The large cat roamed below me on the forest floor. I was up high enough that he hadn’t sensed the danger he was in. I was in a quick and efficient mood and didn’t want to cause my prey to startle the other wildlife in the area. My family was nearby, also hunting, and only Emmett would appreciate the sport my commotion would cause. I had already found and drained a large elk that had wandered away from a larger herd that I had seen Esme approaching from the north. I left the rest of the herd for her and, my thirst partially sated, I decided to see if I could find my preferred mountain lion. Luck had been on my side and now, I was just getting ready to pounce.
I was in the air and on top of the lithe creature a moment later. Not wanting to cause needless suffering, I snapped its neck quickly and drank until no more blood could be found in the corpse. The cat was long and sleek and I felt a measure of satisfaction in my kill. I was walking back to where I had separated from my family, debating whether I would look for a little something more, when I first heard the unfamiliar voice in my head. A moment later, I scented a stranger in the area and knew the voice belonged to a vampire—a borderline insane and desperate vampire if his thoughts were to be believed.
His internal monologue was really more of a mantra and was tinged with a growing desperation that I associated with drug addicts who were trying to abstain from their addiction. Over and over, he thought, One more day. I can make it one more day. Please let me make it one more day.
I changed direction slightly and followed his thoughts and scent to where I found him, huddled against a tree and rocking back and forth with his arms raised, his hands pressing against the sides of his face as though that was the only thing holding his flesh together. He wasn’t breathing and I suspected I knew why. The fire in his throat would surely be more enflamed if he brought air over it. He suddenly realized that he wasn’t alone and his eyes snapped up to meet mine. They were pure black and, even without being able to see any pupil left at all, I could tell that he was near-crazed with thirst. I suspected that was the only reason that I had been able to sneak up on him.
The next thing I noticed were the scars that covered his body. My natural instinct was to hiss, but I quelled it before any sound could come out of my body. It was obvious that he wasn’t a newborn. No newborn would have survived that many bites and no newborn had the strength to go so long without feeding. Even with the obvious pain the vampire was in, he was continuing his mantra, although it did jump the track for a brief moment when he thought ‘danger’ at my approach, but he couldn’t keep himself from sinking back into his self-imposed madness. I extended out my senses and found not a single bit of wildlife nearby. His emotional state must have sent them all fleeing even farther than our regular presence would.
I had never seen a vampire in such an acute state of starvation before. The images that flew through his mind would have been too much for a human to bear, but my vampire mind was able to catalogue them all and make sense of them. He was seeing and feeling his victims die over and over again, punishing himself for his weakness and resolving himself not to hurt anyone again all at the same time. Yet, the images also increased his bloodlust and I knew it would only be a matter of time before he snapped.
Esme was done with her hunt, and the closest to our location, so she was the first one to find us. I quickly filled her in and she looked horrified at his distress. In that moment, I knew our family was about to increase in number—if we could get him sane once again. If not, I feared that we would have to destroy him. Carlisle wouldn’t like that and, truth be told, I didn’t relish it either. I could hear the pain in his thoughts and knew that this was not some creature with no conscience in front of us. Like me, he knew firsthand the pain he had caused and was actively trying not to do it again. He deserved the chance for a better life and I knew my family was the only one that could give him that chance.
In the distance, I could hear Emmett crashing through the woods in our direction. On some level, the vampire in front of us must have registered the noise as well because he suddenly tensed, his eyes darting around suspiciously. He wasn’t actually really seeing anything, though, and that made him more nervous.
“Emmett,” I called out, using the most soothing voice I could muster. “Stop running. Approach slowly and don’t make any sudden moves.”
Rosalie and Carlisle were right behind him and I could hear the confusion in all three of their minds as they came through the trees. From the angle of their approach, they hadn’t caught his scent as Esme and I had so when they saw us, they each reacted instinctively. Years of medical training had made medicine and compassion Carlisle’s first nature, so he automatically sought to ease the vampire’s discomfort. Emmett pulled Carlisle behind him as my father moved to approach the still-shaking figure. The vampire’s clothing was in tatters and Rosalie had dropped into a low crouch and snarled at the sight of the ravaged figure.
I held my hand out to them and said, “Stop. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but I don’t know how he’ll react if you all crowd around him.”
“Doesn’t want to hurt anyone?” Rosalie practically screeched. “Look at him!”
She only straightened out of her crouch when Carlisle put his hand on her shoulder and spoke gently, “Rosalie, it’s evident that he’s in pain, but he hasn’t attacked. You may inadvertently set him off and someone could get hurt. He’s nearly feral.”
I heard Emmett’s thoughts clearly, If he doesn’t snap out of this, he’ll have to be put down. He’s not exactly blending in with society here. I won’t risk Rose if the Volturi come.
Of course, with my attention diverted to my sister and brother, I missed my mother’s decision to ignore everything I had just said and approach the half-crazed vampire. She dropped to her hands and knees ten feet away from him and was slowly making her way toward him. I could tell in her thoughts that she was determined in this course of action and I couldn’t take the chance that any move I made toward her would be construed as threatening and cause the stranger to snap.
“Esme,” I hissed and then tried again as she ignored me and inched closer to her quarry, “Mom.”
Emmett echoed my call and Rosalie hissed again. Even Carlisle gasped as he realized his mate was getting too close for his comfort to a dangerous vampire. The blond nearly feral creature whined then, a distinctly inhuman sound, as he tried to scramble farther back against his tree.
In her gentle voice, the one she used when nurturing her plants in the garden, she spoke to him, “Are you hurt? My husband is a doctor. He’ll help you.”
Her words did not penetrate the fog around his mind, but her calm voice had the intended effect. His mantra was still repeating in his mind, but at least he hadn’t attacked her and he had stopped shaking. She continued to speak quietly, telling him about her favorite parts of the forest and talking about our house that was about a hundred miles away. Finally, she was close enough to touch him and my entire family tensed. We all knew that one wrong move and our mother would be no more, but we had to trust her. She knew the risks and she would never allow someone to hurt if she could help them. Carlisle, especially, wanted to run to her and whisk her away from the danger, but he held himself still and waited with the rest of us.
Esme’s touch was the first chink in the armor the vampire had built around himself. She reached out and gently stroked his cheek with just her fingertips. He very nearly snapped at her, but Esme simply exuded love and warmth and her touch was always comforting. He flinched at first, but then allowed her to touch his cheek again. This time, he froze for a long moment before leaning into her touch. His mantra finally gave way and what replaced it was…nothing. No thought at all. He was reacting purely on instinct and that unsettled me. I wouldn’t know if he was going to hurt her, but just as I was about to pull her away, consequences be damned, the blond vampire did the strangest thing. He fell forward, into my mother’s arms, and keened his hurt out to her as she stroked his hair and spoke to him in low, soothing tones.
She seemed to realize that he was acting only on his baser nature and that actual words would not register with him in this state, so she kept her tone the same as she looked up at my siblings and spoke, “Emmett, Rosalie, go get him something to eat. Try to find at least one meat eater. It will taste better to him. Kill the animals there and bring them back, but do it without drawing blood. Go now and be careful when you come back. No running.”
After they left, Esme looked first at Carlisle and then me as she continued to comfort him. She dared either of us to contradict her as she declared, “Edward, you’ll have to share your room until we can move to a larger house or until I have time to build another room.”
Of course, I heard her thoughts and that we were keeping this strange vampire was already a foregone conclusion in her mind. She was always the epitome of the perfect mother. Carlisle looked at me then acquiesced to Esme’s directive. I was familiar with the process and I knew a battle lost before it had even began, so I simply nodded, not wanting to risk speaking in a tone that would upset the stranger.
He would need to feed before his rational mind could return and one thing was painfully clear: Emmett had been right that we could not allow him to continue to behave in this manner or he would undoubtedly draw the attention of the Volturi, probably when he would eventually snap and massacre an entire neighborhood in one evening. After a few more minutes had passed, the stranger allowed himself to slip down further and rested his head against Esme’s thigh as she knelt on the ground next to him. He whimpered occasionally, but Esme’s soothing touch kept him from moving.
It was just under and hour before Emmett returned with something for the vampire to eat. Emmett carried a dead mountain lion on his back and shrugged as he passed me, thinking, Don’t get jealous now, Edward. There’re plenty of mountain lions left in the forest. I pursed my lips together in an effort not to snort at his teasing then any impulse of levity left me when Emmett caught sight of the stranger in our adoptive mother’s arms. Shit! If that’s what a starving vampire looks like, I’m going to go look for another bear before we leave.
Truer words couldn’t have been said at that moment. Emmett and Rosalie were upwind from the stranger and he hadn’t caught the scent of the fresh kill yet. Esme motioned that he should bring the carcass around the side of her and then shooed him away with her free hand as she continued to stroke the vampire’s hair with her other hand. One delicate hand reached forward and pulled the mountain lion close enough that he was able to now smell the creature and he flinched, starting to pull away from her, but Esme gently held him steady and brought the cat closer, dragging it halfway across her lap so that the stranger would only have to extend his neck slightly to drink from its neck.
Lightning quick, she sliced into the lion’s neck with one finger and waited for him to smell the blood and react accordingly. It only took half a second for the reaction that she had been hoping for. Although it was incredibly dangerous for her to be so close to him while he was feeding, she refused to move. He dribbled blood all over her pants in his haste to take in as much as he could. Bones in the cat’s shoulders broke as his hands suddenly shot out and gripped the animal tightly to render every last drop of the precious liquid. It was over sooner than I would have thought. I could feel some semblance of awareness creep into his mind, but he wasn’t fully there yet.
Rosalie had returned while he was feeding and now she held out her offering to him—another mountain lion. She smirked at me and, when I glared at her, she told me, Learn to share, Edward. Esme motioned for her to repeat the process she had done with Emmett, but Rosalie stood her ground.
“Not going to happen,” she told Esme. I would see what she was doing, but I had no idea if it was going to work or if it would lead to a much larger problem. If he attacked Rosalie, Emmett would certainly get involved and that would only lead to someone getting hurt, or maybe even killed. Still, Rosalie was Rosalie and she could be incredibly stubborn; I knew she would not be swayed. Esme’s words fell on deaf ears as she stood in the small clearing and held the mountain lion out in front of her.
The stranger’s nose was twitching and he eyed the dead animal with undisguised hunger. He pushed himself up off of Esme’s lap and stared with naked desire. A growl ripped through him, but Rosalie held firm. She met his eyes and told him, “That’s right. This is for you. You can have him. But, you need to get off the ground and come eat like a civilized vampire.”
He didn’t stand up, but he did push him self back onto his haunches and watched her carefully. I could hear the struggle going on in his mind and I warned Rosalie not to push him too hard. She ignored me as usual and simply stood there, waiting for him to made the decision. Finally, she crouched down low to the ground with the cat and extended it out to him. “Come on,” she urged him. “You can do it. Just come here and drink.”
Slowly, the vampire crawled over to her. His rational mind hated that he was so needy and that he had so much attention drawn to him, but his need was great and a small sliver of him knew he couldn’t trust himself to feed otherwise. He crept as close as he dared and Rosalie placed the cat into his arms. He had passed her test and was rewarded. From there, he knew how to act and his teeth sunk into the lion’s neck swiftly, gulping down the offered blood greedily.
When he was finished, he lay there on top of the cat and I knew the moment when rational thought finally returned to him. Well, not entirely rational thought, but more rational than he had been anyway. Toward the end of his meal, he realized what he was drinking and that it wasn’t particularly appetizing to him, but he was ‘in the zone’ as Emmett liked to say, and there was no stopping until the last of the blood was gone. He registered all of our presences now and he backed away, hissing and baring his teeth at us. He felt surrounded and was gearing up to lash out when Esme spoke again.
“We’re not going to hurt you,” she told him.
He heard her words, but they didn’t quite form a sentence in his mind. He did, however, look at her as if trying to see through her. He associated her voice with the soothing presence from earlier and he hesitated in his fear for a moment. Emmett was practically ready to explode with having to stay still and I saw the vampire watching him cautiously, so I signaled to Emmett to stay back. He made a rude gesture in his mind, but acceded to my silent order.
Esme saw her opportunity and took it. She asked him softly, “What’s your name?”
Carlisle began to move forward and to the side and eventually was standing next to Esme. The vampire’s eyes twitched as he watched Carlisle cautiously. He definitely pegged my father as the leader of our coven. Having spent so much time cultivating our familial bonds, it felt strange to think of our family as a coven, but in the vampire world, that’s what we were. More awareness began seeping into his mind and he looked down at the dead cats at his feet. His confusion was palpable as he dragged one hand through the wound on one of the mountain lion’s neck and brought the bloody fingers to his nose, sniffing delicately.
He had yet to stand fully erect and I was beginning to wonder if he was able to when he backed away into a low crouch as Carlisle began to approach him. As Esme had done, he got down on the ground with him.
“Careful, Carlisle,” I warned as the vampire’s fractured mind had a fleeting wonder at the lack of dominance our leader was showing. It was true; although Carlisle was our creator and the technical head of our family, he and Esme functioned very much as a team, even when it came to parenting three strong-willed vampires.
Carlisle didn’t break eye contact with the vampire as he moved closer. Even as the stranger whined, a small part of him that was capable of forming actual thought was trying to convince the baser part of him that we had helped him. The rational being was slowly starting to win, but we all knew that moving too quickly, both figuratively and literally, could send this dangerous vampire into a rampage. Finally, with one last whine of complaint, the vampire fell silent and raised his chin slightly, baring his throat to Carlisle.
A ripple of shock went through each of my family’s minds as we watched what had once been an obviously fearsome warrior submitting to Carlisle before us, but I could hear his thoughts and he had finally realized that we had helped him and that, as our leader, Carlisle had allowed us to do so. His thirst wasn’t as prominent as it had been and Carlisle’s steady presence was helping him to calm down. He felt like he owed Carlisle his allegiance for not killing him. Of course, I knew Carlisle would never claim such a requirement. Our family was bound together through love and companionship, not duty or obligation. But, before we could explain that to him, he would have to be able to understand full sentences.
Seeing the submission for what it was, Carlisle reached out and rested his hand along the vampire’s neck and stroked lightly as he spoke, “My name is Carlisle. This is my family: Esme, Edward, Rosalie and Emmett. You’re safe with us. I promise none of us are going to hurt you. We’re going to take you back to our home and get you cleaned up, but first, you must tell me, are you still thirsty?”
The answer came to his mind long before he was able to express it to Carlisle, but after a long moment, he shook his head and was rewarded with a smile from my father. Finally, a fractured thought broke through his mind: Warm…safe…me…not worthy…need…
He pitched forward then and Carlisle seemed to know exactly what to do as he guided the vampire’s head to his shoulder and wrapped his free hand around his back to reach up and run gentle hands through the messy blond locks. He whispered, “It’s okay now. You’ll be okay.”
With a start, I realized that the vampire was basking in the compassionate emotions that Carlisle was projecting. It was more than just giving and receiving comfort. He actually seemed to be feeling what Carlisle was feeling, consciously making that feeling his own, trying to replace the perfect memories of people dying at his hand. I gasped quietly at my revelation.
The family, except for Carlisle, all turned to look at me. “He’s an empath,” I explained the horror I could not begin to imagine. I had the mixed blessing of hearing human thoughts and had, once upon a time, used that to justify the murders I committed, but to have felt their fear, their abject terror, their sorrow... “He’s felt every death, died with each of them, even as he killed them.”
Esme gasped then as well. Oh, the poor dear, she thought before saying out loud, “No wonder he hadn’t fed. To feel that, it’s been killing him, Carlisle.”
Carlisle nodded his head, his thoughts aligning with hers. If there had been a shred of a doubt before, I was well aware now that I was about to get a roommate. Knowing that Rosalie and Emmett’s emotions were more volatile than the rest of us, I turned to them and said, “Go get the truck. There’s space enough to park about five miles to the east. We’ll cover up the tracks on the way out.”
Fortunately, they decided not to argue with me, although Rosalie wanted to. I knew, however, that Emmett would never leave Rosalie in this vampire’s presence, so it was either send both of them or risk one of them having an emotional meltdown and overloading the stranger’s tenuous stability.
When I turned back to the vampire in question, I saw that Carlisle continued to hold him close. He whispered, “You don’t have to live like this. I promise. We’ll teach you another way.”
The vampire nodded against Carlisle’s shoulder. His eyes were squeezed tight and I saw a brief flash of a memory—a battle, the victors gorging on humans, then pain and horror and depression. Anything…anything, he begged an unknown being internally as he sank further into Carlisle’s sea of compassion. Please, I’ll do anything. Please just let me keep this.
It seemed the blood was finally making more progress in returning him to sanity. He had yet to speak aloud, but he was at least thinking full sentences again, even if they were starting to sound like the mantra he had been spouting when we first came upon him. His thoughts turned toward his other source of comfort and suddenly Esme had an overwhelming desire to join them on the forest floor. I couldn’t say if it was because of the vampire’s gift or if it was simply Esme being Esme. Either way, I knew she would never withhold love and support from someone who needed her. She moved over to sit on the side opposite Carlisle and reached out to stroke his hair again. He turned his face toward her and opened his eyes for a moment to look at her. Quickly, he closed his eyes and sighed as she moved to kiss his brow. She pressed her lips to a bite mark that ran through his left eyebrow and if her thoughts were any indication, she was sending every bit of comfort she had within her to him at that moment.
“My boy,” she whispered. “We want to get you home where we can be more comfortable and we can take better care of you. Please, can you tell me your name now?”
He fished in his memory to answer her question. A vampire’s perfect recall didn’t really apply when someone’s mind was as fractured as his had been and he worried whether the name that came to his mind was really his or if it was someone else’s, maybe even one of the people he had killed over the years. Finally, he settled on an image of a beautiful, but fierce vampire calling him by name, pressing a kiss to his lips and whispering into his ear. He flinched away from the memory, but seemed to have the answer he needed.
When he finally spoke, the name came out in a whisper, as though saying it too loudly might bring unwanted affiliations out of every corner of the forest. His head remained on Carlisle’s shoulder as he met Esme’s eyes and rasped out, “Jasper.”
He wasn’t an infant, but Esme had the fleeting thought of what he would have been like if she had raised him since he was a baby. She thought of her own baby and how she would have wanted someone to love him and care for him if she had been the one to die of a lung infection just weeks after his birth. Since she had often expressed the same sentiment about my own birth mother, I knew what was coming when Esme thanked Jasper’s birth mother for bringing him into her life and promised to look after him and love him as her own.
Esme offered him her sweetest smile and ran her fingers through his hair before settling her hand along his hairline. “Let’s get you home, Jasper. Your life here is over. It’s time for a new one. The past is the past. You’re my son now.”