None of this would have been possible without Legna.
Insanely long A/N at the end.
Happy birthday, Jaime!
Thanks to Stephenie Meyer for allowing all of us to play with her characters as we do.
In Which We've Come a Long Way
Christmas Day, 10 Years Later
"Mommy! Uncle Emmett, stop it!"
I looked up just in time to see Katie barrel around the corner, her tangled bronze hair bouncing on her shoulders. Close on her heels was a grinning Emmett. He reached down to tug one of her curls and she shrieked again as she plowed past me, her little legs moving as fast as they could.
"Emmett! Knock it off!" Alice's voice rang from the dining room, where she was helping Esme set the table for our early dinner.
"Where's Lily?" Esme asked as she came into the kitchen for another armful of china.
"Napping. Finally. I put her in with Emma. And if Emmett wakes her..."
"What was that?" Emmett strolled back into the room, a tiny pair of legs kicking wildly on his shoulder. Katie was alternately giggling and shrieking as she tried to wriggle free from the fireman's carry in which he'd captured her.
"Put her down!" Alice was eyeing Emmett from the doorway to the dining room.
"Oh, Alice, she's fine."
He grumbled but swung the squirming Katie off his shoulder and to the ground. She hit the tile like a cat and hurtled immediately toward Alice, who scooped her up easily.
"Baby okay? Was Uncle Emmett a big meanie?" Alice asked with a kiss to Katie's forehead.
Katie nodded vigorously and she and Alice turned to give Emmett twin gray-eyed glares.
He held up his hands and started backing away. He caught my eye and winked. "Yours is next, little sis."
"Don't even think about it, Emmett Cullen!" I called after him.
"When's Charlie going to be here?" Alice asked.
I pulled out my cell phone to check the time and make sure Charlie hadn't called. "Another half-hour or so, I'd guess. He hasn't called to say there's been traffic."
"I don't know why he does this every year. He knows he's more than welcome to stay here with us instead of driving all of that way Christmas morning. We have all of these empty rooms now." Esme joined us in the kitchen. "I think I miscounted. I have two extra glasses."
I quickly counted everyone in my head. "Twelve adults, five kids, I think? Thirteen, if Emily can make it. And it all depends on how you count Emmett."
"I heard that!" he yelled from the family room.
There was a sudden commotion in the foyer as the front door banged open and I heard a dozen feet trample into the front hall. I groaned, knowing it was only a matter of time before Lily was awake. She was never going to get over her lingering cold if she didn't get any sleep, and her tendency to stay up all night wasn't helping anyone.
"Where's my dad?" Carter sauntered into the kitchen, a small Christmas tree over his shoulder.
"Football." I pointed to the family room with my brownie-batter covered spoon and he walked off, presumably to show off the small tree that I was sure one of his uncles had let him cut down himself.
"I'll never understand the Christmas tree thing," I said, shaking my head.
"Bella!" Alice said sharply. "You're as bad as Charlie. Tradition!"
"But you already have the tree in the family room..."
"Oh no, not the great Christmas Tree Argument again," Edward said, laughing, as he came into the kitchen and shook snow from his hair onto his sister and niece.
"Uncle Edward!" Katie wailed as she tried to brush off her hair.
The large kitchen was suddenly crowded and alive as the entire Christmas tree excursion party crowded in, damp and cold. Esme took stock of their appearances and immediately started making cocoa.
I felt small arms wrap around my legs and looked down to find a blonde head buried in my knees. I crouched down next to my red-bundled beauty and started to unwind her scarf from her neck.
"You have fun with Daddy and the boys?"
Chuck's wide brown eyes stared back at me. "It was cold, Mommy. And Aunt Rosie is not a boy."
"No, Aunt Rosie is not a boy," I laughed. I pulled off her mittens and jacket and felt her pants to make sure they were still dry. "You want some cocoa?"
She shook her head and scampered off in the direction of her sleeping sister. I straightened up and found myself eye to chest with another blond beauty, this one considerably taller and definitely a boy.
"Babe." Jasper smiled as he bent to kiss me. "You ready to go home yet?"
"There would be some sort of massive mutiny is we left here before Lily gets her sweet potatoes and you know that." I returned his kiss and picked up his freezing hands to rub them. "Not to mention that Nana Helen would pitch a fit if we dragged her darling granddaughters away before she arrives."
"Who said anything about taking the girls?" he murmured. "We'll go home, finish last night's fajitas." His lips brushed my ear and a familiar tingle ran through my body. "And then-"
"Oh for fu- bunny's sake, you two," Emmett said as he reentered the kitchen with Carter. "Can't take you anywhere."
"'Bunny's,' Em?" Edward asked, smirking.
Emmett cast a glance at Carter who was proudly showing Esme his tree. "Yeah, these little fu- bunnies are like sponges, did you know that? I said f-u-c-k the other day and Rosie flipped her sh- bunnies! Goddammit!"
"I'm seven, Emmett," Carter said, breaking from Esme to look up at his dad. "I can spell."
"Carter Cullen, we talked about this. Please call your father 'Dad' or 'Daddy' or something other than his first name." I hadn't noticed Rose join the bustle in the kitchen. She was windswept and carrying Emma, which probably meant that Lily was awake, too.
"All right..." Carter drawled out, "Rosie." He flew from the room, the little tree banging against the doorway as he exited, Emmett's loud and encouraging laugh following in his wake.
"Thank god we had girls," Jasper muttered. "How's Lily feeling?"
The sudden slamming of the front door, followed by synchronized squealing, precluded my answer.
A chorus of "Charlie!" sounded around the kitchen. I put down my spoon but before I could move toward the front hall, Charlie walked into the kitchen with a still-squealing Hale twin tucked under each arm and bags of presents in each hand. In his fifties, Charlie was still Chief of Police in Forks and had kept himself in shape. He loved to toss the twins around and they enjoyed every second of it.
"You guys missing anything? I found these two headed for Canada."
"Hey, Dad!" I quickly relieved him of the bags so he could appropriately torment the girls. He hoisted one onto each shoulder before awkwardly kissing my cheek and shaking Jasper's hand.
I could hear Esme directing Carlisle and Dan to start handing out the cocoa and grabbed onto Jasper's arm to keep myself from falling when someone bumped me from behind. I laughed as I snuggled into his chest and he wrapped his arms around me. It wouldn't be Christmas with the Hales and Cullens if there weren't fifteen people crammed into a kitchen.
. . . . . . . .
Helen and David arrived shortly after Charlie and thirty minutes later, Esme had all seventeen of us seated in the dining room. As Carlisle was carving the turkey, Jasper nudged my elbow and pointed to the little table Esme had set up for the kids.
Carter had grumbled about having to sit with "the babies," but as we watched, he carefully put a napkin in Emma's lap, cut up Katie's turkey, and helped Chuck butter a roll. All four little girls were watching him raptly. I would even go so far as to describe the expression on Lily's face as worshipful. I had a feeling Carter was destined forever to be a big brother to all of those little girls, even though Emma was the only one who could officially claim him as such.
I was just passing the stuffing to my left when I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. Aside from Renée, who was in Japan with Phil for a baseball announcer gig, and Angela, with whom I had spoken this morning, all of the people who would normally call me on a holiday were in the room. I apprehensively pulled my phone from my pocket.
The display read "Madi."
I showed it to Jasper as I pushed back my chair. He frowned and pulled out his own phone, glancing at the display.
I hurried through the kitchen, answering when I reached the front hall.
I was immediately on alert. Madi's voice sounded choked. I pulled the front door closed behind me as I stepped onto the porch.
"Sorry to bother you on Christmas."
"No, it's no bother, you know that. What's going on?"
Her sobs were quiet but I could hear them clearly through the phone.
"I'm here. Ash locked himself in the bathroom and won't come out. And I can't get in. And I'm worried-" She broke off as her sobs made it difficult to speak.
I waited a minute for her to catch her breath. I knew from experience that she'd calm down if she just had a minute to get it out. When I could hear that she was trying to regulate her breathing, I continued.
"Madi, do you know if he has anything in there with him?"
"I... I don't know. I didn't think so. But I don't know why he won't let me in."
"Honey, do you want me to come over? Jasper and I will come over."
"No, no, Bella. It's Christmas. I... it's okay. We'll be fine. I just wanted to talk to you for a minute."
"That's what I'm here for. Do you know if Ash has his phone with him? Will he answer if Jasper calls him?"
"I don't know. I think so. I don't see it around here anywhere."
"Okay, can you hang on for a minute? Don't go anywhere, okay?"
I opened the front door and was on my way back to the dining room when Jasper walked into the hall from the kitchen. He was looking down at his cell phone.
"Hey, did Ash call you?"
Jasper looked up. "No. Is he going to?"
I led Jasper back out to the porch and filled him in on my conversation with Madi.
"Madi? You still there?"
"I'm here." I was happy to note she sounded much less watery now.
"Jasper's calling Ash now. Can you hear his phone ringing?"
"Yeah, I think so."
Ash must have answered because Jasper turned from me and walked to the far end of the porch. I could hear his deep voice but couldn't understand what he was saying.
"Oh, he answered, Bella. I can hear him talking." The relief in her voice was clear.
"Good, I'm glad. Hon, after Ash gets off the phone with Jasper, would you want to come over and join us for Christmas dinner? You and Ash?"
"Oh, we couldn't do that. It's your family Christmas. We can't-"
"Yes, you can. We would love to have you here."
"Well, if you're sure..."
"Okay," she took a deep breath. "I'll talk to Ash- Oh, he's coming out, Bella. Thank you!"
Jasper walked back to me, his phone closed, while I was waiting for Madi to talk to Ash about joining us. When she came back on the line and hesitantly said they would come over if we were positive it would be okay, I gave her the address and told her we'd be waiting.
I stopped on the porch, torn between going back inside and staying outside. It was still snowing lightly but wasn't really that cold.
"Just a sec." Jasper disappeared inside the house and returned a moment later with a large blanket. "I told Esme what's going on. She lit up when I said there would be two more people to help eat all of that food. She's worried Emmett's going to make himself sick." He brushed off the porch swing and wrapped us in the blanket. I settled into his side to wait.
. . . . . . . .
Life hadn't always been easy over the past ten years, but it had been good to us, nonetheless.
Rose and Emmett had finally made the Hales and Cullens a single entity when they were married the summer Emmett was finishing his doctorate (making for the second of three Doctors Cullen in the family). It had been a huge affair with 350 guests and a six-course dinner. My relationship with Rose had slowly but steadily improved over the previous year and I willingly stood for measurements for a floor-length, red bridesmaid gown. Jasper and I hid on a balcony while the garter and bouquet tosses were happening, knowing we'd get shit for not being around for the sacred rituals that would undoubtedly only increase the ribbing we'd already started taking. Everyone was getting impatient but us. But I didn't hesitate for a second when Jasper rolled over in bed one Tuesday morning, a year and a half later, holding a simple diamond solitaire.
I was glad Rose had gone all out with their wedding because it meant that Jasper and I were able to keep our own shindig much more to our liking. We had an understated, friends-and-family affair with Angela as my only attendant and Emmett as Jasper's.
But before we did that, Alice surprised everyone at the annual Hale Labor Day party – the scene of much drama four years prior – by announcing that she and Dan, a guy she'd been dating for about a year, had eloped two days earlier in Vegas. Very matter-of-factly, she stated that when it's right, it's right, and she didn't need a lot of hoopla to prove it to the world. I was positive I heard Carlisle release what sounded suspiciously like a sigh of relief as the rest of us gaped in disbelief.
I hadn't had nearly the same luck growing closer to Alice as I had to Rose. Alice and I hadn't resorted to physical assault again – except for one rather entertaining incident at a Halloween party that we both swore, up and down, had been nothing but a misunderstanding over costumes – but we'd had more than our fair share of intense disagreements. We'd never returned to the innocent comfort or friendship we'd enjoyed during the time I had dated Edward; now, we were more like sisters – the kind of sisters who don't always get along but love one another anyway.
As for Jasper... his health hadn't been perfect since he'd completed rehab almost ten years ago, but we both knew were lucky that it had been relatively steady. He had changed medication or dosages a few times and we'd only had two near-misses of import.
The first – and worst – came after Helen was diagnosed with breast cancer. The disease had been fast and insidious and we had come very close to losing her. On the eve of her double mastectomy, I found Jasper huddled in a corner of our bedroom in my old house, the closest to relapse that I had ever seen firsthand. He practically threw his backpack at me when I entered the room. I disposed of the whole thing after going through it and sat next to him on the floor while he called his sponsor.
Later, he had laughed humorlessly and said that at least he'd had his head together enough to stay in the bedroom. He knew that all of those years later – and still to this day – I tensed any time I walked into a bathroom.
The second time had been when I was pregnant with the twins. My morning sickness had been bad and lasted well past my first trimester. I blamed my general selfishness and preoccupation with my own health for not seeing the warning signs. Emmett, ever our big brother, came over one Saturday morning after having met Jasper for lunch the previous day, sat us both down in the living room, and called Jasper out on it. I was upset – at myself for not having recognized Jasper's general listlessness and distance for what they were – and at Jasper for not having said something on his own. He told us he had been so worried about the babies and me and about how he would perform as a father, in addition to worrying about the twins' predisposition to depression, that he had been feeling overwhelmed. Emmett had stepped in early enough that a few weeks of Jasper doubling his sessions with this therapist and learning a new meditation technique did the trick.
Things had been good since then, although we were both on constant alert, watching like hawks for changes in his mood. With Charlotte and Lillian (quickly nicknamed Chuck and Lily by Uncle Emmett) in our lives and all three of us to care for, he refused to let himself falter and he was vigilant in seeing a therapist and attending meetings regularly.
I knew the work he was doing had a lot to do with keeping him level over the years. Not too long after getting out of rehab, Jasper decided to pursue a career in clinical social work. He entered a program at UW in the fall of that year and three years later, after attending mostly night courses, had his Master of Social Work.
For the past two years, he had been the director of a center in Seattle that dealt primarily with at-risk youths and young adults. He loved it, even the countless tough moments, and knew that he was finally doing something worthwhile.
Since the girls' birth, I had been teaching only mornings, bouncing around elementary schools in our district. In the afternoons, I spent time with Chuck and Lily. Sometimes, Rose, Alice, and I would get all of the girls together while Carter was in school so that two of us could have time for errands or other things. The girls loved their cousins and aunts and it was a real help to have so many built-in babysitters nearby. I swore that one of these days, Helen and Esme were going to throw down over who got to watch all of the grandkids.
Two nights a week and one weekend a month, at Jasper's center, I ran meetings for family members of addicts. That was where I had met Madi a year ago. They were very young – Madi 21, Ash 22 – and already married. Someone had recommended the center to Madi and she had reluctantly come to a meeting. She had cowered in the back, much as I had at the first UW support group meeting I had attended a decade ago, until I drew her forward with the rest of the group. She was finally able to convince her husband to attend one of Jasper's meetings, and we had been their sponsors since.
Jasper saw more than a little bit of himself in Ash and hoped that if Ash had someone in his life whom he could always trust and call, that he and Madi would be much less likely to go through something like Jasper and I had in 2009. I believed that my involvement with families – educating them on warning signs and urging them to communicate even when it would be painful – meant that at least one less family risked losing their child, brother, or husband, as we had almost lost Jasper.
. . . . . . . .
Ten minutes after sitting down on the porch, a little red sports car skidded into the driveway. Definitely not Madi and Ash. The driver tumbled out, arms laden with boxes and bags, and I rose with Jasper when he got up to help her.
"One of my surgeries was unexpectedly canceled and I have a few free hours," she said breathlessly as she jogged onto the porch. "Am I too late? Did I miss dinner?"
"No, we're just waiting for some friends." I gave her a hug as Jasper brought her things inside. "Everyone's still eating."
Emily was one of the leading cardiothoracic surgeons in the country, had a mass of red hair to complement a devious sense of humor, and kicked Edward's ass every time they played chess. That was why, eighteen months after they'd started dating, we were all starting to believe that Emily might be our fourth Doctor Cullen.
We didn't have time to resettle ourselves on the porch swing before Madi and Ash pulled up. We met them on the walkway and I pulled Madi into a tight hug while Jasper and Ash walked several yards away to speak privately.
"Some Christmas," Madi said, sighing as she watched the men speak.
"Yes, it is." Madi looked at me in surprise, maybe at my tone, and I continued. "Hey, you're both here, safe, with people who care about you." I squeezed her shoulders with the arm still around her. "That sounds like a pretty good Christmas to me."
Madi smiled at me and I could see her eyes getting a little wet again. We waited in comfortable silence, tiny snowflakes dusting our shoulders, until Jasper and Ash joined us a few minutes later and we all made our way inside.
Madi and Ash were obviously uncomfortable about intruding on our family dinner and I could see Madi start to get emotional again when we reached the table and two additional chairs had already been fit in between the others. When you threw in a chair for Emily, it was a tight squeeze, but nothing we wouldn't all happily manage.
"I guess I had those extra glasses out for a reason," Esme said as she handed a water pitcher to Ash, who earned a beautiful smile from Madi when he poured some for her before himself.
I squeezed Jasper's fingers when they settled on my knee a moment later.
It had taken us awhile to get here, to a place where we could all eat a holiday meal together, peacefully; Jasper's frightening OD and half of us going into therapy had set us on the right path. There was no doubt that it was a loud, nosy, difficult family, but it was also loving and accepting, and we knew we were lucky to have them all.
A startled cry caught my attention a few minutes later. I looked at the kids' table to see Lily's bottom lip pushed out in her signature pout and Chuck with a handful of sweet potatoes. Carter was bent over, shaking with what I assumed was laughter.
I started to rise but was stopped by a kiss on my temple and an amused, "I've got it."
Jasper picked potato out of Lily's hair and dried her tears before quietly speaking with Chuck. When we got home, we'd have to talk to the girls for a minute about when to listen to their cousin's suggestions. Then we could tuck them into bed, heat leftover fajitas, and celebrate another Christmas of being happy, healthy, and together.
I couldn't wait.
~ The End ~
Update: 11/22/2009 - Additional FitV Universe things:
"Embers: Spicy Sides from Fire in the Vein" now contains Jasper's Tuesday-morning marriage proposal, which JAustenlover commissioned for September's Support Stacie Auction. It is chapter 4: In Which Jasper Seizes the Moment.
"An All-Consuming Fire" is a piece I wrote as an example entry for the For the Love of Jasper contest. It takes place the summer before Jasper's junior year in high school. It is from Maria's point of view and shows how they got together.
My "Twilight 25" entries contain a handful of FitV Universe pieces - Soft (chapter 4 - Bella POV), Platonic (chapter 11 - Alice POV), Raindrops (chapter 12 - Jasper POV), and Crusade (chapter 13 - Emmett POV). Also, Soft (chapter 2 - Maria POV) is FitV-AU (aka FitV-Nightmare).
Epic A/N or: In Which the Author Shows Her True Wicked Wordy Colors
Bear with me.
First, yeah, it's a lot of twins, but identicals are the luck of the draw and Bella and Jasper just got lucky… or unlucky. That Chuck is a handful. :)
Depression and addiction (whether to drugs, alcohol, or something else) are very real, very scary diseases. I don't pretend to be an expert about either, but I hope I was able to tell this story, about these difficult subjects, with the respect they deserve. Thank you to everyone who shared with me a personal story about how depression or addiction has touched your life. I'm honored that you would read this fic.
I didn't do this completely without help; I had a "technical expert" who verified along the way that I was realistically portraying Jasper's struggles. Thanks, bud.
I will not be writing a sequel to FitV, although I love everyone who has asked for one. However, there is the possibility that I might do one or two outtakes either as one-shots or additions to Embers.
There are a lot of people to thank (like all of the people who mentioned/rec'ed FitV on a podcast, blog, LJ, web site, chapter A/N, tweet, email, forum… there are so many of you, I'm overwhelmed by it) but for the sake of everyone's time, I'm only going to mention americnxidiot. She isn't the only one who's written a story about a serious topic, but Cascade and Cyanide is the one with which I am most familiar. She showed me that a story could be serious and well-received. I knew I was facing many hurdles with FitV (Jasper + Bella is bad enough, but Jasper as a depressed drug addict? And almost no sex?), but C&C gave me hope that Jasper and Bella's story, if told with the right approach, could do okay. americnxidiot has been a huge inspiration for me practically since I found twific. Thank you, Rachel, for everything.
Oh, okay, more thanks. Thanks to everyone who's read. I've loved hearing from all of you, whether you've left one review or twenty. For those folks who have reviewed every single chapter? My love knows no bounds. And you E/B gals? Congrats on making it to the end :)
If you still have a question about the story, please let me know via review, PM, or stop by my Twilighted thread (link in profile). The thread has been a lot of fun. I'll be posting a playlist for the whole story there (as well as in my profile).
And my very biggest thanks goes to Legna989 for dealing with me daily these past four months. I know I was a terror. She's done a fantastic job of keeping me level and her input into the story has been invaluable since before Day 1. You'd be reading some other story by some other author right now if it were not for her.
Need something new to read? AccioBourbon just started posting her new story, "Inconceivable." It's an AH Rosalie/Emmett that spins from canon Rosalie in a very smart way.
Lastly, LaViePastiche and I are working out the details about our Jasper one-shot contest. We'll post all of the information as soon as we have it. Subscribe to LVP, the "For the Love of Jasper" FFn profile (in my Favorites), or me, if you're interested.
Thanks, everyone. See you on the flip.