A/N: Ya know. At some point I suddenly realized that I was supposed to pair Laurent with IRINA, not Kate.. wtf, brain fart. Oh well.
Edward woke on Saturday morning well before dawn. He had a lot on his mind, so he'd been sleeping even less than usual lately. Beside him, Bella sighed and rolled over in her sleep. In her sixth month of pregnancy, she was beginning to get restless at night. He wrapped an arm around her and rubbed her back-a trick he'd recently learned helped soothe her into a deeper sleep.
When he was sure she wouldn't wake, Edward brushed his fingertips along her side and then over the bulge of her belly. When touch wasn't enough, he had to pull the bedspread back to look on her.
Though he had an increasingly difficult time convincing her, Edward thought pregnancy suited Bella. The curves of her body were fuller. The roundness of her pregnancy was at that adorable stage, almost perfectly round and still somewhat proportionate to her slight frame. He'd always thought pregnant was a good look on her.
A slight frown tugged at Edward's lips.
Part of Edward had never believed Jasper deserved Bella. That part of him, always a whisper in his ear, became a full-fledged shout when she was pregnant with Kaylee. That was when he realized without a doubt he was hopelessly, endlessly in love with Bella. He'd admired, as always, from afar, as she began to glow. It was painful not to touch her, not to draw her into the protection of his arms.
He did feel she needed protection from his brother especially. He'd watched, fully expecting Jasper to fail. But he didn't. Not at first. He was everything Edward would have been. He'd been attentive and tender. He'd catered to Bella's cravings and whims. He'd massaged her back and feet when she got achy. He'd reassured her when her emotions got the better of her. And yes, then it had been him speaking to their baby through Bella's skin. He'd done it without shame too, no matter where they were. He'd dropped to his knees and rested his head against her belly in front of the whole family more times than Edward could count.
Back then, Edward had a few stolen moments. When they were alone she would take his hand, and her grip would linger just a few beats longer than necessary before she pressed his palm to her belly so he could feel the baby move. They were such full moments, with her so close. Her eyes were alight with happiness and excitement, her smile shy but wide. And for those few stolen moments, it was all he could do not to kiss her.
Edward sighed, letting the memory slip away as he breathed in Bella's scent. He never worried he would love this baby more because he could share this pregnancy with her. Kaylee was his. Heart and soul, she was his little girl. He'd loved her as his own every day of her life, and he would love her until the day he died. She was his daughter and the baby Bella carried was his son. Those were facts that nothing, not even blood, could change.
Recently Edward had come to the realization he'd always expected to be challenged. He loved Bella, not as a spoil of a private war he'd waged with his brother, but because she was part of him. They'd fallen in love without meaning to, and they were partners. But he loved his brother too.
As it sunk in that Jasper wasn't a threat, Edward found he wanted it all. He had a wife, a beautiful daughter, and soon he would have a healthy son. He had the world at his feet. He should want for nothing.
But if he was being honest with himself, he wanted just one thing more. He wanted his brother back.
It wasn't as easy a wish as it sounded. Like a child, he was angry he couldn't ever have what he'd lost. His big brother had disappointed him, and Edward wouldn't ever look at him the same way he had when he was a trusting little boy. Edward didn't know if he wanted the brother that was lost to him or the man Jasper had become. The wary man whose shoulders hunched, who didn't seem strong enough to be Edward's hero anymore.
Sometimes, though, Edward thought he caught a glimpse of Jasper's former self. He saw him begin to joke or a bit of his natural charm would slip out. Those moments were frustrating because they were fleeting, because Jasper almost instantly fell back into the nervous, sad person he'd become.
"Daddy?" A whisper from the door drew his attention, and Edward looked up to see Kaylee hovering, fist balled as she rubbed her eyes.
Edward disentangled himself from Bella carefully before he sat up, opening his arms for Kaylee. She padded over and settled easily with her head on his shoulder. He rubbed her back as they headed out of the room and down the stairs.
Rather than go to the living room to watch the news as was their custom, Edward grabbed a shoebox he'd taken from its hiding place several days before. He settled down at the kitchen table, rearranging Kaylee so she could doze and he still had one hand left to shuffle through the box's contents.
He'd unearthed the box when he came home after he'd received Jasper's panicked call. That night had jarred him, and even three days later, he still hadn't organized his thoughts. He'd never seen the reality of Jasper's disease, the power it held over him. Jasper hadn't ever done drugs in front of him, save for weed, but even Edward had done a little of that. So while he knew his brother was an addict, he'd never seen it with his own eyes.
It was both not as bad and a million times worse than anything he'd ever imagined. When Jasper called him, he'd been picturing seedy alleys, ramshackle houses, and creeps lurking in every corner. The neighborhood bordering the shopping mall Jasper had directed him to was high class. Even in his modest Volvo, Edward had felt out of place and self-conscious driving into the parking lot.
What had been a million times worse than anything Edward pictured was the state Jasper was in as he got into his car. It was more than knowing his brother had changed; the person who'd gotten into that car was a complete stranger. His voice was a high-pitched, panicky staccato. His eyes were so wide they threw his face grotesquely out of proportion. He shook, but it wasn't a tremble; it was a jerky movement, as though his joints were on strings held by a five-year-old child as a puppeteer. It had been frightening to see.
Edward took the top off the box and took out the stack of pictures hidden there. He'd seen them all before; he had a vague understanding of what each one meant, but he hadn't ever let it sink in. He hadn't let himself consider the story they told of Jasper's mindset. One by one, he began to spread them all out on the tabletop.
Each of the photos was meant for someone. Their mother, Carlisle, Bella, Emmett, Edward. There were even a couple meant for Rosalie. But by far the most heartbreaking were the ones meant for Jasper's baby; Not Edward's Kaylee, but the baby Jasper had carried in his heart, whom he had cherished and mourned for three years.
"Daddy, what are these?" Kaylee's words were slurred with sleep, her head still settled on the crook of his neck, but she reached a hand out to touch one of the photos.
Edward pressed a kiss to her hair, caught in the emotion of one of the photographs meant for Jasper's lost daughter. It was a picture of an angel statue collapsed over the grave of an infant. The anguish in the photo was palpable, and just imagining losing Kaylee had Edward struck dumb with grief. He swallowed hard, taking calming breaths before he spoke to his daughter. "Your uncle Jasper took them."
She touched a few photos at random, turning them this way and that. "Oooh," she said, touching a picture of an abandoned amusement park. "That's funny. Lookit the clowns." She pointed to the crumbling walls decorated by deteriorated pictures of clowns.
Edward had to laugh. He'd just been wondering about that very photo. Was it, like the rest of them, meant to be an analogy? Once upon a time, that park had been rife with laughter, happiness, but it was all destroyed now-a warped shell of what it had once been.
But Kaylee? She only saw the clowns.
"I like this one," Kaylee said, slapping her hand on photo. This was another snapshot Edward thought was meant for him. It was a picture of two street musicians, one at the keyboard, the other at the guitar. Though they were playing for a small crowd of people, they were angled toward other, each of them grinning with a smile of one lost in the music.
Kaylee craned her head to peer up at him with raised eyebrows.
"You know it's Uncle Jasper's birthday tomorrow?"
"You want to help me pick something out for him?"
She bounced eagerly on his lap. "Oh, yes. I know, I know. We can get him Star Wars legos."
"Why Star Wars legos? Does he like them?"
Kaylee shrugged. "I like them, and then he can come over and play."
Edward sighed, but he cuddled her closer. "Yeah, I bet he'd like that a lot."
Late the next morning Edward's little family gathered in the living room to recoup from their big breakfast of blueberry pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Edward and Bella sat on the couch, her back to him so he could rub her shoulders. Kaylee was sprawled on the floor, watching the movie they'd put on.
Edward was just becoming distracted by Bella's hands-she was tracing idle patterns against his leg that kept moving upwards-when Kaylee pushed past her lethargy. She got to her knees and turned to face them. Bella's hand relocated to more innocent pastimes.
"Can I play with my guitar?" Kaylee asked.
"Not the real one. The toy one."
She pouted. "No, the real one."
"What did I tell you?" he asked sternly.
Kaylee scowled but recited dutifully. "It's not a toy an' I can't use it until I has a teacher."
"Good girl. You can play with the toy one if you want, but not the real one. Not yet. Soon, though, okay?"
"Okay," Kaylee said, sullen. Despite her supposedly dour mood, she dashed off.
Bella clucked. "You just couldn't help yourself, could you?"
He snorted. "In a music store? No, I couldn't help myself."
"You're really going to find her a teacher? She's three, Edward."
"She's almost four, and there's no reason not to." He twirled a strand of her hair around his finger. "Jasper started teaching me to play the piano when I was three."
Bella hummed, falling silent as Kaylee ran back into the room with the toy guitar. She sat down crosslegged and began plucking at it, trying to find a simple tune the way she could with a piano. Her brow furrowed, and she stuck out her tongue in concentration.
Edward chuckled and nuzzled the side of Bella's head. "You know, I took her around the entire store. I think we saw every instrument. She almost went for the sax."
"Oooh. Wouldn't that have been cool."
"Yeah. But then she chose the guitar."
They were both quiet, and the way Bella squeezed his knee, Edward knew she understood. Kaylee took after Jasper in more ways than her smile.
"I'm proud of you, you know," she said after a few moments.
"Because what you're doing isn't easy." She reached back, running her fingers along his cheek and back into his hair. "If this were our story, mine and Jasper's, and he came back wanting a relationship with me again, everyone would be screaming at me not to be so stupid. To a certain point, I have that luxury, to choose. I don't think it's weak to take someone back. It's not always the right thing, but it takes an incredible amount of strength to do the right way."
"What's the right way?"
"Understanding that you have to give too in order to make the relationship work."
Edward huffed. "I haven't taken him back."
She didn't answer. She craned her head back and kissed the underside of his chin.
Kaylee loved birthdays even when they weren't her own. She kept up a constant stream of chatter as they drove to Carlisle and Esme's house, wondering if Jasper would like the Legos she'd picked out for him and also wondering if there would be balloons.
"You and Daddy are silly because you didn't have balloons when it was your birthday," she told her mother. "I hope Grandma bought lotsa balloons for Uncle Jay."
Edward drove in silence, remembering Jasper's last three birthdays. Just like now, he'd brought his family over to his parents' house but not for celebration. Jasper's birthday had to be the worst. Holidays in general were difficult. His presence was there in their memories of past holidays. It was difficult to accept the idea he was a part of their history, that he wasn't in some other corner of the house, out of sight but not gone.
His birthdays, though, were days of mourning. How could they not be? That date was marked on every calendar, every year for his family. It would belong to him as long as they all lived. Without the closure his death would have brought them, they couldn't celebrate his life. On those days, it was impossible to put him out of their mind long enough to find any kind of peace. Edward had spent Jasper's last three birthdays angry at all the pain his brother had put their family through. Anger was easier than worry and loss, after all.
Those memories were like bruises that day. They made their presence known; everyone could see them, but they weren't crippling. Edward was somewhat surprised to find he was excited. Despite a lingering thread of resentment for the bad days Jasper had forced on them, he was happy Jasper was home, healthy, and safe. And he would always be glad his brother had been born.
When they pulled up, everyone was out on the front lawn, Rosalie and Emmett having pulled up only a few minutes before Edward and Bella. They were still in the midst of greeting hugs.
Kaylee had herself unbuckled from her carseat almost before they stopped moving. When Edward opened her door, she was off like a shot, chanting, "Happy birthday" before she launched herself into Jasper's waiting arms. He collected his birthday hug before he set her down again. Kaylee stood at his feet, still chattering merrily.
"I think you'll like what I got you, Uncle Jay."
He bent at the knees and mussed her hair. "It's pretty easy to make me happy, sweetheart."
"I picked out what I got you all by myself. It's-"
"Kaylee." Edward sighed, exasperated.
Kaylee clapped a hand over her mouth and looked between her father and uncle with a sheepish expression. "Whoops. It's a secret. I'm sorry."
Edward gave her a gentle push. "Go say hello to your cousins."
When Kaylee had scampered off, Edward looked to his brother. Jasper's manner had turned guarded again, and he ducked his head as though he couldn't quite hold Edward's gaze. They hadn't had time to see each other since the night Jasper had called him for a rescue.
Edward reached out, wanting to pull Jasper into the back-slapping hug he'd seen Emmett give him. There was so much he wanted to say but now wasn't the time, and anyway, his words were too tangled in his head. Instead, he clapped Jasper's shoulder and offered him an awkward smile. "Happy birthday," he said.
Jasper smiled back, a hopeful smile, Edward thought. "Thanks."
Because Jasper had to work a half day, Carlisle had gone to get Alice at the airport, so they were the last to arrive. It was a sedate party, not unlike their usual get togethers. They talked and played and migrated to the TV in different clusters.
At some point, Edward came across Rosalie and Jasper alone in the hallway. He overheard her ask after Laurent who had originally been on the guest list. At the flash of darkness that had crossed Jasper's face, Edward wanted to yell at his sister-in-law, but Jasper's voice was steady when he answered. "He's been uninvited."
"From your life?"
Jasper looked down and shuffled his feet. "I don't know, Rosalie."
"You-" Rosalie began, but Edward stepped out into the open then.
"Rose. Not today."
She glared. "But he-"
"I know." Edward knew exactly what Rosalie wanted to say. The same protest had jumped to his mind when Jasper didn't immediately renounce the man who'd knowingly led him into the lion's den. "Not today," he repeated. "He walked away. That's what counts today. Give him a break."
Rosalie grimaced but she gave a short nod. "Happy birthday," she said brusquely before she turned on her heel and walked off.
Jasper closed his eyes as he breathed in and out slowly. "Thanks," he said when he opened them again.
"Birthday rules." The brothers shared a smile. Their parents always exempted them from just about everything on their birthdays. No chores. No school. Once, on Edward's birthday, they'd discovered a misdeed he'd committed some days before. He got no grief. At least not that day.
"Birthday rules." Jasper rubbed a hand over his eyes. "You know this-" He gestured to the scars on his face. "-happened on my birthday?"
Edward's stomach twisted. It had only been this last week that he let himself really picture how Jasper must have gotten those scars. He cleared his throat and reached out to brush his brother's arm with his hand in a brief touch. "I…" Again, words failed him. He huffed and stumbled over a subject change. "I, um… I have something I wanted to give to you privately."
Jasper looked up in surprise. "You mean besides the guitar in the living room? Edward, that's already too much. I can't believe you got me a guitar."
"Yeah, well. You without a guitar just seems wrong. Just don't sell this one off." He winced. He was honestly trying not to be bitchy. He'd meant it as a joke, but it was a piss poor one.
Still, Jasper seemed to catch the different sentiment. "I won't. Really. It's been a long time since I've played."
They were both standing in the hallway, arms crossed defensively, but Edward couldn't deny he was pleased that Jasper was happy with his gift. "Anyway, it's not a gift. It's… I don't know." He jerked his head to the spare room, the room that had once been his. "It's in there."
They both went in, and Edward unceremoniously shoved the shoebox he'd brought inside at Jasper. His brother looked confused, but when he opened the box and saw all the snapshots he'd sent to Bella over the course of three years, the color drained from his face. Edward shook his head, feeling stupid. "No. Look, I'm not trying to start anything. I've just been looking at these lately. And I think you were trying to tell us something. That was the thing with your photos. There was always something behind it."
Jasper clutched the shoebox closer and looked up at him, his expression still stricken but also confused. "I don't understand."
"I think that's what I'm trying to say. I don't understand." Edward picked up a handful of the photos, shuffling them nervously. "What I think I get is that you cared about us. You didn't stop thinking about us when you were gone."
"I thought of all of you. I missed you, every single day."
"See, I think there's a gap. When I look at these, I see that you cared. And I've told you; I understand addiction on a clinical level. I understand it as a disease. I understand the black and white of it. But I can't make those two thoughts come together. If you loved us and you missed us, why couldn't you come home?"
Edward grunted, frustrated with himself. "This all sounds so stupid to say out loud, but I was thinking… I was thinking you could make a book."
Jasper tilted his head. "A what?"
"These are amazing photos. I thought, if I could understand where you were when you took them, what you were thinking about, what it was actually like for you, maybe I could understand you. I want to understand. If you wrote a little about it, it might fill the blank."
Jasper stared, and Edward put down the photos as he started to ramble. "And who knows, right? You could sell something like that, I think. If you wanted. If you can help me understand, you could help other people and make a little money on top of it." He rubbed the back of his neck and shrugged. "Or whatever."
"Edward." The way Jasper said the word was a whole conversation. The depth of emotion in his shining eyes went straight through Edward like a jolt, making a lump raise in his throat.
His brother wanted to hug him. The moment was heavy with it.
Edward reached out and pulled Jasper to him. He hugged him tightly, and Jasper hugged back just as tight. It was no quick thing. The brothers clung to each other, and Edward felt a lightness in his chest. He gasped with the strength of it. "Once," he said, his voice ragged as he clutched the back of Jasper's shirt. "I will never forgive you if you do anything like this again."
Jasper squeezed him once more and then stepped back. They both wiped at their eyes. After a second, Jasper stuck out a hand. "Okay," he said.
Edward took his hand and they shook. "Okay."
A/N: Many thanks to barburella and jessypt.
We're almost done, folks!