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Call of the Night

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Letting a light breeze filter in through the window, Carlisle had to keep one hand planted firmly on the edge of the stack of documents he was currently pouring over. Across the room, a potted plant fluttered slightly, it’s leaves catching the tail-end of the wind before it dissipated against the walls in his study.

There was a cold front blowing in, promising a chill to fall over not just Northern Pennsylvania, but the entirety of the Northeast region.

It wasn’t unusual for the weather to drop in temperature at this time of year. After all, Spring wouldn’t yet begin for another week, so the fluctuating temperatures were quite common. And if anyone would ask, Carlisle preferred it that way. Winter always had been his favorite of the seasons. Something about nature shutting down for a period, stripping itself bare to preserve itself through the harsh conditions of the freezing cold, fascinated him.

And the mountains always looked more beautiful when it snowed.

Although it had been a relatively dry winter, he was still holding onto a slight hope that they’d get another snow before the warm weather would come and stay for a time.

Tearing his eyes away from his notes, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, inhaling deeply and letting the fresh scents wash over him. The smell of winter was always preferable to him, too. Scents were sharper, the cool air stifling any overbearing odor. Nearby, a small group of deer were passing through a creek. Idly, he considered taking a small recess and going on a quick hunt. It had been quite some time since he’d gone--and a few days since he’d left his office.

“Carlisle.”

Esme’s soft call flitted upward and through the window into Carlisle’s study.

Well, he mused, it was time for a break anyways.

Dropping his work, a smile creeping onto his face, he made sure to close his window before making his way down the long hallway, down the stairs, and out the back double doors. He found her sitting, cross-legged in the backyard, under a tree. The cherry blossoms wouldn’t bloom for a few weeks, it seemed.

As he approached he smiled and took in the peaceful sight before him. The sun was just beginning to set in the west as the wind blew a light breeze through the tree, causing Esme’s hair to dance carelessly around her.

Carlisle’s smile softened as he sat next to his peaceful wife, taking her hand and kissing her palm. Esme simply closed her eyes and smiled.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” She laid her head on his shoulder, her eyes on the tiny daffodil blossom that had just begun to sprout at the tree line.

“Truly, it is.” Carlisle wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close. Where Carlisle had always been a winter man, spring belonged to Esme. Nothing overjoyed her more than when her garden was in bloom, warmth breathing life back into her precious blossoms and plants.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, allowing the sun to glitter off of their skin until it disappeared behind the towering trees, the blues and purples of night presenting themselves before the couple’s eyes.

Suddenly, Esme giggled softly; the noise barely contained. Carlisle raised an eyebrow.

“What’s so funny?” Her laugh transformed into a grin, bright and happy. She leaned forward, kissing him on the nose before leaning in closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder.

“I’m making a trip into town early tomorrow morning,” she informed him, grinning.

Carlisle simply stared at her, “Any particular reason?”

“The room besides Jasper’s is awfully bare. Needs some furnishing.”

The reality was that lots of rooms in the house were bare. When they’d had it built nearly forty years ago Esme had gone a bit overboard with designing the blueprints, making sure there were an adequate number of rooms. There were seven of them at the time, and between them they’d only needed four rooms, but Esme had insisted.

And it was so hard to say no to Esme. So they ended up with four more than necessary.

Carlisle inhaled deeply, resting his head on top of hers. “Are you going to fill up the whole house then?” The rooms had been left bare for decades since there had been no need to fill them. Although the one at the very end of the hall was being halfway used as a giant storage closet.

“No,” she shook her head before pulling back and smiling at him, a knowing look in her eye, “Just that one room.”

“Why just...” but at her overjoyed expression, his question died on his tongue. He hadn’t seen that look in years.

“I know where our next Protector is,” she sang, the smile in her words obvious to all who could hear. It was just as he’d suspected.

Although no person would suspect it, Esme Cullen was, without a doubt, perhaps the most talented of all the Protectors. Carlisle was certain that her uncanny sense of simply knowing things was part of the reason that Aro had tasked her with taking up duty over the entire continent a couple hundred years ago.

A living oracle, he’d called her, eyes wide and full of wonder. After one glance into her mind a few hundred years before, Aro had almost dropped everything—pride included—while asking that she remain in Volterra. Esme had been demure about the entire thing, of course, too humble for her own good, and had turned his offer down to join his guard with grace and tact that Carlisle couldn’t help but admire.

But what had been incredible was that she insisted that she was anything but gifted, and even Eleazar had reluctantly agreed. He’d been unable to pinpoint anything special about her, expressing the same shock Carlisle felt when Aro had pleaded with her to stay, insisting that he sensed no extra-ordinary power from her.

Apparently the evidence was there, locked away in her brain for Aro to find. It wasn’t foresight, he would always dismiss, even years after Esme left for the Americas, but a remarkable sort of intuition that made her utterly one-of-a-kind.

She had an odd quirk about her. Pieces of information that she couldn’t have possibly previously known about or learned of in the traditional way would simply materialize in her head. It wasn’t a skill that could be used at will, and it didn’t appear often—information only came to her in pieces every few years.

Seemingly, the only consistency with her skill was that she had confidently known the location and identity of the first five original Protectors.

Not even Edward, the literal mind-reader amongst the group, could give Carlisle an explanation for it.

“It’s just impossible, impeccable, uncanny knowledge,” he had told Carlisle sometime after Rosalie had been recruited. “As if these are things she’s always known, but just uncovers at random points.”

Aro had thought of her the way a man of belief holds their opinion of a deity. Where she had never commanded respect, she’d been given it anyways. She was no god, but Aro had been prepared to offer up anything to her.

Carlisle had been young, but not as young as Emse had been, when he watched as she’d smiled at the ancient vampire, kind and courteous as always, and instead informed him of her plans to travel to the New World. That had been almost one hundred years before he himself boarded a boat for the Americas with a hope in his heart that she would remember him.

As if a vampire could forget.

Now, the smile dropped from his face completely. “What?” Carlisle was on alert now, pulling back to look her in the eye. “Where?”

Esme laughed again and stood, holding her hands out for him and pulling him easily to his feet.

“A small town in southern Mississippi.”

“What’s their name? Do they have any abilities? How old--?”

Esme silenced him with a quick peck on the lips.

“Patience dear,” she smiled contentedly as she leaned back against the tree, folding her arms. “This one’s different.”

He laughed, his words dismissive. “Aren’t they all?”

Her features hardened and suddenly she was serious. “No. I mean there’s something different about this whole thing,” she looked away then, frowning. “I can’t pinpoint what, but it unnerves me.”

“Hey”. Carlisle kissed her softly then, running a hand over the side of her face, wordlessly begging her to relax. “You have a bad feeling about this then?” It wouldn’t be the first time they’d have difficulty with a recruitment.

“Not about her,” Esme shook her head. “I feel good about her. There’s something else though. Something I’m not…” she waved a hand in the air, letting her frustrations fly out of her in one calm breath. “That’s why I’m saying it’s different. Just,” another breath of air left her lungs and then suddenly Esme was smiling again, “trust me.”

“I trusted you with Bella didn’t I? Not to mention Jasper. I’m sure it will be fine.”

She rolled her eyes, smile still on her face, “Like I said, she’s different.” With a final kiss, she stood and turned back toward the house.

“Esme,” He watched her retreat, likely to go check on the room that wouldn’t be empty for long. “What’s her name?”

She turned toward him as she stepped in the doorway.

“Alice.” Her smile was wide. “Alice Brandon.”


 

Not wanting to waste any time, Carlisle booked a red eye flight down South, eager to meet the vampire that would become their eighth Protector. As he walked through the small Mississippi airport he tried, as always, to ignore the stares, but it came with the territory. For him, the scrutiny by the watching eyes of the humans was doubled.

Being a vampire did, by default, draw attention; the uneasy feeling that humans had around them was only natural. Most tried to ignore it—it was, after all, simply age-old survival instincts acting up. Though despite the progress that had been made in the past hundred years, there were always the few who kept their distance and stared.

Only now, people weren’t staring because of the fact he was a vampire. It was because he was a Protector . One of the few vampires tasked with upholding the good name of their kind in society.

Really the job had changed quite a bit over the years. It had been a much more hands-on duty back when they were new and the world was still adjusting to vampires living out and openly. Things had still been quite… savage back then. But overall it all boiled down to the same thing, despite the age: they were enforcers of the laws and kept peace between both vampires and humans.

They were treated almost like celebrities out in public, though they were more like politicians than anything. Politicians with the ability to stand against an army, if needed. And sometimes, that was needed.

It wasn’t an easy job, to say the least.

He walked through the airport with only his small suitcase in hand. When Carlisle had asked Esme how long it would take to retrieve the girl, she only smirked and shrugged. Edwards recruitment had taken ten minutes. Emmett’s recruitment had lasted a week.

He just packed the essentials.

“A Protector?” he heard a young man whisper as he passed by.

“Carlisle Cullen,” a young woman confirmed.

As he continued walking, he tried to block out all the whispers and comments being made by both the humans and the vampires alike. But as more people began to identify him, the hushed whispers turned to curious comments.

“Why do you think he’s here?” a man asked.

“Is that really Carlisle Cullen?” he heard a male vampire ask. The difference between human voices and vampire voices were very easy to pick up on by clarity alone.

He sighed as the flash of someone’s camera went off. He knew that within the hour, the whole country would know he was there.

Maybe the entirety of the Americas.

Specifically, their jurisdiction was over both the US as well as Canada. Quite a bit of land area but still a far smaller area than what they’d started out with. When the power was divided up over 200 years ago, the entire continents of North America and South America had been placed under Esme’s jurisdiction.

After his first ten years as a Protector, in the late 1800s he and Esme had happily surrendered their authority over Mexico to a coven that resided in Monterrey, and over the years Protectors from dozens of nations took up responsibility for their fellow vampires.

It wasn’t simply Carlisle and Esme ensuring the peace amongst their kind; they certainly weren’t the only group of Protectors to delegate responsibilities.

Aro and the members of the Volturi took charge over a large portion of Europe. Their approach to the job as liaisons between the human and vampire world was a bit… different , but as peacekeepers they took the job very seriously.

Walking out the doors of the airport before anyone else could snap another picture, Carlisle began to worry again as he recalled his previous call to the Council.

The Council of the Americas, located in Denali, Alaska, was where all the information on every vampire in both North and South America was stored. Dates of birth, dates of change, criminal records, hair color--i t was all documented and stored away. Every piece of information on any and every existing vampire this side of the world.

What was now causing Carlisle so much discomfort was his previous conversation with one of the Council members.

Eleazar had left Europe a couple decades after Carlisle, excited and eager to help out his old friend with his new mate, Carmen, but hadn't quite been eager enough to accept his offer to work alongside himself and Esme as a Protector. The Council job had suited him just fine though, and he'd been enjoying a peaceful life up North ever since.

“I don’t know, Carlisle,” he had said, “maybe she lives in some other part of the country. But not in Mississippi.”

Carlisle was skeptical, “Are you sure?”

Eleazar laughed, “I’ve already checked twice, and there is no record of an Alice Brandon anywhere near there. If I can’t find anything I’ll have Tanya contact the council of the Austricas though. Maybe you’re looking for someone who’s gone international.”

“Thank you,” Carlisle sighed.

An hour after that initial conversation, Eleazar called back and assured Carlisle that no vampire under the name of Alice Brandon existed. Not just in Mississippi or in the Americas, but anywhere in the world.

So now Carlisle knew he was looking for an ‘inexistent’ vampire in this small Mississippi town. Clenching his teeth he desperately hoped that he wasn’t looking for a human; again . They’d already gone through hell, so to speak, after they’d found Bella decades before and realized that she wasn’t even a vampire.

That had certainly thrown everyone for a loop—the public outrage against having her turned had been legendary . But ultimately, Bella had decided her own fate and she’d been with them for almost sixty years now. If it came down to it, and this Alice he was to find was still a human, he was sure they’d go through much of the same, but a part of him hoped that it would be easier for them if that were the case.

Esme had made it a point to mention that she was different though, so hopefully that meant different from all of their current counterparts.

He truly didn’t think his dead heart could handle another ex-soldier.

Raising his glittering hand to hail a cab, he figured if there were an Alice Brandon in Biloxi, he’d find her.


“Alice!”

A head of short black hair shot up at the sound of her name on her adoptive mother’s lips.

Setting the dress she had been working on down--taking extra care not to ruffle the fabric up as she lay it gently on her table--she silently flitted out the room, down the staircase, and behind the counter of the shop.

Two customers stood on the opposite side of the counter; a mother and her son. The woman stood nervously, gripping the straps of the purse slung over her shoulder tightly, eyes flickering around the shop. The moment her hazel eyes fell upon Alice, she flinched, averting her eyes back to the child standing at her side.

Even after all these years, the reactions still made her feel a bit lousy. It wasn’t as if Alice could help that she was one of the only vampires in the neighborhood. Or that the human population of this tiny town still silently disapproved of their existence among them.

Quietly, the woman scolded the boy, removing his hand from where he had been fiddling with some hats on a display by the counter.

Josie then emerged out from the back room, a small black suit in one hand, the other wrapped around the black handle of a cane as she hobbled forward.

“There you are, dear,” she handed Alice the outfit. “We need this hemmed.”

Alice nodded, she had seen the two coming. They were attending a relative’s wedding. The suit had finally arrived early this morning, though the pant legs and sleeves had been tailored too long.

“It’s a big of an emergency,” the woman said uneasily, “we need it by nine-thirty.” Alice nodded, she knew this too.

She also knew that in all actuality, they didn’t need it until eleven. But she was smart enough not to let them find out she knew. The mother just wanted to be sure the adjustments would be made as early as possible.

Alice glanced at the clock. 7:13 AM.

Josie put a hand on Alice’s shoulder. “Two off the jacket sleeves, four off the pant legs,” The old woman winked, “work your magic dear.”

Alice responded with a soft smile before shooting up the stairs and back into the work room. She quickly began removing the old stitching as she heard the downstairs conversation.

“It’ll be done in five minutes.” Josie informed them.

“Five minutes?” The woman was skeptical but Josie stood her ground.

“My Alice works faster than any bulking machine out there.”

Alice smiled as she finished removing the last of the stitches. Four seconds later, a needle and thread were already prepared.

Alice never fully understood why Josie decided to take her under her wing four decades ago. Yet she was endlessly grateful.

Forty years ago, Alice had been wandering the streets of downtown Biloxi in nothing but an oversized t-shirt in the wee hours of the morning. A vision had carried her there, finally pulling herself out of hiding for the first time in her seven years, all for a reason she hadn’t even comprehended.

Josie, not caring that Alice was a dirty nomadic vampire with an alarmingly limited vocabulary, quickly took Alice by the hand and ushered her off of the streets and into her home-turned-business.

Later, when Alice asked why Josie did it, she would always respond with the same answer.

“You were a lost child in desperate need of a home, a mother, and a shower.” She always joked. “Who cares that you just so happened to be a vamp?”

The other people in town regarded Alice as an outcast. A vampire being cared for by an elderly human was absolutely unheard of. Not that Josie ever let anything that anyone said about her bother her. She’d already been a bit of an oddball herself: over forty, no husband, no children. “People already talk,” she’d told Alice a couple years into her stay, “so let them.”

Adding the last couple stitches to her work, she held it up. The mother would be impressed. The boy wouldn’t care. He’d slip in the mud on the way to the wedding anyways.

Alice neatly folded the suit yet froze suddenly as a vision clouded her mind:

          “The name Alice does ring a bell ‘er two,” a man smiled, “I don’t recall the human’s name. Never learn’t it. Loud old thing. The vamp though--that’s Alice. Doesn’t speak much. Seen her once and thought she was a boy ‘til someone corrected me a few years later.”

          “The vamp who lives with the seamstress offa’ Spring Way?” Another man inquired.

          “Yeah, that’s the one. Weird pair, those two. How often you seen an elderly hue take care of a vamp?” He shrugged, “Always struck me as odd but maybe Brandon’s her last name.”

          She then noted a third man, a most recognizable man. A Protector. He shook the other man’s hands. “Thank you very much, gentlemen.”

Her attention now back where it belonged, Alice stared blankly at the wall while her dead heart sank into her stomach.

Forcing herself to swallow her almost nauseating unease, she stood quickly, the newly hemmed suit still in her grasp. Slowly, even for a human, she began her descent back down to the ground level of the shop.

She knew she shouldn’t be so shocked; the Protectors were bound to discover her illegal life one day. And if her first vision had been anything to go by—a scarred face, the smell of burning, an encouragement to kill —she knew that she wasn’t going to be able to idly sit by and play with clothes forever.

When Josephine had taken Alice in, she was shocked, albeit confused, when she had no knowledge of any sort of vampire law. Terms such as ‘Self-Control Training’, ‘the Containers’, and ‘the Protectors’ were foreign terms to her mind.

Among the wide array of books that Josie purchased for Alice in her first year, one carried some of the most vital yet terrifying information. The History of Vampires from 1901 til Now . It told Alice of everything she should’ve known as well as simple facts that were common sense to any normal vampire. But Alice wasn’t a normal vampire.

According to The Council, she wasn’t even a vampire at all. Being inexistent, she supposed, it came with the territory.

Alice approached the counter, where Josie stood waiting, and quickly handed over the suit. Not wanting to alert Josie of any panic, she pasted a pleasant look and a kind smile on her face.

After their customers paid and departed, the elderly woman huffed an overly-dramatic sigh.

“Well, that’s about all the customers we’ll see all day, right?” she asked. Alice nodded knowingly.

“Today’s going to be a lazy Sunday,” she confirmed, deciding that Josie didn’t need to know about the other visitor they’d be getting. At least not just yet. If this was truly their last day together, she didn’t want it spent with her worrying herself half-to-death.

“In that case,” Josie yawned, “I’ll be sitting in front of the television if you need me!”

Alice let out a genuine laugh, a slight pulse of pain echoing through her chest, knowing that it was possibly her last. “You always are.”

Watching the woman walk away she became overwhelmed with grief. Soon, a Protector would be there, ready to have Alice sent off to be executed due to her illegal existence. She couldn’t help but feel guilty as well. How was Josie going to bring in money when she was gone? The shop was her main source of income and she wouldn’t be able to run it by herself once Alice was gone. Her arthritis had gotten so bad in the past ten years.

Returning to the upstairs workroom, Alice knew there was nothing that could be done. Picking up the dress she’d been working on previously, she was suddenly determined to live her final day as normally as possible. She knew that sometimes certain visions couldn’t be avoided. This was her fate.

Another vision then crept its way into Alice’s mind.

          Josie gripped the man’s hand fearfully with all her might. She was begging him.

          “Please, don’t take her,” her voice was stubborn and weary, “she’s done nothing wrong.” The Protector stared at her, wide-eyed. “I’m the one that ought to be punished. I—I hid her from you. Take me. Not her.”

Returning to the present, Alice continued sewing. She bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut, holding back the tears she knew would never fall.


Carlisle had been walking around downtown Biloxi for only twenty minutes, yet the word was already out: a Protector was in town.

Humans and vampires alike were taking pictures from afar, trying—yet failing—to be subtle about it. People chatted excitedly over their cell phones to friends and relatives about their proximity to the man.

Before it started to really get out of hand, he knew he needed to bow out, ducking into a shop where he knew at least the humans would stop bugging him. After all, most humans found the vampire-designated ‘blood bars’ to be highly unappealing.

Entering the shop, Carlisle sighed as he noted the slight vacancy of the small place.

Only two solitary vampires lingered around the booths and tables due to the early morning time. Though vampire blood shops were often open 24-hours, vampires tended to go along with the human feeding times in order to blend more into society.

Trying to stay undetected, Carlisle sat himself in a vacant booth. But as his phone rang, the heads of the other vampires in sight shot toward him.

He frowned. So much for going undetected.

Answering the call, he spoke in a hushed tone.

“Hello?”

“Tuck in your shirt tail, you look messy.”

Carlisle bit back a laugh in spite of himself.

“Yes, Rosalie,” he couldn’t help but grin. “I take it my pictures on TV?”

“Not yet,” she admitted. “Just on Twitter. You’ll be trending soon.”

“What a joy,” he said sarcastically. He was glad she wasn’t there to watch him roll his eyes. As if he understood what that really meant.

“So what are you doing down there?” She asked, not wasting any time. “The paparazzi aren’t the only curious ones,” she snipped.

As he realized Esme hadn’t told any of them--it was likely she was down in Scranton, shopping to furnish Alice’s room--a waiter made his way up to the booth.

“I’ll talk to you later, Rosalie.” Ending the call he tried not to dwell on the fact that there would be hell to pay for that. No one hung up on Rosalie Lillian Hale-McCarty.

The man approached Carlisle and held out his hand eagerly. “Mr. Carlisle Cullen, sir. It is an honor to have you here,” He shook his hand and his grin grew wider, his words graced with a soft southern twinge, “what may I get for you? It’s on the house.”

Carlisle observed him, as he did with every vampire he came in contact with. The man seemed to be in his mid-thirties, appearance-wise. Dark brown hair fell to his shoulders. He had a prominent jaw and a very slight hinge on his nose.

Thankfully, being trained as a Protector improved your observation skills to help one understand even the most subtle changes in body language--going beyond what was already the standard for vampires’ keen eyes--meaning that he knew immediately that the man was more apprehensive than pleased at his presence.

Carlisle smiled. “Thank you for your hospitality,” he said politely, “but I’m afraid I’m not thirsty.”

The man’s smile faltered ever-so-slightly as he stared into Carlisle’s bright-gold eyes. “Well,” he began, “is there anything I can do y’for?” he spoke, his accent fully noticeable now.

“Well actually,” Carlisle thought for barely half a second, “I am trying to locate someone. Do you think you could help?”

The waiters smile fell more as he fidgeted with his hands.

“I’m not too good at knowin’ people around here,” he shrugged, “I’m kinda new in town. But George might be able to help ya out.”

“Whatdaya need, Steve?” he heard a younger male voice call from the kitchen.

“We need yer people-knowin’ skills,” he spoke back.

As the second man approached, he did so much more calmly than the man, Steve, had done.

George was around two inches taller, jet black hair cropped short, arched eyebrows, thin lips. He carried himself more confidently than Steve, yet when he stopped walking before Carlisle, his stance spoke volumes about his unease at his presence..

George greeted Carlisle with a curt nod of his head, his hands remaining in his pockets. He didn’t have to wonder what this vampire was so defensive about; if Carlisle wasn’t there for a meal, they likely thought he was there for job purposes.

And sometimes this job could be a bit brutal...

“What can I do ya for?” His accent carried heavily among his words.

“I’m trying to locate someone.”

“Vamp er Hue?”

Vampire or Human.

“Vampire.”

“Name?” he inquired simply.

“Brandon. Alice Brandon.” He raised his eyebrows.

“The name Brandon don’t ring no bells,” he said as he thought. His face scrunched up in concentration.

“Oh, well. Thank you for your—“

“Well hold on,” George held up a hand, “I ain’t done.” He smiled cockily. “The name Alice does ring a bell ‘er two.” George’s smile fell as he thought harder. “I don’t recall the human’s name. Never learn’t it. Loud old thing. The vamp though--that’s Alice. Doesn’t speak much. Seen her once and thought she was a boy ‘til someone corrected me a few years later.”

“The vamp who lives with the seamstress offa’ Spring Way?” Steve asked, chiming in.

“Yeah, that’s the one. Weird pair, those two,” he frowned, “How often you seen an elderly hue take care of a vamp?” He asked Carlisle, almost conversationally, before shrugging. “Always struck me as odd but maybe Brandon’s her last name.”

Carlisle, now smiling widely, stood and firmly shook both the men’s hands, pleased to pieces at how easy it ended up being to find this girl. One step closer.

“Thank you very much, gentlemen.”

Grabbing his suitcase, he briskly walked out of the shop, swiftly making his way toward Spring Way, and hopefully closer to Alice Brandon.

Chapter Text

Walking down Main Street, Carlisle kept an eye open for Spring Way.

After he had exited the shop, he had quickly realized that he didn’t know which way Spring Way was. He could’ve turned his phone back on and used his GPS, but ever since hanging up on Rosalie he didn’t exactly want to chance it. He was sure he had quite a few missed calls and probably a couple of nasty voicemail messages.

He’d stopped a woman on the sidewalk and effectively shocked her to the point where she’d mumbled and gaped at him for the first thirty seconds of their one-sided conversation. She did eventually swallow her embarrassment and managed to point him in the general direction of the street, but it had taken her a minute to gather herself.

Now, over an hour later, in the distance he could clearly read the green and faded street sign. He was almost there.

For the thousandth time that day, he could only imagine what this Alice character would be like.

Maybe proud and enchanting, with pristine fighting abilities, much like Rosalie. But hopefully without the attitude problems. Or maybe she’d be more like Bella. Sweet, yet sly and cunning, but possibly without an overbearing conscience.

As he approached the street, he recalled what George had said when he remembered his one encounter with Alice. He had referred to her as ‘mousy’ and boy-like.

Again, Esme’s words rang through his brain, reminding him to forget all expectations. This would be different, he kept repeating mentally, preparing himself to school his features to prevent showcasing any shock at what he could potentially find with this Alice character.

Rounding the corner and onto the street, another person from across the street snapped his picture again. He sighed, yet tried to remain polite. He smiled and waved toward the small group of vampires. He heard a girl giggle and had to bite back a frown. He didn’t know how Rosalie enjoyed this type of thing so much; he truly wasn’t equipped for this brand of attention. Centuries at this job would never get him used to it.

Looking around, suddenly a sign was the only thing he noticed. It was wooden, old, and faded. The paint was chipping off in flakes around the corners.

Josie’s Garment Shop

Carlisle knew that if it were still possible for him to sweat, he would certainly be. He hadn’t been this nervous when the other protectors had been recruited, but something was different this time around.

Perhaps it was that the council had no previous record of an Alice Brandon. (There was the possibility that the name was spelt oddly…)

Bracing himself, he pushed through the doors of the shop, a bell ringing loudly as he entered.

It was small and homey. Old yellows and faded reds took up most of the color scheme of the store. If Carlisle had to guess he would say that this store had likely been in business for maybe fifty years. There was an almost over-bearing scent of mothballs and fresh linen—a strong but understandable combination given the business he was standing in.

But still, he couldn’t imagine them getting much vampire business with a smell so strong greeting everyone who entered. Idly, he wondered how Alice could stand it. Taking in his surroundings further, he noted three individual racks of hand-made clothing off to his right as a counter farther off into the room beckoned his attention.

“I’ll be right there,” a voice called out from another room.

As the old woman emerged from behind a door and made her way behind the counter, Carlisle squared his shoulders and folded his hands neatly in front of him. She was tall for such an old woman--she had to be at least eighty--but she walked slowly, halfway hunched over a cane as she shuffled forward. Her dark skin contrasted nicely with the pale pink sweater she wore, her dark hair greying heavily, pulled back into a tight bun.

“What can I do for you—“ lifting her head up, she suddenly realized who he was and stopped. All the color appeared to drain out of her face.

Carlisle bowed his head politely, “Are you Josie?” She nodded numbly. “My name is Carlisle—“

“I know who you are, Mr. Cullen,” she interrupted as politely as possible. She forced a smile. “Is there anything you need?” she inquired, the hospitality seemingly forced.

“I was wondering if I may speak with Ms. Brandon please?”

Josie quickly turned defensive. Her frail, wrinkled hands gripped the counter tightly. She straightened her back and stood tall, her shoulders pulled back. “She’s not in.” She fibbed, immediately attempting to shut down the conversation.

“Ma’am--”

“In fact, I’ll let her know you stopped by.”

Carlisle was now thoroughly confused, his own defenses rising as various suspicions began to pop into his head. He didn’t understand why she was lying to him. He could smell the musk of a vampire all over the shop. He could also hear uneven—and ultimately unnecessary—breathing coming from upstairs.

Breathing, but no heartbeat.

“Alice,” he called softly, knowing she would hear him.

“Shh!” Josie hurriedly made her way in front of Carlisle, waving her arms for him to stop, “please.” She then gripped his hand as tightly as she could manage, begging him even with her gaze alone. “Please,” she said quietly, “don’t take her. She’s done nothing wrong.” Carlisle simply stared at her, dumbfounded as she woman pleaded. “I’m the one that oughtta be punished,” Carlisle’s eyebrows shot up, “I—I hid her from you. Take me. Not her.”

Josie had tears in her eyes and Carlisle simply stared. He had no idea what on Earth she was talking about. Hiding what? Her existence? Something else? The man at the store had described Alice as slight and boyish but—

Instantly, he froze. He didn’t have an immortal child on his hands, did he? That would be a mess that he would not want to take part in. But before he could clear up any confusion, someone spoke.

“Josie, stop.”

There she was.

Alice Brandon stood at the bottom of the staircase. Carlisle almost jumped; he’d been so surprised by the woman’s reaction he hadn’t heard her approach.

Quickly, he understood the description he’d gotten from the two men earlier that morning.

She was small, extremely so. It was likely that she wasn’t even five feet tall, although she carried herself with a slight bit of confidence, her shoulders back, her chin tilted upward. Her black hair was chopped short, a little bit uneven in places, a sharp contrast from her soft, symmetrical features.

While she was a small, slight thing, she certainly wasn’t a child. A flood of relief flowed through Carlisle with that realization, but it was quickly ignored as the tenseness of the situation fell upon him fully.

“No Alice,” the woman stood her ground, “you of all people don’t deserve this.”

“We both knew that I couldn’t fly under the radar forever.”

“Alice, please--”

“Hold on.” Carlisle spoke up. “I’m sorry, and forgive me for being so rude as to interrupt, but what do you two think I’m here for?”

The two women looked at each other, and then back at Carlisle.

“Nothing you need to worry about,” Josie said, quickly. “Josephine Foote.” She introduced herself, shuffling forward and offering her hand. He shook her hand and then his head, trying not to dwell on the fact that they were certainly hiding something. Something he was sure would be revealed to him in due time.

If worst came to worst, Carlisle was sure Edward could fish the truth out of her head.

He then straightened his posture and directed his full attention to Alice. It was time to get down to business. They could sort out most of this confusion later.

“Alice Brandon, my name is Carlisle Cullen, and today I am standing before you, in representation of the Protectors of the Americas,” he retrieved a letter from his jacket pocket, “to congratulate and welcome you.” And with that, he handed the letter to Alice, waiting for her to take it before giving a great, graceful bow.

Alice stared at him in bewilderment, not even glancing at the letter she held cautiously between her fingers.

“I don’t understand.”

“Alice,” Carlisle spoke slowly, straightening back to his full height. “Welcome to the Protectors.”

Then, he waited for a response.

Alice’s jaw dropped.

Josie gasped.

Alice continued to stare.

Eight seconds later…

“This isn’t some sort of trick, is it?” Josephine was in shock but still apprehensive, narrowing two black eyes at him.

“No ma’am, you have my word.”

Suddenly, Josie burst into tears.

“Josie!” Alice wrapped her arms around the woman in the next instant. “It’s okay! I don’t have to go!”

As quickly as it started, the tears stopped.

“What are you talking about?” Josie yelled. “You are going!”

“But, you were just—“

“I am crying because I am happy, you daft girl!” Josie smacked Alice in the arm before drawing her into a hug. The tears erupted again, “This means you’ll be safe! And a Protector!” she cried, “my Alice!”

“But,” Alice pulled back from the embrace and stared at Carlisle doubtfully, “surely, you must be mistaken.”

He smiled in understanding, knowing that her apprehension was entirely valid. “I’m completely sure.” One day he'd explain Esme's odd gift, but not anytime soon.

“But I didn’t--it’s not like I applied for this. I mean I know Protectors get recruited but surely there must be some prerequisites!”

“You’re right, we do recruit. And that’s what I’m here to do.”

Carlisle watched as Alice was silent for a moment, letting her thoughts consume her for a few seconds more before she began to panic. “But—I can’t! I can’t leave.” She looked at her human maternal figure. “The shop. I can’t just leave.”

“Of forget about the silly shop!”

“I can’t leave you!” She repeated stubbornly. ”How will you make money?”

“She will receive a steady flow of income from the government.” Carlisle informed Alice before smiling warmly at the human woman, “You will have nothing to worry about.”

“But…” Alice trailed off as she began to run out of excuses as to why she couldn’t go. 

“Alice,” Josie whispered softly, “this is a gift. I always told you that you were a special one.” She laughed joyously, “and I never lie.” She waved a wrinkled finger, narrowing her eyes.

Alice couldn’t help but laugh along with her, “Never,” she agreed, crossing her heart with her finger, enjoying their own little joke as they embraced once more.

“When do we leave?” Several seconds later, Alice pulled away and faced him, accepting her challenge with a nervous question.

“As soon as you’re ready.” Carlisle spoke, relief fading from him at his words. That had gone a lot painlessly than he'd expected. Still, he'd need to keep an eye on this girl. Her initial fear of him was something he couldn't so easily forget.

Josephine tugged on Alice’s hands. “Come along dear, I’ll help you pack.”

Alice forced an uneasy smile at Carlisle, then allowed herself to be dragged away.

As the two women made their way up the stairs, Carlisle found a seat and waited. The hard part was done for today. Now, he would be as patient as he needed to be.

He let out a sigh of relief. Finally, they had their next Protector.


“He never told you how much you could bring, did he?” She made a thoughtful noise. “Well, I guess we can just pack it all.”

Alice sat on her bed as Josie hurried around the room, neatly placing the majority of her clothes in two large suitcases. It was almost amusing. She hadn’t seen the woman move so swiftly without her cane supporting every step in what was likely a decade. But here she was, darting to and fro, excitedly folding and packing away as many of Alice’s belongings as she could get her hands on.

The excitement was really doing wonders for the woman.

“I feel like I’m dreaming.” Alice confessed.

Josie laughed. “How would you know what dreaming feels like?”

Alice shrugged, closing her eyes for a long second. “I’ve never felt like this before. My head just won’t stop spinning.” She leaned forward, resting her head on her knees. “It’s like I’m in a great big haze. As if it hasn’t really hit me yet.”

Josie sat beside her and ran her hand through the vampire’s short hair.

“I think you’re in shock, dear. And I don’t blame you.” The two sat together in silence for a short moment. When Alice had still been young, new to life as a vampire and still learning the ropes under Josie’s watchful, helpful eye, they’d sat like this often. Josie holding her close on the bed. Sometimes she spoke, sometimes Alice asked questions, and sometimes they would sit in silence for hours on end.

She swallowed back a knot that was forming in her throat. She’d miss this.

Her thoughts many and rapid, she could still hardly believe that this was truly happening. Upon realizing that it wasn’t just a joke, and that this was a real offer to become a Protector, Alice was sure that this was something that she would have never seen coming--visions be damned. A one in a million chance presented before her. The choice should have been easy. Her acceptance should’ve been a knee-jerk reaction.

She couldn't help but hope her panic and hesitance hadn't been too worrisome to the Protector that waited downstairs.

“I’m a Protector.”

“I know.”

“But… my vision—“

“No,” Josie’s face was suddenly stern as she pulled back, fixing a frown on her face, “don’t you think about that god-awful thing right now. This is a happy moment. And because of today you’ll be able to protect yourself. In fact, maybe this will make it so the vision goes away.”

Alice did not nod. Instead she sat and checked her future while Josie stood back up and worked around her, packing Alice’s bags for her.

But the vision was still there, unflinching in its certainty.

It had been the first vision Alice had ever seen, and it was the most certain glance that she had of her future. Where most of her visions had a slight shimmer to them, oftentimes indicating how set in their ways a person was about their decision, this one was entirely solid. A firm point in her life Alice knew that she’d eventually reach. It was simply the where, when, and how, that Alice did not know.

Not a day had gone by in her almost forty-eight years as a vampire that she didn’t think about Jasper.

The vampire that she had foreseen would eventually kill her.

Pushing her fate into the back of her mind, she tried to reason with herself. Maybe Josie was right. Maybe joining the Protectors would change her fate. Leaning to fight would certainly come in handy, not to mention being able to work alongside and befriend a group of powerful vampires would certainly work in her favor.

“But,” Alice stood up and began pacing, a different type of fear seizing her, “they’re all so smart and charismatic right? Isn’t that like, a prerequisite? I hardly know how to run a cash register.”

Josie clicked her tongue. “You’re just as smart and beautiful as the rest of them.”

Alice snorted. “Says you.”

“You just don’t see yourself clearly.”

Alice shook her head and began putting clothes in one of the suitcases.

“Still,” she zipped the first suitcase up, “they’re called Protectors for a reason. They protect.” Alice crossed her arms. “And these vampires are responsible for protecting millions of people. Millions of lives. Vampires and humans alike.” She zipped her second suitcase and sat back down next to Josie. “They’re fighters.” She looked her foster mother in the eye. “I’m not.”

“Alice. These people know what they’re doing. They’ve been doing it for hundreds of years.” Josie grabbed Alice’s hands and enveloped her cold ones within her warm ones. “You know, when televisions were first introduced when I was a young girl, the man down there was one of the first people I ever saw speak.”

Alice’s eyes widened. “Really?” Josie nodded. “What was he talking about?”

Josephine’s mind wandered far away for a split-second as she made a thoughtful noise, “I don’t quite remember. But that’s beside the point. My dear Alice,” Josie cooed, pulling her into a warm embrace, “it will be hard a first, this much I’m sure of. But everything will work out in the end. You will go down in history. You’ll be like a celebrity.”

Josie released her and smiled mischievously.

“Besides,” she nudged Alice with her elbow, “all these gorgeous vampires will just flock to you now.”

They laughed together. Josie may have never been married, but that certainly didn’t mean she wasn’t as old fashioned as any other woman her age.

“Leave it to you to think of that,” Alice laughed. She then gave Josie a sad smile. “I’ll miss you.”

“You’d better,” she winked, “And you better visit, too! Or I’ll find my way up North just to pester you and your new crew of vamps.” Alice could only smile at her, not trusting her voice to say much more. She didn’t want to start crying, after all. “We better get back down there,” Josie eventually commented, as if remembering Carlisle Cullen’s presence downstairs. She stood and offered Alice her hands, pulling her up along with her.

Alice nodded and grabbed her suitcases. Taking a final look around her room, she sighed. She would truly miss everything about this life. Especially the safety of knowing that while she may be living a stagnant life, she was at least somewhere she was needed.

She trailed Josie down the stairs to meet the man who would lead her to her brand new life.

Life as a Protector.

Chapter Text

“Now, when you meet them all just…” Carlisle glanced at Alice sitting in the passenger seat and observed as she played with the window buttons, “… be yourself.”

She pushed one button and watched in wonder as the window went up. “Be myself.” She then pushed another button, eyes following as the window went down. “Got it.”

Carlisle tried not to be too distracted by her fascination with his black Mercedes, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. After all, she had never ridden in a car before; as shocking as Carlisle thought it was. Even more so shocking than the fact that she had never flown in an airplane, let alone seen one in real life that wasn’t thousands of feet in the air.

Alice had been visibly nervous upon boarding the plane but after it lifted off, it became the most fascinating thing in the world to her. Eventually one of the flight attendants had to ask her to settle down and remain seated. Her bouncing and fidgeting had begun unnerving the other passengers.

Carlisle had to refrain from laughing out loud at that. She was an amusing thing, that was for sure.

Alice remained a good sport though. She certainly knew how to keep herself entertained by all of this stuff that was new to her. (The escalators at the airport were by far her favorite ‘new contraption’.) Which led her to discovering the automatic windows of the car.

So up the window went.

And back down the window came.

“Alice.” Up it went.

“Yes?” Down it came.

“Do you mind?” Up.

“Mind what?” Down.

“The window.” Alice looked at him sheepishly. And up it went. And up it stayed.

“I’m sorry,” she folded her hands in her lap and stared out the windshield ahead of her.

He laughed, “It’s alright.”

Turning down a long driveway Carlisle glanced back at Alice, observing the way she looked up to the trees, a look of wonder on her face. This girl certainly wore her heart on her sleeve.

After he hailed a car to drive them to the airport, he’d attempted some conversation, casually asking her if he could take a look at her registration card. She’d frozen at the request, but her voice had been steady when she informed him--under her breath, so their driver wouldn’t hear--she didn’t have one.

If that’s what Esme meant, about Alice being different, Carlisle figured it would be the greatest relief. Unregistered vampires weren’t as common as they’d been a century ago, but there were still cases they saw every now and then. Those were almost always older vampires, willing to abide by the laws of the changing world around them, but still stubborn enough to quietly refuse to register. And as the vampire population steadily rose, it was getting easier for them to blend in, unnoticed.

Sometimes it wasn’t a big deal, but logistically, it was a bit harder to get them sorted out. His colleagues at the pentagon hated when reports displayed an uptick in registration from older vampires. He didn’t think the humans would ever truly understand just how resistant to change vampires could be.

So an unregistered vampire? It would maybe result in a few less-than-approving smaller headlines, but that was something he could deal with. They wouldn't have too much to worry about.

“We’re almost there.” Alice nodded stiffly. “Nervous?”

“Yeah,” she confessed, eyes wide as she watched the greenery pass them by.

“That’s understandable. But it’ll be alright.”

At least he hoped.


After several more minutes of silence--Alice couldn’t help but wonder just how long their driveway was--her gasp pierced the air. “This is where you live?!”

The house was massive; so big it could hardly be called a simple ‘house’. It was three stories tall, with two columns on each side of the wide, white-painted porch. The house was so wide, Alice could only imagine how far back it went.

Pulling into the massive garage that was attached to the main house by a small covered walkway, Carlisle parked the car next to a flashy, cherry red convertible.

He turned to her and smiled. “Now, it’s where you live.”

“Wow.” She knew she was staring--and staring was rude , Josie had always reminded her--but she really couldn’t help herself. She’d never seen anything like it. It was bigger than most of the structures that existed in her neighborhood. There were entire apartment buildings in her town that were smaller than this.

“Everyone is waiting for you; Esme informed them of what’s going on,” he paused, “they should be on their best behavior."

Alice raised an eyebrow, shooting him a skeptical look. “Should?”

Carlisle smiled, “Are you ready?”

“If I said ‘yes’ I’d be lying.” She took a deep breath. “But okay.”

As Carlisle walked Alice followed closely behind. Realistically, she knew there was nothing to fear here--this, standing so close to one of the legendary Protectors, was as safe as she’d ever get. While living under this roof, she’d be just about untouchable.

They each carried one of her suitcases through the garage door, down a hallway, and into a wide open room.

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, admiring a beautiful glass chandelier which graced the ceiling of the room. A large staircase on each side opened up the room further, a single loveseat pushed up against the wall where it faced the front door. A large painting of a wooded landscape--at least ten feet tall--was hung above the couch. It’s frame looked just as expensive as the painting did.

Certainly a bit extravagant for only a foyer.

Carlisle set Alice’s first suitcase down next to the closest staircase and then made his way into the center of the wide open room. Alice did the same, their light steps echoing around them. Standing beside him she tried to control her nervous inner-ramblings; the last thing she wanted to do was have a complete nervous breakdown. She nearly jumped as Carlisle put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

“It’s going to be fine.” He offered her with a kind smile. Then, he turned toward the stairs and raised his voice only slightly. “Esme, Bella, Edward, Jasper, Emmett, Rosalie.”

Before he finished calling all of their names, a beautiful woman appeared at the top of the stairs. Her smile was breathtaking. Her auburn hair fell down around her face and bounced off her shoulders in voluminous waves. Alice knew her face best of all. She was, after all, the original Protector.

“Alice.”

In the next second, she fluttered down the stairs and was directly before her.

“Welcome,” Esme wrapped Alice in a hug that she could only describe as warm, “it’s so wonderful to finally meet you.”

“Thank you, Esme. Your home is beautiful.”

“Well thank you, sweet girl.” She smiled widely, pulling back from the embrace to take in the sight of their new addition before her. “We’re so happy to have you.” She took her place at Carlisle’s side, grabbing his hand and kissing him on the cheek.

Alice hid her shock at the peaceful greeting very well. Surely she expected them to be a little less… loving. She’d never exactly heard anything bad about the original Protectors, but she had been expecting them to be a little more fierce. Maybe standoffish, even. After all, she was a complete stranger encroaching on their personal living space for an undisclosed amount of time.

Potentially for an eternity.

Soon, two women made their presences known.

One with brown hair led another with blonde curls down the staircase by the hand. Alice could tell that the brunette seemed eager, where the blonde seemed more reserved. A few feet behind them was a man. A huge man. Alice’s immediate reaction would’ve been fear if it weren’t for the great big grin he wore upon his face.

“Hello Alice,” the brunette was the first to reach her, and offered her hand, “I’m Bella,” Bella then took the blonde’s hand and all-but-dragged her forward. She nearly towered over Alice and--were those heels she was wearing?--simply looked down on her, her expression disinterested. “And this is Rosalie.”

Alice had recognized Rosalie easily enough. Other than Carlisle and Esme, she was the only other Protector that Alice could recognize just from her face alone. She was so breathtakingly gorgeous that everyone knew what Rosalie looked like, whether you cared to keep up with the lives of the Protectors or not. Alice hadn’t been keeping track of how many magazine covers she’d seen Rosalie on, but it was certainly more than a dozen.

And that was only in the past few years alone.

Rosalie gave a nod of her head. Bella, seeming displeased, elbowed her in the arm, giving her an exasperated glance. Rosalie gave an over-dramatic eye roll.

There was nothing subtle about the interaction.

“It’s nice to meet you,” she spoke, her tone making it clear that it wasn’t. She did offer her hand though.

Alice tried not to be put off by the mild hostility--after all, it’s what she’d expected. “It’s great to meet you, too.” Alice took her hand and shook it, “both of you,” she smiled to Rosalie, regarding Bella now as well.

Next thing she knew, the giant monster of a vampire stood before Alice. His large smile still plastered mightily on his face. Dramatically he bowed before her, took her hand, and kissed it. Lifting up only his head, he grinned sneakily at her.

“Miss Alice,” he greeted, “Emmett McCarty, at your service.”

The action caught Alice so off guard--and how often did that happen, she mused in the back of her mind--she found a near-hysterical giggle bubbling out of her. But when someone cleared their throat and made a noise of disgust, she snapped her mouth closed, pinching her lips tight to keep any further laughter from escaping.

Quickly sobering her expression, Alice calmed and felt as if she knew who’d made that noise.

Emmett did not falter. The smile stayed put as he stood up and stepped back to slip an arm around Rosalie’s waist. The blonde glared and Alice mentally sighed. Thankfully a few quick snippets of some visions told her that she and Emmett would end up getting along swimmingly.

“Where are Edward and Jasper?” Carlisle inquired, as if now realizing that there were two absences.

“Hunting,” Bella replied, “they’ll be back soon. I rang them a few hours ago. They were going to go up further north but they turned around south of Ottawa.”

He nodded, as if relieved at that information for some reason, “Will you all please show Alice her room?”

“No problem,” Emmett said, already bounding toward Alice’s luggage

“Follow us,” Bella instructed, waving an arm towards Alice, beckoning her. Emmett grabbed the bags, easily lifting the suitcases as he began to haul them up the stairs. Rosalie followed closely behind him, her arms still crossed.

“Oh, Emmett, I can get my own things.”

He snorted, “What part of ‘at your service’ didn’t you get?” he continued walking.

“You’re such a dunce,” Rosalie chastised as they reached the top of the staircase.

“Yes, but I’m your dunce,” he spun and landed a messy kiss on her cheek. The blonde just shoved him forward, shaking her head and wiping her face.

Bella laughed. “Come on, Alice.”

They soon turned into a long hallway with numerous doors on each side.

“This is Esme and Carlisle’s room,” she waved to the first door on the left. “Rosalie and Emmett’s room,” the first door on the right. “Mine and Edward’s room,” the second door on the right, “Jasper’s room,” the second door on the left, “and finally,” she gestured toward the third door on the left, “your new room.”

Bella opened the door and stepped aside, allowing Alice to enter first.

“Esme made sure you had your essentials, but it’s not decorated very well,” she explained, “after all, you arrived on such short notice.”

“No,” Alice whispered, “it’s perfect.”

It wasn’t too large--which was something that Alice had been nervous about--yet not too small. The walls were painted a simple white and there were two empty bookshelves on one wall, and a couch against the opposite. Just beside the couch was a door slightly ajar; a bathroom, Alice was pretty sure. On the wall between the two bookcases, a set of double doors was located.

Curious, Alice walked over and opened them. She gasped.

“Oh, my!” The giant closet was half the size of the room. “My clothes don’t need this much space…”

Speaking of clothes…

Alice turned back toward the bedroom door. Her suitcases were placed just inside the doorway. Rosalie and Emmett were nowhere in sight but Bella waited patiently by the door.

“We thought we’d give you some space and time to unpack and get used to your surroundings.” She explained.

“Thank you, so much,” Alice said graciously.

Bella smiled. “When you’re done, just knock on my door. I’ll give you a tour of the rest of the house.”

And with that, Alice was all alone.

She closed the door softly and leaned back against it. Closing her eyes she sucked in a deep breath. It had gone pretty painlessly so far. Walking over to her couch she sat herself down fully, placing her head in her hands. Despite the peace she felt now, she was suddenly nervous to meet the other two Protectors of the house.

And though she’d hid it well, the moment the name Jasper had fallen from Carlisle’s lips, Alice had felt her entire being stiffen.

Maybe joining the Protectors wasn’t going to protect her from her fate and instead would simply speed up the process. It’s not like the name Jasper was very common…

For the first time in all her years she found herself angry, regretful even, that she’d never once given a thought to learning more about the Protectors. She had only recently learned Rosalie’s name in the past few years despite how often her face was plastered on magazines and on television. And if it weren’t for the fact that Esme and Carlisle were essentially the face of the Protectors, Alice wasn’t sure she’d know who they were, either.

When Alice had confided in Josie about her visions, the woman had taken it upon herself to act as her own personal protector and had done a thorough job at keeping Alice as safe and hidden away as possible. Alice had been grateful for it for as long as she could remember, but only now was she beginning to wonder if that would only come back to hurt her in the end.

Either way, this was her new home. This was her new life .

She was only hoping it would last as long as it could.


Carlisle closed the door to his study, leaned back against the door, and drew in a deep breath. It felt like he’d been holding onto that for hours.

“She’s adorable.”

He opened his eyes and smiled at his wife, who was now sitting on his desk. “She’s also terrified,” he ran a hand through his hair.

“She seemed just fine.” Esme folded her arms over her chest.

Carlisle sat down at his desk. “I don’t have to be Jasper to know that she’s scared out of her mind of something.”

Esme gave him a soft smile, “Nerves; that’s all it is.”

“I hope you’re right,” he relented. She laughed.

“She took a liking to Emmett.”

Now it was Carlisle’s turn to laugh.

“Everybody likes Emmett.”

“Bella likes her.”

“Bella likes everyone.”

Esme’s smile faltered, and she sighed deeply. “Rose didn’t seem too pleased.”

“Esme,” he smirked, “it’s impossible to please Rosalie.”

“Well I’m sure she’ll come around,” Esme insisted, defending her blind optimism.

“What about Edward and Jasper?”

Now Esme’s smile completely fell. “I don’t know,” she admitted. Carlisle sensed her discomfort and pulled her into his lap. He knew she didn’t like being unsure of things. ‘I don’t know’ wasn’t a commonly used phrase in Esme’s vocabulary.

It was now Carlisle’s turn to be optimistic.

“Edward will be stubborn, that’s a given. But he’ll come around.” It was true. He could be as stubborn as Rosalie sometimes. The two hadn't fully gotten along until Emmett came along, and even after that, their relationship had still been strained until Bella’s addition.

Esme nodded and shifted uncomfortably. “I know that. It’s Jasper I’m worried about.”

He didn’t respond. He understood her insecurity on the subject quite well. Jasper wasn’t an easy one to understand, let alone to live with. When Esme brought him into their home in the late 60s, even Emmett was uneasy around him. They'd done quite a bit to try and make him feel at home over the years, but even still, he was a bit of an outsider still. Always on the fringe of it all.

It hadn't been easy for Jasper for a couple of decades. It also hadn't helped when a person's past was written all over their body. The entirety of the Americas hadn’t approved for years afterward. Nobody had trusted him.

But over the span of nearly fifty years with the Protectors, he had earned the approval of the majority of the country.

“You’re worried about what Jasper will think of Alice?” Carlisle wondered.

“No,” she shook her head, “I’m worried about what Alice will think of Jasper.”

“She seems like a sweet girl.”

Esme smiled, a bit of excitement creeping back onto her face. “Oh, she is. But even Bella didn’t like him.”

“But she did eventually,” he countered, but then paused. “I just hope she doesn’t have the same reaction as Rosalie.”

Esme groaned. “Don’t remind me.”

While Rosalie was a naturally stubborn person, Jasper was a naturally quiet person. So for Rosalie, she had figured that if he wouldn’t go out of his way to try and talk to her, she wouldn’t talk to him at all. And the fact that Jasper hadn't cared about her silence had bugged her to pieces, so she ignored him even more.

It took four years for them to have a normal, half-civil conversation.

“I’m sure that won’t happen again,” Carlisle assured. “That was probably the worst-case scenario there. And even then it wasn’t that bad. At least he never picked fights with her like Edward used to.”

“Mm,” Esme leaned her head against Carlisle’s chest, her mind likely just as far away as his was, thinking of the past and how far they'd all come together. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“When are you giving an announcement?”

For each new Protector added to their roster, an official announcement had to be made soon after the vampire’s arrival. It would be broadcasted for the public to witness; standard protocol.

Carlisle sighed. “I’ve been thinking the beginning of April.”

Esme stood up and looked at him in confusion. “Why such a long time?” she wondered. It was the 18th of March. It usually only took them a couple of days before an announcement would be made. Carlisle pinched the bridge of his nose.

“She doesn’t exist Esme. You should’ve seen the look on her face when I asked for all her paperwork,” he went on, “no birth certificate, no chance license, nothing.”

“She didn’t know what you were talking about?”

“Oh no, she knew—or at least had an idea—of what they were. She was terrified when I asked. I’m assuming because she knew she didn’t have any of them.”

“Oh.”

Carlisle grimaced. “Exactly,” he then lowered his voice, “I’m not positive—and I doubt she’d ever tell me—but I think she firmly believed I was there to give out some sort of punishment.” Esme’s jaw nearly dropped. “Her caretaker even asked me to kill her instead.” He said, exasperated.

“Oh, the poor thing.”

“I’ll have to talk to her later and get as much information as possible,” he shuffled some papers on his desk, “get her some documents made up.”

“Give her some time to adjust,” Esme recommended, “a couple days at least.” Carlisle simply nodded in agreement. “Everything will work out,” she assured, approaching him with a smile.

“You say.”

She gave him a tender kiss before pulling back and giving him a barely-contained smile. “No. I know. She's going to be important,” she spoke with confidence. "Trust me."

Carlisle nodded, shaking his head slightly before giving a hesitant smile. "I always do."

Chapter Text

Setting her final pieces of clothing in her closet, Alice stepped back and sighed. Only half a rack was filled. The closet was definitely too big. She wasn’t used to this much space.

Looking around the room, she held in a sigh. She’d already arranged and rearranged the clothes, settling on keeping them sorted by color. Then she had unpacked her books. They only took up half of a shelf on one of the bookcases.

On another shelf lay a single picture in a frame. It was of her and Josie.

Alice’s dead heart ached.

She already missed her unbearably, and it hadn’t even been a day. She would have to get some paper to write her with.

Finally, after stalling with unpacking her belongings for as long as she could, Alice realized that now she should probably go talk to Bella. After all, she was curious about the rest of the monstrous house and she didn’t want to start wandering aimlessly. At least, not yet. She’d be mortified if she ended up wandering anywhere she wasn’t supposed to or unknowingly broke any rules.

Finding herself in front of Bella’s room she rapped on the door gently, three times, and waited. In her nervousness, she counted the seconds.

After eleven, the door opened widely.

Alice’s smile fell when suddenly a man stood before her. His eyes narrowed in scrutiny at the sight of her. She shifted uneasily then realized who it was.

Bella’s mate, Edward.

She studied his features. He seemed younger than the rest of them--barely a man, really. His hair was wild and a deep bronze color. After another couple seconds, she realized she hadn’t spoken yet--that neither of them had spoken yet.

Trying to recover, she gave him a nervous smile and meekly held out her hand.

“Um—hi. You must be Edward.”

“You must be Alice,” he spoke flatly, taking her hand in his. Alice tried to subtly look around him for any sign of Bella.

“She’s changing her clothes.” Edward explained. Alice smiled, embarrassed. She must have been more obvious than she thought.

Suddenly, Bella showed up behind Edward, leaning around him to see Alice better.

“Hey Alice,” she maneuvered around him deftly and was now standing before him, “I’m going to give Alice a tour of the house,” she informed him, “want to join us?”

Alice secretly hoped he would say no. Not that she had taken any immediate distaste to him. It was just that so far their small interaction had already been so forced and awkward. It also didn’t help that he, for some reason, smelt awful . Eyeing his state of dress she had to work to school her expression into something neutral to keep from wrinkling her nose. Bella had said they’d been out hunting. He definitely needed a change of clothes, and probably a shower.

Edward suddenly was stifling a smile.

“Go ahead without me,” he said lifting a hand to run over his mouth. “I need to shower anyways.”

Alice raised an eyebrow and looked at Bella for an explanation. Surely she had missed the joke. Regardless, it had been nice to hear that he at least was aware of his state and planned to do something about it. Bella shook her head and pulled the door closed.

“Just ignore him,” she advised. Alice nodded even though she didn’t understand his strange behavior.

“Okay,” Bella said, with what seemed to be practiced enthusiasm, “tour time.”

Alice listened attentively as Bella pointed out different rooms.

“Normally I would say it’s too big, but the up side is you can always find some privacy in a corner of the house. And with so many people under one roof during all hours of the day, sometimes a bit of privacy is a god-send.” Bella explained as she led Alice into a large room. “This is where we train and spar.”

The room was large and empty except for a few chairs on the wall just by the door they entered in—chairs that Alice was sure wasn’t for them, especially knowing that they didn’t exactly need to sit or rest. Still, Alice studied the room in wonder. This was where they would teach her to fight. The idea terrified her, but at the same time a small part of her was exhilarated by the thought.

Next, Bella showed her Carlisle’s study, the TV room, the den, the laundry room, the dining room—the large table for meetings only, of course. There was a large, fully-stocked, gorgeous kitchen, which surprised her. Bella was quick to explain that while of course they rarely entertained human guests, it did come in handy often.

Eventually, they fell upon a lone white door.

“This door,” Bella explained, “leads into the basement where the library is located.” Bella stopped and faced her. “So besides the garage and the backyard, that’s about it. Of course there are dozens of empty pockets here and there. Guest rooms, too. But we don’t really fill up space when we don’t need to.” She offered Alice a smile, “Feel free to wander as you wish. The property is huge, too. There’s like, a thousand or so acres around so you can always explore that. This is your home too, now. And if you ever want to go hunting, just ask around. Someone is bound to need to go.”

“I’ve… never been hunting.”

Bella blinked at her. “What?”

Alice would have blushed if she were still human. “I’ve never been. I only drink what I buy.”

“Oh, wow. Well, still.” To her credit, she reigned in her surprise quickly, shrugging toward the shorter girl. “The offer stands okay?”

Bella gave her another friendly smile before turned towards the stairs.

Alice waited until Bella was out of sight before turning around. She began to wander, trying to think of something to do. Back in Mississippi if she were ever bored, she would simply sit down at her work table and work on some clothing.

She’d have to ask if they had a sewing machine lying around. Or at least a needle and some thread. If she was going to have any free time at all, she might as well find a way to pass it by or she was going to get awfully bored.

Although as a Protector, Alice wondered just how much responsibility she was going to be tasked with. She still didn’t know whether or not to tell them about her visions. Josie had always made sure to promise to never tell a soul.

But these were the Protectors . If there were any group of people on the face of this entire Earth that would be able to help—or even to just understand—surely it would be them, right?

Alice made her way down a hallway, observing her surroundings more carefully. Maybe she’d see if there were some envelopes and stamps lying around. Alice did want to tell Josie all about this place.

A door on the hallway Alice was walking along suddenly opened just feet from where Alice stood. She recognized it as the laundry room door. A tall vampire with blonde hair emerged from the room, an empty laundry basket in his hands. Before she noticed anything else about the man, she saw them.

There were overlapping silver, crescent-shaped markings all up and down his body.

Scars.

And not just scars, bite marks.

Suddenly Alice found herself scared—no, not scared, terrified. And not because of the scars, or because of what they meant, but because these were the scars of a man she knew; a man who had occupied her thoughts every day for almost forty-eight years.

Alice was no fool. She knew that Jasper being here meant that she was finally on track to suffer the fate she knew she’d encounter after her first vision had flooded her so many years ago.

The vision where this very man— Jasper —was ordered to kill her.

Gasping, Alice stumbled back a couple of feet. Jasper’s head shot in her direction, finally taking note of her presence. As Alice looked into his golden eyes, meeting his gaze for what felt like the first time (those eyes she’d seen on ten thousand different days) the same vision played for her again, just as vivid as the first time.

        She was in a field during the pit of night. Smoke billowed from raging flames all around her, a pungent, sickly smell lingering in the air.

        On the other side of the field stood a blond man, scars littering his pale skin.

        His eyes pitch black, his glare lethal.

        A beautiful woman, tanned skin, long black hair, blood red eyes, sauntered up from behind him, a wicked smile laid upon her face.

        She stretched up onto her tiptoes to whisper into his ear.

        “Kill her, Jasper.”

        Then, he lunged for Alice’s throat.

Before she knew it, Alice was back in the house, staring back at Jasper, who stood before her, an arm outstretched and his expression confused.

“Are—are you okay?” he asked, genuinely worried. As he took a cautious step toward her, Alice nearly growled, the sound shocking her so badly her hands flew up to seize her throat.

“N—no,” she blurted out, “I—please don’t.”

“Alice, is it?” He spoke quickly, lowering his hand back down to his side. If he was confused by her reaction he hid it well. It was almost as if he were used to this, as if he’d been expecting it. (And with his war-torn appearance, maybe he had been.) “My name is—“

“Jasper,” she whispered brokenly, backing up until she was flush against the wall. “I—I know who you are.”

Quickly she began to look for a way out. She could run, but she didn’t exactly know how fast she was. Hell, she didn’t know how fast he was. The moment an idea sprung to her mind, another vision confirmed that it was the best chance she’d get.

As he shifted his weight to take another step toward her—it was only a slight shuffle of his feet, really—his left foot slanted to move forward just a few inches, she lunged. It was surprisingly easy to catch him off guard and set him off balance so as she stepped by him—faster than she knew she was capable off—she reached down and grabbed his pant leg, just tugging hard enough to pull his foot out from underneath him.

But by the time she was running headlong down the hallway she could hear the telltale sound of someone hitting the ground. That’s when she pushed her legs harder, trying to find a way out of this house as fast as she could. If he caught up with her now, there’s no telling what he would do.

“Alice?  What--?” But before Emmett could ask her what was happening, she shot out the back double doors. It wasn’t until she set her sights on the tree line ahead of her when she realized that she didn’t have her bracelet on.

She’d never left home without it. It was an old, fragile thing, and she had been so afraid of losing it during her trip up north with Carlisle that she’d packed it away in one of her suitcases. The only sign of her old life, it was the only possession she cared about on this Earth.

Her name, imprinted carefully into a medical bracelet, had given her the only clue as to who she’d once been.

Even knowing that there was a chance she would never get another opportunity to escape like this, Alice waited two seconds before she turned back around, sprinting back into the house as quickly as she could. She simply couldn’t leave the bracelet—and the girl she once was—behind. Not again.

“Hold on—“ a fraction of a second before he reached out for her, Alice saw a vision, and when Emmett stepped in front of her, ready to grip her arm and still her, Alice twisted her body, flipping over his head. As she spun she grabbed the bottom of his shirt, pulling it over his face. Landing, she heard him stumble behind her, a string of expletives falling from his mouth before she heard a rip , and she was sure that black t-shirt was as good as gone.

But the distraction had given her enough time to fly up the stairs and make it to her room. She just hadn’t been expecting Edward and Bella to be there first.

“Alice, stop,” Edward held one hand in front of him, as if trying to physically get her to calm down, “you need to relax.”

In his other hand, her bracelet.

The growl that ripped its way out of her throat shocked her, and before she knew what was happening she was sobbing. “Please,” she begged, “please let me go. Please give it to me. I need to leave .”

The sounds of feet running toward her room caused her to gasp and turn, stumbling back as she caught two blonde heads peer through the doorway. Rosalie looked furious and Jasper looked… sad almost.

You—!

“Not now, Rosalie,” Edward snapped, forcing Alice’s attention back toward him, “Alice. We are not going to hurt you.”

“She’s mad! What the hell set this off?” Rosalie was not about to be silenced by Edward.

“It was me,” Jasper spoke up from behind her, “I caught her off guard—“ following after Rosalie he took a step into her room and Alice nearly lost it.

“NO,” she backed herself up into the wall so hard that she could feel the plaster crack like styrofoam behind her, “just let me go—please let me go. Please, please—“ a flash of the vision flickered through her mind as she met his eyes—not golden they were black dark black thirsty for blood ready to kill and dark dark dark—and another sob fell from her lips.

“What was that ?” Edward demanded, his voice so loud that Alice couldn’t help but snap her head toward him, “what did you just… what did you see? Jasper,” the blonde man looked toward him, “what did you do ?”

“I don’t want to die,” she begged, all traces of pride completely dead and gone, “please don’t kill me. Please, I don’t want to die.” She looked at Jasper as she spoke, pleading to get through to the black-eyed monster that she simply knew lived inside him. “I’m sorry, I’m—I’m sorry !”

Not even aware of what she was apologizing for, Alice simply sank to the floor, entirely accepting of her fate as the group of vampires slowly moved closer to her. She was going to die. Maybe it wouldn’t be in the forest from her vision, maybe they’d simply do her a service and kill her now, in this room and spare her the days or weeks or months of anxiety.

“I don’t want to die,” she whispered brokenly, a last-ditch plea for her life before she pulled her knees into her chest and hugged her legs close, wishing to disappear into the floor before they could come any closer.

Slowly, but seemingly all-at-once, she felt herself growing calmer and calmer. Idly, she wondered if she were really as accepting of her inevitable fate as she suddenly felt, or whether the vampire equivalent of adrenaline was simply all used up and fading from her body quicker than she could’ve anticipated.

She didn’t even flinch back when she felt someone wrap their fingers around her wrist. But when a few seconds later their hand pulled back, she felt the comfortable weight of her bracelet.

Head shooting up, she pulled her hand close to her chest, checking and double-checking that yes, it was her bracelet, and no, they hadn’t done anything to it yet, or to her.

Bella crouched directly in front of her, a sad expression on her face. “We aren’t going to hurt you.”

“He will,” Alice found herself saying with surprising calm in her tone. “Jasper will.”

To her credit, Bella didn’t turn or look fazed by her accusation. Instead, she smiled. “No he won’t.”

“You don’t understand, I—I know. I saw it. It’ll happen.”

“Premonitions,” Edward’s voice was more accusatory than what Alice had been expecting, she couldn’t help but flinch.

“You’re fucking kidding me. This is insane—“

“What on Earth is happening?” Carlisle demanded, plowing into the room, Esme closely behind him, Emmett pulling up the rear.

Upon sight of her on the floor, a cracked wall behind her, Esme gasped. “Oh, sweet girl,” by her side in an instant, Alice didn’t have the energy in her to resist—nor did she have the desire to—when Emse pulled her into a comforting embrace.

“I don’t know!” Rosalie threw her arms up in exasperation. “Jasper set off Alice and the next thing you know, Emmett’s in the den with his shirt ripped and this one is having a meltdown!”

“Visions,” Jasper spoke, directing Alice’s attention back to his strangely stoic face, “you have visions, don’t you?”

For some reason Alice couldn’t even bring herself to nod in confirmation. So when Edward said a simple “yes” for her, she was incomparably thankful. Of course, she couldn’t force her lips to utter a simple ‘thank you’ either. But with Edward’s correct assumption, she couldn’t help but wonder if Edward had a gift, too.

“I do,” he spoke, catching her off guard as she pulled herself back out of her thoughts. She watched with tired eyes as he approached, taking a knee beside his mate. “I have a gift, just like you do.”

There was an understanding in his eyes, a look that she’d never seen in another vampire but somehow she knew it all the same. Lifting a heavy hand, she tapped her head with a knuckle. You can read minds?

He nodded.

Everyones?

“Yes,” he paused, “with exceptions.” He eyed Bella pointedly.

Alice couldn’t help but grin. It was a lethargic thing, and she couldn’t help but realize that she’d never felt so serene before. “Must be frustrating.”

He gave a tight-lipped grin back at her. “You have no idea.”

“I’m… I feel funny. What’s wrong with me?”

Edward was suddenly hesitant, perhaps not expecting her to take note. “Well, you see—“

“It’s me,” Jasper spoke. Eyes flickering back to his face, Alice was grateful when he remained where he was standing, although she wished he simply wouldn’t look at her any further. If only he was the mind reader, she wouldn’t have to tell him that. He seemed hesitant to speak any further, but a quick glance toward Carlisle seemed to give him whatever confidence he was lacking. “I can sense and manipulate emotion.”

“Oh,” Alice blinked, not able to look him in his eyes for longer than a second at a time. “ Oh .” The realization hit her as she looked back at Edward. He’s calming me down .

Edward nodded.

He knows I’m scared of him.

Edward nodded again, suddenly looking grim.

Good .

“Can we perhaps have this conversation out loud, please?” Carlisle asked, a frown of disapproval over his features.

“And downstairs,” Esme added, gesturing toward the damaged wall behind them, “these walls need a bit of a break.”

As the vampires began shuffling out of her room, Alice heard Rosalie make a remark.

“Yeah, let’s just have her knock down the dining room walls instead. Not like there aren’t $10,000 paintings hung on every wall.”

Even as Bella helped her onto her feet, Alice was glad someone had their priorities set somewhere beside her.

Chapter Text

Five minutes later, after making herself a bit more presentable with help from Bella, she slowly and cautiously made her way down the staircase.

Her nerves were all over the place. With the calm no longer suppressing her emotion she was shocked to find that she felt more embarrassed than scared in the present moment. Though she couldn’t completely lie: she was a certainly afraid of seeing Jasper again. And she still wanted, more than anything, to grab her things and just go .

She followed Bella closely through the hallway and into the dining room. Upon entering, she kept her eyes glued to the floor. Sitting down into the chair she was led to, she raised her eyes only slightly, afraid of meeting the looks of disgust from the vampires around her. Or worse: their pity.

Directly across from her, she lifted her head just high enough to recognize a scarred hand resting on the table. She took a deep breath.

This was going to be rough.

“I believe,” Carlisle began, taking charge of the situation, “that we need to discuss everything that has happened tonight.” Alice finally glanced up and directly at him, her embarrassment growing slightly. “Alice, now I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but we want to try and understand what caused this,” he informed her, picking his words as delicately as possible. “To try and understand you better.”

Alice looked back down at the table and closed her eyes. Nodding, she sighed.

“Okay,” she squeaked, her voice barely audible.

“I understand there was an incident in the hallway just now,” he paused, “and in the den,” Emmett snorted and someone kicked him under the table, “and in your room.”

She lowered her eyes back to the table and nodded, not willing to acknowledge anything in particular. They were lucky she was still sitting at that table and that she hadn’t bolted yet. In her peripheral vision she watched as Jasper pulled his hands off the table and into his lap, and immediately stiffened.

“Is it the scars?” Emmett asked, much more perceptive than Alice would have given him credit for. “Don’t worry about that,” he nearly laughed. “Have you never seen a vampire with scars before?”

Someone scolded him quickly—no, two separate people were scolding him for his lack of tact. Alice couldn’t even discern who, she was too busy trying to make sure she was staying aware of her surroundings. But suddenly, she couldn’t swallow the lump in her throat and she felt like she was suffocating, not for once thinking that she didn’t need to breathe.

And truthfully it wasn’t the scars. She saw them every day of her life when she thought back to the vision that plagued her over the years. If anything, she hardly noticed the scars. If there was anything that made her nervous about his appearance it would probably be his eyes. But even now, they were a bright golden color, fresh with blood. There was no darkness other than his irises.

Still, she wished he would stop staring at her.

“She has visions,” Edward eventually spoke up, hushing whatever argument Esme and Rosalie seemed to be having with Emmett. “I guess premonitions of sorts.”

“Is this true?” Carlisle asked, his face bright with curiosity. “You... see the future?”

Alice still found that she couldn’t speak, the lump in her throat as thick as ever.

“Yes,” Edward confirmed, vocalizing what she couldn’t.

“What? Can she not speak for herself,” Rosalie snapped at Edward, irritated that she was remaining silent.

“She is on the verge of a panic attack,” Edward snapped right back. “I’m just trying to help sort this out.”

“Jasper?” Carlisle asked quietly, gesturing toward Alice.

Suddenly she lifted her eyes. “No,” the word simply flowed out of her, “no, don’t.” She then looked at Jasper who had only just begun to calm her down. “I don’t need that, please don’t.”

“Alice if it helps—“

“I said no ,” she begged, cutting off Edward’s reasoning. “I can’t think straight if he’s doing that. I need to be able to defend myself,” she pleaded. She wanted him to understand—no, she needed them to understand.

“What do you have to defend yourself from?” Esme asked softly. “You’re safe here.”

But Alice was already shaking her head. Before she could open her mouth again, another voice spoke up. “No, it’s fine.” And the calm that had begun to take away her nerve suddenly faded, allowing her to feel her own fear and frustration thoroughly. “If it helps I’ll stop.”

Rosalie leaned forward. “But if you don’t keep her calm how are we going to get a damn word out of her?”

“Well threatening her with my ability isn’t going to help her be less afraid of me,” Jasper snipped back, appearing to be struggling to hold back his own frustrations. Rosalie glared back at him, clearly just as irritated.

“Just let Edward help,” Bella spoke to Rosalie, beckoning Alice to look at her and to disregard the hostility growing around the table. Alice couldn’t look at her though, because for a split-second she noticed anger flash across Jasper’s features and she’d decided she’d had enough.

Before she could stand and get out of there, Edward was at her side.

“If you run I’ll just catch you,” he informed her. “Your visions will only come in handy if I can’t see them, too. I’m much harder to catch off guard.” His hand was on her shoulder and he was commanding her attention. “I’m not trying to threaten you into staying, but it’s important you visualize that premonition again. This is hardly about what happened tonight—“

“Are you joking? She nearly put a hole in the wall! She knocked Jasper of all people straight onto his ass—“

Emmett snorted, “She what ?”

“I’m trying to figure out why she’s seeing visions of Maria,” Edward spat, his frustration finally catching up to him. “Her running in fear from that is pretty understandable.”

There was silence for a few seconds as everyone, except for Alice seemingly, took note of the severity of the situation.

“No…” Esme sounded heartbroken. Someone else swore under their breath.

“Maria?” Alice whispered her name, “Is that who wants me dead?”

“Alice,” Edward faced her once more, his jaw clenched as he attempted to pull back his temper, “I need you to show me the vision. I know it’s scaring you, and I’m sorry. But this isn’t just about you, or your fear, this is about something bigger. Lives are in danger because of that woman you keep picturing. I need you to go through it.”

Closing her eyes, Alice did even better and allowed the full vision to come to her. It was as easy as walking as this point, to call forth the vision that she’d seen only minutes after waking up to this life. Jasper’s face being the first one she ever saw, she couldn’t help but be aware of the fact that although his monstrous counterpart haunted her thoughts, there seemed to be a calmer, much more docile one that was sitting across from her at a wooden dining set.

The moment the vision played out in full, Alice opened her eyes, and stared back into Edward’s shocked ones. He immediately straightened back up, running his hands through his hair as he looked at each of his fellow Protectors.

“Edward?” Carlisle was alarmed at his reaction.

“What did you see?” Bella asked softly, moving quickly to stand at his side.

“How accurate are your visions?” Edward ignored them and instead stared back at Alice. “How often does something not come true?”

“The future changes typically depending on the decisions a person makes.” She lost focus for a second and then came right back, not missing a beat. “Rosalie is going to go work on her red car after this meeting, Emmett is going to sit and watch her work—I don’t know what an injector is but you tell Emmett to go order one while you work,” she explained to Rosalie before turning back to Edward.

“You’re going to go talk to Carlisle and Esme is going to go take measurements of the wall to get it fixed. The contractors aren’t open until eight but it’s not going to stop her from starting the repairs herself.” Alice turned toward the woman, “You’re out of sandpaper and I don’t know if you know this but your saw is broken.” She turned back toward Emmett, “I’m sorry about your shirt. I didn’t know it was one of your favorites. And,” she hesitated with the last statement but figured that she needed to prove that she wasn’t a fraud, “sorry about spoiling the surprise, but Rosalie orders a few of them for you a little after sunrise.”

Rosalie looked shocked at her knowledge, but her surprise quickly morphed into irritation. Emmett simply turned and beamed at his mate. “Thanks baby, you’re always taking care of me.”

“But all of those can change? I mean, I can decide to do something else, right?” Esme asked, curious.

“Exactly. Those are just some random examples. Visions can typically change based on a person’s plans but…”

Edward finished for her, “But you’ve had this vision every day. It’s never changed.”

“What is the vision?”

No , Alice wanted to cry out and tell Carlisle that she simply couldn’t tell them. If Jasper heard her tell them what she saw, she wasn’t sure what he’d do to her.

“Alice, I need you to understand that we’re not going to hurt you.”

“I know you aren’t,” she supplied pitifully, tired of repeating herself. He will.

Edward continued to frown at her, but quickly chose to ignore her presence—as well as her thoughts—as he faced Carlisle.

“In the vision its dark and it’s nighttime. They’re in a clearing… Alice and Jasper.” That caught everyone’s attention. Across from her she noticed as Jasper stiffened. “There’s fire all around and it’s clear that vampires have been killed—the smell, it’s…” he shook his head, as if unbelieving of her abilities, “the vision is so lucid. Maria is there.” Toying around with how to word it, Edward paused. It took him a few seconds to decide that blunt was likely the best way.

“She tells you to kill her, Jasper. Then you lunge at Alice. That’s it. The vision ends there.”

There was a few seconds where everyone seemed to be considering what was said, and for that Alice was wildly thankful. She didn’t know if she could handle anymore bickering between them while she sat there, struggling to hold onto the tiny bits of composure she was gripping with all ten fingers.

It just didn’t help that Jasper was still right in front of her. Within arm’s reach almost. There was nothing stopping him from just lunging for her over the table, and ending it all now.

“There’s no way,” Jasper eventually spoke with unshakable certainty. “Are you sure it’s not a memory? I don’t recognize her but that doesn’t mean I didn’t attack her years ago.”

“Alice, what year were you turned?” Carlisle asked.

She concentrated on his pensive face as she gathered the courage to speak. “1971.”

He nodded, Emmett swore.

“That’s impossible. Maria is supposed to be dead.” Jasper’s eyes shot to Edward and then to Carlisle. “She’s supposed to be dead,” he spoke slower, emphasizing his words as he glanced around the table.

“She went down in a ball of flames with forty-four other vampires,” Rosalie spoke up, her voice a bit more restrained, as if she were also struggling with the news the same way Jasper was. “It had to have been her. I saw it myself.”

“And you were positive it was her? Fifty-four years have passed. You had to have been positive.”

“Jasper--”

“No,” he cut Carlisle off, and Alice couldn’t help but flinch back at the flash of anger she saw in him. “No. I need access to those files. It’s been long enough, I’ve proven myself. Let me see them.”

Carlisle sighed and Esme nodded. “I can sign off on it after this.”

Jasper then stared at Edward pointedly, possibly saying something to him in his mind. “It’s impossible that whatever she’s seeing is a vision of my future. You said it yourself,” he turned his gaze toward Alice and she shrank under his stare, “your visions depend on people’s decisions. I haven’t decided anything remotely close to that, nor would I ever.” He paused for a moment, reigning himself in.

“Listen,” he spoke, quieter, refusing to look away from her face despite her discomfort. “I know you don’t know me,” he seemed to be struggling for words at this point—Alice couldn’t help but wonder how often he spoke this much, “but I’m not going to hurt you. I mean that. If you decide to stay, you’ll be safe.” Another pause. Alice watched uneasily as his jaw twitched with barely-contained emotion. “I’ve been away from Maria for longer than you’ve been alive. I’d rather die before serving under her again,” his eyed iced over as he leaned back, now speaking to the entire room. “This vision has to be a fluke. Because there’s no way that’s going to ever happen again.”

Alice didn’t know what possessed her to speak, but after the words began to flow she couldn’t seem to stop. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry Jasper. I’m not trying to accuse you of anything. I—I woke up in this life almost forty-eight years ago—no memories of anything—and the first vision I ever saw was you,” her words fell fast, tumbling past her lips “it was your face and I know about the scars and that’s not what I’m scared of so I’m sorry about my reaction because they really don’t bother me anymore--to be honest they haven’t bothered me in years. But in the vision the woman whispers in your ear and I can tell she wants me dead but you’re the one who lunges and—“ she inhaled quickly as she ran out of breath.

“And it’s strange because it is you but it doesn’t look like you. I mean, your eyes are black and you look so angry but I mean,” she gestured toward him blindly, still refusing to look at him herself, “you’re clearly not angry—well I hope I’m not making you angry I’m just trying to explain myself but I really don’t know what else to say other than I’m sorry that I’m afraid of you and I--I mean! Maybe you really haven’t decided to kill me and I just look like a lunatic right now but I’ve seen this vision every day of my life for almost fifty years now and it’s never once changed and—and maybe I’m interpreting it wrong or there’s a flaw in my brain but I really, really, really don’t want you to kill me.”

As soon as she finished saying what she had to say, she snapped her jaw shut, the sound echoing through her head as she waited for each of the Protectors to make sense of her ramblings.

“You don’t have a single memory from your human life?” Rosalie spoke first, apparently the first one able to gather her bearings.

Alice shook her head, “Not a single one. I didn’t realize that I was a vampire until a couple years into my life. I just thought drinking blood was normal for… whatever it was that I was.”

“You saw me every day,” Jasper spoke evenly, “in a strange vision, trying to kill you.” There was an emotion in his voice that Alice couldn’t quite place, and for the first time since she met him, she actually felt guilty about her fear. Something she never thought would happen.

Alice eventually nodded. “Every day,” she whispered, still avoiding his eyes.

A few more seconds passed before suddenly, he stood up from the table.

“Jasper—“

“I need,” he started, but then shook his head, “I need some space.” And before Alice could fully lift her head, he was gone.

“I’m sorry,” Alice whispered to the remaining occupants of the room, feeling like she was about to cry.

“Let’s take some time to ourselves,” Carlisle advised after another tense moment, “regroup, collect our thoughts,” he eyed Emmett and his torn shirt, “and pull ourselves together a bit. We’ll talk more about this later.” His eyes flickered toward Alice, “Do you mind coming with me? I’d like to speak with you a little further in my office to get your paperwork filled out.”

Alice nodded a bit apprehensively. She wasn’t sure she could handle any further conversation about the vision that had been haunting her for decades, but paperwork would be a well-appreciated change in pace.

As everyone began to shuffle out of the room, heading in their own separate directions, Alice tried hard to calm herself, but her nerves were still acting up. If she did decide that it was better to stay than to run, it should be easier from here on out, she figured. They already knew her biggest secret: her visions.

Only Josie had ever known about that. And even so, there had been some things—details mainly—that she’d always kept to herself.

Now, her secret wasn’t her own. It belonged to seven strangers who now held the ability to judge and criticize her as they saw fit.

She could only hope for the best.

Reigning in her erratic nerves, Alice followed Carlisle out of the room and towards his office.


Carlisle had never expected them to get along right off the bat, but this... he hadn’t expected this .

This girl, Alice. She saw the future. It was unlike anything he had ever heard of. She would certainly give Edward a run for his money—she seemed to already be doing so now.

Her reaction to Jasper was a big problem.

And now with the growing possibility of Maria’s return, the situation grew even worse.

Just the thought of Maria and all the devastation she had caused to so many over the past century sent shivers up his spine. If Alice’s visions were real, then a problem was definitely brewing. A problem that he was loathe to admit, he had no idea how to handle.

Sitting down at his desk, he motioned for Alice to sit in one of the chairs opposite to him. The girl timidly made her way into the seat. Moments later, Edward breezed right in, closing the door behind him and swiftly seating himself next to Alice.

Alice was confused, Carlisle could see at least that much clearly.

“Just ignore Edward,” he advised, retrieving a pad of paper and pen from his organized desk.

“Does he have to be here?” Alice frowned.

“He is right here, and don’t worry,” Edward leaned back leisurely, “you won’t know I’m here.”

“Alright, now Alice. I need to ask you a number of questions.” Carlisle said, “Some may seem intrusive but I need to know everything you can tell me.”

Alice barely acknowledged Carlisle, but instead stared curiously at Edward. He gave her a curt nod.

Carlisle raised an eyebrow. “Am I missing something here?”

Alice seemed embarrassed. “Edward’s here so you know I’m telling the truth, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” he told her honestly. Thankfully nowadays Edward was much more cooperative about being used as a vampire lie detector, because he helped make Carlisle’s job loads easier.

“Okay,” she whispered, seemingly okay with that little piece of information. “I’m ready.”

Carlisle smiled, “Good.” Suddenly, he was all business. “Now I need your full name.”

Immediately he noticed Alice shift in her chair; she was already uncomfortable and he didn’t understand why. This was the easiest question.

“I’m pretty sure it’s Alice, but…” she trailed off, eyeing the bracelet on her wrist nervously. “I’ve never been positive.”

“You said before that you don’t remember your human life, correct?”

“Not a thing about it.” She shrugged, “And that’s really all there is to say about it. I just don’t remember.”

Carlisle ran a hand through his hair. “That’s unheard of.”

“Is it bad?” she asked meekly.

“I don’t know, but it is odd.”

“So you don’t know how old your actual physical age is, do you?” Edward asked.

“No.”

“Help me understand this,” Carlisle spoke, “So you woke up one day, no memory of anything?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” she confirmed.

Carlisle exhaled a long breath, “Can you remember how long ago that was? The date maybe? You said ‘71?”

“Yeah. The year was 1971… but I don’t know the day or month.”

Carlisle nodded, absorbing the little information Alice had to offer. “Do you remember anything about that day? Weather or location? Things like that.”

“There were no leaves on the trees,” Alice began, remembering the day perfectly, “it was dark out, the temperatures were low but not too cold, and there was a full moon. I think it was up North, but I'm unsure.”

“Did you ever attend self-control training?” He inquired coolly.

Alice shook her head stiffly.

Carlisle grimaced but nodded. “Have you ever fed on a human?” he seemed to struggle to ask the question, not knowing what the answer may be.

“Never.”

Carlisle raised an eyebrow, “Never?” Edward nodded along with her, supporting her reply with what he saw in her head. “When you woke up, did you know of any laws?”

“No,” she admitted, “It’s like I said before, I didn’t even know what I was.”

“Then,” Edward wondered, unable to resist speaking up, “how did you know not to kill? How did you—“ he shook his head in disbelief, “go against your natural instincts?”

“It wasn’t long after I woke up when I caught a scent, but before I could follow it, I got a vision. It was of me killing a boy. Immediately after that, a vision of me being beheaded.” Alice told the two. “Every time I caught a human scent and before I could start a pursuit I would first see myself killing them and then I’d see the same one of me dying .” She let out a deep breath. “I caught on pretty fast.”

“That’s amazing,” Carlisle grinned.

“Thank you.” Alice didn’t see the amazing aspect of it. It was always normal for her, seeing these things that lead her through life.

“But you knew your name when you woke up?”

“No,” Alice finally lifted her wrist, showing off the bracelet. She seemed hesitant to take it off and instead stood, leaning over the desk and offering Carlisle her arm. “I woke up wearing a hospital gown and this around my wrist. Nothing else.” The bracelet was a hard metal thing. Certainly something that would’ve been uncomfortable for a human to wear. The hard chain links wrapped around her skinny wrist and connected at a thin metal plate.

“It looks like there was something written before your name,” Carlisle trailed off, attempting to read what was written at the beginning. There was a decent-sized blank space on the plate where nothing was engraved. A space for a date, perhaps? Maybe her birthday or admission date had once been there.

“It was damaged when I woke up,” Alice informed him, pulling her arm back. “I’m assuming it used to say something about me, but it was mangled and unreadable. I smoothed it out over time.”

“I’m surprised it’s held up so well.”

“I’ve had to replace the clasp several times. They’re sort of easy to crush accidentally.”

Carlisle nodded, a slight smirk on his face. “How long ago did Josie take you in?”

“Forty years ago. Almost exactly.”

“And how old were you?” Carlisle paused, “I mean, how many years after you ‘woke up’ was it when she took you in?”

“About seven.”

“What did you do in that period of time before you found Josie?”

Alice chewed on her lip slightly. “I wandered mostly. Traveling between cities. I was always too afraid to travel into the forest because—“ she hesitated, “I didn’t want to run into Jasper,” she whispered, almost ashamed of her fear at this point. “I always avoided wooded areas and typically stuck to roads and cities.”

“And you never slipped up?” Edward couldn’t seem to wrap his head around that type of self-control and Carlisle couldn’t blame his incredulousness. Those visions certainly seemed to help her survive over the years.

She shook her head. “I… I stole a lot in my first few years. If there was a blood bank that wasn’t open 24-hours around where I happened to be at the time, odds are I’d broken into it at least once. My visions helped me a lot.” She looked from Edward and to Carlisle with a heartbroken look on her face. “I didn’t want to I just—I didn’t know what else to do. I promised myself I’d go back one day and pay off all my dues but—“

“Don’t worry about that now,” Carlisle soothed. “You did what you had to do to survive.”

“But I broke the law,” she spoke pointedly. “Surely there’s some type of fine or punishment for that.”

“If it means that much to you, we’ll see what we can do about reimbursing those shops. But I can assure you, you aren’t in trouble. Not with us at least.” Alice frowned but said nothing else, instead busying herself with tracing the wood grains on the arm of the chair she was occupying. “So no license or identification?” Alice shook her head. “And no Vampire Identification Number?”

“No.”

“Driver’s license?”

“A what?”

“What about a hunting license? For hunting animals?” Alice didn’t react. “To drink.” Still no reaction. “In the forest.”

“It’s strange to remember that that’s a legal thing vampires can do,” Alice spoke, a hint of wonder in her voice. “Would it be possible to get one? A hunting license I mean.”

Carlisle smiled at her sudden eagerness, “Yes, of course.”

Edward finally smiled at her, “you’re going to love hunting. It’s a rush.”

Excitement bubbling up, Alice couldn’t help but smile back.

“Well,” Carlisle said, a lighter tone laced in his words, “that’s all I need now. But later this week I’ll need to take you to a clinic.” Off Alice’s puzzled look, he explained, “It’ll just be for a check-up really; to see your height, weight, things like that. And they might be able to tell us your physical age.”

Alice immediately smiled, her excitement now even greater. “Really?” She just about squeaked.

Carlisle laughed, “Yes.”

“Thank you,” she said earnestly.

Carlisle simply smiled and nodded, “I just need to know one thing, Alice. I need to know if you’re planning on leaving us.” Alice’s smile fell from her face immediately, her eyes shooting toward Edward.

He held his hands before him, as if defending himself. “Hey, I didn’t say anything. But it was pretty obvious that you were trying to flee. Everyone could see that.”

Alice chewed on her lip some more. “I just—I was afraid.”

“I understand how powerful our fight or flight responses can be, and I know that the situation with you and Jasper is,” he paused for a quick moment, “delicate. But you have my word that as long as you are in this home, you will be safe with us. You can choose to believe that or not, it is up to you. I only ask that before you decide against this life, against becoming a Protector and living amongst us, you keep an open mind.”

“Funny thing to ask of a seer,” Edward spoke wryly before leaning forward. “But Carlisle’s right. I can read minds, remember? And I can tell you that hurting you is the furthest thing on Jasper’s mind right now. I’m not going to tell you your fear is misplaced--I’ve seen that vision too now, so I get it--but give it time. Once you get to know him, you’ll understand.”

Alice pouted slightly at his words but eventually nodded once.

“I’ll stay,” she relented after a long moment of deliberation. “And if I decide against it I’ll tell you soon but I… I’d really like to be a part of this. I really want to try.”

As she strode out of Carlisle’s office a few minutes later, a satisfied look on her face, the two men listened as Bella greeted her, whisking her off down the hallway.

“That was an absolute nightmare.” Edward remarked, grinning almost too-wide for Carlisle’s liking.

“Normally I’d disagree with you,” Carlisle agreed quietly, “but you’re right.”

“No records.”

“I know.”

“No memory .”

“Now that is strange,” Carlisle commented as he filled out some paperwork. “I’ve never heard of post-transformation memory loss to that extent.”

“It’s odd,” Edward agreed, “but what are we going to do about her vision?”

Although Edward had witnessed it first hand, he was still skeptical when it came to the validity of the ability.

“Well what did you make of it?”

“It was as clear as if I was watching it with my own two eyes. But it doesn’t make any sense.” He stood up and began pacing. “Jasper was standing alongside Maria. Maria of all people.”

Carlisle understood Edward’s frustration.

Jasper had pledged his loyalty one hundred percent when he’d taken his oath and become a Protector back in the late sixties. And never once had he stepped even a toe out of line since his joining. Sometimes Carlisle wondered if he was even capable of disloyalty. Maybe a flaw carried over from his human years in the military. Or maybe a side effect of one-hundred years of taking orders. Every bone in Jasper’s body was unflinchingly loyal. Maria on the other hand…

The war of 1964 had been declared over with and won after Maria’s reported death. After months without rest, they’d finally herded her and dozens of other vampires--mainly uncontrollable newborn recruits--into what Carlisle could only describe was a minefield of firebombs. Edward had reported back to him with a chilling look in his eye.

“If there is a hell, and if that’s where we’re destined to go after this life, it couldn’t have looked much different than that field did.”

Even their side had suffered a few casualties that day. Bella had almost lost a leg in the blasts.

He hadn’t been there that day. That had been during the ten hour period that he’d returned back home; only to grab documents and check in with Esme, who’d been stuck pouring over reports without a break for days at a time. They’d received a call from Rosalie. That night it was all over the news.

It took them nearly two months to put those fires out.

Regardless of what side you were on that day, Carlisle could only imagine it had been a terrible way to go.

All had been relatively peaceful in the vampire world ever since. Or up until about six weeks ago.

Carlisle had received a call from the Protectors in Mexico. Eleven humans had been reported missing, all of them living within a twenty-mile radius. And it all happened within the span of four days.

At first, it had been categorized as an out-of-control newborn, but when two of the six Mexican Protectors went to investigate in support with the local Containment Center, they disappeared.

For the last month and a half, the Mexican community had been on high alert. And only a week ago, the body of a little boy had been found dead in his backyard in northern Guanajuato, drained entirely of blood. His mother's phone was retrieved from long grass across the yard; the last few photos blurry--the work of a child playing around--but clearly showing a woman and eight others, their skin glittering in the sun, two of them with bright red eyes.

The woman looked eerily similar to Maria.

So similar that Mexico was currently in a state of emergency. All officials were on edge, the humans especially. Some parents refused to let their children go to school, others refused to leave their houses entirely. Even the vampires were on high alert. Sure, she had supposedly been dead for decades, but the Mexican people weren’t about to underestimate a supposed ghost.

Maria’s devastation was legendary.

“It’s a sticky situation,” Carlisle said, “but I think we need to understand Alice a little more in order to understand these visions. I know you saw them in her mind, but I don’t want to believe that they’re entirely infallible yet.”

Though Edward didn’t reply, Carlisle knew that he understood. Then, he gave Carlisle a dark look.

“What about Jasper?” he whispered.

“We help him,” Carlisle stated with assurance. “If we assume that the worst has happened and that Maria has dodged death, he is our greatest asset right now. Give him the files he wasn’t allowed access to after 64’. We didn’t have his help before, but we do now, and if this leads to war, he will be the difference between our failure and our victory. Let him lead.”

Edward nodded, arms crossed as Carlisle hesitated with his next statement. “We should probably keep him and Alice separated though.”

“They definitely haven’t made good impressions on each other,” Edward nodded, “and it doesn’t help that their one defining link seems to be Maria.”

“Don’t remind me,” Carlisle sighed..

“He was keeping it to himself, but she was hurting him,” he informed Carlisle, suddenly serious again. “With her emotions, I mean. Jasper was in real, actual pain.”

“I could sense something was off,” he grumbled, “that’s… not good. Do you know why?”

“Not exactly,” Edward admitted, shaking his head. “It seems like a silly explanation but maybe she just has some strong emotions. And Alice,” Edward drew in a deep breath, “I mean, I know you saw, but she is absolutely terrified of him. And it doesn’t have a single thing to do with his appearance. It’s really almost like she can’t control the fear.” He sighed, “She’s still waiting for him to attack since she believes it’s bound to happen.”

The blond shook his head. “It’s going to be a stressful week.”

“A crazy week,” Edward corrected as he stood, “very, very crazy.” And with those departing words, Edward left the office.

Carlisle knew just how right he was.

Glancing down at the newly-but-only-partially filled-out paperwork, he read the only definite information he had.

NAME: ALICE BRANDON

Carlisle sighed, sadness scratching at his still heart. The poor girl didn’t even know who she really was. Putting down his pen he picked up the phone. If he could do something for her, regardless of whether she chose to leave or stay, at least he could help her learn about herself.

Chapter Text

Alice sat anxiously in the backseat of Carlisle’s Mercedes as they sped along the highway. Bella sat in the passenger’s seat, glancing back at Alice in the rearview mirror every now and then. It had been three days since her ‘episode’, and most of the Protectors seemed to be waiting for her to break down again.

They were on their way to the clinic where Alice was getting a check-up of sorts. Carlisle informed her that the physician would be able to tell them Alice’s physical age. Something the girl had never thought of or worried about up until now. His guess was that she was somewhere in her mid-teens. Due to her small size he believed she was young, but her long limbs and matured facial features made her seem a little older.

Emmett was already comfortable enough around her to joke with her; well, tease actually. His bet? That she was thirteen—which was apparently quite close to the lowest legal age a vampire could be turned at (without repercussions, at least). Humans couldn’t apply for change until they were eighteen, but if they were illegally turned before then they had to at least be twelve to be allowed to petition to live their second life.

Alice had grimaced, hoping that she wasn’t that young. She may have looked to be the size of a child, but she desperately hoped she would be older, more along the lines of Carlisle’s estimate of sixteen or seventeen.

“Dr. Fuller is nice,” Carlisle commented, trying to stir up conversation in the deathly-silent car. “I’ve worked with her for years.”

Alice raised an eyebrow. Wasn’t the doctor a human? Bella noticed her confusion and turned in her seat to face her.

“Carlisle’s a doctor.”

Alice’s eyes widened.

“A doctor? You mean like, a human doctor?”

Carlisle chuckled softly. “Yes, a human doctor.” Alice was mystified.

“But how? Humans… bleed…”

“Years and years of practice; and yes, they do.”

“Wow. That seems nearly impossible.”

“He is one of a kind,” Bella hedged on, giving him a bright smile.

“But when you smell the blood, doesn’t it bother you?”

He half-shrugged.“I don’t even notice it anymore.”

“I wish I could do that,” Alice grumbled, still amazed as she stared out the window once again.

“He’s been a doctor for a few centuries ,” Bella spoke.

“I’ve had lots of time to practice,” Carlisle agreed, nodding. “You’re still young, even for a vampire. Just give it time.” The car fell silent again.

Ten minutes later they pulled up to a relatively small brick building. Alice had expected a much larger structure, maybe something a bit more grand. Or perhaps something that looked like it could actually hold patients.

“It’s small,” she commented, voicing her thoughts out loud.

“It’s a clinic,” Bella said, “more like a doctor’s office, not a hospital.” As they approached the door, Alice froze. “What’s wrong?”

“What if there’s a bleeding human in there?”

“Extremely unlikely,” Carlisle assured her, “that’s more emergency room or laboratory stuff. These are just humans who are sick or getting a check-up.” He placed an assuring hand on her shoulder. “You’ll be fine. Besides, it’s a slow time of day right now.”

Alice took a quick moment to look ahead in the future; satisfied with what she saw, she sighed and continued to follow Bella and Carlisle into the building.

The receptionist, a middle-aged redhead with curly hair, looked up at the sound of the door opening, her face exploding into a massive grin upon seeing the vampires.

“Dr. Cullen! It’s nice to see you again.”

Carlisle returned the smile. “Likewise, Nichole. Is Dr. Fuller available?”

“Right here Carlisle.” An older woman emerged to greet the three vampires. Her hair was dark brown, laced with grey, only a few shades darker than her skin tone. Laugh lines looked like they were just beginning to carve their way around her delicate features.

“Ah, Christine,” he gave her a hug as Dr. Fuller looked around him, sending a smile towards Bella. She then stopped when her eyes fell upon Alice.

“This must be Alice,” she walked over to the timid vampire and shook her hand. “Are you ready?” Alice nodded shyly. “Great,” she clapped her hands together and turned to Carlisle, “you coming?”

“No, I’ll wait in the lobby.”

“I am,” Bella stated, moving to stand at Alice’s side.

“I see. This way ladies.”

Several minutes later, Alice sat awkwardly in the stiff gown on the table covered in paper. ‘Sanitary,’ Dr. Fuller had called it as she watched Alice frown at the noise it had made after she’d sat. It had almost made Alice laugh. As if humans could make her sick, or vice versa.

The entire encounter had gone much quicker and loads less painful than she’d been anticipating. Not that she’d been expecting pain per se, but the simplicity of the check-up made her realize why Carlisle chose this woman for her appointment. She seemed to know exactly what to do, even with a vampire.

Mainly she had posed for a lot of x-rays, held still while some strange large machine took photos of the ins and outs of her vampire body. It was a strange experience certainly, but it definitely helped that Dr. Fuller kept her hands to herself for the most part. It’s not as if Alice had any vital signs to check.

Dr. Fuller finished recording a few more things on her clipboard before standing. “Alright, we’re done.” She motioned for Bella to follow her, “now we’ll let you get dressed in private.”

As the door closed behind them, Alice began to get dressed, finishing quickly as waited anxiously for them to return. Soon after, Dr. Fuller returned with Bella as well as Carlisle, too, and at that moment she wished she were Edward. That way she could read the doctor’s mind and know how old she was now .

After they were all seated, the doctor wasted no time.

“Well Alice, you may only be four foot ten, but you’re actually a legal adult.” She smiled, “by human standards at least.” Alice stared at her, her mouth wide open.

“So she’s 18?” Carlisle inquired.

“Closer to 19 probably. But again,” she gave each of them a pointed look, “It’s not a definite, more like an estimate.”

“I’m 19?” Alice whispered.

“I’m fairly certain. Yes.”

“That’s so much older than I thought.”

The older woman quirked a brow. “Is that bad?”

“No?” Alice was in shock. Her life was always filled with uncertainties and the unknown. Now, she had something that was hers. Something that was true. Or as close to true as you got with a medical estimate.

Carlisle stood and thanked his old friend, and the next thing Alice knew they were in the parking lot.

“Alice, are you okay?” Bella asked, worried, clearly taking note of her distracted state.

Her thoughts were spinning. She had real information about herself. Something she could trust that had been verified by actual professionals.

All of a sudden, Alice enveloped Bella in a huge hug, laughing.

“Yes,” she giggled, nearly jumping with excitement. “I have an age . A real age.”

Bella laughed too. “You’re older than me.”

“Really?” Alice looked shocked.

“Only 18.”

“I feel weird,” Alice released Bella, “I feel… old.”

Now it was Carlisle’s turn to laugh. “Believe me, you’ll feel plenty old after a few centuries.”

“Edward won’t be too pleased,” Bella mused. Alice’s smile immediately fell. “Oh, don’t worry. It’s just that he was looking forward to not being the ‘baby’ anymore.” She laughed again. “He’s only 17.” Carlisle chuckled again.

Alice laughed alongside the two, and for the first time since her arrival, she felt as if she belonged.


Alice had been practically skipping around the house since her doctor’s visit the day before. She was so happy she felt like singing. Not that she was that comfortable around the house yet, although she’d been surprised at how much everyone had seemed to welcome her, despite her initial disruption .

After spending the duration of the previous night with Bella in her and Edward’s room talking, she felt wonderful knowing she had at least one close friend in the house. She had just left Bella half an hour before, in order to shower and change her clothes.

“Whoa there old lady,” Emmett said, stepping to the side to avoid being run into be Alice’s skipping form. She ignored his poke at her newly discovered age and instead turned toward him, smiling politely.

“Hi, Emmett.”

“Your day seems to be going well,” he observed.

“Mhm,” she agreed, still bouncing happily in place.

“Do you have somewhere to be?” He smirked.

“Have you seen Bella?” she asked.

“Edward just dragged her into town for a bit,” he smiled, “sorry.”

Alice crossed her arms and frowned, with a quick glance realizing that the pair wouldn’t be back for several hours. Emmett laughed. “You’re sure you’re not twelve?”

“Real funny,” she thought for a second, “how old are you?”

“Technically twenty,” he spoke casually. “I heard a rumor, little lady, that you have never gone hunting.”

“Nope, never.” His smile only grew at her words.

“Perfect! Let’s go now.” Emmett began walking, leaving Alice frozen where she stood.

“Now?” she squeaked, “as in, right now?”

Emmett stopped and turned. “Well now usually means right now,” he said, pointing to the ground.

“But,” she began to backpedal, “don’t you need a hunting license, or something like that?”

That made Emmett pause. He thought for a moment and then shrugged. “We’ll stay on the property.” He continued to walk away.

“But!” Alice ran up beside him, trying to slow him down, “can we do that?”

“Sure,” he ruffled her hair, “we’ve got like, a few thousand acres. We can start small. Then in a couple weeks we’ll take you on a real hunting trip.”

“But—“

“I’d change into something you don’t mind getting dirty, and I’ll meet you in the backyard in five!” And with that, he left Alice standing in the hallway.

A quick glance into her future told her there was no way she was getting out of this.

“Great.”

Five minutes later, Alice stood awkwardly in the backyard in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. The only t-shirt she owned. Suddenly, Emmett flew by her, a flash of pale skin and dark clothes.

“Ready?” he called, pausing just at the edge of the forest.

“No,” Alice admitted, staring apprehensively into the woods. She’d never ventured into the woods before. She had been honest when talking to Carlisle and Edward about her fear of Jasper and Maria keeping her in urban areas. She truly did go out of her away to avoid wooded areas.

Of course now she lived in the middle of the thickest forest she’d ever seen.

“Don’t worry. Follow my lead,” he crouched down in a running position. Refusing to let her apparent hesitance slow them down, he waved an arm forward. “How fast can you run?”

“I don’t know?” The only real running she’d done was when she’d tried to escape them several nights ago.

“Well, try to keep up.” And with that, Emmett shot forward at lightning speed.

Not wanting to be left alone in the yard, Alice shot after him, trying to keep up and shocking herself when she started running faster and faster, soon catching up alongside him.

It was incredible. Being gifted with sight far beyond what a human was capable of meant that Alice never had any trouble keeping up with things. No details had ever been spared or overlooked on any clothes she had ever worked on, and never once had she known the shame of dropping something breakable. But never before had she tested her abilities like this.

She could see everything . The dark of the night transformed the bright greens and browns of the forest into beautiful deep greens and blues; despite the absence of light and the speed she was traveling at, no detail was overlooked.

And the feeling of the wind blowing against her skin made her feel freer than she ever thought possible. Sprinting forward she flew up a tree and launched herself into the air, letting out a twinkling laugh as she propelled herself forward, eventually landing on the mossy ground beneath her and skidding to a stop.

She was certainly making a bit of a mess of the forest as she flew through the thick trees and launched herself over rivers and streams, but there was a giddiness coursing through her that she didn’t want to end. She felt like she could run for days and truthfully she probably could.

Yet all too soon, Emmett stopped.

Reacting quickly, she dug her heels into the ground, bringing herself to a stop a good fifty yards away from where Emmett stood.

“Watch out there, speedy Gonzales,” she made her way to his side quickly, not wanting to move slow ever again, “Now, close your eyes.” Alice looked at him skeptically, “Close them.” She did so, a bit hesitant, deciding to trust her new comrade. “Now, concentrate. What do you hear and what do you smell?”

After a moment, Alice understood what Emmett was trying to get her to do. Closing her eyes tightly she let all of the excess air out of her body before inhaling deeply, focusing on the smells around her.

There. It was a warm, mouth watering scent, not a sweet as the humans smelled, although it was definitely more appealing to what Josie ordered from the blood shops for her.

The sound of distant, rapid, numerous heartbeats caused something in Alice’s instincts to flare up, venom pooling in her mouth. “What are they?” She asked quietly, keeping her eyes closed.

“Deer, three of them.”

A primal rumbling in her chest began bubbling up. “What do I do now?” She whispered, nervous at the natural reaction her body was going through.

She could feel Emmett shrug at her side. “Follow your instincts.”

Alice’s eyes shot open as she launched herself forward, toward the sound and smell of the deer.

Seconds later, as the animals came in sight, a growl ripped through her chest as she lunged for one of the animal’s throat.


“I told you to wear something you didn’t mind getting dirty,” Emmett laughed as Alice examined her clothes.

“This isn’t dirty, it’s ruined .” And she was right. There were tears and scrapes all up and down the white fabric, as well as an abundance of dirt and blood.

Emmett laughed and nudged her with his elbow playfully. “What do you think? Fun?”

“Yeah,” Alice couldn’t help but agree. “It was pretty exhilarating.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll get better at not making a mess.” He shrugged. "Or maybe you won't. Sure makes things more entertaining for me." Alice simply laughed.

The two walked at a slow pace back to the house. Alice felt like she was so full of blood she could lie down and actually sleep . It was an experience she’d never felt in her entire life. But she’d also never been able to gorge herself on blood before. Back home in Biloxi she would drink what she could get, and before Josie she’d only drank what her visions told her she could get away with without causing suspicion.

Just now she’d started on her third deer before she felt herself began to slow, her thirst ebbing considerably.

“So how does it feel,” Emmett wondered, drawing her back out of her thoughts, “knowing how old you are after all these years?”

Attempting to kick a stone, Alice accidentally obliterated it, frowning when the dust flew out ahead of her. “It’s weird.”

“I bet. I can’t imagine what that must be like; not knowing.” He looked at her quickly then, as if realizing what he had said, “Sorry.” Alice smiled softly.

“No, it’s okay,” she laughed. She liked that Emmett didn’t tiptoe around her, or mince words when talking to her. She was a big girl. She could handle it. “I can’t imagine what it’s like. To know everything about yourself, I mean.”

“It has its ups and downs,” he admitted with a slight shrug. “I know who I was beforehand. I have all the memories of my friends and family. But it hurts sometimes to think about them.”

Alice nodded. She oftentimes found herself thinking about the family she didn’t remember, or if she even had any still alive. Maybe they’d died when she was human, so there was nothing to remember. Maybe they were still alive, and had been looking for her all this time...

“I still keep in touch with some of them though,” Emmett smiled over at her. “I have a niece still alive in Tennessee. And a lot of grand and great-grand nieces and nephews who live all over. It’s good to see them when I can.”

“That’s great,” Alice smiled widely, feeling true, genuine happiness for him. Emmett was a good guy. She could see him thriving in a big family, and suddenly found herself wondering about everyone else’s potential families.

“Do you think you’ll ever get any of your memories back?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged, “maybe. But so far, nothing. I don’t really mind. I mean, I don’t really need to know what happened before, although it would be nice. I’m just… me, you know? All these years I’ve sort of been content just knowing my name. Knowing that I’m nineteen now is surreal.”

“I can’t believe it, either,” he sat his arm on top of her head, “you’re so little.”

She laughed and knocked his arm off of her head. “I’m not an armrest,” she grinned, “and we can’t all be super tall.”

“Six feet, five inches,” he spoke proudly.

“Four feet, ten inches,” she said, stretching up as tall as she could go, putting her hands on her hips as if it would emphasize her meager height.

They walked alongside one another, laughing and enjoying the happy atmosphere. Emmett truly was a good person. Certainly a hulk of a man who Alice would bet could take on any vampire he came across if it came down to brute strength, but at his core he was a sweet as anything. It made her wonder how he had stumbled across this lifestyle, and what his human life had been like. After all, he had the memories to prove that he was a human. For all she knew, she wasn’t even from this planet.

“How old is everyone else?” she wondered out loud.

“Edward’s the baby of the house at seventeen. Bella’s eighteen and so is Rose.” He smiled at Alice, “Then comes you. Jasper is also 19, yours truly is 20, Carlisle’s 23 and Esme’s 26.”

“Carlisle seems so much older than that,” Alice stated, shocked.

“I guess he does look a bit older, but I think it’s the way he presents himself,” Emmett mused. “And remember, 23 is just his physical age.”

“I know that,” Alice kicked a stone a bit more successfully this time, “So are you all centuries old?”

“Not centuries ,” he emphasized the plural. “Although beside you and Bella, everyone else was born prior to 1900.”

“Gosh, I feel like a baby.”

Emmett laughed, “In comparison to Carlisle and Esme, you definitely are.”

As the house came into view Alice turned to Emmett. “Thanks for taking me hunting Emmett. It was a blast.”

“It always is with me,” he said cockily, adding a wink for good measure.

As they laughed, Alice figured that maybe being a Protector would be a lot more fun than she originally thought. After all, if all it took to make friends around here was doctor’s appointments and hunting trips, she’d have to try running errands with Rosalie or playing chess with Edward a try.

Although something told her a chess game with Edward would be certainly interesting.

Chapter Text

Making her way down the hallways at a comfortable pace, Alice was confident enough to say that she'd made a couple of friends since she’d moved in, which was certainly helping to make her transition easier. It had been exactly one week since she had arrived in Pennsylvania to live with the Protectors, and she was beginning to feel more and more at ease with each passing hour. (Despite the looming threat of her first vision hanging over her head.)

Bella seemed to be the friend Alice had always wanted. She had a certain dry wit about her that reminded her of Josie a bit, and although she definitely was a bit more reserved than she gave off, Alice was sure she’d be able to get the girl to be a bit adventurous with her; she had the visions to prove it.

Emmett was a big goofy teddy bear who Alice was sure nobody could dislike. He teased her like she was sure siblings did with each other and always had something up his sleeve to make her laugh. Granted, every time he’d tried to pull a prank on her Alice couldn’t help but spoil his fun. He had yet to realize that it was nearly impossible to win a prank war with a psychic, but he’d learn eventually.

With Esme and Carlisle, it wasn’t that Alice didn’t like them; she did, absolutely. It’s just that they seemed to be a bit more distant—they were always busy. And of course that was just the reality of their occupation. Truthfully, Alice was wondering when she was going to be given duties and expected to start pulling her weight, but in the meantime she was more than happy to goof off with her new friends in their down time.

When she did see Carlisle or Esme around the house they always went out of their way to stop, smile, and ask her how she was doing or if she needed anything.

Edward, on the other hand, barely spoke to her. A far and disappointing cry from their first real encounter with one another. Alice had been hoping she’d have a bit more of a connection with him. After all, he was a mind reader and she was a future seer, but perhaps she shouldn’t have assumed they’d form some sort of easy friendship.

It wasn’t that he was hostile to any degree, he simply sat back and observed her whenever Alice was around Bella. Bella had advised her to ignore him and that he’d eventually stop, calling him an ‘overprotective dork’ as a way of explaining his strange behavior. And Alice had eventually relaxed with Bella’s assurance that he’d “cut it out and be social” after another week or so.

Rosalie did speak to her on the other hand. She wouldn’t exactly converse, seeing as the two had never really had a true conversation, but she would talk every now and then, a comment here and there. What forced Alice to keep her distance was due to the fact that every time the blonde spoke to her, she acted as if she were bored or had something better to do.

It put Alice off a bit, but Emmett was sure she’d come around, same as Bella was sure about Edward. And if the small snippets of visions she received daily were any comfort, Alice certainly was content to believe them.

As for Jasper…

Neither Bella nor Emmett even mentioned his name around her. After a week of casual avoidance of anything pertaining to the seventh Protector, Alice began to get nervous. She knew that they were simply trying to spare her feelings and that they didn’t want to upset her, but her guilt was beginning to pile on more and more.

After all, this was his home she was parading around, and he’d lived here longer than she’d even known what a vampire was . She hadn’t seen him around the hallways once, and with the amount of time she’d spent exploring, she knew that it wasn’t simply a coincidence.

Part of her mind told her that it was a good thing he was avoiding her—it made things less awkward for the both of them considering they didn’t have to pretend to be cordial. But a tiny voice in the back of her head warned her about avoiding him. If she didn’t at least try to be friendly with him, why would he ever considering sparing her life if it came down to it? Sure, they’d be coworkers technically, but that was far different than being friends.

And that was a difference that could save her life.

Some small part of her feared that Jasper would never come around and he’d be avoiding her forever. After all, she had practically accused him of eventually betraying his fellow Protectors within her first hours of arrival.

If it weren’t for the fact that Alice was terrified of him she had hoped they’d be friends. She blamed the nightmarish vision that had never once wavered and frowned. It didn’t help that he looked every bit the monster her vision painted him out to be. The scars he wore practically screamed dangerous.

She had never once seen a vampire like that before. Not even in the overly-theatrical movies Josie preferred; and those had always been a bit dramatic. She had a dreadful sinking feeling that sometime long ago, possibly before he became a Protector, something terrible had happened to Jasper. Something unspeakable.

But as she made her way to Carlisle’s study, Alice pushed those thoughts into the back of her mind.

Knocking on the door, she received a quick “come in,” before opening the door.

“Hello Carlisle,” she greeted happily, “you wanted to speak with me?”

“Alice, yes,” he motioned toward one of the vacant chairs, “I have a few things for you.”

Alice sat and waited, watching as Carlisle handed her a sealed manila envelope before sitting back and watching as she opened it. The first thing she did was pull out and examine a pale blue card.

“That’s your hunting license.”

Alice studied the card in wonder and awe. It was simple. Her name; MARY ALICE BRANDON.

She gasped, turning her gaze toward him. “Mary?”

Carlisle smiled softly at her. “A lot of digging had to be done but we’re fairly certain that’s your full, legal name.”

“How?” She asked, lifting a shaking finger and running it along the black, bolded text. “How did you find this?”

“I’m not too keen on the specifics of the how—I had help,” he admitted sheepishly. “Read the rest.”

Beneath it was a code of numbers and letters she quickly committed to memory, and her current address.

The next card was white. It was different than the first in size and shape and very different than the first. More detailed. It contained her name, current address, and the same code that was printed on her hunting license. Yet, now, there was more.

A small picture of her, taken by Esme the day after she arrived, was located on the lower right hand side of the card, along with her gender, height, and weight. But one piece of information stuck out to her.

DATE OF CHANGE: 2 November 1971

DATE OF BIRTH: 1 October 1952

“That’s your ID. You’re to carry that with you for identification purposes—its standard protocol for all vampires. At least until you get a driver’s license.”

Alice wasn’t listening to him. She ran a finger over the little plastic card, reading and re-reading the information.

“Is this… is this my real birthday?” He nodded. “And that’s the date I woke up?” Her gaze remained glued to the card.

“Yes, we’re fairly certain. And from what we can gather from what you told us, yes. It’s very likely that was the date you woke up.”

“I have a birthday,” an indescribable emotion suddenly took hold of her, and Alice was sure that if she were capable of producing real tears they’d be streaming messily down her face. “I have a birthday.”

“Everyone does, technically. We just don’t always know it. I don’t know mine.”

Alice looked at him in shock, suddenly feeling a bit guilty, “You don’t?”

“I was born in the 1640s,” he shrugged. “I’m not sure the correct day, month, or even year. They didn’t track time too well back then.”

“1640,” Alice breathed in amazement, “You were born three hundred seventy-eight years ago.”

“Give or take a year or so. Born in London, England.”

“England?” He nodded in confirmation. “Why do you not have an accent?”

“I picked up the American accent after a few decades,” he grinned, “I can still speak like this though,” he said in a perfect English accent, “they both come naturally.”

Alice laughed, “I’ve never heard anyone speak like that before.”

“Not on television?” He asked, still maintaining his natural accent.

Alice laughed again, absolutely ecstatic at the new cadence his words had taken. “I don’t watch TV very often.”

“Then I suppose this will do,” he said. “I can also do Italian,” he spoke, an Italian lilt to his English taking a hold of the words.

“Do you speak Italian?” Alice asked, smiling brightly.

He nodded. “That and six more, excluding English.”

“That’s a lot,” Alice commented, “I know a little Spanish, but I’m not fluent.”

“It’s good to start somewhere,” he smiled, dropping the accents and returning to his comfortable American accent. “Now, I need to talk to you about something important.” Suddenly, his expression was all business.

“You’ve been here a week now, so I’d like to think you’ve gotten used to most of everything around here. I’m glad you’ve been enjoying your stay, but becoming a Protector is a very important, very serious thing. A privilege, one might say.” He paused and stared at her sternly, “Alice. No one—and I mean no one—is ever forced into serving. Even while serving, and after the oath is taken, one may resign. Now, I need to make sure that you are on board with this idea one hundred percent. I need to make sure that you can handle the responsibility and duties which being a Protector will bring forth.

“I need to know,” he hesitated, then lowered his voice, “that you can handle working alongside Jasper. And you will be doing just that. The training will be hard and vigorous. It will make Container training look like a walk in the park. It will be emotionally draining. But if you accept your duties you will gain many skills and abilities that would’ve been nearly impossible to attain without being a Protector.” Carlisle looked her straight in the eye. “I will ask you this again on the night you take your oath, but Alice, are you willing to serve the human and vampire populations and become a Protector?”

No. Goodness no. Her common sense screamed the word at her. Of course she wasn’t ready. She wasn’t in any way, shape, or form qualified to handle this type of responsibility. She wasn’t ready to learn to fight, she wasn’t ready to be around Jasper, and she definitely wasn’t ready to protect actual lives.

But despite all of her doubts and uncertainties, something deep down inside of her told her she could do it--that she had to do it, or there was no hope for her future.

Or for changing it.

“Yes,” she stated with more assurance than she thought she was capable of.

“Wonderful,” Carlisle beamed. “Tomorrow we’ll verify it and you’ll take the oath."

“Alright,” Alice was still on edge, her insecurities still screaming at her, telling her that this was a mistake.

“You’ll just repeat after me. We’ll have a little ceremony and celebration here with everyone else. Nothing to worry about.”

“Okay,” she finally let out a sigh of relief at his assurances.

“But on Friday we’ll need to announce it more publicly.” Alice raised an eyebrow. “On Television. Live.”

“What?” she squeaked, her voice rising two octaves. She immediately began shaking her head from side to side. “I—I just—I can’t !”

“Why not?” He frowned at her, suddenly concerned again.

“I can’t… talk in front of people!” The thought of speaking publicly on TV, broadcasted for the world to see, sent waves of anxiety coursing through her. Old fears igniting like new at the prospect.

“It's okay, Alice,” he chuckled, “you don’t need to talk. I’ll do all that.”

Alice sighed in relief but her nerves only calmed slightly. “I won’t need to say anything, but I still need to be there, right?”

“That’s correct.”

“I… I guess I can do that.”

“It’ll all be fine.”

Alice nodded once, looking back down at her new IDs. “Thank you,” she said earnestly, “for everything. Especially for being so understanding. You… you’ve given me more than I could have ever asked for already, and you hardly know me.”

“It truly is no problem at all. And I hope you can continue to feel more and more comfortable here.” He held out his hand as he stood.

Alice stood as well. Although instead of shaking his hand, she walked around his desk and gave him a tight hug. Quick to get over any surprise, Carlisle wrapped his arms around her tiny frame, returning the gesture. Alice couldn’t help but bask in the comfort his embrace brought her. He was more right than he knew: she was certainly starting to feel at home.


“What am I supposed to wear ,” Alice groaned, shuffling through all the clothes in her closet. “I need to make myself new clothes. I’ve never had to make fancy clothes for myself because I’ve never needed to wear fancy clothes! Not to mention good fabric gets expensive. Stupid ceremony,” she grumbled.

“Relax,” Bella spoke, laughing, “You don’t need to wear anything too fancy. Save that for the 30th.”

Alice merely groaned again. That was when the ‘public announcement’ of her becoming a Protector was. She dreaded it more each time it was mentioned. Couldn’t they do it without her and just bring a photo to show the country?

“It’s not as bad as you think, and I absolutely loathe press conferences. Calm down.” Bella searched through some of Alice’s clothes. “This is cute, I think,” she mumbled the second part under her breath, holding up an intricate white button-down blouse.

“It should be,” Alice commented, taking the top from Bella, “I worked forever on it.”

“You made this?” Bella’s jaw dropped. “So that’s what you’re talking about when you keep talking about ‘making clothes’. You mean actually making them.” Alice nodded.

“I made everything except those two pairs of jeans. Oh, and my shoes.”

“I’m no expert or anything, but Alice. This is fantastic.” Alice merely shrugged. “Where did you learn to do this?”

“I picked it up after a couple of years. Josie owns a shop and I was always around fabrics and thread.”

“It’s fantastic,” she repeated, taking the blouse back into her hands and walking out of Alice’s closet. “And I actually own one skirt that will go great with this.” The girl hesitated in Alice’s doorway, seemingly lost in thought for a quick moment. “Let me go ask Rose first.”

Alice almost groaned at her friend’s cluelessness, but instead found herself smiling.

---

All the Protectors, plus Alice, stood around the large main room. Alice glanced at the clock on the far wall; 7:28. The sun was just beginning to set outside.

They stood in a loose circle, all facing Carlisle. Alice stood before him, dressed in her white blouse and Bella’s black skirt; it was a little big on her, but with a couple of pins it looked just fine. She wore her only pair of heels which were fortunately all black.

Bella and Edward stood to her left and behind her a few feet off. Bella wore a deep blue, spaghetti-strap dress. Edward, in dress pants and a dark grey shirt.

Behind Alice and to her right was where Emmett and Rosalie were located. Emmett was dressed much like Edward, though his shirt was all black, the cuffs of his sleeves rolled up to expose his bulking triceps. Rosalie was simply stunning in her skin-tight red dress.

Jasper stood beside Rosalie, his own shirt a dark blue, and Alice noted the pattern of the men. They all wore the same dress pants and button up ensembles. The fashion critic in her clicked her tongue but at least they were wearing different colors. The idea of them dressing in uniform was strange and almost brought a peal of laughter out of her. She bit it down of course, blaming the odd reaction on nerves.

Ahead of her, Carlisle, and behind him a few feet stood his lovely wife. Esme’s purple dress flowed around her wonderfully. Carlisle’s attire matched the basics of the other men in the room. His shirt, white.

“Alice Brandon,” he finally began, the tone of his voice carrying the clear implication that this was an important happening. His years of wisdom shown through his peaceful golden eyes. “Do you swear to fulfill your duties to the best of your abilities, to fight for what you must, to obey all law—both human and vampire alike—to uphold the good of all vampires, and to be the best you can be as a Protector of our jurisdiction?”

“I swear.” She declared, her voice surprisingly confident, despite the nerves she was battling.

Carlisle smiled triumphantly. “Good, now repeat after me. I, Alice Brandon, swear to protect and serve.”

“I, Alice Brandon, swear to protect and serve.” Her voice continued steady as she fidgeted with the hem of her shirt.

“To choose good when faced with evil.”

“To choose good when faced with evil…”

“And to be the best I can be, when placed in the line of duty.”

“…and to be the best I can be, when placed in the line of duty.”

Carlisle smiled, nodding, as he pulled forth an old yellowed piece of paper. “Now, Alice. Sign this and you’re all done.”

Alice stared in wonder at the old parchment. It looked hundreds of years old, and it likely was. Averting her gaze to the bottom, she noted seven signatures.

Esme Ann Platt.

Alice looked at Esme and her soft smile and loving eyes.

Carlisle Cullen.

Carlisle’s wise eyes and calm smile were patient as she took her time.

Edward Anthony Masen.

The bronze haired boy’s gaze seemed to go right through her. Alice smiled at him and for once, knowing that he was likely reading her every thought didn’t seem to bother her. A quick flash of a vision passed through her mind—her and Edward grinning at one another during the end of some sort of late-night conversation—and she was content in knowing he’d seen it, too. They’d be friends eventually.

Rosalie Lillian Hale

Surprisingly, Alice noted, Rosalie didn’t look bored as she waited anxiously for Alice to put her signature on the paper. Another flash of the future showed her and Rosalie in stitches laughing at something, a disgruntled Bella standing off to the side.

Emmett Dale McCarty

Emmett’s smile was as grand as ever, giving her a sense of comfort she wasn’t aware she needed in that moment.

Isabella Marie Swan

Bella sent Alice an encouraging smile, her eyes filled with joy.

Jasper Whitlock

Breath held, Alice searched his quiet face—staring at him for the first time in over a week—as if looking for any objections to her joining them. The silent question hung between the two for a few long seconds. And as if they had been conversing quietly with one another, Jasper nodded his head—almost undetectably—and Alice’s chest felt like it lightened considerably.

Facing Carlisle again, Alice finally smiled and held a hand out for a pen.

With determination and assurance, Alice wrote with a steady hand, her name below Jasper’s.

Mary Alice Brandon.

“Alice,” Carlisle said, receiving the pen back from her. “Welcome to the Protectors.”

Suddenly the room burst into applause.

Esme’s arms enveloped her first. “Welcome to the family,” she rejoiced, releasing Alice from the embrace. Carlisle maneuvered around Esme and, quietly and quickly, shook her hand. The look on his face said more than any words needed to.

Bella made her way over and hugged Alice as well. “I told you it’d be fine.”

“We still have Friday.” Alice grinned, feeling cheeky.

“You’ll do fine then, too.” Bella smiled.

Alice turned to face Edward.

“Alice,” he greeted, a peculiar look on his face. She knew he’d seen her vision, and seen their impending friendship, but still he kept his distance.

“Edward,” she responded, irked by his hesitance. But her good mood and confidence got the best of her and she decided to try something.

Are you going to start talking to me now? Or am I going to have to start harassing you until you pay me some proper attention. She thought purposefully.

Surprisingly her, and everyone else in the room, Edward let out a genuine laugh. “No thanks,” he chuckled, holding out his hand.

Alice shook his hand, letting out a giggle of her own.

“What I miss?” Bella asked him.

“Nothing important.”

Bella laughed and hugged Alice again.

“Come here you little monster.” Emmett’s voice carried over them all as he made his way before Alice. “I’m still set on taking you on a real hunting trip,” he spoke, hugging her and straightening up, letting her legs dangle comically as he squeezed.

“As opposed to what?” A voice interjected, “an imaginary hunting trip?” Rosalie was beside him and, much to Alice’s shock and relief, she was smiling. It wasn’t an Emmett smile, but it was definitely something. “Welcome Alice.” Her words were earnest as she leaned forward and gave her a small hug.

“Thank you, so much,” Alice smiled, the feelings inside her swimming wonderfully. Alice then realized there was one person she had yet to talk to.

Jasper remained still, watching all the conversing and congratulations happen before him. His hands stuffed into his pockets, he tried to remain undetected amongst the group, yet he had the strangest look in his eyes as he kept his gaze trained on her.

If it were any other day, Alice would ignore him. But as her mood was a bit more than positive, Alice was going to take any and all chances presented before her. And if she had a chance to get someone to hate her just a little less then she’d take it.

Trying to ignore the fact that everyone was watching, she walked up to Jasper with a spring in her step, determined to make at least one more friend today—or acquaintance at least, she reasoned.

Alice stood directly before him, looking up curiously at his face. She finally realized just how tall he was; her head didn’t pass his chest.

“Jasper,” she greeted, still so happy with her night that she was confident that everything between them would be fixed with this conversation.

“Alice,” he nodded in cool acknowledgement.

She cocked her head to the side and studied his posture for a moment. He was tense. Very tense. Her guilt pulsed lightly and quickly through her, appearing and then disappearing just as she acknowledged it.

Alice held out her hand. “Sorry about being so weird.” It was, for some reason, all she could think of to say in that moment. Something blunt, honest, and straight to the point. “And I’m sorry for being so rude. I know my vision makes no sense but,” she thought to herself for a quick second, “I think I’m going to do my best to change it. So, friends?”

Alice could feel the eyes of the other Protectors on her back, but for the first time, she didn’t care. She’d decided that she was going to take her fate into her own hands for once, and if that meant making sure she and Jasper were the best of friends, then he’d better brace himself.

“Sure,” he said, his voice filled with confusion, “friends.” He took her hand in his and shook it.

In that moment, another vision flooded through her, one that she’d never expected before in a million years.

But the quick vision that came to her of her and Jasper was almost… intimate.

No words were exchanged, but Jasper picked her hand up, entwining their fingers before he pulled the back of her hand to his lips, kissing it. In reply she smiled, snuggling close before lifting her head up to meet his lips with her own.

The second she refocused on his face, she couldn’t help it when she let out an involuntary gasp, squeezing his hand tightly out of shock. When he winced at the sudden motion, she quickly released his hand so fast she nearly jumped as she did so. “I’m so, so sorry. Are you alright? I hope I didn’t hurt you.” Alice was about to start stumbling over her words as she attempted to gain back the confidence that was now slipping through her fingers like sand, “I—I didn’t mean—I’m sorry. It—I just… are you okay?”

“Alice,” he slowly put a hand on her shoulder as if hesitant to touch her, but he kept his feet planted and his talent to himself, allowing her to feel her own shock and embarrassment fully. “I’m fine .”

“But I--”

“You didn’t hurt me. It’s alright.” He repeated, imploring her to look at him and believe his words.

“I’m sorry I’m so weird,” she mumbled, filled to the brim with embarrassment and praying that he was as blind to her vision as most of the other Protectors were—Edward, she’d deal with later. Brushing his hand off her shoulder, she knew she had to make her escape. “I hope we can still be friends,” she called over her shoulder, nearly skipping as she fled the scene and skittered up to her room, ignoring as Bella called out to her.

Just before she closed her bedroom door, she could swear she heard what sounded like Edward laughing.

Just great.

Chapter Text

“What is wrong with me?!”

“Nothing’s wrong with you,” Bella consoled, repeating herself for what was likely the tenth time.

Alice sat, mortified and pouting, on the ground of her closet behind a curtain of clothes. Bella stood, arms crossed, waiting in the doorway of the closet for the smaller girl to emerge, and growing less patient with each passing minute.

Alice pulled the clothes aside and glared at her new friend. “I ruined the whole evening because of—because of a—! A stupid vision!” She pulled the clothes back in place, hiding her face again. She knew that there was no blush on her face, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t more embarrassed than she’d ever found herself in her entire life.

And Alice had certainly gone through her share of humiliation.

“You did not . Everything went really well.”

“Up until I ruined it.”

Bella groaned, “You can’t hide here forever.”

“Watch me.”

“Alice, come on. Everything is fine.”

Alice let out a forced laugh. “Yeah, right.” She laid down on her back, staring up towards the ceiling of the closet. “Ugh. He probably hates me.”

“He does not!” Bella threw her arms up in exasperation. “He doesn’t even know what happened. None of us do. At least tell me what the vision was, please?”

Alice moved the clothes out of the way, yet again, to glare at Bella. “I would rather die.”

“I could always tell her,” a voice taunted.

Alice’s eyes shot up as she tried to locate the voice from her spot on the floor. Finally scooting out from behind her clothes, she spotted Edward leaning against the doorframe of the closet. Alice eyed him curiously.

“Who gave you permission to—“ she glared, “How long have you been standing there?”

“Not long,” he shrugged. He then went to stand by Bella’s side.

Alice folded her arms. “How do you know he doesn’t hate me?” All Edward had to do was tap his temple with his finger. “Oh, yeah.”

“He doesn’t hate you,” he walked over to where Alice sat on the floor and held out his hand, “he does think that you are extremely peculiar. But he’s fascinated by you, really.”

Alice frowned but took his outstretched hand, allowing him to pull her to her feet.

“I guess that’s all I can expect.” She stood there, pouting. “And he knows that I’m sorry, right?”

“You said it about a hundred times. The whole house knows how sorry you are.” Bella spoke, smirking all the while. “Even though you didn’t really do anything wrong.”

“Maybe I should go talk to him,” she said, walking out of the closet and toward the doorway. The moment her mind replayed the vision she froze and found herself turning back into the room, walking over toward her couch. “Or maybe I don’t ever have to look him in the eye again. That works, too!”

Flopping herself facedown onto the cushions, Alice tried and failed to ignore the mated pair that simply followed her further into her room.

“You know, if you don’t tell me what the vision was, Edward will,” Bella informed her, matter-of-factly.

Alice groaned into the couch. “I hate you.”

Bella let out a light laugh, lifting up Alice’s upper body before placing herself between her head and the cushion, “No, you don’t.” Alice frowned and crossed her arms, rolling onto her back as she allowed Bella to be her vampire pillow. “It can’t be that bad, can it? No worse that watching him try to kill you.” Alice flinched visibly and Bella frowned. “Ah, sorry about that. But seriously, it can’t be worse than that?” She blinked twice, before looking up at her mate. “Can it?”

Edward was standing a few feet away from the two, hands in his pockets and grinning like the cat that caught the mouse.

“I mean, it’s certainly of a different nature.”

“Really?” Bella raised an eyebrow, as if taken aback by the information. She glanced back down at Alice. “Now’s the time to spill, girl. Edward and I are really good at guessing games.”

Alice pouted before lifting her head slightly and looking toward the door. If Jasper heard this, she’d have to turn in her resignation immediately. She was certain that this was going to cause her to have the record for Protector serving the shortest term ever, clocking in at an impressive two hours on the job.

“The walls are soundproof. For the most part, I mean.” Edward explained, trying to ease her fears as best as he could. “Our hearing can pick up a lot but we go a little extra on the privacy measures. Unless you shout it at us, he isn’t going to hear. Unless,” his sneaky grin came upon his features once more, “you want him to hear?”

“Shut up,” Bella said, narrowing her eyes at him accusingly. “It’s not a vision like that ?”

Alice’s embarrassment suddenly peaked and she sat up abruptly, letting her face fall into her hands. If he didn’t hear what they were talking about, certainly he would sense that something was going on with his gift.

Bella whistled lowly before laughing. “So what? One day you dream about him trying to rip your throat out, and the next you’re dreaming about him ripping your clothes off?”

“Bella!”

“It’s not that bad,” Edward admonished, shooting his mate a wry look. “Definitely rated more G than anything. Or PG. I’m not too sure how they rate movies nowadays.”

“Aw, Alice,” Bella grabbed Alice by her shoulders and lowered her back down to rest back on her thighs. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. I mean, I’m sure that definitely caught you off guard—“

“Of course it did,” she cried miserably, keeping her voice down just in case Jasper was close by. “My natural instinct when I’m around him is to be utterly terrified of him due to the years I spent fearing him. And then I decide I’m going to befriend him and—and that means we’ll end up kissing ?”

Bella snorted. “Are you scandalized by the thought?”

“Um, a little bit, yeah!” Alice turned her head away from their mocking gazes and buried her face into Bella’s shirt. “You two have to promise not to tell anyone else about this.”

“I promise—on one condition.”

Alice grumbled under her breath, waiting a moment. “ No .”

“I haven’t even said anything yet!”

“And I’m a psychic, so you don’t have to! The answer is no .”

“Alice…”

“Bella,” Alice then sat up and spun swiftly, her back now pressed against the back of the couch as she pulled her knees inward, “I’m… I’m still afraid of him.” She glared down at her knees. “I don’t want to be, and I won’t deny that in the vision I’m… I’m happy, okay?” Her chest grew tight with unshed emotion. “But the other vision is still there—the first one. So why would I tease myself with something so happy like that when I know it’s just going to end in disaster.”

In heartbreak.

Alice had never been in love. Never thought of the possibility that she may one day fall in love. She’d never even given other vampires on the street a second glance, despite the fact that Josie seemed confident she’d get her married off one day. So while Alice didn’t know what it meant to have her heartbroken, she felt like she was getting a small taste of that tonight.

Here she had it, an opportunity to get close to someone in a way she never thought possible, and now she knew that it would always be just out of her reach. Because even if she did allow herself to indulge, there was still one vision that was set in stone.

And it didn’t end with her snuggling and holding hands with Jasper Whitlock.

“It’s all up to you, Alice,” Edward spoke eventually. “I know you’re aware of that. The second you decided something, the vision came to you. If you decide against it, it won’t happen. But I think that you, and that Jasper definitely, deserve a bit of happiness.” He shrugged. “If you two so happen to find that in each other, I see no harm.”

“Not until we’re surrounded by fire and fighting for our lives.”

A crooked smirk graced his features. “Welcome to the Protectors. We’ve got occupational hazards galore.”

“Anyways,” Bella said, trying to divert Alice’s attention elsewhere, “I won’t tell a soul, I promise. But at least try to be friendly with him. You don’t need to be best friends, but be nice alright?”

“Nice. Friendly.” Alice nodded absentmindedly. “Got it.”

“So what do you think about going shopping tomorrow? We need to get clothes for the announcement on Friday. Rosalie was going to bring it up earlier but then you bailed on the after-party.”

“Okay. Shopping.” Alice said distractedly, merely nodding, her train of thought clearly elsewhere. “Sounds good.”

“I’ll go confirm with Rose and Esme, too. We can make it a girl’s outing.” Bella hugged Alice warmly. “Be ready first thing tomorrow morning.”

Bella took Edward’s hand and began to pull him out toward the hallway and out of Alice’s room. Before they made it out into the hall, Edward stopped.

“Remember earlier? When you said you wanted to attempt to take charge of your fate?” Alice didn’t nod but she did glare, remembering that she hadn’t quite said that and instead had thought it. “That’s irrelevant. But Alice, look. This is your chance. You said it yourself. Either you can wait passively by as this opportunity passes by, or you can take matters into your own hands and deal your own fate.” He shrugged, “It’s your choice.”

Alice frowned, beginning to think she liked it better when he ignored her and her thoughts. Or at least, when he pretended to ignore her.

Edward rolled his eyes as Bella finally managed to get him into the hallway.

Alice knew that they were fully gone once she heard the quiet sound of another door closing. Sitting down on the floor, she crossed her legs and closed her eyes, allowing her hands to rest comfortably on her thighs. Immediately, a vision came to her.

She smiled as she watched Josie doing the dishes as she hummed quietly to herself, her grey hair pulled back into a tight bun.

Alice sighed as the vision left her, though she kept her eyes closed and relaxed.

She missed Josie, so much. It was an ache that was almost physically exhausting, and it probably would be if that were even possible for a vampire. Alice wanted to talk to her so bad. She’d have to find some paper and envelopes to write to her. She wanted to tell Josie all about the house and the other Protectors. But… not about Jasper.

Definitely not.

She laid down on the off-white carpet, her arms above her head, her legs sprawled out comfortably. Calm and ready for visions to come to her, she closed her eyes, breathed in, and relaxed.

First came a vision of Bella and Edward. Bella sat on their bed, reading a book, Edward laid calmly beside her, playing with her hair. Alice smiled.

Next came a vision of Emmett with Esme. They both were in what Bella had called the ‘living room’. Emmett watched some sort of sports network on the huge television, while Esme threw away some flowers that were wilted. As she walked past him with the newly emptied vase, she knocked his feet off of the marble coffee table.

Alice laughed. Esme truly gave off a strangely motherly vibe. It reminded her much of her own mother figure.

Then, another vision of Josie came to Alice. The woman placed a sign in the window of the shop in the early morning.

STORE CLOSING SALE

ALL CLOTHES 80% OFF

THEIR TICKETED PRICE

Alice sighed, knowing that Josie had everything under control. But still, she wished she were around to help out. She knew how hard of a time Josie could have with those stairs on off days.

The next vision that came was of Carlisle. He was finally getting around to putting away the document that Alice had signed previously that evening.

Immediately following the quick and simple vision, an entirely different vision crept into Alice’s mind.

Rosalie and Jasper stood in a dimly lit room. It was large and Alice could see the many bookshelves occupying the background. It had to be the library in the basement.

Rosalie was sitting on some sort of desk. Jasper stood opposite to her, leaning back against the wall, his arms crossed. Alice knew immediately that they were having a very serious conversation.

“So it’s true?” Rosalie asked, “Maria’s back?”

“It appears that way,” he responded, “though why, I have no idea.” He mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck.

“I heard Carlisle say that another one of the Mexican protectors went missing. Beatriz.”

Jasper closed his eyes tightly, shaking his head. Obviously, they both knew this woman.

“So she’s dead, isn’t she?”

Jasper looked at the blonde woman with sympathy. “If it really is Maria then,” he trailed off slightly before sighing. “She doesn’t take captives.”

A sudden crunch filled the silent air. Rosalie’s hand then released the side of the desk as small pieces of wood and dust fell to the ground. Her eyes were filled with fury and hate; her hands in fists. But, as soon as if began, the rage was diffused and Rosalie’s head fell into her hands.

“Why is she back? Why now?” She groaned, her voice filled with pain that Alice felt uncomfortable bearing witness to.

“Trying to regain Mexico, maybe. But everything is… off. I don’t understand.”

“Off how?”

“She’s rushing. If she wanted to actually get control of the country, she’d be taking her time; using better strategy. She’s jumping from city to city, killing, not conquering,” he began pacing.

“She’s heading up North. Last week there was a sighting in Rioverde, yesterday she was in two different parts of Tamaulipas.” Rosalie began to look worried. “What if she gets to the border?”

“If she is heading here, we can’t do anything until then,” he said as he stopped pacing. Rosalie nodded, saying no more.

Alice found herself back in her room, eyes now staring up at the ceiling. She felt a strange ache in her chest for their fallen friend. Beatriz . She repeated the name over and over in her head, imagining this stranger that she’d never meet. A Protector like her, who had met her end at the hands of this dreaded Maria; this woman who Alice was convinced would be her downfall.

Letting her hands run over the carpet, she allowed some grief to fall over her. She--and even Josie--had been hoping that her coming here and joining the Protectors would be the first step to finding safety, but Alice was quickly learning that the very opposite was true. Her present was truly leading her to her future, the one she’d seen way back at the beginning of everything.

It was times like these when Alice wished her power was to sleep instead.

She closed her eyes and counted down the minutes until dawn.


Alice watched the greenery fly by her window as the car drove. Her new home was beautiful. The forests were so green and magnificent that Alice would rather have gone on a walk through the woods than go shopping.

And Alice loved shopping.

It was certainly telling of how far she’d come already. She used to be absolutely terrified of the forest, or any one place with too many trees. But now she found herself looking for excuses to simply wander through the trees.

Biloxi though had been too urban sometimes. Although it may have been a small city it was still a city nonetheless. Fast-paced in its own right. Sometimes Alice felt like she needed some place away from the people, the noise, and the humans everywhere. Their location in Northern Pennsylvania was perfect.

The car then veered right on a ramp, leading them into a different highway.

Rosalie sat in the driver’s seat, Esme in the passenger’s seat beside her. Behind Esme sat Bella, with Alice sitting on the left side of the backseat.

“I feel like we’ve been driving forever,” Alice commented to Bella. She was truly starting to wonder whether they were even going shopping or not. Of course she had several visions of the women in and around different stores and clothes, but the fact they were driving so far left her feeling confused. “It’s been over an hour at least.”

“Actually it’s been an hour and forty-two minutes,” she stated matter-of-factly, “and we still have around an hour to go.”

Alice frowned, “Aren’t there stores or a mall near the house? We passed by dozens of signs.”

“There’s plenty of stores where we’re going,” Rosalie informed Alice, looking at her through the rear-view mirror of the cherry-red convertible.

“What’s so great about these stores that we have to drive more than two hours to get to them?”

Esme laughed. Rose shook her head.

“Can’t we stick somewhere closer?” Alice wondered, knowing that the more time they spent travelling, the less time she’d have to explore the woods around the house during the day. And while she could see just fine regardless of time of day, she wanted to experience more during the day. Hear and see more birds and tiny creatures.

“Sorry Alice,” Esme turned to smile warmly at her, “I don’t want to ruin your sister’s fun.” She winked and faced forward in her seat again. “You’ll see why.”

Alice frowned and sat completely back in her seat, turning her head to gaze out the window once more. The car fell into a peaceful silence; a modern radio station played softly, sufficiently supplying some form of background noise. Alice, of course, didn’t recognize any of the songs.

It wasn’t until another few minutes passed before an odd realization hit her.

“I don’t want to ruin your sister’s fun .”

It struck Alice as odd, and slightly awkward, now that she truly thought about it. She didn’t have any family. At least none that she was aware of—biological family, that is. Although Carlisle had somehow tracked down her real birthday, which meant they had found a human birth certificate of hers, meaning she had parents somewhere.

Whether they were alive and elderly or buried in the ground, she didn’t know. She’d have to ask at some point. It felt weird to think that she could have real relatives living out in the world that she didn’t know about.

Regardless of relation, she considered Josephine her mother, but of course she would. Mothers were people who took care of you and loved you, no matter what. Josie definitely fit the qualifications of being a mother.

But what were the qualifications of being someone’s sister?

She looked at Bella and Rosalie.

Up until that moment, Alice had considered the two as fellow vampires, co-workers, roommates even. But sisters? She wasn’t sure. It was an odd thing to think about.

She supposed sisters were the kinds of people who were kind and or loving toward you. The type of people who were always there for you and who cared for you.

Alice glanced at the two women again. She certainly cared for them all to an extent. They were all kind women and had been more than welcoming toward her. She couldn’t be one-hundred percent sure, but she believed the two might be able to fit those qualifications. If not completely now, then definitely someday.

It wasn’t too long after that when everything in and around the car went dark. Shocked, Alice looked around. There were no more trees or buildings. No more sky above her head.  Just rows and rows of lights along a never-ending arch that had swallowed the road whole.

“What happened?” Alice asked, suddenly panicked, “where are we?!”

“It’s called a tunnel, Alice,” Bella soothed, grabbing her hand, “it’s nothing to worry about.”

“It’s like the opposite of a bridge,” Esme explained, “Instead of bringing us above the water, it takes us under it.”

Panic starting to ebb, but not disappearing entirely, Alice decided she’d had enough of this supposed ‘surprise’. Closing her eyes it only took her a second to pull forth a couple additional visions and when she did, her breath was taken away.

“Girls, one of you better tell her where we’re going before I do,” Esme warned, laughing.

“To be honest I’m surprised that she doesn’t know,” Rosalie commented.

But when Alice opened her eyes all she could do was grin widely, her excitement bursting at the seams.

She’d always wanted to go to New York.


Alice couldn’t tear her eyes away from the sky. But she wasn’t looking at the sky itself, instead it was the extremely tall buildings that seemed to go on forever.

Skyscrapers, Bella had called them. Alice had seen a couple of images from New York City’s skyline before, but none of them did the real thing justice. The buildings truly looked as if they were touching the sky.

As she first caught a glimpse of the massive constructions, all her previous excitement and anticipation she had held onto for this shopping expedition flew out of the window. She would have been content to have simply sat alone on the sidewalk, gazing upward. The city was magnificent , the concrete jungle hypnotizing her fully.

If she were to fall in love with a place, New York City would be it.

But Alice remained on her feet and willed herself to keep walking alongside the other women.

She tried not to be uncomfortable with the close proximity to so many humans at once, walking along the sidewalks. But when the group had stopped at a crosswalk, Alice had quickly looked into the future and became calmed at the fact that everything would likely be alright.

“Look at those shoes,” she heard Rosalie gush.

Alice turned her attention to a pair of electric blue heels inside of a window to a store she had never heard of.

Without another word, Rosalie walked through the doors, Bella and Esme following suit. Alice remained close behind the two and stopped immediately upon entering the store.

There were shoes everywhere. And not just shoes, but pants, shirts, dresses, skirts, and accessories galore. All beautiful and colorful. Racks and racks of clothes all over the place.

Alice had been in a few stores back in Biloxi, but she never bought much, considering she made most of her clothes. But nothing she had seen in all her life could compare to this.

Curiously, she walked over to the first thing she saw.

She examined the jacket carefully. It was a sleek design. Black silk with what appeared to be an intricate floral pattern stitched into the entire thing. Something like this would take Alice weeks of non-stop work to create. It was absolutely adorable.

She checked the price tag and cringed. $198.

Alice sighed and set the jacket back on the rack.

“See something you like?” Alice turned quickly to see Rosalie standing directly behind her, eyeing the jacket. Then she picked it up and looked at it. “This is cute.”

“I guess,” Alice shrugged. Rosalie raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s so expensive,” Alice practically whispered to her. Rosalie tried not to laugh.

“Alice, has Carlisle spoke to you about money yet?” The girl shook her head in response. “Being a Protector is a job,” she explained. Alice showed no further reaction. “Where you get paid,” recognition finally began to show in Alice’s eyes, “a lot.” The blonde finished with a wink.

“How much is a lot?” Alice eyed her new friend skeptically.

“You could buy this store if you wanted.”

“But we’re in Manhattan.”

“Oh, I know.”

Alice’s jaw hit the floor as the realization fully dawned on her.

“Now,” Rosalie said, grinning and pulling Alice back into reality, “about that jacket.”


Several hours later, Alice finally emptied the final shopping bag into her closet, hanging up the last item she’d purchased: the dress she was to wear for the announcement on Friday.

Standing a few feet back, she looked at her new assortment of clothes. Now, a full rack of clothes was filled from the back of her closet to the front. And though her closet was still barely filled, she felt weirdly guilty about the amount of money that had been spent on something as silly as clothes. She felt almost selfish. But she hadn’t disliked the trip, not one bit.

As a matter of fact, she had loved it. Working in the shop with Josie never brought in much money. Just enough to pay the bills and for food and other various human necessities for Josie. Shopping was rare; Alice made most of their clothes anyways. And full-blown shopping sprees never ever happened. After Josie started to age, medical bills began to pile up and they began making their own clothes full time.

She was never one to complain though, happy and content simply to live her life alongside her aging companion. Just having enough fabric to play with here and there had always been more than enough to keep Alice happy. And if Josie so happened to get her hands on a fashion magazine like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar? Alice would be set for months .

Alice simply loved the dress she was going to wear. A deep sapphire color that wasn’t too ballroom-esque. It didn’t show too much skin—not as much as the dress Rosalie had originally picked out for her had. That dress had a neckline so low, Alice wasn’t sure it could be called a V-neck considering it dipped down way past the neck and almost to her belly button. Alice had politely declined the suggestion.

Eventually it had been Alice herself who had stumbled upon the blue-beauty of a dress. Rosalie had eventually settled on a flashy black number. Bella, a lighter blue dress that merely kissed her knees. And for Esme, another deep purple dress, this one less flowing a bit more freely than the one she’d worn at the ceremony that night before.

And Esme, bless her heart, had stopped by a small fabric store while Bella and Rose had dragged Alice away to pick out shoes, and purchased some fabric and well as sewing supplies for Alice. She explained that ‘a little birdy’ told her that Alice loved to sew.

Alice was so surprised and overjoyed, she simply hugged the woman tightly, thanking her over and over again. She’d seen, in her mind, the woman wander into the store but for some reason she’d never assumed that she was intending to make a purchase for her . It made her dead heart soar.

She knew that she wanted to make something for Esme to thank her, but she couldn’t decide what yet. She was sure that if Josie was there, she could have given Alice an idea or two.

Alice was then overcome with a great urge to see Josie. She missed her so much.

Quickly checking her future, she saw Josie, fast asleep in bed. A serene look plastered upon her sleeping face. Immediately knowing what she wanted to do next, Alice headed out into the hallway.

Now, she wondered to herself as she walked, where would she find envelopes, some paper, and a pen…

Chapter Text

As Alice closed the door to the library, she almost forgot, as she turned around, that it was downstairs. Putting her hand out, she held onto the wall to steady herself—leave it to her to be the first vampire to fall down a flight of stairs. Alice was starting to believe that a side-effect of using her talent as often as she had been recently was that she was completely scatterbrained every other moment of the day. When you were constantly checking up on the future, she supposed it made sense to be paying a little less attention to the present.

Readying herself, she dropped her arm back to her side and made her way down the stairs.

The staircase was dark, with walls leading her down on each side. As she reached the bottom, she turned the corner and gaped at the sight before her.

Books. Hundreds—no, thousands and thousands—of books.

The library was long, likely stretching most of the length of the massive house, and along each wall were lines of countless bookshelves filled from top to bottom.

She walked along slowly, running her hands over the their spines; most, if not all of the titles, she did not recognize. She’d never claimed to be well-read, but she had spent many a Sunday at the library in her hometown; it was the only place she felt comfortable spending time outside of her home.

Eventually she turned to the left where a large work-desk was located. Immediately she recognized it from her vision that she’d had the other day. Approaching it slowly, she walked over to where the chunk of wood was now missing from the desk, gently running her hand along the jagged edge. The hole in the wood was a little under a foot wide, curving inward toward the center of the desk in a crescent moon shape.

“Looking for something?” a voice calmly spoke, “or are you exploring?”

Alice nearly jumped--instead, she turned around swiftly and backed herself up against the desk; hard . When the sound of wood crunching registered in her brain, she felt something akin to horror overcome her.

This was not how things were supposed to go.

Jasper stood a few feet from her, holding a large book in one hand, his other extended slightly toward her, his gaze concerned.

Alice simply gaped at him, not wanting to turn and look at the mess she’d just likely made in colliding with the jagged part of the already-broken desk. Pulling away from it slightly--only a couple of inches--she nearly winced when she could both feel and hear more chunks of broken wood fall to the ground behind her.

She felt absolutely mortified.

It also didn’t help that this was the first time they’d ever been alone together since their first meeting. So far, as the seconds ticked by, she was almost surprised that she hadn’t tried to flee yet.

Don’t freak out, don’t freak out, don’t freak out...

Alice repeated the phrase over and over in her head as she stared back at her fellow Protector. She felt silly as she battled with the tinge of fear she felt on the edge of her mind. She had known he was down here. In fact she’d intended on finding him to ask where she could find some materials to write to Josie with, but planning on talking to him and actually doing it where turning out to be two very different things.

“Are you alright?” Jasper asked uneasily, being sure to keep his distance, most likely sensing her discomfort about being in such close quarters with him. “I didn’t mean to catch you off guard.”

Alice looked at him, nodding numbly. “Sorry about that,” she mumbled, flustered at the fact that she’d just made such a fool out herself. “I—I forgot there was a…” as she took another step away from the desk, she gestured to where the piece was missing out of his desk, “a hole in that.”

She almost wanted to curl up on the floor in that moment, wishing she could disappear in her embarrassment. She’d screwed up. How could she have ‘forgotten’ about a broken desk she wasn’t supposed to know about in the first place? No doubt he’d caught that. And if she knew about the desk, he’d probably think she was using her visions to spy on him, and he’d probably never trust her, which meant she was only making things worse, and--

“It’s alright,” he assured in a surprisingly soothing voice, cutting off her paranoid internal ramblings. He slowly walked around the opposite side of the desk, placing the book down before stepping back, being sure to keep a slight distance.

Trying to be nonchalant about it, Alice ran a hand through her hair as another pulled slightly at the hem of her shirt. When she felt more wood chips fall to the ground, she nearly swore. She was sure her backside was covered in a layer of dust and tiny bits of broken lumber.

Slowly turning so that her back wasn’t to Jasper anymore, she tried her best to pull an apologetic expression over her embarrassed one. It wasn’t hard, thankfully, considering she was currently feeling both emotions at equal intensities.

“Sorry about the mess,” she said, gesturing pitifully to the ground, “and the desk.”

She’d definitely made the damage worse.

“I was going to get it replaced this week anyways,” he dismissed. He eyed her carefully for a moment before gesturing toward her shirt, “You have a…”

Alice looked quickly only to find a string from the back of her shirt had been pulled loose and was still attached to one of the sharp edges of the broken desk. Quickly, Alice yanked the string loose, hands quickly ripping the loose string off her shirt, but when she went to stuff it in her pocket, she realized quickly she didn’t have any.

“Here,” Jasper held his hand out, his motions still slow, careful. Alice eyed him for a long moment. “There’s a waste bin by my foot,” he explained.

Realizing it was pointless to attempt to mask her anxiety through fake-nonchalance--he was feeling her true emotions right then anyways--Alice swiftly leaned forward, handing him the string, barely releasing it before she was pulling her hand back and to her side.

Then, in another attempt to try and lessen the awkwardness of the situation, she eyed the mess beneath her feet before suddenly she was kneeling on the floor, brushing the wood and dust into the neatest pile she could manage.

“Alice,” she could hear him walk around the side of the desk, and tried to ignore the slight fluttering sensation that swept through her stomach at the sound of her name on his lips.

Damn those visions.

“Hey,” he spoke again, trying to gain her attention, “you don’t need to do that. I’ll get it.”

“I’m not going to be rude,” she insisted stubbornly, still not looking up at him. “I made the mess. I’ll clean it.”

“It’s really no issue,” she could hear him walk back around his desk, picking something up--likely the waste bin, “here. Let me.”

Knowing that it wasn’t worth it to argue, Alice simply stayed quiet, piling the wood into the palm of her hand as she ignored Jasper’s attempts to get her to stop. When she did look up at him, he was right next to her, bin in his hands, looking less-than-pleased at her, but to his credit he said nothing further, only holding the bin toward her for her to deposit the mess into.

She smiled at him then, thankful that he was allowing her to clean the mess she’d made. And when her hand came dangerously close to brushing against his as she lifted more pieces of wood into the bin, she had to ignore the tight feeling in her chest that was starting to distract her.

But before she could think about how his fingers would feel between her own, Alice shook the thought from her head and shrugged, “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I’m…” she hesitated, then shook her head, “I’m just sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?” He asked, an eyebrow raised.

“I’m being so… weird.” She shook her head. “No, not weird. Insane, crazy, freaky. Whichever works for you.”

“Well, shouldn’t I be the one apologizing?” He crossed his arms, “After all, this only happens when I’m around.” Alice felt a knot work it’s way into her throat as she watched him offer a kind smile, trying to ease some of the guilt off of her. “When everyone else is around you’re as content as they come. When I’m around, well,” he gestured to her position, on her knees, fingers picking through a dusty mess, “not so much.”

Alice frowned, her humiliation intensifying. Looking away, she soon realized she was going to be out of pieces to deposit into the trash. Purposefully, she began to move slower.

“It’s not like you’re very comfortable around me either,” she grumbled, thinking back to how he’d been purposefully avoiding her since her first chaotic night.

Jasper surprised her with a deep noise, almost like he’d held back a laugh. “A tough first impression will do that.” There was a slight glint in his eye as he stared down at her, and Alice felt her throat beginning to tighten with a strange emotion.

Shaking her head, as well as the funny feeling that was steadily rising up in her, she squared her shoulders and lifted her chin up toward him, tossing another chunk of wood into the bin. “What?” she asked, a bit irritably as he continued to stare at her strangely.

He waited a moment before speaking. “I’m trying to understand you.”

“There’s nothing to understand,” Alice shrugged, turning back to her work. She wondered if he’d be willing to tell her where the vacuum cleaner was. “I’m just a little bit of a freak.”

He cocked an eyebrow, “A freak?”

Alice frowned, shifting slightly. “I know that normal vampires don’t have visions.”

“Would you call me a freak?” He asked genuinely, seemingly very interested in her answer. “I don’t have visions but I am an empath. That’s pretty ‘freakish’. Even for a vampire, right? Certainly no normal vampires can control emotion.”

Damn, she’d walked right into that one.

“I mean, I wouldn’t know since I've never known many vampires or--I’ve never had any friends but--I mean, of course you’re not--I mean I—“ she found herself backpedaling, slightly irritated that she even had to. “It’s different. My visions, they make everything so,” she paused, looking for the right word, “they make life so difficult sometimes.”

“I can imagine,” he nodded seriously. “Must be hard, knowing everything that’s going to happen.”

His words weren’t spoken with even a hint of malice but Alice couldn’t help but suddenly find herself feeling particularly defensive and very irritated with him. There was a likely chance that he wasn’t trying to mock or patronize her at all, but with all the emotions that had been swimming inside her since her arrival in the library, she had a feeling she wasn’t about to get a grip anytime soon.

“Actually, yes, it is hard. It’s extremely difficult to deal with but—but,” Alice huffed, crossing her arms and glaring at the nearly-clean carpet. She wondered if maybe she could just go to Carlisle or Esme and see if either of them had any envelopes instead. This was starting to be too… too annoying for her. “You just don’t understand.”

Jasper shrugged. “You’re right. But I do know what it’s like to have an ability that can make it,” he paused, placing the waste bin down beside her, ”a bit difficult to be around certain people.”

Alice’s irritation spiked. This know-it-all really thought he understood the struggle she went through. “Oh, really now?” She bit out sarcastically.

“Just because I don’t see the future, doesn’t mean I don’t understand your dilemma,” he said, matter-of-factly, as if realizing he’d perhaps misspoken somewhere. No doubt he could sense her irritation with him intensifying. “You use your ability just as you do your sight, hearing, and all your other senses; it’s an extension of them, really, and it comes so naturally, so of course you would. And I’m sure you couldn’t imagine your life without it, even though it certainly makes coexisting with other people difficult sometimes. Maybe there are times where you wish you didn’t have it, and you wish you were just like everyone else,” he finished calmly. Then, he added, “Something along the lines of ‘both a blessing and a burden’ seems appropriate, but," he shrugged, his voice falling a bit, "clichés are so… uninventive.”

Alice stared at him, her mouth in a thin line but her eyes holding just a little bit of compassion. She almost hated how this person--this vampire who she'd feared for her entire existence--could empathize with her on a personal level. But at the same time it was an odd comfort.

“It’s hard for me to be with large groups of people at a time,” he then confessed to her quietly. “The emotions can be too much. Controlling people’s emotions constantly can be exhausting if I’m doing it for a long enough period of time. Eventually it’s hard to pull ‘happy’ or ‘calm’ out of thin air when you’re amongst vampires who want to tear each other’s throats out.”

Alice blinked, certain that he wasn’t referring to the vampires that cohabited in this house. He had to have been talking about something else, and she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to—or was ready to—hear about his past.

At least, not yet.

“Is that why you spend most of your time down here?” Away from me , she almost said.

“Sometimes,” he shrugged, “although I can still feel most of everyone’s emotions in the house even now. I am much better attuned to them, so it’s understandable. Really I just enjoy the work that I do. I’m certainly never bored,” he gestured to the book he’d placed on the table. “And it’s not as if the emotions in this house are very volatile, but it’s always nice to be alone sometimes.”

Alice could certainly see the appeal in that, but now that she’d been in the house for over a week, she was finding it difficult to imagine her life without the companionship of her fellow Protectors.

She thought of her overwhelming embarrassment from the other night and shook her head, knowing that he had likely felt that.

“I… I used to use my visions to keep other vampires away from me,” she confessed, not entirely knowing why. “After I woke up and then once Josie found me and helped teach me more about what I was, I was so scared of—of being found. I mean,” she shook her head, “I was a vampire that didn’t know where she came from, who had no memories and—“

She snapped her jaw shut, instantly swallowing the words she was about to say. It would’ve been easier to talk about this with someone else; anyone else, really. But he simply looked at her and waited, a patient expression across his features, his eyes understanding something about her that even she didn’t quite understand.

“And I would see the vision, the one with you. And since every decision I made still led to that, I kind of just decided to be content with where I was.” The confession made her more nervous instead of lifting any sense of dread off of her. But it was true. Every decision was followed by a vision, every vision led her to Jasper, and that vision was always the same.

It was much easier to live your life knowing it would end in fire if you just stayed put and did whatever you could with whatever you got. Sure the outcome would stay the same, but at least you could enjoy your journey a little bit on the way there. And being Josie’s companion had brought her a happy existence.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” she eventually muttered, completely honest. Finally meeting his understanding gaze, she narrowed her eyes. She’d come down there to get paper, not to confess her secrets to one of the two people on Earth who she was afraid of. “You’re not using it right now, are you? Your ability?” She narrowed her gaze at him suspiciously.

“No, no,” he held up his hands as he shook his head, “I’m not. I only do that when absolutely necessary. And I know that you wouldn’t want me to, so…” He shrugged, his hands falling into his pockets. “I won’t.”

“Okay,” she breathed out, nearly shocked at the sense of relief she felt at his words. For some reason she believed him, trusting that he wouldn’t manipulate her emotions like that, especially when they had such a tumultuous relationship thus far.

But she was still a little irritated and entirely uncomfortable. Surely, if he had been using his gift at any point since she’d gotten down there, she wouldn’t still be feeling so sorely anxious.

Suddenly, another vision flashed across her periphery.

Alice was standing at his desk reading over something with a pensive look on her face. Jasper moved swiftly to stand behind her, wrapping one arm around her waist and resting his head on top of hers. Her frown didn’t lessen in severity until he kissed her temple, muttering something unheard into her ear.

“So,” he began again, perhaps sensing her distraction, “you never answered my first question.” She looked at him, waiting for him to continue while she tried to reign in her emotions. “Were you looking for something? Or simply exploring?”

Her eyes focused on his face a little too much for her own liking, lingering on his lips. “Kind of both.” She blurted out, before attempting to save face and shrugging. “I’ve never been down here before. And I was looking for some envelopes and paper.”

Envelopes and paper. Come on Alice, she pleaded with herself, stay on task and then go .

“Well feel free to explore and read whatever you’d like. But please, if you take something out of the library, just leave me a note.”

“What are you,” Alice couldn’t help but giggle, “the librarian?”

Jasper didn’t laugh at her little joke, but he fix her with a semi-serious look. “Please. I like keeping things organized.”

She could tell he wasn’t actually annoyed with her, and she could not for the life of her figure out why she was still there. Especially considering that her first vision she’d had of her and Jasper’s apparent future love life had been enough to send her fleeing the scene on sight. “Okay, okay.”

But still, there she stood, not wanting to leave yet but running out of excuses to stay and talk with him. He was inexplicably charming, she had to admit. Something that she was trying to tell herself simply intrigued her on the shallowest level. After all, she should certainly get to know him if she was going to work with him, and it would help immensely if she could look past the vision and become at least friends with him.

Edward’s reminder for her to attempt to change her fate fluttered through her mind. If she was going to be honest with herself—herself, and no one else —she infinitely preferred these newer visions of her and Jasper to the original one.

“And there are some computers a little father back,” he waved his hand towards the area of the library Alice had yet to explore, “feel free to use them.”

Alice still said nothing, instead nodding hollowly. Jasper eyed her curiously, perhaps trying to figure out the reasoning for her erratic emotions. For all she knew, she could be giving him a headache. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know how to use a computer,” she confessed, a bit embarrassed by the fact. It was true, but it certainly didn’t help her feel less embarrassed about the situation she’d landed herself in.

Jasper merely blinked at her. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

He shrugged, “Never mind then.” He brushed it off, seemingly trying not to make it a big deal. “I’ll show you some other time—“ Alice’s chest bloomed with restrained emotion, realizing a promise when she heard one—“Now, what do you need an envelope and paper for,” he stepped closer toward her and paused, looking down at her, “if you don’t mind me asking?” He held out both of his hands to her.

A peace offering, it almost seemed like.

“It’s to write a letter to my mother.” She grabbed his hands, allowing him to pull her up onto her feet. She tried hard not to think about the way his hands felt on hers—his were so much larger than hers, scars overlapping across his wrists and the backs of his hands. They were a soldier’s hands, and they told great tales of death and other unspeakable things, but they also pulled her to her feet so gently that when he released his hold on her, she felt an odd hollowness bloom within her.

Jasper looked confused and for a moment Alice was nervous. She had to remind herself that Edward was the mind reader, not Jasper. At most Jasper could only tell what she was feeling—he had no clue about the why. And as long as he thought she was just prone to random erratic mood swings, that was fine by her.

“Your mother?”

It took a moment to realize what he was asking, but when she did, Alice knew her embarrassment would have shown red all over her face if she had been human.

“I—I mean Josie. A letter to Josie.”

“The human you lived with,” he said knowingly, nodding his head, “You love her like a mother. You have no need to correct yourself.”

“You don’t think that’s weird?”

“Strange? A little different? Sure. I’ve actually never heard of a vampire ‘raised’ by a human. But that doesn’t matter.”

“Okay,” she whispered, relieved she didn’t receive the harsh judgement that she was used to back from the vampires in Mississippi.

“Why don’t you call her?” He inquired as he walked back behind the desk, opening a drawer. “Or e-mail her—oh, never mind.”

Alice finally laughed, “I don’t really know what e-mail is, but I assume it’s like a computer? And she doesn’t have very good hearing, so she prefers to see things as opposed to hearing them.”

Jasper nodded, smiling. He looked like he was trying not to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” She demanded, placing her hands on her hips.

“Nothing,” he dismissed, too quickly for Alice’s liking.

“Am I amusing you?” She folded her arms then, fixing him with an accusing look.

Jasper shook his head, smile not gone yet. “It’s strange--that you don’t know how to work a computer, that is. Or what an e-mail is.” Then he laughed, a deep rich sound that Alice decided she enjoyed a little too much. “It’s like you’ve been living in a hole.

Alice scoffed. “If you find that funny, you’ll probably get a kick out of this,” Jasper paused, looking at her and waiting for her to continue, “I rode in a car for the first time on the eighteenth.”

He laughed harder, his entire body seeming to relax. “You’re like an alien. What about this? Now, let me know if any of it rings a bell or two.”

“Ha ha,” she droned sarcastically, leaning forward to examine some random items on his desk as he spoke. “Alright, shoot.”

“Do you know what a DVD is?” No reaction. “So no Netflix?” nothing, “smartphones?” nope, “okay well what about CDs?” Alice still showed no reaction. “VCRs? Mp3s?”

“Are you just going to keep spitting letters at me?” She tapped her foot impatiently, not pleased with his little game. “I don’t keep up with pop culture.”

“At least tell me you know what a cell phone is.”

“Of course I know what those are: they’re phones. Just small,” she stated with mild confidence, content that she knew at least something.

Jasper laughed. “You need a technology run-down.”

Alice frowned, Emmett had told her much of the same thing a couple of days ago after asking her if she’d seen his iPhone. She’d had no idea what he’d been talking about and he’d laughed for several minutes straight about it. “I know what radios and televisions are. What more could you need?”

He laughed louder, “You know, at one point, I would have agreed with you there. But that’s a good start.” He handed her a stack of blank envelopes and paper, as well as some postage stamps and a couple pens. “Here you are.”

Alice took the items in her hands, beaming happily, her small annoyance simply forgotten.

“Thank you so much,” she gushed, watching happily as Jasper offered her a large smile in return.

“Not a problem,” he acknowledged with a nod of his head. Alice looked at him and thought for a moment. Then, she shuffled her new items into her left hand and held out her right.

“Let’s try this again, but without the running away,” she smiled warmly, “My name is Alice Brandon, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Jasper Whitlock, ma’am,” he took her hand, a crooked grin on his handsome features, “likewise.”

“Friends?”

“Friends.”

As they shook hands, exchanging their silent goodbyes, Alice skipped happily out of the library. If she could be friends with Jasper; then maybe this whole Protector-thing wouldn’t be so bad.

She tried hard to ignore the series of visions that plagued her, all of them tender, potential moments between her and Jasper, and sighed quietly.

Edward was going to have a damn field day with this.

Chapter Text

“Careful— careful ,” Rosalie almost slapped her hand out of the way as she struggled to get the strap to rest correctly on her shoulder, “you’re going to snap it if you keep fidgeting with that. And then you’re really going to have a reason to be embarrassed out there.”

Alice tapped her foot impatiently. She knew she wasn’t going to rip the thick strap of the dress but if it didn’t stop twisting, Alice might just have to take her frustrations out on something .

“Now there’s the problem,” Rosalie clicked her tongue, “you didn’t even put it on right.”

“I’m nervous,” Alice quipped, nearly squeaking in shock while Rosalie pulled the dress up and over her head. “A bit of warning would’ve been nice.” Alice muttered, shyly covering her chest with her hands. The bra she was wearing wasn’t too revealing, but it was certainly much different from what she was used to.

“Caught the psychic off guard, did I?” Rosalie grinned, untangling the straps before bunching the fabric up into her hands, “Edward will be jealous. Now, hold still and lift your arms.” Following her instructions suddenly Alice felt as the fabric fell over her skin, the straps of the dress finally falling the way they were intended.

She exhaled a long breath. “Thank you,” she smiled before turning to catch her reflection in the mirror.

There was never much that could be done with her hair, being cut so close to her scalp, but she did know how to dress it up a bit, combing it through a few times with some hair product until it sat exactly how she wanted to.

Now, clueless with makeup, she certainly was; well, mildly clueless. She was sure she would've been able to figure that out on her own, but she didn't quite own any makeup, so that's where her dilemma began. Bella had straight-up laughed in her face when Alice had sought out her help, instead instructing her to ask Rosalie for help. And Alice couldn’t lie, she had definitely been apprehensive about asking the blonde for help, but a quick look into her future had confirmed that the woman would’ve been quick to assist her.

Staring in the mirror she realized with a funny sort of surprise that she looked good . Certainly not as breathtaking as Rosalie, but if she were being honest, no one could hold a candle to Rosalie’s unearthly beauty.

Her eyes now had a bronze glow to them, Rose only dusting a little bit of eyeshadow onto her lids before finishing off the simple look with a dark red lipstick and a little bit of eyeliner and mascara. And as someone who had never worn lipstick before, Alice felt awfully self-conscious.

“I can’t stop looking at my lips,” she spoke, subconsciously making faces at herself in the mirror. “They look… odd.”

“Shut up,” Rosalie scoffed, touching up her lip gloss in a different mirror. “You look fine.”

Just then, Bella walked into the room through the swinging door, her hand quickly flying up to cover her nose. “What is that god-awful smell?”

Rosalie snorted out a laugh. “It’s a human bathroom, Bella.” She adjusted her hair slightly, not facing either of them as she spoke. “Either breathe through your mouth or not at all.”

Bella removed her hand, a look of disgust on her features as she fully approached. “I’m here to give the five-minute warning before they need us on stage. So hurry up with the primping and let’s go.”

Alice frowned as she looked back at her reflection in the mirror, adjusting the beautiful blue dress. Now that Rosalie had fixed her minor wardrobe issue and flawlessly added a bit of color to her pale face, she figured this was as good as it was going to get.

“You ready?” Bella asked her, setting a hand on her shoulder.

“No,” Alice spoke honestly, the reality of the situation beginning to catch up with her.

“Nervous?”

A half-hysterical laugh bubbled up, “Something like that.”

“Don’t worry. All you have to do is sit there and look pretty. Carlisle will do all the talking.”

“Is it possible for a vampire to get sick?” Leaning up against the sink Alice put the back of her hand against her forehead, willing herself to calm down. Her anxiety was beginning to physically manifest itself and she could feel the knots in her stomach and chest begin to tighten.

“Not in the way you’re thinking, no.  It’s just stage fright,” Rosalie backed up from the mirror, recapping her lip gloss. Eyeing Alice up and down, she frowned. “You need to relax.”

“I feel dizzy—can vampires get dizzy? I feel like I’m going to faint. Or vomit. Oh god, what if I get sick while we’re out there? What if I’m the first vampire to ever faint?”

“You really need to relax,” Rosalie repeated, walking up to her and placing her hands on her arms, squeezing slightly.

Quickly, Alice checked her immediate future. “Shit, shit, shit!” She stomped her feet lightly as she swore, careful not to break the small heels off.

Rosalie stared at her in shock.

“What? What’s wrong?” Bella asked.

“Someone go get Jasper!” They simply looked at her. “ Now !”

“What?” Rosalie asked.

“Seriously?” Bella eyed her curiously.

“Yes! Jasper! Get him—I need him!”

The two woman shared a confused look.

“Alright, alright,” Rosalie turned toward the door, shaking her head.

“Why on Earth do you need Jasper so bad?” Bella demanded. “We have barely three minutes!”

“Rosalie is right. If I don’t calm down then I’m going to go out there and nearly have a panic attack—it’s a lot of people Bella. Not in the studio, but I mean, watching on TV! Millions of them! If I don’t calm down then I’m going to walk out there as freaked-out as ever, because I’m going to be thinking about all those people of course, and I’m not sure why but I think Jasper gets hurt—I don’t know why but… but I think what I feel will end up hurting him.” Her words fell out in a quick flurry, only pausing to collect more breath. “I knew they could affect him but no one told me that they could cause him real pain ,” she said, pointing an accusatory finger at Bella. “So if I go out there freaking out it will just get worse and since the last time Jasper calmed me down I demanded him not to and I know he won’t do it unless I ask because he’s—I don’t know why, actually since it would make more sense for him to do it anyways--but I need to ask him or else we’re going to end up making a small scene live on national television.”

Finishing in a huff, she turned toward Bella to find her friend staring blankly at her.

“I’ve never heard you cuss before,” she commented dryly.

Alice rolled her eyes, “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.” Bella only laughed.

Not even a second later, two voices could be heard.

“I don’t know why, just hurry up.”

“I can’t go in there!” Jasper hissed.

“And why the hell not?” Rosalie demanded.

“It’s the women’s room,” he stated, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Alice could almost hear Rosalie rolling her eyes.

“It’s only Bella and Alice. Besides, if any human women come in, when they piss their pants at the sight of you, they’re in the right place at least.”

“Real classy, Rose.”

The door finally swung open, Rosalie pulling Jasper through despite his protests.

“Okay here’s here. Now what?”

“Perfect,” she breathed out before striding up to him swiftly. “Hi, can you please calm me down before I ruin our night?”

Before he even answered, she’d reached forward and grabbed one of his hands, lacing their fingers together before turning toward the door and walking directly back out of it. “Also, we have ten seconds before Esme and a very unhappy producer walk in and scold us for taking so long.” Pulling him after her, she looked up at him. “Sorry for asking this of you, especially since last time you did it I freaked out a little bit, but it’s absolutely necessary, trust me.”

He seemed taken aback, but followed her back out into the hallway regardless. After he gathered himself a slight smirk fell upon his face. “I’m not going to be the one to bet against the psychic, so alright.”

She turned her head, looking at him from over her shoulder as she led them toward the sound stage. “Why thank you,” she beamed before quickly checking their immediate future and confirming that she’d be fine throughout the event.

She wasn’t sure if the burst of confidence she suddenly found herself feeling was authentic or simply a little extra help from Jasper, but when they finally caught up to Esme, she was content. She definitely owed him after this.

And so what if that thought brought forth another burst of visions of the two of them—happy, warm, romantic moments. She’d deal with that later.

Several minutes later, Alice sat almost comfortably in the chair as the minutes ticked down. Eventually a woman with a headset and a clipboard approached her and asked her to stop tapping her foot, (the soft clicking sound was sure to be picked up by the microphones) something she hadn’t even realized she’d been doing. She may have felt plenty calm, but her unease was apparently finding ways to show itself regardless.

She’d squeaked out an apology, trying bask in the calm that Jasper was steadily supplying her with. Anything to keep her from feeling like a balloon about to burst.

The moment she’d walked into the room, flashes of camera after camera went off, shocking her so much that she’d stopped dead in her tracks. Jasper had released her hand then, moving his hand to her back to usher her in, mumbling at her to just ignore them. Other than that, the whole thing didn’t seem as bad as she had been expecting. Still, she did find it surreal that these strangers were taking pictures of her.

As someone who used to only leave the house when she was sure no one would glance twice at her, that would take a lot of getting used to.

The room was fairly tiny, a small raised platform where Alice and her fellow protectors were located. On the platform were two rows of chairs as well as a podium placed in between the two rows in the center.

Alice counted five microphones posted on the podium alone, not fully understanding the purpose of so many. She’d have to ask someone later—surely one would be enough.

In the seats before them were numerous members of the media and press, all with cameras and devices that Jasper told her were called audio recorders; their purpose very self-explanatory.

Carlisle would, apparently, only be addressing them and not receiving or answering questions. “It’s an announcement, not a press conference. He talks, they listen.” Jasper muttered to her before a human woman walked up to him and asked him to stand, adjusting his chair slightly.

To her right sat Jasper, Emmett, and Bella, all in the row to the right of the podium. To her left, further down the stage, sat Carlisle, Esme, Edward, and Rosalie. Carlisle was currently reading over a couple of sheets of paper. Probably going over what he was going to say, Alice concluded. She knew he wouldn’t need the papers when the time came. Just one of the perks of being a vampire: an eidetic memory.

Soon enough, they were given a two-minute warning.

Alice folded her hands in her lap, gripping her own hands tightly. In her periphery, she watched as Jasper leaned toward her. “Are you still going to need help,” he asked, too low for anyone else to hear, “or will you be able to hold onto this?”

“Hold onto it?” Alice asked, frowning as she heard a couple of cameras click , “how exactly?”

“Just how you’d think,” he responded.

Alice breathed slowly, thinking over and over, calm . Calm. Calm.

“Thirty seconds,” she heard a woman’s voice yell. Carlisle stood and walked over to the podium.

Calm , she demanded of herself, breathing in and out deeply to try and give her something to focus on.

“I can still help if you can’t do it,” he assured, not wanting her to stress herself out all over again, “you going to be okay?” He asked, his tone showing his genuine concern.

Alice nodded slightly. The same woman began to count down.

“And we’re on in five, four, three, two—“

Suddenly the room was dead silent as everyone’s eyes fell to Carlisle.

Showtime.

“Good evening,” he began, not acknowledging the people, vampires and humans alike, that made up the small audience. He gazed solely into the camera; obviously, he’d done this before. “I’m addressing you, my fellow citizens of both Canada and the United States, with this announcement.” He smiled, “As of March 26 th , 2018, a new Protector has been sworn in with the sole intent of guarding these countries.”

He turned to Alice, smiling, and held out his arm toward her, presenting her to the world.

“Mary Alice Brandon, of Biloxi Mississippi, will be our nation’s eighth protector.” She couldn’t help but notice the utter silence that filled the room. No cameras clicked, no humans shifted, and it almost sounded like no one was breathing. You could have heard a pin drop, and Alice just knew that they were all looking at her. “She has already taken her oath and is dedicated to the Protection of her people. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your new Protector, Alice Brandon.”

The room erupted in applause. All Alice could do was stare, shocked.

They were clapping for her.

Now, she knew she wasn’t nervous anymore. Instead, other feelings flooded her body. Confusion. Amazement. Shock. She hadn’t been expecting this; this acceptance. Not at all.

When the applause died down, Carlisle turned back to the camera, his expression suddenly grim. “Now, I am also here to address some unfortunate occurrences of which I am sure most of you are aware of by now.”

Alice looked to the left at Esme, Edward and Rose, and the back to the right at Bella, Emmett, and then Jasper. They all seemed to know what he was talking about—even the audience seemed to know what he was talking about. Jasper, sensing her confusion, shook his head ever so slightly.

He glanced pointedly from her to Carlisle, knowing she’d understand his wordless instruction: listen .

“Our neighbors in the south, Mexico, are experiencing a time of great crisis. Disappearances and murders are taking place just about every day. I now have complete proof, and say with saddening confidence, that Maria is back.”

Maria . The name instantly dug the woman from Alice’s vision out of her memory. This woman wasn’t just terrifying to Alice and her fellow Protectors, but apparently to more people than she knew. Entire countries.

Members of the press began conversing worriedly with one another, the words overlapping and causing the dull roar to make it hard to pick out snippets of conversations.

“This is a disaster—“

“Why now?”

“How are we supposed to prepare for--”

“They told us she died.”

“God help us—“

“I wonder if he’s known the whole time. He has to have—“

Alice glanced at Jasper uneasily, trying not to be obvious about it, but she had a suspicion that’s who they were talking about. After all, half of the occupants in the room were looking at Carlisle, which only made sense because he was speaking.

The other half were shooting nervous glances at Jasper.

Jasper looked tense. More tense than Alice had ever seen since her arrival. His hands were rested on his thighs in front of him, and although he was giving off a calm and aloof appearance, Alice could see the tendons protruding. And not only was he not breathing, but he wasn’t moving at all.

No doubt he was carefully watching and listening as well.

Not saying anything, she stared deliberately at his face, knowing that if she concentrated hard enough, he’d feel her concern and curiosity.

He closed his eyes for a moment upon receiving this unspoken message before shaking his head again, the motion nearly imperceptible.

“We must recognize three of these deaths that have shaken Mexico so. Of their six Protectors, three have fallen victim within the past two months to Maria’s terror.” He paused, taking a moment to gather his thoughts. “Manuel Flores. Antonio Salazar. Beatriz Enriquez.”

Beatriz . Alice repeated the name. In one of her visions, Jasper and Rosalie had discussed this woman’s disappearance. They knew her.

“Our condolences lie with their friends, family, and fellow Protectors.” He took a moment of silence, bowing his head, before continuing. “I have spoken with many advisors, including Gerardo Castilla, of the Protectors of Mexico, as well as Mexico’s president, and our own leaders, and the following conclusion was made.” He paused again, breathing deeply. “The Protectors of America will not yet be able to travel to Mexico to assist with the situation with Maria.” Carlisle stopped, waiting patiently for the disapproving rumble in the crown to die down.

Even Alice found herself shocked, not understanding why.

“If you will recall the War of 1964, you can realize why this decision was made in the best interest of you, our citizens. We do not want to have to wait for a breach of the United States or Canadian borders to act out towards Maria, and we do not want her reign of terror throughout Mexico to continue without our aid, but we also cannot risk the security of our country. Too many lives are at stake. I hope you can all continue to keep our brothers and sisters in Mexico in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you.”

The moment Carlisle stepped back from the podium and the recording finished, the whole room erupted in chaos.

Pictures were being taken at a mile a minute, the bright flashes of the cameras lighting up the entire room. Reporters began yelling out questions at Carlisle. Questions, that Alice knew, he would not be answering.

A few were even yelling out Jasper’s name, confirming her suspicion that there was some type of pre-established connection between him and Maria. A connection that could further explain the origin of her vision.

A connection that could potentially explain her eventual death.

Following her fellow Protector’s example, she stood up and followed them off the stage and out the door. Eventually they were directed through a series of hallways until they reached a different door than the one they entered through. Swiftly, they jumped into their cars before the press could catch up.

As Rosalie sped out of the parking lot, with Bella in the seat beside her, Alice rested her head back and closed her eyes. Finally, she had experienced—and survived—her first public appearance, even if only barely.

But she couldn’t help but shake the thought that there was something they were keeping from her. Something important.


Sitting on the edge of Bella and Edward’s bed, Alice watched as Bella sat on the floor in front of a full-length mirror, removing the little makeup she had on.

“What was all of that?” Alice eventually asked, deciding that regardless of what happened tonight, she was getting the answers she wanted.

“Everything it sounded like,” Bella responded. “There’s been quite a bit going on in Mexico nowadays."

“Maria,” Alice nodded, “she’s the one that’s in my vision.”

“Right,” Edward confirmed, leaning up against the wall.

“And she’s... bad.”

Bella turned to face her, “You could say that. Or that she’s a heartless monster,” her face revealed her disgust.

Alice tried to comprehend what this woman could have done—could be doing —to make so many people fear and hate her. Carlisle had said that three Protectors had been killed. Protectors, who were well known for their fighting abilities. If this woman was responsible for the death of three , there was no doubt that she was dangerous.

But to kill at all

Alice just didn’t understand how anyone could do such a thing.

“It’s a hard thing to understand,” Edward agreed, responding to her thoughts, “but to understand the severity of the situation at hand, you need to realize something. Maria has been around for hundreds of years with one sole purpose: the control of the human world by vampires.” Bella moved to sit next to Alice as Edward spoke. “She truly believed that vampires were meant to gain complete and infallible control of the world; humans living only to serve under vampires as slaves and meals.”

“That’s…” Alice couldn’t find the words to explain it, “absolutely insane.”

“It is,” Edward agreed, “But Maria knew this. She knew that by herself, her mission was simply impossible. So, she began turning people into vampires—as many people as she could while still maintaining a low profile—to start a war.”

“Newborn vampires are difficult to control,” Bella added. “A group of them as big as Maria’s was next to impossible to control. So not only were they uncontrollable, but they were bloodthirsty to the extremes. And without Self-Control Training that means they were highly, and unbelievably dangerous. It’s really a miracle she hasn’t been killed by one yet.”

“I don’t understand,” Alice looked at her two friends questioningly. “Why can’t we help Mexico? Instead of leaving them all alone to fend for themselves. Carlisle said half of their Protecters had been killed. That’s leaving those poor people terribly vulnerable. Surely we have the resources to help.”

Bella and Edward exchanged a silent look.

“Have you ever heard of the War of ’64?” Alice shook her head, raising an eyebrow at Edward. “It wasn’t a human war. It was a full-fledged attempted vampire take over, led by Maria."

Alice's eyes widened. "So she's already tried this before?" 

Edward's expression was grim. "A few of us had travelled down to Mexico to aid in what the Protectors down there had called ‘massive newborn activity’. It didn’t appear to be too much of a threat--we would’ve never guessed it was an organized assault since we’d never dealt with one before--so Bella, Emmett and I went with a few teams to help.” He paused, his frown intensifying. “As soon as we arrived, we met with two of their Protectors who helped us track down the newborn activity. The moment we found them I could tell from their thoughts that it was a diversion. They were distracting us from an attack on the US from her main army.

“The fighting only lasted for eight months, and it took place mainly in Northern Mexico and the bottom half of the US, but it took almost three years after that to round up all the vampires involved.” He then hesitated, as if not wanting to tell her the last piece of information, but quickly relented. “Over a hundred thousand people—both vampire and human both—died, and that’s only the official body count. There are, and always will be, several thousand people missing or unaccounted for.”

“It’s the darkest event in our history,” Bella spoke softly, moving to stand by Edward, grabbing his hand.

“That’s why we can’t help,” Alice whispered, surprised that she was even able to verbalize in that moment. That number—one hundred thousand —just seemed so incomprehensible. “I can’t believe it. That’s unreal.”

“But unfortunately, it happened.” Edward said, pausing momentarily. "I don't agree with Carlisle," he spoke, his voice quiet. "Not on this. I think we need to be down there now, and help before it gets worse. But the leaders of these countries are terrified. They don't want an offense, they want a defense. So that's why we're staying here."

She couldn’t help but feel immense sorrow for all those lives lost. Thousands upon thousands slain viciously. All because of this one woman’s strive for power. It was almost too much for her heart to take.

Standing up, she headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Bella asked, her voice carrying her concern.

“On a walk,” she replied, not turning to face either of them, “I’ll be back.”

Tell her I’ll be alright, she thought pointedly at Edward, I just need to think.

When she walked out of their room, he didn’t stop her.


Alice decided not to stray too far from the house, especially since she wasn’t fully comfortable and familiar with her surroundings outside yet.

The areas directly surrounding the house were beautiful. There was no shortage of foliage. Luscious green trees and other plants spread wide and far over the property, the front and back yards covered with soft, thick grass.

Alice found herself walking into the backyard. As she walked, she passed a closed off section of plowed Earth, un-blossomed plants beginning to grow amongst the dirt.

A garden, Alice assumed. Probably Esme’s.

As she continued walking, Alice focused on the scents and the noises. A chorus of crickets and other bugs could be heard chirping away into the night. The wind blew softly, rustling the leaves of the trees and delivering a damp, cold scent to Alice, the rain from that afternoon bringing to life a whole new set of smells.

In the distance, she could hear the quiet trickling sound of moving water. Perhaps a river or a small lake was closer than she realized. Following the sound, she moved at a slow pace, barely faster than a human walk, taking in ever scent, sight, and sound as she languidly wandered through the trees, simply allowing her senses to lead her further and further from the house. Eventually she was brought before a bustling stream, several minutes later.

It was fairly large, maybe forty feet across and several feet deep. Alice sat herself on a large stone on the edge of the river, resting her elbows on her knees and placing her chin in her hands. Staring out into the forest, allowing the sounds of nature to encompass her, she finally let her thoughts run rampant.

She was aware that there were, and always would be, criminals in the world, both humans and vampire alike—it’s just how things worked; even she had committed her fair share of crimes in her early years—but she had been wholly blind to the things people could truly do to each other. And for such destruction and death to take place with the amount of devastation to start a war

It was truly a terrifying thought.

Maria’s face was embedded into her mind. Her words reverberating through Alice’s head over and over again.

Kill her, Jasper. Kill her. Kill her .

Alice clenched her eyes shut tight, willing the images to leave her mind.

It was crazy—absolutely insane, really—to dwell too much on the stupid little vision. She had visions all the time and not all of them had come true.

They were entirely subjective, based on decisions and choices people made. And at this point, Alice was positive that Jasper didn’t plan on betraying the Protectors and killing her. He was a genuinely nice guy and had been nothing but polite to Alice. He’d been responsive to her when she’d asked to be friends and he not only tolerated but seemed to strangely enjoy her odd quirks.

Letting one of the softer visions play in her mind, she almost sighed out loud.

Jumping down from a tree, Alice laughed as Jasper tried to catch her. Launching forward he intended to wrap his arms around her but when she jumped, twisted, and landed on his shoulders, she leaned forward and grinned sneakily. “Gotcha,” she kissed his nose before hopping down.

Alice swallowed a lump in her throat and let her face fall into her hands. So, maybe the original vision was wrong.

Or maybe , a tiny insecurity whispered, you’re wrong and he’s only luring you in before he turns on you.

Quickly removing the nagging thought from her mind, she picked up a pebble and tossed it lightly into the water. The stone made a quiet ‘plop’ as if sunk to the bottom.

She both wanted and needed to believe that Jasper was being wholly genuine toward her, because the alternative meant she was destined to blindly co-exist with someone who was actively plotting her demise. The thought of him misleading her to lure her into a friendship--and a romance even, her visions reminded her--made her chest ache. But the reality of her situation was that that thought was always on the edge of her mind with every encounter and every conversation they had.

It was an awful thing to consider.

Alice heard the soft sound of footsteps hitting the wet ground, approaching her calmly. Instead of turning to face whoever it was Alice stayed still, tossing another stone into the water.

Whoever it was stopped a couple feet behind Alice and waited. Alice continued to hold still, making no more to acknowledge her visitor.

“Mind if I join you?”

Alice finally turned her head to see Esme standing before her. Her warm smile holding something extra in it, intriguing Alice slightly. Was it understanding? Sympathy? She couldn’t be sure.

She only nodded.

Esme walked to the edge of the water and sat, as well, on a larger stone a few yards away from where Alice was. The older vampire picked up a small, flat stone, examining it thoughtfully. Then, with a quick flick of her wrist, she shot it up the river.

Alice watched in amazement as the stone appeared to dance on the water, hitting the surface a few times before disappearing inside of it.

“How did you do that?” Alice questioned, her voice full of wonder.

“You’ve never skipped stones before?” Esme asked, responding with another question.

“Skipping stones,” Alice repeated the phrase in awe before picking up a stone by her feet, examining it. Then she swung her arm, releasing the stone where it flew far upstream. Moments later, a distant, single ‘ plop’ could be heard. Alice frowned.

Esme smiled at the girl, picking up another stone, “watch carefully,” she instructed.

Alice watched closely as, once more, Esme flicked a stone across the water. Alice watched as it bounced four times before disappearing below the surface.

“It’s all in the wrist,” Esme informed her, tossing a stone toward her.

Alice caught it and, trying to mimic Esme’s technique, flicked the stone towards the water. She groaned as the rock shot, faster than a bullet, straight down into the water. Emse laughed, tossing her another one.

“Try again,” she encouraged, “but do it at a more horizontal angle, and a bit less diagonal.”

This time Alice shot the rock across the surface of the water, smiling as it bounced over the surface before submerging itself after seven skips.

She beamed, picking up more stones and skipping them across the water, each one carrying farther than the last. When a crushing sound echoed throughout the forest, Alice cringed. The most recently thrown rock had skipped all the way up the river and into a small tree off to the side.

The two women watched as the poor tree shook fiercely for a quick moment before ceasing. The rock had gone right through it.

“Sorry,” Alice whispered, setting down the next stone she had been preparing to launch.

Esme only laughed. “Any slower, and instead of going through the tree it would’ve knocked it over!”

Alice smiled sheepishly, embarrassed at her overzealousness. They sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the sounds of the forest, alive and buzzing around them.

“You’re troubled,” Esme spoke. It was not a question nor was it an accusation; only an observation.

“I guess I am.” Alice shrugged.

Esme gave her a sympathetic smile.

“I know adjusting is hard, but it’s going to take longer than a couple weeks, or even a couple months.”

“It’s not that,” Alice whispered, staring into the water. “It’s—“ she stopped, feeling foolish suddenly. But Esme waited patiently, obviously not willing to push Alice into talking. They sat in silence for almost ten minutes before she tried again. “Protectors are smart,” she continued, “Protectors fight.” She stood up and began to pace back and forth along the river. “I am not smart. I do not know how to fight. I—I can’t possibly protect anyone, let alone an entire country!” She kicked a rock, frustrated suddenly. The stone simply turned to dust.

“Maybe,” she hesitated, “maybe you made a mistake. There’s no way I can do this. I—I’m not cut out for this.”

Esme made an amused sound. “I was waiting for this,” she nodded. “Almost everyone else went through this phase,” she explained calmly as Alice sat herself back down. “You’re doubting yourself. So did everyone else.”

“But you’re all so good at what you do.”

Esme laughed. “Do you think it started out that way?” Alice didn’t respond, instead choosing to fold her arms over her chest. “We all arrived the same way. Inexperienced and unready for that we were all getting ourselves into.” Leaning back on her rock, she looked up at the night sky. “I was born in Nice, France in the mid eighteenth century. Back before vampires and humans coexisted in this world together. A few of us were born in that era, actually. Back when vampires feeding off of humans was still commonplace, you know,” she gave Alice a severe look, “so of course secrecy was top priority.”

“You… you fed off humans?” Alice asked, shocked that Esme—sweet, caring, gentle, Esme—had killed humans once upon of time.

“We all did back then,” Esme confirmed with a serious nod. “Well, not all of us,” she smiled softly. “I met Carlisle five years after I was changed. He had been staying with the European Protectors. Although they weren’t Protectors at the time. They were just a large, powerful, old coven called the Volturi . They were the original peacekeepers for our world, going to great lengths to ensure that our existence remained a secret from humans.

“Carlisle was the first vampire I ever met who didn’t have red eyes. I was enchanted, really,” she laughed softly, and Alice couldn’t help but smile at the lovely expression that crossed her features. “We became close friends, but that was it. I only stayed for a short period of time." She paused for a moment. "I have this strange quirk about myself where I seem to know things at the appropriate time.” She shrugged, “It’s hard to explain it any other way. Aro, one of the Volturi’s leaders, asked me to stay and join his coven after using his gift to read my every thought.”

Alice blinked at her. “That’s a loaded sentence.”

Esme smiled. “Imagine how I felt, younger than you, when he nearly begged me to stay in front of his entire guard—including his own wife.”

Alice couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it. “How overwhelming.”

“I couldn’t have gotten out of there fast enough,” Esme agreed, grinning. “But right before that I’d began to wonder about coexisting with humans. The thought was actually inspired by a conversation Carlisle and I had had. He had just began to study medicine and dreamed about blending into the world, not having to hide away in the darkness. I not only admired that dream but really wanted that to be a reality. I still don’t know what sold me on the idea, but the very same night I realized that it was possible. Not theoretically, but I somehow just knew that it was something that would happen.

“I suppose Aro saw what I somehow knew to be true and it apparently changed so much about him. He was already so easily drawn toward things that fascinated him and this idea—this reality —that I knew was possible became his obsession. Of course,” she sat up a bit straighter, “I didn’t know this until years later, when Carlisle joined me in America. It had apparently taken over a hundred years to get his brothers—Caius and Marcus—as well as the rest of the coven on board with the idea.”

Alice’s eyes widened, “It took them that long to decide that killing people was wrong?”

“There was,” Esme sighed, “definitely a bit more to it than that, but that was certainly a main contributor. Only vampires who have fed off of humans before know how difficult it is to try an all-animal-blood lifestyle, and a lot of these vampires had been alive for a millennia. One hundred years in comparison to thousands is hardly a long time at all. In fact, I was surprised the decision had been made so quickly. I had never expected it to be made during that millenium.

“We didn’t go public until years after that though. Loose ends had to be tied up. Word had to be spread. Aro and his guard spent decades traveling the Earth, meeting with every vampire that could be found to tell them the new rules.”

“And vampires just,” Alice shrugged, enraptured with the story, “went along with it all?”

“Oh no, definitely not. But Aro’s guard can be very convincing,” she admitted, her mouth in a firm line. Alice didn’t think she was prepared to know how the ancient coven managed to change the ways of an entire planet of immortals.

“Where were you during all of this?”

“I was here, in America. I came here in 1796 and spent the first few decades of my life traveling, learning about the terrain, the natives, everything really. This country has always been beautiful, and I do love it, but nothing will ever compare to the beauty of it back before the industrial revolution. It really was a magical, heavenly land. That’s why I love it so much up here,” she spoke, gesturing to the woods around them. “I travelled, I made ties, I learned languages. Fourteen actually, although unfortunately it’s rare that I’m able to use my knowledge since the native genocide.”

She was sad suddenly, her heart right on her sleeve as she took a moment to mourn the people that had helped her fall in love with the land she called home. Slowly, Alice moved off of her rock and went to move beside Esme.

Resting her head on the older woman’s shoulder, she relaxed when the woman wrapped an arm around her. “Thank you, sweet girl.”

“But then Carlisle came over, right?”

Esme grinned, staring back up toward the stars. “Right. It was five years after Aro had revealed to the world the existence of vampires. I’d been in contact with him for a few months before he told me he was sending a volunteer to help me ‘keep affairs in order’.”

Esme paused, letting her eyes drift upward as she gazed at the stars, her memories sweeping her decades and even centuries into the past. “I never really volunteered for the position,” she confessed, “I sort of fell into it. But it made sense. I knew the land more than anyone else Aro knew, and he trusted Carlisle and I enough with the responsibility, so the Protectors were born in 1886. Carlisle arrived just after the New Year in 1887, and then one day in 1901, as random as I can explain, I knew there was going to be more than just the two of us.”

“Edward,” Alice guessed, fascinated by the way things fell into place.

“He was living in Chicago at the time. He agreed to help fairly easily, actually. We didn’t know he could read minds until he’d been with us for several months.”

Alice laughed, “I’m sure that was quite a reveal.”

“Carlisle would’ve likely had a heart attack were he still human,” Esme mused. “That’s always how we’ve added on to our roster though. I start a new day and then suddenly I know that there are going to be more additions. That’s how it’s been for each of you.”

“But I still don’t understand,” Alice spoke quietly, inhaling Esme’s soft scent as she gathered her thoughts as well as the breath to speak. “Why me ?”

“A good question,” she mused, “but one I do not have the answer to. I’ve come to learn in my life that ‘why’ is often the question that most people get hung up on. I’ve known many vampires in my life who have wasted decades and even centuries attempting to find reason where there is none. Sometimes things simply happen. It’s not figuring out why they happen that matters, but it’s figuring out what to do afterward that’s important.

“Why you were found isn’t important. Why you were chosen hardly matters. What matters is that it has happened and you are here. And what you chose to do with this new chapter of life is the most important thing of all.”

To think of it like that, with so much wisdom in the reasoning, made Alice suddenly feel like a ridiculous child. She waited a full minute before replying. “I still don’t think I’m cut out for this,” she mumbled. “I’m really not that smart,” she insisted, “I can read and write, but that’s it. I don’t know historical stuff, I’m horrendous at understanding anything remotely scientific, and don’t even get me started on all this new technology that everyone seems to understand except for me."

“If it bothers you that much we could tutor you,” Esme offered, “but you are certainly smart in your own way. You like to read?” Alice nodded. “Well there you go! When Emmett joined I tried to get him to read a book for me…” she trailed off, shaking her head and smiling, “he was so embarrassed that he didn’t know how to read that he got Rosalie to teach him how just so he could read it and come back to talk about it with me. It took a few months, but he did it. I didn’t find out until years later that he hadn’t known how.”

Alice couldn’t help but smile. That was such a sweet and undeniably Emmett thing to do.

“I don’t know why it’s you,” Esme repeated, squeezing Alice’s shoulders, “but I know something good will come of it. Trust me.”

Standing up, she turned toward Alice and took her hands in her own. “You may not realize it yet, but you are supposed to be here.” Alice opened her mouth but Esme shook her head, “You are. I don’t know why exactly, but I know. You are essential Alice. The key to a lock we haven’t found yet. You’re vital.”

Alice tried not to let that declaration unsettle her too deeply. “The others must have been ready to serve at least a little bit, though… right?”

“You can ask them,” Esme released Alice’s hands. “You may be surprised with what you hear.”

Alice watched as Esme eventually walked away, back toward the house and disappearing into the night. Leaning over the water, the looked down at her reflection and sighed.

Even though she knew she didn’t look like a Protector—after all, she was 4’10 and skinny as they come—she had hope in Esme’s words that this was truly all for some unforeseen reason.

It was hope she was going to hold onto.

Chapter Text

Josie,

I miss you so much, but I’m doing alright. So much has happened since I got here; my head won’t stop spinning. And guess what? I know some more information about myself. Real facts! Carlisle helped. I’m actually 19. 19 years old! I’m so happy I could cry! They know all sorts of things! My birthday is October 2, 1952, my change date is November 1, 1971. The second I get more information I'm going to let you know. Did you watch the news the other night? They said my full name. My real name. Mary Alice Brandon. I don’t know where the Mary came from, but it’s just an extra name that I get to keep so I love it.

I wish I was with you. Everything is wonderful. Scary and a bit stressful, but still wonderful. Everyone is being very kind. The girls, Esme, Bella, and Rose, took me shopping in New York City. I wish you could have seen it. The buildings are HUGE. I promise one day, as soon as I’m allowed, I’ll take you there. It’ll be just like we always dreamed. I’ll buy you anything you want. Maybe in October I can bring you up and we'll do something for my birthday. Although I certainly hope I'll see you a few times before then.

I’m going to admit that I’m still scared. What will happen if I’m not the person they hope I am? They all seem to think I’ll be this fantastic fighter and wonderful Protector. I’m trying not to doubt myself, really I’m not. But it seems so impossible. And my vision. The one with the woman and man. I’m afraid it’s going to come true. Especially now that I know who they are.

It’s the woman killing people in Mexico—she’s the one I’ve been seeing for this entire time. The vision is still the same but I’m trying to change it, I promise you. I’m going to change that darned vision. Or at least I’ll try. It seems all I can do nowadays is just try. That’s what everyone’s saying, anyways. I wish I was with you.

Please, write back as soon as you get this.

I love you,

Alice

Sealing the envelope, Alice figured that it would likely be best if she refrained from talking too much about the vision. if Josie knew that Alice was currently living with the man of her literal nightmares, she would find her way up there come hell or high water. And Alice didn’t want--nor need--her to know too much about the mess she was currently in.

It had been a little over a week since Esme’s talk with her. Throughout every day she tried to remind herself that everything she was feeling would pass.

Esme had called it a ‘phase’. Phases were something people got over. Something that people eventually forgot about or moved on from, eventually continuing with their lives. Alice hope and prayed that this phase would hurry up and end already.

But it had only been a few weeks. Alice knew that she would have to give it more time and wait. She sighed, standing up.

Alice was coming to find that she hated waiting.

Exiting her room she eventually made her way downstairs where she met Carlisle heading for the door.

As he heard her approach he turned and smiled. “Hello Alice.”

“Hi Carlisle,” she walked toward him, eyeing his briefcase, “Where are you going?”

“Off to help out at the hospital.”

Alice nodded, her forehead scrunched up at the thought of him at a hospital. The fact that he was a human doctor never failed to confuse and bewilder her.

“Sounds like fun,” she spoke dryly.

“I do enjoy my work, so yes,” Carlisle smirked, “What’s it that you have there?” he asked, looking pointedly at her letter.

“Oh—it's a letter to Josie. I was going to drop it off in the mailbox.”

“I can do that for you, if you’d like,” Carlisle offered, holding out his hand. “I pass right by it anyways.”

Alice looked at the letter held firmly in her grasp and reluctantly handed it over. “I guess so.”

Carlisle detected her reluctance immediately. “Or… did you wish to do it yourself?”

Alice shook her head. “No, no. I’m just being silly.” She waved a dismissive hand.

“Don’t worry,” he smiled, waving the letter toward her. “This is going straight into the mailbox.” With a wink he was out the door, leaving Alice standing in the foyer all alone.

Normally she would’ve gone to talk to one of the girls, but Rosalie, Esme, and Bella were all out of the house. Rosalie and Esme were hunting and Bella was out running some type of errand. Possibly a Protector duty, but she wasn’t positive.

Last she checked, Emmett was forcing Edward to play some type of video game with him. He had first tried to get Alice to play, but after five minutes of playing Alice still couldn’t understand what was so exciting about it. It also didn’t help that she didn’t understand half of the controls, and Emmett didn’t seem too keen on explaining them much to her.

She then left the two with their gaming console to write her letter to Josie.

Now that Carlisle was gone, that left Jasper. Quickly weighing the pros and cons against each other, she decided to pay him a visit.

Making her way toward the library, she idly hoped he wasn’t too busy and that he’d be able to provide her with some amount of company.

Over the past couple of weeks, Alice had realized that the only times Jasper ever went to his bedroom was to change clothes (and she assumed, to shower). After a while she began to wonder why he didn’t simply move all of his belongings to the library. He spent literally all of his time down there anyways. And this was even after they’d made peace with one another.

Maybe when he said he enjoyed his work, he’d really meant it. Probably as much as Carlisle did.

Turning the corner at the bottom of the basement stairs, Alice headed toward Jasper’s desk. Although they had gotten along fairly well since her arrival, there was always darkness and uncertainty hanging over their heads. The impact of their first encounter seemed to be present in all their interactions. Even when Alice thought that they were having a nice talk, that vision would remind her of its existence and immediately her good mood would sour.

And unfortunately, with Jasper being the empath that he was, he could always pick up when she was growing distracted by whatever she was seeing. Running her hands along the edge of his new desk, Alice sighed, wishing that the vision would simply go away already.

“Is it always the same?”

Alice turned her head toward him, watching as he approached slowly, a folder underneath his arm. His features were forlorn as he sensed her emotional distress. It was easy to remember that Jasper could feel everything that she was feeling in real time.

She met his eyes for a brief moment before looking down at her hands. She nodded.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. Alice shook her head, refusing to accept such an apology. He hadn’t done anything.

Yet , her anxiety reminded her rudely.

“Alice,” he spoke softly, placing whatever was in his arms onto the desk in front of him, “I just want you to know that I will never, ever hurt you,” he vowed, stepping close to her as he held her gaze, “I promise you.”

Alice nodded silently, trying to ignore the ache in her chest. She believed him, which is what made the vision so painful now. Nowadays she didn’t so much as fear him as she did fear for him.

She’d only known Jasper for a few weeks but she felt as if she really did know him. His disposition was gentle, surprisingly so, with a quick wit and a laugh that echoed through her chest every time she heard it. He liked history and was utterly captivated by  conspiracy theories. When he started talking about something he was passionate about, she could hear a slight southern lilt to his words and he always grew a bit more animated. Although talking about his past was constantly and expertly avoided.

It was becoming so unbelievably hard to take this Jasper and turn him into the black-eyed danger from her vision.

This is what led her to the realization that something horrible would likely happen to him to turn him into what her future called for. And knowing this only made her desire to become an effective Protector stronger. If she could learn all she needed to know in this new line of work, she could protect him.

She would protect him.

“So,” he began, almost awkwardly, “where’s Bella?”

“Out,” Alice shrugged, “I’m not sure doing what. Why?”

“No reason,” he shrugged, “it’s just normally you’re always with Bella.” He paused, “Or Rosalie.” He shuffled some papers, “or Edward.” He closed a textbook and raised his head to look at her. “Or with anyone else, really.”

“Yeah, and your point is?” She placed her hands on her hips. Jasper ducked his head as he smirked, as if trying to hide the smile from her.

“Where’s everyone else?”

Alice leaned her hip up against his desk and folded her arms.

“I don’t know where Bella is, Carlisle’s at the hospital, Rosalie and Esme are hunting, and last I saw, Edward was being guilted into playing a new video game with Emmett.”

Jasper laughed, “He’s been trying to beat some game for a few weeks. Has he tried making you play?”

Alice nodded, smiling. “I couldn’t figure it out, so I gave up.”

Jasper stood, gathering a few books into his arms before walking towards the bookshelves.

“Have you ever even played video games before?”

“Not once,” Alice followed close behind him, “go ahead and make fun of my lack of technical knowledge.”

“Technical knowledge?” he repeated with a smirk, placing a book on the shelf. “That’s not what I would’ve called it.” He turned to Alice, meeting her glaring eyes. “So, everyone else is busy. And now you’re here.”

“That’s about it,” she shrugged.

He turned toward her and unfolded his arms, a look of mock-hurt on his features. “Good to know I’m your last resort for company.”

Not waiting around for a response, he turned and briskly walked back to his desk. Alice stood there for a moment, letting his words catch up to her before scrambling after him.

“That’s not—I mean—you’re not—“

“Alice,” he laughed, “I’m joking.”

“You’re simply hilarious,” she droned, still entirely unamused. “I just like being around people.”

“So, you don’t like to be alone?”

“No, that’s not what I’m—“ Alice shook her head before pointing an accusatory finger at him, “whatever. I refuse to let you psycho-analyze me today.” She leaned back against the wall. “Next thing you know, I’ll be lying on a couch and you’ll be asking me how I feel.”

Jasper laughed, “Actually—“

“I know, I know,” she waved a hand toward him, “you already know.” She picked up a paperweight and began tossing it from hand to hand. “So tell me, what am I feeling?”

Jasper merely looked at her, expressionless.

She rolled her eyes. “Humor me. Please.”

“Alright then. You’re content. Happy. Those are your main two. You’re also a tad bit bored, of course that comes along with some curiosity, too.”

“Is that it?”

Jasper narrowed his eyes questioningly, before speaking slowly. “Do you want more?”

“Give me all you’ve got,” she challenged, locking her eyes with his, feeling bolder than usual for some reason.

“Alright, fine. You’re a little nervous. I think that in the back of your head you still don’t fully like the fact that you’re alone down here with me. You’re always cautious when I’m around.” He stopped, pausing for a moment, before continuing. “You have visions a lot when you’re around me, I know that much. You have this very specific emotion that flickers through you each time you’re seeing a new one. You're also always careful to try and shield your emotions from me after you’ve seen a new one. It’s a little suspicious, I’m not going to lie. That’s…” he paused again, as if searching through her emotional climate for an extra second, “that’s about it. Right now at least.”

Alice remained completely still, eyes wide with shock and surprise. She stopped attempting to catch the paperweight, letting it fall to the floor where it landed with a dull thud. The fact that not only could he read that much into her emotions but accurately figure out when she was having a vision... 

“That was…”

“I’m sorry,” Jasper shook his head abruptly, suddenly on the same side of the desk as Alice. “That was too much. I crossed a line. I shouldn’t have said anything at all.” He picked the paperweight up off of the floor.

“Accurate. I was going to say accurate,” she said in a small, but honest voice.

“Still, it's intrusive. I shouldn’t have said that much about—“

Alice silenced him as she reached up and placed her hands on either side of his face.

“Please stop, okay? It’s fine. It was only strange to hear it out loud.” Without fully meaning to, Alice ran her thumbs over his cheekbones, partially unbelieving her own boldness.

There was a tense, quick moment where he stiffened under her touch before suddenly he seemed to deflate, relaxing slightly. “Alright,” he relented quietly.

But Alice didn’t immediately remove her hands from his face, instead focusing on a specific scar above his left eyebrow. The crescent shape informed her that it was yet another old bite mark, but the location seemed to confuse her. In her vision, this one hadn’t been so noticeable. Not like the many on his neck or the ones along the edge of his jaw.

“How does someone bite another person’s face ?” She mumbled incredulously. “I mean, that’s insane.”

He stepped back then, pulling himself out of her curious grasp before turning back toward his work. Alice frowned. She had slowly learned that not only did Jasper hate allusions to his past, but his hated any reference to his scars above all else. Physical contact didn’t seem to help much, either.

“Will you tell me?” She watched as he shuffled through a few manila folders, as if looking for a specific document.

“What?” he said curtly, his mood effectively soured. Somehow she could guess he already knew what she was asking about.

“Anything. About your scars. Or how you joined the Protectors.” She tried to keep her tone light, conversational even, as she picked the paperweight back up and began to twirl it between her fingers. But as she attempted to sneak a glance at him from the corner of her eye she noted that he was entirely still, glaring at his desk before him, his hands braced against it. Alice was suddenly alarmed. “Jasper?”

“No.”

She couldn’t help but flinch at his words, unable to hide the action. “But I—“

“There’s nothing that you need to know that you probably don’t already know,” he spoke coldly, still staring at some spot on his desk. “Trust me.”

“That’s the thing though! No one will tell me anything. And I mean that’s good, I’m glad that no one has betrayed your privacy like that—and I’m sorry for even asking anyone else—but if we’re going to work together I feel like I should at least know how you got here.”

When Jasper let out a harsh, apathetic laugh, Alice winced. “Listen—“

“I’m not asking you to tell me everything,” she clarified quickly, realizing that she had just stepped onto some insanely thin ice, “or to air out any trauma or whatever but,” she sighed, “how did you become a Protector? That’s all I’m asking.”

“How do you not already know?” He asked genuinely, narrowing his eyes in disbelief at her.

She shifted slightly as he turned his gaze on her. “I never really knew much about you guys until I got here. I knew who Carlisle and Esme were, and I knew what Rosalie looked like, but that’s about it. I didn’t know most of your names until we met you all here in the house.” Meeting his eyes, she begged him to believe her. “I—I knew your face and your name,” she confessed, “but I had no idea you were a Protector. Even when Carlisle said your name for the first time, I will still hoping that it was just a coincidence. That you and the Jasper in my vision were different people.”

There was silence for a long, awful moment. Alice’s words hanging in the air as Jasper stared at her suspiciously, as if gauging her emotions and trying to discover whether or not she was lying.

“So you really have no idea where all this came from,” Jasper asked, gesturing to all of his scars. “Or how I know Maria?”

Alice attempted to swallow a lump in her throat but failed. “I don’t know. I had a couple of theories that I was toying with, but—“

“Like what?”

Alice blinked, “I’m sorry?”

“Your theories. I’d like to hear them.” He crossed his arms and leaned back slightly.

Damn. The second she realized what she’d told him she wanted to suddenly get swallowed up by the floor. It was true since she had been trying to come up with some conclusions on her own. After all, with his war-torn appearance and the fact that, during their first meeting he’d claimed he hadn’t been in touch with Maria for decades, she’d certainly began to wonder what had happened to him once upon a time.

“Why are you embarrassed?” He asked, frowning. “They’re theories about me .”

He was right, of course. But it didn’t help that she found any speculation about her quiet coworker embarrassing.

“I know a little bit about the War of ’64, so I’m assuming that’s where the scars came from,” she began, her voice quiet as she focused back on the crystal paperweight. “And I know that Maria was responsible for that war and that you’d known each other. I sort of just assumed that you were friends.” She was quiet for a moment. “Or that you two had been close somehow. Or,” she shrugged, suddenly feeling silly, “something like that.”

“Something like that,” he agreed, his voice barely above a whisper. “You really don’t know?” The look he gave her was borderline indecipherable. As if the realization that she was telling the truth changed something entirely.

“I really, really don’t know, Jasper.”

“Can you just trust me then?” he asked her, moving closer, his eyes pleading with her. “Can you trust that you don’t need to know, and that no matter what happened before, I won’t hurt you?”

“But why? What can’t I know?” Alice was starting to get frustrated, a rotten feeling growing in her stomach with the realization that Jasper wanted to hide something from her. “If you’re so surprised that I don’t know, what’s going to stop a… a…” she searched for her next words, “a reporter, or a random person on the street, or another tabloid in another magazine from saying something that gives it—whatever you’re trying to hide from me—away?”

“I like that you don’t know my past,” he confessed, a pained expression taking over his features. “Okay? How’s that? I like that you don’t look at me with pity constantly. I like that you can come down here and we can talk and it’s not centered on Maria,” he spat the name out with venom in his voice. “I like that when you’re around I—I seem to forget who I am sometimes. But even then,” he gestured toward her, “you still have that awful vision. So it’s not like you’ve forgotten.” Running his hands through his hair, he sighed, letting his palms come to rest over his eyes. He seemed to be trying to collect himself, and that made Alice’s heart ache in a way she’d never experienced before.

“I believe you, you know?” She reached out toward him but quickly hesitated, lowering her arm back down. “I don’t think you’re going to hurt me.”

“Even though your ability tells you otherwise, huh?” He lowered his hands from his face, and Alice couldn’t help but notice how tired he looked. His eyes were starting to darken, too. Perhaps he needed to drink.

“I believe you because if you didn’t care about hurting me, you wouldn’t hesitate to tell me whatever it is you’re keeping from me,” she spoke matter-of-factly. “I might not have the same talent that you do but I know that you must think that whatever it is you don’t want me knowing is going to change the way I think about you—“

“I know it will—“

“No, you don’t. Jasper, if I can see a vision every day for nearly fifty years of you trying to kill me, and if I can still become friends with you despite it all, what do you think will drive me away now?” He frowned, clearly not appreciating the fact that she made a good point. “I don’t want to hear it from someone else; from someone who won’t care about the full truth of it all. I want to hear it from you. I—“ she hesitated before reaching out and taking his hand within hers, “I need to hear it from you.”

Alice stared at him quietly, imploring him to see things from her perspective. She was sure it was only a matter of time before she found out about his past. She’d actually been avoiding a variety of outlets recently—history books, the news, even the wide array of tempting magazines that Esme seemed to have scattered throughout the house—in hopes that he’d tell her himself. A couple days prior Bella had been flipping through a magazine, informing Alice that there’d likely be pictures of her circulating in print soon. “The gossip columns can’t get enough of us sometimes, so you’re going to be in a lot once next month’s issues start coming out.”

She’d only gotten a vision of one that she knew would hit newsstands and that Esme would have a copy of when it came out. Some celebrity lifestyle publication would have a random article about her with two photos and only half the facts. One picture of her sitting in the chair the night Carlisle made the announcement, and one just before the announcement was made, of her holding Jasper’s hand, leading him into the newsroom.

There would be a caption speculating a romance between the two, but not much outside of that.

Squeezing his hand now, she tried to ignore the butterflies she felt at that thought, making it a point to ignore the newer visions of the two of them that proved that they weren’t destined to die by each other’s hands.

“Okay,” he breathed out, relenting to her after an internal struggle. He squeezed her hand lightly before releasing it, pushing back the sleeves of his shirt to reveal his forearms. Alice leaned forward, eyes taking in every inch of exposed skin he was revealing to her.

There were so many more scars than she’d ever expected; she’d never seen him in anything other than long sleeves and now she understood why. The bite marks weren’t just on his hands and neck, but they were everywhere . Idly, she wondered if there was any part of his body that hadn’t been marred.

“I didn’t get these from the war,” he started quietly. “Well, I got a few from the war, but not all of them.”

Alice almost reached out before hesitating. “May I?”

Jasper nodded and immediately she placed her hands against his arms, running her fingers over the silver scars, feeling the bumps all over his skin. Letting her hands wander up his arms, she stopped where his shirt bunched up at his elbow.

“They’re all over,” he confirmed. “You’ve led a relatively peaceful life as far as I understand, so I’m sure you don’t know the damage our venom can inflict. It’s one of the only things that can leave us with a scar. When vampires are newborns they fight very wildly, using mainly teeth and nails.”

“Sounds… painful,” Alice grimaced.

“Very.” He inhaled deeply. “I was born in Texas in 1844 and changed in 1863. Maria is the one who changed me, bringing me into this life. It was back before the Protectors had been established so things were very… different in comparison to now.” Alice nodded, remembering back to Esme’s confession that even she had fed off of humans once. “I had been a soldier in the Confederate Army,” he paused, eyeing her curiously, “do you know what that is?” She shook her head, a tiny bit abashed. “It was during a human war, you don’t need to worry about those specifics too much. But she’d found me as a human, trying to evacuate people to safety, and when I offered her and her coven mates—Nettie and Lucy—assistance, she changed me. She told me later that she knew that my military training would come in handy, and she was right.

“I learned quickly that she was building an army. You see, back before our integration there were constantly battles being fought in the south. The Southern Wars began before I was created and continued even after the Mexican Protectors were introduced. There were constant battles for land because land meant humans, and humans meant blood. Whoever was in charge of the biggest area of land was able to feed as often and inconspicuously as possible.” He paused, as if gauging her reaction. “Does that not frighten you?” He appeared confused.

Alice shrugged. “Esme already told me that a few of you fed off humans before. It’s only natural for our kind, so,” she shrugged again. “It doesn’t scare me.”

“I see,” he considered something for a moment, before shaking his head. “In the battles I was good. Very good. I quickly proved I was a valuable asset and was her right hand before I knew it. When we discovered I had an ability, and after witnessing how easy I could manipulate the others, she put me in charge of her newborns. That meant I trained them, led them into battle, and eventually I killed them.”

Alice’s eyes widened. “But why?”

“A vampire’s strength ebbs considerably after the first year of creation. If there wasn’t a reason to keep them, they were to be disposed of and replaced.”

“So unless you were gifted…”

“That or unless you were good at fighting. Very  good. You had to have something to offer or Maria wouldn’t have given a second thought to disposing of you. I—“ he frowned, “I did all the dirty work. That’s where these came from. Decades and decades of fighting and training and disposing of newborns.”

“What happened to her covenmates? Nettie and Lucy?”

“After several years their loyalties to one another began to fade.” He grimaced. “They weren’t as tight knit as you’d think. Mainly it was a allyship of convenience. Once Maria and I became more of a threat than an asset, they tried to dispose of us.”

Alice didn’t even have to ask how that went. She had a feeling, with the confirmation that Jasper and Maria were both still alive and kicking, that she knew exactly how that encounter had ended.

“Did you ever lose a fight?” She asked, her hands running over a particularly thick scar on the inside of his right forearm.

“Never. I killed thousands during my time under Maria. Vampire and human alike. When the Integration happened in the late 1800s, and when our existence was revealed across the globe, things got complicated.”

He inhaled deeply and paused for a long moment. “You see, Maria never told us about it—and it wasn’t until much later when I put the pieces together—but she had been completely outraged with the decision. I think the fact that it had been decided by the Volturi and that everyone else was supposed to blindly comply made her so furious. One day in late Autumn, a couple decades after I’d been changed, she went on a killing spree. I had 11 newborns to train after that since she’d killed them all in her rage, so it was a relief to have that to focus on as opposed to her virulent emotions,” he mused, mind far, far away. “It took me almost 80 years before I realized the cause of her tantrum that day, and her rage that festered for years underneath her facade.

“I think sometimes even she would forget that I could feel her emotions. It’s much harder to be lied to with my ability.” His eyes simply followed the trail her fingers were leaving as they examined scar after scar on his forearm. “I never met Carlisle until much, much later, but he had tracked her down soon after the integration announcement had been made. He was making ‘house calls’. Traveling to ensure that vampires knew who he was and that they were aware of the new laws that would be coming into effect. She had apparently been very open-minded in their encounter, promising to register with him and agreeing to abide by the new rule. Carlisle later told me that she’d been very eager, even offering her assistance to him. Of course he’d turned it down but told her he’d keep her in mind.

“A month after she met him she told us that we were in danger. She did inform us that vampires were no longer a secret, but she lied and told us that if we weren’t careful we’d have to forfeit our lands.”

“And having land meant having a meal,” Alice nodded, keeping up with the details of the story.

Jasper nodded. “Exactly. She told us the humans had these evil, traitorous yellow-eyed vampires on their side and now that they knew of us, we were doomed. We had to be twice as careful during hunts. We had to clean up twice as well and make sure to cover our tracks as neatly as ever. The fighting did stop for a little while, but not completely. Once the covens down south realized that the new Protectors were located far up north, it was fairly easy to fall back into old habits, despite the looming dangers.”

“Did you ever grow tired of it?” She asked, turning away from his face to gaze back down at his scars. She didn’t know when it had happened, but she’d grabbed both of his hands within her own and was holding tightly to him.

“It was hard. I won’t deny that. And my gift made things miserable most days. Every time I killed a newborn, every time I fought on the battlefield, every time I fed: I felt everything they did. But throughout it all I never questioned anything. Maria was all I had in my life and she’d never given me reason to doubt her. Even after she turned on Nettie and Lucy and enlisted my help, she’d been grateful, praising me and rewarding me beyond anything I could’ve asked for. She made me feel irreplaceable, so of course I wanted to stay.

“We had been created in a world where the battles and the fighting were commonplace. We thought this was how vampires existed all over the globe. So she told us that if we weren’t careful, and if we didn’t give the impression of being complicit, we would lose everything.”

“But you found out eventually,” Alice stared down at his hands, trying to avoid his eyes. “You found out about the laws and that there was peace up north, right?”

“Not until we brought the wars up north, too.”

Her eyes widened, “You didn’t find out until ’64?”

He nodded, and a wave of disgust caught Alice so off guard she would have stumbled back if she hadn’t been holding onto Jasper’s hands so hard.

“Sorry,” and in seconds, the feeling was gone, Jasper reeling it in before it could affect her any further. He squeezed her hands ever so softly, another wordless apology.

“You can’t hate yourself for that,” Alice frowned, tightening her grip on his hands. “You said it yourself, you didn’t know.”

“I had suspicions,” he confided softly. “After a few decades all of Maria’s enemies began to disappear. I proudly thought it was because they feared us, but I later found out that most of them went along with the integration. By the time the 30s rolled around we weren’t fighting enemy covens for land, we were simply killing any yellow-eyed vampires that happened to stumble across our path. People who knew nothing of the Southern Wars and who’d simply stumbled upon the wrong place at the wrong time. Innocent people,” he emphasized, looking at her pointedly.

“How did you never get caught?” Alice was almost amazed that Maria had gotten away with everything she’d done. As far as she understood, vampires couldn’t do something as simple as move into another neighborhood without the approval of their assigned Containment Center.

“You need to realize that Maria was incredibly smart, and was always so very careful with every move she made. Very rarely would we ever cause a stir. Since we stayed away from large cities and communities, we rarely killed anyone who would be missed, or whose death or disappearance wouldn’t be explained away by the nearest town. Training newborns got much harder because these were people who had known about vampires before their change—they were more resistant. Not by much though. Once a newborn gets a taste of human blood, you can get them to do nearly anything.

“Maria never kept it a secret that she hated the yellow-eyed vampires and how the new ‘leaders’ of the land were nothing more than fools trying to play human. It was in the 40s when she revealed her plan to me, and I admired her all the more for it. Maria joined up with the Protectors in Mexico.”

Alice couldn’t contain the gasp that seemed to fall out of her. “What? How?”

“She’d kept in touch with Carlisle throughout the years. He’d mentioned it in a correspondence to her first in the early 30s, about how the Protectors in Mexico would surely benefit from having her. She played coy for several years, but then eventually agreed in 1949. She was sworn in that winter.”

“But how? Doesn’t drinking human blood make your eyes red? The other Protectors would know, right?”

He nodded. “It only takes a few weeks of an animal diet before your eyes turn golden. And sometimes Maria would disappear for months at a time. Again, she was very calculating with everything she did. I found out later that she actually stuck to the animal diet while she was in Monterrey. I saw her only a few times a year at that point. But she never let me see her with golden eyes. She was always sure to feed on a human before returning. Of course I didn’t know any of this until much later.” Jasper was silent again, his memory taking him years and years away. “There was a lot I didn’t know until much later.”

“How’d you get out though?” Alice asked, still trying hard to understand how he went from second in command of the war of ’64 to being instated as one of the few sworn to protect the very people he’d once terrorized.

He inhaled deeply and shook his head. “I’m sorry.” As her face deflated, he pulled a weak smile onto his face. “I’ll tell you the rest, I promise. Just not today. It’s been,” he shook his head, as if trying to shake the memories from his mind, “exhausting to go through all that.”

“Thank you,” Alice spoke, praying that he could sense every ounce of her gratitude and thankfulness toward him. He still hadn’t exactly given her what she’d asked for, which was the story of how he ended up a Protector, but she knew she was on the way to learning. He just had to decide to open up a little bit more.

“You’re really not scared by any of that, are you?” There was a hint of humor in his voice, mixed with traces of pure amazement. “How did that not change the way you feel?”

“I know you’re waiting for me to run for the hills like I did when we first met,” she grinned cheekily at him, “but honestly? Learning all of this is just helping me understand you more. That’s all I want really,” she shrugged slightly, lifting herself up onto her tiptoes before dropping herself back down.

A quick vision flickered through her mind and she couldn’t help it when she laughed.

Jasper raised an eyebrow. “Care to share?”

“I think Emmett is about to finally win his video game,” finally dropping his hands she turned and began to walk away, “In about… twenty seconds. I’m about to go watch the show.” Stopping at the bottom of the stairs she turned to glance over her shoulder and cocked an eyebrow, as if asking if he were coming.

Ducking his head she watched happily as he shook his head and laughed before following after her. Just as they began to climb the stairs, Emmett’s victory cries and hoots could be heart throughout the entire house. Jasper only laughed harder.

Chapter Text

“Do you know how to drive?”

Alice lifted her head up from behind her brand-new laptop and looked at Rosalie. Jasper, who currently sat on the couch beside her, averted his attention away from the screen as well.

He’d purchased the computer for her a few days prior; when she stubbornly refused to accept it he told her to think of it as a welcoming gift. “You’re going to need it,” he had insisted, pushing it into her reluctant arms after a few minutes of coaxing her into accepting it.

Right now, it was serving its purpose and Alice was finally—after decades in a technological blackout, essentially—going to learn how to navigate the internet.

She hadn’t been this excited about something in years. Especially after Bella had talked it up so much.

“Drive? As in, drive a car?” Alice asked, feeling as if she needed to clarify somehow.

“Unless you have the ability to operate a boat or airplane?” Rosalie replied, moving to sit on the edge of the couch.

Edward was currently sitting in the loveseat across the room, idly flipping through channels on the television.

“No, I don’t know how.” She could only count the amount of times she’d ridden in a car on one hand.

“Would you be interested in learning?”

Alice’s jaw dropped. “Really?”

The blonde woman shrugged. “I don’t see why not?”

“But don’t I need a car?”

“You can just borrow one of ours,” she offered, as if it were nothing. Alice fought hard not to gawk at her. She didn’t know much about cars (anything really) but she knew that the ones in their garage were expensive.

“That would be wonderful. Thank you.”

“Perfect. I can teach you any time after tomorrow. Whenever you want, really.” She then hopped up and strode out of the living room.

“That's,” Alice searched for words, still so touched at the offer, “so incredibly nice of her.” She glanced back at her computer screen, almost distracted entirely from her task.

Edward snorted from where he sat, finally settling on some news station.

“Bite me, Edward,” Rosalie called from the second floor.

Alice looked at Edward and then to Jasper, baffled by the quick exchange.

“What’s that about?” she whispered, leaning in so that Edward wouldn’t hear—although as a mind reader she was sure there was really no point.

“Long story,” Jasper replied, looking mildly put-out by the exchange as he shot Edward a tired glance. She found herself wondering what he was feeling from the pair. “Alright,” he pulled her attention back to the task in front of them, “so you have all the basics down?”

Alice nodded, “Trackpad to move the cute little mouse cursor, press to click things. Easy.”

“Most of the time,” he acknowledged.

“Okay, whatever. Can we please do the internet now?” She nearly begged, her excitement bubbling over.

Jasper rolled his eyes but smiled all the same. “Alright, be patient.” He turned the computer toward himself and typed quickly onto the keyboard.

“Oh please,” Alice folded her arms as Jasper clicked on something and turned the screen back toward her. Excitedly, she studied the screen, but quickly frowned.

“What is this?” she demanded, pointing at the screen.

His voice was deadpan. “Behold, the internet.”

Alice started at the white homepage with the strangely colored odd word and frowned, “What do I do with this?”

“It’s Google,” he informed her and Alice wanted to roll her eyes at him. As if she knew what that meant…

“I see that,” she dismissed, “now what?”

“Type something in.”

“What do I type?”

“I don’t know. Anything. Whatever you want.”

Alice sat back and looked at the laptop, thinking. After about two minutes, she still sat quietly, staring intently at the screen. Jasper sat beside her, nearly bursting at the seams with hardly contained laughter—at what, she had no idea.

“Oh—for the love of God , type in anything,” Edward groaned toward from where he was lounging across the room. “I can hardly tune you out with all the back and forth and back and forth. It’s not that big of a deal. Just type in the first thing that pops into your little over-thinking head.”

Glaring at the bronze-haired boy, Alice frowned, before typing something into the search bar.

FUCK OFF EDWARD

As Jasper attempted to stifle his laugh, Edward’s expression soured. “Very original,” he puffed, turning his attention back toward the TV.

But Alice was already back to ignoring him, instead watching as the page seemed to automatically transform before her eyes, taking her attempted insult and churning out what looked like thousands upon thousands of web pages and links for her to click on.

Unable to help herself, she clicked on a random one, watching as a new webpage opened and displayed as much random information as she could take in. This webpage seemed to be actually explaining what the phrase ‘fuck you’ meant--its origins, everything . Alice read everything as quickly as she could, delightfully happy that on the internet, even insults were taken seriously enough that they were defined and described and discussed thoroughly.

For several minutes she simply clicked link after link, going from one website to the next. Some pages had a plethora of ridiculous information, and others had music playing in the background. Her favorite one had been a video, explaining very seriously the history of the word ‘fuck’. She’d nearly giggled herself into stitches over that, at one point resting her head on Jasper’s shoulder trying to hold herself together.

A few more clicks in and Edward sat up abruptly, “Wait, Alice not that—“ and suddenly Alice found her fun grinding to a screeching halt. It was no sooner that she’d clicked an obscure link that the sound of a loud moan filled the room. She only saw a split second before the reality of what was happening hit her, and Jasper snatched the laptop out of her possession, closing the window in the next second.

Edward was in absolute hysterics, having witnessed the event unfold in both Alice and Jasper’s minds. “Did that—did that really… just… happen?” he managed to ask the question between laughs. He was nearly keeled over in giggles; Alice had never seen anything like it from the normally stoic Protector.

“Shut up Edward,” she mumbled, tossing a throw pillow at him and hitting him square in the face with it. Still laughing, he removed the pillow and looked at her, his eyes mocking her with his knowing look.

“I can’t,” more laughter, “believe that happened.”

“Did I miss something here?” Bella wondered as she peeked around the doorway and into the living room where they sat.

“No!” – “Yes!” Alice and Edward exclaimed at the same time.

“Uh-huh,” Bella spoke wearily as she moved to sit next to her snickering husband.

“Nothing, you missed nothing ,” Alice exclaimed a bit loudly.

“Yeah, nothing except Alice stumbling upon porn during her first time using the internet,” he could barely contain himself.

“You’re acting like Emmett,” Jasper grumbled, clearly not amused by the situation. Closing the laptop he placed it beside himself on the sofa and crossed his arms. Alice wondered if he felt like fleeing, too.

“Who is?” A voice asked from the other room. The voice belonging to none other than Emmett McCarty himself.

“No one!” Alice exclaimed, bringing her knees up to her chest and burying her face behind her knees. “No one is acting like anything! Nothing is going on!”

But of course, with Emmett’s natural curiosity, Alice should’ve known that a claim like that, made in near-hysterics, would draw him into the room where he now stood arms crossed and eyebrows raised. His unspoken question was clearly understood by all.

“Alice is watching porn.”

The next thing to hit Edward wasn’t a pillow, but instead a shoe. Alice was already beginning to take off her other shoe when Jasper snatched it out of her hand.

“Man, Jasper. Trying to rid her of her innocence so soon?” Emmett clicked his tongue in mock disapproval.

Edward laughed harder. Bella groaned, shaking her head. Emmett stood, smirking, arms folded.

And Jasper tossed Alice’s shoe back to her, glaring at Emmett as Alice flung her shoe at a much larger target than Edward.

“Woah there missy,” Emmett caught her shoe before it hit him in the chest, “I’m just protecting your virtue.”

If she'd had any blood still flowing through her dead veins, her cheeks would have turned bright scarlet. Of course she’d known what porn was, and had heard—from Josie actually—that the internet was a disgusting place, chock full of it apparently. But never had she once actually seen it with her own two eyes.

If vampires could die from embarrassment, Alice would’ve been a goner.

“Give me back my shoe,” Alice seethed.

“Why should I?”

“Because I didn’t hit you the first time,” she pointed out.

“Want to borrow mine?” Jasper grumbled as he massaged his temples slightly. Alice wondered whether the strength of her emotions currently was capable of giving him a headache.

Bella snatched one of Alice’s shoes out of Edward’s hands, tossing it back to the girl. “Give her back the damn shoe, Emmett. You two are being obnoxious.”

“We aren’t the ones watching people get hot and heavy online in the middle of the living room in broad daylight ,” Emmett defended, still grinning as he, too, tossed Alice back her shoe. “Take it somewhere else next time, you two,” he mockingly scolded, pointing a finger at them as he walked into the room a bit more, attention falling to whatever it was Edward had turned on the television.

“Quiet,” Jasper said firmly, willing the conversation to die. Alice couldn’t be positive, but he looked positively angry about the entire exchange, causing a lump to form in her throat. Sure, it was embarrassing—mortifying, really—but was he really that furious over a few jokes at their expense?

A small, insecure part of her wondered if the implications about the two of them ever being involved… like that , was what was making him so upset. And the fact that a supposed relationship between them made him angry didn’t sit right with her; the idea instantly caused a strange disappointment to bloom within her.

“Don’t sweat it,” Bella pulled her out of her thoughts as she leaned into her husband, his eyes focused back on the news station. “This was your first time using the internet right?” Alice nodded once. “Well there’s your first lesson: the internet has an alarmingly huge amount of porn on it. Beware." She let a smile creep onto her face. "I was teaching at a college not far from here at the turn of the century, right around when kids started bringing and using their laptops in class. One student opened up his computer and had forgotten he’d been watching porn and had left the video up. It started blasting through the lecture hall just as I started class.”

Alice cracked a slight smile at that, her eyes widening in shock. “You’re joking.”

“Nope, it was pretty awkward for everyone involved. He dropped the class that night and I never saw the poor kid again. Thankfully it was the first day of classes so he wasn’t penalized but,” she shrugged, “you live and you learn I guess.”

“I remember making you move your shield so I could see that after you told me about it,” Edward commented, grinning at the memory they now shared.

“You teach?” Alice was intrigued by the concept but she supposed it made sense. If Carlisle could be a doctor surrounded by humans and their blood on a regular basis, of course her other fellow Protectors could hold normal human jobs as well.

“Occasionally. It’s been a few years since I’ve taught in person but if things ever slow down around here again, I’d be more than willing to go back on campus. I’m slated to teach an online course this summer. Just an intermediate American Literature class. You’re welcome to enroll if you’d like.”

“School seems a little overwhelming,” Alice admitted, “but I’d love to go one day.”

“Of course,” Bella smiled. “It can be pretty fun sometimes. I enjoyed school a lot more after my change.”

“Do you have any degrees? Have you always wanted to teach? Have you ever worked anywhere else? Like, not teaching I mean.” The questions nearly tumbled out of Alice’s mouth. She couldn’t help but be insanely curious about these parts of her friend’s life. Granted, she was curious about all of her fellow Protectors lives, especially knowing that they’d all lived such wildly different lives at one point. It was fascinating to learn about it all, considering the fact that for decades all Alice had done with her life was sit up in an attic, passively waiting for her fate to catch up to her.

Bella smiled softly, entirely undeterred by her enthusiasm. “I have a few degrees. I’ve got a couple in English and Education. I wanted to teach when I was a human—my mother was a teacher—but after I was turned and became a Protector, that wasn’t really possible for a while. By the time I decided I still wanted to teach back in the early ‘80s it was much harder than it was when I was growing up. I just went for the degrees I needed and that was it. Nothing like overachievers one and two,” she commented, gesturing to Edward and waving her hand vaguely toward the upper level, probably referring to Rosalie. “But other than teaching I don’t really have a desire to do much else. This job here keeps me busy enough as it is.”

“Do you have a degree?” Alice eyed Jasper beside her. Of course he did, she figured. He seemed bookish enough.

“I have some,” he gave half of a shrug.

“Jasper has four,” Bella explained, clearly unsurprised by his refusal to elaborate. “Edward has eight. Rosalie has six but they’re tough ones. A couple of engineering degrees, plus law school under her belt. Carlisle goes back to school every few decades to make sure he’s up-to-date with all his medical knowledge.”

“What about you?” Alice asked Emmett, who was still standing before the television, arms crossed.

“Nada for me,” he said, eyes still trained on the television. “I’m not too interested in all that.”

Alice then remembered what Esme had confided in her about Emmett being illiterate until after his joining with the Protectors. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder. “Why not?”

“I’m perfectly content with the line of work we’re in,” he explained simply, “and if I don’t need a degree for it? Perfect. I’m not much of a book-worm anyways.”

“What did you do before you were a Protector?” she asked a bit apprehensively. Ever since receiving such a negative initial response after asking Jasper about his past, she was a little bit reluctant to ask anyone else. Even a friendly guy like Emmett.

“I was a logger. Although back then it was ‘lumberjack’,” he informed, turning slightly to look at her. “I got to tear down trees for money. It was a kick ass job.” A smile fell upon Alice’s face as she pictured Emmett in a forest, happily ripping trees from their roots day in and out.

It had always been normal for vampires to hold jobs that were considered dangerous or hazardous for humans. Logging, construction, and fishermen made up a lot of common jobs for vampires. When you didn’t tire, didn’t need sleep or lunch breaks, and when you were virtually indestructible and incomprehensibly strong, it was much easier for employers to hire vampires as opposed to fragile humans.

“When Rose and Carlisle came to me in ’33 to bring me back here I almost didn’t go.”

That ripped Alice out of her thoughts, “What? Why not?” Even with her fate looming over her head, Alice had barely thought twice about going with Carlisle.

Emmett shrugged, “I had a good life. A nice apartment. Cool friends and coworkers. And then those two strode right onto the field when I was working, telling me that I had to drop everything and just go with them? Hell no. Rose said ‘you’ll never have to work in this dirty forest again’, as if that was a selling point for ‘em. I got mad and sent them away.”

“You were a stubborn oaf then, and you still are now,” Rosalie remarked, walking into the room with a wry grin on her face. “It didn’t take long to convince you to go with us.”

Emmett grinned as she walked over to him. “You were the prettiest thing I’d ever seen, but I would’ve rather played in the dirt with my boys than play politician with your beautiful self.”

“What changed?” Alice asked, intrigued.

“They mentioned the pay,” Emmett grinned, wrapping his arms around his wife. Rosalie rolled her eyes and looked toward Alice.

“Carlisle and I hung around for a few days and eventually convinced him to hear us out. We mentioned job specifics—“

“Like the pay.”

“—and that he could potentially help a lot of people.”

“I’m so in it for the pay,” he joked, grinning.

Rosalie smack his chest. “Shut up, Em.” She turned back toward Alice. “He came with us after that and he never looked back.”

Alice couldn’t help but smile back, watching Emmett plant a messy kiss on Rosalie’s cheek, a huge dopey smile on his face. Feeling brave, she risked another question.

“What about you? Why did you join?”

Rosalie turned around in Emmett’s arms until she was facing Alice fully. “Unlike Emmett here, I actually was in it for the pay at first, that I won’t lie about. But the opportunities it gave me were incomparable. As a young woman in the 20s finding respectable work was nearly impossible for a vampire. Carlisle offered the position and I had nothing to lose.”

“It was only four of you back then, right?”

She nodded, “Edward had already been a Protector for a couple decades and Emmett didn’t get recruited until almost ten years after me. Then it was another few decades until we found Bella, and that was just a goddamn nightmare.”

Bella seemed to agree. “It did make Emmett’s recruitment seem like a piece of cake.”

Rosalie eyed Alice closely, before turning toward Bella, “Does she know that story?”

“Haven’t told it yet,” she sighed before sitting up, lifting her head from her husband’s shoulder. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“How about like this,” Rosalie turned back to Alice, “Bella was still human when they found her.”

Alice’s eyes nearly popped out of her head, widening in shock. “What?” There was no way.

“I was seventeen living in a little town in Washington. Carlisle and Edward actually walked into my school to recruit me, thinking I was a teacher or something—I think we had two or three that were staff members, actually. Vampires, I mean. But nope. Just little old me sitting in science class before getting called down to the office, only to see two Protectors waiting for me.”

“Edward almost killed her,” Rosalie chimed in almost gleefully, an odd smile on her face. “She was his singer.”

Alice was so stunned by all these revelations that she could hardly wrap her mind around what she was hearing. Faintly, she realized that Rosalie and Edward were bickering slightly. “You were human?” She asked Bella, so in awe of her that she knew she had to hear this story.

“And an underage one, since people aren’t even allowed to apply for Change until they’re eighteen. And from a town small enough that by the time dinnertime rolled around that day, everyone knew. I thought my dad was going to fetch his shotgun and try to blow Carlisle’s head from his shoulders when he explained that I was being offered a Protector position.” Bella shook her head at the memory. “I was receptive to the idea but completely skeptical. Didn’t help that both of my parents were weary of vampires in general. My mother slept with garlic underneath her pillow every night of her life up until I moved out to live with my dad, maybe even beyond that.” She grinned and Alice couldn’t help but giggle at that.

“It was unprecedented,” Edward explained, “Esme never really knows specific details so there was no way she would’ve known Bella was still human. We had no idea what to do after we realized she was still human.”

“They left and came back a couple weeks later, but by that time the gossip had circulated around the country, and things grew complicated.”

“Things sounded already complicated,” Alice felt exasperated, “was she really your singer?” She asked Edward, hardly believing it.

Alice knew all about singers, the humans whose blood appealed to someone above all others. She was thankful that she’d never come across one, but she’d read horror stories of humans murdered and attacked in broad daylight by normal, easy-going, law abiding vampires. Murdering a singer was still a highly punishable offense but the severity of the crime was a tad less severe than that of a vampire who killed normal humans. The main difference being that if you could prove that a human had been your singer, you stood a chance.

Unfortunately, it was a hard thing to prove.

Edward nodded, his lips in a grim line. “It was bad. It didn’t help that I was vehemently against the idea of turning a human just for them to be a Protector.”

“Oh he hated me at first,” Bella shocked Alice by grinning as she spoke. “Absolutely detested me.”

“No, I was just exasperated that a child thought she could decide to be immortal or not.”

“No, you were just mad ‘cause you couldn’t read my mind and you didn’t like that,” she then turned to Alice, “he thought I was some freak out to get him. A singer whose mind he couldn’t read? Just my existence alone tortured him.”

“That was the only fun part,” Rosalie chimed in. “Watching Edward pull his hair out trying to convince Carlisle and Esme that they were insane for considering changing a human for the job.”

“Don’t act like you didn’t agree with me,” he glared at the blonde.

“Of course I did. But it was so nice to watch you writhe in barely-contained rage.”

“But you got your way,” Alice commented, “I mean, you’re here now.”

“It took almost an entire year before I was turned. There was no standard protocol for recruiting a human for a job where the only prerequisite was that you be a vampire first. This was the first time there was a real public outcry against anything the Protectors had done, so the priority at first was extinguishing any flames of resentment the population was fanning toward us.”

“I had my hands full for months , doing interviews with even the most unheard of publications to explain the logistics of everything,” Rosalie complained. “Being the only lawyer in this house had its down sides.”

“The worst part was that they were asking ‘why’ constantly. And that’s where things became delicate.” Bella stopped for a moment before turning toward Edward and giving him a serious look. When Edward nodded, she turned back toward Alice, “We try to keep things as transparent as possible to the general public—to the humans, mainly. But there are still a few things that vampires have to keep to themselves for the safety of everyone else.”

Alice’s eyebrows shot up. “You mean there are rules I don’t know ?”

“Not rules, exactly. Just secrets. Things that aren’t talked about. Abilities, for one.”

“Like my visions?” She guessed, eyeing Jasper who was sitting silently beside her before turning toward Edward and thinking, and your mind-reading, Bella's shield, and Jasper’s emotional manipulation?

Edward nodded. “We don’t make this common knowledge for the safety of the populace. If humans knew about our abilities it would be disaster. There are already enough people who go through the grueling application process, trying to become immortal. But if they knew there was a chance they could come out the other end with a potential gift? The process would become even more unbearable than it already is for Containers who work in Change Application.”

“I forget that’s a thing sometimes,” Alice admitted, understanding what they meant. If whoever had changed Alice knew that she’d be something akin to a psychic, she wondered how different her life would have been. Maybe they would’ve stuck around. Or conversely, maybe they would’ve used her powers for something less than desirable.

It was hard to imagine that working in Application would be anything other than stressful. She’d only met one other vampire in her life before Bella that had applied and actually been accepted through the Department of Change. She was a nice enough woman and had worked with Josie for a number of years, running her own wholesale fabric distributor. It had stricken Alice as odd that someone would want to be immortal solely to sell textiles for eternity, but she couldn’t judge the woman too harshly.

After all, she had been making much more of herself than Alice had been.

“So, I’m not supposed to talk about my gift then, or other people’s?” She guessed. It made sense. It also was something she had been planning on doing regardless out of common courtesy, but knowing that this has been some unspoken rule that she’d been unaware of made her feel anxious. “That’s simple. Anything else?”

“There are,” Edward paused for a moment, seemingly deliberating something internally, “other things that you’ll learn about as time passes. Don’t fret over that now.”

“But back to the story,” Bella chimed in, trying to steer the conversation back to where it had begun, “everyone kept asking ‘why her?’ ‘why this random human girl?’ ‘why not a vampire?’, and since they couldn’t exactly say anything about Esme’s ability, they had to think of a cover story.”

“It actually turned out better than expected,” Emmett remarked, grinning at Bella with a look on his face that made Alice wonder what was so funny.

Rosalie nodded. “We came up with this story about how because humans and vampires truly are equal in the world, it should be obvious why we’d want to recruit a human for the job. Which sparked this huge nationwide discussion about true equality and what humanity really means. And poor little Bella had to go on a small public speaking tour, talking to people and answering questions. We definitely had to talk her up a lot, so the nation really thought she was this angelic little princess, preparing herself to sacrifice her humanity to do missionary-type work with the less fortunate. Bella became the face of the Protectors for a couple decades.”

“I remembered one newspaper calling you ‘an angel sent to breathe light into the dark vampire world,’” Emmett chuckled.

“Really I was just boring and didn’t go out or do much,” Bella offered. “I feel like that made it easier to craft a story around me.”

“What made it a little funny is that Bella’s a horrific actress,” Edward finally allowed himself a small smile.

“Awful,” Bella agreed with a grimace. “I also hate public speaking, unnecessary attention, and as a human I couldn’t lie to save my soul. In short, it was a disaster.”

“It was hilarious ,” Emmett boomed. “And what made it funnier is that humans aren’t too good at reading people—not in the way vampires are. So for most vampires, this little press tour she went on was the highlight of everyone’s week. You’d bet your ass that every vampire was sitting in front of their TV or radio listening to Bella stumble over the word ‘charitable’ every other night while wondering why didn’t just change her and be done with it.”

“Anyways,” Bella shot Emmett an annoyed glance before turning back to Alice, “I was changed almost a year later, and the day I was out of self-control training I took my oath.”

“That’s incredible. And this was in the 50s?” She didn’t know she had been gripping Jasper’s knee until he shifted beneath her. She jumped up slightly and shot him a quick apologetic grin. She’d been so wrapped up in the story that she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding onto him. A swell of embarrassment rose within her when she realized that she seemed to be subconsciously seeking out his physical presence quite often as of late...

“Late 50s. I was changed in ’58 and took my oath in ’63.”

“It was the biggest scandal until that asshole came along,” Emmett grinned, looking at Jasper. “And then everyone forgot all about Miss Bella.”

A pillow hit the back of Emmett’s head in the same moment that Rosalie smacked his hands off her waist. “ Emmett ,” she snapped.

“She doesn’t know about that, yet,” Edward hissed.

“It’s fine,” Alice dismissed, a little put off by their harsh reactions. She turned toward Jasper, only to note that he’d stiffened at the mention of his rocky past. She smiled warmly at him before taking his hand, knowing that he felt her contentment. “We’re getting there.” Turning back toward the other occupants of the room she almost hesitated when she went to speak again, immediately noting everyone’s eyes glued to their joined hands. It wasn’t that weird to hold your friend’s hand, right? She held Bella’s and Emmett’s all the time... “What about you, Edward?” She attempted to steer their attention away from them, feeling how tense Jasper was beside her.

Edward frowned at her, knowing that she already knew a few details from Esme about his recruitment, but began to speak about working in Chicago when Esme and Carlisle found him, effectively drawing the attention toward himself.

Alice paid close attention but shot him a silent thank you as she felt Jasper relax beside her. And when he squeezed her hand tightly, butterflies fluttered in her stomach, bringing a warmth into her body that was beginning to feel more and more regular with Jasper.

And then, a vision.

It was only an hour into the future, if the clock on the wall was any indication. Alice and Jasper still sat on the couch with the computer off to the side; they still hadn’t re-opened it and instead were talking quietly amongst themselves. Their fellow Protectors were nowhere to be found.

Jasper squeezed her hand tightly, waiting for her to look back at him before lifting his other hand. He reached out, cradling her head slightly, brushing a scarred thumb along her neck before leaning in and kissing her.

The moment the vision played out, Alice felt Jasper turn toward her. She almost didn’t want to acknowledge him but when she heard Edward falter with his words, laughter suddenly breaking through, she felt the embarrassment flood her.

It was one thing to have this be a private thing, but nothing was private with Edward around.

She faintly heard Rosalie ask Edward what was so funny about being an accountant during the technological revolution when Jasper squeezed her hand, drawing her attention fully to him.

“Are you okay?” He asked, his voice low. But all she could see was the vision and suddenly all she wanted was for Jasper to kiss her; and she wanted it badly . Suddenly, she found herself so freaked out that in the next second, she was standing, and Edward wasn’t even trying to hide his laughter any longer.

Fleeing from the room without a second thought, she couldn’t help but listen in as Edward chuckled and everyone else was left, lost and confused as to what the hell has just transpired.

“What the hell was—Jasper, what did you do?” Emmett accused, baffled by her departure.

“What makes you think I did something?” He seemed as dumbfounded as the rest of them.

“I don’t know, that’s your girlfriend!”

In the same moment that Alice let out a squeak, moving up the stairs a bit faster than before, she heard another muffled sound—likely of someone throwing, or attempting to throw, something else at him—before Emmett let out a quick, “hey!”

Edward just laughed harder.

Chapter Text

Busy setting up her sewing machine—a housewarming gift from Esme—Alice’s attention was suddenly diverted when she heard Carlisle call her name from the foyer. Curiously, she made her way downstairs where he stood by the front door, a handful of envelopes in his hands.

“I believe this,” he handed her a sealed, white letter, “is for you.”

She glanced at him strangely as she read the return address. It was a letter from Josie.

Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” Alice pecked Carlisle on the cheek as she excitedly and ever-so-quickly sprinted up the stairs and into her room. The letter was opened before she’d even sat herself down on her newly-purchased couch, and her eyes were wide as they took in the words before her.

Alice,

I miss you too, honey. It’s so empty here without you. You wouldn’t believe it, but I closed the shop! It’s sad but oh hun, you wouldn’t believe the money they’re sending me. I want you to tell Mr. Cullen that it’s too much. Far too much.

Oh, beautiful girl. Nineteen? Listen to that. I’m so happy for you. I hope you know that. God bless them for helping you out like that. I don’t know how kindness like that can even be repaid.

I’m going to hold you to that offer, dear. I want to visit the Big Apple at least once before I go. But don’t start making a stranger of yourself now. Once you have the time, you better visit.

Are they keeping you busy up there? What do they have you doing? Tell me everything and don’t leave a single detail out. Donna from next door told me that you were on the television a little while ago. I can’t believe I missed it. Tell me all about that.

You’re a star down here, Alice. Biloxi absolutely loves you. When I went to the market last Tuesday people were coming up to me, shaking my hand, congratulating me. You could’ve sworn I was the Protector the way they were acting.

Maria is a terrible person; one not to be taken lightly. But the odds of anything of that magnitude happening again is slim to none. Mr. Cullen will teach you everything you need to know. Do not worry. You can do anything with a spirit and a heart like yours.

Love,
Josie

Holding the letter close to her heart she felt a swell of emotion rise up in her chest. She missed Josie so much. Despite the fact that the letter was already solidified in her mind, she found herself reading it twice more. But now, Alice frowned as she read a certain line over and over again.

What do they have you doing?

Folding the letter carefully and placing it back inside the envelope, Alice frowned. They really didn’t have her doing anything .

Before she knew it, she was walking past row after row of books, looking for a certain Protector…

It wasn’t the first time she’d seen or talked to him since their last incident a few days prior where she ended up fleeing due to her visions, but it was the first time she was seeking him out, knowing that they would be alone. She’d be a liar if she said she wasn’t a tiny bit nervous about it.

It’s not like she didn’t want to kiss him, it’s just that she didn’t think it was a good idea.

After everyone had gone on with their day, Bella had delivered her new laptop back to Alice with a smirk before inviting herself in with the threat that Edward would tell her if she didn’t. She didn’t say much, but when Bella guessed correctly that she’d had more visions concerning her and a certain blond man, Alice didn’t deny it.

“Edward’s right Alice,” she’d smiled kindly before leaving, “ you both really deserve to be happy .”

And of course she knew that. Every person deserved happiness. But she was happy. She was completely content to just be friends with all of her co-Protectors and enjoy this new chapter of her life. Adding romance to that would only complicate things. And with complications like that came the potential for heartbreak and pain.

So being friends with Jasper? That she could definitely do.

She found him in the back with the computers. He was scrolling around on some news website, seemingly reading up on his current events. She sat herself in the chair beside him and stared at the screen for a moment, catching a few key sentences before he closed the screen.

“With confirmation of her return, there has been general unrest amongst the Mexican people.”

“While the blowback for Cullen’s decision was intense, the support was overpowering.”

“All our attempts to seek out comments from Protectors has been met with a radio silence.”

“Hey,” she smiled as he turned toward her. He attempted to garner up a smile of his own, but ultimately the gesture didn’t meet his eyes. “You okay?”

He began to shake his head before nodding. “It’s fine. Just reading some stuff. I’m fine,” he clarified, turning in his chair to face her more fully. “What’s up?”

She hesitated, sensing the insincerity of his words. But she knew that pestering him over it wouldn’t get them anywhere. “I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“You know how we’re Protectors and all?” She paused, trying to pick the most appropriate words to use; Jasper waited patiently. “I don’t feel like one,” she admitted. “What I'm trying to say is, I haven’t learned much of anything. And Protectors protect , but I haven’t learned how to fight or anything of the sort. I just thought—I wanted to ask—to know —“ she shook her head. “I’m starting to ramble, sorry.”

Jasper cracked a smile, “It’s making a little sense.”

“My question is, when am I going to learn to fight? To be an actual Protector?”

If he was surprised by her question, he didn’t appear that way. In fact, he seemed as if he’d been expecting it and looked relieved.

“Are you ready for it?” he asked.

“Not really,” she confessed softly, “but I’m not getting any more ready over time.” The thought of fighting still made her nervous, but she was as ready as she’d ever be. Besides, it would be better to get it all started now. The sooner she began, the sooner she’d be capable of protecting Jasper from Maria.

Jasper nodded to himself. Apparently that had been an acceptable answer. “Good. I’ll talk to Carlisle for you tonight if you’d like. You’ll probably start soon.”

“Soon as in…?”

“Tonight? Tomorrow maybe? Depends on what Carlisle says. You could be training before sunset.” At the word ‘training’, she winced slightly. It was a barely noticeable movement but somehow, Jasper picked it up. “It’s tough, but it’ll be worth it.”

Alice didn’t respond. Instead, her mind began to wander as she thought of all the possibilities that ‘training’ could hold. Fighting, for sure. That was a given and really the only thing she knew to expect. But she’d need more than that to be a real Protector.

Whatever that meant.

“When was Carlisle planning on training me?” she asked. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t a little put-out that Jasper knew more about her inevitable training than she did.

Jasper paused, picking his words carefully. “Carlisle didn’t want you to feel pressured at first. But I suppose now since you’re ready—or ready as you’ll be,” he corrected, “it’s time to start.”

Alice nodded. “That’s very… considerate.” A bit disheartening too. Especially since they seemed to have qualms about whether she could handle the training.

“You’re scared,” he observed quietly.

“Can you blame me?” She retorted sharply. Jasper didn’t respond immediately. After a few tense seconds, he placed a tentative hand on her shoulder, using his talent to give her a bit of calm reassurance.

“You’ll be fine,” he insisted. Alice gave him a small smile in reply, but didn’t feel very confident in it. “Do you want me to call him now?”

That did sound infinitely better than waiting around, suffering silently with her anxiety boiling, to hear back, but she didn’t want to trouble either of the men. Carlisle was in some sort of meeting in DC for the day and wouldn’t be back until after sunset. “No, you don’t need to bother him.”

“How about we just start now?”

Alice simply stared at him. “You mean, now?”

“I can feel how nervous you are, Alice. And yes, now.” He shrugged before crossing his arms and glancing at her expectantly. “Unless you want to wait until Carlisle gets back.”

“Doesn’t he need to, I don’t know, greenlight this or something?”

Jasper gave another shrug, “For some things, yes. But I’m the one who’ll be training you in combat anyways.”

Alice’s eyes widened considerably. “What?”

Jasper seemed to misinterpret her confusion and quickly backpedaled. “I don’t have to,” he assured her, “not if you don’t want me to. But you know,” he waved a hand in the air, “fighting is sort of my area of expertise. That and strategy.” He contemplated something for a moment. “You know, I didn’t go through combat training when I joined the Protectors because there was nothing that I didn’t already know about battle. In fact,” he leaned back in his chair slightly, “I actually trained a few of them after I started.”

“Really?” Alice was intrigued, and any time he mentioned anything concerning his past he automatically had her full and undivided attention.

He nodded, “There was a lot that I knew that they didn’t. My background certainly wasn’t desirable, but the knowledge I had about fighting was invaluable to them. Occasionally I’ll hold training seminars at Container centers up and down the coast, but a lot of Container duties are more logistical as opposed to physically demanding. It’s not something I’ve done in a few years but,” he eyed the blank computer screen, no doubt thinking about Maria, “I may have to hold a few soon.”

“You think she’s going to come up North?”

“It’s not so much that I think it will happen, it’s that I know . I know Maria, I know the way she works, the way she thinks.” He swallowed thickly, “it could be next week, it could be next year. But she’ll be here.”

“Then we don’t have any time to waste,” Alice stood up, alarmed by the information. “We can start now. You’ve got to teach me as much as you can, you—“

“Alice, it’s okay, we can start today.”

“Now, right?” She spoke, desperately wanting to begin as soon as possible. Jasper stood up slowly, holding a hand out toward her as if he’d be able to physically keep her nerves under control.

(Technically, he could.)

“Okay, sure. We can start now. But don’t be so scared. Maria—“

“You just said that she could come here as soon as next week,” she reminded him, frustrated that he would even try to ebb her very valid emotions. “If that’s true then I’m allowed to be a little afraid I—I mean—“

“Alice,” he stepped closer to her, moving the chair aside as he did, “Listen to me. I will never let her touch a hair on your head. If we haven’t progressed far with your training by the time we have to face her, I swear you will have nothing to worry about.” He placed his hands firmly on her shoulders and implored her to read the sincerity in his eyes. “I promise I’ll protect you.”

“I’m not afraid for myself, you—you idiot ! I’m afraid because—‘cause—” she gestured toward him, feeling pain rising up in her chest. Suddenly, she was worried she might start crying. “Look at what she put you through,” she choked out, trying to hold herself together. “I don’t want you to have to see her again if you don’t want to. I don’t want her to come up here and for your old wounds to get re-opened, I don’t—“

Cursing herself mentally, she pressed her palms against her eyes and let out a low, shuddering breath. She really was about to start crying, and that was the last thing she wanted Jasper to see, or to even feel .

This was part of the reason she needed to start her duties. Because if she couldn’t even handle the idea of Jasper meeting his demons head-on, how was she supposed to meet hers?

“You’re worried about me?” He asked quietly, a certain type of incredulousness in his voice. Alice felt him tug at her wrists slightly and allowed him to pull her hands from her face. “You’re scared because you don’t want me hurt?” He leaned down so that he was eye-level with her and locked gazes with her.

“Of course I am!” She stomped her foot and shook her head, upset that it was taking him this long to understand what she’d been trying to say. “I’ve been thinking about the vision a lot,” she confessed miserably, “and I know you! You’re my friend. I know that you’d never do anything to hurt me—I believe you Jasper, I do I promise—so the only reason I can think of that would make you attack me is if something happened to you, or—or if Maria got to you and did something! And if that—if she were to—“

Suddenly, all the breath she’d gathered in her lungs was just about squeezed out of her. It took her a full second to realize that Jasper was hugging her. It took her another second to lift her arms and wrap them around him, clinging to him as tightly as he was to her. And two seconds later, she was crying, her composure crumbling like sand under a boot. Before she could contain herself, heavy sobs racked her body.

“Alice,” his voice was thick with emotion and suddenly she couldn’t bear the thought that he, too, was feeling the pain that she was.  She tried to reign her emotion in but Jasper simply tightened his hold on her, “No, don’t.” It was clear he could sense what she was trying to do. “Don’t hold it in, just let it out, okay? I’ve got you. I have you now. It’s going to be okay.”

But the vision was still there, settled so deep, carved inside her mind so permanently that Alice knew that his words were nothing but a balm for the very real, very scary future that the two of them seemed destined to share. Still, his promises and vows flowed like water, and soon she found herself clinging to them.

“I—I’ve got you, Alice. I’ll protect you. She’ll never touch you. I swear it.”

Though despite it all, it was so easy to just let go and let him hold her. So she cried, and she did.


Standing uneasily on the edge of the room, Alice stood awkwardly, watching as Jasper stretched a few yards away. Standing against the wall perpendicular to her stood Edward and Rosalie who looked, for once, like they weren’t about to rip each other a new one. Instead they were speaking in low, hushed voices too quiet for Alice to hear.

It bothered her slightly but she was sure she didn’t want to know what they were saying.

It had only been about an hour since her complete breakdown in the library. After several long minutes of sobbing, eventually Alice felt herself grow gradually calmer and calmer. She hadn’t asked him about it but she was certain it had all been Jasper’s doing. She was thankful, but before she could thank him he’d pulled away and calmly instructed her to change into clothes she could move around in and to meet him in the training room when she was ready.

He’d walked with her all the way up to the hallway where the bedrooms were, his hand resting lightly on her back as if guiding her toward her room—another thing she was thankful for. She really did feel as if she were in a bit of a haze, although she oftentimes felt like that after crying.

Before she’d disappeared into her room she’d noticed Edward open his door—which was directly across from Jasper’s room—and nod his head toward Jasper, as if inviting him inside.

“I’ll meet you downstairs,” he’d muttered to her before suddenly both his hand and his calming presence were gone from her side, and he disappeared with Edward behind his door.

That had been about twenty minutes prior. Alice had changed clothes three times before she stopped and had to ask herself what the hell she was doing. Then she changed once more and slowly meandered down into the giant training gym they had on the main level. She was surprised when she realized that Jasper had beaten her down there, and when she noticed both Edward and Rosalie perched against the wall whispering to one another she had frowned.

It was one thing to be going through combat training, something that she would’ve never imagined she’d need to do; she was a seamstress, for heaven’s sake! But it was another thing entirely to be doing so with an audience .

“Why are you doing that?” she eventually asked, feeling a bit tense.

Jasper looked up at her from where he sat, swinging his arms back and forth. “Just loosening up.”

“Isn’t that unnecessary?”

He shot to his feet with a lightning fast grace, “The muscles don’t need it, but it always feels good to start moving around a little first.” He shot her a wry look, “You could try it.”

“Maybe next time,” she dismissed, unable to keep her gaze from wandering toward Edward and Rosalie, who were watching the two of them closely. “Can we help you?” Alice asked, crossing her arms.

Rosalie grinned and Edward held his hands up in mock surrender. “Just here to watch,” he explained, a faux innocence in his eyes that made Alice glare at him.

You’re a pain, she thought pointedly. Edward only smirked in response. Oh, she so knew what they were talking about.

“Just ignore them,” Jasper advised her with an eye roll. “They’re just nosy.”

“We can hear you, you know,” Rosalie informed him.

“I know,” he spoke, still not turning to face either of them. “If you two are going to stand there and gossip you can always leave.”

Edward snickered. “We’ll be good,” Rosalie promised, smiling sickly sweet toward them.

Alice raised an eyebrow at Jasper but he merely shook his head, a sort of tired exasperation radiating off of him mildly. “Don’t ask.”

And then in the next instant he was all business.

“Come on,” he beckoned, waving her forward as he began to walk backwards toward the center of the large room. “Now there are thousands of things I can teach you but we’re going to start off with some basics. I’m guessing you don’t have much experience with fighting?”

“What I did to you and Emmett on my first night is the most ‘fighting’ I’ve ever done,” she put air-quotes around the word. “So no. Definitely not.”

“I wouldn’t dismiss that night so swiftly,” he acknowledged, allowing himself to smirk at the memory. “That was impressive. You really took me off guard, that’s important in a fight.”

She was a bit taken aback by the compliment and found herself suddenly avoiding his gaze.

“Still, before we do any real training, I want to see what else you can do. This afternoon you have one job. Try and get your hands on me.”

Alice raised an eyebrow. “Like, grab you?”

“Grab me, push me, hit me, even if you can brush your fingertips against my shirt it’ll be enough. Just get your hands on me in any way you can. Play dirty if you have to—“ Rosalie snorted on the sidelines and Alice watched Jasper’s jaw tighten slightly as he frowned, pointedly ignoring her, “All you have to do is catch me in any way you can.”

“Okay, and then what happens after I do that?” she asked, slightly impatient at being tasked with something so seemingly simple.

She heard Edward laugh from the side and it was her turn to frown. “Just try, Alice,” he called.

Wanting to end this exercise quickly and move onto the next, Alice lunged, only to be met with thin air before her. Jasper was standing behind her, so she swung wide, her arm thrown out. And yet again, nothing.

Instead, he stood a few feet away, grinning at her. “You’re going to have to try harder than that.”

And thus began their training.

It was… frustrating to say the least. She certainly hadn’t anticipated Jasper being so fast, and just when she thought she’d caught him off guard, he was there one moment and gone the next. They moved, non-stop, for the better part of an hour before she finally put her foot down and demand they change pace.

“I feel like I haven’t learned anything ,” she pouted, frustrated at her inability to lay even a finger on him. “This isn’t going anywhere.”

Jasper shot her a wry look, “We’ve only just started, you know. You’re not going to be an expert at this—or even very good at all—until we’ve practiced for months and months.”

That was not what she wanted to hear at all. If she had been able to take on both Jasper and Emmett on her first night, knocking Jasper down and avoiding Emmett’s grasp, why couldn’t she touch Jasper now? Sure, she’d had the element of surprise on her side, and her visions, but it had seemed so much easier then.

“That’s it,” Edward had commented from where he still stood across the room. “You’re not using your visions.”

Jasper straightened up and glanced over his shoulder toward their spectators, realization dawning on him. “That’s how you got me,” he spoke, a little bit in awe as he turned back toward Alice. “You used your visions back on that first night, didn’t you?”

Alice nodded, remembering the split-second that had passed between the moment he’d made the choice to approach her, and the decision she’d made to cut that choice off, which had then been followed with a vision confirming that just a little pull would set him off balance and free her from his presence.

Even with Emmett, she’d gotten just a flash of him side-stepping and grabbing her, so instead she’d flickered through her own decisions, coming up with a successful vision that she’d brought into motion almost instantaneously, successfully spinning over top of his head and momentarily disorienting him.

Mentally, she reminded herself that she still owed Emmett a shirt for that.

“Incredible,” Edward admired from across the room, “use them, Alice. Try to use your visions to help you get him.”

And so she did. Every time she moved forward she kept half of her concentration on her immediate future. At first, she really thought she was on to something. The visions came easily and quickly, but it seemed that they were coming just barely too slow. By the time she’d act on a vision, her decision made, he was already onto his next step away from her, watchful and weary of her every move.

It seemed that for every step of his that her visions told her about, he was already moved on two more steps ahead, his decisions fast, quick, and changing. She wondered if it would’ve been easier to fight someone who wasn’t aware of her power, someone who didn’t know that with every choice they made, she would be almost immediately aware of it, as well as the outcome.

“I still can’t do it!” She all-but-yelled after another couple hours. She didn’t think she’d ever been so frustrated before in her life, and the strength of her own dissatisfaction shocked her. It’s not like she expected to be any good at fighting, but what good was a psychic who couldn’t accurately predict all of her opponent’s movements? “He’s moving too fast—it’s not like he’s deciding to move at this point, mainly it’s just natural reactions.” It made sense. He had existed in a war zone for close to a century; his battle instincts were just that good. “By the time I’m reaching for him he’s already gone—he’s too fast I think.”

“No, that’s not it,” Edward was thinking as he stared at them. Alice couldn’t help but stare back at him, along with Rosalie, who had been kept surprisingly entertained by their training it seemed. It looked as if he were attempting to pick a solution out of their heads but was having quite a difficult time with it.

“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” Edward turned toward Rosalie, who was now sitting on the ground, legs folded beneath her, still focused on the training floor.

“What? Did I come up with a solution?” She arched a perfect eyebrow toward him, not fully aware of whatever idea she’d thought up.

“Actually, maybe,” he turned back toward the two, “not to critique your training methods, but I think you’re going about this the wrong way.” Alice held her arms out and made a face at Jasper, desperately wanting to say ‘ I told you so ’. “When she caught you and Emmett off guard it wasn’t an offensive move, but—”

“A defensive one,” Jasper nodded, clearly already following Edward’s train of thought. “You’re right, good catch,” he spoke to both of the spectators before turning to walk back toward where Alice stood.

Alice was bewildered. But before she could ask what they meant, a vision gained her attention and her confusion took a backseat. She hardly realized what had happened before she found herself leaning backward, side-stepping to the left before sliding across the floor and out of the way of Jasper’s reaching hands.

Before she could straighten herself back up, another vision, and now she was shuffling backward, dipping to the side as she let her shoulder fall, watching in barely contained shock as Jasper’s hand shot right by her face.

Three more visions and suddenly, as she made the mistake of pulling her foot back, straightening her posture instead of letting herself lean into her fall, she knew that his hands would be on her in an instant. Four more visions (flickering through her mind almost instantly) gave her her best shot at not getting grabbed, and when her hand shot forward, wrapping around his wrist and twisting , letting her weight do most of the work, she found herself using his own momentum to swing herself under his arm, landing at his side.

The second her toe hit the floor, she released her grip on his wrist and pushed .

It was a clumsy move, looking akin to a child pushing another child down on a playground, but it worked . Jasper hadn’t been expecting her to use his own grab against him, and by the time he’d begun to turn, readying himself to grip her offending wrist, she’d simply shoved him away, pushing the back of his shoulder with her fingertips, effectively turning him away from her. He stumbled slightly before righting himself, his expression a mixture of both shock and delight.

That’s when she realized what had happened.

She gasped, hands flying up to cover her mouth. “I did it!”

Rosalie whistled and Edward laughed. It took Jasper a few seconds to pull back his awe at her fast learning, but when he did he smiled so brightly Alice couldn’t help but feel proud of herself.

Reading his stance, Alice caught a hint of mischief in his eyes. “Best two out of three.”

Allowing her burst of courage to flow through her, Alice smiled back, nearly giddy at her accomplishment as she lowered herself, opening her mind’s eye. “You’re on.”

And they were blurs once more.

Chapter Text

“Alright, seat belt?”

“Check.”

“Seat adjusted?”

“Check.”

“Okay, start her up.”

Alice nodded in compliance as she looked down toward the ignition, then she paused, confused. Glancing down at the set of keys still in her hand before staring back at where she thought she’d be inserting a key.

Rosalie blinked at her from the passenger seat, as if wondering what the hold up was. “What?”

“The key doesn’t have a… key,” the words felt silly pouring out of her mouth, but Alice had always assumed that all cars had keys. All she saw was a tiny black pad with buttons. Maybe she had to press one of the buttons--but a vision of her setting the alarm off flickered through her mind so she refrained.

“Oh, I keep forgetting you don’t know anything about cars. Only a couple of our cars still use traditional keys. Here, press your foot on the brake,” she leaned forward and waited for Alice to follow the instruction before pressing a button.

The car’s engine quickly came to life, purring lowly; it was heaps quieter than the cars that some of her old neighbors used to own, with their loud, groaning engines. She quickly grinned at the fact that they were that much closer to hitting the road and relaxed back into her seat, relieved at the calm sound of the engine humming.

At least she was off to a decent start. Although they hadn’t even left the garage yet.

“Good,” Rosalie praised, “now keep your foot on the brake and hold it down until I say so.”

Alice nodded and did was she was told, pausing to wait for further instruction.

“Now, older cars--or non-luxury cars--will usually have a gear shift, but I’m sure you can see the buttons. It’s pretty straightforward.”

“D to drive, R for reverse, N for neutral, P for park,” Alice parroted what she’d read online with a confident nod. Now that she’d ridden in cars a few dozen times, and since she’d started actually watching the drivers of said cars maneuver the vehicles, she’d felt excitedly confident that she could learn how to do it, too.

“Now,” Rosalie sat back in her seat, “put the car in reverse and slowly lift your foot off of the break.”

As Alice complied, soon enough the car began to ever-so-slowly drift backward out of the garage.

“Alright, now turn the wheel to the side until the car is parallel to the house—OK, good, now slowly press your foot back onto the brake. Perfect. Now, put it in drive and cut the wheel to the left as you lift your foot off the break again.”

Alice listened intently to Rosalie’s instructions, obeying each one after the other. Soon the car began to drift forward, down toward the long driveway.

Alice beamed. “This is a lot easier than I thought it would be.”

The hint of a smirk twitched at the corner of Rosalie’s mouth. “The driveway is pretty long, so I want you to get a real feel for this. Practice breaking and accelerating—but not too fast.”

Nodding eagerly, Alice pushed down on the accelerator, causing the car to shoot forward. Panicking, half a second later, she slammed on the breaks.

“Careful,” Edward yelled, chiming in for the first time from the backseat.

When Rosalie had brought Alice into the massive garage earlier she had given the girl the choice of any one of the cars to use in order to learn. A bit of an overwhelming decision, given that they owned nine cars, many of which were luxury vehicles, all of which Alice had never seen the likes of in her entire life.

The car Alice had randomly chosen? The shiny Aston Martin parked at the far end of the garage.

Edward’s car.

His one condition to let her drive it was that he had to come along; much to Rosalie’s dismay. Alice thought he had a good point though; it wasn’t as if she had her license. She hadn’t even been aware of the fact that technically you had to get a permit to even learn to drive, so what they were doing wasn’t exactly ‘legal’.

But when she’d expressed her desire not to do anything against the rules, Rosalie had assured her that they’d stick close to home, afterward promising to drive her into town to take her permit test the following day.

“Calm down,” Rosalie snapped back at him, “she’s doing fine.”

“Then why don’t we do this in your car?”

“Alice picked yours. Deal with it.”

Alice peered at him sheepishly in the rear-view mirror. Sorry , she thought, if it bothers you that much I can go pick another one…?

He closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Just drive,” he waved a hand toward her, “carefully,” he added with a slight shake of his head.

After a few more careful attempts and accelerating and stopping, Alice felt as if she were beginning to get the hang of it. And slowly, yet perfectly, she’d managed to successfully maneuver the car all the way to the end of the driveway. Thankfully it was easy to pay attention to the narrow road despite her slight distraction--she really didn’t want to mess up Edward’s car.

She let out a relieved sigh as they slowly rolled to a crawl, nearing the upcoming road. Turning to Rosalie, she beamed.

“Awesome,” Rosalie commented, “now we’re just going to drive around for a little more. Make a right here.”

Alice nodded and did as she was told.

“Alice!” Edward snapped, gripping the back of her seat, “ Careful . You almost took out the mailbox. Wider turns.”

“She’s doing fine . Shut up, nobody likes a backseat driver.”

“Nobody likes a bad driver.”

“The car’s not going to hit anything,” Rosalie ignored him, turning to Alice, “even if you cut it too close. The car practically drives itself.”

“Not when that feature is deactivated. Which it is. So she can learn how to drive. Not so the car can do it for her. You need to be showing her how to make proper turns.”

With a move so quick, it was almost unseen, Rosalie shot something small and plastic into the backseat, almost hitting him right in the center of his face. He snatched it out of the air before it could make contact with his nose.

“Seriously Rosalie? I’ve had this car for barely six months.”

“What? Now if she hits something, it’ll be the least of your worries.”

“Her damaging the body of the car and you ripping my AC adjustor off are two entirely different things. They aren’t even on the same level. You’re just trying to be petty.”

“No, I am being petty. And you’re distracting the driver. So if you want that little knob to be the least of your worries, be quiet and let me teach her.”

“‘Distracting’ would be ripping things off the car.”

“It was coming off anyways.”

“No, it wasn’t!”

“Oops, my bad,” she spoke in a monotone, feigning ignorance.

“You’d better fix this when we get back.”

Finally, she reeled on him. “I’m the only one who fixes things around here anyways!”

He scoffed. “How about fixing my Steinway?”

She groaned, turning back toward the front. “That stupid piano, again?”

“It has sentimental value.”

“You bought it on sale!”

“That’s not the point!”

“I want to go home.”

Suddenly, both Rosalie and Edward’s heads snapped toward Alice, finally distracted from their argument.

“What? Why?”

Alice simply repeated herself again, “I want to go home,” she spoke softly but firmly, eyes focused ahead, and still letting the car carry forward down the winding back road.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Rosalie dismissed, “just keep driving,”

“Fix the knob,” Edward flicked it back at her, clearly not finished with their tiff. When the piece hit her in the back of her head, she spun on him again, suddenly furious.

“Don’t touch my hair,” she seethed, all sense of composure gone in an instant, “if you do I’ll mangle your entire fucking dashboard.”

Edward ran his hands through his hair, and Alice caught a flicker of half a dozen things he wanted to say to her, before settling on, “You are such a child.”

I’m the child?”

There was no explanation for the sudden, absolute sense of dread that was slowly encompassing her, but it was swiftly making it nearly impossible to focus on her surroundings. For some reason, unknown to her, as they began to raise their voices, a sense of urgency was taking over her body and mind.

“I want to turn back now,” she pleaded. She could feel herself beginning to panic and she just didn’t know why . As if her reaction to their bickering was entirely out of her control.

“Just keep driving,” Rosalie snapped, “Edward can just get out.”

No . My car, my rules. If she’s going to drive—“

Suddenly, with an ‘oomph’, their fighting ended as abruptly as Alice had stopped the car. But before they could turn to glare at her, or to question her, she was gone, the door open and car once more slowly rolling down the road.

“Alice—

“Wait—“

But Alice didn’t stop to listen. She couldn’t . Something was happening that she couldn’t begin to explain. She simply knew that she had to get home as fast as she could; she had to get away.

It took less than a minute before she was back at the house, flying through the front door and shooting up the stairs to her room. The second she’d closed the door behind her, hands running through her hair as she tried to figure out what the hell was going on in her own head, the sound of tires screeching down the driveway could be heard throughout the entire house.

At the thought that Rosalie and Edward could be up there any second, Alice’s panic increased tenfold. Not knowing what else to do, she threw her closet door open, closing it behind her as she hid behind her clothes like a child.

It was silly—a ridiculous thing to do, really—but Alice couldn’t help but think that this was the safest place for her: foolishly hiding in the corner of her closet, nearly immobilized, her dread creeping up on her and consuming her every thought.

“What’s going on?” She could hear Carlisle as he emerged from his study. When the sound of three sets of feet rushing toward her room registered with her, she felt like she was going to faint. Her heart was long dead, but some type of adrenaline was fueling this fear she couldn’t ebb, and she was certain the unmanageable terror would force her chest to either cave in or burst.

The low hum of what she could only describe as a growl was beginning to bubble up in her chest--a defensive noise that was so animalistic it made Alice’s skin crawl. In the same moment a pang of self-loathing blossomed within her. What was she getting so defensive over? These were her co-Protectors. These were her friends . She should have nothing to defend herself about.

“We were driving along the road, and she just slammed the brakes and ran . Didn’t put the car into park or anything.”

Rosalie’s voice grew louder until the trio was outside of her bedroom door.

“Alice?” Carlisle called as someone knocked on the door. “Are you alright?”

All she could think to do was hold her breath and remain silent, pulling her legs against her chest as she peered over her knees. In the back of her mind she knew it was absurd. They knew she was in there; it wasn’t as if she could hide her presence from them.

“Edward?”

“She’s… hiding? Or trying to. I don’t know. I can’t make anything out. I think she’s having some type of panic attack.”

“Alice,” Carlisle’s voice was a bit louder, “I’m going to come in now.”

“What’s going on?” She heard Esme’s voice chime in as her door opened.

“Alice is having some type of freak out,” Rosalie informed her, sounding a tiny bit spooked, “we think. We don’t know.”

“I’m going to get Jasper.”

“She seemed pretty calm, I don’t think…” But something caused Rosalie’s words to trail off.

“Trust me,” Esme assured.

“It wasn’t a vision she saw, was it?” Carlisle asked as his voice grew louder.

“I don’t think so,” he admitted without confidence, “I wasn’t paying much attention until she was already gone.”

“Alice?” Another knock, this one on her closet door. “Can I come in?”

Yes. No. She needed to be left alone. She needed everyone to forget about her for a few hours. She needed Josie. She needed the panic to leave her body. She needed to know why she was panicking. She wanted quiet, but she didn’t want to be left alone with whatever was scaring her. She needed to not be afraid of nothing . She needed answers but she hardly knew the questions. She needed—

“Jasper,” she heard Edward call, as if beckoning him into the room. And suddenly, yes, Jasper was exactly who she wanted. “Go in,” he spoke quietly, “I don’t know what’s happening, but she wants you.”

It was several seconds—seconds where Alice thought her heart was going to fly up and out of her throat, seconds where all she could focus on was the muted, even sound of his boots walking across the carpet—before the door opened. She couldn’t see much, but as he stepped forward and into her closet she could just barely see the toes of his shoes. Just the sight of him was enough to make a hint of relief bloom from deep within her.

“Alice?”

She didn’t lift her head or part her clothes to look at him, instead she merely grunted softly in response. He seemed to take that as a cue to continue.

Kneeling down, he parted her clothes, pushing them aside so he could see her. The look on his face was almost heartbreaking, a tenderness she only recognized from him swimming in his eyes.

“What’s the matter?”

Suddenly, there was a lump in her throat and Alice knew that she was dangerously close to crying. Shaking her head she swallowed thickly, hating how he had to see her like this. “I’m afraid.”

“I can sense that,” he reminded her gently, “but of what?”

That was the thing. She didn’t know why she was so afraid. Something about the way Edward and Rosalie’s argument had escalated so quickly had triggered some type of bizarre emotional response in her brain and she’d—to put it plainly—lost control.

“Oh,” she heard Edward break his silence from somewhere in her room before actually swearing --something she’d never heard him do. “I think this is our fault,” he lowered his voice as he spoke to, who Alice guessed, was Rosalie.

“What? Because we had a stupid argument?” Rosalie didn’t bother lowering her voice, seemingly upset with the revelation. “How does that make any sense? We—“

“You,” Esme spoke sharply, cutter her off, “and you. Come with me.” Alice could only assume she was talking to Edward and Rosalie.

“Alice?”

Instead of replying, she shook her head. She couldn’t talk, not yet. She didn’t have the proper words to explain how mentally trapped and physically wound-up she felt. Lowering her face so that she was hidden fully behind her knees, she let out a shaky breath. In an instant, she was struggling to keep from crying, her breathing hitching slightly as her body struggled to hold in all the pent up emotion she couldn’t control.

Before she knew it she was swept up into an embrace, Jasper leaning forward and wrapping his arms tightly around her. She hardly hesitated as she responded to the hug, releasing her knees and wrapping her arms firmly around his neck.  Letting out a shuddering breath she closed her eyes and pressed her nose against his collar, inhaling slowly as she struggled to control herself.

Her senses were then flooded with his scent—and for some reason the experience was borderline intoxicating for her. Ignoring the strange, animalistic warmth she felt rising up inside of her, she simply held him closer and pressed her nose against his neck.

She couldn’t quite pay attention what was being said—her focus was solely on her own breathing as she struggled to hold in her cries and breathe evenly—but she could feel the low rumble in his chest, and the tickling of the hair above her ear as he quietly muttered something to Carlisle. Then, not even a few seconds later, the two were fully alone.

To his credit, he waited several minutes before speaking, alternating between rubbing her back slowly and whispering quiet assurances to her. When she felt herself begin to very slowly calm down, she knew that it had to have been his doing; she was still far too apprehensive to relax.

“Alice,” he whispered, and the feeling of his lips so close to her ear almost sent shivers down her spine, “Breathe for a moment. What happened? What are you so afraid of?”

But the question was so loaded she wasn’t too sure where to begin. She didn’t know what happened, nor did she know why she’d had such a severe freak-out to the sound of Rosalie and Edward’s bickering. She wasn’t afraid of them; that was one thing she knew. But something in her brain had ensured that she’d gotten herself out of that situation as quickly as possible.

Carlisle had been the one to tell her about how powerful the vampire fight or flight response could be, but that had been back when Alice had seen Jasper’s face for the first time, when she’d all but expecting him to deal her death to her that night.

She wasn’t too sure that some petty argument should be enough to warrant such a reaction from her.

“I don’t know,” she confessed shakily, tightening her hold around his neck. Somehow she’d managed to wrap herself around him completely. Her arms, tight around his neck, her legs wrapped around his torso. To his credit, and despite the fact that she knew he hated physical contact, he held her closely, his own arms wrapped around her waist and back, molding her to him.

Alice hardly had time to dwell on the intimacy of their current situation, instead only able to focus on her breathing as she forced air in and out of her lungs.

“Edward said he and Rosalie did something?”

She shook her head, “No—I mean, they had an argument. It wasn’t a big deal but they—they were yelling at each other and something in my head just—“ she shook her head against his neck before burying her face into his shoulder, “I don’t know why. I mean, I’ve heard countless people argue before but--something about it... I had to run. I had to.”

He made a thoughtful noise before silence took hold for another few seconds. “You and fear don’t mix very well, do they?”

She snorted against his shirt, “No, I guess not.” Then, a sense of dread enveloped her. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

Jasper pulled back from her slightly, shooting her a serious expression. “Do what?”

“This job! If my knee-jerk reaction is to run every time I get scared how am I going to function here? Visions or no visions, there--there has to be something wrong with my brain—I know this.”

As the words left her mouth, something in Jasper’s expression hardened. There was silence for another few seconds and as Alice stared back at his face, her arms still loosely wrapped around his neck, a vision hit her.

She couldn’t tell if it was minutes or seconds into the future, but in the vision one moment she’s sitting in his lap, arms around his shoulders, listening to him speak in a low voice, and the next she’s shoving him away, yelling at him, with inconsolable sobs wracking her body as she struggles to put distance between them. Jasper simply sits there on her closet floor, looking dejected and helpless.

“Alice—“

“I don’t know what you just decided,” she cut him off quickly, her hands moving from his shoulders to his face, “but whatever it is you’re about to tell me, don’t.” She stared intently into his golden eyes, wordlessly begging him to oblige her random request. “Whatever you just decided, you better un-decide it.

He looked pained as he stared back at her. There had clearly been something just on the tip of his tongue when her attention had shifted back toward the present.

“But you really—“

Jasper ,” her voice was pleading this time, “I really don’t want to know. At least, not—not now, okay? I don’t want to fight with you now.” Yet , something in her head amended. “If it’s that important you can tell me some other time and I promise not to be mad. Just—please keep it to yourself for now.”

And suddenly she felt as if she were back at square one, sitting in her bedroom back in Biloxi as she structured her entire day before going forth, using her visions to ensure that she would avoid absolutely any conflict and interaction in her travels around town. She felt like a coward, as if she were hiding from something, and she knew better than anyone that trying to change your fate wasn’t as easy as avoiding pain or arguments or normal everyday encounters.

But instead of allowing him to tell her whatever he seemed so desperate to share, she made him stop. For a fraction of a second she contemplated initiating something between the two of them. After all, her visions of the two of them embracing or kissing or being intimate were much more preferable than the one of her pushing him away just now.

She allowed a vision to come over her, confirming her suspicion that yes, if she were to kiss him right now he would undoubtedly reciprocate, but even with the proof in her mind that Jasper was someone incredibly important to her, she knew she couldn’t do that to him.

With Maria constantly on the fringe of her thoughts and a potential invasion creeping closer to them, the last thing that Alice needed while she went through the training process was to be effectively distracted by romance of all things.

So instead, she chose to hold the embrace firmly, keeping her future in a solid—yet confusing—middle-ground.

“What are you thinking about?” He mumbled lowly after another minute. A hand was slowly running up and down her back in a soothing motion as he held onto her with his other arm. “I’m sensing a lot of resentment.” He paused, “It’s not directed to me, is it?”

Alice shook her head, eyes closed as she allowed him to soothe her with his words, his ability, and his hands. “No, of course not. I don’t hate you.” She inhaled deeply, letting her senses become flooded with his scent again. She felt so intoxicated by everything about their current situation. “Not even a little bit,” she nearly purred, snuggling closer.

But even with her avoidance of the question, he waited patiently. Alice sighed.

“Maria,” she spoke simply. As if it explained everything, and in a way it did.

Jasper tensed slightly, but she felt him nod. “I see.”

“I hate her ,” she felt the need to clarify further. “And I mean, you’re supposed to hate bad people, right?” She’d never spoken ill of someone like this before and it felt odd, despite it being entirely justified. Maria was cruel and vile. Maria deserved all the hate the world had to offer. “I hate her. I hate Maria.”

“But you don’t hate me?”

Alice looked up at him, confusion in her gaze. “Of course not,” she allowed a soft smile to fall onto her face, “you’re not a bad person. You’re my best friend.”

He seemed to lose whatever words he had been planning on uttering the second she spoke. She watched, heart feeling strangely full as he struggled with something wordlessly, swallowing thickly.

“Can I tell you something different?” He pulled her back a little further, hands on her upper arms. “Not what I was going to tell you before, but something else?”

Alice blinked at him, but when no vision came to her with them fighting, she nodded numbly.

“It was February in 1964 when we came up North. I hadn’t seen Maria in ten months at that point but we’d remained in touch. I had been just south of Corpus Christi for a while, training the last batch of newborns she’d made for me to look after. There were twenty four of them; it was the most she’d trusted under my care in the hundred years I’d known her.

“Of course I had a little help from an older newborn. Peter wasn’t like the rest of the people Maria changed. He was more… civilized, in a way.” Jasper stopped, shaking his head. “He had been one of the ones resistant to working under Maria—after all, he knew so much more about the real world than I did, but he was forbidden by Maria to talk about it and he was smart, so for the ten years he worked by my side, he listened to her.

“Two days before we were slated to head up north—Maria was going to meet with us in Houston—he disappeared. To this day I’m convinced that if he hadn’t defected, the war would have turned out much differently. He ran straight to Carlisle with his mate, a newborn Maria had turned, and warned them about what was coming.

“You can imagine the confusion that caused, but it didn’t quite matter. Because less than forty-eight hours later I met up with Maria and the largest army of newborns I’d ever seen.

“She’d been working over-time, it seemed. Most of her time had been spent with the Protectors in Mexico. After all, she did still go through the motions with them, fulfilling her duties and fooling her counterparts in the process. But she’d made three other armies, fronted by three other older vampires I’d never seen before.

“For years I wondered whether or not they were as old as I was, and whether Maria had been planning this for longer than I knew, but I never found out. None of them survived the war.

“Eighty-two vampires fell over most of northern Mexico, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana in the early morning of February 14th in 1964. By noon thousands were dead. We were tasked with storming cities, making noise, and killing any yellow-eyed vampires that crossed our paths. It was supposed to be easy, but things got bad fast.

“Maria didn’t want a mess, but that’s exactly what she got. I don’t know how she thought that telling newborns to ‘feed freely’ would be an appropriate incentive for them--it contradicted everything I’d been trying to instill in the newborns I was training. Instead of staying on task they were all so distracted—it made my job nearly impossible. That might be why she told them that, because she wasn’t the one who dealt with the newborns first-hand. She didn’t know them as well as she thought they did.

“Instead of it remaining a highly planned and carefully plotted invasion, it became a blood bath. A feeding frenzy that lasted for months.”

Alice didn’t know when her hands found his but suddenly she was squeezing his fingers with her own. “But isn’t that what she wanted? More… feeding grounds?” The term tasted sour on her tongue, but it was the only way she could think of to describe it.

“Yes, but she carried such resentment toward the yellow-eyed vampires that I think it blinded her. She wanted supremacy more than anything. She wanted to show them their own foolishness and she thought that if she exposed yellow-eyed vampires to human blood, they’d snap out of their trances and fall into their rightful place on top of the food chain. She was under the impression that their willingness to live peacefully among the humans was a fatal flaw that would eventually bring the demise of vampires everywhere.”

Her eyes hardened, “She thought she was doing everyone a favor. She thought she was saving them.”

Jasper nodded, “That’s why I admired her so much. I thought she was a martyr for the cause, trying to free these delusional vampires from their miserable purgatories. We figured that if the humans were going to know about us, they might as well fear us.”

And it made sense to her now. In a twisted, messed up, sort-of way, Alice understood why Maria had done what she had. Change always came difficult to vampires. Esme had once told her that where humans were fickle and much keener to accept alterations in their lives—they were so short, after all—vampires could stubbornly hold onto their beliefs and convictions for an eternity.

Alice couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the vampires that refused to accept the Integration when it first happened, but with a sinking feeling she suddenly didn’t think she wanted to know the full truth of that. At least, not yet.

“The fighting didn’t last beyond the year,” he eventually spoke again, his eyes focused solely on their interlaced fingers. “At the end of it, Maria started getting desperate and was simply making vampires just to make them. I think she knew that it was all over for her and she was trying to create a diversion so she could sneak away, and I suppose it worked.”

Releasing one of her hands, Jasper reached up and unbuttoned a couple of buttons of his shirt, pulling the collar down to show a series of connected, jagged scars stretching from his left shoulder to the base of his neck. “The first time I met Edward and Emmett,” he explained, a warped smile on his face. “They almost took my arm off that day. Emmett has a matching one on the back of his right arm.”

Alice couldn’t help it when she reached out, running her fingers along the thick, silver scar. It was so hard to imagine that there was once a time where Emmett and Jasper had been not just enemies, but literally at each other’s throats. Not fighting for fun, but fighting to kill.

“It was the first fight I didn’t unanimously win. I’d never once anticipated that I’d stumble upon a mind reader.”

“How about a fortune-teller?” Alice shot her own crooked smile up at him, struggling to lighten the atmosphere as she pulled her hand back from his shoulder.

His soft smile was more sincere now, “Definitely not. I only fought them a couple of times. I didn’t meet Rosalie or Carlisle until after the war was over. I did fight Esme a couple of times.”

Alice’s jaw dropped at that. “Esme?” Her first thought was that she’d never seen a single scar on the woman.

“She and Edward fight surprisingly well together,” Jasper nodded, reaching up and re-buttoning his shirt. “I’d already faced Edward before so,” he shrugged, “he was pretty thorough in keeping her away from me. Especially since I killed most of their squad the first time.” He stared at her for a long moment. “I don’t understand."

She cocked an eyebrow. “What?”

“You’re still not afraid of me. And not even that, but there’s hardly an ounce of judgement in your entire body right now.” Instead of being relieved but such a revelation, he appeared distressed. “I just confessed to trying to kill Edward and Emmett and Esme. I even almost beheaded Bella once.” He paused again, studying her with an incredulous look on his face. “But no matter what I say to you, you still aren’t scared of me. Why?”

A tenderness began to warm her from the inside as she watched Jasper struggle with the pieces of his past he was sharing with her. And all she wanted to do, in that moment, was to kiss him.

Ignoring the urge was the hardest thing she’d done since she took her oath.

“I already told you,” she spoke, as if the answer were obvious, “you’re my best friend.” She squeezed his hands tightly. “Maria was a delusional fool who tricked you into doing terrible things. I don’t fear you for her mistakes. I don’t hate you for not knowing any better. If anything I care about you more every time you tell me about your past because then I feel as if I know you better,” she grabbed his wrists and lifted his hands to her face—he hesitated for a moment before opening his hands and letting her place his palms against her cheeks. She pressed her hands over top of his, forcing him to keep his hands there. “So what I have a stupid vision that I’m trying to change? So what you have these scars that wrongfully make people afraid of you?”

“People should be afraid of me,” he insisted, holding her face in his hands like she was made of glass, “I’m dangerous, Alice. This is the body of a weapon.”

No , this is the body of my friend, Jasper, who went through hell and is still here and standing despite it all,” she paused, “well, sitting now. But that’s not the point. The point is that you’re not a bad person. You’re not someone I fear and you’re certainly not someone I hate. If there’s anyone I hate in this world it’s the woman who put you through hell and is trying to do the same to other people right as we speak. I adore Jasper. I hate Maria.”

Clenching her teeth together, Alice quieted herself and concentrated, trying to bring forth as much confidence, happiness, and contentment as could, knowing that he’d sense the warm, comforting emotions and praying they would help ease his concern.

As she stared him in the eyes, stubbornly and wordlessly daring him to say anything to go against her words, she found herself speechless at the way he was looking at her. As if she were the brightest star in his sky, spilling forth the secrets of the universe to him. There was a quiet adoration in his eyes, making Alice feel a mixture of elation and apprehension as she wondered what could possibly be going on in his head in that moment.

“I hate Maria, too,” he spoke quietly, finally pulling Alice back toward him, wrapping his arms around her tighter than before. “And you’re my best friend, too.”

“Good,” she smiled, “because if not, this might be a little awkward.” She squeezed him for emphasis.

Jasper merely laughed, holding her closely as they fell into a warm contentment.

“Thank you, Alice.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t long after when the door to Carlisle’s office reopened, both Edward and Rosalie walking back out into the hallway with pensive looks on their pale faces, each of them deep in thought and equally baffled by the events prior.

They certainly weren’t the only ones.

After the conversation had immediately sparked another small argument, Esme had taken hold of the situation and then simply sent them off with specific instructions; the general idea was to not argue in front of Alice again. At least until they got to the bottom of whatever issue it was they were stumbling across with her.

They were adults, she’d firmly reminded them, decades-old exasperation in her tone, and they would need to try to handle their arguments as such.

Carlisle, who had been leaning against the wall as Esme dealt with the situation, moved to sit behind his desk as the door closed behind the pair.  He let out a long sigh.

“I don’t think it’s going to work,” his face was somber.

Esme smiled.

“I just keep reminding myself that it’s nothing like it used to be,” her voice held mild amusement despite the situation. “But they’ve really been doing well the past several years so we can’t get too--.”

“No, not that,” he shook his head, “I’m talking about Alice.” He ran a hand through his blond hair, the stress finally beginning to show through his normally calm demeanor. “I have no idea how she’s ever going to be able to handle her training if she can barely handle it when two people have a little bit of a disagreement.” He shook his head. “At first I truly thought she could handle it, but now…” Carlisle drew in a deep breath, “I don’t know how this is going to work.”

Esme remained quiet as he spoke, giving him a cue to continue.

“I mean, the girl may not even make it through her training. What’s going to happen when we send her on a mission, or she’s out at a Center and a code is called in? God help us if Maria arrives at the border within the next couple of months. She’d be killed Esme. It’s as simple as that. Maybe the timing for all of this was off somehow—we’re going to need more time with her if we’re going to get her ready for Maria.”

“Then start. Now.” She leaned back against his desk, offering him half of a shrug, almost as if unbothered by the very valid points that her husband was bringing up. “And I don’t mean more fight training—Jasper seems to have gotten the ball rolling very quickly with that. She needs exposure then. So send her out on the field. Let her get a taste of what’s to come.”

“I don’t know,” Carlisle shook his head, “I think we need to look into her past a bit more. Sure, she doesn’t have her memories but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t learned responses ingrained in her brain from her human life. That could be dangerous if we don’t know what we’re up against.”

“And we can look into it further while she’s out getting her feet wet.” Emse stood her ground. “Although you said so yourself, we don’t have the time for gradual exposure. The best we can do is throw her in the deep end.”

Carlisle’s mouth was set in a grim line. “And who’s going to help her swim?” Esme’s eyes brightened as she smiled, but before she could gather the breath to speak, Carlisle was shaking his head. “No, I need him here.”

“You know he’s the best person for the job.”

“I need Jasper to keep working with the Intelligence Department. We can’t afford any oversight or Maria might slip out from our grasp again.”

“Bella can fill in. Or Rose. I know she’s been itching for a new assignment. Sure, it’s not field work, but it’s something.” Esme narrowed her eyes. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say you were trying to keep them apart.”

“I just seem to be the only one in this house not keen on playing matchmaker,” he defended, crossing his arms and frowning. “The situation between those two is…”

“Intense?”

“I was going to say ‘messy’, but that’s appropriate.”

“He’s not going to kill her,” Esme spoke with the confidence of a person who simply knew . Her next words weren’t nearly as confident, but still hopeful. “Give Jasper a few assignments, make Alice shadow him. She’ll get some exposure and he’ll get out of that darn basement for once. The worst that happens is that she has a panic attack on the field, but you and I both know that if anyone can soothe her, its Jasper. Send them both.”

Although Esme’s statement was a suggestion, and despite his hesitance to send the two Protectors out on the field with one another, Carlisle knew to always trust her advice. Next he was flipping through papers on his desk, opening a thin folder full of freshly printed documents.

“I’ll have to switch a few things around,” he muttered quietly, eyes scanning over a paper, “but I think I can keep them busy for a couple of weeks.”

Esme smiled, “Perfect.” Leaning forward she lifted his chin, pressing her lips against his. “Things are going to work out,” she stated, knowingly. “Alice is the key to this. I know it.”

Carlisle simply nodded, knowing that he had to trust in his wife.

Even if his every instinct begged him to not.


“Jasper? Alice?”

Alice lifted her head from Jasper’s neck at the sound of Carlisle’s voice calling out to them. Peeking over top of Jasper’s shoulder, she realized she still couldn’t see the man from where he was, likely standing in the doorway of her bedroom. She frowned as she removed herself from Jasper’s lap, allowing himself to stand up and exit her closet. She hadn’t quite been ready to remove herself from his embrace, but another small part of her also didn’t want Carlisle to walk in and see them in such a… compromising position.

But friends comforted friends, right? And that’s what they were, she reminded herself firmly, friends .

Following closely behind Jasper, she was a bit confused to see Carlisle standing there, an unassuming black backpack in his hands. She watched as Jasper eyed the backpack, glancing at the blond man curiously.

“You’ve got a few missions,” Carlisle explained simply as Jasper walked over, retrieving the bag from him. When Jasper raised an eyebrow, Carlisle gestured toward Alice as well. “The both of you.”

His eyes widened, “Already? What about—“

“Bella and Rosalie can handle the Intelligence handlings between the two of them,” Carlisle clearly already knew what Jasper was asking. “It’s been too long since you’ve been out in the field. Don’t want you getting rusty.”

The comment seemed to be made good-naturedly, but Alice couldn’t help but notice as Jasper stiffened, his expression growing stern.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Carlisle looked perplexed, but held strong. “You know, if either of them heard you say that, they’d probably be offended.”

“No, not that. I mean—“ he hesitated for a moment, and Alice watched as he eyed her quickly. “She’s not ready.”

That got Alice’s attention. “For what?”

“Field work,” Carlisle responded before Jasper could, turning the full brunt of his attention to her. “It makes up about half of what we do. Being a Protector isn’t all paperwork and interviews. We may be government officials, technically, but we do a lot more than your average human politician.”

“Like?”

“Carlisle,” Jasper was insistent, “not yet. I’ll go by myself.”

“What?” Alice poked him in the arm, frowning. “No, this is a good thing. I want to learn about all of this, I need to train,” she looked at Carlisle, nodding at him, “This is part of the job, right?” She looked back to Jasper, “I want to do this. I need to anyways.”

“Alice, I’m not trying to make it seem like you’re not capable of it,” he could clearly sense her growing annoyance with him “but there are still a lot of things you don’t know about what we do.”

“Then I can learn,” she spoke stubbornly. “Or you can just fill me in on the way.” She turned toward Carlisle, not willing to let Jasper try and prevent her from doing the job she swore to do. “When do we leave?”

“You can either leave tonight or tomorrow,” Carlisle informed her, “I can have your flight booked as soon as you want to leave.”

“Don’t book anything yet.” He placed a hand on her elbow, squeezing gently, “Alice, please.”

“If there’s something so bad about what we’re about to do, I’m going to see it before it happens anyways,” Alice dismissed, her annoyance giving way to frustration. She pulled her arm out of his grasp. “I see the future, Jasper. What do you think is going to catch me off guard?”

He reached up and ran his hands through his hair, clearly not happy with the situation. “Tomorrow morning,” he told Carlisle grimly.

At his relenting, Alice smiled up at him, a vision already coming to her of them boarding an airplane just as the sun began to show on the horizon. And with the knowledge that she’d be going on her first assignment, excitement burst inside of her.

Carlisle nodded, clearly put off slightly by Jasper’s hesitance to take Alice along. He eyed them both with a peculiar look on his face before forcing a smile. “Great. Do you want to go over everything with her, or should I?”

“I’ll do it,” Jasper mumbled, running a hand over his face before turning toward Alice and sighing. Looping an arm through one of the straps of the backpack, he threw it over his shoulder before gesturing toward Alice to follow him. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” she asked as she followed closely behind him. She waved happily at Carlisle, shooting him a thankful smile as they walked by him, walking down the hallway and toward the stairs.

“To hunt,” he spoke plainly, “it’ll likely be the last time you’re able to as long as we’re gone.”

She frowned at that but nodded, still following him closely down the stairs. “Why don’t you want me to go?” She asked plainly, still a bit discouraged about the fact that he seemed downright upset about her tagging along. “I can’t be that annoying, can I?”

“That’s not it,” he sighed, but still didn’t explain himself.

“Are you even going to tell me?”

He looked over his shoulder, smiling wryly at her, “I don’t know. Aren’t you the psychic between the two of us?”

When no visions came to her of him offering up any sort of explanation, she narrowed her eyes. “Jasper Whitlock you better tell me,” she threatened, pointing a pale finger at him.

The smile fell from his face. “It’s better if I just show you.”

And there was silence once more.

For the tenth time that day, Alice was cursing herself for her odd quirks—and that didn’t even include her visions—for constantly screwing things up for her. Sure, normal vampires didn’t see the future, but they also didn’t run off every time something spooked them.

So what if something happened to scare her or—in the rare case—catch her off guard while they were off doing… whatever it was Carlisle was going to have them doing? If there was anyone Alice trusted to help her curb her irrational responses to her fear, it was Jasper.

A bit ironic, considering that for the first few decades of her life, he was what she feared above all else. But Josie always said that life didn’t make much sense.

And as she watched Jasper place the backpack on a table as they walked toward the back of the house, readying themselves for a hunt, she couldn’t help but crack a secret smile.

Befriending an old nightmare certainly made no sense at all.


Stepping off the plane and onto the tarmac, Alice couldn’t help but find herself absolutely giddy with excitement. During her first flight she’d been riddled with nerves, but now that she knew what to expect, she knew that flying was going to quickly become one of her favorite things to do. It beat out driving by a landslide.

She’d complained when she found out it was only a two and a half hour flight until their destination, claiming that it hardly gave her enough time to enjoy the trip. Jasper had rolled his eyes at the simple complaint, but cracked a bit of a smile—she was certain her excitement had to be at least a little contagious to him.

Especially considering he could actually feel it.

“I made sure Carlisle started us off close to home,” he’d eyed her as they waited to board the plane, “just in case.”

His tension at the situation had made her eagerness ebb, but only slightly. The apprehension was mildly disconcerting; it was as if he were simply waiting for something bad to happen.

Alice huffed quietly. He was such a pessimist.

For most of the trip he was silent. He answered her questions here and there, and informed her that they’d only be staying in DC for a couple of nights.

“We won’t be doing much while we’re here,” he’d admitted to her. “Just running a few errands, checking in with a couple of people, and delivering some documents. Simple tasks.”

They could have been there to mow people’s lawns and Alice wouldn’t’ve cared, but she kept that to herself.

He’d instructed her to pack light, so the only item she had on her was a maroon backpack—borrowed from Esme, since she didn’t have one of her own—filled with a few changes of clothes, an extra pair of shoes, and her laptop. She hadn’t opened it much since the embarrassing mishap the week before, but Jasper had recommended she bring it, telling her that if they had any downtime it would certainly come in handy if she got bored.

Alice highly doubted she’d get bored of anything on their trip; as long as a simple car ride was fun and enjoyable for her, she’d be content. (She also was afraid of something else traumatizing happening while she traversed the internet or searched too deeply, but she didn’t dwell too much on that anxiety-inducing thought.)

Jasper had a backpack of his own, his black, and slightly larger than hers, in addition to the smaller one Carlisle had given him. Inside of it, Jasper explained, was a lot of paperwork, mostly. There were a few small pieces of electronics that held more files, only these ones digital, but mainly it was just pages upon pages of instruction and files.

“We’ll be dealing with a few cases while we’re in the Midwest and a few further out west.” He didn’t explain what he meant by ‘cases’ but Alice let it slide. Just the excitement that she felt was enough for overpower her natural curiosity. It also helped that she’d soon know once her visions started coming to her about it.

She still found herself mildly annoyed at him—after all, during their short hunting excursion he’d just about done everything to try and convince her that she would be best off staying at the house and learning things from there, something that had irritated her greatly. The assurances that he wasn’t doubting her ability even managed to make her more frustrated with him.

He must have picked that up though, because eventually he just stopped talking completely, seemingly giving into the fact that her stubbornness would certainly beat his own out.

Thankfully, she’d gotten to spend a small amount of time with Bella before she left. The girl didn’t have much to offer in terms of advice, but had instructed her to simply ‘roll with the punches’ with a shrug. “It can be hard,” she confessed, “but so is a lot of what we do.” She’d eyed Alice skeptically then, “Just don’t give Jasper too difficult of a time, okay?”

Alice had dismissed her friends concern with a click of her tongue and an eye roll, annoyed at the fact that her fellow Protectors were being so wary.

Sure, there was likely some merit to their hesitance. Alice would be the first to admit she wasn’t completely ready for this job (Jasper would likely second that) but like she’d said before, she wasn’t going to get any readier.

The looming threat of another panic attack did subdue her frustrations for the most part. She still wasn’t sure why she’d lost her cool in the car with Edward and Rosalie that day, and no one had come to her with any type of explanation, so for the most part the incident appeared as if it were going to be brushed under the rug. For now. Alice would figure that out when they returned.

As Jasper lead her through the airport, she nearly jumped out of her skin when a stranger with a rather large camera stood before them and started snapping pictures.

Jasper had grumbled something under his breath about ‘obnoxious people with no sense of personal space’ as he reached behind him and grabbed Alice by the hand, pulling her after him a bit quicker than the human could keep up. Of course that seemed to only serve to excite the man, who happily snapped more pictures of their retreating form, shouting an overly eager welcome toward them.

Standing on the curb, he looked less than pleased as they waited for their ride. All around them, people were beginning to recognize him, some muttering under their breaths and others excitedly gushing to friends on the phone about their proximity to the pair.

Alice had noticed a few people paying Carlisle attention during their trip from Mississippi to northern Pennsylvania, but she hadn’t been too focused on it—after all, there was literally everything else she had to focus on as opposed to a few excitable strangers.

“Is it always like this?” She asked lowly as she made eye contact with a grinning woman who was standing inside the building, phone pressed against the glass as she recorded them.

“It’s worst for Rose, but she likes it.”

Alice lifted a tentative hand, waving at the woman. When she squealed and waved back excitedly, nearly jumping up and down out of happiness, Alice was shocked. They were that excited to see her?

“Come on.” Jasper grabbed her arm, leading her toward a shiny black car that she hadn’t noticed had approached.

As he opened the door, allowing her to slide in, he jumped in next to her, closing the door firmly. She turned toward him, smiling despite herself, a bit disheartened to see him frowning.

“What?”

“Now you see why I prefer to stay at the house,” he grumbled, turning to stare out the dark tinted windows at the car rolled forward, “that’s incredibly annoying.”

“The people?” Alice was a bit confused, “They were nice though.”

He shot her a droll glance. “Shoving cameras into another person’s face isn’t nice.”

Alice relented slightly, “Yeah, that was a bit weird, but everyone else seemed really excited to see us.”

“It gets old, fast,” he warned, placing his backpack on the floor be his feet. “Trust me.”

The drive to the container center, located a half an hour away from the airport, passed by too quickly for Alice. It had been embarrassingly hard to avoid playing with the window button on the drive over, but thankfully the scenery had kept her occupied. Washington D.C. didn’t boast large skyscrapers like New York, but Alice did find herself growing fascinated at the architecture and the interesting layout of the city.

Just as she was about to pull her laptop from her bag--she desperately wanted to know what large body of water they’d just crossed on their last bridge--the limo began to slow.

Their first stop was at an office building so large Alice couldn’t help but marvel at it’s odd shape. She had hardly realized her face was pressed up against the glass until a hand on her shoulder had gained her attention.

“We’ll only be here for an hour or two,” Jasper informed her as the car stopped. “Hopefully,” he added as an afterthought as suddenly both of their doors were opened and suddenly Alice found herself ushered out.

Tossing her bag onto her back she wasted no time scurrying to Jasper’s side. “Stay close,” he mumbled, “and just follow my lead.” Hand lightly on her back as he ushered her forward, toward a group of both vampires and humans alike who stared at the two of them with looks ranging from apprehensive to curious.

And just like that, Jasper slipped into the role that Alice was so desperately trying to learn to fill. She followed his lead wordlessly, shaking hands where he did, smiling at strangers who eyed her strangely, and nodding acknowledgements to every name she was informed of.

She spent most of her time simply committing names and military titles to memory. She wasn’t sure what most of the jobs these people had entailed, but she made a mental note to ask Jasper to help her research them later.

She supposed that laptop would come in handy.

It was almost an hour into their visit--they’d just entered some higher-security section of the building and were waiting for an audience with some general--when they had a couple minutes of downtime.

The moment the door closed behind them, leaving them alone to wait for the person they’d be transferring documents to, Alice let out a long breath before turning toward Jasper.

“Can you stop that?” She frowned, fixing a glare at him. Several minutes before, during some more introductions, an older human officer of some unspecified rank had greeted her quite familiarly, kissing the back of her hand instead of shaking it.

Paired with the shuddersome smile plastered across the man’s wrinkled face, the act had made her visibly uncomfortable. This wasn’t like the way Emmett had greeted her when they’d first met. This welcome left her feeling awkward and ill at ease. Almost instantaneously afterward, Alice had felt a calming feeling wash over her, effectively distracting her from her very real discomfort.

Jasper merely raised a scarred eyebrow at her.

“I wasn’t going to freak out or anything,” she grumbled quietly, folding her arms across her chest. “It was just… weird.” She wasn’t used to being looked at like that.

“Inappropriate, more like it,” he muttered, with a slight twitch of his jaw.

“Not like I know that,” she reminded him, “I just thought it was… overly friendly.” There was another slight pause as he let his ability fade. “You didn’t need to calm me.”

“Trust me,” he allowed himself to glance over at her before returning his gaze to the door. “It was for my sake as much as it was for yours.”

Before Alice could ask him what on Earth he meant by that, the door opened and Alice found herself meeting another pair of generals. These ones both human.

“Mr. Whitlock,” a older man, portly, with a shaved, nearly bald head, smiled, “good to see you well.” He strode in confidently, holding a hand out for Jasper to take. Alice couldn’t help but notice how none of these humans even flinched at the physical contact with either of them. Back in Biloxi, where there was still a pretty clear social divide between humans and vampires, most humans would cringe at having to touch their, in comparison, icy cold skin.

“General Kelly,” Jasper nodded before turning to the man directly behind him, “General Morris.”

The second man looked decades younger than Kelly, his short hair a golden color that complimented his tanned, freckled skin.

“Nice to see you again,” his brown eyes flickered from Jasper before landing on Alice. “Ah, Ms. Brandon. Wonderful to finally meet you.”

He offered his hand and Alice shook it happily, willing her apprehension to leave her at once. She’d seen a vision of this man just before he entered this room. The poor guy wasn’t going to fasten the lid to his coffee tightly enough and would drop his afternoon cup all down the front of himself later.

It was so tempting to tell him not to forget to secure the lid later but she held her tongue. Remembering that their gifts had to stay to themselves was something constantly in the forefront of her mind. So she kept it to herself and smiled warmly at these borderline strangers.

Maybe a little extra warmth would make it so that General Morris’ day wouldn’t be a complete waste.

Later, while back in the car--a different car this time, a larger car--Alice turned to Jasper after their driver’s attention was firmly on the road. oh

“It’s hard not to say things to these people that would give me away,” she spoke, too lowly for the driver to hear, “two of those officers are getting into easily-preventable car accidents over the next couple of days. Morris is going to burn himself with coffee. All it would take would be a suggestion or two and none of that would happen.” She frowned, nibbling on her bottom lip.

He allowed himself half of a smirk at that. “You can’t save everyone’s day, Alice.”

“I’m starting to realize that,” she spoke wistfully, glancing back out the window as they merged onto the highway. “What about you,” she turned back toward him, eyeing him suspiciously. He’d used his gift once more while they were there. “How come no one notices anything from you?”

While they’d been in the room with Kelly and Morris, Kelly had made an offhand comment about Carlisle’s unwillingness to greenlight assistance down South. Jasper had shaken off the comment with a smile and and statement of his own, imploring them to trust in their leadership, as they did with the human’s.

Alice had then noted the distinct sensation of Jasper’s ability, easily and seamlessly soothing the blossoming tensions in the room. The men had shared practiced smiles with one another, and before Alice knew it they were done.

“Do you know why we have gifts?” Jasper answered her question with another.

“No,” she stated bluntly, “do you?”

He turned toward her more fully in the backseat as the car sped along, eyeing their driver. Being virtually indestructible meant that seatbelts were more of an option for vampires; something used to keep up the charade of vulnerability.

“There are theories,” he informed her, “when we’re changed many things change with us. Physically, of course, our bodies get stronger, our memories become infallible, and certain personality traits can become amplified.”

“Into abilities?”

“Possibly. That’s the way one theory goes.”

“So like with Edward…”

Jasper shrugged, “Perhaps he was good at reading people while he was still human. Like all of us, his human memories are pretty fuzzy, so he says it’s likely but,” he punctuates his thought with another shrug.

“So when you were human you were, what? Calming?”

“Not quite. From a young age I found it was quite easy to get others to see my side of things. Carlisle calls it charisma, but I’m not sure it was that simple.”

“It would explain how you’re able to affect people however you want,” Alice pointed out, enraptured with the conversation. Any time Jasper talked about himself to any extent, she couldn’t help but want him to continue talking. “Sensing and changing emotions. I’m sure you were a good friend to have when you were human.”

He made a thoughtful noise, a barely-contained smile on his lips. “Too bad I’m a vampire.”

Alice rolled her eyes at him, “And a good friend now, too. Don’t be a dummy.” She glanced back out the window temporarily, watching as the cityscape turned greener and greener.

“I wonder what I was like as a human,”  she mused. “Especially to give me a gift like this. Maybe I just had really good intuition.”

“Yeah,” Jasper agreed quietly, turning away from her and righting himself in his seat, “maybe.”

Chapter Text

They drove for another hour and forty-five minutes before pulling up to what Jasper said was  the Mid-Atlantic Container Center. A series of buildings that, for some reason, made Alice feel much more intimidated than their previous stop had. Jasper had assured her that the size of the campus wasn’t indicative of the amount of people there, and was more of a precautionary measure than anything.

“It won’t be anything like the Pentagon,” he told her, meeting her around the side of the car as her eyes trailed from the massive office building in front of them to the smaller, yet still industrial-looking buildings that trailed off into the woods. “They need a lot of space for the newborns.”

Right. Newborn vampires.

Gazing off into the distance, seeing the outline of mountains on the horizon, Alice watched the sun begin to disappear and wondered just how large the center was.

She was relieved when no group of old military personnel came to greet them. She did always find the aroma of coffee to be a bit too much for her senses; and the smell of cigarettes and gratuitous amounts of hairspray seemed to make it a near-nauseating combination.

In fact, judging on just her senses alone, Alice wasn’t sure if there were any humans around. Or, if there were, there weren’t many.

With a quick glance into her future, she was left both relieved yet oddly disappointed.

They would only be there for a few hours. Not long enough to see much but long enough to sit through one boring meeting (where Alice would understand little of what was said) and to meet a few of the higher-ups.

“There’s less humans here,” she remarked as they approached the building.

Jasper nodded. “Only because it’s late. Humans do work here, but they work shorter hours, and typically during the day. The staff is usually majority vampires at night, but there are humans.” He stopped to open the door, holding it for her. “I’d be surprised if you didn’t see any.”

As if on cue, two humans passed them by, seemingly done with the work day if their coats and bags were any indication.

Only one seemed to pay either of them any mind. The woman casually glanced at Jasper before doing a double-take, her eyes then trailing to meet Alice’s too. But she continued walking, turning back to perhaps catch up on whatever her companion had said.

Alice wondered if these people would react the way anyone had in the airport. Although back at the Pentagon they’d certainly dealt with less eagerness and with more curiosity and apprehension. She wondered if they’d face more of that here.

She followed closely behind Jasper as he approached the receptionist, flashing his ID and asking a few quick questions. As she watched him, she was in awe of how he navigated this strange pseudo-political climate that was foreign to her. His tone was calm and he was kind, but something about him seemed to command respect; perhaps the way he presented himself.

It was easy for her to forget how he had such an extensive military background, even as a human. But, Alice supposed, eyeing all six feet and three inches of his stature, when you looked at him, it was also very easy for others to remember...

For a moment, she wished she could borrow Jasper’s ability from him, just to see what these people felt about them. She wondered if they held her to the same standard as they did for him, or if they viewed her the way she viewed herself: just wandering around, going through the motions and pretending to understand what her purpose here was.

She couldn’t help but feel silly--strangely insecure about how they viewed her. But it was true. She felt as if she were a child, being brought along to meetings where the attendees spoke with too-big words over her head, smiling at her and not expecting her to contribute at all.

As they were led down a long hallway, Jasper turned toward her, meeting her eyes with his own questioning glance.

Alice felt even sillier then, realizing that he undoubtedly was bearing witness to her embarrassing internal battle. She simply sighed, breaking eye contact, instead choosing to take in the art that adorned the walls.

The receptionist led them to an elevator where he swiped a card and entered a code. “Seventh floor. Captain Ayers should be in seven-twelve.”

After the doors closed, and the second Jasper opened his mouth to speak, Alice held up a hand.

“Not now,” she muttered, not even glancing in his direction.

“You feel like you’re about to burst.” He remarked, frowning. “Most humans who feel like that typically turn beet-red.”

Alice chewed carefully on the inside of her cheek, trying to wordlessly convey that no , she did not feel like talking about this right now, and yes , she understood that she was likely being a bit dramatic. Maybe it was childish, but she didn’t care currently.

“Later,” she sighed, risking a glance at him only to find that his attention was completely on her.

“I’ll hold you to that,” he said seriously, breaking eye contact as the doors opened and they reached their destination.

The rest of the night passed just as Alice foresaw it. The meeting with Captain Alex Ayers--the present commander of the MACC--was as dull as she could have imagined.  Jasper had been right. There really wasn’t going to be a lot to do or see during this leg of their trip.

Four other vampires holding various ranks throughout the center also sat in on the meeting, not offering much in lieu of conversation, but seemingly vital nonetheless. Alice couldn’t help but notice how a couple of them shot thinly-veiled looks of contempt toward Jasper. Especially when the topic of fight training was brought up.

“One of us will be back within the next few weeks for the seminar,” Jasper had informed them cooly, clearly referring to one of their fellow protectors. “It won’t likely be myself, but we’d like for everyone to be ready. Now is not the time to be slacking on training.”

The two of the vampires who had been watching the meeting with disdain had given each other looks.

Alice definitely didn’t appreciate the vision she’d gotten then, of their conversation that they’d have after she and Jasper would leave. Mainly the two would rant back and forth to each other, blatantly questioning his ability to even hold his rank when his ‘old business partner’ continued her reign of terror south of the border.

They departed from the center a little before 4 o’clock in the morning, the same black car from earlier waiting to take them on the two hour drive back to the airport.

It was a quiet trip. Both of them caught in their own thoughts as they drove back toward the city. Alice couldn’t help but wonder if this is how all their trips would go; and that was saying something. Typically, with her gift, Alice wasn’t left wondering about much. But more often than not she had to actively look in order to accurately see what lie ahead of her, and as of late, she hadn’t been exactly eager to see what the future had in store.

(Especially since, every day, without fail, her first vision was still there. Set in stone and solid as always.)

All too soon they reached the airport and were ushered through security once more. She’d been a bit embarrassed when the TSA agent had to remind her to remove her shoes. She certainly was caught up in her thoughts. Jasper had shot her another questioning look but she’d simply shaken her head--the movement so slight that only he caught it.

It wasn’t until they were seated on their flight--another short trip, only an hour and a half long, awaited them--when she turned to him.

“What are you thinking about?” He asked her lowly, before she could even gather the breath to speak. “You’ve been unusually quiet.”

He was right. Ever since being introduced to this new way of life and joining the Protectors, she was hardly ever at a loss of things to talk about and new stuff to explore.

“These people,” she began, having to look away from his intense stare (she swore he could look right through her with those eyes), “they seem less-than-trusting.”

Jasper nodded. “Typical for me. But that wasn’t bad. The further South I am the worse it gets.”

“You can feel how they feel about you then, right?” Jasper simply nodded, a perfectly crafted poker face set into place. “How? Why keep doing this?”

“It’s part of the job,” he explained simply. “Doesn’t mean I have to like being here to delegate any more than these people enjoy the reminder that I’m a Protector.”

“That’s why you prefer to stay home,” she muttered, his propensity to stay shut in the library making more sense now.

“I’m better at this though,” he admitted, albeit reluctantly. “So it’s a struggle. It’s not that I don’t enjoy this part of our work--I do, actually. But,” he glanced around as a handful of passengers entered the plane; it was shaping up to be a fairly empty plane, “the emotional tax is,” he waved a hand in the air, “a bit draining.”

Alice could only imagine what he went through on a daily basis, existing in an emotional climate where you could sense every single person’s feelings about you. And when you were seemingly as universally distrusted as Jasper was…

“What’s it like?” She found herself asking, trying not to think about how hard this life really must be for him. “Being able to sense emotion? Is it a visual thing?”

“I don’t quite see anything. It’s hard to explain, since I don’t quite remember what it’s like to not have this ability.” Alice nodded. She could certainly relate to that. “But think of it like this: you always--to some extent--know how you’re feeling. You have this awareness of your state of mind and when it changes, whether something upsets or delights you, you can physically feel the change in yourself.”

Alice nodded along. She’d always been an emotionally-driven person.

“Well, imagine being able to feel that, but for each individual being around you. You walk into a room and you can sense someone’s happiness or sadness, or their annoyance or anger. I can sense everything that an individual person happens to be feeling at any given time as long as I’m within a certain parameter of them.”

“Does it affect you often?” Alice recalled their first few encounters, and how she came to realize that her own blinding fear had been physically painful to him.

“Not in the way that you’d think. I am fairly good at maintaining my own emotional state. I don’t walk into a room of sad people and immediately become sad just due to proximity. Is it easier to be influenced by something like that, but if you’re a step or two ahead,” he tapped a pale finger to his temple, “and think about things logically, instead of emotionally, it makes it easier to stay unaffected. Looking at things from a more objective standpoint; you know, focusing on the reason instead of the actual emotion.”

Alice couldn’t hide the fact that she was impressed. “So you’re an empath who has trained himself not to care about the emotional distress of strangers.”

The corner of his mouth twitched up a bit. “I sound like a jerk when you put it that way. But yes, in a way. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m caught off guard or not in a… logical state of mind, emotions can affect me. It’s much easier to exist among civil, rational people as opposed to emotion-fueled, miserable people.”

Alice winced at that. “Is it hard to exist around me?” She asked, not caring if she sounded put-out by the idea. After all, she wouldn’t call herself miserable by any extent, but she was absolutely emotionally-driven. “That time back at the house when I was still afraid of you.” She waited for a second, watching as he tensed at the memory. “I hurt you. I don’t know how badly because no one would tell me anything about it, but I know I did. Does being around me when I’m like that--all emotional and quick to reacting--make it harder to exist with me?

He was shaking his head before she’d finished speaking. “No, no of course not.”

“I’ve hurt you though,” she reminded him, trying not to upset herself all over again. “I--” she swallowed thickly. “I’m sorry, I’m getting all worked up now. I don’t want to--”

“No,” Jasper spoke sternly, placing a firm hand on her shoulder, “Alice, no. Don’t ever try to reign in your emotions around me.” His eyes were pleading with her. “Don’t ever let anything stifle any of the things that you feel. That’s important, you hear? Feeling things is vital.”

“But I don’t want to go around hurting you!” she bit her lip, trying to at least control her tone. She couldn’t help her frustration though, and that made her even more frustrated.

“It doesn’t hurt me. I don’t know how to explain it to you but your emotions don’t hurt me. They’re certainly strong, that’s for sure. Potent, I would say. That day all those weeks ago,” Alice watched as a muscle clenched in his jaw, “I don’t know. Okay. I’ll admit that. I don’t know why your fear incapacitated me like that. I’ve talked to Carlisle about it. Even Edward. They don’t know why.

“You feel things so purely. It’s,” he paused for a moment, “I don’t want to say childlike, but that's the only other time I’ve felt emotions as authentic as yours.” Something flashed in his eyes for a moment, something that Alice could only describe as an admiration of her. It made her chest tighten; an odd warmth filling her completely. “It could be that you caught me off guard, and with the combination of how strong and purely you feel things, added with the fact that I haven’t felt fear like that in decades, I simply wasn’t ready to take all that emotion at once, I think. But promise me,” he squeezed her shoulder again before pulling his hand back.

“Don’t ever hold yourself back, Alice.”

“Okay,” she breathed, enraptured by his passionate words, “I promise.”

“Even if you think you might be hurting me.”

She clenched her lips tight at that one, not about to relent that far.

Alice…

“How about this?” She frowned. “You remember the promise you made me?”

He swallowed, refusing to take his eyes off of her. Of course he remembered; she knew. Back when he’d promised that he’d never hurt her.

“I’m going to make you that same promise. I will never, ever--intentionally--hurt you,” she added, amending his own promise to her a bit. “I’ll do my best to not hold back the things I feel around you, but if I can sense that I’m hurting you because of what I feel then all bets are off.”

“A promise with conditions?” He nearly snorted.

“It’s realistic,” she pointed a finger at him, her frown deepening. “I just--” and just as the sadness fell over her, she grew frustrated. And with that she grew embarrassed, knowing that Jasper was witnessing all of this happen within her. “I just don’t want to hurt you.” Reaching down she grabbed his hand, not caring much about the presence of anyone else on this flight.

(And her refusal to keep her affections toward Jasper to herself would be noted by a few people on their flight. There’d be a gossip column on some website written by noon the next day with “eye-witness accounts” about the two Protectors getting “awfully close” to one another.)

When Jasper reached over, tucking a tiny stray hair behind her ear, he let his hand linger for a moment, fingers brushing against her jaw as they pulled back. He squeezed her hand then and offered her a small, sad smile.

“Me too.”

Alice’s chest tightened. She cared about him so much. Too much, maybe. In a way where she knew it was different; she didn’t find herself agonizing about her feelings for Bella or Emmett like this. What she felt for Jasper was truly special. And as she allowed these warm, comforting feelings to fill her, she could only hope that she wouldn’t need to vocalize it just yet. That he would simply feel them and know how much she cared for him. At least until she was ready to tell him.

Hopefully, she wondered, as she laid her head down on his shoulder, she’d garder up the courage sooner rather than later.


The Columbus airport was nearly empty by the time they landed, the sun not yet up and over the horizon as a new day began in this town. Striding toward the exit, Alice couldn’t help but notice how no one was taking note of them .

Most of the humans were lethargic. Either tired from a night’s work or a long night spent travelling. The ones that were arriving, ready to catch flights or show up at their job, didn’t appear to be faring much better. Many of them still rubbing sleep out of their eyes, too focused on their tasks at hand to notice two Protectors striding by.

As their ride slowed down before what looked like a hotel, Alice shot him a questioning glance.

“We’re here a bit early,” he explained, grabbing his bags and opening the door. “We’re also staying in town for a few days. It’ll be better to have a place to leave our things and shower.”

Alice nodded, looking up at the tall, homey building they were at. She’d never been at a hotel before…

It didn’t take them long to check in and reach their room. A small suite with a large bed, kitchenette, and decent sized bathroom. It would be nice to have a shower, she mused, tossing her backpack on the large dresser.

“We don’t need to be at the center until around ten,” he informed her, dropping both of his bags onto the bed. “Feel free to shower. I’m going to prepare some things for later.” He pulled his laptop out of his bag. “Today will probably be another day of meetings.”

Alice frowned at that. “Joy.”

“It’s not exciting by any means, but they’re vital.”

“Can you at least go over whatever we’re supposed to be meeting people about before we go?” She asked, a bit miffed. “I mean, I’d like to be at least a little informed as to what is going on. I felt a little stupid yesterday.”

Jasper nodded, and then sighed. “I’m sorry,” he spoke genuinely. “That’s my fault. I’m supposed to be teaching you things as we go but,” he shook his head, “It’s been a while since I’ve been out here in the field. It takes a bit of adjusting.”

She shot him a sympathetic smile, playing with the straps on her borrowed backpack. “I just don’t want to feel like there’s no reason for me to be here. I know it’s a lot of new information and places and people but I want to feel like I belong. Like I deserve this title.”

“I understand. How about you shower and I’ll go over today’s items with you.”

Alice shook her head, “I actually want to explore a bit,” she confessed sheepishly, “you can go first if you’d like. I think we both smell a little bit like coffee and cigarettes still.”

Jasper smiled, “Humans all have their vices, I suppose.” Then he nodded, picking up his personal backpack and heading toward the bathroom. “Alright, I shouldn’t be long. Try not to get lost.”

She smiled at that, watching as he retreated into the bathroom and closed the door before turning to leave.

The set-up of the building vaguely reminded her of her new home in Pennsylvania. Long hallways, plenty of doors, and as muffled noise drifted to her from the floors above and below her, she realized that perhaps it was common in newer buildings to have the soundproofing, to better accommodate vampire guests, she assumed.

Back at home in Biloxi, she could hear everything on the block most nights: the music, the arguments her neighbors at the corner got in on a daily basis, every blaring alarm clock. None of that was anything compared to the couple that had moved in a few years back. Alice was no stranger to hearing humans more intimate of activities, but those two had driven her out of her house for walks on countless occasions.

She had never even known that vampire soundproofing was a thing until her favorite library in town had gotten some renovations done. That had been what had turned it into her favorite place in town. It was one things to have a place away from home to go and read, but for it to suddenly be wildly quieter was a dream come true.

Wandering to the elevator, Alice pushed the button and waited. When she entered she eyed the buttons on the wall, idly reminding herself that she and Jasper were on the fourth floor. Pushing the highest number, eleven, she watched as it lit up and smiled as she felt the funny sensation of her body suddenly rising.

Elevators weren’t nearly as interesting as escalators, but they certainly were more fun.

After a few minutes of pressing buttons, going from the ground level to the top level four more times, Alice jumped when the lift stopped and the door opened on the eighth floor.

The older woman didn’t so much as glance twice at her when she came in, going to press the button for the ground floor only to find it had already been selected by Alice. That’s when she glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, only for her to jump and her gaze to widen.

Startled at the reaction, Alice simply smiled, hoping that the woman wasn’t afraid of her. After seeing how humans reacted to Jasper, she wondered if certain people simply didn’t like the Protectors in general.

“Oh my goodness!” The woman exclaimed, immediately patting her pockets. “It’s you! You’re Alice!”

Alice couldn’t help but let out a relieved laugh, allowing her smile to widen. “Yes I am.”

“Oh wow! This is incredible. My daughter isn’t going to believe this,” finally retrieving a phone out of her pocket, she looked back up. “I’m sorry, I’m being rude. Are you going anywhere right now?”

Not one to confess to a complete stranger that, actually, she’d been playing with the elevator for the past ten minutes, Alice simply shook her head. “Just killing time.”

“This is perfect. Oh my goodness.” Holding the phone to her head, it rang three times before a voicemail message clicked on. “This darn girl,” she glanced from the device and back to Alice. “Listen, I know this is an odd request but do you mind meeting my daughter? We’re here for a college visit and I’m actually supposed to be going on a coffee run right now, but she adores you and would just die if she missed a change to meet you.”

“Me?” Alice blurted out, unable to believe that a random stranger ‘adored’ her. When she realized the woman was eagerly awaiting an answer, pressing the door close button when they reached the ground and re-selecting her floor, she shrugged. “I don’t see why not?”

“Oh! Thank you so much. She’ll be so happy.” Turning her attention toward her phone, frowning when the message of ‘Hi, you’ve reached Kara’s phone. I’m not here to take your call…’ began to play once more.

“So what brings you to Columbus?” The woman asked. “I’m Kathy, by the way,” she extended a hand and Alice shook it, watching as the woman seemed to unintentionally flinch at the contact.

“Work,” Alice shrugged, not entirely sure she should be telling a random human what her business in this town was. But no one had told her not to, so…

“Really? Here? Oh, well I guess they have one of those centers not far from here,” she muttered to herself, “is that outside city limits?”

Alice blinked and then shrugged. “I’m not sure. Haven’t been yet.”

“I would assume so,” Kathy nodded to herself, “they have those zoning laws for a reason right? Columbus is a big city.” Before Alice could reply, the door opened and the woman walked out into the hallway. “We’re just around the corner.”

Following the woman closely, Alice felt so strangely. The fact that this human, who was very obviously a bit weary of vampires, was so trusting with Alice that she’d bring her to meet her daughter, was so odd.

Josie had been right. She was being viewed as a celebrity.

As they rounded a corner and stopped, Alice watched as Kathy took some black card out of her pocket and swiped it through a slot next to the door handle. Idly Alice wondered if she was supposed to have one of those to get back into her room.

“Just hang here for a second,” she instructed, leaving Alice standing in the doorway. From what she could see, the room looked startlingly familiar to the one she and Jasper occupied. “Kara,” the woman called, hurrying inside, “Kara. Kara wake up. I have a surprise for you.”

Alice could hear a sleepy groan before the sound of a comforter being pulled back reached her. “Is it my large iced macchiato?” A scratchy, young voice asked.

“Better than that. Stand up. Get your glasses. You don’t want to miss this.” A minute later, Kathy pulled a teenage girl behind her, grinning like mad.

The girl simply looked at her, squinting as she reached around and pulled on her glasses. The second the realization dawned on the girl, she screamed.

What!?

“I ran into her on the elevator,” Kathy smiled down at her daughter.

“Oh my god, oh my god .” And when the girl shuffled forward on bare feet, Alice couldn’t help but laugh when she hesitantly held her arms out, “Can--am I--?”

Pulling the delirious girl into a hug--she’d seen what the girl was going to ask just as the thought crossed her mind--Alice glanced up at Kathy and winked. Letting out another light laugh as the woman pulled her phone out and snapped a couple of pictures.

“This is too much. Oh my god. Am I really awake?” The girl pulled back, looking from Alice to her mom, and back again. “I’m taller than you. This is so strange. I’m so sorry I’m just--I never thought this would happen and-- Mom !” she ducked her head as she realized her mother was taking pictures. “I look so bad! I can’t take a picture with you! Where are my sunglasses--” and back into the room she went. “Please don’t go anywhere yet!” She shouted from wherever she was, digging through some bags by the sound of it.

“Told you,” Kathy grinned, turning back toward the room. “And to think you didn’t want to tour Franklin’s campus.”

“Yes you’re the best and the smartest and you always know best,” the girl shot back, still digging through her bags. Seconds later she was back. A hooded jacket thrown on and her sunglasses on. “This is better. I look so dead compared to you.”

Kathy nearly gasped, smacking her daughter on the arm. “ Kara .”

But Alice only laughed. “That’s one of the upsides of not sleeping. Not having to restart my body every day.”

“Nice,” the girl grinned, moving to stand next to Alice. “No one is going to believe this.”

“I’m glad you’re happy.” Alice grinned up as a few more pictures were taken.

“This is so cool. Are you here by yourself? OH --is Rosalie here? Please tell me Rosalie is here.”

She shook her head, “Sorry. I’ll make sure to tell her she has a fan here in Columbus.”

“Can you also tell her to please do another Vogue spread soon? My friends and I are always harassing them on Instagram to do another feature on her. The last one was so dry. She’s far too pretty to be put in simple florals again. They need to do something more dramatic.”

“I agree,” Alice nodded, growing distracted for a quick second as a vision came to her. Jasper had realized that she’d left her little key-card for their room and would be looking for her any minute now. “I’ll pass along the message.”

“The picture of you in that last US was really cute, too!”

Alice raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“Oh, did you not see it? Mom,” the girl turned, “do you have it?”

Kathy turned and walked into my room. “I think it’s in my carry-on.”

“The dress you wore last month was so gorgeous,” she gushed, “I’ve been looking for something similar to wear to prom but so far I haven’t found anything that exact shade of blue.”

“If I had it with me I’d give it to you,” Alice told her genuinely.

The girl’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head. “No way.”

“Maybe she could mail it to you.”

“Mom! Rude, seriously--”

“If you want it that bad, I certainly could.” When she turned back toward her, eyes wide, Alice shrugged. “What? I don’t have any other use for it.”

“You’d seriously do that?”

“If it makes you that happy, why not?”

“Oh my god,” and when tears sprang into her eyes, Alice reached out and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “You’re the best. Definitely my favorite now. Wow. This has to be a dream.”

“Here it is,” Kathy handed over some glossy publication. Alice took the magazine and stared at it, surprised. On the bottom left of the cover was a small picture of her, taken from the night of her announcement.

ALICE -- AMERICA’S NEW PROTECTOR (PAGE 37 FOR DETAILS)

Flipping to the page, Alice was shocked to see a half-page dedicated only to her.

“Have you not seen this?” The teen was reading over her shoulder, seemingly surprised.

Alice shook her head. “I’m still getting used to the fact that people know my name,” she replied honestly.

“So is it true?” Kara asked. “Are you and Jasper together?”

“Well, yeah,”  Alice replied dumbly, “he’s around here somewhere.”

Kara blinked. “You mean he’s here ?” Alice nodded. “Oh my god. This is the best day of my life. And that means Megan owes me twenty dollars. I told her you two were a thing.”

“A thing?” Suddenly Alice didn’t think she was following the conversation correctly.

“Yeah, you know? A thing? Like together ?” She laced her fingers together in front of her, showing her clasped hands for emphasis. “My sister said that it was too soon since you just started, but I told her the facts don’t lie. Look,” pointing to the article, she poked at a picture of both her and Jasper. It was taken just after they’d stepped into the newsroom. She had been gripping his hand, smiling brightly, her head turned slightly to say something to him. Alice remembered this moment vividly; after all it had been right after she’d asked him to calm her for the first time.

What Alice hadn’t noticed was the way he’d been looking at her, like she was the center of his universe. It had only been a second after this had been taken before the abrupt flashes of dozens of cameras had startled her into releasing his hand.

“It is a sweet photo,” Kathy relented, the compliment seemingly pulled out of her by a look from her daughter. Another person weary of Jasper, it seemed. “How long have you two been dating?”

“Oh, I--”

“Alice.”

Next to her, Kara nearly jumped out of her skin, turning abruptly to the man standing out in the hallway. She was quick to reign in her shock. “Oh, this is absolutely the best day of my entire life.”

“Jasper,” Alice breathed, embarrassment flooding through her. No doubt he’d heard Kathy’s last question. She watched as his eyes flickered down to the magazine she was reading before moving onto the humans in her company. He nodded his head to them both.

“Ladies,” then he addressed Alice alone, “you forgot this.” Holding her black key card between them, Alice swore she heard Kara let out a barely contained gasp as she grabbed the card from him.

“Just meeting some people,” Alice then informed him, feeling the need to explain her odd circumstances currently. “Kara, Kathy,” she smiled at the humans, “It was very nice to meet you.”

Kathy smiled thinly, her earlier attitude seemingly gone at the appearance of Jasper. It was a far cry to the way Kara was acting, grinning up at the two of them with unshed tears still in her eyes.

“One more picture before you go?” the girl asked, nodding to her mother.

“Of course,” Alice smiled, handing the girl back the magazine. Yet when she glanced over her shoulder, she noted how Jasper had taken a couple of steps back. “Jazz?”

His eyes flickered toward her and for a moment his gaze was challenging. She could almost read the ‘no way’ in his look. She nearly rolled her eyes, beckoning him forward. When he still refused to move she smirked, walked up to him, grabbed his hand, and pulled him forward.

Alice would be damned if this sweet human wasn’t going to get the picture she wanted. After all. If something as simple as this could make someone so happy, why wouldn’t they do it?

He sighed quietly, shooting her another wry look as he stood at her side. She simply smiled up at him, pleased with herself at getting him to cooperate so easily.

After a few more photos were snapped, and the girl thanked them approximately a dozen times, Alice and Jasper made their departure.

“Sorry,” she breathed out with a smile, not even a bit apologetic. “But that was fun.”

“I’m beginning to learn that our definitions of fun are severely different.”

“We just made that girl’s day.”

Jasper merely sighed in response. He pressed the button to the elevator, holding his hand out for her to step on when the doors opened. “Please try not to go into the hotel room of every person you meet. You can’t trust everyone out here.”

She nearly rolled her eyes, instead watching as water droplets from his hair dripped onto his shirt. It made her wonder. Had he jumped straight out of the shower to look for her?

“It’s fine. She was just a fan.” The term was strange to use, but it was the only one she could find in her vocabulary that was appropriate.

“I know. I just want you to be careful. Not everyone will be that nice.”

A part of her wanted to argue further, but deep down she knew he was right. Not every person she met would have good intentions. Josie had tried to instill that knowledge in her early on, and Alice felt slightly foolish for forgetting such a vital lesson.

After showering, Alice came out of the bathroom to see that Jasper had turned their little room into something resembling the board room they’d held a meeting in yesterday. Papers were strewn about neatly, a couple of maps here and there, as Jasper typed quickly onto his laptop.

“Alright,” he spoke after a minute, closing the computer, “let’s go over the basics.”

They spent the better part of the morning going over everything that they’d be in meeting about throughout the day. It was early on when Alice realized just how good of a teacher Jasper was.

He’d simply explained more of the mundane details to her, about how they had to analyze the budget of each of the container centers yearly, making cuts if needed and reallocating funds when necessary.

Alice had found learning about the entry interviews much more fascinating than anything else he’d explained to her.

“It’s very standard procedure, and it gets boring and repetitive after a while, but once a human is approved for Change they go through a final interview where they all but sign their life away. From there they go straight to their assigned Container Center. They’re typically changed within a week after that.”

“How many vampires go through that every day?”

“At smaller centers like this? Maybe a handful. They average about three to seven per day. Larger centers like in New York or Los Angeles go through anywhere between a dozen and twenty per day. Only on weekdays or course.” He allowed himself a small smile at that. “Even vampires value their weekends.”

“So do I get to watch an interview while we’re here?” The idea excited her so much. She wondered if there would ever be an opportunity where she’d also get to witness a change…

“I’ll see if I can do one or two,” he relented. “They really are boring, trust me.”

“People are so fascinating. I imagine humans have to be especially fascinating to be approved for change.”

“That’s an entirely separate process. A severely complicated one. I’ll explain all the details to that mess at some point.”

“Good,” she grinned. “So, explain more about this economic policy meeting we’ll be in for four hours today.”

Jasper nearly groaned, “Is that how long it’s going to take?”

Alice only smiled sweetly, “And do me a favor and explain what on Earth a tax code is? One of the containers is going to get snide with me for being quiet and I’d like to actually know what everyone is talking about.”

Jasper smiled crookedly at her, “Something tells me you’re going to start making these meetings more fun.”

“Hopefully,” she grinned back, sitting on the edge of the bed. And when he began explaining more of their economic policy, she clung to every word, determined to learn all she could.

She’d earn her place here alongside Jasper no matter what.

Chapter Text

Their first meeting of the day went exactly as Alice knew it would. And when the older man at the table, a vampire with jet back hair who looked to be maybe triple her age, deflected a question from Jasper, instead unkindly asking Alice what she knew of their tax regulations, she’d smiled happily at the rude man, giving him all the information he seemingly needed to know. And even some information that Alice knew even he didn’t know.

When the conversation had turned back onto it’s tracks, Alice couldn’t help but notice how Jasper appeared to be hiding a smile behind his hand.

After that meeting they had a couple hours to spare before their next one--a meeting not unlike the one in DC the day before, this one discussing setting up a few training seminars to take place over the summer--so Alice took it upon herself to do some more exploring.

The main building turned out to be little more than office spaces and board rooms. By the time Jasper had caught up to her he’d been held back from their meeting by a couple of higher-rank containers who still held a few repetitive questions she was standing in the lobby, looking at the map of the entire campus. It was certainly smaller than DC’s, but still boasted lots of space, and about a dozen large buildings.

“If you really want to see something less boring,” he’d leaned over her shoulder, drawing her attention away from the map, “follow me.”

A few buildings away was a building that wasn’t as tall as the main entrance, but was certainly longer. The second they stepped through the doors Alice could hear the unmistakable sounds of fighting. Running across the threshold she pressed her forehead to the glass only to look down on a training room not unlike the one back at their house.

Thirteen vampires stood in varying places around the gymnasium, watching another three attempt to perfect some type of fighting move.

They watched silently for a few minutes before Jasper spoke up, moving from behind her to stand at her side. “They’re working on containing, like their namesake.”

“Containing other vampires,” Alice spoke, half in wonderment and half with sadness.

“Those of us running from the law, those of us changed illegally. Whatever it is, they need to be brought in, and these guys need to learn to do it.”

“Will I learn how?”

Jasper looked down on her and nodded. “Yes. We’re working on that though. So don’t worry if you can’t do something like that,” he gestured down to the training group.

Alice watched as an older man, maybe no older than thirty, swiftly evaded his two counterparts, twirling and spinning and swinging every time they got close. Then, with a swift kick to the shoulder, and with a luckily-timed grab to the ankle, he was hitting the floor face-first. his arms suddenly wretched behind him.

“On second-thought,” Jasper mused, “you’re probably much better than they are.”

The praise made Alice light up, watching as one Container, apparently in charge of the session, called the next trio over, designating roles and instructing them to begin. Alice could hardly look away from how smoothly they all moved, and found herself wondering if she was this graceful when she worked with Jasper.

They watched the training for a little over an hour, waiting until the last minute when they had to head back to the main building for their next round of meetings. At one point the group had taken note of them, the instructor smiling and attempting to beckon them down to join. Jasper had simply shaken his head, tapping the watch on his wrist, indicating that they didn’t have the time.

The instructor had simply smiled, declaring that they’d be there all week. It was only Monday, after all.

A quick vision had come to her then, leaving her smiling as they walked back to the main room. Jasper would likely take them up on that offer at least once before they moved onto the next center.


The next twenty-four hours passed surprisingly quickly for Alice. After two more meetings that had lasted well into the night, they’d been given a tour of the entire campus by an eager young vampire. Jonas was new to the facility he had only been working there for six months but he was “tremendously happy,” he assured, to show the two around. That was when Alice had learned that this was one of the three centers in the country Jasper hadn’t been to, and the second newest one after the one in Houston had been opened earlier last year.

Jasper seemed to be mildly put-out with their tour guide, not even pretending to laugh at any of his bad jokes the way Alice did.

The only building they didn’t enter was the one they didn’t even approach.

“The Newborn Center is actually a couple miles up the road that way,” Jonas had pointed out the window of what they called the Dorms--the building where they had showers and held most of meals on campus. “I don’t quite have clearance for that though, so…” he’d shrugged, trailing off as he led them away from the window.

Alice had stayed rooted to her spot though, still staring at the paved road that disappeared into the trees. Surely, she would have clearance, right? After all she was a Protector.

Technically, she realized with a strange feeling, she was Jonas’ boss.

“Later,” Jasper had said, tugging her arm lightly, leading her away from the window.

She’d resisted slightly at first, frowning up at him as he attempted to pull her back to where Jonas was waiting for them. He sighed, “I promise we’ll go to a Newborn Center at some point.”

“Here?” She asked, turning and gesturing toward the road that lay just ahead of them.

He clenched his jaw as he followed her gaze. “If we have time.”

“Promise?” She wasn’t entirely pleased with the compromise, but relented to trust him.

He didn’t reply for a moment until eventually he halfway gave in, shaking his head. “Maybe. If not here, we can try at another center.”

Neither of them were entirely happy with that, but Alice supposed that would do.

They regrouped a bit after that, taking a break in the cafeteria to have a drink. It was an odd feeling, drinking blood around other vampires in such a casual setting. It made her feel a bit more normal. Although now she knew how good fresh blood straight from the vein of a wild animal tasted, she found the lukewarm cafeteria supply to be a bit lacking.

“I know,” Jasper spoke, automatically understanding where her frown was from, as she sipped on her third bottle. “It’s not that great.”

Meeting his now-bright-golden eyes she forced a tight smile onto her face. “It’s just not preferable.”

“We’ll go hunting the next opportunity we get,” he promised, giving her a sympathetic smile.

Feeling contentedly full as they walked backed to the main building, Alice found herself beginning to feel a bit more comfortable. The people here were nice, if not at least polite, nodding to them as they passed and kindly introducing themselves when opportunity presented itself. Truly, the only people who had shown them any type of hostility had been those holding higher-up positions.

She supposed that made sense. If someone was going to be insubordinate it only made sense that it would be someone with a more important ranking than a simple cadet, whose words apparently held little strength around here.

It was going to take some getting used to, the political climate she was now learning to navigate. Glancing up at Jasper, with his eyes forward and his hands in his pockets, she smiled happily. She could only be thankful that she had such a patient teacher with her.

When the abrupt sound of tires screeching in the near distance ripped them both from their thoughts, Alice simply looked up at Jasper questioningly. He only had time to give her a mildly alarmed look before off he shot, Alice following closely behind.

As she ran, she saw it in her mind. A woman. Angry no, furious ripping herself out of the grip of the containers trying to subdue her. Her bright red eyes completely glowing under the moonlight.

By the time she’d reached the chaos, an SUV was already flipped onto its side, and in the middle of the madness Jasper stood, foot planted between the shoulder blades of the woman she’d seen in her vision, her face pressed into the pavement below as he wretched her arms behind her back.

“GET OFF,” she screamed, her voice absolutely vicious as she attempted to wriggle free of his hold. A quick vision flickered through her head and before she knew what she was doing, Alice shot forward, throwing herself over the woman’s legs just as Jasper dropped to his knee, still unrelenting in his hold.

“Can we get some help over here?” Jasper yelled to the two containers who had just pulled themselves from the wreckage of the car. As they rushed to their side, a handful more people ran out of the closest building, a pair of them already dousing the smoking car with fire extinguishers.

The last thing they needed was a burning car to add to this mess.

“Listen,” Jasper commanded, leaning forward so that he was dangerously close to the woman’s face, “ listen ,” and as Alice struggled to keep the woman from wriggling free she could feel the effects of Jasper’s ability begin to work; the calmness seeping into her bones so slowly and effectively she almost lost her grip on the struggling woman before she pulled herself back to attention.

Alice barely had time to scurry off the woman before Jasper stood up, bringing the newborn with him. When three other containers rushed to his side, they effectively transferred custody, and Alice could only watch as they began to usher the newborn into the nearest building.

“Set her up in a room.” Jasper commanded, brushing gravel off of his shirt. “I’ll be in shortly.” He looked furious, turning to one of the two containers who had been in the now-destroyed car. “You. What business did you have transporting a newborn in an unauthorized vehicle?”

A young woman with shoulder length red hair blanched at the accusation. “Sir, we were informed that she’d been sedated properly. As far as we were aware she’d only been one day into the change before she was picked up. The information was likely bad.”

“So precautions are something we don’t take when given good odds?”

“I no sir.”

“Follow them,” he instructed the pair, now low on patience. “I need a full report to figure out what happened ASAP.” He gestured to the building the newborn and trio of containers had disappeared into, watching with eyes of ice as they scurried inside.

When the only people left outside was a small group figuring out what to do with the wrecked car, Jasper finally turned to Alice.

“You alright?” As he asked, he stepped forward, resting a hand gently on her elbow. His face softened abruptly as he looked her up and down. She only nodded, not trusting her voice. “You did well,” he nodded to her.

“I ” she glanced back to the people surrounding the car, realizing their attention was elsewhere. Still, she lowered her voice. “They helped,” she tapped her head. The visions . She communicated wordlessly.

“Good,” he nodded, letting out a deep sigh. “That’s good. Alice,” he lowered his head slowly, “first piece of advice when dealing with Newborns.” His grip on her arm tightened imperceptibly. “Never let them get their arms around you.”

“Got it,” she breathed, looking up at him in awe. It was then she recognized the look in his eye. Fear.

Letting his gaze roam over her once more, his eyes lingering on her face, he nodded, swallowing thickly as he turned back toward the smoking car.

He barked a few more commands, and when a higher-ranking officer ran up, showing up a little too late for Jasper’s liking, another scolding was given. A few minutes later both he and Alice were inside, walking through the halls as he tried to tell her what to expect.

“Entry interviews aren’t designed to be performed on vampires,” Jasper told her as they reached a stairwell, “it only happens in cases like this where the person was changed illegally. Judging by how she reacted when she woke up, she’s going to be angry. She’s going to have questions. She might even try and get physical with us again.” He eyed Alice. “I’ll deal with that if she tries anything, but be aware.”

Walking down a hall they stepped into another room, this one with a window that led into another room. And there, strapped to a chair, sobs wracking her body, was the newborn from several minutes ago. Alice froze as her red, frenzied eyes searched them out on the other side.

“She can’t see us,” Jasper leaned over to inform her as he received some papers from another container.

“She was picked up half an hour south of Cleveland,” a woman spoke, her black curly hair cut close around her face. “Her four year old called the authorities.”

Jasper muttered something under his breath, flipping through the papers, taking in the all information they had on this woman. After he was done, he handed the packet to Alice, not looking at her as she began to take it all in.

PAULA DEERS.

DOB: April 8th 1990

DOC: MAY 3th 2018

They’d have to change the date of change, Alice thought to herself, noting that because they got the woman’s change date wrong, and if they’d taken any longer to find her and get her here, it could’ve been much worse.

“According to the driver she came to just as they passed the main office, nearly ripping the roof off of the car trying to escape.” The woman spoke quickly.

“They were in a car half the weight of what’s required for newborn transport, mid-change or not.”

“They were,” the woman nodded, eyes forward and arms at her side. It seemed she was ready and waiting for the reprimands.

“And it took the nearest Lieutenant nearly ninety seconds to reach the scene. We could have had a runaway on our hands.”

“You’re absolutely right.”

Jasper was silent for a moment while Alice finished reading the report on the woman. The pain that enveloped her when she realized the woman had two young children to care for on her own, was heartbreaking. According to the papers, she was a single mom and worked two jobs, her closest family lived all the way in Georgia.

“You coming?” He asked, turning toward the door. “Or would you rather stay?”

Alice shook her head, “No, I’m coming with you.”

Following closely behind, Alice nearly flinched when Jasper opened the door and the woman immediately began screeching at them.

“Get away from me!” She shouted, baring her teeth as she struggled against her restraints. Behind her, two containers each had a hand on her shoulder, a reminder that if she attempted anything further, she’d be taken down again in a human’s heartbeat.

“Ms. Deers, my name is

“I know who you are,” she sneered, black hair falling into her face as she leaned forward, getting as close to him as she physically could. “Murderous leech. You might as well just kill me because I refuse to become like you all! You you monsters !”

Jasper ignored her for a moment, grabbing one of the chairs at the table and taking his time pulling it back and sitting down in it, letting her papers rest on the table in front of him.

Alice stood uncertain, not wanting to get any closer to the rabid woman, but also not wanting Jasper to be the only one within biting distance of her. With heavy feet she dragged herself forward, mirroring Jasper as she took a seat beside him.

“You can yell at me all you want,” Jasper said calmly, “but when that’s out of your system I need you to tell me what happened to you.”

“Fuck you!” She yelled. And within moments, Alice could feel Jaspers gift begin to take effect. “I don’t want anything to do with this. I don’t want anything to do with you . You murdered an uncle of mine you know?” She leaned back abruptly, yanking a shoulder out of the grip of one of the containers behind her it seemed they, too, were a bit distracted by the abrupt arrival of the calming aura of the room. “He’d just moved to Santa Fe back in ‘64 when you leeches attacked. He fell during Overnight, when you cowards attacked sleeping towns.”

Despite the taunts, Jasper didn’t bat an eye. His poker face remained put. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Go to hell.”

With a quick few glances into her future Alice realized that they were about to go nowhere fast. At this rate, the woman would shut down immediately and refuse to cooperate outright. After another couple of flashes, Alice took a chance.

“Your boys are safe,” she spoke up, her voice holding high and strong as the woman’s red eyes snapped to her. “Ethan and Andrew. They’re safe. Two of your brothers flew into town last night to stay with them.”

“My babies,” her voice croaked, and suddenly she was sobbing again, “I need to see them. I need to know they’re alright.”

“Are they in danger?” Jasper spoke sternly, sharing a quick look with Alice. “Does whoever that did this to you pose a threat to them?”

The woman’s eyes flashed dangerously as her attention shifted back toward Jasper. “If he lays one hand on their heads I’ll rip him to shreds.”

“Who?”

“Carter, that fucking monster. I’ll bet he hired a filthy fucking bloodsucker. He has to be the one who did this.” She let out another anguished screech before smacking her head against the table in front of her and groaning. “It burns .”

“Did she get fed before we came in here?” Jasper asked the two containers behind her.

“No sir,” a young man spoke up, “she refused every attempt to get her to drink.”

Jasper looked visibly irritated at that, standing. “Ten minutes. When I come back, make sure she’s fed.”

As she stood and followed him out the door, she had a suspicion that if they didn’t get the woman fed, Jasper would gut a deer right there in that room to get the woman to calm down enough. Currently she was angry, thirsty, and absolutely heartbroken. There was no way they were getting any information out of her.

Back in the room behind the one-way-mirror, the woman from before informed him that someone was already on the way back with some fresh blood.

“Any information on the name Carter?”

An older man sat at a table behind a desktop computer, frowning. “Nothing yet, sir. Could be a nickname.”

“Keep searching. Make some calls. I don’t think this is random. Get the family under protection until whoever this person is gets found. I’m not having two kids killed because of anymore carelessness concerning this case.” Turning abruptly, he stalked out of the room. Alice had to nearly scramble to keep up with him.

“What?” He asked, nearly snapping at her as she caught up with him. At her responding look of surprise, his glare softened. “Sorry. I’ll be back in a few.”

She shook her head. “No. I’m not leaving you alone right now. You’re upset.”

Jasper didn’t slow down nor did he stop to look at her as he strode away, but Alice kept close. Before she knew it, they were back outside, and walking into the woods.

He didn’t go far. Just far enough that whatever he had to say wouldn’t be overheard by anyone in the vicinity.

But Jasper didn’t say anything. He didn’t yell and he didn’t tear down a tree in frustration. He simply paced, hands tangled in his golden hair as he shook his head back and forth, irritation practically frothing out of him.

“Nearly every single protocol has been broken tonight,” he eventually spoke, his voice low and shockingly controlled. “No lieutenant on call, no proper transports for newborns, insubordinate officers,” he gestured toward her, reminding her of her eloquent take-down of a rude container the day before. “This was supposed to be a routine stop. If there are this many issues here there’s no telling how many more there are. Or how many there could be at the other Centers, too.”

“Jonas had said this was new. How new?”

“Not new enough that there should be this many issues. Ten years old is new for us, but more than enough time for everything to be running absolutely perfectly. These are people’s lives in the balance here.” He shot her a tired look. “People forget that too easily.”

“What do we do now?”

He sighed. “We go back and finish the interview. There’s going to be an investigation into this. Multiple, probably. After we’re done I need to call Carlisle. We may need to extend our visit by a day or two.”

Alice nodded, relieved that at least they had a set plan of what to do.

“You did the right thing in there,” he nodded back toward the building, letting his hands fall from his head until they rested on his hips. “Drawing her attention away from me.”

“I feel like the visions are doing all the work at this point.”

“Well they’re helping, so don’t shy away from them.” He sighed. “Come on,” he beckoned her forward as he began to walk back to the building. “Let’s get back before they’re left waiting for us.”

But Alice wasn’t quite ready to be under the woman’s red gaze again just yet. Instead, she reached out, pulling Jasper into a tight hug. Leaning into his chest she inhaled deeply, letting his scent wash over her, calming her in a way that even his ability couldn’t quite do.

Thankfully he didn’t hesitate as he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly to him. Neither of them said anything more, as if they didn’t need to verbally communicate any further. So a minute later when they pulled apart, Jasper seemed to be willing to let Alice lead the way, not even protesting when she held his hand tightly in her own.

By the time they made it back up to the room, they had both calmed considerably. The second they walked back in the woman hit them with another severe look.

“Carter Hosier. You need to find him. He works in the same hospital as me in south Cleveland. He’s been after me for almost a year.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know which Center he reports in at, would you?” Jasper asked, sitting back down in the same seat he’d previously occupied.

She looked confused at that. “What? No he’s not a vamp. He’s human. Or, he better still be. Make it easier for me to rip him apart for this.”

Alice and Jasper shared a quick look. The woman was at least willing to talk now--the blood smeared across her cheek and splattered down the front of her blue blouse was enough to prove to them that at least they’d forced a meal in her.

“How did a human do this to you?” Alice asked quietly.

“He’s friends with all sorts of you people,” she spat the words with contempt. “Tried to get changed years ago but they’ve turned down every application he’s sent. Probably because he’s a fucking sociopath. My boys’ father died six months ago. Thought it was just a freak accident but now I seriously doubt it.”

“So he commissioned a vampire to turn you? What about him?”

“Probably! He told me a couple months ago, after I turned his ass down for the last time, that we’d be together forever. I just ” she choked on a sob “I just didn’t think he meant like this . The fucking sick-o. He probably got himself turned, too. He’s mad. He’s been going to bloodbars for ages.”

Jasper nodded as he jotted down the notes on the paper. He didn’t need to do it personally, but for record-keeping sake they needed a paper trail.

“I need to see my boys,” the woman repeated, “I need to at least talk to them. I need to be able to say goodbye.”

“We can get you in touch with them in a little while. First we need to get you admitted.”

She shook her head desperately. Alice was sure if she had tears left she’d be crying them. “I can’t I really can’t. I don’t want this. I want to be human.”

“I’m sorry,” Jasper offered, and Alice could tell the apology is sincere. “You can discuss your options with the people over at the Newborn Center.”

And then a vision.

By the time Alice blinked it away she was already on the verge of crying herself. It was solid and clear this woman would petition to end her life rather than live any further as a vampire.

It astounded her, but immediately Alice knew she couldn’t just stay quiet.

“They need you, you know,” she spoke quickly. Forcing the woman’s attention on her. “Your boys. They need their mother.”

“Are you joking?” She snapped, “My life is over. My heart isn’t beating. My body is dead . I just drank my fucking weight in blood just to calm down enough to speak to you guys. This isn’t living.” She shot the two of them disgusted looks, once more trying to shake the containers grips from their shoulders. “The only reason I’m even entertaining you leeches is so that I can tell you all of this and so that you can keep my boys safe. I can’t even be their mother anymore.”

“After self-control training, you’d be able to return to them and--”

“You can’t be serious. They’re four and two. You want me to spend a minimum of five years away from them just to go back to them and spend every waking moment of my life trying not to kill them? Is that your version of a sick joke? To disappear and miss their childhoods, and then to show up years later as a leech? They’d probably prefer I were dead by the time that would happen. No,” she shook her head, looking from Alice to Jasper. “I’ll give you all the information you want. But I’m not staying like this. I’ll live long enough to see Carter dead and say goodbye to my boys, but that’s it.”

She spat on the floor beside her, her silvery venom tinged pink from leftover blood in her mouth.

“I’m already dead.”


It was discussed that Alice and Jasper would head back to their hotel room to make some calls and regroup. She wasn’t sure how he managed it, but instead of allowing them to be chauffeured around any further, Jasper seized a car from the lot and was driving them back.

With the way everything had gone down tonight, Alice was sure that the Captains around the campus would’ve given Jasper their personal vehicles if it would get him out of there for an hour or two. Jasper was right. There would undoubtedly be an investigation to find out why regular protocol hadn’t been followed. The way he’d taken control of the situation and began to correct things was admirable, but it was clear that when it came to certain vampires, Jasper had to demand respect, whereas she was sure they’d give someone like Carlisle or Edward respect without a fight.

She was certain that his past, that she was slowly piecing together more and more as the weeks passed, was the reason for this. And Maria’s reappearance didn’t help matters either.

Every few minutes, like clockwork, Alice checked Paula Deers’ future only to see the same stubborn fate waiting for her. The woman was still dead-set on ending her life.

As they pulled into the hotel parking lot, Jasper eyed her. “You can’t save everyone, Alice.” She ignored him pointedly, again checking the woman’s future. “Prejudice runs that deep sometimes.”

“Is it really so awful,” she turned toward him finally, “to be what we are?”

He pulled the car into park before letting his head rest against the back of the seat. Sighing, he turned toward her, regarding her with a tired gaze. “What do you want me to say?”

Feeling the sting of tears that she knew would never fall, she looked away and back out the window.

“How often does something like that happen? When they’re changed against their will?”

“Less often nowadays, but it’s still common.” He kept quiet for another thoughtful moment. “With all the laws in place now, any amount of that happening is still too often.”

“What will happen to the man, Carter, when they find him?”

“Whether he’s changed or not will be no difference. If they find that he’s done what she says he’s done, he’ll be put to death. It’s a first degree offense. There’s no coming back from that.”

Alice nodded, nearly disgusted with herself at how pleased hearing that made her. But because of this man, this woman, this young mother, would rather die than continue her second life.

He’d basically signed her death warrant.

“She has two babies at home,” Alice whispered. “And she’d still rather die than watch them grow up.” Holding back a sob she instead forced out a humorless laugh. “I can’t tell if that’s disgustingly selfish or exceptionally brave.”

“She seemed to already know that something like this might happen. A lot of humans put things in their Last Will and Testament, stating that in case of death--or in this case, the end of their humanity--they’d rather a swift and orderly death take place.” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel idly. “It makes the legal process much smoother when it comes to getting a quick death. Similar to humans that have a DNR--do not resuscitate. Makes it so that in case of an event like this, they can choose to pass on from this life without interference.”

Running her fingers along the edge of the leather of her seat, Alice closed her eyes, picturing perfectly the forest she’d woken up in so many years ago.

“This is the only life I’ve ever known,” she spoke quietly, letting herself be calmed by the memory of waking up to a sky full of stars, feeling the most wonderful sensation she could imagine. Of course it wasn’t long before she saw the vision of Jasper, and not long after that when she took note of her incapacitating thirst.

Damn. She swallowed the venom that pooled in her mouth. She’d have to drink again soon.

She opened her eyes and lazily turned her head back at him. “I’ve been alive for decades but I still can’t imagine ever ending it. I still feel like my life is only starting. Ever since Carlisle found me. Ever since I found you all.” You, specifically , she wanted to confess, yet refrained. “I feel like now I’m living. I can’t imagine being so disgusted by vampires that I’d rather face the unknown.”

“I know it’s hard to understand, but some people would rather cling to their humanity. And part of our job is to realize that that’s okay. This lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Some people want to become like us, but a lot don’t. They’ve seen what happens. They know what they gain but also what they lose.” His voice was gentle as he spoke, and Alice almost started crying when he reached over and grabbed her hand, squeezing it assuredly. “We have to trust that these people will make the right choice for themselves.”

“Would you have done that, if given the option after you were turned? Would you want out of it all?”

He shook his head without hesitation. “If I’d been changed around this time, I doubt it, no. I’d want to live regardless of what people thought of my soul or lifestyle. I was a spritely, cocky thing back then. I would’ve loved the challenge that comes with being a vampire nowadays.

“Back then, things were different though. Vampires born on the battlefield have two choices: fight and live, or be murdered. Adding the mix of human blood didn’t do much to help either. It makes people more feral, uncontrollable, animalistic. So you either die, or you fight.”

“I’m glad you fought,” Alice whispered, clinging to his hand tightly. “And I’m glad you were good at it. And I’m glad you had your ability to help you. And I’m ” damn, she really was about to start crying, “I’m glad you’re still here.”

Jasper blinked a few times, looking away as he ran his opposite hand through his hair. Turning back to her he opened his mouth the same time a ringing began to echo through the car. Sighing quietly he fished his phone out of his pocket, checking the screen. “It’s Carlisle.”

Answering the phone he told him quickly that he’d call him back in five minutes they just got back to their hotel—and then promptly hung up. Then he sighed, turning the car off and opening the door, “Come on.” He squeezed her hand once more before letting go. “Duty calls.”

Up in the room, they wasted no time calling Carlisle back. Jasper tossed the phone on the bed after turning on the speakerphone, allowing Carlisle’s voice to fill up the room.

After a few minutes, his calming voice interrupted Jasper’s recollection of their night.

Wait so they had a barely-sedated newborn in the back of a Ford?

“Who flipped and nearly blew the truck up when she came to.”

There was silence for a few moments on the other end of the receiver, it sounded like someone was in the room with Carlisle; Edward, probably.

And then suddenly a vision:

Edward would travel up and relieve them before they were due in Chicago later that week, taking over the investigation and cleaning up the mess that they’d uncovered.

“Carlisle, if I’ve gotten any mail from Josie can you have Edward bring it when he comes.”

Jasper raised an eyebrow at her and Carlisle let out a barely-restrained chuckle.

I think there are a couple letters here he can bring you.

Jasper shot her a dry look. “You may have to send someone else, too, Carlisle. The entire place is a logistical nightmare.”

There was a slight hesitation before he spoke again. “Edward is all I can offer right now.”

After a beat of silence, Jasper tensed. “What happened?”

South of Monterrey. They spotted her again a couple hours ago .”

“Shit,” Jasper ran his hands through his hair, “she hasn’t done anything yet, has she?”

“Few more human disappearances. Mexico’s state of emergency is holding strong but they aren’t sure it’s enough. Rose and Esme are meeting Gerardo in New Mexico in a few hours. He has a new recruit with him. I didn’t get a name but since their numbers are halved they’re nearly desperate for more help; more Protectors.”

“Was that wise?” Jasper asked in a tone that suggested that the answer to his question was an undoubtable no . “If he’s gone for too long and Maria knows, there’s nothing stopping her from taking the city.”

“No,” Alice spoke up, lifting a hand and stopping whatever Jasper was about to say, a vision was coming to her, bringing nothing but good news. “It will be fine. They’re only meeting for an hour. Gerardo--he’s the one with the gray in his beard right? He has boy with him Carlos. The guy is gifted, I think. One of the new Protectors. He tells them about another one, but the details are fuzzy. I’m sure Esme and Rosalie will have them by the time they return.” She blinks up at Jasper, shaking herself free of the visions hold completely. “Nothing will happen to the city.”

“What are Emmett and Bella doing?” Jasper spoke, still apprehensive about the sighting.

Emmett is in Florida and Bella is still filling in for you downstairs. Rose was going to relieve her this morning but it looks like she’ll be down there until further notice.

Jasper frowned, “That bad, huh?”

Not that bad, ” Edward finally chimed in from across the line. “ She doesn’t micromanage like you do. She’s fine .”

Alice bit back a smile at Jasper’s frown.

I may have to ask you to start fight training there in Columbus, Jasper ,” Carlisle said reluctantly. “ Edward will be there at some point tomorrow to take over the investigation and take some meetings, but you know where I need you.

“What about Alice’s training?” Jasper looked at her seriously, fists clenched at his sides. “I’m not putting a stop to that. Especially now that Maria is getting closer.”

No, of course not ,” Carlisle eased his concerns, yet still let out a long sigh, “ but you may have to train her at the same time. If that’s not doable, she can always come back here and we can

“No.” Jasper shut that idea down quickly. “No, she’ll stay with me. I can do both.”

There was another lapse in conversation. Alice could only imagine the look she was sure Carlisle and Edward were sharing. “ That’s fine. But we may need to rethink some things ,” he spoke carefully. “ Especially concerning Mexico .”

“No,” Jasper snapped. “If we go down there, it’s exactly what she wants.”

And if we wait too long, ” Edward chimed back in, clearly irritated with Jaspers sudden change in disposition, “ then we’re sitting ducks. She’s toying with us Jasper. She knows we’re watching her. She wants us to watch her. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t have seen her .”

“She’s planning something, I know it,” Jasper started pacing, his fists at his side clenching and unclenching. He looked very much like a caged lion, fuming at being stuck in such close quarters. It seemed like Edward’s words struck a nerve; meaning that the bronze-haired vampire was probably completely right. “We need to be prepping a solid defense and making sure our people are trained. Let me handle that.”

Don’t mince words with them Jasper ,” Carlisle said gravely. “ Remind them of what’s happening down south. Let them know this isn’t some leisurely training. This is preparation for war .”

He closed his eyes, letting his palms rest over top of them, “I understand.”

Alice ,” Carlisle spoke, “ I’m sending a phone with Edward. He’ll show you how to use it. But if you have any more visions about anything pertaining to Mexico their protectors, or even Maria you’ll need to give me a call in an instant.

“Okay,” she nodded, despite the man not being able to see her.

I need you two to be careful. It’s only a matter of time .”

And with that, he bid them a farewell, leaving them in silence.

It really was going to happen. The day when Maria would show up in their lives was all-but-inevitable, and Alice didn’t know what to do.

“Jazz,” she whispered, looking up at him and trying hard to ignore his black-eyed counterpart that lived in her memories, “I’m scared.”

He shook his head, running his hands through his hair before striding up to her, not hesitating as he pulled her into an embrace. “I know,” he muttered miserably. “I know.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t long before they returned back to the containment center. They waited just long enough to pull themselves together and feed a little bit. As they walked to the car Alice checked Paula Deers’ future again, to find it still unchanging and hopeless. Driving away, she relented to stop checking, a piece of her dead heart breaking a bit further for the boys who would grow up without truly knowing their mother.

Upon arrival they only checked in with the front offices for a small amount of time, passing on the rest of the paperwork Jasper still held onto and instructing the the lieutenant on duty to report to Edward upon his arrival. A few of the commanders had blanched at that revelation.

As they walked toward the training building Alice wondered how many of these people knew about Edward’s gift. She was content to know her fellow Protector would be picking up where they’d left off; if anyone would get to the bottom of this mess, she knew Edward and his incredible talent would.

When they reached the building Alice was surprised to see a pretty hefty crowd gathering, only to realize that they were all containers that were there for training.

“You can’t train them all at once,” Alice spoke up to him as they navigated their way around the vampires that hadn’t taken complete notice to make way.

“I’ll cycle through a lot of them,” Jasper told her, “I’m just giving instruction mainly this morning. Critiquing styles and forms. I won’t be making an example of anyone until later this afternoon.”

Alice snorted at that. She’d had enough fun training one-on-one with Jasper back at the house. She was sure watching him work with a crowd this large was going to be, on the barest level, highly entertaining.

After they entered the gymnasium, things began to quiet down once people took note of their presence. As Jasper moved into the center of the room, she stood back a bit, ready to watch and learn. When Jasper stopped, taking note of her absence from his side, his eyes found hers in the crowd and he motioned for her to join him.

Oh great.

Trying to ignore the nerves beginning to bubble up in her she walked onto the gym floor, locking eyes with Jasper and glaring at the humorous glint she caught in his eye. If he was enjoying her unease in the spotlight then Alice would definitely see no other choice than to try and embarrass him. He smirked slightly as she stood at his side, crossing her arms and waiting, trying not to think about all the eyes on her.

“I’ve been told not to mince words, so I’m not going to,” he spoke clearly as he watched the final containers enter the room. Alice had to guess there were maybe ninety vampires there, all of them packed in tightly around the perimeter of the gym. Thankfully it was a large enough space that they all fit comfortably, but it was clear that they’d need to take turns.

“This is not a simple seminar where I’ll be teaching you ways to track a runaway or subdue a lone newborn. This is training for a potential invasion. This is not something to take lightly.” He began to pace as he spoke, meeting as many eyes as he could. “Maria is not someone to be taken lightly.”

A low grumble echoed through the room. Alice could only wonder what feelings Jasper was taking in at the moment.

“You are not children so I will not dance around the truth. It is not a matter of ‘if’ she heads our way, it is a matter of ‘when’. It is my job to make sure you all know how to protect yourselves, protect each other, and protect these people.” He stopped pacing for a moment, hands clasped behind his back as he surveyed the crowd. “If you’re not aware yet, let me be the first to tell you that she’s been spotted again, just south of Monterrey.” Another upset rumble passed through them. “Some of you were not around in ‘64, but I know many of you were. I will not gloss over the topic that is my past. You all know where I come from. That I was born into the wars she helped create. That Maria was my creator.”

Hearing it spoken aloud and so candidly made shivers run down her spine. But she knew his approach to this would work. One thing that these people wouldn’t respond to would be an avoidance of the truth. This was Jasper’s best shot at getting them to take this training, and his instruction, seriously.

“Most of you have some type of experience with newborns, but not with an army of them. One newborn can be savage, hard to control. A group of them can be impossible to control. That is why gaining control and taking them into custody will not be your task if this turns into a full out war. There is no reasoning with them. Your only option will be to kill or be killed.”

“But shouldn’t that be a last resort?” A voice chimed in suddenly. Alice let her attention drift to a young man. His short, golden hair lay messy upon his head as he looked around, perhaps waiting for someone to agree with him. The second eyes began to fall on him, he began to shrink away from the attention. “Sorry, I figured since this was a seminar--”

“War is the last resort here,” Jasper responded, not unkindly. “Our allies in Mexico are doing everything in their power, not just to protect their millions of citizens, but to find her and put an end to her terror before she strikes. And when she does, people are going to die.” He paused, letting his words settle with the crowd. “When you’re on a battlefield and someone goes for your throat, morals have to be set aside if you want to live.” Jasper began to pace again, moving his eyes from the boy to the rest of the crowd. “This is not like the training you’ve received before. You will not be fighting to subdue these newborns. You will be fighting to kill them.”

Slowly, he began to roll his sleeves up, something Alice had only witnessed him do in private. Crossing his arms over his chest, he waited patiently, knowing that everyone in the room was taking note of the overlapping scars that none of them had ever borne witness to.

The room was suddenly painfully quiet.

“If you hesitate even for a moment you will die.” He turned slowly, meeting as many eyes as he could. “That is not my way of trying to frighten you, or of over-exaggerating the dangers. You will die. And if you die, that’s one more person out of their way, making it easier to kill more vampires, and to slaughter more people. It is not just your life you are fighting for. It is the lives of your comrades. The lives of the citizens you’ve sworn to protect.

“Any more questions?” He waited six seconds before nodding. “Alright. First lesson: your best offense is always a good defense. If they get their arms around you it’s game over.”

If Alice hadn’t been paying such close attention to him, she may have overlooked the vision that suddenly came over her.

“So never,” and suddenly Jasper was beside her, reaching out with an outstretched arm and lowering his stance, preparing to strike again as Alice ducked, spinning away, “let your guard down.”

And this is how the lesson began.

He made them watch for several minutes as he attempted to catch a hold of Alice. Of course, he was sure to supply with them the information that Alice was exceptionally good at evasion, eliciting an embarrassed frown from her. The lie of omission bothered her a bit. The idea that they didn’t quite know that the reason she was so good at dodging was what made her feel fraudulent; dishonest.

She could only hope that they’d learn something from watching her twirl away from Jasper’s advances, occasionally pulling a childish move and swatting him away roughly. He came back nearly grinning every time though, apparently overjoyed with how the example they were setting was unfolding.

After five minutes he turned back toward the crowd, not managing to get his arms around Alice even once. “Five groups of two, decide amongst yourselves. We’ll go ten minutes at a time and then cycle through to the next group. Remember the number of your group and don’t get distracted. If you’re not fighting you should be watching. Don’t linger on one fight for too long. If you’re training and you get pinned or caught switch. I want everyone to have a turn at this.” And with those simple instructions, he strode away, Alice following closely behind it.

“A bit of a warning before being ‘made an example of’ would have been nice,” she mumbled to him, slightly irked at being put on the spot like that.

“Why,” he shot her a crooked grin as he turned, backing up into the crowd to watch as their comrades readied themselves. “You don’t need it.” And with that he winked, his attention falling away from her.

She only huffed, folding her arms over her chest as she stood beside him, watching as the containers readied themselves.

“On my mark.” Five vampires took a defensive stance, another five readying themselves for an attack. “Go.”

And just like that, they began.


They trained well into the day. Jasper constantly circled the training vampires, giving critiques where needed (and goodness did a lot of people need it) and praise where it was deserved.

Alice noticed, with a frown, that the critique to praise ratio was severely off. But the lack of approval from Jasper didn’t seem to deter any of them in the slightest, she noted with awe. Instead it made them appear to work harder for it, knowing that when they finally nailed the lesson, they’d be rewarded with it.

Which made it all the more disappointing for Alice when she realized that a lot of these containers were definitely not natural-born fighters. A few were clumsy, slow, their reaction times slower than Alice thought possible for their kind. They truly were working with people who badly needed working with.

After the first cycle—about ninety minutes of constant one-on-one battles—Jasper simply upped the ante, making the battles now two-on-one. Then after several hours or that, three-on-one. They were two rounds away from upping it two four-on-one when they interrupted by a good-natured comment.

“You guys really waste no time, huh?”

Alice had been so distracted, watching and reacting to the battles ahead of her that she hadn’t even thought to look for Edward’s arrival. Turning toward him she smiled brightly, wickedly happy to see a familiar face in this sea of strangers. When she scurried up to him, hugging him tightly, she was pleased to pieces when he embraced her back.

“How are you two lovebirds?” He asked lowly in her ear as his eyes drifted over to where Jasper was wrapping up explaining how to shake off an arm grab.

Alice pulled back abruptly, smacking him in the arm as he grinned down at her. “Shut up .”

“What?” He laughed, voice still low. It seemed he was trying to get all his teasing in while Jasper was still distracted. “Are the gossip columns wrong again? They love you two, you know.” When his eyes flickered from her to a spot in the near distance over her head, Alice turned only to see Jasper shaking his head at the two of them, slowly approaching.

“Harassing each other already?” he raised an eyebrow, “You two are something else.”

Witnessing a vision of Edward saying “so are you two” Alice worked up a glare so furious she could only mentally demand that he keep his mouth shut. Thankfully, with Edward being a mind-reader and all, the message was conveyed perfectly.

Instead he opted for a faux-casual, “Pose for any more photos with teenagers recently?”

Jasper groaned, eyes falling to Alice before they rolled back to Edward. “I’m assuming you’re here to check-in?”

“That, and to figure out how you two never seem to remember that the paps are constantly on the lookout for you.”

“The who?”

“Paparazzi,” Jasper supplied.

“Who are they?”

“The people with cameras who enjoy harassing us.”

“Oh. What’s there to even look out for?”

“I can show you somewhere with less eyes,” Edward grinned down at her, turning and opening an arm, beckoning them to accompany him. “Though I’m sure most people in this room have seen. Maybe firsthand.”

“Edward, shut up.” Jasper then turned back toward the crowd, calling a quick recess.

As they followed the smug teenager out of the room, Alice wondered if she could trip him if she acted quick enough.

“Not if you think about doing it first,” he supplied, the sound of a pompous smile on his face making her glare harder at the back of his head.

“Have you checked in yet?”

“Yeah, gave me all those files. I read over the incident report. It really is a mess over here, huh?”

“And their containers are sorely lacking in experience.” Jasper grumbled as they walked further away from the training facility.

“That bad huh?” Edward pulled a face. “Esme and Rosalie got back just after my flight landed, so everyone is back safe and sound. Gerardo and his new Protector, too.”

“And?”

“And nothing. It’s really all that Alice said. They discussed the two new protectors. The other one, besides Carlos, is named Emilia, by the way,” he informed Alice directly, knowing that her intel had turned up entirely true. “Good job on that.”

“I haven’t seen anything else,” she shrugged, not entirely feeling as if she’d earned any praise, “so…”

“Anything you see helps. Also, I left a bag of things for you at the front offices. It’s got that phone in it Carlisle ask me to bring you. Along with everything else you requested.”

“Thanks,” Alice finally smiled at him, and meant the gesture fully.

“There was one other thing,” Edward began, slowing down slightly as to prolong their walk, “Gerardo is more desperate than we thought. He nearly begged Esme for our assistance.” He shot them both frowns, “Rosalie said it was bad. The man got to his knees .”

“He’s trying to appeal to Esme’s soft side.”

“Yeah well, he did apparently.”

Jasper stopped fully in his tracks. “No… they didn’t

“Don’t jump to conclusions. We aren’t going anywhere near Monterrey. Not yet at least. But Esme went ahead and changed our firm ‘no’ into a softer ‘maybe’.”

“So a yes,” Jasper growled, suddenly angry. “We can’t give Maria an inch. If she were to even know that that meeting took place, she’d find a way to use it to her advantage. We have to stay up here.”

“And what? Let them gain strength and numbers down south? That’ll just make it easier for them to penetrate our defenses

“Which is why defensive training now

“And how well is that going again?”

Jasper swallowed and Alice could simply feel the anger radiating off of him. Reaching forward, she wordlessly grabbed his hand, running her fingers over his knuckles, willing him to relax.

“If we attack too soon, without proper preparations, she will slaughter us,” his voice was so low it was nearly a whisper. “This is what she wants. I know it. Listening to me is our best chance at protecting hundreds of millions of people. I know you’re the mind-reader, but you don’t know her mind like I do.”

A long, tense moment dragged on between the two of them, leaving Alice nearly tempted to physically pull Jasper back and out of Edward’s face. She hated this, seeing these two people she cared about at each other’s throats, even if figuratively. And when a quick pulse of fear involuntarily shot through her not unlike what she’d felt the day she and Jasper were given these assignments Jasper was suddenly in front of her.

“Hey,” he called her name, forcing her to look up at him, “you alright?”

She had to remind herself that yes, she was alright. She was holding onto Jasper’s hand and she was with Edward. These were her precious people. Nothing was happening. Nothing was going to happen.

“Check it yourself,” Edward advised her, also concerned with both her thoughts and Jasper’s reaction to her fear, “check the future. Nothing will happen, you’re right.”

And so she did. And he was right. In ten minutes they’d be back in the training gym and Edward would be back in the front offices. No one would be hurt, nothing would be wrong. Just a continuation of their day’s events.

Absently she heard Edward ask Jasper if this had happened since they left, to which he responded with a certain ‘no’.

“Huh,” he rubbed the back of his neck a bit awkwardly, “I guess that makes me the common denominator then.”

“Alice?” Jasper bent down slightly, moving his hand from her until he was cupping her face with both of them. “You alright?”

“Yeah,” she exhaled, suddenly feeling like she was back in control of her body again. “I’m okay. I’m good.”

“Let’s go sign the reports over to Edward and then we can get back to training, yeah?”

Alice simply nodded, lifting her hands to rest lightly on his wrists. “Yeah, sounds good.”

“Okay,” and with that he lowered his hands, refusing to let go of one of her hands completely.

The walk back to the offices was tense and quiet, but Alice had a feeling that the two men that stood on either side of her were still managing to have a silent conversation among themselves. She wondered about what.

As she and Jasper signed over some documents, giving Edward full control over the rest of the investigation, she was relieved when he turned to walk back with them. Granted, they’d still be on the same campus for another day or so, but Alice had missed Edward, and didn’t want to go saying goodbye just yet.

“You’re off to Chicago next?” Edward asked, hands in his pockets and he stared up at the sky. A roll of thunder reached them and with a quick check Alice could tell it would be pouring within the next twenty minutes.

Jasper nodded, “Chicago for a few days, then Portland, and then LA.”

Edward made a thoughtful noise. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Carlisle gave you both some more missions now, all things considered. I think he’s keeping Emmett around down south to hold a couple seminars. After Florida he’ll be heading to Dallas.”

“Tell him to be careful,” Alice didn’t feel too good about that realization. She didn’t want any of her fellow Protectors to be in the line of fire despite that being what their job entailed.

“You can do that yourself,” Edward peered down, “you have a phone now. I made sure to dial our numbers into it. If you have any questions Jasper can help you.” She nodded, relieved to have a more solid link to her friends now. It made her almost excited to have some downtime now, that way she could check up on them all.

That thought reminded her that she needed to check up on everyone’s immediate future next time she was able to. Hopefully Jasper wouldn’t need her too much for the rest of the training. Although with a quick glance following that train of thought, she realized that was just wishful thinking.

As they reached the gym, Edward opened the door, letting Jasper pass by but grabbing Alice and stopping her, letting the door close. “Don’t worry about anyone else; we can all handle ourselves. Worry about what you guys are doing here, and what you’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks.”

“Sorry for wanting the people I care about to be safe,” she grumbled, pulling her arm out of his grip and grabbing the door herself, stepping inside. She was getting a little tired of people telling her that her empathy for others was misplaced.

“And we all want you two to stay safe, too.” He let the door close after them but did not move any further into the building, keeping his voice low enough that no one would overhear. “We aren’t the ones with the prophetic vision signaling our potential demise.”

Alice closed her eyes, trying to hold back a flinch at the reminder. He was right, and that made her all the more upset. “I know.”

“We all survived her the first time,” Edward reminded her gently, “I’m sure we will again, but,” he looked off to where Jasper had disappeared behind another door, back into the gym, “the person who needs you the most is right here with you. Don’t worry about us.” He reminded, his expression serious.

Chewing on her lip, she pouted, “I can only promise to try .”

Shaking his head, he reached over and rubbed his hand over her head, mussing up her hair. “Good enough for me.” They both watched as the remaining vampires in the lobby all began to head back into the gym. “Your boyfriend’s starting back up, it appears.”

Without the proper energy to smack him again, she just gave him a tired annoyed, glance. Not funny .

“Not joking.” Although the smile on his face told her otherwise. “Seriously. You two have terrible self-awareness for a pair of vampires. If I see anymore pictures of you two and your PDA I may have to stage an intervention.”

Turning on her heel, she huffed. “Don’t you have an investigation to do?” She called over her shoulder as she stormed away.

Edward only laughed in reply. “Just go easy on him.”

She stuck her tongue out, shooting him a mental ‘ go away’ , and he only laughed harder.


The next day passed slowly, but at the same time, too quickly for Alice to be happy with.

Jasper had led training all the way through the day at midnight the night shift switched out for the day shift to come and train. Alice had felt a bit silly for realizing that of course the ninety-two they’d been working with hadn’t been the center’s only Containers. Despite what they knew lay ahead of them, there were still duties that needed attending to.

She supposed it only made sense for them to switch back and forth between work and training.

What she hadn’t anticipated was that the dayshift outnumbered the night-shift by nearly fifty.

Six hours into the night, he called another recess, gesturing to Alice to follow him. Back outside he strolled into the woods, hands resting behind his neck.

“You don’t think we have enough time,” she spoke before he could get the words out.

“I know we don’t. These people,” he shook his head, “if Maria were to attack tomorrow, we’d be in trouble.”

“Do you think staying any longer would help?”

He inhaled a deep breath through his teeth. “I doubt it. These people need time, which is something that is of the essence. Their best bet is to keep doing these drills every day until they’re like second nature to them. I may need to make that an order,” he mused, running a hand through his hair.

“Do it then. Make it an order. Whatever keeps these people safe.” She smiled sadly then, walking up to him. “You’re doing a good job, Jazz.”

“It’s hard to be an effective leader when the people you’re trying to protect can hardly stand the sight of you.” His words held absolutely no self-loathing, just nothing but honestly. He wasn’t a fool; he knew how these people thought of him. “I should be grateful they’re following along with this, although,” he exhaled slowly, “it isn’t as if they have much of a choice.”

“Time will show them,” Alice spoke confidently, “I know you can’t see it yourself but you’re a great leader. And when Maria comes here, your lessons will be invaluable to them. You’re already saving lives, Jazz. I may not be Esme but I know that.”

“People have already died, Alice,” he sounded tired as he leaned back against a tree, watching her with a weary gaze. “People are still going to die.”

“The fact that their safety is your number one concern already shows you’re an effective leader.” She walked up to him, refusing to let him be so dismissive about this entire thing.

“All I’m trying to do is lessen the number of our inevitable casualties.” He leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes, crossing his arms and letting out another long breath of air.

Alice smiled, reaching up and placing her hands gently behind his head, watching as his eyes fluttered open to meet her own. Her eyes softened at the sight of his own golden ones staring back at her. “No, it’s more than that. You care , Jazz. I don’t have your ability, but I know that.” Softly, she let her thumbs trace over his jaw, the scarred skin rough underneath her fingers.

“For someone whose first memory includes watching me attempt to murder them,” he mused, lifting a hand and resting it on her thin wrist, “you have a questionable amount of faith in me.”

“Who’s the physic here?” She pulled her hands back, but not before grabbing a hand and holding it tightly.

He fought back a smile. “Between you and Edward I’m starting to feel pretty darn normal.”

“Well I do know that our ten minutes is just about up” she pulled him after her slightly as she turned and began to walk back toward the campus, “but I’m not the mind-reader.”

He followed closely, the sound of a deep laugh caught in his chest.

“Thank God for that.”

Chapter Text

The flight to Chicago was hardly over an hour long. Enough time to give both her and Jasper a much needed break but short enough that Alice wished they had a bit more time to simply be .

They’d continued training all the way up until they left the containment center that night, only stopping by the front offices for a few minutes to retrieve some things and wish Edward good luck. The poor guy seemed to already be dreading the hardly-begun investigation, so Alice couldn’t help but pity him a little.

Before pulling up to the hotel to gather their things and check out, Alice had made Jasper stop by a twenty-four hour mart first, giving her an odd look when she came back to the car with a bag full of nonsense.

Just before they checked out Alice made sure that her little gift looked lovely, leaving it on the doorstep of room eight-twelve before rejoining Jasper on the elevator, who simply shook his head at her antics.

But Alice had already seen it: Kara would look great in the blue dress on her prom night. She’d even been sure to leave a gift card in the bag too, for alterations. She was beginning to realize that most healthy humans weren’t as stick-thin as she was.

“You’re something else,” he had told her after she’d explained the gift. She’d simply retorted that she was lucky they hadn’t left yet. Besides, it felt nice to do things for other people. She was lucky Edward had been willing to dig it out of her closet and bring it along.

Chicago O’Hare was easily the biggest airport Alice had seen in her entire life. Navigating their way through this airport reminded her much of the way they’d been hounded after their first flight. Only now, it was a bit worse. The sun was hardly up but these people were already ready and eager to get their first big story of the day.

“Alice,” a smiling man with a camera twice the size of his head jumped before her, two other people with cameras flashing pictures at a rate that would have blinded a human, “how are you today? Enjoying the new job? People are loving the pictures on social media. They can't get enough of you, girl.”

She’d foreseen these people as their plane pulled up to the gate, letting Jasper in on it. He’d groaned and shaken his head, instructing her to ignore them no matter how familiar they got with her or what they said to try and garner a response or rile her up.

“They aren’t like that high-school kid,” he told her, closing his laptop and pulling his backpack shut, “they aren’t doing this because they actually care or like you. They take those pictures and videos and sell them. The more of a reaction they get out of you, the more money they make. It’s a business; a rude one at that. Disregard them.”

But as Alice kept her lips firmly shut, frowning as she let Jasper pull her through the crowds and toward the pickup section, she realized just how hard it was to simply stand by and stay passive. Sure, they were the ones chasing them through an airport, taking pictures against their will, but for some reason ignoring them made her feel rude.

“Hey, question!” The same man with a too-white smile asked her, moving at a jog to keep up with them. “This one’s a bit more serious, but what will you do if Maria comes up here? Are you not worried about your safety specifically?”

Alice frowned, feeling Jasper’s hand tighten around hers. She could almost hear him cursing to himself when they were forced to stop, a cart passing between them and the hallway that connected them to the escalators.

“It’s not every day your boyfriend’s homicidal ex starts targeting people in your specific line of work.”

Alice couldn’t help but react to that, her eyes widening as she turned her head toward the paparazzo. She was already getting used to the fact that no matter what she did or said, people were going to just assume that she and Jasper were more than they really were; which was friends.

But the thought that Jasper and Maria had been involved… like that , had genuinely never crossed her mind.

“Does it worry you that these appearances are a message, specifically to you?” The man’s fake sympathy surely would be believable when they played the video back, but Alice couldn’t tear her gaze away from his hungry, desperate eyes, simply waiting for her to compromise herself. “I mean,” he continued, “they didn’t start being purposeful exposures until you two became an item.”

She looked away then, gripping Jasper’s hand until she was sure it was almost painful for him. She didn’t want to admit that the man’s words were having any effect on her, and so she schooled her expression into the best impassive look she could manage. She was thankful when she felt Jasper turn and shoot the man an icy glare. He must had put some of his ability behind that, too, because when the trolley passed by and he began briskly walking away, pulling her after him abruptly, Alice could hear the man fumble with his words, his human heartbeat suddenly skyrocketing as they moved quickly away.

But Alice couldn’t shake the man’s words. It was something she really, truly hadn’t thought much about. She didn’t think that holding Jasper’s hand or being openly affectionate towards him would do anything other than make a few magazines talk—which, truthfully she didn’t care much about. (Although she wouldn’t completely deny that hearing people refer to them as an item didn’t sound nice to her.)

It wasn’t as if Jasper ever pulled away though. He let her hold his hand. When she pulled him around, or rested her head on his shoulder, or embraced him, he always either reciprocated or simply let her.

Anxiety flooding her, she never considered consequences of this magnitude. And with her vision—Jasper not himself, Maria commanding him to kill her—it made her wonder if this future was something that she was slowly setting up for herself with every move she made.

She released Jasper’s hand then, the contact suddenly too much for her to handle. He took a double-take, glancing over his shoulder to ensure that she was still there and still following close. His mouth was in a straight line, and he looked borderline angry.

So it appeared she hadn’t been the only one affected by the paparazzo's words.

Weaving their way through the crowd they found their way outside and to their waiting SUV quickly; another round of paparazzi waiting for them on the sidewalk snapped pictures as they ducked into the car.

Alice didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath until Jasper shut the door and suddenly the cameras were off of her and the noise was lessened.

“Alice—”

“No, not now,” she took deep breaths, keeping to herself as they car drove off and she willed herself to relax, “later. We’ve got work to do.”

She could tell that he was less than pleased at her deflection. He swallowed thickly, his jaw tense. She watched as he opened and closed his hands a few times, eventually letting his fists rest clenched on his knees.

It was going to be a long day.


Thankfully, a bit of luck had been on their side, rush hour traffic nearly nonexistent that morning. Their supposed hour-long drive being shortened to a quick forty minute trip before being dropped off at their next hotel.

“I’d shower if I were you,” he advised her as they entered their room. Alice looked around, idly wondering if all hotel rooms looked nearly identical. “We may only be back here once or twice over the next four days.”

Nodding, she pulled her bag into the bathroom with her, closing and locking the door before letting her forehead rest against the thick, hard metal of it. She had meant it when she told Jasper they’d talk about this morning’s events later, but now that they were preparing to spend an undisclosed amount of time surrounded by containers and other vampires, she was beginning to wonder when ‘later’ would be.

Swallowing her fear she quickly unlocked and swung the door open, “Jasper, I…”

But he was nowhere in sight. With a quick check she noted that he was off to a more private location to make a few phone calls. Nerve disappearing like mist on a summer’s day she frowned, her misery mounting as she wondered whether or not he left to get away from her unpredictable emotional state.

Sighing, she closed the door again and started running the shower. It couldn’t come soon enough, but ‘later’ would be there eventually.

It always was.


They wasted hardly any time at all upon arrival at the Chicago Containment Center. They checked in, transferred some documents, met some more important people, and then straight into the training gym they went.

Chicago’s population was more than triple that of Columbus’, so when the first batch of containers were called into the gym, Alice was awed by the amount of them. After just a quick check into the future, she let Jasper know that they’d have to keep the training running nearly non-stop if they wanted to get through everyone once. He nodded in agreement, golden eyes taking in the nearly three hundred vampires that stood before them.

“We’ll make it work,” he nodded, and then into action he sprang.

It seemed that after Columbus’ training, he had loosened up slightly. Alice supposed getting something like this started was the hard part, now they just had to keep the ball rolling. Thankfully a bigger population meant a larger gym, so while Jasper ran over instructions Alice kept checking up on their future, left satisfied when she realized that whatever plans he was conjuring up would work fine. Every container here would get an adequate amount of training.

Her visions also showed her things that made her a little nervous.

“What’s wrong?” Jasper jogged up to her, a few hours after they’d begun.

Alice eyed him with a frown as he re-entered the gym. While demonstrating a particular move several minutes before, one of the containers had gotten a good hold of him and ripped a hole in his shirt, exposing a ravaged shoulder blade to the room.

Jasper hadn’t seemed to mind, only grinning and patting the man on the back, giving him some heavy praise before excusing himself to go put on another shirt.

After he’d walked out, Alice had noted how most of their eyes were on him, clearly taking in every inch of scarred skin, shooting nervous and pitiful looks at one another. She hadn’t liked that reaction one bit, and had then taken it upon herself to call them back into attention--something she’d hadn’t exactly ever done before, but with a quick reminder of what they were doing they were back at it, most of them avoiding her gaze now.

She figured it was best to tell him now. “They’re bringing someone in that they want your help with. They aren’t here yet but,” she hesitated, “they have red eyes.”

“Another illegal newborn then?”

“Not quite. He’s far too composed to be a newborn.”

Jasper’s expression was grim at that, “Ah. I see.”

“They won’t send for us for a few hours but,” she shrugged, trailing off. They’d send someone over to retrieve them eventually.

Catching him watching her with a sad expression she gazed back at him questioningly. “What is it?”

He shook his head, looking back toward the Containers. “Nothing. Just… brace yourself for that.”

Thankfully, Alice was coming to find that she was a quick learner, and knew that he didn’t have to explicitly warn her that they’d be dealing with a vampire who’d killed someone. It was glaringly obvious by her vision. Alice could only hope it wasn’t premeditated. As far as she was aware that was the only way you stood even a sliver of a chance at getting your life spared.

She’d only just begun this journey and started learning more about this job that had been thrusted upon her, but she was already growing tired of the death that seemed to surround it.

Like she’d predicted, three and a half hours later a cadet was sent their way, informing them that they were needed.

Jasper instructed the containers to continue with their training and that he’d be back in a couple of hours. Alice glanced ahead and found herself pleased to see that they would listen to his instruction with minimal slacking, despite his absence.

They were brought into a room very much like the one back in Columbus, where Alice found herself staring through glass at a man hunched over a metal table, his head in his hands. A sure sign of remorse if anything.

Jasper read over the report before handing it to Alice and walking up to the one-way mirror.

The one thing that Alice couldn’t rip her eyes off of was the stamp on the bottom of the second page. In bold bright red letters the word 'EXECUTION DATE' with the date '5/8/18' scrawled beside it in black pen.

Her heart broke a bit as she handed the papers back to Jasper, following him out of the mirrored room and into the room where the man sat, anguished.

“Steven Kamara,” Jasper spoke, walking into the room, calling the man’s attention up.

“Oh, hi,” the man extended his hand politely, shaking Jasper’s own, “You’re Jasper.” His eyes fell upon her, “And Alice.” The man shook his head, smiling at himself miserably. “I dreamed about meeting you guys one day, but…” he leaned back in his chair, running his hands over his face, as he held back a heartbreaking sound. “Sorry.”

“I know a little bit about why you’re in here,” Jasper sat himself down across from him, nodding to Alice to do the same. “Why don’t you tell me what happened.”

As she sat she felt the tell-tale sign of Jasper’s ability kicking in. Utterly thankful on this poor man’s behalf.

“It was an accident. I keep telling everyone that. I never meant to hurt Cody.”

“Cody Dawson, 34. You two worked together.”

“Yeah. Knew him before the change, too. We grew up together kind of. We were friends.”

“Were,” Jasper nodded, “before yesterday.”

“It was an accident . I need you guys to know that. I need his parents to know that. I need to tell them that I’m sorry.”

“What happened at work yesterday, Steven?”

“He got nicked by a knife. Just a little cut on the finger. That type of stuff happens all the time. We work in a kitchen. It happens a few times a month. It’s never bothered me like that before. My coworkers can vouch for me. Hell, I toss them the first aid kit half the time!”

“But not this time.”

“He cut his finger and—we’re buddies, y’know? We’ve been friends over twenty years. But he didn’t think much of it. He got too close and it was almost closing time so no one else was around and—I’m telling you something came over me and I don’t know what it was but I didn’t mean to kill him.”

“Your manager walked into the kitchen after hearing you sobbing, only to find you hunched over his drained body.”

“I didn’t mean to!”

“How long have you been out of self-control training?”

There was a pause. “It’ll be six months on Thursday.”

“How long did it take you to get out of self-control training?”

He let his head fall into his hands again. They all knew the answer to that. It was written and underlined on his paperwork. Where most vampires completed it after the five year minimum, it had taken Steven Kamara nearly nine years.

One year more and he would’ve been executed by default. Vampires that couldn’t control themselves adequately had no place in society.

“Is there any point petitioning for a trial?” He asked, sitting up and meeting their eyes with his red ones. “I know the rules. I was lucky to graduate from self-control at all. I didn’t even think I was going to make it out of there.”

“We can give you twenty-four hours to get your affairs in order,” Jasper informed him softly. “That’s all I can get for you.”

“I suppose I should be grateful even for that,” he swallowed thickly and Alice was afraid that she’d be the one crying next. “I get to make some phone calls, right?”

“We can treat it like a willing application.” Jasper clicked a pen and signed his initials on the top of the last page. “Someone can help you square away finances, speak to loved ones, whatever you need.”

“Thanks, I guess.” The man laced his fingers behind his head. “I really thought I could do it. Be like you guys. Wanted to be a vampire since I was a kid. Passed all the exams with flying colors once I turned eighteen. Only reason I waited until I was twenty-four to change was because my great-grandma would’ve killed me if I’d done it while she was alive.” He let his hand fall hopelessly to his sides, chewing on his lip. “I really, really thought I’d be able to do it.”

“Is there anything else we can do for you?” Alice asked, not finding it in herself to sit there quietly while this man came to face his last day alive.

He was quiet for a moment, contemplating something. “I do have one request. I don’t know if they’ll let you but,” his eyes flickered to Jasper, “can you be the one to do it?”

Alice stiffened, her eyes immediately snapping to Jasper’s stoic face.

“I’ve read the horror stories man,” Steven shook his head, clenching and unclenching his jaw, “from back in the old days.” From back in your days , the unspoken phrase was obvious. “Last thing I want is some half-trained container to rip my head from my shoulders. I don’t need them to botch my execution. I’ve heard from survivor accounts how badly that shit hurts. Could you do it? Please?”

Alice hadn’t thought she would ever hear a request quite like that. The man could’ve instead said ‘you’re a professional killer’ and the words would have all meant the same thing.

But Jasper simply nodded, as if it were a normal request. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks man.” And he meant it.

They left soon after that, submitting the last of the paperwork from the case. Alice couldn’t help but marvel at how it took hardly an hour to greenlight someone’s execution. It absolutely baffled her.

“You’re not really going to do it, are you?” Alice asked, arms wrapped around her midsection as they walked back to the training center.

Jasper gave her an odd look, as if surprised that she was questioning it. “Do I have to answer that? Or do you already know?”

And she did know, that was the thing. She’d already seen the vision of Jasper walking into the room. The man’s head placed in a bag, his hands braced behind his back.

“Jasper Whitlock?” he would ask, almost helplessly.

“Yeah,” Jasper croaked, his voice finally betraying his emotion.

“Thank you man,” he replied in a shaky voice. “Thanks.”

And in less than a second, his head would be separated from his shoulders, his body falling forward and into the black bag already laid out.

“Is this your way of asking me not to do it?” He stopped, forcing her to halt her pace and turn to look back at him.

She shook her head, looking away from his face. “No. I don’t know.”

“Come on,” he beckoned her forward.

“Later?” She asked, needing to know that they’d be able to talk about this; to talk about everything that had happened over the last day.

He nodded, frowning, “Later.”

But later didn’t come right away.

The next twenty-four hours passed painfully slow. Full of anxiety and near non-stop training, Alice found herself distracted even when she took part of the exercises. The Chicagoan containers were slightly more well-off than the Columbus ones had been, but only by a small marigan. It was clear that this specific training would need to be a regular staple at all the centers they visited after they left.

If not, it would lead to certain disaster.

When Jasper found her the morning of Steven Kamara’s execution, he paused when he realized she wasn’t going to go with him.

“Can you come and get me when you’re done?” She asked, not able to look him in the eye at the request. “Then I’ll help with the entry interviews we have to do.”

He’d been silent at that—Alice had to force herself not to look up into his eyes, she didn’t want to see any hurt across his features—before quietly relenting, leaving her in the gym

She knew that it would only take him the better part of fifteen minutes, to be entirely done with the deed, but she also knew that she wouldn’t see him for another hour. He’d wander off into the woods for a bit before coming back into the training center.

When he did wander back to her, almost exactly an hour later, she still found herself unable to look him in the eye. She didn’t want him to see the misery in her eyes over the fact that there were people out here—good, honest, innocent people—who were suffering in one way or another due to what they were.

They performed several entry interviews then, spanning the length of their entire last day there. At one point, Jasper had to go check back up on the training, trusting Alice to do a couple of them solo.

She’d been a bit hesitant but she found that it really was a simple process. She did find a point where she found herself with a valid question, but after a vision of her tracking down and asking Jasper her question, she sat back, very pleased with the way her visions were likely going to help her with this job.

He found her late that night, beginning her third solo interview, only to help her finish it. Afterward he informed her that their work there was just about done.

“I dismissed the day shift just a few minutes ago,” he told her. “They’ll be fine.”

“I’m assuming you also left them with a mandate?”

“Minimum of six hours a day, six days a week until they receive further orders to stop.” He half shrugged. “A couple of them seemed put out, but it’s easy to quiet them when you remind them of the inevitability of Maria’s arrival.”

Alice nodded in agreement.

She followed him out to the parking lot after that, pleased to see that he’d secured himself another rental car somehow throughout the past couple of days. Jumping in the passenger seat, she suddenly realized they hadn’t stopped to return to their room once in the last four days.

“I left my phone there,” Alice frowned as they took off toward the highway. “I told Carlisle I’d keep it on me in case I got any visions.”

“It’s okay,” he assured her easily, “I have mine with me most of the time. If you needed to you would’ve been able to use it.” He eyed her cautiously. “You didn’t see anything you needed to tell him about, did you?”

She shook her head. “No, but forgetting it was careless.”

“It’s a new thing for you. You’ll adjust soon.”

They were silent for the rest of the drive to the hotel room. It wasn’t until they were in the elevator when she turned toward him. “When’s our flight?”

His eyes flickered down to her before facing forward again.

“I haven’t booked it yet.”

Oh. That would explain why she hadn't seen it.

“I figured it would be better if we,” the doors opened and he held his arm out for her, waiting for her to exit, “talked about some things.”

Alice nodded numbly, a bit nervous about their inevitable conversation.

Upon entering their room she excused herself quickly, wanting to change into a new set of clothes before they had this talk. That way when she was emotionally drained (as she was fully expecting to be) she wouldn’t need to worry about changing before they departed for their next flight.

She re-entered the room to find him standing against the far wall, arms crossed. Holding her hands out, she shrugged. “I’m not going to lie,” she strode over to the bed and sat herself down on it without much grace. “I don’t want to talk about anything right now.”

He raised an eyebrow. “It is later.”

Letting herself flop forward, Alice groaned into the mattress. “Yeah, yeah.” She waved a hand at him dismissively, idly wondering if he’d just leave her alone if she refused to move.

“Alice,” she felt a nudge against her foot, “cut it out.”

“Is it true?” she muttered the words into the mattress. Jasper simply sighed, tapping her foot again. “Is it true?” She repeated, lifting her head and meeting his eyes. “What that man said about Maria?”

“No way,” Jasper shook his head, hands in his pockets as he stared down at her, “Maria has been planning this for a while. There’s no way the timing of your arrival has anything to do with her sudden appearances.”

“Didn’t you say they’ve been deliberate? The first one seemed accidental. Then I showed up, and now they’ve all been purposeful exposures on her part.”

“Alice. This may not be of much comfort to you, but she wants all of us dead. Yes, you’re included in that, but you’re not being singled out.” Alice was silent for a long moment, playing with a stray thread attached to the comforter on the bed. “What is it?”

She didn’t want to say it though. Asking him felt far too embarrassing—asking him meant having to acknowledge that a majority of the country thought there was something going on between them.

And maybe there was.

She’d been paying more attention recently. She’d caught the glances he’d been sending her, and the smiles he’d only reserve for her. It seemed like he wasn’t much of a laugher, but she could garner one out of him in no time at all with seemingly minimal teasing. He never shrugged off physical contact with her and recently he’d been the one to initiate it, going out of his way to hold her hand or brush a hair into place.

“Were you and Maria ever,” she bit her lip, staring intently down at the tiny thread she rolled between her fingers, “involved?” A beat of silence. “Like y’know?” She lifted her hands in front of her face, threading her fingers together the same way that the human girl, Kara, had done the week before, when asking Alice if she and Jasper were ‘together.’

She didn’t want to look up at him, but after the silence stretched on for several more painful seconds, Alice turned her head, just to see him looking down with her, a pained expression on his face.

Ah. Okay then.

Alice simply nodded, attempting to swallow down the emotion that was suddenly making it harder for her to talk. Though even if she could, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say. What could she say?

“I think the paparazzi's question makes a teeny bit more sense now,” her voice was nearly a whisper.

“Alice, it was never like that.”

“Can you explain it to me then?” She asked, feeling slightly hysterical. “Because I feel like everyone knows something I don’t. Whether it’s a random newborn vampire, or a paparazzi on the street, or a damned magazine writer. I don’t like not knowing things that apparently directly involve me.”

“There’s nothing to know,” Jasper defended, despite the fact that he couldn’t look at her as he spoke. “People enjoy assuming everything. You don’t need to, too. Besides,” he made a noise, clicking his tongue, “my past association with Maria means nothing now. You know this.”

“Then why did that man call you her ‘ex’? Jazz, all of this stuff is starting to make sense to me now; what everyone has been saying. These people aren’t just blowing smoke; this is really how they’re viewing this whole situation,” she felt almost awkward as she gestured between the two of them. “And all I want is the truth from you and you still won’t give me a straight answer!”

“It’s because I don’t have one for you,” Jasper spoke suddenly, taking a step back. “I don’t have straight-forward, easy answers for you, Alice. I’m sorry.”

“Were you and Maria together?” She asked again, sitting herself up fully and locking her eyes with him.

“No but,” before Alice could interject he held a hand up, “it’s a complicated situation.”

“We have time,” she reminded him, trying to ignore the uncomfortable tightening in her chest. She knew she didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but she needed to hear it.

He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. He seemed to want to have this conversation just as little as she did. “It was never a romantic relationship with us. Not in the way you’re picturing it.”

“So it was what? Physical.”

“Mainly,” he admitted finally, the one word hurting a lot more than Alice thought it would.

“It was a lie,” he spoke quickly, not allowing her to get too wrapped up in her own thoughts yet. He was certainly feeling every bit of emotional pain she was going through. “Everything that I ever experienced, everything I was ever told by her, it was all a lie.” He clenched his jaw, forcing himself to look away from her as she looked up at him sadly. “Every single thing.”

Alice calmed then, a realization striking her. “You loved her.”

He shook his head, walking away from her and over toward the window. “No, I didn’t. I worshipped her. I worshipped the ground she walked on.”

“But you thought you loved her.”

“I thought I loved human blood. For a while I thought I loved fighting, killing.” He turned and shot her a chilling look, the self-hatred shining through his cold facade. “I didn’t quite know what love was.”

“But you were lovers.”

“Yes,” he spoke, still meeting her gaze. It seemed he was not willing to lie or avoid about this particular subject.

“So when these magazines refer to her as your spurned ex-lover they really aren’t far off the mark.”

“Is this what you want?” He asked, anger beginning to show. “To argue about Maria? About what random strangers have to say about me? Or about us? Not every person out there has all the facts.”

“Yeah well I have none of them,” she defended, her voice cracking as she choked back sobs. “I know I said I didn’t need to know everything before but that was then. Now I need to know because now it has to do with me.”

“My past has nothing to do with you—”

“It has everything to do with me!” She yelled, standing abruptly. “I’m trying to sort out my future,” she cried, “and that’s you . You’re my future Jasper. Ever since I woke up it’s always been you.” She slowly made her way toward him, refusing to mask her grief from him, even for a second. “You, me, and Maria. That’s what my future leads to, no matter which path I take. Regardless of which choices you or I make. She’s always there waiting for us.” Standing directly beneath him, she glared up at him, fists clenched at her side. “If that is the way I die,” she whispered, “in that field with you and Maria, I deserve to know it all.”

“It’s not happening Alice,” he shook his head, still locking eyes with her, “I’d sooner die than hurt you.” He lifted his hands, cradling her head in his hands. “I’d rather toss myself into a river of fire than hurt a damn hair on your head.”

“You keeping things from me hurts me,” she growled out, a sob breaking through against her will, “I need you to be honest with me. Stop hiding things from me. You have always been the only certainty I’ve ever known. I need this from you.”

“I thought she loved me,” he then spoke, keeping the topic alive as he held her face in his scarred hands. “She didn’t, of course; Maria was a master manipulator. I found out years after ‘64 that she’d had a mate who was killed before my creation. She never cared about anything but destruction. She didn’t love me. I didn’t love her. Everything that ever happened between us was sick and twisted.”

There was no love there, he didn’t have to say, because as she looked into his eyes she knew that’s exactly what he meant. And that had been exactly the answer she’d been insecurely looking for.

She nodded then, embarrassed at the relief that she felt taking over her body.

“Were you scared of me?” He asked suddenly, hands moving down to caress her jaw, “Earlier? When I had to execute that man, your emotions were telling.”

Shaking her head, Alice let out a sad sound. “No. Jazz, you didn’t scare me. The prospects of this job are what frightens me. I don’t want you killing people that you don’t have to. I don’t want you having to go through it or to put yourself through that. You told me yourself; you can feel everything they feel.”

“It’s really not that bad,” he confessed with a frown. “Here, I mean. In the centers. Killing on the battlefield is where it gets bad. When the emotions are high and the fear is nearly incapacitating. Besides, I wasn’t going to turn down his one dying wish.”

“It makes me so miserable that we can’t help these people,” and then she was close to crying again, leaning forward and wrapping her arms around Jasper. She wanted to be human in that moment, just to be able to shed real tears. The release would probably feel loads better than this dry, coughing misery. “It was an accident. That was so clear.”

“Someone still died,” Jasper reminded her in an even voice, holding her close. “Laws are still in place. It’s still our job to enforce them.”

“There’s so much death in this job,” she sobbed, “how do you do it? How can you stand it?”

“This is nothing to me,” he reminded her. “I was born into this life onto a battlefield, Alice. Death is all I’ve ever known. In comparison? This is peaceful to me.”

“I don’t know if I can do that,” she confessed, “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to kill someone like that. I… I don’t have it in me.”

“Hey, no. Don’t worry. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it’s part of what we do,” he rubbed her back soothingly. “Carlisle has never done it. He actually refuses to. Rosalie is another one. You’ll never be forced to do an execution if you don’t want to. I mean it; it’s really not part of the job.”

“Okay,” she breathed out a relief, letting him sooth her with his words, “Okay, good. Good.”

“I’ll tell you what you want to know but Alice,” he pulled her back, making her look him in the eye as he spoke. “You might not want to hear it all.”

“I don’t care. I need to hear it. Before I lose my mind over all of this.” She then pulled herself back against him, missing the contact and not letting him hold her at a distance for longer than necessary. They’d been so careful around each other for the past couple of days. She’d missed his touch.

“Even though the war ended in 64’, I evaded capture for almost three years.”

“How did it end?”

“We lost the upper hand. We’d taken them by surprise, but since the newborns got out of control so quickly, and Maria wasn’t turning new ones fast enough—not to mention I had no time to train new ones, I was in a different battle every day—after a few months they were picking our numbers off little by little. The day they thought she died was the day North America declared victory. There were still hundreds of us wandering the continent. I was fighting with a large group of about twenty in the mountains of Virginia when we heard the news.”

“You thought she was dead.”

“I was devastated, but I didn’t let her demise stop me. I kept fighting, and then when my numbers fell to the single digits, we fled. I disappeared for a while. Keeping up north for several months. They knew I was still alive, same with another one of her older charges. This was something I didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago, but they caught him about a year later and he spilled all the information he had.

“Apparently he was only ten years younger than I was. Created in the same way, fed the same lies, coaxed with the same offers. She used the same manipulation on me. And now, knowing this,” the wave of fury swept over her for a split-second before he pulled it back into himself, “I’m almost glad she’s alive so I can be the one to kill her.”

Alice couldn’t help it when the words spurned ex-lover echoed once more through her head.

“They caught up to me eventually, in 1967. I was the last person of interest who was still at large. I could’ve escaped, really it wouldn’t have been too hard but,” he sighed, tightening his embrace ever so slightly. “I was tired. I learned a lot during those years. About the humans. About the yellow-eyes and the society they’d created. And I was horrified to discover that I didn’t hate it. That I understood it. I’d been running, constantly looking over my shoulder, knowing that when they found me only death would be waiting for me, but those had become the three most peaceful years of my life.”

“But they caught you.”

“Yeah, Edward and Rosalie actually. They’d received a tip that a large group had been spotted hiding out in an abandoned farmhouse. There were 7 of us total, including me, that they—and thirty other containers—took into custody that day. I’m the only one who dodged death.”

“How?” The way history painted him, he should have been killed by the swift stroke of justice. One thing she didn’t think she ever needed to know in detail was the extent of his crimes. He’d killed to avoid death. That’s all she needed to know.

“Esme.”

And suddenly, so many things made sense.

“She saved you.”

“Quite literally. My execution date had been six days away.”

The urge to pull her phone out and call Esme, if only just to thank her over and over and over again, was borderline unbearable. Not only did she owe that woman her future, but she owed her for the life of this man, who she cared about beyond her wildest dreams.

“As you can imagine, public outcry was huge. They wanted me dead, and instead they were told I was going to help lead them.”

It was no wonder so many people still distrusted him. Alice couldn’t lie, she’d likely be weary of him, too.

“They really shot themselves in the foot with that one,” he remarked, a hint of humor in his voice, “because for weeks before that they’d been celebrating my capture. Every detail about my trial was public. I plead guilty to nearly everything. It was a set deal for them. All they had to do was rip my head from my shoulders and be done with it.”

“Why did they go along with it? I mean, Carlisle and Edward and everyone else?”

“Over the years I’ve actually asked everyone that question separately, and every time I’ve come back with nearly identical answers. They eventually relented because they trusted Esme.”

“That’s a little insane.”

“You’re telling me. My first few years with them was, and pardon my language, a shit show.”

“How did you adjust?”

“With much difficulty. I was with Maria for over 100 years. The animal diet was the hardest part I think. My self-control still isn’t the greatest. Not that I’ve slipped up since,” he clarified quickly, “but I’ve come very close many times. That's why it's best for me to stay back at the house.”

“What would happen if you did? Slip up, I mean.”

Jasper shrugged. “Emmett has before. He encountered a singer back in the 80s. It was pretty messy but as you can see, he’s still with us.”

Alice nodded at that, relieved that there was at least some leeway when it came to singers, and happy that Emmett was still with them. But she could imagine that if Jasper even stepped one toe out of line, there’d be hell to pay.

“The past few months have been hard for you, haven’t they?” She asked, feeling a wave of immense guilt overcome her.

She’d never felt more silly and selfish than she did right now. The fact that she’d even been entertaining thoughts of a romance with Jasper—the occasional validating vision be damned—while his worst nightmare prowled around south of the border, just waiting to strike, made her feel decidedly stupid. Here she was, agonizing over whether magazines referring to Maria as Jasper’s ‘ex-lover’ had any right to do so, while Jasper was living every day knowing that he’d have to face the woman of his nightmares.

“It hasn’t been ideal,” he commented nonchalantly. “I always had a suspicion that she was still alive. I needed a body for that closure, and we never got one. They just assumed she’d died in an explosion out in the desert in Arizona.”

“They’re probably happy they have you now,” she commented, trying to lighten the mood. “What better person to try and help take her down once and for all?”

“The reviews are mixed, apparently. People are split between not wanting to trust me because of what I once meant to Maria—granted, I didn’t turn out to be the only ‘right-hand-man’ she had been grooming, but I’m the only one left—and admiring me for what I’m doing now. That I always find a little harder to believe. Especially since it’s always the younger people who can excuse my crimes.”

“Why wouldn’t you see their support as anything other than genuine?”

“History is a lot easier to romanticize when you haven’t lived through it,” he pulled back, giving her a pointed look. “Older people aren’t so quick to trust. I don’t blame them.”

“Would you view my support of you as ingenuine?” She challenged with a stern look. “After all, I wasn’t changed until 71’.”

“You don’t have a deceptive bone in your body,” he mused, “I think your support of me is genuine, of course—as is everyone else’s—but if you’d lived through it, you’d probably be a bit more hesitant around me.”

“Technically I did live through it,” she noted, reminding them both of the human life she didn’t remember, “I wonder what I thought of it all then.”

“Nothing good, I’m sure.”

She gave him a droll look. “If I ever remember, I’ll let you know.”

“Here’s to hoping you don’t.”

She laughed lightly at that, leaning forward and embracing him once more.

“Jasper?”

“Hm?”

“Can I dream out-loud for a bit?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, but go for it.”

“Don’t laugh, but…” she inhaled deeply, letting the scent of him soothe her anxieties. “I like to imagine that when this is over—when Maria is gone and we’re all safe and back home and we actually have free time again—I’ll go looking for more answers. I’m fine with my life now, and with who I am. But I’d like to learn where I came from, whether my family is still alive, what exactly happened to me. Details like that.” She snuggled closer to him, happily letting her mind get away from her. “You’d help me with that, right?”

“Of course,” he breathed out, “anything you want.”

They remained like that for a little while longer, Alice prattling on mindlessly about the things she wanted to do when— if, a voice in her head taunted, if— they defeated Maria and returned home with their lives. Jasper simply held her, his hand running soothing circles over her back as he promised to join her on all her little mundane adventures.

But despite it all, still the vision stayed.

Chapter Text

Their flight from Chicago to Portland was the longest leg of the trip yet, clocking in at a lengthy four and a half hours. Of course it would be on their longest flight where they were accompanied by what seemed to be some high school field trip. The second the kids realized who was on the plane with them, any hope they’d had for a peaceful trip had dissipated.

Much to Jasper’s dismay.

“Do you want to switch seats?” Alice had offered with a barely contained smile. Now that the plane was at altitude, and the second the seatbelt light had been clicked off, some of the bolder kids had approached, asking if they could take a picture with them.

Alice had just leaned across Jasper, pulling his unwilling form into their third selfie with the high schoolers when she offered. Jasper shot her an unamused look before standing, letting her move out into the hallway so he could take the middle seat, giving her the aisle. Despite the fact that she was enjoying herself, she knew certainly that he was not.

When two more students, a pair of teenage boys, scurried over, Alice laughed, leaning out to embrace them, nodding attentively as she listened to them prattle on before asking for selfies of their own.

She was aware that it was a silly, shallow thing to be enjoying, but if these people were so pleased at the sight of her, she’d give them all the ridiculous pictures they wanted.

The older adults on the flight looked far less pleased at the fact that they were traveling to the same city as the vampire duo.

An older gentlemen, red in the face and full of nerves, had leaned in close on the way back from the bathroom, “Sorry to disturb you two but, you’re not on your way out here because of,” he swallowed and waved a hand, “you know.”

“Just attending to normal duties, I assure you.”

The nervous man visibly calmed. “Alright, okay. Good. We were just worried that we’d timed this trip poorly,” he waved toward where several other parents were watching with concerned eyes.

A wave of calm began to slowly fill the cabin. “Just a part of our regular schedule,” Jasper confirmed, nodding.

Just then, the seatbelt light chimed on. The man looked up, startled by the sound. “Okay. Great. Sorry about the kids, by the way. We told them to leave you be—”

“Oh, it’s not a problem at all!” Alice assured him, grinning brightly. “They’re wonderful.”

The man laughed as he straightened back up. “They’ll be tickled pink to hear that, thank you.” Then his face was more serious, as he turned to walk away. “Thank you.”

Alice had a feeling he wasn’t simply referring to their warmth toward the children.

They were left alone for the most part after that.

“It’s going to be another mess when we get in, with the paparazzi.” Alice informed him with a frown, just an hour shy of landing. “I wonder how they know we’ll be there.”

“You do realize why?” Jasper shot her an incredulous look. “RIght?”

Alice simply blinked up at him, offering her silence as an acceptable answer.

“Those kids,” he nodded his head toward the back of the cabin. “The second they take those pictures they get on their social media accounts and post it. All the paparazzi have to do is search our names every now and then and suddenly they know where we’re coming from and where we’re heading.”

“Oh,” she said dumbly. “Well, I’m embarrassed.”

Jasper offered her a sympathetic look. “I know you like making these kids happy, but maybe tell them to wait until we land next time. I don’t doubt they’re begging their parents to buy the plane’s wifi just so they can send our picture to everyone they know.”

“I didn’t think about that.”

“I’m not surprised.” At her wry look, he held up a hand, “I mean—knowing how you are with modern technology.”

“Right,” she rolled her eyes, “okay. Next time I’ll tell them to wait.”

Jasper scoffed, “Next time we’re getting first class. Try to avoid this mess altogether.”

“You really don’t like it? Not the paparazzi—forget those jerks—but the kids. They love you.”

“Remember what I said about history being easier to forget when you haven’t lived through it.”

Alice frowned, crossing their arms. “Grumpy old man.”

He smiled slightly at that, elbowing her gently in the ribs. “Let’s just try and avoid the paps before we land, yeah?”

Alice looked at him oddly before following his train of thought, seeing the mischievous glint in his eye, and smiling. “Good idea.”


By the time they reached the car, Alice was nearly doubled over with giggles, clinging to her backpack as she ran behind Jasper, knowing that if she let go of his hand, she’d likely fall over.

While still on the plane, Alice had ran through a couple of ideas in her mind before a particular vision confirmed just what she wanted to see. Just before they began their descent, she’d enlisted the help of some of the kids who were more than eager to do whatever she’d requested.

After they departed the plane, the kids ran straight toward the baggage claim, backpacks bouncing and carry-ons rolling haphazardly behind them, as the parents laughed and strolled leisurely behind them. Alice and Jasper waited one minute, and then another, before following swiftly and quietly.

Alice had instructed the kids to run into the baggage claim and pretend to look for them as loudly and desperately as they felt would draw attention. Of course, the paps wouldn’t know that Alice and Jasper didn’t have any checked luggage, so they’d join in on the desperate hunt, circling the carousels, looking for a pair of Protectors that would already be out chasing down their car.

Opening the door and ushering his giggly counterpart into the car, Jasper jumped in, closing the door and giving her a mirthful look.

“Did you see them?” She laughed, “they did so good.”

“It certainly worked,” he agreed, letting a smile of his own creep onto his face.

“See?” She shot him a told-you-so look, “being friendly comes in handy.”

He merely laughed, the deep sound causing a delighted feeling to plant itself in her chest. She was already giddy with excitement for their arrival to Portland’s Mount Hood Container Center, knowing that something wonderful awaited Jasper there.

Thankfully it was easy to mask her eagerness currently, as the adrenaline from their little escape slowly ebbed. She had to resist the nearly overwhelming urge to snuggle up to him though and rest her head on his shoulder. She’d realized, the night before, that she had to put at least a  minuscule amount of distance between the two of them.

It would be hard, but he was already dealing with enough. Last thing she needed to do was make his life any more difficult.

Turning her phone back on she waited eagerly to check her messages, now knowing how simple and incredible of an invention text messages were. She would have to get Josie onto this.

She had sent her fellow Protectors a quick, “Hi everyone!” before shutting her phone off for the flight. And as she watched the notifications pull up on her phone, she nearly squealed with excitement.

With the exception of Edward and Esme, everyone had already replied. Bella had sent her an equally happy reply, Carlisle was pleased that she was finally using her phone, and Emmett had sent her three tiny little pictures. She’d gasped in excitement at that.

“Look!” She showed Jasper her phone. “Isn’t that cute? What are those?”

He gave her a blank look. “Emojis?”

“Even the name is cute,” she grinned. “How do I get them?”

Rolling his eyes he pulled the phone from her hands, his fingers flying quickly across the touch screen. As he added the tiny icons to her keyboard Alice could only lean over, watching in curiosity as her phone continued to beep over and over again.

“I think Rosalie just send you two-hundred texts,” he commented, handing the phone back to her.

Alice thanked him with a smile as she received the phone, quickly opening the messages and letting her eyes scan over them. She’d already seen that Rosalie would end up being her most attentive texting buddy, and also knew that she was about to see every single paparazzi photo and publication that had come out since the two had begun their trip. She braced herself slightly for that, knowing that there were plenty of pictures of her and Jasper currently sitting in her messages.

She snuck a quick glance up toward Jasper only to find his eyes focused on something outside of the car. Then she turned herself slightly away and began scrolling.

The first thing she couldn’t help but notice was the incredible quality of a majority of the photos. Next was the fact that nearly all of the twenty-two photos were of her and Jasper together. And she couldn’t help but finally understand why the general public thought they were dating.

Because they really, really looked like a couple.

Most of the photos were of them striding through airports, holding hands. There were the few from her venture up to Kara’s hotel room—Jasper looking visibly unamused standing beside her beaming form. Another showed Kara smiling brightly at her, Alice mid-word as she leaned toward the girl to say something, and Jasper looking down on her, a gentle look on his face.

The ones that made her frown the most were the couple from O’Hare, when the paparazzo had caught her off guard and Jasper had frightened the man away. She cursed her expressive face then, noting that a picture had been snapped by another pap seemingly the moment she’d turned and reacted to the man. She’d looked devastated.

Rosalie had sent a a caption beneath those few pictures.

Ignore those creeps. They’ll tell you anything to get your attention .

All advice that she’d failed to listen to from Jasper. Well. She wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

One photo in particular made her chest tighten with emotion. It had been taken on the nearly-empty flight to Columbus, where he’d confided in her what it was truly like to be an empath. Where they’d promised to never hurt each other.

Alice had incorrectly assumed that there had been no photo evidence of that night; after all, every one of her visions just informed her that there were “eye-witness” accounts of their public affections, not that there was hard evidence.

But the dark, almost-grainy photo taken in the dark airplane cabin showed what was unmistakably their silhouettes. Jasper was turned toward her, a hand gently cradling her face, looking down at her like she was everything .

Damn. She really wasn’t going to be able to talk herself out of that one.

But her eyes couldn’t take themselves off of the last message Rosalie had sent.

Either confirm that you’re dating or back off from each other. That’s the only way to get these people to stop harassing and hyper-analyzing everything you do.

Alice had squirmed at that, shooting Jasper another quick glance—he was now glancing down at his own phone (she wondered whether Rosalie had sent him the same messages) still adequately distracted—before typing out a quick reply.

We’re not dating .

Putting down her phone she frowned when she received a vision of Rosalie’s reply.

( You keep telling yourself that. )

Then she picked her phone back up, sending another message before the blonde could even type her own out.

Things are complicated. We have more important things to focus on.

She waited thirty more seconds before typing out another reply, once more cutting Rosalie off with a vision of her response. ( Whatever, Alice . )

I can’t, okay? It wouldn’t be right.

Another vision of a reply from Rosalie: ( It’s not like you two aren’t making goo-goo eyes at each other constantly. )

She frowned. Two people who care about each other aren’t allowed to be openly affectionate?

Then, one more vision of a reply that hadn’t even been typed.

( Have you two fucked? )

Immediately closing down the app she shut her phone off swiftly, embarrassment coursing through her. When she took note of Jasper turning toward her, perhaps alarmed by her sudden change in mood, she shook her head firmly.

“Do not ask,” she nearly pleaded, completely unable to turn and look him in the eye. “Trust me.”

Thankfully he didn’t.

A half hour later they pulled up to another hotel, swiftly checking in and gathering their things to leave.

“You’re awfully eager to get to work,” Jasper observed, shooting her a suspicious glance from where he stood, still reorganizing some paperwork for the officials at Mount Hood. Alice currently stood by the door, hands folded as she waited patiently, watching him move with barely-contained excitement.

She shrugged nonchalantly, “I’m getting the hang of it all.”

“Uh-huh,” he narrowed his eyes at her, a smile growing from the corner of his mouth. “I’m sure that’s what it is.” He zipped up the small black backpack and gestured toward her as he approached. “Alright then, lead the way.”

Nearly running down to the parking lot, Alice found herself nearly bouncing with excitement as she waited for Jasper to catch up.

When she had recommended that they get a rental car for this leg of the trip, Jasper had eyed her strangely.

“Do you think we’ll need it?” He had asked slowly. When she merely smiled at him, he shook his head, asking their driver to stop at the nearest rental car lot.

The second they pulled away he turned back toward her.

“Alright, spill.”

Alice feigned innocence. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You saw something.”

“I see lots of things.”

“You’re acting like a child about to go to DisneyWorld.”

“Oh, that would be fun.”

“Alice.”

“Yes, Jazz?” She turned toward him, batting her eyelashes at him. He laughed.

“I hate surprises,” he grumbled, adjusting his hand on the steering wheel as they stopped at a red light.

“No you don’t. You just don’t like being teased.”

“They’re in the same vein.”

“I promise you, you’ll love it.”

“So no hints?” She pointedly ignored him. “Not even a tiny clue?” Still silent. “For someone so small, you’re awfully cruel.”

She poked him in the ribs at that, laughing. “Jazz. Trust me.”

He sighed, smile still on his face as he sped up a little bit.

“If you say so.”

When they pulled up to the containment center, Alice couldn’t help but laugh as Jasper got out of the car, looking around suspiciously as they made their way toward the main office.

She opened her mouth to remark that he looked like he was afraid of getting jumped when suddenly someone was behind him, grabbing him around the waist, and twisting .

Jasper quickly reacted, grinding his feet into the pavement as he bent his knees, turning his upper body one way and his legs the other way, using the stranger’s momentum to set the both of them off balance. The moment his assailant had one foot of the ground, Jasper ducked, twisting out of the grip and flipping them over his shoulder, yanking an arm up roughly as he planted a foot on their chest.

All in under two seconds.

When the vampire on the ground began laughing, Alice let out the breath she’d been holding.

“Damn Major,” the voice laughed, “still as hard to take you down as it ever was.”

Jasper grinned down at the man before removing his foot, gripping the man’s hand and yanking him back up onto his feet. “And still as easy to knock you off your feet,” he remarked before pulling the vampire into a tight hug.

Alice beamed at the sight, feeling the most indescribable joy she’d felt in weeks. She’d never seen Jasper smile like that, so uninhibited and happy.

“They sent me a page this morning that one of you guys were coming in, and I just prayed it was you,” the man grinned, pulling back to look Jasper up and down, “it’s been a long time.”

“Too long,” Jasper agreed, still grinning at he turned toward her. “Alice, this is Peter.”

The name brought her back to a memory a couple weeks before, where Jasper had told her of much of his past with Maria. Peter was the one who defected two days prior to the invasion to track down Carlisle and save lives.

Alice extended her hand, “Pleasure to meet you, Peter.”

“Likewise,” he grinned, his almost white-blonde hair falling into his face. “So what the hell are you doing all the way out here?” He asked the pair, brushing his clothes back into order before clapping Jasper’s shoulder.

“Work, clearly.”

Peter scoffed, turning toward the offices and gesturing for them to follow. “Yeah but like, work-work, or Maria-related work?”

“A little bit of both, technically.” Jasper relented. “I’m holding training seminars.”

Peter stopped at that. “Newborn trainings.”

Jasper nodded, his face suddenly serious. “Sans containment. You being here will make my job easier though.”

“Going to delegate some of your work to me?” The man barked out another laugh. “Just like the old days, huh?”

“You know it.” Jasper grinned. Alice couldn’t help but notice it was the first time he’d smiled in reference to his past since she’d met him. “Now that I know you’re here I can get most of my work done quickly.”

Peter feigned offense. “Trying to get out of town so fast? How long are you here?”

“Four days at most. But again, if you’re here it may only be three.”

Peter shook his head. “No way. If this shit gets wrapped early, Char and I are taking you out. The both of you,” he nodded toward Alice, meeting her eyes. “You guys probably need a bit of a break. We’ll show you two around town. Go hunting. We’ll make a day of it.”

Jasper rolled his eyes as he turned back toward the main offices and began to walk. “We’ll see.”

But Alice simply grinned up at Peter, already seeing that Jasper would relent quite easily. “That’s a yes.”

Through the night she came to learn that Peter not only worked at the Center, but that he was one of the three lieutenants on site, giving him quite a bit of seniority over most of the cadets across campus. Eyeing his own scars casually, she found herself wondering whether or not they treated him the same way they treated Jasper: with hesitant respect only due to obligation.

She kind of doubted their reactions to Peter were as severe as their reactions to Jasper. After all, Jasper had told her that he’d been the one the country had turned their anger onto after his capture. For all she knew they loved Peter, the vampire who had tried to stop everything from happening, the one who’d tried saving them.

After ten hours of training—Portland’s population was small compared to Chicago, and made even Columbus look large and busy—Jasper seemed content to let Peter take over, giving him few instructions before he and Alice left the gym behind. With a quick look, Alice saw that Peter would finish up the last couple hours and then train the entire day shift from start to finish.

In the vision it was clear that they were more responsive to Peter’s instruction than Jasper’s. Proof of her suspicion that they trusted Peter more, possibly. Or maybe it was because Peter was a colleague that worked directly with them on a regular basis. Alice didn’t know, but the vision did cause her to frown.

“Does he have a gift?” Alice asked Jasper during a moment of privacy, just before they entered to perform a couple of entry interviews. As far as she knew, Peter had lasted ten years in Maria’s army, meaning that something had made him useful enough to keep around and not discard after his first year.

Jasper shook his head, leaning against a table where some files lay. “We had been entering new territory just after he’d been changed, along the coast just south of Port Arthur. Maria and I weren’t strangers to the land, but it had been several decades since we’d been more active around the area. Coastline is valuable. It’s vital to have proper control over it, and as a local, Peter helped with that.”

Alice nodded along, moving to sit on the edge of the table. Jasper had told her that only those who were useful were kept. “How did he last ten years?” Surely, after a year or so they wouldn’t need him to maintain control over the gulf coast, even as they stayed under the radar of the Protectors. As far as she understood, after a year in the southern wars, you were destined for a fire.

“By my recommendation, mainly.” Jasper informed her. “He was good to have around. Happily took over watching the newborns and even helped me dispose of them when it came time to it. He was a good fighter and was smart. When I first told Maria I wanted to keep him around, she told me not to. Letting him live was my first and only insubordinate move against her.”

“Then why did you do it? Surely you could’ve recruited any newborn to help and they would’ve jumped at the chance.” Alice looked up at him, not understanding. After ninety years of nothing but loyalty, she wondered why he’d do something as simple as that. For him, newborns had been mere tools to use and discard to gain land in those wars. Replacing an ungifted vampire couldn’t have been too hard to do.

Jasper didn’t respond for a few long seconds, instead closing the file he had been glancing over and placing it in a folder. Eventually he looked up at her. “He was my first friend.”

The admission broke her heart and at the same time overjoyed her.

He’d been miserable, existing as a tool to bring forth death and take over land, living in a climate of the most hostile emotions imaginable, constantly surrounded by feral vampires for nearly a century, and he’d been painfully lonely. But then came along a vampire with long blonde hair, that Jasper could hold a conversation with, and who he’d ultimately chosen to spare and keep around, despite the advice from his creator—the one person who had been his sole companion for ninety years.

Alice knew she’d need to thank Peter before they left, even if she did it without words.

“During my trials, he was the only person to stand up and forward on my behalf. It put him in a terrible position. After all, I was guilty of nearly everything they were charging me with—I never denied responsibility for my actions, even after learning the truth of everything. Peter could have very easily sat back and watched me burn, but he didn’t.

“They put him through the ringer for that. He and Charlotte had been granted clemency for their defection, but his loyalties were called into question once he tried pleading on my behalf. He insisted until the end that my ignorance should have exonerated me, but it didn’t matter. Maria had been thought to be dead, so they had to pin it on someone.” He shrugged, as if it all made sense.

“Peter was right.” Alice insisted, a frown set deep across her face. “You didn’t know.”

He didn’t reply. Instead he simply picked up the folder and gave her a neutral look, gesturing toward the door. “Shall we?”

Alice’s frown stayed put, but she didn’t push the topic any further. It wasn’t an argument she would win ( yet ) and she knew that. Either way, she also knew they would talk about it again at some point: that was not the end of that conversation.

They worked all through the day and into the night, performing two entrance interviews and sitting through a hefty number of meetings. Alice found herself excited to realize that she was beginning to understand more and more about what was happening in each meeting, words and phrases that were once foreign to her making perfect sense as she contributed with her own input here and there.

She could tell that Jasper was also noticing the same thing, if the encouraging looks and proud smiles he sent her way in between topics was anything to go by. Each one filled her with excitement and confidence that she was a bit embarrassed to admit she was beginning to crave.

“You’re really getting the hang of this,” he’d told her as they were on the way to the dorms to get a drink. His smile was wide and he seemed more relaxed than she’d seen him since they’d departed on this trip. Maybe more than ever.

Her responding smile was coy as she looked down at her feet. “I have a great teacher.”

He nodded, still smiling. “Ah, how could I forget.”

She laughed, reaching out and shoving him playfully.

The grin he shot her then made her heart feel full. (And the visions she was pointedly ignoring became just a tiny bit more solid in her mind.)

After they fed a bit, they checked in with Peter in the training building, only to find him preparing to dismiss the night shift. Standing to the side, they waited patiently as he thanked them, encouraging them to take their future training as seriously as possible.

“It could be any day now,” Peter spoke, turning to look at the pair of Protectors who lingered on the perimeter. He met eyes with Jasper and the two nodded at one another. “Do not forget, even for a minute, what we are up against.”

As the vampires began to leave, a serious tone in the air, Alice took note as a blonde woman stayed behind, a quick vision confirming that yes, that was Charlotte.

She watched as they exchanged a few quick words, Peter nodding along to something that she was saying, a frown etched deep across his pale face, before she leaned up and planted a quick kiss on his lips.

Alice felt herself grow slightly embarrassed at witnessing the affection, looking away quickly only to find that Jasper was already walking up to the pair. Quickening her pace to catch up with him, she couldn’t help but watch as Charlotte took note of their approach, her eyes hardening before a smile was plastered on her face.

“Jasper, it’s nice to see you again.” But judging by her body language, Alice was sure that wasn’t entirely true.

“Same here,” Jasper was more genuine, but Alice could tell there was definitely a tiny bit of tension in the air. The apprehension seemed to go both ways. “Wish it wasn’t under such circumstances.”

The fake smile fell off her face then. “Yeah.” Then her gaze fell to Alice and a small smile found its place on her face again. “Hi, I’m Charlotte.”

“Alice,” she shook her extended hand, smiling in reply. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“You two make great timing,” Peter said. “Work done yet?”

Jasper shook his head, his hands finding their way into his pockets. “Not quite. We still have a couple more meetings tomorrow morning. You saved me a lot of time and effort by doing this for me.”

“Anything that gets me away from guard duty,” Peter smirked. “Being on-call in a city this small gets boring sometimes. Almost makes me miss San Diego.”

“Now that’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one.” Charlotte was finally genuinely smiling, looking up at her mate with a humorous look. “You hated California.”

“Always will.” He grinned down at her small form before looking at the two Protectors. “So what time will you guys be done tomorrow? Charlotte has a shift she’s about to head to but after that she doesn’t work again for two days. And I’m about to cash in on some PTO just so we can take you two around town for a little bit.”

Jasper barely stifled a groan, “I don’t know—”

“We’ll be done by eight tomorrow night,” Alice spoke matter-of-factly, knowing that they wouldn’t ask how it was that she knew that exactly, but Peter would accept it happily. “Then we’re done completely.”

“Alice—”

“All you have to do after our meetings is sign the training mandate,” she spoke quickly, ensuring that he wasn’t going to get to work his way out of this. She wanted to get to know Peter and Charlotte. There were no ulterior motives and she wasn’t interested in prodding either of them for information on Jasper’s past, she simply wanted to learn more about Jasper’s first friend and his mate. “You told me that if we found time to hunt we’d go,” she reminded him sternly, pointing a finger at him as she turned to head toward the exit, effectively ending the admittedly one-sided conversation.

They had some paperwork to sort through, and the quicker they did it, the faster time would pass. If she could speed him up a bit, they’d actually be done by six the next day, but the vision of them finishing by eight was the more solid of the visions, so that’s the future she decided to tease.

Peter laughed as they moved to follow her lead. “Damn Major,” Alice could hear, not see, the grin in his voice. “I like her.”

Whatever look Peter had given Jasper had been enough for the Protector to shove his friend, immediately initiating what Alice could only describe as a wrestling match between the two men.

Turning to watch the two men play-fight, Alice threw her hands in the air, almost exasperated.

“Really?”

Charlotte grinned, moving to stand beside the smaller woman. “They’re not going to be done any time soon.” Whatever apprehension the woman seemed to have with Jasper seemed to dissipate as they watched the two men grapple with one another. She watched them both with a fond expression and Alice couldn’t help but smile despite her mild annoyance.

When Peter let out a triumphant shout, she turned to see him with Jasper pinned to the ground. But before she could be impressed with Peter’s abilities, Jasper had wiggled his way free, grabbing Peter’s ankle and yanking him upward as he stood. Within seconds their positions were reversed, and Jasper's sleeve was hanging by a thread.

“Best two out of three,” Peter demanded, shaking Jasper off and shooting back onto his feet, a mischievous glint in his eye as he grinned.

“You’re on.”

Charlotte chuckled and Alice checked their future. Within minutes, a crowd would gather, watching through the glass on the second story as the two former soldiers fought, and their quick wrestling match would turn into another, small training exercise for the handful that would come down for additional instruction.

Alice sighed. They would definitely finish closer to eight.

Chapter Text

“You’re joking me.”

“Nope.”

“That sounds excessive.”

Charlotte snorted. “I’ve seen humans turned down simply for being too political on social media.”

Alice’s eyes widened. “That’s intense.”

“Yup.” The blonde agreed, sitting back on the bench with her legs crossed. “The whole thing is, start to finish. The quickest I’ve ever seen someone approved for change is nine months. And even then it was a non-stop process. The woman was in and out of the center almost every single day for the entire process. Passed every test with flying colors, of course, but still. It’s thousands of hours of work just for one person.”

The second they’d had a moment to themselves, Alice had sprung as many questions on Charlotte as she could. After all, it wasn’t every day you got to spend time with someone who worked in Change Application, and if you were Alice, and you’d never met anyone who worked in those offices, you had to jump at the first opportunity you got.

Currently Jasper and Peter were elsewhere. Peter had wanted to show them some new art installation that had opened at a museum a few blocks away. When Charlotte had complained that they’d already been twice, Alice quickly volunteered to stay behind with her and had quickly ushered the men away.

“It closes in forty minutes so you two better hurry,” she’d shooed them away, taking note of the odd look Peter shot Jasper before they’d left. Now that Alice knew that Peter—and Charlotte, by extension—was someone she could trust, she didn’t quite care too much about keeping her ability under wraps. She could already see that Jasper would accidentally let Peter in on the secret—the information would be volunteered, but Peter was more insightful than she gave him credit for, and would guess something pretty similar to the truth—and since he would figure it out that meant Alice felt fine with telling Charlotte about it, too.

After all, if Peter knew then she’d end up knowing eventually.

It didn’t bother her in the slightest. Sure, she’d always been sure to keep her ability to herself, and since joining the Protectors she was aware of how important it was to keep things on a ‘need-to-know’ basis, but Jasper trusted Peter, and so would she.

In the meantime, she was content to simply bombard the woman with as many questions as she’d answer.

“How are you supposed to distinguish between a human who is nervous and someone who is lying?”

“With difficulty.” She admitted, watching the cars as they passed. “That’s why it’s such a long process. Not only do we want to give them time to prepare but we want them to be confident and ready about the decision. When a human comes in with their heartbeat racing and can’t have a conversation without sweating like a pig, that’s a red flag. But alternatively, when they sit down with us and are as cool as a cucumber, we have to look into that, too. Our psych exam isn’t as thorough as the one they have to go through to even get to the application center, but that’s something we have to acknowledge when they get to us. The possibility that we could be turning psychopaths or sociopaths is a dangerous one.”

“I could imagine that any human petitioning to become a vampire would be nervous about it to some extent.” Alice mused. “Couldn’t excitement be another explanation to a rapid heartbeat?

“Yes, or it could be because they’re lying. Too many people have walked into Application trying to be changed for all the wrong reasons. And sometimes the reason is that they’re being forced to apply.”

Alice had blanched at that. “You mean like, forced by someone else?” Charlotte nodded. “How can you tell they’re being coerced? I’m sure a human slips through every now and again.”

“They do. I’ve interviewed one-hundred-and-seven vampires since I started working in Application thirty years ago. Only two of my applicants who have made it through to the end have come back to disclose, years later, that they only did it out of threat to themselves or someone they loved.” Charlotte looked pained. “One came back to me, eight years after they got out of Self-Control, only to confess.”

“Why would they do that?”

Charlotte’s expression was sad. “They couldn’t do it anymore. The man who had manipulated her into applying was abusive, and she couldn’t take it anymore. She wanted to go to the River of Fire. Since I’m the person who passed them through, I had to be the one to sign off on it to expedite the process.”

“What’s the River of Fire?”

Charlotte looked at her strangely. “Are you serious?” She looked like she was offended that Alice would joke about something like that, but Alice could see the curiosity in her eyes.

“Entirely.”

“Huh,” she raised an eyebrow but then sat back. “It’s over in Ireland. It’s the only Center—so far, at least—where they assist in suicides. Of course it’s not really called that. It’s just located on the lower Shannon, hence the term ‘River of Fire’.”

“But—there was a woman back in Columbus who wanted to petition to end her life, and they’re planning on doing it right in the center.” Alice had been checking up on Paula Deers’ future periodically. They’d finally caught up to Carter Hosier, but not before the man had already gone through his change and murdered an elderly couple in a fit of uncontrollable newborn thirst. The man was apprehended and awaiting execution, but they still had to track down the vampire that had illegally changed the pair.

Paula Deers’ death was a solid future though, that much Alice was sure of.

“She probably had an NDO—Natural Death Order—put in place. Maybe in a will somewhere. There are several cases where they will end your life in a standard Center,” Charlotte nodded. “Illegal transformation, failure of self-control, severe physical trauma,” she listed them off casually. “There’s more but,” she shrugged, “when it comes to legally created, perfectly able-bodied vampires, if you want to die you’ve got to go there. Doing what my client did and coming to me for a signature simply speeds the process up. She didn’t have to do it; she could had just gone straight to Limerick. But she wanted what happened to be on record.”

“That’s good for you guys, right?”

“In a way. Sometimes we get names out of them and can put the people who manipulated the person into changing on a list but,” she sighed, “that type of coercion isn’t technically illegal so there isn’t anything we can do.”

“That must be frustrating.” Alice didn’t need Jasper’s ability to tell the woman was displeased with that fact.

“You have no idea.” Charlotte uncrossed her legs and instead folder her arms. “The entire thing is just an ethical nightmare, but…” Charlotte sighed and looked over at her, “vampires have only been existing amongst humans for 132 years. New laws are amended and put in place all the time. A vampire’s right to die isn’t high up on the priority list for lawmakers, and any time protections are proposed in any court it ends up getting laughed at. After all,” she huffed, “what do indestructible vampires need protection from?” She said, her tone scathing. “I tell Peter all the time that if I ever go to school, it’ll be for law.”

“You’d be good at it,” Alice told her. “I can tell you’re passionate about this.”

“Too bad I hate arguing with people.” She confessed. “And I do enjoy my job. There’s a lot of complaints, sure. But I do value mentoring these people through their change. I only get assigned a handful a year that get all the way through the process, and I keep in touch with a good amount of them. It can be really rewarding.”

Alice smiled, watching the way the woman spoke about her job, wondering how she’d fallen into it. Seeing how she and Peter had both ended up working in containment centers made her wonder if it was simply the easiest choice to make. Perhaps their options had been limited? After all, they’d both been illegally created during the southern wars. Alice hardly knew what the two had gone through similarly to Jasper over the years.

“Would you have ever chosen this life for yourself?” She asked, knowing that there was a chance she wouldn’t get an adequate answer. After all, it was an intensely personal question. “Knowing that your choice was taken from you, would you have chosen it if given that choice?”

Charlotte waited for a minute, thinking silently to herself for an answer. Alice knew the question was heavy and loaded, but as someone who had been brought into this life the same way Jasper had been, she was curious about her answer.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “It’s something I think about pretty often. I think the fact that I’ve had Peter from the start has helped. I did consider it as a human, but now I know I wouldn’t have passed the application process. Too many extended family members with histories of mental illness,” she gave Alice a timid look. “That’ll disqualify you in a heartbeat. Which is another thing I hate but,” she waved a hand in the air, as if that said it all.

“I don’t hate what we are.” She continued. “Even though I didn’t have a choice, I enjoy my life. Sure, I think about what could have been if I’d been given the chance to live out my human life, but I get to share a potential eternity with the love of my life. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”

“How did that happen by the way?” Alice asked, still feeling bold. “I don’t imagine that a battlefield is a good place to meet people.”

She was relieved when Charlotte chuckled. “Yeah, no it was awful. But from the start Peter was so good to me. I never fully understood why he took me with him when we ran to the Protectors that day until a couple months after the war ended. After all, he’d only known me six months when we ran. He could have easily left me behind but,” her eyes were wistful as she recalled the memories. “I was a horrid fighter. Only changed to up the numbers. Peter took interest in me and I clung to him, so when he told me to run one day, I didn’t think twice.”

“Peter is a good person.”

“He really, truly is,” Charlotte looked away then, trying to hide her grin. If Alice didn’t know any better, she’d think the woman were embarrassed. She was glad that the two had gotten out when they had—it had made the difference between their life and death. She only wished that Jasper had been as lucky.

“But you don’t trust Jasper.”

Charlotte was quick to shake her head. “No, no it’s not that. I just—” she turned toward Alice more fully, chewing on her bottom lip, picking her words carefully. “I’ve known Jasper for a long time. When I knew him he was,” she paused for a moment, “like an entirely different person. He scared me more than Maria did,” she spoke quietly, as if that explained everything. “I like him. I do. And I’m happy with the way everything has turned out for him. He’s a natural leader. I—” she swallowed back her words then, jaw clenching, “I hate that Maria is still alive, and I’m sure he shares my sentiment, but I never got to know him the way Peter did, or the way you have, so we never really ‘bonded’. Most of the time I ever spent with him was back in ‘63 and ‘64. But Peter loves him like a brother so,” she rested an elbow against the back of the bench and leaned her chin against her hand, “he’s family, so I’m stuck with him.”

Alice grinned at that. She knew not many people would willingly fight in Jasper’s corner if anything ever called for such a thing, but she hoped Charlotte would be on his side if it came down to it. Especially with Maria rising from the dead to wreak havoc on their world.

“But enough about me,” she eyed Alice up and down strangely, “how on Earth do you not know what the River of Fire is?”

Alice had been waiting for this exact question. “I had an odd upbringing.”

Charlotte almost smiled. “Tell me about it.”

Despite knowing it wasn’t a literal request, she decided to oblige. “I don’t remember my human life,” she shrugged. “Not a single thing about it. I woke up one day, and started from there.”

Charlotte gaped at her openly before leaning back and smiling. “Oh, you have to tell me all about that.”

They talked for close to an hour after that, most of their conversation centering around Alice’s visions once she realized that she couldn’t exactly explain her past fully and leave that little tidbit of information out. (Leaving out her first, vital one.) Of course Charlotte flat-out refused to believe her at first, even after Alice correctly guessed twelve “what am I about to say” questions. She was still a bit doubtful, so Alice simply told her exactly what the men would say to them when they came back in five minutes.

The second they spotted the duo approaching in the distance, they went silent. Alice grinned knowingly at Charlotte as she gave her new acquaintance a skeptical look.

“What’ve you little ladies been chatting about?” Peter said, just as Alice predicted he would. Then he sat himself on Charlotte’s right and threw an arm over her shoulders. “Did we miss the tea party?”

“Oh my god ,” she brushed off his arm and covered her mouth with her hands, eyes wide as she stared at Alice. “You weren’t kidding!”

Peter raised an eyebrow, looking from the girls to Jasper, who stood standing there, smirking. “Oh right,” then he leaned over Charlotte’s shoulder to look closer at Alice. “So, Alice—”

“Red, and the number you’re thinking of is forty-eight thousand two hundred and one. No I will not give you winning lottery numbers and yes, you do owe Jasper a thousand dollars but you’re not giving it to him because I’m not letting him,” she shot her fellow Protector a droll look, “I’m not letting you use me to win silly bets Mr. Whitlock.”

Jasper just grinned. “Worth a shot.”

“You really are something else,” Peter grinned, looking at her like she was the coolest person he’d ever met. “That sounds like a fun ability to have.”

“It gets me through the days,” she spoke, nonchalant.

“Talk about a power-couple,” Charlotte nodded, leaning back and grabbing her mate’s hand. “Between your empathy and your visions, it must keep things interesting between you two.”

Embarrassment flooded her immediately, the smile falling from her face. It was one thing to have strangers think you were an item, but for the person who was Jasper’s closest friend to think that, was entirely different.

The humiliation was so much more potent now. She couldn’t even look at Jasper as she started fumbling over her words.

“I—but we’re not—I mean, we’re just coworkers. Well, no. We’re friends but—”

“Still watching those mindless gossip programs?” Jasper chimed in coolly. “You’re going to rot your brain out of your head.”

“I—I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed.” Charlotte looked genuinely apologetic, and was likely as embarrassed as Alice was in that moment. Alice simply locked eyes with her, trying to school her expression into something resembling indifference, but she was sure the woman was seeing right through her.

“Those shows are informational and the pinnacle of entertainment on television right now.” Peter defended, almost making Alice laugh through her potent embarrassment. “And actually, I don’t even watch them that much anymore. Now that we have the miracle of social media.”

Alice watched out of the corner of her eye as Jasper shook his head.

“Are we hunting now? Or are we missing your favorite Hollywood gossip show?” Jasper snipped, beginning to get impatient. Again, Alice found herself feeling lousy over his reaction. It always seemed like he hated references to their not-relationship when it was mentioned. Alice had never had fragile self-esteem, but it was definitely a blow to the ego.

“You know they have a hashtag for you two,” Peter informed them, standing up to follow Jasper’s retreating form. “It’s ‘Jalice’.” At that, Jasper punched him in the arm and Peter just laughed.

“Sorry,” Charlotte apologized again as they both stood to follow the pair, “It really was stupid of me to assume. Especially since neither of you had mentioned it.”

“It’s,” Alice swallowed thickly, sad eyes watching Jasper’s back, “fine.”

Charlotte didn’t say anything more, but Alice could feel the pity in her eyes.

The rest of the night was incomparably fun, and Alice couldn’t help but be grateful the only bump in their night had happened during the beginning of it.

The second Alice had told the couple that this was her first hunting trip outside their property back in Pennsylvania they’d looked at her like she was crazy, and their excitement had tripled. What was originally going to be a simple run through Mount Hood national forest turned into a seven hour long trek up and down a large portion of the Cascade range.

They’d really outdone themselves in ensuring she’d have a memorable first real hunt. They’d taken her deep into the forest, ignoring all sorts of deer, elk, and coyotes along the way. That had confused Alice at first, until four hours in they’d set their sights on a black bear, stepping back and encouraging her to go for it.

Now she understood why people preferred the blood of larger carnivores above all. The bear had tasted absolutely incredible. Even though it was a juvenile, Alice had found herself unable to finish her meal, Jasper happily taking over for her after she’d gorged herself.

Of course, the bear had gotten half-a-shot in on her before she’d sank her teeth into its neck, causing a huge rip to form across the front of her shirt. She’d found herself quite embarrassed over that one, but thankfully Jasper had been wearing a dark blue pullover. Now, as they meandered on back to civilization, waving at a couple vampires off to hunt as they passed them, she kept sneakily leaning down and inhaling his scent off the jacket she was now wearing.

The sleeves had been comically long on her, but before she could roll them back, Jasper had begun to do so himself, grinning like mad as she’d over-excitedly shared how much fun that had been, despite her clear lack of skill. Of course, Jasper, Peter, and Charlotte didn’t have a single drop on them, despite the rather large herd of elk they’d collectively taken out between the three of them soon after her own kill.

The bottom of the pullover came down to nearly her knees. Feeling happy and full, she’d cheekily thanked him for the new dress, and in reply he’d reached out and zipped the neck up, covering half of her face in the process.

She’d simply laughed and pulled the collar down under her chin to show him that she was spitting her tongue out at him.

(Of course she didn’t miss the shared look between Peter and Charlotte at that exchange, but she pretended she had.)

As they made their way back to Mount Hood in the early hours of the morning, Alice had forced them to stop so she could watch the sunrise. Thankfully, her companions had obliged her request, allowing Alice to sit atop an especially large red cedar for a silent twenty minutes as she watched the sun rise up over the treetops.

Now that they were only a few miles from where they’d part ways, Alice had forced them all to slow down, now travelling at a comfortable walk.

“Next time we’re here, we have to do that again. But for longer. And maybe I’ll be more practiced and won’t make such a mess.” Alice gushed happily to her new friends--because yes, now she was counting Peter and Charlotte as friends, too. “Hunting is the best thing ever. I love carnivores. I love mountains. I love sunrises.”

Charlotte laughed as Alice jumped between her and Peter, linking arms with the couple. “Any time you head out, we’ll go.” The blonde smiled. “As long as I’m off work.”

“We don’t ever go anywhere, or do shit . Even if we’re not off, we’ll take some days off. You’re fun as hell, little girl.” Peter grinned.

“You’re not so bad yourself!” Alice grinned up at him. “Hey, Jazz,” she turned to look at him where he trailed closely after him, but before she could tell him to come and join in, she was taken off guard by the look in his eye as he gazed solely at her. The two could’ve been alone, with the way he was staring at her, an almost-smile on his face, an indecipherable emotion displayed across his features.

She stopped then, letting Charlotte and Peter walk out of her grip. When Jasper caught up, she began walking alongside him.

He merely raised an eyebrow. “You alright?”

She nodded, still looking up at him, studying his expression. “I’m happy,” she spoke, in lieu of a proper explanation. Then, without saying anything further, she reached down and grabbed his hand. Smiling back at him when he squeezed her hand firmly.

A part of her mind told her that this was a bad idea. Things were already messy enough between them, and she’d told herself several days before that she needed to back off of Jasper. It wasn’t fair to him for her to flaunt her affections while such a big threat loomed over their heads, but Alice didn’t exactly pride herself on her ability to stay away from Jasper, whether it be physically or emotionally, apparently.

And when he reached over, plucking a stray twig from her hair, letting his hand linger on the back of her head slightly, Alice kept reminding herself over and over again.

This is reciprocal, this is reciprocal...

As if that made it okay.

And despite the fact that she knew that it didn’t, and that this was still a bad idea, Alice, in her post-hunt bliss, decided she didn’t care.

After reaching the edge of the woods, the two pairs decided to part there.

“Be careful,” Peter had told Jasper, suddenly entirely serious, “I wouldn’t put it past her to go after you.”

“I doubt I’ll be a priority—”

“No,” Peter cut him off harshly, all traces of the friendly jokester gone, “If she hadn’t had you, she would never have gotten as far as she did. You are invaluable. She knows this.” His eyes were hard, angry. “Be careful.”

Jasper simply nodded, his eyes also like ice. “You too.” He nodded to Charlotte, too. “The both of you.”

Charlotte nodded firmly, and for a moment Alice was worried the woman might start to cry. Instead, the small blonde reached forward and embraced Jasper quickly. Then she hugged Alice tightly. “Good luck.”

Jasper and Peter embraced next, patting each other on the back firmly, the noise echoing through the trees.

“See you around.”

Then, Peter hugged Alice. “Take care of this asshole for me, will you?”

Alice couldn’t help but laugh, despite the fact that she oddly felt like crying all of a sudden. She didn’t know why she felt like she was saying goodbye to someone special, but she was glad that this man had come to mean this much to her over the course of the past few days.

“You bet,” she grinned, swallowing back the emotion that was threatening to rise up and embarrass her.

And then the blond pair was gone, leaving the two Protectors standing on the edge of a park-and-ride.

“You alright?” Jasper’s hand found her back as he looked down at her with concern.

“I’m going to miss them.” She confessed, feeling a bit silly now over the fact that she was on the verge of tears over people she’d met four days ago.

Jasper smiled gently. “Me, too.” Then, he gestured with a nod of his head. “Come on.”

The run back to the hotel was just what Alice needed. It only lasted ten minutes but it gave her enough time to physically work out the emotion she couldn’t quite control, and it gave her time to think. She was glad she had two more people to add to her ever-growing list of ‘Precious People’ she had stored away in her mind, but that also made her worry.

And worry gave her a tight, nauseating feeling in the dead center of her chest, just above her stomach.

If Maria attacked and anything happened to them, she’d be devastated. Not only that, it would absolutely tear Jasper apart. And Alice absolutely despised anything with the potential of causing him harm.

She had to admit, he was quickly becoming Precious Person number one, and that was a nerve-wracking thing to come to terms with.

As they got back to their room, Alice and Jasper were already calmed back down and laughing once more. During their final run, the sleeves of the jacket Alice was wearing had unrolled, and were now lying limply at her sides. So instead of rolling them back up like any normal adult would, she’d turned toward Jasper and smacked him with a sleeve.

The look on his face—like he’d been inappropriately accosted—was enough to bring hysterical giggles to the surface that she couldn’t control. He was currently trying to catch her—a feat he was seemingly finding difficult despite the small size of the room—as she avoided capture, smacking him with a sleeve every time he missed her.

But the second she knocked into a lamp, gasping and turning her attention off Jasper to catch it before it fell to the ground and broke, his arms were around her and they were both falling to the ground.

Alice gasped when they hit the ground and the lamp broke anyways.

Releasing the ceramic shards she turned in his grip to scold him; they could have very easily saved the cheap hotel lighting fixture. But the second she looked at his face her reprimand died on her tongue.

And in the next second, a vision, solid as the ground beneath them.

This was it, she realized with a shock that seemed to pull her back to reality. Jasper was seconds away from kissing her.

In an instant, Alice realized that she wanted him to do it more than anything, but the surprise of the vision frightened her. She couldn’t. They couldn’t. Not now. Not yet. Not when the vision of them surrounded by flames was still the most prevalent one in her brain. No, she wanted that one gone first. She needed that to be gone.

“Jazz,” she reached up, fast enough to stop him before he made a move, but slow enough that it wouldn’t cause alarm. “Wait.” Gently, she pressed her fingers against his lips, the contact causing an indescribable sensation to ripple through her body.

Closing her eyes, she swallowed thickly. Their currently position only made this entire thing so much worse—or better , depending on the way you looked at it. Alice was flat on her back, Jasper pinning her to the white, carpeted floor of the hotel room, his entire body pressed up against hers.

“Alice,” he nearly growled against her hand, his arms still wrapped tight around her.

She wasn’t positive but she swore that his golden eyes, still fresh from a hunt, were beginning to darken ever-so-slightly.

“Jazz,” she whispered, not trusting her voice to hold steady, but she knew she had to say this. “Whatever you just decided: undecide it.” As he inhaled to speak again, the sensation against her fingers almost making her shiver, she shook her head. “Not for good,” she clarified, needing him to understand. “Just for now.”

Then, she slowly moved her hand from his mouth, lifting both hands to cradle his head, not once taking her eyes off of his.

“Not for good?” His voice was borderline hoarse as he repeated her words, searching her face for something—validation? Hope, maybe?

Alice nodded before closing her eyes and leaning her head forward. The second her forehead hit his, she breathed out steadily before inhaling slowly, letting his scent overcome her for a few seconds. “Just for now.”

“Okay,” he nearly gasped, pressing his forehead firmly against hers as his arms tightened momentarily around her. And when the vision dissipated, Alice wanted to cry out; to reach out and pluck it back into existence herself with just a simple decision on her behalf.

Typically when visions dissolved, it didn’t bother her, but the disappearance of that one—happy, tender, intimate, everything she wanted —truly hurt. And Alice wasn’t accustomed to this particular brand of emotional distress.

“Okay.” He whispered again.

Alice replayed her first vision—darkness, fire, Jasper, Maria, ‘ kill her’ —and fought back tears.

No. She would wait. They would wait. When this vision left, then she’d allow the happy moments to come.

“Just for now,” she repeated once more. And distractedly she wondered how long that would take.

Chapter Text

The flight to Los Angeles was two and a half hours long and severely different from all the other flights she’d taken so far in her life. After the messes at the last couple of airports, Jasper had taken the extra effort to secure them first class tickets, and every precaution necessary.

“Since Los Angeles homes a lot of celebrity, they have a separate entrance for high-profile travellers,” he explained. “We won’t need to worry about paparazzi today.”

Alice had been immeasurably grateful over that. She didn’t think she could handle any cameras in her face, loudly interrogating her about their not-relationship so soon after their almost-kiss. She’d already been cycling through enough emotion that she was sure she was giving Jasper a headache of course he’d never admit it, he was far too polite and she didn’t think she’d be able to handle any more.

She then came to realize that there were two large containment centers located in Los Angeles County. With this information she somehow expected the West LA Containment Center to be roughly the size of Portland or Columbus’ maybe. After all, with two in such short distances from one another, there couldn’t be too many vampires around.

But when she came to learn that the WLACC was easily twice the size of Chicago’s, she was dumbfounded.

“We’re only here for training,” he commented to her as they drove up to the building. “Otherwise, we’d be here for a week.”

“Three days is still a short period of time to train as many vampires as I’m sure they have employed here.” With a quick check, she whistled lowly. “Over four hundred on day-shift alone.”

“They have two gyms in the same building. It’s massive. I’ll just have to do double the instruction.” He eyed her as he pulled into a parking space. “I may need your help on this, more than usual.”

“You’ve got it.” She nodded, already seeing how he’d give instruction for both gyms, but she’d be helping watch over one while he went back and forth between the two. She wasn’t too versed on instruction yet, but she was certainly making progress and had definitely improved in the last several days.

Before their flight, Alice had been anxious. After all, LA was their last scheduled visit. But as they flew down the coast, she’d received a vision she’d promptly informed Jasper of.

Carlisle would be sending them to a couple more centers before they could return home.

That had been a bit disappointing. Alice had been looking forward to getting back home and having the time and privacy to write back to Josie. The two letters Edward had brought for her back in Columbus had left her aching. She missed her mother. Not that her fellow Protectors didn’t provide her with the comfort and the company she needed, but she missed Josie’s warm, gentle embraces, and her firm, quick advice.

When they got back, she was going to see what she could do about flying Josie up for a bit. Or if that wasn’t possible, maybe she’d return for a quick visit. She would need to ask Esme what she recommended. After all, she was certain they had the room for her back at the house, but she wasn’t sure how her comrades would feel about a human lodging with them for any period of time.

She also wanted to get back to have some privacy to sort out her feelings for Jasper. She acknowledged that they were there at least, and she knew that Jasper had some type of attraction toward her. Physical at least, if that morning had been any evidence in support of that.

Every time she toyed around with the idea of kissing him, the visions would immediately fill her head until she scrapped the idea, knowing that she was just being unnecessarily selfish right then. She had to wait, she continued telling herself, nearly losing patience at her own childishness every time she allowed a new vision to come to her.

Jasper had been eyeing her with thinly-veiled concern, but had yet to ask what was wrong. She was sure that he was assuming it was all related to their close encounter back in Portland and truthfully that assumption would be pretty on the money —but she was nowhere near ready to talk about this with him.

When they were safer, and Maria was gone, sure. But not until then, she insisted to herself stubbornly.

They were walking into the lobby of the main offices when a vision struck.

Jasper walked into a room, a crying child sobbing and reaching out for comfort. Jasper leaned down to pick the child up the boy was hardly older than a baby offering the boy the comfort he was wailing for, and then in an instant, the baby was in pieces on the ground.

The second she pulled herself back into the present, only to be met by Jasper’s concerned gaze, she stepped back and out of his reach, suddenly taken aback by the shock and the knee-jerk horror she felt come over her.

“Alice, what

And then suddenly a low, alarming tone chimed through the lobby, the receptionist swearing as he answered a phone, moving in a flurry.

“Shit,” Jasper spat, immediately reacting to the familiarity of the noise. “Alice.” Then he turned back toward her, reaching for her arm quickly.

“What ” Alice couldn’t keep her voice from cracking, yanking her arm back and nearly stumbling out of his reach, “What did I just see?”

“Alice, stop it

“Jasper,” her voice was low as she battled with the anger and the pain battling inside of her, “what the hell did I just see?”

“No,” he stepped closer to her now, his voice dropping considerably as he worked to keep anyone from eavesdropping, “you don’t get to be mad right now. You don’t understand.”

“I know what I saw,” her voice cracked again, the anger getting the better of her as she turned to walk away, “I need I have to

When he reached out again, he grabbed her arm this time, rooting her in place. “I am not letting you run off. Not when you just looked at me like I’m a monster.”

She winced at that, biting back her anger long enough to turn and look at him. In his eyes she saw only pain and frustration.

“You have no idea what you’re getting upset over. You don’t understand what you saw.”

“Mr. Whitlock?” The lieutenant on duty, a dark-skinned woman they’d yet to properly meet, strode up to them quickly. “You heard, correct?”

“Code blue,” Jasper nodded, straightening himself up as he released Alice’s arm. “I heard. Lead the way.”

Alice followed Jasper at a slight distance, holding back to walk alongside two containers she wasn’t even going to bother introducing herself to. Jasper was likely right; reacting to a vision like that, with nothing but pure emotion despite only having the bare facts, wasn’t a good idea.

But Jasper knew her. He knew that she always led with her emotions. Not a very good idea for someone in the line of work she now found herself in, but she’d lived this way for almost fifty years. If it was going to change it wasn’t going to be quickly.

The hurt in his own eyes had been real though.

You just looked at me like I’m a monster .

Fuck.

The second they were ushered into a room, Alice ran up to the glass, pressing her forehead against it, the sight on the other end causing her dead heart to break.

He really was just a baby. Maybe no older than two years old, barely an inch of soft baby hair on his small head. His tiny shoes would likely fit in her pockets, she realized with a heartbreaking thought. The boy sat on the ground screaming, no tears streaming down his pale face or out of his bright red eyes. A set of tiny, razor-sharp baby teeth were on display with every cry, and his chubby hands pulled at his sleeves or what was left of the red, long-sleeves he’d been wearing when he was brought in.

It was with a sense of dread, as she eyed a light blue patch on the front of his shirt, she realized that the shirt wasn’t supposed to be red. It was just bloodied .

The room he was held in was empty except for him. Alice couldn’t help but marvel at the dents and divots that riddled the walls and floor of the room, the reinforced steel apparently not strong enough to withstand the toddler’s tantrum. She almost didn’t believe that the damage had been done by him until she watched him ball his fists up and strike the floor, putting a sizable crack in the steel.

“The mother is in another room on a separate floor. We almost lost a cadet trying to subdue her and pull the child from her grip.”

“No losses?” Jasper asked, his voice devoid of emotion.

The woman’s voice was grim, “They’re reattaching his arms as we speak.”

“Aubrey Dente. Thirty-two. Married to Henry Dente,” Jasper read out-loud off the file. “Where is he?”

“Still at large, sir.”

“Not for long. He’ll be back for them.” He spoke with a grisly certainty.

“Boy got out and killed some neighborhood kids playing basketball. By the time the mother realized it and tried apprehending him, a few good samaritans had jumped in to try and restrain the kid.”

“Any of them lose control?”

“Out of the three who helped, only one. Kid was already dead though.” The woman’s face was bleak. “The whole court was covered in blood.”

“Has the block been evacuated?”

“Happening right now.”

Jasper sighed, waiting a few tense seconds before replying. “Good work, Lieutenant. Check in with the lockdown and cleanup and report back. I’ll take it from here.”

With that, the woman left, taking the two containers with her.

“I’ve never seen one before,” she whispered, unable to tear her eyes away from the immortal child. “I’d heard stories, but I didn’t think they existed. I didn’t think someone would ever do that.”

“They’re the greatest danger to society. That’s why they have to be immediately disposed of.”

“You can’t,” Alice cried pitifully, face still pressed against the glass. “He’s just a baby.”

“That’s why we have to,” Jasper spoke sternly, walking up behind her. “Look at him. He’s uncontrollable. You can’t negotiate with something that’s incapable of mentally processing two-step questions. Immortal children are illegal for a reason, Alice.”

“Why would anyone do such a thing?” She cried, anger leaving her body as sorrow filled her in its place. “Why would people turn a baby? It’s not his fault. It’s not fair .”

“This is why it’s the ultimate crime,” Jasper explained, moving to stand beside her. “You don’t even know this child, but your first reaction upon seeing him was pity, and sympathy, and an urge to protect . Despite the fact that he just murdered a handful of teenagers, despite the fact that he’d kill you in a heartbeat if his hands could fit around your neck. Vampire children are dangerous.”

“The woman, she’ll die?” She asked, watching as the child threw itself to the ground, pounding his fist on the ground as he gathered more breath to scream.

“Promptly.”

“And the husband?”

“He’ll come looking for them. There’s no doubt in my mind. People’s attachment to immortal children is almost more dangerous than they are. They’d do anything.” Alice finally looked up at him, to see Jasper’s eyes cold, angry, focused solely on the baby throwing the a fit. “If he comes to try and break them out, I’ll subdue him myself.”

Something told Alice that if the man did try breaking into the building, Jasper wouldn’t dignify him with a proper, by-the-book execution. And she was shocked to find out that she was pleased with this.

No monster that would condemn a baby to death like this deserved a fair or humane execution.

“This is what I didn’t want you to see,” he confessed, voice still devoid of emotion, eyes cold. “This is what I was afraid of. Not that you can’t handle it I know you can —b ut you shouldn’t have to see all of this. You shouldn’t have to witness the atrocities that our kind can commit. This is a dark world, Alice.” He lifted a hand to cup her cheek, and Alice flinched at the contact. Frowning, he removed his hand. “You’re too good to see all this evil.”

“Make someone else do it,” she pleaded with him then, shaking her head as she wrapped her arms around her middle. “Don’t do it, Jazz. Let someone else.”

“Immortal children disposal goes up the chain of command. We don’t let cadets or standard executioners do this. It’s too much for them. They get disposed of immediately. That’s all there is to it.”

“Well you’re not going in there alone.”

“Alice, no

“I am not letting you do this alone.” She nearly stomped her foot, the childish action reminding her of the poor child who was throwing his own fit on the other side of a one-way mirror. “You are not alone anymore Jasper, whether you like that or not. I’m coming with you.”

“I can’t let you,” he was closer to her then, hands cradling her face as he pleaded, not giving her ample time to even think about pulling away. “Alice, please, I don’t want you to see this. I I can’t let you watch me do this.”

“Nothing you can do will scare me.”

“No, you’re wrong

“This doesn’t change anything

“It already has,” he supplied angrily. “You’re already upset with me. I can feel it Alice. You can lie with your words all you want, but you can’t lie to me with your feelings.”

She yanked herself out of his grip then, feeling as if she’d been struck. She wasn’t lying to him. She wasn’t ...

“I’m going with you,” she said, her words quiet and final. “And that’s it.”

He stared back at her for a long moment, and Alice watched as slowly his face hardened, the fear in his eyes icing over, a haunting indifference taking root on his face. He inhaled once, and then twice, before turning and walking toward the door.

Following him out of the room, Alice felt as if her legs were made of lead, moving mechanically to keep up with his long, even strides.

The second they entered the room, quickly closing and locking the door after themselves, the boy was up and in front of them in a heartbeat. Taking a defensive stance, Alice nearly felt her stomach fall into her toes when the child stood before her, holding his arms up to her, pleading with her to be comforted.

“Up,” he cried, miserably, sobbing dryly on the word, “Up! Where Mama? Want Mama! Up !”

And when he reached out with his tiny hand to grip her pants and ended up tearing a hole in them, Alice felt her heart shatter like she’d never felt it before. He gripped her leg with uncanny strength, and Alice was holding back sobs before she knew it.

Jasper was right; she wished she’d never gone in there. She wished she never seen this boy or known of the crimes of his creators. She wished there was a way to give them a slow and painful death. And she wished, in that moment, that she wasn’t this unchanging being, capable of so much wrong .

Jasper came to her aid then, reaching down and offering his arms to the boy. And when the boy reached up eagerly, grabbing his arms and nearly climbing up him, clinging to him fiercely, Alice began crying openly. Not even caring to mask her anguish.

What made it worse was Jasper’s quiet, soothing words to the baby, shushing him as he allowed his ability to soothe him, cradling the child with arms and words too sweet to be of his executioner’s. Whether it was seconds or minutes later, Alice didn’t know, but the second the boy’s arms loosened from around Jasper’s neck, and after he closed his eyes and laid his head down on his shoulder, it was all over.

The baby lay in pieces at their feet. Alice only watched for a fraction of a second before Jasper turned her around roughly, forcing her attention away from the child’s remains.

“I told you,” he said brokenly, gripping her arms tightly, still refusing to let her look back into the room, “I told you.”

“Yeah,” she cried, curling in on herself as she stood there, “you were right.”


Alice pulled herself together well enough that Jasper could escort her down to the car. But the second he closed the door she began crying again, letting her head fall into her hands as she pulled her feet up onto the seat, burying herself in her knees.

At some point during the drive Jasper rested a hand on her back but when Alice flinched away, not wanting to be comforted just yet. He didn’t try again.

After they arrived at the hotel she tried and tried to control herself but found that there was no way she was going to calm down completely during the walk up.

“We’ll go fast,” he spoke assuringly, after she miserably informed him that paparazzi were already outside, ready to see them. “It’ll be okay.”

The trip from the car to the hotel was rough. They’d nearly made it to the entrance without her sobbing or hiccuping once before a pap asked if she’d heard the latest on Maria.

“It was breaking news half an hour ago,” he informed her, nearly sprinting to catch up with them, “she’s letting her newborns attack schools now. Seventeen kids, gone.”

Alice couldn’t hold it back when a choked sob burst forth from her, and suddenly Jasper was there, an arm around her back. The last thing she saw and heard before they made it to the exit was the camera hitting the ground, and the paparazzo shouting an undignified ‘hey!’ toward them.

As they flitted up the stairs she found herself hoping the expensive camera was broken beyond repair.

The second the door to their room closed Alice stood there, allowing her emotions to run free.

She was angry and heartbroken and confused and all she wanted were answers and to make sense of this madness but she knew that attempting any of that would be pointless.

Emse herself had said something along those lines.

“I’ve known many vampires in my life who have wasted decades and even centuries attempting to find reason where there is none.”

But how was she supposed to move on from something like this? If children weren’t safe from them to any extent playing outside, in school, or even simply existing how could vampires be allowed to live amongst them?

“I hate this,” she cried, “I hate us . I hate what we are.”

When he grabbed her hand, she yanked it back. She didn’t want comfort. She didn’t deserve comfort. She didn’t deserve half of what she had when there were children out in the world suffering because of the existence of people like her.

“Alice,” he let out a pained noise, and when she finally looked up at him, she could tell he was hurting. And not just because of what they’d just gone through. The strength and severity of her emotions looked like they were giving him a massive headache.

“Jasper, no,” she shook her head, feeling guilty as he winced at her every word, “go. Leave me alone. I’m hurting you.”

“I don’t care.” He stepped closer to her.

“You should! I don’t want to hurt you!”

“Why not?” He spoke quietly. “You said it yourself, you hate what we are. You hate this existence. I saw how you looked at me earlier.” Like I was a monster . The words were unsaid but Alice knew precisely what he meant. “It’s true. I am a monster.”

“Jasper, stop.”

“I’ve done much worse than so many of these people. If anyone deserves death for their crimes, it’s me. You on the other hand have never done anything even deserving of a slap on the wrist.”

“Cut it out.” She walked into the room further, only for him to follow her every step.

“If you should hate anyone, it should be me,” he insisted, his voice rising slightly out of hysteria. “Even when we met, you didn’t hate me. You’d seen me, trying to kill you thousands of times, and still you think you’re the one deserving of hate?” She was pointedly trying to ignore him, looking anywhere she could. But he wouldn’t let it up. “It’s still there in’t it? The vision.”

“This isn’t funny, Jasper,” she yelled, wishing he would stop, wishing he would go . “Of course it’s there! It never goes anywhere you know this!”

“Then why aren’t you more afraid of me! Why won’t you hate me?”

“Is that what you want?” she shouted. “Is that what this is? You want me to hate you that badly?”

“Maybe you would if you knew how many children I’ve killed.”

She took several steps back at that. A chill unlike anything she’d felt before ran through her. Sure, she knew of some of his crimes, but with the pain of the immortal child’s death fresh in her brain, paired with the dead teenagers and school children plaguing her, suddenly if felt more real.

“That’s better.” He spoke quietly, taking a step back, his expression downright agonized.

“Why are you doing this?” She whispered, feeling as if a piece of her was being ripped from her chest. It was a tangible, physical ache, and she couldn’t help but press a hand against her chest, wondering why it hurt so badly right there. “Why, Jazz?”

“Because, I need you to see me for who I really am,” he confessed pathetically, looking away.

“I’m not stupid,” she snapped, taking a step toward him, “you’re pushing me away.”

He met her halfway, standing only inches away from her. But when he lifted a hand, reaching out for her face again, she flinched again, still refusing to let him touch her.

He lowered his hand then. “No,” he smiled sadly, “ I’m not.”

And in a moment he was gone. Out the door and out of sight. A quick glance would show her that he would head straight back to the containment center. There was still paperwork to file. The woman had been executed already, but they were still looking for the husband.

She cried for hours before pulling herself into the bed, climbing under the covers and closing her eyes. Her visions also showed her that Jasper would not be coming back for her any time soon.

And with a depressing realization, Alice realized that that was fine with her.


For the first ten hours, Alice laid there, quiet and emotionally drained. She was glad that Jasper had left she didn’t need him to experience her misery any longer than he already had but at the same time his departure had left her absolutely aching in a way she’d never felt.

Checking up on her visions, most of the happy ones between them were gone, and that made the situation so much worse.

At some point she sat up and walked over to her bag, retrieving and turning on her phone.

The second it started buzzing repeatedly, messages from her fellow Protectors, Alice put it down on the bed, waiting for it to stop before picking it back up. Of course she’d already seen what they all had to say to her.

Bella had sent her something short and heartfelt. Explaining that she heard about the immortal child, and if she wanted, she could call her.

Emmett had send her at least a hundred heart emojis and Esme had sent her a simple ‘call me’.

Rosalie on the other hand Alice had six voicemail messages and even more texts, all varying ways of demanding that Alice call her as soon as possible. And as Alice stood there, staring down at her phone as the notifications ticked their way down her screen, suddenly the screen lit up.

Incoming FaceTime Call

Rosalie

Alice frowned, not wanting to talk but also knowing that if she pressed the ‘decline” button or if she simply let it ring, the blonde woman would not let up and she’d simply have to turn the phone off again. She contemplated it for a moment, before deciding against it.

After all, if she’d had her phone turned on and with her when Maria’s newborns had gotten out of control down south, then maybe she wouldn’t have started sobbing in front of the paparazzi. She was sure one of Rosalie’s missed calls was to inform her of that, that way she had a heads up.

Although now that she thought back, Jasper had had his phone on him, and he hadn’t received any emergency calls. But they also had been dealing with an immortal child it likely had happened during or just after that. For all she knew Jasper had been ignoring his phone in order to usher her into the car and back to the hotel.

If she hadn’t been so hysterical then maybe they would’ve been alerted before and she wouldn’t have been taken so off guard, and then Jasper wouldn’t have broken the paparazzi’s camera.

When a quick vision came to her, she sighed. Yep. The press was already having an absolute field day with that. The man was pressing charges, too.

No wonder Rosalie was calling them up. She was the lawyer amongst them all.

Leaning forward she pressed the green button and waited, watching with mild amazement as suddenly Rosalie’s face was across her screen.

“Alice? Where are you? You need to pick the phone up or there’s no point to me FaceTiming you at all.”

She didn’t want to pick up the phone at all--she didn’t want anyone to see the state she was in: hair a mess, clothes disheveled, absolutely miserable--but when a vision of Rosalie getting angry with her flashed through her mind, she knew it would be better to oblige the woman than ignore her.

“Hi,” she spoke, picking it up and frowning as she saw a small version of her own face staring back at her in the corner. Technology was truly something else, she thought distractedly, with a hint of wonder.

“You better tell Jasper that if he hangs up on me one more time I’m wrecking his shit next time I see him.” Alice simply stared back at her, letting Rosalie take note of her surroundings. “Wait, where are you?”

“The hotel.”

“Still? Jasper went back to the Center hours ago.”

“Yeah,” Alice frowned. She really wasn’t ready to talk to anyone about this. Even someone who wouldn’t pity her, like Rosalie.

“What the hell? Why?

“I freaked,” she shrugged. “I’m sure you heard.”

“The immortal child, yeah. I know.” She inhaled deeply and Alice could almost feel the fury through the phone, thousands of miles away. “Those are always the worst. Jasper told me you were in the room for it. Once I started yelling at him he hung up.”

Alice wanted to roll her eyes. “I can’t imagine why.”

“No, don’t take a tone with me. He fucking knows how awful that is.”

“I wanted to be there.” Alice insisted, feeling the urge to defend him. “I made him let me go.”

Rosalie shook her head. “Well that was stupid.”

Alice couldn’t help but agree, her throat growing thick with emotion once more. “Yeah,” she nodded, trying to keep her voice steady. “You’re right.”

“Why didn’t you go back with him? He’s starting training up but Carlisle’s making Emmett come and take over for him in the morning.”

Alice hadn’t seen that. “What? Why?”

“Because of the absolute shit-show he created when he grabbed the camera out of that dirty pap’s hands. Jasper didn’t touch the guy but that’s still destruction of property. Maria just murdered a schoolyard full of kids but the media for some reason is splitting time between coverage of that, and coverage of him . It’s bad.”

“He only did it because of me.” Alice’s guilt was now beginning to mount. If only she’d just controlled herself a little better this wouldn’t even be a conversation.

“Well for an empath he’s doing a shitty job of controlling his own temper. I don’t know if you know this but since he’s been a Protector Jasper’s record has been squeaky clean. This is literally the only notable thing he’s done since ‘64.”

“Then why does it matter so much!” Alice wanted to scream. It made no sense for them to be scrutinizing him that badly. “If they know he’s been so good for all this time!”

“Because ever since Maria came back people having been looking for a reason to distrust him or for a reason to single him out and make him answer for all the shit she’s doing.”

“But he hasn’t done anything! He was just ” He had just been protecting her, she realized with a sour understanding.

“Why the hell didn’t he just calm you down?”

Now, she really didn’t want to be having this conversation. “We were in the middle of an argument.”

The noise Rosalie made then made Alice suddenly feel like an ill-behaved child. “You can’t be serious. You two are adults. And I don’t want to hear any of this ‘it’s complicated’ bullshit. You should’ve stayed away from the immortal child, he should have calmed you down, you should have ignored those paps you’re both fucking up.”

“Thanks,” Alice spat, feeling a thousand times worse. “You’re really helping.”

“I’m not calling to make you feel better. I’m not the one who is going to soothe your hurt feelings or give you advice on fixing your shitty relationship sorry,” her tone implied that she wasn’t though, “You can call Bella for that. I’m calling because I need you two to be aware of what is happening. I need you two to be pulled out of your little world where everything is sweet and lovey-dovey and you hold hands in public and remind you that there are more important things to deal with.”

Rosalie was right she certainly wasn’t making her feel better. In fact, the opposite was happening, and Alice couldn’t help but hate how she knew Rosalie was completely, entirely right. This was what she’d wanted to prevent: her and Jasper’s lives from getting anymore complicated. And she couldn’t help but feel as if it were all her fault.

If only she’d refrained from being so damn stupid around him none of this would be happening right now.

“I’m sorry,” Rosalie spoke after a moment of tense silence. “I really think disposing of immortal children is the absolute most heinous thing we do. I wish you’d never even seen that kid. But this job is hard. You know this. We’ve been telling you since the beginning. But the only reason you two were sent together was so you could keep each other in line, not so you could go on group hunting dates and pose for selfies with kids.” Alice opened her mouth to protest. “And I know this is new to you and you don’t know any better but now you do. This is a learning experience, so pay attention.”

Some noise brought her out of her rant, Rosalie turning her head to tell someone off camera ‘one more minute’. As far as Alice was aware she looked like she was at home in the library.

“Gotta go. But remember: things are serious. Focus a bit better. It’ll only get easier from here.”

“What happens tomorrow? When Emmett comes to relieve us?”

“Not the both of you. Just Jasper, and only for a couple of days. He’s coming back home for a day, so I can settle all this nonsense, and then he’ll meet you this week in Fayetteville.”

“He’s in that much trouble?” Alice’s voice was small, and she supposed she looked pitiful in that moment, cause Rosalie took a bit of mercy on her.

She sighed. “He’ll probably just have to replace the camera and issue a formal apology. It’s not going to be that big of a deal. But like I said, it’s getting played up, so right now it is a big deal. Anyways,” she looked away again, “Carlisle says hi. But I got to go.”

“Okay,” she nodded, feeling small, “and Rosalie; I’m sorry. Really.”

The woman simply rolled her eyes. “Just get back to work. You and Jasper can work out your issues on your own time. Now is time to focus on your job.”

And with that, she was gone, and Alice found herself staring back at the background of her phone, her missed texts and calls a tiny red beacon right in front of her. Sighing, she decided that she’d better hurry up and reply to everyone. Last thing they needed was to worry, or worse, to give her another Rosalie-esque talking to.

She called Bella first.

“Please tell me I’m the first person you’ve talked to,” Bella spoke in lieu of a greeting.

“Just got off the phone with Rosalie.”

“No,” Bella groaned, and suddenly Alice could hear what sounded like her hitting her head against something a wall, perhaps? “I told her to let me talk to you first. She can be intense.”

“It’s fine,” Alice sighed, holding the phone against her ear as she laid back down on the mattress. “She’s right about everything.”

“Being?”

“Jasper and I aren’t focusing on our jobs enough and it shows.” Alice shrugged, momentarily forgetting that her friend couldn’t see her. “It’s my fault Jasper’s in trouble.”

“No. Jasper is in charge of his own actions, not you.”

“We were having a fight, you know. He didn’t want me to see the immortal child and I made him take me with him because I’m an idiot and thought I could handle it. But I was wrong and I freaked out and he—” Alice paused, rolling over until she was lying face down in the bed. “Actually, I don’t want to talk about it.” She mumbled into the mattress, her words barely comprehensible.

“It’s okay, I talked to him earlier,” Bella assured her. “Well, Edward did, but he was on speakerphone.”

She turned her head to the side. “And?”

“Don’t worry, we didn’t pry too much. The stuff between you guys is personal, I get it. But he did tell us that you were still at the hotel.” She paused. “We sort of assumed it was more than the immortal child.” Another slight pause. “When the empath with the ability to calm someone down tells you that the person he was just with had to be left behind because they couldn’t calm down… you put two and two together.”

“Do you think Carlisle will let me stay with Emmett?” She blurted out, finally gathering the courage to ask. She’d been toying with the idea since Rosalie had mentioned the fact that he was flying out to help. If she and Jasper were distracting each other too much to work effectively with one another, it only made sense to send her to shadow someone else.

She’d learned a lot. Not enough to complete every duty required, but enough that she was learning at an incredible pace, and the visions helped constantly. If they had to spend some time apart, it would probably be for the best, no matter how much the idea pained her.

“You tell me,” Bella replied swiftly. “I’m not the one with the gift of foresight. And to be frank, I don’t think Carlisle would be the one you’d have to talk to about that.”

Alice blinked. “So, Esme then?”

Bella let out a short laugh. “No.” She waited for a moment, but Alice stayed silent. “Um Jasper, duh. There is no way he’s going to let you out of his sight.”

Alice kind of doubted that. After all, he’d left her right there in that room for the past eleven hours. “He’s going back home tomorrow, so he kind of has to.”

“And if he could take you with him, I’m positive that he would,” Bella didn’t miss a beat. “I mean if you want to ask Carlisle, go for it, but I’m telling you, you’re better off staying with Jasper.”

“Why? So we can just make each other’s lives even harder?” She grumbled miserably.

Bella sighed over-dramatically. “I don’t want to get into this. But Alice, you leaving Jasper behind would make things so much worse. Trust me on this.”

Alice wanted to continue to argue the topic, but knew that it would be futile. With a few quick vivions she saw that Bella and Edward were both in Philadelphia for a couple days. Rosalie was home with Carlisle, Esme was in DC, and Emmett was currently in Dallas but would catch a flight in a few hours to head their way. It would be good to see him again.

And Jasper was

“Oh,” Alice spoke dumbly, head turning toward the door of the hotel room, “Jasper will be walking through the door in two minutes.”

“Do you want me to stay on the line for a little, or are you okay?” Bella asked, voice gentle.

Alice almost begged Bella to stay on the phone and continue talking. Suddenly all she wanted was a proper distraction, but that ultimately wouldn’t keep Jasper from coming. “No,” she relented, “I’ll call you back later.”

“Text me first, and I’ll tell you if I’m free.”

“I’ll just check up on your future for gaps in your schedule.”

She could hear Bella’s grin in her voice. “Great, do that. Talk to you later. Good luck.”

“Thanks.” She held the phone up to her ear until the heard the silence, indicating that Bella was gone and she was truly alone. Letting the phone fall onto the bed she then sat up, letting her mind flicker through a few more visions. After several seconds, she was only left more anxious. Her next conversation with Jasper could go one of two ways. Either they’d talk it out and things would be okay, or they’d just argue again.

Disappointingly, the vision of them bickering was the more solid one.

So when he opened the door, walking in slowly as he took in the sight of her, she sighed.

“I don’t want to fight again.”

He raised an eyebrow at that. “I didn’t come here looking for one.”

Her phone buzzed again and she looked down, only to see more old texts still catching up from her phone being turned back on.

“I talked to Rosalie. And Bella.” She looked back at him. “Rosalie told me to tell you never to hang up on her again. Something about ‘wrecking your shit’.”

Jasper didn’t seem too amused at her idea of a joke, instead walking over to where the black backpack with his belongings was left in the room. When he started sifting through it, rearranging a few things, Alice’s stomach sank.

“Are you leaving early?”

Jasper straightened. “Has no one told you?”

“I know Emmett is coming in the morning but I thought you’d wait.” Alice nearly cursed herself when she heard how pathetic her words sounded. I didn’t think you’d leave me , she almost wanted to say.

“It is the morning, technically,” he pulled his laptop out, shuffling a few more things around before placing it back into his bag. “But I did come back early. I don’t need to be at the airport for another two hours but,” he zipped the bag and turned toward her. “I wanted to check in.”

“With me.” He nodded once. “I’m fine.”

“If you’ve talked to Rosalie since I’ve been gone, I doubt that’s true.”

He did have a point there. “She’s mean but she’s right.”

Jasper seemed displeased with the admission that Rosalie had been less-than-kind to her. “I wanted to talk to you before I left.”

Alice’s nerves began to act up as she turned her attention to her phone, tapping her fingers idly against the edge of it. “Remember when I said I didn’t want to fight? Because the vision of us fighting is getting a bit more solid right now.”

“I have to talk to you about something serious.”

Alice swallowed. She had been hoping that they would wait until they were back home in Pennsylvania before this was brought up. She could still hardly think about the fact that it wasn’t even twenty-four hours ago that they’d almost kissed.

“It’s about you. Your past.”

That she hadn’t been expecting. Suddenly, she felt all the breath fly out of her.

“What?” Her fingers went still against her phone as she looked at him, meeting his eyes with fear for the first time since they’d met. “You know something about my past? My human past?”

“Who do you think found out your birthday?”

Her fear spiked, causing Jasper to wince. He took a few steps forward anyways though. “You’re afraid.”

“What do you know? Why do how why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I tried to,” he defended quietly. “That day Rose tried teaching you to drive. When you had a panic attack.”

“I don’t know what you just decided,” she had cradled his face as she pleaded with him, all those weeks ago. “But whatever it is you’re about to tell me, don’t. Whatever you just decided, you better un-decide it.” Even after he’d tried to insist, she’d held strong . “If it’s that important you can tell me some other time and I promise not to be mad. Just—please keep it to yourself for now.”

“You have an odd habit of telling me to un-decide things you don’t want.”

That hurt a little bit, she realized as his disheartened words sank in. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to kiss him yesterday, but she couldn’t. Of course she couldn’t tell him that she wanted to kiss him. That would just make things so much messier than they already were.

“What do you know?” She suddenly demanded, selfishly deciding that she didn’t care what she’d promised him that day. She’d had no idea that it was her past he had been trying to tell her about. “The other day you told me you would help me after we dealt with Maria. That you’d help me find out about my past. But you already know it?!”

“I don’t know as much as you think I do,” he spoke quietly.

“But you know more than me! The fact that you know anything that I don’t makes me so… so…”

Angry, she realized. She was angry at him. He had agreed to help her. He had told her he’d help her with anything she wanted, and he’d held her so tightly against him as he’d agreed.

“You lied.”

What made it hurt worse was he didn’t deny it. “You asked me if I’d help you after Maria. I said I would. I didn’t say I didn’t already know some things.”

She laughed bitterly, trying to mask the fact that she felt like crying again. “So you were going to wait? What if the worst was to happen and my vision comes true and I do die in that field? You were going to let me follow that future and die without knowing about

“No,” he nearly yelled, stepping even closer to her, “that’s not happening Alice. I’m not letting it.”

“There is nothing we can do,” she cried, imploring him to understand. “It is going to happen. It is.”

“So you’re really so convinced I’m going to hurt you?” He took a step back, his voice quiet.

“We’ve been through this,” she was tired, “I know you never would willingly. But she’s going to get you. She’s going to do something to you. Remember how I told you that that was what I was afraid of? Not of you or her possibly hurting me, but of her hurting you.”

“Should we just give up then?” He let his arms fall to his sides as he shook his head. “Should we just wait around for her to show up since it’s so inevitable and all.”

“I’m trying to change it, Jazz. I am,” she insisted. “I make and unmake hundreds of decisions every day in hopes that it will lessen it’s certainty, and nothing I do works. Nothing we do or decide, fixes it.”

“Not yet,” he stood stubbornly at the edge of the bed, looking down at her with a determination in his eyes. Alice didn’t have the heart in it to tell him again that he was wasting his time.

“Just tell me what you know,” she pleaded quietly, “how did you find my birthday?”

He studied her for a moment before turning back toward his backpack. Pulling his laptop out he walked back toward the bed, sitting on the edge as he opened the computer.

“I have scans of everything,” he explained as he typed onto the keyboard. Clicking a few more things, he turned the screen toward her.

Her eyes hungrily took in every bit of information presented to her

“When Carlisle explained to me your situation, he asked me to do some digging, see if I could find anything.”

“I’m not too keen on the specifics of the how—I had help,” Carlisle had admitted to her.

“You were born to Edgar John and Lillian Brandon on October 1st 1952.”

“I’m from Biloxi?” She looked up at him, confused. “I was born there?”

He nodded.

“Wouldn’t my family still be there? If they’re alive? Wouldn’t someone recognize me after I’d returned? Or after living there for so many years?” She started feeling herself grow slightly hysterical.

“I don’t know. It’s possible your family didn’t live around there and that it’s just where you were born. You returning to stay could have been a coincidence.”

“What else do you have?” She demanded, feeling dizzy at the revelation. “Show me.”

He looked at her for a long moment, an indecipherable look in his eye, before he turned the laptop back toward himself, clicked a few more things, and turned it back toward her.

It looked like some medical form. It had just begun to yellow when someone had archived the form, likely in recent years. The scrawl penned all over the paper was nearly illegible, but Alice could make it out well enough. It was the words printed at the top of the page that made her pause.

TAYLOR MANOR HOSPITAL - Psychiatric Inpatient Admission Form

The realization stunned her. “I was committed.” The words didn’t sound real to her. But as she read over the paperwork, taking in all of the information she knew, as well as a lot that she didn’t, she found herself feeling hollow.

Reasons for admission:
- delusions
- suspected psychosis
- visual and auditory hallucinations
- periods of mania

On February 21st, 1971, eighteen-year old Mary Alice Brandon had been involuntarily committed, by her father, no less, to an insane asylum. His dark signature on the bottom of the paper stood out harshly against the yellowing paper.

“I was crazy,” she remarked, her voice holding a small amount of awe in it. She supposed it made sense. “I was legitimately insane.”

“No,” Jasper shook his head, “I think you’ve always had these visions. It makes sense if you think about it. I also don’t trust that this was a family-owned hospital.” He paused. “I’ve looked into that a little bit, but not very deeply.” He confessed.

“What else?” She demanded quietly, staring at the admission form, committing her father’s signature to memory. “Or is that all?”

“There’s one more.” He clicked a few more things, hesitating again before turning the screen toward her. “This was the last thing I found.”

It was an obituary. Her obituary. The date was the same as the date written on her admission form.

Her heart absolutely shattered at this realization. She stared at the newspaper clipping, crestfallen at the overwhelming disappointment she felt. “How miserable was I making these people if they had to get rid of me like this?”

“That’s why I agreed,” he reminded her, watching with a frown as she stared at the screen, “when you asked me if I’d help you after all of this is done. Because that’s all I have. That’s all I know. I meant it, when you asked if I’d help.” He pulled the laptop back toward himself before closing it slowly. Then, clenched his jaw tightly, looking up at her with a fierce expression. “I would spend a century helping you search for answers if that’s what you wanted.”

“Too bad Maria isn’t going to let that happen.”

“Damnit Alice, no ,” he pushed the laptop to the side and leaned toward her, gripping her forearm as he implored her to look him in the eye. “You can’t think like that. You can’t just be okay with this. This is why I wanted to tell you this now. It was selfish of me not to show you, but you deserve to know. Because after we kill her, I am going to help.

“Maybe we will all meet in that forest. Maybe your vision isn’t off the mark. But I refuse to believe it will happen the way you’ve seen it. Maybe it will be a trap on our behalf and we’ll kill her then. I’m not letting her get to me or to you. This is going to end and you’re going to live on. You’re going to find answers, and you’re going to get yourself every damn thing you deserve in this life.”

“I hardly know how I came into this life,” she whispered, staring back at him, pulses of fear still surging through her at the revelation of her past, “how do I know I deserve it? I was making my human family so miserable they locked me in a mental hospital.”

“Because you are good . You are the best person I know. Alice,” his grip on her arm tightened, “You deserve anything you want.”

“If I had known I wouldn’t have chosen this,” she tried to hold in the sob but found she couldn’t do it. It was true, she realized pitifully. “When I was a human, if I knew about all of the wrong things we could do that vampires could do,” she spat the word out like it was a curse, “I wouldn’t have wanted this. There’s too much death. It’s too painful.”

Jasper’s grip on her arm loosened as she spoke, allowing her to pull it out of his grip and back into her lap. It wasn’t that she didn’t want his comfort; she did, terribly so. But she knew better now. They didn’t have the time or energy to spare on this messy, complicated thing between them.

“For all I know, I didn’t ask for this life.”

Jasper’s face was serious, but intensely sad, as he stood up and backed away from the bed. “Neither did I.”

Chapter Text

Jasper left the room immediately after their conversation, but didn’t depart yet. Alice had seemingly lost track of time, so when Jasper walked back into the room a couple of hours later with Emmett trailing behind him, she did a double take at the clock on the wall before realizing it was sunrise.

He’d left right after that, only staying long enough to transfer the rest of the documents and files he’d had for the WLACC to Emmett, and to wish them luck before walking out the door. He hadn’t looked twice at her.

Emmett had clearly sensed the tension. He’d tsked. “So pissy,” he’d commented, seconds after his departure. “No one told him to break the stupid camera.”

If it weren’t for the fact that she felt like the past eighteen hours had hollowed her out and left her aching, she would’ve cracked a smile at that. It felt good to see Emmett again. Alice had missed her jubilant friend.

She found herself disappointed when she realized she wouldn’t get to spend much time with him. From sunrise to sunset she would be strictly confined to the main offices, performing half a dozen entry exams. It was interesting enough work, but when she saw  a quick glimpse into the future of one of her entrees, she found herself growing conflicted.

The woman was scheduled for change ten days from now, but her brother would die in three from a cancer no one knew he’d even had. She’d be immediately disqualified and discharged from the center and returned to her human life.

For some reason, the death of an immediate family member could suspend or disqualify you from the change process. Alice didn’t know how she felt about that. She was sure Charlotte had plenty of opinions on the sometimes odd things that could get you taken out of the running for Change, but for now, Alice didn’t look into it too deeply.

And truthfully some sick, selfish part of her was glad that the woman wouldn’t get to sacrifice her humanity for immortality now. Vampires were simply monsters pretending that they weren’t. Sure, the woman had sat through all the necessary courses and passed through the process smoothly, but how could any human truly understand and then willingly want this immortal life?

But she was upset for the woman, and found herself feeling guilty for her secret elation. She’d finally sold her condo the week before and had finished her last day of work two days prior. The entire thing, in addition to her brother’s death, was going to make her life incredibly hard for a long time.

During a moment between interviews, Alice wondered that maybe it didn’t matter what you were; life was miserable regardless of your mortal state.

But when the man whose wife had been executed the day prior—Henry Dente, one of the vampires responsible for the creation of the immortal child Jasper had killed—was brought in, kicking and screaming and cursing every person in his path, she’d followed them closely, choosing to watch the execution from inside the room.

You did this to yourself, she wanted to yell at him as a pair of containers restrained him while another attempted to place a hood over his head. This is your fault for what you did to that baby.

He snapped his teeth in her direction as he screamed, demanding to know where his wife was, where his son was. After he threatened to kill Alice, specifically, for the third time, she found herself relieved that Jasper wasn’t there.

“You don’t know anything!” He yelled at her, as they finally managed to pull the hood over his head. “You don’t get to touch them! You don’t know !”

This is what you get for playing god .

And when his head was ripped from his neck, Alice frowned to find that witnessing the deed didn’t bring her any type of joy or satisfaction. For all she knew, next week there could be another.

Sure, life was rough no matter what you were, but there was no way anyone should want to be such a vile thing.

Helping with the paperwork—after all, she’d been present during the execution and also had to learn to fill it out herself—she’d taken a break then, opening her phone to type a quick text to Jasper. SImple, but to the point.

The husband is dead.

He’d replied less than a minute later.

Good .

She’d pocketed her phone then, still hesitant to speak to him despite the fact that it was an exchange of five words with almost three thousand miles between the two of them. They’d be in each other’s company again by tomorrow, and Alice didn’t know if she were ready.

Knowing what she now knew, that he’d known where she came from all along, hurt. But he did have a point. When he’d initially tried to tell her about it, she’s seen her incoming freakout and begged him to keep it to himself. So while she wasn’t entirely confident she was allowed to be upset with him from keeping that from her, she still decided that they probably needed to keep their distance from each other for the foreseeable future.

It didn’t help that nowadays he seemed almost hell-bent on making her hate him. One moment they’d be having fun and laughing and the next he’d be begging her to see him as the monster he thought he was.

But we are monsters, a voice in her head reminded her.

He had certainly helped open her eyes to that fact. Even still, Jasper deserved good things. He’d been through absolute hell and not only was he still standing (partially thanks to luck and entirely thanks to Esme) but he was currently doing everything he could to ensure that these vampires and the entire human population would be safe during Maria’s inevitable attack.

Of course now instead of focusing on all the preemptive measures that were being taken, people were talking about the fact that he’d broken a camera. And not just that, but the camera of someone whose job it was to harass people for a living. It was ridiculous. Especially considering Jasper was arguably doing the most work in preparing these containers for war.

He was saving lives and all the media cared about was views.

It definitely didn’t help that most of the coverage also included pictures of her crying. They definitely thought that the two of them were together, and since neither she nor Jasper had explicitly stated otherwise, they’d continue to think it.

Although she’d seen in the formal statement Rosalie and Jasper were crafting now, the line ‘the actions taken in response to the distress of a friend were inappropriate and inexcusable’ would certainly confuse a few outlets. But other than forcing some attention back onto their not-relationship, it wouldn’t help too much to diffuse the entire thing. Only time would.

Or, Alice thought with a grim thought, more action from Maria.

And she would happily let the media show pictures of her crying all hours of the day if it meant no one else would die.

She worked around the building for a few more hours until she realized she had nothing left to do, but still had a few hours to spare before a car was scheduled to drive her to LAX. Finding her way to the massive training center, she was excited to watch Emmett train some people. It was hard to imagine him providing instruction to hundreds of vampires on how to kill hoards of newborns but she supposed he had the experience.

And according to Jasper, Emmett also had the scars to prove it, too.

Walking through the door she was careful to try and avoid too much unnecessary attention brought to her, zipping her jacket up and pulling the hood over her head. Not that any of the containers she’d met had ever bothered to to any extent, but she didn’t want the stares she was positive she’d be getting.

After all, it wasn’t every day that a picture of you crying went viral. Or that your not-boyfriend received national attention for defending you a little too far.

“They’re definitely fucking,” a voice pulled her attention away from the door she was reaching out for, “I’d put money on it.”

Turning her head, Alice watched as a trio of vampires stood close together, their backs to her, looking at what appeared to be one of their cell phones as some video played on the screen. It was easy to hear that it was another news feed, filling everyone in on the day’s drama, with the addition of the formal apology they’d just released.

“You don’t react like that on behalf of a ‘friend’. I’m telling you. They’re fucking.” The first vampire, a woman with shoulder-length light brown hair commented as she swiped a finger across the screen, making another video begin to play.

“I’m sure he’s just sick of those damn cameras. It’s bullshit that he even had to apologize. The guys lucky he didn’t get his arm broken.” A man, not much taller than her, shook his head but kept his eyes on the screen. “But that doesn’t prove anything.”

“Have you not seen any other pictures?” The first woman defended. “My buddy out in Ohio was telling me that during their training, it was clear just watching them talk to each other.”

“Good for him then,” the third vampire finally chimed in, sandy blond hair cropped short. Alice noted that he had a sleeve missing, indicating that he must have already been through a training round or two. “She’s cute. If Maria’s coming up here, might as well get some ass before he’s gotta hit those front lines.”

“You see it, right? My roommates keep telling me I’m looking too far into it, but they haven’t confirmed anything yet.”

“Why do you care so much?” The second vampire asked, lacing his hands behind his neck. “You mad you never got a chance?”

“What? Ew, no. Not with all those scars.” She made a sound of disgust. “It is cute though. I mean, look.”

That’s when Alice decided she’d had enough of the containers gossip, but instead of walking onto the gym floor, she turned and began walking toward them. A few other vampires who had been in the vicinity took note of her quickly. One couple, who had seemingly also been listening in on the conversation, gave each other nervous glances, their eyes wide as they stared at the trio’s unsuspecting backs.

“Watch it be some publicity stunt,” the blond man commented. “The whole relationship thing. They probably did this so people would like him more now that Maria is back. It’s not a bad idea, really; she seems like a sweetheart. They’re already fooling enough people but they really need to come up with ways to make him likeable outside of a fake relationship.” He snorted, as if finding the idea preposterous. “Maybe get some fake posed photos of him doing some lame charity work.”

“Or maybe,” Alice chimed in, leaning forward on her tiptoes and pretending to read over their shoulders, “training a few thousand ungrateful cadets on how to ensure they aren’t torn to shreds during their first inevitable encounter with a newborn army would be a good place to start.”

As the three tensed, turning in-sync to look at her as if she were a ghost, Alice smiled brightly at them, despite how potent her annoyance was in that moment.

“Or maybe vowing and maintaining allegiance to a country with a population where the overwhelming majority wanted you dead fifty years ago would be a good place to start?”

“Ma’am, I’m so—”

“I’m sure you are.” Alice smiled thinly. “Now how about you put your phone away before I have you written up—you’re on the clock, after all.” She then turned toward the shorter man, “Feel free to speculate all you want, but do it on your own time. And you,” she looked up at the taller one, “go change your shirt and get back to training. Time is of the essence and it would be a shame for you to miss out on some of the life-saving training you’re currently skipping out on in order to gossip like children.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Great,” she leaned back on her heels, hands behind her back as she looked up at them. She was sure she looked happy as can be, and she could only hope that would help make their embarrassment worse. “Now move along before the write-ups begin.”

After the three scattered, muttering polite apologies to her before each of their departures, Alice turned and surveyed the room, only to find every other vampire pointedly looking away from her.

She rolled her eyes and huffed lightly. This was ridiculous.

Finding Emmett on the edge of gymnasium number two, Alice watched, impressed, as he taught a group of vampires—all four who looked like they were half the size of him—how to break out of a headlock. When someone hardly taller than her not only managed to remove his headlock, but reverse it and flip him onto his back, Alice couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it, all while marvelling at the skill of the random small vampire.

Emmett grinned up at her from where he laid on the ground. “Well, if it isn’t Miss Mary Alice!”

Alice rolled her eyes. “That’s weird to hear,” she acknowledged as he hopped up and approached her, “don’t call me that.”

“Are you here to learn a thing or two or to just watch me teach these guys how to hand me my ass?”

She snorted, “It is funny to watch.”

“And informative,” he pointed a finger at her, a grin showing off his dimples. “I really haven’t had to do much,” he acknowledged after turning and giving the group further instruction and telling them to continue on without him. “Jasper was very thorough with them already. He even signed the mandate before he left. I’m really just here to play for several more hours really.”

“Glad you’re enjoying yourself,” she remarked distractedly as they walked toward the edge of the gym. She winced when she watched a container pin his partner a little too roughly, the noise ricocheting through the gym.

“I think we all have to at this point,” he defended seriously. “To some extent, at least. We can’t all just be miserably waiting for her to show up. We need to prep, but we need to find something good out of all of this mess. For me, I’m finding the fun in this non-stop training junk.” He shrugged. “If I don’t then I’m just stuck thinking about how likely it is that people will die.”

She frowned at him then, pausing in her movements and making sure he saw her unamused expression before walking again.

“It’s true,” he supplied with another shrug. “But I’m not about to get all bent out of shape in the meantime. It’s not good for your brain,” he knocked on her head for emphasis, causing Alice to jump out of his reach slightly.

“I can’t take anything less-than-serious nowadays,” she commented. “I don’t want your wife yelling at me again.”

Emmett groaned. “Rose is just going a little stir crazy. She’s been in that basement for almost a week now with no break.”

“Could I learn what she’s doing?” Being cooped up in a basement away from crowds and paparazzi and filled airplane cabins sounded like a dream vacation right about now.

“Oh yeah, easily. But not any time soon. The intelligence handlings get crazier every day now that Maria is here to make our lives a living hell again. But when this is over, you’ll definitely learn.”

Another thing she liked about talking to Emmett nowadays was how he always talked about Maria’s slow approach as if it was an incoming storm. Something that would hit, wreck things a bit, and then pass. While he seemed less than sure about the fate of all these containers, he seemed confident that she, and all their fellow Protectors, would be fine.

Despite Alice’s vision warning them differently.

It was almost comforting, but she was always quick to dismiss the feeling when she thought of Jasper. Jasper, who knew Maria better than anyone else did, who had witnessed her terror first-hand and been a willing participant in it for the better part of a century. Emmett was confident because they’d defeated her before, Jasper was worried because he knew this time wouldn’t be like the last.

And Alice was anxious, hating how her visions could help her with a myriad of tasks in her day to day life, but were seemingly useless at saving lives. If only there was a way to see Maria’s decisions as she made them.

Since Emmett couldn’t leave yet—although he called a quick twenty minute recess so he could properly say goodbye to Alice—he did accompany her to the caf. She grimaced at the taste of the artificially warmed, farmed animal blood. Jasper was right. It in no way compared to fresh carnivore blood, straight from the vein.

Frowning, she drank more, willing her thirst to subside before her flight.

“Those kids,” she spoke up, resting her head on her hand to watch Emmett sip his own bottle. “The ones Maria got. Did they get footage of her? How did they know it was her.”

“She wasn’t there, if that’s what you’re asking. But when a group of six newborns attacks one place and leaves without any further continuation—and only one casualty—that’s how we know they’re being trained. It’s Maria alright.” He straightened up, tapping his fingers against the table, as if eager to face her again. “Talked to Carlisle a few hours ago, they think she’s heading towards the Pacific but they can’t get a good lead yet.”

“What are they planning? The Mexican Protectors?” Or the surviving ones. But she didn’t say that out loud. She was sure Emmett didn’t need the reminder of their allies’ deaths.

Surely they had to be formulating some type of plan to combat this. Despite their early losses, it was clear that they were going up against someone who knew how to kill even skilled Protectors, using what appeared to be merely expertise and quickly-trained newborns. Realistically their accomplishments so far seemed astronomically advanced, but again: this was Maria.

“They’re glad she’s travelling west. If she ends up around the Gulf of California, it could be easier to surround her and hopefully overwhelm her. But like she did back in 64’—” he paused, eyeing her momentarily.

“I know about it,” she nodded once.

“It’s likely she’s not working alone. If she has someone like she had Jasper back then, even if they take her out, or even if they can effectively track her, it doesn’t mean the attacks will end.”

“But they should want her gone first,” Alice tapped her foot, “cut off the head, and the body will die.”

Emmett shot her a wry smile. “Cut off the head, and don’t forget to bring a match.” He amended.

She left not long after Emmett stood and left to return to training. Of course he’d given her a huge hug before that. Alice had laughed as she wrapped her arms around his neck as he hoisted her off of her feet.

“I don’t know much about what’s happening with y’all,” he’d confessed, “but go easy on him when you guys catch up. Rose probably ripped him a new asshole.”

Alice had rolled her eyes, smacking the back of his head lightly before he laughed and put her down. “Not you, too.”

He’d held his hands up, “Hey, I’m just saying. He’s never reacted like that before. That boy is stressed .” He took a hesitant step back at her responding glare. “Not that you aren’t, but still.”

“I know,” she had sighed. He was right, and that’s one of the reasons she’d fully decided that whatever advancement to their relationship had been forming back in Portland would need to be held off on indefinitely.

Now she was boarding a flight Jasper had booked for her before he’d left. First class, of course. She wanted to roll her eyes at that. It’s not like they were together and there was much for the paparazzi to take pictures of. But, she realized after a quick vision, people were apparently still itching to get more photos of the two, together or not.

Jasper would be sending her a text, she realized as she put her head back and waited as the plane began to move, informing her to call him the second she landed.

They don’t know where you’re heading but they know you just boarded a flight. I’m sure there will be paparazzi at most airports by major container centers. Be careful.

Thankfully there wouldn’t be any waiting for her at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, although Jasper would be waiting in a car until she’d call him, and would only exit to quickly retrieve her.

Settling in for the flight, she ignored the urge to pull her laptop out and instead chose to look out the window, letting her mind drift to the family she may or may not still have out there. Wondering what she could have possibly done for them to abandon her like they did. Wondering whether they knew, when they turned the news on in the evening, that it was her. Or if they knew, why had they not tried to get in contact with her?

Maybe her becoming a vampire had just solidified what they had seemed to already think upon sending her off to the mental hospital: that she was some type of monster.

Closing her eyes to rest, she dreamt about the alternative, choosing to pretend it was their unknowing ignorance that kept them away. That was the least painful of the options.

Chapter Text

Alice was riddled with nerves by the time her plane landed, despite full-well knowing that nothing bad would happen when she and Jasper were reunited. Still, after calling him as she readied to deboard, hearing his voice over the receiver made anxiety rise. Especially considering how good it felt to hear after such a short time apart.

When she quickly made her way through the airport, to where he told her (and where she’d already seen) that he’d be waiting for her, she frowned and ducked her head as she heard a group of what sounded like school-age kids shouting out to her, asking her to stop.

She felt bad about it really bad. But she knew that there were certain things she had to avoid in order to focus on her time at hand. Rosalie was right: she had no time to take selfies with kids anymore. People’s lives were at stake.

When she rounded a corner, walking out the doors and scanning the cars, she watched as a black SUV pulled up to the curb and promptly parked. When Jasper quickly exited, walking around to open the side passenger door for her, Alice couldn’t tear her eyes off of him, unable to hold back the sense of fondness that overcame her.

Even though it had been just over 24 hours, she had really missed him.

“Ready?” He asked as she ducked into the car, clinging to her backpack.

She nodded silently, still too nervous about being back in his presence to offer an adequate smile. Sighing, he nodded and closed the door, making his way around to the driver’s side before climbing in and pulling away.

It was a quiet drive.

Alice noted silently how they drove straight from the airport to the center, wondering whether they’d be getting a room or not. They’d only be here for a little over two days, but Alice hadn’t thought to change or shower before she left LA. With a quick glimpse she realized they’d be in and out of there before they knew it. Jasper was only going to be hosting another training seminar before they left for Roanoke, minimal paperwork required.

She didn’t even have to have Jasper’s ability to sense everyone’s apprehension or to notice the tension that hung in the air when they strolled into the training center side by side. No doubt most, if not all, of them had seen some snippet of the news over the past couple of days.

But no time was wasted. Jasper called them to attention and gave them the same talk he’d been giving all of the containers he trained. Reminding them that Maria would be there, that they would have to face her and potentially dozens of newborns at once, and that if they didn’t take this seriously, they would die.

And then after a quick demonstration before his decision was made Alice was already waiting for him to lunge at her at this point, as if they’d established a routine the training began.

For twelve hours they trained almost one-hundred vampires non-stop. Well, Jasper trained them and Alice helped, still finding his instruction invaluable herself. At one point, he encouraged her to jump in. She’d hesitated for a moment before jumping in to do two-on-ones with a pair of vampires so big they would probably give Emmett a run for his money.

When not only did she effectively use up all the time of the drill by evading them expertly, she managed to knock one of them on their backs and make the two of them nearly run headlong into each other, she couldn’t help but feel pride when both men laughed after their allotted time was up.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” one of the men laughed, his black curls falling into his face. He reached forward to pat her on her shoulder good-naturedly. “You sure can hold your own.”

Alice grinned, nodding her head at him. “Thanks! I’ve been practicing.”

The two laughed with her again before turning to cycle out. That’s when Alice noted that a lot of eyes were currently on her, shooting barely-concealed looks of surprise and excitement, her success despite her size seemingly energizing them. And when Jasper started the next round she went to stand by him, an almost-skip in her step.

Whether it was her imagination or not, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pride coming from him, lifting her spirits slightly.

The next twelve hours went just as smoothly as they worked with the next shift. In fact, Alice thought as the containers picked up each lesson and skill with a swiftness she wished every other containment center had, she would confidently say that Fayetteville’s vampires were probably the most prepared now.

it wasn’t until the second group’s first session ended when there was a bit of a deviation from things.

Jasper had just dismissed everyone a few minutes before, telling them all to feed before coming back the following night for the remainder of their training. They only had about fifteen minutes before the first group would come back to wrap up their training before a quiet argument on the edge of the room piqued their interest.

So when the stocky man arguing with the older, younger vampire, made his decision, Alice gasped.

“Oh,” she blinked twice before looking up at Jasper, who raised an eyebrow in response. This was going to be interesting.

“No, Ben stop .”

“If I don’t say something now I’m going to lose my chance forever

“Everything alright over here?” Jasper asked as he walked toward the pair, who were getting louder as more people continued to exit, giving them strange looks as they passed. No doubt Jasper was sensing some concerning emotions if he was approaching them first. A trio of vampires the last in the gym besides Alice, Jasper, and the arguing pair paused to fix them with a stare, but quickly moved on, exiting promptly as Jasper approached them.

The shorter man turned toward Jasper and swallowed, lifting his chin up as he awaited Jasper’s approach.

The taller one froze, reaching to pull his companion back. “Everything is just fine,” he lied coolly. “We were just leaving.”

“No we’re not,” the shorter man stepped out of the grip and looked up at Jasper with a determined look in his eye. “Sir, I have to talk to you.”

Jasper nodded as Alice carefully walked to his side. She was still shocked by what they were about to hear, she couldn’t even give him an adequate warning.

“Ben, don’t do this. You’re just going to get in trouble.” The other man was desperate as he turned toward the two Protectors. “Seriously. I’m sorry this is so incredibly rude but I need to get him out of here before he says something

“You know him,” Alice cut him off, looking at this man Ben with wonder in her eyes. “You were a newborn. From ‘64.”

Ben nodded, his companion swore. “I was changed six months before Overnight. We never met but I saw you in passing once just a few days before you gave us our final orders. I I’m sorry to come up to you like this but I can’t just sit by and say nothing.”

Jasper’s eyes were wide. “How…?”

“Nobody knows actually. Well,” his eyes flashed to his companion. “No one is supposed to know. I signed a NDA with the Department of Vampire Affairs back in the 60s that forbade me from ever saying anything. And well, it’s an easy deal to make with your head on the chopping block. But I made that deal because I thought Maria was dead. Because I thought I was safe and now…”

He was distressed, and judging by Jasper’s frown, the emotions were intense.

“Sir, I need to know if there’s anything I can do to help. I hear my coworkers talking all the time about Maria and these things she’s doing and the fact that I can’t say anything makes me want to grind my teeth into dust.”

“You were tasked under Peter, right?” It was evident that Jasper didn’t recognize him, but there was still realization in his eyes.

He nodded quickly, “And nine others. Peter left with another one of us a couple days before Overnight but you had already explained everything so we left on schedule regardless but,” he paused, “with no leadership the containers in Phoenix took us out pretty quickly. We were off our target by like,” he waved a hand in the air, “two hundred miles I think. There was only myself and two others that they took into custody. They were going to question us but then they realized it was an invasion and…” he sighed. “We were in custody for a year before they got around to actually talking to us about everything and by that time...” he trailed off again, faraway in his memories.

“Maria was supposed to be dead and everyone else was on the run.” Jasper finished for him, his eyes like ice. “I only recently found out there were survivors,” he admitted to the nervous man. “But I only ever received numbers. Thirty-eight of you made it out.”

“So there’s more than just the three of us? That’s kind of a relief,” he huffed out an anxious breath, the news seemingly relieving him greatly. “I’d ask for names but Ben isn’t even my real name, so I doubt everyone got to keep theirs. This is just the identity they gave me to muddle up the trail.”

When Alice felt a reassuring calm fall over the corner of the gym they were in, she eyed Jasper quickly, watching as he looked toward this man with an indescribable expression.

“I’m sorry,” his words were soft, genuine. “It’s probably been very hard.”

“What?” The man was confused. “No, please don’t apologize to me. My life has been wonderful since then. I have people I care about. I don’t have to worry about hiding or surviving or dying. I’m sure you know; you were stuck in the same claw as the rest of us, only for longer. I’m sorry,” he insisted, hand on his chest, “that there were nearly forty of us who sat around and let the country turn you into some demon in order to make up for what Maria did.”

The younger man leaned forward to grip Ben’s hand as he spoke, a sad expression fallen over his features.

“I appreciate your kind words,” Jasper spoke, his words sounding practiced. Alice could tell that he was uncomfortable with this topic, very much disagreeing with his sentiment, but Ben did not relent.

“I need to know that there’s something I can do,” he asked. “I know that in talking to you I’m breaking my NDA and if anyone were to hear about this they could have me killed I’m on permanent probation because of my status in the system. But I know I’m not the most skilled and I don’t have much to offer but as someone who has been on the other side of this, I know you have to understand.”

“I do. And don’t worry. This won’t get back to anyone. And if it does, let me handle it. No one is going to have your head for contract-breaking as long as I’m around.” Jasper clenched his jaw, and Alice watched as he toyed around with what he was going to say for a few quiet seconds. “I don’t have anything to offer you right now. I don’t know where the others are and I’m only now reading fifty year old documents about all of this. When I get back to PA I’ll see what I can do, but right now,” Jasper nodded seriously, “the best thing you can do is take this seriously and keep quiet.”

“But, sir

“Remember how these people your comrades view me,” he reminded him, not unkindly. “Obey the NDA for now, I’ll see what I can do. But you don’t need a target on your back.”

Ben appeared displeased at the suggestion but nodded. “War is messy,” he spoke, as if reluctantly understanding. “But politics is hell.”

Jasper cracked a smile at that, and offered the man a hand. “What’s your last name?”

Ben grabbed the offered hand and shook it firmly. “Fields. Ben Fields.”

“Nice to meet you, officially, Ben.” Jasper dropped his hand before Alice smiled, offering her own to shake. “We’ll both be here for another day so if there’s anything you need, or you need to tell me something else. You have time.”

He seemed a bit relieved at that, smiling at Alice also before turning back to what appeared to be his mate, shooting the younger man an emotional look before nodding toward the Protectors. “We’ll see you tonight.”

Alice watched as the pair retreated from the gym, passing by a small group of vampires as they entered, readying themselves for their second round. It was incredible. She’d never dreamed of meeting one of the infamous newborns from the War of 64’. She’d been under the impression that they’d all been eradicated, but to see one of them, alive and well and happy , did strange things to her dead heart. Her emotions a confusing flurry or happiness and sadness.

As Jasper turned to walk away wordlessly, she turned to keep up. “Jazz,” Alice reached out, placing a nervous hand against his forearm. “Are you alright?”

He shook his head but remained silent. Alice was relieved at his honestly but found herself concerned over his unreadable face.

“Not now,” he mumbled, running a hand through his hair.

“Later?” She asked, trying to keep her hopes up despite the fact that a quick vision told her there was a chance he wouldn’t disclose anything to her. That just meant he hadn’t decided to tell her yet .

He still refused to look down on her as he crossed his arms and watched more vampires file in. “Maybe.”

That was as good of an answer as she was going to get.

Luckily, ten hours later a more solid vision came to her, of Jasper relenting and being willing to talk about it. Now she just had to wait for them to leave before they could have some privacy.

The rest of their time in Fayetteville went relatively smooth. Ben and his mate whose name they learned was Jude found them after the final training just to exchange goodbyes. It appeared that although Ben didn’t have anything new to say to them, he was much more at ease and content with their second encounter, wishing the two of them luck and asking for Jasper to please stay in touch.

It wasn’t until they were on their way to the airport when Alice realized that they weren’t going to have any time to talk about what had happened yet. With a frown she checked their future, only to find that they were actually running a bit late for their flight they would arrive just before they’d be called for final boarding.

Narrowing her eyes at him where he sat in the driver’s seat, if she didn’t know any better she would have sworn that he had done this on purpose. Biting back a sigh she supposed she would simply have to wait. Also, she needed to remember that it wasn’t worth it to pry if he wasn’t ready. She still wasn’t sure where they stood with one another.

Of course she still cared about him she had been truthful a few weeks back and when she’d told him he was her best friend and she was sure he wasn’t actively angry at her anymore. But she didn’t quite know what to do now.

So instead, she sat quietly and waited. She’d gotten plenty good at doing that.


Pulling away from the airport Alice frowned as she watched another group of teenagers wave after the car. Running into them had been another unfortunate unavoidable thing but the only thing that upset Alice was that she now had to ignore them for their own sake.

If Jasper sensed her mood, he didn’t offer her any advice or comfort, and Alice was fine with that. She wanted to be upset over the fact that the kids looks utterly dejected at her inability to stop and take photos. No doubt they’d been expecting nothing but friendliness and eagerness after all, the kids she’d met before had apparently shared their experiences all over social media.

These kids had been explicitly upset at the fact that she’d passed them by and it left Alice feeling a bit sour. Work would be a good distraction, but when they pulled into a hotel, Alice turned and raised an eyebrow.

“I need a shower,” Jasper explained without facing her.

Alice suspected something more than that after all, the container centers did have showers but nodded. It would feel nice to get under the hot steam and let her mind go blank for a little while.

“And some privacy to make a few calls.”

This, Alice had seen. Jasper would call to talk to Carlisle about the man he’d met and try to kickstart the complicated and near-impossible task of getting the information of Maria’s ex-newborns. Carlisle would be receptive, but since he wasn’t back in Ricketts it would be a while before they’d be able to sit down and look at the logistics of handling something that arduous.

It would certainly be put on the back-burner though, Alice could see that much. Anything that would undoubtedly help keep people alive in Mexico and prepare the US and Canada for an invasion would be deemed non-essential and while it wouldn’t be explicitly ignored, the odds of Ben and the other ex-newborns being able to help out outside of their normal jobs and duties was slim.

Jasper showered first, and while he did so she laid out on the bed, closing her eyes and letting some visions come over her.

Carlisle was currently up in Alaska for the next few days, meeting with the council and the containers that lived and worked up there. It wasn’t a large group, Alice could see; a few blonde women and a spanish couple, by the looks of it.

According to Bella, and despite their residence in Denali, Carlisle had been attempting to talk them into taking over as the Canadian Protectors for what seemed like decades now, but the group had always been reluctant. She wondered if that was the purpose for the trip, or maybe Carlisle was searching out some important documents.

Rosalie was happily not confined to the library anymore, the intelligence handlings all being handed over to Bella as of a couple of hours ago. Rosalie was currently prepping for a trip up to New York, only for work this time, not shopping.

Emmett had wrapped up in LA a few days prior and was now in San Diego. Edward would meet up with him for a little while there before they’d both part ways again: Emmett to Tucson and Edward to Denver.

Esme was back home after another quick trip down to DC Alice wondered if politics was Esme’s forte but according to her visions she would either end up in Toronto or Montreal by the end of the day.

When she and Jasper got back in four days, they’d likely do it to an empty house. It didn’t make her any less eager to get back than she already was, but it certainly was disappointing. She’d grown to care about all of her fellow Protectors and missed them all terribly.

She was still cycling through visions when Jasper came out of the shower. It was two minutes later when an odd vision struck and she sat up abruptly.

“What?” Jasper had been watching her, but now was by her side. “What did you see?”

“They’re calling a nationwide halt of Change,” she spoke, feeling odd at the information. “Is that why Carlisle is in Alaska?”

“If he’s talking with Tanya and Eleazar then probably.” Jasper straightened up, looking much more calm than he did a moment ago. “That’s good.”

“That’s weird,” Alice was confused. “Have they ever done that before? Ever?”

Jasper nodded once. “Back in 64’ it was halted for almost a full year. Their priorities were on the war, so for that year you couldn’t apply or go through the process even if you’d already been accepted for change.”

“What about all the people I interviewed a few days ago,” she shook her head, “some of them weren’t do to change until next week. Will they still get to change?” Despite the moral dilemma she’d been finding herself in recently over the fact that any human would want to become like them, it did make her feel a bit somber on behalf of some of these people. A lot of them had already squared away all their finances and personal affairs.

“Even if they’re scheduled for today then no,” Jasper put his hands in his pockets as he stared down at her, “that’s immediate and there’s nothing anyone can do other than wait for it to be rescinded.”

“That’s going to leave a lot of people angry.”

“You’re right,” he agreed, “but it’s smart. We can’t keep allocating time and effort to something that isn’t necessary right now.”

“Where’s the time and effort being reallocated to?” Alice raised an eyebrow, feeling as if she knew the answer. “Training?”

“Partially. And other more essential tasks. These people are going to need to learn geography beyond their jurisdiction, and are going to need to start networking with nearby Centers, to get to know their fellow containers.” Then, he added, “Also a once-a-week therapy session of sorts. To ensure everyone is as ready as they can get before she strikes. Even mentally.”

Alice almost shivered at that. She hated that when they talked about Maria they referred to her and her actions as things that were inevitable. Her unavoidable approach made Alice want to scream sometimes.

“And to think a couple months ago I was spending my days stitching up clothes.” Alice let herself fall back as she said that, her head hitting the mattress as she stared up at the ceiling. “If you didn’t do this job, what do you think you’d want to do?”

Jasper took his time in answering her. When Alice felt the mattress sink slightly, she turned her head to see him sitting on the edge, staring toward the window.

“When I was a boy we owned a few horses. We didn’t raise them or anything, and our farm really just brought in enough money to feed us. I had a younger sister,” he told her, glancing in her direction before turning away. “My father wanted her married off and for me to try and expand the farm a bit, make more of it. I didn’t want to though. I wanted to do something with horses, or with animals in general.” He paused, “I was always good with people but with animals it was like magic.”

Alice smiled at his tone, his mind faraway to the fuzzy memories that hadn’t muddled over time, but solidified themselves into his brain. “What about now? If we were suddenly ordinary vampires living ordinary lives, what would you do now?”

“Probably teach,” he shrugged. “It seems like the easiest choice. As far as I can tell Bella likes it.”

“You wouldn’t want to work with animals?”

He turned and eyed her oddly then. “Alice, have you ever tried to approach an animal before? One that you weren’t hunting, I mean.”

“No.”

He cracked a smile then. “Don’t ever try it. They’ll lose their minds.”

She frowned at that, thinking about the half dozen times she’d walked passed someone walking with their dog, only to watch the poor animal whine and try to scurry away. She’d thought that all dogs were like that around people, but now that she thought about it, she supposed it made sense.

“If you want to ever own a pet,” he mused, “try a goldfish.”

“Why? Just so I can watch it die?” The idea of pets did always confuse her.

“All living things die,” he shrugged, “we still exist around humans, don’t we?”

Her mind immediately went to Josie and she felt her mood sour. It was true that for years now she’d been thinking about and ultimately dreading the fact that humans inevitably died. And Josie was almost 90. Most humans didn’t even make it that long.

Before Carlisle had showed up, whisking her away into this crazy world, Josie’s mortality had been the number one concern on her mind day and night. Forget about the vision that plagued her daily life showing her the fate that apparently still waited for her, Josie’s health had been her concern over all.

“Sorry,” he apologized, very clearly able to sense where her mind went. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

She nodded. Clearly she knew that, but it was something she probably should keep in the back of her mind, not as a distraction, but as something that she didn’t need to be caught off guard by when it happened.

“There probably won’t be anything I can do about Ben,” he spoke, as if trying to distract her from the morbid topic at hand. “I’m still going to talk to Carlisle, and I do want to work with getting them off whatever probation they’re apparently under but,” he sighed, “until Maria’s gone there’s no way they’ll release any information to me.”

“How much have you not been allowed to see?”

“Only things surrounding 64’ and Maria, but,” he sighed, “there’s still a lot I haven’t seen. I’ve looked over a lot of confidential reports and I’ve seen the in-depth casualty counts. But there’s stuff that even we don’t have access to directly probably to keep them where I can’t get them. Carlisle might be fetching some of that now, if he’s at the Council of the Americas currently.”

“Have you ever run into someone like Ben before.” Into someone who knew you back then , she felt the need to leave out.

“I knew there were a handful, but I thought Peter and Charlotte were a majority. I guess there were more survivors than I thought.” He stood and the began to pace as he spoke, refusing to look at her as he continued. “It makes me wonder how many have seen me since then. I always dismiss people’s reactions to me because while they’re all valid it’s usually sometimes intensified by the things they heard about me from other sources.”

“So, exaggerated.”

“Yes, but there have always been a few people I’ve met who have been more fearful or apprehensive than what’s standard. Knowing now that it could very well be because they may have worked under me or known of me from back in the day is…” he ran his hands through his hair, pulling at the strands, a pained expression on his face. “it’s a lot.”

“But you heard what Ben said,” she leaned forward, hating how miserable he looked while talking about this, “he apologized to you . He acknowledged how everyone who knew better just sit aside and let you take the fall for the entire thing.”

“I wasn’t some innocent bystander, Alice,” he gave her a tired look. “I wasn’t just complicit in that war, I was active in its creation and advancement and willingly murdered thousands of people over those years prior to it.”

“Because you didn’t know better.” She felt like they were having an age-old argument now, as if these words were decades old instead of only weeks. “Those newborns were created when? 1963 and 1964? They were all humans before and knew what the world was like. You didn’t even know about integration . You didn’t know about the laws or you’d at least been fed lies about them all.”

“Murder is murder, Alice.” He spoke, and Alice swore he rolled his eyes as he turned to walk away, making it clear that he was done talking about this.

But Alice wasn’t. Truthfully, she didn’t think she ever would be. Not until he realized that the hell he had been put through wasn’t his own fault or of his own making. Maria was the one responsible. Maria was the one who had fed him lies. This wasn’t on him.

A thought came to her then. One that she almost didn’t ask.

“Jazz?”

“What?” He grumbled, standing at the window and adjusting the blinds.

She chewed lightly on the inside of her check. “Did you ever think twice about accepting?” She asked him, letting her fingers run over her bracelet, tracing the letters of her name. “When Esme saved you?”

He remained silent for a moment. After a couple of minutes she thought he wasn’t going to answer, but she saw it in a vision just as he opened his mouth to speak.

“Yes.” His voice was quiet, but in the empty, silent room, it felt so loud. “Not at first, of course. But very soon after I accepted, I regretted it.”

“Why did you agree in the first place?”

He turned and met her eyes, only to give her a pitiful shrug. “Selfish reasons.” He turned away. “I didn’t want to die.”

And wasn’t that just the crux of their entire lives? Wasn’t that why so many humans petitioned to do away with their beating heart and live forever? The fear of death was one of the main differences between a human and a vampire. Humans were fearless. Vampires were cowards.

For a few moment she thought to herself. She feared death, didn’t she? If not she could have simply murdered that boy when she awoke in the forest and caught his scent, minutes later. If she didn’t fear death, she would have murdered plenty of humans and waited in the meantime for a container or protector to bring her into custody.

If she didn’t fear death, she wouldn’t have spent decades of her life, nearly confined to a little shop in a small town in Biloxi, trying not to think about the inevitable fate that awaited her.

But no, Alice feared death. So much so that she’d cowered from it. Hidden like a child in an attic while her nightmares taunted her with it’s inescapability.

“Is that really so selfish?” She eventually asked. “Not wanting to die?”

“You said so yourself. Vampires are monsters. For someone like me, someone who has taken countless lives, surely I shouldn't fear my own demise." He exhaled and then inhaled deeply. "We already live eons longer than humans. I’ve already lived over two human lifetimes, and in comparison to some vampires that’s still young. If we acknowledge that we’re monsters and continue along with our existence anyways disregarding all the harm we do in favor of existing doesn’t that make us selfish?”

Alice was upset to realize she didn’t have an adequate answer for him.

“There’s nothing we can do though,” she whispered quietly. “This… this is just how we are.”

We didn’t ask for this , was the unspoken phrase shared between the two of them.

“Come on,” he gestured toward her backpack. “We’re going to be late. Go get showered.”

Alice almost remarked that technically since they were the bosses they couldn’t be late to anything, but humor was the last thing she felt like contributing to this conversation. Grabbing her bag she closed herself into the bathroom and sat on the floor, letting her grief fall over her and wishing that Jasper wouldn’t feel it as potently as she did, one phrase repeating over and over again.

We didn’t ask for this .


By the time they got to Roanoke’s Containment Center, it felt like they had this entire thing down to a science. Of course things would go the smoothest and would be the easiest for them on the last leg of their tour around the country.

They kicked off training first, blowing through two twelve hours shifts in what felt like a breeze before taking a day-long ‘break’ in order to handle a few situations in the main offices. With no more entrance interviews to perform there was a strange silence around a few of the hallways, but down other ones there was borderline chaos. Phones were ringing off the hook and Alice could hear the sound of a few crying humans coming from some of the rooms.

It left her with a somber feeling throughout most of the rest of their trip.

The declaration had been all over the news now, and Alice knew that in a few hours Mexico’s Container Center’s would be following their lead and it would be official: North America was in a full vampire lockdown. No further vampires would be made until further notice. It was the first time a continent-wide action like this would be taken.

Maria was having that much of an effect.

“Don’t they need us?” Alice heard a woman demand as they walked passed a door that was still cracked open. “Doesn’t everybody need more vampires now more than ever? To help in case that monster comes up here?”

Alice listened to the other human woman it was so easy to forget how humans worked in these centers too explain that no, they didn’t need more newborn vampires to fight against other newborn vampires, and that they’d end up being a hindrance as opposed to a help.

She eavesdropped until they turned a corner, when Alice raised an eyebrow to Jasper. He simply nodded in confirmation. The woman was right, she guessed.

“The only thing that would help with would be in brute strength. Newborns have us beat there but,” he checked his phone, glancing at the time, “in terms of strategy and knowledge, we’ll have them beat by miles. I worked with them for a hundred years. They aren’t easily controlled. Not by any means.”

“They have to be at least a little controllable,” she frowned. “I mean, wasn’t controlling them your job for that entire time?”

He was silent for a minute. “Have you ever been to a beach?” Alice nodded. She loved the beach. Some of her best memories included the first time she put her toes in the sand down in Biloxi. “They’re like the waves. Or the tides, rather. You can’t stop or control the waters no matter what you do. So, if you were to, say, build a sand castle, you can’t protect it from the waves forever: the tides will eventually catch up. You can dig a moat, build a wall, lay in between the two, but eventually, you won’t be able to avert the waters for forever; they’ll reach your castle, and they’ll destroy it.” He paused outside the door they were about to enter. “If you promise a newborn blood, they’ll do anything to get to it. So, if you know how to, you can manipulate them into doing things in the meantime, but after a certain period of time you can’t control what they’ll do or how they’ll get it.”

“Just another one of this life’s inevitabilities.” Alice grimaced.

“Exactly. That’s why I was surprised to hear you’d never fed off humans.” Alice shot him a wry look. That was another thing she had never told him. But she was sure he’d seen it in some paperwork. “Edward told me.” He explained without an ounce of shame.

“Nice to hear I’ve been gossiped about.” She pouted.

He cracked half a smile at that—the first real one she’d seen in days. “New kid in town with the gift of foresight? You bet.” Reaching forward, he opened the door and led them into the empty room where they’d be in a meeting soon.

Hours passed, they returned to training, and then finished. Before Alice could think to slow down, Jasper was ushering her toward the caf: they needed to drink before their flight home later that night.

Things weren’t awkward between them anymore, but they certainly weren’t what they’d been before. Alice supposed this was what things were meant to be: working cordially with one another and being friendly albeit distant in the downtime.

It wasn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, things were undoubtedly going smoother than ever before. Alice just didn’t know why her chest hurt every time she went to hold his hand, or cup his cheek, or pull him into an embrace before remembering that she shouldn’t, and stopping herself. It was embarrassing at first, but watching him also resist and second-guess himself every time he withdrew his own hand away from her was equally painful.

This is reciprocal, a hopeful, tiny, but slowly dying voice in her head kept reminding her, we can’t have this now, but it is reciprocal.

Their trip had turned morose when, at some point, three vampires had been taken into custody and brought into the center. The trio had already been proven guilty of conspiring to attack a college. A fourth vampire a friend of theirs, actually had done most of the work, gathering evidence against his friends to supply to the containers when he came into their offices the week before with the allegations.

“I know things are fucked lately,” the man had told them from where he sat, hunched over the table, distraught over the situation they found themselves in, “but I didn’t think I’d know people so closely who would want to idolize that bitch.” His eyes had flashed apologetically toward Alice and Jasper at that. “Sorry.”

Neither of them had held it against him.

None of the three had denied any of the allegations, securing themselves a swift and orderly execution once the proper paperwork was filed.

“Why?” Alice had whispered during a deathly-silent elevator ride afterward.

“I once idolized her, too.” He reminded her softly.

The journey to the airport was bittersweet. She was excited, in a way, to be home and to finally write Josie again. She was sure it wouldn’t be too long before she was on the road again. After all, with everything happening she was sure they’d be utilizing her as often as possible as extra help.

As far as training went, she would consider the entirety of the trip to be a huge success. She could perform plenty of tasks she hadn’t even known about before. Entrance interviews were a piece of cake, paperwork was looking so familiar to her she could even feel herself beginning to bore of it, and as far as fighting, she really had learned some invaluable tricks.

She only hoped Jasper would still have the time to continue working with her on that. If learning to fight would be the difference between her life and death, she’d have to learn it. Despite her mixed feelings on whether vampires even deserved to be , Alice knew that she didn’t want to die.

Whether that entire thought was selfish, as Jasper suggested it was, or normal, she didn’t quite know. And frankly, she didn’t have the energy to exert to think about her conflicted feelings on what it was.

Despite their flight only being two hours long, the trip took almost five when you counted the hour-and a half layover they had to endure and the lengthy drive back to Ricketts.

It was strange, Alice thought as they finally pulled into the long driveway and began their five mile drive toward the house, how in the few weeks she’d been gone on this trip, she’d began to think of this place as ‘home’, something she certainly hadn’t been doing before she left.

But it really was starting to feel like home. It wasn’t Biloxi, not by a long shot. And the amount of memories she held here hardly rivaled the ones back there, but she was warming up to it. Glancing at Jasper out of the corner of her eye, she realized that it was definitely the company that was helping that along.

Maybe it was the joy she felt upon seeing the house in the distance, or contentment of knowing that some moments of true privacy were just ahead of her, but the happiness she felt in that moment was enough to cause her to forget what she’d already elected not to do.

Reaching over, she went to grab Jasper’s hand, only to feel surprise when he pulled his hand out of hers the moment her fingers wrapped around his.

That stung a bit.

Jasper sighed as he pulled into the garage and parked. Letting his fingers rest against the steering wheel he looked at her.

She knew what he was about to say, and the rejection hurt.

“It’s okay,” she forced a smile onto her face. “I get it.”

It wasn’t like she hadn’t done the same thing to him hardly a week ago, nearly begging him not to kiss her as they lay entangled on the floor, closer than they’d ever been before.

“Rose was is right,” he seemed hesitant to speak after her assurance, but forced the words out anyways. “We have to focus and,” he pulled his hands closer to himself, opening and closing his fists as he spoke, “make sure we don’t get distracted.”

Alice nodded, in full agreement. This was exactly what she’d already acknowledged the week prior, and what she’d been reminding herself of nearly every hour since. This was something they both realized and recognized as mature, level-headed adults with a war looming closer to them every single day

She just wondered why it hurt so bad.

Knowing that he sensed her emotional pain, a vision came over her of him continuing the conversation for a few more long minutes, prolonging the pain and inevitably making her cry. So instead, she forced a smile on her face and masked her hurt as best as she could.

“I know,” she sighed, trying to act more disappointed than she was utterly heartbroken. “She’s right. You’re right.” She swallowed back a lump before offering him a small smile. “You’re still my best friend,” she supplied, trying to pull as much happiness into the statement as possible, knowing he’d feel every ounce.

He looked away then, running his hand through his hair before looking back at her. “You too.”

She didn’t check until they got out of the car and awkwardly parted ways her toward her room and him toward the library but when she did look into their future, a sob almost broke loose.

Most of the happy, intimate visions she’d ever gotten of the two of them were completely gone, with all of the others almost fading from existence completely. Letting her borrowed bag drop to the floor she walked toward her closet, opened the door, and climbed beneath the clothes, curling up in a pitiful ball on the carpeted floor.

The one vision still there, clear and vivid as ever, was the one of Maria, as she whispered in his ear, telling him to kill her.

For a few minutes, she relented to allow herself to fall apart, but only for a few. After ten minutes, Jasper would finish catching up with Bella and would take over for a little while, allowing her to come and seek out her friend she hadn’t seen in so long. Alice wanted to change her outfit and be put-together by then.

She’d let herself cry for five minutes and then suck it up.

She was a big girl. And she had work to do.

Chapter Text

For a couple days, Alice simply caught up on everything she’d missed. She wrote back to Josie’s letters; her own ended up being close to nine handwritten pages, front and back, and that was still while leaving out a lot of the things she couldn’t talk about.

It felt weird to keep anything from Josie, even simple tasks she’d performed while at the containment centers, but she had a serious job that now required maintaining strict confidentiality. She had been sure to mention everything she could about cell phones. If she could even get Josie to be a little bit responsive to that topic, she’d buy and send her one the second the woman’s decision was made.

It would certainly be loads easier to simply text the woman instead of having to wait for the mail every other week. She hoped Josie would agree.

During those first days back she also spent a bit of time with Bella. When the woman had come to find her after Jasper had relieved her in the library, Alice had finally pulled herself together enough, even putting on an outfit Bella and Rosalie had picked out for her during their shopping trip. Although by the time Bella had hugged her and asked her, in a quiet voice, how she was, Alice’s composure was quick to crumble as she held her friend closely.

What she loved about Bella was that she knew when to pry and when to leave something alone. So Bella didn’t ask her much, only trying to make sure that her friend was alright and that there wasn’t anything that she needed to talk about in that moment.

Alice had merely held her friend close and shaken her head. “Things are just dumb.” She had grumbled in a more-composed moment.

Bella had snorted. “They often are.”

The rest of her first week back passed relatively slowly. She initially revelled in the feeling of having time to herself for the first time in several weeks. She took long baths, reorganized her closet, and began to fill the empty bookshelf that was taking up space in her room.

Two days after she sent Josie her letter she was hit with a very solid vision of the woman writing back, relenting to give trying out a phone a try. (Only for this texting nonsense thoughyou know my hearing is horrid, the woman would emphasize in her letter.) Within an hour, and with help from Bella, Alice had purchased and shipped a phone to her, her excitement even forcing Jasper to emerge from the library for the first time since their arrival.

He’d raised an eyebrow at Bella when he’d walked into the room they were in—Alice was leaning over her laptop, comparing the pros and cons of each phone before deciding on the simplest one the carrier offered. He’d likely sensed her overwhelming excitement and happiness and come to investigate.

“We’re hooking Josie up with her first piece of modern technology,” Bella had grinned.

“Jazz, come here,” Alice had waved him forward without looking up. “Black or white? I know it doesn’t matter because I’m buying her an orange—but what do you think?” Before he opened his mouth she’d rolled her eyes. “Because it’s her first phone, that’s why. I want her to love it.”

“You liked the phone we picked out for you,” Bella supplied.

“True, but I want it to be perfect for her.”

Before his eyes flickered to the black one for half of a second, Alice beamed. “I thought so, too. Okay, thanks!” Quickly finishing the order and sending the transaction through, she closed the laptop and picked it up, turning to scurry back to her room. She had to write back ASAP so Josie could get her next letter by the time her phone arrived. Alice had a lot of explaining of the mechanisms of it to do—she knew if she left any detail out, Josie would likely give up on the odd little device.

As she made her way toward the stairs she clearly heard Bella’s resounding laughter. She could only imagine what Jasper’s face looked like.

“I didn’t even say anything.” He sounded mildly taken aback.

“You didn’t have to,” Bella laughed. “She’s not nearly as tuned in to me.”

That had been a bit embarrassing to hear. Of course she was more tuned in to Jasper though, they’d spent several weeks together, not to mention she’d seen him more often than anyone else in her mind. The amount of visions she had of him in his day to day life were almost enough to rival the frequency in which she saw Josie.

When Bella left the following day, Alice found herself growing a bit restless without the company. She spent most of her time with her face glued to her phone and the various books she'd been snagging from the library, doing her own bits of research. She read more news articles than ever before, marveling at the ease of accessing information, and hating how often she saw Maria’s name in a headline.

At some point she had attempted to look up more information about herself, opening her laptop to look up her own name, as well as the names of her parents. Alice quickly realized that she wasn’t very good at digging for information if it wasn’t already easy to find. But she was a fast learner, so when, after nearly thirteen hours of non-stop digging, she eventually traced the name Edgar Brandon to a small town just west of Tuscaloosa, Alabama—the name had come up on an old advertisement that had a short run in some newspapers back in the 90s for a small chain of jewelry stores—she was shocked.

As she went to bookmark the page, she was dismayed when the entire laptop shut off. She sat there for several minutes, pressing the power button and frowning when the screen remained blank. Of course, she had all of the information committed to memory, but for all that research to suddenly disappear made her feel lousy. She’d have to tell Jasper that his gift was broken, and at that thought her frown deepened.

She hadn’t spoken to him much. Maybe once every other day they’d exchange a few words in passing or she’d go find him in the library to ask a question or tell him something, but for the most part their first week back home had been spent apart and quietly.

After nine days without anything substantial to do, Alice was shocked to find her frustration mounting. It seemed as if her fellow Protectors were still as busy as ever. Bella had left a few days prior to hit up a few different centers, Emmett was still holding fight trainings around the country, and she had yet to hear anything from Esme.

Rosalie had come back for hardly ten hours, just long enough to pack a fresh bag of clothes, file some paperwork and deliver Jasper some files, and get a quick hunt in. Alice had accompanied her for that, but had been left disappointed when the blonde woman wasn’t keen on conversing during their quick trek into the woods.

Even when Alice had asked how long it would be before Esme and Carlisle would be back, she’d simply shrugged and given her a quick, “They’re busy,” as if that had been a painfully obvious fact.

Alice had stopped trying to initiate conversation after that, so when Rosalie had left, she found herself back downstairs, navigating through bookshelves to find the only other person in the house.

Jasper alternated between holing himself up in the library, where a small office was located at the far end for intelligence purposes, and checking in with Alice periodically, to ask her where someone was at any given time. Last time he’d sought her out had been just before Rosalie had arrived. He’d asked when Carlisle would be back, and Alice had paused, hesitantly informing him that she didn’t know.

She hadn’t been able to see Carlisle’s future or the decisions he made surrounding it for almost a full day now. It wasn’t rare, for her to not be able to see someone’s future, but since Alice had been a Protector she’d found herself easily able to look into her coworker’s immediate futures. The disappearance of Carlisle’s off her radar made her anxiety rise.

When Jasper sensed her unease at this admission, he’d assured her that he had spoken to the older man a the night before over the phone.

“He said he’d be back by today, but didn’t specify what time of day,” he eyed her funnily, “I wouldn’t worry. I was just curious to see if you knew the exact time.”

She shook her head again, wrapping her arms around herself, trying again, only to see nothing. “I don’t see anything,” she swallowed, looking up at him with a twinge of fear. “What if something happened?”

“I really doubt it,” he seemed confident in his dismissal of her fears. “But he may be bringing someone here so,” he eyed her for a long moment, “brace yourself.”

Alice hadn’t known what he’d meant at that. He had simply disappeared back into the basement, just minutes before Rosalie had arrived at the house.

Now, Alice made a beeline for the office, only to catch him on the way out.

“Hey,” she greeted, eyeing the phone in his hand, “any news?”

He raised an eyebrow. “You really don’t know?”

Alice huffed. Clearly, she didn’t. “Know what?”

“Carlisle just pulled into the driveway,” he pocketed the phone. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine ,” she insisted, unease still plaguing her. She turned and started walking back toward the stairs, ignoring the fact that she could feel his eyes burning a hole into the back of her head as he followed close behind.

Minutes later, when Carlisle walked through the front door, Alice’s eyes immediately locked onto the towering human who walked in behind him. The man was taller than Emmett, and just as muscular, his tan skin contrasted by the white shirt he wore.

“Alice, Jasper,” Carlisle smiled to the two of them as he hung up his coat—another thing that Alice found funny about Carlisle was his propensity to use things that vampires didn’t need. “It’s good to see you both.”

Wickedly happy to see him again, Alice scurried forward, reading herself to wrap her arms around him in a hug, when the smell hit her like a train. She stopped abruptly, hand going straight to her face as she looked Carlisle up and down, looking at him aghast.

The man behind him began to laugh. “I was waiting for that.” Then, he stepped beside Carlisle and offered a hand. “It always catches vamps off guard.”

As Alice realized it was the man who stunk like this, not Carlisle—although she was sure he smelled quite a bit too, especially if he’d been in this human’s presence for very long—she stepped back, staring at the offending hand as if it would bite her.

This was the first time in her life she’d ever met a human who smelled bad .

When she felt Jasper’s fingertips on her back, gently ushering her forward, she nearly jumped.

“Good to see you again, Jacob,” Jasper nodded, taking the man’s hand instead, shaking it firmly.

“Is it?” The man, Jacob, smirked as he shook Jasper’s hand. His cropped hair was jet-black and as Alice studied his young features, she desperately tried searching for the reason he smelled so bad. Surely it couldn’t be a natural odor, could it?

“Alice this is Jacob Black, an old friend.” Carlisle informed her, nodding to the giant man who stood in front of her. She had thought that Jasper and Emmett were tall, but Alice had to actually look up at him as she studied his face.

Then, a realization struck her. “It’s you.”

The man’s smile faltered at that as he turned and shot Carlisle a glance.

“She hasn’t been able to see you in over a day,” Jasper explained, tapping his head and causing her to shoot him a wide-eyed look. And for a second, Alice was panicked. Hadn’t they been the ones to tell her that her gift had to be kept a secret? And there they stood, talking about it with a massive human in their foyer.

Carlisle looked shocked at that. “Really? Interesting…”

“Um, am I missing something here?” She looked from Jasper to Jacob and then back to Jasper, clenching her jaw with barely-contained frustration.

“Nah, not really.” Jacob grinned again, for some reason enjoying the confusion.

“I take it I’m coming with you?” Jasper asked, to which Jacob nodded.

“If you don’t mind.”

“Not until Esme and Edward are back,” Carlisle commented. “I’ll need someone to take over for you.”

When Jasper’s immediate future disappeared then, Alice’s anxiety skyrocketed, a twinge of fear shooting up her spine.

Immediately, he grabbed her arm, turning her toward him. But before he could assure her or calm her down her fear turned into anger. “What the hell is going on!” Stomping her foot, the entire room shook, the chandelier above their heads shaking fiercely with the movement. “I can’t see you anymore,” she looked at Jasper, overwhelmed. “Where are you going?”

“It’s fine,” he assured her, and Alice felt her fear began to leave as Jasper used his ability. “I’m going to Arizona for a little while for a training.”

“But I can’t see you!” She cried. “My visions of you—they’re gone!”

“Visions?” He turned toward Carlisle. “Oh you’ve got to be shitting me. And I thought Edward was the odd one out.”

Carlisle only grimaced at him before turning his attention toward Alice. “Jacob isn’t like most humans, Alice. He’s… something of a supernatural cousin of ours.”

Jacob scoffed at that. “As if. But yeah,” he looked down at Alice. “If anything you should be worried about Edward. He’s going to get his ass handed to him over and over while Scars here teaches my guys how to take these bloodsuckers out.” He threw a thumb at Jasper and suddenly Alice didn’t think she liked this Jacob guy very much.

“He’s right,” Jasper’s hand fell from her arm as he straightened, “It’s just another training. Edward will be there, too. Check his future, too. Is it gone?” She checked, and then nodded. “And what about yours. Check yours for about,” he thought for a second, “the next two hours. Anything?”

She checked, and her entire body tensed when she noted the black out that would fall over her vision for the next six hours Jacob would be there. “Nothing. Not until two.”

“It must be them then,” Jasper remarked to Carlisle, who nodded in reply. He turned back toward Alice. “It’s just Jacob and his… people.”

“So we’re a supernatural blind-spot?” Jacob folded his arms, far too pleased with the information. “Cool. Too bad it doesn’t work with Eddie-boy.”

Her thoughts still on Edward, and how she couldn’t see any further than the next hour ahead, she spoke. “He’ll be here within the hour. And Esme will be back around one.” That would likely be when Jacob, Jasper, and Edward would leave, finally freeing up her vision but taking all visions of Jasper and Edward from her for an indefinite amount of time.

The prospect left her entirely too anxious.

“Damn. That’s really something,” Jacob was genuinely impressed. “Can you see Maria?”

Alice frowned and shook her head. She’d only recently begun to even try. At first, the idea of actively seeking out one of the subjects of her nightmares terrified her too much, but now that her arrival was a certainty, Alice had been putting her feelings aside and trying now. Of course, with no luck.

“Too bad,” he grimaced as he crossed his arms, bulking triceps flexing at the motion, “but I guess that would make things too easy, huh?”

Inhaling again to speak, Alice nearly choked on the stench. Instead shaking her head, trying to clear it. With the combination of this and the fact that she was left blind, Alice felt panicked.

“Hey,” hand on her elbow again, Jasper looked toward Carlisle and Jacob as he ushered her forward. “We’ll be right back.” And quickly, he led her out the door, and in an instant they were off into the forest.

After they were about seven miles away from the house, and Alice’s vision began to return to herself, she slowed to a human-paced run, letting the visions flood her mind and breathing out in relief, checking quickly to confirm that yes, Edward would be home soon and so would Esme.

“Better?” Jasper asked as she slowed to a walk, nothing but genuine concern for her in his gaze.

She inhaled a few deep breaths of fresh air, frowning when she still could smell the lingering stench. “A heads up would have been nice.”

“I didn’t think you’d have such a reaction. Other than the stink.”

“Why does he smell so bad?” Alice asked, gesturing back toward the house. “Humans usually smell good .” At the statement, venom pooled in her mouth. Great. She had just hunted not long ago, but now she’d have to before they went back to the house.

“He’s not quite human. Closer to human that we are, what with the heartbeat and all, but he’s different.”

“Different how?” Alice had sensed his heart, and how it was slightly faster than usual, but all human heartbeats varied depending on a multitude of factors. It hadn’t quite been a red flag for her, but she had taken note. “He stinks and I can’t see him,” she couldn’t emphasize that fact enough. never before in her entire life had she encountered anyone she couldn’t see.

Even Bella, with her powerful shield, Alice could see with ease.

“He’s a shapeshifter.”

Alice narrowed her eyes. “What exactly does he shift shapes into?”

“A giant wolf.”

Her eyes widened. “So he’s a werewolf?”

“No,” he dismissed, “those are rare. And very different.”

“How did I not know about this? How do people not know about this?”

“It isn’t our secret to tell,” he said, “Vampires may have chosen to reveal themselves and integrate, but that doesn’t mean the shape-shifters want to.”

“They absolutely reek though,” she pointed out, “how do people not notice?”

“Some vampires know about them,” he supplied, “but those who don’t know what they are simply find them to be an anomaly. And since they smell so bad it’s not like any vampire would willingly get close enough to find out.”

“Carlisle called him an old friend. He doesn’t look like he’s any older than twenty-five maybe. Are they immortal?” Even possibly being not the only immortal being in this world astounded her. Alice didn’t know why she hadn’t even considered the possibility before.

“Not quite. Shifters aren’t unchanging—clearly, they can change back and forth between their wolf form—but as long as they actively choose to change and remain park of their pack, they won’t age.” He leaned down and pulled a twig out from his shoelace. “Jacob is an old friend of Bella’s, from her human days actually.”

That would age Jacob Black in his late-70s if they had been around the same age when Bella’d been human. It was astounding that his living body could last that long in such incredible condition. Alice wondered if all shape-shifters were all as tall as he was. It would certainly be a sight to see. Or, to not see, she noted with a frown.

The fact that she wasn’t able to see their presence or their futures confused her. Even humans she could see. Although she supposed since she’d at one point been one, it made a little sense. These hulking wolf-people astounded her.

“There aren’t as many wolves out there are you seem to be thinking,” Jasper informed her. “Jacob’s pack and a few others where he’s from in the Pacific Northwest are all natives, descendants of spirit warriors of some sort. There are quite a few packs in Arizona, where we’ll be going, all descendants of different warriors from millennia ago. They’re more prevalent out west, but we know of a pack in New York as well as in North Carolina. I think that one only has maybe three or four members. It’s a genetic thing for them so when they eventually pass, sometimes their children or grandchildren will carry the gene.”

“What activates a change?”

“Us,” he spoke simply. “They only exist because we do. We’re their natural enemies.”

She hadn’t expected that reply. “But they’re working with us?”

“They live to protect their families and tribes. And the general human population mainly.” He paused, “There’s a whole, lengthy history to hear. I can give you some files if you want.”

She cocked her head to the side as she watched him through narrowed eyes. “I thought their existence was confidential?”

“Not explicitly. I mean,” he half-shrugged, “we have them all recorded here. But it’s not easily accessible.”

“Any more wild curveballs you guys want to throw at me?” Alice threw her hands up in the air before they settled on her hips. “Is magic real? Is flying possible?

“There’s plenty more you don’t know,” he spoke as if that was obvious. “But you’ll learn as you go.”

“Great. Thanks,” she said sarcastically. Really, if they wanted her to stop reacting so severely to all of this new, insane information they were constantly bombarding her with, they could at least give her hints here and there.

“I’ll give you a heads up before we head back,” he offered. “That way you’ll know when you’ll be able to see us again.”

“Stay in touch, please?” She nearly begged, looking up at him desperately. “I don’t like this.” She hated the prospect of Jasper and Edward being away from her foresight. Not that they couldn’t protect themselves, but Alice’s ability to give them adequate warnings could mean life or death in a worst-case-scenario.

“It’ll be okay. We shouldn’t be gone too long.” He looked down at her, his eyes soft. “I’ll keep my phone on me, I promise.”

“Okay,” Alice nodded, accepting the assurance with as much grace as she could. She would just have to try not to stay glued to her phone for the several days where they’d be gone. “Thank you.”

They spent another hour out of the house, running off to hunt quickly before returning. Alice hated how her sight seemed to dim slightly. She could still see some things: Josie, Emmett, Bella, and Rosalie were as clear as day. It seemed that the only people she wasn’t able to see was anyone in direct contact with Jacob.

When they got back, Edward was there, smirking at her when she ran back into the house through the glass doors in the back, Jasper following closely.

“I heard you can’t see Jacob.”

“And thanks to him, I can’t see you or Jasper’s future either,” she snapped quietly, not wanting Jacob to overhear. “I’m not happy about this.”

“Sorry,” a deep voice called from another room. Alice was shocked he’d heard her.

“Jacob has much better senses than normal humans,” Edward grinned again. “Don’t worry. We’ll be back before you know it.” He met Jasper’s eyes as the blond went to leave the room, “I’ll send Esme down when she gets here.”

“Thanks,” and with that he was gone again, back into the basement to work until Esme got there to relieve him.

Watching his form disappear around a corner, Alice hated how she couldn’t even see what he’d be doing for the next few hours, despite him being in the same house as her. Jacob’s presence was truly starting to make her mad.

“We’ll be out of here soon,” Edward said, as if it were comforting.

“And then I won’t be able to see you two. How will I know that you’re okay?” Feeling a swell of sadness rush over her, she hoped Jasper was far enough away that it wouldn’t affect him too badly.

“By trusting us,” Edward spoke simply. “You don’t need to keep an eye on him every day, you know.”

Alice pouted at that, flickers of her old vision flashing through her mind. But if Maria got to him, that would just ensure her vision’s accuracy.

“He’s no safer with you than he is with me, Alice,” he pointed out. “And from what I heard,” he lowered his voice slightly, “you two seem to need a break from one another.”

Turning on her heel Alice made a swift exit, not wanting to talk about this with someone who would be able to read her every thought and insecurity on the matter.

“Hey, hey,” he flashed in front of her before she could exit the room, “sorry. Bella told me you’ve been upset. And I know you’ve been in touch with Rosalie. That can never mean anything good.”

“I’m fine,” she assured through gritted teeth. She was not about to talk about her failed not-quite-relationship with the one person who knew exactly what was going on in the two of their minds. Any other person would likely love that, being able to talk with someone who could likely figure out the core issue in any social situation, but not Alice.

It’s not like there was anything to figure out. They couldn’t be together because Maria, so they wouldn’t. They’d focus on their jobs and what was important. Then, maybe if they survived this impending confrontation, they’d give it a try.

“I should be back before Jasper is,” he supplied. “I’ll be helping for the first few days and then Emmett will for the remainder. When I get back I’ll work with you on some things. In the meantime, try and get Carlisle to give you something to do. If not, at least ask him to let you shadow him.”

“Okay,” she nodded. Having something to do and anything to keep her mind off of things that were currently plaguing her would certainly help the time pass. Edward seemed to know this.

Although being around Jacob didn’t get much easier as the hours passed, Alice came to learn that she didn’t quite dislike him. He reminded her of Emmett a little bit, and the way he and Edward talked, their banter flowing smoothly, she wondered just how close the two were.

But, as she listened to Jacob recount a few stories from the past, she found herself captivated.

It turned out, he and Bella literally grew up together. Their fathers had been best friends and when Bella would come up to visit in the summer—a child of divorce, Alice learned—they’d spend most of their time on forced play dates. Then, Bella had moved there when she was a teenager, and they were properly reunited. Their hang outs grew less forced as teens and Jacob just about bragged about being Bella's first best friend.

It was fascinating to hear stories from Bella’s human life. Even imagining the dark brown eyes Jacob said she’d had was hard to do without Alice feeling like she was imagining someone completely different.

“She was such a klutz, always bruising and bloodying herself up. For the record, I was entirely against her change, but at least I don’t have to worry about her getting a concussion every time she walks down the stairs by herself.”

Edward had rolled his eyes at that but cracked half of a smile. Alice wondered if Jacob’s exaggeration wasn’t much of a stretch at all.

She wondered if there was anyone out there who had any stories about this like her. Had she been clumsy? Maybe she’d been well-read or musical to some extent? Edward did have a piano in the den, maybe if she sat down at it, something would come back to her.

But remembering the thick, faded lettering on the asylum’s forms, she figured she probably hadn’t done much of anything notable if she’d been as crazy as the forms said she was.

The wolves had stayed out of the War of 64’ for the most part, she learned. They didn’t join the fray, instead choosing to stay back and individually protect their cities and towns; but with great success apparently. According to Jacob, out of all the packs he knew of back then, they only suffered two fatalities.

“But with the loss of life everywhere else,” he trailed off for a moment, his memories far away, “we knew that if anything like this ever happened again, we wouldn’t be able to sit by and let people die.”

The thought of so many people out there preparing for an attack made Alice immensely emotional. Containment centers were dedicating hours a day to training, shape-shifters—despite their natural inclination to hate vampires—were willingly allowing themselves to be taught by them, and Alice hardly even know what the human world was doing to prepare.

With a heartbreaking thought she realized they were probably preparing to hide. That was truly all you could do when a newborn vampire tried to find and drain you. And even then, how could you properly hide from something that could sense you, miles away?

The situation had been bleak from the start, but Alice was starting to wonder how hopeless could it possibly get…

Alice found herself overjoyed when Esme arrived home, wrapping her arms around the woman tightly and holding on for so long that eventually Edward had to tap her on the shoulder, reminding her that they all had duties to attend to.

The urge to spit her tongue out at him was nearly overwhelming, but she did pout, releasing the woman so that she could greet everyone else.

“Go get Jasper,” Edward had whispered to her, “Esme will be down for him in a few but,” he nodded toward the door of the library and didn’t say anything else.

Go say goodbye , was what he said without even opening his mouth.

Alice couldn’t even be embarrassed, only secretly grateful that she would get even one more minute to spend with him alone before he was gone for a week.

In a flash, she was downstairs, apparently too quickly for Jasper’s liking.

“Everything alright?” He stood up from behind a desk, placing down whatever he had been looking over, paying no mind to whatever was on the computer screen.

His immediate concern made her pause long enough to watch the concern on his face flicker as he took in her entire form, as if scanning her for injury, or seeking out any physical causes for her distress. Her chest ached as she watched him.

“Esme’s home.”

He nodded, “I was waiting for her. I thought she had bad news or something…” Sitting back down at the desk, Alice deflated slightly when his eyes drifted back to the computer screen. Not that she could foresee anything with Jacob around, but she had hoped that Jasper would’ve appeared a bit more attentive with her, especially knowing he’d be gone soon.

Alice had to remind herself that she should be glad his attention was on his work and not her. She didn’t need his attention, she just childishly wanted it, and that was something she had to come to terms with, she realized with a potent disappointment.

When Jasper sighed, she found herself embarrassed. Of course he’d sense her emotional turmoil as she stood, feet away from him, and agonized over the fact that she missed him, and he wasn’t even gone yet. “It’s only for a few days.”

Alice blinked up at him. Oh. So he knew why she was upset then, it seemed. She didn’t know if that made this entire situation better or worse. But when he didn’t say anything further, instead typing something quickly across the keyboard, she decided that him knowing that she was sad about his departure, yet not offering any words to her, was definitely worse.

“My computer broke,” she blurted out, trying to be conversational. Really, she just wanted him to say anything else to her.

He looked up at that. “Like, completely broken? How?”

She shrugged, hating how happy it made her that now she had his attention. “Screen just went black. It won’t turn on no matter what I do.”

“And it’s fully charged and everything?”

“Charged?”

He stopped typing then, giving her an incredulous look. “Yes. Just like your phone gets plugged in every now and then. You laptop needs that, too.”

Alice stared at him then, suddenly feeling very, very stupid. “I didn’t think… it needed that…” But of course it would, she realized with acute humiliation.

When Jasper laughed, he lifted a hand, as if trying to physically hold in his chuckles. It made Alice a little happy to hear, but she detested that it was at her expense; she really did feel quite dumb right then, and wished she hadn’t mentioned it to him.

“Hey, no. I’m sorry,” he shook his head, grin still plastered across his face, “I should have told you. It was my fault for assuming. I’m surprised the battery lasted that long though.”

“I’ve never seen you charge yours,” she accused.

“I keep portable chargers on me,” he informed her. “DIdn’t you ever notice how I’d place our laptops together when we were at the hotels? Wireless charging.”

“No,” she said, simply because she’d hadn’t seen him do that. She had learned, over the years, how to give people privacy during certain times, especially when she was prone to seeing their futures. That was how she avoided looking in to catch anyone in a vision where they were less-than-decent or doing anything sexual. Something as insignificant as charging an electronic, she would’ve overlooked.

“Oh, well. You didn’t throw it out with the box, did you?” He pulled a few drawers open, glancing into each one. “I may have an extra one around here.”

“The box is in my closet still. It’s probably in there.” Alice was still so absurdly flustered by the entire thing that she almost fled the room then. It seemed she couldn’t ever think things through when it came to Jasper, and as someone who used to meticulously plan every part of their day, that was more frustrating than anything.

There he was, trying to get potentially life-saving work done, and there she stood, making a fool of herself as she struggled with her misplaced sense of inadequacy.

“Just leave it plugged in and off for a few hours, and it’ll be fine. You have to charge it regularly though. Letting it die repeatedly like that is bad for the battery.” He typed a few more words before glancing back up at her. “You know, I’m not the psychic here.”

She raised an eyebrow at that. “What?”

“Meaning, if you’re trying to tell me something, I’m not going to know what it is unless you actually tell me.”

“I’m just,” she bit her lip, looking around at the tiny office, “sad.”

“I know that,” he reminded her gently, finally pushing away from the computer fully, “doesn’t tell me why.”

Alice attempted to swallow the lump in her throat. “I’m just,” she shifted on her feet slightly, “going to miss you, is all.”

She felt so childish standing there, watching out of her peripheral as he stared back at her.

It was odd not to get an influx of visions after each of them said something or made a decision, so when he stood up and slowly made his way over to her, Alice was nervous to realize she had no idea what he was about to do.

“I’ll be back in a few days,” he repeated himself as he stopped, only a couple feet away. “And then I’ll be back. And we’ll train some more, and I’ll try and teach you some more complicated moves.”

“What if I said I wanted to come?” She blurted out, frowning and looking down at their feet. Real smooth, she wanted to chastise herself.

“Alice,” she could hear the smile in his voice and her dead heart clenched, “stay here. Work with Carlisle and Esme. Practice with your visions,” he offered, “maybe this blackout the wolves caused can be worked around. If not, still, practice them. You’ll just get better at everything you’re learning.”

“There’s so much to improve on,” she spoke, thinking about all the things she’d learned in the past couple months, and the incredible number of things she still had to learn.

“For someone who just started, you are doing remarkable.” He smiled down at her softly, and Alice felt the breath fly out of her body. “Alice, I’ll be back in a week. It will be okay.”

“What if she gets to you,” clenching her hands together, she let some more of her fear take hold of her, “what if this is when she strikes?”

“I’ll be with nearly two hundred shape-shifters over the next week. If Maria found me and brought even twenty newborns, they’d be toast. It’s going to be okay. Besides,” he glanced back at the computer, “as of twenty minutes ago they caught another lead. She’s heading back down south for some reason. North of Tomatlan, which is west of Mexico City, by the coast.”

“They’re sure it was her?”

Jasper walked over to the monitor, typed a few things, and motioned her to come and look.

The video clip, pulled from a gas station security feed at what looked to be the middle of the night, was hardly a second long, slowed-down so much that it looked like she was moving at a human-paced sprint, but despite the grainy video it was so clearly Maria. Her dark brown hair and tiny frame were unmistakable, and the eight bright-eyed vampires she was moving with was concerning.

“It’s the clearest picture we’ve gotten of her since she appeared,” he informed her, closing the screen and stepping away from the computer. It seemed he didn’t want to look at her face for any longer than was necessary. “Twenty-one Containers were in pursuit just before this, but they ended up killing nine of them—only suffering one newborn casualty—before the captain told them to pull back. They’re still in pursuit, trying to herd them back inland but it’s... hard to anticipate their moves.

“Mexico is still handling things right now, and we’re still preparing.”

“You don’t think they’ll take her out?”

“No. I think if they had the proper and adequate time to train and prepare, like we’ve been given, then yes, they could. But they have the disadvantage or trying to catch her on the fly. It isn’t just Maria at this point. You remember how that trio was executed in Roanoke?”

“They were emulating her,” Alice would never forget the callous, remorseless looks on their faces as they were informed of their certain deaths.

“People are doing that in places across Mexico. Not in huge numbers—only two vampires were executed this week down there for doing or planning something like that—but it’s still happening. Their Containers have their hands full. They’re stretching resources thin right now. It’s a desperate time to be a Mexican right now.”

“And lending them a hand would be a bad idea, why?” Alice had seen him snap at Carlisle and Edward for suggesting such a thing, but she could only hope that she’d get a proper answer this time.

“Strategy. It’s the reason Maria kept me around so long. If we prepare an impenetrable, study defense, she won’t get very far when she comes up here.” He paused for a second. “Of course, we can’t ask anything of them right now, and for me to say this on the record would cause absolute chaos, but,” he sighed, “what they’re doing now, keeping her at bay as they try to apprehend her is buying us time to prepare. Without their attempts, as fruitless as they may be, and if they were herding her up toward us, which they very easily could do without a second thought, it would save their skins without a doubt.”

“They’re good neighbors to have, then,” Alice realized with a strange sadness, now knowing that these people were doing anything they possibly could to stop this threat before it got worse. Before Maria got to them.

“Have you ever been?” He asked, as if trying to lighten the atmosphere. Alice couldn’t help but notice that most of their conversations ended up getting a bit too heavy. She shook her head. “We’ll go one day, after all of this.” He promised, sending her a wave of confidence along with a comforting smile. “It’s a beautiful country.”

Turning her head toward the door, she heard Esme’s approach, realizing, with disappointment, that her time with Jasper was almost out. Turning back toward him she almost gasped when he leaned forward and hugged her, pulling her into an embrace.

He sighed, his breath shuddering as it exited his body. “I’m know I’m not supposed to—”

But before he could pull back, Alice responded eagerly to the hug, holding her tightly against him, feeling like she was finally letting go of a breath she’d been holding onto for weeks now. It felt right so hold him like this. It felt like coming home.

Jasper still pulled back though, gently but firmly pulling her arms off, “Sorry,” he muttered, “I shouldn’t have.”

“I wanted you to,” she insisted, praying that he felt every ounce of affection she held toward him. “I wanted to.”

But before they could speak any further, Esme was opening the door, shooting them both a gentle smile—and either pretending not to notice Jasper releasing Alice’s arms or not caring about their nearly-compromising situation—before closing the door behind her and approaching.

Jasper wasted no time in catching Esme up on whatever it was he had been doing. As he did this Alice quietly turned and left the room, leaving the library and also exiting the basement. She fluttered right by the kitchen where Jacob and Edward were still chatting with Carlisle and instead flew up the stairs.

Distantly, she heard Jacob ask where she was going, but Edward had quickly quieted him, likely sensing the distress in her head. Silently, she mentally thanked him.

Trying to ignore the fact they’d be leaving any minute now, Alice took her time retrieving the nearly discarded computer box and plugging the laptop into the wall, choosing to sit and stare at the dead, blank screen until it would flash with life again.

When she heard a car engine start, she had to resist the urge to sprint down the stairs and watch them leave, but she forced herself to remain fully rooted in her spot on the floor. Counting the seconds after she heard them pull away, it was ninety-two seconds before she could see her own immediate future again, but when she checked up on Jaspers and Edward’s, it was completely blank.

It was going to be an unbearable week.

Chapter Text

“But shouldn’t I be able to see them a little bit? After all, they are technically human.”

“You’re right. Their genetic makeup is different than ours though, and that may have something to do with it. We both have 25 pairs of chromosomes. Humans have 23 but shape-shifters have 24. It’s likely that because of their genetic makeup, it’s difficult for you to see them but,” he lifted a finger, “potentially not impossible. It could just be because they’re so new to you.”

The two had been taking their first break in several days. Carlisle hadn’t had anything specific for Alice to tend to nothing that she knew how to do anyways but had been allowing her to follow him around most of the time. She watched over his shoulder as he filled out forms, patiently answering questions when she had them (and she nearly always had them), she listened in on phone calls, and even learned how to organize paperwork down in the library, something she’d seen Jasper do on a few occasions.

Edward had been right. Keeping busy with Carlisle certainly had been helping the time pass.

Currently, they were both in the kitchen, sipping on their own large containers of lukewarm blood. She’d been excited when he’d informed her that he needed a drink, but her disappointment had been obvious when she realized he only wanted to go to the kitchen to appease his thirst.

He’d smiled, kindly informing her that they didn’t have enough time to go on a hunt and she’d swallowed back her disappointment along with the less-than-satisfying but equally-filling meal.

“You think I might be able to develop a way to see them?”

“Possibly. You can see Josie after all, and she’s a human. Vampires come easier to you, correct?” Alice nodded in confirmation. “It is possible to expand and improve our gifts, you know.”

She nodded again. “I used to only be able to see myself. I didn’t see Josie’s regularly until I’d already been with her for a few months. But by that time I was already catching glimpses of random vampires I’d started seeing around the neighborhood.”

“It’s likely you could develop some sight on them. But the full black-out is what makes me wonder. Still nothing?”

She focused on Jasper for a moment, but came up empty. “Nothing,” she admitted with a sigh.

“Keep at it, but don’t stress over it. It could be you may have to spend time with a shape-shifter to develop sight of them.” Alice grimaced at that. “You get used to the smell after a while.”

“I can’t see how.”

“We smell just as bad to them,” he informed her.

“Maybe that’s the real reason we were mortal enemies once upon a time,” she mused, bringing more blood to her lips as she sipped.

Carlisle hid a grin behind his own bottle. “Don’t worry too much about things you can’t see. The fact that you can witness to anything at all is beyond what we would have ever dreamed of.”

She nodded, still finding her contributions to their effort to be lacking. It was hard, having to learn everything during a high-stress time as this, but there was nothing she could do at this point but try to learn, and to help as best as she could.

She contemplated whether to speak again for a moment, but then decided keeping him updated was her best course of action. “I’ve been working on trying to see Maria.” She admitted, unable to look him in the eye.

He placed the cup down. “Any luck?”

“No. I thought maybe since I’m so in touch with Jasper, and they used to be,” she struggled to find words, “close, that I’d be able to see something, but… not a darn thing.”

“Don’t worry about that either,” Carlisle dismissed. “We’ll find ways to track her regardless.” He finished the rest of his meal. “Trust me, Alice. Everything you’ve done so far is enough.”

It seemed like every time she didn’t meet up to the standard she was beginning to hold herself to, someone else was trying to assure her that it was fine, and that her inadequacies were okay, and to be frank Alice was getting a little sick of it.

She was eager to see Rosalie again, because she knew that the woman would tell her exactly what she needed to hear in terms of keeping her head in check. Sure, she could go about it a bit cruelly, but Alice thought of it much like a well-deserved kick in the ass. She’d gotten a good one on the phone back in LA, and she thought she was overdue for round two.

Suddenly, when she got a vision of Edward, she straightened up, almost dropping her cup.

“Edward’s ” no, he wasn’t coming home, but he was away from the wolves, which meant he was Arizona, which meant

Oh. Nevermind.

“He’s on the way to Nashville, right?” Alice nodded, trying not to be disappointed at the fact that she still couldn’t see Jasper..

That must have meant that Emmett had arrived in Arizona. With a quick glance, Alice saw that she was right. Where Emmett’s future had been as easy to pull forth as Edward’s now was, it was now gone, the tiny hole in her vision yet another reminder of her inadequacies.

What disappointed her further is that the training would likely take longer than any of them had anticipated.

Jacob Black had told them that only two-hundred and twelve shape-shifters from across the country had RSVPed to attend the week-long training seminar they were hosting in Navajo Nation. When they’d arrived there were almost four-hundred men and women in attendance at the camp.

Edward had called Carlisle immediately, and they’d had to do some major reorganizing of their schedules.

It had been five days since they’d been gone. Emmett would hopefully be there for the rest of the training; they were hoping three extra days would be adequate enough, but a sinking feeling in her gut told her it would likely be more.

Pulling her phone out she sent a quick text to the group chat she’d been ecstatic when Esme had showed her how to do it she’d set up between herself, Edward, and Jasper. Of course, Jasper hadn’t replied to a single message, but she’d been harassing them enough that Edward would give her a short reply at least once or twice a day. (It depended on how many dozens of messages she’d send.)

EDWARD! I can see you again! Come home soon!

Now she’d have to see if there was a way to add Emmett to the group and take Edward out of it. After all this was strictly a ‘I can’t see your future so this is how I’m keeping tabs on you’ chat, and now that she could see Edward he’d have to flicker by some nosy journalists when he got off his plane later she felt much better.

Of course, swapping Edward for Emmett still didn’t do much too for her nerves, but she allowed herself to be content with what she could see as she flickered through Edward’s incoming day.

Soon after their pit stop in the kitchen Carlisle was back in his office, making more phone calls that Alice found herself only partially paying attention to now that they were starting to get repetitive.

The following morning he sadly informed her that he’d have to leave her behind when he drove to DC for the day, and then spent time in Philadelphia the day after.

“I’ll be back in roughly two days,” he assured her, “maybe less. Maybe more. But I want you to stay here. Shadow Esme a bit down in the office. Just listen in on everything. You’ll still learn some new things.”

Alice had nodded along to his words, trying not to feel stir-crazy at being cooped up in the house. It was an odd feeling. Something she would have never thought she’d experience in her life. Especially considering she skulked around an attic for several decades, content as they come.

Esme, sweet as ever, had wordlessly allowed Alice to listen into and watch every single thing she did, even telling her that if she wanted to take a break to hunt, change, check the mail, or do anything, really, she was welcome to do so at any point.

Alice had dismissed that at first, feeling silly that the woman even thought it was necessary to offer, but after three days, she had to leave, excusing herself quietly while Esme was in the middle of what Alice had to admit was the most ridiculous phone call she’d ever listened in on.

Some humans were drunk and unsure of whether they’d stumbled across a newborn hiding place when they had called to file an emergency report. As Esme spoke to these people they were receiving real-time updates that it had likely been a basement full of large and impressively fast raccoons. Alice didn’t know who decided to let that report go through all the way to the intelligence office, but as Esme listened with a patience she wasn’t sure she had, Alice had to leave.

Sitting herself on the back porch, Alice let the warm breeze blow around her, closing her eyes and letting the noises surround and soothe her.

Everything she had been doing nowadays felt so repetitive and unhelpful. Esme and Carlisle’s instruction had been invaluable, of course, and they were teaching her things that would truly come in handy one day. Things she would need to learn at some point.

But it felt like a lot of it was simply wasting time. Everything Esme was doing could be performed unassisted, and everything Carlisle had been letting her watch in on and follow had been slowed down every time she asked a question or made him explain something.

Realistically, there was no time to be teaching her the ins-and-outs of tasks that everybody was already dealing with. If they really wanted to utilize her, they’d send her off to help with Edward or Rosalie or Bella. When she had been travelling with Jasper he’d informed her, after she’d dealt with several entrance exams, that she’d been saving him time all across the board.

The only other way she could think to help out would be to utilize her visions to their benefit, but…

Focusing for a few seconds, she let out a frustrated huff. Seeing Maria was still impossible for her. It wasn’t actually the first time she’d ever attempted back in the day and soon after her change, when she was hiding out under highway overpasses and running along roads just on the treeline, she’d attempted to see both Jasper and Maria with no luck. After all, those had been the only two faces she knew, and for her first several years she’d been desperately seeking some type of purpose. Maybe finding it with the two that would bring her demise had been a foolish idea, but that was all she had until Josie plucked her off the streets.

And now with her complicated relationship with Jasper, perhaps seeking out her nightmares wasn’t a completely terrible idea...

But something Carlisle had said had sparked the hint of an idea within her. It was true, she was definitely most attuned to Jasper and Josie, but she could very easily pull forth her other fellow Protectors futures with ease. Even vampires she’d only met once Paula Deers, Ben Fields, even the impatient studio producer who had scolded her for tapping her foot with a live mic on Alice could, with little concentration, pull forth flickers and glimmers of their futures.

But how on Earth would she be able to track down something or someone she’d never seen before? She would certainly need help. She didn’t know the terrain of her own country, let alone a foreign one.

When she heard footsteps approaching, she opened her eyes and turned, smiling when Esme walked out and joined her on the back porch.

Pushing back the idea and chewing on her lip, she considered keeping the idea to herself. After all, how likely was it that they’d agree to any plan she could concoct? Especially being the new kid. They didn’t need to fight Maria, of course not. Alice would never ask anything like that of them. They just needed track her down enough that she could get close. Being able to exchange words would be the best-case scenario, but Alice would take any opportunity she could get.

“Everything alright?”

Alice shrugged, “I feel sort of useless.”

“Learning isn’t useless.” Esme sat herself down beside her, mirroring her position with her hands behind her back as she reclined, looking out into the trees. “In fact, it’s the best thing you could be doing right now.”

“The best thing I could be doing would be using my visions to help everyone, but,” she let out a pathetic laugh, “that doesn’t seem to be happening.”

Esme didn’t seem taken off guard by her uncharacteristic bout of self-loathing. “Carlisle told me you’ve been trying to see her.”

“Yeah, and with no luck,” she shook her head, hating how pitiful she sounded. “It would shift the tides in our favor if I could see her. Knowing her next move could save thousands of lives and I have the ability to do it. But doing what I am now, isn’t helping. I’m not helping.”

“You know what’s funny,” Esme smirked, eyes following a group of birds as they flew over the house, “Jasper was telling me the same thing.”

That really hurt, Alice realized with a sharp gasp. It was one thing to acknowledge your own shortcomings in this time of crisis and panic, but for one of the people you cared about most to agree with your biggest insecurity for the time-being? That absolutely stung .

“Why even bother training me then?” She asked, trying not to cry. “If everyone knows I’m not helping.”

“Oh, that’s not what I mean,” Esme was quick to dismiss her pain, “I’m saying that Jasper doesn’t think that he’s helping.” She corrected with an apologetic look. “Not about you. He can’t say enough good things about you and everything you’ve done so far.”

“Really?” Alice breathed, the ache that was swallowing her dissipating with just a few words. “Wait, Jasper doesn’t think he’s helping?” He was the reason they’d likely win, when it came down to it. He was the continent’s most valuable asset right now.

“I had a conversation quite similar to this one with him just before he left. He doesn’t think he’s doing enough. He thinks he’s wasting time running these ‘errands’ for us,” she lifted her hands to pull finger quotes into the air, “and that he’d be better suited for work on the front lines.”

That revelation left Alice confused. “Down in Mexico, you mean?” Esme gave her a serious look. “But why!? He’s been so against us going down and helping!”

“He doesn’t want us to have to get involved.”

“So he can help but we can’t?” Alice frowned. “Why the hell not?”

“Alice,” Esme fixed her with a stern look, as if she were missing the point, and as Alice saw what Esme was about to say, she realized that she was. “Jasper is trying to keep us all safe. He has wanted to leave from the start.” Esme spoke, matter-of-factly. “His first plan he proposed was for him to travel down and work directly with Gerardo. But since he wanted to go, then Emmett wanted to go, and Rosalie wasn’t going to let him go by himself, so then suddenly half of our members wanted to leave and we had a panicked country to deal with. Jasper called off the entire idea when he realized that Emmett wasn’t going to let him go alone.

“The next day was when we learned Mexico had lost another Protector, so that had solidified the decision that no one would be going,. Not even Jasper.”

That had certainly explained his disposition for those first few weeks that Alice had known him. He had been giving off the same energy that she imagined a caged animal would exude, uneasy with his confinement, ready to strike, and quick to frustration. When Alice had her first conversation with him, she hadn’t been expecting it to go so civilly.

“He was willing to fight with Mexico and risk his life rather than to stay here?” The idea terrified her. If Maria was currently capable of disposing of three Protectors within the first few weeks of her resurgence, what would have stopped him from being the next fatality? “He planned to leave?”

“He would have gone, too, if he’d been able to go alone. Well,” she shifted slightly, a frown maring her features suddenly. “His idea actually included the involvement of some of our own newborns out of our containment centers.”

Alice blanched at that. “To form his own army?”

“He acknowledged it wasn’t very ethical, but he brought up some good points when he proposed the idea. It would’ve been strictly volunteers, of course. He even had Carlisle almost in agreement. This is Jasper’s absolute area of expertise,” she reminded her.

“Strategy.” Alice nodded grimly.

“Yes. He says that even with training all of these people which is highly valuable work, no matter what he says it’s useless without being able to form and execute a proper strategy of attack.”

“But... we’re training for defense.”

“Exactly,” Esme nodded. “Jasper isn’t used to that. Which is why he’s discouraged.”

“And why he thinks he isn’t doing enough.” Suddenly, so many things were making sense. His tense moods, his inability to see everything that he was doing right and doing well .

“That’s why I’m saying that his concerns are reminding me an awful lot of yours. You both know where your strengths lie, but you’re both currently unable to utilize them fully. You’re both frustrated and to be honest,” she shot her an apologetic look, “it’s very obvious.”

And just like that, Alice was certain they weren’t simply talking about their line of work now.

Eyes flickering back to the woods, she tried to ignore the sympathy that she saw in Esme’s eyes.

“I won’t pry, or ask any questions,” the older woman quickly assured. “Jasper is a very private person and I know you’re new to all of this. But I know enough to see that you both very clearly care for one another.”

Reaching down, Alice began fiddling with her bracelet, letting the hard pads of her fingers gently brush over the engravement of her name. It’s reciprocal, her brain kept trying to remind her, despite her insecurities always forcing her to be unsure about them.

“I know I’m not supposed to

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have.”

But the words he spoke as he’d embraced her made her heart ache.

“We can’t get distracted,” she supplied pitifully.

Esme laughed lightly at that. “As if you both aren’t already.” Standing up, she brushed some discarded, rotting flower petals leaves off the back of her pants. “I’m going back down. Join me if you’d like, if not,” she looked around at the petals littering the porch, “feel free to sweep this a bit.” She offered, frowning at the sight.

Alice couldn’t help but smile a little at that. Esme was always keeping things neat and clean. It wouldn’t hurt to help her out a little bit while she was stuck downstairs, sorting through reports and files.

Before Esme could walk into the house, Alice reached out, “Wait. Esme.” The woman turned, a questioning look on her face. “I had something I wanted to ask,” idly, she found herself playing with her bracelet, nervous at the idea of bringing this up, “to help, I mean.”

Esme stood, waiting while Alice tried to word her plan as delicately as possible.

“I have an idea to start watching Maria more closely.”

She raised an eyebrow, “You want to go down there?” She guessed accurately.

“Not to fight of course,” Alice felt the overwhelming need to assure her. “But if we can get me within a certain distance from Maria I might be able to start seeing her. If not, then even if we exchange maybe two words, that would work. Then we could get out of there and then suddenly I have every decision she’ll ever make right here,” a pale finger tapped her temple. “It will be easier from there to take her out, and cut her off at her every turn.”

“That’s a very dangerous idea, Alice,” Esme spoke seriously, her expression grave. “Countless things could go wrong.”

“Even more wrong than the murder of innocents down south?” Alice was not going to give this plan up so easily. “You said it yourself, I’m the key to all of this. But that would only be true because of my visions. And my visions won’t help me unless I can get an accurate read on Maria but I can’t do that unless you send me down there.” She had to get Esme to see her side of things. If she could, then everyone else would have to relent. “I know it’s hard to sacrifice people especially someone who doesn’t even know what they’re doing,” she felt a bit hysterical at that statement.

“No one is getting sacrificed.” Esme’s face was sad as she spoke, clearly displeased with Alice’s word choice as she wrapped her arms around her midsection.

“You have the knowledge that I’m the key, and I have the concrete vision that I’ll contront Maria eventually. But if I can just go down there first, maybe it will set everything off. This could be how we win.”

“It could also get you, and other people, killed.”

“People are already getting killed! So what if it’s me?” Alice felt like crying then. All she wanted to do was help end this nightmare. And if it ended with her death, would she really be so disappointed in that? After all, for them, to live and let things like this happen was to be a coward. And Alice was sick of running and hiding.

She wanted to fight.

“That plan would only work if you could get home safe and sound. The chances of that not happening are far too high.”

“Let Jasper put the strategy together then,” Alice offered, knowing as she spoke that it sounded like a ridiculous idea. There was no way in hell he’d let her go down there, “We’ll have multiple steps to execute, with task forces to take me nearly every step of the way. That way it has a higher chance of success.”

Esme gave her an odd look then, and Alice simply knew that Esme had had the same thought that she did: Jasper would have a fit if he knew that Alice was even considering something so risky.

“If you want, we can discuss it with everyone the next chance we get.” Esme told her, sighing. “I don’t like it, and I know that a lot of people won’t, but we’ll hear you out and see what everyone thinks.”

“Thank you,” Alice breathed, meaning it so genuinely. “I know it’s dangerous. But this could work.”

“I would hope so.” And then Esme was gone.

Alice waited a couple minutes before breathing again. Sitting herself back down, cross-legged on the porch, she closed her eyes. She had to figure out a way to make this work. If she could come up with a solid plan, or at least one they could build upon, then she would make them see things her way. This had to be why she was there, even is Esme swore she didn’t know the reason.

If she could pull this off, they could take out Maria.

And as Alice planned, pulling visions and possibilities forth one after the other in her mind, she knew she only had a few days to figure something out.

Chapter Text

The next day when Carlisle returned, Alice brought up her plan to him almost immediately. He hadn’t been as quick to shun the idea as Esme, seeming more receptive to the idea of a more offensive attack now that they’d been getting nowhere fast.

He’d asked her to keep it to herself for the time being and that when Edward got home later that week—Bella and Rosalie were both due back in two days time, and Edward two after that—they’d all discuss it, calling up Emmett and Jasper and tuning them into the conversation.

Alice had still been upset over the fact that it had been several days passed what Jasper was supposed to be gone for, and yet she still couldn’t see his nor Emmett’s futures. She was having no luck seeing past the blind spot and after a while she’d elected to stop trying. If anything would bridge that gap she was sure it would be time spent with the wolves, something she didn’t have the time—or desire—to do.

When Rosalie and Bella showed up two days later, just as Alice had seen, she was happy. It had been so long since the three had been together and despite the chaotic situation they were all navigating, they did find a couple hours one night to sit back and catch up.

“Emmett and I haven’t gotten a damn moment alone in weeks,” Rosalie had complained, sitting in front of Alice as she sat on her couch and played with the blonde’s hair. Alice had been childishly excited when she’d seen the vision of the two of them sitting just like this, and when she made the decision to ask and saw that Rosalie would allow it, she had been ecstatic. “After all this is over we’re going on a vacation.”

“Bahamas?” Bella asked from where she lay a few feet from them, also on the floor, “or Europe?”

“I was thinking Africa actually. it’s been a while since I’ve been. I know Emmett loves the hunting there. If I feel like it we’ll make it another honeymoon.”

Bella snorted, thumbing through a magazine idly. “Would that make it the sixth?”

“Fifth,” she smoothly corrected. “I don’t count the Cancun trip.”

“Ah, the rip tide incident.” Alice raised an eyebrow, to which Bella suppressed a grin. “Emmett threw her into the water while she was wearing her engagement ring and they lost it.”

“I made him search the water for four days,” Rosalie huffed. “He scanned ten square miles underwater, found thirty-one other missing rings, but not mine. If I hadn’t been wearing my brand new Alaia button-down I wouldn’t have cared enough to let my attention sway, but,” she sighed, looking at the diamond ring on her finger now, “this one is cute, too.”

“So it’s still lost?” Alice couldn’t help but feel sad at that revelation as her fingers paused in the blonde’s hair.

“It’s fine.” She dismissed easily. “It wasn’t the original one he used to propose. That one I keep stored away here. The one I lost was just the flashier one that I wore around town.”

Alice’s eyes then went to Bella’s bare hands. “Do you have one?”

“An engagement ring?” Alice nodded. “Yeah, and a wedding band. I keep them stored away too. Edward and I got married not long after I was changed, so I couldn’t exactly wear them for the first few years of this life anyways. I would’ve just mangled them.”

“Edward would probably mope for a decade if you wrecked his mom’s ring, too.” Rosalie sounded humored by the idea, and Alice was in awe.

“You have his mother’s ring?” Alice was suddenly reminded of the stories Jacob Black had shared with her about Bella’s humanity and wondered if they all had little mementos and memories from their human lives. Her wrist felt awfully heavy with that thought, her bracelet moving wordlessly as she ran her fingers through Rosalie’s hair, starting a fresh series of braids.

Bella nodded. “I only wore it for the wedding and for pictures. I’m still nervous about breaking it so I don’t wear it often.” Then, she nodded toward Alice’s bracelet. “I’m surprised that thing has held up so well over the years.”

“I may start leaving it at home,” she mumbled, “I had to fix the clasp again in Fayetteville because it broke.”

“Yeah, jewelry isn’t the best thing to wear during fight training,” Bella agreed.

“I have an extra jewelry box you can keep it in,” Rosalie offered, “I’ll grab it later for you.”

Alice appreciated the sentiment, but the thought of leaving the bracelet behind made her anxious. “Do either of you have anything else from your human lives?”

“I do now,” Rosalie said. “After my change I hadn’t wanted anything to do with the place I’d grown up in or where I’d come from, so I wasn’t in contact with anyone for a few decades. My younger brothers eventually tracked me down. I was on good terms with them and their families until they died. They supplied me with enough of my own belongings after a while. Some clothes. A lot of jewelry. Some of my mother’s old belongings, too.”

“I have plenty,” Bella explained simply, “I still own the house in Washington where I lived when Carlisle and Edward found me. That reminds me,” she closed the magazine and rested her head on her hand, “I have to clean that out sometime in the next couple years. All that stuff is just collecting dust.”

“That might be fun,” Rosalie commented. “Esme would probably love to remodel it, too. We could make a project out of it.”

Alice couldn’t help but feel warm and happy, listening to her friends talk about eventual plans. It comforted her into thinking that maybe this chaotic year would pass swiftly, and they’d be able to live normally after they got rid of Maria.

“The bracelet is all I have,” Alice mumbled after a few thoughtful seconds. The admission wasn’t sad anymore, instead Alice felt an odd excitement blooming within her. “I’d like to find my family, if they’re out there, and see if they have anything old of mine. Or even just to know if there’s anything of mine to have. That would be nice.”

Going on a fifth honeymoon could be Rosalie’s post-Maria goal, and cleaning out her old home could be Bella’s. But finding her family was certainly Alice’s. Despite everything that had happened, and despite all that was still happening, Alice was still going to hold Jasper to his promise, and make him help her track them down.

“You said you don’t know anything about them, right?” Rosalie asked, turning her head slightly to look up at Alice. “Between Edward and Jasper, I’m sure they could find some info.”

“I actually know a little bit,” Alice muttered, staring back at the two. “Do you two not know?”

The two girls looked at one another before shaking their heads. That surprised Alice. She was sure that at least Bella would know. After all, if Jasper and Carlisle had known, that meant Edward had learned it from their minds. And if Edward knew, then Alice was shocked he hadn’t told Bella.

Letting her hands fall from Rosalie’s head, the hair falling back around her face, Alice grabbed her laptop, opening it and quickly typing across the keyboard. She’d had Jasper send her the scans of the files he’d found, that way she had a good starting point.

And simply having the files in her possession made her feel a bit more sane. Ironic, considering the paperwork.

Pulling the scans up, she showed her friends, starting with the asylum admissions.

“Holy shit,” Rosalie stated bluntly. “Could this be why you have no memories?”

Alice shrugged. She’d thought about that but couldn’t be sure. “It brings up more questions than it answers.”

“They posted an obituary the same date they admitted you,” Bella’s face was sad.

“I’ve done a little bit of digging, but I’m not entirely great at it. I did find this though.” Then, she showed the girls the scanned newspaper clippings: a couple of advertisements for Brandon Jewelers. One dated November 94’, the other April 95’.

“Oh, forget another honeymoon,” Rosalie took the laptop from her, letting her eyes memorize every scan. “This is the first thing we’re doing after we take care of Maria.”

As they talked back and forth, planning the actions they’d take to ensure they’d track down pieces of her past, Alice found herself overcome with emotion. So, when Rosalie closed the laptop and turned to hand it back to her, saying “If they’re alive, we’ll find them,” Alice reached out and wrapped the woman in a tight hug.

“Thank you.”

She could almost hear the eyeroll in Rosalie’s voice as she lifted her arms and embraced her back. “I’m not going to let you research all of this half-assed. You deserve a proper look into it.”

As she hugged the blonde, she couldn’t help but think back to her talks with Esme and Carlisle. If this plan of hers to seek Maria out really did come to fruition and ended up going sour, and if the worst happened and she did lose her life before being able to learn more about herself and her old humanity, then maybe they’d find out anyway, on her behalf.

She didn’t exactly want to ask them that, as morose of a question as it was, but if they all agreed to help her advance her plan, she would want to make sure. Maybe she wouldn’t know, but she would be content if someone could find out.

And if these women, her friends, could learn the truth about her past, that would have to be good enough for her.


To say that she was excited when Edward finally got back home would have been an understatement. Despite the looming threat constantly hanging over their heads, it felt nice to have so many of the people she cared about under one roof. If only Emmett and Jasper were there, Alice would’ve felt complete.

She absently wondered how Josie would fit into this motley crew of vampires, humoring herself to pass the time as she waited.

Thankfully, Carlisle didn’t waste much time, calling them all together an hour after his arrival. They’d, of course, had to wait for Esme to get off of another phone call, but once she was finished they’d gathered in the dining room.

“I sent them a message and told them to call once they could get set up in a boardroom,” Carlisle informed them, setting his phone down in the middle of the table.

“They don’t exactly have boardrooms at that camp,” Edward leaned back against the wall, hands in his pockets. “I’m sure they may find an empty cabin though. Or an empty corner of the cafeteria if they’re lucky.”

“That crowded, huh?” Bella seemed impressed with the turnout. “Jake did well.”

“The woods are always free,” Rosalie offered, sitting herself into a chair and crossing her legs. “I’m relieved they even have service out there in the middle of nowhere.”

“The Navajo Nation isn’t the middle of nowhere,” Edward shot her a wry look. Rosalie just rolled her eyes at him.

Alice sat in a chair at the edge of the long table, her feet pulled up against her chest. It still made her anxious that she couldn’t see the two men, and as she stared at the phone, begging for it to ring, she was glad that Jasper wasn’t there to experience her intense stress.

Eyes finding Edward’s, she offered him an apologetic look. It was easy to forget that although Jasper wasn’t there to sense her moods, Edward was still there and could read her every, anxious thought.

It had to get annoying sometimes, she wondered as she let her eyes fall back to the phone.

The second the screen lit up, she couldn’t help it as she leaned forward, pressing the green button before Carlisle could even lift his arm.

“Jazz? Emmett?” Hands braced against the table, she leaned forward, speaking loudly and directly into the phone.

Yeah, we’re here,” Jasper’s deep voice echoed through the room.

Damn Alice,” Emmett boomed, “ What are you doing? Yelling directly into the receiver?

Oh yeah, speakerphones and stuff.

Shooting Carlisle an apologetic look, she backed herself off of the table, sitting back down in the wooden dining set, trying to reign in her nerves. Last thing she wanted to do would be to accidentally destroy a chair in Esme’s set of eight. She was sure she also wouldn’t be too happy if Alice snapped the table in half out of excitement.

“Are you two somewhere private?”

Private enough,” Jasper spoke, displeased. “I don’t know why they have an infirmary here, but it’s empty and it’s ours for now.

Smells like the elderly,” Emmett supplied. “Like a bedpan supply closet.

Alice almost let a giggle erupt out of her at that. It felt so good to hear them both again. When Bella stifled a laugh, she felt a bit better about almost doing so herself.

“Knock it off, Em,” Rosalie demanded, crossing her arms.

Anything for you, Angel.

“Moving on,” Carlisle shook his head slightly. “How is it going over there?”

Very well, actually,” Jasper sounded confident. “Much better now. We’ll be wrapping up and heading home by tonight as long as things go smoothly.

The joy Alice felt at that left her feeling nearly giddy. Sitting up further in her chair, she couldn’t help it when she leaned over the table once more, letting her cheek rest against the wood. It sounded so wonderful to hear Jasper’s deep voice. She could only imagine how nice it would be so see him again.

Her stomach nearly did flips at the thought.

As long as no one tries ripping your head off again,” Emmett said cheekily.

“I’m sorry, what? ” Alice’s head shot up, looking at the people in the room, alarmed.

“Emmett,” Rosalie groaned. Esme clicked her tongue, also not finding the joke funny. The only person who seemed to not know what he was talking about was Bella, who simply shrugged at Alice and directed her attention back toward the phone.

“What do you mean, trying again? Someone attacked you?” Alice felt herself growing a bit distraught at the revelation, especially considering a few of them seemed to already know about it. Neither Carlisle nor Edward had reacted to the information.

It’s fine,” he cut off loudly, “I’m fine.

“What happened?!”

“Some packs are older than others.” Edward muttered, ripping his glare away from the phone to shoot Alice an apologetic look. “A few remembered Jasper and hadn’t been fully informed that he’d be their instructor.”

“You were attacked!” She directed again, toward the phone. “And you didn’t think to mention it?”

Emmett snorted, somehow finding the entire situation hilarious. “Yeah, because him casually texting you about nearly being turned into a chew toy would have gone over so well.

“Enough,” Esme spoke loudly, upset over the topic at hand. “Alice, I know you’re upset. Jacob had everything under control. Edward was there, too.”

It was nothing.” Alice could almost picture the grimace on Jasper’s face. He did seem to hate being the center of attention. Alice was sure that he could lose and arm and absolutely keep the information to himself until someone were to see. “Can we please move on?

“Yes,” Carlisle agreed. “I want to go over some things really quickly.” He looked up at the room. “Rose, Bella, you two can flip a coin over this. One of you needs to be in Detroit tonight and for the next couple of days, the other gets to stay in the intelligence office. Esme and I will be travelling to DC tomorrow morning and staying through the weekend.”

Rosalie groaned, before looking over at Bella. “I’ll give you dibs on the next first choice if you go to Detroit.”

“Fine by me,” Bella shrugged.

“Great, I owe ya,” the blonde winked before turning back around. “Hear that?”

Bella you are a gift,” Alice could hear Emmett’s grin in his voice as his voice boomed from the phone. “An absolute gem.”

Edward rolled his eyes at that, ignoring his wife’s grin and shrug. “What about us?” He gestured toward Alice and himself.

“Edward, I need to look around to find where’s best to send you. Jasper, when you and Emmett get home I want you both to work with Alice for a little while, train her more. But more on the offensive instead of defensive, please.”

There was a pause on the receiver for a long couple of seconds, before Jasper’s voice was there, demanding, “Why?

“Carlisle, no,” Edward’s voice was next, and firm. “Absolutely not.”

What is it?” Jasper demanded, his voice commanding. “Carlisle. Why?

“Alice has an idea she wants to share.” Carlisle spoke, a perfect poker face carrying over through his words.

No,” both Edward and Jasper spoke at the same time.

Alice was taken aback by that. “Excuse me?” She leaned back until she was in the chair. “I haven’t even told it yet,” she nearly yelled toward the phone, feeling frustration at their dismissal. Especially of Jasper’s. Edward could read Carlisle’s mind and see her idea, but Jasper didn’t even know what they were talking about. His lack of confidence in her was borderline infuriating.

And knowing you it’s probably self-sacrificing and irresponsible,” he spoke, his words direct and candid. “Tell me it’s not,” he demanded after two more seconds of silence.

“It’s the best shot we’ll get at seeing her,” Alice insisted through gritted teeth, feeling humiliated at his patronizing tone. “If I can just get in earshot of her, I’ll be able to see her—”

No,” Jasper actually yelled. “If you do that, she will get to you. Alice, you’ll never be able to get back up here. It will be a suicide mission and it’ll end with you dead and us no closer to stopping her.

“If I’m supposed to be of any help, sitting here isn’t going to do anything. I can’t see her unless I see her. And if I can do that I’ll be able to predict her every movement and that’s how we’ll win.”

“Jasper,” Carlisle cut in, knowing that he was now navigating a minefield. “It’s worth considering if we can put together a prepared enough task force.”

The reason the team in pursuit of her right now is only pursuing her and not striking is because every time they do half of their numbers get slaughtered. If this was ‘64 I would agree that you’d have a chance but there is something off about what’s happening.” Alice could only picture that Jasper was pacing, his voice coming slightly in and out as he passed wherever it was the phone lay. “Even if that plan had a tiny bit more than a snowball’s chance in hell, there would be no way we could prepare her in time for something like that.

“So what? Am I supposed to just stay cooped up in the house while you all go out and actually do things?”

Yes!” Jasper yelled the same time Carlisle shook his head, saying, “No.”

We’ll be back by morning,” Jasper growled into the phone, “we can talk about it more then, but there is no way it will work.

Alice bit her tongue, feeling absolutely humiliated as well as angry at the way he’d responded to the entire idea. It wasn’t a bad idea. It was dangerous, that was a given, but Carlisle was right, if they could get a good group of people together, and with Jasper’s leadership as a strategist, it had to work.

Of course, if he didn’t agree to help she would never even get the opportunity to see how that would turn out. And unless she could calm him down enough about this topic, and unless she could make him decide to help, there was no way she’d be able to know how it would truly end.

For a moment, she wondered what she would do if the plan was dismissed and if she never got the chance to help. And that’s when she realized that Jasper had been serious. He really did expect her to stay confined to that house while they flew around the country, taking care of business and preparing for war.

An idea sprang to her then—a decision entirely made from impulse—but the moment it happened, a vision came over her:

The pain that burned up and down her arms was unlike anything she’d ever felt. She was being pushed face-down into the dirt, a foot pressing hard between her shoulder blades as her arms were restrained behind her back painfully.

Every time she struggled, her captor would twist her arm ever so slightly. And with flickers of visions Alice knew that if she didn’t stop, she would soon be without an arm.

When she was hoisted up onto her feet, she couldn’t help but scream as her granite skin burned, every movement painful to her. There was another burning at the juncture of her neck and shoulder, and that’s when Alice realized what they were: bites.

“Those will leave some pretty scars.”

At the sound of the voice, so familiar yet so new, Alice’s head shot up, only to see a crowd of newborns staring back. Their eyes red, their stances ready. She could tell that they were itching to rip her limb from limb, and as her captor yanked again on her arm and she let out an involuntary cry, she knew that they would likely be beat to that.

Still, she couldn’t see the owner of the voice as they circled around behind her. When she felt fingertips brush against the bite mark on her neck, she flinched at the touch, only to be jostled roughly by the vampire who was restraining her.

“Shh,” the voice soothed, suddenly uncomfortably close to her. And when Alice felt the feeling of something wet sliding along her shoulder, she cried out, stomach turning at the feeling. “There. That will make it feel better.”

Suddenly, Alice wanted to disappear into the Earth. As her wounds were licked, her captor jostling her to reveal more bite marks across her arms while still keeping her restrained, the feeling of a tongue followed along the stinging. Alice hated how it did soothe the burn, but wanted to be out of the reach of this woman and her wandering mouth.

“I won’t lie,” the voice spoke, a heavy Spanish lilt to their English words, “I was not expecting one of you so soon. And I especially wasn’t expecting you. The Major, maybe, but not his little mate.”

At the mention of Jasper, suddenly Alice was squirming, pulling her arms against their restraints and kicking her legs fiercely, a growl ripping it’s way out of her throat.

Suddenly, her face was back in the ground and there was a grinding noise. It took Alice half of a second to realize that the searing pain in her shoulder was due to the fact that her arm had been ripped entirely off.

As she was hoisted back onto her feet, her captors arm going around her neck, now that she had one less arm to restrain—she couldn’t take her eyes off the discarded limb that was lying only feet in front of her.

“Kyle,” the voice seemed only mildly disappointed, as if she were scolding the misdeeds of a child and not of a fully grown vampire, “Don’t worry,” she spoke to her, “we’ll reattach that.” She walked in front of her then, and that’s when Alice caught her crimson eyes and almost-kind smile. The dark hair that fell past her shoulders and her tanned skin. “Do not worry, Alicia. As long as you cooperate, you will not be harmed any further.”

She walked over to the arm and picked it up—Alice’s eyes were glued to the bracelet that hung limply on her lifeless wrist—before turning back toward her and approaching. As she held the limb up to her jagged shoulder, she roughly reattached the limp arm, leaning forward again to let her tongue run over the part where her arm met her shoulder.

Pulling back, Maria lifted her hands, cradling Alice’s face almost tenderly. “Mi querida Alicia. El amor de mi pequeño Comandante.” She smiled sweetly. “You will be of great use to me.”

The scream that ripped it’s way out of Alice’s throat nearly hurt.

She didn’t wait for her eyes to focus back on her present before she’d backed herself up, crushing the wooden chair and desperately trying to escape.

“Alice, no!” There was a slight commotion and then Edward was there, tightly gripping her arms as she flailed, restraining her before her feet could get purchase on the ground and launch herself away. And she had to get away. “You’re safe—Alice! Look at me— Alice!”

What’s happening?” Jasper’s voice was desperate on the other side of the phone. “What’s going on?

Was that Alice?” Emmett’s voice sounded far away as Jasper demanded answers across the receiver.

Carlisle! What is going on!?

But Alice couldn’t focus on them. She had to get out. She had to get away.

“No you don’t,” Edward nearly shook her as he tried to get her to focus on him. “It’s gone, it’s over. The vision is gone. She’s not here. You’re home.”

“I’m sorry,” Alice finally gasped, catching her breath long enough to collect a hysterical, pitiful wail. “I won’t go, you were right. I’m sorry.”

“Fuck, Alice,” Edward wrapped her in a hug then, crushing her against his chest, “Fuck.” He seemed shaken up be what he’d seen in her mind and as he embraced her, she clung to him desperately. Knowing that she hadn’t been by herself as she’d seen it, that Edward had seen it with her, made her feel just a little bit less alone in that moment, despite the fact that her fear was still very real, clawing at her angrily, demanding that she flee.

Alice hadn’t realized the phone wasn’t on speakerphone until she saw Carlisle speaking lowly into it, the phone pressed against his face as he paced. “She saw something,” she heard him speak, “I don’t know what—hold on.”

And when Edward transferred Alice to Esme’s waiting arms, flickering over to Carlisle, he took the phone in his own hands.

“Maria,” he said simply, “she made a knee-jerk decision to go anyways and saw Maria, it—” Edward paused, his voice shaking as his spoke, “it was bad.”

Alice began to whimper then, the vision burning fresh in her mind. Pressing her face into Esme’s shoulder, she held tightly to the woman, wishing she’d never made that decision.

It was a vision that rivalled the vividness of her first one, and with a quick check to confirm that yes, that one was still there, Alice’s crying turned into choppy sobs.

Esme whispered soothing noises in her ears, running her fingers through her hair as she rocked slightly, trying to will Alice to calm. But she was no Jasper, so Alice simply held tight and cried.

“There’s nothing you can—” Edward sighed across the room as Jasper yelled something on the phone, Alice couldn’t make it out passed Esme’s shushing. “Esme and Bella have her.” And that’s when Alice realized that Bella was running soothing circles across her back. “You might make things worse.”

“Edward just let him talk to her, for fucks sake,” Rosalie’s voice cut through whatever argument Edward and Jasper seemed to be having on Carlisle’s phone.

Please, Alice begged mentally, knowing she wouldn’t be able to ask out loud.

When Edward strode over, wordlessly pressing the phone up against her cheek, Alice scrambled to grab it.

Alice? Alice?” Jasper’s voice on the other end of the line was frantic. “Alice? Are you there? Say something. Alice?

“Jazz,” she inhaled, hiccuping through her sobs, “I’m sorry. You’re right—she’ll get me.”

No, she won’t. You’re okay,” he soothed, his voice heartbreaking to her in that moment. “It’s okay, you’re with everyone, not with her.” He paused for a moment, “I’ll be home soon okay?

“I’m sorry,” she repeated, her breath shuddering as she struggled to regain control of her fear. But her arm still hurt with nearly-gone phantom pain and for a moment, Esme and Bella’s proximity began to make her feel claustrophobic.

“Back off a second, guys,” Edward was there in an instant, sensing that it would only get worse, “Alice,” her eyes shot up to meet his, “you need to shake it off. Jasper isn’t here to calm you down. You have to do this yourself.”

I’m right here,” Jasper spoke into her ear, “I’ll be home tonight. I’m sorry Alice, I’m so sorry.

When her gaze wandered, Edward was there, forcing him to look at her. “You are here, with us. You aren’t with them. Your decision is unmade. They aren’t going to get you.”

“Venom hurts,” she cried, gripping Esme’s arm from a distance now that the woman backed up slightly, releasing her from her nearly overwhelming embrace. “It hurt so bad.”

It wasn’t real,” Jasper told her, “it won’t happen. I’m coming back. I’ll be there soon. Listen to Edward, stay with Esme and Bella. They’re real. They’re there for you.

“Stay in the present,” Edward commanded. “Don’t look for her again. Not now. It’s not worth losing you like this to a possibility.”

He’s right,” Jasper agreed into her ear, “Alice, ” he sighed deeply, and was quiet for a couple seconds, “Are you going to be alright? Can you give the phone back to Carlisle?

“No!” she blurted out, clinging to the phone now with all ten fingers, “Jazz, I’m scared.”

“Edward,” Carlisle called him back over. Alice could now see that he had someone else’s phone in his hand—Esme’s, she was pretty sure—and it was already ringing loudly. “It’s fine. Let her keep it for now.” Answering the call and placing it on speaker, he put the second phone back down on the table.

“Alice,” Carlisle called, and she could just barely hear the echo of his voice through the phone she pressed up to her ear. Emmett must have called Esme. “Edward’s going to describe the vision. I’m going to need you to add anything important that you may have noticed that he might have missed.”

Can it wait?” Alice heard Jasper’s voice through the speaker as well as through her ear. She gripped the phone as hard as she could without breaking it, trying to pretend that it was his hand she was holding. After all, this would be the one thing that would likely keep her calm now, especially since he wasn’t there to do it. “At least until we get back?

“I can do it,” Alice spoke up, still trying to regulate her breathing, but knowing that she had to do this. She had to tell them what she saw in case it helped. If she wanted to help that bad, then she’d have to put her fear aside and try.

Alice—

“Go ahead Edward,” she nodded, her voice still shaking. “I—I’m here. I’m paying attention.”

Edward stared back at her with a disapproving look, knowing how frantic her thoughts were. But still, he turned toward Carlisle. “I counted six newborns,” he started, “none of them recognizable. There’s another one restraining her that could be a newborn, but she doesn’t see him.” Alice nodded in confirmation. “Then Maria, so eight total.”

“I want to get this clear,” Carlisle said, turning to Alice, “you saw this when you made what decision?”

“The decision to leave,” Edward answered for her, seeing in her mind that she couldn’t bring herself to reply. “She made a decision to do it this afternoon, it would’ve been after Bella left and,” he hesitated for a second, “before Emmett and Jasper got back.”

“Alice,” Jasper sounded pained, “you can’t—”

Quickly, Alice lowered the phone and ended the call, tossing the phone back to Carlisle without even looking at him. Over the speaker they could hear Jasper’s slight confusion at the beeping on the other end of his line.

“Drop it,” Alice snapped, hands finding Esme’s as she glared at the woman’s phone. Her pain was quickly morphing back into the frustration that had been so palpable before the vision hit. “I know. It was stupid. You don’t need to remind me. ‘Self-sacrificing and irresponsible’, I got that,” she repeated Jasper’s words back at him, her tone acidic. “It doesn’t matter. I still saw her, she still had her newborn rip my arm off, she still—”

Alice shivered as she thought about the way Maria had licked her wounds.

“I’m not going, it wouldn’t work.” She looked up at Carlisle then. “Are we done yet?” She needed to hunt. She needed to shower. She needed to get away from this house for a few hours before Jasper came home and they inevitably ended up fighting again. She needed to shake the feeling of Maria’s mouth on her...

“We are still going to talk tonight,” he informed the room, folding his arms over his chest, “about potentially travelling down the right way,” his golden eyes flickered toward the phone, as if the words were meant just for Jasper. “If Alice is having visions this vivid over knee-jerk decisions, we need to sit down and run through every option. Even if the plans don’t work, it would be helpful for Alice to see the outcome for each option we can choose.”

“And put her through that again?” Rosalie seemed against the idea, and although Alice was thankful for the thoughtfulness she knew that it didn’t matter.

“It’s okay,” Alice muttered, “anything to help.”

“If your visions can get us any information, they’ll help.” Carlisle nodded. “Emmett, Jasper, I’ll see you two tonight.”

Before Jasper could voice any more protests, Carlisle ended the call, turning and handing Esme back her phone.

“Alice,” he spoke seriously, “are you going to be alright?”

“Not until she’s dead,” she replied honestly, feeling a determination like no other begin to bubble up inside her. “I’m sorry,” she spoke out loud to the room. “I didn’t mean to cause another scene.”

“Alice,” Edward was looking at her, a twinge of fear in his own eyes, “your reaction was entirely understandable. You just—for all intents and purposes—had your arm ripped off.”

“But it’s not real. It’s fine. I’m fine. What I saw doesn’t matter because I’m going to find her,” she snapped, feeling uncharacteristically angry at the occupants of the room. “I’m sorry,” she quickly apologized again, shaking her head. “I’m just… so mad. I need to go hunt I think.”

“I’m coming,” Edward insisted, following her closely.

I’m not going to run, she gave him a dry look. Now that she’d seen the outcome, she was going to be staying comfortably close to the house.

“I know,” he said, walking up to her and beginning to usher her out of the room, “but after seeing that,” his jaw clenched. “I need to go blow off some steam, too.”

Alice nodded then, understanding a bit more. He was just as scared and angry as she was. It was a comforting thing, knowing that although it hadn’t happened to him, he could empathize with her as if it had, witnessing it firsthand with his own gift. With his own burden to hold.

As they ran off, Alice letting her frustration with her predicament carry her further and faster into the woods, she found herself losing steam with every mile they traveled. After about twenty miles, she stopped, beginning to wish she’d instead stayed home.

And when suddenly Edward was there, wrapping his arms around her again, she simply hugged him back and cried, wishing—not for the first time—that she hadn’t been cursed with this gift and with this life she’d never asked for.

This life that would kill her, no matter what choice she made.

Chapter Text

She regained her sight of Emmett and Jasper around 7 o’clock, meaning that they’d likely be home sometime after midnight at the earliest. They would just barely catch their flight and would end up with an hour long layover at some airport Alice didn’t care to see. Instead she let relief fall over her as she flickered through each of their futures.

Emmett would have a bit of an intense reunion with his wife—Alice tried hard to skip passed those glimpses of his night and following day—instead smiling at the visions of him happy and home.

As for Jasper…

It wasn’t a very clear vision, but there was—of course—another possibility of them fighting tonight while she sorted through visions and possibilities with Carlisle and Edward, and now she found herself dreading the encounter, where before she had been as determined as ever to sift through vision after vision, until they could potentially learn something.

When Bella left around nine and Rosalie disappeared into the basement to begin working again, Alice found herself growing sad. Of course this was a busy job, and Alice would be a fool to ask for more free time with the people she cared about, but their absence, paired with the oncoming battles she’d be fighting with Jasper later, Alice wished she had more time to simply be.

So when Alice made herself at home on the couch in the den, and when Esme came and sat beside her, Alice merely curled up into her side and closed her eyes, wishing she could sleep to pass the time.

The two women remained like that, curled into one another comfortingly—and god, did this make her miss Josie—until just before one in the morning, the sound of a car pulling up to the house pulled them both from their thoughts.

“You’re a strong girl, Alice.” Esme spoke, drawing her eyes away from the hallway that led to the garage door. “No matter what you think or what doubts plague you, you are stronger than you know.”

“Will you stay?” Alice asked, feeling childish. “When we have this meeting or whatever, will you sit with me?”

Emse smiled, cupping Alice’s cheeks and leaning forward. “Of course, sweet girl.” When the woman pressed a kiss to her forehead before standing, Alice felt herself grow warm with what she could only describe as love. Esme was truly a wonderful person.

Clinging to her hand, she stood and followed as Emse walked to meet Emmett and Jasper.

Jasper was the first person she saw, but when he caught sight of her he stopped, letting Emmett race past him. Esme met him first, smiling up at him as she pulled his massive form into a hug.

“Sup ma?” He squeezed her affectionately, eyes locking on Alice as he pulled back from the embrace. “Hey,” his voice was more gentle than she’d ever heard it. And when he walked around Esme and held his own arms out, inviting her over as opposed to storming up and squeezing her, Alice felt emotion well up in her, thankful at the gesture. “You good, pipsqueak?

Alice couldn’t help but smile then, walking up to him and wrapping her arms around his huge torso, squeezing tightly. When he didn’t eagerly return the embrace, she felt her smile drop. “I’m not going to shatter, you know?”

“Yeah but,” he leaned down and hugged her back, still hardly using a quarter of his typical strength in the hug, “that scream from earlier scared the shit out of me.”

Ah, she’d nearly forgotten that Emmett had been with Jasper for that entire debacle.

Forming a fist, she punched him lightly in the chest. “Good,” she stood her ground, as she pulled back, refusing to be tiptoed around, “whatever keeps you all on alert.”

“If you end up killing one of us from the world’s first ever vampire heart attack, it’s gonna be that asshole,” Emmett pointed a thumb over his shoulder, clearly referencing Jasper. “You guys enjoy your meeting,” he smiled down at her as he began to walk away, bag slung over his shoulder, “because I have an appointment with the librarian.” Pointing toward the basement he winked at them and Alice couldn't help but laugh, especially when Esme clicked her tongue.

“Are you ready?” Jasper asked from where he stood, still unmoving in the hallway.

Alice turned back toward him, meeting his eyes for the first time in almost two weeks. She’d missed him terribly, she noted with a sad realization, taking in his unmoving form.

Her memory was as sharp as ever, but she swore every time she saw him after a period away from him, he looked more and more handsome. His blonde hair fell into his face slightly, just barely out of the way from his golden gaze that was fixed steadily on her. With an arm gripping the strap of the black backpack thrown over his shoulder, Alice could clearly see the muscles in his triceps flexing against the fabric of his shirt.

The urge to hug him was powerful in that instant, but as he remained unmoving, so did she, not about the be the one to bridge this gap between them. She was still upset with him; for his reaction to her attempt at helping and at his patronizing words. He didn’t seem too happy with her either, but his gaze was more gentle than Alice had been anticipating.

After a few seconds she realized he was waiting for a reply. She simply nodded, grabbing Esme’s hand and letting the older woman lead the way.

Jasper trailed behind the women, not close enough to reach out for, but close enough that Alice could still smell his scent. The urge to embrace him and bury her face in his neck, just to get a better hint of it, was nearly overpowering.

But all too soon they were walking through Carlisle’s office, where he and Edward were already waiting.

“Jasper,” Carlisle acknowledged from behind his desk, “glad you’re back.”

Jasper simply nodded, walking up and handing him the small bag. Alice was sure it was loaded to the brim with filled-out paperwork. As he reached across the desk, she eyed him carefully.

If there had been any sort of incident during his time in Navajo Nation, it didn’t show physically at least. She would maybe pry that story from Edward later. She doubted Jasper would be willing to tell her something that she was sure he’d claim would worry her any further.

“For the record,” he spoke as he took up space leaning against one of the walls, “this is a bad idea.”

“Tough luck,” Alice couldn’t keep herself from snapping at him. When his eyes found hers, they were pure ice. She met his gaze unflinchingly, deciding that she’d had enough of his pessimism for one eternity.

“Even if we don’t follow through with any of these ‘decisions’,” Carlisle commented smoothly, either undisturbed by their sudden hostility or unable to bring himself to care any further, Alice didn’t know. “The intel we could gather through Alice’s visions alone is too valuable to pass by.”

“We’ve already got one name,” Edward mentioned casually, holding out what appeared to be a freshly printed stack of papers. “Kyle Ellis of McAllen Texas. Went missing six months ago.”

When Jasper didn’t take the offered documents, Alice huffed, walking up to them and taking them instead. As she flickered through the thin packet, her eyes fell upon his face. He was the only vampire she hadn’t seen in her vision. The one who’d ripped her arm off and kept her restrained.

“He’s the one who hurt me,” she muttered quietly, eyes flashing over his face, memorizing it. “Six-foot-six. On the wrestling team for the state school.”

“He went missing during a visit home in December. On Christmas, no less.” Edward frowned. “He had disappeared unrelated to these sightings though, so Maria has been at it for longer than we thought.

Noting how Jasper had moved to read over her shoulder, she shot him a look, passing him the papers instead. “Anyone else?”

Carlisle then pulled up a large sheet of paper, spreading it across his desk. Alice’s heart fell when she realized it was a picture of every human that had gone missing from Mexico since Maria’s reappearance. All eighty-five of them.

“Martin Avelar, Elizabeth Smith, Gloria Cheatham, Daniel Hernandez, Cole Alcon.”  As he spoke, Carlisle circled a picture, marking a tiny star next to each name.

Alice leaned over, slight terror coursing through her as she recognized each of the faces that Carlisle circled. That was them. Those were the people that had been staring back at her with red eyes and violent gazes.

“Wouldn’t they know better?” She mumbled quietly. “They know what’s going on, right? Or who Maria is, don’t they?”

“It’s the bloodlust,” Jasper finally spoke up. “It drives them nearly insane with thirst. They’ll do anything to get to their next meal, and if Maria is their only way of feeding, they’ll do anything for her, no matter how much they may hate or fear her.”

She nearly shuddered at the thought. These were innocent, perfectly law-abiding citizens who had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. And now they couldn’t help but want to tear the world apart just for some blood. It sickened her, and made her pity them.

Without her visions to guide her along, she could imagine she wouldn’t have been any better off than these poor people.

“There’s one missing,” she commented as she walked around Carlisle’s desk to study all eighty-five faces. “There was another one—she was young. No older than fifteen or sixteen.”

“Can’t find anything on her. It could very well mean she’s much like this kid, Kyle. Taken before we knew Maria was around, older than all the other newborns.” Carlisle marked a few more notes beside each name as he spoke.

“Her eyes were a darker red than the rest,” Edward thought, “which could be a factor of age.”

“Or of thirst,” Jasper spoke. “But even working alone, that’s a small group for Maria.”

“You’re right,” Carlisle nodded. “There’s always a chance she has more second-in-commands, hiding out around the country.”

“Are they not looking?”

Edward shook his head, “Not actively. They’re trying to keep people safe right now. The don’t have the time or resources to safely scout areas. And even if there are other groups hiding out or staying underneath the radar, it would be hard to find or track them. Our kind is exceptionally good at evasion when we don’t want to be found. Gifted or not.”

“Let’s do this,” Alice spoke eagerly, sitting herself down in the chair across from Carlisle, directly next to the one Esme was sitting in. “Let’s run through plans, make decisions, and see what I can find.”

Carlisle nodded, but when he turned and met Jasper’s gaze, as if seeking his permission, Alice’s frustration mounted.

“I’m fine,” she assured through gritted teeth. “I can handle it.”

“You screamed like someone was killing you,” Jasper scowled. “I thought you guys were being attacked for a moment.”

“I can handle my own fear just fine.”

“But you can’t, Alice.”

Having enough of his lack of faith, Alice sat herself forward and made a quick, knee-jerk decision. She wouldn’t leave until the next time Jasper left to go hunting, but she would attempt to track down Maria. Then, a vision:

Sprinting through the woods, Alice pushed her legs as hard and as fast as she could, cycling through vision after vision as she attempted to lose the vampire that was hot on her tail.

She was only a few hundred miles from home, just passing through and out of the appalachians, when suddenly her pursuer caught up to her, making a wide arc and cutting off her trail.

“Alice!” Jasper yelled angrily, as she dodged his every attempt to grab her. She managed to avoid his every move until an impulsive move caught her off guard, and suddenly, they were both on the ground, Jasper gripping her tightly as she screamed and thrashed.

Back in the present, she frowned, a bit embarrassed at the swiftness of it. “That was a bust.”

“How about we actually work together to make these decisions, Alice,” Edward shot her an annoyed look from where he made himself comfortable against the windowsill behind Carlisle. “And Jasper,” the blond lifted his head, “shut up.”