Author's Note: This one-shot coincides with my story, Full Moon Rising, chapters 19, 21, 23, and 25. If you would like to read this from Alice's point of view or see what happens after this, check out Full Moon Rising!
I hunched my shoulders, pulling my jacket around myself and kept my face down as I walked along the street. None of the humans paid me any mind.
I was terribly thirsty. It had been a week and a half since I last hunted. My eyes were dark. Better for mingling among the humans, but more dangerous for them as well. In my mind I debated with myself whether or not I should just go hunting. If I didn't, the thirst would just continue to grow stronger until I had no choice. If I did... I grimaced, knowing what that would mean.
I was cursed.
My ability to read emotions had, at times, proved very useful. But it was much more damaging than it was worth. Feeling the emotions of every human I hunted - and remembering those emotions for all eternity - was torture. I was trying to hunt less often, hoping it would ease my suffering. But it seemed all I was accomplishing was magnifying the pain of thirst.
There were only three options before me. I could hunt and feel the emotional torture of my victims, abstain and feel the burning torture of thirst, or somehow find a way out.
I was trapped. There was no escape. The only end I could possibly conceive was an end to my life. And I was not quite that depressed...yet.
I continued walking, my pace slow and weary even by human standards, while I turned those three options over and over in my mind.
Vehicles passed me occasionally, casting the scent of their occupants over me in gusts of wind. I burned, but maintained my steady course, not even sure where I was going. I was just staying visible so it would be easier to resist, knowing the dire consequences of exposing myself by hunting in the open.
My slow pace wasn't getting me very far. I was scarcely out of the Philadelphia city limits when a light mist began to fall. About a mile ahead I saw a small diner just off the road.
It wasn't really raining hard enough that I needed to go inside to appear human. And I wasn't sure I wanted to immerse myself in the concentrated scent that surely filled the small building, either. I didn't think I could handle something like that, thirsty as I was.
But as I drew nearer the rain started to fall harder. The wind picked up. I heard a rumble of thunder overhead. The humans who were outside were seeking refuge indoors.
I continued walking toward the diner, a little irritated at the predicament. I could just abandon the road, dash out of sight, and run away.
Then I noticed something that piqued my interest. I was close enough to the diner now that I could taste the moods of the people inside. There was a general flavor of fascination and curiosity in the room. But what stood out the most was a strong sense of joyful, anxious excitement.
I stood outside of the diner for a few moments, weighing my options. I knew the human scent in the diner would be intense and quite painful. But going in out of the rain was the acceptable thing to do if I wanted to avoid drawing attention to myself.
In the end I decided it was best to go inside. Perhaps I could ignore the human scent well enough that I could enjoy the sensation of happiness I felt gushing out of someone in there.
I pushed open the front door. A silver bell rang, announcing my arrival. I lifted my head to look for a seat.
And then it hit me. The was like a physical jolt. My mind was instantly keen and focused. My eyes wide. My nostrils flared. But it was not any human scent that triggered my alarm.
There was another vampire in this diner!
My eyes scanned the room in an instant and I saw her, sitting on a stool at the counter. She was small, nearly a foot and a half shorter than I. Her black hair was very short. She was dressed well, in stylish clothes that fit her slight frame as though they were tailored.
She turned to look at me. I prepared to defend myself. Perhaps I could simply explain that I didn't know this was her territory? Would she believe me? Would she fight me right here? Or would she hunt me down outside?
Another part of my mind was sizing her up as an opponent. She was probably not very strong, being small as she was. And she only had a single scar on her throat, obviously where she had been bitten as a human. This either meant that she was extremely skilled as a fighter, and had never received a noticeable injury, or she had no experience whatsoever.
I thought, with dismay, that the latter was most likely and I would shortly be forced to kill this lovely stranger in self-defense.
Scarcely a second had passed. She was still rotating her stool to face me. I tensed, ready for whatever was about to happen.
But then she smiled.
I didn't know what to make of it. Her smile was sincere; her eyes untroubled. She slid off the barstool and walked toward me - her walk looked almost like a dance, it was so graceful.
I was still wary of her. But her smile broadened as she neared me. I felt happiness, excitement, tenderness, love, and hope pouring out of her so strongly it was staggering.
Her scent washed over my face when she neared. It was a pleasant scent, warm, but also slightly floral. Like a combination of vanilla and wild rose.
I was still stunned by the flood of joy and hope gushing from her small frame when she spoke.
"You've kept me waiting a long time," she said. Her voice was soft, enticing, playful even.
I was astounded. I had no frame of reference for this behavior or for the emotions she was drowning me in. I said the only thing my mind could come up with as a response to her declaration.
"My apologies, ma'am." I bowed slightly.
I felt her amusement at my response, still not as powerful as the happiness, the love.
She held out her hand to me. I took it, without stopping to make sense of what I was doing. The sensation of completeness at the contact was nearly overpowering. I looked down on this small, lovely creature with amazement and wonder. And for the first time since I'd become a vampire, I felt hope.
She looked up at me, glowing with happiness. "You want to get out of here?" she asked. There was a slight conspiratorial, almost seductive edge to her emotions.
I paused. With a small part of my mind I was chastising myself, What do you think you're doing? But this creature had me under some sort of spell. I couldn't refuse her.
She turned to address the man behind the bar.
"Thank you for letting me wait here. My friend finally arrived."
"I'm glad for you," he answered with a friendly smile. Then he looked at me. I felt the instinctive fear in him, but his eyes narrowed and he said, "You really shouldn't keep a lady waiting so long. It's rude."
The female laughed and I nearly joined in. When was the last time I'd felt like laughing? I couldn't even remember. Instead I ducked my head again and apologized to the human.
"I assure you, sir, it won't happen again."
We ducked out of the diner and into the wind and rain. She still had my hand in hers, the sensation was incredible. The joyful emotions pouring out of her were like a drug to me. She could have been leading me to my execution and I would have gone gladly.
I was terribly curious about who she was and why she'd been waiting for me. But I was also afraid to break the spell. As if asking my questions would make her disappear.
We stopped in a deserted back alley. She turned and looked at me, expectantly.
"I feel I ought to introduce myself," I told her, "Though it seems you somehow already know me. My name is Jasper. I'm charmed to make your acquaintance." I meant that quite literally. She had bewitched me.
Her hand tightened in mine, almost as though she was assuring me she wasn't about to vanish, and she smiled.
"My name is Alice. I'm very glad to finally meet you, too."
This snapped me out of it a little bit. What did she mean, "finally"? My suspicion was short-lived, though. I could feel nothing but pure, unadulterated sincerity from her.
I chuckled and shook my head, trying to think logically through the spell.
"Do you mind my asking what exactly is going on?"
"It will take a little while to explain, and we can't stay here. We could go back to my place, or we can hide in Fairmount Park until dark."
This blow hit me harder. What did she mean by "place"? When a human used that word in that kind of context, he was referring to his home. A permanent residence. She couldn't possibly mean that, could she?
"Your place? You have a residence?" I looked into her dark eyes curiously. The rims of her irises were strangely golden in color. I started to wonder if she was really a vampire at all. She smelled like one. She sounded like one. But she acted so strangely, and those eyes...
As I was watching her eyes unfocused for a moment. She seemed to be looking at something far away.
"Oh!" she gasped. I felt the flicker of her alarm. But she continued before I could ask.
"We'd better start moving. Please come with me."
She tugged on my hand and I was much too far gone to object in any way. I followed immediately.
She took us north, moving quickly through the storm. In mere minutes we were in the park, surrounded by nothing but trees swaying in the howling wind.
Alice released my hand and I was surprised at how this disturbed me. I'd just met her. I hardly knew her. I really didn't know her at all. It must just be the lessening of her pleasant emotions that bothered me. They weren't as potent without the physical contact.
I watched her, curiously, wondering if she were some sort of sorceress. Was it possible they existed? Her gold-rimmed eyes looked into mine. She smiled again.
"I'm a clairvoyant," she declared, proudly.
What? Was she saying she was a psychic? Was this some sort of a joke?
"I can see the future. So I've known for a very long time that I would meet you," she said, boldly, without even a hint of deception.
"Really?" I shook my head, realizing the rudeness of the statement. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to doubt your word. It's just so-"
"Weird?" she asked with a grin, interrupting me.
"I was going to say 'unexpected'."
"I know. But I think 'weird' is more appropriate." She was still grinning. Not insulted in the slightest.
"So..." I tried to think about what she was saying and suspend disbelief for a moment. I wanted to believe she was telling me the truth. After all, I didn't sense any deception in her. All I felt was excitement, happiness, hope, and most of all love. The feelings were so strong I wasn't even sure how I felt at the moment. I just didn't want this to end. "...you're saying that you saw that I would go into that diner, and waited there for me?"
"Not really. I saw that I would meet you someday. I didn't see you going into that particular diner until about five seconds before you did. That's when you made the decision. I was waiting there all day because I saw it was the most likely place to ambush you." She grinned wickedly.
But why would she want to ambush me? I didn't understand it. Why would she even want to meet me? I thought about asking, but changed my mind before I even really considered it. I was still afraid to break the spell. I said something else instead.
"I'm sorry, Miss Alice. I'm just having a difficult time fully..." - believing - "...comprehending what you're telling me."
"That's okay. I'll try to explain better. Let's see..." She went into a long explanation of how her psychic skills worked. I paid enough attention so that I could understand what she was saying, but I was really...thinking.
There was something going on here and she was taking a long time getting around to explaining it. She met me in the diner, but why? Why was she so happy to meet me? Why did she bring me out here? I couldn't deny that I was happy to be with her. But still, I wanted to understand why!
When she was finished with her explanation, I politely confirmed for her that I'd been paying attention. Then I broached the subject.
"Miss Alice, I'm pleased that you are so happy to meet me but... I can't help but feel that I'm missing something."
She looked down and I felt a wave of new emotion in her. She was embarrassed?
"You're right. There's more," she admitted. She looked up into my eyes as she continued. "I see us..." her embarrassment spiked. She hesitated and seemed to change her mind about what she was going to say. "...traveling together. In a few years we'll join a large coven..." Fear surged within me. Was it possible that she was here to draw me back into that world? "...in the north," she continued. I relaxed a bit, and decided to hear her out before jumping to any more conclusions. "They have an unusual way of living alongside humans peacefully. I've been practicing with it for awhile, but they are much better at it than I am. Really, they're more of a family than a coven. We'll be happy with them."
I was starting to think around the strange high she'd produced in me. I was still drawn to her, irresistibly. Her mood was soaring and being around her was intoxicating. But my mind was also working, dredging up worries, questions and doubts.
"How do they do it?" I asked after a long pause.
"They don't hunt humans. They hunt animals."
"Animals...?" Was she just making all of this up as she went along?
"It is fairly disgusting," she confessed, wrinkling her small nose. "They take a lot of getting used to. But they do take the edge off the thirst and keep you strong. I think of it like a human going vegetarian. It's not completely satisfying, but it works. Also, on a diet of animal blood your eyes turn gold, not red. So it's easier to mingle with humans, that makes living a normal life a lot easier."
I gazed into her eyes, examining the gold in her irises, evidence that she spoke the truth. But what she was telling me was so hard to accept. I shook my head, sadly, wishing I could believe it all.
"I have to admit, Miss Alice, it's difficult for me to believe what you're telling me."
"I had a hard time believing it when I saw it for myself," she admitted, brightly. "But Carlisle is really a remarkable vampire. He's been doing it for a very long time and I've never once seen him hunt a human. The level of self-discipline he's attained is beyond anything I would have thought possible," her voice was wistful and she was filled with admiration for this vampire named Carlisle.
I felt a powerful surge of some strange emotion. It was like anger, or longing, or hopelessness, or greed. I didn't understand it at first. But when I thought about it, I realized that I wanted her to be thinking of me when she felt that admiration.
I was jealous?
I looked at her for a long moment, wondering again what kind of spell she'd put on me, then I took a deep breath.
I've totally lost it.
"So you and I..." she smiled when I said this, pleased for some reason, "...will travel together to find this...family of vampires that feeds on animals, and Carlisle is their leader."
"That's right," she agreed, "I'm not sure how long it will take yet." She frowned delicately. "But it shouldn't be too hard. They don't move around very much. They usually buy a house and live there for several years before moving on."
Every time I came remotely close to believing what she was trying to tell me she would blurt out something even more absurd!
"Unbelievable," I murmured, watching her. Waiting for her to start laughing at the prank she was pulling on me, or perhaps to wake up from some crazy hallucination. Could vampires hallucinate? It seemed more likely than that they would drink animal blood and invest in real estate.
"So where do they live now?" I asked the beautiful hallucination in front of me.
"They're in Kalispell, Montana now. They've been there for awhile."
I watched as her eyes unfocused again. Her expression went strangely blank. I eyed her curiously for a moment, but her expression remained unchanged.
"Miss Alice? Are you all right?" For a frightening moment she didn't respond and I was truly worried for her.
"Huh? Oh, I'm sorry." She blinked and shook her head a little, as if chasing away a thought. "Don't worry. There's nothing wrong with me. I was just checking on the Cullens, Carlisle's family. They will move to Oregon in a little less than two years. It would be best for us to meet them there. They are already established where they're at and I don't think we should interfere."
My mind was still raging in conflict, wanting to believe her yet still doubting everything she said. Imagining what could possibly be her motivation if she were lying to me, but still wishing this would never end. Would it be so bad to live a lie if it were such a pleasant one? She was suggesting that we stay together, just the two of us, for over a year before meeting this strange coven. The idea made me happy, despite thinking that she probably had some sort of ulterior motive. And yet I couldn't fathom what that motive might be.
"You were seeing the future just now?" In spite of myself I was still worried for her.
"Yeah. I sort of phase out when I do. I can't see the future and the present at the same time," she shrugged as if that were a minor inconvenience.
At least there wasn't something wrong with her.
If that was the case though, then she'd just left herself blind and defenseless for several seconds, extremely exposed in my presence. I rather...liked that. I wasn't used to people, even vampires, feeling comfortable around me.
Then I thought of her, out on her own, left defenseless for seconds or minutes at a time while she was in her psychic trances. How had she survived? Perhaps she was not very old at all and hadn't yet encountered many dangers. Perhaps she wasn't even aware of the dangers.
"So when you see the future you're vulnerable?"
"Vulnerable? What do you mean?" She asked this like the idea of her, small and slender as she was, being vulnerable was an absurdity of the highest degree.
"I mean, " I pressed. " If you were in a battle you wouldn't be able to use your ability. You wouldn't be able to see what was going on around you if you were trying to see what was about to happen."
She cocked her head coyly with a smug smile. "Maybe I'll show you someday exactly how vulnerable I am in a fight." Her mood was playful, but also slightly seductive. Her eyes went opaque for a short second and then she burst out laughing, the sound like ringing bells.
I couldn't help it. I smiled at her in response. Her mood was contagious.
"You must already know what I can do, then." I was still smiling at her playful mood.
She was surprised. "You have an extra ability, too?"
"I thought you would know. You seem to know so much about me already."
"No. What is it?" I could sense nothing but surprised curiosity from her. So I answered.
"I can sense and manipulate the emotions of people...and vampires around me."
She stared at me for a long moment. Her eyes were clear, though, so it didn't look like she was having one of her visions. I felt her surprise overpowering everything else.
"It's probably the one thing I wouldn't be able to see in a vision," she said, still stunned. "How could I have seen that? Unless you happened to be telling someone about it when I was seeing your future for some other reason."
"You never saw a vision of me telling you about it?" My skepticism was beginning to resurface. "It's not something I ever intended to keep a secret, so it was bound to happen eventually."
"I was so focused on our first meeting," she said with a flutter of embarrassment. "I usually have to be looking for something specifically to see it clearly. And after our meeting, I was mostly focused on finding the Cullens." She looked into my eyes, smiling sheepishly. "I will admit that I watched you a lot. I kept tabs on your future, checking on you. I was worried about you. But this window..."
She continued talking. But I was so stunned I was hardly listening. She had been worried about me? She said she'd been watching me. Checking on me. Worried about me. And she was clearly thrilled to be with me. I could feel the tenderness, happiness, and excitement radiating from her. But...why? Why was she so happy to meet me? There was nothing about me that could possibly appeal to someone like her. She was lovely, pure, peaceful. Why would she be drawn to me? A dangerous, depressed warrior with an emotional curse?
"Wait..." she said, grabbing my attention again. "You can sense all the emotions I'm feeling?"
I could feel her embarrassment start bubbling up again.
I smiled kindly, not wanting her to feel self-conscious. "As I said."
She froze and I felt a series of conflicting emotions course thought her. She knew that I could feel her strange tenderness toward me. She was a bit embarrassed by it. But she laughed again anyway.
"No wonder!" she exclaimed, still laughing.
"What's so funny?" I asked, chuckling with her. She was definitely contagious.
"A few years ago I considered playing it cool when we first met. I thought that if I acted disinterested at first it might be easier for you. But I saw that you would be suspicious of me if I tried that approach. I never understood why, but now it makes sense! If you felt these emotions coming from me while I tried to make small talk, of course you wouldn't trust me!"
I laughed with her, but I secretly felt a little guilty. I had been suspicious of her. I still was to some degree, even though I could feel that she was being nothing but honest with me. I'd known her for less than an hour, yet I wanted to trust her. I wanted to believe in the hope that I felt in her presence.
"I will freely admit that I hardly knew what was happening when you approached me. I had no frame of reference for it. All I could think was that you might be planning to attack..."
I trailed off when I saw her frown and felt her twinge of pain.
"You really thought I would attack you?" The emotions that went with these words changed what they would normally mean to me. She wasn't saying that she wouldn't dare attack me because I was obviously so dangerous. She was shocked that I thought she would want to harm me.
"I was born in the south. My entire existence was ruled by war for almost a hundred years. It wasn't until only a few short years ago that I finally escaped that." I frowned, remembering what that life had been for me.
"I know. You'll tell me about that sometime. But for now it's enough that neither of us is going to do any attacking. Agreed?"
"Agreed," I said, smiling down at her. Her large dark eyes shined up at me.
"The sun will be setting soon. Would you like to hunt with me?" she asked, still glowing.
I was instantly on guard again. Was she suggesting that we both hunt in this small suburb? That would be risky. I didn't really want to hunt at all yet. I could hold out for another day at least. I knew the horrible depression that would surely follow.
But she wanted to hunt. And she was clearly thirsty.
"I mean we should hunt animals," she clarified. "It's usually better to go after them in the daytime while they' still active. But in this storm it doesn't matter. I just think it's better to get it out of the way so we can travel in the dark tonight."
Oh... Oh! She wanted to take me on one of her "vegetarian" hunts. If she did this... She must be telling the truth. Would she really...?
"You'll show me?" I asked, hesitantly.
"Gladly," she agreed immediately. "Afterwards we can stop by my place and tie up all the loose ends before moving on."
She would show me how she hunts animals, and take me to see her place of residence?
"I am curious. I think I would like to try it."
Her eyes narrowed. "You're still not sure if it's possible, are you?" she accused, smirking a little. There was no real irritation behind it.
"You're right." I confessed.
"Don't worry. It works. It just takes practice," she assured me, confidently.
She held out her hand for me again. I took it without a thought. Her hand in mine felt like some sort of small miracle.
She led me southeast through the storm. We moved more quickly than I would on my own through civilization. I was worried that our swiftness might draw attention, but Alice seemed to know what she was doing. We avoided detection and after about an hour we'd made it to the forest.
She released my hand then and took off, flying through the trees. I followed, easily catching up and racing alongside her. I watched her run, so graceful it was like dancing. She looked at me and smiled brilliantly. I nearly forgot what we were doing.
We stopped in a remote little clearing. I couldn't smell any human scent at all except what lingered on our clothing.
"Give me a minute to make sure it's safe, okay?" she asked.
"You're going to look into the future?"
"Yep," she chirped. "Just a sec." She blinked her eyes and they were suddenly unfocused again. She looked like she was concentrating on something very far away, or a distant human memory.
She was vulnerable.
I edged closer to her and scanned our surroundings, testing the breeze for any unfamiliar scents. If someone like Maria ever learned about Alice she would surely not be safe. They might already know about her. They might be looking for her. I listened to the little noises around us, watched the movements of the most distant trees, looking for any sign that someone might be approaching.
"What's the matter?" Alice asked. I looked down at her and saw she was watching me, concerned.
"Were you trying to protect me?"
I suddenly realized that that's exactly what I had been doing. I looked down at her guiltily, a little embarrassed by my behavior.
She smiled at me, but there was an edge of humor to it.
"That's not really necessary, you know. If there was anything dangerous nearby, I'd see it."
"Forgive me. It's hard for me to let my guard down," I apologized.
She reached out, very slowly, and rested her hand on my arm.
"There's nothing to forgive. I just don't want you to worry unnecessarily."
I felt a little jolt at the contact, more than just the intensification of her emotions. I gazed at her in wonder. What was she doing to me? As I gazed into her eyes a smile slowly spread across her face.
"Are you ready to hunt?" she asked, excited.
I bowed politely. "Ladies first."
"Okay, I saw a herd of deer about two miles north. Watch."
She danced north, almost playfully, and I followed at a respectful distance. I couldn't discern what scent she was following, or if she was following a scent at all. She didn't even look like she was hunting.
Then she perched on top of a fallen tree with her fingers to her toes and shifted fluidly into a hunting crouch. She stalked east, gracefully following some scent that she'd found. I sniffed experimentally but didn't notice anything remotely appetizing.
I followed her, keeping my distance, until she came to a thicket. I heard the four heavy thudding hearts hidden behind the foliage and was able to distinguish the scent that went along with them.
I wrinkled my nose in distaste, but Alice sprang forward.
One of the deer escaped, but she'd caught the other three. I climbed into a nearby tree to watch.
She was huddled in the thicket with the body of a doe in her lap. Her mouth was pressed to it's throat as she drank in deep gulps of blood.
I still almost didn't believe it.
When she finished with the first she moved on to the next. And then the next. She drank the blood quickly, but without the fevered frenzy that I was used to. It didn't seem like she was enjoying it very much at all.
When she was finished she tossed the last body aside and leaned back with her eyes closed. She sighed in relief and I watched as the blood filled her, erasing the circles under her eyes, adding color to her cheeks.
She looked up at me and I dropped down to the ground. I looked into her eyes and saw that the blood was lightening them. They were warming to a golden butterscotch.
"What do you think?" she asked, smiling wryly.
"I'm not sure. How does it taste?" I couldn't help wrinkling my nose again at the animal scent.
"Terrible. But you get used to it." she chuckled. Then her expression darkened. Her eyes fell. When she continued there was an edge of pain in her voice. "It's a lot better than the horrible guilt of hunting people."
She looked away, her breath hitching slightly. I gasped when I felt a wave of remorse roll out from her. I rushed to her side and rested my hand on her shoulder, infusing her with peace. She visibly relaxed as my talent worked.
"Please don't be sad, Miss Alice," I soothed. "I understand. Honestly, I do. And I'm ready. Should I track down the last doe?"
She sighed and her golden eyes met mine.
"No, I don't think so. Deer don't taste very good, and it's your first time. There are a couple of black bears down south. I'll help you find them."
"Oh, you shouldn't have done that. The bears should have been yours, if they're more palatable." Anything would probably be better than the way those deer had smelled.
"It's okay, Jasper." I felt a strange thrill run through me when she spoke my name. "I want to do what I can to make this easier for you. I had deer my first time and it was a very unpleasant experience." She wrinkled her nose just as I had.
I stared at her, still amazed at the changes she was working in me without even trying.
"Okay, follow me!" she sang. Then she was off, skipping away from me as light as the breeze. I ran after her, catching up and following at her heels until she led me to another random little spot in the middle of nowhere.
"Here we are!" she proclaimed.
I looked around, but for what? I listened, but couldn't make out the sound of any large beating hearts. I sniffed the air. There were thousands of scents floating around us, but none of them stood out.
"I'm not sure what I'm looking for," I admitted.
She took a small broken twig from the trail and held it out for me.
"This," she said.
I took it and inhaled. The scent was not as objectionable as the deer had been, but there was still a musky animal edge to it that was rather unpleasant.
"I know," Alice agreed. "It's easier once you start tracking. Just try not to think about it. And once you start feeding...try not to taste it too much."
I nodded, trying to will myself into wanting to hunt this prey.
"I'll wait here if you'd prefer, and meet you at the den when you're finished."
I didn't want to be separated from her. I was still afraid she might disappear. "I'm not sure if that's a good idea," I answered, hesitantly.
"I'd rather you stay with me," I said, without thinking. "...if you're going to be watching the future, that is."
She rolled her eyes. "Okay, I'll follow you. But I've never hunted with anyone before. I'm not sure how much space you need."
"Don't worry about it. We still agree not to attack one another, correct?" As if she could possibly be a threat to me. She'd probably never seen battle before. I would be more concerned with harming her while trying to defend myself than about her endangering me at all.
"Of course," she answered. "But I still don't want to make you feel uncomfortable."
"Don't concern yourself. I've hunted with newborns before, I'm used to it. Also, I trust you not to fight with me. Especially over this prey."
She rolled her eyes at me again. "Okay."
I crouched down, and inhaled deeply, concentrating on the scent. The odor was not appealing. It didn't trigger the instinct to hunt. But I crept over the ground, following the trail of scent anyway. I heard Alice following behind, keeping her distance. I didn't want to disappoint her.
When I got closer I could hear the low thud thud of heavy hearts. The sound was appealing. My mouth started to water and my throat burned in anticipation. Even though the smell was off-putting, I was burning for something hot and wet to drink.
By the time I made it to the den my throat was burning so fiercely the scent was almost appetizing. I crawled inside and saw the mounds of fur within. I wasn't sure where to begin, the beasts had their heads and arms and legs entwined. I extracted the head of the beast nearest to me, but the movement woke them.
The bear in my hands growled, startled. I wrestled with them, incapacitating the beasts quickly, but not before their sharp claws shredded my clothing.
I didn't pay it a second thought. I had my mouth clamped over the carotid artery of the first bear and I was feeding. The hot blood filled my mouth and I gulped it down greedily. It was not remotely as pleasant as feeding on a human, but it was satisfying.
I felt my thirst receding as I drank in the second beast. The blood filled my body, the heat radiated from my core. When I was finished I pushed the body away and examined the damage to my clothes. They'd been practically destroyed.
So much for impressing the girl.
I shook my head at my own ridiculous notions and crawled out of the den.
"Are you okay?" Alice asked the moment she saw me.
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Something's wrong," she persisted, worried.
Wasn't it obvious?
"I think you're better at this than I am." I gestured toward my ruined, bloodied, filthy outfit.
"Oh," she giggled. "That's okay. Animals just take a little practice. It's also harder to keep your clothes undamaged with bears. They have claws. I'll give you some new ones."
"Miss Alice, that's not necessary, I assure you -"
"Jasper, please!" she interrupted. "You can't expect me to be traveling with someone dressed like that, can you?"
She was clearly teasing me, but I had no idea how to respond. I was wavering between delight in hearing my name on her lips again, shame at my unseemly state, and fierce hope that we really would be staying together.
Before I could recover she leapt over to me like a gazelle and took my hand again.
"Come on. I want to get home and change into something dry. Also, we have some work to do before sunset."
She tugged on my hand and, of course, I followed immediately.
She led me back toward civilization. But before the human scent got too distracting we came upon her little one-room cottage.
It was small, but quaint. And she'd been clearly living there for a very long time. Her scent surrounded the place thickly.
As we approached the small cottage Alice started feeling a little bit embarrassed. I glanced at her, wondering why.
"It's not much. But it's been home for the past five years." She shrugged, as if to brush it off and I realized she was embarrassed by her humble dwelling.
I chuckled at the absurdity. "I'm just amazed that you we're able to stay in one place for so long. Don't be embarrassed."
"Okay," she agreed, and opened the front door with an excited smile. "Come on in."
I followed her over the threshold and took in my new surroundings. Her scent was very thick here. Layer upon layer upon layer of her scent.
There was a fireplace recessed into the back wall, a pile of wood waiting nearby, and a small vase of wildflowers sitting on the mantle. In the back left corner a record player sat with a small stack of records on the floor next to it. On the other side of the record player there were a couple of stacks of books and newspapers. Some of the books were novels or poetry collections. Some were medical journals, language studies, historical theses. I recognized a couple of them.
There was one long table along the left wall, completely covered with stacks of neatly folded clothes. Underneath the table was filled with pairs of shoes, organized by color and style. There was a rocking chair on the right side of the room, draped over the back were probably ten long coats. Sitting in the seat was a large pile of handbags and purses.
"You must really like clothes," I observed.
"Yes I do," she agreed. "They make me feel a little more human. I love shopping, following the fashion trends, and haggling with salespeople over prices." She laughed at some private joke. "Something about it just resonates with me."
"You want to feel human again?" I asked.
For some reason she winced at my question and seemed hesitant to answer.
"I don't remember being human," she finally murmured.
"Nope." She sighed.
The first thought that came to mind was that she must be ancient. To have lost all of her human memories she must be older than any vampire I'd ever met before.
"How old are you, Miss Alice? When were you...born?"
"It was nineteen twenty. I woke up, alone, on Orange Beach Alabama."
Part of my mind was working over the idea that she had been alone. Who had taken care of her? Who'd kept her out of trouble until she was controlled enough to go out on her own?
Another part of my mind did the math.
"You've only been immortal for twenty eight years."
"Twenty eight very long years," she corrected.
"But you should still be able to remember your human life. Human memories fade over time, but not that quickly."
She shrugged. "I know it's not normal. But that's how it is. I can't remember anything about my human life. I never could."
"You don't even remember the...transformation?" I winced internally, remembering my own fiery torture all too well and hoping that she'd forgive me for reminding her of hers.
But she shook her head in denial. "All I remember is feeling very empty. I couldn't see, hear, feel, or smell anything. The first real memory I have is seeing a vision, though I didn't know it was a vision at the time. I thought I was dreaming. When the vision was over I became aware of myself. Then I felt the thirst..." She frowned and trailed off.
"I should get out of these wet clothes before they're ruined," she said, quickly. Probably to change the subject.
"I think mine are already ruined," I mumbled, looking down at my torn and muddy outfit.
She darted under the table and grabbed a bundle from behind her stacks of shoes.
"So we'll throw them away, or burn them, I don't care. Put those on."
She tossed the bundle to me and I snatched it out of the air. It was a button-down shirt, a pair of pants, socks, and shoes.
Was she suggesting that I undress?
She turned away and started looking through her piles of clothes on the table. Apparently trying to decide what she wanted to wear.
"Don't worry, I got you the right size," she assured me without turning around. I looked at the clothes in my hands, warily. She was asking me to undress, wasn't she?
"And... Would you mind turning your back for a moment?" she asked.
I turned to face the wall instantly, hyperaware that she was asking me to give her privacy so she could remove her clothes. I wasn't entirely sure what emotions I was suppressing at the moment. They were intense, though. I felt something close to fear. But why would I be afraid? Was I afraid to change my clothes in her presence? Was I afraid to see her nude?
I was a gentleman. So it made sense that I would want to maintain proper decency with a lady. But that didn't explain what I felt right now. A feeling so strong I was gritting my teeth with the effort to keep it restrained so she wouldn't feel it, too.
"Go ahead and change. I won't peek," Alice promised.
And then I heard her dress hit the floor.
I nearly gasped at what that did to me. I couldn't deny it any longer. I'd known this beautiful vampire for less than a day and yet she had irrevocably changed me. Not only was I drawn to her bright moods like a moth to a flame. Not only was I fascinated with this strange life she chose to live. Not only did I admire her intelligent, kind, joyful personality.
I was hopelessly and wretchedly attracted to her.
I took a second to collect myself, then moved to the far corner and undressed quickly. I donned the outfit she'd provided, all the while fighting contemptible, improper desires. I wanted to close the distance between us. I wanted to touch her in a thousand different ways. I wanted to feel her fingers on my bare skin. I wanted to hold her body against mine. It felt like the air was charged between us. The sensation was profoundly distracting.
When we were both dressed I turned around and saw that she was stuffing a leather purse with cash.
"Can I be of assistance?" I asked softly, walking toward her and trying to shake off the strange unfamiliar longings.
She looked up at me. I felt a flicker of...desire. Her eyes widened a little bit and she swallowed before she answered.
"Can you start a fire? I'd like to dry out my dress."
I couldn't bring myself to speak. So I nodded and went to the fireplace, getting to work immediately.
I tried not to think about what it might mean. Her desire. The way she'd looked at me.
I concentrated on building the fire. I was almost as good at starting fires as I was at executing newborns. The two had sort of gone hand-in-hand in my previous life.
When the dress was hanging to dry by the hearth, Alice and I set to work bagging up all of her belongings. She had a good number of large sacks ready for just this purpose. It didn't take long at all.
When we were finished her dress was still damp. So Alice sat on the floor, resting against the wall and watching the fire. It was a strange thing to see. Fire had such morbid connotations for any vampire with my background. Sitting to watch one would be similar to a human wanting to sit and admire headstones in a cemetery.
But as I watched her my perspective changed slightly. And the fire, not a symbol of war and death, was suddenly beautiful. The orange flickering light glistened subtly off of her skin.
I hesitated for a moment longer, then sat down next to her. My arm brushed hers and I felt a thrill of pleasure at the small contact.
I sat there and thought for a long moment. I was attracted to her, desperately attracted to her. But there was more. The feelings radiating from her from the moment we met were multifaceted and deep. She was happy to be with me. She was drawn to me for some reason. She'd said she'd worried about me before. But how far did these feelings go? How far did mine go?
I was worried when I thought of that. I was certainly attracted to her. But what if she truly loved me? Was I even capable of returning that kind of love? If I could, then could I live this strange life she was showing me? Even if I could do that, would my curse then become her curse as well, as it had been for Peter and Charlotte when my ceaseless depression intruded on them, making them miserable?
I still didn't know what had drawn Alice to me in the first place. All I could think was that it was some sort of monumental mistake. But I would try to deserve her if I could. If I couldn't be good enough for her, then it would be wrong for her to love me. She should be with someone who deserved her.
When that thought crossed my mind I wrestled down another surge of jealousy before it could escape.
I would try - very, very hard - to be good enough for her.
I looked down at her and saw that she was watching me. Slowly, I rested my hand over hers, curled her fingers into mine.
Again, I felt the thrill of pleasure. Her breath caught, her pupils dilated a little, but she didn't say anything. She just looked at me. The firelight danced on her skin, making her glisten like golden diamonds.
I tasted her mood, cocking my head to the side a little in effort. There were many emotions playing through her at the moment. There was loyalty, dedication, conviction, happiness, a little bit of embarrassment when she noticed what I was doing, but most of all there was longing. The same longing that I felt, perhaps even stronger.
As I gazed into her soft, honest eyes I realized that all of my previous fear and suspicion had vanished. I knew she was real. And I knew I could trust her. The only thing that frightened me now was the knowledge that I didn't deserve her. But I would try to.
"I'm not used to trusting anyone," I told her. "But you are so unlike anyone I've ever met before."
I paused, but she didn't say anything.
"Please, just be patient with me," I begged.
"I will, Jasper. I know this is a lot to have dumped on you in one day."
I smiled, feeling hope swell in my chest again. "You might be interested to know that right now I'm nearly as happy to have met you as you were to meet me this afternoon."
A broad grin spread across her face. "Really?"
I laughed at her easy excitement. "Yes, really. For the first time in almost a hundred years, I feel hope."
She squeezed my hand and sighed in happiness. "There is hope, Jasper. If you could see the things I've seen you would know. Everything is going to be just fine."
She rested her head against my shoulder, taking me by surprise. If anyone had seen us sitting like that, they would assume that we were two lovers enjoying an evening by a romantic fire.
I really didn't object to that idea. Feeling her body pressed against my side was almost pure pleasure. It would have been, except for the fear. The nagging doubt that this lovely creature could not possibly be meant for me.
I wanted more. I wanted to wrap my arm around her. To pull her into my lap. To hold her face between my hands. To run my fingers down the skin of her neck. To feel her arms around me. A few times I nearly decided to rest my head against hers. That wouldn't be so wrong, would it?
But in the end I couldn't. For her sake I needed to stay detached...as much as possible. At least for now. Until I knew for certain that Alice committing herself to me would not bring her pain.
It was past dark out. The rain was quieting and the fire dying. But still she did not move from my side. She'd said we had traveling to do and that we needed to make haste. But she was stalling now. She must've been as reluctant to move as I was.
I felt a sudden wave of begrudging motivation from her.
"We need to go?" I asked.
"How did you know?"
"I'm beginning to understand how you think. And I can sense what you're feeling, remember?"
She smiled sheepishly at me. "Yes, we need to go now while it's still dark enough."
I stood, hating to lose the contact, and held out my hand for her like a gentleman. She laughed, but accepted it anyway.
She stowed her dress and we carried the bags of her worldly possessions to the nearest thrift store. Then we raced through the night out of the city.
A thought was rolling around in my head and I decided to tease Alice a little bit. After all, she hadn't ever actually asked me to join her. She'd just assumed - rightly so - that I would blindly follow her to the ends of the earth.
"So, Miss Alice, what's the plan now?" I asked casually as we ran far from the city.
"Well, I think it would be a good idea to get you used to the vegetarian diet before we find a new place."
"Aren't you forgetting something?" I teased.
Her eyes unfocused for an instant. Then she stopped so abruptly that I blew past her and had to wheel around to go back to where she stood, waiting for me with a scowl.
"Really?" she whined, pretending to be annoyed. But I could sense that she was really amused.
I approached her with a mocking smile. "Isn't it customary to ask first?"
"But I already know the answer!"
I just smirked, waiting to see what she would do.
"Fine," she huffed. Then she put on a pleading face that would have broken my heart if I'd believed it. Her lower lip pouted out and I could almost imagine that there were tears welling in her eyes.
"Please will you be a vegetarian vampire and come with me to live with the Cullens? Please, please, please?" Her lower lip trembled just a little bit and I almost believed she was about to cry. Except that I could feel her slightly irritated amusement beneath the surface.
I burst into laughter. "Wow, you're good!"
She didn't break from her performance. "Please, Jasper?" She took my hands in hers and begged. "Please come with me!"
As if there was even a remote possibility that I'd leave her.
"Yes, I will," I agreed.
"Good!" she chirped. Her heartbreaking expression disappeared immediately.
For the next three weeks we slowly traveled northwest, keeping out of human civilization entirely. She had me hunting animals every day for the first few days. Then every other day. And then we cut back to once a week. She was trying to get me "used to it". And I was, a little. The scents that at first had failed to trigger any sort of hunting instinct were growing a little more palatable. I noticed that large predators, especially, tasted better than the gentle herbivores they preyed upon.
We talked together about many different things. She was endlessly curious about my past, asking me to fill in pieces that she'd missed or explain things that she'd seen and hadn't understood. She asked hundreds of questions about my human memories as well. I tried to answer them to the best of my ability, but I didn't remember nearly as much as she wanted to know.
I asked her questions, too. All the things I'd been curious about when I first met her. How had she survived her first year alone? What had she done since waking to this life? Who were these vampires we were going to be meeting someday?
The days passed by more swiftly than I'd ever imagined possible. I still felt like we'd only been together for hours when we were approaching Greenwood, Indiana and Alice wanted to settle down and find a residence for the winter, so we could start to mingle with humans again.
"Something far enough from civilization so we won't be smelling human all the time. But near enough we can get to the town quickly," she told me.
"Should I bother looking, or will you tell me now where we'll find one?" I teased. She grinned, thrilled that I was growing more comfortable with her.
"Here, let me look," she said. She closed her eyes and concentrated.
I waited. And as the seconds ticked by I started growing nervous. I scanned our surroundings, testing the breeze, listening for anything suspicious.
She was still lost in her visions, holding perfectly still, eyes closed.
In the distance I heard a strange clicking noise. My head whipped to the side and I moved between Alice and the perceived threat. But when I listened closer I realized it was not the sound I'd feared it was. Just an automobile ignition system failing to work properly.
Alice sighed quietly and my eyes flashed to her face. She was looking at me with a slightly exasperated edge to her mood.
"What do you see?" I asked.
"I see an overprotective, paranoid vampire who doesn't believe what I tell him." She scowled.
But I knew I had good reason to be cautious. She would just have to get used to it. She hadn't been around for as long as I. And, thankfully, she hadn't witnessed the horrors I had. She didn't understand.
"I would rather not take any chances," I explained.
"Jasper, trust me. There's no way anything dangerous could catch me off guard. If something is a threat to me or anyone I care about, I'll see it whether I want to or not."
"But you've admitted that sometimes you miss things when you're distracted," I argued.
"Not dangerous things," she insisted. "If anything dangerous is about to happen, I'll see it."
"But maybe not in time," I countered. "What if they, whoever they are, don't decide to be a threat until they're already too close for us to run? It's better for us to have as much warning as possible." I rested my case, confident that that she could not argue with my infallible logic. Yes, I had put a lot of thought into preparation for this conflict. I'd known it was coming eventually.
But she looked at me sternly and said the last thing I would have expected.
"Who says I need to run?"
Was she joking? I stared at her, tasting her mood, sensing her supreme confidence in herself. My eyes roamed up and down her slender four foot ten inch frame. She had never been in a fight with another vampire before. Not once. How could she possibly imagine that she would be able to defend herself?
"You've never been in a fight before, Miss Alice. Trust me, you need to run."
"Are you suggesting that I can't take care of myself?" she demanded, still wearing her "angry face" but underneath she was overflowing with amusement.
I struggled to keep a straight face.
"I just don't want you to be put in that position," I hedged.
She stepped back, eyeing me speculatively as if she were sizing up an opponent.
"You consider yourself a good fighter, don't you?"
Where was she going with this? Was she going to ask me to teach her to fight? I didn't much care for that idea.
"You're very experienced," she continued. "You're fast, and you know all the best fighting techniques. Someone like me, small, comparatively weak, and inexperienced wouldn't have a chance against someone like you, right?"
I stifled a growl when I realized she was challenging me to a sparring match.
"I'm not going to fight with you," I said, firmly.
"I'm not asking you to," she said, the picture of innocence. "Just try to touch me."
Again, I wondered where she was going with this. Would she try to attack me when I touched her?
She rolled her eyes at me. "I'm not going to attack you either, Jasper. We still have a 'no attacking' agreement. All you need to do to prove your point is make any sort of physical contact. So go ahead. You touch me, you win!"
She closed her eyes and smiled angelically.
I hesitated, unsure about this. Then I reached my hand out experimentally to touch her arm. She shifted her weight slightly, just enough to avoid the contact. I decided to try again. I reached out a little quicker to take hold of her. But she stepped away, just out of reach. I grasped at her aggressively, but she casually hopped to the side just in time.
I almost gave in then. I almost decided to just tell her she'd won. But I still believed I could catch her. Feeling a strange, unfamiliar competitive thrill, I shifted into a fighting crouch.
Her grin broadened.
I launched myself at her like a bolt of lightning. She started to shift, as I'd known she would. I was prepared for that. I feigned a different direction for a moment so she would move to a more vulnerable position. She didn't fall for it. At the last moment I shifted to catch her right arm and pin her, but she was a step ahead of me and my inertia carried me past her. I didn't hesitate but flung myself back toward her, attempting a different tactic. I went for her legs, a move usually unexpected by inexperienced fighters. She hopped back and sprang out of my grasp before I could catch her. I started moving even faster, utilizing every obscure fighting pattern I knew. She started laughing as she twirled and danced, always just out of reach. I tried going purely on instinct, attempting to not decide what I would do before I did it. I got a little closer to catching her. She laughed delightedly when she pulled her hand out of my reach with a fraction of a millimeter to spare.
I would have felt frustrated, it would have been maddening, except for her joyful laughter as our bodies danced around one another. And it was a dance, a game.
Finally, when I'd used up every trick I knew, I stopped and stepped back, conceding.
She opened her eyes and beamed at me. "That was fun!" she grinned, smugly.
I stared at her, incredulous. I could hardly believe what had just happened was even possible. I laughed and shook my head.
"Miss Alice, forgive me, but I must tell you that you are one frightening little vampire! I've never seen anything like you before. You're incredible!"
"Thank you!" she answered, brightly. Then her eyes narrowed mischievously. "One of these days I'll show you that I can catch you just as easily as I can evade you." She smiled broadly, baring her teeth in playful challenge. I didn't feel threatened in the slightest. Not that I didn't believe she could catch me - after what I just witnessed I would believe she could do almost anything - But, being captured by her sounded like some sort of extravagant reward.
"I'm sure that will be equally as impressive," I agreed.
"I saw a log cabin, too, by the way," she said, answering my earlier question. "It will take some fixing up, but nothing that will take more than a day or two."
"That sounds good. Lead the way."
She led me to an old dilapidated log cabin, probably an abandoned homestead. It looked terribly run down, but it was sturdy and had a good foundation. Even the old wood stove would work with a little effort on our part.
We spent the rest of that day clearing the overgrowth in and around the cabin and hauling building materials from an old forgotten barn about ten miles away. By nightfall we had almost everything we needed organized on the lawn for the next day. We would need to go into town to purchase some of the materials we couldn't get at the barn.
It had been a little over a week since our last hunting trip, and I wondered if Alice would want to go before visiting the town in the morning. I didn't feel terribly thirsty yet, but I was a little worried about being around humans in enclosed spaces the next day.
Instead of suggesting we go hunting, Alice crept into the open loft and sat watching the stars emerged. I climbed up and sat next to her and we gazed at the sky together in silence for a while.
She must have had more faith in me than I had in myself. If she thought I could handle being around humans tomorrow long enough to walk through the town and make purchases at a hardware store, then she was definitely more confident than I was.
"Do you ever consider going back?" I asked, hesitantly. She knew I meant 'going back to the normal way of hunting.'
"It crosses my mind sometimes. After my first vegetarian hunt was when I was most tempted to give up. And every now and then, when I'm thirsty and a human gets too close, it can be pretty hard to resist still."
"But you don't really consider it? You're always resolved?"
She took a deep breath and looked up at me with warm adoration. "No, I never really consider turning back. I honestly don't want to."
I thought of another question I wanted to ask her. I nearly did, but I realized that it would be abominably rude. So I kept it to myself.
"You can ask me, Jasper, it's okay," she said. She must have seen me asking the question before I decided against it.
"It's none of my business."
"Sure it is."
I was curious... but it was a very rude question.
She answered it anyway. "No, I haven't had any slip-ups. Not yet, anyway. Not since I started the...diet. I try to be very careful about where I go and what I do. I look ahead to see if I'll be tempted. But I think it still might happen, in the future. I always see when something dangerous is coming, but a tasty human isn't exactly dangerous. So I can't be sure I'll see the temptation unless I'm actively looking for it."
"I see," I answered. She was a lot stronger than I was, in this respect at least.
We continued talking as the night darkened around us. She asked me if I would go back to being human if I could. I hinted, not so subtly, that she had made this life worthwhile for me. For a while we sat in companionable silence. I enjoyed the smooth skin of her arm against mine very much.
"Do you know that sometimes I can feel your emotions?" she asked, abruptly.
"I've only done that once," I said, wondering what she meant.
"You helped me once intentionally, when I was unhappy. But sometimes I can sense what you're feeling even when you're not doing it on purpose."
"Hmm..." I must have been letting myself slip. "I should try harder to keep that under control."
She looked confused.
"When I spent time with my friends Peter and Charlotte, they were very uncomfortable being with me because my...depression seemed to overflow into them. That's when I learned that my mood could effect others unintentionally as well as intentionally. I thought that I'd learned to control that phenomenon. I'm sorry if it's been bothering you."
"No, no! It's all right. I actually like it," she insisted.
She liked it?
"You haven't been making me unhappy at all. It helps me to know what you're comfortable with sometimes. It's a good thing."
"You really don't mind my emotions intruding on yours?"
"Not at all. In fact I'm becoming quite proficient at discerning the difference between yours and mine." She sounded a little pleased with herself.
Strange. It had seriously irritated Peter and Charlotte. But then, I'd been a lot more depressed when I'd been with them, too.
"You don't mind me spying on your future, do you?" she asked, with a touch of irony.
I chuckled. "No, I suppose I don't."
She leaned her head back against the wall and we continued stargazing.
I noted that it was a clear night, secretly wishing that the sun would be out tomorrow, canceling our trip into town. But Alice assured me that the clouds would come, and that I was stronger than I thought I was.
I had trouble believing her. I knew my weakness for human blood too well.
We spent the entire night in the loft, her arm in mine, talking about anything and everything. The clouds did come, just as Alice had foreseen. And when the sun rose it did so behind a heavy veil, muting the light so that we could walk freely among humans.
"All right, I guess it's time," Alice sighed, reluctantly.
You can do this, Jasper. I told myself. It'll just be a quick trip to the hardware store. There and back.
"Our first stop will have to be a clothing store," Alice declared, as if it were an obvious thing.
"Are you kidding?" I blurted without thinking. Then hastily added, "Do we really need new clothes already? You still look lovely."
She rolled her eyes. "Thanks, but I've been wearing this same outfit for almost a month now. It's time for a change. And I want to get you a new outfit, too. Then we can get the things we need for the house."
I sighed and wrestled down my anxiety. She believed I was strong. I would be strong for her.
We ran through the woods until we made it to the outskirts of town. Then we slowed to a swift human walk. The pace seemed even more maddening than usual, after not having to slow down for the past three weeks.
I started noticing the scent, too. It had been nearly a month since I'd smelled human. It seemed that the absence made the blood call to me more fiercely than before.
I tried to ignore it, to think about other things. I talked with Alice, did difficult math equations in my head, thought up logical paradoxes. But my throat burned.
The scent only grew stronger the closer we got to town. The burning intensified. I wished we could run, to get it over with quickly. But we were being frequently passed by motorists, and so forced to walk at the appallingly slow pace of a human.
My mouth was swimming with venom by the time we made it into town. Human scent was layered over the streets, wafting off of the buildings, the signposts, the benches, the mailboxes.
I tried to stay focused, but my mind kept wandering, thinking of ways I could go off by myself, just for a little bit...
Alice found a clothing retailer she approved of. I held the door for her and a concentrated wave of human scent bombarded me from inside. My throat exploded into flames. I tried to collect myself and followed Alice inside.
She rummaged through the clothes on the racks.
So thirsty! No, think of something else. Be strong.
She selected a new outfit for each of us.
It burns! Maybe I can tell her to take her time and I'll wait outside. I'll bet there's a dark alley... No. Be strong!
She went to the counter and paid the sales clerk.
She's almost done. We'll get out of here soon. Oh, for the love of all that is holy, that man's blood smells delicious! No, no, NO! BE STRONG!
The clerk bagged our new clothes and thanked Alice. She took my hand and rushed me outside and around a nearby corner.
"I'm sorry," she breathed, "I didn't know it would be that hard for you. Maybe we should go hunt again and then come back."
Had my suffering been so transparent? I sighed, exasperated with myself.
"No, we're already here. We should get the supplies."
"I don't want you to be uncomfortable."
"Was I...did I almost...?"
"No. You were strong. But I know you're suffering and I don't want to push you too hard."
I had been strong. But I could have easily given in. I was ashamed at how tempted I'd been, but knowing that I could have... She was right. I shouldn't push myself too hard. It would be better to know when enough was enough. I didn't want to let her down.
I suddenly felt a surge of sadness from her. I looked down just in time to see Alice's eyes refocus on my face. I knew what her vision must have been.
I took a breath through my nose, wincing at the pain. "I think I should go back," I admitted. I couldn't even last in town with her for a few hours!
To my great surprise and pleasure, Alice wrapped her arms about my waist and embraced me tenderly, love and understanding flowing from her.
"Don't be ashamed. Do whatever you must to resist. I won't think any less of you for it."
I gently wrapped my arms around her, momentarily distracted from the thirst.
"Thank you," I murmured, and released her.
"I'll be back at the cabin as soon as I can," she promised.
"I'll be waiting," I promised back.
I took up the bags containing our new clothes then turned and walked away from her, back up the road toward our cottage. Separating myself from Alice felt wrong on so many levels. I knew it was only temporary, that she would soon return to the cabin herself and we would be together again. I knew that it was rather silly and obsessive of me. But it was painful to leave her.
As soon as I dared, I abandoned the road and dashed through undeveloped land to the cabin. I dropped the bags just inside the doorframe and started pacing while I waited for Alice to return.
I was still thirsty. More so than I had been earlier that morning. The ordeal in town had left me weak-willed and distracted. I deliberated for a few minutes, then decided that I ought to go hunting. Alice would probably take another hour or so before coming back, I could probably find a large herbivore nearby in that time.
A part of my mind was contemplating the tempting idea that I could probably find a human in that time as well.
I growled at my own weakness. I had to be strong!
I followed a deer trail that led away from the cottage and further from civilization, thinking that it would be a likely place to start.
After a couple miles I stopped, closed my eyes, and started sifting through the scents on the breeze. My throat burned dully in anticipation.
I caught the scent of a deer and had just shifted into a crouch when the wind changed direction. A new scent bombarded me. My guard was down, there was no hope of turning back.
A snarl of surprise and desire erupted from my chest. I tore over the ground in the direction of the delicious blood.
A solitary man was hiking in the woods, attempting to navigate his way over an unstable rocky ledge. He didn't even register my presence before I was upon him. My teeth sliced into his carotid artery with well practiced skill. I couldn't control my moans of pleasure as I gulped down his sweet rich blood.
When he was empty I tossed his body aside and sighed in relief as the burn in my throat cooled and then disappeared altogether.
And then the reality of what I'd just done sank in.
The moment she leaves me to myself, I betray her trust.
Pain. Deep, throbbing pain twisted in my gut. I did not deserve her trust.
It didn't take much effort to alter the scene of the attack so it looked like an accidental rock slide. When I was finished I found a stream and rinsed the blood from my hands. A corner of my mind was ironically quoting Macbeth. Out, damned spot! Out I say! I could not wash this guilt away. It may well drive me mad as it had the Queen in Shakespeare's play.
When I was finished I retreated to a little clearing near the trail where I had begun my hunt. I sat on the ground and waited for Alice to find me.
She didn't take long.
I heard her arrive at the cabin, the crinkle of paper bags on the cabin floor, her light footfalls circling the perimeter and then racing down the deer path. She caught my fresh trail and joined me in the clearing.
She approached me slowly, as if she were worried about frightening me.
She lay her hand on my shoulder. I recoiled from her touch. I longed for it, but I didn't deserve it.
My rejection pained her and I felt a fresh wave of guilt.
"Jasper..." she half-sobbed.
"I'm..." Wretched. Weak. Pathetic. Worthless. Contemptible. Hopeless. "...very sorry."
"I know," she said. "I know how much it hurts you when you hunt humans. I understand how it depresses you." She sighed and I felt her anger. "I should have come with you," she growled.
She paused for a moment, perhaps checking the future for something.
"Come on, let's get back to the cabin," she said. Her voice was unusually despondent.
I felt the pain that I had caused her. Anger, sadness, and confusion that I'd never felt from her before. I had caused those feelings in her!
When we reached the cabin neither of us spoke. I went directly to the supplies and began working. Alice loaded her arms with lumber and leapt to the roof to start construction, her mood a jumble of anger, remorse, and indecision.
For the next several hours we worked on our separate tasks in absolute silence. I fashioned a door out of the scrap wood we'd found at the old barn and mounted it in the cabin's aged frame. I assembled the windows and installed them. And still, Alice did not speak to me.
I prepared the chinking mortar. Then, starting with the outside of the cabin, I began spreading the mixture between the logs with the trowel. It took a little longer than I'd thought it would. Alice finished with the roof before I'd completed my task and joined me inside the cabin where I still had half a wall to go.
Was she finally going to speak to me? She was still angry. Did I want to hear what she had to say? If she asked me to leave her... could I bring myself to honor her request?
I watched her approach, fearing the worst.
I saw pain on her face as I felt it rush through her, followed by a surge of determination. I was sure I knew what this meant. She was going to ask me to leave. She'd seen that this life was too difficult for me. It would be better if we went our separate ways.
She kept her eyes down as she spoke. "Jasper, I'm sorry. Really. I should have known... We should have taken more precautions. I'm an idiot. Of course we should have hunted before going into town. And I shouldn't have let you come back here on your own while you were feeling so..." She looked up at me and trailed off.
"You're sorry?" I couldn't comprehend it. How could she have construed the events to imagine that she was to blame?
"Yes. I am," she insisted. "I know that I have limitations, but this really should have been obvious to me. If I had stopped to think about what we were doing, that human would still be alive and you wouldn't be suffering like this now."
She thought that I was unhappy... because I'd hunted a human? That was partly true. But that pain was scarcely a drop in the bucket compared to the idea that she would no longer want me. That I didn't deserve her.
She stepped closer and took my hand in hers.
"You aren't angry with me?" I still could hardly believe it.
"Of course not. I'm mad at myself, at my own thoughtlessness."
I closed my eyes. I was responsible for what I'd done. She should not be answering for my sins.
"You have nothing to be sorry about. I don't think you understand."
"I do, though. I feel the same way when... I do know how much pain it causes you."
"But that's not why... Not this time." It was painful to speak, knowing what I had to say. I had to set her free. She should be free to live the life she chose without me tying her down. "I don't think I can do this," I admitted, forcing the words out. "I'm not strong enough to be around humans, to live this life. You shouldn't have to be watching me every moment like you're babysitting a newborn. I couldn't even stay with you in town for just a few hours! You leave me alone just once and I..." The words stuck in my throat and I felt, for a moment, that I wouldn't even be strong enough to do this. To do right by her. I growled and buried my face in my hands. I forced myself to say what must be said. "I...I'm no good! I'm too weak!" I groaned at my pathetic monosyllabic sentences. I lowered my hands and made myself look her in the eyes.
Be a man. I scolded myself. She deserves this.
I hadn't even realized the absolute depth of my love for her until this moment. Until I was looking into her puzzled golden eyes, preparing to cast her free from me forever. Somehow, I found the strength to speak.
"I'm no good for you, Alice. I don't deserve your love. And you deserve much better than me."
Her breath caught in surprise. Then her eyes softened. She reached up to touch my face.
"You listen to me, Jasper," her voice was scolding, but there was still an undercurrent of affection to it. "You may have weaknesses, but you are a good person!"
I closed my eyes, knowing this was not true but unable to make myself say anything in reply.
"You may have only known me for three weeks, but I've known you all my life. My very first memory is of you."
This was new. I opened my eyes to listen, curious in spite of myself.
"You asked me once how I managed to survive my first year. What I told you was the truth, but not all of it. Not the most important part." She paused, deciding how to continue. "Before I woke up all the way I had a vision. You remember, I sort of mentioned it to you once."
I nodded, waiting for more.
"I had a vision that one day you would come to me. I didn't know anything else at the time, not my name, not what was happening, not where I was, not even what I was. But in the vision you came, you took my hand, and you smiled. When I saw that I felt hope, even though I didn't really understand it at the time... Then I woke up and started slaughtering people." We both winced. "But I knew someday you would find me. And that pulled me through it. I knew that eventually we would meet. I knew we would be together. I knew that you would love me. You saved me, Jasper. If it weren't for you, I don't know what I would have become."
I was gazing steadily into her eyes as she spoke these healing words, casting another spell over me. I no longer recognized my own emotions. All I knew was that the agony had lifted. And I felt sorrow at having given her cause for pain.
I bowed my head low, closing my eyes. "Can you ever forgive me?"
She seemed almost amused at the request, but she didn't laugh. Instead, she leaned in and touched hear forehead to mine. I felt a surge of relief at the contact.
"Of course I do," she breathed, washing her warm vanilla-rose scent over my face.
My relief swelled and transformed into something unrecognizable, but intense. She was accepting me. She knew I was weak and had betrayed her trust. And she still wanted me. Somehow, in the dark years before she'd entered my world, I had given her hope. Just as she'd given it to me.
She was leaning into me, touching her forehead to mine, our faces mere inches apart. Growing in her, I could feel emotions that mirrored my own. An intense longing, joy, excitement and anticipation. Her emotions flowed into me, strengthening my own.
I felt as if some unseen force was pulling me into her. As if she was the sun and I, a lost and lonely planet, was finally finding my way into her orbit.
I decided to do something that I'd wanted to do since the very first day we'd met.
She saw what I was planning. The moment I made the decision there was a flurry of excitement and anticipation within her.
With my eyes still closed, I lifted my hand and stroked along the skin just behind her ear. Then, very slowly, I combed my fingers through her short hair, cupping her cheek in the palm of my hand.
She trembled. Her pleasure at my touch was so potent I could almost taste it. I raised my other hand gliding it around her neck, cradling her head in my palm. Then, gently, I tilted her face back.
I hesitated just a moment longer, enjoying the strange, intense feelings building in me. The yearning, so potent it was nearly painful, to close the space between us in every way possible.
Then I leaned in and gently, as if she were made of fine china, touched my lips to hers.
Her reaction caught me by surprise. She sighed and flung herself into me. Her arms wound around my neck. Her body pressed fiercely into mine. Relieved happiness gushed from her.
I responded immediately, scooping her up in an almost violent embrace, kissing her long and passionately. Almost with a will of it's own my right hand glided down to the small of her back, pulling her in tightly so I could feel the length of her body pressed against me. My left hand slid back up to her neck and she trembled again. She sighed and grazed her smooth tongue along my lower lip.
What this woman did to me! I could feel myself starting to lose all control. I wanted more, so much more! But a small compartment of my mind reminded me that she deserved to be treated like a lady. So I needed to behave like a gentleman.
Not quite master of myself yet to remove my mouth from her altogether, I grazed my lips along her jawline. My cheek brushed against hers.
"Alice..." I murmured into her ear. My voice was soft, but ragged with desire. "You are the best thing that has ever happened to me."