A/N: Beta'd by sweeneyanne and pre-read by AlexisDanaan and aerobee82.

See below for gushing.

Don't own Twilight.

Chapter 21 – I Am the Highway

The nice thing about having Garrett around is that he provides enough of an illusion of a houseguest that everyone is on their best behavior. Carlisle is straight-backed and stiff as Esme flits around the room assessing injuries. Rosalie and Emmett sit quietly on the couch with Bella, and the three of them don't stray too far from the glares they're sending across the room at Alice. I'm just trying to keep my shit together enough to not rip the whole fucking house down and set it on fire with Alice wedged firmly in the middle.

She's made no move to defend herself yet, just keeps her arms crossed firmly across her chest and looks out across the room like she's just waiting for one of us to come lunging at her. She's probably not that far off base—after spending so many decades with her I've learned to identify the signs of her visions, and every time her eyes go blank she shifts in her seat a bit, or touches her fingers to her healing neck, and the atmosphere of rage and betrayal calms by just the smallest degree. She's so fucking manipulative.

It's taking everything I've got to keep myself from yanking Bella right off the couch and getting the fuck out of here. If Emmett wasn't sitting next to her giving me a look like he knows exactly what I'm thinking, I might have gone for it. Instead it's looking to be a rehash of the day we've had from varying points of view, and I really only pay attention long enough to provide my own. It's over with, and I don't see the point in trudging through the events one by one.

I glean from the conversations being held all around me that Edward had shown up right before the Volturi, Garrett not far behind. Both Garrett and Edward wound up taking down a couple of newborns, and the Volturi destroyed some as well. The only one hurt was Alice, and the only people who don't feel she deserved it are Esme and Carlisle. Esme because she's her, and Carlisle, well, I'm starting to realize that I just don't know him well enough to try and figure out why he does anything. In the end, I find that I want to.

I catch his eye and jerk my head sideways toward the front door, and squeeze Bella's shoulder a little tighter than I should before leaving her to stare daggers at Alice with all the rest. At the very least, a conversation with Carlisle will hopefully provide enough distraction that I don't actually kill the girl.

"Are you finally ready to talk?" Carlisle asks in that way of his that leaves little room for anything other than agreement as we distance ourselves from the house. I'd been hoping to avoid this for so long, but things are different now, and I'm starting to think that I've been holding firm to some vague interpretation of this man that I concocted when I realized he just wasn't as transparent as most of the rest.

"I am. What is it you want to discuss?" Seems some habits die harder than others; I don't actually want to be so confrontational, I just can't really help myself.

"We could start with why you seem to be so convinced that I have it out for you."

"You've never liked me much," I point out, just so that he knows without the shadow of a doubt that I do understand that about him, even if I don't know much else.

Carlisle smiles a bit—a sight I haven't actually seen very often—and like it's nothing says, "I'll admit I've had reservations, but you've always been good at proving people wrong when it comes to you."

"Why did you do it? Why'd you lie to them" I ask as I stand opposite him and begin the fruitless task of figuring out just what's going through his head.

"We're all sinners when it comes to Bella—each and every one of us has wronged her in some way or another—except for you."

"For some reason I don't think she'd quite agree with you there," I reply after a moment, because I don't know what else to say.

"Don't be so sure," Carlisle argues with a small smile and yet another appraising glance. "She's the one who said it."

I can't quite keep my amusement from escaping me. "She really said that to you?"

"She did," Carlisle nods, a chuckle of his own escaping him. "Quite a woman that girl grew up into. I'm sure due in no small part to you."

"I wasn't aware you were paying so much attention."

"Well, if you hadn't spent all these months avoiding me, then you would have known already."

I just nod my head a little and keep him in the corner of my vision, unsure of what I wanted to say to him in the first place.

"I know asking will do me little good," Carlisle continues after a moment, "but go easy on Alice. The two of you have more in common than you'd like to admit—after all, you went behind everyone's backs when you thought they might not agree with you, too. You know she has her reasons, and in the end, didn't you get what you wanted?"

He's right, asking won't do him any good, but I nod anyway and resolve to at least not kill her outright. Emmett and I are just as guilty as she is, although I can't quite see the logic in comparing our actions. In the end I did get what I'd hoped to, but that doesn't excuse her for all she's done.

The silence that bubbles between us is a little less tense than it has been in the past, and it takes me a few minutes to decide what I want to ask him next. "How did you want it to end?"

"With my family happy and whole under one roof, but it wasn't going to happen like that, and we all knew it. I think, all things considered, we might have found a reasonable alternative."

"What about Edward?" I wonder.

"He won't be alone for long. I've stayed with the Volturi before, I assure you it is not as unpleasant as you seem to assume—although to be fair, they like me a great deal more than they do you. It will make for a nice vacation with Esme. Besides, it's not fair to protect him forever; he has to be held accountable for what he's done."

I can't say that I didn't see that one coming. If nothing else, Esme has proven that she honestly holds all she considers children in equal regard, and she would never allow Edward to stew all by himself in Italy if she could help it. It will probably be good for them, and for the rest of us.

I knew it was only a matter of time before Alice came to find us, and to be fair she held out longer than I expected, but there's still a sudden tense of my muscles and anger coursing over my skin that comes with the faintest hint of her scent on the wind. I don't want to hear her reasoning, and I don't want to listen to more lies come tumbling from her lips. She's got a stockpile of more rationalizations than anyone else is capable of, and she'll use them all to try to convince me that what she did was for the good of the whole.

I'm just done with her, in a much more final way than I've ever been before. The realization does nothing to stop the inevitable though, and I nod farewell to Carlisle just as she comes striding through the forest to stop a few paces in front of me.

"I'd like to explain a few things, if you'll listen," she offers quietly—but I don't want to hear one more word come out of her mouth. It'll just be more lies.

It's the first time I've ever realized just how badly Alice screwed me up. I may have come into whatever it was we shared fragmented, and she may have put some of those pieces back together, but she's also the one who caused me to put such a high premium on candor. She's the reason it took just about all I had to just tell Bella it was going to be okay, when I wasn't sure it would. It's almost refreshing to see these little things I'd always been blind to.

I can tell she sees my answer just a split-second before it comes tumbling out of my mouth. "Save your breath."

Alice's eyes flash in a way I haven't ever seen before, and from the frustration bubbling inside her I can assume that she's starting to realize that she's just never going to get her way when it comes to me. Not again.

"I can't believe I let my guard down. I know better than to take anything you say at face value." It's beyond infuriating that I let myself get all tangled up in her misdirection and half-truths for the hundredth time. The thing I dislike most about Alice is that she constantly makes me feel like I've been played.

"Don't you understand?" Alice asks harshly, her voice making some faint imitation of cracking between syllables. "It was the only way! We had to have them here!"

"For you!" I snarl back, unable to hold on to my temper for one moment longer. "You wanted them here for you."

It would take a moron to miss the way she's been staring at Garrett. Besides, he's the only reason no one has tried to take a chunk out of her yet.

"And for you," she spits from between her teeth. "If I hadn't done it, you wouldn't be standing here having this conversation with me."

"Because you manipulated it to happen that way. You never learn, Alice. What you see is only valid because you take away our choices."

I can't say I know exactly what it is that crosses Alice's expression, but it is something dangerous and raw—and when she speaks again her tone is low and her eyes flashing. I could swear she's trying to provoke me. "You have no idea what I've given up for you. You want to hate me, then go ahead—God knows, that's nothing new—but I did what I did for a reason, and I don't care if it makes me the villain."

I'd like to turn around and walk away from her, because after all the ups and downs, Alice wound up being exactly who I thought she was from the beginning—but there's something in her expression and the way she feels a little desperate to make me understand that gives me pause.

"Did you know they'd take Edward when you went to get him?"

She closes her eyes and takes two deep breathes before she answers, "Yes."

Usually it's difficult to tell if Alice is being honest or not, and maybe that's because I've never been able to get an accurate baseline for her, but right now, in this moment, I'm certain that she's telling the truth.

"And Garrett?" I ask, and she subtly shifts her weight from one foot to the other.

"He was like insurance, he helped make it easier; he killed one, you know. There really wasn't any way to get Edward here without Garrett coming, too, anyway," she explains, and after another heavy breath she confesses, "If he hadn't come the fallout would have been a lot worse."

"For you," I confirm, and Alice nods her head sharply once.

"Why did you lie to us?" I ask harshly, hoping that for once she'll actually answer the question. I can't even keep it straight in my head anymore. All the things she's said since coming to Tennessee—all those little confessions and revelations, not to mention the piles and piles of shit before that—I don't know if any of it was actually true.

"Will you ever forgive me for it?"

"Probably not." Not this time; she went way too far, but what surprises me is the way she smiles for just a second before muttering 'good' and walking away with no further explanation, a sad relief heavy in her wake.

I could let the single word floating back on the wind infiltrate my thoughts and drive me mad with trying to figure out exactly what she means by it, but if I think about it, really stand still and contemplate the implications and consequences of chasing after her meaning, I find that I don't even want to. The thing is that I've finally gotten a taste of what it means to have someone I can really trust in my life. Emmett, Bella, neither of them would ever have done something like this, and I can't go back. I can't regress into an existence where I have to analyze and interpret every word and motion to try and figure out what the hell Alice is actually angling for, and it feels really fucking good to know that whatever it was that held us together for all of those decades is finally broken.

I give her a few minutes head start, and then begin striding my own path through the trees and back to Emmett's house. There's a sort of clarity that comes from the dissipation of the fog that's always clouded my perception, and not so long ago I would have been baffled as to why the smell of Bella on the wind and first glimpse I catch of her causes my lip to curl—but that reaction has been simmering in the background for a while now, and I think that maybe I finally understand what it means.

She's sitting by herself out in the yard, her eyes steadily trained at something held between her fingers with a vague sort of amusement, and once I get closer I realize it's the fake I.D. I forced on her that she's staring at.

"Looks like you didn't need it after all," I comment, and she turns her head toward me just enough that I catch the smile on her face.

"Oh, I know you don't think I'm giving this baby up. I quite like being a McCarty."

"It's going to take a while before you forgive me for that one, huh?" I don't think I really mind so much.

"Nah, I get why you did it," she answers.

I sit next to her, and it's really nice to not have an axe swinging over our necks for once. It's all calm and easy, and I can't shake the insistent desire to start plowing my way down this fork in the road that I hadn't been all that sure we'd be able to find.

"You're just dying to get out of here, aren't you?" she laughs, and when I turn my head toward her she's got a knowing smile on her face. I'd thought she'd be more annoyed.

"A little bit, yeah."

"Where do you want to go?" Bella asks, and I like that she doesn't judge me, or try to convince me to stay. Then again, she's excited and happy—and it's always been something we've had in common, this urge to stretch our legs and just run.

"Not a clue. It's not like we've got a whole lot of options."

"Yeah, I'd definitely like to avoid massacring entire cities, if at all possible."

"It won't be long, you know, before you can get back out in the world."

Her smile fades a bit, and she sighs as she shifts her focus to the trees lining the yard. "It seems like a lifetime away."

"Nothing more than a blink of the eye."

Bella leans her head against my shoulder and pulls my hand into her lap so she can run her fingers along the bumps and shallows of the healing wound that matches the pattern of fingers circling her neck. I would have thought they'd upset her more, but really she's never been bothered by imperfections, and there's no reason that should change now. It's just one of those things she sees in a different light than the others. She understands the way a blemish can be a reminder, or a road map.

"I'm real proud of you." I kind of feel like I need to tell her that.

"Me too. I almost can't believe how well you held your temper there at the end. What did Alice have to say for herself?"

"The usual bullshit." I don't particularly feel like going over all that nonsense again. "She's leaving."

"I'm not surprised," Bella sighs, and I don't really understand how she's not more upset about all the betrayals that came hurling toward us today.

"I thought you'd be angrier with her."

"I told you before; I believe that she is my friend, and that she's on my side—but I know her well enough that I expected something like this out of her. I really wish it hadn't have been Edward though."

"I wish I'd have gotten to at least maim that asshole a little," I reply, and I know I'm failing miserably at hiding my scowl, but instead of getting mad Bella just laughs.

"I bet—but it's better this way, Jasper. We both know it."

"At least you got to pop his balls," I argue, and from the way she lets out the smallest giggle and the welling of gratitude in the small space between us, I know that she understands that I'm both teasing and asking her if she wants to talk about it.

"I don't even care if it makes me a horrible person—that felt so damn good."

"Not for him."

"Well, he deserved it," she replies and I stifle another laugh and turn my head enough to kiss the top of her head. I think I understand the gesture a bit more than I ever have before.

"Oh, that's just adorable; I never thought I'd see the day," Garrett's voice bounds out from behind us, and I make sure to school my expression into a practiced scowl before turning to face him.

"The fuck do you want?"

"You best take care of him, sweets," he says to Bella, completely ignoring my question. "Don't let him get all sullen and temperamental on you. He may be a badass, but deep down, he just wants to be loved like everyone else."

I wonder if I could make him explode with my gift. It seems like an excellent opportunity to try.

"You might want to start running while you can still get a head-start," Bella jokes, but she tightens her fingers around my arm just a little anyway.

"Nah, we've had that showdown before, and Jasper's not one for rematches or long goodbyes."

"You're inspiring me to make an exception."

"You've got your talents, and I've got mine," he shrugs. I'm kind of glad he's leaving so soon, no good would come of Garrett and Emmett in the same house for any period of time. "So, before I get going, tell me—is short stuff as crazy as she seems?"

"More," I answer, and he just nods his head a bit with a calculating expression on his face and that same strange blend of curiosity still running through him. He's so fucked. "She will do nothing but lie to and manipulate you."

He just chuckles and the side of his lip quirks into a bit of a smirk. "What can I say? I've always enjoyed a challenge."

"You're doomed," I warn him, solely out of courtesy.

"Yeah, probably."

"Just keep her far the fuck away from me." There's never been any sense in trying to talk him out of anything once his mind is set. If he wants to go for it, well, then I'm not going to stick around to watch the disaster unfold.

"Don't let her start out with the upper hand," Bella advises with a small smile. "It's really hard to get it back."

"You should take lessons from this one, Jasper. She knows what's up." Garrett reaches down to clip me on the shoulder once, and then starts making his way to the north end of the yard. "Don't be a stranger, dude. There's no rule against ditching your girl for a night, so long as you come back home in the morning."

"He'll keep that in mind," Bella calls out before I can reply with something a bit more colorful, and before I even have a chance to come up with some scathing retort to either of them she leans into me again and lays a lingering kiss on my shoulder.

It's not so bad, letting her have the last word.

There's a cool, crisp air blowing through the windows as Bella speeds down the interstate. She's singing along softly with the song vibrating through the stereo speakers, throwing fond glances over at me every minute or so. It's a nice song, one of the few modern ones that I actually like.

It's weird to be in the passenger seat; I could probably count the incidents I've found myself here on one hand—but the strange thing is that the scenery is so much more potent. Without the slight distraction of the road my eyes wander a little more, and there's a rolling calm to the greens and browns of the landscape as we race past them down the black and yellow of the road.

I keep wanting to ask her if this pleasure running through me is what they all call 'happily ever after'. I won't, though. Something she's taught me is that sometimes it's not all that bad to not know. Sometimes it's just better when it comes out of nowhere.

"Where to first?" Bella asks, and I cock my head to the side as I examine her profile. I've never seen her look quite so relaxed.

"Wherever you want."

"I want to go to Dollywood," Bella says, completely serious.

"Please don't make me go there," I groan, and she throws her head back and laughs.

She nudges the accelerator down and grins as the wind whips through her hair, blowing it all in her face, and breathes words in time with the words floating through the air.

It's been six months of a sort of quiet chaos running through our lives in the aftermath of battle, and now that we're finally done, now that Bella and I are finally on our own again, I almost miss the commotion that inherently comes with the Cullens.

I suppose it's only reasonable to feel this way—after all, the ties that connect me to them have been burned down and obliterated only to be restrung over and over again. The funny thing is I'd always thought of myself as the odd one out, the one who never really belonged and always caused more harm than good—turns out that's only true until Alice goes flying out of the picture. Maybe it's just that she and I are like oil and water.

"Favorite city?" Bella asks out of the blue, and I have to take a moment to think about it.

"I was rather fond of Forks for a while there."

"Good answer," she laughs.

It's a stupid game, but one she's adamant that we play. Apparently now that we're in the clear and we've got forever stretching out in front of us she's insisted that we actually get to know each other a little better. I'd argued that I know her just fine, and all those little things that would invariably crop up only made for more entertainment, but it wasn't so hard for her to get her way. It never is.

She actually likes answering questions more than she likes posing them, and that was what made me cooperate in the end. I think that on some level she agrees with me, but she wants to feel like I know her, too. She's in this for the long-haul. I am, too, but I don't know if I've ever made that clear to her—so I'll answer her silly questions and ask my own, so she'll know that I'm right there with her.

A/N: Time for the obligatory thank you squeeing. I love this part.

THEChickNorris – For pre-reading a huge chunk of this, multiple times. I gots to stop rewriting all this nonsense. Miss you and hope all is well in your RL. Kick its ass, baby. :-)

GemmaLisaX – For pre-reading the first batch of chapters and in general awesomeness. OMG. I just fell in love with you.

AlexisDanaan – For being really nice about slapping me with the typo-stick when pre-reading. And for color-coding. I love color-coding. Oh, and I'm also quite fond of you.

Aerobee82 – For teaching me a very valuable lesson; when in dire need of an excellent pre-reader find your best reviewer, the one who always points out that one question you were really hoping no one would ask, and beg.

IzPerplexing – Yeah, I know you didn't pre-read or edit or any of that stuff, but I really can't put a value on how much it helped me to have someone out there who was nice and supportive when I was ready to rip all my hair out. So thanks, for being you. Also, I want tacos and it's all your fault.

And last but certainly not least...

sweeneyanne – I don't really even think there's anything to say that will accurately express how happy I am to have you for a friend. I hope to return all the favors you do for me someday, and someday soon. Now get writing, missy!

Much love to all who read, reviewed, favorited, and recommended this fic to another.

Let's do this again sometime, shall we?