A/N: Okay, one more note for clarification, then I'm going to let the matter drop.

If I answered every one of my ornery anons up here, we'd never get to the story. I don't have a problem with anons who don't like my story or don't like where I'm headed or don't pick up what I'm putting down. That's fine. A sensitive soul I'm not. The only reason I answered the anon before is because I take my responsibility as an author very seriously. I think the excuse "it's fiction" is complete bologna. Fiction representing a whole group of people—in this case drug addicts—should be as accurate and truthfully represented as possible. It drives me nuts when authors are careless with other people's reality just because it suits their fictional needs.

On that note, it concerned me that dear anon thought I was being irresponsible, and I can see where she's coming from if she believes that drug addiction is not a disease. It is. Verifiable by science. Because drug addicts are people, the way they deal with addiction is different, and this is where their choices come in. Obviously, every case is unique.

To clarify, as previously stated, drug ABUSE is a choice, and it is that choice that triggers drug ADDICTION. So yes, Jasper brought it on himself. No one is arguing that. And yes, I'm well aware he wasn't born with it. I have a mental illness. My mental illness was triggered the same as Jasper's was. A brain scan of me at seven would have been healthy. Fourteen, not so much. So yes, I'm aware it was his choices that brought on his disease like it was my father's choices that triggered mine.

The plot of this story is a drug addict having to deal with and take responsibility for his bad choices and deal with the illness he now has because of those choices. Whether you like him or you're rooting for him or not, that's all up to you.

Thanks for bearing with me. Promise I'll let the anons ramble from here on out.


It was only hours after he met his daughter for the first time that Jasper had to work. For a long time before his shift, he sat still on his bed in his room, trying to will himself to move. The weight on his shoulders was too much. There was no way he could sit up straight for so many hours under it. His eyes stung, raw from his crying jag.

He dragged himself out the door anyway, ignoring his parents' offer of a late dinner.

At the gas station, he wandered around in a daze, tending his duties in a robotic manner. The first few hours weren't so difficult. He could keep his mind carefully blank as he worked with the other attendant. The man, after several attempts to draw him into conversation, let them lapse into silence save for the occasional bustle of customers. Soon enough, though, Jasper was alone in the small space.

In the quiet of the night, the weight kept at bay by the distraction of customers' questions, restocking merchandise, and keeping the place clean began to press on him. It crushed him slowly, stooping his shoulders, pressing his chest flat and his heart into a painful pancake.

Regret. He'd never tasted anything as bitter and awful as regret. It coated his tongue and throat. It was thick on every breath he released. He needed nothing the way he needed a time machine, a reset button. It was too much. Wasn't it enough that he had to start his life all over? Wasn't that enough for anyone?

Jasper didn't know what was worse. There was the gut-wrenching agony of knowing with utter certainty what he'd lost. He would never be a father to his daughter. That it wasn't death that stole her from him but his own sheer idiocy was maddening. She was there, in front of him, and not his. Never his.

The only thing that might have, might have, been worse than that, was the itch that crept under his skin. It was a burning itch, making every inch of his flesh crawl. It was an itch that whispered in his ear, murmuring soothing words, promising comfort, warmth-he was cold to the marrow of his bones-and most of all, relief. He could quell the pain, drive it away so he could breathe again, so he could feel some semblance of hope, some reason to go on.

He wanted.

He needed.

Though he could hardly string two words together when the odd customer came in and tried to make small talk, his mind was perfectly capable of figuring out the quickest way to get what he wanted. He still knew the right people to call, the right streets to be on. Hell, some of the customers who came in likely could have helped him right then and there.

"You okay, man?"

Jasper shook his head sharply and clenched his fists at his sides. The voice was getting louder. "Yeah, um." He looked up at the customer, a young man with a twelve pack of brews. "Yeah, thanks… Can I see some ID?"

When the man had gone, Jasper tried to keep himself busy. He straightened and cleaned already straight and clean displays. He changed the filters in the coffee.

The itch didn't abate because the pain of his loss didn't abate. The voice began to shout.

He fumbled in his pocket and took out his phone. His hands shook so badly it took him minutes to scroll through his contact list. Luckily he stored his contacts first name first. He jabbed at the number he needed. The call connected. Jasper tapped his foot restlessly as the phone rang. And rang. Rang.

Finally a tired voice said, "Jasper? What's wrong?"

Jasper's breath left him in a whoosh. He'd been holding it as the phone rang. "Alice?"

When he'd caught his breath, soothed by Alice's encouraging voice, he told her about his day. His horrible, awful, wonderful, amazing day. The best and worst day of his life.

He pushed a fist against one eye, pressing his lips together to stop their trembling. He was sick of crying. He didn't deserve to cry. It was absurd to feel so damn sorry for himself, and he told her so.

"You still deserve to grieve. You deserve that much, Jasper. This can't be easy."

"No. No it's not. It sucks." That was a gross understatement, but they were the only words he could muster. He was tired. He could have crawled under the register and gone to sleep right there.

Still, after he apologized for waking her yet again, he finished out his shift. He made his way home and trudged up the walk. His every step was leaden, his tired bones aching. In the foyer of his parents' home he stood again. As always, an overwhelming loneliness swept over him, a differentness.

What he wouldn't give to feel comfortable in his own skin, in his own life. Not happy, just content. Actually, right then, he would have given anything for some slight respite. Anything. His every thought was an assault, a jagged-edged shard of glass driven into him without the slightest bit of gentleness. He knew he couldn't have what he wanted, what his body was trying to tell him he needed.

Jasper ended up in the kitchen, too drained to move far, but the barbs that assaulted him every other second weren't conducive to sleep. He didn't think he could sleep anymore than he could eat.

Rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, Jasper tilted his head to the side and paused. He bit the inside of his cheek, overtaken by an idea, a small chance at dulling the edges if only for a bit. Maybe long enough to fall asleep.

He stood and reached for his salvation.

~0~

"What in the ever loving hell is a matter with you?"

Jasper was thrown rudely into full wakefulness when someone yanked his blankets from under and around him, sending him sprawling to the floor in the process. His shock instantly gave way to blinding pain, and he grabbed at his head, groaning.

"Answer me right now Jasper Charles Whitlock."

Jasper looked up, blinking at his mother without comprehension. She was staring down at him, her hands on her hips and a look on her face that was equal parts pinched pain and unbridled fury. He scratched his hand through his hair, confused as to what could be making his mother look at him like that. "Mom?" His mouth tasted like a very dirty, disease-ridden mouse had taken residence and died.

Esme snatched up something from the nightstand and thrust it at his chest. "Don't play stupid with me. How could you do this?"

Comprehension clicked as he stared down at the thing she'd pushed into his hands, the mostly empty bottle of whiskey. He tried to remember what the hell he'd done last night. He'd drunk. A lot. "What did I do?"

"That bottle was full. Don't try-"

"No, I mean…" He put down the bottle and pressed his palms to the sides of his head, pressing, trying to lessen the thick pounding. "I know I drank it. What did I do? Why are you mad?"

She stared at him, a picture of incredulity. "Are you telling me you don't see anything wrong with this picture? You're hung over. You reek of alcohol."

Despite the protests of his addled mind, he forced himself to think. Anger was beginning to stoke low in the pit of his stomach, but it was the kind of anger that burned bright to cover something else. Shame. He knew what this looked like, even as his hackles raised. "I had a drink. A few drinks. I had a bad day. What's wrong with someone having a drink after a hard day?"

Again she stared, her lips moving as though she couldn't figure out what to say first. "Jasper. You are not going to put me through this again."

Jasper untangled himself from his sheets and pushed to his feet. "You're overreacting."

She grabbed him by the shoulders. "You don't get to say that to me. That's exactly what you said before. Every time I tried to get you to get help, you told me I was overreacting. It's not a big deal. You never listened to me when I told you what you were doing to your life, to our family."

"This is different. Alcohol isn't heroin. I'm not an alcoholic."

"No, and once upon a time, you weren't a drug addict either."

They stared at each other, eyes a mirror of each other-hard with anger and regret. Jasper opened his mouth, but Esme was quicker.

"Don't you dare, Jasper. I swear if you try to defend yourself one more time, that's it. I won't watch you do it again. I won't." Her voice cracked and her eyes watered, but she stared steadily.

Jasper glared, betrayal burning hot in his veins. Her love was supposed to be constant, unconditional.

But he saw it in her eyes. She wasn't threatening not to love him. She was threatening not to watch him destroy himself. Again. Because she was smart enough to know she couldn't control him. She couldn't make his choices for him.

Jasper slumped, all the fight going out of him. He sat down heavily on the bed, his aching head in his hands. The gravity of what he'd done threatened to squash him flat, like the weight of water at the bottom of the ocean. Over a year of work, of progress, and it all could have been undone. He knew exactly how hard it was to break an addiction, to shake it off. It was a disease he'd never be rid of. He could only hope to fight. Fight for himself, for his family. Fight not to relapse because it was always a danger.

He swallowed hard. "I'm sorry. You're right. I'm sorry."

There was silence for several long moments. Jasper's bed dipped, and his mother sat down beside him, her hand in his hair. "I need more."

Jasper raised his head. He didn't know what to say to that when he had nothing.

"I… I've read a lot about how manipulative addicts can be."

If anything, Jasper only slumped further. He supposed he had manipulated his family once upon a time. They never knew just how deep he was into drugs. They knew something was up. They knew when he was high, though they didn't know on what. He was undependable, often disappearing for weeks on end, but when he reappeared he could often charm his parents into believing nothing was wrong. Nothing they needed to be concerned about. Or later, that he was getting help. He'd been very inventive on that end, making up elaborate stories about NA meetings that didn't exist.

"I want to believe you're actually contrite right now, Jasper, but I need a guarantee."

Jasper shook his head still in his hands. "You know I can't guarantee anything. It's a fight, and I can't say I'm always going to win." He took a shaky breath. "I didn't this morning, obviously."

"You're not going to win every time. I know that. You know that. What I want is the guarantee you're fighting with every weapon you have."

"I a-"

"You're not. You're fighting alone, and that's not enough. I'm sorry, but it isn't."

Jasper was quiet. He didn't have the will to argue.

"Call the therapist I found for you. If not her, figure out someone else. Something else."

"At your expense. You've given enough. I'm sick of adding to my debt."

"Well tough shit."

Jasper's head snapped up in surprise at his mother's language.

She touched a finger to the scar on his face. "This is life or death, Jasper. If you love me, if you want to prove that you love me and you want a place in this family, you're going to take your life seriously, even if that means you accept what I'm offering you."

"But it's not fair. Not fair to you."

"Taking my son away from me again is more unfair. Deal with it." She paused and ruffled his hair. "We're not a destitute family, Jasper. I can see you're trying not to be a burden. You sold your car the day after you got home, and I saw the groceries you bought with your first paycheck. You're not a deadbeat, so give yourself a break there. You have enough to worry about."

How could he argue with that? What was a blow to his pride, another two ton crate added to the cargo ship he needed to carry everything he owed his parents? He put his hands over his eyes, bowing his head again. "I'll call her. The therapist."

"Today."

Jasper nodded and winced as white stars appeared behind his closed eyelids.

The longer he had to think about it, the more he could see the consequences of his actions, his slip, play out before him. Edward wouldn't understand. He would see this mistake as being as bad as if Jasper had gone out and gotten high. He would never let Jasper around Kaylee after that.

"Are you…" He gulped because he knew he didn't have a right to ask. "Are you going to tell anyone else?"

She brushed her fingers through his hair, her touch gentle. "This isn't the kind of thing a wife keeps from her husband, but I don't think there's a reason to tell your brothers." Her hand dropped down to his back and rubbed. "I've read that about recovering addicts. If you make every slip out to be a failure, you run the risk of turning it into self-fulfilling prophecy. I don't see the point of that either. This… This could be a minor slip. You're right, after all. You had a very bad day yesterday, and if you were anyone else, no one would blame you for having a few drinks."

"If I was anyone else, I wouldn't have to drink to forget the fact I abandoned my daughter." He drew his legs up close to his chest on the bed and rested his head on his knees.

His mother said nothing at this but kissed the side of his head. "I'll get you some aspirin. Take a shower, and we can go find a greasy lunch, okay?"

~0~

Esme didn't take him at his word that he would make the appointment with the therapist. She stood over him as he did it, and the tips of his ears burned. Regardless of whether or not he deserved it, being treated like a disobedient child wasn't comfortable.

When he came home from work the next morning, he noticed the liquor bottles were gone from their usual place. Again he chafed.

He made his father coffee and waited for him to come downstairs, thinking he wanted to get any admonition Carlisle had out of the way. That had been his habit when he was a child. When he'd done something he knew for certain he'd get in trouble for when he was at his mother's house, he would tell whichever parent was available and hasten to the study, hoping they would follow his head and dole out punishment.

At Charles's house, he picked a fight because waiting for his beating was hell on his nerves.

So Jasper waited.

Carlisle came into the kitchen and sat down, thanking him for the coffee as if it was a normal day, as if Jasper hadn't been absent the day before. As he sipped, he made the usual small talk, or he tried, anyway.

"Dad, I know Mom told you what I did," Jasper said, ignoring Carlisle's question about how his night had been.

"Of course she did."

"And?"

"And I'm driving you to Doctor Ivanova's office myself on Monday."

"You don't have to do that."

Carlisle raised his head to stare at Jasper with a cool expression.

Jasper drank the rest of his coffee in several gulps. "Fine. Thank you. Have a good day at work."

~0~

Friday afternoon, Emmett and Rosalie came to have dinner with Carlisle and Esme. They brought the kids. Henry chatted animatedly, accepting Jasper with ease. Vera, doubtlessly picking up cues from her mother's frigidity toward Jasper, mostly gave him the cold shoulder.

That was fine. Jasper enjoyed meeting his niece and reacquainting himself with his nephew if only from across the distance of the dinner table. But as with everything in his life lately, it was a double edged sword. Meeting his brother's kids meant he had to watch Emmett be a father to them.

Emmett had been there every day of their lives. He had those memories, those moments. Their first words, their first steps, Henry's first day of school, they all belonged to him and Rosalie in a way they would never belong to the rest of the family.

Jasper had already missed three years worth of moments entirely, but the remaining important moments of his own daughter's life would never belong to him. Not as a daddy. As an uncle.

At work that night, he had too much time to stew, again,

On one hand, he couldn't wait to see Kaylee again. The thought of it, of being able to hold her and cuddle her if only for an instant, just to see her again, gave him such joy he couldn't keep a smile from his face. But on the other hand, seeing her when he couldn't keep her was nothing short of torture.

He was terrified it would be the same every time he had to see her, that he would experience the pain of losing her over and over again.

Back at home after his shift, Jasper sank down onto the sofa in the living room. He ran his hands over his eyes, wondering if he had the strength to sit through more small talk from his father this morning. Breathing hurt. Everything hurt.

The sound of a key in the lock caught Jasper's attention. He lifted his head and watched as the front door came open. When he saw who was standing there, he groaned and put his head back in his hands. "God, please go away. I can't do this right now."

The door closed, but Edward hadn't left. His footsteps came closer and stopped. He didn't speak. Jasper made a half-hearted attempt to figure out why his brother might be there in the early hours of the morning. He knew instinctively it was him Edward had come to see. Had Esme let slip about the whiskey?

But even the reasoning part of his mind was too tired. His thoughts were limp and slow to form. His heartbeat picked up and twisted when he thought this might be it. He'd told Bella he would honor her wishes if she didn't want him involved with Kaylee at all. His shoulders slumped in resignation, and he shook his head slowly. "Edward, I know I don't deserve it. I know I deserve everything you have to throw at me, but if there's even an ounce of… I don't know, sympathy? Just… Whatever you have to say, I can't…" He pressed his lips together knowing full well his brother had no sympathy for him. He had nothing left, no will to fight, but Edward wouldn't care about that.

His brother's breath was unsteady. Neither of them spoke for a long, heavy minute.

"What do you want from me?" Edward asked, his tone rough.

Whatever Jasper had been expecting, it wasn't that. He raised his head, sure he was missing something. "What?"

Edward's fists clenched at his sides. His face was drawn, his brows furrowed. He looked angry as usual but also conflicted. "What do you want from me?" he repeated.

"I don't… What? Nothing." He laughed, the sound as hollow as he felt. "I mean, I guess I really would prefer it if you put off yelling at me until later. I'm really tired."

"I'm not going to yell at you." Edward sat in the chair near him with a huff.

"Well, that's a change of pace anyway."

Edward crossed his arms, staring anywhere except Jasper. "What did you expect? What do you want me to do? You want me to sit here and play nice? You want to be brothers again like none of it happened?"

Jasper sighed. An image flashed unbidden through his mind. Edward couldn't have been more than two or three. Often when Jasper came home from a visit with Charles, he was left with this lingering sense that there was something wrong with him. But when his mom unlocked the door, there was the instant pitter patter of little feet. Edward came flying out from wherever he'd been in the back of the house, his grin wide. He called Jasper's name happily and launched himself into his big brother's arms, hugging him tightly and telling him not to go away again.

"I'd settle for your indifference," he said at last, his voice flat to his own ears.

Edward pushed to his feet again. "Fathers can't afford to be indifferent about the people their daughters are going to be around."

Jasper winced and turned his head. He took as deep a breath as he was able, though it felt like he was breathing in boiling hot water. "I already told Bella you don't have to worry about me trying to play daddy. I won't. What do you need? You need it in ink? Blood?"

"No," Edward said after a moment, his voice softer than it had been a second before. "I believe you when you say you won't fight for her. I'm not going to pretend I'm not relieved about that, but it's beside the point. You're still in a position to hurt her. Not just her but everyone I love. I don't trust you to keep your word there. About getting better, I mean."

"Yeah, well… That makes two of us," Jasper muttered. "I don't know what you want me to say. I wish I could make you promises I know I'd keep, but I can't because I'm not sure. I want more than anything to say I won't fall again, but I don't know if it's going to be a lie. I spent too many years telling myself I could control it and obviously, I couldn't. Who's to say it's going to be enough this time?

"You want to know the truth? Some days the cravings are so bad, I can't even think around them. The only thing I can do is think about what I did… to Bella, to Kaylee, to all of you. And it's like stabbing a knife in an open wound because that's the only way you're going to stay conscious and rational. Which is great on one hand because you don't give in to the cravings, but on the other it's keeping that wound raw and widening.

"And I know. Poor me. It's a self-inflicted gunshot wound and I hit a whole bunch of people with the same bullet. But I'm only human. There's only so much I can deal with. It's not only the cravings, this… struggle. Addict is part of my definition. Do you know what that's like? To have something so fucking horrible be a part of who you are?"

With each word, he crumbled in on himself further, the weight on his shoulders such a physical thing, he didn't understand how he was still alive. "I should be so grateful because I didn't lose my mother and father. I didn't lose Emmett. But I lost you. And Rose. And I lost my daughter." He closed his eyes against the tears that threatened. As much as he felt like sinking into the floor and never getting up again, he wasn't going to make Edward see it.

"Bella and Kaylee…" Jasper swallowed hard. "You're good to them. You deserve them and they deserve you. I understand what it's like from your point of view. You have to deal with the man who hurt your family. But this isn't a picnic for me. On top of everything else, it's my little brother who took my place as daddy to my baby. And I have to see it because I'm staying. For Mom and Dad. For Emmett. I'm not leaving this family again, but it means I have to see you living the life I could have had if I wasn't so fucking stupid. It's one thing to know you have to start life over. It's another thing to have the life you destroyed constantly shoved in your face."

He had to work to keep his voice from shaking, but there was no life left in it at all. "So what do I want from you? I don't know anymore, Edward. You have a family to protect, and I'm a threat. Even if I'm not fighting for Kaylee, and I won't, I'm a threat. I get it. But if I could ask for anything at this point, it would just be for you not to make it worse. If I step a toe out of line, by all means, kick my ass. Do whatever you need to do. But until then, if you're asking what I want, maybe just a little bit of tolerance."

Jasper lapsed into silence. He still couldn't bring himself to look at his brother. He waited, expecting Edward's derision. He waited for his brother to berate him, to tell him point for point why he didn't deserve to heal, why he deserved to bleed to death slowly from the thousands of puncture wounds, tiny to gaping, that shredded his chest.

When Edward didn't speak, Jasper forced himself to turn his head and look. Edward wasn't looking at him. His jaw was clenched working. He open his mouth, his expression making it clear he had many things he wanted to say and none of them gentle. Jasper held his breath, but in the next instant, Edward turned and walked out the door without a word.


A/N: Many thanks to songster, jessypt, and barburella for putting up with me. Much heart to all of you still reading. There's a flashback chapter coming up next.