THE BLACK SWAN

Prologue: The Shape of Things to Come

It was twilight, and it was going to be a full moon tonight. Perched over a quiet stream was Jasper's still form. One might wonder and perhaps marvel at the sight of a white marble statue. No, couldn't be… a mannequin perhaps, dressed up in Abercrombie and Fitch casual wear in the middle of the forest. How weird is that? Probably some high school prank, one might think. But to the animals in the forest, they were not fooled.

Jasper stirred. His eyes blinked. He took in a breath and caught the scent before the venom quickly pooled in his mouth. He took a step and followed the scent a few miles, and stood 1,000 feet from the entwined lovers lost in each other. At another time or place he would have relished his good luck to have fallen upon such prey –two for one bonus dinner! But he stood still, and watched and listened to their whispered exchanges. He felt their love and passion, and lust. He smiled and then used his gift to project and amplify the feelings he sensed back to them. Based on what he heard, it was their first time sharing intimacy. He smiled vacantly as he walked backwards heading east towards another scent – a moose perhaps? The burning and suffocating feeling in his throat reminded him of his need to satisfy his vampire thirst.

It had been 37 hours since he last fed. It had been 6 hours since he left that disastrous scene at the Cullen house where he almost fed on his brother's beloved human: Bella.

Jasper

"I cost my brother Edward his love, and my mate her best friend," Jasper lamented silently. "Why did Edward have to throw her into the table sending her crashing into all those glass plates that cut her? Because he was trying to protect her from me. That's why."

There's no getting around it. I am fully responsible for what happened. But I wasn't the only one lusting after the girl's blood. The last thing Alice said to me before I fled was that Bella forgave me. And maybe that's why after I stormed off to sulk after the party; I find myself returning to Forks to try to apologize personally to Bella. I may be a monster, but I still hold onto my code of honor that I learned from my daddy: A southern gentleman never betrays a trust and never goes back on his word. Even though I always distanced myself from Bella, for her protection, she put her trust in me and my family to not hurt her every time she entered the house. That human girl was just as much family to me as Emmett or Rosalie or Carlisle or Esme. Hell, I helped kill another vampire to protect her. I told her in Phoenix, when we were fighting against that fucked up vampire, James, that she was worth fighting for. And she was. Hell, she still is.

Jasper caught up to the large moose bathing in the stream. While it would have been nice to have had more of a battle with his prey, this would have to do. When he finished, he also caught a nearby elk and rabbit. Yelch! The last one was incredibly vile, but at least he was no longer thirsty, and better able to maintain his self-control – but to what purpose?

Jasper ran through the forest, but not at top speed. Inexplicably, he ran almost at human speed to feel the embrace of the grass and dirt beneath his feet, and the ticklish, almost caressing feel of the leaves and branches as he moved. Their touch at least was devoid of judgment and pity. Jasper ran. At this rate he would be back at Forks in 2 hours, 33 minutes, and 7 seconds.

And then what?

Chapter 1 - Where did all the blue skies go?

About 15 miles from Forks, Jasper passed the Quileute area, but not close enough to violate the treaty. Still, he caught a terrible and foul whiff of a scent he didn't immediately recognize. Something or someone was watching him. His empathic powers informed him that whatever it was, there was no immediate danger to him. So Jasper pressed on. He could feel his phone vibrating, but he ignored it. It was Alice. And that knowledge, instead of comforting him, irritated him. Even now, she didn't trust him to do the right thing, so he thought.

Jasper cleared LaPush and passed the Forks police station. The moon was in full prominence. The town seemed unusually quiet – even for po-dunk Forks.

As Jasper came closer to the Swan residence he heard worried cries from neighbors and passerbys who all said in different ways : "The Chief's girl is missing."

He immediately gave himself over to his vampire senses and started tracking Bella. Everyone seemed preoccupied with exchanging morbid theories, so no one noticed his arrival or the fact that he had entered the forest. He picked up a faint trace of Edward several hours old. Finally, he locked onto a strong scent from Bella. He followed it for two miles as it got stronger. His blood quickened as he closed in on her scent and her exact location.

"Bella is here in the forest alone?" Jasper gasped. "Edward, you son of a bitch, how could you do that to her?"

As Jasper advanced deeper into the forest, he picked up the foul smell from earlier on when he was making his way back to Forks. It was the scent of a predator. Jasper tried to calm the panic growing within him.

I need to get to her before the owner of the foul scent finds her first, Jasper thought. The frantic human voices calling out for Bella were getting louder.

There, just over half a mile from the Swan residence, on the forest floor near a glacier rock, Jasper saw a hunched over figure crumpled to the ground. Bella.

There was fresh blood.

Jasper

"Oh God, let her be alive," I prayed quietly, the first time in over 140 years.

As I approached Bella, I was almost knocked over by the intensity of her emotions. She was muttering over and over again: "He's gone." She was truly a pathetic human being as she lay there on the ground. The whole scene was repulsive. I wanted to turn around and run.

"Bella," I called to her, but she didn't respond. Her face and hands were covered with cuts and scrapes. She was bleeding, but just a little. Thank God I'd already fed. Perhaps my turbo charged adrenaline was allowing me some measure of self-control. But I didn't want to push my luck. The last thing I needed now was to replay that awful night, and this time actually kill her or worse.

What to do? Maybe I could go towards the human voices and lead them back to her. It wouldn't take more than a few seconds.

While I stood there deliberating over my next step, in an instant I found myself crouching and growling in response to a threat. I zeroed in on a young man 200 yards from Bella. I had never met him before. Piercing dark eyes stared at me. It was clear this was no mere human. I immediately knew that this was the oldest and greatest of our enemies. A werewolf. Quileute.

He was approaching Bella. I needed to stop him.

We lunged towards each other, and stopped when Bella whimpered. As the Quileute approached Bella and turned her over to look into her face, I saw his pained expression. My granite knees buckled slightly as the combined force of the Quileute's pity, anger and compassion. Bella's despair and my anxiety hit me like a tsunami. Whatever else was going on between the Quileute and me, I sensed we were both motivated by twin emotions: mutual fear, loathing and suspicion. But above all, protectiveness towards the human girl crumpled on the ground between us.

The Quileute and I stared and growled at each other.

"Don't you touch her, you blood sucking leech! My brothers and I will come after you and tear you limb to limb – for starters," the young man snarled at me before picking up Bella.

Normally, such threats would elicit snide laughter from me. I am after all a tested warrior. I am lethal. But none of that really mattered at this moment. Looking at Bella's listless body in the Quileute's arms, all I could feel was remorse.

"I found her," he called to the search party. I could hear and smell the approach of Chief Charlie Swan, Bella's father. I had seconds to escape before anyone would notice. Bella kept muttering: "He's gone." The Quileute was not going to let me anywhere near her. But she was safe, for now.

"Bella," I called out softly to her, "I have to go now. I'll be back. I'll make it right for you, okay? I'm so sorry."

My parting memory was of Bella's head on the Quileute male's shoulder, shuddering, her arms dangling and lifeless. Only her strong beating heart told me she was alive and unharmed – at least physically.

If the Quileute male weren't holding Bella, I'm sure he would have tried to rip my head off from my shoulders. He truly detested everything about me. His hatred was palpable. I was ready to fight him to the death. But now was not the time.

"We will see each other again, blood sucker, and settle the score at the time of my choosing. Rest up. You'll need it," he jeered.

"Oh my God, my sweet baby girl" I heard Chief Swan cry in a strangled voice as he approached his daughter. But I was already gone. I scaled a tree and then leapt for a while to make sure no one saw me. I heard one of the humans mutter softly, "Wow, that must be some kind of hawk."

I ghosted through the forest. I would be at the Cullen house in minutes.

Cullen House

I didn't need to see the darkened Cullen house to know it was empty. I couldn't detect the sound of Emmett's endless Wii games or his grunts. I couldn't hear the drum of computer keys as Esme worked on an interior design project. No sound of Carlisle rustling through one of his many leather bound first edition books or looking over a patient's file. I couldn't hear Rosalie tinkering on the piano keys as she sometimes did when she wasn't with Alice, who was usually working on some fashion design idea.

"Alice," I said knowing she could not hear me, because she was… gone! The door was locked. I typed in the code, retrieved the key and opened the door. This was out of courtesy of course. There are no true barriers to entry for a vampire.

Empty. I walked around the house. There was some furniture left. The piano was still here. The dining room was untouched. The living room was empty except for the sofa. Carlisle's study was completely empty. Even the waste paper basket was empty. I went upstairs.

Carlisle's big wooden cross was removed from the stairway. There was no imprint. Esme must have dusted. Rosalie and Emmett's room was empty. Carlisle and Esme's room was empty except for the bed. Closets were bare. I went up another flight of stairs and hesitated a fraction of a second before I opened the door to Edward's room. His room was untouched. I could still see the impression of Edward's form on the daybed he liked to lounge in sometimes. I took a breath to smell more deeply. Edward had been in the room at least 3 hours ago.

I went back down the flight of stairs and walked to our room: Mine and Alice's. Our room still had the bed. All of my belongings were still there. Most of Alice's clothes in the walk- in closet were gone. That closet was bigger than our bedroom, which we didn't really need, since we didn't sleep. What she left behind were her "Forks school clothes" and other associated accessories. I knew because Alice was an intrepid organizer. She separated her vampire attire from her high school attire, and then further categorized by season and regional location. Alice also left behind the "just in case wardrobe" for Bella. I walked into the adjoining bath. I scanned the room. She had been in this room maybe as long as 12 hours ago. She took her favorite lipstick, her comb and brush and left everything else. All those bottles of creams and perfumes and lotions she lathered onto herself – unnecessarily, I might add- were still there.

I sighed. "Alice, what's happening?" At that moment, I felt my phone vibrating. I walked back into our room and sat on the bed. I don't know why. It was just as easy for me to remain standing. "Alice," I said as I flipped the phone before the second ring.

"Jasper, my sweet love," Alice cooed softly into the phone. "It's all right now, darling. I'm in Alaska spending a few days with the Denali clan, and then we will make our way to Ithaca."

"Hunh?" I said before she could utter her next sentence.

"Well, Jasper, you're already enrolled at Cornell. I can probably enroll for a few classes before I register for a full load next semester. Carlisle is working on getting a position at the nearby hospital. Esme is working on finding a house. It's all right, Jasper. We'll be together again soon."

"Alice, I don't understand." I was actually starting to get irritated by her rapid fire debriefing. Under any other circumstance, this conversation would be completely normal. That's the problem. Nothing about this entire situation was normal.

"Alice, why did you flee? Where's Edward?"

"Jasper, it's a little bit complicated. I can explain everything to you when you come meet me in Alaska." She was using her soothing pleading tone, the one she used to get me to follow her plan when I showed mild resistance. I wasn't having any of it.

"Alice," I said sternly. In all of our interactions I was indulgent with her to a fault. Even when I disagreed with her, I can't really remember putting my foot down on anything. Not. This. Time.

"Alice, I asked a very simple question. Where is Edward? Is he with you in Alaska or is he already in Ithaca?" I could tell by the change in her unnecessary rhythmic breathing that she registered the change in the power dynamics between us.

"Jasper, Edward is gone. I don't really know where. We all left immediately after we agreed to follow Edward's wishes and leave Forks. Leave Bella. It's really for her. Yes, she will be sad and devastated. But, Jasper, she's not like us vampires. She will recover, and with time, she will resume her life and move on like she should have and would have had we not interfered."

"Have you gone mental?" was what I wanted to say. But my beloved partner and mate for the last 45 years deserved more respect, no matter how enraged I was feeling.

"Alice, I caught sight of Bella just a while ago. I wanted to apologize to her for the other night, so I went to her house. Alice, Bella is broken. This isn't like those tantrums we watched on the television sitcoms about human teen-aged angst. This is Bella. Our Bella. Your best friend. We love her. Hell, I love her, even though you and the family have done your best to keep me away from her. Damn it, Alice! How could you possibly think leaving her would make her situation better? I'm afraid for her. I don't know if she has the strength to pick herself up."

Even though it had been 21 minutes since I left that horrible scene in the forest near Bella's home, I still hadn't recovered. I was still shaking from raw emotion.

"Jasper, trust me. It will all sort itself. Come home to me. I miss you. You miss me. Come."

I stopped myself in time before I completely pulverized the phone. God, she was dazzling me. It was working. I do miss my little pixie and her ringing laughter, her soft skin, her loving eyes. I want to go home. I'm so weary.

"Alice," I stammered out. The image of Bella in the Quileute's arms dragged me back to reality.

"What, my love?" she cooed softly.

"Alice, I can't. Not right now. I can't go with you."

"Jasper, what are you saying? We love you. We're your family. You know I don't blame you for what happened. Just come to me. We'll start over again. Edward asked us to stay out of Bella's life. He even asked me not to look into her future. She will start fresh and so will we."

"Alice," I began, knowing the answer before she responded, "did you tell Bella goodbye? Did you look in her eyes and hug her, and tell her that you were leaving, and that it would be okay?"

"No, Jasper. We, uh, I didn't. Edward thought it was best if we just left. A clean break is best."

If I were human, I think I might actually have vomited from hearing her words. But I'm not human. I am a vampire – but more importantly, I'm a man. I know my own my mind.

"Well, Alice, I can't speak for you. But I made no such promise to Edward. And frankly, I don't understand how you, Carlisle, and Esme could abandon Bella like this. It just reeks of cowardice. I know I'm not as strong as y'all are with controlling my bloodlust, but cowardice is something I cannot abide. And Carlisle, with all of his compassion, his years of interacting with humans, his wisdom from having lived so many years. How could he just do what you're suggesting?"

"Well, Jasper, maybe that's the answer. If Carlisle with all of his compassion and wisdom could follow Edward's wishes and leave, then is that not proof that we're doing the right thing?" Alice wasn't just trying to convince me. She was also trying to convince herself. She doubted herself. She doubted her actions. I seized upon this weakness.

"Alice, I made no promise to Edward except the tacit understanding that I would not harm his beloved Bella. I will always keep that promise even though I may have shown a lapse in control. Alice, I love you. You, Carlisle, Esme, Emmett, Rosalie and even Edward, y'all are my family. But you have chosen a path I cannot follow – at least not right now."

"Jasper", Alice said quietly, steadying her breath, "where will you go?" I didn't realize that I had made a decision until I heard the resignation in her voice.

"I don't know, Alice. I need some time. Not sure how much time."

"He'll be waiting for you when you're ready."

"What? Who?" I asked, and then paused for just a second. "Peter."

"Yes," Alice said sadly.

Something was happening. I could feel it. Alice was my life. But I could feel that whatever was going on with me, my love for Alice was suddenly no longer enough.

"All right then, Alice." I looked at my phone and noticed for the first time that it was not the same number. She changed it – to discourage Bella from contacting her, no doubt.

"Alice, I have your new number."

She quickly rattled off the numbers of the others including Edward's. It was time to end the call.

"À la prochaine." We both said it simultaneously, acknowledging what I had been thinking to myself, chiefly: I wanted to avoid having to say the word "goodbye." It seemed too final right now. We laughed softly over our shared intimacy.

"Take care of yourself, Jasper. Remember, the door is always open." She knew I needed to hear her say this. I needed to believe her. I could feel my own despair and anxiety mounting. What in God's name was I doing?

"I love you," I said, before I ended the call. Odd, usually she would just murmur an "I love you too." But she said "I know" instead. I'm not sure if it was the tone that caught me off guard or the slight variation on her telephone conversation protocol.

Before I put the phone back in my pocket, it vibrated. I held it up thinking it might be Alice again. I blurted out "Oh, baby…" and heard a snort coming from a male voice.

"Now, Major, you may have sired me, but I'm not a baby anymore. I'm older than you are in total years if not in vampire years."

"Peter!"

"Or were you thinking of taking our relationship to the next level."

"Fu…

"Tsk tsk, Major. Language. I thought the rarified air of the Cullen family would have eradicated any vestiges of the raucous and randy Major Whitlock we know and love."

"How…Why…"

"If I didn't know better, Major, I would swear that I just roused you from a drunken stupor."

"Hah! Don't be droll."

"Shall I meet you half way, Jasper?" This was now my oldest and dearest friend speaking to me. Slowly, I could feel the dark clouds of confusion and bewilderment lifting up and away from me. I looked around me. There's nothing here left that I want or need – at least not now.

"Yes," I smiled though Peter could not see me. "Yes," I said this time, more as an affirmation. It was early fall, so Peter and Charlotte were settling into Southern Colorado, just over the Northern Texas and Oklahoma border.

"Let's meet in Nevada," I said.

"You're on," he agreed.

We didn't settle on an exact time or date or place. It didn't matter. Peter would find me or I would find Peter at the right time. I looked at the room I shared with Alice one last time, and then walked towards the door. I hadn't switched on the lights before. It hadn't been necessary. I slipped down the stairs and through the front door. I placed the key for safekeeping in the hiding spot, and I was off on a new venture. For the first time in 48 hours, no, for the second time in my vampire existence I was feeling hopeful. Maybe Alice was right. Things would sort themselves out in the end. But for now I had an appointment with a very good friend.

Jasper

When I returned to Forks three days after the birthday fiasco, I decided to check in on Bella. More like spying, actually. I perched myself in a tree across from her house. My eyes followed the wretched specter which was now Bella step out of her house and into her truck.

"God, Bella, what happened to you?" I gasped. Her long dark hair was lank—devoid of all luster. It looked like it hadn't been washed or combed or brushed in weeks. Her shoulders were hunched and she stared at her feet as she shuffled towards her truck. She seemed so frail and brittle, that I could blow her down with a whiff of my breath.

I watched Bella as she parked her truck and made her way to school. I thought the despair I felt from her when I found her in the woods was overwhelming. But this numbness I felt from her was hell, or what I would imagine hell to be like. I think I could have detected more signs of life from a corpse. Bella looked, walked and smelled like a zombie. I'm sure she was wearing the same stale unwashed clothes.

I noticed that in the cafeteria, which I could see from my perch in the tree, that Bella sat with her friends, but she was physically at a distance from them as if she was being shunned.

I followed her home after school and watched her drag herself through her front door. In the past Bella always made time to prepare meals for her father. Now, Bella would just go upstairs to her room. Her father brought home pizza and various other takeout meals. Bella ate nothing. At night I heard her scream. Nightmares. Her father would come in to check on her. The only thing I could do was send calming waves to help her go back to sleep. She didn't seem to recognize that it was me helping her.

This routine of my observing Bella continued over several days. She wasn't improving. If anything, I think she was actually getting worse. I overheard her father talking to a doctor who was making recommendations for possible psychiatric care. Charlie Swan didn't want to go in that direction, but he was feeling hopeless about how to help his daughter.

The last straw for me was when I overheard the terrible fight between Bella, her father, mother and stepfather. Renée tried to persuade Bella to leave Forks and follow her to Florida. I wasn't prepared for the feral side of Bella which lashed out viciously, refusing to go anywhere. I left when I heard Phil, Bella's stepfather, slap her. Charlie had to rein himself in before strangling him. The whole scene sickened me. I couldn't take any more, and left in search of neutral ground to figure out my next move.

I went to my retreat, a cottage I sometimes used near Hurricane Ridge and Crescent Lake just outside of Port Angeles when I needed to think. I walked in and stood there for several more hours trying to process all that I had observed.

As I sat on my porch gazing at the starless night, I sighed. "Okay, Major. What's your plan?" It always helped me to speak aloud when I was strategizing. "I need to talk to her, and let her know that I'm still here, and didn't leave. That's the first step. I'll figure out the rest later."