A/N: How's your weekend, my friends? I saw A Million Ways to Die In the West. It was horribad. Anyway. Onward.
In Seattle, the ground beneath the grass never truly dried, not down at the roots. Edward didn't care. He didn't care that his back was ice cold and both his shirt and jacket were soaked through. His baby girl's giggle was too precious to give up just yet.
"Again, Daddy," Kaylee said, gasping around paroxysms of laughter. She was sitting on his stomach now, her hands smacking his chest in excitement.
"Again?" He pretended to be confused. "Are you sure? You're a girl not a bird."
"Again. Fly me, Daddy. Please." She bounced in place.
He sighed and lifted her up onto his bent knees on her belly so her small body was supported by his outstretched lower legs. He held her hands as long as he could, but as he extended his legs upright, Kaylee let go so she could spread her arms out as though she was flying. She giggled merrily, and Edward marvelled at how the sound of her happiness could make him so happy. Still, he kept a close watch on her, his hands up in case his clumsy baby toppled.
Kaylee kept her eyes on him for a few moments before she lifted her head. Her expression changed from glee to excitement and she waved in that overly-emphatic way small children had perfected. "Unca Jay, Unca Jay. Look. I can fly!'
Startled, Edward dropped Kaylee onto his belly. She squealed, and he tucked her under him as he rolled over, bracing himself on his arms so he didn't squish her. Sure enough, Jasper was there with a look of mild panic on his face, his body half turned as though he'd been caught in the act of walking away.
Jasper turned back slowly, and it seemed to take some effort for him to stand up straight as he met Edward's gaze. He seemed conflicted, but then, he often did.
Still giggling, Kaylee wiggled out from under Edward and ran at Jasper. As his eyes flitted to her, his expression brightened. She barrelled into his legs for a quick hug and then lifted her arms in the classic "up" gesture.
Jasper hesitated, and Edward's throat tightened as he got to his feet. When Jasper looked at him, he took a deliberate step backward, working to ease his tense posture. Correctly interpreting his body language as permission, Jasper leaned down to lift Kaylee up into his arms. Whatever trepidation had painted his face before vanished in an instant. Kaylee had wrapped her arms around his neck. Her grin hadn't faded, and when Jasper smiled back at her, they looked so much alike Edward's stomach clenched. Rage sparked, and he balled his hands into fists at his sides, but he didn't move.
When he was more in control of his temper, Edward took a step forward. As though he sensed his time was up, Jasper gave Kaylee one last squeeze and set her back on her feet. She was still chattering away, telling Jasper about how she'd been pretending to be a superhero. She continued nattering even after Edward had scooped her up.
"Hey," she protested when he turned around, away from Jasper. "Daddy, I was talking."
"I know that, sugar, but I have to talk to Jasper now. It's important."
Her expression was dubious and displeased, but she didn't argue when he opened the front door and set her down. "Go play with Mommy," he said.
Her eyes flitted to Jasper and back to Edward with suspicion, and Edward wondered just how much tension she was picking up on. He made an effort to smile at her. "Go on."
She finally obeyed, running into the house, and Edward closed the door. He took a deep breath before he turned back to his brother. "What are you doing here?" His brother went everywhere by bus or rides from their parents. Him being here was no accident or whim.
Jasper's posture was unmistakably defensive, his shoulders set like he was preparing for a fight. He sighed. "I came to see Bella."
Edward processed this. "I'm supposed to be at school. You knew that. My class was cancelled."
Jasper ducked his head, the set of his shoulders slumping slightly. "Yeah. I knew."
When he didn't go on, Edward's fists tightened. "You came to see my wife when you knew I wouldn't be home."
"There are things I have to say to her. Privately." He tilted his head, giving Edward a look. "You know damn well she's going to tell you whatever I say, and that's fine. But this is for her, not for you."
Edward glared. He didn't like the idea. No part of him liked it, but he saw Kaylee's worried face peering at him from the living room window. He took another breath and reconsidered. He remembered early on, after Jasper came back. Don't you think that maybe you could at least get past the fact your wife was my girlfriend? Give me that one small thing?
The constant fury that had been a part of Edward since Bella had received the postcard saying Jasper was coming home had ebbed somewhat in the recent weeks. In its place was a grudging acknowledgement that Jasper understood beyond a shadow of a doubt every pain he'd put his family through, and he was working his ass off to earn a modicum of their trust again. The least he'd earned was the benefit of the doubt. After all, in these last three months, he hadn't once shown attraction or interest toward Bella; it would be foolish to think he'd come to seduce her. The truth was, in this case, much more obvious and likely.
He grunted, displeased with the idea he had to allow this to happen. But then, that was part of growing up: doing things because they were the right thing to do regardless of whether or not it was something he wanted. "I don't like that you tried to come behind my back," he said, his voice rough. "Don't do that shit again."
Edward nodded and then he jerked his head toward the house as he started toward the door.
Bella and Kaylee were in the living room, both of them looking wary. Edward faced his wife but spoke to his daughter. "Kaylee, go get your jacket for me. We're going out for ice cream."
She let out a gasp of pleasure, wariness forgotten in an instant, and ran off. Edward hadn't dropped Bella's gaze. "Jasper wants to talk to you," he said. "Alone."
Bella searched him before she looked over his shoulder to where Jasper most likely stood. She nodded. "Okay."
Kaylee had run back into the room, already struggling to get her jacket on. Edward stepped quickly to Bella's side and kissed her. It was a chaste kiss, but he lingered, a not so subtle message just in case his brother needed it. He squeezed Bella's hand before he picked Kaylee up. "Just you and me today, sugar. Let's go."
When Edward and Kaylee got back, Jasper was gone. Then there was dinner to think about and Kaylee to put in bed. Finally, when they were cuddled together in bed, Bella told him what had happened after he left.
Bella shifted her weight from foot to foot watching as Edward's car backed down the driveway and out of sight. She knew Jasper was behind her, and she hated the sensation that creeped along her skin, as though she was afraid to be alone with him. It wasn't that she feared him or that she felt unsafe in any way. For months, she'd known this conversation was coming. There had been times, many times, when she'd wanted to initiate it herself, but she'd always chickened out.
They had things to say to each other, and that elephant had been in the room since he came back.
Jasper sighed and Bella took a deep breath before she turned back to him. The atmosphere was oppressive as they stared at each other. Jasper opened his mouth, closed it again. Bella crossed her arms over her chest and finally nodded to the couch. "Sit down."
He took the loveseat and she the middle of the couch. She wanted to draw her legs up tight against her chest but settled for gripping her knees instead. He cleared his throat. "How's the… You had such terrible morning sickness last time. How's the-"
"Okay, can we…" Bella had to catch her breath. She knew he wasn't trying to hurt her, but remembering her first pregnancy stung. "Can we cut to the chase?"
He ducked his head and rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh, yeah. I've just been thinking. Um. Your birthday is in a couple of weeks. I know Mom's planning something." He looked up, his eyes tight at the corners. "Sorry. It might have been a surprise."
Despite her discomfort, Bella's cheek twitched. "This is Esme we're talking about. Maybe it was supposed to be a surprise, but it's not an unexpected one."
His lip quirked up at one corner. "Right." He rested his elbows on his knees, as though there was a huge weight on his back weighing him down and he just couldn't sit upright anymore. "Look, bottom line, I don't want to make you uncomfortable. It's your birthday, and you should be happy. If you don't want me there, that's fine. Just say the word, and I'll find somewhere else to be that day."
Bella looked down at her hands. "No, that's silly. You're part of the family."
"Are you saying that because you want me there or because you think it would hurt my parents if you asked me to leave? Because I wouldn't tell them, you know. I would just say I had something to do."
"And have your parents worried all day, wondering what you're up to?" She winced. "I'm sorry. That wasn't fair."
"Maybe not, but it's true." He rubbed his hands together, considering his words. "Bella… I need to say a few things to you, and I don't know if they're fair to say, but I think you deserve to hear them."
Her heartbeat picked up in double time, and she clenched her hand against her knee. "Okay."
He shifted on the couch. "I think…" He huffed and then laughed. "Dammit. I've rehearsed this whole speech a thousand times, and I still can't get it right." He scooted to the edge of his seat. "I guess the most important thing, to me, is that I want you to know I never lied to you." Again, he huffed, and rolled his eyes slightly. "I mean, I lied about the drugs. And getting help. Obviously, I lied to you about that, but what I'm trying to say is everything we were," he gestured between them, "was honest. You were… you are important to me." He bowed his head. "And I meant it when I said I loved you. I always meant it."
Bella pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth so she wouldn't speak without thinking. There were a million things she wanted to say to that. Over the last three years, she'd often thought of what she would say if Jasper came back. There was a part of her that wanted to scream at him that if you loved someone, you didn't hurt them the way he had hurt her. If he'd loved her, he couldn't have left her alone, crippled both physically and by her desperate worry for her baby, their baby. But she was an adult, and it was a fairytale to think love was magical. Loving someone didn't mean you weren't capable of hurting them. The fact he loved her existed separately from his act of cowardice; it existed in spite of that.
In the wake of abandonment, she had questioned so much about herself and about them as a couple. Despite the fact she was happy with Edward, and so much in love-a different, deeper love than she had ever shared with Jasper-as she let Jasper's words sink in as truth, a part of her healed. That small part of her that still wondered why she hadn't been enough for him was soothed. She closed her eyes and breathed in deep, feeling the lightness where the weight of that particular injury lifted.
She looked up at him with a soft, sad smile. "I meant it too."
They were never meant to be together forever, but Bella had gotten into the relationship for the right reasons even if she had stayed for the wrong ones. It wasn't as though she had pursued the first addict she found. She'd wanted to save Jasper because he was worth saving. He was kind, compassionate, funny. There was a depth to him that, in her experience, many people lacked. He saw her. In a world where few people took the time to really understand anyone but themselves, and even then only shallowly, he saw more of her than she ever realized she let show.
Growing up with an alcoholic father had left its mark, and when she was eighteen, she'd struggled with her self worth. The first time she'd kissed Jasper was when he'd leaned close to her ear and whispered, "You are worth it."
Bella stood and went to sit next to him on the loveseat. Startled, he shifted in his seat, watching her. She swallowed several times, testing out the words in her head to make sure they were true. Surprisingly, they were. She looked him in the eyes. "I forgive you."
His breath caught and he blinked at her. "I… What?"
"I forgive you. I think I've wanted to for a while now, and I just realized, I do." It was a healing thought, one that quickly overtook the remnants of the anger that had lingered in her all these years. The memory of the anguish she'd felt when it first happened still ached, perhaps it always would, but the anger was gone.
Jasper's eyes shone, and he looked down, still blinking. "I, um… Why?" he asked, sounding breathless. "Why would you do that? How could you do that?"
Bella considered this another moment before she reached out and took his hand. He jumped when she touched him, but he didn't withdraw. She squeezed. "For a lot of reasons, but I think the biggest one is because you love Kaylee."
There were definite tears in his eyes as he looked up, and he let out a shaky laugh. "Doesn't that make things harder on you? Wouldn't it be easier if I didn't? If I wasn't a threat because I do? I really do."
"But that's the thing, Jasper. You aren't a threat because you love her." She let her hand slip from his and looked away as she spoke. "She's such a sweetheart right now, so full of love, but Edward and I… we're realistic people. One day she's going to break our hearts. It's a natural thing, you know? In my sociology class, my teacher called it the point where a kid breaks up with her parents. It happens, in some way, to all of us.
"I've thought about it a lot. There will come that point when, like most teenagers, she'll curse the fact Edward and I are her parents. And most teenagers, you know, there won't be another option. They have the parents they have, and they're stuck, better or worse. But Kaylee… Kaylee will know she has you, and maybe she'll run to you because she'll think, in that moment, that maybe everything that's wrong in her life would be right if only you had been her daddy instead of Edward."
Jasper shook his head. "She's going to hate me," he whispered. "When she knows… She'll hate me."
"Maybe. Probably not. But the point is, Jasper, is that she might run to you some day. She might break our hearts. The reason I forgive you is because I do trust you enough not to break hers. Me? I've made mistakes of my own; I made mistakes when we were together. I didn't like you much, but I didn't hate you when you left either. The only thing that could have made me hate you was if you broke Kaylee's heart. If she ever runs to you, she'll know she's loved, which is more than a lot of kids get from their biological parents. And because you love her, when she realize we-Edward and I-are still her parents, you'll let her go.
Jasper pressed his lips together, still staring down at the ground. He took a shaky breath and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling as he wiped away the tear that had escaped. He looked back down at his hands, making small noises as though he was trying to talk but he couldn't.
Impulsively, Bella put her arms around him and drew him into a hug. He shuddered against her, but then he gripped her tight. "I'm sorry," he said near her ear. "I'm sorry I hurt you. I'm sorry for so much. You shouldn't forgive me."
"Too bad. I do." She pulled back and gave him the same words he'd given her when she was an insecure teenager. "You are worth it."
Edward twirled a lock of Bella's hair around and around as he considered what she'd just told him. When he was quiet for too long, she raised her head to look at him. "Does it bother you that I forgave him? I didn't know I was going to until I did it."
Edward considered this for a long moment as he traced the bridge of her nose with the tip of his finger. "No, I don't think it bothers me. He's a part of you because he's a part of your history." He took a sharp breath. "And he's a part of Kaylee. I can't change that. I've always thought it was sad when ex's can't stand the sight of each other, so I'm glad you can find peace with that. It's so chaotic when you have to see someone you hate all the time."
She brushed her fingers down his cheek. "Speaking from experience?"
"I wish I could stop. I don't know if it's hate. It feels like it sometimes." He sighed and twined their fingers together. She lay back down on his chest and he nuzzled the top of her head with his chin. "He's my brother. Hating him takes a lot of energy, and it doesn't make me feel good.
"Sometimes I wish things were more black and white. If he had always been an asshole this would be a no-brainer. If he'd done nothing but hurt me, us, all of us, then I could really hate him. Like it would be easier if it was… I don't know. Purer?
"But he wasn't an asshole a hundred percent of the time. Most of the time, he was a good big brother. Most of my memories of him are good. And that's what makes me so damn pissed off. Like he… killed my big brother when he ran off. He took that guy away along with the guy who was undependable and erratic. And now, I think I can see that guy again… the good one. It all makes me so much madder because it's scary. I can't have the good guy, I can't have my big brother without seeing the asshole he was when he was using. I want to believe he's going to be the good guy again, but…"
"But it's hard to trust again."
He exhaled in a gust. "Yeah." He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I want impossible things. I want my big brother back. I want to erase everything he did." He stroked her hair back so he could kiss along her hairline. "I want to go back in time so I could be the one who met you first, so it was always us, just us. So he wasn't a part of you. So there wasn't this small part of me that knows I loved my big brother, and I still fell in love with you a long time before I should have. I want a reset so I can untangle all of this mess. So it's easy. So it's-"
He chuckled, the tension draining from him. "Ah, Bella. Fairytales were fucked up before Disney got a hold of them."
Pulling back, he shifted so he could tangle their legs together and take her face in her hands. He stared at her and smiled, so glad she was his. He loved her so much, and he told her so. "You know, part of it is that I resent feeling guilty. I want to say I wish none of this had ever happened to Jasper, to wish he'd never done drugs, never been so badly hurt that drugs were an escape. I want to say I wish he'd never gotten addicted and never messed up the way he did. I wish those things, but then, selfishly, I'm glad. Because all of that was why I met you. All of that was why I have Kaylee. And if I did have a reset button… God help me, I would let it all happen again if it meant I ended up here, with you in my arms, and Kaylee happy and asleep down the hall." He moved his hand under the blanket and pressed his palm to her belly. "And this. I'm happy, Bella. I'm so happy."
She wound her arms tight around him and kissed him soundly. "The reset button doesn't exist, Edward. Life is what it is. You are who you are, and Jasper is who he is."
He huffed. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change?"
She kissed the tip of his nose. "And the courage to change the things you can."
A/N: Well! As you can see, Bella and Edward started whispering to me, thus solving my problem about it being Edward's chapter. Alice just hasn't had time to book her plane ticket, that's all!
Ahem. Anyway. Mega thanks to barburella and jessypt. Why is the weekend already over? Ugh. I have finals this week too…