“Yeah, I’m probably about to lose you. Cell signal around here is sketchy at best,” I said into my Bluetooth as I navigated the wet country roads of the state of Washington.
“Be careful, Dawn,” Xander replied. “I know you are hoping for a good outcome, but…”
“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’m prepared for anything and I won’t hesitate if I have to.”
“I hope you don’t have to,” Xander said and I was grateful for his support.
He knew how important it was to me to do this. Despite my Sunnydale family’s unwavering attachment, I was beginning to feel like I wasn’t connected to this planet by anything solid—anything substantial. I welcomed the surprise visit from an attorney who had finally tracked me down to tell me that, as the last surviving member of the Whitlock bloodline, I had inherited the family estate in Texas. The name of the owner had changed over the decades, first to Hansen and then to Bardo and finally to Capshaw, my mother’s maiden name. Her great-aunt had just recently passed away, having outlived all of her own children by decades and she stipulated in her will that the family estate was to go to a surviving member of her bloodline. Apparently, I was the only one who qualified.
“I would still prefer that you hadn’t gone alone,” Xander interrupted my musings. “You know, if Buffy…”
I cut him off, “If Buffy was still alive, we would be in this together, but she’s not and we’re not, so it’s just me and I have to deal with that…with this, Xander. I’m a big girl now. Not even a Junior Watcher anymore. I just…”
“Have to do this your way,” Xander finished for me and I smiled.
In so many ways, Xander understood me better than any of the others. He was the one who had supported me taking magic lessons when everyone else was afraid that the part of me that was still the Key would interfere with my ability to wield magic properly and safely. We were right and, while I wouldn’t call myself an expert Witch or anything, I wasn’t exactly a novice either. I could hold my own in battle, both physically and magically, and the Slayers I had been assigned trusted me to lead them and to keep them as safe as possible. Buffy hadn’t liked that I was forced to transition from child to adult in such a short amount of time, but the world wasn’t waiting for me to be ready to grow up and it had been Xander who supported my quest to become a full Watcher. Then, after Buffy had died, he was the one who put the sword in my hand and worked out a plan to avenge her death. In the end, he stood back and let me make the final blow that disintegrated Angelus to dust, not because he had killed my sister, but because there was no hope of restoring his soul again and neither Angel nor Buffy would want such a threat to continue.
Now, when my quest was to meet the family member that not even the lawyer had dug up, Xander was once again firmly in my corner. I smiled at the thought and told him, “You’re the bestest honorary big brother ever, Xand.”
“And you are the aggravatingest honorary little sister ever,” he replied and I heard him mutter something about an ulcer.
“Call you later and let you know how it goes,” I said as the line predictably began to break up.
“You’d better,” I heard him snap back at me. “Or, I’m sending Faith after you.”
I smiled as the line went dead. I knew he was serious about sending Faith if I didn’t call him. And she would be spoiling for a fight. The most recent apocalypse had left her with a broken back that had taken too long in her estimate—two entire weeks—to heal and she was going stir crazy from being sidelined. I knew that if she came out here, she might actually pick a fight, just to get rid of some of her adrenaline.
I glanced at the directions I had gotten from MapQuest and compared them to my GPS. I probably should have been nervous when my regular GPS failed the moment I left Forks’ town limit, but I shook off the feeling, knowing that I still had my magical GPS to rely on. That was working just fine, I noted with a satisfied smile, as the small piece of semi-electronic equipment directed me to make a right turn off the highway and onto a long, winding driveway.
I danced a little in my seat as I navigated the curves as quickly as I dared. I had been searching for months and I was finally going to come face to face with the man I had been looking for. I glanced over at the folder on the front seat. It contained all of the research I had found on him in case he tried to pretend he wasn’t who I knew he was. Underneath that, I had a photo album that held the only remaining pieces of my past. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bring it with me or not, but in the end, I thought he might like to see who his relatives had been, even if their lives had been cut far too short.
I pushed away the sadness that always threatened to overtake me when I thought of the deaths of my mother and my sister. I hadn’t spoken to my father in years and I was just grateful that I had been a legal adult when Buffy had died for the third and final time. It had been eighteen months since that horrible day and I still thought of her every day. I wondered if she would approve of what I was about to do. I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t, but somehow, I thought she might. Though she had been a Vampire Slayer, I had a feeling that these Vampires were a bit outside of her jurisdiction.
The revelation that my uncle had been changed into a Vampire was something I had to reconcile rather quickly and that was much easier once I managed to find out more about the family he lived with. Unlike others of their species, the Cullen family didn’t feed off of humans and I certainly couldn’t fault them for drinking animal blood, especially not after all the trips I made to the butcher shop for Spike. I giggled to myself, wondering what their reaction would be once they realized that I knew exactly who and what they were.
Finally! I thought as I pulled up in front of the incredibly large glass house. Of course, just as I stepped out of the car, the skies decided to open up and start dumping large quantities of water directly on me, so I left everything in the car and just jogged up to the covered entrance. I took a deep breath to calm myself and rang the doorbell. As the door opened, at the last moment, I clutched my magical ‘911’ necklace that Willow had made for me. She said she got the idea from a ‘Life Alert’ commercial and, though I was annoyed with the reference and the implication at the time, I was suddenly very glad for the potentially life saving measure.
I instantly recognized the small dark-haired woman who answered the door as Alice, but it was incredibly surreal when she smiled excitedly at me and clapped her hands together, exclaiming, “You’re here! I’m so glad you didn’t wait after all! A tree is falling onto the highway right now and you would have been stuck in traffic for hours and then you would have run out of gas!”
My eyes widened in shock as I realized that she had been expecting me to arrive. Apparently, my research was not as complete as I though it was. She barely stopped dancing around the doorway as she turned to call out, “Jazz, it’s for you!”
“Alice, what is it?” a deeper, distinctly male voice asked. The voice was getting closer and when he finally came into view, I could see that he was, indeed, the man I had been looking for. I felt my heart rate go up in anticipation and I knew they could both hear it plainly.
“Not what, Jazz,” Alice told him, delight clear on her face, “who.”
Jasper turned to face me then, but I was struck strangely silent as I took in the sight of him, live and in the flesh, in front of me.
“You’re…you’re really him,” I stammered, tears welling in my eyes. Not even half a second later, without any real thought behind the action, I launched myself at him, wrapping my arms around him. I knew my feeble human grip would never hold up to his Vampire strength, so I enjoyed the sensation for as long as I could before he came to his senses and gently pried me off of him. I immediately felt the loss. Somehow, my body knew he was family—my only remaining family, in fact—and I craved the contact after so many months without feeling that sense of belonging that only my mother and sister…and now Jasper…could provide.
“Miss, I’m sorry…,” he began, but I cut him off.
Tears were falling down my cheeks now and I wiped them away as I spoke. “Don’t tell me you aren’t him. I know you are. It’s okay. I know you are Major Jasper Whitlock from the Texas Cavalry. You died during the Civil War, but not in battle like they thought. You go by Jasper Hale now, but I know it’s you. I know it!”
He seemed to hesitate, possibly because I had backed him into the house and was poking him in the chest, which actually was kind of painful for me, but I couldn’t bring myself to stop as I spoke vehemently. Finally, with a sigh, he made a decision and nodded, almost defeated, “Your research is thorough.”
To say that I had been surprised when Alice told me that someone was at the door for me was an understatement. It wasn’t unusual for Alice to suddenly leave a room when a vision hit, so when she went downstairs abruptly, I didn’t think anything of it. When the doorbell rang, I realized that she had known someone was at the door. With the rest of the family working on Bella and Edward’s cottage, I wondered if the reason Alice had wanted to stay behind today was because she had seen that someone would need to be home to receive our visitor. I thought it had been one of the wedding guests returning to pick up some lost piece of clothing or party favor, so I determined that I would remain upstairs and out of the way of the temptation of the human blood that would assault my senses. I wasn’t exactly thirsty, but I wasn’t exactly satisfied either and to go downstairs would risk the life of whoever had come to visit. I forgot that concern entirely when Alice called me.
Before I had even fully registered the young woman in front of me, she had launched herself at me. The thirst returned forcefully, but there was something in the air that prevented me from acting upon it. Her scent was appealing—very appealing—and though I felt the urge to feed—venom quickly filling my mouth—I did not even move in the slightest to do so, even with her incredibly warm arms wrapped around me and her breath surrounding us as she spoke quickly.
Once I finally pried her off me, the young woman began to explain, in exact detail, who I had been. She was so fierce in her explanation and she most likely had proof that I would need to see and then destroy all trace of, I gave a token protest before I handed her the confirmation she had been looking for. I did not wish to give her this confirmation for it would certainly mean another innocent death at my hands, but not before I could find out who else knew my secret. Humans were not exactly known for keeping quiet. It was the same argument I had made when Edward had first taken an interest in Bella and I fought back the guilt that accompanied the comparison. Still, I did believe that Bella had been an exception and I would not risk Alice in any way. I quickly formed a plan: I would get her to show me all of her research and inquire as to who else had this information and then I would end her life before she ever even knew it was in danger. It was the only kindness I had to offer her. Still, I felt another small piece of me die at the thought of killing the girl.
“Your research is thorough,” I sighed, already mourning.
Suddenly, Alice was there, standing in between us, and I hissed, trying to pull her behind me. She slapped at my hand, something I had never seen her do before, and then smiled brilliantly at the girl. Her teeth gleamed and I wondered why the girl’s self-preservation instinct did not spark in fear.
“Dawn, why don’t you come in and tell us all about Texas?” she asked, pulling the girl—Dawn—into the house further. Another strange occurrence: Dawn did not flinch when Alice touched her bare skin.
I hated for my Alice to have blood on her hands, so I moved to intercede and handle the situation my way once more, when Alice looked up at me and pierced me with her eyes, “Jasper Whitlock, you will do no such thing. You’re the only family she has left now, too. She’s been looking for you for a long time.”
The word ‘family’ stopped me in my tracks. Combining that word with ‘Texas’ managed to send me into a moment of shock and I watched as the women move into the living room.
“Now, back to Texas…,” Alice prompted Dawn as she sat gracefully on the couch. Dawn sat less gracefully, but shot Alice an amused smile.
“Don’t you already know?” she asked.
I realized then that Alice was being quite open about her visions and I had another moment of panic attack set in quickly, but in that same fraction of a second, I realized that it didn’t seem to be fazing Dawn in the slightest. The young woman apparently knew about Vampires and had no problem with real life psychic abilities and I wondered how it was that she was able to process and accept both of these so easily.
“Well, it’s not the same as hearing it in person!” Alice exclaimed. “Jasper doesn’t like to go to Texas, but I’m sure you know that.”
“Yeah, I kind of got that impression, but then again, Maria was a bitch of the heinous kind, so I don’t really blame him there,” Dawn replied, tucking her long, brown hair behind her ear.
The action revealed a thin scar near her hairline that was close to fully healed. Human eyes couldn’t have seen it, but my vampire eyes could make it out plainly. Then, her words reached my mind.
Suddenly, I was in front of her, clutching at her arms and demanding, “You met Maria? How is it you are still alive?”
Dawn looked startled, but not scared exactly. I tested the emotional climate and realized that her emotions exactly matched her outward appearance. I had startled her, but she was not afraid of me. This, I did not understand. If she had as much knowledge as she claimed, she should be terrified. Then again, if she had enough sense to be terrified, she wouldn’t be in our living room right now casually chatting with my mate about my Sire.
“Answer me!” I demanded again, giving her a light shake.
“Okay, okay!” she replied. She made no attempt to move, but looked pointedly at her arms. I released them, but did not move from my place in front of her as she spoke, “I’ll explain more later, but yes, I met Maria, and—just so you know—time did not mellow her out any. But, ultimately, she wanted to live more than she wanted to kill me. Killing me would have brought on a no-holds barred fight, no matter how many newborns she brought to the party.”
“That’s impossible,” I declared, standing up and running a hand through my hair. Unless she had an army of Vampires at her command, which didn’t seem likely, I couldn’t see how this human girl could possibly be any threat to Maria.
“You might as well show him,” Alice told Dawn. “He’s not going to believe you until he sees a demonstration.”
“Most don’t,” Dawn smiled ruefully, and then she met my eyes for one quick moment, instructing, “Look at the door.”
I did as she told me and saw that the door was still open. I had forgotten to close it. Now, the door moved swiftly on its own and would have slammed shut if it hadn’t come to a sudden halt then closed quietly and the deadbolt that we never needed to use flipped over with a click.
“How?” I asked, for once at a loss for words.
I looked back at Dawn and she smiled at me, “In my family, being a Vampire is barely a blip on the weird scale.”
As if to prove her point, she flicked a finger toward the fireplace and the logs were suddenly aflame. I stood up and backed away from her—toward Alice—slowly. I needed to get my mate away from the danger.
“What are you?” I asked and then thought better of that. I didn’t want to offend someone who could create fire from nothing.
She ignored the true intent of the question and answered as she saw fit, “Several generations after the Civil War, I’m your niece. And, I’m hoping that’s okay with you, because Alice is right: you’re the only genetic family I have left and I’m not entirely sure that I can exist if you don’t.”
I heard her words, but they didn’t fully register with me for a long moment. Once they did, I only had one thought: What the hell did that mean?