Disclaimer: I do not own the characters used. They belong to Stephenie Meyer and I make no profit from this.

Rating: NC-17, M.

Warnings: Sex. Death. Violence. Violent sex. Blood. Vampires behaving vampire-ish. Tiny consent issues during said violent sex. Discussions of suicide. Dark, dark, dark. OOCness. And a slight fixation on bruises, for some reason.

A/N: Remember how I keep saying 'weird' about my stories, but they're actually only sort of weird and not really and they still make sense? This isn't like that. This has no message, no morale and probably no sense at all. It's dark and ugly and people break. I don't know if this is good, or if it's horrible to read. I don't even know why I wrote it, except that it kind of wanted me to.

So click away whenever. I won't hold it against you. But if you do read through to the end, I would truly appreciate your opinion.


The Lepidopterist


The first time he met her, she was about to give herself alcohol poisoning just to see if it would stick.

The bar he'd picked for that night's entertainment and dinner was an elegant, smooth affair, all whiskey and low music. The men were dressed sharply in their suits, dark like a funeral and the women were splashes of color amongst them, lipstick red like cherries. The whole place reminded him of the speakeasies he used to troll for Maria when she needed new cannon fodder. Ah, he missed those red days sometimes. At least he'd had a purpose then.

He was wearing only two parts of the three part suit he'd taken off his last meal and the pants were scruffy at the hem from running. Mud was speckled up his calves. Most of the men were glaring like he was yesterday's garbage and the women were all drooling over him, two buttons of his shirt undone, waistcoat open.

He played right into them, amping up the lust for the females, smacking the males in the face with a healthy dose of fear. This was the Whitlock Show now, and people either fell in line or just fell. They turned away from him, averted their faces, pretended not to shiver at the sight of him, red-eyed and deadly. Good little dogs. Good little humans.

Peter and Carly were at it again, stinking up the house with their lust and love, making him fucking sick. He stalked across the room, slipping through the crowd like it was so much water. The barkeep didn't look him in the eye as he served him a drink he wasn't going to touch and he made to slink away to the darkest corner of the place. A place from where he could watch the flock, find the weak link. A whore, perhaps, or a lonely traveler. Someone who wouldn't be missed overly much. Someone who would be forgotten. Humans were so careless with each other.

He pushed away from the bar, turned, started walking.

That was when he saw her.

She was sitting at a table all by her lonesome, her lipstick the color of blood, of cherries, her dress expensive and perfectly cut. Her face, in stark contrast, wasn't made up at all, except for the lipstick, and her long, wavy hair cascaded loosely down her back like it had places to be, unfashionable and plain. She was the only woman in the place that wasn't wearing gloves.

She was drinking like she meant business with eyes as big and innocent as a doe's and she was all alone. No friends surrounding her, no man keeping an eye on her as he fetched a drink. Just her and her mismatched attire, just her and her glass. Her and her glass and him, now.

He liked the contradictions in her, he decided, and, with a smirk and a blast of lust for the room at large, he changed his course toward her. Her scent, as he got closer, hit him like a fist to the face, old paper and freesias, a strange combination.

Stranger still, her scent didn't stir the hunger.


He pulled out the chair across from her without asking and sat down, elbows on the table. She didn't just have a glass, she had a whole bottle standing in front of her and an ashtray that was mostly full already. It was almost enough to turn him off her because too much poison tasted like shit, but even if he ate someone else, he could still bask in the numbness she kept pouring down her pretty little throat. Second hand drinking, bless his goddamn gift. Not like it was good for much else since he'd parted ways with his delightful bitch of a maker. Getting fake-drunk and fucking with unsuspecting humans for fun. Maria would laugh so very hard if she could see him now. Hell, he was laughing at himself. How the mighty had fallen. A warlord, the Major, reduced to carnival tricks to keep himself entertained.

He left the girl with the option of starting the conversation but when she didn't, he spoke. "What's a little thing like you doing in a place like this?" He pushed trust and honesty at her, twisting his words into a seductive trap. Honey to her bee, promises to her lonely heart. All lies and manipulation.

This was all he did. When he spoke with humans, it was with the purpose of getting them away from the flock. Of making them walk into a dark alley under their own steam. Why else would he speak to them? There was nothing to say to your dinner. He missed it sometimes, holding a conversation, a discussion with someone, but those flashes of regret were far and in-between. Humans were food. They had nothing to say to him.

She raised her eyes to meet his gaze and he waited for the stutter of her heartbeat that indicated she had noticed his red eyes, bright even in this semi-darkness. It never came. She just looked into his eyes, held his gaze like it weighed nothing, like it didn't make some primal part of her quiver and whimper in fear.


Her blood didn't call to him, but this might just be worth his time anyway. A game, if you will. A small clicking sound rose from the table and he looked down to see her tapping a single finger nail against the side of the bottle. Her nail polish was as red as her lipstick, but chipped.


"I'm catching a little death," she said, voice smooth and sweet, like he imagined her to taste, to feel on his tongue. Smooth and sweet. Old paper and freesias.

"Now that's a damn shame," he drawled, pushing more lust at her. Enough to make her squirm in her seat and beg him for five minutes in the backroom. She shifted slightly, closed her eyes and exhaled, long and slow. She was riding the sensation. He was tempted to push harder but didn't. Sometimes they caught on to the fact that there was something wrong with them and started screaming bloody murder. It annoyed him greatly. He wanted a quiet dinner tonight, not to have to slaughter every human in this building to cover his tracks. These things got tedious.

When she opened her eyes again, she found his gaze immediately. "Southern boy, are you?"

He laughed, turning the head of every woman and most men in the room. They were at the border between North and South, a place where his accent was out of place but not unheard of.

"Yes, Ma'am. Texas, born and bred." He made his accent thicker, molasses that filled the room, pumped chockfull of emotions. Around them, conversation stuttered and halted as people got distracted. Maybe he would push them into an orgy later, just to see what would happen. Just to feel the shame and the satisfaction that they would all feel afterwards. "And where would you be from?"

She shrugged and refilled her glass, eyeing his untouched one contemplatively. "Here and there, really. I travel all over."

Honesty with a dash of deceit. A half truth. He wondered what she was. Confidence woman? Prostitute? Expensive dress and careless disregard of fashion and propriety. If he hadn't been able to hear her heartbeat, he might have thought her a vampire. They, too, were always only half there. They wore the clothes without knowing the mannerisms, they spoke the words without feeling them. Always acting. Always pretending.

Until the dark.

Until the time to strike.

Until the hunger screamed to be sated and then…

He shied away from the thought as he always did lately. Leaving Maria had been long overdue, but without the army to fill him up with base emotions, he had time and space to taste his victims. Their terror, their anger, their hate, their animal fear. Their pain. They dug into him, worse than claws and teeth ever could. He was losing his taste for the kill and hated it. Hated how his desire to kill and feed warred against the disgust squirming in his gut whenever he thought of his previous meals. Caught in between, feeling impotent. He was disgusted with himself.

Silence. She didn't seem uncomfortable with it while he was lost in thought. But then, she didn't mind him sitting at her table, chatting her up, either. She should have been excited, scared, horny, terrified. Anything at all. But all she felt was the numbness from the bottle. Strange bird, that one. Not like any human he had ever met.

After a few minutes she raised her glass in a wordless toast to him and gulped its contents down in one go. She winced at the burn, set it down and reached to refill it immediately.

He laughed at the puckered expression she made and tapped into her emotions, feeling the phantom of the burn in her throat. Memory stirred at the back of his head and he stomped it down as he always did. "I don't think that's how you're supposed to drink it," he observed, smirking.

She wagged a finger at him. "I don't care. It's vile."

God, she was cute. She fumbled for something in her purse and came up with a cigarette case. She flipped it open and pouted at the lack of contents, running a finger through the empty space inside. Jasper reached into his waistcoat and pulled out his own case. Expensive and engraved with a dead man's initials, it had had come with the suit. APJ. Adam? Alexander? Alfred?

He offered her a cigarette and she took it with a small stab of gratitude, twirling it expertly between her fingers, bringing it to her lips. Strange, for a human to feel truly grateful for such a small thing. He pulled one out for himself and she returned his gift by offering up her lighter.

They both lit up and he watched, mesmerized, as smoke bloomed from her cherry-lips and rose to join the noxious cloud above their heads. She smoked like she looked, careless and practiced. Tired. Her lipstick stained the filter of the cigarette a smeared pink and the ember clashed with her lipstick. She was a study in reds and browns, like a day in fall, like dying things. She smiled around her smoke, as if reading his thoughts, depreciating and care-worn. Her cheeks hollowed as she inhaled and her nostrils flared as she exhaled, unladylike, through her nose.

She tapped ash into the overflowing ashtray with a flick of her thumbnail and he watched the light play off the chipped polish, reflecting, in red-tinted miniature, the entire room. His gaze drifted from her to the people around them. He examined them with scent and sight and his gift, devising escape and attack plans by the dozen, calculating probabilities and opportunities, always the soldier.

Always so bored without his war games to keep him occupied.

"How do you choose?" she asked as she stubbed out her cigarette after a long, silent five minutes. He looked down at his own, found it had already extinguished between his icy fingers, burned down to nothing. He flicked his fingers and the remains turned to dust, settled on the floor. She never seemed to notice his little slip.

"Choose what?" he returned, flashing her a smile full of glamour and desire to distract her.

"Who to kill."

He froze, every muscle in his body tensing up at her quiet question. It was only a split second in real time, a mere moment before he remembered to clamp down on his shock and surprise, but to a vampire, it was forever. The last person to surprise him like this had been Peter. His eyes shot to meet hers again and he said, in a deadly croon, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

She blinked slowly, and he realized she was more than a bit tipsy. She raised a hand, waved it at the room at large. "Isn't that what you're here for? Vampires can't drink alcohol." The last with a nod at his untouched whiskey. She tapped his glass like she'd tapped her own and the sound carried, clear as a bell.

He bent forward, fighting the urge to reach across the table and snap her fragile neck. She was a risk. Best to dispose of her quickly. Snap her neck, be done with her. Except… she was so fascinating.

"Who told you what I am?" he snarled, sharp and deadly, too much teeth.

She shrugged, eyes a bit wide. But there was still no fear in her. Apprehension, yes, caution. No fear. She was utterly fearless and that enraged him more than her knowledge did. "I just know," she said, a hint defensively. Childishly. He expected her to stomp her foot and pout at him.

Around them, the patrons were shifting again, uncomfortable. Some of them were getting scared, others angry. He was bleeding emotions all over the place, projecting and receiving, endlessly looping what he felt, amplifying until the humasn started to shiver and shake like the cattle they were. Ask him if he cared.


She jumped and almost upended the glasses on the table, throwing herself to catch them. The movement brought her uncomfortably close to him and she stiffened as she looked at him up close. She seemed to notice his anger for the first time and he took a quick look at the bottle, trying to gauge just how drunk she was.

There was a third of its contents missing. How drunk did that make a tiny thing like her?

She leaned back away from him hastily and shrugged. She reminded him of a bird now, nervous and twitchy. "I met one once. That's all. I saw the eyes and then… it's not that hard to figure out."

Jasper didn't pay much heed to laws in general, and those of the Volturi were no exception. What did he care about what those ancient piles of dust demanded? But he did see the logic in keeping humans in the dark. No-one wanted the cattle to arm itself and build pyres.

Poor, poor girl. Aside from being interesting, she was now also a security risk. There was absolutely no way she was going to live to see another sunrise now. Reeling in his frustration and anger, he pushed positive emotions at her instead. Security. Contentment. Happiness. Drowsiness. The less trouble she caused him when he took her out of here, the better, and what better victim than a willing one?

She slumped in her chair, yawning, and he reached across the table to trail a single digit over her hot, hot cheek, mesmerized by her, fascinated and spellbound and curious like the cat was curious about the canary, small and delicate and entirely alien in its cage. His fingernail scraped along her soft skin, denting it momentarily, leaving a tiny, precise red trail without the exertion of pressure. So fragile, these humans were. If he gave her a love tap now, her cheekbone would shatter like glass. She tried to follow the movement of his digit with her eyes but ended up going cross-eyed. She giggled. "Alright," he drawled, voice slow and heavy and deep enough to get lost in.

More contentment and another shot of lust, to keep her compliant. "Alright. How about I take the lady home now? You're kind of out of it, darlin'."

The last part louder, solely for the benefit of those around them. Those he sent trust and apathy, a strange combination but an effective one. They wouldn't worry about the strange girl taken from their midst by the dangerous looking man with the red eyes. Sheep, sheep, sheep. They bored him to tears.

Now, doe-eyes on the other hand, had curled her cheek into the palm of his hand, apparently not caring that it was cold as ice. Her eyelids were fluttering at the edge of closing and she was smiling at him as she hummed her agreement.

She looked good with his hands on her and for a moment, he almost felt bad about what he was going to do to her. A shame to kill one such as her, young and pretty and open. She'd known what he was since he set foot in the bar, and she hadn't moved a muscle to save herself or anyone else.

Stupid, fearless girl.

He used his free hand to hold up her glass and she accepted it, draining it one last time. Then he stood and rounded the table to haul her out of her seat. She held onto her purse and followed him as he led her toward the door, stumbling into him only once or twice.

Once outside, his helpful hold on her shoulders turned into a restraining grip as he pulled her to the left and into the nearest alley, away from prying eyes. The place was dark to a human's sight, littered with empty bottle and old newspapers. The stench of alcohol dregs and wet cardboard was almost overpowering. He heard rodents stirring, fleeing from the vibrations of their footfalls. Smart little beasts. He propelled her deeper into the dark and flung her into the brick wall hard enough to rattle her teeth. Then he was on her, pressing against her pretty, hot body from knee to neck. Close, so close, like the lover he would never be.

She gasped and shivered against his hold, dropping her purse, tilting her head sideways. Her neck was long and pale and the blood under it felt like lava to his senses. He scratched a nail over his favorite artery and she pushed into him, rolling her hips helplessly with a choking, airy sound.

He laughed at her desperation and shoved her harder into the wall until breathing had to be difficult, until her breasts strained upward every time she took a breath. Then he lowered his head and licked the red welt his nail had left on her neck. She made a strangled noise and brought one hand up to clutch at his hair.

He expected her to try and pull him away, but she tried to shove him closer. He had stopped feeding her positive emotion the moment the door had slammed shut behind them. Why was she still horny and happy?

Wrapping his hands around her waist hard enough to bruise deep black, holding her utterly still, he delved into her emotions and found… acceptance. Contentment. Apathy.

No fear.

Not one, single, tiny ounce of fear. She knew what he was, had to know how this scene was going to end.

And yet she wasn't afraid.

She was either the meekest of all meek sheep, or…

"I'm catching a little death."

"You want me to kill you," he breathed into her satin skin, just loud enough for her to hear.

She nodded into his neck and whispered, like a confession, low and secret and forbidden, "Yes."

Deeper he went and found… sadness. Loneliness. And a fierce desire for something he could neither feel nor name. She was using him as a one way ticket out of this world.

He raised his head away from her singing blood, tilted it until their lips were only a hair's breadth apart. Close enough to taste her breath, whiskey and cigarettes and the artificial taste of her lipstick, smeared where she had bitten her lip. Her teeth were stained with it, sloppy and decadent. "Poor little thing," he crooned, stroking her hair like she was a dog. "So desperate…" His fake pity morphed into a smirk. "There's only one problem, darlin'."

She bit her lip again, looking up at him, doe eyes wide. He stopped stroking her hair, instead burying his fingers in her locks, holding her head painfully immobile. She had to strain her neck to keep her hair.

"I don't follow orders," he snapped in her face, harsh and loud. In the narrow alley, the words echoed, coming back and back and back like gunshots.

She flinched away from the sound, then yelped as she pulled her own hair in his grip. "Ah, don't look at me like that," he scolded. "Really. Where would be the fun in killing you when that's what you want?"

"I take what I want," he informed her, none too kindly, bending backwards a bit to meet her gaze head on, cold and red and deadly. "Not what you offer."

And then kissed her, tongue and teeth and fangs, hard and fast. Taking. Only taking. Because he wanted to. He could feel the tiny blood vessels in her lips break, could feel the bruises blooming under his tender care and when she whimpered he smiled into her.

Eventually he pulled back to let her breathe, fully expecting her to scream. But all she did was gasp, eyes wide, pupils blown. She made no sound and no move to escape and he laughed as he felt for her and found… lust. Hunger. And an entirely new kind of desperation.

Stupid, fearless girl, wanted what he was going to take anyway.

He liked his partners screaming in pleasure, not pain, so he would have flooded her with enough lust and ecstasy to carry her through to the best orgasm of her life, but she didn't know that. And still she wanted him. She wanted this.

For a moment, just one moment, he wondered what her life was like to make her so desperate for any kind of touch, for any contact at all.

He pushed the thought away and got down to taking what he wanted. Catching her gaze and holding it, he slowly released the hold he had on her middle and trailed his hand downward, to the hem of her pretty dress. He inched along until he hit skin and then went back up, under the garment now. And all the while he kept her face turned toward him by her hair, kept her eyes on his, watched as they widened impossibly more as his hand climbed, up and up and up.

He was almost at his destination when he pinched her inner thigh hard, making her gasp and spread for him. "Good girl," he laughed.

She tried to look away and he twisted his fingers in her hair, reminded her who directed this little game. She looked back up and started chewing on her lip again. Since that was a damn shame, he bent down and did it for her as he hiked her right leg over his hip. She kept it there, clinging to him, making little sounds that might have been pain or pleasure, had he not been able to feel that they were, most definitely, the latter.

His free hand found the edges of her underthings and pulled until they ripped. She screamed into his mouth and he found himself wanting to see the marks he was putting on her. He made do with touch instead of sight, trailing fingers around and around, up and down her thighs, back towards her ass and never where she wanted him to be. She whimpered and rolled her hips into his, pressing her hotness into sorely neglected body parts.

He growled and she stilled, understanding the wordless order. As a reward, he plunged a single digit into her, fast and hard. She quivered and shivered and almost came just from that. He laughed into her mouth and pulled her lower lip with his teeth. She whined again, squirmed, but tried to hold still. Fast learner, that one.

He rewarded her by moving his finger and releasing her lip to bite on her ear. "Do you know what I'm going to do to you?" he asked, low and heavy.

She nodded as much as he let her and groaned in time with his moving finger. He added another, just to see her come undone. Her eyes fluttered closed and he stopped instantly. There would be no hiding. She was letting herself be fucked in a dark alley and she would damn well know it.

She made those little noises again, tried to move, then stilled. After a moment, she caught on and opened her eyes again. He crooked the two fingers inside her and went back to talking. "Do you know?"

She nodded again.

"Say it."

She shook her head and he pulled her head to one side, biting her shoulder hard, bruising without breaking skin. He watched the colors bloom under her skin as he waited patiently for several long moments.

Nothing came. He started withdrawing his fingers, feeling her clamp down on him. Like that was going to keep him where he didn't want to be.

She swallowed hard, gasped and whispered, almost steadily, "You're going to fuck me."

He licked the bruise and let her have three fingers, deep and fast and she screamed and shattered all around him. He let her ride it out, listening to her heart trying to beat out of her chest and her blood rushing like it meant to explode out of her. Then, when she was breathing again, he withdrew his hand.

She whimpered and her insides fluttered. She tried to put her leg back down and he smacked the back of her thigh, making her stay as she was. The sound echoed in the narrow alley. Releasing her hair, too, he undid his pants, taking himself in hand while he shoved her dress higher up her legs until it was bunched around her waist. He took a moment to admire her, lipstick smeared, lips bruised, dress disheveled, legs open for him, before reaching around and slapping her other thigh, too. Her bruises would match.

She got the hint and hiked her second leg around his middle, too. The only thing holding her up was him now and if he stepped away from the wall, she would fall, utterly helpless. Pleased, he kissed her again, gentler this time, almost soothing, and flooded her with a wave of lust strong enough to almost make her come again on the spot.

Then he put his hands on her hips, lifted her and pushed into her as slowly as he could bear. She scrambled for purchase frantically, scratching nails across his chest, trying to get a grip, on him, on herself, on the situation.

He didn't let her. With a smirk he raised her up until he almost slipped out and then slammed her back down. The shock shook her up to her teeth and her head rolled back, small hands clenching in the fabric of his shirt. Again. Again. Again.

Eventually she got her bearings enough to move with him, rolling her hips on the downstroke, clutching at his shoulders on the up. Her hair got tangled in the rough brick, but she didn't seem to notice. He mouthed the bruise on her shoulder, added a few more just for artistic value and kept fucking her until she saw stars and came again, screaming.

After that he stopped paying attention to rhythm and just took what he wanted, going faster and faster until he could hear her bones grind under her skin, shifted by his hands and thrusts.

Closer and closer and closer but there was still something missing, a tiny push over the edge and into oblivion. He let the hunger take over and after one last kiss, reared back and sunk his teeth into her neck, viper fast.

She tasted like she smelled, old paper and freesias, delicious, but not for eating. He didn't give a fuck as the first wave of her taste hit his tongue and he exploded into her heat.

She was burning him. Her blood, her insides, it all burned him as he ground his hips into her for the final time and sucked the life right out of her.

Eventually, as he came down slowly, he pulled away. Her heart was still beating, fast and hitching. There was blood on her lip because she'd bitten it too hard and he licked it away, smearing it with her cherry lipstick across her chin. She shuddered and whimpered as he pulled out but held her up. If he let go, she would fall and never get up again.


Not if.

She blinked blearily up at him, the last few ounces of her blood flowing from the open wound on her neck, staining her once pristine dress scarlet. "You killed me after all," she whispered, sounding surprised and pleased.

He smirked since there was no point in denying it and said, "I am a scorpion."

He didn't expect her to know the fable he was quoting, but the moral of it had always fascinated him. You can't change what you are. Nature is nature. The scorpion killed the frog even knowing that it would kill itself, too, in the process, simply because that was what it was. It was a scorpion and killing was what it did.

He was Jasper Whitlock and killing was what he did.

She surprised him by laughing weakly, a chuckle really, and nodding like she knew what he was talking about. She raised one slender hand to his face, tapped to corner of one of his scarlet eyes. Scarlet with her blood. "I know," she whispered, smiling dimly.

Then her eyes closed and her heart stopped and she was dead.


He hadn't realized how much he'd tuned into her heartbeat until it was gone.


For a moment he felt regret.

Then he shook it off and disentangled himself from the rapidly cooling corpse, letting it sink to the dirty concrete with perhaps a bit more care than he usually showed. She'd been interesting. Weird, crazy, stupid and suicidal, but interesting. In another world he might have kept her around.

But what was done was done and her blood was spilled all over the floor now.

He fixed his clothing, pulled down her dress just because and licked the mark he'd left on her one last time, savoring her strange taste and closing the wound. He ran a thumb through the lipstick smudged on her chin, licked it and tasted chemicals instead of cherries. Then he ran a hand through his hair and strolled out of the alley, absently digging for a smoke.


He spent the rest of the night wandering aimlessly around town at human speed, his hands tucked into his pockets. The girl's blood was still roaring inside of him and her scent clung to his every pore.

He realized, sometime around the first hints of false dawn, that he didn't know her name. He had never cared before, but tonight, he did. He didn't know her name, didn't know where she'd been from, or what she'd been like. All he knew was that she'd been lonely and sad and happy to let him have what he wanted in exchange for her death.

He'd met human suicides before, had watched more than one vampire throw themselves into the fires, simply to get away from this life, the life of the southern armies. He'd felt them, their desperation, their despair, and then, at the last second, he'd always, always felt their regret, a sudden bright flare of the desire to live.

When it came right down to it, when the pain started, people didn't really want to die. Not even suicides. Except for her. All the while, fucking, drinking, draining her, she'd never once felt that surge of panic, that last, loud, "No!"


She'd died absolutely at peace with herself. In a hundred years, he'd never felt that.

Not once.

Until tonight.

Death was always anger, fear, panic. Death was always rage. He dealt with it because it was the price of a full stomach. But now, having felt what that stupid, fearless, human girl had felt. Having tasted peace where there was usually only darkness…

It made him angry. Angry because she'd touched him when no-one else ever had, ever could. Because her death had not made him want to dry-heave on the pavement like those of all his other victims. Because she'd shown him something beautiful and now it was gone.

He was angry with a dead girl, angry with himself, angry with the world. Angry with Peter and Carly for pulling him away from the only thing in his life that had ever made sense and angry with everything in-between just because he could.

Outside the city limits he broke first into a quick jog, then a dead run. He ran until he hit the forest and then he raged. Rocks broke, trees crumbled, wildlife fled. He raged and raged and raged and felt impotent and angrier still with every useless act of destruction. He'd had a purpose once, a place in this world. He'd hated it, but it had been his and he'd been the best.

He'd been unstoppable.

Now he killed stupid, fearless girls in dark alleys for nothing but cheap thrills.

With a roar that shook the trees, he stopped. Just stopped.

He took his emotions, all those bright, hot scraps with sharp edges, all the heat-memory of her skin, the scent of her, the feel and sight and sound, put it all together and locked it away. He shoved it deep down and buried it under cold logic and competence.

Jasper pulled back and the Major reigned, cold and indifferent. A logical monster, unlike the hunger.

He fixed his clothes for the second time that night, although there wasn't much left to salvage. Then he ran toward the old lodge in the middle of the forest that Carly and found and Peter had declared home for the week.

At the edge of hearing, he stopped and listened for his companions, finding them finally done with their fuck-fest. They were curled up together, feeling content, talking in voices too low to make out yet. He wondered, briefly, what they did when they weren't sating one hunger or the other, but he didn't really care. Didn't want to know, unsure whether that was out of envy or disgust.

The last mile took him only seconds and then he opened the door, finding them on a pile of blankets in the corner, giggling like children. Peter looked up, amusement glinting in his eyes, and took his maker in. He took a whiff and the amusement faded as he rolled to his feet.

"Major," he complained, "Man, you reek. You been fucking and feeding again? I thought we talked about this. We agreed that shit's just nasty!"

Not bothering with words, Jasper shot a stab of annoyance at the man, who cringed briefly but was far too used to this mode of communication to take serious offense.

"No, man. This ain't right. Fucking them is one thing. Feeding them another. But both at the same time? We ain't in the South anymore."

He dropped to his knees as soon as the words were out of his mouth, clutching his middle as he tried to breathe through the agony flung at him. The Major laughed. You couldn't breathe through emotional pain, couldn't fight your way through pain that wasn't even yours to begin with. And yet, Peter kept trying.


Carly flitted over to her mate, hugging him without stepping in front of him. She still feared the Major, cautious around him at all times. But she found it in herself to glare at him for hurting her man. He laughed again. Tonight, shit just seemed so very funny.

As suddenly as he'd started, he stopped throwing Peter pain and stalked toward the only other door in the room, leading to what must once have been a bedroom. He'd dragged the sad remains of a mattress into the middle of the room on their first night there and cleared out the rest of the broken furniture.

Not in the South anymore. Not with Maria anymore, not fighting anymore. Not monsters anymore. Maybe that was the fucking problem. Vampires in civilized society. Him among people. He felt dirty, wrong, sick. Tainted. Because of her. Because she'd thrown the world into contrast.

He flung the door shut behind himself, threw himself on the mattress, flat on his back, and snarled at the other two vampires. "Mind your own fucking business."


They left him alone until sunrise, proving that they had at least some survival skills. Then Peter knocked gently on the door, like Jasper hadn't heard him standing there for the past ten minutes, hadn't felt him, apprehension, worry and care, a strange mixture he still couldn't entirely decipher because he knew the care was for him and he couldn't fathom why.

He didn't react to the knock. Peter spoke anyway. "Do we need to move, Major?"

No answer.

"Major, did your little game last night cause enough bloodshed to draw attention to us?"

He considered sending the man blistering agony for speaking to him like he was a naughty child, but didn't. He had no idea why, but he didn't.

"Right," Peter said eventually. "Me and the Missus are going to frolic on the woods for a while until you feel like containing that cloud of misery you're spreading. See'ya."

And they were gone.

For a minute or an hour, Jasper considered following his first- and only – friend. He considered finding him and telling him what he'd started, all those years ago, when he'd given the Major his first taste of positive emotion.

He considered telling him that a nameless, stupid, fearless girl had finished what he'd started so long ago.

Peter had shown him that there was something else and then he'd given him an out, an escape from Maria. And that girl, doe-eyed and plain, had given him a death that wasn't screaming agony and pain.

Emotion. He was an empath and suddenly there was too much fucking emotion. He'd shut it all down, locked it away and pulled the Major to the forefront, calculated rage and cold murder, but it wasn't working right because he still saw her face in the mold stains on the ceiling above his head.

"Fuck!" he roared and put his fist through the rotting floorboards.


Noon came, then dusk, then darkness. He left the house before Carly and Peter came back, running back toward town. He found a convenient man his size on the road and broke his neck.

His own suit still stank of sex and old paper and freesias and it felt like the scent was burning his nose. He shoved the mostly naked man back into his truck, piled the soiled clothes on top of him, pulled some gas from the tank and set the whole thing on fire before shoving it into a ditch. It was all very neat and he had himself a new pair of boots, a pair of jeans, and a nice shirt and leather jacket. The complete opposite of his last look. He kept the cigarette case though and made his way back into town like a human, slouching, meandering.


He stood at the end of the street last night's bar was on and stared at the sign proclaiming the best whiskey in town for a long time. Then he turned around and walked in the opposite direction. He found himself another bar, old and rundown, easy girls and hard working men. No suits. No cherry lipstick that tasted like blood.

The girl he picked up was called Laura and she was blonde and tall and looked like she'd lived fifty years in twenty-five. She drank cheap beer and laughed too loudly and was the perfect victim because no-one would miss her.

He flirted with his eyes, smirking, moving, never saying a word. When she played coy he blasted her with need and when she hesitated at the door, he smirked at her and played with her emotions until her knees went weak.

She thought it was true desire, thought she'd found something good, and followed him like a lamb. Her hair smelled like grease and her skin like artificial strawberries and her cheap make-up cracked and flaked around her eyes. He gave her a boost of confidence, making her feel beautiful without having to say the words. Then he took her hand and led her to her very own dark alley, the last place she'd ever see.

He kept smiling, kept squeezing her hand, kept making her drowsy and happy and pulled her into his stone embrace, held her close and sunk his teeth into her neck. She tasted like she smelled, stale and chemical but still with that last bit of hope, making her bright. As pain pierced the haze of lethargy he'd woven around her, it pulled at him and made it hard to concentrate. He lost his focus and she felt more pain and he in turn felt more pain, too, and then the fear set in, followed by blind animal panic and she struggled like a rabbit in a trap, flailing her limbs, breaking her hands against his marble skin, impotent and helpless and dying and knowing it.

The taste of her, wasted youth and dying hope, turned sour and her blood became ashes in his mouth. He broke her neck halfway through and dropped the body, watching the blood flow from the wound, soaking old newspapers and making a river toward him. He watched it stain his shoes as he bent over, breathing in great gulps like he could still suffocate, like oxygen was going to do him any good.

Her last moments, painfearagonynononopleaseno, were repeating endlessly, ping-ponging around his insides and he wanted to bring all the blood back up, wanted to rid himself of her and the taint of her emotions.

He'd never felt like that with Maria, filled to bursting with the hunger of the army, with their thirst for destruction and their burning rage. He'd killed without remorse then because he'd been too full to take his victims' death inside himself. But he was empty now, empty and waiting to be filled and everything tasted like ashes.

Everything except the girl, dead a few blocks over and left like garbage. She hadn't been afraid.

She'd been the first person, human or vampire, that had looked into his eyes, looked at the monster that slept there, and not been afraid. And he'd killed her.

He spat out a mouthful of venom and blood, swiped a finger through it and sealed the wound he'd left on the blonde's neck. Then he raided her purse for the twenty-five dollars and change she had with her and left.

Out of the alley, down the street, around and around. A girl walked up to him at a street corner, coy and cheap, fluttering her lashes at him. He gave her a smile full of teeth and the full effect of his eyes. She ran, like she was supposed to, and he was left feeling hollow. He wished he'd left the brown-eyed girl alive so he could kill her now because she'd broken him.

Before, he'd stomached the kills and moved on but now…

She'd fucking broken him.

Eventually he found himself back in the alley of last night. He would have liked to claim that he'd wandered there without noticing, but he was a vampire. He noticed everything and because of that, he put his fist through the brick wall, barely biting back on another roar. He wanted to tear this shitty little borderline-desert town apart, bathe in the blood and rage of its people. He wanted to wash himself clean in their hate and their pain.

But he wouldn't. He had no fucking idea why, but he knew he wouldn't.

Since he was already being a goddamn martyr tonight, he walked deeper into the alley, inhaling her scent, already fading.

He frowned. The body was gone. He'd expected that, but his nose told him the police hadn't been to this place. No gunpowder, no chemicals. That meant no police and yet, no body. Tilting his head, he inhaled deeply, following her scent back to the mouth of the alley. There was a faint track to the right, where the bar was. And another one, going to the left. He tried to find another scent mixed in with hers, the scent of whoever had stolen the body, but there was nothing there.

It was as if she'd gotten up from the ground and walked out of that alleyway under her own steam. Which was impossible. Dead people did not get back up unless it was as vampires and he hadn't injected her with any venom. Even if he had, she'd still be burning.

And yet… gone.

He didn't actually make the decision to follow the trail she'd left, but he did it anyway. Since nothing was going according to plan anymore and he was probably going fucking insane anyway, he saw no point in not hunting the walking dead girl down. Maybe she'd let him kill her again. Maybe that'd miraculously fix him.

Maybe tomorrow he'd wake up in 1860 and find that he was still in his bed back home on his parents' farm in Texas.

He followed the scent all the way to a residential area at the edge of town. It was rundown but cared for, obviously working class. The scent grew stronger the further he walked down the street and ended at a small but neat house with a red Ford pickup parked in front of it. He inhaled one last time and almost choked, the scent was so thick.

There were a few boxes filled with books and a couple of suitcases in the bed of the truck, all ripe with her scent. He was about to pick up one of the books just to bury his nose in it and try to figure out whether he was actually losing it, when he heard a screen door slam behind him. He spun around and stopped dead in his tracks, shocked for the second time in less than a day.

There she was, her hair in a high ponytail, wearing shorts and a blouse, carrying another box of books. No lipstick like cherries tonight and her nails were short and without polish. No bruises on her face, her shoulders, he exposed thighs. Nothing to indicate that she'd been dead the night before. That he'd murdered her and left her, bleeding and broken, in that alley to be cleared away like garbage.

Nothing. The screeching of metal brought him back to the present and he realized he was crushing the side of her truck under his fingers. "You're dead," he finally said, feeling utterly robbed of anything resembling his usual cool and poise.

Stupid, fearless, deathless girl, standing in front of him, panic and shock radiating from her like her body heat.

Heat. Body heat. He remembered her heat, the heat of her blood inside his body. He'd drained her. And yet here she was.


It made no fucking sense.

She frowned, hitched the box higher in her arms like a shield. "I'm sorry, sir, do I know you?"

He hesitated. She looked the same, same face, same hair, same body. But there were no bruises, no expensive dress, no lipstick. She looked like a different girl. A twin? A sister?

No. The scent had led him here and he could feel her shock. He could feel her deceit. "You're lying," he informed her, finding his footing in the face of her act.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

The box was gone from her hand before she realized he'd even moved and then he was crowding her backwards, toward the house. She stumbled, went down, slipped under his arm and past him. Clever. It didn't help her, though. He had her again two steps later, up against the side of the Ford, right next to where he'd left the shape of his fingers in the metal. "Oh, you know," he whispered in her ear, low and sweet. That was a lie, too. "You know what I am and you know who I am and you know what we did last night, in that alley, behind that bar."

"You raped me," she shot back, not sounding nearly as hesitant as she had the night before. She was all sass now. Like she'd changed her personality with her clothes.

He laughed in her face. "Can't rape the willing, darlin'. And you were willing."

She blushed scarlet and averted her gaze, looking anywhere but in his eyes. His eyes, which were stained deep red by her blood. Cherry red, cherry blood, cherry lips. She was inside of him and standing in front of him at the same time. Looking at her own death. How long would it take to kill her again? Reach up, snap her neck. A second? Less. So fragile. But he wanted, needed to know. To understand what the fuck she'd done to him.

"What I want to know is how you are here, alive, after you practically begged me to kill you and I was kind enough to oblige."

"I thought you didn't take orders," she snapped, apparently giving up on playing dumb. Her fury was kittenish and weak, tiny claws and cute growls. It couldn't harm him at all, but he hadn't expected it of her. Not after her compliance the night before, her passive submission.

"And I thought you were dead. We're even. Now how. Are. You. Alive?"

She opened her mouth instantly and he shushed her with a finger on her lips, as hot as he remembered. "And I'll feel it if you're lying, so don't bother."

She laughed and it was bitter and older than she'd been a night ago. Centuries older. "And what will you do if I lie? Kill me?"

He snapped his teeth in her face just because he could. "I already did," he informed her, deadpan.

Suddenly, the shy girl from the night before was back and she averted her eyes, hands folded in front of her, the picture of demureness and apology. Bravado gone. "I'm sorry," she whispered, "For drawing you into it. I usually don't…."

He waited for her to finish and after a minute of silence, she delivered. "I usually don't draw other people into my suicides. I'm sorry I made you do it."

"For the record, darlin', nobody makes me do anything, least of all you. I do what I want, remember?" He bent his knees a bit to look into her lowered face and held her gaze until she nodded. She was chewing on her lip again and he could see the blood rush under the edges of her teeth, rising to the skin. It was distracting so he put a hand over her mouth. "Apart from that, what the hell do you mean usually? You do that a lot? And don't think I didn't notice that you've yet to answer the question."

For the longest time, she glared mutely at him. Then she visibly slumped and put both hands on his wrist, tugging lightly to indicate that she wanted use of her mouth back. He let his hand drop for her to speak.

"Sometimes I…" there she went again, studying their shoes. "I can't die. At all. But sometimes, when everything gets too much and I can't stand it anymore…"

"You go out and get yourself killed."

She nodded. "And when I come back, I'm a new person. Reborn, understand? Last night I was…" The whiskey. She didn't finish but he nodded anyway. "But then you came and I… I'm sorry I made… I'm sorry you killed me."

Now that was definitely a first. Never before had anyone apologized for him having to kill them. It was just surreal. But then, this entire situation was. She was alive, he was broken, and everything else was fucked.

And it was her fault.

He crowded her further into the car, pinning her with his hips, one knee between her legs, making it impossible for her to slip past him a second time. Not that she'd get far, but it was the principle of the thing. Packing up her truck in the middle of the night didn't exactly make him trust her not to try again.

"You're insane," he informed her candidly.

She shrugged, still keeping his wrist in her hands, gently. Like a lover. The mockery was almost funny. "You live as long as I do, you go a bit crazy, too. Nothing sticks," she said and then looked up, eyes blazing. "Nothing ever sticks, do you understand that? Nothing I do has consequences. Nothing is ever…"

Nothing was ever enough. He got that. He did. He'd slaughtered entire towns full of humans and still felt thirsty, had let Maria's depravities taint him until he felt black as pitch and it still hadn't been enough to make him entirely forget. He'd fought so many battles and yet never won the war. He understood wanting, understood trying. He understood the empty space that yawned inside of her, of him, of everyone, that space that took and took and took and yet was never filled.

He'd tried blood, had tried rage, had tried hate. He'd tried everything he could get his hands on and nothing ever worked. Nothing stuck.

And she, deathless girl with the cherry lips, she made death her poison, tried to fill the emptiness with the absence of all things.

It didn't work, didn't ever work. Couldn't work. Nothing sticks. He understood that better than most. But it changed nothing.

"So you're saying that I could kill you any way I choose, and you'd just… wake up and be fine?"

She nodded, either oblivious to the implied threat or ignoring it. Like she didn't care at all. Maybe she didn't. The oldest being he'd ever met had been Maria and at three hundred plus years, she was absolutely insane. Maybe that was what living forever meant. Madness.

He was barely a century old, all told, but visions of another stretching before him, a dozen more centuries and then a dozen more, were nauseating. Maybe time drove people mad. Or maybe it was the absence of consequence. Freefall into forever.

It wasn't like he didn't have his own helping of madness. And he understood not caring all too well. Even now he didn't care about the lives he took. He only cared that the deaths hurt him. Peter called him a selfish bastard, but Jasper was fairly sure even Peter only knew half of it, gift or no gift.

Why had he left Maria? Why, why, why? Peter thought he'd left because he detested Maria, because of what she'd done to him, to others like him. Like them. Peter thought Jasper left his maker to be free of her.

Truth was, he'd been bored.

Only, a little voice at the back of his mind whispered, that wasn't entirely true, was it? Part of him had detested Maria. The part that felt, the part that clung to the little flickers of hopelovefriendship Peter had brought into the darkness.

He stomped on that voice, ground it into dust under his heels and shoved the dust into the very back of his mind, into the darkest recesses of memory. Major Jasper Whitlock was not that pathetic.

He shook himself out of his thoughts, focused on her. Blood-bright girl who looked at him and saw his insides. Hate bloomed in his chest, vicious and brutal.

"What if I snapped your neck?"

She shook her head. No fear. Still no fear, not ever any fear. There was no reason to fear anything, was there? If she was truly indestructible, then anything else was just pain. If she could ignore that like he had ignored it all his life, then they were more similar than he wanted them to be. And he hated her for it.

"Drained you dry?"

Head shake. He raised his free hand to lie around her neck, squeezing just enough to make her aware of it. She didn't even flinch. It would take less than a heartbeat to break her neck and she didn't react at all. There was something broken in her, too.

"Stabbed you? Shot you? Drowned you?"

She kept shaking her head, eyes fixed on a point somewhere above his left brow.


She shrugged under his heavy hands and for the first time something like hesitation crossed her face. He squeezed tighter, growled lowly. She met his gaze, sudden and angry. Stark. She could be vicious, too.

"Do you know what happens when gods love you?"

He frowned. Gods? As in, actual deities? Lower case G gods? She smiled, skewed and startling. Condescending, almost.

"What?" He snapped.

She leaned forward, pressing her neck further into his hand, gaze intense. "They do terrible things to you."

Like make you live forever. Curse you with immortality. Madness. Life without consequence. Hunger for death. He laughed and curled his fingers, clawing into the soft, pale skin of her neck. Loved by the gods, yes?

Oh, the irony.

She made a gurgling noise and he loosened his grip marginally, almost absentmindedly. She inhaled deeply, eyelids fluttering, then relaxed against the metal of the car.

Jasper smirked. "You wouldn't fight back at all, would you?"

Again she shook her head.

"You'd let me do it, just like you let me do it last night."

She nodded, mute.

"Say it."

Something halfway between excitement and shame stirred in her as he repeated his words from the night before. "Yes," she whispered.


She put one of her hands on top of his around her neck, not pulling, just resting it there. Like a lover. "Maybe I'm a scorpion, too," she said, low and secret. "We can't help what we are. You're the man who brings death and I'm the girl who's in love with it. Maybe we're both scorpions."

Except his stinger was broken and his venom spent. Except he had detested Maria. Except he did feel. He felt everything and he felt it too much. The terror of the girl he'd murdered in the alley, the brief flicker of fear of the man whose clothes he was wearing. Her peace. Her peace most of all. He pushed away from her too fast for the human eye to follow and fled into the night, heedless of what humans might see.

He ran until he hit the forest, kept running until he was in his room in the cabin. He had little, so little, and it was all packed in a few seconds, stuffed into a single bag that had wandered the entire continent with him.

Away. He needed to get away. From this town littered with his leftovers, from Peter and Carly who made him feel, who made him human even while they kept reminding him of everything he'd left behind. He needed to get away from this place that smelled like red sand and desert winds, this place that had Maria written in its bones.

Away from Maria and everything she'd meant, everything he'd felt when he'd been with her, chockfull of darkness and loving it.

He needed, most of all, to get away from the deathless girl that was the lynchpin of everything, the final straw. Light in the darkness. Hope. Suicide.

She looked at him and saw the monster, saw his eyes and his fangs, and she didn't even try to fight. She invited him in. She let him have all he wanted to take. In love with death. Yes. And he was death but instead of pleasing him, instead of making him hungry for her, horny and greedy, it made him sick.

It made him sick because it didn't make him sick and that made no sense but it was true. He took lives and that was vile and it made him feel vile, because he felt every death he caused down to the marrow of his frozen bones. He felt every life as it ended, the agony and rage of it, the pain and blind, animal fear. Every person he killed took a piece of him with them. They always had, probably. With Maria, he'd been too full to notice, too full with the hunger and lust and aggression of an entire army of newborns.

Since he'd left, he'd felt all those pieces go.

And then she'd come. She'd come and given him her life and taken nothing in return. She's broken the deal. He took something from them and his victims took something of him in return. But she hadn't taken anything. Instead she'd let him have her last breath and her peace. Her gratitude.

He craved it now, that peace. That serenity she'd felt in her last moments. He craved it and knew that he would never have it. Not while he killed to stay alive. And he could never stop killing because that was what he was. Who he was.

The man who brings death.

A vampire. More than that, he was Major Jasper Whitlock, the deadliest warlord the world had ever seen. Death was his trade and pain was his pleasure.

To not want that anymore was to not want to be himself anymore.

He wanted to be someone else.

He wanted…

Too many things. Too many emotions, too many memories of body heat and doe eyes, of cherry lipstick smeared with blood and death and peace. Benediction.

He needed to get away.

He slung the bag across his chest where it would rest securely as he ran and slipped out of the room, out of the little hut that had always been Peter and Carly's and never his. He didn't belong here. He didn't belong anywhere, except maybe in war. He'd considered, more than once, going back. Maria would take him back gratefully and he could be all he was again, could fill himself with other people's darkness and not feel a thing of his own. There was freedom in that, in absolute numbness.

But he didn't want to anymore. Not now.

He didn't belong here and he couldn't go back. What did that leave?

Forward. Onward. Motion. Away. He took a breath he didn't need, steeled nerves he'd never before felt and got ready to run and never stop when Peter suddenly appeared and slammed into him like a train.

"Where the hell do you think you're going, fucker?" he yelled as they tumbled with his momentum, leaving a trail of cracked rock and broken trees in their wake. By the time Jasper flung the other man away from him, they were a hundred feet from the cabin and Carly stood pressed against a tree, watching, wide-eyed.

She didn't seem to have a clue what was going on, fear, panic, confusion emanating from her. So Peter was acting on one of his hunches, and not very well. Jasper stood, nothing but a thought between lying and standing, and leveled pitch black eyes on his second in command.

Peter, realizing the mistake he'd made in his haste, stayed prone on his knees, head lowered. It didn't save him. He screamed as pain slammed into him and clawed at the dirt, fighting against his body's need to curl into itself.

Nothing could make a vampire lose control of their body like this. Nothing could cause this much pain, not to their marble flesh. Nothing except the Major. Pain was his pleasure. Agony was his business.

Carly whimpered and knelt behind her mate, wrapping her arms around him, offering useless comfort. So scared, little rabbit. So scared.

The Major smirked and it was sharp and full of teeth.

In the end, Peter worked through the pain enough to say the magic words. "I'm sorry. Major, I'm…."

The pain receded. The vampire sunk into himself as the strain on his body disappeared, panting like a human. Old habits die hard, even for the dead.

"Sorry," he finished, wheezing. "I just… saw you… leaving. Wanted…"

A stab of annoyance not their own slammed into both vampires on the ground and that was their only warning before the Major knelt in front of them, fangs bared. "You wanted? Tell me, Peter, what did you want? What did you want?"

Peter, who knew, better than anyone else, how to weather the Major's rage, didn't try to defend himself. He met his sire's gaze and said, simply, "I want for you to stay. You're family."

Family. Something clenched in his chest, low and hot and painful and Jasper shoved it aside ruthlessly. Family. Family was for humans. Family was for food.

"Is that why you took me from Maria?" he asked instead, his voice sweet and inviting. Open. Caring. Lie. Lielielie, all a lie. Golden hair and a drawl like molasses, a smile like sunshine. All lies. Red eyes and fangs and death inside, those were the truth.

Everything else was camouflage for a hunter. Deception and lies. The deathless girl hadn't fallen for it, not even for a second. And still she'd looked at him like he hung the moon. He hadn't even realized it at the time, that it wasn't just his gift making her compliant. She'd wanted it. Wanted him. Wanted death.

Him. Death. The Major and Jasper and death.

Was there really a difference? There shouldn't have been.

But there was.

"We didn't take you," Peter said, his voice bland, his gate fixed on the Major's chin. Deference. Too late. "You came with us."

Yes. He had, hadn't he?

"Because you made me feel," he snarled, almost biting off the words, spitting venom in his aggression. The other two quivered, feeling what he felt, unintentionally. The rage just spilled from him. The rage and the helplessness.

What he got back from them was confusion.

"You made me feel. You and her and your love and your compassion and friendship. You reminded me of what I was before Maria! You made me feel good things, things that Maria never had and I wanted them!"

He looked at their faces, saw the dawning comprehension in them, the horror. They still didn't get it, still didn't know what it meant to live with his gift. Didn't understand the depth of his depravity. "Hunger. Rage. Lust. Those were good, those were simple emotions and you made me feel more and now… all I feel is death!" he spat. "I feel their fear and their death, every single one of them and it disgusts me!"

He reared back, jumping to his feet. "I'm broken and it's your fucking fault!"

Peter and Carly and a girl with cherry lipstick. How easy it was, in the end, to bring down the legendary Major. All it took was some love, some peace. Positive emotion. A single light in the darkness, three candles, three flickers. Hope. Love. Friendship. He was pathetic.

Carly blinked away venom tears, her face open and sad and not scared anymore. She'd lost the panic that had been steadily rising as he screamed at them. Now all that was left was… pity.

He snarled at her and she didn't flinch. He wanted to rip her throat out. He wanted to sob. He wanted to murder everyone in that rotten desert town, gorge himself on their dying moments, on the rage they'd feel when he murdered their families in front of them.

The idea of it made the blood in his stomach curdle.

"Jasper," Carly breathed and Peter squeezed her hand, looked up at his sire, looked shattered. Pity. He met Jasper's gaze now, steady and true, the way he'd never before. Unafraid. Caring. Oh, how Jasper wanted to claw his eyes from their sockets, how he wanted to rip this man to shreds and burn the pieces. He was good at that, at breaking and burning and ruining things. Lives.

Terrible things happened when gods loved you. Maybe they loved him, too.

Carly blinked, a useless, human movement, and Peter squeezed her hand tighter in his. They were both feeling so much fucking pity for the broken monster.

Snarling, Jasper grabbed the bag he'd lost in the initial tumble, wrapping the broken strap around one hand. "Follow me and I'll light you on fucking fire," he snarled.

He had no idea if it was the truth.

Then he ran.





He stood in the door leading from the main part of the hotel suite to the bedroom Bella had been sleeping in.

Bella. Isabella.

He wondered if that was her real name. He wondered if she remembered it. He wondered how old she was and didn't ask, didn't make any move to cross the distance half a room and sixty years had created between them. Distance. That sounded like they had been close once, but they'd never been. Their bodies had tangled beyond hope, but the rest of them… Killing was intimate. Killing was like making love, all skin and touch and teeth. He'd killed her. He'd devoured her. And then she'd taken it all back, all of herself and so many of the pieces he'd had left.

Distance was a joke between them, unspoken and unappreciated. A mockery of lovers, her and him. Even now.

She still looked like she had when he'd wrapped his hand around her neck and squeezed. He found himself missing her lipstick, sometimes, when he looked at her out of the corner of his eye at school. Cherry red. It played such a prominent role in his memories of her. Cherry red. Blood red.

It was just the two of them, here, now. The first time they were alone. The first time he didn't have to watch his thoughts and memories. He wondered, at times, why he bothered. What did he care if her secret was revealed?

But he knew the answer.

The deathless girl, the one with the cherry lipstick in the alley, she was one of his best and worst memories. He didn't want to share her. As long as he kept her secret, she was his.

"You're going to go to him," he said, evenly, measured. So far from the monster she'd known.

She didn't seem to care at all.

"Who?" she asked, blandly. Her voice was perfectly suited to the girl she pretended to be, simple, trusting, young and naïve and in love. How much of it was real, how much of it only show? He couldn't tell from her emotions.

Madness again, the old song.

"James," he snapped, fully aware that she knew who he was talking about.

She nodded.

"You're going to let him kill you."

Another nod.

"It's going to rip the family apart." The family. Even after fifty years, he still said it as if the term didn't include him at all. He felt like the changeling child, the stranger. Outcast. Never truly belonging, like the blood on his hands marked him as a leper.

She shrugged and turned away on the bed, pretending to look for something on the nightstand. Weak. Meek. "I can't help what I am."

Then, wordlessly, she added, You should know.

Yes. He should, shouldn't he? After all, James was only filling his shoes. Hunting her, killing her. He wondered if she'd fallen in love with Edward for who he was or for the danger he represented.

A Singer dating the vampire that thirsted for her. The answer seemed plain as day. And yet he'd never said a word, to anyone. She would die. She always died. She always got what she wanted. Even he hadn't been able to resist her. Edward or James. To her, it probably didn't matter.



She was the mother of all scorpions.

"You could let us handle him," he suggested, mildly, hands in his pockets.

She stood, tugged on the bottom of her shirt. "James won't stop. And if you kill him, his mate will come after you. After everyone. The easiest way to solve this problem is for me to die."

How had he ever missed the suicide dancing in her eyes? How had he ever not seen how far gone she was? A human girl that knew a vampire by his eyes and didn't run. A human girl who ran with vampires.

A human girl who never flinched and never feared.

Utterly broken. Utterly mad.

"There are other ways," he said. He'd calculated them all. Plans and backup plans, contingencies and emergencies. It was the soldier in him, the part that never quite rested until it had five alternative escape routes. James and his mate were a distraction. Mice to his cat, at best. It would be so easy.

So very easy to dispose of them.

But of course no-one listened when he told them that. No-one ever listened to him. He was only Jasper, poor, broken, murderous Jasper.

She stepped up to him, close enough for him to feel her endless body heat and said, a flash of cruelty through her vulnerability, "You could do it."

She smirked at him, challenging. Daring him.

Kill me.


He tried to imagine it. Alice coming back, finding her lying dead on the carpet, eyes glassy, bled out. How long did it take her to come back? Would they leave her body here and run? Or would they take the corpse, blow her secret? No, they'd have to leave her where James would find her, wouldn't they?

And then? Her body would disappear. Would the others look for it? Would Edward grieve? Edward. If anyone got to kill her, it should be him. Kill her and then keep her, once she came back. Forever with the one he loved.

Only Jasper didn't think BellaIsabellaWhoever was built for forever. Didn't think she could say I do and mean it for longer than a human lifetime. If that. Too in love with dying. He wondered if she remembered what they'd done – what he'd done to her – with the same fever bright clarity he did. It'd been less than an hour. An hour that had ruined him utterly and forever.

"Why me?"

The brief flash of darkness was already fading from her gaze. Meek Bella again, stupid, fearless girl. "Because you're a monster."

Unlike his chosen family, this rag-tag group of sheep in wolf's clothes. Because he was a monster, a true, thirsty, deadly monster. He'd killed her once already, hadn't he?

Before he could find a way to answer her, she raised her hand to his face, tracing his eyebrow and cheekbone with a single digit. Circling his eye, yellow gold instead of red. "But you won't," she said and she sounded disappointed.

He snatched her hand away from his face, squeezed too hard. Bones ground against each other and she winced soundlessly. He released her, listening to the miniscule sounds of her body fixing the damage. Whatever god had loved her, whatever god had cursed her, had been very thorough.

"Different times," he told her, feeling tongue-tied and stupid. Slow and drunk around her, like that night, run over by her acquiescence, by her sluggish, suicidal peacefulness.

"No more scorpion," she agreed.

"You're the one that fucking broke me," he snarled, hands twitching, throat itching for her blood. He wouldn't. Not ever again. Because of her. For her. In spite of her. He never knew anymore. Never knew anything except for that one fact, that one truth: Her fault. Whatever he was, it was her fault. He'd been the best of all possible monsters. Until her.

Behind him, the door to the suite slammed as Alice returned with the ice-cream Bella had demanded. A fool's errand. A distraction. Jasper watched as she settled into herself, the woman, the deathless girl with the cherry lipstick, sinking back into her skin.

Before him was little Bella again, clumsy, mortal, dying Bella, who had never been murdered against the rough brick wall of an alley and liked it.

The girl who was in love with death. But he didn't deal it anymore. Couldn't. Wouldn't.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, almost urgently, twisting her hands into her sleeves. There were shadows like bruises under her eyes and he remembered the shape of his hand, deep blue on the white of her neck, fading too quickly.

"Liar," he accused.

She looked away.