Legna has talked me down from so many ledges she should get a job as an FBI negotiator. She would be the best.
I debated long and hard about whether or not to tell you this and decided I should. Imagine you're reading a book (a what?) and you take a look at how many pages are left and there aren't very many at all – maybe just one chapter and an epilogue's worth... That's where you are right now.
SM owns Twilight.
In Which the End Is the Beginning
I stood at the edge of baggage claim, trying to stay out of the way of the weary travelers making their ways through Sea-Tac. I alternated between watching the escalators and watching the clumps of people around the carousels, just in case I somehow missed him. One of the baggage claim boards displayed Jasper's flight number, so it was only a matter of time before he showed up.
Rose and I had partaken in a rather heated discussion about who would meet Jasper's plane. But, as Emmett our referee had pointed out, it had been a discussion and not an argument, even if he had pronounced me the "winner" in the end. Rose's declaration of shenanigans hadn't stuck and I was impressed when Emmett stood his ground in the face of some creative threats that mostly revolved around his ability to procreate. I'd fled the house to avoid Rose ignoring Emmett's declaration, leaving them arguing in my wake.
My original plan had been to go down to California and fly back with him, but Jasper had insisted that was ridiculous and unnecessary, and the best I could manage was meeting him at the airport. I resented the increased security measures that prevented me from having a postcard "welcome home" moment right as he deplaned. I would have to settle for some baggage claim action and hope it had the same magic.
People were just starting to gather around the baggage carousel labeled with Jasper's flight number when I finally saw the familiar blond head come into view at the top of the escalators. It was possible that I squealed, but with no one around to confirm, there was no way to know.
I picked my way hurriedly through the steady flow of foot-traffic, trying to make my way to him. Jasper was scanning the crowd and finally saw me just as we both reached the bottom of the escalators.
Without greeting or ceremony, Jasper bent and picked me up from the ground. I wrapped my legs around his waist and locked my ankles behind him. The way he immediately buried his face in my neck, I was positive he couldn't see where he was going, but he walked us off to the side so we'd be out of the way. We stood like that for a minute, just holding one another, before he pulled his head back to look at my face.
"Babe," he chuckled, his eyes intense on mine. It was disorienting being off the ground and the same height as he was, but it made kissing him very easy. Our mouths came together softly, and I smiled against his lips at the comfort such a simple gesture could provide. Our quickly deepened kiss was easier than I imagined it would be after nearly sixty days of no physical contact. Regardless of all of my travels to California in the past two months, we'd had no alone time, and there had been virtually no touching aside from hand-holding and quick "hi there" and "see ya" pecks. I was almost giddy with the feel of his arms enfolding me. We mutually broke away from one another before any large security personnel could politely ask us to leave.
He set me back on the ground before taking my hand.
"Flight okay?" I asked as we walked to the baggage carousel I'd been stalking.
"Longest three hours of my life." He pressed his lips to the top of my head before stepping forward to grab his huge duffel bag from the conveyer belt. "Ready?"
We rejoined hands as I led him toward the truck. I felt stupid doing it, but I kept stealing glances up at him. Thanks to the constantly gorgeous weather of La Jolla, Jasper was unusually tan for February, and his hair was closer than usual to the bleach blond I remembered from the family photos at his parents' house. The slanted scar on his forehead was only visible if he brushed his hair out of the way. The glow of his skin went a long way toward making him look as healthy as I knew he now felt.
All of our couple's and family sessions with Dr. Waitt, plus the dozens of hours a week Jasper had spent in other one-on-one and group therapy while he was there, had helped him achieve what he had hoped: a renewed sense of self-confidence to replace his feelings of self-loathing, a greater feeling of purpose, and a commitment to staying healthy.
Along with that came an understanding that uncertainty didn't have to be catastrophic. I'd learned that although Jasper was naturally laidback, he tended to worry – and internalize anxiety – when he was unsure about something. His future, me, his relationships with the Cullens... his worries about all of these things had built to such a crescendo over the nine months following his breakup with Alice that he had finally reached a breaking point the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
We, Jasper included, still weren't really sure why he had chosen to get high when he knew I was coming over. Many of that day's events were fuzzy for him – a result, Carlisle said, of the head trauma combined with the drugs. I speculated that maybe he knew I would do everything I could to help him. Maybe he had just given up... Regardless, he'd gotten the help he'd needed for so long and knew the hard work to come was up to him.
. . . . . . . .
After grabbing some lunch, we were in Jasper's room unpacking his bag. He was crouched down, shoving shoes under his bed, when something caught my eye.
"Hey, what's that?" I brushed aside the hair at the nape of his neck and drew down the collar of his t-shirt.
On the back of his neck was a new tattoo. It was black, beautiful... and I honestly had no idea what it was.
"When did you get it? I thought you were on 24-hour lockdown?"
"Since I was officially done four days ago, Ty drove me." Ty was one of the counselors with whom Jasper had formed a tight relationship. He was a few years older than we were and had gone through the co-occurring disorders program at La Mer when he was twenty-one. Jasper told me a few times he felt lucky to have met someone like Ty.
The tattoo was about three inches long and an inch and a half at its widest point. It looked a little like a weird combination of a scary knife, flames, and a yin-yang symbol... maybe a serpent. Whatever it was, it was abstract. It was also still healing – the edges were pink and raised and it was covered by a thin scab.
"Ignore the peeling. What do you think?"
"Um. It's lovely," I hedged, not wanting to admit I was clueless.
Jasper chuckled. "You have no idea what it is."
"Yeah, not so much."
He turned his head so he could see me and the top portion of the tattoo stretched with the movement.
"It's a swan."
"A swan?" I pushed his chin so he was looking forward again and took another look at it.
A swan... now I could see the long neck and head. The curve of the body still looked like flames, but I could see the wings now... it was very tribal and masculine.
I could hazard a guess, but I asked anyway. "Why a swan? You have a thing for Björk I didn't know about?"
"Can I turn around now?" Without waiting for my answer, he turned and sat, leaning against the bed. He pulled me down into his lap and I snuggled into his arms. I had seriously missed doing that. "Did you know," he said, running a finger down my nose, "that swans represent not only music and enduring love, but serenity and grace?"
"Grace?" I snorted.
"Grace." He kissed my jaw. "Compassion. Freedom." His lips brushed my ear. "Beauty." I shivered at the combination of his warm breath and sexy voice. "Swans also represent transformation. Which I figure I need."
"Don't change too much, I kinda like you how you are," I breathed against his mouth. "I can't believe you got a swan tattoo." Keeping my cheek pressed to his, I ran my fingers along the side of his neck, being careful to avoid the edge of the tattoo. "Did it hurt?"
"A little on the bone, but the ribs were worse."
"Maybe I should get one," I half-teased, knowing the needle-blood combination would be a challenge unless they knocked me out first.
"Oh yeah, what would you get?"
I pulled back and studied Jasper's face while I thought. He looked relaxed and happy, which warmed me almost as much as his embrace. "What about some sort of horse?"
"Yeah, you know. First there's that whole cowboy thing..." Jasper exchanged a smirk for my wink. "And don't horses represent strength and health? You know... hale?"
"Cute, babe," he chuckled. "Strong and healthy, that's not exactly me."
"It is now. And it always has been. Sometimes it was just a little... buried."
Even in the couple of hours since I'd picked him up, I could already feel in his demeanor, see in the set of his shoulders, something I'd never seen before.
My worry that rehab would lead him to the decision that I wasn't the right girl now seemed needless. He'd gotten a swan tattoo on his neck, for Pete's sake. Any concerns that I wouldn't fit into his life anymore evaporated as I saw how this new attitude had loosened something in him that I hadn't even realized was tight. It was as if my Jasper had been freed from an invisible cage and was finally able to stretch his wings. And those stretched wings hadn't carried him away from me as I'd feared, but had brought him back. I nestled against his chest, the regular rise and fall of it soothing me, and vowed silently that he'd never see the inside of that cage again.
. . . . . . . .
During the month after Jasper finished rehab, his life started to return to normal. A week and a half after he came home, he went back to the Hale Group with a plan to be back full-time within six weeks. His father had been very supportive during Jasper's treatment, even when Jasper had brought up in one of the family sessions that he couldn't see himself sticking with accounting – or the Hale Group – long-term.
The doctors at La Mer had recommended some therapists in the Seattle area and Jasper started seeing one of them once a week. On top of that, Tab had given me the names of two groups – one that her sister attended, for recovering addicts; and one for addicts and their families together – and Jasper had quickly picked up both meetings.
Lightening my school load had turned out to be the right decision. I was able to focus on the two classes I had, as well as my streamlined student teaching schedule, and still spend a great deal of time with Jasper. Altogether, between Jasper and me, we were attending five meetings and sessions a week. I would often accompany him to his and wait outside with a book and coffee until he was done. It was unnecessary, but I liked knowing he was close.
I knew Helen was still harboring regrets that Jasper felt he was a disappointment to his family, and she had started attending meetings on her own, too. She and David had also talked about joining our family meeting on occasion. She was coming to realize, as we all were, that learning from past mistakes was more productive than regretting them.
Jasper had already started to make friends in his groups and I was planning a March Madness get-together with some of them, including Tab and Eli, as well as Angela, Ben, and Emmett.
Jasper was by no means "healed" completely but he had made a good start, and it showed in little things that he did, like leaving his medication out on the dresser and starting seriously to look into new career options.
Life was getting back to normal, but now normal was 100 times better than it had been.
. . . . . . . .
"I'm pretty sure that somewhere in How to Be a Good Girlfriend for Dummies it says that I'm supposed to take you out for your birthday, not the other way around." I waited next to the car as Jasper got out and came around to my side.
"You made me dinner – that's all I wanted." Jasper pocketed the keys after locking the Audi.
"Again, I'm not sure fajitas and stuffed jalapeños qualify as good birthday material."
"They do to me." He bent to kiss the top of my head as we walked, his cowboy boots making more noise against the concrete than my new Chucks.
We had celebrated Jasper and Rose's birthday with dinner on the actual night, two days ago at the Hales'. Helen had made dinner for the twins, and Emmett and David had been there as well. Jasper and I decided we'd celebrate on our own, on Friday night.
I wasn't familiar with this part of Seattle. Little shops and restaurants lined both sides of the street. I could hear music coming from an open door ahead. When we neared the source of the music, which had just been replaced by applause, Jasper slowed. There was a chalkboard sign in front of a little bar that read, ~ Sebastian's ~ Tonight's Specials... I was surprised when we walked in and the bartender immediately waved and addressed Jasper by name. Or almost by name. My stomach tightened reflexively at the covert reference, but my worries faded when Jasper immediately walked me to the bar.
"Jazz, good to see you, man."
Jasper shook hands with him and nodded to a second bartender before turning to me.
"Bella, this is Q. We met in a Music Appreciation class in college."
I shook Q's hand. I wondered what kind of music Jazz and Q had appreciated. Q had intricate and colorful tattoos running up both arms and around his thick neck. His shaved head reflected the dim lights above the bar. He looked like the sort of guy you'd find breaking up fights in a parking lot. Or maybe starting them.
I looked around the bar curiously. Jasper had quit drinking entirely as part of his therapy so I was pretty sure we weren't here for the beer. It was a standard-looking small bar except for the small stage at the far end of the room, on which a single chair sat, illuminated by a couple of stage lights. There was a large keyboard off to the side. The applause we heard must have been for the end of a performance.
I ordered a Diet Coke even though Jasper had said he didn't care at all if I drank around him. He might not care, but I wasn't ready to rub it in his face. Before we turned to the little tables scattered around the floor in front of the stage, Jasper tipped his head, Q raised an eyebrow, and Jasper nodded.
"Hey, Jean Grey, what did you say to Professor X back there?" I asked as we walked toward the stage.
I glared at Jasper. That was the least innocent "huh?" of all time. He was up to something but I had no idea what. We sat at a round two-person table just right of center stage, which I thought was fortuitous since all of the other tables near the front were full. Before I could grill Jasper about what was going on, he stood.
"I'll be right back. Don't move your cute little ass an inch." He kissed me before disappearing through a small door to the left of the stage.
I looked around the bar in confusion. Q winked at me when I caught his eye.
I didn't have to wonder for long; two minutes later, the answer strolled onto the little stage, Sally slung across his chest. Q, freed from the bar and carrying a microphone, joined Jasper.
"Folks, we have a little treat for Open Mic Night. Aside from the lovely Mary Parsons, of course." Q tipped an imaginary hat to a pretty girl sitting a couple of tables over. A guitar resting on her table suggested she was the performer we had just missed. "One of my good buddies from school has something special planned for us. He'll be paying tribute to one of Sebastian's all-time favorite bands. Ladies and gents, Jasper Hale."
My smile was so huge, I felt in danger of straining something in my face. I called a loud "woo" and Jasper grinned in response.
Q adjusted a short mic stand in front of Sally and I finally noticed that Jasper was wearing a wireless mic. Sneaky bastard. How long had he been planning this?
"I'll spare everyone a long speech, but I just want to dedicate this to my girl, Bella. I'm six months late, but happy birthday, babe."
I had to blink rapidly to stop the tears that collected instantly in the corners of my eyes. I wanted to run up on the stage and see if anyone would haul me off for my first assault and battery misdemeanor.
Over the course of the next hour, Jasper played every one of my favorite Aerosmith songs and then some; "Dream On," "Sweet Emotion," "Livin' on the Edge," and "The Other Side," were all included. Q accompanied him with keyboard and vocals a few times – including for a particularly rowdy version of "Love in an Elevator" that had the whole crowd singing along, and a hilarious Run-DMC-style cover of "Walk this Way" – but mostly he performed solo.
I nearly lost it when he deviated from Aerosmith and finished his set with Queen's upbeat, but admittedly sappy, "I Was Born to Love You."
What Edward had said at the hospital was true: Jasper would always struggle. Now I believed that I could help provide the support he needed to stay strong. He couldn't rely on me – as much as both of us would probably accept that – he had to be able to stand on his own. But where he stood, I would stand with him.
He smiled as the crowd applauded and called "encore," and I watched while he spoke with Q to decide on another song. When they were ready, he looked over at me and winked, and that part of me that he had reached and broken open months ago – where I stored my worries and doubts and questioned whether or not I could ever be enough for someone like Jasper – flooded with warmth and happiness, my fears flushed out and sent packing.
Because Jasper's problems and my insecurities didn't matter anymore.
It was about us loving one another unconditionally, which we did.
That was all we needed.
The epilogue will be up Sunday morning, same bat-time, same bat-channel.
I'll hazard a guess that many of you will be surprised that I am choosing to end it here. The road ahead of Bella and Jasper is not perfectly smooth, but they're in a good place right now and I'm comfortable leaving them to each other.
I will post an image of Jasper's tattoo in my Twilighted thread, as well as a playlist of his set at Sebastian's.
What the hell am I going to do with my time now besides cry? Well, LaViePastiche and I are going to co-host a contest. We're calling it "For the Love of Jasper" and it will feature Jasper-centric one-shots. Jasper writers, charge your thinking caps! More details will be coming soon; we'll both post new stories containing rules, etc, when we have everything set up.
Thank you all for your endless support. It is overwhelming and makes me really happy. I can't believe we're all but done.
Last thing - Indies voting ends tonight (Wednesday the 29th). There are some fantastic fics up. Go vote!