Title: Shadow to Light
Author: Girl Who Writes
Word Count: 7894
Genre: Romance, Drama, Angst
Summary: He feels filled to the brim with other people's feelings, and there's no space left for his own. But for now, that's okay. He's an old hand at destruction and war; he knows well enough by now that there is no happiness to be felt after a battle, even for the victors.
Notes: Another late chapter, alas! Any other writers tend to write and rewrite and rewrite and get stuck in that cycle? Jasper chapters always seem to do that to me. But we've made it here intact! Jasper gets to emote!
A huge thank you to beautlilies and tragicallywicked for talking me down and talking me out of several scenes.
I hope you all enjoy this chapter, which is the end of the battle arc, and we're heading into endgame now. Thank you so much for reading 3
Nine. History is personal.
Back in the late '70s, he'd taken a high school statistics class. Nothing difficult or unfamiliar, even if putting what he already knew into specific terms and ways of thinking was something new to him. The teacher had been an older man who wore wireframe glasses and a sweater vest, and he had been the gentlest soul that Jasper had come across.
And that was a time in his life when he was beginning to admire that quality in humans. After all, how many punches can a person take before they punch back? How many times can a human see the best in everything?
(Esme does not count. She might be a person but she is not human. And he knows, quite intimately, that the well of her acceptance and affection is infinite. And he will never not be grateful for that.)
The teacher (Mr Ambrose? Something like that) had stood at the front of the classroom one day and told them that statistics were numbers on a page but they often represented much more than that.
"I would be remiss if I sent you into the world without reminding you that there are living beings behind those numbers. There is no more or less tragedy in the loss of one person than the loss of ten. Or fifty. Or a hundred. Many people will tell you to forget the human side of the numbers, but I am encouraging you not to. Everyone has value to someone."
It had been in response to a joke about the exercise questions, but it had left the entire class quiet, thoughtful, perhaps picturing the mothers and sons, the husbands and sisters that these questions took away from their loved ones.
Everyone has value to someone.
That resonated, and brought another wave of guilt and grief over his past, over the bodies of his meals, over the newborns torn to pieces, over every face in his memories that he couldn't match names to.
And then there had been that ugly little voice in the back of his head, the one that said all the uncomfortable shit that he didn't want to deal with. It kept asking him the same question, over and over again. A nagging voice, getting louder and louder.
Who, exactly, valued him?
Him, as in Jasper Whitlock, the ignorant soldier for an unjust cause; thrice damned, and mostly repentant. Not whatever palatable mould the Cullens had fitted him into. But who he was and is and will be.
He never did figure out the answer.
They walk home in near silence.
Mostly because there's nothing to say. Edward's gone ahead with Bella, who was in terrible pain from her injuries. Victoria might have failed, but Bella had still paid the price. They've gathered and burnt the remains, joked and talked as they flung arms and legs and faces into the flames. As ash settled on their faces and hair, and stuck to the drying mud and venom on their skin. Now they go home, all of them, and that's not something he thought they'd all live to see.
It's a sobering thought, one that feels like ice-cold metal in his mind. Because not everyone is going home tonight; not everyone is going to see the sun creep over the horizon again. Not Victoria, not the newborns, not the vampire Bree, or…
He imagines the pain that would come from the news, the catastrophe, if it had been one of them. If Emmett was suddenly erased from the family line-up, if it was Rosalie guiding Esme alone down the pair.
If it were Charlotte arriving at the house, without Peter at her side, wide-eyed and stricken.
It's easier than he thought, to conjure it up in his mind.
(Back then, he pretended he didn't know that pain, that he didn't cram down his regrets and fears and shame down deep in the depths of himself. He didn't let his thoughts linger over things that couldn't be changed. And when he heard of her fate from Maria, he was grateful he didn't sleep, didn't dream, and thus didn't have to listen to her screaming for him, for her Major, every single night.)
So knowing that whilst the Cullens are returning whole (in a new way, one that feels foreign and new to him that isn't the sort of opportunity that their kind gets very often. He finds it cliche to think about 'second chances' and 'platitudes', but this isn't a moment he thought he'd get to live, in so many ways), the Pack are returning to the reservation with a body in tow, broken in terrible ways, well, that sits heavily upon him in a new way.
A teenage boy is dead. And it wasn't a death that was quick enough not to be painful. He would have suffered. That thought feels heavier than knowing that he's dead.
Someone has to go to the Ateara house, climb those steps, and walk into his home and tell his parents that their son has been killed. It shouldn't have happened. They have to look into Mrs Ateara's face and admit that they'll be burying the body of a broken wolf and not of her son. That she won't be able to see him with her own eyes before she farewells him, won't get her and the rest of the family the closure they need.
When he fought with Maria, the battles always tended to end the same way: the scramble to find missing limbs for reattachment; body parts were gathered and burnt, bites were tended to, and then they were allowed to feed. There would be disappointment, frustration, maybe even some regret, when someone didn't make it back from a battle; when you picked up a discarded head and looked into wide, clouded eyes and realised who had lost the fight.
But there has never been this heavy weight before. Not even when he was the one destroying the newborns - the guilt from back then sat differently than whatever this is.
He's not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
The walk back to the house feels longer than normal; it's a habit to opt for a roughly human pace, but it feels particularly tedious tonight. There's a fog of emotion around them all, now the crisis has passed, now that they are navigating the aftermath.
There's a field at the very back of the Cullen property littered with furrows of mud, with the remains of a dozen small fires.
There's a two-inch scratch on Emmett's forearm, and a knick close to Esme's shoulder. There are torn jeans, parkas, and shirts.
Victoria and her army are dead, and the Volturi chose to let the Cullens fight that battle, expecting them to be shorthanded no doubt.
Bella is hurt, Jacob Black is badly wounded, and Quill Ateara is dead.
It's a lot. Or it isn't, not for vampire warfare, but it feels like a lot. It shouldn't surprise him, except it does because it's been so long between battles that he's out of practice and with so much on the line, so much personal risk, he never considered what the aftermath would look like. The battles were always his responsibility - not the wreckage.
He notices the way Esme's shoulders are slumped, the lace of grief over the rest of her emotions and he wonders if, for a moment, Esme had seen another daughter, another Cullen in Bree's red eyes. If she was mourning for a future that never had a chance. She leans against Carlisle, and his emotions only remind Jasper of how old the man truly is, and his genuine, unyielding compassion and understanding of his wife.
Emmett and Rosalie are tangled up together; Rosalie is stretched taunt, churning with emotions that she's refusing to process. Her face might be calm, but Rosalie is done. She's never reacted well to fear or violence, understandably. And from the caution and concern lighting Emmett's emotions, he knows his wife is going to break sooner than later.
He's glad that Edward and Bella are already back at the house. He's not sure he could handle Edward right now, or a Bella lit with pain and fear for Jacob Black.
He feels filled to the brim with other people's feelings, and there's no space left for his own. But for now, that's okay. He's an old hand at destruction and war; he knows well enough by now that there is no happiness to be felt after a battle, even for the victors.
Arriving back at the house, Bella's pain is like a face full of glass and thorns, biting into him. He's not surprised - her injuries had been severe; even the little medical knowledge that he's managed to pick up over the years told him that. Even just seeing her back at the battleground had reminded him of why he'd never pursued medical studies beyond psychology; the way her skin stretched and strained over the broken bone, bruises branding her as clearly as the blood running down her arm…
He falls back, trying to take a breath and realign himself before he gets closer and wonders if it would be inappropriate to ask Carlisle to pump her full of painkillers and sedatives as soon as possible. Right away. Before he gets back to the house.
(Not that it will help much - the whole house will still smell like her, like her blood. They'd all resented it before, when she'd spend an afternoon at the house, and her scent would permeate every throw pillow, every towel, every sweater. But, in hindsight, at least they had built up some kind of tolerance to her. Doesn't help as much as he'd hoped.)
Mary-Alice slips by him, her head slightly low, and her expression looking miserable but mutinous. It's the same look she's worn since the field, since she started dismembering body parts, and tried to bring them home. It makes his skin crawl, that she even tried. Not because of the body parts - he's not that squeamish - but because it had never, ever been Maria's policy during his tenure. The idea of salvaging parts… that had been the basest, most degrading and repulsive practice left only to the real monsters.
Something had obviously changed to make it necessary, and he didn't even want to know what had pushed Maria over the edge. What had made her decide to take that final step into something much uglier than anything he had survived at her side.
(And he doesn't want to, refuses to, condemn Mary-Alice for trying to salvage parts. She had always been a good soldier, followed orders, and thinking ahead. He just wants her to understand why she never should have had to do such a thing, why it was so wrong that she knew how, how it had told him and the Cullens so much more about where she'd come from and what she'd lived through than words and stories and scars ever could.)
He watches Mary-Alice, his gaze following her as she picks her way through the garden path, and wonders. He wonders if that's what he looked like when he first met the Cullens, first joined their household - tense and coiled tightly, fight or flight in every inch of the body. He wonders if the others see it, in every dainty step, in every tilt of her head, the line of her shoulders, and shift of her body.
(He wonders if she ever lost a part of herself, and had to choose new pieces to fit herself back together well enough to see through the next battle. She looks just as he remembers, maybe a new scar or two, but it's not like he's gotten close enough to inspect all her joints, all the seams of her body, to compare flesh colour, to decipher the different between a torn joint and a replacement, like he would have back then, if he'd ever needed to.)
Blood and mud cover her like ichor, and he notices that her gait is slightly off - he knows that stride, she has a bite on her leg somewhere. The bite on his arm is acidic-hot; his own venom has taken some of the pain out of it, has drawn out some of the angry purpling of the mark. Within a few days, it'll be nearly invisible to the human eye. A little rougher, and a little more precise than the rest of his scars, but time will take care of that.
No one else has complained of bites, thankfully - his is his own fault for rolling up his shirt-sleeves before the battle. Bare skin is always an invitation for injury, it's an early lesson down south. Rosalie had gone so far as to wear gloves, and it is somehow endearing and hilarious and amazingly practical all at once. He never had even considered that.
From inside the house, Bella yells out her pain to the world, and he watches Mary-Alice's face turn up and her nose flare at the smell of fresh blood, and he wonders if it's time to have the ugly conversation with her, about hunting animals and the deal with the pack. Now is certainly not the time to try and find loophole; it does not take an empath to know that the wolves will be more intolerant of human-drinking vampires than ever. And really, he's not sure how they would even go about taking her hunting if Carlisle is unwilling to part with any of the bagged blood he kept in the basement.
Unless she decides to make Bella her next meal, he decides impulsively, that conversation can come later. They all traipse into the house via the kitchen where muddy boots and reeking outer clothes are discarded in a chaotic pile, most likely to be disposed of - venom is near impossible clean out of fabric, and it's just safer and smarter to burn the lot of it.
Everything can wait, honestly. No one is in the right headspace to deal with the little things - Esme is a wreck, the loss of the newborn girl hanging heavily over her, and Carlisle is torn between comforting his wife and tending to Bella's wounds before he leaves to see to Jacob Black. Edward is prickly with fear at Bella's injuries, at his perceived failure. Bella is nothing but a tangle of pain and fear and shock and desperation, settled on Esme's silk couch, muddy and bloodied and white with the strain.
He needs a shower. They all do. It will help - they can wash away the spilt venom that still tingles and burns against their skin, but will take a little while to eat and blister their flesh; wash away the mud and the ash and everything that has just transpired. They are all tired in a way that isn't unfamiliar to him; so much has happened, they need to regroup individually before they can as a family, as a collective.
(He recognises it as Esme disappears into her bathroom, Rosalie into her own ensuite, and Emmett into the family bathroom. He uses the one adjacent to the guest room, watches the dirt trail over the shiny white tiles and down the drain like it was never there. That feels about right.)
The shower helps; it always does. He could be maudlin and over-dramatic and describe it like a baptism anew, but he won't. It pushes most of the thoughts out of his head for a little - just warm water and soap and the solitude.
It's not until he's pulling a clean sweatshirt on that he thinks of Mary-Alice, and he swears under his breath, embarrassed and horrified. She's been left downstairs with Edward and Carlisle and Bella, because he's a thoughtless idiot. He can make a dozen excuses for himself, but it's just rude. Insulting.
He moves through the house efficiently, wondering how he explains this. He hasn't heard any yelling yet, and when he reaches out with his gift, he can feel that Bella has settled into the rippling fog of the well-drugged; the smell of plaster is sharp and chemical as he slips back into the living room. Bella is half-asleep on the stained couch, with a blanket tucked around her, and fresh casts on her left arm and leg (a humeral shaft fracture, a dislocated knee, a broken ankle, and sixteen stitches up her arm, the blood scent still lingering behind the antiseptic. according to Carlisle. Easily explained away by a simple hiking accident. Except, how many times will they have to put Bella Swan back together again before there is nothing left to fix?
Edward is kneeling beside her, stroking her hair, and looking every single inch the haunted seventeen-year-old he is - standing vigil over another person he loves who can leave him. Jasper has thought about that more than once since Bella arrived in their lives - that she is the first human in Edward's life since his mother died caring for him. It was almost inevitable that it would awake trauma and grief and desperation in his brother, that the last human woman he cared about died a miserable death, exacerbated by him.
But last time Jasper thought that in Edward's presence, Edward threw a vase at him, so he tries not to dwell on that. Esme is very particular about her vases.
Carlisle is on his phone in the corner, negotiating with Jacob Black's father, and Jasper can hear Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett moving around upstairs.
Mary-Alice is nowhere to be found. Not tucked into a corner, or perched on any of the furniture, not lingering in a doorway. He walks through to the kitchen, half-expecting her to be waiting there for instructions, resentful of their omission of her.
But she's not there, and he only picks up her scent at the door - did she even come back into the house with them?
The early morning air is still cool, the cloud hanging low and grim. Another wet day, appropriate for the mood of the house. His instinct is to venture back into the forest, to find her tucked away in the trees - that she's vanished back into the wilderness, maybe in search of a meal…
But he doesn't. He follows the path around the garden, down the side of the house instead. In the hopes that she would stay close, wouldn't leave without a farewell, wouldn't do something as foolish as going hunting without consideration for the agreement.
He finds her near the garage Esme has turned into a woodturning studio when Rosalie had her own built - the smell of lacquer is strong in the air. But the bite of it doesn't even have time to register as he realises what he is seeing, and the relief turns to something like disbelief.
She's stripped to the waist, her dress caught and clinging valiantly to jutting hip bones, and she has the garden tap running, as she splashes water on herself to wash away the mud. As she crouches down, he can count every single one of her vertebrae, bisected by the long slash of a scar.
(He thinks about hot, steamy bathrooms with half a dozen soaps and washes that Esme custom-orders so that the scents aren't overpowering. The little pyramid of beige bricks in each bathroom, with leaves and herbs and petals pressed between the layers. He thinks of plush towels that are still warm; and clean hair, and fresh clothes. He thinks about how none of it really matters to them, but it's still nice. That under hot water, under the slick film of soap, they can almost feel human again.)
"Mary-Alice," he says, and he expects her to jump up, to tear her dress back up and over her torso. To glare and be indignant at his interruption, at being left to wash up in the garden instead of being invited to use a bathroom. At being forgotten.
It's not like they couldn't have offered her a place to wash and dress - Emmett and Rose could have easily showered together. He himself could have waited.
But she does none of those things; she most likely knew he was behind her the entire time. Instead, she looks over her shoulder, and straightens to face him. There's no modesty in her movements, no shame or care at being bare like this to him after all these years, and he wants to look away, but he doesn't.
(Not because of anything untoward. But because there are new scars, fresh ones. Ones that he doesn't know the feel of under his fingers, the story behind. That's an arrogant thought, truly, as if he has some kind of claim over her, or that she ceases to exist when he is not with her. But for so long, he thought her dead, frozen in his mind in the moment she told him that the answer was yes.)
"Come into the house, you can use the shower upstairs," he says in a normal voice, trying to avoid anything that might indicate that this tableau is wrong.
(She almost lost her arm at one point, he can see the tearing scar where her shoulder joins her arm. There's a very faint, surface-scar on her neck that was probably little more than a scratch or scrape. A glimpse is enough to catalogue everything, and then he meets her gaze evenly, unwilling to show her anything that might indicate anything negative, might make her flinch and draw back, like the damn teeth did.)
She shakes her head, and motions to the mud still sticking to her legs. "I'm fine here," she says turning her back on him, and shimmying out of her dress, only to crouch beside the tap to hold the mangled garment underneath the water. Unlike the rest of them, in hiking boots and top-of-the-line outerwear, she had worn the dress Esme had altered for her into battle, barefoot. They were able to peel off the mess of their clothes before they tracked it through the house. She couldn't.
(There's a scratch near her ribs, one that looks like the attacker dug their fingers in deep, tore at her. There's tightness in his chest when he sees them, wonders how the attacker got a hold of her, held her still enough that his fingers bit into flesh. How she's still alive if she was manhandled in such a way. His mind helpfully offers up several scenarios and he banishes them equally as fast.)
She turns around to spread her dress out on the pavers, and he gets a glimpse at the bite on her thigh, purple and angry. It's not as deep as he feared, but that's more of an indication of how terribly thin she is - there's not a true mouthful of flesh there for the taking.
"Let me get you some towels, then," he finally says, feeling tired and inadequate in so many ways. He can, at least, provide her with towels and perhaps something clean for her to wear. Surely Esme has something in the endless closets of the household. She can't wear the dress again - it's soaking wet, and venom is eating through the fabric.
She nods, and he turns to fetch her some things, not entirely sure how to act in this moment. Her emotions are still fuzzy and hard to distinguish, and despite his discomfort with all the emotion he's processed today, he wants hers. He wants to understand and he doesn't know any other way.
It doesn't take long to find what she needs - a comb, some soap that smells faintly of mint leaves that shouldn't be too offensive, and two towels still warm from the dryer. It feels like a paltry offering, almost insulting in the face of all that she's done for them.
He knows in his heart that if Mary-Alice hadn't shown up, if she hadn't been on the field, they would be mourning more than Bree and Quill. It isn't a question.
(For a moment, he imagines the wreckage if they hadn't had Mary-Alice at their side. If Bella had been the sacrificial lamb, or it was Esme on the couch downstairs, with her face mutilated beyond rapid. If Rosalie was crouched in the garage, howling out her pain because Emmett never came home, or Carlisle was locked in his study, praying for his golden son, who was destroyed defending all that he held dear.)
It feels like ice down his spine, the idea that the only thing that had stood between this and that, was a skinny girl washing mud off her legs in the back garden.
He ventures back downstairs, clutching his feeble offerings, looking for Esme in the hopes that she can provide some kind of clothing because his sweatshirts will swallow her up whole.
"Where's Mighty Mouse?" Emmett asks, bounding down the stairs after Jasper, with damp hair, and only pausing when Edward hisses at the possibility of disturbing Bella.
"She's outside. Do we have anything she can wear?" He's not sure how he feels about Emmett's nicknames for Mary-Alice; he doesn't have nicknames like that for other family friends, for Tanya and her family or for Peter and Charlotte.
It doesn't matter. He needs to find clothes for her. He'll drive to goddamn Hoquiam to get her something that fits if he has to.
"Right here," Esme comes down the stairs with another little dress, grey linen with longish sleeves that looks like it might be a better fit than the last one. They feel like doll's clothes, they are so small. And that just makes him feel old and tired. "Perfect timing - she's upstairs?"
Esme knows she's not. They all do.
"No. She's outside." And for a moment, he wants to justify, to explain, that she was head-to-toe filthy, and just rinsing off before she sets foot in the house but it feels hollow and like the excuse it is. There's nothing else to say, really; the girl that saved their lives felt that she was worth nothing better than scrubbing off the mud in the middle of their garden, whilst they shut themselves in private bathrooms.
She's lived a different life; he lived it once too, and he knows she doesn't expect things like that, like human creature comforts. That makes it worse somehow. Like a weight in his stomach; it feels like he's got all the wrong answers, wrong actions, for this scenario.
Esme frowns for a moment and nods, before holding up a hand and vanishing back up the stairs, returning with a sweater that Jasper has seen Esme wear.
"Maybe this, until she's had a chance to take a proper shower," Esme says and there's something about Esme's expression that makes him think that if things were different, Esme would be out there, luring Mary-Alice back into the house like a reluctant kitten. That Esme might be a secret weapon for something he isn't sure of just yet.
He finds her where he left her, the mud washed away, her hair dripping and her dress sticking to her. She looks so young to him like that, but so very old. He can see it in her, the life that has been ingrained in her, what she has come to expect. Wanting anything was always toxic in the Wars; it rotted you from the inside out, it got you maimed or killed.
He holds out the bundle of towels and the sweater, and she takes them tentatively before she strips off again, and dries herself with surgical precision before she shrugs into the sweater, the fabric falling to almost to her knees and past her fingertips.
She picks up her discarded dress, and the way she grips it stops him from motioning towards the trash.
And they head back inside the house.
It's a long day. It feels like one of the longest that he's lived since he joined the Cullens; even those first days of high school didn't feel quite this endless.
Maybe they should all be more productive, busy themselves in one of the dozens of daily tasks that need doing, or tackling things like the burning of the clothing in the kitchen. Instead, the family is scattered around the living room, settled on the furniture and stairs, watching Bella sleep and Carlisle make a string of phone calls. The cloud of regret and sadness still hovers low around Esme where she is perched on the settee, and Rosalie has her head against Emmett's shoulder, curled against him on the couch.
He knows that if they could, every single one of them would be tucked up in bed, trying to sleep. That's not hard to imagine. He wonders what it would like if they were human right now - cooling coffee being held for something to do with their hands, plates and containers of food crowding the coffee table that had been picked at but not consumed.
But the image in his head feels wrong, like the set of a play abandoned halfway through the act. It doesn't feel natural to picture any of them as human, really. Because they aren't and they'll never be. Trying to fit them into that mould will always feel off; even hearing about their pasts feels like a chapter of a book that he never read because it's so foreign to the lives they live now.
He blames Bella; he never really considered the Cullens and humanity like this before Edward met her.
He is sitting on the staircase, leaning against the wall. Or rather, the wall is holding him up and it is a testament to Esme's emotional turmoil that she hasn't scolded him for leaning against the wallpaper.
Mary-Alice sits a few steps below him, her knees pulled tight to her chest and tucked underneath the sweater, sitting straight and rigid against the wall; she almost looks uncomfortable. Her eyes flick around the room at irregular intervals, with no pattern that he can discern. She seems to avoid looking at Bella, her eyes skimming over her without pause and he wonders if she's trying to See.
Carlisle's phone call to Billy Black is … quiet and straightforward. Whatever the rest of the pack have said about the battle seems not to have condemned the Cullens entirely because Carlisle is granted access to the reservation to tend to Jacob's injuries. Edward and Rosalie are left in charge of Bella's care as Carlisle gathers his things.
The battle already feels like it happened days ago, but is still vivid in his mind. He thinks back to the pack, to the training. He's not sure he ever laid eyes on Quill Ateara's human form, but he knows enough for guilt and regret to weigh on him. He was a child. A child who should never have been fighting this war. And as much as he tries, he cannot find any way they could have won without the wolves. There were too many near-misses, too many close-calls. They had needed every body they had on that field, and this was the price. It was unfair and cruel and horrific, but it had to happen the way it happened.
(But he still tries to riddle out the solution, find the flaw, the mistake, that cost Quill Ateara his life, over and over again, from each and every angle.)
He knows he should focus on the aftermath, on the fact that Bella is alive. That his entire family survived. That no newborns made it into Forks or onto the reservation. That if he was back in the south, this would be an irrefutable success, and that Quill was just the toll that had to be paid - and one that should be willingly sacrificed. Even one newborn loose in Forks would have left a trail of bodies before they could have contained them. There are probably little children safe at home, living to see another day, because Quill spotted that one newborn they had missed.
He doubts that the Ateara family will see it that way, depending on what they are told. They'll just see a coffin in the ground and want someone to blame. Because what is one child's life measured against another? Why should Quill die when the faceless, white children of Forks live?
It feels cheap to blame Victoria; she may have been the architect of… everything, but how many battles has he fought? How many unwinnable wars has he witnessed, always the last man standing?
He should have been able to send a son home to his mother. It shouldn't have ever been a question.
The thoughts roll in his mind, a wave cresting and rushing around, thinking in circles as he tries to shift the uneasiness, the guilt, the weight of one life when he's never been so affected before. The whole time, he's been staring at his hands, trying to work out who would have had to die in Quill Ateara's place, when movement catches his eye.
Mary-Alice is watching him, with that stare that looks like she can see the very thoughts in his head. Her emotions are skittering again, before he can sample and decipher them, and he wishes she wouldn't do that. Maybe before, all those years ago, it was helpful to be able to catch his breath for a moment but now, it's frustrating. He needs to know what she's feeling - especially when she's looking at him like that.
He knows that Edward is worried but relieved and grateful; that Rosalie is still processing a maelstrom of fear and resentment and gratitude - more than a little is directed at Emmett, clearly at his survival, whilst Esme is still clouded with unhappiness and grief, but streaked with satisfaction and relief. Emmett is just happy everything is over, worried over Bella - if his gaze is any way to predict it - and cautious with Rose. Bella is nothing but a swamp of drugged sleep, like emotional molasses, but at least she's not miserable about Jacob Black and Quill. Carlisle is calm, a little sad, a little shameful, and grateful.
And Mary-Alice is the skittering static of an out-of-tune television, not letting him in, not letting him know anything about herself, as she looks at him like she's taking him apart, piece by piece, inside of her head.
Just watching him, without a flicker.
The afternoon is sinking into dusk when Carlisle returns from the reservation with a grim look on his face - Jacob Black had more than one bone that needed re-breaking and setting, it had taken longer than they thought it would. It had been painful for the boy, and unpleasant for all that had witnessed it, and it's been a long time since Carlisle's medical practice had been so base. The sterile, clean treatment of modern hospitals had dulled those memories.
Bella is sitting up, getting ready to return home; her face is still grey, and she's disoriented from the medication. Her eyes are fixed, glassily, on Mary-Alice, who hasn't moved. She's twitching every few moments, shifting and wriggling, and that's very strange. If nothing else, Mary-Alice can be relied upon for complete stillness.
"Is Jake okay?" Bella asks, almost breathlessly, her voice slightly slurred as Edward guides her arms into a jacket.
"He's resting comfortably," Carlisle touches the girl's head tenderly. "I gave him something for the pain, and Mr Black has my number if he needs anything."
Mary-Alice shifts again.
Bella nods. "Is Charlie coming to get me?" It's not the first time she's asked that, and Edward's worry spikes with each repeated question, as if the cocktail of concussion and sedatives aren't the cause.
"Edward and I are taking you home now," Carlisle's voice is patient and steady. "We're telling Charlie you had a hiking accident."
"Okay." Bella agrees, her gaze floating back to Mary-Alice, as the girl lets out a huff that is almost a soft growl, wriggling again.
Rosalie has noticed Mary-Alice's antics as well, and is watching with a stony look at the girl shifts and wriggles on the step with growing displeasure - it's entirely irrational irritation.
Rose's frown deepens as Alice puts her fingers in her mouth and sucks on them for a moment, and he realises what she's doing a second before she pulls her fingers from her mouth and reaches between her thighs. Her bite - it had entirely slipped his mind; the venom eating away at flesh trying to regenerate, setting into knots of scar tissue. Venom scars were nearly impossible to avoid once bitten, but he also doubts very much that even Mary-Alice could bend in such a way to treat it and minimise the damage.
The venom had been sitting in her flesh for hours now.
"What…" Rosalie sounds appalled, and Mary-Alice is ignoring her.
"How bad is it?" he asks her in a low voice, leaning over to see if the mark has faded at all. The bite on his arm has already dulled to a darkish grey, but he had gotten the worst of the venom out on the battlefield, had irrigated it in the shower with hot water and soap, and sealed it off with his own venom hours ago.
"'ts fine," she says, but she's frowning.
"You got bitten?" Edward looked up from Bella, and everyone is looking at them now, and he watches as Mary-Alice's entire body visibly tenses up.
They had all gotten bitten, technically. But most of them had been scrapes cushioned by their clothing; tearing fabric instead of skin. Only he and Mary-Alice had taken teeth to flesh, and his arm burns and itches in reminder of a sensation he certainly hasn't missed over the years.
"On her leg," he offers helplessly, because what else is there to say. They were the ones that lead her into battle half-dressed.
"Has it been treated?" Carlisle moves to come over to them, and in one swift movement, both of Mary-Alice's legs are tucked under her sweater again, her eyes hard.
"It's fine," she says robotically, and maybe that would have been a believable lie, if the majority of the room didn't remember the bite that changed them in fantastic detail. It's both better and worse than the first bite, he remembers; the venom can't burrow into vampire tissue as easily as human, so it just burns in that one spot. Except Mary-Alice is so very thin that there would be no fat and little tissue to dull the pain. If she'd been able to seal it, draw out the venom to dull the pain, it might have helped but getting bitten in battle was always a miserable experience.
Carlisle looks concerned, but Edward has already turned back to Bella. Bella needs to be the priority right now - as if a vampire bite doesn't require near-instantaneous treatment, and cause pain that he's certain neither Carlisle nor Edward have ever experienced.
He feels guilty for being resentful, as they gather Bella up and bundle her into the car, and he doesn't want to try and find the words to explain why he needs Carlisle to take care of Mary-Alice right this moment.
Instead, they watch them leave, and when Bella is finally gone, Mary-Alice lets out a shuddering breath; one that leaves behind the idea of relief. And that makes him feel worse, because maybe Carlisle and Edward were taking care of her by taking Bella away.
He feels like every single thing that has happened in the last day-week-month has been come out wrong, like he's made the wrong decision at every turn and now Quill Ateara is dead, an innocent newborn is ash, and Mary-Alice is in pain and he's the one letting it happen.
After Carlisle and Edward leave, they all come back to life.
Esme gets up and approaches Mary-Alice with a gentle smile, an offer of a "proper shower" and a profuse apology for not seeing to her earlier. Mary-Alice is slightly bewildered, but she agrees. She disappears for a moment to collect her ruined dress and towel and cake of soap from where it was left next to the kitchen door, and Esme hustles her up the stairs, chatting about seeing to Mary-Alice's bite, and how well she did with Bella.
They're all thirsty - from the battle, from Bella, from the browning blood on the couch; he doesn't need a mirror to know that his eyes mirror Mary-Alice's. But getting bitten always drains them quickly, it's just part of the healing process. They'll have to hunt soon.
Rosalie crawls in Emmett's lap as soon as Esme and Mary-Alice disappear upstairs. Any other time, he might prize the idea that he's close enough to her that she's letting him be present for this little moment of weakness. But then, he's been privy to so many moments of their … 'marital bliss' over the years that this feels a little less sacred than it might otherwise.
Emmett rubs Rosalie's back and makes eye contact with Jasper with an unspoken request. Rose might be okay with Jasper seeing her seek out comfort and affection, but whatever is spoken next, those words are for them only.
He drifts up to his study; sometimes it feels like the calmest room of the house - he has less of the souvenirs than the others, less inclination to fill up his space immediately. Instead, he has his books. He has his computer. He has the equivalent of a shoebox of precious memories dotted around the place - a Civil War silver dollar (not the same one he'd carried all those years ago but one that Emmett had found online and presented to him. He has no idea what happened to his old dog-tag, so this has become his talisman for his human life), a small brass horse that Esme had found at an antique store somewhere and he had become attached to, and a crumpled piece of Mexican newsprint he'd had in his pocket the day he'd left with Peter.
It had been the only thing he'd carried with him that day, the only thing he'd emerged into the new world with, so he'd kept it.
He goes to his desk, and half-collapses into the chair, running his hands through his hair. The agitation is still there, the cocktail of anticipation and energy that always lingers after a battle. It's why, back in the south, the post-battle bacchanal was always a mix of dancing, and rough-housing, and fucking. Anything to channel it, expel it. The closest he'll get tonight is a good run, right up into Canada or maybe Wyoming, if he's lucky.
He goes over the battle again in his head, focusing on the smallest detail, trying to find the moment, the mistake, the action that could change without making the whole fight fall apart like a house of cards. That spared them the bites, that spared Quill, and spared Bree for Esme and… and…
"It's not your fault, Major."
She peers around the door to his study, her scent of flowers exacerbated by whatever soap Esme gave her. The sweater has been exchanged for the little grey dress, and her hair has been combed very precisely. Her eyes are darker still, though, and she's not putting weight on her leg.
"The battle went well," she offers, not coming any further into the room. "No one could have guessed that boy would die…"
Her words sound stiff, and she looks slightly uncomfortable but when he motions for her to come into the room, she does so - with her head down, not looking around as she closes the door behind her.
(She's never worn a dress that fits quite so well, he realises, even if this one is a little loose around the chest. Esme is a quick study, the kindest of women.)
"You and your family are safe," she says again, as if she knows she hasn't convinced him. "The town is safe. You cannot hold yourself accountable for his death. The battle went well."
It did. He cannot deny that, cannot refute that. The idea a battle between vampires could lead to only one casualty is obscene, it is so impossible - especially against two dozen or so newborns. Maybe that's why it's so haunting - that there wasn't more death. That he prepared himself for the worst, and somehow they won.
Maybe it's the fact that Quill didn't have to die. And that's the truth. It was just a terrible accident, a miscalculation; the battle was all but won. "You did that, you know." The words come out, but it doesn't feel like he's speaking. Mary-Alice frowns, and tilts her head to the side - a thin strand of curiosity brushes against him.
"We wouldn't have made it out in one piece without you." They feel like the most straightforward words he's spoken to her since she arrived. "Thank you for saving us."
Maybe there's a smile that ghosts over her lips. Maybe he's projecting.
"You saved yourself, Major," she says, her eyes darting over his bookcases, lingering on the horse, the coin, the crumple of newspaper. "I was only here to help."
They aren't talking about the battle anymore, and that changes the mood in the room. She seems less substantial in that moment, her eyes darting around rather than meet his.
She spots an ageing photo of him with Peter and Charlotte, back when they lived in Minnesota in the late 80s, and for a second, there's a … a burst, like of static, but emotion. It prickles against him for a moment before she pulls it back and the flavour of it is just so much tangled up that it's hard to decipher.
"Do not cheapen the wolf's sacrifice," she says, just before she turns to leave. "He fought to protect his people, and he succeeded. Anything else… it doesn't matter. Let him be a tragic hero, Major. Not a victim. Don't let yourself be that person again, trapped in all of that."
She doesn't linger after that, slipping away silently, and he listens to her go down the stairs and through the kitchen and out the backdoor to the tree-line, where she vanishes. She's not leaving, he knows that, can see the slight rustle of the tree she climbs from his window.
Her words do not still the urge to run, do not erase the tension in his mind and limbs. But they do still some of his thoughts.
The battle was fought and won, and they paid a price for such an overwhelming victory - one that should never be dismissed or forgotten. Going over and over it again, worrying at each choice he made, each risk they took… it's just another way for him to be trapped in the headspace, in the trauma of being the Major.
He goes running alone, leaving the family and Mary-Alice for a few hours as soon as it's dark enough - just to burn off the energy. The forest flies by, a blur of green and brown around him as he lets everything wash over him. It's the kind of running he misses, that he doesn't get to do anymore for a variety of reasons.
The mantra keeps repeating over and over in his head.
Victoria is dead.
Victoria is dead.
Maybe by the time he gets home again, it'll feel real.
- Because book and movie disagree re: the removal of a head, I'm parking myself halfway. A head can be reattached, but there is a very short window for this to happen. Whilst limbs can be reattached at any time, heads can die and that is indicated by the venom starting to eat away at the eye-balls, leaving them cloudy. And yes, this form of death is painful as hell.
- This is the first battle Jasper has fought in 60+ years, so this would bring out some complex feelings in him - his PTSD, his memories and beliefs and how they've changed. Plus, having hung out with the pack at Bella's graduation party has made him so much more aware of how young Quill was - and that a family line has ended with him. Even seeing Mary-Alice would be a huge trigger for him, especially since Jasper has worked very, very hard to distance himself from the Major.
-Why Quill? Because we must protect the Clearwaters at all costs, of course. I have a lot of self-indulgent reasons to pick Quill, but in the end it boils down to the fact that the pack haven't just lost a generic member - Jacob and Embry have lost a close and loyal friend. Quill was a direct descendent of the original pack, the only child of a widow - the Ateara bloodline died with him. He left behind Claire. He has reasonable significance within the Pack. And terrible things happen to good and innocent people. Things don't always work out for the best.
- This chapter was *hard*. I have rewritten it three times, and I am just so glad it's posted. If it sucked, lie to me please.