A/N: TY GUYS SO SO MUCH FOR 9K! :) IT MEANS THE WORLD <3 Enjoy!
“I want to know,” I say slowly, “about you and Marianna. Before we do anything else, I need to know what happened.”
“You already know what happened, Alice. This has nothing to do with her.”
“This has everything to do with her. You wanted to take her to Paris too, and when she didn’t agree you left her behind without another word,” I spit coldly.
“Tell me,” I repeat.
Jarrah sighs. “We were in love. We were going to run away together. The army was a stuffy place that we just couldn’t handle being in, and it was the only opportunity I had to get away from my father. She really understood me and what I wanted to do. But our dreams were different, she had her own ideas. It would never work. I had to leave her. She wanted a family, and a life here—I realized she would only tie me down.”
“What about me?” I whisper shakily, “will I tie you down?”
He stares at me with his unreadable green eyes, then turns away.
“I don’t know what to think any more. I don’t know what I want, only who. You.”
I shake my head. “You want your freedom. I’m a burden to you. It’ll be the same thing as with her, you’ll realize I’m not what you want or need. Face it, I’ve been tying you down since the moment you freed me. It’s like I gave you my chains to carry.”
“That’s not true,” he says quickly, “please, don’t say that.”
“But it is,” I insist, getting up from the bed to face him. “You have so many dreams. You can do so much more away from here—away from your father, and away from someone who’ll be running from the law for the rest of her life. It’s not what you want.”
It is then, in a brief, flashing moment, that I realize the path I have to take.
“We can figure this out,” he insists, “in Paris. Away from everyone and everything here. You can be free there—”
“No. You can be free there. I’ve realized something. I’ve changed. I’m not the girl that ran away from Jackson Plantation any more. I’m not afraid to fight back any more. They can’t hurt me if I don’t care about the pain. I’m making a decision, and I know it’s right. I owe it to these people—they helped me! Now I have to help the others. Until every damn slave in this country is free, I can’t leave it knowing that thousands of people are resigned to this. To the fate that Isaac had.”
“I’ll wait, then.”
“Jarrah,” I plead, eyes watering. “We both know this is what’s best. I’ve never known what I wanted until now; all I needed was to get away from the people who took me away from everything I loved. I was born free and I want to help make a country where everyone else is too.”
“You’re just one person. You don’t mean anything to them—they won’t even know who you are and you’re risking your lives for them. But to me...God damn it. I’ve never admitted to you because I can’t say it to myself...and yet, I’ve known it all along.”
“Known what?” I ask, clinging to his every word.
"I love you, Alice. I love your bravery and your beauty and your loyalty and if I get on that train without you tomorrow, I’ll never forgive myself."
“And if you don’t get on that train tomorrow, I’ll never forgive myself.”
“Fuck, Alice, why do you have to be so difficult?”
“Was Marianna being difficult too? Is that why you left?” I say challengingly.
“No no no, please don’t do this, you don’t want to do this.”
“I do. I see Lewis’ life, helping the others get to freedom. That could be me, saving people like we were. It’s time I gave back. That’s what’ll make me happy. I’ve realized that this is my home now--the first one I’ve had in a long time.”
“Don’t you understand? I want a home too. I want to settle down and just live my life in peace, all right? Away from this blasted country and where I can be who I am. I’m sick of being on the run. If you stay here, they’ll never leave you alone. They’ll take your freedom away and I won’t be around to help you then.”
“It’s not my fault if you won’t be around. That’s your decision to make. I know you’re alive, and it brings me relief, but that’s enough for me to move on. I know you have a path, but I do too. We’re at a crossroads, and I think we both know what we have to do.”
“When did you fall out of love with me?” he asks, holding my hands tight and searching my eyes sadly for an answer he’ll never find.
“I never did. I love you too much to keep you here, when I know where you really want to go. I don’t want to be Marianna, left behind heartbroken and in disbelief. I want to make this choice on my own. And I am.”
He shakes his head in disbelief. “It was Lewis. She told you something about me, didn’t she? She took you away from me.”
“She only showed me another option that I decided to choose. I’m choosing to be free. I’m not going to run away from my fears and problems here, I’m going to face them.”
“So this is it? This is goodbye, then? After everything we’ve been through, you’re giving up on us when we can finally be together?”
“Please don’t make this harder than it already is,” I say, water forming around my eyes.
“It doesn’t have to be this way at all. You can be free in Paris, too.”
“I can make a life here. I can work for Jim. What am I going to do there? Who’s gonna hire a black, uneducated, ex-slave? As much as I want to believe they’ll be fair...this is the real world, Jarrah. Not everyone’s going to accept me the way you do.”
“They don’t need to. I’ll earn money for you. I’ll protect you. Please, I want to protect you.”
“Isaac wanted to protect me too. I’m not making the same mistake.”
“This is a mistake too. You know it is. You’re afraid of hurting the people you love. But right now? You’re hurting me more by letting me go without you.”
“Please stop trying to change my mind. I’ve already made it up and I’m choosing my freedom. Promise me you’ll protect yourself, okay?” I cry, tears now freely falling and swiftly down my cheeks as I embrace him. He pulls me back, staring at me with an anger in his eyes, green, tormented, and stormy like the sea.
“You make this huge deal out of freedom, like it’s a better world than the one you’re in, with me, right now. But the truth is...out there? No one cares if you live or die. If you wake up to another sunrise, or see the next sunset. But I do. I don’t understand you, Alice! I thought I knew who you were, but maybe I was wrong. Or maybe you’ve changed, and you’re not the same girl I fell in love with,” he growls.
“Maybe I’m not, but at least I know who I am now,” I say firmly.
He sighs deeply, nodding.
“This is goodbye, then?” he asks, voice deeper than usual.
“For now,” I smile sadly.
“You have to take care of yourself. Even when you find your freedom, people will try to knock you down. Not everyone will see you the way you want to be seen, and not everyone will treat you the way you want to be treated. But hell, that’s just the way the world is. And it’s your world. So suck it up, princess, and make the best of it for me. Deal?”
I stop to interrupt him, but he looks at me with pleading eyes.
“Promise me you’ll take care of yourself. You’re going to live older than Ava ever did, and you’re going to be happy. Promise me.”
“I promise,” I whisper.
“Give me your hand” he says.
He takes it, and places it over my heart.
I stop and consume the silence, his words echoing in my mind. My heart pumps fast.
“What does it tell you?”
“That I’m nervous?”
He smiles sadly. “It means you’re alive. And that’s all that matters. That pumping is there to remind you that you’re only human, and all you have to do is do the best you can to keep it going. Remember it.”
I nod, unable to find the right words.
“I’m going to promise you one thing and one thing only, princess. And for once, I’m going to keep it.”
I bury my head in his shoulder, his hand brushing through my hair.
“I promise to never stop loving you. You’re the most beautiful, amazing, smartest person I’ve ever met, and I’m never going to forget you. And when I’m the richest artist in France, I’m gonna buy myself a ship and come get you in the hopes that you’ll still love me, too.”
I pull away from him, trying to smile but unable to lie to him or myself any longer.
“I have to do this one more time. I hope you forgive me for it.” He presses his lips against mine tenderly and softly. I never want him to pull away as I wrap my arms around him, relishing in our last moment together.