"For the Love of Jasper" One-Shot Contest

Title: Unbroken

Pen name: Chicklette

Existing work: N/A

Primary Players: Jasper/Bella

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer retails all rights over her characters and identifiable plot points. But, since this is a work of fan fiction, posted on a fan fiction site, I'm guessing you already knew that.

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




I say, "Hello, cowboy," and bend my knees to catch his gaze. He looks up at me, all bluesky eyes beneath a dark, battered Stetson and tips a bottle of beer against his mouth. The glass presses into his lip. Lucky bottle, I think and then shake the image loose. My bravado will only get me so far, and naked lust in my eyes won't help me at all.

His eyes flick away from me and I look across the room to the dance floor. It's small and only half full, but the night is young and liquid courage takes time to build. In another hour it will be crowded, and the room will smell like sweat, mixing with the already heavy scent of stale beer, sawdust, and too many different kinds of cologne.

I turn back to the man in the hat. He sits at a high table on a high stool, balls of his boots pressed against the rungs. My plan only got me as far as his table. He's made no polite conversation. He waits for me to speak again. I could ask him to dance, but countless others have and they've all been sent away, faces like fallen angels, eyes on the floor because heaven is denied. Instead, I touch the back of the chair opposite him and ask if he minds. He doesn't answer so I take what I want in the silence. Angela comes by and drops an amber bottle on a napkin in front of me.

"Thanks, Ang," I say. I try not to think of his mouth as I feel the cold glass against mine.

I close my eyes for a moment and I am calmed. I feel the heat pouring off of him, like he's stored up the sun all day, only to turn it back to the world in the cool of the night. He's wearing the only thing I've ever seen him wear: worn boots, jeans that have been worked in and a black t-shirt. Plus the hat. The fuckhot Stetson that makes me want to save a horse, as the cliché goes. You could build a mountain of clichés from the man in front of me, but I get the sense that you'd be a fool for trying. I think that he will be surprising.

I watch Tyler tending bar over the shoulder of the blond man in front of me, but really I'm staring out of the corner of my eye. Where did this man come from, this sungod, with his tanned skin and golden hair, too long, lying against the neck of his shirt like he hasn't had a haircut in the last six months. I tilt my head and can take in the fine sheen of stubble, so fair, that ghosts like an illusion against his chin. I want to feel it, rough under my fingertips.

I know he drives a beat up black truck and can lift a fifty-pound sack of feed like it's a cotton ball. He'll have two more beers over the next two hours, finish with a Coke and call it a night. This is the math of him, the sum total of all I know. Added up, it fits in the palm of my hand, trifling facts that do not make up the mass of this man beside me.

I blink my eyes and swallow the cold, bitter beer. It leaves a sweet aftertaste at the back of my throat as I turn to watch the dancers spin and step, the slide guitar twisting and stretching notes that fill the silence between us. I hold steady. To speak would be a mistake; I only know that much. Instead, I let my mind wander. I think about my day, and then I think about my life. I am lost in the strings of thought that spin out from my mind, snarling, tangling, never running a straight line.

I'm sipping my second beer as the booze hits my bloodstream. The world becomes softer. I become softer. I feel myself blurring at the edges and know it's time to go. Restraint is not my strong suit and I've pushed myself to the edge tonight.

I look down at the table and his forearm slides into view as he sets down the bottle he's holding. A scar wraps around the muscle, thin and pink against his sun-darkened skin. My eyes follow the trail as it leads up under the sleeve of his shirt. My hand rises, wavers, then stretches out to him. My fingertip, that untoward thing, traces the pink, twisting path. We both gasp and something clenches inside of me. My eyes meet his and he looks terrified, and I am sorry for intruding.

I swallow and stand, then reach into my pocket and lay money on the table. Bluesky eyes watch me and I meet them, bravado spiked, but only for a moment. It abandons me as quickly as it came, and I am soft all over again.

"What's your name?" I ask, as he picks up the bottle.

"Jasper," he says. "Whitlock." He doesn't meet my gaze.

"I'm Bella Swan," I say. "Well, thanks…for the company." I try to sound…maybe mysterious, maybe benign. Instead, I feel inadequate.

I turn to leave, eager to get into the cool night air. I roll his name around on my tongue, jaw clenched to keep from speaking aloud. I catch Angela's eye as I near the doors. She winks and smiles and I smile back. I am reminded that I did what I'd set out to do. I am newly accomplished in this moment.

I step outside and the evening settles around me, warm for a change, with cool breezes sweeping the air. I take the sidewalk home, stopping to two-step once or twice, a sweet song playing with his voice in my head. My fingertip is still warm from where I touched him. The sensation and the sound of his voice play my memory, over and over, and a delicious, secret smile stretches my mouth.

I saw him first so long ago that it seems like it wasn't real. I stood on Main Street, coming from the post office, shipping off the last of the boxes that I would need for my escape. He was across the street and with a girl, her small frame made smaller by his broad shoulders and lanky limbs. She stared up at him, short dark hair and pale white skin. They were a study in contrasts.

He bent low, knees and back bowed, and whispered in her ear. She squealed and climbed up onto him, legs wrapped around his waist, her skirt riding up until he tugged it down. Her dark hair rested against his chest and he carried her weight with ease, his smile a glow on his face. She tipped the hat back on his head and then they were staring at each other, and it was so raw and clear, his love for her and hers for him that it made my own heart trip with the sudden realization that it existed at all. That it didn't have to be hard angles and sharp edges, bronze-haired boys with dark green eyes who only ever make you cry.

Instead, love could be this. It could be sunshine and reddened skin and golden hair and smiles right there in the middle of the street for everyone to see, not locked up and hidden away, behind closed doors and in the dark. I smiled for him and for her, and in my head I sent my thanks out to them both for sharing that moment with anyone smart enough to look. It answered a need that I didn't know I had.

I fled to school a week after that, and came home three years and ten months later. The house I'd grown up in was cold and musty. I should have had someone air it out while I was gone. The town police kept it under close watch, but the ghosts that are trapped here need to be set free. I guess that's my job now.

Every day I worked at it. I packed up Charlie's clothes. I sorted through a decade's worth of fishing magazines and I gave poles and boxes of tackle to old friends. I didn't look them in the eye much. I know I'm a poor thing. I don't need their eyes telling me so.

In town, I spoke with the man who runs the frame shop. He offered to make me a shadow box Aonce, and I accepted. The triangle of wood holds a flag and a badge and I place it with tender caution on the mantle, next to a photo of Charlie in his uniform. Only here, in this quiet space, can I cry the tears that I hold in so often. Only here could I be his little girl, face twisted and wet with grief for her daddy, and for all the skinned knees and all the held hands and that morning when he spent thirty minutes trying to braid my hair, following directions out of a magazine because I was begging to be just like the other little girls.

Now I am humbled by the memories of his love for me. I'm embarrassed that he gave me so much. This quiet man who did quiet things and fought in his way for justice, sitting on his knees, thick fingers tangling with locks of hair to give a six year-old girl her heart's desire. He taught me how to roller skate and ride a bike, to throw a punch and thread a line.

He said "I'm proud of you, baby," the day I graduated high school and was cold in the ground less than three weeks later, a robbery and a bullet that his shield couldn't stop.

I touch the mahogany of the case and wipe the glass clear of dust. I've always been a motherless child, coming into the world in a gush of blood, bewildering a grieving man with my tiny fists and cries, a nursery full of strange pink things that were soft and lacy and smelled of sweetness and sorrow. A photo of my mother, impossibly thin and dressed in white, flanks the other side of the flag case. A framed copy of Charlie's obituary, his eulogy from the town he served, and small vase of wildflowers from the back yard keep symmetry on the mantle.

Now I am an orphan, emancipated at eighteen, legal and unprepared. I hid for four years in Phoenix. I thought the sun would chase away the pain but it only dried it, preserved it. Now that I'm back in the cool wet of Forks, the pain is rehydrated, renewed, more potent and powerful from its long hibernation. It's grown smaller, but stronger.

The week shuffles on and Friday night arrives before I'm ready for it. I want to see him again, I want to hear his voice, low and rich in my ear, winding down my spine like the tip of a finger. I want to know if I'll ever get to kiss him, taste him. I know that he is kind, and I want the sweetness he has inside as much as I want the warmth of his flesh. I feel like I've been cold for years.

The first time I saw him there, I was visiting Angela, the one person who didn't look at me like a half-starved dog feeding from the trash: something to be both pitied and feared. I sat down at the bar and she popped over, catching up with me between serving drinks to the drinking population of Forks.

I was mid-sentence when he walked in, all long legs and tanned limbs, jeans slung low across his hips. His unkempt blond hair brushed the top of his collar. God bless cotton, I thought, taking in the way the dark blue material stretched across his chest and then disappeared down into the waist of his jeans. I didn't realize I was staring until Angela said "Pretty, isn't he?"

"I want one," I whispered, then looked away. She laughed, gracious, returning to her patrons.

I watched him, waiting for the small, dark haired girl to join him but she didn't. As the night wore on, women approached and were turned away. He only spared a smile for Angela when she brought him another round.

I swallowed the last of my beer and left, promising Angela a return the next week, knowing I would keep my promise. That night in my dreams he picked me up and spun me round, his eyes the sky, his hair the sun, smelling of summer in a warm place. His touch seared my pale white flesh.

The next week at the bar, I wait, watching for him to come in. But instead of the sun, I get the moon. Edward Cullen with his pale skin and too-dark eyes, flicking over me like some long-since discarded toy. I wonder if he will pick me up again, decide it's time to play some more.

Angela comes to my rescue, seating Mike Newton next to me and placing the bottle of tequila between us. Catch up, she admonishes and so we do. The night spins out under salty shots of tequila and bites of lime, the tart fruit pulling my mouth into a kiss, but the wrong man is across from me.

"He's leaving," Mike says and I think, Jasper? Already? But then I see the bronze-haired boy at the door. He throws me that infamous crooked grin, then drapes an arm over Lauren and walks out of the bar.

I let my breath out in a low, steady stream. Through the tequila-laced haze, I realize exactly what Mike's been doing: Babysitting Bella. Making sure I wasn't caught drinking alone by someone who'd torn my heart out, once upon a time. In that moment, I love him so much for his kindness. I want to crawl into his lap and promise him things I will regret, just for always being such a nice guy.

Before I can embarrass myself as such, Mike moves on, leaving money on the bar and citing an early morning. My eyes flick around the room, searching for my cowboy. My cowboy?


My cowboy.

I shake my head. It's time to go before I start singing I Love Everyone because with enough tequila, I do.

I leave more cash on the bar, dull, crumpled bills that can in no way express my gratitude to Ang, but it's what I've got to give. I step off the stool with care. The ground stays firm beneath my feet. I wave to Angela and head out the door, my fingers touching tables and chairs and walls as I go. It's not until I step outside that the ground becomes a shifting thing, and before I know it, I'm on my knees, hands splayed out in front of me. It should have hurt more than it did. Thank you, Mr. Jose Cuervo.

The voice behind me says "Whoa, girl," and there's two strong hands under my arms, hauling me back to standing. I turn to look and it's sunshine skin and bluesky eyes, pitched with concern and consternation. My body pushes into his, one hand on his shoulder, the other on his bicep, my hips against his leg. He is hard everywhere. I feel his hand splayed against my back and I realize I'm staring at his mouth, trying to catch my breath.

"Hello, cowboy," I say, and hum I Love Everyone, a sloppy grin stretching my face.

He barks a laugh and says, "Yes, tonight I bet you do."

"Where do you live?" He asks, and leads me to his truck. Inside, it smells warm, like old leather and dust, and dried out foam. I feel the truck rumble to life beneath me, and Jasper leans over me and fastens my seatbelt. He gives it an extra tug and it's tight across my body.

As we drive, I point the way, but keep a tight leash on my tongue. I don't want to call him my cowboy or ask where the dark haired girl went away to. I don't want to know if she still has his heart. I only want to know that he will stay perfect in my fantasies.

Then my mind turns a predictable corner and I find myself sullen. It was stupid to talk to him in the first place. If I'd kept him at bay, he could have stayed perfect forever. Instead, I'll find out about the dark haired girl, how she broke his heart forever, or how he still pines for her, or how she's only away for some inexplicable, inexcusable reason and that she will return and claim him from me. I don't want to know any of it. The fantasy of him is the one shining thing I have left, the one thing that held me through four years in Phoenix and three months here in Forks.

The trip home is too quick. I want to stay here with him, in the cold truck that smells like warm things, and slide over the seat, wrap my arms around him. I want to taste…everything. Instead, we're on my front porch and I'm fumbling with keys. My fingers are clumsy, or maybe it's the key, but the lock is trouble until he stills my hand and guides the metal into the groove.

His hand on mine has physical consequences. I feel something tingling at the base of my spine and my body tightens, trembles. Up against the door, I think. Kiss me there, hard. Push me up against the door, fingers in my hair, mouth hot and greedy all over my skin, fingers digging in to my hipbones, squeezing my ass, hitching my thigh….

He lets go of my hand and opens the door. We walk inside and I lean against the wall, coming to rest at the low divide between the entry and the TV room. Charlie's room. This house is still filled with ghosts, and I am suddenly so fucking sad I can hardly breathe, the fierce urgency from a minute ago dissipated in the cold.

I turn from him and say, "Thank you, Jasper Whitlock. It was sweet of you to see me home, but you don't have to stay."

He says, "Bella, are you okay?"

I just nod because the sob is coming and I don't want him to see me cry. I stay perfectly still and I focus everything I have on not having a breakdown while the sungod is standing here in my house. He walks past me, flips on a light, then crosses the room to turn on another and sucks in his breath. I know he's seen the mantle. Everyone reacts the same way.

"Are you all alone here?" he asks.

I don't know what to say to him because it's too fucking sad to say I'm all alone, and I cannot have him looking at me the way they all do. Not him. I just nod and then shake my head. I hold my hand up, my back to him and I'm going to have to breathe soon but when I do I'm going to cry. So I breathe in. I suck the tears down, but when I have to exhale, they fall and I give in to the silent, shaking cry that I've perfected over the years, a mistimed ragged breath the only sound to ever give me away.

Then he is behind me. He pulls me close, pulls me down, and I can't let him hold me while I'm like this so I struggle, but only for a moment, and then I'm warm. I'm in his arms and on his lap. He's rocking me and for the first time in four years, I am safe and I am comforted.

I wrap my arms around his neck and rest my head against his shoulder, the unrelenting stream of tears searing my cheeks with my silent sobs. I feel like a child again, protected by this warm man, and it's a feeling of comfort and surrender. Of having your hand held as you cross a busy street, and I recall that the wounds of my life were once cured with bandages and Neosporin. I let the warm creep over me until I am gone.


It's three weeks before I see her again, and in the intervening time, I think of little other than her dark hair, her dark eyes, her pale skin. A fragile, lonely girl.

It started the next day with wondering how bad her head hurt, wondering if she was alright. When I laid her down on that bed, small like a little girl's, she cried like something broke inside of her and you know I was almost glad? Because for the first time in a long time those sounds weren't coming from me. I soothed her back with my hand until she calmed and then she passed out. The tidal wave of sleep and booze: no dreams, no thoughts, just the void.

You could say that the void and I are acquainted.

I walked back down the stairs of her house, the place smelling cold and forgotten, like no had lived there for a very long time. Only the kitchen smells used. I walk back to the mantle, look at the photos again, the flag. The shrine. The newspaper article, framed and standing next to the photo, saying Chief Swan is survived by his daughter, Isabella.

Fuck. Me.

This girl looked barely old enough to drink, and you're trying to tell me she's alone here? That she's been alone, going back four years? I was asking her questions before I could think, before I could get my goddamned tongue under control, asking if she was alone and she starts crying, that quiet, shaky, silent cry. Like I don't know that's what she's doing. Me and my goddamned tongue.

She wouldn't even look at me and I couldn't blame her, but I couldn't just let her stand there and cry. So I grabbed her close and she was hard everywhere and then she was soft and she just kind of…folded herself up into me. I haven't had a woman that close in three years, and I forgot how it makes a man feel. I forgot how a woman feels. How they yield.

I drove home, thick with thoughts of Bella Swan, who may or may not be all alone in that cold and musty house. Whose eyes may or may not have been saying 'please don't say no to me' when she asked if she could sit down at my table. Whose body was soft and warm and whose tears came from the pit of her stomach, the pit of her heart.

I fell asleep that night thinking about her and the dreams came harder, heavier than they had in a long time.

The tires squeal as I slam on the breaks, but it's too fucking late. I twist the wheel but it doesn't matter because there's a thud and a crunch and then crackling as the safety glass crumbles and she's yelling, screaming, and the world is upside down. Something's burning and that noise, piercing through my ears, so sharp and guttural, the screeching, with antlers and hooves through the windshield and her small voice is filling the night and I'm reaching for her. There's blood, too much blood, covering over her frail, white skin oh, baby, no. Oh no, no. I can almost reach her hand, just another –

I woke up panting, moaning, tangled into damp sheets that stuck to me everywhere. My heart pounding as I flopped onto my back, waiting for the tears that always come after this storm.

The next morning, I wake up to clear skies. I fell asleep waiting.

I couldn't weed Bella Swan out of my mind. She'd spoken, what, a dozen words to me? It was enough for the seeds of fascination to grow. My mind circled back over her, the soft warm body on my lap, the small girl in a small bed, wondering if she'd talk to me on Friday night. Would she come to me, embarrassed smiles and downcast eyes? Or would she pretend that nothing happened, try to keep some pride? Would she keep her distance, wait for me to go to her?

That would never happen. I already felt like a traitor. I could not pursue the broken swan.

Still, I was disappointed when she didn't show up. Which is fucked up, because I have no business watching barroom doors for pretty, dark-eyed girls, who look at me like I'm some kind of hero because I help them get their key in the lock when they're stumbling drunk.

I spent the next week trying not to look her up on the internet or stop in at the bar and ask the waitress, Angela, about her. I didn't want to remember the way Bella's finger felt, circling the thin scar on my arm, unafraid, without pity. I wondered why I'd never seen her in town before a few months ago, when she started showing up at the bar on Friday nights, watching me from behind her hair, trying to be sly.

That next Friday night she didn't show either. Had I somehow offended her? Was she really that embarrassed? Was it Cullen? I didn't like the way my stomach felt when I thought about that. Which again, was fucked up. Still, I saw the way he'd watched her that night, his hands all over the blonde girl, his eyes on Bella Swan. He wasn't giving her that shitty 'poor you' look like everyone else. And unlike everyone else, his face never shifted to the 'thank God it wasn't me' look. I've had my fill of both. I imagine she has too.

I got through the week and sat with Mary Alice, like I do every Friday. When I was with her, I didn't think about the girl. I didn't think about the nightmares, and I didn't think about how very different things should be right now, how Mary Alice should be coming out with me tonight, her tiny hand in mine as I led her around the dance floor, or how she could never seem to sit anywhere but my lap, or how she was light as a feather, and full of fight. I blew her a kiss and promised to see her next week. It took me two days to realize I hadn't cried.

As I drive to the bar, I'm thinking about Bella Swan, and wondering if tonight will be the night I see her again. I wonder again if I should maybe just stop by her house, check to see that she's okay. Angela leaves a beer on the table for me and I wonder if she'll answer my questions if I ask them. Before I can decide, Bella is there, standing next to me. Her cheeks are pink but her eyes are steady as she asks if she can sit with me. I nod, and she sits down. My mouth, which has kept its own company for years now is suddenly full of questions to ask. It wants to ask them pressed against her skin.

I sip my beer.

"Thank you," she says. She looks down at her hands and blushes some, her eyes dark in all that pale skin. "I guess I owe you a beer."

The smile comes, unbidden, tugging at the corner of my mouth. "A beer?" I say. "I think you owe me more than that. How about a dance?"

She flushes and I do too, because what the fuck was that? A dance?

"I can't dance," she says, and well, I know that's a lie. The night she first sat at my table, I left right after her and saw her walking home. Saw her dancing home, in the dark.

"I don't believe that's true," I say, and I take her hand and lead her out because they've just started a two-step, and this I know she can do.

George Strait is talking about losing all his charm, and Bella Swan stands in front of me, rigid. I slide my hand around her back and take her other hand in mine. It's not as small as I'd expected. I notice this, and then I notice that the thought doesn't shred my heart, just kind of pierces it. I close my eyes and step forward. She steps back. Five steps later we're dancing, but she's tense. Her arms don't bend and her face is down, staring at her feet. I guide her away from the people and stop, tip her chin up to look at me. She's flushed. It's beautiful, and my body yearns to pull her tight to me.

"Bella," I say, and she looks into my eyes. I raise my eyebrows at her and give her a little jerk. "Relax."

She sags a little and lets out her breath. She closes her eyes. "Sorry," she says.

I nod and guide us back to the floor. She is fluid in my arms now, grinning at me and I grin back. Her shirt rides up and one of my fingers is touching the bare skin at her waist. My whole body reacts, hungry for her skin. I try not to focus on what I want from her. Instead, I try to think about what I can give to her. It doesn't seem like much.

When the song is over, I spin her in a little twirl and she smiles, squeezing my hand before letting go. We sit down and have another beer before she rises to leave, and I walk her home. In the silence, the night noises fill in the space where words should be.

At her door, she turns to me. Her eyes are steady on mine, and I resist the urge to stroke her cheek.

"Jasper Whitlock," she says. "You're just exactly who I thought you would be. Thank you." She touches her hand to her mouth, and then to my cheek. Before I can react, she is inside the house, door closed behind her. I stand there a minute, my hand over my cheek. It wants more. So do I.

Three days later, I'm standing at the cemetery. Rows of markers flush with the ground are interspersed with rounded rectangles of gray granite. They're all the same: a name, a date, an endearment. I make my way to Mary Alice and sit with her under a sky full of flat, gray clouds. Last week's flowers have been cleared away and I lay my latest offering down. This week, I've gathered lupine, her favorite, and bunches of Queen Anne's lace. She would have loved the blue and white, always her favorite colors.

I sit, legs folded beneath me, and tell Mary Alice about my week. The ranch is well, the cattle are getting fat and I realize that I am filling up our time with small talk because I am avoiding what I want to say. I want to tell her about Bella Swan, and I choke as the tears come hard and fast.

I lean my head against the cool granite and I feel a hand at my back. I jerk up, but it feels warm and I can feel the calm coming from it. I know without looking that it's Bella. Who else would it be?

"Shhh, Jasper."

She has bouquets of flowers in her hand and she lays them aside and sits next to me. I lean my head back against the stone, my fingers digging in to the carved A and L. We sit, quiet. I allow the tears, but not the sobs.

She says, "I saw you once. With her. You were down town and you had her in your arms and I thought if someone ever looked at me the way he's looking at her…. She knew that she was loved by you."

I can't say anything, but it feels better, having her here.

Bella sits with me in the quiet of the morning. I don't move, don't acknowledge her, but my knees and back are aching with the strain of my position. The stone is no longer cool. I no longer feel it at all. It has become a part of me.

The girl eventually squeezes my shoulder and stands. She runs a hand over my head and I want to lean into her thigh, press my head against her stomach and take her for salvation.

I stay still. She picks up her flowers and pulls out a single lily, white and pink and heady with scent. A drop of nectar hangs from the stamen. She lays it atop the stone and walks away.

When I finally rise to leave, it's hard to miss her. She sits, legs crossed, between two markers. There are flowers against each of them. She doesn't look to be crying, or even speaking, only still. Is she waiting for me? I turn and leave before I find out.

I just can't.

Friday afternoon, Peter calls. I love my brother, but his frequent calls to check up on me are starting to get on my nerves. Once they were my lifeline. Now it's a nuisance because I need to shower and iron my shirt before I head over to the bar to see Bella Swan.

The conversation on my end is short, and Peter is exasperated.

"What, am I keeping you from a hot date?"

My head snaps up and in my surprise, I am caught. The silence hangs on the line.

"Oh my god," he says. "You do have a date."

I look down and sigh, saying no, it's not a date. But it is. I know and she knows it and now so does Peter. He asks me to tell him about her.

"There's nothing to tell. It's not a date." If I repeat the lie enough then maybe I can convince someone that it's true.

He pushes, so I try to find the words to explain Bella Swan. I want to tell him about how she's quiet and how she's alone. About how the curve of her back fits into the palm of my hand and how her dark eyes go big when I touch her. How I keep asking her to dance so that I can touch her. But describing Bella takes another language, and I'm not fluent.

"I don't know what I'm doing," I finally say. "She looks at me like…." I'm a hero. I'm her answer.

I'm a man.

"I don't know," I say again. I feel inarticulate.

"Hey," he says, "whatever it is? I'm glad. Is she a good girl?" he asks.

I sigh. How the fuck should I know? I never fucking talk to the girl. I'm frustrated because I don't want to think about this, I don't want to explain any of it, the price, the implications. I just want it to be.

"I think so," I say.

"You'll be fine," he says, and then tells me that Charlotte says hello before he says goodbye. I hang up the phone and head to the shower. Apparently, I have a date.

The music seems loud tonight, but maybe it's because I'm trying to talk to this girl, finally. We sit at the table, a half-dozen empty beer bottles and countless napkins littering the small space.

"You're smiling a lot tonight," I say, and her grin grows.

"So are you," she says and I realize that it's true. Her eyes shine and I feel an unfamiliar ache in my cheeks, but the smile no longer feels like a strange thing on my face. I want to reach across and hold her hand. She's danced with me twice tonight and I miss her body being close to me. The way it feels to touch her skin, shivery hot.

"Let's go," she says, and stands to walk away. I follow and as we walk outside, I catch her hand. She twines her fingers into mine, like it was the most natural thing, like we've done this a hundred times.

We get to her front porch and she drops my hand, and I wonder if I can give her what she needs, this night, for a change. Every other night, I walk her home and she opens the door and turns and looks at me, her eyes hungry and vulnerable. Tonight I can feel her frustration, like heat, and it burns me until it owns me and becomes my own.

She slides the key into the lock and then turns to look at me, staring at my mouth. I know right then that I'm not done with tonight. I bend and she rises, and then she is in my arms, just handfuls of her, her hair, her body, pressed against mine. She smells so good, like something sweet, and, fuck…edible.

I step forward and push her up against the door, eyes wide on hers. She nods and I look at her mouth. She's gathered her lower lip between her teeth and is biting down on the soft flesh. Biting. I can't even think. I want her teeth on my skin, I want her mouth on me, fingernails and my face buried in her hair.

I stroke my thumb across her lip, pulling it out from between her teeth. "Give me that." It's a growl and her only warning before I take her mouth with mine. Hungry, hungry, I'm biting at her lips, sucking on her tongue and tasting her mouth, hot and sweet under the beer, and I want to feed her strawberries so I can kiss the taste of them out of her mouth. Too soon, I'm out of air.

I pull away to breathe, pant, and she's looking up at me, all big eyes and tangled hair. I love that it was my hands that tangled it, love that it was me who made her mouth red, who caused that shine in her eyes. She draws a quick breath and looks down, the fingers of one hand still climbing under the sleeve of my t-shirt, the other slipped through the belt loop on my jeans.

Then she transforms: Her fingers let go of me. Her shoulders come up tighter, squared. Her back straightens; she draws herself up to me.

This could not be good.

"Jasper," she says. She's breathless and her voice is a whisper. "If you want me, you should have me."

I want you, I'm thinking. My fingers, my mouth, my cock, we all want you.

She pushes me a step back. "But if you have me, it has to be because you want me. And not because I'm sad. Not because she's gone." Bella looks down at her feet, then gathers herself back up to me again, meets my eyes. "I don't want you any other way."

I'm watching her, thinking that she could level a city with that gaze. I swallow and nod. I am unprepared for this conversation, but apparently she is not. Apparently she has been waiting because she said exactly what she wanted to say.

"You should go now," she says. "You should think about it."

I don't want to go now, and I don't want to think about anything but getting her naked, as soon as fucking possible. And isn't she the little hypocrite?

"What about Edward Cullen?" I ask, because I saw the way she avoided his look, and I saw the way he looked at her. I want to fight this out with her. I don't want her to have the upper hand.

Bella laughs, her eyes fierce. She knows exactly what I'm doing. "Edward Cullen was my boyfriend in high school. He was a jerk and he didn't treat me right, but I don't think that was his fault. I learned a lot from him."

Then her gaze softens. She becomes gentle again. "Edward Cullen was my first love, and I'll never forget him." Her voice drops to a whisper. "But I got over it."

She turns toward the door and I'm not about to be dismissed. I spin her, grab her by the waist and pull her into me, my mouth hard on hers. I want her to feel me, feel this. I want her to know that I'm sure, even if I don't.

She gives in to me, gives in to my covetous kiss, twisted tongues and hands in hair, skin soft, teeth hard and sharp. Then she stops and pushes me away. She's panting and shaking her head.

"Come back tomorrow," she says. "If you still want me." Then she opens the door and walks inside, leaving me, my mouth, my heart, my cock, all of us, in the cold.


I close the door behind me, walk straight into the kitchen and pour a healthy shot of Irish Whiskey. Jesus fuck, did he actually growl at me? I shiver as I remember his thumb on my lip, his mouth on mine, his hands grabbing and squeezing, touching me all over, scalding me with his hunger.

I down the shot and set the glass on the counter, feeling the liquid burn down my throat, warming my stomach. I don't know who I was out there, how I was so certain, or how I said no to him. But it was right, I was right. If he came to me for any reason other than desire for me, it would only end in tears for us both.

Every single thing that I knew about this man told me that this, between us, was right. That he was right, for me.

I hold my hand to my face, smelling his clean, sunshine scent on my fingers before I head up the stairs to bed. I think it's going to be a long night.


I wake up minutes after midnight to a pounding at the front door. I look out of my bedroom window. There's a soft rain falling, and under the yellow light of the front porch stands Jasper Whitlock, head bowed, rain spilling off the brim of his Stetson.

I fly down the stairs and open the door.

He stands before me, skittish, terrified, certain. He picks up my hand and presses it against his cheek, closes his eyes, and draws a deep, hissing breath. I swallow. His skin is hot under my fingers. We stand there for minutes, my hand on his cheek, his eyes closed to me.

"Jasper," I say. He squeezes his eyes tight before he opens them, and lets me go. He reaches his hand out for my face now, his fingertips brushing the top of my cheek before he cups his hand to the back of my head, fingers lacing through my hair. I stumble forward, into him, pulled by the strings that connect me to him, threads of grief and loss and want.

"Jasper," I say again. His head bends toward me, willing himself through the pain playing out on his face, and god help me, I let him. He brushes his mouth against mine and I stop breathing for that moment. I know that I can take him now. I know that I can help him fight past whatever fealty he owes her, and that I can make him mine. That he'll let me do it. He wants me to do it.

He pulls back and looks into my eyes. We're both half in, half out of the house and the rain is cold on my skin. I'm wearing one of Charlie's old undershirts, a pair of panties and nothing more. I'm suddenly embarrassed by my nudity and I shift back a step.

"It's tomorrow," he says. "Can I come back now?"


She pulls me into the house and I set my wet hat on the low wall of the entry way. She shivers, maybe from the cold and wet, maybe from something else. I don't know.

"You're cold," I say.

She nods and stares at me, waiting. It's time.

"It's you," I say. "I just want you."

She takes a half step forward and that's all I need. I pull her into my arms, breathing in her scent, fruit and flowers and something musky underneath it. Her mouth finds my throat and it's hot and wet on my skin, pulling me completely out of my head and into this moment with her. No thoughts, no tomorrows, just here. Now. Her.

I scoop her into my arms and take her upstairs to her bedroom. We stand, her back to her bed and I have to bend to reach her mouth. It's frantic on mine, sucking and biting and licking, and I echo her need, desperate to consume the sweet, delicious newness of her.

Every move is uncharted territory. Every breath, a novel surprise, fueling my hunger for more. Her skin is foreign and fresh under my fingers, and yet it feels so good, so right, like nothing before, but still familiar.

I lift the hem of her shirt and my fingers explore her stomach, the skin at the small of her back. I want to spin her and lay kisses there, on that perfect curve that fits into the palm of my hand, where my desire for her was made.

"So beautiful," I whisper against her mouth, and I see her eyes flutter open. They are wide and reverent and in them, I see everything that I need from her: her trust, her warmth, her acceptance of a man who has been broken for years, who, until tonight, had less than a whole heart to give.

She nods against me, and her fingers flutter to my waist, as I feel them tugging at my shirt. I bow my head against hers. I don't know if I'm ready for this.

"Bella," I say, taking a step back.

She looks at me, eyes wide and questioning. I move to sit down on the bed, noticing for the first time the chill in the air. I look around and see a pair of sweats on the floor, scoop them up and hand them to her. Her sigh is heavy with disappointed hunger. Two steps forward, one step back.

"What do you need?" she asks. She knows what I want; it's in the air between us.

"I-" I let out a frustrated sigh. I don't know where to begin with her, how to explain what may repulse her.

"There are scars," I say. "From the accident."

She looks down and lifts my hand, her fingertip light over the scar on my forearm. Her eyes question. I nod.

Her fingers stroke my jaw, my neck, and trail across my shoulder, down my other arm and across the back of my hand. She laces her fingers through mine, then places our hands against my heart. Her other hand strokes my thigh, then travels a path up my stomach, across my chest. My stomach clenches. I'm begging her to touch me. I'm begging her to stop.

She tugs on my shirt, pulling the hem away from my body, all the while, her eyes on mine, asking if this is okay. The squeeze of my hand on hers tells her not to stop.

She reaches for me, fingers tentative over my skin. Swirls and outlines and jagged edges, her fingertips brush them, searing fire on closed wounds. She holds her breath, then lets it go, courage in her hands. My own breath stays safe in my lungs. It's too much to breathe and feel at once.

I close my eyes. Her fingers, curious, adventuring in strange lands, come across ridges and valleys where the map indicated smooth plains. She hitches up my shirt and I let her. Exposed, I await her judgment. I can't look at her and see her revulsion. Her horror. Her pity.

"Jasper?" she asks, and I don't twitch. Her fingers trace over them once more. In the last three years I've become good at pretending they don't exist. Good at pretending too many things. I nod my head, answering her unasked question and feel her shift against me.

Her hand is still in mine, still pressed against my heart, and I feel the tickle of her long brown hair against my stomach. Then her mouth is on me, soft and soothing and exciting, kissing at the jagged pink flesh, kissing at my mistakes, my memorial, my price. I reach for her, my hand at the back of her head and my fingers are so tight on hers that I think I must be hurting her.

There's a letting go in how I clutch at her, an abandonment of sorrow and that carefully crafted existence, and an embrace of the here, the now. She perches on my lap and kisses my cheek, my forehead, my nose. My closed eyes. I open them to see her, her acceptance of me and she is lovely, lovely, this young, strong girl, pushing her strength at me, willing me to take shelter in her, promising that together we will ride out the storm.

I pull her close and kiss her hair, pushing our joined hands against her heart. It's a promise of togetherness, a promise of partnership, a promise of tomorrows, of always taking two steps forward, of leading and following, of trust and of…love.

We crawl under the covers of her small, narrow bed. I have one foot on the floor and she's almost fully on top of me. Her fingers are never still, always skimming, seeking, exploring. Mine stroke and whisper against her skin, seeking permission that is never denied. Our mouths are in harmony and the terrible urgency that swept us forward has ebbed, leaving only this sweetness, these tender moments of discovery as we chart tomorrow's course. For me, for us, for now, it is so much more than could be expected or even hoped for. It's a gift that simply is.



Quite literally, the success of this story belongs to krismom and FarDareisMai2. They are both Alpha and Beta, and I would have been forever stuck without their nudges, gentle suggestions, and hand-holding. Everyone needs a hand to hold on to. I am both lucky and grateful to have theirs.

Many thanks must be given to Project Team Beta, and in particular Mel and Kristi28. Not only did they provide many useful suggestions, but they also gave me commas. A hundred of them. At this point, any errors in this work are mine, and mine alone.

You can find a link to PTB in my profile.

Several artists stood me in good stead as I wrote this story. Included in the heavy rotation: John Mellencamp (Dance Naked, Ain't Even Done With the Night), Alison Krause and Union Station (albums: New Favorite, Lonely Runs Both Ways), the Beatles (White Album, Rubber Soul, and "Girl"), The Clash (Lost in the Supermarket) and various selections by Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Otis Redding and Al Green. The title of this fic belongs to the song of the same name by Killswitch Engage.

I have been writing much about Jasper of late. In this, I wanted to look at his scars, and how an AH Jasper might have gotten them, and how that experience might have marked him, inside and out. I hope I did right by him.

Please let me know what you thought. If you loved or hated this, tell me why? Criticism is always appreciated.