A/N: So when I did the Twilight 25, jfka06 reserved the right to request I write two stories from the prompts of her choosing. The first was Dig which I wrote as a Jasper/Edward. The second is this. Much love, and I hope you'll enjoy our journey.
Disclaimer: Still not Stephenie Meyer.
Edward Cullen hated small manila envelopes. Innocuous though they seemed, when he came home from work to find one in the mail or, worse, open on the end table in the entryway, his stomach twisted and anger clicked on like a snap from a lighter. They were small but thin as envelopes went. There wasn't much in them, after all. Their contents were always the same: a single photograph, beautiful in its composition, and terrible for the fury they always brought.
Perhaps most infuriating was the profound relief those envelopes brought. They were the only assurance Edward and his family got that his elder brother was still alive. His bitterness stemmed from the flipside of that coin, the reminder of why Jasper's mortality was a question in the first place. Each photo was a reminder of everything his brother had put his family through, and old, old anger settled like a rock in his gut. After everything Jasper had done, it should have been impossible to still love his brother, still care if he lived or died.
Often, in between envelopes, Edward wondered if it would be more merciful to receive a phone call or a police officer at the door in lieu of another photo. Then, at least, the wait would be over. They could all lay this unresolved portion of their lives to rest. They could all let Jasper go once and for all.
Bella could let him go.
That was the final reason Edward hated those envelopes. They were addressed not to him, but to Bella. His relationship with his wife was solid. They had a beautiful marriage, a beautiful life together. Bella's heart and soul were steadfastly his; he never doubted her devotion, but he hated how, when she held Jasper's photo in her hand, her every thought belonged to his brother, her ex-boyfriend. She had no secrets from Edward. He knew what she was thinking as she stared, her eyes haunted with old, painful memories. He knew how she second-guessed, how she still harbored such guilt. Had she done all she could? If she had been different, would Jasper have done what he did? Could she have saved him if only she'd tried harder?
Why had fate arranged it so Jasper was the one who met her first?
Edward took a deep breath and let it out. "Bella?"
She didn't answer, and Edward furrowed his brow. His stomach twinged with nerves. The house was too quiet. Bella wasn't responding, and he couldn't hear the sounds of Kaylee playing either. He quickened his step. "Kaylee? Bella?"
He didn't have to go far to find Bella. She was sitting at the table, staring off into space. Edward exhaled in a gust at the sight of her. "You scared me."
She started and blinked up at him as though coming out of a trance. "Hey. I didn't hear you."
"I took her to your mother."
Edward's stomach dropped down the soles of his shoes. Something was wrong.
What if it was finally the day? The day Edward had dreaded and yet, up until that very moment, he'd thought he was resigned to it.
Was his brother dead?
He swallowed the lump in his throat. "What happened?"
The horrible feeling in his gut only tightened when she didn't bother to play it down. In fact, she said nothing. Instead she waited until he sat kitty-corner to her at the table, and she slid a piece of paper in front of him.
By that point, Edward had worked himself up enough that he was surprised to see handwriting. He'd been expecting some official notice. In hindsight, it was a ridiculous thing to think. He'd seen the envelope with Jasper's writing. If his brother was dead, it would be something else-a phone call, or a visit from the police like on television-not a letter.
Edward's relief was short-lived. The very first line of Jasper's letter sent him into a tailspin.
I'm coming home.
He pushed back from the table and stood, though he didn't know what he intended to do. His hands were in fists at his side. "No," he said.
Bella's eyebrows knitted and she reached out to take his hand. Her gentle tug had him back in his seat again. "Read all of it."
I'm coming home.
I thought about staying away forever. How could any of you stand to look at me after what I did? But I've been running for a long time, and I'm done. You deserve to hear me say I'm sorry. You deserve an explanation. Honestly, Boo, you deserve the chance to kick me where it counts. I promise I won't stop you.
If you don't want to see me, if you can't see me, I will understand and respect that. I just want you to know, I know I was really fucked up for a long time. I'm not the same guy anymore.
Anyway. I have a few loose ends that need to be tied. I'll be home at the end of the month.
I love you.
Edward's hand clenched in a fist, crumping the single page. In that moment, he hated his brother more than he thought was possible, and given what he'd seen Bella and Kaylee go through, his previous threshold was already high.
"He has no right," he said through clenched teeth.
"No right to what?"
"Anything, Bella. Three years he's been gone. Three years he sends nothing but those photos-no letters, no calls, no nothing-and now this?" Edward stood again and began to pace. "This is bullshit. He has no right to-"
"To what?" Bella stood and stepped into his path. Her eyes were tortured and her voice shook when she spoke. "He has no right to come home to his family?"
Edward put his hands to her waist, his grip tight, though not tight enough to hurt her. "You're my family. You and Kaylee. My wife. My daughter."
She caught his face between her hands. "That's not what I meant. I meant you, your brother, and your parents. Kaylee and me? We're yours. That's not a question. No one is going to say any different."
"How do you know that?"
She didn't answer. He read the uncertainty in her expression. Jasper said he wanted to say he was sorry, but he didn't say what he expected to come home to. "He signed his letter love," Edward said. "As if he had a right to say he loves you after what he did. He walked out on you. He walked out on you on the worst day of your life."
"Edward." The word came out as a whimper that broke Edward's heart. His anger drained, replaced in an instant by shame. Bella was a wreck. He could see it in her eyes-the fear and uncertainty. He was making this about him, and that was the opposite of helpful.
"I'm sorry." He folded his arms around her and pulled her against his chest. She tucked her head under his chin. Under his hands, he felt a light tremor. Burying his nose against her hair, he took several deep breaths. He needed to take his cues from her, but he'd ruined that with his territorial snarling. "Please tell me what you're thinking."
Her breath hitched. "I don't know what to think. I love you. Nothing is going to change that, but I have no idea what I'm supposed to think or how to feel. I wanted him to come home. I've always wanted him to come home, but I never thought about what that meant."
Edward stroked his hand through her hair, swaying them both a bit. "So you'll hear him out?"
"I don't think I have a choice."
He wanted to argue, but he couldn't. There was no getting around the fact Jasper and Bella would have to talk. Jasper had said in his letter he would understand if Bella didn't want to see him, but that was an impossibility for so many reasons. She'd married his brother for one thing.
And then there was Kaylee.
"It's going to be okay," Edward said because she needed to hear it. "Whatever happens, I love you. I'm here for you."
"I know. I know that. You always have been."
He pulled back so he could take her face in his hands. He kissed her once. "We'll see what he has to say, but I need you to know right now… If it comes to it, I will fight for you. I'll fight for what's mine."
She put her hands over his against her cheeks. "You won't need to."
A/N: Many thanks to jfka06, barburella, and songster for everything they do for me.
This story will start updating regularly in the new year. Until then… thoughts? Worries? How we doing out there?