Of Kith and Kin
Chapter One: Away She Flew, Home
"Bella, sweetheart, what are you doing here?" Esme put an arm around my shoulder, as Emmett took the paper tray full of cups of coffee from my hands. Jacob handed over the pastry box filled with muffins that no one would eat, but that I felt compelled to bring.
"Esme, I had to come. How is she?"
"She's stable, Carlisle says she's stable." The corners of Esme's eyes crinkled with a smile that wasn't real. A doctor's wife, she'd long since learned the trick of it.
The hospital waiting room was quiet. It was filled with institutional furniture that was decades old, magazines that were years old, and Emmett, Rosalie and Esme. I glanced around for him, but didn't see him anywhere. His abrupt departure from the bakery left me shaken, though as Jacob placed his hands at my elbow and the small of my back, I pretended that everything was fine. He'd unhanded me, but the worried crease between his eyes never went away.
"How are you?" Esme asked, placing a hand lightly over my stomach. Since I'd become pregnant, I'd grown used to these invasions of my personal space. Everyone in the extended Cullen-Hale-McCarty family felt they had the right to put their hands on me, and it had gotten to the point that I didn't mind it so much. I felt like community property.
"I'm good, Esme," I answered. "The drive wasn't so bad. I left early enough to miss the traffic getting out of Seattle." In truth, the drive up from Seattle had been long, and I suspected, it would be one of the last times I'd make that trip for several months. I'd planned on staying in Forks for the last two months of my pregnancy anyway. Of course, with…Alice, it only made sense to move up the timeline. My assistant was already busy, calling clients, rescheduling shoots, and making arrangements for my absence.
"I hope you didn't drive yourself," she said, clucking over me, leading me to a chair. Rosalie gave me a stern look before patting the seat next to her. I sat and leaned into her shoulder and she put her arm around me. Her eyes caught mine, full of worry. I tried to put on a calm front but…he was there, somewhere. The corners of my mouth twitched down and Rosalie searched my face.
"What's wrong?" she asked, her voice full of concern, her eyes scanning me up and down.
"It's nothing, I'm fine," I said, filling my voice with confidence that I didn't feel. "My back hurts," I said. My heart was still hammering. Here, here, he's here.
"We saw-" Jacob began to speak and I silenced him with my eyes. I was mother, older sister and lover, rolled into one. After all of our years of friendship, he knew better than to defy me. His secrets were only kept by my good graces, though I knew that he tended my own secrets well.
"I need to get back to work," he said. "I just ran into Bella at the bakery, and I wanted to stop in and say hello." He nodded to Rosalie and Emmett. "We should be getting the sheetrock up in another day, so you'll have your wall back by the end of the week."
Em nodded, thanking Jacob for his work. In the years since graduating high school, Jacob had built up a nice little business, doing odd jobs all around Forks, La Push and even some in Port Angeles. He was the one everyone called for any major household renovations, or even chores as simple as clearing the rain gutters. In the past few years he'd added two people to the payroll full-time. He was taking his General Contractor licensing exam in three months. I had no doubt he'd ace it.
Jacob approached, kissed the top of my head and gave my hand a squeeze, and in that moment I could not wait for the baby to be born. It was too much, all the kind gestures and touches, the quiet concern. I hungered for the freedom I used to know, when I was untethered, unbound.
I sighed. "Thank you, Jacob." I looked into his brown eyes, so dark they were almost black, thanking him for everything. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for this man who'd stood by me my whole life, ready to take my hand, to be my protector, my best friend. Jacob was tall, eclipsing even Emmett in height, and he wore his thick, black hair long, tied at the nape of his neck with a leather thong. I leaned into his chest, feeling his arm come around me, filling me with strength.
His eyes shone back at me, and we both understood, the words unsaid. He walked over, whispered something to Emmett, and left. A moment later, I followed behind him.
"Jacob," I called, reaching out for his hand. His long strides had carried him too far away, too fast.
He turned and looked at me, the smile gone from his face.
"Thank you," I said.
"Did you know he was here?"
I shook my head and clutched at his hand. If I'd known, I probably wouldn't have had the courage to come.
"I don't like this. You should tell them."
"Jake, come on. It's been so long. I'm just trying to let it go."
"Yeah, well, letting go is one thing, avoiding it is something else, and Cullen didn't look like he was letting anything go."
I thought back to that moment earlier in the bakery. Jacob's hand his hand on my belly, making me laugh, and when I looked up, Edward was there. It had been six years since I'd seen him, and still I felt like a child under his gaze. He'd looked just as shocked as I felt, and after a mumbled hello and goodbye, he walked out of the bakery, but I knew there was no avoiding it. Edward Cullen was back in my life.
"I don't know, Jake. I'm sure he's just worried about Alice. I doubt he wants to rehash all that old stuff anyway."
Jacob turned my hand over in his, swallowing it in his big palm. "Just be careful, Bells. That's all."
"I promise," I said, looking up at him.
He kissed me on the top of my head, then walked away.
When I returned to the waiting room, I took up roost next to Rosalie. She gripped my hand, and Emmett took the seat on the other side of me. He put his arm around me, snuggling me into his side. I breathed deep, then let out a loose breath.
"I need to get back," Esme said, her voice cracking. I was out of my chair in an instant, pulling her into my bloated embrace. The scent of Esme, of mother, wafted up to me as I stroked her hair, rubbing her back as she rested her head against my shoulder. I heard her breathy sob and held her harder, my own tears slipping silent down my cheeks. Family. This was my family. I surrounded her, welcoming her, pushing back to her every kindness that she had ever given me.
"It'll be okay," I whispered, low, working to convince us both. "It'll all be okay." She gripped me tighter, and I pulled her closer into me. We stood, silent comfort, until we both could draw a clean breath. Esme'd been my mother since my real mother gave up the task, almost twenty years before. Any comfort that I had to give was hers, absolutely.
I pulled away and looked into her eyes. Those green eyes. His green eyes. The knife didn't twist in my heart, but it did pierce. After all this time. For a moment, I hated him. My family now, I thought. You can't claim them. You gave them away.
Rosalie tugged my hand, pulling me back down to a chair. Her eyes probed, pleading. I held her hand, cut my eyes to Esme, and then back to Rosalie, begging her, not now. My secrets were still mine, and I wouldn't surrender them just yet. Despite my bulky flesh, I was feeling quite thin.
Esme excused herself to the ladies room. As Doctor Carlisle Cullen's wife, she presented herself with a certain amount of decorum. It wouldn't do to have raccoon eyes, and I knew it was not vanity, but respect that she was trying to convey.
As Esme left, Rose squeezed my hand again.
"It's okay," I said. "I'm fine, I promise." I pushed my mouth into a smile and Rosalie relaxed some. Emmett came to sit next to me, his arm back around me, pulling me close. No wonder I thought I could take on the world. Between Jacob and Emmett, who could harm me?
Then I remembered green eyes and while my smile did not falter, all of my courage flagged. I found myself in search of escape, not ready to see him again.
"Can I go see her?" I asked, looking between Rosalie and Emmett.
"Yeah," Emmett replied. "It's just Jasper and Esme. You go on."
I stood and they stayed, Rosalie furrowing her brow at me so I turned and made a face at her, eliciting most of a smile. Emmett chuckled and reached out to hold her hand in his.
"We'll be here," he said, and I nodded.
Making my way down the hall, I worked hard at blocking out the smell of the place. Underneath the Lysol and the antiseptics, I smelled the rusty scent of blood and the bitter tang of urine. Since I'd become pregnant, it seemed my sense of smell was on overdrive; I picked up things only a dog should be able to scent and it often left me disoriented.
I opened the door to Alice's room, my fingers tentative on the handle. The last time I'd been here, it was Rosalie in a bed, her strong body laid low and Emmett's red-rimmed eyes greeting me from the side of her bed. I steeled myself to see Jasper in his place, the sorrow deep in those fathomless blue eyes, where only smiles should be.
The autumn air hangs thick and still with rains waiting to come. First day at school, first day of high school, and I am inadequate in my skin, having grown not at all, feeling like an eighth-grader playing dress up in the real world. Alice stands next to me, and I want to clutch her hand, but instead I hang loose at her side. She leads, I follow.
I close my eyes to the wet air and draw myself up inside. Edward drove me and Alice to school is his old silver Volvo, a hand-me-down from Esme that retained a hint of her Oscar de la Renta perfume, floral sweet, despite the cigarettes of both kinds that he'd hot-boxed since getting his license last June.
We stand, Alice and me, watching as people filter into the school. I ask what we're waiting for and she shushes me, saying that he's almost here. I wonder who she's talking about, but I don't question my friend, all pale skin and dark hair, standing a head short of me, and yet, still bigger than life.
A beat up Jimmy truck, black, rattles into the school parking lot. Alice becomes more animated, her red mouth working a piece of gum and she runs her palms down the front of her jeans. She dips her nose down into the turtleneck of her sweater, Edward's sweater, so big it hangs down past her thighs and swallows her hands until only her fingertips show.
A boy steps out of the truck. He's very tall, with wavy blond hair that falls down to his shoulders. Stacy Peralta, I think, the way he looks like lean muscles and California waves. He walks toward the school, and by extension, us. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Lauren Mallory. She's already a sophomore and the last year was nice, not being at the sharp end of her stick. She makes a noise, low in her throat and whispers "fresh meat" as the blond boy passes us by.
Alice drops her books, then turns and looks at me. Her eyes are wide and dark blue like a storm is coming and she says to me "there went my one." The bell rings and I help her pick up her books before we head into the school for the first day of classes.
At lunch we meet in the quad and she approaches Edward. He is already the big man on campus, but he doesn't shun her, nor would he ever. Loyalty eclipses status in his eyes, and she is his blood. He will never desert her.
He bends low so that she has his ear, and she whispers into it. Emmet leans against the brick planter, all muscles and dark hair, and flashes his dimples at me. I flush and eye the toes of my shoes and I hear him chuckle. A moment later, he whistles long and low, like something out of a 40's movie, and I look to see him staring at a girl I've never seen before. She is tall and blond and moves her body with the careless grace of knowing that the world is watching, and that it doesn't matter, because she's the most beautiful thing they've ever seen. She reaches the edge of the cafeteria, quails a moment, then pushes forward. A second later Emmett is in motion, shifting glacier, chasing his sun.
Alice and Edward have ended their conference, and I watch as Jessica Stanley approaches, then flees in a fit of giggles. Alice winks at me and I smile back. My love for her brother is a covert thing, and if she knows, she overlooks that weakness.
Alice takes a seat on the brick, and I move to her side, where I can gaze at Edward unobserved. He wears a black leather jacket covering a gray, waffle-weave thermal. His dark jeans are almost too long and the cuff is frayed, but not torn. His hair is wild, as always, but the damp is making it heavy, and a piece of it flops down over one eye. A hot breath of air pushes it up and out of the way, but it falls right back down again.
I hear a gasp to my right and pull myself out of my head. Alice's mouth is caught between a frown and a smile, as the blond boy from this morning exits the cafeteria, an apple in the palm of his hand. Lauren Mallory begins her descent from my left, all long legs and long hair, skinny t-shirt emphasizing her breasts, which are bouncing with her steps. There's a trail of sweet-tart scent in her wake, chemical fruit. Does she want them to bite her?
Alice whispers "no," and launches herself at the boy. Before he knows what's happening, she's jumped up in his arms, her mouth leaving red ovals on his cheek as she peppers it with kisses. I slide down from the brick wall and step closer.
"You've been keeping me waiting," she says, as she straightens her legs and slides down his body. Edward tenses next to me. He's never seen his baby sister with a boy before. I guess he doesn't like it.
Alice slips her hand into his and pulls him forward. He follows, dumbstruck, and Lauren watches, mouth open, as the two march past her on their way to us.
"Everyone, this is Jasper," she says, dropping his hand.
He stares at us all, then looks again at the small girl beside him.
"That was for your own good," she says. "Lauren was about to pounce, and I don't think you want a social disease your first day at a new school, right?" The blond boy glances across the quad at Lauren. She's caught seething and tries to fake a smile, but we can all see that it's unreal. He turns back to us and it's introductions all around. I watch Alice watching him, and I see something in her that I've never seen before. The woman inside is budding. Under the blue eyes of this boy, she will bloom.
I walked inside and took in the tableau before me. Alice, tiny Alice, lay swathed in blankets, her arm bound with white gauze, an IV in her other hand. Jasper was hunched over her, his head on her lap, his arms at her sides. Esme stood at her head, stroking Alice's dark hair back from her pale, pale face. She had one hand on Jasper's head as well, needing to touch them both, to confirm that they were both still hers, safe. I identified with her need, the maternal urge to protect them from this, and was surprised.
Esme looked up when I came in, her face brightening for just a moment before she turned back to her frail daughter in the bed. Jasper looked up at me sleepily, blinking several times before he fully took me in.
"Hi mama," he said, his mouth reaching for a grin but failing. I patted my belly and gave him my own smile. I reached him quickly and he stood, his tall frame unfolding like a butterfly from a chrysalis, until his arm swept around me, pulling me close.
"Love you," I said, gripping him tight, fierce in my determination that everything would be okay. They were our perfect couple. This moment was…baffling, for us all.
He sighed, and answered, "you, too."
"The kids?" I asked, not seeing either Daisy or Huck in the waiting room.
"My mom," he answered. "She got here late last night."
I nodded against his chest, relieved that they were taken care of, relieved that he could be free to be there with the part of his life that needed him the most. I stepped back, slipping one hand into his.
Looking at him, I reached my hand up to cup his face, trying to wipe away the wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. He's only two years older than me, not even thirty. He looked forty in that moment, grief and pain etching his face into a mask that all but obscured the man that I'd grown up with.
Searching his eyes with mine, I tried to find answers. He shrugged, but didn't drop my hand. So lost, he looked so lost. And weary. I squeezed his hand, then left him to give Ali a kiss on the cheek.
She was too pale. Her lips were chapped, and a bag of clear liquid dripped into a tube that ran down into her hand. In the silence, the machinery clicked and whirred and beeped. I stared at the monitors, not knowing what to look for, wishing for absolution from whatever it was that held her in its thrall.
We sat together for a while, Jasper holding my hand, holding her hand, Esme stroking Alice's hair. We were a constellation, revolving around her. Carlisle entered and studied the monitors, picking up her chart. I stood and went to him, folding myself into his arms, breathing in the scent that belonged mostly to him but a little bit to Edward too, some innate body chemistry riding on the Y set of chromosomes of the Cullen men. Like Esme's eyes, it pierced me a little that day, fresh off seeing Edward.
There was a time when it was difficult to be so close to Carlisle, to look Esme in the eye. But that passed, and it had been a very long time since taking a breath full of family brought me anything other than comfort.
"What can I do?" I asked.
He patted my stomach and smiled at me. "You're feeling okay?" he asked. I smiled and nodded at him.
"I'm fine, I promise. What can I do?"
He shook his head, golden hair falling out of place, dipping over his dark blue eyes. "We're hoping she'll be released tomorrow, the next day at the latest." He looked at his daughter, a flicker of sorrow in his eyes, before he resumed his doctor's veneer of professionalism.
"You, Miss Swan, can take care of yourself. You're carrying precious cargo."
I smiled at him but groaned inside. I was tired of carrying precious cargo, tired of being told to take care of myself. It was frustrating. I was pregnant, not an invalid. I remembered then why I enjoyed living in Seattle, far from the watchful eyes of those who loved me best. The freedom started out intoxicating, but quickly grew into something necessary. An addiction.
I hugged and kissed them all, and made my way with Esme back to the waiting room. Rosalie and Emmett still hadn't been in to see Alice, and it was only fair. They'd been there first.
As we approached the waiting room, I saw him. His back was to me. He looked taller, his shoulders broader. It had to be a trick, he couldn't have grown in the last six years, but he looked it anyway. Jeans clung to his hips, and he wore a tan, button down shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows. How had I missed that earlier? I swallowed him whole with my eyes, staring until Esme called out "Edward!" and he turned and looked at us both.
He glanced at me, my stomach, then swooped Esme up in his arms. I returned to my seat next to Rosalie, and watched as Edward and Esme exchanged urgent, whispered words.
Rose leaned into me, asking how Alice was. What could I say to that? Same as the last time? Better? "She's okay," I answered. "They'll let her go maybe tomorrow." I looked up and saw Edward flick his eyes over me, so fast I almost believed I'd imagined it.
I looked around the waiting area, searching for my handbag. It was tucked under Emmett's chair. Leaning forward, I dragged it out, pawing through it for some hand cream. Since I'd become pregnant, my skin was always so dry. You'd never know I held an ocean within my stomach.
Rose looked at the bag, then me, then gasped, her hand covering her mouth.
"Oh my god – where will you stay?"
Now, that was an excellent question. I usually stayed with Rose and Emmett, but when I met Jacob at the bakery, he told me about tearing out the side of their guest room to put in a bay window, so that was definitely out. I couldn't stay at Jasper and Alice's – his mom was in their guest room, although I would have enjoyed having the kids around. At this point, it was looking like Charlie's couch, since Seth had taken over my room when Sue moved in. I know that Seth would have given up his bed, but…it was too strange, being back in that room after all this time. Besides, despite the fact that he was over twenty years old, it smelled like teen-aged boy in there, and I didn't think my new super senses could take it for a whole night.
I smiled at Rosalie and shrugged. "Charlie's couch, I guess."
Edward whipped around to stare at me. "What?" he asked.
I steeled myself, then looked him in the eye. "I usually stay with Rose-" I started, before he cut me off.
"You're not staying with Jacob?" He spat Jacob's name.
"No, why would I-"
"I should have fucking known," he said, his face contorting into a sneer.
"Edward!" Esme's eyes widened as she stared at her son. "This is your father's place of business," she said, her voice low and angry. "You will behave."
I stared at him, eyes wide. What the hell was he talking about? Did he think…?
He looked me over, eyes raking over my body, then landed on my feet. I'd kicked off my flats the minute I sat down. At six months pregnant, my feet were already swelling.
"Barefoot and pregnant in Forks. I somehow expected better of you, Bella." His eyes were dark with anger. What the hell was he talking about? Better than what?
"That's about e-fucking-nough," Emmett said, rising from his chair to stand over Edward. "You're out of line."
Edward glared up at Emmett, jaw locked.
My lip trembled and I felt a fat tear rolling down my cheek. He'd been back in town for, what? A hour? And I was already crying. It was a mistake to be there, but I couldn't go back now. And this was my family too. He's the one who'd walked away from us all. I was the one who'd made a point of being there, for them. They were my family too.
I bent my face, furious and embarrassed, and Rosalie pulled me close, whispering about what an ass Edward was and not to give him the time of day.
"What can you expect, anyway?" she asked. "He all but abandoned his family for the last six years and then comes walking in here like he knows us." Her whisper was low but fierce.
My breath trembled in my lungs, then pushed out in a single sob. Fucking pregnant lady hormones.
"No, no, no," Rose cooed, dropping to her knees to look me in the face. "Come on, sweetie, we can check you into the hotel, it'll be fine. Come on, we'll go now and I'll run you a bath." She peered up at me, her eyes hopeful, pleading.
The absurdity of the situation struck me and I coughed a laugh. Rosalie Hale McCarty, the toughest bitch in three states, was on her knees, pleading with me. She looked up at me, hopeful.
"I'm sorry, Rose. Yes, the hotel's fine," I said, relieved to not have to take Charlie's couch. "I don't know why I didn't think of it myself."
"Nonsense," Esme said. "Bella, dear, you'll stay with us. Our guest room is empty and I would really enjoy the company." Edward gaped at her, stared at me, then gaped at her again. Fishmouth, I thought, then frowned. I didn't want to think about things like that, not now.
"I don't know, Esme," I said, my eyes darting to Edward before I could stop them.
"Bella, don't be silly," she said. "We have plenty of room and I'm not taking no for an answer." She smiled at me, then turned to her son. "Edward, I think now would be a good time for you to see Alice, don't you?" He stared at her, then me again, shook his head and left.
"Rosalie, Emmett," she said. "I'm sure Jasper would appreciate seeing you both. I expect you'll be over for dinner tonight? I think a visit would do you all some good." She phrased it as a question, but it was clearly a command.
"Of course," Emmett said. "We'd love to be there." He hugged me close, then held Rosalie's hand.
"Rest, Bella," Rose commanded. "A nice warm bath. Did you bring the lavender bubble bath I sent you? I have more at home, I can bring it tonight."
"Rose, stop. I'm fine. I'll rest. Don't worry."
She smiled at me and followed Emmett out.
As they left, I turned to Esme.
"Thank you, Esme, but really, I don't want to be any trouble. You already have Edward staying there."
"Bella, you're family. It's no trouble at all. Just…." she paused. "Have a little patience, Bella. He's been gone a long time." She looked down at my stomach and I knew what she was saying was true. I didn't like it, but it was true.
This story should run around 20ish chapters. 17 of them are already written. I anticipate posting every 10-14 days.
Beta love and adoration goes to FarDareisMai2 and Krismom. I don't always take their advice, but I am *always* grateful. htothem was kind enough to do a blind pre-read, and her input was invaluable.
New favorite fics: That Pain to Miss and A Garment of Brightness. Both can be found in my profile under "favorites."
I'm making a youtube playlist for this. Link will be in my profile. I'll probably add one song per chapter.
Thank you for reading.