This story was inspired by EchoesofTwilight and our shared love of guyliner, music and a vaguely nihilist European vibe. It was written for her birthday back a month or so ago and I finally got it cleaned up enough to post here.

Thanks to antiaol for beta-ing, to SorceressCirce for feeding me oxygen as I was trying to finish it, and to bmango and naelany for fixing my complete and total obliteration of the German language.

Translations for italicized German phrases is at the bottom.

Stephanie Meyer owns these characters. I just write angsty slash about them.


Every time I tie off the dangling end of another sleeve, I remember that I am lucky.

Staring at myself, naked in a dirty mirror in the growing dim, I remember that every ruined inch speaks of luck and of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But of turning right.

My horrified fingers feel their way across skin that has turned to ash and scar, tracing long and angry curls of masticated flesh again and again, and each time I chant to myself that they are evidence of good fortune.

Mementos of luck.

Images of memory.

Of burning and of metal.

Sand and destruction.

I close my eyes.

But it doesn't matter.

No matter what I do, I still see.

o - o - o - o - o - o

Alone in my room, I skim through the latest email from my sister.

I open each photograph with a sense of panic burning low but bright somewhere in the very bottom of my stomach. I try to focus on faces, on the baby nieces I will never, ever meet and on the mother whose calls I rarely answer because it is too painful to hear her voice, begging me, as always, to come home.

Texas isn't home to me any more though, I think, clicking the X and closing another portal into the life I left behind. Not with its stifling heat that no longer speaks of summers spent running through sprinklers, but of a marketplace just on the precipice of destruction. Not with sweet tea that evokes the tea we drank, lingering long over hookahs full of smoke that clung to uniforms even after the night was gone.

Not when every single pair of eyes I encountered there spoke of pity.

I turn off the laptop with a flick of my hand, some instinct I can't push down making me try to bring the other one up to run it through my hair.

There's a phantom twitch as I do, a feeling of pain like there should be something there. I almost cry out for it – for the ache that just won't leave and for the loss.

But crying hasn't done me any good before.

I shrug on a shirt and tie off the end. It's more obvious in its own way, but I've found over the past year that strangers seem less disconcerted by the knot than they do by the dangling sleeve, by the fabric that should be full, but which is not. Before I slip the buttons through the holes – a practiced motion that I accomplish efficiently with just one hand now – I take a moment to linger, peeling back the fabric before the mirror to stare at the lines that wrap around the shoulder, swirling down over my one good arm.

I remember the burn of the needle.

The burn of fire.

The black of ink and the red of blood.

I let loose an empty laugh, thinking that blackness is akin to emptiness.

But knowing full well that I cannot draw nothingness onto something.

I know that the nothingness is already there inside.

o - o - o - o - o - o

Time passes by in long lurches of static, a faint grey and a sky and the thick accents that remind me of nothing. I turn the collar of my coat up against the cold and walk as swiftly as I can along my typical path. I pass pale grey faces and buildings that are much the same, a pulsing blue of a train station and windows looking out on a whirl of black and space.

Words come in and words go out. I prefer to take German or Arabic to English than the other way around, but it doesn't matter. As long as none of the words are my own.

At the end of the day, I place another stack of regurgitated language in a box, feeling a vague numbness settle into the back of my throat to know that the joy I once took in this work has abandoned me, replaced only with monotony and grey. On my way out the door, I punch the thick cardstock of my time card, loosening the knot on another colorless tie and fastening my jacket across another white or black shirt. I retreat to an empty space with my empty heart and watch television that I wish I couldn't understand, reading letters and books and imagining the faces of those who were less lucky.

And in my nightmares, those faces all mesh with my own.

And all of them are set aflame.

o - o - o - o - o - o

"Ein Weizenbier, bitte."

I can barely hear my voice over the thump of the bass. It's heavy. Industrial. Just the way I like it.

With my beer in my hand, I make my way through the throng. I try not to think about how much harder it is than it used to be to part a crowd, my shoulder nudging forward, but people all expect an arm. Most don't look, too involved to bother, but the few who do cast looks that range from disgust to curiosity.

But nobody is curious about me.

I stand on the fringe of the group of co-workers who brought me here, jubilant insistence ringing in my ears along with the sight of eyebrows raised in expectation. Voices that expected rejection and were shocked at my acquiescence.

Now that they've dragged me out here, all of their nerves have gotten the better of them, though, and I feel anxiety and uncertainty in equal measures, sensing how their bodies shift to create a distance between themselves and the man whose scars and reticence speak of danger.

I don't mind.

Moving over to stand at the railing, I look out over what passes for art here in Essen, at the hollowed out remains of the factory that fueled a war that nearly destroyed a continent. Like most everything here, it is all a portrait of rusting metal and dirt, grit and the stale taste of wheels that have long ago ceased to turn.

Industrial, indeed.

The space is lit with hot spotlights in meticulously placed colors, the gels themselves vibrating with the kind of music that dissolves into perfect noise, toneless and tuneless rhythm and the kinds of beats that feel like pulses, like a crowd of corpses all come to life.

I let that life steal through me, right along with the feel of undulating metal and broken machines, as I look at paintings that feel like massacres, angry color and shapes, slashes at canvas and dead words in stylized type.

Nichts.

Scheiße.

Zerstört.

Skeletal statuary in wire and light stands beside gears the size of men, and it's hard to tell what is sculpture and what is dead machine.

It's all dead anyway.

"Kunst," I murmur to myself. Art. "Scheiße, indeed."

I turn, gulping down bitterness and hops and wheat.

And I almost choke.

Because the closest thing to art I have seen in more than a year is standing before me.

o - o - o - o - o - o

He is a picture of German nihilism and American beauty, destruction and blackness and something blooming beneath the ruin. Illuminated by the pulsing glow of an amber spotlight, it's impossible to tell the color of his hair, scattered all around him in intentional dishevelment. Ringed in deepest black against smooth, pale skin, his eyes, too, are a mystery, the make-up lending feminine ambiguity to something that is clearly all maleness and sharp edges in a perfectly congruent incongruity.

Without tasting the bitter liquid slipping past my tongue as I drink, I let my own eyes follow the lush line of lips to the place where they are pierced through with chrome, touching a jagged jawline and stubble with a long look instead of a more tangible caress.

Before Baghdad, he's exactly the kind of man I would have turned away from instantly, bile rising at the very arrogance of anyone who would construct something as ephemeral as an image with such care. I'd have found him disgusting. Infuriating.

Now he is a portrait in dissonant pieces composed into something that speaks of everything.

And it speaks so deeply to something inside of me.

For a long moment, our eyes meet, connecting over grinding percussion and noise and bodies lost amidst the sound. He licks those sinful lips and bites with shining teeth down on the loop that cuts through his flesh.

And then he lifts a camera to his face. It interrupts our stare, and yet somehow through the lens, I am convinced that I can still see his eyes.

I stand, captive and captured.

For a moment, in the glare of his flash, I blink. And in the next, he is gone.

o - o - o - o - o - o

I don't know entirely why I stay. For hours after most of my colleagues have uttered their hesitant goodbyes and left, I am standing still on that pounding floor. The place is louder now and darker, the white collars of middle managers looking for something to make them appear more cultured having given way to a younger crowd that seems to thirst for the same kind of ruin that I am seeking.

Only I can't imagine a world in which they know what that means.

Over and over again, I roam the halls, pacing the steps of a glowing orange staircase and letting an escalator in green and red cast my sickly shadow on glass as I ascend and descend. I gravitate toward the angry, crowded rooms which were the homes to the machines of armaments and which now serve as galleries to people making statements about nothing.

Even I do not completely understand the draw.

Unless perhaps I am simply most at home amidst the skeletons of war.

For long moments, swimming on a swiftly moving flow of sound and memory and alcohol, I let my eyes roam over a particular piece that is as much dissonance and rusted metal as the factory, my face twisting up in repulsed fascination as my fingertips twitch with a longing to touch.

To bend.

"What don't you like about it?"

The voice at my ear is smooth above its rumble, the words piercing through a thunder of melody-less synthesizer and guitar. There is warmth at my back and a seductive breath at my ear, and I let my eyes close.

Leaning back slightly, the body behind me is all angular planes, my lungs inundated by a scent of sweetly perfumed man and chemicals. A hand settles on my hip below my empty sleeve while another caresses my cheek, tipping my head as if reminding me to see.

I do not stop to ask why he chooses to speak to me in English or to even inquire as to his name. Black fingernails come into my vision at the same time as the monstrosity of metal, and I find my voice.

"It's too much intentional destruction. Too much just a picture of rage and not enough ... Art should have …" I trail off, uncertain as to what it is exactly I want to say.

He shifts, one hand still lingering on my spine even as he comes to stand where I can see him at my side.

I stare up into kohl-lined eyes and lips that seem grey in the cast of lights flashing frozen shades of white and blue and green.

"Beauty?" he suggests.

I gulp.

"Exactly."

o - o - o - o - o - o

"Why Essen?" I ask, our footfalls loud against a street of stone and dirt, the sleek steel and glass of modern buildings rising up in discordant harmony with the jagged lines of rusted metal and destruction. My face is flushed with alcohol and with the rush of his breath, so hot near my ear, and his arm brushing the place where mine would be if I had one left.

I cringe at the lack of contact, but if he is bothered by it, he gives no sign.

If anything, he is exultant, turning in a circle with his hands outstretched. "Why not?" With a lithe flexing to his body, he leaps to stand atop a low half-wall, gesturing with a lit cigarette at a cityscape that speaks of both apocalypse and life. "You won't find this anywhere else," he breathes against the night-time sky.

Long fingers move the glowing tip of his cigarette to those smoldering lips, jerking up into a smile made more relaxed by the innumerable pints of beer that have passed through our hands and mouths, our drunken bodies hovering over each other in the darkened alcoves behind dead machines. He breathes deeply, making the orange of the cigarette flare and spark, and holding it tightly until the very instant before the flame is about to spread too far. Finally, he throws it wide, the bright ember of it arcing through the air before landing, littering yet more ash onto the surface of crumbling concrete.

"I looked for it everywhere else," he declares, almost breathless, a fervor in his eyes and in his voice. "But it's here. Stone churches with a hundred years of soot and ash. Burnt-out factories and unexploded bombs. Molten steel and universities and a clear night sky."

I look at him, desire stirring in untouched parts of me, as I find myself suddenly wishing that I could look at the world through eyes lined with kohl and wonder.

"How do you see so much when all I see is grey?" I murmur, standing at the foot of the wall and yet unable to ascend, staring up into a face that is burning with its glory.

He shifts his gaze from the sky to me, sinking in a swift motion to his knees. One hand comes up to brush the side of my face, and I flinch but do not pull away when I feel fingertips sweeping out to cover the lines of scars.

"What can I say, Jasper?" he breathes quietly. "I love beautiful, broken things."

o - o - o - o - o - o

We are tucked into an alley, hovering behind a door, his body as tightly fit to mine as it can be without touching. I am fuzzy as to how we have gotten here, a tipsy memory of hands on the collars of my shirt, a yanking motion and heavy boots falling to cracking cement as I feel my back pressed to ancient brick. His mouth is just before me, his breath sweet and yet laced with hops and an intimation of sex.

"Edward," I breathe, my hand flat to the wall as I feel the heat of his, fractions of an inch from my hip. The fingers still clenched at my collar release to slide in a long, low line down and across the planes of my chest, the very fire of his touch almost burning me through my shirt.

He is looking at me with the same intensity that he wore while staring at his adopted city, his hands trembling with the same visceral emotion as when he spoke to me of a love for things that had been broken.

"Is that why you took a picture of me?" I breathe, meeting his eyes.

In the golden glow of the streetlight, I can finally see that they are deep and green, and that his hair is a smoldering red.

"Yes," he says, ghosting softly past my lips. "So I could always remember what you looked like, in case I never got to touch you again."

o - o - o - o - o - o

The moment his door closes behind us, I have him pinned to the back of it, my chest flush with his at last, and there is heat and darkness and touch. My brow lowers, crossing the thin inch that separates our heights until it is pressing to his, our eyes even and our exhales and inhales mingling. Entwining my fingers with his, I bring our hands up to rest against the door beside his head.

Throughout it all, he does not flinch.

"What made you so certain that we would touch at all?" I breathe.

His smile is wry wit and confidence. "Nothing is certain," he murmurs, pushing back against our hands until he is running the edge of his forefinger down my cheek. "But you looked like a burning man, searching for a spark."

I raise an eyebrow, leaning in so close that our lips touch as I speak. "You think you're my spark?"

"No," he murmurs, tracing a scar. "I think I'm water."

For a moment, I think he might be, too, the clear certainty of his eyes easing the strange ache of nothingness inside as he stares up at me.

And then, the instant my mouth finally melts into his, I'm sure of it.

It's not as harsh or as desperate of a kiss as I would have expected, given the constant arcing of electricity between our bodies every time we stepped too close tonight. Instead, it is slow, an exploration of tongues and lips and the tasting of flesh. It is a kiss of curiosity and connection, an intense meeting of so much more than mouths as each of us moves to feel the other out. We linger, testing and touching as his arms move to encircle me, my hand encompassing the length of his neck, curling around it so that my fingers can entwine with his hair while my thumb rests steadily over his pulse.

He breaks from my mouth to kiss in deep, slow motions across my jaw, his teeth dragging roughly over stubble. The warmth of his hands on my hips draw me closer until we are flush, twin desires pressing intimately as we each breath harshly.

"I want to know you," he rasps against my ear, sucking at the skin just below it.

"In a biblical sense?" I manage, shifting against him and moving my hand between his spine and the door, a tight fist pressing between his shoulder blades to keep him close.

He shakes his head. "In any way you'll let me know you."

The room falls away, its furnishings and accouterments unseen; all my eyes have room to appreciate are the long lines of his body and face. He guides me backward in stumbling steps until we are passing through a doorway into a room that is spare but for a dresser and a bed. I tumble down onto crisp, white sheets and pull him with me, flipping our positions as quickly as I can so that I come to rest on top of him, my knee settling between his, my one hand splayed across the sheets as I tug his shirt up with my teeth.

He yanks it away, leaving me staring at skin that is clean and bare.

He's pristine.

I shudder at the strength it takes to pull my mind away from the instinct to survey and compare. My own skin comes up lacking every time, the grim nothingness throbbing at my mind's own image of the mottled lines of it.

The pieces of both it and me that are missing.

Struggling not to dwell on what's been lost, instead I seek to gain. To know. I bite at the crest of hip and drag my nose through coarse hairs that disappear into a waistband, following it farther when buttons yield beneath my hungry fingertips. Edward is eager enough to help, breathing hard and pushing at fabric until I am burying my face in skin and hair that is soft and damp, tasting the length of him in measured doses as my lips part around the side.

When I drag my cheek over the length and tip of him, he grunts and places his hand in my hair. I close my eyes against the strangely compelling image of black fingernails and of leather and silver bracelets surrounding a strong and flexing wrist. Reading the intention in his touch, I hurtle forward into the long unpracticed motion of this act, holding him in my mouth and dropping over him deeply until I can taste bitterness at the back of my throat, seeking to lose myself in the process.

And it strikes me that I am always seeking to lose myself.

No matter what I am doing.

"Jasper?" His voice is husky and uncertain, but the conviction behind it grows as he continues to speak my name and I continue to ignore him. I am swallowing around him, drowning in salt and man and everything except what I am, until suddenly I rise, shocked to find that the hand that I had imagined was holding me down has shifted directions and is yanking harshly at me. That, for all that I had willingly had his cock buried in my throat, he is summoning me up.

His length slips from my lips to land wetly at his hip, a shudder tracking its way through his bones as he stares at me, naked, a question at the corners of his blackened eyes. I pause and hold my breath, gathering my hand into a fist on the bed against his side.

And I clench my own eyes against that question.

That expectation.

And I exhale.

When I launch myself up, it is to meet his lips in a kiss that is desperate in a way that our earlier embrace against the door was not, struggling to keep myself above him as my hand finds its way to the collar of my shirt. Fear prickles, hot and hard, and it stands in shocking contrast against the cold texture of the sweat at the back of my neck.

I am pulled back to myself by the sound of his voice.

"Here," he breathes, the word ripe in my lungs as his fingers close around my own, pushing gently until I plant my palm back on the bed beside his head. "Let me." He opens my shirt in easy motions, but my eyes are still closed by the time he is reaching for my belt, stripping me of denim and oxford and any of the defenses I might have still held.

My whole being shivers.

Because while I have experienced sex in these grey and wasted months since Baghdad, I understand now that Edward is the first man that I will allow myself to be naked for.

As if he understands, he just kisses me more deeply, his words encouraging and soft.

Beneath the motions of his hands, clothing falls away along with everything else, until I am hovering before him, bare and shaking and hard.

"Come here."

His hands are soft and warm on my face, the wide pad of his thumb brushing something damp from beneath my eyes as his lips move from mine to my chin, and then farther down, kissing his way across miles and miles of scar. Although I know it must be awkward for him – although my arm is nearly threatening to buckle with the strain of holding up my own dead weight – he makes no motion to flip us over, no mention even of the idea. With my eyes still closed, he simply allows me to feel the slow, intentional progress of his lips as he shifts lower and lower down on the bed.

I nearly choke when I feel the warm of his breath washing over me, soft lips tasting where am I hot and hard. There is a perfect pleasure to it, my body straining against the impulse to thrust and fuck.

But as he was gentle with me, I can at least manage not to be an animal with him.

"Fuck, Edward."

Even I can hear the strain in my voice, and he releases me after just one more long, wet, sucking stroke, returning to my mouth and shifting us both to lie on our sides, with the broken side of my body pressed to the sheets.

"Tell me what you want," he groans as his hip slides across my cock, his hands still roaming.

I finally open my eyes to stare at him, his make-up smudged with sweat but his expression open.

"You," I pant, feeling the head of him, blunt and needy and wet against my navel.

His face is hidden, his mouth sucking at my neck when he whispers, "How?"

I tug at him and shift. "Roll over."

He rises up to kiss my lips and grins, coming to rest, vulnerable on his stomach, with his hands splayed out on either side of his head, a panging ache tugging at the abyss inside my chest to see how willingly he would give himself to me – knowing that I feel unprepared to give anything in return. With a slight nod, he gestures toward the nightstand at the side of the bed and relaxes down into the pose that I have asked of him. I am too overcome to respond, though, consumed as I am by the slipping friction I feel as I let my bare cock slide against the cleft of his ass.

It's only when the deep pleasure of pushing against his body this way begins to crest that I pull away.

Finally, I kick his legs apart with my knees until there is room to settle between them, and I stretch over and to the side until I can reach where he is pointing, retrieving and opening the necessary supplies.

With a slickened touch, I probe at his flesh, letting the whole side of my hand pass through the valley of his flesh before circling closer, pressing into him intently and feeling his shudder, his moans ripping through to the center of him. Throbbing hard against his thigh, I work him until he pants through gritted teeth that he is ready, taking just a moment to protect us both before letting myself rest against his body once more.

There is a faint buzz of static in my head as I pull up on his hip, dragging him to his knees before spreading him wider, setting the head of my cock to press heavily against his opening.

"Now, Jasper. Fuck me," he groans and I cannot stifle the desperate sound as I move forward, entering him in a motion as slow and intense as our first kiss, tasting a pleasure as naked and raw as my scars as I feel myself surrounded by him.

"Fuck." I all but collapse, steadying myself with my hand at his hip, biting hard at the center of his back as I bury myself to the hilt.

"Yes," he hisses, and I moan, shaking my head and releasing his flesh from my teeth. My forehead slides slickly over the sweating surface of his spine as I draw back, retreating and surging forward, again and again, keening more and more wildly every time I fully penetrate him.

We fuck hard and rough, the sex messy and noisy, and yet there's something real about it. Something necessary as, with one mind and one sweating, desperate body, we chase an elusive clarity – a completion that I feel I haven't even approached since I was whole. In this moment, though, intertwined with him and tasting of him, I feel like I can almost see it, tantalizing and within my reach.

"Fuck," I moan as my need begins to crest. "I can't …"

Can't hold back.

Can't reach.

Can't touch him and hold myself up at the same time.

He grunts hard, seeming to understand as he shifts all of his weight to one side and brings his hand to stroke fast and hard at his cock. The motion of it - the quick rocking of his whole frame beneath me and the vision of his arm before it disappears beneath his body - squeezes hard at something inside of me, even as I feel myself surging inside of him.

"Going to – can't – "

"God, Jasper," he cries, his explosion drawing out my own until I am pumping into him deeply, feeling the shaking of his body around me as I empty myself.

And in so doing, somehow find myself feeling full.

o - o - o - o - o - o

For hours, I simply lie there and watch him sleep. In the broken shaft of moonlight, he is a vision of peace and the sort of simplicity that I wish I could find in my own fiery, restless slumber, and I run my eyes and hand over his face in an endless circuit, both consuming and consumed. Twice, he turns into me, his body seeking warmth and his arms the sort of embrace I do not even know if I am capable of. I do not flinch, though, allowing his hands to touch the places that show I am not whole, his fingers splayed along the edges of my skin and of my sanity.

And I let him.

Deep in the darkest hours of the night, I finally pull away, needing air and space and a place where I can try to at least pull the newly reopened seams of myself back together from where he has torn them back asunder with his touch.

Out in the living room of his apartment, the windows are wide open to the deserted city outside, cold, pale light pouring in from both the moon and the lamps that line the street. I stand there, naked and clutching at the stump that I have allowed to define me for so long, and feeling raw.

But then I really look.

And find that this is a living room indeed.

And that it is alive with art.

On every surface, I find paintings and palettes, dirty brushes and thin, flexible knives, dripping with umber and black. The work itself, the canvases, are modest in size but ambitious in scale, and in them I feel as if I am seeing through Edward's eyes indeed. Through them, I finally find the city he has spoken of so eloquently, rendered as precisely as they could be in any photograph, and yet they are somehow also more. The images are dissected and bisected, torn apart by thin lines and stitched together by them too, augmented and made real by cryptic lines of text in German and English.

Much like I did his body, I take an infinite amount of time to simply breathe them in, inhaling with my eyes a vision of the world that bears no resemblance to the one that I have seen and yet which matches it perfectly.

And it occurs to me, standing there, that with oil and fiber and ink, he has taken a cityscape, already rent and torn, and shattered it.

And that somehow, in the process, made it both beautiful and whole.

His breath is loud in the space when he finds me, the soft falls of bare feet on wood vibrating up and down along my spine. When he is close enough to touch me, he stops, the heat of his naked chest radiating through my shoulders and ribs as breath fans out across my neck.

He rests just one warm hand on my hip before whispering, "This is how I see you, too."

o - o - o - o - o - o

It is a shock to wake up, my body and mind both roused by a gentle hand tracing circles across skin instead of by visions of pain and of faces always burning beneath a blossoming, earth-bound sun. Perfect lips make their way from my ear to my jaw, fingers closing around me, stroking my morning erection into an aching need as his arousal presses, straining against my ass.

"Jasper."

His voice is husky and tense, uncertain even as his hands and mouth are being so forward, pressing without hesitation across my flesh. He strokes harder now, faster, and I close my eyes against both the feeling inside my chest and the brilliance of the sun. Against the intensity of his breath and the pain and numb that have yet to come.

It takes me a moment to fully realize that I am here. That I am surrounded by cool sheets and warm man and not by fire.

"Yes," I whisper. With my eyes still closed to the breaking dawn beyond, I press back into his touch, my hand drifting over my head to pull his neck even closer to me, bidding his mouth to suck softly at my skin as he exhales and allows his lips to part. I feel him shift and then there is a slick pressure at my opening, and I cringe, biting down until there is blood in my mouth.

But there is still no fire.

And I long to burn in a way that is not accompanied by loss and pain.

I long to burn with love and care.

"Yes."

He probes more deeply until I feel myself and my resistance give, and I am opening in so many more ways that just the one. Pushing back against him, I bid him to push farther, harder.

His fingertips are the first things that have penetrated me since a scalpel did.

I breathe hard against the intrusion.

I welcome it.

"Please."

The pressure retreats but my body does not close. He spreads me for him further as his other palm makes long, wet strokes along my cock, murmuring all the while against my skin that I am beautiful and wanted. "Hold on to me," he whispers. "I'll keep you here."

It is only after long, torturous and sensuous moments of touching and talking, caressing and yielding that he finally pushes himself into me. I bury my face into the pillow, biting at it as I cry out around his name, pulling him harder until he is seated within me fully in a symphony of pain and pleasure that threatens to undo me in a way that I had not realized I still had yet to be undone.

But even as I am falling apart, flying high around his body and inside his touch, I do not doubt that, with his hands and mouth, he will sew me back together.

Until, before his eyes and the world, I am beautiful.

Whole.

o - o - o - o - o - o

"Guten Morgen, Herr Whitlock."

I look up from the pile of papers fanned out across my desk to take in a the blurry image of my secretary's face, the edges of her mouth tilting up in a smile that is both flirtation and concern. My vision swims, and I feel myself teetering slightly, my whole body feeling the aftereffects of another sleepless night spent battling insomnia and flames and a near-painful fatigue.

Because apparently one night spent resting safely in arms that were strong and clean left my body only more incapable of sleeping without them.

I haven't slept in four long weeks.

As the world around me tilts, the anxious face before me fuzzing out in static and noise, I think about those waves of sleep. About his arms.

About leaving.

I tense at the memory of waking again in Edward's bed, staring at the morning sun, already so high in the sky, its too harsh light throwing all of our differences into stark relief, with my deficits showing all the more glaringly. With all the make-up washed away, he had been left a naked, beautiful boy, perfect and glowing and trying to touch me the same way he had in the dark.

And from the simple heat of his palm against my scars, I had burned.

Withdrawing, I'd hurried through redressing, mumbling apologies and excuses before escaping into a world that, while once anonymous and grey, had become a brilliant landscape of colors and architecture, texture and lines.

And it had grown only more apparent that none of it – none of it – had been meant for me.

"Herr Whitlock?"

I look up to find my fist balled up painfully tightly around a broken pen, plastic and ink splattering all across my pages as my fingernails dig deeply into unrent flesh. Mumbling curses in German, I kick the trashcan out from under my desk and drop the pen into it, trying to blot the ink and failing to wipe it from the back of my own hand.

"Brauchen Sie hilfe?" The secretary's hand is in my face, her scent cloying and sweet and wrong as she offers her assistance. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, phantom pain in the limb that longs to bat her away but can't.

"Nein," I mutter, waving my one hand slightly and grabbing for more tissue. Without bothering to try to hide my annoyance and frustration, I ask her gruffly if there is anything she actually needs.

I bite my tongue before I can go on to ask if she is simply here to watch the freak.

She clears her throat. Out of the corner of my vision, I see an envelope appear in her unsteady hands, and I finally manage to get enough of the ink off of my fingertips to take it from her.

"Danke," I thank her as she turns to leave, but I am no longer looking at her, no longer concerned at all with what is happening in the room around me.

Because I recognize the handwriting, matching the curling swoops of it to the ones he used to spell out his name, insisting I take his number before I go.

How could I not recognize it, really?

I stare at it every night, nursing beers and bitterness and longing for his breath.

Shaking slightly, I tear the paper, holding the corner between my teeth.

And then I stare at the lines and colors of a city I inhabit but never see.

o - o - o - o - o - o

The gallery is a far cry from the one where we met. Whereas that space was all rust and ruin, this one is light and airy, its white walls and art glowing with something that is more beauty than destruction.

Of course it is.

It's his art.

With the announcement for his gallery opening tucked in my pocket, I make my way inside. On the back of the card, he had written only, "Please," and then circled the date in red.

I hadn't planned on attending. For a week, I had turned the card over and over in my hand, tracing the lines of his brush and knife with my eyes, swallowing color and form and remembering the feel of his body. Dreams of fire had yielded to restless visions of sweat and need, my head echoing with the relentless sound of his voice and the expression in his eyes. In those dreams, I could not help but see the way he had peered through to the heart of me and fit words to the hollow space between my ribs.

And each time, I had woken up aching with a need that ran so much deeper than just arousal.

Moving through the crowd, I am immediately sucked in by the paintings on every wall. I've seen them all before of course, spread out around his apartment, but never in such light or with such clarity.

And it is like discovering a broken city all over again.

I spend long minutes before each one, following a sequence that seems to beckon me both forward and back, drawing me to the very deepest recesses of the space, white walls blooming with thick red paint and bold lines in ivory and black.

Until I find what I have been looking for all along.

The flow of traffic moves around me as I stop, frozen and shattering all over again as I stare forward. The lines of the city have yielded, giving way to work in the same colors and textures, rendered with the very same sorts of lines and strokes.

But these are new.

With eyes that feel like they have never seen the world before, I stare at two twin canvases. Two faces. So different in countenance and experience, they are shown in twin views, dissected with the same insightful lines and broken into planes with the same glowing lines of text.

And both, in their own way, are beautiful.

I feel him before I can see or hear him, still gazing straight ahead at the portraits of his face and mine, side by side. Slowly, he approaches, his chest behind my spine, and while we are more clothed than we were the last time, we are more naked in our own ways, too.

"Jasper?"

I nod without looking back. Without opening my mouth.

When I do not pull away, he steps a little closer and leans in, gently placing one soft kiss to the spot just below my ear. "Do you understand now?"

I pause, appreciating, and then my eyes drift closed.

I nod.

Relief slackens his posture, his body finally touching mine, and I exhale deeply when his hand makes its way to my waist.

"Please, Jasper, let me know you."

I open my eyes and pull away, but it is only to turn. When I can see him in the flesh, still adorned in leather and silver and kohl, his hair a vision of flame and my own personal brand of ruin, I smile. Lifting my hand, I touch his cheek, and for just an instant press my lips to the soft, sweet flesh of his own. Warm arms close around me, and I let them.

Still staring into his eyes, I whisper, "Edward, you already do."


Ein Weizenbier, bitte. = A wheat beer, please.

Nichts = Nothing

Scheiße = Shit

Zerstört = Destroyed

Kunst = Art

Guten Morgen, Herr Whitlock = Good morning, Mr. Whitlock

Brauchen Sie hilfe? = Do you need help?

Nein = No

Danke = Thank you