Jasper stood resolute in the center of the room, hands clasped behind him, appearing perfectly calm as I entered and shut the door behind me. It was a far cry from the Jasper of almost a year ago, sitting on the bed with his shoulders hunched, radiating fear and self-hatred. This Jasper was, perhaps, a bit wary, but looked me straight in the eye as he waited for me to make the first move.
I began to pace, wanting to weigh my words carefully before speaking. Despite the new confidence I had in my son, I was still somewhat nervous about offending him and making him leave again. But Jasper only waited patiently while I paced, his eyes lowered now — not out of fear or shame, but as if he did not wish to make me uncomfortable as I pondered. I struggled to find exactly the right words for this unusual situation.
"I was too hasty, I believe, in forcing an ultimatum upon you," I finally admitted, as an overture. "I forget, sometimes, the chasm that exists between our situations. Never having tasted human blood, I realize now that I do not have the right to judge you for your frustration."
"No," he contradicted me, shaking his head. "No, it . . . I did a lot of thinking, and I realized that I'd been wrong to give up. I haven't . . . I haven't any right to give up. I guess I thought that because I didn't choose to become a vampire, it meant I was free to do what I wanted. I wanted to be like you ever since Alice brought us here, so much. I tried, but it just seemed such a lot of effort for nothing.
"But," Jasper continued, "the whole time I was gone, besides feeling as if half my . . . uh, my soul . . . had been ripped out, I was thinking about how long you've been around, and, well, I know you've never tasted human blood, but it still took a long time before you could work in the hospital. So I figured that I could, too. Not work there, that is," he added hastily, "but learn to deal with the temptation the way you have. And even if I can't, I will try my hardest right up until the end."
"I am glad to hear it, Jasper." And I was. Jasper could never have guessed just how proud he made me with that simple statement. "You are ready, then, to accept your punishment and begin again?"
His face, if it were possible, seemed to grow even paler, but he nodded resolutely. "Yes, sir. Whatever you feel I deserve."
"Do you understand, now, what the spanking is for?" If he had not learned as much by now, I feared there was little I could do to help him.
Jasper lowered himself onto the bed and looked past me, struggling with memories too painful in one so young. "I . . . I killed a human, because I was too proud to ask for help," he whispered. "I wanted to prove that I was getting better, but it was too early, and when I smelled her . . . I put us all at risk because I wasn't careful."
"I am glad that you finally understand the distinction, son."
His eyes were tortured. "I killed other humans while I was gone, Carlisle."
"I expected you would, Jasper. I am disappointed, and yet I see that you have come back to our way," I told him, referring to his eyes that now matched ours, his adoptive family, whose love had called to him even over his instinctive thirst for human blood.
"And I hurt Alice," Jasper hissed, his face working touchingly as he fought with his emotions. "I tried to be the better person in leaving her here with her family, but now that I see what it did to her . . . I wish . . . my God, how could I have said those horrible things to my sweet little . . . I would die for her, if it were possible . . ." Jasper's hands ran distractedly through his thick blond hair, yanking as if to tear it out by the roots.
"Yet her love brought you back to us," I replied. "That was her hope when she agreed not to seek you out."
"No . . . well, yes, I decided to come back because I couldn't be without her," Jasper corrected himself. "But . . . I could have just taken her away with me. I'm certainly selfish enough, and I know she would have come if I'd asked her. I — I wanted to see you," he admitted. "I wanted to say I was sorry and show you I can do better, and . . . and ask for another chance."
"And you shall have it, my son."
He took a deep, unnecessary breath, whether out of relief or nervousness, I could not tell, then stood slowly, his hands hanging awkwardly at his sides. "Um . . . so, now?"
"Yes, right now." As soon as possible, that we may finally move on. "Take down your trousers, Jasper, and lie across the bed."
As his hands fumbled with his belt, I noted just how shabby his clothes had become. Alice would probably burn them; my little girl was quite the stickler for fashion, and I imagine it was only her blind joy at reuniting with her lover that saved him from being undressed right on the front porch. Jasper obeyed me quickly, dropping the tan pants to his ankles before bending over the curved edge of the footboard.
I moved until I was standing at his side, my insides quaking at the thought of what I was about to do. I loathe this part of being a father. But Jasper needed to know that he was forgiven, and how could he feel that way without being punished first? I noticed that his forehead was pressed against the backs of his hands, which were gripping handfuls of bedspread tightly enough to make the corners come undone. I placed my hand gently at the small of his back, hoping the gesture would reassure him and give him some feeling of safety. It hurt me deeply when he cringed away from the light touch.
"Jasper, I am not angry with you. Your punishment will hurt, but then it will be over and we will start again. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," came his barely discernible whisper.
I gave his back a gentle rub before raising my right hand to begin his spanking. As I do every time, I made the first smack a forceful one so as to catch Jasper's attention right away. While he started from the impact, he made no sound. Without pausing for a second, I began spanking him in earnest, alternating sides and attempting to always match the strength of the first.
I was baffled when, twenty smacks later, Jasper still had not made any noise. Even Emmett, big as he is, had never managed to take more than a dozen without some audible betrayal of discomfort. I was glad, in a way — if there is one thing I cannot abide, it is hearing my children in distress — but I knew better than to think that Jasper's silence meant he was not in pain.
"Jasper." He did not answer, and I worried, all of a sudden, that he could not. "Son, you have to let go. I cannot . . ." I closed my eyes tightly and swallowed hard. "I cannot stop your punishment until you cry."
"I understand." The words were whispered through clenched teeth.
His brothers had told him as much, then. Well, I could hardly expect Jasper, between his history and close nature when it came to feelings, to react the same way as Edward or Emmett. My other sons were hardly cowards, but . . . they did tend to act somewhat childishly whenever I had to punish them.
After still twenty more without any response from Jasper, though, I stopped again — this was getting ridiculous. "Jasper, enough. This is not helping anyone. Why must you be so obstinate?"
The response, when it came, was hardly what I expected. "Ah was second-in-command to the most sadistic warmonger among the Southern covens," he hissed. "Ah've had my limbs torn off for punishment before. You'll have to do better than that if you're lookin' to make me cry."
A wave of fury washed over me so suddenly that I reacted on instinct, smacking Jasper again, much harder than before. Instead of abating, my rage seemed to grow worse, and my son's silence only fueled my ire as I repeatedly struck at him. The tiny part of my mind that still held on to reason knew that this had moved beyond mere punishment, and that the force I was using was abusive. I was used to fighting successfully over my thirst at the hospital, but this was something new. I had no memory of anger like this, anger that bubbled up inside like white-hot magma, and therefore I was helpless against it even as I watched my son writhe in pain.
It was not very long — though to that spark of conscience that still kindled deep inside, far too long — before Jasper's composure finally cracked, and he let out a high-pitched whine of distress. That piteous mewl was enough to break the spell even as I saw, for the first time, how the bedspread had torn in several places under his chest. Suddenly, the fury drained out of me just as quickly as it had set in, and in its wake I was left feeling absolutely horrified. What had I just done? I ceased my actions immediately, but as if Jasper felt the whine had been a sign of surrender, he started to cry for the first time since I had known him, great, shuddering sobs that wrenched my heart worse than Jasper was wrenching the bedspread.
"My God," I whispered, putting my hand to my mouth as the full import of the last moments became clear. After vowing always to make violence a last resort, and reassuring both Jasper and Alice that he would be safe, had I just beaten my son? Whatever could have possessed me to want to harm this boy whom I loved so very, very much?
"Jasper," I said pleadingly, "I am so very sorry . . . I cannot even tell you . . ." Jasper only continued to cry into the torn spread. "'Tis over, son," I murmured, gently running my hand back and forth over his shoulders. "Come, now. Stand up."
I was apprehensive as Jasper got to his feet and fumbled with his trousers. I could see his hands shaking as he tried to fasten the buttons. After his clothes were adjusted, Jasper slid his hands into his pockets and stood with his shoulders hunched, still crying softly. I reached out tentatively and took hold of his upper arm, pulling him down next to me as I sat on the bed. I winced along with him when his backside touched the mattress.
"Jasper, that rage I felt just now . . . that was your doing?" He nodded. "Why?" I cried, frustrated and bewildered. "Why would you deliberately bring more pain on yourself? Did you have to be so stubborn?" I placed my hands on his stiff shoulders and began to knead the tight muscles, trying to massage the tension out of them as I waited on his explanation.
Jasper's breath hitched as he tried to answer me. "I ain't a coward," he muttered.
I was shocked. "I never thought that of you, Jasper!" I replied forcefully. "There is nothing cowardly about crying during a spanking. Your brothers always do, and I never think less of them for it. And what manner of utterly idiotic stunt was that, making me angry so I would punish you harder?!" I practically shouted.
I hardly ever raise my voice, yet Jasper seemed unfazed. And how could he feel differently, after the way I had treated him? "It made the other hurt go away, or at least it did while it was happening," Jasper reflected, rubbing at his forehead with the heel of his hand. "I've felt so guilty for so long . . . but for the first time, I felt like I was paying it back, somehow."
I sighed, feeling drained. "That is the reasoning behind a spanking — to expunge your guilt," I told Jasper. "I knew that you had already suffered so much shame that no punishment I could mete out would make a stronger impression. Sometimes, with your brothers, the spanking is necessary because they will not admit their mistake. With you, the point was to help heal the remorse. But . . . I was far too harsh," I admitted, feeling sick at the memory, "and much harder on you than ever I should have been. Nothing you did deserved that kind of punishment. I should have realized what was happening and stopped regardless."
"Ah wouldn't'a let you stop. Wasn't no more than Ah deserved," Jasper muttered, "what with huntin' by myself, 'n' leavin' 'cause Ah was too lazy to try again, 'n' makin' Alice feel like she'd been abandoned . . ." He squirmed a bit, but whether from embarrassment, or discomfort from sitting on a sore bottom, I could not tell. "Ah sure don't think it was unfair."
I wrapped my arms around Jasper and pulled him close — he stiffened slightly at first, but gradually relaxed, and even hugged me back, burying his face in my shoulder as his body shook with the sobs he was trying too hard to hold in. "Shhh . . . let it go, Jasper," I whispered softly, gently rubbing his back and feeling content to hold him like this for hours — days, even, if that were what he needed. Jasper melted deeper into my arms, and I held on tight, as though he would disappear again were I not anchoring him somehow.
As I watched my son clinging to me so, I felt horribly guilty for not holding him more often when he was living here before. He did not make it easy, of course — the former soldier hardly felt comfortable with physical expressions of love, though I had caught him staring wistfully as Emmett and Edward and I wrestled, or when Esme and I gave the children their squeezes and strokes and other little signs of parental affection. Yet he would shy away when we tried the same with him.
It should not have mattered. My children shied away from being punished, as well, and it always hurt me terribly to chastise them. Yet I forced myself to do so, praying that I was helping them to become better people, and hoping against hope that the love I demonstrated infinitely more often would be enough to earn their love in return. Jasper's reticence should not have alienated me; on the contrary, from now on I would concentrate on breaking down the barriers he had erected against an often cruel world that had nearly crushed him.
Too soon — for my liking, anyway — my son brought his sobbing under control and broke away from me, seating himself at a comfortable distance on the bed with his head bowed. I would have liked to go on holding him, offering comfort to alleviate the pain of the punishment I had been compelled to mete out, but I would hardly force myself upon him if he wished to be alone.
"I will be in my study, Jasper, and there you are welcome if at any time you need me," I told him, reaching out and smoothing back some of his disheveled hair. He nodded mutely, still staring at his hands, and I reluctantly got up and walked towards the door.
"Yes, Jasper?" I replied, pausing with my hand on the doorknob.
He was fidgeting again, and I wondered if there was something else on his conscience. "Well, Ah wondered . . ." Still with the accent. What was he so nervous about yet? "Just . . . oh, nevah mind, it's nuthin'."
"Seems like 'nothing' gets you fairly worked up, as a rule," I replied, trying to sound lighthearted in the hopes Jasper would share his thoughts with me.
"Well, Ah was thinkin' that maybe . . . if Ah try real hahd and don't mess up for a while . . . if someday . . . just 'cause Emmett 'n' Edward already do, Ah-just-thought-maybe-Ah-could-call-you-Dad-too?" he finished in a rush.
I fiddled with the door handle, mostly so he would not see my hand shaking. "I hardly think that would be fair, Jasper," I told him, choosing my words carefully.
"No. No, Ah know. Ah'm sorry," Jasper answered quickly, his gaze dropping to the hands that were now clenched in his lap. I think if he could have blushed, his face would have been scarlet with embarrassment.
"You see," I continued, "Edward and Emmett do not call me 'Dad' when things are going well, only to refrain when they are not. It is not a privilege earned by good behavior, nor, for my part, a benefit to be proffered or rescinded as the mood strikes. My children are not my children conditionally. If you wish to call me 'Dad,' begin now, and do not vacillate back and forth."
His brow furrowed. "Oh."
"And, Jasper?" Once again, he had trouble meeting my eyes. I softened my tone. "I would like to hear you call me 'Dad.' So much. So very, very much."
"'Kay. Ah . . . Ah reckon Ah will, then."
I smiled at his awkwardness. "I love you, son."
"Ah . . . I love you, uh, too," he whispered, shamefaced.
"Dad," I prompted, after a moment.
Jasper's face lit up like a sunbeam as he repeated, at my urging, "Dad." Had my son ever smiled like that for me? No, not to my knowledge, and I hardly think I would have forgotten such a sight. Perhaps Alice had seen it, but I never had. I vowed then to do what I must to bring that gentleness out in this boy until it tamed the animal instincts that threatened him so terribly at times.
"Good night, Jasper," I said quietly, closing the door behind me and heading downstairs to the living room. Alice was waiting there, sitting perfectly still on the bench where the girls all drop their handbags when they come home. I smiled at my beautiful daughter to let her know that everything was all right. Her face, so long stretched taut with the pain of separation, was now smooth and serene again, though there was something in her eyes — some remnant of the suffering of so many months — that would never truly fade, no matter how many years might pass.
Alice stood, and on her way past me to go upstairs and join her mate, she paused to bury her face in my chest and whisper, "Thank you for bringing him back to us."
I caught up my little girl and crushed her in my arms, but felt the need to correct her misconception. "He came back on his own, Alice, you know that," I murmured.
Her little head shook back and forth vigorously against my shirt. "It was you," she said. "He came back because of you, because he wanted another chance to become part of the family you've built. If it were anyone else, Jasper would never have come home, nor even wanted to." She disengaged from my embrace, giving me that brilliant smile that brightens up the darkest days and makes me think the world is a wonderful place to be, after all. "I love you, Daddy."
As she scampered upstairs to join her husband, the other half of her being, I joined my own beloved in the kitchen. At the sound of my approach, Esme dropped the pencil that she had been sketching with and reached out for me. Gratefully, I slid onto the bench beside her and melted against my wife, burying my face in her neck and listening to her as she purred softly. Esme knows how I dread having to act as disciplinarian, and just what it takes out of me sometimes to be always the one in charge, the one responsible for keeping us together and safe. Sometimes — though, like most men, I am loath to admit it — I need someone to make me feel safe, also. My wife, though she may appear frail to the casual observer, is that someone.
It was the first time I had needed to punish the quietest of my children, but it would not be the last — because it is said that the best of intentions end up so many paving stones along the path to Hell, and that courage is not courage unless the cause is lost even before it begins. Yet 'cowards die many times before their deaths,' and just as I expected Jasper to call me 'Dad' all the time, not merely when he felt so inclined, so must I keep constant watch on him, ready with tender encouragement or swift correction as the need arose, and armed with love for my prodigal as we faced together our long, weary road back from perdition.