Chapter 15- Delay

How could she burn and still remain? How could she have died twice over and yet still draw breath? The air whispering against her skin hurt, as did his frantic hold on her. But one she couldn't change; and the other, she never would.

Not until the time came.

She couldn't save her child.

He couldn't save her heart.

"Edward?" Bella peered around Jasper's back, uncertain if he was really here. Maybe he was just a figment of her imagination. Maybe her bloodlust haze was still mucking up her thoughts, making her see whos who were not.

"Who else would it be, love?" That was definitely Edward's silky voice, and she recognized that damn crooked grin she fell in love with. But surely he hadn't just waltzed back in here like the last month had been a dream. If it were only that easy…

"Edward?" Bella whispered, still unsure whether to trust her senses. Her eyes drank him in, her ears longed for his voice, but it was her heart that split in two. Half leaping toward the only boy she'd ever loved; the other begging for a hasty retreat, anxious to save her only reason for being.

"What are you doing here?" Rose's tone mirrored her skin – hard, cold, flawless.

"This is my home, Rosalie." His jaw tensed.

"Not anymore."

Edward growled, turning toward Emmett. "She is my wife!"

Emmett snorted. "You finally remembered that, did ya?"

"I never forgot."

"You never forgot? You know what you are Edward-" Rosalie took a step forward, only to be intercepted by Emmett and blocked by Carlisle. Looking to their patriarch, Rose sneered. "Afraid I'll hurt your precious boy?"

"That is quite enough, Rosalie. We are all civilized adults here," again Emmett snorted, tightening his hold on Rose, "and we will behave as such. Do I make myself clear?"

"Oh, Dad, you're perfectly transparent."

"Rosalie!" Esme gasped, moving to stand by her mate. But Rose said nothing, shrugging off Emmett's massive arms and moving to sit on the arm of the couch Bella was still beached on.

"Rosalie is right," Jasper began quietly, straightening out of his crouch but not moving from his place between Bella and Edward. "Bella needs to stay calm, Carlisle, you said so yourself. And as soon as the shock of this reunion wears off, she's gonna be anything but."

"And he needs a bath. What did you do? Take your frustrations out on a skunk before you rolled around in some sewage pond?"

"Rosalie Hale!" Esme scolded. It seemed the only thing she could say at the moment.

Bella wasn't in shock, but she couldn't make her mouth co-operate to argue the point. Had Edward always looked so tired? Had his eyes always been so black, so lifeless? Maybe he should drink from her cup. It'd done wonders for her…

"What are you to my wife, Jasper? Have you really traversed the span from executioner to her self-proclaimed protector during my brief absence?"

"If needs be."

"And who, exactly, does she need protecting from?" Edward asked, and he must have got his answer because the next second he crouched, growling. Defining the word feral with every twitch of his body, every shift of his obsidian eyes. Edward had always said Bella was the angry kitten, but now that's what he looked like – an angry, trapped kitten, desperate for escape. In a blur, Carlisle grabbed Edward from behind.

"Son, I know this is upsetting but if you lose control, you could harm Bella. You could hurt your wife and unborn child." Betrayal, sharp and deep, sliced across Edward's perfect features, but he composed himself and took a step back farther into Carlisle's hold.

"I apologize, Carlisle. Of course, you are right. I can control myself." Every head turned to Jasper, waiting for his response in true Wimbledon form.

Anger started to break through the fog, cracking the translucent shield of shock that had encased Bella since Edward's arrival, threatening to bring reality crashing down upon her. But now that it had shattered, there would be no restoration. Reality, it seemed, would have its way.

How dare he march in here and do anything but grovel? He'd once again broken a promise, and now he had the nerve to insult those who had done nothing but support – and love – her and their unborn child!

But as quick as the anger had taken hold, it vanished like curls of smoke through her fingertips. Bella shook her head and then noticed Jasper's tense posture.

"Oh," she murmured. Once again, wrapped in her own drama, she'd overlooked the one who had no choice but to feel every ebb and flow of her torrential emotions. Her cheeks flushed in her shame.

"Don't." Jasper didn't spare her a glance. And her shame and regret grew with every breath.

"My brother is right, love. He is the one who could not control his gift. You have no reason to feel guilty or even responsible."

This time, the anger was all hers. The other vampires held their collective breath, looking on with poorly contrived mixed masks of horror and glee. They knew this supersized Bella, and they'd heard the condescending tone of Edward's voice even clearer with their super senses.

"I was not patronizing her. It is just silly to be upset over something so trivial at a time such as this."

The vampires' heads tilted her direction as Bella's heart quickened its pace and the baby began to stir.

"Carlisle," Jasper warned just loud enough for Bella to hear. "He's upsetting her and the tadpole. I can't influence Bella without him picking up on it." With Carlisle's silent indecision, Jasper changed tactics. "His eyes are pitch black. He needs to hunt."

Edward scoffed but Carlisle approached him firmly, yet cautiously. "Your brother is right, son. It's been too long since we've hunted together. Let us go grab a bite."

"And after he wipes your chin for you, maybe you can ask him the correct procedure for removing your foot from your mouth. 'Cause, Eddikins, it's wedged way down there and nothing short of 24 carat is gonna get it out."

"That's not helpful, Emmett," Alice scolded, skipping to Edward's side and taking his arm. "Come on, Edward. Bella just needs some time to think. Jasper overloaded her before. You know it takes time for the effects of his power to wear off."

Anger seemed to be the emotion of the day. As they pranced off, Bella closed her eyes and tried to focus on each breath.

In and out, in and out, in and out.

Oh! But their words! Their tone!

CJ gave a sharp jab and she remembered why she couldn't just give into the urge to throw her (now considerable) weight around, why she couldn't give them exactly what they deserved. She was too angry – and enjoying the images of her teeth slicing through the perfect skin of their necks like butter too much – to acknowledge that the babe was only a small part of the reason she couldn't give in to her anger. Reality being the greater.

"Bella?" Jasper's voice, soft and deep, broke the silent wake of their departure. "I-" Bella's hand shot up.

"Don't." When he opened his mouth again, Bella interrupted. Again. "I could ask Rose to close your mouth for you…"

To this, he guffawed and brought life back to the dread-drenched, still frames they'd been frozen in since Edward's arrival.

"Bella, surely you're not going to just let him barge in after-"

"Rose, I think Bella needs a drink," Jasper interrupted quietly. "What do you say to some semi-fresh O-neg? I've heard it's a good year." Bella watched as his tongue peeked out to wet his pink lips, but as her eyes shot up to meet his, she saw they were black. He was-

"Hungry?" she asked quietly, longing to run her fingers along the shadows beneath his haunted eyes. Jasper took a quick step back.

"You worried?" He asked with a guarded expression. Such a silly question for an empath, but if he needed reassurance, she didn't have a problem giving it. Again and again if need be.

"Only for you."

"So stop being an ass and help her sit up. Rosie's got her pick-me-up," Emmett added, moving to hover around the back of the couch while his hands fluttered uselessly. Bella had done something no other woman except Rosalie had ever managed: Emmett felt insecure. Hell, he was afraid to touch her now. Too fragile.

As Bella inhaled the intoxicating scent of the warm blood waiting for her, Rose pulled Emmett onto the loveseat. Jasper sat on the arm of the couch, prepared to catch her or the cup of blood should his assistance be required.

With the first sip, the firm grip of tension nestled in each of her muscles released and she slumped in her bliss. Wonderful and freeing. It was only in those few seconds she understood how people could become addicted to drugs. If only she'd known it could be this sweet.

But Jasper just had to ruin it.

"Bella, I wanted-" She lifted the cup back to her lips but his hand caught hers before bliss could be reached. She was so close…

"Talk first. Blood second."

She growled. They laughed.

"Fine," she huffed. "But you'll be reheating it."

"Bella, I-" he started. But she wasn't done yet.

"I was even going to offer you a little somethin' somethin'. Just a sip; nothing that would make your eyes go all creepy."

Jasper growled lightly, but it had no anger behind it. How could it with Rose and Em barely containing their chuckles not five feet away?

"Are you going to listen to me, little human?"

"Wow. From close friend to anonymous food source in one conversation. Harsh."

"I'm sorry about-"

"No," she shook her head stubbornly. "That's exactly why I don't want to do this." She waved in between them, like that explained.

"What?" He was lost.

"Look, I'm still not sure that deal with Ed-Edward wasn't all my own anger arriving just a little late, so really, no apologies."

"Well, I am certain, but I wasn't apologizing for that – just for the little human jab."

"Oh! You weren't?"

"No, ma'am."

"Then what did you want before the species slur?"

"You mean you're going to let me talk?" Bella nodded, almost blushing. Whether a result from her chagrin or his little playful wink, neither was quite sure. "I was going to ask…"

"Yes?" Bella prompted warily.

"Don't play the obtuse human. It doesn't suit any sister of mine," Rose, who had been strangely silent, joined the conversation. "He wants to know the same thing as the rest of us – next to the question of whether you're actually going to forgive that-"

"Rose," Esme warned from her place at the top of the grand staircase.

"CJ! What does the J stand for?" Rose tilted her head toward Jasper and Bella quickly looked down at her fidgeting hands.

Bella couldn't think of a way to explain her choice. And now that Edward was back – if he was back to stay – he would have a say so as well. She didn't want to divide the family anymore than she had already; she wouldn't be the wedge again. They were fractured enough.

With her decision made, she looked up into those familiar dark eyes - those eyes that left her feeling safe and secure but not weak; those eyes that expressed his need to be protected as well. And her resolve crumbled.

"Jasper. Charles Jasper. I-if that's okay with you, of course?"

Jasper's eyes searched her face as she was sure his gift was rifling through her emotions, looking for a smidge of doubt, of insecurity, of jest. But he wouldn't find one. She'd had more time than she cared to remember on her hands lately. And regardless of what Emmett thought, there were only so many episodes of reality shows she could watch before she went insane or her thoughts wandered. Preferably the latter. And when the inevitable happened, they wandered right into the near future.

What would her nudger look like? Color of his hair, his eyes, the shape of his nose. Would he have his father's long, piano fingers or her habit of biting her nails? Would he be more human or would he arrive seeing, hearing, soon knowing more than she had in her entire life? Would she be a better mother than her mother and her mother before her? Would her father ever know he had a grandchild? That all of the heartache she had put him through was worth it, because the result was this one, unique, perfect being.

Would he sleep through the night? Would he prefer blood to milk or maybe a mixture of both? Was she strong enough to stay human if her child was destined to lead a mortal life? Was she willing to leave him for his own safety if her change was imminent?

Of all the questions she'd asked herself, the name one was rather simple and simply set. As long as Jasper didn't have any objections…

"Say something, Jazzman, before she goes to her plan B: Emmett Jr."

"I'd consider it the biggest honor of my dishonorable extended life." Sincerity flowed from his words, from his body, as a large smile stretched across his face. Bella couldn't help but think he looked even more like an angel when he smiled. But she called him her hero when he pressed her cup back in her hand and took his place back by her side.

The happiness, the contentment, she knew would be fleeting, but she sipped her cup and slipped back into that red bliss, hoping to forgo the inevitable for as long as she could.

She hid in her drug of necessity, of choice, while the future strong and greedy sought to end everything.

And he had a front row seat through it all.

She ground her teeth and locked her burning joints in place, thinking how little things had truly changed.

Author's Note: Beta'd by the amazing Stitchcat.

Thanks to all who read and review! I really appreciate ya'll being so patient for updates. They'll come more quick like in the new year…hopefully.