I do not own the Twilight series. No copyright infringement is intended.

Massive A/N word vomit at the end, I'm sure.

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light."

Genesis 1:1

Jasper Hale

I rolled the thin paper between my fingers absentmindedly until the tobacco started to fall from either end of the unfinished cigarette. "Shit," I mumbled, brushing the loose tobacco from my lap before adding more to the paper and starting again. When I had it rolled up nice and tight, I licked along the edge of the paper and sealed it up. I leaned to the side and spit on the burning concrete and then put the cig in my mouth and looked up to find Peter staring at me, his mouth so full of burrito he could barely close it to chew.

"You know I'm right," he said, once he'd swallowed enough to actually be able to move his mouth.

I slid back a bit on the hood and put my foot up on the bumper. "Yes, Peter, you're right. Is this the part where I admit that you're always right? Where I take all of your sage advice you've offered over the past year and apply it all, and suddenly I become a stand up guy?"

"You are a good guy. It's just that whenever your good guy instincts kick in, you squash them, and do the exact opposite. I think you need to actually believe you're a good guy, Jasper, and then maybe you'll stop acting like such a selfish fuck. Shit, how many times have we had this conversation?" He took a sip of his giant soda and moved to deposit it next to me on the hood.

"Get your fucking Big Gulp away from my girl."

He rolled his eyes and quickly retracted his hand, stooping to put the drink on the ground next to him.

"I had to tell her. I mean, isn't it at least better that she knows she wasn't just some...you know...?"

"High school chick you fucked and bailed on?"

"Yes, fine. I mean, in the end I suppose she was, but she wasn't like the others. I didn't want her to think that forever..."

"Well, isn't she lucky that she got to be the exception?"

"Fuck, Peter, do I have to explain myself to you, too? You've been friends with me all this time, and now all of a sudden you're like a fucking advocate for every girl I've ever fucked?"

"Well...not every girl. Maria can still suck it." He laughed at his own weak-ass joke and then continued. "I just feel like you're finally getting it or something, it's just that you're not all the way there. There were a lot more girls than Bella. Granted, a few of them probably didn't give a fuck about you either, but I bet more than a few out there are still feeling like they got shafted...twice, as it were." He smirked, and took another giant bite of his sloppy burrito.

"All right, all right. I fucking do feel bad, okay? I mean, I never knew what it was like, I guess...but what the fuck do you want from me? You want me to call them all and apologize individually? Shit happens, Peter. I never forced anyone into anything, and I never really made many promises either...some omissions, yes, but still...I can't take that shit back now."

"Well, maybe not forced but...coerced? Er, no, like...influenced?" He wiped his mouth on a crumpled napkin and picked his drink back up to take another sip.

"Would we be having this discussion right now if you didn't know all this shit about the Rev?" I was pissed as hell that our family's—or more specifically my father's—dirty laundry had been hung out in public, but right now it was kind of a relief to be able to reference it without having to explain it, or at least to have Peter know what was going on without me having to tell him.

The problem was, he probably knew less than half of the story, and because I was a fucking loser who couldn't face my family, I knew little more than he did. But I knew enough about myself to know that I was nothing like that sick fuck.

"Fuck, Jasper, I know you're not like him. Not in that sense, anyway. Doesn't mean you didn't take advantage. Just fucking admit it. I once asked you about getting serious with Bella and you said something like 'I don't date high school girls.'" He raised an eyebrow as if he just blew my fucking mind with some amazing point.

"Yeah, well, I guess at the time I didn't feel like things were going to get serious..."

"No shit, but it spoke volumes about why you went for high school girls. They weren't a threat to you because you knew there was no long-term option. They're cute and easily influenced and looking to rebel and it was easy for you to write them off after, because you're so very much more mature than an eighteen-year-old. It was clearly a safe bet. Then look at the other extreme...Maria, your female counterpart. If you two ever tried to have an emotional relationship, the world would implode. Safe, again."

"I think you're secretly in love with her." I pushed my sunglasses up my forehead and held my arms out, surveying them to see if I was starting to burn. When I didn't find any evidence of a burn, I pushed my glasses back down and looked up just in time to catch Peter's eyeroll.

"Maria? Hah. Well, I think if I dated her, I'd have her baking pies and popping out babies in a year. Just like little, unassuming Bella has you questioning your whole outlook, even if you won't admit it."

"What is this like a salt-in-wound session? What the fuck is your point, Pete?" On some level I could recognize Pete's bitching and lecturing as concern, but he had such a goddamn blunt way of putting things that, in my very fragile and hungover state, I was finding pretty damn abrasive.

"Maybe this whole thing with Bella is like poetic justice or something." The edge in his voice softened a bit, but it didn't take the sting out of the words.

"Well, fuck, that makes me feel so much better."

"I'm not trying to make you feel better," he said, stating the obvious. "I'm just trying to make sense of it or whatever, to get you to a point where you can move on. I don't think it was necessarily wrong of you to tell her how you felt. I mean, I understand how it would have come out, and I think it's good that you left after, that you didn't push it or whatever...but it's like... that's it now, you know? It's not the end, Jasper. You met a girl that made you realize that it might be nice to actually keep a chick around the next morning. You met a girl that fell for you and not all your sleazy charming bullshit and you realized how cool that feels and..." He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment as he took another bite.

I flicked my cig onto the asphalt and waited patiently, assuming there was more. When he finished chewing, he kept going. "And then you fucked it up, and she moved on, and you learned your lesson and now you're here."

"Okay, well, thank you for the fucking summary of the last couple months. Again, you've been immensely helpful in telling me shit I already know in a ridiculously condescending fashion." My fingers twitched against the pouch of loose tobacco, itching to roll another cigarette, already.

"The point, Jasper, is that it's over now. There will be other girls, and hopefully you'll be less of a dick to them and you'll find something like what you had going on with Bella. That's it. So you can fucking scowl and smoke and drink and brood for days if you want but..." He trailed off again and then pointed the half eaten burrito at me. "Wait a minute..."

The sun was beating down on us and it was nine hundred fucking thousand degrees as I waited patiently for Peter to arrive at wherever the hell he was going.

"Why the fuck are we even talking about this? You need to go home. All this shit is going on with your sister, and we're still talking about Bella. You need to go home and...help her through this shit."

"Well goddamn, Peter, you were the one that started going on about it. I know I need to go home...I just...fuck, I'm so fucking miserable, I was kind of hoping I'd figure some shit out first and not drag this back home with me. I thank you for making everything infinitely worse. It'd be better for Rose and my mom if I just stayed away, now."

I was expecting Peter to go on and fucking on with the flagellation, but instead he just crumpled the foil from the burrito in his hand and sat down on the hood of the car next to me.

"Dude, I know this shit must be really, really weird for you, but this is kind of your chance. You couldn't man up in time for Bella and that sucks, but it's the perfect time for you to make it up to Rosalie. She's probably...fuck, I can't even imagine...but she needs you. There are really only two men in her life that she has to look up to, and one of them just fucking...he's the worst fucking example of a man. And then there's you, and so far you haven't really set the best example, either—but Rose loves you and you can totally turn it around, Jasper. You can put aside all your shit, you can put your own misery on the backburner, and just be there for her. It's the perfect chance to do something selfless and to do right by a girl—your sister, at that—who's been so completely wronged."

For some reason, even though I technically knew all of that, it was like suddenly the pennies dropped.

"It's not about you, man. I know your dad fucked you up, too...but right now, it's just not about you. Maybe while you're focusing on your family, you'll work your own childhood shit out, too, you know?"

I nodded and gave in, flipping open the bag to roll another cigarette.

"All that shit you said about Bella, back when you had your little commitment freak out, about wanting her to be happy and to have a boyfriend who would treat her right and do all that typical boyfriend shit for her and whatnot...don't you want that for Rosalie, too?"

I really fucking did. With all this shit just out in the open now, it was actually shocking to realize just how much it bothered me to think of her ending up with a guy anything like me.

"Yeah, but, Pete, you don't get it...my family...we've all been this way for years, you know? It's hard to just switch gears and suddenly be all supportive, loving brother and shit. I mean it's just awkward as hell." When I finished rolling, I put the cig to my lips and pulled the Zippo from my pocket. I lit it, took a long drag and then turned to look at him.

"Well, then you've just got to feel awkward as hell for a while," he responded, squinting, staring straight ahead at the taco stand.

"Yeah. I guess."

We sat in silence for a while as I finished smoking, and when I tossed the butt in the direction of the previous...several...Peter spoke again. "I guess I was a little harsh with the Bella stuff. Tough love and all that, right? I know it sucks, though..."

I sighed and nodded, still watching the people lined up in front of the stand. "She was my baby girl, dude. Being an asshole blows sometimes." I hopped up from the car without looking at him and he got up a second later, stooping to pick up his drink. I pulled my keys from my pocket and tossed them in the air. When I caught them again, I jerked my head toward the car and Pete nodded. "Anyway...you are right about this shit. I'm not like...retarded, you know. I appreciate the...whatever and stuff."

He chuckled and opened his arms. "You need to hug it out, Jasper?" He approached me with a snarky grin and I put my hand up, palm facing him.

"You get the fuck away from me, pal."

"Your loss. There's nothing a little snuggle can't fix." His chuckle turned into a full laugh as he turned and headed to the passenger side. I tilted my head toward his drink and then pointed at the trashcan a few parking spots over. He rolled his eyes and went to throw it out.

When we got to his place, I pulled into the parking lot to let him out. I suddenly recalled the beer and overflowing ashtray mess I'd left there from the night before—post visit with Bella—and for a moment I felt inclined to offer to go up and help clean. But then I figured I should just take baby steps with this whole not-being-a-prick thing.

Truthfully, after our talk I was feeling increasingly guiltier about having bailed on Rosalie and my mom, and being gone for two days, and suddenly I was pretty anxious to get home and talk to them. Knowing that my father wasn't going to be there made it a hell of a lot easier to swallow that idea.

"All right, I'll see you later, man. Good luck with everything." Peter climbed out of the car and then ducked his head back inside. "Just do what comes naturally. Don't think about shit too much."

"Jesus Christ, Oprah, you really can't help yourself can you?" I still couldn't bring myself to verbally acknowledge it, but I think Peter understood that I appreciated being able to talk about this shit with him. As close as I was to James and Felix, I never really talked to them much about serious shit like this, and it was probably because they couldn't ever really put things into perspective for me quite like Peter did.

As if confirming my thoughts, he smiled and shut the door, and then gave me the finger as I pulled out of the lot.

. . .

Around six in the evening, we exited the I-10 and headed into downtown San Antonio. Rosalie insisted that we get a hotel on the Riverwalk, rather than staying with Uncle Jimmy or my friends. She'd lost touch with all except a few people here, but she wasn't interested in staying with her old friends either. I was fine with staying in a hotel, and when she complained that she felt gross from the trip, I offered to drop her off there before I headed to Red's to treat Pearl to some much-needed TLC after the long drive.

After a tough two months of therapy, interviews with prosecutors, a thankfully quick investigation by Child Protective Services, the Rev's arraignment, a few fights and many long, sometimes frustrating talks that resulted in very little actual progress, things had finally started to ease up a bit. Rose's therapist was starting to break through, my mom was starting to not be such a delusional bitch, and the fucking news people had finally mostly moved on to greener pastures. My father was released on bail and ordered to remain in the state, but to stay away from the family. I'd heard he was living in a hotel in Tempe while waiting for his trial, and I sometimes liked to imagine how fucking miserable his life probably was.

When the dust settled a bit and Rosalie seemed to be doing better, I suggested we take a road trip to San Antonio to get away. As much as Rosalie understood how fucked up things were between her and my father, the extent of his brainwashing had slowly become clearer, and it was obvious that it was hard for her, knowing that he was still out there, somewhere. He still had a weird pull on her and it seemed like she was wavering between being scared he'd come back and feeling guilty for everything that had happened. We were all pretty relentless in trying to get her to see the light, but I thought maybe getting out of town might help her forget—as much as she possibly could—about the whole mess for a little while, and hopefully help strengthen her resolve a bit in the process.

I'd more or less put all my focus into being around the house more and keeping the dickhead level to a minimum, and on top of making things better with Rosalie and my mom, it proved to be a decent distraction from the whole Bella thing. After two months of being about as decent a guy as I was capable, I was pretty stoked on the idea of going home.

"Okay, I'm gonna drop you at the front. It's under my name." I reached over and popped the glove compartment to get the reservation printout.

"It's a suite, right? I don't want to have to deal with you wandering around hungover and in your underwear in the morning." Rose preemptively rolled her eyes and glanced out at the skyline. Her knee was bouncing up and down and I wondered whether it was from nervousness or excitement.

"Yeah, yeah, it's a suite, relax. I'm just gonna stop by Red's. Char's keeping it open for me so Pearl can have a quick tune-up, then I'll be back."

"Okay. I guess maybe I'll give Bree a call and see if she wants to go shopping sometime." Bree was Rosalie's best friend before we moved, and the only person she still regularly kept in touch with.

When we pulled up to the hotel, I popped the trunk, grabbed Rosalie's forty-seven bags and let her out of the car. "See you in a bit. You should probably give Mom a call."

She nodded and dragged her bags toward the double doors, and I gave her a quick salute before climbing back in the car.

. . .

"Well how-dee-doo," Charlotte called as she walked out of the garage. "My God, you've grown up."

"Man, Chaz, you can still fill out a pair of coveralls," I responded, pretending to leer. Charlotte was pretty damn cute, and effortlessly so, but I'd never really tried anything with her. I wasn't sure if that was because I'd known her and her family for so damn long—and that her dad was nine feet tall and eight hundred pounds—or because it made me nervous that she knew way more about cars than I ever would

She worked for her father, Big Red, at the shop. She was possibly the best mechanic there and I'd known her since I was a teenager. Uncle Jimmy was big into classic cars and seeing them at this shop was what made me want one for myself.

She smacked my chest with a shammy and then pulled me into a hug. "Jasper Hale, it's damn good to see you. How old are you now? Eighteen?"

She laughed but it melted into a frown when I asked, "Well, let's see, how old are you again? Thirty-seven?"

"You might wanna shave about eight years off, you fuck." She pulled her long dark brown hair up into a ponytail and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. She smiled up at me and then stepped to the side. "And there she is. You're going to let me get my hands on her?"

"Absolutely, I've had a hard time finding a place I trust in Phoenix. I made a few appointments, but when we'd get to the garage, Pearl would get nervous, so I'd have to take her home."

Charlotte actually snorted. "Jasper, if you could only treat women like you treat that car." I smiled, but something, somewhere, ached a little bit, and I kind of wanted to tell her about Bella, for some reason. "Are you telling me she hasn't been serviced since you moved?"

"I've mostly been working on her myself. And now we're here so I want the full royal treatment." I dangled the keys in front of her face and she snatched them away.

"Well, you can go on inside if you want. Dad said he wants to see you before you get arrested." She winked, but her face grew serious quickly and I suddenly wondered what mine looked like.

"Yeah, I don't know if it's gonna be like the old days, this trip. I brought Rosalie." I didn't elaborate, and apparently, I didn't need to.

"How's she doing, Jasper?"

Once again, I didn't know if I was relieved that there was nothing to explain, or annoyed that everyone fucking knew. "I don't know. Better than earlier in the summer. We're just...trying to keep our minds off shit right now. I thought maybe it'd be good for Rose to just get away or something."

"I think that sounds like a good idea, and even better if it helps you stay out of trouble." She cracked another small smile and then she reached out and grabbed my forearm. "How are you doing, Jasper?"

I appreciated her concern, regardless of how uncomfortable it made me, but I couldn't help but laugh a little when she asked the question.

"What?" she asked, looking concerned.

"Nothing, you just...remind me of someone I know, that's all."

She quirked an eyebrow and waited for me to answer her question.

"I'm...fine, I guess. I mean, in some weird way it's kind of good, not having him around. I feel like shit for Rosalie and my mom, but...I don't know. Part of me just feels relieved." She nodded and watched me for a moment.

"Well, I'm glad you're okay. Rosalie will be fine too, you'll see." I didn't really know how to respond, and luckily she didn't give me a chance to. "Okay, get inside and let me get to work, big boy."

. . .

As soon as I stepped into the bar, I spotted Brady at a table against the wall. When we made eye-contact, he grinned widely, and was up and out of his seat a second later.

"I'll be god-damned. Jasper Hale, the king of the wild frontier..."

"It's been a while, man. How the hell are you?" As soon as I got to the table, he clapped me on the back and shoved a beer into my chest.

"Fucking living the dream, Hale. I'm a sales manager for my dad now. It's bullshit but I make decent money and no one fucks with me, so it could be a hell of a lot worse, I guess."

"More than I can say for myself. There is a possibility that I'll finish college this year though, so that's something."

Brady laughed and pushed his hair out of his face. "Well, you're not the only one. I think Paul is still behind you, but he hasn't been arrested since that week before you left, so I think maybe we've all grown up a bit. He and Sam are on their way, by the way. He called me about ten minutes ago." Brady's eyes shifted to the door, and I turned to follow his gaze, expecting to see them walking through the door.

Instead, three chicks were walking in—a tall, fucking gorgeous one with long, black hair leading the group. She smiled and waved at Brady and then they continued around to the other side of the bar. I turned back to him and he shook his head.

"Who the hell was that?" I asked.

"Leah Clearwater, the daughter of one of my dad's biggest clients, Harry Clearwater. If I lay a hand on her, my dad'll lose a several million dollar account." He glanced in the direction the girls went and then back at me. "You're safe, though. I'd hate you a little bit for it, but you're safe..."

I felt almost annoyed at the weird hesitation that rose up in me at his statement, but I just laughed it off. "I'm just here for the beer, man." At that, I knocked back half the glass in my hand and moved to sit down at the table.

Several hours and countless pitchers later, Leah Clearwater was sitting in my lap and Brady and Paul were singing a sloppy rendition of "Honky Tonk Heroes" on the small karaoke stage at the back of the bar. We hadn't ever made it through a night of drinking without someone doing that song, and I wondered why I thought tonight would be any different.

As Leah was stuffing a lemon into my mouth in preparation for yet another shot of tequila, my phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out and glanced at the text from Rosalie.

I'm going to bed soon. Will you be back late?

It was already one-thirty, and when—after her shot was downed—Leah pushed the lemon from my mouth and replaced it with her tongue, I knew that there was a distinct possibility that I wouldn't be back at all tonight.

I tightened my arm around her waist and let her deepen the kiss, but I couldn't push the text from my mind. Even in my drunken haze, I still saw the invisible words and hidden meaning in Rosalie's message.

As much as it felt good to be home, and as much as it felt right, and natural being here with my old friends, things had changed, and I couldn't deny it anymore. No matter how accurately I managed to replicate "the good old days," too much had happened and I just had to fucking face that even if nothing around me had changed, I had.

I wrapped my hand gently under Leah's jaw and pulled her face from mine. She furrowed her brow and leaned forward again but I moved my head back and held hers.

"I don't know how I can manage to say this to a girl who looks like you and tastes like tequila...but I've got to go, honey."

She tossed her glossy black hair over her shoulder and put her hand on mine. "Really?" She looked confused and I understood why. I could imagine guys didn't say shit like that to her often.

"Yeah, really, I do. I'm sorry, I've got somewhere to be."

She frowned a little and then sighed and climbed off my lap. She stumbled a bit when she got to her feet and I grabbed her arm to stabilize her. "Okay...well, it was nice meeting you, Jasper Hale." She giggled and winked when she said my name, and I wondered how much she knew about me before she even walked into the bar tonight.

"You, too. Maybe I'll see around before I leave." Then, just for the hell of it, I grabbed her waist and pulled her in for another kiss.

"Mmm," she said when I pulled away. "I hope so."

But I knew I probably wouldn't see her again. Rosalie's text had pulled me out of the nostalgic revelry and reminded me why I was really here.

I said goodbye to Sam and then made my way to the stage to do the same to Brady and Paul.

"You're leaving? Now? But the night's just getting started, and, if I'm not mistaken, you were just getting hot and heavy with the object of my undying affection, you son of a bitch." Brady's wide smile betrayed his words.

"Yeah, well...Rosalie's back at the hotel. I gotta go, man."

He nodded, and didn't bother to argue. "All right, man, well, how long are you here for?"

"A couple days. We gotta go see some family and shit, but we'll have another beer or something before I go."

Brady nodded and then squinted at me with one eye closed. I almost wanted to tell him that maybe he should quit while he was...wasted...and go home, too. "Hey, man, when are you coming back anyway? I mean, the Rev can't really stop you now, can he?"

If someone had told me a few months ago how things were going play out, I would have said that by now I'd have already been back, but now that it's all real, coming back here just seemed less likely than ever. My mom and Rosalie had discussed the possibility, but considering everyone here knew what happened, too, it just seemed like returning wouldn't do her a whole hell of a lot of good. Knowing how she felt about me being here while they were in Phoenix before, I knew I'd never be able to do it again without feeling like shit all the time.

But I was fairly certain that Brady was in no state to really process all of that, so instead I just said, "I don't know man...we'll see. I'm just gonna try like hell to finish school first, and then worry about the rest later."

He nodded and put an elbow on the speaker. He opened his mouth to speak but then his gaze shifted over my shoulder. "Oh fuck, body shots. You in?" I looked back to see one of Leah's friends, Emily, lying across the top of the bar, Sam leaning over her.

"No, go ahead. I'm good. I'll catch you later, Brady."

He nodded and squeezed my shoulder once before stumbling past me to the bar.

I was walking along the Riverwalk, headed back to the hotel, when I heard a familiar voice coming from somewhere to my right.

"You've got to be shittin' me."

I turned and immediately identified it. Officer Morgan. The last time I'd seen him was a week before I left for Phoenix, when he was arresting me at eight o'clock in the morning on the front lawn of the Alamo.

"Officer Morgan..." I said, squinting at him. I barely recognized him out of uniform.

"As surprising as it is to say, you're the last person I expected to see wanderin' around here at nearly two a.m. You've still got your shirt on, too."

"I was just heading back to my hotel," I said, taking his hand when he extended it. "I'm feeling pretty confident that you won't be arresting me tonight, but it's still another several hundred yards to the hotel so..."

He threw his head back and laughed gruffly. "That's a shame. It'd be kind of nice, you know, for old time's sake. How the hell are you, kid?"

I just nodded at first. I assumed he knew, just as everyone else did, and I was again finding myself unsure of how to answer a simple fucking question. "I'm all right. It's good to be back. Even better knowing I'll be sleeping in a bed and not a holding cell."

He laughed again and something about the way he was treating me confirmed that he did, in fact, know what had happened with the Rev. He was partially the reason I got shipped out to Phoenix in the first place, after he called the Rev and told him that if he had to arrest me once more, he was going to throw the book at me for real.

"Well, it's none of my concern either way, kid. I retired a few months ago."

"Great, so I guess maybe I should go back to the bar?"

He laughed hard again, like I was a regular fucking comedian. "Suit yourself, son, but you might actually enjoy yourself a bit more if you stay out of County."

I smirked and nodded. "Yeah, you're probably right. Good seeing you, Officer Morgan."

He nodded but his expression transformed into that serious one that everyone makes when they're about to indirectly reference my father, the disgraced public figure. "You tell Sara-Jane that Vera and I say hello, okay?"

"Yeah, I will."

We parted ways with a wave and it felt strangely good to see him, and walk away, not in handcuffs. If that wasn't sign of some kind of maturity right there, I didn't know what was.

. . .

It was about nine hundred degrees at only one-thirty in the afternoon, when—after a pretty crazy party the night before—I stumbled out of the dorms at ASU and into some kind of street fair. I pulled my shades out of the collar of my t-shirt and put them on so that I could better survey my surroundings without burning my corneas off.

It was some kind of kick-off street party for the start of the new school year, and it reminded me that pretty soon I'd have to go back to class, and if I actually wanted to finish this year, I'd have to actually attend class. I groaned aloud and made my way through the crowd, pulling out my phone to send James a text message. He'd been at the party but I'd lost track of him when I passed out on someone's couch, and I didn't see him when I left a few minutes ago.

He quickly responded that he was here with Alice and her friends. It occurred to me that "her friends" likely included Bella. I tried not to think about it too much, and before I could respond, he sent me another saying he'd meet me, and giving me a general location.

I got to a place that seemed like the one James was referring to and I scanned the crowd. I'd been standing there for no more than a minute when the most terrifying sound known to man came from somewhere behind me.

"Eyyyyy! Zhaspair!"

It couldn't fucking possibly be...

"Zhaspair, over 'ere! Eet's moi! Laurent!"

I didn't turn, praying that he'd assume I couldn't hear and not bother to make his way over, but of course, it was fucking Laurent, so three seconds later he smacked me on the back and then jumped in front of me.

"'Ow are you, mon frere? Another year...we have to make a party soon, mon homme!"

The sound of his voice sent some kind of shooting pain up my spinal cord and into my brain, but somehow I managed half a smile. "Hey, Laurent. I'm good, I'm good. Yeah, we'll definitely make a party soon. Are you here? Like...for good?" I tried not to shudder at my last question.

"Yeah, man! We're goeeng to party hard this year, bien sûr!"

I quickly looked around for James again and when I didn't see him, I decided I didn't give a fuck. I just needed to get away from this overzealous French bastard a.s.a.p.

"Listen, it was good to see you, but, uh, I've gotta meet someone so I've got to go. I'll catch you later."

He pushed my shoulder and practically shoved me back. "You too, mon homme! I'm goeeng to see you soon, eh?"

I kind of nodded and waved him off and just kept moving. I was several streets down before I stopped, and I figured I could just hang out for a few minutes and then circle back to check for James again, when the coast was clear of fucking Napoleon.

I leaned against the wall of a building, next to a street musician playing some kind of blues. I stood there for a few, listening to the music and waiting 'til it was safe to go back, when I spotted a crazy-tall girl with a head of short, black hair. I recognized the face and quickly realized she wasn't actually tall—she was on James' back, her legs wrapped around his waist. She was pointing at something in the distance, and then a few paces behind them was Bella, Edward, Tits, Glasses, and a few other kids that looked vaguely familiar.

Something tightened in my chest when I caught sight of her, but it wasn't quite the same as what I'd felt every other time. More than anything, I think I was just happy to see her.

"Any requests?" the musician asked, turning to me. I looked around and though there were a few people lingering, I was the closest one to him, and seemed to be his only audience.

I shook my head at first but then I saw Bella stop in front of some kind of booth. She pulled her hair off her neck and twisted it at the top of her head as she looked at whatever was laid out on the table.

"Yeah," I said, only half turning to the guy. "Play some Van Morrison."

"Nice. Anything in particular?"

I shrugged, wanting to see what he'd choose.

I smiled when he started playing and after the universally recognizable beginning notes, he began to sing, and his voice was gravelly and strong and just completely fucking satisfying.

Hey, where did we go? Days when the rains came....

I turned my attention back to the direction of Bella, just in time to see Edward slip his hands around her waist. She turned in his arms, smiling, and her expression was like I'd never really seen it before, or at least not in a long time. The last few times I saw her, she was crying, upset, or her expression was tight—worry and stress lining a face far too young for that shit. Now it was bright, relaxed, and just fucking blissful.

I braced myself for the rush of miserable feelings—the feelings of jealousy and regret and just fucking...shit—that usually accompanied the sight of her with him. I kept waiting but, for whatever reason, they didn't come. Perhaps it was just because of the smile on her face; there was no way I could begrudge her that fucking beautiful, beaming grin.

I could feel that my time to stare at her unnoticed was running low, but I couldn't tear my eyes away. She brought her hands to Edward's face and then quickly they fell away and she froze. She looked around and I had a feeling she could hear the music. A few seconds later and her eyes landed on the musician, and then moved quickly to his left.

When she saw me, her eyes widened at first, but I just tipped my head and smiled. Edward had turned to talk to his friend Eli, and now only his hand lingered on her hip. Her smile morphed into a shy smirk and she shook her head, and when her eyes snapped to the musician and quickly back to me, I shrugged.

Bella pulled Edward's hand from her hip and squeezed it. She said something to him and jerked her head to the side. He nodded and let her hand go. Without looking at me, she started walking. My eyes followed her until she stopped in front of a Sno-Cone stand. I pushed off the wall and headed toward her. The guy's voice started to get lost among the voices of the crowd I'd just stepped into, but as I moved toward where Bella was standing, the last line I heard him sing lingered in my mind.

So hard to find my way, now that I'm on my own. Saw you just the other day. My, how you have grown....

I didn't want to make shit awkward for her, especially with Edward here, but there was something that had been on my mind since our last conversation, and there was a piece of closure that I'd denied her that I thought she deserved.

I pulled my wallet out of my back pocket and when I got to the booth, as the guy behind it handed Bella a Sno-Cone, I dropped a couple bucks on the counter.

"Jasper, you don't have to-"

"Obviously not. It'd be pretty stupid of me if I thought I had buy you a Sno-Cone, Bella. Relax, it's a couple dollars."

She smiled and looked down at the cone. "Thanks."

When she looked back up, some of that easy joy in her expression from before had faded. I decided to make this quick, even though part of me was tempted to find ways to keep her here forever.

Before I could speak, she nodded toward the musician. "Was that you?"

I smirked. "In my defense, I only suggested Van Morrison, not the song."

She nodded and shook her head, a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth, before taking a bite from the cone.

"I didn't know you were going to be here. I didn't know I was going to be here, actually...but..." She was staring at me with big, expectant, probably worried eyes and it suddenly felt about a thousand degrees hotter out. "Since you are here, there's something I've been thinking about. The thing I said the last time I saw you...about not being able to be your friend? That was fucked up, Bella." She started to shake her head but I kept going. "No, it was. It was typical fucking...me. I'm not saying it wouldn't be a challenge or, whatever, but I can be your friend, if you need it. I mean, I want to be your friend."

"Jasper, I wouldn't expect you to-"

"I don't mean like fucking pool parties and mall trips kind-of-friend, Bella. I just mean if you ever need someone, or whatever...I just didn't mean to cut you off like that..."

And just like that, the smile was back, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel good to be the cause of it.

"Thanks, Jasper. I really appreciate it."

"Yeah..." I trailed off for a moment. "You look really happy, Bella."

She tried to cull the smile that was trying to grow wider. She nodded minutely. "I am, Jasper."

"Good. You really fucking deserve it."

I glanced behind her to see Edward's eyes on both of us. His face was hard, but he didn't exactly look angry. I knew he was probably nervous as hell, even though the lucky bastard had no reason to be.

"Are you happy, Jasper? I mean, are you okay?"

"Yeah," I said, smiling. "I'm okay. I'm happy." What was weirder was that it didn't feel like a total lie.

"Good, you fucking deserve it, too." She laughed, and watching her laugh made me smile. After a moment, her face grew serious again. "Edward says Rosalie's doing well, all things considered."

"Rosalie's all right. She's a trooper. I think she kind of misses that other Cullen, though."

"Yeah, well, I think the feeling is mutual. It'll be Thanksgiving before we know it. Will you...be here, do you think?" She sounded nervous as she asked the question.

"Yeah, Rosalie wants us to stay, so I'm staying."

"That's great, Jasper, that's just...really great that you would do that for Rosalie."

I nodded. I could have stood there all day and talked to her about what-the-fuck-ever, but I knew that in the end, it would only make things harder. Probably for the both of us. I meant what I said about being her friend, but I figured baby steps were in order. "Your Sno-Cone is melting and I think your boyfriend is starting to get a little nervous. You should get back to your friends."

She glanced quickly back at the group, and then turned back to me. "Okay, well...thank you. For the Sno-Cone, and the song and...thanks for saying you want to be my friend. I know that's a lot for you, and it really means a lot to me." She was smiling and her eyes were bright, but when two tears escaped the lids, she looked up at the sky and sighed.

I couldn't stop myself from reaching forward to brush them away. "Hey, what'd I say about the crying?"

"No, it's...sorry, it's good this time. I'm happy, but I just..."

The emotion in her voice did weird things to my heart. "Yeah, I know...but...get yourself together, girl, before Edward thinks I made you cry again."

She laughed and took a step back. "All right. Take care, Jasper."

"You, too," I said, and then with a wink, I added, "Be good."

She smiled and nodded and took another couple steps back before turning around. She walked slowly away at first but as she got closer to her friends, to Edward, she sped up and was nearly skipping by the time she'd made it to his outstretched arms. I turned away before she stepped into them.

I thought it would be harder to watch her go, this time feeling more final than any of the others before, but instead, I smiled to myself as I walked down the crowded street, away from her. Bella was happy, and, for now—somewhat surprisingly—that was good enough for me.

. . . The End . . .

I will try not to make this an Oscar acceptance speech, but it's the end and a lot of people helped me get here, so humor me, okay?

My biggest and most heartfelt thanks go to Legna989 for all her help with this story. From fixing my grammar and typos to giving me legal advice, Arizona help, moral support and friendship. I really can't properly articulate my thanks for all you've done so just...you are the best (insert a thousand hearts)!

RedVelvetHeaven was possibly more invested in these characters than I was, and pre-read much of this just to reassure me that they stayed true to themselves as the story went along. We spent a lot of time talking about this story and I could never ask for someone to care as much about it as she did. Thank you for caring so much about my bbs, bb.

ElleCC stayed with this story even though it broke her heart continually, and also pre-read a lot and even pretended to be excited about the Edward chapters! Thanks for forcing me to write this, even when you knew it would bum you hardcore...if that's not selflessness, I don't know what is. Oh, and thanks for gaying my Peter and Jasper so well that people forget it DIDN'T ACTUALLY HAPPEN ;). ILY.

I can't list anyone else because I could REALLY go on forever and I'd feel terrible if I left anyone out (as well as really self-indulgent). So just thank you to all the people who read this and reviewed. I am so sorry I was so bad at replying but I obsessed over EVERY review, I promise. Come find me on twitter or the forums if you want to talk :)

Oh, and I would be remiss not to thank Tor and the Gazebo and Caren/Kassiah/Shannon and the Fictionators for the recs and support and general awesomeness. And even bigger thanks to A Different Forest, the most awesome Twi fansite out there, for making me a VIP author and just being an awesome place to hang out and talk about Twilight, Fic, and everything beyond. Please, please go check out the site and join in the fun...you can read lots of great fic there, too!

Okay, God, I have to stop myself. I'm sorry for this wordy goodbye, but it's been like...nearly a year...so it's kind of a big deal!

Thank you all so much for reading - it's been a blast and I'm so grateful for all the friends I've made because of this story and this fandom.