Many thanks to Someone aka Me and Sweetish-bubble from Project Team Beta

Thanks also to those of you who voted for this story in 'The Love Actually Contest'

The Genie's cousin

I sat in my car, staring apprehensively at the shiny parcel in my lap as if it were a bomb ready to spontaneously detonate.

I took a deep steadying breath, and began my mental pep talk.

Okay, time to man up! You are a veteran of two tours of duty in the most dangerous war zones modern times have to offer. You survived being shot at, ambushed, frequent roadside bombs, and bad food. What could be worse than that?

Gathering my courage, I exited my car, idly contemplating the rows of SUV's and mini-vans parked bumper to bumper along the quiet suburban street. I walked up the path and reached out my hand to knock loudly on the front door, hoping nobody could see the slight tremble of my hand.

The door flung open, and small hands unceremoniously yanked me inside by my shirttails. A four-foot high sea of pink and lavender undulated around me as the high-pitched shrieking of a million voices deafened me instantly.

The parcel disappeared from my hand, as shredded bits of gift-wrapping and ribbon were hurled in the air like forlorn confetti. The shrieking ramped up a few decibels, as the revealed Barbie doll was thrust high in the air like some strange effigy to childhood icons. The screeching crowd of little girls ebbed away, departing in search of fresh entertainment. I was left alone in the abandoned living room with my ears still ringing, surrounded by the detritus of gaily-patterned paper and crumpled birthday cards.

A slightly frazzled-looking woman entered the room, wiping her hands on a dishtowel as she came.

"Jasper! So glad you could make it." She kissed me on the cheek.

"You know I wouldn't miss my niece's birthday for the world, Esme. Especially not after I received that hand-written invitation, complete with hot pink lipstick kisses. Are you sure she's only turning seven and not seventeen?" I cocked an eyebrow at my sister.

Esme merely rolled her eyes. "They grow up too fast these days." She looked over her shoulder to check for small ears hovering nearby before continuing. "Girls are so different to boys, too. They're much harder work. I'd rather have ten Edward's than one Rosalie. That girl is too much of a princess for her own good, but don't tell anyone I told you that!"

I just laughed. I could understand my sister's point of view entirely. Her nine-year-old son, Edward, was a quiet and studious boy. He was involved in lots of activities, sports, music, chess club, and such, but he was always polite to a fault and reserved. Her two daughters, Rosalie and Alice were an entirely different species, however, as far as I was concerned.

"Carlisle and the other men are hiding in the garage. The moms are helping me in the kitchen. Better look out if you want to join us there, though. Marcy's divorce is finally through. After she caught sight of you at our last barbeque, you've become the leading target for 'man of the moment.' You're young, gainfully employed, single, and extremely good-looking, if I do say so myself. No doubt about it, brother," Esme smirked, patting my chest with her hand, "you are prime meat, ripe for the taking."

I swallowed audibly. "I think I'll go hang with the guys."

The things you do for family, I thought with a sigh of resignation.

As much as I loved Esme and her family, I hated these gatherings. When it was just us, there were no problems. Everything was relaxed and calm; there was no pressure to act or talk a certain way. I could be myself. Any outside involvement, though, added a certain level of discomfort for me.

The problem was that I felt like an outsider. Everyone at these events was married or shacked up, often with a passel of brats in tow already. I hated feeling like a third wheel, or worse–like a potential candidate for the new Mr. Right Now.

It wasn't that I didn't want these things, because I truly did. I just wanted them with the right person. I'd found through long experience that soul mates were not easy to come by. I'd done the dating thing and had my share of girlfriends, but so far, none of them measured up to my idea of destiny. I don't know why I was so hung up on meeting "the one." I think I must be a romantic at heart, a superfluous trait in the "instant gratification" generation I was part of.

I had just turned twenty-nine. Although Esme was barely two years older than me, she and Carlisle had three small children by my age already. Added to the mix was the fact I had seen active military service. People would often stare at me as if assessing whether I carried a machine gun in my back pocket. Worse still, some would try asking me how many people I had killed.

"Alright, Jazz. Food is almost ready. I'll be in the kitchen if you need me." With a flick of caramel colored hair, she disappeared into the fray.

I flopped weakly onto the sofa, enjoying the brief minute of respite from the waiting crowd as I fortified myself to enter Carlisle's "man cave." Just then, there was a soft knock at the door. I looked to the kitchen doorway. Surrounded by her gaggle of gossiping girlfriends, it was unlikely Esme would hear the muted sound. If the kids heard it, they would surge in here again, in search of more presents to decimate. That thought alone was enough to have me leaping to my feet to answer the door.

Standing behind it was a young woman dressed in an oyster-colored trench coat. Tucked under her arm was a pink portable CD player. I took a minute to look her over.

She was gorgeous.

Her thick hair fell in shiny chestnut waves, cascading over her shoulders. She had clear ivory skin and the plumpest rosy-pink lips. The cinched-in waist of her coat emphasized her womanly curves. My eyes skimmed her legs. They were long, lean and bare, tucked into the sexiest shoes I had ever seen. They were a glittery silver and very high, accentuating the shapely line of her limbs. Through the peep toes, I could see a manicured nail or two, polished in dainty shell pink.

The sound of her throat clearing brought me out of my dazed stupor, and I raised my eyes to the rich and luminous brown of hers, full of mirth at my obvious ogling.

"I'm here for the gig," she said, in a sultry voice.

Scanning her again, I had a random thought about the type of "gigs" I had been present at before, where women dressed like this appeared. My jaw dropped open, and I stood there catching flies, wondering how Esme could have made such an error.

"Fairy party? You know, for little Rosalie, who is seven today?" she queried again, obviously becoming concerned about my apparent lack of intellect.

I recovered my wits, stammering a hasty apology. I ushered her into the still deserted living room, asking if there was anything she needed.

"Point me towards a mirror, and I'll take care of the rest. Oh, and if you could keep the kids away for a minute or two, I'd appreciate it. The minute they smell fairy dust, they'll be onto me like a pack of excited puppies." I indicated the mammoth ornate mirror hanging above the gas fireplace, as she opened the huge purse slung over her shoulder and set to work.

I stood dumbfounded, mesmerized by this beautiful woman as she made her preparations. She threw off her trench coat, revealing an elaborate white, knee-length dress. The tight corset-like bodice was embroidered with delicate butterflies and silvery leaves, just a hint of the creamy swells of her breasts visible over the top of her dress. From the nipped in waist, the skirt flared out, full and billowy.

I watched she drew a tight roll of white material out of her cavernous purse and shook it out. The fabric unfurled in an explosion of tulle. I was hypnotized by the shimmying of her hips as she inched the tulle underskirt up her legs, decorously pulling down the shimmering organza of the overskirt before fluffing it out further. She rearranged the fluttery, gauzy sleeves, making sure they, too, were arrayed to her satisfaction.

Next, she flipped her glorious hair upside down, teasing it with her fingers. She drew an aerosol can out of her purse, and sprayed her locks liberally with glitter spray. As she righted herself, I noted her hair was now a cloud of soft spangled curls, framing her heart-shaped face. She retrieved a circlet of white, pale pink and soft yellow flowers, carefully pinning it on top of her head, expertly arranging the trailing ribbons of matching colors so they fluttered perfectly down her back.

Out of the bottomless purse came a couple of small pots and a brush, with which she applied pink sparkly powder to her eyelids. Opening the other pot, she applied shimmer powder along her delicate cheekbones, and finally her lips. If I thought her lips looked enticing before, it was nothing on how luscious they looked after she slicked gloss over the top. I had an overwhelming desire to taste them, to see if those kissable lips now bore some exotic flavor.

"Almost done," she stated, picking up the purse and rooting around in it or the final necessities. I was beginning to think this intriguing stranger was the younger sister of Mary Poppins, with her depthless carpetbag in tow. With a gleeful sound, she pulled out a huge beribboned wand and a pair of gossamer butterfly wings. She slipped the elastic tapes over her arms until the wings sat in position on her back. Tugging lightly at the delicate framework, she expanded the wings until they stretched above her head at their highest point, and almost to the back of her knees at their lowest.

In less than five minutes, she had made a complete transformation to an authentic-looking, ethereal fairy.

A breath-taking, stunningly gorgeous fairy.

I sighed, lost in the vivid and slightly naughty daydream now running through my head. I heard a similar sigh next to me, a looked down on the tousled, bronze-haired boy standing next to me. My nephew, Edward, was gazing admiringly at the vision in front of us. He was wearing his softball team shirt, a roaring lion emblazoned on the front. In his hand, he clutched an overnight bag.

"She could be my life, now," he mumbled to himself.

I nudged him with my toe. "Eyes off, young-un. I saw her first. She must look one hundred and seven or something to a kid like you," I whispered lowly, trying to avoid the hot fairy overhearing.

"What, so she's as old as you then, Uncle Jasper?"

Little shit, I thought. "Where are you escaping to then, Edward?"

"I'm going to Emmett's. Too many girls and too much pink here. It looks like someone vomited Pepto-Bismol over everything. If I don't get out soon, they'll gang up on me, and I'll be given a mass makeover. Or worse, I may have to sit next to one of them." He shuddered at the thought. I gave him a high five, and he slipped silently out the front door.

The fairy had finished her final preparations and gave me some instructions. I was to inform the hostess to gather the guests out on the patio. I had been entrusted with the pink CD player. When all was ready, someone was to play the music to signal her grand entrance so the fairy festivities could begin.

I walked into the kitchen, making polite but brief hellos to the gathered women there, before relating the plan to Esme. Duty fulfilled, I made my way across the backyard to join the other men in the hide out. Before I got half way there, however, a small hand tugged on my pants. I looked down into the huge tear-filled eyes of my youngest niece.

"Aw, Alice. Why so sad? What happened?" I crouched down, which brought me almost eye level with the tiny girl.

With a loud sniff, Alice launched into her tale of woe.

"They are all picking on me, unkee Jasper! They say I'm just a big baby and can't play their games," she mourned with all the indignation of an excluded five year old. "They said I'm not a real fairy 'cause my dress isn't pink."

I looked down, noting the buttery yellow satin of her fairy costume.

"Better get real close, Alice, so I can tell you a secret." I knew this was a sure fire way to lift her spirits. I had learned during baby-sitting detail that little girls loved lording restricted information over each other.

"There is a special fairy coming to the party, a real fairy. Her dress isn't pink either," I whispered. The answering grin showed me she understood my point. "Besides," I added, "you look real pretty in yellow." Her chubby arms wound their way around my neck. Affectionately, I tugged gently on the sparse black pigtails that stuck horizontally out above her ears. Unlike Rosalie, who had long, white-blond ringlets, Alice's hair took forever to grow, and was dead straight. There were only so many ways you could arrange the wispy strands to appease girlish vanity.

"I love you, unkee Jasper. Will you sit next to me at the party? You can be my date; none of the other girls have one." Her eyes beseeched me. Damn kid knew I couldn't refuse that Bambi look.

I unlatched her arms, holding onto a hand. "Sure, kid. Your mom is getting everyone ready, so we'd better go join them."

Slowing my pace to match her shorter waddle, we made our way over to the covered patio. Esme had really outdone herself this time. It had been decked out like a fairy grotto complete with strings of tiny twinkling lights and paper garlands of flowers, butterflies and dragonflies. The table was decked out in pink tulle and swathes of satin. Glints of pink, purple and green overflowed everywhere, and glitter covered every flat surface. I groaned internally; when I went back to work later, I was sure I would cop some enquiring looks about the sparkles bound to be adhering to my camouflage clothing.

I ran my own paint ball range, which I had called "Soldier of Fortune" for a laugh. What can I say? Stick with things you know. It had all the adrenaline and none of the risk, constant terror or bloodshed of the real thing.

Alice dragged me over to a spot close to the front as Esme and some of the other women lined the patio French doors. Esme brandished a camera; the other women clutched wine glasses, clearly needing some fortification other than cake to get through the day. Alice pushed me down, indicating I should sit on the huge pink rug, just as the other girls were doing. When I was in place, she crawled into my lap, bouncing up and down in excitement.

As the tinkling strains of Dance of a Sugar Plum Fairy chimed out of the CD player, I noticed a ball of aluminum foil smoldering slightly in an open area of the patio floor. I felt my heart rate increase and unconsciously started scanning the area, an instinctive response after spending so much time in active combat. I felt the adrenaline ease off a bit when I saw the curling smoke emitted from the homemade bomb was purple. Appreciative "oohhs" and "aahhs" rang out from the waiting crowd,as the colored smoke began to puff out of the bomb in earnest. My sharp eyes picked out the exact moment the small, round ball hit the floor, bouncing open in a shower of multi-colored sparkles.

Smart girl, must know a bit of chemistry, to make her own smoke and glitter bombs so neatly, I thought admiringly. Beauty and brains.

As the smoke cleared and the glitter settled, the head fairy was revealed at last in all her splendor. She flittered amongst the crowd of miniature enthusiasts, waving her wand over them all.

"I am Fairy Rhapsody, and I have come from my fairy home to help you all become real fairies like me."

The crowd squealed in excitement, as she listed all the activities she had lined up. Before I knew it, I was helping Alice glue rhinestones and the ever-present glitter on a wand, as the guests made the necessary fairy accouterments. Esme roamed around, capturing images of the wannabe fairies at work. When Rhapsody came over to inspect Alice's efforts, Esme asked for us to pose together.

"I just have to get one of the two of you. You look like Fairytopia Barbie and G.I. Joe come to life when you stand side by side like that," she mused.

Usually, I hated having my picture taken, but the thought of having this moment immortalized forever was suddenly very appealing. After asking her permission, I put my arm around Rhapsody's narrow waist. I carefully avoided dislodging her pretty wings as I drew her flush with my side. The smile on my face was genuine, a reflection of my delight at being so close to this fascinating woman.

After that, the next activity was a fiercely pitched battle of "musical flowers." Some of those little girls would make better mercenary soldiers than half the professional ones I had worked with on assignment.

As she did her thing, I caught the hot fairy watching me a few times as I shamelessly used every opportunity to help Alice gain any advantage. She was my favorite niece, after all. I couldn't let these midget harpies bring her down. I watched her too, admiring how she kept control of the little guests. In a straightforward but gentle manner she directed them, sorting out minor skirmishes immediately and making sure every child was included. She had a certain knack with them, knew just how to inspire her charges to behave nicely with the right blend of firmness and encouragement. These characteristics were something I recognized and appreciated from my army training.

To calm the crowd before the refreshments were served, Fairy Rhapsody sat on a throne-like chair decorated with pink tulle and paper flowers and read a cute story about the Belly Button Fairy. I found myself laughing along with the kids, the sound of my deep voice a startling contrast with the high-pitched giggling around me. As she read, I found myself entranced by the sound of Fairy Rhapsody's melodious voice. The now raunchier daydreams in my head had another layer of reality, as I added the imaginary sighs and moans I could now base around her real sound.

I was so lost in my fantasy, that I only realized the story was finished as the rustling pink and purple sea of satin made a mass exodus in search of fairy fortifications. Alice dragged me along by the hand, and I found myself jammed between her and a rather large and rotund little girl. I stared, amazed as fairy bread, cream-topped fairy cakes, and other delights were consumed at an alarming rate.

As the girls demolished the party food, I could see Rhapsody flitting around the yard like only a true fairy could as she hid prizes for the promised treasure hunt. As soon as Alice was suitably distracted, mooning over the new Justin Bieber movie with the other girls, I quietly extricated myself. Pouring a generous glass of pink lemonade, renamed Fairy Fizz in honor of the party, I took it outside and handed it to Rhapsody.

"I thought you might be a bit thirsty after all that talking."

She accepted it gratefully, perching delicately on the edge of her fairy throne as she sipped. I was riveted by the movement of her kissable lips against the glass and almost undone altogether when her tongue peeked out to moisten her full lower lip. I leaned casually against one of the patio posts, my nervous hands stuffed in my pockets, hoping to hide my instinctive reaction to the enthralling sight.

I need to do something to distract myself, before I attack this woman like some hapless lecher. I had never had such a strong and immediate physical reaction to a woman before, a novel yet perplexing experience.

"So, Rhapsody, how did you get into the fairy business? Do you have to be born a fairy, or can you do an apprenticeship?" I asked with a smile.

Rhapsody looked kind of dazzled for a moment, before returning my smile with a blinding one of her own.

"Actually, I'm a special Ed teacher. I work mostly with autistic kids. One of my girls was obsessed with fairies, so I developed all my lesson plans with a fairy theme for a while. Before I knew it, her mom's friends were calling me, asking if I would do parties. So I sort of fell into it, really. I'd really like to travel overseas next year, but teachers' wages are stingy. The going hourly rate for fairies is much more generous, so I spend most of my weekends this way now. What about you?"

I told her about my business after briefly alluding to my previous work. She didn't seem put off at all. She asked me about some of the countries I had seen, and we had a pleasant chat about the exotic places we had both visited. She herself had spent quite a bit of time backpacking and on walking tours. The talk flowed effortlessly and comfortably, and before I knew it, shrill little voices were belting out "Happy Birthday" with gusto. This signaling the end of our all too brief conversation, as it indicated the guests would soon be coming back outside.

Rhapsody stood, holding out her empty glass to me. As I took it, my fingers briefly brushed hers. I felt something spark between us as my skin gently skimmed hers. My heart beat a little faster, and my skin tingled all over. I felt hyper-aware of everything around me. I stared into the depthless velvety brown of her eyes, searching for some sign that she had felt that same jolt, too. She gazed at me in astonishment, the edges of her full and luscious lips turning up at the edges.

The serene bubble surrounding us was rudely broken, as a multitude of pint-sized fairies flew out of the house, eager for their next activity. Rhapsody gathered them together, explaining the rules of the treasure hunt.

"Okay, my little protégés," she trilled, "It is time for wishes. Out in the yard, I have hidden some colored fairy wishing stones. Tonight, if you put your stone under your pillow, your wish will come true. Now please don't be greedy, you may only have three wishes each."

Some spoilt little friend of Rosalie's groaned loudly, declaring the rules weren't fair.

"You have all read fairy stories; you know they are the rules," Rhapsody tut-tutted. "I should know, since my cousin is a genie! They only grant three wishes at a time." The girls accepted this reasoning without further issue and stood squirming, impatient to start.

Alice came to find me and declared loudly that since I was her date, I would have to help her find some wishes. As soon as Rhapsody had pronounced the hunt officially open, my tiny partner and I took off. I picked her up in my arms, and helped her scan the forks of a few trees. Within no time, she had her three, exclaiming animatedly about how pretty the colored glass stones were. She insisted we go show Rhapsody our haul. I watched as she crouched next to Alice in a flare of pearlescent skirts, carefully inspecting her stones before giving her fairy approval. I watched them together, considering what it was about her that had captivated me so in such a short time.

It wasn't just her looks, although I definitely I found her enticing. It was her manner, the way she carried herself. She was confident and assured, without being haughty. She was smart and good at what she did, without being condescending. In the fleeting time we had been able to talk, I found myself at ease in her presence, relaxed even. This was a rarity for me, something that had taken time with almost everyone else I had ever met. This woman was something different, and I found myself wanting more, to know more about her, spend more time with her.

I contemplated these new feelings for a minute, before inspiration hit. I wandered around the yard again before finding what I wanted. When I found a wish stone of my own, I went to find Rhapsody again. She was comforting one of the guests.

"I couldn't hold them all and my wand too, so I put one in my mouth. I swallowed it by accident!" she wailed. "Am I gonna die? I won't get my wish then." A fat tear splashed on the satin of the little girl's costume.

"I promise you won't die, Olivia. Mother Nature will work her magic on the fairy stone, and you'll just have to wait until you poop it out to get your wish." She pulled a wispy hanky out of a hidden pocket and wiped away Olivia's tears. Content with the reassurance, the youngster took off again.

"Ah, Rhapsody? Can I have my wish now or do I have to wait until bedtime?"

With her head cocked to the side in question, she looked even more alluring. She smiled a cheeky grin and held out her hand. I moved closer to her, dropping the stone into her open palm as I made my wish. Leaning in, I whispered in her ear.

"I wish I knew your real name."

She shivered slightly, as my breath ghosted over the delicate shell of her ear.

"Bella. Bella Swan," she replied, her voice very husky for some reason.

"Jasper Whitlock," I introduced myself properly. I walked away with a satisfied smile, in search of more stones.

Damn kids must have gotten almost all of them already.

It took me a while, but I finally found another one hidden underneath the dog's water dish. I took off in search of Rhapsody−no, Bella, I corrected myself. This time she was in the kitchen, helping Esme hand out birthday cake and goodie bags to the departing guests. Checking Esme's attention was fully occupied by the couple she was chatting with, I came up behind her, bending around her wings. As I leaned into her, her scent−all woman and uniquely Bella−surrounded me. Although we weren't touching, I could feel the heat between our bodies. That same electricity sparked again, connecting us in some indefinable way.

This time, I put my hand on her forearm, caressing the silken skin as I moved my fingers lightly down her arm until I reached her palm. I could feel the gooseflesh pebble her skin as her breathing stuttered. I gently pushed the stone into her waiting hand.

I made my second wish. "I wish you would go out with me. Soon. Maybe even tonight?" I murmured lowly in her ear again, wanting this wish to be for her ears alone.


This was all the answer I needed as my heart soared.

I left the kitchen, desperate now for my third and final wish. I searched the yard impatiently, too aware of the clock ticking our time away. Finally, I went back into the house and found a topaz-colored stone carelessly discarded on the table. I sought her out again, only to find the kitchen empty. I checked the living room and bathrooms. No Bella. Feeling a vague sense of panic, I flew out into the backyard again. Empty. As a last resort, I peeked down the narrow area next to the house that led to the garbage cans, where I spied her disposing of the remnants of her bombs.

I breathed a sigh of relief, pleased she hadn't left before I got the chance to make my final wish. Making sure we were still concealed from casual view, I waited until she walked closer to me before holding out my wish token. She reached out her hand and as I placed it in her open palm I covered the stone and her hand with my own. Her expressive eyes held mine, full of both questions and a barely suppressed need.

"A kiss," I whispered, trying to convey how much I wanted this, wanted her.

She moved nearer, infinitely closer than the mere gap between our bodies. Her free arm rose slowly, until it came to rest lightly on my chest. This was all the consent I needed, and I closed the remaining distance between us. As I brought my lips to brush oh so softly against hers, the universe aligned and worlds altered for all time.

My head spun, and I was overwhelmed by sensation as every nerve ending in my body zinged to life. I reveled in the warmth and gentle pressure of her lips on mine, surrounded by her intoxicating scent. I could feel the silken texture of her skin where my hand grasped hers. I could feel the heat ignite where our bodies touched so innocently but increasingly passionately.

Our lips parted in unison, both of us desperate to deepen the kiss. The taste of her was like nothing I had ever experienced, light and womanly, with a hint of lingering sweetness from birthday cake. We were both panting slightly when our kiss ended, and I rested my forehead against hers. We gazed at each other, a look full of promise and mutual exultation. I could still feel the sizzle of energy sparking between us as we shared our silent communication.

In that moment, I was certain.

I had met my destiny.