Disclaimer: I do not own Keen Eddie and intend no copyright infringement
When he walked through the door into the living room, Eddie's first thought was that a localized snowstorm seemed to be raging in one corner of the room. A second look revealed the snowstorm to be a tree – presumably a Christmas tree, since Fiona was busy adding silver ornaments to the obbiously fake white branches.
At the thunderous "What the hell is that supposed to be?" coming from behind her, Fiona snapped around, almost dropping the snowflake ornament in her hand. She had been so engrossed in her decorating that she hadn't heard Eddie come home.
"*That* happens to be a Christmas tree," she answered as haughtily as she could. "White and silver trees are all the rage this year. We have them all over the stores and the customers love them."
"That's not a Christmas tree, that's a disaster area," Eddie countered. He wasn't a particularly big fan of Christmas anyway and even less so in a strange country and saddled with an equally strange – not to mention infuriating and obnoxious – flatmate, but that didn't mean he'd put up with a monstrosity like that.
"Christmas trees are supposed to be green and red and yellow and blue…. Not to mention real. They should make you smile when you look at them, not give you frostbite."
"Well, if you don't like my tree, you're more than welcome to put up your own." Fiona turned back to the tree and fixed the last ornament to a branch. Now the only thing left was to put a bright sparkling star on the top. Looking up at the tree, Fiona wished for a second, that she had gotten a smaller one. Even with the stepladder it would be tricky to reach the top branch… but she would just have to manage somehow.
Eddie watched her climb the short stepladder, star in hand, trying to keep her balance without holding on to the tree, with an amusement that almost made up for the horrible Christmas tree.
No matter how far she stretched, she could barely reach the top branch, let alone fix the star to it. And the more she stretched, the more the rickety ladder began to wobble quite ominously under her feet. Another moment and she would probably topple headfirst into the tree….
With an exasperated sigh, Eddie crossed the short distance, lifted Fiona bodily of the ladder and plucked the star out of her hand.
"Here, I'll do that."
"I don't any help from you, I can manage very well on my own!" Fiona hissed like an angry kitten.
"The only thing you'll manage is to kill yourself."
"Don't tell me you're suddenly worried about me…."
"Oh, I'm not worried about you, but who's going to pay your half of the rent if you break your neck? Not to mention that the paperwork in such cases is murder…. So kindly shut up and hold the ladder. I don't want to kill myself either."
"Too bad…." Fiona grumbled under her breath.
Eddie climbed up the ladder and found that even he had to stretch a little to reach the top branch. And as soon as he moved the damn ladder started wobbling again, even with Fiona trying to hold it steady.
"You couldn't have found a smaller tree, could you," he grumbled.
"Actually this was the smallest one they had," Fiona answered testily. Yes, she was grateful – sort of – that he was helping her, and she had to admit, since Eddie had thrown his jacket over a chair before climbing the ladder, the view she currently had was nothing to sneeze at, but that still didn't give him the right to complain about her Christmas tree.
The moment the star was finally in its place, three things seemed to happen at once: the telephone started ringing – loudly and insistently -, Fiona rushed off to get it, and as if the phone had somehow set them off, Pete and Duchess chose exactly that moment to tear through the living room in one of their frequent chases.
That was the straw that broke the camel's back – or in that case that toppled the ladder. Arms windmilling helplessly, Eddie felt his world suddenly turn upside down and he saw the ceiling from a whole new perspective as he landed unceremoniously on the floor.
The air rushed out of his lungs in an involuntary "oof" as he sprawled on his back. For a moment he struggled to pull in air and dark spots danced across his vision. He closed his eyes, cautiously taking a couple of deep breaths. Okay, so far, so good. He might have a couple of bruises come morning, but nothing a good night's sleep and a hot shower couldn't take care of. Other than that nothing seemed to be sprained, broken or otherwise injured. When he opened his eyes again, he found that the dark spots had disappeared - and that his view of the ceiling was blocked by Fiona's face, wearing an expression of guilt and... could that actually be concern? Hmmmm... This offered some interesting possibilities. Maybe he could get back at her for putting up this monstrosity she called a Christmas tree without even asking him. With a little luck - and a little acting - he should be able to make her fetch and carry and generally fuss over him at least for the rest of the evening...
"Oh my God, Eddie, what happened? Are you alright?"
"I decided I just couldn't live with you any longer and threw myself off the ladder..." Eddie's voice positively dripped with sarcasm. "What do you think happened? That damn death trap you call a stepladder - which by the way you were supposed to hold steady - fell over. And yes, I'm alright, no thanks to you. Don't tell me you're concerned... "
For a moment something flashed in Fiona's eyes. Something that he couldn't quite identify. But whatever it had been, it was gone before he could think about it.
"The only thing I'm concerned about is who'd pay your half of the rent if you break your neck," she answered, throwing his words from earlier back at him. Fiona stood up and made to turn away, leaving him sprawled on the floor like an overturned turtle. Uh-oh... Time to cut the snark and get on with the plan. Slowly and cautiously, as if he wasn't quite sure everything was still in working order, Eddie started to get to his feet, making sure to include a half-suppressed groan in his performance to get Fiona's attention again.
The plan seemed to be working. Fiona immediately turned around again and grabbed his arm to help him up. Eddie theatrically winced and pressed his hand against his back as he straightened up, but the gasp when he put pressure on his right ankle wasn't all for show. It really did feel a little tender. And he had to admit he liked the way her arm immediately wrapped around his waist, as she led him over to the couch.
As soon as she had him propped up comfortably on the couch with one cushion behind his back and another one supporting his supposedly twisted ankle – which in truth had stopped smarting already – Fiona went off in search of an ice pack. With her out of the way, Eddie could finally give in to the major grin that had threatened to erupt on his face for the last few minutes. Fiona had been so flustered – and actually kind of cute – trying to get him settled, that he'd had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. Luckily for him, she had taken it as an effort to hide exactly how much pain he was in…
By the time Fiona came back into the living room again, Eddie had schooled his features into what he hoped was a credible expression of "yes, it hurts like hell, but I'm trying not to show it". But what the heck was that in her hand? It looked like…
"I couldn't find an icepack, so I brought you this," Fiona said, holding a bag of frozen peas out to him. "Poppy says if you don't have an icepack, frozen vegetables – especially peas or sweetcorn – will work just as well." She plunked the whole package rather unceremoniously on his ankle. This time Eddie didn't have to pretend to flinch, although it had definitely more to do with the damn uncomfortable feeling of icy-cold wetness already beginning to soak through his sock and the leg of his trousers. "Uh, aren't you supposed to at least wrap a towel or something around it? Feels a little arctic down there…, " he complained.
With that bag of peas in her hand, for a second Fiona had seemed like she had seen through his charade, but now she looked more like a chastised school girl as she jumped back with a muttered apology and rushed back to the kitchen to get a dishtowel. Eddie almost began to feel a little guilty himself. Almost….
With the frozen peas safely wrapped and re-positioned and Fiona comfortably ensconced in an armchair watching TV, Eddie decided to give her a few minutes peace before starting the next round. As soon as the commercial break came on, he made to reach for the remote control on the coffee table, once again groaning theatrically as his fingers clawed at the air.
"What on earth do you think you're doing?" Fiona asked exasperatedly.
"What does it look like I'm doing? I want to watch something else but the remote control is too far away…." He tilted his head and gave her his best 'lonely puppy in the pet-shop' look; creased brows, eyes opened a little wider, which made them appear even bluer, lips ever so slightly pouting... And lo and behold, for all that she usually proclaimed to hate his guts, he could practically see her melt like butter in the sun. She even went so far as to get up and hand him the remote, instead of just throwing it into his lap. Oh yes, he could so get used to this….
A minute or two of mindless zapping – not that there were all that many channels to zap through anyway – seemed to bring Fiona just a little bit closer to losing her patience. She got up and plucked the remote control from his fingers. "How about a movie instead?" she suggested, her tone making it pretty clear that she would have liked nothing better than to revert back to their usual "I hate you"-routine, but she was still feeling guilty enough about his accident to at least try to be civil.
"Great idea. I've wanted to watch Die Hard 4.0 for a long time, but I never got around to it," he answered immediately, before Fiona could suggest something else – probably some chick flick like Australia. Even though she had her back to him, he could very clearly imagine the look of blatant dislike on her face, since he had chosen the most macho, action-heavy movie in his collection – one that was sure to annoy the hell out of her….
Once more he let her get comfortable in her armchair and gave her a few minutes of peace before he started again.
"Fiona….." For good measure he added just a little whine to his voice.
This time she didn't even answer, but the look she threw at him said "what is it now?" just as clearly as if she had actually spoken the words.
"Do you think you could get me something to drink? I wouldn't bother you, but….you know….. ".
With what sounded suspiciously like a barely suppressed growl, Fiona got up and marched into the kitchen.
"Oh and while you're at it, how about some popcorn, too?" Eddie just couldn't resist adding fuel to the fire.
Uh-oh…. Judging from the overly loud banging coming from the kitchen, Fiona seemed to have just about reached her boiling point. Time to cut back a little, or she might come after him with a steak knife, guilt trip or not.
When she got back a few minutes later, she all but dropped a bowl of popcorn into his lap and handed him an opened bottle of beer, before curling up in her armchair again. Judging from her murderous look he decided to give her at least until the end of the movie this time. Otherwise there was no telling what gruesome revenge she might come up with. So for a while he concentrated on the action on the screen, munching on the popcorn and finishing his beer. Silence descended on the living room. A strangely comforting, almost cozy silence. Sort of like a glimpse of how things could be if they'd ever stop sniping at each other long enough….
About half-way through the movie, Eddie found himself drooping more and more. It had been a long day, and while his little tumble from the stepladder hadn't done any significant damage, it hadn't made matters any better either. And even the softest couch could become pretty uncomfortable if you sat on it for too long without changing position – which he was not supposed to be able to do, at least not without a significant amount of pain. So instead of risking Fiona seeing through his little scam, he had tried to get comfortable without moving too much.
At the wet plop of the by now thawed bag of peas hitting the carpet Fiona looked over to him. The truce seemed to have worked – she did not look as if she was planning bloody murder anymore. In fact, she looked almost….sympathetic…
"Going somewhere?" God, he must be even more tired than he thought. Even her voice sounded like she really felt sorry for him…
"Long day. Think I'll turn in now." This time he didn't have to fake a groan when he tried to swing his legs off the couch. And the yawn that threatened to split his face certainly didn't require any acting ability either.
Before he had even fully struggled to his feet, Fiona was beside him, her arm once again wrapped around his waist.
For a moment he threw an almost incredulous look at her. Had all those explosions in the movie fried her brain or had he somehow slipped into a parallel universe? He had expected to have to limp at least a step or two – accompanied by appropriate sounds indicating that he was in pain but bravely trying not to let it show – before she took pity on him, but there she was…
"Don't look at me like that… if you really think you can make it all the way to your room without falling flat on your face, be my guest. If not, just shut up and move before I change my mind about not wanting you to break your neck… ".
Okay, so definitely not a parallel universe….
For a moment he contemplated saying something, but since he didn't really want to set her off again – he was enjoying having her so close far too much for that – he just put his arm around her shoulders and let her lead him across the landing to his bedroom.
Once there, Fiona let go of him long enough to turn down the covers on the bed and actually plump up the pillows before she took hold of his arm again to help him sit down. Eddie couldn't help but grin. Fiona in mother-hen mode, even if it was somewhat grudgingly, was simply too cute for words.
"Thanks. I think I can manage the rest on my own now." Before she got any more ideas… like maybe helping him to undress…. And where on earth had that thought suddenly come from?
"Are you sure?"
Strange, for a moment there she almost looked like she would enjoy fussing over him just a little longer… But that couldn't be now, could it?
"Positive. Good night, Fiona."
"Well, okay then…. I guess… Good night!"
As soon as Fiona had closed the door safely behind her, Eddie flopped back on the bed with a broad grin on his face. The way the evening had gone came very close to making up for having to live with the Christmas tree from hell….
The next morning found Eddie in the kitchen, happily whistling a little tune while he poured cereal into a bowl and went over to the fridge for the milk. The sun was shining in through the kitchen window, and while he didn't actually remember last night's dream, judging by the feeling of contentment he had woken up with, it must have been a very nice one, and – probably best of all – Fiona didn't seem to be up and about yet, so he didn't have to keep up his little charade from yesterday evening. Pippin was supposed to pick him up for work in about half an hour, so he had more than enough time for breakfast, the morning paper and a cup of coffee.
"Good morning, Eddie! How's your ankle this morning? Feeling any better?"
At the sound of Fiona's cheery – maybe even a little too cheery? – voice, Eddie practically froze. It was all he could do not to drop the milk carton on the floor. So much for her not being up yet. How long had she been standing there already? Just the thought that she might have seen him move around the kitchen without any problems was enough to evaporate his good mood and all but drain the colour from his face. But then… maybe she hadn't noticed anything…. Closing the fridge door, he limped back to the table and dropped onto one of the chairs, before answering.
"A couple of hours sleep worked wonders, but to be honest, it still hurts. But I guess I'll manage… Oh and good morning to you too, by the way."
Moving around the kitchen fixing her own breakfast, Fiona looked at him with a strange expression – outwardly "poor baby", but with a sinister undertone of "something's fishy"….
"Are you sure you should be going to work today? I mean if you're not feeling a hundred percent…. Maybe you should call in sick." She sat down opposite him and took a sip of coffee.
Trying to hide his increasing nervousness, Eddie took a spoonful of cereal – only realizing that he had completely forgotten to pour milk over it when his mouth suddenly filled with dust-dry, crunchy flakes.
And to make matters even worse, Fiona solicitously put a hand on his arm and looked at him as if she were genuinely worried that his little tumble had done more damage than just to twist his ankle. Damn, why couldn't Pippin be a little early just this once… Maybe he should call him, tell him to get his ass over here pronto… But then that would be a little too suspicious…
Trying to keep up the charade, just in case the feeling that she was on to him was only a product of his guilty conscience, he limped over to put his dishes in the dishwasher, when Fiona's voice came from behind almost dreamily.
"Strange… I could have sworn yesterday evening it was the other ankle….."
Cold sweat broke out all over his body and suddenly his stomach seemed to be filled with writhing snakes. Where the holy living hell was that good-for-nothing partner of his?
Eddie had just decided that it was safer for his sanity – and probably for his life – to wait outside until Pippin arrived, when finally the doorbell rang. With a relieved sigh he grabbed his jacket and practically fled out of the kitchen. The last thing he heard was Fiona's overly cheerful voice.
"Good bye, Eddie. Have a nice day. And try not to come home too late tonight….".