I was sitting on the soft white couch in the Cullen living room, absently flipping through the channels of their large plasma television as I waited for Edward. Alice had released me from my torture for the day and was now working on Edward's wedding attire and then they were going to go over the details of the honeymoon; I was still miffed that I wasn't allowed to know where we were going. But, at least I wasn't the one getting bombarded with fancy fabric at the moment, so I decided to be thankful for small miracles.
I sighed as I stopped channel surfing. I wasn't particularly interested in anything that was on and contemplated putting in a DVD when I saw a flash of blond hair in the doorway and turned to see Jasper hovering cautiously. His eyes were fixed on the television and I looked to see what had caught his interest, smiling as I saw that I had managed to land on a Civil War documentary.
"Hey, Jasper," I greeted him. His eyes focused on me and I saw the deep golden color that told me he had recently fed. That didn't surprise me. Even though I never held it against him, Jasper had been more careful to feed frequently when I was around. With the wedding planning in full swing, I suspected he was feeding every two or three days. Knowing he would feel what I was feeling, I waved him over with a smile, "Want to watch with me?"
He seemed to consider the question for a moment before nodding and walking—a little stiffly for a Vampire—over to the other side of the couch. I pulled my feet up so that he could sit down. My freshly painted toenails, courtesy of Alice of course, were finally dry, but I didn't feel like putting my socks and shoes back on just yet, so I wiggled my toes against the couch cushions, enjoying the sensation of the fabric under my skin.
While Jasper focused on the television, I continued to watch him. I could count the number of times I had been alone with him on one hand. Even now, we weren't technically alone since I knew Edward and Alice were upstairs and as soon as they realized Jasper was down here with me, Edward would have asked Alice to look and see if there would be any problems. A flash of annoyance went through me at that. It wasn't fair to Jasper for everyone to always think the worst of him. After what we had all just gone through with the newborns, I had even more respect for my soon-to-be brother.
Jasper must have felt my annoyance, but he wouldn't know the reason behind it, so he turned to me and said softly, "If I'm bothering you, I can leave. I don't wish to make you uncomfortable."
He started to stand, but I caught his arm. "No, please stay," I told him. "I wasn't annoyed with you."
"You were looking at me when you felt annoyed, Bella," he noted.
"Yeah, but my annoyance wasn't directed at you, I promise," I replied, keeping a grip on his shirt sleeve until he settled back down again. As I let go, the fabric sprang up and revealed where he had been bitten during the battle with the newborns. I felt a wave of sadness go through me that he had been hurt and when he looked at me in confusion, I motioned to his arm. "Does it still hurt you?"
It had been a couple of weeks and the wound had healed, scarring over to match the countless other scars that I knew mottled Jasper's skin. He followed my gaze and traced the raised line with his right index finger as he curled his left hand into a fist, his bicep becoming more defined as he flexed his muscles.
"No, Bella," he smiled kindly at me. "It doesn't hurt anymore."
"I'm sorry you got hurt because of me," I told him sadly.
"This is not your fault, Bella," Jasper tried to convince me. "No, listen, please. You are family. Whether you have blood in your veins or venom, it doesn't matter. You are a part of this family already and, although I truly appreciate our peaceful existence, I will fight to defend anyone in our family, including you. But, there is something more bothering you, isn't there?"
"Yes," I admitted quietly. "I feel bad that you had to relive those times that weren't peaceful. I know it had to be hard to go up against newborns again, that it probably brought back a lot of painful memories for you from before."
Jasper seemed to be at war with himself for a long moment before he swallowed heavily and took my hand, gently tugging me toward him on the couch. I went willingly and was soon nestled right next to him. I was now closer to him than I had ever been, even when we were on the run in Phoenix. We sat quietly for a long moment before I felt something unexpected—Jasper pressing a kiss to the top of my head.
"You are one of the most selfless people I have ever met, Bella Swan," he told me. "You don't have to worry about me. I survived it then and remembering it now is so foreign to our way of life that it almost feels like someone else's history. It does still sting, but I know that I choose to be better than I was. I choose it every day and every day it gets a little easier."
"But, doesn't it bother you to be around a newborn? Won't that hurt you, too?" I asked, a new worry suddenly popping up in my mind.
"A small price to pay for you to be able to make so many people happy for centuries instead of decades," Jasper smiled. "Remember, I voted 'yes' to you becoming one of us."
"Why did you?" I asked spontaneously. "You said you wanted to be able to be near me without wanting to kill me, but that seems to be less of an issue now."
I gestured to the arm he had casually draped over my shoulder and he reached up and ruffled my hair slightly. "Easier every day," he repeated.
I waited for him to continue and, with a thoughtful expression, he did, "It's what you want, isn't it?"
"Yes," I answered confidently. I knew he could feel the emotion to back up my confirmation. I was aware of how much it would hurt, but I was also determined to become a full-fledged Cullen. "But, that doesn't tell me why you voted 'yes.' Rosalie voted 'no' because she didn't want to become a Vampire and wished someone had voted 'no' for her."
"Bella, I love my sister, but she's a little self-centered," Jasper told me and, although I did agree with him, I had asked for their opinions and she had a valid opinion, so I had to respect it. "You weren't asking whether Rosalie should be changed. You were asking whether you should be."
"Yes, but…,” I tried to protest, but Jasper cut me off.
"I know you were asking how we felt about you being changed, but that wasn't why I cast my vote as 'yes.' I did it for you, not for me. If you didn't become a Vampire, I would have to live with you as a human for five or six decades, and after what I almost did, I would bear it and, eventually, learn to live with it. But, I could feel your conviction and knew that if you did not become a Vampire, you would carry that regret with you to your grave."
"So, you really voted 'yes' because you could tell that was what I wanted?" I asked.
Jasper squeezed my arm gently, "And, because you asked. You, of all people, know what you are asking, and I respect your decision. It's true that it will be a relief of sorts for me to endure your newborn years, but that is not why I said yes. After what I almost did to you, if it was my penance to guard over you day and night while you remained human, I would accept the burning fire of it without complaint. But, by some miracle, you haven't demanded any penance at all. You offer acceptance and love every time you see me. How could I do any less for you?"
"Okay, how about we make a deal?" I suggested.
Jasper raised one dignified eyebrow and waited to hear the proposition.
"If I gave you a way to make it up to me—even though there is nothing to forgive—would you stop beating yourself up over that one stupid day?" I asked.
Jasper snorted lightly and I could tell he was amused by my little outburst. I supposed I did seem amusing, daring to argue with a big, bad scary Vampire who could easily rip my arms off, but I knew with every fiber of my being that I was perfectly safe with him.
"Your wish is my command, little sister," he responded.
His curiosity was definitely piqued, but before I could respond, Edward was suddenly in front of us, growling and declaring, "Absolutely not!"
"Alice!" I shouted up the stairs.
She flitted down to the living room and I glared at her. She gave me a sheepish look and said, "Sorry, I didn't know you were going to ask until a moment ago when you made the decision and then Edward saw it and, well, you see what his opinion is."
Jasper looked between the three of us and turned toward me, asking sardonically, "What were you going to ask me to do? Go out and bring you back a human to start your body count now?"
Edward pulled me out of Jasper's arms and shoved me behind him. I rolled my eyes at the gesture. Even I could tell that Jasper was in complete control and that Edward was overreacting.
"Edward," I called out and then again when he didn't stop glaring at Jasper to respond to me. "Edward, I'm talking now, so it's time for you to listen to me. Are you listening?"
"Yes, I'm listening," he hissed through clenched teeth.
"Good, then get out," I told him.
Finally having his attention, I nearly jumped backward as he spun toward me quickly, but I managed to hold my ground, possibly due to a subtle boost of confidence from Jasper, but I wasn't going to complain.
"This conversation is between me and Jasper. It has nothing to do with you, so go back to what you were doing, or go for a run or go hunting, but whatever you do, do it somewhere else so we can finish our conversation in peace," I told him.
"Bella…," Edward began and I ducked under his arm when he moved it.
"Jasper, are you suddenly repulsed by being in the same room with me?" I asked. When he shook his head ‘no,’ he had a small smile on his face, so I continued with my questions, "Was our conversation boring you? Were you suddenly overcome with a ravenous hunger that you couldn't control? Were you ready to gouge your ears out at the sound of my voice? Any of those?"
"No, Bella," he answered in good humor, a small smile playing on his face. It reminded me of his expression the first time Edward brought me to the house to meet everyone when I commented about Edward being able to do everything well, I wondered if he was secretly needling Edward about my newfound courage to speak my mind and demand equal footing in the family since the disaster Edward created when he left me for my own good. With a brief flicker of his eyes to Edward, he focused on me again and shook his head, "None of the above."
"Then, I would like to continue our conversation if you are agreeable," I told him. I didn't know if he really was influencing me or if I was just starting to assert myself more on my own, but I was actually kind of angry that Edward interfered, once again deciding that my own judgment was not sound. If he would not leave, I would simply ignore him.
"I am most agreeable," Jasper smirked and whatever he thought made Edward's face contort and almost had me back down, but I took a deep breath and forced myself to relax. "What is it that I can do for you, Bella?"
I heard Edward growl again under his breath and I resisted the urge to growl back at him as I focused on Jasper.
"I know I won't remember things clearly when I am a Vampire, but I was thinking about muscle memory and wondered if there was something I could do now to prepare myself for what it will be like as a newborn," I proposed, hoping that Jasper would understand what I was asking of him. As an Empath, he had the unique ability to actually let me feel what a newborn would feel.
"You want me to train you as a newborn now. You believe this will help you to control yourself when you are a newborn," Jasper replied thoughtfully.
It wasn't a question, but I felt compelled to answer him. "I don't know if it will help or not, but if it does, it would put the family in less danger. And, even if my rational mind can't understand what is going on around me, maybe the muscle memory will kick in and I'll automatically behave as I was trained to."
"This is…," Edward began.
"…not your decision, Edward," Jasper cut him off with an authority in his voice I had only ever heard when the he was training everyone for the Newborn battle. Major Whitlock was the one speaking now. "My sister has asked for my help and I will do as she asks."
He turned to me then and continued, "I honestly don't know if it will help. I never tried it before, but I will do this for you. Even if it doesn't work, it will give me a good understanding of your underlying emotions and I will be able to manipulate your emotions better when you are a newborn."
Edward still didn’t look happy, but whatever Jasper or Alice told him telepathically had at least kept him silent for the exchange. I wasn’t holding out hope that he actually agreed with me and my decision, but I would take what I could get. He tensed again as I walked forward slowly and carefully pressed myself against Jasper’s cold chest, feeling his arms wrap around me for a brief moment. I whispered, "Thank you, Jasper."
“You’re welcome, Bella,” breathed into my hair before releasing me. “When do you wish to begin?”
I was just about to say that we could begin immediately, but I was cut off by Alice’s shrill shriek, “No! Not until after your dress fitting this evening. You don’t want to ruin the materials by sweating all over it, do you?”
Jasper smiled at me, “Tomorrow, then.”
He glanced at Edward and then back at me. All traces of humor left his face as he told me seriously, “And make sure you get plenty of sleep tonight. You’re human body is going to need it.”