A/N: Well, it was a long time coming, but here it is. :-)
Beta'd by sweeneyanne & pre-read by AnnaLund and Writergrrrl.
Don't own Twilight.
"It feels good to know you're mine
Now drive me far away
I don't care where, just far away"
-Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away), Deftones
I'd never given much thought to how the world would look through new eyes. As a human I'd rarely been outside of Laredo, and now I had an entire continent to run free across. It was exhilarating—that moment I realized that the further north we fled, the less fighting there appeared to be—and it wasn't long before there seemed to be no conflict at all. We'd been wrong about what lay outside our door. Neither of us were surprised, we'd been lied to about everything, and we knew that now.
Time flowed so differently. Each sunrise brought a certain newness with it, and suddenly the long and winding paths laid out ahead of me were brought into full color. There was contrast and motion where before there had been nothing but a bleak and blurry stasis. The countryside smelled like salvation. The cities, of hope.
It didn't take so long to remember how to smile.
We found little towns to journey through, made up ridiculous histories for ourselves to tell the people foolish enough to try and speak with us, and killed only those who seemed to deserve it—not that we were in any position to judge. It was beautiful, and each pass of the sun overhead brought us ever closer to those people we were before being so carelessly tossed into hell. Every step was one step further away from Maria, and with each footfall I could feel the cracks that fractured me begin to narrow.
Yet, Maria was still there in Peter's finger wrapped too tight around mine. Her presence remained in the hard set of his jaw; she colored all of our actions and dictated our direction. The rage that rose up inside me when I thought of the horrid woman was intense and violent. It tore at my insides and the only thing that could stop me from turning around and running south to destroy her was the promise I made to myself that someday I wouldn't try to restrain the desire.
One day, be it tomorrow or fifty years into the future, Maria would see death coming for her, and death would wear my face.
It used to disturb me, how the thoughts of violence came so easy, how the twitch of my muscles in anticipation would vibrate through my body and beg me to take action—but I was starting to understand these things about myself. I was starting to realize all the ways I'd changed, and why. I was starting to accept that I couldn't blame it all on Peter, or Jasper and all those things that made me different now weren't only because I was no longer human.
It took nearly a year to detach Peter from my side, to convince him that I would be safe out on my own, and that he didn't need to keep his eyes trained on me at all times for fear that if he glanced away for a moment I'd somehow be gone.
Through it all, doubt whispered in the back of my head. Some nights I'd find myself staring at the stars and see only that last glimpse I'd had of Jasper's eyes. All I was able to hear were harsh words spoken with a broken and unused voice.
I wondered what Jasper was doing now—if he was still tied up and shackled in that horrible place or if he, too, had managed to break free. I wanted to talk about it, to let all these thoughts spill out of me and into the air where maybe they could be rearranged into something that made some sort of sense—but that was one of many subjects Peter refused to indulge me in.
It was the first time he left me alone, the day I uttered Jasper's name, though it didn't take him long to come back.
I supposed the question I really wanted an answer to was whether or not what Jasper had done in the end could possibly redeem him for all the rest. I didn't know the first place to start looking for that answer, but I was sure the path there began with Jasper himself. It was useless, wondering. The thought of being in his presence again sent shivers down my spine and terror through my veins. For the time being, fear won out over the need for answers.
So it was that we kept moving. I kept my questions silent and I strangled my curiosities where they stood, for the time being. Peter and I argued enough as it was.
It wasn't that I wanted to pick fights with Peter, but I was tired of tiptoeing around him, trying to find the right way to say things to avoid setting him off; Peter had so many buttons. I was starting to get over what had happened back in that awful camp, and I was frustrated that Peter didn't even seem to be trying. He was living just like he had been back there; smashed to pieces and blindly believing that that was the reality of his situation.
I wished I could be his glue—but the problem was that Peter didn't want to be put back together. Peter only wanted to survive, to keep marching onward.
We hadn't stopped in years, had never taken the time to still our strides and catch our breaths and let the weight of everything cascade all around us. We'd been living in denial, in fear, and the day I realized that was the day Peter's façade came crumbling down.
It was sudden and intense. A completely insignificant summer afternoon when he stopped and turned, and in the blink of an eye it was over for him. It was hard to watch. I hadn't always cared for him, and I hadn't always had his best interests in the forefront of my mind, but I had always been able to depend on him. Peter was a rock, solid—and in that way I'd known him well, right from the beginning. He was always there, always watching, and never before had I been subject to this side of him.
He looked lost.
"What are we doing?" he whispered, as if he hadn't fully understood what was happening until that moment.
"Seems to me like we're running."
Peter's gaze hardened, and he took two steady and firm breaths before speaking again. "I don't know what we're supposed to do. I don't know what I'm supposed to be fighting for now."
"That's okay," I answered. It couldn't have been an easy thing for him to admit. Peter was used to being strong, to being infallible. I imagined he must feel similar to how I did all that time ago when I woke up from one nightmare, only to find I'd been cast into another. It was like he couldn't believe any of this was real.
He took another steady inhale and before I even had the chance to blink I was crushed in his arms and his lips were on mine—and oh, I remembered that sweet feeling of right that went stumbling through my body. I never even thought to miss it, his mouth on mine and his hands tugging at my hair. I almost worried that the grip I had on either side of his neck would somehow damage him.
"Did you mean it?" It was easier than 'do you really love me?'
I barely managed to tear myself far enough away to ask, and to his credit Peter didn't try to make excuses, didn't pretend he didn't know what I was talking about; he looked me straight in the eye and replied, "I think that maybe I did."
And I was okay with that. For now.
We continued wandering wherever the wind took us. Peter opened, by just the slightest degree; though I didn't actually notice it until the day he awkwardly tried to press a casual kiss against my lips in passing, and then gave me a look like the oddity of the moment was all my fault. It wasn't something I'd been looking for up until then; I hadn't wanted to be disappointed.
That gesture became other miniscule acts of affection—and as he toed his way over the line separating what kept him apart from all those around him, the sun seemed to shine a little brighter. The stars held more light, his touch wasn't so heavy, and I knew that if we ever managed to escape this spiral we were caught in, we could be happy together.
He asked me if I'd marry him some day, and I laughed and smiled. I told him that I'd already posed as his wife many times throughout the course of our travels, and it was never all that great, because I couldn't stand the thought of plugging that gaping wound in my human heart with something so meaningless. If we were people, it would be different—but we weren't and it wasn't... all we could really do that meant anything was to live our lives together the best we could. To make it something it wasn't felt wrong, because what we did have was so much better than all the fantasies that had filled my head as a girl.
Through it all there was still the confused and curious red gaze that pierced right through me to that one soft spot remaining. It whispered in my ear and taunted me. It tickled and scratched, haunted me day and night. I had seen it, that thing Peter had sworn was there ever since the day I met him. Jasper's eyes... there really was a person buried in there. The nagging grew and grew, until one day I couldn't keep it at bay any more.
The second time I said Jasper's name, Peter didn't leave—but it also took him an hour before he said anything back.
Years passed. They were blissful and sweet, full of torment and uncertainty, but mostly they stayed balanced somewhere in between. We stayed to the north, more persistently after a brave venture to Alabama had sent Peter into a tailspin. He couldn't stop himself from staring toward Mexico with an anticipatory anger in his eyes. As for me, I could barely stop myself from taking one step, and then another and another, until I came across all the answers that burned within me. It was the first time I truly appreciated the way Peter had so much trouble letting go. Without his fingers gripped firmly around my arm I would have wound up right back where I'd started.
And on a chilly October evening, the same day we'd managed to hack through our restraints five years earlier, I finally managed to muster up enough courage to utter the name for the third time.
"I wonder what Jasper is doing now."
"Fuck him," Peter snarled. He turned his gaze from me and clenched his jaw.
Not so long ago that would have been that. In all the time we'd spent together this line had always existed, and I had never dared to fully cross it. Until now. I sat and watched him, and very nearly trembled with the welling of this need that had been clawing at my insides for almost five years. It ripped and shredded and tore that girl I used to be into pieces—and it was right. We'd left, we never looked back. We abandoned that little piece of Jasper that still remained to rot.
"He saved us," I whispered, and it tore at me so much to think that this man who had risen above all the horror and evils of the world around him may be lost to us now, just when he had the best chance to redeem himself.
"I know," Peter replied in a flat tone as his fingers clenched into fists.
"I don't think I can... it's been so long... " I pressed my forehead to my knees and screwed my eyes shut, trying to just breath in and out though the ache of my heart. "I don't think I can stand the idea of leaving him there one second longer. We should have taken him with us, how could we have just left him there?"
"Charlotte... I think if he wanted to leave he would have." Peter said the words carefully, knowing it wasn't the answer I wanted, and I found myself perplexed at how we'd managed to completely swap sides of this argument. Peter was calm though, for the moment, and calm was something I could work with.
"How could you give up on him? After all the times you defended him, after all you told me?"
"Because that wasn't just our chance, Char!" Peter snapped, the volume of his voice rising with each word. "That was his chance, too! He could have left! Every single time he has the chance to break his chains, he doesn't, and I am tired of trying to help someone who doesn't want to be saved!"
"I want to go back for him," I said as fierce as I was able, and Peter's jaw dropped in shock.
"Absolutely not," Peter responded, his jaw set and eyes narrowed, and I fixed him with a glare, just to show him how serious I was.
"I saw him, Peter. That man you always said was there, I saw him, and I will not leave him in that horrible wasteland one instant longer. It was wrong of us to go without him, and you know it."
"He told me he was sorry," I whispered as I felt my lips curl downward with the phantom springing of tears in my eyes. "He... he felt it, Peter."
Peter was wavering, and though it nearly made me sick to do it, I solidified my win with the cheapest shot possible. "We owe him. You owe him, and you know that if he got away from there then things would be different for him. Don't take the low road just because you're still angry. I can't live with this."
I was playing dirty, but I couldn't bring myself to feel too bad about it. The one who taught me how to strike with such precision was the same man I was trying so desperately to convince to do the right thing. And I knew that it was, I knew that the more steps I took from the past the more persistent the itching under my skin would get, because even now, even after all I'd done and seen, I knew that what we'd done was wrong.
"I don't know if I can do this, even for you."
"What about for yourself?" I shot back. It was so tiring to be caught up in the battles Peter waged with himself and the world around him in some sort of effort to fill the void left in him. He had to fight something, it was just who he was after all this time.
"You are manipulating me," he realized after a moment, and his eyes narrowed. "Where did you learn that from?"
I knew him well enough to know that our argument was over, and I smiled. "From you, of course."
He stared at me with a set jaw and a hard look in his eyes, and when he let his gaze shift to the side I knew that he would see reason.
"Okay. But you're not coming."
"What? No! I'm going with you!"
"No, you're not," Peter thundered. "You are going to stay right the fuck here. You are not going anywhere near that place. These are my terms. Take it or leave it."
It was outrageous for him to demand that I stay put, and I was about to give him a piece of my mind for it—after all we'd been through, after everything that had happened to us in that horrible place he couldn't possibly expect me to let him go back there alone—but then he continued in a softer tone.
"I won't let you go back there. I can't stand the thought of it."
I shouldn't have agreed, but there was something in the urgency of his declaration that kept me from immediately refusing to cooperate. It was like having an objective, a goal, and something to protect was enough for Peter to pull himself up and together, at last.
"I don't think I can handle you going alone," I said. I already knew that was exactly what would happen. I wouldn't deny Peter his fire, and I knew first-hand exactly how capable he was. If he said he could accomplish this, then he could. That didn't mean I had to like it, though.
Peter smiled tightly. "They won't even see me coming. If he's alive, I'll get him out. For you."
"You couldn't seriously think he's dead." This time it was me with a grim turn of my lips. It just wasn't possible; Jasper had been made for that camp. Maria may have been in charge, but it was only because Jasper never thought to overthrow her. In a rush of hatred, I wished that he had.
Peter held my gaze for half a minute before agreeing. "No. I don't believe there is anything that could take him down, and he would never go without a fight."
We edged south, Peter constantly checking ahead and behind. It seemed he was struggling with the logistics, trying to figure out just how far he could take me before it was too big of a risk and balance that need with how much distance he could cope with.
Eventually Peter settled on an old and derelict hunting shelter at least a day's run from Maria's territory. She wouldn't be on the outskirts; her camp would be in the thick of it, protected from all sides. I wasn't sure who was more nervous, though Peter undoubtedly did a better job of coping. He always did.
So I stood firm, and let him go. It felt like drowning.
I wasn't sure what to do, how long to wait. I should not have let Peter talk me into staying put. Every hour that ticked by brought with it another horrifying scenario of what could go wrong with this gamble. What if I'd put too much faith in those flickering seconds that convinced me Jasper was in need of saving; or, even worse, what if we were too late. The six months I had spent in Maria's camp were the greatest hell I could imagine—Jasper had survived not only the past five years, but also seventeen before... it was incomprehensible.
Three days passed, and they felt every bit as hard as those five years we'd sprinted across the countryside.
The whistle cut through the air, sharp and smooth on day four. I sprang to my feet and started running before I could even comprehend what it meant. All I knew was that I had heard it before. That whistle was Peter's.
The first thing I noticed when I found them was that Jasper's mask had fallen; he was wide-eyed, and his eyes darted all around as he took in the area with an expression of child-like awe on his face. They hadn't been running, not like I had. Jasper had obviously been slowing them down with his analysis of the surroundings. I'd never really considered it before, that he'd never seen any of the world that wasn't covered in blood or rife with violence. This was going to be difficult for him.
And he scared me, he really did—but I shoved down all the fear and hatred I had for this man who had ensured my first seven months as a vampire were miserable, and took one deep breath before forcing my feet forward. Peter's fingers curled around my arm the moment I was within reach. It was rare for him to do something as sweet as kiss my hair; I couldn't help but smile at the gesture. It made me feel steady.
"Hello, Jasper." The words caught in my throat and came out far less confident than I wanted, but it didn't matter. Jasper's gaze only settled on me in passing as his eyes swept the landscape with some strange wonder.
I found it odd that when Peter had been presented with this calm and peaceful world he'd kept himself locked down and stoic; I was sure if I stood still and watched for long enough I would be able to see every last brick fall from that wall Jasper had built around himself so long ago. This was right. This was what was meant to happen—and Peter would get over it in time. That was the one resource we now had unlimited access to.
We stayed at the hunting shelter—there wasn't anywhere better to go. For the time, it was probably best to let Jasper adjust slowly. He still didn't speak. He didn't do much of anything. It was strange to be confronted with a Jasper who was more withered than vicious. He only hunted when Peter did.
I always fed alone.
It wasn't until a bright spring day—nearly five months after Jasper had come back into our lives—that the little changes finally converged into something significant.
Jasper stared out the window, silent as the day I'd met him, so it wasn't surprising that the sound of his quiet, deep voice nearly made me jump out of my seat. It was only the second time I'd ever heard it.
"I think... I had a sister once," he mumbled, closing his eyes tight, like if he thought about it hard enough she'd appear before him. "Younger, smiling..."
"Do you remember what she looked like?" I asked after a few uncomfortable minutes, and Jasper nodded as he opened his eyes and turned his head back toward the window, a wake of misery emanating from his corner.
"Like you," Jasper answered, and my heart ached a little more for him when he mused, "I wonder what she'd think of me now..."
I thought the question was probably rhetorical, but I found myself asking, "Do you want an honest answer to that?"
Jasper stilled for a moment before pressing his lips together and nodding his head, acceptance floating in the breeze that trailed through the open window toward me.
"I think she'd be very upset with you, but I also think that if you gave her reason to, she'd forgive you for what you've done."
"Is that how you would feel, if it were your brother?" Jasper asked quietly, and I could almost hear the plea in his voice, could very nearly taste the desperation that pulsed through the air for less than half a second.
I could have told him anything. I could have lied and said that he was hopeless; could have embellished the truth and said he was a mere four steps away from something great—but in the end I couldn't fall to either extreme. I just nodded my answer to his question silently, all the while my head spun as I contemplated this new side of Jasper that I never would have guessed existed.
In the end I had to concede that this wasn't the same man I remembered. Something had eaten him alive from the inside out all those years ago, and I swallowed the rampant fear that thundered through me at the very sight of him, and gingerly took a seat next to him on the floor, only two inches separating us.
"Tell me about her," I requested quietly. "Your sister."
Jasper took a deep breath through his nostrils, and let the lids of his eyes drift shut again. "Her hair was exactly the same color as yours, and curly, like mine. I remember this feeling of her weight on my back, and running barefoot... I remember she cried when I left."
I didn't think there was anything I could possibly say that could convey just how much I empathized with him. I'd lost my family, too. Jasper glanced at me before looking back out the window. He took a deep breath, and kept talking.
I watched Jasper carefully as he spoke, and by the time he'd exhausted all the memories that had come floating to the surface of his mind I'd made up my own. I'd been through too much, had come too far to walk out of this with nothing; Jasper needed forgiveness for what he'd done, and I didn't care how long it took or how difficult it was, I'd find a way to go that extra mile. If it took me a hundred years, I'd find a way to forgive him, because I deserved to get something out of this mess, and if I were honest with myself, so did Peter and Jasper.
It wasn't easy—but then again, it wouldn't have meant much if it was.
It was a strange life we carved out for ourselves. For the first time it felt like Peter and I were finally starting to build something that was real; Peter and Jasper were carving an actual friendship from the wasteland that spread around them. It was beautiful, in a way. If time had taught me one thing, it was that the miles behind would never be as vast as the span in front. It was endless. It didn't matter how far we'd fallen, we had all the time in the world to pick ourselves back up.
As it turned out, I liked to watch Peter and Jasper talk; if only because it was something I'd never been privy to until recently. They would sit out in the trees, and I would busy myself with some unnecessary task, position myself just right to overhear. It was good to see Peter open up in any way, even if he was still angry with Jasper, even if it wasn't me he was talking to. Some things just take time.
"It's not like that, not really," Peter explained quietly, casting a glance over in my direction as I shamelessly eavesdropped on the pair of them under the pretense of hanging clothes on the line. "It's not about finding someone you care about, it's about finding someone who's worth it."
"Worth what?" Jasper asked, his voice low. It was still so very strange to hear him speak. I wondered if the gravely quality his voice had was due to all the time he'd spent silent, or if that was just how he sounded. I doubted even Jasper knew the answer to that question.
"Everything." Jasper's eyes flashed to where I was concealed, and for just a fraction of a second I could have sworn the very corner of his lip quirked upward, as if he knew I was there. As if he knew I needed to hear it.
The gesture was gone as quickly as it came, and all that was left was a slightly less valid uncertainty fluttering through the air. I watched the pair of them converse, and I knew that these were the walls starting to tumble down. This was the beginning.
A/N: Much love to all of you. Thanks for reading, reviewing, and reccing. It's weird for this one to finally be over, but I had to finish writing it sometime. :-)