Something was up.
Now, Peter's gift wasn't necessarily as, for lack of a better word, accessible as his absentee maker, but it happened enough times and, more importantly, was correct enough times for him to know that when those voices started whispering in the back of his head, he damn well better pay attention.
He knew he had been vague with Char when he attempted to sneak out of the house that late afternoon, but he couldn't exactly tell her something he didn't even know himself.
The little that he did know had him standing in the currently empty, poorly lit parking lot of a rundown, but still operational, gas station. It sat across from an equally seedy motel just on the outskirts of the town he and his mate had occupied for the last five years.
While it probably would have made more sense to be over at the motel attempting to blend in to what looked and sounded like a raging party, instead of lurking in the shadows like some of the rapists he frequently hunted, that something niggling in the back of his head told him to stay right there.
It was another ten minutes before he knew why.
The truck that pulled up at the self-service gas pumps looked pretty ordinary at first glance. Plain black, Houston plates, two doored and dusty from what appeared to be a long travel. What caught Peter's attention was the woman inside of the truck. She was silent. There was no heartbeat to add to the single one, of what he assumed was the clerk, pumping steadily in the confines of the store. So that could only mean one thing. Vampire.
She must have sensed him as well, because she tensed slightly in the cab, the pale hand that had been reaching for the door handle hesitated before completing its task and popping it open. She slid from her seat before slamming the door behind her. She ran a hand through her waist-length mahogany hair before raising both arms above her head in an unnecessary show of 'stretching her muscles.' Peter wondered if she was testing him by playing human.
His eyesight was nothing to scoff at, but he was able to get a better look at her when she stepped into the dim, flickering lamplight that surrounded the pumps. She was quite beautiful, he noted.
Her thin, well proportioned frame was dressed casually in a tight, distressed brown leather jacket, faded jeans and brown cowboy boots as worn as her jacket. Her heart-shaped face was the obvious pale pallor of all vampires, but framed by her dark, slightly wavy hair made it look like the finest of porcelain. Her plump lips were stained a dusty rose and sat beneath a delicately tapered nose. Finely shaped eyebrows and thick sooty lashes framed eyes that were a bright, beautiful shade of...
Peter jumped, torn from the observation of the unknown vampire and the startling realization that she was a vegetarian and quickly dug his cell phone out of his front pocket.
'Well if there was any doubt to whether or not she knew I was here...' Her potential obliviousness wasn't that hard to consider, Peter had met a lot of... numb vampires in his time. But considering the way she had smirked in his direction before turning back to her task was proof enough that she was anything but that.
He sighed loudly and pressed the connect button. "Hello?"
"Where the hell are you, Peter Whitlock?! You've been gone for hours!" His mate Charlotte shrilled.
The woman's head whipped around as soon as his name passed through Charlotte's lips and locked eyes with him. Peter may not have been an empath like his maker, but there was no way he couldn't see the desperate, disbelieving hope in her glistening, golden eyes.
"I'll explain it later, Char," he blurted out briefly, before ending the call.
The woman took a hesitant step in his direction, but it seemed to Peter like she was holding herself back. He weighed his options. The voices may have stopped whispering, but he knew this woman was the reason he was supposed to be here. He stepped out of the shadows and made his way towards her, trying his best to keep his gait casual. He was less than a foot from her when she finally spoke.
"Whitlock?" She questioned in a soft southern twang.
Peter froze. Despite not hearing it often in the last 60 years, he recognized the accent.
"I knew a Whitlock once," she continued.
'It's not possible,' Peter thought. "Who are you?" He had never been one for beating around the bush.
She smiled sadly. "My name is Bella. Bella Whitlock."
Despite his wariness, Peter accepted a ride home from the strange vampire. He had agreed to listen to her story, but only in the presence of his mate.
Disbelief was the foremost emotion running through his head, causing his thoughts to jumble madly and forcing his mouth closed. He occasionally broke the tense, awkward silence to give directions to his house.
It was only after they arrived and Charlotte burst out the door cursing, that Peter realized he hadn't given a single thought to calling and giving her a heads up. 'Shit.'
So caught up in chewing him out, it wasn't until Bella had slid from the truck and made her way to Peter's side that Charlotte stopped and realized that there was another vampire in their presence.
She turned accusing eyes to Peter. "Who's she?" She demanded.
An amused grin tugged at his lips. "Not what you're thinking babe, that's for sure." When he failed to offer an explanation and the strangely shy woman made no attempt to introduce herself, Charlotte began tapping her foot in irritation.
"Well?" She huffed.
"You won't believe me if I told you, Char. I barely believe it myself." He reached out and laced his fingers with Charlotte and began tugging her towards the house. Nodding his head towards Bella in a 'follow me' motion, he met the questioning gaze of his mate. "Just trust me when I say that she needs to tell you herself."
Introductions were quickly made, Bella's last name disconcerting Charlotte as much as it had Peter earlier. They both plopped heavily down on the couch opposite the plush, slightly worn chair his stunned mate had motioned for Bella to take a seat in.
They watched as she took a few minutes to seemingly gather her thoughts. "I grew up with him you know?" She blurted suddenly.
Although Peter and Charlotte didn't need really need the clarification, she provided it anyways with a sheepish smile. "Jasper, obviously. Our parents were best friends, so it only made sense that their children were as well. The Whitlock's had two other daughters as well, Annie and May, but Jasper was closer to my age and considering I was a bit of a tomboy, we just... clicked." She chuckled lightly. "It also didn't hurt that Jasper was the cutest boy I had ever seen."
Out of the corner of his eye, Peter saw Charlotte's eyes soften as she shared a smile with the reminiscing girl across from them.
"By fourteen we were, as Jasper liked to say, courting, which softened the blow when my parents died a year later from a home invasion that took a very nasty turn." A touch of guilt entered her golden eyes and she turned her head away. "I was out late that night, with Jasper. I remember thinking that the worst thing that could have happened that night as I climbed back through the window I had left open, was if my parents had caught me." A sheen of tears glistened in her eyes when she turned back to them, "I was wrong."
"Oh, honey," Charlotte murmured. From the slight twitch in her arms, Peter could tell she was resisting the urge to cross the room and pull Bella into a tight embrace. Almost as if sensing her desire, Bella offered the other woman a small, grateful smile, allowing the warmth she exuded to give her the strength to continue with her story.
"I had no close relatives, save for a supposedly nomadic uncle I barely knew but thankfully, the Whitlock's didn't hesitate to take me in. I admit that for awhile, I almost lost myself and if it wasn't for Jasper, I probably would have. It took months for me to feel like myself again, and Jasper was always there to coax a smile or a laugh out of me. If I hadn't already known it before, by the end of that year, I knew for certain he was the only man for me, the only man that I would ever love." She lowered her head with a shy smile. "He made that even more certain when he proposed to me. I didn't hesitate to say yes."
Peter watched as she became lost in her memories, noting the various emotions that filtered across her face, mostly those of contentment, before being overcome by a dark look as she snapped back to the present.
"We were only married briefly; before Jasper felt the 'calling' of War," Bella practically spat the last few words.
Peter nodded to himself absently. It sounded like something his maker would say. He clearly remembered Jasper referring to certain things calling to him in the past, usually blood, battle or a combination of the both. And many years later, when he started to grow discontent with his surroundings, another life.
"I tried to be supportive, be the good wife. If I was completely honest with myself, his announcement didn't really surprise me. When we were children, his favorite games usually revolved around war, Cowboys and Indians and things of the like, anything where he got to be the hero. And when he got the chance to do it for real, well, there was really no talking him out of it. After a while, I just stopped trying and two months later, he was leaving to join the Confederate Army."
Peter, entranced by this rare behind the curtain look he was getting of his, often times, elusive makers human life, leaned forward slightly. "Was that the last you saw of him?"
Bella shook her head. "Thankfully, no. Not yet, at least. For the first year, we kept in contact mostly through letters. He was working his way quickly through the ranks, thanks in large part to the beguiling charisma he had possessed since he was a child. But he never hesitated to faithfully send a letter every month to me and his family. He was granted a short leave the following year, just in time for his nineteenth birthday and arrived home with the news that he was being considered for the rank of Major. We celebrated for that entire week he was home. I don't think I let him out of my sight for a single minute, certain that if I turned away from him, he'd turn out to be nothing more than a dream."
Bella began gnawing lightly on her bottom lip. "When it came time for him to leave, I almost begged him to stay and a part of me will forever regret not doing it, because that was the last time I saw him. I received one final letter from him, telling me he had made Major... and then nothing. For two whole months. Nothing." She stopped and her entire posture sagged in defeat. "The next time I saw a Confederate uniform, it was worn by the two officers who told me my husband was dead."
Peter watched as Charlotte moved from her place beside him and quickly evaded Bella's personal space to envelop her in a fierce hug. He was surprised she had even resisted this long. Though she didn't get to show it around many others, his mate could be an incredibly compassionate woman. It had been her who had made the decision that they would only feed on the dregs of society.
He noticed Bella flinched slightly when Charlotte first touched her, before sinking, almost with a hint of desperation, into her embrace. Peter had the feeling she'd been deprived of any sort of affection for a very long time. This observation almost made him reluctant to ask his next question, effectively breaking the embrace, but he could feel a niggling curiosity clawing at him. He needed to know more.
Unaware of the gentlest way to break the hug, he settled for coughing as casually as he could. Guilt immediately flared up when Bella snatched back from the hug as if she had been burnt. Contriteness colored her features and she sent an apologetic look to a crestfallen Charlotte, who had taken her place back beside Peter.
"Sorry," Peter offered meekly. Bella flashed him a small smile in response, while Charlotte lightly patted his hand. His guilt and embarrassment, only slightly dissuaded, caused him to stumble over his next question. "Did you.. were you... when did you get turned?" Turnings had always held a gruesome fascination for Peter and he usually never hesitated to ask every vampire he had met to share their own. Charlotte, who had been greatly disturbed by her own brutal turning, had never really understood this 'hobby' of his.
He was slightly taken aback when she chortled morbidly. "I really do have the worst case of luck when it comes to the people I care about. Ever hear the saying 'bad things come in threes'? Two months later, the Whitlock family farm burnt to the ground, with the entire Whitlock family trapped inside."
Charlotte gasped, slapping a hand to her mouth in horror. "And you weren't...?"
Bella's delicate features were marred by an ugly sneer. "Little ol' Bella Swan manages to escape death once again," she rasped mockingly. Her face evened out and her tone softened. "Despite their offers to move in with them, I couldn't leave the house Jasper and I shared... The sheets still smelled like him," she finished in a whisper.
A lengthy pause commenced as Bella inhaled loudly and unnecessarily. When she began talking again, the whisper like tone remained. "I had lost everything, my husband; my families and quite rapidly, my sanity as well. My head constantly teased me with whispers that Jasper was still out there somewhere alive. I was so close to giving up at that point, there was only one thing that kept me going."
Peter blanched as he watched Bella's hand drift unconsciously to her stomach. 'Oh god...' He thought hysterically, a part of him clamouring to stop her from finishing her story. A quick glance to the side had him meeting Charlotte's eyes, the dread in them making it all too clear that she was just as aware of the direction this story was taking, but knowing it was too late to stop it.
"I awoke one night after a horrible nightmare; Jasper was calling to me, saying he was lost, begging me to come find him. In a moment of desperation, I simply ran. Whether I was running away from him, or towards him, I don't know for certain. All I know is that I didn't make it far, the vampire that I accidentally stumbled upon saw to that.
"His sloppy drinking made it obvious that he had no intention to turn me. But apparently, in his thirst, he could not control the venom he produced allowing enough to enter my system and begin the change. When I awoke, I realized I had managed to cheat death once again." Her eyes dulled and her tone deadened as the hand that had been cradling her stomach fell limply to her side. "Our child, however, wasn't so lucky."
Bella had continued with the rest of her story, flatly retelling her vampiric years, unaware that he and Charlotte had stopped listening ages ago.
Peter didn't know if it was possible for vampires to be sick, but he couldn't deny that he felt his stomach churn violently when Bella reached the conclusion of her turning. Though he had braced himself for it, nothing could prepare himself to actually hear the words fall from her mouth.
His thoughts were all over the place. 'Jasper had... they were... She was pregnant..'
Next to him, Charlotte was shaking in violent, harsh sobs. "I am so.. oh god.. you must.." At a loss for words, she managed to choke out, "I am so sorry," as Peter placed a trembling arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer to him.
Soul crushing agony flitted briefly over her face, before settling into the stoic mask she had kept on throughout most of her story. "It's alright. I came to terms with it a long time ago."
'Liar,' Peter thought harshly.
"How... how did you remember so much about your human life?" Charlotte whispered hesitantly from her place still buried in Peter's shoulder. "I barely remembered a thing, other than my name and those of my parents."
Bella shrugged, "I honestly don't know." She hesitated briefly as she considered it more closely. "I think it was desperation."
At Charlotte's confused look, Bella felt the need to clarify.
"After they told me Jasper was gone, my memories were all I really had. I guarded them fiercely." A brittle grin stretched her lips. "Even in death."
After her story, Peter felt it was his duty to share Jasper's, what he knew of it at least. He found himself wincing as he recounted the harshness of the Southern Wars and his witness to the brutality Jasper had been forced to show to appease his vicious master Maria.
Bella had remained silent throughout his entire story; the only tell to her emotions were the kaleidoscope effect they seemed to have on her eyes. Darkening, lightening, occasionally swirling. Peter found himself off-handily noting she had a hell of a poker face. She had only spoke briefly when he paused after he had shared the details about the Southern Wars and the large part, Jasper had played in it, albeit reluctantly at times. "Are you disgusted?" He had asked hesitantly. His loyalty to his maker had defensive retorts on the tip of his tongue, had she admitted she was.
"Disgusted?" She had questioned instead. "Of Jasper. Never." And that was it.
He continued with finding his mate, sharing a soft, loving look with Charlotte, their escape, and their eventual return for Jasper. How he spent another ten years with them, before going off on his own.
Guiltily, Peter found himself skimming over the next part. "He eventually found a home with a group of; I call 'em Veggie Vamps," a pointed look at her golden eyes, "something I'm guessing you're familiar with?" She gave a solemn nod. "And he's been living with them for over 50 years."
He found himself unnecessarily holding his breath, hoping that she would question his shoddily put together explanation of the last half century of Jasper's life and his obvious exclusion of certain facts and terribly worried about what he would tell her if she did.
Instead, she surprised and, he was guilty to even admit it, relieved him by simply nodding at the end of it, before closing her eyes and going completely still.
When he realized that she appeared to be working through some sort of plan, he sat in silence, ignoring the harsh glare Charlotte was throwing his way.
Bella came back to herself with another nod and opened her eyes. "I realize we've only just met, but I wish to ask some favors of you."
"Anything," Charlotte replied firmly, while Peter nodded in agreement. He had a feeling he knew what she was going to ask anyways.
She lowered her head and looked at the two through her lashes, "Do you promise?"
Feeling strangely apprehensive, Peter fought the urge to frown. He kept his answer brief instead, "Yes."
Bella offered a small smile in return. "I assume you know where Jasper lives?"
Peter nodded, "Of course."
"Will you take me to him?"
Peter paused as he considered his answer. He wasn't going to say no, he just wasn't sure how to go about doing it. It had never been a good idea to spring things on the Major unawares and he and Char had only met the Cullen's once and none of them seemed too fond of their 'lifestyle.' It'd probably be best to get it over with as soon as possible. Quickly outlining a plan in his head, he nodded firmly. "We can leave at dawn. It'll be easier if we run, we'll cover more ground that way..." he hesitated briefly, "...we'll have to tell them we're coming though."
The grateful smile that stretched Bella's lips could have lit up the sky. "Thank you so much..." It was her turn to hesitate, "but could you... could you not tell any of them who I am? Not even Jasper. I don't... I can't..." She frowned helplessly. "This is something that should be told in person. Does that make sense?"
Charlotte moved to her side and wrapped her arms around her in a firm hug. "Of course it does, honey. This is your story to tell."
"Thank you, again." She withdrew herself from Charlotte's embrace and stood. "I'll just go grab a few things from my truck."
"Wait," Peter called when she was halfway out the door. "You said favors. What are the others?"
The light in her eyes dimmed slightly as her lips tilted in a wry grin. "To be determined." She offered, shutting the door behind her.
The apprehensive feeling in Peter's gut was back.
Attempting to shake it off, he stood, going over in his head exactly what he planned on telling Jasper and the rest of the Cullen's. As he left the room to make the phone call, Peter met Charlotte's accusing gaze and shook his head sadly. He knew he had skimmed over the truth about Jasper, but he couldn't tell her. Tell her that her husband had married someone else, or that in all the years he had known him, he hadn't mentioned anyone named Isabella. Not once. The man she still remembered, even through the tortuous pain of her turning, seemed to have forgotten her.
He didn't know which part would hurt her more.