Title: The Brief History of Us

Author: Girl Who Writes

Characters: Alice/Jasper

Word Count: 6 331

Rating: PG

Genre: AU, Angst, Romance

Summary: He writes so he will remember her, and he writes so he can save her. That one day, one lifetime, they will be able to spread out their maps together and get themselves lost in the world.

Notes: This was my entry for the Straight Thru The Heart Contest 2016, for which I won Honorable Mention, which I am still over the moon about. It's a little odd, but so are most of the things I write. This is something I'd love to one day turn into a much longer fic, but until then, I hope you enjoy it and thank you for reading!

Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer; I make no profit from this fan-based venture.

Fall in love, that is fine, but just make sure you fall deep enough to stay there forever.
Ram Mohan

He dreams. (He remembers.)

So much that everyone keeps telling him he needs medication.

A shrink.

A vacation.

He nods and solemnly agrees with them and then lies about appointments and prescriptions and tropical islands. Enough that eventually they forget, and the bruises under his eyes, the haunted look to his face become as much a part of him as his eyes or his hair. They accept a quiet chuckle in the place of a whoop of laughter, a ghost of a smile instead of a grin. A shadow instead of a person.

He writes instead of sleeping.

Everything he can recall, every detail, no matter how small so he doesn't forget, he puts to paper.

He will never forget.

Not this time.

Everybody knows of Volterra, the silent city in the mountains of Italy.

It houses the new kings of their world, who tore down the Romanians and left their kingdom in ashes. It is a place nobody wants to see with their own eyes. To take a place on the Guard is tantamount to slavery. If you are escorted there, you have committed a grievous crime or are being forced to render a service. Suicide is better than requesting sanctuary from the Three Kings of Volterra.

But Maria gave him no choice. Not when the streets of Monterrey were too quiet and slick with blood, the tiny blonde child staring blankly at him, splattered in blood, and another cradled in Nettie's arms.

Either he went to Volterra and betrayed Maria in the hopes of sanctuary, or he would be destroyed along with Maria and Nettie when the immortal children were inevitably discovered.

Perhaps one day, he would be free to return and raise his own army, run the herd lands how he saw fit.

The court of Volterra is disturbingly full, readying for a celebration of some kind when he arrives, and Aro finds it amusing to have him present his evidence in front of everyone.

For them all to see what a traitor he is to his maker.

To reveal how monstrous the situation in Mexico truly is.

To see how truly vital the role of the Volturi is to their world.

The decision is simple. Maria, Nettie, and the children will be destroyed by the small retinue that will leave immediately, and he is welcomed to the halls of Volterra, his loyalty to Aro and Volterra loudly and publicly acknowledged.

Of course, his loyalty to Maria and her cause had a breaking point.

Aro will remember that.

What was their crime?

To share a love that no one else could profit from.

To want a life free of corruption, politics, and power.

By the end, he would have attempted to carve her gift from her brain if she had asked him.

Just to save her.

It begins—this time—in high school, another purgatory for their endless list. (When he finally remembers, if there is any time before he is dead again, he resents every power in the universe for always putting them in the most terrible of places—for the fact that their blood has spilt on every battlefield in the world.)

He sees her out of the corner of his eye, and when he turns, he can only stare.

She is exquisite, like a china doll with alabaster skin and ruby lips, soft black hair brushing her cheeks in gentle waves. She moves like a ghost through the crowds—untouchable and unacknowledged.

He almost slams the locker door on his fingers in his haste to follow her, and he doesn't know why.

The Volterra Ball is a hideous experience.

It might be called a celebration, but it is not. It is a show of power, proof that the Volterra have crowned themselves kings of the world, and no one is strong enough to pull their thrones down. Not with the weapons they wield, in the forms of vile little Jane and sly Alec. Blood flows freely, laughter loud, and a mess of scents and emotions that feel like they are trying to smother him.

He needs to get out. He has spent too long on the open land of Mexico and Texas, not shut inside gilded cages. He doesn't even look to see where he's going, not until he emerges in the cool night air.

The balcony overlooks the valley, with a vine of white flowers framing it.

And there is a girl there.

For a moment, he thinks she is a child, though when she turns to face him, he realizes they are nearly the same age. Black hair is pinned off her face, and her slim body is encased in a loose silk chiton. She is carefully plaiting the flowering vine into a coronet.

"Hello," he says, and she inclines her head.

"Good evening. Are you enjoying the party?" The white flowers almost glow against her dark hair, her eyes boring into his with something that is almost rage—though none of her emotions register to him.

She is a blank slate.

"I needed some fresh air."

A wicked smile twists her lips. "I'm afraid there's nowhere in this city that you could possibly find such a thing. The air here is always foul."

And she stood, sweeping past him, smelling like jasmine and rainwater.

He has exactly three classes with her: lit, government, and trig. He sat behind her in two of them and across the classroom in trig.

He couldn't tell you a thing about those classes, as his attention was always firmly on her. On the way one lock of her hair twists in the wrong direction, no matter how many times her slim fingers smooth it down. The way she bites her lip when she's thinking. The sketchbook tucked into her textbook, her pencil flying over the page.

She moves like a dancer, like she is made of something different than everyone else. She doesn't brush against other students in her haste to leave, her diminutive build allowing her to slip through unnoticed in the cacophony of the halls.

He is transfixed.

Later, his mother and sister laugh at him, tease him, for talking about her incessantly. He tries to clamp down on the words that burst from his mouth. If he were from another time, he would be off composing poetry about the curl of her hair and the loveliness of her smile.

"Do you even know her name?" Rosalie asks, tossing an orange at him that he fumbles with, distracted by her question.

Of course he knows her name. It's…

It vanishes off the tip of his tongue, and he retreats, leaving his sister rolling her eyes at the mercurial nature of teenage boys and brothers.

He meets her again a day later, when Aro deigns to introduce them. He walks into the Receiving Chambers and finds her at Aro's right hand, like a child seeking an audience with her father.

"My ward," Aro proudly proclaims her, though he is certain he saw her jaw tighten ever so slightly. Today she is swathed in the black cloak of the Volturi, the hem a sunshine-yellow dress peeking out from beyond the dark velvet. "She has very graciously offered to escort you around the city."

"Thank you." He bows to her, and he knows Aro is pleased with his show of deference. Her expression is, again, completely blank. There are more telling emotions carved into the faces of the marble statues dotted through the palace.

"It will be no trouble," she says demurely, stepping down from the dais and looping her arm through his, revealing black silk gloves. "I am glad for the company."

It takes him three weeks, four days, and four hours to find the courage to approach her in the cafeteria.

He opens his mouth.

She smiles at him, and he forgets everything he wanted to say. Everything he has ever said. His own name.

On a scale of high school embarrassments, it's up there with the time he split his pants during the third grade play.

She giggles softly and moves her books, motioning for him to sit down. To join her.

He probably sits a little too close and is staring a little too hard, but he remembers his name and what he was going to say.


She is a wonderful guide and seems to know all the trivia of Volterra and its inhabitants—enough that he seeks her out again and again in order to learn all the secrets that lie behind the stone walls. She leads him through a maze of corridors, of galleries full of lost artwork, and libraries that could rival Alexandria.

It's only when they are outside of the castle that she divests herself of her cloak, revealing dresses in a rainbow of colors and the heavy crest of the Volturi hanging from her throat like a noose.

"Do you know how I came to Volterra?" she asks him one day, balancing along the edge of a fountain with her pale blue skirts gathered up in one hand and a bunch of flowers in the other.

"No, you've never mentioned it," he says, walking beside her, holding her cloak.

"A vampire caught me, and then he traded me for his freedom," she announces, nodding once and spinning to face him. "I have no memories of my time before Volterra, only what I have been told. I don't know who changed me, where I came from. Nothing. James just found me and offered me and my gift to Aro for his pardon." Her mouth twists unhappily.

"A sacrifice to appease the gods," he murmurs thoughtfully.

"I have no memories of ever being outside the gates of Volterra," she says moodily, jumping off the edge of the fountain. "I'm forbidden from even approaching those gates. Too valuable. As if I'm not even a person."

Her frustration bubbles over, and he tries to think of some way to cheer her up, but she pulls away to slump on a bench, her thin fingers picking at the beading on her dress.

"Can you tell me about it?" she whispers, sounding embarrassed.

"About what?" He takes a seat next to her, carefully draping the cloak around her shoulders.

"Everything outside of Volterra." She looks back at him, her eyes bright and desperate.

"Of course. Where should I start?" he asks, stunned as she curls against his side, her eagerness twisted with weak hope.

"Start with your home: Texas."

"One day, I'll take you there," he says suddenly.

The smile she offers him is sad and bitter, and it only makes him more determined.

"I love you. I love you."

"I love you so much."

"Don't let go. Promise me that you won't ever let go."

"I promise, love. I promise. I'll find you in the next life."

Until the end of their days together, he will have no idea why she even agreed to go on a date with him. It was impossible that she would say yes, her smile giddy and her cheeks pink.

And it is a terrible daisy chain of embarrassments that should send her running in the opposite direction, to one of the older boys—someone more confident and suave and less likely to humiliate them both in his ardor.

There is the soda he sort of dumps onto her, the day he calls her his girlfriend way way too early and ends up stammering and babbling in his attempts to fix it, even as she's trying not to laugh. The time she slips down the stairs and he catches her, only to realize he caught hold of a certain part of her anatomy that leaves her bright red and strangely shy.

It doesn't help that Rosalie and her boyfriend seem to think watching the both of them fumble through every single embarrassment is the best form of entertainment to be had in Forks. In addition to trying to apologize endlessly, he can always hear Rosalie and Emmett snickering in the background.

"You'll work out the kinks," Emmett says, slapping him on the shoulder as he rolls his eyes.

But somehow, she sticks around. She always smiles when she sees him, always blushes when he tells her she's beautiful, and doesn't even mind the only place they can be alone is the backseat of his rust-bucket Camaro that smells like Pop-Tarts and old beer (which he blames solely on Emmett).

And he always comes home looking slightly punch-drunk, her lip gloss all over his face, grinning like a fool.

"When did your brother fall in love?" his mother asks Rose teasingly, because he's been staring goofily at a photo of her on his phone for almost five minutes.

"Seriously, Mom? About thirty seconds after he saw her for the first time. Pay attention," Rosalie says as she ruffles his hair.

He can't remember a time when he wasn't in love with her.

He has never believed in soul mates or the mating bond that so many of his kind have built their lives upon. Oh, he has felt their love buffet against his gift; he has seen the affection and the trust and the loyalty with his own eyes. He has seen Maria tear down empires in her rage and grief. He has witnessed the grim shadow of Marcus, lost in his regret. He watched Peter soften and Charlotte strengthen, has heard the stories and the claims.

But with emotion washing around him constantly, he is dubious. If you live long enough, you can convince yourself of anything—even that a single person can hold your entire world in their hands. Or that the mere presence of another can be a balm to your soul.

Everyone speaks about falling in love like it's a strike of lightning—that in a split-second, you are reborn anew.

Instead, he falls in love in a thousand tiny moments. A flower crown, a confession, a teasing smile, and the smell of jasmine. The way her eyes light up when they are bent over a map of the Americas as he tells her about his home, their fingers tracing rivers and borders. The way she loops her arm through his as they walk the halls of her prison. Her soft, bell-like laugh. The way soft curls fall into her eyes and the way she shoves them out of her face a dozen times a day.

The way her eyes brighten a bit when she sees him, something he is sure he's imagining, hoping, begging to be real.

She is the only thing that keeps him in Volterra, and he is waiting for the moment someone notices.

In the halcyon days of summer, they laze around his back yard, doing nothing and talking about everything. When he steals a lazy kiss, she tastes like soda and popcorn as they sprawl out on the blanket.

The days are longer, and the nights are warmer, and more than once, they find themselves sleeping together on that old blanket under the stars that make it through Forks' cloud cover.

"Berlin, for the Wall," he says. They are thinking of ways to fill up the summer before they head off to college, which is more than year away yet, but they still make wild, imaginary plans.

"Paris, for the fashion," she says dreamily, her finger tracing shapes between the stars in mid-air.

"The Alamo, to educate your poor fashion-warped brain," he teases, and she swats at him, snagging the latest bag of popcorn.

"You promised you'd take me to Texas once. Do you remember that?" she asks, her voice suddenly sounding very sad, very quiet, and she is staring up at the sky as if it holds all the answers to the universe.

"No. When was that? Was it when Rosalie kept threatening to have her wedding in her 'ancestral home'? Because the only thing Rose hates more than Dad is Texas. And Mom would lose her shit if Rosalie got married before she turned twenty-five." He rolls onto his stomach to face her, but she refuses to look at him.

"Mm, yes. It must have been then." She sighs before curling up on her side facing him, her smile sad.

He wants her old smile back, the one that lights up her face.

"I love you, you know." Her declaration is quiet and thoughtful but matter-of-fact. The sky is blue, grass is green, and she loves him. "I just… wanted you to know that."

But there is something in her eyes, something that tells him she's sad and worried, and he doesn't know how to fix it.

The Saint Marcus' Day celebration is another ball, another gross display of wealth and power. He misses Maria's celebrations. They were little more than dancing around a bonfire and some bets on a match for fun rather than war.

It is his undoing.

He keeps to the edges of the rooms, watching everybody so carefully—the heavy gowns adorning the women, the velvet-clad males, and the subtle guards watching the revelry just as carefully as he does.

And then she appears, and it is a revelation.

Her hair is loose over her shoulders, and her dress is blue, the same shade of aquamarine he always imagined her eyes would have been before she was changed. Her gloves have been replaced with white ones that are barely a shade lighter than her own skin.

"M'lady." He bows to her, and she giggles as he takes her arm.

"Major." She stares up at him, and he is not imagining it. He can see it in her eyes, feel it ripple along his skin. Joy. Nervousness. Love. "You seem more inclined to partake in tonight's festivities than last time."

"The company, this time, has proven enchanting," he tells her in a low voice, and if there was any blood under her skin, he is certain a blush would have graced her cheeks. He smiles indulgently down at her before sweeping her onto the dance floor, spinning her in his arms just to hear her delighted giggle.

Spinning toward disaster.

He resents Rosalie for dragging him out of his house. And for insisting on a beach wedding on a tropical island half a world away that he is half certain is partially an excuse to drag him back to the world of the living. But she's been insistent that he be the one to give her away.

He's happy for her. He really is. No matter what, he loves his sister, and he's grateful she has found someone she loves, someone she trusts and wants to spend her life with.

But he cannot explain this hollow, dull feeling that has settled into him since that day in the field.

The girl he loves, the girl he has always loved, is dead.

And she never existed in the first place. No grave, no body, no memory.

He thinks of her joy, so many lives ago, at the idea that he would want to marry her.

If the knowledge that weighs him down every damn day doesn't kill him first, then the rage that simmers—at the injustice, at the pain—just under the grief would turn him into a great and terrible monster.

But he smiles for his sister and kisses her cheek as he gives her away to her new husband, sand clinging to his shoes.

The impossible and incredible happens on a Thursday. He is hanging lanterns for his mom for some party she's having. And as the man of the house, he must hang the lights on their ancient ladder.

He hears the crack seconds before the old wood gives way, and he instinctively tries to find a hand-hold, only to delay his fall by another second. His yell is less manly than he would have liked, and the sound his head makes on the concrete makes his stomach twist.

But the bone does not crack; the blood does not spill.

Only his memories are jolted free.

"Jasper!" Her cry forces him to open his eyes, forces him to look and to finally see her, standing in a tank top and shorts, with freckles on her shoulders and sunburn on her nose, and she is beautiful, like she always is. His mother is there, and Rosalie is already calling 911, and his head pounds from the sheer knowledge of everything that is suddenly there.

"Alice." His lips feel numb, and her eyes widen, and she starts to cry, his mother trying to comfort them both, but there are no words that will fix this.

It is only later, in the cool hallways of the hospital where he's being kept for observation, that she takes the opportunity to explain through shaking lips.

"D-Death always unlocks the memories. It's the violent force, I think. We always find each other just before we're going to die," she explains, sitting primly in a hospital chair that is too far away from him, with her eyes on the floor. "So, a near-death experience gives us our memories back, and we get to live."

"How did you remember?" he croaks at her, still utterly numb and hollow from everything that has transpired in the last few hours. He has become an old man in less than a day, with a dozen lives cut needlessly short weighing him down.

"I attempted to hang myself a few years back," she admits, not looking up. "And I remembered everything."

The idea of her trying to kill herself makes his stomach churn, makes him sick, and he needs to see her.

"Look at me," he begs, and she looks up reluctantly, her eyes shining with tears.

"You hate me, don't you? I should have left you alone. You were happy," she manages.

"Never as happy as I am with you. We're safe, and we're together, and I love you," he tells her hoarsely, and suddenly she is in his arms, her tears soaking through his hospital gown.

She still smells like jasmine.

Moonlight spills into her chambers, her skin almost glowing as she pulls him in after her, something fragile hovering in her gaze. There are so many unspoken promises and even more unasked questions as he crosses the threshold.

Into a tower room for a trapped princess.

She perches on a dressing table seat, plucking the pins from her hair and stripping the gloves from her hands. But before she turns around, he is behind her, gently gathering her hair, tucking it over one shoulder, and undoing the clasp of her noose. She lets out a soft gasp as the choker falls from her throat and into her hands. She tosses it onto the dressing table without a second glance, taking his offered hand, her gaze never flinching away from his.

Her skin is cool against his, unbearably soft, and he is intensely aware that this is the first time he has touched her without the barrier of her gloves. His thumb traces circles on her palm, and heat blooms between them, her nervousness falling softly away. He pulls her into his arms, his eyes on her lips, and it is her hand snaking around his neck and pulling him closer to her.

Their first kiss is less fireworks and more of utter certainty—a perfect truth that whomever they were before was only to lead them right to this moment.

It is perfect.

As perfect as the way she looks as he slides her gown from her shoulders—as he falls to his knees to press kisses to her, her fingers tangling in his hair. She is everything—a princess, a goddess, the axis upon which his world sits—as he sighs against the skin of her stomach, pausing only to look up at her, her eyes darkened in desire, her love wrapping around him with a new kind of certainty.

"I love you," he breathes against her stomach, and the hitch in her breathing lets him know she heard him.

Her tears dampen the shoulder of his shirt as she sobs, her arms around his neck.

The Volturi have found them, and they are coming to judge them again. They have failed to complete their sentence, and that in itself is an undeniable crime.

"It's my fault," she whispers against him, hiccupping in her grief. "I couldn't bear it. I thought, at least if only one of us remembered, it would still be okay. I thought …hoped he would have forgotten me."

He has never understood the particulars about her gift. She sees possible futures, can manipulate and rebuild the paths people are set on, though she has no influence over time. But all those years in Volterra, as Aro's pet, she had learned.

Learned that it wasn't at all hard to tangle her gift with Marcus's, to assure a future where two souls were permanently entwined. A connection that not even Chelsea could sever, leaving them trapped in an endless cycle of lost memories and death, never recognizing each other until the ax fell.

At least they were together.

"I am so sorry." She weeps, and he cradles her like she is glass, the most fragile of creations.

"I will never regret a single second of time spent with you, darlin'," he says solemnly. "I will never apologize for loving you."

She lets out a shuddering breath and nods. "I love you, and there is nothing Aro can do to me that will ever change that," she whispers, and he cradles her face gently as he kisses her.

She was so convinced of her gift, certain of their plan and of a happy ending within reach that when it all comes crashing down, she is surprised.

It wasn't much of a plan, but he had won harder battles before, and this prize is so much sweeter. Her smile is luminous, her eyes bright as they set foot outside the boundaries of Volterra, astounded and so wretchedly hopeful.

And then she screams, long and shrill, of pain and heartbreak and a terror that makes his bones turn to ice.

"Naughty little girls shouldn't run away," comes the smug sing-song voice of Jane, the little viper.

She screams for him, over and over, but he cannot move, cannot see, and they are completely, utterly lost.

She holds her head high when they arrive to judge them again, and she has never looked less human in all of their lives.

She will lay her head on the chopping block this time and let them take their pound of flesh. If Aro could plunge his hands into her skull and dig out her gift with his bare hands, he would without pausing. If Aro could chain her up in the dungeons of Volterra, only removing her gag to spit out his fortune, he would.

There are no long good-byes, no pleas or whispered words of love. Not this time.

Not even the comfort of her eyes, of unspoken reassurances.

The old bastard actually smiles as he clamps his hands around her face, presses a kiss to her forehead and tears.

He gags at the sound, at the smell and the sight of her tiny body broken into wet, meaty pieces, stumbling away from the mess.

"This was her folly," Caius says with a disgusted look at her discarded arm. "You are free to go, this time."

"She will learn eventually," Aro says kindly to him, as if the dead, dismembered girl in front of him was a naughty child and not the love he has been chasing for a dozen lifetimes.

As the guards set her alight, he discovers something much worse than watching her die first.

Aro's rage when she speaks to him is so pure it's like liquid heat around him, his grip tightening around her tiny hand.

Caius simply sneers, and Marcus looks vaguely curious.

"We want to go to America," she says hopefully, playing upon the old fool's fancy that she is his ward, his daughter, and his protégé. His sweet little pet, his weakness. "We want to get married."

Marcus allows a sad smile to grace his face, a benevolent nod in their direction. They have his blessing, the easiest to gain.

Caius gives a careless shrug. Neither are members of the Guard or in any sort of debt or contract to the Volturi.

But Aro… Aro's face is dark with anger, and he can feel her worry spike.

"You will remain in Volterra," is the steely response. "You are my charge, and your place is here."

Her lip quivers slightly, and he isn't entirely sure that it's acting.

"We're not members of the Guard, and neither of us has a debt to you. We should be free to go," she insists.

"You are correct that the Major has no debts here." Aro's voice is silkily. "But you, my dear, are the payment of a debt."

Her grip tightens around his, and she looks hopefully in Aro's direction, and he wonders if she truly believes that Aro will release her if she finds the right words, paints the right picture. If all that she has witnessed and lived through within these four walls has not completely spoiled her trust and her innocence.

"If we find James and bring him to you, I can leave?"

Aro chuckles. "Oh, my dear, of course not. Why on Earth would I trade a unique creature like yourself for common rabble? Nobody in their right mind would trade gold for tin."

Her frustration prickles along his skin as she pulls away.

"I am not gold. I am not a prize. I am a person," she snaps, her stance defiant and her eyes flashing.

And Aro stands, tenting his fingers and offering her a smile that is utterly cold and devoid of any of the fatherly affection and indulgence that he usually bestows upon her.

"You are mine."

When he catches Rose reading from one of his notebooks, he nearly hits her. The rage is overwhelming, and he grips the door frame to stop himself from doing something he will completely and utterly regret.

But she looks up at him, the book cradled in her lap, with tears on her cheeks, and he hopes. He prays and wills and begs with Fates for her to remember, to believe him, tounderstand.

"You need to publish this." Rosalie sniffles. "It's amazing. Have you shown Mom?"

Bile rises in his throat, and he storms from the room before he finds himself slumped on the verandah with his head in his hands.

Perhaps this is the failsafe, if one of them manages to survive.

The grief and rage and frustration simply drives them mad.

When they are tried and found guilty, she holds her head high, her jaw set. But he can feel her terror, her fear, in every cell of her body as she curls her body around his, and he wraps his arms around her shoulders.

"This isn't fair," she spits into the hall, into the loaded silence. "This isn't justice. There has been no crime."

No one answers her because there is nothing to say.

It's the truth. The time for justice is long gone.

For so many years now, it has simply been about power.

And for that, they are guilty.

The second the sentence is laid down, he wonders when the world fell into hell without telling him.

These are not powers anyone should be messing with, let alone as casually as the Kings of Volterra do.

They will live as many lifetimes as it takes to teach them that it is not love. It is lust or mutiny, conspiracy and revolution, boredom or spite that have driven them to this, and Aro will teach them that lesson. Love is meaningless, and they will learn that.

Of course, there is a loophole, one to make their suffering more pleasurable for Aro.

"She is a beautiful, valuable creature,." He runs a finger down her cheek, the glare on her face enough to curdle milk. "If you could find another just like her, the terms of your sentence could be… renegotiated."

He has hated many people over his lifetimes, and for so long, Maria and her casual cruelty has topped that list.

But now… now it is Aro. Aro, who taunts her with false hope. She has no memories and is 'utterly unique' in his eyes. There is no possible way they could find another with her gift of sight, with her aptitude and acceptance of being little more than a lapdog to the aging vampire, not in one hundred years.

The runes burn as they are carved into his skin, but he does not flinch.

She attempts to resist, hissing as the blade, which hums at a frequency that he can feel rather than hear, bites into her skin.

"I am genuinely sorry it has come to this." Aro shakes his head, but he can still see a victorious smile lingering on his lips as two of his guards take their places behind them, ready to rip them apart.

Her eyes are like stars as she stares up at him, memorizing his face, her arms wrapped around him so tightly.

"I love you so much," he murmurs to her, his own arms locking around her.

"I love you. I love you. Don't let go, promise me that you won't ever let go," she begs him, her chin quivering.

"I promise, love. I promise. I'll find you in the next life."

He writes.

This time, he has lived to remember it all, and he will not waste this one tiny advantage she has managed to get for them.

He writes so he will remember her, and he writes so he can save her. So that one day, one lifetime, they will be able to spread out their maps together and get themselves lost in the world.

They know the trigger now, and there are infinite ways to bring on death throes and survive another day.

No one else really recalls her as more than a high school crush of his, forgotten in the wake of college and adult life and growing up.

No one special enough to remember.

So he writes, and he prepares for his war.

As golden light spills through the window, they are still tangled together in her bed, her head on his shoulder and her hand cradling his cheek. Her other hand is laced with his, resting on her hip, her leg flung across his waist and a smile playing at her lips.

It is peace.

"What do we do now?" she asks, opening her eyes and looking up at him.

He tucks her hair behind one ear, trying to keep his gaze on her face as she shifts against him, still gloriously nude beside him, the faint pucker of teeth—his teeth—imprinted against her breast.

Of all the things he has done and has witnessed, he never expected any more than raising his own army, claiming his swath of Texan land. Never has he thought he deserved anything quite as divine as she is.

"Anything you want, darlin'," he murmurs, and her smile is bright and hopeful as she rolls on top of him, her hands clasped under her chin.

"Let's go home," she says.

"Home?" He raises an eyebrow.

"Texas. Your home. You can show it to me, like you promised." She pokes him.

He thinks of Texas and of Mexico. Of long days inside, waiting for the night to camouflage their reflective skin. Of nomads caught and enlisted or destroyed. Of the blood-soaked streets of Monterrey and of freedom from Maria's reign.

"I think maybe we should look for a home together," he replies, running his fingers through her hair, her eyes fluttering closed in pleasure. "Somewhere for both of us."

She cocks her head to the side. "Where would we go?"

"Well, we'd have to travel around—see the world and return to the place we like the best," he says smoothly.

Understanding dawns upon her face, and she nods. "Yes. Please," she murmurs, huddling against him, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Anywhere in the world?"

"We can visit everywhere twice, if you would like," he says, kissing her forehead.

"It's going to be perfect." She smiles brightly at him, sighing as his lips graze her cheek, her jaw. "Just perfect."