A/N: Allo, poppets. Happy weekend. Let's celebrate with Daddy C.
When he came home very early Saturday morning from his shift at the gas station, Jasper went right to bed hoping he could get a little rest before the family showed up to spend the day with Carlisle. It was no use, though. He tossed and turned in the early morning light, unable to sleep at all.
Too much had him on edge and anxious. It was going to be the first time the whole family was there together, all the people whose love and acceptance Jasper craved as much as he'd once craved his next hit under one roof. He hoped against hope they might begin to get over the awkwardness. After all, for once, this get together wasn't about him. No one would be there to confront him. Maybe for once he wouldn't have to be so defensive. Maybe for once he could just be.
But experience had taught Jasper not to count on it. Edward would be there. With Kaylee.
Kaylee. He would get to see his daughter again.
For the first time, he would get to see Edward be his daughter's father with his own eyes.
Jasper was more than a little nervous about seeing Kaylee again under those circumstances. He wanted so much for his little girl-his niece, he kept trying to remind himself-to like him. He worried that Edward would get in the way, that he would pass on his disdain and mistrust to Kaylee. And as much as he told Edward and Bella he would never try to be a father to his baby, he was afraid seeing Edward in that role would be too much. The jealousy might drive him over the edge. His will could only withstand so much.
There was another difficult reality of trying to come back from addiction. It wasn't just the addiction itself Jasper had to fight. He knew the drama surrounding the whole situation was a threat to the family he was trying so hard to get back to. He didn't need to backslide into drugs or alcohol to ruin his father's birthday and his family's peace. His very presence could do that, depending on how it all went.
Jasper wondered how long he would have to be so tense around his family. He was so sick of having to watch his every word and action. He didn't complain; he wouldn't because he knew it was a hell of his own making, but it didn't mean it didn't make him tired.
After a fitful few hours of sleep, Jasper gave up and showered. He was happy when he went downstairs and found Esme and Carlisle still alone. Despite the tension of the last few days after his slip with the whiskey, they were relaxed and happy around him. Since it was his birthday, Jasper let Carlisle talk him into a game of chess. Like everything else, the game was bittersweet. It was hard remembering how often Jasper had played with Carlisle as a youth.
How much he wished he could go back, revel in the love and acceptance Carlisle was so willing to give him despite the fact they didn't share blood. He remembered moments of peace, respite from the constant state of angst that had marked his teen years, when he could lose himself in quiet conversation and good-natured competition with this man. The only man who had earned the right to be called his father.
When they sat back about an hour later, as was his custom, Carlisle offered his hand to shake over a good game. Jasper took it and held him firm. "Happy birthday, Dad," he said, because he didn't have words to express the depth of his regret and, at the same time, his relief that he wasn't too late. Despite everything, he still had the chance to be a good son to this father.
Carlisle smiled and clasped Jasper's hand in both of his. He squeezed and held for a moment, but he only said thank you.
Emmett and his family were the first to arrive about twenty minutes after their game. Edward, Bella, and Kaylee arrived while everyone was still greeting each other in the foyer. Jasper hung back, skulking in the living room while the family exchanged hugs. Emmett sought him out, pulling him into a back-slapping hug, but Jasper's eyes were trained over his brother's shoulder where Kaylee was giving her grandfather a big birthday smooch.
Good God, she was beautiful. Jasper's heart skipped a beat and then went into overdrive at the sight of her. A few seconds later, when Carlisle swapped Kaylee for Vera, Jasper's heart threatened to stop altogether. Kaylee noticed him and her eyes lit with recognition.
"Hey, Mister Man," she said as she skittered in his direction. She threw her arms around his legs and looked up at him with a big grin. "Did you know? I named my froggy Freddie. Sometimes Freddie is a boy's name, but it can be a girl's name too, huh? We met a girl named Freddie at the park once, and so it's an okay girl's name. So there."
Jasper had to laugh. He ran a tentative hand over Kaylee's hair. "I think Freddie is a great name for a girl froggy, su-" He cut himself off just in time, remembering how Kaylee had told him Edward called her sugar. He had no interest in setting his little brother off. He swallowed hard. "It's good to see you again, sunshine."
She flashed him another smile and, as quickly as she'd come, she was running off again to get into mischief with her cousins. Jasper's eyes followed her as she went until he noticed Edward standing there, his eyes dark. The tightness in Jasper's throat doubled, and he looked away.
Despite the giggles from the children, all of whom were thankfully oblivious to the sudden tension in the air, the silence between the adults was heavy and impossible to ignore. Jasper thought he heard his mother take a deep breath as Edward crossed the room, his arms full of gifts for Carlisle. Jasper held himself rigidly, but Edward only passed him by. The coldness that radiated from him could have secured the polar ice caps for a solid century, but he didn't say anything.
Jasper had asked for his indifference. It stung, but it was several steps above his more antagonistic tendencies. Everyone seemed to breathe easier after that, and the family began to settle down to enjoy the day.
When Jasper woke up in the hospital after being stabbed, the first thing the doctor had assured him was he was going to live. For most, that was enough. For the injured person though, there was a bridge between living and dying. It was one that was only passed in increments, the time dragging on slowly and painfully with only the promise there was an end to the ordeal if only you could keep stepping.
In the hospital, every waking minute had been rife with a multitude of discomforts. He was hazy from the drugs-the socially acceptable, doctor prescribed drugs- his body was attacked by terrible pain, and there were tubes in uncomfortable places. There was this rational part of his mind that said this state of being wouldn't last forever. He only had to get through each minute, each hour, each day and eventually, he would be better.
For Jasper, being surrounded by all his family, his happy family, was like being in the hospital all over again. It was a different kind of discomfort and displacement, but the concept was the same. He was there, part of the family, but still very much an outsider. He wasn't celebrating his father's birthday with his family but was watching their togetherness. They were a unit and he the plus one. It hurt, but there was this tiny shred of hope that someday, if he could only keep stepping forward, he could be part of this happy mishmash.
But until then, it was hard to breathe through the pain.
Rosalie, Esme, Carlisle, and Bella started to play rummy. Carlisle invited him to join, but Jasper declined when he saw the way Rosalie's shoulders stiffened. He sat on a stool at the counter, listening to the conversation at the table and watching the kids play in the yard while Emmett and Edward manned the BBQ. He watched and rubbed a hand across his mouth, trying hard to regulate the too-fast beat of his heart.
Often, as they cooked, Kaylee would run up to her daddy to show him something or ask him something. Watching them together was even harder than Jasper had imagined. All the preparation in the world couldn't have prepared him for what it felt like to see them together, the trust, the connection.
Again, there was that odd sense of déjà vu like waking in the hospital. Rage and jealousy choked him like waking to find a tube down his throat, simultaneously helping him breathe and making him gag. There was an innate sense that the tube was out of place. It shouldn't have been there. Edward shouldn't have been the one tossing Kaylee up into the air and catching her. This wasn't his.
But as he had with the tube, Jasper had had to learn to adjust to a new reality. The tube was necessary, however horrible it felt. If he could just learn to get used to it, it wouldn't be so distracting and consuming.
Then again, he'd known pretty much instantly that the tube wouldn't always have to be there. But this… This was permanent.
He turned away, unable to stand the sight any longer, only to find that Bella was watching him from her place at the table. She said nothing but she looked between him and Kaylee outside. He could read in her eyes the same question she'd hurtled at him the night they saw each other for the first time again. Why wasn't Kaylee his rock bottom? Why hadn't she been enough to make him get clean? Of all of them, Bella had the most reason to hate him. She didn't, and that was something Jasper hadn't wrapped his head around yet. But just because she didn't hate him didn't mean she wasn't angry.
Jasper held her gaze, his head tilted downward in a submissive gesture. He wanted to break her stare, but he wouldn't do that. Not to her. Bella and Kaylee were the only two people on the planet with whom he would never beg a respite from as he had Edward. He let her see him plainly. Yes, he was in pain. Yes, he wanted what he had no right to want. Yes, he was pissed as hell and out of his mind with jealousy that his baby brother was outside now with his daughter, loving her in a way Jasper would never be able to. And yes, it hurt so much he couldn't stand to see it.
The anger in her expression flickered and pity began to take its place. Jasper wondered if it was a figment of his imagination that he could see realization dawn as Bella looked away. Most of her anger was for Kaylee. They, Jasper and Bella together, had been Kaylee's parents before she was born. They had created her together, had marvelled and hoped together as she grew. Bella couldn't comprehend why Jasper didn't understand what he'd walked away from, but that was the thing. Jasper understood perfectly what he'd walked away from, and now he was dealing with what he'd lost because of it.
Emmett came in then, bringing Jasper back into the present. He turned his attention back to the game at the table, smiling when he saw Carlisle was clearly enjoying himself. This day wasn't about making amends or trying to be understood. This day wasn't about him at all.
"Hey, Dad." Emmett's head appeared over the opened door of the refrigerator. "Where's the beer?"
Jasper froze, his breath leaving him like a punch to the gut. He looked to his father. Carlisle's face was carefully controlled, his expression blank. He cleared his throat as he looked at Emmett. "There are at least five different drinks in there. There's got to be something you like."
Frustrated, Jasper pushed off the stood and headed for the sanctuary of the living room. He sank down on the couch and dug his fists into his eyes.
In the hospital, Jasper had exactly two thoughts. The first was disappointment. What was the point, he wondered? What was the point of all these people working over him, the nurses, doctors and orderlies? What was the point of the indignities he was suffering when he had no real interest in surviving them? That was where the disappointment came in. Looking back over the last two years, he'd been living as though he expected to die. He'd come so close that time and had only failed again.
His second constant thought was the growing need for another was the only reason he fought to get better. If he did what the doctors told him, they would let him go, and he could get what he needed. He needed it.
That all too familiar mindset settled over him again, though Jasper writhed, trying to throw it off before it could consume him. He had already begun to calculate, plan. He tried to figure how long this party might last. Would he have enough time to get what he needed before he had to be at work? How soon could he leave without his family realizing where he was going?
Jasper jumped a mile high where he was sitting. He turned to stare at Emmett who was leaning against the entry way that led to the kitchen. "What?" Jasper asked, the word coming out high-pitched and guilty.
If he noticed Jasper's jumpiness, Emmett didn't show it. "Get your ass out here. You know Mom's rule. I can't man the grill on my own."
Jasper blinked stupidly at him for a minute before letting out a nervous, incredulous laugh. "That was the rule when we were twelve," he said, but he got to his feet.
"Well, Rosie tells me I have the mentality of the a six-year-old all the time."
"What happened to Edward?"
"Your guess is as good as mine." Emmett shrugged. "He got distracted by Bella, and I haven't seen him in a few minutes. Kid's so whipped, he might not reappear for hours, so his loss. Now come on. I want to eat before I have to retire."
Jasper allowed himself a moment to appreciate the lifeline Emmett-knowingly or not-had thrown him. There was a big part of Jasper that didn't want to go back to where the rest of his family waited. Going back was going to hurt, and he didn't know how much more pain he could stand. But there was Emmett offering him a hand in the dark and the knowledge Jasper wouldn't be alone.
"Okay," he said. "Let's do this thing."
Some hours later Jasper was, as always, exhausted. It had been so long since he had relaxed at all. The last time he'd felt any sense of peace and relief was…
Since the family had taken up residence in the living room by then, Jasper retreated to the stairs. He dug in his pocket for the stress ball his father had given him and hung his head between his knees as he squeezed. Though he was endlessly grateful his family-even Rosalie and Edward with their cold silences-was trying to get used to him again, it hadn't made this day easy.
After a few minutes the craving faded and Jasper became aware of activity on the second story of the house. Of course. Bella and Edward had disappeared some time after they'd eaten. Jasper assumed it had to do with him, but as the low conversation became clearer, he wasn't so sure.
"We should go downstairs," Bella said. "We've been gone too long."
"You still look woozy."
Bella sighed. "I'm really dizzy."
"Lay down. Just rest. I'll go downstairs. And don't worry. Dad will understand." There was a soft smacking sound that made Jasper think Edward had kissed Bella.
That should have been Jasper's cue to get up and get out of there, but he was struck by worry. Obviously Bella was unwell. His whole life since he'd gotten home was waiting for the next foot to fall. Jasper was well acquainted with the idea of Murphy's Law. It would be his grand sense of timing to throw his family into upheaval at the worst possible time for Bella. God, what if-
Edward's presence at the top of the stairs drew Jasper's attention. He got to his feet. "I didn't mean," he started, but quickly cut himself off. If Edward wanted to believe Jasper was spying on them, nothing was going to convince him otherwise. "Is Bella sick? Is she going to be okay?" he asked instead.
His brother stared at him with a hard expression. "She's fine," he said, his tone clipped. He paused a moment, but then raised his head as if in challenge. "She's pregnant."
Jasper sat down hard on the step. "Oh," was all he could manage, disoriented as he was. He was so used to bad news, he wasn't sure how to process that information. It didn't help that an old guilt flared. He couldn't help remembering his then-twenty-year-old girlfriend saying those words to him, her voice trembling with tears and fear.
He gave his head a hard shake, trying to orient himself in place and time. Edward's hard expression was narrowing into a glare, and Jasper saw the statement for what it was. It was a test. Edward was looking for a fight. Or not looking, but expecting, perhaps. In his own way, Edward was waiting for the other shoe to fall too, Jasper realized. He was still waiting for his elder brother to remind him, no matter what the situation was now, Bella and Kaylee had both been Jasper's first.
"That's… That's great. That's fantastic," Jasper said quickly. "Wow. Congratulations."
Edward's shoulders relaxed though he still looked gruff and skeptical. "Thank you."
"No one," Edward said, and Jasper was shocked. "Well. I'm sure Mom and Dad suspect after today."
Jasper nodded, still on edge, surprised for so many reasons that this conversation was happening. "Yeah. Dad being a doctor and all."
They both didn't move for an awkward beat or two. Jasper was ridiculously nervous, his heart pounding and his mouth dry. He swallowed several times, both afraid to break this temporary peace and afraid to stay because it wouldn't last. It couldn't.
Edward huffed out a breath and continued down the stairs without another word. Jasper took a moment to steady himself and followed his brother.
They stood on opposite sides of the room as Carlisle let his grandchildren help him open his presents. Again, Jasper made sure to appreciate, as difficult as this day was, the gifts it brought him.
When Henry couldn't loosen one of his grandfather's presents from its plastic cage, it was Jasper he turned to. "Help me out, Uncle J," he said. The boy's easy acceptance and trust was a cool salve on Jasper's aching heart.
Esme pulled Jasper down to sit beside her, and when he opened the present from him, Carlisle's smile lingered. They were glad he was there with them to celebrate.
And of course, Kaylee. Jasper was never going to get tired of watching her. He wouldn't give it up, not even for the bitter regret that threatened to choke him at times.
After presents, Jasper excused himself, needing to get ready for work. He was almost dressed when he felt rather than heard a presence fill the doorway. Somehow he just knew it was his little brother, and he tensed, not looking up.
"You know, Dad didn't even want to celebrate after you left, that year I mean," Edward said after a moment. "We didn't celebrate."
Jasper concentrated on the buttons of his vest. His hands trembled. "I, um… I know you don't want to hear I'm sorry again, but I don't know what else to say."
"I guess it was hard to think about celebrating when you thought your son might be dead." Edward's tone was still even, as though he were merely musing.
Jasper didn't say anything, and he didn't look up. A sick feeling pooled in his stomach. He would never get used to how low he felt knowing how much pain he'd brought on his family.
Here it comes. Jasper turned slowly to face Edward, resigned to hearing for the millionth time what a horrible person he was. "What?"
Edward didn't answer right away. He was staring down, his hands clenching and unclenching. He breathed in, his shoulders rising and falling once, twice, before he he finally looked up. "I'm glad you didn't die."
Jasper blinked, positive at first he'd heard wrong. He froze, taken so by surprise he couldn't find words to respond. By the time he'd untied his tongue, Edward had already walked away.
A/N: Many thanks to Barburella and songster and I hope jfka06 forgives me for posting without her. You know me and patience.
We're back in Edward's head in the present time next chapter. I know a lot of you have been waiting. How we doing out there, kids?