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I Live banner by GeezerWench / Rickie Bansbach

Chapter 1: I Flee

 

*Bella*

 

The key?  Snap decisions and speed!

 

Now, if only my truck would cooperate.

 

In the speed-challenged old iron behemoth, Bella attempted to race away from Newton's Outfitters as quickly as she could to reach La Push. Of course, race was a relative term, considering the age of the faded old beast. It was a tank, and it moved like one, but she loved it anyway.

 

She'd been scheduled to work until mid-afternoon, but right after she arrived, Mrs. Newton had said Bella wasn't needed.

 

Of course.

 

What was I supposed to do now?

 

Working at Newton's was as good a way as any to pass the time until Edward came home from his hunting trip. It was better than sitting around the Cullens' house, waiting for Alice to get her claws on her.

 

I mean ... make-up brushes.

 

On her way back out of the sporting goods store, Mrs. Newton had asked if Bella would take a stack of flyers that had been taking up room on the front counter out to the recycle bin. The flyers were printed on glowing neon sheets of paper with bold black letters proclaiming, "Save the Olympic Wolf." A woodcut illustration of a wolf howling mournfully at the moon made Bella think of her friend Jake and how much she missed him. She decided right then and there to ignore Edward's irrational demands and go see him. She flew to the truck, threw the stack of flyers into the cab, and scrambled in.

 

That was how you got around Alice's visions! Snap decisions and speed! She'd made the decision. The rest was up to the truck.

 

Naturally, it was raining; it was Forks. But that didn't make her apply her customary caution, or "Drive like a little ol' blue-haired grandma," as Jake usually said. She had to hurry to reach the invisible, but not-so-imaginary, boundary line between the vampires and the werewolves before Alice could catch and stop her.

 

Drag her back and torture her.

 

She sighed.

 

Edward had gone hunting with Carlisle and his adopted brothers for their Guys' Weekend, leaving Alice in charge to babysit.

 

Babysit me! Argh!

 

Bella thumped the steering wheel with her fist in frustration.

 

Edward's stifling over-protectiveness had really been getting on her nerves. And to forbid her to see Jake? Forbid her?

 

Just because Jake was a potentially lethal young werewolf, it didn't mean he wasn't her friend anymore. Jake had been there for her when Edward dumped her eight months before. He'd been her best and closest friend.

 

Edward had tossed her aside-leaving her alone in the forest behind her father's little white house-after cautioning her against ever going into the forest by herself. She had been informed she wasn't good for him, and he didn't want her. He had become tired of pretending to be something he wasn't.

 

He couldn't have been more clear.

 

All that after he'd promised he would never leave.

 

When Edward left, ripping his entire family away, Jacob was the one who had put all of Bella's shattered pieces back together-except for the few shards that had still been missing. He had helped her so much. He hadn't abandoned her like the Cullens. She couldn't just abandon him and never see him again.

 

It wasn't just Jacob. She wasn't sure why she hadn't noticed sooner. Bella had never been a social butterfly, but had she seen anyone without Edward or Alice lurking nearby?

 

Bella missed Angela, and they hadn't had a Girl's Night in ages. With Edward and Alice always hovering, the weak little humans were too intimidated to even ask.

 

What she once thought of as attentive had become so controlling.

 

Edward just didn't understand. He wouldn't listen.

 

It seemed he never listened to anything she tried to tell him.

 

Then to practically hold her prisoner!

 

The steering wheel took the brunt of her anger again.

 

Since Bella had been scheduled to work and should have been safe there, Alice had stopped by the house to let Bella know she had decided to go hunting. She said she wouldn't be far away while Bella was at work and not to try "anything funny."  

 

Bella was surprised Alice hadn't camped out in the woods behind the store to guard her.

 

Cue another eye roll.

 

Alice's plans included a "sleep-over" for later that night, even though none of them ever slept, and Bella just knew it would be another stimulating night of "Bella: Fashionista Wonderklutz." Why did she continue to let Alice dress her in those ... those clothes? One skirt probably cost more than what she made at Newton's in two months!

 

Okay ... six months.

 

Maybe Bella could get her a My Size Barbie for Christmas. They were nearly the same size. They could trade outfits.

 

Let's not forget the ever-popular paint by numbers.

 

On my face.

 

Well, it seemed to make her happy. Alice couldn't remember anything of her human life before she was changed into a vampire. She got to play human vicariously through Bella.

 

It was all a ploy so Alice could keep Bella within reach and protected while Edward was away. Sometimes Bella thought Edward did it more for Alice's benefit because they both knew she didn't like it.

 

So why did she keep doing it? What's happened to her? Why did she allow it? Was it because she had always taken care of her mother? Renee was like a butterfly, flitting from one hobby to the next; never settling for very long in any one place. Bella was the one that always made sure the bills were paid on time and there were groceries in the fridge.

 

Sometimes she was surprised Renee had been able to keep her job as a kindergarten teacher for so long. But that was one part of her life she had always appeared to be on top of. It seemed keeping the little ones interested and enthused was her gift. In many ways, she was so like them, and they loved her.

 

Had Bella given in to Edward and Alice because a part of her wanted to be taken care of? It had become so oppressive. And she had let them!

 

Bella wasn't even really sure how it had all happened. It snowballed until she had no control over her own life at all.

 

All for her "safety and protection," Edward had said.

 

Protection? From Jake? Jake would never hurt her.

 

The last time she had tried to see Jake, she'd taken too long to decide, and Alice had ratted her out. Edward then had time to run back from his hunt and remove some part from the engine of Bella's truck so it wouldn't start.

 

She had been so angry; she practically had steam coming out of her ears.

 

It was right after that when Edward clamped down even more for her safety. He and Alice followed her everywhere. If one wasn't around, the other was. Bella was only allowed to see certain people and had to stay away from others.

 

She wasn't permitted to go to La Push because Edward's family couldn't cross the line into the wolves' territory without starting a war with them. But who said they had to go with her? Had they been invited?

 

It was a wonder they didn't follow her into any bathroom that had a window to prevent her escape.

 

She could almost understand their problem with Jacob, his being a werewolf and their mortal enemy and all, but they had even kept Jasper away from her and he was one of them! Well, he had tried to take a bite out of her on her last birthday, but she had never blamed him for that. She'd cut her finger and started to bleed.

 

Everything would have been all right. Even though Jasper's eyes had turned black, it would have been okay. She'd seen him hold his breath and take a step back. She wasn't sure why, but then Edward had growled and thrown her into the table with the cake and glass plates.

 

Nothing shattered quite like lead crystal and quite a few of those razor-sharp slivers had been embedded in her arm.

 

It led to nice fresh blood pouring out of her. That was when six other vampires' pretty golden eyes turned to black. Jasper was an empath in a room full of vampires who had instantly craved dinner. He'd been bombarded with it from every side.

 

Bella wasn't really surprised when he snarled and pounced.

 

As fast as Jasper was, Carlisle had him, but he broke away. Emmett managed to grab him, and then it took both he and Rosalie to drag him away.

 

Bella had forgiven him immediately because it hadn't been his fault! She never blamed him, and Edward knew that!

 

In fact, if anyone had given it a moment's thought, it was Edward's fault for over-reacting.

 

Again.

 

If he hadn't thrown her into that table ...

 

It was infuriating!

 

So why had he shoved her away like that?

 

Bella pleaded with the truck to go faster. Alice had probably seen the decision and called Edward by that time. Maybe he wouldn't get cell reception wherever they went.

 

She wished it would stop raining for a few minutes until she got to the Reservation.

 

She had to have been near the boundary line. They all knew exactly where it was, but that stretch of road looked all the same; pavement, gravel shoulder, and grey guard rail. Grassy embankment and forest. Green, green, green.

 

One would think they'd put some kind of sign or marker out there. Maybe roll a boulder over to the side of the road or something.

 

Distracted by her angry, racing thoughts, she stared out at the monotonous green, until something flashed across her narrowed field of view.

 

Bella jerked the wheel to the right. The tires dropped off the edge of the pavement and plowed through the gravel. She jammed her foot down on the brakes, but the road was wet and the truck started to slide to the side. It hit the guard rail and flipped right over.

 

The truck rolled down the embankment. Her jacket, backpack, and the neon-bright fliers, tumbled around the inside of the cab like the spin cycle on the washer.

 

The ancient seatbelt snapped, and she was launched from the seat, catching her legs on the steering wheel. When the truck bounced and rolled again, Bella was slammed into the passenger side door.

 

She thought it was odd that she didn't feel any pain. It should have hurt. A lot.

 

One moment she saw pines spinning in front of her, but with the next bounce of the truck, the windshield resembled an intricate mosaic. Tiny, clear glass squares, rectangles and octagons appeared.

 

All motion slowed. She'd seen that before. Considering her penchant for accidents and near death experiences, she'd experienced it all too often.

 

Bella watched, fascinated, as the center of the clear, flat safety glass mosaic buckled. When it exploded, pretty, glittering glass tiles flew in every direction.

 

So much for fifty year old safety glass. She was sure the pieces had hit her, but she hadn't felt it. She hadn't seen it either because her eyes snapped shut.

 

The truck bounced again. Her eyes popped open and she saw red.

 

Red?

 

The rusty-salty scent of it filled her nose. Blood. Her blood.

 

The pebbled, fractured glass that remained around the edge of the windshield was glazed in it. More was splattered across the dash board. How could there have been so much blood? Was there that much blood in a human body?

 

The world spun again; grey sky flipping to green grass, and Bella was hurled back toward the steering wheel. She struck it with the side of her chest and her useless arms flapped past her like flags in a storm.

 

Pain erupted through her entire body and a scream was torn from her throat. The battered truck flipped again and slammed into something solid. She was flung back to the passenger side, her body crunching against the door.

 

The window shattered as the door and the corner of the roof caved in around a broad tree trunk.

 

The truck shuddered and began to tip slowly toward the left. Through the broken window, Bella saw the world tilt again. The truck creaked and groaned as it fell away from the trees and dropped heavily to its tires.

 

Her body flopped across the bench seat, her head landing in the driver's seat. Blood dripped from the steering wheel. Broken glass, caught in all the sticky crimson, dotted the dashboard like sugar crystals on a cake.

 

Through the gaping hole where the windshield used to be, Bella saw trees to the right and sky to the left.

 

She felt what she thought was more blood trickling across her forehead.

.

-oOoOo-

.

 

Bella awoke to pounding agony and searing heat spreading across her neck and chest.

 

She was reasonably sure she had opened her eyes, but everything was black.

 

Heat? Was there a fire?

 

The gasoline fumes were heavy in the air. She knew she had to get out of there and get to a phone.

 

Why hadn't she ever gotten a cell phone?

 

She tried to move her arms and, impossibly, even more pain shot through her. Nausea twisted her stomach and she just knew she was going to throw up.

.

-oOoOo-

.

 

If she had vomited, she missed it because she must have passed out again.

 

Why did I wake up?

 

She thought her eyes were open again.  At least light and dark grey out-of-focus blobs were an improvement over nothingness.

 

There was a hammering, screaming pain in her head and burning in her neck. There must have been a fire!

 

Was that rain?

 

Would the rain put out the fire?

 

A darker grey, human-shaped shadow loomed above her. Was it a man?

 

"I will help you, Bella."

 

Oh, thank God!

 

She was so grateful, but there was too much blood, and it hurt so bad. Her gratitude descended into hopelessness. She knew he was too late to save her from the fire.

 

With that thought, the flames rose up and closed over her, enclosing her in a hissing, scorching cocoon. She sank into its blistering threads.

.

-oOoOo-

.

 

The pain was jarring, jolting-a snapping, crackling whip cutting through and laying open her flesh. At each blazing slice, Bella twitched and flinched. Her skin was sizzling, her nerves were frying.

 

But when she heard his voice, it all receded, sliding almost into the background.

 

"Remember Bella."

 

Bella?

 

Her name was Bella!

 

He said she had to remember her mother.

 

She remembered a woman with blonde hair.

 

Mom. 

 

Mom had blond hair and blue eyes.

 

Remember her father? Who ...?

 

He had brown hair and eyes. She knew she had her father's eyes.

 

Charlie. 

 

Where was Charlie?

 

He said to remember Charlie and Renee.

 

Where were they? Who was taking care of Charlie? Was he at home?

 

Home was a little, white, two-story house, and her room was there.

 

She parked her truck out in the street in front of the house.

 

The truck! It was red. Rusty red. Orange and red like...

 

Like Arizona? Florida? Not Florida. Florida was hot and wet and Renee was there.

 

Renee. Her goofy, happy mother with blue eyes. And Phil. He played baseball, and he was with Renee in Florida.

 

Not Arizona? Bella had lived in Arizona. She had been there before she moved to ... Forks?

 

Arizona was hot and dry with burning sun and hot, hot, hot and red eyes, and burning and pain. Red eyes like glowing hot coals and ...

 

She dropped into the red-hot coals.

.

-oOoOo-

.

 

What did he say?

 

Forks High.

 

She was a senior and was going to graduate with ...

 

 With ... someone.

 

Edward and Alice! Ben, Angela, and Jessica, and Mike and...

 

She had worked at Newton's Outfitters with Mike Newton. Edward hadn't wanted her to work there, but she had anyway.

 

Edward with gold eyes. Alice had gold eyes.

 

They were ... vampires?

 

They'd all had golden eyes. Emmett. Carlisle and Esme. Rosalie and Jasper. Sometimes their eyes were black. Bella remembered Jasper's black eyes. He was leaping ...

 

... Leaping at her because she had been bleeding! But it wasn't his fault! They all had black eyes then. She remembered Jasper's black eyes, and she wasn't afraid. But then ...

 

Edward had left. He took her into the green, wet forest and left her there. She wasn't good enough for him.  He didn't want her. They all left her and she was so alone. But then Jake helped. Warm Jake-hot like the sun. Blazing hot like the sun.

 

Raging heat flared up and rippled around her. There were white-hot ribbons coiling around every cell, every organ; curling and twisting around her legs, her arms, her hands ...

 

A cool touch on her hand.

 

Someonewas holding her hand.

 

It wasn't burned to ash and gone?

 

"I will help you, Bella."

 

He was holding her hand. He was cool and smelled like leather and ...

 

Leather. Like when Renee made her go horseback riding, and she couldn't even throw her leg over to mount. The instructor had helped by pushing her leg over the saddle.

 

He was helping her. He was holding her hand and talking to her. She needed for him to keep talking.

 

Edward had needed her once. Bella and Alice had helped him. Or was it that Alice needed Bella to help her save Edward? To keep Edward out of the sun in Volterra so they wouldn't kill him. The Volturi vampires had red eyes. Red, blazing eyes ...

 

Help me fight the fire!

 

 He was helping her fight the flames with his cool touch.

 

Then she had been alone and couldn't fight the vampires by herself.

 

How could I?

 

Edward had left her to fight the vampires alone. Jake helped. Jake, the ...

 

Werewolf?

 

The wolves had caught the vampire with the black hair. They chased the other one with the red hair. But she kept coming back. She had hair like red flames ...

 

You left me, Edward! You left me!

 

She had loved him and he left her to face the red-eyed vampires alone-because she hadn't been enough for him. He hadn't cared if the vampires came back.

 

But Edward had come back, and said he loved her, but did he? Bella hadn't been good enough and Edward came back and tried to force her into a mold of his design. For her own good, he'd said.

 

Or to make her good enough for him?

 

He broke the truck so she couldn't see Jake, and he followed and hovered and clung, and told her where she could go and who she could see. He made Alice her babysitter. She watched, and followed, and kept her from ...

 

Edward had lied and Alice helped him. He had bribed Alice to assist him! Bella had been so so mad. She was furious!

 

I am furious.

 

A blade of hot fury pierced her chest, cracking it open.

 

A cool hand on her arm pushed back the fury, the anger, and the fire.

 

It was him. He was the one that found her. He smelled like leather and ... there was a spice ... but she couldn't remember what it was.

 

He was helping her fight the fire, and though she wanted to give up, she would fight it for him.

 

What did he say?

 

Who did this? What happened? Bella didn't remember, but she had to try-for him. He was helping to push the flames away, so she fought with everything she had.

 

She remembered battling against Edward and Alice. Bella had been at Newton's and fought to leave before they could see and stop her from visiting Jake again.

 

Edward had no right to keep her from Jacob.

 

She'd left Newton's and drove to the Reservation.

 

She had been driving her truck through the rain as fast as she could make it go. She had almost made it to the boundary line.

 

That stupid line between the vampires and the wolves.

 

Something ran across the road and she swerved so she wouldn't hit it.

 

Something ... across the road ...

 

She hadn't hit whatever it was, but the truck slid off the pavement and rolled down the bank. The seatbelt ripped.  Her legs caught on the steering wheel and they snapped. Just like when red-eyed James broke her leg.

 

The nomad vampires-James, Victoria and Laurent. James had decided to hunt Bella when Edward tried to protect her. Edward couldn't catch James, so Jasper and Alice took her to Phoenix.

 

James had gone to Phoenix and tricked Bella into thinking he had her mother. He lured her to the old ballet studio where she had taken lessons as a small child.

 

But Renee wasn't there-only James.

 

The pepper spray Charlie had given her hadn't worked.

 

He easily caught her and threw her into the mirrored wall. He stomped on her leg and broke it just before he bit her arm. The venom was like acid. It was burning ...

 

Jasper and Emmett killed James ...

 

Edward had sucked out the venom so Bella wouldn't change into a vampire like him. She should have realized then he had never really wanted her-had lied when he said he wanted her forever.

 

Jasper had urged them to go after the red-haired vampire, Victoria. But Edward said no. Edward always said no.

 

The truck had rolled and pain had exploded in her head and chest, arms and legs, and there was blood everywhere.  So much more blood than in Phoenix.

 

Her beloved tank of a truck hadn't saved her.

 

 It must have caught fire because she woke up and was burning.

 

Then the cool rain.

 

Wasn't it always raining in Forks? Why hadn't the rain put out the fire?

 

Then he was there.

 

He said he would help, but why didn't he put out the fire? Maybe he couldn't, but he helped her fight it.

 

The fire was searing acid like the venom ...

 

... Like the venom from a vampire.

 

Bella's heart had begun hammering against inside her chest, every beat another blast of agony.  Was it venom? That ... that fire ... that ... torture she had been struggling against ... that he had been helping her to fight. Was it venom? Was she changing into a vampire?  Or was she going to die?

 

He was still with her. She felt his hands around hers.

 

"It's nearly over, Darlin'. I'm here. It's almost over. I'm here."

 

He stayed. He didn't leave her. He stayed through the fire and ...

 

The fire stopped. The burning stopped.

 

Bella's heart stopped.

 

-oOoOo- -oOoOo- -oOoOo-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2, I Run

 

*Jasper*

 

 

He ran.

 

He was running as if his life—no, as if her life—depended on it. He wasn’t near enough to the house yet for Edward to hear his mental shouts, if he was even there, and so he ran faster.

 

They absolutely could not be seen.

 

 Jasper desperately clutched Bella’s shattered, bleeding body to his own and ran.

 

“Bella, I will take care of you,” he vowed to her.

 

He’d seen that level of devastation inflicted on a human body before, and they didn’t survive.  Jasper himself had inflicted such devastation. They either became the next meal that would sustain the rest of them, or a few would join as soldiers in the Southern Vampire Wars. In either case, no human had survived.

 

Bella had to survive.

 

He ran, leaping over rocks and fallen logs. Dodging trees. He ran.

 

The blood!

 

Her life’s blood had been everywhere and on everything and not one surface inside the cab of that truck had been left untouched. It was like someone had taken a can of crimson paint, shot it with a 12 gauge and then threw it, slammed it, splashed it over every square inch inside that truck. Then, just for shits and giggles, tossed Bella in and threw and slammed and kicked it down the embankment and into those trees.

 

That damn truck looked like it had imploded. How had she not been thrown clear?

 

How was he not going bat shit crazy with blood lust? Because he couldn’t do that to her.

 

“I know it hurts, Bella. I know, but I will help you.”

 

He just ran. He was running so fast, the light rain was beating against them. He couldn’t do anything about it, so it didn’t matter. It was splashing against, and running across and down and around their bodies, causing Bella’s blood to smear further across his face, and down his neck and arms. It didn’t matter. He felt the bloody rain soaking into his clothes, drenching his skin. Even his feet were getting wet inside his hiking boots. With blood or rain or gasoline? It didn’t matter. He didn’t give a shit.

 

He forced his senses as far out as they could go. He saw and heard no one. He felt no one.

 

No one but Bella.

 

Her emotions—terror, fear, sorrow, pain, anxiety, longing, and more pain—seeped into him and drenched him like the cool rain and her warm blood .

 

“Bella, I’m here. I’m here, Bella. I won’t leave you. I’m here.”

 

His enhanced sense of smell did him no damn good. All he could smell was the gasoline and her blood.

 

Blood and gasoline.

 

Behind them, moving farther and farther away, a dense black cloud of oily smoke rolled and coiled through the dark grey rainy day. The stinging, bitter odor of the plastics and vinyl, old chipped paint and tires, and all those papers burning away should cover his scent. Bella’s scent.

 

The scent of the fucking vampire that had gotten there before he did.

 

Rage flooded him and Bella whimpered. It was the first sound she had made since he’d gathered up her broken body to carry her away from the scene of the crash.

 

“Bella, I will protect you.”

 

He fought back the rage. Rage at some other vampire who had gotten there first and who had bitten her!

 

He bit her and left her?

 

Burying it all, he forced out calm and relief. Relief that she had not been taken. Relief he had found her still alive.

 

“Bella, I’ve got you. I’m here. I’ll take care of you.”

 

Bella, Bella, Bella! It was the middle of the day! Did she know how difficult it was to cover up something like that in the middle of the day!?!

 

The rain was a curse and a blessing. If only it would help ease the fire of the change. He remembered the burn. Nothing eased that.

 

The rain would dilute, possibly wash away, Jasper’s scent from the scene of the crash. It would help to cover their trail; the faint one left as he carried Bella away.

 

It pissed him off that it would also dilute the scent of that other goddamned vampire.

 

Jasper wanted to find him. He needed to find that son of a bitch.

 

He ran.

 

He’d been hunting. It was unknown why he’d gone in the direction of the Quileute Reservation instead of with Alice, but he had. She had never wanted him too close to her when she hunted anyway.

 

He was supposed to go with Edward, Emmett and Carlisle, but Edward had been … annoying, nearly as badly as he’d been annoying Bella, so Jasper stayed back with Alice. She’d gone north; he’d gone west.  After taking down a deer, he caught and had just finished up with a bobcat, when he heard the crash.

 

Of course, he was curious. At the very least, he could call 9-1-1 and disappear into the trees again.

 

He ran in the direction of the crash, and when he saw what was left of Bella’s truck he froze, his mind going blank.

 

Bella couldn’t have been there. Wasn’t she supposed to be at work? How could her truck be there?

 

He didn’t feel anyone in the truck. Edward had never been able to read Bella’s mind, but he had always been able to feel her emotions. Such strong emotions had come from that girl! If she had been driving the truck, was she …?

 

He flew to her truck and saw the blood; it was everywhere. The scent of it caused a slight burn of thirst in his throat, but then he saw Bella covered in it. Even her long brown hair was stained dark red.

 

Why didn’t he feel her? The only thought in his mind was, “She can’t be dead!”

 

She was alive! A faint heartbeat. She was breathing. Barely, but she was breathing. She was unconscious.

 

How the hell had she lived through that? Her truck sure as hell didn’t.

 

Thank Christ she was still alive.

 

Because of the nearly overwhelming scent of her blood and the gasoline fumes, he hadn’t even realized that another vampire had been there before him. He’d seen her and knew she wasn’t going to live through it. He hadn’t thought she would survive until an ambulance arrived.

 

As Jasper began to pull her from the twisted, crumpled mass of metal and broken glass, he tried to decide if he was strong enough to change her without draining the last of any blood that might be left in her body. It was what she had wanted. He never did understand how Edward could refuse her.

 

Then he saw the bite on her neck.

 

He was stunned into complete stillness for the second time in less than five minutes.

 

That shit just didn’t happen.

 

It never even entered his mind that another vampire had been there. If he hadn’t seen the bite, would he have known?

 

He shook his head to clear it. He had to think! Had to fix it. Get her out of there and cover up the crash.

 

Suck it up, soldier! You gotta take care of this!

 

At that point, he could just make out the indistinct scent of another vampire. Believing it was a male, he couldn’t detect enough of his scent to tell if he had ever run across him before or not.

 

Some fucking male had been there. Because of the rain, and the blood, and the gasoline, he had almost missed it.

 

I almost fucking missed it!

 

Scanning the area, he decided on a likely spot where Bella’s body would have landed if she had been thrown from the truck. He placed her gently on the ground, hidden just inside the line of trees. Her pain ripped through him as he laid her down, and he nearly dropped to the ground beside her. She must have regained consciousness, because her pain and fear pierced his skull. He slapped his hands to either side of his head.

 

He gritted his teeth and forced himself to stand up. She was starting the change, of course! Along with all of her broken bones, the trauma to her head and face, and every part of her body, there was the burn of the venom! If there wasn’t enough venom in her, it would last even longer. The longest he’d ever seen was seven days. Seven days of utter misery, torment, and burning hell.

 

Whoever that bastard was, he hadn’t had time to get much venom into her before Jasper showed up.

 

Dread of her having to endure this fiery hell for that length of time convinced him.

 

He dropped to his knees beside her. “I will help you, Bella,” he murmured, breathing across her ear.

 

Kneeling on the wet ground next to her left side, he bent over her, bracing his left hand on the ground just past her shoulder. He carefully placed his other hand against the left side of her face and neck. The venom welled up in his mouth as he leaned across her body and positioned his teeth over the existing marks at her jugular. His teeth sliced through her yielding skin and her blood flooded his mouth. It was … ambrosial. Manna from Heaven. Human blood had always been so much more satisfying than animal blood, temporarily quenching that insatiable craving until the burning thirst built up again and …

 

But Bella’s blood! The scent, the taste was intoxicating. Her blood filled his mouth, coated his tongue, and he moaned with desire, hunger … the need to take more. It had been so long!

 

If she was his Singer, how had Edward resisted?

 

An errant gloating thought rippled through his mind. Jasper had tasted the pure essence of Bella that had enticed, seduced, enthralled, Edward so completely. Jasper had this from her, and he never would.

 

He swallowed that mouthful and pulled his lips from her throat. Groaning, his entire body shuddered in blissful pleasure.

 

Despite the exhilarating euphoria of the taste of her blood, the realization that he wanted her in his life more than he wanted her blood broke through the haze and resonated through his entire being.

 

Determined, he bent to her throat again and forced his venom into her artery. He pushed in more, and then licked over the bite, sealing it in. His venom was filling her veins. It was going to be his venom inside her.

 

Perversely, the … intimacy of the act didn’t escape him.

 

I will take care of you, Bella.”

 

He bent to bite each of her wrists, afraid to lift her arms and move the shattered bones.

 

Turning to each ankle, he saw that one was swelling and purple.  He bit down and forced in even more venom. Sealing the bites, he sat back on his heels.

 

“Bella, I will not leave you.”

 

He considered her femoral arteries, but dismissed that thought immediately. He’d have to rip through her jeans to reach them.

 

There was no time!

 

He raced back to her truck.

 

Jasper found a blood soaked jacket (what wasn’t soaked in her blood?) and her backpack. Flinging the backpack toward her, the contents spilled out and scattered along the ground.

 

Her wallet! Her license and school ID should be in there. Good.

 

He took her jacket and shredded it with his teeth and nails. He dragged it along the ground from her truck back toward her, leaving a trail of blood, and dropped it nearby. Pulling off her shoes, he tossed one toward her truck and threw one farther into the forest.

 

Hikers and campers had reported seeing giant bears in the area. Some had disappeared.

 

Jasper knew the giant bears were those damn werewolves from the Quileute Reservation, and Bella couldn’t have crashed any closer to the border line if she tried. Those damn wolves and their fucking treaty! Well, if she was going to wreck her damn truck, at least she did it on the correct side of the line.

 

She must have been on her way to La Push to see Jacob Black and those goddamn wolves. Jasper knew Edward wouldn’t have permitted that. He had been presiding over and controlling every facet of her life the past few months. Was she defying the almighty golden child Edward?

 

Damn!

 

It was Jasper’s hope that whoever came upon the scene would think Bella had been thrown from the truck and then dragged away by one of those giant bears.

 

They were running out of time! Jasper couldn’t believe no one had driven by yet and seen the fresh skid marks on the road. One of the wolves could have been there at any moment.

 

Alice hadn’t seen that? Why hadn’t she seen Bella’s decision to go to La Push?

 

He ran back to Bella’s truck. It wasn’t easy, but he set it on fire with his lighter, using some of those neon colored papers that were strewn around inside.

 

My trusty Zippo. Like they say: there ain’t much that some gasoline and a little flame won’t fix.

 

What the hell was she doing with all those papers? Flyers? Save the Olympic Wolf? That was fucking ironic.

 

The gasoline helped. It had been leaking from the tank and dripping from the engine. It was splashed everywhere.

 

He leapt away from the blaze.

 

Shit! A car! The trees should hide us.

 

He darted back to Bella. Her pain was increasing. Her terror was growing.

 

Sometimes being an empath really sucked, but he couldn’t stop, sit on his ass, and whine about it. He had to get away from there.  He shrugged off his jacket and laid it beside her. The only way he could think of to carry her and keep her as immobile as possible was to try and curl her into a fetal position and wrap the jacket around her.

 

“Bella, I know it hurts. I’ll take care of you. I’m right here.”

 

Her agony was pounding into him. He fought it, pushing lethargy and reassurance at her.

 

“Bella, I’ve got you. I’ve got you. I’m right here.”

 

Sirens in the distance.

 

That old piece of shit truck was fully engulfed in flames. The fire was even spreading into the wet grass and leaves by the trees. Those pine trees were really going to light up.

 

He gathered up her curled, bloodied, battered body, tucking her head under the left side of his jaw, and cradled her to chest.

 

Then he ran.

 

-o0o0o- -o0o0o- -o0o0o-

Chapter Text

Chapter 3, I Explain

Jasper's POV

 

"Bella, I'm right here. I'll stay with you. I'm right here."

Amazingly, she had barely made a sound as I ran through the forest. I didn't recall anyone else going through this excruciating change and not screaming, and fighting, and clawing to try and get away from it.

I knew I was within Edward's range now, if he was home from hunting with Emmett and Carlisle.

Edward! Edward! Get Carlisle! I'm running in. Bring Carlisle!

"Bella, I will help you. I'm right here."

Edward! Bring Carlisle! I've got Bella. She's been hurt. Bring Carlisle! I've got Bella!

"Bella, we're almost there. I got you. I'm right here."

I could feel their emotions before I could hear them running through the forest. Panic, relief, fear, possessiveness, concern, more panic. Apprehension and protectiveness.

They had brought Emmett.

When I heard them running toward me, I stopped in a small clearing and waited for them to come to me. Edward would be distressed, but how would he react to all the blood? She was his Singer. Her blood called to him like no other. His control had always been admirable; he was nearly as controlled as Carlisle. But there had always been an undercurrent of fear. Had he feared losing control and draining her? Had he feared losing her or losing the blood?

Tickling in the back of my brain, I was still surprised at my own reaction to her and her blood. There had been that slight burn of thirst in my throat, but after I realized some other male vampire had been there, that burn was gone.

And then, that mouthful of her blood…I shuddered in bliss at just the memory of the taste of it.

There they were. Edward, being faster than Emmett and Carlisle, was the first to burst through the leafy cover. He spotted us in that small clearing and skidded to a stop about fifteen feet away. He froze.

Alarm, shock, disbelief, and horror registered as he took a step toward us, his arms reaching out toward Bella. That's when the scent of her blood reached him. The look of shock on his face twisted, and a snarl ripped from his throat. He dropped into a crouch to spring.

There wasn't anything I could do. I couldn't drop her and tackle Edward. Carrying her broken body, I couldn't run fast enough to get away from him and his blood lust. I had to protect her!

"Emmett! Grab Edward!" I shouted and then, with every bit of strength I could muster, I shoved fear, terror, and panic at him.

"So much blood!" he roared. His hands clenched into fists, his arms jerked up, he stiffened, and dropped to his knees.

That dose should have laid him out.

Emmett shot like a bullet from between the trees and tackled Edward to the ground, shoving him into the leaves and mud. I shut off the emotions I was sending to Edward so I wouldn't incapacitate Emmett.

Before Edward could recover from that emotional onslaught, Emmett wrapped his arms around Edward, pinning down his arms, and flipping onto his back. He then wrapped his legs around Edward's and clamped down. If he wasn't so dangerous to Bella right now, the look of astonishment on Edward's face would have been funny. Emmett rarely got the drop on him.

Carlisle burst through the trees and ran right to Bella and me. He turned to look at Edward, snarling and struggling in Emmett's tight grasp, and looked back at Bella.

He instantly understood what Edward's problem was.

"Emmett! Do you have him?"

"I got him, Carlisle," was Emmett's strained reply. "But send Rosie back here to help. I don't want to have to hurt him."

Edward continued to snarl and snap, fighting and twisting to break free and get to Bella.

I could feel the beginnings of anger from Bella. With all the pain she must be feeling, she was feeling angry? She groaned out loud.

"Bella! I've got you. I'll protect you. Carlisle will help you."

Carlisle snapped back to me. "Quickly, what happened?"

"She crashed in her truck near the werewolves' treaty line. It flipped over the guard rail, rolled down the embankment, and hit the trees. Her seatbelt had broken. She has multiple broken bones, and cuts and lacerations. There must be internal bleeding. There was so much blood! I'm doing everything I can to lessen her pain and try to keep her calm. And she's changing."

Carlisle's startled golden eyes flashed to mine. "Come," he directed. "We'll take her to Edward's room since she's most familiar with it."

Carlisle turned and disappeared through the trees. I was right behind him. I kept my grip tight on Bella.

-oOoOo-

Carlisle ran into the house first, speaking urgently to warn the others. "Bella has been in an accident. She is bleeding profusely. Rosalie, Emmett needs you to help restrain Edward. Follow our scents back to them. Esme, Alice — Jasper has Bella. They are both covered with blood. I think you should both go outside. We're going to take Bella up to Edward's room."

I heard gasps of shock from Esme and Alice as they ran through the sliding glass doors and into the backyard.

Carlisle raced ahead of me up the stairs. He darted into his study to get his medical bag then continued on to Edward's room on the third floor. He stripped the golden comforter from the king sized bed, then he pulled loose the top sheet. He tossed them both toward the closet.

"Are you ready, Jasper? I know setting her down on the bed is going to cause her more pain. Can you handle it?"

"Yes."

"I'll help you set her down. Then I'll need to straighten out her limbs. I want to make sure her bones have aligned properly. Why did you wrap her like that?"

"It seemed the best way to get her here. There wasn't time to call one of you to come help."

"You did well, Jasper," Carlisle said as he nodded toward me. "You kept her as immobile as possible? Yes? Good. I'll get up on the bed. I'll put one hand on her back and one at the back of her thighs. You support her pelvis and her shoulders and we'll set her down on the bed together."

Carlisle jumped onto Edward's bed and knelt down in front of me as I moved to the left side of the bed. He put one hand on her back and one beneath her thighs, and looked up at me.

I shot him a look of caution before speaking to Bella.

"Bella. I'm right here. Carlisle and I are going to set you on the bed. I have to put you down so he can examine you. It's going to hurt, but I'll help you. I'll be right here."

I closed my eyes, took in a deep breath and steeled myself against the increase in pain I was expecting to feel from her. I opened my eyes and silently nodded to Carlisle.

I eased her body away from my mine and felt her bloodied clothes sticking to me. They slowly peeled away as we lowered her to the bed. I lowered her pelvis first and slowly, cautiously, eased her shoulders down. It wasn't too bad yet. I felt her pain and distress begin to increase, but it wasn't too bad.

Carlisle removed his hands from under Bella. "I'm going to have to cut away your jacket. It's sticking to her."

Carlisle took scissors from his medical bag and proceeded to cut away my jacket, peeling the ruined material away from her.

"Jasper, I want you to move your arm from under her pelvis so I can try and straighten out her legs. Are you ready?"

"Yes."

I gingerly slid my arm out from under her.

Carlisle grasped each of her legs above her knees and started to push down to straighten them.

The pain! Sheer anguish and misery slammed into me and I jerked away, yanking my other arm from under her shoulders. I shot up straight and my hands flashed to my head, clenching at my hair. Oh God, the pain! Such pain! Burning, and fire, and throbbing agony.

I gasped and stumbled away from the bed. How could anyone stand this? How could anyone possibly live through this? How could Bella…?

Somehow I heard Carlisle calling my name. "Jasper, I'm going to straighten her arms now, and then I'll be finished. Can you hear me? It's almost over."

I groaned and nodded my head. I couldn't speak. I couldn't breathe to speak.

Molten hot swords pierced through my skull and forced me back.

And when I thought it couldn't get any fucking worse, it surged. It was a tidal wave of lava, and I was consumed. Oh my fucking God! I heard Bella's shrieks as I collapsed to the floor.

-oOoOo-

The fire ebbed and flowed. It came crashing in like a wave and then receded. When I counted the fourth time it flowed away, I grabbed hold of myself and opened my eyes. I was on the floor? I saw the foot of Edward's bed. Carlisle was bent over the left side. Tending to Bella?

"Fuck me to tears," I croaked. "Carlisle, how long?"

I struggled to sit up as he hurried over to me, relief radiating from him. He dropped to one knee in front of me, grabbed my shoulders and looked into my eyes.

"Are you injured?"

I had to think about it. "No. How long?"

"You were unconscious for half an hour."

"I wasn't unconscious exactly. It was the burn. It was her misery. I was surrounded by it. It was like I was going through the change again."

I pushed him away and quickly stood up. I went to Bella's side and studied her still form. "Someone needs to go back and do a bit of reconnaissance at the crash scene. Listen in, if anyone is still there. I'll send Emmett and Edward. I'm not leaving her."

Carlisle was taken aback for just a moment. "Yes, of course. You're right."

"Emmett, Edward," I called. I knew they would hear me.

"Yeah, Jazz?" Emmett answered from somewhere in the living room.

"I want you to go back to the crash scene on the one-ten near the treaty border. She wrecked on our side of the line. If anyone is still there, listen in to them. See what you can find out. You shouldn't have any trouble finding it. We have to hope they think Bella was thrown from the truck and then dragged away."

I felt a flash of annoyance from Edward. "Jasper! How dare you shout orders and expect us to…"

"Shut it, Edward!" I heard Rosalie hiss. "You know we need to contain this…this…disaster as much as we can. We have to find out what's going on."

I swear I could hear Edward's eyes rolling.

"I'm on it, Jasper. C'mon, Edward." I heard the front door close behind them as they left.

I looked to Carlisle. "What happened?"

Carlisle, startled, blinked and began, "When you dropped to the floor, she was shrieking and screaming. I straightened her arms and finished examining her as quickly as I could. She has quieted since then. She has barely moved. Jasper, I think you need a break. You need to get those clothes off and get a shower. Go outside for some air…"

I was shaking my head. "No. I told her I wouldn't leave her. I won't leave her. I've been through this before. First with my own change, and then through hundreds of others that I changed to be soldiers in Maria's army." It's just that none of those were quite as intense as this one.

I grabbed the chair from Edward's desk and placed it by the side of the bed near Bella's head and dropped into it.

I placed my hand over hers and I felt some relief come from her. Relief knotted up by the ever-present pain and misery.

I looked over my shoulder at Carlisle. "Tell me how you think she is." I turned back to Bella and let my eyes roam purposefully over every bloodied inch of her.

Carlisle studied me for a moment before he began to speak. I could feel his curiosity. "I straightened her legs and arms. Compound fractures in her left leg and left arm. The bones had pierced her skin. Her right ankle was broken. They are healing well. I believe her pelvis was broken along with her sternum and several ribs. They are healing. I believe she must have had severe internal injuries. She had a large gash in her forehead along with the lacerations from the broken glass. I think her jaw was also fractured. All those injuries are healing. I've removed the broken glass from her face, neck, chest and arms."

I looked up at him in alarm. I knew she was horribly injured but…

Jesus H. Christ! She broke everything but her goddamned neck!

"She is healing. You know how Esme died. She had similar injuries. Now you know we just need to wait."

"I know." I took Bella's hand in mine. "Thank you, Carlisle."

I concentrated on Bella, sending her calm, peace, and reassurance. I didn't know if it helped her at all, but I was hopeful.

Carlisle went to the other side of the bed to gaze down at Bella. "I'm going to let her rest for a while. As much as anyone can while going through this. There's been quite enough chaos. How long has it been since you found her?"

Again, I had to think before I answered. "It's been about two and a half hours now. I found her at about 9:30. When I found her I could see that she had swerved and hit the brakes, there were skid marks on the road. The truck rolled down the embankment and crashed into the trees. The truck was destroyed. I don't know why she wasn't thrown out. The seatbelt must have held at first and then broken when the truck was rolling."

I took in a deep breath before continuing. "At first I didn't know if she was there because I couldn't feel her. But then I saw her. I pulled her out of the truck. That's when I saw the bite on her neck. I had to stage the scene. I tried to make it look like she was thrown from the truck and something dragged her off. I heard a car drive by. Gasoline had been leaking from the truck. I set the truck on fire then wrapped Bella in my jacket. I heard sirens. I'm sure we were hidden in the trees. I carried her back here."

I knew I would have to tell them that I bit her to force more venom into her. If I didn't tell them, Edward would eventually hear it in my head. I just couldn't bring myself to confess that part yet.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4, I Confess

Jasper's POV

 

"How do you think she is, Carlisle?" I asked. I held her hand in both of mine as my venom burned through her veins and arteries, transforming her.

She hardly moved. She barely even twitched as the fire raced through her body. I remembered how it burned. Even though it had been over 140 years since I had been changed into a vampire, I remembered. It was my first clear memory of this existence.

Carlisle was bent over Bella as she lay in Edward's bed, gently touching her legs. To straighten her limbs, he had cut open her clothes, but he hadn't tried to remove them yet.

His hands moved delicately over each of her arms. From there, he lightly touched her forehead and moved his fingertips around the curve of her jaw and up around her skull.

He stood up slowly and wiped Bella's blood from his hands on a towel that he had brought in.

"It's been twelve hours since you found her and brought her here." Carlisle tossed the bloodied towel into a trash can then ran his hand through his pale yellow hair. He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. "As you know, there were multiple breaks in her legs and arms. Her pelvis was broken. Her rib cage was nearly crushed from the impact. Or impacts. I suppose it was fortunate that her seatbelt held initially before it broke, or the damage to her body would have been much worse."

Unfortunately, I could imagine more horrific damage to her body. I had seen worse. I shuddered at the thought, thankful it had not been worse.

Carlisle walked slowly toward the windows to look out into the rainy night and sighed again. "I don't know how she lived through the truck rolling down the bank. I don't know how she survived the impact with the trees."

He shook his head and turned toward me. I was still holding her hand, as I had been for the last twelve hours, trying to calm her and ease her pain. Reassure her. Physical contact helped me to affect emotions more strongly, but I also felt compelled to maintain physical contact with her.

"Jasper, I just don't know how she survived the crash! To still be alive for some vampire to bite her? Who was there? Who was it? How did he not drain her of the blood that was left in her body? As bloody as she is, as bloody as your clothes are…Since he bit her, why did he not take her?"

At that moment, I felt a wave of extreme anguish, grief, loss, and then guilt from downstairs. Edward. That asshole.

Of course, they could all hear us, and I knew they were all dismayed, saddened, shocked, and struggling with their own emotions, but I couldn't divert my attention away from Bella. I couldn't try and soothe Edward's regret and shame. His grief? His loss? She wasn't dead. Well, she wasn't gone from our lives.

I couldn't try to help any of them. I wouldn't. It was taking nearly all of my attention and focus to send soothing and calming thoughts to Bella and combat the agony I felt coming from her. I was unsure if I was having any effect on her, but I hoped that I was. She had not felt any terror in several hours.

I still couldn't understand why she wasn't screaming, struggling, writhing in pain. So far, it was unlike any change I had ever seen, and I had seen many. Far too many.

"But Carlisle, I heard the crash and ran toward it. I hadn't been that far away. Whoever it was didn't have much time before I got there." I stroked her still warm hand and trailed my fingers up her arm. "How do you think she is? How is she physically? Even though she's covered in blood, I can see that the cuts on her face have healed."

Carlisle, concerned and feeling a bit worried, shook his head slowly again and took a deep breath. "The bones in her legs and arms have healed. Her ribs and sternum have healed. She's breathing well. Her lungs don't sound congested any longer. Even with the immense pain she must be feeling, her heart sounds strong. I knew picking the broken glass out of her face, neck and arms would cause her even more pain, but I had to do it."

With Carlisle's brief description of her injuries and status, I was reminded again of my time in the Confederate Army. When relaying or reporting information, it had to be brief, yet complete. Even if much of the information was redundant.

As he came toward me, I felt pride emanating from him. He placed a hand on my shoulder. "Jasper, I am so proud of you. So proud, and grateful, that you found her and brought her back to us. She means so much to us all." Carlisle's warm feelings of paternal love, his concern for her, and his pride in me, helped me to comfort her.

I held Bella's right hand in my left and ran the fingertips of my right hand down her arm and across the back of her hand. I thought it was helping to soothe her.

"I had to. I couldn't feel her at first and thought she was dead, but then I could hear her heart beating. I could see the blood running down her face. At first, I didn't even realize she had been bitten. All I could smell was her blood, and the gasoline leaking out of her truck. When I started to pull her from the truck, that's when I noticed her neck. That's when I saw she had been bitten."

I had to stop then. The memory of it flooded my mind, and I almost lost control. My rage began bubbling up through my chest. I could see that bite clearly in my mind's eye. Whoever did that to her did not rip out her throat as if to feed from her. How easy would it have been for him to break her neck to prevent her from moving if she regained consciousness? How easy would it have been for him to carry her away to hide and finish draining her? She wasn't bitten to be drained; she had been bitten to be changed.

Why would someone do that and not take her?

I was so fucking glad he didn't take her.

Had I interrupted his plan? I had been there so quickly after the crash, perhaps he didn't have time to drag her out of the truck and take her.

Had he left the area, or had he stayed hidden nearby, watching me? I had been so stunned by the utter shock of the sight, by the scent of her blood. Then preoccupied with trying to ease her pain and set up the scene. I had been so consumed with the scent and taste of her blood, I never thought…

Was he planning to come back for her? Was it his intention to return after her transformation and take her from me? From us?

Fear constricted my heart, then pure fury blew that fear away.

No! No one would take her! She was…

Bella's hand tightening on my own snapped my attention back to her. She began pulling my hand toward her chest. Her other arm trembled and curled up, her hand folding into a tight fist. It was my fault she was becoming agitated, and I shut down that fear and fury, and shoved it away.

I forced myself to feel calm. I recalled the relief I felt when I realized she was still alive, and I let it flow from me and over her. I would not let Bella be subjected to my fear and anger. I had to maintain control of myself and help her through this.

"Bella, you're safe with us. It's okay. I'm here with you. It's okay."

Was I trying to reassure her or me?

"What happened, Jasper?"

"I was just thinking about her being bitten and left. I cannot comprehend it. I wonder if he did leave. I became angry thinking it's possible he could still be in the area."

"That is a concern. Any number of times, a nomad could pass through this area, and we wouldn't be aware of it." He patted my shoulder. "We all will have to remain alert. The whole situation is extremely perplexing."

Carlisle headed for the bedroom door but stopped and turned toward us. "But now I think, since all of her physical injuries are nearly completely healed, we should start cleaning her up. There was just so much blood, Esme, Alice, and Rosalie thought they'd better stay away. I think we can get her cleaned up enough that they can come up in a bit and put her in some fresh clothes."

I just nodded my head at him and continued to watch Bella as I heard him move quickly down the stairs. His paternal, loving feelings for her just seemed to strengthen as time went on.

Even covered in blood, I could see the physical changes taking place in her. She seemed less agitated now, though I could feel her suffering. Distress, defeat, longing, anger, some determination, and a bit of curiosity. Those emotions passed and the pain radiating from her nearly overwhelmed me again. She was fighting it. I knew she was. I had to help her fight it.

"Bella, I'm right here. I'm with you."

Carlisle returned with two large stainless steel mixing bowls from the kitchen and then went to retrieve several towels and washcloths. He filled each bowl with cool water in the bathroom just outside the door, carried them over and set them on the floor beside the king-sized bed.

He worked methodically and carefully. He started gently wiping the blood from her forehead and quickly worked his way around her face. I kept holding her hand, hoping the coolness of my skin would somehow comfort her.

It didn't take long before the water in both bowls was dark and cloudy with her blood, so I placed Bella's still warm hand by her side on the bed and took one bowl to the bathroom to empty and refill it with clean water.

"Jasper." I heard the urgency in Carlisle's voice. "She's becoming agitated again. It's not unexpected but…"

I gasped as I felt her panic beat into me. "She's panicking! Her emotions keep spinning from one to another, but now I feel panic." I hurried back and gave the bowl of fresh water to Carlisle and took hold of Bella's hand again.

"Bella, I'm here. I'm here. I came back. Don't panic. I'm here."

I gripped her hand with both of mine and bent over to touch my forehead to her wrist.

"I'm here. I'm with you. Don't be afraid, I'm right here."

I sat in the chair pulled close to the bed. Through the constant pain, I felt the panic begin to recede. I forced peace and calm at her, repeating over and over that I was there beside her.

"She's definitely aware of us. Earlier, when Edward started up the stairs and she became frantic, I couldn't tell if it was because of the burning. But she reacted to my anger, and just now, I felt her panic when you said she seemed agitated again. When I took hold of her hand, I felt her panic decrease. It's gone now." I inhaled a deep breath and slowly let it out.

Again, I felt curiosity and puzzlement from Carlisle as a small smile appeared on his face. "I had hoped she would become more aware of us. Along with her physical healing, this is a good sign. You stay here and I'll change the water in the other bowl."

-oOoOo-

With care and patience, Carlisle gradually worked his way down her arm and when he came to her wrist, his gentle movements stopped. I felt his surprise and glanced up at him.

"Jasper, there's another bite here. Though now it seems somewhat faded. I didn't notice it before." He placed her arm tenderly on the bed and reached for the hand I was holding. I reluctantly let go as he took hold of her arm and turned it over. "Here's another! What…?"

I dropped my head and closed my eyes, feeling shame well up from deep within because I hadn't told him sooner. I knew I would have to tell him, tell them all, but I just couldn't do it when I first brought her devastated, bleeding body back to the house. I couldn't bring myself to look into his concerned golden eyes.

"When I realized that she had been bitten," I stopped and took a deep breath, hoping it would bolster my resolve to confess. I released it slowly and started again, "When I first saw that she had been bitten, I could tell that whoever did it didn't bite her to feed from her. If he had wanted to feed from her, he could have just dragged her out of the truck. He did it to change her. Of course, I didn't know how much venom he may have gotten into her. I couldn't know. I…"

Carlisle reached over and gripped my arm. "Did you…?"

"Yes. I bit her." I turned away from him and looked at Bella's still face. She was striking. Cleaned of the blood and healed of the many cuts from the windshield being shattered and blown in, she was stunning. Why hadn't I ever noticed it before? I dropped my gaze to our clasped hands.

"From my years in Maria's army, I knew less venom meant the transformation would take even longer. I knew I had to get as much venom into her as I could. Whoever did this didn't have much time before he realized I was nearby. I started at her neck and injected more venom. I bit each of her wrists and her ankles. I know the misery and pain she was feeling already, and I could not allow it to go on any longer than necessary."

Since I just dropped this major bombshell on the family, I knew I shouldn't be surprised that I felt disbelief and shock from everyone in the house. I had previously tried to attack her over one single drop of blood at her birthday months ago, and no one had trusted me too close to her. She had been kept away from me. When she wrecked her truck, she had been covered in blood, and I hadn't attacked. I felt I had to protect her and take care of her. I still didn't understand it myself.

A surge of fury burst through from downstairs and I knew it was from Edward. He had never wanted to change her into a vampire. He had said he never wanted to take her human life away from her. It didn't matter that she was willing to give up that life to be with him. With us. She didn't believe, like Edward, that we were damned. But she was his Singer. Her blood called to him like no other. Could her blood have meant more to him than she did? But if he loved her, wouldn't he have wanted her to be with him forever?

I heard his growl, and I growled back to him, "Would you have let her die? Would you have killed her so she wouldn't be changed into a vampire?"

Feelings of horror and dismay burst from everyone in the house except Bella. They all knew that a human going through that transformation was extremely vulnerable because they couldn't protect themselves, and could easily be killed. I knew the quickest, most humane death was beheading. There were other methods that weren't so… benevolent. Or you could drain them, which would cause their heart to stop. If there was no blood, and no heart beat to carry the venom, it certainly couldn't heal them. Our venom could heal many ills and injuries, but for someone who was still a breathing human with a pumping heart, venom couldn't reattach a head that had been ripped from its shoulders.

Edward gasped and sputtered, "I…I would never… I could never…"

"Then would you have forced her to endure this pain longer than she had to? You weren't there, Edward! And thank Christ you weren't because you would have drained her dry and killed her. I did what I needed to do to save her. And I would do it again."

"Jasper! How can you be so… How could you say such a…a…contemptible… I never wanted her to be cursed like this!" he called from downstairs. "Of course I never wanted her to die, but I never wanted this. And how dare you, Jasper, take it upon yourself to decide to change her!"

I felt his shame, but was that jealousy I felt, too?

What about what she had wanted? Everyone knew she had wanted this.

"Edward," I hissed to him. "I did not choose. She had already made that choice. And she had already been bitten when I found her."

I felt Carlisle's horror shift to shock, and then anger.

"Edward!" Carlisle admonished him. "You know how excruciating this is. Jasper inserting more venom into her was the right thing to do. He saved her. He brought her back to us. He has shown miraculous restraint. You know what she looked like when he brought her here."

The guilt and shame oozing from Edward increased, and I couldn't repress the thought that he wasn't even able to be in the room because of the smell of her blood. Sanctimonious prick. I knew he wasn't feeling guilty because of me. What was causing his guilt?

The sheer volume of blood covering Bella and me was more than he could bear. He wouldn't have been able to stop himself from draining her.

Hell! When he met us in the woods, and the lust for her blood overtook him, it had taken an hour before he could control himself enough to come back. It took hours before he tried to go upstairs and see her, and he couldn't make it past the second flight of stairs. What a pussy.

I considered leaving the bloody clothes on to keep him out.

Again, that gloating, gleeful thought passed quickly through my head — I had tasted her blood, had reveled in it, and found the strength to stop. I'd had what Edward could never have. Could that be what was causing his jealousy? Or was it that my venom was coursing through her body?

Carlisle, gathering his usual composure and serenity around himself like a cloak, turned to me and squeezed my shoulder. I felt pride and respect emanating from him. "My son, as I said before, I am so proud of you. Not many of us could have come upon a scene like that and maintained control, or had the strength to do what you did. I believe you did the right thing. I believe you adding more venom has helped to speed her healing. She is healing so well, and she is with us."

"I had to do something," I whispered. "I had to try and save her."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5, I Resist

Jasper's POV

 

About a half hour later, Bella was as clean as she was going to be without Carlisle removing all of her clothes, and he called to Esme waiting downstairs. "Esme, could you get some fresh clothes for Bella? I think you should be able to come up now."

We heard three sets of feet fly up the stairs, and Esme, Alice, and Rosalie appeared at the door, worry clearly etched on their beautiful faces.

"Esme," Carlisle began, "I've cut her clothes apart so I could examine her and straighten her arms and legs. They are sticking to her, but you shouldn't have any problem removing them. I know you've been listening, but you can now see that Bella is improving. Her broken bones have healed. The cuts on her face have healed. I've cleaned as much blood from her as I can for now. Will you be all right?"

Esme clutched a set of clothes to her chest and moved into the room cautiously, taking shallow breaths. "Yes, Carlisle, I can handle it. There was so much blood! Our poor Bella."

I could feel Esme's heart breaking as she looked at Bella. She considered Bella her youngest child and ached for her.

She turned toward Alice and Rosalie. "Do you girls think you can help me wash off the rest of the blood and change her clothes?"

I could feel Esme's resolve and determination to take care of her youngest child, but I could also feel that Alice and Rosalie were uncertain and apprehensive. They both walked tentatively into Edward's room and stood silently near the door.

"Oh!" Alice gasped. "She is going to be absolutely gorgeous!" Alice darted closer to the bed and exclaimed, "She is lovely. But why Esme chose those clothes …"

Bella's emotions flared and began to swirl faster. Alice was too close! She needed to back off!

At that moment, Bella twitched and jerked her arms in toward her body again. I felt anger from her. My own started to rise. Did she pick that up from me? Or did I get that from her?

I kept hold of her hand and rubbed my thumb lightly across her knuckles. "Bella," I whispered. "It's just Alice here to see you. It'll be all right. It's okay." I took a breath to force calm into myself and give it to Bella.

I glanced over my shoulder at Alice. "Alice, you should back away. I feel anger coming from her. I don't know why."

The hopeful look on Alice's face fell away as she backed toward the doorway. Her shoulders drooped as she leaned against the frame, watching intently.

Bella began to calm down again as I whispered to her and reassured her she was safe.

I turned to Esme. "Try walking slowly toward us. Perhaps Alice just came in too fast."

Esme eased closer, little by little, until she was right next to the bed. I gave her a small smile. "Bella is about the same. No … I feel some relief coming from her."

The corner of Esme's lips pulled up in a trace of a smile, and she leaned in closer to Bella and spoke softly, "Bella, I'm so glad Jasper found you and brought you to us. I know you're in pain, but I will try to help you. We'll take care of you. I've brought clean clothes that you left here."

Esme put the clothes on the night table and reached for the washcloths that Carlisle had brought in earlier.

"Can I come in?" Rosalie asked hesitantly.

I nodded toward her and she began the slow pace toward Bella.

I patted Bella's hand very gently and told her, "Rosalie is going to help you, too, Bella. Just like Esme, Carlisle, and I have. Remember, I'm right here. "

I waited expectantly to feel something different from Bella as Rosalie came closer, but didn't feel anything change. I was surprised that Bella displayed anger when Alice came close, but maybe that was because she stupidly rushed over.

Rosalie and Bella certainly couldn't have been called BFFs, but I knew Bella loved Rosalie, just like she loved all of us. I felt Rosalie's reserved feelings changing for Bella. She was feeling some anxiety and some pity. There was some sadness, too. Rosalie hadn't wanted Bella to miss out on all those human things, like marriage and babies, that had been stolen from her so many years ago. But because Rosalie mourned that loss, did that mean Bella would?

Even if she hadn't chosen to become a vampire, it wasn't Bella's fault she was changing. Her chance at a human life had been stolen from her.

Rosalie stood by my side and gently placed her hand on my shoulder. "Jazz, I know you're helping her, but you look pretty bad. You need to get a shower and wash off all that blood and the gasoline. I don't know how you can stand to smell it."

"Yes, Jasper," Esme added. "You look exhausted. I don't know how you've held up. I remember very vividly what it feels like during the change."

Carlisle had finished gathering his medical supplies and turned toward me, concern showing in his eyes. "Have you hunted?"

"Yes," I answered. "I was hunting when I heard the crash. I don't want to leave her. Last time I left her she became disturbed even though I was just in the bathroom right outside the door."

"Jazz," Alice said from the doorway. "You know you need a break. You need to get cleaned up and get rid of those clothes."

Were the women ganging up me? I was feeling a little defensive.

"Alice, have you seen anything?" I shot at her. Again, I wondered why she hadn't seen that crash. What good was being able to see the future if you couldn't prevent something like that?

But would I have changed the outcome if I could have?

Alice shook her head as her eyes dropped to the floor. I could feel more sorrow coming from her. "No. I haven't seen anything of Bella's future since I first saw her decide to head for La Push. She made that decision and left so quickly I didn't have time to call Edward back from hunting with Emmett and Carlisle and stop her." She was sobbing with her shame.

I sighed. "Alice, you know you can't see everything," I told her. "Edward's had her under his thumb for months, and I'd warned him to back off. Of course, he didn't listen. I figured it was only a matter of time before she got frustrated and broke loose. Nobody could have known she'd wreck her truck." I was getting mad again, and Edward's irritation floating up from the living room was not helping.

"I saw her until she was nearly at the boundary line, then it went dark. I couldn't see her anymore!" Alice's shoulders shook as she sobbed her tearless cries. "I can't see anything of her future now."

I could feel her dejection and frustration coming in waves. And Edward! That asswipe. I had to push away that shithead's irritation and get control of myself before it affected Bella. "It's not your fault, Alice. It should work out." I bent toward Bella and brought her hand to my cheek. "You know that Emmett and Edward checked the crash scene, and went by the police station. They all think Bella was thrown from the truck and one of those giant bears hauled her away."

Which was exactly what I had been hoping for. When Emmett and Edward had returned from their reconnaissance, they reported seeing a few of the Quileutes at the crash scene. None of them had had any suspicious thoughts. Jacob Black was devastated, but there was nothing to be done about that. I knew Bella cared for him, but it was better if he believed her to be dead. Better for us if they all believed it, especially since I had bitten her. I hadn't bitten her first, but as soon as my teeth touched her skin, the treaty was broken. We would have to be scrupulously vigilant and cover every track. Otherwise, there would be a war between us and the Quileute wolves.

Bella and I were going to have to leave Forks.

"Alice, maybe you could try looking into Charlie's future? Or the rest of the family?" I continued.

"I've been trying! I'm not getting anything that's clear. I can't see Bella."

"Alice. You need to calm down. This isn't helping any of us, especially Bella," I said forcefully.

"I know, Jazz. I'm trying." She took in a deep breath as she closed her eyes. She let the breath out slowly.

"Better?" I asked. I couldn't allow her to make this worse for Bella.

She nodded her head and gradually opened her eyes. "Yes. I'm better. I'll try to do better."

I gave her a short nod and said, "Try again to come closer. Move slowly."

Alice took small, measured steps toward the bed, her eyes shifting back and forth between me and Bella. She was calmer, but it was as if she were trying to hide something.

"Alice, what's wrong?"

"I'm trying to be calm but …"

"But what?" She was getting really close to plucking my last nerve.

"It's … it's your clothes. The blood. It's in your hair, on your face … it's all over you. You're disgusting."

Okay, I've about had it with this little …

She thought that was disgusting? She didn't know disgusting. She didn't know shit. But she always had been like that. She's had it too easy living with the Cullens. She had no fucking clue …

Stop!

It was not the time to lose all semblance of composure and self-restraint. Bella didn't need it.

"Alice," I said, exasperated. My teeth refused to unclench so I spoke through them. "Alice, did you want to try to come closer to Bella?"

I could feel a trickle of fear from her, but she took another deep breath and nodded her head.

Fear? Fear of what?

I couldn't bring myself to speak right then so I jerked my head toward Bella, trying to urge Alice to move.

As Alice came closer to me, I could feel Bella's emotions shifting again. She was distraught, in pain, frustrated, sad, and anxious. Some curiosity came through. It all cycled again. Then I could just sense the beginnings of anger.

"Bella, Bella, I'm right here. I know it hurts, but I'm right here. Alice is right here beside me. She wants to help you."

Bella's anger spiked as I said that, and she jerked her hand away from me. Her legs pulled up, and her heart rate increased. Her breaths came faster. I was dumbfounded. Esme and Rosalie stopped all movement, and even Carlisle held his breath; all of them anxiously watching Bella.

"I just want to help you." Alice said plaintively.

At that moment, Bella shrieked and began to writhe and twist in the bloody sheets. Her emotions were full of anger and resentment. She had been disconcertingly calm up to that point, and I had no idea what had happened to change that. Unless it was Alice being near her.

I whispered quickly, "I think you should leave the room. I don't know why, but I think you being near is upsetting her."

Alice's dejection was immediate. Her shoulders slumped as she plodded to the door. Alice never plodded.

"I don't understand it, but I'll go." She turned back to us before leaving the room. "Tell her to remember her parents. Tell her to remember us, and Forks, and high school, and everything." Another sob escaped. She made her way slowly toward the stairs and down to where Edward and Emmett were waiting in the living room.

As I turned back to Bella, Esme quietly cleared her throat. "Jasper, I know you want to stay, but you really do need to get cleaned up."

"I know, but the smell of the blood isn't affecting me," I explained. Again, I wondered at my lack of reaction to her blood.

The memory of the clusterfuck that had been Bella's birthday surged forward.

At her eighteenth birthday, she had managed to get a paper cut opening one of her gifts. Only Bella would find the most innocuous way to bleed in a room full of vampires.

She hadn't wanted anyone to make a fuss about her birthday, but Alice had insisted, and Edward backed her up.

They should have listened to her.

Why start now, right?

Just one little drop of blood had fallen to the carpet. I caught just the faintest whiff of that nectar and instinct started to take over. I wanted her, but I had managed to hold my breath and take a step back.

I didn't know why Edward had pushed her away instead of coming at me, but he growled and shoved her — right into the table stacked with glass plates. Plates for people who wouldn't be eating any damn birthday cake! She collided with the table, breaking the plates, and crashing to the floor. Shards of glass sliced through the soft skin of her arm, and the blood …

Edward's eyes had turned black as he crouched down in front of her. I felt the blood lust from everyone; I couldn't control it any longer, and that was all she wrote. I had to get to her! Carlisle made a grab for me, but I slipped through his arms. I had almost made it to her when Edward snarled and thrust me away. I flew through the air and landed on his piano, smashing it to the floor. I leapt up to run at her again. I had to have her! Emmett wrapped his huge arms around me like a vise, pinning my arms to my sides. Rosalie darted forward, and she and Emmett hauled me outside. I fought. I fought hard to get the hell away from them and get to Bella, but Emmett's grip was too tight.

I couldn't believe I had lost control of myself like that. The fresh air outside helped to clear my head of the scent of Bella's blood, though it still called to me. I nearly trembled with wanting her … wanting her blood.

When I had finally stopped fighting him, Emmett abruptly let go and I dropped to ground. I sat there in the gravel of the driveway, breathing in the cool night air, my head in my hands, trying to clear that scent from my mind. Trying to force down the lust … the blood lust. And one was certainly tied to the other.

"Jazz! Man! That was so fucked up." Emmett had stood with his hands on his hips, staring down at me. "I know you stepped back away from her …"

"Yes." Rosalie glared at me. Anger flowed off her in hot, red pulses. "As Emmett so eloquently put it, that was fucked up. I can't fathom why Edward shoved her into that table. And then you …"

"I know, I know. I don't know what happened. I smelled her blood and I had to have her. I …" I shook my head. Bella's scent was still swirling around my head, but it was easing up. A little. I had to get out of there. I had to get away.

As I jumped up, Emmett and Rosalie tensed again, ready to grab me. I jerked my hands up, palms facing them, to stop them from leaping at me. "I gotta get out of here. Where is everyone?"

Rosalie placed her palm against my chest and spoke softly. "Carlisle is inside with Bella. Edward, Esme, and Alice ran out the back door."

"I'll go this way," and I jabbed my arm to point in the opposite direction from everyone else. I couldn't face them. I could not look any of them in the eye. Especially Bella. "I have to go!"

"Where are you going?" Emmett asked. I felt the concern coming from him. Leave it to Emmett. His initial fury was already gone, replaced with his concern and worry. Concern for who? For Bella? Not for me.

"For a run. I'll run. I'll be back."

Then the entire family had left, at Shitheadward's insistence, to protect her from us. From me, or from him? His eyes had been so black. But there had been no arguing with him. The cussed fool.

I had learned my lesson. I would not leave her behind again.

I was puzzled at the irony. One tiny, little drop of blood had sent me out of my mind with lust … blood lust … a few short months ago. Then, not so many hours ago, I drank her blood, though not enough to affect the color of my eyes, and I stopped. I've been completely covered in it for hours, and ...

"Okay, Esme. I'll go wash this off and throw these clothes away," I said as I stood up from the chair I had been sitting in for what seemed like days already. I could barely stand the thought of leaving her, but I knew I had to. Wouldn't do for me to be in the room while Esme and Rosalie were stripping off Bella's bloody, torn clothing, and washing her.

Not that I would mind.

Besides, having all this blood around when she finally woke up was just a catastrophe waiting to happen, even if it was her own blood. Who knew how she would react?

So far, Bella's change wasn't like any other I had seen, but we sure couldn't count on her being anything but an unpredictable, volatile, violent newborn vampire. I knew how they could be. I'd created enough of them.

I turned to look at Bella's beautiful face. I gently squeezed her hand and, with the other, traced the tips of my fingers down her cheek and along her jaw to her chin.

"Bella," I whispered to her. "I won't be far. I'll be right back. Esme and Rosalie are here. I'll only be gone a few minutes. I will be back."

Esme smiled up at me, sending me waves of concern, love, tenderness, and … curiosity?

"You go ahead, Jasper. We'll be fine here. Rosalie and I will take care of her." She turned toward Carlisle. "Carlisle, you can take all these bloody towels out of here and bring us some more. Just set the clean ones outside the door and we'll get them. We'll put Bella's bloody clothes and the sheets in the trash can here and set it outside the door. I think they should probably be burned. Now, Rosalie, we're going to clean up our beautiful girl."

That was Esme. Taking charge to care for her newest daughter, and no one was willing to argue with her.

I was pretty sure Carlisle and I had just been dismissed.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6, I Feel

Jasper's POV

 

After quickly grabbing some clothes from my study on the second floor, I went back to the bathroom near Edward's room to be close to Bella. In the shower, with the hot water pouring down over me, I could almost relax. Almost.

Bella's emotions were churning and pulsing – anxiety, longing, pain, apprehension, relief, curiosity, yearning, dread, fear, and through the cycle again. Twirling and spinning, like her life's blood swirling in the hot water before it spiraled away down the drain.

That was the last there would ever be of Bella's blood. When the water finally ran clear, there would be no more. Would I regret that? Would I miss it?

No. Never. Because I still had her.

I tried to send her thoughts of strength and admiration. She was fighting so hard! I knew she was. Through that fiery hell, she was fighting.

I watched Bella's blood run down my body and my arms. Rippling over all the scars, then trickling down to the floor of the shower and to the drain. The heat of the water increased the aroma, and I breathed it in. There was just the barest trace of the floral scent Edward was always blathering on about. Sweet, but not too sweet.

Normally tempting, mouthwatering, delectable. Delicious. But most humans were.

Something was different. Some quality had changed. No less tantalizing than before, but now her scent was alluring, enticing, inviting. It was seductive.

I marveled at the difference. I didn't understand it. I didn't know what had changed. Seeing her practically crushed, covered in the bright red blood that was still oozing from her many wounds… that sight, and the scent, should have sent me into a snarling, ripping frenzy, but it hadn't.

That was how it used to be. That was how we had lived with that bitch Maria. It had been one of the tools we had used to control the newborns. If they cooperated, and did what they were directed to do, they were rewarded. Most times with blood. The captured humans didn't survive it. There was no such thing as taking just a sip. Sometimes the newborns were allowed to have sex with the humans. The humans hadn't survived that either, of course.

The newborns who managed to withstand their initial training would be taken to some small out-of-the-way village in Maria's territory and would be set loose.

The sounds still echoed through my mind. Blood curdling screams, shrieking, and begging for mercy. Then there had been the sound of bones snapping and crunching. The heavy thud and splat as some human was thrown into the wall of one of their adobe huts by a blood-crazed newborn.

One of the worst — a woman clutching her infant to her breast, begging her god to save them all, while a snarling, slavering, red-eyed demon descended upon her. Grabbing her head and ripping it from her shoulders, before he fell onto her twitching body and drank the fresh, hot blood pumping from her neck.

Anything and everything that moved was slaughtered and torn to ragged, bloody bits. Though we only drank the blood of the humans, not one creature would be left alive. No humans, no dogs, no horses, no cattle, no goats.

Every building would be painted red with blood and gore.

Then the fires would be set.

Not one thing would be left standing after I led an attack.

There would be the battles with other covens. Some had heard about Maria's army and her ambition to hold even more territory. They had heard rumors about Maria's "Major" or the invincible "God of War" and they would stupidly try to challenge me.

And try they would. It did them no good.

Sometimes, on patrols, a new coven would be discovered trying to take up residence or hunt in Maria's territory. Peter, my second in command, and I would hunt them down. Maria rarely bothered herself to come with us, knowing we would take care of the intruders.

No one fought as hard or as desperately as a coven of vampires who knew they were about to lose everything to Peter and me. I would get thrown through buildings. I would get bitten. I would have limbs ripped off.

But they never beat me.

We would torture them and get as much information from them as we could. Once in a while, instead of dismembering and burning them all, we would let one loose.

What better way was there to propagate the legend of Maria's army and her Major than to let a battered, sometimes mutilated, "survivor" go?

The bullshit propaganda of war.

That was Peter's fucking brilliant idea.

Maria fucking loved it. I knew she did. It stroked her ego.

I fucking hated it. I hated all of it.

But no one ever beat me.

Not even after I allowed Peter to escape with his mate Charlotte. And Maria made me fucking pay for that. Even after that, no one had ever beaten me.

Why the hell was I thinking about that asshole Peter and all that bullshit? It must be because Bella was going to be a newborn. It had been a long time since I have had to deal with a newborn.

-oOoOo-

Bella's anxiety spiked. Though I constantly monitored her condition through a part of my brain, and I tried to keep a steady flow of peace, calm, and admiration flowing back to her, this was different.

Had something happened?

I rushed to finish scrubbing every trace of blood and gasoline from my skin and hair. I slammed off the water to the shower and grabbed a towel to try to dry off as quickly as I could. Screw that! I yanked on a long-sleeved grey T-shirt and a pair of jeans.

I raked my fingers through my hair, and felt anger pulse from Bella.

What the hell happened?

I threw open the bathroom door and raced back to Edward's room. I could see no one was attacking Bella, so I stopped in the doorway to assess the situation before rushing in.

Esme was on the left side of the bed. She was bent over a struggling Bella, her hands on Bella's shoulders, apparently trying to hold her down. Rosalie was positioned next to the right side of the bed, her hands raised up as if to ward off Edward, and her eyes were glaring daggers at him.

Edward, with a petulant look on his face, was standing rigidly, his arms held stiffly at his sides.

I felt rage from Bella. She was gasping out breaths. It was almost as if she was trying to get up!

My own rage exploded through me.

"What the hell is going on here?" I growled, and I took a step into the room.

Edward flinched and backed away.

That was gratifying.

He was too damn close to Bella.

"Now that Esme and Rosalie have disposed of all of the befouled sheets and changed Bella's clothes, I thought I would take this opportunity to visit with her," Edward explained in his pretentious voice.

That pissed me off.

I glanced to Esme. "What happened?" I know it must have sounded like I was shouting orders, but I couldn't seem to help it. I was amazed I didn't bark, "Report, soldier!" at her.

"Jasper," she gasped with relief. "Rose and I had just finished dressing Bella when Edward came upstairs. She was fairly calm until he came to the side of the bed. Then she became restless and began to twitch and shudder. She started pulling her arms up to her chest again, and then she was gasping …"

"Thank you, Esme." My eyes narrowed, and my gaze shifted to Rosalie. I didn't intentionally cut Esme off but I wanted to hear what Rose had to say. "Rose …?"

She huffed in exasperation. Her eyes had darkened as she glared at Edward, but she maintained her position between Edward and Bella, helpless on the bed.

"This fool," she began, and she stabbed a sharp-nailed finger at Edward's chest, "came charging into this room, and was at the side of the bed before I could stop him. Bella started writhing on the bed, and he started to reach for her. I grabbed his arm and yanked him back. Then you came in."

They had been speaking with vampire speed, though that was hardly fast enough for me, but I got the information I needed. As soon as I was gone, that devious Fuckward was right there in that room. When I wasn't there.

I never even heard him come up the stairs.

What the fuck!

"I don't know what the fuck you were thinking Edward," I said, sneering his name, "but haven't you noticed that when you get anywhere near Bella she becomes more distressed? More frantic?" My hands had closed into fists. My whole body was shaking.

I had to get control of myself. I felt Bella's agony, distress, and rage, and I was very close to losing it. If I went after Edward … I didn't know how that would affect Bella.

But throwing that devious fuck out the window would make me feel better.

I darted to her side and took a deep breath. Her scent helped to soothe my rage. As Esme backed out of my way, I quickly scrutinized Bella. Her legs were pulled up, bent at the knees. Both hands were clenched in tight fists, pressed into her chest. She was panting rapidly. I could hear her heart pounding.

It was bad.

I reached forward and slowly covered both of her hands with mine. My hands were so large they covered her hands and her wrists. I knelt next to the bed and whispered in her ear, "Bella, I'm here. I'm here. I'm right here. I had to leave for a few minutes, but I won't leave you again."

Edward snorted. "Jasper, you have absolutely no discernible reason to be here, and you have no right to be here. In fact, it would be my right, and my sacred duty to be here, by her side, while she's …"

At that pompous pronouncement, Rosalie drew back her left hand and round-house punched Edward so hard, cracks blossomed across his face, and he flew through the bedroom door. He smacked into Carlisle and Emmett with a thunderous crash as they reached the top of the stairs.

I was unable to keep the smirk from my face as I looked out of the corner of my eye at them, and almost laughed as I watched Emmett scramble to keep all of them from tumbling down the stairs.

Esme gasped in shock behind me as I glanced across the bed at Rose. She stood with her right hand on her hip that was stuck out at a jaunty angle and she was examining the nails on her left hand. She flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder and glanced over at me. A devilish smile spread across her face.

That was why she was my sister — a woman after my own heart. I winked at her and sent her my feelings of gratitude and pride.

She winked back at me and said, "I've been wanting to do that."

I turned my attention to Bella.

"Bella, Darlin', I'm right here. It'll be all right. I'm right here."

I tentatively pulled at her hands, but she was still holding them tightly to her chest. Her emotions were still clouded with anger, but I could feel it diminishing.

"Bella, I won't leave you. I'm right here. Let me help you." I thought of my admiration for her, my respect for her. She was so strong to bear this so quietly. Unlike any other I'd seen.

I gathered serenity, and peace, and tranquility and pushed them toward her.

"I won't leave you, Darlin'. I'll be right here beside you."

I could feel the distress and tension begin to leave her, and I tugged on her hands again. She let me move her hands to her sides.

"You're doing fine, Bella. You're doing good. I'm right here. Let me help you."

I kept hold of her right hand, but with my other hand I pressed gently on her thighs hoping she would lower her legs to the bed. She did finally.

"Darlin', I'm right here. I will protect you."

Her heart rate slowed, and her breathing began to be less frantic. In spite of the pain, she was relaxing as much as she could.

Though pain continued to swirl, the rage had begun to dissipate.

I heard Carlisle and Emmett convince Edward to stay downstairs. I was relieved. It seemed Bella was, too.

"Bella, I'm right here. Right here. I'm with you. I will not leave you."

At that moment, I felt a burst of love so strong radiate from her that I gasped and shuddered, my eyes squeezing shut and my head falling back. If I hadn't already been on my knees by the bed, I think she would have dropped me again.

"Jasper! What is it?" I felt Esme's alarm as she knelt beside me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders.

Rosalie ran around the foot of the bed and dropped to her knees on my other side. She put a supporting hand on the back of my head and another under my arm.

"Bella!" Her name exploded from my mouth, and I fought to suck in another breath. "It's so strong! She loves … us. " I had to gulp in more air. "In spite of the pain … her love …" and I couldn't speak. I was overcome, feeling completely overwhelmed.

My body went limp, and Esme and Rosalie eased me down so that I was leaning against the side of the bed, sitting on the floor. I was gasping like a fish out of water. My arms were braced on the bed, my hands clutching at Bella's arm. I was hanging on to her as if she could somehow hold me up!

"Jazz! Tell me what do!" Rosalie whimpered.

"It's all right. It's okay. She caught me by surprise." I rubbed my face against the fresh sheets that had taken on Bella's comforting scent.

Esme lightly touched my shoulder. "Here's the chair, Jasper. Anything you need, you let me know." The chair appeared next to me, and I forced myself to my feet without letting go of Bella's hand. I dropped onto it, and Esme patted and rubbed my shoulders. I could feel pride flowing from her.

There was that curiosity again.

Rose stood and shook her finger at me. "If you need anything, anything at all, you let me know. I'll get it for you. Anything."

I felt her determination.

"Thanks, Rose. Thank you, Esme. I know. I know. I'm okay. She just surprised me. Again."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7, I Can't

Alice's POV

 

Esme and Rosalie were upstairs tending to Bella, trying to wash the rest of the blood off of her. Carlisle had removed quite a bit of it, but there was still so much. She had been covered with it. I didn't think I had ever seen anything as awful as that. Well, Jasper had looked rather gruesome. There had been blood smeared across his face, down his neck, and in his hair. It had soaked into his clothes, and there was a strong smell of gasoline, too.

I heard that he was finally in the shower in the bathroom near Edward's room. It was about time. I didn't know how he could stand being covered in blood like that. It was all over him!

I had always heard that the Southern Vampire Wars had been very violent. Jasper had hundreds of terrible scars from battling other vampires, and I could never stand to look at them. He had told me that the newborn vampires had wiped out entire villages and towns, and I couldn't take hearing anymore.

He had been a part of that. Had he been covered in blood like that before? Was that something you could get used to?

A shiver went down my spine at just the thought of it.

I paced from the sliding glass doors in the living room toward the front of the house.

"I wish I knew why she gets so upset when I'm near her!" I exclaimed. "She doesn't seem to have a problem with Esme and Rose." I crossed my arms over my chest as I went past Emmett sitting on the couch.

He just shrugged his shoulders at me as I went to look out the sliding glass doors again.

Emmett was so upset I didn't think he had moved an inch since he sat down on the couch.

I turned from the windows and made my way to the dining room. Edward had been standing there, just staring out of the back windows. It must have been so horrible for him to see Bella so badly injured and bloody when Jasper brought her back.

There had been so much blood all over both of them, Edward had lost his control. Thank goodness Emmett grabbed him before he attacked Bella. God knows what he would have done to her. I didn't know what he would've done to Jasper. Since right before Bella's crash, my visions haven't been coming in too well. I couldn't see Bella at all.

Edward shuddered and his hand went to rub his forehead.

"What is it, Edward?" I asked him quietly as I stepped closer to him.

He sighed. "It's Jasper's thoughts. They are … unspeakable. He's thinking about the Vampire Wars. Such butchery and carnage …" He dragged his hand through his hair. "How can he live with himself after such …?"

I shivered right along with him, and placed my hand on his forearm. "I don't know. I never wanted to hear about it. What I had heard was horrible enough, and those scars …"

"How could I have ever let him near Bella?" Edward's hands went to his hips and he stared out the windows again. "And now, no one can get him away from her." He let out a ragged breath. "Since he brought her back to the house, I haven't been able to read his thoughts. He's in the shower now and I can … see them. I wish that I couldn't." He squeezed his eyes shut. "I think when he's touching her, I can't hear him."

"He hasn't ever hurt her. Well, that one time almost … but he didn't." I patted and rubbed his arm. "I haven't been able to see anything of Bella's future since before the accident, and Jasper's has been a blur to me. I hardly get anything at all."

He dropped his head to his chest, and I leaned against him and gave his arm a little squeeze. "I don't know why he won't leave her, but I don't think he's going to hurt her. She's going to be alright, Edward. She'll wake up soon and …"

"But you can't see it, can you?"

"Well, no, but you know I've seen her as one of us practically since she moved to Forks."

"I never wanted …" His fingers went to the bridge of his nose, and I saw the muscles in his jaw tighten.

"She'll be okay, Edward." I patted his arm and then made my way out to the living room again. I knew everything that had happened had been so hard for him.

When Carlisle had run back into the house and told Rose to go help Emmett restrain Edward, then told Esme and me to leave the room, I knew it had to be bad. Worse than bad. From what Carlisle had said later, every major bone in Bella's body had been broken.

Esme and I had run out the back door and we hadn't even looked in the windows when Jasper carried her in. I had been afraid to look!

It was about an hour after Jasper had brought her into the house, that Emmett, Rose, and Edward finally came back. Edward hadn't fought that hard against his bloodlust since the first time he saw Bella in their biology class last school year. It must have been just awful!

I just didn't know, really. I mean, Bella smelled especially good, but I hadn't ever lost control around her. I've never run across my singer, though. I didn't even know if I had one. How would I react if I ran across a human whose blood was so potent, so intoxicating, that I went crazy with wanting it?

With my visions not coming in so well, would I even see it beforehand if I ran across my singer? Probably not.

It made me shiver to think about it.

When they had come back, all three of them were filthy with mud! There were leaves and twigs stuck to them, and in their hair. They were all dripping muddy water all over the floors, and their clothes were torn to shreds!

The way Rosalie was glaring at Edward … Her face had been like marble, she was so angry, but there had been a deadly fire in her eyes. Edward must have put up quite a fight.

And poor Emmett! He had looked so heartbroken. I knew he loved Bella so much. She was his little sister. They couldn't have been closer if they were twins. He would have done anything for her. I had thought if we could cry tears, he would have been. I felt so bad for him I ran to him and gave him a hug, even though he was a muddy mess. I reminded him that Carlisle would do whatever he could to help her.

That was when Emmett had said, "Jasper said she's changing into a vampire. That must have been why he didn't take her to the hospital."

I had been in shock at hearing that. I hadn't seen any of that! Why hadn't I seen any of that? How could that have happened?

Then Edward had groaned. He actually groaned. He looked shattered, destroyed. His eyes were jet black, he hung his head, and he slowly walked into the dining room. He just stood there, shoulders slumped, and looking completely miserable. I ran over to him and threw my arms around him. He didn't say anything. He just stood there. He wasn't even breathing.

I had seen visions of Bella as one of us for ages. I didn't know why Edward was still so upset. He should have been glad she wasn't killed!

Rosalie told Emmett they needed to get showered, but then poor Emmett had said, "I don't think I can go up there, Rose. The smell of Bella's blood must be pretty strong up there and I don't want to take a chance. It was bad enough seeing Bella and Jazz when we met them in the woods."

I didn't understand why Emmett was so worried about that. Their room was on the second floor on the west side of the house. Edward's room was far away from theirs. It was up on the third floor on the east side of the house.

Rosalie had rolled her eyes at him, of course, but she gave him a little kiss on the cheek, and went upstairs to get showered. Then she had brought down some fresh clothes for him.

It was a good thing Esme had been doing some laundry because I knew Edward wouldn't be able to go to his room and get any clothes with Bella there. I suppose Carlisle could have brought him some, but the smell of her blood had to be on everything. Luckily, there was a small shower in the laundry room. Usually, Emmett and Jasper were the only ones who used it because they got so dirty when they went hunting together.

I thought their so called "hunting" was really just an excuse to wrestle and beat the hell out of each other. Jasper destroyed more clothes that way. Sometimes I thought he did it on purpose. Then he would put on those awful Levis!

When Jasper had called downstairs to Edward and Emmett to tell them to investigate the accident scene, I thought Edward was going to come unglued! Then Rosalie yelled at him, but she was right. It only made sense to check on the accident scene, and try to find out what people were saying about it. Edward was the best one to do it since he would be able to read their minds. He knew that.

I was sure he didn't want to see where Bella had nearly died. Well, I guess she actually would die since some vampire found her and bit her.

Had he been afraid the blood there would affect him?

I had wanted to go with them, but I didn't think I could stand to look.

When Emmett and Edward had arrived at the scene, there were still fire fighters and police there. There were a few Washington State Patrolmen, and the entire Forks Police force (all three of them), in addition to Chief Charlie Swan.

When an officer's family member was involved in a crash, they showed up in force.

Poor Charlie! I felt so bad for him. I just knew he would be devastated. Bella was his only child. She really hadn't lived with him very long, since her mother had gone and dragged her off to Arizona when she was little.

Edward had said he couldn't really read anything in Charlie's mind because he was in shock. All Edward could hear from him was, "Bella can't be gone. She can't be gone."

Edward had stayed back in the forest away from the crash, but Emmett had moved in closer. He had said it was appalling. He could even tell where Jasper had laid her down on the ground just inside the tree line because of the amount of blood on the ground. The fire hadn't reached that spot yet.

Then he had whispered, "I don't know how the hell she lived through it. That truck was fuckin' crushed. All that was left was burned up twisted steel."

The firemen had still been dousing the area with water, but they had finished soon after. A bunch of the men then began poking around the truck and the ground, searching through the weeds.

A rollback tow truck drove over to it, but the police made the man wait to winch it up on the flat bed. I suppose they had wanted to do their investigation. Someone had been taking pictures.

There had been people combing the area, picking things up out of the grass, and searching through the trees. They had been talking about getting together a search party to track the giant bears.

Humans!

I suppose Jasper did a good job staging it. But how hard is it to fool humans? They see what they want to see, what they expect to see.

There had been a few of the Pack there. At least none of them had suspected any vampire involvement. I guess Jasper must have done a good job. The wolves seemed to think it was nothing but a horrible accident. Between the scent of Bella's blood, the gasoline that had leaked out of her truck, the rain, and the fire Jasper had set, the wolves hadn't picked up any of his scent.

That, and the firemen had sprayed water all over everything to put the fire out. Despite the rain, the fire had burned several trees and had even been burning through the grass and weeds between the truck and the road.

Edward said Jacob Black had been there. Even though he was a wolf, I felt a little bad for him. Bella really cared for him, and he cared for her, but Edward and I hadn't wanted her to go anywhere near him. Werewolves were so dangerous!

Why had she been driving over there? She knew I couldn't see her when she was with the wolves. She knew Edward had forbidden her to go there.

Edward was so troubled when he and Emmett came back to the house after seeing the crash scene. He had just wanted to see Bella and tried to go up the stairs, but he couldn't make it all the way because of the smell of her blood.

From the bottom of the stairs, he and Emmett told Carlisle and Jasper what they'd found out. Jasper kept asking both of them questions, to "clarify," he had said. It was like they were reporting to a General or something.

Well, he hadn't been a General in the Confederate Army, he had been a Major, but still …

Oh! When Jasper had said he had bitten Bella to put more venom in her, I thought Edward was going to explode. I was surprised he didn't run right up the stairs. He hated the idea of Jasper biting her.

Well, at first, we had all been shocked. Everyone had stood as still as statues when we had heard that. Jasper had always had the hardest time controlling his bloodlust, and he had bitten her and hadn't drained her?

Then Edward was pacing, flashing back and forth through the living room, his hands in his hair. It was a wonder he hadn't pulled his hair out!

Edward had stopped by the sliding glass doors. His eyes had turned black and his fists were shaking. "How dare he? How dare he bite her!" he whispered.

Esme went to him and placed a hand on his arm. "But Edward, she had already been bitten …"

He spun to face Esme and she had actually flinched away from him. The look of rage on his face was alarming.

He hissed at her, "I never wanted … Jasper had no right …" His hand flashed down in a slicing gesture, and Esme backed away from him. She looked like she was afraid of him.

Emmett and Rosalie had been by the front window and they had both turned around to stare at Edward in shock. I didn't think I had ever seen Emmett look so angry.

He darted across the room to Edward, pointed a finger at him, and hissed right in his face, "He brought her back. He saved her. What if he hadn't found her? What if he hadn't seen the bite, and he left her there, and the cops found her?"

Rosalie gasped, "Jasper saved all our asses. If she had been taken to the hospital …"

Edward snapped his jaw shut and flashed across the room toward the stairs. He slapped his hands down on the bannister, and growled and shook his head.

Jasper couldn't have heard what they had said, but that's when he growled from upstairs, "Would you have let her die? Would you have killed her so she wouldn't be changed into a vampire?"

Everyone was horrified. Even Rosalie, and she hadn't ever wanted Bella to become a vampire.

Emmett was right, though. She had been bitten. Jasper would have had to kill her to prevent her from becoming a vampire. What if he hadn't seen the bite? What if he had just called 9-1-1 and left her there?

The ramifications of that were too horrible to even think about. They would have drawn her blood and found the venom! Carlisle would have seen her, of course, but then he would have had to try and steal her out of the hospital. Being the Police Chief's daughter, she would have been guarded, and I knew Jacob Black and the other wolves would have been there. They would have smelled her! Carlisle could have walked into an ambush! Then we all …

Oh my God!

I couldn't bear to think about it or all the terrible things that could have gone wrong, and all Edward was worried about was that Jasper had bitten her? But it hadn't happened. Jasper had brought her back here. It was going to be okay. We had her here with us and it was going to be alright.

I knew it was going to be alright because I had seen that she was going to be one of us one day. I had always thought Edward would be the one to change her, eventually, even though he had kept fighting against it. I hadn't ever actually seen who changed her though.

I wasn't sure what I thought about Jasper biting her. I suppose I hadn't really thought about it before, but Jasper biting Bella seemed awfully … intimate, somehow. I wonder if he had swallowed any of her blood? If he had, it wasn't enough to change the color of his eyes. Honestly, I was shocked he hadn't drained her. He had always had a harder time than the rest of us controlling his bloodlust. I guess it didn't really matter how she was changed, but he wouldn't leave her, and I didn't understand that at all.

Why wouldn't he leave her?

Carlisle had cleaned her up some, but I wonder why he hadn't done it sooner? He could have told Jasper to leave the room.

Finally, Carlisle had called Esme to get Bella cleaned up and changed, and Rose and I followed her upstairs. It was certainly past time for Jasper to get cleaned up, too. It had been frightening to see him like that. He was disgusting! I don't know how he could bear to be covered in her blood for hours. Then I think he was mad at me for suggesting he get cleaned up.

Why hadn't Bella let me anywhere near her? I was her best friend.

Jasper had said she was getting more upset. Even I could see that. She had been lying still then she started jerking, and twitching, and pulling up her arms and legs. Then he had said I should leave. It had felt like he was throwing me out of the room. I hadn't known why Bella was so upset, so I left and had gone to the living room to wait.

-oOoOo-

I turned to pace back across the living room again and I noticed that Emmett was fidgeting. I decided to go sit beside him.

"Emmett, you know Bella's going to be alright. She's going to be one of us just like I knew she would. Carlisle said she's healing well. I wish Jasper hadn't bitten her, but Carlisle said the additional venom has helped her."

Carlisle leaned forward in his chair. "Yes, Emmett. I do believe it has helped her. She is doing very well."

"See?" I said to Emmett as I patted his leg. "You know she's going to be beautiful! Esme and Rose should be finished cleaning her up soon. Do you want to go see her in a little while?"

"Yeah, I do." He dropped his head toward his chest. "But she might have another fit if I go up there. The burning is bad enough. It's pure hell. I don't want to make it any worse for her."

"Oh, Emmett!" I couldn't help myself and gave him a big hug. "You know she loves you! You could go talk to her, and tell her stories about being at school, and playing video games together. Maybe remind her about movie night. Just tell her it's going to be alright."

"I don't know, Alice." He stood up from the couch and walked slowly toward the front of the house. He stared out the window near Edward's piano. "When I saw her in Jasper's arms … the blood was all over both of them. It was dripping off of them! I've never seen anything like it. She looked so … she was so …" His hand went to cover his eyes, and he shook his head back and forth. "She was so small, and helpless, and bloody, and …"

"Emmett, she is healing." Carlisle stood from his chair and walked toward Emmett. He took hold of Emmett's arm and gave him a squeeze. "In fact," he continued, "it's remarkable. She appears to be healing at a faster rate than Esme did. She's been so quiet and still. It's very puzzling. I can only attribute it to Jasper's influence."

A small smile appeared on Emmett's worried face. "I'm glad she didn't die in the crash. I'm glad she's healing. I just don't want to hurt her. I know Jazz is helping her, but …"

"Well, I'm going to go see her!" Edward marched into the living room from the dining room. "I'm sure I'll be able to get near her this time. She needs me to be with her. She needs for me to take care of her." He turned toward the stairs.

"Edward, dude, that might not be such a good idea right now," Emmett warned. "Maybe you should wait a while."

"I've waited quite long enough to be with my Bella. She's my mate, and she needs me to be there for her."

Carlisle took a step toward him. "Perhaps you should wait. Things have been rather quiet up there for a while. Bella should try to rest if it is at all possible."

"Carlisle! It's been over twelve hours. I'm going upstairs to see Bella."

And with that, Edward darted up the stairs. Well, she was his mate, and he should be with her. It was probably just all the blood that made things a little tense before. Since Esme and Rosalie probably had her dressed, and Jasper finally went to take a shower, things should have been calmer. We should all have been able to take turns and sit with her for a while. We had two and a half days left to go and …

What was that? There was a crash upstairs and I heard Jasper say, "What the fuck is going on here?"

Did Jasper run out of the bathroom? Did he tear the door off the hinges?

"Oh, shit," Emmett gasped. He and Carlisle raced up the stairs.

Before I could even get up off the couch, I heard a crack as loud as a gunshot, and then a rumbling thunder that shook the walls! I didn't make it to the bottom of the stairs before I saw that Carlisle and Emmett each had hold of one of Edward's arms, and they were running him down the stairs.

"Oh, no! What happened?" I just could not imagine what had happened. Had Edward somehow fallen?

As they reached the bottom of the stairs, I heard Emmett whisper to Edward, "I told you not to go upstairs right now, but you never listen to anybody!"

I ran over to Edward and grabbed his arms as Emmett and Carlisle released him. "What happened?"

He had a look of utter disbelief on his face.

"Rosalie punched me."

"Rosalie … what? She punched you?" I was stunned.

"Yes. She punched me right out of the room, and I landed on Carlisle and Emmett." He made his way over to the couch as if he were dazed, and dropped to the cushions. I could see the cracks in his cheek healing.

Just then, Emmett started laughing. The laugh got louder, and he shook his finger at Edward. "Man, I told you!" He turned back to me, a big smile on his face. "Bella was all bent up, and twisting, and turning in the sheets and … Oh, Alice, Rose really nailed him, too. It was great."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8, I Plan

Jasper’s POV

 

It was Sunday morning. It felt as if I had been sitting in that chair by Bella’s side for days, but it had only been fifteen hours since I had found her in her annihilated truck. It had been fairly peaceful and I was taking advantage of the quiet to really look at her. 

She was … lovely.

“Bella, I’m right here,” I whispered. “I’m here with you.”

The memory of her broken, bloodied body would never be erased from my mind, and my frozen heart clenched with the thought of how close I had come to losing her. How damn close it was that she was nearly stolen from our lives.

My life. 

I pushed down the fear and dread that began to form and concentrated, again, on feeling my relief, my thankfulness that I had found her in time. It had been just a fluke that I had happened to be hunting near the boundary line. Just chance I went west instead of north. Just … I didn’t know why I had decided to have a look along the treaty line, but thank God I did. Thank God.

I had never realized it before. Looking at her, I could not imagine the rest of my long existence without the blessing that was Bella Swan.

Beautiful swan.

“I will not leave you, Bella.”

I lightly traced my fingertips across her smooth brow and down along her temple. Cupping her cheek with my hand, I took comfort in the feel of her skin. She was beautiful. She was beyond beautiful. She had always been pale, even for a human, but my venom burning through her body had transformed her pale fragile skin into delicate, translucent porcelain that subtly glowed from within by her own light.

Bella’s long brown hair had been caked with mud and stained dark red with her blood. I didn’t know how they had done it, but Esme and Rose had removed every trace, and brushed a gleaming shine into those silken mahogany strands. One of them had taken a thick strand of her hair and brought it over her shoulder. It curled softly beneath her neck and across her chest, while the rest of her hair fanned out around her on the pale butter colored sheets. The golden light from the lamp on the bed side table enhanced the shimmering chestnut highlights throughout.

She was … exquisite.

Esme and Rose had dressed her in blue jeans and a long-sleeved forest green Henley. The deep green harmonized so well with her skin and hair, she very nearly took my breath away.

She was absolutely enthralling.

My eyes roamed over her full lips, tinted with a blush of pink; around the smooth curve of her cheek, her dark lashes resting on her skin; across her fine nose …

There were fifteen light freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheeks.

Hadn’t she said her mother had freckles?

“Bella, remember your mother, Renee. Remember your mother.”

Freckles. I had never noticed them before. Had I never looked at the girl before?

Girl?

Not just a girl. That lovely, resilient, and brave being was so much more than just a young girl. The pain I knew she was going through, the agony I had felt, the terror I had seen in her brown eyes … She was so strong to bear it all so courageously.

I would miss her depthless, liquid brown eyes.

She had said she had brown eyes like her father, Charlie.

“Bella, remember your father, Charlie. Remember your father.”

I would miss her rich brown human eyes, but I would take that trade. I would take the blood red eyes of a newborn vampire so I would never to have to live without her. So we would never have to be without her.

Leaning closer to her, I closed my eyes and inhaled, opening my mouth to breathe in and taste her scent again. There was a subtle sweetness, but it was different. It wasn’t as sweet as it had been before. There was a spice. Nutmeg? Ginger? Cinnamon? With just the barest hint of the floral that Edward had spoken about so often. He was an idiot. Her scent was so much more than that. Fuller, richer, all-encompassing …

Her scent called up a faint memory of my mother’s spice cake. I had so few memories of my human life, it startled me. That spice cake had been a rare treat. Flour, sugar, and spices were so difficult to get back in the mid 1800’s; even more so after the war started. But it was a scent, and a memory, that reminded me of the comforts of home. The comfort and security of knowing that was your refuge, your sanctuary; it was where you belonged.

“Bella, remember your home. Remember your house. Bella, remember,” I whispered as I breathed across her face. Her beautiful face. I inhaled her soothing fragrance again and sighed.

Rosalie delicately cleared her throat. “Ahem, uh, Jazz?”

Her curiosity draped over me like a blanket, and I gradually opened my eyes. I saw that the tip of my nose was barely an inch away from Bella’s ear. I blinked and glanced over at Rosalie. Rosalie — who had been sitting quietly across the bed from me, watching me sniff Bella.

It occurred to me that I probably should have been embarrassed, but I wasn’t. Not in the least. Bella’s scent was just so … alluring, and enticing. It was … welcoming. It drew me in. It called to me.

I took my hand from Bella’s cheek and blinked again, gathering my thoughts. There were things I wanted done, and I was sitting there …

“Rose.” I cleared my throat. I sat up straight, never letting go of Bella’s hand. I knew I was stalling a bit, but I needed to get my shit together. But Bella’s scent …

“Yes, Jazz?” A knowing smirk appeared across Rosalie’s face. She was amused.

What was that about?

Not relevant.

“Uh, Carlisle went to work, right?”

She continued to smile at me with that knowing look. “Yes, he left shortly after I punched Edward.” Her smile grew as she laced her fingers together and rested them in her lap. “He was a little late. He said he’d be home around nine in the morning. If he hears anything at the hospital, he’ll let us know.”

“Yes. Good.” I nodded to her.

I cleared my throat again. I wasn’t really nervous, but there were things I wanted, and you didn’t just order Rosalie to do anything.  “I need some things taken care of.”

“I already told you. Whatever you need, I’ll get it. You’re my brother.”

“Thanks, Rose.” I smiled at her in gratitude.  “Several weeks ago, in anticipation of Bella’s upcoming possible change …”

“Possible change?” she asked, interrupting me and  raising her eyebrows.

“Yes. We all know she wanted it, and the Volturi know about her and will be expecting news of her change. We also know Edward has been completely against it, the ass. Despite that, in anticipation, I called Jenks and had him prepare three sets of basic identification for Bella. I usually add the photos myself, but I think you or Emmett will have to add them. They’ve been ready, I just haven’t picked them up yet. This,” I said and gestured at Bella, “I did not anticipate. I want you to pick them up.”

Rosalie nodded her understanding.

“The final payment is in a manila envelope in the center drawer of my desk in my study. When you pick them up, study them carefully in front of Jenks. He has always done a good job … exceptional, in fact, but it doesn’t hurt to make him sweat a little.”

Rosalie chuckled. “Fear is a great motivational tool.”

“It is,” I agreed, and couldn’t stop my own smirk from forming. “And you are just the woman to motivate him. I’ll call him right now and let him know.”

“But Jasper, it’s one o’clock in the morning!”

I quirked an eyebrow at her. “Jenks is well aware that he is to answer my calls no matter what time of day. Or night.”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the tiny silver cell phone. I pressed in the numbers and waited. It rang eight times before he answered.

“H… he… Hello?”

I believed the man may have been sleeping.

Imagine that.

“Jenks,” I barked in to the phone.

There was a short pause and then a loud gasp.

“Mr. … Mr. Jasper? Uh, how can I help you, sir?”

I was sure Rosalie could hear the quavering in his voice as well as I could.

I kept my voice low and quiet. “You’ve prepared documents for me, and am I to understand they are ready?”

“Yes. Yes, they are. Done to your specifications exactly, Mr. Jasper. Will you be coming to pick them up or, ah, would you prefer that I send them to the usual PO Box?”

“I will be sending one of my associates to retrieve them. She will tell you the code words so that you know she is there as my representative. Do you remember the code words?”

“Uh yes, yes I do, Mr. Jasper. Ah, when can I expect to see your associate?”

I spoke at vampire speed to Rosalie, “Ten o’clock?”

She nodded.

“She’ll be there later today at ten o’clock a.m. I hope that isn’t inconvenient for you.”

“It’s Sunday … but NO! No, that isn’t any inconvenience at all. I, uh, I look forward to meeting her.”

I almost heard the man sweating.

“Very good, Jenks. She’ll be there at ten. As always, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you.” I pressed the button to end the call.

Rosalie’s laugh chimed like silver bells. “Jasper, I just don’t understand why that man hasn’t had a heart attack!”

I laughed with her. “I believe he’s too greedy to have a heart attack just yet. I scare the shit out of him, but he is compensated very well. He also handles a couple of my more ‘legitimate’ business dealings.”

“So what are the code words?” she asked.

“The code words are ‘Gorram Alliance’.”

What is it?” Rosalie was baffled.

“Gorram Alliance. It’s from a TV show I like. Sort of a space western … Never mind.” I waved my hand at her.

“Now,” I said, getting serious again. “I’m going to need a four-door truck or an SUV. I’d prefer a truck. I’d like for Emmett and Alice to go purchase one for me as soon as possible. Today.”

I reached into my pocket to get my wallet and dropped it on the bed to open it so I wouldn’t have to let go of Bella’s hand. I reached over Bella and handed my credit card to Rose.

Taking the card, Rosalie asked, “If you need a car, couldn’t you use one of ours? Why send Emmett?” She frowned.  “Couldn’t you send Edward? It would give him something to do.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes.  “Regrettably, I need Edward here to listen for anyone coming near the house. He does that anyway. His taste in cars … never mind. The other cars are too conspicuous, and I’ll need something bigger. Preferably a truck with four-wheel drive that isn’t too new.  Emmett will know what I want. Where I’m taking Bella, it will fit in better.” 

“Taking Bella? Why would you take her somewhere?” I could feel the anxiety coming off of Rose. “And why would you take her?”

“Rose, I have the most experience with newborns. We have no idea how violent she may be and we don’t know if she’ll remember anything but the burn.” I gently stroked Bella’s arm. “You know having her here is too dangerous — we’re too close to Forks. We can’t take a chance that the wolves might see her, or that she’ll take a snap at one of her friends.”

I took another breath. I hadn’t wanted to tell anyone my suspicions about all those missing persons in Seattle over the last few months. It smelled of newborn activity to me. I had seen it before.

“You know about all those deaths and missing persons over in Seattle?” When she nodded, I continued. “I think that’s newborn activity. It could be a dozen or more. I think someone is creating them on purpose, and they’re not keeping them contained. If this keeps up, the Volturi will notice. If they haven’t already.”

Rose gasped in surprise. “What makes you think that? Why would somebody do that?”

“I can’t imagine why someone would do that here. We don’t fight for territory, and we don’t feed from humans, anyway.” I ran my hand up Bella’s arm. “But remember, in the Southern Vampire Wars, that’s how vampires gained more territory for feeding. That’s how I did it when I was … serving under Maria. That’s why she changed me. Then, when she saw how useful I was, she had me train and lead her newborns into battle for her. So I could eliminate them when they were no longer useful.”

I dropped my eyes away from her to stare at Bella’s hand in mine. I noticed that at some point, I had pushed my sleeves up my arms, displaying some of the scars I had received during my service. They were a constant reminder of training, corralling, and containing those newborns, and fighting other vampires to the death. Those scars had always made the Cullens uncomfortable, and Alice wanted me to keep them covered so she wouldn’t have to look at them. When Bella had heard the condensed version of my story, against Edward’s wishes, she was the only one who hadn’t ever cringed away from the silvery marks. Though human eyes couldn’t see them as well, I knew Bella had seen them.

Because you couldn’t see most of them, it didn’t mean they weren’t there. It didn’t mean that what they represent didn’t happen.

“Jazz, I remember. I’m sorry. I should have realized …”

“It’s okay. None of you had the same sort of upbringing I had and wouldn’t know what to watch for. You wouldn’t know the signs. But it’s bad enough that I noticed it, and we don’t want the Volturi becoming any more interested in this area than they already are.” I stroked Bella’s arm again and shook my head. “Creating a newborn army in Seattle makes about as much sense as a vampire biting Bella and leaving her. None of it makes any goddamn sense at all. ” I traced a path with my fingers along Bella’s jaw to her chin, and then looked at Rosalie from the corner of my eye. “Rose, I don’t want her left alone at all. If I should have to leave before she wakes up, and I don’t have any plans on doing so, but if I should, I want someone in here with her at all times.”

Bella’s emotions, which had been fairly steady, began to shift more quickly. Had I let my guard down thinking about Maria’s army again? Was my conversation with Rosalie affecting her? I could feel her pain, some fear, and longing. Was that sorrow mixed in?  Then back to pain again. Wait. Was that anger?

Edward! Stop!” I heard Alice’s frightened voice downstairs.

Dropping Bella’s hand, I sprang from my chair. I landed in a defensive crouch beyond the foot of the bed, facing the door. My hair fell into my eyes, but I didn’t bother brushing it out of the way. I hadn’t been paying any attention to him, but I could feel Edward’s anger and jealousy.

Rosalie jumped up from her chair and stood ready by the side of the bed. That placed her between the bed and the windows.

She had good instincts, but I knew no one was coming through the windows; Edward would come through the door. Strategically, crashing through the windows would generate more chaos, distracting the enemy — possibly distract the enemy long enough to get you in close enough to attack.

Edward stormed into the room and stopped just inside the door. Idiot. As soon as he reached the top of the stairs, he would have been able to see where I was. If he was going to attack me, he should have just kept coming.

His arms were raised, fists clenched and trembling. His chest was heaving with his breaths. Fury, jealousy and possessiveness were boiling off of him. His eyes were wild and nearly black.

He jabbed a finger toward me. “Jasper! You are not taking her anywhere! I will not permit it! She is to stay here, near the family and me, where she is safe!”  

A shriek tore out of Bella’s throat. I didn’t dare turn to look at her, but I could hear her begin to writhe on the bed. From my peripheral vision, I saw Rosalie glance to Bella and back to Edward.

I waited. His first mistake was to stop just inside the door. By doing that, he gave me more than enough time to prepare. He should have just kept coming. I waited for him to make his second mistake.

Edward’s fury and jealousy were beating into me from the front, Bella’s rage and hot pain were pulsing in steady waves from the back. I pushed back against all of it, but I didn’t move. I watched him. 

Apparently, the child had about reached his limit.

Bella’s gasping screams slapped at my ears.

He took a step forward, and jabbed his finger toward me again. “YOU! I’ve had about enough of you! You barking orders and telling everyone how we are going to behave. Bella is my mate, and she’s not going anywhere with you!”

Bella’s screams and cries were tearing at me, but I couldn’t go to her. Not with Edward about to go ballistic right in front of me. Who knew what he would do? Bella was still so vulnerable and unable to protect herself. I had to protect her.

I felt my own anticipation build. I had been waiting for his outburst; it had only been a matter of time, and I knew just how I could set him off.

Rosalie stepped toward him. “Edward! Can’t you hear Bella screaming? Do you see her thrashing on the bed? You caused that!” Rosalie shouted at him.

She growled at him!

“Bella was doing well until you came up here,” Rose continued in a snarl. “Jasper’s right! We can’t keep her here! We have to move her. You and Alice are about to graduate. Remember? You are the ones who can’t leave. You and Alice need to stay here to keep up appearances. Right? Emmett, Jasper and I are already supposed to be away at school, remember? Emmett and I will go with Jasper and Bella.”

Well, hell, that was a good idea. I should have thought of it.

By that time, Esme and Alice had reached the top of the stairs and were in the hallway outside the room, waiting to see what might happen next, fear surrounding them. Esme flinched at each of Bella’s fresh screams.

Emmett came up behind them. I noted that he was tensed to fight.

The screams! Bella’s shrieks, and her utter fury, were pounding into my head. I needed to end that shit. Fast.

“He dared to change her against my wishes and she’s my mate!” Edward’s voice was straining higher and higher. “We will keep her here, with us, where we can protect her! HE isn’t taking her from me!”

Was he a total fucking idiot? Bella wasn’t staying anywhere near him. That shit was gonna end. I was in war mode, and it had slipped down over me effortlessly, as if those decades I had been away from it had never happened.

I flexed my fingers to draw Edward’s attention away from Rosalie. Edward’s black-as-night eyes had been drilling holes into her, but flashed to me at my movement.

I smirked at him and spoke in a low, quiet voice, “You’ve certainly done a good job keeping her safe, haven’t you, Edward? Yes, it’s my venom that’s changing her, my venom replacing her blood. And Bella’s blood? Her blood was the most exquisite blood I have ever had.”

He roared and leapt at me. I knew he would.

I let instinct take over. Instinct, and a century of fighting and winning in Maria’s own version of Hell.

I saw his fingers curl into claws, reaching for my neck. His venom dripped from his bared teeth.

I leaned slightly to my right, and grabbed his left wrist with my right hand and pulled. That brought his neck directly to my left hand, and I slammed him to the floor, face down. I stomped on his neck with my left foot and heaved, ripping his left arm off at the shoulder with an ear piercing, metallic screech. I threw it across the room, and sent it crashing through the windows to the yard, three floors below. Dropping onto his lower back with my right knee, I grabbed his right arm, twisting it up behind his back, and then leaned my weight down on his arm.

Edward screamed.

Back in the “good ol’ days,” I would have ripped his head off and flung it away. Doing that made the body easier to dismember. Dismemberment made them easier to burn.

But I didn’t. I hoped I wouldn’t regret that decision later.

I recalled the terror and pain, fear and horror I had felt from Bella when I first found her, and I bombarded him with it.

He wasn’t going to move until I let him.

I rose to my feet and stood over him, my scarred arms at my sides. My chest was heaving, sucking in air I didn’t need and forcing it back out. I could smell the fear and anger that permeated the room.

Bella was screaming. No one moved.

Though my head was still bent down to face Edward, I shifted my eyes to look at Esme, Alice and Emmett.

Esme: I could see the shock on her face and feel it in her mind.

Oddly, Emmett was resigned as he stared down at Edward.

Alice: the horror she felt stained her face, and it pummeled me. Her tiny hands were shaking and covered her mouth. Her eyes were wide, but grew larger when she realized my eyes were on her. Disbelief and fear radiated from her and she backed away, shaking her head.

“Oh no, oh no, oh no.” She took another step back, and then another. “No, Jasper, no.”

Her eyes dropped to the scars on my arms and haltingly moved up to my chest, where most of my scars were hidden by my shirt. Then up to my neck where more silvery scars were visible. They moved hesitantly back to my eyes that I knew were onyx black. Fear poured from her. She feared me. She was terrified of me.

She had never seen this side of me before. Not in all the years we had been together. She had seen my scars before, of course. She knew they were there. That was why she had always insisted I keep them covered. We made love in the dark where they didn’t show quite as much, or she kept her eyes closed so she couldn’t see them. She was aware of my past in Maria’s army. She had also heard snippets of rumors and stories. She hadn’t believed it.

It all just became too real for her.

“I … I can’t … I just can’t,” she wailed and fled down the stairs.

My Bella screamed.

“Emmett.” I turned my eyes back to him. “Take Edward out of here.”

Every muscle in Edward’s body was strung tight as he quaked under my mental assault. I released him from feeling Bella’s terror and pain, and he collapsed.

I turned to Rose. Her anger was sharp and pointed, flaring out from her. Angry at Edward? Alice? Me?

“I’m with you, Jazz.”

I gave her a grateful nod.

Esme still hadn’t said a word, but she stepped aside to let Emmett into the room.  Edward was still moaning on the floor, leaking venom into the golden carpet from his wound. Emmett flipped him onto his back and easily scooped him up. He gave me a small, tight smile, and carried Edward away.

I didn’t care where he took him, as long as it was away from Bella.

With Edward out of the room, I returned to Bella and bent over her. I took hold of her quivering arms, pushing up the long sleeves, and stroking her smooth skin. I needed to feel her, touch her.

“Bella, I’m right here. Hush, hush. I’m here. I’m here. Hush, Darlin’, I’m here.”

Her twisting and turning began to slow. The screams had stopped, but she was gasping for air. I leaned closer to her and breathed out, “I’m right here.” I hoped she would become aware of my scent, and hoped that it would help her.

She inhaled sharply, and I felt it when recognition sparked in her.

“Yes, Bella, I’m right here. I’ve got you. I’m right here,” I whispered as I cupped her face with my right hand.

She inhaled deeply, held it for a moment, and slowly let it out.

I felt her relief. “I’m here. I will protect you.”

Her feet stopped pushing against the mattress, and her legs slowly lowered to the bed. Her arms were less tense as I eased them to her sides. I ran my hands up and down her arms, trying to soothe her.

“I’m here, Bella. I did not leave you. I’m right here. I’m staying right here.”

I eased my right hand to her forehead and smoothed her hair back.

“I’m right here. I won’t leave you, Bella. I’m right here with you.”

I took her hand in my left and brought it to my chest over my heart, and placed my right hand against her face. 

“I’m right here. I will help you.”

Since I awoke as a vampire, I had been able to feel and sense others’ emotions. I could “collect” the emotions I felt and send them back out. But I had never opened myself completely to anyone’s emotions. I wasn’t sure that I could. I had never done it before, but I would try. For Bella.

I concentrated on Bella and forced my mind open as far as it would go.

“Bella, I will take your pain.”

 

..

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 9, I Burn

Jasper’s POV

 

The searing fire, the scorching flames flickered over and through every part of me.

I remembered that burn when it was mine alone to endure.

I remembered feeling the distress, horror, and confusion of those I had changed, but I had blocked those sensations as best I could. I left them to themselves so I wouldn’t feel it or their chaotic emotions. Their hate, their fear, their terror.

Their utter hopelessness.

I abandoned them so I would not hear their screams or their pleas for a merciful death to end the torture.

Later, I had even used that fear, terror, and utter hopelessness against others, but I had never tried to ease it, never tried to help any of them through it, or feel it with them to share their suffering.

I felt Bella’s suffering. Her suffering was my agony.

I took her pain. I took all that I could but I didn’t think it was enough.

That was my torment.

Scalding hot rivers flowed and rippled through every vein and artery, frying every nerve, bursting every cell. I reached for it, grasped it, and drew it from her to me.

It wasn’t enough.

With her suffering and misery, I also felt her relief and gratitude.

I felt her recognition and acceptance.

She knew. She knew I was there. She knew I was trying to help her—to take her pain, distress and anguish. I took all that I could and it wasn’t enough. It would never be enough.

Bella should not have to endure that. She should not suffer—my Bella.

For Bella, I would have taken it all. I would do it again.

 

..

Chapter Text

Chapter 10, I Ponder

Esme's POV

 

I hated to see such discord and animosity between my sons, but I didn't see that there was anything I could have done about it. I knew that Edward wanted to see Bella so badly, but his presence seemed to have such a negative effect on her.

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it.

Her intense adverse reaction to Alice was beyond belief. I just didn't understand it. When Bella wasn't with Edward, she would be with Alice, though I believed much of that was by Edward's design. I couldn't imagine why Alice's presence would upset her so.

That she was so aware of the presence of others was mind-boggling. I recalled being somewhat aware of Carlisle and Edward nearby during my transformation, but it had barely registered — the pain had been so all-consuming.

My poor Bella! To have been in that terrible crash! It must have been horrific. Then to be bitten by some vampire — it was heartbreaking. Jasper hadn't recognized the scent of the vampire — he, most likely, had been a nomad.

But why would he bite her and leave her there? Jasper had said that she had only been bitten once, and it was not a bite to feed.

It was so bewildering.

Thank goodness Jasper had been nearby, or we would have lost our girl.

His restraint! To have been able to bite her to inject more venom into her system, and not be overcome with bloodlust, was just remarkable. I didn't think that I could have done it. He was so strong.

I got up from my chair by the right side of the bed to check on Bella. She was so beautiful, even when her face displayed small signs of her immense pain. She always had been beautiful. I placed my hand on her arm.

"Bella, everything will be all right. I'm here and I will help you. We all love you so much."

It was such a large bed, I had to walk around to the other side to reach Jasper, though I stopped at the foot of the bed just to look at them.

Overall, Bella seemed so peaceful, and she looked just like a little angel. She appeared to be even smaller lying there next to Jasper. Maybe it was because Jasper was so tall. Even curled on his side, he looked so much larger than her. His shoulders were quite wide.

I continued around the bed and bent toward him. He was lying on his left side, facing Bella, and I really couldn't reach over him to take his hand, so I placed my hand on his hair and smoothed it back from his face. It was such a pretty golden honey color.

"Jasper, I'm right here watching over you. I'm right here. Everything is fine. You and Bella are safe."

Keep Jasper safe? I scoffed because I believed that if anyone could have taken care of himself, it would have been Jasper. Though, I would have protected them both to the very end of my own life. They were both so vulnerable. I couldn't see Jasper allowing himself to be defenseless like that. Unless…

Unless he knew Rosalie and I would protect and take care of him?

I had never seen anyone move like he did when Edward ran into the room and leapt at him. Edward should have listened. It was so obvious that Bella was in distress; Edward should have left the room.

I was very sorry that Edward had to suffer the pain of losing a limb, but, in my heart of hearts, I had to conclude that he probably deserved it. Bella was screaming so desperately, and Jasper did not attack him first.

The way Jasper had been standing there … just the look on his face was chilling. His eyes had been a dull black, and his jaw had been tightly clenched. Then when Edward leapt at him, Jasper slammed him down so quickly and tore off his arm — it was terrifying!

When Jasper returned to Bella, he touched her so tenderly and gently, as if she were made of spun glass. The way he caressed her face and brought her hand to his chest was so sweet, so loving. I had never seen him behave that way before.

Of course, I had no idea what he meant when he had said he would take her pain. It all happened so fast. I hadn't time to react even if I had known what was going to happen.

Not a moment after he finished speaking, Bella had gasped and his entire body shook as if he'd been electrocuted, then he fell to his knees. I knew Rosalie was as stunned as I was, but we both reached him at the same time, just as he slumped to the floor. He must have somehow taken some of Bella's burning pain into himself. Even if that was what happened, he never let go of her hand.

I knew how he had suffered feeling all of our emotions over the years. There had been times when he had to leave because he was about to be overwhelmed. I could not even imagine how he might be suffering if he was somehow connected to Bella and experiencing what she was going through.

Rosalie and I hadn't known what to do. We couldn't just leave him like that, but because Bella was so close to the side of the bed, there wasn't room for him there unless we moved her. And he wouldn't let go of her hand! Even Rosalie had tried to pry his fingers loose with me.

The only thing we could do was to try and move them both at the same time. I went to the other side of the bed and climbed up so I could reach Bella. When Rosalie had her arms in position under Jasper, I pulled on Bella as Rosalie lifted Jasper.

There was something to be said for vampire strength.

We had to leave Jasper on his left side because they just would not let go of each other's hands.

Rosalie! I had to smile at her when all she had to say after picking him up and putting him on the bed was, "He's more solid than he looks!"

Those two were so like true brother and sister at times.

Jasper did seem to be helping Bella. Both of them have been motionless — so still and so quiet. It was certainly nothing like what I had experienced before. I remembered how it felt to be going through the agony of that transformation. I remembered Rosalie's and Emmett's. It was dreadful just to witness it! I had watched over them as they bore the pain, and Carlisle had said, even as horrible as it looked, theirs had been normal.

I patted Jasper's shoulder and ran my hand down his arm. I hoped I was comforting him in some small way.

I heard someone coming up the stairs and stood to face the door. I knew Carlisle was home, and Edward had been told in no uncertain terms he was to stay away.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that it was Carlisle.

"Esme." He smiled as he came in the door. "How have they been doing?"

I grasped his hands, and he gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before he turned his attention to Jasper and Bella.

"They have been so quiet. As you can see, they haven't even moved."

"It is extraordinary," he whispered as he leaned forward to place his hand on Jasper's forehead. Next he grasped Jasper's arm then moved down to brush his fingers across his bare foot.

"I don't know what I expected to find, but Jasper feels as if he is the same temperature as always. His skin looks and feels the same."

Carlisle rounded the bed and examined Bella in the same way, starting at her forehead. He gently cupped her face for a moment and smiled before he reached for her arms. Then he leaned a bit closer to her and was still. He stood up momentarily and appeared perplexed. He sat in the chair and began stroking Bella's hand.

I just sat down, clasped my hands together in my lap, and waited for him. I knew he was thinking, trying to puzzle out something, and he would tell me when he had it worked it out.

"Esme," he began. "It's been twenty-seven-and-a-half hours since Jasper first found Bella. Her appearance has changed, as you can plainly see, but strangely, her skin has begun to harden already. Her temperature has lowered. Her breathing and heart rate seem steady and are about the same as they were the last time I examined her. You said Jasper said he was going to take her pain and collapsed about twelve-and-a-half hours ago?"

"Yes. It was at about 2:30 this morning."

"The first time he collapsed after feeling Bella's pain, he was unresponsive for thirty minutes. I'd been expecting him to come out of it before now. I wonder if he will wake up when Bella does or if he'll awaken beforehand?"

He patted Bella's hand, stood up and turned to face the windows.

"You and Emmett did a fine job replacing the windows," he remarked.

"Thank you. Emmett is quite skilled. Fortunately, we have a few extra windows in the garage. You know how rambunctious he can be at times. I still think he forgets how strong he is." I smiled to think of Emmett. He was the strongest and largest of us all, but there were times when he had the enthusiasm of a child.

Carlisle chuckled at that. "Yes, he can be quite 'rambunctious.' We're lucky he's so handy, since he does manage to break things on occasion. And he's been more than helpful with our remodeling projects. He has quite the eye for design, too. But don't tell him I said that." Carlisle, with a small chuckle, shook his head then turned back toward me.

"How did Bella react when Emmett was in the room? Things remained calm, evidently."

Looking over Bella and Jasper, I smiled and nodded. "She appeared to be the same as she is now. Jasper had no reaction either. I hate to admit it, but it was a relief that they didn't react to his presence. I was a bit nervous having him come in here. He hadn't been in to see her before and I feared she might react badly. I had no idea what Jasper would have done if she had."

The thought of Jasper "reacting badly" had sent chills through me.

"If she didn't react then, I don't think we have anything to worry about if Emmett wants to come back and sit with her … them … when he and Alice get back. They've gone to Portland to look at a truck Emmett saw on the internet."

I nodded. I had heard them leave. "How is Edward now?"

At that question, a look of concern crossed Carlisle's face. "Physically, he will be fine. He's been out hunting. Feeding will help the healing, of course. Emotionally, however …" He sighed and crossed his arms. "You know he was distraught when Alice called him and told him Bella had taken off from work, and was heading for La Push. He was quite angry, also. When Alice couldn't see her any longer, we just assumed she was with Jacob Black. I was surprised Edward didn't run straight there. It's best that he didn't, considering how he reacted when he saw her covered in blood."

Edward had fought so hard to control his bloodlust for her. Seeing her in Jasper's arms so badly injured and covered with blood had been too much for him.

"Bella didn't make it to La Push, though, Carlisle, and Alice still couldn't see her. Alice hasn't been able to see anything of Bella's future. She told me earlier she can't see Jasper's future now either." I lightly stroked Jasper's arm. "What do you think it means?"

Carlisle came to stand behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders, giving them a gentle squeeze. "My only guess is that since Bella can keep Edward from reading her mind, she has somehow been blocking him. Like a shield of some sort. One of Aro's Volturi guards is his personal shield — Renata. She can block anyone from physically attacking Aro, but she has to be touching him in order to do it. Aro couldn't read Bella's mind, and he's very powerful. Even Aro's Jane couldn't affect her. Thank God. Jane's power is extremely painful, or so I've observed."

I patted Carlisle's hand and smiled up at him. "Our Bella is quite the wonder."

"Yes, she is!" Carlisle squeezed my hand and started to pace across the floor toward the windows again. He gazed out at the cloudy afternoon and took in a breath. "Given that, I would have to say she is a shield for protection or defense." One hand went to rest on his hip, and with the other he tapped his chin. "Perhaps, when she was injured so badly, she somehow caused it to expand and tried to protect herself. We've all heard the stories about how humans, in times of extreme stress, can suddenly gain almost super-human strength. She must be blocking Alice now. I would surmise that because Jasper is touching her, she is shielding him, too."

He turned toward me and gestured toward Bella and Jasper. "It's all mere speculation, of course. We won't know until we are able to experiment and see if she can block them at will or if she can also shield others. Then again, she may never be able to control it."

"You know, Carlisle," I said as I rose from the chair and walked closer to him. Though Edward was out hunting, I didn't want to take a chance he might return without my hearing him and overhear my thoughts and concerns. I didn't know where Rosalie was, but I suspected she and I were of the same mind.

I took Carlisle's hand in both of mine. "Edward told me last night that when Jasper was touching Bella, he could not read his mind. When Jasper left Bella to take a shower, Edward could hear him again. But this morning, when Edward came rushing into the room, Jasper let go of Bella. Edward told me that later he realized even when Jasper let go of Bella's hand, he couldn't read his mind. Do you suppose her shield is getting stronger?"

Carlisle took me in his arms and sighed. "It's certainly possible, Esme. Latent abilities in humans often get stronger when they become vampires. Edward is a prime example of that. He could not read minds before he was changed, though his mother had told him he had been quite intuitive at times. Jasper is another. He had said that he rose quite quickly through the ranks, despite his youth. He said he had been told he was rather charismatic and empathetic, and that would have certainly helped. His innate charisma evidently became his ability to feel and project emotions. Apparently, Bella is innately gifted with a shield. But to shield Jasper when he wasn't touching her?"

"Carlisle, I have a theory," I whispered. I couldn't help myself. I glanced over at the door to make sure no one was there and could hear me. I started to feel a little guilt at my thoughts, but I could not ignore my observations any longer.

Carlisle looked at me, worry showing on his face, and took my face in his hands. "What's wrong? What is your theory?"

I leaned close to his ear and whispered, "I think Jasper and Bella are mates."

He took hold of my shoulders and held me away from him. He gaped at me in shock. "What? Why?" he stammered.

"Let me explain. I've been watching Jasper quite closely. You know I've always been concerned about him and how, even though he's part of our family, he has always seemed to be on the periphery. On the outside, looking in." I had to pause for a moment and gather my thoughts.

"As I've said, I've been watching him very closely. He is very different with Bella now. He never got so close to her before, he hardly came within ten feet of her, and now he's always touching her and speaking softly to her. He barely even spoke to her before. I attributed that to his concern he might try to bite her, though when he and Alice drove her to Phoenix to keep her from James, he didn't appear to have a problem. He was directly protecting her then. In that ballet studio, her blood did not affect him, and he killed James. He was protecting her again. I can't explain what happened when she cut her finger at her birthday, but when he found her after the crash, she was covered in blood, and he didn't attack her. He protected her again."

Carlisle's hands gently smoothed my hair as I touched his cheek. "Go on," he said.

"Rosalie and I had quite a bit of contact with Bella's skin when we were trying to clean the blood from her. If Edward had suddenly been unable to hear us, he would have said so. You know how he is. He would have mentioned it and tried to reason it out. He is so like you, in that respect. I think that Bella is only shielding Jasper. I think she's trying to protect him. Alice has only complained about not seeing them; she still gets glimpses of the rest of us."

I hugged Carlisle to me and whispered more quietly into his ear. "Can you tell that her scent has changed?"

"Yes, I did notice that. It's quite a bit less floral. It's spicier, warmer, somehow. Esme?"

I was trying to give him all of my observations, all my reasons for coming to the conclusion I had, but I was feeling more guilt by the moment about those conclusions. I just couldn't deny them any longer. Like everyone else, I had thought Bella was Edward's mate. I believed we were wrong.

"When Edward attacked Jasper, and Jasper threw him to the floor and ripped his arm off I was shocked, to say the least, but Alice? She was horrified. She backed away from him and said 'I can't, I just can't' and fled down the stairs. I would have thought she'd go to him and at least ask how he was. Or that he would have gone to her because she was so obviously upset. You know how we seem to feel compelled to go to our mates and comfort them after any sort of trauma — how we have to have physical contact with our mates. But, Alice ran away. She was terrified of him."

"I can understand that she would be terrified. Like the rest of you, she's not been exposed to such … such violence."

"But, Carlisle," I whispered. "Emmett, Rosalie and I stayed. Alice ran away from him, and he just let her go. Instead, he went immediately to Bella to comfort her. You have seen the effect he has on her. She calms down when he speaks to her and touches her."

"One would think that would be his empathic gift."

"I don't think that's all it is, Carlisle." I looked into his eyes and asked, "Did you realize that Alice had taken all of Jasper's things out of her room and put them in his study?"

"No, I didn't. Are you saying …?" Carlisle began, but I placed my finger on his lips to stop him.

"Of course, I don't know what Alice is thinking, but I would think that means she's afraid of him and doesn't want him in her personal space; doesn't want him near her. She has, in effect, thrown him out."

"But, Esme, you know how … intensely … Rosalie and Emmett have fought over the years."

"Yes, I do. But Alice and Jasper haven't ever fought like that. They've had their little tiffs, of course, but nothing like this.

"You have noticed Bella's scent is different." He nodded. "All this time, when Jasper needed to be in close contact with her, he didn't try to hurt her, he protected her. I believe that he must have recognized some quality about her that caused him to be protective of her."

I placed my hand over his cheek. "When she wrecked her truck, another vampire had bitten her first. That would have begun the change. That would have begun to change the scent of the blood that remained in her system, though there couldn't have been too much at the time. How else can you explain Jasper not losing control and draining her? How else can you explain his being able to bite her and force in more venom? He must have been able to detect a difference in her blood, even if he was not consciously aware of it."

My hand slid from his cheek to his shoulder. "Even if that were not the case, he strove to protect her once again. He bit her to ensure that she would survive and she would not suffer with the change any longer than she had to. He forced more venom into her, and then carried her all the way back here — to his home. He brought her home so he could protect and take care of his mate."

Carlisle's eyes widened in astonishment again. He looked over at Jasper and Bella lying next to each other on Edward's bed, their hands entwined just as they had been for hours. He looked back at me, his arms tightening around me, and whispered in my ear, "Yes. He has been protective of her, and rather possessive. He has been displaying more of a dominant personality. More so than he ever has the entire time he's been with us." He kissed my temple. "I don't know why I didn't put it all together before. There's no other explanation for how or why he would even attempt to try to take on the pain of her transformation."

I hugged Carlisle to me. "I believe he's been acting instinctively to protect his mate. I don't even think he's really aware of what he's doing. He's … just doing it."

Carlisle lightly kissed my cheek and inhaled deeply. "He has been quite taken with her scent, also, and scent alerts us to so many things, including our mates. Esme, you have certainly given me something to ponder."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 11, I Drive

Emmett's POV

Normally, I enjoyed the shit out of driving my Jeep. I'd rather be driving it through a mud bog or up a damn mountain, but I didn't mind driving to Portland to look at that truck for Jasper. My Jeep was fuckin' loaded. But even with all the buttons and switches and dials it had, there wasn't one to make Alice chill out. She had been wound up since we got on the road. Well, she was always kinda wound up, but this was something else. She had discovered a whole new level of wound-up-ed-ness.

Man, she's been cranked off at Jasper.

I thought that maybe I should drive Jasper's new truck back to the house and have her drive the Jeep. She knows better than to do anything to my Jeep.

I hope.

"Um … Alice …"

"Emmett, it was horrible. Horrible! Jasper was horrible!" Alice cried as she brought her tiny hands up to cover her eyes, as if it would prevent her from seeing what she hadn't wanted to see.

"I … I know he's fought vampires before. I know he was in the Southern Vampire Wars. He's got all those … those … those hideous scars everywhere! But … but I never saw him behave like that before!" Her tiny hands flew from her face and sliced through the air. "Even when we would spar out in the yard, I never saw …" She shook her head. "Even when he killed James and tore him apart, I never imagined he could be so … so vicious! So cruel and vicious! He didn't have to rip Edward's arm off!" She slapped the dashboard with a loud crack.

Vicious? Fuck yeah, it was vicious! I thought it was fucking awesome. It was fucking EPIC!

Jasper was one fast son of a bitch, and he could have ripped Edward's head off.

Besides, how did she think he survived a hundred years of Maria and vampires trying to take a piece out of him and kill him?

I mean, who didn't like the occasional knock-down, drag-out, beat 'em into the dirt fight, right? But a hundred years of it? A hundred years of every fight being a fight to the death? I couldn't even imagine it.

When Rose and I had been traveling, we would run into a nomad vamp or two, now and then. Not real often, but once in a while. Luckily, there really hadn't been any problems after the initial … wariness. I just couldn't imagine fighting off hordes of them, day after day, year after year.

I didn't think there had been a male yet that didn't appreciate Rosie's "assets." A few females, too. And who wouldn't, right? She was one hot babe.

Once I made sure they understood Rosie was mine, (and I ain't sharin') we had gotten along fine. You just let them know up front you were mates and that usually took care of it. You didn't mess with somebody's mate. That was understood. Having to fight off every male that took a long look at my Rosie would have been … it would have sucked. I would have enjoyed it now and then, but still.

Well, there was that one time over in Ohio this female wasn't taking the hint that I wasn't on the market. She had been pretty damn persistent. I thought Rosie was gonna snap her into little pieces and zip 'em out into the middle of Lake Erie. Rosie had tackled her and embedded that female right down into that beach, which hadn't been easy because that beach was pretty rocky.

Well, I had stopped her from tearing the bitch apart, but Rosie wasn't satisfied she'd learned her lesson. Rosie started biting her hair off! One of the funniest damn things I had ever seen! She bit big chunks out, too. No way that female was going to be able to do a comb over and hide that shit!

That's my Rose!

That was just that one time though. Most of the time there weren't any problems with running across a nomad or two. Pass along a little vamp news, share a few vamp stories. Not a bad way to spend a couple hours or so.

What was surprising was how many stories we had heard about "The Major" or the "God of War." Once I figured out that was Jasper, I thought it was all bullshit. I thought they were all exaggerated. Just a little. You know how the tale grows with the telling? Hell, that's how ya did it! That's how it was back home in Tennessee — the first liar didn't stand a chance.

But we had heard more tall tales and legends from vampires all over the world, and all the stories were too similar. Details had matched up too well. Living with Jasper all those years, you would have never known he was such a scary motherfucker. I guess all the scars kind of gave it away, and they were all over him. The worst on his chest and shoulders though. I didn't think I had seen him without a shirt on more than a few times, except in gym class. But he changed clothes real quick. That always seemed to disappoint the gay boys. Of course, the humans really couldn't see the scars. It was easy to almost forget about them.

And he was so quiet. Always off to the side or in a corner or something — lurking, almost. Creepy vampire shit. Or reading another damn book, unless we were wrestling, or I was kicking his ass at video games. Then he started talkin' some shit.

He was always thinking. I had started to think all those history classes were rotting his brain. Hell! He had been there! Why would he want to keep taking classes on the Civil War? The outcome sure wasn't going to change. His side was still gonna lose. It wasn't like there were going to be any updates or advances in the technology, ya know? Not like with the medical courses Carlisle, Edward and Rose have taken or those engineering and architecture classes Esme and I take now and then. Believe it or not, there were even classes on the psychology of color and how to use it. Who would have believed that? Alice liked that crap. There were even new-fangled computerized sewing machines. They almost made a dress by themselves. Alice had two. Then there was that serger thing. Whatever the hell that was.

Alice must have seen his scars before. I knew he, uh, "plowed that field" once in a while (no secrets in this family) and he did tend to project those happy emotions a little. Which, if I happened to be with Rose at the time, was like kicking it into warp drive.

He couldn't have been wearing a shirt then.

Could he?

The way Alice had been acting, I could see her making him wear a shirt. I mean damn! He had even worn a t-shirt when we'd gone swimming. That would totally suck.

"Al, I'm pretty sure that whenever we were wrestling or sparring, Jasper let us win most of the time. Which kinda pisses me off, now that I think about it. But hey! You know Edward's going to be all right. I found his arm right away, and Esme and I attached it. 'Course he wouldn't hold still. I practically had to sit on him so Esme could get his arm in the right position." I patted her leg to try and calm her down.

Alice sobbed again.

Is she going to keep this up?

Damn, she was an emotional little thing. Always had been. Jasper had always been so steady and composed. So … stoic. How did he stand it? Must have been from all those years he spent with those screamin' ass crazy newborns.

"Alice, Edward will be fine. There's gonna be a scar, but he'll be fine. Though when Esme sees what happened to her rose bushes, she might start ripping limbs off Edward and Jasper." I had to laugh at that. When Jasper ripped off Edward's arm and threw it through the windows, it wiped out about four rose bushes and broke off three more.

Esme would not be amused.

I was glad I hadn't done it that time.

It was a good thing we had some extra windows. I thought I should order a few more just to keep the inventory up. Just in case.

Alice shivered and pressed her hands to her face. "So where are we going again?"

"Portland. Saw a truck on the internet that I think Jasper will like. It's a 2000 GMC Sierra 1500. Four door, four-wheel drive … looked nice on line, but I'm gonna hafta check it out."

Alice took her hands from her face finally and clasped them in her lap. "Maybe Rose should have gone to look at it. You know she knows more about engines than anybody."

"Yeah, she does, but Jasper sent Rose to Jenks. I got the impression he didn't want her too far away. Won't take her long to pick up Bella's new IDs."

And put the fear of God into Jenks.

Alice stiffened, and I saw her little hands clench into fists.

"Emmett, explain to me why you and Rosalie are letting Jasper order you around. He's shouting orders at everyone!" Her tiny hands waved through the air and clenched into fists again. "Explain to me why no one is allowed to get near Bella unless he lets them. Who put him in charge?" Her fists thumped against her thighs.

She turned toward me and anger sparked in her eyes. "Shouldn't we be discussing all this with Carlisle? Shouldn't we be discussing this as a family instead of letting Jasper take charge and dictate who does what and when they should do it? Bella is Edward's girlfriend and …" She snapped her mouth shut, squeezed her eyes closed, and turned away from me again.

Yup. Still pretty damn pissed off at Jasper.

"Hang on a minute, Alice." I reached over and patted her leg again. "Jasper found her and brought her right back to the house. She was about to die, and he bit her to save her without draining her dry! You know how good she smells." I sighed. "He did an excellent job staging the scene of the crash. I saw it, remember? This is Bella we're talking about here. The Police Chief's daughter! Everybody knows who she is! Because of Jasper, everybody thinks she was killed in the crash and some animal drug her off. Nobody suspects it was anything but a terrible accident. Which is a good damn thing, since we have to make her disappear."

Why was Alice so angry? Because Jasper bit Bella? Alice was the one who had always said Bella would be one of us. She had never said who had bitten her. I just figured since she hadn't said who bit Bella, she hadn't ever seen it. Did it matter who bit her? Maybe it did.

Maybe she was jealous since Jasper wouldn't leave Bella? She was the one who called Jasper disgusting. Well, Rosie had called me disgusting, but she hadn't really meant it. I thought Alice had meant it.

She sure seemed to be scared of him, too. Terrified, even.

Could you even be that afraid of your mate?

Was he her mate if he scared her that bad?

She moved all his stuff out of her room. Funny how everyone had always thought of that room as hers and not theirs. If that wasn't kicking somebody to curb, I didn't know what was. I didn't even think he knew about it yet.

How could you kick your mate out of your room? Rosie had chased me out of our room plenty of times, but she hadn't been kicking me out. There was a difference. I had just pissed her off. Again.

As many times as I've screwed up, Rosie's had plenty of opportunities to get rid of me, but I didn't think she could, just like I couldn't do it to her. There was no way I could. We were mates; we were connected. Even then I felt a pull toward her. I knew she felt it for me, too.

"Alice, I'm not understanding you. Jasper hasn't done anything except try to help Bella and protect the whole family." I waved my hand through the air and then grabbed the steering wheel again. "And he brought her back to us. Besides, she wanted to be changed into a vampire! I don't know why Dickheadward was being such a hard-nosed shit about it." I had to shake my head at that. I still wasn't able to figure that shit out.

Moot point now, I suppose.

"She'll need the IDs eventually, and we need to get her away from Forks." I glanced over at Alice and she was still staring out the windshield. "He's right about you and Edward having to stay in Forks, at least for a while, to go along with the story an' all. Jazz, Rose, and I are supposed to be away at school anyhow. We can't let anyone from Forks see us, so it only makes sense that we take her away."

To be fair to Alice, it had appeared as though he was only allowing some of us in the room. He had chased off Alice and Edward, but that was only after Bella had had a fit. She did that the first time either one of them had gotten near her. Otherwise, she had been pretty quiet.

Which was a little creepy, actually.

And, to be fair, Jasper had seemed to be a little more … uh, assertive than he usually was. Well, a lot more assertive than he ever had been. Right damn aggressive even.

"Okay, so Jasper's been a bit more, uh, firm than he usually is, but maybe that's because trying to keep Bella calm is wearing on him."

Alice smacked the edge of her seat then pointed her finger at me, "Jasper is just taking over when Carlisle is the head of our family and should be making the decisions," she snapped. She huffed, crossed her legs and crossed her arms over her chest.

She really was mad! My guess was she had been so used to telling him what to do and what to wear, and when he could go here or there, or when he should hunt — she was used to leading him around by the nose. He had never acted like that with us before. It must have been messing with her head.

I sighed again and rubbed the back of my neck. "Jazz isn't really doing anything we haven't done before when we had to leave someplace, uh, quickly. Everybody has their job to do and I'm doing what I can to help." My hand scrubbed my face for a second, and I glanced over at Alice again. "I … I don't know why Jasper has taken charge, but as long as what he says doesn't jeopardize all of us, I'll do what he says. If I think he's doing something that would hurt us or expose us, or hurt my Rose, I'll say so. Besides, he has a knack for it. He's good at it. Just something about his voice … I don't know, ya just do whatever he says."

Right then Alice froze and she stared off into space. She must have been having a vision. Hadn't had one of those in a while. Funny how she couldn't see Bella anymore right before the crash, and she couldn't see anything of Jasper's future when he was touching Bella. From what Rose, Esme and Carlisle had said, the only time he didn't have his hands on her was when he was in the shower.

Ya know, I had never seen him touch anybody so much. Had he ever even touched Bella before? Ever?

Anyway, then Alice said she couldn't see him at all. At the time, he was ripping Edward's arm off, so I don't suppose she had been looking for anything right then.

Rose told me that Jazz had said he would take Bella's pain, and he passed out. Of course, Rose and Esme put him on the bed with Bella, and he had been touching her ever since. Rose said he wouldn't let go of Bella's hand. They hadn't known what to do with him, and that was a lot of vamp to try and put somewhere.

They were in the same position when I went up to clear out the broken glass and window frames and put in the new windows. Neither one of them even twitched the whole time I was in there, as noisy as all that can be. Maybe that was because Esme had been there, too. Considering how Bella had reacted to Edward and Alice, and then Jazz's reaction, I was glad I hadn't upset her! Jazz was being pretty damn aggressive and protective. He was being a little possessive, too. Sort of. Never seen him act like that before.

Alice gasped then, coming out of her vision.

"What did you see, Al?"

Her hands flew to her head and she put her fingers against her temples like she had a headache. Vampires didn't get headaches.

"You and Rosalie. In the mountains, but not the mountains around here. I didn't recognize the area. You two were in a sort of clearing. A field with tall grass, looking toward mountains. Maybe you were in a valley? There were trees with leaves, and a few pines. I think it was summer. Mid-day. It was sunny. You and Rose were wearing jeans. She had on a light blue collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and you had on a navy blue t-shirt. I couldn't see your feet." She let out an exasperated sigh. "That's all I could see. I just saw you from the back; nothing about Bella or anyone else." She sighed again. "Did Jasper say where you were going?"

"No, he hasn't said yet, and now he's passed out or whatever." It was sunny? I was wearing a t-shirt? Must not have been Forks! Alice rarely ever allowed anyone to wear just a t-shirt, and it was almost never sunny in Forks.

"Standing in a field, looking at mountains doesn't sound very exciting."

"Emmett, you know my visions just come to me. I don't get to choose what I see. I've been trying to see what happens with Bella, or anything of her future, and I see you and Rose in a field. But it wasn't around here, I don't think…" She trailed off, her finger tapping her chin.

"Maybe it's where we're going to be. I would think any place Jazz chooses to go would be pretty isolated so Bella isn't tempted any more than she has to be. You know she wouldn't want to hurt any humans. Besides, it's not like she can make any decisions at the moment."

Alice moved her fingers back to her temples and scrunched her eyes closed. I guess she was trying to see more. Who knows? I sure couldn't explain all this mind voodoo mojo juju shit.

Bella could always block Edward from reading her mind. I had wished more than a few times that I could do that. Though thinking about bullshit to keep him out of my head was fun; you couldn't do that all the time.

She had blocked Aro from reading her mind, and even blocked Aro's little bitch Jane from zapping her. But Alice used to be able to see her future.

Jasper had always felt her emotions and even manipulated them. Jasper's mojo worked better whenever he was touching the person, or the vampire. Must have been why he kept holding Bella's hand. But she had been blocking Alice since just before she crashed. Alice couldn't see anything of Jasper's future either. Whatever it was that Bella was doing must have been getting stronger because of the venom. I didn't understand how all that crap worked. I didn't think anybody did.

"Alice, we'll be in Portland soon. I hope the truck is as nice as it looked online because I think we'll be leaving as soon as possible."

Alice huffed and crossed her arms over her chest again. "I think so, too, but I wish I could see what was going to happen!"

"We're away from Bella and you got a vision. Maybe you'll have some more."

She huffed again and turned to stare out the window.

Huffy little thing. I guess that's the end of the pleasant chit chat.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 12, I Wait

Jasper's POV

The agonizing burn and Bella's chaotic swirl of emotions ended abruptly, and I sucked in a ragged breath. Though I felt an immense relief at the end of the fiery pain, I also felt an immediate sense of loss as Bella's emotional touch pulled away from me.

I realized I was lying on my left side, and I still had hold of Bella's hand. I must have been on Edward's bed with her. The last thing I remembered was standing next to the bed, bending over her and grasping her hand, trying to help her with the torment she was going through.

My eyes snapped open, and the first thing I saw was Bella lying next to me. I studied her still profile as I sent my senses outward. She had not yet awakened and was still in immense pain. I remembered trying to take it all, share it, and ease her suffering. Why had I awakened? Why had she pulled away?

Beyond Bella's outwardly peaceful form, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a slight movement. There was someone near us.

I released Bella's hand and sprang up, landing in a crouch on the left side of Edward's bed. Rosalie must have been sitting near the bed, but as I moved into a deeper crouch, she darted out of the chair and across the room to the windows, holding her hands up in front of her.

"Jasper, everything's okay." She spoke softly. "Are you all right?"

"Yes. How long?" I glanced around the room. No one else was in there with us. I looked down at Bella and saw that I had not disturbed her. I carefully stepped down from the bed and stood next to it, still searching the room with my eyes.

"You were out about twenty-and-a-half hours. Everything has been quiet." Rosalie clasped her hands together and just watched me.

I felt that she was wary, but she was not afraid. "What happened?"

"After you kicked Edward's ass, you went to Bella and told her you would take her pain. You held her hand, she gasped, and you collapsed. Esme and I moved Bella over, and we put you on the bed with her because you wouldn't let go of each other's hands. You and Bella were still and quiet the whole time." She took a small step toward Bella and me. "Do you remember anything?"

I inhaled deeply, checking for scents in the room. "Esme, Carlisle, and Emmett have been in here?" I asked her as I continued looking around the room. I could smell Edward, but it was his room. I could also detect Alice, but neither of their scents was fresh.

"Yes. We've taken turns sitting with you. We just thought we'd sit with both of you. You had said you didn't want Bella left alone, remember?" She took another small step toward us.

"Yes, I remember that." Things felt disjointed and I was a little confused. As vampires, we remembered everything, but sometimes we needed to be reminded. It was very disturbing to have a block of time go missing. To have been missing so much time was disconcerting and alarming.

Emmett and Carlisle appeared at the top of the stairs and walked slowly toward the room. They were cautious and wary also.

"Jasper? How are you feeling?" Carlisle asked as he entered the room.

"Physically, I feel fine — normal. Otherwise, I'm a bit disoriented. Rosalie said I was out for twenty-and-a-half hours." I gave them a small smile. "Bella's okay; I'm fine. I won't attack you."

"I can see that." Carlisle returned my smile, and even Emmett relaxed and cracked a bit of a grin. "We have a bit of catching up to do, I think."

-oOoOo-

Carlisle and I were disappointed that I couldn't remember more of my time "connected" to Bella. Primarily, what I recalled was the agony of the burn, and I had wanted her to know she wasn't alone, that I was with her. She had been aware of that, I was sure.

He had been very curious about her "pulling away" from me, but I couldn't explain it any differently, or any better than that. That was what it had felt like. I could still feel her emotions, but they seemed muffled somehow, even though I had continued holding her hand.

Despite that mystery, Carlisle was extremely pleased at her progress and was confident that Bella would awaken any moment. Her breath was coming in shallow pants, and her heart rate was beginning to accelerate. The excruciating fire of the change had lasted for two and a half days.

Maria had told me my own transformation had lasted three-and-a-half days. Those I had bitten had burned from three to five. In the beginning of my conscription into Maria's army, they would burn for four or five days — those I hadn't drained and killed. As I had gained expertise, they would burn for three — never less than three. It wasn't that I had given two shits about any of them or their pain, it was the incessant screaming, and wailing, and begging for death that had been so fucking distracting. The chaotic emotions would pound into me until I couldn't even hear my own thoughts. I hadn't been able to stand it, so I decided it was better to leave and be as far from them as I could.

That, and we often needed replacements as quickly as possible because the newborn assholes kept dismembering and destroying each other, and too many of them just hadn't measured up to Maria's "requirements."

The fact that Bella would awaken soon, and we were nearing the sixty-hour mark, was extraordinary. It was a relief. It was a relief that her suffering would soon be over.

I was eagerly anticipating meeting that new, stunningly beautiful Bella.

And she was, without a doubt, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

Rising from the chair by her side, I held both of her hands in mine and placed tender kisses across her knuckles, breathing in her beguiling and provocative scent. I barely resisted the sudden almost overwhelming urge to touch her hands with my tongue and taste her skin. Barely.

"It's nearly over, Darlin'. I'm here. It's almost over. I'm here."

I heard a soft hiss behind me. Edward. The ass. Okay, so I was a self-centered dick, and maybe I was gloating the least little bit, but his sullen envy of my being able to touch her, when he couldn't, just tickled me right down to my toes.

It was puzzling that he hadn't been able to be in the room without sending Bella into another raging, screaming fit. But since I had tried to share and ease her pain, she had been "calmer," for lack of a better term.

I lowered her hands, placing them on her stomach, and I backed away from the bed. After I awoke an hour ago, I had maintained my position at the left side of the bed so I could see both the door and the windows, but I needed to be in a more strategically-placed location. If she woke up in a frenzy and tried to make a break for it, she might head for the door, or she might try the windows. There was no way to tell what a newborn might do; especially Bella. In the last two-and-a-half days, she had stunned, surprised, and confounded me more than I had been in the last 143 years combined.

I moved around the foot of the bed, ignoring Edward, and went to lean against the closet wall near its outside corner. I couldn't see the door from that position unless I looked around the corner to the left, but that put me between the door and the windows. If she ran for the door, I would catch her. If she went for the windows, I would stop her.

I crossed my arms over my chest, and I shook my head in consternation. I had taken on as much of Bella's pain as I could, and it was… it had sucked. It had felt like I was going through it all over again. But beneath the flaming agony, there had been a constant state of … awareness coming from her. I thought she knew I was there, trying to help her. Where else would I have been? I had to help her. I had to try. I didn't know why, but I had felt compelled to try, to do whatever I could to comfort her, let her know she wasn't alone with her suffering. I believed she did know.

I didn't know why I woke, or lost the connection. She had been there with me, and then she had pulled away. I hadn't understood it. Maybe it was because she was so close to waking herself? Actually, if she was going to wake soon, I thought I would rather be fully conscious and aware. You never knew what a newborn was going to do, other than be confused, pissed off and afraid. You needed to be alert around them.

I heard a faint sigh to my left. Alice.

Why Alice was in there waiting for Bella to awaken was beyond my comprehension. She had no experience with newborn vampires. We had joined the Cullens after Rosalie and Emmett had been there for several years, and she didn't even remember her own change. She hadn't been able to see Bella in her visions since Saturday, so she hadn't been able to see how Bella might behave. Not that newborns were known for their rational, concrete decisions.

She always did rely on her visions too much.

Perhaps that would explain why she was feeling nervous: because she couldn't see what Bella might do. Or maybe she was nervous being in the same room as me, since she kicked me out. After I woke up, Rosalie wasted no time informing me that Alice had taken my stuff out of her room. I wasn't even surprised.

It was odd how I had always referred to it as her room, but it always had been that way. In every house we had lived in, there had been Alice's room and my study.

I didn't really care that she moved my things out of her room. Not much in there was mine anyway, and the clothes I liked were already in my study. It was just as well. And, ya know, I really didn't give a shit.

After the way Bella had reacted to her, you would have thought Alice wouldn't want to be near her. Alice didn't know how violent newborns could be, how erratic, unpredictable, and downright unstable. They were usually pretty damn motivated to try and rip your head off.

She probably expected Bella to be a submissive little lamb like always. That was what Bella had shown them, and damned if I understood that either. I knew different, however. I had felt her resentment and frustration as they put more and more restrictions on her. I hadn't understood why she put up with it.

As much time as they had spent with her, you would have thought they would have known her better. Hadn't they ever noticed how reserved she was around them, or how happy and ebullient, and loud she was when she was playing video games with Emmett? And my God – the talkin' smack and bullshit out of those two. The taunting, teasing, and gloating over a win — and that was Bella. Emmett had loved that shit. Hell, I had loved that shit. She had been happy, gleeful. She had been so alive. Those feelings had drawn me in like a magnet.

And Edward and Alice hadn't seen it. Or maybe they had been so wrapped up in themselves they hadn't wanted to.

I had an inkling that Bella would surprise us again. In fact, I was hoping that she would. I was looking forward to it.

I could hardly wait.

Knowing Alice, I assumed she wanted to be there because she was positive Bella couldn't possibly be violent or aggressive. Unlike myself.

Alice had often been too optimistic for her own good.

I didn't want her in there, but I chose not to fight that battle, even though I thought there were too many people around. It was too much for a newborn to try to deal with.

But what do I know, right?

Alice, seated on the floor by the door, huffed with impatience.

"Alice," I heard Carlisle whisper from his position just outside the door in the hall. "You must be patient. Though Bella's change appears to be somewhat shorter than normal, there is no rushing this. There is no way to hurry it along. We must wait."

"I know, Carlisle. I just want to see her."

"Remember, Alice," I began. "Do not run toward her. Ideally, you should be standing, unmoving, with your eyes lowered to the floor. Do not make any sudden moves."

Edward snorted. "I don't believe we'll have to worry excessively about Bella. She has always been non-violent and tractable. I don't feel there's any need for undue concern."

I raised an eyebrow at him. Edtard didn't have a clue. Hadn't he learned anything from being around Rosalie and Emmett when they were newborns? Or was he so confident in his superiority and his ability to manage Bella that he couldn't imagine having any … difficulties with her as a newborn?

It was moments like that when I almost wished I could have read his mind to see what the fuck he was thinkin'.

I had been damn pleased he hadn't been able to read my mind since I had tried to help Bella with her pain. Rosalie had let me in on that little tidbit, too.

That it drove him fucking nuts was just icing on the cake.

I repressed my smirk.

Of course, I hadn't even been aware of him, or anyone except Bella, for a good portion of that. All my attention had been focused on Bella.

He was also to my left, but leaning quietly against his desk in the center of the wall of shelves filled with books and music CDs.

I felt his frustration. "You don't agree, Jasper?"

"No, I do not agree."

"Well, why not?" Alice asked. "You know how Bella is."

I sighed, exasperated with them both. "I know how Bella was. I also know how newborns are."

"Jasper, you don't know how Bella will behave." Edward was using his "we're imparting wisdom to the peons" voice. His jealousy was eating him alive.

"No, I don't," I answered him quietly. As if he would, the smug, self-righteous prick. "But we must be ready for anything."

I didn't know how Bella would behave when she awoke, but I did know how she had been feeling the last several weeks — frustrated, smothered, and rebellious. They had both suffocated her until she had begun to feel desperate. Experiencing that had nearly driven me to distraction.

Esme chuckled softly. She was in the hall with Carlisle, Emmett and Rosalie. "I remember Emmett waking up. That was the first room we had to gut and remodel," she said with fondness. "Along with those two or three others.

I could feel Rosalie's amusement and her love for Emmett. "That's my Emmett. It's lucky for us he's so good with a hammer and a saw."

"When I was human, we had to do everything ourselves. Needed a chicken coop, or another room added to the house? Had to build it ourselves, if we could get the lumber. And I've had a lot of practice over the years," he mumbled with some embarrassment.

Rosalie patted his arm. "Lucky for us you aren't just another pretty face."

"That's right, Babe."

Then I heard it. Bella's heart was beating faster. Everyone else became aware of the pounding in her chest a moment later. It wouldn't be much longer. Her heart would cease, she would die, and she would awaken to us.

Awaken to me.

I profoundly wished none of them were there.

I felt everyone's anticipation. Alice was still a little nervous.

Edward seemed eager and even began to lean forward a bit, though he stayed propped against the desk. His emotions were shifting. Anticipation and excitement flowed to eagerness and admiration.

Bella was certainly something to admire. The changes in her physical looks from the venom, my venom, were extraordinary. Her heart-shaped face was the same, but somehow more. Her cheekbones had become just slightly more angular, the curve of her eyebrows were a subtle arch over her eyes. Her lips were tinted pale rose pink that perfectly complemented her light ivory skin. She still had those fifteen freckles across her nose and cheeks, though they were much lighter. Her hair had a shine I'd never noticed before. She was perfect.

Edward's admiration began to shift, and I felt the beginnings of desire coming from him. I didn't know why I was surprised. I had felt it from both of them often enough, though Edward would shut it down almost as quickly as it had begun, and Bella would end up feeling frustrated, angry and then rejected. How he could have turned her down and pushed her away …

I was beginning to feel angry. He had never wanted to change her, but now that she was less breakable …

Okay, I was getting pissed off. Bella was…

Bella gasped, and her entire body went rigid against the mattress. Her thudding heart was beating so fast it was practically a constant thrum. I felt fear and longing from her. Curiosity, puzzlement, then a sharp awareness flared.

There was one last stuttering beat. Her body convulsed and was still. She was not breathing. I felt her bewilderment and confusion, then her relief. Relief that the pain had finally come to an end?

Everyone else had stopped breathing and was silent.

She inhaled a deep breath and blew it out. She inhaled again. Her curiosity and wonder crept through the room.

Alice let out a tiny sigh of relief, and I felt Bella instantly switch to wariness with a touch of fear. Her eyes flew open, and at first, she stared at the ceiling, but then her eyes began to move slowly. She inhaled again, opening her mouth that time to taste the air. She inhaled again and I felt her puzzlement and concentration, then a flicker of recognition.

In a move so fast it was a blur to me, she sat upright and stared intently at Alice.

I heard Alice gulp and felt her fear increase. In another blur of movement, Bella was on her feet, crouching on the bed. Her long hair swirled around her and settled over her shoulders. Her hands were out to her sides, her knees were bent, and she was perfectly still, except for her eyes. Her brilliant red eyes darted about the room, taking everything in, and I felt her wariness and guardedness increase. That was not unusual as a newborn's first instinct was to be wary and try to protect itself. They didn't know what had happened to them, and they often thought they were in danger.

In my experience, they frequently were.

Her eyes moved to Alice, and then to Edward, and I felt her anger rise. I immediately tried to send her a feeling of calm. Her eyes darted to me. She inhaled deeply through her nose and exhaled through her slightly parted lips. She breathed in again through her nose and mouth, and her eyes widened as she regarded me. Her anger was replaced with recognition and relief.

"Jasper, it was you. You stayed." My name was barely a wisp of air passing through her lips.

Her first word as a newborn vampire was my name, and I became lost in those vivid red eyes. I wanted to go to her, draw her into me, breathe in her scent, feel her skin against mine …

My God, she was stunning!

I blinked to break the spell. I had to focus. I increased the calm I was sending her, and her eyes narrowed. Then it was as if it bounced back to me, and I couldn't feel her anymore. She had blocked me! Somehow she had blocked me. I tried to show no emotion on my face, and I kept my body still, but I was shocked. How had she done that?

I tried it again, but it just bounced back.

Amazing!

Then, she did about the strangest damn thing I had ever seen. Bella slowly moved her right hand toward her mouth and licked her fingertips, one by one. She stuck out her tongue again and licked her thumb, cagily watching all of us, her eyes flicking from one to another.

Her soft pink tongue trailed up the length of her thumb, curled around the pad, swept over the tip, and slowly disappeared between her lips. I was mesmerized.

That tongue … Bella's tongue … I wanted … I wanted to feel that tongue …

Bella had my undivided attention, and I wasn't surprised in the least when I felt every male snap to attention, like a bird dog on point at a quail.

Her eyes moved between Edward and the others. She glanced at me, and then back to them.

What the hell was she doing?

Her right hand flashed back to her side, and she unhurriedly brought her left hand to her mouth. First she licked her pinky. She shifted next to her ring finger.

I thought I heard Edward swallow.

Bella moved to lick her middle finger, her tongue gliding up the side and over the tip, before her tongue slipped back into her mouth. Next, she put her index finger in her mouth, closed her beautiful pink lips over it, and gradually pulled it out.

I sucked in a breath. I was so … aroused. That was so fucking hot. I was stunned yet again. I had never had to deal with that particular feeling when initially greeting a newborn, and it was … uh … disconcerting.

Did she have any fucking idea how sexy that was? What the fuck was she doing? I wished I could have felt her emotions!

It seemed the other males thought it was right damn titillating, too, because I heard Emmett shift uneasily out in the hall, and Carlisle nervously cleared his throat. They went from feeling eager anticipation to slightly uncomfortable fascination. There was a touch of embarrassment mixed in.

Sometimes I forgot how young Carlisle was. Physically, he was only 23, with the libido to match. He usually hid it well, but he wasn't hiding his feelings too well right then.

Edward sighed with his appreciation and his desire increased. Bastard.

Ahhhhh. There was the smidgen of annoyance from Rose and Esme.

I heard Alice make a slight movement, and Bella's eyes narrowed and flashed back to her.

Edward inhaled to speak. "Bella, love …"

Bella snarled and leapt from the bed straight for Alice, the force causing the headboard to thud heavily against the wall. As I turned the corner to try and catch her, I saw Bella extend her hand toward Alice.

Damn she was fast!

Alice jerked away from her but the nails of her right hand raked across Alice's throat, and Bella landed with a loud thud right in front of her, emitting a low rumbling growl.

Edward, the fool, stepped toward her, extending his hand. "Love, you shouldn't …"

I almost had my hand on her, my fingertips just grazing her shirt, when she spun away and went for Edward. "Don't you tell me …" she snarled.

He was so shocked at her actions he didn't even try to defend himself. Bella drew up her left hand in front of her chest and reached out, clawing Edward across his face as she shoved him into the desk and shelves. Books and CDs cascaded down from the broken shelves over him and to the floor.

Oh Damn!

I almost had my hands on her when she spun away from Edward and caught my left bicep with her right hand. As she crashed into me she caught my right arm against my side and clamped down. Her momentum slammed us into the corner of the closet jutting out into the room, and I felt the dry wall crumble, the wooden studs and door frame buckle and snap.

Thank Christ she didn't shove us through the wall and into the closet.

One of the stupidest things you could do was let a newborn get their arms around you. With their own blood still in their systems, they were so strong they could crush you. You were most likely going to die.

She was the first newborn to ever get both arms around me, and that was pretty goddamn stupid on my part.

She, of course, didn't have the experience, finesse, or the skill of an older vampire, but it was effective, nonetheless.

I had to get my head out of my ass before she gnawed it off.

I reached up with my left hand and tried to grab the nape of her neck as I jerked my head to the left away from her.

Then she bit me.

She bit the livin' shit out of me!

But …

She didn't bite me just under my jaw to decapitate; she had sunk her teeth into the muscle at the top of my right shoulder and latched on.

I felt her teeth sink into me and her venom entering my system, and another low growl began to rumble in her chest.

That wasn't a bite meant for decapitation. She didn't bite and then wrench her head away to cause as much destruction as possible. It was a bite meant to mark, meant to claim ...

Claim?

Once again she had stunned me into senselessness.

Did she have any idea what the fuck she was doing? Christ, (and everyone else) knew Edward would never have told her about …

Fuck me, that growl was sexy as hell!

I managed to seize the back of her neck, but she didn't let go. I couldn't just pull her loose – she would have ripped a chunk out of me. I kicked against what was left of the wall and shoved us toward the center of the room. Our legs tangled together.

Oh shit.

We were going to fall, and she still had my arms pinned!

She was still growling!

I tried to turn so I wouldn't land on her, but that didn't quite work out. I struck the floor on my left side, and she finally pulled her teeth out of me.

"MINE!" she roared, as she raised herself up and away from me, releasing my arms. Her hair and eyes were wild. Her eyes flashed toward Alice, and she growled again. Her hand brushed across my jaw as she twisted away from me, and she sprang up, landing in a crouch between me and the windows.

That ain't good.

I leapt up from the floor and stood, knees flexed, ready for her next move, afraid she would head for the windows. The sting of her venom sank into my consciousness, and I winced and slapped my left hand to my shoulder. I felt the venom leaking out, soaking my ripped shirt. The bite was deep.

God dammit, that stung like a bitch!

Wait. She had said, "Mine"?

That was …

So. Fucking. Erotic.

Her crimson eyes flew open in shock. Her hands flashed to cover her mouth. "Jasper! I am so sorry!"

She spun in a blur and launched herself at the windows, crashing through them, broken glass and wood splinters exploding outward.

I was absolutely stupefied. Again!

Of course she hadn't gone for the door – too many vampires over there!

Esme said, "Oh dear. We'll have to replace the windows again."

Emmett said, "Damn. She's like a fucking Ninja."

Alice screamed, "My neck! My neck!"

Rose said, "God, she's fast."

Strangely, Edward had nothing to say as his left hand hesitantly rose to cover the deep scratches on his cheek.

Carlisle said, "Jasper?"

Shit.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13 – I Chase

Jasper's POV

 

I bolted for the gaping hole in the windows and sailed through. I half expected to see Bella lying on the ground three floors below. She wasn't.

I thudded heavily to the ground and inhaled as deeply as I could to catch her scent. She was heading northeast, away from Forks. Good.

She was in a panic. I could only hope I caught her before she got too far. If only she hadn't blocked me from feeling her emotions. How had she done that?

I had to catch her — stop her.

If I didn't catch her soon, I would have to try and drop her. Fear sure wouldn't have been a good choice.

There! I felt her again! She was panicked, desperate, remorseful, and confused.

I flew through those trees and tried to send her calm and reassurance.

Her emotions felt stronger to me and I knew had to be getting closer, but damn, she was fast! I sent peace, calm, reassurance, and comfort to her as I crested the ridge of one of the smaller hills. Through the trees, I spotted her heading down the other side. I forced myself to go faster, finally gaining on her.

"Bella stop! I won't hurt you! Please stop!"

I lunged for her, tackling her at her shoulders. I slid my fingers down her arms and seized her wrists, folding her arms across her body and holding her tightly. I forced her head down with my chin and captured her legs with mine, driving them up to curl us into a ball.

We slammed into the ground with the force of a falling meteor and rolled, spinning through the fallen limbs, twigs and pine needles until we crashed into a fir tree, cracking the trunk. The entire tree shuddered and deep green needles rained down around us. We ended up on our sides at the base of the fir, covered in pine needles and leaves.

Her fear, confusion, and remorse were pulsing into me. Inside the cage of my arms and legs, her entire body was trembling. She was breathing in quick, shallow pants.

"Bella, it's okay. I'm right here," I whispered into her ear.

I gathered the comfort and serenity I felt at touching her skin and enfolded her in it. "Relax. I'm not mad. Everything's going to be okay."

She needed to feel safe and secure. I drew from my feelings of protectiveness for her and added security to the mix of emotions I was sending to her and encircled her with it, like my arms around her shaking body.

"Darlin', I'm right here." I breathed into her face, my cheek at her temple. "I know you're confused, but I'm right here. I'll help you." I couldn't stop myself from nuzzling into her hair. "Do you remember what I can do? Do you remember that I can feel your emotions?"

After a moment, she nodded slightly. She whispered very quietly, "I remember you. You stayed."

"Of course I stayed with you."

I wasn't quite sure what she meant by that. Where else would I have been?

"Do you remember that I can manipulate others' emotions?"

She nodded again.

"I'm trying to help you feel calm right now. I know it's all very confusing. I know. I will help you."

Gradually, she began to relax, her breathing slowed, her trembling ceased, and I loosened my hold on her.

"If I let you go, you won't run away from me will you?"

She shook her head and her body relaxed further.

As I straightened my legs, hers did also, and I eased us onto my back.

"Bella, it's all right. I'm right here. I'm going to let go of your arms now, okay?"

"Okay." She spoke a bit more loudly than before, and it struck me that her voice was music. It was the low chime of a perfectly tuned church bell that sang through my mind, hummed through my body, vibrated through my …

What the hell would happen to me if she spoke more than a few words?

I had to stay calm. I had to maintain control of myself. I had to get her body off my body.

"Bella, I'm going to let go now. Everything is okay."

I slowly unclasped my hands from her wrists and eased them away, gliding up her forearms, tugging up the long sleeves to feel her silky skin. I didn't really want to let go of her, but I held perfectly still as she rolled off me and away, settling on her hands and knees. I kept sending her peace, calm, and reassurance.

Bella — on her hands and knees.

Oh!

I slowly sat up, watching her eyes the entire time. They were a brilliant red — a pair of stunning, glowing rubies.

Dipping my head slightly to peer into her beautiful face I said, "I'm going to stand up now."

Wariness stirred into the mix of her emotions, and I moved cautiously so as not to alarm her. I got my feet under me, my hands spread on the ground, and I carefully stood up. Her eyes were intently watching every move.

I stood in front of her, breathing quietly and evenly through my nose and mouth, smelling and tasting the air — drawing in her tantalizing scent; the scent that reminded me of home and belonging.

Her eyes unlocked their gaze from mine and moved hesitantly over my face, studying it, then over my hair. Her gaze coasted down along the curve of my jaw, to my neck, and I could tell when she reached the bite she had given me. Her remorse exploded, and I increased the reassurance and serenity I was sending to her.

Raising my hands, I spoke softly, as if to a wild animal about to flee. "It's okay. You didn't hurt me."

Still on her knees, her eyes left my shoulder and moved across my chest. Admiration crept in, replacing her guardedness.

Oh really? Lord knows I've been admiring her.

Her eyes moved down my torso and came to rest on my right arm, then darted to my left — the scars on my arms.

She would be able to see them so much more clearly! Why hadn't I thought to cover them up? She would be terrified!

But she wasn't. Her eyes widened slightly, pride joined her appreciation, and a touch of lust and desire swirled into the mix.

Lust? That was … unexpected. No one had ever had quite that reaction when seeing my scars, and I certainly hadn't expected to feel that from Bella. I was astounded, but I kept my face expressionless and didn't move one muscle. I waited to see what she would do.

I didn't have long to wait. Her eyes flashed to my groin, and I thought I was going to choke on my own venom when her eyes lingered there.

That was … fuckin' hot.

Focus, soldier!

Her eyes traveled down my legs, to my bare feet, and then more quickly back up to my chest. Her lips parted, and she began to breathe more deeply. I knew she was taking in and tasting my scent. I remained still and watched her.

Suddenly startled, she snapped her mouth shut and sat back on her heels. Because she was smelling me? It was a very instinctual thing to do. Vampires relied heavily on their sense of smell.

Instinctively she knew it, but she had not learned it consciously yet. She was barely two hours old.

Her confusion strengthened, her eyes flicked to the rip in my shirt where she had bitten me, and her remorse and guilt surged. She flashed to her feet and bolted away from me. I was ready for her that time.

I tackled her again, shoving her face-down into the thick bed of pine needles. I grabbed each of her arms and forced them straight out, away from her body. Thrusting my knees between her legs, I shoved them apart. She kept struggling, so I dropped my full weight on her to hold her down.

"Bella?" I squeezed her wrists to bring her attention back to me. Speaking softly to reassure her, I repeated her name. "Bella ... you said wouldn't run away from me. Be still. I won't hurt you."

As long as she couldn't get her hands and feet underneath her, she wouldn't be able to throw me off. But her twisting and squirming was grinding her ass right against my dick, and it was getting harder.

Getting? The little soldier was at full attention, and I lost my focus again. That reaction to her was unnerving, but I couldn't have said it was unpleasant. Not in the least. As a matter of fact, I found it to be quite pleasant. Beyond pleasant. Like, way beyond pleasant. In fact, it was so goddamn pleasant I had to halt a groan from escaping.

I put my lips to her ear and whispered, "As much as I am enjoyin' this, Darlin', and I am enjoyin' this quite a lot, you need to be still. Now is not the appropriate time."

She registered puzzlement and confusion. Then shock, alarm, and embarrassment flared from her and she froze.

Feeling that was almost as good as seeing her blush. Maybe I wouldn't miss those blushes so much after all.

She gasped and the flood gates opened.

"Oh my God, Jasper! I don't … I didn't mean … I'm sorry! I … I'm so confused! I have no idea what I'm doing! I'm pretty sure I'm a vampire now. What else could it be, right? But I don't know why! I don't … I'm not sure I remember … maybe." She sucked in a deep breath. "My mind is thinking about everything and all these thoughts are zipping around in my head. I just can't think. I can smell everything. I can hear everything, and it's … it's like a tornado in my brain, and there's just too much stuff in there."

She squeezed her eyes shut. "I know it was you who stayed with me. I could smell you. I could smell lots of things — and other people, I think. Then I saw you. I knew it was you and … and your scent is … uh …" She was embarrassed again.

"I don't know why I bit you. I'm so sorry, but I wanted to bite you. I had to. That female was too close, and she wouldn't go away, so I had to bite you. I'm so sorry!"

I pushed calm and reassurance to her again, but I couldn't help wondering what she was going to say about my scent. What had caused her to be embarrassed?

That female was too close? Did she mean Alice? Alice had been the closest female. Rosalie and Esme had been out in the hall.

"Bella," I breathed into her ear, deciding we would deal with one issue at a time. "This confusion is normal even though you know you're a vampire. I went through it. Everybody goes through it." I pressed my lips against her ear. "I'll help you. In time, you'll be able to control it, and I will help you. Though I do think it would be easier to talk if your face wasn't in the dirt."

And your ass against my….

Though I wouldn't have minded staying right there in that position one little bit.

"I'll let you up if you promise not to run away from me, okay?"

"I promise I won't run away from you, Jasper," she whispered. Her voice sang to my very center and I did not want to let her go.

I forced myself to release her arms and pushed myself up. At the same time, I got to my knees and bounced up onto my feet.

She rolled over, and I extended a hand to help her up. When she clasped my hand in hers, her eyes flicked up to mine. I felt … It felt like …

I didn't even know what the sensation was, but I … wanted … I needed … I needed to feel her body against mine. I wanted to bring her lips to my own and …

I fought the sudden urge to pull her against my chest, enclose her in my arms.

Where was that impulse coming from? I didn't want to scare her.

I looked at her and inhaled deeply. Even dirty, her hair a tangled mess and covered in leaves, twigs and pine needles, she was stunning. She was beautiful.

She was …

Mine.

She was going to be mine.

She looked at me, then down at herself. "We're so dirty! Jasper, I'm sorry!" Her hands flew out from her sides. "I'm sorry I bit you, ripped your shirt, made you get so dirty, and…"

I shook her hand to get her attention again. "Hey! It's okay. It's part of the territory. Settle down. Listen to me. Listen!"

Her head snapped up, and she stared at me. She seemed to be focusing very hard and trying to pay attention.

"The dirt will come off. I have more shirts. It's nothing that can't be fixed. We'll do one thing at a time. We'll brush off some of the dirt and leaves. Remember, you are very, very strong now. Move your hands very slowly to brush yourself off. One step at a time. Just move your hand very slowly and touch your arm. Gently. Very lightly."

I reluctantly let go of her hand. She intently watched her right hand, concentrating on moving it slowly and carefully, as she touched her left arm near her elbow. She pressed her fingers against the dark green material and slid her fingertips down the sleeve. She was doing well until she reached the cuff. She didn't lift her fingers enough and ripped it. Her hand flashed away from the sleeve.

Anger. Frustration. Disappointment.

"Don't worry about it, it'll just take some practice. With your vampire memory, you'll quickly remember how much pressure to apply. You'll just have to feel it first, then you'll remember. It's okay. You'll also have to work on your speed and learn to slow it down. Just not right now. Watch me."

I pulled down the sleeve on my left arm, and began to brush off the dirt and leaves starting at my shoulder. When I finished with that sleeve, I moved to my right. As I twisted a bit to reach my shoulder, the sun chose that moment to peek between the clouds, and a ray of light broke through the pines.

Bella sucked in a breath.

I froze, and my eyes slid to hers. She was staring at me with wide eyes, her mouth open. Her surprise and wonder fluttered around me. I raised an eyebrow at her and asked, "What?"

She breathed out "Jasper" and took one step toward me. "I don't think I've ever seen you in the sun like this. I saw … I saw … somebody …" She frowned and shook her head then looked back up at me. "But you … your hair, your skin … Jasper, you're beautiful."

She thought I was beautiful?

Her bright red eyes turned to black in an instant. As I snapped back to face her, she launched herself at me, crashing into my body, her arms slipping around my ribs, and driving me back against a tree. I grabbed her upper arms and …

Lust. A solid wave of lust crashed over me and I groaned, throwing my head back against the tree. Then her lips were on my neck. Her tongue was at the hollow of my throat, and I shivered as it glided wetly along my skin. She reached a spot just beneath the corner of my jaw and began to suck and lick the skin there.

A jolt of desire raced through me. Longing blossomed within my chest, spreading throughout my body, and a breathy moan escaped my throat as I bent my head toward her. Her want and her need flowed over me, I pressed my lips to her hair, and I groaned.

I should have probably stopped her there. Knowing Edward's Victorian, prudish, goddamned prissy-ass moral code and the way he had pushed her away time after time, I was pretty damn sure, and would've bet, she was still a virgin and … and I couldn't just …

Why the hell was I thinking about that?

Because I wanted her.

I want her. Right now.

Licking and nipping, she worked her way down and back up my neck, then her lips trailed hungry, hot kisses over my jaw. She pulled herself up my body and mashed her lips to mine. I let go of her arms, slid my hands around her back and pulled her in, crushing her body against me. I felt the tip of her soft tongue slide across my lips and …

Oh!

I opened my lips to her and sucked in her tongue.

Her taste! Her taste was so much better than her scent. Her scent was alluring, inviting, and captivating, but her taste! I had to have more. My left hand flashed to her head, my fingers spreading to hold her, and I pulled her more tightly against me as I forced my tongue into her mouth and tasted her again. More — I just wanted more.

It was … kissing her was like coming home! I had waited for this my entire life, and I never knew what I was waiting for. That was where I belonged. I belonged right there, with Bella. Wherever she was, that was where I needed to be. I wanted … I should …

I should have stopped. What the hell was I thinking? She was …

She was licking my face! Her tongue stroked my lips, and she kissed the corner of my mouth. Again, her tongue darted out to lick my jaw before placing more wet kisses in a smoldering trail on her way to my chin.

Her hands were in my hair and pulling, grasping. She slid her hands down the sides of my face and spread her fingers, dragging her nails down my throat. When they reached the neck of my shirt, she grabbed the collar and stripped it from me. She dropped the shredded pieces to the ground and her hands were back on either side of my face. I flung away the remaining torn pieces of the sleeves and wrapped my arms around her, trying to feel as much of her as I could. My left hand grasped the back of her neck, and my right slid up under her shirt to feel her silky skin.

Her lips were on my neck again, and she peppered light kisses down to my shoulder until she reached her bite. Her velvety tongue caressed the edges of her bite, and I shuddered at the sensual pleasure that shot through me.

More. Just … I needed more.

A rumbling growl started deep in my chest, and I tightened my grip on her before I spun around, pressing her against the tree. I couldn't get close enough! I could not get enough. I grabbed her hips and thrust against her, pressing my rock hard dick into her hip. She moaned into my mouth, and her legs curled around my hips, pulling me closer.

I should have stopped …

"Oh, Bella," I sighed and I moved from her lips, kissed along her jaw to her ear and then down her neck. I wanted to claim her. I wanted to bite her as she had bitten me. I wanted to mark her as mine — make this sexy, hot, wild creature mine!

I pulled the neck of her shirt out of the way, and I licked over the spot on her neck where, days earlier, I had bitten her to force my venom into her. She quivered in my arms, tilting her head to the side and exposing more of her neck to me. I licked over that sensitive spot again, breathing in her spicy and lightly sweet scent that invaded and took over my senses completely.

The scent of her arousal wove around and through me. It percolated in my brain until I was dazed.

It was … complete intoxication.

She closed her eyes and breathed out slowly, "Yessss."

She had exposed her neck to me, inviting me in, and I needed to make her mine. I let just the very edges of my teeth graze along her shoulder and neck. The venom welled up in my mouth, preparing to claim her, preparing to force my venom into her and mark her, as she had marked me, and ensure my scent would be forever part of her. I licked her shoulder and neck again, tasting her. I wanted to sink my teeth into her as badly as I wanted to sink my dick into her hot sex.

"Jasper," she sighed. Sliding her legs up to my waist, she squeezed me more tightly and groaned.

Her lust, want, and need crashed over me again. The force of it stunned me and I snatched my teeth from her skin, sucking in a deep breath.

Oh goddamn, I wanted her! I buried my nose in her hair, and my fingers dug into her hips as I dragged her down my body until I felt her pubic bone pressing against the head of my dick. I gasped against her neck, and shoved my jaw against hers. I rolled my hips against her, shuddering at the sensation. The pressure, the friction, was exquisite. I groaned and rolled my hips against her again, hissing into her hair.

She was panting, and I felt her tongue gliding wetly up my throat until she reached the corner of my jaw. She kissed me and began nipping the skin there. She moved to my ear and I felt the tip of her tongue trace a line around the edge.

Her hands were like fire, singeing every part of me she touched. They slid down the sides of my neck, over my collar bones and across my chest, brushing over my nipples. That lit another scorching flame within me.

That was … that was …

"Jazz, dude, aren't you jumping the gun a little? And, uh, you're projecting like crazy."

That was fucked up!

Snarling, I wrenched myself away from Bella and twisted around into a crouch, keeping one hand back to hold her behind me. I was prepared to rip to shreds whoever dared to come anywhere near my Bella.

It was Rosalie and Emmett, standing about thirty feet away. How the fuck had they gotten so close without me hearing them?

Emmett raised one eyebrow, stepped in front of Rosalie, and flexed the muscles in his powerful arms. "That was a pretty hot show, Jazz, but have you taken her to hunt yet?"

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 14, I Hunt

Jasper's POV

 

I stared blankly at Emmett as he shifted his weight from his right foot to his left, and crossed his arms over his massive chest.

Realization at what I had done, and hadn't done, broke over me, and I groaned inwardly. I should have taken her to hunt! Instead I was …

… I was a dog in heat.

I had been as distracted as a newborn — worse than — and there was absolutely no excuse for that. I was supposed to know what the hell I was doing. Instead I … I had been letting my dick lead me around like I was fuckin' hormonal teenager.

It wasn't even like I could say, "Well, she started it," because I was the one who was supposed to be in charge. I was the one with all the experience with newborns. I was supposed to be able to handle them, control them, and contain them. Instead, Bella was so distracting, all I had to do was touch her, smell her, and my dick was so hard it hurt, and my brain turned to goddamn mush. I was a flaming asshole.

"Well?" Emmett raised an eyebrow at me and cocked his head to the side. "Have you taken her to hunt?"

"No, I haven't," I answered as I straightened out of my defensive crouch. Bella was huddled up against my back and growling softly. She had one hand at my right hip and the other on my left arm. She peeked cautiously around my arm.

"Emmett?" she asked.

Emmett smiled without showing his teeth and uncrossed his arms, bringing them to his sides. "Hey, Bells. Yeah, it's me. Rose is right here, too."

Rose stepped out from behind Emmett and stood beside him. "Hi, Bella," she said as she smiled and raised her hand in a little wave.

Bella's reaction was instantaneous. Jealousy and possessiveness erupted from her, and she stepped to the side to get around me. As she started to leap I spun, catching her around the waist with my right arm, and I threw her to ground.

"Bella, stop!" I stood in front of her, poised to catch her again.

She rolled over the pine needles in a blur and sprang to her feet. Her legs were spread apart, feet planted solidly on the ground, and her arms were held out from her sides, her fingers curled into claws. Her chest was heaving with her rapid breaths.

She was glorious!

Her right hand sliced through the air. "Dammit, Jasper, get out of my way! That woman —" She surged forward.

I lunged to capture her again, but she veered to her left and leaped.

I caught her by her right ankle and dropped her face down on the ground. I scrambled to fall on her, to hold her down with my weight. Grabbing her wrists, I straightened out her arms so she couldn't get her hands underneath her. As before, I shoved my legs between her knees and forced her legs apart.

She was pissed off. I could still feel her jealousy and possessiveness and tried to block it, though I was strangely gratified by it. Bella was feeling possessive over me? I had been feeling the same way over her practically since I found her at the crash site, and it had only increased since she awoke. I wanted her to be mine.

She growled and tried to jerk her hands free. It was taking all of my strength to hold her down. She continued to struggle to get away and, once again, her ass was pushing and shoving against my groin.

I bit my lip and sighed. "Darlin', like I told you before, it's not that I don't enjoy this rough housin' an' all, but you gotta be still."

She instantly stopped moving. Humiliation poured out of her, and she huffed into the dirt.

"But Jasper, that woman there … I … I don't want her near you," she mumbled into the dirt. "I don't know why, I just don't. It's just …weird. I don't know what's wrong with me."

I didn't know how, but her embarrassment and discomfiture increased.

"Darlin', that woman is Rosalie. Do you remember Rosalie? She's Emmett's mate, and she'll stay right over there until we say so, alright?"

I heard Emmett begin to chuckle.

"Wow! That's Rosalie? My God, she's gorgeous!"

Rosalie started to laugh.

My lips moved to her ear and I whispered, "Yes, she is, but she has nothing on you."

Where did that come from? Not only had I lost control of my cock, I'd lost control of my mouth. Not that it wasn't true.

How she could possibly be even more embarrassed was beyond me, but at least she wasn't still pissed off.

Bella was on the ground, beneath me, my body covering hers, and every little movement, no matter how slight, was another form of torture. I was beginning to feel the strain of trying to maintain my composure. "I'll let you up if you promise not to try and attack Rosalie. Do you promise?"

"I promise. I just didn't realize that was her. She … uh, is a female and, uh … looks different to me. It's hard to remember … but I remember her, and Emmett, too. Everything looks different to me. There are all these sounds … everything feels so … there's just so much …" she stuttered, feeling overwhelmed.

"I know. It won't be like this forever. You'll get used to it." She snorted. "You will get used to it. I'm going to get up now. No running away. No attacking. Right?"

"Uh, right."

I let go of her left wrist and braced my hand against the ground to push myself up. I hovered over her as she moved to get up in case she decided to run again. As I stood, I held on to her right hand to keep her near me. "See? Rose and Emmett haven't moved." I gestured toward them. "Everything's fine. They just want to say hi."

"Rosalie, I'm sorry! I didn't realize that was you and …" She dropped her eyes to the ground, ashamed.

Rosalie laughed again. "That's okay, Bella. Honestly. I remember waking up and being so confused. Well, mostly I was angry, but I was still extremely confused. I understand. And, Bella, family calls me 'Rose' you know."

"Yes, okay. Thanks, Rose." Bella glanced at Rosalie, nodded her head and lowered her eyes. "Hi, Emmett. I'm sorry I tried to attack Rosalie." Bella continued to stare at the ground, and was poking at the pine needles with her toes.

"Bells, I know you didn't mean it. I remember how it was, too. Except when I woke up, I saw my Angel, and I wanted to jump her bones, not rip her apart." Emmett hugged Rose to his side, chuckling, and kissed her temple.

Bella rolled her eyes at him and shook her head.

I gently squeezed Bella's hand and pulled her toward me. "Bella, do you realize you said 'dammit'?"

Her eyes grew wide and flashed up to mine. Her free hand flew to her mouth. "Oh shit, I did?"

Her eyes got even bigger, and I had to laugh.

"Yes, but I think we can excuse it." I winked at her. "This time."

"I knew you had it in you!" Emmett said with a laugh.

Unbelievably, she was embarrassed again. But it was such a Bella thing to do. I'd never seen a vampire become embarrassed as often as Bella, and if she were human she would have blushed thirty shades of red in just the last few minutes. "Bella, it's okay." I pulled her into my arms and hugged her to me, resting my cheek on top of her head. Feeling her against me was simultaneously exciting and soothing. When she snuggled into my chest, I never wanted to let her go. But, I had responsibilities to take care of — we had to get her fed.

I grasped her arms, held her away from me, and looked into her darkening eyes. "Are you thirsty?"

She squeezed her eyes shut, and her hand went to her throat. "Yes, I think I am. Now that you mention it, there's a burning in my throat. I didn't know what it was." She looked up at me, worried. "I don't know how to hunt."

"It's instinctive. You'll do fine. But since we were rather noisy here, and scared off all the big game, we'll have to move farther out to find something besides those chipmunks over there."

"Chipmunks?" Bella turned to find them.

Emmett laughed again. "Yeah, they're brazen little bastards. Can't hardly chase them off."

I pointed toward an old moss covered fallen tree about thirty feet away. Perched on top of it was a little striped chipmunk busily gnawing at some nut or seed he had found.

Bella smiled at seeing him. "He's so cute!"

Emmett snorted. "But hardly even an appetizer. The stupid things will spot you and make all kinds of noise to warn off the other animals."

"Appetizer? Ew." She turned back to me. "You don't really eat them, do you?"

"No." I chuckled. "They're too small. Emmett, quit complaining. If you didn't play with your food, you wouldn't have to worry about chipmunks blowing your cover." I smiled at Bella. "That one came back because our scent isn't blowing toward him. Besides, we don't have to worry about them, we're the fastest things out here." I glanced up the ridge. "We'll follow the ridge north for a while until we hear or smell something bigger." I looked back into her eyes. "Do you want to hunt animals?"

She blinked, seemingly confused for a moment. "Yes. I don't want to hurt any people." She looked worried. "Will you help me?"

"I think we'll all help you with that." I gently squeezed her hand. "We can run, if you like."

Bella smiled up at me, suddenly eager to get started. I kept her hand in mine, and we turned together to head north, running silently over the moist earth.

She was so graceful. Running as a vampire was freeing, and running beside her, holding her hand, was nearly perfect. I felt her delight and basked in it. I had often felt the same way.

I heard Rose and Emmett behind us, though they kept their distance. If we ran across prey, and Bella went for it, it wouldn't be a good idea for any of us to be too close to her. Newborns were notoriously protective over their kills.

After about another mile, I scented elk and tugged on Bella's hand to stop her.

She turned to me, a question in her eyes. "What is it?"

I held my hand up to stop Rose and Emmett, and whispered to Bella. "I smell something you could eat. Can you smell it?"

She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. "I think I smell everything. There are so many scents, how do I know which is which?"

"You'll learn. It's a process of elimination. Move this way, behind these trees." I nudged her over behind yet another large fir. "We're not that far from the prey. We don't want them to see us. They won't smell us yet — we're downwind of them. Do you smell the trees?"

Eyes still closed, Bella thought for a moment and nodded her head.

"You know the smell of the pines and dirt? You've had your face in it enough today." I smirked at her.

Her eyes flew open. "Jasper! That's not funny!"

"Shhh. They'll hear you, and it is funny. Now, what else do you smell?"

She closed her eyes again and turned her head slightly. "Leaves. Rain. I think I even smell the rocks."

I could tell when she caught the elks' scent flowing down from the ridge. She was on alert, and turned her nose right to where the scent was coming from.

"What do you smell?" I asked. I let go of her hand.

"It's weird but it smells warm and … musky. For my first meal, it doesn't smell so great." She frowned.

"I know. That's them. Now, listen for them. Can you hear their heartbeats?"

"I think I can! Four or five? What are they?" Her body turned completely to face the scent.

"There are four elk beyond those boulders up there — three large ones and a smaller one. We can't see them yet, there are too many trees." I stepped back away from her. "You go ahead. Keep listening and keep smelling. When you spot them, go for it."

She turned back to me. "Aren't you coming with me? When I see them, what do I do?"

"I'll be behind you, Bella. I won't be far. Newborns are usually very protective of their kills and can be very aggressive. When you see the elk, do whatever comes naturally. Don't be nervous, they can't hurt you."

"But I can't help being nervous. Why aren't you helping me with that?" She turned toward me and I felt her anxiety.

"The more you feel your emotions as they are, the sooner you'll be able to control them yourself. I'll only try to influence you if I think I need to. Or if you think I need to. Listen, you can hear them moving to the right. Now go." I waved her along. She needed to do this.

I squatted down as she moved off, bracing my hand against one of the pines. I turned to locate Emmett and Rosalie and saw that they had also stopped and crouched down about fifty feet behind us. I raised my hand and signaled to them, wanting Emmett to go toward the northeast, Rose to go northwest, while I would follow directly behind Bella. I didn't want her to feel surrounded, she might get defensive and attack, but we needed to be near just in case. We were deep into the Olympic National forest, but you never knew where or when a human might show up.

Emmett crept to the right, as Rose disappeared through the trees to the left. I saw Bella moving ahead cautiously, crouching down before stalking silently forward. She was nearly to the large rocks. I followed soundlessly behind her.

Beyond her and to the right, I saw the elk — three cows and one small calf. I knew when Bella spotted them. She stiffened momentarily then broke into a sprint. She was a blur as she raced toward them and pounced, her arms outstretched, her hair flying out behind her.

Snarling, she tackled one of the cows around the neck and bowled it over, both of them crashing to the ground with a heavy thud. Bella must have snapped its neck when she slammed into it because it didn't struggle to escape. Probably a lucky hit. Once again, not pretty, but very effective.

Bella scrambled to her knees, snagging the elk's neck in both hands. She jerked it toward her, slicing through the thick hide and flesh with her razor-like teeth. Deep red blood spurted out, splashing across her face and chest. Another snarl ripped from her throat and she crushed her lips to the gaping wound.

As Bella had tackled that cow, the calf and the other two cows scattered — a cow to the left, the other cow and the calf to the right. They were bellowing and snorting, their hooves carving jagged furrows through the ground. The calf was clumsy and struggling to keep up. It must have been a newborn itself.

I crept closer to Bella, riveted by her muffled growls and sinuous movements as she took deep pulls from the elk's neck. She was feral, wild, and ferociously intent on her kill. I couldn't take my eyes from her. When there was no more blood to be had from the elk, Bella dropped the limp neck she had been clutching to her chest. In a flash she was standing over her kill, taking in deep breaths. She slowly turned toward me.

I was staggered by her primal, savage beauty, and I braced my left hand against the rough bark of the fir I was next to. A slight breeze from the ridge lifted her hair and it flowed around her, curling over her shoulders and around her arms. There were streaks of blood across her face and chest. She raised her right hand to the shining wet blood on her lips, and drew the back of her hand across them, smearing the deep red across her cheek.

As I gradually stood, the breeze swirled again, bringing her beguiling aroma and the scent of fresh blood to me. I inhaled deeply, her scent filling me, permeating my mind. It coiled around me, binding me, and I instantly desired her. My body hummed with wanting her.

"Bella," I whispered, and her crimson eyes snapped to mine.

Alice had never allowed me to be near her when she hunted. She had often seemed embarrassed about feeling the need to hunt, and she never came to me, wanting me, afterwards. For me, after hunting and satiating one kind of hunger, there was the other kind. When I would catch up to her later, she would always insist, at the very least, I change my clothes before attempting to make love to her. I hadn't always been successful in that attempt.

Then there was Bella. She felt elated, victorious, and powerful. It was extremely seductive, and I burned with want for her. I wanted to taste that blood, kiss it from her lips, lick it from her face and her throat. Without thinking, I began to stalk her, inching closer, hunting my fierce huntress. Then I stopped, frozen in place, feeling unsure and self-conscious. Bella may not want me near her. The scars across my body may frighten her, despite her feelings of pride and admiration earlier. The disparaging emotions were at war within me. Because I was … sexually stimulated by watching her hunt and taking down an animal that weighed so much more than she did, it didn't mean she would react the same way. Seeing the fresh blood on her lips, I ached with wanting her, but I couldn't just stalk her. I couldn't approach her and take her, as badly I wanted to.

Her eyes widened as they traveled from my mine, down my body, and slowly back up. The brilliant crimson darkened to near black, and her blood-stained lips curved up at the corners. She stepped over the fallen elk toward me. My breath caught in my throat as she made another slow step forward.

I was enthralled by her, and I whispered, "My Bella." Without conscious thought, my right hand reached out toward her. My own lust and desire steadily grew, but I contained it with an iron grip, stopping it from projecting toward her. I would not influence her with my own need, no matter how badly I wanted her, and I wanted her so fucking bad my hands began to shake.

Bella took one measured step, and then another, and I saw her muscles bunch, preparing to leap. Springing toward me, Bella crossed twenty feet in a single leap, crashing into my arms. She attacked my mouth with hers as her hands firmly gripped either side of my head, holding me to her. I couldn't have broken her hold if I wanted to, and I didn't want to. Her lust flowed over me, hot and demanding, as she wrapped her legs securely around my waist.

My left hand went to the back of her neck and my fingers wove through her hair, tightening in those thick locks, and I held her lips to mine. My right hand went to the small of her back and slid down over the curve of her ass, crushing her body against me.

I urgently licked the blood from her soft lips and groaned. Tasting my Bella, and the blood from her first kill, sent a fiery, sensuous jolt through me, and I staggered back and dropped to my knees. Lowering her to the ground, I covered her body with mine, my left arm beneath her head. I slid my thigh between her legs, and she hissed. I shifted my hips to press my screaming hard dick against her thigh. A growl started low and rippled up through my chest.

I licked the blood from her chin, tracing a broad line with my tongue across her jaw and to her neck. She moaned, captured my tongue with her own, and drew it into her mouth. She shoved her pelvis against me, and I very nearly lost control. I ached to be inside her, thrusting into her, tasting the blood, tasting her.

She growled, a deep throaty sound, and with her newborn strength she flipped me onto my back, her legs straddling my hips. She planted her hands against my chest and sat up, her eyes closed, her blood splattered face lifted toward the grey sky. I froze again, drinking in her fierce beauty.

Her long tangled hair framed her face, falling below her shoulders. Streaks of scarlet painted her throat and trailed down to her shirt, dyed deep red from the blood of the elk. I grabbed her hips and ground into her. Her eyes snapped open and she bent her head toward me, her hair falling over her shoulders and tickling my arms. Her hands slid down my chest and her eyes followed their progress, her fingers tracing over my scars.

"You are so beautiful," she whispered and a trace of a smile formed on her lips.

Her longing, and need washed over me and I gasped. Never before had anyone had that reaction or felt those emotions after seeing my scars. They had always been a symbol of warning, a beacon of danger to anyone who saw them. Hundreds of females had desired or lusted after me over the last century and a half, until they saw those silvery crescents and slashes. They had cringed away in fear, instinctively knowing those scars meant I was deadly, dangerous — a threat. I had ways to distract them, but the initial reactions had always been negative. But Bella saw them and felt desire, and want, and … and yearning. I was in awe of this magnificent being.

Her eyes grew wide and her head jerked to her right. She inhaled and snarled in anger and warning, baring her teeth. I instantly sat up to scan the area and did not see any threat. I tested the air, but all I could smell was the spicy scent of her arousal mixed with the blood of the elk. My mind was saturated with it. Rage and possessiveness pushed aside her want and lust. Her rumbling growl grew louder and her hands clamped onto my shoulders. She yanked me against her, and her razor sharp teeth sank into the curve of the left side of my neck!

It hurt so fucking good, my body jerked at the sharp pain and I grabbed her upper arms, forcing her body to mine, and I spun away from whatever had set her off that time.

She threw out her arm, halting our descent away from the ridge, placing herself on top of me again, but her teeth didn't let go. Her growl continued to rumble through her chest, and her lust burst over me again. She ground her sex along the length of my throbbing cock, thrusting against me, and I came.

Oh my fucking God. The acute pain of her claiming bite, the sting of her venom, her throaty growls, the sensual grinding pressure — I came so hard there were bursts of light behind my eyes.

I growled and groaned as my hips strained up against her, my heels digging into the earth, my venom erupting through my throbbing dick. I completely lost control over the all-consuming sensations of my pounding orgasm, and poured it into her.

She snatched her teeth from my shoulder, flung her head back and howled as she squirmed against me. Her hands tightened on the outer curve of my shoulders and her fingers dug into my skin. I could feel my granite hard skin cracking under the pressure of her grip but there was nothing I could do — I was trapped in the throes of her pulsating orgasm. She ground her throbbing sex against me and curled forward, her forehead thudding against my chest. I clutched her desperately to me, one hand at the middle of her back, the other on her ass, pressing her against me. My body quaked with another shuddering release, and I clung helplessly to her. Each of our orgasms flowed into the other and echoed back, amplified — exquisite torture.

She shuddered and collapsed against my chest. I dropped back to the ground, feeling completely spent. I hadn't even realized I had nearly sat up.

We were both panting so heavily I didn't hear Rosalie's and Emmett's approach.

"Well, that looked like it was the most fun you could have with most of your clothes on," Rosalie commented airily.

I glanced to the left toward Rosalie standing up the ridge a ways, hands on her hips, a smirk on her face.

A slight cough to my right, and there was Emmett below us, arms crossed over his chest, eye brows raised, shaking his head. He was amused — and a little angry. "Some mud or a little jello would've made that a bit more interesting. Well, at least now you have a matching set of bites." He sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. "Do you two think you could knock this shit off for a minute?"

Bella gasped and was immediately mortified, covering her face with her hands. "I can't believe I did that," she whispered. "I don't know what the hell happened. I … I don't know what came over me …" she trailed off.

Maybe it was because those were two of the best, most intense, painfully delicious orgasms I'd ever had, or maybe it was because I was utterly spent and completely, brainlessly addled, but I had to laugh. I just couldn't resist. I whispered in her ear, "Essentially, we came all over each other, Darlin'. I just wish you weren't tryin' to kill me while you were doin' it."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 15, I Capture

Jasper's POV

"Oh my God! What the hell have I done!?" Bella sprang up and was sprinting away before I could shake off the orgasmic stupor.

Holy shit, that was incredible. And that was pretty much what my brain had stuck on repeat.

Holy shit.

My entire body was as limp and wrung out as a wet dish rag, and I could have just lay there in the dirt for a week. But, I needed to get my head out of my ass and catch her. After a moment, I leapt up and took off after her. "Em! Rose! Run parallel to her. We'll catch her."

At least she was running back in the direction of the house. Why the hell did she keep running? Most newborns just wanted to kick your ass.

Well, she had been kicking mine all over creation and back since she woke up.

Goddamn, I want that woman!

Her emotions had been all tangled up but were starting to separate from each other, and I was able to pick out her individual feelings. She was embarrassed again. There was a bit of fear, confusion, a spark of lust, and embarrassment again.

Ahhh, guilt. I guess I should have expected that. I would have to ask her what the guilt was for specifically. As soon as I caught her.

Seeing a blur through the trees, I knew I was closing in on her.

"Bella! Stop! Stop running!" She was just ahead of me, running like her ass was on fire, but I was gaining on her.

"Bella! Stop!" I commanded and her steps faltered just a bit. I leapt, tackling her like I did before, wrapping my arms and legs around her and tucking her head down with mine. We rolled and bounced over the uneven ground, smacking into another fir tree — a smaller one that time. Our impact cracked the trunk, and the tree shuddered, began to sway, and started to lean over us. It creaked and tipped further. I rolled us away from it, and we landed beside another larger tree.

The thirty-foot fir we broke moved as if in slow motion, its branches bending back as it fell gracefully through the other trees. Limbs snapped and cracked. Twigs and needles began to rain down as the fir swept through the dense green. The other trees appeared to be trying to hold it up, but it dropped through their limbs, bending some and breaking off others. More cracking and snapping — some as sharp as gun shots — and the fir dropped to the ground with a loud whump.

Falling trees really were quite graceful.

Silence settled all around us, though I could hear Rose and Emmett edging closer.

Bella was trembling in my arms, and her emotions were a tangled knot again. Fear came to the forefront, and I hugged her to my chest.

"Bella, it's okay. You're okay."

I shimmied around to a sitting position and began to gently rock her. "Shhhh, Darlin'. It's all right. There's nothing to be afraid of. I'll protect you."

Her guilt rose up above the fear, and she whimpered. I turned her in my lap and tucked her head under my chin.

"Why do you feel guilty, Darlin'? You have nothing to feel guilty for," I whispered into her ear. I ran my hand over her hair, brushing away some of the pine needles.

"Jasper," she sobbed. "I'm horrible! I … I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I've bitten you twice, and I … I've assaulted you. I'm not supposed to do that because I think there's somebody else." Her embarrassment welled up, outstripping the guilt.

I spotted Rose through the trees to our right. I knew Emmett wasn't too far away. I held my hand up toward Rose to urge her to wait.

I hugged Bella closer to me, bringing her head to my chest. "It'll be okay. Everything'll be all right." I gently stroked her hair and pressed a kiss to the crown of her head, trying to comfort her.

Had she been mortified at what she had done, or because Rosalie and Emmett had witnessed our mutual … ah … gratification? Again, I probably should have been embarrassed, but I wasn't. I wanted her and some part of me felt the impulse to … display it? Act on it?

She had wanted me as much as I had wanted her, and I didn't think it would have mattered who was nearby. The urge, the need, to have her, feel her, was overwhelming, and I couldn't have controlled it if I wanted to.

I hadn't wanted to.

She shifted a bit in my lap, snuggling farther into my chest. I ran my fingers down her back and continued to gently rock her as thoughts raced through my mind.

The contradictory actions of a newborn — or was it just Bella? I'd been the cause of her embarrassment, and she had run away from me, but here she was, allowing me to hold her and comfort her. Would she have gone to anyone else if they had been with us? Would she have sought reassurance from Edward if he had been there?

She didn't remember everything concerning Edward or Alice. That wasn't unexpected. Most newborns remembered very little of their previous human lives. How would I explain any of that to her? What did I explain? She had bitten me twice, and that had been her newborn instincts taking over, telling her to claim her mate.

Her mate?

At first she hadn't recognized Rosalie, and her jealousy and possessiveness when she saw Rosalie had been an instinctive reaction to a female coming too close to her mate. She hadn't been able to control the intensity of it because of her newborn status. That reaction was startling and, if I was being honest with myself, it was … flattering. Alice had rarely shown any jealousy and never to that degree.

With my left hand on her back, I held her to me. I ran my right up her arm and over her shoulder, pressing her into my chest.

Mate? I knew I wanted her. I had to have her and make her mine. When I had found her bloody and so badly injured in her truck, I had wanted to protect and take care of her. But wouldn't anyone want to do that? If a human had found her, that was what he would have done, but any other vampire? Any other vampire would have drained her and left her. They wouldn't have been able to resist all the blood — resist her blood. She would have been a delicious, easy meal, and it wouldn't have required much work to cover up the fact that a vampire had been there. With all that sweet blood coating her and the inside of that truck, who could have resisted? How had I resisted?

When I had realized that another male vampire had been there, I had been enraged. I still couldn't believe he hadn't dragged her off. I was still astonished that I hadn't gone in for the kill. But, I just couldn't. There was no way I could have.

Bella remembered there was somebody else. Did she remember Alice? Remember who she was? Bella hadn't seemed to recognize her when she awoke. Had Bella been reacting to her as an unknown female?

What about Alice? Since I had tried to take away Bella's pain while she was transforming, it was like I just didn't even care about Alice. I had hardly given her a thought because thoughts of Bella had entirely consumed me. I was such a bastard. How could I not care about her? We had spent over fifty years together. We were married.

I knew she had taken all my things out of her room, but I didn't even give a shit. In fact, I was glad she had. It relieved me of having to go back into that lacy, ruffled pink nightmare.

Speaking of nightmares …

What about Edward? He thought Bella was his mate. He had told Bella she was his mate. But if she was, how could he have abandoned her? I never did understand that. How could he possibly not want her to be with him forever? Why had he continuously refused to turn her? It seemed the mind reader didn't have a fuckin' clue. Considering the way she had reacted to him while she was going through that transformation, she hadn't been thinking loving thoughts about him.

She seemed to remember something, but what? How much?

"Edward!" Bella hissed and twisted in my arms. Her anger was pointed and sharp.

"Bella, he's not here. Edward's not here." I tried to calm her but it had no effect. I held on to her with one hand and rubbed her arm with the other. "He's not here, Darlin'."

"EDWARD!" she roared and flung herself out of my arms, landing in a crouch about ten feet away. She spun to face me as I stood up. Her bright red eyes were beginning to darken, and her teeth were bared. Her hands, clenched into tight fists, shook with her fury.

I kept my eyes on her, but in my peripheral vision, I could see Rosalie moving closer. I still couldn't see Emmett, but I heard him behind me.

"What about Edward?" I asked her, keeping my voice low and soft. I raised my palms toward her. I took a step forward. "Bella, what about him?"

"That son of a bitch!" she shouted. "I remember! I remember that rat bastard tried to tell me what to do, and where I could go. He wouldn't allow me to do anything!" She spun and punched the tree next to her, knocking a good sized chunk out of the side. "And I let him!" she screeched. "I could kick myself!"

"Rat bastard," was it? Her vocabulary had certainly expanded. Must have been from hangin' with the fuzzy wuzzies over on the Reservation. Lord knows, Esme never allowed us to speak like that in front of Bella, and that repressed, pubescent pansy ass wouldn't have said shit if he had a mouthful.

That poor tree. That was another one that was about to fall soon.

"Did you know he kept telling me when I should eat? Did you know he told me what I could eat!?" She punched the tree again, knocking a softball-sized chunk out of the other side.

Being only about eighteen inches wide, that tree wasn't going to hold up to that kind of abuse for very long. I inched closer to her.

"Bella, I'm aware of some of the things …" She punched it again, and I took another step closer. "Maybe you should move away from the tree now."

She punched the tree again, and as I stepped forward to try to get my hands on her, she spun toward me and punched me square in the chest. I flew straight back and crashed into Emmett, sending both of us to the ground in a heap.

Bella appeared, standing over both of us, hands on her hips. Her chest was heaving with her breaths. She bent over and pointed a finger directly at my nose. "Don't you even try to tell me what to do, Jasper Hale. I've had enough of that bullshit to last me the rest of my life." She paused for a moment with a thoughtful look on her face. "I guess that's going to be a pretty long life now." She shook her head and flung her hands out as if to brush away that thought. "But that's beside the point. And you, Emmy-Doll." She pointed a stiff finger at his nose. "You quit laughing at me or I'm going to punch you, too!"

I could feel Emmett's surge of delight. Calling each other stupid, cutesy names had been a game they used to play when they had been arguing over who was cheating more at video games. It was actually nice to hear it.

"You remember that?" he asked, overjoyed.

"Tree's going to fall," Rose said.

"Tree?" As Bella turned to look back at the tree she'd been beating on, I rolled off of Emmett, jumped up and grabbed her, forcing her arms down against her sides. I hopped about twenty feet to the side.

The tree didn't crash exactly where we had just been, but it was close enough.

Emmett had rolled away, and he was now standing next to Rose, not far from where the tree landed. He was still laughing.

"Wow," Bella said incredulously. "That could have hit us."

"Yes, Darlin', it could have. Not that it would have hurt us, but if you're going to knock down trees, you should pay attention to where they're going to fall."

"Uh, right. I see."

"And it's 'Whitlock.'"

Still in my arms, she turned to me, the curiosity showing clearly on her face. "What's a Whitlock?"

I couldn't help smiling at her. Easily distracted newborns …

"It's my last name, remember? I've used Hale before, but not for a while. I've been using it again since we've been here in Forks."

"Hale? Rosalie Hale … You're supposed to be her twin; I remember that." Her eyes had a faraway look for a moment. "Emmett is a Cullen because he's Edward's …"

Her rage came thundering back. She threw my arms off, launched herself at another tree, and started punching, kicking, and clawing at it. Pieces of dark greyish brown bark and pale yellow wood splinters were flying in every direction.

"That goddamn Edward! If he ever tries to tell me what to do again …" The tree, beginning to lean, started to groan and creak. Bella leapt away from it as it fell. Small limbs, twigs, and pine needles fluttered down and through the other trees.

She immediately attacked a sapling and tore it from the ground. She snapped it across her raised knee and threw the pieces up into the tree tops.

I went to stand over by Rose and Emmett before Bella tried to snap something off me.

"You go ahead and work that out, Darlin'. Me, Rose and Emmy-Doll are gonna be right over here. We're not goin' anywhere."

"Jazz," Emmett said and chuckled. "She's always been entertaining and funny as hell, but now she's freakin' hi-larious. Who would have thought that the venom would burn away the nice girl filter between her brain and her mouth? I love this!" He laughed again. "I do remember that newborn shit, but I don't remember tearing up so many trees."

Bella was on her fourth one, muttering under her breath, with an occasional "Edward" and "asshole" loud enough for us to hear. It was right entertaining.

After the fourth one crashed to the earth, she started stripping the limbs off and flinging them away.

"You didn't tear up so many trees." Rosalie sighed. "You preferred knocking down walls and punching boulders."

Emmett laughed again and his hand went to rub his chin. "Yeah, Esme wasn't real pleased when I took out that screened-in porch at that house in Maine."

"Well, she wasn't really in love with that house anyway, but she got to close-in the porch and extend the kitchen." Rosalie smiled and wrapped her arms around Emmett's waist. "As I recall, it added quite a bit to the price of the house when they sold it."

"Jazz, how long are you going to let her tear up the woods? You know, we should probably get her to hunt some more. Fill her up and maybe she'll calm down a little." Emmett pulled Rosalie in a little closer to his side and kissed her temple.

I had been enjoying watching Bella. I was happy just watching her tear shit up. She was radiant in her fury — her eyes blazing, her wild hair flying. She twisted, and jumped, and leaped through the fallen trees, yanking limbs loose and then cocking her arm back before propelling them like javelins though the trees.

God, she was beautiful.

Okay, probably not a real good time to get another hard on.

"We'll give her a little longer. There isn't much that calms down a newborn, and it's not like she's going to get tired, but you're probably right." I crossed my arms over my chest. "The blood volume of a full grown elk is more than twice that of a human, but maybe we should try and get her to hunt again."

"And, Jazz …" Emmett smirked as he elbowed me in the ribs. "When she's done feeding this time, try to keep your hands off her."

"I …" Stunned, I didn't know what the hell to say to that. Bella with blood on her face? That was eminently erotic. I came so hard I thought my eyes were going bleed.

Unfortunately, he was right again.

"I, uh, really don't know what happened there." My hands went to my hips. "When she finished that elk, she stood up and turned toward me. There was blood on her face. There was blood on her lips and … and then she looked at me and …"

"Yeah, well, we saw what happened there." Emmett clapped his hand on my shoulder, and his voice took on a more serious tone. "I know exactly what you're saying, man. I've never seen anything more exciting than my Rose. Except my Rose after she's chased down a mountain lion. The way she looks when she leaps for it … and if there's any blood on her face …" His golden eyes took on a faraway look.

"Yes." Rosalie snuggled against his chest. "There's something raw, something primal about it all. It's like when you see your mate hunt and conquer the prey, it touches some deep part of you. We're so ruled by our instincts at times, and hunting certainly is instinctive. You get caught up in it and …"

Emmett sighed. "And it's fucking sexy as hell."

That was no shit, but I just nodded at them, keeping my eyes on Bella. Too many times I'd been hunting near them and was nearly overcome by their emotions. The thrill of the hunt followed directly by the surge of lust. You learned pretty damn quick not to go anywhere near Rose and Emmett, or even Carlisle and Esme, when they were hunting together like that.

Hunting and fighting had certainly affected me in a similar way. When I'd been in Maria's army, after a battle or after attacking some human village, it was expected, more often than not. Fight to the death then fuck your brains out. The urge was even stronger as a newborn. Newborns were all about feedin', fightin' and fuckin'. Not necessarily in that order either. It was one of Maria's "rewards." We might have lost more than a few newborns during a battle, but I never lost. If Maria had been particularly pleased … the sex could last for days.

I'd known enough vampires to know that was normal for us — human drinkers or animal drinkers. But then there was Alice …

I had often wondered why it hadn't affected Alice in the same way. Was it because she woke up alone and had no one there to help her? No one to teach her about what she was? Or was it because I didn't have that effect on her? She had felt fear at the sight of my scars the first time she ever saw them, and she had never gotten over it. After the first few times hunting together, she avoided me right afterward so she wouldn't see any fresh blood on me. I'd even tried hitting her with a dose of lust back in the beginning, and she panicked and ran away. Odd damn thing to have done, I had thought at the time.

Rosalie had said, "… watching your mate …" Why didn't Alice react that way? Because she wasn't my mate? I'd always thought …

Bella whirled to a stop and abruptly dropped the branch she was preparing to cast into the foliage. Her anger flared again. She raised her fists up and shrieked, "Alice!"

Was she reading my fucking mind?

She viciously kicked a log she'd hacked out of one of the trees, sending it hurtling past us.

"… holding me hostage and making me wear that crap … and I let her," she mumbled as she bent down to snatch another log from the forest floor. She hoisted it above her head. "Alice and that damn …" She heaved the log away from her with a grunt. "… life-sized human dress-up doll, Barbie Bella bullshit. All she needed was a Ken …"

She froze. Her eyes snapped to mine, a shocked expression on her face. "Ken … Barbie and Ken …"

Guilt erupted from her. Her hands flew to her mouth. "She's your wife!" Bella spun around and bolted so fast she was nearly invisible.

I sprinted after her, Emmett and Rosalie hot on my heels. I sighed inwardly. She was so right about that shit. Alice dressed my ass most of the time, and she was my wife. I had no fuckin' idea how to try and explain that. Or justify it. Or rationalize it.

Emmett's amusement bubbled over. "Sure looks like she remembered something else. She's got you pegged, Jazz. You're Alice's extra-large size Ken doll! She dressed you up just like she dressed up Bella." He was laughing so hard I was amazed the asshole could still run.

"Shut the fuck up, Emmett. It made Alice happy. And anyway, we don't know what the hell she's remembered … well, she obviously remembers the clothes, and she remembers Alice is my wife. She felt guilt right before she said that. She must be thinkin' she cheated with a married man."

"But you are a married man." Rose glared at me as she gracefully cleared a fallen log. "Edward couldn't be her mate or he never would have been able to leave her like that all those months ago. If he was her mate, I don't think she would have gotten so angry when he came near her, and she would have gone to him when she woke up, not try to rip his face off. Not that I don't think that's a perfectly natural reaction. I've wanted to rip his face off countless times."

"We all know Eddy boy is an over-educated idiot," Emmett remarked. Then his smile broadened across his face. "Oh, and that shit's gonna leave a mark!" He guffawed. "Messed up his pretty face! I wish I knew what made her lick her fingers. That shit was diabolical!"

Indeed.

I felt Emmett's pride and affection for his little sister, and I couldn't help feeling a bit of pride myself. A brand new vamp, just woken up, and she had managed to distract everyone by licking her fingers. Then she attacked, making sure they'd never forget it. As a distraction, it had worked so well she had pinned both of my arms and bitten me, and I knew better.

Fucking brilliant.

Rose dashed around a fir and curved in a bit toward me. "And the way she bit you, Jazz. You know what kind of bite that was." She winked at me.

"Yeah!" Emmett laughed again. He swooped in close to punch me in the arm again and then veered off. "She put her mark on you, Jazz, that's for damn sure. She was pretty damn violent, too. Females usually don't bite first and aren't quite that aggressive. Our sweet little innocent Bella is getting in touch with her inner hellcat! Who'd a thunk it?"

Bella was a little hellcat, but that fuckin' Emmett was enjoying all this shit way too much.

"And it's not like her snarling 'mine' wasn't, ya know, obvious or anything."

I glared at him. "Emmett, your mouth is talking. You might wanna look to that."

She had bitten the shit out of me twice. Then there was that little "Mine!" she had roared out the first time she bit me. That was pretty damn aggressive, and it was so fuckin' hot that shit went straight to my dick. God knows I could barely resist the urge to bite her. If she hadn't hit me with another dose of lust, and if Emmett and Rosalie hadn't interrupted …

Then after she finished with that elk … Jesus Christ, I came so fuckin' hard. Twice! It was almost scary to imagine what it would feel like if I came inside …

I shivered as I ran and ordered myself to move away from those thoughts.

Was that what it felt like to finally meet your mate? Was she my mate? I knew she wasn't Edward's. God, I wanted her so bad. I wanted to rip her clothes off and …

I felt a swell of mischief coming from Emmett as he veered toward me again.

"I'm thinkin'…" he began. "Ya know, I'm thinkin' that our sweet little Belly-Boo is way too much woman for Pussward."

I had to agree. I had always thought so, too, but before I could reach out and throttle him for being a smart ass, Rose darted between us.

"She's turned toward the house," she warned.

"Yep." I kicked it into high gear and just caught glimpses of her between the trees. I considered letting her reach the house, but Christ alone knew what she might have done to it. There might not be any house left.

Emmett laughed again. "We should let her get to the house. Could be fun to watch."

"Emmett!" Rosalie smacked him across the shoulder. "She might attack everybody again and get hurt!"

"I don't know, Rose. She kicked Jasper's ass."

Damn, I wanted to punch him, but he wasn't close enough, and she had been kicking my ass. Was it wrong that I had been enjoying the absolute shit out of it?

She slowed a bit when she came up on a rock fall, and I had her. Once again, arms wrapped around her, my head tucking hers down, and we rolled over the leaves and pine needles. I threw out a leg to stop us, and we plowed through the bracken. We didn't hit any trees that time.

Somethin' different.

"Bella! You gotta quit running like that." I held her head down against my chest. I knew she could bite me again, but I didn't think she would. She hasn't bitten me when she was feeling anger. Yet.

I forced a bit of lethargy at her and could see that it was working when she relaxed just a bit. I moved my mouth to her ear. "What happened? Tell me what you were thinking. I know you were feeling guilty, but I don't know why unless you tell me."

Her guilt, followed by dark shame, pushed against me as she shook her head.

"Bella, tell me what it is and I'll try to … I'll try to help you. You can tell me whatever it is."

Emmett and Rose walked up slowly but stopped about ten feet away. They crouched down and waited.

I rolled us to a sitting position, but I didn't release her. Her emotions were a storm battering against me, and I feared she might try to run again. I couldn't stop myself from moving my nose through her hair and closer to her ear, breathing in her scent.

"Bella …"

"She's your wife, and I am a whore!"

"No!" Rosalie gasped. "Bella, you are not a whore!"

"Then I'm a slut, and I don't know how any of you can even stand to look at me!" She drew in a shuddering breath. "Jasper is married to Alice, and I … I … I molested him. Then I remembered Edward. He told me I was his mate, and that's like being married, and I … I'm nothing but a common slut!"

Alarmed, I tightened my arms around her. I didn't know what to do. "No, Bella, no! You are not a slut or a whore. It's … uh … you're a newborn. Everything is new and confusing. Our instincts are very strong and hard to control." I hugged her more securely and drew my hand up to her head. "I know there's a lot going on. It's a sensory overload, I know. But you'll learn to block things out. Like when you turn on a fan. After a while you don't even hear it anymore."

"But she's your wife, Jasper." She sobbed into my chest, and she clutched her hands together up under her chin. "She's your wife, your mate, and I …" Her guilt bubbled up. "You said everything is instinctive but what instinct would make me want to … why would I … She's your wife!" Her hands moved to cover her face.

Once again, I had no fucking idea what to say to that. If anyone should feel guilty, it should have been me. Like Rose had said, I was the married one. I shouldn't have been having all these damn erotic thoughts about Bella, but they just ... they were just there. I seemed to have no control over it. Even then I was enjoying feeling her body pressed to mine. I was running my fingers across her hair and breathing in her exciting, and paradoxically, soothing scent. Without even thinking about it, I had bent my head down so that my lips were nearly on her neck, and all I wanted to do was run my tongue down her neck, taste her, smell her, and I shouldn't. I shouldn't have been dry humping her back there and cum so hard I …

Rose huffed angrily at me.

Oops.

I looked to Rose, silently pleading with her to help me. Thank Christ Emmett was keeping his mouth shut.

Rosalie crept a bit closer. "Bella, Alice moved all of Jasper's things out of her room," she said softly.

Bella's head twitched slightly and she peeked at Rose through her hair. "Why did she do that?" She tilted her face up toward me. "Where did she put your stuff?"

I guess I had to try and answer that. "There wasn't much, but she put my stuff in my study. I don't really know why she did that other than I think she was afraid of me. She's always been afraid of my scars."

"But she's your mate. Why would she be afraid of you?"

I sighed. "Do you remember when Edward tried to come in the room while you were … while you were burning?"

Her curiosity took a back seat to the anger that flared up. "I knew it! I knew he was there. It's like I could tell when somebody came near me. I could almost feel that they were close. Then I could smell them. He … came near me and I just got so mad!" Her hands pushed against my chest. "I don't think I knew it was him, exactly. I just knew I was mad, and I didn't want whoever it was near me. I didn't realize it was him until I woke up."

"We could tell that he upset you." Rose crept a bit closer and lightly touched her shoulder. "Jasper and I had been talking, Edward rushed into the room, and you became upset, Bella. Very upset. It was the second time he had done that."

Bella huffed and pushed against my chest again. "Okay, what are you not telling me? What does that have to do with Alice? What else is there? What were you talking about?"

Okay, she might have been a confused newborn but she hadn't missed a thing. At least we had distracted her from calling herself a slut.

I took in a deep breath to begin, and Bella tilted her head back, and stared straight into my eyes.

"Look, Jasper, don't even try to keep anything from me. Edward did that shit all the time, and it just pissed me off!" She exploded out of my arms again and landed about fifteen feet away, her hands clenched into fists again. She held them rigidly at her sides. "There's so much he would never tell me. To protect me. For my own good. To keep me safe," she sneered.

Her anger was throbbing, and Rose, Emmett, and I jumped to our feet.

"He didn't want to scare me," she snarled as her arms waved about furiously. She started to pace in front of us. "That is utter bullshit! What's scarier than a crazy ass nomad tracker-vamp who decides you're his next game piece to hunt down? What's scarier than being out in the middle of the woods, and you run across a red-eyed vamp who wants to eat you? He very nearly does, and then he's attacked by wolves the size of freakin' horses!" She kicked a tree. "What's scarier than being stalked by a psychotic red-headed bitch who wants to torture you?" She punched another tree and spun around to trudge back toward us. "What's scarier than being left human, weak, and abandoned, and at the mercy of that crazy psycho bitch?"

She stomped over toward me and poked me right in the chest. Her eyes had darkened to a fiery black, and she glared threateningly at me. "Don't you even try to treat me like some weak little squishy human and lie to me. I am a goddamned vampire, and even if I wasn't, I. Am. Not. Stupid!" She punctuated each word by stabbing her finger into my chest.

I was starting to get mad, and I grabbed her hand so she'd stop poking me with it. "Bella, I know you're not stupid. And I am not that pussy Edward. I have not, and I will not lie to you."

I could feel Rosalie's astonishment. "Bella, how do you remember all of that?"

"I don't know. It just popped into my head." She yanked her hand away from me. "Jasper, if you're not getting ready to lie to me or edit the shit out of what you're going to say, why don't you just fuckin' tell me!"

She pulled her fist back, and it snapped forward to land a punch, but I caught it and yanked her to me. I spun her around so her back was to my chest, wrapped my arms around her and held her tightly. She began to struggle, but I wasn't letting her get away from me this time. She wouldn't be able to bite me in the chest, but she might try to take a chunk out of my arm.

She started thrashing around and was trying to hit me with her head. "Stop! Quit fuckin' hittin' me!" With my jaw I forced her head against my right shoulder and held her there. I was surprised she wasn't trying to kick me. "Bella, quit this shit!"

"Goddammit, Jasper!" she growled and she pulled her right arm loose. She elbowed me in the ribs at the same time she took her left foot, hooked it around my left ankle and heaved. We went down like a ton of bricks. Or the last forty-foot fir she knocked over.

To the soundtrack of Emmett's roaring laughter, I landed on my back and flipped us over so Bella was beneath me. Once again, I grabbed her arms and pulled them out straight away from her body. I forced my legs between hers and spread them apart. Before it occurred to her to head butt me, I forced her head down into the pine needles and leaves with mine.

I was panting like a human that had just run a marathon, and Bella was still growling at me.

"Jasper, I never knew you were such an asshole!"

"Well, we all got new shit to learn, now don't we? And I've always been an asshole — you just never got to experience it before. Now settle down, Darlin', or I'm goin' to knock you out."

Emmett chose that moment to walk around in front of us. He squatted down to peer into Bella's face half buried in the forest floor. He was still chuckling. "Our very own baby vamp. I love this shit. Bella, I gotta say, you waking up as a newborn has been, like, the best day ever!"

"Shut up, Emmett," she hissed at him.

"Damn! I'd pay real money for a show this good."

It was my turn to hiss at him. "Shut up, Emmett."

Rosalie sauntered into view. "So, Jazz …" She batted her eyelashes at me and fingered the collar of her pale green button down. "How come you haven't knocked her out?"

Straining to hold Bella down, I narrowed my eyes at Rosalie and huffed. "I wanted to avoid having to do that. It might just piss her off."

Emmett and Rosalie burst into laughter and Bella snorted.

"Look, Darlin', you need to calm down, and quit tryin' to kick my ass. We don't get tired, but you are wearin' me out." I sighed. "It's only been a few days, but a lot of shit has happened. A lot of shit."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16, I Melt

Jasper's POV

Bella squirmed underneath me, huffed again and was still. I guess she finally realized she wasn't going to get away.

"Okay! Okay! Uncle." She sighed, exasperated. "Let me up out of the dirt. Jeez! I've been in the dirt all day."

I started to lift myself off of her, but I didn't let go of her wrists yet. "You won't try to run away again? You know I'll catch you."

"No, Jasper! I won't try to run away again."

"Okay, Darlin', I'm going to let you up." I eased up away from her, letting go of her wrists, and stood up slowly. It wasn't that I didn't believe her, but with newborns, you never knew.

She sighed again and drew her arms slowly to her sides. In a flash she was in a crouch right in front of me. She looked so surprised.

"Damn! The speed is just so damn cool!"

I felt her delight. As she straightened out of the crouch, she looked down at herself and wasn't so delighted any more.

"I've destroyed my clothes!" She whimpered.

"Yeah, I kinda liked that shirt, Darlin,' but newborns are pretty hard on clothes."

"She's been pretty hard on your clothes, too." Emmett poked my shoulder and smirked.

Rosalie punched him in the arm. "Emmett!"

Instantly, Bella was embarrassed, and her hands flashed up to cover her face. "Oh God, I ripped your shirt off because I …uh … I ripped your shirt off you. Jasper, I'm sorry! I'm such a …"

I darted toward her and took hold of her arms. "Bella! It's okay. Like I told you before, I have more shirts."

Rosalie stepped toward her, lightly touching Bella's arm. "You have some more clothes back at the house, and we can get you more. It'll be fine. I went through quite a few outfits before I had enough control to keep from tearing them apart. And I swear it was nearly a year before Emmett could dress himself."

"A year!? A year? It'll be a year before I can dress myself?" she wailed. "Oh my God! How am I going to get dressed? Who's going to dress me? I don't want to run around naked!"

The thought of a naked Bella drifted through my mind, and I drew in a breath. The look on my face must have given it away. Or it could have been that I was projecting a little bit of lust because Bella's hands dropped from her face and her eyes were wide.

"Oh, no! No, no, no. No way in hell are you going to dress me, Jasper. That's just … that isn't ..." She jerked her arms from my hands and backed away from me.

I stood rigidly, squaring my shoulders, and held her eyes with mine. "Do not run. I will catch you."

Bella quickly looked away from me, her eyes darting here and there as if searching for an escape route. Her hands flew together and she nervously scrubbed them against each other. "Uh, I wasn't going to run. I wasn't. I just … I mean, I …"

Rosalie stepped in front of Bella, blocking my view of her, and placed her hands gently on the curve of her shoulders. "Bella, I will help you dress and undress. I will help you in the shower. It only took me a couple of months to get it down. It was just Emmett that took nearly a year to dress himself. He seems to think everything is made out of cast iron." She tilted her head toward Emmett.

"Um, yeah. That was just me, Bells. I forgot real easy how strong I was. But you'll do fine." He smiled at her, and then his face brightened. "Oh, hey! We're pretty close to the river. Why don't we go hop in and you and Jazz can rinse off some of the blood and mud and stuff?"

Thankfully, Rosalie seemed to reassure Bella about that little clothing issue, though Lord knows I wouldn't mind helping her with that. And Emmett skillfully diverted her attention away from why she ripped my shirt off, which, naturally, brought it right to the front of my mind.

Oh, yes, Bella could rip my clothes off me any time she wanted.

Emmett jabbed me in the ribs and whispered at vampire speed, "Jazz, rein that shit in. You're projecting again."

Bella peeked around Rosalie, one eyebrow raised. "I can hear you now, you jerks. No more of that sneaky Secret Squirrel shit." Her eyebrows drew together, and her eyes narrowed. "Yeah, Jazz, rein that shit in."

Then her face lit up and she beamed a smile at Rosalie. "Did someone mention the river?"

"Why yes, Bella, someone did mention the river. We should head that way. Speaking of hearing and jerks … can you hear it? The river, I mean. Not the jerks." Rosalie placed an arm around Bella's shoulder and turned her away from Emmett and me. "We'll walk slowly so you can practice human-like walking and we can talk a bit — a bit slower than you have been. It'll be good practice, too." They started walking through the trees in the direction of the river. With her other hand, Rosalie waved us off, wanting us to hang back a bit.

Temper tantrum averted for the time being, I was actually looking forward to getting in the river and rinsing off as much as I could. Wearing wet jeans sucked, though I suppose I should have considered myself lucky I still had them.

When the girls were about 100 feet ahead of us, Emmett leaned toward me. "I'm glad we got her off that 'whore' and 'slut' crap." He sighed as he whispered to me. "She's not — she just doesn't understand." He turned to me. "Though, if anyone should feel guilty, it should be you, manwhore."

"Hey! I couldn't help …" And I had to shut my mouth because he was right. There was no excuse for my actions. I put my hands on my hips, dropped my head, and stared at the ground. Once again, I was being reminded of my lack of restraint, good judgment, self-command, and common fuckin' sense. I had to try harder to control myself. Not just try — I had to do it. Bella needed for me to be able to restrain myself, and not be the cause of any more distress or confusion to her.

I looked at Emmett out of the corner of my eye, gave him a nod, then took in a deep breath, and blew it out. "How bad do I look?"

Emmett crossed his arms, bringing one hand up to his chin. He stroked his chin and studied me for a moment, a look of deep concentration on his face, as his eyes moved slowly from my feet up to my head.

I rolled my eyes at him. I swear I was going to beat his ass down into the ground.

"Emmett, quit fuckin' around and just tell me already."

"Sorry, Jazz, couldn't pass up a chance to bust your ass a little." He grabbed my shoulder and pushed me to follow the girls. "I didn't want to say anything in front of Bella, might set her off again, but both of you absolutely reek of sex. Not that she smells bad. She kinda reminds me of ginger snaps now. Sort of. I always liked ginger snaps." He broke a small limb off a tree and tossed it away. "Before, she smelled kind of like flowers. What did Edward call it? 'Freesia?' What the fuck is a 'freesia?' Well, anyway … She did smell really good, though a bit sweet. Now, she smells … she smells so much better than before. Well, I don't know if it's better exactly, it's just more … 'homey,' I think. She smells, uh, cozy and warm and … and why the hell are you growling at me?"

The low growl in my chest stopped abruptly. I hadn't even realized I'd been growling at him. "Uh …" What the hell was he doing smelling Bella anyway? Though she did smell warm and cozy and like home. I could just bury my nose in her hair and breathe in her scent all day. Have it wrap its soothing comfort around me and pull me into her, closer …

I didn't know why I was growling at him. Of course, they all would have noticed her scent was different. It's just that he never went on and on about it before, and I didn't think I liked him noticing.

"I don't know."

"Well, quit being an asshole. I thought it might be a good idea to try and rinse some of that mud and stuff off before any of the others come looking for us. I expect they will about any time — we've been out here for hours. Besides, you gotta be getting tired of those jizzy pants." He smirked at me.

Oh, that was it. Motherfucker was goin' down.

I struck, straight out from my left side, punching him in his right shoulder. He stumbled to the side, spun, and lunged at me. I ducked, grabbed both of his wrists, and fell back, planting my foot in his stomach. When my back hit the ground, I curled my body and shoved with my legs, throwing him over my head. I leapt up, but before I could turn completely around to face him, he tackled me, slamming me to the ground. He reached up, grabbed my right wrist and twisted it up behind my back, and I heard him laugh. I spun under him, grabbing his forearm with my right hand, and hit him with a left jab right on the point of his chin.

He flew back away from me, but he kept hold of my arm as he dropped onto his knees. As he scrambled to his feet, I jumped up and cocked my left fist back, ready to punch him again.

He just looked at me and shook his head. "I knew it!" He shoved my arm away. "I knew it! Every damn time we sparred out in the field and I won, you let me win, you bastard. You could've had my head."

"It wasn't every time. And I could've had your head three times. But you could've had mine."

"Yeah, only after …" He huffed and glared at me. "Anyhow, let's get to the girls." He looked off into the trees, turned back to me and grinned. "So, as I was sayin,' Mr. Stickybritches …" He cackled and jumped away from me, holding his hands up in surrender as I snarled at him.

"Alright, Jazz, okay! I'll stop, okay? Now chill." He pointed ahead of us. "Get your ass to the river."

Jesus Christ, he wasn't ever going to let me live that down. I guess I should have been embarrassed. I haven't shot my load in my pants like that since … hell, since I was a newborn vampire myself. And I couldn't even be embarrassed, it felt so fucking good. It hurt so fucking good. Bella stood on the ridge above me, blood smeared across her face, her bright red eyes on mine. Her eyes suddenly turned black, and she leapt at me. Her mouth was on mine, and I licked the blood from her lips.

Emmett punched me in the arm. "Jazz! For Christ's sake, you're worse than a buck in rut. Think with your brain, not your goddamn dick for a minute, and put a lock on that shit. Every few minutes you've been projecting lust. You need to control that. At least for now. Or at least block it so everybody else doesn't feel it."

I growled at him, and punched him back. He was right. I hated him being right all the time.

Since Bella woke up, I've had either a semi-hard on or a raging hard on, and it had been distracting as hell. Bella had been distracting as hell. I just wanted to wrap my …

"Jasper! Goddammit!"

"You're right! You're right!" I said as I threw my hands up in the air. "I need to get my head off my head." I sighed. "So, tell me now — how bad do I look?"

"In addition to all the dirt, mud, pine needles, and leaves all over your sorry ass, you've got blood smeared across your face, in your hair, around your neck, down your chest, and on both arms. Hell, you weren't even the one that was hunting." He shook his head in exasperation. "Better hope Esme doesn't see you, you'd scare the shit out of her. That and the smell …"

"Alright! Christ! Race ya to the river, asshole." I bounded ahead of him.

It only took about thirty seconds to get there. I was ahead of him, of course. When I neared the edge of the bank, I spotted Bella and Rosalie in the water about 100 yards down river. I skidded to a stop and just stared at them. Only Bella's freshly clean face showed above the surface of the water. Rosalie was standing beside her, combing through her long dark hair with her fingers. Her hair flowed gently with the rippling current, and I caught myself wishing it was my fingers combing through her hair. Rosalie bent over to say something to her, and she smiled.

Bella's arms came up out of the water, and her hands went to her face, smoothing her hair back as she stood up. She swept her hands over her head, and brought her hair over her left shoulder, squeezing the water out of it. She laughed at something Rosalie said, and I could just make out the tinkling chimes of her laughter.

A wet Bella was a whole new experience. Her stained and ripped long-sleeved shirt clung to the swell of her breasts, followed the curve of her waist, and flared out at her hips. I wanted to explore every inch of those curves with my hands, my lips, my tongue …

I hadn't noticed when Emmett came up beside me until he slapped me in the back of the head.

"What the fuck, Emmett?"

"You're doing it again."

Right. It was time for a deep breath. It was time to get my shit together and stop thinking about Bella wet, and maybe naked and wet, and…

Emmett kicked me right in the ass, and I flew out over the water. I tucked in my arms and legs and did a cannonball at about the middle of the fifty foot wide river.

We could feel the cold water, but it certainly didn't have the same shocking and libido-inhibiting effect as when a human dove in. I let myself sink to the bottom and started scrubbing away at the mud, dirt, and blood. A reddish brown cloud, dotted with pine needles and bits of leaves, formed around me and was carried off in the gentle current.

Before Emmett decided to try and drown me, I needed to rinse out … ahem, my pants. As I reached to shove my hand down the front of my jeans, I thought I spotted movement downstream. I turned and saw Bella swimming toward me. She was smiling at me. I was stunned by her grace in the water, her hair flowing around her shoulders and over her back.

I slammed down the door on my emotions, holding them firmly. I smiled at her and pointed toward the river bank near where Emmett had kicked me in. She nodded, so I pushed off from the bottom and swam toward the bank.

When I was close enough to the bank, I stood up, the water reaching to my waist, and Bella stood up beside me. I could feel her happiness and excitement, and it made me smile again.

"Jasper! This is so great! I can actually get in the water and not have to worry about drowning! Or getting washed down the river, or catching some weird disease from the bacteria, or sea serpents eating me or …"

"Bella! Slow down!" I had to laugh at her. She was elated, and I hadn't seen her that happy in months. That fucking Edward had been crushing the life out of her. I could have ripped his other arm off for that, and not let him have it back, either.

"Gosh, Jasper, I don't think I've ever heard you laugh like that before! At least I don't remember if I ever have. I like it."

"It's because you're so happy. I feel joy coming from you. It feels good." Without a thought, I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and drew her into my side. Her happiness felt so good, and having her against me felt even better. I couldn't seem to control the urge to touch her.

"I'll try to talk a little slower. Rose said it's good practice." She smiled up at me. "It's so exciting!" She bounced against my side. "I can walk on the bottom, and I can see through the water. I can't hear so well underwater, but I can see! And Rose told me if I exhale I'll sink right to the bottom. If I want to swim on top of the water, it's easier if you take in a deep breath and fill your lungs first, but you could still do it without any air, but you have to swim harder or faster." She finally took a breath. "And then she said we could actually swim across the ocean because we wouldn't get tired, and we wouldn't have to worry about sharks because they'd stay away from us, and …"

She was talking faster than a mile a minute. "Bella, Bella, Bella! Yeah, it's great!" I wrapped both arms around her and hugged her to me as she laughed again. Having her in my arms, her head on my chest, felt so good. She felt warm to me, even though she was soaking wet —warm, and soft, and her curves fit right against me. Having her body against mine filled me with a sense of well-being I didn't recall ever feeling before.

"You know, I could try and wash your hair like Rose washed mine. My hair was a mess!"

"Sure, Bella, if you want to. Just don't pull too hard."

She smiled as she backed away. "I'll be careful. Wouldn't do to have a bald Jasper. I didn't even pull out my own hair." She tugged on my arm. "Lean back in the water."

I kneeled down and leaned back, feeling the water flow over me and around the sides of my face. I felt Bella's fingers pulling at the ends of my hair, picking out the leaves and twigs.

"Rose said picking all the stuff out of my hair would be good practice for touching things gently. I'd probably crush the twigs — and I did — but I wouldn't rip my hair out, if I was careful. That's good to know."

She was behind me and leaning over me, smiling. As I felt her fingers pulling gently through my hair, my eyes gradually slid shut. It was so relaxing. When her fingers would catch in a knot, she would lightly pick through the strands until the knot was gone, then she'd move to the next. I started to relax further. It was so soothing and calming, feeling her work her way across and down my head. Until her fingers brushed the skin at the back of my neck. I felt a shock run through me, and I gasped. My eyes snapped open, and I saw the concern in her eyes.

She snatched her hands away. "Did I hurt you?"

"Uh, no. I … I was just surprised. It was so relaxing and then … uh, I'm fine." I was a fuckin' vampire and I was stuttering! "Everything's fine, Bella. You didn't hurt me."

"Okay." She smiled at me again. "Your hair should be fairly clean soon. Just a little bit more to go." Then her fingers touched me at my temples, and she dragged her fingertips across them, around my ears, following the hairline to the nape of my neck. I closed my eyes and melted into her hands. I could have stayed right there, just like that, forever. I sighed.

I made sure I had blocked my emotions, but I still felt her sense of peace and her concentration on her task. All I was able to pay any attention to was the feel of her fingers on my skin. She moved so softly and gently.

Her fingers lightly touched my forehead, and she drew the tips back over my scalp. Her slow breaths increased in frequency as she combed through my hair. The light pressure against my scalp increased, and what was initially a kind gesture to help me remove all the dirt and leaves, rapidly turned into soft caresses as I felt the beginnings of desire radiate from her.

My eyes snapped open again, and I looked at her eyes. She had bent closer to me, and her eyes tracked the movement of her fingers through my hair.

"Jasper," she whispered. "Your hair isn't just one color. There's light yellow, honey, golden wheat, and amber mixed in. It's so pretty." She moved around me until she was beside me, her waist touching my arm. She leaned over me and brought both of her hands to the sides of my face. Her left hand slid slowly over my ear, her fingers threading through my hair, and I shivered.

"Uh, Bella, maybe you should …" I couldn't help it. Her touching me, running her fingers through my hair, her soft voice — my near constant semi-hard on swelled and grew harder, and I gulped.

Her fingers continued through my hair, across my scalp to the back of my head, then slid down to my neck. Her fingers curled around my neck, and her grip tightened. My own lust for her increased, and I tightened my hold on that, trying not to project it.

"Your hair is so soft. It's like silk. Like golden silk." Her eyes flicked to mine. The brilliant red had darkened to deep burgundy.

Her formally peaceful and happy emotions, with just a touch of desire, were beginning to whirl and pick up speed. Appreciation, and then want and lust swirled into the mix.

"Jasper …" Her pupils widened. The irises were nearly black, with just a thin circle of red showing around the edges.

My eyes were drawn to her mouth as she bit the corner of her lower, full, pink lip. I was ensnared in her thrall, and I couldn't move. I didn't want to. Ever.

"Jasper," she whispered again, and her spicy, sweet, intoxicating breath flowed over my face. I inhaled deeply.

Her grip tightened further on the nape of my neck. The fingers of her right hand skimmed down my cheek, and she traced the curve of a scar over my jaw and down my neck. I gasped at her delicate touch. Her eyes went to my mouth, and she licked her lips.

Oh God. I knew if she kissed me again I was going to fuckin' explode right there. I suddenly realized I couldn't find a shit to give about it either. She could do anything to me she wanted to.

Her lust, hunger, and need draped over me, and coiled around me, drawing me closer to her. My hold over my own lust was beginning to falter, and I struggled to keep my hands at my sides.

"Jasper, I just don't know why I didn't see it before — you are so beautiful." Her finger began tracing lightly over my mouth, and it sent electric tingles all through me. Her body pushed against my arm. "I want …"

Emmett burst from the shallows beside us, forcing water up into the air like a geyser. As it started to rain down, he grabbed my upper arm and wrenched me away from Bella.

"Dude! You look clean enough to me. We need to show Bella some real hillbilly water fun! 'Specially since we can't drown her now."

Bella snarled and launched herself at Emmett.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 17, I Declare

Jasper's POV

 

I knew Emmett was only trying to save Bella from herself, or maybe save her from me, but the ass-wipe should have known better. She was on him like that alien on that spaceman's face.

The leap was elegant, graceful, and so damn quick she was hardly more than a blur. Bella led with her fist and nailed him right between the eyes. As Emmett fell back into the water, a look of complete shock covered his face. She planted her hands on the outside of his shoulders, slid her palms down his arms to force them to his sides, and locked them in place with her legs. She pulled her right fist back for a second blow.

With another rippling snarl from Bella, and a gigantic splash, they disappeared under the water.

I was instantly beside myself with anxiety and anger. That son of a bitch had taken my Bella! I was about to dive in after them when a hand caught my left wrist in an iron grip. I twisted my hand, grabbing the arm that was holding mine, and lurched around to punch whoever the hell it was. It was Rosalie, with her left fist cocked back.

"Rose!"

"Let 'em go, Jazz. You know he won't hurt her."

I snarled, baring my teeth, as I yanked her to me, and took the punch to my chin.

Damn, she hits hard!

I grabbed her left wrist, and pushed her away from me, holding her at arms' length. Rosalie was the first one I would expect to take aim at the little soldier.

"He took her!" I growled. "I have to get her back! She's mine!"

A startling possessiveness over Bella, stronger than ever before, grew from some unknown place within me. It blended with my rage and pulsed outward. Then fear nearly overwhelmed me. I couldn't see her. I couldn't even feel her. Where was she?

"Jasper! Calm your ass down! You're being irrational. You know he won't hurt your mate. He'll bring her back."

"I can't feel her! Where is she?"

He took her! I had to get to Bella! I momentarily struggled to remember what lethargy felt like, and then hit Rosalie with a weighty dose of it. She collapsed, and I caught her before she dropped into the water, scooping her up in my arms. She was already going to be pissed. No point in making it worse by getting her hair wet.

I twisted around to search over the surface of the river to try and catch any sign of Bella.

There was no disturbance in the water — no splashing, no out-of-the-ordinary sounds. About thirty feet downstream, I saw the shredded remains of Emmett's blue polo shirt, and I nearly panicked.

Where was she? I still couldn't feel her! I didn't know if the fucker that had bitten her first would be back to find her and …where the fuck was she?

About one hundred feet downstream, I saw movement. It was Emmett and Bella breaking the surface. Her hands were on his shoulders, her knees were bent, and her bare feet were braced against his stomach. Emmett's large hands were on her hips, and then he threw her up into the air.

She let out an ear-piercing shriek, and her exhilaration hit me. She reached the apex of the throw at about fifty feet and screamed.

"Bella! Cannonball!" Emmett shouted up at her.

She tucked in her arms and legs. Her hair was streaming out above her. Still screaming, she hit the river in a mighty splash.

She surfaced a few feet away from Emmett — a look of pure joy on her face.

"Emmy-doo!" she shrieked again. "What a rush! That was excellent! Do it again!" She surged through the water to reach him.

Thank God.

She looked all right. She was happy. She was ecstatic. I had to get to her!

Rosalie was going to kick my ass.

I halted the steady wave of lethargy I had been shoving at Rosalie's limp form, and lowered her feet into the water. When I felt her feet hit bottom, I said, "Rose, I'm sorry."

Her eyes fluttered open. She was confused. She looked at me and recognition, then anger, flashed through her eyes. I let go of her, and got the hell away from her, heading for the rocky shore.

"Jasper, I am going to Rip. You. Apart." Her voice was low, quiet, and deadly.

I splashed onto the river bank, and hurtled toward Bella and Emmett. I could run faster than I could swim, even in wet jeans, and I didn't want Rosalie to get her claws on me just yet.

Rosalie stalked through the water, heading for the bank, her eyes flashing. "When I catch you, Jasper …"

"Look, Rose, I said I was sorry. I didn't mean it. I was, uh, concerned about Bella and …"

Rose had made the bank and was running after me. "You mean you were fucking petrified. I felt that, Jazz. That's no excuse for knocking me out, you stupid piece of shit."

Bella screeched again and that sound sent an icy trickle of fear straight through me. Emmett had launched her up into the air — it had to be near seventy feet — and she was soaring in a graceful arc out toward the middle of the river. Her hair was flying out behind her, arms out-stretched, legs arrow straight, and toes pointed. Then she started screaming like somebody was stripping the meat off her.

I leapt off a rock near the water's edge and plunged into the river, racing toward Emmett. When I reached him, I grabbed his arm and spun him to face me. My rage had boiled to the surface again, and I could not stop the growl that tore through my throat.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

"What the hell, Jazz? I'm playing with Bella. She loves it!" His grin practically split his face. "I never knew she could be so goddamn loud."

Bella tucked in her chin, pulled in her arms, and curled up her legs to do another cannonball. The splash was huge. The spray nearly reached us.

Another growl ripped through my chest. "If anything happens to her …"

Emmett was startled and confused for a moment, but then he grabbed my arms. "What are you talking about? She's fine. She's a fucking vampire. There isn't anything out here that could hurt her except us."

"That's what I'm afraid of, asshole."

Emmett cocked his head in bafflement. "But I'm not hurting her." He sighed in exasperation. "Jasper, she jumped off a hundred foot cliff over at La Push, into the ocean, during a storm, when she was human, for Christ's sake. She's fine! She's having a blast."

As if the thought of her jumping off a cliff when she was human didn't make me cringe.

"Then where is she?" I jerked back away from his hold on my arms, and collided with Rosalie. She snaked her arms through mine and yanked, forcing my elbows together behind my back.

"I don't know where she is — out there somewhere." Emmett waved his hand in a dismissive gesture out toward the middle of the river. "She'll be back in a minute. She'll probably want to do it again."

I shut my eyes in frustration, battling the fear that was churning through my gut. I had seen that she was fine. She was happy. She was giddy, but I couldn't seem to convince myself of that. I leaned my head back toward Rosalie. "Rosalie, you know I can break this hold." I was trying to control my anger and anxiety, and keep from projecting them, but I was having a little difficulty.

She tightened her grip, shoving my elbows closer together, and arching my back even more. She whispered in my ear, "And I know you're not going to. You need to quit acting like a psychotic mother hen on crack and chill the fuck out. Take a deep breath, or ten, and reel in the rage and fear before Bella gets here and feels it. Just be glad she's having fun and not beating your ass again."

Hell! At least if she was beating my ass, I'd know where she was!

Okay, so maybe I was a little, uh, nervous. Maybe. But there may or may not be another vampire out there, Bella was a newborn, not quite six hours old yet, all this shit was new to her, and she had been driving me out of my goddamn mind. "Where the fuck is she?" I jerked against Rosalie's hold.

Emmett grabbed my jaw in his massive fist, and tugged until my eyes met his. "Look, Jasper, I understand how you feel. I do. But I am sure she is fine. She probably saw a pretty rock on the bottom, and is looking for more." He sighed at me again. "You once commanded armies, and now you can't even handle one little newborn. You need to calm down. It will affect her since you can't seem to quit projecting that shit." He shook my head hard enough to nearly rattle my teeth. "Another thing you need to do is quit being the Queen of Denial or I'm going to get you the skirt. Admit you're acting like a fucking moron right now because she's your mate. That's half the battle. All the other shit will work itself out. Now breathe, dammit, or I'm going to punch you."

I narrowed my eyes at him, and took a deep breath. The rage had abated but my anxiety was building. Rosalie still had my arms in a vice, Emmett still had his damn paw on my face, and Bella still hadn't come back yet. I felt my nerves starting to vibrate throughout my whole body. If they didn't let me go soon …

I felt Rosalie at my ear again. "Don't even think about knocking us both out. I'm going to hold you until Bella shows up. You just keep breathing."

Thank Christ, Bella chose that moment to burst through the water.

"Ta DAH! Look Em! I found a hubcap!" She flung her arms up in the air like she'd just made a perfect dismount in gymnastics, holding the rusted hubcap tightly in her right hand.

Her glee turned to bewilderment as she took in the scene.

"What are you guys doing to Jasper?" She dropped her arms, splashing everyone.

"Okay, so it's not a rock, it's a hubcap," he whispered to me. He turned to Bella. "We're just playin' with Jasper, Belly-babe."

Emmett let go of my jaw as Rosalie released my arms. At seeing Bella, relief flooded me, and I would have fallen down from the shock of it, but I desperately needed to touch her. I craved it. I lunged at her, swept her up in my arms, hubcap and all, and squeezed her to me.

"Thank God you're all right," I whispered in a rush, burying my face in her dripping hair. Her arms went around my shoulders, and her legs wrapped around my waist. I frantically clutched her to me, and turned toward the river bank. I needed to get us out of that water and away from them.

"Do you think he's going to have a nervous breakdown?" Emmett stage whispered to Rosalie.

"Not yet," she replied. "The hysterical ass will be all right in a minute."

Hysterical? That wasn't … I wasn't …

Dismissing them from my mind, I jumped up on to a large, flat rock shelf hanging over the edge of the river, and sat down, my back to those assholes, and settled Bella on my lap.

"Let me look at you," I whispered. She was confused and starting to feel anxious, but she held still. My left hand drifted over her back, and with my right I gathered her hair together, and set it over her shoulder. I trailed my fingers over her shoulder and down her arm until I reached her hand, bringing it to my lips. "I am … relieved."

Her worry and concern flickered around me. "Jasper? Are you okay? Did something happen? Are you hurt?"

She finally dropped the hubcap, and it landed with a clang on the rock. She brought her hand to my face, and leaned back to look at me. "Are you hurt? Did you get hurt?"

"I'm not hurt." I stared into her eyes. "I'm not hurt. Don't be anxious." I released her hand and cupped her cheek, needing to feel more of her skin.

"Then what's the matter? You're upset. Why are you upset?" I saw the distress in her eyes and felt it emanating from her.

"When you jumped at Emmett, and both of you went underwater, I couldn't see you. Then you didn't come back up, and I became a little … concerned."

Behind me I heard Rosalie scoff. "A little?"

"Then I saw pieces of Emmett's shirt floating down the river. I couldn't feel you, and I became … worried."

"Jesus Christ, Mr. Understatement." Rosalie hopped up on the rock beside us. "Bella, he was practically in a panic because he couldn't see you. I told him you were fine with Emmett, but he wanted to look for you. I held him back, and he knocked me out."

Bella's eyes widened in shock. "You punched Rosalie?"

"No, I didn't punch her. I, uh, hit her with a shot of lethargy. I caught her before she fell in the water!"

Rosalie glared at me again. "I will pay you back for that." She shook her fist in my face.

"But I didn't let your hair get wet!"

"Shut it, Whitlock," she said through clenched teeth.

Rosalie closed her eyes, inhaled deeply through her nose, and her lips curved up in a small smile. "Now," she began as she slowly opened her golden eyes. She leisurely strolled a few feet away, and lowered herself gracefully to the rock. She sat Indian-style and placed her hands on her knees. Rosalie schooled her features into a bright smile and looked at Bella. "Bella, Jasper has been a bit emotional." She smiled at me, displaying a bit more of her teeth than was absolutely necessary. "He was just concerned for your safety and over-reacted — just a teensy bit. I would say it was a natural reaction, but he went a little overboard with it."

Emmett joined us then, a big shit-eating grin on his damn face. Dripping wet, he flopped down next to Rosalie. Lying on his side, he propped his head on his hand and patted Rosalie's thigh with the other.

"Yeah, Jazz has been a little stressed out. Ya know, I don't think I've ever seen him so agitated." Emmett's eyes twinkled with his mischief. "As a matter of fact, I know I haven't ever seen him act like that before, and I've known him for decades."

"Emmett," I growled.

Bella glanced suspiciously from me, to Rose, to Emmett, then back to me. I could feel her frustration as she peered more intently into my eyes. She drew her fingers down my cheek, and then lightly poked me on the chin. "No, you hush. Now let me up."

I gripped her waist, and lifted her from my lap. As she pulled away from me and stood up, I immediately felt a sense of loss and wanted to pull her to me again. She crossed her arms, brought her hand to her mouth, and tapped her lips with her finger. Walking between Emmett, Rosalie, and I, she moved slowly toward the edge of the rock to the right, turned and paced back.

I reached toward her. "Bella."

She frowned at me and pushed my hand away. "I'm thinking." She walked past me to the left, turned and moved back to the right, brushing my shoulder as she passed.

She reached the far edge of the rock and turned back, extending her arms. "See? I'm walking slowly. I know I've got this super-duper mega-whatever vamp brain now, but all these thoughts and images and … everything … just keep filling my head, and flipping around in there." Her hands moved in a circular motion. "Though, I just noticed I wasn't hearing the river until I thought about it."

She moved back toward me and as she passed by this time, she reached over and tugged my hair.

She went to the other edge of the rock and turned again. As she neared me, she lightly drew her finger over my shoulder and continued walking.

Pushing my hand away? Okay, maybe that one didn't count. Brushing my shoulder? Perhaps that was just a fluke, but she tugged my hair then, when she walked by again, she touched my shoulder. That was two more times and that constituted a pattern. I was thrilled. It seemed as though she couldn't keep her hands off me either.

Across from me, Rosalie raised an eyebrow and smirked at me. She clasped Emmett's hand that had been resting on her thigh and squeezed. Emmett smiled up at her then looked to me, quirking one of his eyebrows.

Their amusement and stupid grins were starting to get on my nerves, but at least they kept their mouths shut while we waited for Bella.

Bella took in a deep breath and crossed her arms over her chest. "Okay, look. I know you guys aren't telling me something, and I'm starting to get a little … annoyed. There're all kinds of things that've gone on that I don't know about, but I know there's something else. Little grins, those 'significant looks' behind my back. You say things but then don't explain them. You guys are dancing all around the mulberry bush, and … and I'm gettin' aggravated."

She didn't miss a damn thing. I started to get up, and she held up her hand.

"Just sit right there, Jasper."

Emmett coughed something that sounded a lot like "Whipped."

Out of the corner of my eye, I glared what I hoped looked like a death threat.

Bella sighed heavily and shook her finger at both Emmett and me. "Both of you stop it. Now…" She put her hands on her hips. "I feel calmer than I did a while ago. All of you just sit still and tell me what's been happening. I want to know. I need to know, and you need to tell me."

Emmett turned to her. "It's gonna be dark in a couple hours, Belly-bub, and sitting around in these dripping wet clothes …"

"Em? Seriously?" Bella crossed her arms over her chest and frowned prettily at him. "You're going to try and stall me some more?" Anger sparked in her eyes and she took a step toward him, her arms flashing to her sides.

He quickly sat up, and held his hands up to ward her off. "No, Bella, I'm just sayin'."

I felt the barest glimmer of someone's awareness, and was on my feet in an instant, scanning down the river.

Bella gasped and focused on me. "What?"

I held my hand out toward her. She came directly to me, and I pulled her into my chest. "Someone's coming."

Rosalie appeared at my right side, and Emmett stationed himself a few paces behind me and to the left.

"Get behind me, Bella," I whispered. Again, thankfully, she just did it without arguing. I felt her trust in me, and her wariness and curiosity, but she was doing well — she wasn't feeling any fear. She placed a hand on my lower back, and I felt the fingers of her right hand curl around my right arm just above my elbow.

Because of the bend in the river and the density of the trees, I wasn't able to see anyone yet, but I felt that they were getting closer.

"Humans?" Emmett asked.

"They're moving slowly, but no, I don't think so."

Then I caught their mental signatures. It was them — Carlisle, Esme, Edward and Alice. When I thought about it, I was surprised they hadn't come looking for us sooner. Since I felt them, I was sure Edward could hear us, or would soon.

"It's Carlisle, Esme, Edward and Alice."

To my side, I saw Rosalie's tense stance relax, and I heard Emmett breathe a sigh of relief, but Bella's fingers tightened on my arm. Her left hand slid across my back to my hip and she pulled me closer to her. She was feeling nervous and guarded. I reached across with my left hand, and patted her fingers wrapped around my arm.

"It's okay, Bella. I think we should have a seat, all right?" I was feeling a bit apprehensive, and sitting down would make us look less aggressive. Correction: make me look less aggressive. Especially since I didn't have a shirt to cover my scars anymore.

She peered up at me around my arm, and nodded her head.

I moved closer to the edge of the rock shelf, and lowered myself to sit. Moving closer to the edge didn't leave them any room to sit there with us. They'd have to climb or leap over us. I really didn't want them too close just yet. I didn't know how Alice and Edward would be feeling, and I sure as hell didn't know how Bella would react to seeing them again, if she recognized them at all.

Emmett moved to sit by Rosalie and stretched his long legs out toward the edge of the rock. He leaned back on his elbows. Rosalie scooted closer to him and patted his thigh.

As soon as I was down and had my legs crossed, Bella scrambled onto my lap. I had hoped she might sit next to me, but I was surprised, and extremely pleased, that she chose to sit on my lap. There might have been a little smugness mixed in there, too.

I rubbed her back with my right hand, hoping to keep her calm. "Bella, do you remember Esme and Carlisle?"

The swirl of her emotions was picking up speed. She was nervous, anxious, and wary, but there was still a bit of curiosity.

"Yes," she said quietly. "I think I do. Carlisle's a doctor?"

I bent my head to hers but kept my eyes focused downstream. "Yes, he is." I reached for her hand with my left, and she grabbed it and pulled it up to her chest, placing my hand just below her throat. Her grip on my hand and forearm almost hurt it was so tight, but then she relaxed her hold and started slowly stroking my forearm. That felt amazing.

"Jazz," Rosalie whispered, "play with her hair. That relaxed her before."

"Would you mind, Bella?"

"No, I wouldn't mind," she said absently as she stared downstream. "Do you see them yet?" She was distracted, looking for them, and still nervous, anxious, and a little worried.

I stroked her hair and ran my fingers through it. "No, I don't see them yet, but they are coming closer. I expect they heard us and are moving slowly so they don't startle you."

I breathed in her spicy scent, calming myself, and sent a little peacefulness out to everyone around me.

"Jasper, I know when you're doing that. I can feel you." She was irritated.

"You can feel that?"

"Yes. I can feel it when you … uh … touch my mind."

What? Most vampires couldn't tell when I sent emotions to them, except those who knew me very well, but even then not unless it was strong.

"I'm just trying to keep everything calm, but I'll stop if you want me to." I couldn't resist breathing in her scent.

"I want you to stop with the Jazzy-Whammy, but you can keep playing with my hair."

"Yes, ma'am." I smiled. More surprises from my little newborn.

Rosalie chuckled at that. "Do you remember Esme?"

"Yes, I think I do, Rose." She was curious again. "I think I remember her cooking. Did she used to cook? Why would she cook?" She turned her face up to mine.

Her mouth was so close. I glanced down at her soft pink lips, but forced myself to raise my head and look back out at the trees.

"Esme would cook for you. She enjoyed it very much. You would often cook together." I smiled again and ran my fingers through her hair, starting at the crown of her head. Her eyes slowly closed, and she tipped her head back. She began to relax against me, and rested her head against my chest. I felt peace and contentment replace her wariness. I slowly pulled my fingers through her long hair, the tips of my fingers brushing her back.

Through my arm and chest, I felt a slight vibration from Bella as she began to purr.

Rosalie's eyes grew wide, and Emmett's mouth fell open. I felt wonderment and surprise from them. I was astounded and incredulous. I was dumbfounded.

Rosalie recovered first. "She's purring!"

Alice had never purred. I could make her cum until she screamed, but she never purred for me. I had never purred for her, or for anyone. It was said truly mated pairs would purr for each other, but I'd rarely heard it. I had heard Emmett purr for Rosalie once or twice. Of course I refrained from teasing him about it — for about a week. I'd even heard Esme and Carlisle purr.

With seven of us living in the same house, and with our hearing, there was almost no privacy. Though we tried to be as considerate as we could, there were times when not knowing what was going on was damn near impossible. But hearing those soft purrs from the other couples was rare.

And Bella was purring. She was purring. For me.

Emmett sat up with a wide grin on his face. "Hot damn, Jazz! You got her purring, you sly dog."

Bella, radiating contentedness, snuggled into my chest while still holding my arm. "What's wrong with purring?"

Rosalie blinked a few times and a huge smile lit her entire face. "Nothing is wrong with purring, Bella. And yes, some vampires do do that. Don't they, Jasper?" She winked at me.

I was speechless. It was as if my brain had crashed, and I needed to do a hard shut down and reboot. Yet there was a part that found Bella's soft purrs absolutely charming, infinitely appealing, and just fucking adorable.

Bella's low-pitched purring continued. "I can remember hearing Rose and Emmett purring."

Rosalie cocked her head to the side, bemused. "You heard us purring?"

A surge of emotions hit me like a slap in the face — fury, resentment, jealousy, possessiveness, and hate. My eyes zeroed in on the movement I spotted at the tree line along the shore, about fifty yards down river. Edward had appeared through the trees. Carlisle was beside him with a hand on his arm in restraint. I saw them speaking, but I couldn't hear them.

I managed to keep stroking Bella's hair, but shot a warning look to Rosalie and Emmett. They each gave me a small nod, and their eyes found Edward.

Bella stirred slightly. "What's wrong, Jasper?"

Keeping my voice even, I bent to her, not taking my eyes off Edward, "Carlisle and Edward are here. Esme and Alice are not far behind."

That peacefully content purr abruptly stopped, and Bella straightened as she tightened her grip on my arm. Her wariness returned, but she was also curious again.

"That's Carlisle? I think I remember him stitching up … my … arm …" she said hesitantly as she raised her right arm and stared at it, deep in thought. Even though most of the long sleeve was still there, she continued to stare. She let go of my hand to reach over and take hold of the dark green material. She ripped the sleeve from her arm, dropped it to the rock in front of us, and grasped my hand again.

I stopped running my fingers through her hair, and put my right hand on her waist above her hip. I waited anxiously to hear what else she would say, to see what she might do.

"It was above my elbow. A long cut … and a bunch of little ones. Carlisle cleaned it off and stitched it up. It was after …" She trailed off.

Rosalie, Emmett, and I held our breaths. Did she remember what those cuts were from?

Bella looked up at me. "Those scars are gone. But this one …" She raised her arm to look at the bite on her wrist from the nomad vampire James. "This one is still here. Because it's a vampire bite."

I looked down at her cautiously. "Yes."

"It was James. James bit me. It was a bad one."

"Yes, it was there quite a while before you were changed. That's why I think it's still there — why it wasn't healed."

I felt the first stirrings of anger from her while her body tensed. "But the others … were from glass." Her face became as hard as chiseled stone, and she turned from me. She looked to Edward and Carlisle who were walking slowly toward us.

Carlisle still had his hand on Edward's arm. Edward's face was a cold mask of fury as he glared at me. His emotions —rage, jealousy, and resentment — were a prickling vapor trying to seep into me, and I brushed them away, holding them back.

Bella was breathing slowly and steadily as she stared at Edward. "I remember." Her voice was barely a breath. "I remember that birthday party. I didn't want it, but he never listened."

A worm of fear began twisting and flipping around in my belly. Did she remember all of it? She remembered that part, but did she remember that I had tried to attack her and bite her?

She turned back to me and placed her right hand on my cheek. "Jasper, I remember." Her voice was the softest whisper. Concern showed in her eyes and I felt her affection, understanding, and sorrow. Then warm admiration flowed out from her.

"I remember that I cut my finger and it bled. I saw you hold your breath and take a step back. I knew you didn't want to hurt me. Then Edward growled and shoved me into the table with the glass plates."

"Bella, I'm so sorry."

She placed a finger on my lips. "You have nothing to be sorry for. I told them to tell you that I forgave you, but there wasn't anything to forgive you for. I know you think it was your fault that Edward left me. It wasn't. Edward lost his control, and threw me into those plates to get me away from him. I know what happened, and I sure understand it better now. Feeling that thirst from all of them, especially Edward, must have been … so overwhelming."

I couldn't believe she was saying that. "But, Bella …"

"Shh. Don't you feel the sincerity of my words? Don't you feel that I'm telling you the truth?"

"Yes, but …"

She raised her eyebrows at me. "No buts. He let you think it was your fault, and then he left because he was a coward, and he didn't want ..." She pressed her lips together, closed her eyes, and gave her head a small shake. There was a small flash of bitterness, and then it was gone. She opened her eyes again, and a mischievous glint appeared. "When I talk like this, they can't hear me, right?"

"No, they can't hear you yet. They aren't close enough. What are you doing?" I truly appreciated what she said to me, and was very curious about what she didn't say, but I started to get a little suspicious when I felt that mischievousness, touched with a bit of animosity.

She smiled a devious smile at me and turned toward Edward and Carlisle. Her anger and hostility came back, though I could tell she was controlling it.

Carlisle was projecting his usual serenity and composure, but there was an undercurrent of anxiety. He still had his hand on Edward's arm when they stopped about twenty feet away.

"Bella." Carlisle smiled in greeting. "It is so good to see you. Do you remember me?"

"Yes, I don't remember everything, but I do remember you." She smiled faintly.

"We … heard screams a while ago and became concerned. As we got closer, Edward was able to determine that no one was injured. Though he still couldn't hear your or Jasper's thoughts. Do you remember that he can hear thoughts?"

"Yes, I do remember that, and I remember he can't hear me."

I was starting to get worried. What was she thinking?

"Emmett and I were playing in the river." Bella's smile broadened, but her hand clasped mine more tightly. Her eyes glanced to Edward and back to Carlisle. Her anger was still there, but the mischievousness was back.

I was becoming a bit more uneasy. Rosalie and Emmett were definitely on alert, and both of them had shifted to lean forward.

Edward's face was still blank, but his anger, jealousy, and resentment clouded the air around us. His hands had a barely perceptible quiver.

"It was great!" Bella continued. "Emmett grabbed me and threw me up in the air — it had to be fifty or sixty feet — and I started screaming. Then I hit the water so hard!"

Edward's eyes shut, and his arms began trembling. His anger was building.

"Then, of course, I had to do it again, so Emmett grabbed me again and threw me up and over his head. I soared out toward the middle of the river. It was like flying. It was the coolest damn thing!" She squeezed my hand. "It was even better than jumping off the cliff at La Push!"

Oh shit.

She had jumped off the cliff at La Push after he left her — after we all had abandoned her. In a vision, Alice had seen her jump, but hadn't seen Jacob Black pull Bella from the water. Alice thought she had drowned. Rosalie had called Edward in South America to tell him Bella had died. That whole situation had been fucked up. The guilt Edward had felt over being the cause of her jumping, whether she had meant to kill herself or not, had battered against me so hard, I hadn't been able to block it completely. I had to leave the vicinity whenever he wallowed in that particular misery.

Emmett's eyes popped, and he stared at Bella in disbelief. Rosalie gasped. I was … well, I was fuckin' flabbergasted. She said that on purpose. She said that intentionally to try and get a rise out of Edward. Or hurt him. Or piss him off or … Was she taunting him? I didn't know what the fuck she was doing, but my already pretty damn high level of respect, admiration, and appreciation for that little vixen just shot through the fuckin' roof.

Carlisle's worried eyes went from Edward to Bella and back to Edward.

Edward twitched, took a halting step forward, growled, and glared at Emmett. "Emmett! What do you think you were doing!? Bella could have been …"

"Edward ..." Bella's voice was like ice.

Ignoring her, much like he always did, he continued. "And where is your shirt? Where is Jasper's shirt? Why are you running around half dressed?" Edward took another step forward, staring intently at me.

Emmett got that innocent look on his face he tries to use on Rosalie, that never works, and he pointed at Bella.

Bella's anger was rising. "I ripped their goddamn shirts off." Her voice was low and she was speaking through clenched teeth.

Edward turned slightly to face us and took two steps forward, dragging Carlisle with him. His eyes had turned a dull black. His anger was quickly morphing back to fury, and his resentment and jealousy were thrumming at new levels.

I was trying to send out tranquil thoughts and feelings of peace, but it wasn't having any noticeable effect.

Edward broke Carlisle's hold and darted forward, stopping just ten feet away from us. His head was level with the height of the rock shelf. His body was quivering with his storm of emotions.

"Bella, where is this language coming from?" He glared at me accusingly. His eyes widened, and then quickly narrowed to dark slits. "Two fresh bites?"

I could not stop the smirk from forming on my face. I was pretty damn proud of those two new scars.

Edward's eyes squeezed shut, and his nostrils flared. He slowly opened his eyes and stared at Bella, apparently examining her for bites. His eyes flicked to Emmett and back to her. "And Emmett throwing you up in the air? You shouldn't do such hazardous things. I won't allow …"

Edward just screwed himself right there. Did he not pay any attention to her? He should have kept his mouth shut. I squeezed Bella's hand, and with the other on her waist, I pulled her a little closer to me. She was beginning to quiver, her eyes narrowed, and her own anger was swelling. I tightened my grip on her.

Carlisle came forward, raising a hand toward Edward. Fear showed in his eyes.

I amped up the peace and tranquility. If Edward's emotions continued to escalate, I would have to drop everyone there.

But, if I let it play out …

I decided I couldn't do that. Bella could be hurt. I could hurt someone. Shit. I would hurt someone.

Edward shook his head and glared up at me. His eyes snapped toward Bella again and she stiffened. Her anger was sparking and crackling around her.

He jabbed a trembling finger at me. "Is that scarred fiend compelling you to sit in his lap? He is nothing more than a vile, brutal, barbarous …" His eyes then bored into mine. "If you dare to influence or manipulate Bella with your corrupt and perverse …"

"Fiend!? Perverse!?" Bella roared.

That was what you called the shit hitting the fan. How fucking stupid was he? Bella's fury blazed white hot, and she launched herself from my lap. I grabbed hold of her left wrist and tried to swing her out of the line of fire as Edward leaped toward me.

Seeing him in his rage, arrowing toward Bella and me — something in my brain broke wide open, and my own anger exploded in a furious maelstrom. The thoughts, "He wants to take her from me," and "She's mine," shot through my head like bolts of lightning. They thundered and echoed through my mind.

I was on my feet, snarling, and thrusting my left hand toward Edward's throat.

Emmett and Rosalie were up off the rock shelf and reaching to catch Bella, but she kicked Emmett in the chest, propelling him over the rock shelf toward the bank of the river. His flailing arms caught Rosalie across her chest and sent her sprawling.

Bella landed heavily on her feet, planting them squarely on the rock. When she yanked her arm from my grasp, she underestimated her newborn strength, and sent herself tumbling toward Emmett.

Edward managed to block my left hand, but I caught his right arm. I swung my right around, and my fingers went unerringly to his throat. He snarled and brought his fist crashing down on my arm to break my hold. When he couldn't, he grabbed my wrist and snarled again.

I spun 180 degrees and slammed him to the rock — the crash reverberated across the river and through the forest. I brought my face to his and roared, "She's mine!"

"Jasper!" Bella screamed.

My head whipped around toward her voice. She was bound by Emmett's thick arms around her torso and arms. As strong as he was, he was struggling to hold her to his chest. Rosalie was on her legs, trying to hold her down. She was thrashing, spitting, and snarling. I realized with a start I couldn't feel her emotions.

Edward kneed me in the right side, and we rolled until he was above me. He straddled my thighs, and drew back his left fist to punch me.

Even through the constricting grip I had on his throat, he still managed to spew his bullshit. "You are nothing, Jasper." The hateful words rasped through his throat. "Nothing but a hideously scarred, depraved heathen. Bella is too good for the disgusting likes of you."

I smirked at him. "I can still crush your throat, and remove your head, and you're catching up with the scars."

He punched me, and my head snapped to the left. There stood Carlisle, his back to the river, and his hands reaching for us. He was alarmed, confused, afraid, distressed — obviously unsure what to do to separate us, or to keep me from removing Edward's head from his body.

I turned back to Edward. He was still growling, and his chest was heaving with his breaths.

I smirked at him again. A welcome feeling of undeniable certainty settled over me, and I spoke with a deep-seated conviction. "She is too good for me, but she is mine."

There was a blur from my right and Bella rammed Edward, ripping him away from me.

"Don't you touch him!" she snarled, and they plowed into Carlisle. All three of them toppled over the edge of the rock shelf, and out of sight.

I had a chunk of Edward's throat clenched in my fist, and threw it away from me as I leapt off the rock toward the sound of their splash.

I saw nothing but a foaming mass of violently boiling water and flashes of white limbs as I sliced through the muddy water. Fear for Bella's safety squeezed my heart. I was nearly on them when Bella's enraged snarls pierced the air, followed by an exultant hoot, and she leapt away from the bedlam, Edward's right forearm held triumphantly aloft in her left hand.

I slammed into her and crushed her to me. I was so fucking relieved. All I knew at that moment was I had to get my mate away from that fucking chaos and that fucking asshole.

I shot back out of river, splashing and drenching Rosalie and Emmett. Esme and Alice had finally arrived, but I ignored them as I flew by. I didn't know what I was looking for, but as I made my way up the rise and through the trees, I spotted a thirty-foot tall rocky cliff and ran to it. I put my back to the rock wall, and set Bella down on her feet so I could look at her. I still couldn't feel her emotions, but on her face was a look of relief and happiness.

"Are you all right?" I couldn't stop myself from examining her from head to toe. I noticed the left sleeve of her henley was gone, but she looked all right. She looked okay.

Thank Christ.

How the hell had she gotten away from Rosalie and Emmett? How the hell did she get away from two male vampires? How did she rip off Edward's arm? Her clothes were torn to hell, not much of them left, but there wasn't a mark on her.

I gripped her upper arms. "Are. You. All. Right?"

"I'm fine."

Oh, there she was, all Miss Calm, Cool, and Collected, and my brain was about to explode. I was a little angry at her nonchalance, and had to roll my eyes at her. "Isabella! You scared the ever lovin' shit out of me! Edward was practically insane. You … you came out of fuckin' nowhere … Carlisle was …"

Her right hand was on my cheek, and she was staring into my eyes. "I am fine," she whispered.

The reeling thoughts and emotions in my brain stilled at her tender touch, and I was trapped in her gaze. Her crimson eyes drew me in, and I stepped closer to her. Oh God, I wanted her. I wanted her desperately.

"Bella," I whispered. I brought my hands to her face and bent closer. "Bella, I want you."

Her eyes widened in surprise.

I drew my right hand down her neck, over her shoulder, and down her arm to feel her silky skin. "Get rid of his arm. I don't want to smell him on you."

She tossed Edward's arm away, and brought her hand to my hip. Her touch sent a ripple of pleasure through me.

"I want you, Bella. I want you to be mine." I slid my left hand around her neck and buried my fingers in her wet hair, pulling her closer.

The pupils in her eyes grew larger. I knew mine were solid black.

"I need you." I longed to be closer to her, touching her. My right hand went to her waist, and I urged her toward me. My breaths were coming faster. We didn't need to breathe, but I needed to draw in her enticing, comforting scent — the scent that called to me, the scent that said home. I needed to feel her body against mine. I bent closer to her. "You are my mate. I want you. You're mine."

I glanced down at her parted lips and watched, mesmerized, as she bit the corner of her bottom lip. "Bella, you are mine."

I closed the distance to press my lips to hers, and she spoke. "But you're married."

.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 18, I Decide

Jasper's POV

 

Stopped short by Bella's words, my lips a mere hair's breadth from hers, I stared into her eyes as she began to pull away from me.

Well, she had me there.

My breath huffed out in dismay. I had almost kissed her again. I had been this fucking close to feeling her sweet lips against mine and …

This, uh, topic had been broached before, and it hadn't been settled in any way, shape, or form. I didn't see how it could have been at the moment. All I knew then was that she was mine. I wanted her. She was mine!

Her hands slid away from my body and then grasped both of mine as she took a step back. She sighed resignedly as she looked up at me.

I felt her emotions leaking through — concern and trepidation.

"Jasper, when he called you a 'scarred fiend,' I lost my mind. When I saw him attacking you, I was so … I was scared to death he was going to hurt you. Then Emmett and Rosalie had me and wouldn't let me go!" Her hands tightened on mine. "When I saw Edward punch you, I thought I was going to explode. I wanted to kill him for touching you." She frowned, and pulled her hands away. "I wanted to rip parts off him. I wanted to …" Her hands tightened into fists, and she squeezed her eyes shut, her anger ratcheting up again.

"Bella, it's okay. It was only a punch. Rosalie hits harder than he does."

She looked up at me with a small smile. Then her eyes dropped, and she turned her head away. "When he punched you, something in me …"

She was feeling bashful? Since she woke up, just a mere eight hours before, she had been anything but a shrinking violet, and now she was going to be shy?

I placed a finger under her chin and tilted her head up. "Look at me. You can tell me anything. You know that, right?"

Her dark lashes fluttered, and she looked into my eyes. "Yes, somehow I do know that." She sighed again. "When he punched you, something inside me just snapped, and I knew I couldn't stand to ever see you hurt. I wanted to protect you. I needed to. I wanted to rip him off you, and tear him apart for even touching you. I knew then if anything ever happened to you …"

Bella squeezed her eyes shut and turned away from me, wrapping her arms around herself, and hanging her head. I just wanted to take her in my arms, inhale her scent, and hold her against me, but I held back, waiting for her to speak.

"Jasper, all these feelings I've been having are confusing me. It's really hard for me to concentrate on any one thought — they all keep spinning around. They blast through my head, and I don't seem to have any control over them. And I'm trying!" Her hands flashed out away from her body. "And now you tell me I'm your mate, but …"

"You are." I couldn't restrain myself any longer and stepped toward her, placing a hand on her right shoulder. "There's no reason to be confused about that. You are my mate." I moved closer to her, placing my other hand on her left shoulder, and leaned forward to breathe in her irresistible scent. I inched forward, my chest nearly touching her back, and pressed my lips to her hair. I slid my hands down her arms. "You are my mate," I whispered into her ear. "There should be no confusion, no doubt, about that." I gently kissed her temple. "All those other thoughts and the confusion you're feeling — it's like that for all of us at first. I can help you."

She pulled away from me. "I think you can," she said and nodded. "But … but, you're married. I have to remember that, and I have to remember Alice." Her hand went to her forehead. "It's so hard, but it's not right," she mumbled, taking her hand from her face. She lifted her eyes to look at me again. "Anyway, I … I feel so angry at her, and I want to just punch her, and I've never been like that before. I don't think I was anyway." Her hands started to curl into fists. "But I have to think of Alice and how she must feel, despite my wanting to tear her to pieces. I don't even know why I want to tear her to pieces! So she made me wear stupid clothes and never listened when … but that's not a good enough reason to want to hurt her, and I know I hurt her." She shook her head again and turned to face me. "I know you're married to her … and the feelings … I shouldn't have these feelings for you. It's not right. I shouldn't be sitting on your lap, and holding your hands and …"

She has feelings for me?

And just that fast she was raging and growling. She twisted away from me and laid into another tree, tearing at it and punching it.

Her emotions were flipping back and forth – anger, want, guilt, need, jealousy, longing, and back to anger. Frustration joined into the mix. They shifted so quickly, it nearly made me dizzy.

I felt helpless. I wasn't used to feeling that way. I wanted to go to her and comfort her, but I didn't think she would accept my help. Not at that moment. Besides, it looked like she needed to let off a little steam, and I didn't think I wanted to get too close to her in that mood.

It had started to get dark, I noticed, but that had never mattered to us. I didn't even think Bella was aware of it.

I could empathize with her anger and frustration. I was married to Alice. I had never cheated on her, but from the moment Bella had awakened, I had been, and I could not find one iota of guilt within me. I had been with Alice over fifty years, and in just the blink of a bright crimson eye, everything changed. I had wanted Alice, but not like I wanted Bella. I'd never had that level of need, that craving — that hunger — for Alice, or anyone else. I ached with wanting Bella. It was frustrating as hell.

Welp. There went the tree.

Bella danced away from it as it fell through the surrounding trees, sheering off limbs and causing deep green needles to rain down. The moment it dropped and settled to the ground she attacked it, growling and grumbling. She was raking off limbs, snapping them into pieces, and zipping them into the surrounding forest.

It was a joy to watch her. There was a savage beauty in that destruction. Though Bella was intensely angry and frustrated, every movement flowed as elegantly as if it had been choreographed.

Even just four days ago, would I, or anyone, have ever used the word "dance" in association with Bella? She had been so clumsy — a danger to herself and most everyone around her. But since she woke up, every movement was a study in grace.

I blinked and shook my head. I was as easily distracted as a newborn. I was worse. But I could watch her tear shit up all day. While Bella was otherwise occupied and not racing off to East Bumfuck or some shit, I had to think.

In all the years we had been together, I'd felt nothing as intensely for Alice like I had for Bella. In a way, it puzzled me, but I was more puzzled by the fact that I had so readily, and completely, accepted it all. Not just accepted, but welcomed it. If I pushed aside my own bewilderment at the suddenness and strength of my feelings for Bella, I had welcomed it. I reveled in it. It was like … And then it struck me. Being with Alice was akin to feeding on animal blood.

Animal blood had always been merely adequate. It had filled a basic need. It had been tolerable. There had been times, when chasing down and capturing a large carnivore, it had been a bit more than tolerable – it had been acceptable and not unpleasant — even enjoyable and exciting in its own way. It had fed my body, but it had never really nourished me.

It had only been sustaining, not fulfilling or truly satisfying — a pale, faded imitation of what I really wanted — what I craved. Human blood hadn't just filled me, it fulfilled me, satisfied me, quenched that never-ending thirst — at least for a time. It was a moment of near-Nirvana. It was the difference between existing and truly living.

And I craved Bella, wanted her — yearned for her — even more than I desired human blood.

Except for Bella's blood. Having had that taste of Bella's blood and experiencing the utter bliss that had flowed through me — that was as close to Nirvana as I thought a vampire could get. Closing my eyes, I shuddered in pleasure once again at the memory of it. But even as perfect as it had been, I didn't find that I missed it, because there was Bella. If I never had any human blood again, I could be satisfied, fulfilled — complete — if I had Bella.

I smiled as I watched her take pine cones in her hands and crush them into brown dust before flinging them away, creating a small powdery cloud around her hands.

Alice had been a good companion. She had found and helped me at time when I hadn't thought I could go on. I was truly grateful for that, but I would have to talk to her and ask her for a divorce. Scratch that — I had to tell her I wanted a divorce. If my marriage to Alice was what kept Bella from me coming to me freely and completely, I would make sure to remove that obstacle.

Or at least get papers drawn up since, technically, we're not real people and don't exist.

I had married Alice when I had been using the name Cullen, and she had always liked that. She had always wanted to be a Cullen. She had never even mentioned using my last name when we had the wedding. She just wanted to be a Cullen. I never questioned it. Why? It really hadn't mattered to me. Carlisle had been hinting around that marriage would be a good idea, though it wasn't a notion that vampires normally indulged in. It had been a bit perplexing to me that they would bother with it. It wasn't as if the marriages were real. The mate bond was so much more binding, I have learned. Though in this world of getting everything down on paper, signing contracts, and dotting I's and crossing T's, they were as real as any marriage out there. After all, there was that signed license. In the human world, that's all you needed.

Well, Alice had wanted to get married, and it made her happy. She had certainly enjoyed the planning and shopping.

It had made me wonder if she had wanted to marry me or if she had been more interested in the ceremony — the human experience — since she couldn't remember anything of her own human life. But, at the time, I saw that she was pleased, and I was happy because she was happy. Something inside me told me I would be happier with Bella.

I realized then that I was glad that Alice had never been a Whitlock.

I would have called that useful bastard Jenks and had him print me up some divorce papers, if I hadn't drowned my goddamned phone in that goddamned river. The other phone was back at the house. I took my dead phone out of my pocket, opened it and frowned at the blank screen. I had completely forgotten it was in my pocket. I crushed the useless device, and let the dust trickle through my fingers.

I wanted Bella, but what if she didn't want me? Well, I knew she wanted me — I felt it. I knew she liked me. She trusted me. She felt quite a bit of lust for me. Oh God, did she! And that lust …

I squeezed my eyes shut again for a moment, and blew out a breath.

Settle down, boy.

I knew I could control my dick. I was a big boy now.

What if she didn't want me? What if I got divorce papers from Alice and Bella didn't want me anyway? It didn't matter. I couldn't stay married and tied to Alice when I felt that way about Bella. I wanted her — wanted to be with her. I could not fathom being without her. I even wanted her to keep kicking my ass. She could keep on kicking my ass to the ends of the earth — to the end of time. She was my mate, and I would follow her anywhere. I would do anything for her, even if she didn't want me. I hoped she wanted me, but even if she didn't … Well, it was already too late to worry about that, because I belonged to her.

I thought maybe I should find that son of a bitch that bit her first, and shake that motherfucker's hand. Right before I fucking killed him.

I heard rapid footsteps approaching through the forest.

"Bella, someone is coming."

Bella immediately ceased her grumbling and mumbling, dropped the limb she was shredding, and ran right to me. I'd rather have her in my arms, but I pushed her behind me, holding her with my right hand. Like before, she ran her left hand across my lower back and gripped my hip. She wrapped her little fingers around my right arm above my elbow. Just her touch steadied me, soothed me like no one before.

Then I was puzzled again. She had come right to me without arguing or giving me any flak.

Go figure.

She was wary and curious, but not afraid.

I heard my name. It was Rosalie calling. She had Esme with her.

"It's okay, Bella. It's Rose and Esme." She hid behind me, and I could hear her taking in deep breaths.

As they neared us, they slowed and walked toward us at a human pace. Both of them wore small smiles and a look of curiosity on their faces. Esme was a little nervous.

"Hey, Jazz, Bella." Rosalie smiled. "We came to collect Edward's arm, unless you don't want to give it back to him?"

Guilt, thy name was Bella.

"Uh, no! I wasn't going to keep it! Ew!" She ran over to where she'd tossed it beyond a few low shrubs. She jumped over them and shrieked in fear.

I was there, gathering her into my arms. "What is it? What's wrong?" Her hands were covering her eyes, and she buried her face in my chest.

"It's moving! Oh my God, it's moving!" She was bouncing on her toes. "The fingers … GAH! Why is it moving?"

I stifled the laugh that wanted to burst from me. I took in a deep breath. "They do that, Darlin'. Any parts ripped off a vampire will try to find their 'host'."

"Oh, that's gross!" She looked up at me, her eyes wide with curiosity and a touch of self-consciousness. "Any parts? All the parts?"

She was embarrassed again. Of course, that gave me a pretty good idea what parts she was thinking about. Had she considered ripping off the asshole's dick? It had been a thought that had passed through my mind more than once.

I heard Esme take in a breath, and Rosalie started to snicker. Apparently, everyone had had the same idea.

The grin just would not stay off my face, so I turned to Rose with a pleading look.

Some help here?

By that time, Rosalie had dissolved into the giggle zone, her hand over her mouth. She shook her head and waved her other hand at me. "I think that one's yours, Jasper."

She was no damn help.

I took in a deep breath. "Yes, Bella, all the parts will move — somewhat. All of them. Even very small pieces of skin will twitch — pretty much anything but hair and bone. Though hair attached to a scalp, or other body parts with hair, will appear to be moving. It's not the hair, it's the skin it's attached to."

She slapped her hands over her ears. "That's enough! We can go over vamp biology some other time! That's just gross! Really, really gross. That's like horror movie shit." She clamped her hands over her eyes again. "I don't have to touch it, do I?" she asked in a meek voice.

I had to laugh. "No, Darlin'. I'll get it." I released her from my arms, and went to grab Edward's scrawny arm off the ground. I resisted biting it. It was difficult. "Just remember that next time you want to tear somebody apart." I couldn't help chuckling at her.

She stood still and kept her eyes covered as I retrieved the arm and tossed it to Rose.

Esme delicately cleared her throat, and rearranged her look of dismay into a pleasant smile. "Hello, Bella."

Bella peeked through her fingers. "Esme?" With her nose going up into the air, she inhaled deeply as she studied Esme. "Oh, Esme!" Relieved, she shoved me out of the way, leapt over the little bushes, and rushed to Esme, grabbing her in a hug.

"I'm glad to see you too, dear, but your hug is a little tight."

Bella's arms whipped from around Esme. "Oh! I'm sorry!"

"It's okay. I'm so very glad to see you, too. Come, let's try that hug again." Esme opened her arms to Bella, and Bella fell into them.

"Oh, Esme! I remember your smell. You smell just like freshly baked herbed bread. Maybe like rosemary. You were with me, too, when I was changing. I remember that!" She started to sob against Esme's shoulder.

"Yes, I was, Bella. I was with you, too." Esme stroked her hair and patted her back lightly. "It'll be okay. I know it's been a … stressful day for you, but it will get better. Rose and I came to check on you, and, well, to get Edward's arm, of course."

Bella sobbed again. "I'd say I'm sorry I ripped his arm off, but I'm really not. He deserved it."

Was she going to say anything that came into her head?

Bella ducked her head and glanced up at Esme. "I've been so … so mad at him. He jumped at Jasper to attack him, then he kneed him in the side, and he punched him … and … and …" Bella pulled away from her, her fists shaking. "I just had to get him off Jasper because he was going to hurt him."

There was no way that pencil-neck was going to hurt me, but I was getting a little concerned thinking Bella might go off again, although Esme showed no fear. I was a little surprised that Bella hadn't tried to attack Esme as a new female. She had attacked Alice, and had tried to attack Rosalie, but not Esme. She had said she remembered Esme's scent. I wondered again how much she had been aware of while she was changing into a vampire. More and more it seemed as though she had been aware of quite a lot.

Esme raised her arms to Bella again and smiled at her.

Bella blinked at her, and fell into her arms once again. She began sobbing even harder.

"Oh, Bella. Shhhhhh, it'll be okay." Esme stroked her hair again. "It'll be all right. It has been a distressing day for all of us, but we'll be just fine." Esme gently squeezed Bella's shoulders. "You know, it's getting dark. Would you like to go back to the house? Maybe take a shower and put on some fresh clothes?"

"I am a mess. I have pine sap all over me." She sniffed. "I've gotten it all over you, too. I'm sorry!"

"It's all right, Bella. I can wash the clothes. I think it will come out. If not, I have more. We'll have to throw yours out, I believe, but we have more clothes for you at the house. Rosalie picked up a few more things for you."

"She did?" She turned to Rose and looked a bit apprehensive. "Uh, where did you get them? Um, I know beggars shouldn't be choosers …"

"Don't worry, Bella. No haute couture. I stopped by Target." Rosalie laughed. "I know what you like to wear."

"Oh, thanks, Rose." Bella gave Rosalie a beaming smile then she turned back to Esme. "I think I'd like a shower since I haven't had one as a vampire yet. I wonder what the water will feel like? The river was fun. It didn't feel cold at all! I mean, I felt that it was cold, but it just didn't make any difference."

Bella was driving me nuts again. She went from relieved at recognizing Esme, to pleased, to pissed off at Edward, to remorse at messing up Esme's clothes, then to near giddiness thinking about playing in the river. It almost made my head hurt.

"I know," Esme replied. "I've enjoyed swimming in rivers, lakes, and ponds — even the oceans. We can even go swimming in January."

"Like those Polar Bear clubs?"

"Yes. Only we don't have to worry about hypothermia." She smiled down at Bella. "So would you like to go back to the house?"

Bella nodded and snuggled into Esme's arms. "It's so good to see you, Esme."

Esme patted her back then turned her, placing a guiding arm around Bella's shoulders. "I am so glad to see you, too. The house is in this direction, dear, but let me speak with Rosalie first." She turned a bit and looked over her shoulder at Rosalie. "Rose, are you going to take Edward's arm back and encourage him to hunt?"

"Yes, Esme. We'll reattach it and help him hunt."

"Thank you. That will give Bella and me time to get cleaned up and have a little chat." She turned toward me, a question in her eyes. "Jasper, would you mind joining us?"

Had to hand it to her, the woman was smooth. She had just given us our orders and said it in such a way that we would think we were doing her a favor. It had to be a gift. She had let Rosalie know that she wanted a bit of time with Bella. She had also let me know that she wouldn't be keeping Bella from me. Not that she, or anyone, would be able to.

"I'd be happy to, Esme." I walked over toward them, and Bella reached for my hand. I felt warmth and affection coming from her when my skin came into contact with hers. How I wanted to just grab her into my arms and feel all of her against me.

Esme turned to Rose again. "Rose, I expect it will take three, maybe four hours, right?" At Rosalie's nod, Esme smiled again. "Okay then, we'll see you back at the house about midnight."

The woman was a pro.

Rosalie was onto her and grinned. "We'll see you about midnight." She gave us a jaunty wave with Edward's arm, turned, and disappeared into the trees.

Esme turned her attention to Bella. "Bella, I thought we could walk for a bit — it's so lovely this evening. I think we might be able to see a few stars since the clouds have thinned." Esme gave her a squeeze, and Bella leaned into her shoulder.

"It is nice. I had hardly noticed that it was starting to get dark. And this is good practice for human-like walking, right?"

"You caught me." Esme laughed. "You're doing very well." Esme squeezed Bella's shoulders again. "I have a room set up for you, next to Jasper's study. It was our guest room, but it's yours now."

"Thank you, Esme."

"It's not a problem at all. I've rewashed the clothes you've left at the house and the ones that Rosalie bought. I'll help you put them away. You'll be able to do it all yourself soon." Esme touched her cheek to Bella's hair. "I'll also help you get a shower, unless you'd like to take a bath? This room has an attached bath, and I've put some toiletries in there for you."

"Why would you rewash my clothes?" Bella looked up at her, curious. I was curious myself.

"Your human scent. Carlisle and I discussed it and thought it would be a good idea to wash all your clothes. We don't know how you might react when you smell it again, even though it's your own scent. Now our scents will be on your clothes from handling them." Esme brushed her fingers lightly across Bella's chin. "We've not quite been in this particular situation before. Your human scent will be in most of the rooms in the house." Esme smiled at Bella again. "As you can imagine, Carlisle is quite curious about it, and so am I."

The peace and contentment that arose from the two women was a balm to my soul and to Bella's. She was feeling happy and pleased, too. I was hopeful, but I knew it wouldn't last. I had not thought about Bella's human scent being all over the house — concentrated in Edward's room, Alice's room, and the living room. I should have remembered that. Being exposed to her own scent could end up being too interesting.

I suspected that Esme wanted to find out what Bella remembered, and I was sure Bella wouldn't want to wait any longer to find out what had been going on for the last few days. I didn't want to keep it from her, but I knew it would upset her. Having an upset newborn in the house could be disastrous. But at that moment, I chose to simply bask in the serenity and enjoy the evening walk with Bella and Esme.

"Look, Bella!" Esme pointed up to a patch of darkening sky through the trees. "It's a falling star. Do you want to make a wish?"

Bella stopped and looked up. "Wow, I can see it so much better now! It's so beautiful. But I don't know what to wish for."

"Perhaps you can think of something to wish for when you see another one."

I looked up at the shooting star, watching as it faded away and winked out. I had already made my wish.


 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 19, I Whine

Emmett's POV

 

There we all were, hanging out in the middle of the woods after reattaching Edward's arm-me, Rose, Alice, Carlisle, and (sigh) Edward. When Rose had brought back Edward's arm, she let us know that Esme, Bella, and Jasper were going to head back to the house. Esme had let her know she wouldn't be expecting us back until midnight-ish. At the time I hadn't really cared much. Later, however, I changed my tune.

Edward and Carlisle looked pretty ragged with their clothes torn up, though Carlisle didn't look nearly as bad as Edward. He kind of looked like he'd been through a wood chipper.

That's what he gets for messin' with Bella and pissin' her off.

Bella sure had been hell on our clothes. Well, the guys' clothes. It was a wonder we had anything left to wear and weren't all naked. She was a vicious little thing. Like I said-hellcat. I sure was lovin' that! She had managed to rip into Edward and Alice pretty good, though. Alice had tied a pink scarf around her neck to cover the scars Bella had left on her, but Edward wasn't going to be able to hide the scars on his face.

Some chicks dig scars. Maybe it'll work for him.

I was going to have to ask Bella what made her lick her fingers when she woke up.

Who even thinks like that?

It was a nice night. It wasn't raining, and I even saw a few stars here and there in the occasional breaks in the clouds. It was good to be out in the woods with Rose, sitting on that nice, comfy log. I would have been enjoying it a whole lot more if Edward would shut the hell up-the whiny-ass cry baby.

Oh, my fucking God, Edward was the biggest pain in my ass. Ever. I mean EVER.

The pissin', and moanin', and whinin', and cryin', and belly achin', and ... Jesus Christ! He'd bitch if they hung him with a brand new rope.

Damn, I wanted him to just shut the fuck up, go drink a damn raccoon or something already, and just get over himself.

Maybe, back when he was human, his parents should have let him go off and fight in the war. Would have manned him up a little.

City boys!

And I didn't even care if he could hear me. He'd always been a moody bitch-even worse than that damn emo bastard Jasper on a bad day. (Or a good day, depending on how you looked at it.) But at least Jasper wasn't always whining about it. He was more the "suffer in silence" type. If Edward didn't quit his goddamn bleating, I was going to rip an arm off him.

Oh, and ripping off arms?  That was cool as shit when Bella popped up out of the water holding Edward's arm up like a damn trophy and hooting like a fool! Hell! I didn't even feel bad that she got away from me. My little Belly-boo was stronger than hell, and she was pretty damn pissed off, too. I was a little surprised she hadn't broken anything off me or bitten the shit out of me. But, then again, she likes me.

I didn't know how the hell she ripped Edward's arm off, but that shit was cool. I had always thought she'd make a pretty good vampire, but she was turning out to be a fuck-awesome vampire! I just never understood why the hell Edward kept refusing to turn her. Stupid ass.

I didn't think I'd ever had so much fun. Not even when she was kicking my ass. Literally.

I glanced up at Edward in his classic pose-fingers clamped on the bridge of his nose. At least she didn't bite me or try to rip my arm off.

As expected, Mr. Pissypants decided to shoot me a dirty look.

"Look, Edward, you've only had one deer," I said.

After observing our little exchange and giving both of us a stern look, Carlisle raised his eyebrows. "Edward, you should hunt for something else-perhaps a carnivore. Unless you feel you need further assistance?"

Edward huffed like the little bitch he always was. "No, I don't need further assistance. I've already had a deer." His eyes dropped to the ground, and he peered up at me. "Emmett, I should thank you for capturing it for me. I ... I appreciate your help. " He ran his fingers through his hair. "I had a deer yesterday. Over-feeding isn't going to make me heal any faster."

Rose had been sitting quietly next to me on the log, but then she jumped up and stomped over toward Edward. "You'll heal faster if you stop pissing Bella off." She crossed her arms. "Don't give me that pouty look, Edward. She hasn't bitten Carlisle or Emmett. How many times did she bite you before she ripped your arm off?"

That made me snort. "You're lucky she didn't rip your head off." 

Especially since Jazz had a hunk of Edward's neck in his hand after Bella tackled him. Shit. Edward was pretty damn lucky we found that piece. Jasper could have thrown it in the river. We'd still be looking for it.

He had to go and try and fuck with Jasper. It wasn't like Edward had the advantage anymore. He had whined about not being able to read Jasper's mind ever since Jasper had passed out and had been lying there with Bella. So maybe he was lucky, again, because Bella had clobbered him and gotten him away from Jasper.

Maybe he'll learn you just don't mess with somebody's mate. I sure hoped he didn't try anything with Bella. God only knew what Jasper might do to him. It was so freakin' obvious they were mates, what with her purring, and being all cuddly and shit with him. And him being all cuddly and shit with her.

Jasper? Cuddly? Too friggin' weird.

"All right, everyone." Carlisle held up his hands and glanced around at everyone. "We need to remain calm here."

There went Carlisle being the peacekeeper again. It wasn't that we needed a "daddy," but sometimes we sure needed a referee.

Carlisle walked over toward Alice who was huddled up in a tight little ball at the base of a fir tree. He leaned over and patted her shoulder.

She looked awful-really sad. I couldn't say I blamed her though. We had all thought she and Jazz were mates, even though they were never as affectionate as me and Rose.  And they sure as hell didn't have sex as much as Rose and I did, or as much as Esme and Carlisle either, but I just figured they didn't have the same, uh, drive that Rose and I did.

Well, whatever.

I knew all this had been a shock to Alice. But it wasn't like she was ga-ga head-over-heels in love with him. She was the one who had thrown Jasper out of her room, and she always had been more excited about clothes and all that crap.

She was always telling him what to do and what to wear, and he just did it. So I assumed ...Well, we all did. But the way Jazz was acting while Bella was burning, and then when Bella woke up and bit the be-Jesus out of him ... that was pretty much a dead give-away.

I cracked myself up sometimes.

The way they had been acting ever since pretty much clinched it-especially Jasper. As my ol' Granny used to say, he'd been as nervous as a whore in church, and that just wasn't Jasper. I mean, he could be a real shithead sometimes, but nervous, worried, jumpy, and panicky? That just wasn't normal.

Alice looked up at Carlisle and gave him a tiny little, sad smile. She stood and brushed pine needles from her slacks and adjusted the pink scarf she had tied around her neck. "Yes, we do need to try and stay as calm as we can. It will help Bella, I think. It would be better for her. If Bella doesn't get so upset then maybe Jazz ..." Her voice fading out, she sniffed and covered her face with her hands.

Carlisle hugged her to his chest and patted and rubbed her back, trying to comfort her. "Alice, I just don't know what to say. There have been quite a few changes and shocks over the last few days, and it's all been rather overwhelming. For all of us, I think, but most especially for you and Edward. I am unsure how to proceed except to try to meet each situation that arises as thoughtfully and patiently as we can." He rubbed her back again. "And we have to keep in mind that Bella is a newborn vampire. They are ruled by their instincts and impulses. It's very difficult for them to control themselves."

Rose came over and sat down next to me again, taking hold of my hand. She sighed. "All of us need to accept the fact that Bella and Jasper are mates." She looked pointedly at Edward. "I'm sorry Alice, but that's just how it is. It's pretty obvious."

It couldn't have beenany more obvious, as far as I was concerned. Bella had been all over him. He had been all over her, and he had been a complete and total fucktard. If Rose and I hadn't shown up when we did ...

There may be a couple of "visuals" that I should try and keep out of my head.

Edward stiffened, raised his face up toward the sky, and closed his eyes. His hands were trembling. I was hoping he didn't lose control. Well, if he was going to, he could beat the hell out of as many trees as he wanted to.

Edward inhaled deeply and slowly opened his eyes. "I am having quite a bit of difficulty understanding how she can be his mate when ..." There he went with the hand in the hair again. "Alice and ... Jasper ... have been together for decades. They've been mates. They ..."

Carlisle, releasing Alice, turned to face Edward. "Not all vampires find a true mate, Edward. Many have companions that they are quite attached to and are quite happy with." He smiled down at Alice and patted her shoulder. "It's Bella's scent. You know it has changed. You know we recognize our mates through scent. It is generally understood and accepted that vampires cannot truly form a mate bond with humans, though there might be some attraction. Rosalie bringing Emmett to us would be an example of that. But I wouldn't have called that a mate bond. They weren't truly mated until after Emmett became a vampire." He gave me and Rose a small smile and turned back to Edward. "I understand that this is difficult for you-"

"How can you understand this, Carlisle? How can you know anything about it?" Edward started pacing between a huge fir tree on my left, then back to Carlisle and Alice on my right. "How can you say it's ‘scent' and humans can't form a mate bond with vampires? Bella's scent was so provocative, so enticing to me ... so desirable that I could think of nothing else, and I very nearly lost my control." He paced back toward the fir, slammed his right palm against it and leaned forward. "She has been the most important thing to me-the most important thing in my existence. I love her, and I have only ever thought of her. I have only ever wanted to take care of her, keep her from harm, and protect her. Everything I've done over these last months has been for her."

"For God's sake, Edward!" Rose slapped her knees with her hands. "I should have seen it before! I don't know why I didn't. But if she was your mate, you wouldn't have been able to just dump her and leave her. Especially since you hadn't ... er ..." She trailed off, and she even looked a little embarrassed as her eyes flicked from Edward to Carlisle and back.

Well, damn! Rose almost never got embarrassed, and there wasn't much that kept her from speaking her mind-no matter how awkward or embarrassing it might be.

I thought I should help her out.

"Boffed her?" I asked innocently, smiling at Edward and batting my eyelashes at him.

There was what I would have called a "strained, uncomfortable silence" for several seconds. Carlisle's eyes widened a bit as he looked anywhere but at Edward, and he cleared his throat. Alice fidgeted with her scarf again, and her eyes dropped to the ground.

Then there was Edward. The only way to describe the look on his face was "aghast." Maybe even "horror-struck." He was standing there flapping his gums, not saying a damn thing, and his eyes were bugging out.

Rose blinked a couple times, patted my thigh, and smiled at me. "Crudely put, honey, but, uh, yes."

Edward finally found his voice. "I ... I would never ..."

"Yeah, I know."

"Emmett! I am appalled! How could you ..." Edward was still choking and sputtering over that one. "That is none of your concern. I never wanted to hurt her. I only ever wanted to protect—"

"Her virtue?" I asked, shaking my head. Then I snorted. "If that's the case, you weren't protecting her, you were only ever teasing the absolute piss out of her. How mean is that shit?"

Carlisle clapped his hand over his eyes and dragged his fingers down his face. Alice sort of stared off into the tree tops.

Rose took hold of my hand and gave it a little squeeze. "That was actually well put." She glared at Edward. "Teasing her like that, over and over again, was cruel."

I sighed at Edward. "But, besides that crap, you were overdoing the so-called protection thing."

"To the point of suffocating her," Rose added. She was a little exasperated. "Everyone saw it but you and Alice. If you had tried to protect me like that, I would have beat your ass. Oh wait ..." Rose brought up her index finger, her pinky stuck out, and tapped her lips. "... she did."

Carlisle seemed to have regained his composure and, with an amused look on his face, he raised one of his eyebrows at Rose, and she rolled her eyes.

"Edward, Emmett and Rosalie have a valid point." Carlisle rested one hand on his hip and raised the other toward Edward. "I can't know what you've been feeling, but I do know quite a bit about vampires. I've studied them for centuries." He moved quietly closer to Edward, but stopped a few feet away.

He did his "Carlisle thinking thing" and, leaving a hand on his hip, he brought the other up to comb through his hair while he thought.  

"I do understand that this is all disturbing and disappointing to you and Alice, but you have to acknowledge that Bella's scent has changed. It's more a spice than a floral. Vampires react instinctively to scents. It's similar to pheromones in humans and animals. Most vampires don't understand the intensity of it until they've met their mates, and then the urge to ... bond physically is quite ... powerful."

Edward spun away from the tree. "I do understand it! But I could never hurt her! I'm too strong ... I ... I love her."

"Give me a break, Edward," I said. "You've been to college and high school how many times? Taking medical classes and biology and shit? Did you ever destroy a microscope or screw up dissecting frogs, or worms, or baby pigs? How ‘bout when you've gotten into museums and read those manuscripts written on that papyrus paper, or whatever, that's thousands of years old? You never messed up any of that stuff. Hell! Carlisle has books older than any of us, and you've read those without turning them to dust. How was Bella any more delicate than any of that stuff?"

"Exactly." Rose agreed. "The urge to ‘bond physically,' as Carlisle put it, is very, very strong-irresistible. If she was really your mate, you would have ... followed through."

The look of mortification on Edward's face was priceless. "But I did want ... I mean, I do want ... The scent of her blood drew me like no other."

"And that's your answer right there, Edward." Rose jumped to her feet. "You keep saying ‘her blood'. How many times have you said Bella's blood was what drew you to her? Past tense. Of course it would. She was your Singer!" She flung out her arms. "But since she's become a vampire, you haven't said anything about her scent at all."

Leave it to my Rose to not only hit the nail on the head, but grab a ten pound sledge hammer and smash it right through the board.

Edward glared at her, his face now showing anger, and his hands tightened into fists. With the nutsy way he had been acting, I didn't trust him not to take a leap at Rose, so I stood up next to her and crossed my arms.

"I have noticed the change in her scent, but that doesn't make any difference to me. I still love her. Jasper changing her and not allowing me near her, and ..."

"It doesn't make any difference to you?" Rose threw her hands up in the air. "It should make all the difference! If she was your mate, she would smell better to you than anyone else, except your Singer. Which she just so happened to be when she was human. Now that she's not human ..."

Carlisle raised both of his eyebrows at Rose before he turned back to Edward. "You may love her Edward, but I don't believe she is your mate." Carlisle looked at him sadly. "I am sorry." He glanced at Alice and then back to Edward. "If her scent drew you as an actual mate, you wouldn't be able to just disregard it. If your scent drew her, she wouldn't have attacked you so viciously. Twice. She wouldn't have tried to harm you." His hand went to his forehead. "Like with so much of what we are, it's instinctive, and Jasper and Bella appear to be acting very instinctively. Jasper's evident interest in her scent, and his show of protectiveness and possessiveness, along with his unusual agitation, is perfectly natural. It could become even more pronounced as time goes on. Bella has shown a similar protectiveness over him. Granted, it was a bit exaggerated for a female, but I think that would be due, in part, to her being a newborn just hours old." He placed both hands back on his hips and turned to face Edward completely.

"And you were hitting him at the time," I added.

"I was hitting him because I believe he's manipulating Bella's emotions." Edward extended his hands in a pleading gesture. "How do we know there actually was another vampire at the crash scene before he got there? How do we know he didn't find her and decide to take her for himself? How do we know he didn't cause the wreck?"

My mouth dropped open. I couldn't believe Edward had just said that shit. Even Alice's mouth fell open in shock.

Rose growled and started to head for him, but I grabbed her arm to hold her back. Edward might be talking shit, but he really didn't need to lose his arms again. Or a bunch of other parts, if I knew my Rose.

But if he didn't shut his mouth, I was seriously thinking about having a go at him myself. Then it would be Rose's turn.

Rose flashed her teeth at him. "Are you delusional? I cannot believe that utter blasphemy came out of your mouth!" Her hands clenched into fists.

Carlisle stepped a little closer to Edward and gave Rose a warning look. "Rosalie ..."

I still couldn't believe he said that shit, and I had to say something. If he believed that, he was delusional, just like Rose said. "Hold on, Carlisle. That's crazy talk coming out of his mouth." I pointed a finger at Edward. "Yeah, Edward, are you out of your goddamn mind? Jasper had gone to hunt. He had been at the house with Alice. Bella was at her own house before she went to work. She made a snap decision to go to La Push. Jasper couldn't have known anything about it. And don't you think, if he wanted to turn her, he could have figured out a less traumatic and dangerous way to do it? That wreck should have killed her."

Rose gave me a quick nod and turned back to them. "Carlisle, Edward can't speak such ... such slander and bullshit and get away with it." She focused her murderous glare on Edward.  "I'll tell you how we know, Edward." She sneered at him and jabbed a finger toward his chest. "We know there was another vampire there first because Jasper said there was, and he doesn't lie. He may not say much, but when he does speak, He. Does. Not. Lie." She jerked her arm away from me. "Emmett, I'm fine. And Edward, if you ever say anything like that about Jasper again I will rip parts off you, and you won't get them back. I will burn them!"

Those two always did fight like they were brother and sister.

She took another step closer to Edward and Carlisle. Edward flinched back away from her. "I know he's not manipulating her emotions because she said she can feel him when he tries to, and she has blocked him from feeling her emotions. It's been intermittent, but she's done it. He was shocked that she could. And he wouldn't do that." Rose closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

I knew she was this close to knocking him into next week.

She crossed her arms. "It's her scent, Edward. Plain and simple. It's blatantly obvious it doesn't attract you like it did before. You as much as said so yourself, and though Jasper liked her well enough before, he never paid all that much attention to her. He barely even spoke to her."

I rolled my eyes. "And now he won't shut up."

Rose put her hands on her hips and snapped around toward me. That one eyebrow drew up, and though I was taller than her, she looked down her nose at me. I didn't know how the hell she did that.

She turned slowly back toward Edward. "Besides that, no matter what he might have tried on her, there is no way he could have done anything to force her to purr for him."

Edward squeezed his eyes shut and turned back to the tree, putting his forearm against it. He rested his head against his arm. He was breathing kind of heavy, too.

Alice stepped forward and looked up at his back, her eyes shining with venom. "I think they're right, Edward. I've known Jasper a long time, and I've never seen him behave this way before. I had thought he was who I was meant to be with. His was the first face I saw in a vision after I woke up as a vampire. But maybe I only saw him because he was supposed to help bring me to all of you." She swung her hand in a gesture to include all of us.

"It wouldn't be the first time I misinterpreted a vision because I only got a glimpse." She sighed. "It makes me very sad, because I do love him, but there has always been a part of me that has been afraid of him. And seeing how he ... acted ... toward you when Bella was still burning, well, I was terrified of him and couldn't stand the thought of him being near me again. I guess I don't love him enough. That's not how mates are supposed to be."  

Alice walked toward him, placed her hand on the middle of his back, and gave him a little rub. "And I have to admit, as much as I love Bella, she just petrifies me. I've seen her as a vampire practically since I first laid eyes on her, but I never saw her as so ... so aggressive. I never saw that she would attack us. I had no idea she would turn out this way." She patted his back again. "I had always just thought she was your mate, but I never saw you two, specifically, together. When you two became enamored with each other and I saw her in a vision as a vampire, I just thought ..." She sighed again. "Well, I haven't been able to see anything of their futures. You haven't been able to hear their thoughts either, have you?"

"No, I haven't. Not since he ... not since Esme said he went unconscious."

"I think whatever her shield is, she's blocking us, and she has somehow included him in it. I can still see everyone else. Sort of. It's all been kind of blurry and out of focus."

"I can hear everyone else," he said very quietly. "I just can't hear either of them."

I thought I ought to put in another two cents while we were at it. "Edward, if Bella was your mate, she would have gone to you after she woke up, like Rose said. At the very least, she wouldn't have attacked you like that. And she did bite him, uh, twice."

He stepped back from the tree and his fingers went right to the bridge of his nose. I swear I didn't know if he picked that up from Carlisle, or if Carlisle got that from him.

"I saw those two fresh bites. Two. She bit me five times." His hands went to his hips.

Rose heaved a huge sigh, and looked toward the heavens. Maybe she was praying for strength not to kill him.  "Edward, she bit him twice with undeniable claiming bites, even if she didn't understand exactly what she was doing. You saw the first one." Rose reached back for my hand. "She bit you five times on your arm before she ripped it off. It's not so much how many times; it's where it is and what you're ... ah ... doing at the time."

I think Rose had him by the short hairs there. He looked pretty uncomfortable and a little embarrassed, too. The prude.

Bella was a great girl-a great vampire. I sure wouldn't mind hanging with her for a few centuries or eons or so. She cracked me up! So it had to be hard on the guy. She was pretty damn awesome. I know he obsessed over her, and worried, and pined, and ... I think he did love her-in a way. But they weren't mates. I was right damn sure about that. Jasper was acting like a total ass, so he had it bad. Bella was his mate. No two ways about it. Besides, humans broke up and got new boyfriends and girlfriends all the time, so why wouldn't vampires? I thought I had even had a few girlfriends before I was turned into a vampire. I thought I did. Unless vampires were mates, they broke up-or killed each other.  And if Edward didn't watch it, Bella would end up killing him. Edward was just going to have to suck it up.

Carlisle put his hands together. "Everyone, it's probably about time we made our way back to the house and check on them-see how they're all doing. Maybe even clean up a bit." He gestured in the direction of the house. "Shall we?"

Alice gave Carlisle a little smile and put her arm around his waist, resting her head against his chest. "Okay, Carlisle. We should head back. I ... I'm sure it will all eventually work out." She let go of Carlisle and reached for Edward's hand. "C'mon, Edward."

The three of them started off at a slow run, and Rose and I brought up the rear. When they were a ways ahead of us, Rose whispered to me, "I can't believe how stupid he is sometimes." She shook her head. "You know I always thought Edward was only fascinated with her just because he couldn't read her mind. He can read everyone else's."

I sighed. I had been thinking about that very thing quite a bit. "I know, Rose. I know it drove him nuts that he couldn't." I squeezed her hand. "I've always thought she smelled really good, but I've always liked her, too. She's always been fun.  It seemed like she wasn't having fun with him like she did with me. They were always so serious. And I don't think he's stupid, really."

Rose raised one of her eyebrows at me again.

"No, really. I think he's coming to realize what a great girl he lost, and she was never his to begin with. If he had turned her, she would have gone right to Jasper. Edward never had a chance."

I gripped Rose's hand a little more tightly. "But then there's the blood thing. Maybe it's only been her blood this whole time. I know how that goes since I ran across those women who were my Singers. They were the only other women ... only other people, human or vampire, I have ever smelled that smelled better to me than you."

I stopped and dropped my head at the memory. Sometimes I felt a little guilty at that admission.

Rose came and put her hand on my arm. "I know, Em. You don't need to feel badly about that. It's okay. I've never come across my Singer, but I think I understand."

There was no one who smelled better than my Rose, until I ran across those women. Once I had caught a whiff, there was no stopping me. No one could have stopped me from getting to them, which was why I could never understand how Edward resisted draining Bella. I knew how that Singer shit was. But maybe he thought that fascination was love? Both kinda made ya go crazy.

I patted Rose's hand and raised it up so I could kiss her knuckles. "You know I love you, Babe. More than anything."

She smiled her special smile at me and placed her hand on the side of my face. "I know you do. And I love you."

 

..

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 20, I Fret

Jasper’s POV

 

What the hell was there to do in a bathroom for ninety-three minutes? There had been a lot of dirt and pine tree sap on Bella, but Christ! I was out of the shower and dressed in a grey t-shirt and jeans in fifteen. Even found my boots and put them on. I’d have been finished sooner, but the thought of a naked, wet Bella? Let’s just say it slowed me down a little.

Bella and Esme had been up there yakking about who knew what while I had been pacing in the living room like a tiger in a too-small cage — waiting for them. That was until I forced myself to sit my ass down and watch for them to come down the stairs.

Not that the image of a naked and wet Bella, with soap suds flowing fluidly down and over her curves, was an unpleasant distraction to pass the time. That image was followed closely by another very pleasurable one: Bella bent over with her foot propped up on the side of that huge tub, a well-lathered washcloth in her hands, gliding over her foot, up around her calf, circling her knee, and then slipping to the inside of her thigh.

A moan escaped me. That semi-hard-on I had been sporting most of the day was practically aching again, and I had better quit that shit before they came downstairs.

I considered pacing again, but Esme probably wouldn’t appreciate my wearing a path in her carpet.

Esme had opened nearly every window in the house, trying to dilute Bella’s human scent. Even the sliding doors behind me were open. Bella had reacted to the scent, but not like I thought she would. I had almost expected her to get a whiff and start tearing up the house looking for the human.  She’d been tense and a little nervous when we first arrived at the house, but it turned out to be no big deal. All she did was shrug her shoulders and say, “Kinda sweet. But it’s not making me thirsty. I mean, there’s a little burn in my throat but … Is it because it’s my scent?”

Who the hell knew? Back when I had been dealing with all those newborns, they sure as shit didn’t wake up in their own houses. By the time they’d been clawing, scratching, and screaming for three days or so on the dirt floor of a shack or cave, there hadn’t been much of their clothes or their human scent left.

There was the slightest trace of a breeze through the house, and I could smell the soap Bella was using upstairs. The light vanilla and brown sugar complemented her warm, inviting scent of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Again I was reminded of my human days and of the spice cake made only for those rare, special occasions. Bella was certainly special.

I had started to think Esme deliberately chose that scent. Bella had always used a strawberry shampoo before. It had not detracted from her floral scent, but it had always been a little on the sweet side for my liking.

Edward had always liked sweet …

Who gives a shit what that dickhead thinks?

Alice had always preferred floral scents. Though she had liked citrusy, berry scents, too, which weren’t bad. I liked orange and berries, but those didn’t compare to …

Finally! Christ!

Bella and Esme appeared on the stairs, holding hands and smiling. I was relieved. I hadn’t realized how tense I’d become until I saw her again. The warm vanilla combined with her comforting fragrance drifted across the room to me, and I inhaled deeply. The tension I had been feeling drained away, easing the tightness across my shoulders.

Esme directed Bella to sit on the coffee table in front of me, while Esme sat on the couch to my left. She sectioned off a handful of Bella’s still-damp hair and started brushing it at the ends.

“Get all the sap off?” I sat up from my slumped position.

Esme smiled. “I think so. It was quite a challenge to get it all out of Bella’s hair.” She patted Bella’s shoulder. “We both feel much better in fresh clothes.”

Bella rolled her eyes. “Remind me not to wrestle any more pine trees. I thought that crap … er, stuff would never come out.” She dropped her head and peeked up at Esme. “Sorry, Esme.”

“It’s okay, dear. I remember I had a hard time controlling myself and took out my frustrations on more than a few trees when I was a newborn. I’m a little embarrassed to say my own language was a bit … coarse. I went through more than a few sets of clothes, too.” Esme chuckled. “There was that time I ran directly through a swamp. I didn’t even notice the odor or the black, slimy mud until I was a mile past it — or the briar thicket I had run through.”

Bella looked over her shoulder at Esme. “Did you do that a lot when you were a newborn?”

“Unfortunately, yes. All the thoughts whipping through my mind, and all the scents and sounds, were quite difficult to manage at first, and I would shriek in frustration and race away, not paying any attention to my surroundings at all. Carlisle had quite a time with me.” Esme gathered another section of Bella’s hair and began brushing the ends, working her way up. “I was quite violent at times, also. Carlisle would catch me, and I would fight against him. Clothing doesn’t hold up well against newborns.”

Bella propped her elbows on her knees and dropped her head into her hands. “I am really sorry about that. Not only am I tearing up my own clothes — I’m destroying everyone else’s!”

Esme reached forward and gently rubbed Bella’s shoulder. “Don’t let that concern you, Bella. We’ve been there before. All of us have gone through it, and all of us have gotten through it. Like I told you upstairs, I’m sure it won’t take you too long to learn to control your strength. Rosalie was so determined she mastered buttons and silk hose in three months.”

“But I feel so bad. I …”

I leaned forward and brushed my fingertips across her right knee, unable to resist touching her any longer. “Bella, in that respect, you are no different than any other newborn. It takes a while to get used to the strength. We are so much stronger than humans. And you are so much stronger than Emmett!” I had to smile at that, and that brought a small smile to Bella’s face. “How did you get away from him and Rosalie?”

“Oh!” She laughed, her voice sounding out in ringing clear tones, and she dropped her hands to her thighs. “I slammed my legs down on the rock and she came loose! You should have seen her face!” Bella’s whole face lit up with her laughter. “And when she let go, Emmett’s grip loosened, so I jabbed him with my elbow —” She demonstrated it by jerking her right elbow back, glee sparkling in her eyes. “— and then I threw his arms off!” Her hands flew outward in her excitement. “I jumped up, and then I …”

In a flash, her glee turned to wrath and it was as if a dark cloud passed over her face. I caught her fluttering hands in mine and held them together.

“It’s okay, Bella. I just wanted to know how you got away from them,” I spoke softly to her. “It’s okay.” I tugged gently at her hands. “Look at me.” Her darkening eyes snapped to mine. “Not many can get away from Emmett when he gets his hands on them like that.”

Esme had paused in her task of brushing Bella’s hair, but she gave me a small nod and a smile and resumed working the brush through those long, tangled locks.

“Yes, Bella, that’s very true.” Esme said. “Emmett’s always been the strongest one in our family, but now you are.”

She looked puzzled. “I am? But he’s huge!”

“I guess you don’t remember us mentioning it. You’re a newborn.” I held both her hands with my left and drew the fingers of my right down her wrists and the back of her hands. “For about the first year, newborns are very strong because they still have their own blood in their tissues.”

“Even if they drink animal blood?” Her anger was gone, replaced with curiosity.

“From what Carlisle has said, yes, even if you feed on only animal blood.” I grasped her hands more firmly and smiled at her.

She bent her head down and looked up at me through her lashes. “So when do I get the freaky yellow eyes?” Her sweet smile turned into a devious grin, and then I felt her mischievousness.

“Freaky?” My eyebrows flew up in surprise. When she started to laugh, I realized she was teasing me, and I had to laugh with her. I rolled my eyes and shook my head at her. I gripped her hands, brought them up and kissed her knuckles.

Even Esme chuckled at Bella teasing us. “Bella! It is so good to hear you laugh. And to answer your question, your eyes should change to freaky yellow in a few months — maybe four to six.” Esme chuckled again and gently shook her head as she continued brushing a beautiful shine into Bella’s hair. “Right, Jasper?”

I smiled again at Bella and squeezed her hands in mine. “Yes. It could be as early as four months, but probably around six months.”

“Jasper.” Esme raised her head toward me. “Why don’t you finish brushing out Bella’s hair for me while I go get our dirty clothes from upstairs?”

“Yeah, Jasper, finish brushing my hair, please? I broke two hairbrushes upstairs.” Bella covered her eyes with a hand, feeling embarrassed. “Only broke one back brush, though.”

“I can do that. And don’t feel embarrassed, Bella. We all go through it.” I had to smile as I moved over to the couch to sit behind her, eager to get my hands in her hair again. It was beautiful, even though some was still tangled from her shower.

Esme patted my shoulder. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She first moved to the right toward the sliding glass doors and inhaled deeply. “Beautiful night. The roses smell so lovely.” Then she made her way in front of us toward the stairs to our left.

As I reached with the hairbrush toward Bella’s right temple, she took hold of my hand. It felt almost warm to me and a feeling of peace settled over me. At just her touch, I was calmed and any remaining tension I had melted away.

She was wearing a long-sleeved, navy blue t-shirt with a graphic of Calvin and Hobbes fighting on the front. “I like that shirt. I always liked Calvin and Hobbes.”

“Thanks. Me, too. I didn’t get to wear this one much since Alice …” She sighed heavily. “Okay, Jasper, you can start telling me what’s been going on. It’s been long enough. You can start with why Edward …” I saw the muscles in her jaw clench and her eyes slowly close. “… Why Edward would tell me I’m his mate and …” She raised her head and looked upward, taking in a breath and slowly letting it out. “No more stalling and distracting the crazy newborn.”

“You’re not crazy. The confusion is normal.”

“Jasper …” she warned.

I took in a breath, breathing in her scent and attempting to center myself. I didn’t think that the currently calm atmosphere would last very long. But maybe by brushing her hair, and with Esme’s innately soothing presence, it would help to keep her from losing control and destroying the living room.

I might have a hard time, though. Just hearing his name come from her lips caused a spark of anger within me. “I can’t tell you what Edward was thinking. It is my opinion that he was … infatuated with the scent of your blood and fascinated by the fact that he could not read your mind.”

Bella sat quietly in thought for a moment as I brushed her hair. Anger flashed from her, then resignation. She sighed again. “I’d have to agree,” she said as she looked down at her hands in her lap. “Now, what else has been going on? Start at the beginning.” Her tone of voice was sharp and her words clipped. Her anger and resignation were pushed aside for determination.

“Saturday morning, I didn’t go with Carlisle, Emmett, and Edward. I was hunting near the Quileute border. I heard a crash out on the highway. I went to look and saw your truck. I went to the truck and saw you inside, badly injured. I thought, at first, you were dead.” I would never be able to get the image of Bella, lying there helpless, broken, and bloody, out of my mind. Thank God, or whoever may be up there, that I had found her in time.

I heard Bella take in a breath, and she stared down at her clasped hands in her lap. “What day is it now?”

“It’s Monday, nearly Tuesday.”

“Is it Memorial Day?”

“Yes. It’s the twenty-ninth.”

“How bad was I?” she asked in a quiet voice. Her emotions were still steady, though she was beginning to feel apprehensive.

“I thought you were near death. Your truck had hit the guardrail and flipped over it. It rolled down the embankment and smashed into the trees. The truck was destroyed. I think your seat belt may have held at first, since you weren’t thrown from the truck, but when I found you, the seat belt was broken.”

Esme appeared then and sat down on the floor in front of Bella. She placed her hand over Bella’s, resting on her thigh.

I continued brushing through her hair. “Both of your arms and legs were broken. Your right ankle was broken. You had a huge gash on your forehead, and glass from the broken windows had cut your face, neck, and arms. Carlisle believes your pelvis and jaw were also broken. You had broken ribs, too.”

I saw her tense and she let out a breath. She continued to look down at Esme’s hand covering her own. “There was blood everywhere.”

She wasn’t asking me; she was telling me. Did she remember the crash? Did she remember what had happened to cause it?

“Yes, there was. You were … covered in it. You were unconscious at first, and I couldn’t feel that you were there. When I first saw you, I thought you were dead, but I heard your heartbeat and knew you were still alive.” I put the hairbrush at the crown of her head and slowly eased it through her hair all the way to ends.

“Do you remember what happened?” Esme asked.

“I’m not sure. Maybe something ran across the road?” She sighed, and Esme squeezed her hands.  “I remember the blood — it was on everything. I was thinking there couldn’t be that much blood in a human body.”

She was starting to tense up, and I could feel her cycling emotions beginning to pick up speed with a touch of anxiety and sadness. I didn’t know what made me do it, but I set the brush down on the coffee table and started combing my fingers through her hair. She shivered when my fingers brushed her back, but she felt grateful. Then remorse and fear crept in.

“Jasper, how did you stand the blood? How could you stand it? I know it was everywhere. It had to be …”

“Shhhh, Bella. It’s okay.” I leaned forward and put my left hand on her hip. I kept slowly combing through her hair with the fingers of my right hand. “Bella … it … I had just been hunting. Smelling your blood made me thirsty, but I needed to try and take care of you. The thirst just went away.”

I glanced at Esme and she was watching Bella carefully, concern in her eyes. She put her other hand on Bella’s knee. 

Bella nodded and I continued. “A vampire had been there before me and had bitten you. I believe it was a male, but between the rain, the scent of your blood, and the gasoline that was leaking out of the truck, I couldn’t be sure if I had ever run across him before or not.”

Her head snapped up and she turned on the coffee table to face me. “I had been bitten? A vampire …?”

I took hold of her shoulders. “I didn’t smell him at first. I hadn’t realized you’d been bitten until I saw the bite on your neck. It wasn’t a bite to feed; it was a bite to inject venom. I was there quickly. He didn’t have time to get much venom into you before I got there.”

I slid my hands down her arms and grasped her hands. She was feeling a bit stunned and incredulous, and I was starting to feel a bit apprehensive. I had bitten her to put more venom into her. She hadn’t wanted that previously. She had wanted Edward to change her. I had no idea how she would react.

“Not much venom? I remember Alice had said not enough venom would make the change take longer. Evidently, I changed in two and a half days. Then who …?”

“I bit you to add more venom after I pulled you out of the truck.”

You bit me?” She yanked her hands from mine and was up in a flash, pacing the room. She quickly moved to Edward’s piano at the front of the house and back again.

I stood and wove around the chairs toward her, but she stopped, pointed a finger at me, and continued with the pacing. Her emotions were gaining speed. Confusion primarily, but there was astonishment, disbelief, gratefulness, relief, and then it all swirled again.

She stood tensely next to Edward’s piano and stared at the glossy black surface. Her hands flashed up to cover her ears then went to her face. She inhaled a ragged breath. She exuded sadness and a feeling of regret for a moment. Did she remember that Edward had written a song for her? Her hands slowly left her face. She lifted her head, squared her shoulders, and an aura of determination grew around her. She turned her face away from the piano and walked quickly away from it, ending up in front of the back windows.

She crossed her arms and brought her right hand to her mouth. “You said a vampire had been there before you.”

“Yes.” I went over toward the two recliners that were in front of the flat screen on the east side of the room and leaned against the back of one closest to Bella. I just watched her, anxiously. Her emotions were gaining speed, but I couldn’t guess at what she might be thinking. A little fear joined the mix.

“You don’t think it was Victoria?” she asked and she shuddered.

I went and stood behind her and lightly set my hands on top of her shoulders. “No, I don’t. The vampire that was there was a male.” I slid my hands down her arms. “I was there very quickly after I heard the crash. I was surprised that you would be bitten and left behind.”

“Could you have sucked the venom out?” She tugged at her chin and started tapping the heel of her right foot against the floor. “I remember after James bit me, Edward sucked the venom out.”

Anger seeped in, joining her swirl of emotions. Her eyes dropped to stare at the floor, and her brows crept down.

“It never entered my mind.” I quietly answered her. She was angry, but I didn’t know why. Angry because I didn’t try to suck out the venom? Angry that it was my venom that had changed her, or for some other reason?

Esme had relocated to stand by the chair I had been sitting in. “Bella, your injuries were devastating. We were all very lucky that Jasper found you and could help you.”

Bella’s anger was increasing. She was almost vibrating with it.

“Why are you angry?” I gently squeezed her arms. I was afraid that she would be angry at me for biting her and changing her.

She darted away from me and to the left, ending up in front of the TV, and she began her quick pacing again. She dashed from the TV diagonally across the room toward the stairs, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. “I am angry. I am pissed off. The first thing Edward did after James bit me was to suck out the venom while you killed James.” Her hands flashed up, palms open. “He never wanted me. He never wanted me to be a vampire, to be like him, so I could be with him.” She flashed back toward the TV. “He never wanted me!” She gestured at herself, her hands going to her chest. Her distress and anguish grew on her beautiful face, and her eyebrows drew together.

A moment later, she was back at the foot of the stairs, leaning on the banister, her head down, shoulders trembling. Her hands shook as she gripped the shining wood. “It was only the blood,” she whispered. “It was only ever my blood. But that’s all gone now.” Her hold tightened and she crushed the gleaming rail between her hands.

“Oh, shit.” She spun around to face us, wrapping her arms around herself. “Esme, I … I didn’t mean to do that.” Her shaking hands flashed up to her face, covering her mouth. “Jasper, tell me why you bit me, why you added more venom?” she asked pleadingly.

She was feeling desperate, angry, and hurt, and my heart ached for her. I had often wondered if Edward’s fascination with her was due mainly to the call of her blood and the fact he couldn’t read her mind, and that was why I had told Bella that. I knew Rosalie had thought the same thing. Bella’s revelations must be nearly devastating to her.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what she wanted, but I would not tell her something just because I thought she wanted to hear it. I would only ever tell Bella the truth. I didn’t know if she would accept it or reject it, accept or reject me, but I would only tell her the truth.

She looked up at me, her eyes bright with unshed tears. “Jasper, tell me. Tell me why you bit me!”

Then she blocked me from feeling her emotions. It was like having a door slammed shut in my face. Perhaps, like Alice and Edward, I relied too heavily on my gift.

I walked tentatively toward her, my hands reaching for her. “When I first saw you, I was afraid that you were dead. I couldn’t stand the thought of you being gone. When I heard your heartbeat, I was so thankful, so grateful, that you were still alive. Before I had even realized you had been bitten, I was trying to decide if I was strong enough to bite you without draining the rest of your blood. I knew I didn’t want you to die. I knew I wanted you in my life.” I extended my hand and touched her arm. “Then I saw that you had been bitten, but I was there very soon after you crashed. I knew that the change would take even longer without enough venom, so I bit you to add more. I … I couldn’t stand the thought of you suffering any longer than you had to.”

Suddenly, I felt her emotions — relief, amazement, and gratitude rolled off her, and they just as suddenly stopped. Her hands dropped from her face and she looked up at me, her eyes still shining with those venom tears. The next instant, she was directly in front of me, her hands on either side of my face, her fingers spread, and her thumbs near my mouth. She just stared into my eyes.

The pressure increased and I could feel a tremor in her hands. I raised my hands to her arms and let mine drift up to her wrists. Something in her eyes changed. Was it sadness? Her hands tightened again, and I was caught by her — locked in place by her hands and the intensity of her gaze.

“Thank you for saving me. Thank you,” she whispered so quietly I had to strain to hear her.

The tremor in her hands increased, and the look on her face changed slightly, as if she were struggling. Her brow puckered and her lips pressed tightly together, forming a straight line across her face.

“Bella …”

Then she said … something. I thought she had said …

She snatched her hands away from my face. She was across the room in a flash, and she was out the back door, running again.

I started after her. I reached the center of the patio and inhaled, searching for her scent. She had gone to the left and around the house, heading northeast, and I raced in that direction. I didn’t know if Esme followed me.

I couldn’t understand why Bella was running again, unless …

I thought she had said, “I want you so bad.” Was she running away from me because she didn’t want to?

 

.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 21, I Regroup

 Jasper’s POV

 

I wished I knew why she kept running. At least I had my boots on that time, and Bella was wearing her old blue Converse. Not that we needed to wear shoes, and she would probably run them right off her feet.

But, when I was a newborn, I fought the other newborns — a lot. I could only imagine that when she was close to being overwhelmed, she ran.  All the sensations bombarding her mind all at one time, and add to that the hurtful and disturbing news she had been faced with … I suppose I wasn’t really that surprised that she would run instead of fight.

Was she running from those thoughts or was she running from me?

She wasn’t heading in a straight line, either. If she kept curving around toward the right and east, she might run into Edward and the rest of them heading back to the house. I definitely wanted to catch her before that could happen. Edward had not been behaving normally, and I feared what he might do. Would he try to take her? Try to convince her to stay with him? I honestly could not see her going along with that, but just the thought of him making the attempt caused my teeth to grind together as a spark of jealousy flickered to life in my chest.

Rage grew hot and red within me, my fists clenched, and a growl rumbled through my chest.

No! She’s mine!

I beat back the rage, pushed aside the jealousy, and concentrated on sending out reassurance and comfort. Whether she wanted me or not, I hoped that it would slow her or make her want to come back to me. She knew that I wanted her. Was she running because I wanted her so much?

She was still blocking her emotions from me, and I suspected she had figured out how to do that consciously. Before, she had blocked me when her emotions had become very strong, but then they had escaped. In the living room, her actions, and the timing, convinced me she was controlling them.

I could still pick up her scent, and the fact that there weren’t any animals scurrying around, led me to believe I was on the right track and wasn’t too far behind her. I couldn’t hear her running through the pine needles and damp leaves that carpeted the ground, but I had to be getting closer.

At last, I spotted a flash of movement ahead of me through the trees.

“Bella! Stop!” Of course, calling to her would let her know that I was nearby, but what else could I have done? I saw a flicker of movement through the trees to the right, about fifty feet ahead. If that was her, and I was sure it was, I hoped I could head her off. I caught another whiff of her scent and darted for where I expected her to pass next to yet another grouping of rocks and boulders. I slowed as I neared the rocks and listened for her.

There was barely a whisper of sound, but there she was. I dove for her, catching her from the side, wrapping my arms around her. She squawked as I hit her. I twisted around so we’d end up with me on the bottom, to keep her from being shoved into the ground. We plowed into the earth, and I felt my t-shirt being torn away from my back as we slid through the rocky soil. I tried to force her legs up, but she had squirmed around so her back was to my chest, and then she kicked me in the right thigh like a fuckin’ mule.

I had to grunt at that one. She pulled her left arm loose and elbowed me in the side of my chest so hard I heard the crack.

Ribs.

That one pulled another grunt out of me.

“Jesus Christ, Isabella, why the hell are you hittin’ me?!” I was starting to get a little pissed off. I grabbed her left arm and held it perpendicular from our bodies, planning to flip us over.

“Dammit, Jasper, I want you to let me go!” She planted her feet on the ground on either side of my knees and shoved. With her newborn strength, she managed to flip both of us over my head. I yanked her left arm in, crossing it over her right that I was holding down across her body. Her hair was all over the damn place.

We landed on our knees, and I scrambled to stand before she got her feet situated again. As soon as I was standing, she curled her body, drawing up her legs, and kicked me in my left thigh. That hurt so goddamn bad my grip on her loosened, and she slithered out of my arms, falling to the bed of pine needles in front of me.

I didn’t know how the hell my left leg wasn’t broken.

My chest hit her back as I dropped to my right knee, my left leg stuck straight out behind me. She fell forward, sprawling in the leaves and pine needles. She recovered quickly and started to roll, but she turned in the wrong direction if she wanted to get away from me. She ran into my right leg, and my right arm I had braced against the ground. I grabbed both of her wrists and pinned them down on the ground, out to the sides.

Despite the pain in my left thigh, I forced it between her legs, followed quickly with my right. I spread her legs and dropped my weight on her. The top of her head was under my chin, and I couldn’t stop myself from bending my head down and burying my nose in her hair near her ear, inhaling deeply — drawing in the scent that said home to me.

Even knowing my throat was exposed to her, and she could easily slice through it with her teeth if she wanted to, I didn’t care. I was touching her skin again, and her inviting and tempting scent was filling my nose, my lungs, invading and taking over my mind — chasing away the anger I had briefly felt. I was lost in the essence of her, and it made me disregard everything else around me.

Everything except I was exactly where I longed to be. Where I had wanted to be since she woke up and had bitten me — my body covering hers, pressing against her, breathing in her scent, my lips against her skin.

She was struggling and breathing harshly, but when she realized I was inhaling her scent while nuzzling at her ear, she became still.

“Jasper, stop,” she whispered.

When I pulled my face from her hair, I saw that her eyes were shut. I could not stop the pleading tone from creeping into my voice. “Why? Why should I stop? You know that I want you. You know that she threw me out.”

“Because … because you’re married. It’s a promise that you made to each other.” She squeezed her eyes even more tightly. “I think you both have broken that promise but you haven’t even talked to each other. You … you need to talk. If she really meant to throw you out and if you want …” She clamped her lips closed.

I still couldn’t feel her emotions, but she had a look of pain on her face. Her eyebrows were pulled together; her sensuous lips were turned down. She turned her face away from me and whispered, “You shouldn’t be cheating on Alice. You need to talk to her.”

Was I truly cheating on Alice? Yes. Technically, I was, even though Alice had removed my things from her room – in essence, throwing me out. Bella was right, of course. I knew that. But practically from the moment I had found her in her truck, I belonged to Bella, and my marriage to Alice was over. I just hadn’t realized it at the time. Since Bella woke up, it seemed I couldn’t think of anything but her. Hell, even before she woke up. When my skin came in contact with hers, when her scent overran my mind, all I wanted was to be next to her and feel her body against mine.

If she kicked me again, I might be momentarily distracted from those thoughts. Not that lying on top of her wasn’t distracting me beyond all reason.

“What did you say before you ran from the house?” I breathed across her ear.

She inhaled my scent, and the look of pain deepened across her face.

“Bella,” I whispered in her ear. I traced a path with my lips from her ear to the corner of her eye and kissed her lightly. “What did you say?”

She squeezed her eyes more tightly and tried to jerk her head away. “I … I said stop. You need to stop.”

She wasn’t going to tell me, and I did need to stop. I didn’t want to force myself on her, though I wanted her so badly; so badly every part of me ached with longing for her. It was so frustrating, but she was right. I had made a promise to Alice, and I did need to talk to her.

Would Bella even be Bella if she could so easily disregard a promise she had made? How could I do any less? How could I behave so dishonorably? Edward had said I wasn’t good enough for Bella, and I was proving him right. I was ashamed of myself and my actions.

As difficult as it was, I had to try harder. I knew she was struggling against her own instincts, and what she thought was the right thing to do, and I shouldn’t make it even more difficult for her.

I reluctantly lifted my face away from her. “Will you run again if I let you up?”

“No. No, I won’t run.”

“What are you doing to her!?!” From the deep shadows of the trees, Edward’s voice was loud and accusing.

Oh God damn him to the eighth and ninth circles of Hell! Perfect fuckin’ timing.

I supposed it was a good thing the stupid fucker announced his presence instead of just pouncing on me from the darkness. Well, it was good for him. Had he attacked me that would have led to his immediate dismemberment.

Growling deeply, I was on my feet, pulling Bella up with me and shoving her behind me.  Ignoring my sore, healing ribs, I crouched slightly, preparing for Edward’s attack, when I noticed my torn t-shirt flapping around me. I grabbed it at the neck, ripped it from my body, and threw it to the ground.

Bella was pressed up against my back, her left hand was at my left hip, and the fingers of her right hand found their way to just above my right elbow — a pose similar to earlier in the day. There was a low rumble beginning in her chest.

“Edward, stop right there,” I warned him.

He stalked closer and stopped about thirty feet in front of us. Standing rigidly, his rage and jealousy were pushing out in front of him. A flicker of lust curled around the edges of his seething emotions, and I felt my hackles rise.

“What, in God’s name, were you doing to her? Were you trying to take her on the ground like a …”

Emmett came barreling up behind him, reaching around and slapping his hand down over Edward’s mouth as his other arm wrapped around Edward’s chest. “Edward, you better shut up.”

Bella snarled, and her blazing hot fury pulsed outward. She jumped to the right and leapt toward Edward. I stepped forward to reach for her leg and, unbelievably, my left thigh cramped, and I missed her. I lurched forward, but caught myself before I hit the ground.

What the fuck!?!

Carlisle flew from between the trees, and Rosalie, a look of panic on her face, was barely a step behind him. Carlisle darted in front of Edward and Emmett, catching Bella in his arms, as Rosalie slammed into Edward and Emmett, knocking them to the ground.

Bella’s momentum sent Carlisle stumbling backwards, and they thudded onto the ground and bounced. He flung his arms around her, capturing her arms between their chests, and he flipped over, trapping her against the ground with his body. She snarled again, her teeth barely an inch from his face.

All rational thought fled as black, murderous rage filled my head. In that moment, all my mind could comprehend was that another male had my mate pinned to the ground, and he needed to die. I roared.

Fear. Jagged fear and terror arced through the air around me. I smelled it, I felt it. It shot out from all of them, except for my mate. She didn’t fear me. Her anger sizzled and snapped through the air, and I heard her snarl again at the male who was holding her down.

The words he was shouting made no sense to me as I charged him, my hands forming claws to rip him to shreds. His eyes flew open in fear, and he flipped over onto his back, releasing my mate from his hold.

As she twirled away from him, two vampires rammed me from the left, knocking me off my feet. I hit the ground and spun away. As I gained my feet, my mate was on me, wrapping herself around me, and pushing me back. One of her arms circled my neck, her hand going to my hair. The other was under my right arm and across my back. Then her legs were around my waist, gripping me tightly. I inhaled her scent and clutched her to me, pressing her head into the right side of my neck. I stepped back and blasted the entire area with lassitude and lethargy. Every vampire in front of us ceased their movement and collapsed bonelessly to the ground.

I held my mate to me for many long minutes, my nose in her hair, breathing in her enticing and reassuring scent. I didn’t know how long it was, but her firm touch, her soothing scent, and her soft voice eventually began to break through my rage.

She pulled back to look into my eyes. “Jasper, it’s okay.” Her right hand moved to my face and her thumb brushed across my lips. “It’s okay.”

I kissed her thumb and breathed in her comforting scent. I turned my nose into her hair and inhaled deeply again. I kissed her temple and then realized I needed to taste her skin. I lightly licked her temple, drawing in her rich, spicy scent and taste. I pressed my lips to her temple again.

My mate knew when I needed her. She knew when I needed to touch her, feel her, smell her.

“Don’t hurt them. Please, don’t hurt them.”

I stroked her hair and pressed my lips to her forehead as I observed the immobilized vampires.

“Did he hurt you?” I tilted her head back to look into her brilliant red eyes. “Did. He. Hurt. You?”

“No. He didn’t hurt me.” She gently stroked my face. “He did not hurt me. Please don’t hurt them.”

I saw the anxiety in her eyes, and I felt her concern and worry for them. I would do anything for her, but I would not promise not to hurt them — not kill them — until after I had made sure she had not been harmed.

Since the barrage of emotions I was sending out would keep them disabled and helpless on the ground, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about them while I examined my mate.

“Let me see.” As much as I wanted — needed — to feel her in my arms, keep her close to my body, I also needed to look at her. My hands slid to her waist. I pulled her from me and set her on the ground.

I bent forward to touch my lips to her forehead and breathe in her scent, and my hands moved to cup her beautiful face. They glided down over the silky skin of her neck and over her shoulders, brushing away the pine needles. As I skimmed over her arms to her hands, I leaned in to kiss her. I needed to feel her skin. I needed to taste her. I gently kissed her, my tongue brushing lightly across her lips, and I kissed her again.

“Jasper, I’m okay. I’m right here.”

“I need …” I dropped to my knees in front of her, my hands going to her waist and following the curves over her hips and down the outside of her legs. She appeared all right to me. I crushed her to me, working my hands under the hem of her shirt so that I could feel her skin, burying my face in her stomach.

“You’re all right?” I asked again as I continued to breathe in her scent.

“Yes. I’m all right.”

I was so relieved, and it struck me that “relieved” was such an inadequate word for what I was feeling. My mate, my Bella, was unharmed. She was here, in my arms, and he had not hurt her.

Her hands were on my head, her fingers combing steadily through my hair and flowing gently down my neck and over my shoulders. “Jasper, I’m fine. I told you I was fine. Are you okay?”

I melted into her touch as her fingers stroked and caressed my head. Her hands came back to my face, and she urged me to look up at her.

“Jasper, look at me. Are you okay?”

“Yes. They didn’t hurt you.” I had no other words to better express how I felt. There were no words satisfactory enough to explain the complete relief, the immense pleasure — the utter rightness — of my mate, safe and well, and in my arms.

“No, they didn’t. What did you do to them? Why aren’t they getting up?”

It seemed the rest of my brain was finally catching up. When he had Bella on the ground, I had lost all rational thought and only wanted to protect my mate — tear him away from her and then rip him apart.

I turned her slightly to look past her at the vampires lying on the ground. As I stood, I ran my hands carefully up the sides of her body then pulled her into my chest, her face at my heart, my body molding to hers. She had no idea how her touch mollified me, and eased my frantic mind. I think it was only her coming to me, and putting her arms around me, that had brought me back from that murderous rage and stopped me from destroying all of them. Even though she had pushed me away before, she seemed to know instinctively what she needed to do to bring me back and stop me from killing them all.

“I knocked them out. They won’t get up until I let them.”

“Is it hurting them?” She burrowed into me, her arms going around my waist.

“No. They are as close to unconscious as vampires can be. They aren’t feeling any physical pain.” I kissed the top of her head and decided that I could finally tell her I wouldn’t destroy them without lying. “I won’t hurt them.”

I wouldn’t kill them, but only because she had not been harmed.

She sighed in relief and squeezed my waist. Her hands slid up to my chest. “Then let them go. Let them up. I know Edward was being an asshole, but Emmett was only trying to stop him. Then Carlisle was only trying to stop me from getting to Edward and ripping something else off him.” She pulled away from me, her hands sliding down to my stomach. She looked up at me with small smile on her face.

My hands cupped her beautiful face, and I bent to softly kiss her lips, and she let me. But then she took a small step back and placed her fingers over my mouth.

“Your eyes are still black. You need to regroup or something. You need to let them go so they can get up.” Her hand slid back down to the center of my chest, resting over my heart. “You know Esme and Alice only attacked you to keep you from hurting Carlisle?”

“Yes, I realize that.”

“And you know that Rosalie only ran in to knock Emmett and Edward out of your way, right?”

“Yes.” I stopped the lethargy and lassitude I was holding over them. “I’ll let them go.”

Bella took another step back away from me, but she kept her hand on my left arm. She moved to stand beside me, and stood quietly as we waited for the others to start moving.

The first to recover was Emmett.

“What the fuck?” He sat up, his hands going to the sides of his head. He spotted Rosalie lying on the ground, and in a flash, he was at her side as she began to stir. He lifted her into his arms and his face was in her neck, inhaling loudly as he stood up. “Rose. Rose, are you okay?”

Her hand went to her forehead. She shook her head. “Em!” Her hand flew to his face. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, Babe, I’m fine. Jasper didn’t kill us.”

“Jasper!” she snarled. “Emmett, let me down so I can kick his ass!”

“No, ya don’t, Babe.” He kissed her cheek with a loud smacking sound. “Well, you know she’s all right if she’s pissed off.” Emmett squeezed her to his chest.

Bella raised her hand, palm out, to stop Rose. “Not a good idea, Rose. I just got him calmed down. Don’t mess it up.”

Carlisle was on his feet and darting toward Esme to help her up from the ground. They hugged each other tightly and whispered in each other’s ears. They both extended hands to Alice as she slowly rose up from the ground.

Edward was the last to recover, and he moved deliberately and stiffly, as if he were feeling all of his one hundred years. He glanced around at everyone and then looked toward Bella and me. A sense of profound sadness, despair, and loss drifted sluggishly from him. He ran his fingers through his hair, dislodging twigs and leaves, as he took in a shuddering breath.

“Bella,” he began hesitantly. He sighed heavily. “Bella, I think we need to thank you. I believe you just saved all our lives.” His darkened eyes dropped to the ground, and some embarrassment joined his disconsolate cocktail of emotions. “My behavior has been … erroneously proprietary and inappropriate, and I promise you that I will try to … contain it.”

I wasn’t the only one that felt shock at what Edward had just confessed. Rosalie and Emmett gawked at him with wide eyes, and even Esme and Carlisle took a moment before they snapped their jaws shut. Alice, standing behind Carlisle, just blinked and cocked her head to stare at him.

Bella gaped at him wide-eyed, mouth hanging open.

I stood silently and watched them all. I noticed Edward didn’t promise me anything, but I really wouldn’t expect him to. Evidently, he realized I could have killed them all and wouldn’t have thought twice about it. And he was right; the only thing that saved them was Bella.

“Er … thank you, uh, Edward.” Bella snatched her hand from my arm and clasped her fingers together nervously. Then she crossed her arms over her chest, and she dropped her head to stare at the ground. “I … uh … I’ll try not to bite you anymore.” She glanced up at him. “Or rip off anything else. But I don’t think I can make any promises about that right now. I …”

“I know, Bella.” He looked at her with yearning in his eyes. His gaze flicked to me and there was a burst of resentment from him. His eyes dropped to study the ground again. “I remember what it was like to be a newborn. I should have … I should’ve kept that in mind.”

Fear still clouded the air, but it was beginning to dissipate. Rosalie was still angry, but I knew she would get over it in time to find another reason to kick my ass. She could just add it to the list.

Carlisle turned toward us. “Jasper, how are you feeling?”

“I’m good,” I said quietly.

“Did something happen at the house?” He looked to Esme and back to Bella and me. “I thought you would be there.”

Esme took in a small, nervous breath. “Jasper was telling Bella about the accident and how she had been bitten by another vampire before he found her.”

Bella stepped toward me and took hold of my left arm above my elbow again. Her light touch again soothed me, causing a sense of peace to spread through me. I wanted to wrap her in my arms, but I felt she wouldn’t be receptive to it. I believed she felt the need to touch me also, but wouldn’t because of her concern over Alice’s feelings.

“Then Jasper told me he bit me to add more venom and … and … I …” She glanced around at everyone. I felt her uneasiness, and as her eyes passed over Edward, disillusionment and then anger surged. She quickly suppressed it all. Edward had hurt her so many times, and he was continuing to cause her pain.

When I had told her that I was the one who had bitten her, I knew she had been surprised, relieved, and grateful but then she had blocked her emotions from me. I didn’t know what had caused her to become upset and run again. It had felt almost like she had been hiding something.

Edward’s sense of loss, then his jealousy, with a touch of regret, flowed outward and I pushed back against it. He had apologized to her, but I still didn’t trust him. He was coming to see just how much he had truly lost.

Esme stepped away from Carlisle. “I’m not sure why, but Bella became upset and ran from the house.”

“It was everything, and the thought of another vampire being there. I don’t remember anyone.” Bella’s hand shook on my arm. “And Edward …” She trailed off and squeezed her eyes shut, a jolt of pain crossing her features. She took a deep breath as she gradually reopened her eyes. “Besides that, I know there’s more.”

I put my hand over hers and tried to send her my encouragement and the peace that I felt when she touched me.

“Stop it, Jasper.” She glanced up at me and frowned. She blocked her emotions from me. I knew she had gained some control over that. I wished she hadn’t.

She looked back toward Carlisle. “There’s more isn’t there? They all think I’m dead, right? Everyone thinks I’m dead.” She snatched her hand away from me and crossed her arms, gripping her own upper arms. “Everybody. I’m dead to them.” She began to pace.

“There was someone … I know there was someone important to me.” She stopped in front of me and searched my eyes. “Blond hair … a woman,” she whispered.

“Yes. I tried to remind you of people and things in your life, while you were burning.” I stepped toward her, reaching out to her. “I don’t know everything, but I told you what I could.”

She began to tremble. “Blond hair …” Her face crumpled with her distress. “Renee! My mother!” She began to pace again more quickly, her arms flying out away from her body. “I’ll never see her again. And … Charlie! What about Charlie?” She suddenly stopped, her whole body shaking. “My parents. I’ll never see them again. They think I’m dead!” Her hands flashed back to her arms and she tightly clenched the fabric of the sleeves, ripping holes in them.

“Oh goddammit! I liked that shirt!” She tore away the sleeves and threw them to the ground. She squeezed her eyes shut and held her arms rigidly at her sides.

She was struggling, trying to rein in her out-of-control emotions, and I longed to help her.

“Bella, I can help you.” I stepped toward her.

She spun away from me. “No! I can do it!” She came to an abrupt stop a couple yards from Carlisle and Esme, and she trembled as she fought to control her emotions.

Alice had been standing behind Carlisle, and she peeked around his side. She was uneasy and a bit apprehensive, but she wasn’t afraid.

Bella spun to face me again. “What else? What do they think happened to me?”

I raised my hand toward her again, reaching out to her. “They all think you are dead and a giant bear dragged you away from the crash scene.”

“Giant bear? What giant bear?” She began to pace again, flashing from right to left. She stopped in front of me again, closer that time, studying my eyes. “The werewolves are the giant bears. That’s what everyone thinks they are.”

“Yes.” I knew she needed the comfort and security I could give to her, and I needed to go to her, but she kept fighting it.

She turned away from me again. “Carlisle. What else? Is there something else?”

“Yes, there is. A memorial has been scheduled for you on Thursday at ten o’clock. That’s two days from now.” Carlisle looked at her with such sadness in his eyes.

All of them were feeling sadness and a bit of pity for her. We had all been through some form of this, except for Alice. We all had had to face the thought that our human families would go on, following custom and tradition, and would have had some sort of memorial. They would have tried to find closure at funerals where there would be no one to say good bye to and no body to lay to rest.

It was good to have that information, despite the sadness in the air and the obvious pain it was causing Bella. That would be the day that I would take her away from Forks. The entire town would probably turn out to pay their respects to the Police Chief’s daughter. The whole town and the surrounding areas would be distracted that day. It would be the best time to slip away.

Bella stood staring at Carlisle. Her shoulders began to shake, and she darted to me, placing a hand on my chest. “Did you know about this?”

“No, I didn’t. I’ve been with you.” I put my right hand over hers. “I see you struggling. Let me help you.”

“No!” She pulled her hand away and stepped back. “What else? I see it in your eyes, Jasper. What else?”

I inhaled a deep breath, to take in her scent and to steady myself, wishing she would allow me to comfort her. “I will be taking you away from here. Emmett and Rose will be going with us. I’ve decided we will leave on Thursday.”

I heard various gasps and all eyes turned to me. I felt their surprise and then I felt a flare of possessiveness from Edward. At a sharp glance and a snarl from me, he quickly buried it. Emmett and Rosalie turned to look at each other and nodded. I knew they understood why we would be leaving that day. Alice was sending out some sadness, and Esme and Carlisle were resigned. They all knew that Bella couldn’t stay here.

“Leave? Why do we have to leave?” she wailed. She spun away from me, her hands jerking to the sides of her head. She gripped two handfuls of her hair and bent over at the waist. “Leave? Leave Forks? This is my home!”

She dropped to her hands and knees, threw her head back, and screamed, drawing her fists up. Her entire body was shaking. Her anguish and despair burst from her, and struck me with such a heavy blow I stumbled back away from her, my right hand moving to clutch at my chest. Such pain! It poured from her. Too much had happened, and it was all crashing down on her.

I saw the others move to step toward her, and I waved them off. Bella needed me, but I knew she would try to run again.

“I live here. This is my home!” she howled. In a blur, she was on her feet and running.

I leapt and tackled her, once again wrapping my arms and legs around her and forcing her head down. We rolled across the forest floor, coming to a stop not far from the rest of them. She struggled and fought against me, trying to get away.

I forced us upright and held her securely against me. “Bella, don’t run. It’ll be okay. I’m right here.”

“No! No!” she cried out. “No!”

“I can help you. Let me help you.” I turned her so her arms were against my chest. “ I’m right here. I won’t leave you.”

“Is that it, or is there something else?” Her voice cracked as she forced her head up to look at me, venom tears making her black eyes shine.

“That’s it, Bella,” I said quietly to her.

Her face crumpled again with her heartache. “Forks is my home! I can’t leave.” She tried to elbow me again, but I held her too tightly. “I … I live here! Charlie is here!”

I saw Edward take a step toward us, and Emmett grabbed his arm to stop him. “We’ve been doing this all day, Edward. He’ll calm her down.”

I tried to send reassurance and peace to Bella, but it wasn’t getting through. She was blocking me again.

“Let me help you, Bella.” I spoke quietly into her ear. “I can help you.”

“No!” She shoved against my chest. “I can’t leave! Charlie’s here. He needs me!”

“That’s why we can’t stay here. You can’t see Charlie. You could kill him.”

“No!” she cried and then she screamed again. She managed to get one leg free and kicked against the ground.

As we started to roll over, I straightened out her arms when she was face down to the ground. I forced my legs between hers and dropped my weight on her. “Bella, listen to me. We can’t stay. We need to get you away from here so no one sees you — so you don’t hurt anyone.”

She started growling at me and tried to head butt me. I pushed her head down with mine. “Shhhhhh, Bella. I’m right here. I will help you.” I repeated words I had spoken to her while she had been burning with my venom. Her emotions crashed into me again, and I reached out to capture that dark wave. Her despair, anguish, and deep, deep grief funneled into me, and I caught it all and contained it. I replaced it with my reassurance, my comfort, and my understanding. I filled her with my respect and admiration, and the serenity I felt when her skin touched mine.

After several long minutes, her breaths slowly calmed and her struggles ceased. I whispered into her ear. “Bella, we can’t stay here. We’re too close to Forks and all the humans. I know you don’t want to hurt any of them.”

Her body shook with her tearless sobs. “I don’t want to hurt them. Some of them are my friends. I wouldn’t want anyone’s family to …” She sobbed again.

“I know. I know you don’t want to hurt them. So we can’t stay here. You need to be away from them.” I kissed her temple. “I can take care of you, but it’s good to have help. That’s why Rose and Emmett are coming with us. You won’t be alone. You won’t be by yourself. I will not leave you.”

She sniffled and relaxed further, shifting her head. I lifted mine from hers, but kept my lips near her ear, breathing in her scent. “I know this is a lot for you to take in, but it will be all right. I’ll take care of you. I will help you. I’m right here. I won’t leave you.”

“Yes,” she whispered quietly, “as bad as it was, you stayed with me.” She inhaled deeply and slowly let the breath back out. “But Charlie, Angela, and Ben, and … and Jacob … I won’t ever see them again.”

“No, you won’t. You can’t. Seeing you would bring danger to them and to us.”

Her brow furrowed. “There’s some kind of treaty with Jake? With the wolves?”

I was amazed again at how much she seemed to remember. “Yes, we have a treaty with Jacob Black and the wolves. If they see you, they will assume one of us bit you. My biting you broke the treaty. They’d come after us.”

She whimpered. “I don’t want Jacob to be hurt. Please don’t hurt him, Jasper,” she pleaded.

More jealousy, bitterness, and a flash of resentment flared from Edward. I glanced over at him and saw that, fortunately, Emmett still had a tight grip on his arm.

I lightly kissed Bella’s smooth cheek. “I don’t want to hurt Jacob Black,” I said as I narrowed my eyes in warning at Edward.

“Thank you, Jasper,” she whispered. “I don’t want any of the wolves to be hurt.”

“I know you don’t. That’s why we need to leave.”

“You have a plan? You all always have a plan, right?”

I smiled at her. “Yes,” I whispered back to her. “Emmett, Rosalie, and I are supposed to be away at school anyway. We will not be missed. Edward and Alice should stay here and finish the school year.” I glared at Edward. “Any other details will have to be worked out when I can talk with the others, but there really isn’t much more than that.”

Her eyes had lost their wild look, and she was breathing evenly. “Where are we going?”

“I have a place that is rather isolated. It’s not really that far from here. It’ll be our new home for a while.”

“Where is it? Do you have a house?” Her voice was a breathy whisper.

“At this time, I don’t want to say where it is. I’m not sure that the other vampire that bit you left the area.” As her emotions began to register fear, I reinforced the tranquility and peace that I felt being in contact with her.

“Don’t be afraid. I will protect you. If he should happen to be around, I don’t want him to hear where we are going. No one here knows where it is. Once we are on the road and away from Forks, I’ll tell you. And yes, I have a house.”

“Is it a house like this one here?”

“No. It’s not nearly as big as this one.”

She nodded slightly. “Can you let me up now? I won’t run. I think I probably need another bath.”

I had to chuckle at her. “I’ll let you up. Do you want me to keep influencing you?”

“Yes. For now.” She smiled at me.

I released her wrists and slid my hands up her arms to feel her silky skin. I just could not resist, even though we had an audience.

I rose slowly, and when I was on my feet, I extended my hand to her. She took it and allowed me to help her up. She gave me a small smile.

“Thank you for helping me, Jasper, but you can stop now. I should feel all that so I can work it out. Deal with it. You calming me is like somebody taking drugs or drinking to numb their pain. It doesn’t really make it go away.”

“I know. You’re right. It will all hurt, but …” I smiled encouragingly back at her. “If you need me, just say so.” I stopped sending her those peaceful emotions and waited.

It took a moment, but her face crumpled again in grief, and she brought her hands to her face and sobbed. It tore at me to see her in pain, and I touched her arm.

“Don’t, Jasper. I need … I need to do this.” She inhaled a shuddering breath. “I won’t ever be able to see any of them again.” She took a step back and wiped her eyes. Then she stared at her hands. “All this, and I can’t even fuckin’ cry!”

Esme stepped forward, opening her arms to Bella.

“Oh, Esme!” Bella ran to her and threw her arms around her.

“I know how it is, Bella. Sometimes I think it would be a great release to be able to shed tears.” Esme stroked Bella’s head and wrapped her arm around her shoulders. Bella sobbed into her chest, her shoulders heaving.

Letting Bella cry, Esme stood quietly, slowly running her hand over Bella’s head and down her back while murmuring, “I know, Bella. I know.”

“Esme.” Bella’s voice cracked with her sobs. “How do you stand leaving people behind?”

“We all have had to leave someone behind.” Esme’s arms tightened around Bella, and her eyes closed for a moment. “Our family here has been a blessing. They have all been a great comfort to me, but what has helped me the most is knowing I have Carlisle. He has been beside me through some very difficult times.”

Bella’s head turned a bit in Esme’s arms, and her shining eyes shifted to look back at me. Not for the first time, I wished I could know what she was feeling. Unconsciously, my hand reached for her, and I ached to have her in my arms — be the one to comfort her.

Her eyes closed and she pressed her face into Esme’s shoulder and sobbed again.

Esme stroked Bella’s hair. “You know we will help you.”

After several minutes, Bella pulled back from her and sniffed.

Esme lightly cupped Bella’s cheek with her hand. “Did you want to go back to the house and get another shower?”

Bella sniffed again, even though there was no need, and nodded her head. “Can Rose come with us?”

“Of course she can, dear. We’ll both help you.”

Rosalie came forward, and Esme, keeping an arm around Bella’s shoulders, turned and started walking in the direction of the house.

She looked over her shoulder at us. “We’ll see all of you a little later, okay?”

We all nodded at her and watched them walk slowly away. I didn’t want to be away from Bella while she was feeling such heartache and loss, but Esme and Rosalie would be with her. They certainly understood grief and loss.

I did need to talk to Alice, and I needed to try and firm up my plans with Emmett and Carlisle.

When Bella, Esme, and Rose were far enough away, I turned toward Alice.

“Jasper, we need to talk.”

She had beaten me to it.

“Yeah, we do.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 22, I Hope

Jasper's POV

Carlisle, Emmett, and Edward trailed slowly after Bella, Esme, and Rosalie, letting the women move ahead of them through the trees. I could feel her emotions again, and Bella's grief and sadness at the loss of her human friends, family, and home coiled over and around me. Her sorrowful sobs, and Esme's and Rosalie's soft murmurs of condolence and sympathy, made me long to go to her, hold her in my arms, and reassure her that things would get better. I couldn't, though. I thought she needed time with Esme and Rosalie. Not that the rest of us couldn't sympathize. We had all felt the pain of loss, but Esme and Rosalie would certainly have a different perspective. Esme bore the grief of losing a child that was — a child whose life was cut tragically short. Rosalie still mourned the loss of future children and a life that would never be.

An errant thought ran through my mind — maybe losing most of your memories during the fiery agony of the transformation from human to vampire wasn't such a bad thing.

I sighed. Bella was like a child whose life was cut short. She was only eighteen years old and hadn't experienced much of life yet. Now that particular life would never be. What sorts of things, large or small, would she have accomplished if she had never met us?

Bella would never know what sort of life or relationship she could have had with her father. They loved each other but still hadn't known each other well. What could that relationship have been? What could it have grown into?

Would there, someday, have been grandchildren for Chief Swan to take fishing or play ball with in the backyard?

The thought of Bella being with someone else, anyone else — even if she were human and had a human husband and children — sent a stabbing ache of yearning through me, and my hand flashed to my chest. I was selfish enough that I was glad she had been turned into a vampire. I was glad she had come into my life — that I had found her. I couldn't imagine a life without her. I knew I would have no life if it didn't have Bella in it.

If it took a thousand years, I would be there for her and help her to live her life. Not just exist — live the life she could have, even though she was thrust into it. Help her accomplish whatever she thought she wanted to. No matter what it might turn out to be.

I knew I could not live without her. To try and begin some kind of life with her, if she would have me, I needed to speak with Alice and get things settled between us.

I was feeling even more anxious as Bella moved farther away from me, with Edward following not too far behind, but I was sure Emmett and Rosalie would guard her for me. I had felt acceptance from Esme and Carlisle also and thought they would help to make sure Edward didn't try anything untoward.

If he did, it would be a suicide mission on his part.

Then there was Bella herself. I knew the anger she felt toward Edward. I knew the pain he had inflicted on her, and I honestly didn't think he would be able to get too close to her even if he wanted to. If he stupidly tried, he wasn't able to read her mind so didn't have the advantage of knowing where she would strike. Because of her, he had gained quite a few new scars in less than twenty-four hours. More than he had in his whole life. Physical and, I was sure, emotional ones, though I hadn't paid any attention to what he had been feeling until he directed it at me.

On the one hand, I didn't care what he felt and didn't give a shit how he would be suffering at losing her. And he had lost her. He had done more than enough to screw that up. Maybe he was finally coming to realize that. However, there was a very small part of me that felt a bit of sympathy for him, but only because I hadn't actually won her. I belonged to her, but she wasn't quite mine. She hadn't accepted me yet, and I wasn't one hundred percent sure that she would.

I supposed I was just insecure enough that I didn't want him anywhere near her. He had managed to capture her attention before, and I couldn't stand the thought of his making an attempt at it again. She had always been so forgiving. Could she get past all the pain he had caused her and forgive him? I didn't think I wanted her to. She was my mate. I was hers.

Would she come to me?

Edward was the only other unmated male around, and Bella was perfect, besides the fact she kicked the shit out of me and kept trying to beat my ass. Honestly, who would want a mate who would let you walk all over them?

Who wouldn't want her?

That's what scared the hell out of me. Any male would be ecstatic to claim her.

Bella was mine! She was mine! Nobody could have her but me!

I scrubbed at my face with my free hand. Didn't that make me sound like a fuckin' possessive, knuckle-dragging, caveman. I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself.

I was confident Rosalie would run interference. In fact, I was counting on her to keep Edward away from Bella. How she did that was up to her. Maybe she would punch him again.

Bella had been hit with a lot of devastating information and needed to come to terms with it. She wouldn't be able to see her parents or her human friends again, or her not-so-human friends. We would be leaving her home. Primarily, to help ensure she didn't attack any of the humans in the area — most especially her father or friends.

If she were to attack any of the humans in the area, that might be difficult to hide from the Quileute wolves, and they would know there was another vampire in the area. They would begin hunting her. Would they recognize her scent? We didn't need that added complication.

Staging a death and moving out of town wasn't anything new for the rest of us, but it was all world-shattering for her.

If the vampire that bit her first was still in the area, I definitely wanted to get her away from him. It still boggled my mind that she would be bitten and abandoned.

Who the hell would do that? But thank God he didn't take her.

My most important reason for taking her away was purely selfish and completely self-serving. I wanted my mate to myself. I didn't want to share her with anyone. I hadn't even initially thought to take anyone with us because I wanted her all to myself. I just wanted to take her away from all of them, and I sure hadn't been thinking at the time that she was my mate.

Even if she refused to accept me as her mate, I still wanted to be near her. I had to be near her. The ever-present ache twinged again, and I pressed my hand to the center of my chest.

I didn't even want to split my time with her with Rosalie and Emmett, though it would be foolish to try and move her by myself, unless I was carrying her and could keep my hands on her. But we wouldn't be running to my place. I thought it was too far to run with a newborn. There would be too many opportunities for things to go badly, too many chances for her to get away from me. With three of us to keep an eye on her, and confine her within an enclosed vehicle, I was hopeful the trip would be uneventful. Driving was the quickest way to get there.

Man plans, God laughs.

Once we got to the house, I thought it would be isolated enough, and at a high enough elevation, that no stray humans would stumble upon it, but you never knew. It was better to have Rosalie and Emmett with us. I thought I should give Peter and Charlotte a call and see if they felt up to handling another newborn. I hadn't spoken to them in a long time and didn't know what they had been doing lately, but there was room at the house for both of them, and it wasn't that far from town. They'd be able to stick to their natural diet and find enough scumbags and dirtballs to eat. Every town was plagued with them. Maybe they weren't busy and wouldn't mind coming out. Besides, I wanted Bella to meet them. They were my family, my first step away from Maria and that hell.

I continued watching long after I couldn't see Bella anymore. My eyes stayed focused on where they had disappeared into the darkness and the trees until I couldn't even hear them anymore. Surprisingly, Alice stood patiently and waited.

Again, I hadn't been thinking of her at all — only Bella and myself.

I turned to face Alice, taking my hand from my chest. She exuded sadness, and her golden eyes shined with unshed venom tears. Belatedly, my heart went out to her. Just in the last three days, so many things had changed. In the fifteen hours since Bella had awakened, all our lives had been altered — forever. Even if Bella rejected me, I knew I could never go back to Alice. It wouldn't be fair to Alice because my mind would always be on Bella, and I was sure Alice knew it.

I would not be happy without Bella. I belonged to her, whether she wanted me or not. I had found my mate, now Alice would be free to find hers. Free to find her true mate, someone who would appreciate her more than I ever had, and she wouldn't be chained down to someone she was afraid of. Someone whose scars she couldn't bear to look at.

Even then, her eyes would drift away from me before she forced them back. I would have to get another shirt to put on as soon as possible.

"Alice, I am sorry you have been hurt. When I pulled Bella out of that truck, my only intent was to try and save her, not end up causing pain to you, or anyone else. I had no idea Bella was my mate."

She blinked back her tears and glanced up at me before returning her eyes to the ground.

"I know you didn't, Jasper. I had always assumed that Bella was Edward's mate, just like everyone else. He was always so … preoccupied with her. I had only ever gotten tiny flashes of her future, and the main one was that she would be one of us one day." She picked at the scarf she had tied around her neck and took a deep breath. "I hadn't ever seen who would change her." She quickly glanced up at me and trained her eyes on the ground again. "I'm so glad you found her and saved her. She's been my first friend and I …"

She nervously shifted from foot to foot and tugged at her silk blouse. Then she clasped her hands together and sighed. Her eyes were still focused on the ground. "Um, I've been doing a lot of thinking and … I've called Mr. Jenks and told him to draw up divorce papers for us — for Jasper and Alice Cullen. No contest, no-fault divorce. No splitting of property or any of that. What's mine is mine, what's yours is yours. But if you'd rather have an annulment?" Her questioning golden eyes glanced up at me again.

I was astounded. I hadn't really given it much thought at all, but I hadn't thought it would be that easy. It hadn't entered my mind that Alice might call Jenks. I guess I would have thought she might fight it. But why? Why would she want to stay married to me after the way I'd been treating her? Knowing I wanted somebody else?

"Uh, no. That's fine. I wanted to tell you that I wanted a divorce. Staying married wouldn't be right with the way …"

I cut myself off before I finished that sentence with "… the way I feel about Bella." I felt Alice's sadness increase and realized I shouldn't have said even that much. She drew in a shuddering breath and sighed again. I took a step toward her, extending my hand. I hoped she would take it in hers.

She glanced up at me, then at my hand, and reached forward tentatively. At last her fingers touched mine.

"Jasper, I want to tell you that I'm glad I found you and we had fifty-eight years together. I hope …" Her voice trailed off in a whisper.

I drew her hand into mine. What did you say to someone you had spent a third of your life with? What words did you use to say goodbye? If Peter and Charlotte had been my first step away from that hell I had lived in for so long, then Alice was the second step on that journey.

"Alice, finding you was one of the best things that ever happened to me. You saved my life." I gave her tiny hand a gentle squeeze. "I didn't know how much longer I could have gone on with that depression, and then I saw you in that diner." I sent her my feelings of gratefulness. "Alice, you helped me so much."

Besides, if I hadn't found Alice, and she hadn't brought us to the Cullens, I wouldn't have ever found Bella.

A small smile appeared on her face as she looked up at me and blinked away those tears that would never fall. "I'm glad we found each other. Because of you, we found a family with the Cullens. I think finding them did help you. It helped us both. It's been good for both of us."

I gripped her hand with both of mine. "Perhaps now you'll be able to find your real mate. Decide to find him and I'm sure you will."

She softly sighed. "Let's head back to the house, okay?" She took a step forward and pulled on my hands. "My visions haven't been coming in so well. Carlisle thinks it may be Bella's shield blocking them."

I held her hand in mine and walked slowly beside her. I just nodded at what she had said. I didn't know what I could have said to that.

"You know, Edward hasn't been able to hear your thoughts," she continued as she stepped lightly through the bed of pine needles. "Before, he couldn't hear you when you were touching Bella. Now he can't hear you at all."

Again, I wasn't sure what to say to that, but I appreciated the information. I had to admit, it was a goddamned relief, too. I hadn't known if he could hear me when I wasn't touching Bella. It made me wonder how he had heard me when I was carrying Bella back to the house from the crash. Most likely because I was desperate to help her at the time and mentally shouting.

We walked in silence together, her hand in mine, listening to the night creatures chirp and buzz, until we neared the patio at the back of the house. Emmett was outside, waiting for us.

Alice turned to me before we reached the patio and reached for my other hand. "The paperwork will be delivered here in a few days. When you get to where you're going, give me an address, and I'll send it along to you."

I raised her hands and bent to gently kiss the back of each one. "Thank you, Alice."

She was still sad, but she looked directly into my eyes, and I thought I saw a spark of hope there. "I just want you to be happy. I want everyone to be happy." She squeezed my hands before releasing them and turned to walk quickly into the house. I watched her make her way through the living room, past Edward, Esme, and Carlisle, and then to the stairs.

When I had met her, I had felt hope for the first time in decades. She had given me that gift — the gift of a better life. She helped me fight off the depression that had plagued me for so many years. It had been its own form of hell even after I'd left the hell that was Maria's army.

My old friends, Peter and Charlotte, had taken a great risk when they had returned to try and talk me into leaving that shit. They had saved me first. They had shown me a life that wasn't full of hate, destruction, and fear. I had stayed with them for a few years and then took off on my own. In search of what, I hadn't known, though the depression I felt after feeding from humans still hounded me. Then I met Alice. I hadn't imagined at the time that I would ever leave her. It hadn't ever occurred to me that I would want to. But she was giving me an even greater gift. She was letting me go so I could follow my next path, find my next life, whatever it might be. I hoped it included Bella, and she would share that new life with me. I knew part of it would include her, but would she choose to stay with me?

I sighed and walked toward Emmett.

"Brought you a shirt," he said as he tossed it toward me. Then he gestured toward the Adirondack chairs. "Take a load off."

"Thanks." He had brought me a plain, black v-neck shirt. "It's not a long-sleeved one."

Emmett waved a hand at me. "Jazz, I never gave a shit about your scars, and you know Bella doesn't mind them. I knew you wore long sleeves all the time because of Alice. I don't think you need to worry about that anymore."

I just nodded at him. After I slipped the shirt over my head, I asked him, "Where's Bella?"

He dropped into one of the chairs and pointed up toward the right side of the house. "She's in her room. She's doing a Patrick Swayze movie marathon."

I sat heavily on the white Adirondack chair next to him and propped my arms on my knees. "What?"

"Uh, yeah. She had another shower, then, while Rosie was helping her get dressed, she said she remembered her mother had had a thing for Patrick Swayze and asked if we had any of his movies." He propped his legs on the wooden footstool, crossed his legs at his ankles, and clasped his hands behind his head. "Edward even dug them all out."

At hearing his name, I stiffened and glared into the living room at Edward. A touch of jealousy swirled around my head.

"Chill out," Emmett said. "Esme took them upstairs. I think Edward was trying to be helpful. Bella kept Roadhouse, Red Dawn, Dirty Dancing, and Ghost. I think she's watching Roadhouse."

"What about North and South?"

"Sorry, dude. She sent those discs back downstairs. We'll take 'em with us when we leave. Maybe you can talk her into watching all ninety-seven hours of it when we get to your place."

"I already have a copy of North and South there." I looked up at the windows to her room on the second floor. I could see the light from the TV flickering through the curtains, but I couldn't hear the sound. "She's watching Roadhouse?"

Emmett shrugged his shoulders. "She said she liked the bar singer and Swayze was a badass. Apparently her dad liked that one, too." He brought his hands from behind his head and settled them on his stomach, his elbows resting on the arms of the chair. "You know she used to like watching the Jackie Chan movies with me. She likes action movies." He shrugged his shoulders again. "I think she's mourning her folks. Can't you feel her?"

"No. She's blocking me again. I think she can do it on purpose." I adjusted the chair to lean back farther, mimicking Emmett's pose. "How has she been?"

"Cryin', but Rose and Esme already had her upstairs when Carlisle, Edward, and I got back here, so I haven't seen her. I think she may have broken a towel bar in her bathroom. She might have crushed the door knob, too." He shook his head and smiled. "It's so funny to hear her cussing, especially in front of Esme."

"It is funny because she's another one that wouldn't have said 'shit' if she had a mouthful. Except, I don't want to laugh at her just yet; she might start kicking me again. She kicks like a goddamn mule." I rubbed my thigh where she had kicked me earlier. I sighed again. "How has everyone been?"

From Bella's room, we heard a loud "Goddammit!"

I started to get up and Emmett wrapped his huge hand around my arm. "It's fine. She probably just broke something else. No big deal."

Rosalie flashed down the stairs and went to the cabinet beneath the flat screen. She rummaged around in a drawer for a few seconds, lifted out two remotes, studied them, and darted back up the stairs.

"See? Just a remote. We've got a million of 'em. Now sit back down." He pushed against my arm. "And everyone's okay. Edward's been really, really quiet. He hasn't even been up to his room, I don't think. He asked Esme if she would bring him some clothes. I think the smell of Bella's blood is still there. Might take a few days to air it out. Or maybe he just doesn't want to go in there. I don't know." He looked over toward me. I could feel his concern. "How's things with you?"

I leaned back on the chair, my left hand going to my chest. I felt a tugging, a pull, and I thought it was because of Bella. We hadn't actually been away from each other for more than a few minutes since I had found her on Saturday. Had it only been three days? Not even three whole days. So much had happened.

"I'm all right. Alice said she'd give me a divorce. She should have the papers in a few days. She said she'd mail them to me."

Emmett looked over at me, his concern and surprise flowing out from him. "That's good, right? That's what you wanted, isn't it?"

"Yeah, but it's still … sad. We've been together a long time." I rubbed at my chest. "I never meant to hurt her."

"I know you didn't." Emmett thumped my right arm with his fist. "But you and Bella are mates. I should have realized it sooner. Everyone should have, considering the way you were acting. I think Rose figured it out right away, but she's the brains of our operation." He dropped his hands on his stomach again. "I guess we just didn't want to see it. We all thought she was Edward's mate. Look, don't start growling at me. Quit being an asshole."

I cut off the growl. I hadn't even noticed I was growling. "Look, Emmett, I have to go see her."

"No, you don't. Just stay right there. She needs some time to do whatever it is she's doing up there. You can see the windows just fine. You know where she is."

Rosalie came down the stairs, and she stopped by Esme to speak to her, then she made her way out to the patio.

"Alice is up in her room, and Bella is watching movies in her room." Rosalie cocked her head at me, a look of curiosity on her face. "I told Bella to call me or Esme when the movie was finished so one of us could put in the next one. She's broken a couple of the remotes." She sat on the Adirondack on Emmett's other side. "Jasper, did Emmett tell you what she was doing?"

"Yeah, mourning her parents by watching Patrick Swayze movies." I shut my eyes and rubbed the ache in my chest again. "Seems a little odd, but what else can she do? It's not like she can go see her folks. I'm surprised she remembered something like that."

"She seems to remember a lot of things. I think you really helped her with that, Jazz," Rosalie said softly. "Does your chest hurt?"

I stopped rubbing my chest and looked over at Rosalie, feeling almost like I had been caught with my hand in the cookie jar. "Yes. Sort of. It just started a little while ago."

"That's the mating pull. Bella feels it, too. I saw her pushing against her chest." A small smile raised the edges of Rosalie's lips as she looked at me. "Well, she had a t-shirt of yours wadded up in a ball, and she was pushing that against her chest. That was after she had been sniffing it. She was trying to be sneaky."

"She … she what?" I sat up and stared at Rosalie in amazement.

"When we first got back to the house, she ran right upstairs. When Esme and I went into her room, she wasn't there. We found her in your study just looking around. I think she was trying to get your scent."

"Then I have to go see her." I started to get up and Emmett grabbed my arm again.

"I said no. Just sit here and wait for her." Emmett yanked on my arm. "She'll let you know if she wants to see you."

I flopped back onto the wooden chair and squeezed my eyes shut. I was starting to get frustrated. I wanted to see Bella. I'd been away from her long enough.

"Somebody needs to be with her. That other fuckin' vampire could still be around here somewhere and …"

"Jasper, you're starting to be an asshole again." Emmett sat up and leaned toward me. "Now pay attention to what I'm saying. Esme, Carlisle, and Edward are right there in the house. And quit fuckin' growlin' every time somebody says Edward's name." He pointed one of his huge fingers at my face before he eased himself back to lounge again.

"We can see the windows just fine. There isn't any other way into that room, unless somebody busts through one of the windows on the front of the house, and we would hear that, right?" Emmett stared at me, eyes wide, like I was a complete idiot.

I sat up again. "But I want to tell her Alice is giving me a divorce."

"She is?" Rose sat up and turned to face me, a baffled look on her face. "You know, I think that's the most mature and selfless thing Alice has ever done."

She looked toward the house, and I could feel the beginnings of respect blossom around her. "Wow. Will wonders never cease." She blinked a few times, shook her head, and looked back toward me. "Bella has enough to deal with at the moment. Let her handle it her way. She doesn't need you adding to it right now."

I huffed and crossed my arms over my chest. "So, what about my shirt?"

"Yeah," Emmett said, turning toward Rosalie. "What about the t-shirt?"

Rosalie smiled and flipped a strand of hair over her shoulder. "That was actually sort of cute. She wouldn't leave your study. Esme and I could see she was struggling. It was like she wanted to be in there, but didn't want to be in there. One of your t-shirts was lying on your armchair, so Esme took it and handed it to her. She grabbed it and brought it right to her face. She took a deep sniff, too." Rosalie chuckled lightly. "Then she looked embarrassed and tried to hand it back to Esme, but Esme told her to hang onto it if it made her feel better. She could give it back to you later. I hope you don't mind?"

"Uh … no."

That was … that was encouraging. She wanted to smell me? That was great! Every time I turned around, she was doing something to surprise me.

"Uh, what shirt was it?"

"The long-sleeved Forks High gym shirt." Rosalie smiled at me, batting her eyelashes.

I had been wearing that one about a week ago and hadn't bothered to throw it in the wash.

"Uh, then what did she do?" I was curious as hell. Did she miss me? Did she want to see me, too?

Both Rosalie and Emmett smirked at me. I rolled my eyes at them.

"She showered. She crushed the door knob and broke the towel bar, but that's really no big deal." Rosalie fluttered her fingers in dismissal. "Then she told us about her mother having this crush on Patrick Swayze, and she used to watch his movies all the time. She asked if we had any of his movies, and Esme went downstairs to get them. After she brought them up, she went back downstairs. I set up the DVD player so Bella could watch them. She broke a couple of the remotes. Well, she actually crushed them into black dust."

"No. What did she do with my shirt?" I was getting frustrated again.

Rosalie laughed at me. "Jazz, aren't you cute?" She was feeling very mischievous.

Oh, goddammit.

I knew she was just teasing me, but Emmett was practically giggling at me. Both of them were having too much fun at my expense. Again.

"Rose …" I growled at her. I couldn't help myself. I had to know what Bella did with my shirt.

"Well …" She drew out the word and glanced down at a golden lock of hair draped over her shoulder. She began combing her fingers through it and finally looked at me out of the corner of her eye. "Once I convinced her to let me put the disc in, she took your shirt, tucked it into her chest, and curled up on the bed to watch the movie."

I jumped up off the chair. "Then I should go see her."

Emmett lunged at me, clamping his huge ape arms around me, and we fell over the damn Adirondack footstool, landing on the patio with a loud crack. At least we didn't break the patio or the footstool.

"Emmett! What the fuck?"

"Jazz, you're starting to be a real pain in my ass." Emmett started to untangle his legs from mine, which wasn't easy because we were kind of caught in the footstool.

He pushed up from the patio then planted his hand in the middle of my chest. "I already told you. Leave her be for now. She'll let you know if she wants to see you."

"Well, boys, I see you're having a nice talk out here." Carlisle smiled down at us, bringing his hands together. "Yes, Jasper, I know you want to see her, but let her have a bit of … quiet time, I guess you could say." He looked over his left shoulder up toward the windows of Bella's room. "She needs to process it all. She seems to have found a way to deal with not being able to see her parents again. It's a little unusual, but if it helps her …"

From Bella's room we all heard her yell, "Yeah! Bar fight! Get the fucker!"

We all had to laugh at that, including Esme, who was still inside. Believe it or not, even Edward cracked a smile at hearing Bella yell at the TV.

Carlisle turned back toward us, a bemused look on his face. "She's become rather … ah … expressive."

Emmett laughed again. "Yeah. You should have heard her out in the woods. Woulda curled your hair."

"Quite. Well then." Carlisle turned back toward us, smiling. "I thought I'd better go do my morning rounds at the hospital — they start at six. But I'll be back around noon, barring any emergencies. Everyone here will be fine, right?" He nodded hopefully at each of us and his eyes settled on me.

"Yes, Carlisle, I'll be fine, as soon as Emmett lets me up off the ground." I glared at Emmett.

"Oh, yeah." He offered me a hand to help me up, and I brushed myself off as I stood up.

"As I said, I'll be back around noon. If I hear anything, I'll be sure and let you know. If anyone needs anything, just give me a call." Carlisle gave us a little wave and turned to go back into the house. Esme stood from the couch to give him a hug, and he kissed her on the cheek before he headed for the front door.

I huffed at Emmett again, and reached to take hold of the chair I'd been sitting in. I carried it over to the side of the patio directly opposite Bella's windows and plunked it down. Then I dropped into it, propping my elbow on the arm and planting my chin on my fist.

Emmett gave me a look that clearly said "Behave yourself." I rolled my eyes at him again.

Rosalie stood from her chair and went to Emmett, taking his hand.

"You'll stay there?" she asked me.

"Yes."

"Good. Emmett and I need a bit of quiet time ourselves, and we should probably pack a few things. When Bella wants a new movie, I'll get it for her, okay?"

"Yes."

Rosalie turned to face me. "Jasper, quit sulking. You'll see her soon enough."

"I am not sulking." My hand went back to the ache in my chest. I thought it was getting worse.

Rosalie raised that eyebrow at me. "Oh, really? What would you call it?"

"I am … guarding her. That other …"

Emmett snorted and shook his head at me. "You're being such a little bitch. I think I know what your problem is, but I'll tell you about it later." He winked at me. "Besides, if you need something to do, you could go look at the truck I got for you. It's in the garage. The keys are in it. C'mon, Rose." He tugged her hand and they went into the house. Leaving me alone to wallow in my misery and wonder what the hell he was talking about.

Fucker.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23, I Learn

Jasper's POV

I had been sitting out on the patio for hours, waiting to see Bella. Waiting for her to call for me. Willing her to call me, but she hadn't. I hadn't moved. I hadn't even gone to look at the truck Emmett had picked up for me. I was sure it was fine.

The sky had lightened with the dawn soon after Carlisle left for the hospital. The clouds had thinned a bit, and I watched the few visible stars fade as the sky became brighter. Some of the clouds were touched with a bit of pink and others had a pale orange glow. As the sun rose higher, more clouds moved in and they all took on that familiar, soft pearly grey. At least it hadn't rained.

Periodically, Bella had called Rosalie to change out the DVDs, and after a while, Esme had come outside and sat silently with me for a few minutes before she softly patted my arm and went to go putter around in one of her flower beds. She had cut a few flowers, put them in a basket, and carried them back into the house.

I had mostly ignored Esme's quiet presence, and had been so wrapped up in my own sullen misery that it never occurred to me that maybe she had come outside to make herself available to talk if I wanted to.

I started in surprise at my own self-centered, self-absorbed, insensitive, inconsiderate, thoughtless, and just god-fuckin'-damned stupid and ignorant behavior.

I was a dick. A complete dick. How could I have ignored her like that? The woman had been nothing but kind to me, quietly offering her assistance, helping to keep Bella calm out in the woods, washing Bella's clothes, getting a room ready for her, helping her take a bath and getting her dressed, and …

And on top of that, had I felt anything but acceptance from her? In fact, hadn't she been pleased? Hadn't she been proud of me? Hadn't she even been supportive? Not once had I felt any resentment or bitterness concerning Edward from her. Some fear, yes, but never resentment.

What sort of word would Edward use? Cad. I was an utter cad. Esme did not deserve that sort of shitty treatment from me.

I was a dick. I would have to do something to make it up to her.

That twinge of remorseful shame twisted into a throbbing ache, and I realized the ache was coming from my chest. That brought my mind back around to Bella and how badly I wanted to see her. Why hadn't she called for me yet?

I fretted. Outwardly, it would have looked like I was dozing, but inside? My nerves were jangling, my teeth were on edge, and the pain in my chest certainly had not gone away. Periodically, it would spasm and I would have described it as feeling like a toothache, except I didn't remember if I'd ever had a toothache when I was human. Probably not, since I still had all my teeth.

Over and over in my mind I wondered if Bella would turn me away. I wanted her so badly. I wanted to go see her. I needed to be near her, but stayed away, primarily because I didn't want Emmett tackling me again — I'd gone through enough shirts. And, truth be told, I didn't want her to reject me again; at least not yet. She did need time to mourn the loss of her parents. I kept glancing up at the windows to her room, hoping she would open the curtains, but she never did.

I sighed and thought about everything that had happened since she had awakened. The memory of when she had attacked Alice and Edward, and then had my arms pinned down while she bit me, wove its way through my head. It caused my cock to harden, and I silently groaned.

Admitting defeat, I finally adjusted my position by crossing my legs, but only to try and camouflage my growing dick.

Closing my eyes, I recalled when she had pulled her teeth from my shoulder and had roared, "Mine!"

A bright, hot burst of sensuous pleasure shot through me, and I groaned again.

She had taken off, crashing through the windows. Of course, I had chased after and caught her. The way she had looked at me! Not with fear, but with admiration when she had seen the scars on my arms. Her eyes had continued over my body and paused when she reached my groin.

The ache in my chest sharpened, feeling like a slice from a knife, and my right hand went to press against it. I would have sworn the pain was coming from my still heart. Rosalie had called it "the mating pull." I had never experienced it before. I had heard others speak of it, but no one had ever claimed that it hurt. At the most, all anyone had ever said was that it was uncomfortable.

Maybe I was being a little bitch like Emmett said.

Glancing to the left through the sliding glass doors leading into the living room, I could see Edward slumped on the couch. I was immensely relieved that he wasn't able to read my mind.

Perhaps I merely needed to replace thoughts of the pain with more pleasant ones. Like when Bella ripped my shirt off. Her lips were on my neck, her hands on my body, and I pushed her up against that tree.

I blew out a breath.

Or after she had hunted for the first time and there was blood smeared across her face and her full lips.

I didn't think my dick could get any harder, but it was straining against my jeans — practically throbbing — and it was becoming rather uncomfortable. I knew if I continued with my current train of thought, I'd probably cum in my pants again.

Oh goddamn, it had felt so good when she …

If I shot my load, there would be no way I'd be able to sit still. I'd probably crush the fuckin' chair. I needed to think about something else.

Edward was still in the living room, watching TV or something. Why the hell hadn't he gone to school? School had been closed the day before because of Memorial Day, but it would have been open again today.

Okay. That was stupid. Of course, he wouldn't have gone to school. His "girlfriend" had been killed in a tragic crash, and he was in mourning. Of course Alice wouldn't have gone either since Bella had been her "best friend."

I would imagine half the students hadn't shown up. There was probably a shit-ton of flowers and teddy bears marking the spot on the highway where Bella had crashed.

I should have gotten my laptop, but it was up in my study. If I went up there, I wouldn't be able to resist going to Bella's room. The door to her room was only a few feet away from mine.

She hadn't asked for me yet.

Would she ever? What would I do if she didn't?

That disturbing thought had the same effect as being doused with a bucket of cold water. The little soldier was at ease again, and the timing couldn't have been better because Emmett was on his way outside.

He grabbed one of the Adirondack chairs and dragged it over. Then he went back, picked up a couple of the footstools, and placed one in front of me and the other in front of his chair. He dropped down on the seat, lifted his legs to the stool, and clasped his hands over his belly.

"How ya doin'?"

My simmering frustration and loneliness boiled over. "I'm doing sucky, that's how I'm doing. I'm goddamn pissed off, is how I'm doing. How the fuck do you think I'm doing?"

Emmett squeezed his eyes shut, grimaced, and jerked his head away from me as if he were in pain. "Jesus Christ! Cap that shit or you're gonna make me fuckin' cry. Keep your voice down so Edward doesn't hear you."

I reined it all in, and heaved a big sigh. "What the hell is she doing up there?" I hissed at him.

"I guess she watched the movies and she wants to watch Dirty Dancing again. Rose and Esme are going to watch it with her. Hell, she even invited Alice to come watch it."

"She did?" To say I was surprised would have been a slight understatement. "Is Alice going to do it? What if Bella gets pissed off at her again? I should go …"

Emmett's huge hand dropped down on my left arm. "Lookie here, bro, if Bella wants her to come watch the movie then that means she's trying to make nice with her or some shit. Since you aren't in the room, she'll most likely be okay. Both of them should be okay. Besides, Rose and Esme are in there. And, no. Nobody's told Bella Alice is divorcing you. Rose and Esme thought that was something you should tell her."

Oh. Worrying about that hadn't even occurred to me yet.

"Hell, chicks really dig that movie, so let 'em have their fun. They'll be dancing with Swayze in no time. Bella even asked Rose if she had any 80's music." Emmett rolled his eyes and shook his head. "You know she's got a ton of it on her Ipod. It'll be Dance Party USA up there."

"Dancing with Swayze? Bella never wanted to dance before."

Faint giggles and laughter wafted down from Bella's room and hearing them made me smile. I was glad they were all getting along, though I could feel Alice was still a bit apprehensive. I couldn't feel Bella's emotions, but Rosalie and Esme were fairly happy.

Emmett smiled up at Bella's windows. "She was a klutzy human then, which was always funny as hell. But ya gotta admit, she's become pretty damn graceful. It's weird. Besides, you know how Rose loves to dance."

An image of Bella dancing twirled into my head. Me, dancing with Bella, perhaps in a smoky, dimly lit bar: her arms around me, my arms pulling her body against mine, our hips pressed together …

Emmett shifted uncomfortably in his chair and blew out a gusty sigh. "And on that note … quit it."

I squeezed my eyes shut, thumped my head against the back of the chair, and clamped down on the lustful thoughts. I just couldn't help it. I couldn't control it; I wanted her so fucking bad.

Emmett took hold of my arm and whispered, "Hey, watch Edward."

Edward was still sitting on the couch.

He couldn't find something to do?

"What? And why are you holding my arm?"

"Ahhhh. See? Did you see him cock his head?"

"Yeah. So what?"

"He can't hear you, and I think if I'm touching you, he can't hear me either." His head snapped around toward me. "He's looking out here now, right?"

I looked directly at Emmett but could still see Edward beyond him. "Yes. He is puzzled now. Maybe you're right."

"I'm pretty damn sure I'm right. I've been watching him and this just confirms it." Emmett's smile grew across his face, and he squeezed my arm. "I don't get it, but when the girls are touching Bella, it seems like he can still hear them. But, I'm touching you, and it looks like he can't hear me." A wide grin spread across his face. "Watch him."

Emmett squeezed his eyes shut, his eyebrows drew together and he even started gritting his teeth.

"Don't strain so hard," I told him. "You're gonna bust a vessel."

After a moment, he reopened them and grinned at me. "Did the look on Edward's face change?"

"No. Why?"

"Because I was screaming at him that he's Mr. Eddie Pissy-pants, panty-waist, pansy ass, pubescent, poo-poo head."

I had to laugh. "What?"

"And he's a fucktard." Emmett started to laugh. "You know he hates it when I call him names like that. That just proves he can't hear me."

We heard windows being opened and looked up toward Bella's room. They'd pulled back the curtains and Esme was pushing open the windows. We could hear music coming from the room. It was "Maniac" of all things. I had to roll my eyes at that. It wasn't that bad, but …

Emmett saw the look on my face and just grinned at me. "Told ya. Dance Party USA."

Esme leaned out of the window. "Jasper, would you mind if I opened the window in your room? Since it's not raining, I thought I'd open the windows again and get some fresh air in the house."

I smiled up at her. "Please do, Esme. Go right ahead."

As she darted around upstairs opening windows, Edward finally got his ass off the couch. Maybe he was helping her. As long as he stayed away from Bella, I didn't give a shit what he did.

I could hear Rosalie and Bella laughing, and I smiled again. Alice's tentative laugh joined in. It felt good to hear them.

Emmett shook my arm. "Okay, now I'm going to tell you what I think your problem is, since everyone seems to be distracted at the moment and Edward can't hear me. Well, what your other problem is."

I frowned at him. "What the hell are you talking about? My only problem is I want to see Bella and you all keep giving me shit about it."

He grinned at me again, mischief twinkling in his golden eyes. "You need some sexual healing."

I just stared at him, speechless.

"Huh?"

"Ya know, in keeping with the 80's music theme. Marvin Gaye? Sexual Healing? 'Darlin', you're so great, I can't wait for you to operate.'"

"Yeah, yeah, I know the song. What are you talkin' about?" I was getting frustrated again.

He shook his head and sighed. "You need to get laid."

I was taken aback momentarily. But, goddamn right I needed to get laid. I needed to get laid so goddamn bad my balls were probably fuckin' purple, but the only woman I wanted wasn't currently available. She may not ever be available, and the thought of that sent another dull ache through my groin, and the pain in my chest was no longer just a paring knife sticking me, it was a cleaver trying to hack its way out.

I grimaced and my right hand went back to my chest. "What the fuck, Emmett?"

"Okay, it's like this. You're feeling the mating pull and it keeps getting worse, right?"

"Yeah, it does, but I expect it'd be better if I could just fuckin' see her." I glared at him.

"Calm down. I'm mated, so I know how it feels. Rosie wasn't real receptive right at first, because of … well, because of … uh, you know how Carlisle found her." Emmett looked a little uncomfortable. We all knew how Rosalie's fiancé and his friends had abused and assaulted her, then left her for dead in the street. We tried not to bring it up. It distressed her to remember it.

"Yes, and I'm glad she killed all those fuckin' pieces of shit that hurt her."

"Me, too, because if she hadn't, I'd have gone lookin' for 'em. But anyway, she wasn't real receptive to me right at first, but I could tell she wanted to be near me, just like I wanted to be near her. When she finally, you know, cozied up to me, that mating pull eased up. Though I feel it mostly when I'm away from her, it doesn't hurt."

"So what are you saying, asshole?" My frustration was growing. I wanted him to get to the point.

"Once you claim her, your ass will calm down, and that pain in your chest won't be such a pain."

"As simple as that?"

"Yeah, as simple as that. You know how Rose and I like to travel. We've met quite a few vamps all over the world, and sometimes the talk turns to sex, and mates, and stuff like that. Apparently, with a 'normal' mating, the two interested parties spot each other, make the googly eyes, and spend the next few days or so gettin' it on, as Marvin Gaye also said." Then he looked off to the side, a puzzled expression on his face. "Though we've never run across anybody that had turned someone who ended up being their mate."

I stared at him again, incredulous. "But I already told her I wanted her. She knows that. She's already bitten me. Twice, for Christ's sake. And then we … then we, uh …"

"Yeah, I know what you did. I was there, remember? Don't start fuckin' growlin' at me." He gave my arm a squeeze that almost hurt. "Just telling her isn't 'claiming' her. A bite is only part of it. Some vamps don't bite each other at all. You need to have sex with her. Or she needs to let you, but you can't rush these things. Not that I'm all that thrilled about telling some jerk-off to have sex with my little sister …"

I couldn't believe he was talking about this shit, and he called me a jerk-off. I was going to punch him right in the face.

He snorted at me. "Put your fist down. I'm not telling you this for you. My motivations are purely selfish. If you calm your ass down, and quit projecting that lust and shit all over the place, it'll be a whole lot easier on the rest of us." He tipped his head toward me and his eyebrows crept up his forehead. "Capiche?"

I nodded at him.

"Look, how else are you going to learn this shit? Nobody's written a damn book on it. You were with Alice for years, and we all thought you were mated. I wouldn't think in the Vampire Wars you guys talked much about it, right?"

"No. If any of the newborns looked like they were mated to each other, Maria had them both killed. After I was there for a while, I killed them — except for Peter and Charlotte. Mates were a liability," I told him quietly.

"Dude, that's harsh, and it had to suck. But I guess I can see why Maria would do that. A vampire would protect his or her mate before anybody else." Emmett leaned back against the chair with a thoughtful look on his face, but he kept his hand on my arm. "That had to really suck." He shook his head and blinked a few times. "Well, what I'm saying is — and let me use my Professor McCarty voice — since you two haven't claimed each other fully and completely by consu - mating, your instincts are urging you to do so. Though, why vamps would have such a strong urge to mate is beyond me, especially since we can't actually breed." He sighed. "Just another one of those enhanced and exaggerated human traits, I guess." He stared off into space for a moment and turned back to me.

"Your possessiveness has been a little over the top." He raised his eyebrows at me again. "I thought you were going to kill Carlisle back there before you knocked all our asses out, and you know how he feels about her. Now, if another male were to come around here, and he looked at Bella like she was a hot little number, I'd bet you'd kill him. If you were up in Bella's room with them, Bella would probably go after Alice again, since she's the unmated female and would be seen as a threat."

"I'm having a hard time not killing Edward, and I kinda like him. Well, I used to," I said, bringing my free hand up to brush my hair away from my face.

"I know, right? I've wanted to kill him a few times myself." Emmett sighed sadly.

He turned a bit so he was facing me more directly. "Does Bella smell better to you than anyone?"

"Uh, yes, she does."

"Did she smell that good as a human?"

"No. I mean, she smelled pretty good but …"

"Is she the prettiest woman you've ever seen?" Emmett smiled.

I smiled back at him. "Yeah, she is. She's better than pretty, she's beautiful and …"

"Was she ever that pretty to you when she was human?"

"Well, no, actually. It wasn't that she wasn't attractive as a human, it's just that …"

"That's the mating thing," Emmett explained. "Like Carlisle said, it's probably the pheromones, but all that shit together makes her irresistible to you." He grinned at me. "But there is one catch — if you ever run across your singer, then he, or she, will smell even better than Bella. That would be the only thing that would ever smell better than her." He squeezed my arm again. "Ya know the best part? You smell and look better to her than anyone else does. I'm kinda surprised she's been able to resist you, you've been such a fucking charming asshole, smashing her face down in the dirt an' all."

I just gaped at him. I couldn't even get pissed off at him for calling me an asshole. Emmett, for all intents and purposes, just gave me the vamp version of "the birds and the bees" talk. I was twice his age and he gave me "the talk." Stupefied, I blinked at him again.

"Informative as all hell, ain't I?" He smirked at me. "Did you get this real strong urge to bite her?" At my nod, he continued. "Then that's what ya gotta do. You gotta jump her bones."

"It's not like I don't fuckin' want to," I mumbled into my chest.

"Gee, I couldn't tell."

"You fuckin' assholes keep interruptin' every time we …"

"Here probably isn't a good idea — too many Cullens around. And you're being a total jerk."

I was a little pissed off by then. "Shut the fuck up. It's not as simple as you're makin' it out to be. She won't come near me because I'm married. She doesn't know yet that Alice and I are gettin' divorced. Then she was just … I mean, there's Ed-tard … uh, she kinda has to get over him."

"I think she's over him, dude."

I sighed in exasperation at him. "Then she's … she's, uh …"

"Yeah, yeah." He waved his other hand at me. "It's not like we all don't know about her being a virgin." He rolled his eyes again.

"And she's a newborn, and I don't want to take advantage of her." Emmett raised his eyebrows at me. "Well, not really. Besides that, she keeps pushin' me away."

"Are you trying to talk yourself out of it?" He sighed. "Jazz, she's your mate. She wants you. You want her. It is so fucking obvious. Besides, she's the only one you haven't scared the absolute shit out of over the last few days. As a matter of fact …" He cocked his head toward me, raising an eyebrow. "She's probably the only vamp you've ever run across that isn't afraid of you, right?"

I thought about that for a moment. Every vampire I had ever met had been initially afraid of me after seeing my scars. Bella certainly hadn't felt fear at the sight of my scars. "That's true. Even Carlisle was afraid of me when I first met him."

"I thought so. Bella wasn't afraid of any of us when she was human, but she was kind of a strange human. Well, she had been afraid of James and those other ones." He stared off into space for a moment then looked back to me. "But, being a vamp, with the instincts and all, she should have been afraid of you. But it sure doesn't look like your scars bother her in the least. In fact, she's anything but afraid of them." He waggled his eyebrows at me. "You'll just have to wear her down. Use some of that southern boy charm on her. When you get upset, your accent is stronger and she likes that. Lights her right up."

"It does?" Why hadn't I noticed that?

"Yeah, it does. Are you stupid? I told you to quit fuckin' growlin' at me."

I stopped growling at him.

"To be serious for a moment, I don't really think you have to worry about her being a virgin either. She's your mate. You won't do anything to hurt her. You guys will figure it out."

I began to feel just a little uncomfortable. I'd been around a long time, and there had been a lot of women; vampires and human. I nervously brushed my hair back from my face again. "Well, uh, I've had …"

"Ya don't say?" Emmett smirked at me. "I forget how friggin' old you are sometimes. In that case, you don't have anything to worry about. Besides, the lust you keep projecting is pretty damn hard to take. I'm surprised Edward hasn't imploded."

It had been pretty damn difficult for me to deal with, too.

"But," Emmett said in a cautious voice. "She might not be ready yet. Like I said, it took Rosie a while to really warm up to me, and you know what a great guy I am." He grinned at me, showing most of his teeth. "Bella hasn't been a vamp very long, and there's been a lot of shit goin' on. She remembers a lot of her human life, too, it seems like." He paused and glanced up toward Bella's windows. "Some of that crap was right damn traumatic." He gave himself a little shake. "Working your charms on her while we're here probably isn't a good idea. I don't know about Alice, but Edward might get a little weird, and I don't think you want him going all drama queen and shit and interrupting you. There's that and the divorce, since that's really important to her."

"Are we through with this little heart-to-heart?" I dropped my head down toward my chest, sighed, and looked up at him. "Uh, thanks. Are you going to let go of my arm now?"

"Oh, yeah, I guess so." He winked at me.

He cocked his head like he was listening to something. "Do you hear a car coming down the driveway?"

I listened then sat up straight when I heard the unmistakable sounds of gravel crunching under tires. A feeling of cold unease spread through me. "Yes. It's too early for Carlisle to be back yet."

Edward ran toward us from the living room, alarm projecting out ahead of him. "A car. It's not Carlisle. It's a human."

Oh shit.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24, I Need

Jasper's POV

An unanticipated vehicle coming into our driveway, driven by a human, was very rare. We did place orders online, so there were the occasional deliveries, but no one was expecting a delivery, and it was certainly not a good thing with a newborn vampire in the house.

If the human got out of the vehicle, Bella would catch his scent, especially since all the windows in the house were open. Emmett and I jumped up out of the Adirondack chairs.

"Emmett — upstairs. Guard Bella's room for now," I directed him. "I'll jump up to the window and get her." I turned to Edward. "Edward — the door …"

"Yes, I'll get the door. It's a floral delivery." His eyes squeezed shut in anguish for a moment, and he dashed back into the house. Emmett was right behind him.

I jumped up to Bella's window, startling the ladies.

Bella and Esme were to the left, near the audio and video equipment, and I stopped and just stared at Bella. Her light ivory skin, and the rich, reddish-brown color of her hair were striking against the deep charcoal grey of the long-sleeved shirt she was wearing.

It had only been a few hours since I had seen her, but my heart clenched at the sight of her, and the pain of the mating pull just ceased — like it had never even been there. I breathed a small sigh of relief.

I shook my head to try and clear it and blinked. I needed to stay focused. Bella would not want to hurt the human so I needed to get her away as quickly as possible.

Alice and Rosalie were to the right, on the far side of the bed. Alice's eyes snapped to Bella and grew wide with fear. Her hands flew to her mouth, and she started to back away.

Bella's eyes widened as she looked at me. A small breathy "oh" escaped her soft pink lips. She was holding my Forks High t-shirt and brought it to her chest with both hands, her fingers curling into the fabric. She took a hesitant step toward me then her eyes narrowed. In a blur, she spun toward Alice and growled. Alice squeaked and scurried to hide behind Rosalie.

Esme turned off the CD player. "What is it?"

"Car coming in the driveway. Edward says it's a floral delivery. Bella …" I raised my hands, opening my arms to her.

Bella took another step toward Alice and growled again, but she tossed my t-shirt onto the bed and jumped toward me. I caught her in my arms and held her firmly to my chest. "It's a human. We should leave."

"A human?" Bella gasped. Fear and dread flashed out from her and she buried her face in my chest.

Startled that I could feel her emotions again, I stroked her hair. "It'll be okay. Esme, come with us." I stooped down a bit and picked Bella up, urging her to wrap her legs around my waist. "Emmett's right outside this door. Rose, Alice — stay and guard the human."

I turned, holding Bella tightly, trapping her arms against my chest, and jumped back out the floor-to-ceiling window. I tucked her head into the crook of my neck, but it was already too late. The scent of the human male had drifted through the open windows of the house, and I could smell him as I dropped toward the patio.

I landed with a heavy thud, and Bella began to snarl. She twisted in my arms and tried to push away from my chest. Esme dropped lightly beside me and we shared a tense look. I saw fright in her eyes. We took off for the forest. I needed to get as much distance between Bella and the human as possible.

Bella's emotions were chaotic, shooting out from her like a volley of arrows. Thirst, hunger, craving, extreme need, desire, and back to intense thirst. I deflected them all the best I could so I wouldn't be overcome and join her in attacking the human.

She tried to pull away from me again, and when she couldn't, she growled and her rage battered against me. Her hands clenched in my shirt, her fingers tearing holes through the material. She jerked her right arm free, wrapped it around my back, and clawed the back of my t-shirt from me.

Her eyes were coal black, and as she snarled, venom ran from her mouth. She was twisting more frantically and started kicking the backs of my legs, causing me to stumble.

Esme was to my right. "Jasper! Can you hold her down on the ground?"

"I can try." I saw a bit of a depression in the ground ahead, surrounded by firs, and I jerked my head toward it. Esme nodded.

Skidding to a stop at the center of the depression, I shouted over Bella's growls and snarls, "Grab her feet. I'm gonna fall on her."

Esme managed to capture Bella's left foot. I grabbed her left arm that was still caught against my chest, and I dropped us to the ground, seizing her flailing right wrist and shoving my knees between her legs, forcing them apart. I pushed her head down into the pine needles with my jaw and tried to hold her, but she was fighting against me more desperately than she ever had before. I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to hold her down.

Her rage and thirst were reeling around us, and then frustration joined the storm. She bucked and fought against me and managed to draw up her right knee, kicking against the ground. Though she was actually stronger than me, because we were spreadeagled, and Esme was bearing down on her left leg, she couldn't flip us.

Her growls and snarls grew more desperate, and I was astonished she hadn't bitten me yet.

I tried to send her serenity and peace, and though it didn't appear as though she was blocking me, it wasn't getting through to her. I concentrated on lethargy and exhaustion and sent those, as I blew a breath across her face. After a moment, her snarls quieted but she kept up her struggles.

"Bella, I'm right here. I'll help you."

I knew she needed me, and I did everything I could to send her my encouragement along with the lethargy I was already sending. I reinforced the encouragement with the admiration I felt for her. As her struggles slowed, I added the pride I had in her, knowing she was fighting so hard against her thirst.

"I'm right here," I whispered to her. "I know you're fighting it, and I will help you."

Abruptly, her twisting and bucking stopped and she was still, except for the heaving of her chest with her rapid breaths. I lifted my head from hers, and she turned her head to her right. Her eyes were squeezed shut.

She should have been immobilized, but I would take what I could get.

"It's okay, Darlin'. It'll be all right." I breathed across her face and she inhaled deeply. Having my scent helped to calm her before, so I was hoping it would work again. "We'll just lay here like this for a little while. It'll be okay."

She was still panting as her rage and extreme thirst began to dissipate. Then her eyes flew open. They were still a dull black.

"I'll keep talking to you, Bella, if you think it helps."

Her eyes flashed to mine, and I felt a tiny spark of gratitude through her anger, and then her emotions twisted back to hunger and thirst. Fear and panic swiftly followed. Her eyes took on a wild look and she began to struggle again.

"Can you speak?" She bared her teeth as a snarl ripped through her throat. "Maybe not. I'll keep talking. Don't be afraid, Bella. I'm right here. I will help you. Esme is here, too, and she will help you."

She jerked her face away from me, searching frantically for Esme.

"Esme." I looked back over my shoulder at her and gestured with my head for her to come to me.

Esme rose quickly from Bella's leg and squatted down about five feet to my right and spoke calmly to Bella. "It'll be all right, Bella. We got you away from the man. He'll be okay."

"Bella." I whispered her name again to keep her attention. "Don't be afraid, Bella." I kissed her tense jaw. "It'll be okay. It's all right."

Her breathing began to slow and her eyes closed. "That … that was a human? That's what they smell like?"

"Yes. That was a human male," I whispered in her ear.

Her emotions quickly fluctuated back and forth from fear and remorse to thirst and anger. Her head began to thrash back and forth. She finally settled on her remorse and guilt, and her brow furrowed as her chest heaved with her breaths.

"That was a man. I could have killed him. I would have killed him," she cried. "He might have a wife, kids and …"

"That's why we brought you out here, Bella." Esme moved a bit closer. "We know you don't really want to hurt any humans."

"I … I don't. But I want him so bad! I need him!" she wailed. Her thirst and hunger spiked again and she struggled to fight it as she tried to jerk her arms away from me. "He smelled so good. I just wanted … I wanted to … I never smelled anything so good before, except …" Her eyes snapped to mine and then she squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head away again. Pain and longing burst from her, then her guilt flared brightly. "He smelled so … I could have just … ARRRRGH!"

"I can help you." I moved my lips closer to her ear. "I can help calm you. Let me help you."

She looked at me out of the corner of her eye. "No! No, I can do this! I … I can fight it!" She clenched her teeth and her eyes snapped shut again. "Do they all smell that good? How do you stand it?" A growl vibrated through her chest. "How could you stand to have me around when I was human? Oh my God, it must have been so hard for you all! How could you stand me?"

Esme crept closer and placed her hand on Bella's forehead and smoothed her hair away from her face. "Yes, most of them smell that good, but we've had a lot of practice, Bella. When we met you, knowing you was more important to us than your blood. You've brought such joy to our lives — such happiness."

"Esme, I'm so sorry. I never knew how it was. It must have been so hard," Bella cried. "Jasper, now I know, I really know. At my birthday it had to be ... torture! Absolute torture! You smelled my blood and then felt the thirst from the rest of them — especially Edward." Anger flamed up again but was quickly doused by the heavy, dark fog of her guilt and shame. They closed in around us, weighing us down.

I shoved it all away and lifted her from the ground, wrapping her in my arms, nuzzling her neck, and whispering into her ear. "That was not your fault. It was never your fault." I kissed her neck and sent my admiration and reassurance to her. "Bella, that was not your fault." I felt comforted just touching her, and knowing she had responded to my touch, I shared that comfort with her.

Bella's arms tightened around my shoulders and she sobbed into my neck. "I'm so sorry, Jasper. I never knew."

Turning her in my arms, I sat on the ground, cradling her on my lap. I gathered her hair with my left hand and combed through it with my fingers as I laid it along her back. I tucked her head in against my neck and hugged her to me. I found myself trying to curl completely around her.

"How can you stand it now?" She burrowed into my chest, inhaling deeply, her wildly spinning emotions calming, becoming less frantic. "How can you stand feeling my … my thirst for that man?"

"Because I have you," I whispered to her. "Because I knew you needed me." I stroked her hair. "At your birthday, you didn't know, and it wasn't your fault." I placed my right hand against her face. "You couldn't have known. How could you?" I kissed the top of her head. "But it's done. It's over with. It happened and we can't change it." I drew back from her and lifted her face so that I could look at her, my fingers tracing over her cheek. The matte black of her eyes was slowly lightening back to red, but bright red or deep black, they were beautiful to me, and I felt myself being drawn into their liquid depths.

"I wouldn't change it if I could," I whispered to her, staring even more deeply into her eyes.

Her left hand slid up my forearm and she gently squeezed my wrist, then she placed her hand over mine.

"Thank you for helping me. I never want to cause you pain, Jasper," she said softly.

"It's okay, Bella. We're past it now." Once again, I was ensnared by her eyes, her touch, her scent, and I felt myself being pulled into to her; closer to her lips.

Her hand tightened on mine, as she shifted slightly in my lap, and I felt her thirst dissipate, to be replaced by want, but this time it wasn't the human she wanted.

"You helped me again. You stopped me from killing that man." She blinked slowly and licked her lips.

"I will always try to help you, in any way that I can." I couldn't tear my eyes away from her mouth.

"I ripped your shirt again," she whispered.

Her embarrassment trickled through, but it didn't replace her wanting me. Her want was quickly becoming need, and her desire began to grow. She bit her bottom lip, and I was mesmerized by her teeth sliding across her soft, full lip.

"I can get another t-shirt." I brought her hand to my mouth and kissed her fingers then my right hand slid slowly over her shoulder, down her back, over her side, and to her hip. I pulled her in even closer to me. I wanted to kiss her and feel her lips against mine. If I moved just one more inch would she let me kiss her?

Esme very lightly cleared her throat. "Jasper, did you happen to bring your phone?"

I had done it again. I had forgotten everything around me, completely consumed by Bella's touch and scent.

Bella and I looked over at her out of the corners of our eyes.

"Uh, no."

She was feeling a bit uncomfortable but also delighted and pleased. "I don't have mine either. I suppose if we wait out here for a while, someone will come and tell us when the man is gone." She smiled reassuringly at both of us. "Or, perhaps in a while I can go back to the house and see what's going on. Are you feeling better, Bella?"

Bella nodded and shoved her face back into my neck. "We really do have to leave here. I can't be here. I'm too dangerous." She was starting to get upset again. Her right hand clenched at my t-shirt against my chest, and her left hand moved up to my face and into my hair. Gripping a handful, she pulled and tugged at it. "If I can take down a 500 pound elk, a human would be nothing! Jasper! We have to leave as soon as possible!"

"Bella, shhhhhh." I stroked her hair. "It'll be okay. We'll leave on Thursday. I think that will be the best day."

"Why?"

I didn't want to upset her any further but she had to know. "I think the entire town will be preoccupied with your memorial service. It will be easier for us to leave then. We'll just slip away while everyone is looking the other way."

She pulled my head down and sobbed against my throat. "That's right — the memorial. I forgot about that." She sobbed again. "I don't want to leave, but I know I have to. I can't stay here."

I couldn't help noticing her lips were pressed against my throat, and I swallowed the venom that began to well up in my mouth. "It'll be okay, Bella. Remember, you won't be alone. I'll be with you. Rose and Emmett are coming, too. We'll all help you." As much as I enjoyed Bella's fingers tangled in my hair, I gently pulled them away and kissed them again. I pressed my lips to the top of her head and wished there was some way I could make it all easier for her. At least getting her out of Forks would remove some of the temptations she would be faced with, but who knew what we might run across along the road?

At the same time, we all heard the sound of feet treading rapidly over the forest floor. Someone was running toward us. All three of us were on our feet in an instant, Bella right behind me, pressed up against my back, her left hand on my left hip, her right hand clutching my right arm. Esme was back a bit and to my left, her stance and emotions alert but cautious.

"I think it's Rosalie," I said quietly to them.

The runner stopped before we could we could make out any sort of figure through the trees.

"It's just me," Rosalie called. "Is everything okay?"

"Yes, Rose. We're fine." She had made her steps loud enough so that we could hear her approach. I pulled on Bella's hand to bring her to my side. Esme stepped forward and stood next to me on my left.

Rosalie walked toward us slowly, watching all three of us. "Everyone looks fine. Are you okay, Bella?"

"Yes." She nodded and dropped her eyes to the ground. "I … I wanted that man so bad. I could have killed him."

Her guilt reared up again, and I hugged her to my side. "We stopped you, Bella. We all know how it is."

Rosalie came up to us and took Bella's hand. "We all do know how it is. We'll help you, you know?"

"Yes, I know. Thank you. I never knew before how hard it could be." She sobbed again and leaned into my chest.

I pulled her into a hug and rubbed her back. "Believe it or not, you'll get used to it. It's especially hard now while you're a newborn. In about six months to a year, it won't be quite so bad any more. The pull won't seem so strong. It never goes away, but it won't be as bad."

"But what if I slip, Jasper? What if I eat a human and decide I like it?" She looked up at me, her eyes bright with tears of venom.

I sighed as Rosalie placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. Esme placed her hand on the back of Bella's head and combed through her hair. "I won't lie to you, Bella. If you ever taste a human, you will like it. You will love it." I brought my hand to her face and lightly ran my fingertips down her cheek. "It is our natural food source, but it will always be your decision to make."

"But, Jasper …" She sobbed, trying to push further into my chest, her guilt and thirst warring with each other again.

With my finger under her chin, I tilted her face up. "Look at me." When her eyes finally opened, I sent her all the strength and sincerity I could. "During your newborn year, while you aren't able to control yourself, I will help you avoid them. As long as you want me to, I will do what I can to stop you from hurting any humans."

She blinked and nodded at me. Then I felt her embarrassment.

"What is it, Bella? Why are you embarrassed?"

"I … uh." She glanced toward Esme, up at me, and then down again.

"You can ask me anything. You know that."

She nodded and glanced up at me again. "Do you miss it?" she whispered. "Do you miss human blood?"

"Yes, I do. Some days more so than others," I answered her in all earnestness.

She studied my eyes for a moment and nodded her head slightly. I thought she might ask more questions, but she seemed satisfied for now. I imagined that would be a topic we would return to in the future.

I looked to Rosalie. "Is the man gone?"

She eased back a step, releasing Bella's hand, and the corners of her mouth lifted in a smile. "Yes. But right after he showed up, two more vans came with more flowers. I didn't know there were that many florists in Forks."

Bella sobbed and heartache and sadness welled up and around her. She turned back to me and leaned into my chest again, grasping at my torn t-shirt with both of her hands. "They're sympathy flowers, aren't they?" She grabbed a handful of my shirt and held it to her face, muffling her voice. "People are sending flowers to Edward, aren't they?"

"Yes," Rose answered sadly. "There are flowers for Edward and Alice."

"I wonder how many Charlie is getting?" She sobbed loudly, burying her face in my shirt.

Wrapping my arms tightly around her, I bent to kiss her head. I didn't say anything because there wasn't anything to be said.

Anger suddenly burned through her sorrow, taking me completely by surprise, and she jerked away from me, ripping my shirt right off me.

"That's bullshit!" she shouted as her hands clenched into fists. She seemed to finally notice she was holding my torn black t-shirt in her hand and blinked at it. "Oh shit, I ripped another one off you, and I liked the black. Goddammit!" She stomped away from us, leaving six-inch furrows in the ground, and kicked a tree before whirling around and stomping back toward me. "I didn't mean to rip your shirt off. Even though I already tore it, I didn't mean to rip it off you."

I picked off the few remaining pieces of the shirt and dropped them to the ground. "I know you didn't. I'll get some more." I reached for her, and she batted my hand away. "What's the matter, Bella?"

She held the pieces of my shirt to her chest with her right hand and waved her left through the air. "People wasting all that money on flowers because they think I'm dead!" She spun around again, startling Esme and Rosalie, and stomped toward another tree. She slapped her palm against it. "I know everybody thinks I'm dead, but they should stop wasting their money on flowers! They could make donations to the health center on the reservation or to the rez school. Or even to whatever benevolent fund there is at the Forks police department!" She kicked the tree. "I don't know what it is, but there must be one."

Esme stepped hesitantly toward her. "That's a wonderful idea, Bella. We should …"

Bella spun around, clutching my shirt to her chest. "Edward should call the paper and tell them." She broke into a run so fast she was just a blur.

Rosalie, Esme, and I sprinted after her.

"She probably shouldn't get too close to Edward just yet," Rosalie said from my right. "He was pretty upset after he read a few of the cards that came with the flowers."

A low growl started in my chest at the mention of Edward. I didn't want Bella anywhere near him by herself.

With alarm, I realized she was going to reach the house before I could catch her. I pushed myself harder, but I knew I wasn't going to be able to stop her.

As I neared the house, I saw that one of the sliding glass doors had been torn from its track. Shattered glass and pieces of the splintered frame were strewn across the patio and into the yard.

I heard Bella's angry growls inside and my still-heart clenched. I leaped the last fifty feet and landed just inside the doorway, skidding to a stop in front of Bella. She was to the right, standing rigidly in front of the TV, growling loudly, her fists at her sides. She had dropped the shredded pieces of my t-shirt to the floor.

Before I could ask her what was wrong, a hand seized my left wrist, and I was thrown across the living room, slamming into Edward's bouquet-covered piano at the front of the room. The discordant sound it made as I crashed through it grated through my ears and rang through my head.

Snarling, I burst out of the shattered remains of the broken vases and twanging piano wires. Pieces of glazed ceramic, glittering shards of crystal, flower petals, and greenery exploded outward in every direction.

Carlisle appeared in front of me, his hands outstretched. "Jasper! Stop!"

He was between me and Bella!

I grabbed his upper arms and shoved him away from me, sending him careening up toward Emmett, who was running down the stairs. Carlisle broke through the curved banister, crashing into Emmett, and they both plowed through the gleaming wooden treads just below the second floor landing like a wrecking ball, destroying the upper third of the curved staircase.

My eyes snapped back toward Bella. She had Edward embedded a few inches in the west wall directly opposite the TV. She had plowed through the furniture, tossing the overstuffed chairs aside, to get to him. Her left hand was around his throat just under his jaw, and she held him so his eyes were level with hers. Because he was nearly a head taller than her his legs were spread and bent at the knees. Bella's right hand held his left to the wall, even with his head. She was snarling in his face.

I roared and leapt at them, aiming for Edward.

Esme and Rosalie darted across the patio and in through the gaping doorway. "No, Jasper!" Esme cried.

I was so close I could almost feel my hands finally ripping Edward's head from his shoulders, when I hit … something. I was deflected to the left, toward the center of the room. My hip caught the corner of one of the overturned chairs, and I flipped over it, landing on my feet in front of the doorway to the kitchen. As I spun around, I first saw Rosalie, then Esme reaching toward Bella and Edward. It was as if their hands struck an invisible wall about two feet away from Bella. Their bodies immediately followed, crumpling against that … something … and they rebounded — Esme flying back and landing on the coffee table, smashing it to the floor. Rosalie bounced back onto the couch, causing it to slide into the floor-to-ceiling windows next to the missing sliding glass door.

What. The. Fuck?

I leapt toward Bella again, landing just behind her, and reached forward. There was something there. I couldn't see it or smell it, but it was hard and unyielding — smooth like glass. Whatever it was, it prevented me from getting to her, and my rage fanned out and around me.

Bella was still growling, and Edward looked absolutely terrified. I suddenly realized I couldn't feel emotions from either of them. I went to fling my arms around Bella and was stopped by that hard, invisible bubble. Then I realized I could just make out a slight distortion in the air around them both.

"It's a shield," Carlisle said in awe from my right. I hadn't even noticed that he and Emmett had worked their way out of the debris of the upper part of the stairs. They were covered in drywall dust and splinters. They were about ten feet away from me, Bella, and Edward. "She has a physical shield."

"No fuckin' way," Emmett said incredulously.

"Yes," Carlisle continued. "I can see a minute ripple in the air around them. If I hadn't been looking for it, I wouldn't have seen it."

Edward's eyes flicked toward Carlisle, then to me. I bared my teeth at him and lunged. He cringed, squeezing his eyes shut, but Bella held his throat so tightly he couldn't move.

I thudded against the shield and snarled. I slapped my hands against it. "Isabella!" I couldn't reach her, couldn't touch her, and I roared out my rage and frustration. I shifted to the right so I was beside both of them. I needed to be able to reach her.

Though she remained facing toward Edward, her glittering black eyes turned to me.

"Isabella! Are you doing this?" I growled, becoming angry with her for blocking me.

Just the very corner of the right side of her mouth twitched upward, and she whispered, "Shields up, go to red alert."

I gaped at her in shock, my mouth dropping open. I wouldn't have thought it was possible for Edward's eyes to grow any wider in fright, but, impossibly, they did.

The alarm, dread and fear pulsing from everyone in the room was nearly overtaking me, and I fought against it.

"Isabella! Put it down!"

"No." She looked back toward Edward. "Edward and I need to have a little talk." Her hand squeezed his throat more tightly and cracks appeared in his skin.

I slammed my fists down against her shield in utter dismay. "Bella!"

"Don't hurt him!" Alice wailed from behind me.

Oh shit.

I spun to face her and saw her jumping from the landing above.

Carlisle reached desperately for her, catching her in his arms, and shouting, "No, Alice!"

I snapped back to Bella. Her eyes narrowed, her lips curled back away from her teeth, and she snarled. She shoved Edward a little deeper into the wall, let go of his left arm, and started to turn. "That female," she hissed.

"Alice, run outside! Get out of Bella's sight!" Carlisle dropped her, and Alice, eyes ringed in white with her sudden terror, bolted to the front door behind them. She threw it open, tearing it from its hinges, and disappeared through it.

As soon as Alice was gone, Bella inhaled deeply and turned back to Edward.

I knew I needed to calm down. I couldn't feel her emotions, but I didn't know if she could feel mine. I also took a deep breath and blew it out. I could see that she was unhurt, but I felt the overwhelming need to touch her. I hoped I could convince her to put the shield down. "Bella, please put down the shield," I pleaded.

Her eyes, still black, glanced to me and back to Edward. "I said no. Like I also said, Edward and I need to have a little talk."

Then, what she did next stunned everyone, shocking us all into total stillness. She held up the index finger and thumb of her right hand and curled her remaining three fingers against her palm. She slowly brought her hand up and touched the tip of her index finger against Edward's left temple like a pistol. She jerked her head up, raising her eyebrows, and glanced to the left toward Esme and Rosalie. Then she turned slightly to look out the corner of her eye at me, Carlisle and Emmett.

"Now," she began. "All of you need to calm down or I shoot the hostage."

Chapter Text

A song: "Killing Everyone" by Billy Burke, Removed album

I could have killed everyone around me

But I'd hate to ruin anybody's fun


Chapter 25, I See

Jasper's POV

I, like everyone else, was stunned into complete and total motionlessness. We were all frozen in place. No one breathed, except Bella. Esme and Rosalie were beyond her and Edward, standing in front of the hole where the sliding glass door used to be, their eyes wide and filled with fear. Carlisle and Emmett stood behind me. I didn't hear a sound from either of them.

I did not even feel any emotions from anyone, and that had never happened before.

We all stood that way for several long moments. Outside, the light breeze whispered through the trees. There were chirps and whistling calls from birds and a chattering bark from a nearby squirrel. Insects clicked and buzzed softly. In the distance, I heard the hum of cars driving by on the highway, and I could even pick up the gurgling and lapping of the river. But inside, the only sounds were the ticking of a clock and Bella's harsh breaths.

Agonizingly slowly, my mind began to recover from the shock. Skittish, incomplete thoughts made their tentative way back through my mind, and I reached hesitantly toward Bella, placing my hands on her physical shield — my left near her and my right over Edward.

Bella's eyes were still a glittering black as she stared fixedly at Edward. Her heaving breaths began to slow, and she blinked several times.

I was befuddled, to put it mildly, and didn't have any fucking idea what to do. Perhaps Bella would give me a clue. "Bella," I began softly. "What are you doing?"

She blinked again. "I am trying not to rip Edward's head off while I gather my thoughts."

"Oh." I nodded. Well, we couldn't fault her for her blunt honesty. "Is that what you meant by 'shoot the hostage'?"

"Yes."

"Are you going to put your shield down?"

"No."

"I see." Instantly, my desires were torn. I wanted to destroy Edward, and I didn't even care what he had done. I required the opportunity to feel my hands on him and crush him out of existence.

My other requirement was to touch Bella, gather her into my arms and soothe and comfort her — calm her raging emotions. Needless to say — get her the hell away from him.

It didn't appear as though I would have the chance at either of those options at the moment. I also needed to calm myself down and think as clearly as I could, despite Bella's somewhat out-of-character behavior. I needed to find out what he had done.

Evidently, Edward had done something to piss her off in the few seconds she had been in the living room before I arrived. Even without knowing what it was, I was absolutely certain he deserved to have his head removed. Experiencing that sort of pain and mental chaos would, hopefully, help him remember to stay away from Bella. We could always reattach it later — if Bella didn't damage it too badly or burn it.

Regretting the loss of my Zippo lighter in the river, I sorely missed it and would have to get another as soon as possible. In the meantime, I quickly cataloged where matches and lighters were kept in the living room and kitchen. I believed I would be able to stop Bella if she went in search of them. Though, maybe once I found out what he had done, I'd go grab some for her.

If she moved to tear his head from his shoulders, he might try to defend himself, and she could be hurt. As I studied them both, it didn't appear as if he had tried to fight her off yet, and in their current position, it would be easy for her to behead him. But I wanted to be the one to rip his head from his shoulders. It didn't look like I'd get my chance since Bella had Edward encased within her shield.

I sighed inwardly. Because I couldn't get at him myself, I did need to find out what he had done. I appeased myself with the promise that I could always shred him later — unless Bella did it first. Cooler, thinking heads needed to prevail, so I closed my eyes, inhaled a deep breath, and slowly let it back out.

Bella appeared to be marginally less angry. Perhaps she would listen to me. "Darlin', if you rip his head off, he won't be able to fully comprehend anything you have to say. It is very painful, and thoughts tend to be very … disjointed and chaotic."

"I kinda thought that might be how it is." She blinked again and glanced over at me, a puzzled look on her face. "How do you know?"

"Though there are scars on top of scars, and they've blended together, some of the scars around my neck are from when my head was torn off." I reached up and pointed at my neck to show her before putting my hands back on her shield.

"Oh!" she whimpered and started to turn toward me, taking her gun hand from Edward's temple.

I held my hands up, silently urging her to not move too much. I didn't know if Edward might see that as an opportunity to try to break her hold or subdue her. I would have.

"It's okay, Bella. It was a long time ago, and it only ever happened once."

Suddenly, I felt everyone's emotions again. Varying degrees of shock, fear, concern, dread, and even anticipation circled around me, and I couldn't tell where they originated from. Not that it really mattered. Pushing back against them, I concentrated on Bella.

"But who would do that to you? How could somebody do that to you?" Her face reflected her dismay and concern.

Keeping my hands up, I pointed at Edward. "If you're not going to put your shield down so I can help you, you need to watch him." I honestly didn't think she had to worry about him, but she needed to learn. You didn't ever take your eyes off the enemy. The look of terror on his face informed me he wasn't thinking about defending himself or retaliating against her. He'd had several opportunities to strike if he wanted to, and he had let them all pass.

"Oh, yeah." She looked back at Edward, her eyes still black, and moved her gun hand back to his temple. "But who did that to you?"

"Maria. I was still a newborn and didn't do what I was told quickly enough. I learned — after that." I looked pointedly at Edward. His black, fear-filled eyes glanced in my direction and back to Bella.

"I'm so sorry that happened to you, Jasper."

"So am I." I continued to stare at Edward. "Are you going to put down your shield?"

"No." She scowled at Edward.

That was the answer I expected, but I was becoming a little frustrated. Sighing heavily, I spoke gently and evenly. "Then tell me what happened, please. Start after the part where you pulverized the sliding glass door."

She ducked her head and looked up at me. "I'm sorry about that. I didn't mean to do it." She glanced over at Esme to her left. "I'm sorry, Esme. I'll clean it up."

Esme, standing next to the statue-like Rosalie, blinked away the look of shock on her face and gave Bella a slight nod.

"Bella, what happened?" I put my hands back on her shield, ready for the instant it came down.

She turned back to Edward, and her eyes narrowed. "Well, after I pulverized the door … I was over by the TV. Edward was at the piano, looking at the flowers or whatever. I guess he decided to change his tactics. Instead of trying to tell me what to do, I suppose he thought he'd try the ol' guilt and sympathy routine." She snorted and frowned at him again. "He ran over to me and said he still loved me, he missed me, and couldn't live without me." She rolled her eyes and gestured with her gun hand, drawing a wide arc in the air, before she pointed it at his head again. "Plans A and B didn't work. Got your Plan C ready, Edward? Another trip to Italy?" She raised an eyebrow and cocked her head.

The sharp intakes of breath came from all around me. I believe I even heard Alice's shocked gasp from outside.

"Then he said that he'd been planning to ask me to marry him." The muscles in Bella's jaw tightened, and she spoke through clenched teeth. "He was going to propose to me Saturday night, while I was conveniently being held hostage here, of course." She pushed him a little further into the wall. "Or do you mean 'dazzle and manipulate' me some more?"

I couldn't stop the growl from forming and vibrating through my chest, but I contained my anger. I slid my right hand over the barely perceptible shimmer of Bella's shield, moving it closer to Edward, itching to get my hands on him and crush his throat. Remove a few limbs. Snap him in half. The thought passed through my mind that maybe I should go dig out a pack of matches — have them handy in case they were needed.

Bella quickly glanced at me and back to Edward. "If he had ever listened to anything I ever said, he would have known how I felt about that." Her hands began to tremble. "But I'm sure he was only going to do it for my own good and protect me." She sneered, her lips curling away from her teeth. "Now we need to talk." She pushed him another quarter inch into the wall.

I could see that she was becoming angrier by the moment. "Bella, he won't be able to speak …"

"He's done enough talking," she said, snarling and interrupting me. "I don't need to hear anything else he has to say. He's like a broken record — 'I love you,' 'I could kill you,' 'I only want to keep you safe,' 'I could kill you'." Her hand tightened on his throat, causing more cracks to appear and spread jaggedly around his neck. "It was all for my own good. Or was it for the protection of my precious blood, Edward? You never wanted to change me, and I finally figured out why. Sorry it took me so damn long. You know, that poor, slow human brain and all." She poked at her own temple with her gun hand and placed it back against Edward's head.

"If I became a vampire, there'd be no more of my blood. Pretty fuckin' simple. I should have figured that out sooner. God, I'm an asshole. No more blood and you wouldn't be able to tease and test yourself any longer. Test your strength — test your resolve and willpower. You just wanted to see if you could challenge yourself — win over your baser, evil, carnal instincts. And if you couldn't, who was the real loser? Me! I'd be dead!" Then she broke into a sing-song voice and said, "And you could go about your merry way. After another century or so, when you got bored again, you could find yourself another stupid little human to challenge yourself with." She sneered at him. "You are a monster."

Bella shuddered, and her voice became a guttural growl. "Yup, I sure do remember your little suicide trip to Italy. How stupid, how selfish, how completely self-centered and ego-centric that was. You never thought how that would affect the rest of your coven, did you? No, because the fucking universe revolves around fucking Edward, and how he feels, and what he thinks, and what he wants. Screw everybody else."

She snapped her mouth closed, shut her eyes, and bowed her head to the floor. "And I was stupid enough to fall for the biggest manipulation of all," she whispered.

Her breaths came faster, her nostrils flared, and her whole body shook. She slowly raised her head. "You never wanted me for who I was. I was just another puzzle for you — like a code to crack. You were only fascinated by a mind you couldn't read and the smell of my blood. No matter how many questions you asked me, Edward, you never knew me!"

I could not believe Bella's control over herself. I — everyone — could clearly see how she was struggling, battling to control her rage and heartache. I would not have had the strength or the will. The admiration and awe I felt for her — the total veneration — flowed through every part of me and filled me with a warmth I had never experienced before. From it grew adoration. I utterly and completely adored her. I had no words to express how that beautiful little newborn affected me. I would worship that woman for the rest of my days.

She fucking owns me.

Loathing for Edward began to boil and bubble up like lava from my very center. As soon as I could get to him, I would end him for causing such torment to my Bella.

I shoved that desire aside for the time being, wishing I could send Bella some part of the miserably inadequate strength I had, send to her the adoration I felt for her.

She snapped her eyes closed and took in a deep breath. She let it out with a long, breathy "Ahhhhhhh." She moved her head in a circle, flexing her neck in a very human-like gesture, and her eyes gradually opened. "I was stupid for listening to you. I was stupid for falling for you. I was a goddamn immature moron. I was a fucking idiot for letting you dazzle me whenever you wanted to have your way. But that's just another advantage vampires have over humans, isn't it? Dazzling them. There wasn't anything I could have done to fight it, was there?" Her right hand flashed to his throat, and she started pushing him down through the drywall, crushing and turning it to dust.

"Or did you know?" Bella glanced at me before returning her fiery gaze back to Edward. Her voice became just a wisp of air from her lips. I didn't think anyone but Edward and I could hear her. "Somehow, did you know? Did you use your fucking vampy voodoo so that I wouldn't see him?" Her eyes narrowed to mere slits, and she bared her teeth at him.

I was floored. Was that even possible? Could he have done that? My eyes shot to Edward's, and, once again, all I could read from his glassy, black stare was terror. Unfortunately, that did not answer my question.

Then the rest of what she had said struck me like a bolt of lightning. Had he dazzled her so she wouldn't see me? No. No, he couldn't have. I would have felt his deceit. I would have felt the treachery from him. He wouldn't have been able to mask it all the time. As much as I would have relished blaming him for keeping me from my mate, I knew that Edward was too immature, too much an adolescent, and too besotted with Bella in order to be able to do that. With everything that had gone on over the last fourteen months, he wouldn't have been able to guard his thoughts and emotions at all times. I would have caught it. I was sure I would have.

I felt my eyes close to mere slits and my own lips peel away from my teeth in a snarl. My right hand skittered over Bella's shield to stop right above Edward's head. I would be asking him about that later, right before I killed him — if he survived Bella.

She hissed then pulled in a rasping breath. "You said you missed me, but I'm still fucking here!" she shrieked, shaking him. She snapped her teeth together, stared up at the ceiling for a moment, and then brought her face down to glare at him again. "The blood is gone," she whispered. "That's what you miss. You never wanted me to be your partner, your mate. I was just another intellectual challenge for you. Something interesting for the poor, bored little vampire to pass the time during his long, long life. At the same time, I just so happened to smell really good, too." She shook him again, causing more drywall dust to puff out and float to the floor. "Probably would have tasted really good, too. But I guess you'd have to ask Jasper about that."

At the scathing reminder that I had bitten her, Edward's eyes squeezed shut as if he had been slapped. Hearing Emmett's snort behind me, I expected a jeering "Oooo, burn" out of him, but he remained silent. Even I was amazed and impressed by Bella's cutting taunt. There was a delicious wicked streak a mile wide running through my Darlin', and I loved that shit. I smirked at Edward.

She stopped pushing him down the wall to adjust her grip on his neck. "Or maybe you were the stupid one, thinking your fascination with my blood was love. You never learned how to really love someone. You were a child when you were changed, and you're still a child. Maybe you think the way to protect and love someone is to control everything they do — lock them in a cage up on an unreachable pedestal? Make them into the perfect little being you think they should be? And you were so much stronger than me. How could I ever hope to fight back? That's not how you love someone." She continued forcing him down until he was seated on the floor, staring up at her, pleading with his eyes. She dropped to one knee in front of him. "I was a fucking fool. But my eyes have been opened."

Then she bowed her head and squeezed her eyes shut. "I think I can do it. I think I can show you …" she murmured. She opened her eyes, and looked up at him, the corners of her eyes tightening and a slight smile forming on her lips. "You wanna meet the real me now?"

She snatched her hands from his neck and clamped them on either side of his face, her fingertips digging into his skin. He sucked in a ragged breath, finally able to breathe again. His eyes widened further in shock as they snapped to me. A look of anguish and sorrow flashed across his features.

"Look at me, Edward." Bella shook his head again, forcing his eyes back to her.

Some unknown measure of time passed as they stared into each other's eyes. It could have been thirty seconds or thirty minutes — I didn't know. It was as if everything in the room was caught in some sort of suspended animation. No one breathed. No one moved. We all stood transfixed, watching Bella and Edward in that eerie, silent exchange.

Whatever it was she was doing to him, I sincerely hoped it was agonizing.

After what seemed an eternity, Bella inhaled a small breath.

"Do you see?" She began to rise, drawing Edward up with her and adjusting her grip on his neck again. "Do. You. See?" she asked him again in a low, menacing voice.

He nodded and squeezed his eyes shut. "Yes," he croaked. "I … I see."

She stood and flung him to the floor. Powdery white drywall dust puffed up around him as she stood over him, her chest heaving with her breaths, her fists trembling at her sides.

She unclenched her hands and looked down at Edward quivering and shaking at her feet. He was breathing in short, quick gasps. "Grow the fuck up, but do it away from me," she hissed at him.

Her shield disappeared from beneath my hands, and a solid wall of overwhelming heartache, sorrow, grief, remorse, shock, and terror from Edward slammed into me. I staggered back under the assault and dropped to the floor, groaning, my hands flashing to my head.

Bella was instantly on her knees next to me, trembling hands grasping either side of my face. Edward's explosion of emotion abruptly stopped, and I gasped in shock at the release from the crushing weight of it.

"Jasper! What happened? Oh God, did I hurt you?"

I was off the floor, my arms clutching Bella to my chest, my face buried in her neck. I was still bewildered by everything that had just happened, but I had Bella back in my arms, and feelings of relief, gratefulness, and peace flooded me with her touch. Closing my eyes, I inhaled her comforting scent, drawing my nose up to her ear. "You didn't hurt me."

Her arms tightened around me, her right hand in my hair at the back of my head. "Oh, Jasper!" she cried and started kissing the side of my face. "I'm so glad you're okay!" Her arms gripped me even more forcefully.

"Uh, that's a little tight, Bella." I wheezed as she squeezed the air out of me.

"I'm sorry!" She started to pull away.

"No, no. You're perfect right where you are." I drew her back to me and tucked her head into my neck. "You are not stupid, Bella. You are not a fool or an idiot. You were taken advantage of. You were used. You couldn't have fought against him." She whimpered against my neck. "Bella, that was not your fault. In many ways, we are superior to humans. They aren't able to fight against us. I should have seen it. If I had thought about it, I would have." I bent my head and pressed my lips to her ear, whispering, "I felt your love for him, and he seemed to reciprocate. I can't blame him for thinking he loved you." I stroked her hair and held her more tightly to me, my body curving over her. I sent her my respect and adoration. I wove it around both of us, encircling us with a warm, soft, reassuring cocoon.

Bella gasped and breathed out in a rush. "Oh, Jasper, I feel that." She pressed her face into my neck. "It feels so good!" Her hands spread over my back. "I was holding so much of that in for so long. But I should have known …"

"Shhhhh, Bella. I think you were getting there. I had been feeling your frustration and desperation for weeks. I was expecting you to blow up. I just never expected this." I nuzzled against her ear and whispered, "I need to kill him."

"No." Her eyelashes fluttered against my cheek. "No, don't kill him. Death is too easy, too quick. I want him to remember." She pulled her head back a bit and looked up at me, her eyes cold and hard. "He needs to remember for a very long time."

Confounded by her again, I felt my left eyebrow creep up, and I slowly grinned at her. She was right. If, as Edward believed, death was the absolute end of his existence, it would end his suffering too quickly. I didn't know what she had done to him, but whatever it was it looked like it had been horrendous. I had thought my admiration of her had already reached its pinnacle. I had thought wrong. "You are a wicked, wicked demon. I won't kill him."

She smiled up at me, and I stroked her hair again and placed a kiss on her forehead. I glanced around the room. No one else had moved, and Edward still lay trembling on the floor. I could not feel their emotions, but everyone else still looked shell-shocked to me. Then I realized that everything had a slight blurred look. I ran my left hand down Bella's back and pulled her into me more firmly. I bent my head down to kiss her temple, and ran the fingers of my right hand through her hair. "Bella, I can't feel anyone's emotions. Is your shield up?"

"Yes. They're around me, you, and Edward," she whispered into my neck.

"They? There's more than one?" I heard Carlisle gasp and turned to look at him. He looked astonished and was studying Bella.

"Yes. I can see and feel them. It's like the layers of an onion, I think? There's the little one that's around my mind. I can't really see that one, but I can feel it. I think that one has always been there. I guess that's why Edward and Aro couldn't hear me and why Jane couldn't attack me." She looked up at me. "I finally realized I've had a layer around you. I can feel that one. It's around you and me, and there's another layer around us that's stretched out over Edward."

That was unquestionably incredible, but I had enough information about it for now. I was immensely curious about what she had done to Edward. I pressed my lips to her forehead, noticing that her eyes had returned to red. I kissed her between her brows and lightly traced the fingers of my left hand down her cheek. "What did you do to him?" It's not that I cared that she hurt him somehow. In fact, I hoped it hurt like fucking hell. But I did wonder if she could use it as some sort of defensive or offensive weapon, like the Volturi's Jane.

"Vulcan Mind Meld."

As I gaped in stunned surprise at Bella again, Emmett snorted. A grin spread across his face, and his booming laugh rang out around the room.

"Oh my God, Bella!" he wheezed out. Hand rising to cover his face, he shook his head. "You are one scary little demon from Hell. Remind me never to piss you off!" He gasped in a breath. "You. Are. Killin' me over here!" He actually slapped his knee. "You destroyed the living room. You made a gun out of your hand. You're quoting movies and TV shows. You even made Edward shut his fuckin' mouth, and now you're cracking more jokes!" Emmett wiped away imaginary tears and kept on guffawing. "You are just killin' me!"

Bella grinned up at him. "Well, nobody puts Baby in a corner."

Emmett practically squealed with delight at that. "Yeah! Edward threw Jazz on the piano in the corner and …"

"Right! I didn't break the piano, trash the flowers, wreck the stairs, or pull the front door off the hinges!"

Abruptly, the far-reaching implications concerning the evident strength of Bella's shield sent a frigid spasm of fear through my heart. She was just the type of gifted vampire the Volturi were always seeking and encouraging to join their guard. Simultaneously, icy dread and fiery possessiveness overtook me.

No! No one would take her from me!

"Enough!" I roared loud enough to rattle the remaining windows. "Isabella!" I grabbed her upper arms and forced her to look at me. "Do neither of you understand the ramifications of this?" I glared at both of them. "You …" I said, capturing Bella's eyes with mine. "You reduced Edward to a groveling, sniveling heap. You could have a potentially dangerous and powerful weapon in your head, and you and the dumbass over there are making jokes!"

Bella's eyes widened before she dropped her head to her chest. She looked up at me contritely and blinked. "I'm sorry, Jasper. Emmett started laughing and …"

"Stop, please," I said softly, feeling like a complete ass for losing control of myself and yelling at her. "You don't need to apologize for that. I do. I'm sorry I yelled at you." Touching my forehead to hers, I released my anger and fear with a sigh. "Darlin', I didn't explain myself, but you are still drivin' me clean outta my mind."

Looking heavenward, I called up my gratefulness for her presence in my life. I hugged her to me relishing the feel of her body against mine, despite the fact she was driving me insane with her wildly swinging moods. Like Emmett said, she was about the scariest little demon I'd ever met, and she certainly had gotten in touch with her inner hellcat.

"Settle down for a minute." Dropping my nose to her hair, I breathed in her beguiling scent to settle myself down. I needed to feel her against me. I needed the reassurance it gave me, and when her hands slid down my back and her arms tightened around my waist, I knew she had forgiven me for yelling and needed to feel me, too.

"Okay," I began. "Let's start over. What did you do to Edward?"

She glanced over at Edward, and her eyes narrowed again. "I let him read my mind. I gave him a sort of 'highlight reel' from when I first met him. Little parts of memories keep coming back to me, and he always asked me what I was thinking. Now he knows."

That was fucking brilliant. He had always wanted to be able to read her mind and what better punishment could there be than to let him? What better justice could be served than for him to wallow endlessly in the wretchedness and hell of his own mind? I had known how Bella had felt. Now he knew what she had been thinking as she experienced all the pain and desolation, the worry, heartache, and the rejection he had inflicted on her, time and time again.

Carlisle stepped closer to us. "Bella," he said quietly, "so you're not causing him physical pain?"

Her eyes snapped to Carlisle. "No! The only physical pain I caused him was when I had hold of his throat. Any pain he feels now is from his own doing — unless he pisses me off again."

I glared at Carlisle, and a low growl rattled in my chest. He knew better than to try and interfere with someone's mate. Of course, Carlisle would be concerned about Edward and any discomfort he might be feeling, but what about the misery and heartbreak his first son had caused Bella? The anguish and worry he had put Esme and Alice through? I set those thoughts aside for the moment and looked to Bella. "How did you do that? How did you let him read your mind?"

"Um, I pushed the shield around my brain out toward him. That one seems to be very tough and it was really hard. The others are easier to push out." A puzzled look grew over her face. "Well, now they are. I can't figure out how to explain it. They're like bubbles around me. Or, they're part of the first shield, but I can push out a layer of it. Maybe? When I ran into the living room, all of a sudden I could see and feel it around me."

That was incredible, mind-blowing, and unbelievable. I ran out of fucking words again. I stared at her for a moment in awe and wonder. I had to force myself to get my shit together and think coherently. "Why isn't he getting up?"

"I'm holding him down."

Carlisle gasped behind me. "Bella, that is astonishing. Even Aro's personal shield Renata isn't able to do that. She can only deflect people from attacking him, and she has to be touching him in order to do it!"

Hearing that, my earlier dread and terror wrapped around my heart. Aro, the leader of the Volturi, searched out and collected vampires with gifts. The more powerful the ability — the better. He surrounded himself and his brothers with the most gifted vampires they could find. That, added to their already formidable strength, kept them in power.

If Bella was that strong and had that much control at only one-day old …

I shuddered at what that could possibly mean for her — for all of us. Fighting against the fear gripping my heart, I shoved it away. I couldn't allow it to stop me from thinking this through. At all costs, we had to protect Bella and keep knowledge of the extent of her gift from reaching the Volturi.

I looked at each person in turn, capturing their eyes. "Listen to me. Information about Bella's shield must never go beyond this family — or coven. Others already know that Edward and Aro can't read her mind. We have to keep it at that." I looked at each of them again. "Do you all understand what I am saying?" Despite their nods, I decided to expound on my warning. "You all already know Aro covets Edward and Alice for their gifts. If he learns Bella's shield is so much stronger than simply keeping him from reading her mind, he will be after her. He will go through all of us to get to her."

I suddenly felt Bella's fear as she trembled in my arms. "No, Jasper!"

My hand curved around her head, and I pressed her into my chest. "Shhhh, Bella. I will protect you. I will do anything I have to, anything that is in my power to protect you." I kissed the top of her head and looked out from the corner of my eye to Carlisle's grave face. "You realize that out of your coven of eight, half of us are gifted."

He nodded at me.

"You also know the Volturi were not especially happy at the size of your coven when there were just seven of us. Now there are eight, and the eighth appears to have a strong gift."

Carlisle closed his eyes and nodded sharply again.

"What's wrong with there being eight of us? What difference does that make?" Bella asked plaintively.

Carlisle took a small step closer to us. "As far as I am aware, Bella, our coven is the largest outside of the Volturi themselves. The next are our very close friends in Alaska. They are known as the Denalis. There are five of them and they have two gifted members. One is Eleazer who can sense the gifts of other vampires. The other is Kate who can shock others when she touches them."

"Denalis?" Bella looked up at me. "Did you talk about them before?"

I stroked her hair. "Yes, we have mentioned them. You don't remember that?"

"No, I don't."

"That's okay." I hugged her to me. "I don't think I ever want Eleazer to get a look at you. He once worked for the Volturi." I turned to look through the front doorway. "Alice?" I called to her, knowing she was just outside.

"Yes?" she answered, but didn't come inside.

"You heard everything we just said?"

"Yes. I understand completely, Jasper. I certainly don't want the Volturi to come here looking to add any of us to their collection."

My eyes dropped to Edward. He remained silent but nodded his head. If it were possible to do so without jeopardizing Bella, I would give him up to the Volturi in a New York minute.

Emmett stepped forward, brushing wood splinters and spackle dust from his clothes, an unfamiliar somber look on his face. "Even more reason for us to split up for a while. You know the Volturi have been waiting to hear about Bella's change."

"Then everyone understands what I'm saying?" I looked around at everyone again, seeing their nods. As if they had a choice. "You're right, Emmett. If they should happen to send someone over here to have a look, it would be better for us to be split up. One coven with eight members would draw too much attention. Two covens with four members wouldn't be quite so unusual." I gave Bella a small smile. "Good thing I've already planned to take you away." I looked at Carlisle. "They are aware that we have lived separately at times?"

"Yes. I have occasionally written to Aro and mentioned it so it would not be an unusual thing for us to do."

"But why is eight too many?" Bella asked again. "Jasper! How is that too many?" Her eyes were worried as she looked at me.

"Darlin', most vampires travel alone or in pairs. Sometimes three, maybe four, might band together for a while. The fact that there are so many of us here, and we have all lived together for so long, is unheard of. That alone draws attention to us. We don't need any more." My grip tightened around Bella. "Darlin', you appear to have a powerful gift, and we'll have to work on it, but we'll have to keep it to ourselves."

"I can understand that," Bella said into my chest. "I'm mad at Edward, but I don't want the Volturi to take him. We're still leaving on Thursday?"

I nodded.

"That would be the best time to go. You're right; everyone around here will be distracted. Edward and Alice need to go ahead with their graduation. I think they should attend my memorial service, too, to keep up appearances and all that crap."

"Yes, Darlin', I agree completely." I smiled at her. She was truly a wonder. "Alice? Edward? You can handle that, right?" Along with keeping up appearances, attending Bella's memorial would be further punishment for Edward.

Edward nodded from his position on the floor. Alice peeked around the frame of the door. "Yes, Jasper."

"Good," Bella said as she gave a quick nod. "Now Edward can start cleaning this up. Then he can call the paper and have them print a notice that flowers are appreciated and thoughtful, but in lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Quileute Reservation clinic or their school. Got that, Edward?" She looked down at him sternly.

He tensed and then collapsed, closing his eyes and nodding his head weakly.

"Bella, did you do something to him?" I placed a finger under her chin and turned her head toward me.

"I pulled my shield off him. He can get up now if he wants." She smiled slightly. "He can probably hear everyone's thoughts again. Except ours."

And that reminded me … "Darlin', before he gets up, there's a question or two, I have for him."

She looked at me curiously, as did everyone else.

My eyes slid to Edward as I asked her, "Darlin', can you let me feel his emotions while I ask him my questions?"

Edward's eyes flew open, and he was up from the floor in a flash, aiming for the hole that used to be the back sliding door.

Bella growled and started toward him. He slammed into an invisible wall, bounced back, and appeared to be caught. He stood, trembling, staring at us, his eyes a dull black.

Esme and Rosalie gasped in shock again. Rosalie took a tentative step toward Edward and slowly reached out with her hand. Just a few inches from Edward's shoulder, her hand came to a stop, and she patted at the air.

"That is just … it's just unbelievable. Bella, your shield feels like glass. Sort of." Rosalie blinked as she looked at Bella, and turned her gaze back to Edward. "I can even kind of see where it is. There's a bit of a blur — like he's out of focus."

Emmett muttered behind us, "Fuckin' scariest little demon. Ever."

Bella ignored Emmett and asked, "Can you feel him, Jasper?"

"No, Darlin'."

"Wait a sec." She backed out of my arms and faced Edward. She closed her eyes and held her hands stiffly at her sides. "How 'bout now? I think I made it thinner."

Once again, his fear slammed into me and I gasped. "Yes. Hold on …" I placed my hand on Bella's shoulder to steady myself. Clenching my teeth, I pushed back against the acrid feel and taste of his fright and dread.

Pulling in a breath, I recalled the feelings of drowsiness and lethargy, and sent them to Edward. Enough to calm him down, but not enough to drop him. He visibly relaxed, and the lids of his eyes drooped.

"I got it. Whatever you're doin', Darlin', keep doin' it. I can feel him, and he can feel me." I gave her shoulder a slight squeeze as the corner of my mouth crept up into a grin.

"What are you going to do to him, Jasper?" Esme asked in a quiet voice.

I could see and feel her worry and anxiety. I knew she loved him and didn't want him hurt anymore, but I needed to know. "I'm going to ask him if he knew Bella was my mate."

Esme's eyes flew open, and I heard Carlisle come up behind me.

"Don't, please, Jasper," Carlisle pleaded.

He couldn't touch me because of Bella's shield. I looked back at him over my shoulder. "Are you afraid he knew she was my mate and kept her from me? You know the penalty for interfering with someone's mate."

"Yes. Yes, I do know. Jasper, he's made mistakes …"

"Yeah, just a couple little faux pas. Coulda happened to anyone," Bella interjected, and I could feel her anger begin to simmer. "What's the penalty?"

"Darlin', calm down. Typically, the penalty is death by dismemberment and fire, depending on the severity of the infraction, of course, but I think your idea is a good one."

Rolling her eyes, she huffed. "Seems the vampy answer to anything and everything is parts removal and/or flames." Frowning, she brought her finger to her chin. "There's no grey area; it's all rather black and white. But what else is there? You can't give them a time out, spank them, take their favorite toy, or put them in jail." She stared off into space with a look of deep concentration over her face. "Being nearly indestructible, what could you do to them? But removing a part would be like a time out, and it would hurt."

Taken aback momentarily by her thought processes, I just stared at her. But … she was right. Never having thought about it in quite those terms before, I realized I had never actually thought about it at all. I had always just accepted the way things were because … well, that's how it was. And it worked. Basically, fuck up and you die.

"Ya know, Bells," Emmett said, also deep in thought. "You're right. But, you could bite 'em. That shit hurts, too."

Bella nodded. "Yeah, a bite would work. Leave a scar, too. Quite a reminder to behave, and not as drastic as death."

Then my curiosity got the better of me, and I had to ask her. "Are you going to say everything that pops into your head?"

"Well, no." Her eyes flicked up to me and back to Edward. "It's not like I never had those kinds of thoughts before. I just didn't say them out loud. Usually."

Damn, she's just so fucking adorable!

Bella crossed her arms and glared at Edward. "So, did you get anything from him? I'd like to know myself."

Apparently, Bella had decided the side discussion was over. Sidling closer to her, I put my arm around her shoulders. "Not yet. Take it easy, Darlin'."

I turned my gaze back to Edward. He was still calmly standing there, his hands at his sides, eyes half-lidded.

"Edward, did you know Bella was my mate?"

I toned down the lethargy enough that he could react. His eyes opened slightly, and he met my gaze.

He took in a slow quiet breath and spoke softly. "No, I didn't. I … I didn't know. I loved her and …"

Bella growled, and if I hadn't had my arm around her, she would have attacked him again. "Darlin', he's not lyin'. He feels … regret, loss, heartache, but I feel no deception from him."

Bella's growl ceased, and she huffed. "Maybe it's the question. Edward, did you keep me from seeing Jasper?"

His eyes haltingly moved to Bella and jealousy flowed sluggishly from him. "Yes, I kept you from him, but not because I thought he was your mate. He's dangerous. I just wanted you to be safe."

"That's enough!" Bella's hands sliced through the air, and her anger billowed out around us both.

I held her to my side more firmly and whispered to her, "Please calm down, Darlin'. I feel sincerity from him. He's telling the truth. Or he believes he is." I looked at Edward from the corner of my eye. "We already knew he thought I was a heathen."

Bella shifted against my side. "Heathen," she scoffed. "But that's how they do it on the cop shows. They ask the same questions over and over but worded differently to catch the perp telling lies." She was still angry, but then a spark of surprised awareness began to flicker. I would have called it a feeling of "ah ha."

I could practically see the wheels turning in her devious mind. "What are you thinkin', Darlin'?"

She blinked several times, cocked her head, and stared angrily at Edward. "Let's ask him about my blood."

Edward's eyes quickly dropped to stare at the floor. A cloud of guilt and then fear seeped out of him.

I drew myself up to my full height, taking in a breath and jerking my chin up. I wasn't surprised at the guilt considering he had emitted the emotion throughout the time Bella was transforming. But I was surprised at the severity of it, and how it showed so strongly at the mention of her blood. That he was suddenly afraid did not surprise me at all. I sent him another wave of lethargy to hold him still.

Bella peered at Edward suspiciously then looked up at me. "What is it?"

"Guilt."

"Guilt," Bella repeated. She slowly inhaled a deep breath and glanced at Esme and Rosalie. Leaning forward, she looked around me at Carlisle and Emmett.

All of their eyes were on Edward, and I was receiving quite a mix of emotions from them. Sadness, disappointment, surprise … and from Rosalie there was resignation and pity. Like me, she had thought Edward was intrigued by Bella's silent mind and the scent of her blood. Did she feel that pity for Bella?

"I think I already know the answer." Bella sighed. "But I guess I'll ask anyway. Are you feeling guilty because the only real attraction you had for me was my blood? Or do you have a little memento stored away?"

At the timing of his spike of anxiety and panic, I inferred he might have tucked away something to remember Bella's blood. Before my anger ran away with me, I had to know why she thought that way. "Bella, why would you think he might have a little ... memento?"

"When we first had lunch together, he took the bottle cap from my lemonade."

As my fury caught fire and spread within me, Edward gasped. His eyes flew open in panic, and he tried to throw his hands up, but was stopped when they reached chest height.

Bella was in front of me — her right hand on my cheek, her left gripped my arm above my elbow. "Jasper, I can guess what it is. Calm down. Don't kill him." Her hand slid down my face and gently took hold of my chin. "Jasper, look at me."

I knew I had to calm down, if for no other reason than to try to keep Bella from becoming upset again, but, strangely, she was very calm.

The possibility that he had something with my mate's blood in it enflamed me and my rage came racing back. The thought that he would have the audacity, the gall, the …

"I've got him, Jasper. He can't move. Look at me." Bella tugged on my jaw and my eyes dropped to hers. "I'm fine. I'm not mad. Actually, I'm not surprised in the least. You look a little pissed off, though."

She stroked the side of my face, and the fury that was about to overtake me began to subside. I hadn't realized my hands had closed into fists and were shaking.

"Jasper," she whispered. "It's okay. We'll find it and burn it. But don't burn Edward. Esme, Carlisle, and Alice would miss him."

Her hand slid down my arm and back up. She repeated that soothing action and tilted her head, her eyes never leaving mine. "Jasper? I need you to listen to me."

I blinked. "I'm listening. I won't kill him. Yet."

She raised her eyebrows at me. "We already discussed that."

Edward gasped again, and his hands flew up to grasp at the sides of his head. I could no longer feel his emotions.

"What did you do?" I asked Bella.

"I took the shield from around us, and I am, uh, squeezing him with it. I can hold him while you go look for the little Blood o' Bella keepsake. It's probably right next to that bottle cap in his room." She twisted around to give Edward a disparaging look then turned back to me. "Or we could just ask him where it is."

How many times was this magnificent woman going to confound, amaze, and astound me? I gaped at her again, forgetting about the fury and my desire to disassemble Edward piece by piece. "Squeezing him?"

"Uh, yeah. I closed the shield down on him. I don't know if I can crush him. It's, like, against him? But I can hold him."

Emmett finally took a breath and stepped up beside us. He smiled down at Bella, pride beaming from him, and he patted her shoulder. Then he looked up at Edward. "Edward," he began, "I think you oughta tell them where it is because I think maybe Bella can kill you with her brain."

Chapter Text

Chapter 26, I Find

Jasper's POV

Turning her head slowly to peer up at Emmett, a huge, bright smile broke across Bella's face.

"Good one, Emmy-dear!"

"Been waiting for the perfect opportunity to be able to use that one," Emmett said smugly. "And you gave it to me, Bellzy-bub."

"Bellzy-bub?"

"You know. It's another name for Satan. Satan? Demons? Get it?"

Rosalie — eyes wide and staring at Emmett in disbelief — stepped hastily around Edward's rigid form and stomped across the floor to Emmett, Bella, and me. She stopped a few feet away and looked incredulously from Emmett to Bella and back.

"Oh my God, do you two ever stop? Knock it off!" She huffed in exasperation, and her eyes flicked up to mine. "Jasper?" Her right hand flashed out, gesturing toward Emmett.

"What?" I asked. "It was a good one. And, before you get all bent out of shape …" I held both hands up defensively in front of myself. "Bella might be able to kill him with her brain." Smiling proudly at Bella, I wrapped my arms around her, drawing her into my chest. "Bella is calm, I have calmed down, and we needed a moment. It's been quite emotional."

"Jasper! I can't believe you! Not five seconds ago, you were ready to kill Edward and now …" Rosalie threw her hands up in the air. "How can you stand the thought that Edward has something of Bella's tucked away somewhere? That is disgusting and … and …" She spun around to face Edward, pinning him with an icy glare. "I always thought it was downright creepy and stalkerish when he used to sneak into her room to watch her sleep." Rosalie shuddered and turned back to us. "And now he's got God knows what of hers hidden somewhere. It's disturbing to imagine what it might be." She shivered again and wrapped her arms around herself as if she caught a chill.

Raising an eyebrow, I looked from the corner of my eye at Bella. "It's morbid and creepifyin'."

Bella peeked up at me, snorted, clamped her hand over her mouth, and started laughing into her hand, her shoulders shaking.

Emmett elbowed me in the side as he shook his head and snickered.

Rosalie, glaring angrily at all three of us, sputtered, "What are you three laughing at?"

Emmett chuckled and said, "Quotes from Firefly." He patted Bella on her back.

"Best show ever!" Bella chuckled into my chest. "I don't know why I remember it, but I do."

I took in a deep breath and slowly let it out in satisfaction. That was just one more reason to adore my little hellcat.

Brushing my right hand down over Bella's hair, I pulled her back into my chest, and kissed the top of her head. Looking up at Rosalie, I gave her what I thought was a reassuring smile. "Whatever Edward has hidden, I'll find."

Bella pulled away from my chest and looked over her shoulder at Edward, studying him as a child might study an interesting bug. "So, where is it, Edward? We'll find out soon enough what it is."

Closing his eyes, Edward dropped his head to his chest. His shame was now vibrating through the air. At the intensity of his emotions, I was even more concerned, wondering what it was he had hidden in his room.

Bella looked up at me as she slid her right hand down my left arm, taking hold of my hand. "What's the matter, Jasper? There could be some of my books up there in his room. There might even be some clothes?" She turned to look at Esme, a question in her eyes.

"Uh, Bella." Esme finally found her voice. "I collected all of your clothes out of Edward's room to wash them." She glanced over at Edward. "At least I think so."

"With the amount of shame he is projecting, I don't think it's merely clothes or books," I said cautiously. "Darlin', are you sure you can hold him while I go look?"

"Yes, I can." She looked determined. "But maybe Emmett should stay here with us?"

"Yes, Darlin'." I patted her hand on my arm and gave it a light squeeze. Catching Emmett's eye, I said to him, "Only one of you is to leave the room at any time. Do not leave her alone with him." Emmett nodded, grinned irreverently at Edward, and cracked his knuckles. Next, I turned my regard on Rosalie. "Rosalie? Join me?" Receiving a sharp nod from her, I looked to Carlisle behind me.

He had been unusually quiet, and when I focused my attention on him, I could sense disappointment under the despondency he was feeling. His darkened, sad eyes were studying Edward. I decided I would ask Carlisle if he would go with Rosalie and me to search Edward's room. A third person helping would make it go more quickly, and despite how unhappy he was, I could trust him to search thoroughly. He would also be able to witness what was found.

Though it was Edward's room, within Carlisle's and Esme's house, I did not need permission from any of them to conduct a search. No one interfered with someone's mate, and no one would keep me from finding whatever might be there that belonged to her.

"Carlisle, would you assist us in searching Edward's room?"

His golden eyes flicked to me, and a small sigh escaped him. "Yes." His troubled gaze dropped to the floor. "I have always strived to afford everyone some measure of privacy, as difficult as it can be at times. I know we have all endeavored to be considerate of one another and show respect for each other's boundaries and private quarters, but …" Another weary sigh escaped his lips, and his hand went to rub his forehead. "I fear, in this instance, a line may have been crossed." He glanced quickly at Edward and then to Bella. "I suppose we should get started." He turned slowly and made his way toward the stairs. He paused for a moment to look over the destroyed stairway, and then crouched slightly and sprang up to the second floor landing.

Smiling at Bella, I trailed the fingers of my right hand across her cheek. "If you have any problems, let me know. But I'm sure you, Emmett, and Esme will be fine."

"We will be." Bella smiled back. "And please don't destroy his room."

"Yes, Darlin'." I nodded at Rosalie, and we headed for the stairs, leaping together to the landing above. I asked her to wait for me as I walked quickly down the hall to my study to find another shirt. At the rate Bella was tearing them off me, I'd have to go shopping soon. Noting the few I had left, I grabbed a dark green V-neck t-shirt out of the wardrobe. Hurriedly slipping it over my head, I rejoined Rosalie.

As we made our way to Edward's room on the third floor, I heard Esme say she would go get the Shop-Vac from the garage. When she reached the front porch, she told Alice to grab a broom and dust pan and start sweeping up the broken glass on the patio.

Bella, speaking a bit louder than she really needed to, said, "Edward, never mind about cleaning, you go stand over there by your spot in the wall while we start cleaning this up. Em, flip the furniture back over and push it back where it belongs. I hope Esme brings in some trash cans." I heard light thumps from the living room.

Near the door to Edward's room, Carlisle stood silently waiting for us, his arms crossed over his chest, and his head bowed. As I stepped past him, I placed a hand on his shoulder, trying to send him a bit of strength along with my gratefulness and compassion, to help him push aside his sorrow and disillusionment. Bella's revelations in her discussion with Edward were disquieting, but all held a ring of truth. It was troubling to me that I had not seen the depth of his … obsession? Mania? Carlisle had to be having similar thoughts. It seemed none of us had recognized the magnitude of Edward's obsession.

I had experienced the emotions Edward held for Bella and they had all appeared very like the exhilaration of infatuation that the humans frequently had for each other. Having noted his giddy pleasure at her presence, I had never delved deeper and had dismissed it as the maunderings of a smitten adolescent.

Usually surprised at the depth of her feelings, and distracted by the lust and repeated frustration and rejection she had suffered through, I had been more absorbed in Bella's emotions. Normally, humans did not have the complexity of emotion that Bella had displayed and they certainly did not have the intensity.

After entering Edward's room, I stood in the middle of the floor over the spot where I had ripped Edward's arm from his body, and silently took in the room. Despite the fact that Esme had cleaned and aired it out, I could still catch the rather sweet scent of Edward's venom spilled on the floor. I couldn't help the self-satisfied smile that crept over my face.

The delicious, appealing fragrance of Bella's blood, mixed with her enthralling scent as a vampire, still hung faintly in the air. I was curious as to why Edward was not spending all his time in his room, surrounded by her scent.

Turning to face Carlisle and Rosalie, I spoke in a low voice to them both, hoping to keep Bella and the others from hearing me downstairs. "We will thoroughly search this room. I expect there to be some things here that Bella had left. Perhaps books, like she said. That is not what I am concerned with. Edward's guilt and shame were quite intense, so I don't think he was worried about a few books." I studied each of them. "We will be searching for Bella's belongings and anything that might contain her human scent. If you find anything, place it here on the floor."

I breathed in the faint traces of Bella's scent. It helped to ease the anxiety I felt being away from her. "I believe him when he said he didn't know Bella was my mate. A small souvenir of their time together, I could understand, though I don't think I'd like it very much. However, if he has something here to try to preserve her human scent …" I dropped my head and stared at the floor for a moment. "That would be beyond the pale." I raised my eyes to Carlisle who was standing by the closet. "That would be … fucking insane."

Carlisle's sad eyes met mine. "I have no explanation for this … behavior, Jasper. Perhaps because she is his Singer the attraction of her blood …" he whispered, shaking his head as if to force the thought away. "Previously, he had mentioned having little items — reminders — of their time together, but don't most indulge in that, whether they are human or vampire?"

"Yes, they do, Carlisle," Rosalie hissed. "Emmett and I have lots of souvenirs from our trips, but I never tried to keep anything with his blood or human scent on it!"

Downstairs, I heard Esme start the Shop-Vac and Bella squawked, "Those things are loud!" Next was Emmett's booming laugh. "Get to work, Belly-boo!"

It brought a smile to my face to hear her voice, but it was only fleeting as I thought of the unpleasant task ahead. "I'll start with the bed." Edward's bed; though he had bought it for Bella to use.

I found myself to be immensely relieved they had not used it together. A twinge of jealousy, then a hot bolt of possessiveness shot through me. Halting and containing it, I consoled myself with the reminder that Bella and I had actually been the last to put the bed to some use with my lying beside her as she fought against the fiery agony of the change. It was where I had taken as much of that suffering from her as I could. When I had found her inside her truck, so bloody and so badly injured, I had told her I would not leave her. Ironically, Edward's bed was where I learned I could not be without her.

Edward would probably have the bed removed as soon as possible. Luckily, I had my own bed. It just wasn't in this house.

Carlisle gave us a stiff nod and went into the closet to begin his search, the slope of his shoulders displaying his distress at the distasteful task.

The debris and crumbled drywall from where Bella had shoved me into the wall of the closet had been removed, but the broken studs and cracked door frame had not yet been replaced. Esme would have time to see to that once Bella, Rosalie, Emmett, and I left. Leaving her here to fix all the damage herself didn't sit quite right with me, but I couldn't stay here to help her, and I did think I would need Emmett and Rosalie's help with Bella. Esme had Carlisle, Edward, and Alice to lend a hand. They didn't have the same skills that Esme and Emmett had, but I was sure they could manage with Esme's direction.

Squaring her shoulders for the task ahead, Rosalie marched to the north wall of shelves containing Edward's many books and CDs. She took his desk chair to stand on so she could reach the highest.

Taking a slow step toward it, I studied the bed for another moment. It still had the pale butter colored sheets on it, infused with Bella's and my scents. I hadn't been back in the room since Bella had awakened, and I found that the combination of our scents pleased and satisfied me, and reinforced that sense of contentedness I felt when I had Bella in my arms.

Perhaps that was why Edward was not spending time in his room? There wasn't only Bella's scent — my scent was blended with hers. That realization delighted the absolute shit right out of me.

The gold colored comforter was folded across the foot of the bed, so I started with that. As I took hold of the edge and shook it out over the bed, I heard a faint crackling sound. It was coming from a corner, and I lightly pushed down on it. It crackled again. As much as I was sure Esme or Edward paid for it, it shouldn't have been crackling. I examined the seam of the comforter near the corner and found a section of stitches that were marginally different from the others. My first impulse was to rip it open, but I reminded myself of the care Esme took when she chose items for our home, and Bella's request that I not destroy his room. Using my fingernail as a seam ripper, I carefully cut the threads and gently opened the seam. Hidden inside Edward's golden comforter was a quart-sized, zippered, plastic storage bag. Folded inside was a scrap of bloodied fabric.

As I slid the storage bag from the comforter, my hands began to tremble with the wrath that exploded inside me. I briefly closed my eyes. I had thought I might find something with Bella's blood on it or in it, but having that suspicion confirmed by finding my mate's blood in his room ignited a blistering rage so intense my entire body began to quiver.

Instantly, I fought to repress it, so I wouldn't project it throughout the room and the house. I didn't want Rosalie and Carlisle to be subjected to it. Bella had been all too aware of my emotions, and I didn't want her becoming concerned and distracted, or running upstairs to see what I had found. Searching for that subtle trace of Bella's scent, I took in a slow breath through my nose and exhaled just as gradually.

I tried to convince myself it was a just job I had to do. A task I had to complete. Right then I had to do that job without becoming emotionally invested in it, and without storming, raging, and destroying everything in sight. I couldn't allow my feelings to interfere. I would not destroy anything in that room. As badly as I wanted to, I would not destroy Edward because Bella didn't want me to. She had been right when she said he needed to remember the things he had done to her.

Inhaling another breath, seeking the scent of my mate, I willed my body to stop shaking. As I released the breath, I relaxed my shoulders and the muscles in my back. I stared at the blood-stained fabric. It was a piece of the t-shirt she had been wearing when she had been in the accident.

"Jasper … Jasper!"

Rosalie's voice finally broke through my spinning thoughts. "What is it?" My voice sounded dead and flat even to me.

"I've been trying to get your attention. I've found some photographs — some of Bella and some of Bella and Edward together. What do you want to do with those?"

If it were up to me, I'd strike a match to all those pictures, but that wasn't my decision. "We'll take them to Bella. She can decide what to do with them."

My fury wasn't too far beneath the surface, and I fought to keep it down.

"What's the matter? Your voice sounds funny."

Rosalie couldn't see the bag I was holding because she was behind me. I turned, holding the bag up to show her.

Her eyes widened and she gasped. "What … what is that?"

"It's a piece of the t-shirt Bella was wearing when she crashed. Finding this hidden inside Edward's comforter, I expect there to be more pieces of her clothing here somewhere."

Rosalie's hand flew up to cover her mouth. "Oh, now that's not just morbid and creepifyin', that's sick. What the hell is the matter with him? Was he going to huff her blood until the scent went away?" Then she twitched with a start and a baffled look formed over her face. "When the hell did he do that? How did he do that?"

Gaining control of myself, I shrugged. "Held his breath?" I studied the bag, turning it over in my hands. "We've all been a bit preoccupied, and he is fast."

I slid open the zipper and gave it a little sniff. Though I enjoyed the delicious bouquet of her blood as it wafted from the bag, it was in no way comparable to the tantalizing and provocative scent of Bella as a vampire. I had never smelled anything as entrancing as my mate, and a sensation of peace and well-being settled over me, enabling me to push my rage deeper and deeper.

Taking another small sample of the air from the bag, a smirk grew across my face, and a low chuckle began deep in my throat. I peered up at Rosalie. "I think he might have been a little disappointed. I can detect my scent." I felt better instantly.

A small smile formed on Rosalie's lips, and an evil glint twinkled in her eyes. "Serves him right."

"Jasper," Carlisle called softly from the closet. "Edward has a safe in here. You know we all keep cash and documents …"

"Open it," I ordered, interrupting him.

"I don't have the combination."

"Try Bella's birthday," I said as I zipped the bag closed and dropped it to the floor. "If that doesn't work, I'll go ask him."

I turned back to the bed and pulled the sheets off, bringing them to my face to take in Bella's and my mingled scents. I tossed them toward the windows before lifting off the mattress. Under the mattress were two more bags with pieces of Bella's bloodied t-shirt in them. I grabbed them and dropped them to the floor with the first one I found, and then began to closely examine the seams of the mattress.

"Bella's birthday worked," Carlisle's disheartened voice said from the closet. "There are two more of those bags."

He brought out the zippered storage bags and dropped them to the floor with the others. Inside those bags were pieces of the jeans she had been wearing. Nodding my thanks to Carlisle, I went back to work on the mattress.

-oOoOo-

For about three hours, Rosalie, Carlisle, and I had searched through and examined everything in Edward's room. All told, a total of eighteen storage bags with pieces of Bella's blood-stained clothing in them were found. Along with one little bottle cap. Edward had been a busy boy. I could not think of the significance of the number eighteen, unless there was one bag for each year of Bella's human life. To which Rosalie had commented caustically, "Eighteen. He's always been such a sentimental fool."

Edward was fortunate he was downstairs. Rosalie had not been happy. She had hissed and snarled, albeit quietly, the entire time she had been searching. With the tenacity of a pit bull with a bone, she had opened and scrutinized every single CD and DVD, and had flipped through every single book. She had even removed every vinyl album and record from their sleeves to look them over before replacing them.

Carlisle had explored every pocket and felt along every seam of clothing in Edward's closet — finding several of the storage bags tucked between sweaters and behind shoe boxes.

Once I had completed my search of the bed and its frame, I turned my attention to the other furniture, inspecting every side, studying the bottoms of drawers and checking inside for false bottoms. I tapped and prodded everywhere else for hollow areas or hidden pockets. After finding one bag inside the mattress and three tucked up inside the box spring, Edward seemed to have used up his imagination for hiding places. Most of the bags were in the drawers of the night tables.

I even went over every square inch of wall and ceiling, and knocking and tugging all along the trim. There had been no odor or other evidence of fresh spackle or paint to try and cover any recent "repairs," but I wasn't going to let anything slip by me — not when it came to my mate. I also pulled at the carpeting, checked behind light switch covers and receptacles, felt and sniffed the curtains, and peered through the hollow curtain rods.

While by the windows, I did happen to notice Bella on the patio gathering up piles of broken glass and splintered wood with her hands while Alice swept and made more little piles. Bella would drop the handfuls into a trash can and quickly scoop up more. She and Alice seemed to be getting along well, though they didn't ever get too close to each other, and didn't seem to be speaking much. I supposed as long as I wasn't near them both, Bella wouldn't growl and try to attack her.

Rosalie and Carlisle also searched the bathroom just outside Edward's room, bringing Bella's strawberry-scented shampoo and other items to me, including her hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and tampons.

"The sealed package of tampons can be left in the bathroom." Let Edward have that small reminder of his obsession with Bella. "The opened box, we'll burn. She won't need them anymore. Her toothbrush and anything else that's been opened and used, also go into the pile we'll take to Bella."

Clinging to the well-being and serenity I felt when experiencing Bella's scent, I had managed to keep my rage subdued. Though I think that was due primarily to the fact the pieces of clothing that had been found had not included any part of Bella's underwear. I believe I would have lost complete control of myself if I had found her panties in one of those bags.

For once, Edward's overly strict, repressed, and guilt-ridden morals worked in his favor — but only partially. It hadn't prevented him from attempting to keep samples of her blood. At that point, I couldn't help wondering for a moment how Edward had become so excessively inhibited and puritanical in his thoughts and actions. From what I could remember of my time, people had not seemed so austere and prudish. That impression could merely be the fault of my lack of memories. But I had lived through his era, and I'd met vampires who had been turned within that same decade. Perhaps he had been too young when Carlisle had changed him, or the horrors of becoming ill and losing his parents in the Spanish flu epidemic had scarred him and caused him to cling desperately to his rigid and unbending standards. He had been ill, near death, and feverish when he had been changed. Too often it appeared a human's last train of thought influenced some of their later behavior as a vampire.

Of course, the agony of the transformation, and the shock of becoming a vampire, left its own marks on the psyche.

Those may have been reasons, but they were not excuses for Edward doing something that he knew to be wrong, or he wouldn't have felt such guilt when he was caught.

Feeling no sympathy for him, as his plight was really no different than any other vampire's, I had shoved aside those thoughts.

Out of curiosity, I had opened and taken a sniff at each bag, gratified to find a trace amount of my scent in all of them. Some of them had even held a hint of gasoline. To add fuel to the fire we would be lighting shortly, I spit in each bag before sealing it again. Much to Rosalie's disgust. And that had given me an idea. I pulled a pillow case off one of the pillows and rubbed it over my head to make sure my scent was on it. Then I squatted down on the floor near the pile of Bella's things, licking my fingers before I picked up each item to place in the bag. When I got to Bella's hairbrush, I brushed my hair with it and then dropped it in the pillow case. I wouldn't be leaving any hairs behind, but my scent would be mixed with hers.

Childish? Perhaps, but there would be no mistake that I had handled everything, and it pleased my possessive side to be able to mark all of her things with my scent.

After treating the last of the items with my venom and putting them in the pillow case, I inhaled a deep breath and expelled it into the case then twisted the end to close it. I was sure the thread count was high enough that it would even hold water for a time. Curious, Carlisle watched me silently, arms crossed, the fingers of his right hand were at first spread over his face, then he brought his hand down and covered his mouth when realization dawned.

Rosalie just shook her head and rolled her eyes at me. "Are you through spitting all over everything?" she asked.

"Yes, I believe I am." I smirked at her as I stood up from the floor. "You know that's just one way to mark our territory." I tossed the pillow case over my shoulder, holding the end closed. "I trust that you both feel we've searched Edward's room thoroughly and completely?"

Carlisle just nodded. Rosalie looked toward the ceiling and said with a long-suffering sigh, "Yessss, Jasper. Can we go kick his ass now?"

"As much as I would fuckin' love to, there will be no ass kicking. I suppose if we're finished here we should head back downstairs," I said loudly enough for Bella and the rest to hear me down in the living room.

As we reached the bottom of the stairs from the third floor and prepared to jump to the main floor, I saw Alice by the front window where Edward's piano used to be. Alice glanced up at us and gave a little cough. I held my arm up to stop Rosalie and Carlisle. I wanted to give Alice a moment before we dropped down into the newly clean living room.

Alice nervously tugged at her blouse and shifted from foot to foot. "Well, since we're finished here, maybe I'll just go back up to my room. Uh, Bella, it was nice working with you. I think we did a good job on the patio."

"Yeah, we did, Alice. Thank you for sweeping. I tried not to break the other broom." Sounding a little embarrassed, Bella spoke from near the patio where I couldn't see her.

"I know. It's a good thing we have a few of them." Alice gave an encouraging smile. "You'll figure it out soon. I know you will." Then she gestured toward the front doorway. "Um, I'll just go this way and jump up. If anyone needs anything, just give a yell." She nodded, gave everyone a little smile, and she walked quickly through the doorway.

I dropped lightly to the carpet, swung the pillow case down from my shoulder, and turned to find Bella. She was sitting in the chair in front of where the sliding glass door used to be. She was lovely. The early evening light coming in the windows on the south wall behind her gave her skin a soft glow. I filled my eyes with the sight of her and then looked over the rest of the room. Bella's was the best seat to observe the entire room, but I hoped she was sitting there waiting to see me. Emmett was in one of the recliners to the left watching the TV on the east wall, and Esme was on the couch to the right. She was turned slightly so that she could easily see the room and keep an eye on Edward who was behind her, still standing with his back to the damaged wall.

When Bella saw me her entire face brightened and in the next instant, she was across the room standing in front of me and smiling up at me. Her right hand reached out slowly, and she gently touched my left that was holding the end of the pillow case.

"Hi," she said softly.

"Hi," I said back to her, drinking in her scent and her beauty. Seeing her, feeling her touch, breathing in her inviting and soothing scent, released a tension I didn't know I still had. It slowly drained away from me and was replaced with feelings of relief, warm pleasure, comfort, and peace. I'd only been away from her for a little over three hours, but I had missed her. I raised my right hand to her face, my fingers brushing gently over her cheek.

Her fingers traced lightly over my hand and forearm. "What did you find?"

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 27, I Dazzle

Jasper's POV

Carlisle and Rosalie dropped down beside Bella and me from the landing above, and each went immediately to their own mates. The extensive search through Edward's room had been stressful and disturbing, and I was sure they were seeking their own comfort.

My right hand went to cover Bella's on my arm, and I gently urged her to go with me toward the others. I studied Edward for a moment and honestly tried to put myself in his place. I found it difficult to imagine. If I had ever run across my Singer, there was no question — I would have drained him immediately. But if I thought I had been in love with someone and she left me or was taken? I didn't know what I would've done.

Since I had been turned into a vampire, I had not been in love with anyone, though there were a few that I did love. I loved Alice for giving me hope at a time when I had been hopeless. Rosalie was my sister in nearly every sense of the word, becoming even more so during recent events, and I loved her for that.

Emmett had always been like a brother to me. Despite his size and strength — being one of the strongest vampires I had ever met — even he had been initially frightened by my scars. But he had been the quickest to brush his reservations and fears aside, like water rolling off a duck's back. His approach to life as a vampire, and his methods for imparting his own brand of wisdom, were unique and, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air — though frequently annoying. But I didn't think I could ever find two more loyal friends than Emmett and Rosalie.

Except for Peter and Charlotte. We had been through Hell together. They had watched my back, and I had covered theirs the best that I could. They were more than brother and sister to me, and I could even say that I loved them, though I would never admit that out loud. The good thing about it was they already knew. It didn't have to be said.

Esme was certainly a mother figure to Edward and Alice and was filling that role for Bella, but she wasn't such to me. I was long past the need for a mother. I loved her for her quiet strength, her kind-heartedness, and her wisdom. Over the years she had become a good friend. She was the perfect mate for Carlisle. I had a great deal of respect for Carlisle and his integrity and thoughtfulness, his ability to stick to his ideals, and his compassion for others.

Edward? I felt hatred for him. He had kept my mate from me. He had taken advantage of her and abused her trust — hurting and manipulating her over and over again. He had not raised a hand to her, but he had abused her. You couldn't see those scars, but I believed some of the anger she had been manifesting was a result of that mistreatment.

I considered his collecting blood-stained remnants of her clothing to be a violation of her, and, again, I fought back the impulse to rip his head from his shoulders.

Once again, I was amazed at Bella's strength of will to not kill him. I would have.

Carlisle had sat down behind Esme on the couch and gathered her in an embrace, burying his nose in the crook of her neck. Emmett and Rosalie had moved to the chair in front of the windows. Rosalie was sitting on his lap, and his arms encircled her completely. All were looking at Bella and me expectantly.

Edward no longer had a look of terror on his face. He appeared resigned to whatever his fate might be. He was one lucky son of a bitch that Bella was in charge of that.

I set the pillow case on the chair in front of us and raised Bella's hand to my lips, gently kissing each of her knuckles. "We brought you everything we found, Darlin'. Including a bottle cap." Snapping my gaze to Edward, a look of pain was etched across his face, and I saw his eyes slowly close. "I can't feel his emotions."

"I know. Do you think you want to?" she asked with a worried tone in her voice.

I bent my head to kiss the back of her hand and turned my eyes to Edward again. "Yes, I do."

She sighed nervously. "Okay." She stared at Edward for a second. His shame, resignation, and defeat flowed thickly over me. It was not as powerful as I had expected. Beneath those emotions were his grief and loss, but I did not sense love for Bella from him — though he was pining the loss of her. Or was he grieving the loss of her blood? He slowly opened his eyes and peered sorrowfully at Bella.

Not letting go of Bella's hand, with my other hand I reached forward and grabbed the bottom of the pillow case and up-ended it over the seat of the chair, letting the contents spill out. I was not really sure how she would react to what we had found.

Bella gripped my hand more tightly and drew in a breath as she stared at the plastic storage bags containing the scraps of bloodied fabric and the other items. She was still blocking me from feeling her emotions.

"I guess those are pieces of my bloody clothes in those Ziplocs?"

"Yes, they are." I watched her carefully.

At her question, I heard a small gasp from Esme, and Emmett's eyes darkened as they bored into Edward.

A low growl began in Emmett's chest. "What kind of fucked up shit is that, Edward?"

Esme's eyes flicked to Emmett, but she didn't give him her usual warning of "language, Emmett." I suspected she agreed with him. Her hands gripped Carlisle's arms more tightly.

"Okay, hang on everybody," Bella said, raising her hands in a placating gesture. I saw her jaw clench for a moment, then she took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Let's try not to get too upset here. I know, ironic coming from me, but … but, uh …" She leaned against me and her hand came up to cover her eyes.

Her body tensed, and I put my arm around her. "Darlin'?"

"I just need a second," she murmured, and she turned, burrowing her face into my chest. Her hands gripped my shirt, and she pulled it up to cover the sides of her face as she mumbled against me.

"Bella?" I touched my lips to the top of her head. "I can't hear you."

She inhaled a deep breath and her face slowly rose. Her eyes were pleading for something, and I could not guess what it could be.

"What do you need, Darlin'? Whatever it is, I'll get it, I'll do it." My hand moved to cup the side of her face, my thumb brushing over her lips.

She reached up with her right hand to my hair, her fingers drifting over my ear into my hair, and she tugged my head down. Her lips brushed over my ear and she whispered, buzzing at vampire speed so no one else could hear, "Jasper, I want to kill him for that, but … but I don't really want him dead. I … I feel almost violated, but I shouldn't be surprised, right? I should have expected that, right? I mean, all he wanted was my blood, and … uh … but he's acting like a fanatical, obsessed stalker and it's … it's creeping me out." She shuddered and pressed her head against mine. "Help me be calm."

The rage I had managed to suppress before was very close to overwhelming me as I saw how upset Bella was; how she was struggling to control herself. As soon as I had the chance, I would be questioning Edward again to ensure we had found all of Bella's blood. My many years in Maria's service gave me a few options to choose from as far as the method I would use to obtain information from him, and I was looking forward to it. I wouldn't need to bite him or remove any fingers or toes to get what I wanted from him. Bella's technique of cutting and scarring was certainly an option. I took a moment to be thankful Bella had been shielding me and kept him from reading my mind.

I forced down my rage so that I could help her. I would do anything for her, and I would try my damnedest to do what she wanted. Closing my eyes, I pressed my lips to the side of her head, breathing in her scent. The fingers of my right hand curled over the crown of her head and drifted down to follow the curve of her neck. My left slid down her side and across the center of her back, pressing her body to mine.

I whispered to her, "I'll help you, my Bella. Take another deep breath and feel the peace I'm sending you." I grasped onto the serenity and comfort I felt when I touched her and sent it to her — bathed her in it — until her body relaxed against mine and her breathing slowed.

She released the tight grip she had in my hair, and she slowly eased away from me. "Thank you." She took in another breath and slowly opened her eyes. "Thank you, Jasper."

"Better?" I asked her.

"Yes. Much." The tension had eased around her eyes, and a slight smile appeared on her face. She stepped back and looked up toward me. In a more normal voice she asked, "What were you going to do with those bags?"

"Burn all eighteen of them."

"Eighteen?" Her eyes slid to Edward.

"Yes. Since you moved to Forks only fourteen and-a-half months ago, I believe it's one bag for each year of your human life," I said quietly.

Emmett snorted angrily and a breathy "oh dear" came from an appalled Esme. Rosalie maintained her stony silence, and Carlisle briefly closed his eyes and hugged Esme more tightly to his chest. Edward's eyes snapped shut, and he dropped his agonized face to his chest. Humiliation surged up and out of him. It was thick enough I had to push back against it. It seemed my guess was correct.

Bella's eyebrows went up in surprise then dropped low in a scowl, and she huffed loudly. "That is kinda fucked up shit. I guess there's no doubt now what Edward found so attractive about me. The bottle cap, a lock of hair or one of those pictures there in the pile wasn't good enough?" Her eyes closed tightly, and her jaw clenched. She pressed her face into my chest again, gripping my t-shirt with both hands. "Jasper, please help me not kill him."

My arms went around her trembling body, and my hand went to hold the back of her head. "I'll help you whenever you need me, even though I want to kill him myself."

She was breathing heavily against my chest. "I just need another minute," she murmured. She pulled my shirt up to cover the sides of her face and she inhaled deeply. "I'm trying not to rip your shirt," she whispered. "But I'm really pissed off right now."

"I know, Darlin'. I've been kinda pissed off, too." I stroked her hair and ran my hand down her back. "I'm planning on burning those bags, but is there anything you want? The hairbrush? Maybe some of the pictures? We'll put what you want back in the pillow case for you."

She took in another breath, and I couldn't help feeling a bit smug. She needed me; she was breathing in my scent as I was breathing in hers.

She slowly raised her face. "I do want the hairbrush and the pictures of me. Alone." She glared at Edward. "I want the books and the elastic hair bands, too. Um." She paused and turned her wide eyes to me. "I think Edward can keep the pictures of him and me together? Okay?"

Needless to say, I wasn't happy about it, but I should have expected that from Bella, no matter how pissed off she was at him. She had always been so forgiving, even when it had caused her more heartache. It was such an ingrained part of her nature, not even the fire of my venom could burn it away. Would she be Bella if she was not that way? I glanced at Edward, who had not moved, and then back to Bella's bright red eyes. He might have a few photographs that would fade with time, but I would have her. If it took the remainder of my days, she would be mine.

Trying not to clench my teeth too hard, I ground out, "Whatever you decide, Darlin'."

Emmett nudged Rosalie to get up from his lap. As he stood, he clapped his hands together. "We have a metal trash can out back we can use as a burn barrel. I'll go get it and knock a few holes around the bottom. I'll be right back." He darted through the back door, and the sound of clanging metal soon reached us.

"Darlin'," I whispered to Bella as I tipped her head up to face me. "You've been holding him with your shield for a long time, you've controlled your emotions very well, and I want you to know how proud I am of you. For a newborn, you have done so well."

"I kept hold of him because I didn't want him to get away and do something stupid. I knew you'd kill him if he did."

"Yes, I would have. But I don't care why you did it. The fact is you did it. I think you can let him go now. It doesn't feel as though he'll be running."

Bella pressed her lips together, and a slight frown crossed her features. Edward dropped to the floor with a loud thud. He slowly pushed himself to a sitting position and sagged against the damaged wall. Propping his elbows on his bent knees, his hands covering his face, he choked out, "Thank you, Bella." His words were not much more than mere wisps of breath. He was relieved at being let go, but his sorrow and shame soon overtook that relief.

Esme and Carlisle turned their concern filled eyes toward him, but Rosalie dropped back into the chair, gave him a loud "humph" and crossed her arms, turning her back to him.

Emmett came charging back into the living room, a large galvanized trash can in his hands. He set it on the floor next to the chair with Bella's things.

Bella's curiosity kicked in again, and she bent to examine the trash can. "How'd you get the holes around the bottom?"

"Punched it with my finger." Emmett grinned at her. He was quite pleased with himself.

"But what are they for?"

"You've never seen a burn barrel, Belly-boo?"

"Uh, no."

"Man, the fun stuff you've missed out on." He shook his head in disbelief. "The holes are so air can get in to make sure everything will burn. Like this box of tampons right here." He grinned even wider and quirked an eyebrow at Bella.

He — and Bella — might have been mad enough to tear Edward apart a few minutes before, but now Emmett was all about teasing her again.

For once, surprisingly, Bella was not embarrassed. "Yeah, guess I won't need those anymore, huh?" She shot him a sardonic look then started to reach for other items. I caught her hand.

"Tell me what you want, and I'll put it in the pillow case for you. The rest of it … have at it."

She sighed at me but pointed toward the items she wanted. "The hairbrush, hair bands, and the books. Maybe I'll be able to read them again without tearing them apart. I like the Jane Austen — Renee gave it to me — but the Romeo and Juliet …" She paused and sadness spread across her face. "I … I don't want that one," she said quietly. She grabbed it gently enough not to put holes through it, but then she ripped it in half and dropped the pieces into the trashcan. They landed with a couple of hollow thunks. Reaching for me, she wrapped her fingers around my left arm above my elbow.

I gently brushed the fingers of my right hand across her cheek to reassure her, then reached for the photographs and quickly went through them, separating them for her, as Emmett picked out the other things she wanted. Seeing photos of her being held in Edward's arms or sitting beside him sent sharp stabs of jealousy and possessiveness shooting through me. I quickly suppressed them. Whom was she standing next to? Whom did she turn to for comfort?

When I had gone through the photos, I put Bella's in the pillow case and stiffly handed the others to Edward. He took them without looking at me and placed them in his shirt pocket.

Strange. He didn't thank me.

"Is that it, Belly-babe?" Emmett asked her.

"Yes. I don't suppose I'll need the toothbrush and toothpaste. Sure don't need deodorant anymore since I don't sweat. Or the lotion either since my skin won't dry up and get all ashy, and my elbows won't get crusty. Ew. But the body wash and shampoo I can use, even though they're strawberry scented. Maybe I could mix them with something else." Then she turned to me. "Speaking of mixing … why do I smell you all over everything?"

"Because he spit all over everything." Rosalie flicked her hand at me, rolled her eyes again and re-crossed her arms.

"You what?" Bella gawked up at me incredulously.

"I did not 'spit all over everything.'" I said, mimicking Rosalie's disdainful tone. "I licked my fingers before I touched anything I put in the pillow case." Perhaps I smirked just a little bit.

"Why would you do that?" Bella asked, staring up at me.

Emmett started to laugh. "He put his scent all over your stuff."

"Jasper." Rosalie was exasperated now. "You know you spit in every one of those plastic bags. It was gross."

Bella gaped at me. "Why would you spit in all the bags?"

Carlisle cleared his throat. "Bella, our venom not only contains a concentrated form of our scent, it is also rather flammable. Not quite as flammable as gasoline, but nearly so."

Bella covered her eyes with her hand. "Okay, maybe right now I don't really want to know. Jasper, you can explain this spitting thing to me later. I'm sure the explanation will be fascinating." She took her hand from her face and laced her fingers together. "Right now, I think I'd like a bubble bath, since I haven't had one of those yet. Would you help me, Rose?"

"Wait, Bells, you don't want to go out back with us and make fire?" Emmett asked, pleading with his eyes, batting his eyelashes at her. "You've already had, what, like half a dozen showers already? There ain't much that's more fun than making fire."

"No, Em. I think I'll sit this one out. We can make fire some other time. And I have not had half a dozen showers already. I've had two." She scrunched her eyes at him and cupped her ear with her hand. "Oh? What's that? I think I hear that bathtub calling me."

Rosalie stood quickly from her chair, going to Emmett and pushing him out of the way. "Yes, I would like to help you, Bella. I'd be glad to. We might even discuss why men spit." Rosalie gave me the evil eye then turned to Esme. "Esme, would you care to join us?"

"I think I'd like to speak to Edward …"

"No," I said firmly, cutting her off. "I'm sorry, Esme, for interrupting you, but I think Edward should watch as we burn these things. It won't take long."

Esme pressed her lips together then let out a sad breath. Her worried glance went from Edward and back to me.

Carlisle gently squeezed her arms and kissed her cheek. "You go ahead with Bella, darling. Maybe peek in on Alice? I'll go with the men." He kissed her cheek again. "Everything will be fine." As they rose together from the couch, Carlisle lightly placed his hand against her face, cupping her cheek. "We'll be back in a little while."

Esme gave Carlisle a tentative smile. "All right, dear. We'll see you soon." She turned her pleading eyes to me.

I knew she was asking me not to hurt Edward. I put my arm around Bella's shoulders and pulled her into my side. "I told Bella I wouldn't kill him." I tried to send my sincerity to Esme and everyone else. I wouldn't kill him, but I would find out what I wanted to know.

Giving me a small thankful nod, Esme gave Carlisle a quick kiss, patted his chest, and walked slowly toward Bella and me.

Kissing the top of Bella's head, I released her to Rosalie and Esme.

Bella smiled encouragingly at Esme. "Um, yes, I'd like to hear about this spitting thing, and, uh, whatever else happens to come up." She studied my face, her eyes full of suspicion. She reached over and squeezed my arm almost hard enough to be painful.

Sweeping my fingers across her hand, I gave her a smile. "Don't worry, Darlin'. Everything will be fine. We'll be right out back." Bringing her hand to my lips, I kissed her fingers.

We watched the ladies gather up the pillow case, shampoo and body wash, and then they all jumped up to the second floor landing. The moment I heard the water start in Bella's bathroom, I was in front of Edward, seizing his arms and snatching him up from the floor.

"Edward," I began in a low hiss, staring into his eyes. "Look at me." His pupils were tiny pinpricks of black in the dark gold, but as I held him with my gaze and breathed across his face, the pupils blew wide, his fear exploded, and he began to tremble.

"Jasper, what are you doing to him?" Carlisle took a step toward us, but my low growl kept him from coming any closer.

"Just a bit of vampy voodoo. Giving him a taste of his own medicine," I said in a calm voice. "Which may be a bitter pill for him to swallow." I glanced at Carlisle. "Edward and I will be right out." At those words, Edward's eyes widened in dismay.

Carlisle's lips pressed firmly together, forming a straight line as he looked from me to Edward and back. He finally came to his decision, gave me a sharp nod and left the room. He went out to the patio and stood near the edge, facing the lawn and forest.

Emmett was puzzled and concerned, but he grabbed his improvised burn barrel and headed outside to wait with Carlisle.

"How fortunate you can't read my mind. I learned many things when I was in Maria's army — some of which included ways to gain information without killing the prisoner, or leaving any marks — unless I wanted to. I ran through a few of those methods and decided on this one." The edges of my lips turned slightly upward. "I suppose you never realized vampires could dazzle each other did you?" I stepped closer to him. "You were always too busy using it against Bella."

I trailed my left hand over his jaw, letting my fingers brush over his throat, and drew him closer to me. "Vampires are quite a bit more resistant, but it can be done." I breathed across his face again, and he inhaled deeply. "I feel your fear and confusion, Edward. What could you possibly be confused about?"

I trailed my fingertips lightly down his neck until I reached the hollow of his throat. "I could turn it back on you, but I won't." Tipping my head downward and slightly to the side, I looked up at him as I dragged the backs of my fingers down the center of his chest. He stared into my darkening eyes, and his breath hitched as my hand reached the waistband of his slacks.

His fixated gaze lowered, and he was staring at my mouth. As I ran the tip of my tongue between my parted lips and raised my head, his eyes widened and grew darker.

I inched closer to him until our chests were nearly touching, and our eyes were only inches apart. "I could fill you with lust and desire, but somehow I don't think I'll need to." Drawing my spread fingers slowly up his stomach and chest, I whispered, "You need to feel your own emotions."

I slid my hand around the back of his neck, threading my fingers through his hair and tightening my grip. I tilted his head back. His eyes sluggishly moved back to mine. I lowered my voice. "Now you know how this feels." My nose was nearly touching his, and his breath was coming more quickly.

"But what else do you feel, Edward?" I loosened my hold on his left arm and unhurriedly dragged my palm up his arm and over his shoulder to his neck. "I told Bella I would not kill you, but if you ever do anything — anything at all — to hurt her ever again, in any way, I will break that promise." With my right index finger, I traced a line up his neck and along his jaw, brushing over the scars Bella had left on him, and I smiled. "You know the old saying, Edward? 'That which does not kill us, makes us stronger?' It's only partially true. That which does not kill us, leaves scars." I drew my fingers over his scars and then slowly across his bottom lip. He began to tremble under my hands.

Tracing my finger along his upper lip, I very lightly pressed my chest against his and felt the pace of his breath quicken. "If you ever hurt Bella again, I will hunt you down, and I won't stop until I have your cold ashes in my hands." Breaking eye contact with him, I moved my face closer, my lips nearly touching his, and he gasped. "You'll be screaming my name, but it won't be in pleasure."

I drew a faint line with the tip of my nose across his right cheek and to his ear. "Do you understand, Edward?"

He was breathing heavily and his voice was barely a whisper of air. "Yes, Jasper."

I spoke even more quietly to him. "I also feel your lust and your desire for me, Edward." I breathed across his ear. "Is that what has you confused? And ashamed? There's no need to be ashamed. You aren't the first male to lust after me." I brushed my lips over his ear and he shivered. "Not only can I make you feel fear, I can also make you feel … very good." I pressed my jaw to his and his lust grew. "But I don't need to influence you, do I?" I turned my head just enough so that my lips brushed over his ear again and he sucked in a breath.

"Do you have anything else of Bella's? Anything else with her human scent or her blood on it?"

"No, Jasper." His hands rose up from his sides and his fingers traced hesitantly over my elbows and up my biceps. As his hands came in contact with my skin, his lust increased, as did his shame.

"Don't be ashamed. For some, vampire sexuality can be quite … fluid, changing — dynamic." I breathed lightly across his ear and his hair fluttered with my breath. "When Bella first awakened, I felt your desire for her. When you came up on Bella and me in the forest, I felt your lust then, along with your anger. Of course, I assumed you were feeling it for Bella. I didn't realize at the time that you might have wanted to be in Bella's place. Did seeing me on top of her excite you, Edward? Or did you wish to have me cover your body with mine?"

At his spike of lust, I believed I had my answer.

"You want me. I know you want to touch me. I can feel it through your hands on my skin. And you want my hands on you." His breath caught in his throat and a miniscule moan escaped him as my fingers brushed over his throat. "Your distaste and disgust for me hasn't been for my scars, but for your own … attraction to me? You want my hands on your body, but I belong to someone else." I drew back from him, inch by inch. "I am only hers." I trailed the fingers of my right hand along the scars on his face, pressing more firmly as I reached his jaw. "You will stay away from my mate, and you will never hurt her again." I brought my hands down his neck and over his shoulders, stepping back and pulling my arms from his trembling grasp.

Speaking in a more normal tone of voice so Emmett and Carlisle could hear me, I said, "Edward, we need to get outside and light a fire." I took another step back from Edward. His eyes were completely black. He finally blinked.

"Jasper," he whispered.

I raised my eyebrows slightly as I started to turn away from him to join Emmett and Carlisle.

"She loves you, Jasper. I saw it and heard it in her mind." He blinked again and his shaking hand went to comb through his hair. "It … it was there in the front of her mind before she showed me … her … her memories. It was there just beneath them, running constantly — over and over." His eyes closed and his head dropped. Slowly, his eyes opened again, he looked up at me, and his misery nearly overwhelmed me. "Bella loves you."

.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28, I Call

Jasper's POV

I was stunned at Edward's confession that Bella loved me, and the only thing that saved me from displaying any sort of reaction were my decades of hiding my true emotions from that bitch Maria. I merely raised one eyebrow, gave him a slight smile, and extended my hand, gesturing toward the doorway, urging him to go ahead of me.

Emmett's enthusiasm for making fire had been dampened somewhat during my questioning of Edward, but it didn't take him long to get back into the swing of things. He grabbed the trash can with a grin and darted out across the yard.

Edward was walking as slowly as a horse thief on his way to the gallows, but I resisted the urge to poke him in the back to move him along. By the time we had crossed the patio, Emmett had darted back and forth across the lawn and along the edge of the forest, finding three football-sized rocks to prop the trash can on. Enthusiastically waving a small box of matches, he was eager to get started. His makeshift burn barrel was set up about midway between the patio and the closest trees.

Thoughts in my mind were tangled and knotting themselves more tightly as I stationed myself with my back to the forest. I was facing the burn barrel so I could watch Edward, who was standing directly across from me. I suppose he thought having the fire between us would somehow shield him from me or slow me down if I were to go after him. Idiot. I've jumped over and through fire before.

Emmett was to my left, and Carlisle was to my right. I clasped my hands together behind my back, in the classic "at ease" pose and nodded at Emmett.

Another small smile appeared on Emmett's face as he reached into the trash can to pull out the two halves of the paperback copy of Romeo and Juliet Bella had torn. "I didn't bring out any newspaper, but I think this'll do." He glanced up at Edward as he began slowly ripping pages from the tattered book. He crumpled them slightly and dropped them in the trash can.

Emmett appeared happy, but there was a rigid tension in his jaw, and I could feel his anger and disgust. I knew that he found Edward's collection of Bella's blood to be unsettling, and he wanted to destroy it nearly as much as I did. He did seem to be deriving some satisfaction from Edward's aggrieved expression and his slight flinches as each section of pages were torn from the book.

"Well," Emmett began. "Making fire is much more fun in the dark, but I don't think anyone wants to wait a couple more hours until dusk." He tossed the remaining pages in the burn barrel, saving one, spit in the barrel, and stirred Bella's discards around with a long stick he had picked up in the woods.

As Emmett went to strike a match to that last page, I tried to catch my racing thoughts. Why would Edward disclose that Bella loved me? Did he gain any advantage by telling me? Did he say that to get a reaction, or was he finally admitting defeat?

He had made one last desperate attempt to gain Bella's favor, and he had received her wrath instead. It couldn't be any clearer what she thought of him and that she wanted him to stay away from her.

Even I had to admit a pissed off Bella was a little scary, especially when she had the ability to trap and hold you down without even touching you. Who knew if she could actually close down her shield enough to crush vampires?

Was what he said the truth? Did she love me? Or had he said that to try and distract me for some reason? He was the only one here who could read thoughts, and Bella had forced out her shield, opening her mind to him. Is that why he had looked at me with such anguish when she had first shown him what she had been thinking?

Was that the reason she kept blocking me from feeling her emotions, except for the few she chose to let me feel? Why would she do that? The answer to that question was fairly easy, even for me. For the same reason she had felt guilt after remembering Alice — I was still married.

Edward's sexual attraction for me was … unanticipated. In the over fifty years I had lived with the Cullens, I had never once felt that from him and had assumed I would have to influence him with a burst of lust in order to subdue and question him. Lust frequently worked better than fear because the … subject wanted to please me.

Edward's strongest emotions for me had always been distaste and disgust, but I had been able to trace those back to thoughts or memories of my time in Maria's army, a glimpse of my scars, or to my "slips" when I had attacked humans. Otherwise, as long as I kept most of my scars covered, we had gotten along well and had even enjoyed each other's company over the years. We had both, along with Alice, worked together to protect the coven — the family.

He had not displayed any such interest in other males as long as I had been with the Cullens, and, up until he had met Bella, I had occasionally thought he was asexual. Then he met Bella, and I had felt his desire for her when they had been together, though he vehemently squashed it time and again.

He wasn't the only male to ever have lustful thoughts for me, but what had caused his desire for me to surface? While with the Cullens, I had put myself in the background and remained there. Carlisle was the head, and no coven could have two leaders.

Yet another good reason to break away.

But being mated to Bella had certainly forced me into the foreground. Could that have sparked his interest? Or was his repression of it broken loose because of the emotional and physical trauma he had suffered in recent days?

Had Edward told me she loved me in order to distract me from his interest?

It didn't matter. Regardless of what Edward thought of or felt for me, I would do whatever was necessary to take care of and protect Bella.

From my position, I could also see the rear of the house. I glanced up to the windows of Bella's room and saw that someone had closed them, but had left the curtains drawn back. Looking quickly over the rest of the house, I noted that all the windows had been closed, at least at the back of the house. If any of the women cared to look, they could plainly see where we were and that Edward was still in one piece. He would be left in one piece — but only because it was what Bella wanted.

I turned my attention to Edward as the pages of the book flamed up in the trash can, catching the other items on fire. Acrid, black smoke from the plastic bags, with traces of the sweet scent of burning venom, began to drift up from the silvery can. It wound slowly between us before being carried away by the minimal breeze.

I knew Bella and Edward had read Romeo and Juliet together. They had also watched one of the film adaptations in order to do a report for English class. It seemed that book had more significance to both of them than as just an assignment for school. It had for Bella, at any rate.

Edward's face clouded with pain and he was projecting disappointment, regret, grief, and resignation. As each of the plastic storage bags gave a little hiss before melting, the contents burning away, his brow would furrow and the skin around his mouth would tense.

To me, that was further proof his only true interest in Bella was her blood. The fascination with the blood was stronger than any concern he may have held for her as a woman. How could he not have been interested in her? My anger at what he had done to her increased, but I tamped it down. I could easily dismember and be rid of him, but Bella wanted him alive to remember. I consoled myself with the fact that Edward would suffer for a very long time, as long as he didn't attempt and succeed at suicide by … vampire.

Carlisle had been staring down into the trash can and he sighed wearily as he took a small step back from the flames. "Edward, I cannot understand your motivation for wanting to try and save any part of Bella's human self, most especially her blood. As Bella said, a photograph or even a lock of her hair would have been understandable — even acceptable — but her blood?" Carlisle's saddened questioning eyes looked up to Edward's face.

"I can't … I'm not able to explain it, Carlisle." Edward's hands hung limply at his sides, and his shoulders sagged. His darkened eyes quickly glanced around at each of us before dropping to stare at the sickly yellow flames again. "I … I only know I had to have some small part of her. I needed …"

"That's bullshit, Edward," Emmett hissed, and his right hand sliced through the air in a chopping motion. His golden eyes had also darkened, and his normally cheerful face displayed a rarely seen hardness. "You've done some weird shit over the years, and who hasn't, right? But this," he jabbed a finger at the flickering flames, "is some of the most fucked up shit I've ever seen." He took his stick and poked at the smoking lumps in the trash can before spitting on one of the largest. Flames flared brightly over it, and Emmett stirred everything in the bottom of the trash can, ensuring it all burned completely away.

Considering the depth of Edward's obsession, I would have to make sure he wasn't able to collect any of those ashes or lumps of burned plastic.

Emmett closed his eyes for a moment as he took in a slow, deep breath. "Edward, she probably would have let you keep almost anything you asked for if you wanted some little thing, but you had to go and be a pervert again. After that creepy shit, I wouldn't have let you keep one goddamn thing. I don't get it, but it's up to her."

His jaw clenched and he turned his head slightly to the side, flexing his neck before snaring Edward with his eyes again. "Do you realize how lucky you are to have your arms, legs, and head still attached? Do you realize how lucky you are to still be alive? I don't know how Bella kept herself from rippin' you to pieces. And with her shield, none of us would have been able to stop her. Not that most of us would have wanted to." Emmett snorted, looked away from him and into the small fire again. "Bella told you. Jasper told you, and now I'm telling you. Stay away from her. Jasper may have told Bella that he wouldn't kill you, but I didn't."

Emmett's eyes had darkened to a glittering black as he struggled to control his fury. "And one more thing," he growled as he jabbed at the smoking ashes and blackened lumps, the stick thumping loudly in the bottom of the trash can. "Don't think you'll be able to grab any of these ashes. I'm gonna make this shit disappear."

Pleased that Emmett and I were on the same wavelength, I gave him a grateful nod. I had stood quietly and watched the myriad of negative and fearful emotions flicker over Edward's face as Emmett spoke, then caught his shock and disbelief when Emmett threatened to kill him if he didn't stay away from Bella. I wasn't surprised at what Emmett had said, knowing how strongly he felt about her; how much he loved her as his sister and friend.

Carlisle sighed again and straightened his shoulders, though his worry and disappointment were weighing heavily on him. "Edward, you do need to stay away from Bella …"

"Then I should leave. I should go," Edward interrupted him. Bringing his fingers to the bridge of his nose, he added quickly, "I can pack a few things and go to Denali and …"

"You can't," I said forcefully. "You won't. As Bella said, to keep up appearances — maintain the charade — you need to attend her memorial service on Thursday and then on the fourth you need to go to your graduation with Alice. I'm sure the memorial speeches about Bella won't be too taxing for you. If anyone asks, Rosalie, Emmett, and I have finals and there isn't time to fly back from the east coast, make it to your graduation, and take the finals."

I finally shifted my position, moving my arms to my sides and lifting my head to look down on Edward. Destroying the last remnants of Bella's blood helped to keep my rage at bay, but I could feel my mouth curving into a sneer. "I don't care how difficult it may be for you, but you will attend Bella's memorial, and you will go to your graduation. When you all leave to go to the service, Bella, Rosalie, Emmett, and I will leave soon after. You will play your part, Edward, and you will do it convincingly. Just as we all have before."

Edward's anxiety was climbing higher and he gripped the bridge of his nose even more tightly. "I should leave. I'm sure everyone would understand why I wouldn't be able to attend …"

"Edward," I snarled, and I felt venom begin to form in my mouth. My hands had clenched into tight fists. "To ensure that you do your duty, I can remove a few select parts and keep them until you have … fulfilled your obligations. Being without a few extremities won't kill you. It would be painful, but that should ensure that you cooperate." I took a step toward Emmett to get closer to Edward.

"You wouldn't!" Edward gasped.

Faster than I've ever seen him move, Emmett backhanded Edward with a vicious crack, catching his arm against his face, and sending him soaring toward the patio. He struck the ground so hard he was embedded in the mulch and soil of Esme's flowerbed. I was there, kneeling on the ground, my right hand around his throat. The next instant Carlisle and Emmett were standing over us, one at each side.

Carlisle knelt at my right as he quickly examined Edward. "Your arm and your jaw have nearly been crushed. Lie still." Carlisle's own jaw flexed with his anger, but he reached around my right arm and cautiously took hold of Edward's crushed forearm and laid it gently over his chest.

On my left, Emmett dropped to his hands and knees beside the Edward-filled impression in the ground. "Didn't see that one comin' did ya? Eddie, ya just don't get it, do ya? No matter what you say or what you think, you are not goin' to run away again because shit got too hard for you. You need to man the fuck up."

"Yes, Edward," I said, adjusting my grip on his neck. "Time to suck it up and grow some balls. You've always run from your troubles, and the last time you insisted we all follow you. I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for that. Our leaving nearly cost Bella her life when she jumped from that cliff, and then again when she followed your sorry ass to Volterra." My fingers tightened. "Even if she hadn't gone to Italy, Aro would have found out about her from your fuckin' mind." I squeezed his throat a bit more. "We mustn't forget your melodramatic flair brought her to the attention of the Volturi. You're not running this time. Your immature, selfish, and fucked up actions will not jeopardize Bella's safety again." Flexing my fingers over his throat, I growled, "Do I need to remove any little parts?"

Edward could not speak yet because his mouth and face were still healing, evidently painfully, but his dull black eyes moved up to meet mine and he shook his head.

"I'd have to agree, Edward," Carlisle said with conviction. "Somewhere along the line, I failed in my duty and my responsibility as your mentor — as your father. I did not see it before now. Perhaps I didn't see it because previous situations didn't seem quite as critical as this one. Or perhaps I was blinded by my love for you." Carlisle bowed his head slightly. "I will not risk Esme. I won't risk anyone else, either. Our entire family is at stake, and I will do what I must to ensure our safety. All of us must wisely and carefully play our parts — especially you. As your mentor, your father — your coven leader — I am telling you that you will not leave. You will attend Bella's memorial and you will participate in the Forks High graduation ceremony." Carlisle's eyes narrowed at Edward. "Jasper may be leaving, but I think I can ensure that you will … do your duty. Edward, if you leave prematurely, you cannot come back."

Edwards's eyes widened in disbelief at Carlisle's quiet threat.

"You may leave immediately after the graduation," Carlisle said quietly. "In fact, I think we all might need a little time away."

"Alaska is lovely this time of year," Esme said softly from the doorway to the living room. She walked slowly toward us, smoothing her slacks, and stopped to stand at Carlisle's side. She reached for him and her hand slid over his shoulder and down his back. "You know I will support you in whatever decision you make."

She looked down at Edward sadly, and I felt her pity and unhappiness change to resolve. "It will be difficult, Edward, but we all will get through this." She smiled encouragingly at him.

She looked up at me and the smile finally reached her eyes. "Jasper, Bella is still in her bubble bath. She does seem to enjoy the water. She's been listening to the music on Rosalie's iPod for the last few minutes so did not hear … all of this." Esme sighed lightly, then smiled fondly as she said, "She does like to have the music up rather loud. Rosalie is with her, reading a magazine. I'm sure she'll be out soon." She stooped down next to Carlisle and reached for his hand. "I believe we need to speak with Edward."

"Yes, we do, Esme." Carlisle reached for Edward's undamaged hand and urged him to get up out of the flowerbed. Carlisle assisted him out of the hole and began to help him brush off his clothes. Edward remained silent. He still seemed to be in shock that Emmett had hit him and Carlisle had threatened him.

Esme turned to Emmett. "Emmett, dear, could you fill in this hole before going inside?"

"I sure can, Esme. I got some ashes to take care of, too."

"Thank you, Emmett."

Since Esme and Carlisle had taken charge of Edward and were leading him toward the forest for their talk and Emmett would be taking care of the flowerbed and the ashes, it was time for me to take care of a few things myself. Like give Peter a call. That, and I needed to get away from Edward before I killed him and broke my promise to Bella.

"I'll be up in my study." I gave them all a nod, trusting Emmett to make sure the ashes of Bella's blood would disappear. I darted inside and leapt up to the second floor landing. I flashed down the hall to my study and dug my other phone out of the center drawer of my desk. Luckily, it was charged up enough to call Peter, but I'd have to remember to plug it in. Spotting another Zippo lighter with a Confederate flag emblem on it, I grabbed it and put it in my pocket.

As I scrolled through the contact list on the phone, hit Peter's number and waited for it to connect, I began pacing quickly from the window at the north wall to the door at the south wall and back. I'd been away from Bella long enough and was beginning to feel anxious. Edward's continual adolescent drama and utter selfish bullshit did not help matters.

I kept thinking how much easier things would have been without him around.

But then I had Peter's own brand of shit to look forward to. From the time I had sired him, that bastard had seemed to know when shit was going to happen. He never called it a gift, and he said he didn't get visions like Alice — a stray thought or idea would just pop into his head. Sometimes it was "just a feeling." Though almost everyone seemed to get those now and then, Peter's intuitive flashes often appeared to be just a little bit more. Unfortunately, those stray thoughts and feelings didn't always come across with enough information or when you wanted them to, which just annoyed the piss out of me. Steeling myself against the onslaught of Peter's particularly aggravating variety of fuckery, I ran my hand through my hair and took a deep breath.

Finally, Peter answered the phone. "Major."

"Captain," I said calmly, despite my increasing restlessness. "How have you and Charlotte been?"

Peter laughed sharply. "Don't try to bullshit an old bullshitter. I knew you were going to call. You called for a reason, and it ain't to chew the fat. What's up?"

"If you knew I was goin' to call, why didn't you answer the phone quicker? Asshole." I sighed. "To get to the point then …Think you're up to handling a newborn again?" I stopped pacing and was staring out the window in the north wall, looking out over the driveway and watching the new leaves rustling gently on the trees.

After a pause, Peter asked cautiously, "You have a newborn?" After another slight pause he said, "I think Char and I can handle any newborn you got even if he is one of yours."

What the hell did he mean by that? On second thought, he had a point — I had sired both him and Charlotte. Besides that, Peter had a way of knowing things and he didn't know I had a newborn? I leaned my right forearm on the window frame and drummed my fingers anxiously against the window. Lowering my voice, I said, "This one's different."

"Whaddya mean 'this one's different?' A newborn is a newborn. They get stupid, and ya rip their arm off and beat 'em half to death with it. What's so hard about that?"

I didn't know why I was feeling more nervous by the second, but I was suddenly tongue-tied and couldn't find the words to tell him who the newborn was and how important she was to me.

"What's goin' on, Major?" I could hear the suspicion in Peter's voice. "We'll meet him and kick his ass if he doesn't behave. Piece of cake."

I swallowed nervously and whispered into the phone, "It's a her."

"A female? So, we'll kick her ass if she doesn't behave herself. You know I don't have a problem with kickin' some pretty little filly's ass and makin' her act right."

At the thought of anyone attempting to kick Bella's pretty little ass, an involuntary growl rumbled up through my chest. Regrettably, Peter heard it.

"Like I said, Major, what's goin' on? What's different about this female newborn?"

I swallowed convulsively again. Switching the phone to my right ear, and running the fingers of my left hand through my hair, I shifted my weight from my right foot to my left. I cleared my throat.

"Christ Almighty! Just spit it out already." Peter was getting impatient. "What the hell's the matter with you?"

Clearing my throat again I mumbled into the phone, "She's, uh, she's my mate." I noticed my fingers flipping the lock on the window and made them stop. I shoved my hand in my pocket.

The silence on Peter's end stretched out until I thought I would choke.

"Your mate?" he finally said. The silence dragged on for a few more seconds and then, "The newborn is your mate. HA! Didn't I tell ya?" Then he yelled right into the phone, "Char!" He finally pulled the phone away from his mouth before he yelled again. "Hey, Char! We got us a newborn vamp and guess who she is!"

In the background, I could hear Charlotte's annoyed voice. "Peter, I told you I was busy with these earrings. What on God's green earth are you talkin' about? Why the hell would we want a damn newborn? I had enough of that shit back in Mexico."

If I could sweat, I would have been wringing wet by then.

"She's Jasper's mate."

Dead silence. No pun intended. After several seconds, Charlotte's voice sounded much closer. "Give. Me. That. Phone. right now, Peter Whitlock!"

I could hear a scuffle through the speaker of the phone. There were a few sharp cracks and a thud. It sounded like the phone hit the floor and bounced.

"Jasper!" Squeaked Charlotte's excited voice. "Oh! I'm so happy for ya, sugar! Who is she? When do we get to meet her? Will we get to meet her soon? It had better be soon or I'm gonna whip your ass!"

Her voice just dripped southern belle sometimes. I could imagine her grinning from ear to ear, bouncing up on her toes, and pale blonde hair flying around her. In spite of her threats to whip my ass, it was good to talk to her.

In the background, I heard Peter whining, "I would've given you the phone, sweetness."

"Hush up, Peter. Jasper! Well say somethin', honey. Who is she? We're goin' to meet her soon, right?"

Peter's voice broke through again. "Tell 'im I told him that black-haired shrimpy imp wasn't his mate."

"Hush up, Peter! I'm on the phone! C'mon, Jasper. Say somethin', sweetie. When do we get to meet her? Ya know I have to meet her!"

I drew my hand down over my face, sighed, and shoved my hand back in my pocket. "Yes, you'll meet her, Charlotte. I called to ask if you and Peter would meet us at the northern spread."

"Sure we will, sugar. Where are ya now?"

"We're still in Forks. We need to leave, but we're not leaving until Thursday morning around ten. Rosalie and Emmett will be coming with us. The rest of the Cullens will be staying here for a while then they may be going to Alaska."

Peter's voice came through the phone, sounding closer. "Tell him we can be there tomorrow, since we're not too far from there, and Charlotte will have the place nice and clean in no time."

Charlotte growled in warning, "Peter." Then she cleared her throat. "I guess ya heard that, Jasper?"

"Yes, I did. Thank you. If things go as I've planned, we should be there Friday morning. I'm hoping dawn or thereabouts. My plan is to only stop for gas, but we'll see how it goes."

"We'll have the place opened up and spic and span. We were by there about six months ago, sweetie — about the beginning of December — so it shouldn't be too bad. Hopefully, there isn't too much damage from the winter," Charlotte said and then she hissed, "Peter, quit it."

"Just gimme the phone, woman."

Charlotte growled at him again.

"So, Jasper." Peter began as he claimed the phone. "Rejoining the Whitlock Coven at last. Just like I knew you would. I told you years ago Alice wasn't your mate. Who is this gal? Have we ever met her before?"

"I remember you told me, and no, you haven't met her." I paused for a moment, my nerves kicking in again. "I told you about her last year when I called. It's … it's Bella." My hand had escaped my pocket again and was picking at a loose thread on the curtains.

It had to be some kind of record. Peter was speechless again. Not much kept him from running off at the mouth. He talked about as much as Emmett did.

"Bella," he stated. "Edward's human girlfriend. This has got to be a hell of a story."

"She's not human anymore, and she's not Edward's girlfriend," I growled.

"That's what I understand," he deadpanned. "How old is she?" he asked, the joking tone finally leaving his voice.

"A little over a day."

The silence that greeted me could only be categorized as "stunned."

I heard Peter suck in a deep breath, winding himself up. "Are you fuckin' kiddin' me? You're fuckin' with me, right? You're gonna try an' stick a psychotic, schizo newborn vampire in a little ol' metal box on Thursday when she's three days old and try to drive? And let us not forget this newborn female vampire is your mate, for Christ's sake! And you're gonna try and drive? I remember that newly mated shit … oh, sorry, Char. Just tryin' to drive home a point with Major Delusional here … like I said, Jasper, I remember that newly mated, uh, enthusiasm, and I'm kinda surprised you've been on the phone this long and been able to speak in complete sentences. That new mate stuff is, well … whew. And you're gonna try and drive all the way to the northern spread?"

"Yes. That's why Emmett and Rosalie are coming with us. And it's a crew cab truck, by the way." I thumped my head against the window frame. "She's been pretty good. She has a lot of control for a newborn — almost too much sometimes. But she's had her moments …"

"I imagine she has."

"I'm on the phone because she's taking a bubble bath."

"And you're not in the tub with her with all that hot, slick, soapy …"

"Shut up, Peter." I groaned longingly at the image in my mind of a naked, hot, slick and slippery Bella in a tub full of soapy bubbles, infused with her scent. I realized I was clenching my teeth. "Too many nosy Cullens around," I growled.

"No shit." He laughed.

"She can't stay here." My hand just wouldn't stay in my pocket. It found its way to my forehead and through my hair again. "We can't stay here. Her father lives in town. She has friends here. She … she runs a lot, and though she hasn't gotten away from me, I don't want to take the chance that she'll get loose and kill somebody. Or someone from town, or the wolves, see her. Then there's Edward and Alice. Not that I give a flyin' fuck about Edward."

"I'll just bet." I could hear the smirk in Peter's voice. "Edweirdo's still alive?"

"Yes," I growled again. "Bella asked me not to kill him. But Edward and I had a little … talk."

"I remember your little talks." Peter nervously cleared his throat. "So, uh, why are you waitin' until the day after tomorrow to leave Forks?"

"Of course, no body was found after she wrecked her truck, but her memorial service is Thursday. She's the Police Chief's only child so the whole town will be looking the other way when we leave."

"Oh, damn. The Top Cop's only child." Peter swallowed loudly. "Well, Major, I look forward to meetin' and hearin' all about the little newborn that has you stammerin' and stutterin'. Oh, and you'll get through the mountains just fine if you stick to your schedule. I think I should check the PO Box, too, right?"

"What? You doin' weather reports now?" It was goddamn irritating when he did that. Always had been.

"Hell, no. Those assholes are always wrong. I know ya'll will make it just fine."

"I hope so. And, yes, go by the post office. It's a good idea to start checking it. I'll be expecting mail, and I need to get some more clothes and can't get out to shop. They'll be sent to the PO Box."

"Rippin' your clothes off, is she?" He laughed again.

I sighed. "Yes. But not quite the way you think she is. I'll order some more for her, too." I ran my fingers through my hair again. "Thanks, Peter."

"Don't mention it. I reckon it'll be fun."

"Fun" he says.

I looked to the heavens and sighed. I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into, but I couldn't worry about that at the moment; I had shit to take care of. "Mark the perimeter, and if you need anything for the house or the barns, get it. You know which account to use." I sighed again and dropped my head. "And, uh, she does seem to like bubble baths. Tell Charlotte to pick up something with a vanilla scent. Nothin' too sweet." That was embarrassing. "Thanks again, Peter. We'll see you on Friday."

"Vanilla bubble baths." Peter chuckled. "Will do, Major," he said, laughing at me again, and disconnecting the call.

With relief, I pressed the end call button and went to my desk to get the charger. After plugging in my phone, I heaved a huge sigh, grateful that task was over and had gone as well as expected. Despite Peter's laughing at me, I knew I could count on him.

No one was immune from Peter's infuriating teasing, and I expected Bella to be prime target number one. Of course, thinking about Bella getting pissed off and biting him for it brought a smile to my face. I sat at the desk, opened my laptop and started putting in the passwords.

.

Chapter Text

Chapter 29, I Mark

Jasper's POV

Having multiple levels of security on my laptop slowed things down, but it was the only way to go. It's not that I didn't trust everyone, though I was having a problem with Edward; it was just more prudent not to have to trust them. Bella would get all the passwords and codes, of course.

Speaking of Bella — would she be in that tub forever?

After getting through the passwords, I got online and searched for V-neck t-shirts. I ordered two dozen in a few different colors, making sure six of them were black, since Bella had said she liked it. All of them would be shipped to our new home. Then I looked for Levi's jeans and bought six pairs of those. Bella hadn't ripped my pants off yet, but I could hope.

That caused my mind to wander to what it might be like for Bella to rip all of my clothes off me. That led to thoughts of being naked, in a bubble bath with Bella. I let out a long, slow breath. The tub at my house was a standard size. We could remodel and put in a bigger tub if Bella wanted one. Shit, I'd build her a whole new house if she wanted.

Next on my list was to try and find another Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt for her. Might need a few of them. Maybe something with a Firefly TV show theme. Clicking through what I could find, I didn't think I'd like for her to wear something with "Captain Tightpants" on it.

A few more of those Henleys might be nice.

Absorbed in my shopping for Bella, and day dreams of vanilla and spice scented bubbles, I didn't notice anyone walk up to my door until I heard the light knocking.

Looking up, I sucked in a breath. Every time I had been away from Bella and then saw her again, it was like seeing her for the first time. She was a vision framed by the deep cherry-stained oak of the door trim. She was wearing stone washed jeans, her navy blue Converse, and a long-sleeved, deep red Henley. The three buttons at her throat were undone, and the sleeves were pushed up on her forearms. The red of her shirt brought out the gleaming auburn highlights in her rich brown hair, and her crimson eyes glistened like jewels. I was struck dumb and could only stare at her. It didn't matter what color she wore because any color she had on complemented the light ivory of her skin and enhanced the soft pink of her lips. Oh, my fucking God, she was beautiful.

"Jasper? Can I come in?" she asked tentatively. She brought her hands together and started picking at her fingers.

I must have looked like a drooling idiot with my mouth hanging open, eyes wide, and my hands poised above the laptop.

Swallowing the pooling venom in my mouth, I choked out, "Uh, yeah."

I stood quickly from my desk and didn't notice I had knocked my chair over until I heard the loud thump as it hit the floor. I quickly righted it and darted across the room to her.

She met me half way and reached out, her fingers delicately brushing over my arm.

Instantly, as her skin met mine, the tension and anxiety I had been feeling drained away. As I breathed in her tantalizing fragrance, my constantly smoldering desire for her rekindled, warming me from within. She had used the vanilla and brown sugar body wash again, but she had also used the strawberry shampoo. I hoped she used that up as soon as possible. I didn't want any more reminders of her time with Edward.

"Hi," she said shyly, tipping her head down and looking up at me.

Again I wondered if what Edward had told me was true. Did she love me? I adored her. I caught her hands in mine and brought them to my lips. "Hi," I whispered against her fingers. "I missed you."

Her eyes widened slightly. She started to pull her hands away, but I held them more tightly. "Stay. Please."

I moved my left hand to cup her face, and with my right, I brought her hands to my chest. She leaned into my palm, and her eyes slowly closed. A small smile graced her face.

"Bella, you are so beautiful." I stepped closer to her, and my right arm was around her back, pulling her body into mine. I bent my head down to kiss the top of her head. "I missed you," I repeated. Inhaling deeply, I closed my eyes; sinking into the peace and contentedness I felt whenever her scent surrounded me.

She tried to pull away from me again, and I held her more firmly against me. "Please, Bella." More than anything I had ever wanted, I wanted her to stay with me, be near me. And not just at that moment, but forever.

"Uh, but Jasper, um …" she said, turning her face up to mine. Her eyes widened, and she gasped. "Oh!" She jerked away from me and bumped into the deep green couch I had placed diagonally in front of my desk. "Your … your eyes are so, uh, black," she stammered out as she backed away from me toward the end of the couch and in the direction of the open door. Her thigh grazed the corner of the oak end table causing the lamp to begin rocking.

I darted forward and caught the lamp before it fell over. "Next are you going to tell me what sharp teeth I have?"

"Very funny." She crinkled her nose at me and smiled nervously as she backed away another step.

I settled the lamp and stepped toward her. "Before anyone else interrupts us, I want to tell you that Alice is giving me a divorce." With my right hand, I stroked her gleaming hair along the side of her face and down her neck. "I should have the papers in a few days."

I couldn't feel her emotions, but her face was colored with surprise. "She is? I didn't think she … I mean, I thought that she would, uh …" Ducking away from my hand, she skittered sideways around the table, avoiding the lamp, and quickly went behind the couch, never taking her eyes off my face. She backed away from the couch until she hit the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves at the front of the room. "Oh!" She gasped again, looking quickly to her left, at the open door, and back at me. She nervously yanked up the sleeves of her deep red shirt and crossed her arms.

I took a step toward her, but was angling to put myself between her and the door. "You thought she would fight it? Why would she? I'm your mate," I whispered, gazing into her eyes and taking another step closer to the door. "You are my mate. No one can fight that."

Wanting her so badly, I could feel my dick lengthening, my breath coming faster, and I longed to have her in my arms. I took another slow step toward the door. One more and I would be able to reach it and swing it closed.

"Er, uh, Jasper." Bella had backed herself into the corner. "Rose went to get Emmett. They'll be back any minute. Um, I think Alice is in her room down the hall."

I took that last step toward the door, grasped the edge and pushed it gently closed until I heard the latch click; my eyes on Bella the entire time.

Her eyes dropped slowly from my face, down over my chest, and as I turned to face her, her eyes dropped to my groin. The bright red began to darken, and her eyes snapped back to mine. She gulped.

"Um, did you burn all those bags and stuff? Because I kinda smell burnt plastic, paper, and something sort of sweet on you." She fussed with her hair, running her fingers through a lock over her shoulder.

"Yes," I whispered, taking a step to begin closing the distance between us. "Everything was burned to ashes. Emmett enjoyed it quite a bit, as did I." Another slow step. "That sweet smell is burned venom."

Her dark eyes dropped to her fidgeting fingers, and she pulled at the ends of her hair. "Did, uh, Edward have anything to say?" she asked in a quiet voice.

"He mentioned wanting to leave and go to Denali, but we convinced him it was in his best interest to stay and meet his obligations."

I had taken two more quiet steps over the wool Oriental rug and was almost close enough to touch her. My right hand reached out involuntarily to her.

"He wanted to leave? You mean he wasn't going to go to my memorial and his graduation?" Her hands clenched into fists, and her black eyes were sparking with her instant anger. "You mean he wanted to run away again, that son of a bitch!" Then she was off and pacing, past the couch and my desk toward the north wall and back. She was fuming. "Granted, I've done a lot of running, but I have an excuse for being out of my mind — I'm a newborn!" She stopped in front of me and flung her arms out. "He's over a hundred years old!"

She flashed to the back of the room and spun around, her shining hair swirling around her shoulders, causing her delicious and intoxicating scent to fill the space. She put her hands on her hips. "When smelling my blood was too much for him, he took off. Now he wants to take off again, the jerk. How did you convince him to stay?"

Thwarted in my quest to seduce her, I sighed heavily, crossed my arms, and leaned against the bookshelves on the east wall. "I told him I could remove a few parts. I would return them later if he did what he was supposed to. Emmett backhanded him, and Carlisle told him if he left before he went to your memorial and the graduation, he couldn't come back. I also had my hand around his throat."

Bella blinked with her surprise. "Emmett hit him? Wow. He didn't see that coming and duck?"

I smirked at the memory. "I think he was distracted watching the last of your blood burn away."

She nodded. "Did you break off any parts?"

"No need to yet." I took a step toward her.

"You guys were busy out there."

"A bit. Emmett volunteered to get rid of those ashes so Edward wouldn't be tempted to try and save any of them."

"What? Do you think he would do that?" she asked incredulously.

"I wouldn't put it past him."

"He has been kind of a creeper like that." She leaned back against the bookcase and crossed her arms, a look of disbelief on her face. "And Carlisle … Wow. So Carlisle said he couldn't come back. Wow. That's … wow. I never thought I'd see the day."

"Neither did I, but I think Carlisle and Esme are a little disappointed in him." I took another step toward her. "His mind reading is useful, but Carlisle managed to survive many years without him. He and Esme could do so again. I think Edward may realize this, and I think he would prefer to stay in Carlisle's good graces. Edward's safer with the family around him for protection."

I strode toward her and her arms flashed to her sides.

"Just closin' the curtains, Darlin'." I winked and raised the left side of my mouth in a slight smile, watching her eyes darken further as I let my accent come out a little more. "It'll be dark soon." I tugged the curtains closed and then turned to face her again. "There are a few things I want to talk about, and I'd like for you to look over the IDs I ordered for you. They're in my desk."

I went to my desk and pulled my chair out of the way, rolling it toward the window. I opened the center drawer and lifted out the manila envelope. "I ordered these several weeks ago. Rosalie went and picked them up." I peered into the envelope. "I'm not sure who, but she or Emmett added the photos. Emmett, I think." I closed my laptop and pushed it to the back of the desk. Fortunately, I'd completed my orders. Pulling the papers and cards from the envelope, I laid them out, making three piles so Bella could see them and stepped back.

Downstairs, we heard a door slam. Looking heavenward, I said, "Emmett's back."

"You can always tell when he's around." Bella smiled fondly.

She came toward the desk, crossing her arms under her breasts, and looked down at the papers and documents. She frowned.

"Isabella Elizabeth Cullen? Isn't 'Elizabeth' Edward's mother's name?" At my nod she snorted. "He wasn't ever going to change me, so after a couple decades I would have looked like his mother. I don't think so," she said scornfully. "You can burn that set." Then she looked up at me, her eyes were back to a clear, bright red. "You ordered these several weeks ago?"

I was surprised again that she could remember something like Edward's mother's name. "Yes. It was inevitable that you either be killed or changed since the Volturi have … been made aware of your existence. Thinking we'd eventually go with the wiser choice, I thought I should have these ready. We have no idea when one of them may happen to show up to check — unless Alice has a vision of it. But she told me her visions haven't been coming in very well."

Bella just nodded at that, pressing her lips together, and looked down at the other sets of documents. "So how come you do this?"

"It's part of what I contribute to the … family. I can make them myself, but sometimes it's good to delegate. I prefer it. Jenks, and his father before him, have worked for us for years and have always done good work." I leaned against the corner of the desk. "Sometimes I think handling the documents became my job because I'm already the black sheep of the family. And I'm good at it."

"I think maybe Edward has taken over that title now, the stupid-ass," she mumbled and frowned slightly. Then she nodded her head again. "Isabella Emma McCarty?"

"Emmett's sister or cousin?"

She smiled at that.

"Isabella Marie Whitlock?"

"Yes. At the time, I could've chosen any of our names. Esme's Platt, Edward's Masen, Alice's Brandon, Rosalie's Hale, or mine. I've been using Hale here since Rosalie is supposed to be my twin, so I chose Whitlock. With your dark hair, you wouldn't look enough like our sister. I wanted to have at least three sets so you could choose."

"But things have changed since then." She looked at me from the corner of her eye.

"Yes, they have." I studied her eyes, wondering what she was thinking. I couldn't feel her emotions, but there was a subtle tension in the air. Was she angry at my choosing to use my name? "I got these so that we would have them here and available. I could get a set for you with any name you like, but they take time." With the way things had changed, I hadn't thought she would want to use the name Cullen, but I didn't know if she would want to use Emmett's name or mine, or choose something else entirely. "I could call and order a set today if you want. We'd get them in about two weeks."

"So, when we leave, if I used 'Whitlock' I could be a family friend, your cousin, your sister, or …"

"Or my wife," I said quietly, intently watching for her reaction. She had not been impressed by Edward's plan to propose to her. She seemed opposed to marriage, and I was suddenly afraid that my choice of words would anger her. Though the thought of her being my wife was appealing, she might not think so.

She turned her head away, her hair falling over her shoulder and hiding her face. Her right hand went to her mouth, and she nibbled at her fingernails as she looked over her new identities. She sighed lightly. Her hand dropped from her mouth and went to grasp her other hand.

I could see a slight tremor in her fingers, and I wished, once again, she would stop blocking me and let me feel her emotions.

"Bella, what's wrong? I don't know unless you tell me."

As I stepped forward and reached for her, she turned to me. Her eyes were a shining, liquid black. My breath caught in my throat. Was she thirsty, angry about the names I chose, or …

She pounced on me, her arms going around mine and pinning them to my sides. Her mouth was on my lips, kissing me hungrily, and I was so taken by surprise I stumbled backwards. Her lips broke away from mine. Her feet hit the floor, and she pushed me into the corner of the west wall with a loud thud. We were between my wardrobe on my right and the bookshelf on the north wall. If she'd had any more momentum behind her, she would have pushed me through the wall and into Alice's bathroom.

But I really didn't give a shit.

My left hand wove through her silky hair, gripping her neck, as I bent to reach her lips. My right hand slid down her back and over her ass. I pulled her up my body and crushed her against me.

As her legs gripped my hips, her tongue swept across my mouth, and I moaned as I opened to her, tasting her. She tasted divine. Her right hand was in my hair, and her fingers scraped across my scalp. Grabbing a handful of my hair, she pulled my head to the side, exposing my neck.

She was kissing and licking my throat, until she reached my ear, and she whispered, "I want you, Jasper."

Oh, damn!

A jolt of pure pleasure surged through me, and I groaned her name. "Oh, Bella." I pushed away from the wall, my right hand gripping her thigh, urging her to wrap her legs all the way around my hips. My lips were on her neck, tasting her, drinking in her spicy scent. Her left hand was under my shirt, on my waist, and slid around to my back, her fingers digging into my skin. "Yes, Bella, yes." I gasped into her ear.

I didn't have a bed in my study, but I did have a couch. If I couldn't make it that far, there was always the floor.

Kicking at my armchair to get it out of my way, I sent it tumbling across the floor toward the bookshelves on the west wall. It crashed into them and fell over.

I didn't care about all the noise or who might be in the house. Bella said she wanted me and that was the only thing that mattered.

She yanked her hand from under my shirt and climbed up my body. Reaching for the neck of the shirt, she ripped it away. Her right hand tightened in my hair and she pulled my head to my left. Her tongue blazed a trail along my shoulder and up my throat, and then she kissed my jaw, whispering, "Jasper."

I was absolute putty in her hands. She could do anything to me she wanted.

Her hungry lips moved urgently back down my throat until she reached the top of my shoulder and the scars from her first bite after she had awakened, and she whispered "You're mine." As I sucked in a breath, she licked my skin, and her razor-sharp teeth sunk slowly into the muscle at the top of my shoulder. She began to growl.

The stinging pain and the exquisitely sharp pleasure shot through me, going straight to my dick. My legs went weak with the overpowering sensations, and I stumbled and fell to my knees, clutching Bella to me. The thud from my knees hitting the floor rattled the window. I didn't think we were going to make it to the couch.

I gathered her long hair together, pulling it away from her neck, and sat back on my heels, nuzzling into her hair as her growl continued to vibrate through me. The enthralling scent of her arousal drifted up and around me, saturating and taking over my mind.

Her weight pressed down on my dick, and her legs tightened around my waist. I groaned and grabbed her hips, thrusting up against her. She gasped, yanking her teeth from my shoulder, and threw her head back, a lengthy moaning "oh" escaping her lips. Her knees thumped down on the floor. She gripped both of my shoulders and tore the rest of my shirt away. She leaned forward and began licking my skin where she had bitten me with long, sweeping strokes across my shoulder and up my neck, ending with a wet kiss just beneath my ear. With each caress of her tongue, I shuddered and moaned.

Oh, my Christ, I couldn't stand it anymore. I pushed her down onto my straining dick. I must have hit a mighty sweet spot because her breath caught and she mewled like a cat against my throat.

"Jasssssper." She breathed into my ear. Hearing my name like that from her beautiful lips was the sexiest thing I'd ever heard, and I nearly shot my load right then.

There was a soft knock at the door, and I heard Emmett's voice. "Jazz, remember what we talked about."

"You better get the fuck away from that door," I answered him with a growl.

Bella licked the corner of my jaw then shoved me to the floor hard enough that I grunted and the window rattled in its frame again. I expect that thud was heard throughout the house. Perhaps even outside.

She sat up and ground her hot sex over my diamond-hard dick, and I trembled under her hands. I had to be on her, inside her. I couldn't wait anymore — she was driving me insane. I rolled her over onto her back and shoved my right thigh between her legs, pressing my aching dick against her hip. My left arm was under her back, braced against the floor, keeping most of my weight off her, and I gripped her neck, holding her to me. Attacking her soft mouth with mine, she moaned my name again as I thrust my tongue between her lips. I squeezed her hip with my right hand then moved slowly up her side and over her ribs. As my fingers grazed over the thin cotton covering her soft breast, brushing over her stiff nipple, she groaned and arched up into my hand.

The quiet knocking sounded again. "Esme, Carlisle, and Edward are on their way back."

I drew my lips from Bella's and snarled. "A motherfucker's gonna need killin' if he doesn't get the fuck away from here."

"But," Emmett continued. "There's shit to do. You gotta pack, look at the truck, take Bella hunting … After she goes huntin', she's gonna want another bath …"

I started to pull away from Bella so I could go punch a hole through Emmett's head, but Bella's right hand was in my hair again. She clenched a fistful and forced me back to her mouth.

Holy shit! That's fuckin' hot.

Deciding I would just rip Emmett's legs off and throw him out the window if he dared to open that door, I licked across Bella's lips and along the edge of her jaw until I reached her ear.

"Bella, I want you," I said, hissing. "Please."

Her hips thrust up against me, squeezing my thigh between hers. "Yesssss."

She said yes!

I groaned at hearing her say yes. "I need you." I ran my tongue along her neck. With my left hand I tilted her head to my left and licked her throat. "You're mine. Please, Bella."

"Yes, Jasper." She pulled at my hair again. "Jasper, please. Please," she whimpered into my ear. She dragged the fingers of her left hand down my side, leaving burning trails along my skin until she hooked her thumb in the waistband of my jeans. "Jasper, please."

I still felt the erotic sting of her bite and the urge to mark her as mine was growing. I reached up with my right hand and tugged the neck of her shirt and her bra strap to the side. I could feel my venom filling my mouth, and I licked the top of her shoulder, coating her skin with my scent.

"Can you feel what I feel for you, Bella? Can you feel how much I want you?"

She licked my ear and whispered, "Yes, I feel you." Her hand tugged at the waistband of my jeans, and her hips thrust up against me again.

My breath caught in my throat as her hip ground into my dick. "Let me feel you. Let me feel what you feel." I rolled my hips against her and licked across her shoulder again, spreading my venom and my scent over her.

Her desire and her need flowed over and into me, consuming me, and I was on fire with her lust and mine. I let it wash back over her, and she gasped.

"Yes, Jasper, yes." She breathed into my ear. "I'm yours, Jasper."

When I heard those words from her lips, a growl reverberated up through my chest. "You're mine." My teeth grazed across her smooth skin and sank in, my venom flowing freely over and into her. I felt a sense of exhilaration and euphoria as my teeth entered her shoulder near her neck, and I fought to contain the orgasm that threatened to overwhelm me.

"Jasper!" she screamed and clutched my head to hers. A whining groan escaped her throat, and she curled into me, quivering, her orgasm sweeping through her.

Her intense, pounding sensations broke over me, crashed into me, again and again. I couldn't stop it. I didn't want to. I felt my balls tighten and draw up as my own orgasm suddenly erupted through my groin and flooded me with heat. Another rumbling growl started low in the center of my body and worked its way up to my chest as my body curved over hers. My hips ground into her over and over again as I came, the venom pulsing out of me with each thrust.

"Oh, Jasper. Oh … oh my fucking God," she gasped, and she clung to me, her fingers digging into my shoulders.

I shuddered against her, my hands gripping her neck and her upper arm, as the throbbing orgasmic pulses slowed and began to fade away. Gasping, I pulled my teeth from her shoulder as another wave of her pleasure crashed into me. My chest heaved with my breaths, and the compulsion to lick where I had bitten her overtook me. I needed to care for my mate and seal my venom inside her. I found myself pleased that it was a clean bite with no ragged edges.

After gently licking my bite and watching the edges seal together, I lifted my face from her shoulder and gazed into her shining black eyes. She was so beautiful.

Still floating on that cloud of bliss and the echoing tremors from both of our orgasms, my yearning for her nearly overwhelmed me and a trickle of uneasiness and doubt crept through that bliss. I grasped desperately at her. "Bella," I whispered. "You're mine. You're only mine. Please," I pleaded with her. Since I had awoken as a vampire, I had not begged for anything — not even my life — but I would beg, and do anything else I had to, if she would be mine.

The corners of her lips curved up into a smile, and then she kissed me. She lightly licked my lips and kissed me again. I could still feel her emotions, and she was contented, peaceful, happy, satisfied, and pleased. She brought her hands up to either side of my face and pulled me down to kiss me again. Her lips pressed softly against mine, and she whispered, "Yes." Her love surged out of her, going straight to my heart and filling it until it felt as if it would burst.

My eyes flew open, and I gasped against her mouth. Her love filled me, spreading golden warmth to every part of me, and I melted into her. I was so overcome, I could not speak, I could only manage to crush her to me and kiss her again. When my tongue brushed over her lips, she opened to me, and her hands gripped the sides of my head tightly.

I was lost in her, and after some immeasurable length of time, she ended the kiss and whispered, "Mine." Her peace, pleasure, and love circled around me and held me to her.

The adoration I felt for her shifted and grew as I fell into her black sparkling eyes, and I spoke the only words that came to my mind. "Yes. Always yours. I love you, Bella."

Venom tears welled up in her eyes as they slowly closed. "I know," she whispered. "I know you do. I feel it. I feel you."

I crushed her to me, burying my face in her neck. "Bella, you're mine." I was so … happy. So joyful. Ecstatic. I'd never wanted anyone as much as I wanted her, and she was mine.

"Always."

There was a faint thump outside the door in the hall, and Bella jerked in my arms. Rage exploded from her, and she hissed in my ear, "There's a motherfucker needs killin'." She shoved me away and was on her feet in an instant. A vicious snarl ripped through her throat.

From out in the hall came Emmett's fearful "oh, shit."

Farther down the hall I heard Rosalie say, "I tried to warn you. I think you'd better run fast, Emmett."

In a blur of motion, Bella hit the door, shoving it through the frame, ripping it from its hinges and splintering the jam. It slammed into her bedroom door across the short hall, cracking them both. They fell into her room with a rattling crash.

She came to s sudden stop in the hall, her dark hair swinging around her. Growling deeply, she twisted to face down the hall. "Which way?"

"He went out our window," Rosalie replied calmly from her room.

Bella disappeared.

Oh, shit.

When she had shoved me away, I had rolled against my desk. I was struck stupid again, wondering how the hell she could switch instantly from idyllically contented to pissed off beyond all reason.

God knows I didn't want to, but I shook my head to reluctantly try and clear the heavenly, euphoric fog of Bella's love saturating me completely and, well, what was currently the best orgasm I'd ever had. I tried to jump up and immediately fell on my face. Stunned, I looked up and Rosalie was standing in the doorway.

"Problems?" She smiled sweetly and batted her eyelashes.

"Nothin' decapitatin' your fuckin' mate wouldn't solve." I got up a little more slowly and my pants dropped to my knees.

Rosalie slapped her hand over her eyes and spun away. "Jesus Christ, Jasper! Why the hell don't you wear underwear?"

"What's the point?"

Bella had ripped my damn pants half off, and I hadn't even noticed!

"Oh, fuck me." I growled.

"I thought she did."

"Not exactly." I growled again. "You saw her. She had all her clothes on, goddammit," I grumbled to Rosalie's back.

I sat back against my desk and yanked off my boots. It seemed there was a joke in there somewhere about cowboys doing everything with their boots on, but my brain just would not quite work right and find it.

I finished tearing my jeans off, using them to wipe my spent venom off my belly and my groin — which just pissed me off. I hoped that one day soon I might get to see Bella naked and have actual sex with her instead of cumming in my goddamn pants — though as intense as those orgasms had been, real intercourse with her would probably render me unconscious. I took my lighter from the pocket, tossed the destroyed jeans toward the window and darted to my wardrobe.

A navy blue t-shirt was on top so I grabbed it and a fresh pair of jeans. I dressed quickly, despite the remaining stickiness of the venom, and shoved my lighter in my pocket and my feet back into my boots.

"They went out your bedroom window?" I asked Rosalie.

"Yes, they did."

"Comin' with me?"

"I suppose I should," she said with resignation as we ran down the hall and into her room. "Somebody should put Emmett back together after Bella gets through with him."

.

Chapter Text

Chapter 30, I Fit

Jasper's POV

Rosalie and I leapt from her second story bedroom window, landing lightly on the patio below. It was nearly full dark, but we didn't have any problem spotting the craters Emmett's huge feet had created when he landed in the yard. It looked like Esme would have him doing some more gardening.

Inhaling deeply, trying to catch Bella's and Emmett's scents, I caught her tantalizing fragrance mixed with the scent of my venom coming from my right. They'd gone west.

I bolted toward the end of the house and followed her scent to the garage. Emmett, the fool, had lead her around the garage and then in front of the house.

"I see their trail through the grass on the other side of the driveway," Rosalie said as she started across the lawn.

At least Emmett had sense enough to try and lead her northeast and away from the humans in Forks. After she had first awakened, Bella had also run in that direction, away from Forks. Even as a newly-awakened vampire, had she been trying to protect her father and friends from herself?

At the edge of the forest, something white caught my attention. I stopped, picked up an abused sneaker, and held it toward Rosalie. "Emmett's."

"Who else wears gunboats that size? Oh, God. It's got bite marks in it!" Rosalie took the shoe from me. "Bella's teeth." She tossed the shoe over her shoulder in the direction of the house. "I tried to warn him. I knew she was going to get pissed off."

"Her? I'm still fuckin' pissed off! " I clenched my teeth as we raced into the forest, following their scents.

Bella taking off into the wilds again worried me, despite the fact she was chasing Emmett. I knew he would look out for her — when he wasn't too preoccupied with trying to keep her from biting him or removing parts.

Trouble was you never knew where a human might happen to show up; even at night. They were always getting themselves hopelessly lost, stuck in crevasses, attacked by wild animals, caught in avalanches, drained by vampires … .

One good thing about chasing her down was that it gave me the opportunity to check for the presence of any other vampires. Each time we had run through the national forest, I hadn't picked up traces of another. If anyone else had, they would have mentioned it. Even so, we didn't perform perimeter checks like we should, and I couldn't currently do it unless I took Bella with me. It didn't really seem like an option for me. Bella was a little too wild and unpredictable. If we ran across the scent of a human, I might not be able to stop her in time.

Though it became dark quickly as we entered the cover of the trees, Rosalie veered off to the right and grabbed what looked like a rag out of a clump of low bushes.

"Emmett's T-shirt ripped to shreds," she said with annoyance and tossed it away. "I wonder if we'll find an arm or a foot out here," she grumbled. "Or maybe even his head."

"Serves him right for being a stupid dick. I told him to get the hell out." Remembering his attempts at interrupting Bella and me was cranking up the anger a notch or two. I did recall our little birds-n-bees talk, and he had made a few valid points, but when your mate, who had been rejecting you, came right out and said she wanted you … well, you didn't pass that shit up, I didn't care who you were. I couldn't get my hands on her fast enough. Though, next time, I thought I might start ripping clothes off first thing. I expected a next time very soon, too.

Well, I hoped there would be a next time in the near future.

She loved me. She really loved me. When her love touched and flowed over and into me, I had nearly melted right into the floor. And I loved her. I loved her more than … I just loved her. There were no other words for the way I felt about her. Recalling the exquisite warmth from Bella's love filled my un-beating heart again and softly swirled throughout me. I needed to feel her, be with her, and my arms ached with emptiness. I wanted to be holding her instead of chasing after her because that fucking Emmett pissed her off.

"Jasper, slow down a little. I'd like to talk," Rosalie said beseechingly.

"C'mon, Rose. We gotta catch her."

She shot me an exasperated look. "You know perfectly well he'll lead her out for a while and circle back."

"Until she catches him and rips his legs off. Then where's she goin' to go?"

"Back to the house?" she said sarcastically. "I'm sure she would be able to find her way back."

I might have growled a little impatiently.

"Like Emmett said before, you're being kind of an asshole. She'll be fine."

Hissing my frustration at her, I slowed down.

"Emmett and I have discussed Bella and everything she's been through with Edward, and now with losing her family and friends. She does need some time to adjust to all of that."

"She's adjusting," I answered quickly. "That's why I need to get to her. I help her."

"Yes, you do. But the two of you together is a little … intense." Rosalie raised her eyebrows at me. "Maybe you could tone that down a little?"

"Uh, I can't. I've tried. According to Professor McCarty, that's because we haven't been, uh, together together. You all keep interrupting us every time we have more than a minute alone and …"

"As I said, Emmett and I had our own little discussion, and I'm sure he mentioned to you that here is not exactly an ideal location for total togetherness."

"He did. I even agreed with him. But Bella is … I mean, she's just … looking at her and smelling her scent and …"

"You can't help yourself?"

I shook my head.

A soft smile played over Rosalie's lips. "I know how it is." She looked at me from the corner of her eye. "I did notice she bit you again. When you were … almost naked."

My only answer was a self-satisfied smile. Okay, there might have been a touch of smugness, too.

We ran down through a gully and bounded up the other side, finding Emmett's shredded blue jeans. I waited for Rosalie to go through the pockets. She found his cell phone and his wallet, and when she pulled a small rock out of one of the pockets, a melancholy look stole over her face.

I was curious, but didn't ask her about the rock. It seemed to be an odd thing to carry around, but sometimes Emmett did act just like a little kid. Maybe I should have been wondering why he didn't have a toad or a slingshot.

Rosalie glanced up from the small rock in her hand. "Don't tell Emmett you saw this, okay?"

I nodded at her, more curious about the significance of the little grey rock even though I wanted to get going and catch up to Bella.

She held it up so I could see it. It was about three inches long and about an inch wide and thick. On one side was the white outline of a fossilized mussel shell.

Rosalie blinked quickly several times as if tears were forming, and let out a small breath. "He always carries this rock. A few years after he was turned into a vampire, he said he wanted to go back to where the bear had almost killed him. So we went," she said simply, shrugging her shoulders. "He found this rock and he said the mussel shell fossil reminded him of a wing. It looked like an angel wing to him." She sniffed, closed her hand around the rock and put it in the pocket of her jeans. "You know he was dying when I found him."

At my nod, she continued. "He saw me and said he thought I was an angel come to take him to Heaven." She shook her head as if Emmett had been delusional for thinking that. Then she smiled. "He even thought Carlisle was God." She tossed the shredded jeans away. "I know you want to get to Bella, but you know Emmett won't hurt her or let her get into trouble. Well, not too much trouble." She gestured along the scent trail we had been following. "We can still follow them at a walk for a few minutes."

She was a bit uncomfortable and glanced nervously up at me before dropping her honey-gold eyes back to the ground.

"What's up, Rose?" Walking beside her, I patted her shoulder to encourage her to say whatever it was she had on her mind.

"We don't get many chances to talk privately — there always seems to be someone around."

"That's no shit." I snorted irritably, recalling every goddamn moment Bella and I had been interrupted over the last few days.

She chuckled lightly, but then her face took on a serious look. "You know how angry I can be at times. A part of me has always resented Carlisle and his 'playing God' when he found me dying. And the thought that he had turned me thinking I might be a good companion for Edward … oh, it gives me the shivers." She shuddered dramatically and smiled up at me. "He didn't want to change anyone else. Esme has turned out well, but Edward has always been so morose and guilt-ridden at being 'damned to this existence' as he puts it, and in many ways, I've been just like him."

"Rose." I took hold of her hand and gave it a little squeeze. "You are nothing like that fucked in the head asshole."

"Thank you for saying so, but I am. You know I've given Carlisle hell about it over the years, and I think that was part of his reasoning for not wanting to turn anyone else. But when I brought Emmett to him, he didn't hesitate. He did it just because I asked him to." She blinked quickly and gave me a small smile. "That was the greatest gift he could have ever given me. Emmett has always had the best … attitude about being turned into a vampire. He has always just accepted it. He even delights in it."

"That he does," I said, agreeing with her.

We'd come up to another gully and easily jumped across. The second of Emmett's shoes was in pieces at the edge of a ten-foot area that had been disturbed, for lack of a better term. The pine-needle-covered ground had been churned up and several saplings had been torn from the earth.

I stood with my hands on my hips, surveying the damage. "Looks like she almost had him here." Bella's spicy warm scent was fresh, as if she had just been there. I was beginning to feel a bit more anxious.

Rosalie searched around the perimeter of the torn up ground. "She didn't catch him or I think there'd be an arm laying here somewhere." She smiled up at me again and motioned with her head to continue. "Good thing they get along so well. It's annoying as hell sometimes, but he is the perfect brother for her. They fit together as brother and sister. Even when she was human and they would fight like cats and dogs."

Picking up the trail again by a large fir with a fresh two-foot long gouge in its trunk, I urged Rosalie into a jog by tugging at her hand.

"Okay, Jazz, I'll get to the point." She rolled her eyes at me but was right beside me. "Like I said, Emmett delights in being a vampire. He loves it. Practically the exact opposite of my feelings about it. But that's why he is the perfect mate for me. Emmett's outlook on this life is so laid back. He just takes everything as it comes, finds something fun in almost everything, and I think I need to try and be more like that — try to be less resentful and hateful about it. He certainly isn't perfect, but he's been the perfect mate for me — we fit together well — and I think he'll be a good influence for Bella, too. Well, most of the time." Her chuckling laugh rang softly through the trees. "Over the last few days I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I see that I need to adjust my attitude a little bit."

Stunned, I looked over at her and asked, "What?"

"I know. It's a shock." She smiled faintly in chagrin. "Even your approach to life is something to admire."

"What?" I asked again in utter disbelief.

"No, really. With all the horrors you lived through, all the terrible things that were done to you, you just … sucked it up and soldiered on."

"There wasn't anything else I could do. I couldn't change what had been done, and I couldn't change or take back the things I had done."

Together, we jumped over a fallen tree and she grabbed hold of my wrist, urging me to stop.

"But you didn't let it destroy you. You didn't let it take over your life and make you miserable like Edward and I have."

"For a long time I did, Rose, even after I left Maria. Then I met Alice and she really helped me. She saved me."

Rosalie nodded. "I think she did, even though she wasn't your mate. I remember what you were like when you first joined us." She gave my hand a gentle squeeze. "I never wanted to see Bella changed into a vampire, of course. Some of it had to do with how Edward treated her — like she was a possession to be owned and controlled and not a person to share a life with. He's such an ass. But most of it had to do with how I've felt about being a vampire." She looked off into the dark forest surrounding us. "But, you can't change what's already been done." She winked at me. "I guess you could say Alice brought you to us. And don't you think Edward brought Bella to us?"

Hating to admit it, even if it was only to myself, Rosalie had a point. As much as I detested that fucking piece of shit, Edward had brought Bella into our coven. I didn't know if I would have ever paid any attention to her at all if he hadn't.

Sighing, I gave her a nod, but urged her to keep moving. We had to be getting closer to Bella and Emmett.

Running along beside me, Rosalie touched my arm. "And Jazz, you know Emmett is perfect for me. I have to remember that — somehow — I am perfect for him." She sighed. "You've been projecting quite a bit lately, and at times, it's been a little, uh, disconcerting?" She raised an eyebrow and her mouth turned up in a smirk. "But I've also felt your feelings of doubt. I recognized it because I've often felt that way about myself. I know Bella is the perfect fit for you, and you don't need to have any misgivings about yourself. You have to remember that you are the perfect fit for her."

For not being an empath, she had certainly described the doubt I'd felt about myself. I gave her a small, grateful smile. Regardless of how badly I wanted Bella, and how much I loved her, a tiny voice in my head did wonder if I was good enough for her. She was perfect. And she loved me so much. I felt it. Was I good enough for that love?

Giving my arm a squeeze, Rosalie smiled at me and said, "Remember, Jazz, perfect fit."

Off to the left, I saw a pair of dirt-stained white socks. I was astonished to find them both together. Scooping them up, I tossed them to Rosalie.

"Does he have any clothes left?" I didn't think I wanted Bella seeing him naked. If he was naked, I just might get pissed off again. She hadn't even seen me naked yet.

"Boxers, I hope," she said, laughing. "See? This is why you need to wear underwear." She flung the socks away.

Raising one eyebrow at her, I glanced at her and then away. She wasn't going to let that go. "They need to be clean, too? In case I'm in an accident?"

"Exactly!" She laughed again. "For that reason, and there's more layers to peel off when it comes to togetherness time." She waggled her eyebrows at me just like Emmett would have.

More clothes for Bella to rip off me? Intriguing idea, since I actually liked it when Bella tore my clothes off. I did own underwear, I just didn't usually wear them. That might be a habit I'd have to develop. Maria had ripped my clothes off now and then, but Alice hadn't. All those other women … it had depended on what was happening at the time. But none of them had ever excited me the way Bella did.

As Rosalie had said he would, Emmett had led Bella in a wide circle. Off to my right, I heard an angry screech echoing through the trees. Bella.

I turned toward the sound. "They're less than a mile away. Let's go." Bella was blocking her emotions again, but she wasn't keeping her voice down. Not needing to follow their scents any longer, I raced directly toward the sound of her angry snarls.

On our way up yet another low ridge, it began to rain. I guessed it couldn't hold off forever. As we neared the top, I heard Bella yell, "Dammit, Emmett! Come down outta that tree and fight like a man!"

"Fight like a man? Christ, Bells, I'm three times your size. I don't wanna hurt you."

"Hurt me? Hurt me? You're the one hiding up in a tree. I'm gonna kick your ass!"

There was a loud thump, as if Bella had kicked the tree.

"You already bit me once, Bells. I don't want you bitin' me again. That shit stings like a bitch."

She bit him? I glanced quickly over at Rosalie, worried she would be angry Bella had bitten her mate. She wasn't. In fact, she was amused.

Whispering at vampire speed, I asked, "You're not pissed off that she bit him?"

"No." She waved her hand at me. "He deserved it. And if that's all she does to him, he's lucky."

Halfway down the side of the hill, I put up an arm to stop Rosalie and held my finger to my lips. Through the trees, I could see Bella below, her back to us. She was fine, of course, though getting wet in the light rain. She was at the base of a large spruce, staring upward, fists planted on her hips. I couldn't see Emmett up near the top of the tree, hidden by the thick green of pine needles and leaves from the surrounding trees.

Bella punched the tree and put her hands back on her hips. "Come down here, Emmett, or I'm coming up."

"No, Bells," he said, a hint of caution in his voice.

"Whaddya mean 'no?' Then I'm knocking down this tree!" she shouted as she began tearing at the trunk of the tree.

"Cut it out, Bells!" Emmett was beginning to sound worried.

"I'm cutting it out, all right." She snarled as she ripped bark and splinters from the trunk. "You've interrupted me and Jasper for the last damn time. He's my goddamn mate, and I've had it up to HERE with you getting in the way when we're … we're, uh …"

"Having a moment?" Emmett supplied helpfully from somewhere in the tree tops.

My breath caught in my throat. That was the first time she had referred to me as her mate, and the heart I had always thought of as dead grew with even more love for her. I stood slowly from my crouched position and started toward her, needing to be next to her.

Rosalie reached out and grabbed my arm. "I thought you wanted to watch them?" She hissed quietly.

"She said I was her mate. That was the first time she said that. I have to …"

"Yes! Having a moment!" Bella screamed up at Emmett. She stopped ripping at the tree and stood stock still, shaking with her anger. "Oh my God, you are such a pain in the ass." She growled and stomped her foot.

About fifty feet up, I saw limbs begin to bob and sway. The movement of the branches gradually worked its way down the tree, and I finally saw Emmett at about the thirty-foot mark. Most of his bulk was still hidden by the tree trunk.

"I'm a pain in the ass? Who's the asshole who's stomping her feet and keeps bitin' people?" he yelled back at her as he dropped down to the last branches above the bare trunk.

"If you assholes would quit pissing me off, I wouldn't bite you!" Bella punched the tree again.

Emmett had spotted me and Rosalie, and he winked at us. He looked sternly down at Bella. "Bellzy-bub, you've bitten Jazz. Are you callin' him an asshole?" he asked in a taunting voice.

"Arrrgh!" Bella screeched again, shaking her fists. "He is kind of an asshole sometimes, but that's different," she spat out. Then she leapt up into the tree at Emmett.

"Oh, shit!" Emmett's eyes flew open in shock and he scrambled to jump away from her.

She must have anticipated his move because she caught his right wrist as he dropped, but her aim was a little off. She grunted as she crashed into the limbless trunk. Her left hand flashed up to grab a branch, and her legs came up to grip the trunk.

Caught by his wrist, Emmett was swung down and slammed into the tree, causing it to shake and needles to fall down over them.

"Ha! Gotcha, Em!" Bella shouted in triumph. "What are you gonna do now?"

Emmett hadn't even grabbed hold of the tree. With her hand around his wrist, he was hanging just below Bella, swinging slightly.

He pouted. "I'm goin' to tell Jasper you ripped all my clothes off and bit me in the leg."

"Oh, really?" Bella sneered at him. "I might take you seriously if you weren't wearing red Scooby-doo boxers and whining." She jerked her head to flip her wet hair out of her face then swung Emmett against the tree again.

"Stop it! And there's nothin' wrong with Scooby-Doo boxers. I look hot," Emmett said, sliding his free hand down his chest, and assuming an arrogant look on his face.

Bella snorted. "Pfffft. You look like a giant five-year-old."

"A totally buff and damn good-lookin' five-year-old." Emmett sprang into action, clawing up the tree and capturing Bella against the trunk. She squawked, releasing his wrist, and elbowed him in the ribs.

With a loud "Ooof!" he let go of her and fell back out of the tree. He scrambled, arms and legs flailing in the air, but he wasn't fast enough to right himself, and landed flat on his back with a thunderous whump on the wet ground.

As he grabbed his ribs and groaned in pain, Bella growled and dropped from her perch.

Rosalie and I had started running toward them when Emmett tried to trap Bella against the tree. It was going to be close, but I thought I could catch her before she landed on Emmett.

She landed in a crouch next to him, her dripping hair falling over her face and shoulders. She stood, sweeping her hair out of her face and then she saw me.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, and her eyes grew wide.

I swept her into my arms as I jumped over Emmett and veered around the tree. Then my beautiful, little, dripping wet darlin' tripped me. I shoved her head into my neck and dropped my left shoulder, attempting to roll so I wouldn't land on her.

I hit the ground on the point of my shoulder and slid about ten feet through the pine needles and mud. Feeling my shirt tear away from my back, I dropped my heels and dragged them to stop us.

Bella tried to jerk away from me, but I held her tightly against my chest. I noticed her legs were on either side of my hips. Right where I wanted them to be.

"Dammit, Jasper!" She growled against my neck. "I wasn't finished kicking Emmett's ass yet."

"You got him in the ribs, Darlin'. I think he'll remember that for a while. I still do." I ran my right hand up her back and tugged at the neck of her Henley, stretching the wet cotton and moving it aside so I could see my bite on her shoulder near her neck. Even in the dark, her skin had a subtle glow. Reaching up, I kissed the scar and licked along the slight ridges.

"Ohhhh." She sighed. Lifting her head, she frowned at me. "Stop. I'm pissed off, and I want to stay pissed off."

"Why didn't you use your shield against him?" I nuzzled her ear.

"Uh, that would be like cheating." Her eyes closed and she leaned into me. "And I sorta forgot."

I tickled her ear with the tip of my tongue. "Darlin', you have to learn. When you're fightin' with someone, you gotta use everything you got. You always fight to win."

She sighed and squirmed against me. "But I was winning. Until he climbed the tree."

"But he was still moving. You hadn't won yet." I nipped her earlobe.

"Oooo." She shivered. "That's why I need to finish kicking his ass."

I licked, then kissed her temple. "So, I'm an asshole," I whispered.

"You are kind of an asshole. But you're my asshole." Then she frowned. "Wait. That didn't sound quite right."

I chuckled at her. I loved hearing her say that I was hers, even if she did call me an asshole. I whispered against her ear, "You did say I was your mate." I ran my tongue around the edge of her ear, and she shivered again.

"Well, uh, yeah. Now let go."

"That was the first time you said that." Gathering her wet hair with my left hand, I pulled it away from her neck. Licking across her soft shoulder and up her throat, I moaned. "You are delicious in the rain."

"Um, thank you. Let me up."

Both of her hands were caught between our bodies, and I felt them slowly open as she spread her fingers over my chest. I "mmmmm'd" along her jaw until I reached her mouth. "Your lips are so sweet." I licked her, urging her to kiss me.

She gave me a little peck and pulled her head back. "Don't think I don't know what you're doing."

"What am I doin'?" I pressed my fingers into her back and dragged them down over her ass. When she squirmed against my groin, I pushed my stiffening dick up against her.

"Oh." She gasped. "Um, you're trying to distract me so I don't go after Emmett."

I gripped her ass with both hands and thrust up against her. "Is it workin'?"

She moaned against my mouth and her lips were on mine. As I slid my tongue between her lips, her curling fingers ripped through my T-shirt. She pulled her face away with a gasp. "No."

"No? I'm crushed." I gave her my best wounded look.

"You are such an asshole. We're getting rained on and we're muddy. And I'm going to kick his Scooby snacks all over the woods." She lifted her head and looked around. "Where the hell is he?"

Coming to the realization my irresistible charms were being resisted, I sighed in exasperation and dropped my head into the mud. "They left about ten minutes ago."

"What?" she squawked and exploded out of my arms, landing about fifteen feet away. "Dammit, Jasper! You let him get away!" Her hands clenched into fists, and her eyes darted around. "Goddammit! Which way is the house?"

She'd figure it out even if I didn't tell her, so I pointed over my shoulder. She took off, wet hair flying out behind her. I leapt up and started after her, pulling off my ripped, soaked shirt and dropping it to the ground.

Hoping her anger cooled down by the time she got back to the house, I raced after her. I spotted her running up the next hill. She was right muddy, and I expected she would want to take another bath instead of beat Emmett half to death. I hoped so, anyway. If she was still mad, and caught him inside, the house might not survive.

I was catching up to her and could hear her grumbling to herself.

Watching her, and checking the air for the scent of any other vampires, I let her keep just ahead of me. I was thinking over a few things that needed to be done, and decided that while Bella was taking another bubble bath, I could pack what was left of my clothes, and see if Alice had any of my things left in her closet. If they weren't cashmere sweaters and Italian loafers. I thought I still had some hiking clothes left in there.

Bella would look good in a cashmere sweater. Then again, Bella would look good in a gunnysack.

I'd have to gather up a few other things I wanted to take. Like my laptop, maybe a few books, my other boots. Then help Bella pack her clothes. Well, pack them for her. I think we'd be taking that vanilla and brown sugar body wash, too. Maybe do a little laundry because I might have a few things waiting to be washed and we would have to wash these clothes.

She would need to hunt tomorrow. That would probably require another bath.

I could finally look over the truck Emmett bought. He had seemed eager for me to see it.

It sounded like tomorrow was going to be a full day. But we still had tonight.

As we neared the house, I spotted Carlisle standing on the front porch. Bella's angry flight slowed to a walk, and I jogged up next to her.

Her fingers were busily picking at her nails, and she looked up at me nervously. "Do you think Carlisle is mad because I wrecked two doors and bit Emmett?"

I glanced ahead at Carlisle again, testing his mood, and wrapped my arm around Bella's shoulders. "No, he's not mad. He's … amused." I smiled down at her. "He's pleased and … feeling a bit of anticipation."

"Anticipation?" Bella's puzzled expression turned toward Carlisle.

"Yes. Knowing what people are feeling doesn't always help, does it? You have to watch them and take in the scene." I gestured toward Carlisle as we got closer. "There're two towels on the table between the chairs. It also looks like he has a few white T-shirts folded next to them." I grinned at Bella.

Her hand covered her eyes, and she dropped her head and groaned. "Oh, those are probably for you because I keep ripping up your clothes."

I squeezed her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. "I would imagine so, Darlin'." I couldn't help chuckling at her.

Carlisle gathered up the towels and smiled at us as we walked up the steps to the porch. "Bella, Jasper. Good to see you." He handed a towel to each of us. "Fortunately, it's not raining too hard, but I thought you each might like to dry off a bit."

Bella reached tentatively for a towel and slowly opened it. She dropped it over her head, covering her face.

"Do you want me to help you, Darlin'?"

"Yes. I'm afraid I'll rip it," she said in a small voice.

Carlisle chuckled. "Don't be too concerned, Bella. We've been through all this before. Though I must say, you've certainly made it … very interesting. Are you still angry with Emmett?"

"Oh, God." Bella's shoulders fell and I could feel her embarrassment. "No, I'm not mad at Emmett anymore," she mumbled from under the towel.

Tilting her face up, I patted her dry and started running the towel over her hair. "Don't be embarrassed. We've all been there." Holding a corner of the muddied white towel up in front of her, I said, "Hold this."

"But …"

"No time like the present to practice."

She hesitantly reached for the towel and gingerly took hold of it.

I gathered her hair and laid it along her back, then tugged up the stretched-out neck of her Henley, a satisfied smile stealing across my face as I looked over my bite on her shoulder. I was sure Carlisle had noticed it and the possessive creature inside me hummed in pleasure.

Carlisle reached for the folded T-shirts and presented them to me. "Jasper, I brought these for you. You seem to be going through them at an alarming rate." His eyes twinkled with humor as Bella's eyes squeezed shut and she dropped her head again. "I thought that you might want to get a shower, and while you were doing that, it would give Bella and me a chance to visit."

"Bella?" I asked, taking the shirts.

She nodded, smiling faintly up at me. "I nearly chewed his face off, but we haven't had a chance to just talk yet. You go ahead and get a shower. Then I think I might need another bath." She frowned, looking down at herself.

Wrapping my towel around my neck after rubbing it through my hair, I leaned forward and kissed Bella lightly on her forehead. "Thanks for the shirts, Carlisle." Turning to him, I asked, "Where's Edward?"

I didn't want to be too far away from Bella if Edward was lurking about.

"You are welcome. Esme and Edward are in his room, discussing remodeling, I believe." Carlisle gestured toward one of the wicker chairs, urging Bella to sit. "Oh, yes. Emmett and Rosalie said to come to their room and use their shower."

"He could use mine, right?" Bella said as she sat carefully on the deep green floral cushion and drew her legs up. She dropped the towel on the seat beside her and carefully wrapped her arms around her knees. "What's wrong with the mudroom shower?"

"Jasper can use any shower he'd like." Carlisle sat next to her in the other wicker chair. "The, uh, mudroom shower needs a few repairs before it can be used again."

"Oh, my God." Bella exclaimed, dropping her forehead onto her knees. "Is it because I shoved Edward into the wall?"

Carlisle chuckled. "No, that one is because Jasper threw me into the stairs. Oh, Bella." At her embarrassed groan, he reached over with his left hand and patted her shoulder. "Please try not to be too upset about that. Emmett has actually caused more damage to more houses than you have."

"But I'm only like a day-and-a-half old!" She slapped her hands over her face.

I went to her, hugged her to my stomach and stroked her hair. "Bella, it will all be repaired eventually. The house will be fine."

She dropped her feet to the floor and wrapped her arms around my waist, pressing her face into my stomach. "When will it get better, Jasper?"

"The emotions take a while to control, but you're doing very well. The strength … that depends. You'll think you're doing okay and then you'll forget and break something. You do well with your feet and sitting, but you need more work with your hands. Practice moving the towel through your hands and putting it around your neck. That's a good place to start." Gently squeezing her arms, I moved away from her. "Remember, you're only a day-and-a-half old. If you rip the towel, Rosalie can use it in the garage." I smiled encouragingly at her. "I'll go get a shower and be right back, Darlin'."

"Okay, Jasper. But take your time. Carlisle and I will be right here. It's kinda nice out here on the porch watching it rain. It's really cool to be able to see so well in the dark!"

I brought her hand to my lips, and cupped her face with my other hand. "I won't be long. Thanks, Carlisle."

"You're welcome." Carlisle nodded at me as I made my way through the newly repaired front door and hopped up to the second floor. I was curious about what Carlisle might like to talk to Bella about, but it was most likely about how she had been feeling. I dashed to my study to grab some clothes and a clean pair of boots, and to tuck Carlisle's T-shirts into my wardrobe.

I listened intently and could just hear Esme and Edward speaking quietly in his room. I could hear their voices, but could not make out their words. Though I'd like to, it wasn't a good time to start eavesdropping on purpose. Well, not on Esme.

Time to clean up. I took my clothes back down the hall toward Rosalie's and Emmett's room and knocked at their door.

.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 31, I Teach

Carlisle's POV

Jasper's warm amber eyes gazed intently into Bella's bright crimson. Then the hard lines of his face softened as he kissed her hand and tenderly touched her cheek before releasing her and going into the house. He seemed very reluctant to be gone from her side or even to let go of her hand.

I'd never seen him behave that way with anyone except Bella. "Tamed" was not a word that could be used to describe Jasper but she had gentled him and smoothed his hard edges. They truly were mates.

It was most unfortunate that Edward's preoccupation and obsession with her had only been due to her being his singer.

I had been pleased and quite happy for him when he had met Bella, though I had been extremely concerned at first.

At the time, when he struggled so desperately with his thirst for her blood, I thought his flight to Alaska was a wise decision. I still believed it had been the correct thing to do. It was better to leave than to injure or kill the girl.

When he had regained control of his thirst and returned, I'd had such high hopes. He had been surrounded by mated couples for years, and I understood the weight of that loneliness. I had experienced it for centuries before I had come upon him.

Mated couples. I supposed that wasn't entirely correct as Alice and Jasper were not mated in the truest or deepest sense of the word. Though one could say they were close companions and shared a sincere affection for each other.

After coming to know Bella, I'd found her to be quite intelligent, and she was a delight to be around. It was disturbing how obsessive Edward had become, and I could not find fault with Bella's interpretation of his actions. I believed she was right when she said his only interest in her was her silent mind and the call of her blood. I honestly hoped that with Esme's and my guidance we could steer him to a better path. I had not wanted to threaten him with ostracism from the family, but I had felt there was no other alternative. It would be difficult to monitor him and his emotional climate without Jasper's presence, but I felt Esme, Alice, and I would be up to the task.

Jasper did need to take Bella away from the area. Having a newborn vampire in Forks was just tempting fate.

In sharp contrast to that tender side Jasper displayed with Bella, his dominant side had most assuredly made an appearance. Shortly after he and Alice had joined us, he had spoken briefly with me of his history with Maria and his part in the Southern Vampire Wars. Of course I had been aware of the conflicts, though not personally involved, and knew that the Volturi had had to contain the unrestrained vampires of the south and their indiscriminate massacres — of humans and each other. That had been many years before Jasper had been turned by and served under Maria.

The Volturi had periodically sent spies to keep tabs on the southern vampires. They had heard of Major Jasper Whitlock and his sudden rise as Maria's second-in-command. Even I had heard the occasional account of the legendary God of War, though the problems of the south had been so far removed from my chosen life, I hardly paid any attention to them. I dismissed the more far-fetched stories as merely gossip — fairytales.

The vampire kings had been intrigued by his strength and his ability to dominate, train, and lead uncontrollable newborns, and they soon discovered that it was not simply a fanciful myth that he was the strongest empath our world had ever known. In order to lead, and endure, for as long as he had, he had to have been formidable.

After experiencing his more passive and sedate side over the last fifty-six years, the events over the past few days have been … very enlightening. I had gained a new respect for his capabilities, strength of will, and ability to survive. Despite his violent past, he had not ever immobilized all of us before or caused true harm to any of us. It was quite eye-opening to experience it first-hand. And, I would have to admit, not only had his strength been impressive, it had been frightening.

It had intrigued the Volturi that he could influence the emotions of many vampires at once and control groups of volatile newborns. But once they had learned of Alice's gift, they had not coveted him with quite the same fervor as before. Though, needless to say, the acquisition of him would surely not detract from their stature or position.

However, Jasper's gift of controlling emotions was temporary, whereas the Volturi's own Chelsea could form rather strong attachments between vampires, forcing them to be loyal to the kings and keeping their most favored guards bonded to them. It seemed that gift had a more lasting effect, but most of the guard remained in Volterra most of the time. It would not be difficult for Aro to order Chelsea to renew or maintain those false ties. Though during my time with them, I learned that several of their guard chose to stay of their own free will — the most notable being their tracker Demetri, Felix, and those known as the witch twins, Jane and her brother Alec.

I was curious about whether Chelsea's gift would have any effect on Bella, or would her natural shield protect her? I would hate to see Bella under the influence of the Volturi. We must keep the knowledge of the extent of her shield from them. With the control she had exhibited already, I could only imagine she would become stronger. She and Jasper working together? They would be nearly unstoppable. It was a sobering thought.

Setting those quick musings to the side, I watched as Bella seemed to almost fold in on herself as Jasper went into the house. She turned to watch him and sighed sadly when he closed the door behind him. She carefully turned to face me again. She very gently placed her open hands on the arms of the wicker chair and shifted to face me, drawing up her legs, and wrapping her arms around her knees.

"Carlisle, can they hear us inside if we speak very quietly?" Bella's bright red eyes looked concerned.

I gave her a small smile. "If we talk like this, they may hear that we are speaking but not be able to make out the words. Why, if I might ask?"

Her eyes dropped to study her fingers. "I want to apologize and ask some questions, if that's okay?"

I leaned toward her. "Bella, there is nothing to apologize for."

"But, I could have bitten your face off, and I'm so sorry for wrecking your house!" Her hands flew up and covered her face. "I kinda knew that newborns would be really strong, but becoming a newborn … I mean, I had no idea how much stronger … I …"

Placing my hand on her knee, I attempted to reassure her. "Bella, as I said, there is no need for you to apologize for something that is very difficult to control. We have all been through it. Even I broke many things and tore my clothes until I learned to control my strength. And you've only broken the sliding glass doors and the doors to your room and Jasper's study." I brought my finger to my chin and watched her from the corner of my eye. "Well, there was a broom, the towel bar, a door knob, and a couple of remotes, but those are just small things that are easily fixed or replaced."

Bella blinked at me, groaned and dropped her forehead onto her knees. "And don't forget the back brushes and hairbrushes and all the clothes I've torn to hell. See? I've broken all kinds of stuff! And everything else is my fault! I broke Edward's CDs and shelves when I shoved him into them. It's my fault Jasper threw you into the stairs and destroyed them." Her brow furrowed. "Well, no. I'd have to say that was Edward's fault. He shouldn't have thrown Jasper into the piano like he did. That led to messing up the bathroom by the mudroom, the ass. Oops." She peeked at me, wrapped her arms around her head and knees and mumbled, "Sorry."

I chuckled at her embarrassment. For just a moment, I thought fondly of her ready blushes when she had been human. "Bella, please don't worry about that. Being a newborn vampire is very difficult and stressful. Don't forget, I was one, and I've dealt with four of them myself; one of them being Emmett." I raised an eyebrow at her to let her know I was joking with her. "He still forgets himself and handles things a bit roughly. It's why he buys so many controllers for his video games."

I could see that she was smiling at that mention of Emmett, looking at me from the corner of her eye, though she didn't lift her face from her knees.

"I'll try to watch my mouth. It just comes out." She sighed lightly. "Speaking of Edward ... if I was his singer, why would he think he loved me? Why would he think I was his mate?"

Sitting back in the wicker chair, I looked out toward the light rain and considered her question. I had asked myself the same thing several times. "I really don't know, Bella. Edward had not shown that sort of interest in anyone before. I don't understand the intensity of the attraction of a singer, but I do understand the intensity of meeting your mate."

She finally lifted her face from hiding and smiled. "You really love Esme, don't you?"

"Yes, I do. I met her while she was still quite young, and I was impressed by her strength and her bold approach to life." I smiled happily at the memory of such a young and vivacious Esme. "Remember? I first met her after she had fallen out of a tree and broken her leg." Bella and I shared a quiet laugh.

"So I didn't corner the market on klutzy?"

"Of course not, Bella. Humans have such mishaps all the time. If they didn't, I would be out of a job."

Bella finally turned her head to face me completely, and I could see her smile broadly at my little joke.

"You've become quite graceful." Shifting a bit to face her more fully, I rested my elbow on the arm of the chair and tapped at my chin. "Perhaps because Edward had not experienced it himself, he did not understand his feelings. He was there when I brought Esme to our home, and I knew right away that she was my mate once she had awakened as a vampire. I can only surmise that Edward compared his thoughts of you to my … concentrated and focused thoughts of Esme."

"Maybe, since he can't feel what people are feeling." She frowned slightly. "Why would he try to keep my blood? That was just gross and creepy."

"I have no answer for that. My only guess is he focused all his feelings and attention on the primary thing that was gone. Even knowing it was wrong to do, I think he could not help himself. It seems similar to an addict desperately trying to get their next fix."

"Seems like bullshit to me," she grumbled.

"Don't misunderstand me, Bella. I am not excusing his actions. He crossed the lines of decency, and he violated your person. Such actions will not be tolerated." I sighed wearily, remembering the threat I'd had to make. It was only right that he comply with Bella's wish that he attend her memorial and the Forks High graduation. If we were all human, it was something that we would do. "I thought that I had not given him enough guidance. When he left and was on his own all those years ago, I think I may have allowed him to come back too easily. There were no repercussions for his taking the lives of humans — even if they had not been good humans."

"Maybe you did let him come back too easily, but Carlisle, that's what vampires do. They eat humans. And I don't know how you all do it. I smelled that one human — I never even got near him — and it took Jasper and Esme to hold me down so I wouldn't attack him! I couldn't even smell him anymore, but I remembered what he smelled like, and I wanted him so bad!" She gripped the sides of her head with her hands. "Right now I can remember what he smelled like and …"

I reached for her arm and took hold, trying to offer her some small comfort. "I understand, Bella. It'll be okay. It will. Eventually the pull won't be quite so strong, and it will be easier for you. Don't be too hard on yourself; you did so well."

I could see that she was struggling, but there was nothing I could do about a memory. "You have shown such strength for a newborn. I am very proud of you."

Her hands shook as she pulled them from her hair. "It's hard, Carlisle. It's really hard. I try not to think about it, but it's like there are ten brains inside my head and they're all thinking about different things. One of them keeps thinking about the way that man smelled." She drew in a deep breath and threw her hands up as if she were trying to ward off the scent of that human who had been delivering flowers to the house. "Smelling the rain helps maybe." She shook her head. "It was raining when I crashed my truck." She brought her hands back to her face and touched her forehead with her fingertips. "But if I shove those thoughts back in a corner and reach for one of those other brains … Okay, back to Edward."

She flexed her hands, spreading her fingers, and rested them on her knees. "How could you punish him for doing something that comes naturally to vampires?"

Fortunately, with my vampire brain, I could keep up with her rapid switch of topics. "You see my dilemma. Drinking from humans is natural for us. We are attracted to them, and they are attracted to us."

"Like a Venus fly trap." She offered quietly.

"Yes." I chuckled again. "Quite a bit like that. The coloring and scent of those plants makes them nearly irresistible to their prey. But, Esme and I had missed him, and he wanted to come back. In order to do that, he had to try to resist drinking from humans. He had to make an honest effort to do so, and he has done it. I know it's not been easy."

"Have you ever …?" she asked tentatively.

"No. And neither has Rosalie. But there aren't many who are as … determined as Rosalie." Or as bullheaded, I thought, or opinionated. Bella seemed to be a close second, however. Jasper would certainly have his hands full.

Bella furrowed her brow and stared out into the rain. "I don't know how you did it when you were all alone. If you all hadn't been here, I would have killed that man." She dropped her eyes to her fingers again as she began to pick at her nails. "Rosalie had the rest of you to help her."

"Yes, and we will all help you, too." I leaned back again and clasped my hands over my knee. "Bella, I don't often speak of it, but I do pray. I believe there is a higher power — something that set all this in motion." I gestured out toward the rainy night. "I don't know if it's all random or if there is any sort of plan. I don't know whether it's God, though I choose to believe so. I don't know whether it's even a consciousness as we understand consciousness to be, but I ask for strength and guidance. I don't know if it hears me or even if it cares about me, though I try to have faith that it does, but the act of centering my thoughts, for even a moment, does frequently help. I'd like to think that we are all part of some greater plan that is currently beyond our comprehension. Perhaps, one day, we'll learn of this plan."

"Heavy thoughts." Bella blinked rapidly a few times then turned her eyes to me. "But maybe it's just you."

"I don't know, Bella. It may be. Or it may be that my father had a greater influence than I gave him credit for, or it may even be that my many years on this earth have shown me that life is precious. It can be ended so quickly."

Bella looked down and carefully tugged at the towel on the cushion beside her. "Even the animals," she said very softly.

Smiling at her again, I replied, "Yes, even the animals. I believe we must try to respect them. We all have our place, our roles to fill — whether they are large or small. I've tried not to take more than I need. I think the most important thing is that we try."

"Heavy thoughts," she said again, nodding slowly. She gazed off into the light rain and inhaled deeply again. "This might seem dumb …" She glanced at me and away, suddenly uncomfortable as she picked at her fingers and bit her bottom lip.

"What is it, Bella? I will try to help you anyway I can."

"What is this mating thing? Um, how come I feel so much better when I touch Jasper?" she whispered. "I mean, I've touched you and Esme and it's nice, but I just feel so good when I touch Jasper." She ducked her head, her tangled hair falling over her shoulder and hiding her face. "And his smell. He smells so goddamn good I could just lick …" Her head jerked up, her eyes flew open, and she slapped her hand over her mouth.

I couldn't stop the laugh that escaped me. Having a "young one" in the house again was delightful, despite the destruction to the house. She was such an engaging young woman, I couldn't help smiling at her. Her little uncensored exclamations were quite charming, and frequently amusing.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to laugh, but your terminology is refreshing. Please don't be embarrassed, Bella. Your response to Jasper is very normal. As is his response to you." I rested my hands on each arm of the chair as I gathered my thoughts. "Keeping in mind that vampires are enhanced humans, many of our human traits seem to be exaggerated. It's not as obvious with humans as it is with animals, but humans are attracted or repelled by pheromones. Among humans, it is thought that when a person takes an instant dislike to another, it may be due to their scent. As I'm sure you've noticed, there are some scents that are more agreeable than others. Humans find their mates in that way, so why wouldn't vampires? But, with vampires, the feelings and reactions appear to be more intense."

Bella had hidden her face in her knees again but she peeked at me and nodded. "But humans can have more than one mate, er, spouse. Can vampires have more than one?"

"I don't believe so. In all my years, I've not ever heard of a vampire having a second mate if they've lost theirs, though they might have several very close companions over their long lives. Do you remember Marcus of the Volturi?" At her nod, I continued. "His mate was killed many years ago, and though he's seen hundreds of vampires and humans since then, he has not found another." The thought of losing one's mate was distressing. I could not imagine losing Esme. To allay my own discomfort, I decided to shift the topic slightly. "It is said that there is a special bond between mates when one has sired the other."

"Like you changed Esme?"

"Yes. And like Jasper changed you. It is sometimes referred to as bonded mates."

She nodded quickly and tapped her knee with a finger. "But what about the touching?"

I was pleased that Bella felt comfortable enough to share her thoughts, even though she was embarrassed by her transmission. I was more than happy to try and answer her question. "We were once mammals, and mammals require touch in order to survive and thrive. Many studies have shown that touch decreases the stress hormone cortisol and increases the release of the hormone oxytocin which promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding. It only follows that, along with our senses of sight, taste, and hearing, that requirement or need for the sense of touch would also be enhanced."

"So, we touch each other because it feels good. Even touching anyone else?"

"Yes, it helps us to bond together as a unit or family — or coven. But, touching our mates pleases us the most, of course." At her quick nod, I continued. "It also puts our scent on them and on anything we touch. Humans can be very possessive and that's another trait that is exaggerated among vampires. We like to mark our territory."

With a thoughtful look on her face, Bella stared out into the diminishing rain. "Humans do like to mark their territory and write their names all over everything. There are label makers and special pens for marking metal and all kinds of stuff. Even at school. Once somebody claimed a desk or a table in the cafeteria, they got pretty upset when somebody else tried to sit there." Her eyes turned to mine and she smiled. "I guess vampires aren't all that different from humans really."

"True. In some respects, we're not so very different." I reached over and patted her hand on her knee.

Her hands flashed to cover her face again, and she mumbled, "But what about the biting? I can't seem to help it. It's just crazy. I don't think I ever wanted to bite anyone before." She dropped her feet to the floor of the porch, and her hands slapped down on her thighs. "Sure, I've wanted to punch people, but I didn't do it. Well, not until … but anyway, the biting is … I mean it's … um … and he bit me and, uh …" She dropped her head to her chest, propped her elbows on her knees, and covered her face again. If she were human, I imagined she would have been blushing from the bottom of her feet to the top of her head.

"Bella, please try to not be too self-conscious about any questions you may have." I was gratified that she felt, well, not comfortable, per se, but trusted me enough to ask about things that concerned her. I did enjoy sharing the knowledge I had picked up over my long years. I had often thought that I would like to teach — whether it was to vampires or humans did not matter to me.

"It can be rather personal, but vampires do have a distinctly robust urge or impulse to bite. It is a very strong part of our nature. We bite to defend ourselves, of course, and it is sometimes used in a disciplinary manner to correct an errant coven-mate. Much like a mother horse will nip a foal that is behaving badly or wanders too close to danger, or like any group of animals that choose to live together in a pack or herd. They will bite or nip a member of the group that is not conforming to their accepted standards."

"Like when I bit Emmett because he pissed me off," she said through her hands.

"Yes," I replied, chuckling. "Just like that. I expect Emmett will think twice before annoying you again."

"No, he won't. He does it because he thinks it's funny," she grumbled.

"And what do you think?"

"I think he's a jerk." Bella moved her hand slightly to peer at me and covered her face again. "But sometimes it is funny."

I had to smile at her again. She and Emmett had a special relationship. As Alice has said, they couldn't be closer if they were twins. "To use a word that isn't heard so very much anymore — he is a rascal at times."

Rolling her eyes, Bella replied, "He sure is. I'll probably have to bite him again."

Realizing she was probably right, I said, "I dare say, you will." Pausing for a moment, bringing my hand to my chin, I searched through my memories. "Not that there have been any studies of vampire biting behavior — my knowledge is merely observational and anecdotal — but biting, in some cases, is related to kissing and all it entails, along with that compulsion we have to mark or claim our territory."

Quickly warming to my subject, I continued readily. "Biting releases venom onto the skin and into the other vampire's system. This serves three purposes. Venom on the skin places your scent on them, and enough venom in the other vampire's system will alter their scent to a degree. As you know, venom leaves scars and marks the other vampire as your mate. So, along with scent, it is a visual cue to others. However, in Jasper's case, his many scars show that he has fought and won many battles. They are a warning to others that he is dangerous, and vampires instinctively fear him."

Bella shifted her fingers slightly and peered from between them. "But I'm not afraid of him."

"That's because he is your mate. He looks like a strong, capable male to you. To others, he may appear very strong and capable, but the scars make him something to be avoided. Like in the animal kingdom, any elk or deer that has lived long enough to grow a large set of antlers has shown that he is not to be trifled with. Other bucks will avoid him, except the occasional male who feels the urge to challenge him, and does will find him attractive."

A very low growl began to rumble in Bella's chest. "But I don't want other does to find him attractive."

I chuckled lightly. "In my experience, most female vampires who have met Jasper have been initially wary of him."

She turned toward me and her hands dropped to grip her thighs. Her eyes narrowed and she hissed. "Initially? Then what did they do?"

Seeing that Bella was becoming angry, I tried to ease her concerns. "As you know, Jasper is quite handsome and …"

Snatching her hands from her thighs, they curled into fists, and she hissed again through her clenched teeth. "Handsome? He's fucking beautiful." Her eyes narrowed to mere slits. "Then what did they do, Carlisle?"

Though I shouldn't have been, I was taken aback by her abrupt anger and apparent jealousy. "Well, they have found him to be attractive but, to my knowledge, he has always discouraged their attention and …"

In a flash, Bella was on her feet and her fists were quivering at her sides. Her eyes were flicking quickly between me and the door.

I darted toward the door and opened it, thinking to save it from her evident foul temper. "Er … Bella, because he was with Alice he didn't ever …"

Her lips curled back from her teeth in a quiet snarl. She raced past me into the house and was up on the second floor landing. Before I could even think or form any words of warning, she disappeared down the hall to the left. Perhaps I should not have mentioned Alice at that particular time.

.

Chapter Text

 

Chap 32, I Growl

Jasper's POV

Rosalie smirked as she opened her door to me and curtsied. It didn't have quite the same effect when the woman was wearing blue jeans and a tailored chambray shirt.

"Did you get clean underwear this time?" she asked.

Emmett was lounging in his armchair, wearing grey sweats, with bare feet propped up on an ottoman. "What?" He stared at me as I walked into their room, and he dropped his Gameboy in his lap

I waved him off. "It's nothing. Why are you still playing with that Gameboy?"

Rosalie got that mischievous gleam in her eye. "I happened to see Jasper's pants fall down after you got on Bella's nerves earlier. He goes commando." She handed me a blue towel and gestured majestically like a game show hostess for me to follow her into her room.

Emmett straightened up in his arm chair. "What are you doin' nekkid in front of my mate?"

"I didn't do it on purpose. Bella ripped my jeans, and I didn't exactly notice right away." I turned right at the corner after the short hall and stepped into the bathroom. "And yes, I do have clean underwear. Socks, too." I set my clean boots and socks outside the door and closed it quietly.

Emmett grumbled. "Jesus Christ. He's not goin' to have any clothes left. And how do you not notice somebody rippin' your pants?" He snorted loudly. "I play this Gameboy because I like the Tetris game, okay?"

"I just want to know how he gets muddier than you do, Em." I heard Rosalie's voice through the door. "Jasper, do you need some more shirts? You can have a couple of Emmett's."

"Carlisle gave me a few," I said as I stripped off the muddy pants, turned on the water, and stepped into the shower stall.

Emmett grumbled again. "I don't want him taking any of my stuff, except for the Forks High shirts. They'll get destroyed."

"Oh, it's not like Bella hasn't ripped any of yours," Rosalie hissed at him.

"Only two."

"And a pair of pants, a pair of socks, and a pair of shoes. Around here, men's clothing should be put on the endangered species list."

Trying to ignore their bickering, I lathered up with Emmett's bar of soap and rinsed as quickly as I could, watching the mud and pine needles gather around the drain. I guess smelling like Emmett's Emerald Isle for a while wouldn't be so bad. It was better than smelling like Rosalie's lilacs.

When the water finally ran clear, I shut off the water and gathered up the pine needles caught around the drain. I tossed them in the little trash can and then tried to dry off as quickly as possible. Grabbing the blue boxer briefs, I grudgingly put them on and slid on my jeans. I didn't bother with a belt. Carlisle's white V-neck T-shirt was snug across my chest, but it would work. Guess I would smell a little like Carlisle's cardamon for a while, too.

I ran the towel over my head again as I opened the bathroom door. Rosalie was waiting with a comb in her right hand; her left was propped on her hip, holding an ash grey Forks High gym shirt.

"Thanks, Rose, Em." I combed my hair straight back from my face while I shoved the gym shirt in my back pocket. "We should probably do some laundry after Bella gets up here."

"You're welcome. You know," Rosalie said with one of her crafty smiles, "since you're Bella's mate, you could move into her room."

Caught off guard, I stared blankly at Rosalie. Moving into Bella's room hadn't even occurred to me.

"Hellcat got your tongue, Jazz?" Emmett snickered as his thumbs moved in a blur over the Gameboy.

"Uh, Hellcat hasn't invited me." They were right. Bella and I were mates. Why hadn't she invited me?

Rosalie looked at me curiously. "Well, aren't you the polite young man," she said as she patted my cheek. "Maybe she doesn't know she can invite you. Perhaps you should mention it." She raised her eyebrow and smirked at me.

"It might not be a good time to make any more changes around here. She's had enough to deal with, and we'll be leaving soon."

"Making excuses, Jazz?"

"No," I answered tersely, hoping she'd drop the subject. I was planning on Bella being in my room in our new home, and I was looking forward to it. Quite eagerly, in fact.

Hoping to distract Rosalie from that topic, I said, "I have a few things left in Alice's room. I'll have to get them. Is she in there?"

"Yes, she's in her room. She's been very quiet." Rosalie took the comb back. "Do you want me to go ask her?"

"No," I said, leaning against the wall and pulling on my socks. "I should go see how she is. Edward and Esme still upstairs?"

"Yes, though they've been pretty quiet, too." Rosalie stepped a bit closer to me and began to whisper. "I hate to say it, but I've had a moment when I almost felt sorry for him."

A low growl started in my chest. "Are you shittin' me, Rose? I thought you wanted to shred him." I glared at her. "For a vampire, he's had it pretty fuckin' easy. He's lucky he's had Carlisle to take care of him all these years." I hissed and jammed my feet in my boots.

Emmett appeared beside Rosalie, an answering deep rumble in his chest. "He's always been taken care of. He went right from his momma to Carlisle, and he never learned how to take care of anything. That's what his problem is," he said, shaking the Gameboy at Rosalie. "He's never really had to grow up. His change into a vampire was no different than anybody else's. And he's always treated Jazz like the red-headed stepchild." Emmett paused, rubbing his chin. "I wonder how he likes it?"

"But what could have happened to him to make him obsess on Bella's blood like that?" Rosalie asked, a bit of worry touching her face.

Frowning, Emmett shoved the Gameboy in his pocket. "I don't fuckin' know, Rose, and I don't care. I ran across my singer and drained her."

I scowled at Rosalie. "I haven't ever run across one, but I don't give a shit what could have happened to him. Tryin' to save Bella's blood like that was fucked up." I hissed again. "He's lucky Bella doesn't want him dead. I'd be happy to oblige her if she ever changed her mind. But I don't think she will," I said, sighing in frustration.

"It's just … I wonder what would happen if I ever ran across my singer? If I didn't drain him, would I want to stay near him? Would I keep looking for him?"

Emmett pulled her into his arms, her back to his chest, and kissed the side of her pale gold head. "I don't think you'd have to worry about that, Babe. The pull is so strong; I think you'd drain'im."

"Emmett, that's not helping." She pushed his arms from around her and stepped away from him, her brows furrowed.

I leaned toward Rosalie. "I don't even have to think about it. If I ever ran across my singer, if I even have one, I'd drain him. Problem solved." Stepping toward the short hall to their door, I turned back to Rosalie. "Rose, I've seen thousands of humans, and never ran across one. I think the odds are good you won't." I started to leave their room, but turned back once more. "Try not to worry about it. And don't waste your time worrying about Fuckward."

After closing the door behind me, I turned left in the hall and knocked lightly on Alice's door.

She opened the door slowly and smiled brightly as she saw me. "Hi Jazz. Come on in."

I stepped onto the pale cream carpet and stood by the door. "How have you been?"

"I've been okay. Working on my designs." She smiled and gestured to the right toward her drafting table in the corner. It was filled with white sheets of paper covered with splashes of color — long-legged females with sky-high heels, dressed in short, ruffly skirts with matching jackets. So typically Alice.

I followed her into her room. Looking around, not one thing that had belonged to me was left, not that there had ever been much. It was as if we hadn't spent the last half century together — as if I'd never been there. Funny, but that didn't seem to bother me in the least.

The rooms we had shared over the years had always reflected more of Alice's Pollyanna-like personality than mine. That had been part of the reason I'd had my own study after joining the Cullens. We had always had our separate spaces. Her love of pink and other pale pastels had a little to do with it, too.

"I came to get my hiking clothes. Not that I'll need the flannel shirts and the long-sleeved shirts yet, but I should get my stuff out of your closet."

"Don't you want any of the suits?" Alice asked as she swung the bedroom door closed and opened the closet door. She politely flipped on the light and stepped back.

"No. I don't think I'll need them, but I'll get them out of here." I went in the closet and was surrounded by Alice's crisp scent — cool, citrusy orange and lemon with a hint of berries. I had always liked it, but it had never called to me like Bella's sensuous scent of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. She smelled so warm. She smelled like home. I couldn't wait to establish our own home together.

I gathered my flannel shirts, a few button-downs, and other cool-weather clothes from the shelves in the back. "Alice, I'll take these to my study and be right back to get my other stuff, okay?" I said as I came back out of her huge closet.

"I can help you, you know. There are just a few suits and shoes."

I nodded at her offer. "Thanks for not throwing this stuff out."

"I wouldn't throw your clothes away, and they're in the back of the closet anyway." She shrugged her shoulders as she took her turn in the closet and lifted three suits from the pole. She scooped two shoe boxes from the floor and turned toward me. She smiled again, but it was touched with sadness. "This is it. The older things have already been taken to Goodwill. You don't want the sweaters?"

"No thanks, Alice. They can go to Goodwill, too." I reached in and grabbed my two navy blue duffel bags from the top shelf.

I followed her out of her room and down the hall to my study. My door, and the door to Bella's room, were leaning against the wall. I didn't think I'd have time to fix them and the door frames properly before it was time to leave.

Alice smiled slightly as she looked over the battered doors, glanced back at me, and shook her head in amusement. "Bella sure tore up the doors. Emmett's lucky she didn't get hold of him."

"Yes, he is. But she did bite him on the leg."

"Oh, she did?" Alice's laugh chimed through the air. "I didn't know about that. But from what I did hear," she peered at me from the corner of her eye, "he deserved it." She chuckled again.

I smiled at her in surprise. I do believe she was teasing me, and I took that as a good sign.

She followed me into my study. "Where do you want these?"

"Just set them on the couch." I dropped my armload of clothes on the cushions and set the duffel bags next to them. "Thank you, Alice."

"No problem." She clasped her hands together, and her gaze fell to the floor. "I really hope everything goes well with you and Bella and your trip to … well, wherever it is you're going."

"I won't forget to call you with the address, but I'll call after we get out of Edward's range even though it's a PO Box. He'll probably read it in your mind, but that's okay. The PO Box isn't that close to the house. My place doesn't have an actual address."

Her hands fluttered nervously, and she put them behind her back as she shuffled from foot to foot. She peeked up at me. "Do you mind my asking why you never mentioned it before?"

"Security for Peter and Charlotte. They stay there now and then. They're nomads, for the most part, but I guess you could say they're nomads that move from house to house. They've never stayed in one area as long as the Cullens have. Sometimes they travel like true nomads, but even then they like to be in a house once in a while."

"That makes sense." She nodded her head. "Jazz, I was a little shocked at first, I guess you could tell, but I am happy for you and Bella. I don't want you to think I'm avoiding you, but Bella does kind of scare me. I thought I should stay out of her way until she calms down." She tugged at the pale yellow scarf she had knotted around her neck. "I mean, I know the newborn instincts are hard to control, and I don't want to make things harder for her. Or for you." Her hand brushed at her hair and then tugged at the collar of her shirt. "I want to be her friend again, but I don't want to make her jealous."

"She can't seem to help herself." I had a pretty good idea what Bella thought of Edward, but it didn't keep me from being a little jealous. I caught Alice's right hand in both of mine. "I know you want to be her friend, and I think you'll be able to again. Maybe when she's past her newborn stage. When I'm not near you both, you seem to get along okay."

"Yes." Alice smiled faintly. "We did well together cleaning up the patio and the living room." Her natural exuberance bubbled up again, and she laughed brightly. "So many things were smashed! Edward's piano was nothing but splinters." Her free hand clapped over her mouth, and her light amber eyes twinkled with her mirth. "I know I shouldn't laugh at that, but it was so funny. The flower petals and greens were everywhere. All the colors were gorgeous!"

I couldn't help smiling with her. "I didn't think so when he threw me into it, but now that you mention it…" Winking at her, I gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "You've been a good friend to me. I hope I can be so to you."

She squeezed my hand in return and then pulled away to lean against the arm of the couch. "I can't see it right now, but I think we will be. We've known each other a long time. We've helped each other over and over. I'd like to think that we'll continue." She walked behind the couch and ran her hands over the top of the cushions. "Of course, I'll be staying with Esme and Carlisle, so if you ever need me for anything …"

"Thanks, Alice." I grabbed one of the duffels and began shoving the long-sleeved T-shirts and the other shirts inside. The other bag would be for Bella's clothes. "It would be safer for you to stay with the family, but if you ever need me, just call."

"I will." Alice smiled up at me again and patted the back of the couch. "Well, I should go back to my room. I expect Bella will be up here soon. She does like to take baths." She moved toward the doorway. "Does your house have a big tub in it?"

"Unfortunately, no. I might have to put one in." If I did that, we'd lose a closet. That wouldn't really matter, though. Bella didn't appear to need the closet space that Alice had always required.

"Remodeling. That should be fun." Alice smiled again. "I'll see you later, Jazz."

I lifted the duffel bag from the couch and started to turn toward the wardrobe. "Thank you, Alice. For everything." It struck me that it felt like I was saying goodbye to her and a feeling of melancholy stole over me. I sent her my gratitude and the love I felt for her.

She took in a small breath and placed her hands over her heart. "I love you, too, Jazz." Then she darted away.

Grabbing the suits from the couch, I went to the wardrobe, dropped my duffel bag on the floor, and opened the doors. I hung the suits on the short pole on the left side and reached for the few remaining T-shirts on the shelves to the right. After dropping them in the duffel, I turned back and reached for my socks and underwear. As I tossed them into the bag, I heard a gasp at the door.

Bella was standing there, staring at me, with her mouth hanging open. Suddenly self-conscious, I looked down at myself and took a quick inventory, running my hands down my chest. Carlisle's white T-shirt, my blue jeans, and brown boots. Everything appeared to be in place. I glanced up at Bella and couldn't help noticing how lovely she was, despite the mud and her tangled hair. Just seeing her again sent a feeling of peace through me, even though she kept sneaking up on me.

"What's the matter?"

"Er, nothing." She stepped slowly into the room. "Uh, is that Carlisle's shirt? It's a little tight."

Oh?

Grinning at her, I slid my hands back up my stomach and chest, her eyes following their progress. She was blocking me from feeling her emotions again, but it seemed she liked the shirt. I'd have to remember that.

She took another step, stopped and inhaled deeply. She darted toward the couch and began to growl. "She was here. What was she doing in here? I smell her." Her bright red eyes darkened to near black, and she growled again.

Reaching out for her, I walked slowly toward her. "It's okay, Darlin'. I had a few clothes left in Alice's closet, and she helped me carry them in here is all." I touched her arm, and she was nearly vibrating with her emotions. I didn't need to be able to detect them to know she was angry.

She spun to face me. "I smell her. I smell her on your hands … on you." Her glistening black eyes slowly made their way up my chest and to my face.

Oh, shit.

Sensing I was in big trouble with a capital T — and I didn't even know why— I felt the urge to back away from her, but stood my ground. I hadn't ever backed away from anyone and was stunned that the impulse came over me while facing Bella's anger. However, I suppose it was stupid of me to have rubbed my hands over my chest after having touched Alice's hands.

Raising my hands up and speaking softly, I said, "Bella, everything is fine. Alice just helped me carry in clothes, and I held her hand to thank her."

She was practically quivering, and her eyes narrowed to glittering, dark slits.

I probably shouldn't have put my Alice-scented hands right up in front of her face like that, either.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

Bella's rage and suspicion blasted outward. I was suddenly shirtless, and the torn remains of Carlisle's T-shirt were clenched in her fist. "Dammit, Jasper, you're mine!" she spat out as she shook the shredded shirt in my face.

Before I could even think, the T-shirt was flung to the floor, her arms and legs were clamped tightly around me, and her teeth were embedded in the right side of my neck by my shoulder.

Damn, she's fast when she's pissed off.

I fell backward, trying to turn to the left so she wouldn't smash her forehead against the floor and thudded heavily to the rug, just missing the chair.

"Oh, fuck me." Getting bitten stings like hell when it isn't part of your foreplay or orgasm. Well, it stings then too, but …

Bella had my left arm pinned down, but my right was free. I began stroking her head and back and whispering, "It's okay, Bella. It's all right. Calm down, Darlin'."

Her angry emotions were spinning at top speed, and she was breathing quickly through her nose. She renewed her furious growls and sunk her teeth even more deeply into the curve of my neck.

"Son of a bitch." I squirmed with the fiery pain, drawing up my right leg. Previously, her bites had been very erotic. There wasn't anything erotic about that one.

Then I noticed Alice's scent was stronger down on the floor. The duffel bag my clothes were in lay just to the right of us, near my wardrobe, and it was saturated with Alice's berry and citrus scent. It had to be her scent on my clothes that set Bella off. As long as she could smell it, I didn't think she would let go. Though I thought I would be able to get up from the floor, I didn't know how Bella would react to my movement.

Her right arm slid from underneath me, and she gripped my left above my elbow and squeezed, pushing my arm down and holding it to the floor. With her newborn strength, she would be able to break it off without too much trouble. I didn't think she would, but I wasn't sure about that. Her jealousy, possessiveness, and rage were pummeling me, and I was having a difficult time not being overwhelmed by it.

I didn't know what to do to calm her down. I was good and trapped. With my left hand's limited movement, I eased up the hem of her still-damp Henley and pressed my fingers against the smooth skin of her back, hoping that would help.

"Bella, you can let go. She's not here," I whispered into her tangled hair. With my right hand, and despite the throbbing of her venom sizzling through my veins, I slowly gathered her hair together, twisted it around and laid it down the center of her back.

"Let go, please? Alice isn't here."

Seems I fucked up again. Bella's growls became louder at the mention of Alice's name. Her venom was burning down through my shoulder, up into my neck, and across my chest, but I couldn't think of anything else to do. I didn't see a way out of the situation without injuring her, or losing a chunk out of the top of my shoulder. If she hurt me like that, I was sure it would upset her.

Holding her in my arms, I whispered to her, "I love you, Bella. You know I love you." Tightening my arms around her, I breathed in her scent. "I love you." I sent all my love to her, hoping it would soothe and reassure her.

"Jasper, do you need help?" Rosalie, speaking quietly and evenly, was at the door. I was sure she wouldn't be able to see that Bella had her teeth in me.

"Yes. Alice's scent …"

Bella growled again, the vibrations going through my chest and arms.

"Do you want me to grab Bella?"

"No!" I barked out. I stroked Bella's hair again as she continued with her low growls. "I love you, Bella." The whirl of her rage and jealousy had slowed, but not enough for her to pull her teeth out of my shoulder. It had to be because Alice's scent was so close.

I spoke softly. "Rose, take both of those duffel bags out of here. I think I'll have to wash all those clothes and the bags. Bella bit me again and she won't let go."

"Pissed her off, did you? That didn't take long. You certainly get yourself into some interesting situations, Jasper." Rosalie darted into the room, snatching up the half-filled duffel from the floor and the other from the couch, and dashed back out to the hall. "I'll take these downstairs and be right back." In a blur, she was gone.

Bella's growling continued intermittently, though it wasn't as loud, and I ran my fingers through her hair. "Bella, the bags are gone. It's okay." It hurt like a bitch, but I turned my head to kiss her. "I love you, Bella." Breathing into her hair, I kissed her again.

She growled louder.

Plying her with kisses and sweet words of love wasn't working, so I tried to hit her with a small dose of lethargy. After a second, it bounced right back to me. Evidently, she decided to block my attempts to influence her emotionally. I was stumped.

Emmett's amusement preceded his appearance at my door. Arms crossed, he was leaning against what was left of the door jam and grinning at me. "So, I see you pissed her off this time."

Not wanting to dignify that stupid remark with any sort of response, I ignored him and stroked Bella's hair with my right hand and massaged the tight muscles in her back with my left. I nuzzled her ear and whispered to her. "You are my mate. I love you."

"Rose gave me a heads up. Ya know, I could open the window and maybe air out the place." Emmett suggested. "It stopped raining a little while ago."

Becoming just a touch frustrated, I hissed at him. "Well, then fuckin' do it. She's bitin' the shit out of me."

Bella didn't appreciate that. Growling again, she pulled her left arm from around my ribs, slid her hand down my side and pinched me right above my hip.

Oh, goddammit!

That hurt almost as much as a bite, and I jerked away from the sharp pain, causing her teeth to shift in my shoulder enough to make that shit hurt even more. I pushed my face into her hair and growled back at her. Clenching my teeth, I ground out, "Oh, Isabella, I love you so goddamn much."

During the pinching, snarling, and growling, Emmett zipped across the room, opened the window, and scooted back out to stand in the hall, cackling like a fool the entire time.

"Do you want me to pinch her nose closed so she can't smell anything?"

Where the hell does he come up with this shit?

In pain, exasperated, and a little more pissed off, I yelled at him. "Don't fuckin' touch her!"

Emmett's booming laugh rang out. "Maybe a bubble bath will distract her?"

I grunted into Bella's hair. At least he'd thought of something that might prove to be helpful. I was clean out of ideas. "Jesus Christ! Just fuckin' do it!"

As he went to run the water in Bella's tub, Rosalie reappeared. "Started the laundry for you, Jazz. Maybe a bath will help," she said happily. "And I'll go open a window in Bella's room, so we get a cross-draft."

Trying to calm myself down, I whispered to her, "Bella, why are you mad at me?" I nuzzled into her ear. "I didn't do anything, and I'm gettin' a little irked myself."

She growled again. She wasn't as angry as she had been, but tendrils of her jealousy were still winding through and around her swirling emotions.

If she was that mad at me because Alice had been in my study, I didn't think I should mention Edward's … attraction to me any time soon. Of course, that could have been a reaction to stress on his part. Though if I could be sure Bella would focus her jealousy on, and direct her anger at him

From Bella's bathroom, which shared a wall with my study, I heard Emmett splashing the water in the bath tub. "Ohhh, Bellzy-bub," he sang. "Mmmmm. Just smell those vanilla bubbles." He made more splashing sounds. "Tub's gettin' pretty full and it is dee-licious." He splashed the water a few more times. "Rose said you liked the water nice and hot. It's just the way you like it."

I could smell the vanilla, so I knew Bella could, and, at last, the light bulb came on in my brain. Trying to explain to her, asking her, kisses, and loving words hadn't worked to make her let go, so I'd have to resort to attacking her back. I held her head tightly against me so her teeth wouldn't shift again, and I rolled until I hit my knees. I cautiously moved to stand. Her arms went around my ribs to hang on to me. A smidgen of curiosity joined the mix I was feeling from her.

"Darlin', I've been wantin' to get in the tub with you," I said seductively as I toed off my boots. "And now seems like the perfect time." I pushed down my sock with my toes, stepped on the end and pulled my foot out. After repeating the procedure with my other foot, I started walking toward the door.

Her legs tightened around my waist, and I felt the first glimmer of worry appear, taking her anger down a notch.

"Don't worry, Darlin'," I said as I carried her into her room. I lowered my voice and whispered into her ear, "I'm sure we'll both have an excellent time." I winked at Rosalie, who was sitting on Bella's bed.

She smiled and waved her fingers at us. "You know, I could get a set of clothes out for Bella while you two are in the tub." With her reassuring smile, wide eyes, crossed legs, and hands daintily clasped together in her lap, she was the picture of guileless helpfulness.

Emmett was still in the bathroom, on his knees by the huge soaking tub, stirring the water and waving his hand through the bubbles. His face brightened when he saw us; he grabbed the bottle of bubble bath from the counter and poured another dollop into the tub. He closed his eyes and smiled. "Doesn't that smell wonderful? Ahhhhhh. Pretty damn sexy, too."

Bella was becoming more apprehensive by the moment, but she still didn't pull her teeth out of my shoulder. At least she wasn't growling anymore and that was an improvement.

Emmett turned off the water and hopped up from the floor, scraping the bubbles off his arm and back into the tub. "Well, since this is the last room you two love birds have with a door, I'll just make myself scarce. Maybe go check on the laundry." He came out of the bathroom and leaned around to look at Bella. He waggled his eyebrows and fist bumped her shoulder. "You two kids have fun."

I stepped into the bathroom, and Emmett quickly pulled the door shut.

"Now, Darlin'…" I said in a cajoling voice as I squeezed her leg near her knee. I ran my hand down her thigh and over her ass. "There's no need to keep bitin' me like that. You need to relax, and I know just how to help you do that."

I didn't know if Rosalie and Emmett had any idea what I was planning, though they seemed to catch on fairly quickly. At least they went along with it. Honorable man that I was, I was fully prepared to go as far as I needed to go to make her pull her teeth out of me. I slid my right hand down over the curve of her ass and reached for the button on my jeans. I paused, waiting to see if Bella would let go, but she didn't. I undid the button and slowly pulled the zipper down.

She yanked her teeth from my shoulder. "Stop, Jasper! What are you doing?"

Sweet relief settled over me. Her bite still stung like a bitch, but at least she wasn't still drooling her venom into me. Not that I really minded that so much. It did blend our scents together and it marked me as hers.

"I'm takin' off my pants to get in the tub," I said innocently. "You need a bath and you wouldn't let go …"

"No!"

"Since you're blockin' me, and don't seem to want to listen to me, I had to think of another way to … calm you down."

"No! Let me down."

I hooked my thumb in the waistband of the jeans, yanked them down a few inches, and slid my hand over her ass again. "Oh, now you want me to let you go?"

"Yes!" She tried to pull away from me.

"But Darlin', don't you want to get in the tub and clean up? You are pretty muddy." I dragged my left hand up her back, taking hold of her neck, and kissed her throat beneath her jaw. "I could massage and scrub your back for you. You're very tense."

"Ohhhhh." She sighed. "Uh, no. I can scrub my own back. Unless I break another back brush. Get out and send Rose in to help me get undressed."

Reaching between us, my fingers searched for the button on her jeans. "I can help you get undressed," I whispered into her ear.

"No!" She grabbed my hand as I undid the button, and she dropped her legs from around my waist. "Put me down, please?"

Heaving a huge sigh, I said, "If you insist." I gripped her waist and set her on the floor. Her bright crimson eyes dropped immediately to my jeans then flashed up to my face. But they didn't stay there.

"Uh … um."

It was one of those moments when I missed her blush. The little soldier was quite interested in the goings on, straining against the cotton of the boxer briefs, and I was sure human Bella would have been beet red about then. Regretting the decision to put on underwear, sure I would have enjoyed seeing the look on her face if I hadn't, I stepped back away from her.

Having to make a couple of adjustments to the little soldier and my jeans before zipping them up, I sighed again. I believe I was disappointed that she hadn't called my bluff. Not that I was bluffing.

Apparently the procedure was fascinating to Bella, and I asked, "Did you want to help me?"

She blinked and her eyes finally made their way back to my face. "Er … uh, no!" She covered her face with her hands and turned away from me. Her embarrassment flared and completely replaced her anger.

"I'll get Rose." I smirked at her, turned, and opened the door. Luckily, I still had Emmett's T-shirt in my back pocket — I didn't know how — and I slipped it over my head. "Rose, Bella would prefer it if you helped her get undressed."

"I can't imagine why." Rosalie grinned at me. "Bella, do you want the iPod?" She disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

Emmett's shirt was huge on me, but at least it was a shirt. "Toss her clothes out here, Rose. We'll wash those, too." I'd take them downstairs and sort them with the rest of the clothes and towels. I hoped I could find some air freshener while I was down there. Spraying those suits in my wardrobe might be a good idea.

There was just a slight breeze coming through from my study to Bella's room, but I was hopeful it would dilute Alice's scent.

I heard little splashes and her happy sigh as Bella got into the tub. Rosalie cracked open the door and handed out the muddy clothes.

"You are such an asshole," she silently mouthed to me as I took Bella's bundle of clothes.

Agreeing with her, I grinned and nodded at her. "I'll be right back."

I made the trip down to the laundry and back in record time, barely pausing in admiration at all when I got to Bella's boy shorts and bra, and even after searching for an air freshener that didn't smell like fucking oranges or lemons.

Back in my study, I doused my wardrobe, the suits, and the couch with an apple and cinnamon spray and then settled myself on the floor in the short hall into Bella's room, across from her bathroom door.

Rose came out after a few minutes, bringing Bella's enticing scent with her, and sat on the floor beside me. She patted my arm propped on my knee. "She'll settle down eventually, you know."

I nodded, closing my eyes and leaning my head back against the wall, breathing in Bella's scent. "In about a year."

Rosalie snickered quietly and patted my arm again. "I helped her wash her hair and now she has the ear buds in. She sure likes to have the music up loud. You'll have to get her an iPod." She sighed lightly. "Do you know why she bit you this time?"

I shook my head. "Mad at me, I guess. It's not like she could tell me with her mouth full of my shoulder, for Christ's sake." I ran my hand through my hair and sighed. "Alice helped me carry some clothes into my study. I took hold of her hand to thank her. Her scent was on my clothes and on me. Bella was pissed off and jealous. That's why I wanted you to get the duffel bags out. I thought she would let go once the bags were out of the room."

"Well, maybe that jealousy thing will calm down after … ahem, well, anyway … how's the bite?" She bumped my shoulder with hers.

"It sealed, but it still stings. She got enough damn venom into me."

Chuckling at me, she said, "You do smell more like cinnamon than you used to. I happened to notice that bite on her shoulder. Maybe you need to bite her a few more times. Do some venom swapping, as Emmett would say."

Barely opening my eyes, I looked at Rosalie from the corner of my eye and grinned at her. "I plan on it."

Settling back against the wall, I listened to the quiet sounds of the house: Bella moving slowly in the tub; water trickling and gurgling, and her soft splashes. Emmett was back in his room — humming lightly to himself, and probably playing with his Gameboy again. Esme and Carlisle were down the hall in his study, talking softly together. I could hear the washer hitting it's rinse and spin cycle downstairs.

Directly above Bella's room was Edward's, and I heard him moving back and forth. He was probably reorganizing his CDs and albums — again. I really couldn't blame him. Vampires tended to be a little OCD. Of course, Edward could be the poster child for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Well, I liked my books in a particular order. His shelves did get smashed the other day. I supposed it was time to rearrange them. I was just happy he was busy somewhere else.

Taking in a slow, deep breath, I drew in the tranquility of the house. I thought that was probably the first really peaceful moment I'd had since I had found Bella in her wrecked truck. I wasn't complaining, but everyone needed some quiet time now and then.

Even vampires who never slept were inclined to be a bit calmer at two o'clock in the morning. Unless we were feeding, of course.

I appreciated Rosalie's presence beside me. The fact that she didn't feel the need to fill the near silence with endless chatter was a blessing. Bella had her moments, but you could never call her verbose. There were times when I wished she would talk and tell me more. Like just a few minutes ago when she had her teeth in me.

Then there was Alice. She had always felt the compulsion to fill almost every moment with some sort of sound.

Bella's contentedness and Rosalie's sense of well-being were lulling me into a relaxed state. It was nice to be still.

Above us, even Edward's continuous self-condemnation, despair, and black gloom had eased up. I couldn't say he was happy; he just wasn't as miserable.

I was thoroughly enjoying the peace and quiet until I felt Edward's surge of alarm.

Instantly, I was on my feet. "Edward, what is it?" I was trying to keep my voice low so Bella wouldn't hear me, but I knew Edward could. I sent my senses out as far as I could, but didn't detect anything unusual.

"Wolves."

Oh shit.

.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 33, I Howl

Jasper's POV

Wolves? The wolves were close enough to the house for Edward to detect them? What the fuck were they doing?

It didn't help in the least, but I stared up at the ceiling of Bella's room, willing Edward to be able to hear the wolves and what they were thinking. "Where? Can you tell how close they are?"

"He … they're maybe five miles out. West. They are thinking at me. In fact, they are shouting at me. To warn us, I think. They're not moving very quickly, but they're coming closer."

"How many?"

"Possibly three." He left his room, and I heard him running down the flight of stairs to Carlisle's study near the landing.

Rosalie was on her feet and wringing her hands anxiously. Her eyes were flicking between me and the bathroom door. Bella was still in the tub.

"Rose, get Bella's clothes and get her dressed. Turn the lights off. Emmett …"

"Lights and stuff are off, Jazz."

I darted to my study and turned off the lamps. Rosalie, Emmett, and I were not supposed to be in Forks. There wasn't anything I could do about the scent trails we left outside around the house, but at least we could turn the lights off in our rooms. I grabbed my socks and boots and yanked them on.

A strong impulse to grab Bella and run nearly overtook me, but if the wolves had sent a scout ahead to do any sort of sweep along the outskirts of our territory, I didn't want to chance running into him out in the forest. He would be able to communicate instantly with the other wolves through the connection of their pack mind. I thought Bella would be safer in the house surrounded by the rest of the family. We had them outnumbered with our seven to their three. Even as fast as the wolves were, it would take time for the rest of the pack to get here if they were summoned. Even if I had to kill the three that were on their way to the house, we would be able to escape if necessary.

As a newborn, Bella would be ruthless and out of control in a fight, which was the reason Maria used them so many decades ago. But she also used them because they were thoughtless, mostly unskilled except for the training I had given them, and expendable. If they lost limbs or were beheaded, it made no difference. We could always get more.

The thought of Bella facing the wolves in a battle sent fearful shudders down my spine. Her instinctive viciousness and her newborn strength wouldn't do much good. She would be the most vulnerable because she had no experience or training at all. Again, I pushed down the urge to gather her in my arms and race away from any potential fight.

It would not come to that.

According to the treaty, they shouldn't be sending any scouts to our territory, let alone to the house.

I stopped in the darkened hallway to listen and send my senses out as far as they could reach. I could just barely detect the glimmer of otherness that signified the wolves. "Edward, I feel them. I sense three. They're three or four miles out. Alice, would you prefer to stay in your room?"

"No!" She peeked out her door. "I'll go in Carlisle's study with them." She darted from her room to Carlisle's door and disappeared inside. I heard Esme murmuring softly to her.

Rosalie hadn't shut the bathroom door completely when she went in. Bella flung the door open and appeared in the short hallway that led into her room. The door slammed against the wall in the bathroom, but at least she didn't tear it off its hinges.

Then I noticed she was wet.

And naked.

Oh, my Christ, she has a sweet ass.

It just fucking figured that the first time I got a glimpse of her beautiful, nude curves I wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

She was facing away from me. Her damp hair was swinging across her bare back, and I was completely awestruck. I also noticed that while she was still human she had gained back all the weight she had lost after we all left her, plus a few more pounds, adding nicely to the flare of her hips and the delicious shape of her ass. The clothes she chose to wear camouflaged her figure more than I had realized.

A pang of guilt stabbed at my heart — guilt for following along with Edward's idiocy and leaving her behind. Leaving her vulnerable and at the mercy of any creature that chose to pass through Forks. I blinked and shoved that negative feeling away. There wasn't time for that.

My eyes were drawn back to her and were absorbed in appreciating her exquisitely rounded ass and her legs. Her legs were … they were great. They were gorgeous. Her thighs were smooth and firm, and they curved sensuously up into her ass and down to her calves, and I couldn't fucking wait to have them wrapped around my hips and …

And Emmett punched me right in the jaw, knocking me into the two cracked doors leaning against the wall.

"What the fuck, Emmett?" I said, glaring at him and rubbing my jaw. Then another thought struck me. "Did you see my mate naked?"

By that time, Rosalie had a towel wrapped around Bella and she was facing me, trembling.

"No, I didn't. Unlike some dickheads who drop their pants in front of other people's mates." Emmett stared angrily down at me, his fists propped on his hips. He pointed one of his huge fingers right at my face. "Jazz, you're being a stupid asshole, and we don't have time for that shit."

He was right. I didn't have time to stare at my stunning mate, who happened to be wet and dressed in only a sage green towel. Which was lovely against her skin, by the way.

I considered myself lucky he hadn't hit me hard enough to knock me and the broken doors through the wall and into Bella's bathroom.

"Jasper? Wolves?" Bella's frightened eyes looked up to mine and she took a step toward me.

The fear in Bella's voice snapped my full attention back to the current crisis. "Bella, you need to get dressed. Quickly. Get in the bathroom. Leave the lights off." I turned to Emmett. "You, Rosalie, Bella, and I should stay in Bella's room."

Then I remembered the open windows. "Oh, shit. Shut the windows." We didn't need that wolf-stink in the house. It set off an intense fight or flight response, and I had no idea how Bella might react to it, but considering the older vampires' reactions to the odor, I knew it would be a strong one. I raced back into my study to shut the window and yank the curtains closed. Meeting Emmett in Bella's room, I saw he had closed her window and pulled the curtains across them.

"You don't want to make a run for it?" Emmett asked.

"No. If they sent out a scout, I don't want to run into him in the woods."

Emmett was pacing back and forth in front of the curtained window wall and then returned to the built-in bookshelves on the right, placing a hand against one of them and leaning forward. "But they're not supposed to be running through our territory."

"They're not supposed to be coming to the house either." I stood by the wall opposite Bella's bathroom door in the short hallway and waited impatiently for her to come back out.

Keeping my voice low, I asked, "Edward, can you tell who they are?"

From down the hall came Edward's urgent voice. "One of them is Sam Uley. He is thinking toward me to warn us of their approach. I'm not sure of the other two. The pack mind makes it difficult to tell who is with him. Most of them appear to have phased, and I can hear them through Sam. As soon as I can determine who is with him, I'll let you know." Edward was very alert, nervous, and wary — much like everyone else — but he wasn't afraid.

Bella and Rosalie finally came out of the bathroom, and Bella was in my arms, her face pressed into my chest, her arms circling my ribs. Rosalie dashed to Emmett to be enclosed in his arms.

She had dressed Bella in jeans and another Henley, but this one was navy blue. I mentally kicked myself in the ass again. It wasn't the time to be paying attention to clothing and color choices!

Bella searched my face. "What are we going to do, Jasper? They can't know I'm here!"

I stroked her damp hair and held her snugly to my body, trying to calm her trembling. "We're going to stay here in your room and hide. They must have an important message for Carlisle. I don't think they'll be here very long, and they won't come inside." I kissed her forehead. "Our scents are outside, but I'm hoping the rain we had earlier dilutes them. I think your scent has changed enough that they won't recognize it."

Carlisle silently appeared at Bella's bedroom door. "Jasper, I believe you're right about Bella's scent. If they ask about it, perhaps we had a visit from one of our relatives in Alaska. Kate? Otherwise, Bella's remaining human scent shouldn't be a concern."

I nodded. "If they question our scents, Emmett, Rosalie, and I were here last week. We left Friday."

"Carlisle. Jasper," Edward called to us. "Sam Uley has Paul Lahote and Seth Clearwater with him. He wants to speak to Carlisle."

"Seth? He's just a kid!" Bella began to tremble again. She pulled her arms from around me, and huddled against me.

I kissed the top of her head and curled protectively over her, bringing my hand to her head. "Bella, I know Seth is young, but I think that's a good sign. They're not expecting trouble or they would have left him on the Reservation and brought a more experienced wolf. I'm wondering why Jacob Black didn't come with him instead. Edward?"

Bella's cries interrupted any answer Edward may have been about to give. "Oh, Jacob!"

I put my finger under her chin and urged her to look at me. "What's wrong, Darlin'?"

Even in the darkened room, her eyes were bright with venom tears, and she whispered, "I know I can't ever see him again, but I miss him so much, Jasper." Sorrow flowed from her and surpassed her earlier fear.

Knowing she loved him, and knowing she didn't love him the same way she loved me, I kissed her lightly, trying to comfort her. "I know you do, Darlin'. But you know you can't see him, or let any of the other wolves see you."

"I know. I just miss him so much!" She buried her face in the crease between my chest and arm.

Edward's sudden surge of jealousy and resentment startled me, but only for a moment. He had been extremely envious of Jacob Black's relationship with Bella, even before the young Quileute had phased into a wolf. I guessed it was too soon for me to hope Edward would be over it. It was Bella's flight to see the russet wolf that had put us in our current position, but I wouldn't change it if I could. It was that race to see the wolf that had taken her from Edward and brought her to me. I knew Edward also resented my mate status with Bella and would probably continue to do so for a long time.

The whirl of Bella's emotions was starting to gain speed, and I was becoming worried that she might lose her composure. She had been doing very well, considering she was a newborn, but if she couldn't control herself, it was about the worst possible time for her to start tearing shit up and get the urge to run off through the forest. "Let me help you calm down."

"I can do it." She insisted as her muscles tensed against me. "I can. I just … I miss him."

Thankfully, Edward pulled back his jealousy, and I heard him sigh in resignation. I could imagine his fingers gripping the bridge of his nose.

Hesitantly, Edward said, "Sam is worried about Jacob. Jacob hasn't come out of his house for days." He paused, apparently trying to search through Sam Uley's thoughts. "Paul can have a volatile temper, but Seth has a soothing effect on him." Pausing again, he finally said, "Sam is thinking about the scent of a strange vampire they came across. He's going to ask us about that."

A strange vampire? Instinctively, I clutched Bella to me more tightly. Could it be the vampire who discovered her at the crash scene first? The one who had bitten and left her? Could he have come back to look for her, or was it that he never left the area? The wolves couldn't have smelled Bella's scent. Even with all her running, she hadn't been beyond the borders of our territory. A deep, possessive growl started in my chest.

No! No one would take her from me!

As Bella tried to snuggle even more deeply into my chest, Carlisle reached forward and placed a steadying hand on my shoulder.

"Jasper, please calm down." Carlisle gave my shoulder a small squeeze and let go with a light pat. "I'll ask them where they found that scent. I'm not due at the hospital until six A.M., so I'll go and see if I can find anything with the scent on it and bring it back."

Bella's fear enveloped me and it amplified my anger and possessiveness. I shoved those feelings down and away. I had to take care of her and couldn't allow my emotions to take over. "Bella, don't be afraid. I'll protect you. You heard what Carlisle said. He'll try and bring a sample back. He may even recognize the scent."

I held her to me and moved from the short hall and into her room, then went left to place us between her bed and the closet. Bella's fear was climbing, and I stroked her hair to try and comfort her. "Bella, remember you have your shield. You can put it up and they can't hurt you. If we have to, we can run. As a last resort, we can fight them. There are seven of us and only three of them."

Bella's hands gripped my shirt, tearing it slightly, and she looked up at me with worry and fear in her eyes. "Jasper! You can't hurt Seth — he's just a kid! Please don't hurt him."

Cupping her face with my hands, I gently kissed her lips. "I'm hoping I won't have to, Darlin'. I don't want to hurt him, but we have to be prepared for anything."

I would kill every last one of them to protect her. She didn't like hearing about the possibility of a fight against the wolves, but I wouldn't keep things from her to spare her feelings like Edward always had. She had to know what we might be faced with. "Bella, listen to me. To hide from them, we need to be very quiet and very still. They'll be here soon. They'll most likely come to the front of the house. We can get out through your windows if we need to and jump up into the trees." I wrapped my arms around her shaking body, tucking her head under my chin. "They might be fast, but they can't climb."

Carlisle stepped further into the room. "I know Sam has my phone number. I wonder why he didn't call? Jasper, I'll go meet them on the front porch. That should be close enough for everyone to hear us."

Nodding to Carlisle, I sent my senses out as far as I could and still found only the three wolves. "Edward, I still sense only three."

Wisely staying in Carlisle's study, Edward said quietly, "Yes, so do I. They'll be here soon. Carlisle, should I go outside with you?"

"I think you should stay inside, Edward." Carlisle turned away from Bella and I. "Because you've been in mourning, and haven't been to school, I think it's best. Should you hear anything … untoward from the wolves, you'll be able to let me know. I think Esme should greet them with me."

"I agree, Carlisle." I continued stroking Bella's hair. "Having Esme with you will show that you aren't excessively worried about them coming here, and she often has a calming effect on others. I won't be able to do it. They would sense it."

Emmett, eyes flicking quickly between Carlisle and I, with Rosalie held tightly in his arms, stayed near the bookshelves. They both became very still. I could see the strain and anxiety on their faces, but when I caught Emmett's eye, he winked and gave me a quick nod. I knew he was prepared to fight.

I studied Rosalie. She was worried, but determined. She would fight, and fight well, if it was necessary. Testing the emotions of the others, I found that Alice was afraid but her protectiveness was unwavering. Being with the Cullens was the only home she had ever known — she would defend it and her family.

Esme was nervous and as apprehensive as Carlisle, but together they would gather their usual serenity and be able to meet the wolves with their customary assurance and aplomb. Having experienced what it felt like to be mated, I knew they would do anything necessary to protect each other, and Esme would protect her family.

Fortunately, Edward had buried his resentment of Jacob Black. Or had it been a resurgence of his resentment of me? It didn't matter which, but it was still there below the surface. He remained alert and vigilant, though uneasy and wary, and his curiosity was piqued. I had been hating that fucker and had a real problem with his actions regarding Bella and several of the things he had done to her — I didn't feel as though I could trust him completely around her — but I was hopeful he would do what he could to maintain the security of his family, regardless of how resentful he may have been of me or what my personal feelings for him were.

United we stand.

Carlisle gave me a sharp nod and he turned to leave Bella's room. When he reached his study, I heard him speaking softly to Esme in a reassuring tone. She would do well.

Turning my full attention back to Bella, I began stroking her hair again. "Darlin', we must be very still and quiet. I think you should hold your breath."

She nestled farther into my arm and chest, clutching my shirt to her face. "Why should I hold my breath?"

Speaking very quietly, I said, "We don't need for you to get a whiff of them. Their scent sets off our instincts, warning us that they're dangerous to us. They have a very strong and … objectionable odor."

She peered up at me. "But I always liked the way Jacob smelled. He smelled kind of like the forest. Sort of like cedar and pines."

"They don't smell that way to vampires."

She adjusted her fingers in my shirt. "What do they smell like to you?"

I took in a breath, steeling myself against her reaction. I was pretty sure she wouldn't like it. "They smell like rotten, wet dogs that have rolled in pig shit."

She peered up at me and blinked. "Pig shit?" She blinked again, puzzled. "Pig shit, specifically?"

"Yes. Pig shit is especially aromatic. Perhaps I'll take you by a pig farm one day." I smiled at her and stroked her hair again.

"But I always thought he smelled good. Are you sure you're not just bullshitting me?"

"Wouldn't that be 'pigshitting'?" Emmett whispered from across the room.

Rosalie blew out a hissing breath. "Don't you two start that now," she said in a low, threatening voice.

From down the hall, Edward's voice was quiet but urgent. "They're here."

I pressed Bella's head against my chest. "Hold your breath. Cover your face with my shirt." Fortunately, she complied without arguing with me. I kissed the top of her head as I shifted slightly so that my back was toward the bi-fold closet doors, but not touching them. I was facing Bella's bed and beyond that was the wall of windows. If I needed to, I could clear the bed and be through the windows, with Bella in my arms, within a matter of seconds.

Carlisle reappeared at the doorway to Bella's room, concerned for all of us. "Everyone doing well?" His voice was barely a breath of air.

"Yes," I answered in the same breathy manner.

"Good. Esme and I will go meet with Sam. He has phased to his human form. They are crossing the front lawn now." In almost complete silence Carlisle returned to his study and then he and Esme dropped lightly from the landing to the living room below.

I would have preferred to watch the proceedings as I listened, but the wolves' eyesight seemed nearly as good as ours. I wouldn't risk being spotted, and I didn't want to leave Bella alone in order to do it. We would be able to hear them well enough from our position.

Both Esme and Carlisle took deep breaths before opening the front door and stepping out onto the porch. They were both anxious and concerned, but were projecting some curiosity as they walked forward. In my mind's eye, I could imagine them holding hands as they went to greet the Quileute wolves.

As always, Carlisle's voice was welcoming and cordial. "Good morning, Sam. I see you brought Paul and Seth with you. How may we help you?"

"Yes, good morning, Carlisle. Good morning, ma'am. I'm glad that Edward heard us." Sam's deep voice, though cautious, was not unfriendly, and in his usual manner, he got directly to the point. "When Paul and Quil were on patrol, they came across the scent of a strange vampire today. Or, I guess it was actually yesterday. It had come across the eastern boundary line a short distance and left again. We followed the scent to Forks. It had been all over town, including Forks High, the police station, and … Chief Swan's house."

Somehow, I had been expecting it, but I still stiffened minutely at hearing it confirmed by the wolves' Alpha. I couldn't help thinking it might be the vampire that had gotten to Bella right after she crashed. I slammed the door on my feelings of alarm and anger. Trying to cover my reaction, I brought my right hand up to the back of Bella's head and bent over her.

At the mention of her father, Bella began to tremble again in my arms, and her hands tightened their grip on my shirt, but she continued to hold her breath. I held her tightly and kissed her, hoping to keep her still and quiet. I tried to send her feelings of peacefulness, but they bounced back to me. She had strengthened her shield and blocked me from feeling her emotions. I didn't know if it was in response to hearing her father's name or if it was to keep me from influencing her. I stroked her hair, my hand sliding gently over her head and neck and down her back.

"We also noticed a different scent as we came closer to your house?" Sam's voice rose as if he were asking a question.

In a very human gesture, Carlisle lightly cleared his throat. "Yes. After hearing the … sad news about Bella, one of our family members came to offer her condolences."

"A family member happened to be in the area?" Sam asked suspiciously.

"Yes, a very good friend of ours that we've known for many years. We consider them part of our extended family. She and her family share our lifestyle, and they live in Alaska. She was not far when she heard the news. She came for a short visit."

Not lies, exactly, more like misdirection and small omissions. Carlisle did not like to lie, though it was necessary to maintain our particular lifestyle, and it was always better to use as much of the truth as possible. We did consider our Denali, Alaska friends to be our cousins, after a fashion. Bella could certainly be considered a family member, and she was only going to be here for a short while.

I bent my head down to press my cheek against Bella's forehead. She was still shaking in my arms, so I kept running my fingers through her hair and stroking her back.

Sam's voice sounded a bit closer, as if he had taken a few steps toward the porch. "Did she bring a friend with her?"

"No. She was alone." I could hear Carlisle's feet shift position on the floor boards of the porch. "You said you noticed this strange scent near Chief Swan's house? Do you think the vampire went inside?"

"No. Many of us have been to Charlie's house, so our scent is quite heavy there. After we found the scent there, I included his house in our patrols. We didn't detect any vampire scent inside except for Edward's."

Sadness touched Sam's voice, and I could also feel it from Paul, mixed with his disgust, but it was not as acute as it was from the young wolf Seth. As I caught the sound of a canine whimper, Bella shifted against me and began to tremble more.

"I brought you a few samples of the vampire's scent. It had apparently hidden in the brush at the edge of the forest around the high school and Charlie's house so I picked some of the leaves it had touched."

I heard the crackle of a plastic bag and then Carlisle's voice again. "It is a male, but I don't recognize his scent. Esme?"

My eyes narrowed at hearing it was a male vampire that had been near the police station and had hidden near Bella's former home and the high school, but I remained still. That seemed entirely too coincidental to me. I wasn't surprised that Carlisle had not recognized the scent. I was curious as to why he asked Esme. He would know many more vampires than her.

"I don't recognize the scent either, Carlisle." Esme's voice was steady. She was nervous, but she was covering it.

"Is Edward here?" Sam asked.

Guardedly, Carlisle answered. "Yes, he is. He's …"

"I'd like for him to come and smell this." Sam said, interrupting. "I'd also like to know if he has any plans on going to Bella's memorial on Thursday."

I hoped the wolves did not notice Carlisle's slight hesitation before he answered. "Edward is upstairs. Edward?"

As Edward went silently to join Carlisle and Esme on the porch, Carlisle answered Sam. "Yes, we had thought we would attend her memorial — Esme, Alice, Edward, and I. Bella had meant a great deal to all of us and we are saddened by her loss."

One of the phased wolves snorted and growled. I believed it was Paul. He was projecting annoyance and disdain. The sound of his low grumbles changed position, and I thought he might be pacing.

"Paul." Sam said sharply in warning. "What about the others?"

"Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper are back east. They have finals and aren't able to make it back."

"Finals." Sam repeated, thoughtfully. He didn't believe it, but he chose not to question it. Like us, he and his pack had to maintain a charade in front of the humans.

Though he was very quiet, I heard Edward open and go through the front door. It clicked softly closed behind him.

"How can I help you, Sam?" Edward asked with obvious sorrow in his voice.

"You heard what we said? I'd like for you to see if you recognize the sample we brought. Will you be attending Bella's memorial?"

I heard the crackle of the plastic bag. There was a pause and Edward said, "Yes, I will be attending Bella's memorial. I miss her a great deal."

The wolf Paul snorted contemptuously, Seth whined, and Bella twitched in my arms. I held her as tightly as I could, and continued to stroke her hair, speaking softly to her. "It's okay, Darlin'. I'm right here." Thankfully, she was still not breathing.

A small flare of irritation came from Sam.

Edward cleared his throat. "I don't recognize this scent. May we keep this?"

I had hoped that Edward or Carlisle would suggest that. I wanted a chance at that scent, and I thought that Bella should smell it also. Perhaps she would recognize it.

It was faint, but unmistakable. I could smell the wolves. Their scent must have been pulled into the house when Edward opened the door. I gave no indication, but I was becoming more concerned. I could only hope that Bella wouldn't take a breath. We didn't need to breathe, but it did become uncomfortable after a while. We gained a lot of information through our sense of smell, and we relied on it quite a bit. She just needed to hold her breath a little while longer. I also hoped the wolves would hurry and leave. I was grateful they had brought us a sample of the strange vampire's scent, but it was time for them to go.

"Edward, do you think it's wise for you to go to Bella's memorial?" Sam asked.

"Why, Sam? You know that people would expect us to be there. If we didn't go, people would question it."

Sam was becoming uncomfortable and a small trickle of nervousness was coming through. "Jacob has been, uh, very upset. He plans on attending. I could order him not to go, but I won't deny him his chance to say goodbye. I don't want to resort to that."

When Sam mentioned Jacob, Bella's head shifted and she took a breath. Then she pulled in a deeper one. First shock, then alarm and fear burst from her, and she tried to pull away from me. Before she could make a sound, I clamped my hand down over her mouth.

Outside, I heard Edward say, "Yes. An Alpha order. Are you expecting trouble from Jacob?"

Using barely more than a breath, I called to Emmett. "Emmett. Come here. Help me hold her."

Bella was shaking harder and trying to get away from me. Her eyes had changed from bright red to black and were ringed with white. She was becoming desperate with her struggles to get away from me. I held her as securely as I could and spoke directly into her ear.

"They're outside, Darlin'. They won't come in the house. They'll leave soon, but we need to be quiet." I was praying that they would leave soon. "I'm right here."

Emmett stood directly behind her with a perplexed look on his face.

"Wrap your arms around both of us. We can't let her get away."

Wrapping his long arms around Bella and me, he leaned in close to my ear. "Maybe we should put her on the floor?"

I was having a hard time stopping Bella's emotions from affecting me as she became more frantic. I tried to send lethargy to her, and she stomped on the instep of my left foot. I clenched my teeth to stop the grunt from leaving my mouth. Luckily, she wasn't able to lift her leg any higher to put some real power behind it. All I could do was nod to Emmett and try to force her to the floor. She wasn't having it. She was trying to screech through my hand on her mouth. Then she bit me on the pad of my thumb.

We heard Sam clear his throat. "He blames you for her death," he said cuttingly. "I'm not sure he'll be able to control himself if he sees you."

I gasped at the pain from her bite. She jerked her head away, snarled and bit Emmett on his right bicep near his shoulder and clamped down. His only reaction was to grit his teeth and squeeze his eyes shut.

The wolves must have reacted to her snarl in some manner because Carlisle said quickly, "Alice has been distraught. I'm afraid all this talk must be upsetting her greatly. Esme, perhaps you should see to her."

I didn't want Esme to come in the house and bring more of the wolves' scent in with her, but there was no way to stop her. I knew Carlisle was simply trying to distract the Quileutes and remove his mate from the tension outside. I would have done the same. Hearing the front door open, I tried again to send lethargy to Bella. Since I could feel her emotions so strongly, I was hoping her shield was down.

The tautness in her body eased the minutest amount, and I hit her with a stronger dose. Unfortunately, Emmett would feel it, too. As Bella groaned and started to relax more, Emmett jerked his arm away from her. He started to sag toward the carpet, but he kept his arms around Bella and me. Rosalie rushed toward us, grabbing Emmett's sides, and helped me ease them both to the floor. It was working. Unfortunately, I couldn't keep Bella still without influencing Emmett, and as soon as Rosalie came close to us and touched Emmett, she was affected also. I clutched at all three of them, keeping Bella trapped between me and Emmett, and settled them to the floor the rest of the way as quietly as I could, meanwhile trying to push Bella's limp legs out of the way so Emmett wouldn't end up laying on them.

When we were on the floor, it was difficult, but I reached over Emmett, squeezing Bella against his chest, and shoved Rosalie away from us.

Esme came down the hall toward us but didn't enter the room. "Do you need help, Jasper? Is there some way I can help?"

"No," I whispered. "Not right now." We didn't need another unconscious vampire on the floor.

"Sam," Carlisle continued, "we will only attend the service and then we will leave. I understand that it is customary for a wake to be held afterward, and we will not go to that. We'll stay away from Jacob and any other members of your tribe." Carlisle cleared his throat during his negotiations. "We know that Jacob's father is a very close friend of Bella's father. We won't intrude on their mourning. In fact, I believe soon afterward, within a few weeks, we will be leaving Forks for an extended period."

Murmuring to Bella even though she was still and quiet, I tried to reassure her. "It's okay, Bella. We'll be fine. They'll leave soon." I lifted Emmett's limp arm from around me and eased him over onto his back. At the moment, I didn't want to disturb him or Bella too much by trying to pull his right arm from underneath us.

Rosalie groaned slightly and sat up, her hand going to her forehead.

"Rose, the wolves are still here. Be quiet."

She nodded and reached over to Emmett's arm, giving it a slight squeeze before releasing her hold.

Though I was still concentrating on Bella, I picked up a feeling of pleased surprise from Sam. It seemed he liked hearing that the cold ones would be leaving.

"Do you have any idea how long you'll be gone?" he asked Carlisle.

"We've not made any definite plans as yet."

Then Sam shouted, "Paul!" as I heard a loud liquid snap.

A different human voice snarled. "You leeches can't leave soon enough, and I hope you stay the fuck away. You being here attracts the other blood suckers, and we don't need it."

Apparently, Paul had phased and was standing there naked. At least he waited until Esme was back in the house.

Seth whined nervously again as Sam growled at Paul. "Paul, either put your pants on or phase back!"

Bella twitched in my arms at Seth's whine or Sam's shout, and I ran my hand down the side of her face as I increased the lethargy I was sending to her. "Bella, I'm right here." I held her head against my chest and kissed her forehead. "I'm right here, Darlin'. We're okay." I tugged my shirt up to try and cover her nose and mouth. I breathed steadily into her face, attempting to cover the faint shape-shifter scent that had drifted in.

Feeling his embarrassment, I could just imagine Edward's discomfort. It was Edward's opinion that everyone should remain fully clothed at all times. Under other circumstances it would have been funny, but I just wanted them to leave, and I wanted them to leave without Paul Lahote causing any problems. I couldn't get a good read on the wolves' emotions because I didn't dare divert my attention from Bella. It was taking most of my concentration to keep her under, and I didn't want to chance her breaking free.

As Rosalie slowly rose to a crouched position next to Emmett, Carlisle's firm voice said, "We appreciate the concerns you have, Paul, and it was not our intention to cause you further distress. We don't know who that other vampire is, but while we are here, we will watch for him. Thank you for bringing that sample of his scent."

Sam's human growl was nearly as vicious as his wolf growl. Again, there was that liquid snap and I heard Paul's throaty grumble in response. He must have phased back to his wolf form.

"Paul, you and Seth start heading back, I'll be right behind you."

In answer to Sam, Seth gave a small relieved yip and Paul's growling rumble could be heard again. Their large paws struck the ground with loud thuds as they moved away. Paul was clearly showing his displeasure. I knew how quietly they could move when they wanted to.

"Thank you for bringing this sample, Sam. We do appreciate it," Carlisle said cautiously.

"Yes. Since Edward and Alice haven't been to school," Sam said with some irritation, "I thought I would bring one to you to see if you knew who it was. We'll see you Thursday, though I would prefer it if you, Edward, would not go." Sam sighed, and I heard his footsteps as he ran toward the trees.

The wolves were aware that Edward and Alice had not been to school? Thinking over it again, I supposed that was not really out of the ordinary. I was sure the rumor mill had been running at full steam over the last few days.

Carlisle and Edward were back in the house and up on the second floor a moment later. Alice's voice rang out, "Oh, Edward!"

"Alice, I'm fine. We're all fine."

Carlisle came immediately to Bella's room, but stopped with a jerk when he saw me, Bella, and Emmett on the floor. "I heard her snarl, and so did the wolves. I thought you might have knocked her out. Why haven't you let her go yet?"

"I want to make sure they are far away before I release her. She was afraid and upset by hearing Jacob's and her father's name." I continued running my fingers through her hair. "She bit both Emmett and I, but then I was able to subdue her. Edward, are they gone?"

"I can still hear them. Sam is chastising Paul for losing his temper and phasing, but they are fading."

Just another minute or two and they would be far enough away. I wanted to get Bella outside before I released her. I didn't know if she would come out of it afraid or pissed off. In either case, it would be better if she wasn't inside the house.

"Carlisle, would you open the curtains and the window? Rose, pull Emmett away from us. He should start to come to once he's not touching Bella." I carefully got to my knees, keeping my hands on Bella, as Rosalie dragged Emmett away. I cradled Bella in my arms as I got to my feet, tucking her head under my chin.

Emmett sat up and groaned. "Damn. That almost feels like a hangover. If I remember what hangovers feel like." He shook his head. "Don't think I want to remember that." He looked up at me. "Are the wolves gone?"

From down the hall, Edward answered. "Yes. They're out of my range. Can you feel them, Jasper?"

Carlisle was standing by the window he had opened, waiting for me to carry Bella over. I spoke quickly to Edward. "I can't check right now, Edward. I'm keeping Bella under until we get outside."

Carlisle reached for Bella as I neared him, and gently touched her cheek then lightly gripped her limp hand. "With her shield, I'm surprised you were able to affect her. Was she blocking you before she snarled?"

"Yes. She was blocking me until Sam mentioned Jacob. She misses him." I kissed her forehead and turned to face the room. "Who wants to take a chance outside with a newborn that might be pissed off?"

Esme came quickly into the room. "I will, Jasper. Perhaps I can help keep her calm."

Carlisle seemed concerned, but he kissed Esme on the cheek as he held her hands. "All right, Darling. I'll see to Alice and Edward. We had a very close call this morning. I hope we don't have any more unexpected visitors." He released Esme's hands and stepped back. "Jasper, Edward has the bag with the sample of that vampire's scent in it. You take Bella outside, and I'll go get it. It was a male, but I have no idea who it is." He darted from the room.

Emmett and Rosalie had been hugging each other but then they came toward me. "We'll go out with you, too, Jazz." Emmett smiled. "There ain't nothin' much more fun than a pissed off Belly-boo. Well, unless she's pissed off at me." He rubbed his arm where she had bit him. "She's a pistol."

"She is that." I grinned down at my "sleeping" mate and kissed her forehead again.

Carlisle returned with the plastic bag and handed it to Emmett. "You go ahead. If you need anything, Edward, Alice, and I will be right here in the house. I'll be here until about 5:30. Good luck with our little newborn." Carlisle smiled fondly at Bella and clapped his hand on my shoulder.

I gave them all a quick nod and stepped out of the window, landing as lightly as I could on the patio below to keep from jarring Bella. I moved quickly out into the yard and away from the house, as Esme, Rosalie, and then Emmett took their turns jumping out of the window. Thankfully, it wasn't raining.

I turned to face them. "Stay there by the house. I don't want her surrounded. I don't know if she'll be afraid or pissed off when I let her go, but I think if she sees you all there by the house, her instincts will cause her to run away from you and into the woods."

Emmett started to laugh. "Or she'll go after you and kick your ass."

"She might." I smiled down at her again and glanced up at Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett. "Ready?"

At their nods, I concentrated on pulling back the heavy dose of lethargy and sent Bella the peace and contentment I felt whenever she was in my arms. I bent my head to her and whispered, "I love you, Bella. You've been doing so well. I love you." Her eyes fluttered open, and I felt it as her awareness grew.

She blinked rapidly several times and then her bright red eyes focused on me. "Jasper?"

"Yes, Darlin'. I'm right here. Everything is fine."

She reached up slowly and ran her hand over my hair, lightly threading her fingers through a handful at the back of my neck. "Are the wolves gone? Is everyone all right?"

"Everyone is fine, Darlin'. The wolves are gone. How are you?" I pressed my lips to her forehead and breathed in her warm scent.

"I'm fine," she said softly. Then her fingers tightened in my hair and she pulled my face away from hers. Her eyes had gone from bright red to deep black. "I'm gonna kick your ass."

.

Chapter Text


Open wide, I'm ready for the battle

 

Our fight, this burning bed

 

See the bones that bullets have shattered

 

And I feel every drop of blood you've bled

 

Lay down these promises broken

 

Take me into your hurricane

 

While violent clouds roll over

 

I'll hold your hand till the colors fade

 

I'll be here till your dying day

 

"Sing Loud" by Alpha Rev from the album Bloom


Chapter 34, I Conquer

Jasper's POV

With a handful of my hair gripped tightly in her fist, I asked Bella calmly, "Now, Darlin', why would you want to kick my ass?"

Cradled in my arms, she glared at me as I brought her closer to my face. Either she was so mad she couldn't speak, or she was being obstinate and refusing to talk to me. I couldn't tell because she was blocking me from feeling her emotions. With my superior skills of deductive reasoning however, I'd lay money on her being stubborn, bull-headed, and just fucking ornery, and refusing to speak to me.

I kissed the end of her nose, and her fist tightened in my hair.

I raised an eyebrow at her. "There's no need for that, Darlin'. How am I supposed to know what you're pissed off about unless you tell me?" I said in a soft voice. It struck me that it was a near-perfect teaching opportunity for my newborn mate. The danger from the wolves was past, but their scent would remain. Hugging her to me, I started walking toward the east side of the house. I was planning to take her around front and immerse her in the scent of the shape shifters.

Esme, Rosalie, and even Emmett were emitting nervousness, uncertainty, and curiosity. To be honest, I had expected Bella to start screaming and take off into the forest to uproot and tear apart some trees once I removed my influence from her. I would imagine they had thought the same thing. Once again, my little demon surprised me. When Emmett had started calling her Bellzy-Bub, he had hit that nail right on the head. Not only was I surprised, I was becoming annoyed.

"Why ya goin' around front, Jazz?" Emmett asked tentatively.

I glanced quickly at him and returned my gaze to Bella's black, angry eyes. "My Isabella and I need to have a talk. She needs to experience the aroma of the wolves again. Then perhaps she'll tell me why she's pissed off."

Emmett whispered rapidly to Rosalie. "Oh, shit. He called her 'Isabella.' He only calls her that when he's pissed off at her."

Rosalie sucked in a sharp breath. "Maybe we should follow …"

"No," Esme and I said at the same time, cutting them off. Esme's love and encouragement settled around me, and then her chagrin tickled at the corners of my awareness. It caused me to wonder if she and Carlisle had once had such a learning opportunity when she was a newborn. Even if that were so, I was pretty sure no supernatural wolves had been involved.

Esme cleared her throat lightly. "Emmett and Rosalie, we'll just have a nice little chat right here on the patio."

Emmett's and Rosalie's uneasiness and confusion followed me as I continued around the side of the house. As I was looking thoughtfully into Bella's glittering black eyes, she sucked in a breath and held it. Her eyes narrowed as we reached the front yard.

Finding the spot where the wolves had been was too easy. Their repulsive aroma hung heavily in the moist, still air above the wet grass where they had been standing. I planted my feet in the center of the wolf stink, my back to the house, and blinked slowly at Bella.

"Isabella," I said quietly, my voice deepening with my anger. "You can have all the temper tantrums you want. I can stand here all night and all day while you hold your breath. Problem is you'll never turn blue." I lifted her to bring her beautiful face closer to mine since she hadn't let go of my hair. "I'll stand here, holdin' you, until you tell me why you're pissed off at me, why you came in my study and bit me, and why you're pullin' my hair."

Taking a chance she might decide to bite it off, I ran the tip of my nose from her jaw, up her cheek, and to her temple where I touched her porcelain skin with the tip of my tongue and then kissed her. As angry as she appeared to be, I could not resist her or the feel of her smooth skin. I loved tasting and smelling my mate, even if she was bound and determined to be as contrary as hell.

"I can wait as long as you can," I whispered. "We're still leaving Thursday whether you breathe and feed or not. If needed, somebody else can pack our clothes and put them in the truck." I nuzzled her ear. "I'll sit in the back seat with you on my lap — Rose and Emmett can drive. When we get to my house, we can just sit in the truck. Maybe go sit on the porch. It doesn't matter to me." I kissed her temple again, letting my lips linger against her skin. "As long as I'm with you."

The fingers of her right hand that were clenched in the Forks High T-shirt shifted and loosened slightly, but her left hand maintained its tight grip in my hair at the back of my head.

Breathing across her face, I spoke softly. "I will do anything I have to in order to protect you — even if it pisses you off." I kissed her by the corner of her eye. "Even if it makes you want to bite me and hit me." I pressed my lips to hers, closing my eyes and speaking against her lips. "I will do anything."

I didn't know if my approach was working, but her bare toes twitched the slightest amount, and I thought I might be wearing her down. I wasn't sure if I wanted to seduce her or piss her off more to make her breathe in the scent of the wolves, but when she did finally take a breath, I had to be ready. The scent of them could trigger an intense fight-or-flight response, even after getting used to it. We needed to work through it since she had caught their scent, and because, through her inexperience and stubbornness, she had nearly exposed us to the wolves.

Perhaps it wasn't my best idea to try a little seduction, surrounded by the rank odor of the wolves and an audience peeking out the windows of the second floor of the house. Of course, making her even angrier might earn me another scar, but I didn't care about that. Any mark she put on me was a badge of honor as far as I was concerned.

Her reaction would be a strong one, and it would probably involve teeth, but I think she needed to get the full effect and feel the fear and anger that smelling them caused. I wanted it to sink into her stubborn head that when I told her to do something for her safety, she needed to do it. Not just for her own protection, but everyone else's.

I also wanted her to tell me specifically why she was mad at me, though I expected we wouldn't get to that for a while yet.

She had been very annoyed with Edward telling her what to do. Maybe that was the angle I needed. Anger would work better anyway.

"I want you to feed before we leave — newborns need to feed more often than mature vampires," I said, stressing the word, "but if you don't, it's better if you do hold your breath while we're on the road." Pressing my nose into her hair, I nuzzled against her ear again, and she shifted in my arms. "And when I tell you to do something, Isabella, you need to do it. No questions asked."

Bella started to tremble, pulled her hand from my hair and pointed her finger right at my nose. Her anger boiled out and over me as she sucked in a deep breath. "Dammit, Jasper!" She growled. "You don't tell me what to … Oh, my God! That smell!" Her fury turned instantly to dread and fear. Her eyes widened, she pushed against my chest, and she started bucking and kicking to try and get away from me.

"That smell!" She yelped. "Oh, my God!" She fought harder, punching me in the chest as I tried to hang onto her. "Let me go!" She arched her back and tried to squirm away.

Before she managed to rip her clothes to shreds by trying to get away, I held her out away from my body and dropped her. She fell, landing on her feet in a crouched position, her frightened black eyes darting from side to side. Nose in the air, she inhaled deeply and spun to face to the west — the direction in which the wolves had gone.

Hissing loudly, her hands were shaking and her fingers were curling and uncurling spasmodically. Her fear was like a dense cloud around her.

"Where?" she asked, still hissing. "Where are they?"

"They're gone. I don't know where they are, but they aren't here. I hope they went back to the Reservation," I said evenly.

She backed into me, and I felt a pressure, like the air compressed around us, for just a second. Was it her shield? I thought that maybe it was. After smelling the wolves, her instincts had certainly kicked in. Had she sent her shield out to protect me, too? Her emotions were chaotic, but the fear was taking over. It almost felt cold as it surrounded us, and I pushed back against it. I wanted to be aware, but not be overtaken by it. I reached forward and lightly touched her shoulder.

"They left. They're not here," I said quietly.

"But they could hurt us! We should … we should …" A snarl ripped through Bella's throat as she dropped to her knees, and her hands went to the sides of her head, clenching handfuls of her hair. She began to tremble and her breaths came out in rapid pants. Her emotions were tumbling and spinning frantically from fear and dread to guilt, and back through the cycle again. Underneath were the feelings of possession and protectiveness, but they were overshadowed again by panic.

"We should what?" I asked.

"Fight!" she shouted. "We should … kill them!" She growled and lurched to a standing position.

I grabbed her, wrapping my arms around her and lifting her up before she could decide to run. I didn't know if she would run to escape their scent or try to follow them to fight, but after saying we should kill them, I felt she'd had enough. Holding her tightly against my chest, I spun and sprinted around the house, hoping Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett were still on the patio.

They were. "Follow," I said to them. "But not too closely. Spread out in case she tries to run back." I curved around and headed to the east and north.

"Jasper!" Rosalie hissed angrily as she and the others began to race after Bella and me. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Teaching."

"Don't interfere," Esme said cuttingly, and I could feel the amazement from both Rosalie and Emmett. Esme rarely ever used such a sharp tone with anyone.

As we passed the tree line and entered the forest, Bella began struggling more strongly against my hold. "Let go! Let go! Let go!" she screeched rapidly, her voice climbing higher.

Reducing my speed, I released her before she started kicking me, and she was running before her feet even hit the pine needle-covered ground. Thankfully, she ran straight ahead. I stayed close enough to her to make sure she didn't turn back and try to follow the wolves' scent.

Through the damp night air, she ran about five miles into the forest. Through the valley between a couple of ridges, she leapt gracefully over fallen trees, ducking limbs and branches, her hair flying out behind her. She hissed, snarled, and grumbled the entire time. During her flight, her panic receded, but her guilt flared several times. When her anger finally got a foothold, she suddenly stopped and whirled to face me, her hair whipping around her. Her chest was heaving, and her tightly clenched fists were raised and shaking. Abruptly, her emotions were cut off from me and her dark eyes bored into mine.

She was beautiful. She was magnificent in her rage.

I skidded to a stop about ten feet away from her and stood silently, not taking my eyes from her, my hands at my sides, waiting for her to scream or growl or begin kicking the shit out of the firs that surrounded us. Quickly, I sent my senses outward and felt Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett behind me. I couldn't hear them, but they weren't too far away.

Bella stomped toward me, shaking her fist. "Dammit, Jasper! What the hell was that bullshit back there?" She stopped about three feet in front of me, planting her feet solidly into the rain-softened ground. "You did that on purpose. You knew damn well I was going to panic when I smelled the wolves and … and …" She spun away from me and punched the rough trunk of one of the pines, knocking a soccer ball-sized chunk out of the side before spinning back around to face me again.

"You're a goddamn asshole for doing that to me when you know how bad they smell. You knew what it would do to me," she said in a low, rage-filled voice. In a blur of movement, she launched herself at me, teeth bared, and fingers curled into talons.

I caught her wrists and stepped back, my arms absorbing her momentum. Before she could react, I held her hands up and pushed her back so she couldn't kick me. "Darlin', I told you before that I was an asshole. You just haven't had the chance to experience it all yet. Yes, I did do that on purpose, and I knew you would react strongly. I just wasn't sure how." I stared down at her enraged face. Her eyes were practically sparking with her anger and her shining white teeth were still bared. "I tried to tell you how bad they smelled to us, but you wouldn't believe me. I tried to get you to let me help you, but you were stubborn and wouldn't let me. That's why I told you to hold your breath."

She hissed. "I did hold my breath!"

She tried to jerk away from me but I pulled her closer to me instead. "Yes, you did. But you didn't hold it long enough. You got upset and inhaled. You can't control yourself well enough yet, then you blocked me from helping you. If you had let me influence your emotions, I don't think you would have bitten me and Emmett and snarled. The wolves heard that. That could have blown it for all of us, Isabella. You could have gotten yourself killed."

Bella sucked in a deep breath and wrenched her arms away from me, stumbling backward. "I tried to hold my breath, but when I heard about Jake, I … I just couldn't stand the thought of him being so upset that he hasn't left his house in days." She glared at me again. "Then the vampire at Charlie's house and … and you slapped your hand down over my mouth." Her fists were at her sides and shaking, and she took a rigid step toward me. "Then you and Emmett were squishing the shit out of me, and then you fucking knocked me out!" Her hands were moving jerkily through the air as she spoke.

The more indignant and irate she became, the angrier I became. She seemed determined to argue with me and act as though she were the injured party. I understood that she had been a young, inexperienced human, and there were many things that she didn't know. She was currently a newborn and couldn't control herself. She needed to listen, she needed to learn, and she needed to trust me and understand that I was still on this earth because I learned over a century ago how to survive. She had a shield, and though she had used it well to hold Edward, she obviously couldn't maintain absolute control of it when she was upset. My little hellcat's hardheaded, single-minded resistance was pissing me off. Our encounter with the wolves could have ended with all of us fighting for our lives.

I suddenly realized my own leniency with my mate was partially to blame. I had fucked up when I hadn't taken control and restrained her the way I should have.

As her voice got louder, I dropped the volume of mine. It wouldn't be difficult to send her into a spitting fury and then subdue her. "Bella, I don't give two shits about Jacob Black or what he feels. I couldn't care less if he never set one mangy paw outside his house again."

That set her off as I knew it would. A hissing, snarling, wild-eyed newborn trying to rip me to pieces I could handle. As she lunged at me, I took her rage and pushed it back to her. When she stumbled at the potency of it, I grasped her left wrist with my left hand and yanked her to me. Stepping to the right, I shoved her to the ground with my right hand spread across the middle of her back. I dropped my full weight on her, forcing her legs apart with mine and grabbing her right arm. She had broken away from me with her newborn strength a few minutes earlier, but being spread-eagled on the ground with her face in the dirt again, should help her to remember she wouldn't be able to get away from me.

It didn't stop her from trying. She blocked me from feeling her emotions then she fought and snarled, and twisted and screamed. I let her carry on with that for five minutes until I'd had enough of that bullshit. I released her left wrist to seize her around her throat just beneath her jaw. She was so stunned, I had more than enough time to snatch her from the ground and wrap my right arm around her middle, capturing her right arm against her side and clamping my hand down on her left forearm. Before she recovered from the shock, I dropped us to our knees and held her tightly against my chest. I spread my fingers over her jaw and right cheek and forced her face up, exposing her throat.

"Isabella, you will listen to me," I whispered harshly in her right ear. I pulled her head to the left and placed my teeth at her throat under her jaw. She froze and even her rapid panting stopped.

I held her there, her back pressed firmly against my chest and stomach, taking in the scent that called to me; the scent that promised belonging, home, and sanctuary, and wished I didn't have to make her submit to me. I wished there was something else, anything else, I could do besides force her to her knees and put my teeth to her throat. But she was a newborn, and I had learned long ago there was no way to reason with them when their instincts had taken over or they had decided to be obstinate. And just like all those other newborns, she needed to be shown undeniably who was in charge.

I felt her fear and absorbed it, touching her with my feelings of possession and my craving for her as I let my anger quickly flicker across the edges of her awareness.

Sliding my teeth across her neck, barely making contact with her skin, I made my way to her ear. "You are mine, Isabella, and you will do as I say."

"I won't!"

"You will."

Since I took her fear away, her anger reignited, and she tried to jerk her head away from me.

"You can't get away from me." My teeth were on her throat and she stilled. I wanted to taste her skin so badly, but I wouldn't let myself be distracted. I couldn't. She was still trying to fight me, and I knew she wouldn't listen until she had given in. "You are mine and you will listen to me."

She hissed. "I'm stronger than you," she ground out from between her clenched teeth. "I know you're not going to hurt me."

She tried to wrench her arms free and my teeth brushed lightly over her throat. Instantly, she stopped struggling and held still.

My lips returned to her ear. "You are physically stronger than me — for now — but your instincts are even stronger, and I know how to use them against you. In this position, every time my teeth touch your throat, your instincts tell you to be still because it means you have already lost. If you move, you'll slice your own throat." I breathed heavily against her skin. "My instincts won't let me hurt you. I can't. Everything in me demands that I keep you safe, keep you from harm — do everything in my power to keep you from being hurt, even if you're hell-bent on trying to get yourself killed, because you're my mate. You're mine."

Bella blew out an exasperated breath. "Then how can you act like you're going to bite my damn head off?"

"In order to keep you safe, I will do anything," I told her again. I pressed her more tightly against my body, reveling in every inch of her that touched me. "I told you to hold your breath so you wouldn't smell the wolves. Their scent causes us to feel an extreme fight-or-flight response. We all feel it, but the rest of us already know what they smell like. We can prepare ourselves for it. You hadn't smelled them as a vampire so you didn't know. But I couldn't let you smell them to experience it. I didn't know how you would react. I didn't know if you would try to run away from them or if you would try to run to them to fight. Either would have meant death. For them or for some of us."

Her anger flared and she tried to pull her head away again. "But nobody was hurt!"

"Only because I stopped you." I pushed her head back against my shoulder. "They heard you snarl. If Carlisle had not successfully distracted them, if I had not been able to knock you out, they would have become suspicious. Paul Lahote has a hair trigger, and he wouldn't have hesitated to attack."

Pressing my jaw against hers, I growled at her. "My mistake was not knocking you out as soon as the wolves were near. Did you forget you bit me and Emmett?"

"I was afraid," she said, gasping. "I … I was trying to get away."

"I couldn't let you do that. The wolves would have heard you and seen you. They would have chased you down, and I would have gone after them. I would have killed all of them to protect you — including Seth."

She gasped again and tried to pull her head away again. I tightened my hold on her jaw and forced her head back against my left shoulder. "They would have had time to alert the other wolves. The entire pack would have come after us." My lips brushed over her neck. "Even though I wasn't here when the treaty was first written and agreed upon, I broke it when my teeth first touched you. That puts a price on all our heads. If they knew, they would hunt us down."

"But it didn't happen!" Bella growled and tried to break my hold around her waist.

As soon as my teeth touched the skin under her chin, she stopped.

After a moment, I put my lips to her ear. "It didn't happen because I was able to stop you. Either you didn't want to use your shield against me or you forgot. If the wolves had seen you, and you didn't think to use your shield, they would have torn you apart. You probably would have tried to fight them, and you would have been ferocious. You probably would have been able to crush one of them or rip their legs off, but the others would have taken you down." I sighed into her hair. "That's why Maria used newborns — because they were vicious and brutal. But they had an advantage over you — I had trained them. They had a chance to survive if they remembered what I taught them. You would have had no chance at all. The wolves would have destroyed you."

Fear clutched at my heart, and my breath hitched at the thought of anything like that happening to Bella. Suddenly I wasn't restraining her to keep her from escaping me, I was holding her in a desperate embrace. "I couldn't stand it if anything happened to you."

Growling again, she cut off her emotions from me and tried to jerk away from me. "Why are you holding me like this?"

I gripped her more tightly and pushed her head back against my shoulder again. "Because I know how to subdue a newborn. You don't know how to fight me off. It's a submissive position. On your knees, you can't get away."

"You are such an asshole," she mumbled.

"I am," I said quietly, gathering my anger back around me even as my lips brushed over her ear. "But I'm an asshole that's still here. You, Isabella, are young and inexperienced, and you need to listen to me. You need to hear what I am saying." I eased up on the pressure I was exerting against her chin. "I'm not Edward. I won't try to micro-manage every minute detail of your life, but when it comes to your safety, I will tell you what to do, and you will do it."

Her reply to that was a snarl. I answered her with my teeth.

After holding her motionless for a moment, I moved back to her ear and spoke softly though urgently to her. "As your sire, it is my duty to teach you what you need to know to survive — to live. As your mate, it is my responsibility and my desire, my need, to protect and care for you."

Bella's anger flashed outward, glowing nearly white hot. She struggled to get away from me again. "You weren't the first one to bite me!"

Instantaneously, my anger exploded into jealousy, and my own instincts were demanding that I take her and possess her fully and completely. I crushed her to my body, while an involuntary growl worked its way up through my chest. I tightened my grip on her jaw and yanked her head to the left. My right hand released its hold on her left forearm and slid across her stomach until I reached her right hip. I held her still as I slowly ground my hardening dick against her ass. The beginnings of lust were twisting and coiling up through my rage and jealousy, and I rolled my hips against her again. Jolts of pleasure shot through me, and I inhaled a ragged breath.

"You're mine, Isabella, and you will submit to me." I hissed as I touched my teeth to the front of her throat to stop her from struggling against me. I grazed the very edges of my teeth over her skin until I reached the top of her right shoulder where it curved into her neck. I nudged the collar of her shirt aside with my chin and then licked along the top of her shoulder and up her neck. "My venom is inside you. You're mine and no one else's." I slowly bit into the muscle at the curve of her neck, my sharp incisors sinking easily through her flesh, and I drank in the spicy venom that bled from her wound. Tasting her and smelling her enthralling scent, my mind was overcome with my need to own her. My venom flooded my mouth, and I forced it into her system. She was mine, and the only marks anyone would see on her would be from my teeth. Everyone would know she belonged to me.

She sucked in a breath and it came hissing out as my venom flowed into her body. Her free left hand grabbed my right wrist, and she tried to pull my hand from her hip. I flexed the fingers of my left hand over her jaw and cheek and she stopped her movement.

Her anger pulsed outward and she tried to yank my hand from her hip again. I seized her hand and held it to her stomach.

She wasn't giving up her anger and she growled. "You didn't bite me first."

If she was trying to piss me off even more, she was doing a good fucking job. I snatched my teeth from her shoulder and snarled in her ear. "He left you. He bit you and left you. You're mine!"

In a flash, I had released her hand and grabbed a fistful of her shirt at the top of her chest, preparing to rip it from her.

A blazing stream of abandonment and grief shot out from Bella, then she snarled and her temper rebounded as she took hold of my wrist. Beneath her ire, I felt the love she had for me, and I stopped, stunned, the touch of her hand on my skin jarring me back to myself. I was suddenly filled with shame at my violent actions. I had nearly ripped her clothes from her so that I could take her … rape her. Guilt and remorse at what I had come so close to doing to her coiled snake-like around me and slithered through my mind.

Sickened by my own savage and cruel impulses, my teeth snapped together, and I inhaled her scent again; reaching for the contentment and security it held. I would not force her. I would not abuse her. She was too angry, too vulnerable, and if I took her then, it would be rape. I would never — could never — do that to her. She was too precious to me. I had to be patient and wait for her. She would come to me eventually. I loved her, she loved me, and I would wait.

Clenching my teeth, I closed my eyes and inhaled slowly and deliberately, my face buried in her hair, trying to control my jealousy, my fury, and my rapidly growing lust. My voracious need to rip her clothes off and fuck her senseless was at war with the desire to love and console my mate and relieve her of her heartache and resentment.

My fingers gradually unknotted themselves from her shirt, and I clutched at her hand, holding her body to mine, breathing her in. Her scent both excited and soothed me, and I grasped at the peace and comfort that I felt whenever I was touching her. I tried to share it with her as I shoved away my violent and disgraceful urges and tried to send my shame away. She didn't need to be burdened with that.

Inhaling deeply, my venom mixed with hers was a steadying and reassuring scent that I felt to the very center of my being and it finally started to alleviate my rage.

I wanted Bella. I wanted her so desperately my body ached. I longed for her; I yearned to be inside of her and make her completely mine. I needed her — required her. My body craved her. I craved her. Marking her with a claiming bite, tasting her venom and putting my venom into her, was not enough to satisfy the hunger, the insatiable thirst I felt for her.

But I would wait for her.

After several minutes and finally gaining some measure of control, I reminded myself that Rosalie, Emmett, and Esme were in the forest behind us, watching and listening. If they thought I was hurting Bella, they would attack, and I would deserve whatever they did to me — whatever Rosalie might have done. Probably the only reason she hadn't attacked and ripped my head off was because she couldn't see everything I was doing.

I sent my senses out to search for them and was hit with outrage and indignation coming from Rosalie, and Emmett was annoyed and angry. Esme was emitting caution and warning along with her usual sense of strength. There was determination there, too. They were far enough away that I couldn't hear them unless they spoke in a normal tone. Esme had kept them from interfering, I was sure. She knew Bella needed to quit fighting against me so strenuously. In effect, Bella needed to learn her place. Regrettably, I had very nearly carried it too far. I needed to find that middle ground somewhere between torturing her to make her compliant and being so smitten and lenient that her unwitting actions risked our very lives. I needed to learn how to control my newborn mate without resorting to the methods I'd used so long ago so that she would survive, and we could survive each other.

I'd nearly lost complete control of myself, but Bella's love for me stopped me. She prevented me from acting on those heinous impulses. Fifty years ago, I wouldn't have stopped. I thought if it had been anyone but Bella, I wouldn't have stopped.

I could have easily stripped her naked and been buried deep inside her, but would she have ever forgiven me? As forgiving as she was, she would never be able to forgive me for that. Would she ever even be able to look at me again?

She would never love me again. I wouldn't deserve it. Would I be able to live with myself if I had done that to her? No. That would have been worse than anything Edward had ever done to her. Harming my own mate in that way would have been worse than any of the atrocities I had committed while I was with Maria.

I had to remember the most important thing — Bella's love had just saved me from myself. That was why I needed my mate.

That other vampire may have bitten her first, as my little demon-mate so infuriatingly reminded me, but it was my venom that filled and changed her.

If he had taken her, I wouldn't have my mate. I was so grateful that I had found her. Grateful that she loved me. And I loved her, no matter how much she pissed me off.

As my frantic and selfish thoughts calmed, I came to realize Bella was remembering how she had felt when Edward had abandoned her in the woods — when we had all left her. I thought it was a good thing that she was able to shove those feelings aside and let her resentment over being left behind take over. She needed to purge that. And she needed reassurance from me. She needed to know that I loved her I wouldn't hurt her and would never leave her.

"He left you, but I never will, Bella." I wasn't sure if I was talking about Edward or that vampire that had bitten her. It didn't really matter which one.

"You left me, too. You all left me." Her anger was simmering hotly beneath the surface and it wouldn't take much for it to boil over again. "I hated Edward and Alice for leaving me. He was supposed to love me, and Alice was supposed to be my best friend, and they just up and left me!" She growled again. "I was so mad and hurt that Esme and Carlisle left without saying goodbye. They were like my parents. And Emmett!" She hissed loudly. "Emmett was supposed to be my big brother!" She snarled and tried to turn her head to look at me. "But you and Rosalie never paid much attention to me anyway. I always thought Rosalie hated me. So that wasn't as bad as … But I loved you all and you left!"

"I know you loved us, Bella. I know." I kissed my fresh claiming bite then ran my tongue gently over her shoulder and neck, sealing my venom inside her. "You know Emmett loves you." I kissed her again. "I am so sorry that I left with them. I fought to stay and guard against Victoria. I thought it was a tactical error and dangerously stupid for the entire family to just disappear, but no one listened to me." I nuzzled her ear again. "It came to a vote, and I was outvoted."

Pulling back slightly from her ear, I whispered, "But you need to know right now that my coven with Peter and Charlotte is not a democracy. What I say goes. When we're there with Emmett and Rosalie, it'll be the same way. They already understand this."

She hissed again and tried to jerk away from me, but I continued to hold her body to mine.

"That's how it is. You need to learn this and accept it. Every coven has a leader even if there are only two members. It's really no different than a human family." I pressed my lips to her jaw. "Now listen to me, Bella. I was a fool. I should never have left. I should have fought harder. I should have done what I knew to be the right and correct thing to do, and never allowed that adolescent to dictate what I would do. He never will again." I kissed her temple, holding my lips to her skin and breathing in her scent.

As much as I wanted to calm her fears and ease her insecurities, it seemed the time to get it all out there. She needed to express and expel the anger she had felt at being abandoned. I expected it to be a topic that would come up again eventually. And I wanted her to know how I felt, too. I was preparing to piss her off again.

Taking in another deep breath, I recalled that Emmett had said there wasn't much that was more fun than a pissed off Belly-boo.

Then again, Emmett was kind of an idiot sometimes.

.

Chapter Text

 


Standing in a field of voices

Find shelter from the blame

Even if you think it's all over

I'll be here till the colors fade

I'll be here till your dying day

.

Put down the knife you're wielding

Let high stone walls fall away

With gentle time will be an ending

And I'll be here till the colors fade

And I'll be here till your dying day

.

"Sing Loud" by Alpha Rev from the album Bloom


Chapter 35, I Submit

Jasper's POV

I was thankful that Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett were far enough away that they wouldn't hear us unless we became quite a bit louder than we had been. Except for the snarls and the growls. I was truly looking forward to when Bella and I would have some real privacy.

Knowing my next words would hurt her, I was going to speak them anyway. We needed to hash it all out, but I absolutely had to keep Bella's emotions from taking me over and had to stop her verbal knife-strokes from penetrating so deeply. Too much was at stake.

We were so closely connected that even when I couldn't feel her emotions, she affected me so acutely that she caught me flat-footed over and over again. She knew which blade to wield and she knew how to twist it.

Then, too, she affected me so profoundly, just the faintest touch of her love prevented me from descending into the noxious corruption I had wallowed in for a century with Maria. That was why I needed her so desperately — wanted her so passionately. She could save me; save me from myself.

I took in a steadying breath and touched my forehead to the side of her head.

"Bella, I want you to know I don't care about Jacob Black."

A growl rumbled through Bella's chest at my words and she glared at me from the corner of her eye. I kept my left hand on her jaw but I eased the pressure of my fingers on her cheek.

"Bella," I said in a warning tone. "As I said, I don't care about him. I care about you. More than anyone I've ever known. Next, I care about me because there is no one who loves you like I do, even as fucked up as I am. Like I said before, I will do anything I have to when it comes to taking care of you even if it means pissing you off so badly you want to bite the shit out of me. But I'll keep on doing it." I breathed in her soothing scent, letting it fill me and drain away the fury I had felt.

In a quieter voice, I asked her, "When you were running, I felt your guilt. What were you feeling guilty about?"

"When I smelled the wolves …" she began and her voice hitched. She tried to turn her head away from me, but I held her firmly against my shoulder. She sniffed and started again. "When I smelled their scent, it was as bad as you said it was. I … I wanted to run away and I wanted to fight them — all at the same time. It was like a voice was screaming in my head to … I wanted to kill them before they could kill me."

She shut her eyes, and the distress I knew she must be feeling clouded her face with sadness.

"I don't want to hurt them. But I … wanted to."

I was hopeful that some of what I was trying to tell her was finally sinking in, but I tried to reassure her. "I know how that feels. I feel the same way when I smell them. But I can prepare myself for it. I learned to control those feelings — those instincts."

My shame at my earlier actions struck me again, and I slammed down the door on it so it wouldn't affect Bella. I was sure she was experiencing her own battle with shame for wanting to kill her friend's pack. I didn't want her to think I was ashamed of her for what she felt, especially when she couldn't control it.

"Our instincts are very strong. You didn't attack them. You need to remember that part."

"The only reason I didn't go after them is because you stopped me." Her eyes slowly opened and she tried to turn toward me, but I held her still.

"I stopped you because I love you, and I don't want anything to happen to you." I kissed her cheek. "You know what they smell like now, and if you ever smell them again, you'll be ready." Kissing her again, I breathed in her scent. "I'll help you. You are mine, and I will not risk you. I waited a century and a half to find you."

Inwardly, a part of me cringed at my choice of words. I sounded disturbingly like Edward when he would tell Bella how long he had waited for her and that he would do anything to keep her safe and protect her.

Like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky, a thought came crackling into the front of my mind, and I suddenly knew, without a doubt, why Edward was Carlisle's golden child. Why Carlisle, a vampire who was over three hundred years old, would let a mere teenage boy direct his life, and through him, everyone else's — his centuries of loneliness and then elation at finding Edward.

Carlisle's joy at finally finding a companion after centuries of wandering alone had led to his placing Edward on that quickly built pedestal.

There was no denying that Edward was intelligent, good looking, gifted musically, well educated in the medical sciences, as was Carlisle, and he was Carlisle's first. Edward was well-controlled and had given Carlisle hardly any actual trouble. He had almost always complied with Carlisle's requests when it had come to deciding what town they would move to or what personas might be chosen next. Edward had been a model son, except for those years he had "rebelled," as it was euphemistically put, when Edward had indulged in killing and drinking from humans.

Edward certainly had a useful gift that had smoothed the way and helped to protect the family on more than one occasion.

And Carlisle loved him. He had doted on him and when Esme had come along, she had taken to him and his genteel ways very quickly. He filled a small part of her heart that had been left broken and empty by the loss of her own son. She loved him and could refuse him nothing.

I had always thought they coddled Edward and should have used a firmer hand with him. I felt they had been blinded by their love for him. They hadn't done him any favors by doing that. They thought he could do no wrong, until they had heard how he had truly smothered and abused Bella and he had tried to squirrel away samples of her blood. They had been shocked to their very foundations.

And I was doing the same thing with Bella. I finally knew what the phrase "love is blind" truly meant. Bella was perfect in my eyes, and I have been so smitten, so enthralled, so enchanted by her, I was making mistake after mistake with her, and I wasn't doing her any favors by catering to her. My last attempt at indulging her could have gotten her killed.

I had been so euphoric at finding my mate my goddamn brain had been AWOL.

Having an epiphany about what a fucking asshole I had been was not pleasant.

Even as fast as my thoughts had streaked through my mind, I had been silent a little too long with them, and Bella tried to break loose again. Even though I couldn't feel them, her mood swings were dizzying.

"Stop!" I said as I tightened my hold on her. "I understand that you're a newborn and aren't even two full days old yet …"

"Then why don't you train me like a goddamn newborn?" she shouted as she tried to twist out of my arms.

Evidently, she was still trying to piss me off. Christ knew we were both good at that. She wasn't going to succeed.

I sighed sadly and closed my eyes as I pressed my cheek against hers. "Because I love you, because you love me. You have saved me from myself, and I could never treat you like that. No one will ever treat you like that."

She snorted angrily and growled again, trying to jerk her hand out of my hold. As my hand tightened on hers, I felt her anger again.

"I won't keep things from you to spare your feelings or keep you from worrying. Ignorance of our world can kill you. Not doing what I tell you to do can get you killed. Arguing with me wastes valuable time." I took another deep breath, pulling her scent into me, resolving to tell her the truth and respect her obvious strength enough not to try and paint over the horrors of our world, or my part in it, with pretty words, or try to distract her with shopping trips and gifts of expensive clothes.

I would strive to keep my head out of my ass and not indulge her no matter how adorable I thought she was. Being adorable wasn't going to save her ass.

"Bella, I did anything and everything I needed to in order to control those newborns. I ripped their arms off. I beat them. I bit and tore chunks out of them. I filled them with so much terror, all they could do was scream and then I would rip their legs off so they couldn't escape."

Pressing my lips into her hair, I took in another lungful of her scent. "I told them they belonged to Maria — they were her soldiers — and if they fought well they would be rewarded. I would starve them and tell them if they followed orders, they would be allowed to feed and could drink until they were so full they could hardly move. That's if they survived their training and being thrown into pits or corrals with each other. Not many made it out. Those that were quickly defeated were left in pieces to suffer that agony. They would be lit on fire in front of the other newborns so that they would learn. When their year was up, I ended them. Pain is scary and an excellent teacher. It was the hard way and the best way to deal with them. I want to try to keep you from having to learn the hard way." I eased my hold on her and nuzzled her neck. "I could never do that to you," I whispered to her.

Bella's eyes squeezed shut and she gasped. "Jasper, you don't have to tell me anymore." She sobbed and tried to turn her head toward me. "You were one of those newborns. You survived all of that." Her voice cracked as she spoke. Her anger was gone, replaced by her sorrow and compassion. "How did you live through all that?" she asked in a tear-filled voice.

"I survived, and not because I was lucky. Maria saw that I was an officer, and she knew there was something different about me. She wanted to use me." I loosened my hold on Bella the barest amount. "I had a gift I could use against the newborns, but at first it nearly crippled me. I had no idea what was going on. I thought I had gone crazy, until I realized what was happening. Then I learned how to control it and not let all of their emotions overwhelm me continuously. It was a constant struggle. But until then, I had to fight. I fought, and I won."

I released my hold on Bella's jaw and drew my fingers lightly down her throat and across her collar bone to her left shoulder. "I trained Maria's newborns to fight. Later, I trained the humans I had turned into vampires. No one else could control them like I could. With the military experience I already had, and the training I gave them, we won most of our battles. Maria gained a lot of territory. Then we had to fight to keep it." I released her left hand and slid mine across her stomach and then up her right arm until my hand was on her shoulder. "You've never been taught to fight. You wouldn't be able to fend off the wolves or another vampire that might attack you." I brushed her hair away from her right ear and kissed the skin beneath. At last, she tilted her head to the left, lifted her chin, and took in a slow breath.

She didn't realize it, but exposing her neck to me in that way was a sign of submission. She was finally submitting to me, and there was a part of me that was relieved, gratified, thrilled — and aroused. Yet another part realized it didn't feel as though I had subdued her — she had conquered me. It was almost as if she was allowing me to preside over her. She was bestowing a special dispensation so that I might be allowed to remain in her presence.

Setting that feeling aside and taking command of myself, I bent to her throat, nipping her where her life's blood had once pulsed, accepting her submission.

Because I could not resist her, I licked her smooth skin, leaving a scent trail of my venom from the hollow of her throat to the corner of her jaw. Pressing my lips to the soft skin beneath her ear, I whispered, "Bella, there is no one who can take care of you like I can. There is no one who can teach you what you need to know like I can."

She lifted her left hand and brought it up to cover my right hand on her shoulder.

"I will not leave you, Bella."

Her sorrow and disillusionment draped thickly over both of us and she sighed sadly as she dropped her head. "I … I've heard that before. Promises were made to me and broken, and I can't forget that," she said sadly.

I lifted her from her knees and turned her to face me. My hands went to cup her face, and I gently raised it so I could look into her still-black eyes. My thumbs brushed lightly over her cheeks. "I know promises were made to you and broken, but I've kept mine, Bella. When you were fully human, I said to you that you were worth it. You were then, and you are now. When I found you near death in your truck, I vowed that I would protect you, help you, and take care of you. I am doing everything I can to fulfill those promises, even if it makes you angry — even if it upsets you." I sighed again. "I'm not perfect — I'm goin' to screw up; I have been screwin' up. I'm goin' to get pissed off. This is as new to me as it is to you, but I promise I will do the best that I can. I promise that I will love you, and I will not leave you."

I sent all my love to her. All my respect, admiration, gratitude, and the adoration I had for her. Her eyes slowly closed and she took in a long, quiet breath. She leaned into my hands as her arms came up and went around my waist. My arms encircled her, drawing her into me.

"Jasper, you found me and took care of me. You could have finished me off and left me there. It would have been so much easier for you — for all of you. You could have even stayed in Forks. But you saved me." Her shining black eyes slowly opened to look up at me. "Then while I was burning, you stayed with me." Her voice was a soft breath of air across my chest. "I knew you were there. I didn't know it was you at first, but I could hear your voice. I couldn't understand everything you said, but I heard you. I could smell you." Her voice caught in her throat. "I … I felt you. You helped me so much then. As bad as it got, as terrible as it was, you stayed."

"I love you, Bella," I whispered. "I love you more than anyone or anything. You are everything to me." I gently brushed her hair from her face. "I need you to trust me. Trust that I don't want to make you into something you're not — I love you. You have to have faith that I'll do the best that I can for you. I've trained hundreds of newborns, but I can't do to you what I did to them. I love you." I leaned forward and gently kissed her.

Feeling her respond to my kiss, I broke. My shame and disgust at what I had nearly done to her crashed over me, and I flinched at the force of it. I tried to keep it from her, but it was so powerful it escaped me. I clutched Bella to me and buried my face in her neck. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, Bella. Please forgive me," I cried into her tangled hair.

Gasping, her arms went around my shoulders and she held me tightly. "Jasper! What … what is it?"

I turned my face into her neck, practically sobbing. Of all the sins I've committed over my long life, the worst, the vilest was when I nearly raped her. I was choking on my confession, but I had to get it out. "I … I almost raped you. I love you more than anything in this world, and I almost raped you."

"But you didn't, Jasper! You didn't. I knew what you were feeling, but I knew you wouldn't hurt me. I knew you would stop. And you did. You didn't hurt me. Jasper! Look at me!" She pulled back and her hands gripped each side of my face as she stared fiercely into my eyes. "You. Didn't. Hurt. Me. I knew you wouldn't. I knew it. I know you love me, and you would never do that to me."

She had always been too forgiving, and I didn't deserve it. I tried to turn my face away from her so she wouldn't have to look at me.

Her grip tightened, she hissed my name then her love poured over me. It was swiftly followed by her pride and … adoration, and I was struck dumb by the amount and the force of her emotions, her feelings for me. I dropped to my knees, gasping for breath.

She crushed me against her stomach and whispered passionately, "I love you, Jasper. I love you. I'm so proud of you. You're so strong. You lived through so much and if you hadn't, I would never have met you. I love you." Her hands slid up my neck and were in my hair. "If you need my forgiveness, you have it. Always. I love you."

"Oh, Bella," I said, moaning in my disgrace, trying to turn my head away from her again.

Her hands forced my face up to look at her. "Know that I love you."

"But, Bella, I …"

One eyebrow went up, she looked down her nose at me, and her right hand brushed my hair out of my face and swept around my jaw. "Jasper? Do I need to bite the shit out of you again?"

Dumbfounded, I looked up at her, and the corners of her mouth began to turn upward. She bent down to me and kissed me. I realized my mouth was hanging open and snapped it shut.

Then it dawned on me that was the first time she had said she loved me. I had felt her love flowing over, through and around me, but she hadn't said it out loud before.

Her hands slid to the outside of my shoulders and she urged me up.

"Bella, I … I …"

"Shut up." As she kissed me, effectively shutting me up, she tugged at my shoulders. "Stand up," she said, making it an order.

I was still stunned at the strength of her emotions; shocked that she could ever forgive me for something like that. Astonished that even after what I had done she still loved me. I couldn't move.

"Jasper, I love you. Now stand up, or I might pinch you."

Not wanting to experience another one of her pinches, I stood slowly, tentatively reaching to wrap my arms around her.

She stepped into me, her arms going around my waist. She sighed happily as she snuggled into my chest, kissing me. "Do you feel how much I love you? How much I adore you? How thankful I am that you saved me, Jasper? Can you feel how grateful I am that you've put up with my temper tantrums, and crazy hissy fits, and all my shit, and you stayed?" Her eyes turned up to mine.

Speechless, I just searched her beautiful, dirt smudged face; not believing my good fortune, unable to fathom how I could have been so blessed after all the terrible things I had done throughout my life.

"I can feel your doubt, Jasper. I love you. I am so lucky to have found you when so many things could have kept us apart."

Her hands slid around my sides and up my chest, and then she placed her hands on either side of my face. Her shining black eyes had changed to a glistening red. "Don't doubt that I love you, and I need you. I need you to teach me and show me what to do. You said no one loves me like you do, and I believe you." She pulled my face toward hers and she kissed me again. "Besides, you're mine and don't you think I deserve the best there is?"

I gasped as her love swept over me again, and I clutched her to me, burying my face in her neck. "I love you, Bella, but I …"

She pulled back from me and covered my mouth with her hand. "Jasper, quit it before I get pissed off again." She sighed. "In the immortal words of the Backstreet Boys — I don't care who you are, where you're from, don't care what you did, as long as you love me."

I just gaped at her. My beautiful, magnificent, entrancing, eminently forgiving mate was quoting the Backstreet Boys at me and all I could do was stare at her in stunned amazement.

"Uh, Bella …"

Huffing loudly and her brows descending in a frown, she said, "Dammit, Jasper! What do I have to do to … Oh! I have another one." She noisily cleared her throat as she closed her eyes. She bent her head down then her bright red eyes turned up to me, sparkling with a glint of mischief, and she said, "You are my fire, the one desire. Believe when I say I want it that way."

Then she hit me with a blast of love and happiness so strong it pulled a grunt from me, and I would have fallen down if she hadn't clamped her arms around my waist to hold me up.

"Jazz, I don't know what I have to do to make you believe that I love you, I know you won't hurt me, and if you think you did hurt me, I forgive you. But you didn't hurt me. You have kept me from hurting myself and, mostly, everybody else." She snorted in exasperation. "As you keep telling me, our instincts are very strong. I said a shitty thing to piss you off, it made you jealous, and your instincts took over. But you beat them back. You won. You are so strong, you won that fight. I need you to help me fight against and control my instincts."

She raised her hand and her fingers grazed lightly over my cheek to my chin. She gripped it firmly and shook my head. "I don't want to feel that self-condemnation or guilt from you anymore. I heard that all the time from someone who shall remain nameless at the moment. That stupid asshole decided for me that what was best for me would be for him to dump me. In the fucking woods. Where said stupid asshole told me never to go alone. Then Mr. I-Know-What's-Best-for-Everyone-Because-Well-I'm-Edward convinced the entire family to leave. All in the name of love and what's best for Bella. But nobody asked Bella what she thought." Tilting her head to the side and raising her eyebrows, she blinked several times. "Is someone going to decide they aren't good enough for me and leave me for my own good?"

All I could do was gasp at her words. She thought I could ever leave her?

Becoming angry, she let go of my jaw and started poking me in the chest. "Is someone else going to make all the decisions about my life down to what color socks I should wear? Well, if I was wearing socks." Her darkening eyes glared at me. "Is someone else going to start doing things to me and for me without even consulting me or mentioning it or telling me why they're doing it?"

Bella spun away from me, growled and stomped off through the dark to a fir tree and kicked it. "I mean, right now it's different because I'm having a hard time controlling myself, and it's not like I can go to Walmart and buy my own clothes and shit. I don't dare try to touch a laptop to shop online — I'd crush it."

She stomped back toward me, her arms gesticulating through air as she became more agitated. "At least when Rosalie bought me some more clothes she bought stuff I actually like, and it's not like I could've bought any at the time anyway because I happened to be incinerating myself from the inside out." She stared off into space for a moment. "Kinda like microwaving."

She twirled away from me and stomped back toward the tree she had kicked. "God forbid stuff gets ordered online because the Fed-Ex guy or whoever would deliver it, and I'd want to eat the poor bastard! I need somebody around to keep me from eating the Fed-Ex guy." She drew her arm back and punched the tree. "Nobody consulted me about moving either, but it's not like I can stay here in Forks because I'd probably eat somebody, and it might be somebody I like, so I do have to go somewhere else." She threw her hands up in the air. "I can't buy my own house. I don't have any money, except what's in my sock under my mattress in my old room, and that wouldn't be enough to even rent a room. I sure don't have a couple extra houses lying around, so, once again, it's not like I can decide where I'm going to go." She slapped the tree and turned back. "You happened to have a house, so we might as well go there, right?"

Stomping heavily through the pine needles, she made her way back to me. "In this case, I'd have to say making decisions for me is okay. The difference is you tell me what you're doing and why you're doing it. When I ask you a question, you actually answer it. When I think about it, it makes sense. It's logical, rational, and I can see why you made the decision. Unlike that other stupid immature asshole who kept changing the subject and lying to me."

She came to an abrupt stop right in front of me, her dirty, bare feet positioned a shoulder's width apart, and she began poking me in the chest again.

"To get back to the original topic … I'll tell you right now, goddammit, running away with your tail tucked is easy. Staying is hard. I don't want someone who says they love me enough to leave me. I want someone who loves me enough to stay with me." She crossed her arms, cocked an eyebrow and began tapping her foot. "Well?"

"Uh." I could only blink at her, still befuddled by the force of her emotions and then bewildered by the machine gun delivery of her rant. I had struggled to keep up with her tirade, and was trying to figure out what she was asking me. Fortunately, the light finally came on. "I could never leave you, Bella," I whispered.

"Good," she said, nodding her head. "Glad that's settled. I wouldn't want to have to chase you down and subject you to my mad, ninja-like pinching skills." Her face broke into a brilliant smile and she flung herself into my arms. "I love you, Jasper."

Another grunt escaped my mouth as she collided with me. I wrapped my arms around her, feeling her joy and my own automatic contentedness at her being in my arms. My relief and thankfulness filled me, and my love for her swelled. I felt her relief, joy, and love pouring over me. Then a dose of humor and a touch of giddiness tickled the edges of my awareness and I welcomed it, basked in it — reveled in the love of my mate.

Nuzzling her neck through her hair, I inhaled her warm, cozy, loving scent and whispered to her, "I think you've been hangin' out with Emmett too much, Darlin'."

"Pfffft!"She scoffed. "I've hardly hung out with him at all since I woke up. Except to chase him through the woods and bite him. That's hardly like hanging out."

I sighed into her hair. "I love you, Bella. I'm so sorry I …"

"Stop!" she commanded. "Or I'll hit you with another love bomb to the brain. We're good now. We know where we stand. Bella newborn. Jasper sire. I got it. I'll try to keep it." She huffed through my hair. "We should get back to Newborn 101. It's a lesson I can't afford to fail. Please review."

I kissed her neck and gently pushed her back so I could look into her lovely face. I was still struggling to keep up with her. "Bella, I've never loved anyone as much as I love you. I just can't do to you what I did to those other newborns. I can't."

"But I need to learn, Jasper. I need you to help me. I need you to help me control myself. I could have gotten us all killed. The teeth on the throat thing seemed to work," she said in chagrin.

"That almost always works. It's the least destructive method of getting a newborn's attention." I sighed. "Besides hitting them with a heavy dose of lethargy or some other emotion."

"Obviously, you can't be too easy on me. The thoughts in my brain just … explode, and I can't think." Bella backed away from me and her hands were clenching into fists again. "And I get so mad! I just want to tear things apart, and rip them to pieces with my hands and …"

I grabbed her flailing hands, bringing them together and up to my lips. "It's okay, Darlin'. Just feel how much I love you." I kissed her knuckles. "I won't go too easy on you. Sometimes you're going to get really pissed off." I pulled her into my chest, wishing I could wrap myself completely around her, and then kissed the top of her head. "But I won't be ripping your arms off. I care about you and love you too much. There have only been three newborns in this world that I cared anything about, and you're the most important."

"Who are the others? Peter and Charlotte?"

"Yes. Of the hundreds I changed, you, Peter, and Charlotte are the only ones I give a shit about. I don't even know if any of the others are still alive, and I don't care. I care about you." I couldn't resist running my hands over her hair and down her back, and kissed her again. "I don't love them like I love you. I, literally, tore their asses up."

Pressing my lips to her temple, I couldn't resist tasting her skin again with the tip of my tongue. "To review — if I think you're in danger you must listen to me and do what I say — whether it makes sense to you or not. Whether you want to or not. If you don't, I'll make you." I sighed with frustration. "I know this sounds like Edward's bullshit, but you have to trust that I will only do it for your own good, to protect you and to keep you from getting others hurt."

"You do sound a little like Edward." She lifted her face to me, the very edges of her lips turning up. "I do trust you. It's like I know I can." She blinked slowly. "I know you're older than me and have seen and experienced so much more than I have, but I can't … I seem to want to fight against almost everything. Or bite it and rip it apart. When I don't want to bite stuff, I just want to cry, or laugh, or scream. It's like I'm going crazy at times. I'm sorry I've been such a … such a bitch." Her voice hitched again. "Jasper, I'm so sorry no one was there to help you when you were a newborn." She dropped her head and her eyes turned up to look at me. "Like you are for me."

Then her love flowed gently over me, soft and warm. It shimmered and nearly glowed in the night air around us, and I gasped at the strength of it. It wasn't as forceful as the earlier blast, but it caused me to become weak at the knees. I lifted her in my arms and sat down on the damp ground, drawing her onto my lap, tucking her head into the left side of my neck. My arms cradled her as my lips went to hers.

"I love you," I whispered to her. "I love you so much, Bella."

Her left hand reached up to my cheek. Her fingers trailed over my jaw to my chin. I loved it when she touched me.

"I know you do. I feel it." She kissed me. "I'll try harder to listen to you, Jasper. I will." She kissed me again. "We're going to have to work on my shield so I can hold it no matter what's going on around me." She blinked. "And if I can block you from feeling my emotions and stop you from influencing mine, and keep people from touching me, how can I hear and smell through it?"

It was still difficult to keep up with her mood swings and her rapid change of topic. I was basking in the comfort of her love, surrendering to it. It hadn't occurred to me that professing my love would turn into a discussion of her shield.

"I don't know, Darlin'. Light comes through it, too." I cupped her cheek with my right hand. "Different types of vibrations? Different frequencies? I don't know."

"Jasper?"

"What do you need, Darlin'?" I smoothed her tangled hair away from her face and brushed smudges of dirt from her chin. I looked down at her henley and her jeans and realized I had gotten her pretty damn dirty when I had shoved her to the ground and then forced her to her knees. My clothes weren't much better. I guessed that meant she'd be wanting another bath.

Her index finger followed the line of my jaw to my ear and back again. "When I was talking to Carlisle out on the porch he said vampires have a really strong urge to bite. They bite to defend themselves, of course, and they bite to mark their mates. But he also said they'll bite to correct a coven-mate who is behaving badly. Is that why you bit me?"

Without any thought behind it, my left arm tightened around her to bring her closer to me, my hand drifting up to her neck, and my right hand glided over her shoulder and down her side to her waist. "No, Darlin'. That was purely a bite to claim and mark you as mine. " My right hand slid from her waist to her hip. "To taste you and put my venom in you. Remind you who you belong to."

She looked down, her lashes brushing over her cheeks, and then she looked up at me. "I bit you because I was mad at you." She looked down and away, embarrassed. "I was mad at you because Alice was in your room and she touched you." She inhaled quickly and let the breath out slowly. "I'm trying not to get mad about it again."

I could see the muscles tighten in her jaw, and her eyes closed.

"I told you Alice helped me carry my clothes from her closet. I held her hand to thank her." I gathered her hair with my right hand and pulled it out from under my left arm. I also admired my new bite on the right side of her neck. It was a little higher than the one on her left. I was quite pleased it would show above a shirt collar. "I love you, Bella. I want you to know I'm not going to do anything on purpose to make you jealous. We'll come in contact with other females — vampires and humans, but you are the only woman I want."

Her love washed over me, and I gasped at the feeling. "I love you, Bella."

She smiled at me, and I saw that her eyes had returned to their bright red. "I'll try not to be jealous. I can't seem to help that either, but I'll try. All the vampire women I've ever seen are beautiful. Not that I've seen that many. "

"Not as beautiful as you," I whispered against her temple.

Bella sighed lightly and wrapped her fingers around my right wrist and brought my arm to her chest, like she had when we were by the river. "Carlisle said we like to mark our territory, just like humans do. We put our venom on stuff. Do you think that's why I want to bite you? I mean, besides the last time when I was mad at you."

I smiled back at her and brought her hand up to kiss her fingers. "Yes. Except when you're pissed off at me. It's another one of those instincts. I want my scent on you so others know you're mine. You want your scent on me. I also happen to enjoy puttin' it on you." I licked her fingers. "My venom inside you changes your scent. Even though I put a lot of venom in you to change you, your body makes it your own. Adding venom later alters your scent. Like you biting me has altered mine."

"But I've bitten and scratched, well, practically everybody. Will that change their scent?"

"No. You didn't get enough venom in them." I had to smile at her. She had managed to leave marks on everyone except Carlisle, Esme, and Rosalie.

Sensing Esme coming toward us, I turned to look in the direction she was coming from. In the dark, I wasn't able to see her yet through the trees, but then I heard the rustle of wet leaves and pine needles to my right. Bella tensed and straightened.

"It's okay, Darlin'. It's Esme." I kissed her temple.

As Esme appeared from between the trees, I could see that she was eyeing us quite intently. She stopped about thirty feet away. When she saw that both Bella and I were relaxed, she smiled tentatively at us. "Has everything calmed down?"

"Yes, Esme. We're both … better." I smiled at her. "Where are Emmett and Rose?"

"They're back there." She gestured into the trees behind her. "Rosalie became a bit upset and …"

"Why was she upset? Because we were?" Bella asked.

"I'm sure she was angry at the way I was treating you, Bella." I placed my right hand on her cheek and whispered to her. "I was so pissed off at you and jealous I nearly lost control of myself. I could have hurt you, I could have …"

"Stop, Jasper." Bella reached up and brushed her fingertips over my mouth. "We already talked about that."

I turned my head away from her in shame. "Bella … I … I'm so sorry. I could have raped you. I almost did." It all came crashing down on me. Guilt filled me again. I had very nearly raped my mate; the woman I love more than my own life.

"Shhh, Jasper," she whispered. "You didn't. You stopped yourself. You stopped. And I was being a bitch and trying to piss you off. Now stop feeling that way. Look at me."

She tugged at my chin as her love enveloped me, but I couldn't bring myself to look at her. Her grip tightened and she pulled harder so that I would have to face her.

"Look, Jasper, I was being a jerk and trying to make you mad, but you didn't hurt me. You stopped. That is what's important. You stopped and you didn't hurt me. I knew you wouldn't hurt me. I wasn't afraid." She reached up and kissed me. "Well, I was afraid when you first grabbed me around the throat because you startled me, but that only lasted a couple of seconds. I wasn't afraid of you anymore because I knew you wouldn't hurt me." Her eyes dropped to the side and her embarrassment fluttered around me for a moment. "And I was trying to piss you off."

Her bright red eyes returned to mine and then her admiration joined her love as she kissed me again. "I am proud of you, Jasper. You've been through so much, and you can still find it in yourself to be gentle and compassionate enough to take care of me, think of me, when I'm being a raging, immature bitch. I love you, Jasper." Shifting in my lap, she brought both of her hands up to brush my hair back from my face. "Now cut it out or I'll hit you with another love bomb."

Even without her love bomb, I was overcome with my love for her and pure joy radiated from my very center. My arms went around her, and I squeezed her to my chest as I buried my face in her neck. "I love you, Bella. I love you so much."

I was supposed to be taking care of her, and she was comforting and consoling me. Forgiving me; loving me. If I could have, I would have cried in her arms, even with Esme standing only thirty feet away from us.

"Jasper. Jasper. We're fine. You're fine. Everything's good." Bella ran her fingers through my hair, and her hand slid slowly down my back.

She continued to rub her hand up and down my back as I pressed my face into her neck, breathing in her scent for several minutes. With her love swirling around me, I finally gained control of myself and kissed her neck in gratitude and in relief. Relief that she hadn't turned me away.

Then I realized she could no more leave me than I could leave her. We were mates. We were tied together, and not because my venom had transformed her. I'd changed hundreds and hadn't felt any connection to them. In fact, I had killed most of them. If anything ever happened to Bella, I didn't think I could survive it.

Bella ran her hand through my hair and to my neck, where she gave me a small squeeze. "Jasper," she whispered so quietly I was sure Esme couldn't hear her. "Are you okay now?"

"Yes. I'll be okay as long as I'm with you, Bella."

When had I become such a fucking whining asshole? I needed to get a grip. My emotions were shifting nearly as quickly as hers and if I were human, I'd be exhausted at the roller coaster ride they had been on.

Another one of those fuckin