I squeezed Jasper's hand as we walked along the worn, muddy path through the towering pines . In his other hand he carried my tattered suitcase. I was perfectly able to carry it myself—as I had for the last 28 years—but he had insisted. After faring for myself for so long, to have someone who was looking out for me was sweet and strange at the same time.
Pine needles crunched beneath his heavy, well-worn boots. We were walking at a leisurely pace, having only covered 10 miles in an hour. I liked to move slowly when I set out to hunt, it gave time for my visions to tell me exactly where to find my meal.
He hadn't said a word since we'd left the hotel. I was content to let him have his silence. He wasn't so sure about hunting animals, I could tell, even though he hadn't said as much.
A herd of deer grazed in the thick fog of the clearing. There were three of them, all medium sized females. We were nearly silent in our approach, pausing beside a towering birch tree.
"Can you smell them?" I asked.
Jasper nodded once, his eyes black as pitch as he stared at the animals.
His hand lingered on my shoulder as I refocused. I had stopped moving when the vision hit. His hand slid back down into mine as I smiled up at him.
"Sorry," I laughed, glancing around us. The giant tree was some hundred feet ahead of us down the right fork of the path. "This way," I pointed.
Jasper nodded wordlessly, and let me tug him down the path. As we approached, the verdant pasture beyond came into sight. A herd of deer grazed in the thick fog of the clearing. There were three of them, all medium sized females. We were nearly silent in our approach, pausing beside a towering birch tree.
"Can you smell them?" I asked.
Jasper nodded once, his eyes black as pitch as he stared at the animals.
"Let that guide you," I told him. "Meet me back here when you're done."
He set down the suitcase, at the base of the tree. I released his hand as we raced towards our prey. I caught my prey quickly, on the edge of the forest, draining her right where she fell. In my peripheral vision I watched Jasper drag his into the brush. I had figured that he wouldn't be comfortable feeding in front of me yet, which is why I had instructed him where to meet back up with me when he was through.
The doe lying in front of me was more than I needed, and after a minute I'd had my fill. Usually, I could completely drain a deer. It was the perfect size for me, while moose and bears were way too much. I had fed just days before Jasper and I met, though, and I usually only needed to feed every two weeks or so. Unable to drain this one completely, I walked back to the birch tree very full.
Jasper stood, contemplating the now bloodless animal. He stared down at it for a long moment, standing statue still. A rustling behind him drew his attention up. Grazing on the edge of the field was a huge buck. Jasper inhaled deeply, taking in its rich scent, and pounced.
I sat on a large lower branch of the tree, leaning against the trunk, as I waited for him to return. I was glad to see that Jasper had found hunting animals to be easy, at least in the physical sense. His instincts had taken over.
Jasper pulled back from the lifeless buck. He went to wipe his hands on his jeans, but stopped himself. He looked anxiously down at them, clenching and unclenching them. They were covered with a thin layer of blood and fur. His eyes darted frantically around, finally spotting a small puddle at the base of a maple tree. Kneeling beside the tree, Jasper immersed his hands. The pool of water quickly turned pink as he rubbed them clean.
I bit my lip. I hated seeing him in so much pain, even though it was already a common occurrence. Jasper's pain ran deep. Much deeper than I'd realized in the visions. Even that little amount of blood had made him very anxious. I was pretty sure he didn't want me to see his hands covered in blood, regardless of its source.
Jasper walked back across the clearing. He paused suddenly, inhaling sharply as his eyes quickly darted around him. He inhaled again, zeroing in on the source: my half drained doe.
I stood on the branch of the tree, staring out at the field. Jasper had yet to appear from the trees at the far end. After a few more minutes I saw his form emerge from the brush, looking toward the giant birch. His eyes locked on me as he strode forward. I wondered if this would change my vision of him finishing off my deer. I hoped it wouldn't, as he seemed like he could use to feed a bit more.
Jasper walked back across the clearing. He paused suddenly, inhaling sharply as his eyes quickly darted around him. He inhaled again, zeroing in on the source: my half drained doe. Jasper started swiftly toward my deer, then stopped abruptly, looking back up at me, his brow furrowed. I was about to derail this.
I quickly turned away and sat down, hoping that Jasper would calm down enough to allow himself this nourishment. I did not want to be the cause of him not having enough. He clearly wanted to finish off the deer, and he was ashamed at the though of me watching.
Jasper kept his eyes trained on the birch tree as he approached the carcass, to make sure I hadn't turned back around. With one final glance up, he sunk his teeth into the side of the dead animal.
I suddenly felt bad that I had watched him feed on the three deer, in my mind, despite his discomfort. But I wasn't good at controlling what I saw in my visions. Jasper was important to me, and so my messed up brain showed me a lot of Jasper whether it was something I wanted to see or not. I leaned my head against the white bark and sketched a deer into the wood with my fingernail. I concentrated fully on my drawing, carefully adding detail. No further visions came for the next few minutes.
Leaves crunching below drew me out of my drawing. Jasper stood leaning against the trunk of the tree, staring up at me softly. His face was on level with my knees. The tension that marked his face earlier during our walk into the forest was gone, and the deep purple circles under his eyes had faded considerably. The eyes themselves were bright now, brighter than I'd ever seen them—a vivid red, perhaps with a slight tinge of yellow. Or maybe I was just hoping for that.
"How was your meal?" I asked cheerfully.
"Better than I was expecting," he told me honestly.
"Are you still thirsty?" I asked, cupping his cheek.
He shrugged and turned away.
"I can find more animals," I offered.
"I already had two," he sighed. "Plus your leftovers."
"So?" I challenged, playfully.
"You didn't even need to finish one," he muttered.
"I'm half your size," I laughed, wrapping my legs around his shoulders.
He chuckled in spite of himself, as he contemplated this.
"And, I had just fed a few days before we met," I added. "Your eyes were very black. It had been a while, yeah?"
He nodded, studying the ground below. "I was trying to go as long as possible between…" His arms wrapped around my legs as he raked his hands into his hair, an anxious habit of his.
I leaned over and kissed the top of his head. He had told me before that he experienced the terror and pain of his victims right along with them. It made sense that he pushed himself as long as he could go.
A thought occurred to me. "Could you feel the deer?"
He turned slowly, looking up. "No…I couldn't." His tone was curious. "That hadn't even occurred to me at the time. I was just so thirsty…but no, I couldn't feel them."
"That's good," I beamed.
"It is." His voice was distant. He was processing this all.
I ran my fingers into his hair. My knees were still hooked over his shoulders, and he laid his cheek on my jean-covered thigh. It was a rather intimate position. With the top of my foot I traced a wide arch on his back, and he sighed contentedly.
A black bear stood in the narrow creek, beside a fallen tree, its large paw batting the water in pursuit of a fish.
"What are you so happy about?" Jasper asked, tilting his head to look up at me without removing it from my thigh.
I smiled. "How would you like to try a bear?"
He scowled and pulled away from the embrace of my calves, head bowed. I drew my knees up to my chest. I was still learning not to take this kind of physical withdrawal personally.
"Jasper, you're still thirsty. You know that. I know that. Just have as many as you need. Regardless of how many that is."
"What if its never enough? What if animals never are enough to sate me? Maybe I've just been a monster for me to be able to do this." He sunk onto his haunches at the bottom of the tree.
I quickly leapt down and sat beside him, keeping my hands to myself for the time being. "I've seen your eyes change," I told him softly. "I told you that."
He looked at me suddenly, the timbre of his voice rising with each word. "But your visions can't see if it's ever really enough. Maybe I just do it for…" He buried his head in his knees once again.
'For you' seemed to be what he was about to say. I bit my lip. He was right. I would never really know through my visions. I hoped he would trust me enough to tell me. I didn't like to think that he'd put himself through agony, in silence, for my sake. I knew his eyes would change, eventually. How long it took, and at what cost, was not apparent.
Jasper leapt at the bear, landing on its back. He and the large creature tumbled into the creek. It took a few minutes, but he drained the animal. He sloshed out of the water, and padded over to where I sat on a large, flat rock.
He kissed the top of my head as he settled down behind me. "I think I'm finally fully," he told me, pulling me back against his chest. "I like bears."
I giggled, and turned to kiss him.
When I refocused, Jasper was looking at me. He took my hand between his. "You're hopeful again."
I nodded. "Always."
"You were upset before that."
"So were you."
His fingers slid along my cheek into my hair, his voice thick with worry. "I don't like to upset you."
"I know." I knelt up and wrapped me arms around his neck.
His arms closed around my back, and he held me silently for a long while. Finally he spoke. "How long have you survived on just animals?"
"Does it always satisfy you?"
"No, it's not always as satisfying, but I can't stomach the alternative. I just can't. So this is how I survive."
The heel of his hand kneaded a circle on my back, as he pondered this in silence.
"I want you to try," I told him. "If it doesn't work for you…we'll figure it out."
I wanted it to work out for him. I wanted that desperately. But more than that, even after just two days, I needed him. And for that I'd figure anything out.
Jasper stood, pulling me up at the same time. He squeezed my waist tightly, before depositing me on the ground. "Where's that bear?"
Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt, Measure for Measure, 1.4