6. Summary: Jasper is about to retire from the US Army when he finds himself shipped off to Afghanistan, along with a childhood friend named Emmett. When Emmett is seriously injured, Jasper proves his loyalty and strength of character as he helps his friend recover.
7. Pairing: Alice and Jasper, Rosalie and Emmett, Edward and Bella (all human)
8. Rating: T
9. Word Count: 3083
10. DISCLAIMER: Twilight and its inclusive material is copyright to Stephenie Meyer. Original creation, including but not limited to plot and characters, is copyright to the respective authors of each story. No copyright infringement is intended.
Jasper Whitlock brushed his hand across his face, trying to wipe the stinging sweat from his eyes. It only succeeded in mixing sand with the perspiration. The desert sun beat down without mercy, and he was having some trouble seeing through the binoculars.
"You okay, Major?" His childhood friend, Emmett Cullen, appeared at his side. He was sunburned and grimy as Jasper was, though his damp olive drab tee shirt outlined a sculpted six pack. Jasper was fit and trim, but on a smaller scale. They had been amazed but happy to find themselves in the same company in Afghanistan.
Jasper nodded, bringing the binoculars up again. The heat was overwhelming, and he just couldn't get away from it. Hard to believe in a few hours he'd be rolled up in a blanket to sleep under the moon and stars. He knew the same moon would be shining down on Alice, so far away, and the baby boy he hadn't even met.
The army had been Jasper's life as well as his career for twenty years, until he met Alice. A chance meeting in a diner in Philadelphia was the beginning of a whirlwind courtship, and suddenly the army had slipped several notches down his list of priorities. He had decided to retire at the end of this tour, and they were both surprised and dismayed when he was deployed - again - in the eighth month of her pregnancy.
There was no sign of the caravan on its way from Kandahar, so he set down the binoculars and let his mind wander back to the rainy day when he and Alice met. It was almost mystical how their paths had crossed at all. He had missed his train and decided to get a cup of coffee while he waited for the next one. The diner was empty except for a sleepy-looking waitress and a cute, dark haired pixie-like woman sitting alone in a booth. She looked up, giving his uniform the once-over before their eyes met. The spark was almost palpable as four perfectly matched green eyes widened, baring their respective souls with a single glance. They had never looked back.
"You kept me waiting long enough." Her perfect face showed just a trace of a smile.
"My apologies, ma'am," he breathed with a small bow.
He asked her, much later, what had prompted her to utter these first words to a virtual stranger. "I just knew," she replied, her breath warm against his face.
Turning, brushing his lips butterfly-soft against hers, he smiled. "You are my everything," he breathed. "I knew it then as well as I know it now."
Emmett nudged Jasper out of his reverie. "One more week, boss," he whispered - just as all hell broke loose. Twenty feet away, a soldier stepped on a landmine. His lower body was practically vaporized, covering them with a red mist and mercifully anonymous chunks of debris. Emmett automatically took a step in his direction and Jasper yanked his arm pulling him back, but not before a second explosion took off his friend's leg just below the knee and showered them both with sand and shrapnel.
"MEDIC!" Jasper bellowed, pawing through his pack for a pneumatic tourniquet he had hoped never to use. To Emmett, wide-eyed and panicked, he spoke soothingly as he worked. "You're gonna be okay, buddy. I promised Rose I'd get you home, didn't I?" Emmett was rapidly slipping into shock, his skin ashen and pupils enlarged.
Jasper knew he had to stop the bleeding. He worked quickly, keeping up a continual drone of inane conversation while positioning the inflatable cuff. "Hang in there, Emmett," he repeated in a low, soothing voice. "You're gonna be okay." He silently prayed his words would be prophetic.
In the field hospital, Jasper sat by Emmett's side for the few days it took for the enormity of Emmett's injury to sink in. The surgeon had to remove the jagged tibia and fibula. Jasper had never seen real fear in his friend's eyes before. "I'm a paraplegic, Jazz. What am I gonna do?"
Jasper's gaze was steely, with no trace of a smile. "You can do this, Em. First, you're gonna put everything you have into healing. You'll get a prosthetic leg, and you'll work hard to make it a part of you. By then you and Rosalie will be makin' beautiful babies. Then you'll know you can do anything you set your mind to." It was Emmett who smiled weakly, for the first time since his injury.
"I don't know," he spoke softly, his eyes downcast. "I mean, the leg…"
Jasper shook his head and looked at Emmett with a crooked grin. "I'm sure by now you know where babies come from, my friend. And it ain't your leg! You just gotta be creative. You'll figure it out." This prompted a genuine smile.
"I'll be back, buddy. But first there's somebody I need to meet." Jasper rose and picked up his duffel.
Emmett clasped the hand Jasper offered and nodded. "Give him a squeeze for me, will ya?"
Smiling, Jasper nodded. "Until you can do it yourself," he promised.
Alice threw the door open and leapt into Jasper's embrace. She was only vaguely aware of Jasper's mother, who blew them a kiss and backed down the driveway. Strong arms encircled her, and she closed her eyes and wept. Words were seldom necessary between them, and this day was no exception. They kissed desperately, as if each needed the other's breath to survive.
After a few rapturous minutes, Jasper scooped Alice up in his arms and carried her inside, kicking the door closed behind him. In a playpen in the corner stood a fair-haired, green eyed baby boy, smiling at his mother. "Jeremiah," Jasper whispered, setting Alice down gently. She picked up the baby, who stared evenly at this daddy-stranger before reaching out for him with chubby baby arms.
"He knows you, honey," Alice whispered, handing the baby over. "We watch your videos every day and kiss your picture good night."
"Hello there, son," Jasper said softly as he held the baby's soft face next to his. "I told you I'd be home before your birthday." Jeremiah babbled and his father listened intently.
"He says he wants a baby sister for his birthday." Jasper grinned.
Laughing, Alice led the way into the kitchen. "We can get started on his present as soon as he goes down for a nap. Right now, though, he's a hungry boy." She opened a cabinet and selected a pouch of baby food. "Would you like to put him in his high chair?"
Jasper shook his head. "Just for today - is it okay if I hold him while he has his lunch? I'm not ready to let go." He pulled out a chair from the kitchen table and sat.
"Of course," Alice agreed, snapping a sippy top on the packet and handing it to the baby. She wrapped her arms loosely around Jasper's shoulders. "I'm not ready to let go either." She leaned her face into his shoulder, breathing deeply. "I can't believe you're really here. How's Emmett doing?"
Jasper sobered. "He'll be okay, eventually. He has a long road ahead, but Rose will keep him centered. Thankfully it was his left leg he lost, so driving will be easier. He's hoping to get home soon and continue his rehab in a local hospital. Rose is staying in D.C. for now, and her presence does wonders for his morale." He smiled and caressed her hands, linked around his neck. "Have I mentioned I love you?"
Alice giggled. "I think you might have, but I'll never get tired of hearing it."
Emmett's homecoming was just two weeks later, sooner than they expected. He was in top physical condition and anxious to get home, and those factors helped him keep up the grueling exercises with his physical therapist. Alice and Jasper were waiting for them at the Cullen house, filled with the heady scent of Alice's lasagna.
Rosalie parked the car in the driveway and popped the trunk. "Where's the wheelchair?" Jasper asked, confused. He lifted out three suitcases and a pair of crutches. "You're kidding," he teased with a grin.
Emmett stood, balancing against the open car door. "I never want to see another damn wheelchair in my life!" Rosalie handed him the crutches, and he maneuvered up the walk, slowly and carefully. "I might need a little help with the stairs," he admitted.
Jasper was already at his side. "Just tell me where you want me," he offered. Emmett was perspiring by the time they got him settled in his recliner, and his big smile was a sleepy one. "Dinner's in the oven," Alice informed them - as if they couldn't tell by the heavenly aroma. "We'll leave you alone to get settled. Oh, but first there's a little surprise…"
A door opened off the den, and Emmett's brother Edward stepped in. His jaw was tight, and Jasper could tell he was fighting for control. "We thought maybe we could lend a hand while you recover," he said softly as his wife, Bella, stood beside him. He wrapped an arm around her and they approached together.
"But...how?" Emmett was literally speechless. His brother lived in Alaska, and they only managed to visit once every few years. Edward and his family had come to Philadelphia the summer before Emmett was deployed, so this was a genuine surprise.
Edward hugged his brother, then perched on the arm of Emmett's chair. "We left the kids with Mom, and we're all yours for a month or so. I can keep in touch with my company by phone and computer, so we're at your disposal." Bella ran to Rose and wrapped her arms around her as they both burst into tears. Jasper and Alice took the opportunity to slip out the door. This reunion belonged to the Cullens.
Jasper didn't start the car right away. Alice slid across the bench seat and he pulled her into his arms. "I think this might be the boost he needs," he whispered against her lips. They kissed for a long time, clinging to one another and counting their lucky stars.
Finally, Alice looked at her watch and sighed. "We promised your mom we'd be back by four," she reminded him gently. With one last peck on the lips, she slid back to her side of the car and buckled her seatbelt. It was a short ride, down Germantown Avenue to Washington Lane.
Jasper's mother, Carole, had never lost her southern accent. She greeted them with a smile. "Jeremiah was a perfect angel, as usual," she said. "He's in his room, napping. I love how he sleeps on his tummy with his butt in the air!"
"Thanks, Mom." Alice headed into the kitchen. "I made you a small casserole of lasagna too. I don't know how to make a little bit!" She handed her mother-in-law a Pyrex casserole covered with aluminum foil.
After closing the door, Alice went looking for Jasper. He was on the couch in the den, and she sank down beside him, her head resting easily on his shoulder. "It's still hard to believe you're really here," she said, and kissed his neck. He slipped an arm around her and pulled her closer.
"I'm the lucky one, darlin'," he replied, nuzzling her neck. "I just can't seem to get my fill of you." He pulled her onto his lap for a serious kiss.
Alice giggled. "Why, Major! I do believe you are happy to see me!" She drew back and looked into his eyes. "Or do you have a gun in your pocket?"
Jasper groaned but ended up laughing.
"Dadada!" Jeremiah's voice was high and sweet, and Jasper sighed in mock resignation.
"I believe he's calling for his dad," he said, depositing Alice back on the couch and standing. He shook his head, pulling at the seam of his jeans. "But hold that thought."
Alice grinned. "Oh, don't worry. I definitely will." She danced into the kitchen to find a snack for the baby.
Alone at last, Jasper completed his punishing workout of push-ups, situps, and weights. He sat on the bed and wiped his face with a towel just as Alice stepped into the room. Her hair was damp and tousled, and she was wrapped in a bath towel. She stopped in front of him and leaned in for a kiss.
"I'm all sweaty," he cautioned. "You smell delicious, but I stink."
Alice inhaled deeply, closing her eyes and breathing in his aura. She shook her head. "You smell just like my husband," she breathed. "I will never get tired of your scent." Opening her eyes, she dropped the towel to the floor.
Jasper reached out to touch her gently, his fingertips grazing her breast, slipping down across her flat stomach to rest on her hip. Alice shivered, her lips slightly parted. "I memorized you before I left," Jasper whispered. "I know every inch of you. And I love each one." His lips followed the trail his fingers had forged.
Three weeks flew by. Jasper dusted off his guitar and played by the hour, to Alice's delight and Jeremiah's as well. He made up silly songs for "Jay." They had picnics in the park - and once on a blanket on the den floor when it was raining.
Emmett was making real progress. He was anxious to get the prosthesis and begin working on using it, making it his own. Getting him to Jeremiah's first birthday party proved to be an exercise in patience, but it was his first successful outing except for daily physical therapy. Bella and Edward came too, bearing a GI Joe doll Jeremiah loved instantly. He recognized Joe's camo fatigues, just like his dad's.
The highlight of the party turned out to be Jay's first steps. Jasper walked into the den and said "Hey, buddy!" Apparently without thinking, the baby let go of the coffee table and took a couple of unsteady steps toward his father, who scooped him up in his arms with a grin.
Early the next morning Jasper's phone rang. "What's up, Edward? Is anything wrong?" He was instantly awake.
"Not exactly, but Emmett's kind of down. Says he's getting fat." Edward's voice was a whisper, but Jasper could detect the note of concern. "Any ideas?"
"You've been taking him for his therapy, right? What kind of exercises do they have him doing?"
"I don't know, Jas. Just the regular amputee stuff. He's getting stronger, and they've ordered his prosthetic leg. I thought that would cheer him up."
Jasper nodded, noting Alice was watching him and listening intently to his end of the conversation. "Tell you what. Let me take him today. You and Bella go out for lunch or something."
He could hear the smile in Edward's voice. "Thanks, man. Great idea. We're happy to be helping, but we don't spend much time together. At least not alone. You sure you've got this?"
Smiling, Jasper nodded. "No problem. I want to talk to the therapist. See if there's something different we can do. I'll keep you posted."
"Great. See you around ten."
When Emmett was called in, Jasper helped him onto the table. "Can I have a few minutes of your time?" he asked Mike, the physical therapist. "I have a couple of questions."
Mike nodded, thumbing through Emmett's chart while Emmett stared at his toes. "How old are you?" Jasper asked. "Maybe 25?"
"Good guess. I'm 26. But why do you ask?"
"Look, man, I'm sure you know your business. But I've been working with soldiers most of my life, both men and women. I don't know much about physical therapy, but I know my friend here. He's a lot more than two legs, two arms, a body. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Mike looked confused. "I guess so. But what's your point?"
"Emmett's always taken great care of his body. He eats healthy and exercises. A lot. His regular routine has to be a big part of his recovery. He needs to exercise his whole body - he's not gonna heal with a flabby gut. Am I right, buddy?"
Emmett grinned. "For sure. Everybody's babying me - giving me treats, telling me to rest. I'm not sick, guys. I lost a leg. And thanks, Jasper. I should have brought it up myself." His arms, braced on the table, were still heavily muscled - but Jasper knew how much work went into keeping his arms strong, and how it was doubly important now to help compensate for the lost leg.
"All I'm saying is, you absolutely know what you're doing - what's needed for Emmett's rehabilitation. Just remember to treat the whole person. I've known this guy since Kindergarten, and I know what he's capable of. He could walk on his hands if he had to."
"Ummmm...Jasper. I'm right here in the room." Emmett laughed.
Mike leaned against the wall. "Thanks, Mr. Whitlock. I truly believe we should never stop learning, and I'll admit I've been a bit single-minded. I'll take your advice." He looked at Emmett with real affection. "The big guy's gonna be fine. I guarantee it."
Two weeks later, the three couples had dinner at Emmett and Rose's. Edward and Bella were due to go back to Alaska the next day and they wanted to say good-bye. They missed their kids, seven-year-old twin boys, and besides Emmett was making real progress. He had his old spark back, teasing Bella unmercifully. The new leg had made a remarkable difference; it literally gave him a new lease on life.
Rosalie had prepared grilled chicken with a tomato and cucumber salad, and Bella made a light, refreshing strawberry sorbet for dessert. "Great food!" Alice said as they sat enjoying a cup of coffee with their sorbet.
"Orders from headquarters," Rosalie said, smiling at her husband. "We're all getting reacquainted with healthy food."
"Can't hurt any of us," Edward agreed, patting his own flat stomach. He sipped his coffee, then motioned toward Rosalie's cup of herbal tea. "I thought you were a coffee addict too," he joked. "Herbal tea?" The room suddenly stilled, all eyes on Rosalie, who blushed and reached for Emmett's hand.
Emmett cleared his throat. "What?" His eyes twinkled with mischief. He brought his wife's hand to his lips and kissed it gently. "You guys never see a pregnant woman before?"