Disclaimer: The Twilight world is the property of Stephenie Meyer. No infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This short tale is set immediately after the events in Volterra.

Alice sat stiffly in her seat. From her posture, it appeared that she was peering out the window, watching the landscape as the plane rose into the air. In reality, she was slightly less uncomfortable in this position. She glanced quickly at Edward, glad that he had not yet noticed her pain. Their time in Volterra had been difficult enough as it was. There was no need to add anything else to the wrenching mix.

Since the moment Edward had held Bella in his arms again, his thoughts had centered almost exclusively upon her. Once they had entered Aro's chamber, the threat posed by the Volturi had further intensified his focus upon his human love, to the exclusion of nearly everything else. By the time they left Volterra, he could think of nothing but his beautiful singer.

Alice had not minded Edward's singular fixation. Indeed, she had welcomed it. With her brother's attention on Bella, Alice did not have to work as hard to suppress the sensations of pain. She had kept her thoughts on the cars and the scenery as they drove down the Autostrade and back toward Rome. Observations of fashionable women at Fiumincino Airport had occupied her mind before they boarded the plane. And during the flight, she directed her mental efforts at monitoring Edward's and Bella's interactions, rather than acknowledging the throbbing in her left shoulder.

Once or twice Edward seemed to pick up a glimmer of her discomfort, sending her a questioning glance. But she simply sighed and mulled over her concerns about Bella, effectively redirecting his thoughts in an instant.

The pain wasn't unbearable, but it was far from comfortable. Alice had few memories of physical pain; this was her first injury as a vampire. But now she had an even deeper sense of compassion for Jasper. She could almost feel the sting on her own skin as she mapped out his scars within her mind.

Edward gave her an inquisitive, concerned look shortly after they left Atlanta. He'd overheard a bit of her mental distress. She shook her head and whispered, "I miss Jasper." That seemed to satisfy her brother. Undoubtedly he interpreted her thoughts of pain to her musings about the many injuries her husband had suffered during his violent past.

When they entered the terminal in Seattle, Alice found herself walking slowly by necessity. Edward was supporting an exhausted Bella, so he did not notice her languid steps. Alice rallied when her anxious gaze found Jasper. His relief and adoration flooded her, eclipsing the pain temporarily as she stood before him, wrapped within the almost tangible cloak of his affection.

During the drive back to Forks, Jasper's love and overt longing for her overrode most of her discomfort. Still, she knew she would need to address the injury before she and her husband could pursue any degree of physical intimacy. She shuddered inwardly at the thought of Jasper's seeing the raw wounds. She knew he would feel the pain as acutely as she did, and she refused to expose him to that. He had experienced enough agony during his existence; she would not subject him to any more.

Alice tried to formulate a plan that would remove Jasper from the house for a little while. She loathed the thought of being separated from her husband—even for a few minutes—but she recognized the necessity of it. She considered her options, taking a moment to study the outcome of each idea, until she found the one that would work. She knew that Edward would remain near Bella, so there was no risk that he would reveal her pain to Jasper.

Alice and Jasper arrived at the family's home before the others. His physical craving for her intensified, and she nearly moaned at the depth of passion emanating from him. Soon, my love, very soon, she promised silently. Then Alice lifted her chin and steeled herself for the unpleasant task to come.

They entered through the kitchen. The house remained much as they had left it, with most of the furnishings intact. However, the supplies they had once stocked for their human visitor were gone. The refrigerator was empty, and Edward, in his frenzy to remove all traces of himself from Bella's life those long months ago, had cleared out the cupboards on the unlikely chance that she might visit the deserted home.

Jasper's arms wound around Alice the moment they stepped inside. He kissed the top of her head as his long fingers slid down her belly and skimmed her hips. "God, Alice, I've missed you so much," he murmured thickly. "Want you—need you now."

She felt the evidence of his need nudging at her back. The heat that throbbed through her body in response nearly erased the pain. "Me too, Jazz," she croaked. She took a breath to steady herself. "But we're going to have to wait just a little while."

He groaned and spun her to face him. "What the hell for?"

She lifted her right hand to cup his cheek tenderly. "Bella is going to come over. We need to have everything ready for her."

He blinked at his wife in surprise. "What? When?"

"Soon. And you saw her, Jazz. She needs to eat, or she'll pass out. And if she does," she paused to be certain she sounded convincing, "Edward's going to go ballistic, and it will all start up again." She shifted her left arm just enough to elicit a flare of pain, then permitted her face to reflect her discomfort. Jasper interpreted it as mental distress, just as she knew he would.

He sighed and ran his hands over her hips slowly. "What do you want me to do?"

"Go to the grocery store. I'll make a list for you." She lifted his hand to kiss it then darted to the counter, where she quickly wrote several dozen items on a notepad. "I'll get the house looking a bit more livable." She tore off the sheet. "There are still some flowers in the garden," she added as she handed the list to him.

She could feel his disappointment as he took the small piece of paper from her. "Are you sure this can't wait a few minutes?" His gaze moved over her body longingly.

"Oh Jasper, I really wish it could," she replied with sincere regret, "but no, it can't." Biting her lower lip, she said huskily, "Besides, I don't want to rush… I need you, Jazz. I really, really need you, but not fast, not frantic—I need slow and gentle this time. And I want to show you how much I missed you and how glad I am to be back." If it were possible, her eyes would have brimmed with tears. Despite her current machinations, she meant every word.

Jasper caught her sincerity and gave her a tender smile. He kissed her mouth slowly, softly. "All right."

She watched as he hurried back to the garage, then she darted out to Esme's garden and swiftly tugged a handful of daffodils from the soil. She returned to the kitchen to set them on the counter then walked into the living room. Moving slowly, she lifted the shades to uncover the windows, then she sank down on the couch to wait for the rest of her family to return home.

To be continued…