A/N: *waves* long time, no see. I know. I’m still around, as evidenced by this little story.
Just wanted to say a quick “Thank you!” to ElleCC for beta’ing this one.
Any mistakes left are all my own
As ever, I do not own Twilight.
Oh, I realize this isn’t the fare you’re used to from me, but bear with me – and check out a very important announcement at the bottom. See you there!
Bella stood in the doorframe, her arms hugging her torso as she tried to keep herself together for his sake. She watched in silence as Jasper lay curled up in their bed, holding tight to Edward’s pillow, his face pressed into it so much she worried whether he was still able to breathe.
Oh, Jasper, I’m so sorry. I wish… I wish I could give him back to you. To both of us.
She wiped her tears quickly, desperate to remain quiet so as not to disturb her friend in his grief. She knew he was trying to sleep – had been unable to really sleep since they’d lost Edward to cancer a month ago.
Edward, her best friend since seventh grade. Edward, whom she’d shared almost all her secrets with. All but one, though in the end it turned out he knew even that one. She thought back to that last day, when she’d sat at his bedside, holding his frail hand in hers.
Tears were streaming down her face as she tried valiantly to keep it together. She refused to fall apart while saying their goodbyes. It was only a matter of time now, and she’d be damned if she would make this any harder on her friend than it already was.
Edward tried to smile as he squeezed her hand lightly, his strength long since gone. His voice trembled, sounding so very frail as he whispered, “Oh, Bells, I’m sorry. Please, don’t cry for me.”
She laughed at that, in spite of herself. Shaking her head, she grinned, or at least, she tried. “Don’t you worry about me,” she said as firmly as she was able, wiping her tears. “I’ll be fine.”
He nodded. “Bells? Promise me something.”
“Of course. Anything.”
Edward smiled then, his eyes bright despite the sadness in them. “Promise me you’ll look after Jasper. I know you love him as much as I do, Bella. I’ve always known.”
She gasped in shock, but he didn’t give her the chance to try to deny it.
“Bella, losing me will kill him. I know he’s trying to hide his pain, but I see it. I feel it. I need you to make sure he gets through this. I need for you to help him learn to love again after I’m gone. Please, promise me?”
“I-” She blinked rapidly to clear the sudden tears in her eyes.
Edward watched her carefully, hope and certainty — and not one ounce of reproach — in his eyes. He’d known about her feelings for his lover, silly as they were, and he didn’t blame her for them at all. She’d never told a soul that she was in love with Jasper. Hadn’t seen the point. Jasper was gay, and more than that, he was Edward’s.
“Please, Bella. I need to know he’ll be all right after I’m gone,” he whispered.
She nodded. “I promise, Edward,” she said hoarsely.
Jasper whimpered, his body convulsing as grief ripped through him again. He couldn’t believe – even now, a month after he’d buried the love of his life – that Edward was gone. He clutched at Edward’s pillow, taking ragged breaths, but the pillow no longer held his scent, and that made the pain fresh. It was like losing him all over again, and it hurt.
Wherever Jasper had turned these past few weeks, he’d seen Edward. He seemed to be everywhere, but every time he’d tried to reach out to him, he disappeared. He knew, on some level, that what he was seeing wasn’t real, of course. Edward was dead and buried. Jasper had been there when he’d breathed his last breath, kissed him one last time after he’d passed, and said his goodbye. But it still felt so real to him, as if he could turn around and Edward would be right there.
Jasper wasn’t sure if he’d be able to cope much longer. He didn’t know how to cope without Edward there. Edward had been his life. His reason for being, and now he was gone. It wasn’t fair! How could Edward have left him behind like that? All alone! Part of Jasper hated Edward for that, and whenever that struck him, it tore him apart.
Suddenly the bed dipped, and a warm body slid in beside Jasper, two arms wrapping around him, pulling his face onto a shoulder. It felt wrong, somehow. The body too soft, the scent too feminine. Bella ran gentle fingers through his hair and along his back as she soothed him, whispering tear-filled words that everything was going to be okay. She was there, and she wouldn’t leave him.
They clung to each other, crying, until finally sleep claimed Jasper. Bella lay there, holding him and trying not to think about how right he felt in her arms. She kept telling herself that it was wrong, wrong, wrong to feel like that. She reminded herself that even though Edward was no longer there, Jasper still belonged to him and Jasper was still gay. It didn’t matter how her heart felt about matters; those two things, in her mind, were absolutes. It took Bella much longer to fall asleep.
The following morning, she woke up alone. She was slightly confused as to why she was in a strange bed, but then she remembered where she was and why. Jerking into a seated position, she looked around for Jasper, but he wasn’t there. Quickly, she got up to search for him.
Jasper, in the meantime, had woken up before the sun had even come up, ashamed to find himself curled up around Bella. He hated the fact that he was unable to keep it together, but he was powerless to stop it. He’d loved Edward with his whole heart, and never once in all the years they’d been together had Jasper been able to imagine life without his lover. The day Edward had died, he felt like much of himself had gone along with him.
Waking up with Bella holding him – and in truth, him holding her just as tightly, even in sleep – felt wrong. Like he was either replacing Edward for momentary comfort or using Bella to fill the gaping hole in his heart where Edward had been. So, instead of staying in bed and letting Bella somewhat comfort him, he’d left and ended up in Edward’s office, sitting in Edward’s favorite chair and staring at Edward’s favorite picture of the two of them.
Jasper had, in the time since Edward’s passing, withdrawn himself from the world so completely that he was actually a little surprised that Bella had stuck around. No one else had. Then again, neither Jasper nor Edward had any family left to speak of. Both of them had lost their parents years ago, and neither of them had siblings. All they had were the friends they’d gathered over the years, but even those seemed to have given up on him, too uncertain how to handle Jasper’s uncontrollable grief.
Bella, however, refused to give up on him. She’d made a promise to Edward, after all, one she fully intended to keep no matter what Jasper did to push people away. She’d gotten to know the man well enough over the years to know he didn’t mean any of the things he’d said to drive their other friends away. She knew that he was hurting, that he’d fallen so deep in despair that he couldn’t find his way back up again on his own. She knew that Edward had entrusted her to help Jasper on that front.
So, when she found him in Edward’s office, she decided then and there that this simply wouldn’t do. She could not – would not – allow Jasper to be alone anymore. She was moving in, whether he liked it or not. He wasn’t taking care of himself, so she would do it for him. It was the only thing for it.
Slowly, she walked up to him, but he didn’t appear to hear her, didn’t seem to even notice her at all, even when she knelt down in front of him. Not until she took his hand in both of hers did he acknowledge her at all, turning to face her, and even then all that she saw was pain. It tore at her heart to see how much Jasper was hurting.
Gently, she cupped his cheek and sighed. “Jasper, you can’t go on like this, sweetheart. Edward-”
“Edward’s gone! He left, Bella, to somewhere I can’t follow!”
Jasper’s voice was hard, cutting as if made of shards. It made Bella flinch. The thought that Jasper might want to follow Edward was almost too much. Her jaw clenched as anger bubbled to the surface. Her brow furrowed as she looked at Jasper, her voice much harder than she’d intended. “Jasper Whitlock! You know Edward wouldn’t want that for you! How dare you! I know how much you two loved each other, Jasper, I do. And I understand how much it hurts to lose him. But you’re not the only person who lost someone they loved, and you are not alone!”
She stopped herself just in time to keep from telling Jasper she loved him and how much it would hurt to lose him, too, after having already lost her best friend.
Jasper stared at Bella in shock at her outburst. Never once since Edward had died had she raised her voice at him.
Bella closed her eyes briefly, gathering herself. She sighed, whispering, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-”
Jasper shook his head, squeezing her hand as he cleared his throat. “No,” he said hoarsely, “it’s all right. You’re right. Edward wouldn’t want… I just… I can’t…”
He closed his eyes, tipping his head back as he tried to get a hold of himself – something that cost him considerable effort.
Before he could speak, though, Bella said, “Jasper, I don’t think you should be alone anymore. I’m moving in, at least for a while, to make sure you’ll be okay.”
Jasper started to protest, to say he didn’t need her there, but they both knew it was a lie. Jasper had done the bare minimum to take care of himself – if even that – and they were both well aware of that fact, so when Bella sternly told him she was moving in and that was that, he relented. Especially after she reluctantly admitted she’d promised Edward to take care of him. Jasper could never go against Edward’s wishes.
So that day was spent getting Bella’s things moved over and making arrangements to take care of her own apartment. They set her up in the guest room next to their – his – room, and Bella took it upon herself to clean the house. In truth, he’d neglected that, too, and he was ashamed to admit it. So much so that he ended up helping her as much as he could, though he found he had very little energy to spend. Still, Bella seemed to think it that was progress, and she appeared happy with it.
Over the next several weeks, they developed a routine of sorts. Bella cooked and did most of the cleaning, forcing Jasper to eat at least three times a day despite his protests that he wasn’t hungry. The fact that Jasper was still having issues with his appetite worried her greatly, to the point where she insisted on Jasper seeing a grief counselor.
Jasper resisted for as long as he could, but in the end, he gave in. How could he do otherwise when Bella did nothing but support and care for him and remind him that Edward would want him to be happy and live his life. He just didn’t want to, not without Edward.
Still, over time, things slowly began to get a little better. The ache diminished a little more each day, though it would rear up again at the most unexpected moments. Like the day that would have marked Jasper and Edward’s tenth anniversary.
Jasper had all but lost track of time, so when he saw the calendar and realized what day it was, it hit him in the gut and took his breath away. Jasper collapsed in front of the fridge, where the calendar hung, and was nearly in hysterics, begging Edward’s forgiveness for having forgotten about the day, cursing himself out for not remembering, crying because it felt like he was losing Edward all over again.
Bella was shocked when she walked in on Jasper in the kitchen, horrified to see and hear what a mess he was with grief, when he’d seemed to have made such strides to getting to a better place. She knelt beside him, tears of her own sliding down her cheeks as she tried to comfort Jasper without letting on how much it hurt her to see him like this.
She’d been steadfastly ignoring how much she liked living with Jasper, knowing he was the first and last thing she saw every day. She secretly loved that he’d started to open up to her, just a little, as time went by. That it was her he spoke to in quiet tones whenever he was able to discuss Edward and how he missed him, or talk about things they’d done together, the three of them. Yes, it hurt, but it also felt good because Jasper came to her and no one else.
It took a lot of coaxing, a lot of reassuring that Edward wouldn’t hate Jasper for forgetting the date, that things would be okay and they could commemorate the day together, before Bella managed to get Jasper off the floor and into the shower, telling him he’d need to get dressed to go out.
By that point, Jasper had gone all but lethargic, and he meekly followed her directions, though for a moment she worried he wouldn’t be able to shower on his own. She tried to push aside any thoughts of helping him with that, blushing at the idea of being in the shower naked with him. Oh, she wanted it — badly — but it was so very wrong of her to even consider it.
So, while Jasper went through the motions of getting showered and dressed, she hurried through her own preparations. Bella called in sick to work, thanking God that her boss, a good friend, understood her situation. That done, she quickly made a few sandwiches and a thermos of coffee to bring along.
Jasper found Bella packing the food and thermos into a picnic basket, barely even registering what he was seeing. His mind was still reeling, still trying to comprehend that today would have been his anniversary and that Edward wasn’t there to celebrate it with him. He felt… hollow, inside.
Bella looked up from her task and frowned when she took in Jasper dressed in tattered jeans and a t-shirt that had seen too many days. She sighed, closed the basket, and then stepped up to Jasper, taking his hand in hers and guiding him to his bedroom. Jasper followed without a sound, not truly caring about whatever it was Bella was going to do.
Bella sat him down on the edge of the bed and then went to the closet, carefully looking through the clothes. She was looking for what she knew Edward had liked a lot on Jasper. It surprised her to find them in the back of the closet, as if hidden away. Deciding she’d worry about that later, she pulled out an eggplant-colored button-down and black jeans, as well as Jasper’s black Doc Martens.
Jasper watched dispassionately as she rummaged through his closet but flinched when he saw what she’d picked out. He could feel the blood drain from his face, his breath catching as she walked to him, and he shook his head. He couldn’t wear that again.
“No,” he said, still shaking his head.
“Why not?” she asked gently, laying the clothes carefully on the bed next to him.
Jasper almost choked. “Because every time I look at them, I think of… of…”
He closed his eyes tightly against the memories assailing him of the times he’d worn that outfit and how Edward had responded. More often than not, they’d ended up fucking as soon as they were home again; sometimes Edward had even managed to suck Jasper’s cock in the shadows somewhere if they weren’t home quick enough for his liking.
Jasper stammered, “I… Edward, he…” Taking a deep breath, Jasper pushed on, though his voice was so hoarse with emotion Bella could barely hear him. “I wore that, knowing it drove Edward crazy. Basically it meant a guaranteed lay, okay? He always — always — gave me what I wanted, what I needed from him.”
Blushing, Bella cleared her throat lightly and shook her head, trying to rid her thoughts of the images Jasper had conjured in her mind as she took his hands in hers. “Jasper,” she spoke quietly, “I’m sorry. I thought maybe you’d like to wear something special that he liked a lot. I want to take you to visit his grave, sweetheart, so we can sit and remember the good times. I think he’d like that, and I think it might be good for you, too. I can find something else for you to wear, though. What do you say?”
Jasper swallowed several times in an effort to rid himself of the lump in his throat. He wasn’t sure he could do that. He hadn’t been to visit Edward’s grave since the day he’d buried him in it, though he knew that Bella often went to talk to him. But as he stared into her eyes, he took a deep breath, wanting to at least try this. For Bella. She’d been dealing with his crap for so long now that he felt he owed it to her to at least attempt it. He thought perhaps with her help, he could. So he nodded and changed into the outfit she’d put together.
The drive to the graveyard was done in silence, both of them lost in thought. Jasper felt as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders as he stared out the window. He didn’t really see anything, his mind unable to process much beyond what was coming.
Bella, for her part, had to concentrate hard on driving, her attention constantly drawn to Jasper.
When they arrived and Bella had parked the car, it took Jasper a while before he was able to even leave the vehicle. It wasn’t until Bella had gotten out and opened his door, holding her hand out to him in silent invitation, that he finally managed to gather himself enough to do it. He held on to her hand while she grabbed the basket, locked the car, and then led the way to Edward’s grave site.
Bella kept stealing glances at Jasper as they walked, taking in the tenseness of his features, the shimmer in his eyes that indicated tears were on the brink of falling. She noted that he seemed to have shrunk a little. His normally towering, lithe 6’3” frame seemed reduced almost to her own height, if such a thing were possible. She ached inside and prayed she was doing the right thing, bringing him here.
They stopped in front of a black marble tombstone with a pair of white marble doves perched on top of it. Jasper stood staring at it, tears flowing freely as he took in the words inscribed on the stone:
Here lies Edward Anthony Masen.
Much beloved and greatly missed.
Not for the first time, it cut Jasper deeply that they hadn’t been able to get married. That he hadn’t had the right to claim Edward as his beloved husband. He sank to his knees, reaching out with trembling fingers to touch the cold marble. As he traced Edward’s name, a sob broke free, and he shook with grief again.
Bella was right beside him then, her arms holding him tightly as he cried. She rocked them gently back and forth as she let him grieve for his lover, her own tears slipping silently down her cheeks as she thought of her best friend lying cold underneath their feet. She could only hope that he was watching over them, that he would guide her to help Jasper, because right in that moment, she felt very lost.
After several minutes, Jasper’s sobs subsided enough that he was able to gather himself a little, taking deep breaths as he pulled himself together again. He felt so empty, so alone, even with Bella right there holding him. He missed Edward so much.
Bella quickly wiped her eyes. While she tried to collect herself, she turned to the basket to get them both some coffee. She had to be strong for Jasper, couldn’t allow her own grief, or her secret longings, to cloud what they’d come here to do.
Offering Jasper a cup of coffee, she gave him a small smile. He accepted both with a nod, settling himself so he sat cross-legged in front of the tombstone. Bella placed the basket to the side before sitting down in a similar fashion next to him, their knees touching as they simply sat and drank the warm liquid for a while.
After a minute or so, Jasper asked quietly, “What do you talk about with him when you come here?”
His eyes were fixed on Edward’s name, so he missed the blush on Bella’s cheeks as she said, “Depends. Sometimes just about everyday things, sometimes about you…”
Jasper turned to look at her, but Bella couldn’t discern the emotions in his eyes. He didn’t say anything, though. Another minute went by in silence before he spoke again, his voice so quiet she almost missed it. “Thank you. For everything.”
Bella nodded, swallowing past the lump in her throat. “You’re welcome, Jasper. I’ll always be here for you. You know that, right?”
Jasper gave her a wan smile and nodded, placing his hand over hers. “I know. I appreciate that more than I can say,” he said quietly.
Though she knew everything already, she asked anyway, her voice gentle but prodding. “Tell me about the day you met Edward.”
Jasper smiled, in spite of himself, his eyes closing briefly as he thought back to the first time he’d met Edward a little over ten years prior. His voice cracked several times as he spoke of the young man he’d seen strolling across campus, sure of himself and absolutely beautiful. Bella listened in silence. She had heard Edward’s version, of course, but it was interesting to hear Jasper’s take.
College had been the only time Bella and Edward had spent time apart, as she’d gone to California State to study, whereas Edward had chosen Berkeley. They’d remained the best of friends, though, and once graduated had both moved back to Seattle – and Jasper had moved with Edward.
Jasper and Edward’s whirlwind romance had taken them all by surprise. They’d met as seniors, gone out every chance they could get, though neither of them allowed things to get crazy enough to interfere with their grades. Jasper spoke fondly of the night Edward had asked him to move to Seattle with him, telling Bella how Edward had made a candlelit dinner for them, how he’d wooed Jasper. Both of them blushed as he told Bella in vague terms how they’d ended up making love that night, after Jasper had agreed to go with Edward.
It hurt a little to hear of him being with Edward that way, though she scolded herself for that, reminding herself again that Jasper was gay. She had no business even entertaining the notion of being with him in that way or of being jealous of something Edward had gotten.
As for Jasper, he was surprised to find that talking about Edward with Bella, reminiscing about some of his favorite times spent with his love… it eased the pain just a little. Every now and again he found himself smiling fondly, his eyes closed as he told her about some sweet gesture of Edward’s. Jasper still ached, but for whatever reason, the pain was dulling and he welcomed it – recognized that it didn’t mean letting Edward go or forgetting him, but that he had to move on.
Jasper couldn’t fully face moving forward without Edward, though, so when that realization hit him, it caught him off-guard and made his breath hitch. This time, the tears were quiet as he caressed Edward’s name on the tombstone.
Bella understood without needing to have it explained. She was glad that Jasper was finally getting to the point of being able to let go, even though it was still very difficult for him. She knew he felt guilty for it and that it hurt him a lot.
Quietly, she grabbed the sandwiches she’d made them and held one out to Jasper, waiting patiently for him to get to himself again and accept the offering. They ate in near silence, Bella now and then sharing some of her favorite memories, though most of them tended to be of when they were growing up. Bella didn’t think she could bring herself to talk about Edward after college, because she might inadvertently touch on her feelings for Jasper, which had developed and grown in the years after they’d all graduated.
They ended up sitting there for hours before finally heading home again. Bella was grateful that the day had been dry and warm – unusual for the time of year. Once home, Jasper put in a DVD filled with home movies and sat on the couch with his legs pulled up and his arms wrapped around them. Bella tried to hide her surprise, instead choosing to make them some finger food and get them each a glass of wine before joining him.
At first they sat on opposite ends of the couch, but as the evening wore on, she ended up scooting over and leaning against Jasper. He shifted so he could tuck her under his arm and rest his cheek on top of her head as they watched in silence. Bella’s heart tripped when he first put his arm around her, but she firmly pushed down any hopes that sprung up, reminding herself she was his friend and he was simply looking for whatever comfort she could give him.
Jasper was torn between the comfort he needed and Bella offered, and resisting how that comfort made him feel. It had been months since Edward had died. Longer still since he’d really been close to anyone. Edward had gotten so sick so quickly, and he’d been confined to a bed for the last few weeks of his life. He missed cuddling on the couch with Edward. He tried to push away the idea of being here with Bella and cuddling now, but it was hard.
The next few weeks Jasper felt lost, almost as if he were floating between two states of being he could not readily identify. He was slowly but surely coming to grips with life without Edward, though not without difficulty. Living in the house they had shared, after all, meant that there were always reminders no matter where he looked. Still, he refused to move, to leave his past behind. He just couldn’t do it. The very thought of leaving behind that last link with Edward hurt too much to even consider.
Jasper had gotten used to having Bella around, too. At first, he’d only tolerated her living with him, knowing she just wanted to look out for him, to keep her word to Edward. It had been the only reason he’d allowed her to move in. As time went by, though, things had changed, and he’d actually started to enjoy having someone around to talk to, or even just be around in silence. Knowing someone was there was enough at times, though of course she’d never replace Edward.
The fact that Bella seemed to read him so well that she knew when he needed to talk and when he just needed peace and quiet was one of the things he appreciated so much about her. Sure, she pushed him at times, but mostly he was okay with that. Edward had been much the same, after all, and the sense of familiarity was soothing more often than not.
Jasper was slowly working through Edward’s things with Bella’s help, too — something he’d resisted for a long time but finally found himself up to doing. It hurt, but Bella’s support made everything go so much easier than he’d dared hope. Together, they discussed the various decisions that needed to be made, reminisced about life with Edward — slowly letting go of the man they’d both loved in their respective ways, and building on their own friendship in the process.
After one particularly trying afternoon of going through Edward’s clothes, Bella took Jasper’s hand and insisted they take a break. Jasper agreed happily enough, and, desperate for a change of scenery, drove them to the park. They walked in silence, Bella’s hand looped around Jasper’s elbow.
“You know,” Jasper mused quietly after a while, his eyes wandering around the area, taking in the vast array of colors. “Edward and I never came here for some reason.”
Bella’s eyebrows rose as she gave him a tentative smile. “Really?”
Jasper nodded, humming in answer. They walked for a while longer, both silent and lost in thought. As they crossed a footbridge over the large pond, Jasper added in a soft voice, “I’m kind of glad, in a weird way.”
He looked down at Bella, giving her a wan smile. “Because this place has no memories attached to him. As… as much as I loved him… as I miss him… sometimes it’s just nice to not always be reminded of him. To have something — some place — where I can go and be… me again, I guess? I don’t know if I’m making sense.”
Bella thought about it for a while, then nodded. “I think so.” She frowned, then, and added in a whisper so low Jasper almost missed it. “I can go if you’d rather-” Her voice trailed off as she slipped her hand out of the crook of his arm.
Jasper shook his head, putting his arm around her shoulders and pulling her into his side affectionately. “No, this is nice, too.” He surprised himself with just how true his words felt. It wasn’t just that he didn’t want to be alone — he liked that it was Bella who was with him. Not just because she was a source of comfort, or because he’d gotten used to having her around, but because he liked her.
They kept walking like that, with Bella slipping her arm around his waist. It felt comfortable in a way he hadn’t known since Edward, and for once the thought made him smile, though he still felt a slight twinge at the idea of life returning to “normal,” now that normal no longer included Edward by his side.
A couple of days later, Jasper’s boss, Garrett, came up to him with an all too familiar glint in his eye, Jasper grinned — and then stared, gaping, almost in shock at his own reaction. After Edward’s death, Jasper had been going through the motions at the publishing house he worked for, doing his job without feeling anything — without caring about any of it. It had taken a long time for him to slowly begin to appreciate the words he read as he edited the books that passed his desk, nevermind interacting with his coworkers like he used to do.
Clearing his throat, Garrett ignored the sudden awkwardness. Crossing his arms, he leaned his hip against Jasper’s desk. “Have you checked your e-mail yet?”
Jasper frowned, automatically turning to do so even as he answered, “Not since break, no. Why?”
“Oh, no particular reason. It’s just that your favorite author’s submitted his latest book, but maybe you’re not interested?”
Jasper’s eyes lit up as he swiveled in his chair. “Get out! Really?”
Garrett nodded. The relief and pleasure coming from him were so obvious that it made Jasper’s heart twinge a little. He knew Garrett had been worried about him. After a few minutes of small talk, Garrett left Jasper to his devices with a clap on his shoulder and a, “Have fun.”
When it was time to head home, Jasper was torn. He wanted to keep reading, to engross himself completely in the book he’d been given to edit, but at the same time he was dying to go home so he could tell Bella all about it.
A glance at the clock told him he really should go home, though, as Bella would have dinner going already. It wasn’t until he’d closed out of all his programs, and the picture of him and Edward he’d had as his background for the past couple of years emerged that it hit him.
Edward hadn’t even crossed his mind.
It was Bella he’d immediately wanted to tell about what had happened, not Edward. That realization shocked Jasper, stopping him in his tracks. His heart thudding in his throat, he slowly finished turning off his computer, packed his bag, and headed home, his thoughts awhirl at the implications.
Jasper withdrew into himself again, trying to figure out what to make of everything, to sort out his feelings and his fears. It didn’t help that the anniversary of Edward’s death lay around the corner, too. That night when he got home, he ignored Bella for the first time in a long time and headed straight to his room, grabbed Edward’s pillow more out of habit than anything else, and stared at the picture of them on his nightstand.
He feared that the ease of his relationship – if you could call it that – with Bella meant that he’d started to forget about Edward. That it somehow made what they had shared less than it had been, and that hurt.
His mind kept going over every detail of the past year, comparing his life with Bella to that with Edward. They ate meals together whenever their schedules allowed. They cooked and cleaned together. They spent most of their free time together, either at home or going for long walks or to the movies. Truth of the matter was, they did everything that Edward and Jasper had done – except the kissing and fucking, of course.
Jasper blushed at that thought, ashamed of how his body responded to the idea of kissing Bella – of being with Bella. He did his best to push away any urges on that front, wanting to deny the way his blood seemed to rush sometimes when he held her close – deny how his cock would stir at times when he looked at her, or when he touched her, smelled her. All reactions he’d not had to a woman in all the time he’d known Edward, though he’d been equally enamoured with both sexes before him.
How could he even entertain being with someone again, especially so soon – not even a year after Edward had passed away? And though things between Jasper and Bella were not intimate in any way, save for the occasional cuddling on the couch while watching a movie, things between them felt far too much like a real relationship for his comfort.
He berated himself for it, telling himself he had no right to feel like that about anyone, that he was Edward’s whether the man was gone or not. Never mind the fact that she was Edward’s best friend who was merely trying to do right by him by keeping the promise she’d made at Edward’s deathbed. It was wrong of him to develop any kind of attachment or attraction to anyone, but least of all to her.
Or so he kept telling himself. Especially when it became more and more difficult for him to not give in to his body’s urges in those sleep-drowsy moments before waking, when his mind sometimes would conjure images of Bella. Jasper hadn’t touched himself in so long, hadn’t felt the need or desire for it since losing Edward, but it seemed to come back to him again now, and he felt thoroughly confused by it. Not to mention extremely guilty.
One night, Bella and Jasper were watching Notting Hill, an old favorite of Bella’s, and they’d ended up in their PJs, cuddled on the couch as had become their custom. Throughout the movie, Bella had to firmly remind herself that she and Jasper were – and only ever would be – friends. Her feelings for Jasper were only getting stronger, and she was starting to feel lonely. It didn’t help that one of her coworkers had just gotten engaged, as that only put into sharper focus the mess that was her love-life – or lack thereof.
Bella had begun to give into her body’s urges, however, at least, in the privacy of her bedroom or in the shower. Whenever she did, it was always with Jasper’s name on her lips that she came, and she always, always, ended up feeling horribly guilty and unable to really look at Jasper for a couple of days. Of course, that would make her feel guilty for not being a good friend to him and she’d put in more effort, usually ending up with movie nights like now. It had become a cycle she wasn’t sure how to break.
She usually left the choice of movie up to Jasper, though he never really cared much about what was on the screen, so it had surprised her a little when he’d suggested Notting Hill. Jasper had blushed slightly when he said he knew it was one of her favorites, but she chalked it up to him wanting to be nice because he was thankful for her help. It couldn’t actually mean anything, after all. Still, part of her was unable to rid herself of the daydream of there being something more behind it, and it was with that on her mind that she ended up falling asleep, snuggled up with Jasper, his arm around her shoulder. It was a dream – it had to be – when Jasper sighed and turned his face so his nose was buried in her hair. She could almost feel his lips press to her scalp. The quiet sob that followed only added to the surety of it being an illusion, because there was no way for it to be real.
When Bella woke up in her bed alone, she was confused. Jasper’d taken her to bed, caressed her, had his way with her – and she’d wanted it so much she was still throbbing with desire. When she realized it had only been a dream, she wanted to weep. For the first time, she wondered what she was doing, how long she could keep going on like this. She cried softly into her pillow, begging forgiveness from both Edward and Jasper for being so weak, for failing them as she felt she was doing.
Jasper, too, was struggling with guilt that morning. After Bella had fallen asleep against him, he’d sat and held her for a while. He’d been unable to stop himself from breathing her in. He’d shocked himself when he’d kissed the top of her head and started to move to do more — to give in to the urge his body was feeling. It had been such a natural thing to do, and yet it felt as if he’d betrayed his lover. Still, a small voice in the back of his head had pointed out that Edward was dead, and that he would never want for Jasper to live life as a monk. He knew that Edward wanted Jasper to find love again. It was something they’d spoken of often those last few weeks they’d had together. Or rather, Edward had spoken and Jasper had steadfastly refused to talk about it, unable to fathom loving anyone other than his Edward.
So when Jasper realized what he’d done, he’d broken down and cried, trying to be as quiet and still as he could in order to not wake Bella. There would be no explaining why he was upset this time. The thought of admitting what he’d done and how he was starting to feel about her was too unbearable to even consider.
When he’d finally pulled himself together again and the credits were rolling on the screen, he’d gently lifted Bella in his arms and carried her to bed. Part of him had wanted to crawl into bed with her, remembering how it had felt all those months ago when she’d gotten in bed with him and just held him. To not be alone anymore, even if only for one night. But that would’ve been wrong, especially when his body’s response to the mere idea of doing so showed him that he was interested in more than just being held.
Jasper had tucked Bella in, though he had been unable to resist watching her for a while as she slept and ever so gently have his fingers trail along her cheek, her neck, down her arm. When the urge to do more became stronger, he’d left, his breath coming in short pants as he struggled to remain in control of his emotions. He felt so utterly torn as he curled up in his own bed and stared at the picture of Edward.
He’d finally fallen asleep hours later, completely exhausted by the turmoil that warred inside of him. When he woke up the following morning, he was still out of it, his mind too fuzzy to really comprehend what his body was doing. He was hard and aching, his hand automatically wrapping around his shaft as he started to jack himself off for the first time since losing Edward. The images his mind conjured up were a strange mixture of memories and fantasy, and he just went with it, the feeling of nearing climax too good to want to stop now that he was finally there.
When his mind’s eye saw not Edward but Bella as he went over the brink, he choked out a cry, tears and his seed spilling in equal measure. Jasper curled up into a ball, sickened and horrified by what he’d just done. He was a mess, both literally and figuratively, but right in that moment he couldn’t begin to care. He could not face Bella – did not want to leave the relative safety of his bed – so he stayed there all morning.
With both of them avoiding the other and being completely wrapped up in their own misery, it wasn’t until dinnertime that either ventured out into the house. Guilty as Bella felt about her feelings, the second she laid eyes on a sallow-looking and withdrawn Jasper, her resolve to stay renewed. She was convinced it was the looming anniversary of Edward’s death that had Jasper relapsing again, so she took a steadying breath and began to cook dinner.
Jasper watched her dispassionately at first as she went through the motions of cutting an onion, writing off her tears – as well as his own – as being caused by that vegetable rather than the possibility of anything else. When Bella started to cook the meat, Jasper slowly allowed himself to appreciate her – not just for being a great friend, but as a woman. Bella was beautiful, and not for the first time, Jasper wondered why she didn’t have a special someone in her life. He knew from Edward that she was straight, but he’d never seen her show anything but friendly interest in any man she knew.
He frowned, then, as the thought struck him that it was because she was devoting all her time to taking care of him. Jasper was opening his mouth to tell Bella she didn’t have to anymore, when another thought popped into his head: Why was she doing it? Surely it wasn’t merely the promise to take care of him that held her back? He had no answer for that, nor did he feel right asking Bella, so he contented himself with observing her as she moved around the kitchen.
They spent the rest of their evening in silence as they watched another movie, though this time they kept to their own sides of the couch. Bella ached with want for Jasper and was miserable because of it, but she couldn’t just leave him, either. So she sat, huddled in on herself, and watched with unseeing eyes as Bruce Willis blew up some building or other. At least, she thought it was him.
Over the next two weeks, their time together was more strained than it had been after Edward had first passed away. Bella attributed this to the fact that the anniversary of Edward’s death was looming, so she resolved to push through and did everything she could think of to make life easier for Jasper. She knew that the actual day would likely be very hard on him, but she couldn’t quite make herself ignore the event either. It wasn’t something to celebrate, but she wanted to at least commemorate Edward’s passing in some way. She knew that no matter what Jasper might decide, she would visit Edward’s grave and place flowers there, either on her way to or from work.
Jasper had become quieter with each passing day, but the evening before the anniversary, Bella couldn’t wait any longer to broach the subject. After they were done eating, she said, “Jazz?”
He looked up questioningly, and Bella could have sworn she saw a ghost in his eyes.
Swallowing, she pressed ahead. “Did you… did you want to do anything tomorrow? You know, for…” At Jasper’s flinch, she let her voice trail off with a soft sigh. “It’s okay, Jasper. Whatever you need, okay? I’ll be here.”
He nodded, then got up and cleared the table. Bella watched him with sadness weighing heavily on her heart as he did the dishes and put everything meticulously away. Without a word, he went into the living room and put in the first DVD his hands touched before sitting on the couch. Bella followed him and stared at the screen for a moment. She swallowed hard as she forced her feet to go after him.
As Bella stood indecisively in front of Jasper, he looked up and held his arms out to her in silent request even as Grandpa started reading The Princess Bride on the TV screen. Bella gratefully accepted the invitation to sit with him, her heart aching and heavy as Edward’s favorite movie played on. This was the movie they had always watched, she and Edward, and they knew it intimately. Apparently, Jasper and Edward had watched it just as much, because every now and then she could hear Jasper quote a line under his breath. The first time she heard him whisper, “As you wish,” her heart skipped a beat or two, but she immediately quelled the foolish hope of Jasper meaning it the way Westley did.
More than once Bella felt tears run across her cheeks as she remembered other times she’d seen this movie. Times when her best friend had still been alive. Vibrant. Oh, how she wished he were here. Not in the least because it had been so much easier to push her feelings for Jasper aside when Edward had still been alive and well. In spite of herself, over the course of the evening she snuggled closer to Jasper, greedily drinking up his warmth, his comfort, his scent. When it was time to go to bed, she was almost glad for the reprieve. Surprisingly, she fell asleep almost the second her head hit her pillow.
The next day, after Bella had left for work, Jasper took inventory of his feelings. In truth, he’d been working through them the past few weeks, but it was as if today of all days was the time for him to decide what to do. When he’d first woken up and acknowledged the day, his heart had broken again, but it was bearable for the first time in a long time to think about life without Edward.
Jasper knew that Bella was going to stop by Edward’s grave on her way to work. He’d insisted she go about her day as usual, that he’d be all right by himself for a while, even though he had taken the day off just in case. He’d told her he needed to be alone for a bit, and she’d reluctantly agreed to his request.
One thing Jasper was certain of: if he was to move forward in any capacity, he had to have closure. With that in mind, he stopped by the flower shop and picked up the bouquet of dark purple lilies – Edward’s favorites – he’d ordered days earlier, before driving to the graveyard. It was the first time he’d gone to visit Edward’s grave on his own, though he’d gone along with Bella a couple of times since she’d taken him on what would have been their tenth anniversary.
Jasper allowed himself a minute to steel his resolve but then grabbed the flowers and resolutely made his way to Edward’s grave. His steps slowed as the black marble tombstone loomed closer, until finally he came to a halt in front of it. “Hey, baby,” he murmured as he lowered himself to sit cross-legged facing it. He gently placed the flowers he’d brought next to the roses from Bella and smiled faintly. “I brought you some flowers. I hope you like them.”
A part of him felt a little silly sitting there, talking to a tombstone, but another part also felt a sense of peace as he spoke quietly about just everyday things at first. When he finally ran out of mundane things to talk about, he sighed, running his fingers through his hair. His eyes darted every which way before eventually resting on Edward’s name. “I miss you, baby,” he admitted. “So much. Every day.”
He let the silence stretch out while he gathered his thoughts. His fingers plucked at the blades of grass next to him. “It’s been getting better lately, though,” he said. “I know you asked Bella to look after me, Edward, and I’m grateful you did. I don’t know what I would’ve done without her, but…”
He trailed off, unsure how to continue. “I think… Edward, I think I’m starting to feel something for her, and I don’t know what to do about it. It doesn’t seem fair… right, to… I dunno.” Jasper sighed, raking his fingers through his hair repeatedly as he voiced the hope he’d begun to carry. “Edward? Do you think it’s possible that Bella might… might feel for me, too?”
Jasper flushed from his neck to the roots of his hair at the question, and he clamped his jaw shut, feeling ten kinds of stupid. With a huff, he explained to Edward his suspicions, voiced his questions and, during it all, reasoned out what he’d begun to put together. After he was done, he leaned back on his hands, staring up at the sky as he said, “I know you never wanted me to be alone or lonely, Edward, and that if you could have stayed, you would have. Bella’s your best friend. I hope you won’t begrudge me a chance to see if she and I could be more… to see if maybe she and I can have something like you and I did. She’ll never replace you, baby. No one ever could, and I don’t think she’d ever want to, but…”
A bird twittered off to Jasper’s right, and he turned just in time to see if take flight from a tree. He followed it as it circled the area and finally settled on top of one of the marble doves atop Edward’s tombstone, from where it sang to Jasper. It almost felt as if Edward were reaching out to him, giving Jasper his loving permission to pursue his heart. Jasper couldn’t help but smile, his heart feeling immensely lighter than it had when he’d first arrived. A glance down at his watch startled him. He’d completely lost track of time, and it was mid-afternoon already. The bird flew off with a final mad flourish as Jasper got to his feet. He bent down, his fingers grazing the white letters as he said, “I’ll always love you, Edward. Forever.”
Bella fully expected to find Jasper curled up in bed, not having eaten a thing all day, so when she walked into the house, she was surprised to find the smell of something cooking wafting through the place. She walked toward the kitchen but stopped dead in her tracks when she saw the dining room table set, candles lit, wine poured and all. She stared uncomprehendingly at the scene before her, only snapping out of her stupor when Jasper came out of the kitchen with a basket of rolls.
“Jasper, what-” she began, but she didn’t know how to finish. What on earth was going on? Surely she was dreaming?
Jasper cautiously stepped up to Bella, his eyes searching hers even as she did the same to him. Rubbing the back of his neck, he blushed and said, “Bella… I just… okay, please don’t think I’m weird or anything, but I… I wanted to celebrate-”
Bella’s eyes widened incredulously, not sure she was hearing him right. “Celebrate?”
Jasper nodded. “I know it seems a bit weird, and I’m sorry. It’s just… You know what today is, and I wanted to do something special. Not that I’m happy he’s gone or anything, of course I’m not, but… Bella… I didn’t want to mourn his death. Not today. I’ve done my mourning, and I still miss Edward, and I love him-”
He stopped, closing his eyes and taking several steadying breaths before continuing. “Today, I wanted to celebrate life. I thought maybe…” Jasper’s fingers locked in his hair as he huffed. “God, I’m doing this all wrong.”
Clearing his throat, he took Bella’s hand in his and tried again, “Bella, you’ve been there for me this past year. Been an incredible friend even when I didn’t really deserve it. You’ve seen me through my darkest hours, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.”
Bella swallowed past the lump in her throat, bracing herself for the let-down she was sure was about to follow. Of course it was time for Jasper to move on, and she just knew he was about to tell her it was time for her to leave.
Jasper took a steadying breath and gave her a hesitant smile. His voice was tender, almost intimate, and that almost caused Bella to miss what he said. “Bells, I was… I was hoping that maybe we could celebrate together? Move on together?”
Bella blinked stupidly at him, wondering if she’d understood correctly. It couldn’t be possible, could it? Jasper was gay… wasn’t he? She gazed up at him, a slight frown marring her brow. Her voice shook as she forced the words out. “W-what do you mean, Jasper?”
Jasper’s eyes fixed on Bella’s as he took a step closer, invading her personal space. He cupped her cheek, sending a shiver down her spine. “Bella,” he whispered. Jasper’s breath washed over her face and then his lips brushed tentatively against hers. Bella froze, her desire for Jasper and her shock at what was happening, the million questions popping into her mind rendering her immobile.
Jasper pulled back, frowning and confused – even a little hurt. “I’m sorry, I thought that maybe you-” he began even as Bella stammered, “B-but… you’re gay.”
At that, Jasper couldn’t help himself. He started to laugh – he was surprised at how good it felt. Bella stared at him, bewildered. After a minute or so, Jasper grinned and shook his head, running his fingers through Bella’s hair tenderly. “No, Bella, I’m bi. Didn’t Edward ever tell you?”
“I… No… He… It never really came up,” she stammered, staring wide-eyed at Jasper as if seeing him for the first time.
This time when Jasper leaned in to kiss her, Bella responded, relishing the feel of his lips against hers.
Jasper whispered, “Bella, do you think maybe we could be more than Edward’s best friend,” he tapped her on the shoulder, “and his lover?” He pointed to himself. “Would it be possible for us to be… you know… together?” He felt awkward, like he was a teenager again as he waited with bated breath for Bella’s answer. Thankfully, she didn’t keep him waiting long as she laughed breathlessly.
Bella wrapped her arms around his neck to keep him from moving too far away. “Jasper, I’ve been in love with you for years. I tried to keep it a secret… from you, from Edward… He knew, though. He… he asked me to…” She paused, wondering if she should tell him, then decided to hell with it and plunged on. “Jasper, he asked more than just for me to take care of you. He asked me to help you learn to live and love again.”
Jasper’s heart skipped, and a part of him wondered how much of what Bella had done had been out of a sense of duty and how much because of how she claimed to feel about him. Bella allayed any fears he might have had when she added, “He said he knew I loved you as much as he did. That he wanted you to be happy again. I think he knew that if we’d give this a chance, we could be happy together.”
Silence hung heavy in the air between them until Jasper took a shuddering breath. “He gave his blessing.”
It wasn’t really a question. Between what Bella had said, how well he knew Edward, and his experience earlier at Edward’s grave, Jasper felt sure he was right. At her confused look, he gave her a wan smile. “I went to visit his grave today. I… I talked to him. About everything… us… I even asked him if he thought you might…” Jasper paused, blushing as he cleared his throat. “There was this bird and it just… it felt as if he was right there with me, you know? Telling me it was okay.”
Bella nodded and said, “Yeah, I think he did.”
Jasper gave her a tremulous smile. “So, what do you say, Bella?”
Bella smiled brightly at him. “I’m yours, Jasper. I think I always have been.”
Jasper hugged her to him, kissing the top of her head. After a minute, he pulled away to pick up their wine glasses and held one out to Bella. Smiling tenderly at her, he raised his glass and said softly, “To Edward, for his love. To you, Bella, for your generous soul. To your sunlight breaking through my clouds of sorrow. To new beginnings. To love.”
A/N: Hiiii! I’m back.
No, really. I’m back.
At least, I will be, with At the Deep End. I’m still working through LLNT and other stuff, so I hope you’ll remain patient with me. I do appreciate everyone’s support.
Starting tomorrow, 6/28/2014, I’ll post ATDE from the start both on my blog and on archiveofourown (dot) org / users / naelany. I’ll probably post at least twice a week, maybe more. Once I’m caught up on what’s already on fanfiction (dot) net, I’ll resume posting there as well.
So, who’s ready to go for a swim with me? See you soon!