Just a quick note - this story was originally written for the For the Love of Jasper contest. If you've already read the o/s, that's still chapter one. The continuation picks up with chapter 2. This story deals also deals with physical abuse, so if you're sensitive please be cautious.

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns the characters, I own my camera. ;-)

To see other entries in the "For the Love of Jasper" contest, please visit the C2:

www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/community/For_the_Love_of_Jasper_Contest/72564/


"Love is not consolation. It is light." Friedrich Nietzsche

My foot taps nervously under the table, without my permission or approval. As I take in my surroundings, I can't help but feel insecure. I see expensive, shiny black plastic and aluminum as my fingers smooth over the rough metal body of my old Nikon 35 mm. It might be older than I am, but it's reliable and comfortable. I always have it with me just in case.

I force myself to take a deep breath. After three years in the photography program, I really am confident in my own abilities. An expensive camera doesn't make up for mediocre talent, and my classic can still capture some extraordinary images. My dad gave me this camera when I turned six. He took me on his knee to help me load the film, and I watched in awe as he wound it, grinning excitedly when I heard it click. I would lean in close, my ear inches away, holding my breath. He taught me to be patient and wait for that sound, because if the film didn't catch right, I'd end up with no pictures.

I remember when he first handed it to me; I felt like a superhero with something so heavy and special in my hands. I held the power to catch a moment, freeze a frame, or bring something out of hiding. He set it to automatic for me and spent hours watching me hunt down anything I could think of to capture. He chased me through the fields behind our house, pointing out ladybugs and pretty flowers, or helping me advance the film since my little fingers weren't quite strong enough to move the lever yet. We dropped the film off together before school one day, and I bounced in the car the whole way home after we picked up the prints. They were almost all out of focus, but even today I still feel the same surge of pride when I see the results of my latest adventure. My dad told me they were abstracts, and still has my first fuzzy blur of a ladybug hanging in his office.

My memories of my childhood almost all involve my camera and my dad, and he really opened my eyes to the potential for beauty in everyday life. Since then I've learned that, from behind my camera, I can observe without influencing or affecting. I can capture beauty without disturbing it, and preserve what I see so it's never lost.

Photographs are all I have left of my mother; I lost her before I could remember her. Her pictures show me that I have her slightly crooked nose, her pale porcelain skin and her wide brown eyes. Memories fade, but my photographs are tangible, meant to last forever.

My foot slows gradually as I feel a sense of calm confidence wash over me. I hear the door open again; slow and steady footsteps move toward me, the unmistakable scuffle of boots. They stop in front of me and I see the well-worn toes poking out underneath the ragged hemline of a faded pair of jeans.

"Excuse me, miss?"

I hear a soft and smooth voice and my eyes shoot up, locking immediately on a pair of brilliant blue eyes framed by long blond lashes and a gently tanned face. His honey-toned hair is wavy and long, reaching just past his ears, with several wayward strands falling across his forehead. He raises an eyebrow questioningly, and I am reminded to speak.

"Just Bella, my name is Bella," I mumble quickly.

"Just Bella," he counters in a subtle drawl, the corners of his mouth turning up just a bit as he dips his head politely. "I'm Jasper Whitlock. Is this seat taken?"

Jasper gestures to the empty half of my table, and I shake my head in answer. He makes his way around the corner to slide into the empty chair. Our eyes meet; he glances away shyly and I feel the nerves begin to creep up again. I don't understand where these new emotions are coming from; this isn't the same feeling of insecurity I'm so used to. There's something palpable between us, pulling me toward him, and I want to reach out and touch him; at the same time I worry about what will happen if I do. Instead I observe, as always. The tension in the pit of my stomach keeps building. Judging by the way he keeps sneaking glances at me, I imagine he must feel it too.

Overwhelmed, I pull away and look instead at my camera, my foot once again bouncing a steady rhythm beneath the table. His fingers tap out a harmony beside me, and I smile to myself, wondering if he might be just as nervous. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch him pull out an old Canon, practically identical to my own in age and wear. I think about the knock down, drag out fight I had with an old classmate over the benefits of Nikon over Canon. It's an age-old debate and if I weren't so stubborn I would have conceded that there really isn't a difference; it's all mechanics. I laugh unintentionally at the memory, and feel a brief surge of distress when I see the look on his face. He looks as insecure as I felt minutes before. I smile reassuringly and hold up my own antique.

"I'm a Nikon. I see you're a part of the Dark Side."

"If by Dark Side, you mean Infinitely Better Side, yes, I'm a Canon." He smiles back at me widely, and my nerves disappear.

"It looks pretty old," I respond, immediately embarrassed by my brilliant observation.

"It is, just a little older than me. My dad gave it to me just before he died. I was eight."

I see a flash of pain in his eyes and my chest constricts suddenly. It's the same grief I see in my father when he remembers my mother. The same desolation I feel for reminding him of her. I need Jasper to know I understand.

"I'm so sorry. My mom died, too. When I was born."

He nods grimly but doesn't elaborate, and I hear our teacher clear his throat so I reluctantly look away. We both face the front as the lecture begins.

–*–*–

"Hurry up, Rosie," I whispered, holding her hand tightly as we tiptoed out the back door. I heard Elvis start to blare from my mother's bedroom, and I knew she'd be knocked out soon.

"Jasper!" she screamed, throwing a bottle against the wall in anger. I heard the crash of shattering glass and started to run, tugging my little sister along with me. I hoped she could remember what it was like before he died, when we were happy. Every day since that day grew progressively worse for my mother. It made me wonder how much lower she could go.

"Jasssper," Rosie whined, tugging on my hand. "You're going too fast."

I stopped and swung my backpack around so it fit across my chest securely, reaching behind me to grab Rosie's hands.

"Hop up, sweetie, I'll piggy-back you."

She squealed in delight and jumped on, wrapping her legs around my waist, her arms a little too tight around my neck. Once we were a block away, I slowed down, feeling a little safer.

I could already feel the bruise forming across my cheek. I closed my eyes and recalled the back of her hand as it flew toward me; my stomach lurched at the memory of the impact.

We made it down to the park, and I could feel Rosie starting to bounce in excitement.

"The swings! Can we go on the swings first? Please?"

"Sure thing, sweetie, sounds like fun."

I carefully set her down beside me and watched as she took off for the swing set. I brushed the hair from my face, wincing when my hand grazed my cheek.

I pulled my old camera out of my backpack and loaded the film, winding until I heard it catch. I couldn't help but smile at the familiar sound, remembering days filled with smiles and laughter, my dad the one behind the camera. My smile immediately faded as the shooting pain erupted across my cheekbone, a reminder of why we were here instead of at home. I hung the strap around my neck and chased after my sister. I wanted to forget about my mother for awhile.

She would fall asleep for a couple hours while I played with Rosie. I'd take some pictures of Rosie's sweet, smiling face and pretend nothing had happened, because as far as she knew, that was the truth. That was how it was going to stay, too; she was only six, and I didn't want her to think about stuff like that. Someday when we were grown up, I'd look back at my pictures and I wouldn't remember. Instead I'd see Rosie laughing while I pushed her on the swing, begging me to make her go higher.

It wasn't much different from any other day anyway. I was like any normal 12-year-old, just taking my baby sister to the park while my mom slept it off. Right. Because that was so normal. Most of my friends were probably sitting down for family dinners right about now.

Sometimes I wondered if my dad knew why I'd need the camera.

At the same time, I really hoped he hadn't.

.*.*.

I sit with my arms folded, head on my desk. I'm so exhausted from this week that I can hardly keep my eyes open. My toe taps the all too familiar rhythm underneath the table while I wait for Jasper to show up.

I hear the door open, and I know it's him. My nervous beat slows and then stops completely as I hear his boots shuffle toward me. I lift my head when he's in front of me, smiling as he ducks his in return.

"Bella," he grins.

He seats himself and I immediately feel the nervous energy between us beginning to build. My heart beats just a little bit faster, and I glance at him out of the corner of my eye, catching him doing the same. I feel my face flush and we both snap our attention toward the front of the classroom. The tapping begins again under the table, now accompanied by the drumming of his fingers.

Our instructor returns our last assignment, where we were supposed to represent ourselves on film without actually being in the frame. Like a self-portrait with no self. I smile, looking down at the image of my old camera with a ladybug crawling across the lens. When Jasper receives his, I can't help but look, letting out a quick gasp when I see a beautiful blonde girl sitting on a swing. Her long wavy hair is lighter than his, but she has the same bright blue eyes, just as wide and sad as his are some days.

He's staring down at her, a look I don't recognize on his face. Guilt? Sorrow? Definitely love.

"Who is she?" I murmur. He drops the picture, turning quickly to face me.

"My baby sister," he answers, a smile forming on his lips while a hint of sadness lingers in his eyes. "Well, not really baby anymore, I guess. She just turned sixteen."

His hands rest on the table, fingers tracing the outline of her portrait. I want to ask more about her, but instead I notice jagged scars covering the edge of his hand.

"Oh my gosh, Jasper. What happened to your hand?" I blurt out before I can stop myself. I mentally smack myself on the forehead, cursing the usual word vomit.

"Oh," he starts, clearly uncomfortable. My stomach begins to twist into knots, my heart beating faster. It feels like someone is sitting on my chest, crushing me painfully under his weight. "It's nothing; it's just an old scar. I fell in some broken glass when I was a kid."

I open my mouth to either apologize or ask for more information, I'm not sure which, when our professor beats me to the punch by giving us our assignment for today. We're shooting portraits of our partners with the medium format view cameras. I grin excitedly; these remind me of those old fashioned cameras you picture in a western movie. The long accordion bellows connect the lens and the viewfinder, and I imagine some gray-haired photographer in suspenders hiding underneath a black cloth, a shutter release button in his outreached hand.

We set the camera up together, then flip a coin to decide who goes first. I lose, so I'm up to bat. I would usually be nervous at this point. Part of the reason I chose photography was to hide behind the camera, not hang out in front of it. I've always been uncomfortable in the spotlight. Every time my dad looks too closely at me, he starts to see my mom. Every time, I witness the pain all over again. Every time, I feel just a little bit guilty that I took her away from him. I know I shouldn't, but I can't pretend I don't.

The idea of someone focusing on me is nauseating.

Somehow I manage to keep the butterflies at bay as I watch Jasper in all his cool confidence, adjusting the focus and loading the film plates like he's been doing it all his life. I smile shyly and turn away, embarrassed again that he'll be looking at me so closely.

He snaps a picture immediately.

"Hey!" I shout, surprised. "I wasn't ready for you to start."

"Sorry, test shot," he responds, a mischievous grin across his face. "Hey, I told you about mine… How'd you get that scar on your forehead?"

My fingers graze along the raised skin above my eyebrow almost subconsciously as I laugh in memory.

"Oh, that happened when I was about eight I guess. My dad was pushing me on the swing, and I wanted to jump off and fly when it got to the highest part, you know? Well anyway, he told me not to but I didn't listen. Needless to say, it didn't work out quite like I pictured it. I tripped when I hit the ground, and cut myself on a rock."

I still remember the way my dad picked me up and brushed me off, tilting my chin up so he could see, furrowing his brow as he took in the damage. He held my hand while we walked the block back to our house together, his thumb brushing reassuringly over the back of my hand while I tried to hold in the tears. He lifted me up onto the bathroom counter as if I weighed nothing and then reached under the sink for our first aid kit. He spoke gently about how brave I was and how proud he was of me for not crying while he carefully cleaned my cut. I winced when the hydrogen peroxide hit my skin so he cradled my cheeks between his hands and blew gently across the cut to take the edge off.

"He said it wasn't very deep, so he put a few steri-strips on instead of taking me for stitches. I think he felt pretty bad when it scarred, like he should have taken me in anyway. He's a good dad though; he does the best he can by himself."

I pause then, feeling sick in the pit of my stomach, and look up to face Jasper. His expression is anguished, his eyes tight. I realize I just told a boy with no father a touching story about how great my own is, and I'm immediately wracked with guilt. He blinks and seems to shake it off, finally speaking.

"That's pretty cute, you're lucky to have such a good dad."

I smile apologetically, and he returns it.

"Okay, Mr. Whitlock, you've done your worst," I tease, trying to change the subject. "Park your boots in front of the camera; it's your turn in the spotlight."

.*.*.

"Rosie," I whispered urgently. "Rosie it's me, you can come out now."

I pressed my hand against the closet door, hearing her sniffles echo softly, and my heart ached more painfully than my body did.

"Rosie, sweetie, it's okay. She fell asleep. I promise you're safe."

I heard the lock I installed three years ago slide out of place slowly. Mom hadn't gone after Rosie yet, but I wasn't about to give her the fucking chance. We bought it on our way home from the park after an especially bad day, and I made sure Rosie knew when it was time to hide.

The door cracked open the tiniest bit, revealing one blue eye, wide with fright and tinged with redness, tears still trailing down her soft cheeks.

I opened my arms in a reassuring invitation and gave her an encouraging nod. She only hesitated a moment longer before throwing the door open and crashing into my arms. I winced slightly on impact, but pushed my pain away as I felt my baby sister sob against my chest. I rubbed her back soothingly, gentle circles up and down her spine. I whispered comforting little nothings in her ear, and I wondered if by saying that it would be okay I was telling her a lie. Our gentle rocking motion soothed me too, and I felt a wonderful calm settle over me.

My arms tightened around her and I felt her relax, her breathing becoming steady and deep. I knew the exact moment in which she fell asleep. She let out the softest little sigh and then her body went limp in my arms. I held her for a long time afterward, still rocking her and smoothing her hair.

I stood up carefully after what seemed like hours and carried her across our room to her bed. I pulled back the covers with one hand and then laid her down gently, pulling the blankets up to her chin. I brushed a wave of soft golden hair out of her face, and then noticed the blood leaking out from the bandage on my hand. I leaned over and kissed her forehead before heading to the bathroom to take care of myself.

I peeled away the gauze to survey the damage on the outside edge of my left hand. I closed my eyes and saw a flash, remembering the bottle of tequila coming toward me as I raised my hands to cover my face. She started sobbing when she saw the blood running down my arm and insisted on taking care of me. I tried not to cringe away when she took my hand in hers. For a minute, the worry I saw reflected in her eyes reminded me that she was my mother. She wore the same expression in a picture I had hidden in my dresser drawer of the day I learned how to ride my bike. The whole roll of film was of me in various stages of action, except for the one time my dad cut back to her, capturing her wringing hands and frightened eyes.

I shook my head to clear it, reaching into the medicine cabinet for something to clean the cuts and a pair of tweezers. The only sound for a long time was the clink of glass as it hit the bathroom sink. The cuts weren't too deep, but after I took Rosie to school in the morning I'd probably need a couple stitches. I winced as I doused my wounds in hydrogen peroxide, feeling the bubbles dig deep and resisting the urge to blow on it. I patted the area dry with some gauze pads and slowly redressed it with clean bandages.

It really wasn't that bad. A few more scars in the mix, but these would be easy to explain at least and I knew the bruises forming on my arms would stay hidden under a long-sleeved shirt. They were nothing compared to the marks on my back. Those might have healed, but I still couldn't look at a belt without visibly cringing.

I turned off the light and went back to the bedroom, locking the door to the hallway securely before climbing in my bed. I looked over at Rosie, watching her breathe slowly in and out. The moonlight made her pale little face glow, and I saw the slightest hint of a smile across her lips.

Three more years. I would be eighteen, and I would make things right.

I was going to get my Rosie out of here.

.*.*.

I wind through the maze of a hallway, trailing my fingers along the walls that have been painted a dull black to absorb the light, enough twists and turns to ensure the total loss of light once you enter the room inside.

I'm the first one in the darkroom tonight, so I switch off the lights and raise the lid on the safelights, glowing red in the middle of the room. I carry my negatives and my box of paper to my station, taking a deep breath before I begin.

This class is the last section to be taught as a film-based course. Next semester our program will go 100% digital, and I feel like a little part of me will be packed away along with this room. Digital is easy, clean, and cheap, but there's something about the uniqueness of a hand-made darkroom print; it can never be exactly duplicated by human hands. It's frustrating at times, but in the end you've created an image, literally poured your soul into it, and there it is staring back at you in print.

I sigh and pull out my negatives. Jasper should be here soon; we're really the only two students who take advantage of this extra lab time. Today I'm printing from our portrait session together. He was quiet and calm as ever in front of the camera, smiling politely and charming me with every word and expression. He didn't offer any more information about his parents, and I didn't ask, choosing instead to enjoy the comfortable banter between us.

I hear his boots in the maze, and my heart reacts immediately. He takes his place at the enlarger station next to mine, and I look up at him automatically, smiling gently. The safe lights should make everything look slightly red, but after your eyes adjust to them they sap the color out of everything. The boy before me appears in shades of gray.

"Bella," he offers, tipping his head to me as usual. I swear I'll never tire of that simple gesture.

"Hi, Jasper."

He holds my gaze for a moment; long enough to call the butterflies to attention, but when he smiles again they are at peace. I turn to my enlarger, sliding a negative into the carrier and loading it in place. My body takes over the familiar motions, focusing the light and dialing in my aperture. I set the timer, load a sheet of paper, and hold my breath.

Fourteen seconds later, I'm sliding the paper into the developer. I lift and lower the edge of the large tray rhythmically, the chemicals swirling and the first glimpses of Jasper appearing on my paper. He's smiling in this one, but I still see the sadness in his features. I sigh and use the tongs to move my print to the next tray.

As I slide down along the counter, Jasper slips his first print into the developer. I try to concentrate on agitating my own tray, but I see my own face in the periphery and turn to look closer. With each tilt of the tray, my face becomes clearer and more defined, gaining tone and contrast. The image is a candid, taken at the moment I remembered my fall from the swing. My fingers are tracing my scar delicately and I'm laughing. I don't remember hearing the shutter click.

I feel a surge of bliss pass through me, warming me down to my fingers and toes. I look up to see Jasper smiling down at my image. I study his expression, trying to decipher the emotions behind it when our eyes meet and widen simultaneously. I turn away, embarrassed at being caught staring. I move my print through the rest of the row of trays and head back to my station.

As I'm preparing my next print, he returns to my side. I'm watching, as always, out of the corner of my eye as he reaches up absently to scratch his shoulder. His hand moves under the short sleeve of his gray t-shirt, traveling up to the point of his shoulder and lifting his shirt along with it. I gasp when I see the intricate ink on skin, and he drops his hand and turns to me.

"You have a tattoo," I state, immediately thankful he can't discern my blush of embarrassment under the lights.

"I do," he laughs, because I am obvious.

"How long have you had it?"

"I got it when I turned eighteen, four years ago." I detect a strange mixture of pride and regret in his expression, and I want desperately to know more.

"It's beautiful, what does it mean?"

"It's for my sister. She's my everything."

"Can I see it again?"

He eyes me warily for a moment before lifting his sleeve. The design is so beautiful, sitting just below the joint at the very top of his arm. I don't think before reaching out to smooth my fingers over the skin, smiling and relishing the contact. My stomach drops when he flinches away from my touch, lowering his sleeve. I whisper an apology, but he shakes his head, smiling sadly before turning away. Again he leaves me aching for more. More knowledge, more touches.

Always more.

I set the timer on my enlarger again, watching the light hit my paper. Turning back to the line of trays, I drop another print in the developer, smiling once more as his face materializes before me.

.*.*.

Eighteen.

I was an adult, now. Officially.

I could have voted, bought my first pack of cigarettes, or joined the military to celebrate.

Instead, I sat in my wife beater and jeans in a padded chair, listening to the tattoo machine buzzing as it picked up more ink for my arm. I listened to Emmett humming a tuneless melody as he bent over my arm, touching needle to flesh and beginning the burn again.

I had been planning this tattoo for two years. The completed design had been hidden in a moleskine under my bed for eight months. I knew what I wanted immediately, and I knew why. Working on the design reinforced the meaning behind it every day.

Rosie.

It was all for Rosie.

I had signed the paperwork as soon as the courthouse opened that morning. A legal adult could take guardianship over their younger sibling if the parent lost custody. And my mother did.

Six weeks ago, she finally laid a hand on Rosie. I should have taken her with me to the grocery store, but she didn't want to go and I hadn't thought Mom was even drinking that day. I never found out what set her off. I came home to chaos. I found Rosie locked in her closet, shaking with sobs. My mother had fallen asleep on the couch. We contacted CPS that day to set the wheels in motion. Her fresh bruises and my scars were enough, they immediately removed both of us to temporary foster care. My social worker helped me work everything out and talk to the judge: I had to prove I could take care of her, but I already had a stable job at the library and had been saving every penny for the last three years. I knew one day we'd have to make our escape.

I pictured her face when I went to visit her a few days before my birthday. I showed her the photographs I took of the little two-bedroom duplex I rented just behind Zilker Park. She smiled, eyes wide with excitement as I told her all about our new life. We would walk down to the Barton Springs natural swimming pool in the summertime, and ride our bikes on the trails whenever she felt like it. The bruise on her cheek was gone; it was time to start over.

The stinging pressure of the needle pulled me from my thoughts. I smiled to myself, enjoying the pain for once.

"So let me guess, there's a pretty girl waiting to see this ink at home?" Emmett asked, trying again to engage me. He grinned widely, flashing his dimples and waggling his eyebrows. I couldn't help but chuckle at his perseverance.

"Something like that. She's my sister, though. I'm picking her up today from foster care. She's coming to live with me." I didn't know why I was spilling my guts to a perfect stranger. He gave off a pretty good-natured vibe, though, so I kept talking.

"Her name's Rosie… well… Rosalie. But she's always been Rosie to me."

"That's cool, man. Is that what the compass is for?"

I smiled and nodded, and then explained everything. The circle holding everything together was the aperture ring, from my camera. It focused on what was important, bridging my past and my future, letting in the light. At the center was the compass rose, for my Rose. My north, south, east, and west. My light. My everything. Together we would find our way.

.*.*.

I know the precise moment in which he enters the darkroom. I hear his boots shuffling before I see him, but I feel him even before I hear him. I feel my breaths grow quick and shallow; my racing heart leaps suddenly to my throat. I feel each individual goose bump erupt over my arms as the all too familiar nervous energy washes over me.

I need him. I think I could even love him. I refuse to wait any longer.

"Jasper?"

I turn slowly and barely register his form several feet in front of my own. The safelights are dimmed such that only shadows of outlines of forms are discernible.

"Bella," he murmurs, ducking his head as always. I smile slowly, and immediately sense the nerves begin to dissipate, though the tension lingers.

I hear his footsteps before my eyes register movement. He takes five tentative steps forward, stopping only inches before me. In the dim red light, his normally brilliant blue eyes are washed of almost all their saturation and his skin is strangely pale. His eyes still burn with enough intensity to cause my own to falter, my gaze dropping. My own arms appear ghostly, almost translucent.

"I've been waiting for you," I whisper.

"I'm sorry."

I raise my eyes to meet his again, my teeth taking my bottom lip hostage as I consider his apparent hesitation. I want to know what he's apologizing for. I know he's broken, but it doesn't matter anymore. I want to be the one to fix him.

I register his downward glance at my lips, recognizing the look of longing that mirrors my own. It's all the encouragement I need.

I fist his shirt in my hands and pull him into me, closing the distance between us. His breathing mimics my own, short and quick against the top of my head. His hands move to rest timidly on my hips. I pull him down as I stand tall, meeting his lips firmly with my own. I sense him hesitate for a moment before he smiles against me, his hands moving to secure me against him. My fingers make their way into his thick wavy hair, tugging gently as I tilt my head to deepen our kiss. He pushes me slowly back against my enlarger station as I bite down gently on his lower lip.

His mouth leaves mine and moves to my neck, his lips and tongue incredibly warm against the tender skin. He trails his way along my jaw line, pausing just below my ear to whisper my name reverently.

I feel a surge of contentment and bliss as his words move over me, as palpable as any touch. My hands travel to his waist and then underneath his shirt; his hands mirror my motions. My fingers trace the outlines of roughness across his back, scars from a past I don't fully understand but hope I will someday. He gasps and flinches at my touch, trying desperately to pull away from me. I cling to him with all of my strength, willing him to keep calm and forcing him to face me.

"Jasper, please. I don't want you to hide from me anymore."

When his eyes meet mine, I see his insecurity in their depths. He nods minutely, pulling me into his arms. A calm settles over me as he murmurs my name again.

"I can feel what you're feeling, all the time," I breathe. "I know you feel it too."

"I do, Bella. I really do." He takes a deep breath before continuing.

"I don't know what I'm doing here. It's been me and Rosie against the world for so long, I don't know how to let someone in," he whispers. I feel like I should be panicking at his words, instead I'm strangely composed. "I've wanted you, since the first time I saw you. I've never felt like this before. I've been a survivor, I've been a big brother and a protector… but I don't know how to love or trust people anymore. I'm in pieces, Bella, it happened a long time ago and you shouldn't have to –"

I press my fingers to his lips, silencing him. My other arm holds firmly around his waist as he tries to pull away again. I speak as assertively as I can, holding back the tears I know will follow if he refuses to listen.

"I know you've been hurt, but you can't run away from me. I see it in your face, every time you're in pain. I feel it, too, so much that it might as well be my own. I've never felt this way either, and I want to live it. I've been hiding behind the camera for too long, watching life happen. I've been too afraid to let people really see me. But I can't do that anymore, not with you. You deserve a life and so do I, and I'm not going to watch you walk away from me."

I pull myself to his lips again, and this time he doesn't hesitate. His kiss is deep, needy, and consuming; I'm surprised and overwhelmed that the contact of his skin makes me crave more. I know this is more than his touch, more than the feel of his body against mine. My stomach tightens as usual in response to him, but instead of nervous tension I feel excitement with an edge of something I can't identify. I feel my own need magnified by his, overcoming any hesitancy or doubt as we pull each other closer. Our motions slowly shift from apprehension to impatience and certainty. His arms wrap tightly around me and mine around him; I don't ever want to let go. Gradually we slow our pace and he pulls away, kissing my forehead sweetly. Our breathing slows, our hearts still pounding furiously as he holds me close, tracing soothing circles up and down my spine. I relax against him, his arms holding me steady.

"I've been in the shadows for so long. I don't know how to live in your light."

I rest my head on his chest, my hand over his heart. I feel it beneath my palm, still beating frenetically.

"I want to show you."

.*.*.

I wanted her to show me.

I wanted a life. I wanted it to be with her.

She laid her hand over my heart, and I hoped she was right.

I hoped I could learn.

For the first time in a long time, I felt hope.

Not hope for Rosie, that was never my problem.

Hope for myself.

I felt her heart beating wildly against my chest; I wanted it to beat for me.

I smiled, and pulled her closer.


a/n: Thank you for reading! There are a couple links in my profile you can check out if you're interested in a little more information.

I have a million betas because apparently I need lots of hand-holding. Lots of love to my ficwife jackbauer aka staceygirl, hmonster4, profmom72, jennde, and brighterthansunshine for all their advice, support, and honesty. I really appreciate all of your help. Special thanks to my ficwife and hmonster4 for putting up with me so much, chatting me down off my ledges, and never telling me to shut up… and for all my BATgirls who are holding my hands as I post this.

All of the ladies above have wonderful stories you should definitely be reading so make sure you visit their profiles or check out my favorites list. jackbauer and profmom72 have also entered For the Love of Jasper so please check out both of their entries as well!

Thank you to ElleCC and LaViePastiche for giving all of us a way to show our love for Jasper. I'm sure he appreciates it. :-)

Thank you for voting! Underexposed made it to the final round of voting and won a First Time Writer Honorable Mention.

You can follow me on twitter. :) www(dot)twitter(dot)com/daisy3853