Alice's foot is tapping a mile a minute. Much more, and she will run the risk of tapping her way right to the other side of the earth. I don't blame her for being edgy. We are running the length of the Americas, searching for something she can't see in the hopes that it will save the lives of not only ourselves, but those of our family. I, of course, can feel the swirling impatience, frustration, and desperation that radiates from her small body, but I definitely do not envy what is going on in her mind as she tries to account for every possibility. I've never envied her that.
It is the first time since we found the Cullens in the 1950s that she doesn't have Edward to help make sense of the visions, and I know that she is lost without him. I try to help her however I can - it is my purpose in whatever the existence I lead can be called - but I know it isn't the same. I can only see her visions as she describes them, and sometimes, that just isn't enough.
At the moment, though, we're stuck in a filthy cantina near Culiacan, waiting for the relentless sun to set and make it safe to travel farther toward the Amazon, whatever it is that awaits us there. Alice is angry at herself for being so distracted by tomorrow that she missed today's sun completely. One part of me feels guilty for not saying something so that we could keep traveling, but the other part of me knows that we need a few hours to sit back and do nothing. Decades of experience had taught me that rushing headlong into anything would never result in the outcome that was most desired. So we sit quietly, saving for the rhythmic tapping of her foot, and wait.
"Jasper?" When my eyes meet hers, I know that she is fully in the present and not searching the future. "Can I ask you a question?"
My hand instinctively finds her small one. "Of course you can, Alice. Ask me anything."
The trio of emotions that she'd been feeling a moment ago fade a bit, a shy curiosity takes over. "Since you're older than me," she begins, chewing her bottom lip nervously, "I was just wondering if you've ever heard of a way for someone like me, who doesn't know their creator, to find out what happened to the one who created them."
If I could have picked one question that I didn't want her to ask, not ever, it would have been that one. I can't help but fumble and try to avoid answering. "Carlisle knows a lot more about that type of thing than I would. Have you asked him?"
When she scowls at me, I drop my eyes to the glass of beer that I had been occasionally dumping on the already soaked floor.
"Yes, Jasper, I did ask Carlisle. He didn't know anything." She leans forward, bracing herself against the table, and stares at me intently. "You said he knows more than you would, which means that you do know something. What is it? We can't do anything else for five hours, so why not just tell me?"
The bartender is asleep, or passed out, on the floor behind the bar. Alice has already told me that he won't wake up until the evening crowd descends. Aside from him, we are the only people in the cantina. I've never really wished for the presence of humans as much as I do now. Anything to avoid this.
"I don't know how you could find your creator, other than to have him, or her, walk up to you and announce himself as just that," I murmur reluctantly - cryptically, even.
Her face falls, and I hate myself. "That's not going to happen, is it?"
I catch her other hand so that I hold them both and lean forward over the table so that our noses are almost touching. "Please answer me as honestly as you possibly can, Alice. Would you want to know your creator? Would you want him to walk up to you and tell you why he made you like you are now? Why he left you all alone? Even if it isn't a happy story?"
"If my creator is still alive, it can't possibly be a happy story. Can it?" She was chewing her lip again as she worked up the nerve to actually answer my question, not knowing how wrong she was. "But yes, I would want to know everything."
I close my eyes and summon all the courage I can. This maybe very well be the hardest, most frightening thing I've ever done. But I should have done it long ago; she deserves the truth.
"I love you, Alice," I whisper, praying that she will say those three words to me when I've finished the story. "Never forget that. Please."
Her wide, golden eyes would tell anyone paying attention that she's worried and even fearful now; I have to try and keep myself from reading her emotions, or I'll lose my nerve.
"I love you, too, Jasper," she murmurs back uncertainly. "I always will love you. Always."
I can't respond to that. It is time to tell the story.
In 1919, a vampire named Maximilian left Mexico and decided to take control over New Orleans and Baton Rouge as the hunting grounds for his army. He'd always been arrogant and overconfident, something that didn't change when he moved to an area where he didn't have to fight to keep control of his territory. Another vampire named Carlotta - younger, more inexperienced and controlling an army of only seven - was able to follow him into the American South. She defeated him in 1920. Carlotta, though relatively new on the scene of the Southern Wars, was a constant annoyance to Maria. I don't really know the exact reasons why Maria hated Carlotta so much. Maybe it was because, since she'd had me destroy Nettie and Lucy, she'd been the only female with an army and she was worried that some of the males might prefer a fresh face to her.
In any case, it took less than two weeks for Maria to hear that Carlotta had defeated Maximilian and taken control of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Maria quickly decided that she needed a change of scenery. So we packed up the eight most stable newborns, destroying eleven others, and moved into the bayous of Louisiana. From a military standpoint, there was never a better time to attack Carlotta. The territory was much too wide for her to protect at all times.
The bayous were a horrible place. The newborns we took with us hated being wet; they were constantly fighting with each other. Maria even tried to help me keep the peace a few times, but their irritability really got to me in the end. We'd been training them and slowly adding more newborns for a few weeks, when Maria told me to go hunt alone while she kept an eye on things. If I hadn't been in such a bad mood, I would have taken the time to be surprised that she was willing to do that. But I didn't have the energy to care.
I also didn't really want to hunt. The only time hunting didn't make me feel even worse was when I did it with newborns who were raving mad with thirst. I could adopt their feelings and block out my own. Hunting alone was, even then, not a good idea. So I ran east toward Mississippi, searching for something to distract me.
I broke into a bookstore one night and stole half a dozen books that I spent the sunny, daylight hours reading wherever I could find a place to hide. I was hiding in the woods outside of Biloxi, when I saw a girl hurrying along an old dirt road. I found myself very worried about her. Even without the vampire nearby, it wasn't a safe area for such a small, innocent girl to be walking alone. So, as soon as it got dark enough, I followed her scent to make sure she was all right.
It was easy enough to find her house.
It was harder to resist killing her.
Her blood was fresh in the air, and I wondered idly, as the venom pooled in my mouth, if she'd fallen down after she left the woods. I was curious, though, and still a little worried about the girl, so I crept close enough to the house, allowing me to see into the window. I knew then that she hadn't fallen earlier in the day. Her father was beating her for ruining her shoes in the mud. That's why her blood was so very fresh.
I wanted to taste her blood. I wanted to taste every drop of it. But I couldn't. When I saw her in the woods, she'd been so carefree and so happy, as she danced between the moss covered trees and sang songs to the wildflowers that grew there. And now, she was cowering in a corner while her father rained blows on her tiny, doll-like figure. I would not be the one to bring her more pain, even for a moment.
I felt guilty, horrifically guilty, that I didn't go into the house and kill her father. But blood had been spilled, and I knew without more than a half second of consideration, that I would not be able to limit myself to killing only him. So I left. I left her to fend for herself, and I prayed, as I hadn't prayed in all of my existence, that she would find a way out of there.
I hated myself for my limitations.
They were still my limits, though, and I didn't believe there was any other option.
I abandoned the books I'd stolen in the woods and ran, coward that I was, back to the bayous, to the newborns and to Maria.
I tried to forget about the girl. I tried to bury myself in training the newborns to be some sort of force that could defeat Carlotta. I even tried to lose myself in whatever unhealthy relationship it was that I had with Maria. But I couldn't get the girl out of my mind.
It took three weeks, four days, eight hours, and twenty-three minutes for me to work up the nerve to tell Maria that I was going to Mississippi. I didn't tell her the truth, of course. I told her that I wanted to hunt alone, and then see if I could find anyone that seemed talented in a way that could help us; I never bit those ones. I always brought them back for her. She believed me, because I manipulated her into believing me.
I traveled through the night to Biloxi and reached the girl's house shortly before dawn. I found her scent, but it was at least two weeks old. Alarmed, I took note that everyone in the house was sleeping soundly, before I crept inside. A young girl of maybe ten slept peacefully in a small, closet sized room. A woman and the man I'd seen beating his daughter were sleeping in a large, almost luxurious room. The third bedroom in the house, smaller than the one the child was in, smelled of the girl I'd seen. But she hadn't been there recently, and the room was all but purged of any sign that a vibrant, happy girl had once been there.
I thought, quite seriously, about killing him right then and there. I didn't, though. I had to find the girl. That was much more important than any vengeance or thirst.
The cars of that time didn't go very fast, and it was summer, so windows were usually down. I was able to pick up faint traces of the girl, and I followed her scent. Through two counties, I ran, keeping to the shadows, as I was unwilling to wait for darkness, until I reached a mental hospital that, then, was state of the art, but would be criminally tortuous today. The girl, the one I couldn't explain why I had to keep safe, was there.
I waited until it was dark and the patients had been put in their rooms for the night. I snuck inside, surprising myself that I had enough humanity left in me to be disgusted by the way the humans in the hospital were kept and treated. I found her room easily, even amid the stench. Her raven hair had been shaved, and she looked even smaller and more frightened than before.
My throat was burning from the blood spilling from the patients who were left, maybe purposefully, unattended by staff with sharp instruments and sought to end their own pain; others were too far gone to do even that. I knew that I couldn't massacre an entire hospital, so I left, stopping in the records office long enough to commit the file on the girl in room 1223 to memory, and ran back to the bayou.
Maria would do anything to have a vampire who could see the future; that was blatantly obvious. And if the Volturi heard about a human who could see the future, they'd arrive in a second to make her one of them. The girl, that I now knew to be Mary Alice Brandon, didn't deserve that any more than she deserved to be where she was now.
I couldn't stop thinking about her.
Every second or third day, I managed to get away, always going back to the hospital. I snuck into her room when no one was paying attention, and I talked to her. Electroshock therapy had erased her memory, and she didn't have any idea of who she was or why she was there. I told her that I worked in the hospital and disposed of the bodies; it wasn't entirely a lie. I did feed on the recently deceased while I was there, mostly to keep Maria from noticing that I wasn't actually leaving to hunt. The girl, Mary Alice, believed me without any emotional manipulation from me and let me stay with her as often as I could.
I always brought her fresh fruits or vegetables that I'd stolen from wherever I could, and she devoured them, as if she hadn't eaten in days. Sometimes, I didn't think she had. I brought her a blanket once, and she kept it carefully hidden from the staff so that she could have it for the cold, drafty nights.
It was hard to talk to her for long periods of time, because breathing too much around her inevitably led to a red haze settling menacingly over my thoughts and a hasty exit that always left Mary Alice crying, wondering what she'd done wrong to make me run away so quickly. I hated lying to her, but I couldn't tell her the truth, because no one else at the hospital could have even the slightest idea that a vampire was a frequent visitor. If Mary Alice told anyone during one of the treatments that left her a little more broken than before, she would be hurt, and I would not allow that. Not by me, or by anyone else.
After almost three weeks of that pattern, Maria decided it was time to make a move on Carlotta. I wasn't at all ready to leave Mary Alice. Almost before I realized what I was doing, I used my gift to irritate three of our newborns into a fight, until they'd shredded each other. It set Maria's plan back for at least a week, while we found and waited for at least three more to turn. I accomplished my goal of staying right where we were, close to Mary Alice, at the expense of six lives, but I wasn't remotely sorry.
I felt like a stalker, a strange sensation for a vampire, when I went back to the mental hospital the next day. For once, though, I was running on instinct and instinct alone. My instinct told me to stay close. When I arrived at the hospital, I knew why.
Another vampire was in the area.
I went straight to Mary Alice, and in response to carefully worded questioning, she told me of a vision she'd had of that vampire coming for her. Staying only long enough to make sure she wouldn't blame herself for my leaving, I fled to the woods that surrounded the hospital in search of this vampire.
There was every indication that he was intent on Mary Alice. I couldn't be sure without meeting him, but I guessed that he was probably a tracker of some sort, intent on catching his prey, if for nothing else than pure sport. When I found the little cave deep in the woods where he hid out during daylight, my worst fears were confirmed when I saw the blanket I'd given her tucked in a dry corner. He was going to kill her or die trying.
I stayed in the woods for three days, waiting for the tracker to return so that I could kill him and keep her safe.
Maria, though, got impatient and came looking for me.
I used every power of persuasion I could muster to convince her to stay and help me defeat the tracker. She needed more. So I told her that Mary Alice had visions of the future. That immediately intrigued her. Convinced by my words and manipulations that the seer would only trust me, who she knew, Maria agreed to stand watch for the tracker, fighting him if necessary, while I collected Mary Alice and prepared her to be turned.
Mary Alice came with me willingly, even after I told her what I was and what the man she'd seen was. She trusted me, and she shouldn't have.
I carried her, not at all sure where I was taking her, until I heard the unmistakable sounds of vampires fighting. I knew the tracker had come back, that Maria was fighting him - fighting for the frightened psychic in my arms. If there was any way for me to keep her from the tracker and Maria, I would. It didn't seem likely, but I had to hope, even for just a moment.
Hope took a hit when she moved her arm and a sharp branch snagged a gouge in her pale, delicate skin.
Vivid red blood oozed tantalizingly out of the wound and dripped onto my hand.
I skidded to a stop, dropped to my knees, and lowered her to the ground. I could feel the fear radiating from her small body. The very last thing I wanted was to kill her, to taste her blood.
I was going to do both.
I'd filled my mouth and throat just once with her sweet blood, when I sensed someone behind me. My vampire nature took over, and I turned quickly, crouching and ready to fight for my meal.
The fact that it was Maria behind me was all that saved Mary Alice's life; I'd hunted and fed with Maria before, and I knew that she would not fight me. And then I remembered what she really wanted.
I reached back and clamped my hand over Mary Alice's mouth, depriving her of oxygen and further slowing her heart rate. I told Maria that the girl was too weak to survive. She believed me and told me that the tracker had escaped with the help of a redheaded female and that it was time to go. She left, certain that I was right behind her. But I had one last thing to do.
Demanding more self-control than I had used in almost sixty years combined, I leaned over her and first sealed the gouge on her arm with my venom, and then did the same with the wound I'd left in her neck. I kissed her forehead and prayed that she'd find her way in the world we'd now share.
I followed Maria back into Louisiana, desperately trying to put Mary Alice out of my mind.
Maria decided, the very next morning, that she missed Mexico. After having our newborns destroy four of Carlotta's out of pure spite, we left New Orleans without a backward glance.
I never had the chance to go back and search for the first vampire I'd ever knowingly created. Part of me wanted very badly to go back for her, to find out what happened to her. The other part of me knew that I was bad for her.
I'd shattered her soul in less time than it took her pure, innocent heart to beat for the very last time.
And I abandoned her when she needed me most of all.
So I forced myself to be content with hoping that she was alive, safe, and happy, somewhere far away from me.
Alice cups her hands around my face and exhales, dazzling me with her scent. "I was all of those things," she whispers softly, "but mostly, I was impatient."
I laugh once, in utter disbelief. "That's your reaction?"
Even though I can feel that she is still a little shocked, she offers me a small, honest smile. "Yup. That's my reaction. You are my creator, Jasper. What other reaction do you want me to have?"
"Hate? Disgust? Anger? Even a little annoyance?"
She laughs her tinkling bell laugh and comes around to sit on my lap, straddling me so that she can look into my eyes as she speaks. "There is nothing, Jasper Whitlock, not a damn thing more beautiful and poetically perfect than the fact that you made me what I am. If you hadn't cared about me so much, even then, I wouldn't be here with you today. Aren't you happy with how things turned out?"
"Of course I am," I answer quickly. "But I left you alone for twenty-eight years, and now I've kept the truth from you for almost sixty years. You have every right to hate me."
"As if I could ever hate you, silly man," she whispers. "Do you remember what I called you after we fought Victoria's newborns, when you got bitten?"
I can so very easily get lost in her blazing, golden eyes, but I pull myself back to the present and answer her question. "An overprotective fool?"
"Right, Mr. Whitlock. I called you an overprotective fool. Why?" She tilts her head to the side, pretending to struggle in the quest to answer her own question. "Because that's what you are. I just know now that it started a long, long time before I thought it did."
"I don't deserve you, Mary Alice Brandon," I tell her reluctantly.
She puts one small finger over my lips and leans closer to my chest. "When you saw the things that were happening to Mary Alice, you wanted to protect her just like you protect me now. I know I still don't know everything that happened to me, and I don't think I want to. Maybe because I'm not Mary Alice Brandon anymore. I'm Alice Whitlock. I like her much better."
"Aren't you Alice Cullen?" I ask, never completely comfortable with my wife not using my name.
She waves her hand airily, dismissing the thought. "To the human world, yes, I'm Alice Cullen. But the human world doesn't really matter to me. What matters is here." She touches the simple golden band that I gave her on our wedding day, and then taps my chest to make her point. "Here, I am Mrs. Alice Whitlock."
"I like the sound of that," I tell her honestly, pulling her into my chest.
"I do, too," she whispers as she melts into me. "And I know that you'll always do whatever it takes to keep me safe. Even if that means hurting me a little bit first. I'll always forgive you."
"I should have told you."
I feel her head shake against my chest. "You told me now, Jasper. That's enough. If you hadn't protected me and turned me, we wouldn't have had the last sixty years, and I wouldn't trade them for anything." She leans back a little and looks at me intently. "No one else knows? Not Carlisle or Edward?"
I shake my head and smile. "I haven't consciously thought about it, so if Edward has heard it, he hasn't said anything to me. It wouldn't have been right to tell anyone else before I worked up the nerve to tell you."
She snuggles into me again, and I wrap my arms tightly around her tiny body. "I can't believe you did all that for me, when I was just a weak and tasty little human," she murmurs, sounding almost tired.
I press my lips to the crown of her head. "Who would have guessed that I was planning for the future?"
"Me." She laughs softly. "If I'd had a chance to see it. You don't really think that you shattered my soul, do you?"
"Strictly speaking, from the human definition of a soul, I did shatter your soul," I admit, having thought about this very much. "But maybe vampire souls are different from human souls. Maybe I gave you chance to fix that shattered soul and make it even more beautiful. I don't doubt for a second that we have souls, and your soul, it's the most magnificent thing I've ever had the privilege to experience."
Alice squirms against me and sighs as I feel her happiness momentarily outweigh her fear of what the future holds for us. "Shakespeare doesn't have anything on you, Mr. Whitlock."
I squeeze her tight to me, as if that were enough to protect her from the world. "I love you, my Alice, my wife," I whisper almost soundlessly.
She raises herself up a little until our lips are touching. "I love you, my Jasper, my husband, my creator."