A/N: This should be the last of the flashback chapters. Edward's chapters will continue in present time from here on out. FAQ, answered. Happy weekend, lovelies!
~10 Months Post-Accident, One Week Post First Kiss~
In the last ten months, Bella had received three photographs from Jasper. Regardless of how they were addressed, it was obvious they weren't all for her.
A picture of a dilapidated house, lawn outrageously overgrown, was meant for Esme. Somehow, though Edward never would have thought a rundown house had any beauty left, Jasper found it with his lens. It was a talent he shared with their mother. Esme restored old homes for a living. Both Jasper and Esme, in their separate ways, brought forth the beauty they saw in the heart of whatever they were looking at.
For Carlisle, Jasper had sent a snap of the harbor of an old fishing village. In the picture, a trio of grizzled fishermen were walking from the docks, laughing with each other. It was the quaint sort of town that hadn't changed much in two hundred years. A nod, Edward thought, to Jasper and Carlisle's shared love of history and the idea of constance.
Emmett's was the only snapshot in color so far. Edward had no idea what it was. It was taken at such an angle that it captured only bits and pieces of vague shapes, but the idea was clear. The colors were bold. Vibrant. Emmett.
Until the fourth photograph arrived, Edward didn't know he was jealous. To that point, he would have said Jasper could be found dead in a ditch and Edward wouldn't have blinked.
He walked in the door that day to find Bella in the living room, Kaylee playing at her feet, with the faraway, pained stare he hated. His hands clenched in fists at his side, and he wished his elder brother was in front of him, not because he wanted to see Jasper safe, but because he wanted to be the one to hurt him.
On the other hand, it was the first time Edward could sit beside Bella and wrap his arms around her. He said nothing but nuzzled his nose against her cheek and pressed soft kisses to the corner of her mouth. Despite the heaviness to the atmosphere, he had to smile against her skin. Their relationship was still brand new, only a week old, and their newfound closeness was still a novelty to him.
Bella relaxed against him, releasing her breath in a long hiss. She turned her head enough to catch his lips. Her hand was warm and reassuring against his back. They kissed for a full minute, unhurried and sweet.
She pulled away with a sigh. Despite the small smile on her face, sadness lingered in her eyes. She'd been crying before he got home. Anger coiled tight in the pit of his belly with nowhere left to spring. He buried his nose in her hair, breathing in her scent to calm himself again.
"I'll never understand him," he said. "I know one day we're going to fight, and I'm going to make you cry. It's going to be something stupid, and I'm going to feel like the scum of the earth. I already feel bad about it." He pulled back and cupped her face in his hands. "My brother… how could he look at you and hurt you like this?"
To his surprise, she laughed. "I was just thinking the same thing about you."
Instead of clarifying, she took the photo from where it lay face down on the coffee table and handed it to him. She gathered Kaylee up into her arms, settling her on her lap and watching as Edward flipped the photo over. His breath caught.
It was a picture of two boys. Brothers, Edward could tell immediately. There was something about the image that rang with that strong connection. A very little boy, perhaps three or four, clung to the older boy, maybe twelve or thirteen, for dear life, hiding behind his legs. The older boy had one hand behind him on the younger boy's shoulder, the other hand out to protect his baby brother from the very ferocious, very leashed chihuahua on a walk with its owner. The younger boy was looking up, not at the dog, because he trusted the older would never let the vicious creature hurt him, and though the older boy must have known better, he was indulging the little boy's fear.
The effect was immediate. If Edward hadn't been sitting down, he would have fallen. His bones went weak and rubbery. His heart sped. His stomach lurched up into his throat, choking him as his eyes stung with tears. For damn close on a year, he'd held on to his anger. He was angry for Bella, for his parents, for Kaylee. They'd all lost so much because of his brother's cowardice. They hurt, and there was nothing Edward could do about it.
For the first time in those ten months, Edward wasn't son, friend, protector. He was a little brother who'd lost his big brother. Ten months worth of neglected grief hit him like a tsunami crashing onto the shore, knocking him from solid ground into swirling vortex of freezing cold water.
He missed Jasper. He missed him, and he was scared to death he would never see him again. Adrenaline sent static through his bloodstream. If he could have, he would have run straight out the door and found Jasper. He would have dragged him home no matter what the cost, no matter where he found him. Anything was better than not knowing, than the crippling worry he'd tried to hide under derision and fury.
For all Edward outwardly cursed him as worthless, there was almost nothing he wouldn't give to have his brother home safe again.
Bella's hand on his back grounded him somewhat. Edward took a sharp breath, unable to stop the tears that gathered at the corners of his eyes and slid down his cheeks. Fury, fear, and longing made for a tumultuous sea inside him, along with a healthy helping of-
Edward's head snapped up. Bella gasped. They both stared at Kaylee with wide eyes.
She reached a grubby hand at the photo he held, grasping at the air and grunting. "Da. Me."
Guilt. That was what left a sour taste in his mouth, even as he marveled at Kaylee, his baby, his daughter, calling him Da for the first time. Guilt because if he had to choose between his brother's life and giving Bella and Kaylee back to him, he would let Jasper run out the door every time.
Sometimes Edward wondered if he'd really done all he could to help Jasper. He'd known for several years his brother was on a bad path. Had he really done everything possible to get him on the straight and narrow? Some part of him had always been aware that Jasper would lose Bella, and if he did…
"Da." Kaylee pounded her miniature fist on his arm in increasing frustration. She wanted that picture, and she wanted it now. "Da, Da, Da."
Complete joy and gaining giddiness pushed everything else out of his head. He had no room for guilt. His baby knew who her daddy was. He put the photo down out of reach and lifted her out of Bella's arms. He held her nearly upside down and peppered her face with big, Daddy-sized smooches while she giggled in high-pitched screeches.
"That's Mommy's picture, sugar, but you call me Daddy again and you can have whatever you want."
Bella rolled her eyes. "You better hope she doesn't remember that," she said, but she was beaming almost as wide as he was.
"Pfft. I mean it." He gave Kaylee a little shake. "Come on, sugar. Say it again."
Kaylee looked at him, her eyes glittering with expectation, her fists at her mouth to hold in the giggle fit that was ready to bubble up. Clearly she expected him to lift her again.
Edward obliged her since he loved the sound of her giggles almost as much as he loved being called her daddy. He played with her and cuddled her, telling his baby girl how smart she was. It had only taken her a week to pick up on the new word after Bella and Edward had started using it.
"Speaking of which," Edward said some time later when they were settled for dinner. "If she's picked up on it, there's going to be no way to keep this from my parents."
They weren't ashamed of being together. Neither of them knew what to expect from his family, but they were both sanguine in their choice. They'd wanted a little time to themselves, a little space to make the transition from friends to lovers.
Bella tilted her head, taking his hand over the table. "You think they'll react badly?"
He squeezed her hand. "Not about us."
Her eyebrows arched in surprise. "About what then?"
"Well…" Edward swallowed hard. His heart picked up a frantic pace. "I guess that's up to you." He laughed at his nervousness and ran a hand through his hair. "You know, I've been over and over this in my head, and I still can't figure out how you'll react?"
"How I'll react to what? Edward, what are you talking about?"
Edward sighed. He took both her hands in his and leaned intently across the table. "Bella, I've been in love with you for a lot longer than I should have been. The good thing about that is it makes me absolutely sure about what I'm going to ask you."
Bella's hand twitched in his. She pressed her lips together, but she didn't speak.
"You deserve some grand gesture for this." He grinned when she blanched, and hurried on. "But I think I know you well enough to understand you're not that kind of girl." He stroked his thumb along the outside of hers. "I know we've technically only been together for a week, but-"
"Yes," she said.
He blinked at her. "What?"
Her cheeks flamed, but a smile crept wide across her face. "You were about to ask me to marry you, right?"
"Yeah." Shock was quickly replaced by the realization she'd said yes. "You don't think it's too soon?"
He shook his head.
Bella's smile was gentle now. "You've been my best friend for years. We've spent every day of the last ten months together." She ducked her head, her look shy but adoring. "And I like this most recent addition of sex to our relationship."
He laughed and brought her hands to his lips. "It's good sex."
She grinned at him, but then her expression turned serious, contrite. "To be honest, I… I think part of the reason I kept coming back to Jasper was because I was terrified of losing you." Her eyes flicked up to meet his gaze. "Part of the reason."
Guilt nagged at his heart, but he squeezed her hands again. "I understand that. Part of the reason I helped you both through your problems was because I couldn't stand the thought of losing you." He shook his head and that thought away. No room for guilt, not in this conversation. "So you'll marry me."
"Yeah," she whispered. Her eyes glistened. "Yes. I will."
They leaned forward and kissed to the tune of Kaylee's humming and baby babbling. Edward let go of her hands so he could pull her chair closer. They were small but exhaultant kisses, interrupted all too soon when Kaylee announced dinner was done by knocking her mostly-empty bowl to the floor.
"You said you think your parents might react badly," Bella said as they cleaned-her the baby and him the dishes. "Did you mean about us getting married?"
He shook his head slowly, excitement fading again as he considered his next words. He felt a rush of resentment toward his elder brother. Jasper was a constant presence in his relationship with Bella. "There's something I need to ask you."
"Yes." He sat back in his chair in front of her and took her hands, playing with her fingers. There was no easy way to say this, no way to romanticize it. "When we marry, I want to give you my last name." He looked up at her. "You and Kaylee. I want to adopt her. Officially."
"I…" She swallowed hard. "Can you do that?"
"I spoke to our lawyer about it a few days ago. She got the information for us." He watched her, gauging to see if she was angry that he hadn't told her about talking to the lawyer. "She said the length of time he's been gone constitutes abandonment. A judge can sever his parental rights, and then I can file for adoption."
Tears sprung to her eyes, and she turned away from him to stare at Kaylee who was playing on the floor near their feet. Bella watched her for long minutes that stretched on like decades. He was desperate to know what she was thinking, staring as she was at her blond haired baby. Was she picking out the pieces of her daughter that were all Jasper?
Edward kept his silence, knowing she needed space to think it all through. She laughed, the sound tainted with bitterness. "He left her. He left me, but he left her without even…" She pressed her lips together, and Edward recognized the fury on her features. "And yet… I feel bad. Why the hell should I feel bad about doing this to him? He doesn't deserve her."
"He doesn't, but that doesn't change the fact you love him." He put a finger to her lips, stopping her protest. "I know you're not in love with him, but you love him. You love honest and deep, Bella. That's just part of who you are. But it means no matter what he's done, you still don't want to hurt him."
"I don't want him to have her. Even if he showed up tonight on my doorstep, I wouldn't want him to have her," Bella said in thin whisper. "But no. I don't want to hurt him either."
She took a shaky breath and wound her arms around his neck, letting him gather her as close as he could get in their face-to-face position. "Yes. To all of it. I want to make us a family."
Just as he bent forward to kiss Bella again, Edward felt a tug at his pant leg. "Da," Kaylee said and lifted one hand at him.
He stooped and settled her at his side, kissing her cheek. "Yes, beautiful girl. Daddy's here," he promised.
Edward was aware his parents had known about his feelings for Bella for a long time. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd stared at Bella only to catch his mother watching him. When Edward moved in to help her through her convalescence, they'd both gently but blatantly warned him against taking advantage of the situation.
Their warnings at that point had been more for Bella's sake than Jasper's. After Jasper left, Bella had far too much to deal with. She was newly, if temporarily, crippled and mother to a premature newborn. Carlisle and Esme loved Bella as though she were their own. They bore no small amount of guilt for the pain their son had inflicted on her, and they considered it their duty to assure their younger son didn't make a complicated situation even worse.
Still, it had been so many months since Jasper's disappearance. Anybody would have been blind not to notice how naturally Edward and Bella became a unit. They had always enjoyed a deep friendship. Now they moved as one, natural with each other and the baby.
No one was surprised at their announcement.
"Finally," Emmett said. He clapped Edward on the back. "Rose had to stop me a couple of times from saying something to you. She said you had to get there on your own."
"I said it wasn't any of your business," Rose said. She looked to Edward and Bella and smiled. "It's a good thing. All of it. Kaylee deserves a better daddy than the one she was born with."
Esme sucked in a sharp breath. Rosalie frowned. "I'm sorry, but it's true. This is the best thing for everyone. You're lucky because many other women wouldn't have stuck around. You'd be lucky to ever see your grandkid, and it would have been Jasper's fault. He's your son, and I understand you can't hate him, but it's okay to be angry. You should be angry."
"We are angry, Rosalie," Carlisle said, his tone even.
"But not with Jasper."
"Not only with him."
"What is it you think this is like for us?" Esme interrupted. Her voice was soft, but there was a ferocity in her eyes that made Edward's heart ache for her. "Yes, we're angry at him. Angry that he wouldn't let us help. There isn't anything we wouldn't have done for him and yet…" She pressed her lips together to keep them from trembling. She was very near tears. Carlisle took her hand in his.
"But anger doesn't change the fact I couldn't protect him from everything he's been through. It doesn't change the fact he's my baby, our baby, and I have no idea why he's done this. I have no idea where he is. If he's cold or hungry or hurt. I have no idea if I'll ever see him alive again." Her voice cracked at that, and she put her hand over her mouth, closing her eyes tightly. She breathed in deep. "Maybe you can dismiss him so easily, but I can't."
"He's my brother as much as Edward is, and I love him," Rosalie said, her voice steady but softer than it had been, devoid of anger. "But how long are we all going to exist in this limbo? He's gone. It was his choice to go. I'm sick of being pissed off too. I want our family to be whole again. I want to be happy for Edward, Bella, and Kaylee. They deserve happiness. If this were any other family, we'd be jumping up and down congratulating them, but this is all so somber. Your youngest son is getting married. He's going to be a father. That's good news."
As much as he wanted his parents to be happy for him, Edward also understood the flip side of that coin. Their youngest son was gaining a daughter and a wife at the same time their elder son lost his daughter and girlfriend for good. It couldn't have been a comfortable space to be in.
Esme reached out and took Bella's hand and then Edward's. She smiled, watery though it was. "It is good news," she said. "I'm happy for you. I'm happy for all of us."
Carlisle clapped Edward's shoulder. "I'm proud of you. Both of you. You're both so young to be making these kinds of decisions." He looked over to where Kaylee and Henry played together. "But you're capable, and you have our support. Congratulations."
In bed that night, their bed, their room, Edward pressed kisses along Bella's jawline up to her ear. "So. If you could have any kind of wedding you wanted, anything at all, what would it be?" He nipped at her earlobe. "Of course, knowing you, it's going to be a quick trip down to the courthouse on our lunch hour."
She didn't answer right away, but her fingers continued their soft caresses along his chest and neck. He'd moved his kisses down to her throat so when she finally answered, the word vibrated against his lips. "I want a big wedding."
That caught his attention. Edward sat up to look at her. "What?" Bella and big wedding didn't seem like words that went together.
Her lips twisted, and she looked down at the comforter. "I don't know. Maybe want is the wrong word, but I think it's what we need. All of us."
Edward readjusted himself so he could wrap an arm around her shoulders. "Tell me what you're thinking and why."
"I think Rosalie was right. We've been in limbo, all of us. I… I still hope Jasper will be okay. I still hope he'll come back someday, and if he does…" She wrung her fingers in the blankets. "It's going to be complicated. I know that, but we'll deal with it. We'll deal with it if… when it happens. But I think we need to move on now. None of us has control over Jasper, and that's something we all need to accept."
Rosalie's words rung in Edward's head. She was right when she said their family wasn't whole. They were all stepping gingerly around the Jasper-shaped hole, none of them wanting to take that final step, to fill it in.
Bella looked up at him, her eyes sad though her smile was genuine. She took his hands in hers. "I want this, us, to be a good thing. We're still a family, a good one. We still deserve to celebrate and be happy, even if he isn't there to be a part of it." She ducked her head, her breath shaky. "Even if it might have been different if he'd stayed."
Looking up again, she traced her finger over Edward's lips. The passion and adoration in her eyes made Edward's heart skip a beat. "Might have been different," she murmured. "But then again, it might not have."
At that, Edward smiled. He leaned forward to kiss her, slow and long. He knew exactly what she meant. He had no idea how the situation with his brother would end, if it would ever be resolved. What he knew for certain was the he and Bella were right. No matter how it happened, they were good together.
He pulled back and kissed the tip of her nose. "Big, extravagant wedding. Oh, Bella. You're going to make my mother's day."
She grinned at that. "Yeah. I hope so."
He kissed her again and pulled her down with him on the bed, striving to forget everything else except that this beautiful woman had agreed to be his.
A/N: Many thanks to barburella and jessypt. And much love to jfka06. Hearts.
Back to the present next chapter.