I posted this chapter on Tumblr a few days ago and totally spaced about posting it on here. Oops!
Winnie's heart felt as though it was about to burst out of her chest as she took in the sight of Jesse, who truly looked exactly the same as he had when she first met him six years earlier. Funnily enough, she had somehow expected him to look different even though she knew he couldn't age. She hadn't expected him to look like a wax figurine in a museum.
Jesse's expression was blank, and he seemed unfazed as he gazed upon Winnie and Crutchie. Finally, he spoke. "You've changed." His words sounded like they had been spoken by a robot version of Jesse, although there was a hint of emotion which suggested his true feelings that pushed at the edge of his voice.
"Six years can do that to a person," Winnie replied, deciding to mimic Jesse's tone. The last thing she wanted to do was cry in front of him.
Jesse looked down at his feet, hiding his expression from Winnie. The silence hung thickly between them until Crutchie cleared his throat.
"Is that him?"
"Yes," Winnie answered not taking her eyes off of Jesse as she stood and helped Crutchie up. "That's Jesse."
Jesse looked up at Winnie and Crutchie, his eyes widening as he truly saw Crutchie for the first time. "Winnie…?"
Though he trailed off and didn't finish his question, Winnie knew exactly what he was asking. "Jesse, this is Crutchie. He's Miles' great-grandson."
Jesse appeared to be having some kind of existential crisis as he processed this, but he finally shook his head as if to clear away whatever thoughts plagued him and nodded. "I can tell. Does- does Miles know?"
Crutchie nodded, his voice surprisingly steady as he spoke directly to Jesse for the first time. "Yeah. He helped us find ya, actually."
"Miles is here?" Jesse asked, sounding nervous for the first time since he had shown up. Winnie half expected him to run away, but mercifully he remained where he was.
"Well, he's not here here, but he is in New York," Winnie said.
Jesse cringed noticeably. "Is he mad at me?"
"He's… worried. Very worried." Winnie didn't want to lie to Jesse, but neither did she want to fully apprise him of Miles' feelings about this whole debacle until Miles himself was present.
"Uh, Winnie? I hate ta cut this conversation short, but you should be gettin' back home soon. It's almost dark," Crutchie cut in, sounding truly apologetic.
Winnie looked around in surprise, in all the excitement she hadn't fully realized that night had nearly fallen, and the street lamps were lit. She turned to Jesse. "Do you have somewhere to stay for the night?"
Jesse nodded. "Yeah, I have a place." He hesitated. "Could I- could we-"
"Tomorrow afternoon, at Central Park. Don't you dare be late." Winnie smiled softly, a hint of her old self shining through the conflict she and Jesse both clearly felt at being reunited.
A slight grin flashed across Jesse's face. "I won't be."
With that, Jesse turned and disappeared down a shadowy alleyway, as if he had been a dream or a vision. Crutchie glanced over at Winnie. "So that was Jesse."
Winnie nodded, her expression unreadable. "Yes."
Crutchie frowned. "Are ya mad at him?"
Winnie considered this for a moment, then shook her head. "I'm not completely sure what there is between us, and heaven knows my feelings towards him are complicated, but I'm not angry at him." She turned to Crutchie and smiled shyly at him. "Are you still up for walking me home?"
Crutchie grinned. "Always."
Winnie managed to get word to Miles the next day to meet her, Crutchie, and Jesse at Central Park at 4 o'clock. And so it was that at precisely 4 o'clock, Winnie and Crutchie reunited with Miles and Jesse for a second time.
Miles and Jesse had evidently already had whatever conversation they needed to have by the time Winnie and Crutchie got there, and so it was slightly less awkward. Only slightly, however, because now that Jesse had had sufficient time to process things he had only one thing on his mind. Finding out if Winnie had, in fact, drunken the water.
"Hello, Winnie. Crutchie." Miles nodded politely to each of them in turn, and Winnie nodded back.
"Hello, Miles. Jesse."
There was an awkward pause, then Crutchie spoke up. "So… what now?"
"I think that Winnie and Jesse need to have a private conversation, and so do you and me," Miles stated.
Winnie nodded. "That sounds like a good plan to me. Jesse, would you like to take a look around with me?"
Jesse smiled. "Sure."
"So… how have you been?" Jesse asked as he and Winnie navigated one of the many paths in Central Park.
"Good, overall. You?"
Jesse shrugged. "The same as always. Moving around, keeping a low profile."
Winnie hummed in acknowledgment. Another brief period of silence enveloped them, then Winnie sighed. "I know you want to know, Jesse. Just ask."
Jesse didn't miss a beat. "Did you?"
Winnie took a deep breath. This was it. The moment of reckoning. The most terrifying thing she had ever had to say. She didn't beat around the bush. "No. I didn't."
"Oh." That was all Jesse said. Quiet, barely audible. Masking any emotion in his voice.
"Jesse," Winnie tried. "I thought I wanted to. I swear I did six years ago but… that was then. And now… I just couldn't."
"I understand. You've made your choice. It wasn't me." Jesse stopped and smiled up at Winnie even as tears pooled in his eyes. "I'm happy for you, Winnie. I'll support whatever you choose."
Winnie stared at Jesse for a minute, then impulsively leaned forward and hugged him tightly. "I'm sorry," she whispered, tears trickling down her cheeks.
"I know. It's alright," Jesse murmured, rubbing her back soothingly.
They stayed like that for a few minutes, the only sounds penetrating their bubble being the sound of their own breathing finally Winnie pulled away, and took a shaky breath. "Thank you. For everything."
Jesse shook his head. "No. You showed me what it was like to truly live again, Winnie Foster. Thank you."A/N: This might seem like the end, but there is an epilogue coming soon which will tie up all loose ends. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed and supported this story so far, you guys are awesome!