Twilight and its characters are the sole property of Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended and all creative rights to these characters belong to their original author. No profit is being made from this story.
Bella and Edward have been pen pals since they were seven years old and their classes swapped Christmas cards across the Atlantic. Fifteen years later, Bella goes to present this year's card in person... For Jezzeria in Rehab's Secret Santa. AU, AH.
They say that relationships conducted entirely in the written word are more intense.
Bella couldn't really remember life before Edward, and the rest of her life was defined in terms of him.
She had only been in Phoenix for a few months that first Christmas. After moving from California, she'd made few friends, and so when her teacher announced they would be swapping Christmas cards with a British class of children roughly the same age, Bella threw herself into her task with unusual gusto.
Her mother, on a craft binge herself, had almost-patiently shepherded her daughter from craft store to craft store, picking up card, markers, glitter, stickers, cotton wool for a snowman and other bits. Bella spent hours on her card. In fact, the only photo Edward had ever seen of Bella was one where her eyes were on a folded piece of green card, gluing down the fluffy body of the snowman. Her tongue was poking out the corner of her mouth in concentration, her brow was furrowed, and she had glitter in her hair. But that was sent later.
After the first exchange of cards, Bella was too shy to write a letter back. Her card arrived on Christmas Eve and was the best thing about that Christmas. Her mother bought her more craft supplies that Bella didn't need any more but Renee kind of wanted for herself. Her father mailed a toy that was all the rage but really not what she wanted and she said nothing. Still, despite her shyness, she didn't have long to wait before what she thought was a correspondence of epic proportions – three sides of paper – arrived in the mail.
It seemed that Edward Cullen, with the encouragement of his mother, wanted to keep in touch, and sent a letter telling Bella all about his school and his friends and his family and his piano and his fish and how pretty her card was but the snowman lost its fluff in the post. She had to ask her mother what the post was, and she didn't get why he said his favourite colour was blue. Eventually she guessed that maybe British kids just couldn't spell as well as American ones and decided diplomatically not to say anything… yet.
Enclosed with Edward's first letter was a photo of three children. It was scribbled on the back that it was taken on Halloween, and Edward was the sullen boy in the middle, in full costume as a doctor, pouting with arms folded across his chest. He was nestled next to a posing Hulk with curly hair and dimples, and in the grasp of a diminutive and gloriously pink ballerina fairy, arms thrown tightly around the red-haired boy's neck. The boy on the left was his older brother Emmett, and the girl was his sister Alice.
She wrote back – four and a half sides herself - and the rest was history.
Bella's flight was long. Nine hours, via Amsterdam. She wondered why the hell the airline decided to fly past London then double back when there were only two people changing at Amsterdam, but it gave her longer to think over everything she knew about Edward.
He'd had redwood hair with leaf green eyes fifteen years ago, but would it have faded to chestnut brown like hers? He'd been a small child – not as tiny as his sister, but he didn't have the premature broad shoulders and thick arms of his brother. Would that be the same?
Then she wondered why these things mattered to her. Whether she would admit it aloud or not, he was her best friend. They talked every day, moving as they grew older from letters to email to instant messenger. As 'sad' as it was, her best friend was a man she loved unconditionally, knew inside out… and had never met.
And her thoughts kept her busy.
When she finally found Edward's town, it was cold as hell and snowing. She found a taxi at the train station – a bizarre black Hackney cab like in the movies, nothing like the ones at home – and handed Edward's address over on a piece of paper. Then she sat back and concentrated on just breathing. She was so close.
Abandoned a crisp twenty pound note and twenty minutes later, Bella stood on the sidewalk – no, pavement, she thought – and squinted at the houses to find the right number. She was looking for fifty-seven. She hoisted her bag over her shoulder and grimaced, then plodded up the icy but not snowy road. Thirty-one. Thirty-seven. Forty-five. At fifty-three, the houses stopped, and Bella stopped too in panic, cursing bitterly at the cold and the metaphorical dead end.
When a car appeared around the corner, Bella debated flagging it down, but hesitated. She was on a barely lit street in the middle of nowhere, searching for an invisible house in a country she'd only been in for four hours. Frowning, she stepped into the road and peered around the corner, and to her unbelievable delight, there were no more streetlights, but she could see windows, and she finally exhaled, smiling. She trudged forward, and the second of the four enormous houses was fifty-seven. She unlatched the heavy gate, and forced herself onwards.
Marching very slowly up the path, Bella adjusted her bag on her shoulder, then screwed her eyes shut as she made two startlingly loud thuds with the heavy knocker. She stepped back slightly and kept her eyes closed, her breathing heavy but steady, until she heard a bolt slide back and the handle creak. The heavy oak door was jerked open with effort and a blonde angel stood in the narrow box of blinding light.
"Can I help you?" Her voice was as sharp as her clothing, and she was as scary as her heels. Bella's heart froze. Was this his girlfriend or something? Would Edward mind her showing up? Was he even home?
"Um…" Bella tugged on the ends of her hair. Where were her words? She'd always imagined Edward opening the door and them sharing an instant recognition. Then he'd run towards her in slow motion and lift her up in a hug and spin her round and she'd squeal and he'd laugh and they'd be as inseparable in reality as they were in their words.
The siren sighed, rolled her eyes; the door started to close and Bella was panicked into blurting, "Is Edward home?"
With another sigh, the door opened a little again. "No, he's not. Can I help you?"
While Bella's hopes sank, her heart had risen into her throat and the butterflies were absolutely soaring. "I'm… I'm a friend of his. Do you know when he'll be home?"
And then there was mercy; the same dimpled Hulk from the photo appeared behind the woman and when he spoke, Bella wanted to jump on him and hug him and thank him profusely. Not only did he wrap his arms around the woman's waist, but he also seemed somewhat approachable.
"Rose, who's the bird?"
"A friend of Edward's." Rose's eyes were on Bella, and the brother – Emmett – had eyes for nobody but Rose.
"Oh, alright." Now, he looked at her. "You want to come in? It's bloody freezing out there. And in here now."
"Sorry," Bella mumbled. Her eyes were firmly on her shoes. She wriggled her toes in their confines. She'd been wearing these shoes for nearly thirty hours. She wanted a shower.
Emmett and Rose moved away from the door and watched Bella expectantly. She was still contemplating her shoes.
"She could be a friend of Edward's alright. Completely in her own world."
"Be nice, Rose. Look, you coming in or what? And what's your name?"
Bella looked up, eyes wide and startled. "Oh… um… Bella. You're Emmett, right? And yes please."
Emmett cocked his head to one side and pursed his lips. He hummed. Bella adjusted her bag again, stepped inside, and Rose slammed the door shut behind her. Emmett held out an enormous hand for Bella to take. She did, expecting to shake, but he pulled her into the kind of hug she'd fantasised sharing with Edward, lifting her off the ground. She clung to his neck and squealed involuntarily, then turned scarlet when Rose raised one eyebrow – how did she do that? – and stomped off further into the house.
"You're American Bella, aren't you? Well, of course, you have the accent… I mean, you're that friend he's been writing to for years, aren't you?"
"He didn't tell us you were coming. Mum's going to love this."
"He didn't know," Bella said. She played with the strap of her bag, and the color didn't fade from her cheeks.
"Oh." Emmett stopped dead. "Well, this could be interesting," he said cryptically.
Emmett shrugged. "Oh, it doesn't matter. Come on, you've got to meet the family. Hey, did he ever write about us?"
"All the time," Bella said. "He didn't tell me you had a girlfriend though."
"Rose? No, I can understand why he wouldn't. They don't exactly get on. It's an explosive relationship. Actually, Edward likes to ignore her existence because it was actually those two who were set up by their friends, but then I set eyes on her and he didn't have a chance. Not that he ever really wanted that chance."
"For Rose? But she's so…"
"Stunning? Yeah, I know, but Edward… doesn't really do the whole relationship thing. Not properly, anyway, and that's what my Rosie wanted. You should know that about him, though."
"No, actually. That's probably the only thing we don't really talk about. He always deflects any questions or reverses them. Is he always like that? So… manipulative? With his words?"
"Well, yeah, but never malevolent. I just don't think he likes attention."
"Yeah, I got that."
"I wonder if we know the same person," Emmett mused.
"I don't know. I'm sure we do, but two very different parts of him. I wish I knew him like you do."
Emmett laughed. "Sure you do, now." He grinned. "He might be my brother, and I love him, but he's difficult as hell. How well do you know him, anyway?"
Bella tugged at her sleeve. "Well, I guess. Very. Or at least, I think so."
"How much do you two talk? He used to mention you all the time, but the last couple of years, not so much."
"My dad didn't even know Edward existed until I asked him for money for the ticket, so I get that."
Eventually, after many more minutes of chatting to Emmett, then being hugged by all of Edward's family, Bella was manoeuvred into the living room and the middle of the sofa with Edward's mother and sister, Alice and Esme, sat on either side and talking at her. Rosalie and Emmett curled up around one another in one armchair, while Carlisle reclined in the other, head in a book.
Finally they heard the front door opening. Esme beamed, Alice let out a little squeal, Emmett lifted Rose off his lap and stood up. Even Carlisle put his book down and took his glasses off.
Emmett bounded into the hallway, Esme close behind with Carlisle, and Alice dragged Bella forcibly by the hand. Rosalie reluctantly brought up the rear, but Edward was already storming up the stairs. Emmett shouted after him.
"Fuck off, Emmett."
"Edward!" Esme chided, then she softened. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, Mum. Just… leave me alone for a bit, yeah?"
Emmett turned to Bella and shrugged. "Twenty-two and still throws tantrums like he was a third of that age."
"Oh, I think I know. I've sat with him while he's vented before, and been on the receiving end of his anger more times than I'd like to count." Bella smiled up at Emmett, remembering how Edward often fought between really wanting to take it out on someone, and his utter inability to be cruel to her.
"He'll come around," Esme said, but her eyes were fixed on the stairs where Edward had disappeared before Bella could even catch a glimpse of him.
"Let's just leave him alone for a bit," Rose said. "Give the child some time to cool down."
"Come on, Rose…" Emmett pleaded. "Something bad could've happened."
Rosalie snorted. Bella pressed her lips together, trying not to smirk at the unladylike sound.
"Why doesn't Bella go up and see if he's okay?" Carlisle suggested.
"That'll work." Alice was pulling Bella through the small crowd again. Alice was half way through her directions to Edward's room when Bella caught up and spoke.
"Oh, no. No way."
"Just try, Bella. We know him too, and he won't talk to any of us right now, but… maybe you should."
"I don't want to upset him, Esme. And I definitely don't want to walk in and have him tell me to go home. If he tells me to go away now while he's in a mood, it might ruin things. Maybe forever."
She was surprised when Carlisle laughed. "You're as melodramatic as my son. Go, Bella. He'll listen to you."
Bella groaned inside and pressed her hand over her eyes, repeating to herself that she didn't want to, but Esme resumed her gentle encouragement, and Bella decided to at least climb the stairs to escape six – well, five – hopeful gazes. Rose was still sneering.
So she tugged off her boots and trudged up the cream carpet, but stayed still at the top until she heard the family disperse. She sighed when she thought she was safe, but then heard Alice. "Just get on with it, Bella. It'll be fine. I know these things."
Eyes covered with her palm again, Bella moved left, as Alice had instructed, and then she could hear him.
"Come on, stupid fucking thing." She could hear crashing and papers and it spurred her on a little faster and before she knew it she was opening the door and had poked her head in.
He had his back to her, one arm braced against a low desk, a battered laptop refusing to flicker to life on the hastily cleared gap in the papers. Edward was hitting the side of it with a flat palm, still muttering curses. "Of all the fucking days for this fucking thing to fucking die…"
Bella knocked. She was startled by the loud sound her little knuckles produced. "Edward?"
There was a grunt, he turned around, and he was glorious.
Well, to her. She could see every detail of the little boy from the photo. This was definitely her Edward, but fifteen years older, taller, broader, but even more sulky.
Bella's tongue flicked over her lips, an old nervous habit, and she brushed hair behind her ear, eyes levelled firmly on the ground, except they found a pile of dirty clothes and she could see his boxers. She blushed crimson and redirected her eyes to his wardrobe door. That, thankfully, was safe, albeit the redwood his hair still was.
She didn't see Edward's eyes narrow, or him abandon his systematic beating of his laptop to step closer. He was almost squinting. She wasn't sure if she even heard him speak. "Bella..?"
Her eyes snapped to his. His head was tilted, brow shadowy, slightly frowning. Bella nodded, and his lips stretched into a cheek-shattering smile. "Bella." And he hugged her. Tight.
It was almost as she had imagined, except that as he pulled her in to him, she stumbled with her foot caught in his dirty boxers, and caught her in the hug. No lifts and swirls, but it was warm and nice and home.
"Why were you punching your laptop?" Bella asked, a little while later.
Edward had hugged her, excitedly asked what on earth she was doing in England, hugged her again, slammed and locked the door, hugged her a third time, and pulled her down onto his bed. Now they were sat cross-legged and fidgeting like over-enthusiastic and excited little children. Both were grinning like the Cheshire cat. Bella wanted to ask Edward where exactly Cheshire was to start a conversation, but now they were finally talking and she didn't have to.
"I needed to talk to you. Damn thing wouldn't work."
"Oh. Well, we can talk now."
"Umm…" Edward slouched back and slid down the headboard until he was sprawled out across the mattress. Bella had acknowledged earlier that the bed was huge, but now it didn't feel it. He was so close. "It's… well, it's my girlfriend."
Everything inside Bella clenched. "Oh?" It wasn't audible. She tried again. "Oh? You never told me you had a…" She trailed off.
"No, I guess I didn't."
Bella couldn't help the tears that welled up. It was totally irrational, she knew – he didn't have to tell her everything, and he was entitled to a girlfriend, and she should be happy for him. Why was she nearly crying? She leaned back so Edward wouldn't be able to see her face. His attention was on a dream catcher above his bed anyway – a gift from Bella, many years ago – and he was twirling the ends, eyes distant.
"Well, her name is Tanya, and she's everything a man could want – she's fiercely intelligent, beautiful, ambitious… and has a temper from hell. That's why Esme thinks we're perfect for one another, but I think we're toxic. You can't mix two such explosive personalities together and expect them to blend and neutralise one another, can you?"
"I'm sure science would suggest it's possible, somewhere..."
"But not the rule."
Edward hummed and twirled the dream catcher again.
"What happened, Edward?"
"That's the thing, it's just a tiny thing blown totally out of proportion, like everything else between us – I wanted to spend Christmas with my family, like I always have, and said she was welcome to join us if she wanted or spend it with her family, but she was adamant I should stay with her."
"Why don't you want to?"
"Because we've done the same thing here every year… and your present always comes here. Tanya's family's from the continent. I'd be out of the country if I went over there, and that would mean I wouldn't be able to talk to you or…"
"Christmas is about family, Edward, not friends."
"But Tanya's not family, and you are."
"I'm not. Anyway, whatever your reasons, did you consider hers?"
"No. I knew what I wanted, and I had perfectly good reason for it."
"Did you tell her your reason?"
"No. She didn't need to know."
"So what did you tell her?"
"That I would be here for Christmas. It was up to her whether she went home or stayed with me. And that was it."
"Can you not see why she was upset?"
Bella sighed and pressed her face into her hands, but she smiled. It was so Edward. It was so simple. She told him that.
"You didn't tell her why, not anything. It just seems like you were being stubborn or spiting her or something. If you called her and said that family traditions are important to you, or anything like that, you might be okay."
Edward grunted. "Why are you so passionate about this anyway? What does it matter to you?" He was wrong, and this was the painful part of a temper tantrum, where he lashed out in every direction. His lunges were easy to dodge from five thousand miles away, but with barely five inches between them it was more difficult, and she was too tired for it tonight. Bella stood slowly, stretched, and moved to the door. With her hand on the handle, she answered.
"Empathy, maybe. I don't know. I'm going to go find a hotel, Edward. Think about it, and maybe I'll see you tomorrow."
"Wait!" Edward was up like a shot, scrambled across his bed, and caught Bella's wrist. His skin on hers burned.
"I have to go, Edward. If I leave it much longer, I…" She couldn't think of a reason. She just wanted to go. Fifteen minutes was all she could manage with this man, it seemed.
"No! I mean, you can stay here… with me."
"No, I can't Edward. I'll meet you somewhere tomorrow, but you have a girlfriend - one who's pissed with you already - so I really, really can't stay here."
"Please don't, Bella. You're only here for a week, and I'd rather spend it getting to know you than building bridges with her. I don't even know what I'm doing with her in the first place."
"Yes you do, or you wouldn't have said yes. You angst over everything. And you already know me inside out."
And then those big green eyes widened further and his lower lip pouted out over the upper one and he leaned in and Bella knew exactly what he was doing but wasn't sure whether it was meant to be comical or pleading… or both. But it was adorable, and she caved.
"Fine, but I'm sleeping downstairs, if Esme will let me."
"Of course Bella can stay, Edward!" Esme might not have said anything explicitly, but the way her whole body nearly vibrated with energy and her eyes were bright and her smile so warm it burned, Bella knew Esme was genuinely happy to have her. And planning something. "How long will you be here for, Bella?"
"Um, a week. My flight home's on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth. Charlie wanted me home for Christmas."
Esme frowned. "Charlie? Is that your boyfriend?"
Bella blanched. Edward, seeing the utter lack of blood in Bella's face, laughed. "No, Mum. Charlie's her dad."
Esme smiled again, lips taut and hidden. She ducked her head for sheepish effect. "Oh, I'm sorry Bella. I didn't think…" She laughed. "I'm sorry." She glanced at Edward, standing very close to his friend, arm hovering behind her, magnetically drawn to her skin but not quite comfortable enough to touch her yet. "Well, you're more than welcome to stay, Bella, of course, but I don't think there's room for you downstairs. Rosalie's already staying in Alice's room, and Jasper will be in Emmett's… I guess the only space for you is in with Edward. I hope that won't be a problem? You two don't have long together…"
Bella was sure she'd been had – there was plenty of space downstairs. She'd even sleep under the dining room table if she had to.
"But what about Tanya? I'm sure she'd mind if her… If Edward had another girl sleeping in his room, even if she was on the floor."
Esme and Edward both made to speak, and Edward let his mother go first.
"Tanya's a sweet girl. She'd understand Edward's oldest friend staying there. You're thousands of miles from home, and he's the only person for thousands again that you know."
"And I won't have you sleeping on the floor," Edward said.
Both Bella and Esme rounded on him. "What?"
He smirked. "I will. Bella can have the bed."
"Oh," Esme said. "Of course. She is our guest."
"No way. Yes, I am the guest, and so Edward can keep his own bed. The floor is more than enough for me, really. I'm just grateful you'll let me stay here at all. Thank you again, Esme."
"No, it's settled. You can have Edward's bed." She turned to her son. "I'll get you some blankets."
"Ta, Mum." He kissed her cheek, and pulled Bella back upstairs, flipping off a wolf-whistling Emmett behind them.
While the family presumably gossiped downstairs – Edward explained to Bella that he'd never had any girl stay over, and his brother didn't think it was possible for a boy and a girl to be friends…
Bella laughed. "My dad's exactly the same, except for Jake."
"Oh, the friend your dad wanted you to date."
"Yeah, but any of the other boys… absolutely not."
Edward had shrugged, and the conversation moved on.
Before long, what felt like one hour had been six and it was four o'clock. When Bella yawned, Edward realised.
"How long have you been awake now?"
"I slept on the plane."
"I could do with more sleep now though," she teased. She scooted off the bed and over to the pile of blankets Esme had placed just inside the door. She started to make up a bed on the floor.
"No, no, no." Edward clambered after her and took the sheets away. "Get in my bed, Swan."
Three or four flirty comebacks came to mind straight away, but before she could bolster her courage, the moment had passed and she acquiesced. Snuggled under his covers and seeing Edward still struggling to get comfortable, she sat up.
"Stop it, Edward."
"Sorry. It's just not nice down here."
"Then come up here."
"You're not sleeping on the floor, Bella."
"This bed is huge. I've never seen anything quite like it. Just… sleep up here."
Edward moved to kneel beside the bed. "Are you sure?"
Bella rolled her eyes in the lamplight and Edward scrambled up and in.
"You keep to your side and I'll keep to mine," she said. It was half a warning and half a plea.
He still grabbed her hand and held it tight.
In the morning, Bella woke first, but didn't feel right lingering in Edward's bed while he was asleep. Instead, she dressed and headed downstairs, where she discovered it was most definitely afternoon, and everyone else had been wondering where they were.
"Hey, Bella. Good night?" Emmett asked. "Sounded like you two were up late."
"We were," Bella said. Esme handed her a glass of orange juice and ushered her to the table to take a seat between Alice and Carlisle.
Alice smacked him for Bella. "Ignore him. You probably had a lot to catch up on."
"Loads. We were talking nearly all night."
"I'm not surprised," Esme said, joining them. "He's always been so much more open with you than with us. When he was younger, we thought he was being bullied at school, and we had to read his letters to you to confirm it."
"I remember that. I was so worried at home. I'm surprised you read the letters though. He always told me how you respected his privacy."
Emmett guffawed. "Yeah, they did… after that. Edward's hissy fit lasted days instead of its usual hours."
Then there were footsteps on the stairs. Emmett muttered, "Speak of the devil…" Esme got up to get a drink for her son too.
"I wondered where you'd gone," Edward said. "I think the mattress moving woke me up, but I didn't really notice until I realised I had the covers back." He grinned.
Emmett's eyes widened. "Dude…"
Edward rolled his eyes and shrugged. "The floor was uncomfortable. I have a big bed. Not a big deal."
"As long as sleeping's all that's happening under this roof, Edward," Esme said, putting the juice down a little too hard and spilling some. Edward mopped it up with his sleeve.
"I know, Mum. We're just friends." He glanced at Bella and rolled his eyes. She blushed.
Esme huffed and gestured the rest of the family away from the table. "We'll leave you two alone. We've all already eaten. Edward, find something for our guest."
When the family were gone, he finally looked properly at Bella.
"Brown," he said, smiling and waving his hand at her sweater. "Should've known. Everything about you is brown. Brown eyes, brown hair, brown font, and brown clothes."
"Brown is warm."
"Brown is, yeah. But it's also home. Bricks and wood and, well, warm. And you."
Bella blushed. "And you're green, definitely – eyes, font… not clothes, though. Fresh and foliage and home for me. My town is pretty much just green and brown."
"I wish mine were."
Turning from rosy to scarlet, Bella changed the subject. "So, what's happening today?"
Their days passed too easily. The family mostly left them alone, but sometimes Alice and Esme couldn't resist interfering, or Emmett had a joke to crack. Carlisle was good, albeit quiet, company.
"I wish I could really get to know them," Bella told Edward on her third night. "But there's just not enough time."
"You could stay."
"No, I couldn't. I have to be back for Christmas with Charlie."
"Then come back."
"I can't afford it. I saved all year for this, and then Charlie helped me out with the rest."
"If I could afford it, I'd go home with you."
"Yes, one day…"
The next morning, Alice was directing the decoration of the house, standing on the arm of the sofa and clutching the door for balance. Emmett was shifting the tree around the living room as per her instructions. No place was quite good enough, and she finally capitulated with a sigh for it to be in the far corner.
"Dad had to work," Alice explained to Bella in a rush. "And Mum's gone to do the shopping for the week. You wouldn't believe it, but she hates the decorating… She doesn't like spending hours on it – and believe me, she can take all day if she's left to it – and then having to take it down after Christmas. She likes her work to be a little more permanent."
"Which doesn't make sense," Emmett grunted, dropping the tree, "when she redecorates everything pretty much annually."
"She really does," Alice agreed. "Anyway, that means we have to have the house completely ready when she gets back. You two are going to help, aren't you?"
They looked at each other. Edward shrugged. Bella answered. "Um, yeah, sure."
Alice continued her directions with two more helpers, and it was only an hour and a half before they had the tree one aspect shy of completely decorated, candles in the windows, mistletoe in the doorway, and the wreath on the front door. Bella found herself with the angel in her hands.
Before she knew what was happening, Edward had grabbed her around her thighs and lifted her. She squealed, and then realised what she was meant to do. Laughing, with one hand on Edward's shoulder for balance, she put the angel on top of the tree. Edward let her down and grasped her hand. Hot and dry and perfect.
"Alice?" Edward said. He grinned at his sister.
She squealed and ducked under the tree, crawling to the back and plugging in an extension cord. Gathered again on the outside with Edward, Emmett and Bella, she ceremoniously held up the plug for the lights and the extension and fitted them together. Emmett whooped and lifted Alice onto his shoulders. She laughingly ducked the light, but the ceilings were high enough for her to stoop comfortably. Bella wanted to clap when it lit up perfectly, but Edward still had her hand.
Alice clapped loud enough for all of them.
They were eating breakfast, a particular dish delightfully nostalgic to Edward, and the rest of the family had already left. Bella's eyes were glazed and there was a distant smile on her face. Edward dropped his spoon, startled her, and asked why.
"Charlie said I shouldn't come to meet you. And he thought you knew I was coming, so God knows what he'd have said if I'd told him you didn't." Bella grinned.
"What did he say?"
"That it wasn't a good idea." Bella's smile drooped; Charlie's explanation had hit home closer than he probably intended. It certainly stung more. He'd always been that way, unintentionally hitting her in just the right place. "You might not want me around."
Edward's eyes drifted away from Bella. "You know that couldn't possibly be true, right? And that you came at a perfect time?"
"Well, you did. What were his exact words, anyway? They definitely upset you."
Bella shrugged again, and Edward nudged her under the table.
"He said I shouldn't go chasing boys on other continents."
Edward smirked. "You can chase me any time, Isabella." He started eating again, and with another encouraging kick, Bella released her own lip and took a bite too.
That night, Edward and Bella were hovering in the living room doorway saying goodnight to the family, when Emmett suddenly laughed. The conversation stopped dead and Emmett pointed above their heads. Alice laughed too, and when Edward looked up, his mouth dropped slightly open.
"Well, bugger. I think they got us Bella. We were definitely set up."
"Look up. Mistletoe."
"Kiss her!" Emmett called, whooping. Alice clapped. Even Carlisle looked up to view the spectacle.
With a sigh, Edward leaned in and pressed his lips to Bella's temple. Then they escaped, quickly.
Upstairs, sat on his bed again, Bella played with the hem of her jeans, face scarlet and eyes glazed. He'd sighed; that meant he hadn't wanted to, right? And it hadn't been a proper kiss. Maybe he was just affectionate, but she knew better than that. She hadn't once seen him hug his mother or anyone else.
"What are you thinking about?" Edward asked, taking a CD from its case and slotting it into his laptop to play it. Sharing music was something else they'd done in recent years. This particular one was his twentieth birthday present from Bella. She remembered it perfectly.
"Nothing," she said.
"I don't believe you."
"Okay, it's not nothing, but it's not that important either." Even though she knew the answer, she asked a question to deflect the conversation – a perfect mimic of one of his tricks. "What CD's that..?"
Edward, always the most enthusiastic of the pair when it came to music, started to animatedly explain. Bella relaxed.
Later on, after safely avoiding any allusion to the mistletoe incident, Bella dug to the bottom of her bag for a dog-eared red envelope. She threw it to Edward on the bed, but the thin card sailed in the wrong direction and he had to crawl after it. Bella blushed and covered her face with her hand, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"My Christmas card?" Edward said, head under his desk where the card had landed. Bella marvelled at herself, marvelling at the view.
"Yeah. I only came to deliver it in person."
"Only? Not to see me at all. Just to save on stamps by coughing up for extortionate flights?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Well, I'm glad you're here at all. I still can't quite believe you're real."
Edward tore open the envelope and pulled out the card. He cursed when a pile of glitter fell into his lap. Bella giggled. "I'm sorry, I forgot that was there."
Edward swore again and threw a pinch at her. She laughed again and scrambled back, taking one of his pillows as a shield.
Then he opened it and read the inside.
Merry Christmas to the most real person I know,
Without comment, frowning, he put the card on the side and rounded on Bella. The butterflies in her stomach told her she was more nervous than she wanted to admit.
He tackled her, pinning her down to the bed with a smirk. He pressed his lips to her forehead. "I am so happy you're here. You're the best friend I've ever had."
Edward rolled off of Bella and pulled her with him. She found herself stretched out against his side, head on his chest. He gripped her hand.
"I'm going to miss you," he said to the ceiling.
Bella didn't say anything. She wanted to know what was going on. He was confusing her again, all strong hands and steady heartbeats, littered with sighs and hesitance and never anything solid. Where did they stand? She had no idea.
On the twenty-third, their last night together, the family had cleared out for last minute Christmas shopping, and Edward and Bella were planning an all-night movie marathon of the favourites they'd discussed over the years. As they got older, with the advent of instant messenger, they'd even watched them together at their computers. They were naturals at it now. Now they were going to watch them together for real, and Bella was upstairs, rifling through Edward's collection, while he found treats from the kitchen.
He had been calling upstairs, shouting to her about the things he was finding in the back of Esme's cupboards that were so old they didn't have use-by dates, but then there was a knock at the door, and she hadn't heard anything since.
When she realised it had been nearly fifteen minutes, Bella took the four she'd found so far and crept slowly down the stairs without a fifth. There was a line of light below the living room door, but every other room looked empty. She pushed the door open, difficult with the thick carpet, and then she stumbled back.
In the armchair on the other side of the living room, there was a lean and long-legged blonde, maybe more beautiful than Edward himself, draped over Carlisle's chair, and Edward was very, very close, hands gripping the arms and leaning in, his legs on either side of hers.
Bella tried to think. She knew he had a girlfriend, and she had doubted herself all week. Maybe she was being stupid and had misread everything and she should have trusted her rational mind, not her instinct, and she should have known it was just platonic affection, nothing more.
It was certainly set in stone now.
Her phone buzzed with tweets and emails from him all night. She'd fled instinctively. Her things had been packed already, and she'd taken another unbearably expensive taxi to the airport, where she was sleeping in the Departures lounge without enough money for a hotel. Eventually, she switched it off and pushed it to the bottom of her bag, then spread out over three seats and tried to sleep.
She couldn't, but she had plenty to think about. With three hours until her flight and the seats around her filling up, Bella dug her phone out from the bottom of her bag and saw too much. She had fourteen emails and fifty-two texts… and then she wondered why she was torturing him like she was.
He had no idea where she was, and she was thousands of miles from home, and he was her best friend. Even if he just didn't get it – again – he was worried. So she decided to read.
Where are you?
This isn't funny. Where are you!?
They were much the same, but gradually grew more frantic. He missed words, his punctuation was more dramatic. He was pleading. It was just so him. And Bella missed him.
So she tackled her email inbox, knowing his tendency towards wordiness, and sure enough, the oldest was an essay.
This week has been perfect, and I'll miss you.
I had to say it, just in case you didn't read on.
I think I know what this is. You saw Tanya, or something, and… well, I think I get it for once… and I wish I could explain in person. You have my home number. Please, call me, tell me you're okay, that you're alive.
But… if you're reading this, you are, so… Tanya.
I told you she lives on the continent? Specifically, she's from Sweden, and has been studying here with me for five years, and trying to get me to date her for most of that time, and she was supposed to fly home today but her flight was cancelled because of a snow storm on the other end and she wanted to stay with us. I couldn't say no, but it was our night. I was trying to talk her into staying downstairs, but she kept insisting on my room. She wouldn't back down. I guess I was trying to scare her, and I feel bad just for that, never mind what you saw. Nothing happened. Nothing has happened since you've been here. Nothing was going to happen. We'd only been together eight weeks, and even if you hadn't shown up, I doubt we'd have made it to ten. It made Esme happy to see me not physically alone, and the companionship was nice… sometimes. But it wasn't what I wanted.
When I realised you were gone, I sent her packing – I'd been thinking of it before, except that Esme would have killed me for turning her away when she was in trouble, and it's Christmas. Bella, come home. I need you, and not just as a therapist. I need you.
Just let me know you're okay,
So now he must know how she felt, and she felt stupid. She didn't know what to say, but she couldn't leave him waiting, so she decided to read through the others. They were pretty much wordy variations on the tweets, along with one or two newsletters. Come home, I miss you, I'm sorry.
Did he really know, or was he blindly spouting generic pleas and apologies until he hit his target? She wished she could make up her mind about something.
She shoved her phone to the bottom of her bag and went to find breakfast.
She had been picking at a panini when she heard that voice, and then he was in the chair opposite. She glanced up just for a moment, and he was fuming, and then she ducked her head.
"Thank you for letting me know you're alive," he sniped.
Bella stared morosely into her plate and popped another tiny piece of bread into her mouth. She chewed slowly, and for much longer than was necessary.
Edward sighed. "Okay, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for that, and for the obsessive tweeting, and for the emails, and for Tanya, and for not being clear before, and for not always being honest with you, and... I'm just sorry. I need to explain, and I need to make it up to you." He sighed, pressed his hands against his face, a gesture adopted from Bella. "Tanya needed a place to stay 'cos there was-"
"I read the email."
"Oh. Um… sorry. I wish you'd just replied though. I've never been so worried in my life. Nobody knew what to do with me. I made them all come home." Bella shrugged, frowned, but said nothing. Edward continued. "What exactly made you leave?"
Bella pushed her plate away and still didn't look up. She leaned back in her chair and wrung her hands.
"Please just talk to me," Edward said. He tried to reach for her hands but she pulled them into her lap, fingers still straining against each other.
"I'm not ignoring you, Edward. I'm thinking. I really don't know why I left."
Edward leaned back too, but he stretched out his legs so his feet brushed hers. "Don't you? I think you do."
"Don't tease me, Edward. If you know, tell me."
"You left because you don't like the idea of me with her. If we really were just friends, you'd've blushed and gone back upstairs, maybe let me know you were there. I don't know. But you wouldn't have run."
"No, maybe I wouldn't."
"Is that an admission?"
"An admission of what?"
"Of… something. Something else."
Bella stood up and took her bag. She didn't want this conversation now. She knew this, she did, but she didn't want to talk about it.
Of course, Edward followed. He stayed a little way behind, but waited until she stopped and sat down by the tall windows. He knelt in front of her and gripped the arms of the chair so she couldn't escape.
"If it's not an admission of something, what are you saying Bella? Why did you leave?"
"Stop it, Edward." She pushed at his arms. They were solid and firm and she couldn't move them. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Because it will change things."
They heard the first boarding call for the London to Seattle flight, and Bella shoved harder. Edward still didn't move.
"You coming here was always going to change things."
"But not like this."
"You really thought that?"
"Yes. Please, let me up."
"Not yet. Just admit it, Bella. We're not just friends, and it's been years since we have been."
Bella pushed at his arms again. "What are you even doing here?"
"Chasing you. Girls don't run unless they want to be followed. I said you could chase me anywhere, and I'd do the same for you."
"That only works in the movies, Edward. I just want to go home."
"Good. I'm going with you."
Bella stopped struggling; they were drawing the attention of passersby anyway. "What?"
"I borrowed money off, well, everyone. I think we're on the same flight. I hope we are, anyway. You're not getting rid of me this easily."
"What if I said I didn't want you to come?"
"Wouldn't make a difference."
"Where's your stuff?"
He emptied his pockets. In his hands were his wallet, phone, boarding pass and passport. "Didn't have time to pack." He put them back. "You do want me though, don't you?"
Bella sighed. It was a sharp sound, not one of resignation. "Yes. But you're not giving me any indication that you want me too."
He did then. He released his grip of the chair and took hold of her face, pressing his lips against hers. Bella, when it finally clicked in her mind that this was really happening, and it really was Edward so close to her, warm and wonderful and hers, wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him onto her in the seat. He had to let go to brace himself and laughed breathlessly when they separated.
They heard the final boarding call for their flight, foreheads still resting together.
"I think that's us," Bella breathed, fighting back a mammoth grin.
"Yes, it is."
"Should we go?"
Edward smiled. "In a minute." He pulled away but kept his hold of Bella's waist, using his free hand to smooth a lock of hair away from her face. "In fifteen years, I never told you, but I really can't imagine a day without you. Never having seen your face before this week didn't matter. That just meant that I knew the real you, without false impressions and masks, veneers of disinterest and bullshit for comfort. And I'm sorry it took so long to say it, but… I love you. And I think I always have."
Bella's mind spun. She would have too if Edward hadn't been holding her. "You've never said that before."
"That you love me."
"Not even platonic?"
Bella shook her head.
"Well, I do. Always have. Right from when I got that first gluey, fluffy Christmas card, fifteen years ago today."
Bella kissed him a second time. "I think I fell in love with a sulking red-headed doctor ten days later."
"I love you," he said again. He grinned. "Do you love me?"
"Say it. Out loud."
"I love you."
Edward pulled her up out of the chair and kissed her one more time. He just had to. "I think we should get going."
And then they boarded a plane to Seattle, hand in hand, and grinning like seven year olds on Christmas Eve.
I started this at 4am on Christmas Eve, and wrote 'til 7am. Then worked all day. Then picked it up again at 6am on Christmas Day, finished just before midnight, and Kyrene - who demonstrates just how far beyond awesome she is - beta'd for me pretty much on the spot. Then it was packed off to Jezz at 4am, and still Christmas for her.
In short, I fail. And as such, if there are typos, let me know and I'll edit. I have all of nine minutes of laptop battery left and no charger.
I owe Sheree, like, three pizzas now. I think I owe Kyrene an entire pizza place for playing super beta via a Sidekick on Christmas Day. Allysue08, Telrracs and the other Rehabbers with their pompoms and steel toe cap boots and whips were terrifying and lovely and we're so going to have to do that again.
Hope you've had a great weekend, whatever you did with it. (: