Though I despised leaving the wilderness, I continued to travel with Jasper to hunt. Human towns were vastly different from what I remembered and the cities were like approaching a different world entirely. My first trip to the human city was overwhelming and Jasper had been forced to all but drag me through the streets. The smell of humans was everywhere, the pain in my throat was excruciating as venom pooled in my mouth. Jasper tugged on my hand, shooting me a concerned look that made me decide to hold my breath.
Jasper had led me through the streets, careful to avoid the humans traveling about till we found ourselves between two giant brick buildings. Jasper pulled me toward a large metal box with flies buzzing around it. I allowed myself to sniff and immediately gagged at the odor and pulled away as Jasper continued toward it.
"No." I said sternly, wrenching my hand away from him as I eyed the box with contempt, refusing to get any closer to the awful stench. Jasper chuckled but nodded and instead nodded to move closer to the wall. It wasn't long before we could hear two sets of footsteps walking toward us. At least one was a man, his words slurred as he spoke to whoever was with him.
"This… great...idea." He slurred, his words spaced as he struggled to put the words together.
"No, Vern. This was a terrible idea." A second voice said, another man and he sounded less than pleased.
"Lyle… you a… great friend." The drunk continued.
"You bet your ass I'm a great friend, dragging your drunk ass home." The second man, Lyle, grumbled with a grunt. The two slowly made their way down the street as Jasper and I waited for them to be within striking distance. The closer they got the louder their heart beats became and the fire burnt stronger as I caught the scent of the two men. Vern was most definitely drunk, the alcohol smell was strong, strong enough that it almost covered the scent of the two men's blood.
"I'll take Vern." Jasper whispered and I nodded. It was sweet of him to take the drunk, but at this point I would have settled for Vern merely to douse the flames that were clawing at my throat. The men finally came within reach and I lunged. Vern's arm had been wrapped around Lyle's shoulders while Lyle had a hold on Vern's middle and was all that was keeping Vern on his feet. I lunged for Lyle's throat, pulling him into the shadows of the building while Jasper did the same. Lyle attempted to scream but my teeth latching onto his neck stopped even the smallest of whimpers from escaping as I drank him dry. Jasper did the same with Vern, though I doubt Vern even realized what was happening before it was too late.
When it was over I let the body drop to the ground and took a deep breath, savoring the absence of the nearly ever-present burn. It took a couple seconds longer before Jasper did the same before almost stumbling back to press his back against the brick wall of the next building. I looked over at him in concern, but whatever had come over him seemed to dissipate as quickly as it had occurred, he was already moving once again, scooping up Vern's body and looking to me expectantly. I crouched and picked up Lyle's body, nodding to Jasper and then following as he sped back through the streets and away from any prying eyes. A couple miles away there was a river that ran away from the city, Jasper stopped and tossed the body off his shoulder and into the water, I followed suit quickly.
We stood there for a couple moments, watching the bodies being moved further down stream as they sank beneath the surface and out of sight. I was content to stand at the water's edge and enjoy the post hunt buzz but Jasper seemed restless as his eyes moved over the water and the landscape, almost like he was looking for something. He must have felt my curiosity, his eyes flicking to me before an emotion I couldn't name came to his face. I opened my mouth to speak but Jasper beat me to it.
"Are you sated or do you want to go back?" He asked quickly and I thought for a moment, I wasn't used to having the option.
"One is enough." I stated and Jasper seemed relieved.
"Let's head back." The words had barely escaped his mouth before he was running off in the direction we had come from. I hurried to follow but Jasper didn't truly let me catch up as he led us back toward my sanctuary. We were almost back when we crossed paths with Peter and Charlotte.
Unsurprisingly, both were shocked to see me trailing behind Jasper, though they quickly collected themselves. Peter tried to look unaffected but Charlotte grinned widely and I rolled my eyes, an action I had learned from her. Jasper nodded at the duo before continuing on and heading vaguely in the direction of the north pond, a clear signal that he wished to be alone. I looked to the couple, tempted to question Jasper's behavior only to find that they were both still staring at me.
"Despite what you may think, I do not relish the burn." I said shortly and took my leave, headed to the rock face for my own solitude.
Jasper behavior post hunt was not what I had come to think of as normal. There was always a sense hyper awareness as my body seemed to hum with renewed energy, something I had noticed with Peter and Charlotte as well upon their return from their trips to the city. Though now that I thought about it, I had never shared Jasper's company in the immediate days after visiting the city, he tended to take sanctuary at the pond before seeking company in the following days. With this in my mind I started to pay particular attention to Jasper's habits.
Jasper spent the following day in solitude at the pond before seeking me out at the rock face, the following weeks passed as usual. Peter and Charlotte caved to their thirst first, heading to the city to sate the burn. Jasper's eyes were already dark and despite suggesting that he follow along he declined. I watched as Jasper's eyes got darker and darker till they were black from his thirst, yet when Peter and Charlotte suggested that he join them on a hunt he once again declined. Peter looked back worriedly at his friend before heading off with Charlotte. Jasper had been known to go off to hunt on his own and I expected that would be the case in the coming day, but instead he stuck to the wilderness, giving no sign that he was planning to head into the city.
After Peter and Charlotte's return I could feel the burn in my own throat getting worse, becoming impossible to ignore. If my thirst was prominent I knew that Jasper's had to be almost unbearable. I'd seen him rub at his throat a time or two and the blackness of his eyes made it impossible to argue that he wasn't thirsty. Finally, a week after Peter and Charlotte returned from their trip to the city I insisted that Jasper join me on my own hunt to sate the thirst. He grudgingly obliged and we did as we had before, staking out a building and attacking the first humans to come through.
As we disposed of the bodies Jasper once again seemed to recede into himself, shutting out the world and retreating to the sanctum of the northern pond upon our arrival back to the wilderness and so the cycle continued. Peter's searching gaze was prominent as time after time they would leave to hunt and Jasper would decline joining them. It seemed that Jasper was trying to go longer and longer without feeding, refusing to accompany anyone to the city till his eyes where as dark as the night sky and then seeking solitude for longer and longer stretches after returning.
I was perplexed by the behavior and sought out Peter and Charlotte to discuss it. Charlotte wasn't sure what was going on and was little help, skipping away to entertain herself while Peter stayed behind to discuss the matter of his friend.
"It's only a guess, but I think he's punishing himself." Peter said with a sigh as he looked after where Charlotte had just danced off into the trees.
"Punishing himself for what?" I inquired and Peter's lifted his shoulders before letting them drop, his gaze finally finding mine.
"Your guess is as good as mine. It could be for his sins while he lived under Maria, could be for the sins he feels like he's committing here, he's still forced to take a life despite being out from under Maria. There's a lot about Jasper I still don't know and likely will never know." I sighed and nodded.
"I see. Thank you, Peter." Peter nodded and his hand reached out, tentatively taking a hold of my elbow before pulling me closer. Peter hugged me briefly before letting me go and I looked to him imploringly.
"Thank you, for seeing what I do in Jasper." He said and without sparing another moment took off after Charlotte and leaving me behind and further confused as to the situation I had found myself in.
Instead of continuing to ponder and seeking answers from an outside source, I decided to go directly to Jasper. Finding him wasn't hard as we had returned from the city a couple days prior and he had yet to seek company. When I approached he was sitting in a tree over hanging the pond, his legs dangling as he looked down at the water. I waited at the edge of the clearing for a moment, seeing if he would address me before slowly walking closer. When I reached the bottom of the tree and he still refused to acknowledge me I gave a silent sigh before stealthily climbing the tree and joining him on the limb overhanging the water.
We sat silently for a long time, watching the fish and the frogs swimming beneath the water's surface, the occasional bird swooping down to pluck one out for a meal. The sun slowly slinking beneath the horizon and the sky fading to darkness before I decided to speak.
"Would you mind dispelling some of my curiosity?" I spoke softly, a failed attempt to not disturb the tranquilness that surrounded us. Jasper still did not physically acknowledge my presence, his face still turned down to the water though the fish were nearly impossible to see beneath the dark water as they moved deeper and some buried themselves in the mud at the bottom of the pond. After a long moment I heard the slight intake of breath as Jasper readied himself to speak.
"I will try, but I do not know if I am able." He said, there was a growl to his voice. Whether from frustration with himself or me I was not sure.
"What is it about sating your thirst that bring about this melancholy behavior?" Another long moment of silence before Jasper finally turned his head to look at me. I could see the thought he was putting into his response in his eyes. I could see the frustration, the anger, the pain and the sadness.
"When Peter convinced me to leave Maria, he told me about a life without killing. It seems foolish now, to think that when he spoke of no killing that he had also meant of the human variety. With Maria it was an endless cycle of death. See changed me and humans had to die so I could drink human blood greedily in a sad attempt to fight the burn, then she would cull the herd of those approaching the end of their new born year and I bore witness to their death, then she had to rebuild her numbers and more humans had to die, to burn to become like us and the cycle started again. Each stage different levels of death and destruction. When Peter came to me speaking of a life or peace without killing he was only speaking of the vampire variety…" Jasper seemed to struggle with how to continue and finally looked to me questioningly.
"What did Peter tell you of our time with Maria?"
"That she used armies of newborn vampires to fight for territory and that was how the three of you came into this new life." Jasper nodded.
"Yes. But he skipped over that the life we lived was very violent, everything we did was intended to cause death. Changing humans into vampires, killing humans for their blood, killing enemy armies for territory and killing our own vampires to start the cycle over again. With my gift, that environment was painful, I could feel the pain of the humans as they turned into newborns, could feel the pain of the humans when we drank from them and could feel the pain of the vampires as they were killed, whether by my hands or not. I was living in a cloud of pain, anger, fear, and desperation, the only respite was when Maria would take me to her chambers for what she called 'my reward', but I was simply changing out one set of negative emotions for another as she was always surrounded by the feelings of blood lust, greed and desire. When Peter spoke of a life without killing, I foolishly thought that I would be escaping it all." He stopped speaking for a moment and seemed to collect himself.
"I know now what he meant and this is far better than the world I had been living in… but when we stopped to hunt, when Peter sent Charlotte ahead to tell you that we were coming, my hopefulness was dashed with that first bite into that human neck and I felt the pain of teeth in her neck, her fear and desperation and finally her regret as the last of her life slipped away. Then I knew that I wasn't truly escaping the life that Maria had made for us, we still sustained ourselves on the blood of humans and we would never be able to live without killing. Every time I kill, it's like I mentally go back to Maria's camp, it's as if I never left. Then we come back here, to a place of peace and love and happiness and the guilt hits me like I jumped off a cliff." My heart clenched in my chest, I couldn't completely empathize for what he felt but I wished more than anything that I could take it away for him.
"Have you found anything that helps?" I asked and he shook his head.
"No, I just come here and let the guilt run it's course." I perched my lips as I thought about, that obvious wasn't a good way to deal with it and it ultimately didn't help. I put my hand of his arm, bringing his attention back to me.
"We're going to figure out something that makes the guilt go away." I vowed looking into his eyes, trying to convey just how convicted I was to this. Despite the sadness in his eyes, he gave a weak smile. I knew he doubted we would be able to find anything that would make it better, but he was willing to go along with it. He seemed to be thinking as he looked back at me and another unknown emotion crossed his face before his eyes dropped from mine.
His eyes looked down at my lips before coming back to my eyes as he leaned in slowly, there was enough time that if I didn't want to feel his lips on mine that I would have been able to pull away, but I found that I didn't want to and instead leaned forward and met his lips with mine. The feeling of Jasper's lips on mine wasn't like I was expecting, feeling how they caressed mine as his hands moved to my arms, pulling me slightly closer as he tilted his head as he pressed himself closer. I kissed him back, something I'd never done with anyone but Jonah, but this was nothing like that, nothing like anything I'd experienced. Kisses before had been wet and sloppy as the miner's didn't expect reciprocation and with Jonah, he had been a fumbling kid, unsure of what he was doing. This was so much better than either, Jasper's kiss was soft and sweet, but held a warmth I'd never felt before as I lost myself in the sensation trying to replicate the motion of his lips with mine.
I was grateful that we didn't have to breath because it kept Jasper from pulling away. I loved the way his hands slowly moved from my arms, creeping upward till his hands cradled my face, his thumbs gently brushing at the skin under my eyes. I hummed as I leaned closer my hands going to his arms before finding their way to the back of his neck to pull him ever closer. I don't know how long we were lock like that before Jasper finally broke the kiss and pulled back so that he could look into my eyes. I didn't know what he was looking for but I smiled and leaned forward to press a soft kiss to his lips.
The groan from Jasper as I pulled back that time made me smile wider. The warm sensation in my chest made me feel light as a feather, something I had never experienced, but was sure I could get quite used to if given the chance.
"I think I could get used to that." I said and Jasper tossed his head back and laughed.