A/N: This is a one-shot companion piece to "Running". You could call it a Supplement, an Epilogue, or, or you are optimistic, an Interlude of sorts... my point is, if you haven't read "Running", but have stumbled on this story somehow, it probably isn't going to make a bit of sense. This was written for Arfess96 for the FGB. It was written as a one-shot, but while writing it, it sort of inspired me to do more. So...we'll see! Fessey, if you're reading this, there may be a couple differences in what I gave you...minor tweaks... AND...last, but not least, a big Thank You, as always, to JaspersDestiny, the Worlds Best Beta
An excited squeal rang through the Cullens' new house on the outskirts of Seward, coming from somewhere upstairs.
"What now?" muttered Emmett. He was hunched over his game controller and not about to stop what he was doing to check on his sister.
"I don't know," said Rosalie, sounding bored. She sat leaning back and relaxed on the couch, legs crossed, controller held loosely, and looking even more bored than she sounded, if that were possible. "But whatever it is, I hope it's going to give me a good reason to stop playing this stupid game with you. I'm seriously thinking about trolling for accident victims for Carlisle to change so that you can have a new friend to play with."
Emmett perked up at her words. "Sort of like Build-a-Bear, only Build-a-Friend?"
"Not happening, Rosalie!" Carlisle's voice came from the direction of his study.
"Then we need to seriously implement some sort of rotation for this!" Rosalie hollered back. "I shouldn't have to be the only one subjected to Emmett's X-box addiction."
"He's your husband, dear," Esme chided from her studio at the back of the house. "We all make compromises and concessions in our relationships."
"Says the woman from the safety of her own private art studio," grumbled Rose. "Her husband-free art studio," she added for good measure.
"SCORE! I win again!" Emmett yelled, having ignored the entire exchange. "Take that, babe!"
Rosalie threw the controller at his head. "Emmett, I'll take that alright and shove it down your throat. Isn't it enough that I'm playing with you? Do you have to gloat when you win on top of it?"
"Come on, babe. It's only a game! You'd have a lot more fun if you'd just put some effort into it. I help you in the garage, you know?"
Rosalie snorted. She couldn't argue with that, but she didn't have to like the comparison. Really, there was no comparison. Video games versus working on precision machinery - carefully making adjustments to tease just a little more power, a little more edge, a little more speed out of something already designed to be the best there was...or, playing Super Mario Kart.
No. No comparison. At all.
From Alice's room upstairs came another excited squeal.
"What the hell are you doing up there, Alice?" Rose yelled at the ceiling.
"I…um, I found that shirt that I thought I'd left in England," Alice called down. "Sorry! Didn't mean to distract you!"
"Feel free to distract me anytime," Rose muttered. A look of suspicion crossed her face and she looked up at the ceiling again. "And you did leave that shirt in England. I saw it on your bed the morning we left. I didn't say anything because I always thought it was as ugly as an old whore's ass."
"Rosalie!" Esme admonished. "Watch your language! I swear, you sound more and more like Emmett every day!"
"Um..." Alice said.
Emmett's phone rang. And rang. And rang.
"Well," Rosalie said impatiently, "Are you going to answer that?"
"I don't recognize the number," he said, after pulling the phone out of his pocket and glancing at the screen before shoving it back in his pocket.
"Well, at least it's not Jasper then, with another lame update on their 'vacation'. 'Oooh'," Rose said mockingly, "'Look, a picture of Bella on top of Mt. McKinley. Oooh…a picture of Bella and her first polar bear. Oooh, here's Bella in Newfoundland. Here's Bella in Greenland. Here we are in New York'. It's been three years. There's nothing happening with the Volturi situation. Bella sounds like she's perfectly stable now. We're all back here now. Carlisle needs to tell them to come home too."
"Yeah," muttered Emmett. "Because here is so much fun. I think I'd rather be there with them. I still don't understand why you didn't want to go last year when they invited us to join them instead of staying back here."
"Because, Emmett, I have no desire right now to run around the wilderness and live in a cave! The last few years have been stressful enough – I just wanted to spend some time at home, relaxing…with running water and electricity."
"Then you should take advantage of said electricity and play the game with me. And New York's not a cave – they went to New York too."
"Briefly. Very briefly."
Emmett's phone went off again, but this time the ring tone indicated he had a text message.
"Oh, for the love of... Give me that!" Rose said, knocking him sideways on the couch and reaching into his pocket to snatch the phone out and open it. Staring at the screen, a look of surprise crossed her face, followed by soft laughter. She handed the phone back to Emmett and he looked down at it.
He started chuckling too. Suddenly everyone was in the room and he held it up for Alice, Carlisle and Esme to read.
"We're coming home. Get out your book, loser! Love, J&B."
"What do you want to try next?" Jasper asked, smiling at her excitement. The blood on her face and on the front of her shirt was stirring up some excitement of his own, and he stepped closer to her and closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. Ah...
"What else is there? What else is in the area?"
"By area I assume you mean..." he began, opening his eyes again and looking down at her. Somehow she'd come to be right next to him, and he leaned down to kiss her. He ended up licking her jaw instead. Between the cold air and her cold skin, the blood had begun to congeal, but it still retained its sweetness. He felt the beginning of a purr rumble through his chest. They'd yet to engage in any blood play, and he wondered how she'd feel about trying it out. Alice had never been interested...
"Northern Canada, yes?"
"Well..." He tried to bring himself back to reality, but he found it very difficult. It helped a bit that Bella had no feelings of lust coming from her at all, and she appeared to not be noticing the lust he was sure he was emitting. How she could miss it, he didn't know - he felt like he had a neon sign over his head blinking 'Fuck me. Fuck me now' in bright, glowing red and purple. Instead, she was still bouncing on the balls of her feet, the urge to hunt - to conquer - the only emotion coming from her. Jasper backed away and frowned a little, disappointed, the glowing sign taking on a distinct blue tinge. Usually she was more than ready to copulate after a successful hunt, even without the blood play being involved. This was odd...
He shook his head, trying to clear it, and found her watching him expectantly. "Well..." he began again.
"Well...?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow at him.
"Well, there's always swimming across Hudson Bay. It's right here and it's not ice-locked yet..." He gestured south towards the open water.
"Top to bottom, north edge to south edge."
"Hmm..." Bella considered the possibility. She'd never swum that far before, and Jasper could tell the thought scared her a bit, even if they had recently spent almost 18 months submerged - or nearly submerged - in water. But that had been warm water, with very little swimming involved. "Who...who was the winner before? In Emmett's Book?"
Jasper hesitated before telling her. "Edward," he said finally, his voice quiet.
"Oh..." she said, her own voice fading away to almost nothing. After a moment of silence she spoke again. "I don't...I don't want to..." She stopped speaking.
"You don't want to do anything that will take him out of the book," Jasper finished for her.
"Yeah. Is that stupid?"
"That's not stupid at all, Bella. Alright, we'll only tackle the things he doesn't hold the record for. I assume you have no such problem with beating me at something?" He grinned at her.
"Oh, are you in there a lot?" she asked, smiling again too.
"A time or two," he said vaguely.
"Uh huh. Okay, so...what is Emmett really proud of? Besides the polar bear…" She glanced back at the carcass of her own mammoth kill. "Are you sure it's going to count? I mean, that monster of a bear was sick after all."
"I'm positive, Bella. The category is 'size'. It says nothing about 'health'. And that old man over there was at least a foot longer than Emmett's kill. They're listed as Vulnerable, anyway, so it's not like I'd let you take down a healthy specimen just for Emmett's book."
"You've been doing your homework," she told him, smiling. "What about Emmett's? Was his a healthy bear?"
"Emmett's kill was a long time ago, Bella," Jasper said, not answering her question, which was really all the answer she needed. "The category clearly states 'size'. Now, what do you want to do next? We have 'Running to the Top of Mt. McKinley from the Denali Coven's front porch'. I mean, we climbed it, sure, but this would be a race..."
"What, you mean Edward didn't win that one too?"
Jasper laughed. "Well, he probably would have, especially since Tanya was quite literally chasing him at the time, but no, he didn't. He ended up swerving, heading south in an attempt to lose her, and Emmett was able to win. Edward probably would have insisted on a rematch, but he avoided Alaska for the next couple of decades after that. That one has to be done just after the New Year, anyway, to maintain similar conditions. There's also 'Running the Iditarod', but that's not until March..."
"Edward didn't win that either?"
"Emmett, Rose, Alice, Esme, Kate, Irina, and I ran it – it was the spring after the whole Denali Debacle, as it's come to be known. If Edward had been willing to come with us, he would have won, I'm sure. As it was...Esme won."
"Esme?" Bella was shocked.
Jasper nodded, grinning at her shock. "Esme. She's got incredible staying power - steady, good over long distances, and she doesn't get easily distracted." He got a faraway look in his eye remembering it. "Kate ended up seducing one of the mushers. Neither of them ever finished the race. Irina and Rose ended up in a fight over something or other and fell off a cliff into a river. Irina's pinky finger got torn off in the fall and it took them three days of searching to find it. Emmett found a couple of grizzlies that came out of their dens early..."
"And you? What about you?" Bella asked.
"If you think I'm going to beat my own mother in a race, then you don't know me very well, Bella," Jasper said gently.
"You let her win?"
"I...did not put my full effort into it."
"Would you let me win?"
Bella pretended to pout.
"You are not my mother, Bella. Esme would probably have won, anyway. There was a bad accident towards the end and I nearly ran up on it... It forced me to veer away in another direction, so Esme crossed the finish line first."
"That's sweet. I'm glad she's in there."
"Oh, she's in there a few times. You might be surprised."
"Hmm...I don't want to beat her at anything either."
"Alright. So, what I'm hearing here is that you're kind of wanting to make this an Emmett-centric contest type of thing, am I right?"
She considered it for all of a split second. "Yeah, that would be about right, at least for now."
Jasper nodded. "Okay, we can do that. Let's see, we'll plan on doing the Mt. McKinley thing in early January. That gives us about six months to do other things. How about we head south now, back into the States. There are several categories based in cities in the States that we could tackle while we wait."
"Alright. That sounds good."
Bella stared up at the building that rose above them and into the sky with doubt on her face. It may have been dark out, but the lights of the city made it almost as bright as day - at least to vampire eyes.
"Are you serious?"
"Mmmhmm…" Jasper said, sounding rather noncommittal.
She glanced up and down the street. "There are other tall buildings."
"It's the tallest in this city. And Emmett insisted on it for authenticity."
Bella sighed and looked back up at the wall of windows and concrete that reached into the night sky. People pushed past them, seeming to not even notice the two vampires standing stock still on the sidewalk and staring up into the sky.
"And Alice agreed to it? I find that hard to believe."
Jasper shrugged. "I think she and Rose had a side bet going on. Something about shoes..." he trailed off, sounding vague.
Bella looked at him doubtfully. He didn't look back at her. Instead, he kept his eyes trained on the building in front of them. She felt a twinge of something she couldn't identify from him. "Hmph! What's in it for me?"
"Fame. Fortune. A place in Emmett's damn book."
"What makes you think we'll be faster than them this time? You and Alice weren't."
Again that strange twinge. Jasper shrugged. "I don't know if we will – isn't that the point of the exercise?"
"Okay. I can do this."
"Great." Jasper rubbed his hands together and found to his surprise that he was a little excited about the whole thing. "Right, then. We have to wait for a helicopter to be in the area..."
"Helicopter? What about airplane? I thought this had to be authentic!"
"Authentic but doable. It will be a cold day in hell before you see an airplane in the area, Bella."
"Oh. Right. Okay." Her eyes turned back to the sky, scanning it with Jasper. "I still can't picture Alice or Rose agreeing to do this."
Again that little twinge from Jasper. Bella stared at him suspiciously. "Wait a minute... They didn't, did they?"
"Um...no, actually. Not exactly."
"Not exactly? What does that even mean?"
"Well, actually...not at all. They didn't agree at all. In fact, they refused to do it. Point blank. No discussion." Jasper finally lowered his eyes from the sky to look at her.
"That's what I thought," Bella said, glaring at him. "What makes you think I'd be willing to do it? Wait, obviously you didn't think I'd do it or you wouldn't have tricked me."
"Tried to trick you," Jasper corrected. "It didn't work. And I thought you'd have fun – you're more fun than they are."
"Hmph!" She turned away from him and looked up and down the street at the crowds that were still shoving by them. "I don't know... I would have done it for sure if you'd just told me the truth up front."
He narrowed his eyes at her, trying to decide what she was really thinking based on what she was feeling. She wasn't so mad at him that she kept him out of her shield. "You're not really all that mad, are you?" he finally said, a smile starting to form.
"No. Not really. You're a terrible sneak, Jasper Whitlock. And if I do this, it'll really upset Emmett, won't it? And we'll have our very own entry into the book."
"Absolutely," he said, nodding.
"Okay. Let's do this. We need a helicopter, right?"
"Oooh! There's one! And it's heading this way…"
"Probably going to the downtown heliport. Perfect. Let's go." Jasper checked his watch and hit a button on it.
"Now?" squeaked Bella, and before the word was finished they were already a hundred feet off the ground. From her position thrown over Jasper's shoulder she watched the ground rapidly receding below them. None of the humans even looked up. She realized Jasper was moving at vampire speed, but still...
10 minutes later they were still lying in the shadows on the roof of a nearby building, laughing about their stunt.
Jasper's phone buzzed. He grinned at Bella before sitting up and pulling it out of his pocket.
"That didn't take him long!" she said, sitting up and crossing her legs. Her right leg bounced up and down in her excitement, an incredibly human act that Jasper was surprised she still retained into her 5th year. Jasper smiled even wider, the excitement pouring off her affecting him like a double shot of espresso.
He flipped the phone open. "Hey, man," he said without preamble. "Put that in your book, brother!" Then his face fell.
"Oh, shit," he mouthed at Bella. She didn't need her vampire hearing to know it was Carlisle on the other end and not Emmett. In fact, she was pretty sure people in the top few floors of the building they were on could hear Carlisle.
"Busted," she mouthed back. Jasper nodded.
"Uh huh," Jasper mumbled. "Yes, sir. No, sir. No, I don't know... We just... Yes, I understand. No, you're right, I wasn't thinking. It just seemed like... I understand. No, we won't. Yes, of course. I will. We will. Yes." He looked at Bella, whose eyes were as big as saucers now as she stared at the phone. He was pretty sure his didn't look much better. "Yes, of course. Of course. Right away. Right now. We are. Yes, sir. Tell Esme we love her too..." He flipped the phone shut and looked at Bella, who was staring back at him.
There was silence for a moment, and then Bella made a choking sound.
"We have to go," Jasper whispered.
"So I heard," Bella said, her voice sounding a little off.
"'Behaved irresponsibly'," Bella finished for him in a perfect imitation of Carlisle's voice. "'Immaturely'."
"We have to 'Come home right this instant, or at the very least return to northern Canada'."
Jasper nodded again.
"'Just because the Volturi are gone, it does not give us an excuse to go running around behaving stupidly and thoughtlessly, putting everyone in danger of being exposed. What were you thinking?'" Bella began to make even stranger noises, and for a moment Jasper was afraid she was choking, as if that were even possible.
But she wasn't choking, he realized. She was trying not to laugh and failing miserably.
"Oh, my God! You should have seen your face!" she said, breaking out into full out laughter. "You are afraid of him! You, the great Jasper Whitlock!"
"Yeah?" He reached over and shoved her a little, a small smile breaking out on his own face. "You didn't look much better, babe."
Bella laughed even louder. "Yeah, but I'm not in trouble here! You are. I'm just a newborn. I can't be expected to know any better, especially with everything I've been through. It's up to you to take care of me. You accepted that responsibility from him when he agreed to let me go on this trip with you after what had happened. You're supposed to be protecting me. And how, pray tell, is hauling me up the side of the Empire State Building in a re-enactment of King Kong, complete with photos and videos now posted on YouTube, even remotely protecting me?"
"That is such bullshit," Jasper said, turning sullen. "You're no newborn, even if you have had a rough life. You have better control than any of us, next to Carlisle and Rose. I didn't make you do it. You could have stopped it at any time."
"Doesn't matter!" she crowed triumphantly. "I'm the baby, Jasper. I'll always be the baby in the family - the eternal, vampires-don't-change-easily baby of the Cullen family! It will never be my fault!"
"You are so going to take advantage of this, aren't you?" he asked, glaring at her.
"Pfft," she snorted through her laughter. "Like you and Emmett wouldn't if given the chance? Don't even go there, Whitlock. Damn straight I'm going to take advantage of this." She lay back on the roof again, still chuckling. Jasper joined her but refused to look at her or touch her.
"It's probably a good thing we didn't have sex up there, too, huh?" she said after a few minutes of silence, broken by the sound of her attempting to smother her giggles.
"Probably," Jasper said, still sullen. "Although…in for a penny, in for a pound. We might as well have. I don't think he could have been any angrier."
"He's pretty scary when he's pissed, isn't he?"
"So...I guess we better go home now?"
Jasper rolled onto his side to look at her and she turned her head to smile at him.
"Do you want to?" he asked quietly, his voice gentle now, all traces of petulance gone.
"Not really," she whispered.
"Not willing to test that whole 'baby' theory?"
"No. Not so much."
Jasper snorted. "I don't blame you. He can be pretty scary. I think it's the whole 'unknown' quantity he's got going for him. I mean, he seems like a nice guy. Everybody thinks he's a nice guy. And he is, don't get me wrong, but...there's just something there."
"Yeah, I noticed that too," Bella whispered. "You don't want to go home either, do you?"
"No. Not really. We should let him cool down a little."
"How long does it take for a vampire to cool down?" Bella asked. "I don't think even a human dad would cool down from something like this anytime soon. I don't think Charlie would have..." she trailed off, not really sure what Charlie would or would not have done, but she was sure she would have been grounded for something like this. Could vampires be grounded?
"So, baby sister, where do you want to go now? Anywhere you want, as long as it's above the 50th parallel."
"'Baby sister'?" Bella asked, leaning toward him.
"Yup. You started it, not me." Jasper jumped up, avoiding her touch. "Come on, let's go. Let's see if we can make it all the way to the north end of the island without touching the ground. I always wanted to try that, too, but nobody was ever interested." He ran away from her and took a flying leap over to the roof of the next building. With a huff, Bella followed quickly after him.
"I guess this means that going over Niagara Falls in a barrel is off the list too, then, huh?" Bella asked as they pulled themselves out of the Hudson River and climbed the palisades that lined the west bank.
"Yeah, it probably wouldn't be a good idea right now."
"Damn. I was really looking forward to that one."
"Well, you know..." Jasper said slowly, sending mischievous feelings at her.
"What? What?" Bella asked, turning to him and grabbing his hands. "You have an idea, don't you?"
His mouth turned up in the half-smile she adored so much. "I do indeed. Who says we need barrels? Emmett and Edward just used barrels because it was the 'in thing' to do at the time. We can just go over without them. No humans have to notice us - we'll do it at night. It's almost a new moon now, so it'll be darker than dark in the middle of the night. It'll be a new category in the book. We can race each other."
"You're on!" Bella laughed. "And the loser has to carry the Bond Bag!"
"When did 'Get to carry the Bond Bag' turn into 'Have to carry the Bond Bag?'" Jasper asked.
"When I finally realized what a pain in the ass it was to have to carry anything at all," Bella said, pouting.
"It took you long enough to figure that out."
"Well, I figured it out pretty quickly," she said. "I just wasn't going to say anything, especially after the stink I made about it all that time back in Siberia."
Jasper just laughed.
In the end, Bella beat Jasper by a good ten minutes. He argued that it was hardly fair - she must have caught a faster current than him. She pointed out that he had been the one to make the rules - no swimming, no bodily movement of any kind, just allow the river to do the work. They both entered the river at the same point, and the first person to reach the Rainbow Bridge won. It wasn't her fault - it was just her luck that she'd been swept out into the main current while he'd been swept up against a rock. Jasper begrudgingly agreed and they retrieved their dry clothes and the Bond Bag from their hiding place under the bridge before flitting west through the dark streets of Niagara Falls and into the countryside of Ontario. They quickly skirted around the western edge of Lake Ontario and through the outskirts of Toronto before heading further north. By the time the sun rose, they were safely in the middle of nowhere, able to hunt at their leisure and then relax on a rock in the sun afterward.
"You know, as much fun as New York was, I think I prefer this a lot more," Bella said, rolling onto her side to look at him. "We can just be ourselves out here and not worry about any...repercussions, you know?"
"'Repercussions'?" he asked, smirking at her. "Is that your way of saying you want to sex me up?"
"Maybe," she said noncommittally, rolling onto her back again. "Maybe not."
"Good, because I don't think I should be entertaining any dirty thoughts about my 'baby sister'," Jasper said primly, pushing off the rock and moving away from her.
"Oh, come on, Jasper! You can't still be seriously playing this game?" Bella asked, aggravated.
"What game?" Jasper asked innocently from the other side of the boulder where he'd ended up. "I'm not playing a game, baby sister. You're the one who seems to be having some really unhealthy ideas running through that pretty little head of yours. You're my baby sister, as you so recently pointed out to me. I can't even imagine what our parents would think about what you're trying to coerce me into doing." He wrinkled his nose and stepped towards her. "It's downright disgusting!"
Bella groaned. "Alright! Uncle! Uncle! I give up!"
"'Give up'? I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about, Bella."
In an instant, Bella had pounced on him, knocking him backwards. She straddled his hips and held his arms down over his head. "I'm not your baby sister, Jasper," she whispered, her mouth inches from his. "I'm the baby of the family, but never your baby sister."
"Hmm…" he said, sounding doubtful.
She tipped her head and looked at him thoughtfully, trying to determine from his emotions what else he was looking for from her.
"And...I will never play the baby card if it means you'll get in trouble in any way with Carlisle."
"Mmmhmm…" he said, looking at her with raised eyebrows.
"And...I will take full responsibility for my part of anything we do together that gets you into trouble with him."
"Good girl," he said, raising his head up to kiss her. She pressed her lips to his eagerly. Next thing she knew, Jasper had freed his arms from her hold and had flipped them over on the boulder, deepening the kiss.
"Oh…" Bella moaned, finally pulling away from him. "In the spirit of me being responsible for my actions, do you really think it's a good idea for us to do this here? I mean, it's lovely lying in the sun and all, and making love in the sun like this would be even better, but it's not that isolated. There could be hikers..."
Jasper lifted his body off her for a moment and closed his eyes. The look of concentration on his face told her that he was carefully sifting through any emotions he was sensing. He finally opened his eyes and shook his head.
"There's nobody around for miles at least. We should be good for a while. Long enough, anyway..."
"What about airplanes, Jasper? They could fly over at any time. Low-flying airplanes – we already heard two this morning. And then they'd see your sparkling, bare ass... Your thrusting, grinding, clenching bare ass... Those pictures would surely turn up online." She grinned at him.
Jasper groaned and dropped down on top of her, his very literal dead weight pinning her to the rock.
"I'm not sure I like 'Responsible Bella' any better," he muttered.
Bella smiled sweetly at him. "I'm not saying we can't do anything, Jasper. I'm just saying maybe doing it on this rock might not be a good idea... It's not all that isolated, and I fully intend on distracting you for a very long time..."
"Right, right. You're absolutely right. Okay, we'll go further north, but I want to find another rock ledge with lots of sunlight..."
"And a cave to retreat into."
They were both silent for a moment and neither showed any sign of moving. Jasper could tell that Bella had something else she wanted to say, so he waited patiently for her to say it.
"Jasper?" she finally said.
"Are we… Do you think we... I mean, we've been living…wild...for almost three years now. Do you think we'll even be able to go back?"
Jasper wanted to laugh but he didn't, knowing that he'd only hurt her feelings.
"Bella," he said gently. "Eternity is a very long time. It is not uncommon for us - the Cullens - to do...this - to take a break. We'll be fine when we go back to 'civilization'."
"Everybody does this?" she asked, clearly doubting him.
"Even Rose?" She really couldn't imagine this.
"Even Rose. Rose and Emmett usually go to Africa. Emmett enjoys the hunting. Rose enjoys volunteer work at orphanages in the remote areas. Of course, it's a little difficult for her – between the sunlight and the natural suspicion people have of us, especially more 'primitive' people that can't be fooled by fancy clothes and money."
"I can't imagine Rose hunting elephants or something."
Jasper snorted. "We've got pictures. Believe it."
"Esme and Carlisle?"
"Yep, although it's more of a busman's holiday in their case. Carlisle finds using 'going to do volunteer work now that the kids are grown and gone from home' to be a good excuse to leave an area. It works every time and it never raises suspicion. He and Esme take off for the jungles of South America every decade or so. They've got friends down there - a small coven of females. Personally, I've always thought they're up to more than just doctoring the natives when they go down there, but you don't need to share that theory with anybody. If Alice and Edward ever knew anything about those parental activities, they never shared."
"Huh. And you and Alice…?"
"That's...a little different." He made a face. "Alice is and always has been fascinated by humans since she can't remember being one at all. And me…well, I lived wild most of my life, Bella. Our 'breaks' usually meant relocating to a new city. Alice's idea of 'living wild' usually consists of an unfurnished loft in Paris. It was fine, and it worked for us, but this...I like this. With you. No worries, no responsibilities... It's great. We don't have to go back until you're ready. And if that is never, then that is fine too, no matter what Carlisle says."
"What if he calls and demands that we come back?" she said, clearly trying to wrap her head around the idea that they were free to do whatever they wanted to do - a difficult task, Jasper realized, considering how quickly he'd jumped when Carlisle had said hop when they were in New York.
"He can't call us if we don't have a phone," Jasper said, reaching behind her for the Bond Bag and pulling out the phone before she could react.
"Wait!" she shouted before he could throw it in the lake. "What if they need us? They wouldn't be able to get a hold of us..."
"Alice will see me getting rid of this. She's still going to be watching us, Bella, no matter what – unless Carlisle or I tell her to stop. If it's an emergency, they'll be able to find us. Should I throw it away, Bella? Are you ready for me to do that?"
Bella looked at the phone, back at him, and then at the lake. A wave of determination rolled off her. "Toss it."
Jasper started to but then stopped. "On the other hand…if we toss it, we can't send anymore pictures home to Emmett."
"Oh. That's true." Bella mentally weighed the choices. "I guess...in that case...we better keep it. I mean, I want proof, right? And, I mean, a camera could do the same thing, but then we couldn't send him the pictures right away."
"Most of where we'll be is going to be without service, just like it's been for the last couple of years, Bella. They won't be able to call us whenever they want, anyway."
"True. Okay. Let's keep it."
Jasper nodded and lowered his arm, quickly putting the phone back in the waterproof bag. He was smiling to himself, though. As wild as Bella thought she was, and as crazy as he knew she could still be sometimes, she was not meant for the life of a nomad. At all. She needed – no, wanted - the safety and stability of a coven…or a family, in the Cullens' case. And he didn't mind that a bit. Life with Bella was wonderful. And life within Bella's shield…well, that was better than he'd have ever thought possible. Her shield made life anywhere so much easier for him. He couldn't believe how much he'd suffered all those decades before she'd arrived in his life - suffered and not even realized it.
"Greenland," she said suddenly, breaking his train of thought.
"Yep. I've always wanted to see glaciers - real, big glaciers. And we can swim there, which will help with my fear of swimming. Then in late December we can head back to Alaska and do the Denali thing. Then...ask me again after that about going home."
"Sounds good to me. Greenland it is."
"You look good in fur, Jasper," Bella told him as she circled him, eying him appreciatively. "Leather and fur. Yep, it's a good look for you. I've always liked it." Snow swirled around them, stirred up from the ground by the wind.
Jasper watched her as she eyed him up and down. "Well, I've got to say, Bella, you look cute in it too – in a shapeless sort of way."
She laughed and pirouetted in front of him. "It is sort of bulky, isn't it?"
"Maybe after we're home we can look into something a little more...formfitting," he said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
"Formfitting, huh? I'll hold you to that, as long as it's a two-way street. Hmm...formfitting, black leather pants... Yeah, I can see you in those," she said, laughing. She reached out and tugged on the fur edging of his hood. "Until then, though, we'll just have to settle for these..."
"Atiqik," he said. "They're called Atiqik."
"Yeah. Atiqik. I hope the Eskimos appreciated the kroner you left them."
"Inuit, Bella, not Eskimos. Now who is being politically incorrect?"
Before she could reply, Jasper shoved her behind him and was crouched in front of her, growling. Reacting to instincts she was always surprised to find that she had, Bella dropped into a similar crouch behind him, growling softly but hiding as much as she could behind the protective form of her mate. She could see, hear, and smell nothing through the snow, but Jasper's other sense was farther reaching than any of their enhanced human senses. She dropped her shield from him, allowing him better use of his empathy. This only caused his growling to increase, and Bella wondered what the hell was out there in the ground blizzard. She could sense nothing – but then again, they'd already determined her hunting skills were not nearly as developed as Jasper's.
She didn't have to wait long to find out. She smelled him before she saw him – he smelled strongly of dead fish, of all things.
And then suddenly he was there in front of them, crouched down in a stance similar to Jasper's. He growled out something that sounded like gibberish to her.
"English," Jasper barked, not relaxing his stance.
"You are in my territory," the vampire growled, his red eyes glowing in the dim light of the weak sun. Bella wondered with one part of her brain if the stench of fish came from the clothes he wore – old, dirty leather and fur similar to what she and Jasper had on but in considerably worse shape – or from a diet of fishermen. Did human feeders' diets reflect regional cooking habits of the humans they fed from? Did Italian vampires smell like garlic? Indian vampires like curry? She'd have to remember to ask Jasper later.
"Territory?" Jasper barked in disbelief. "You're going to fight over this...territory?" He looked around him. "What exactly is there worth fighting for here?"
"I have a very large territory," the vampire barked back. "I have been following you for days, waiting to see if you were just passing through. But you show no signs of leaving. Instead, you steal clothes. You speak of seeing things. You are clearly going nowhere."
"We were not aware that the territory had been claimed," Jasper said. "We can certainly leave, but I assure you that we have no intention of stealing any of your food. We are animal drinkers. You wouldn't even know we were here. But we'd certainly be willing to leave…"
"I know what you eat. I have been watching you. I don't want you to leave," the vampire growled. His eyes flickered over to Bella, who was still crouched behind Jasper. "I want your female. I have been alone too long. I have been unable to make a companion – there are barely enough humans in this land for me, let alone a mate. But one that is an animal drinker...well, she'd be no competition for food. How much do you want for her?"
Bella had relaxed her shield a bit in order to feel anything that Jasper might be sending her in an attempt at silent communication. Right now, though, all she could feel was his shock.
"What?" Jasper spluttered. "You want to...buy her?"
"Yes," the vampire said, nodding. "I have many jewels and coins that you would find useful in the outside world but that are useless to me here."
"She's not for sale," Jasper said bluntly, recovering from his shock.
The man's glance went to Bella again, where she was peeking out from behind Jasper's back, and then it returned to Jasper. "Come now, don't be difficult. She is clearly a fine specimen, but you are from a place where you have many to choose from. You can make another one. I, on the other hand, have little to choose from. And I like the exotic look of her."
Bella was startled. Aside from the shock of what was being discussed, she hardly considered herself...exotic. She didn't know whether to be insulted or flattered. The entire conversation was surreal.
"You can make your own," Jasper replied. "We were on the coast – there are plenty of 'exotic' women to choose from now."
The vampire waved his hand dismissively. "But this one is already trained in feeding from animals. You have clearly done a good job. I'm not sure I could do nearly as well, and a newborn feeding indiscriminately would only endanger both me and it. No, I want this one. You can sell her to me or I will kill you and take her."
Bella laughed. She couldn't help herself. The thought of anybody being able to kill Jasper was just...ridiculous.
The man glared at her. Jasper relaxed his stance a bit and stood up. "Are you sure you still want her? She is a bit...mouthy…and not as 'perfect' as she looks."
Bella really wanted to smack him across the head, now understanding Rose's penchant for doing so to Emmett. The only thing stopping her, though, was the feeling of amusement rolling off of Jasper now. Clearly he was beginning to have fun with this – whatever this was. Far be it for her to ruin his fun. She could punish him later. For now, she'd play along.
Jasper stepped aside a bit, allowing the other vampire a better look at Bella. She glared at the stranger and growled while sending a wave of annoyance at Jasper. She saw a smirk flit across his face as he felt her. Good. Message received.
"That is no problem. Even the most difficult female can be trained," the male vampire said, still sounding very dismissive of Jasper's comments. "Would you like to see the jewels?"
Now Bella felt curiosity coming from Jasper. She had to admit that she too was interested to see what, exactly, this vampire had that he thought was so valuable. Jasper was clearly torn on what to do, though, in spite of his amusement and curiosity – continue the game or destroy the threat. She could feel it.
"I don't know..." he said slowly. "We are mated. I don't think I'm interested in selling her."
"Oh, come now," the male scoffed, stepping closer. "Everyone has a price. Sell her to me now, then go home and make yourself a better one!"
Jasper crouched down and growled, reaching around to grab Bella and yank her down behind him again.
This was the first time since Romania that they had interacted with any vampires other than their family. Bella had felt Jasper's bond with her change once she'd told him she loved him and accepted him as her mate, but this was the first time she'd really seen his bond to her in action. She'd been in no shape in Romania to really notice, other than superficially.
Clearly, the part of Jasper that was still approaching the whole interaction with the strange vampire as a game was growing smaller. That was the Jasper she'd come to know during their months together in North America.
But this was a new part of him... A part of him was clearly threatened, or at least felt the threat to his mate. He was not happy. And this part was taking over now. She made a quick decision before things could deteriorate. There was no reason to kill this one vampire who, all insult aside, was clearly just lonely and looking for companionship.
"Let's just go," she whispered into his back. "I don't want to fight."
Now it was the other vampire's turn to laugh. "What do you think will happen, woman? I will kill this one and you will be mine. He is young and small – no match for me. I have kept this island free from others for millennia."
Bella fought the urge to laugh again. She really didn't want to kill this one, but she knew that Jasper was just seconds away from doing just that. She could feel his hand moving for his pocket where the ever-present lighter resided. The other vampire saw the movement too but dismissed it as unimportant.
It was time for her to step in.
Before either of the males could react, she launched herself over Jasper's back, landed on the startled vampire, and bit through his neck. Ripping his hood back, she grabbed his head and flung it far off into the snow before jumping back off his body and allowing it to fall to the snowy ground where it flopped around.
Jasper stood up. "Wow. That was...impressive."
Bella shrugged. "He was distracted by you. He clearly didn't consider me to be a threat."
Jasper pulled his lighter out and stepped forward.
"Stop!" Bella said, grabbing his hand.
"You're stopping me again?" Jasper said in disbelief.
"Yes. He's just a lonely, old man. He's not going to hurt us. Let's just...go."
Jasper sighed and put the lighter away. "Fine."
"And you, mister," she said, jabbing him in the chest, "you are in trouble."
"I'm in trouble?"
"You wanted to see what he had to offer for me. Don't deny it."
"Yeah, well, so did you. Don't deny it," he replied, throwing her words back at her. "And don't pretend you were too insulted – I could feel you."
Bella shrugged. "Well, I'm finally beginning to understand that you vampires are sort of stuck in your own time periods. He can't help thinking the way he does. He doesn't deserve to die for it."
"'You vampires'? Really, Bella? Let's wait a century or two and see how 'stuck' you are, babe."
Bella snorted. "I'm sure I will be. Come on, can we just go now?"
"Sure. Where to next? I'm thinking I've seen enough of Greenland..."
"How about Iceland? We could swim..."
"No!" Jasper said sharply and Bella looked at him in surprise. "No," he said, more gently this time. "We are not to venture anywhere near Europe. Iceland definitely qualifies as 'too close'."
"Oh. Right. Okay...back to the mainland, then? Can we get a boat? I want to save these clothes."
"More souvenirs?" Jasper asked, smiling as he thought about all the other things they'd sent back from their travels. "We'll just ship them and swim. Sorry, but we're still avoiding civilization."
"No problem," Bella said. "I was just really interested in saving the clothes. Shipping them is fine. I'm sure there are still lots of fun we can have in North America. In fact, I think a few more months in the hot springs are just what we need right now. And then, maybe, we'll go home."
"I like the way you think, woman!" Jasper said, grabbing her in a hug made awkward by the bulk of the clothes they were wearing. "I won't mind ditching these clothes at all either."
"Are you sure, Eleazar?" Carlisle asked, worry in his voice. Esme, Alice, Rose and Emmett were suddenly in the room at his side, listening, the excitement of Jasper's text a few minutes ago now gone. "Alright. Yes, I agree. They need to come home at once. Actually, I won't need to call them – Jasper just sent a message that they're on their way. I don't know – I think it is just a coincidence." He hung up the phone and looked at his small family.
"What's happened?" Esme asked.
"It's beginning," Carlisle said, looking at them with worry in his eyes. "Word has spread about what happened three years ago in Romania. The Southerners are beginning to stir."
Carlisle nodded. "Yes. Garrett heard about it from Jasper's friend, Peter, who heard about it from somebody else. Garrett contacted Eleazar as soon as he heard, knowing that Eleazar would contact us." Carlisle paused and looked at the phone again. "She's looking for Jasper."