Alice scrolled through the pictures on her laptop as she sat in the living room of the tiny house she had rented. She was close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to hear the water moving against the shore. The sound of the waves usually called to her, inviting her to swim in the depths of whichever body of water she was near. But not today.
Today, she was looking for clues to her past. She had been taking pictures for weeks now, determined to spark some memory of her life in Biloxi. There were pictures of the asylum where her family had sent her, the cemetery where her human existence had ended with a date etched into stone, and the property where her family had once lived. The house was gone, as were most of the people. Photographs of various headstones testified to this fact.
It wasn't as if she needed the pictures to remember what she had seen, really. She took them to have something tangible - something solid - that would prove that she had been human at some point.
She knew her full name now, knew that she had been part of a family. She even knew the reason that she had been changed. But the traces of her previous life were disappearing with each passing day. Her human mother and father had died several decades ago. Her sister, Cynthia, had lived until 1985. Even the brother-in-law she had never known was buried beneath a stone slab in the Biloxi City Cemetery. The only member of her family who was left was her niece, Marian.
And the pictures of Marian caused her greater pain than all of the others combined. She looked very much like Alice, small and lithe with dark brown eyes, not unlike Alice's own when she was hungry. Alice imagined that she was looking at eyes that were the same as hers had been when she was human.
She wished she had seen Marian as a young lady, to see how striking the similarities would have been. Now, her niece's hair was thin and gray, her faced lined with the trials of life. Her legs had failed her, and most of the time she sat alone in a wheelchair by the window of the nursing home where she lived.
Watching Marian from a tree-lined lane near the nursing home, it was easy for Alice to picture what she, herself, would have looked like, had she lived a normal human life and grown old.
She watched Marian, finally aware of the family she couldn't remember. But Marian would never know about her aunt. She would die thinking that the flowers she carefully carried into the cemetery each week were placed on an actual grave, that Mary Alice Brandon had died many years ago. No doubt her family had kept the truth about Alice's fate from her.
Alice had watched as Marian was wheeled into the cemetery on Monday. Her niece visited the family members who had passed, taking time at each grave to place the beautiful white poinsettias she carried with her. The nurse helped her arrange them among the greenery that was already there. There were a few small ornaments hung on the garland, and an angel adorned the wrapper of each plant. She was celebrating the holidays with her family.
Alice could almost feel the loneliness flowing in waves from Marian as she spoke to each headstone. At her husband's she stopped for several minutes before speaking. Her head dropped low, and her voice was shaking.
"Christmas is the hardest time for me, Bill. There's nobody left to celebrate with. I miss you," she whispered. Alice could see the tears rolling down her face.
Alice understood the yearning as she stood watching Marian talk to the family members she could never know.
Marian had been the only surviving child of Cynthia and Robert Masters. She was unable to have children of her own. Her husband had died in an accident several years ago, and she currently suffered from ALS. After Bill's death, there had been nobody left to care for her, and she had been relegated to the nursing home in which she now lived. It was less than a mile from the house Alice had rented, and only a few blocks from Marian's childhood home.
Alice ached with the desire to see her, to talk to her only remaining human relation. She was so near, and yet so separate from her. Each time she tried to envision the outcome of such a meeting, it would end in tragedy.
Marian was a fragile human and couldn't know that Alice existed. She would never be able to handle the stress. Moreover, her life would end before long. The disease that crippled her legs would soon claim her. All ties to Alice's past would be severed when that happened.
Alice focused her energy on Marian again as she looked at the picture, trying desperately to see what the future held for her only living relative. She was usually unsuccessful in looking for her future unless she made a decision to visit with her. But tonight a vision grabbed her immediately.
Her body stiffened, and her teeth clenched together with a cracking sound as she watched the scene play out in her mind. The fingernails on her left hand worked their way into her stony skin and she gasped, as if fighting for breath.
Marian was in mortal danger - a blood clot was moving slowly toward her brain. Alice saw her fall from her wheelchair, crumpling on the floor from the massive pain in her head. She saw the nurses try to lift her nearly lifeless form back into her chair. They moved quickly as they realized that something was seriously wrong, but the damage inflicted by the clot was irreparable. Marian would die tonight. Her life would end on Christmas Eve, and she would be alone.
Alice leapt into action, grabbing her laptop and setting it on her knees with a thump, nearly destroying it. She opened the browser and started to hack into the nursing home's computer system, frantically ordering tests that would enable the doctors to diagnose the clot before Marian had the deadly stroke that she had seen.
At least she could give her a little more time.
It was selfish in many ways. She wanted to have the link to her past, couldn't imagine losing it. She needed to have the connection to her human life that Marian provided. There wasn't much left of the past she couldn't remember. When Marian slipped from this life, the hope of learning more would fade away with her. Maybe Alice could find the courage in that time to call her and ask her about her family. If she could see that it wouldn't cause harm, she would meet her and ask the questions in person.
She closed the browser, shutting her eyes to look for Marian's future again. The images had changed, and she could see the doctors treating Marian to avoid a stroke.
A smile graced her face for the first time in days. Marian would still be alive tomorrow to celebrate Christmas with her friends.
Alice wished she could know what Marian was thinking. If only Edward were nearby, he could hear her thoughts…
She stroked the keyboard harder, moving through the pictures more quickly, as if they would prevent her from thinking of her brother. Thoughts of Edward would inevitably lead to thoughts of the rest of her family, and of Jasper. Thinking of them would lead to visions of them, and she was trying to avoid that at all costs.
Her finger instantly stopped prompting the next picture when she came upon the photo of the asylum where she had spent her final moments.
The building was dilapidated and weather worn and sat behind the newer building that had replaced it. The roof was missing from various sections of the structure. There was a sign in front it that warned of its instability.
Alice had ignored the sign when she'd visited last week, naturally.
On that day, she had wandered through the hallways of the building, her feet breaking through the floorboards on occasion. One spark of memory hit as she stood outside of the cells on the upper level. They were tiny and had no window. No light had been provided for the occupants.
She remembered the feel of the dirty mattress on the floor and the stained garment on her body. She reached for her hair and vaguely recalled when it had been cut to prevent an outbreak of lice. It had grown out a little, thankfully, from the original cut they had given her.
The darkness had always been only thing she had remembered. She had never understood why before that day.
Alice had never taken the time to worry about her past before, although it bothered her that she knew nothing of where she came from.
Her thoughts upon waking into her current life had been of Jasper. His blond hair and red eyes called to her. She saw everything about him clearly before the thirst hit her. His natural calmness had helped her through those first moments when her throat burned and her bloodlust flared, and she hadn't even met him yet.
She didn't count the victims she took that first day. The asylum had been full of helpless souls, moldering in their cells. She remembered her frenzy with a shudder. She had never recalled it so clearly before.
For a moment, she wondered how the staff had explained the deaths to the family members who still visited their loved ones. There were almost certainly staff members who had perished at her hand. Their deaths would have been even more difficult to cover up.
The question of her disappearance would have been brought up with her family, wouldn't it? Or would the staff include her in the number of the dead, writing her off as easily as her family had. She wondered if her family had even checked on her after leaving her there. No records of visitors existed.
The rejection she felt from the date on the headstone was still fresh, and she shuddered with the hurt she had felt when she broke into the basement of the new building to find the records of her hospitalization, only to find the matching dates.
Alice longed to share the things she had found with her family. But, she knew she wasn't ready for that. She didn't want to add to the burden they were feeling from Edward's abandonment.
And she had left them behind in New York State, just as he had.
Being unable to use her abilities to help ease their pain was overwhelming. She wasn't able to direct them and it was killing her.
Before leaving, Edward had elicited a promise from her. She wasn't allowed to look at Bella's future, or his. When every member of the family was sick with fear and remorse, she couldn't see if things would work out, and it ate at her, stealing her natural cheerfulness.
They all needed to know if Bella and Edward would be okay, but she refused to try to see. She had promised Edward, and she loved her brother. She didn't agree with what he was doing, but she knew he was hurting about his decision. When he left, she still kept her promise.
Each day became more difficult; the pain of not knowing if Bella was okay was building. The ache of missing Edward was stifling. She could see her pain reflected on Jasper's face. Her pain affected him more deeply than any pain he had encountered. She was tearing him apart.
Thinking of Jasper was excruciating. Her thoughts automatically turned to other things. She didn't want to see him, couldn't deal with his unhappiness right now. She had caused him pain by leaving, but the pain of staying would have been worse.
She could remember their last conversation perfectly.
"Alice, you should stay. It's not that bad; I can handle it. It'll get better soon."
"I need to let you have some peace, Jasper. I've seen what this will do to you. If I stay, you will hurt someone. You won't mean to do it, but you will. You will be disappointed in yourself, and you'll end up leaving me. I know that if I leave for a while, we'll both be better off. I'm hurting you constantly when we are together."
"But if you go…"
"If I go, you will have a break. You can go hunting with Carlisle and Esme. Their pain doesn't affect you like mine does. And I'll find some answers."
"Alice, stay," he pleaded. She turned away from the agony she could see in his eyes.
She walked to her new Lamborghini and climbed inside. "I can't, Jasper."
His face was reflected in the rear-view mirror as she drove away. His expression remained stoic, but she could see the truth in his eyes. Jasper could never hide his feelings from her. Her heart felt like it was shattering into pieces.
She watched a vision play out as she drove. Jasper was hunting like a mad man, destroying every animal he captured. He was taking out his frustration at the emotions he couldn't control. She could tell that he missed her, but he was more at ease than when she was with him.
And so she had driven on, determined to leave Jasper in peace. The highway led her back to Mississippi; back to Biloxi, her original home. To the family she couldn't remember. To face the fact that they had tossed her away, never knowing what had become of her.
She reached out and pushed the laptop aside, her feet moving her instantly to the window. Pulling back the drapes, she stared out at the multicolored lights on the homes that lined the street. The colors were changed slightly by the water that ran down the other side of the window. A human would see blobs of light and color, without definition.
Bella was human. She would see the lights as any other human would.
She realized her slip as soon as she made it. She had opened up her mind to think of Bella and how she might be seeing the bright Christmas lights strung on the houses in Forks.
Her eyes glossed over and she was thrown into a vivid vision.
Bella was lying on her side on a carpeted floor. The color was familiar. She was obviously in the home she shared with her father, staring at the Christmas tree that Charlie had put up. Tears rolled out of her eyes and down the side of her face, hitting the carpet with a splash. Her arms were wrapped around her torso, clutching wildly. She gasped for breath, writhing in pain. Her teeth were clenched with the effort of biting back the screams that fought to escape her lips.
She couldn't get up, couldn't move away from her own personal hell.
Alice could see a small paper clutched in her fingers. She could make out one word on the crumpled paper - Edward.
Bella had tried to write him a letter. The futility of finding him to deliver it had pushed her to the floor. She watched as Bella moved, the sobs rocking her body back and forth.
When Charlie pulled into the driveway, Bella got up and threw the paper into the fireplace before headed up the stairs to the bathroom. She wiped her face and pulled her hair around it, obscuring his view of her swollen eyes.
Alice watched as Charlie entered the house, calling out for his daughter. "Bella? Where are you?"
He looked at the stairs and shook his head as her feet appeared. His expression was worried, but he brightened a little when she entered the kitchen and started to place his dinner on the table.
"Are you eating with me tonight, Bella?" he asked.
"I've already eaten," she lied.
"Oh," he said, his face falling. "I was hoping we could eat together on Christmas Eve."
"Sorry, Dad. I didn't know…"
"It's okay, Bella." He moved to the table and slumped in his chair.
"I'll sit with you."
She sat on the chair across from his and moved a fork around, spinning it with her fingers. Neither of them said a word while he ate. He snuck glances at her periodically.
He couldn't eat much of the food that Bella had prepared and it wasn't long before he stood up to take his plate to the sink. She jumped up to put the leftovers into plastic containers before shoving them in the fridge.
Charlie made his way into the living room. The theme music of ESPN Sports Center rang through the house .
Alice continued to watch as Bella did the dishes in silence. She could tell that Bella was torn between retreating up the stairs and joining her father. Loyalty won and she moved into the living room and curled up on the loveseat, never really looking at the television.
Charlie didn't say anything but his eyes would dart toward her every now and then. They sat silently for hours until he got up and turned off the TV. Bella got up and wandered toward the stairs.
"Good night, Bella. I'll see you in the morning to open your gifts, okay?"
Bella shrugged. "Sure, Dad. Good night."
She walked up the stairs and dropped onto her bed, curling up into a ball. The tears returned.
Alice fell to her knees by the window. She understood this kind of pain. Bella was wishing that Edward was there with her, just as Alice wished she could have Jasper by her side. She had pushed him away for his own good, just like Edward had done to Bella.
She screamed in anger and hopelessness.
Alice was starting to understand how Edward could do something like leaving.
It didn't make it any easier that she understood. But she was starting to think Edward may have been right. If Bella could make it through the loneliness, she might be better off.
She didn't want to look at any more of Bella's future; there was still a promise to keep. The slip-up was a mistake; she hadn't looked intentionally. The vision of Bella would forever be seared into her memory, but she shook her head in a futile effort to clear it, and hopped to her feet. She rushed back to the laptop, pushing through the photos, concentrating on only them. Her greatest hope was to avoid more visions, and therefore, more pain. She had to look for something different to occupy her mind.
Her cell phone chirped and she jumped. It wasn't like her to be surprised by anything.
She looked at the caller ID as she hit the button to answer.
"Carlisle? What's going on?"
"Don't you already know, Alice?" He laughed a little.
She stuttered when she answered. "I-I've been preoccupied. There's so much to learn about my past."
Carlisle's voice was kind when he spoke again. "We miss you, Alice. We wanted to see if you would come home for Christmas. You could get on a plane…"
"I'm sorry, Carlisle. I don't think that's such a good idea. I need to be here, and Jasper needs the space."
Carlisle was silent for a minute. Finally he spoke again.
"Alice, he misses you. He's not any happier with you gone. I know you're trying to protect him, but…"
"I saw what would happen if I stayed. I had to leave."
"I see. Well, Merry Christmas, Alice. I hope we see you soon." She could hear the pain in Carlisle's voice.
"Merry Christmas, Carlisle. Tell Esme Merry Christmas for me."
"Here, tell her yourself."
Before she could protest, Carlisle handed the phone to Esme.
"Alice?" She sounded like someone who had been crying.
"Please, come home. Spend the holidays with us, at least. You can go back to Biloxi after Christmas. We need you here, Alice."
"Esme," she sighed. "It's too hard to be there."
"But, we need our family." Esme whimpered softly. "Please."
Alice wasn't sure she could say no if she continued to talk to Esme.
"I have to go. I'll call you tomorrow." She quickly hung up the phone.
She looked at the laptop again, trying to distract herself with the pictures on the screen.
But she couldn't pay attention to them. She could see Esme crying. She could see Carlisle trying to comfort her.
"They're all gone," Esme said. "We've lost our entire family, Carlisle."
He wrapped his arms around her and stroked her hair.
"Emmett and Rosalie will be home tomorrow afternoon. He promised that they would come."
'All gone.' The arrow button under Alice's finger exploded as she jerked, realizing what Esme's statement meant. Jasper was gone, too. He must have left to be alone, as she had seen he would.
Her heart ached as she wondered where he had gone. She hadn't looked for him in weeks. She missed him. She thought about looking for him, but battled with herself.
If she saw him, and he was struggling, like she was, she would probably pick up her cell phone and call. He would rush to be with her. She couldn't allow him to come here. The pain that she felt over her situation was too overbearing. Jasper would suffer if he came to her here, and she couldn't bear it.
She turned her mind instead to Emmett and Rosalie. They would be heading back to New York State from wherever they were.
She saw them instantly. They were boarding an airplane in South America. They would land within the next twelve hours. They would be home with Carlisle and Esme.
It eased her mind to know that some of the family would be with them.
It didn't make her feel any less lonely, however. She had now seen almost every member of her family. But she hadn't seen the two she wished most to be with.
Her heart felt like it was shattered into pieces that were slowly disappearing. The first piece had fallen away when her family left Forks, and Bella. She had known from the first vision that Bella was her sister, and she felt Bella's loss deeply.
Edward had taken another piece when he'd left the family in New York State. There had always been a special bond between them, as if their abilities tied them more closely together than the other family members. She had ached for him as he languished in pain over losing Bella. She felt his agony on the day he finally decided he couldn't stay with them.
And of course, the largest piece was left in the driveway of her family home. It stayed with Jasper as she drove toward her past.
There had to be some relief from this pain. She needed to know if her brother was okay.
She concentrated on Edward for a moment, knowing that any vision of Jasper would be her undoing. Edward would be angry if he knew that she was looking for him, but she needed to know that he was surviving. She hadn't looked for him in such a long time…
She saw him, huddled in the corner of a dark room. The drapes were made of thin cotton that gently moved in the breeze. Music wafted in through the open window; the rhythm was familiar to her. Voices flowed past the apartment building speaking in a language that was unmistakable. Portuguese. It seemed to Alice that he was in Rio.
He was curled up, his arms wrapped around his legs, which were pulled up to his body. His head was down. He didn't breathe.
She wondered just how long it had been since he had moved.
Sadness filled her body and she tried to erase the vision of Edward from her mind. She couldn't bear to see him like that anymore, but her vampire mind wouldn't let go of the image.
Alice had never felt so low, so alone. She had always had Jasper to look forward to, no matter what she was dealing with. But she had pushed him away. He was alone somewhere, hunting. And she sat in a dingy house in Biloxi, needing him.
She let go of her caution and looked for Jasper, needing to see him, if nothing else. He was her compass, her balm.
Her eyes had barely closed when she caught sight of his face. He looked hopeful, but she could see the pain he was feeling. He seemed to ache as much as she did. He was driving, which she found odd…she had been certain that he was in the woods, hunting.
She looked beyond Jasper, at the surroundings outside of his car windows. The street lights illuminated the rain that was gently falling. The cadence of the drops hitting the car was similar to the sound of the drops hitting the roof of her home. The windshield wipers swished back and forth, casting shadows on his face.
He passed a yellow house with a peeling picket fence, a white house with forest green shutters that flapped incessantly with the breeze, a blue house with a swing hanging from one of the ancient pecan trees in the front yard. She watched as he turned into the driveway of a small green house, its familiar front porch coming into view as the car swung into the drive. It was a house she knew...
Her eyes popped open as she heard a car door shut outside of her home. She flew to the front door and threw it open just as Jasper ascended the stairs to her porch.
"Jasper!" she yelled as she flung herself forward into his arms.
He sighed and she felt his body relax.
"Alice," he whispered.
She stepped back to look at him and he touched her cheek gently. They started at each other silently for several minutes, each drinking in the other's face.
Jasper dropped his head down to meet hers as he spoke softly, breaking the silence, "I'm sorry, Al. I couldn't stay away any longer. I could feel your pain from New York."
She choked back a sob. "You knew?"
Jasper nodded. "It was all I could think about."
He reached down for her, easily lifting her from the floor, and cradled her body next to his as he walked into the house. He never stopped staring into her eyes.
His hand swung back, closing the door behind him.
Alice ran her fingers through his hair. "Jasper," she whispered. "You're really here."
"I'm surprised you didn't see me coming." He grinned at her, his golden eyes sparkling.
She waved her hand toward the table where her laptop was surrounded by all of the papers she had gathered. Tiny black shards of plastic reflected the lamplight.
Everything that had been vexing her only moments before faded. She could see that her past was less important than her future. The piece of her heart that had been left in the driveway with Jasper slid back into place.
"I've been avoiding looking for the family," she confessed.
Jasper winced and placed her gently on the couch, kneeling in front of her.
"I thought so. When you didn't call me to say I should stay away, I wondered how you were distracting yourself."
He looked at the picture on the laptop.
"You've found something." He grimaced with the pain that shot through her.
Alice nodded. "I have a niece."
Jasper leaned forward and kissed her softly.
"Alice, I know that this is important to you. I understand how much you want to know where you came from…but you have a family in New York. They need you."
"But--" She didn't have the strength to argue with him.
"Come home with me, Al. Fly there tonight. Look at what it will do for them." His voice was calming her, his presence helping to ease the ache that had been her constant companion. She felt the flow of peace that streamed from him.
She closed her eyes and saw her family, together.
Esme was crying; she was so happy to have her family mostly intact. Rose and Emmett were hovering over Esme. Carlisle stood at the window, waiting for the son who wouldn't appear. And she was with Jasper. They were holding hands on the couch, near enough to Esme to touch her.
Her family needed her. She needed them.
She looked at Jasper, and nodded. "Let's go."
"I thought you'd say that." He smiled as he pulled the airline tickets from the pocket of his jacket. "Merry Christmas, Alice. I'm giving you back your real family."
He swept up the papers and the laptop and moved them to a drawer in the unused desk.
"This can wait. We'll come back together to take care of it, I promise."
"Thank you." Her voice was barely audible, even to Jasper.
He took her hand and led her to his rental car. "Let's go home."
With her hand in his, she knew that he was the only home she would ever need.
A/N This was my one-shot for the Gift Exchange. I wrote it for Shug - which was a treat because I adore her! I hope you enjoyed my version of Alice and Jasper and their struggle during New Moon. I do love to play in the canon world every now and then.