Chapter 4 – Gambles and Guilt

A/N:

Thank you guys for all the well wishes! My parents have fully recovered from their brush with COVID. By some miracle, I never caught it from them. I did, however, catch my dad’s pneumonia, a fact that actually puzzled the Health Department.

Why I caught one and not the other is a mystery. We’re all kinda scratching our heads.

They actually recovered pretty quickly, but I’ve been dealing with some other medical issues in the interim. I have a rare, benign tumor wrapped around a major nerve in my left foot and, terrifyingly, recently learned there’s another one in the same position in my right foot. Since I nearly lost my lower leg because of the left one, the last few months have been rather difficult for me. I try to write when I feel up to it, but it’s been slow going.

Obviously, working is very difficult for someone with problems like mine. If anyone is interested in making a donation, the amazing 4padfoot set up a donation link on my blog, www. tbvikingaddict. wordpress. com (no spaces). It’s at the top of the grey bar at the bottom of the page.

Stay safe.

Disclaimer: No vampires were harmed in the making of this chapter. Oh- and Stephanie Meyer owns the Twilight Saga.


Jasper finds himself doing his level best to avoid Alice the day after he shatters Bella’s trust in him. He would rather swallow hot coals than risk getting caught in the same room as her. A big part of him doesn’t even want to be in the same damn house as her. It’s why he’s taken to roaming the living room instead of venturing upstairs to his study. There is nothing on God’s green earth that can tempt him into setting foot on the second landing, let alone inside their bedroom. As long as Alice is holing up in there, he intends to pretend that entire floor doesn’t exist.

Jasper loves his wife, he does, but he swears there are times when he absolutely cannot stand her.

He only figures out what a bad idea it is for them to be in the same room together when they’re in the middle of their third fight. She can’t seem to speak to him without screaming like a banshee and Jasper’s poor, abused ears can only take so much of it before he abandons the notion of trying to talk to her entirely. His wife has found fifty different ways to blame him for the destruction of her friendship with Bella and she’s hurled them all at him. Jasper’s found fifty different ways of pointing out that Bella doesn’t care what Alice thinks. In her eyes, she’s still every bit as guilty as he is.

There’s plenty of blame to go around and Jasper doesn’t mind sharing.

He’s spent less than a day arguing with the stubborn pixie and he’s already tired of it. He’s tired of her snide, little comments and accusatory looks, tired of being the target of all her frustration. He’s tired of being the object of her scorn and feeling her resentment, especially when she’s so clearly expecting him to just lie down and take it.

Most of all (worst of all), he’s tired of what she doesn’t say, but what he can feel so acutely. He’s so very, very tired of that unbearable cautiousness he feels brewing just beneath the surface of her irritation and indignation.

He’s never acknowledged it before, but there’s a small part of Alice that secretly fears him when they’re arguing. It stings to admit it, but on some level, she’s afraid of pushing him too far. She’s seen what he’s capable of when riled, watched him take down some of the most vicious vampires in the South, and knows that Jasper is more than skilled enough to end her. Thanks to her gift, she’s glimpsed him at his absolute worst and his new need to stick up for himself reminds her a little too much of the Jasper capable of intimidating an army.

Her visions are the only reason she’s brave enough to argue with him at all. As long as she doesn’t see him attacking her, she feels safe enough to confront him. Even so, Jasper’s scars make the dangers of provoking him impossible to ignore. She’s consciously aware of the risk she’s taking every time she decides to test his limits and that knowledge bothers him so much more than it used to.

Because, now, Jasper can’t help but compare her to Bella.

Now, when he can sense that guarded wariness simmering in the background, all he can see is the lack of it Bella felt the night before. There is no hesitation when Bella comes down on him, no concern that Jasper may try to end her life. The pretty human doesn’t fear pissing him off or getting in his face when she’s upset. She doesn’t feel the same instinctive wariness other vampires and humans do. She definitely doesn’t feel the same caution his wife does.

Despite what Edward believes, this brazenness of hers is not a lack of survival instinct. Bella isn’t blind to the threat that Jasper poses, she knows he’s every bit as lethal as he looks. The difference lies in the fact that she doesn’t allow the possibility of what he can do to her to color the way she views him. She trusts that Jasper won’t hurt her in that way, that he can control himself enough not to lash out at her physically. Even when she feels betrayed by him, her faith in his self-control never falters.

It’s a new experience for Jasper, a humbling one. No one else has ever disregarded the danger he radiates so easily before. There are only two vampires in the world who argue with him as fearlessly as she does and they only feel safe enough to do it because Jasper taught them all his best moves.

He thinks that must be why he suddenly finds her so captivating.

Carlisle gently clears his throat, drawing his attention to where he sits at the dining room table. He’s currently using it as a temporary desk, hoping to get some work done and keep an eye on his children simultaneously. Spread out before him is a stack of medical files for some of his more complicated cases that he smuggled out of the hospital earlier that morning.

After the events of last night, Carlisle’s decided to err on the side of caution and take a few days off from the hospital. Essentially, he’s babysitting them, a fact that would greatly amuse Jasper if he didn’t find it so pitiful. He claims, of course, that he just wants to be close in case the family needs him, but the truth is that he wants to be close enough to ensure that they will obey him.

The drama from last night is far from over and Carlisle recognizes that. He plans to start small, to mend the fractures in their family bit by bit, and today his goals are simple. Not only does he need to speak to Alice privately and see to it that Edward gives Bella a wide berth, he wants to make certain Jasper is adjusting to Bella’s decadent scent. If Jasper lets his thirst win, the empath will likely head straight for Bella, and Carlisle refuses to let a member of his family cause her more pain. He’s keeping a close eye on him just to ensure that her safety isn’t jeopardized.

It’s risky, this gamble of his, but Carlisle suspects the payoff will be worth it in the end.

“How is your thirst, Jasper?” he asks, watching him carefully. “Is it still painful?”

Jasper doesn’t try to hide a grimace. He honestly doesn’t remember the last time his throat burned so badly. He thinks it may have been decades ago, during that terribly bleak period in his life when he starved himself for weeks on end, unable to endure the overwhelming emotions of his prey any longer.

With more than a little shame, he realizes that he usually snaps long before he reaches this point. He doesn’t normally fight his thirst so hard; he’s never had a reason to. The notion of draining Bella, though, appalls him so much that he’s managed to retain an ounce of control. His need is nearly unbearable, but anytime he feels his resolve weakening, he recalls the sight of Bella in tears and the desire dulls. He’s so sick with guilt over what he did to the girl that even the darkest part of him shies away from the thought of wounding her any further.

He can’t decide what’s worse, the excruciating way his throat burns or the suffocating tension that holds his family within its grip. Between the two, he feels like he’s drowning. The overwhelming sensation fosters an inescapable sense of helplessness, an emotion that reminds him so much of his time in the Southern Wars that it makes his breath stutter.

It doesn’t help that emotionally turbulent situations always make him thirstier. In addition to the storm of emotions he’s picking up from the rest of the coven, he’s struggling with his own. His remorse and guilt for manipulating Bella are like a living ache inside of him. His bond with Edward is also hanging on by a thread, Emmett is giving him the silent treatment, and his marriage is in shambles.

The house is a powder keg. All it needs is one tiny spark to set it off.

He envies Rose and Emmett, who left when they couldn’t bear the tension any longer. Jasper doesn’t have that option; he’s bound to the house and the woods just outside it. For the sake of Bella’s safety, Carlisle has asked him to remain close until he’s confident that his thirst won’t overwhelm him.

The most frustrating part about his situation is the knowledge that he has the power to improve it, to both alleviate the fire in his throat and the intolerable tension in the house. Ignoring that temptation is such a challenging test of his restraint that it’s driving him up the wall, but succumbing to it is not an option. At this point, he suspects that Bella’s blood is the only thing that will quench his thirst and he refuses to be her executioner. Using his gift on the family is an altogether different temptation, but disappointing Carlisle is no more appealing than killing Bella is.

Jasper has brought this on himself, he knows. He’s trapped in a misery entirely of his own making.

“It’s fine,” he lies, wincing when Carlisle’s disbelief floods his senses. “All right, it’s still horrendous, but I’ve been stuffed full of so much animal blood that I feel sloshy. I can’t handle another hunt.”

Jasper’s hunted several times since Carlisle asked him to wear Bella’s shirt and it clearly isn’t helping. He’s as full as he can possibly get and, still, he hasn’t sated his thirst. He’s starting to fear he never will.

“Why don’t you sit down, son?” the coven leader prudently suggests. While he can understand why Jasper doesn’t want to go hunting again, Carlisle knows his thirst is wearing on him. He can see it in the shape his absentminded pacing takes. The scent on his clothing has him distracted to the point that he’s acting erratic, his movements jerky and strained. It’s a stark contrast to the fluid gait he normally favors. “You need to focus your mind on something other than your thirst.” He picks up a case file and holds it out in offering, “And I could use a second opinion.”

Jasper doesn’t have a medical degree, but he’s studied anatomy and physiology often enough to have a rudimentary understanding of Carlisle’s cases. Distraction is the goal and Carlisle is certain the difficulty of the task will push his thirst to the back of his mind.

Jasper eyes the files uncertainly before deciding to give it a go and takes a seat in the chair across from him. It’s only when the Texan takes the file from him that Carlisle registers the subtle tremor in his hands. Eyes tightening, the doctor schools his expression and tries his best not to overwhelm Jasper with the strength of his concern.

“It will get easier,” he promises and Jasper glances at him resignedly. He has no idea how Carlisle can handle being exposed to blood on a daily basis. Jasper is barely tolerating a human’s scent on his shirt, he can’t imagine working in a hospital.

Even though the empath feels like he’s coming apart at the seams, he’s actually doing quite well by Carlisle’s standards. Between his history as a human drinker and the side effects of his gift, Jasper has to work harder at his control than the others do. Carlisle was honestly expecting temptation to get the better of him at least once by now, but that’s not the case. Somehow, he’s managing to keep it together through sheer willpower and Carlisle is rather impressed by his efforts. It’s a new side to Jasper that he hasn’t yet seen, a streak of stubborn determination that the doctor hopes will help him gain control of his thirst more quickly.

They spend the next two hours methodically working through the stack of files and Carlisle’s relieved to note that the diversion is working. With Jasper’s mind focused on the complicated task in front of him, his hands grow steadier and the agony in his expression starts to ease. Fatherly pride spreads through Carlisle like wildfire and Jasper feels himself warm in response to the blaze. For the first time since last night, a shadow of a smile creeps across his face.

They’re about halfway through the pile when a sharp, stinging flash of irritation and disappointment snatches Jasper’s attention. Locating the source, he looks up at the ceiling unhappily. He has an ugly suspicion that Alice isn’t just sulking up there in their bedroom. From the amount of concentration she’s broadcasting, he thinks she may be using her gift to look for ways to patch things up with Bella. She’s not supposed to be searching out visions of the family, especially visions of Bella.

Though he’s dearly tempted to share that suspicion with Carlisle, he won’t for a number of reasons. Firstly, he already knows Edward will never back him up, so it would be his word against hers. Secondly, Carlisle told them to stop using their gifts against each other and Jasper only knows what she’s up to because he can feel it.

There’s another reason he won’t rat her out and it has to do with all the frustration she’s throwing out. It seems pretty obvious to him what that frustration means. No matter how many visions she forces, she isn’t getting anywhere, and that amuses the hell out of him. He isn’t sure if it’s due to Bella’s adamant refusal to accept Alice back into her life or if his wife is flying blind now that Bella no longer trusts her. There’s a chance that she’s not letting Alice see her future any more than she’s letting Jasper alter her emotions.

What Jasper doesn’t realize is that his behavior has already alerted Carlisle. Suppressing a frown, he’s contemplating whether to go upstairs or not when they hear the sound of an approaching car. Distracted by the return of his mate, he smiles at his eldest son, “I believe that’s Esme.”

Setting aside the file he was reading, Jasper stands slowly, “I think I’ll go greet her, if you don’t mind.”

Carlisle’s smile grows amused. Jasper’s been glancing at the clock off and on ever since Esme left. He’s pretty confident the empath’s earlier pacing was driven by his impatience for her to return. “Of course.”

He’s gone in a blink and Carlisle shakes his head. Chuckling to himself, he returns his attention to the casework in front of him.

It’s mainly concern that propels Jasper out the door, a need to ensure he hasn’t driven Bella into a major depression with his recent actions. A tiny part of him is also relieved for the chance to distance himself from the boiling tension inside, but it’s not his primary focus.

It’s ironic, really. There was a time that Jasper once considered killing Bella, back when she was just Edward’s singer and not his girlfriend. At the time, her emotional state meant nothing to him and now it’s all he can think about. He felt her devastation when she learned Alice and Edward were allowing him to manipulate her emotions. Their betrayal cut deeply, so deeply that it haunts him.

“Jasper,” Esme greets in surprise as she climbs out of her car. She shuts her door and tucks her purse under her arm. Glancing at the sky, she smiles, grateful the rain has finally drizzled to a stop.

Though Jasper hasn’t actively sought out anyone’s emotions since last night, the lighthearted nature of Esme’s is not something he can ignore. A tension eases in his shoulders and sweet relief pools in his chest. He’s convinced Esme wouldn’t feel so content if Bella didn’t enjoy herself at lunch.

“Esme,” he returns with a hint of a smile, “how is she?”

Esme pauses in consideration, trying to find the right words. Bella, she’s beginning to learn, is so much stronger than they give her credit for. There’s a beautiful kind of resilience to her that Esme admires, an unexpected fierceness that she occasionally glimpses. “Determined.”

He doesn’t get to win, Esme.

Jasper frowns in confusion, but the vibrating of his cellphone keeps him from asking her what she means by that. Esme ambles up the driveway as Jasper retrieves his phone from his pocket, scowling to himself when he reads the cryptic text his venom brother sent him. It’s not often that Peter’s gift for knowing things touches his life, but when it does, it usually means that shit’s about to hit the fan.

Stop Edward.

All hell breaks loose before he has a chance to demand more details. A wave of horror, jealously, and dismay slams into him with all the subtlety of a hurricane. Inside the house, Alice lets out a startled shriek and something crashes violently through the wall on the second floor. Edward comes barreling down the stairs, showering the floor with wooden debris and plaster. Carlisle attempts to grab him at the foot of the staircase, but Edward sees it coming and ducks his outstretched hand.

Jasper reacts without thought, tackling the copper-haired vampire as he sails out the open door. He learned decades ago that ignoring Peter’s advice is akin to a human shooting himself in the foot. When it comes to Peter and the shit he just knows, his instincts are geared towards acting first and thinking later.

Edward lets out a cry of surprise as Jasper’s body collides with his and takes him to the ground. He uses a little too much force, causing them to skid wildly down the damp front steps and roll to a stop in the muddy lawn. It’s not one of Jasper’s cleanest tackles, but he still manages to come out on top somehow. Face smushed against the soggy grass, Edward is even less thrilled with the landing than he is.

“Get off me, Jasper!” Edward snarls, struggling to break free. Jasper ignores him and shifts his weight to secure a better hold.

“Jasper?” Esme questions uncertainly, a bit bewildered by the entire incident.

Relieved someone managed to stop the impulsive boy, Carlisle joins them on the lawn. Alice hesitantly trails out behind him, a strange expression on her face. Tasting her emotions, Jasper can sense she’s reeling in shock. Whatever vision she saw was so unexpected that it’s literally stunned her speechless.

Edward impatiently elbows Jasper in the gut and he lets out a pained grunt. Normally, he’d use his gift to calm the boy down, but Carlisle’s made it clear that he is not to use it on the family. He’s not about to disobey orders right in front of the man who gave them.

“Suck-up.”

Rolling his eyes, Jasper shoves Edward’s face further into the grass as he explains his actions to Carlisle and Esme, “Peter said to stop him.”

“I see,” Carlisle hums, silently pondering why Peter would care if Edward makes a fool of himself in front of Bella. And it doesn’t take a genius to realize that it’s where Edward was headed. Sadly, Carlisle half expected it. After discovering how much his children controlled her, he’s certain Bella is eager to reassert her independence. It doesn’t surprise him in the slightest that Edward is keen to stop it. Though, he is surprised that his son wasn’t more discreet in the attempt.

Since Peter has never been fond of Edward, Carlisle suspects the man intervened for Bella’s sake, an oddity in itself since he’s never even met the girl. Glancing at Jasper, he wonders if the empath mentioned anything about last night to his brother. Perhaps he hopes to help Jasper redeem himself.

In the end, Carlisle realizes speculating will get him nowhere and focuses on the matter at hand. Crouching down beside Edward’s head, he questions, “What did Alice see, Edward? Where were you going?”

“I don’t have time for this!” Edward explodes. He’s a rabid mess, all vicious growls and snarls. “Let me up, Jasper!”

Yeah, no. Jasper is definitely not going do that. With the state Edward’s in, he’ll terrify anyone who sees him, including Bella.

Frustrated, Carlisle turns to Alice for an explanation and demands, “What did you see, Alice?”

The dainty vampire hesitates, but not because she doesn’t intend to answer him. She just finds it difficult to put what she saw into words. Edward has obviously chosen to focus solely on the risk involved in Bella’s newest endeavor, blinding himself to everything else the vision revealed. While he saw the fragile, clumsy girl he loves with a dangerous weapon in her hands, Alice saw something very different.

Last night, Alice watched Bella’s spirit shatter. Today, she witnessed her rebirth, the beginning of someone new. Like a phoenix, she sees now that Bella will rise from the ashes, stronger than ever. She’s always known that Bella is extraordinary.

It kills her to know that she won’t get to be a part of her transformation.

“I saw Emmett, Rose, and Bella in a clearing out in the woods,” Alice explains, her voice resigned. “Emmett’s planning to set up some targets. He’s going to teach Bella how to shoot.”

Silence reigns for a second before it’s broken by the rich, deep laugh that spills from Jasper’s chest. He’s finally figured it out, that poignant yearning Bella felt when she was watching Emmett play his video game last night. When the strength of it first caught his attention, he couldn’t understand why Bella wouldn’t just ask Emmett if she could play with him. Now he sees that it was never about the game, but the gun. She was yearning for a chance to hold a weapon.

“It’s not funny, Jasper,” Edward barks, renewing his struggles, “she’s going to get hurt! Let me go!”

“She’s with Emmett and Rose,” Jasper says flatly. “They won’t allow any harm come to her.”

“Oh, good,” the mindreader growls, “then there’ll be two vampires there to finish her off when she accidentally blows a hole in her hand. You’re right, Jasper, nothing to worry about!”

Alice rolls her eyes and plants her hands on her hips. “I highly doubt she’s going to shoot herself, Edward.”

She’s much more concerned about the fact that Emmett is the one teaching her how to handle a gun than the risk of Bella shooting herself. That’s a disaster just waiting to happen.

The confident, matter-of-fact tone she uses catches Carlisle’s attention. Gazing at her curiously, he questions, “What makes you say that, Alice?”

“She’s inherited the Chief’s marksmanship.”

Jasper pauses and looks at his wife in genuine surprise. He wasn’t expecting to hear that Bella possesses actual skill. After all, Bella isn’t exactly known for her hand-eye coordination.

He finds himself envious of Emmett in that moment. Teaching her how to shoot would be very boring if Bella were a poor shot, but now they can have some lively competitions between them. It makes him regret last night even more. With what he’s done, Bella would sooner take a shot at Jasper than show him her skill.

“Where would Emmett even get a gun?” Esme wonders and Alice smirks at the way the question makes their coven leader cringe.

Jasper raises an eyebrow at Carlisle when he feels his flaring guilt. Caught out, he sheepishly confesses, “Emmett may be under the false impression that a zombie apocalypse is not impossible.”

Edward’s growls briefly falter and Esme stares at her mate in astonishment. “Carlisle,” she chides, smothering a laugh, “we’ll be lucky if he doesn’t have a whole arsenal stashed away.”

“He does,” Alice confirms, looking undeniably amused. Jasper narrows his eyes at her, realizing that Emmett’s preparations must’ve entertained her too much to say anything. Normally, he’d find that amusing in itself, but he isn’t feeling very charitable towards his wife at the moment. She’s kept silent on one too many visions lately for him to feel anything but sympathetic towards his brother. “He keeps it in a storage unit in Port Angeles.”

Esme’s expression turns chastising and Carlisle pinches the bridge of his nose in frustration. He never expected Emmett to take him seriously. “I will speak to him when he gets home.”

Jasper chokes back a laugh, imagining Emmett’s crestfallen face. He’s spent years hoarding supplies just for Carlisle to tell him that he was joking. Rose will no doubt tease him endlessly for this.

Sensing Jasper’s moment of distraction, Edward slams his head back and attempts to buck him off. Carlisle scrambles forward to hold him in place while Jasper repositions himself, yanking his arms backward as he digs his knee into Edward’s back. The belligerent fool immediately stills at the silent threat. Jasper is almost disappointed; he would’ve enjoyed removing the prick’s arms.

“Enough,” Carlisle rebukes. “Alice just assured you that Bella is in no danger, Edward. Why are you still so desperate to interrupt her? Do you think she’ll reward you for it?” When Edward doesn’t answer him, Carlisle warns, “She’s more likely to shoot you than welcome you, son. If a rebounding bullet ends her life, you will never forgive yourself.”

The words have their intended effect and Edward’s body goes slack. Giving Carlisle a pleading look, he implores, “Then at least let me go watch over her. You know how klutzy she is, Carlisle. The best marksmanship in the world would do nothing to negate clumsiness.”

“You are the last person that should be around Bella if she accidentally hurts herself,” Carlisle scolds and Edward snarls in frustration. “Rose is already with them and she knows more than enough about nursing to keep Bella alive if the worst should happen. She’s not tempted by her blood like you are.”

Jasper glances at Carlisle in approval. Other than Carlisle himself, Rose is the best person to have nearby during a medical crisis. She volunteered as a nurse during WWII.

“Rose would let her die!” Edward objects, forgetting the impact that last night had on their sister. “I’m Bella’s mate, Carlisle. I should be the one watching over her!”

Jasper snaps his head towards Esme when he senses a spike of pure, unadulterated fury. Glowering at Edward, she reprimands, “She broke up with you, Edward! Of the bond you shared with her, only tatters remain!”

The harsh reminder hits Edward harder than a physical blow. It’s become ingrained in him to protect Bella from harm. Letting go of that desire is not an easy task and Edward clearly hasn’t mastered it yet. Shaking his head, he argues stubbornly, “She didn’t mean it. She’ll change her mind once she calms down.”

“You intend to keep pursuing her?” Jasper clarifies, staring at the back of his brother’s head in disbelief. From what he sensed last night, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that Bella will change her mind.

“She’s my mate, Jasper,” Edward scoffs. “I won’t give up on her so easily.”

“I see,” Carlisle says calmly, his expression unreadable. Then he turns to Jasper and orders, “Remove his foot.”

What? No!” Edward exclaims, sounding panicked. Even Jasper’s taken aback. The Cullen patriarch has never resorted to using such brutal tactics before.

“You’re not giving me a choice, Edward,” Carlisle chides. “Either you leave Bella alone, like she requested, or we remove your foot. I have neither the time nor the inclination to babysit you all afternoon and Bella has made it more than clear that she wants you to stay away from her. Given what you’ve put her through, I think it’s a reasonable request. Which will it be?”

It’s Alice who finally breaks through to him, “He means it, Edward.” The mindreader turns his head towards her, his expression betrayed. Grimacing, Alice reasons, “Bella won’t respond well if you approach her now, especially if you try forbidding her to do something. Give her time and she’ll come back someday. If nothing else, you’ll see her when the new school year begins. Speak with her then.”

Scowling, Jasper shares a disgruntled look with Carlisle. Alice’s own inability to accept that things have irrevocably changed is now feeding Edward’s, giving him false hope.

Esme steps between them, silently forcing Edward to look at her. With a stern expression on her face, she advises, “You would do best to prepare yourself for rejection when that day comes, Edward. When I spoke with her earlier, her opinion of you and what you’ve done had not improved.”

There’s a tiny part of Jasper that takes comfort in that, relieved to know she won’t be swayed so easily. A greater part, however, grows concerned. Like Edward, Jasper thought time would cool her ire. Now he can’t help but wonder if he’s every bit as delusional as Edward and Alice are, hoping to earn the forgiveness of someone who no longer wants anything to do with him.

He refuses to be like them, to live in a state of denial. If Bella rejects his apology, he resolves to leave her alone.

“Why would she ever accept an apology from you?” Edward asks scathingly, irritated with Jasper for besting him so easily. “You’re the one who started all this!”

Before he can retort, Carlisle intervenes, a dark look on his face, “You would be wise to sort out your own thoughts before intruding on ours, Edward.” Puzzled by the comment, Edward looks at Carlisle uncertainly. “Last night, you wanted to move, to leave Bella to live a human life. Now you want to win her back. You don’t know whether you’re coming or going. Before airing Jasper’s personal thoughts, you should work on sorting out your own.”

Edward holds his tongue, but they all know what he’s thinking. Last night, Bella wasn’t so rebellious. She wasn’t asking Emmett to help her do dangerous activities, like firing a gun.

“Regardless of what you decide,” Carlisle says severely, “you will not impede Bella’s free will, do you understand me? What she chooses to do is none of your concern.”

Edward grits his teeth, “Yes.”

Carlisle nods at Jasper, who finally releases him. Scrambling to his feet, Edward storms back into the house. Just as he reaches the stairs, Esme calls out, “And that wall better be repaired by tonight, Edward! Next time, use a door.”

Jasper snickers and brushes some mud off his sleeve. His smile falls when he notices the look of consternation on Alice’s face. For a second, he honestly thinks it’s the state of his clothing that has her so perturbed. She proves him wrong when she turns to Carlisle and asks in a tone of pure bewilderment, “You’re really going to let her do this?”

She can’t understand why he’s even entertaining the idea. Carlisle detests weapons of any kind.

“I don’t let Bella do anything, Alice,” he sighs, shaking his head in disappointment. “Like all of you, she is fully capable of making her own decisions. We talked about this last night.”

“But what if she gets hurt?” Alice presses, concerned. Bella’s a great deal more vulnerable than the rest of them and Edward has a point. Bella is clumsy.

“Then she’ll learn not to play with guns,” Carlisle quips, surprising a laugh out of Jasper. He’s beginning to develop a whole new level of respect for the Cullen patriarch.

Alice’s thoughts turn inward as Carlisle and Esme head inside, gently patting Jasper on the shoulder as they walk past. Recalling what she saw in her vision, a frown pulls at her lips. There was a strange gleam in Bella’s eyes that Alice finds unsettlingly familiar. It takes her a moment to place it, but when she finally does, she nearly swears herself hoarse. It’s the same damn look Jasper gets whenever Peter wants to spar. His venom brother is just as talented a fighter as he is and his gift makes him dangerously unpredictable. If Jasper doesn’t pay close attention, there’s a genuine risk he’ll lose a limb or walk away with a new scar, and he loves it. The risk excites him. Thrills him, even. He says the adrenaline rush makes him feel alive.

She knows then that this is only the beginning. Danger has always been drawn to Bella Swan, but now she suspects the brunette will actively seek it out.

“Dread?” Jasper questions softly, jolting Alice out of her thoughts. She hadn’t realized he decided to linger when the others went inside. “What is it you dread, Alice?”

The pixie bares her teeth at him in a mockery of a smile. “None of your freaking business, Jasper.”

He flinches at the venom in her tone and Alice flits away. The door to their bedroom slams shut an instant later. She actually locks him out, as if he wants anywhere near that demented, little pixie.

Jasper loves his wife, but sometimes, just sometimes, he honestly cannot stand her.


A/N 2:

For those who worry- no, this is not a “Jasper cheats on Alice” fic. Their bond is already fracturing, Jasper just doesn’t want to admit it.