A/N: Thanks so much to my readers for your patience. I love every one of you. Thanks also to closettwilighter, my beta and friend, for all that she does to help me, both with this fic and life in general. If you are not reading her story, Angel in the Attic, you are seriously missing out.
I ran from the house like the hounds of hell were chasing me. Perhaps, they were. I ran as fast as I could until the whirring in my brain slowed to a dull roar. I stopped abruptly somewhere in western Canada, lying on the ground and staring at the brilliant light from the stars above.
To my left, I saw the golden eyes of the woman who saved my soul from darkness twinkling at me from the sky. I remembered the look in her eyes when I walked into the diner in Philadelphia all those years ago, glowing with the love she already felt for me. I remembered the dark glaze of lust that came over them when we made love the first time. I remembered the look of anguish in them just days before as she left to go to South America with Edward.
I clutched my fists to my eyes, trying to wipe that image from my fucking perfect memory, as the realization that I had put that look there. Alice knew. I wondered how long she had been dealing with the knowledge that I was going to fall in love with Bella.
Why didn't you tell me, baby doll? I asked the stars above. Why didn't you trust me to share this burden with you? Why? Why? Why!
Looking to the right, I saw warm, chocolate brown eyes staring back at me. I realized that Bella would never have kept anything from me. She trusted me to be able to handle the truth, no matter how bad it was.
I wondered if Alice ever would. Still, Alice had saved me from myself. She had given me a life worth living, a life of purpose. I had people who loved me and whom I loved.
How can you ever repay someone for saving your soul from the depths of hell?
I owed her my life. I never wanted to be the cause of such anguish in her eyes.
My mind zoomed back to Bella and the look of utter agony in Bella's eyes tonight. Her feelings mirrored mine. The love I felt from her was as all consuming as my own for her. It was unconditional and absolute.
Bella saw me with a clarity that Alice couldn't achieve despite her vampire-enhanced vision. Bella loved me without reservation, the good, the bad and the downright ugly. The absolute euphoria I felt when I was around Bella was unparalleled. When that was coupled with the peace that came with being able to be myself completely, I didn't know how I could live without being with her.
I was between the proverbial rock and hard place. I had to hurt one of the women I loved. There was no escaping it. One of the two was going to get hurt, and it was all on me. I was determined to deal with this as honorably as possible. I just had no idea what was the honorable thing to do.
My mind played out the various scenarios in my mind. One minute, I was choosing Alice, and Bella was stoically accepting, but crushed. The next minute, I chose Bella, and Alice was dejected, alone and drawn into a fetal position.
Neither of the options was one that I could live with.
The fact that either choice I made left a woman I loved wrecked like a ship on the rocks was further proof that I was a man condemned to a hellish existence.
How could I ever think that I deserved happiness when everything, everyone I touched was tainted with the blackness of my sins?
After mulling these options over for what seemed an eternity and arriving at no other conclusions, I picked myself up and headed for home, stopping to hunt along the way.
As I cleared the treeline and entered the yard near the house, I saw Carlisle standing there, waiting for me to return. I stopped in front of him, head down, waiting for his rebuke.
"I am glad you're home, son," he said earnestly.
I lifted my head and saw the concern in his eyes. "Was there a problem while I was gone?"
"No, no. Not that kind of problem," he replied. "I was just concerned that you went off alone and were obviously upset. . . . That and . . . I heard the conversation that you and Bella had before you left."
"Oh." Shit! What must he think of me?
"I want you to know that we love you, Jasper, no matter what you decide to do about your feelings. Esme and I want you to stay with this family."
He looked as his feet, and we stood there enveloped in a long, uncomfortable silence.
"Jasper," he began, looking at me intently, "you need to make the decision that is best for you . . . without regard for what Esme and I think. You are our son. We will love you and support your decision regardless of what that choice is."
"But. . ." was all I could get out of my mouth before the sobs wracked my body, the emotional strain of everything finally spilling over. After several calming breaths, I was able continue, "What about Alice? I made promises to her. If I were a good man, I would keep them."
"Things are not always black and white. Life is full of shades of gray. The so-called 'right thing' isn't always clear. You have to decide which is going to make you happy. I can say one thing for certain: both Bella and Alice want nothing more than to see you happy."
"How can I possibly be happy when I love them both? How can I choose between the woman whom I have loved for more than sixty years and the woman who has seen me at my worst and loves me still?"
"I don't know how you make that choice. I certainly don't envy you having to make it, but I know this—you are a good man, Jasper. I know that one of them will be hurt, but it can't be helped. Be kind to them and make the decision quickly. Dragging this out will only hurt them both."
I looked into his eyes and nodded, acknowledging that he was right in his assessment of the situation. He closed the distance between us and hugged me tightly before saying, "Now, come and say hello to Tanya, Irina, and Kate."
We wandered silently back to the house and found Tanya and her sisters in the living room with Esme and Laurent.
"Well, here's the best looking Cullen man," Tanya said in jest, rising to hug me. "Sorry, Carlisle, but all of your boys are dreamy."
"Hello, Tanya. Nice to see you again. Thank you for coming. I hope that we are being overly cautious in asking you to come," I explained as I hugged her, then moved to greet Irina and Kate. "Irina, Kate, thank you both for coming. How have you been?"
"We are doing well. We wouldn't have missed the chance to help out family. Have you heard from Edward or Alice?" Kate asked after hugging me tightly.
"No, they just left a few hours ago. I am sure they will call when they have information," I responded, noticing that Irina and Laurent seemed to be unable to take their eyes off of one another.
"As Jasper said, we can't thank you enough for coming to help us during this difficult time. We need all the resources we can get to make sure that Bella stays safe," Carlisle added sincerely.
"So when do we get to meet this extraordinary human who has turned the Cullen clan on its ear?" Tanya asked with an amused gleam in her eyes.
"She's resting now," Esme chimed in. "I am sure that you will all meet her in the morning."
"Is there a good place to hunt nearby?" Irina asked. "I don't want to stray too far. I thought it would be best if we staggered our trips." She looked at Laurent expectantly.
"Deer are plentiful nearby. I have also seen a bear or two. I'll be happy to show you . . . if you like?" Laurent volunteered.
Irina nodded, and the two left through the back door.
"Laurent has told us much about Victoria and her mate, James. So would you care to explain to me why one of you has not changed Bella instead of leaving her vulnerable as a human?" Tanya asked pointedly. "She is family, right?"
Carlisle and Esme cleared their throats at the same time and turned to look at me, moving in unison.
"She is most definitely family, Tanya. The question of her being turned is a complicated one. She and Edward are no longer together as a couple, and she no longer wishes to be changed," I answered, choking slightly on the last words.
The realization that choosing Bella would mean that we would only have a short time together during the span of her human life. The thought saddened me as I realized that I wanted nothing more than to greet the sun with her every day for the rest of eternity.
"Well, that does create a liability. Will you change her if she is near death?" she inquired matter-of-factly, turning to look at Carlisle.
He looked at me, his eyes seeking the answer from me. I shook my head.
"No, we will not go against her wishes as much as losing her would pain us." Carlisle squeezed Esme's hand when she looked like she wanted to protest his statement.
The pain I felt poured into the room. Irina and Tanya grabbed their stomach as the wave hit them. I quickly replaced it with one of peace and contentment.
"Excuse me," I said, rising to leave the room, "I need to go check on some things and iron out some plans."
I felt, rather than saw, Tanya's eyes follow me from the room, accompanied by her knowing, "Hmmm." She was very perceptive. I knew that I wouldn't be able to keep my feelings for Bella a secret from our guest.
Shit! I will talk to her tomorrow and ask her to give me the space to figure this out without saying anything to Alice. I don't want her to face their pity when she comes home.
I found myself unconsciously pausing outside Bella's door. Her breathing was soft and steady. She was asleep. I couldn't resist the urge to see her and turned the knob quietly to open the door, intending to quickly peek in.
I opened the door and saw her lying with her back to me. I stepped quietly over to the side of her bed and bent over so that I could see her face. The moon shone through the window highlighting the tear stains on her cheeks—tear stains put there by me.
As I was mentally kicking myself, she turned to face me, whispering, "Jasper." My name was followed by a moan. The sound went straight to my groin, making my cock twitch and grow hard.
God, how I want to lose myself in this woman, bury myself in her, heart and soul.
Her hand reached out and grabbed my thigh, pulling me to her. My vampire strength was no match against her warm, sensual hands, and my knees buckled, hitting the bed. She stirred, and I feared she would awaken. I didn't want her to wake up; I wanted to feel the love and lust radiating from her body while she was deep in slumber, free from the guilt that tainted them when she was conscious.
She settled back into her pillow, her breathing calming again, but her grasp on my thigh didn't loosen.
"Mmmm . . . Jasper," she moaned with a smile lighting her face.
I knew that I should turn and leave, but couldn't find the strength to make my muscles move. My cock twitched again. The lust in the air was thick as I daydreamed of kissing my way down the valley between Bella's breasts, over her stomach, and licking my way down her sex and entering her with my tongue.
The scent of her arousal jolted me from my musings, and I looked down to see Bella rubbing her thighs together and moan again. I realized that I had projected my own lust onto Bella and needed desperately to pull the emotions back before we both found ourselves in a precarious position.
I used every bit of intestinal fortitude I could muster to send out a wave of detachment to subdue the rising passion in both of us. Bella's squirming slowed, and her breathing hitched, but calmed.
I reached down and gently removed her fingers from my thigh and placed a gentle kiss on her palm. "I love you, little sparrow. Sleep well," I whispered.
As I turned to leave the room and adjusted the aching bulge in my pants, I heard her say, "Don't go, Jasper." Her voice was thick with sleep. I looked back and saw that she was still fast asleep, but looked sad at the thought of being alone.
"As you wish, my darlin'," I whispered, sitting in the chair opposite the bed to watch her sleep and, somehow, quell my desire for her.
E/N: Reviews are love. Please let me know what you think. Next up: Bella's dream! More hot, Jasper/Bella almost-schmexing! Sorta!
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