Jasper had a lot to say after that most recent chapter of 2003 (chapter 5, Close Calls), so it's time for an outtake! If you haven't yet read the 2003 chapter, you may want to read that first for context. I was surprised to realize that I hadn't written in Jasper's POV since 1950, which meant I had never written a talk between just him and Carlisle before. So that was what spawned this outtake, and it turned out he had even more to say than that. His long struggle against his thirst is one of favorite subplots in the Twilight universe, and I think in some ways that imperfect struggle makes him the most "human" of all the Cullens. Enjoy!


Jasper POV

"This is progress," Carlisle had assured me six years ago. We were hunkering down for a nice, long stay in Maine and we "kids" had started as college freshman right off the bat. It was a relief to skip the high school scene, and I was in agreement with Carlisle: letting myself take a few classes alone was a step forward.

It wasn't that I really minded the way the others hovered over me, Alice and Edward especially... well, not too much. They had every reason to stick to me like glue, always sweeping my thoughts and my future to keep everyone safe. They had saved a lot of lives that way. And I couldn't begrudge anything that worked to keep Alice safe... to protect the family.

But it had still felt like a breath of fresh air, the new freedom of walking into a lecture hall without a chaperone. Being able to relax—somewhat—and enjoy the learning for itself, by myself, without the pressing, worried watchfulness of another vampire, however much I loved her or him. I knew nothing had really changed; Alice and Edward were just as able to monitor me from across the campus and they nearly always made sure that someone was near enough at all times to come "help" me if things went south. I knew that true independence in a coven this powerful was an illusion. But it was the thought that counted.

And I deserved their easing up; I had made progress. That progress was slow and messy and we all knew my motivation wasn't the sparkling altruism some of them hoped for, but it was there. I had trained myself as best I could over the past few decades. When I was in human company, I held myself ready every second to escape. When I heard someone gasp or cry "Ow!" I stopped breathing instantly. When I felt or saw the characteristic warning in Alice's eyes, I obeyed that warning without question. Alice had been obliged to redirect my plans a few times, but it had never come close to disaster. I had lived up to everyone's hopes all five years of our stay in Maine. Our brief visit with our cousins in Denali after that was a well-earned rest.

By the time we left Alaska and came to Forks a couple of weeks ago, I was celebrating my longest stretch yet: eleven years since tasting human blood. And yet I knew I could never let my guard down. I continually trained myself to be worthy of Carlisle's praise... of Alice's pride. At the same time, I felt ready to face the unique challenges of a stint in high school with a new level of confidence. To give Alice everything she loved about it and less in need of her protection than ever before. I knew the difference was inconsequential, but I offered it gladly.

So when I heard a tap on the window next to me in first period Biology and felt someone's frantic warning even before I turned to see it, I did the right thing. I closed off my breathing instantly and swept to my feet to take myself away from whatever temptation was about to defeat me. I didn't even wait to decipher the words Edward was mouthing at me.

"Excuse me," I said to the class at large, using up only a small percentage of the air I had left. I headed straight for the door of the tiny building we were in, taking extra care not to crush my classmates' feet in my escape. Almost there. I reached for the door. Outside the windows I could see Alice and Edward rushing around the side of the building to meet me.

Mr. Banner paused his lecture then, switching gears.

"I was going to do this lab tomorrow," he began, rummaging through a box on his desk as I passed by, "but since the weather isn't cooperating, this is a good day for us to learn our blood types."

Blood.

My head snapped around as the magic word was spoken. Mr. Banner clicked a little white plastic rectangle against his index finger and cheerfully held up the blood, the blood... the scent crashed into me, quickly saturating the air in the enclosed space. The world receded instantly, shrouded in the red, trembling, deafening haze of the hunt, the rush of venom and power, it was mine—!

An unseen arm wrenched me backwards, away from my prey. I twisted and fought and opened my jaws to defend myself, but the rain was already beginning to wash the madness away.

Alice.

She tugged my face down to her level, forcing me to look into her golden eyes. "It's OK Jazz, shh... wait." Her relief soured suddenly. "Edward, wait..."

"Is there a problem out here?" a voice said behind us.

I scented it again. The human shoved his bleeding finger up in our faces, just begging all three of us to kill him. The blood dripped down his finger and the red haze descended with it, but Edward was even quicker this time. His granite arms clamped around me again, fracturing two of my ribs. The pain helped... a little. I pushed half-heartedly against my restraint, staring down at my prey, feeling the acid churn of his fear in my own belly as he realized his danger. I always felt it long after their deaths...

"He's OK." Edward's voice penetrated the haze. At the same time he squeezed even tighter, crushing the next level of ribs with his death grip. He sounded so calm. I felt Alice's hand in mine, pulling me to safety. I finally let myself go limp so they could do what I couldn't.

"He just gets upset sometimes," Edward called back to the teacher... what was his name? "He'll be all right in a minute."

It was over; I was in control again, and nobody was dead. Relief flooded me, quickly giving way to the impotent anger at my own weakness.

"I'm fine now," I snapped, throwing Alice and Edward's hands off me. I stalked away from the school blindly, heading for the forest, for the highway, anything to get me away from their infuriating pity. I could feel Alice's hurt welling up like human tears, and there was nothing I could do about it.

"Jazz, are you sure you—"

"I'm FINE," I roared back, slapping at a tree trunk that dared to stand in my way. I leapt over it as it fell and picked up into an all-out sprint. I ran for what felt like hours, keeping to the peninsula even though I desperately wanted to go down into Seattle. The temptation would be too much for me there, and I wanted to fail. Blood—real blood—was the only thing I wanted right now. I needed it as I hadn't needed it in years. I burned for it. But I somehow turned north instead, running and swimming and running again.

I slowed to a stop somewhere on Vancouver Island. A few more downed trees, a savage rumble of wordless fury out my mouth, and my rage was finally spent. I stumbled backwards into the base of an ancient hemlock and sank down to sit against it, noticing the pain in my ribs again for the first time. I waited it out, listening to the familiar sound of bone slowly knitting itself back together. And then, silence.

I hadn't killed. This was a success: my record was still eleven years and counting. I caught the reflective glimmer of a swollen raindrop hanging from a nearby branch. I peered at myself in it, looking for the reassurance of golden eyes. But of course they were black with thirst. My throat ached and pulsed in response, a dry, searing, desperate heat that blazed down to my stomach and out my limbs. The thought of hunting animals right now was revolting.

I stayed where I was, letting the rain have its way as I began the slow work of putting myself back together. The memories came as they always did in moments like this: the rivers of blood, the crashing of immortal bodies, the drowning sea of hatred and fear, the searing pain of my enemies' teeth, the drudgery of killing and killing and killing... the whispers that I would never be like my family. I held those whispers at bay with over fifty years' worth of practice; I knew by now not to listen. My fingers worked on their own, unknotting the leather cords that bound the Cullen crest to my left wrist. The cuff pulled away in my hand, revealing the scars underneath.

I took it off like this sometimes, when I was alone. Some days because it felt like a shackle, other days because it burned me with my own failure. Both were true on days like this. Because the whispers were right; in some ways, I could never be like the others. But that was all right; every one of them had taken me as I was. If there was one thing in this world I could never doubt, it was their love. I always put it back on again. She knew I would.

Alice.

I had hurt her. Again. It had been inevitable; she couldn't love me without needing to hold me when I failed, and I couldn't love her and not run from the burning acid of her pity... worse, her acceptance of my failure. Alice was inescapable, and that wasn't just me; everyone was hers to watch whenever she pleased, and often when she didn't even want to. She was watching right now; sometimes I could swear I could feel it. That thought always disturbed me and brought me comfort in equal measure.

"I'm sorry," I told her aloud. My words echoed around the empty forest. I calmed myself down further, soaking in the peace of silence, watching as the sky faded into twilight. I didn't say the next part until it was true.

"I wish you were here with me."

The words soothed me with their rightness, their simplicity. I longed for her comfort now. I lashed my identity back onto my wrist and slid to my feet, taking in the wet scents around me. I'd need something good tonight, and I didn't want to be too long about it. I had stayed away too long already. Carlisle had an 11-7 shift tonight, and I wanted to talk to him. About progress, and my lack of it.

I settled for a scrawny elk, but it was a mistake. My rebellious stomach vomited out the bitter blood as soon as I had forced it all down. Half an hour later, I finally scented a young grizzly. Exactly what I needed... well, as close as I was allowed to get. I itched for a good fight, but a mere bear wouldn't begin to give me satisfaction. I killed it with a single swipe of my hand, sinking slowly to my knees in the mud as I guzzled its warmth. The taste was tolerable... barely.

It was later than I'd hoped by the time I got home. I saw the yellow warmth of the chandelier in the dining room, welcoming me back. The front door opened just as I came into the yard, and Alice leapt from the porch, landing with her face inches from my chest in a single bound. She waited, looking up at me, tackling me with her love and forgiveness without moving a muscle. I reached up and traced down the shape of her all-knowing smile.

"I heard you," she said.

I swept her up in my arms in a flash and buried my face in the crook of her shoulder, taking deep draughts of her scent. She finally clung to me then, latching on with her kiss in my hair and her fingers tearing my shirt and her knees crushing around me like she'd never let me go. I didn't want her to either. But the others were waiting, so she slid back down to walk at my side, clutching my hand. The world was right-side-up again, just like that.

They were sitting around the table, ready for the debrief. We exchanged apologies and reassurances, same as always. Esme said the school had called earlier, and that she'd given them the PTSD story. I would be meeting with the school counselor tomorrow, pretending to go to talk therapy, and so on. No doubt the whole school had heard of the incident by now. I kept my annoyance to myself; as consequences went, it could have been worse.

"I really do think they're just concerned," Esme said kindly. "It's more about helping you than anything else. They mean well." I nodded my understanding, enjoying the feel of the fierce mother-love she had for me in particular.

"I can prepare whatever you need as evidence of the medical visits and therapy appointments," Carlisle told me. "Though I don't think we should submit anything they don't ask for." He warred with himself for a moment, uncertain. "And... what do you think about switching out of that particular class? As a junior, you're not required to take Bio II. You can choose another advanced science."

"That might be wise," I agreed. "He really was afraid for his life, for a moment there. No need to keep bringing that up every day." For both our sakes. "And... Carlisle? I'd like to speak to you in private, if you have the time."

Carlisle flushed with pride. "Of course. I'll call out."

He got up to get the phone, but Esme stopped him. "Are you sure that's wise?" she asked. "After what happened yesterday? I know you aren't really in trouble, but you're sure to be on everyone's mind today, especially if they've heard about what happened at school."

"Why, what happened yesterday?" I asked.

"Nothing major," Carlisle said. "I just stepped on a few toes."

Carlisle in trouble at work; now there was a sight I wished I could see. But hospitals and me didn't mix. "I can wait, then," I told him. "I'll come meet you in the hospital parking lot after your shift, then you can drop me at school afterwards."

We talked a little more, fine-tuning the details of my PTSD and the counseling I'd be pretending to go to, and then the others drifted off, leaving only Alice and Edward sitting with me.

"You don't have to drive that far to get away from me, you know," Edward said with a wry smile.

"I know." I know you understand, I told him silently. Thanks.

"I'll give you total privacy too," Alice promised beside me.

How I loved her! I looked down and began to lose myself all over again in her golden eyes. I found myself astonished, as I always did, at how her hope and her trust and her wonder swirled so easily with my own, blurring into one love, one scent. One future, and it was ours for the taking.

.

.

.

Carlisle had agreed to leave his car unlocked in the parking lot so I could wait for him without having to worry about bleeding people rushing into the Emergency Room. I arrived a few minutes before seven o'clock, threading through the parking lot with my breath cut off. I finally found his car parked as far as possible from the door. I smiled and ducked inside. I should have known to look over here first.

Another twenty minutes rolled by. I eventually dug around in his glove compartment and found a book to read, The Early Sociology of Buddhism. I was about halfway through when I caught the flash of red out of the corner of my eye. A young man—a construction worker, by the look of his clothing—was just walking in the main door to the E.R., cradling a bloody arm. My muscles seized up and my hand thought about grabbing the door handle, but it passed after half a second. He was already inside. I squeezed my eyes shut and blinked them a few times, clearing my head, swallowing the venom. Wouldn't that be rich—defeating temptation one day only to go and lose to it the next, here in the most obvious of places. I leaned my head back and stared out the window, wondering if Alice had seen anything happen.

I was so infernally tired of all this.

Carlisle got in a couple of minutes later. I could smell blood on his scrubs, but the bad smells more than compensated.

"I was held up in a meeting," he began. "My boss was... is everything all right, Jasper?"

I glanced over at him and followed his gaze down to my hands. I was still clutching the book, but it was torn in two. "Sorry about that," I said sheepishly.

"Quite all right. I thought we might take a walk down by the river?"

We sat in comfortable silence during the quick drive past all the fast food places and the library and the doctor's offices and the hardware store. Carlisle found a little open notch of dirt near the bridge to park in, and we half walked, half slid down the muddy little hill to the bank of the Calawah. The cloud of insects parted for us as we went.

I asked him first about how he had gotten in trouble at work. He gave me the edited version, steering away from the bloody details. He had saved the day yet again, amazing the humans who thought they were older and more experienced than he was. I enjoyed the emotional texture of the story; Carlisle deserved this kind of happiness. Each individual human meant so much to him, especially these nearly dead ones he insisted on encountering. It was a shame he had to start over every time we moved, playing the naive young doctor fresh of out med school, but I think he secretly enjoyed bowling over the expectations of his coworkers like this every time. It wasn't the best way to keep a low profile, but we all had concessions we couldn't live without. Whatever made him happy.

"What's on your mind, Jasper?"

We walked in silence again for a minute while I decided how to say it. "I'm wondering... if this is it. If I've come as far as I'm ever going to."

I felt his hesitation. His emotions rose and fell as he discarded answer after answer. Carlisle was compassionate, as generous with my particular challenges as he was with everything else. I could broach this topic with all six members of my family, and I'd get six different answers. Carlisle's was the one I wanted.

"Do you want to talk it through?" he offered, avoiding the question.

"Yes."

We combed over every inch of the incident together, teasing out what I had done well and what I hadn't—including that dangerous moment when I had nearly run into Seattle. What Alice and Edward might have done differently—using the cell phones was a relatively new option there—and how this might have gone better or worse if the slightest condition had been different. I told him about the man with the bleeding arm a few minutes ago, and about a few other recent close calls he hadn't already been aware of. We hadn't done this in a while; it was a long list.

"Each one was a life saved," Carlisle reminded me.

"Barely. And only because someone was close enough to stop me."

"Not every time. You were alone in the car a few minutes ago, and you restrained yourself."

"Only because you had known I might need the car in the first place, and that you needed to park it so far away."

Carlisle thought about that for a minute. "That may be true. I don't have all the answers, Jasper, but there is one thing I want you to remember. You're concerned about your own ability to control yourself. I understand that. But you also have a family that cares about you, and some of us even have supernatural abilities that help us augment your self-control. It must be terribly frustrating for you when we have to act in a way that compensates for your, ah..."

"Weakness," I finished for him. I kicked a stone with the toe of my boot, sending it skipping down the river.

"Struggle," he insisted, reaching up to hold a tree branch out of my way. "But my point is that having that family is a part of who you are, Jasper. Our part in your struggle is as central to your identity as the struggle itself."

"And I'm grateful," I said. "Truly. Eternally. But I don't like the feeling that over fifty years have gone by, and I can still be defeated so easily."

Carlisle's gentle pity rose to the surface. "It's been a long and difficult road for you. We all understand that. And you've come so very far, especially when you factor in—"

"Not today, Carlisle," I said, letting him hear the warning in my voice. Edward wasn't the only one who got sick of the excuses Carlisle insisted on making for all of us. It was the gentlest, warmest condescension in the world, but it was condescension nonetheless. Having a leader who cheerfully spent his days up to his elbows in blood in the O.R. didn't exactly do wonders for my pride here.

"All right," he agreed. "Let's talk about your own self-control, then, and that breaks down into several areas, as we've talked about before."

Alice and Edward's gifts naturally made them my babysitters, but it was Carlisle who had brought me this far. Once he and I had grown comfortable enough with each other back in 1950, he had begun helping me craft my self-restraint on a number of levels. And I had desperately needed that help; I had quit human blood cold turkey two years before that the day Alice had come into my life, and we had completely pulled away from human society to make the transition easier for me. But that distance had also torn my self-control around humans to shreds, even when they weren't bleeding.

Carlisle had a scientific way of looking at thirst, as he looked at everything else. In the very beginning, he asked me to merely watch television, so I could become accustomed to seeing humans without reacting. Then he began exposing me to graduated levels of human scent by bringing home used hospital gowns. Near the end of that particular exercise, he had brought home gowns stained with blood. Then he and the others started driving me through town to acclimate me to seeing humans in person, starting at night with the windows up. They slowly made those drives more challenging, when I was ready. Eventually, they had been able to walk me down Main Street, keeping a close watch on my reactions as I slowly desensitized myself to living, breathing human company again. Carlisle pushed me to begin interacting with the humans we encountered. He even tried the blood challenges that he had done with Emmett in his newborn year, though that hadn't gone so well at first. In later years, we resumed the blood challenges with moderate success.

As my control and my confidence grew, I began participating more and more in the humanoid lifestyle the Cullens had chosen. By the early 1960s, I was going to school with the rest of them, and the others were fairly comfortable letting me drive and hunt and go on errands by myself. I could travel freely now; Alice and I had even left the country a couple of times. I was eternally grateful for the freedom Carlisle had helped me earn. There had been casualties along the way, but they were a small price to pay for fulfilling Alice's dreams—to say nothing of not feeling like a prisoner in my own house. I didn't miss the constant supervision of those early years one bit.

"Your biggest struggle these days," Carlisle went on, "is stopping yourself in your tracks, correct? Once the hunt has already begun?"

"Right."

"Unfortunately, I don't see how that can be... practiced, under controlled conditions."

"Agreed," I said reluctantly. It could be practiced, of course, using methods that were unthinkable for a Cullen, but that didn't want to be said. Next option.

"I was wondering if we should resume the blood challenges."

Carlisle smiled sadly. "I appreciate your willingness to put yourself through that again, Jasper, but I think it would be pointless. The reasons you so quickly enter the hunt in situations like yesterday's can't be addressed like that."

"Morning," an older gentleman greeted us as we passed each other on the path. He smelled good. "Fine day, isn't it?"

"Beautiful," Carlisle replied, completely at ease.

It was always such a joke, interacting with them like this. Especially when we were in the middle of a conversation about murder and blood and monsters. But that was just my bad mood talking. This was the life we lived. My eyes trained on a red line that ran across the man's chin—the result of a clumsy shave this morning—and I looked away, trying not to think about how easy it would be. They would all be especially understanding if I slipped up the day after a near miss...

"I do have an idea," Carlisle said after the human was well behind us. "It will be very difficult for you, but I think it has a chance of making a difference."

"I'll do it," I promised. "Whatever it is."

"You've already made a lot of progress when it comes to the frequency of feeding," he began. "You often go five days at a time now, don't you?"

I nodded. "I've even stretched it to a week now and then. I feed more often when there's a higher risk, or when I've been having a hard time."

"An extra layer of safety," Carlisle agreed. "And I think it's a valid precaution to take sometimes. But... what if you were to try the opposite? Stretching it out longer? The rest of us often go two full weeks, and I'm confident you could do the same if you put your mind to it."

"I'm not sure that's such a good idea. Once I get past six days it gets tough. I start staring at every neck I pass, you know that. It'd be too risky. And what would be the point? I only stretched it to five days for the convenience of it, more than anything else. Even Emmett got sick of taking me hunting every other day."

"I concede the risk," Carlisle said uncomfortably. "It's a substantial risk, actually. But consider the fact that the main reason you hunt so often is to avoid that zone where you are more predatory in your thinking. Staring at every neck you pass, as you put it."

"Isn't that a good thing?"

"It certainly makes it easier. But you're saying that you want to improve your control further, and that's an admirable goal. If you want to make any more significant gains than you already have, you're going to have to struggle against another phase of your thirst. There's a concept in exercise physiology called the specificity of training—the idea that strengthening a muscle to do one task doesn't necessarily strengthen it to do another. Running every day will make a human's legs strong in one way, but if she wants to become an expert mountain climber, there are different exercises she needs to add to her regimen. I'm sure you employed the same principle when training your newborn soldiers."

"That's true," I said, thinking back. "And self-control was actually one of the aspects of my training. I'd make them stand still for hours, just to hone their ability to wait and listen. But that wouldn't have covered everything—I also did drills where they would run and I would make them stop on a dime whenever I gave the command. Both exercises were about self-control, but in different scenarios."

"Go back," Carlisle said. "Why did you make them stand for hours, and not minutes?"

I shrugged. "Because it was a different level of challenge. Letting them move again after five minutes wouldn't have trained them to... oh. I see your point."

"Exactly. If you wait longer to feed, you will be pressing into that more advanced phase of your thirst. Exercising the muscle at the end of its range. The only way to practice your ability to resist that predatory mindset, I'm afraid, is to spend time in battle against it. Something you can't do if you avoid it altogether."

I tried to imagine it; the idea of going past a week made my throat blaze like I'd never even had the grizzly last night. This was not going to be easy. And that was exactly why I had to do it.

"I'm willing," I told him reluctantly. "But are you? You know this could end badly. It probably will end badly, at some point, even if it works in the long run."

Carlisle sighed, unable to hide the disappointment that welled up. I'd tasted that disappointment too many times to count over the years. He tried his very best to suppress it, and it didn't change the fact that his compassionate understanding was genuine, but it still hurt.

"Jasper," he said, "If you can't take on this challenge with enough faith in yourself to believe you can succeed, then don't do it. Assuming you will eventually fail makes you more likely to do so. You know that."

"I'm just being realistic—"

"You're being pessimistic. If fifty-three years of steady progress haven't taught you to believe in yourself..." He reached up and laid his hand on my shoulder. "Then perhaps fifty-four will. I believe in you."

He really did; I could feel it, and it gave me courage. We left it at that; it was up to me, in the end, to decide if I was ready for this new exercise. And I didn't know if I was; I just knew that I had to do it. Starting this week, or I'd put it off forever.

"Thanks," I told Carlisle when he dropped me off at school. "For everything. It means a lot."

He smiled, savoring his pride in me so I couldn't miss it. "And thank you for coming to me with this. That means a lot, too."

I breathed in the fresh air as he drove away, tensing and relaxing my muscles in slow succession to prepare myself. Time to play human again.

The school counselor wanted to meet with me first thing, the secretary said. Good. The sooner we could get this over with, the better. I thought about asking if I could go ahead and switch to first period AP Chem, but I figured I'd let the counselor feel like she'd accomplished something. I held my breath as I walked past the nurse's office, just in case, and tapped on the last door in the hallway. I was relieved to smell the stench of perfume on the other side; that'd make it easier.

"Come in—Jasper Hale, right?"

"Yes, ma'am. Good to meet you." I reached out and shook the lady's hand, avoiding eye contact. Her heart rate picked up when she felt my cold skin, and I held myself stiff, controlled when I felt her warmth. I hadn't touched a human in a long time... a live one, anyway.

"I'm glad you agreed to come have a talk, Jasper. How are you doing today?"

I considered her mood, her posture, her focus. She was the involved type, unfortunately, someone who still cared enough about her job that I wouldn't be able to escape right away. I'd approach this one with good manners and just enough embarrassment to get on her good side. No adolescent slouch of indifference this time. I sat down on the very edge of the chair she offered, holding myself tall.

"I'm much better, thank you. But I wanted to apologize for what happened yesterday. I... need my space sometimes, but it's not usually this hard. I'm really sorry."

"Yes, Mrs. Cullen mentioned that you've been having some trouble, and that's perfectly understandable. The last couple of years must have been so hard."

She waited, expectant, hoping to draw me out. Good luck with that.

"I hope I did the right thing," I offered, looking up as high as her chin. "I just felt really overwhelmed all of a sudden, and I was afraid I'd lose it in front of everyone if I didn't take myself out of the situation."

"Sometimes that's the best thing to do. May I ask what set this off? Yesterday, I mean? Did Mr. Banner say something that upset you? He said you looked angry at him, specifically."

I shrugged, looking down again. "He didn't do anything wrong. It's just that..." I paused, working up her pity. We had debated last night whether or not to go with the abusive foster home story or maybe the drug addiction story, but in the end we'd decided to go with the option less likely to result in a phone call to Alaska. And sticking near the truth was nearly always best. "Well, it was the... the blood. I was in the car with my mom when, you know... the accident. So when he—Mr. Banner, when he started with that blood typing thing and then stuck his finger right in my face, he was bleeding..."

I didn't have to pretend; I was sure my face said plenty when I let myself remember how close I had come. I added a little shudder for good measure and started twisting my fingers together.

"I'm so sorry, Jasper. I completely understand why that would have brought back some tough memories. Would you like to transfer out of that class?"

I sat up taller, looking straight into her eyes. I made my gaze as soft as I could. "Oh, could I? That would be a big help."

"Absolutely," she said, staring back. She was a brave one. "I'll take care of it. Although Mr. Banner is the only one who teaches Bio II..."

"How about AP Chemistry?" I asked. "That sounds challenging, and I like a good challenge."

"Perfect," she agreed, more pleased by the minute. "Is there anything else I can do to make things easier here at school? Do you want to be in more classes with your sister?"

"I think I'll be OK. But I'll let you know if anything comes up."

"Please do. Mrs. Cullen said that you'll be doing some more counseling, and also meeting with a psychologist who will help manage your PTSD?"

"Yeah, Carlisle said he's heard about a really good place over in Seattle. They have both, I think."

"Are you sure you want to go that far? I can recommend a couple of good people here in town."

I smiled amiably. "Thanks, but I'll go with Carlisle's recommendation. I wouldn't mind having a little distance for that kind of thing, if you know what I mean."

"Of course."

She was staring at me again. It took me a second to realize she was looking one of the bigger scars on my neck, one of the places where a chunk of skin had been bitten clean off and lost forever. I'd stopped bothering about hiding it back in the late sixties, once I'd realized how clueless most humans were. Every now and then, we ran across someone who paid attention. Her fear jolted back into place and I started bringing it down as quickly as I could. Would she insist on looking closer? That would be an unacceptable risk. Humans could see our bite scars if they looked closely enough, in the right light. I wondered if Edward was here yet, listening; it was nearly time for the first bell.

She drew a shaky breath and spread her fingers out on the desk. "Well. I think we're almost finished here, Jasper, but there are two more questions I need to ask you. Mr. Banner expressed some concern yesterday about his own safety. And he said Edward restrained you, that he even pulled you away. And you mentioned being afraid that you would 'lose it.' So I need to ask: were you thinking about hurting Mr. Banner?"

"No!" I hoped I looked shocked enough. "I've never been in a fight before. I just... had to get out of there, like I said. I was afraid I'd starting crying or throw up or something in front of the whole class. I guess I was a little angry, too, more at being stopped than anything else. Scared. Edward probably just grabbed onto me to snap me out of it."

"Well," she frowned, "restraining someone isn't a very good way to respond to a situation like this, unless you're truly worried about another person getting hurt. Maybe I should have a talk with Edward, too."

I'm sure he'd love that, I thought loudly, enjoying the prospect.

"I'll just pass it along," I promised.

"All right," she said uncertainly. "And I also need to ask if you've been having any thoughts of hurting yourself, or of suicide."

"No." Another lie. But it'd been fifty-five years or so; not the kind of timeline she was used to dealing with. "It's been difficult, but not that way," I assured her.

"That's good."

She scribbled something on a yellow sticky note and handed it to me. "Give this to the secretary, and she'll take care of your transfer to AP Chemistry. I also want to show you something on your way out..." She got up and I followed her out the door. She indicated a small empty room on the left side of the hallway. It had a low table and one chair, a few sets of jigsaw puzzles, blank paper and colored pencils, and some books.

"I want to offer this room to you, Jasper, if you ever feel like you need to suddenly get away and have some quiet, some space. Much safer than running off into the woods by yourself."

It was the opposite of safe, but I appreciated the gesture. "That's really thoughtful, ma'am, thank you."

"I'll also send along a note to all your teachers that if you ever need to walk out and come here, they're to let you go."

"Okay."

She made me promise that I'd come see her again in four weeks, and that I'd come in earlier than that if I started having any more trouble. She was very decent, as humans went. Still, it was a blessed relief to walk out of the office. Edward and Alice were right there, waiting.

"It's all right," Edward reported. "She connected the scar to the car accident right away. And... thanks."

"You're welcome." I looked past him, carefully taking in the scent of the human crowd that was bustling to get to class on time. It burned more than usual, and it was going to burn a lot more in the coming months. My decision was made. I felt Alice's fingers thread through mine, and I clamped onto them like a lifeline, looking down at her for affirmation.

"Everything looks good," she promised. That wasn't exactly the question I had been asking, but her heart said the rest. I love you, it whispered. I love you no matter what. I love you and I wish I could make it all go away.

.

.

.

Edward had picked the plan out of my mind by the time lunch rolled around.

"You've got to be joking," he said by way of greeting when I deposited my tray onto the table. "At least wait until next time. You've already come within an inch of murder and landed in the counselor's office, and it's only your second week!"

"Edward, cut it out," Alice scolded. I smiled to feel her protective anger.

"What?" Emmett said, already exasperated.

"I'll always have an excuse to put it off," I told Edward.

"You know how this could end up," he said darkly. He was filled, instantly, with shame. It never ceased to amaze me how fast he could do that.

I rolled my eyes, picking up my fork and stabbing into a pile of something at random. I'd take pity on him once more today, and keep it quiet. To my knowledge, Emmett and Rosalie still didn't know about the little stunt he had tried to pull half a century ago. Edward, I'm not you. I'm not going to run up alone into the Arctic and starve myself.

Edward's shame turned in on itself, flashing with defensive anger. "Be that as it may, I still think—"

"I'll take it slow," I said aloud. "Six days, then seven. No rush. If I ever get to two weeks, I'll probably stop there. It was Carlisle's idea," I added belligerently, knowing that would shut him right up. I accepted the fact that everyone was going to be watching me like a hawk again. I didn't have the patience for this too.

He shut up.

The rest of the day was bearable. I regretted coming in a year older than Alice; I didn't know what had possessed me when I'd agreed to that. I reconsidered making arrangements for at least Rosalie or Emmett to be present in all my classes, just for safety's sake... well, maybe just Rosalie. Emmett didn't struggle quite like I did, but if enough blood was spilled, it was anyone's guess whether he'd help me get out or fight me for the blood itself.

But Emmett was good for some things. The very best. I'd spent the night alone with Alice's comfort, but the stress had been building all day. My muscles were screaming for a good fight.

"Emmett," I said casually as we pulled up the driveway.

That was all it took; I'd been silently riling him up all the way home. He spun around in his seat to face me, snarling in delight.

"NOT in my CAR!" Rosalie shrieked. She stood up in the driver's seat, seventy miles an hour and all, and drop-kicked her husband right out into the front yard. I followed in a flash and bowled him over, and he launched me over the house toward the river. I landed on all fours, looking for him again. He streaked around the eastern side of the house, fists ready. I tried feinting left, but I'd done that one too many times, apparently; he met me right there and sent me sprawling.

"That was a good one," I admitted, dizzy with pain. I touched the side of my jaw, feeling it wobble unnaturally. I was missing a tooth, I realized. I looked around, worried that it might have gone into the river, but I could just see it tumbling end over end in the grass over by the garage. Emmett had seen my worry and slowed down, and I attacked again. I hit him low this time, but something grabbed around my waist a fraction of a second later. I twisted out of it and backed up, pacing sideways in a loose triangle against Emmett and Rosalie. Two against one, then. Even better! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alice smiling down at me from behind the glass wall of the second floor.

On your left, she mouthed. I threw myself left without thought, instantly, and collided with Rosalie a fraction of a second before she was ready to engage. I shoved her away. After all these years, I still wasn't comfortable going at it with her full throttle, and she hated that.

"Coward!" she hissed, tumbling backward into Emmett's arms.

"You really shouldn't have said that," I warned her, slinking closer. She sank back into a ready crouch, daring me with a feral grin. Her teeth gleamed like knives in the open sunlight. There was more than one reason we decided to be twins in the cover story sometimes. Rosalie was my kindred spirit in this family, if I had one, despite our more obvious differences. I had always admired her unique blend of ferocity and control, and I shared her frank willingness to do what had to be done. None of those qualities had yet been tested in battle, and hopefully they never would be.

She and Emmett attacked in tandem; I had a feeling they had choreographed this one ahead of time. There was a complicated moment of tangled limbs and fists and feet, and we all broke apart. I brought out my rage from last night so I could burn it off, taking care not to lose myself completely. Rosalie and Emmett felt it too. They tried again, snarling openly now, and I threw them off again. I stalked after Emmett, clenching my teeth hard to avoid the urge to bite. He met me up high like a grizzly to use his weight against me. Ha! I scampered up his massive arm and his shoulders, jumping away just as Rosalie swept in to drag me back down. She followed me up into the air and caught my knees first, scrambling to pull my arms behind me like I had taught her. Emmett was in my face, too, and I let them think they had me for just a second before wrenching away with a savage kick and a blow to Emmett's jaw that sent his teeth flying.

I glanced up at Alice again, chest heaving, to make sure I wasn't about to really hurt anyone. And then I shook my hair out of my eyes and attacked again, grinning eagerly at my adversaries. At the fierce joy of friendly battle, chasing away the dark. Alice's confidence shone down on me the whole time, reminding me that everything was going to be all right in the end. Absolutely everything.