Just outside Forks limit, with his thoughts in turmoil, Peter came to an abrupt halt. Charlotte threw him a dirty look when she had to dig her heels firmly in the moist ground to stop from slamming into his back, but he ignored it. He just couldn't keep the secret from Bella any longer and felt almost cruel for trying to in the first place. But he needed to let her know gently.
Bella, who had gotten slightly ahead of them and had gradually slowed when she realized they were no longer following her, stilled completely and turned.
"What is it?" She asked softly, taking in Peter's apprehensive gaze.
'Gently,' Peter reminded himself.
"Jasper's married," he blurted out, then promptly cringed.
'Smooth. Very Smooth.'
Bella grinned wryly. "I figured. You're not as good at skating over the truth as you think you are." She returned her pensive gaze to the forest, unknowingly in the direction of the Cullen's palatial home. "An amazing man like Jasper, what woman wouldn't snatch that up as quick as she could?" She murmured.
Given the tense set of her shoulders, she appeared to be struggling with herself, but her voice was firm when she spoke. "I still want to see him. I need to see if... I need to see him."
Peter reluctantly nodded and the three continued running.
His thoughts whirled as they drew closer. While the voices seemed to have stopped completely since the moment Bella stepped out of the truck, there was no stopping the dread that still tickled at the back of his mind.
For the first time since his gift manifested, he prayed that whatever he was feeling was wrong.
Peter wondered if it was merely a coincidence that Jasper had been the one to open the door. He highly doubted it. It was obviously an attempt to pacify and control what the Cullen's believed were his bloodthirsty creations. He wondered if his maker had even tried to allay their fears.
The look on Bella's face though...
He was sure it was the closest a vampire had ever come to fainting.
It swiftly transitioned to pain when Bella's attempt to lunge at him in a crushing hug was misconstrued as an attack. She stopped when Jasper's knees bent in a half crouch and a warning growl rolled off his lips. It was echoed by a more feminine growl from the short, pixie-like vampire hovering in the background.
Bella choked back a sob as Peter stepped in-between them, his hands held in a placating gesture. "Calm down, Major. We ain't here to start a fight."
Jasper tore his eyes away from the unknown vampire whose emotions he couldn't seem to get a lock on. Other then the overwhelming burst of love when she had first met his eyes, there was nothing now. A blank slate. Still keeping his guard up, he eyed Peter with a hard, semi-curious gaze. "Why are you here then?"
He stepped back to Bella's side, with Charlotte flanking his other. "We need to talk," he replied, putting extra emphasis on the we as he swung his arms gently around Bella's shoulders. "And you need to listen."
Casting a glance over his shoulder at the Cullen patriarch who had joined Alice in the background he returned his nod with one of his own. Sending a wave of reassurance to his wife, Jasper stepped to the side and reluctantly let the three pass.
The awkward, skeptical silence in the spacious living room was deafening.
Peter allowed himself a brief moment of grim humor. 'Well this is certainly familiar.'
Bella had just finished her story, one she found herself editing a great deal. She had been hoping to tell this to only Jasper. There were just some things these strangers didn't need to know. And considering the way the petite vampire that was draped in Jasper's lap kept glaring at her, things they might not be able to handle.
Bella couldn't take it anymore. The mixture of furious, pitied and confused eyes on her were slowly driving her mad, she just wanted to talk to Jasper. Alone. She lifted her eyes from the examination of the obviously very expensive carpet and locked them with Jasper's once more. His were the eyes of disgruntled confusion. Bella sucked in an unneeded breath, it was now or never.
"I was hoping I could speak with you alone, Jasper."
"No!" Alice snarled.
"Just for a few minutes, please?" She attempted a smile in Jasper's direction. "It's been almost 140 years, surely you could spare a few moments?"
Bella couldn't decide what hurt more, the pained unwillingness on his face, or him wrapping Alice up in arms, whispering his assurances and affections to her when he finally agreed. She was forced to look away when they shared a loving kiss.
His gaze hardened when he turned towards her. "Ten minutes," he offered. While it was clear she had been hurt by his brusqueness, it frustrated him that he couldn't feel anything from her. If she hadn't sprung this... revelation on him, he'd almost be tempted to tell her to stick around so he could explore it.
"Come," he ordered, before flitting out the balcony entrance.
Bella made to follow, only to find herself stopped by Peter's hand lightly grasping her arm. "Will you tell him about..." he spoke softly.
Bella smiled sadly, as her gaze drifted to a fuming Alice. "No. Not now." Exchanging one last glance with him and Charlotte, she flitted out the door after Jasper.
The silence of the glen Jasper had led them to, lengthened until it became uncomfortable. Bella attempted to break it by telling Jasper a few stories about his life. She was desperate to convince him that she was telling the truth. She needed him to remember.
While he was thankful to have some insight into his human days, he felt himself growing irritated. How was it fair that this... stranger knew more about his life then he did? That she had memories of him that he wasn't even sure he liked her having. He finally held his hand up to silence her.
"I don't think you're lying to me. I've been getting fuzzy pieces of memories ever since I opened the door to you." She looked so hopeful, he almost grimaced at what he said next. "But, I don't know what you want me to tell you."
The smile dropped from Bella's lips as she turned away. "I had just hoped that you would still... we could... that you still wanted me," she finished with a whisper.
Jasper closed his eyes. "I won't deny that I feel," he searched for the right word and came up empty, "something for you, but those feelings are entwined in memories, memories that are very hazy. What we had was a long time ago. Neither of us are the same person anymore."
He could feel her desperation. "But we are, we could be."
He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I love Alice, she is my wife. I..." for a minute he stumbled over his words. "I choose her," he finished firmly.
The waves of despair that came off her almost knocked him on his back and for a moment it was on the tip of his tongue to take back everything he had just said. He frowned at the thought before coming back to himself when her emotions suddenly went blank again.
"I understand." She stood gracefully and waited for him to do the same. Looking over the still forest, she allowed a soft smile to settle on her lips. "All I ever wanted was for you to be happy, to be loved like you deserved to be. I'm just sorry I couldn't be the one to give you those things." She turned and stepped closer to him. "But I'm glad you found someone who could. Always remember, you're worth it." She leaned in to place a soft kiss on his cheek.
Jasper's hands clenched. For so long he had felt like the odd man out in his family. Worthless every time he struggled with his thirst. Every time he failed. He didn't know how desperately he needed to hear those words from someone. A small part of him, which he struggled to ignore, couldn't help but wonder why none of his family members, why his wife, had never said these words to him.
He felt confused as her soothing scent surrounded him and more blurry memories attempted to surface. He forcefully pushed them back with a subtle shake of his head. He was tempted to shake her, demand to know why she made him feel things that he should only feel with Alice, where she got the right to mess with a life it had taken him years to grow comfortable with, but he kept silent and still.
Almost as if sensing the direction his thoughts had gone, Bella stepped back quickly and bowed her head. The silence between them lengthened and grew awkward.
Bella knew their time was quickly coming to an end. "Go back to your family, Jasper. I know you're missing them," she paused, "missing her."
He couldn't help but be curious. "What about you?"
She forced a chuckle. "Don't you worry about me. Got this far didn't I? If anything, my mamma raised me stubborn and strong."
'I remember.' He wanted to say, but found himself biting his tongue again. He was determined to leave his past in the past. "Take care of yourself," he offered awkwardly instead.
She nodded. "You too."
He gave her one last long look before turning and beginning his trek home. He was sure he felt secure in the choice he had made, so why didn't his heart feel right? His conscience clear? He fought against the temptation to turn back when her final whispered words reached his ears.
"I'll always love you, Cowboy."
Minutes, or possibly hours later, Peter and Charlotte broke through the trees to find Bella still looking off in the distance, towards the Cullen's house, almost as if waiting for Jasper to come back.
They didn't know whether to tell her about the happy reunion that had taken place between Jasper and Alice. Unshed tears and kisses were exchanged between the two as he whispered, "I'll always choose you," to her.
The decision was taken from them when Bella turned with a pained smile, briefly saying, "I know. He chose her," before falling silent again.
They moved to embrace her, but stopped when she gave a slight shake of her head.
"It's alright. It was silly of me to expect him to wait this long for me," Her voice grew hushed and the two had to strain to hear her, "even if I waited for him."
She gave one final look to her surroundings before seemingly coming to a decision. "It's time for that other favour, Peter." She withdrew a small, thin square from an inside pocket of her jacket and handed it to him.
Peter glanced at it. It was an old, weathered photograph of a farmhouse. "Is this..."
Bella nodded. "It is, or was,... the house Jasper's parents built for us as a wedding present." She grew quiet as she got lost in a memory. "It doesn't look like that anymore though. Time was harder on it then it was on me. The address is written on the back. I need you to meet me there in three days."
"Bella... I... don't..."
"You promised, Peter."
He looked away, his features hardened. "Fine. I'll be there," he forced through clenched teeth.
Charlotte placed a hand on his tense shoulder. "We'll be there," she promised.
"Thank you," Bella's gratitude was carried on the wind. She was already gone.
When they arrived, they walked cautiously around the ruins of the once beautiful house, eying what was left of its foundation and attempting to recreate the image in the old photograph. They found Bella in the backyard, standing by a tall oak, fingers gently tracing the 'J & B Forever' carved into its proud trunk.
Peter and Charlotte approached her hesitantly, horrified eyes noticing the pile of wood off to the side. The cloying smell of gasoline hung heavily in the humid air.
Bella made no effort to acknowledge their presence, now tracing over the heart that surrounded the letters. "This was our tree. We had our first date under this tree, a picnic. Jasper was so nervous, he spilled juice down the front of his shirt." She chuckled at the memory. "It's where he eventually proposed, where we made love for the first time, where he promised me forever."
They gasped when Bella turned to face them; her eyes were dull and pitch black, not with thirst, but complete hopelessness. She was empty.
"You know, ever since we were first introduced as kids, all I ever wanted was to be Mrs. Jasper Whitlock. I used to tell anyone who'd listen, that he was gonna be mine." She smiled faintly and clasped tightly to the plain gold ring that hung from a chain on her neck. "And for a short while he was. I had everything I had ever hoped for-" she closed her eyes in an expression of pained ecstasy, "-and it was wonderful."
She turned back towards the woodpile; the hand that was gripping her necklace fell to the front pocket of her worn jeans. There was a faint rattle as she dug out a box of matches.
"He was my whole world. My only reason for existence after my parents died. Why I continued existing even after I was turned, even through the death of our child. When they came to my door to tell me the news of his death, I called them liars. I could still feel him," she clutched at the skin over her unbeating heart, "here. I knew he was still out there and I vowed to never stop looking until I found him. And now that I have and he..." she choked up, unable to continue.
Fumbling open the matchbox, her pale, slim fingers withdrew a single match and struck it against the coarse side. "I was lucky he even chose me the first time," she murmured. "I shoulda know I wouldn't be so lucky again."
She threw the match at the wood which instantly ignited with a crackling roar. She stared at the flames for a few long moments, mesmerized, before she spoke.
"Do you think vampires go to heaven?" She whispered softly. A hopeful tone entered her voice, "Do you think my baby will be there?"
Peter had never been one to cry, even after everything he had suffered with Maria, but he couldn't stop the venom from welling in his eyes. He'd never felt so helpless in his entire life.
"I don't know," he admitted. "It's something I've never really believed in," he paused, "but if there is, there is no way that someone with a soul as pure as yours wouldn't be guaranteed a first class ticket." He promised fiercely.
"You don't have to do this," Charlotte begged desperately. "You could stay with me and Peter, be a part of our family."
Bella shifted her head towards them with a soft smile. "You're sweet. But to live knowing that he's out there, that he's so close and I'll never be able to love him..." she paused and glance back at the carved initials, "I can't. He was all I had to live for, the only thing that kept me going. I'm so tired, Charlotte."
She slipped off the chain and cupped the ring in her hands. "At least I got to see you one last time, My Cowboy. Be happy." She murmured, giving it a gentle kiss.
She dangled the chain out to Peter. "Will you bury this under our tree when it's over? It just doesn't feel right to let it burn with me."
He hesitated to take a step forward. "Don't ask me to do this."
Bella gave a quick glance at the dancing flames, before flashing him a wry smile. "You know even if you don't, I'm still going to walk into that fire anyways. I was just hoping you'd spare me the extra agony."
Resignated, Peter nodded firmly and walked forward to take hold of the ring. Keeping his grip on her hand, he pulled her into a tight hug. Charlotte approached and embraced her other side. They stood silent for several long moments.
Charlotte was the first to step back, turning away with a harsh sob.
Bella brought her hands up to run her fingers through Peter's short, brown hair. "If Jasper asks, just tell him..." Both her voice and hand paused, as she considered her words. "... just tell him I went home."
Peter nodded into her neck, reluctantly letting Bella gently push him away.
There was a serene smile on her lips as she faced the tree. She wanted those carved letters, and the memories they brought to be the last thing she saw. "Forever, Jasper," she sighed.
With an agonized roar, Peter began ripping her apart; eyes clenched shut as the screeching metallic tears disrupted the otherwise still silence in the empty field. Why didn't he know? Why didn't the voices tell him?
Charlotte gently touched his shoulder when the last piece of Bella was thrown on the open flame. He whirled around with a feral snarl, eyes black, fingers curled into claws and covered in Bella's venom.
"It's okay, Petey," she soothed, running her fingers through his hair in the same manner Bella had, until his snarls faded into pained whimpers. "It's okay," she repeated. "It's over."
Together they turned back towards the fire, watching as the parts that had made up the most amazing and kind-hearted woman they had ever met burned. Her head was the last to go, never once losing its serene smile.
None of the Cullen's were prepared for the moment, during a leisurely game of Scrabble, when Jasper's head snapped up, eyes pitch black and the loudest, most mournful roar was ripped from his mouth. It escalated quickly as he lost complete control of his gift, its power seemingly tripled in his suffering. His agony spreading out causing everyone in the house and within a ten mile radius to stop everything they were doing.
For many years afterwards, hundreds of mystified townsfolk would talk of the moment when they all, almost simultaneously, dropped to their knees as they were overcome with soul-wrenching grief and sobbed. All of them unknowingly mourning the death of Jasper's true mate, Isabella Marie Whitlock.