I've felt sympathy so strong. "Now, don't go feeling bad for the likes of me. I've got no grievance with my lot, and neither should you," I try to reassure her, but she just shakes her head.

"You're more than that," she insists as she moves to kneel beside me, placing her small hand on my face.

"And you are prone to inappropriate levels of kindness." I gently remove her hands, and I try to recapture the levity that had only just surrounded us a second ago. "Now, get back to hunting and let an old soldier enjoy a bit of quiet." I pat her head, gently dismissing her.

Bella makes a sour face, but doesn't speak. She just stares at me like she's going to lay into me, like Peter does, but when she finally moves, it's to press her smooth lips to my forehead.

She is such a strange creature. Peter likes to wax on about how her capacity to love is boundless, but after more than a century and half of life, it is still difficult to believe. Soon enough she'll grow tired of sharing Peter and it'll be time for me to move on.

Maria's hunters found us sooner than we'd anticipated. Confusion, rage, and hunger swell over me as I try to focus on anything that will tell me how much time we have before they attack.

"Jasper," Peter whispers and I open my eyes. He and Bella stand tense and ready, awaiting my word.

"Close," I huff as I scan the clearing we've entered. It's as good a place as any to face them. The small space will make their numbers work against them. Peter and I have experience with this type of fight, but Bella... I just ain't sure. She is fast and strong, but her time as a newborn is waning and she's never faced a fight where she is so outnumbered. I can't count on her to share the burden of fighting. I draw up a plan in seconds, making do with our skills and the surroundings.

"Peter, circle around and take their flank. Force them into the clearing. I'll meet them here and draw them in. Bella, you get in the tree, and once Peter reaches the entrance of the clearing, you will join him. Bring down as many trees as you can to block their exit." I rattle off the orders, ignoring the look that Peter's giving me.

We can't win. The truth of it is hard to deny, so I don't try. I just hold onto the hope that Peter understands my intentions and sees the right of it. Once I'm blocked in with the newborns, I'll hold them until Peter and Bella can get away. It's a fair trade in my figuring, a small price to pay for the month of freedom we've shared. I watch his face, and feel the surge of grief as he closes his eyes and nods.

"What?" Bella looks between us, smart enough to know that more is at work. She advances towards me, anger and confusion rolling off her like heat off a furnace.

"Settle down, the plan will work," I tell her as I give her a level gaze. It's a lie, one I hope she'll accept, for Peter's sake.

"Bella." Peter takes her hand, pulling her into his arms and she goes, grudgingly. I watch as they embrace. Peter's eyes cut a hole in me and I turn away. "I love you," Peter whispers to her and I feel a twinge of jealousy.

"I love you," Bella's voice is hushed, but the waves of love boom inside my mind.

I try to focus back on my plan, scanning the clearing for any spots that the newborns could slip through. There are plenty of weak points, but it should hold. I am so consumed in my own thoughts, I don't sense her presence until Bella's small hand presses against my waist. I look down into her crimson eyes, as her hand slides behind my neck.

"Jasper." Her voice is strained with emotion as she pulls me down, her mouth pressing against mine. I'm so shocked that I don't fight as her mouth gently plays over mine. I feel Peter press against my back, his arms circle my waist as he kisses my neck. I moan softly into Bella's sweet mouth as her tongue traces a wet line across my lips.

This is new kind of torture. All this love and intimacy - now. Too late to do anything more than taunt me with a future that doesn't belong to me. As love and desire engulf me, I almost wish that I had not tasted it. I push back from Bella and I pull Peter's hands free of me.

"They're coming," I say as I walk away.

I take my place, sparing an indulgent glance to the empty space where I left them. All the promises that blossomed in that moment and the sweet taste of Bella, turn to ash in my mouth. Burning hunger and fury bear down on me, signaling the arrival our executioners.

"Jasper!" I hear Bella call from somewhere above me, her voice high and panicked. She's seen their swelling numbers, and now she understands. Regret twists in my chest as I feel her fear and grief prickle against me.

"Stick with the plan," I call back, fighting the waves of her fear with my own smothering calm. She fights me, and I feel her doubt start to infect me. "Please, Bella," I plead and her resistance finally dissipate as growls and snarls fill the air.

They pour over the rise, like a seething tidal wave of red eyes and white teeth. The frenzy of their emotions slam into me, but I have faced it before. I focus on the smothering overwhelming tide and reflect it back at them, doubling its intensity. It will trip them up, confound them, and give me a little edge. I can hear the screaming of breaking wood as Peter starts to form the barricade, which means I can engage them.

The key is to keep moving, never waste a movement, and stay ahead of their instincts. It sounds easy; it is several worlds away from easy. I target their heads; it is the quickest way to eliminate them as a threat. A flailing body, with nothing to guide it, is little more than a mass of twitching limbs. Searing pain cuts through my arm as one of them catches me, its teeth sinking into my flesh. I hiss in response, angered by my carelessness. I seize the back of its skull and use my arm that's still in its mouth to give me enough leverage to twist the head free of its body. I kick the squirming body out of my way and tear the head from my arm.

"Bella!" Peter's desperate scream draws my attention to a dark blur that drops into the center of the angry swarm of newborns.

My focus evaporates in an instant, as fear overwhelms every other emotion around me. I tear through the bodies in front of me. Cutting a swath with my teeth and nails, desperate to get to Bella. Bodies shift and roil around me, biting and clawing, but I drive on. Stopping is not an option.

The screech of tearing vampire flesh surrounds me as I continue to fight. Pain, red hot, pierces my throat as a weight slams me to the ground. I reach toward my back, trying to claw off the attacker, desperate to get enough purchase to pull it free, but I cannot get enough of a grip.

"Jasper." I hear the faint note of a familiar voice screaming my name, followed by the disappearance of my attacker. More screams erupt above me as bodies began to slam to the ground around me. I struggle to rise and start to take in the scene. Torn and rendered bodies lay scattered across the clearing.

Peter has already begun to pull them into piles, starting to build the pier. A pained howl draws my attention to a small group of still battling figures.

Bella's beautiful face is dotted by bites, her teeth bared as she pries open a newborn's jaw at a ridiculous angle. Its head snaps with a high pitch screech just as another figure descends on her. She falls to the ground, raising her legs up to meet her attacker's chest. She uses his momentum to send him flying over her and quickly jumps to her feet. Wasting no time she tackles another newborn, her teeth tearing free most of its neck as they tumble to the ground.

The newborn she'd just sent flying had already recovered and was moving toward her. I quickly close the distance, dispatching him before she's standing upright again.

I stare at her as she gives me a bright beautiful smile as my heart overflows with her joy and triumph. I have her in my arms in seconds, my mouth pressed to her as she enthusiastically returns the kiss. She pushes against my shoulders and reluctantly I pull free of her mouth.

"Peter," she calls as I look up to see him already beside us. Relief and love fills me, flows through me, making my throat thick with it. Peter says our names as he takes turns kissing each of us and I wind an arm around his waist, pulling him in close, as Bella's laughter fills the air. This is a blessing, a gift, and so much more.

Author's Note 2: Thanks to Frenchbeanz and my Project Team Beta team (Stephanie, Jenny and Pamela) for being awesome betas.