"What did you go and do that for?" she inquired upon first seeing him in the distance when he emerged between the spring flowers growing in the underbrush. Her hands were at her hips, her face flushed from her run to the clearing. Her emotions read genuine puzzlement, and a heady combination of exasperation and affection.

He held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Do what exactly, princess?" She thought he genuinely looked confused, but wasn't wholly convinced. "I just came back from visiting Peter and Charlotte yesterday. You were the one who told me to 'charm the pants off the secretary', so I don't think you are surprised about the disappearance."

Sidetracked, she wondered aloud "Would that even work, a relationship between a vampire and a human, secretary or not? I suppose they are a bit too breakable…"

"I couldn't imagine having to balance keeping my cover with wanting to be myself and also restraining my strength and bloodlust all the time. Sounds exhausting for just a lay, and terrifyingly dangerous for a serious relationship. The chances both vampire and human would end up dead are probably 50/50." It was not the first time he had surprised her with an astoundingly profound answer to a small side comment, and she smiled to herself while sitting down gracefully on their log. "But I disgress. What did the gossips accuse me of? Playing hooky?" he brought the conversation back on track.

She giggled, then flushed, catching herself at such a girly display. "You have such an interesting way of expressing yourself. It's a blast from the past rolled up with a run-of-the-mill teenager. And sometimes your southern roots show through in the pronunciation. I like it." He tilted his head in confused and pleased acknowledgment. His current coven looked upon any 'slips' in his way of talking as a liability to their cover, so it was very refreshing not to have to hide. He had gotten so used to pretending that sometimes it was hard to know who he even was anymore when away from prying eyes.

"Anyways, I know you talked to Sam." Her eyes were on his, silently accusing him.

"Oh, that," was all he said at first, actually fidgeting a bit under her severe gaze. "I was swimming in the ocean trying to get rid of the smell of my coven as a courtesy to your pack. Since you told me that our smell changes depending on diet, I thought it would probably be better not to come close to the treaty line smelling like my human-drinking family."

"The thing is, at the northern part of the reservation's lands, there is a bit of no-man's-land where both vampires and wolves may roam. I ran into him there." He actually looked a bit contrite when telling her the next part. "It was apparently the first time I had been in his smelling range in years and he flew off the handle because he recognized the scent. He had smelled it on you in the past months and along the treaty line, but didn't know it belonged to a specific person before he met me. I am sorry, but the vampire is out of the bag now." He flashed her a crooked grin.

"You are very good at controlling your thoughts around your pack brothers, but scent is much harder to mask. They never questioned it before and after all this time, I really thought they were oblivious and would hopefully remain unaware…" his voice trailed off and he leaned against a pine tree. Not that his back needed the support, but it gave him something to do other than look at her.

"What did he say?" she asked. "You are both still alive, so it can't have been too bad."

"He accused me of using you to collect information about the pack. All the usual insults about bloodsucking and murdering were thrown around. And he said some very unflattering things about your character and morality which I would prefer not to repeat. You might decide to rip his head off if I do. And we both know you would regret shredding your beloved sweatpants over that asshole later." She chuckled. He wasn't wrong with his assessment.

"How come he didn't give me the third degree earlier? 'Cause that isn't what tipped me off about you talking to him," she asked.

"To be honest, I think to some degree he is still in love with you, Leah," he answered, surprising her. "Which is why the thought of his mortal enemy coming close enough to leave his scent on your skin enraged him." He looked away from her now and wouldn't meet her eyes again, pacing up and down in agitation. "Maybe I shouldn't have said what I did, but I couldn't let him speak about you that way, no matter why he felt he was justified."

She stretched out her hand towards him, silently beckoning him to sit on the log with her. He followed her unspoken call, but still didn't look at her. Exasperated, she caught his hand between both of hers, trying to catch his attention. "It's okay, Jasper, I am not in love with him anymore. I have been over him for a while, I think. You have helped me realize that I am better off without him. So you don't need to spare my feelings regarding him."

That hadn't exactly been his concern, but he didn't elaborate on that. He blew out an unnecessary breath and continued his tale. "I might have told him that just because he imagined himself to be in love with you, he couldn't keep covering that fact up by continuing his atrocious behavior towards you. Because I wouldn't stand for it. And that even I, your natural mortal enemy, had realized what a loyal friend, beautiful soul, astonishing woman and brave warrior you are. I told him to keep his opinions to himself, and most importantly, away from your ears. Because the way he has been treating you is no way to treat the woman he was ready to marry, and no way to treat a valuable member of the pack protecting his family from danger. He wolved out at that point." Leah was astonished at this passionate defense of her. It made something inside her feel warm and fuzzy. But for some reason, he still wasn't looking at her. The only part of him that was moving was his thumb which traced absentminded patterns on her right palm with his hand which was not encompassed by both of hers.

Finally, he took a breath to continue speaking. "I think I hit a nerve and he just couldn't control himself anymore. He lunged for me, all loathing, bits of grass flying everywhere and snapping teeth. Much like you did all those months ago. I told him that his attempts at fighting were pathetic and that he should contact you for some pointers from a real warrior on self-control. He started shaking at that point, and phased back to human form," he continued.

"Emily," breathed Leah. "You really hit a nerve there, you know?" He nodded, silent. He finally looked up at her, suddenly motionless, when she elaborated. "He scarred her face by phasing uncontrolled in her presence. It is a regret he still carries with him, but I am not sure it has helped him to master the necessary calm to prevent another." Jasper could read the pity and compassion in her aura.

"That explains a lot." Slowly, his thumb resumed its circles on her right hand. She put the other one back in her lap, but the motion seemed to calm both of them.

"He was surprisingly contrite about his outburst and conceded that if I was the reason for your improved emotional control and 'general reduction in bitchiness' – that is a quote, so please don't hit me – maybe he shouldn't kill me." She snorted in mirth at his last-minute save, her hand already half curled up into a fist to hit his shoulder with. She uncurled her fingers, ceding the point for now.

"After that, I tried to assure him that you are not in any danger from me. He alluded to being able to force you to stay away. Was that an empty threat?"

"As long as I am part of the pack, unfortunately not." Leah sighed. "As the alpha of the wolves, he is able to issue commands which cannot be disobeyed. The only other avenue available in that situation would be to break away from the pack. An alpha order is barbaric and patriarchic. I hate that Sam has that much power over me." He could see that this was true, her emotions telling him that this control made her feel caged and almost dirty.

"I am sorry Leah," he apologized for the second time that day.

"You are not the one at fault here. If anything, I should thank you for standing up for me. Even though it might cause some unforeseen problems with my pack brothers in the future." She was firm on this point, she wouldn't have him apologizing for believing in her.

"I am still sorry that the vampiric presence here has caused you to be in such a difficult position with your ex-fiancé. It doesn't seem fair." She nodded, accepting his apology. She didn't feel that it was necessary for him to apologize, she did want him here after all. But maybe it was necessary for him to see this outward sign of her acceptance and forgiveness.

Silence stretched between them while Jasper gathered his thoughts. Finally, he selected the right words to describe what happened next. "He wanted to know everything. Since when, why and where we have been meeting and what exactly we talk about. It felt too private to share these details of our friendship with him and it was hard to get him to see that. In his eyes, me not reporting every detail of your private life to him was an admission of guilt. But in the end, I think I got through to him and he walked away with a new appreciation of you. I don't think he imagined before that you could be capable of keeping anything from him. Or that you might be the better fighter and more level-headed one out of the two of you. I feel like maybe this confrontation actually helped things instead of hindered them." There was a tentative smile on his face and she couldn't help smiling back.

"And we all know that your 'feelings' are more accurate than most other people's," she teased him, smirking. Secretly, she was pleased at his actions. He had kept her privacy a priority and still managed to make Sam back off.

"Are you actually considering me 'people'?" he fired back.

"Why yes, of course. Just a bit more sharp-fanged than most, but then so am I," she quipped without any malice. "In any case, I am grateful to have you in my corner. And I don't just say that because I don't want you to bite me."

His answering laugh was unreserved, the skin around his eyes crinkling in the evening light and his head slightly thrown back. "You are something else, princess." The movement had broken the physical contact between them, but if a carefree laugh like this was the answer, Leah couldn't find it in her to care. For both of them, unreserved joy had been something of a rarity in the last year.

For a few seconds, only birdsong filled the clearing. "Sam very politely asked me to speak with him earlier today. And then he actually apologized for everything that went down after he phased into a wolf for the first time. It was an important step for me in the healing process, but it was so out of the blue. It was almost suspiciously out of character for him," she explained what had originally prompted this conversation.

"Him apologizing for hurting you being an out of character behavior is a clear sign that you deserve much better than he ever treated you," Jasper interjected into the pause in her speaking.

"I realize that now, Sherlock," she responded jokingly to his change in topic.

"I'm glad. Because you really, really do," he affirmed again, conviction shining in his honey-colored eyes. Cue the warm feeling in her stomach again. It had really been too long since anyone had encouraged and supported her like this. She suspected that Seth and her mother just didn't have enough positive emotions left for themselves, let alone her, after what happened with her dad. And after losing her cousin, who was like a sister to her, and her fiancé in one fellow swoop… It had made her distanced from the pack, if only to protect herself from Sam's focus.

"Thank you," she said, and she meant it. "What tipped me off as to your involvement in all of this was the fact that as he walked off, he was muttering about me 'reeking of the leech' and me 'thinking I was sooo subtle'. Sam couldn't figure out subtle if it hit him over the head." She was laughing now. "So I know that you had to have been the catalyst of his epiphany. And I do appreciate it, even if it wasn't exactly needed."

"You are welcome. It would have been really fulfilling and worth it to fight with Sam over his pigheadedness, but it was even worth it to abstain from a fight. You know how much I love fighting to burn off some steam. But you are worth the sacrifice of a missed brawling opportunity, princess" he said, smiling softly. "Don't ever think differently."

"You are a great friend, Sherlock. Don't let any of the Cullens tell you differently." She warmly rested her hand on his arm to convey her sincerity. "Speaking of covens, how did Peter and Charlotte welcome you?"

"Well let's just say that they send their regards and that Peter asked me to convey a message to you. He warned me not to paraphrase on threat of dismemberment, so I apologize for Peter's coarse language. He cusses even worse than I do," he laughed and winked at her.

Leah thought to herself that she was very much looking forward to hearing the message if he went to such trouble explaining beforehand. "Well let's hear it," she prompted him.

"Here it goes then:" His voice went a bit deeper to mimic his friend and he adopted more of that southern twang she had heard peaking through a few times in the past months. "Jasper, you tell that gal a hearty thank you for finally getting your idiot head out of your fuckin' ass. If you'd let that pixie bitch carry your sparkly balls in her handbag for any longer, I'd have come up there myself to knock some sense into you." Leah was in stitches by now and he couldn't help but laugh with her.

"Sparkly?" was the first thing out of her mouth once she could breathe again. "I think Peter is growing on me, even despite the spooky red eyes. But why sparkly out of all things?" She burst into a burst of laughter once again while he tried to look offended.

"Careful princess, you are laughing about my balls here. I might take it personally." She couldn't take his threat seriously though and just raised a brow. "Vampires sparkle when exposed to sunlight. It's one of the reasons why Forks is an ideal environment for us."

"Are you serious right now? How come I never heard about this? I can't even…" Leah was chortling between her words. "This is the perfect blackmail material for years to come," she muttered to herself, a crooked smile on her lips promising nothing good for Jasper's dignity. But maybe, he found, he could live with her brand of blackmail.

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It has only been half a decade, and here I am, back to writing :-)