"Bella really agreed to this?" Edward asked suspiciously when he saw the guest list for the wedding. Peeking at the names, he caught ones he didn't recognize, although he could have sworn he knew everyone in Forks.
"Of course!" Alice smiled sweetly. She was innocence perfected, but Edward knew better than to give in, especially after hearing what she didn't say aloud.
"You haven't asked her yet," he stated, shaking his head.
"Stop doing that," she said with a disapproving frown, slightly irritable now that Edward refused to go along with her tactics. "You know I have Bella's best interests at heart. Anyway, we've agreed that she has veto power. So don't fret. And stop distracting me."
He sighed but decided not to pursue it further because, admittedly, what she said was true. He lingered, watching her review the list meticulously with a small crease between her brows, and then realized there was something missing from the room.
"Where's Jasper?" he asked. Ever since Alice started the wedding preparations, Jasper had accompanied her in the living room, sometimes reading but sometimes sitting perfectly still and being content with simply watching her.
"Oh, he's out enjoying the weather," she replied with a shrug and a wave of her hand, but Edward saw her shoulders tense slightly. He opened his mind tentatively but heard only thoughts about wedding guests, so he shut her out again, feeling a little paranoid and guilty for doubting her.
Yet over the next three days, Edward became convinced that something was amiss. Alice seemed almost desperate to keep busy, flitting from room to room with a slight tightness around her eyes, and Jasper was absent from the house for inexplicably long periods of time. The most frustrating thing was that their thoughts gave nothing away; either they were especially tenacious in protecting their secret or there was no secret at all. One way or another, curiosity was eating away at him and on day four, he made his move.
"Alice, may I speak to you for a moment?" He leaned casually against the doorframe of the living room.
Alice spent most of her time there now, caught up in her responsibilities as wedding planner and enjoying it to a frightening degree. Leaving samples of antique-styled linens laid meticulously on the carpet, she bounded up to him and he thought that her glorious smile wasn't quite as honest as usual.
"You know you can tell me anything, Alice. I've been terribly sad that you've been keeping this from me." His initial nonchalance gave way to a martyred expression.
Has he realized? Jasper… Bella… Edward's humor dissipated as he caught the broken fragments that were accompanied with so many emotions. He fought to sort them out – sadness and acceptance, mingled with grief, a spark of anger, all colored with inevitability and love, for Jasper, for Bella and for him.
His eyebrows snapped together as he said slowly and dangerously, "Alice, what is going on?"
She sighed and pressed her fingers against his right cheek. "Talk to Jasper. Please. And… don't blame him. Or yourself. I love you both."
He froze at her words, his head spinning as he tried to understand.
Go. He's waiting in the clearing.
Edward felt her hands push gently against his chest and he dragged his mind, with some effort, from his wild speculations. Seeing nothing but a hint of impatience in her eyes and knowing that she refused to say anymore, he made his way to the clearing in record time. As he stepped past the trees, he saw a lonely, familiar figure standing on the pitcher's mound.
Blond hair ruffled in the breeze as he turned, his face blank.
"Beautiful day, isn't it?" His voice carried a slightly stronger accent than usual.
Edward narrowed his eyes. "I didn't come here to talk about the weather."
Without warning, Jasper appeared in front of him, inches away, and what Edward saw made him take an involuntary step back. His brother's face was blank, yes, but his eyes revealed tiny cracks in the veneer and emotions almost heavy enough to break through.
"What do you want, Jasper?" he asked warily, muscles tensing and readying for danger.
Edward froze in a moment of confusion and surprise, searching Jasper's face for a grin or a glint in his eyes that would give away the joke. His hands trembled when he found nothing of the sort, only that the veneer had broken. The floodgates were open and he was assaulted by waves of need, desire and desperation that threatened to drown him mercilessly. He stumbled back in a rare display of clumsiness, his throat tight and his mind weaving through thoughts of betrayal and indecency. What was Jasper thinking? Didn't he love Alice? She knew. She could've stopped this. Why didn't she? How could she do this to herself? To Bella? He managed to control himself at that thought, taking in a deep breath of air that was clean and cool from the early morning storm. He would never hurt Bella.
"Jasper, don't." Edward stumbled again as the waves rose higher still and he could barely distinguish what Jasper felt from what he felt. He would not let his brother manipulate him, for both their sakes. "Jasper, stop it."
As suddenly as the gates had opened, they closed and Jasper went still, swaying slightly on his feet.
"I'm… sorry," he whispered, turning his head away with his eyes squeezed shut as if opening them would release the monsoon again. "I thought I could… You shouldn't have come."
"If I had known what this was about, I wouldn't have," Edward said sharply, and then regretted his words when he saw his brother flinch.
They stood there perfectly still for what seemed like hours until Jasper opened his eyes again, looking at a place that seemed to exist only for him. Then he started to speak, sounding almost content, but with a slight air of self-deprecation.
"The first moment I laid eyes on Alice, I loved her. She was hope, salvation and everything I needed to be better. I never really think that I deserve her." A wistful sort of smile twisted his lips. "The first moment I laid eyes on you, I… I don't know, I think I envied you. You were so perfect, so controlled, looking for all the world as if you'd never known what it's like to kill a human, to be tempted and then to give in. Next to you, and only you, I wasn't good enough. Not for Alice or for your family. I think I hated you." His laughter was rich with irony. Edward opened his mouth to argue but Jasper held up his hand. "I never said you did anything to make me hate you. I suppose it was for purely selfish reasons. I just have no idea when that all changed, when I started to…"
His mouth tightened and his fists clenched. Edward knew he was trying to keep the gates closed.
"But I should've known long ago… how…?"
"I controlled myself quite well, didn't I? You loved me like a brother and I had you convinced that I felt the same." This time, Jasper's smile was proud and bitter. "But then Alice announced the wedding date and I couldn't… As much as I'd welcome Bella into the family, her humanity reassured me. You love her and want her, but she can't be what you need as long as she's human."
Edward growled deep in his throat, but he couldn't deny it and wondered if Jasper reveled in the torment that undoubtedly showed in his eyes.
"I'm selfish, I know," Jasper said plainly, "and I deserve Alice even less for this. I never meant to tell you. I hoped that after Bella changed, I would learn to be your brother, nothing more. I… I thought I would be strong enough." His voice, though pained, was dull and defeated, and Edward pictured old blood, dried until it was almost black over scars that ached when touched too harshly. "Considering my record, I've never been strong enough, have I, Edward?"
Edward couldn't help but move forward then and extend his right hand as a gesture of comfort, compromise, something.
Jasper backed away slightly, shaking his head and looking frantic, almost terrified. "Please, don't…" Edward wasn't sure if it was his touch or his intentions that frightened his brother, but he retreated immediately, his left foot falling back into the print it had left in the rain-softened ground.
"Why? I just want to know why. Isn't Alice enough?" he asked quietly, attempting to leave accusation at the door.
"Yes! No… I don't know!" Jasper nearly shouted, his hands ravaging his hair. "With her, I have no doubts, no fears. My love for her is something that time can't change, something constant and unfailing." He flitted quickly through these words like he knew them by heart, so sure he was of them. "What I feel for you is… terrifying, infuriating, consuming…" His voice quieted to a whisper.
Edward's entire body shook but this time he knew Jasper's emotions were still under control. The wind had picked up in the last few minutes and was now whipping past their bodies, whistling softly to its own tune. He stared into his brother's eyes for a long moment, gold-rimmed pupils mirroring his own, and came to accept something about himself that he realized had been buried under marble and granite because it terrified him too.
"I…" His voice sounded strangely rough and he stopped to clear his throat. "Emmett has always been my favorite brother because, well, I never really saw you as one. You're always so hard to reach, so collected, always assessing and judging but never speaking unless you think it's necessary. When I first laid eyes on you, I was fascinated. I'd never met anyone like you. Your thoughts were so… dark, so full of despair. I admit, I was jealous of Alice for a while. I wanted to be the one to fix you, to make you believe again." He stopped because Jasper was staring at him with a wary sort of wonder, like a man who saw beauty but believed he wasn't good enough to hold it.
He stepped forward slowly, right hand outstretched again, but Jasper stayed still, almost like a deer caught in headlights. After an agonizing few seconds, his fingertips touched his brother's cold cheek and, like the quiet trickling of water, the emotions ran out again. This time they weren't reckless, only heady, as Edward felt them wash over him gently, even lovingly. Ever so slowly, he drew a light trail down the alabaster skin of Jasper's cheekbone, just past the corner of his mouth and through the perfect length of his neck, finally resting his fingers at the smooth curve where neck met shoulder. Jasper swallowed harshly, his jaw clenching and unclenching, as if to distract himself from crossing a line he had already drawn.
"Why are you doing this?" Jasper asked through his teeth, his resolve crumbling just a little more when Edward leaned further in.
"I don't know," he answered honestly, his voice threatening to give away his own weakness.
He was pulled in like fish to a lure, hypnotized by a thing too perfect, too enticing, to be real or safe, but nonetheless impossible to ignore. The closer he got, the more he wanted. And then he found his hand on the back of Jasper's neck and their mouths a crack apart. His shoulders were tense and his hand gripped too tightly, but he knew he could not break Jasper. Their emotions crackled and slid together. Jasper's eyes darkened to almost black and Edward felt a sharp thrill down his spine because he knew it wasn't blood his brother wanted; it was him. He rose to take the bait and their lips crashed together, ice moving on ice, gliding effortlessly and perfectly. His skin felt so cold it burned, and his free hand feverishly grasped at something that would keep the ground under his feet. Jasper's tongue slid out to lick between Edward's lips, coaxing them open, and Edward knew Jasper was imagining how he would taste. The curiosity was strong, but the need was stronger, and he groaned and obliged. It was nothing like kissing Bella, which was untainted, wholesome and languid because they had forever on their side. This was dark, needy, almost violent, as teeth scraped lips and fingers dug brutally into hips and shoulders, as if they had to defy the moment, deny how fragile it was. A fraction of a second later, Edward was startled to find himself on his back with Jasper between his legs, their mouths still fused together. The ground was wet and slick, and the moisture seeped quickly through his shirt. His mind suddenly focused and he shoved his brother's shoulders back, his fingers, unsteady but determined, hooked into thin white cotton.
Vanilla. Definitely vanilla.
"What?" Edward shook his head in confusion at the unexpected thought.
"You taste like vanilla," Jasper explained calmly, lips quirking into a small smile.
If Edward's heart were still beating, it would've clenched painfully at Jasper's expression in that moment. In the 55 years they'd known each other, he had never seen his brother's face give away vulnerability; he considered it a weakness, Edward knew. Now, the emotion alone touched the smooth forehead, fair, arched eyebrows and full, pale lips, making him look much younger than his 20 years. Almost breakable, as if granite could turn, so quickly, into glass. He meticulously avoided Jasper's eyes, fearing that he would surely do something he shouldn't if he saw what they held.
"I don't think I can do this," he said, staring at a spot above Jasper's left shoulder. The back of his shirt was now completely soaked through but he could hardly bring himself to care.
"I'm not asking for your heart, Edward, only…" His mind shuffled through words that would be most fitting.
Peace of mind.
Edward loosened his fingers slightly, but drew his eyebrows tightly together as he battled the demons in his head. If he and Jasper… He couldn't imagine how he would ever tell Bella, but he would because, even though he was a beautiful liar, he could never lie to her about this. She held his heart and he would never get tired of reassuring her. She deserved the truth, surely, but what if part of it was something… sacred? The word sent tiny shocks through his body as he realized exactly where his thoughts were going. During the 80-odd years he'd spent with Carlisle, before he knew of Bella's existence, he'd contented in being alone in the romantic sense. He had marveled now and then at the strength of his siblings' bonds, the ease with which one gravitated towards the other – Alice and Jasper, Emmett and Rosalie. If the world could align fates so perfectly, then they were unparalleled examples. Still, he'd been content. It occurred to him in this moment that he'd merely constructed a lie so deep it had replaced what was real and terrifying: that when he looked at Jasper, he remembered what it was like to be human. Even though his heart now belonged to Bella, it had long protected a place that reserved Jasper's right to whatever Edward was able to give. He had never imagined that Jasper would feel inclined to ask him for… anything, but he was now, his eyes all but pleading.
"If peace of mind is what you want, then it's all I have to give," Edward said, pulling Jasper down.
"You look glorious," Alice said through a bright, infectious smile as she smoothed his lapels with practiced hands. It wasn't the first wedding she had organized and it wouldn't be the last if the gleam in Rosalie's eyes gave any indication.
"I'm nothing next to you, darlin'," Jasper said.
He cupped her face in one hand, thumb caressing her cold, smooth skin, and kissed her, perhaps more tenderly than he ever had. He had never cared much for public displays of affection, but something about this moment made him forget everything but the perfection before his eyes and the love in her that was meant for him. Who said weddings only made women weepy?
When he pulled away, Alice smiled knowingly as always. Still, he was sure he saw an emotion much like relief flitting through the brilliant gold of her eyes, and a heaviness slid down his throat as he swallowed.
"Ready?" Alice asked, attention drawn back to the main event. Excitement filled her face, turning her into a little girl on Christmas Eve.
"Shouldn't you be asking the bride instead?" he teased.
"I will," she replied with a wink, and disappeared into the crowd. The pianist began a rendition of Clair de Lune, which drifted gently through the throng of guests.
"Ready?" a low voice asked from behind him.
Jasper turned to face his brother as he answered with a wry grin, "Interestingly enough, I've already been asked that question. I'm beginning to feel like the groom."
Edward cracked a smile that didn't quite touch his eyes.
It's your big day. You have to look happier than that. The smile disappeared but his eyes softened to a muted gold. Without moving an inch, he lowered his voice to a volume indistinct to human ears and said with nothing more than naked honesty, "I'm happier than you'll ever know… brother."
As the last word slipped through his lips, they clasped hands, fingers curving forcefully over unbreakable skin. Jasper indulged himself in the warmth of Edward's emotions for a fraction of a second before he blocked them resolutely.
"It won't do to keep them waiting," he said, hand unclenching and falling to his side.
They took their places at either side of Emmett, who was grinning like he'd won a particularly good brawl. When the music began and all heads turned to the bride, resplendent and trembling next to her father, Jasper looked at the groom and saw all the love in the world.