Alice's fingers danced across the white rail that fenced in the first-class deck, tracing invisible patterns across the painted wood - or was it steel? It felt cold beneath her fingertips, but that might have been due to the crisp sea air and not to the material. She studied the feeling, trying to determine exactly what it was. Her eyebrows furrowed.
"You alright, there, Alice?" Jasper said, a smile in his voice. "It seems you're thinking awfully hard."
"Oh," Alice said, her hand falling back to her side, away from the rail. "It's nothing. Foolish, honestly."
Jasper's hand entwined with hers. "Tell me," he whispered against her ear. Alice looked around to make sure no one had seen. Public displays of affection like this were never seen amongst the higher class. There was no one around to care or judge. She smoothed out her dress.
"I was simply trying to decide what this railing is made of," she said. "What do you think?" She pulled his hand out of hers and placed it on the rail. "Steel or wood?"
"Neither," Jasper answered without hesitation. "Iron. See that?" He replaced his fingers with hers. "It feels tighter than steel, and stronger than wood. The paint sits smoother on it, as well."
Alice found herself stroking the railing. He was right. It was far smoother than the painted wooden bureau in her room, and there was a noticeable difference between it and the steel handle of Bella's mirror.
"You have quite a way with feelings, Mr. Hale," Alice commented, the wind sweeping her hair away from her face as she continued to walk.
Jasper shook his head bemusedly. "Alice, I think we're a bit past formalities like that."
"I apologize," Alice said, pursing her lips before breaking into a slight laugh. "Force of habit, I suppose. Really, though, Jasper. I've noticed. It's not just physical feelings, but emotions. It's as though you have a gift."
He scoffed. "Hardly."
A silence followed, during which Alice's mouth kept opening and closing, as though she couldn't decide whether or not to pry further.
Jasper seemed surprised by her silence. "You don't ask quite as many questions as I'd expect you to."
She shrugged. "I know you'll elaborate when you see fit."
"You're not the only one to make observations, you know," Jasper said. Alice looked at him from the corner of her eye. His eyes squinted toward the sun, but he showed no sign of looking away. Her eyes were downcast. She hated looking directly into the sun.
"You always seem so sure of the things you say," he continued. "Even if you have no reason to be."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
"We hardly know each other," he said. There was a smile in his voice, though not on his face. "Yet, you always know you're right about me."
"I go off of what I see," she said, her eyes studying his face. "For example… I see hardship in your eyes, and exhaustion in your face. But there's hope." Her hand close around his. "You have hope. It's a new hope, but you have hope. And you should. Life will get much better for you." Her words danced out of her lips effortlessly. She was so sure of what she was saying. She was always so sure.
"Well, I go off of what I feel," Jasper said, his hand coming up to stroke her neck. "Your heartbeat is steady, strong. You're comfortable around me."
"You betray an aura of comfort," Alice laughed. "I can't help it."
Jasper smiled, and leaned in to kiss her again. Their lips moved slowly against each other. Her eyelashes tickled his cheek and his blonde curls fell into her face.
"I have somewhere I want to go," she said when they broke apart. "It's quiet and a lovely place to talk. Oh, if you want to talk, of course." She smirked and began walking toward the stairs that lead to the floors below the deck. He followed and took her hand as they walked.
"Why don't you tell me?" he challenged.
"You want to talk to me," she said instantly. "I'm glad you do. I enjoy listening to others talk."
He watched her bemusedly as she lead him down stairs and through various corridors. She stopped every so often to look at paintings and read signs. Sometimes she'd comment, other times she'd simply smile and continue to pull him along. He only noticed what she was looking at once or twice. He was too busy studying her to notice what caught her attention.
Alice stopped in front of a dark wooden door. "This is it!" she announced.
"A smoking room?" Jasper asked, raising an eyebrow. "That's not exactly my idea of a quiet, lovely place."
"It's lunch time," Alice said. "We have at least an hour before men start flooding in with their cigars and brandy. Besides, it smells rather nice, don't you think?"
"You like the smell of cigar?" he asked. She kept finding new ways to surprise him.
"The after-smell," she said, making her way toward a red and gold couch. "While it's being smoked, it's a bit too overpowering for my taste. When the smoker leaves the room, however, and the cloud of smoke dies down a bit, I find it rather pleasant."
She sat on the couch with her legs tucked under her and her skirt touching the floor. Jasper took a seat next to her. He loosened his tie and pushed his suspenders off his shoulders. Alice smiled.
"Tell me about yourself, Jasper Hale," she said, her head leaning on the back of the couch.
He chuckled. "What is it you want to know, anyway?" he asked. "There's not much to me."
"There's plenty to you," she said. She traced his hand. "Tell me how you got that scar," she said, motioning to the mark that swept across his palm.
"It's one of many," he said. "I was in the United States Army. Fought for three years before I took a bullet to the leg. I'm fine now, but, for a while, it seemed I'd never be able to walk again."
"The army?" Alice asked, clearly surprised. "You never told me."
"I don't talk about it much," he said, his eyes downcast. "This scar is rather uninteresting. I had to fake my own death at one point to escape an enemy. I took my pocket knife and slit my palm open. I left a puddle of blood on the floor and they thought I'd been carried off by some wild animal. The wound didn't heal nicely, but it saved my life."
"So you were a soldier," Alice said. "I never would have guessed."
"Major, actually," he said, a slight smirk forming on his face. "I was seventeen. Joined at sixteen. I lied about my age, and they never suspected a thing. It's one of the few things I'm proud of when it comes to my army days."
"What else are you proud of?" she asked.
"The fact that I got out alive."
They sat in silence for a moment. Alice waited for him to speak.
"I did a lot of things I'm not proud of," he said, his voice only barely above a whisper. "I killed people. I hate myself for it."
"You had no choice," Alice said. "They'd have killed you, too."
"But those men… they were fathers, Alice." His head fell into his hands. Alice moved closer to him. "They were grandfathers, and brothers."
"They were enemies," she said softly. "They were dangerous."
"They meant something to someone," he said. "Something beyond my understanding or the understanding of the country. I took away someone's favorite uncle, or someone's cousin, sibling, friend. I took away lives."
His voice was strong, but his body looked so weak. He fell limp against Alice's side. She stroked his hair.
"I joined the army because I wanted to prove to myself that I was worth something," he said. "I left my family. I left my poor, sick mother. I left my cold, unappreciative father. I left Rosalie. I left them so I could make something of myself. I returned feeling worthless. My parents were dead. I thank God everyday Rose was still waiting for me to return, and she had Emmett, so she wasn't waiting alone.
"We traveled to London together. Rosalie dreamed of seeing the world when she was a little girl, and Emmett was the perfect person with whom to do so. I tagged along, still searching for myself and for something that would give my life meaning. I was a shell of a person. There was so much living I could have done in London, but I gave it all up because I was too busy searching." He chuckled. "London offered me so many experiences. It all seems so far away now."
"What kind of experiences?" asked Alice. She was still stroking his hair.
"There's a question," he said, smiling. "I was wondering when I'd be graced with one of those."
Alice smirked. "I'm not a mind reader. There are things I don't know."
Jasper looked up at her for a moment, and then dropped his gaze. "I met a girl there. She doesn't seem so nice now, but I used to think she was lovely. Maria, her name was. She had two sisters. Awful things they were, the three of them. But Maria was an adventure. She was something new I'd never seen before. I spent so much time around men, and she was so drastically different from the very few women I'd met in my life. She introduced me to a new sort of life, a life where alcohol replaced food and water, and waking up on a rooftop wasn't so out of the ordinary. It was exciting, I'll admit, but drinking away my worries only worked for short periods of time. I didn't like that everything could rush back so easily after being erased from my mind."
"And… what happened with you and Maria?" Alice asked tentatively. The thought of Jasper being with another woman had never occurred to her, and it made her uncomfortable.
Jasper, on the other hand, laughed. "She liked me very much. I liked the life she lived more than I liked her. I took her out several times, and she enjoyed them all thoroughly. She'd tell me where to go and she'd show me off to all her friends when we got there. I'd buy her a few drinks and we'd laugh. I never spoke of her to Rose, though. I knew our relationship was nothing special."
"Did you two ever…" Alice's voice trailed off. She regretted asking the question the second the first word came out of her mouth.
"Kiss? Make love?" Jasper mused. Alice shifted in her seat. "We kissed. Often, actually. She always tasted like whiskey. I'm sure I did, too. It never went farther with her, or anyone else."
"There were others?" She couldn't stop asking questions, though she didn't truly want to know the answers to them. She'd been content to pretend no one else had ever been relevant to Jasper's life in the way she was.
He shrugged. "A couple, perhaps a few," he said. "I had a girlfriend back home, and a few flings while we were living in London. Looking back, I don't believe any of them ever mattered much."
Hearing this contented Alice, though she'd have never admitted it.
"You're a whole new experience," he continued. "I don't know what it is about you. I hadn't felt any sort of hope for myself or my life in years." He sat up. "Then, suddenly, I'm being cast onto this ship. And then there you are, and you're imperfect just like the rest of us, but you're so dangerously other. You're in entirely your own league, and then, out of no where, you're not imperfect like the rest of us. You're perfect in a way the rest of us can't understand; in a way I can't understand."
He laughed in a way she'd never seen from him. He threw his head back and laughed like a child who snuck out into the rain without his jacket. "And suddenly I'm racing you and you're hand is entwined with mine and my lips are pressed against yours and for the first time in my life I'm sure about something. I'm as sure as you are about everything."
Alice smiled. "And what is it you're so sure about?"
He grinned back at her; it was a full smile, and the very excited look on his face made Alice's grin even wider. "I'm sure that, for the first time that I can remember, I feel hope. I feel hope in your breath against my cheek and your hand squeezing mine. I feel hope in the way you kiss me and how your fingers can glide right through my hair. I feel hope because of you."
Any feeling Alice had ever had of sorrow or grief or insecurity vanished in that moment. She couldn't recall having ever felt so purely happy.
"Promise me something," she said quietly.
"Sure thing," Jasper said. He squeezed her hand.
"Promise we'll stay together," she said. "Be it as friends or as lovers or as mere acquaintances. Just promise, somehow, we'll always be together."
"I think I can guarantee that," he said. "I promise."
Alice took his scarred hand and turned it so his palm was up. She leaned forward and pressed a kiss into the center of his palm, then closed his fingers around it.
"This is how my mother used to seal promises with Bella and me," she said. "She never broke a single one. Neither did we."
Jasper's mouth fell open slightly as she spoke, and he stared at her with wide, bemused eyes. She smiled.
Slowly, he leaned forward and kissed Alice's palm. Her fingers closed and his hand encompassed hers.
"Now we can't break that promise," he said. "So you're stuck with me whether you like it or not."
"You know," Alice said, "I don't mind that at all."