Would you believe it? Finally, an epilogue. And from Edward's point of view! I'll save the blah-de-blah for the end, so ... enjoy. :)
He's hurting, and I hate it. He tries to hide it, but I can feel his heartache as if it were my own ... because it is. His pain is mine.
That might sound sappy, but I mean it quite literally. When Jasper changed, we found he had an extraordinary ability much like mine. Within days of arriving at Carlisle and Esme's Pacific home on the cliffs, my venom ate away his warmth, his life, and nearly all of my sanity. As we waited, I could physically feel progressively more and more the pain of his change. I didn't need to hear him scream to know; he seemed to throw off his agony like heat from a furnace. We all burned with him, until even Carlisle and Esme couldn't take any more. I couldn't leave him alone — I wouldn't. Not after the choice he made. Then, as if to complement my telepathy, my beloved then awoke not only a vampire, but also an empath. Any emotion I have (or anyone or anything near us, for that matter), he can be sense and absorb, but also share or influence at his will.
So, today I sit idly, perched on the edge of a small, open-air stadium, a few yards from him. I stare off into the west and try to pretend the regret he's projecting doesn't prickle at my soul. Jasper's eyesight now keenly powerful, he focuses on a singular set of people within the crowd below. I listen and watch through his mind, all the while experiencing his reactions and range of emotions as they occur.
Alice cries while she laughs and smiles proudly, clutching Emmett's arm like she'll float away if she doesn't hold on to something. He continually hands her tissues without looking at her, an unused pile of them growing in her lap while she uses her sleeve to dab at her eyes. He absentmindedly gives her the one he's using, crying unabashedly in his own right.
Jasper's eyes shift as Rosalie steps on the stage, grown and incredibly beautiful. Donning a bright purple polyester graduation gown that swishes awkwardly around her legs, she walks across to the podium and shakes the principal's hand. Passing him, she turns to the crowd and thrusts the hand holding the diploma in the air, waving to her parents who jump to their feet and holler like they're the ones finishing in high school.
Blinking away the visions, I shift focus to a singular image of that gorgeous young woman: her smile, her nose and chin reflect Alice. But the dark blonde ringlets, sky-wide blue eyes ... they are completely her father. Her biological father, of course. I wonder if she'll ever know? Will she wonder what became of him? Will she hate or resent him for disappearing from her life?
"Edward," he says disapprovingly, having turned to raise an eyebrow at me.
He doesn't often speak aloud much anymore unless he's so frustrated he can't untie his mental knots, or that doing so specifically makes a point. I admit, there are times I might goad him simply to hear his voice. I smile, turning to catch his eyes, now golden-hued instead of blue. "What?" I ask innocently.
"You know what."
"How did you know?" He can't read my mind, so it still surprises me when he figures these things out (even if he is an empath).
Turning back to watch the ceremony momentarily, he sighs, but holds a hand out to me. I take it, rising to stand. Pulling me into him, he wraps his arms around me.
I don't know how many times I have to explain this to you ... Emmett is her dad. She can't even remember me. And I'm perfectly fine with that. It's exactly how it should be.
His inner voice is confident, but still I feel his lament. While I do believe he doesn't feel like he's truly a dad, I know how deeply he still cares for the girl. I likened it once to a child given up for adoption, and while he didn't deny it, it made him very angry with me. I think, perhaps, he felt I was second guessing the path he chose — that is, me. And though it was difficult for me to accept, I believe him when he tells me, shows me, that he made the right choice for him. I'm just not always sure he realizes that I do understand his choice was not without cost.
It is for this reason that I exploit my own gift to find him comfort in the moment. My lips find their way to the shell of his ear. "I can read Alice's thoughts, you know," I tell him.
He tenses so minutely, a human could not have felt it. A rapid-fire flash of guilt, sadness, and excitement all rolled into one bounces off of me, despite his attempt to tamper it.
How could you possibly single her out among so many — and at this distance? he thinks, snorting in punctuation. He radiates anticipation, in spite of himself.
I sigh dramatically before speaking aloud, as if to myself. "He doubts me ... so sad." The rumble of laughter in his chest vibrates under my palm, and it warms me from within. I can't help but to chuckle happily. "I can't read her perfectly well, but after thirty years with it, I may have become accustomed to fine-tuning such a gift," I reason smugly.
"Oh, it's a gift now?" he teases back, delicious amusement in his voice.
"You're the gift," I say immediately, without prior thought.
He blinks wide, a bashful grin slowly taking over his gorgeous face against his will. I wish for the millionth time I could see him blush again, but I will have to accept the memory of it.
"You make everything seem brighter," I confess, my mouth tipping to mirror him, though I am sure my joy is greater. "Including my ability."
"Stop it before I throw up that mountain lion I drained this morning," he deadpans, though he plants a short yet lingering kiss on my lips. "And you say I'm corny," he adds quietly, his eyes twinkling.
I think back to our hunt just after dawn, remembering when I paid no mind to the possibility of surviving off the blood of animals. Carlisle had tried for a time to convince me to adapt to his way of life — after all, he'd been successfully "vegetarian," as he liked to joke, for well over two hundred years. Until Jasper, I ignored any advice the Cullens had to give out of sheer spite and will. When he found me again, I had new reason to give it a try. While the thirst isn't completely sated, it's more easily ignored when I have the pure acceptance and love of the man whose arms surround me now.
Sighing, he snaps me out of my strange reverie. His resolution snapped, he gives in to his curiosity. With his crooked smile zeroed in on me, I am perfectly disarmed.
"OK, tell me. I know you won't be able to stop yourself anyway," he teases, pretending he's doing me a favor.
Focusing back on the microscopic face in the crowd, I work to filter out the rest. It is quite a distance, but it's not impossible. Rosalie's life (the biggest and the smallest moments, equally important to a mother) are cycling through the forefront of Alice's mind.
First steps, first baby tooth lost, first day of school, winning moments playing basketball, soccer, and track. Prom, boyfriends, the time she cut her long locks short and dyed them black (she'd have looked like a boy were she not so beautiful and ... well, the ample chest helped with that as well). Her acceptance to Columbia, Stanford, and Harvard on the same day ... she chose Columbia. Her thirteenth birthday when she woke her parents by driving her dad's restoration-in-process Army Jeep through the garage door. Her subsequent interest in mechanics and fixing up cars — much to dad's delight.
The string of imagery continues, and with every cherished memory, my lips speak quickly, tickling Jasper's ear as he continues to watch, rapt with every word until Alice's train of thought catches up to the present, watching her daughter throw her cap in the air along with her classmates.
Jasper sucks in a quick, unnecessary breath, the emotion and pride caught high in his chest. He whispers a heartfelt "Thank you, baby," in my ear before turning to watch for himself. I close my eyes again, tuning in to Jasper, whose gaze and attention remain centered on his human family's celebrations.
Alice and Emmett push excitedly through the crowd of people toward their daughter. Reaching her, Emmett picks up his "Baby Girl!" and squeezes her in a bear hug until she smacks his back in protest. Alice grabs her daughter, so much taller than her mother, from his grip and hugs her tightly as her tears begin again. Rosalie rolls her eyes, Alice shushes her.
Jasper laughs, but there is a sadness that troubles him, weighing on his shoulders. His arms pull me tighter into his side. I squeeze him back, my hand finding its way over his heart and my cheek to his shoulder.
As the family chatters and congratulates the graduate, there is a strange pause. Alice tugs at her husband's shoulder, earning her an ear. A quick whisper and the two turn.
His fingers dig painfully into my shoulderblade, distracting me from gleaning what he's seen.
"What?" I ask, concerned and unable to focus enough to dive back in. He doesn't answer, but he gasps, a strangled sob dying in his chest, but rising again as a singular, surprised laugh.
"What?!" I ask again, more insistent, employing my knowledge of his few weaknesses by tickling his underarm.
Dammit! he hisses internally as his body jerks. He's still irritated that even as a "fictional creature" (as he sometimes teasingly refers to us), he is as ticklish as he was human. Unfair advantage, baby.
"What. Did. You. See?!" I demand quietly, leaning in to nip his ear, my nose running along the shell until I reach his chin. I kiss its edge.
Tilting his face so that he can give me his kiss fully, he mentally rewinds to play it for me. The kiss is slow, barely moving, but so charged. It is simply his connection, his touch that grounds me ... always. I think it does the same for him. I shift within his hold, pressing our chests together and tightening the embrace we share. He drops his forehead against mine.
Alice and Emmett look up. They seem to be searching the stands, but no ... their collective gaze rises higher. Alice gestures with her hand, her fingers spreading in an approximating gesture as she speaks into his ear. The pair smiles broadly (if a little bittersweetly, judging by their watery eyes) and give a little wave.
It is my turn to gasp, and I pull back to look at Jasper. He's already registered my shock, and smiles in response. I continue to stare at him, overcome with amazement and admittedly a modicum of fear. How could she even think—?
Before I can finish the thought, he lifts an exposed arm to the sun and watches the shimmer of our skin perform its prismatic dance. I turn the idea about in my mind, but it still seems too far a reach. "Would she really make such a connection?" I question.
I know, he says, shrugging noncommittally. But she ... I could always bet on Alice.
My expression softens as I watch his, scanning him for how he's feeling. He hates when I'm overly attentive in that way, but I can't help it.
"Are you ... are you okay, love?" I ask, failing in this moment to pick up any such signals as to the effect this has all had on him.
He closes his eyes, softly reconnecting his forehead to mine.
Emmett turns back to his daughter who snuggles happily into his side, resting her head on his shoulder as he beams. Alice's gaze remains ... on us? She heaves in a deep, steadying breath with a hand on her heart before kissing her palm and sending it toward us with a heavy smile.
"I don't even know how to feel about it," he tells me, and I am washed with his confusion, his joy and sadness, his guilt and pride.
"Do you think Emmett knows ... what we are?" I ask, curious, but not altogether too concerned.
He considers it, but ultimately remains impassive for what feels like several minutes. He shakes his head finally. "I don't know. She trusts him enough to tell him the truth, but even then what is that?" He seems to unravel slightly, tensing and clenching his jaw, but his eyes drift to the ground. "I get the feeling like ... I think maybe she told him — maybe even Rosalie, too — that I was ... that I'm dead."
His words are strangely devoid of emotional affect and that worries me. I grab his face and try to force his gaze from his feet. "Look at me, sweetheart," I whisper. "Please."
After several extended moments, he meets my eyes.
"What?" I say, the word dressed more like a statement than a question.
"It makes perfect sense," he confesses, but his face is sad. "To tell the whole truth would be not only unnecessary, but possibly dangerous. I shudder to think of the Italians coming after them like they did that French woman Carlisle had told us about. Alice doesn't know exactly what we are, anyway. You read that in her mind, didn't you?"
I nod, but add, "Her mind was pretty ... jumbled at the moment. To be fair, I wasn't entirely focused on her."
"Well, I think she knows that whatever it is she does actually understand about us shouldn't be casual conversation."
I wait patiently, knowing there's more. He's calming, beginning to settle into a certain contentment.
"But she still seemed to know, didn't she?" he asks, not really asking. "Like she was looking right at us! I swear my heart did a little flip. This feeling, it's too big. It's like ... everything all at once."
The corners of my mouth turn upward knowingly. "That's how I felt when ... that is, since you showed up in my life again," I say, thinking how turbulent my emotions were the moment I opened the door of my house — now ours, a house we still occupy from time to time. "Something like that, anyway. You made me feel everything. My wildest dream and some of my nightmares come to life, if that makes sense. I mean, you weren't a nightma—"
He stops me with his lips, which I do not mind in the least. I grin against his kiss before engaging myself heartily. My eternal desire for this man wars with my ability to concentrate on anything else but him. When his tongue delves into my mouth and flicks my incisor, a thread of restraint snaps and I reflexively tackle him to the ground, grumbling, "Cheeky."
Smug, he smirks at his running joke, having nicked his lips and tongue against my teeth a few times while still human. Never one to let him gloat very long, I crush my mouth over his, relishing still the freedom of losing control with him. Something I had never been able to do, even when I was human.
"Mmmm, I love you, Edward," he murmurs, easily flipping me onto my back.
He kisses me softly, brushing his lips across mine, feathery caresses down my chin, my neck ... and then he is gone. I jolt upright, a bit bewildered, but waste no time to leap into the sea of Redwoods after him.
As he gives chase and I follow, my prior train of thought catches up with me, running parallel with my longing for him. It all seems full-circle. When I had given up at seventeen, I'd given him up, too. My heaven for my hell. When he showed up on my doorstep, it was an angel sent to absolve a demon.
And he knows. He has known all along why I had tried to force him away, yet was unable to let him go. It was my guilt and regrets that gave his arrival at my door any kind of black mark. I had fought against him and myself every minute until he forced me to see that torment was really hope in disguise. All of this, he knows and has forgiven.
Not that it's perfect. Neither of us have come out unscathed, but together, we move forward and allow what's past to be past, hurt and all.
As the stadium and his call on the past dwindles in the fading skyline, I catch up with my present and forever future, tackling him with vigor (and taking out a slew of trees in the process). His resulting laugh is strong enough to lift the heavy thoughts that slowed me down.
His fingers eagerly thread into my hair, tugging the ends while his thumbs rub behind my ears. "Hi," he breathes before kissing me again.
I dissolve into him, the world around us disappearing as I marvel what his touch always does to me. The boy I was had been amazed and terrified at the power of the lust as well as the love he stirred in me — and all the same that he offered in return. So many years and space between then and now ... yet anything I had felt then is dwarfed by how I feel now. Our bond has only grown.
Lips and hands, we writhe and slide, grinding and tearing at each other's clothes. He slaps my hands away when I reach for his fly, a wicked simper flashing up at me. My jeans seem to disappear in the blink of an eye, following the scraps of my shirt that he'd already removed.
"Jas," I pant, asking, declaring, and reaching for him simultaneously.
I know, he tells me ... with his mind, his eyes, his hands, his lips. When he takes me in his mouth, I am undone.
An educated lover, he teases and works me expertly, bringing me to the brink and back, but never letting me fall. I reach to brush the hair from his eyes, to take in the sight of him as he takes me in. The touch of my hand sets off a gentle hum that increases in magnitude until I'm forced magnificently into orgasm.
Barely descended from the high, I pull him on top of me, kissing his face, his lips, his neck. Chuckling darkly, he tells me, I'm not done with you by a mile, sweetheart.
I shiver involuntarily, anticipating the next round. Before I know it, he's pulled me to standing. I waste no time in divesting him of his shirt, but it is he who grips my wrist and slowly slides my hand into his pants. I grip him gently at first, circling him, holding him, coaxing him — unblinking, his eyes on mine. His palms smooth over my naked skin, everywhere, before sliding over my ass and back around my hips.
Breaking our staredown, he closes his mouth over mine, sucking my bottom lip into his mouth, hard and fast, but very slowly pulls back. Pressing a full kiss into my lips, he spins me quickly, my hands forced off of him and into the bark of a massive old tree. My excitement peaks and I reach one arm behind me to touch, to feel, to bring him closer.
"No, don't," he commands gently, pressing himself against my back, pinning me. His fingers tease me, lightly touching and tracing, then entering and stretching. "I want you to feel me."
My breath accelerates, and a moan escapes. "I do," I say. "I always do."
He chuckles quietly. "No, baby. I mean just feel me. All of me."
Though I find it a vague explanation, I really couldn't care less. I want him so badly, I wouldn't care if I were completely bound and gagged. I need him right now.
And then I do. I feel him. A wave of desire so potent, so full of love and tenderness and violent passion storms through me, it is painfully clear what he meant. It's then that he stops teasing and pushes inside me, filling me slowly. My eyes shut as if instinctively, the sensation and the emotion overwhelming me to the point I wonder if one of our kind has ever passed out. I laugh grotesquely, the noise completely out of place, but it earns a nip at my shoulder, followed by his tongue along my neck.
His lips at my ear, he whispers his every thought so that I hear him in stereo. Every dirty, beautiful, loving thing in his head at the moment, and at the speed of light — I miss none of it, but the words and images coupled with his physical and emotional gifts turn my lolling grin into a gasp of painful ecstasy. The next sound I hear is the bark and meat of the tree cracking and crumbling under the pressure of my hands as he pulls out slower than he went in.
"I love you, baby," he growls, predatorily and possessively as he owns me, moving and thrusting in earnest. His voice is aggressive and gruff, but I hear and feel nothing but the truth of his words. By his every move and touch, the world (and the tree) fall away, coming apart in our wake.
As he takes me over, feeding and giving love, I am consumed by him — by feeling him. At some point, one might expect never to reach new heights with their soulmate, but we do, together. And it never fails to amaze and soothe me.
"I love you so much, Jasper," I say, a hardly-intelligible post-coital exhale.
My declaration, though nothing newsworthy, unleashes a wave of happiness from him matched by no other being in my human or vampire life so far.
Later, as we find our way toward home, I marvel at our story: where we began and how we came to be as we are now. Sometimes I really don't understand how, but he has taken my darkness and turned it inside out. He refused my regrets and reinvigorated a piece of my soul that had hidden away under a heart caved in. The infinite hours and minutes in our life together since have been filled with words and lips, hands and lust, love and healing. So much healing — for both of us.
Being damned had never been such a blessing until Jasper saved me, and shock of all, I was able to give him back my whole heart and to both of us, peace.
Thank you for reading. Thanks to Nae & Mal for masterbeta'ing ;P and espesh to Nae for the "homework" and for pushing me to finish these boys' journey. It was more than I planned for but totally worth it. XOXO