Edward and Bella met when they were both seventeen and high school seniors. Not at the same place, as Bella's parents had enrolled her at the all-girls' Catholic high school and Edward went to public. They met through friends in what surely had to be one of the most obvious set-ups of all time, and hit it off immediately. Edward had always been shy, and while Bella was not overly forward she did possess a certain confidence in her actions.

The two of them dated throughout college, which they also attended at different schools. Bella was constantly afraid that Edward, being so attractive and intelligent an individual, would leave her for someone else that he could see on a daily basis. It was this insecurity that led to her sleeping with him and taking his virginity over the Christmas break of their freshman year, as sort of a security deposit. It turned out that Bella had nothing to worry about, however, and she and Edward were married not long after their graduation.

Bella went on to law school and Edward began working for a literary agency as an editor. It was during this time that Bella became pregnant, with twins no less. Luckily, Bella's father was around to help with babysitting and Edward's employers had deemed his own talent worthy of representation. By the time the twins were two, Bella had passed the bar and Edward was working as a writer full time. They were forced to relocate for Bella to accept an offer from a law firm with an excellent reputation, and the next few years were an overflowing haze of the American dream.

The children were growing, Bella's career was progressing tremendously, and Edward was writing. Well, trying to, anyway. The young family's circumstances were such that he was more a stay-at-home dad than anything else. Bella could see that it was frustrating to Edward, who loved his wife and children but had carried the lifelong ambition of being a writer. The gentle flow of his life had become a roaring river he could not control, sweeping him up in the current and carrying him along. Looking back, he sometimes wondered whether it had always been that way, whether he'd made the decisions he had merely because they'd been the logical, right ones to make.

It was an eerie and frightening thing to ponder, and Edward avoided doing so whenever possible. More and more frequently, he'd be lying awake at night while Bella slept beside him and wondering how his life could have been different, how the path had become so etched that there was no diverting it. And why this nagging feeling that something was missing? After all, Edward had everything that he could name. He had a beautiful, caring wife, healthy children, a nice home in a pleasant suburb with food on the table, a career he loved... It wasn't quite right somehow, but in theory it was so close to right that Edward wasn't sure there was a difference.

Eventually Bella confronted him about it, the fact that he wasn't sleeping and the weight that he'd lost. Sometimes Edward would come close to snapping at the twins or her, and that worried them both. Edward told Bella it was the stress, the pressure of trying to meet deadlines for his editor while simultaneously being a full-time parent. That was the best answer he could come up with, even for himself, though he had a feeling it wasn't true.

At first Edward was relieved when Bella told him she was looking into hiring a nanny. She'd sat down with their budget and crunched some numbers, and she was convinced they could afford it on their incomes. Bella understood that although Edward was home all day, he wasn't exactly free to watch Alec and Jane every minute. Edward worked too; his office was situated in the corner of their suburban home where he could hope for a modicum of peace as he wrote. A nanny was the perfect solution, someone to help out during the day before Bella got home from the law firm, to take the children on outings and occasionally make dinner. Edward thought his wife was a genius.

Edward's vision of a nanny had always been much like the gray-haired marms of his youth, the mature women who watched him while his wealthy parents traveled and went to formal dinners to which young Edward was not invited. They knitted and stared down their noses at him disapprovingly when he misbehaved. Edward was eight when he first saw Mary Poppins, and he'd wanted so badly for a nanny like that. He did not want his six-year-old twins subjected to a curmudgeonly old biddy. Bella assured Edward that these days nannies were a whole different game. They were young, fun and active, engaging the children and keeping them entertained as well as well-behaved.

Bella called around the other women at the PTA and spoke to her coworkers, compiling a list of all the best candidates. She was taking the task of picking out the right nanny very seriously, and Edward left it in her capable hands. He trusted Bella's judgment on this as in all things, and deferred to whatever decision she would make.

He was supposed to be spending the morning working on a freelance article for a travel magazine, detail tips for first time visitors to foreign countries. It'd been hours of research and the deadline was later than afternoon. Edward woke up already stressed, and the morning had only gone downhill from there. Alec was running a fever and Jane was frantic at the loss of her favorite stuffed animal. By the time the doorbell rang to signal the nanny's arrival, Edward was ready to fling the door open and kiss the woman right on the lips as a desperate show of gratitude.

However, when he did answer the door with Jane clinging to his leg, it was not a bright and smiling woman who Edward found standing on the porch but a young man. He was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, tapping his thumb idly on the railing. He ceased the action when he saw Edward in the doorway. The man cocked his head and looked expectantly at Edward, who could only gape back.

"Oh! I, oh, sorry, I was expecting someone else."

Behind Edward, Jane was tugging on his pant leg frantically.

"Daddy, I can't find Bun-Bun!" she cried, for what had to be the tenth time since the plush rabbit had gone missing.

Edward attempted to remain calm. "In a minute, sweetheart, Daddy's busy." He scratched his stubble and looked back at the blonde man on the porch, who was smiling in amusement. "Can I help you?"

He found the man's amusement irritating only because he was already stressed.

"I want my Bun-Bun!"

The young man tilted his body at the waist to get a good look at Jane, who was completely indifferent to his presence in her quest for her father's attention. He straightened back up and smiled at Edward once more.

"I think a better question would be whether I can help you," he said politely.

Edward frowned, confused. What could this guy possibly help him with? A second later he understood, belatedly, what the man was really saying when he asked that question: he was in fact the nanny Bella had hired, and he was here reporting for work right on time.

"Jasper Hale," the blond man introduced himself when he saw the realization dawning on Edward's features. He continued, "I spoke with your wife yesterday? I'm your new nanny."

"Daddy! I. Can't. Find. Bun-Bun!"

Edward was dumbstruck. There were grumpy marms and there was Mary Poppins. There were fun, energetic young women of college age. But a... man? A male nanny? What could possibly have possessed Bella? The very idea of it was so ridiculous and awkward for Edward that he found himself completely speechless. Jane tugged on his leg again, digging her nails in out of frustration at not getting the results she wanted. Edward hissed and yanked his leg away from her, trying to juggle the situation as it lay before him.

"DADDY!"

"Yeah, yeah, sorry, come in," Edward said quickly, stepping back from the doorway to allow Jasper into the foyer. The young man entered and conscientiously shut the door behind him.

"Normally I'd give a more thorough introduction, but you seem to have a crisis on your hands." Jasper gestured down toward little Jane, who only now became fully aware of his presence. She scooted further behind her father's legs and peered out at Jasper with wide eyes.

"Ugh, yes. I'm afraid we've lost her bunny." When Edward saw Jasper's eyebrows lift in curiosity he hastened to clarify, "Stuffed bunny."

"Ah."

Jasper knelt down and smiled at Jane, who was suffering through stress of her own.

"Where did you see him last?"

"I don't know."

"The back yard," Edward supplied tiredly. "You had him out there yesterday when you and Alec were playing commando."

Jasper turned back to Jane. "Why don't you show me, and I'll help you look?" he offered. Jane hesitated, but it was hard to say no in the face of someone offering to reunite her with her best furry friend. She released Edward's leg and took off through the house to the back yard.

"Nice to meet you, by the way," Jasper told Edward hastily before following her.

Edward wanted to take the opportunity to check on Alec, who was still upstairs in bed, but protective fatherly instinct told him to go along and make sure this guy was behaving appropriately with his daughter. Not that Edward was questioning his wife's choice or anything, but still. What could possibly possess a grown man to become a nanny, of all things?

Edward placed Jasper in his early twenties, several years younger than Edward himself. He looked like an average guy of the type Edward had seen around his college campus, and nothing stood out about him except perhaps the fact that his dirty blond hair and green eyes gave him a somewhat cherubic appearance. As Edward watched, Jasper and Jane scoured the spacious back yard together to no avail.

"Could you have taken him inside, sweetie?" Jasper asked her, and Jane sucked her thumb as she considered, tears streaming down her cheeks. Bella and Edward had been trying to break her of the habit of thumb-sucking for a good year now, even going so far as to attempt bribery, but it was no good. She did it more when she was upset or not feeling well, Edward had noticed.

Jane must have decided that yes, she could very well have taken Bun-Bun inside, because she climbed up onto the deck and scurried into the house. Jasper was on her heels when something under the deck caught his eye and he stopped.

"Hang on," he murmured to himself, hopping back down the wooden steps and going around it as Edward watched. Jasper disappeared underneath the deck and emerged a moment later holding a very dirty stuffed purple rabbit.

"Bun-Bun?" he asked Edward, lifting the plush up for greater visibility. He had mud on his hands and t-shirt now, but by God he'd found it.

Edward sighed in relief. "Yes. Thank you."

Just then Jane came back out, wondering where her other search party member disappeared to. When she saw Jasper holding up Bun-Bun she squealed in delight and ran toward him at full force, narrowly avoiding disaster as she half-tripped down the deck stairs. Jasper looked from her to Edward, then back again.

"I think your friend needs a bath before you can play with him," he told Jane kindly, brushing dirt and flakes of mud off of the rabbit as he spoke.

Jane was disappointed, but she was also relieved to know Bun-Bun was safe. She allowed Jasper to lead her back inside, past Edward who was still standing by the glass slider. Jasper made a cursory attempt at wiping off his Converse on the matt before giving up and toeing them off.

"He takes baths in the washing machine," Jane explained with authority, showing Jasper where the laundry room was. Once they were there, Jasper set the plush on top of the machine and crouched down to Jane's height.

"Does he get a lot of baths?" Jasper asked her, unable to hide his amusement. Something told him that it was not an uncommon occurrence.

"Jane, why don't you go upstairs and play? We'll take care of Bun-Bun."

Jane and Jasper both turned their heads to see Edward now in the laundry room with them. Jane nodded at her father's words and left the room. Jasper got back to his feet.

"Thank you again. Seriously," Edward told him.

"Hey, no problem," Jasper assured him, stretching out the hem of his shirt to examine the mud as he spoke. "That's literally what I'm here for."

It struck Edward again. Bella had hired this... this dude to be their nanny.

"Right. So as I was saying, I'm Jasper and it's nice to meet you. I'd shake your hand, but, uhm..." He trailed off and held up his muddy hands apologetically. Edward blinked.

"Oh, right. I'm sorry. I'm Mr. Cullen. And let me go find you a clean t-shirt you can change into. Go ahead and leave yours there on the washer, and, uh, and the bathroom is the next door over that way."

Edward pointed in the direction he meant and left Jasper alone in the laundry room. He went upstairs and used the cordless phone to dial Bella at work as he rummaged through his dresser for something that looked like it might fit the new nanny. They were both tall, slim men, and Edward guessed they were a similar size.

"Hello? Edward? What's wrong?" Bella posed the question automatically, knowing there were few reasons her husband would bother her at work and that almost all of them were negative.

"You hired a male nanny?" Edward asked is disbelief. "They have those?" He found an old shirt from his alma mater, WSU, and figured that was good enough.

"Oh, good, Jasper's there then." Bella sighed in relief. "How's it going? How is he?"

"He's... he's fine so far..." Edward rubbed his temple with his thumb. "Where did you find him? Are you sure he's, you know, okay?"

Bella laughed. "He's licensed and bonded, Edward. And beyond that, he's Rose's brother. You remember Rose and Emmett? Rose works with me? We had them and their son Seth over for Thanksgiving last year when their plans fell through. You were a big fan of Rosalie's green bean-"

"I remember Rose and Emmett," Edward cut her off. "Hmm. Her brother?"

"He's fine, Edward. He came very highly recommended. And just so you know, I did do a background check. No criminal records. No parking tickets. All his references sang his praises. Listen, I hate to cut this short, but I have a brief that I need to finish..."

"Right. Yeah. See you tonight, Honey."

"Bye."

Edward set the phone in its cradle and went to check on his children before going back downstairs. Alec had mercifully fallen back asleep, the vomiting abated at least temporarily. Jane was at her easel, drawing a picture of Bun-Bun that she proudly displayed to her dad.

"That's wonderful, sweetie," Edward told her, only really able to distinguish what it was by the ears and purple color. Jane beamed.

"Hey daddy? Who's the man downstairs who rescued Bun-Bun?"

Edward ran his tongue from cheek to cheek, pondering how best to answer that question.

"Do you know what a nanny is?"

Jane nodded. "Like Gianna!" she answered immediately, referring to the woman who worked for the Newtons, whose son had attended kindergarten with Jane and Alec. She'd given the twins rides to and from school on more than one occasion.

"Yes, like Gianna. Jasper is... going to be your new nanny." The words sounded funny to Edward as they came out of his mouth, but Jane was unfazed.

"He found Bun-Bun," she reminded her father, returning to her drawing.

Edward went down the stairs to the laundry room, t-shirt balled up in one hand. He was prepared to hand it to Jasper and leave him to his own devices, namely the job he'd been hired to perform. After all, Bella said the guy was fine and as Jane has pointed out, he was already proving useful. Edward really needed to get back to work, to finish his article before his editor began calling to hound him. When he got to the doorway of the laundry room, however, Edward froze in his tracks.

Jasper had his back to the door, oblivious to Edward's presence as he set the washer on "delicate" and added detergent while it filled. Bun-Bun and his t-shirt sat on top of the dryer, waiting to be added. The guy knew his way around household domestic equipment. He also clearly knew his way around the gym, based on his well-defined arm and shoulder muscles. It made Edward self-conscious about his own physical fitness, which was nothing to sneeze at but at the same time nothing compared to Jasper's physique. Edward jogged every morning, but suddenly found himself wanting to step up his routine.

Jasper turned around and grinned when he saw Edward standing in the doorway. Edward blinked again and came forward, holding out his arm to hand Jasper the shirt.

"Ah, thanks!" Jasper tugged the shirt over his head, the taut muscles in his hairless chest and stomach flexing as he stretched his arms over his head. He pulled the bottom hem outward when he was done and tilted his head to read the shirt's logo. "Wazzu? Did you go there?"

"I did," Edward agreed, thinking he should be getting back to writing. "What about you?"

"UO. University of Oregon." Jasper turned back to the laundry machine to watch it fill, and Edward saw a good opportunity to excuse himself. Instead he came forward and leaned against the washing machine, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"Did you major in child care?" he asked, not even sure if that was an option. He'd known a girl, once, who was taking classes in early childhood development. He assumed it was a similar thing.

Jasper laughed. "N, actually, mathematics."

"Math?" Edward was incredulous. "What- wait- so how...?"

"How did I become a nanny?" Jasper helpfully supplied, still smiling. He'd seen right away that Edward was wary at his gender; moreover, he was used to it and to having to answer questions like this one.

"Yeah. I mean, how does one get into that line of work?" Edward was actually being more polite about it that others had been in the past. Jasper shrugged and scratched his shoulder through the shirt.

"When my sister and her husband had Seth, they were both working full-time. Rose was going to quit her job to look after him but then they offered her a promotion. I'd just graduated and didn't have a job yet, and Rosie didn't want to leave Seth with strangers, so when her maternity leave ended I took care of him during the day, and when she and Emmett wanted to like go out, you know? I didn't mind, and I'm really good with kids. I have a knack for it. And then sometimes Rose's friends would come over and bring their kids, like for barbeques and things, and I'd watch all of them so the adults could relax, and then they started calling me when they needed someone, and I guess it just kind of... happened."

Edward absorbed all of this as Jasper gently tucked the stuffed rabbit and his own muddy t-shirt into the washing machine. It made enough sense, Edward supposed. And Jasper did seem to have a way with Jane, at least. Still, it was going to take Edward some time to adjust to the idea of this, of having a stranger in his house looking after his children. The idea came to Edward that perhaps he would feel that way no matter what gender the person was, and he resolved to let go of his preconceived notions and give Jasper a fair shot.

"Your wife says you're a writer," Jasper spoke again as he closed the lid on the washer. He looked at Edward and Edward noticed how his eyes were not entirely green but more of a greenish-blue. "That's very cool."

"It's a lot less cool than it sounds," Edward informed him, watching Jasper grin in response. It made Edward smile too, until he wondered why he was still in here chatting when he was so busy. "In fact, I have to get back to it, but if you need anything..."

Jasper waved his hand to indicate that he required no further assistance or direction, and Edward left him to return to his long-forgotten travel article.

Edward managed to spend the entire rest of the day sequestered in his office writing with only a few interruptions. Jasper occasionally poked his head in to clarify something or to ask a question,and Bella called mid-afternoon to anxiously check in. Edward also wanted to make sure Alec was doing alright, though before the end of the day Alec's fever had gone down and Jasper had managed to give him a juice box and some saltines found in the cupboard. By the time Edward finished and sent off his article with half an hour to spare, he was already sold on the new nanny.

The twins agreed. That night at dinner, Jane was full of stories from her fun day with "Jazz." Alec, not yet recovered enough to join them at the table nevertheless told his mom that he liked Jasper okay when Bella went to tuck the twins in for bedtime. Bella was deservedly smug, and Edward was forced to agree that his wife had made an excellent judgment call. For some unknown reason, however, despite having had a full and productive day, Edward once more found himself unable to sleep long after Bella's soft snores filled their bedroom.

The rest of the week was far less trying than that initial morning. Jasper wasn't lying when he said he had a "knack" for kids, and Jane and Alec both took to him fully. Not wanting to be one of those parents that dumps their children on a stranger and promptly forgets about them, Edward made sure to take time each day to go see what they were up to and how things were progressing. He'd sit with the twins as they ate the lunches Jasper prepared them, always something reasonably healthy. He'd go out onto the back deck and watch Jasper wrestling with Alec and tickling Jane.

Jasper was a natural when it came to children and Edward wondered whether Jasper had any plans for his own some day. Maybe not now or even any time soon, as Jasper was still young and had practically his full life ahead of him. He might want to get back into math eventually, whatever that consisted of. Edward wasn't sure, beyond the obvious career of teaching. He hated to admit it, but Edward could feel himself growing the tiniest bit jealous of Jasper. Jasper was young, fit, good-looking and energetic. He never got tired or frustrated with the twins, even when they were at their worst. He had youth and promise, and it made Edward think even more about his life and how it had in a way lined itself up while he wasn't paying attention. Not that Edward ever regretted, for example, having Alec and Jane. Definitely not. He loved his kids more than anything.

In retrospect, Edward felt like the fact that Jasper was gay should have been immediately obvious to him. After all, here was a grown man who had absolutely no compunction about entering a profession that had up until recently been filled exclusively with women. And as Edward had noticed when he first laid eyes on Jasper, the guy was very beautiful in an almost angelic sense. His lips were full and his eyes clear, and despite being (as it turned out) twenty-four years old, he looked like he never needed to shave. Yet when Bella had revealed this information concerning Jasper's sexuality to Edward one night while the two of them were getting ready for bed, Edward had been quite taken aback.

"Oh," he'd said, for lack of a better response.

"It's not a big deal," Bella reminded him. "I think Rose was reluctant to tell me so, although I can't imagine why. We're one of the most liberal couples I know. Rose knows that. We both voted for Prop D in the last election."

Prop D had been the measure to allow same-sex marriages in their state, and it was true that Edward had voted in favor of it. He didn't see what the big deal was, why it should matter to people whether two consenting adults wanted to make their relationship "official," as it were. It was a far cry from Edward's own parents, whose politics dictated both social and political conservativeness. Edward's father, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, was appalled by Edward's willingness to let others lead their lives as they saw fit behind closed doors. As Edward had grown up, this had become an increasing source of strain and debate between he and his father, and now Edward went out of his way not to mention politics to his parents at all.

Bizarrely, as Bella spoke, Edward found himself picturing their nanny marrying another man under Prop D (which, unfortunately but not surprisingly, had failed to pass). From there, his mental image shifted to Jasper in some kind of romantic circumstance with another man in general; say, perhaps, a candlelit dinner. Or Jasper and another man holding hands, or even kissing. The thought made Edward uncomfortable, and he pushed it out his head as quickly as possible. After all, no one wants to think about what the person who cares for their children does behind the aforementioned closed doors, right?

"So why tell you now?" Edward enquired, stepping around to his side of the bed and crawling under the covers.

After all, Jasper had been working for them for over a month now. Bella came and joined him a minute later, a small frown marring her smooth features. Edward was amazed by the way his wife seemed to have not aged at all since college.

"I think she felt she had to," Bella confessed. "For one thing, I believe Jasper's been operating under the assumption that she already had told us and that we knew. For another thing, Rose says his boyfriend is going to be there on Sunday."

"Oh." Again, no better words sprang to Edward's mind.

Rose and Emmett were throwing a barbeque on Sunday, something Emmett apparently loved to do when the weather was nice. Rose had extended the invitation to Bella at work, telling her to feel free to bring Alec and Jane as Jasper would be there to watch them along with Seth. Seeing as how Jasper was Rose's brother and all, Edward supposed it made sense that Jasper would be bringing a date if he had one. The knowledge that their nanny had a boyfriend was in a way more awkward for Edward than the news Jasper was gay had been.

Bella clicked off the bedside lamp, curling up against Edward's body in the darkness. She began rubbing his chest with her palm and nuzzled into his neck, trying to get something going.

"It's been a while," she murmured into Edward's ear.

It had been a while – longer than Edward cared to admit. He didn't have a clearly identifiable reason, but he suspected there wasn't just one. Ever since the twins had been born, the days when at least one of them was too tired or stressed or whatever else had been few and far between, and Edward had always taken for granted that was the underlying cause for the dwindling frequency of his and Bella's sex life. Now that they had a nanny, though, there were more days when both Edward and Bella were relaxed, when the kids were worn out from the day's activities and fast asleep at the other end of the house.

"I'm a little tired," Edward told Bella apologetically, placing his hand over hers on his chest. He certainly didn't want her to think he was rejecting her; just because he wasn't in the mood didn't mean she wasn't desirable to him. Edward found Bella as beautiful as the day he had met her. More beautiful, even, because now he knew all the wonderful facets of her personality.

Bella concealed her disappointment the best she could, but Edward knew it was there. He began to feel guilty. Why hadn't he just gone with it? Sure he was a little tired, but that didn't mean he was incapable. Edward worried whenever he declined intimacy that Bella would take it as a blow to her sexual attractiveness, and he often tried to compensate for his rejection.

"You are so perfect," he assured his wife, wrapping his arms around her. "I love you so much."

"I love you too." Bella sighed the words, not breathily as she had early in their courtship but with a tiredness of her own. Edward closed his eyes and told himself not to feel shame for rebuffing her, but he did anyway.

The barbecue was, in every technical aspect, a total success. Emmett McCarty was fantastic at grilling and his wife made a point of serving the green bean casserole that Edward had been so fond of last Thanksgiving. Alec and Jane got along great with Seth, who was a few years younger than them but perfectly able to keep up. Edward found out why Jasper was no longer serving as child care for his sister's son – Emmett was a software consultant and had been telecommuting for a year a half a now. Rosalie was also working from home on occasion, and she confided in Edward and Bella that they were thinking of trying for another child.

"How exciting for you!" Bella raved, and Edward silently prayed that this would not result in a conversation when they got home about expanding their own family. He loved what he had, but he didn't think he'd be able to handle anything more.

There were others at the barbeque that Edward had not met before: a man named Mike who also worked with Bella and Rose, and his wife Jessica. Jessica was extremely pregnant, so much so that Edward thought she might burst at any moment. There was also a young woman named Alice who Edward deduced was a friend of the family's.

And then there was Jasper's boyfriend, a handsome enough guy named Jake who was no more stereotypically gay than Jasper. Jake was friendly, but something about him rubbed Edward the wrong way. He came off as slightly arrogant, if not downright condescending on occasion. He also mostly talked to Jasper, ignoring everyone else present. Edward decided that he didn't like Jake.

When meal time came, Jessica offered to sit with the children at their table so Jasper could join the other adults to eat. Edward witnessed Jasper's interaction with his boyfriend more than truly necessary, but was unable to help himself. His liberal views notwithstanding, Edward had not known many gay people in his lifetime. He definitely hadn't spent any real amount of time in the company of a gay couple. Furthermore, he had only just learned the truth about his nanny's sexuality and while it was true, as Bella had said, that it didn't matter, Edward found himself looking at Jasper slightly differently.

Or maybe it was the fact that Jasper behaved slightly differently in Rose and Emmett's back yard than he did at the Cullen house. That was natural enough, wasn't it? The difference between a work environment and a casual gathering of friends. Not to mention that his boyfriend was present, and again Edward was awkward at the idea. He watched Jake sling his arm over Jasper's shoulder or lean in to say something private, and Edward was uncomfortable. He began to wonder whether socializing with his children's nanny outside of the context of Jasper working for them was such a good idea.

Edward casually mentioned this to Bella that night after she'd put the children to bed, but she shrugged off his concerns.

"I didn't find it strange at all," she informed Edward. "I thought Jasper and his boyfriend were just darling."

Darling. That was not the Edward would have used. He wasn't sure what word he would have used, since he was still trying not to think of it at all.

For a while after that, Edward avoided Jasper when Jasper was over. He would sit in his office and not come out to have lunch with the twins, making up for it by spending extra time with them in the evenings. He reasoned that they'd gotten a nanny so he could write more, and therefore he should write. Edward had originally wanted to be a creative writer, though his agent was pushing him more into the realm of nonfiction. He should have been looking at this as an opportunity to work on at least a short story or something like that. The ideas wouldn't flow, and more often than not Edward sat at his desk, staring at a blank computer document and running his fingers through his hair.

This lack of pressure was in and of itself a source of stress for Edward, because as time passed he became less and less able to deny that the problem was he himself. Something was just not right, was off-balance and hampering Edward's ability to function and to enjoy his ostensibly fulfilling life. He didn't know what that thing was, what t was that was wrong with him, and it made him worry. He still wasn't sleeping all that well, and difficulties hampering his and his wife's intimacy were ever-present. Some nights, after Bella gave up and rolled over to fall asleep, Edward would go into the bathroom and sit on the toilet seat and want to scream. Worse, some nights he'd try to deliver anyway and find himself unable.

Finally, and more than understandably, Bella gently suggested that Edward might benefit from "talking to someone". She meant a doctor, and she meant about the fact that Edward was for all intents and purposes becoming impotent. Edward agreed; not because he wanted to, but to appease his wife. The next day when he sat at his desk failing to get any writing done, Edward began surfing the internet for information on the male libido and doctors in the area he might have his general practitioner refer himself to.

He was in the middle of this task and thinking about his virility more than any thirty-year-old man should have to when a knock at the door of his office jarred him back to reality. Edward closed his browser tabs by reflex and cleared his throat.

"Yes?"

The door pushed open and Jasper was standing there, a plate of food in one hand. He tilted his head in the unique way he had and smiled apologetically at Edward.

"There was leftover pasta salad from Alec and Jane's lunch," he explained. "And you've been in here all day so I thought you might be hungry?"

There was no hint of accusation in Jasper's words, but Edward felt attacked. Jasper had noticed that for the past couple weeks Edward was no longer eating lunch with his kids, but hadn't mentioned anything all. For him to come into Edward's private part of the house bearing food felt like a passive confrontation, an indirect way of bringing it up. Edward's guilt grew in the face of it.

At the same time, Jasper was right; Edward was hungry.

"Yeah, thanks." He began clearing off a space on his desk for the plate, and Jasper came into the room to set it down.

"The twins are napping," Jasper informed him. "That's why I thought I'd duck in here and check on you real quick."

Edward's impulse was to shoot back that he didn't need checking up on, but that would have been immature of him. Instead, he picked up the fork Jasper had provided and began to poke at the pasta salad.

Jasper continued, "You've been so quiet lately, there have been a few days I wasn't even sure you were home all the time."

"Mmph," Edward gave the muffled acknowledgement around a mouthful of pasta, which was really quite delicious. When he swallowed he asked, "Did you make this?"

"Yup." Jasper grinned. "It's my mom's recipe. Is it okay? I left out the cayenne – tiny stomachs and all."

"It's fantastic," Edward let him know before taking another bite.

"Thanks. So can I ask what you're working on? It must be going well."

Jasper made no move to sit down, in the event that Edward would want his privacy again. It was none of Jasper's business, but Edward was thrilled to have someone other than Bella to complain to. He'd stopped sharing his work frustrations with his wife when he could see it was getting on her nerves, a perfectly natural reaction given that Bella was putting on a business suit and busting her ass in an office or a court room all day. Edward couldn't exactly expect her to sympathize, even if he was pulling in his fair share of their combined income.

"It's going wretchedly," Edward groaned, stabbing his fork into the plate. "I get in front of the computer and my mind just goes blank."

"Wow, that's- I'm sorry, that must be awful." Jasper reached behind himself for the arm of the guest chair and pulled it closer to sit down. "Writer's block must be one of the worst things for a writer."

Edward reveled in Jasper's sympathetic tone. As he ate the plate of pasta salad he detailed his struggle to Jasper, who merely sat there nodding sympathetically and chiming in monosyllabically when appropriate. By the time he was done with his late lunch, Edward was beginning to feel better. Still blocked, but less upset about it. He was extremely grateful to have a friendly ear.

Jasper asked if this happened to Edward often, and Edward started to say "no" before he realized that that wasn't true. If he really sat there and thought about it, which he was now, Edward hadn't written creatively since college. It had all been nonfiction, academic essays and researched articles and magazine contributions. Recognizing this upset Edward, and he declined to share this sad fact with Jasper.

Jasper, for his part, didn't seem to mind Edward's venting at all. As he gathered up Edward's dirty dishes, he wished him the best of luck. Edward thanked Jasper for listening, and Jasper smiled and nodded before ducking back out of the office.

Gradually it became a routine. When the twins were down for their nap or deeply ensconced in some activity that didn't require Jasper's immediate presence, Jasper would fix Edward a plate of food and come sit with him in his office while he ate. Jasper was very accomplished in the kitchen, which Edward was already aware of but had not yet ceased to impress him. He again wondered why he'd never figured out on his own that Jasper was gay, but then chided himself for such an obvious case of stereotyping.

They didn't always talk about Edward's writing, which still wasn't getting done. Sometimes they talked about what Jane and Alec had been up to that day, or how Jasper's work schedule might change in the fall when the children started school. They would be going into first grade at the end of the summer, and it was a very big deal to Alec. He was already preparing for it, often wearing a backpack full of assorted supplies around the house. Jasper shared with Edward that he'd taken to appeasing the twins by putting stickers on their drawings with things like "A+" or "Good Job!" on them.

It was a nice way to break up the day. Edward found Jasper incredibly easy to talk to, and on more than one occasion had to catch himself in time not to reveal any of the trouble he and his wife were experiencing.

No, that was very private indeed. Edward had gone to his physician and after a general physical turned up nothing he was scheduled for blood work. That too had been normal. The doctor had then referred Edward to a radiologist for something called a "duplex ultrasound," which was a relatively innocuous way to label what amounted to injecting Edward with something that would force him to get an erection so that the doctor could have some basis for comparison to when Edward was flaccid. Edward, already humiliated by the entire thing enough as it was, had declined the referral.

At last the doctor kindly suggested that in light of Edward's other "symptoms," the insomnia and the loss of appetite and inability to work, the problem was likely psychosomatic. He wrote up a second referral, this one for a psychologist. Edward hadn't decided yet whether he was going to make that appointment. However, as he had been rattling off his difficulties to his physician, something had come to Edward's mind. When he sat in his office talking to Jasper in the afternoons, Edward had no problem eating.

In fact, Edward was beginning to really look forward to those half-hour or so blocks of time in the afternoon when he and Jasper would, for lack of a better term, hang out. To Edward, the conclusion was obvious: he was lonely. Edward had never been a particularly social person, but now he must be thirsty for adult human interaction to the point that he felt real relief sometimes when Jasper would duck in to say "hi". Edward mulled this over repeatedly and decided it was worth bringing up to Bella.

He remembered that Jasper had mentioned watching Seth in the evenings while Rose and Emmett went out, and suggested to his wife that they might be able to do the same.

"Rose and Emmett could bring Seth over here or we could take Alec and Jane to their place," he brainstormed out loud. "The four of us could go to dinner together."

"Yes, or we could have a date, just the two of us!" Bella showed her excitement.

That wasn't really what Edward had in mind, given that the object was to be more social and he could see Bella at home any evening, but he agreed that was also a possibility. Bella told Edward she thought it was a wonderful idea and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

The next day Edward sat in his office, impatiently rapping the eraser of his pencil against his desk as he waited for Jasper to stop in. That was silly; Jasper was right there in the house and Edward had a legitimate reason to seek him out in a work-related capacity. Edward could just go find him wherever he was and ask for a moment of his time. After all, this was his house and Jasper was technically his employee, hired to look after his kids. It was strange the way Edward forgot that at times.

He found Jasper upstairs, sitting cross-legged and perfectly still on the carpet while Jane combed through his shaggy blond hair with her pink Barbie comb. Alec was seated at his table and chair set, intensely focused on writing his name over and over again on a sheet of three-ring notebook paper for Jasper to "grade".

When Edward entered, Jasper lifted his head to look up inquisitively and Jane clucked her tongue.

"You have to hold still," Jane admonished, using her tiny hand to firmly reposition Jasper's head. He bit his lip trying not to laugh and kept his eyes raised to meet Edward's.

"When you have a moment?" Edward gestured vaguely out of the room and Jasper nodded his very slightly to indicate that he understood.

"Daddy, do you want to be my next customer?" Jane waved her water spritzing bottle in the air to illustrate her question.

"We're playing beauty shop," Jasper explained, his humor still evident.

He didn't appear embarrassed at all for Edward to have found him getting his hair "styled" by the six-year-old, who was now affixing one of her own butterfly clips to the back of Jasper's head in a meticulous yet haphazard fashion. Edward wondered how anyone on earth could stand to be so patient with kids that were not his own. Edward had a hard enough time on occasion, and he would have done almost anything for his children. In any case, Edward was not signing himself up for a similar cosmetic fate.

"Maybe later, sweetheart. Daddy needs to talk to Jasper, if that's okay."

Jane frowned and tapped the comb against her chin.

"I'm going to give Jazz braids," she told her father doubtfully, reluctant to let her "customer" go.

"He'll be right back."

Jane heaved a sigh and stepped back to allow Jasper to get up. "Don't take too long. You're not pretty yet."

Jasper chuckled and promised to return shortly for the rest of his "appointment". Edward didn't know why this couldn't have just waited until Jasper was less occupied, but he found himself anxious to speak to the nanny already. He also disagreed with Jane's assessment that Jasper was "not pretty yet," as Jasper was easily one of the prettier people Edward had known. Edward couldn't help but notice that as Jasper's hair had grown out over the past couple or so months, Jasper was looking more and more like the Hollywood version of an angel.

"Why do they call you Jazz?" Edward wanted to know as he led the way down to the kitchen. Jasper reached his hand behind his head and freed the butterfly clip before ruffling the wet patch in his hair.

"Lots of people call me Jazz. Jasper gets cumbersome, and Jane has a hard time with the 'P'."

Edward rather liked the name Jasper, as it had a sort of vintage, almost noir sound to it. It was like a name out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. He didn't share this with Jasper, nor did he suppose that Jasper would know who Dashiell Hammett was.

"So what's up?" Jasper opened the fridge door and began pulling out items to make lunch by reflex once they were in the kitchen. Edward leaned against the counter to watch him.

"Well, I recall you saying that you had occasionally worked evenings for your sister and her husband. Bella and I were wondering if you might be able to do that for us some time. We'd pay you more for your time, of course."

Jasper set a bag of raw vegetables on the counter and paused to think.

"Yeah, sure. I mean... sure. Did you have a specific day in mind? The only night I'm not free is Wednesdays."

"What do you do on Wednesday evenings?" Edward couldn't help but inquire. It was none of his business and he shouldn't have wanted to know.

Jasper reached into the back of the fridge for something, and the way the light shined on his face Edward could see that he was blushing. It made Edward self-conscious too, and he regretted his question.

"Jake and I go dancing."

"Oh."

Edward had heard no mention of Jasper's boyfriend since the barbecue at the McCarty's house. He wasn't necessarily surprised to learn that they were still together; he just hadn't thought about it. Tried not to think about it, frankly, and now Edward was recollecting how he hadn't liked Jake very much at all. He was also picturing Jasper and Jake dancing in some fashion Edward didn't know, to nondescript music, embracing each other familiarly. It made his stomach twist and he swallowed back the bad taste in his mouth.

Jasper turned away from Edward as he fixed the meal, and Edward hoped his lack of response had not made Jasper feel bad. He didn't want Jasper assuming Edward was put off by Jasper's sexuality or anything like that. If he tried to say something to that effect, however, it might make the situation even worse. The thing to do was divert the subject quickly. Edward cleared his throat.

"Well, I'm sure we can work around your schedule... How is Jake, by the way? He seemed like a really nice guy." Edward winced at the way the words slipped out. Why was he sticking to this course of conversation when he wanted to know as little about his children's nanny's private life as possible?

"He's good. Busy." Jasper was vague, which he had every right to be.

"Oh yeah? What does he do?" Edward steepled his fingertips on the countertop, watching Jasper set up plates of food and cursing himself for pushing this line of discussion.

"Mm, he works in marketing." Another formless answer. Edward should really let it go.

"That sounds like it might be stressful."

"He works long hours."

There was a sharp clacking as Jasper set down one plate and picked up another, and Edward saw that he was tensing up. God, of course he was. Edward was prying far more than was appropriate. Upset by his own behavior, Edward righted his body as a prelude to leaving the kitchen and Jasper's company.

"I'm going to be pretty busy for the next few hours," he told Jasper. "You don't need to worry about bringing me food, although I do appreciate it."

Edward all but fled the kitchen before Jasper had a chance to respond, which he felt was for the best. The rest of the day he worried that he had crossed some type of line in his and Jasper's professional relationship, and that he had in some way upset Jasper by asking about Jake. It wasn't like he had gotten exceptionally personal or anything, but it had been obvious that Jasper was ill at ease with the topic. Should he apologize to Jasper? If so, what was the right way to go about it?

It was irrational how much Edward stressed about it, and he deduced that it was because, at this point, Jasper was perhaps the closest thing he had to a confidant aside from Bella. Jasper wasn't Edward's friend, and Edward needed to spend more time hanging out with people who could be labeled as such. He called Bella and had her set up dinner with the McCartys for Friday night, then let Jasper know as Jasper was leaving for the day. He was exceptionally careful not to say anything else to Jasper, lest he make it more awkward.

That night when Edward finally fell asleep, after tossing and turning for hours on end, he had a peculiar dream in which he and Jasper were dancing. It could easily be chalked up to the conversation in the kitchen and how much it had weighed on Edward's mind, but it left him uneasy.

Dinner with Rose and Emmett was nice enough. It was not exactly what Edward had been looking for, either, and he didn't know what he was looking for. Rose and Emmett were great people and Emmett was excellent at carrying on banter around just about any topic, but Edward was unfulfilled. Was it because they didn't have enough in common? Had being so caught up in his family and his writing left him stunted when it came to social encounters? Edward didn't know. He couldn't ask Bella, who was absolutely radiant in her cocktail dress with hair swept up off her neck. She would think her husband was turning into a hermit or else a misanthrope.

The only other adults Edward spoke to with any degree of regularity were his editor, his agent, his parents, and Jasper. His editor and agent were not the kind of men interested in idle chit chat, his parents were out for obvious reasons, and Jasper was not at all an appropriate choice for such a topic. Not only that, but he hadn't brought Edward lunch for the rest of the week after Edward ducked out on him in the kitchen that day. Edward ruminated alone on the subject over the weekend, and on Monday he called the psychologist that his general physician had referred him too.

In the past, Edward would have said that therapy was for the mentally ill or the self-indulgent. Seeking "professional help" himself was beyond what he'd imagined. He pictured an old man with a beard and a sport coat, smoking a pipe and encouraging Edward to talk about his mother. This scene, so obviously copped from film depictions of Freud, was undoubtedly just as off-base as Edward's mental version of a nanny had been. He showed up at the office building that housed the psychologist's practice on the day of his appointment with no idea what to expect.

Far from the leather couch and Rorschach tests, the office turned out to resemble most every other office Edward had ever been in. There was a reception area where a pert young woman sat behind a desk, fiddling with a computer and answering the phone. There were upholstered wooden chairs and a coffee table scattered with an assortment of magazine back issues, some of them months old. Edward signed himself in and took the clipboard of forms the receptionist gave him to fill out. He was the only one present in the waiting room, and he didn't have long to sit.

A woman, in her mid-forties or perhaps closer to fifty, poked her head into the waiting room and called Edward's name just as he was settling into a copy of Newsweek. Edward joined her in what turned out to be her office, and the two of them sat opposite each other in overly padded armchairs.

"Edward Cullen," the woman said, reading his name off of the folder in front of her. She made to shake his hand and Edward complied. "Nice to meet you, Edward. I'm Dr. Weber. How are you today?"

"Fine," Edward responded by reflex, shifting in the chair. It was too new, he surmised, and hadn't had time to be broken in yet. He speculated that Dr. Weber hadn't been in this particular suite for long.

Dr. Weber started with a rehash of the same questions Edward's regular physician had asked. What was the trouble, what were his symptoms, etc.? Initially Edward stuck to the specific issue of his lack of libido, but as he outlined his difficulty Dr. Weber asked questions that led to other avenues of discussion. Before long, Edward was complaining about his writer's block and intermittent loss of appetite, as well as his near-constant guilt and fears about how helpless he felt at times, the latter becoming more and more frequent with each passing day. Dr. Weber made notations in her file and prompted Edward when necessary. When he was finished, she exhaled a breath and set the folder aside.

"Well it certainly sounds like we have a lot to talk about," she pointed out. "Why don't we start with the impotence, as that's what initially brought you here."

Edward shook his head. This was why he hadn't wanted the Viagra.

"I'm not impotent. I'm just... I can't... I don't feel interested, I guess..."

Dr. Weber clicked her tongue. "And you haven't recently begun taking any new medications or discontinued any old ones?"

"No."

"How about your overall energy? Have you been feeling lethargic? Are you generally less active?"

"No."

In fact, Edward's energy seemed bordering on manic at times, so restless was he. He'd doubled the lengths of his morning jogs, for example, and added various other exercises such as sit-ups and pushups to his routine. Physically, Edward had never been in better health. Bella had even noticed and commented on it, calling Edward her "big strong man". Edward took the compliments in stride.

"Well, have you been masturbating?"

Edward blanched.

"Y-yes," he stammered, his face heating. "Not as much, but yeah. Like I said, I'm not impotent."

"But you find yourself unable to perform with your wife."

This Dr. Weber certainly cut to the heart of the matter, didn't she? Edward lowered his head and looked down at his knees, unable to continue discussing this with her looking him in the eye.

"Yeah..."

God, that was terrible, wasn't it? That he could masturbate but not have sex? Jesus, what was wrong with him? He didn't say it to Dr. Weber, but some nights Bella would try to initiate sex and Edward would decline by saying he wasn't in the mood. Then, after Bella fell asleep, he would go and masturbate in their bathroom. Edward knew it was wrong but not why he did it, especially when he had a more than willing partner not thirty feet away in bed.

"Do you find your wife attractive, Edward?"

"Bella is one of the most beautiful women I've ever laid eyes on," Edward answered honestly and immediately. It was true that he found his wife close to perfect in appearance.

"Yes, but are you attracted to her?" Dr. Weber repeated. When Edward frowned, not comprehending, she elaborated, "I find Monet's Water Lilies to be beautiful. It does not arouse me. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Edward did understand, and it had never occurred to him that there might be a difference. He looked at Dr. Weber helplessly, waiting for her to explain this to him.

"You have children, yes? Young ones?" Dr. Weber consulted her file. "Twins?"

Edward nodded, leaning forward anxiously in his chair.

"Sometimes, Edward, after a young couple such as the two of you has children, the husband no longer sees his wife the same way. He still loves her, still wants to spend his life with her, but well... he gets this mental block. It feels wrong for him to sexualize the mother of his children, as her role has now been elevated over that of desire. Does that make sense?"

Edward thought about it. He thought very hard and, in theory, he was able to comprehend what the psychologist was telling him: that he might not be attracted to Bella anymore because now she was a mother rather than just a wife or a woman in general, and there are some things you can't do with a mother. It was a great explanation and one that Edward would have loved to take on as his own, but deep down he knew that it wasn't the case. Deep down, he thought this might have started before Bella became pregnant.

Edward shook his head.

"Alright, we'll come back to that then," Dr. Weber said pleasantly. "You say you masturbate. Why don't you tell me what kinds of things you think about when you masturbate?"

She was wholly clinical about it in a way Edward guessed was meant to make him more comfortable discussing it, but he still didn't want to. He lowered his gaze again.

"I don't know... Usually how bad I feel for doing it. How I just want to get it over with. I try not to think at all, really." That had always been the case for Edward, ever since he was a teenager. He'd been raised to think of masturbation as a dirty and taboo thing, and it wasn't something he did for pleasure so much as for relief. He did not masturbate frequently.

Dr. Weber did not respond to Edward right away, and he glanced up to find her scribbling into her file. He took this as a negative indicator. Was he doing it wrong, then? Was it even possible to masturbate incorrectly? Edward would not have thought so. He was finished, after all, and that was the whole point.

"So you don't think about your wife when you masturbate," Dr. Weber clarified, still writing. Edward sighed.

"No..."

She looked at him over the top of her folder, a strange expression creasing her features. Edward sensed that he was being scrutinized and he did not like it.

"I want you to try something for me, Edward. Close your eyes." She waited while Edward did as he was asked. "Now, I want you to think of someone you're attracted to. It doesn't have to be your wife; it could be anyone. An actress, for example."

Edward wracked his brain for women he thought were beautiful, picturing both Veronica Lake and Rose McCarty. Then he recalled what Dr. Weber had said earlier, about finding someone beautiful and being attracted to her two very different things. Edward wasn't sexually attracted to Veronica Lake or his wife's coworker. The same held true for Reese Witherspoon and Kate Winslet and, if Edward was honest about it with himself, which he might as well be, perhaps even Bella.

Jasper.

Edward had no idea where the thought had come from and he hastened to push it aside. Yes, Jasper was good-looking. Very good-looking, and his family had clearly been blessed with superior genes. Again, though, beautiful was not the same thing as...

Jasper is attractive.

Edward gagged.

"Edward?" Dr. Weber had set aside her folder again and was now watching Edward with concern. He brought his hand to his forehead and began rubbing his temple with his thumb.

"I'm sorry, I just... It's very hard for me to, you know, to talk about this kind of thing with a total stranger."

Dr. Weber clucked sympathetically. "I know."

But she didn't know. Dr. Weber had no idea.

After his appointment Edward didn't go straight home. Instead, he drove around for a while and tried to decide at what point, precisely, he had gotten so far away from himself. It was as if he were two separate people these days, and one of him did not know the other at all. There were no obvious answers lying there, waiting for Edward to discover them and pluck them out of the ether. He was so lost. In the end he arrived home no more settled or sorted out than when he had left, just in time to watch his wife bidding Jasper farewell and sending the nanny on his way.

Not long afterward, Edward began sleeping in the guest bedroom. He and Bella still spoke and interacted as though nothing were wrong, but it was a silent truth shared between them that something clearly was. Alec and Jane remained oblivious to their parents' difficulties, wrapped up in all the busy goings-on of six-year-olds. Jasper had them going on more outings as of late, his reasoning being that it would help them get used to being away from home for much longer periods of time than the few hours of kindergarten. He mostly took them to the park.

It was on these occasions when Edward was completely alone in the house that he took to actually venting his frustrations out loud rather than simply wanting to. He would release anguished cries and growls of frustration in the back office, genuinely on the verge of tears. He hated himself for having everything a man is supposed to want in order to be happy and not feeling content. He hated that he could see it slipping away from him like a handful of sand that was leaking through his fingers. What was he supposed to do? Was there anything he could do?

Fall came and the twins started school with seamless transition. It meant Edward was alone longer, as Jasper did not pick up the kids and bring them home until just after three in the afternoon. Most of the time, Bella was able to drop them off on her way to work. When she wasn't, she came and woke Edward up in the guest bedroom to let him know that he would need to. They acted as though it were normal to be like this, and Edward saw the way his wife looked at him differently now.

Edward kept seeing Dr. Weber, but they weren't getting anywhere that he could tell. During all future visits he steered clear of the topic of his libido, changing the subject in an unsubtle way when Dr. Weber attempted to check in regarding his sex life. With much prodding he confessed about the separate bedrooms, but that was the most he would say on the matter.

Now when Edward looked at himself in the mirror, he saw a haggard shadow rather than how he had once been. It wasn't a pleasant thing to experience, and he avoided his reflection. He was working out more but getting less kempt in his appearance, and the only thing that kept him shaving regularly was Alec's comments that his beard "prickled" when he went to give his son hugs.

He'd long since given up on creative writing endeavors and was back to freelance journalism, so at least he was being productive. Edward had no problem extrapolating at great length upon issues and topics that didn't at all concern him directly. He could go on for pages about increasing longevity or the benefits of purchasing fair trade products. His research was thorough and immaculate, and his completed work was of highest caliber. Alec, who had not yet gotten over his fascination with school, liked to write "√+" or put a sticker on the published copies of his dad's work that Edward kept in a stack in his desk drawer.

Because Jasper was no longer making lunches, and was around the house fewer hours each day, he and Edward did not speak as frequently anymore. Edward had thought this would be ideal, as ever since his initial therapy appointment, looking at Jasper left him queasy and light-headed. Edward told himself that was unfair, because people think of all manner of strange things when under stress or in odd situations and that it wasn't Jasper's fault any more than his own. The discomfort was still there. In spite of it, Edward was not eased but rather dismayed at the lack of one-on-one interaction with his children's nanny.

Sometimes, watching Jasper helping Alec and Jane with their homework or fixing them a snack, Edward caught himself conjuring some excuse to redirect the man's private attention temporarily. That was stupid; that wasn't what they'd hired Jasper for, and if Edward was in such great need for friends, he should go out and make some. Edward lacked any earnest desire to do so.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Edward and Bella sat down and discussed the idea of Edward moving out. His family was well off and he had plenty of money in a trust in addition to what he was making off of his writing. Bella was completely willing to share custody of Alec and Jane and to have Edward over at the house often. She told him she didn't see anything in their marriage anymore, and that while she still loved Edward, she thought perhaps she was no longer in love with him. It didn't sting Edward to hear, not only because he was beginning to go numb by then but also because as soon as she spoke the words, he knew he felt the same way. Edward agreed to start looking at houses in the area, and that they should sit down the twins together and explain the situation when the time came.

Edward was so caught up in this gaunt misery that he was more oblivious than usual to the things around him. For example, it took an entire week and a half of Jasper being oddly quiet before Edward picked up on it. One Wednesday, he was in the kitchen watch Jasper make the twins celery with peanut butter when it struck him rather abruptly that Jasper had been forcing his enthusiasm as of late. His usual vigor was replaced with a careful imitation, and Edward wanted to know why. He waited until his children had taken their snack and gone to the living room to ask Jasper about it while the nanny washed the knife and cutting board he'd used.

"I hope you don't mind my asking, Jasper," Edward began just as politely as he knew how. "I was wondering if everything was okay. Is there something you'd like to talk about?" They were lines Dr. Weber had used on Edward himself more than once.

Jasper blinked and looked up at Edward, startled.

"I'm fine, thanks," Jasper assured him, returning to the dishes, and these were the same words Edward had often given back to Dr. Weber. Edward recognized them, and that was how he knew they were a lie. He licked his lips, trying to decide whether to be respectful and drop it.

"I understand you might not... be comfortable confiding in me... but I want you to know that if you ever do want to talk about something, I'm willing to listen." There, that was friendly and inviting without being overly prying, wasn't it? Edward congratulated himself on the adept way in which he handled his phrasing. He also hoped Jasper would take the bait.

Jasper did. A moment later, he dropped the knife in the drying rack and heaved a sigh.

"Jake and I broke up," was all he offered, not looking at Edward as he spoke. He picked up the cutting board and began scrubbing vigorously.

Edward's throat went dry.

"Oh." And then, because he couldn't just leave it at that without sounding callous, Edward added, "I'm so sorry to hear that."

"S'fine," Jasper mumbled, scrubbing harder.

"Well, as I said, if you'd like to talk about it..."

Jasper's hand trembled with hesitation and the sponge fell into the sudsy water. He faced Edward slowly. His stunning blue-green eyes were rimmed in red and sporting dark circles, and Edward pitied him. How had he not become aware of this sooner? How long ago had Jasper's breakup taken place; how long had he been secretly miserable? It was another thing for which Edward felt guilt.

"He left me," Jasper said in a low voice, maybe worried that the children would hear or maybe just unsure about saying it.

"I'm so sorry," Edward said again, and that wasn't sufficient to express the emotions he was currently experiencing. Edward had no clue what he was currently undergoing, emotionally. "If you wanted to take some time off of work, Jasper, that would be more than fine."

Jasper gave an emphatic headshake as he rinsed off the cutting board. He paused, tilted his head, and gave a bitter little laugh.

"I'd rather not. If I wasn't working I don't know what I would do with myself."

That was something Edward could relate to as well, so he pressed no further. Jasper toweled off his hands and demurely excused himself to go check on how Alec and Jane were doing. Edward watched him go and pondered why, if he was truly sorry for Jasper's romantic misfortune, he was unexpectedly in higher spirits than he had been in a long while. Was he really such an insensitive jerk that someone else's misfortune eased the sting of his own? That was selfish and cold. Edward hoped fervently that was all it was.

In the aftermath of the conversation Edward wasn't sure whether the strange looks Jasper had given him were real or imagined, just as he wasn't sure whether he himself and given Jasper any such looks.

House hunting was an arduous and unappealing task, even after Bella contacted a realtor to help look. She and Edward wanted to make it a joint decision, as the kids would be spending so much time there and assumedly Bella would be around as well. It was depressing how casual they were about the process; Edward and Bella rarely argued. They never had, despite the erosion of their marriage, and it was with gracious complacency that they made arrangements to attend open houses and meet with brokers. Edward sort of wished that Bella would lose her cool just once and chuck a vase at his head like Lauren Bacall might've done to Humphrey Bogart, but she never did. All he got were sad eyes and headshakes accompanied by heavy sighs. Edward would have apologized to Bella for being such a disappointment of a man, but there was no point when he had no way to amend the situation.

Eventually they were going to have to tell Jasper, who would need to divide his time between the two households as well and act as a liaison on occasion. Edward was postponing that conversation as long as he could, the same way he postponed telling Dr. Weber until she pried the information loose with incessantly probing questions. Would Jasper judge them on their failed marriage? Would he "side" with Bella, who after all was much closer to his sister than Edward was? Why did Jasper's opinion matter? It didn't, yet Edward refrained from bringing it up even when he had the opportunity to do so privately. Bella would take care of it; Bella always took care of everything.

On another note, Jasper's naturally positive mood had gradually returned in the weeks following his confession, and Edward supposed he was recovering from his breakup. Whatever Edward's primary reaction to hearing the news, he was glad to see Jasper happy once more. He didn't bring it up directly but inquired "how things" were "going", and Jasper's upbeat replies relieved Edward. They meant one less thing he had to concern himself with when his own life was collapsing all around him.

One afternoon after Jasper brought Alec and Jane home from school, Jasper poked his head into Edward's office to express concern over his car. He told Edward it had been making a strange thudding noise during the drive to and from the elementary, and Jasper didn't want to risk transporting the twins in it again the next day in the event that it broke down entirely. Edward told Jasper he'd call Bella, that they would figure something out, and not to worry about it. In the end it proved to be irrelevant whether Jasper should use his own vehicle to bring the children home the next day. When he went to leave after Bella returned from work, the engine would not turn over.

Edward used his AAA membership to call for service, as he knew little about cars and neither did Jasper. The AAA man took one look under the hood and told Jasper it was nothing he'd be able to fix. Jasper would need to take the car to a mechanic. Jasper put on a good show of stoicism as he thanked the man, and Edward sympathized with Jasper in a way that he just hadn't when Jasper told him he'd been dumped. Surely losing a boyfriend was worse than losing the use of a car. Edward offered to give Jasper a ride home and told Bella to go ahead and start dinner without him. Alec and Jane, sensing their caregiver's hidden distraught state, both insisted on giving him hugs before he and Edward left.

Once he started the engine, Edward reached over and shut off the car stereo right away. He didn't want to risk blaring something that would label him as "old" in the younger man's eyes. He and Jasper rode without speaking for the first part of the drive to Jasper's apartment which, it turned out, was the next town over.

"Jake was great with cars," Jasper commented out of nowhere, gazing out the passenger window into the night. It was raining so lightly that Edward had not yet turned on the windshield wipers. Jasper laughed at his own words and turned to Edward. "I don't know why I said that."

"It's okay," Edward told him reflexively, although really and for some unknown reason, it wasn't.

"It's just... when I bought my car, Jake put all this work into it. And every time it gave me trouble he was able to fix it. And now... I guess... Now I don't know why I've bothered to keep it." Jasper went back to looking out the window, watching the trees and lights as they flew by in the dark.

"How long were the two of you together?" Edward heard himself asking, somewhat hoarser than his voice should have been. Jasper didn't seem to notice.

"About two years." Jasper paused. "How long have you and Mrs. Cullen been together?"

Edward swallowed. It was a tricky question – Were he and Bella still technically together? It didn't feel that way, not even close. Edward had admitted to himself, lying awake at night in the guest bedroom, that his wife and he had not been "together" in a very long time. Jasper picked up on Edward's uncertainty and hastened to speak again.

"I'm sorry, that's none of my business. I'm sorry."

"It's fine," Edward's throat was dry enough to make him sound rough. "Actually, and I recognize that this isn't the best time to bring it up but I might as well, Mrs. Cullen and I are... well, we've filed for legal separation. I'm going to be moving to a place of my own soon."

"Oh... Oh wow."

Edward thought he detected something in Jasper's tone that he couldn't place. He continued, hoping he sounded officious.

"We're going to be sharing custody of Alec and Jane, and naturally that would mean that you... uh... you know, that would entail you going back and forth between our houses..."

"Right."

"And we know that would be more difficult for you, for example it would increase your mileage and other things, so we would be increasing your pay..." Edward trailed off, feeling Jasper's eyes burning into the side of his face. He darted a quick look at Jasper, who snapped his own head forward to stare out the windshield.

"That wouldn't be necessary," Jasper assured him, and now Edward knew he wasn't imagining it.

Jasper sounded... not quite happy, but definitely in a better mood than he had been in the wake of his car's untimely malfunction. Why? Was he taking pleasure in Edward's personal misfortune? If so, was it because he was glad not to be alone in his forlorn state the way Edward told himself he had been doing when he was pleased about Jasper's breakup?

Whatever it was, and though perhaps it should have bothered Edward to know his children's nanny was in some small way reveling in the dissolution of his charges' family, Edward did not mind. Actually, knowing that Jasper was cheering up in turn cheered Edward up. Edward dared go so far as to smile to himself oh-so-briefly, something he'd not done in months now.

"It's this exit," Jasper directed him, breaking into Edward's trance.

Edward flicked on his blinker and eased his car over the two lanes to disembark the freeway. He heard Jasper clearing his throat.

"Turn right when you get to the light. So... Do you know when you might be moving? Just so I can kind of prepare? And, uhm, have you told Alec and Jane yet?"

Edward flinched. "Not yet. Mrs. Cullen and I plan on setting them down after the other house has been purchased. It's in escrow now."

"Ah... So, relatively soon then?"

"Relatively," Edward agreed.

"Okay. Uhm, just... the road sort of slants right up ahead, so follow that but get in the left lane." Jasper leaned forward and over as he spoke, stretching his arm to point out the windshield in the direction he meant.

It was raining in earnest now, and Edward's wipers made it slightly difficult to follow the path he'd been instructed to take. He almost missed it but veered at the last moment. Jasper settled back into his seat with an "oof" that Edward was unable to disregard as he switched to the left lane.

"Are you alright?"

"I'm fine. It's the next left, and then two blocks up it's going to be on the right-hand side. I'll show you."

They were almost at the end of the line now, and the closer they got the more aware Edward became of his own heartbeat. Instinct told him he was about to let go of or miss his chance on... something. He had a vague notion on what it might be and it terrified him. He'd told someone else about his marriage falling apart, and that made it real. That meant it was true and there was no going back. This wasn't what was scaring Edward.

"Oh it's this o- oh, you passed it. It's that gray one back there."

Jasper contorted in his seat to look back at the apartment building he lived in and Edward threw the car into reverse. He backed up while simultaneously pulling closer to the curb, and by now he was experiencing a staccato rhythm in his chest. He wasn't ready for Jasper to get out of the car yet, but had no rationale for Jasper to stay other than... he just wasn't ready for Jasper to go. The car slowed to a halt and Jasper straightened in his seat to undo his belt.

"Thanks for the ride, I- Shoot. I'm sorry, I just realized. I don't know how I'm going to get to the school to pick up Alec and Jane tomorrow."

"Don't worry about it, I can pick them up and watch them for the afternoon," Edward told him, his breathing so shallow that he had to pause midsentence to inhale. He took another breath before adding, "You just worry about getting your car fixed, okay?"

Jasper rolled his lips in and tilted his head in that way that signified he was thinking. Edward was able to discern that he was staring at Jasper but was not able to do anything about it. His desperation was mounting rapidly.

"Alright. Okay. Thank you. I-"

Edward then made a very, very poor decision that he would regret the instant he followed through on it. He leaned over in his seat, his still-buckled seatbelt locking and digging into his ribs, and pushed his mouth against Jasper's as Jasper was in the middle of speaking. Jasper sucked in air sharply and Edward jerked his head back, the two of them staring at each other with their eyes wide in shock.

Edward had no idea that he wanted to kiss Jasper until the instant he had, and now he was horrified with his actions. That was, at the very least, incredibly inappropriate of him. That was sexual harassment, wasn't it? Jasper was his employee. He could sue Edward for that, and Edward knew because he was still technically married to a woman who had dealt with such cases. Edward sat there, partially aghast but mostly just numbly bewildered with his own behavior.

"Uhm." Jasper licked his lips. "Uhm."

"Jesus, I am so sorry," Edward let out in a rush. "Jesus Christ. I don't- I have- Jesus. I'm so sorry."

"No that's- uhm. Wow. Uhm. That's okay... I- uhm..."

"Fuck." Edward was getting frantic now, his world combusting. "Shit, I am really so sorry, Jasper."

"I... I should g-go." Jasper stumbled though his words, his hand shaking as he went for the door handle.

Great, Edward had freaked him out too. Of course he had. There was no way Jasper could have seen than coming, nor should he have had to. Edward had just violated Jasper's personal space and their professional relationship in such a major way. Jasper pulled the door upon and swung his legs out, and seeing that was what made Edward go for broke. He grabbed Jasper's shoulder to halt his movements, and when Jasper rotated his head to look back, Edward kissed Jasper again.

This time he didn't stop immediately, though God knew he should have. He shouldn't have even done it. Once might have, at best, been dismissed as a misinterpretation of cues. Twice, after Jasper had displayed his astonishment and Edward had repeatedly apologized for his actions, was unforgivable. Edward shifted his mouth on Jasper's, getting no kind of reaction as Jasper was frozen before him. In his head Edward was screaming "STOP!", yet he did not stop. He worked his lips in infinitesimal movements against Jasper's, knowing that the second he released Jasper he was going to have close to nothing left.

"Mmph."

Jasper let out the muffled noise as he adjusted his body to better accommodate Edward's presence. The next thing Edward became aware of was Jasper's hand slowly creeping up to rest on his forearm. Jasper drew back from Edward's mouth only to press against it again, and Edward figured out that Jasper was kissing him back. Edward was kissing another man.

Or trying to, anyway. He hadn't the faintest idea what he was doing. The kisses were more a series of light pecks, one after the other, feeling the softness of Jasper's lips on his own. Edward was basically clueless. Testing kisses, one peck at a time, and Jasper's lips were warmer than his own as he pecked back.

When it didn't end right away, Jasper kissed Edward a little more solidly, nudging Edward's lower lip with his own. Edward got then that Jasper was the opposite of mad at him for his actions. Jasper was interested in this too, or at least willing to give it some kind of shot physically. What now? Christ, what now?

Edward's lips were barely parted and he was breathing shallowly through them. It was nice, this warm breath that was coming out of Jasper's mouth and tasting faintly sweet. Jasper nudged Edward's lower lip a little more, then gently took it in between both of his and sucked on it just the tiniest bit. He lifted his free hand and brought it lightly to the back of Edward's head so that he could push into the kiss more and Edward went along with that too, albeit nervously. Jasper flicked his tongue against Edward's lower lip and Edward opened his mouth.

Edward was starting to get very anxious now. He was enjoying this, or at least he was pretty sure he was. On a physical level, the hot sensation growing in his lower abdomen, he liked that a hell of a lot. Simultaneously, alarm bells were going off in the back of his mind and letting him know that this was an extremely foreign and as such very worrisome experience for him. That, he did not like. Not to mention, what he was doing was essentially taking advantage of the knowledge of Jasper's sexuality, confessing in this nonverbal way some kind of attraction to him that Edward had denied to himself until now.

Jasper teased his tongue into Edward's mouth and slid his hand to cup Edward's jaw, and that was more than Edward could take just then. He wrenched back from Jasper, keeping his eyes closed so as to avoid seeing the expression on his employee's – employee's? – face.

"Holy shit," he heard Jasper gasp.

The only other sound was the rain, louder because the passenger door was still open. A chilly breeze was blowing into the car, carrying with it the occasional droplet of water that would tap Edward's skin. That was a real, honest-to-God kiss, wasn't it? That was what a kiss was supposed to be like, in all of the books Edward had read and the movies he's seen. Jesus, he hadn't known until now. He just hadn't known.

Edward leaned sideways into his car seat, squeezing his eyes more tightly shut in an effort to clear the fog out of his brain. It was no use. His only coherent thought was the primal "Yes. Please. More of that." There had to be something else that Edward was meant to be processing.

"Do- uhm- do- do you want to come inside?" Jasper's voice was timid. Upon hearing this Edward's eyes flashed open, his efforts at cognition wholly abandoned.

If Edward truly were two people, the way he so often felt he was these days, one of him would have currently been asking the other just what the hell he thought he was doing. The other Edward would not have had an answer, but it didn't matter since he also would not have cared. Edward cared about little right then beyond the beautiful, attractive blond man who was currently aligning their bodies in order to facilitate further kissing. Everything else was so far away from Edward and for once, he wasn't straining with all his might to try and reach those things. For once Edward had his hands on what he wanted most at the moment.

"Yes."

*********

First, I'd like to apologize for the length of this. I wrote it in response to some serious personal frustrations I've been dealing with lately. I honestly can't decide if or how I should continue this, so if you have an opinion on the matter I would love to hear it. And for those of you wondering where the latest chapter of Burn and Shine is: it's completed and being edited right now, so you can expect it in the next day or two (with my most profound apologies).

As always, thank you so much to everyone for taking the time to read! You can't imagine how much I appreciate it.

P.S. I've been informed that Nannysper is spoken for. Sorry ladies.