United Colors of Twilight

Title: Lone Wolves

Your pen name: adharmic

Pairing(s): Jasper/Leah

Hello! So this was a judge's choice winner for the United Colors of Twilight contest (which was hosted by some fabulous authors) and I've finally gotten around to posting it. Through the encouragement of others, I decided to extend it a few more chapters (I think two at the max) to give Cherokee Leah and Civi Warsper a proper ending. Will it be a happy one…that I cannot say. Enjoy

Disclaimer: I own nothing of Twilight or its characters and mean no copyright infringement.

Jasper's face hurt from the effort. The effort of being, and smiling, and talking, and telling. He commiserated, appreciated, and granted an ear to even the most frivolous of red tinted mouths; men and women alike staining and loosening their tongues with goblets of wine and slips of brandy. Taken with his steely charm, they could only flock closer to be near such an intriguing figure: A man who had seen war.

If he slid; their expressions slid in tandem. If he winced, they twisted their lips as if in empathizing in his grievous pain. No doubt if he whistled a jaunty tune, they would abide by that joyous signal; the ladies hitching the wide circumferences of their skirts to accommodate an animated jig while the gentlemen would follow suit in their waistcoats and vigorously polished shoes.

Such was the curse of a decorated soldier. While anonymity may have inflicted the pain of a life fought in vain on the lesser known, the highly recognizable war man could do little but smile in the face of impending honor. While forcing away the blaze of fire and the curls of black smoke, the stench of spilled blood mixing vividly in clay and soil and bone grinding in perpetual grit from the backs of weary eyelids, the soldier would smile and beckon forth the admiration of the masses.


Because to do otherwise would be inviting disillusionment and sullying the proclaimed 'glory of war.' To do otherwise would be tragic, even if a dose of honesty could be afforded by those he allowed himself to mill about on this night. Even as he inwardly sought an end to the limitless fanfare and ached for understanding, he had no intention of subjecting anyone to his bleak doctrine.

"Yes." he thought quietly, as even his conscious stream of thought only presented itself in the barest of whispers. In the heat of battle, the blinding rage of a brandished weapon could only be countered by the soothing numbness of the cold submission to violence by the man bearing it. He learnt to think, act, and move in mental silence, calculating each maneuver to be his last. "Happiness is a dream. Let them sleep."

And sleep they did. The Texas Governor's Mansion shone as the perfect physical manifestation of the state it pledged its allegiance to: A lone star - bright, glittering, and awake in the depthless night - illuminating the paths of the fortunate and entitled hordes. The pleasantries and reigning gossip flowed freely. So too did the booze and the passions it instigated within those individuals, blinded by their waking slumber.

Jasper felt he had paid more than enough witness to that particular aspect when he observed a former lieutenant with whom he had collaborated closely, gaily engaging a coquettish, flaxen haired beauty in billows of organza. She was draped neatly on his arm and Peter was currently leading the dame through a widely arched entryway into the adjacent room. They were undoubtedly forsaking the populated, highly embellished quarters for the quiet and privacy of the outer premises.

Jasper quickly averted both his eyes and imaginings from their backs, realizing it was the highest form of impropriety to even envision such an encounter. With a new appreciation for the commodity of privacy, he shifted his gaze along the intricate moldings of the wall, the flickering dimness and shadow of the room projected by the occasional lit oil lamp. There were too many for his liking, and the burning flames behind the faceted panes of glass danced in the wake of his discomfort. Straightening the crisp collar on the white jacket of his colonel's uniform, his fingers brushing like gentle ministrations of a beloved on the neatly lined gold of the coat buttons, he anchored his cane to the dark, oiled wood of the floor.

The cane was a statement in itself, projecting the gravitas of his injuries and the harsh realities he faced as a former soldier. And yet, it seemed to only attract further interest, further interrogation of his condition, further awe and seething, perverse envy from men who silently drew on their own desire for a battle scar. Something that would brand them as heroes, and set them apart to be held aloft in distinction and praise.

Jasper could only shudder in remembrance of the enflamed scars, blanched an unearthly white in the late stages of healing, which wound like snakes from the junction of his pelvis to the expanse of his torso. Along one arm to the shallow divot of his collarbone. Winding and twisting and mocking, they would never allow him the absolution of forgetting.

He was literally a marked man. Marked for what? Glory, luck, defeat…death? He was never so sure, exactly. Days transitioned in lurches and nights were fragmented with the onset of images he conjured in feverish terror.

No, not marked for death, then. Who would grant him death when he would encounter innumerably more sorrows in this inescapable hell?

Ablaze and at the very heart of the celebrations, he had never fathomed the stifling nature of his native Texan heat would ever prove to be too much to bear.

His previous naïveté astounded him. The very air boiled like a geyser.

Using his cane as a compass stem, he pivoted discreetly to the left. There was very little change in the scenery as he moved in a ¾ rotation from his original position. Almost as if he had entered the world of a perfectly animated, living, breathing painting and his position did not afford him the luxury of perspective. He was in a flat, unchanging landscape and longed for the opportunity to escape.

But even as his fingers closed over the unblemished silver knob that imperiously topped the cane, he was obliged to enter in another round of dialogue with the son of the former Governor of Texas, Samuel Houston II, and his accompanying party. They had unknowingly dislodged any hope of an unseen departure, as the open path paved by fellow partygoers was barricaded at their sudden presence.

He felt ill.

"Major Whitlock." he repeated importantly, and somewhat jovially, for the fourth time that evening, his cheeks flushed and his eye twinkling with the onset of tipsiness. "I don't think I've had the honor of introducing my wife." A demure little thing with nervous eyes nodded her head, not bothering to offer her hand in greeting. Jasper nodded stiffly, attempting to break the stone of his face with a catching smile. He wasn't certain that he had cracked more than a grimace.

"Ma'am." he mumbled softly, and subtly displaced the pressure his right leg was currently straining under, onto the cane. The familiar ache on his outer thigh was rising in time with the tempo of the orchestral piece the band was currently playing. The rousing Dixie march that had commenced the evening had given way to the mourning strains of a country fiddle. It was slow, melancholy, and almost as torturous as the shooting pain that steadily climbed up his leg. He had already spent too great a portion of the night on it and realized he had been remiss and a touch mulish in the head for not heeding the family physician's recommendation that he rest often.

As the group chatted on, oblivious to Jasper's reticence to join their proceedings, his eyes darted wearily in search of distraction, and focused once again on the trickling trail of couples departing. Some were sober and showing subtle signs of tiring from the evening's festivities; others were rambunctious and under the heady influence and euphoria of youth and the war's end. Texas had not been majorly affected by the Confederate defeat; many returning soldiers were endowed with land holdings in reward for their service and a constant stream of trade in industrial and commodity goods flourished across the Texan-Mexican border. Jasper himself owned 30 sprawling acres of an inherited ranch on the outskirts of Austin, the land now sparsely vegetated as a result of the practice of salting: A practice the Union soldiers had favored in rendering the once fertile, Southern farmland, barren. It seemed as if Sherman and his men had salted a veritable trail of ruin, straight through to the Atlantic.

Even so, if his riches were measured in terms of assets, honor, and luck, he was in fact a very wealthy man.

But at this moment, his wealth held little importance. Sweat dribbled in crooked streams off the arch of his nose, and he determinedly tried to cloak his expressions, understanding how absolutely alone he was in the midst of this ocean of voices.

Jasper's eyes shut as he dug within himself to bear the eminent climax of the throbbing hurt and his teeth clenched and gritted miserably when it broke across his threshold.

He needed to leave and set his leg properly. Now.

His hand trembled lightly upon the cane as he separated his mashed lips to excuse himself.

Except when his eyes opened to do so, his tongue lay heavy and flat and he was forced into silence by the sight before him.

Never before had the prickling intensity of exquisite paranoia been as acute, for him, as in that second.

She was a striking woman. There was nothing especially stylized or elaborate about the scallops and bustle of her deep red gown, but his eyes refused to distance themselves for fear of her suddenly melting backwards and disappearing from the throngs and into the wall. She didn't move to demand the attention of the room, but her gaze was inescapable. More aural spirit than tangible human, she patiently stood in contemplation across the wide expanse of the drawing room, aloof from the swirling crowd and yet at ease. She was unmoved by his confounded reaction to her avidly watchful gaze.

Her focus was directed pointedly upon Jasper, but where had others had merely looked upon him with a spectral range of emotions, her expression held no praise or empathy or hidden disdain.

She looked and she 'saw' him. He had no notion as to how or why, but only felt the distinct sensation of every nerve, bone, and haunting memory fully exposed, opened, and searched anew.

She 'saw' him and no judgment flashed in her eyes. When everyone had failed to notice the weight of the hidden desperation that emanated from his features, he was certain that her gaze had shredded his façade with quiet deliberation and now traveled past the pieces to dispassionately examine the razed, raw core of his soul.

The feelings she evoked, they surpassed unsettling. He felt his own vulnerability latch within him, the innate tremors of weakness that inevitably accompanied the experience of being stripped bare making themselves known.

And they hadn't even exchanged words.

He had registered the attendance of various ladies in finery: old, young, exotic, intelligent, beautiful, charming. This was after all the first Governor's Ball to be held in almost four years, the previous years waning somber and vigil-like due to battle and the ever present news of death. As a result, the fairer sex sought the opportunity to recommence the celebrations in ostentatious luxury. Many of the officers had brought their wives or betrothed, while others had deigned to present beauties they had only recently acquainted themselves with. The primly decorated, alabaster skinned belles of the South flirted with secret smirks and suggestive banter while the senoritas guapas , all tanned complexions and dark beauty, brimmed with fire that showcased their quick, outward wit.

She was neither.

Instead her dark, honest eyes wandered him, neither taking nor giving, but branding every lost bit of himself that was mired deep within his unhealed wounds. Her skin may have been tinted the exact tawny shade of the supple hide of a fawn, but the curved lines of her body gave the impression of resilience, of a hardy disposition. Her lips were ripe plums, but she wore no rouge.

She was the eye of the storm, thrashing and moving and swaying with all the force of a violent thrall, and yet she remained perfectly motionless in the eerie calm of its center.

A study in contradictions: A sudden kinship wrought from being the chosen pair of individuals in the room who were not truly present within four walls, but rather circling as souls seeking each other in a timeless vacuum.

He abruptly pondered if his brandy intake had occurred at a higher rate than he had initially perceived.

"Major Whitlock?" Sam Houston II broke Jasper's reverie with a curious interrogative and followed his intense stare (as he had been steadily occupied for more than simply a few minutes) to the object of his relentless, silent inquiry.

"Oh." Houston's curiosity slipped into anxiety and Jasper ventured to presume that he was not particularly appeased by the presence of this woman. Not breaking his eyes from her form, he noticed her as she turned in the blurred edge of his vision, interacting with an individual who had appeared at her side. Or perhaps who had been present the whole time.

"It is a delicate process." Houston offered nervously, wiping from his temple the residual sweat that formed due to this indoor furnace, with his cuffed sleeve. "The Cherokees are growing restless with the promises of land entitlement my grandfather fought to preserve in their stead. I'm afraid due to the precarious balance of the situation, an invitation needed to be extended by way of my hand."

Jasper, drinking in this information, finally made himself aware of the woman's companion, a tall, roughly hewn man with a stately presence. His lined face was the very example of stoic and a thick, striated, gray and black plait lay neatly on and in contrast to the shoulder of his black suit.

Like the woman, he gave nothing away to the casual eye.

"I'm so very sorry if their presence causes you any discomfort." He finished, grumbling underhandedly of unwanted intrusions and the antiquated rights of savages. The only thing that had previously caused Jasper any discomfort, his leg, had unbelievably fled to the point that he noticed it was no more than a persistent, yet dull afterthought. She had done quite the opposite, by consuming him to the point of distraction. "It's high time they left, actually. My men should be close…" Houston's head bobbed comically like a man lost at sea, and Jasper responded sharply.

"No!" Apparently too sharply, as the majority of heads that comprised their group swerved in mild degrees of shock at his exclamation.

She can not leave.

Jasper, properly abashed and not a little wary of the attention he was now receiving, recovered by gesturing faintly towards the Cherokee and her guard with a nod of his head.

"Would you give me an introduction? I've never met…one of their kind…before." he faltered in the wake of his truly unsophisticated falsehood, feeling boorish and consequently idiotic. Not a small number of his Confederate infantrymen and sergeants had been members of the Cherokee clan, both fluent in the art of war and undeniable assets in assembling the foundations of strategy.

He was ashamed but could find no other ostensible reason to persuade an encounter between him and the woman, orchestrated by such a man as Houston, no less.

"Are you sure, Whitlock? I'm convinced they were on their way out the door…"

Jasper's cane stamped impatiently against the floor. "That would be Major Whitlock." He muttered, his tone both mortified and a touch menacing in his stubborn correction. "And yes I am, if you would be so kind."

Houston, perplexed, suspicious and somewhat miffed that Jasper's attention had clearly waned in regards to him, reluctantly flourished a small wave to heed both of the Cherokee's awareness.

While the woman, her gaze now set apprehensively and firmly on the intentions of Houston, stepped forward with a regal gait, the man stood deliberately in her shadow. When her presence infiltrated Jasper's circle, he noticed that the man moved only in response to her, and never due to the lukewarm invitations of others. He remained hidden from the conversation yet in plain sight of his charge.

Now that she was here, the desperation Jasper had projected in summoning her gave way to his frightful lack of preparation. His words numbed and he found he had no idea how to go about saying anything to the woman who had so abruptly captivated him.

"Uh, Major Whitlock, this is…," Houston hesitated minutely, annoyance pervading his features, "Ms. Clearwater of the Eastern Cherokee Nation. Am I correct?"

With that statement, her unwavering face spilt into the most brilliant smile, warming the creases around her eyes and adding an orb like glow to the mold of her cheeks. Her gaze, however, remained incisive as ever.

"You most certainly are." She nodded in sincere approval towards Houston and he tittered lamely before clearing his throat and planted the focus of his blushing face past her shoulders. He cringed when he realized that would set him in position to stare deep into the unyielding eyes of her companion, and he chucked his head downwards.

Apparently, she didn't strive to create a strange mix of emotions only within Jasper.

Her voice was nothing he expected. It was clear and left no room for ambiguous interpretation. Her English was impeccable, not even remotely as accented and broken as he had anticipated. He noticed the she spoke with unhurried deliberateness, even through her syllables were shaped with the cut, sharp speech of Northerners and not the flat, extended consonants perpetrated by denizens of the South.

Jasper had never seen or heard anything so completely breathtaking, and even though hindered by an unfounded fear of inadequacy, he interrupted quickly to grab the reins of the introduction.

"Jasper Whitlock, ma'am." He sputtered, surprising even himself with the insistence of familiarity. He straightened himself to a considerable height, attempting to dispel the unfortunate presence of his imposing walking aid. The corner of her eyes softened as her swollen grin abated to a soft, knowing smile. When she held her hand forth for him to lavish with gentlemanly decorum, he grew inexplicably warm and hazy at the appearance of her gloves.

Formal gloves were intended as some mark of modesty, were they not? And yet, the black lace that ran halfway up her arms, cloaking smooth umber skin, seemed utterly beguiling. Even more so were the hands, as the material crossed between the tender valleys of her thumb and forefinger, partially leaving her slender, yet calloused knuckles and fingers open to scrutiny by everyone who glanced upon them.

Sensual, and yet wholly familiar.

He did not resist accepting her hand, for fear of talking himself out of the opportunity to touch her skin and gain even the slightest contact with the object of his sudden infatuation; the woman who stood beyond his perception.

The rough pads of their fingers met briefly and he softly clutched at her knuckles, daintily scratching his lips against the lace as he bowed low to kiss them.

"Ms. Clearwater." He murmured lowly, allowing his heated breath to blow gently across her skin.

It may have been the arch of her surprised brow, or the light intake of breath through her mouth, but Jasper felt as if she may have enjoyed the ministration as much as he did.

Sensual, indeed.

Claiming back her hand, she clasped it in the other, her eyes shining clear and yet frustratingly opaque in their purpose.

"Well Jasper, if you insist to be referred to by your Christian name, then I must be equally insistent." Her words caught him unaware.

Was that teasing?

Was she teasing him for his determinedly casual introduction? His stomach clenched in ungrounded excitement at the thought that they had already formed some tenuous camaraderie in the face of this blatant farce.

She glanced back towards her companion and his arms crossed in a sign of acknowledgement. "I am Leah. And I'm afraid Jacob doesn't speak much English so please excuse his silence." Jacob's dark eyed gaze settled on some indiscriminate point beyond the cluster of uniforms and gowns.



Almost as if in afterthought, Leah returned the conversation to a flustered Houston, who had borne witness to Jasper's singularly momentous gesture.

"Mr. Houston, I must thank you again for your magnanimous invitation. It has been a lovely evening, albeit quite warm." She added conspiratorially with a shimmering laugh, bending her hand at the wrist and fanning herself gently. His nod was curt, but she did not glean any offense. Instead she graced him with her faultless manners. "I look forward to our further negotiations. My father will be eager to learn of the new boundary lines that are being drawn, east of Austin."

Houston struggled sourly with her statement, almost seeming to excavate some inherent threat that was lost on Jasper. But Leah – she continued with ease in that euphonious, richly vibrant tone that recalled images of the rolling waves of an untamed river, breaking on stalwart rock and overlapping on a sandy shore.

"Major Whitlock – I'm sorry, Jasper."

He grew perturbed at her impending farewell, but she pleasantly veered from his expectations. "I had been looking forward to speaking with you after the bestowal of your distinguished honor." She gestured vaguely towards the brass medallion that hung like an albatross around his sturdy neck. It was too heavy and it strained the muscles of his back. "Would it be too much to ask for you to escort me outside?"

If Jasper had been cursing his status as a hero not just ten minutes ago, he was rejoicing in the fact that she seemed to only have recognized him because of it. While this irony was not lost on him, she was providing him with a reprieve from his civic obligation, and he was all too enthusiastic to accept.

Unable to form coherent words that would encompass how much he would appreciate being able to accompany her to her carriage, he merely nodded, slightly punch drunk and bewitched by her request.

"But Major Whitlock…" Houston's words rebounded off inattentive ears, and when Jasper bade him a cursory goodnight over his shoulder, he was left wallowing dejectedly and without an audience.

The outside of the mansion was a flurry of departure and hasty carriage removals. Amongst the cacophony of horses whinnying and clopping hooves upon the cobblestone, the steady knock of Jasper's cane was almost negligible.

But now he found himself disappointedly spurned towards the withering cotton wood trees on his left as Leah addressed the man named Jacob. His discomfort was compounded by the fact that the capricious and unwanted sting in his thigh was beginning to flare once again.

Jacob seemed to struggle with her willingness to engage Jasper, without an escort, towards the manicured gardens set to the side of the mansion. It was obscured from view due to the dense vegetation that had been transplanted into Texan soil to enhance the quality of the mansion's surroundings.

Nothing had ever seemed so completely out of place.

"Jacob, gega. T'o-si-gwu." She reassured him soothingly, even as he pitched a fiery glare that threatened to reduce Jasper to a human cinder. She placed a calming hand on his chest and he decompressed with a heavy sigh, every nerve of his body and wired stance fraught with tension. It seemed the pressure of her hand had somehow coerced him to relent, and it was even more evident that Leah was driving force behind the dynamics of their partnership.

Jasper couldn't even fathom how she transitioned so seamlessly from her flawless command of English to her native language. Or why he prickled with groundless jealousy at the telling intimacy of her posture in relation to Jacob.

"Ho-wa, hinegv ga-ya-nu-la." Jacob seemed to have dispensed some condition as Leah's rustled skirts sounded past Jasper, and he looked upwards to watch her head tilt shyly forward in question.

"Shall we?"

At last. His heart thudded loudly in the cavity of his chest with the implication of those words.

He noted how the jet black silk of her hair, coiled at the nape of her neck, blended in effortlessly with the inky canvas of night, as he followed her as a lamb would be led to pasture.

The leafy enclosure in which she ended her trail contained a wide stone bench, the gratuitous scrolling on its sides elaborate and unnecessary. She anticipated his actions and it was almost as if she breathed a sigh of triumph when he finally succumbed to the pain and moved to seat himself, propping his leg with a grunt and satisfied moan. His face washed with the beginnings of fresh relief.

He mistook her utterance for frustration and slight panic overtook his fleeting content. "Ma'am, I must apologize for the crudeness of my position. My leg, it-"

She truncated his apology with a sympathetic wave and eyes brimming with some indiscernible emotion.

"Leah." She reminded him quietly, her voice now a wisp of smoke that rose like a layered harmony in the dark. "I am…happy…to see you comfortable. Do not apologize."

He was confused at her kindness, but he adjusted his rigid limb, attempting to massage some comfort into the tenderness of his thigh.

The muscle was taut, cramped and impenetrable to relaxation, just as the physician had warned after he had attended to the putrid cotton wrap of the wound dressings just two nights before.

He continued the cycle of his movements, highly aware of the heat and beads of sweat and perfumed presence of his Cherokee siren. He could state with a disbelieving laugh that he had never quite imagined himself in this position at any period in his life, before the start of this night.

But now he grunted and persisted, not knowing what he could say that would unravel the mystery of her subtle interest in him. There were no words for the metamorphoses in both reason and attitude he was undergoing.

"Jasper?" His arms seized before completely stilling, his ruddy, sun-peeled skin under a confection of lace and warmth. She had laid her hands upon his and the shock of contact gave path to a molten surge of undiluted longing.

How long had it been since his bed had known the tangled strands of a woman's silky hair, the unapologetic, alluring curves of a woman's body? He had been only eighteen, inexperienced and foolhardy, when he had first eagerly charged into battle after the secession. His virginity had been intact for over two years, even through his unanticipated rise in the ranks to Major General, before a fated surrender in northern Mississippi had forced his faction to fall back and take cover in a rustic hamlet. A town that served as a veritable purgatory for its occupants, where half the presiding lady folk coincidentally happened to be grieving widows of soldiers lost in the bloody haze that curtained the fall of Vicksburg. Eerily hospitable, they had offered decent food, safe accommodations, and their…company.

Jasper knew the fragile woman that had willingly invited him inside, that lay shuddering underneath him during his first intimate encounter, had not seen Jasper's face, but rather the ghost of her fallen husband through her tortured, tear stained glimpses.

He had understood, pumped as delicately as his frantically flowing male passion would allow while she lifted her hips in wailing sorrow; caressed away her tears while trying not to assume the role of either a distant or empathetic lover.

She had only sobbed harder, deeper, louder, to the point that her cries had struck him with a deep seated fear.

All successive sexual encounters had proved hollow and unfulfilling, and his injury prevented him from doing much other than drowning his trauma and chronic pain at the bottom of an impressive (and arduously procured) supply of imported Jameson whiskey in his estate.

That and avoiding the inflated condolences over a lost war, the people who pledged their sympathy not knowing the terrors men had paid witness to on each side.

Their ignorance incurred the scarred, ugly wrath that welled in the netherworld of his being. He wanted to rip forth and scream profusely that there should have been no war.

And there should have been no reason for him to be a hermit of his own soul: Alone, awake, and slowly but surely decomposing within a hardened shell.

But Leah touched him and he felt the stirrings of life begin to swirl under the coaxing of her fingertips, exulting in the force that drew them upwards.

"What is this?" The words escaped like cutouts of his inner thoughts, leaving his mouth without the advantage of being strained through a filter. He felt so much, too much, and he worried that his affections were fathoms deeper than her decidedly cool manner.

Except when her eyes bore into his, they were swept in tumult, like leaves rotating in the winds of a tempest.

"What do you feel?"

His answer was beautifully simple in its honesty. "You."

"And, I you." Her whisper was the soft reassurance he needed and when her hand traveled to the patch of blond scrub decorating his jaw line, he harbored the greater part of his face in the safety of her palm.

"So much suffering," she observed, her tone pained and distant; otherworldly. "You hold the suffering of the world within you, Jasper." His eyes closed, drunk and blurry at her touch. Not for the first time that evening, he despaired over what she claimed to, yet what he fervently wished she could not, see.

"I am broken man, Leah," he humbly agreed in his daze, her name rolling like a bittersweet embrace off the fold of his tongue. "I hold the darkness."

She swept her thumb gently upon his cheekbone, a loving reprimand wiping away the shadow of tears and smoothing over his harsh words.

"There is deep sorrow, but your shattered mind is not dark." His eyes flew open in surprise. She was hard like thunder, firm in her denial. "You are gu-tsu-ne-gv, the enduring sycamore that feels the bite of the ax as it is being torn from its roots, its home. You are…you are…," she stuttered, her resilient exterior finally cracking to reveal the depth of her admissions, "wa-ya. The lone wolf adrift in the storm."

His sight inexplicably blurred with moisture, from the unbidden emotion of hearing such a comparison. The separation that Leah's words had illustrated thrummed in his heart, and the relevance of her statement was almost too much to bear.

She didn't halt at the tears that seemed to encompass the entirety of his grief. "You are strong. There can only be strength in those who are truthful in their love, their happiness…their pain."

His ears echoed with the pitted blasts of gunfire, the unheeded dismal calls of the dying, the scattered mixture of dirt and pebbles that showered over him as if he was already lying prone in the ditch of his own, freshly dug grave.

And then his ears purged the horror with her words of redemption.

His leg twitched between them and caused her gaze to lean downwards, and she sighed, her breath gutted with sadness and swollen regret. Her fingers pressed lightly in an oval above the flesh, seeking to heal, but she was tentative in her movements for fear of adding to the unspoken hurt. There was nothing she could do for him at this time. Her hands dropped, and with them so did the flood of calm she had imbued him with. He shuffled to set his feet on the ground, but then flinched from the tug on his nerves.

"I must go." Even as she stiffened her arms, and leveraged her weight onto her palms, his hands instinctively flew out to grasp her wrists in bewildered need, locking her to him. What had seemed durable and poignant in their isolation would was too fragile to be exist outside the context of them. This untitled, untamable draw would cease to exist. She couldn't leave and expect for him to languish without hope. Hope that somehow she would return to him.

"Don't leave. Please." Jasper was selfish in his motivations but there was little that held promise for him in this life he now led. He hadn't had the chance to reconcile her wholly with what she could represent; with what he could even possibly mean to her.

"Shhh." The back of her hand brushed like downy feathers against the heat of his face and his eyes closed, almost in compliance. "We will find our way to each other. Soon."

The statement was not a false assurance or a coaxing ploy for him to release her and allow her to retreat and attend to her companion. She was not running nor was she hiding, and every action, every word held inherent purpose.

He could afford to loosen his fervent hold.

"Soon" she had said and there was nothing but promise that filled the spaces between them.

A promise sealed with the enflamed brush of her lips against his. Both mouths desperately dry but pushing gently, urged on by the moist interiors that lay beyond their chaste contact. Jasper's mind refused to acknowledge the impossibility of her affectionate kiss, but his heart…his heart overflowed with an unthinking devotion and joy. Where before his wounds had only wept blood, his heart now laid willing, weeping tears of acceptance and gratitude.

"Soon." And then she was gone, a mere shadow of her presence lingering upon his memory, the air static and undisturbed as if Jasper had conjured her from the depths of his unstable imagination.

Invisible and incomprehensible, except for the unseen reminder left by the streaks of warmth from her fingers and her mouth; the warmth that painted his cheek and lips, and burned hotter than the Texan night.

His cane dug into the heat softened clay of the ground as he stood, once again favoring his right leg over his left, determinedly limping as he mustered the fullest amount of grace and dignity that his physical restraint could allow.

He held his head high.

Reviews will get you Jasper's whiskey. And he's not so inclined to share.