Hello, friends - I'll let you get to it.
Thank you to my fabulous beta, Discordia81, who gets my madness. I did tinker a bit after she sent this chapter back; all mistakes are even more mine than usual.
Note: This is a slash story.
My cough and fever persisted for most of the week before Christmas. Edward kept up a steady supply of Tylenol and flu medicine, and made sure that I didn't fall over in the bathroom and shower. He coaxed me with juices, toast, and seemingly endless quantities of chicken soup, though I was more interested in sleep than anything else.
During my lucid moments, I watched Edward as he kept house and took care of me, noting his often intense expressions and obvious concern that I was so ill. I sometimes woke late at night to find him sleeping beside me, and wondered at how strange and right it felt knowing he was there.
It wasn't until Friday that my fever receded enough to allow my head to truly clear. I was weak and shaky, and the heavy coughing had reduced my voice to a hoarse whisper, but I finally felt some semblance of normalcy. By mid-morning, we were sitting in bed while I slowly ate breakfast, and Edward smiled as he ran a thumb over my unshaven cheek.
"I like this scruff, Gar. It's hot."
"Matches yours," I croaked, elbowing him gently when he snorted. "We look like vagrants."
"You actually look a lot better," he said before he sipped his coffee.
"I feel a lot better."
"Even with your voice like that?"
I shrugged and pushed away the half-eaten plate of food. "Yeah. My body still hurts, but at least my brain is working again … I can finally think straight."
"Thank fuck." Edward looked down, fiddling with the hem of his Monkees t-shirt. "You seemed confused. Restless … talking in your sleep, especially at night. Fever dreams, I suppose. It was weird." His face was tight when he met my gaze again.
I took his hand. "I'm sorry."
"There's nothing to apologize for," he insisted. "It's not like you planned to get sick, Garrett."
"I know. I never asked you; how did you know I was here?"
"Seth and I waited for you at the pub. When you didn't show up or answer my calls, I figured something wasn't right. I called your office and caught Emily on her way out. She told me you'd gone home sick, so I grabbed a cab and came over."
"Shit. I should have called you. I think I meant to? I just wanted to go to sleep when I finally made it home." I felt completely humbled. "Thank you for being here."
"Where else would I be, Gar?"
The quiet certainty in Edward's voice and the love in his green eyes made my chest tighten. Unable to trust what little voice I had left, I raised his hand to my lips and smiled when he turned it to cup my cheek.
His tone was light when he spoke again. "How about a shower?"
The thought of a long, hot shower made me groan, particularly when I imagined a wet, soapy Edward beside me. I wasn't in any shape to fool around, but I was not averse to ogling my boyfriend. "God, yes. With you, please."
His eyes narrowed, though his lips curled in a small smile as he got up to clear the bed tray. "You need to behave yourself, Garrett. And I need to change the sheets first."
"You're no fucking fun."
"That's not what your mom said last night."
"God, Ed, gross."
Edward laughed loudly as he carried the tray to the kitchen, and the sound made me smile—it felt like it had been too long since I'd heard it. He looked apologetic when he walked back into the bedroom, though, and took my hand after sitting beside me again.
"You need to call your parents, baby. Emily canceled your flight reservations yesterday, but she didn't tell your mom and dad. They need to hear it from you."
"I know," I whispered. "I feel terrible; they were really looking forward to seeing us."
"They understand," he soothed. "I told them how sick you've been and—"
I frowned in confusion. "You did? When was that?"
"Earlier in the week," he began, pausing when his phone buzzed on the nightstand. He smiled at the screen as he picked it up. "Speak of the mother and she shall call."
"The mother … my mother?"
He shot me a wink as he took the call. "Hello, Claire. Garrett and I were just talking about calling you."
I cocked my head, a smile slowly spreading on my face as I listened to Edward chat with my mom. He spoke to my parents on occasion, but always during my own calls home to Portland. Knowing that he and my mother were now calling each other directly charmed me to no end.
"Yes, he seems to be feeling better," Edward was saying, a soft expression in his eyes as he watched me. "His fever is lower, he had some eggs for breakfast, and he's been awake and talking like a human for almost forty minutes with no sign of passing out again."
My snort turned into a coughing fit and Edward frowned, rubbing my leg with his free hand while I pulled myself together.
"Yes, ma'am, hang on one second." He raised his brows as he held the phone toward me. "You okay to talk for a little longer?"
I nodded and cleared my throat, somehow managing to sound even worse when I spoke. "Mom, hi."
"Oh, Garrett, honey! You sound terrible."
"I know. I sound worse than I feel, honestly."
Edward shifted to get out bed, but I tugged him back, tucking him against my side as my mother and I talked. I filled her in on the nasty flu I'd managed to catch and reassured her that I was on the mend.
"Well, I'm certainly glad you're starting to feel better," she said. "I could tell from Edward's voice when we spoke that he was worried about you."
"Yeah, I could tell the same," I said, rubbing Edward's thigh through his scrubs.
"Your dad and I were hoping you'd be better in time to come home ... but from the way you sound that seems unlikely, doesn't it?"
I swallowed at the sadness in her voice. "I'm really sorry, Mom. I still have a fever and I'm just not up for that long flight. I canceled our reservations yesterday."
"I was afraid of that," she sighed. "You're right to stay at home, of course; you'd probably get even sicker if you made the trip. I'm just disappointed that we won't see you at Christmas."
My heart ached as she went on to tell me how much the family would miss us, and I felt worse knowing about the pending news of Peter and Charlotte's engagement. The hurt eased a bit, however, as our talk turned to Edward. My parents' kind thoughts toward Edward from the week before had changed into sincere and abundant praise.
"We're so grateful he was there for you, sweetie. Just from speaking to him, we knew he was really looking after you."
"I'm not sure how I would have managed without him, Mom."
She sighed heavily, her voice soft when she spoke again. "It bothered me to know you were sick and so far away, Garrett. I'm glad you found someone who cares for you. Peter told me how much fun he had with you all when he was in Boston. Your dad and I are really looking forward to finally meeting your young man in person."
"I'm glad to hear that, Mom," I said gently. "I hope that happens soon."
By the time we hung up, promising to talk again on Christmas day, I was beginning to feel tired again. With a sigh, I laid back against the pillows, snuggling into Edward's warm body.
"Since when does my mom have your number?" I whispered. "And since when do you call her Claire?"
"Since I answered your phone Tuesday morning." The sleepiness in Edward's voice surprised me, and I turned my head to find him looking at me from under drooping lids. "I heard your phone chiming Monday night and Tuesday morning. You were still out of it, so I checked the screen and picked up when I realized it was your mom. I thought that maybe she'd worry if she didn't hear from you... I figured answering would be okay ...?"
"Very okay; I'm glad you did," I said when he trailed off, then frowned at the glazed look in his eyes. "You tired, sweetheart?"
"Nah, I'm okay. You know me—I never pass up a chance to crash."
He sat up, stretching his neck and shoulders before he shook himself, but I could read the weariness in his face. It occurred to me that, while Edward hadn't been at work, the past few days taking care of me hadn't exactly been restful either.
"You need a nap."
Edward shook his head. "No way, man. I need to change these sheets and then we need to get in the shower." His nose wrinkled playfully. "We can talk about a nap when you smell better, stinky."
An hour later, we were buried under a mound of clean bedding, feeling warm and drowsy from the shower. Sunlight poured through the windows as I lay with my cheek on Edward's shoulder, his arms linked loosely around me.
"You think you could eat a sandwich later?"
"Stop playing nurse," I scolded.
"I'm not," he protested sleepily. "Planning for later. I'm hungry but too lazy to get up right now."
"Okay, then. Yes. To the sandwich, I mean. And some of that soup you've been giving me." I chuckled when his stomach rumbled. "Are you sure you don't want to eat now?"
"Very fucking sure. So comfortable."
"Me too. Where did that soup come from, anyway?"
"I made it." Edward's voice was a low rumble and he tried, unsuccessfully, to swallow a yawn. "It's my mom's recipe. I asked her to pick up a few groceries when she brought me a change of clothes on … Tuesday, I think."
Tenderness surged through me and I turned my head to press my lips against his skin. "Jesus, Edward. You are too good to me."
His mouth moved in a smile against my temple. "No worries. You can pay me back in blowjobs when you're feeling better."
Edward went back to work at Masen's on Saturday afternoon. Though my fever had broken, I could tell he was reluctant to leave me alone, primarily because I still had no voice. He had missed shifts to take care of me, though, and, while he wouldn't admit it, he needed the money. That's why I was surprised when I heard keys in the door at five-thirty, followed by Jasper's voice calling my name.
"There you are," he said when he found me camped out on the couch.
"Hey, Jas," I croaked. "What are you doing here?"
The bartender dropped a carrier bag on the coffee table and gave me a wicked smile as he pulled off his coat. "Ed told me your voice was shot. I figure this is a good a time as any to have my way with you because you can't call for help."
"Nice." I pulled my knees up when he moved to sit down.
"I come bearing food and porn." Jasper unloaded the contents of the bag onto the table, listing each item as he handled them. "Chicken salad sandwiches … two flavors of Gatorade … some ice-pops—fuck, I need to put those in the freezer—and five seasons of Queer As Folk for your viewing pleasure. Okay, I lied: it's not porn, but Brian and Justin are more than watchable."
I shook my head in both wonder and amusement at the little pile of offerings, while Jasper raised an eyebrow.
"You didn't really think that Ed would work a double-shift without asking someone to pop in, did you? It was either that or he'd text you five hundred times before closing. And we all know how bitchy Ed gets when he runs out of minutes."
I managed a shaky smile that Jasper tactfully ignored before he grabbed the drink bottles and box of ice-pops and stood.
"I'm your personal butler until I go on shift in two hours. I'll put this shit in the freezer and grab some plates and glasses—which flavor Gatorade do you want, orange or … what is this, grape?"
Snow was falling when I woke up on Christmas Eve morning and Edward was sleeping at my side with one warm hand splayed on my stomach. He had worked another double the night before, and was far enough under for me to ease out of the bed without waking him.
I studied my reflection in the bathroom mirror after washing up, pleased to note that, even with my disastrous bed head, I was beginning to look like myself for the first time in a week. I'd lost a few pounds, but there was color in my cheeks under my whiskers, and my eyes were bright with energy that I finally feeling again.
I was struck by a strong smell of evergreen when I slipped into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. Puzzled, I looked over the island into the living space and froze when I spotted a small Christmas tree sitting in the corner by the window. It was a wee thing, probably four feet high, and undecorated. There were boxes of ornaments on the floor, and the tree's green branches filled the air with fragrance.
My heart was pounding almost painfully as I stared at the little tree, thinking about how it had found its way into my apartment. It hadn't been there when I'd gone to bed the night before, which meant Edward had dragged it and the ornaments to my apartment after work, probably in a cab.
"Mornin', baby." The man himself shuffled into the kitchen just then, yawning and running both hands through his crazy hair. "Oh, sweet, you made coffee—"
Whatever else he planned to say was lost when I strode across the little space and pulled him toward me, swallowing his grunt of surprise with my mouth. I kissed him hard and deep until he groaned around my tongue. Pushing him backward, I steered him across the kitchen until his lower back was pressed against the counter.
He broke away, inhaling sharply when I palmed him through his scrubs, and I hummed to feel him twitch under my hand. Before he could react any further, my fingers were plucking at the drawstring on his pants, shoving the fabric down when he groaned low in his throat. His eyes were wild behind his glasses when I knelt at his feet, dragging his pants over his thighs. I kissed his skin as I moved, kneading his thighs with my hands, and smiling at the soft noises he made when my lips touched him. My open mouth at the base of his cock made him hiss, and his head fell back when I wrapped my hand around him.
"Oh, God," he said when I dragged my tongue along the length of his dick. Edward's voice was low, almost a whisper, and the quaver I heard on the second word set a fire in my belly.
His fingers wound in my hair while I moved over his flesh, teasing him with little nipping kisses. I ducked down slightly, catching his balls with my tongue and lavishing attention on each one until he was moaning steadily. The plea in his eyes was plain as we watched one another, but I couldn't resist drawing out his pleasure a little longer. Wrapping one hand around the base of his shaft, I moved the other to grab his ass and slid his cock between my lips.
Edward's hips rocked forward and his eyes grew wide. "Shit!"
I took him in slowly, swallowing around his head when he was in deep. His thighs trembled around my shoulders as he murmured breathlessly, his hips moving slowly. He used his hand to guide my head as he fucked my mouth, and his movements grew more rhythmic as he lost himself in the sensations.
Watching his pleasure made me ache with need, but I shoved it aside, keeping all of my focus on the man in front of me.
"Fuck … fuck, baby, please," he murmured.
I groaned to let him know I'd heard him before reaching to press my fingers into the soft skin just behind his balls. He grunted, his thrusts growing stronger and his fingers tightening in my hair, prompting me to suck harder as I watched him spiral down.
"Gar … gonna come." Edward's voice was rough and desperate, and he shuddered when I hummed.
His knees started to give out as he came, prompting me to press him back between the counter and my body. I held him up as I swallowed him down, and stroked his flesh with my hands, prolonging his pleasure as long as possible.
He was still panting roughly when I pulled his pants up, and I smirked as I tucked him back in. His hands shook slightly as he pulled me up, and I couldn't help chuckling when he wound his arms around me and buried his face in my neck.
"Someone's feeling better," he said, pressing lazy kisses into my skin. "What was that for?"
The sound of his voice, satisfied and slightly dazed, made me grin while I rubbed his back. "Thought I'd get started on the blow job payback," I teased, my raspy chuckle becoming a groan when he cupped my dick in return. "You don't have to—"
"Oh, but I want to, baby." He gave a low, wicked laugh. "I've been waiting all fucking week to touch you like this again."
Edward made me sit while he made breakfast, insisting that I take it easy because he planned to continue to wear me out repeatedly throughout the day.
"Promises, promises," I said as we ate our omelets.
"Oh, Garrett. I plan to fuck you over every surface in this apartment before I go back to work on Wednesday. Starting with this island."
"Fucking hell." I swallowed hard, my dick stirring as I vividly pictured that very scene.
"Beyond perverting my furniture, what do you want to do?" I tried to sound unaffected while throwing my balled up napkin at him. "Does your family do anything at Christmas?"
Edward drank his coffee and shrugged. "I hang out with the Masen's staff on Christmas Eve, or with Lee and Seth and those guys. My parents host a lunch on Christmas day for family and friends. If you're not up for either one, we can just cook dinner here."
"I don't think I'm ready for a party with the Masen crew." I covered Edward's hand on the table with my own. "But your parents' lunch sounds fun."
Edward smiled. "Okay, sure. I know you want to Skype with your family, too."
"That should be easy enough, given the time difference." I sighed, imagining again my parents' reaction to Peter and Charlotte's announcement.
Edward ran a finger along my forearm. "You okay, baby?"
"Pete proposed to Charlotte last night. They're going to tell my parents and the rest of the family tomorrow at dinner."
Edward's eyes widened in time with his smile. "That's great! Shit, your mother is going to go nuts."
"She'll probably run out of the house and start yelling on the front lawn," I said, smiling when Edward burst out laughing.
We talked as we cleaned up the breakfast dishes, forecasting dates for the wedding and joking about the lengths my mother would go when the planning began.
"Are you upset about missing Peter's announcement, Gar?"
Edward was frowning slightly when I met his eyes. He put the pan and dishcloth he was holding down and drew me to stand between his legs as he leaned against the sink, linking his arms around my waist.
"Yes and no," I admitted. "He told me about his plans before he left. So it's not as if I was completely out of the loop."
"Did something ... I don't know, happen before your brother went home? Between the two of you, I mean?"
I was intrigued to see Edward's ears turn pink as I looked at him. "Why do you ask?"
"Peter called me yesterday."
I raised an eyebrow in surprise. "He did? Why? I mean, that's great that he called but … what is it with my family calling my boyfriend, anyway?"
"I asked the same thing, actually." Edward chuckled, but I saw a hint of discomfort in his expression. "He seemed concerned that we had canceled the trip, but when I was telling how sick you've been, I got the feeling he didn't really believe me."
"He said that?"
"Not explicitly, no. It was more the things he was saying and then not saying." Edward dropped a kiss on the apple of my cheek. "He asked me if everything was okay, and how you were doing. Then he went out of his way to make sure that I knew how much he'd enjoyed meeting me and that he was looking forward to seeing me again.
"It was all very sweet, don't misunderstand me; I didn't know what to make of it. I knew there was some reason he was calling me—he could have called your parents, or waited to call you himself. I just wasn't sure how to get the reason out of him."
I rested my forehead against his with a groan. "Sorry, sweetheart."
"Don't be. He really was concerned about you." Edward chewed his lip for a moment before continuing. "Did something happen between you?"
"You could say that," I muttered. "Not an argument so much as a misunderstanding."
Edward listened quietly as I told him about my conversation with Peter at the airport on the night he flew back to Oregon. The only sign he gave that my brother's words bothered him was a slight tightening of his eyes.
"Is there any reason you didn't tell me about what happened, Gar?" he asked when I had finished, sounding both curious and cautious. "We've talked a lot about being honest with each other … were you ever going to tell me?"
"Yes. I was going to tell you after we got home from the trip," I said honestly. "Now, I know how ass backwards this sounds, but I didn't want you to know until after you met my parents."
"I knew you would be hurt by what Peter had said. That he was wrong about the whole thing and that he would know it by the time he and Char told the family." I shrugged. "In the end, it didn't make any difference to me what he thought, Ed. I wanted to take you home to meet my family."
A smile crept onto Edward's face, slowly becoming brilliant as we watched each other.
"Thank you," he said simply, his eyes shining as he leaned in to kiss me.
"Of course you didn't actually get to meet them," I added, "but my mom's hoping we can fly out in February for my birthday."
Edward's brow puckered in thought. "I think that will work. I should be able to get the time off."
"Don't worry about your ticket," I said, shaking my head when he opened his mouth to argue. "No, really, Edward; it's covered by my frequent flier points and won't cost me a dime."
"You know I appreciate it, Gar, but I don't want to put you out."
I watched him try to smile and leaned forward to run my lips against his jaw.
"You won't put me out. I racked up a lot of points flying back and forth to Chicago this fall; we may as well get some good use out of them. Unless … you want to use them to fly to Hawaii."
"Jeeze, let's see," he teased. "Oregon to see your parents or Hawaii and naked in a bungalow all day... tough decision, Garrett."
He grunted when I poked him in the ribs, and then turned on me, his long fingers tickling and making me twist away with a hoarse squeak. Our roughhousing shifted when he kissed me roughly, nearly lifting me off the floor in his eagerness. In a flash, we were pulling at each other's pants and scrambling for the lube and condoms I kept in at the back of one of the kitchen drawers. As he'd promised, Edward pushed me over the counter, burying himself deep inside me as we groaned and swore and came.
"Were you really working a double yesterday? Or were you out tree shopping?" I asked, winding a string of lights around the branches while Edward unwrapped the ornaments.
We'd tried to decorate the tree after tidying the kitchen again, but the vestiges of my flu had reared up almost as soon as I had sat down on the couch. I'd woken up three hours later, covered with the comforter from my bed, to find Edward putting away a load of groceries he'd dashed out to get from the market down the street.
He flicked a wad of tissue paper at me now, and chuckled when it landed on the plate of half-eaten quesadillas beside me.
"Of course I was working," he said. "I might have picked up the tree and ornaments on my way in and stowed them in Jasper's car, though."
"And you got them home how …?"
"Jas dropped me off. He said it was his Christmas gift to me rather than making me flag down a cab with a tree under my arm."
We laughed together, working on the little tree and eating our food as we talked.
"How the hell did you find a tree so late, anyway?"
"Malice picked it up a couple of days ago after I told her we canceled our trip." Edward cocked his head as he held up a Hello Kitty ornament. "I have a feeling these might be her own ornaments, though, so let's be sure to get them all back in once piece."
"Well, thank Malice. And you," I said, smiling gently at him when he snorted. "No, really, thank you. It's a really fucking cute tree."
"It's a really fucking tiny tree. Best she could do on such short notice. I'm glad you like it, though. I can take it out of here on my way to work Wednesday, if you want."
"Oh, no, let's hang on to it until New Year's Day. That's what my family does."
Edward smiled indulgently. "Whatever you want, baby. Just promise me you'll water it when I'm not here, okay? You'll be pissed at me if it dries out and there are a million dried needles all over the floor."
I swallowed as the implication of his words sank in. Of course, Edward would be gone some nights; he had his own apartment across town. As much time as we spent with each other, there were still at least one or two nights a week that I spent alone in my own bed.
Esme's smile was impossibly bright when she met us at the door of the Cullen house.
"I'm so happy to see you!" She gave Edward a quick hug before wrapping her arms around me tightly. "And so glad you're feeling better, Garrett. You are feeling better aren't you?"
"Yes, thanks, Esme," I managed to get out before she jerked back, her dark eyes sharp as they moved over my face.
"Oh, gosh, your voice is still all fucked up,"
"Mama, what the hell?" Edward exclaimed while I choked on a laugh.
Esme's eyes glinted playfully. "Well, that's what you've been saying every time I've spoken to you, honey. 'Gar's getting better, but his voice is all fucked up'," she said, imitating Edward's voice perfectly and grinning when we laughed.
She led us into the house, encouraging us to help ourselves from the buffet before shooting off to the kitchen—over my protests—to brew a pot of tea to soothe my throat.
"She doesn't have to do that," I muttered, handing Edward the bag of presents as he knelt to place them under the tree in the sitting room.
"She wants to. My mother likes taking care of us." His voice and expression were fond when he stood. "She forgets that we are grown men."
"Grown men who wear Avengers t-shirts under their sweaters," I said dryly, running my hand over Edward's charcoal crewneck sweater.
"Something she doesn't need to know." His eyes narrowed mischievously. "Just like she doesn't need to know that we're a little late because you couldn't get enough this morning." He leaned in to me and brushed the back of his hand against my cock.
I felt my face flush and opened my mouth to respond when steps sounded behind us.
"Hello, son." Carlisle's smile was wide as he and Edward embraced. "I'm sorry your trip was canceled, but I can't pretend I'm not happy to see you here after all."
Carlisle turned to me as soon as Edward let him go, but his happy expression faltered, becoming concerned. "Garrett, your face is very flushed—are you all right? You're not feeling ill again, are you?"
We spent a mellow afternoon eating and catching up with the Cullens's family and close friends. When the party retired to the living room for coffee and dessert, Edward's dowager aunts seized the opportunity to fill my ears with stories from his childhood; I honestly thought he would die of embarrassment when a box of old photos was brought out. I stopped him from slinking out of the room, and held his hand to soothe his ruffled ego as the stories unfolded and photos made the rounds.
"I had no idea your hair was so red when you were a kid," I teased, holding up one of Edward's school photos. His little boy's face smiled crookedly at us from the snapshot, all bright green eyes and ginger hair.
We were in my apartment again, watching Jasper's Queer As Folk DVDs as the light in the room slowly dimmed. The Cullens sent us off with a pile of gifts and enough food for two days, as well as a few of the photos from the box. Edward took the snapshot from my hand with a grimace that made me laugh softly.
"My hair got darker when I was in high school. Up until that happened I was considering coloring it, even though my dad swore he'd take my learner's permit away if I did." He smiled and raised a hand to the side of my neck. "You look tired, Gar."
"I'm okay," I told him. "I may, however, pass out for a couple of hours after we eat that turkey tetrazzini your mother gave us; the power of tryptophan compels me."
Edward nodded knowingly and tossed the snapshot on to the coffee table. "Let's do Christmas presents now, then, while you're still alert and capable of speech."
He dug under the little tree and extracted two square packages of similar dimensions, though one was thicker than the other was. He handed me the thicker of the two and sat beside me again, his cheeks turning pink and his smile shy.
"Merry Christmas, Garrett." His eyes shone as he moved to kiss me, his lips moving slowly and sweetly while his fingers ghosted over my jaw.
"Merry Christmas," I replied when he sat back, pausing for a moment to just look at the beautiful man at my side before nodding at the gift in his hand. "You go first, sweetheart, I've been dying to give that to you."
He tried but failed to play it cool as he tore through the paper, though his eager smile faded when he saw the new tablet under the wrapper.
"Oh, shit." His voice was hushed as he turned it over in his hands, and I saw his throat work when he swallowed. "Garret ... this is—"
"From your parents and me," I finished for him, nodding when his eyes snapped back to mine in question. "We both know your netbook is dying and you need something new to write with. I knew you'd give me a hard time for spending too much money, especially when we promised we wouldn't go overboard, so I asked and your parents agreed to split the cost of the tablet and a new data plan with me."
Edward said nothing, his eyes searching my face before he looked down again at the sleek machine in his hands.
My stomach fell as I watched him, unable to decipher his blank expression. "There's a dock under the tree, and a wireless keyboard; I figured you wouldn't want to be writing on a touch screen."
"It's ... I don't know what to say," he finally said after a long silence, his fingers moving carefully over the tablet's surface. "Thank you."
"Edward." I waited until he looked at me before speaking again. "Are you upset?"
He shook his head, his lips moving uncertainly in a smile. "No, I'm not. I'm, um ... overwhelmed, I think. It's wonderful. Thank you, Gar, really." He raised my hand to his lips and kissed it fervently, his eyes burning with a mixture of emotions.
"I'm glad you like it. Your parents will be glad to hear it, too," I said, grinning when he raised an eyebrow. "Esme and I spent a long time trying to decide which one you'd like best. Your mom ... she really enjoys shopping."
Edward laughed then, lightening the mood instantly, and I was finally able to relax and turn my attention to the package in my lap.
"My turn, right?"
"Oh, yeah," he said, his face falling as he watched me. "I don't know if—fuck. I ... stuck with the 'let's not go overboard' rule, so it's not very extravagant."
I frowned at him, concerned with the turn the conversation was taking. "I don't want extravagant, Ed. I don't care about the presents or how much you spend; I'm happy enough just being here with you."
Edward blew out a long breath and put his own present on the table. I could see the insecurity warring in his eyes even as he smiled and encouraged me to open my package.
"There's two things, actually," he said as I got the paper off, but his voice faded when I saw a framed photo of the two of us.
It had been taken during a Sunday brunch we'd hosted earlier in the month, after I'd gotten home from Thanksgiving in Oregon. In the photo, we were seated together on the sofa in Edward's apartment and I knew from memory that our friends were all around us. Edward held me close in his arms, while I grasped his forearm with both hands. We were smiling, our gazes locked together as if no one were present, and the expressions of happiness and love on our faces made me breathless.
I had been aware that Edward's mother was taking photos that day, though I hadn't paid her much mind. Like any photographer, she seized any opportunity to capture images, and her Nikon was frequently in her hands.
"Esme?" I murmured.
Edward's voice was low and warm. "You know we don't have any photos of the two of us together? Well, other than crazy Instagram shots," he chuckled.
"I asked my mother to take some of us that day, thinking it would just be nice to have a couple of candids." He reached to run his finger over the image of my smiling face. "When I saw them ... well, I knew I wanted to do something more than just stick them on the fridge."
"There are more of these?"
"Yeah. Mama's putting them in an album for us. That one is my favorite, though."
"It's beautiful," I said, my vision blurring as I looked from the photo in my hands back to Edward's face. "You're beautiful. Thank you, sweetheart."
"You're welcome." He smiled and pushed the hair back from my forehead. "I'm glad you like it."
His words made me remember that he had mentioned a second part to the gift, and my brow furrowed in confusion. "Is the album the second part of the gift?"
"Oh!" he exclaimed excitedly. "No, that's not it. Jas and Alec are renting a house in Vermont this summer for a couple of weeks at the end of July. They asked if we, and Bella and Mal wanted in. I thought that would be a nice change of pace from the city this summer and it won't cost us an arm and a leg like a place on the Cape will."
I blinked a few times in surprise. "Vermont?"
Edward licked his lips, looking nervous. "I know it's a little weird that I didn't say anything beforehand, but I wanted it to be a surprise and you're not the easiest person to spring something on, Gar—"
"Will you please shut up, you sweet, sweet man?" I asked before pulling him toward me.
The rest of his words were muffled as I kissed him. His hands came up to frame my face and I felt my cock twitch when he caught my lower lip between his teeth with a groan. His tongue slid between my lips, my fingers worked their way into his hair, and then I was laughing against his lips as he shifted and hauled me onto his lap.
"Mmm. I love you," he said, nibbling at my chin.
"I love you back, Ed."
"You like it?"
"The trip? Let's see ... a couple of weeks away in the mountains with you. What the fuck's not to like? You have to let me chip in, though—"
"Nope," he cut in at once, his expression growing serious. "This is a Christmas present, Garrett; I'm not letting you pay for your own gift."
"Uh-uh." He kissed me again before resting his forehead against mine. "No arguing. Bella and Jas and I are working it out so the whole thing is affordable for everyone."
His swallowed as he watched me and his voice was quieter when he spoke again. "Let me do this for you, okay? For us."
I looked at him for a long moment, troubled by his seeming need to prove something to me or to himself, and wondering what was behind his behavior. It was his hopeful smile that finally made me nod, and I squeezed his fingers in mine.
"Whatever you want, sweetheart."
In the end, we ate Esme's casserole right out of the baking dish, pairing it with a bottle of Viognier and a green salad while we talked about our schedules for the rest of the week.
"Are you sure you want to go in tomorrow?" Edward asked as he spooned more pasta from the serving dish. "Technically you're off until Thursday, Garrett."
I shrugged. "True, but I missed almost four days last week when I had the plague; I need to go in. I'm sure Emily got my work onto someone else's radar, but I need to get back in there and figure out where everything stands."
"Just don't kill yourself on your first day back, all right?" He raised an eyebrow at me.
"Yes, Dr. Cullen."
"I mean, it Gar. I know how you are when you get really into your work. You need to take it easy for a while."
I rolled my eyes but couldn't stop myself from smiling at his bossy tone. "Okay, Edward; I promise to take it easy ... at least for tomorrow."
He glared at me before turning his attention back to the food. "Hey, I need to do a load of laundry tonight—I'm totally out of clothes at this point."
"Why don't you just borrow something of mine? There's plenty of stuff here for you to wear."
"Well, either I carry a bag of clean laundry back home with me tomorrow, or a bag of dirty laundry plus the clothes you loan me." He sipped his wine thoughtfully. "Then again, if I put off doing laundry again, I can spend that time being naked with you. Score."
I felt my face draw down in a frown when I thought about sleeping alone in my bed and waking up to a quiet apartment. The thought of Edward, across town, living and sleeping in his own space bothered me even more.
Keeping a small part of my life separate from Edward's had made sense to me until that point; in some ways, it had felt natural. While Edward and I were in love and in deep with one another, our relationship wasn't even six months old. I had thought casually about what it would be like to live with him and, in many ways, it felt as though we already did. I knew too, however, that we had a lot to learn not only about each other, but also about ourselves. The life altering changes I had experienced in the last year and half made me leery of rushing into anything, but particularly with regard to my relationship with Edward. He had become far too important to me to risk doing anything rash.
Having him in my apartment for a week straight, however, watching him care for me so well and thoroughly had changed me. I found that I didn't want to wake up next to a cool space in the bed, or miss tripping over pairs of battered sneakers when I walked in the door after work. I wanted to hear fingers clicking over a keyboard, spinning stories, and to catch the sound of the Foo Fighters playing while breakfast was cooking. I wanted to see a toothbrush next to mine and saucy message t-shirts mixing with my conservative ones, and hear a low murmur behind me when I shifted in my sleep.
I breathed deeply, my chest swelling as I realized that I was ready to have Edward in my life, every day and night, and I wanted to truly share my life with this man that I loved.
My eyes snapped up to meet Edward's and I blinked when I saw the look of concern on his face.
"Where did you go just now? Are you okay?"
"Sorry. Yeah, I'm good," I replied, managing a grin. "Just spaced out there for a second, thinking."
He nodded slowly, though I could tell from his expression that he didn't quite buy my excuse. "Okay. I was just asking if you wanted some of that herbal tea my mom gave you."
"Edward, can I ask you something?" I blurted without thinking and felt my face flush when his brows rose in surprise.
"Of course you can, baby."
"Do you ever think about moving in together?"
Edward's brows rose even further on his forehead. He blinked then, and laid his fork down, obviously thinking carefully about my question he spoke. "Well, sure, sometimes. Do you?"
"Yeah, I do. I think …" I trailed off, afraid of making an even bigger fool of myself but unable to shake the thoughts now that they were in my head. "I think I'd like that to happen soon. If you agree. And I hope you do. Agree, I mean," I winced and held my breath as he processed my babbling thoughts.
"I think it would be great to talk about moving in," he said with a slow smile. "But what brought this on?"
I shook my head. "Nothing. Lots of things. Spending this week with you, and the holiday. Knowing that you give a shit about me, even when I'm being an idiot. Fuck, the tree you dragged home at three in the morning." I held out my hand when he laughed, and grinned when his fingers slipped between mine. "You, and the way you're what I need and want. The person I love."
"You're beautiful," he said gently. "Do you know that? A little crazy, but I like it. That said … you don't think it's too soon to share a place?"
"Well, it is soon. But it's also not. How long am I supposed to wait to share my life with the person I love? I don't want to wait any more, and why should I? Why should you?"
Edward's smile grew and he rubbed his free hand over his head. "I suppose you're right."
His happy expression sparked my excitement and I rushed on heedlessly. "So, is that a yes? We're already trucking across town every couple of nights, and it seems stupid to keep paying rent for places we don't use. It'll make things easier, when we combine our finances, too. One set of bills and expenses, and you won't need to worry so much about finding shifts at the bar."
Edward's smile faltered. "What do you mean I won't have to worry? I'll still want to contribute an equal share, Gar." His eyes darkened as he frowned. "I wouldn't expect you to pay for everything, even if we lived here in your apartment. That wouldn't be right."
"I know that, sweetheart," I said hastily, my excitement draining away as we looked at each other. "I'm sorry. Shit. That didn't come across the way I meant it at all."
"How did you mean it?"
"That things would be easier if we pooled everything together, truly. I didn't mean to imply that—"
"That I'd be sponging off you because you make more money?" Edward cut in quietly, his eyes downcast.
"No, of course not." I waited for him to meet my gaze again, and felt my stomach churn when he didn't. "Sweetheart. Edward, look at me, please."
His expression was carefully controlled when he raised his head, but his eyes were stormy with hurt and insecurity. I sighed, cursing my stupid, impulsive mouth and myself. Of all the things to say, I had chosen to remind him of his perceived uneven footing in our relationship.
"Ed, I don't think you're sponging off me," I told him, speaking slowly to emphasize each word. "I never have and never will. I don't care how much money you make; it doesn't matter to me at all. You know that."
He nodded and looked down again with a sigh. ""I know you don't. It's never mattered to me either. Maybe I should care. Sure, it would be nice to not have to worry about money, but I'm not unhappy with the way I live."
Edward's eyes were calmer when he met my gaze. "That doesn't mean I would expect anything from you, either. I wouldn't want anything to change if we lived together. I don't make a ton of money, and you do. Between the bar and my writing, though, I do okay."
"I know you do, sweetheart. I wish you wouldn't think so much about those differences."
"How can I not think about them when they're always staring me in the face?" he asked with a sad smile.
"That shouldn't be a reason to hold back, though," I protested, my heart pounding with uncertainty.
"I'm not, Gar, I promise," he soothed. "I do need some more time, though. I'm just ... I'm not ready to change anything right now. Or not anything that huge."
Edward dropped his free hand to wrap both hands around mine as he worriedly scrutinized my face. "Don't look so upset, baby."
"I'm not saying no. Believe me, I want to."
"Then why ...?"
"I guess I'm afraid to rush into anything," he said, rubbing slow circles into the backs of my hands with his thumbs. "I don't want to go into this half-assed. You mean a lot to me. More than anyone I've been with. I don't want to be anywhere else or with anyone else for as long as you'll have me."
My heart thundered at the gravity of his words and his expression. I heard more than love and tenderness in them; I heard forever. That idea, knowing that I could have forever with Edward and he wanted it too, made me soar. He just needed to be ready. We needed to get there, together.
I breathed deeply to steady my voice. "I feel the same way about you, Edward. I really do. You don't have to decide today."
"You're not upset?"
I shook my head, a smile spreading over my face that seemed to soothe his concern. "No, I'm not. I know you're nervous to take that next step, and I understand why. Hell, with my track record, I should be fucking terrified.
"But for some reason, I'm not nervous. Not when it comes to you." I leaned in to kiss his cheek, then the other, and then his slowly smiling mouth. "I'm also not ready to give up asking just yet."
"What do you mean?" he asked, his eyes shining with amusement and affection.
"Well, I'm just going to ask you until you're ready."
"What, if I want to move in with you? Like you'll ask me once a week?"
"Oh, I don't know," I teased. "Maybe I'll just spring it on you when you're least expecting it. At some point, I'll wear you down."
Edward's laughter rumbled through his chest as he laid his head against my shoulder. "Challenge accepted, baby."
I love these guys. Gawd. I also love turkey tetrazzini. I don't know what's going on with Edward and the not ready to move in yet, by the way, but I'm sure he'll tell us when he's ready.
Thank you so much for reading and your gorgeous reviews-they are simply wonderful.
It's unlikely I'll be able to visit with these boys again until after the New Year, so please accept my good wishes for peace, joy, and much love.
Instagram is a photo-sharing app and social network.
The Monkees are an American pop band that released music under their original incarnation between 1966 and 1970.
I don't have to explain the Foo Fighters or Hello Kitty, right?