My deepest and sincerest apologies for the ridiculous wait for this final chapter. I won't waste time with excuses, I'm sure you don't care. If you're here then you've already read the first two chapters so I won't bother with warnings either.
Last chapter, the line I stole was from 1952 Vincent Black Lightening by Richard Thompson.
You can thank this song http :/ .com /watch?v=0AovtZ1Zxdw&feature=fvsr for encouraging these boys to speak to me again.
All my adoration for my fearless cheerleader, arse-kicker and beta for this chapter, Lovelybrutal, who was absolutely instrumental in getting this written and to a state in which I felt I could share it.
When the phone rings, Riley's mouth is on my neck and his hands are in my jeans. I shift under him, trying to stay with it, trying to ignore the buzzing, but it's a losing battle and we both know it. Riley tries to keep me, whispers, "Edward, ignore it," in my ear, following his words with a warm tongue, and fuck it feels good, but my brain's already checked out.
I shift under him again, annoyed now, feeling like shit when he sighs and moves off me, but not shit enough to stop me from jumping off the couch and practically diving on the handset.
"Might be my Dad," I mumble over my shoulder, embarrassed, but Riley's fiddling with his mobile, not looking at me, shoulders defensive. I feel shittier, but it doesn't stop me picking up the handset and heading into the kitchen.
"Good evening, sir," The unknown voice nearly makes me slump, but I fight it off, angry at myself. I can't believe I'm still doing this. I feel like a dick.
"Yeah?" I reply, tone sharp.
"This is an AT&T collect call from Columbus, Georgia. Do you accept the charges?"
Georgia. Only one person I know is in Georgia. I can feel stupid tears in my eyes, and I have to bite the inside of my mouth to ground myself. My hands are shaking, and I can feel the cool plastic of the receiver tapping gently against my ear.
"Sir?" The voice sounds impatient with my hesitation, and I make an instant decision.
"No." And I hang up.
Just like that.
The evening is, of course, ruined. I try to keep it together during Riley's romantic meal. He brought all the stuff over and cooked it in my mama's kitchen, singing and shaking his ass to songs on the radio. Every now and again he'd grin at me over his shoulder, and I'd have to force back thoughts of low-slung jeans and bare feet.
Riley's finally given up trying to hold a conversation, and is staring miserably into his mostly-full plate. I want to make it better, I really do, but I just don't have it in me. All my brain power is taken up with not thinking about who I'm not thinking about, and there's just no space for anything else right now.
"Edward, I'm going to go," Riley says, his voice just so hurt, and it fucking kills me that that doesn't kill me. I just nod, because he shouldn't be around me when I'm like this. His face falls even more, and I know he wants me to make him stay, to show him something, and I will. Just not tonight.
I see him to the door, kiss him, thank him for the food, and watch him walk away – all without feeling a fraction of what I feel for the fucking ghost in my life.
I call Bella. She sounds busy, but I don't hang up, selfishly wanting to just connect with someone who remembers what it was like before. All my Jasper updates come through Bella, via Alice. Bella's the reason I know Jasper was crashing with Alice. Bella's the reason I know Jasper joined the army.
"He called me tonight." I hear Bella's breath catch. I've heard nothing from Jasper in nearly seven months.
"Are you okay?"
I smile, because Bella would be just so fucking perfect if only I could love her. And then I'm not smiling anymore.
"I didn't take the call."
She's quiet at that. She knows how hurt I've been over this whole thing, how hard I've been trying to move on. She's met Riley.
"It was a collect call," I babble into her silence, "I only think it was him...I mean, it could have been anyone really..."
"Edward," she interrupts me, her voice so fucking gentle, and I know I'm crying but I'm refusing to acknowledge it.
"It was him," I whisper, "I just...Bella, I just can't."
"I know," she soothes, her voice soft against my inappropriate pain, "I know." She stays on the phone with me, sweet and forgiving and so much more than I deserve, until I've pulled myself together. She tells me, kindly, to leave the past where it is, and get on with my life now.
When I get hang up with her, I text Riley and apologise for being a dick, offer to take him to dinner the next night to make up. His text back is as enthusiastic as ever. I lie in bed, but I'm not sleeping. I try to pretend I don't know why.
I'm trying to get a handle on the piece I've been hired to play at the launch of some car or perfume or whatever, when my mobile rings. I glance at the caller id, and freeze. Georgia area code. I know. I've looked it up. Even as I'm debating ignoring it, my hand has already raised the phone to my ear.
"Hello?" My voice actually quivers.
"Is this Mr Edward Cullen?"
It takes me a minute to think enough to form words. This official voice has wrecked every defence I've built over the last seven months. Fear is churning in my gut.
"Yes," I whisper, desperately wishing the answer was no.
"We have you down as the next of kin contact for a Mr Jasper Whitlock."
"Oh God." Black spots are swimming in front of my eyes, and I slide down the wall until my knees are bunched up under my chin. I'm aware that I'm chanting under my breath, a litany of nonsense, but I can't focus over the overwhelming inability to breathe around the blackness in my chest.
It takes a few minutes before I'm hearing the voice clearly enough to interpret what it's telling me correctly.
"Sir, Mr Whitlock is fine."
"What?" I manage over the ragged, gasping rattling my chest.
"Mr Whitlock is not dead," the voice informs me hastily, sounding more than a little panicked.
"You swear?" I demand, sounding like a little kid and not caring.
"I do," the voice replies solemnly, and I'm crying again. I'm so fucking tired of crying.
"Sir, I'm calling to inform you that Mr Whitlock is being held at the Army Regional Confinement Facility in Fort Carson, Colorado."
"He's what?" I reply stupidly, still coming to terms with the fact that this phone call isn't a 'we're sorry to inform you' call.
"Sir," the voice is starting to sound weary now, "Mr Whitlock is going to need legal representation. Are you able to provide that?"
"Repre...yes, yes of course."
I take the rest of the information down, and within the hour I'm heading to the airport.
Jasper's head is down and his hands are shackled when they bring him into the room they're making me wait in. He doesn't look up. His shoulders are a slumped line of defeat and, fuck, it doesn't suit him.
His head snaps up so fast that I recoil instinctively. His eyes are so wide, pulling me in like I'm unexpected, and I tear a little inside.
"E," he whispers in a rough voice, and it's then I notice the bruises on his face, on his throat, and the angled way he's holding himself. I tense to speak, but all the life in his eyes just drops right out, shocking me silent. He dips his head away from me, and takes a seat in the hard plastic chair across the table from mine.
"What are you doing here?"
"What?" I'm indignant, maybe a little angry at his question, "Where the hell else would I be?"
He shrugs, slumping down, and I don't know what to do. Jasper doesn't let anything break him, not ever. I want to ask what's going on but I don't know if I have the right, so I sit down opposite him and say nothing. It's uncomfortable, being this close to him. His misery is mine and always has been, except I don't know how to deal with it, don't know what I'm allowed any more.
Carefully, I shift forward in my seat and bump my knees against his. He tenses with his entire body, growing so still it frightens me, but I won't back down. I edge closer still, spreading my knees, bracketing his with mine, pressing them together lightly. He lets out an explosive sigh, and the tightness falls from his muscles. He slides forward, his head bouncing onto his forearms on the table. I want to touch his hair, give him something, anything, to take away this horrifying yielding that he's wearing. It sits wrong on the lines of him, warping who he is, making me ache to drag him up, shake him, do something...
"You said," he whispers, his voice a low petulance, sad and thin, "You said you'd always want to speak to me. You said."
My entire body stiffens as I realise that this beaten Jasper is my fault. All my fault. My heart is in my throat and if I could rip out the traitorous piece of shit and give it to him now, if I thought the gesture would mean anything to him, I would. I swear to God, I would.
"Jas," I try to answer, but my voice is clogged, so I lean over the table, as close as I can get, and push my fingers into his hair. His miserable whimper breaks me. I bring my head down next to his, smoothing his scalp tenderly, pressing the sides of our heads together.
"Jasper," I whisper over his little noises of distress, "Jasper, listen to me. I was a dick, and I'm so fucking sorry, I can't even tell you. I always want to talk to you, and I'm so fucking sick with myself that I forgot that. You're my best friend, still and forever."
He makes a fierce noise in his throat, and presses his head more firmly against mine, his hands finding my forearms and just clinging. I hold onto him whilst he shakes, not sure if it's possible to hate myself more.
Aro is tall, imposing, immaculate, and the best damn lawyer on the west coast. Possibly both coasts. I smile at him when he takes a seat, and he gives me the briefest quirk of lips before turning his eyes to Jasper.
Overnight, Jasper has become more himself. I'm glad, and a part of that is because of how damn guilty I felt. He's still shaky, but I recognise his movements today and that's a big improvement.
"Gentlemen." Aro's voice is smooth, all business. I sit back and let him take the lead, do what he does best. "Now we've already run over the issues on the phone so I'd like to move right along to our defence, unless you have anything to add, Mr Whitlock?"
Jasper's eyes flash to me, so fast I doubt Aro even registers the movement, before he shakes his head. Aro nods approvingly, reaching into his briefcase. I'm still staring at Jasper, trying to figure out if he's trying to protect me or trying to hide something.
Aro starts talking and I take the opportunity to study Jasper. He looks...different. I mean, it's not like I expected him to stay the same, but he looks...yeah, different. He's carrying more muscle, his skin has a sun sheen, and his hair is shorter than I've ever seen it. I like it, but I don't. All these changes, subtle but there, remind me of the seven months I've missed, of the fact that we haven't been in contact, that this Jasper could be a stranger to me. That thought makes my neck tense, and Jasper twitches in response. It kills me that we're still so fucking aware of each other.
I'm still cataloguing differences in small glances, when I notice the line of Jasper's shoulders. Tight and straight, they spell trouble ahead. I tune back into the conversation as his knuckles are turning white against the scratched Formica tabletop.
"...be prudent to discuss your past." Aro is rummaging in his briefcase again, but I know what he was talking about. Jasper's face is stone, and I can feel the storm in him just lashing to get out. I shift in my seat until he looks up and I can catch his eye. I'm furious, telling him to shut the fuck up with my eyes. I don't give a shit if Aro tells the judge, or whoever presides over this thing, every single move Jasper has made since he was born, as long as it keeps him out of the State Penitentiary.
To my total shock, it works. He nods almost imperceptibly, and drops his head. What the fuck?I'm geared up for one of our silent fights, and it kinda knocks me that Jasper just gives in. I slouch back in my chair, nonplussed.
Aro tells us the hearing will be in two days, then glides out of the room in a whoosh of Armani and expensive aftershave, leaving awkwardness and silence behind. Jasper is sitting straight in his chair, but he won't meet my eye. I'm squirming, unsure and hating it, so I nudge his shoe until he looks up, and try for a grin. It falls about four million miles short, but I get a ghost of a smile back. It makes me ache for before, and I impulsively grab his fingers and squeeze. Jasper lowers his forehead onto my hand, and squeezes back gently.
My chest is tight at the feel of his skin on mine, and apparently I'm a masochist because it seems I'm out to destroy my own heart with longing for this beautiful, imperfect, fucked-up man whose fingers are pressed against mine like it's where they were meant to be.
"E?" he starts, but I can't with the vulnerability in his voice and in his eyes, so I untangle my hand and stand up, so fast my chair rocks before settling. Jasper remains seated, looking up at me.
"Try and get some sleep tonight," I say, just for something to say. It sounds stupid. I feel like a dick. "We've got a case to win tomorrow, or some shit." My try for humour is a fail too. He smiles at me, or tries to.
Before I can check myself, I'm swooping in and kissing the top of his head. Because I can't stand to have him look at me with those eyes. Because it's all I can reach. Because I'm an idiot and I still fucking love him.
I call Riley as soon as I'm outside, and update him on the progress of the case, letting him know I'll be gone a few more days. He's upbeat, telling me it'll all work out, that he's got every faith in me. I hang up feeling more like shit than ever.
I sit outside for the actual hearing. Aro asked if I wanted to come in, but I don't want to put more pressure on Jasper so I defer to the hard sofas outside the room. I know there's a possibility I'll be called as a character witness, so I'm trying to psych myself up for that.
It's an hour before the door opens and I'm invited in. Aro and Jasper are on one side of a desk, another lawyer on the other side, sitting next to a bruised man who's clearly not happy with the way things are going. He looks at me and his face twists, and I see Aro put his hand on Jasper's arm out of the corner of my eye. I want to tell him that's not what Jasper needs when he's ready to explode, but I move to their side of the table instead, ignoring Aro and sitting on Jasper's other side. I press my thigh against his, trying to calm him through touch like he used to do to me, not willing to see him ruin whatever chance he's got over an explosion of temper.
The man across from us makes a disgusted noise, and I can feel Jasper's jaw tense. I'm frantically trying to come up with something to defuse him when the man at the end of the table, who's clearly in charge of proceedings, clears his throat very fucking obviously, and stares down angry boy until he drops his head, sullen stretched all over his face.
Jasper is still stiff against me, but the tremble of urgency has gone out of his body so I think I can relax a moment.
I jump like an idiot and Jasper's fingers are on my wrist, just lightly pressing, and I can feel his concern. I take a deep breath, valiantly not looking at my wrist, and raise my eyes to the end of the table. Two men, one clearly in charge and one clearly from the army, sit side by side, one watching me, one watching Jasper. I smile, but it feels wrong on my face.
"Do you need a character reference?" I ask before I can check my tongue, cringing at how naive that sounded. They both smile at me, and in-charge guy shakes his head.
"We've already heard from Jasper's superior," he inclines his head at army guy next to him, who smiles warmly at Jasper. Jasper ducks his head, and I swallow down a stupid lump of jealousy that appears in my throat, "and from your father."
"I contacted him," Aro interjects smoothly, "and he managed to find a stable enough internet point to give a character statement via satellite."
In-charge guy clears his throat and everyone in the room turns to him.
"Given his past, and today's character references, I have decided that probation is the most suitable punishment for Mr Whitlock's crime."
Angry boy across from us looks ready to explode until army man gives him a truly evil glare. I'm barely paying attention to that drama, too busy hearing 'probation' echoing in my head. I can feel myself grinning like an idiot, and I don't even care.
"There are conditions, Mr Whitlock," in-charge guy continues.
"He agrees to them," I interject without thinking, and army guy snorts, before trying to turn it into a cough. I can feel that I'm blushing like a moron, but I refuse to look away from in-charge guy in case he changes his mind.
"You'll be required to see an appointed therapist once a month," in-charge guy continues.
"We'll take care of that," Army guy interjects, "Complete it successfully and we should be looking at an honourable discharge."
In-charge guy nods at him, before turning to me.
"Mr Whitlock will also be under curfew, and required to report to an army-appointed probation officer. As a condition, he is required to live with a morally upstanding guardian for the duration of his probationary period."
The room falls silent as I watch in-charge guy intently, waiting for the rest of the conditions. Aro looks at me pointedly, until eventually he says, "Are you willing to have Mr Whitlock under your roof for his probation, Mr Cullen?" his tone suggesting he thinks I'm being dense. Which I am, because it's just dawning on me that they want Jasper to live with me. In my house. All the time.
My mind goes blank, and my face must too because in-charge guy and army guy are looking worried now, exchanging a glance, before in-charge guys prompts, "Mr Cullen?"
"What? Oh Oh! Yes, yes of course, that's fine."
"What?" Angry boy finally explodes, "Are you fucking kidding me? This is bullshit!"
Jasper is stiff beside me so I grab his arm to ground him, and watch as army guy grabs angry boy by the scruff of the neck, hauls him to the door and turfs him out. His lawyer scrambles to follow.
There is silence for a few moments before in-charge guy and Aro start talking paperwork, and army guy drags Jasper to the side of the room, hand on his shoulder, whispering intently into his ear. Jasper is shooting me little questioning looks, and I'm sitting at the table wondering what the fuck I'm doing, because Jasper is going to be living with me.
I'm standing outside, waiting for Jasper to finish up doing what he needs to do, when his phone rings. I hesitate a moment, before fishing it out of his coat pocket and answering.
"Oh, hi Edward!"
I fucking hate Alice Brandon.
"Is Jasper around? How did it go today?"
"If you'd been here, you'd know," I snap back, fury churning my gut at the sound of her voice.
"What?" Alice replies, sounding sweet and confused. I clench my jaw hard. "Jasper knows I couldn't leave college."
"Did he call you last Saturday, Alice?"
"What?" She's just confused now. "Edward, are you okay?"
"It's a simple question," I grind out, fingers gripping the cell like a vice, "Did Jasper call you last Saturday?"
"Yes, Edward," she replies, her voice taking a pissy tone that is not helping my temper any, "and we spoke, and everything was fine."
"Fine? Everything can't possibly have been fine if Jasper went out that same night and got into some fucking bar fight, Alice, you stupid fucking bitch."
"Edward!" Her voice is a squeal, high with outrage, but years of vitriol are right there under my skin, begging to be released.
"Shut up, Alice," I hiss into the mouthpiece, "You've never understood him, never even made a fucking effort to. You never deserved him. Stay the fuck away Alice, I swear to God you had better stay away."
I hang up, hands shaking so hard, and I can already taste regret on my tongue. Fuck! She's gonna call Jasper and... Fuck!
There's a cough behind me, and my spine is trying to crawl up through my neck because of course Jasper is standing right behind me, it wouldn't be my fucked up life if he wasn't.
"Who was that?" he enquires, voice cool. I don't look at him as I hand him his belongings.
"Uh, Alice," I manage to croak. I still can't look at him, so I keep my eyes on his hand, which is turning his phone around. The phone I used to have a duplicate of.
"Okay," he shrugs, and tosses the cell into the trashcan ten feet away. Perfect aim. Bastard.
I look up, baffled. I don't know what this means, if it means anything. Does it have to? my inner voice whispers. I ignore it. Jasper smiles at me, and bumps my shoulder.
"No point having it now, is there?"
He doesn't say it, but the implication is clear. My face burns with shame, but he merely bumps my shoulder again and heads off down the street. He stops a few feet away and raises an eyebrow. I hurry to catch up.
The journey home is painfully awkward. At least, it is for me. Jasper seems like he doesn't have a care in the world, all "thank you, ma'am" at the flight attendant's, and friendly grins at the baggage handlers. Me, on the other hand, I feel like one thing out of place and my entire skeleton will dissolve. Jasper is coming home to stay. With me. In the house where I eat, and sleep, and live. He'll meet Riley.
That thought has me nearly losing what little food I managed to consume on the flight. The world sways, and the edges of my vision darken threateningly. I can feel Jasper's hand on my shoulder, and where that would usually calm me, in this instance it only makes me panic harder.
What the fuck am I supposed to do? How do I introduce Jasper to my...to Riley? How do I even do that? I can hardly breathe, my legs collapsing under me. Jasper's arms are warm and solid and real around my treacherous body, his mouth (fuck, his mouth) dangerously close to brushing my ear as he whispers soothing platitudes into it. I need to get my shit together, right the fuck now.
"I'm seeing someone," I blurt out over my panting attempts at breath. No subtlety, just gasping confessions. Jasper guides me to one of the hard plastic airport chairs and sits me down, kneeling at my feet. I try to avoid his eyes but he's having none of it, ducking his head and, when that doesn't work, grabbing my chin in gentle fingers and raising my face to meet his.
"I know," he says.
Of course he knows. It was stupid of me to think that Bella was a one-way information highway. I look at Jasper, who looks back with a false smile ringing from his lips, but his eyes are telling me something different, are telling me that he's trying to be okay with what makes me happy. He squeezes my hand tight, and I squeeze back on reflex.
"I'm looking forward to..." Jasper trails off, looking at the ground and shoving an uncomfortable hand through his hair. When he looks back up at me, he's wearing a small, bittersweet grin that tugs at the dark, cobwebbed places in my heart. "Well, I'll meet him right?"
I nod, unable to do anything else, and he looks out at me from raw eyes a beat longer before huffing and pulling me to my feet. We head out towards the cab-stand with Jasper's hand clasping my forearm. I don't ask him to let go and he doesn't offer.
Having Jasper back in my parents' home is harder than even I thought it would be. Bella called me the first night, pissed about the way I spoke to Alice and worried about my proximity to Jasper. I swore up and down that it was fine, that it would be fine. It's not.
He's bare feet and low-slung jeans in my kitchen. He's chest-deep laughs and sprawling limbs in front of my TV. He's bright smiles and shoulder-nudges on the staircase. He's dark rumination and closed doors in my spare room. He's ghost-breath and negative space in my bedroom. He's painfully gracious and unflinchingly bland at my dinner table.
As soon as he can, Jasper flees the awkward three-way dinner-date and Riley turns to me, his eyes flashing with trouble. I try to smile, defuse the situation, but Riley stares hard then throws down his napkin, an act so out of character than I flinch. I catch him at the front door.
"Riley, what..." but he cuts me off, voice strained.
"You didn't mention it was him," he says in a tone as close to a bark as I've ever heard from him. I stare at him dumbly. "You didn't tell me the guy you ran off to rescue, the guy you invited to live with you, was that guy."
I am staggered by this turn of events, and Riley snorts as he reads my expression. He shakes his head and his face angry and hurt and already resigned.
"You think I didn't know some guy before me had turned you inside out, Edward?" I flinch at his words. "Your mask isn't as good as you think it is." I just stand there, feeling raw and exposed, facing Riley's anger with mute acceptance as my armour.
Riley's struggle to calm down is visible on his face, but I still recoil when he places a hand on the bare skin of my wrist. I've never done well with people seeing my weaknesses, and this is vulnerability at its purest.
"Look Edward," Riley sighs and brushes dark hair from his fringe, his fingers fretful against the strands. His face softens when he sees the rictus of horror I'm sure I'm sporting. "Call me in a few days, okay?" He brushes his lips, feather-light, over my cheekbone and I manage to stay still for that at least. He smiles, tries to, and leaves me staring into the encroaching darkness alone.
I don't want Jasper to see me like this. I'm tired of throwing my failings at his feet. So I step out into the twilight and close the door behind me.
Jasper watches me closely for the next few days, and I feel more and more like I'm shaking apart in his presence. I swear I can hear his heartbeat clear through the house. I'm a mess. Jasper tried gentle teasing to ease my relentless tension, but it only made me coil harder. He tried forthrightness, subterfuge, blatant flattery, and everything in between, before settling on silent knife-edge watching.
It's doing neither of us any favours. Jasper's sessions with the therapist seem to be helping him, certainly far more than the equivalent high school therapy had, but he comes home and my inability to articulate anything ratchets up the stress on us both until the air we're breathing is oppressive with it.
Jasper's voice is a stone cracking off glass, and I freeze where I am, half-way in the hall and half-way in the kitchen. I can feel beads of sweat already forming on the back of my neck, and I will myself steady. It doesn't work.
"Edward, we need to talk."
I breathe, close my eyes, breathe, open my eyes, breathe, ready myself...and my cell rings.
"I need to go," I mumble, sidling past, not touching. Jasper's eyes scorch my skin, his voiceless demands claw at me, so I do what I do best.
In my car I mute the phone, throw it in the glove box, and slam on the loudest music I can find. I need to focus on anything that isn't standing in my doorway, watching me drive away.
Hours later I open Riley's door and, instead of taking my shoes off like I usually do, walk straight to the living room. I know it's time to put what's going on between us to rest, and my gut is telling me this is how to do it.
I stand in the doorway watching the two of them, knowing that if I was ever meant to catch them, this wasn't the way. Riley is curled up on his side on the sofa, head in Sam's lap, pretending to read a book, but, in reality, his eyes are closed in bliss. Because Sam is stroking Riley's hair, digging his fingers in to caress the scalp, then pulling back to rub the strands between his fingertips. A constant, rhythmic motion that makes my stomach clench up in something that feels like happiness. For Riley.
I'm not stupid. I know Sam has hunted Riley out specifically because he was mine. I know they've most likely been fucking for a while, given how comfortably they're slotted together. I know Sam must have been planning some big reveal, something designed to show how he'd taken something that belonged to me, something designed to hurt me the way I hurt him; looking at him though, I suspect his plan has gone somewhat awry.
I tilt my head, curious and kind of charmed. I've never seen that expression on Sam's face, a sort of fierce tenderness that reminds me of the way... I shake my head at that thought, banishing it before it takes root, and the movement alerts Sam to my presence.
Sam's expression morphs into something that's just fierce, and he leaps to his feet. Riley makes a little startled noise, slipping toward the floor at the sudden movement, but Sam catches him in one arm and shoves him behind his bulk. I raise an eyebrow, I can't help it, and Sam bares his teeth, one arm still flung behind his back, pinning Riley into him.
I raise my hands in supplication, trying to indicate that I don't mean any harm. He relaxes a tiny amount, his eyes still on me, and Riley's head pops out from behind his shoulder. He squeaks when he sees me, eyes wide in his pale face, and Sam tenses again, but I shake my head at them both.
"It's okay." I keep my voice low, trying to control the situation. "Ri, it's okay."
"Shit, Edward!" His voice is high with panic. "Shit, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"
Sam's face is tight as Riley pulls away from him and moves towards me, mouth slanted in something resembling hurt. I know what he's thinking, and I want to reassure him, Riley was never that relaxed with me, but I don't think he'd take it so well right now. I'm just hoping Riley explains fast, before Sam shuts down completely. I remember how it felt when Sam shut down, and I shudder a little at the memory. Riley misinterprets.
"No, Edward, it wasn't like that," Riley's twisting his hands, eyes so big, "It wasn't like that at all."
Sam makes a sound, something like a wounded animal would, and Riley's head spins to him so fast that I can't believe I didn't see it before. He was never this attentive with me but then, did I give him the opportunity to be? I shake my head at myself, because I know I didn't.
"No! No..." Riley looks about ready to lose it, so I step forward, both sets of eyes snapping back to me.
"Relax, Ri," I murmur in my softest tone, "Just...it's okay."
"Edward," he whispers, and his voice is anguish, "I didn't want you to find out like this. I was gonna tell you, I just didn't know how. I didn't want to leave you when you were..." He trails off, looking at me, all compassion, and I know I've been holding this beautiful man back with my stupidity and my selfishness. Riley steps forward a half-step, Sam matching his move.
"It's just...you were so distant, Edward," his face is beseeching me to understand, and I want to tell him that I do, I do understand, but he's already continuing, "I tried, I really did...but you never gave anything back. Then I met..." he gestures over his shoulder to Sam, who looks like he's forgotten me completely, "And it was so right, Edward, you know? It was so perfect. He...he takes care of me, and he listens to me, and...and..."
Riley's face is crumpling, that emotion he's always got so close to the surface just bubbling to get out, and I'm stepping forward to offer comfort before I really think about it. Sam's low growl stops me dead in my tracks, and I watch as he steps in behind Riley, pulling him around and into him. Riley's hands fist in his t-shirt, and Sam holds him whilst he shakes, all the time staring at me with that challenge in his eyes.
Looking at Sam, no distractions, I can see the scars Jasper's fists have left on him. Honestly, they make him look better. Sam was always beautiful, but those scars give him an extra layer, make him look gorgeous and dangerous and a little bit damaged. Truth? I would have given anyone up to Sam to make up for the shit storm I brought into his life and, in this moment, I'd happily get down on my knees and beg him to fuck me one last time if that's what he demanded.
His mouth twists a little, and I know my thoughts are showing in my eyes, but there's no triumph in his face. His arm tightens around Riley, and the movement helps me pull my shit back. I can tell by his eyes, hard and unwavering, that he's telling me Riley is his now, that he won't be giving him up. I give a tiny nod, letting him know I understand.
I'm not surprised that whatever he wanted from Riley originally has morphed into what it has. Riley has this thing about him, this little-boy-lost quality that just makes you want to take care of him, protect him and watch out for him. He needs it too, craves it almost. It wasn't something I could give, not to him.
Watching Sam be so guarded, I allow myself a small moment of wishful thinking, of what it would have been like if I'd given up to Sam when I'd had the chance, let him wrap me up in his protection and love. It makes something small in me ache a little, so I shake it off, knowing that I would have always been holding something back.
Riley turns to me, eyes wet, and I give him a smile. It's tinged with sadness, but it's got real happiness in it too.
"I'm sorry I held you back, Ri," I make the apology I know he deserves, "and I'm glad you've got someone who can give you everything you need. I'm not mad Ri, I swear."
Riley gives me a sad smile, but his fingers are still tight in Sam's t-shirt. He knows. I can see in his face that he knows I was never fair to him, not once in all the months we were together. Riley tries to move over to me and I know he's thinking goodbye hug, but Sam holds him tightly, and he gives in pretty much instantly. I turn and leave, because I've done what was required of me here.
When I get home, feeling a little bit raw because, however good a cause, I did just get dumped, Jasper is there. Obviously. I have a hard enough time facing him normally, I just don't have the countenance when I'm feeling this tender inside.
I try to walk past the living room, try not to notice him lounging shirtless on my mama's sofa, but I do. Fuck, I do. I head straight to the kitchen, hoping some time there will help me shore myself up enough to get through the evening, but my life is never that simple.
I can't hear his feet, bare as they are, but I know he's following me. I have a futile hope that he's going to the bathroom, even though I know he won't be. As if to prove me right, he shadows me into the kitchen, standing just behind me as I fill a glass at the sink.
"What's wrong, E?" His voice is soft, concerned, and I can't stop the slump of my shoulders at his tone. It's stupid, but it feels like forever since someone cared, really cared, about me. My heart reminds me that this is coming from the same boy who has shredded it over and over, my head reminds me that he's still my very best friend, and everything roils up inside me in a murky mess.
His hands are on my shoulders, painful in their gentleness, and I sink under them without thought. His skin feels so good after weeks of carefully avoiding it, his touch sating a craving I've lived with since the day I met him.
My sigh is rough because I love his tender voice. I like to think it's a voice he only ever uses with me.
"Riley and I broke up," I reply, not even sure why I'm telling him. His hands tighten momentarily, then loosen. I'm not stupid. I know he didn't like my relationship with Riley. I tense, expecting...I don't even know what I'm expecting...but his gentle hands simply start kneading my tired shoulders. I sigh because it feels so good, and he steps closer into me. I try to tense, I really do, but I can't muster the energy.
Jasper steps forward again, until he's pressed the length of my back, his hands shifting from rubbing my shoulders to stroking the length of my arms, starting right at the top and swishing down until his fingertips brush my wrists, before sliding back up again. Damn him, he always knows...
"Can you," he swallows, his voice low and close to my neck, "Can you do anything to...you know...win him back?" I can hear that every word of that was like swallowing razorblades for him, and I'm so fucking absurdly grateful that I grab one of his hands as it ghosts my wrist and squeeze tightly. Jasper's breath hitches, and I try very hard to pretend I haven't noticed.
"Since he's been fucking Sam for a while now, and they're completely perfect together, I sincerely doubt it." My voice is more wrecked than I expected, but it's more to do with Jasper's closeness than anything Riley has done. Jasper's body goes rigid against me, and his breathing is short.
"He...but...he..." I can hear in Jasper's voice that he's working into a rage, so I squeeze again at the hand I'm still inexplicably clutching to bring him down.
"Calm down Jas," I murmur, "It isn't like I gave him much of a chance, is it?"
"What?" Jasper's voice is tight with confusion and incomprehension, "Edward, that doesn't mean he can go jump on someone else's cock. You're worth more than that."
I laugh, I can't help myself, I just laugh at the sheer irony of this conversation. I twist and suddenly Jasper is right there, face furrowed in a frown, pressed all down my front, waiting for me to explain my moment of extreme humour. I can't think though, not with him this close.
"Edward?" he asks, but he's breathless too, like he's just realised, like he's just noticed. I shake my head, but it's a weak movement, more of a twitch than anything else. I close my eyes against his impossible gaze, and work to harden my heart against him.
"Yeah," I laugh again, harsh and humourless, "I should have told him that pussy is the way to go when screwing me over."
And it's out there. I can't even bring myself to wince at the undisguised ache in my voice. I've effectively announced how much hurt I've been in all this time. Fuck. I push back against Jasper, trying to move, trying to get away, but he won't let me.
"Edward," he whispers again, and his voice wounds me, all soft with craving and need, "please," then his mouth is on my skin, pressing so lightly under my ear, and I make a noise that's part pleasure, part misery, and I don't even know which one is the dominant one because this, this mix, feels like everything I've ever known with Jasper. My heart is screaming at me, and all I want is to give in, but I can't. I can't.
I try harder to push him away, but it's like he's gotten a taste of capitulation and isn't willing to give it up. He clings to me, fingers digging in, and we struggle with each other in my parent's kitchen like idiots. I go down because, let's face it, it wouldn't happen any other way, Jasper is too strong and too skilful for me to hold off for long. He comes down with me, and I'm flat on my stomach with Jasper on all down my back, holding me as I fight him.
"Edward, Edward, " he's begging against my hair, against the horrible keening noises that are tearing from my chest. My face is soaked with tears I'm shedding for wounds I thought I'd cried myself dry over, and his weight, his warmth, his very presence is bringing me a calm I don't want. Not from him.
I struggle harder, intent on breaking free, ignoring my groaning muscles, and the way the bones in my arms are straining, panicked beyond belief at being laid open to this man once again.
Suddenly Jasper's teeth are on the nape of my neck, pressing hard enough to bloom a sharp pain across my skin. I freeze and Jasper remains where he is, teeth just this side of tight, holding firmly but not increasing. I remain still beneath him, feeling the rage and fear leeching out of me, Jasper's calm soaking through my skin and into my bones. Jasper's teeth loosen.
"Edward," he murmurs against my neck, "I love you."
I shake my head, trying so damn hard to close him out, but he won't be refused, mouth hot and moist on my skin. "I love you, Edward," he keeps murmuring, "I love you," over and over, forcing it into me.
"Jasper, stop," I beg, but he doesn't, continuously murmuring love into my skin between the gentle press of his lips.
"I've been running too long from you, Edward," he says, low but firm against my ear, "Running from how I feel, from what I want. I won't do it anymore."
Jasper slides his hands under me and flips me over, hardly moving himself, and I think stupidly that it must be some sort of move he learned in the army. He looks down at me, eyes so bright, so intense, and presses his lips to the bone under my eye.
"I've been so scared for so long about how much you mean to me, about how much I'd do to keep you safe, keep you happy. I was so messed up. And Alice..."
At that name I find a reserve of strength I've never known before, twisting and shoving hard, sending Jasper sprawling. I scramble to my feet, backing away from him and his treacherous heart.
"Don't you dare," I snarl, wounded, "Don't you dare talk to me about her."
"I have to for you to understand," Jasper replies, inching closer to me. I sway on my toes, unwilling to stay, but unable to leave. Just like always.
"I was so messed up, E," he says, his eyes fixed on my face, "Maria had...what happened there...it really fucked me." I say nothing, waiting, ready to run.
"And there was you. Perfect, beautiful you who always took care of me and backed me up and I wanted you, fuck, Edward I wanted you, but..." His face goes twisted, and I see that loss he wore when his mama died, "E, you're the only thing in this life I love, the only thing other than my mama I've ever loved, and I was so scared you'd leave, so scared I'd lose you. I couldn't...I didn't..." Jasper's breathing is ragged, and he's pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes like he can wring the pain out of himself if he pushes hard enough. I can't see him like this, so I step forward and catch his hands, pulling them down between us. He follows them until both our arms are trapped between our bodies, his forehead pressed into mine, my face wet with his tears.
"You terrify me, Edward," his mouth brushes mine as he speaks, "the way you are, the way you're so open for me, the way you make me feel so fucking tender inside. I didn't think I deserved that. I still don't."
Rage fills me at those words, and I breathe in to yell at him, tensing to pull away, until I remember Sam, and the things I did because I thought I deserved them. It's enough to still me.
"I have this...monster," Jasper whispers, "Like a blackness in me. Sometimes I get so angry..." He pulls back to look at me, eyes shiny with tears, "I didn't want that touching you, not ever. I didn't want to fuck you up but...but I couldn't leave you alone. With Alice..." I tense, but he tightens his grip, and his expression turns earnest, "With Alice it was easy, because she didn't mean anything."
I blanch at his words. He lets me go, lets me put some distance between our bodies, can see that I'm reeling from it all. He's always been intuitive when it came to me, Jasper.
"I know it sounds cruel, E," he says, admitting out loud what I'm thinking, "but it's the truth. She was the easy option. I mean, I liked her, she's a real nice girl, but if she left me I'd be okay with it. If you left me..."
Jasper's face crumples briefly at the thought, and a flare of answering pain blooms in my stomach. He takes a minute, closing his eyes and breathing deeply, centring himself.
"The army has been great for me," he continues, throwing me with the sudden subject change. It must show on my face because he grins briefly, promising me with his quirked lips that he has a point. It still fucks me up that I can read him so well.
"They have amazing counselors, miles better than that court appointed shit I had to go to." He fixes me in that gaze again. "Do you know why I beat the shit outta that guy? Did I ever tell you?"
I shake my head because he hasn't told me. And I never asked.
"We were on leave, and Marcus wanted to meet up with one of his relatives, Alec." Angry boy, all rage so deep it had twisted him on the inside. Jasper nods at me. "We'd drunk a few beers, and the conversation turned to tattoos. Alec was showing off, and Marcus happened to mention mine."
My eyes widen because I didn't know Jasper had a tattoo. He smiles at me, a fond thing that makes his face almost too precious for me to look at.
"The company had been ragging on me about it because I wouldn't tell them what it stood for. Alec wanted to know about it, and I was just the right kind of drunk-maudlin to tell him. When I did he started getting real nasty, rude, bigoted. Marcus was trying to talk him down, but he took it too far and I snapped."
Jasper keeps his eyes on me as he unbuttons his jeans, and I'm too shocked so it takes me a few seconds to see what he's showing me. When I do see it, I stumble backwards, my fingers immediately flying to my collarbone. I'm staring at the royal blue E etched on his hip in my signature calligraphic flourish, but his eyes are on my hand.
He looks confused, his eyes darting between my face and my hand, like he's mesmerised.
"When did you get it?" I repeat, my voice so fucking hard.
"The day after," he replies, still staring at my hand.
He steps forward, and I'm rooted to the floor, just watching his approach. His fingers are hesitant as they unbutton the top four buttons of my shirt and push it aside, exposing my entire shoulder. His eyes get so wide when they rest on the skin under my collarbone, and his index finger is gentle, tracing my camouflaged declaration.
"Edward." His voice is full of wonder and tears as he leans forward and runs his lips, then his tongue, across my marked skin. I shiver at the touch, unable not to. I can feel every wall I've built since Jasper moved in again crumbling to dust under his ministrations.
"I did wrong by you," he's mumbling into my collarbone, tongue flicking out to stroke my tattoo, "I did so wrong. But Edward, I want to make up for it...I will make up for it...if you let me." I'm standing motionless, his body pressed against me, just trying to keep up.
"Edward, I...I hated Riley," Jasper won't look at me now, his voice thick, choked, "but I stayed out of it, wanted you to be happy. Did he make you happy?" Jasper's face is anxious in a way I've never seen on him, and a tiny, vicious hurting part of me wants to say "yes, yes he did make me happy" just to see him hurt, but a bigger part of me demands honesty. I shake my head, and the relief that floods his face makes me smile, just a little. He drops his eyes, swallows again.
"Edward...Edward, I want more with you, from you. I want all of it, all of you," he swallows again, and my stomach is a hard, knotty thing under my skin, "but...but if you want...something else...friends, then..." his face suddenly becomes determined, "then, E, I'll be the best fucking friend you'll ever see, I swear to God, E..."
He trails off, inches from me, waiting for my judgement. Every muscle in my body is tense, my brain in complete overload at being offered everything I've ever wanted, looking for the trick, looking for the lie.
"Jasper," I try to say, my throat dry, my voice gruff. I attempt to clear it, swallowing hard. "Jas...I..." I look at him, his beautiful, frightened face, and I want so very badly, "I won't survive if you leave me again, I just can't," I whisper the ugly truth, unable to look him in the eye, trembling hard.
"Edward, I'm not going anywhere." Jasper's fingers find my chin, tip my head up, "I can't prove it to you other than with time but, Edward, I can't leave again. Seeing you with someone else...it was..."
I nod because I know exactly what he's saying. I remember that feeling very well. Jasper clutches my hands, his fingers so warm against mine, so right.
"Please, E," his voice so fucking earnest, "I'm not saying it'll be easy, I'm still...working on some things, but...Edward, I've never been sure of anything except you and...if you give me this one chance, I swear to God I will take such good care of you, I will."
I've never known Jasper to speak so much. His eyes on my skin feel so fucking perfect, and I can see it, I can see how good we could be together if he does what he says, if he stops fighting and just gives in. My dad is in my head, my dad who believes that nothing worth having comes easy, and I close my eyes and just surrender.
Oh fuck, his mouth is perfection on mine. I sob against his lips because I've missed this, missed him so fucking badly, all of him. My hands aren't even mine when they start mindlessly pulling at his jeans, desperate to have him, all of him this time. I'm playing for keeps.
"E, I want you," he mumbles into my mouth, and I'm nodding and nodding and nodding, and he's guiding me backwards, towards the stairs, towards my bedroom. We're naked so fast my head spins, and he's on me, skin so hot, so gorgeous, coming home to me.
He takes his time readying me, gentle and loving, until my whole body is aching for him. I hold still, letting him do what he has to do. I feel his fingers on the base of my back, tracing my spine and then he's pushing inside, so excruciatingly slowly. My throat is immediately thick with tears because nothing, nothing has ever felt as right as this moment. He's whispering gentle words until he's fully inside me, pressed against my skin inside and out, and I've never felt so entirely me as I do right now.
His hands appear alongside mine and he presses his chest down on my back, and I can't think from all the skin on skin. My body is telling me that this exquisiteness is what it's been looking for all these months, my brain fizzing and popping in agreement, and, at last, I'm alive. His mouth is on my neck, my jaw, in my hair, and I try to concentrate on breathing and feeling, nothing more.
And then he starts talking.
At first I can't pay attention over the trueness of our connected bodies, but it's not long before his words begin to penetrate my bliss. His voice is a low murmur in my ear and he's thrusting gently and oh so fucking slowly against me, but my body is stiff. Part of my brain rebels against what he's doing, trying to cling to my fog of pleasure, but once the words are recognised I can't go back.
I shift beneath him, but he moves his hands until they're covering mine, holding me in place, relentless in his slow thrusting and the words tumbling from his lips. I shift harder but he won't let me.
"Jasper," I manage to gasp, but he shakes his head against my neck, kissing my ear and gently shushing me, before continuing his narrative, the tenderness of his tone belying the harshness of his words.
He continues fucking me, slow and deep and brutally sweet, as he tells me about the three years we were separated. His hands and his cock tease my body as his mouth tears at my insides. He tells me how it started, how Maria came to him one night a few weeks after the social worker left him there and got into his bed. He tells me how he was exclusively Maria's until a few days after his fifteenth birthday when she found a new toy to play with.
Then he became fair game.
He tells me about the sisters and how they used to play games to see who won him for the night. He tells me about their brand of loving. He tells me about the men, the drunken brutish men who would visit frequently. My entire body stiffens at this, but he smiles against my ear and whispers, "they didn't fuck me, E," and I'm relieved. Until he tells me what they did instead.
He tells me about being made to fight them. He tells me about the beatings, about having to learn to brawl, about the cruelty he was subjected to at the hands of these people Maria and her bitch sisters welcomed into their home.
He tells me about Felix and Demetri, brothers Maria favoured, and Caius, their cousin. He tells me about the drinking games they played. He tells me about their twisted idea of forfeit. He tells me about their teeth.
I'm sobbing, properly, heartbreakingly, throat achingly sobbing, as he tells me about being tied up, about the bites and the fists and the laughter. About the screaming and the fear and the desperate need to just survive, "for you E, I wanted to survive for you", to just get through each day.
He tells me about the night Maria found him curled up in the kitchen talking to me on the phone she had confiscated when he was delivered to her. He tells me about her fury, about her taunts that I wouldn't want him when I found out what he'd been doing for the last three years, that maybe he should invite me down so I could be properly introduced.
He tells me about the rage haze those words induced. He tells me about coming out of it hours later, covered in blood, surrounded by the bodies of his three main tormentors. He tells me how all he could think of was making sure I was safe; like he was on auto-pilot, he just had to get to me.
"I could take everything they threw at me E," he whispers, his lips brushing my ear, "but I couldn't take the threat to you. I couldn't allow even the slightest chance that they'd get the opportunity to touch you."
I'm sobbing so violently I'm shivering, Jasper's warm body creating a protective cage around me. He pushes against me, nuzzling my neck, sighing lightly against my ear, then whispers, "I fucking love you E, always."
I come hard, in a mess of wracking sobs and guttural moans that don't even sound like noises a human body should be able to make, and collapse, curling in on myself, Jasper curling around me as I sob for the boy I knew and the man I know and my love for them both that just aches so fucking beautifully right down inside my bones. His fingertips are gentle on my jaw as he hums soothingly.
Immediately I'm furious, shoving him and his fucking tenderness away, leaping from the bed. I can't stand to be touching him right now, and I whirl out of the room and down the dark hallway. I find myself in the kitchen, at the sink, gulping water like it's the last thing I'll ever drink. I hear Jasper's footsteps long before he enters the kitchen. He ducks gracefully as the glass I was holding in my hand shatters on the tiles where his head had been.
"You fucking bastard," I rasp, and I don't recognise my voice, hot and tender and still thick with grief, "You..." I can't finish that sentence because I don't have the words to articulate what I'm feeling right now.
Jasper is simply looking at me and the tender expression on his face infuriates me further. He steps forward and I scoot back an equal amount. He steps forward again, palms up, eyes on mine. My breathing is ragged, my chest throbbing from the need to be in his arms and the burden of his history, and I stare at him as if I'll get answers from this one action. He comes closer still and I've stopped backing away, my body crying out for his and I just can't deny that necessity.
"Why?" Again, my voice doesn't sound like it's mine. "Why now? Why in that moment? Why would you ruin something so beautiful?"
The smile he gives me is so fucking sad that my heart clenches. He's a foot from me now, and his fingers ghost down my cheek in a gesture so loving, so intimate, that I'm immediately crying again.
"I gave you what you needed Edward."
"What I needed?" I'm fucking incandescent with rage...and something else I can't name. "What I needed was..." I trail off, suddenly abashed. Jasper tilts his head, but I drop my eyes.
"Edward," Jasper's voice is close, soft, laced with adoration that's too painful to hear, "If we're going to be what we're meant to be, then we have to face our fears."
"I'm not..." but my voice dies abruptly because I hear what he isn't saying, and he's right. I was afraid. I've always been afraid. Afraid of his pain. All this time I didn't ask him about his past, I pretended it was because I didn't want to make him talk about such a distressing subject. Truth? I was terrified of his pain, terrified that it would be too much, terrified in a small, shameful part of my soul that it might make me view him differently.
My eyes find his again and I know he sees my anguish, but he makes no move to close the distance. It has to be me who bridges this gap. Jasper has given me everything tonight, made me face up to the one thing I couldn't face on my own, and it's my turn to help him conquer his demons.
I close the space between us, and press our bodies together, smiling in surprise when I realise we're both still naked. I feel Jasper's relief in the way he sags against me and winds his arms around my body, clutching me close. I let him stroke me and murmur in my hair a few minutes before I gently untangle our bodies and take his hand.
He follows me willingly, but I sense an underlying tension that I didn't have when he led me to the same place earlier in the evening. Of course I didn't know what was coming but Jasper? Jasper knows. And Jasper is frightened.
When we enter my room he goes immediately to the bed and climbs on, staying up on his hands and knees. I chuckle softly, an affectionate sound, and step close, my hand on his back encouraging him to lie on his stomach. He tries to ignore my intent for a moment but gives up quickly and I know it's nerves on his part. I crawl up until I'm kneeling over him, just taking in the ocean of skin below me. I start at his feet, intent on pressing my mouth to every single scar he carries, just like I wanted to that night so many months before. Jasper trembles underneath my lips and I know it's because this is it, his demon, the thing he's been terrified of for so long.
I kiss him gently, reverentially, and force all the beauty I feel when I look at him into my lips and onto his skin. His body is in an almost-constant shudder now, but that's okay because that's how it has to be. We've got to shake the kinks out before we can rebuild ourselves more durable than before.
When I reach the end of the scars on his back, I encourage him to flip over. He takes a moment, his breathing loud in the quiet, but he does as I ask. I start at his feet again, and cover him in my adoration. I can feel his muscles rebelling beneath my mouth, terrified of this unknown, overwhelming thing cresting his skin, but I can also feel him forcing himself down, forcing himself to endure. For me.
When I reach his face, his eyes are shut tight and his mouth is screwed up like he hurts. He does, but it's not a tangible pain that can be erased by pills and potions. It's an indefinable ache and I grimace because I know I'm going to make it worse before I can make it better, but that is what this night is for. So I kiss his lips until he opens his eyes, then I catch his gaze and start to speak.
As I caress his abdomen and down between his thighs, I tell him how beautiful he was that first time I saw him, standing up for a strange gawky kid he'd never met before. I tell him how I kind of worshipped him before I even knew what that meant, my solid, silent companion in everything I did.
I tell him how I loved the way he spoke, when he spoke, the gentle tenor of his words and the way his brow would crease with concentration when he was telling me something I needed to understand, something fundamental to who he was and, consequently, who I was.
I tell him my shameful secret when his mother died, feel him tense when I bring up that event and soothe him with gentle, tugging strokes to his cock and tender-fingered stretches at his hole.
I tell him how my love burned me from the inside out when he disappeared into Maria's grasping hands, how I shut down until his pained voice woke me up and set me into vicious motion once again. He clenches around my fingers when I tell him every hour in the gym was fuelled by his image in my mind.
I tell him how my love allowed me to share him with Alice, and kiss his faint-voiced protests quiet. He needs to hear this, he knows he does, but we all succumb to fear sometimes. I kiss his brow to indicate it's okay, and continue my story.
I tell him how much I loved him when he crawled into my bed, shower-fresh and clinging, and how my love twisted into a painful, flogging thing to match his bestial 'punishments' when I did something he disapproved of.
He lets me wrap his legs around my waist, keeps them there as I slide a pillow beneath his hips to angle him, and I whisper my love of his bare feet and his smiles, and the way he was always so patient with my Mama's mothering, no matter how smothering she must have been sometimes.
He's calescent around me as I slide inside him, forcing words through my satisfied groans, telling him about my darkest moments, telling him I gave up. He's crying now, devastating sobs, the kind that the abandoned cry, and he's clinging to my shoulders as I try to hush him and make him listen.
"E," he weeps, voice heavy with sorrow, "E, I can't..."
I time slow strokes of my hand down his length, with slow strokes of my cock inside him, lulling him wet-eyed and pliant beneath my body. I kiss him, slow when he wants to be desperate, letting my body guide him down through his frenzy.
When he's sufficiently gentled, I continue my intimate monologue, telling him the truth of it all, because that pain came from love and he needs to hear it. He shakes in my arms as I tell him how I tried to build my life around the eidolon of him, and how his father's watch shattered it all.
I tell him how I might have been happy with a Bella or a Lauren, had I never known he existed. I kiss his tear-dampened cheekbones as I tell him that I'm positive I knew him the moment we met, in the same way I'm positive we've been together in lifetimes before this. I tell him how colossal my love for him is, how deep and endlessly it burns, wiping through every defence I've ever tried to construct against him.
I tell him as I push inside him more insistently, making him curl up to meet me with little moist hiccupping moans, how I know him right down to my molecules, how I glow for him at the very base of what I am.
I tell him as I come inside his body, shivering and grunting and riding it out with little jerky humps of my hips against his ass, that he resides in the most primal part of my make-up; a part that I don't have access to when he isn't around to unlock it, but that I carry with me always.
As he lies, shaken and traumatised but with steady hands, like he might just be ready to come out the other side, I clutch him close and whisper against his temple that I'll love him in this life and every other, even the ones where we don't even meet; especially those ones.
I'm clammy and hoarse and prostrate with love for him as I reach down between our bodies and rub rub rub until he arches and wails and fractures in my hands, then I kiss him soft and sweet and I can feel everything slipping away, leaving nothing behind but the tang of fresh wind and open futures.
We lay side by side, wounded but healing, then roll together in identical moments, Jasper's nose brushing my own. I look at this man in my bed, by my side, and I can see the boy he was, the boy I've always loved, and the man he is. He finally looks whole. It's a beautiful sight.
"I love you," he murmurs against my mouth, "I love you, I love you, I love you," and I fall asleep to the cadence of it brushing my lips like the touch of something imperfect and that much more alluring for it.
I wake up to an empty bed and a dearth of body heat. For a second, just a second, my poor battered heart freezes. And then I remember.
Pulling on my boxers from the previous night, I stumble out of my room and down the staircase, toward the place my gut is pulling me to.
"Easy there," Jasper murmurs as I lurch into the kitchen, catching me in one arm, pausing a moment before pressing hot lips against the skin below my ear. I look into his eyes, looking for signs of running, before allowing myself to breathe. He gives me a smile, tentative at best, and pulls me closer.
"I'll earn your trust, E" he says into the skin of my shoulder and I nod in agreement. This Jasper will.
It won't be easy. I'm not naive enough to believe that. Jasper has a lot of work to do to make himself whole again, and I have a lot of work to do before I can see myself clearly, but what I do know is this. We're in this together, Jasper and I, and I'll take all the cruel words and taunts to come, all the unshakable love and devotion, because he may be a broken, fractured thing but so am I, in my own way, and now that I know he's willingly mine, I'd give up everything, even my own heart, just to keep him.
Well, that's the end of this journey. Thank you for sticking with me, thank you for reading and, for the very final time with these boys, feel free to leave me your thoughts.