A/n: This is a little one-shot that I wrote for the Fandom for Preemies compilation in November, and now I'm posting to share all of you. Hope you enjoy.
All I Want For Christmas
"Morning, baby. What are you asking Santa for this year?" Bella asked as she entered the kitchen to find her son, Mikey, making out his Christmas list.
"It's a secret," he replied quickly, shielding the sheet of paper with his arms when she leaned down to kiss the top of his head. "Don't look!"
She chuckled softly and made her way to the coffee pot to get her morning fully started. "Sorry, won't happen again."
"Well," he sighed, his face twisting in contemplation. "I guess I can tell you, since it's for you, too."
Bella thought over her son's words, even more suspicious to the contents of the list. "Michael Evan, I have told you a hundred times that we are not getting a dog. We don't have the space in this apartment," she scolded in a firm voice, shaking her head and waiting for the pleading to begin.
"Mom," he groaned, his head falling back dramatically and causing his blond mop of hair to bounce lightly with the movement. "I know. I'm not asking for a dog."
"Oh. I see," she replied, surprised. "So, what is it?"
Mikey turned in his seat to look at her with an expression on his face she'd never seen. "A daddy."
Bella's mug slipped from her hands and onto the floor, startling both her and the little boy. She closed her eyes to force back the tears that were beginning to form, fought the tightening of her throat and chest.
"Mommy?" he asked with a furrowed brow, gazing at her worriedly.
Bella's eyes returned to him and she focused on her breathing, calming herself as her therapist had taught her to in moments of severe anxiety. Forcing a smile to her lips, she stepped over the shattered ceramic and puddle of black coffee, walking toward Mikey and kneeling down in front of him. "A-a daddy?"
He nodded, his blue eyes suddenly lowering shyly. "Yeah, like all the other kids got."
Bella took his hands gently, running her thumbs over the backs. "Baby, you have a daddy, even if he's not here anymore."
"My dad's dead, Mom," he snapped, pulling his hands from hers and taking her aback with the ferocity in the five year old voice.
"Mikey," Bella stammered slightly, her hands resting gently on his sides. "We don't talk like that here. Where did you hear that?"
His shoulders rose in a shrug, his eyes lowered to the floor. "School. They laugh at me 'cause I don't have a daddy anymore."
Bella's heart broke as she watched his lower lip begin to tremble and tears spill over his lids and down his cheeks. She pulled him into her arms as she stood while his clung around her neck, lifting him off the floor and settling him into her lap. She gently rocked him while sobs wracked his tiny body, smoothing her hand over his hair. "Daddy is always here, honey. Even if you can't see him or touch him, he's still watching over you. And he loves you so much."
"I can't remember him, Mommy," he cried softly in response with his head resting on her shoulder.
"Oh sweetheart," she mumbled sadly against his hair as she pressed her lips against it. "Why don't we go to the park today? Would you like that?"
His eyes rose to hers and he nodded slowly, nestling himself back against her chest while she reached into her pocket for her cell phone to call in to work.
"He told me he wants a dad for Christmas," she said quietly, staring down at her coffee from Starbucks that Edward had picked up on the way to meet her. The heat from the cup warmed her hands as she watched the clouds of breath escape her lips. "I don't know what to say. What can I say?"
Edward leaned forward on his knees with his elbows from his seat on the bench beside her, watching Mikey packing snow between his hands and tossing it at the tree in front of him. Since the day her husband – and his best friend –died in combat in Iraq, he had been a near constant fixture in her and her son's life. They'd made a pact when they were both stationed overseas together just before Bella had given birth, that if anything should happen, Edward would take care of Bella and Mikey to the best of his ability.
"Well," he started, turning his head toward her. "What do you want to say?"
"I don't know," Bella replied with a shrug, looking down at her feet. "Honestly, I'd like to say there's a possibility, that there's some hope. But I've never lied to my son and I'm not about to start with something as major as this."
"Why would it be a lie? Do you really feel there's no hope whatsoever? Ever?" he asked gently, patiently – as Edward always was.
"I still love him," she said tearfully, her eyes lifting to his. "It's been three years since Michael died, and I'm still not over him. I don't know that I ever will be."
Edward straightened beside her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pulling her toward him to rest her head on his shoulder as she cried. His hand ran along her arm slowly from her shoulder to her elbow, comforting her while the sobs shook her body. "No one ever expects you to, Bella. He was your husband and your son's father, not to mention your first love. But if there's one thing I know about Mike Newton, it's that he would not have wanted you or his son to be alone. And he definitely would not want his beautiful wife to pine her life away over him."
Bella curled against his side, welcoming the warmth and comfort that Edward's presence never failed to bring, her head remaining on his shoulder as she gazed out at her son. "I know he wouldn't. It's just so hard to let go. Especially now, with the holidays coming up and all. It's the worst time to be alone."
"You won't be," he said softly and her eyes shot up suddenly to his. "My deployment's been postponed until at least after New Years because of my knee. You and Mikey can count on me."
A smile finally graced Bella's face and she slid her arms around his neck. "That's the best thing I've heard all day."
Edward embraced her for a moment, gently kissing her forehead before slowly pulling away. "And speaking of which," he said, his voice rising in volume slightly to catch the attention of the blond boy sitting by the tree. "I think I know of a certain house that's missing a tree and some lights. What are we waiting for? Christmas?"
Mikey laughed and cheered as he stood, running to Edward and leaping into his arms. It had always been a consolation to Bella that, even with Michael gone and her seeming inability to move on, her son still had someone like Edward. Aside from being his godfather, he sincerely loved the little boy and guarded him with his life, as if he were his own. And if she was being completely honest, she was exceedingly grateful for his friendship and support.
"Tada!" Mikey proudly exclaimed, waving his arm toward the tree in Edward's living room. "Whatdya think?"
Edward turned to look over his shoulder from his stance on the stepstool, where he was stringing lights along the ceiling. "Wow. That's… awesome, little guy."
"The hazards of allowing a five year old within a mile radius of tinsel," Bella whispered up to him as she passed with a large bowl of popcorn, popping a piece into her mouth with a slight smirk as she passed to sit on the couch.
The tree was a tangled mass of silver, with scattered ornaments circling the lower half of its branches. As Bella began poking the white puffs with a needle and string, she watched an amused smile spread across Edward's lips as he stepped down from the stool to cross the room toward the little boy.
"Mikey, my man. How about we decorate the top of the tree now?"
"I can't reach up there, silly," he replied with his hands on his hips, rolling his eyes at Edward.
"I'm silly? You're silly," he playfully growled, leaning down to tickle his sides before lifting him up into his arms and settling him on his hip.
Bella attempted to keep the tears at bay as she observed them finishing the tree. In that moment, it was blatantly clear to her what her son felt was missing from their lives – a family. To spend hours like this decorating the tree, and then sit together on the couch and watch the twinkling lights until Mikey fell asleep, rather than packing up and going home once they were finished – the way things were back when his father was alive, everything that he was too young to remember.
"Ow!" she exclaimed as the needle in her hand pierced the skin of her thumb, her thoughts having distracted her from her task.
Both Edward and Mikey turned their heads to look to her, their facial expressions disturbingly similar with their raised brows and creased foreheads. She lowered her thumb from between her lips and refocused on the long string of popcorn piled in her lap. Hearing the two of them begin to sing along with the television, which was playing an endless stream of Christmas carols, she glanced up again and made up her mind then and there.
Come the new year, she would begin making a conscious effort to pick herself up and start moving on with her life. Edward was right; no one would expect her to forget Michael, nor would he want her to be wasting her life away. She couldn't continue to bury herself away, denying not only her son, but also herself, of a full life.
While helping Mikey into his jacket at the end of the evening, her eyes rose to Edward and she smiled. "So are we still on for tomorrow night?"
"Absolutely. I'll be there at 1700 on the dot," he replied, returning her smile as he slid on the little boy's hat.
"That's 5:00, Mommy," Mikey announced proudly with a huge grin at his mother.
Bella and Edward glanced at each other, both visibly restraining laughter before she looked back down to her son. "Yes, I know, baby. Thank you," she said, placing her hand on his shoulder and guiding him toward the door. She gave Edward one last look before he kissed her cheek good night. "See you tomorrow."
On the drive home, Mikey was uncharacteristically quiet in the backseat, staring down into his lap the entire time. He remained withdrawn as she got him ready for bed, and she was beginning to worry when he drew in a deep breath and sighed, finally looking up to meet her eyes as she was tucking him in.
"Mommy, can I ask you somethin'?"
"Of course, honey. You know you can always ask me anything," she replied in a soothing tone, watching him bite his lip nervously as she often did. She lowered herself down to sit on the edge of his bed, running her hand gently over his hair. "What's the matter?"
"Can Uncle Edward be my daddy?" he asked.
Bella's hand stalled in surprise with her sharp intake of breath. His innocent gaze reflected back at her as she looked at him and she began to shake her head. "Mikey, that's just not how it works. Mommy has to date someone first-"
"But you are! You're going on a date tomorrow night. Grandma said so," Mikey replied with a nod.
Bella released a nervous chuckle. "No, baby. Uncle Edward is going to be my date for the dinner I have to attend tomorrow, not going on a date with me."
Mikey's forehead wrinkled and he sat up, hugging his knees to his chest. "What's the difference?"
"Well," Bella started nervously, clearing her throat and trying to decide how to explain it to a five year old. "Okay, when you go on a date with someone, when it's over, you usually kiss goodnight."
"But Edward always kisses you goodnight, Mommy," he replied, the crease between his eyebrows deepening in confusion.
"Edward is my friend, Mikey. And friends kiss here," she said, placing her fingertip on her cheek before moving it to her lips. "Dates kiss here."
Mikey's eyes lit up as he nodded in understanding. "Like Daddy did in the picture?"
Bella's vision went slightly blurry as her eyes misted, a sad smile touching her lips as she thought to the picture to which he was referring. It was the picture from their wedding of them kissing and staring into each other's eyes as they shared their first dance. While painful for her to look at sometimes, she couldn't bring herself to remove the photographs of Michael from the living room after he died. The house would have felt too empty without any trace of him in it. "Yeah, like Daddy in the picture."
Mikey nodded and then sighed again, laying back down and pulling the blankets up under his chin. "I wish he could be my daddy. That would be so cool."
Bella leaned down to kiss his forehead gently and then rose to leave the room, flipping the switch on the way out. "Goodnight, sweetheart."
Yet long after Mikey was asleep, her mind kept playing their conversation over and over again. It would have been so easy for her to fall into a relationship with Edward—they knew each other well, cared about one another, and both loved Mikey more than anything in the world. But aside from only being friends, there was one minor detail that she simply could not ignore...
He was military. Not only would the Army always come first for him, but Bella simply couldn't take that chance again. She took it once, and paid the ultimate price for it—she became a widow at twenty-two years old, with a two-year-old son. And whenever she gave any thought to what her future might hold, she could only be certain of one thing.
She would never become involved with another soldier.
She was clipping her earrings on when a knock came to the door of the apartment. Her shoes hitting the hard wood floor echoed through the small area as she rushed across the room, opening it and her breath halting in her throat.
Edward stood in her doorway, pristine in his dress blues and his hat beneath his arm, a sight she hadn't seen voluntarily since Michael's funeral. He gave her a smile, taking her hand and raising it to his lips. "First Lieutenant Edward Cullen at your service, ma'am."
She chuckled and rolled her eyes as he winked at her. "Can dress you up, but can't take you out, huh?"
His lips twitched with a smirk as she reached for her purse, and when she turned back to him, it had all but disappeared as he held his elbow out for her to take. "Shall we go?"
Bella nodded with a smile and he led her out of the building toward his car, opening the door for her when they reached it. She was certain that it was not the first time he'd done it, but Mikey's words from the night before rang loud in her head, clouding her thoughts. Although Edward had always been a perfect gentleman in the entire time she'd known him, everything about the evening so far had set flashing neon lights off in her head.
She'd spent nearly two hours getting dressed and primping with hair and makeup.
He'd arrived at her door, dressed immaculately, to pick her up.
He'd escorted her out to the car on his arm and opened the door for her...
To an outsider, she knew they wouldn't appear as casual friends. The night was quickly converging into a 'date'.
These thoughts continued to plague her throughout dinner at the Christmas banquet they were attending; a fundraiser for the families of fallen soldiers. She could feel the glasses of wine swimming in her head when she felt a tap on her shoulder, looking up to find Edward standing beside her and holding out his hand.
"Would you like to dance?" he asked with a smile and her eyes moved to the dance floor, watching several couples moving toward it.
"What about your knee?" she replied with a smile and hesitantly placed her hand in his.
"The Army says it's not healed enough for combat yet, but I think it can handle a dance," he said as he walked her toward the floor, circling her under his arm before pulling her against him. "Besides, it would be a damn shame to put that poodle skirt and those saddle shoes to waste."
Bella rolled her eyes with a chuckle as the sound of "Rockin' Robin" filled the air, and the room came to life. When she'd first suggested the 50's theme for this year's annual fundraiser, she hadn't imagined that it would be such a huge success. Yet, glancing around at the twirling skirts of the women and the slicked back hair on the men, and the excitement that surrounded her, she'd realized how wrong she'd been in doubting.
Her attention was drawn back to Edward as he twirled her toward him and began moving around the floor with her. The first heartfelt laugh she released in ages emanated from her, while slightly surprised at how good of a dancer he actually was. There was something so mind-freeing about letting go and dancing this way, and she allowed herself to become immersed in it.
At the end of the song, the tempo slowed and "The Wonder of You" began to play. However, instead of leaving the floor, he pulled her back to him and slid his arm around her waist. She hadn't slow-danced with any man since her wedding, but she felt no inclination to pull away and instead placed one hand on his shoulder while folding her fingers around his with the other.
"Where on earth did you learn to dance like that?" Bella asked as she gazed up at him, watching a smile touch his lips. "I doubt that's Army regulated training at work there."
Edward laughed and shook his head, the wrinkles deepening around his eyes with his smile. "No, my mother loved this whole thing—the music, the dancing, the time. And her and my dad used to clear out the living room and just listen to old records, dancing for hours. She taught me, as well as my sister, how to dance when we were barely old enough to walk. But if this gets out, you're in deep trouble."
"You're the one who asked me to dance, just remember that," she teased back as he narrowed his eyes at her playfully, and then laid her head on his shoulder. She felt his cheek resting against her hair and his hand holding hers against his chest as they swayed to the music, a nervous stirring beginning to well in her stomach. Yet, she didn't feel the usual panic or tension that normally accompanied such a sensation. She felt an almost unsettling comfort in his arms, holding her close against him.
Bella lifted her head again and looked up at him, drowning out the music around her as her eyes locked with his. Before she realized what she was doing, she moved closer and pressed her lips against his. His fingers tightened slightly around her hand in surprise, but he didn't pull back. Instead, his lips moved with hers tenderly in time with the slow sway of their bodies to the music.
When they finally parted, they gazed at each other in a stunned silence, neither making a motion to speak. Her lips tingled from the missing contact, her breath stalled in her chest. Aside from her brief musing the night before, she'd never thought about Edward that way. Never envisioned what it would be like to kiss him, or how she would feel afterward. He was just Edward, her husband's best friend, and more recently, the closest person to her as well – her rock. As attractive as she would admit he was, she'd never thought about him in a romantic or sexual way.
And the fact that after one brief moment of vulnerability, he looked completely different to her, startled her. She pulled away from his arms and her eyes fell to the floor, finally taking a breath before hurrying from the floor and out of the room. She stepped out onto the large patio outside, and took in a deep breath, the brisk winter air stinging her lungs.
Bella wrapped her arms around her middle, closing her eyes in an attempt to collect herself. It had to be the alcohol, she thought, trying to find the reasoning in her actions. It was the holidays, she was lonely, and the wine emboldened her in ways that she would normally never dream of, as well as enhancing her comfort level with him.
She heard his soft voice behind her and her shoulders tensed when she felt his hands rest gently on them. "I need to go home. Mikey will be back early tomorrow so we can finish up our shopping," she rambled through a shuddering breath, shaking her head as he softly whispered her name again. "Edward, please? Just take me home."
Without waiting for him to respond, she turned and moved around him, grabbing her purse from the table and collecting her coat by the door. The car ride back to her apartment was deafeningly silent until he parked at the curb and drew in a deep breath.
"Do you still want me to come by on Friday?"
Bella's eye shot over to him sharply, finding his hands tightly gripping the steering wheel and his body tense. She sighed heavily at her own stupidity and nodded. "Of course, I do. Mikey is looking forward to it and it wouldn't be Christmas Eve without you there."
His gaze met hers slowly and he leaned back against the headrest. "Bella—"
Her fingers rose to his lips and she shook her head, watching them slowly drop from his face. "Don't. Let's just forget anything happened, and go on as normal, okay?"
Edward released his breath heavily and nodded. "Okay. Goodnight, Bella."
She moved to kiss his cheek out of habit but stopped herself, reaching for the door handle instead. "Goodnight."
Bella barely made it to the front door when she heard his car pull away, watching the taillights as they disappeared down the road.
Things would look brighter in the morning.
Strolling through the sporting goods store the following day with Mikey, Bella's thoughts remained on the night before, as they had been since the moment Edward drove away. At the time, she couldn't figure out what had compelled her to kiss him, and what shook her even more was the fact that she'd enjoyed it. But as she lay in bed the previous night, tracing her fingers over her lips distractedly for hours and reliving the sensation she had long forgotten, it felt as if a blindfold had been lifted from her view of the world. There had always been something special between her and Edward, a closeness they shared that was beyond the normal realm of friendship. And rather than feeling guilty for kissing the best friend of her deceased husband, she felt more so for not feeling guilty at all - other than the way she had left things with Edward.
In many ways, she knew that he would the perfect candidate to fill the void left behind by Michael, but she really couldn't see what options were left open to her. Everything about the situation screamed that it was wrong. From the basis of the friendship through Mike, to the military aspect of Edward himself, and the confusion it would eventually cause Mikey in the long run.
So why was she aching this way, longing for something that could never be? Perhaps it really was that she simply was that lonely, and it was time for her to move forward with her life. It had been so long since she'd even felt the slightest touch of a man, and her actions from the night before only exemplified her desire for it.
"Mommy! Uncle Edward would love this!" Mikey exclaimed loudly, tugging sharply on the hand he was holding on to and drawing her attention back to him.
He pointed to the glass case next to them to an ornate hunting knife, bouncing excitedly beside her and talking so fast she could barely understand him. Yet, as Bella gazed at it, she had to admit that she could also envision it displayed amongst his massive collection encased on his wall, despite the pricetag.
"Please, Mommy!" he pleaded, his wide blue eyes beaming up at her.
With a sigh, she nodded and motioned to the young man behind the counter to set it aside for her at the register. "Now, let's find something for Grandpa and get out of here, okay?"
Mikey rolled his eyes and shook his head. "You're such a girl, Mom."
The next several days passed slowly, and aside from picking Mikey up at Edward's after a few late shifts she had to pull at work, they'd barely even spoken since the night of the dinner. When Friday arrived, Bella watched as her son began gazing out the window overlooking the parking lot at three o'clock. As more snow fell with each passing minute, his anxiety increased along with his fidgeting.
"What if he doesn't come?" Mikey finally asked as he looked over his shoulder at her, when Edward's anticipated time of arrival came and passed.
"He'll be here, baby. He's probably just running a little late, that's all," she replied from where she stood at the stove, cooking dinner.
"I dunno, Mom. It's gettin' pretty bad out there," he sighed as he looked back outside, his chin resting on his folded arms upon the windowsill.
Switching the burner off, she made her way over to the window and stood behind him, gazing out at the thick curtain of snow that almost completely blocked their view of the parking lot. She ran her fingers over Mikey's hair and crouched down beside him, turning him to look at her. "Mikey, has Edward ever lied to you?"
The little boy shook his head slowly and lowered his eyes to the floor, bringing them back up to her when she took his face gently between her hands.
"If something was wrong, he'd call. The phone hasn't rung, so he'll be here. Okay?"
A heavy slam of the main door downstairs caused Mikey to jump, rising up on his toes to watch over her shoulder. He squealed with excitement when the apartment door swung open to reveal Edward stomping the snow off his boots. Bella's eyes briefly locked with his as he gazed across the room at her, before his attention was drawn to the little boy colliding with his legs, hugging them tightly.
She drew in a deep breath as she rose from the floor and made her way back to the kitchen while Mikey sufficiently distracted him. As she finished dinner, she listened to the two of them in the living room as they began setting up the train set that Edward had gotten him for Christmas. Just as she was placing the ham on the table, Mikey came barreling into the room and tugged on the waistband of her jeans.
"Mommy, you gotta come see!" he exclaimed with a wide grin, bouncing lightly in his place until she followed him into the adjoining room. The small electric train ran in circles around the track and Mikey ran back across the floor to sit in Edward's lap, taking over the controls. His cheeks puffed and his lips pursed as he began mimicking the train sounds, causing both of the adults in the room to chuckle.
"Well, I used to have a living room," Bella joked softly, causing Edward to look up and her laughter slowly dissipated, leaving only an uncomfortable smile behind. "Um, dinner's ready, you two. So wash up."
Throughout the meal, the room was eerily silent with the exception of Mikey talking excitedly about the following morning and his anticipation of what it would hold. Bella had foolishly hoped that she and Edward could quickly move beyond the awkward stage that evening and have everything return to normal, but it was proving not to be the case at all.
No sooner had they finished eating and Mikey was dragging Edward back out into the living room to play with the train some more before bed, leaving Bella to clear off the table and to her thoughts. She began to wonder if anything would ever be the same between her and Edward, or if she had irreversibly changed the entire dynamic of their friendship. She knew he would never turn his back on Mikey, and that was what was important. However, trying to imagine her life without his support and understanding, which had been the only thing besides her son to get her through the last three years, was unbearable.
"Hey, Bella," she heard his soft voice from the doorway as she stood at the sink washing dishes, jerking her from her thoughts. She glanced over her shoulder to look at him and he had a small smile on his face, motioning with his fingers to follow him. She set the sponge down and walked over to him, stopping short at the doorway.
Mikey was fast asleep in front of the television with his head resting beside the control box for the train, completely surrounded by the tracks. She couldn't help but smile at the sight and made her way over to him, carefully lifting him into her arms and carrying him into his room.
As she laid him down in his bed, his hands came up to rub his eyes, mumbling sleepily, "Is it Christmas yet?"
"No sweetie, not yet. Just go back to sleep," she whispered as she brushed his hair off his forehead and kissed it gently. She stood and he rolled away, hugging his stuffed lion and quickly falling back asleep.
Quietly closing the door behind her, she walked back out into the living room to find Edward standing by the bookcase, staring at it intently. As she walked up beside him, her eyes landed on the object of his attention and her chest tightened.
It was a picture taken of him and her husband just after Bella had given birth to Mikey, when they were deployed together in Afghanistan. Michael was overjoyed to learn that he was the father of a beautiful, healthy baby boy, and naturally, had to share the news immediately with his best friend. They both stood with unlit cigars between their teeth, grinning like idiots, and their arms hooked around each other's shoulders.
Bella heard Edward take in a deep breath slowly, drawing her attention back to him to find a pained expression on his face, his gaze never leaving the photograph. With hesitation, she raised her hand to rest on his shoulder.
"He loved you and Mikey so damn much," he said suddenly, his eyes appearing distant as a sad smile appeared on his face. "We used to tease him relentlessly over there. He was always looking at your picture whenever we weren't on patrol or something. Beating down the lines to the phone just to hear your voice for two minutes. And when he found out you had a boy, I didn't think he was ever gonna come down from that high. He said his only regret was that he wasn't there to hold his son, and kiss his beautiful wife."
Bella nodded and looked down, folding her arms around herself to shield against the memories bombarding them. "I know, he told me. He just kept saying 'let 'em tease. They're just jealous of what I got back home waiting for me.'"
Edward gave a breathy chuckle and nodded. "Well, he was right." Her eyes rose again and what she found startled her. All humor had left his features and his eyes glistened with restrained tears, the tension of the effort showing in his tight jaw. "It should have been me, not him. He had everything back here waiting for him with you and Mikey. What did I have? I don't even have a dog waiting for me, but they took him."
Bella's breath stilled in her throat as she watched the steel exterior of Edward chip away piece by piece, with years of guilt he'd been carrying with him since Michael's death bubbling to the surface. "It's not your fault, Edward. Michael was a soldier and he did what he had to do. You had no control over that."
"He would have been done by now," he replied tensely, looking over to her again. "Hell, he never would have even enlisted if it weren't for me. I wanted to be a soldier. He never even wanted to leave home. All he'd wanted since high school was to marry you, have a bunch of babies, and live happily ever after."
To a point, she had to admit that he was right. Michael had never once mentioned joining the military until the year following Edward's enlistment just before graduation. Being a year younger, he'd always looked up to and admired Edward, never more so than those months following his departure for Basic, when he decided that he would also enlist upon his own graduation. And he'd been on his final tour in Iraq before his enlistment would have ended when he'd been shot and killed instantly while on patrol.
"He trusted me, Bella," he spoke again, shaking his head and staring at the ceiling. "Trusted me to take care of you and Mikey, and I've let him down."
"No, you haven't," she said firmly, stepping between him and the bookcase, shaking her head. "I don't know where I would have been if I didn't have you around when Michael died. And Mikey loves you so much."
"But I've crossed a line. The line you just don't cross with your best friend's wife," he replied, gazing at her for a moment before stepping back from her. "When you kissed me, I should have stopped it, not kissed you back. I don't think that's what Mike had in mind when he said he hoped you would move on if anything ever happened to him."
Bella silently stared at him, absorbing everything he'd said in the last several minutes. Not only did he hold himself responsible for Michael's death, but also felt that he'd now committed the worst form of betrayal to his friend's memory. She stepped toward him again and placed her hand on his cheek, to which he immediately pulled away. But she took his arm, holding him in place. "Edward, I miss Michael more than I could ever explain to anyone. And I don't think there is another person outside of his family that can even begin to understand that more than you. But nothing you have done in the last three years has shown him anything but the utmost respect. You have dropped everything, whenever possible, at a moment's notice for me and for Mikey. Put everything in your own life on hold to make sure that we were taken care of." She paused, drawing in a deep breath before looking back to him again. "I honestly don't know what was going through my mind when I kissed you the other night. But for the first time since I lost Michael, I felt something besides pain and loneliness. And I've been thinking a lot since that happened."
Edward shook his head and closed his eyes, his brow furrowing more. "Bella—"
"No, you were right. Michael would've wanted me to keep living and move on, not lock myself away in my own misery for the last three years. It hasn't been fair to Mikey, or to me." Her hand moved down the remainder of his arm until her fingers slid between his, causing his eyes to open quickly and look to her. "If there's one thing that I know about Mike Newton, it's that he trusted you more than anyone in this world. I mean, you two were friends before you were even able to walk in a straight line. And if there was one person that he would have trusted to be with me and his son, it would have been you."
Edward tensed slightly and swallowed hard, his gaze lowering to their joined hands. His chest began rising and falling in rapid succession, feeling the fingers of her other hand trace along his jaw. "Bella, I can't," he said, shaking his head and looking back to her. "I'm a soldier, and I'm planning on being one for a very long time. This is what I do, and what I love to do. I'm not giving it up, and I can't knowingly do that to you."
"I'm not asking you to give it up. I never thought I'd voluntarily put myself in this position again, but it's a chance I'd be willing to take. I think once you've been an Army wife, it becomes a part of who you are. The risk and the danger, the lifestyle. Anything else just never seems to fit," she responded seriously, her gaze locked on his. Then her lips pulled into the hint of a smile and her cheeks began to color, her teeth tugging on her bottom lip shyly. "Besides, there's nothing quite like a handsome man in uniform to curl a woman's toes."
Edward released an uneasy chuckle, his eyes averted from hers as the corner of his mouth twitched nervously. "I'm deploying within the month, Bella."
Her fingertips turned his face, bringing his gaze to hers. "And I'd be here waiting for you to come back."
They stared intensely into each other's eyes for several moments until, just as on the night of the dinner, they drew together until their lips tentatively touched. Unlinking their hands, they slowly melted into the kiss while their arms slid around each other. When her tongue lightly brushed against his, they both released soft, contented sighs as he pulled her closer to him. She felt his arm press against the exposed skin of her back where her sweater rose from the waistline of her jeans, as she tightened her embrace around his shoulders.
She pulled away slowly and opened her eyes, watching his long lashes flutter briefly before looking back to her. "How long?"
It was a vague question, but his hands running along her sides as he drew in a deep breath told her that he understood exactly what she meant. "Fourth of July picnic. Just spending that whole day with you and Mikey right after I got back. It felt so good to actually relax and have fun. I wasn't thinking about being sent home, or not being over there with my men, or the painful PT I was going through. And in all the years I'd known you, you'd never looked as beautiful as you did that day."
"I think that was nine months of desert heat and sand clouding your brain," Bella teased and then the air fell silent between them. She took a slow deep breath and ran her hands along his shoulders until they gripped his upper arms and his rested on her hips. "I should probably start setting out the presents for the morning."
"Yeah, I should probably get home before it gets too bad out there," Edward replied with a nod, stepping back from her slightly.
"Edward, it's been 'too bad' for hours now. So, get comfortable, because you're not going anywhere," Bella said, pointing to the couch as she walked out of the room and down the hall toward the closet to retrieve the presents.
An hour later, Bella and Edward sat together on the couch sipping on glasses of wine. His arm was around her shoulders while her head rested on his, both of them gazing silently at the lights twinkling in the otherwise dark room. Her fingers linked with his on her shoulder and her thumb ran along the edge of his hand, before pulling it toward her lips and kissing the back gently. She felt so incredibly calm and relaxed there in his hold, more so than she could have ever imagined possible again. For the first time in years, she remembered what it was like to be happy.
Bella shifted and stretched, her brow furrowing in her half-asleep state to the feel of a body beside her. She opened her eyes slowly to find herself still in the living room, sitting on the couch, her head resting on Edward's chest. A soft sigh escaped her lips as her arm tightened around his waist, causing him to stir as well and lift his head from atop of hers.
His eyes opened to gaze down at her and the lazy smile that graced his lips matched hers as he leaned in to kiss her softly. "Good morning."
She hummed against his lips contently, brushing them once more with hers. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" Mikey burst into the living room cheering, causing Edward and Bella to startle completely awake and move apart. They glanced at each other uncertainly, both of their faces flushed slightly as the little boy jumped onto the couch between them. He hugged them both in turn around the waist before climbing into Edward's lap and lying on his chest. Mikey's face tilted up toward him, giggling as he spoke. "You kissed my mommy."
Edward stammered as he looked back to Bella, shaking his head. They'd discussed the night before that they were going to take things slow and see how things progressed before getting Mikey's hopes up. This part definitely wasn't in the plan. "Buddy… uh…"
"I sawed you," Mikey smirked, glancing over to his mother as well. "Last night, too."
Bella's face reddened more as her eyes lowered briefly to her lap, composing herself before looking back to Mikey. "You were supposed to be asleep by then, young man," she half-heartedly scolded, raising an eyebrow at him.
Mikey giggled again with a shrug. "I know."
His shameless reply caused them both to chuckle. "Don't you want to open your presents?" Bella asked, pointing at the tree.
He paused, lifting his chin to look at Edward and then lowered it again, snuggling back against him. "In a minute. I got something for you though, Mommy."
"Really? What is it?"
Mikey handed her a folded piece of paper with a smile. "It's my birthday list."
Bella chuckled, shaking her head. "Baby, your birthday isn't until the summer."
"I know," he replied with a careless shrug. "But I couldn't get back to sleep last night after I saw you kissing Uncle Edward, so I made my list."
Bella slowly unfolded the paper, drawing in a slow breath as her eyes fell to the illegible scrawl in blue crayon on the sheet. She turned to glance at Edward, whose forehead creased slightly as he too attempted to decipher the scribbled words.
Mikey sighed dramatically and rolled his eyes, sliding off Edward's lap and onto the floor. "Fine, I'll read it for you."
They both restrained laughter at his annoyed tone as he took the letter from Bella's hands and stood in front of them. Pursing his lips slightly, he cleared his throat with a serious expression on his face.
"Dear Mommy," he started, pausing for effect and looking directly at Bella with a nod. "For my birthday, I want a baby brother or sister. Love, Mikey."
Bella gasped upon listening to Mikey's words. Her gaze moved quickly over to Edward to find him shifting uncomfortably with widened eyes, both of them releasing a nervous chuckle.
Mikey looked between them. "What?"
I'm currently working on a second part to this, but with the holidays approaching and all, I'm not sure when it will be posted. I'm sincerely appreciating everyone's patience. :)