Title: In the Dark of the Night

Author: Girl Who Writes

Characters: Alice/Jasper

Word Count: 6429

Rating: M

Genre: Romance?, Horror

Summary: "What are you Alice?" he asks finally, gentler than he thinks he is capable of.

"A runaway. A hunted thing," she muses as the last few miles of Nevada flash by. The night feels endless; the dashboard clock is warped from his destruction of the radio, and still points to 1:07 a.m, a fantastic crack right through the centre. "There are so many names for us, Jasper. I'd prefer if you just used mine."

He has nothing to say to that, so he just nods.

Notes: My fic for Day 5 of JaliceWeek: Monsterfucking. I had fun with this - it didn't quite turn out how I expected, but I kind of like it. Something a little bit new and creepy.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy!


He can still hear Maria in the back of his mind.

"There are wars up North too, cariño. There's nothing up there for us yet. And we aren't ready to make the journey.

"There are things out there that you aren't ready to comprehend. Things that are very dangerous but very powerful." She had smiled. "One day, cariño. You are young still. But when you do go up North for me, you stay protected. You don't stop for anyone, you don't feed or fight or anything till you get yourself to Oregon, understand?"

The warning hangs in his mind until the words don't make sense anymore. Until the memory has rotted and decayed and gone where all lost things go.

He tastes salt and blood and arsenic on the back of his tongue and he cannot speak a word as the world tips and twists and rewrites itself around him.

He splits up with Peter and Charlotte somewhere near Florida. He can't stay with them, can't deal with the cloying emotion around them that practically strangles them. Can't explain the suffering, the pain, the constant depression he suffers through when he feeds with words that make sense to them.

So he leaves.

He prefers to be on his own anyway.

He makes his way through the country, staying clear of Texas and Mississippi and Louisiana. He wants to go North, where he's less likely to run into any old associates. He's already pictured it in his head - the calm, the peace. Somewhere he can stop, and put himself back together again.

Maria's warning hangs loud and ominous in his mind. But surely… for decades, he was known as the Master of War, he survived longer fighting Maria's war than many other. Whatever feral creatures run rough in this part of the country, he can handle them.

Whatever myths and superstitions Maria had about the North, it doesn't matter anymore. She's left back in Monterrey and her transparent scare tactics can stay there too.

(He does have a plan. Find a human vehicle - he understands the principles enough, even if he's never driven one. Get in it and drive until he hits Oregon. Just in case.)

He makes it to Arizona unscathed; not that he expected to be attacked or injured. It's just like any other part of the country. Fewer nomads than he expected, but knowing how the Wars can spill over, further, than they intended, he's not all that surprised. If he knew then what he knows now, he'd high-tail it to Canada as well.

There's a gas station in the middle of nowhere, one of those places that looks like its been there since time immemorial. The rust is baked on, the colours bleached, and the neon signs buzzing unevenly. The lights from the building seem almost blue in the night, and just dim enough to make humans squint.

The smell of cigarettes and gasoline lingered, a combination that spoke of warning and risk. A few cars and trucks are scattered around, along with one semi-trailer, and yet, he can only sense three heartbeats.

Suits him just fine, as he slinks towards a vehicle parked just beside the building.

He steals the old truck from a man he feeds from behind the gas station, a big man who half-kills himself in the struggle, even after Jasper has torn into his throat. The blood coats the front of Jasper's shirt, and it's just easier to steal the shirt off the body, even if it is two or three sizes too large and not exactly clean.

The truck is well-loved, and Jasper ignores the photo of a smiling young woman on the dashboard, the worn crucifix hanging from the rear-vision mirror, and an old rucksack on the passenger seat that smells like sweat and dirt and cigarettes.

He doesn't want to think about it. About that man's wild panic and fear, about the regret that bubbled up when he realised there was nothing left for him to do. The wild wave of grief before he was gone. It stuck to Jasper like molasses, would take days for him to scrub himself clean of it. And then he'd have to feed again, and the cycle would start once more.

He adjusts the mirror (he won't need it), and turns the key and pulls away from the gas station, leaving the man's body to be feasted on by whatever crawls out of the brush. He probably won't be found until he starts to stink under the Arizona sun.

And Jasper drives off into the night.

He pulls onto the road and he doesn't look back. The plan is solid, sensible - no one expects a vampire to be driving at night when they could run so much faster, slip through the night unseen. A truck would seem clumsy and ridiculous.

The headlights flicker, and Jasper scowls. The truck might be well-loved, but all machines fail eventually. He can see the road easily, but it'll seem suspicious, a truck driving without lights this late at night.

There's nothing out there, in this part of the country; just an expanse of land and road. Just him in the truck, utterly still and silent as he pushes the truck faster. There is enough cloud for the moon and most of the stars to be hidden, and the old warnings Maria gave him…

"When you do go up North for me, you stay protected."

Maybe the sky is hiding from whatever spooked Maria.

That makes him chuckle.

As if anything truly scared Maria of Monterrey.

The radio crackles for a moment, and Jasper scowls, not realising the stupid thing was on. The voices are garbled for a moment, but it sounds like a news report… or maybe a Bible reading. Either way, he flicks it off, content with the hum and rattle of the engine, the worn road chewing at the tires, to accompany him.

He likens his flight across Arizona as getting to sanctuary, a place where Maria cannot get to him easily; it feels like superstition, like tossing salt over your shoulder at a meal, or holding your breath at a cemetery - pointless, but reassuring. He makes it to the other side, he's safe. He's won. He's free.

Just a few more hours.

The lights go first, flickering on and off desperately, before dying and he swears. It's then something dashes across the road in front of him and he slams the brakes, if only not to have to drive across the rest of the state (then Nevada because he has no interest in runnin' afoul of the mess in California) with carcass stains of a dead animal smeared down the front of the truck.

Not to mention that the engine doesn't sound like it would survive a run-in with much.

The brakes shriek, the rucksack thumps to the floor, the crucifix snaps, and the truck stops and he looks for whatever animal's life he just saved.

Nothing. Just desert and darkness.

He shakes his head and goes to turn the ignition again when the passenger door clicks and falls open, as if the latch has failed.

He leans across and pulls it closed again, before starting the truck again and driving.

It takes a minute or two for the humming to start. It's soft and girlish, and he glares at the radio, but the radio is off - maybe dead - and the humming is clearer than anything it could manage.

It gets louder, and clearer, and it's a song being sung.

By whatever is now sitting in the passenger seat.

So.

Maria told a truth.

He wasn't expecting that.

"Keep driving, Major."

He flinches when it speaks, but he doesn't jump, doesn't panic. He's known its there for the last fifteen minutes, listening to the sweet but sickening humming as it solidified beside him.

Pretending to reach for the gear-stick, his hand lashes out to grab it. Her, he thinks, from the timbre of its voice.

"Don't," it scolds, somehow evading him. "Just drive."

"What are you?" he half-growls, tightening his grip on the steering wheel so hard that he can feel it bending.

"I'm Alice," it annunciates. "And you are one Major Jasper Whitlock, formerly of Texas."

He tries again, his hand whipping out and, this time, managing to grasp its throat. It makes a noise, more like a child denied a treat than of pain or fear, and they drive in silence for a few moments.

And then he drops his hand away.

"What do you want?" he asks through gritted teeth.

"What is ever wanted when you get in a car with a stranger, Major?" Alice asks sweetly. "A ride."

They drive in silence for a while. He doesn't take his eyes off the road.

Alice hums again, and shifts in the seat.

He thinks she's looking out the window. He feels like she's tense, looking for something.

There's nothing out there.

He doesn't look over at her.

"How did you get in the truck?"

They're the first words anyone has said in over an hour, and it's rude. He wonders if being rude to someone who can sneak up on a vampire, who can materialise in such a way is entirely wise.

The humming stops.

"The door was unlocked." She sounds amused.

"You know that's not what I mean," he snaps, and the steering wheel creaks. "How did you know my name?"

She starts humming again, and shifts in her seat with a horrible crack of realigning bone.

"I know things," she finally says. "I see things. It's not a … usual talent. But it's a useful one."

He thinks of his own gift.

"How did you get into the truck?" he asks again.

"An empty seat is an open invitation," she says languidly. "You should speed up around here."

"It's fine. We're making good time," he says dismissively and she laughs, a horrible noise that sounds like her lungs are made of cellophane.

He still hasn't looked at her.

She sighs.

"Tell me something about yourself, Major. Something no one else knows," she says finally, and the words are like honey - it sounds like her lips are against his ear, like words lovers would exchange sharing a pillow in the afterglow.

"I don't like strangers," he snaps back, unnerved.

She snickers. "They don't come much stranger than me," she agrees.

She smells like things that make him wary, like lightening and spilt alcohol, ash and warm blood. He feels the heat rolling off her and wonders…

But he didn't get this far by taking stupid risks.

He finally looks at her, front on, and he's hooked.

Or at least, he's intrigued.

Cherry-red lips and enormous dark eyes; black hair that curls around her cheeks with an old ribbon clinging to a clump of hair, and moon-pale limbs spilling out of a dirty, oversized dress. Barefoot and carrying nothing.

It's been a long time since he looked at a woman and felt anything. Even at the end with Maria, it was numbness and reluctance that flooded him, nothing else. But this Alice, she looks like a picture, like a dirty dream. She looks nothing like what he pictured (he thought she might be blonde - white, moonlight blonde with espresso-coloured skin and eyes an uncanny shade of green.)

A smile quirks at the corner of her mouth, but she says nothing about his blatant inspection of her. She hums again, but her notes are flat, and he looks back at the road, and pretends he isn't trying to look at her some more.

What he sees out of the corner of his eye is no girl. The sight of it is enough to send a bolt of pain through his head but he knows what he sees. It carves itself into his mind.

She ripples and undulates outside of his vision; one moment a black, oily mass that ripples and reshapes itself into a girl, then something that looks like it has too many spaces for eyes; then there is something like she has been stretched out obscenely, limbs bending and folding too many times into the space of the cabin, every part of her too long and thin, brittle-looking, and jointed together in an obscene way, a way that is repulsive to his mind, like whatever she is has broken herself into pieces and put them back in a way that brings to mind torn muscle and sharp edges, agony and obscenity.

"Eyes on the road, Major," she says in a voice that is too sugar-sweet, too girlish but he obeys. He tries to force the images out of his head, to focus on the cherry-lipped girl in a whisper-thin dress that smells enticing.

But the creature lingers, knowledge that cannot be given back.

The engine makes a terrible noise and Alice hisses.

"Speed up now!" she snaps and this time he does, flattening his foot on the accelerator. There's a terrible screech of metal and Alice swears; perhaps in Latin? Maybe Hebrew? He knows neither of those languages, he's just guessing.

The headlines pop but still shine and Alice winds down the window to scream something into the night air, something that sounds more like movement than language and nothing he can decipher.

And the radio crackles to life, a crooning song that makes him punch it, silencing it permanently.

Alice closes the window, sealing them inside.

"Keep driving, I'll tell you when we can slow down again," she says.

He obeys, and doesn't comment on the frost edging itself up the windscreen in the middle of July.

"Do you believe in God, Major?" she asks airily.

"Nope," he says. He doesn't, he's seen too much to believe of any sort of benevolent, all-wise overlord. Anything he knows of the Bible seems like a fairy-tale after so many decades in Monterrey.

"Good," she smiles. "He's been dead a long time."

"What are you?" he finally snaps, the image of the creature eating away at him.

"Alice," she says easily, but with an edge. An edge to warn him away. She's still on alert, they're still speeding, leaving Arizona in the dust, without whatever wicked things linger in the dark.

"You know what I am," he snaps and suddenly she's closer, pressing against him, the puff of her breath on his throat.

"I do. I know many things, Major," she purrs, and her breath is sickly sweet, like human candy, and like rancid meat in turn. "Would you like to know them all?"

He shoves her away, and she lets him, giggling again.

"You can slow down now," she informs him. "We're close to the border."

"How did God die, then?" he asks, and he sounds aggressive - like he wants to defend Christianity.

She shrugs, and her dress slips a little off her boney shoulder.

"The usual way. Or not, I suppose. You're only human. Your deaths are so…" she waves her hands about, and for moment, they are too long and jointed to be human. "…human."

"Darlin', I haven't been human since the 1860s," Jasper snorts.

"I know. But you're still fundamentally human," she says, and he thinks he hears longing in her voice. "It might not always feel that way, Major, but I promise you - you are essentially human."

That makes him feel strange in a way that leaves a lump in his throat.

"Then what are you?" he manages to ask, turning his head to look at her. She's sitting cross-legged on the seat sideways, facing him.

He expects another smart-ass answer, a riddle, a non-sequitur.

Instead she sighs, and stares at him, her eyes practically boring a hole into his face.

"What am I? Or what was I?" she offers, looking tired.

"Both," he replies.

"I am trapped," she says flatly, looking out at the dark of the night. "Nearly forty years now. Can't move over borders and boundaries without a willing escort. Took me ten years just to get myself out of Mississippi.

"Tell me, Jasper Hale; do you know what a girl has to do to find a willing escort over state borders?" she murmurs and then laughs out loud. "Of course, it makes it a little better when that includes other things - like a meal."

He doesn't know what to say to that.

He doesn't know why she called him that - Hale.

She talks about an asylum in Mississippi, about treatments that involve electricity directed right into the head, about surgeries to make them placid and numb. About starvation and torture, abuse, neglect.

"Despair is truly contagious," she muses. "Have you ever heard of the Oracle of Delphi, Major?"

"Yes. Is that what you are?" he asks pointedly.

"Nope. I need no vapours to see the future," she says, almost proudly. "Time and space are something you are tied to, Major. Not me."

"If you are all-powerful, how come you ended up in an insane asylum?" he bites back, and she scowls darkly.

"Betrayal, mostly," she says, her eyes flashing blood-red for a moment. "I was… in hiding. Then I was exposed. Then I made a choice. Survival is one thing we do have in common, Major."

They stop over the border of Nevada; she insists, and they climb out to stand under the sign.

She takes a deep breath in and smiles, her eyes falling closed as she reads the words, "Welcome to Nevada."

He stares at the truck, where long tears in the passenger side door lie, deep in the metal.

Claw marks, he knows.

He's just not sure if they were attack marks.

Or a mark of desperation.

Alice doesn't acknowledge them.

"What did that to the truck?"

He asks it fifteen minutes and eleven seconds after they leave the border; she's got her legs stretched out in front of her, balanced on the dashboard, and her dress riding perilously high.

"Hmm?" she asks, propping her arm up on the door. She seems distracted.

"The marks on the door. What did that?"

"I wasn't the only thing out hunting tonight, Major," she says, but she's not giving the conversation her full attention. "You don't even know how divine you smell, you feel to the likes of us. You probably wouldn't like to know."

He snorts. "Fire's the only thing that can…" he begins and looks over at her; just sideways enough that she warps in his vision; both maiden and monster together. It's easy to picture her crunching down on his flesh and bone in that moment, her jaw unhinged and wide, her eyes blank.

She looks back over to him, and her form fits itself back together. He wonders if she looks the same to others, or if she's styled herself to appeal to him.

"Other things can kill you, Jasper. You just haven't met them yet. Or, until now, at least." She wriggles in the seat again. "Besides, who said anything about consuming your flesh?"

She starts humming and singing again, songs that sound ugly to his ears, sounds that jar and agitate. The language is muddled and the tune has no path, and finally he hisses at her.

"Stop."

"No." But she doesn't keep singing. "What are you looking for, Major, hmm?"

He says nothing.

"A pretty little mate? A coven? Some rural family on the edge of nowhere for a little supper? A new war? The possibilities are endless!" she leans forward. "I would recommend against starting a war up north, though. We prefer to keep you to the south, and the northern residents prefer not to be disturbed, as such."

"Northern residents?" He takes the bait.

"We are not limited to just Arizona and Nevada. Or we're not normally. My circumstances were unexpected. But we are everywhere. We might have been watching you in Texas the whole time. We might have swallowed up your enemies," she says, swinging her legs. "Now, what is it that you are looking for, hmm?"

"Peace and purpose," he finally snaps.

"Oh?"

"I couldn't take it anyone," he finally confesses. "The emotions. The constant battles. The fear. The death. Maria was never happy; there was never enough territory, or we weren't fast enough, vicious enough, good enough. Nothing I tried worked and it was wearing me down. It had been wearing me down for decades before I left."

"Why on earth would you stay so long, then?" she asks practically. "Why stay and fight someone else's battles? Ones that you do not even believe in?"

"It's called being honourable," he snaps.

"Do not kid yourself for a minute longer, Jasper," she trills at him. "You are not a man of honour. There was no honour in Maria's campaign. There was no honour in your human war. There is never honour in war; not for the young man dying in the dirt, not for the fat bastard directly battles with a medal on his chest and whiskey in his hand. You are all parasites, and bottom feeders in this huge world, and no pursuit of enlightenment will ever change that for you. Once you accept that, then maybe you can change."

He pulls the truck over, and he's not sure if he won't hit her when he turns around.

He plans to attack her, he really does, but she is ready and faster.

She lunges at him, and for a second, he thinks she's attacking. Instead, she kisses him and it's unlike any kiss that has ever been bestowed upon him; he can taste what he assumes is her venom, it feels like she's forcing it into him, between his cells.

He can still hear Maria in the back of his mind.

"There are things out there that you aren't ready to comprehend. Things that are very dangerous but very powerful." She had smiled. "One day, cariño. You are young still. But when you do go up North for me, you stay protected. You don't stop for anyone, you don't feed or fight or anything till you get yourself Oregon, understand?"

The warning hangs in his mind until the words don't make sense anymore. Until the memory has rotted and decayed and gone where all lost things go.

He tastes salt and blood and arsenic on the back of his tongue and he cannot speak a word as the world tips and twists and rewrites itself around him. As she twists around him; the fruit of the poisonous tree, the darkest corner of creation. She looms over him, and the look on her face is dreamy, as if she's not really there.

It feels like his mind is liquifying, that bolt of pain upon looking at her returning and throbbing. He can't move, can't speak, can't breathe, can't remember anything. Nothing. His world, his existence, it's all fixed in this moment and he isn't anything right now.

Just a blank slate, waiting for her whim and will.

It's a kind of panic, a kind of pain, that he's never experienced before now. He chokes, trying to resist but there's nothing more he can do.

She looks down at him, stroking his face with one hand, and he finds that he can nuzzle into her touch. He craves it. He wants to please her, pleasure her, linger in her touch. He stares up at her desperately. Anything she wants, anything at all, she can have.

"Oh, Major," she says finally. "What am I going to do with you?"

She kisses him again, and it's like coming back to life; he almost feels human again as the world falls into place. He is Jasper, former Major, former human, eternal soldier. She is Alice, a dangerous creature, a beautiful girl, a compelling little monster.

She pulls back and contemplates him.

(She looks at him with that wariness he recognises, of having someone see the monster splitting through their skin, of the blood on their hands.)

He should attack her. Should neutralise the threat. The girl who fucked with his head, the girl who is no girl at all, but an abomination.

He doesn't.

He leans forward and kisses her again.

This kiss is deep, as if they've known each other for decades. She's aggressive, pressing against him, kissing him like she's trying to steal his oxygen, his memories, his soul. He growls, pulling her tight against him. Her fingers are already working through the buttons of the shirt he stole only a few hours ago, her hips grinding down on him hard.

"Alice," he murmurs, and she giggles.

"Jasper," she repeats obediently, pulling open his shirt like it's some kind of present. Her nails rake down his chest and the sensation is like nothing else. As she attacks his mouth again, his own hands slip under the hem of her dress, gliding up her thighs carefully, giving her an opportunity to stop him. She doesn't, and he expects to find the thin cotton of underwear but finds her bare; he goggles at her, and she rubs against his hand encouragingly.

He genuinely regrets the fact that he can't lie her down and devour her, make her writhe and beg and cry out his name. But they are safe, cocooned in the cab of the truck, from whatever lies beyond and he's not willing to risk climbing into the back of the truck lest they attract something else from the shadows.

His fingers slide into her, wet and burning hot, and he groans at the sensation as she gasps and grinds down on his hand hard.

"Jasper," she manages, looking down at him stroking her. "More."

Her hands are at his belt, and within seconds, her hands are gripping him, stroking him with enthusiasm, and he's making sounds that should be illegal. She looks at him through hooded eyes, leaning forward for another biting kiss and the arousal and pleasure surrounding him is enough to push him over the edge.

But he's a gentleman; he wants her to enjoy herself before he does.

"Stop," she finally sighs, releasing him from his grip. "I want you."

He obediently slides his hand free, but meets her gaze as he licks his fingers and she shudders, and angles herself over him. She holds his stare for a second before she sinks down on him, her eyes closing as he pushes into her.

She's so tight and hot, he feels like he's choking, struggling. She whimpers, and he's quick to grasp her around the waist, to hold her steady as she gets used to the feel of him.

"Thank you." She's looking at him curiously now, her cheeks flushed.

"Are you okay?" he asks, feeling like he's out of breath and he doesn't even need to breathe. He looks into her face, and she really is so goddamn beautiful. She smiles at him then, and nods, and begins to move her hips in a way that will certainly kill him.

She nips at his throat, and he doesn't feel like he's doing much as he grips her thighs and lets her rock and bounce. Her hands are on his shoulders, and her nails bite into his flesh, and then they puncture his skin and he yells because the pain twists with the pleasure and her mouth moves against his throat.

He moves one hand to splay across her thin back, his fingers dipping between the notches of her spine. The other he slips between them to touch her, to please her. She lets out a strangled cry, throwing her head back. There's a scar on her throat, aged and pale, and he fits his own mouth against it, kissing and sucking and nipping. He wants to bite down, but not to hurt her. It's a bewildering urge; she's indicated he is not the predator in their coupling, and yet he wants to protect her from everything. From him, from the world, from whatever came after them.

The sound she makes is almost like a sob, and she yanks his head away from his throat to look him in the eye, her face halfway between lost and hopeful.

"You," she says with a hiss, and bucks her hips against him in a way that makes his head spin. He just moves his fingers against her faster and she's leaning against the steering wheel, her chest heaving as she cries out, tightening almost painfully around him. She pants and shivers, and his head is spinning worse than ever, with no sense of which way is up. She moves again, sending pleasure sparking through him, and he lets out a sound that sounds like he's dying, and her hands are suddenly cupping his face, her mouth soft against his, and now she smells like rain on flowers, of salty sea air, of the memory of fireworks.

"Oh, Jasper," she sighs. "Hold on."

He can barely make her out now, she is just a blur as she draws her nail (too sharp, too long, goddamnit) down the other side of her throat, opening the skin so easily.

The wound on the side of her throat is ragged, and the blood runs down her neck. It smells like nothing else he's ever come across and suddenly he is ravenous, despite his meal at the gas station. It feels like he hasn't fed in weeks, the slick trail rolling down her neck physically pulling him in, forcing the world back into focus.

"I can't," he manages, pulling back. "I'll kill you."

"Oh Jas," she says with a smile that seems too wide. "Nothing you can do will harm me." Her eyeballs ripple and he sees them flash like snake eyes, calculating and sharp, and then a black void that feels more like something is trying to escape, to be held in, rather than empty space.

(This time, her otherness is reassuring. Not a threat, but a promise.)

He leans forward, and presses his mouth against her skin and groans as he draws the blood in, Alice still rolling her hips against him in a rhythm that somehow makes the burn in his throat and his belly flare. How long has it been since he had a woman? At least a decade, Maria was the last.

(Worth the wait if this is how he is rewarded. She's so fucking small, and so warm and eager. He knows she's all wrong, something he shouldn't be messing with, but sex with Alice is … a fucking revelation, joy, and pleasure, and passion all tangled together. Not like Maria, where it felt like they were trying to kill each other, that every tryst was a threat against the other. This, this is so good, so rewarding, he'll go down willingly after this.)

She holds his head to her, and encourages him, her fingers tangled in his hair. And he keeps sucking; the blood doesn't slow and he's rapidly forgetting where he is and who he is and anything beyond the blood that's a little too thick and too hot sliding down his throat.

And finally, he is sated and he falls back in the truck seat, panting. His body is still rolling against her, and she's making adorable little noises and he hopes she's close. He pulls her tight against him, and adjusts the pace - something deeper that makes her rub herself against him, and press her teeth against his throat. It's harder, rougher, and he has no idea how he's still in reality with her blood thrumming through him, with her around him, her arms tangled around his neck.

"Alice," he all but hisses and this time, it's her hand that dips between them, and his thrusts get wilder and his hips stutter against hers as he swears and calls her name again and swallows up her cries with kisses.

They straighten their clothes and they keep driving.

They're almost at the Oregon border.

She sits closer to him now, her eyes watching him carefully, cataloguing everything about him. Her eyes bore into him, and he has a million things to say and to ask, but all of them dissolve in his mind the minute he thinks of them.

"What are you Alice?" he asks finally, gentler than he thinks he is capable of.

"A runaway. A hunted thing," she muses as the last few miles of Nevada flash by. The night feels endless; the dashboard clock is warped from his destruction of the radio, and still points to 1:07 a.m, a fantastic crack right through the centre. "There are so many names for us, Jasper. I'd prefer if you just used mine."

He has nothing to say to that, so he just nods.

"What were you looking for, then?" he asks, and looks over to her, to see her girlish self looking up at him with such a strange and indecipherable look.

She smiles at that, bright and cheery. "I told you, Jasper. I was hunting."

She carelessly tells him, then, of her other hunts, her other 'escorts'. Of the men that welcomed her into their cars and trucks, who wanted one thing from the tiny girl, who simpered at them and didn't protest when they demanded a very specific payment.

"It's the best time, during sex," she says, like they're discussing the weather. "The heart is pumping, there's no inhibitions, just the moment. They can't stop me… well, they can't stop me anyway, but at least they don't bother trying. They don't know what's happening."

She describes it to him dreamily, of ripping into their chests with her fingers, of snapping the sternum and the ribs like twigs. Of blood and organs tumbling into her lap, like fallen fruit. Of feasting, devouring.

(The story makes him feel sick, repulsed, but also other things - the picture she paints of herself gorging herself on blood and flesh meat is one that appeals to his own monstrous side, and for a minute, he imagines providing her with bodies, pressing lingering kisses to her blood-splattered throat as she feeds, maybe gliding his hand up her thigh, pleasuring the little darling as she gorges herself…)

"Sometimes, it's not the flesh," she says, twisting some hair around her finger. "Sometimes, it's the… you don't have a mortal word for it. I suppose you could say the soul, but it's not quite that. They scream bad when I take that, but that's what they get for their expectations."

The other times, she says, she just looks for an unoccupied seat. But she must be corporeal to cross a border, and she's killed more than one driver when they've seen her and panicked.

"I had big plans for you, Jasper Whitlock," she says in a sing-song voice, one that might've put him on edge before. "You were going to be delicious, and then I thought maybe, maybe I'd keep you for myself."

As a shade. Leave his body a crumbling husk on the side of the road, drag him into a half-life tethered to her for eternity, only looking to fuck and feed at her whim. He growls as she explains tauntingly, the memory of her poisonous kiss controlling him still fresh and raw.

"You would've liked it, Major," she says, resting her hand on his knee. "I would have made sure you did." And then she giggles again, a little insane, and he growls again, a warning. He doesn't want anyone messing with his head, his free will. Never again.

"And why am I still living, then?" he demands, resting his hand on top of hers.

She looks at him then, all teasing and taunting and madness gone. She almost looks… tender.

"Because you're a good man," she says finally. "I think we met too soon."

There are lights on the horizon, of a town they won't go near. They've made good time but dawn is creeping closer, and there's no protection from the sun in this old truck.

"You never did tell me anything about yourself, you know," she says, and right now he can pretend she's like him. It's not like she has a discernible heartbeat. "Did you leave someone behind in Texas? Are you looking for someone?"

"I left my … my brother behind in Florida, with his mate," he says, the word brother feeling foreign in his mouth but more accurate than anything he can think of. "I was making them unhappy."

"Your gift is a difficult one to bear," she agrees, and he kind of hates how much she knows but it also makes it easier than explaining. "You need to find a life where you can control it, ease your burden."

He snorts, because that's the most obvious thing of all. Find somewhere where he can exist without the pain and depression, which is impossible when feeding fuels his depression.

She looks at him sideways. "I know. Just consider it. You never know when or where you might stumble upon some form of peace, Jasper Hale."

They part ways in Oregon.

She practically dances in front of the sign on the border, laughing and beaming at him, her dress billowing out. She's free of Arizona, free of the South, venturing somewhere new. Far away from whatever ugliness she left behind.

"Thank you, Jasper," she says, finding her way back into his arms, and she's a welcome weight in his arms, heavier than she looks.

He doesn't think anyone has ever been as happy to get to Oregon in their lives.

"Where will you go?" he asks, almost shy. He's been inside her, fed from her, heard her secrets, and now he feels bashful.

"Everywhere. Nowhere," she says and she smiles in a kind way. "I don't… exist like you do, Jasper. It's different for me."

She plucks the ribbon out of her hair, and wraps it around his left wrist, tying a bow. "A souvenir," she murmurs. "If you ever need… anything. Help, protection, you can call me. I'll come."

She pulls away and almost looks sad.

"Thank you, Jasper Whitlock," she murmurs. "We'll meet again."

(He hopes so.)

It takes him a while to notice.

It's fluttering, like the wings of a moth or cloth in the breeze.

(A tiny heartbeat, that of a small bird.)

It sits in the back of his head, constant.

He doesn't know what it means, but when he swallows, he can still taste blood and arsenic.

(He wonders what she took. He wonders what she left.)

He keeps running north, and he doesn't look back.