A/N: Some parts of this fic are directly drawn from my own experiences with psychotherapy and mental health issues. References to child neglect, violence and abuse are integral to the story. If that's triggering for you, be careful. Thanks to my amazing betas, HoochieMomma and MeraNaamJoker, who made me make sense.
Summary: When growing up was surviving, how do you learn how to live? Jasper rages; Bella represses. They find balance in each other. One shot, Jasper's POV, OOC, AH, rated M for a good reason.
"When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear."
"Uh... I don't really... How should I begin?"
The young woman who spoke was sitting on the edge of the moulded plastic chairs we'd arranged in a neat circle at the beginning of my first session. The counsellor, a graceful older woman named Esme, had chosen her to speak. Apparently everyone had to tell their story in their second week. I wasn't exactly looking forward to that.
Esme smiled kindly at the girl.
"Perhaps start with your earliest memory, Bella?"
She flinched, drawing her legs in and crossing them at the ankles. She was looking down so much that I couldn't tell if her eyes were open or closed.
She seemed physically affected by the sound of her voice as it echoed out into the church hall, bouncing off the scuffed wooden floor and yellowing walls, adorned with dusty crucifixes. Finally, she gripped the chair's base and continued.
"I hate thinking about my earliest memories, because they are of my parents." She paused. "My mom gave me up into foster care aged five after my dad was killed. I can remember her clearly, but I haven't seen her for more than twenty years. I don't know where she is or what she's doing, or... if she's alive. I don't know if she ever thought she made a mistake. I don't remember my father much at all - just some static memories, which might be from photographs as much as from reality. Some days, it feels almost as if I was birthed by the state of Washington, not by a man and a woman. Heh."
She shivered briefly, as if someone had walked over her grave. I realised she was laughing.
"I can remember that my father had dark hair, like mine, and that he wore a mustache. According to my social worker, my mom, who liked to refer to herself as-" Bella breathed in through her teeth "-a free spirit... deteriorated after my dad died. After he was killed, I mean. She just couldn't cope."
Esme nodded, and reached over to squeeze Bella's wrist, gently. She winced and Esme's face contorted into apology. Bella shrugged.
"Foster care was hard. No one wanted to adopt an older kid, so I was moved around quite a bit. I had thirty five homes from age five till age sixteen. I outwore my welcome at some, after I started hurting myself."
She fiddled with her long cuffs, pulling them down over her fingertips.
"It made me feel... present. If I could bleed, if I could see my blood brightening my skin, then I knew I was more than a quiet, pale burden. I was bright red inside."
I felt my tears cool as they slid down my cheeks before I realised I was crying. I'd always dreamed about foster care as a kid. Thought about begging for it, as if it was my ticket to a better life. Obviously that was a fucking crock. Not that it would have done any good, anyway. My parents ownership of me was one of the things they liked best. I tried to subtly scrub at my face with my sleeve. Esme noticed.
"What can we learn with Bella?" she asked. The group was silent, so she continued. "Well, would you all agree that she could legitimately feel angry about her childhood?"
Nodding, grimacing, pity; all flowed around the circle.
"Bella, how do you express your anger?"
She looked up, as if shaken awake. "I'm not angry."
I couldn't help but snort, and clapped my hand over my mouth when I did.
"Jasper?" Esme said, raising her eyes to mine. "What do you think?"
My mouth opened before I could sort the jumbled thoughts in my head - one of my many bad habits.
"I would be mad as hell. She was just... dumped. And then pushed around like a library book."
Bella started, but didn't look at me.
"Does the rest of the group agree?"
More nodding, fidgeting. No dissent. Bella took in the group's opinion with a twisted up expression.
"Something to think on." Esme concluded. "I'll see you all on Monday, same time. Be safe."
I'd been dreading the next session all week, formulating over and over again what I would say. When the time came, I arrived early, needing a few minutes in the room to try and adjust, and to be seen before I could bolt.
I was pacing in front of the coffee table, when I felt a hand on my arm. It was Bella. She stood before me, her long brown hair falling in waves over her narrow shoulders. She was biting her uneven lips - the bottom fuller and more pronounced than the top, even when trapped between her teeth.
"Just shut your eyes. It helps."
I felt myself breathe in, and it seemed like the first oxygen I'd inhaled for a while.
"Or, you know, just imagine the rest of the group naked. Maybe with third nipples, too."
I laughed, despite my predicament, and the corner of her mouth lifted up in an expression which straddled the border between commiseration and smile.
When Esme called on me to tell the group about myself, my tongue felt sticky and parched, and the silence pressed on my chest. I shut my eyes, just like Bella had said. It made my heart beat in my ears.
"I'm here because it was a condition of my sentence. It was either anger therapy and community service or three months in prison. So I'm talking about my past and picking up used condoms from bus shelters as punishment, which seems like a fair deal for what I did."
I realised I'd balled my hands into fists and flexed my fingers, trying to concentrate on the interplay of bone, muscle and skin rather than the expectant group of strangers sat around me.
"Apparently, I can't control my anger."
I knew Esme wouldn't let me get away with that, but I thought I'd try. I wondered who had spoken the week before Bella. I glanced up to catch her eye, but she was staring at her shoes: red baseball sneakers.
"What makes you angry, Jasper?"
Esme's voice was too damn calm. I felt myself bristle.
"Anything. Everything? A dropped spoon. The wrong change. The fucking shitty posters on the walls of this place, with puppies and quotes about forgiveness."
"And how do you cope with feeling this anger?"
I clenched my jaw.
"I don't, do I? I wouldn't be here if I did. I wouldn't have rammed that guy's head through the windshield of his fucking F250. I would have let him just replace the damn beer he spilled all over my jeans and made a joke about how I thought it'd be a few more years till I'd be pissing myself."
I let out a broken laugh, which sounded more like a yelp as I remembered that night. Esme spoke up.
"So, why didn't you do that?"
"Because I wasn't thinking."
"You just reacted."
A skinny, acne-ridden kid on the other side of the group scoffed and Esme shot him a warning stare, probably far more terrifying than I could ever have managed. He shut up, fast.
"Why did you hit the man? Was it because you were angry he spilled your drink?"
I frowned. That wasn't it at all.
"I didn't... I wanted to get in first. If you get the first one, then you have a much better chance."
She nodded, but gestured to the rest of the group.
"I think perhaps you should explain that a little more, Jasper, so everyone understands."
I gripped my hair and shut my eyes, trying to work out how to describe the house I grew up in.
"You know that feeling when you shoplift something? When you even just think about it? That nervous energy, where your fingertips tingle and you're ready to shift your ass like a roach in a spotlight if you get caught? That was my house. I did so many things wrong as a kid I lost count. Some days, it seemed there were rules about how to breathe in and out, and I'd fuck it up regardless of how hard I tried."
Esme murmured encouragement.
"There was a belt, shoes, a piece of cane from an old rocking chair; that was the regular stuff. But there was some fucking creativity, too. A sock with golf balls at the end. A stripped and sanded willow branch. And hands. And feet. If you got in first, you could try and run. I got returned by the county about once a week for years, till I got big enough to hit back."
I shut my mouth and it wouldn't open any more. I felt bone tired. With effort, I raised my head to look at Bella. She was staring straight at me, at last. It was the first time I'd seen her eyes. They were brown, her irises interwoven with deeper and lighter shades, like her hair, like tree bark. The colours caught the light as they refracted through the tears which ran parallel to her nose and dripped, slowly, off her chin.
She invited me out for a coffee after six sessions. We'd taken to standing by the tin of instant granules staring at it as if it would morph into something which no longer resembled, in both looks and flavour, brown cat litter. She pointed this out before week four, and made me choke on my cup. Bella blushed like a goddamn beacon back at me, the beautiful red flush painting the apples of her cheeks.
The conversation was easy once we were seated in the little booth of the diner, after the somewhat stilted uncertainty of ordering and waiting. Bella cradled her coffee like her hands were holding the liquid, not the ceramic cup, but her questions for me belied her tentative posture.
"Where are you from, Jasper?" She began, resting her elbows on the plastic table top.
"Texas." I answered immediately - the question had become common as soon as I opened my mouth this far north. "You?"
"Arizona." She replied. "Phoenix."
I balked. She was so pale - had she had a healthy tan when she lived further south?
"Do you miss the heat?"
Bella smiled at her curled up hands.
"I have a cactus in my apartment. He's called Mister Pincushion."
I grinned. "I have a Confederate flag and a mule in mine."
Her head jerked up before she started laughing. I loved making her laugh. It was rapidly becoming the best part of my week.
"That must make an awful lot of mess." Bella mused. "How do you afford all the sugar cubes?"
I nodded sideways, at the condiments display on the counter.
"I mostly liberate them from diners."
She gasped conspiratorially. "So this will be the scene of your latest crime? Shouldn't we have brought a sack? Am I supposed to act as the distraction?"
"Yes, yes and no. You're far too innocent to risk." At that Bella snorted. "I'll distract Nancy while you swipe the goods for Little Sorrel."
"That's probably the best bet. You can work your irresistible Southern charm on her."
"My what?" I gaped. As far as I was concerned most women viewed me as a lanky redneck in life-threatening need of a haircut. Bella just rolled her eyes.
"You know - "thank you, ma'am", "if it wouldn't trouble you", "I'm awfully sorry" - all that pussy-wetting shit."
She did not just say that. I swallowed, trying to force my cock, which had decided to pop its head up in interest, down.
"You do a worryingly good impression of my accent."
She nodded, smirking a little. "Well, I have to listen to you talk for an hour a week."
"Hey!" I grumbled. "The intricacies of my tortured childhood are fascinating, I'll have you know."
Bella grabbed my hand across the table. Her eyes were wide and dark and beautiful.
"True. I just wish you didn't have to speak them."
A few weeks later, on what would have been my ninth session, I skipped therapy. It had been a bad few days - the sight of a kid being smacked in the middle of the grocery store by her dickhead of a father had dredged up some nasty memories. I made it out of there without incident, solely because I knew if I beat the kid's dad into a pulp it'd probably scare her worse than his swinging hand.
I struggled to get up the next day after a night of awful dreams. It didn't stop the following day, or the day after that - my head felt flooded with scenes from the past, which my exhausted brain was unable to process. My face, when I watched it to shave, reflected an indifferent blankness which was so at odds with the rage I held back with every ounce of energy I had.
My movements were stilted as I tried to control my limbs, my mind providing just enough restraint to jerk my arms back into place. I wanted to kick or punch or throw anything that touched me - to beat and flatten and fuck up everything I saw until the world outside my head resembled the horrible pulse of my impotence.
I watched Bella enter the church building from a sunken doorway across the street, then, an hour later, emerge red-eyed and stooped. It was the only thing which had reached me in days - her expression of desolation seemed to tie her to me like the thread between two cups.
She sat down on the steps of the church and rubbed her face with her hands. I sat, too, concealed in shadow on the other side of the road, trying to make my mind up what to do. I couldn't show her this, couldn't ask her to cope with so much raw horror when she had enough of her own. Trapped in my head, I clenched my fists and bit the back of my tongue. When she walked away, I felt my cheeks were wet.
I watched her again the following week, taking mental note of her clothes - blue cardigan, blue plaid shirt, brown satchel, jeans with holes in the knees, baseball shoes - rather than the growing isolation in her look. She seemed as if she was backing into herself, quietly closing the door, shutting down.
Once the session started I crept up underneath one of the cheaply stained windows - open, due to the wet heat of the rare summer storms - and listened to her soft, strained voice.
"I don't know what to do, Esme. What can I do?"
"You have to give it time. This process is awful, Bella, you know that. It hurts so much, not just because it forces you to relive what happened, but because you do so with the perspectives of reason, adulthood and time. Here, we're asking our minds to accept what was done to us. Not even to forget, or forgive - just to recognise the truth of what has brought us to be the people we are in this moment, in this city, in these bodies. That acknowledgement is possibly the hardest thing we will ever do, because it means both accepting the fact that we have been hurt, and, more importantly, that the people who we blame are beyond recompense. None of us can either change the past or seek useful retribution. What we are here to do is to learn acceptance, because with it comes the only sort of peace we can hope to achieve."
Bella was crying now. So was I.
"I want to kill them."
I could almost hear Esme nodding.
"I want them to feel pain. I want them to feel what he felt, what I felt."
"But you can't."
Bella's sobs grew louder.
"It's so fucking unfair..." she choked out.
"Yes, it is." Esme agreed.
I hit the church wall, pounding it until strips of my skin hung off the red brickwork. My fists hardly even made a sound.
I was arrested the next day. I'd been ignoring the calls, and then visits, from my probation officer, and finally he gave up and sent the unit's two biggest officers around to bring me in. He needn't have bothered. My rage had cooled to a deep depression, and I went with the thickset men so quietly they didn't even bother with handcuffs. One, with dark, curly hair and blue eyes, patted me on the shoulder.
"Thanks for making this easy on us, buddy."
I nodded, numbly, glad to have the processes of life - buying food, washing, getting up - taken out of my hands. The only thing I was sorry to miss was Bella. At the station, I asked my probation officer for Esme's address, so that I might write to her and apologise. He smiled widely at this request and noted down the church's details with "Esme Cullen" above. I said the name a few times in my head, enjoying the symmetry of syllables.
I wanted to write to apologise for skipping out on your sessions. As you might have guessed, I'm in prison now. Mostly, I get left alone here, which is good.
Anyway, as I said, I'm sorry. If I could ask one more favour, as well as your forgiveness, it would be that you pass the enclosed note on to Bella. If you want to read it first to check the content, go ahead, but I haven't written anything which might hurt her. Or I tried not to, anyway.
I received a reply to my note to Bella a few days later. It seemed she was getting better at expressing her anger.
Thank you for your letter, but you should know that the next time I see you I will be employing what my friend Angela terms my "fuck you" face. I was so worried! What happened? Can you tell me? Are you alright? Are you surviving prison? Is there anything I can bring you or send? Apart from a punch in the junk, that is.
You can't do this to me, if you want us to be friends. I can't cope with being just cut off. You know that - you know what happened to me. Please don't do it again. I care about you...
She was the only thing that had made me laugh in more than a month.
My first visitor allowance came two weeks into my sentence. Bella and I had been exchanging letters every few days, and she'd asked if she could come and see me. I tried not to sound ridiculously over excited at the prospect, but I couldn't help feeling angry with myself that we were meeting here, rather than at the diner.
The visitor's room was a cross section of grey tables and chairs anchored to the floor with bolts the size of my knuckles. As soon as we were let in my eyes flitted about, searching for her dark brown hair in a sea of desperate-looking faces. She was in the middle of a row, near the back, twisting her fingers into the sleeves of her sweater and biting her lip. My breath caught in my throat as she saw me, and her expression loosed itself into a wide, sweet smile. Jesus, I'd forgotten how beautiful she was. She spoke first once I'd sat down, folding my lanky frame under the low table.
"It's so good to see you, even if you are in a jumpsuit."
I laughed out loud, earning a narrow-eyed stare from one of the least pleasant guards. My hands twitched, wanting to reach over and thread my fingers with hers, so I shoved them under my thighs, determined not to give them any reason to cut my time with her short.
"I prefer the term onesie." I replied. "Jumpsuits don't have a handy crap flap."
Bella snorted. Even that was attractive.
"It's good to know my tax dollars are paying for comfort." She smiled. "You know, I should thank you."
I raised an eyebrow.
"When you disappeared I realised I wasn't just worried about you, I was... angry."
I nodded for her to go on.
"I started talking about it in the group. I described our outings for coffee, how I felt like we'd connected, like there was something between us..."
A soft blush was creeping from her cheeks down to her neck. I knew I was leaning forward, probably too close, but I couldn't help it.
"Esme helped me see that it was fair for me to be angry with you, and that feeling that anger - just sitting with it, yelling in my car, punching pillows, throwing rocks as far as I damn well could into the Sound... that all of those things were good."
I swallowed, guilt settling deep in my stomach, but with it came suffocation. She seemed to sense my discomfort.
"Why can't they just let us touch?" She gripped the edge of the table instead. I shifted, trapping my hands further underneath me. "I understand you can't suppress what you're going through for other people. That just leads to bitterness. And I know what made you stop turning up to the sessions was probably horrible."
I nodded, staring at her whitening fingertips. Her voice softened.
"Esme said the only way through that conundrum is to... keep talking... to the people who love you..."
My head darted up, my mouth gaping open.
"Just tell me, if you can. Feel whatever you're feeling, rage, go nuts, streak across the Seahawks' stadium... just... I need to know you're alive."
I shut my eyes, trying desperately hard to stop myself from crying. The tears forced their way out anyway, and dripped onto the tabletop. Hers weren't far behind. We always seemed to be crying, damn it.
"I'm sorry, Bella."
"No, fuck that." Her tone was flat, hard. "You've already apologised to me, and I've accepted it. Don't feel bad any more, just understand... you're stuck with me, now. If you want. But if we're going to be friends then when it all starts getting bad again you just have to let me know somehow..." She paused. "Christ, I sound selfish now, don't I?"
I shook my head. "You wouldn't, even if I didn't love you, too."
Her whole body seemed to relax, her shoulders dropping, her fingertips flowing with blood again as she stretched her hands against the table's edge. I ventured a smile.
"Next time, can you bring cookies?"
She stuck out her tongue at me.
On my day of release, Bella was standing outside the gates. I ran at her, grabbing her up into my arms and spinning her around, whooping like a Reb. She clung to me, shrieking and laughing with her head flung back. In that moment, I felt purely happy.
When we arrived back at my apartment I dragged her inside and pulled her into me for another hug - a proper one, with no guards watching, but still being careful of her arms. Her hair smelt like strawberries, and I mumbled into it as she rocked us a little, our tired bodies holding each other up like two playing cards.
When she finally pulled back just a little, the tenderness in her eyes made my chest ache. I rested my forehead on hers, rubbing the tips of our noses and relishing the feel of her breath on my lips, using the flow to bolster my courage as I shut my eyes and pressed my mouth to hers.
She kissed me back hard, and I felt my body ignite, months of craving and desire crystallising into her lips on mine, her tongue teasing my mouth open. I bent her body against me, one hand on the small of her back, the other twisted into her dark hair as she wound her arms around my neck. She felt so fucking good pressed close - the warmth of her seeping through our clothes and searing us together. I moved my hands down her back and over her ass, lifting her up; she took my cue and wrapped her legs around my waist.
I walked backwards, my lips landing on her ears, jaw, neck, until the backs of my knees hit the arm of the sofa. I collapsed down, Bella falling on top of me, both of us laughing and kissing and holding on to one another. She pulled back for a moment, resting her arms on my chest and smiled down at me, her hair falling in a curtain around us.
I grinned back. "I love you, Bella." She kissed me again. I still hadn't stopped grinning. "And thank you - not just for letting me kiss you." She rolled her eyes and propped her chin up in her hands. "I... I can't understand how anyone would ever want to be without you..." Her familiar blush was spreading now, and I stroked her back gently. "I mean it. I'm in love with you, and I want you... as my Bella..."
She leaned down and kissed my nose. "Granted."
A few months later I came home really suffering for the first time. I'd been doing well, working construction as the hard, physical labour gave me time to think, but also tired me out at night, which helped stop the nightmares.
But today I'd found out a man on our team had been arrested for beating his wife and kid, and once the sickness set in it wouldn't shift. I'd known him, shaken his hand, brought him coffee... he'd seemed like a good guy. Was that what my dad had seemed like? Had people thought he was the salt of the earth? A family man?
By the time I made it home, I was lost in my head. I wanted to hit something, throw something, hurt something. My rage pulsed through my body, making my movements jerky and my hands into fists.
I found Bella in our kitchen, reading over recipes and making notes in the margins of her books. She looked up with a smile when she heard me come in. It faded in seconds.
"What happened?" She cradled my face in her hands. "Can you tell me?"
I shook my head and grabbed her hips, pulling her against me hard and kissing her breathless. When I let go, panting and tight-jawed, her lips were pink and swollen, her breasts rising and falling under her t-shirt. And suddenly the only thing I wanted was her, right then and there.
I grabbed the hem of her top and looked into her eyes, asking for permission. She gave it wordlessly, pulling her shirt up over her head and snapping open her bra as I lifted her onto the kitchen table and roughly palmed her beautiful tits. They felt so fucking good, their round softness interrupted by rapidly tightening nipples.
Bella grasped my belt, pulling it from the loops of my jeans and then ripped open my button fly, her hands finding my hardening cock and rubbing it firmly as our mouths met again, teeth clashing, tongues fighting as I let free a moan from the base of my bare chest.
One of my hands grabbed the waistband of her sweat pants while the other lifted her clean off the table to pull them down with her panties, before pushing against the apex of her thighs. I could feel her growing wetness seeping through her coarse curls, taunting my swollen cock. I pulled it out of my boxers and angled her back, nudging her pussy lips, letting her tell me no if she needed to.
"Jasper, please... fuck me..."
I pushed inside her before she'd even finished her sentence, groaning deeper with every inch. She whimpered as I began to fuck her in earnest, wrapping her legs around my hips and meeting each of my hard, fast thrusts with her own.
Her mouth found my chest and she licked the lines of salty sweat left from the day's work, biting at my nipples and then soothing them with her tongue as I moaned.
"Ungh, fuck... Bella..."
I reached between us, leaning on one arm and finding her clit just above where we met. I rubbed hard, becoming even more turned on as she pushed my hand away and began to touch herself, one hand on her tits, the other racing between her legs.
As she began to come, I felt her legs clench around me, and my filthy mouth came out to play.
"Fuck yes, I need you to come for me, Bella, faster, fuck yourself faster... that's it, girl..." I buried my face in her neck as I pounded through my own climax, wrapping my arms around her and holding her to me as I spilled deep inside of her.
We stayed like that, our arms around each other, as our breathing slowed, sweat pooling where our skin connected. Guilt at what I'd done began to seep in and I pulled back a little.
"Bella... I'm sorry... I..." She cut me off with a kiss.
"Shut up. Can you tell me about it?"
I closed my eyes for a second, resting my forehead against hers. When I pulled back, her eyes met mine, the strength in them plain.
"Yes." I replied. "But I know, anyway."
"What do you know?" Her voice was soft.
"That I can't stop people from doing what they do out there. I can just change how I react to it, and how I deal with my reaction." She nodded, kissed me softly and squeezed my hips with her thighs.
"Just so you know, you can react like that again, uh, if you need to."
We collapsed against each other, giggling like kids, until our meeting lips silenced our mouths.