Title: Against A Wall

Author: Girl Who Writes

Characters: Jasper, Alice

Word Count: 6198

Rating: T

Genre: Human/Vampire AU, Angst

Summary: In his few lucid moments over the next seventy-two hours, he wonders when he gets to stop suffering. When he finds the end of the tunnel of pain, from Tuesdays behind Dewey's, to being half-burned alive, to be put back together and drugged senseless to function, to whatever this woman has done to him.

Notes: TRIGGER WARNINGS for suicidal ideation, substance abuse and addictive behaviours, depression, body horror.

I am so incredibly sorry this took so long to be posted – I've struggled with uploading to the Document Manager for over a week, and even the first chapter of this had major errors for several days that couldn't be fixed. Hopefully, it's all been resolved!

Thank you so much for reading, and for everyone who reviewed. I hope you enjoy Part 2!


Nineteen.

There was a shoebox under his bed with a bunch of stuff in it, that he's collected over his life. Stuff that was special - Socrates' collar, a rock shaped like a dog, the rubber spider his grandfather bought him from the dime store. And the last thing he put in it was an unopened back of Skittles.

He wonders where that box is now.

Things are hard to remember. The doctors say his memory should return, with time, and everything will stop feeling like someone scooped them all out of his brain and threw them up in the air like confetti.

He remembers… Ava. No, not Ava. Yes, Ava, his sister.

She did something.

Ava lit the fuse that had been dangling over the family for six years.

Wasn't Ava's fault. Never blamed her. He hurt for her.

Louise found the bit of paper and freaked out, yes. It was Ava's paper. Evidence. And Louise was shrieking. And Jerry heard.

Everybody heard. He remembers making Flo and Hettie stay in the kitchen, hide under the table if you need to (the screen door is banging, Lydia is gone like a puff of air at the first sign of trouble; wish she'd taken Flo and Hettie this time). Hettie had already been sniffling, and he'd left the kitchen.

Bang.

He'd gotten between Ava and their father.

He would have killed them both; that look in his eye. There wasn't love or affection in that gaze. There wasn't recognition of his children. There was just rage. That's a look he wished he could forget; of all the things lost in the confetti, he wants to know why that moment that Jerry looked at him and Ava (Ava was bleeding, can't remember why) is still there?

Then it's a blur. Then there's nothing.

Then he joins the military. He walks away entirely, with only what he can carry and doesn't leave any parting words because there's nothing to be said.

No. Something happens before that.

Ava packed her car, yes, packed in Hettie and Flo, suitcases and boxes, and at the last minute Lydia materialises into the passenger seat, whilst their mother tries to … beg? Yell? Ava's face is black and blue and bandaged, and there was someone he knew who could fix that, with Mary Poppins' bag…

Then Ava drives off, and their mom is crying, and he walks straight to the nearest recruitment office even though he doesn't graduate for another three months because once the bomb has gone off, there's no taking it back.

What was the bomb again?

Bomb. Which bomb?

Ava's, not the one that… not the other one.

Paperwork from Planned Parenthood. There was a baby, but Ava's already raising her sisters, so she sucked it up, stole cash from their father's study, and took care of it. She'd thrown the money back in their father's face that last night, money she'd scrounged from somewhere, and their father had punched her so hard he broke her nose and her orbital bone, and then it gets blurry again.

His body stings and aches and itches. He recites all the swears he knows in his head, and a few he doesn't, and he wishes everything would put itself right again.

Bang.

The other bomb. That's why he's here, in the VA hospital. The one that was strapped to a little boy who ran up to one of the guys in his unit, grinning and clutching a soccer ball to hide the shape obscuring his torso.

Bang.

Bombs don't sound like 'bang' either. They are a vacuum of noise and pain and detritus and fire and he now knows the sound-taste-smell of roasted human fresh. They are wiping out all but two members of a unit and a little boy who didn't have a choice or an idea of what he was getting into.

The images are burnt onto his brain forever; when he closes his eyes, all he sees is a face roast black and splitting open to reveal the ruby red of the blood and muscle underneath, leaking clear and yellow fluid.

Empty, black eye sockets staring, just sticky blackened holes.

Bodies arched and twisted in pain, looking like blacked trees and burnt bark until you remember where you are and what you're looking at and some of that burnt bark flesh is your own.

He wishes those memories would disappear.

Less than a year in the army, and already medically discharged. So much for an escape plan. Has to be a record, shortest army career in Whitlock family history. Shorter even than Uncle Wyatt's, but Wyatt was smart enough to die outright, so it's just a damn tragedy instead of a humiliation. He knows how the game is played.

Fuckin' Whitlock curse comes for all of them eventually.

The skin graft hurts like hell, and the medication is still scrambling him, and even when the doctors have pulled out every last stitch, he still looks like some kind of monster pieced together from leftovers. There are still scars, dozens of scars. He asks when they'll go, but the doctors just brush over his question - plastic surgery is the most solid of answers, but nobody wants to commit to an answer, so he guesses he has it. This is how he looks now.

They fill his pockets with pills and send him on his way with their gratitude for his service as if he has somewhere to be, someone to go to. He's got nearly ten months of army pay just sitting there - minus a chunk that confuses him until he remembers he's been sending money to Ava, a neat row of transactions he's simply labelled 'miss you'.

Should've sent her more.

He stays in Houston, doesn't bother going home. There's nothing there for him - his sisters are gone; Ava's in Austin for college with the girls. Ava, who is somehow juggling three sisters, a college degree, probably a part-time job, and all her own pain.

Maybe he should go to Ava. But the idea of dragging himself all the way to Austin, to sleep on a couch or something, and have his sisters see this ruined version of him makes him want to hide.

The idea of his shaking hands, and the crisscross of scars, and limp being seen by sweet Hettie, dear Flo, sharp Lydia, and tired Ava; knowing they'll hear his uneven pacing, his wild panic, his endless nightmares makes him stay away - he can't even pick up the phone. He failed them so many times, and he can't expect them to put him back together now. Ava's got nothing left for herself, the others are too young; Lydia'd be graduating this year, she doesn't need a fuckin' ghoul of a brother hovering in the background after everything she went through. Better they remember him as he was, as the name on a receipt, that whatever he is now.

His mother is probably still there; working too many hours at the VA hospital and burning toast and being tired. She wrote to him once or twice after he left, and he hated how those letters made him feel. They were all messy apologies and excuses and blame and misery framed in the day-to-day monotony of her life. He felt her hollowness at being left, the mother of five with no children in her home. She should have been helping Lydia pick a prom dress, arranging her graduation party and college tours; driving up to visit Ava at college; sending him inedible cookies; dropping Flo off on her first date, and spoiling baby Hettie even though she's almost in middle school. But she couldn't. Because they'd all walked away.

He didn't write back. He was too angry then, and now he's … nothing. She feels like a ghost to him, like she died the first day Jerry hit him, and she slowly faded away every Tuesday after that.

And Ava's the only name on his paperwork, for next of kin and power of attorney shit; and that's only so she could have his money when he was gone.

His father's still in Sheldon, he has no doubt of that. He hopes Jerry dies in that empty old house, abandoned by everyone he should have loved better, cared for better and surrounded only by the bottles that he let salt the earth and poison his family.

His uncles are still there, as reliable as the rising and setting of the sun, most likely ready and waiting to jeer at Jasper for his wasted attempt as a soldier, for his patchwork of skin and scars, for his limp and his confetti memory; to fail so fantastically after ten lousy months. No diploma, no future, no plan.

Not even old enough for a fuckin' drink.

Still a better shot than Bo, though. Sometimes he wants to ask them, though, to look 'em in the eye and demand to know what they expected from him - the sole Whitlock boy, the heir to a name that meant sweet fuck-all these days - when all they did was punch him when he was down? That letting a kid get beat up, then get insulted and demeaned and mocked and yelled at… that didn't create a good man, that didn't create a happy, successful person. They did everything they damn well could to see him gone, failed, erased and that was before he joined the goddamn army. There was no brotherhood in the Whitlock name. Even if he had gotten out unscathed, he would have run til no one knew him, and he wouldn't have gone home again.

But he didn't, and here he is having bitter arguments with old men who aren't even there.

He sits in his motel room, takes his pills with water from the bathroom, and occasionally remembers to find food. He doesn't sleep well on the hard, musty motel bed; the nightmares come in waves even when his brain is like mush from the medications. A car door slamming, a yell from the street, the smell of cooking meat - it all sends him skittering, panicking, pacing. He can't stop moving, and his bad knee swells up and finally, he gets his hand on some liquor and he ends up slung into the stained bathtub barely able to think. Definitely not able to stand.

He just wants it to stop.

The mostly-empty bottle hits the grimy tiles and smashes, but he thinks of a girl with amber eyes and a magic bag and a watch that she gave him - hurled at him. He remembers sleeping on a cold, bony shoulder in an alley, her voice sweet and warm.

She was so mad with him that last night. He did end up back behind Dewey's again, on more than one Tuesday, but he didn't see her again. And it wasn't long after that when everything went to hell, so he never got to say goodbye. Say sorry for being a dick.

He can't quite remember what they were arguing about that last night. Whiskey and valium have chased that memory away, and his head slumps over as he sleeps. Or loses consciousness. Either way, he doesn't have to exist for a while, and it suits him just fine.

Time passes. He finds a cheaper motel, because there's a corner of his brain that is somehow still functional and practical, and he knows what money he has needs to stretch. Someone from the VA calls his cellphone and he ignores it. He takes his pills - less than usual because they're running out.

His knee hurts.

He breaks a lamp and the mirror after a nightmare and ends up at urgent care getting his knuckles stitched up by some intern who asks him too many questions. Tries to give him pamphlets, and he resists the urge to punch the doctor in the face.

The doctor does write him new prescriptions though. That's helpful. And he gets something to eat at the cafeteria. It starts out as a bad night and ends up being one of those mornings he almost feels human, as long as he doesn't look in the mirror.

That's why he picks up the phone when the VA call again.

That's how he finds himself sitting outside the VA hospital with a paper bag of the shit he left behind. His mother's letters, his dog-tags, and an extremely broken watch.

"Happy freakin' birthday."

He looks at it closely now, more closely than he did when he was given it - even if it was thrown at his head, it was a gift in his mind. The brown leather strap is stained and nearly torn through, and the brass buckle bent. The face is cracked in an almost perfect spiral. The face is mottled cream, with neat gold Roman numerals; several have come loose and rattle along the bottom, along with the minute hand. It no works, and he hopes that the internal gears are still functional.

The watch will need to be repaired professionally, to be taken apart and pieced back together. A new glass face and band, the numerals and hands put back in the rightful place.

He doesn't even remember wearing it, that last day. He knew he had it with him the entire time, through basic training and everything, but he didn't remember wearing it. He'd had some chunky digital thing that told him the weather and GPS and shit that had been responsible for the mutilation of his left wrist.

Carefully it into his jacket, Jasper stands and begins the walk back to the motel.

Nineteen, still.

Sometimes, he thinks about going back to Dewey's, just to see if she ever turns up again, on a Tuesday. For some reason, when he thinks of her - Miss Alice, in her funny clothes, and her lilting voice - he thinks of her exactly how he remembers her, that she is fixed in time and will never change. That he could return to that alley a week, a year, a decade from now, and she will still be there with her bag of tricks and big golden eyes.

He thinks about her a lot. He never knew where she came from, how old she was, why she spent Tuesday nights in an alley with him. He hopes she's safe, comfortable, and happy.

He hopes she still thinks of him.

Time marches on, and he can see his twentieth birthday rushing up to greet him. He's done nothing to change his circumstances - the cheapest hotel room, a fistful of pills on an empty stomach, patchwork sleep haunted by corpses. The PTSD special.

He finds a bar that respects his service more than his age, and they're happy to let him drink himself numb in the corner as long as he doesn't make trouble, and slips out the back if the cops come round. But even when they do, and get a good look at the scars, at his jacket, at the look in his eyes, they usually just nod and move along. No one asks questions, just counts out his crumpled money and then slides his drink along the bar.

Life doesn't feel worth much on those nights.

Stumbling back to the motel, drunk and dull, he never notices the footsteps. He just goes to his room, his home, and passes out on a stained bedcover fully clothed, waiting for the nightmares to kick in.

When the nightmares press in on him, and he's lying on the bed staring at the discoloured popcorn ceiling, all he really wants is to go home again.

Not to Sheldon.

To the ranch.

Before Hettie, before Tuesdays, before everything. Where they buried Socrates under the tree with the treehouse, where he learned to ride and would catch rabbits, and everything was easy. He still got told off by his father for being such a disappointment, but back then, they still had the family property, so his father wasn't so angry.

He's stone-cold sober - aside from the Vicodin and Valium rattling around in his stomach - when he decides to go home again. He even stops in at a grimy diner and shovels in a plate of eggs and some coffee before he buys the bus ticket.

He knows the old place never sold; the bank couldn't shift it. Sold some of the land, but the old farmhouse just sits there, rotting. The Whitlock curse strikes again and again, into the heart of everything.

It's a long trip; the only way out there by bus is to go via San Antonio, and then down towards the old farm on another rural bus that only runs a few times a day. And he didn't think much about how to get from the last bus stop to the old house proper, but some old guy in a truck takes a good hard look at him - his stained jacket, his limp, the scars twisting around his limbs and under his clothes, and offers to take him wherever he's going.

He's stiff and sore and hungry, but he doesn't worry about any of that. The driver's polite, amicable, doesn't ask too many questions but gives him the number of the only cab in town for his return trip. He nods his thanks and begins limping up the old driveway, towards home.

The house is… sad. Not like his memories, of blood-red geraniums in the window boxes, and a pile of sneakers and boots in a jumble by the front door. There aren't any bikes leaning up against the porch railings, either. Hell, the porch has a hole in it, the wooden rotten through. The yard is an overgrown tangle - probably concealing a few snakes.

The treehouse has long since collapsed, the wooden remains jutting out from the overgrown grass like a shipwreck. Socrates' little grave is probably still there, under it all, with the brick he and Lydia painted his name on. He was a good cat.

He's not going to go into the house, and now that he's here, he's not sure why he came at all. It's just a house he once lived in, like Sheldon. But there is something peaceful about being back here, sitting on the - thankfully brick - front steps and staring out at the road. No cars come by, neighbours are too far away to matter. It's just him.

He lets his thoughts float. More than once, he's wished he'd been able to keep his service weapon, finish the job the bomb started. He thought about other ways - swallowing all his pills till there's nothing left in the bottle; buying some razor blades and cutting along his seams; finding a motel with rafters he can loop a belt around. But he doesn't. He hasn't. He doesn't know why - the thought is like a mischievous cat looming over his shoulder. The cat with a too-big smile, from Hettie's books. Sinister yet convincing and trustworthy. But the thought lingers, and right now, he wishes he'd come prepared because … it's quiet here. It's quiet and he associates it with good things, and he's really, really tired.

His VA shrink said that disassociation was a common symptom of PTSD. There were methods of dealing with it, techniques he could use, but he didn't bother remembering them. Sometimes it was nice not to feel things, to be entirely separate from himself for a while.

When he comes back to himself, the afternoon has turned to night, and he's an idiot sitting outside an abandoned farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, in a town with one cab. He swears under his breath and the two brain cells that are still desperately trying to keep him alive blaze into action, as he fumbles for his cellphone.

At least it isn't dead.

He doesn't even notice the sound as he dials, but as the phone rings he looks up in confusion, as a woman walks up the drive. She's small enough for his heart to jump in misguided hope, waiting for that smile, those eyes, and that stupid bag that he placed so much faith in.

Except, her eyes are red, and her hair is long and brown. Her lips stretch too far like that stupid cat, and she takes the phone from him so gently and crushes it into a fine powder. And he wishes he'd stayed drunk and high instead of staying sober and coming back to his childhood home like some kind of fucking book character.

She calls him 'mi amor' and apologises for what comes next.

He tries to back away but stumbles on his bad knee, and when she hurls him back up effortlessly, she dislocates his shoulder and probably breaks his arm, and for a moment his vision swims and he yells, and that is only the very beginning of the pain.

In his few lucid moments over the next seventy-two hours, he wonders when he gets to stop suffering. When he finds the end of the tunnel of pain, from Tuesdays behind Dewey's, to being half-burned alive, to be put back together and drugged senseless to function, to whatever this woman has done to him.

It feels kind of like the bomb did, except like it is taking him slowly. If he could open his eyes, he'd expected himself to be blackened and splitting, like the crust of a volcano.

If he could be sick, he would.

He thinks he screams himself hoarse. He might just think about doing it.

Red eyes watch him the entire time, with the ruby-coloured too-big smile, and if he still believed in god or fate or family curses or anything aside from the slow drip of pain in this veins, he would think she was the devil incarnate.

Time passes. He doesn't know how much, since he woke up in the rotting remains of his family's home with a burn in his throat, and Maria waiting for him. She's quick to reassure him of his new status as a god, quick to find him something to quench the burn (the boy is young but strong and bulky; probably a high school football player. Healthy and full of blood and cries for his momma when Jasper half-rips his throat out.) She is quick to caress his cheek and to kiss him long and deep and to fuck him in the wreckage of the house.

Maria's clan is small - only nine of them counting him. They are suspicious of him, of the way he stares and stays quiet. But Maria is quick to ease any of his own misgivings - newborns are entirely unpredictable, volatile. He is her new pet, her treasure, her mijo.

He loves what he is, truly. He leaves the pill bottles rattling in his pockets in the dirt of the farmhouse floor, and strides confidently after his new mistress. His leg is strong again, and all the scars have melted away into smooth, hard stone. He came to the farm looking for something, and he found it - himself, the way he was always supposed to be. If life had been kinder.

He's found himself a soldier in another war, but war is a lot easier when you aren't weighed down with equipment or fear or stupid fucking rules. When winning a battle means glutting yourself on blood, and losing means instant death, and there's nothing in-between.

They are so fast now, hunting grounds stretch from Monterrey to Corpus Christie to San Antonio.

He refuses to go to Austin but sometimes it's hard to remember why. He nearly kills Lucy when she tries to take the others to Austin, and Maria's lips purse but she says nothing and they go to Laredo instead. They create a few more newborns, but he notices Maria's attention to him never wavers; they are like pets, whilst he is her devoted prince.

(Later, he'll find out it was only six god-damned months he lost. That he turned twenty and Lydia graduated somewhere in an Austin high school, and a bunch of people - mostly social workers and VA employees - were looking for him with the fear of the worst. He'd tell them that whatever 'worst' was, they weren't even close.)

They figure out his gift during one furious early battle that leaves his arms and neck littered with bite marks, and they don't go away. The venom works too fast, the bites are too deep, and he is once again a mess. A monster. His rage ripples around the camp, and everyone huddles in on themselves, and even Maria cowers a little, cooing and trying to settle him.

He makes them afraid, he makes them tremble, he tries to force them into fixing the unfixable.

Maria is so pleased with his gift, he is never punished for his tantrum. And more bite marks layer upon his skin; when he frets over them, with a sneer on his face, she laughs and promises he'll have many, many more before they are done.

Nineteen, always.

Reconnaissance in the back of Houston is required, and Jasper and Maria take a small group with them. Maria is insistent there are others on their lands, and that is a crime of the highest order. They will destroy the newcomers, feed, and return to Monterrey. They each pick a point of Houston and agree to meet in the centre.

He is ordered to the northeast, and he goes without resistance; he knows soldiering is following orders, that Maria is his mistress and general and she who must always be obeyed, and Maria lets his resistance to Austin go unremarked upon.

Most of his human memories are hazy, like they are so very much older than they really are. The streets he stalks are almost familiar, and he keeps his head low - because of the blazing red of his eyes; he has little fear of being recognised.

There's an aged but enticing aroma that he follows, that smells of nice, soft things; not fresh enough to guarantee a confrontation (or execution), but one that is a regular in this part of town.

It's late enough there are few people in the street, in this working-class part of town. Even the dive bar has gone dark, and only the drunks and shift workers are left stumbling around. It's not even hard to snag one of the less aware drunks around the wrist and vanish around into the alley with him.

His blood is nothing memorable, and it's not hard to make the drunk look like he tripped and slashed his neck on a smashed bottle in the alley. He's good at staging these scenes; at making things look like terrible, despicable accidents.

"Oh, Jasper."

The words are soft and murmured, and he can't decide whether they are sad or relieved or something in between. All he knows is that there is a sweet-smelling threat behind him, and he spins around with a snarl.

She's only as tall as a child, with uneven black hair curling around her cheeks. She's one of the prettiest girls he has ever seen, with huge amber-coloured eyes that remind him of porcelain dolls. She's wearing a sky blue sweater a size too big over jeans with stars on the knees, and staring at him with hope and regret.

In the back of his brain, that little bit that is not quite human and not quite animals looks at her hard and breathes in her roses-and-rainwater scent and simply thinks, "Yes. Good."

But the louder part recognises her as the trail he has been following, the one that Maria wants destroyed. A growl rumbles from within him, and the girl just looks sad.

"I'm so, so sorry Jasper," she says, still standing there, not the least be defensive. "Carlisle and Edward forced me to stay away once you left, and then I tried to watch you but I lost track of where you were…" Her eyes are shiny as if she wants to cry. "Do you remember who I am?"

The question hangs in the air between them, his growl fading away as he stares at her.

She steps closer, and he glares at her. The animal brain is getting louder - "Yes-good-yes-good-yes-good." Her emotions are threatening, mostly sad, and she's tiny. Nothing bad could be so dainty and pretty.

She's right in front of him, standing on her toes as she presses her hand to his face. "I'm Alice," she says simply, and his mind folds itself over and over again in an instant to provide him with an answer to this riddle, to this girl that is so clearly something good and known to him.

And he remembers.

"Are you okay?"

"It's a stupid fucking decision you're about to make."

"At least I didn't break it worse."

"Happy freakin' birthday."

"They just looked nice. Happy."

"I've come too far to watch you die in this disgusting place."

"Alice," he says hoarsely, and his memories of her are clear, sharp. He can remember that one strand of hair that always fell into her face; her ice-cold hands roughly patching him up; the constant, lilting companionship of her voice, even when he slept. She is so clear in his mind he wonders how he forgot her in the first place.

Her smile and emotions bloom with joy all at once, and it warms him all the way through. It's the kind of happiness that eluded him during his human life, and one he has not felt since waking up with this gift that feels like everyone's emotions are constantly crawling on him. But this… this is something he wants to wrap himself in like armour.

"I'm so, so sorry," her fingers brush a scar on his neck so gently, he wants to shudder.

"What for?" he asks, wanting to know if he can touch her. She's so pretty and clean and is a good thing, a precious thing.

"I see things. Things that are going to happen," Alice says, as she inspects his arm with a frown. "And when I saw what was going to happen to you in the army, I got mad that I couldn't protect you anymore. And when you came home, I didn't realise she was following you until it was too late and I couldn't work out where you'd ended up. I would have come sooner if I'd known, I swear." She turns his arm over to reveal a bite mark on his wrist and impulsively kisses it.

He flinches; the contact magnifies her emotions - and his - and it skitters pleasantly along his body.

"I don't…" he begins, his voice still gravelly from lack of use. "I don't blame you."

"I do," she replies softly, and then she backs away and that is disappointing enough that he takes a step closer to her. She giggles and smiles at him again, and he will follow her anywhere.

"You have to make a choice now," she says, and he nods hypnotically.

"You can go back to Maria," her voice wavers again, and he doesn't like the coldness that sweeps through her at that statement. "And fight and kill until she's bored with you. She creates war and destruction and monsters, Jasper, and I don't want you to go with her. She will destroy you, and I couldn't bear it if…" She stops, turning her head away and stays silent for a moment.

"Or," her voice is steady again, "you can come with me."

She holds out her hand.

"My brothers and sisters are distracting Maria and her friends, for now, you and I can get away, and go somewhere safe," she continues. "Just you and me together. I can…"

He never knows what she was going to say because his choice is made, his hand taking hers without a second thought, and she stares up at him with wide eyes, her mouth a perfect 'o'.

"Are you sure?" she manages, and he nods. He thinks of pain, human and immortal. He thinks of rage and regret. He thinks of his lowest point as a human, of the permanent bite marks on his arms, and the weight that has only shifted now that he's immortal, not lifted away.

He thinks of being happy and safe and clean and peaceful. He thinks of a girl sitting next to him in an alley, with her throat burning, but her only worry is for his bruises.

The girl who came back for him.

Everything is still muddled, from his human life, but he knows that a lot of people took him apart and remade him in both his lives. She's the only one who tried to heal him.

"Let's go," he says, and she laughs sweetly, and then they are running faster than anyone can see as they disappear into the night.

'Home' is a cabin in the middle of the forest, somewhere towards the northeast, he thinks. No people around, just wild animals for him to glut himself on. There is the constant running of the river beside them, covering their scent against nomads. It is quiet here - a good place to figure out the edges of his gift, to learn resistance and control, to try and heal and reconcile all that happened to him in such a short space of time.

Alice tells him Maria was indescribably desperate after his disappearance; their exit covered by a well-time rainstorm that washed all the scents away. She had torn apart Houston in her fury, and now she was in more trouble than she knew.

Meaning that Maria wouldn't come hunting for him any time soon. And, he supposes, when she does, Alice will know. Alice knows everything.

She knows that he likes to sit on their front steps and just stare out at the forest without being disturbed. That the scent of smoke and fire sends him twitching worse than any vampire she's ever met. That the scars that mark his arms, neck, and face are simply placeholders for the ones he gained as a human, and his disgust over them lingers from the injuries he suffered in war. That he misses his sisters, and they are one of the reasons he is so resolute in his control training. That, if nothing else, he will say goodbye and fake his death to give them closure. Alice promises him that she knows someone who can help them figure all those kinds of details out, but she wants him to see his sisters one last time almost as badly.

He knows that Alice loves him, as truly as anyone has loved before. That feeling never wavers, not through his rages, his depressions, his disassociation. That just watching him read a book on their (broken) couch has joy blooming inside her. He knows that Alice will never pressure him, never ask him for more than he is ready to give - and because of that, he is willing to give her anything she asks. But she hasn't asked him for anything, yet.

Some days are harder than others, especially when Alice talks to him about her family - the one she walked away from for him - and he knows that she wants the both of them to return to the Cullens sometime in the future. And he feels obliged to do it, eventually, since her jumble of siblings were a part of his escape plan - the most dangerous part if it involved aggravating Maria. But she never asks, just talks to him about them.

But mostly, he's okay. Good, even. Animal blood is disappointing, and sometimes he's so agitated he can't sit still and wishes for … a battle, to run, to do something other than sit, and read, and hunt animals, and talk. Alice blames it on his newborn year, and he tries so hard to contain it, but it's hard.

She tries to make it better, and on days that he can stand to be touched, she teaches him all the old-fashioned dances she knows, and he spins her around and sometimes it does make it better.

He's got regrets, a laundry list of them, but Alice says that isn't unusual; it takes very specific circumstances to be changed - especially young - and be satisfied with the final outcome. When he asks her regrets, she shrugs and admits that she doesn't even remember being human. Leaving him unprotected is her biggest regret, and that makes her sad, which he doesn't like the feeling of.

So he puts his arm around her, and she curls against him, and that makes the sadness evaporate, and she beams up at him with golden eyes he could drown in, and one thing he will admit is - that despite the pain and unhappiness that followed him from human to immortal - that he will never, ever regret taking her hand.


Notes

- I know that the ending isn't all sunshine and roses because transforming someone does not make them 'perfect' or emotionally healed; I think the closest we get in canon to someone well-adjusted is Emmett. All the other Cullens can be inferred as having baggage, regrets, dubious mental health. (Vampire Bella is very dull and unsatisfying because of her 'perfection'.)

- Jasper is very, very damaged, and it's easy to fall into addictive behaviours when you're vulnerable. Whether Jasper was abusing his meds is up to your imagination, but I liked that idea that as much as he condemns his father for his alcoholism, it's in his genes to be susceptible to the same thing and he's so depressed at that point he doesn't recognize his own behaviour.

- The romance is quite slim too, but again, Alice loves him and he will love her, but it takes time to heal and starting a relationship with someone who has had such a rapid parade of trauma who is also a newborn who has come from the Southern Wars is just a bad idea, especially when he's so dependent on her. I envisage that they wouldn't return to the Cullens until Jasper had reconciled himself to everything and they were a couple with a healthy, balanced romantic relationship.

- I know that SMeyer says that Maria is 19 but no. I see Maria in her early-mid 20s; pretty much as she appears in the Eclipse movie. Plus having her be older than Jasper both physically and vampirically definitely adds more of a power imbalance - and (in general, not specific to this fic) I think that juxtaposes nicely with him being one of the oldest of the Cullens later on, and contrasts Maria with Carlisle/Esme.

- Yes, I did think for a moment that the doctor who Jasper thinks is an intern who patches up his hand might be Carlisle, but I also like the idea that Carlisle and Esme are tucked up at home somewhere, totally unaware of Alice's escapades and just welcome her home when she reappears. Edward is totally her parole officer in this 'verse, and he fails more than fifty percent of the time.

- I'm toying with the idea of a few outtakes from this 'verse; Maria tracking down her lost soldier and Alice throwing down with her; Jasper contacting his sisters; maybe some drabbles about Alice popping up at the Cullen house every few weeks and trying to get advice without admitting what she's up to. We'll see.