Author note: Again, thank you for your patience and for everyone who checked in with me during this wait.


Previously:

"Oh, Jasper," I said in a cough of despair. Without another thought, I tossed a towel on top of him and started to shed my own clothes. I climbed into the tub in only my underwear, and in the cramped space, I lay on top of him as much as possible, pulling the discarded shower curtain over us like a blanket.

The tub was still cold and damp, as was Jasper, and the space was much too small to fit the two of us comfortably, but I didn't care. This might be all I had with him, and I was going to take it.

As I lay my cheek on his hardening shoulder, I gave myself permission to doze and to dream about the life we might have once had, what we had been allowed to have just the night before. I closed my eyes and relived the sight of Jasper above me, the feel of his hands, and the beautiful sight of him asleep in the sunlight. Images of what were and what could have been swirled in my mind until there were no thoughts left to have.


Chapter 28

Jasper and I were walking through the woods, our breath visible in the early morning air. I was joking with him about how if I was going to be made to hike, it would be nicer to do it later in the day, when I could perhaps feel my toes. Smiling, he threw me to the chilly ground, cushioning my fall with his arm before kissing my neck and telling me that he would make me feel much more than my toes. I was just about to suggest that we go back to the cabin where there was furniture for this kind of thing, but I stopped when I heard a loud creak.

I looked around, trying to locate where the sound was coming from, when I heard it again, this time followed by a crash. I turned to see Jasper's reaction, but he was no longer there.

My eyes popped open, and for a second, as my head lay on Jasper's cool chest, I was relieved that I knew where he was. I pushed my stiff body up to look at his face, and I gasped at the sight. His neck was extended at an odd angle, the tendons all taut. His mouth was open in a grotesque scream that was producing no sound, and his eyes were wide open and unseeing. If it weren't for the way I could then feel his hands scratching at the floor of the bathtub, I would be convinced he was dead.

"Jasper," I choked as my hand fluttered near his face, unsure of whether I should touch him or not. He already looked like he was in such pain. For just a second, it appeared as if his eyes turned toward the sound of my voice. A barely audible groan escaped his mouth and his eyes shut at the same time, keeping me from further analyzing their darkening color. Not able to contain it any longer, I started crying, my nose burning and my breath coming out in hiccupping sobs.

I screamed out in frustration, the sound echoing around the small space, and when the room quieted, a crash just like in my dream could be heard somewhere outside. There was no time to guess what it might have been before the door was flown open. What for a second looked like Edward became a blur, and I was convinced I was still dreaming until the blur yanked me out of the tub by my arm.

My vision swam as I took in both the new sight of the bedroom in the cabin and Edward's leaf-strewn hair and intense face. I didn't get more than a glance before he crushed me to his chest, his hands freezing on my back and his breath panting into my hair. After a moment of being squeezed too tightly, he released me only enough to look at my face. His black eyes were appraising my face as he spoke. "Are you okay?" he asked in a panic, his hand smoothing over my hair. "Are you . . .?" his voice trailed off. My body had been flush against his, but he pushed me away from him slightly, and grabbing my chin, turned my head this way and that. Not finding what he was looking for, he lifted up my wrists to inspect.

"Wh-what?" I could barely get out the words. Too much was happening, and yet it seemed like nothing was happening. What was Edward doing here? Where was he when Victoria had bitten Jasper? Where in the hell had he been for the months prior to this weekend? Why was he wasting our time feeling up my wrists when he could be helping Jasper? My head was throbbing with questions trying to get out all at once.

"She didn't bite you," he said in relief.

"No, but—"

He interrupted me. "The smell of blood is everywhere, though." His eyes traveled down the rest of me, and I crossed my arms to cover myself once I remembered that I was only wearing my underwear. The thought must have occurred to Edward at the same time because he quickly peeled off his dirt-streaked button-up shirt and pulled it over my head.

I was appreciative of the coverage, but there were better things he could be doing.

"I saw your arm, and you're clearly bruised, but that's not . . ." He stormed into the bathroom, and I was grateful that he was finally attending to Jasper, but he appeared back in the bedroom with a sheet in hand. He only held it for a moment before going to the window, throwing it open, and tossing it outside.

"Bella, we have to go," he said, turning to me.

"You need to help Jasper," I said firmly, apparently finding my voice.

Instead of answering, he looked at me exasperatedly. "We have to go." He was back in front of me and grabbed me.

"No!" I yelled. "Edward, you have to—" My voice died as he threw me on his back.

"You can't be here, Bella. I can't be in here right now." It was the last thing he said before bolting through the demolished living room and kitchen.

"Stop!" I screamed. "Edward! You have to help Jasper." I tried to wriggle my legs out of his hold, but I couldn't make myself let go of his shoulders at the speed he was traveling. "Please," I begged, my face begrudgingly pushed into his back. "Please." I felt sick, both from moving so quickly and from moving away from Jasper. Every second was more disorienting than the last.

Edward slowed down just slightly. "Please, what? There's nothing to be done for Jasper now. The only thing I can do is get you safely away from him."

"And then what? Are you just going to let him change and wake up alone?"

Edward said nothing but instead sped up. It took me several minutes of clinging to his stony back to get my thoughts in order. Other than Victoria, I'd never hated anyone as much as I hated Edward in that moment.

"Wait," I said.

"No, Bella," he yelled into the wind.

"No, it isn't Jasper. Victoria is—"

"Victoria is dead," he called, his hands digging into my thighs as branches whizzed by us.

"She's dead?" I questioned.

His pace slowed only slightly as he turned his face toward me. "Of course she's dead. There's no way I would ever leave you in harm's way with a vampire around."

I couldn't even find it within me to address how wrong his statement was, and instead, I simply snorted. He'd obviously had no problems leaving me in general—or leaving his entire family. Who knows what kind of harm could have befallen any one of them.

"Why haven't you asked yet?" I demanded as soon as the thought popped into my head.

"Asked what?"

"About Jasper, about what's happening to him."

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, he slowed considerably and dropped me from his back. It took me a second to realize we were on the edge of the Cullen property, and I appreciated that he was at least letting me walk across the lawn to the house on my own accord. I actually longed to sprint in the other way back toward Jasper, but I had no idea how far we'd traveled through the woods or how to find him. I looked at the house and hoped that Edward wasn't the only Cullen who was back. I hoped someone else would be able to take me back to him.

Edward interrupted my thoughts. "Alice told me."

At first, her name felt like a slap across the face. So she did know. Questions began to fill my mind again. How long had she known? When did she see Victoria? Why hadn't someone come to stop her? Had she seen our whole relationship? Where had she been? Had she been talking to Edward the whole time?

"Bella, come on." Edward pulled me gently by my elbow toward the house when I stopped moving.

"I want some answers. I need some answers." Everything felt like a dream. Maybe this was the dream. Maybe real life was me standing in the woods looking around for Jasper, and everything else had just been a terrible nightmare. I needed to sit down.

I must have been thinking aloud because Edward said, "You can sit inside."

"There will be more answers in the house than I can give you out here."

I glared at him, but I followed him toward the porch steps anyway. Every step felt like a betrayal of Jasper. I wasn't even sure of how long he'd been changing. Edward didn't seem surprised about anything, only relieved that Victoria hadn't bit me as well. Alice must have described things in quite the detail if he wasn't full of all the same questions the rest of the family had when they'd first seen Jasper as a human.

Just as I came to the first step, the front door opened to reveal Alice. She stepped outside, and I heard Rosalie's voice follow her. "I don't think this is a wise idea, Alice."

I wondered who else was home.

"I think between the two of us, I would have a better idea of how things will go," Alice called over her shoulder before facing me with a smile. It was the poorest choice of facial expression she could have made. The only look I wanted to see on her face in that moment was one of contrition.

"Hi," she said, the smile not leaving her face.

Hi? I stared at her dumbly and waited for something better to come out of her mouth. I waited for the string of apologizes that this had happened to Jasper. Even though I'd thought about Jasper and me both becoming vampires at some point, this wasn't how it was supposed to happen. It wasn't fair that Jasper should have his humanity viciously stolen from him twice. I waited for Alice to tell me she'd already seen that he would survive his change. We didn't even know how it worked since he'd become human. I waited for an explanation of anything, but she was just as quiet as I was.

Rosalie stepped out of the house and wrapped her arms around Alice's shoulders. At first, I couldn't believe she was offering her some sort of comfort, but then I saw that she was actually holding Alice back.

"I'm not going to hurt her!" Alice proclaimed at the same time Edward admonished, "Rosalie, really."

"Of course I don't think you would hurt her, but I can tell you that Bella will hurt herself when she walks up here and slaps you in the face. I'm just trying to save her the pain," Rosalie said bluntly.

I hoped she would save me the trouble and slap her herself.

"She's not going to—"

"I think Rosalie's predictions may be a little more accurate than yours at the moment, but hurting my hand isn't going to get me the answers I need." I was tired of waiting outside. Perhaps being immortal creatures had made them all lose their sense of urgency. Why was everyone just waiting around? Where had Rosalie and Alice been when we were at the cabin?

Even though I really didn't want to be any closer to Alice, I climbed the rest of the stairs and entered the house, making sure to keep my distance from both Alice and Edward as I passed them.

Going into the living room, I saw Emmett anxiously staring out the window. When I crossed the first step down into the room, he rushed to me and enveloped me in his arms.

"I'm so glad you're okay." This seemed like a much more normal response than what I'd received outside. "He's going to be fine, Bella." Finally. I sagged all of my weight into Emmett, and he just supported me for a minute before I stepped back.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"We were all fine eventually," he said without a hint of humor.

"But we don't know how Jasper will—"

"He'll be fine. I promise," Alice said, joining us in the room.

I turned to her quickly. "Forgive me if I no longer put too much stock into your predictions. What are you even doing here? When did you get here? Did you see this? Would you even try to stop it? When did any of you get here?" The questions spilled out.

"Let's sit," Rosalie suggested.

Reluctantly, I moved to the couch, and Rosalie and Emmett sat on either side of me, leaving Alice and Edward sitting in the chairs across from us. I felt marginally better with them flanking me.

"Perhaps it's best to start at the beginning." Alice took a big breath in. "My brother is an idiot."

Edward glared at her, but I couldn't care less about him at this moment. "Skip to the important parts," I told her.

"Okay," she agreed. "After I left, I told myself that I wouldn't look for Jasper's future anymore. I owed him a sense of privacy for at least a little while, and Edward had told me not to look into yours. I needed to be by myself for a little bit, so I did actually go to Ithaca to start setting things up. Every time I thought about contacting the family after I left, I would see a vision of all of us heartbroken, but when I decided not to call, everything was fine. At one point, when no one had yet joined me in New York, I thought about coming back home. I tried to look for Jasper's future if I came back, but he wasn't there. It was like he didn't exist anymore. I could see everyone else, but it was like there was a hole in the family where Jasper used to exist. I assumed it was because he would leave if I came back, but I didn't want to chance it being worse. If I went home, I could already see how sad it would make everyone else, and that disappeared as soon as I agreed not to go. I mean, I was upset—"

"Okay," I said quickly, not terribly interested in her feelings in the matter.

"I decided it was for the best if I give everyone more time. I eventually saw Rose and Emmett coming to New York, but I saw if I was at the house to greet them, we'd all have our same sad futures. When I looked further out, I could see that everything was like normal if I just waited a few weeks more. It didn't seem like that big of a sacrifice."

"So you didn't know?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I don't know why." She threw her hands up. "I didn't see it, Bella—him becoming human, I mean. I didn't know about that until I saw—"

"So you saw it? You saw Victoria coming after us? When?" I wanted to know if she'd purposefully let this happen. As soon as I had the thought, I felt bad about it. No matter how absent Alice had been from our lives lately, she was still my friend—or she had been my friend before she disappeared without a word. I supposed it was her disappearance and removal of herself from Jasper's life that allowed us to become what we were.

"As soon as I had the vision of Victoria hurting you, I sprang into action."

"She did," Edward confirmed with a nod.

"I saw Victoria burst into a room where you were, and I saw her grabbing your throat. I knew you were with someone else in a cabin, but in my vision, I couldn't tell that person was Jasper."

I searched her face for any sign that she wasn't being honest. I didn't know why she would lie, but I found it hard to believe that she wouldn't have seen anything about his change.

"When did you find out?" I interrupted her. "About Jasper," I clarified and shifted my position on the couch. Everyone else had been entirely still during our conversation.

"I wasn't sure where Edward was when I had the vision, but I called Rosalie and Emmett and told them to fly home immediately. I told them everything I'd seen and that I would meet them in Forks."

After being silent for so long, Rosalie finally spoke up. "I asked if you were alone in her vision, and she told me she'd seen a sandy-haired man standing with you—one who appeared human—but she hadn't been able to see his face. When I told her that was Jasper—"

"I said that it couldn't be. After being together for so long, there's no way I wouldn't recognize Jasper. Plus . . . the obvious," Alice filled in.

"That's when we realized that she really didn't know about him." Rosalie's voice didn't soften as I might have expected, and I remembered just how angry she'd been about Alice's departure. Alice was Rosalie's dear friend and sister, but she and Jasper were quite close, and I knew how protective she was of him. I wondered why she wasn't as anxious as I was to get back to him. Answers were coming considerably slower than I would have liked.

"How many hours has it been?" I changed the subject.

"We won't have too many more," Alice said. "It's going faster this time." She could obviously see Jasper now.

"Shouldn't someone go be with him? Shouldn't you bring him here?" I asked, worrying about him waking up alone in the cabin. I wasn't sure exactly how far away the closest people were, but I knew I didn't want him to find them alone.

"Carlisle and Esme were on their way to him shortly after Edward found you," Emmett said.

I nodded, glad Carlisle would be on hand. I wasn't sure if there was anything he could actually do, but I just didn't want Jasper to be alone.

"When did they get back?" I asked.

"Rosalie told me we had a lot to discuss in person." Jasper's transformation was obviously something that couldn't be explained over the phone. "After I got off the phone with her, I called Carlisle and told him to head home as well. My flight into Seattle landed at the same time as Rosalie and Emmett's, and they had plenty of time to fill me in on everything on the way to Forks. I wouldn't have believed it had I not started having visions of him changing again. Those were the first and only flashes I've had of him looking slightly human. It's like I was unable to see whatever it was he was. I still can't really believe it," Alice said, with what sounded like a hint of sadness.

I still didn't know how Edward figured into everything, but I certainly didn't want to ask him. There was an anger that kept me from even looking at him, and I couldn't be certain if it was because of the way he left me after my birthday or because of how he tore me away from Jasper without an explanation. Thankfully, I didn't have to ask because he started talking.

"My appearance in the story is a little less calculated," he interjected, his eyes washing over me with concern. I wasn't sure how much I cared other than wanting to know why he'd caused Esme and Carlisle to chase him all over the country. "For the last few months, I've been tracking Victoria, but she's been impossible to catch. I hadn't even gotten close until yesterday, when she started heading north again."

My eyes narrowed. Why would he be distracting himself with chasing Victoria? He was obviously too late in catching her.

"Bella," he said, addressing the pinched look on my face. "I could never leave her out there with the threat that she might come after you one day."

I wanted to scoff, but now was not the time. I was over my desire for answers; nothing I was learning was helping me get any closer to Jasper.

"I need to get back to him," I said to no one in particular.

"Bella, you can't," Emmett said patiently, turning his body toward me. "Jasper's going to wake up, and we don't know what he'll be like."

"He'll be Jasper," I replied without hesitation.

I turned toward Rosalie as she said, "We don't know that."

"Not even I know that," Alice said. "It's unpredictable what he'll be like."

"Why would it be? This isn't anything new for him," I argued.

"Maybe," Emmett tried to sooth me. "Maybe Jasper will be exactly the same vampire he was before tasting your blood—"

Edward snorted as if he either didn't believe that was what happened or like he was disgusted by the idea. Emmett looked at him fiercely.

"Or, he may wake up like he did the first time as a vampire," Emmett continued. "We have no way of knowing. We'll just have to wait it out."

I shook my head. Jasper and I had spoken about this. I didn't think there was any way he could seriously hurt me. However, I stopped that line of thought immediately because I had thought he would hurt me and, by turn, hurt himself. It was easy to argue that I wanted to be back with him, but when I'd been locked in the bathroom with him and the promise from Victoria that I would be Jasper's first meal, I'd wanted nothing more than to get out of that room. I couldn't take the chance of testing Jasper's post-transformation control with me as a test. If he failed . . . I just couldn't do that to him. Was the answer testing his control with another human? Could I possibly endanger someone else? It pained me that I was reliant upon the opinions and decisions of everyone else in the room. I'd gotten so used to feeling like someone's equal that it was uncomfortable to be at such a loss once again.

"When will I be able to see him?" I asked.

Emmett shook his head like it wasn't worth asking right now.

"Hey!" I yelled, my voice cracking as I raised my volume. My hand flew to my throat, and I winced as I touched the bruised flesh Victoria had manhandled. Rosalie immediately appeared in front of me with a glass of water and an apple. I took the glass gratefully but waved away the apple, even though I knew I hadn't eaten in some time. There was no way I could force something down in that moment. I didn't think I would be able to eat until I knew Jasper was safe.

"Hey," I said quietly but with just the same amount of intensity after I took a drink and handed the glass back to Rosalie. "I need to know when I can see him. You can't keep me away from him."

Edward stood up suddenly and a look of realization crossed his face before he barked out an awkward laugh. "I can't believe I missed it. I'm so foolish," he said to himself, not letting us in on his realization. "When I was chasing Victoria and she was headed this way, she'd taken a sudden turn—she was always disappearing just as I was closing in. She had quite a bit of a lead on me as I was tracking, and when she took a turn, and instead of crossing her thoughts, I heard the three of them." He gestured to Rosalie, Emmett, and Alice. "Their thoughts were projecting as I was approaching, but nothing was making sense. I could see Alice picturing you in Victoria's grasp, and I sped as fast as I could toward her so that I could find out how to stop it. What was confusing were the thoughts running through Rosalie's and Emmett's heads, they kept thinking about Jasper, but he looked . . . human." He said the word with disbelief.

"When I was close enough to actually hear them talking and then close enough to talk to them, I finally got some answers—if you can call them that, as all they've done is raise more questions. They explained the whole crazy theory to me, and there was no way I believed it was true. I would have been concerned for their sanity had I not been so worried about you. I didn't get a chance to ask anymore because I needed to know how to keep you safe."

Alice let out a sad exhale. "I let him see as much as I had, but I couldn't see enough of the building to be able to tell exactly where you were."

"I was back to tracking Victoria," Edward said.

"Her trail went in circles, so we decided to split up immediately and each take a different scent trail to try to find her before she could find you," Emmett explained.

It went without saying that they were obviously unsuccessful in that mission.

"I didn't think the three of us had been together too long, but I came upon Victoria standing outside the cabin, listening to you and Jasper inside," Edward continued, narrating what had happened. I couldn't believe she'd been right outside the whole time, listening to me as I tried so desperately to find a way out of that room or at least out of the situation we were in.

"Had she not been so thoroughly enjoying running what had happened over and over again in her thoughts, I don't think there's any way I would have caught her so easily. Destroying her was unfortunately quicker than I expected it to be, but I needed to get inside to you. I needed to make sure you were safe," Edward said with feeling.

I fought the urge to roll my eyes. I was glad he'd killed Victoria, but not even that could make up for some things.

"I called everyone else and told them to meet me back at the house and that Victoria had been taken care of."

"It wasn't until he stepped into the house that I could see what was happening to Jasper," Alice said. "I don't know why I couldn't before then. Maybe it's because of how different he is. Maybe I couldn't see him until he was partially returned to his form as a vampire. Whatever it was, as soon as I saw him changing, Carlisle and Esme arrived to the house, having tracked Edward all the way home."

"Carlisle and Esme had been tracking me?" Edward asked, surprised, making me realize we were all still full of questions.

"Yes," Alice said quickly. "I minimally filled them in and told them where they could find Jasper. After Edward had located the cabin, I could see enough of his future to give them a location."

"Where are they now?" I asked.

"It won't be long now," Edward provided. "I would suspect that they'd headed east to get away from people. One of our homes in Montana isn't too far away if they drive quickly. I don't really know where they've headed with him. I just know they'd want it to be far away."

"We'll call them. We didn't exactly have time earlier," Alice said, not offering any visions of their whereabouts or Jasper's condition that she might have had.

"All of this happened so quickly. No one really has the full story yet," Emmett offered. "We got to the house shortly before you did. I imagine we'll all be talking this through for a while."

That was the last thing I was interested in. I just wanted to call Carlisle, get an update on Jasper, and then make a plan. Everything I'd learned had so far been of little consequence, as none of it was able to change anything.

"No, no one obviously has the full story," Edward interrupted my thoughts. "There was a bit that Rosalie and Emmett left out of their hurried explanations to Alice and then the mental recap to me."

For a moment, he didn't offer anything else, making us all wait for him to continue his thoughts, like he was the most important person in the room and the only one experiencing anything difficult. I couldn't help but be slightly bitter, despite not wanting to even care about him in the slightest.

"I was so overwhelmed in the cabin with worry for you and absolute shock at seeing Jasper. I wouldn't have believed any of it without seeing him undergoing the change. It was unmistakably Jasper, and he definitely had tinges of humanity left in his features. It was remarkable," he said with a sigh. "Unfortunately, so was the smell of your blood. I could only focus on making sure you hadn't been bitten and then ridding the room of as much of the scent of blood as I could—just so I could focus enough to get you out there. I didn't look around the room. I couldn't concentrate on anything other than the smell of you. I didn't put any of the pieces together," he concluded, his voice trailing off. .

Edward stood up. "I didn't see why you were in the cabin together. I didn't see—" His voice broke off. "No, it seems like we don't all have the pieces to this puzzle," he said sadly with a look of accusation toward Emmett and Rosalie for keeping him in the dark.

"We needed to save Bella, and none of us knew for sure what was happening with Jasper," Emmett said in defense. "We didn't exactly have the time to sit down and have a chat about how Bella is Jasper's ma—"

"Don't you dare," Edward warned. "She most certainly is nothing of the sort."

"Excuse me," I rasped, the damage to my throat truly catching up to me. "Don't you dare, Edward. You don't get to define anything, least of all my relationship with Jasper. None of you get a say in that," I said evenly.

I didn't honestly care what Edward thought of my relationship with Jasper. It would be impossible for me to explain what exactly had happened over the last few months. If he thought the physical transformation Jasper had undergone was remarkable, I didn't know how to begin telling Edward and Alice what had happened in our relationship. I didn't have the time to make that a priority, though. Everyone had been so vague when they were speaking about how much longer Jasper would have.

Even though Carlisle and Esme were taking him further away by the second, I needed to know he was okay. I needed to know he would be okay. What I did know is that the two of us being separated was not the answer. If it was potentially too dangerous for me to see him as a human, then I'd just have to take some extra precaution. My mind flashed to our conversation from before Victoria had burst into the room.

"None of you get a say in what Jasper and I are together," I repeated. "What I suppose you do get a say in is which one of you is going to help me."

"Bella, we've already told you—" Edward started, sitting back down, just as Rosalie asked, "Help you how?"

I ignored Edward and turned my body on the couch to face her. "I need you to change me. Right now."

.

.

.


Author note: Thank you for your patience and for reading. Let me know what else you're reading on your review. I love adding to my list.

For fic recs this time around, these span all tastes, and some are big hitters. All are complete.

"The Practicum" by TheFicChick: "We're going to be teaching high schoolers how not to get each other knocked up or infected with gonorrhea. It's hardly a romantic evening for two." (E/B, AH, Complete)

"Someday" duskri123: They see me as the monster, like I deserve the pity. They're deluded. Thousands of scars show my past but at least I know who I am. They lie and hide while I sit back and watch. Everyone has secrets; someday they'll know them all. (OOC, J/B, AU, Complete)

"Between Pleasure and Pain" by sadtomato: Bella's been keeping her kinky fantasies a secret from her husband, Edward. When he finds out about her dark desires, he turns to Carlisle for guidance. This story is E/B/C- Carlisle is involved as their mentor and participates in scenes. (AH, D/s., Complete)

"Sins of the Piano Man" by solareclipses: AU. A reclusive vampire's swan songs for the victims he regrets draw in a young woman struggling with her father's illness. As fate brings them together, Edward's dark past threatens to tear them apart. ExB. Won 'Best Overall' 2011 Vampie Award. (AU, E/B, Complete)