A/N: To everyone who has had this on alert from the A/N chapter I posted, I'm so sorry it has taken this long to get this written and posted. Even though I always knew what Jasper's side of the story would be, I got caught up in updating and writing for my other stories and I just let this one simmer on the back burner. Anyway here it finally is, and this completes their story. I won't issue a "tissue alert," but if the first chapter affected you, this one may too. :)
All copyright and trademarked items mentioned herein belong to their respective owners.(SM) The remaining content is all mine. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without my express written authorization.
DISCLAIMER: Again, not all military info may be "technically" correct. Thanks to beegurl13 for help with some of the sonogram info.
Beep … beep … beep …
As he sat on the hard plastic chair in the sterile white hallway, the monotonous beeping from a monitor in a nearby room echoed on and on and on … beating its way into his brain, getting louder and louder each time. A chill shuddered through his body and sweat broke out on his skin. He clenched his fists to try and stop the shaking, and he tried to take in slow, deep, even breaths, as the doc had taught him. It was useless this time though, as he closed his eyes he saw it all again, seared on the inside of his eyelids just like he was right there again.
The loud beeping alerting them that they had tripped a hidden bomb … chaos then … footsteps scrambling. The deep voices of his men yelling every expletive in the book and urges to "move" "retreat" … and a "get the fuck out of here" that he recognizes as his buddy Peter. Next the horrendous boom … the red orange glow of fire everywhere … fires of hell … something slamming into him with the force of a Mack truck. The fuzzy feeling in his brain … trying to keep his eyes open … a dense cloud of dust enveloping him … pinpricks all over his body as debris rains down on him … and the acrid burning odor filling his nose and his lungs right before the darkness overtakes him.
His eyes flew open as the images finally stopped. He was panting and rivulets of sweat trickled down from his brow. He unclenched his fists and rubbed his hands furiously over his face, wiping the sweat away, angry and ashamed all at the same time. It had been six months; he had made such progress—the flashbacks hardly came at all anymore. The doc had taught him that he couldn't control external triggers (like the beeping monitor) but he could learn to control his reactions. But Christ, to have one now, at this moment, when they needed him to be strong … he just felt selfish and weak. His mental state was exhausted though and that's when the memories usually got through. It was too much … it was all just too much for him to take right now ….
The bomb blast had only knocked Jasper out for a few minutes. As he came to, there was smoke and voices everywhere. He tried to raise his upper body and his head started pounding. His left leg felt wet and pain radiated up to his hip with even the slightest movement. He could feel the heat of the fire getting closer. He laid his head back down, feeling groggy again and his eyes grew so heavy. As his eyelids closed and he felt himself sinking into darkness, he saw his wife's beautiful face. She was smiling … and then suddenly her face changed. She was crying. She reached her arms out to him … Jasper … get up my darling … please … come home … come home to me …
"Bella …" her name fell quietly from his lips. He kept repeating it in reply to her voice that he kept hearing in his head. Suddenly pain ripped through his chest but it was not an injury from the blast. His eyes flew open and he called her name out again, stronger, louder this time …"Bella …."
He couldn't do this to her, he'd promised—this would destroy her ….
He sat back up ignoring the thumping and throbbing in his head and pushed himself up to his knees. He grimaced at the pain in his leg but he fought through it. As he tried to step up on that leg though, it buckled and he screamed out in pain, doubling over and kneeling on his good leg. His scream was just loud enough to alert one of his men. "Sergeant Whitlock! Hold on sir … McCarty get over here!" The next thing he knew Specialists Black and McCarty had pulled him up, and half-carried, half-drug him out of the pit of hell that was still burning. There must have been some sort of undetectable accelerant sprayed around by whomever had set the bomb because fire was tearing through the building fast. As his men set him down on the ground Jasper looked back to see the fire fully engulfing the place he had just been mere minutes ago. In fact, it barely resembled a building anymore, it was now just one big fireball.
Everything happened quickly after that. His group was whisked off to an army medical hospital for emergency treatment of everyone's various injuries. Jasper's head was slowly starting to clear but he still had to be careful, he had a mild concussion. The Mack truck that he thought had hit him had actually been his own body hitting the hard concrete floor. There were a lot of minor surface cuts and scrapes on his back from pieces of debris and shrapnel. His whole back was practically covered in gauze but the pain was bearable. His leg, however had sustained the worst damage—bigger pieces of shrapnel had embedded themselves fairly deep in some spots. The doctors and nurses made quick work of doing what they could and got him patched up enough to make the plane trip to Germany.
Eventually his commanding officer paid him a visit. They had been on the hunt for one of the deadliest Al Qaeda members and had been given a tip from a trusted informant that he was holed up in a mosque in Mosul. Someone along the line had been given some bad information though or had tipped off the insurgents and the place was booby-trapped. Too late they realized they had been set up as the tripped bomb beeped out its countdown and then exploded. Half of the men were in various states of injury and they had lost two of their brothers. Jasper's stomach turned. He didn't need to hear his C.O. say Peter's name, he knew. Peter had been farther up ahead than Jasper … he would have been in direct line of the worst of the blast. He remembered hearing Peter yell out during all of the commotion, but God, he'd never expected those would be the last words he would ever hear Peter say.
Once his C.O. had moved on to visit the other members of his team, Jasper finally broke down, letting his emotions overtake him. He and Peter had met the first day of their special forces training, and very quickly became best friends. They had gone through everything together … every class, every training mission. They both got their appointments at the same time and to the same team even. And they'd been through every dangerous mission … together. The whole team was a brotherhood, all watching each other's backs. But he and Peter were more; more like real blood brothers. Dammit! Jasper screamed in his mind. He had failed Peter. They had been following protocol, advancing slowly and methodically, when one of the other specialists had called Jasper over to look at something suspicious on the floor. The insurgents made bombs out of all kinds of crap; whatever they could get their hands on. Something that looked like a routine everyday object might be used as a catalyst or as something to disguise the real bomb underneath. It turned out to be nothing though, a false alarm. But in the time it had taken Jasper to inspect the object, Peter had continued on and was too far ahead of him. Jasper was trying to catch up to him when the explosion happened.
He should have been there with him, by his side. Maybe he would have seen the bomb before it was tripped, or maybe at least he would have been able to get Peter out of there in time. The pain of grief for Peter hit Jasper deep in the chest and his breathing became so shallow and fast he was almost hyperventilating.
Thinking of how he should have been there to protect Peter caused another sweet voice to pierce through his brain. "You watch out for him Jasper … please … please take care of my Peter for me." Charlotte … shit … shit, shit, shit … Jasper punched the mattress of the hospital bed he was on and immediately winced in pain. Oh God, Charlotte … Peter's wife. How the hell was he going to face her? She whispered those words to him whenever he saw her right before one of their missions. And he always promised. Fuck, how was he going to look her in the eye and tell her he had failed? That he hadn't been able to take care of her Peter?
Jasper laid his head back against the pillow, tears streaming down his face now. Thinking about Charlotte made him think of his Bella … Oh Bella, he lamented. He remembered seeing her when he had been lying in pain on the ground; it was really she who had saved him. She was the one who had given him the strength to get up, to get his ass out of there, to live. She was his whole reason for living, for breathing another day. He couldn't fail his promise to her, he couldn't do that to her. Closing his eyes, he imagined her there, standing next to his bedside, her beautiful brown hair loose and hanging down over her shoulders; her deep brown eyes staring down at him with a gentle smile on her face; her hand reaching out to touch his. He lifted his hand toward her, touching the cold chrome guardrail of his bed instead of her soft skin. God how he wished she were here with him now. He needed her to touch him, to hold him and kiss him. Bella … he whispered into the air, the ache in his chest intensifying until he felt like he was being ripped apart.
They only stayed at the medical center in Landstuhl for forty-eight hours, enough time to get everyone further stabilized and stitched up enough to make the plane trip home. Being a top-secret force of the army, they had to be on their way back home as quickly as possible. No one was allowed to know they were here, including their wives and families. Jasper was on edge the whole time, the forty-eight hours feeling more like weeks as the minutes crawled by. He just wanted to get back home to Bella.
He was so focused on getting home and seeing her again, that it wasn't until they were actually airborne and headed back to their base in the States that he let himself remember all that had happened between he and Bella before he left.
~ X ~ X ~
They'd had an argument—not a new occurrence, they'd been having them quite frequently in the last year. But this one … this one was different.
She was very angry that he had to leave again. She'd actually uttered the words that she didn't feel like they were married because he was barely there. And that she didn't know if she could do this anymore. Those words had cut through him like a knife slicing open an already festering wound. The pain was unbearable. He hadn't even said much to her in response … he didn't know what to say, so he just turned and walked out. Once he made it to his truck he broke down. He hated that she felt that way and he felt stretched between two opposite directions. He had made a commitment to both of them … and his commitment to the Army kept him from fully fulfilling his commitment to her. He couldn't choose one over the other, not right now. The Army owned him for a few more years at least. And he loved everything about the Army … except what it did to her.
He knew this was a hard life for her. He felt selfish, getting to have both the career he loved and the woman he loved. And he felt guilty, knowing it was his choices that caused her such pain. Whenever he was home he tried so hard to be good to her, to take special care to be there for her and show her how much he loved her … and how much he appreciated her sacrifice. But the one thing she needed the most—him at home—he couldn't give her. This last year, especially, there had been a lot of leaving … and apparently nothing he could do could make up for that fact.
They hadn't said much the rest of the night. He wanted to; hell, he wanted to tell her so many things. But he was afraid it was too late. He'd never heard her sound so frustrated, so … final, before. She surprised him when she came to him in bed that night. He was confused by her actions at first and didn't want to give in. But no matter what had ever been going on between them during the ups and downs of their marriage the one thing that never left them was their physical connection. The electricity between them was so powerful and intense, the slightest caressing touch from her and his body would hum in reaction. He craved her; he needed her.
Their bodies took over and communicated what their words couldn't. And yet … he was still fearful of what he would find when he got home. What if that night wasn't enough? Would she be there waiting for him when he got off the plane? He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, chills washing over him as he thought about her not being there. He didn't know how to live without her. Please God, please … let her be there.
He rubbed his hands over his face and he caught sight of his wedding band, causing so many memories to flood his brain. The night they first met—God, he'd never met anyone as amazing and beautiful as she was. Figures Edward had met her first. He felt such a sense of loss when they had to say goodnight and she walked off with Edward. He couldn't believe his luck afterward, when Edward gave him her number, basically ceding defeat. They got back to Edward's apartment and he tried not to call her but he was too antsy, his whole body sizzled like a live firecracker someone had just lit. He had never been one of these guys that played games, if he saw a girl he liked he didn't beat around the bush, he went after her.
The next night they went out and he didn't make it back to Edward's until the next morning. He grinned at the memory of that night. He hated having to leave her the next day so hastily. He was not a fuck 'em and leave 'em kind of guy and she was definitely not a girl you left willingly. She had looked so peaceful and adorable sleeping that he hated to wake her … so he woke her just long enough to tell her he had to go and then he left her a note on the bathroom mirror to say all that he really wanted to tell her.
The notes became a tradition, of sorts … so many important moments of their lives, it always seemed like he had to leave quickly. So he continued leaving her notes … when they married, he was in a whirlwind to report to the base to start his training. The night before his first real mission, she had been so scared and frightened. The notes became his way of trying to comfort her, to let her know that even though he was gone, he still loved her and was thinking of her. She always let him know how much she loved his notes but it wasn't until some months ago that he realized how much. He was looking for one of his shoes and pulled the comforter up to check under her side of the bed. There was a small wooden box with an easily opened latch tucked in the corner by the bedpost. He couldn't believe what he saw when he opened it—there were all his letters, well-worn creases betraying the fact that they had been opened and reopened many, many times. He had no idea she had kept them for all these years. His heart swelled with both love and pain—happy to know that these had meant so much to her, but a little sad to think she might be reliving all these moments in their lives that were punctuated by his leaving. In the end he had quietly put them back in their place, never saying a word that he had found them.
But this last time … the call had come sooner than he expected. He was still tired from the argument with Bella and their love-making … he was so focused on getting his stuff together to make to it to the meet-up with the rest of the guys that he was out the door before he realized he'd forgotten a note. He thought about it constantly on the plane ride over to Iraq … after her words, maybe it was for the best, maybe she wouldn't want another note as just another hurtful reminder of him? But what if she took it the other way—what if she thought he was … giving up on them? For every moment he was gone he regretted not taking five minutes to leave her a note.
~ X ~ X ~
He was brought back to reality by the noise of the plane losing altitude, as they got ready for the descent back to earth and back to base. He started sweating, nervous and anxious about whether she would be there or not. Stop it, Whitlock! There was no sensein stewing over it now, they were landing; there were two ways this was going to end and he would have to accept whatever result he found waiting for him. But he knew it would crush him if she wasn't there.
He had made the trip on the plane strapped to a gurney and when they wheeled him off the plane he immediately started to move. One of the doctors and a couple of his guys tried to stop him.
"Whoa, Sergeant, just where do you think you're going?" said the doctor as he rushed over.
"I … am … going … to … see … my … wife." He forced the words out through gritted teeth, trying to move through the pain.
"Oh no you're not, you are not going anywhere on that leg."
"The. Hell. I'm. Not! McCarty!! Black! Get over here!"
He didn't give a rat's ass about the pain he was in right now. If there was any chance that she was waiting for him, there was no way he was not walking upright through that door. He didn't want her to be scared or think that he was more injured than he was. They could fix him up later.
As the two men hurried over, he told them to help him walk over to the door.
They looked nervously at the doctor. "Um … Sir, are you sure Sir?" McCarty spoke hesitantly.
"Yes I'm sure! I'm still your superior and I just gave you an order! Now move it!"
The doctor intervened again, however, and finally forced Jasper to at least use a wheelchair instead of walking the entire way.
Unfortunately it took them a while to retrieve another wheel chair and Jasper was helpless to do anything but sit there and wait. Crap … She must be out of her mind by now … he thought. He was out of his mind. He just wanted to get to her, to see her, to hold her … to let her know he was alive. Because of the delay he had to sit and watch the coffins being loaded off the plane. Dammit! His mind immediately went to Charlotte. She would be waiting behind one of these doors and she was going to be devastated. He should go to her; he should be the one to tell her. But there was protocol. An officer and a chaplain would be sent to tell her, though she wouldn't need their words—she would know as soon as two strange men walked in through that door instead of her husband. And besides, Jasper was hardly in any position to just get up and go find her. Tears sprung to his eyes and he quickly brushed them away.
It felt like hours but it was only minutes before one of the guys reappeared with a wheelchair. He was lifted into it and McCarty and the doctor wheeled him over, stopping in front of one of the building's doors. His heart was pounding in his chest. He took a deep breath and, gripping the sides of the chair, stood up. His leg started to buckle under him and it took everything he had to not scream out in pain. It took him a few tries until he figured out how to lean all of his weight on his good leg long enough to shuffle a few steps forward. All he had to do was get through the doorway. All he had to do was see her.
It all happened so quickly. He opened the door and walked through … and there she was, crumpled on the floor crying. Oh thank God, she's here. She hasn't given up …
And then she was in his arms, and he completely fell apart. His leg crumpled under him and he broke down in tears, exhausted and overwhelmed. He felt her comforting arms around him, soothing him. He smelled her intoxicating scent of strawberries and flowers and he felt her warm body against his, her heart beating as rapidly as his. He had always been the one to comfort her and to take care of her … but this time it was he who needed her. He had nothing left.
~ X ~ X ~
They hadn't had much more time alone after that. McCarty and Black and the doctor put him back on a gurney and took him straight to the base hospital.
There were tests and lots of pain medications; two days later one of the specialists in leg injuries came in to give him the news. There was severe nerve and tissue damage to his leg. He would need surgery and then weeks, if not months, of physical therapy.
"Months? You mean I could be away from active duty for months?" Jasper swore harshly. "Well let's get things moving then, how soon can we do the surgery?"
Dr. Jenks closed Jasper's chart and sighed as he looked him in the eye. "The surgery's already scheduled for tomorrow. And I know you will work hard at your physical therapy. But I have to warn you Jasper; you may never get the leg back to one hundred percent of where it was before. You have to prepare yourself that you may not be able to return to active duty."
The doctor left the room and Jasper stared blankly off into space after that, unable to wrap his mind around the doctor's words. So much had just happened, he was still reeling from it all. Five days ago he had been in a mosque in Iraq, and today he was trapped in a hospital bed, scarred and broken, with a leg that might never work right again. Everything that had happened in between—the explosion, the fire, Peter, plane trips, hospitals—felt like a whirlwind blur. It sounded strange, but he was comfortable in Iraq; he had his training and his instincts to fall back on, his men to watch his back and vise versa. As a trained soldier, after a while you became acclimated to your situation, you knew what to expect. But this … nothing had prepared him for this. The Army was all he had ever known, all he had ever dreamed of, and all he had ever wanted … and in five short days, it may have all been taken away from him.
"Jasper." He heard her soft voice from across the room. She had been waiting patiently off to the side, listening to the doctor talk with Jasper. She walked over silently and placed her hand on his, wrapping her fingers around his and squeezing gently.
"Jasper … look at me." Her other hand reached out and nudged his jaw and he forced his eyes reluctantly towards hers.
"Jasper, you're going to be okay. You are strong and you are going to fight back from this, baby. You'll be back to normal before you know it. You can't concentrate on the 'maybes.'" Her eyes were shiny and wet, as she stroked his cheek, hoping that her words registered with him.
"Bella …." Her name was all he could choke out, as he broke down. Bella climbed into bed with him, wrapping her arms around him, tucking his head against her chest and comforting him as only she could. They laid that way all night, silently clinging to each other until they both drifted off to a restless sleep.
The next few days were the roughest. The surgery was a success but Jasper was going to have a long road ahead of him. He spent the first couple days in a haze of pain meds and by the third day they started him with some very light physical therapy. He could barely lift his leg an inch off the bed without severe pain.
A week after his surgery Charlotte finally stopped by, and they wept in their grief over Peter. Jasper kept apologizing and Charlotte shushed him, swearing to him that she didn't hold him responsible. Her dull eyes and haggard face haunted him though and he often woke up from horrible nightmares of Peter's body burning in the fire, morphing into the agonizing pain on Charlotte's face. He felt overwhelming grief—grief that he hadn't been able to help Peter and grief that now he couldn't help Charlotte either, because he was stuck in this damn bed. And he missed his friend; there was an empty space in his life now, one that would not be easily filled, if ever.
Another week and a half went by. Jasper's life had become a regular routine of breakfast, meds, physical therapy, lunch, another round of PT in the afternoon, sometimes a session with the hospital psychiatrist, dinner, a bath and then sleep. His sleep was fitful because of the nightmares, often leaving him exhausted for the next day, which affected how much physical therapy he could do. The progress of his leg was slow and no matter how encouraging the doctors and the therapists and Bella tried to be, he was still frustrated. They all kept telling him that it was going to take time, that he was expecting too much, but he shut their words out.
He was tired, he was sore, he was dealing with the nightmares and flashbacks and it was all too much. Depression and disillusionment started to set in. He probably wasn't going to be able to go back to active duty anyway so why even bother busting his butt at the physical therapy?
Through it all, Bella was there … every day. She'd been there almost round the clock in the beginning and then after the surgery when they settled him into his routine, she usually would come by in the late afternoon, staying through dinner and until visiting hours were over. She was the one bright spot in his day, the one thing he did look forward to. But even with her it was hard for him to feel fully engaged. She would talk about what was going on around the base, the other wives and soldiers she'd run into and how they asked about him and how he was doing. She talked about her work projects. She'd ask him how he was feeling, or how therapy went but he was always short with her. He didn't want to talk or think about any of it. Many times, during a quiet moment, she looked pensive, like she wanted to say something but didn't have the words, or had thought better about saying whatever it was that she wanted to say. Her eyes often looked tired and sometimes she would doze off in the chair while she was there, but most of the time she was positively glowing. Which only made Jasper sink into his pit of despair even more … apparently his being in the hospital and out of her hair was having some kind of positive effect on her. They had never talked about that last day before he left. Once the emotional part of his homecoming was over, she was back in the routine of being his wife and never once mentioned the argument they'd had. She had talked like she wanted out of the marriage … so did she still feel that way? Was that what she's been trying to tell him? Was she just sticking it out with him out of pity because he was injured and once he was better, she would leave? He knew they needed to talk but he was too scared. She was the one thing holding him together and if he lost her he would completely fall apart.
For Bella, it was so hard seeing him this way. He had always been the strong one in their relationship, the positive one. She knew he had been through a traumatic, horrible experience and that it was disappointing and devastating for him to be laid up and immobile, unable to do the things he wanted to do. And she knew he was becoming frustrated with the slow healing progress, even though the doctors and therapists all said he was right on target. She could see his strong will slowly slipping away, day by day. She thanked God every day that he had made it back to her, but he was not the same man who left her all those months ago. The light in his eyes was gone and she was afraid she was never going to see it again.
She still hadn't told him about the baby. Every time she tried to bring it up she'd lose her nerve. He was already dealing with so much … before she would have had no hesitation in telling him; she knew how overjoyed he would be. But now … she wasn't sure how he was going to feel about a child. Would it just be one more burden to him?
The days were beginning to drag and he seemed to be sinking deeper and deeper. She was afraid if she didn't find some way to shake him up, some way to find the old Jasper soon … it might be too late.
He had just finished his morning PT and was back in his room resting when Bella walked in. He should have been happy but it only made him uneasy. Something was wrong—she never came by in the mornings.
She smiled and walked over and kissed him, asking how he was doing today. He answered her but wasn't in the mood for chitchat. She was obviously here for a reason and he wanted to know … maybe this was the day, the day she was finally going to tell him she was leaving.
"Baby why are you here so early?" He could feel his heart beating faster, anxious for her response.
"I'll explain that later, first I have something for you." She handed him a small flat box with two ribbons wrapped around it, one pink and one blue. He gave her a confused look and simply slipped the ribbons off without paying much attention to their color. He took off the lid of the box and pulled away some tissue paper to reveal … a photo? He flipped it over but the back was blank. It was definitely photographic paper but the picture was all black with some blurry white blobs. He turned it upside down to see if it made more sense but it didn't. Bella laughed at him then and when he looked up at her she had tears in her eyes.
"I know it doesn't look like much … yet." She took a deep breath and took one of his hands in hers. "The doctor took that just a few days before you got home. It's a sonogram … of our baby."
Her quiet words echoed in the room and while they sunk into his brain he stared at the picture again. Those white blobs … were their baby?
When he didn't say anything, Bella spoke again, her voice more strained and anxious this time.
"Jasper, I know this is probably the last thing you need right now, I know you're dealing with a lot right now, and I know you're having trouble grasping what your life has become at the moment. But please, baby … please don't give up, please fight to get better. I don't care if you are able to go back to the Army or not, and our baby won't either. But we need you."
He looked back at her and her lip was starting to quiver.
"The reason I'm here is because I have an appointment with Dr. Rodriguez upstairs. The equipment wasn't working right when she did that sonogram and we couldn't hear the heartbeat, so she's going to do another one today. I thought maybe … I was hoping you would like to come along?"
Jasper's mouth gaped open and tears started to well up. She was still holding his hand and he gripped it back tightly. He couldn't move much so he pulled on her arm.
"Come here darlin'." She climbed up into the bed with him and he crushed her to his body, both of them crying. His heart leapt with joy but then plummeted again. He still needed to know one thing.
He shifted a little and she leaned up to look at him. "Bella, you've never said a word about … we've never talked about … that last day. I wasn't sure you were even going to be here when I got home, and then you were but … I need to know your real feelings. I don't want you feeling obligated to stay with me because I'm injured or because we're having a baby."
It was all he could do to get the words out and there was heaviness in his chest as he waited desperately for her answer.
Her face crinkled into a frown and more tears flowed. "Oh my God, Jasper … I am so sorry for everything I said that day!" She bowed her head; "You don't know how much I've kicked myself since then. Especially when … when I didn't know … if you … were okay." The last two words were barely audible as she swallowed hard, struggling to keep herself composed before looking him directly in the eye.
"Every day I've wished I could take those words back. But honestly … I can't promise there won't be more moments of frustration like that one. I hate that you have to be gone so much. You know that, you know I will always struggle with that and I won't pretend otherwise. But please, baby … please know that I love you. I have always loved you Jasper Whitlock … and I always will. I never really wanted to leave you. If I did you might as well rip my heart out, because I don't think I could live without you."
Now his face crumpled and he pulled her to him, whispering in her ear between tears. "Oh baby … you don't know how it feels to hear you say that. You were the one who gave me the strength to get out of ...." He swallowed hard, trying to get the words out. " … that place. You were all I thought about the whole time, and all the way home to the states. I was so terrified you wouldn't be here when I walked off that plane, that maybe I'd truly lost you for good this time. I couldn't live, I couldn't breathe if I didn't have you."
They pulled apart and stared at each other, both of their faces a soggy mess. She let out a half-sob, half-laugh as she reached up with her hand to wipe the tears from his face. "I'm sorry … "
He reached up and stopped her hand with his. "No more sorrys. It's all done with now." And then his face broke out in the biggest, widest grin she thought she'd ever seen on him.
"We're having a baby," he whispered.
She smiled lovingly back at him. "Yes."
He pressed his forehead to hers.
"We're having a baby." And then he whipped his head back and let out a booming "yee-haw!" for the whole hospital to hear. She cringed away from him, laughing hysterically. Several nurses walking by in the hallway stopped to look into his room in alarm.
He just looked up at them, still grinning goofily from ear to ear. "We're having a baby!"
They tittered at him and murmured congratulations before continuing on their way.
Immediately he started peppering Bella with a flurry of questions, wanting to know everything—was she doing okay, how was she feeling, what had the doctor said, was the baby okay ….
She breathlessly answered his questions as fast as she could. Yes she had some morning sickness, but that was starting to lessen, so yes she felt fine. Yes the doctor said the baby was fine.
It wasn't long before one of the orderlies came by as Bella had requested, to help get Jasper into his wheelchair so that he could go upstairs with Bella to her appointment.
Jasper was as excited and fidgety as a kid on Christmas morning, but finally the doctor came in. She welcomed Jasper back and they made small talk. Jasper had a million questions for her, and Bella finally broke in and apologized to the doctor but she just smiled and took it in stride, explaining that it was always wonderful to see such an excited expectant father as Jasper.
The doctor had some questions for Bella, checking in to see how she was feeling, if there was any pain or anything unusual. Finally she pulled over the sonogram equipment and messed with some knobs and switches. She turned back to Bella and applied the cold gel onto her slightly bulging abdomen.
And suddenly there it was … Jasper could barely make out what he was seeing at first but soon he could see their baby taking form—the tiny head and the even tinier feet and hands and heart. He just held on to Bella's hand and stared at the picture on the monitor in awe.
Next the doctor flipped another switch and a loud and fast whoosh-whoosh-whoosh sound filled the room. Jasper's eyes bugged out as he looked at the doctor.
Dr. Rodriguez grinned at him. "Yep, That's your baby's heartbeat. Very steady and strong. That's one healthy little guy or gal you've got there."
Jasper's head whipped around to look at Bella, his eyes still wide. She smiled up at him, in wonder and amazement herself, tears starting to form again.
As they stared happily at each other, a million thoughts were racing through Jasper's head. A baby … they were really having a baby. He was still in shock and giddy with joy. Again, his whole world was shifting. In the space of barely more than an hour his whole life had changed again. He had purpose now—two important purposes, his wife and his child—to live for now, to be strong for now, to get better for now. We need you, Bella's words echoed in his mind. I'm here, he answered back silently. He would always be here for them, no matter what it took. Suddenly it didn't matter so much anymore whether he would be able to go back into the field or not, or what the rest of his Army career would entail—all that mattered, all that was important, was right here in this room.
Unable to take the damned sitting and waiting anymore, Jasper jumped up and shuffled down the hall. He wanted to leave the hospital completely, he needed to feel the cool breeze on his skin, he needed to breathe some fresh air into his lungs. But he couldn't leave. As he turned the corner he saw two doors and the sign, "Chapel." He stopped. He fidgeted and almost turned back around and then on second thought decided to go in. He hadn't stepped foot inside a church in years. Growing up, he had to go to Church every Sunday whether he wanted to or not. His momma had strong faith in God and miracles. If she were here this would have been the first place she went, sure that God could fix everything.
The room was empty, still and eerily quiet. Well at least he could be alone in here and away from all the loud hustle and bustle of the rest of the hospital. He stood uncomfortably for a bit, then finally sat down in the last pew.
After the day that he heard his baby's heartbeat, Jasper tried to turn all that he could around. He pushed himself hard in physical therapy and after a month he was able to get around on crutches, enough so that he was discharged from the hospital and allowed to go home. Between physical therapy appointments and appointments with the psychiatrist, it felt like he was still back at the hospital almost every day, but at least at the end of those days he got to go home. He was able to sleep with his beautiful wife and their growing child beside him.
Well when he was able to sleep that is. He often woke up from nightmares and flashbacks about everything that had happened. The nightmares were murky flashes but he always woke covered in sweat, with an intense feeling of foreboding. He tried not to, but his thrashing usually woke Bella up and she would hold him or rock him until his breathing calmed. He felt awful. Now, when she needed her rest more than ever, he was disrupting her sleep. Many a day he would look at her and he could see the fatigue in her face and a heavy guilt would settle over him.
The flashbacks though were the scariest. He had no control when one of those would come. They were usually triggered by something, a sound, an image—sometimes the smallest thing would set him off . The first time Bella witnessed one, the frightened look on her face and the tears in her eyes broke his heart.
He hated that not only did she have to go through all this crap with him, but that she was taking care of him. She kept telling him it didn't matter; the most important thing was that he was here. That was all she wanted.
But he was used to being the one to take care of her and lavish all his attention on her when he was home, to make up for all the times when he was gone. And now, of all times that he should be taking care of her, he couldn't. He couldn't run out to the store at midnight when she had a craving. He couldn't help her get the nursery together. He tried to put the crib together and got so frustrated with his limited mobility that he almost destroyed the whole damn thing.
Talking with Doc Stevens, his psych therapist, helped him some in dealing with a lot of these feelings. He missed Peter though. They had been there for each other through so much … he was the one Jasper always turned to when he needed to talk to someone. And now he was gone. One day the doc told him to talk to Peter if he needed to. Jasper thought he was crazy at first, but he told Jasper to just "talk" to Peter as if he was really there. He told him it might help him unburden himself of some of the guilt that was blocking him, mentally and emotionally.
On the way home that day, Jasper stopped the truck at an isolated park. Everything came pouring out as he broke down, finally "speaking" to Peter in his mind, telling him everything. He apologized for not being able to save him, he told him how much he missed him, he told him about his recovery and his fears about not being able to stay in the Army.
When he finally was done, he felt exhausted and drained … but lighter. And then Peter's favorite song randomly came on the radio and Jasper couldn't help but laugh out loud. It was if Peter was answering him, telling him he was still there, and that everything was going to be okay. Sitting there listening to the song, a smile still on his face, he realized he had one more thing to tell Peter.
Hey Peter, man … guess what? Bella's pregnant! Yep, I'm going to be a daddy, can you believe that? Jasper's smile faded a little. I don't know what I'm going to do without your advice to help me out. But in his heart he knew what Peter would tell him … Just spoil em' and enjoy the ride … now get on home and take care of your wife.
Jasper chuckled and wiped his eyes, Yes, sir, he answered, as he started the truck back up and headed home.
Every week that passed made Jasper work even harder and his PT often had to slow him down or make him stop before he did more harm than good. But in his mind he was working toward a deadline. He had never missed reaching a goal and he wasn't going to stop now.
And by Bella's last month, he could finally forego both the crutches and the wheelchair. He limped heavily and there was still some pain but he could stand and walk for small periods. And he could drive. One day after his therapy appointment he got summoned to his C.O.'s office. Unhappily he reported in, expecting his C.O. to tell him his army career was over. Instead, he was surprised with the complete opposite—he was told that he was too valuable to the Special Forces program to lose, and until he was ready, if ever, to return to active duty, they wanted him to become an instructor in the training program. His experience, knowledge and tactical skills would be an invaluable resource for their young recruits.
Jasper was overwhelmed and overjoyed as he headed home. He was the luckiest guy in the world. It was amazing how things had turned around in the last five months. He would still be able to remain in the Army job that he loved, his leg was getting stronger every day, and not only did he have an amazing wife, but a baby on the way. He was truly blessed.
Bella was extremely uncomfortable in her last few weeks of the pregnancy, so he doted on her as much as he could. He rubbed her legs and her swollen ankles. He massaged her shoulders and her scalp; he ran baths for her. Best of all since he was off active duty he was always home. They both could wait for the arrival of the baby together. And that's what they did—they talked and reminisced and reconnected, becoming "Jasper and Bella" again during that last month, before they would soon become "Mom and Dad."
It was still about a week before Bella's due date. She was craving ribs again from Al's Rib Joint, the only real BBQ place in town so Jasper had gone to pick some up for their dinner. During the pregnancy if she wasn't craving ribs then it was spicy Mexican food. Jasper always grinned proudly when she asked for either one of the two, (and sometimes both) swearing it meant their baby had some strong Texas blood running deep in him or her. Bella would just roll her eyes and tell him to get a move on, she was starving.
Jasper had just walked in the door with two big bags of food when he heard the painful yell. His blood ran cold and he dropped the food and half-ran, half-hobbled as fast as he could up the stairs to their bedroom.
Bella was doubled over gripping her swollen stomach, the floor wet under her. She glared up at him. "Where the hell have you been? It's … time!" she managed to get out between gritted teeth before letting loose with another loud moan of pain.
Staring at her in shock, Jasper opened his mouth to answer her, then luckily thought better of it and snapped his jaws shut. He jumped into action, rushing around, grabbing her suitcase and other items they planned to take with them to the hospital.
The next few hours were a blur—driving to the hospital, the nurses whisking them into a room and getting Bella prepped, checking her vitals, checking the baby's status. As all this was going on, the previous fit-to-be-tied Bella suddenly turned into scared-shitless Bella as she looked at him in panic. He quickly bent down close to her, grasping her hand and making her focus on him. He told her how much he loved her, how proud he was of her, what a good mother she was going to be … and that she was strong and she was going to get through this. He was right there and they were going to get through this together, he was never leaving her side. Soon they were going to have a beautiful baby to welcome into the world.
As always he knew exactly what she needed—he knew exactly what to say and what to do to calm her, to steady her.
Unfortunately it was a long, hard labor and by the final push, Bella was very weak. Jasper was really getting worried about her, hoping she was going to be able to make it. But she managed that one last push and only seconds later they heard a hearty, healthy cry. Jasper looked at her with relief and love and joy on his face, while the tears streamed down. She collapsed against the pillow, smiling back at him.
She whispered though parched lips, "I love you," and then her eyes closed and her body went limp. The level of noise in the room rose even louder as machines started beeping loudly and nurses started rushing around. The doctor started barking out orders. Someone pushed Jasper out of the room, but not before he saw the blood … so much blood … too much blood, he thought to himself, horrified.
Jasper stared blankly at the ornate cross hanging at the front of the room. He closed his eyes and leaned over, elbows on his knees, his head in his hands.
God, please … not now...not now. We were just getting back on track; everything was good again. He choked on a sob. I can't … I can't live without her, I need her, our baby needs her. I know I have not been around as much as she needed me. Do whatever you want to me for that, but don't … don't …
He couldn't even finish his thought.
Just then the door opened.
"Mr. Whitlock? Would you like to see your baby now?"
His emotions were all over the place as he followed the nurse down the hall. Joyous, nervous, anxious, excited ….
When they walked into the nursery, the nurse motioned to him to sit down in one of the rocking chairs in the corner. His eyes scanned the various cribs, separating out all the ones in pink blankets, wondering which one she was. Everything had happened so fast in the delivery room he hadn't even gotten a chance to see her.
And suddenly there she was. The nurse handed him this teeny tiny squirming bundle of soft pink flannel, two arms and a scrunched up face the only parts of her visible.
Jasper felt like he was all gawky hands and arms trying to hold onto her properly but it didn't take long to get her situated in the crook of his arm and he just gazed down at her in awe. She was so beautiful and so perfect. An electric shock pierced through his heart followed by a feeling of warmth and calm that radiated throughout his whole body.
As he continued to gaze down at her, her face suddenly went slack and she opened her eyes, looking up at him for the first time.
"Hey baby, hey sweet pea … I'm your daddy. Welcome to the world."
He ever so lightly stroked her cheek. "You are so beautiful, the spitting image of your momma. She loves you so much baby girl, she …." he had to stop for a moment and swallow around the lump in his throat before continuing. " … She's really tired right now and needs her rest, but I promise you she can't wait to meet you."
He and Bella had discussed baby names at length for boys and girls. If it was a girl he wanted to name her after Bella, but she refused. After much heated debated they finally compromised on Sara Isabella, which he said was good enough by him, he would just call her by her middle name. Bella had thrown up her hands in exasperation.
"My little Izzy, I want you to always know and always remember that your daddy loves you more than anything in this world … well more than anything except for your momma." He smiled at her as her eyes moved all over taking everything in. "I will always be here for you, I will always take care of you and love you and protect you no matter what." He reached a finger out to stroke her hand when she moved again. Her little fingers uncurled from her fist and then wrapped around his finger so tight, it was like she simultaneously wrapped them around his heart, claiming him forever. Tears welled up in his eyes, as he gazed down at her.
He sat with her for quite a while, eventually rocking her back to sleep. He wanted to stay there forever, but he handed her back to the nurse and went back out into the hall to sit … and wonder … and wait.
Finally after what felt like forever, the doctor came to him with news. Bella had lost a lot of blood but they had finally been able to get it stopped. She would probably be asleep for a while and weak for several days, but she would ultimately be fine.
The last thin thread holding him together snapped and Jasper completely broke down, bowing his head and sobbing in to his hands. The doctor placed a hand of comfort on his shoulder as Jasper thanked him profusely. A nurse led him back to Bella's room where he was allowed to sit with her.
His heart clenched; she looked so pale and fragile against the white sheets, her eyes closed. He had to take a few deep breaths and remind himself that the doctor said she was going to be okay.
He pulled up a chair to her bedside, and took her hand in his.
"Bella baby, wake up for me, please … I saw our baby girl, she's so beautiful … she can't wait to meet her momma." He reached up and stroked her hair, continuing down across her cheek. Bella didn't stir, though, so he simply sat there, holding her hand. He would wait however long it took for her to wake up; he was not leaving her side.
Now that the crisis was over, however, his body started to shut down. He fell asleep without realizing it, his cheek resting on her thigh.
He awoke to the soft touch of fingers lightly combing through his short hair. He stirred and lazily opened his eyes. Bella was looking at him, a weak smile on her face.
Thank you God, was his only thought as he smiled gratefully back at his beautiful wife.
Jasper was allowed a week off to get his wife and baby home and situated before he had to start his new job as a training instructor.
On the first day he had to go back to work, Bella awoke in the nursery in the rocking chair, baby Izzy still asleep in her arms. As her drowsy eyes struggled to open and get their bearings, she saw a note pinned to the baby's blanket.
To my darling girls,
My heart is filled to bursting with so much love and joy as I stare at both of you, so content and peaceful. Izzy, my beautiful baby girl, sleeping in your momma's arms—be a good girl for her today and let her get some rest!
It was so hard to leave you both this morning. You both will be in my heart and my thoughts all day, as I count the minutes and the hours until I can be home with you both again tonight.
Bella, I love you, and I thank you. For loving me, for putting up with me, for sharing your life with me … but most of all for not giving up on us, and for giving me the greatest gift in the world, our amazing Izzy. You have given me so much more than I deserve and I will do all I can to be the man you need, every minute, every hour every day of the rest of our lives.
I love you baby.