I was reading a fic (shocking...I know), and the author had Jasper playing poker. I can't remember the name of it but there was a line that was like "Being an empath made him quite the successful poker player" and this fic instantly plotted itself out in my head. Oddly, if I were to write this as full-length, this scene would be close to the end. Funny how that happens.

Thanks so much to bethroann and LauraLoo77 for looking this over when I freaked out about "writing without a net."

Las Vegas

It was finally over.

I wandered through the quiet casino alone, relieved to finally be liberated from the looks of sympathy and concern, from painful reminders of things better left in the past, from disappointment and the profound sense of something missing that had been haunting me for years. I was a little sad to know I was walking away from the Cullens, from what had been my vampire family, a little scared to be walking away from the world I had been burned into.

But I was downright thrilled to be walking away from the "happy couple."

Most of the gaming tables were closed, the casino floor relatively empty. It had to be after three in the morning. Most humans were tucked up in their rented beds, sleeping off their successes and failures, their gains and losses. In a few hours, the tables and slot machines would be crowded, the floor packed with people trying to win back what they'd lost or excited to start their vacation. I hated the casinos during the day and evening…but there was something almost soothing about the silence at this hour. It drew me in, made me wander restlessly through the tall machines and felt-covered tables, had me following the brightly patterned carpet as if it would lead me someplace or to something meaningful. As if I was moving toward something instead of away.

So far, it had only led me deeper into the belly of the empty and endless casino floor.

Two more turns and a few steps down, I startled as I heard the murmur of quiet conversation. I moved toward the sound, in the direction of a brightly lit space sectioned off from the main casino. A masculine chuckle caught my attention, familiar in its tenor, immediately bringing forth a feeling of comfort and warmth within me. Things that had been missing from my existence for far too long. My feet moved of their own accord, every ounce of my attention completely focused on the possibility in the room ahead - the hope that he'd be there dragging me forward; the fear that he wouldn't slowing me down.

The discreet sign to the side of the doorway notified passersby of the private, high-stakes poker game going on inside. One of the double doors was open, light spilling onto the starburst pattern under my feet as I leaned to look inside. Four well-dressed men sat around a gaming table, cards in hand, serious expressions in place. Multi-colored chips were stacked in front of each of them, the largest pile belonging to the only man who mattered.

Jasper Whitlock...no longer Hale or Cullen... sat at a slight angle to me, straddling the front corner of his seat, one long leg stretched slightly to the side. His head was angled just so, keeping the tabletop and the other players in his sight-line, giving me the perfect view of his long neck and sharp jawline, his silvery scars peeking over his starched collar. I watched as he tapped his fingers against the tabletop, the dealer sliding two cards his way. He offered no reaction to his changing hand, not a twitch or a tell. The epitome of discipline.

He gave no indication that he'd heard me, that he had any idea I was there even though I knew he had to sense me. His indifference to my proximity, while surprising and somewhat hurtful, gave me an extra moment to look him over. He wore a black tuxedo, though he'd abandoned the jacket and tie at some point. His top two shirt buttons were open, his sleeves rolled up, the fabric only slightly rumpled. Deliberately casual, unfailingly confident and completely in control.

The exact opposite of the last time I saw him.

The memory of the night he'd let go of that control - the one time in almost a century he'd disobeyed the logic that normally ruled his existence, and simply submitted to the emotions of the moment - made my breath hitch and my eyes sting with excess venom. I began to wonder if everything I remembered from that night - the unwavering passion, the whispered words of devotion, the promises and pleas - was somehow wrong...if what I thought of as a potential for forever had only been meant to last those few hours before we ripped ourselves to pieces.

Seconds...minutes...hours ticked by as I watched him play his hand, his eyes never leaving the game, his attention never wavering. Pain and hopelessness bubbled up inside me, smothering what little relief I had experienced since realizing the hell I'd been living was finally over.

Since watching Edward and Maggie exchange their vows of forever.

Before I could drown in the deluge of lost time and regret over impossible decisions, a foreign sense of calm crept over me. A soft growl vibrated through my chest as I took a step back, the unnatural emotion making me uneasy. Before I could take a second step in retreat, the calm shifted, grew stronger. A new emotional climate washed over me, swirled around me, wrapped me in a blanket of warmth I'd never felt before. I recognized it for what it was, though, knew it was Jasper telling me what I needed to know without words. The threads of the individual emotions weaved together, forming a strong, thick rope of feeling, pulling my soul where it needed to be.

Hope...longing...desire...loneliness...relief...an xiety...need. But the biggest one, the thickest and strongest strand in the rope, was the overwhelming feeling of love being sent my way. Jasper's love for me - beautiful, strong, and endless in its intensity.

"Winner," the dealer barked, making me jump back once more. As the men began to grumble and exchange quiet words once again, Jasper's head snapped up, his amber eyes meeting mine...and I was lost. Drowning in memories, reliving a pain that had never ebbed, I focused on the feelings coursing through me, communicating to him all I needed to. How much I had missed him...how much I wanted him...how much I had loved him every day we'd been forced apart.

A lazy grin spread across his handsome face, plush lips giving way to pristine white teeth as I took a step closer. He pushed away from the table, whispering to the dealer, never looking away from me. I began to purr as his scent washed over me - strong and masculine with a touch of spice. My smile grew as he came closer, his long, hard body gliding effortlessly across the room, his hips shifting with each step. Everything about him spoke to the aura of masculinity he radiated. He moved with the power of a leader, like a man who knew exactly what he wanted. Like strength and confidence and sex. He moved like sex.

As he finally reached me, as he ran his finger down my arm, his skin meeting mine for the first time in what seemed like forever, I sighed and leaned into him. There were no words needed, no platitudes or apologies required. We spoke with our emotions, eyes locked, lips curving in matching smiles. We both knew how this would end...or perhaps it would be better said how this would begin.

Because six years was a long time to deny your mate.

Vegas...where men can very convincingly be women, prostitutes can be really nice while buying you drinks, and you can get a fried Twinkie at 3am. Not that I have personal experience with any of that.