A/N: This was written for Cordelia85 as part of this year's secret santa fic swap. I finally got some time to myself and at a computer with an internet connection, so I figured I'd post it. Let me know how you like it!
Jasper's daddy once told him that Death loved Life so much, he followed her everywhere she went.
Jasper had been six years old, hot and itchy in his Sunday best, staring at the place where they'd put his mama into the ground. Time would erase the memory of most of it ¾ the vivid flowers on the freshly-turned earth, the preacher's comforts, the feel of his sister's hand in his ¾ until, in the long, dark years later, all that remained was the words. The low and slow drawl of them, and the way his chest clenched in with that awful feeling like his ribs were trying to carve out his own heart. It had seemed so mean of Death to come and take Jasper's mama when he wasn't through needing her yet.
But Jasper's daddy was right. Death was everywhere he looked, around every corner he turned. It came for his sister a few years later, pulling her into the ocean's undertow when she went in after a favourite hat that had blown away. The water swallowed her up, all dark sapphire and greedy, and never did give anything of her back again. Death took two cats from him, and more than one beloved old hound dog; and when the fighting started, it took Jasper's daddy, too. Infection. It ate away at him bit by bit. Slow. Cruel. Uncaring as ever.
One day, Jasper knew, it would come for him, too. In the church they called it God's Plan. The stink, the mess, the pain and blood and crying and screaming. All part of the plan.
Jasper never was all that good of a Christian.
In some part of himself, he knew he was looking for Death when he joined the fight. Not to die, really. More like he was going to prove something. To do it all and survive, to flirt with Death but escape it anyway, somehow. Or maybe it was just to die. His uncle's family had moved into the big house in Galveston, where Jasper had spent his boyhood full of loss. He didn't have much of an inclination to just stand around and lose some more. There was a lot of talk of rights and men and God, but it was just talk to him. Any fight that was big enough would have done. It was convenient, in a way, that he didn't have far to look to find one. His cousins were glad to see him go under the guise of some noble act. He wondered if they might sleep better, able to deny that they'd chased him away, that something about him had been bothersome and strange.
And then Death came for Jasper. But it didn't take him. It used him. It flew from the end of Jasper's rifle and cut from the edge of his bayonet, spilled out in the blood of the men who stood against him, until even the soldiers who were supposed to be serving under him looked at him with a shade of fear in their eyes. Kept a wide berth from him when they walked. They called him a Major, but they never shared whiskey with him. And when Maria came and slipped Death under his skin, gave it a permanent home in the red glint of his eyes, they called him something else.
Really, it was what they'd meant all along.
Maria was beautiful, and she loved Death fiercely, maybe even more than she loved the memory of the man it had stolen from her. Jasper could feel her love for it. The way it lit a fire of excitement in her belly every time they fought, tore, ripped, won. When they'd take their enemies apart and set them alight, and she'd watch the flames eat them away until there was nothing left. Vicious little Maria, who thought she was Death's favourite mistress. Who commanded Jasper, and ordered the next victim he and Death might take. Who took Jasper into her bed and then kicked him back out again, with a maelstrom of emotions under her calm, cameo-carving of a face. Those emotions she tried to keep a secret.
No one could hide anything they felt from him, and Jasper couldn't hide from what they felt, either. He could change it. Sometimes he did, just to see what would happen. He made enemies piss themselves out of sheer terror. He made them laugh themselves into hysterics, their mirth gurgling through their torn throats even as they bled out onto the dirt. He could make them too angry to think straight, he could make them calm and placid as he tore them to pieces. He could make them love him. Adore him, rapturous, transfixed until he was too close for them to think of the danger. He could blind them with lust. Destroy them with grief. Bury them in a cocktail of their own feelings until even he didn't know what name to give them all.
But it always ended the same way. Whether in tranquility or panic, with brutality or precision, Death was Death. And no matter how many bright young things Jasper drank up, no matter how much warm blood and feeling he tried to soak back into his skin, it couldn't chase Death back out of him. It just made more. More and more and more, until he was so covered in it that he couldn't remember having anything else. He lost track of the years and the lives he ended. More often than not, he ended them twice – first when he turned them, and then again when Maria decided they weren't worth keeping. He killed when she told him to. Nettie and Lucy, and countless others.
He stopped twisting their emotions when he did it. He felt what they felt. It didn't change much, to let them die honestly. Death didn't particularly care.
Jasper never said no until Peter. To be honest, he never could say why it was Peter and not one of the others. Luck of the draw, maybe. By the time Peter came along, Jasper was so used to saying yes to Death and Maria that he would've tried saying no for anyone, just to see if he could.
When the worst of that was over, he wandered away. Turned his back on the dry deserts of the south, and the wicked soul of violence that hung over the bones and blood he had sacrificed to old Mr. Death. There were promises of something on the horizon, and those promises seemed more real and glorious than the heaven that preacher had sworn his mama was in. He didn't know what those bright promises might be, but they seemed like they might be a fair match for Death, if it came right down to it.
He might have been headed toward nothing more than a change of lifestyle, but it was much more likely that he was trading his old master for a new one.
He just wished he knew what it was.