Title: And Found

Author: Girl Who Writes

Characters: Alice, Jasper

Word Count: 6534

Rating: T

Genre: Human/Vampire, Angst, Romance, Soulmark AU

Summary: The soul mark appears when Alice is six. It is a twisted ribbon of a mark; Alice's mother screams when she sees it. (What ugly, soulless individual could inspire such a mark?)

Notes: TRIGGER WARNINGS for implied/reference self-harm, body dysphoria, eating disorders.

Written for JaliceWeek20 Day 2: Soulmate AU. I've been busting to write something about soul-marks, and this is what I came up with :)

If you'd like to hear me rambling about Alice and Jasper and my writing, you can find me on tumblr as goldeneyedgirl or lexiewrites

They meet like this:

The new girl, her hair hanging in her eyes, darts out of the classroom like she's on fire. She runs straight into him, bounces off the wall of vampiric-muscle, and hits the floor.

It's hardly the thing of great love stories or cinematic meet-cutes, but it is the beginning.

He mechanically offers to help her up, but she looks away. That's when he begins to notice - he doesn't know how it feels for her, but it's like someone injected ice into his side, where the mark has been for eleven years. She stares up at him for a moment, her hand fluttering at her collar bone before she's back on her feet and hurrying down the hall like she's running away.

The soul mark appears when Alice is six.

It is a twisted ribbon of a mark, from the inside of her left elbow, up her arm, over her shoulder, along her clavicle, over her right shoulder, and down to her right wrist. It is enormous for a soul mark, especially on such a small child. And perhaps that would be okay if it wasn't for the colour - deeply and unmistakably red; dark in the middle and light on the outside, like she's been slashed violently with a knife.

Alice's mother screams when she sees it, expecting blood to follow until she realizes what she's seeing. Lillian stares at her daughter, who seems delighted by her positively disfiguring mark. Her little sister has one, her cousins each have one, there's only her and Uncle Fred that don't and now she does.

But Cynthia's is an elaborate knot of yellow on her right hip that looks more like an abstract flower. Lillian's own is grey and burgundy, fanning out like sunburst on the back of her neck. She has never seen a soul mark like this, and she feels disloyal when she allows herself to think it quite hideous as she lets her daughter babble away in joy.

What ugly, soulless individual could inspire such a mark?

(Then, of course, there is the social faux pas that Alice is obviously older than her new soulmate - just old enough for people to talk. It's still not really acceptable in Biloxi society for the female half of the couple to be older, but it can be overlooked if it's only a year or two. Don't even get Lillian started on same-sex soulmates; she'll worry about that if it ever comes to pass, pray to god it doesn't.

Thankfully, Cynthia was born with her mark and Lillian with hers.

It'll be years before Alice herself understands: the soul mark has less to do with birthdays and ages, and a lot more to do with the path you find yourself on - there's no point having a map to a place you won't be visiting. That day when she was six years old was the very day that the seeds of the Great Brandon Feud were planted, and her path was gently diverted into that of another).

The official reason they move to Forks is because Brandon Shipping is expanding, and the newest office and facility is in Port Angeles; Lillian thinks the small logging town is charming and a more socially palatable place to live, plus she is excited by the idea of renovating an old house (Alice is positive that every Pottery Barn in the Pacific Northwest is standing-by for her mother's legendarily dull sense of interior design).

The semi-official reason is that Alice punched her cousin Marcella at the last family Fourth of July barbecue, and both Lillian and Michael are leaving in shame. Alice resents this justification to her bones because one, Marcella deserved it, and probably at least one more good hit. Two, if it had been any other cousin Marcella had said those words to, it would be Marcella who would be punished. And three, the unspoken reason.

The unspoken reason was that Michael and his brothers have reached a peak in the Great Brandon Family Feud where ultimatums have been made that can't be taken back, but all of them are focused enough on wealth and status they aren't stupid enough to actually break up the company. So Michael is - depending on who you ask - either banished to the newest, furthest outpost of the company, or removes himself and his family from a 'disturbing, irrational, and toxic environment.'

The only one who is actually relieved by their arrival in the dreary little town is Alice; wearing neck-to-wrist clothing all year round will be much more comfortable in Forks than in Biloxi. She might actually get to be normal. No sunshine, no swimming pools, no weddings or volleyball or spiteful, nasty little cousins.

Just school and home and peace of being left entirely alone. That's been her plan for years now - hide away and not find whoever branded her like this. She can almost see the disappointment in their eyes when they glimpse her, and all that she is.

Forks seems like a really good place for someone to hide.

The mark hasn't changed in eleven years - bright red, enormous, and always there. Lillian has tried every kind of make-up and cover-up, every form of medication, every skin treatment but the red still bleeds through insistently. And until Alice was twelve, she didn't really notice anyone recoiling from her mark - though Lillian always insisted on high-collar dresses and dainty cardigans, even in the summer heat.

It was Cousin Grace's wedding that changed everything - Grace was always a sweetheart, and everyone was pleased for her. All the little cousins would be bridesmaids and flower-girls, of course - that's how it was down in their family. Alice was so excited - Grace was the oldest, and it was the first wedding she'd actually get to be in. They'd arrived at the bridal store, and everyone was gathered, and the dresses were there on the rack, and everyone laughed at how excited little Mary-Alice was to climb into her bridesmaid dress.

Lillian was distracted, not thinking, as she accepted champagne and talked to Grace's mother Susan. Cynthia was already being hustled into a fitting room when Alice emerged, already spinning in the pink lace creation with the sweetheart neckline.

And all went silent. The bride, the children, the mothers, the store attendants - all of them froze at the sight of Mary-Alice in her candy pink dress with a soul mark that looked like she'd just climbed off an autopsy table half-way done.

Grace managed a sickly smile, "you look so pretty, Mary!" she manages in the same voice she uses for her kindergarten class. "It fits well, not too long."

"That's all we need, Alice, put your clothes back on," Lillian manages in a faint voice before she is swept into a corner with Grace, Aunt Susan, and Grace's wedding planning.

The dressing rooms of wedding boutiques are not fortresses of solitude and silence. Alice stood there in her perfect pink dress and heard every word of the murmured and slightly panicked conversation between the four women about Alice's Mark, about its hideousness, and the photos, oh my god, everyone will be forced to look at it.

No, make-up won't cover it - they've tried everything they can find.

She just can't be in the wedding. She'll ruin it.

Alice stares into the gilded mirror in the dressing room, at the dress she was so excited to wear. At the red slash that she has always loved but… it really is terrible, ugly to look at. Not like Mama's or Cynthia's or anyone else's she knows. It's so awful.

She puts on her sweater and her skirt and hangs up the bridesmaid dress she'll never get to wear, and she'll sit quietly as the rest of the cousins try on dresses and she won't even cry when Grace lies to her so sweetly and tells her that she's got too many bridesmaids and would Alice mind terribly if she was just a very special guest instead.

She wears a long-sleeved navy blue dress to the wedding and hides in the bathrooms when the photos are taken, not that anyone comes looking for her. She stays quiet and good and doesn't complain about how hot her dress makes her. Cynthia spins on the dance floor in her pink tulle dress, and Alice tries to push down the jealousy. It's not her little sister's fault that she's too ugly to wear a pretty dress. At least one of them gets to enjoy it. Then she wonders what she did to make her soulmate hate her so much they'd mark her like this before they've even met.

Twelve is the year she stops complaining about her clothes, stops having to be reminded to cover herself up.

Twelve is the year she finds she prefers oversized clothing, clothing she can hide in, so nothing but her face and fingertips can be seen.

Twelve is the year she doesn't ask even once to go swimming with her friends (even though she's never been allowed before) - and when she swims in their pool at home, she wears a long-sleeved shirt over her swimsuit every single time, and only swims just before it gets dark, where no one can see her.

Twelve is the year that she thinks, maybe if she was skinner, the mark might get smaller. Her mother compliments her on her diet as she fades away, but the mark just seems to get brighter.

Twelve is the year she learns to hide behind her veil of hair, where it is safe, only peering out when she knows that there won't be barbs waiting for her.

Twelve is the year she successfully convinces her parents and her fancy school to excuse her from gym permanently, because she'll faint exercising in all those layers, and none of the other students should be forced to see her. (It takes a depressing lack of effort to secure that privilege, everyone praising her for her maturity and practicality as if they've forgotten how much she had always loved gymnastics and volleyball.)

Twelve is also the year she works out that she can't cut or burn the stupid thing away, and no one seems upset with her attempts when they get a good look at what she's working against.

Twelve is a horrible year.

The day she runs into the tall boy at school, it all goes to hell.

She hasn't really made friends at Forks - she sits next to June in Art, and Katie in History and they're both nice to her, but they really leave the new girl alone - she's too quiet to be befriended. All her report cards have said the same things for years now - she's polite and diligent but just so shy that perhaps her parents should get her help.

They don't, because Michael Brandon prefers his eldest daughter to remain silent and unresistant to his will. Plus, what would people think if they found out Alice needed a therapist?

So, she continues on her quest for complete invisibility, like a rabbit in the underbrush, and that leads her into running into the handsome boy she's seen roaming the halls, and she falls flat on the floor, stunned but unharmed.

It happens almost immediately, a burn in her chest that is running down both her arms and … no. No, nope, nada, nyet, nein. No way in hell. The burn is increasing and she gets to her feet, ignoring him entirely to go and hide in the library and wait for the pain to ebb.

It still hurts when the final bell rings, and she stumbles to the bus, head down and headphones on so that no one can call out to her and have her hear them. It feels like an inside-out sunburn, and she's going home to take a cold bath and cry.

No one else is home, thankfully, when she barges in the back door and straight up the stairs, pausing only long enough to grab the omnipresent tube of aloe vera gel from the fridge - she couldn't bear to deal with the expected afternoon niceties with her mother right now. She's got to get the burning to stop.

Her bathroom is a tiny ensuite to ensure her privacy - her father has made no secret of how disgusting he finds her mark, and her mother only encourages her extreme form of modesty. She almost regrets all the layers - heavy sweater, turtleneck, camisole, bra, skirt, shoes, stockings, underwear - as she sheds them, wanting to scratch the skin from her body out of sheer frustration and discomfort.

And then she looks up in the mirror and freezes.

There's no question he's her soulmate, not an ounce of doubt in her mind. Because her mark has changed, and it is… like nothing she's ever seen, not in all her research on the topic. Not in endless scrolling on social media of people boasting 'before' and 'after' soul marks, in delicate little love knots, and spiraling patterns and bursts of colour.

This is something utterly unique. The ribbon-like shape is unchanged, but somehow, it looks almost faceted like crystal, like under her skin there is the inside of a geode, colours shifting in ripples of scarlet and gold. It feels no different to touch, but no longer does she look like she's been murdered. And the very ends, on her wrist and arm, they have darkened to a deep and unexpected violet.

The heat still rolls under her skin but is slowly dispersing, as if it was just insistent that she had to take a closer look. And for the first time in a very, very long time, Alice feels… well, not beautiful. But not monstrous.

So she climbs into the bathtub and starts to cry.

She stays in bed the next day, unable to face school. Lillian indulges her claims she's sick, everything below Alice's chin tucked firmly under her duvet, and leaves her daughter to rest.

She can't do it, can't face the idea of having to see that boy again, that truly handsome boy, and let him know that when life was dealing out soul mates, he drew her card. Because she hasn't been made suddenly beautiful by their inevitable meeting. She's still a tiny, bony, and pale little creature - her own grandmother assures her every Christmas that she'll never win any prizes for her looks.

That doesn't stop her from peaking under the blankets every so often just to see the impossible glitter of her mark, the way it somehow shifts from ruby to crimson to scarlet, with little veins of gold threaded through. She doesn't understand - it's just skin, still flat and smooth, the most remarkable of illusions.

In the end, she kicks off the blankets and throws on a dress and leggings and boots, and leaves the house. Finds herself walking to the school, hoping that maybe she's lucky enough to one, not get caught by either her parents or teachers and two, find Him before he leaves for the day.

Apparently, she's just the right amount of lucky. She finds him sitting on one of the benches outside the school, running his hand through his hair and looking stressed. He's surrounded by others, no one she recognizes - one guy appears to be reassuring him; they're all looking for someone.

A brunette girl catches her eye and points to her, and apparently, the person they're looking for is her. She tries not to shrink under their gaze, as she crosses the parking lot and wondering why on earth she's here, and not still in bed, why she's even tempting fate by approaching him. It's going to go horribly, and everyone in town is going to find out about her mark, and her parents will just outright destroy her.

She falters and looks up at him. He looks almost hopeful, as he stares at her, raising his hands in peace when he thinks she's going to back away.

She approaches slowly, her arms crossed over her chest as she finally reaches the group.

"Hello." The boy stands up to greet her and he is so, so ridiculously tall, it's not fair.

"Hi." It's awkward. All those soul-meeting stories she read online, they all sounded so lovely, and hers is at a bench at school and… this.

"We'll leave you to it, man," one of the other boys says, clapping him on the shoulder. "Good luck."

The blond boy nods and looks at her. He has kind eyes, which is good, she decides.

"Would you like to go for a walk?" he offers suddenly. "Just around here? Might make it easier."

"Yes. That sounds okay." Her voice sounds small, and they move away from the benches, from the witnesses, towards the sports field.

His name is Jasper Hale, and he's eighteen. He lives with his aunt, uncle, twin sister, and his adopted cousins. They only moved to Forks a year ago. He likes American History, motorcycles, and horses. He plays the guitar. He'd like to get to know her.

She fumbles through what to tell him. Her name, of course, her family. Why they moved. She likes… that's a weird question. She's spent so long hiding everything about herself that she can't remember what she actually likes and what's just become routine.

She can do this.

Her name is Alice Brandon - Mary Alice Brandon - and she's seventeen. She lives with her parents and younger sister. They just moved from Biloxi. She likes drawing, she likes fashion, and she likes dancing.

"I don't know if this is inappropriate," Jasper begins, as they take a seat on the aging bleachers at the back of the school. "But, could I see the mark?"

She visibly flinches from the request, but he's been very patient and seems to actually be invested in this, and she can't be outright cruel. He'll leave her alone soon enough. "C-can I see yours?" she manages, hoping to delay the inevitable.

He nods, looking at her with concern, but hikes up the side of his shirt. It runs down his side, even underneath the waistband of his jeans, all sharp edges and thin lines jerking out, like a spiking heart rate. It's mostly a dark gold colour, but with violet and scarlet bleeding into parts of it. It's the most perfectly normal soul mark she's ever seen, and she's not sure whether to be disappointed his doesn't match hers better so they can be freaks together or if she's grateful no one else has to live like she does.

"It's beautiful," she says, and it's true. Beautiful colours, the visible representation of a beating heart. It suits him.

He nods, a slight smile hovering at his lips. "Yours?" he asks, and this time she knows she cannot get out of it. But she also can't whip off the dress she's wearing, in the middle of the school oval.

"Um, I can't," she began, looking at her shoes. "Not here." She makes a gesture towards her chest. "Not the whole thing - but I can show you some of it."

He's curious as she rolls up her right sleeve to her elbow, and holds out her arm. He positively gapes at it, and reaches out to stroke it, making them both jump at the unexpected contact.

"I'm sorry, that was inappropriate. That's… incredible," he murmured.

"Incredible?" she echoes, pulling her sleeve down. He's staring at her like she's performed a miracle in front of him, and she doesn't know how to act.

"It's beautiful. But you said you couldn't show me all of it? How far up does it go?" he asks, furrowing his brow.

She wordlessly and mechanically draws the path she's been branded with - for him - and his eyes get wider.

"I've never heard of such a … prominent mark," he manages.

"It's pretty … dramatic," she admits before sighing and shaking her head. "Before we ran into each other, it was… awful. Hideous - the ugliest thing possible."

He looks shocked and moves closer. "Why do you say that?" his voice is low, encouraging.

"It was so big and bright and everyone hated it, hated looking at it," she gestured to her chest. "You'll understand when you see the entire thing. It's… it's nicer now, but it's still everywhere."

Jasper studied her a moment longer before looking out at the field. "I researched soul marks once, as a bit of a hobby," he began. "American research on the topic is only very recent and focused on the science of it rather than the meaning. But you begin to look abroad, or back through history, and what we know or believe it gets interesting.

"For instance, in India, they believe the length of the soul mark determines the length of your time together. Hundreds of years ago, they had a special way to measure a soul mark to determine how many years you would have together. It's been lost to modern history, but it was once incredibly important for a couple to have their soul marks measured and calculated.

"And then in Ancient Greece, any mark was a sign of great pride. They would cut down their clothing - sometimes quite indecently - to show off - the more prominent the mark, the better.

"And some of the Slavic tribes, they believed that the shape and size and placement of the mark held great significance to the relationship the soul mates would have - the depth and strength of love the pair would carry for each other; that a great size implied that one half of the couple was taking on a burden of pain or suffering from the other, to help them through life."

She sat there, almost breathless, as he so easily detailed the different things he had found and read. All of them full of acceptance, of hope, and of how… special such a thing was supposed to be.

"What do you believe?" she manages to ask.

He looks at her and reaches out to take her hand, gently squeezing it.

"That there's nothing you could show me that would scare me away," he said, and she can feel herself blush. "And that I would very much like to get to know you better, Alice Brandon."

He walks her home, still holding her hand, and they talk about nothing. Movies they've seen, the music they like, places they would like to visit. He makes it easy to talk, to find things to say. The walk is a lot shorter on the way back.

Lillian Brandon is not amused to find her so-called 'unwell' eldest daughter has snuck out but is bamboozled and gracious enough to hold back her displeasure when she sees Alice hand in hand with Jasper.

"Aren't you going to introduce me, Alice?" Lillian rebukes her daughter and watches as Alice appears to shrink back against the tall boy with his gaze permanently fixed on her.

"This is Jasper Hale," Alice manages, ducking her head. "He's a senior."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am," Jasper replies respectfully, eyeing the uncomfortable girl at his side. "I'd like to thank you for doing me the favour of bringing my soul mate to Forks."

Later, Alice will laugh until her eyes are watering over the look on Lillian's face when she computes what Jasper is saying. That this tall, handsome boy who can't take his eyes off her daughter is Alice's soulmate. Lillian's face goes through the full spectrum of emotions - confused, shocked, completely blank, incredulous, and then vaguely dazed.

The late reveal of Alice's soul mark is hand waved away with Jasper informing the pair his own didn't show up until he was seven - that late-appearing soul marks aren't as uncommon as people think. Lillian is utterly flabbergasted and Alice only gets to enjoy it for as long as it takes Lillian to get to her favourite topic - complaining about Alice's 'disfigurement'.

"It's really quite gruesome to look at - you said your uncle was a surgeon? Perhaps he might know of someone who can tidy it up a little," Lillian prattles on as the pair sit stiffly at the kitchen table.

"I think it's quite lovely, myself," Jasper responds coldly, but Lillian doesn't notice the change in his mood.

"Have you seen the whole thing? Run up and put a camisole on, Alice," Lillian waves a hand at her daughter. "You'll understand. We've tried everything, but nothing works."

Jasper looks furious as she leaves the table meekly at her mother's bidding. Maybe Lillian is right, maybe Jasper will back away when he sees the sheer expanse of all, all that research be damned.

It feels quite strange to walk around wearing so little clothing, and she's slower going back downstairs, her face hidden by her hair, as she returns to the kitchen. The camisole is cut low enough to show her barely-existent cleavage, and she really feels like she's just walking around naked.

Jasper stands as soon as she returns, and for a split second, she thinks he's going to walk out, that Lillian was right and she was right and it doesn't matter it changed, it's still awful.

But he moves closer to her, reaching out to gather her hair and push it away from her face. And for the first time since they've met, he looks at her. At the faint freckles on her nose, the tiny scar on her cheek, her slightly sunken cheeks, her sad grey eyes, down to the faceted expanse of soul mark that twists up both her arms and meets over her collarbone.

Lillian shakes her head in despair at the family shame revealed so openly, not remarking - or maybe not noticing - the change of it.

"I think you're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."

Jasper's voice is firm and clear and appreciative and Lillian looks scandalized, and Alice starts to laugh and cry at the same time, and somehow she finds herself in his arms, clinging to him like a lifesaver because she can't remember ever being told that in her whole life.

(It's a quiet dinner at the Brandons that night after Lillian reports to her husband what has transpired. The only comment Michael Brandon makes is right before he gets up, staring at his eldest daughter, and rudely congratulating her on catching a doctor's son. Alice can't find it in herself to care.)

Nothing worth having ever came easy.

Meeting the Cullens goes… fine. She wears a dress with a high neckline and elbow-length sleeves but then puts a cardigan over the top because old habits are hard to break. She puts her hair up though because it makes Jasper smile when she does.

Dr Cullen seems vaguely horrified at the sight of her (Jasper reassures her later that it was how terribly, terribly thin she was, and nothing more), but Mrs Cullen is delighted by her, clasping her in a hug and insisting Alice call her 'Esme'.

Jasper's twin sister, Rose, seems guarded but very polite to her, whilst Jasper's adopted cousin (and Rose's soulmate, which explains the very specific description) Emmett is all fun and games, and at ease with her right away.

"Jas said you had issues with your mark," he says within the first minutes of meeting her. "Get a load of this." He pulls his t-shirt up and turns around to show Alice his back. Like Alice, his spine appears to have split perfectly down the middle to reveal a faceted crystal effect in deep pink and forest green. It starts at his hairline, running down his neck and stretches across his shoulders before narrowing again.

"Very appropriate timing, Emmett," the other cousin, Edward, sighs.

"What? Jas was pissed she was upset," Emmett tugs his shirt down, and Alice isn't sure whether to laugh or cry that the whole family knows something she's been ashamed of for so long. "We thought it might be, like, a freaky genetic thing but then Edward's girl showed up with one like it on her leg. Some people just get lucky, I guess."

"Ignore him. He's got the tact of a cinderblock wall," Edward says to her. "He's never had a moment of self-doubt in his life."

That makes her giggle a little, and everyone relaxes. It's a nice visit after that, but both Dr Cullen and Mrs Cu- Esme look at her with worried eyes, and that makes her worry more.

At school, apparently being Jasper Hale's soul mate is a scandal of the highest degree. Her locker is defaced twice, and one girl body-slams her into the wall as she walks past. Everybody suddenly knows who she is, and she has a place to sit at the cafeteria, and it's not as bad as she thought it would be because the Cullens don't eat much either.

Jasper fusses over her a lot; he picks her up for school every day in a shiny black truck, and he walks her to every class. He takes her back home every day, and most days they sit in her room and talk. Nothing inappropriate, especially since she has to keep her bedroom door open whenever she has guests. She asks him about college, but he is dismissive of it - entirely focused on her and her plans. He helps her with her homework, helps her move her bedroom furniture - nothing is too much trouble.

He only leaves at dinner time, when her father comes home. Sometimes she wonders if he'd ever leave her if he wasn't forced to.

She knows she runs hot and cold. Some days she clings to him like a limpet, reluctant to separate even for their respective classes, quiet and solemn. Other days, she is distant, uncomfortable with being touched. Those are the days she drags the turtlenecks and heavy sweaters out, the ones that cover her right to her hands. And then there are the days she is her best self, when her smile is bright and she can wear a top that bares her forearms and forces herself to ignore people staring at her soul mark. Those are the days she can be relied on to eat lunch, to have a conversation with his family, to be the person she was shamed into not being.

And Jasper stays for all of it. He doesn't get mad, he doesn't insult her, he doesn't yell. He's just right there, by her side, right up until graduation. They don't go to Prom because the idea of wearing an evening dress makes her feel woozy and hide in the immense fabric of one of his hoodies and watch bad movies with aggressive focus. Instead, they stay at the Cullens house, and Mrs Cullen makes them crepes - she eats more than Jasper, she's sure of it, but they're very good - and he plays music in his bedroom and they dance there, instead.

That's where he admits he's putting college off for a year and working for Esme - a very successful architect and interior designer - for a year. And not for college money; apparently, that isn't a problem. No, because he wants to wait for her, so they can go to college together. He doesn't care where - it's her choice. That she's letting him tag along is all he needs.

It's all very romantic and it's also their very first kiss, and then their very first make out, and nearly their very first time except she's still messed up in the head, and the idea of getting really naked with anyone is so bad she hyperventilates and he has to calm her down.

She's not sure what he gets out of having her as a soulmate, but she hopes he knows that he's saving her life.

It's late August, just before she starts her senior year with Edward and his girlfriend, Bella, when Jasper brings her to the house to tell her something.

She worries the entire trip to his house, piling anxiety on top of anxiety. It's definitely her - they kiss sometimes and it's nice, and she doesn't mind when he sees her in her bra now, but anything else is too much and maybe he's tired of waiting?

Or maybe he's realized waiting around for a whole year in a town like Forks for a girl like her is actually really dumb, and he's going to college after all.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The thing is, in all her catastrophizing, she thought she had everything covered. Every single thing, from a break-up, to terminal illness, to joining the military, to world collapse. She feels like her head is spinning by the time she gets to the Cullens, and she's positive she's either going to faint or vomit by the time he tells her whatever he wants to tell her.

"We're vampires," is absolutely and most certainly nowhere on her list, and she bursts into tears, and the entire family freaks out, and then she has to admit she thought she was being dumped, and both Emmett and Carlisle burst out laughing because apparently Jasper has been mooning over her since the day she ran into him, without exception, and the idea that he'd choose to leave her for some petty human reason is the height of comedy.

She has to lie down after that revelation, as Jasper and Carlisle slowly explain to her that all those 'quirks' she evidently didn't pay attention to were indicative of being a fucking vampire, with various interjections from Emmett that are unhelpful but funny.

The end result is that she starts her final year of high school with the knowledge that her soul mate is a vampire - one that hunts animals but is physically unable to drink her blood thanks to soulmate biology; that they will respect her choice to remain human if that is what she wants, but that allowing him to change her will give them forever together.

It's a lot of pressure. She loses some of the hard-won weight she has gained, and she's not sleeping well, and Esme - when she finds out - is fairly pissed they've rattled her to that point. When she goes to Esme for advice, the woman is more than happy to offer counsel, to listen to her hopes and fears and dreams and all the things that rattle around in her brain that she can't stop thinking about.

It's Rosalie who helps, who finds her in the Cullen's kitchen inspecting the calories on the peanut butter jar.

"You know, I didn't want this," Rose says brusquely, taking the jar out of her hands and shoving Alice out of the way to make the sandwich for her. "I hated Carlisle for years for changing me without consent - I was dying, he made a choice," the blonde girl says, slicing up the banana. "Then I got my mark, and found Emmett." She cuts the sandwich likes she's stabbing a dead thing.

"Eat. There are a lot of things I regret and I resent about this life. We all have them - I know for a fact that Jasper has sanitized most of his own history to 'protect' you, and I disagree with that. But never have I looked at Emmett, had Emmett beside me, and regretted that. I love him more than I thought possible.

"We're given these damn marks for a reason. I've never seen Jasper as… at peace as he has been since he found you. There's never going to be a time - not today, or next month or even in the next twenty years - that he's going to look at you and not see his entire world. Stay human, become one of us - only you can make that choice. But don't make that choice because you think that it will change how it will make him feel. Because that's not happening," Rose finished, putting the peanut butter in the fridge. "You're smart, you're pretty, you clearly love him. Anything else is just your own neuroses. Eat the damn sandwich."

She eats the whole thing.

'Nothing worth having ever came easy.'

She reminds herself of that over and over again when things get hard. When she goes up a clothing size, when she wears a t-shirt that fits for the first time since she was twelve, when she's staring down a perfectly ordinary bowl of fruit salad.

When she lets him put his mouth on her soul mark, her chest bare, and her breathing only a little bit panicked. But it feels kind of nice and she makes a few sounds that are embarrassing but Jasper seems to like them a lot.

When her mother drives her to Seattle to pick out a dress for prom, and she immediately reaches for a blue one. A vintage-style strapless cocktail dress in a deep blue that she's immediately in love with. It fits like a glove, and as she spins in front of the mirror, she chooses to ignore the look that Cynthia shoots Lillian, and Lillian's wince. She loves it and she's going to wear it.

And she does. She nearly hyperventilates and changes into her back-up dress twice (one that covers her from wrist-to-throat-to-knee) before she commits. It's what she wants to wear, it's how she wants to look for him, and he loves her soul mark. He loves her. He'll love her in any dress, but she wants it to be this one.

And as she comes down the stairs, to go to her senior prom, in a dress that exposes every inch of what she's tried so hard to hide, his eyes widen and he gapes. He loses all composure for a moment and that makes her laugh and he calls her beautiful, just like he does every day, except she's almost started believing him.

And decades later, when she remembers that night, it's not the snide remarks whispered behind hands that she recalls. It's of being in his arms as he dances with her; it's her hand in his as she tugs him along. The way he looked at her, and the way she looked at him.

It was the pride in his gaze, and the love, and the promise that no matter what, they would always be together.

A few years later, her soul mark has changed again. Carlisle affectionately calls her a chameleon before delving into an academic recitation on the biology of soul marks and how great upheavals - physical, mental, or spiritual - can affect their appearance.

"Duh," Emmett says after a moment of silence, and even Edward and Rose are sniggering at that.

Her soul mark has not shrunk or changed shape, as she once wished so passionately. And the beautiful crystal effect has remained, even more beautiful not that she truly sparkles in the sun.

But the scarlet has faded away, giving way for swoops of gold and violet that twist together in a way that she adores.

It's the very same gold of Jasper's eyes.

The very same gold as the diamond in the ring he presents to her, down on one knee, and she knocks them both to the floor in her delight and rush to accept.

It's the same gold she hopes her eyes will be.



Soul marks: I actually came up with lore regarding this; only humans destined to vampires receive the crystal/geode style of soul mark; human couples receive line-art style marks. Colours are determined by the individuals 'aura' colour and when they meet, the colours blend. Alice's starts red to signify her destiny to be changed, whilst her 'true' aura colour is violet and Jasper's is gold.

For the record, only Alice, Emmett, and Bella have 'vampire' marks. Esme's and Carlisle's formed simultaneously after Esme was changed. It was very cute.

- People are already so judgemental regarding physical appearance, I can only imagine the addition of soul marks would increase judgment. Alice was surrounded by so many toxic ideas about her appearance that she believed them.

This will be the only fic in this 'verse, but not my only soulmate fic. I have IDEAS.