He crossed the ditch back to the car for the third time. The hood was still warm as he leaned against the front bumper, letting out his breath in a hollow rush. He was somewhere near the border of Idaho and Montana, on the shoulder of a nearly vacant highway. He forced his eyes open, though the urge to close them was stronger than it had been in at least sixty years. If he closed his eyes, he would see her face, and leaving the car would make sense again. He refused to justify weakness. If he was to prove himself completely irresolute, he would at least feel ashamed of it.
He should not be here. He should be back in the car, back in Minnesota, on the way to England, France, Russia, even. As far away as he could get, never again to fail and face the pain in her eyes. Never again to hurt her. Alice.
He was barely conscious of his steps as he abandoned the car for a fourth time. This time, as he reached the cover of the trees, he took off running.
No, he hissed, but his feet betrayed him, his shattered will crumbling further with every stride. He couldn't block out the chant of Alice pounding in his ears like a heartbeat. He crossed the Washington state line devoid of any strength to turn back.
He wondered briefly how long he could run without stopping, because there was no logical argument for a vampire to need rest. As long as he stayed out of sight of the road, he could likely cross the entire continent. Then the trees started to look familiar. A glow appeared in the distance, growing steadily into a brightness ahead; he pushed himself faster and faster until he broke out of the trees and froze at the sight of the white house.
Everything was still, the ground now dry and the air clear beneath the clouds, as if the horrible night had never occurred. He was about to step out of the trees when the red BMW came tearing up the drive and skidded to a stop directly in front of the door.
"Emmett!" the perfect shriek pronounced, as a golden figure emerged from the driver's side. A booming laugh sounded from somewhere inside the house and Rosalie seemed to slam the car door and force the front door open in one movement. Jasper imagined how it would go, like always, her screaming and hurling things at Emmett until they both ended up laughing instead. It didn't matter that he couldn't feel the flimsiness of her anger; they always worked out.
He stared across the yard at the closed door. How could he go back to that? He had followed such a pattern of normalcy up until just a few days earlier. But now he was looking at the normalcy continuing without him.
That was only two of the family accounted for, and the sudden thought that Edward might be near sent him scrambling to shield his thoughts. Until he saw her, until he knew, she could not be aware of his presence. She should have seen it anyway, he argued, but maybe his decision wasn't entirely certain. He felt anything but resolute.
He had to see her.
He circled to the rear of the house under the cover of the trees. Looking through the wall of sheer glass, he was very nearly in plain sight as he watched Esme cross the living room. When she reached the stairs, he dashed to the massive tree that rose toward the sky fifty feet from the house, the one he normally saw from the inside the bedroom. It was juvenile, he admitted that, but one of the thick branches had to be level with the second floor.
Climbing was too natural of a skill to require much thought, and he cursed the rush of memories it brought back to him. Worse was peering carefully out of the leaves, fighting the feeling of panic at what he might see, and finding the bedroom empty. His watch calmly ticked out late afternoon, but Alice was not in the house. Even in the absence of his empathy, he swore that he would feel her nearby.
What if she were gone? What if she had gone to Denali? What if Edward, so typical of Edward, was keeping her away to punish him if he realized his mistake? Maybe the bigger mistake was to return at all. Jasper moved from his crouch on the branch and found one behind that he could lean against. He had to know, more than ever, if it was even possible to get his life back.
Hours blurred into one long breath.
Jasper started from his stupor as the front door opened and voices floated outside. Just as quickly, he masked his thoughts: Edward.
"How is she?" Esme's voice.
Bella or Alice?
The door closed and the conversation was lost to a muffled mumble; he strained to decipher the words, but nothing was clear enough to trust. The night passed with an agonizing stillness, the habitual slowing of activity inside seeming to endure for days.
Edward never left the house, leading Jasper to immediately conclude that Alice was at Bella's, though what exactly Edward intended, for it was undoubtedly Edward's doing, he could only guess. His trains of thought intertwined and chased each other in circles as he watched the unchanging room, glimpsing Edward or Esme or Carlisle passing by the open door every so often.
It wasn't until the fourth time he was in the doorway that Edward stopped, something in the room catching his attention. Jasper checked that he was fully hidden in the leaves, but it was the ring on the dresser that Edward had noticed. Edward strode into the room silently and pocketed it, glancing around to see the rumpled blankets on the bed and deftly straightening them.
Jasper felt his insides clench. It was not Edward who was supposed to take care of her.
Edward's head snapped up. He looked around him wildly for the source of the fragment of thought. Jasper corrected frantically, focusing on blankness, hoping Edward would dismiss it as a thought of his own. Suddenly, Esme's voice rang up the stairs and Edward turned from the room as the first hint of dawn crept toward the south side of the house. Simultaneously, Jasper realized that the sun was steadily piercing through the trees.
It was then that she came through the doorway.
Jasper's breath caught in his throat and a searing pain ripped through him at the sight of her. He felt a compelling urge to launch himself through the glass wall, to hide her hand in his and fall to his knees in a plea for forgiveness.
Would she grant him forgiveness.
Would he forgive himself, for what he had done to her and what he would continue to do if he gave in to the feeling now crippling him.
Alice curled onto the bed on one knee, reaching down to pick up the hand mirror that had been knocked to the floor from its perch on the dresser, a tool from an experiment in cosmetics that must have occurred only a week ago, which now seemed a dream instead. She looked down at the face that stared back up at her, the eyes progressively darker than the last time she had glimpsed them, the lips that had declined the hunting trip that she should have agreed to. But the feeling in her body had refused everything but the empty house.
She peered into the mirror, scanning for a visible change and finding none, when the sun reflected fully into the window, covering her body in diamonds and glinting off Jasper's skin into the mirror.
She blinked forcefully, looking up as her concentration was broken, looking straight into Jasper's eyes.
He felt the force of a truck smashing into him as they stared at each other for an immeasurable time. Without breaking eye contact, he inched further along the branch; she found her feet beneath her, found herself inches from the glass. His eyes held a question.
She lifted her hand, the left hand, finger bare, and pressed her fingertips against the glass.
He was scrambling from the branch, down the tree, scraping skin that did not tear along the bark. He was sprinting across the yard, stumbling, forcing the door open. Flying through the place that was his home, up the stairs and to the room that he had left. He stopped dead in the doorway.
She had found the bed beneath her again, frozen facing the door, the breath gone from her lungs for the suspended moment before he appeared in front of her. They locked eyes again, neither moving. She could not close the distance between them. The battle in his head was being drowned out by Alice, Alice, until he was crossing the carpet in the slowest steps he had ever taken.
She rose from the bed as he approached her until they were nearly together. He held her gaze as he lifted a hand with shaking fingers to her cheek.
Her eyes closed for an instant as she felt the hollowness collapse inside her. He raised his other hand to the tips of her hair, entwining his fingers, bending his head at the same time that her hands slid up his chest. Her fingertips traced his face as he did the same, over and over, relearning the other until his lips found her lips and his fingers found the ring in his pocket and somehow they both that there was no other choice but this.
Her eyes found his and they held an answer.