"For the Love of Jasper" One-Shot Contest

Title: Leaving Her

Pen name: CherBella

Existing work: N/A

Primary Players: Bella and Jasper

Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Twilight, Stephenie Meyer owns all.

**MILITARY DISCLAIMER**: I know nothing about the Army, their policies or procedures. I googled info on West Point and I watch Army Wives. :) (Which actually inspired the idea for this one-shot) I fully admit to making up what I needed to for dramatic effect.

To see other entries in the "For the Love of Jasper" contest, please visit the C2:

www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/community/For_the_Love_of_Jasper_Contest/72564/


Leaving…he was always leaving.

He had always been married to the corps, she was really only his mistress. He was only hers whenever the Army didn't need him…a weekend here and there, occasionally an entire week…if she was really lucky she'd get a month or two or three. Sometimes that was worse though. Just when she'd get used to having him around, to waking up next to his warm body–the army would call him back into their clutches and she would be alone again in a cold empty bed.

She should have expected it though–from the moment they first met, he was always leaving her.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

The night she and Jasper met they were on a double date…with other people. She was living in New York City and in her second year at Columbia University. She was "dating" (if you could call it that at their early stage) Edward, a super nice, absolutely gorgeous guy from her biology class. They'd only gone out two or three times, so they were still at the casual, "getting-to-know-you" stage. One weekend he asked her if she would mind going on a double date with another couple. An old high school friend of his was in town for the weekend from West Point and Edward was setting him up with another friend of theirs, Angela. Bella wasn't really crazy about doubling, especially with what would essentially be a blind date for the other couple. She just envisioned a long night of awkward conversation if Angela and Edward's friend didn't hit it off.

Well it did turn out to be an awkward evening but not for the reason Bella expected. From the moment Edward introduced Jasper to her, he captured her attention (and her heart, she would realize later) immediately. He stood up from the restaurant booth to shake her hand, that killer, sexy lazy grin stretching across his face, his blue eyes twinkling. His blonde hair was shorn close to his head in the typical military buzz cut, and his body was definitely that of a lean, well-conditioned soldier. His t-shirt stretched taut across his chest and his well-defined biceps were barely contained by the small shirtsleeves. Add in the Texas accent ("yes ma'am" "sugar" and "darlin'") and Bella was a goner. Jasper was as well, apparently. They had a hard time keeping their eyes off of each other, goofy smiles on their faces all night. They had to force themselves to shower some attention on Edward and Angela and include them in the conversation. Once, their legs accidentally brushed against each other under the table and they could both feel the electric current pulsing between them.

At the end of the evening, Jasper was a true southern gentleman, politely telling Bella how nice it had been to meet her and then waiting on the stoop while Edward walked Bella up to her apartment. She found herself sad that she had to say goodbye to Jasper, and she thought he might have felt the same way. When he said goodnight, the twinkle was gone from his eyes and his smile was only slight. But he hid it well, for Edward's sake. He would not steal his best friend's date.

An hour later Bella was just getting into bed when her cell phone buzzed. It was Jasper. As soon as Edward had walked out of Bella's apartment building he'd asked Jasper for his cell phone and immediately plugged Bella's number in and handed it back to him. He saw how the two of them looked at each other all evening and knew he didn't have a chance anymore.

Bella teased Jasper about not following the "man rules" and waiting at least three days before calling a girl. Jasper explained he was from the south and that southern men were taught to never keep a woman waiting and to never let a good thing get away. They talked all night, until the sun came up. The next night he took Bella out on their first date. They managed to make it through dinner but skipped the movie and barely made it back to her apartment. There on her hallway floor, they made love for the first time, a tangle of clothes and limbs, skin and heat, need and passion. They eventually made it to her bed, but there was very little sleeping by either of them that night.

The sun was streaming brightly in her windows when she felt Jasper nudging her awake, whispering her name in his husky voice, and caressing her face. As she opened her eyes she smiled at the sight of him. He was already up and dressed. It was just after noon and he had to get back to Edward's to pick up his stuff and then head back to West Point before curfew. With a promise to call and a kiss that left her moaning his name…he was gone. If Bella had only known at the time how much that moment was a foreshadowing of her future–and how many times it would be repeated.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Bella sat on the floor in the darkened room, and pulled out one of the many pieces of paper stuffed in the small box. The paper did not look ten years old; it looked like he had written it yesterday. It was the first note he'd left for her. She'd found it taped on her bathroom mirror.

Bella,

I know we just met, but I can't stop thinking about you. Even with you in the next room, I miss you already. I hated having to leave your bed this morning–well, this afternoon. The sound of my name falling from your lips is the sexiest, most beautiful sound I've ever heard and I can't wait to hear it over…and over…and over again.

Talk to you soon, sugar,

Jasper

The smile on her face lasted for a week.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Jasper called her later that evening to apologize again for leaving so abruptly. He didn't have much time to talk, but he made sure she'd found the note and reiterated how much he couldn't wait to see her again soon.

Dating while they were both in college was a challenge. They usually could only manage to get together a weekend or two a month. Jasper would almost always come down to visit her since she had her own apartment and there was so much more to do and see in the city…not that they left the apartment very often. Not being able to see each other much, they had to make the best of the time they had. Besides the distance, (West Point was about an hour and a half from New York City, on a good day) Jasper's time was always limited. West Point was one of the most prestigious and rigorous military schools in the country and the cadets often had to take part in training missions on the weekends, along with other rituals and lessons. And there were rules for everything. Every time she asked Jasper why he could or couldn't do something, his answer was almost always the same–"It's a rule, baby." She often grumbled that they needed to institute a rule about required mandatory visits to girlfriends. Jasper always got a big kick out of her when she said that. He'd throw his head back and laugh so loud and then wrap her up in his arms and squeeze her tight and tell her again how much he loved her and missed her, and wished he could be with her every day…and then with a smirk he'd say that he'd be sure to petition the commander for the new rule.

Jasper was so mild-mannered and open with his feelings and affections–definitely not the typical military stereotype of a stoic, macho, keep-your-emotions-bottled-up male. And yet he loved the military life with a passion. Whenever Bella would ask him how things were going at school, he would go into long, detailed descriptions of some new mission or exercise they had learned that week. He would gesture with his hands, and his eyes and his face would be bursting with excitement. Often Bella would zone out on what he was saying and just watch him while he talked…he was so happy and exuberant, and as much as she detested the military lifestyle, she loved seeing him so energized and alive.

Jasper's grandfather (or "Grandpappy" as Jasper lovingly called him) and his father were both Army men. His grandfather had been in Korea, his father in Viet Nam. His father had become a career Army man and so Jasper had grown up an Army brat. His family never pushed Jasper toward a military career, it was his own dream, the only thing he'd ever wanted to do. He loved every aspect of it, especially the intellectual part–the strategy involved in plotting different tactical maneuvers and approaches. It was no surprise that he was one of the top cadets in his class. He was smart and a quick study, and he scored in the top percentile on many of the operational maneuvers and practice war games. Before leaving West Point, all cadets had to choose a branch of the Army to go into after graduation, but before Jasper even got a chance to choose, he was called into the commander's office. With Jasper's intelligence and excellent critical thinking skills, he was being chosen to become one of the members of a super, top-secret special-forces unit. They were called in at a moment's notice for classified and usually very dangerous missions. It was an honor to be a member of such a team, but it also required a lot of commitment. It was a hard lifestyle. This was not a decision to be taken lightly and although Jasper was ready to sign on the dotted line they made him take a week to think it over. Jasper didn't need to think it over but he did need to talk to one person.

That weekend was one of the few weekends Bella came up to West Point to visit. Jasper borrowed a buddy's car and drove them out into the country to spend the weekend at a secluded bed and breakfast. Bella was so excited for such a quiet weekend, just the two of them alone…until he sat her down and told her about the decision he had before him. He explained as much as he could about the special-forces group he would be joining and all that it entailed, skimming over nothing–he was brutally honest about the danger and the long absences. He held her cold hand in his and stroked it gently while searching her eyes. She was a bit numb, still processing what all this meant…both for him and for themselves as a couple. For the last six months she had been thinking about what was going to happen when they both graduated. She knew he would be going away somewhere and she didn't know what he would want. Or what she wanted for that matter. Could they survive a long-distance relationship? Or would it be better to just end things and for both of them to pursue their individual dreams? Her palms got sweaty and her chest started to ache every time she thought of that option so she would quickly put it out of her head. She knew she was really just denying the inevitable–if she didn't think about it, maybe it would never come. But now, here they were, the moment had arrived and she was scared to hear what he would say next. She saw his mouth moving again and she forced herself to refocus on what he was saying.

"Bella…Bella sweetheart look at me." He pulled one of his hands away from hers and reached up to tenderly touch her jaw and turn her face towards his. His eyes were shiny and damp as he looked into her eyes, into her soul. "Bella…being in the Army is all I've ever wanted to do, and this is a huge opportunity for me. But it's also going to be difficult, probably the most demanding thing I'll ever do. It will be a tough life and I know it's not fair to ask you for this, to ask you to live this life with me. But…I don't want to do this without you. I love you so much my beautiful, fiery, sexy Bella…please say you'll come with me. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife, Bella?"

Her hands flew out of his and up to her face, covering her mouth that had dropped open in shock. Did he really just…oh my God…she was expecting him to break up with her and instead he had just asked her to marry him, to be his forever. Her heart was racing and the tears flowed endlessly down her cheeks. The concern for the danger he would be in and the all-consuming Army lifestyle was quickly drowned out by her love for this man and the joy she felt at the prospect of being with him always.

Tears were starting to flow from his eyes as well, as he watched her reaction–not quite sure if hers were happy tears or sad ones. "Bella…" he choked out, with just enough of a questioning tone that she suddenly realized she'd not given him an answer.

"Oh YES Jasper! Yes, Yes, YES!" she cried out. She threw her arms around him and leapt into his lap, and they stayed that way for the longest time, holding on tight to each other, their faces wet with their tears. They finally pulled away to look at each other, the intense love and passion each of them felt for the other reflected in their eyes. They laughed with joy, and then Jasper reached up, his hands delicately cradling her face, and he swiped away her tears with his thumbs. He pulled her face forward, gently caressing her lips with his…pulling her down to the bed with him.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Years later Bella often though of that moment and wondered if she had been too impulsive that day by letting her heart completely make her decision without really thinking things through with her head. She felt awful every time for thinking such a thought–whatever feelings Bella had about their life together over the years, she could never say she ever felt unloved. And her intense, burning love for Jasper never changed either…but life married to a soldier was grueling and lonely and frustrating. And sometimes she didn't know if she wanted it anymore.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

A month after he asked her to marry him, Jasper graduated with honors from West Point. Two days later, he and Bella were married in a small ceremony, just immediate family and friends. They had a short three-day honeymoon at Niagara Falls and then, before she knew it, Bella was dropping him off at the airport, on his way to Fort Bragg to begin his army career. She would stay behind for a couple of weeks to finish school and pack up her apartment before joining him.

It was such a whirlwind week that when she opened the door to her empty apartment, she dropped her keys and suitcases in the hallway and crashed on her sofa for a nap, all her adrenaline and nervous energy gone. She could feel the exhaustion overtaking every bone in her body. When she awoke two hours later alone in her darkened, quiet apartment, it almost felt like the past week had been a dream. Only the tiny sparkling diamond on her left finger proved otherwise.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Bella pulled another note out of the box, this one seven years old and tear-stained. That first night back in her apartment in New York–alone, but newly married and missing her husband desperately–was such a bittersweet night. She was happy…and sad at the same time. She was unpacking her suitcase and as she pulled out the lace teddy that she had barely worn on their wedding night, a scrap of paper fell out from it. She bent down to pick it up and tears immediately sprang to her eyes as she recognized Jasper's quick, hurried scrawl.

My beautiful Mrs. Whitlock,

As I lay here watching you sleep, I can hardly believe that you agreed to be mine today. Knowing that I won't be with you when you read this tears my heart apart. I don't know what I did to deserve a woman as wonderful as you but I thank the heavens every day for sending you to me. I know things won't always be easy, but I promise you will have my love and devotion and support every day of the rest of our lives. Always know that you are never far from my mind and my heart…you are my heart.

See you soon my darlin',

Your loving husband, Mr. Whitlock

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

The first two years of their marriage were good. They moved three different times to three different Army bases, as Jasper worked his way through all of the different stages of his training. He was often gone but only for relatively short periods of time–a weekend, a week or two here or there…once for an entire month. That particular separation was the hardest, but at least he was allowed to call home every night. Bella disliked the moving but like every Army wife, she became a pro at it. As for working, she had graduated Columbia with a double major in journalism and English and so she decided to put her degrees to use by becoming a freelance writer. This way she could work for anyone from anywhere Jasper got stationed.

Bella was pretty happy at this point–she had adjusted to Army life, she loved Jasper and she loved being his wife. Jasper was so wonderful, and she was so lucky that he loved her. When he was home with her, he always made sure his sole attention and focus was on her–helping her, being with her, showing her how much he loved her and how much she meant to him. She was his whole world.

The day finally came when his training was done and he got his official appointment to the special-forces team. He was so thrilled and excited; he burst through their door and grabbed Bella up in his arms, spinning her around. She loved seeing him so joyous that she pushed down the fear and the reservations running through the back of her mind and concentrated only on his happiness.

But it wasn't long before he got the orders for his first mission. Everything was top-secret which meant that he couldn't tell her anything about where he would be going or for how long. Bella tried to be strong for Jasper but she found her fear was slowly tearing her apart. This was no longer training…this was real. There would be a real enemy this time, an enemy who didn't care if her husband lived or died, in fact he would probably prefer him dead.

Bella tried to put on a fake smile but Jasper knew better, he could feel every ounce of fear radiating from her. It broke his heart to be doing this to her. He was confident in his skills and his team–they were a brotherhood and they took care of each other. He knew he would be fine. But he didn't know how to convince Bella of that. The night before he left he finished zipping up his duffel bag and placed it by the door to pick up on his way out in the morning. Done, he looked around and he realized he hadn't seen or heard Bella in a while. He did a quick check of the rooms in their tiny house and he finally found her sitting outside on the back steps. Her face was bent down, hiding in her hands and he knew she was crying and trying it hide it from him. He opened the screen door quietly and stepped lightly onto the small deck. Bella still heard him and quickly started swiping at her eyes. He sat down and settled himself behind Bella, reaching around and enveloping her in his strong arms and pulling her between his legs and tight to his chest. He tucked her head under his chin and just sat there, holding her, as her tears were still silently falling. "It's okay sugar…just let it all out," he whispered into her ear. Her body began to shake with sobs, and he just kept holding on tight, rocking them back and forth. He spoke again, "I wish I could ease your fear baby, but I promise I will be fine, please try not to worry…"

"I'm sorry, I know I should be strong for you…" As she started to speak, he immediately leaned away and turned her head to look at him, a stern but loving look on his face.

"Bella, don't you ever apologize to me for showing your feelings…and don't you ever try to hide them from me either! Happy or sad, I want us always to be honest with each other and I don't want you ever to feel like you can't share what you're feeling with me."

They held each other all night, neither of them wanting to leave each other's arms. Bella still didn't sleep much but she did feel much more calm…though she knew she'd fall apart again once he left.

The next morning Bella walked him to the front door, holding his hand, not wanting to let go of him. He stopped and turned toward her, letting go of her hand and cradling her face gently in both of his hands. He stared down at her, trying to project all of his love for her through his eyes. He kissed her delicately on the top of her hair, closing his eyes and inhaling her scent…committing it to memory. "My dear sweet Bella," he whispered. He moved on to her temple, placing another kiss there and continued on down her face and jaw line. Bella closed her eyes and tilted her head back as he placed more kisses on her neck. "Oh Jasper…" she breathed, as she grabbed his arms, pulling herself more tightly to his body. He wrapped his arms around her, sliding his hands up her back, feeling the heat of her body beneath her thin nightshirt. He captured her lips with his in a heated kiss, full of love and intensity and passion. Her lips met his with the same fervor and desire, hungrily, forcefully…parting to welcome his tongue. She tangled her hands in his hair, tugging on it, while pressing herself against him. Her nipples grew hard the moment they met the rough fabric of his shirt and she pushed her hips desperately against his. Anything to hold him here for even one second more.

Jasper groaned and broke their kiss. "Bella…" his voice was deep and rough with need and his breathing labored. He pressed his forehead against hers. "If we keep this up I won't be able to leave."

"Then don't leave," she whispered.

"I have to baby…I love you so much…but I have to go." He pressed one last kiss to her forehead, picked up his bag and turned and walked out the door.

She leaned her whole body against the closed door and let the tears fall again…

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Bella remembered how hard it was letting him go on that first mission…she was of course, afraid of the worst. Bella picked up the next note in the box and smiled.

After she'd finally managed to force herself away from the door he had just left from, she'd gone back into their bedroom. She was exhausted and sad and scared and just wanted to go back to bed and stay there until he came home. As she climbed under the covers she saw a folded shirt on Jasper's pillow and a note attached.

My sweet, sweet baby,

Since the day we met, we have spent so much time apart and you have sacrificed so much to be with me, to love me. My heart literally broke in two last night, seeing you in tears and in pain because of me and my choice of a career in the Army. I know am a greedy, selfish man because I want you both, but I promise my darlin' that it won't always be this way and I will spend every moment of my life making up to you for all of the tears and worry and loneliness you must endure on my behalf.

I know no words can convince you or sooth your fears right now. All I can offer is my heart and my never-ending love for you, my Bella…a love that I promise will always bring me back home to you.

Until I am home again to hold you and comfort you, wear this shirt of mine to bed each night…I know it's a poor substitute but I hope it will help you feel that at least a little part of me is there with you. Take good care of it–it is my lucky shirt. It is the shirt I was wearing the night we met and the night my life changed forever.

I love you so much,

See you soon my darlin'

J

Bella instantly picked up the shirt and clutched it in her hands. She brought it to her face, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. She could still smell his scent embedded in the fabric. She lifted her own shirt over her head and tossed it on the floor and pulled Jasper's shirt on over her body. Two tears rolled down her cheek and she fell back onto the bed, curling her knees up into her chest and burying her head in Jasper's pillow.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Jasper was gone a month on that first mission and it was the longest, worst, month Bella had ever experienced. The first few days she stayed in bed all day until she started getting calls from a couple of publications asking where the stories were that they had hired her to write. She finally forced herself to get up and get dressed and go through the motions. The day he finally walked back through that door, she leapt into his arms and wept. They made love until they were exhausted and stayed in bed for a whole day. But he wasn't home long before he had to leave again…and again and again. She soon accepted, reluctantly, that this was going to be their life. To say she got used to it sounds calloused but it was what she had to do. She realized she couldn't go catatonic and put her life on hold every time he was gone.

As the years went on, however, the "routine" started to wear on her…or actually maybe it was the lack of "routine" in their lives. The call often came at any hour of the day or night. Sometimes he had twenty-four or forty-eight hours notice. More often than not, he had to leave at a moment's notice. And of course she was never allowed to know where he was going or when he would get back. They were usually not allowed any contact while he was gone, and the loneliness and the constant absences began to take a toll on them, especially during the past year and a half. She resented the Army for taking him away so often, for the constant disruption of their lives. She resented him for going. She knew this was his job and that this is what she signed on for the minute she agreed to be his wife. But she was never prepared for how much he would really be gone and after a while it became hard to continue to plaster on a smile and be the patient, dutiful wife. She still loved him, that never changed…she just didn't love what their life had become.

Jasper agonized over her pain and frustration. Whenever she would voice those frustrations (and usually quite loudly) he usually clammed up and became silent, letting her get it all out. He didn't have an answer so he just tried to take and absorb her feelings and her words… but it hurt. It hurt to know he was doing this to her and to them. There was nothing he could do–this was his job, his duty. He had to go when called. He didn't have a choice. All he could do was leave her something behind when he left–usually a note, sometimes a small gift–to try and show how much he loved her and missed her when he was gone. A reminder to let her know that being away from her pained him as much as it did her. The items he would leave behind were reassuring to her. She felt guilty when she would get angry with him. She never doubted his love for her and even though they had been together for almost ten years now, the fire and passion and love between them never abated. It was as strong as it was that first night they met. It was just frustrating that he had to put the Army above her and everything else. When they called he went running, no matter time or place.

To add to their problems, Jasper had also begun to hint about having children and it became another thing they disagreed about. She refused to bring a child into this kind of life. During one of their most heated debates on the topic, she spat at him, "Why would I want to bring a child into our lives when his father will never be there to raise him?" He blanched and his face turned white. His eyes were the saddest she'd ever seen them and his face was twisted with the cut of her words. She immediately regretted what she said and apologized, but he just walked out of the room. She heard the door slam as he left the house for a while. It hurt him so deeply because he knew she only spoke the truth. Again, he had no answer for her…he didn't have the choice to stay, to not go when called.

She was devastated that she felt this way, and it killed her to know that she was hurting him. Whenever they had a get-together with some of his buddies' families in his unit, she watched him as he would tease and play with the other men's kids–chasing them, grabbing them and tossing them in the air, making them giggle and laugh and showering them with attention. Her heart would ache as she watched him, so happy, so good with the kids. She knew he would be a wonderful father, and she imagined herself going to him and saying, "yes, let's have a child." But all she could think about was that beautiful, innocent child constantly asking her, "Where's Daddy? When's Daddy coming home?"…and having to look down into that child's sad eyes and giving him or her another excuse, or another "I don't know sweetie." And of course there was always the part she tried not to think about, the part that always lived in the back of her mind, pressed down and buried deep–what about the inevitable day that he didn't come home? What would she tell their child then?

Yep…the fear and worry still lived in her every day, every minute, every second. It got easier, and it became something she didn't obsess over constantly, but it never completely went away. She got used to him being gone, and every time he returned it got a little easier the next time. She began to expect he would come home because he always did. But whenever he was gone longer than he had been the last time and the phone rang or there was a knock on the door…she was always afraid to answer it, afraid of what she would hear.

The past six months had been increasingly difficult. He was gone more often than usual, if that was possible. One night he finally told her they had been laying the groundwork for a particularly dangerous mission, and that he could get a call at anytime. He could be gone quite a while this time, maybe months. She threw the dish she'd been holding into the sink and it shattered. They began to argue…again. She knew she shouldn't, but she really was beginning to question how much more of this she could take. It seemed like all she was anymore was frustrated and angry. After that very fist mission, she always hid her fear about him never coming home, but she was at the edge of her rope and she let it all out, spilling everything.

"Dammit Jasper…"

He sighed in frustration. "Babe, you know I have to go…"

"Well I don't know how much more of this I can take! You're gone more than you're here, you might as well just be my houseguest, my roommate. I don't feel like we're married anymore."

He paled. "Bella…you don't mean that…" his voice was quiet and she could hear the anguish in it. No, deep down she didn't really mean it, at least she didn't think so…but she couldn't make herself stop.

"No, I think I do this time Jasper! I have put so much time, so much energy, so many years into this…You're constantly gone, with no notice. I never know where or for how long. You love the Army, you're happy to go off and do your maneuvers and shoot your guns and get the bad guys…but do you really know what it's been like for me? Every time you walk out that door, for every minute, every goddamn second that you're gone, I hold my breath until you come home again. I jump every time there's a knock at the door or every time the phone rings, so sure that it's going to be someone telling me you're not coming home this time!" Her voice started to break a little. "Because I know you think you're invincible… but it's going to happen one day Jasper…I know it. And I think I'm getting tired of sitting around and waiting for it."

Her words cut savagely through every part of him. He felt the pain as if she had literally stabbed him in the heart. He had no words of comfort; he didn't know how to ease her mind this time. He was scared and saddened and all he could do is look at her, tears forming in his eyes.

The silence hung thick in the air between them as they stared at each other. She saw the agony in his eyes and she knew she should take everything back she just said…but she couldn't.

"I'm sorry Bella…I'm so…sorry." His voice was a hoarse whisper. And then he turned and walked away. She turned back toward the sink and sobbed quietly, gripping the edge of the sink for dear life.

That night they lay in bed, not touching, each facing away from each other in the darkness. She felt horrible for what she'd said…but it was something that she'd needed to say for so long. "I don't know how much more of this I can take"–until she'd actually spoken those words, she didn't realize how much she had been thinking them. Did she really mean them? She honestly didn't know. She did know she still loved Jasper, she always would, that wasn't the issue. She needed him to know that much. But he hadn't said a word all night. And frankly she thought she had said enough. But their love never really needed words; it was the one constant between them that never faltered, never waned even after all these years.

She could tell from his breathing that Jasper wasn't asleep either. She turned toward him… he was sleeping on his back. She moved closer to him under the covers and straddled him with her whole body. He didn't move a muscle, just turned his head away. She grasped his face in her hands and turned it back towards her in the darkness. As she touched her lips to his she felt the familiar jolt, the electricity, the spark. It sent shivers down her whole body and she immediately moved her lips against his more hungrily, more insistently. Their lips parted and their tongues collided and the kiss grew deeper and more heated. He reached up and gripped her hair, harder than normal. Their hands started roaming over each other's bodies, frantic and needy, their hearts racing and their breathing coming hard and fast. They were a tangle of limbs, tearing their clothes off, desperate to feel skin on skin. Every kiss, every touch burned all the way to their souls and they gripped each other tightly, painfully. Jasper took one of her nipples in his mouth roughly, sucking and biting until it was achingly hard. She arched into him and moaned at the feeling that radiated in waves throughout her body and down to her stomach. As he performed the same action on her other nipple, she moaned again, pressing her hips into his, feeling his hard cock, coating it with her dripping wetness. She started moving back and forth, gripping his hips with her thighs and he threw his head back with a loud groan. Then he grabbed her roughly and flipped her over, pressing her body hard into the mattress, and devouring her lips with his. He pushed her legs apart and thrust himself into her, swiftly and urgently. She broke their kiss in a loud moan and her body involuntarily arched up to meet his. She wrapped her legs around him as tightly as she could, pushing him into her deeper and harder with every stroke. Her hands were everywhere, gripping his hair, clutching his shoulders and his back. He was leaning on his forearms, slamming into her, every stroke full of his desperate need for her. They still didn't speak, the air heavy only with the sounds of the bed creaking under them and their moans and their breathing and their slick skin sliding against each other. He felt so good moving in and out of her, every nerve ending sizzling like a live electric wire. Her whole body shook as she felt the pressure building, her muscles clenching until finally she came, hard and wet around him, bending deeply into him, screaming out his name. He continued pounding into her, a few more strokes and then she could feel him jerking hard and fast inside of her and he cried out, pouring himself into her.

He didn't move, staying inside of her. They pressed their foreheads together while their breathing slowly quieted. She caressed his face with her hands, gently, and he leaned into her but kept his eyes closed. He finally pulled out of her and lay beside her. She curled her body around his, not wanting to lose contact yet. She didn't know what tomorrow would bring but for now this was all they needed.

Bella was exhausted–from their previous argument, from the tension between them, and from their physical, emotional lovemaking. So when Jasper's phone buzzed she didn't hear it. The sound of his voice and sounds of movement in the room slowly started to filter through her groggy consciousness and by the time she was fully awake, all she heard was the front door closing, and then…the house was silent again. She didn't bother to get up, she knew he was gone. She stretched her arm out and ran her hand up and down his side of the bed, still warm from his body.

Bella stared into the empty box…hoping if she stared long enough another note would appear. The last morning he left she tore the house apart…but he had left no note this time. It crushed her and she collapsed on the living room floor drowning in fear and tears. She knew after the words she had said to him, she shouldn't expect a note this time. But it just felt wrong…his notes had become a lifeline for her. She would keep them on the nightstand next to her bed every night until he came home. Just seeing them, touching the physical paper, running her fingers over his writing made her feel closer to him. She always told him how much she loved his notes but she didn't think she had ever really conveyed how much she needed them. Jasper had always seemed to know exactly what she needed–just the right touch or look from him could instantly calm her, steady her, heal her. He had always been so intuitive…maybe he knew how much she relied on those notes; maybe that's why he left them. She tried to be rational and realize that he had left so quickly this morning that he probably didn't have time. But…could it also mean he had given up on her? Did he think she didn't need one this time? The last thought broke her apart, opening a deep, burning hole in her chest.

A month after he left she woke up nauseous and spent most of the morning in and out of the bathroom. She thought she must have ate something bad or caught a bug…but after a week of the same thing, day after day after day, it finally sunk in that she wasn't sick. She stared in shock at the little pink line for what seemed like forever. No wonder he hadn't left a note, he left something else of himself instead. She laughed hysterically at that thought, laughed until there were tears flowing from her eyes. But they were truly tears of joy this time. Despite her many protestations to Jasper, she really couldn't wait to have a baby with him. If only their life were different, she would have gladly given him a child long before now. God, she missed him…she was practically bursting out of her skin wishing she could talk to him, tell him he was going to be a father. He would be so over the moon. She could picture the look of exuberant joy on his face, his smile so huge. Oh please my darling Jasper…come home soon…we need you, she whispered in silent prayer.

Two months later, the phone rang and she heard the words she had feared for so long. "We regret to inform you…a failure in the mission…injuries and casualties…" She found it hard to concentrate on the words.

Because of the classified nature of the mission they could not reveal any more information to her. Bella threw the phone across the room and collapsed sobbing on the floor. Bastards! They couldn't even tell her whether her husband was dead or alive. The plane bringing the men home would arrive at noon tomorrow and she was supposed to show up at a secure building on the base to find out if her husband walked off the plane in the flesh…or was carried off in a box. She screamed and cursed and beat her fists against the arm of the sofa until her body had had no more energy and her tears ran dry.

She lay there curled up on the floor for hours and hours. She never slept. She couldn't sleep–every time she closed her eyes she saw his face.

At some point, on autopilot, she somehow knew to get up and shower and change. She knew she needed to eat, for the baby's sake but she couldn't keep anything down and it wasn't morning sickness this time. She tried to busy herself but her mind couldn't focus. She opened the closet door in their bedroom to put something away and saw his clothes, smelled his lingering scent…her hand started shaking and she slammed the door shut.

The minutes, the hours crawled by. Somewhere inside her a little voice finally began to tell her to calm down, that she shouldn't think the worst. Nothing was confirmed, he could be fine.

And so, needing comfort and trying to keep from going crazy was how she now found herself sitting on the floor with her box of notes. She read each note one by one by one…reviewing their life together and the words of the man that loved her so.

Finally the sound of her phone alarm went off and her body went cold. It was time–time to go meet her future.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

She arrived at his unit's headquarters and paused to collect herself before reaching out to open the door. Her hands were trembling. She gave her name. She walked through the metal detector. The army guards checked her purse. All routine procedures–everyone doing their job as if it was just another day for them. Meanwhile she wished desperately that it was just another day for her.

When she had passed the security checks and had a cold plastic visitor's badge clipped to her shirt, another guard escorted her to her waiting room. Her legs felt like lead as they walked down endless dark-grey lifeless corridors, the only noise the sound of the soles of her shoes echoing off the walls. She felt like a prisoner being led off to the electric chair.

Finally she was shown into a long narrow room that was bare except for a plain metal table, two chairs and one tiny window. The guard explained that the plane would arrive shortly but that she must remain here. Not trusting her voice at all she simply nodded to show she understood. For privacy they were keeping the individual families separated, hence the private room.

There was a clock on the wall and it's tick, tick, tick reverberated through the silent room. If she concentrated on it, it just seemed to get louder and louder. She tried to distract herself. She paced around the room. She sat in one of the chairs. She paced again. It felt like she had been trapped in this room for hours but in reality it had only been about thirty minutes.

Finally she heard the loud roar of the engines and the shake of the building as the plane landed on the runway outside. Her heart plummeted to the bottom of her chest. She broke out in a cold sweat and she gripped the table edge so hard her knuckles were more than white–the skin was stretched so tight it looked like the bone was breaking through. More seconds passed and she finally willed herself to get up and try to see out the window. She stretched up on her tiptoes just in time to see several soldiers in fatigues unloading two flag-draped coffins. Her already wobbly legs turned to jelly and she slid to the floor, clutching the wall and crying out in anguished, gut wrenching sobs. She stayed there, on her knees, feeling the cold hard floor beneath her, leaning against the rough gray brick of the wall. Silently screaming and praying all at once–NO, no, no, no, no, please God, please, no…no…

As if the waiting wasn't tortuous enough, she could hear the families in the other rooms…boisterous screams of joy and love for their soldier who had come home. Then silence. And then the anguished shrieks and cries of another family whose soldier would never come home again. She closed her eyes and put her head in her hands as she kneeled on the floor, just praying and pleading for some news soon. She had to sit through hearing the joyous celebrations and the agony of two more families before there was silence again…silence that was lasting too long. Where was he? Just as her heart felt like it was going to explode, She heard the door open. Oh God…oh God… She was afraid to look up; so afraid of what or who she would see. But she knew she had to…

She heard the heavy boots shuffling into the room as she looked up. Oh my God. She almost started hyperventilating, letting out quick shallow breaths. Her hands flew up to her face and more tears started falling. He was limping, and he looked a little thinner. His posture, normally so straight and tall and proud, was slumped, defeated. His beautiful face was hidden under dirt and grime…but it was him. Her him. Her Jasper.

For Jasper the floodgates opened when he saw her, the tension and fear from the last forty-eight hours that had been holding his muscles and bones together melted away and he almost collapsed right then. She was the reason he had fought so hard to get home…she was his home.

"Jasper!" she cried as she jumped up and ran the short distance across the room and threw herself into his body. His bags dropped from his hands where he was standing, as he reached to embrace her.

"Bella…" His voice was quiet, hoarse and broken. His legs gave way as she flew into him and they both slumped to their knees, holding onto each other for dear life. There were no words yet, both of them just wanting to cling as tightly as they could to each other. Bella clutched him so hard; she could feel her nails digging into the coarse fabric of his fatigues. She felt the weight of him sinking into her and then she felt him shaking with sobs. The euphoria of having him home and alive began to change as she soon realized he wasn't the same Jasper she usually welcomed home. He was more battered…and broken this time. She suddenly knew it was her time to be strong for him, to comfort him as he had for her all these years. Tears pricked her eyelids as she rubbed her hands up and down his back, whispering softly in his ear. "It's okay baby…everything's going to be okay now…"

She leaned out of his embrace to look at him. His head was still bowed, the sobs quieting. She cradled his head in her hands and gently tugged his head up to look at her. His wet shiny eyes were not the usual bright blue, they were dull and tired and haunted. She swiped at his tears with her thumbs and rubbed soothing circles on his cheeks.

"I was so scared I was never going to see you again…" Her voice choked up but she continued. "Thank you…thank you for coming home to me."

"Bella, nothing…nothing will ever keep me…" He had to pause for a second because his voice was so dry and he was so overcome with emotion he struggled to get the words out. "I promised you… no matter what I have to do…I will always come home to you."

They pressed their foreheads together, still holding each other, never wanting to let go, ever again.