A/N: Hello, kids. We come to the end of our tale.
It was a sunny Saturday, and Jasper was with his family.
In retrospect, he couldn't pinpoint an exact time things had changed. When had his mother and father stopped asking him incessant, supposedly innocent questions about what he'd done all week, who he'd been with? When had Rosalie forgotten to give him the cold shoulder and joined in conversation with the rest of them? When had it become second nature to smile and joke again?
He taught his one-and-a-half-year-old nephew how to tumble. He let Henry, Vera, and Kaylee take turns being spun around by the arms. Henry was getting big enough that Jasper got worn out. When he flopped down on the ground, Alice brought him a cold drink. She put her arm around his waist and pressed a kiss to his neck.
Life was good.
It was Kate who called him that sunny Saturday. He didn't recognize the number, but he had a few agents interested in his book, so he answered it anyway. "Hello?"
"It's over," she said. Her voice was toneless.
"Laurent. He overdosed last night. He died about an hour ago."
Jasper was glad he was already sitting down, because her announcement would have knocked the legs out from under him. As it was, his stomach roiled and his head spun as though the world had begun to tumble end over end. He drew his legs up to his chest. "I… I'm sorry."
"I am, too. Anyway. He talked about you a lot. I thought you should know."
"I'll… Will you let me know when the funeral is?"
She scoffed. "Won't be much of one. I don't want his so-called friends there."
"Yeah. Yeah, I don't blame you."
"I'll call you when I have details," she said, and then she hung up.
Jasper stared forward, not really seeing anything. He felt Alice's hand against his back and felt rather than saw his family gather around him. After a minute, he laid his head down on his knees, rocking from side to side as his family comforted him.
Jasper only had the one suit. He didn't like using it for this, but he also thought Laurent might have appreciated it. He liked it when people dressed sharply, though his own tastes tended to be more eclectic.
The knot of his tie proved problematic, mostly because he was too listless to concentrate. He stood in front of the mirror, but he didn't really see his reflection. He was lost too deeply in thought.
Alice stepped in front of him, and Jasper was too tired to be startled. He hadn't even realized she was in the room. He let his hands fall limply to his sides as Alice's fingers worked his tie. She concentrated on her task for a few moments before she looked up into his eyes. "What's wrong?"
He glared at her, and damn, he loved her, but what the hell? "That is a legitimately stupid question."
She pulled the knot of the tie with just a little more force than necessary, but her tone was still gentle. "What's wrong?" she repeated.
He sighed because of course she knew the difference between his grief and his anger. "I went on Laurent's Facebook page."
He couldn't answer. Instead, he walked to where his laptop lay open on the bed and turned it toward her. She sat. When she read what he'd read, her face went pale.
The first few messages were straight out condolences. They were confused as to what could have happened. They were heartbroken. Then one message from Kate's sister, Tanya.
"To all of you who are sad about his death, don't be. He's a fucking moron, and he deserved what he got. The world's not going to miss another worthless junkie."
After that, a number of vile messages were left on his Facebook wall.
"He doesn't deserve your tears. Good riddance."
Moron. Asshole. Slime. Worthless. They couldn't seem to think of a bad enough thing to call him.
Jasper understood. Of course he understood. He'd watched Laurent destroy his second chance at life from a distance. He knew why Tanya was angry. She had watched Laurent pull her sister back in repeatedly, watched him beg Kate to stay, to help him. Listened to his promises that it would never happen again. Yet over and over, they found out he lied. He snuck behind their backs to get his fix. He pawned Kate's antique coin collection-because they needed the money, he told her later, for them. But the next month, their overdue bills were even more overdue.
He understood, but it still hurt.
"I keep wondering," he said, finding Alice's hand as he sat on the bed. "If you'd walked by that alley instead of looking down it, or if you'd decided it was none of your business and I died, are these the things they would have said about me? Is that how people would remember me?"
Alice closed the laptop and scooted over, wrapping her arms around him. He closed his eyes, burying his nose in her hair. "He was more than the mistakes he made."
She kissed his chin. "I've never understood the need to dehumanize people who have done bad things. It's like a separation. Like they're another species because they were capable of something terrible. That somehow makes it okay for them to say such heinous things." She brushed his hair away from his eyes. "Really, we're all capable of every atrocity and every low point. None of us are above it. We were just lucky enough not to hit the right set of circumstances."
She stood then and offered her hand. He took it and let her pull him to his feet. "Are you ready?" she asked.
He laughed without humor. "No." He started walking toward the door anyway with her at his side. "Do you think, given a long enough timeline, he could have beat it?" He swallowed hard. "Or if I'd been strong enough to help him."
Alice slipped her hand in his and threaded their fingers together. "I think we're all just a twist of fate from living or dying. That's just life, baby. You fight until you lose. We're all going to lose someday-we just don't know to what."
Jasper stopped short and pulled her to him. He took her face in his hands and tilted her head up so he could kiss her. "I love you. I'm glad you're fighting for me."
"With you." Her hands were at his back, pressing him closer. "Always with you."
He kissed her again and let himself be glad he could. His demons hadn't won, and he was determined they wouldn't. Let him lose to the specter of old age and no other force.
But there were no guarantees, so he kissed her again and again and again.
Four months later, Jasper wore his suit again, this time for its intended use.
"God damn bowties. Why can't I do this in jeans?"
Edward clucked his tongue and slapped Jasper's hands away, stepping up to help. "You can't do this in jeans because your soon-to-be-wife has a sense of occasion. I promise you'll forget all about how much you hate this suit when you see her."
Jasper smiled. "Right."
After a moment's silence, Edward had gotten the bowtie straightened out. He stepped back and glanced at Jasper. "Okay. I have a question I probably shouldn't be asking you at the bottom of the ninth."
"Why did you make me your best man? Don't get me wrong. I'm honored to do it, but why me?"
Jasper had been waiting for that question since he'd asked Edward. It was a good question. Emmett would have made sense. Emmett had forgiven him and supported him almost from the moment he'd stepped back in his parents' house. Carlisle would have been a good option too-the man who should have been his father, who had earned that right where Charles Whitlock had failed miserably.
"Edward...You're the man I wish I was," he said, looking down at his feet. "You're the kind of husband I want to be and the kind of father I want to be." He looked up and took Edward by the shoulders. "I know when you were little you looked up to me, and I disappointed you to say the least. But, little brother, you're my hero now. If you'll stand with me, I might feel like I deserve any of this."
Edward pressed his lips together and swallowed hard. "I didn't always deserve to stand beside you either," he said quietly. "You're not the only one who made mistakes."
He hugged Jasper then, a lingering hug filled with pride and brotherly love.
"Come on," Edward said. "It's your day. Let's get to it."
Eight months after his wedding, Jasper broke a few laws getting to the hospital. He cursed the whole way as he ran from the parking lot into the hospital.
This was not happening again. It just wasn't.
Though, he supposed this was an improvement. He was running toward his wife and child, not away.
Why was this happening again?
Somehow, Jasper managed not to go out of his mind long enough to get past security. He ran, ignoring the guard's admonishment to slow down.
He hadn't wanted to leave, but Alice and the family had convinced him. His book was garnering the right sort of attention with the right people. He had an opportunity to help other addicts with his work. He had a chance to make his experience useful to someone else. She was thirty-three weeks pregnant. They had time.
So he'd flown to Los Angeles to meet with a few people. What a surreal experience that was-people treating him with respect because he was an addict.
But then the phone call. There were complications with the pregnancy, and Jasper was hours away.
It was his father who caught him before he ran right past the gathered family. Carlisle grabbed him by the arm and held him by the shoulders, steadying him. "Dad." Jasper said between pants. "Alice. The baby."
"Breathe. It's okay. They're both doing well."
Jasper swayed where he stood. He would have fallen back on his ass except his mother and father guided him down to sit between them. "The baby's born?"
"Just twenty minutes ago," Esme said, rubbing his back. "Four and a half pounds. Nineteen inches. A little girl."
"A girl." Alice hadn't wanted to find out the sex, and the news stole his breath.
He had a daughter.
Jasper raised his head. Edward was jogging down the hall toward them.
Everyone stood. "Edward was with Alice when she was brought in, so she gave them permission to talk to him about the baby."
Jasper looked to his brother. "You were with her?"
Edward nodded. "They wouldn't let me in the operating room, but I was with her as long as I could be."
Of course he had been. Edward picked up the pieces when Jasper fucked up. Apparently that hadn't changed.
His little brother's hand on his arm focused Jasper's concentration. "She's fine. They're both fine. Alice is in recovery." He smiled. "And your daughter is in the NICU. They said she's doing well. She's strong. She just needs a little help with her respiratory system."
"Steroid shots, probably," Carlisle said. "It's fine, Jasper. It's normal. She's going to be fine."
"I was hoping you were here." Edward tugged at his arm. "Come on. You can see her."
Jasper followed where his brother led without hesitation. His head was spinning. He was worried and nervous and so afraid. Guilt settled like a cold stone in his gut.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I wasn't here. I wanted to be here," he said, babbling
"Hey." Edward stopped short, pulling Jasper to a stop with him. "This isn't the same thing. This isn't the same at all."
Jasper blew out a breath. "I know."
"Really," Edward said.
Some of the weight on Jasper's shoulders eased, and it was easier to breathe. "I know," he said again, meaning it this time.
Edward nodded and started walking again. "Alice was a champ. They said they'll come get us-you-when she's in her room, and you can see her."
"She must have been scared."
"She was, but she was calm."
When they got to the NICU, a nurse took over explanations. She led them to a window, and Jasper got his first look at his daughter.
"Oh my god," he whispered.
His mind went in a thousand directions at once. She was beautiful. He understood with perfect clarity why people said babies were beautiful. It wasn't about aesthetics. He'd often privately thought newborns especially were often strange-looking. But it didn't matter. Her beauty was something completely other-a beauty that struck his soul rather than merely his eyes.
It was like what he'd felt when he saw Kaylee for the first time, but then it wasn't. His first sight of Kaylee had been a combination of profound gratefulness-the dead baby girl in his thoughts morphing into the amazing little person in front of him-and devastating loss. She was his, but he wasn't her daddy. He loved her. He loved her so much it nearly killed him on the spot, but he wasn't her daddy.
This baby girl… He was her daddy.
He was a daddy.
A terrified daddy because my god, she looked so small. With all the full-grown people buzzing around her, settling her down amidst machinery that made her look even smaller. Fragile. She was chubbier than the pictures he'd seen of Kaylee but not by much. Not nearly enough.
"It's never going to be easy seeing her like this," Edward said. "But it's fine. She's fine. Not quite perfect but almost."
"She's perfect," Jasper said, his voice gone hoarse. He knew what Edward meant, but he had to say it, because she was.
Luckily, Edward knew what he meant too. "She is."
They both watched in silence until the doctor came to update them. The baby was stable, and that was the most important part. He gave them some basic information about her condition and estimated her NICU stay would be around five weeks.
And then he said the magic words. "Your wife isn't quite ready for visitors yet. Would you like to hold the baby?"
Jasper's head snapped away from his daughter to look at the doctor. "I can do that?"
"Yes. In fact, it's encouraged. Your daughter can only benefit from your touch."
Jasper swallowed hard. "Can my brother come with me?"
"Yes. Two visitors at a time is fine."
A nurse taught them how to wash their hands and scrub in. The whole world felt surreal. Jasper couldn't quite wrap his mind around what was happening. He followed instructions to the letter and let himself be led to a chair by his daughter. The nurses picked her up, careful of the IV line attached to her, and laid her in his arms.
He loved her so much it hurt. It hurt. But this was a good pain-the stretch of his heart to accommodate such an unfathomably huge emotion. He was filled with love and more than that, he was overcome with joy. Now that the baby was in his arms, he wasn't quite as scared. She was solid-tiny but not as frail as she seemed.
Her lips pursed and her eyelids fluttered, mostly closed.
"Baby girl," he whispered to her. Two huge tears fell down his cheeks. "I'm your daddy, and I love you so much."
A click and flash reminded him that he had brought Edward with him into the NICU. Jasper looked up, and Edward took another picture. A snapshot. The first snapshot of Jasper with his daughter. In it, Jasper was smiling. It was the big, goofy, over-the-moon grin of a new, proud daddy.
He was the daddy, Edward the doting uncle, and though he would have preferred a more conventional birth where he could be having this moment with his wife, all was right with the world.
A/N: Many thanks to Barburella and Jessypt.
On a personal note, my new novel, One To Tell The Grandkids, is now available on Amazon. The link is in my profile if you're interested. :) My debut novella, Duplicity, will be available for free for five days beginning tomorrow.
As of right now, I have no intention to stop writing fanfic. It's just too fun. As soon as I've finished up Foolish Hearts, I intend to write a Madonna-Whore Complex ficlet where Edward will be surprised to find his childhood crush, pure, innocent, virginal (in his mind) Bella, posing nude on a site he frequents.