Disclaimer: Any Twilight characters that may appear in this story belong to Stephenie Meyer. The remainder is my original work. No reproduction is allowed without my written consent.

~.o.~

The Ace of Spades

Chapter Five—The Ace of Spades

Edward looked ridiculous. He wore a pink shirt that read, "Property of Bella Swan — No Touching," and a cone-shaped party hat that read, "The Future Mr. Swan." I would have laughed at him for wearing the preposterous outfit except I was too busy fighting off blinding jealousy. If Bella had asked me to wear it, I would have done it in a heartbeat.

I felt as though I was stuck in a backwards world. Edward was plastered, and I was completely sober. We had our reasons, of course — it was his bachelor party (a fact he felt the need to remind me of every couple of seconds), and I was a recovering alcoholic determined to never touch another drink.

For my sake, Edward hadn't wanted to go any place that served alcohol, but as his Best Man, I felt it was my duty to show him a good time even if I couldn't partake. Also, I was pleased to discover that I could be as much of an asshole as I wished, and everyone would assume it was because I wasn't drinking and not because my brother was marrying the woman I loved. That was nice.

"I'm getting married to Bella Swan," Edward sang into my ear, and our entire party rang out, "Cheers!" before downing another shot.

"I'm going to get a drink," I told Edward so I could get away from the Godforsaken merriment of it all.

"No alcohol for you," Edward reminded me with a wide smile, and I assured him I would get a coke.

I stared at the drinks menu at the bar as if it was a message directly from God. Oh, how a drink would help my night so much.

"How about a game of Spade's Triad?" a stranger asked in a low whisper from my left. I felt my face burn.

It had been over a year since anyone had dared mention that Goddamn game to me. I looked back at him in disgust. "You're a damn fool."

He looked surprised by the venom in my voice. "You don't remember me do you? I owe you a round of drinks for a game you won a while ago."

"I don't drink anymore." I just think about it often. "And I don't play that stupid game any more, either."

"Dude, what's your problem?"

"My problem? My problem is that I'm a miserable fucking bastard," I said.

He stared at me before saying, "I can see that," and turned to walk away. Before he could get far, I grabbed his shoulder.

"Look at that," I said, pointing to my brother. "Look at that man there. That is a man who is truly happy. Do you think that you are ever going to be as happy as him?" I asked. Damn, I wanted that. I wanted to be him. I wanted Bella.

"Well, let me inform you," I continued, ignoring his incredulous look, "that he never once played that stupid fucking game. He found something worth more than a few meaningless fucks… She could've been mine."

I left the man standing stunned at the bar and walked over to my brother. "I think it's probably time I get this bachelor home," I told our group of friends. They looked at Edward, who was now wearing his cone-shaped party hat on the side of his head, and easily agreed.

Edward said a quick goodbye to the group that nobody could understand and darted out the door. I waved and departed as well. When I got outside, it was to find Edward dancing in the street, singing, "I'm Getting Married in the Morning!" I couldn't help but smile. At least he was happy.

"Come on, future Mr. Swan. Let's get you home." We walked back to our house from the bar, Edward often coming up and throwing his arm around my shoulder, asking me to join in on the chorus to the song, which he kept singing quite loudly the entire way.

It took about ten minutes for us to finally reach home, and, when we did, Edward practically collapsed on the porch to look up at the stars.

"I don't deserve her," he said.

"Yes, you do," I replied automatically.

"When I'm with her, it's like Heaven meets Earth. I can't believe I'm going to get to spend the rest of my life in Heaven."

Two years ago I would have laughed. Tonight the jealousy burned like acid.

"I'm going to spend every day of forever making her happy," he told me with determination.

"I know you will," I agreed.

He was quiet for a moment, and I was just about to suggest that we go inside when he said, quite hesitantly, "I do have one fear about marrying her."

"Which is what?" I asked curiously. Edward had always seemed so sure of himself.

"I don't know if I can say it out loud."

"Edward, you know you can tell me anything," I reassured him, though I hoped to God it wasn't anything about their sex life.

He just sat there looking up at the sky for a couple minutes, giving no indication that he had heard me. "Sometimes I worry that I'll be like him. Like dad." He whispered the last two words. I couldn't blame him. The subject of our father had always been forbidden when our mother was alive, and, even after she had passed away, the subject felt taboo.

"Look at me, Edward," I said. He refused and I repeated it more forcefully. When his eyes met mine, I mustered every ounce of honesty and truth into my voice so that he would believe me when I said, "You will never, never be like father."

He gave me a sad smile. "You don't know that. I could—"

"No, you couldn't," I interrupted. "Trust me."

"I trust you, J," he told me and continued to look up at the stars.

We sat like that for a long while, and my eyes had already drifted close by the time I realized that this would be a terribly uncomfortable place to sleep and decided I'd rather be in my bed. I stood up and clapped Edward on the shoulder, asking him if he was ready to sleep.

"Give me a few minutes. I'll be in soon," was his reply.

I told him I'd see him in the morning and turned to walk away. I was almost to the door when he asked, "What changed?"

I turned around to find him facing me. "What do you mean?" I asked, though I knew exactly what he meant.

"What changed you?" he clarified. "You're different now… better."

I didn't want to answer because I didn't want to lie to him. I knew I had to say something, though. Edward never let anything drop. "It was the alcohol. Once I quit drinking, I was cured."

"You're lying," he stated quite accurately. "I'm talking about before you quit drinking, the reason you quit drinking."

I had decided a long time ago that Edward would never know about my feelings for Bella. Times like now thoroughly tested my self-control, and I wondered how bad it would really be if I got it out in the open. The burden of carrying it around was tiring.

"J, you can tell me anything," Edward said, repeating my words from earlier.

I could hear such an earnest appeal in his voice, and I gave in. "It was Bella."

He didn't seem at all surprised by this. In fact, a wide grin spread across his face. "I knew it!" He must have been drunker than I thought.

"You knew?" I asked in disbelief.

"Of course I knew. Bella brings out the best in everyone! I figured that once you saw what Bella and I had, you'd want it for yourself. I hoped beyond anything that you would settle down and find someone you'd want to change for," he said, as if flaunting Bella had been the most ingenious plan he'd ever come up with.

I had to laugh, though. "Oh, little bro, you're plan worked all too well," I said, a bitter undertone to my voice that Edward didn't catch.

"Of course it did! Who is she?" he asked.

"Who is who?"

"The girl?"

"The girl who?"

"The girl who changed you!" he said, exasperated.

"I told you it was Bella."

He rolled his eyes. "I meant who is the girl that you want to have what Bella and I have with?" I would have laughed at his almost nonsensical question, except that I understood exactly what he was asking.

And I didn't know what to answer.

"We're having an honest moment here," Edward said seriously. "So you can't lie."

I wasn't going to lie. "It's Bella," I said slowly, knowing that out of every selfish act I had ever committed, this would easily be the worst.

"We've already been through this; I meant the girl that makes—"

"No, Edward," I said. He needed to understand this fully if my conscious was ever going to be clear. "Bella is the girl that I want what you have with."

He looked confused for a moment before he let an empty mask fall over his features.

"I love Bella," I admitted after several moments' silence.

Edward's face remained blank. "As a brother," he said slowly.

"No."

"Well you can't have her!" he yelled.

I snorted derisively. "You think I don't know that? You think that very fact hasn't defined my life since the moment I met her?"

"H-h-how could you?" he stuttered in anger. "You're supposed to be my brother!"

"It's not like I can help what I feel! I mean, can you blame me? You fell in love with her, too!"

"I fell in love with her first!"

"I don't deny that."

Edward glared at me, and as he did so something seemed to click in his head. "Did you— did you try something with her? Is that why she wouldn't come by the house for months?" he said in a determinedly calm tone.

"Yes."

"Did you… touch her?"

"No! Of course not! Don't you know me at all?" I shouted in indignation.

"Yes, I know you, and that's the problem!"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You treat women like animals! It wouldn't be too much of a stretch for me to assume that you felt like you had the right to touch a woman who didn't want it!"

"Who said Bella didn't want it?" I snapped and immediately regretted my words.

Edward clenched his fist as if to punch me but managed to refrain. I was impressed with his self-control. Even I would have punched me by now.

He stood like that for a long moment, his eyes closed tightly and his mouth forming words that were too quiet for me to hear. However, it didn't prevent me from reading his lips. "I am not like Dad. I am not like Dad. I am not like Dad," he was muttering to himself.

It was like a cold bucket of water had been dumped over my head as realization struck with a mighty force. I finally understood why Bella chose Edward.

He wasn't the wimpy kid I had always labeled him to be. He had more balls than I could ever hope to have. He'd grown up in a house where he was relentlessly teased and bullied by his prick of an older brother, and yet he always stood up for what he thought was right. He had never wavered, no matter how much pressure I put on him.

He was everything I wasn't. Not because he didn't struggle with the same temptations and conflicts as me, but because he chose to overcome them. Whereas I strove only to achieve the bare minimum human decency required.

I was undeniably the lesser man.

"I'm sorry, Edward. I shouldn't have said that," I told him quietly. "Bella never gave me the time of day. It's only ever been you, bro."

He opened his eyes, and they were black with anger. "You are not my brother." With that, he pushed past me and sprinted inside the house.

I stood outside in the cold air for a few more seconds, stunned by his last words. On one hand, it felt good to be on the receiving end of his wrath, almost a relief. I deserved his anger, and I craved it, in a way.

On the other hand, those five words — you are not my brother — stung worse than even Bella's rejection. There was one person in my life who had always been a constant, who had always believed in me even at my worst, who loved and admired me despite my faults. And he had just disowned me.

I tried to numb myself to the pain of his parting words, but the ache was so much more persistent than I'd ever felt. With Bella, I had lost my heart. With Edward, I felt as if I'd lost everything else, leaving me a ragged imitation of the person I could have been if I was as brave and loyal and honest as he.

As I followed Edward inside the house, I didn't bother trying to find him upstairs — he wouldn't want to talk to me now anyway.

Instead, I went to the kitchen and pulled the bottle of rum from under the sink. If ever I needed this, it was tonight.

It all seemed so pointless now. For so long I had been staving off my addictions to better myself for a woman who already had the perfect man. I knew now I could never measure up to my brother.

Bella would never be a part of my life. Not in the way I wished her to be, and now that my brother hated me, not at all.

What is the point in fighting anymore? I thought as I filled up the glass.

~.o.~

When I awoke the next morning, I found Edward standing alone in the kitchen, staring at the empty bottles by the sink.

He made no outward recognition of my presence, even though it would have been impossible for him not to hear my entrance. We both just stood there for several minutes, not speaking.

"I'm sorry," I finally said to break the silence.

"You have nothing to apologize for," he responded without a trace of artifice in his voice. "I asked you a question, and you answered truthfully. I shouldn't have reacted the way I did. I'm the one who should be sorry."

I groaned in frustration. "Please don't, Edward," I said, running my fingers through my hair. "I can't take you being so understanding! I need you to be mad at me right now!"

He looked surprised to hear this. "It's like you said last night: I can't blame you for your feelings, and I certainly can't blame you for falling in love with someone like her. The only thing I should be angry about is that you made a move on her after she was already with me. Even then, it's clear you've been trying to atone for that in the past year. How can I be mad now when you're an entirely different person?"

"Clearly, I'm not a different person," I said bitterly, with a nod towards the bottles. "You can at least be mad at me for that."

"J, I've known about those bottles for the past couple of months," he told me with a sad smile. "You hid one under the kitchen sink where we keep all the cleaning supplies. It's not the cleverest of places to hide something when I do all the cleaning around here."

"Then, why didn't you throw them away?"

"This was your battle, not mine."

I stared hard at the empty bottles, knowing what my brother thought of me. "I'm sorry I failed," I said quietly.

"You didn't," Edward said, turning toward me. "You didn't drink them."

I was taken aback by the absolute certainty in his voice. "How do you know?"

"Because I trust you," he said, and I knew that he was talking about more than alcohol now. I suddenly felt much warmer than I had before. "And I know you wouldn't want to disappoint…" his voice trailed off, and his eyes drifted from mine. He took a deep breath and continued in a determined voice, "You wouldn't want to disappoint Bella."

"It wasn't about Bella," I said, and he looked at me once more. "I was standing at the sink filling up a glass and thinking how it would be so easy to just give in, but it wasn't Bella I was worried about disappointing. It was you."

Edward looked staggered by my confession.

"I couldn't even take a sip," I continued. "I poured it all down the drain. It was time anyway. I was ready to let go. And Edward, I poured everything down the drain last night."

I knew that he understood what I meant; last night, as I emptied the last bottles that would ever tempt me, I also let go of Bella.

It had taken losing my brother to realize just how important he was to me. I had thought that choosing between him and Bella would be the most difficult decision I would ever make, but I found there was no competition. It should have been him from the very beginning. I was just too blinded by my vices to see what was right in front of me.

"I couldn't understand for the longest time," I spoke up, needing to get this one last confession off my chest, "why Bella had chosen you over me. I thought I was the best — better looking, more confident, the entire package. Don't get me wrong," I said to his hurt expression, "I always loved you, but I was an arrogant asshole. I couldn't see the truth beyond myself."

"What couldn't you see?" he asked.

I stared at the dining room table — the same place my father had sat me down so many years ago and shown me a deck of cards — before meeting my brother's eyes. "That you have always been the better man."

Edward didn't say anything as he absorbed my words, perhaps unaccustomed to receiving such praise.

"I'm, uh, quite fond of you, too," he said uneasily.

I cracked a smile. "So, should we hug or something?" I asked quite seriously, hoping to add to his discomfort. He had never been great with sentimental moments.

He didn't disappoint. "I suppose," he muttered, though it sounded like the last thing in the world he wanted to do.

I pulled him into a one-armed hug, and he clumsily patted me on the back a couple of times.

"I really hope you're better at hugging Bella than you are at hugging me," I teased as I released him.

"Well, yeah," he responded, a small blush rising on his cheeks. I didn't even want to know what that blush was all about.

"So you have any good hang-over remedies?" he asked quickly, apparently not enjoying the awkwardness of the moment as much as I was. "Bella will kill me if I show up at the rehearsal with a migraine."

I laughed, feeling freer than I ever had before. Even though jealousy still scratched at my heart, I knew that Bella had chosen the man she was meant to be with.

After all, I may have once been the King of Spades, but Edward had always been the Ace.

~.o.~

A/N: Thank you to everyone who read, alerted, recommended, favorited, and, especially, reviewed this little story. It meant a lot that you took the time to share your thoughts with me. I appreciate it more than words can say!

The wonderful bgwillis created a forum for this story. The link is on my profile under the information for The Ace of Spades. I've made a post in there about who J is to me. Let me know in a review who J is to you! Even if it's years into the future since I posted this story, I'd still love to know.

Thank you all again!