"Where's Alice?" Edward's voice had been brittle only hours earlier, but now it was as smooth and warm as melted caramel.
"She's out by Seth." Jasper paused for a moment as he thought about his wife spending time with the werewolf. It wasn't that he was jealous or worried for her safety. No, he was thinking about how she would smell when she finally came back inside. But unlike with the rest of the Cullens, it wasn't the heavy scent of wet dog that would bother him. Of course, that would be there, but it wouldn't bother him as much as the scent of Seth's blood would.
Seth Clearwater might have been a werewolf, but he was still human. Blood still pumped through his veins. And when Alice finally walked through the door, that scent would come with her. It would be imbedded in her clothes and hair like the most cloying of perfumes. Jasper may have just returned from a hunting trip, but that particular smell would set his throat ablaze no matter what.
In response, Edward merely nodded, understanding his sister's desire to remain with the wolves. The moment he and Bella had walked into the Cullen mansion after their emergency flight home, Alice had grabbed her head and gasped, her tiny face twisting in agony. Jasper had been at her side in an instant, and even Carlisle had mentally wished he could go to her.
But the pixie-like woman had stayed on the stairs, rubbing her temples gently as her husband had searched her face for some sort of explanation. Catching the doctor's eyes, she had told him to attend to her newest sister. Her exact words had been, "I'll live. She may not." From anyone else, it would have sounded harsh, but Alice's soprano voice had been full of worry. The sentiment had thrust yet another dagger of guilt through Edward's heart. She had admitted what he hadn't been able to say out loud.
"Good. I wanted to… speak with you." By the look on Jasper's face, Edward could tell that his brother was thoroughly confused. Since he and Bella had returned home, and Alice had taken to avoiding Bella, Jasper had had almost nothing to do with the pregnancy. That should have bothered Edward, but it didn't. Alice was Jasper's wife, and she was his everything. And part of Edward thought that Jasper staying away was safer for Bella. He hated to think that, but it was the truth.
He was about to explain himself when Rosalie spoke to them from in the living room.
Even though he and Jasper were standing in the kitchen, they could both hear her whisper perfectly. Her quiet voice was as smug as ever, but it also held traces of purpose. It was as if she considered her role in Bella's pregnancy to be the most sacred of jobs. From the moment she set eyes on the girl's subtly protruding stomach, Rosalie had become some sort of strange guardian, and she would stop at nothing in her quest to see the pregnancy through. No matter what the outcome.
While Edward had originally seen the relationship as sick, he could no longer deny what a comfort Rose had been to his wife. And now, instead of wanting to rip his sister from limb to limb, he was grateful for her help and unfaltering attendance to Bella. If it hadn't been for her, he and Carlisle might have gotten their way. And now, that he knew the fetus, no, baby loved his mother, he couldn't bear the thought of losing his child.
"Edward, I'm running upstairs to refill Bella's cup for when she wakes up. Would you please come sit with her?" Not only could they both hear the adoration in Rosalie's voice, but they could hear another sound as well. Mixed in with the weakened heartbeat and shallow breathing was the sound of a hand brushing over the sleeping girl's pregnant stomach. Edward's face melted into an adoring smile as Jasper's froze in barely concealed shock.
"Certainly Rose. And while you're up there, would you mind grabbing an extra blanket?" Edward's voice was just as soft as his sister's. Turning to look at Jasper and thinking about why he wanted to speak with the man, he decided it might be best to get her out of the house. "Also, could you go outside to ask Alice if she's managed to see anything about Bella and the baby?" He knew it would be difficult to get her out of the house, but it was his only hope. And if he were lucky, Leah would provoke her enough to keep her out of the house for a little while.
If Jacob were there, he would have been happy to torment the blonde for him. But he had left for who knew where hours ago.
"Of course." His sister's singsong voice mixed with the sound of the upstairs linen closet being closed. By the time he and Jasper walked into the living room, the woman was already tucking a large, fluffy cream-colored blanket around Bella's sleeping form.
Edward knelt down in front of the couch and began running his long fingers through her dark brown tresses. Jasper, crossing his arms crossed over his chest, came to stand next to his brother. The moment his sharp eyes began to rake over the girl's protruding stomach, Rosalie hissed in irritation. Her voice came out as a strained whisper. "What is he doing here, Edward?" Rosalie's shrewd eyes met Jasper's. "It's not like he cared about the baby or Bella before." Even though she was talking to Edward, she didn't once turn away from the other man in the room.
"Relax, Rose." Edward extended his free hand as if to calm her. "I wanted to speak with him. About the baby." When he said the word 'baby', the man's eyes fell lovingly upon his wife's pregnant belly, missing the look of confusion crossing Jasper's features. "Really, it's ok." He could tell that she wasn't really comfortable with the situation, but she walked toward the door anyway. But not before turning back towards the couch once again.
"If you need my help, just call." The blonde shot Jasper one last menacing look before heading out the front door.
In the silence following Rosalie's exit, Jasper tried very hard to keep his feelings about Bella's current condition out of his mind. Even more importantly, he tried to forget about the drastic change in the relationship between Edward and Rosalie. He couldn't fathom what had happened in the few days he'd been away. But he was positive he was about to find out.
When Edward had greeted him at the door, the intense wave of joy coming from him had told Jasper that something had changed. But he didn't really realize just how big that change was until Edward had used the word baby. The shock of it still ran through his body, and he could feel his brother's eyes scanning his face. Edward was undoubtedly searching his mind as well. "You wished to speak with me?"
"Yes." Edward's eyes were nearly black, the thirst visible on his face. "Something happened while you were away."
Before her could stop himself, Jasper muttered 'that's obvious', in his mind. From the intensity of his brother's stare, Jasper could tell that whatever Edward wanted to speak with him about was important. And more to the point, he realized that sarcasm wouldn't help the situation. Ignoring the flash of annoyance in his brother's eyes, Jasper tried to clear his thoughts while he waited for Edward to continue.
"…I heard the baby earlier." Edward's gaze turned back to Bella who had begun to snore softly. "I can hear his thoughts."
Unable to stop his face from twisting into a mixture of shock and confusion, Jasper was thankful that his brother wasn't looking at him. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to keep the emotions from seeping into his thoughts. As his mind reeled, Jasper could feel Edward's happiness give way to tension as he waited for his response.
Jasper had always been quiet. And when he did speak, his words were chosen with caution and care. But right then, he couldn't stop himself from saying the first thing that came to mind. "What?"
The lack of understanding brought Edward up short and his hands froze in their path over Bella's hair and stomach. "I can hear what the baby is thinking Jasper. And he adores Bella." Content with his explanation, Edward began stroking his wife's swollen stomach again. "This changes everything."
This time, Jasper didn't bother to speak aloud or try to mask his thoughts. It was just too much for him to take without reacting instantly. His thoughts rang out with just as much skepticism as if they'd been spoken aloud. "How does this change anything?"
For the second time in the past minute, Edward tore his eyes away from Bella's sleeping form. Where they were black with thirst before, they were now also mad.
"It changes everything, because now we know that the baby isn't an abomination. That it isn't –" Edward's velvet voice was sharp, angry that Jasper didn't seem to agree with him.
"Edward, that doesn't prove anything." Just like last time, Japer didn't bother to speak before thinking; his thoughts flowed out, unfiltered by caution. "Just because this thing -"
"It is not a thing. This child is mine." Edward's voice was an angry growl. It was a sound that Jasper hadn't heard since the night of Bella's seventeenth birthday party.
The Civil War vet fought the instinct to sink into a defensive crouch in response. Instead, he sent a wave of calm through himself and his brother. The effect was instantaneous, but now he could feel the lingering traces of animosity coming from his brother. "Think about it, Edward. You may be able to hear…" He tried, but he just couldn't bring himself to use the word baby. But he knew that if he called the fetus an 'it,' all hope of the conversation ending amicably would be lost. "Alice still can't see the fetus. That has to mean something." His voice was pleading, the remainders of a southern accent long forgotten coloring his words.
He thought of Bella as a sister, and even though he didn't show it, the situation bothered him greatly. More than anything, he wished that everything would turn out all right. But he couldn't believe that everything was ok, just because Edward could hear the fetus' thoughts all of a sudden. And he wanted to share the same faith and enthusiasm as his brother. But the whole thing just didn't make any sense.
As Bella twisted and whimpered in her sleep, Jasper felt his brother's anger shift to fear. Edward's attitude towards what was growing inside his wife might have changed, but that didn't make her suffering any more tolerable. In fact, in some ways, it made it worse. Before it was easy to hate the thing that was killing his bride. But now, that anger, that blame, was impossible. He felt nothing but love for the thing that was torturing his wife.
The moment Jasper felt his brother's fear give way to desperation, he figured out what was wanted of him. Realized why Edward had insisted on speaking to him without Rosalie nearby and why he hadn't gone to Carlisle. It was a realization that made his heart sink. This was one time when his gift would be useless.
"Edward, it won't -"
"It has to Jasper." Edward's voice was sharp, as if his anger would prove his brother wrong.
"Even Carlisle couldn't get an ultrasound. The fetus is to well protected." His voice was barely above a whisper as he tried to convince the other man of the truth.
"But I can! I can hear my child's thoughts." Edward had looked up into his brother's golden eyes with inky black ones. "If you could just try to calm the baby, maybe it won't -"
This time, it was Jasper's turn to interrupt. "No Edward. I won't risk it."
"What if it were Alice? Wouldn't you want me to do everything I could to help her?" His pleading voice was laced with an edge of malice. His words were unfair. They cut deep, and that had been his intention.
The words, chosen for maximum impact, cut to depths of Jasper's soul. Instinctively, his golden eyes fell to the pregnant girl asleep on the couch. Her cheeks were gaunt, and the skin of her belly was stretched to what he was sure was an impossible limit. At that moment, he couldn't help but wonder if her stomach would simply pop from the strain it was enduring.
Staring at Bella, Jasper searched for his wife in the sleeping girls face. But it was impossible. Though he tried, the only thing he could see was an exhausted, dying, pregnant girl. Or more to the point, all he could see was a human.
As he stared at his sister-in-law, Jasper thought about his wife. Beautiful, perky Alice. To him, she'd never been anything less than perfect, and despite his best efforts, he simply could not fathom her as anything other than a vampire.
But, for Edward, he tried, tried to imagine his wife with human attributes. Blue eyes or brown. Rosy skin or tan. The natural rise and fall of breathing lungs. Everything felt wrong, felt inadequate compared to everything that Alice was.
Frozen in his spot, Jasper fell deeper and deeper into his thoughts as he tried to force human characteristics on the woman who had found him so many years ago. As the seconds ticked by, his ears picked up on the sluggish pumping of Bella's beating heart. The sound seemed to grow louder and louder, to the point where he could almost feel it vibrating through his own silent chest.
In all of their years together, Jasper Hale had never once thought of what it would have been like to listen to his wife's heartbeat.
It seemed wrong to think about it now.
It seemed wrong to think that a human life wasn't good enough for Alice Cullen.
But he knew, with every fiber of his being, that it was the truth. And someday, Edward would understand the same thing about Bella. About his own wife.
"Jasper?" Edward's voice was gentle, hopeful.
Drawn out of his thoughts, the man was surprised that his brother didn't sound angry. He could only assume that Edward was so focused on Bella and the fetus's thoughts that he hadn't picked up on his. Jasper was sure, that if he had, his brother would have ripped out his throat for pondering Bella's imminent death. He was, after all, convinced that she would survive the birthing process. Jasper wasn't so naive. He'd seen too much to think that this could possibly end well.
"Please, Jasper." Edward's voice had become angry again, but now it was also filled with hopeless. "I can hear the baby. Surely you can -"
"No, Edward." Jasper's voice was resigned, barely a whisper. "Even if we truly knew what," even though anger was flooding his brother's eyes, he refused to stop. "Is growing in Bella, all you do is listen. You want me to affect the fetus."
Moments ago, Jasper was pondering the death and re-birth of his brother's wife. He'd felt guilty for that. He'd felt as if he were denying his brother because he knew what the eventual outcome of this situation would be, no matter what. It was almost as if he were counting down the minutes until Bella's death. Helping it along even. But as he looked down at his brother, he knew that there was more to it than that.
As their eyes met, the anger in Edward's eyes melted into understanding, an emotion that began to roll off of him in waves. "Edward, if something were to happen… If something were to go wrong, because of me… I could never -" The unspoken words hung in the air, filling up the room with an almost palpable fog.
Before either could speak, could acknowledge what had passed between them, Bella let out a low moan that twisted her sleeping face in pain. Edward's eyes snapped instantly to his wife's face, completely absorbed in her pain. Unable to bring himself to finish the conversation, Jasper turned and ran back into the woods he had just come home from.
He hadn't been able to say the words, but he knew that his brother understood.
Squeeka Cuomo's Notes
- This was originally written for the lj community "twilight20" (Prompt: Boundaries).
- Disclaimer: Not mine.
- Quack: Thank you for not hating this. Thank you for putting up with my Twilight fics. That you for all of your help.
- As always, reviews are love.