A/N: Twilight belongs to Stephanie Meyer. I'm only making her characters do my bidding for a little while. The plot and original characters of Longing do belong to me, however. Jasper as the God of War and Peter "just knowing shit" are ideas that belong to Idreamofeddy.

Thank you to my awesome beta/pre-reader and sister, Shelljayz, and my pre-readers, juliangelus and deebelle1. I love you all. A huge thank you to Laurie Whitlock for all the work she's done on this story for the past year and a half. She has to take a step back for a bit since she just started college, and I am so damn proud of her for that!

Thank you to all of you that have read, followed, favorited and reviewed. I also love you.

To my anonymous guest reviewer: I am certain I could write a fairly good and hilarious outtake about Emmett's brother's wife's cousin's dog's farts, and it did make me laugh when I read your flippant suggestion. I doubt that was your intention though, but it certainly is an interesting idea. I imagine you aren't the only one who isn't interested in exploring that particular subject. The rest of your review, however, wasn't quite so amusing. It was rude, which I'm sure was your intention. It was also not constructive. I didn't learn anything from it nor did it help me grow as a writer, which is all I want—to learn and grow in this craft that I love so much. Because of that, I do take constructive criticism and suggestions from my readers to heart. The thing is, even though I take those suggestions seriously, I also expect respect because I deserve it just like everyone else does. Therefore, if you can't express your opinions politely, don't bother reviewing at all. I will never discourage the expression of frustration because everyone needs to vent, but if you can't be respectful, those opinions aren't worth my time or consideration, which truly pains me to say. If you don't like something, don't read it. I can't worry if every person that reads my work loves every little thing or it would drive me insane. I do wish you well though.

Shirleypositive72 has completed her awesome story The Lists and started a new one called My Old Life. Check it out!

I finally got around to posting my submission for the Reflections of Summer Non-Canon Fic Contest. It is called Living if anyone is interested in checking it out. :)

Another announcement: I placed third for Best Breakthrough Author in the Fandom Choice Awards in the Vampire category. Thank you to everyone who voted and made that possible.

And now, as promised, back to our regularly scheduled programming!

oOo

Saturday, December 19th, 2080

BPOV

It was early on Saturday—just after eight—but I had already been up for hours. Ever since I'd moved to Forks, I patrolled its perimeter everyday, checking for signs that all wasn't well, that Project Apotheosis had figured out where I was and was hot on my heels. I looked for clues, sometimes on foot and sometimes by car; I even headed out to the closest military base to eavesdrop every once in a while. That was where the elite team of hunters would set up shop as they plotted how to capture me, though their mission objective would remain classified and covert to everyone stationed at said base. No one would even know what branch of the military each of them were associated with and would most likely assume they were there for some sort of training exercise. The hunters would carry out their mission quietly and efficiently with no one the wiser except for me, slipping out of Forks with just as much mystery and as little fanfare as they marched into it whether they accomplished their goals or not.

Now that I had decided to stay for an extra couple of weeks, I needed to up the ante on my precautionary measures, making especially sure to be aware of potential dangers at all times. I had increased my patrols from once a day to twice, now doing all of them on foot so I could study everything more closely. My keen sense of smell allowed me to use my full potential because it enabled me to detect if I wasn't alone. Each vampire and wolf I knew had a distinct scent I was intimately familiar with, and if I latched on to one or more of them, I shifted down wind so they couldn't smell me and traveled in a way that kept my presence and purposes underwraps. Also, I listened since it was just as likely that they might travel down wind, which would hamper my sense of smell the way it would when I did it to them. The wolves' hearts beat faster than that of other animals or humans—between 175 and 200 beats per minute, which was tachycardic and pretty much bound to be fatal for a human. They needed that vital organ to pump their blood especially quickly in order to maintain the energy required to phase and function in wolf form; that faster beat was why their temperature was so much higher. If I heard that distinct lub-dub, especially in a pair or greater, I knew I was close enough for my abilities to be revealed to people that didn't need to know about them. It helped that, unless given a reason, the Quileutes didn't deviate from their set patrol routes. I knew because I had gone to great lengths, which had involved disguising my scent in an unpleasant way that I did not care to ponder on, to track said routes. Therefore, I generally traveled in the places I knew they wouldn't be. As for the vampires, there was a very specific cadence that accompanied their movements as they raced through the forest, each one varying slightly in the case of each individual. I had not bothered to track my vampires; I heard each of them take off into the woods often enough to be able to tell each rhythmic pattern apart in an instant. Mostly though, to avoid inadvertently revealing myself, I kept to a quick human pace, only using my super-human abilities in short bursts or when absolutely necessary unless I was under the cover of the ocean to burn off frustration, which had nothing to do with preserving my safety. I had yet to be put in a situation that required the latter.

My goal this morning was simple: continue to stay one step ahead of the Project Apotheosis bastards. Then again, that was always my goal. In this case, I went to key points on Forks' perimeter as well as to the aforementioned military base and set up small, wireless surveillance cameras in nearly invisible places that were programmed to send video to my cell phone since the six towers I was bumming an untraceable signal off of could home in on it better than on the wireless modem at the Cullens' house. It was also more subtle since there was a possibility that the Cullens might notice the ghost signal. Those cameras, programmed to send me an alert if anything fishy was detected, would give me the ability to keep an eye on things even when I wasn't on patrol, which I still planned to execute in my allotted twice a day schedule. It wasn't an option for me not to. I may have been stupid and lax in some respects since my stay here, namely how much I'd grown to care about my vampire pseudo-family, a couple of wolves and humans, but my safety was not one of the things I'd neglected.

The Cullens didn't suspect what I was up to, of course. They had no reason to. I often performed the car patrols after school or work and the ones on foot in the mornings both before I'd made the decision to stay longer and after. The first time I'd truly opened up to my full potential was when I'd gone swimming after my most recent fight with Jasper, the one before the dance, but I was no stranger to going for human-paced runs in the mornings before school before that. When I came back, I would pretend to catch another hour of sleep, then get up to get ready for the day. I could tell they sometimes wanted to ask how I survived on so little sleep, but they had yet to question me about it, and I did pretend to sleep longer on the weekends.

When my task was completed to my satisfaction, I had returned to the house to head out on the family's planned Christmas tree shopping expedition. The Cullens had been hesitant about bringing it up just as Edward had told me in the car on the way to Seattle days ago, clearly explaining to me that they didn't want to stomp on any holiday traditions I might have. It was a sweet thought, but honestly, what traditions did they expect a street rat to be able to keep up? I'd had precisely one Christmas tree in my life, and I had no real expectations for the second one. I only even knew what went into the purchasing of a tree because of Christmas movies I'd watched. Everything I knew about Christmas was all secondhand knowledge and not firsthand experience. In actuality, I didn't particularly care what the tree looked like. It could be kindling thin with all of two branches, one string of lights and no ornaments adorning it for all I cared. It would still be better than most years, though it couldn't compete with that first one. Nothing could ever top that, but now was not the time to think about Christmases past. This was about giving the Cullens their Christmas with me. My past had nothing to do with it.

I had to admit that part of me wasn't looking forward to this outing. The guys, save Jasper, were all crowding me, overwhelming me with their protectiveness since the Gavin incident, and I hated it. I constantly had the urge to smack the shit out of them and tell them to cut it the fuck out, but every time I'd come close, I miraculously managed to hold myself back. The macho bullshit was annoying as hell, but it was just their way of showing they cared. At some point I would snap and let them have it though. It was inevitable. I could take care of myself and they knew it. I shouldn't have to remind them.

We'd gone to the one lot that sold Christmas trees in Forks, but none of them had met Esme, Alice, Emmett or Peter's standards, so we had moved on to the ones that dotted the highway on the way to Port Angeles. Most of them were small but fragrant with varying degrees of a decent selection of Douglas, Noble, Grand and Fraser Firs as well as White Spruce and Scotch Pines. Cheesy Christmas music floated through the crisp, winter air much to my dismay. I hated that kind of Christmas music—it made my ears bleed. The people that worked at the Christmas tree lots were either too cheery, wearing Santa or elf hats, and the rest were surly loggers who prepped the tree you picked and—with the rare exception—looked like they would rather be anywhere else. My favorite place had been the one with the live reindeer, though the deer certainly hadn't shared my sentiments. Not with the Cullens around giving off the "you're dinner" vibe. Still, none of the trees at any of those places were up to snuff, nor were any of the ones at the three lots in Port Angeles. I had half a mind to scream that what we chose didn't have to be perfect, but considering their neuroses on this was partially due to me, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

That's how we found ourselves out in the middle of the snow-covered forest. The scenery was gorgeous, the white powder pristine aside from the prints of the animals that had passed over it since it fell, and I enjoyed watching my breath come out in silvery puffs of cloud. It was especially amusing since the nine vampires I was with emitted no breath at all, leaving me as the only one to truly add to the wintry atmosphere in any physical way.

We had been trudging around for two hours now and it seemed we'd finally found "the one." Everyone was in agreement, which truly was a Christmas miracle, and now Emmett and Carlisle were in the process of chopping it down. I also found that hilarious since they could have felled it with a single blow, but they both insisted on doing it the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, in Emmett's enthusiasm, that plan went out the window. With one strike of his axe, the tree toppled to the ground with a muted crash, much to all our amusement. Then he, Carlisle, Jasper and Edward gathered it up and raced it home while Peter slung me on his back to do the same. Thanks to Jasper, I was no longer in danger of having an episode, so while I wasn't thrilled with having to touch him, it wasn't an issue; I sure as hell wasn't going to hitch a ride on Jasper's back.

After that, it was off to Port Angeles again to shop for decorations for the tree. The Cullens already had plenty of course, but none of them had been chosen with the entire family's input—translation: since Bella joined the family. That trip was painful as well. Some of the guys, i.e., Jasper and Edward, didn't particularly care about the color scheme of the tree and if silver tinsel clashed with whatever other shit Alice and Esme were rattling off that I wasn't all that interested in either. Carlisle, bless him, pretended to give a shit and was almost entirely convincing, though from the look in her eyes, I could tell Esme knew he was just being a good sport. Emmett and Peter were a little different. They cared about how the tree would look and had different ideas than the women. Their protests hadn't been over the top or anything but they had fought for the right to veto anything too ostentatiously of the female persuasion. They wanted a tree that looked awesome but was gender ambiguous. They won that battle but it was only the first of many in a Christmas decor war. After about twenty minutes, I started tuning the whole thing out. If they asked me if I liked something, I gave an honest answer, but that was it. I mean what's the point of having an Esme and an Alice if you aren't going to take full advantage of them?

Two and a half hours later, we were back at the house, armed with decorations and ready to use them. Peter and Emmett got the tree trunk prepped for the tree stand and trimmed any misshapen branches before they secured it in said stand. Cue Esme arranging the tree skirt just so and Carlisle and Jasper draping the lights over the branches. Alice, Edward and Rosalie had disappeared to the attic and returned with several boxes which I soon discovered were filled with ornaments and older decorations that couldn't be found in a traditional store. A lot of them were antiques and specialty items that looked priceless. The three of them, along with almost everyone else, began to dig out ornaments that were clearly theirs and hang them on the tree, and it was the first time that day that I felt left out ... isolated ... like I didn't belong. I mean, I knew I didn't. I had always known that, but today was supposed to be a family event sort of thing, and that was how the Cullens had treated me. Like I was family, but the fact that this was a holiday-centered thing made it different somehow. Before I was just a girl who stayed in one of their spare bedrooms. They cared about her, sure, but they cared about everyone. This was just ... more, and I really wasn't sure how to process it.

I stood at the window wall twisting the chain of my phoenix pendant around my fingers as the others bustled about, the sounds of tissue paper and bubble wrap crackling and crinkling, of cardboard scuffing against itself as boxes were opened and shut, Nat King Cole spilling softly, almost dreamily from the sound system speakers and the scent of the hot chocolate Esme had gone into the kitchen to make for me wafting decadently through the air as I stared at the snow-covered landscape just beyond the glass. Footsteps came up behind me and I tensed, just the slightest tightening of my muscles, more on my guard than ever after Gavin's little stunt, but scent told me the person approaching was Esme come to offer up her latest culinary miracle, even if it was just a hot beverage. Seriously, for a woman who didn't taste anything she cooked, she was an amazing chef, and her hot chocolate was one of my favorite things ever.

There was a thump before she laid her hand on my shoulder. The iciness of her fingers could be felt through the cotton of my long sleeved shirt, and it sent chills radiating from the points of contact and down through my spine. Everything in me shouted at me to grip her fingers, to break them, to fight somehow, in some way, to remove the threat, even if Esme wasn't the kind of threat that could be fought off physically. Touch was something I would never enjoy. My body went abruptly rigid not only as an instinctive reaction but also with the effort it took to keep myself from attacking her the way I had Gavin. The change in me was so noticeable that all the vampires in the room went still for three solid seconds before they each went back to their tasks—I could tell both by their reflections in the window wall and by the sudden cessation of the noises they made as they went about the business of decorating. As always, I felt the burn of Jasper's eyes on me, only it was different now that I'd figured out that my feelings for him were more than what I had thought all these months, and it was more difficult than ever to keep every ounce of blood from flooding to my face and blooming scarlet across my cheeks. That could easily be explained away by embarrassment and unexpected rage at Esme's touch. What could not be explained away with that excuse was the dangerous bolt of desire that throbbed between my legs at the weight of his gaze. I fought hard not to dwell on it because if I did there would soon be an unfortunate problem with the state of my panties which every vampire in the room would be able to smell, and I would have a hell of a time trying to explain to Carlisle why I'd gotten all hot and bothered when his mate touched me because that, inevitably, would be the assumption.

Esme snatched her hand away immediately, as though she'd received a powerful electric shock, and put a foot of distance between us. When I turned to face her, her expression was apologetic, but also hopeful and kind as it always was. She held my mug of hot chocolate in both hands, fingers wrapped as far around the circumference of it as their length allowed, obviously unaffected by the heat. She offered it to me with the tiniest air of hesitancy, and though it hadn't been my intention, I accepted it with mild wariness and took a sip. That first taste was heavenly, and with it almost all of the tension melted from my body. The tension elicited from Jasper's gaze wouldn't leave me until his eyes did; the buzz and edginess, of dissatisfaction, would ping through my veins and bones for minutes or even hours after.

Once her offering had been accepted, she moved to pick up a small, wrapped package she'd laid on an end table five feet from us and made her way back to her spot a foot away from me. She held it out to me with far more reluctance than she had the hot chocolate. I merely stared at it as though I had never seen a gift-wrapped box before, frowning. Esme waited patiently as I stood there, frozen, unable to take it but unable to take my eyes off it either.

After Edward's confession of how excited all the Cullens were about spending Christmas with me, I had known presents weren't out of the realm of possibility. I just had hoped, dumbly, that they wouldn't bother. Just as I didn't know what to do with their kindness or their impulse to help and take care of me, I didn't know what to do with gifts or maybe it was just the idea of them. I had received exactly one in my life, aside from Jasper's birthday gift, and it had not been wrapped but thrust into my hand with haste and despair—my Phoenix pendant which I had vowed never to take off and hadn't in the time since I had made that promise to myself. I had everything I needed. I didn't want any other physical or material possessions, another thing I would have to decide whether or not to bring with me when I left.

As much as I wished I could refuse Esme's gift, I couldn't, not at the expression on her face, so I finally reached out to wrap my fingers around the small box. At least it appeared to be something insignificant and diminutive. I was wrong.

My fingers, shaking, tore at the paper to reveal the box beneath. It bore the Hallmark logo with a picture of a horse, a thoroughbred with Wildfire's coloring nonetheless, though it didn't resemble him much. Looking upon it, I knew Carlisle had to have had a hand in choosing it and maybe Jasper as well. I didn't really talk about my love of horses and Jasper and I had never revealed where we went on our little field trips. Everyone may have guessed from how we smelled when we returned, but no one ever mentioned it. Carlisle knew from when he'd found me in Louisville.

The frown hadn't left my face and my gaze flitted between Esme and the ornament laying in my palm. I was sure that as much as I wished otherwise, my confusion and conflict showed clearly in my expression. "Uh ..."

Esme explained. "I just thought you might like to have something of your own on the tree."

"Oh," I said. I didn't know what else to say, especially since everyone was still watching me, though they tried their best to hide it.

Instead, of filling the silence with words, I removed the ornament from the box, looped a hook through the golden eye attached in the middle of the horse's back and went to the tree. Studying the branches, I searched out the perfect one and hung the ornament, arranging it carefully among the fragrant pine needles.

oOo

JPOV

I was avoiding Bella … again. I had several reasons for it this time. I told myself the most important one was because I had yet to successfully feed and my unquenched thirst was torturing me every second, reminding me with each throb of her pulse that I hadn't consumed blood in nearly three weeks and that I was afraid for her safety. That was a concern of mine to be sure, but I hadn't had any true desire to rip her throat out, so despite how delicious she smelled, that wasn't the true reason I was dodging her. Another of my reasons was that I still had no clue how to act around her now that I knew I was in love with her, but that wasn't my true reason either. The true reason was that after the Major's and my confrontation with Gavin four days ago, after which he had yet again retreated so I could lick certain wounds of mine in peace, I couldn't stand to be in the same room with her. The weight of her presence, the burn of her eyes when she looked at me left me feeling claustrophobic, panicked, on edge and a different kind of sick to my stomach that only compounded my already present nausea.

I felt the unreasonable need to escape—a terrible, unavoidable, knee-jerk impulse I couldn't shake no matter how hard I tried—when she was near, so every time she entered a room I was in, I waited anywhere between one and five minutes before I found some reason to leave. It was my form of subtlety. The last thing I wanted was for her to know that I couldn't inhabit the same space as her. I didn't want her to be hurt or, more likely, pissed off by it because my reasons had nothing to do with her directly. Oh, they involved her, of course, but they were my hangups. It wasn't her fault I was fucked up. Besides, if she figured out that I was avoiding her odds were that she would confront me in some way, and I didn't want to have to explain myself. Not to her or to anyone else, at least not at this point. I was still mulling things over. I would quit avoiding her and then hash things out with her on my own time, when I was ready.

Today was the day we went Christmas tree shopping, and this particular outing made it both easier and more difficult to continue my quest to stay as far away from Bella as possible without coming across as a complete dick. I made sure to ride in a different car, of course. That was one of the easy parts. Combing the small lots full of the different types of trees wasn't. They weren't large enough to provide the space I required to keep a much needed distance from her; being cooped up in the same house with her for the past several days, school my only reprieve since she'd had all the days of her suspension off from work, was bad enough. It was worse, actually, because it was outside and there were no tangible walls caging me in and tying me down to her location, and yet there were; invisible, yes, but still inevitably there and mocking me because I was obligated to ignore my potential freedom for the sake of family bonding and holiday togetherness. In that respect, the whole thing sucked, and it only got marginally better when we traded in the cramped commercial tree lots for the open forest. There were no intangible walls to snicker at my expense just like there were no tangible ones, but I still had an unseen shackle clasped around my ankle, attached by a long chain that Bella unknowingly held the end to. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if she was just as much a slave to romantic feelings for me as I was to the ones I had for her, but that wasn't the case.

We'd returned from Port Angeles at twelve minutes after four. It had taken another two hours and forty-four minutes to decorate the tree and the house in all our Christmas paraphernalia working at a semi-human pace for Bella's benefit. She had been easy-going about all the pomp the family displayed for this bloated and often ridiculous holiday. I got the commercialism of it, of course, but I still remembered when Christmas was about celebrating the birth of Christ and nothing more. That was how it had been when I was alive and for many years after, even if I wasn't around to know it firsthand, and the last vestiges of the God-fearing man I'd been when I'd had a pulse found all the materialistic hoopla that surrounded this time of year offensive and irritating.

Damn, I sound like an old man, I chastised with a frown.

At least that crotchety part of me was small, while the much larger part gave way to a more modern view. I mean, who didn't like presents? Even at 236, they hadn't gotten old. I wasn't particularly materialistic, but still, gifts were nice. Bella, however, didn't seem to think so. The way she had stared at Esme's proffered gift in such total bewilderment had surprised all of us. She acted as though she'd never been given one before, and I thought back to when she had thanked me for the birthday present I'd gotten her, the sadness in her voice and how she'd told me it meant a lot. Maybe she never had received a present in the past. All of us realized that was possible. I felt it everyone's emotions, and I couldn't take my eyes off her as those feelings washed over me. It made my long-unbeating heart twist in my chest to watch the girl who was more woman despite her young age struggle with how to handle the situation Esme had put her in. It was uncharacteristic of her not to be able to just go with it as she did nearly every other scenario in which she found herself, and that, more than anything else, was what made it so difficult to witness.

It was now pushing ten, and Bella had been at the diner since seven to work a closing shift, which she was allowed to do since it was a weekend as well as a break from school. Of course, she didn't always pay attention to that law, covering closing shifts for her fellow waitress who had a kid she couldn't leave home alone certain nights from time to time.

Esme and I were the only ones home right now. Emmett, Rosalie and Alice had gone off to Seattle to do more Christmas shopping as soon as Bella left, and Peter and Charlotte had gone hunting. Carlisle had received a text message and taken off in a hurry a little over an hour before, muttering under his breath about incompetent hospital staff. Edward left twenty minutes later to do God knows what, not that I particularly cared to know.

At eight minutes after ten, I received a text message of my own. It was from Peter.

Char and I may have gotten ourselves in some trouble with the Quileutes, Major. We need you to come to the treaty line to help iron things out.

Seriously? I texted back with no doubt that he would detect the disbelief in that one typed word. I knew Peter and Charlotte thought most all the wolves were annoying, the same could be said of nearly the whole family, but what the hell were they thinking?

Seriously, he confirmed. Time's a tickin'. You'd best move your ass double time to get here.

I scowled in exasperation, not at all in the mood to clean up what was most likely a mess Peter alone had made. Then again, while I had cleaned up many of his messes over the years, he had taken care of far more of mine, and we couldn't let the treaty with the Quileutes go to shit. We couldn't leave Forks. I couldn't be with Bella in the way I wasn't quite convinced I wanted to be, but I still had to be with her, and I couldn't take the risk that she might not make the move to a different city with us. Plus, I wasn't really in the mood to fight a war nor would it be good for anyone who fought at my side. I was so close to totally losing myself to the God of War, and he didn't give a shit if a person was on his side. In actuality, the God of War didn't have a side. He killed, he maimed, he terrorized, plagued and haunted. As long as he did those things, he fulfilled his purpose and didn't care if the intended endgame wasn't met because he killed the wrong people. He heeded no one but Maria and Savannah, the former more than the latter, the two of them able to give him orders—though Savannah had never been allowed to give him orders in Maria's presence—while in that nearly incomprehensible, undoubtedly insane state of mind only through Savannah's gift. Sometimes he followed those orders and sometimes he didn't, and though he hardly ever laid a hand on either one of his warped mistresses, he still did not give a flying fuck if Maria got angry with him for defying her and her mission objectives. He had never suffered the aftermath of her rage and perversion; the Major did, I did. We had paid the price for what we'd forcibly been made in to.

The only person the God of War recognized both on a literal level and acknowledged was in a position of power in addition to him, over him, aside from Maria and Savannah was Peter, who had a different kind of influence on him. Despite that, it didn't mean Peter hadn't suffered at the God of War's hand. He just hadn't been torched to a blackened crisp when all was said and done because, unlike with Maria and Savannah, whose hold over the God of War was an unnatural one, Peter meant something to him even though the God of War wasn't really cognizant of that kind of thing, something real and familial even then, even if he had ripped him to shreds more times than I could count for the simple fact that I had no awareness of the world around me or the things I did when that bastard took control. That's right, Peter had managed to worm his way underneath the skin of all three of my disconnected selves from the moment I turned him, maybe even from the moment I'd met him. Now, despite my irritation with him for his inability to keep from running his mouth to taunt the wolves, it was my turn to save him. Since that opportunity so rarely presented itself, I could not fail him. After everything I had put him through, I could never fail him ... not again.

On my way.

oOo

As I approached the treaty line, Peter, Charlotte, Carlisle, Edward and eight of the Quileute wolf pack, Billy and Talise Black standing at the forefront, came in to view. I had known my father and brother were there. I had smelled them from far off. Though Carlisle had left the house muttering about the hospital, I wasn't surprised to see him. He was the figurehead of the family, one of the original authors of the treaty. In a situation like this, his presence was pretty much required. I wasn't surprised by Edward's presence either. As our resident mind reader, we needed him here to keep us informed of what the wolves were really thinking, if they told the truth when they agreed to let this go, if they agreed.

What didn't make sense to me was the smallish cooler at Carlisle's feet or the guilt, in addition to the concern and wariness, coming off him and Edward. The wolves were projecting heavy amounts of suspicion; Leah and Jacob, the two wolves who had made the most progress in warming up to us, looked confused. Peter and Charlotte felt absolutely no remorse for whatever it was they had done to fuck up our relations with the natives but that wasn't surprising to me either.

I came to a stop between the latter two in a silent show of support and folded my arms over my chest, meeting the wolves' bewildered and still mistrustful expressions with a defiant glare.

"What did you fuckers do?" I demanded through Edward's gift. I kept my eyes resolutely on our mortal enemies instead of moving my gaze to them and shaking the shit out of Peter. Neither of them shifted their eyes to me nor did they answer my hostile question.

Carlisle spoke before they could, but I had a suspicion that they had no intention of answering anyway. "I'm sure you're wondering why we've asked you here," he said to the wolves.

Now I was confused because clearly I had been led here under false pretenses. If Peter and Charlotte had done something to endanger our agreement with the wolves, we wouldn't have had to inform them of why they were here. Carlisle wouldn't have had to ask them to come because they would have demanded a meeting with us, not the other way around.

Billy leveled him with a glare. "I am," he acknowledged. "And I am thankful for what you did for our tribe, but none of us appreciate being summoned like dogs. We are not at your beck and call, vampire. We are not your submissives. We are your equals."

I bit back a snort at that. The wolves were made to kill us and were undoubtedly formidable, but they were not our equals. They were not mine or Peter's, Charlotte's or Carlisle's, Emmett's or Edward's, Alice's or Rosalie's or Esme's. There was no substitute for decades, for centuries, of battle and life experience … or for our gifts, those of us that had them.

"My name is Carlisle, not vampire, and yes, you are," Carlisle replied evenly. Of course he lied to them about that because he was all about fairness and equality and all that shit. He probably even believed it. "And I didn't ask you here to prove a point about whether or not you jump when we tell you to. This is about the treaty."

Billy's eyes narrowed. "Have you violated it?"

"No," Carlisle answered calmly, face impassive. "But a situation has arisen, and the solution to it might lead you to believe it has even when that wouldn't be the case. You needed to be forewarned and you need to witness our solution for yourself so you won't make the mistake of assuming we've broken our agreement."

"And what situation is that?" Talise asked pointedly, confusion now added to her suspicion.

"One of ours has been having some trouble feeding," Carlisle announced.

My whole body went rigid with fury, jaw so tense my teeth ground together and fists clenching so hard the peal of my fingernails digging several millimeters in to my palms echoed through the eerily quiet forest—the presence of so many "top of the food chain" predators had emptied a vast chunk of the surrounding area of every single living thing that could have fallen prey to us. My lungs trapped the breath I had taken just before Carlisle's announcement like a steel band had been slipped around my chest and was being twisted with crushing force, to use a human analogy.

This was a fuckin' ambush. Generally, I respected ambushes. They were highly effective military strategical tools when used properly … that is to say, when they weren't used against me.

I saw red.

Carlisle may or may not have opened his mouth to expand on the bomb he'd just dropped. I didn't know because, for the second time in four days, my rage made it hard to focus on anything other than it.

Peter and Charlotte each took a hand, returning enough coherence to me to get thoughts churning in my head, though the rage was still present and just as strong.

Before today, as far as I knew, there were only four people who knew I'd thrown up: Emmett, Peter, Charlotte and, of course, me. Obviously, that wasn't the case anymore since both Carlisle and Edward were here and that Carlisle had just announced to the wolves that I couldn't feed. It wasn't surprising since Emmett sucked at keeping Edward out of his head, but I had a feeling that Edward hadn't said anything to Carlisle. He didn't generally keep things from our father, but he'd been keeping my secrets lately. I thought I had made it clear with a few disapproving and rather hostile looks that Emmett would regret it if he ran his mouth. While he had been shooting me disapproving looks of his own all week, it seemed he had managed to heed my warning and kept his mouth shut to Rose and the rest of the girls. Peter and Charlotte knew even more than Emmett did; they knew the vomiting was more than just a one time thing. Though I had only a little more of a concrete idea of why this was happening to me, I still knew the most about the situation, but I sure as hell hadn't told Carlisle what was going on.

He'd asked me three times in the past six days if I was alright, the concern pouring off him in waves, but I had resolutely insisted I was fine. So my eyes were a permanent shade of inky black that looked as though they could suck a person into a fathomless void for eternity, but that could have been for a number of reasons. Considering what had happened with Gavin and Bella five days ago, it was reasonable to assume that was the cause of my unshifting dark irises, especially after how I'd reacted when the girls had spilled the beans. There was also that I wasn't projecting how unbearably my throat was burning, so he couldn't possibly have known anything for certain.

There was only one way Carlisle could have known I was having trouble feeding: Peter and Charlotte had opened their big fuckin' mouths. The betrayal and hurt I felt at that was so immense that it hit me like a physical blow.

I wrenched my hands from theirs violently. "Do. Not. Fuckin'. Touch. Me," I growled, refusing to acknowledge them beyond that order.

They displayed no surprise at this and still felt no remorse, though Charlotte was feeling some dread.

Good, the Major and I agreed, unable to feel satisfaction at that since my whole body was still throbbing with betrayal and hurt.

The wolves eyed the three of us curiously, clearly interested in witnessing whatever drama was about to ensue. I wouldn't give them that though. I refused to let them see any of my confrontation with Peter and Charlotte. There would be one, but it wouldn't happen here.

"What does that mean?" Billy asked, frowning. "Having trouble feeding?"

"It means I can't fuckin' eat, you idiot!" I snapped. I did not appreciate that they were discussing this, discussing me as though I wasn't even there. Billy did not appreciate me calling him an idiot.

"But why? And what is your solution?" Talise inquired. She didn't spare me a glance and my anger continued to mount. I bit the inside of my lip to keep from exploding and tasted venom.

Carlisle eyed me sidelong for just a moment. "I know you don't want to acknowledge this, Jasper, I know you don't believe it, but I truly do think this is because of post-traumatic stress," he said through Edward's gift, including every vampire here in his statement. It was no use in leaving any of them out. Peter and Charlotte had been there when he'd diagnosed me without my permission and he couldn't use Edward's gift to tell me without revealing his suspicions to him.

I let out a derisive internal snort, letting them all hear it.

Carlisle didn't share his belief with the wolves. He flat out ignored Talise's first question and skipped to the second, picking up the cooler and lifting its lid. The sight of its contents made me go rigid again. It was filled to the brim with ice packs and bags of blood … human blood. They had already been prepped for use in a transfusion and were clearly labeled by type, Rh factor and content, which in this case, were ones composed of three of the four components of blood: red cells, platelets and plasma, lacking only cryoprecipitate—like two percent milk instead of whole—and the closest to actual blood I would get when using the bagged kind for sustenance, the kind that could only have come from a hospital or blood donation center. The only way those bags could have made it into that cooler and out here was if Carlisle had stolen them.

Yes, I had wondered if I may have to result to human blood to fix whatever this problem of mine was, but I had never considered it seriously. I couldn't say with any conviction that I didn't miss the taste of human blood, but I did not miss being bombarded with the emotions that came along with taking a human life. It was feasible that I could flood a person with happiness and peace in place of the fear and despair at the knowledge that their life was coming to an end, but with the bloodlust came a certain lack of control. For a century, feeding was interconnected so intimately with negative emotions for me that it was nearly impossible not to internalize them and go varying amounts of crazy as a result; it was nearly impossible to override that and muster up any sort of positive. Did Carlisle have any idea what he was asking me to do? Did he have any idea what this could lead to? That drinking that blood could lead to a slip? Didn't he realize that if I killed someone, especially now, that I could fall in to the God of War and never come back? What if the human I killed was Bella? For the first time in my life, I loved someone. If I killed her, it would destroy me. There was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't come back from it if it was her. And that was just it. Carlisle did know. He knew all of it and he was asking me to do it anyway.

I put some distance between myself and Peter and Charlotte but refused to stand by Carlisle and Edward's side either, crossing my arms over my chest in stubbornness and defiance. "No fuckin' way," I refused flatly. "There is no way in hell I'm touchin' that shit!" I exclaimed, throwing out my hand towards the cooler with a sharp gesture.

The wolves were surprised by my vehement refusal, but even that didn't lessen their suspicion or prevent their outrage at Carlisle's suggested solution to my problem. Their whines and growls resounded around us in an uncoordinated chorus of displeasure.

"No," Billy barked immediately in response, as if I hadn't said anything at all. The wolves simultaneously went silent after that, and I figured it was on order; Edward had told us about their mental telepathy and their inability to defy an Alpha's command.

Now it was Carlisle's turn to be stubborn. He crossed his arms over his chest just as I had and met Billy's obstinate expression with one that was equally hard and unyielding. "We don't need your permission," he reminded him with uncharacteristic scorn, English accent becoming pronounced. "This is a courtesy just the same as the meeting to inform you of taking in Bella was as well as to ensure there is no misunderstanding. It's no secret that despite the information that was revealed the last time we met like this, the majority of your pack doesn't trust us, and even if that wasn't the case, we have no reason to believe you wouldn't attack first and ask questions later, if you even bothered to ask questions at all, if you saw one of us with red eyes."

Billy's emotions turned bitter. Carlisle, of course, noticed and sighed. When he spoke again, his voice was noticeably less disdainful. "It isn't my intention to antagonize you. As I said, this solution is our way of preserving the treaty, keeping the peace and preventing the possibility of a human being killed. I enjoy the accord we've come to, and I've even hoped that we might be able to get over this mortal enemies business to forge a stronger bond rather than the tenuous one that has always been. Despite that, just as you put the members of your pack and tribe before everything else, I do the same with my family. For whatever reason, Jasper—" he motioned to me— "is having issues feeding. His well-being is something I have to prioritize ahead of everything else because he is my son."

Carlisle gave me a look full of meaning. There were a thousand things I could read in it: love, compassion, concern, fondness, pride. In my current enraged state, I didn't give a shit about any of it, and I knew he knew that. It was all I could do to keep myself standing there, still as a heavy stone instead of embarking on mass murder spree. He sighed again and returned his attention to Billy and Talise.

"Animal blood isn't working for him, and going for weeks without blood is dangerous both for him and for everyone else. We need to see if human blood will help instead. This—" he gestured to the cooler this time— "is different than feeding off a human. No one will get hurt this way, and as soon as things right themselves, Jasper will return to the animal blood diet. It isn't a violation of the treaty."

"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Talise questioned. "That this isn't just some ploy to return to your true nature without suffering the consequences?"

"You don't know that," Carlisle answered simply. "But you don't know we're lying either, which is why I brought you here … to make you an offer."

That statement was met with scowls from the Alphas and growls from half the pack in wolf form—Paul Lahote, Jared Cameron and Sam Uley.

"We're listening," Billy said stonily.

"First of all, only the five vampires present know about Jasper's problem or that we've decided to give human blood a try to fix it. That is how it will remain unless other circumstances arise. That is merely an assurance I have no way to prove, of course, but it still needed to be said. It is a gesture of faith that now all of you know while not all of us do," Carlisle explained, shooting a look my way. He was saying this more for my benefit than theirs, even if he was painting it otherwise. My father-figure knew I needed to retain as much privacy in this ordeal as possible to help me stay sane, and on any other day, in any other circumstance, I would have loved him for it. Not today. "As for my offer—you and everyone else in attendance here today will meet to observe as Jasper feeds. That way you witness for yourself why his eyes are red. Also, you would be able to check in on him to make sure he attempts to hunt animals on a regular basis until this situation is resolved."

I had stayed quiet for this long, stewing, but no more. "What part of no fuckin' way do you not understand? And what makes you think I'll consent to letting them watch me feed?"

"Jasper," Carlisle responded carefully. "I know you don't like this—"

"Oh really? Whatever gave you that idea?" I asked with venomous, bitter sarcasm.

He opened his mouth again, lips curving around the letter "j" as he began to say my name in some sort of plea, but I didn't give him the chance to actually verbalize it.

"Fuck you," I spat. Both Carlisle and Edward, who had said nothing since I arrived, flinched. "I am not doin' this."

"Yes," Peter contradicted quietly from his position at my back, steel in his tone. It was a dare: a dare to argue with him, a challenge. "You are."

"No," I insisted just as quietly, spinning around to face him and planting my feet to keep from launching myself at him and ripping his head off. "I'm not, and you don't get to talk, asshole. You betrayed me. You and Charlotte."

"No," he repeated. "We didn't. We never have, and we never will."

I ignored the stark truth of that and turned back to Carlisle and the wolves. It made me uncomfortable to have them at my back, leaving it vulnerable, especially since their eyes were riveted to me in light of the fact that I was supposed to be the one consuming human blood while they stood by and watched. They were almost looking at me as though I'd grown another head for turning down the chance to drink human blood. Some of them were salivating with the hope that I might drink and slip, actually killing a human, and give them a reason to start a fight between us. Others were so damn confused they hardly knew what to do with themselves other than what they already were—staring. I ignored them. The wolves meant nothing to me.

"Jasper," Carlisle tried again.

"No," I repeated. "Nearly fifty years, Carlisle. It took me nearly fifty years to master my bloodlust, fifty years to get clean and stay that way. I will not ruin that for this!"

"I know, Jasper," Carlisle said, sighing. "And I'm so proud of you for that—"

"Then don't ask this of me!" It was a plea I managed to make sound like a demand.

"He's not askin'," Peter interjected. "I am. I'm not even askin' really. I'm tellin'."

"We are," Charlotte added, making sure to take at least some of the heat off her mate as she closed the space I had vacated between them and slid her hand in his. I saw the minute flex of the tendons in Peter's wrist as he squeezed her fingers to show his appreciation for her support.

"And what makes you think you can give me orders?" I snarled dangerously.

Peter let go of Charlotte's hand and marched to the cooler, palmed two of the bags and then stomped purposefully toward me, coming to a stop half a foot away and scowling with determination and ire, fire in his eyes.

"Because all my life, I have followed every single goddamn order you've ever given me, and I did it without a goddamn complaint—hell, I even did it with a fuckin' smile—whether I liked it or not," he reminded me fiercely. He never reminded me of that shit. It felt like a simultaneous punch to the gut and face. "And I did that for no other reason than because you asked it of me, because I made a promise to myself and to you when I woke to this life that I would follow you anywhere and do whatever it took to save you from others and from yourself, even if you didn't know it at the time, so you're going to do this. You're going to do this one thing because I asked you to. You're going to do this one fuckin' thing for me. You're going to take these bags of blood," he pressed them into my right hand forcefully, "and you're going to man the fuck up and drink them, and you aren't going to bitch about it either, you stubborn, caustic, pain in my ass. You know why you need to do it. Get it done."

When he put it that way, I felt like a selfish bastard, and I hated him in that moment. I hated him for reminding me what a monster I'd been, to him specifically. I hated him for reminding me how loyal he was when he had no reason to be. I hated him for sticking around to save me whenever I needed it, when I was incapable of saving myself. I hated him for being so fuckin' understanding and just flat out understanding because there was a difference. I hated him because I knew I had to do this for him, because he had asked me to and Peter never asked me for anything. All he ever did was give, and all I ever did was take. I just hated him.

I pulled my free arm back and shot it forward with brutal force, catching Peter's jaw with a nasty left hook. The crack of it echoed through the woods as his head snapped to the side with the impact of my fist to his face.

He brought his gaze back to mine, eyes still determined and fiery, as he massaged his aching jaw. "Are you done?"

In response, I jabbed him in the gut. He doubled over, unneeded air leaving his lungs in a whoosh, and the satisfying snap and crackle of his marblesque vampire skin splintering under the force of my fist filling the air. "Now I'm done."

And then he popped me in the mouth just as hard as I had him. My razor sharp teeth cut in to the inside of my cheek, opening a wide gash, and my mouth flooded with venom. I turned my head to the side and spat out the excess before gathering up the rest with my tongue and running it across the wound to seal it.

"Why did I decide puttin' up with your ass for eternity was a good idea again?" I asked him, my tone and demeanor slightly less hostile.

Peter grinned. "Because I'm awesome."

I snorted and rolled my eyes. Part of me agreed with that statement. The rest of me, the furious remainder, steadfastly ignored that part ... for now.

"You know I wouldn't ask this if I didn't know it would turn out fine," he said, returning to seriousness. His tone was less steely but no less hard. That should have made me feel better, but it didn't. "Drink," he commanded, pushing the hand with the blood at me. "Now."

"I hate you," I growled viciously, no longer able to keep from spewing the words at him.

Peter shrugged, unaffected. "Right now," he conceded. "And how many times have you hated me, have we hated each other over the years? We always get over it because we're best friends, brothers, family in the truest sense of the word, and no matter how much we might hate each other from time to time, the fact remains that we love each other more."

"Not true," I reminded him. I may have loved the son of a bitch from the get-go, but the Major had considered him nothing more than a pain in the ass for those first few years.

"Okay," he conceded. "Maybe you didn't, but I always did, and you came around. In a few minutes, you'll get over it. You'll be thankin' me in fact."

I was too stubborn to admit he was right about any of that. Not the thanking him part but everything else. He didn't need me to say the words to know I knew it was true. I rolled my eyes instead. "Don't count on it."

He just smirked, as all-knowing as ever.

"Annoying douchebag fucker," I griped under my breath, but of course, every creature in attendance heard.

Until that moment I had forgotten every single one of them, even Carlisle and Edward. I observed them briefly. Carlisle and Edward were used to how Peter and I could be, but the wolves were watching us as though we were one of the exhibits in the freak show of a circus. It was like they hadn't thought vampires were capable of feelings or the kind of loyalty Peter and I had just displayed for each other, even though it was shown primarily through bickering and a little violence. It made me grit my teeth, but I put that out of my mind. The idea of them watching me feed even from a bag of blood made me uneasy, pissed me off. Plus, I may hunt with the family but I always veered far off from them when I made my kills. Vampires were possessive of their kills and didn't take kindly to anyone encroaching on them as they fed, even if the vampire who approached had no intention of stealing it. Given my past, I was especially volatile. No matter what persona was in control, if you came within fifty feet of me as I closed in on my prey, you met a grisly end. Then again, the thought of murdering a wolf pleased me immensely. Then I was reminded of how very much I wasn't in the mood to fight a war and thought better of it. So I paid no attention to them as I shoved one of the two bags of blood into Peter's hands and pulled the rubber stopper out of the top of the one I'd kept. The smell, faint when contained within the plastic, permeated the air with a strength that shook me, but I pushed that aside. I couldn't say its aroma wasn't pleasant. It was AB positive, one of my favorite kinds, but the scent of it wasn't as appealing as it should have been. That didn't bode well for this little experiment of Carlisle's.

Tentatively, I placed my mouth around the opening and gave a reluctant suck. The blood hit my tongue like a tidal wave, the taste of it washing over me just as forcefully. For a moment, my taste buds came alive at the intoxicating flavor of all human blood, but it still didn't taste as amazing as I remembered—which had little to do with the fact that it wasn't fresh or whole—and my throat was tight, tongue thick as I struggled to swallow. It did bring heavenly relief to the continuously mounting and maddening burn of the thirst I'd been suffering for weeks now. I managed four more pulls before my stomach protested the intrusion of something I hadn't had in so goddamn long, rushing up my throat and into my mouth with frightening speed.

Luckily, I managed to make it behind a tree before I lost it all, trying but failing not to heave noisily. Sure, my family and the wolves would have heard regardless, but I had hoped to delude myself with the notion that they wouldn't. It would have made all this less awkward. I removed myself from their view because I refused to endure the indignity of losing my dinner in front of people I fuckin' hated. When I returned to their view, swiping the back of my hand over my mouth, I was both pissed off and smug. I purposely ignored the gaping mouths and blatant looks of disbelief on the wolves' faces as well as the mutters of "gross" and "what the hell?" Carlisle, Edward, Peter and Charlotte looked and felt thoroughly disheartened.

I managed to both smirk and scowl at Peter. "Told you."

"And I told you it would work. I'm not wrong," he insisted stubbornly. "I guess it just wasn't supposed to work the first time."

I rolled my eyes but his conviction was sound.

"We'll keep trying," Carlisle interjected. "Maybe it was the blood type or the Rh factor."

"Yes, I think we should," Billy said, apparently just now getting how dangerous my going without blood for so long was.

I redirected my scowl at him. "What is this 'we' shit? You aren't the one that has to choke that shit down, douchebag," I snapped at him.

I wasn't keen on letting people make decisions for me. I had only let Peter because I owed him. I owed Billy Black and his pack shit, and I sure as hell wasn't going to let him dictate what I would or wouldn't do.

"Watch your tone, boy," he warned.

Apparently Billy lost a dangerous number of brain cells every time he phased into wolf form. Had he forgotten that I was a vampire and that the age I appeared to be meant nothing? Had he assumed that just because I wasn't there for the negotiation of the original treaty that I was a very new vampire?

Fuckin' idiot!

I snorted and moved so we were nearly nose to nose, my posture menacing. "I served this country with honor and distinction in the Civil War, boy. You're the one who should watch your fuckin' tone. We may have a treaty in place but if you don't mind your mouth and show me the respect I deserve for that, I will put you in your goddamn place, and treaty or not, you will not like that place."

Okay, so he didn't know I'd been a Confederate soldier and it wasn't technically this country I'd fought for, but I had served with honor and distinction. One of the few things I remembered was that I had never killed Yankees just for the hell of it. Through research, I had discovered that my family never owned slaves and it brought about the intense feeling that I had never been okay with slavery or the things done to the Native Americans, even though I grew up surrounded by people with opposite views. I still had pride in where I came from though, despicable as most of the South's values were then, and I was a kid at the time. I didn't know I had a choice in which side I could fight on. I couldn't say I regretted my service though. I was still proud as hell of my human military career.

Billy's eyes widened and he took a reflexive step back. I imagined my eyes had taken on one of the shades of black distinctive of one of my other personas. Badass shapeshifter though he was, I was a scary, intimidating motherfucker and I gave it off like heat from asphalt in hundred ten degree weather. The rest of the wolves were just as shocked at my threat, to the point that they weren't even growling in protest. I wouldn't have cared if they did.

"I'm leaving," I announced, addressing everyone. "If you know what's good for you, don't follow me."

oOo

Sunday, December 20th, 2080

BPOV

I was snuggled into the couch in the living room, just shy of sandwiched in between Peter and Charlotte, his arm slung over the back, hand squeezing her shoulder. I knew it was his way of cuddling me without touching me. It was kind of nice, and I almost wished he actually was ... almost. Rosalie and Emmett occupied two of the armchairs around the room as well. Alice and Edward were busy with ... things ... upstairs, Esme was off working on an interior design project, Carlisle was at the hospital and Jasper was nowhere to be found. It's a Wonderful Life was playing on the flat screen. We were halfway through it when Emmett pressed pause and dragged his chair so it was positioned directly in front of me.

I cocked a questioning brow at him.

"It's story time," he said, grinning.

Now my brows furrowed, so he clarified. "Edward told you his and Alice's stories and Rose told you hers. Now I want to tell you mine. Besides, we've watched this movie enough times over the decades to fill heaven to the brim with angels. Jimmy Stewart won't mind."

"You don't have to do that, Em," I replied uncomfortably, though I was just as curious to know about his past as I had been to know the others'.

Emmett rolled his eyes. "No shit. Did you miss the part where I said I want to? I want you to know me. For a genius, you can be really dumb sometimes."

I shrugged. "Just checking."

He rolled his eyes again. "You should know by now that I rarely do things I don't want to do unless it involves my wife, and she rarely asks me to do anything like that."

"Noted." I did, indeed, know that.

"My parents emigrated from Ireland in 1909," Emmett began, tone wistful. "They were from County Kerry. It's the fifth largest county in Ireland now, but at the time, it was known for how many people left it. Starvation ran rampant there and its citizens left by the thousands to find better lives elsewhere."

Despite the grimness of this knowledge, I could clearly see the pride that shone in Emmett's eyes as he said it: pride in his heritage and pride that his parents had had the courage to leave when things got so bad, even though I suspected from the wistfulness of his tone that he might have liked to grow up in the place his parents were born.

"My parents chose America to find that better life, picking a small town in Tennessee to settle in called Gatlinburg. By that time, the South was where the majority of the Scotch-Irish settled when they came to the U.S. instead of New England. Because my parents had spent most of their lives in Ireland, they still had a heavy Irish brogue, so that's what I heard at home, but when I was out, I was predominantly exposed to Southern accents. I had this really strange mix of an Irish brogue and a Tennessee twang because of it. It took years for it to fade, and it annoyed the shit out of Edward."

His face bore an impish grin that was so intrinsically Emmett that I couldn't help the grin that stretched across my face in response. Of course he would be gleeful at the idea of irritating Edward for years, maybe even decades. I could picture it and it made me grin wider.

"Anyway, my father was Liam McCarty and my mother was Siobhan, and in 1911, my oldest brother, Aidan, was born. My other brother, Declan, was born eleven months later and I came along in late 1915. My little sister, Etta, was born five and a half years later, in 1921. She was kind of a surprise, though you couldn't really plan when you had kids back then."

There was such apparent love on his face and in his voice when he spoke of his human family that it made my chest ache, especially when he mentioned his little sister. Everything about him was softer, kinder, slightly more innocent yet fierce and determined in a way I had only seen when he interacted with or talked about Rosalie or when Etta was the subject of conversation. It made me think back to Thanksgiving when he said he'd loved her more than anything and that he would do anything for her. Rosalie had said the same thing. I refused to acknowledge that she had also said he felt that way about me.

"My parents hadn't left Ireland with much more than the clothes on their backs, but they worked hard and made something of themselves." The pride in his expression increased so much I imagined it would have been beating Jasper over the head if he was here. The thought amused me. "My father worked as a blacksmith at a factory for a lower wage than he was worth, and my mother was a seamstress and part-time midwife. We weren't wealthy by any means but we were taken care of and well-loved."

His smile was nostalgic and fond but slightly bitter. I didn't think that had anything to do with his circumstances. Emmett wasn't that kind of person. It made more sense that the bitterness was for the sake of his father not being paid what he was worth. I liked that Emmett was so supportive of his father and the idea that he was just as protective of his human family as he was of his vampire one.

"We went without sometimes, but for the most part, we always had enough—food, clothes, warmth, shelter, love—but only just … until 1929 came and the Stock Market crashed. Aidan, who was eighteen at the time, got a job working on the railroad. Declan did too even though he wasn't old enough, but he wanted to help and he was old enough that our parents couldn't really stop him. Etta helped my mother with her seamstress work. I was fourteen but my mother didn't want me to get a job. I was too young to work on the railroad, or at any of the other jobs available in our area, and I couldn't work with my father the way Etta worked with mom. Plus, I wasn't good with machinery and blacksmithing like he was."

That made me wonder if the reason Emmett was so good with machines and computers as a vampire was his way of making up for what he probably saw as a failure to his family when he was human. I still didn't know him that well, but I knew enough to know that was the kind of person he was.

"I was determined to find some way to help though, and after a couple of months, I figured out a way I could. I went to the man who'd helped my parents settle in and adjust when they got to Gatlinburg. He had become a dear family friend after that and I don't remember a time when he wasn't around. He was like an uncle. His name was Emmett Jaeger, a German man who emigrated a few years before them. They always said that without him, they wouldn't have made it through their first year, which is why they named me after him. He was an expert hunter and gave us whatever he could spare of his hauls, but he had a wife and four kids of his own so they were struggling too, and he could never spare much. He came by one day with a few cuts from a deer he'd killed, which was what gave me the idea. He'd always said I had a quiet tread and showed potential with a bow, so I begged him to teach me how to hunt and track. It didn't take much convincing. Papa and Mama took a bit more rousing to convince, but they ultimately agreed."

The clear pleasure on his face conveyed the innocence Rosalie had told me about while we were at the diner in Port Angeles. It was an innocence I had observed for myself on more than one occasion, and I had to admit that it was one of my favorite things about him as well.

"I was a disaster at first," Emmett continued with a sigh. "Totally hopeless aside from my ability to walk near soundlessly through the woods, but with a lot of practice, I got better. I just wasn't fast enough."

Sadness—true, genuine, heartbreaking sadness—and grief twisted Emmett's features then. It was a look I had only seen on him once before, at Thanksgiving when he'd spoken of his human sister. Even so, it was so foreign to witness, but even more than that, it was utterly wrong. My heart ached at the sight.

"Even with four of the six of us working and Etta helping mom take on more projects, we still had six mouths to feed. The railroad offered work but they were losing profit to a newly-forged network of highways, so Aidan and Declan didn't get paid much and Dad's wage had suffered because of the Depression. More often than not, I was most successful at gathering edible plants in those first months, and those aren't exactly jam-packed with calories. It was better than nothing though, and I worked hard to improve. What none of us knew at the time was that mom was splitting most of her food between Etta and me and not keeping nearly enough for herself. She lost a lot of weight, but we all did. That's just how it was then. We hated it, but other than breaking our hearts to see all of us so damn skinny, we never talked about it."

Emmett's eyes filled with venom and I knew something awful was coming. Part of me wanted to tell him not to continue, that I really didn't need to know if retelling this would hurt him, but just as it had been with the others—for whatever reason—it was important to him that I know and understand his past and how it had helped to make him who he was now.

"She starved to death just after I turned fifteen." His voice cracked with his revelation and he dropped his eyes to his lap. Rosalie scooted her chair until it was flush with his and reached over, lacing their fingers together. He gave her a watery but grateful smile. "She slept late that day. She never slept late. I was the only one home at the time. Dad, Aidan and Declan were at work and Etta was at school. I had started skipping quite a bit by then so I could go into the woods with Emmett to learn as much as possible and hone my skills. Knowing that, it shouldn't be a surprise to you that I was the one who found her. I went to wake her up, but there was no waking her up. She had died sometime during the night, just slipped away without anyone noticing, not even my father who had slept next to her for twenty years. I couldn't go get him and my brothers without risking them losing their jobs for leaving, so I crawled into bed with her and held her to me the way she used to hold me when I was a little boy. All day. I stayed with her all day. Thankfully, Etta had a play date that afternoon, so she never saw her, and Mama was only wrenched away from me when my Papa got home."

I would have expected tears to be flowing at this point, despite how strong Emmett was, but they didn't fall. I had seen more than one of the Cullens tear up before now but had never seen them actually cry. It made me wonder if they could. Maybe I should have been crying for him.

"We couldn't even afford a funeral," he said, utter despair overtaking his voice and expression. There were also hints of frustration and bitterness in his tone over his human circumstances. How hard must it have been not to be able to bury your own mother? And at such a young age? How would a kid even understand something like that, even in those times? I couldn't even imagine, and I again wondered if I had been better off without a mother of my own. For the first time, I had to consider that the age and weight in Emmett's golden eyes might already have been there when Carlisle changed him.

Peter and Charlotte hadn't moved at all since Emmett started, but they shifted minutely then. Charlotte rearranged herself so she was half an inch closer to me and Peter's hand slipped from the top of her shoulder to just underneath her collarbone. It brought him exactly half an inch closer to my side as well, but it also made it so that his arm draped more tightly, but not actually, around me. Still, neither touched me and I wondered the reasons behind the decision to alter their positions. Did Peter just know something? Was he privy to the thought I'd just had about being motherless? Did he, and thereby Charlotte, think I needed comfort because of it? Did I need comfort?

No, I answered my silent question with surety. I had come to terms with the fact that I didn't have a mother and never would a long time ago. Wondering if I had been better off without one wasn't me questioning the finality of that truth. It was me trying to be empathetic because this wasn't about me at all. It was about Emmett and showing my support of him.

"The city took her body and cremated it for health reasons, but we had to fight tooth and nail for her ashes, and trying to scrape together the money to buy something to put them in? It was hell … but we did it." He grinned at me. It was grim but smug, with a sliver of the pride in it that I had seen so often since he began. "In the end it was sheer stubbornness that got us her remains and the urn. We McCartys are infamous for our stubbornness, after all."

That I did not doubt.

Emmett sighed, a bolt of guilt setting his features alight like a strike of lightning in a thunderstorm. It was brief, but it had definitely been there. He was ashamed of something.

"We were all devastated and we all missed her, but it was sort of a relief too. It was one less mouth to feed, even though she died because there wasn't enough to eat in the first place. It took a little of the pressure off, I guess," he admitted with remorse and a rueful frown. "Dad changed after mom died. He was always so happy before but he got quiet when we lost her … except if any of us talked about her and he heard. He lost it then, so we learned not to talk about her at all. He even snapped at Etta a few times, something he had never done before, and he hated himself for it after, but he loved mom so much and he couldn't handle that she was gone sometimes. We learned to deal with our grief silently. Aidan, Declan, Etta and I stuck together and were there for each other, of course—we had always been close, the four of us, even if we could fight like little hellions every once in a while. Etta and I were especially close, you know, since we were the youngest two. With mom dead, and Dad, Aidan, and Declan working to the point of exhaustion, our bond only intensified. More often than not, I was the only one around to take care of and raise her," he admitted.

The tone of his voice as he relayed those last words to me was strange. He wasn't bitter or grim or crestfallen. He was … peaceful and matter-of-fact, as though that was exactly how things were supposed to have been then, as though he was always meant to be the one to raise Etta and by himself no less.

"I dropped out of school altogether," Emmett continued on. "I got up before dawn to check my snares and set new ones and gather plants or stalk prey if I caught a decent trail. I was always back to make sure Etta was up and dressed for school though. I learned all kinds of girly shit during that time. I got really good at doing hair, but it made Etta happy, so that made me hate it less. After a while, I even started to like it … well, because I loved her and what made her happy made me happy."

He was utterly unembarrassed or ashamed in sharing that, voice still soft and fond yet fierce and determined, but the innocence had faded some; as though it had died out of him little by little back then, even if not totally.

"After I got her to school, I went back out into the woods to learn more from the older Emmett, get some legitimate hunting done or just to practice the things he'd taught me. I always went back to pick her up and walk her home. Then I would help her with her homework, and when she was done, we would find other stuff to occupy our time. Sometimes it was just straightening up the house or doing other chores together, sometimes I would play with her, and yes, I played with her dolls! She wasn't even ten yet and they were her favorite. I couldn't say no."

He gave a good-natured shrug, his grin returning briefly in that moment. Again, I found myself smiling with him, that endearing bit of intel on his human self warming me thoroughly.

"We made dinner together too," he said finally, after a solid minute of contemplative, nostalgic silence. "We always had to have it ready by the time dad, Aidan and Declan got home. They were too tired to help. Once Etta was tucked in, by me and at least one of my brothers or my dad—usually after we'd read her a bedtime story complete with voices and sound effects—I went back to work. I went out to check my snares again, reset the ones that had caught something and repaired the ones that needed it. I brought the kills home, cleaned them and packed them up so they would stay good for as long as possible. I fixed any arrows that needed fixing, sharpened arrowheads and maintained my bow. When Emmett thought I was ready, he gave me his old shotgun and taught me how to use it, so I used that time to keep it up too, though I used my bow when I hunted a lot more. It's quieter and doesn't scare off other potential kills with one shot, and if you know the right place to hit, it takes your target down with just as much deadly efficiency as a bullet."

I know, I lamented. A bow and crossbow were only two of the many weapons I had mastered as a child.

"After mom died—and how—I was more determined than ever to help provide for my family and that determination paid off. I improved drastically in a short period of time and our bellies were consistently a bit fuller. Enough that I at least didn't have to worry about one of us starving even if we still went without …" Emmett trailed off and pain flashed over his face. He looked distant in that moment, reminding me so much of the way Edward and Rosalie had drifted away—drifted back—when they told me their stories. "Not quite eight months after Mom passed, there was an accident at the site where Declan and Aidan worked. A lot of people died … they died."

More venom shone in his eyes as he stared at the floor in the space between the couch and his chair. I hated seeing Emmett this way, the inherent optimism and humor he always displayed nowhere to be seen, and the ache in my chest intensified. He'd had two brothers and a mother and lost them.

"We didn't have to fight for their remains," he said. "The railroad company paid for their funerals. They weren't anything fancy, but they were good enough … better than nothing."

He sighed again, dejected at the memory.

"We had two less mouths to feed, but we still struggled. Dad and I just worked harder though. The older Emmett said that, despite my bumpy start, I was a natural hunter, and dad and I managed to keep a roof over our heads," he recollected. "It was 1931 when he got sick. The doctors couldn't tell us what was wrong with him, and by the time I was seventeen in 1932, it was just me and Etta."

Seventeen. The same age I was now and he'd had to take on the same responsibilities I'd had since I was twelve: putting a roof over his and his sister's heads and everything that came with that, food on the table, clothes on their backs. Only I had no one but myself to take care of and watch out for, and I had known how to do it when the time came, been prepared. As much as Emmett had been through and worked to help his family through tough times, he hadn't been ready for the demands placed on him, and he'd had Etta. All at seventeen.

"It was difficult, I'm not going to lie," Emmett stated. "Even if I tried, you would see right through me—" he grinned knowingly, the expression at stark odds with the sadness in his eyes— "and I could have made things easier on myself. The other Emmett offered Etta and I a place with him and his family, but I refused, only partially out of stubbornness. You see, even though I was only seventeen, I was determined to show Etta that I could take care of her, that she wouldn't have to rely on anyone else as long as she had me."

And I could see it, that determination. Emmett always showed it in some form or another, even with all his mischievousness, good humor and how laid back he was. It was always there, a shadow in his eyes, a reflection of his difficult human past imprinted so deeply on his soul that it had nowhere else to show but there since he refused to be anything but positive. It was so admirable and it made me want to hug him.

"I thought about stealing from time to time," he admitted, looking at me and clearly remembering my confession of the things I had done to survive on my own. There was no condemnation there, no judgment at all. "But as tempting and easy as it seemed like it would have been, I could never bring myself to do it. I wasn't so young that I couldn't find a job, even after having dropped out of school, and Etta was smart. She had always been able to see right through me. She would know what I had done, maybe not the specifics, but that it was illegal, and I had to set an example for her. Also, I couldn't risk that I might get caught and carted off to jail. Then she would have no one, and if there was anything I would not stand for, it was leaving her alone … so I couldn't fail at taking care of her. I had no choice but to succeed, and I did. By the skin of my teeth, I did."

I could tell Emmett was proud of this. It was such a strong and obvious pride—even more so than what he'd already emoted throughout his story—but it was also infectious, just like his grins and good cheer. I would have been proud of him no matter what, but that just intensified it. I could see on Rosalie's face as she gazed at her mate, paying close attention to every word he uttered even though I was sure she knew his history by heart, that she felt the same as I did but more. I guess, with mates, it was always more.

"My routine was the same but different," he carried on. "I still got up before dawn to go hunting, still came back to make sure Etta got to school on time, though she was old enough to get herself ready. The differences were that instead of heading back into the woods to hunt when I dropped her off, I headed to my job working on the railroad." At my expression, he answered my silent question. "The very same one that had killed my brothers. I didn't have much choice since I was young and uneducated. When I got home, Etta had dinner ready for me, I helped her with her homework, she helped me maintain my hunting gear and after I tucked her in, I went back out into the woods to hunt again. I never usually came home before midnight. Didn't get much sleep those last few years as a human," he chuckled. "Preparation, I guess."

Rosalie's hand tightened around his, a slight and soft smile curling her lips at his mild joke. Chuckling along with him wouldn't have been right even if he wouldn't have cared, so I let my own smile match hers. I could show my appreciation for his ceaseless sense of humor in that small way.

"I usually only ever had Sundays off, but every once in a while, I had a Saturday free," he told me. "I spent those days split between hunting in the woods and Etta. She spent a lot of time over at the other Emmett's house with his wife and children when I couldn't be around, but I knew I couldn't let what it took to take care of her keep me from actually taking care of her. Even on the days I did work, I spent as much time with her as I could: making her laugh, playing with her until she got too old to play with her dolls, listening to her, giving her advice when I thought I could and directing her to the other Emmett and his wife when I knew I couldn't. I spoiled her when I could too, though that didn't happen often. If I had an extra cut of meat or something else a person was willing to trade for, I got her things. Sometimes they were practical things: a new dress when her old one was beyond the point when mending it would suffice, leather to replace the soles of her shoes when they wore through and such. Others weren't quite so practical: a pretty ribbon for her hair, a cupcake from a bakery in town whose sweets she always ogled when we walked past it, pocket money for a movie. I went without so I could give her those things, split up our food rations so she got more than me but not so much more that I would end up like our mom. I mean look at me."

He flashed me another grin and flexed the bicep of the arm whose hand wasn't attached to Rosalie's. "I'm burly and musclicious. Not all of this gorgeousness and perfection came from the change."

If it had been anyone else who said that—well, also with Peter, Edward, Jasper and especially Carlisle—I would have felt the need to smack them upside the head the way I often did with Paul. It was different with Emmett. As contradictory as it was, his cockiness was laced with humility. He didn't take his vampire perfection too seriously. It was one of the things that made me so fond of him.

"There were a couple of times I was selfish and kept some of that money for myself. I was under a lot of pressure, and there were times when I nearly couldn't handle it, so I drank. I drank a lot, and then I gambled, and then I might have ill-advisedly romanced a woman—" he coughed— "or several. When Etta found me and had to clean me up once, I never did it again. I couldn't put her through that."

He looked sheepish and abashed at that. I would have found it funny under different circumstances.

"We survived that way for three years," he continued. "We were still grieving the loss of pretty much our entire family, but we were happy too. We made the most of things, but then, on one of my free Saturdays, I went hunting. I caught the trail of a black bear and tracked it. I needed the kill. It was on the verge of winter and Etta and I needed the assurance of that huge a stock of meat in case the weather affected how much I could bring in over the next few months. The trail took me deep in to the woods, too deep, but I finally caught up to it. I took the shotgun on that particular hunt because I wasn't feeling well and knew I didn't have the precision in me to hit my mark with my bow. Unfortunately, I didn't have the precision with the shotgun either. Obviously, the bear didn't take my unsuccessful attempt on its life well, especially since it was a momma bear with a cub to protect, which I didn't realize at the time. It's never a good idea to go after a momma bear. Piss 'em off and you're in for a hell of a fight. Needless to say, the bear got the jump on me. It was pretty much over after that, and I knew it. It broke my heart, knowing I had let Etta down, that I was leaving her alone. Then an angel showed up and saved my ass," Emmett murmured, giving Rosalie a loving look. "I didn't know how she would do it, but I still knew she was going to. It was such a damn relief because it meant I wasn't leaving Etta, that I would still be able to take care of her. Of course, that was before I knew how I had to be saved."

He sighed, and Rosalie squeezed his hand. She looked apologetic and a little guilty.

"Three days of burning and all I thought of, clung to, was Etta. Every detail: her smile, the sound of her laugh, the way her eyes crinkled in the corners when she concentrated, how much I loved her and every reason, from the smallest to the biggest, that I could not leave her—the life we'd lived, the loss of mom, dad, and our brothers and everything that came after. I didn't know what was happening of course, but the burn of the venom started to make things fuzzy, which is why I refused to let myself forget. I focused on her instead of the pain. What I was left with aren't perfect, but they're better than what most are."

Even through all that pain, Emmett had been smart enough to realize what was at stake—the loss of his memories—and determined enough to fight through it to keep as many of them as he could. There was more to him than meets the eye, but that was something I had always known.

"When I woke up a vampire three days later and Carlisle explained everything, I knew I really had lost Etta, that she had lost me and was on her own. That devastated me, but I wasn't unhappy either. I didn't mind that I was a vampire. I even thought it was kind of cool. Having Rose helped with that. She played hard to get at first because she's stubborn," he teased, "but I knew she liked me, and I knew she was meant to be mine. I wasn't sure how I knew, but I did. I felt it in my bones. As devastated as I was over Etta, I couldn't regret what I had become because of that."

"When I came out of my newborn year, I seriously considered asking Carlisle to turn her so I could keep her forever, to keep the promise I had made to always take care of her and keep her safe," Emmett lamented. "But even then, I knew vampires weren't a natural thing—"

This was the one and only time I would interrupt. "I don't agree with you. I don't think vampires would exist if they weren't a natural thing, even if they might be rooted in the supernatural. Maybe no one is born one, but they're still a pure species." Unlike me. "It's arguable that vampires are even a product of evolution. I know that can't be proven, but it can't be disproven either."

Emmett and Rosalie smiled at this. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw that Peter and Charlotte did too.

Emmett shrugged. "Maybe that is true, but I knew Etta better than anyone. She wouldn't have wanted to be a vampire. Even though we lost mom and dad, and Aidan and Declan, she still wanted a family and kids of her own someday. I couldn't be selfish enough to take that away from her. I had to let her go.

"The other Emmett and his family took her in, so she wasn't alone the way I'd feared she would be, but it still wasn't the same. She still didn't have me, but I was still determined to keep my promise to her," he said. "Carlisle made sure I could. He and what there was of the family back then were well off, and he allowed me to have a bag of fortune I hadn't earned to leave on Emmett's doorstep. It was both to help provide for Etta and a thank you for taking her in. They used it wisely and never wanted for anything after that. It made me feel better about everything, and I checked in on them all from time to time—on Etta every anniversary of mom, dad, Declan, Aidan and my deaths. On our birthdays too and whenever I missed her so much I couldn't stand it anymore. I was there, in the rafters, the day she got married and perched in a tree outside the hospital when she had both her babies. I pretty much went the last month before her due date and camped out until she went into labor. She named her boy after me and her baby girl after mom."

That brought a soft grin to his face and one to mine too.

"I was there the night she died, an old woman in her bed, and went to her funeral. I even spoke to her husband and children and gave them my condolences. She lived a full and happy life," Emmett uttered, eyes still distant. "It was everything I ever wanted for her." He brought his gaze to me. "It's everything I want for you."

That threw me for a loop, and though I generally always knew how to respond to a situation, rolling with it smoothly, I had no idea what to say except, "You're a good man, Emmett McCarty."

"That means a lot coming from you, Little Bird," he murmured.

I cocked a questioning brow at him.

"You remind me of a baby bird that got kicked out of its nest too soon and was left to fend for itself," he told me, for once without the shrug and grin.

And for the first time I didn't protest his attempt at a nickname. Instead, I gave him a nod, a little smile gracing my lips.

oOo

A/N: Alrighty. Christmas is getting close, Carlisle, Peter, Charlotte and Edward are taking Jasper's feeding problem in to their own hands, which he is not taking kindly to—shocking!—and we learned more about Emmett's past. Sheesh, that sure was a packed chapter!

Some of you may have noticed some similarities between Emmett's story and The Hunger Games. While I love those books, it wasn't something I did purposefully. I only realized those similarities when my sister pointed them out to me and by then, I didn't have the heart to change it. *shrug*

As for Jasper avoiding Bella, that goes on for exactly this chapter and this chapter alone. She doesn't let him get away with it! ;)

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this. Take care! :)