Song: "Let There Be Morning" – The Perishers
Chapter 21 – Devotion
Three months later…
Sam jumped down from the back of Emmett's jeep and waited while the rest of us followed him. "Gotta say, it's weird to be having a bachelor party with no beer and no girls. Not that I've ever been to a bachelor party before, but I've heard the tales." Jake laughed and slapped Sam on the back as he jumped down next to him. "You've heard the tales of human bachelor parties, Sam. I think this extends beyond those rumors." Geoff laughed and hopped down beside Sam. "I've been to human bachelor parties without beer and girls. They're usually pretty boring. Good thing we're not human."
I sat down on the edge of the jeep and turned to face Jake. "So fill us in, Jake. When exactly did you pick up his scent?"
"A little over an hour ago. Paul thinks he came from the south, but we can't be sure. Our job is to track him down and check out the situation. The fact that he's been avoiding detection so well tells us he has something to hide. If not, why hide from Rosalie and I?"
Geoff laughed and crossed his arms over his chest. "Gee, I dunno. Maybe because your scent is less appealing than the thought of eating human food? Besides, since when are you and Rosalie taking up guard together?"
"Since she refused to split guard time with anyone else. We have an understanding of sorts… Hurling insults at each other helps pass the time."
Sam pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it into the back of the jeep before turning to face Jake again. "Never thought I'd see the day when you'd be requesting duty with her, of all people."
"It doesn't matter." I interjected, guiding the conversation back to the vampire that had been detected hunting on our lands. "Here's the situation, boys. There's a vampire out there somewhere. He knows we live here… Carlisle picked up his tracks around the house and Paul followed his scent in a semi-circle around the town. It's our duty to check out the situation and make sure no one is in danger. Now, we have to be careful. We don't know what we're dealing with here. For all we know, this could be a Volturi lookout, in which case threatening him is the last thing we want to do. Now, once we're within range, we have the advantage of Geoff being able to pick up his thoughts and tell us why he's here. We won't need to waste time trying to get a look at his eyes. Everyone set?"
I glanced around and watched as Jake pulled his shirt off and threw it into the back of the jeep with Sam's. Emmett was stretching needlessly and Sam was staring into the forest expectantly. Geoff stood beside him with his eyes closed, most likely listening for rogue thoughts.
"Alright." I said. "Let's go over the rules one last time. The first one there gets the combination from Rosalie. In the event of a tie, Rosalie will decide on a tiebreaker."
"Still no idea what's in the safe?" Jake glanced over his shoulder, looking back at me, but it was Emmett who answered first.
"You're kidding right? She guards that thing day and night. I tried to shake it but she caught me and beat the hell out of me."
Jake snorted and ran a hand through his hair before turning to look into the trees again. "Whipped." He whispered, just loud enough for all of us to hear. Emmett shot a look at me before walking up beside Jake. "Oh, I'm whipped, huh? This from the man who comes when his girl whistles? Literally."
Jake seemed to blush a little and I felt a mix of embarrassment and annoyance fill the air. "I told her if there was trouble she could whistle and I'd hear." He stared at Emmett while Emmett doubled over in laughter. When he had managed to calm himself down a bit, Emmett stood up and shook his head at Jake. "Trouble, huh? Rosie was with you the last time Joy ran into 'trouble'." Emmett raised his hands up in the air as he said 'trouble' doing finger quotes to emphasize his sarcasm. "Since when does wanting you to hang clothes on a clothes line count as 'trouble'?"
Jake growled under his breath while Emmett, Geoff, Sam, and I made no attempts to hide our amusement.
"Can we just do this already?" Jake said, making his way to the edge of the forest. The four of us exchanged grins before following him. When we were all lined up together, Jake and Sam phased into their wolf forms.
"Alright. Let's have some fun, boys. Remember, let Geoff get in his head first. So if you reach him before Geoff, contain him, but do not harm him until we have the go ahead. This may be a game, but we've still got a job to do."
Sam and Jake both nodded and seconds later we were flying through the trees.
"Geoff and Jake got to him at the same time. Geoff has a feeling Jasper let them win, though." I glanced up from my magazine to see Carlisle staring at me with a puzzled look on his face. "Why would he do that? He's the best hunter of all of us. Between his gift and his experience, it should have been no contest, really."
"Perhaps that's the point, Carlisle." Esme walked into the room with Kate close behind her. Kate seemed to be glowing even more than usual. "Perhaps for Jasper the point of the game was not to get there first, but to allow the others the bonding experience they've needed."
"Perhaps…" Carlisle said and looked down at his book again.
"Anyway," I continued, "Geoff says it was just a nomad looking for a place to settle for a short time. He was avoiding us because he could smell the tribe all over the woods and town. Not to mention our house. They didn't destroy him. Just warned him off once they saw he wasn't really malicious. It sounds like they had fun, all in all."
Kate sat down beside me and smiled happily. "Did Geoff also tell you they've been giving Jake a hard time?" I laughed and closed my magazine, setting it aside. "He didn't have to. I made him promise to tell me the outcome. I already knew they'd give the mongrel hell. So!" I said, looking at Carlisle and Esme. "A tie. A tie between vampire and shape shifter. How should we do this?"
Silence filled the room as we all stared back and forth at one another. Finally, Esme sat down on Carlisle's lap and they stared at each other for a second before Carlisle nodded his head once. Esme grinned and turned back to face us.
"Well, there's only one thing we can do. We said whoever got to him first would get the combination. So, we give them both the combination and prepare the safe for two winners. How much time do we have?"
Kate checked her watch and scrunched up her nose for a moment before answering. "My best guess is about two hours, including the trip to La Push."
"Alright. Then Rosalie and I will make a quick trip to Port Angeles and Carlisle can go pick up Bella and take her to pick up her mother from the airport. Kate, you'll be in charge of protecting the safe. Sound fair to everyone?"
Within a matter of seconds, everyone set about fulfilling their responsibilities. Carlisle kissed Esme goodbye and pulled out of the driveway to go to the Swan house. As Esme and I got into her car and started toward Port Angeles, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Bella's number.
"Hey Rose." Bella's voice sounded slightly strained and I wondered if Charlie had anything to do with it.
"Well, don't you sound like a breath of fresh air? Charlie's nerves getting the better of him?" Esme laughed gently and shook her head as she navigated the car onto the highway. "That's putting it lightly." Bella sighed and then cleared her throat. "Anyway, what's up?"
"I need some advice. Geoff gave me a heads up: He and Jake tied, so now we're heading out to find a second prize. Now, you know what the original prize is and it can be used by either Jake or Geoff; I'm sure they would both enjoy a trip to New Zealand. But, let's be honest. We had assumed a vampire would win and went out of our way to find a private resort where sun wouldn't be an issue. Eagle's Nest is perfect for us. There's a private beach even. But, like I said, I imagine Jake would enjoy taking Joy on a trip. So I need your help. Should we get something specifically for Jake and give Geoff the trip, or…."
"Jake wouldn't be able to take a trip anytime soon, anyway. He just stepped up as Alpha. He can't run off on that and leave Sam in charge so soon. I say give the trip to Geoff and Kate. They need the private time together and you're right: we planned Eagle's Nest as a trip specifically as a get away for—"
"Right, right." I cut Bella off as Esme sent me a questioning look. "Well Esme and I are heading toward Port Angeles. Before we go too far, I need to know what we're getting for Jake then. As much as I'd love to give him a diamond encrusted dog collar, I don't think that's quite appropriate this time."
Bella burst into laughter and took several moments to collect herself. "We really are a lot alike, Rosie. Okay, go to Port Angeles and head over to Port Angeles Power Equipment. They're just off Highway 101. Awhile back I was talking to the owner about motorcycle parts and he showed me their Kawasaki's."
"Perfect." Esme said and smiled happily.
"We're set." I told Bella. "Thanks, Bella. We'll take care of the rest. Carlisle is going to be picking you up soon. Tell Charlie to calm down. He won't even be seeing your mom until tomorrow."
"It's no use, Rose. His daughter's getting married tomorrow and his ex-wife is bringing her new husband to the wedding. He's fit to be tied. I swear, Rose, if he wasn't taking Sue Clearwater to the wedding, he'd be impossible to deal with."
A smile tugged at the corner of Esme's mouth as Bella and I exchanged goodbyes. Without asking, I already knew exactly where her mind had gone.
"I know, I know. He's unknowingly joining ranks with both vampires and werewolves all in one day. If only he knew…"
Esme and I laughed, remembering Jasper's most recent recalling of Chief Swan's current emotional well-being.
"One minute he's happy that his little girl is getting married and he gets to walk her down the aisle, which is a proud thing for him. The next minute he's scared that Bella's going to forget him while she's gone and decide she doesn't need him anymore. Then he remembers Bella's mom is coming and he starts to feel anxious, nostalgic, and jealous all at once. Then it occurs to him that they were miserable while married and he's better off. Naturally, Sue pops into his head then and his emotions take a turn back for happiness with a dash of affection and lust thrown in. And of course, this all takes place in about two second's time. I tell you, if he knew I could feel his emotions, he wouldn't bother acting so tough and collected when we go hunting together. That would be far easier on me. I relish the thought of the day when we can just tell him and get it over with…"
"Anyway," Bella said, sighing into the phone. "I'll see you guys soon. Give Esme my love." Bella and I exchanged goodbyes and I turned in my seat to face Esme.
"She's right you know. Every time Jasper comes back with his hunting trips with Charlie he's torn between loving the man and wanting to lock him in a padded room. It's bad enough he has to use a gun and walk at a human's pace to hunt, but then he has to endure the smell of fresh blood while having a deep conversation with Charlie the Anxiety Ridden."
Esme smiled knowingly as she made a right hand turn. "I think it's an honorable thing he's doing with Charlie. He knew what he was getting into when he asked Charlie if they could spend some quality time together before the wedding. Charlie likes Geoff so much that he's hoping Jasper can be the same kind of friend and son he saw in Geoff."
"Well, at this point, Jasper will do just about anything to make Bella happy and he's getting some major brownie points for it." I settled back in my seat, pondering a custom paint job on Jake's brand new motorcycle.
"Rosalie says you need to turn it off until everything's done. She doesn't want the surprise ruined for you because you heard it in her mind or something." Katie's voice was laced with amusement and I groaned quietly, holding the cell phone against my ear.
"Damn. I was looking forward to knowing before everyone else."
Katie laughed and I imagined her throwing her head back gently, her slender neck stretching and curving with her movements. "I know you were. But she's right, ya know. It'd be more fun for everyone if you were completely in the dark just like Jake. We want to see the surprise on both your faces."
"Alright, alright. We'll be there soon. I'll start blocking everything now so that I don't accidentally pick something up."
I glanced over at Jasper and saw him smirking in amusement, though he offered no witty comment. Emmett, however, glanced back at me while keeping one hand at the twelve o'clock position on the steering wheel. "Jake will be happy to know he's not the only one who's whipped around here." He smirked and turned around again, throwing a look at Sam before looking at the road again. Sam shook his head, but remained quiet, staring out the passenger side window thoughtfully.
"Darling," Katie said, drawing my attention back to her. "Remind Emmett that I can hear him and have ways of exacting revenge upon him. He may not do absolutely everything Rosalie asks of him, but girls do talk, and I happen to know just how much he'll do to earn her forgiveness when sex is involved." Emmett's body went rigid and his gripped tightened on the steering wheel. Jasper laughed loudly and shook his head as Sam whipped around in his seat to look at me.
In the flash of just a few seconds' time, I saw Emmett kneeling in front of Rosalie with a look of defiance in his eyes. The scene changed and I watched as Rosalie pushed Emmett out of bed, his body hitting the floor with a loud thud. Once more, the scene changed and I gasped as the images came together.
"Tell me you're sorry…" Rosalie stood over Emmett, her hair falling in thick golden curls around her face. Emmett lay beneath her on the bed, moving his hands to reach for her hips, defiance still written across his face. "Ah, ah, ah." Rosalie said in a sing-song voice as she pushed his hands back down to the bed. "I didn't say you could touch…" Emmett rolled his eyes and moved his hands again, grabbing her hips for a split second. Rosalie pushed his hands away and slapped him across the face, eliciting a hiss from Emmett. She sat up, straddling Emmett's waist delicately. The sound of an annoyed groan filled the room and Emmett turned his face back to face Rosalie. She smirked and raked her nails down his bare chest, stopping just before the waistband of his boxers. She then drug her hands up her thighs and over her body, letting the sheer red lace of her barely-there negligee fall over her hands.
"Tell me you're sorry…" She repeated, moving her hips slowly. Emmett shook his head and closed his eyes, causing Rosalie's smirk to grow. "I know what you want right now… I can feel it pressing into me. I know how much its killing you not to grab me and throw me down right now. Tell me you're sorry and you'll never do it again and I'll let you have your way with me."
Emmett shook his head almost violently and squeezed his eyes shut harder. Rosalie laughed loudly, throwing her head back as she rocked her body on his. Emmett's body twitched slightly and his hands moved to her thighs. Again, Rosalie slapped him, harder this time. A growl escaped Emmett's lips and his eyes snapped open as she pushed his arms off her thighs.
"Tell me you're sorry, baby…" Rosalie moved her hands over her body again, letting Emmett enjoy the show as she slid the lacy straps down off her shoulders. In deliberately slow movements, Rosalie allowed the thin fabric to fall around her waist, exposing her upper body as her hips began to grind down on Emmett faster.
"You have five seconds before I put my clothes back on and go shopping with Alice. Of course, I'd much rather be here, forgiving you the best way I know how: Naked and screaming. But I can't do that if you won't apologize and promise me you'll never do it again."
Emmett groaned, a pained sound like that of a dying dog.
He groaned again and his hips rose up off the bed, moving with Rosalie's.
She raked her nails down his chest again, this time letting her fingertips dip into the front of his boxers for a split second.
"Fuck!" He moaned and kept moving against her, his movements becoming more urgent and desperate.
Emmett closed his eyes and his hands moved back to Rosalie's thighs, gripping her tightly. She stopped moving instantly and began to move off him when he caught her wrist.
"Alright. Alright. I'm sorry, babe. I'm an idiot. I won't do it again."
Rosalie's lips spread into a grin that seemed like that of a succubus: Sinfully beautiful, and beautifully sinful.
"Whoa." My vision cleared and I sat back, trying to regain solid footing back in reality. Emmett was glaring at me and it was obvious he knew what I'd seen.
"What?" Sam asked, looking between the two of us. I grinned, knowing I finally had ammunition against Emmett; ammunition that would shut him up once and for all. But…. Rosalie. Showing the boys what I'd seen would compromise her integrity and her privacy. I hadn't asked to see her semi-naked and in such an intimate setting; the images had invaded my mind unbidden. Still, Emmett needed to learn to take what he dished out.
I smirked and quickly edited the visions, allowing Emmett to remain entirely in tact, but editing Rosalie's form down to only her face and arms. I replayed the edited visions, feeling confident in what I was about to show the group: it incriminated Emmett, while protecting Rosalie's privacy.
"Don't." Emmett said when I opened my eyes. "Oh, no, please do." Jasper said, leaning forward slightly. Before Emmett could blink, I sent the edited visions to the entire group, Emmett included. Within seconds, Sam and Jasper were rolling around in their seats, laughter literally choking them. Emmett glowered, though he silently thanked me for at least covering up Rosalie before throwing him under the bus.
"So what did you do to piss her off anyway?" Sam's voice was strained with laughter as he turned to face Emmett.
Emmett's cell phone rang then, saving him from having to answer. Sam sat back in his seat, still snickering in amusement.
"Yeah?" Emmett's voice was gruff, but his relief was obvious.
"So, I'm whipped, huh?" Jake's voice filled the car and Emmett snapped it closed as he spun around to glare at me, a growl building in his chest.
"Down, boy." Jake glared at me and took a step away from the safe. "Sit." I smirked, enjoying the temporary power I had over him. He crossed his arms over his chest and I raised an eyebrow in response. "SIT." He groaned and sat down beside Geoff, obviously choosing to play nice to get his prize.
"Such a good boy." I said, patting him on the head as I passed by him. Geoff leaned back in his seat, placing his hands behind his head as he relaxed on the couch. When I reached Kate she relinquished her spot guarding the safe and exhaled before dropping down beside Geoff. "Weight off my shoulders, I tell you. Sometimes being this good is nearly impossible."
Geoff slid his arm around Kate's waist and she leaned into his side instinctively. "Well, then. We'll just have to see how bad you can be later tonight."
"Alright, alright. That's enough of that." Emmett stepped up behind me and kissed the back of my neck before patting the top of the safe. "You know there can only be one hot couple around here. And we staked out the territory long ago."
"Son, I resent the insinuation that before you, there was no 'hotness' in this house. Perhaps you underestimate Esme and I." Hearing that rare tone of playfulness in Carlisle's voice, I spun around in time to see him grab Esme and pull her into a very PG-13 kiss. Emmett snorted and rolled his eyes, turning to face the safe. "Ooh, intense. You guys look like kittens cleaning each other's noses. Seriously, the passion in this room is off the charts."
Jake laughed and leaned forward to bump knuckles with Emmett. "Nice one." I groaned slightly and held out my hand with the combination to the safe written on a small piece of paper in the middle of my palm. "Do you not want your prize, or what? Now, be a good boy and quiet down. Look at Geoff, he knows how to cooperate."
Geoff raised an eyebrow and glanced around the room before shrugging and taking the piece of paper from my hand. "Sure, let's go with that." Kate laughed quietly and the room quieted down as he knelt in front of the safe.
"Alright, now. There's only one prize in there and it's going to Geoff. But before you get your panties in a twist, Jake, just know that your prize doesn't fit in the safe."
"Nice." He whispered and winked at Joy. She smiled softly, the affection she felt for him shining in her eyes. Suddenly, it hit me just as clear as day: Joy may not have imprinted on Jake, but it was obvious she had given her heart to him in a manner that few people would ever know. She continued to watch him long after he'd turned away, joking with Geoff about the prizes. The corner of her lips twitched slightly and a faint tint of pink flushed her face, causing her to look down in apparent embarrassment. When she looked up again, she was biting her lip and her eyes went straight to Jake. She ran her finger over the locket he had given her recently and a soft sigh fell from her lips.
"Love." Emmett whispered in my ear. I nodded slightly and felt his arms slide around my waist. "I'm not sure I've ever seen anything like it. Even between you and I. It wasn't that quick and it wasn't that mutual." I snickered and placed my hand over his.
"You're right." I whispered. "I didn't trust you for years. Can't have love without trust. But now… Now, I can't imagine ever doing it differently. It's sacred, what you and I have."
Emmett kissed the side of my head and I gave his hand another squeeze before returning to reality. I cleared my throat.
"Alright, boys, let's get on with it. Geoffrey, open her up. Now, we all know that you're still struggling with your thirst and while you obviously have more restraint than anyone ever gave you credit for, we figure you could use a break from all the temptation." Geoff nodded in agreement and I watched as he unlocked the safe. He reached inside and pulled out the plane tickets and reservation information he and Kate would need.
"Round-trip tickets to New Zealand for you and Kate." I said while he looked over the paperwork. "There's a resort there with wildlife within running distance. There's a private beach for just you and Kate where you won't have to worry about curious humans."
"Shit." Geoff said, his voice awe filled. Kate leaned forward to look at the brochures and tickets, happiness clearly emanating from her. "This is fucking awesome." Geoff said, looking up at me and then around the room. "Seriously. Thank you. It's ridiculously thoughtful. Thank you. Really."
Esme knelt in front of Geoff to point out key points on the brochures and give them more information. I sat down on top of the safe and leaned back into Emmett's chest. My eyes scanned the room reflexively to look for Bella's reaction, when I realized she wasn't there. The simple act of looking for her struck me, making me realize that Bella had officially become a welcome part of my life.
Jake leaned forward, breaking up my thoughts. I could see him fighting the urge to ask about his prize to give Geoff more time to enjoy his, but knew he was running out of patience. Still, a part of me did still enjoy seeing him suffer, so I crossed my arms over Emmett's drawing his arms tighter around me and chose to ignore Jake's pleading glances.
"When do you head out?" Sam's voice came from the furthest point in the room where he stood leaning against the fireplace. Geoff glanced up and shrugged before looking down at the tickets. "Tickets are for after the wedding. Should be plenty of time to get things in order." Sam nodded and Geoff glanced back down, leaving us all in an utter state of confusion.
"What things?" Jasper asked, reaching for one of the brochures. "Ah, nothing important." Geoff responded and passed him a second brochure.
Finally, Jake leaned forward and groaned in frustration. "I can't take it anymore… His prize is pretty sweet… I can only imagine what I get."
I grinned and leaned forward, pulling a card out of my pocket. "Alright, alright. Esme and I went to Port Angeles today and got this for you." I passed it to him and he took it happily. I watched as his grin slowly turned into a frown and he raised an eyebrow in confusion. "'6 months free laser hair treatments?'" Sam and Emmett snorted in unison and Jasper chuckled, turning away from the group to look outside.
"Laser hair removal." I said proudly, attempting to keep my expression as straight as possible. Jake looked back down at the card and I watched as he started to turn a lovely shade of red. "So who's bright idea was it to let Rosalie pick out my prize?"
I stood up and pulled out the keys to his new motorcycles and tossed it to him before he phased from anger. He caught the keys and looked at the emblem on the key-ring for a second before glancing up again. His anger drained away instantly, leaving behind only that boyish, gleeful grin I had come to loathe and enjoy over the past few months.
In a flash he was out the door and raising the door to the garage. We all followed him out and watched as he circled the matching pair of motorcycles waiting for him and Joy. I watched as he stepped back to admire the still drying, custom Quileute paint job. The bikes, black and gold with red etching here and there, featured the Quileute tribe insignia that I had gotten so used to see tattooed on Jake's arm. He whistled in admiration and then looked up at me with delight in his eyes.
"You ready to do this, Bells?" Charlie looked down at me as he ran his fingers through his mustache, making sure it was tidy. I nodded a little, feeling my nerves threaten to overwhelm me. I'd made Jasper swear not to mess with my emotions today. This day above all others, I wanted to experience in the most normal way possible. "I think so." I said quietly and hooked my arm through his. Charlie looked like the textbook Father of the Bride. His suit was completely free of wrinkles, his tie was immaculate, and he even had a tie clip holding it in place. A part of me wanted to thank Sue for looking out for him, the other part of me felt a twinge of sadness at the thought of him having a life that didn't include me.
I shook my head and forced the negative emotions away. Charlie gave my hand a pat and took a deep breath as we waited for the music to start.
Edward's silky, smooth voice washed over me, and I turned to find him standing beside me. I felt my lips curl up slowly, the corners pulling into a deep smile. I nodded once and Edward nodded in return.
"I imagine it might look quite strange if you're walking down the aisle with your arm held out to empty space, so instead, I thought I might simply accompany you and then take my place behind Jasper."
I nodded again, feeling a sense of relief. Alice had shown up at the crack of dawn this morning and had been there to oversee every step of the wedding day preparations. Only five minutes ago had she finally disappeared and reappeared in a bridesmaid gown and taken her place with Rosalie, Joy, Charlotte and Kate.
"I've been here since this morning. But, as I understand it, the groomsmen are supposed to stay with the groom during the day. You know, keep him away from the bride. I figured it would be okay to leave him to his own self control for a few moments."
I smiled up at him, grateful he had come and desperate to tell him so. Only, I couldn't with Charlie there. Instead, I placed my palm on my dress, just below my waist, and flexed my elbow out slightly without making it look awkward. I nodded toward his arm and Edward smiled, linking our arms together just as the music began.
"Here we go, kiddo." Charlie patted my hand and took a step forward, pulling me with him. For some reason, I couldn't make my feet move without his guidance and found myself feeling very thankful certain antiquated traditions still exist.
As the doors opened in front of us, I looked up to see Jasper standing under the wedding arch. He looked just as perfect as he did on a daily basis, only now he was wearing a black tuxedo. The side of his mouth twitched slightly and then pulled up into a something between a smile and a smirk.
"He can feel your anxiety. And your admiration."
Edward's voice seemed to shake gently with laughter. I cleared my throat, shoving what was left of my anxiety into a deep, dark corner in the back of my mind. A curl fell in front of my eyes and, not wanting to pull my arms from either of the men escorting me, I blew it away with a sharp puff. Emmett choked back a laugh, drawing my attention to him. His eyes sparkled brighter than usual and his dimples seemed never-ending. He winked at me and I rolled my eyes before glancing at Jake who stood directly behind Emmett. I noticed for the first time that he was slightly taller than Emmett and a part of me wondered just how much that bothered Emmett. Jake smiled his most reassuring smile and seemed to stand up a little straighter. I smiled back and made a mental note to thank him for being my best friend later. Peter winked at me, his grin just as wide and playful as always. I smiled, holding back a chuckle, and looked behind him to Geoff.
"You look beautiful, Bella. It's honestly quite painful to look at you right now."
Geoff smiled, but I knew what he really meant. Somewhere inside him, he was battling with his thirst. Thankfully, his eyes were as golden as ever and his expression soft and affectionate. I felt myself blush and Geoff's eyes twinkled with amusement. I glanced at Rosalie, Joy, Charlotte, Kate, and Alice who were lined up opposite the men and looked even more beautiful than they had just minutes ago. They each beamed at me and I smiled back before turning my attention back to Jasper where it belonged.
His grin widened as my eyes settled on him. If possible, he looked more angelic than I ever thought possible and I'd imagined this day many times. Still, none of my visions came even close to living up to the reality of my wedding day. There was so much love circling me, not just from Jasper, but from my family and friends. Somewhere deep inside that slightly nagging feeling that I didn't deserve all this love pulled at my stomach. I ignored it, focusing instead of Jasper's golden eyes. Looking into them made me feel as though I was floating in a pool of liquid honey. A soothing warmth filled my veins and everything else seemed to fade away, leaving only Jasper's eyes as I moved forward toward him; toward my future.
Jasper took my hand and I vaguely registered Charlie's lips on my cheek before he took a seat beside Sue. Edward fell in line behind the other groomsmen and smiled in encouragement. I stepped under the arch with Jasper and felt him take my other hand, holding them both as we stood facing one another.
The ceremony passed in a blur of sorts. I registered what was happening, nodding and smiling at the appropriate moments, but not really taking anything in. The only thing I was truly aware of was the way Jasper was looking at me. His eyes never left mine and though he also smiled and reacted appropriately to what was happening around us, I knew there was so much more happening within him than I'd ever know.
"I've been told the bride and groom have each prepared a set of vows they would like to share at this point." The Justice of the Peace smiled and took a step back, nodding to Jasper as he did. Jasper smiled calmly and nodded back. He squeezed my hand gently and then released it, reaching into his pocket. From it he pulled a dark purplish pearl bracelet with a diamond clasp.
"Black pearl." He said with a smirk. "My favorite." He rolled a pearl between two fingers and then undid the clasp with a flick. "There are twenty-five pearls on this strand. Each one of them stands for an emotion I've felt when in your presence." His smirk deepened and I realized he meant an emotion he'd felt from me during our time together.
"They've changed dramatically from the beginning, of course, starting with apprehension. Over time apprehension gave way to intrigue, followed closely by a certain sense of compassion. Time passed, lives changed, bringing forth sadness and despair. We wallowed in our sadness and despair together, forming a new bond of dependency. Dependency brought about enthrallment, the likes of which I've never felt before. It was fascinating."
He paused and counted off six pearls before continuing.
"In time enthrallment became admiration and respect, which eventually turned into affection and hope."
He counted off four more pearls and then looked up at me, his eyes sparkling as though he was the only one who knew the punch line to an inside joke.
"Longing." He said softly. "Such longing. Tenderness, too. Perhaps a longing to be tender. I remember a certain day… I walked into the room and watched you sleeping. You looked so peaceful. You opened your eyes and looked up at me as though something had drawn your eyes to mine and I felt such a rush of euphoria, it nearly knocked me off my feet. I think it was then I knew… I had to have you, whether in this life or the next, there would be no Jasper without Bella."
He looked down, giving me a moment to blink back my tears while he counted off three more pearls.
"And then the emotions came like a tidal wave, one after another. Attraction, caring, desire, exhilaration, such eagerness and with it, immense frustration…." He smirked, the corner of his lip twitching as a blush crept across my cheeks.
"Eventually, satisfaction, pride, triumph, amazement, love and devotion. Undying, eternal devotion. And so, I vow to you, darlin' so long as I am, I promise to dispel your apprehension, sadness and despair, leaving you instead with intrigue and enthrallment. I promise to exhibit compassion in every move I make while treating you with admiration, respect and affection. I promise to give you hope, or at the very least be your hope. I promise that you will never long for me and not get your wish. I promise to show tenderness in even the slightest glance."
With this, Jasper reached out with one hand and brushed the back of his hand across my cheek, showing me tenderness that reached to my very core.
"I promise to show you what it truly means to be euphoric. I promise that you will always, always know of my attraction, caring, desire, exhilaration and eagerness for you. And I'll do my best to keep your frustrations at bay, sugar." He grinned slightly, inclining his head as though gesturing to an invisible source of frustration. "Satisfaction, is my middle name, after all."
He grinned and straightened up again, taking my hand in his once more.
"You are my pride, Bella, truly. I am the one who has triumphed, just simply by having you near me. Every moment I am with you, I am amazed by you."
Slowly and with movements as gentle as they were deliberate, Jasper slid the black pearl bracelet over my hand and onto my wrist.
"I promise to love you with every fiber of my being, every moment of every day, as I am eternally devoted to you."
Bella blinked. Her mouth opened, but she quickly closed it again. Her emotions swirled around me in a dance of happiness, affection, and sentimentality. She looked down at the bracelet and pulled her lip back between her teeth, chewing on it gently. Finally, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and smiled, shrugging slightly.
"I'm not good with words, you know that. To me, blue is just blue. It isn't indigo or navy, or teal or any of those other colors. And that suits me, you know? I can look at blue and say, 'Hey, that's blue and it looks nice.' It doesn't need to be more than that. And yet, with you, I can't look at you and ever just think, 'Oh, that's just Jasper.' I look at you and I see my life, my future, my hope. It's like… Looking into your eyes is like looking into a magic mirror. I can see anything I want to see; I can dream for anything and know it will come true."
She hesitated and looked down again, biting her lip and smudging her lipstick. I could feel her struggle for the words to try to say what she wanted.
"I used to be terrified of, like, everything. Seriously, everything. I hated getting close to people; I hated the thought of what the future might bring. I especially hated the thought of marriage. I always just kind of hoped to slip through the cracks without being noticed. I figured if no one ever noticed me, they wouldn't notice when I messed up or said something stupid."
Bella looked up suddenly. Her eyes were sparkling both from tears and emotion. She smiled and shook her head gently.
"But you noticed me. For so many reasons, and some of them probably not exactly the purest, you noticed me. When I needed to be saved, both from the world and from myself, you were there. By some sort of miracle that I'll probably never understand, you showed up. I'll never forget the way you came running out of the darkness and saved me. I didn't know it then, but you weren't just saving my life, you were saving my broken heart."
She paused and frowned, as though trying to find a better way to say what she meant. She rolled her eyes and shrugged, seemingly giving up.
"The point is, I wouldn't be here without you, and honestly, I wouldn't want to be. So, I promise to stay right here, by your side forever. I promise to love you in every way I know how, with everything I am."
Bella squeezed my hand hard enough that I could actually feel some real pressure. "You and me against the world." She said softly.
Bella and I exchanged rings. Bella's hands shook as she put the band on my finger. She blushed dramatically and pulled the corner of her lip between her teeth. Taking my thumb, I gently brushed her lip, pulling it from between her teeth. "Don't be nervous." I whispered. "Besides, you're messing up your lipstick. Alice must be choking herself to keep quiet about it." Bella giggled and glanced over her shoulder. She turned back around with a smirk and nodded slightly.
When the ceremony was complete and Bella and I were announced as husband and wife, Bella exhaled loudly, as though she had been holding her breath the entire time. "I'm a Whitlock." She said, looking up at me. "For real this time. No more faking it."
"Ladies and gentleman, Mr. & Mrs. Jasper Whitlock will now have their first dance."
I took Bella's hand and led her onto the dance floor, feeling her hesitancy but doing nothing to fix it, per her request. When we reached the middle of the floor, I placed my hand on the small of her back, pulling her against me gently. She smiled up at me and placed one hand on my shoulder as I took her free hand in mine. I smiled softly, trying to reassure her without manipulating her emotions. Bella took a deep breath and nodded once, signaling for the song to begin. I listened as the song Bella chose to be our wedding song began to fill the space around us.
"Now the end is drawing near. I can't believe it's finally here. Take some time to pray for me for what will be. Let the sun rise, let the birds sing, let there be light, let there be morning… I don't know how I made it to now. Let there be light, let there be morning, let there be morning…"
I smiled, recognizing the song as one of Bella's recent favorites. We moved together in silence, only vaguely aware of the eyes following our movements. Bella's heartbeat began to slow into a regular rhythm and her hesitancy faded away entirely as the music played on.
"Hello, future; Goodbye, past. Now each breath can be my last. Will I see another dawn? Will I be reborn? Let the sun rise, let the birds sing, let there be light, let there be morning. I don't know how I made it to now. Let there be light, let there be morning."
Bella smiled, moving her hand from my shoulder to the back of my neck. Her fingertips played with the ends of my hair as she stared up at me, finally feeling entirely contented. I leaned down and brushed my lips across hers, barely touching them before claiming her lips with mine, reveling in the touch and taste of my wife.
"Take me home, husband. I can't feel my feet." Bella slumped forward in my arms, leaning her weight against my chest. I held her to me as we swayed back and forth in silence. The ballroom had emptied out nearly a half an hour ago when the last of the group left; half returning to the reservation and half returning to the house. Bella's parents were the first to leave, each leaving with their dates. Charlie was anxious to spend time alone with Sue, but was sad to actually say goodbye to his daughter. Perhaps he felt leaving her now would be like officially giving her up to me. I couldn't exactly pinpoint the origin of his anxiety, but my empathy wasn't necessary to get a good read on Charlie.
Carlisle and Esme left shortly after, deciding to leave the kids the dance floor, much to Emmett's happiness. In as long as I could remember, I could not think of a time when I'd felt happier or more at peace than on this evening. Bella and I were surrounded by friends and family, those who we kept no secrets from, and those who accepted us as we are.
I kissed the top of Bella's head and began to guide her to our table where my jacket was draped over a chair. I picked it up and covered her bare shoulders with it before putting my arm around her again. She leaned into my side instinctively and together we walked out into the night for the first time as husband and wife.
A/N: I truly apologize for the 4+ month hiatus. Life has been… Difficult, to say the least. However, that said, I foresee wrapping up this story with one more chapter and an epilogue. I expect to finish altogether within the next month or so, but only time can truly tell. Also, I've begun writing a one-shot follow up to my other story, Such Great Heights, centering around Aro and Rosalie's relationship. Should you be interested in reading that, please register for either an Author Alert or a Story Alert for SGH.
As always, reviews are my drug of choice, so please don't deprive me. Thanks for the loyalty, readers and reviewers… You keep me coming back. Cheers.