This was my entry for the Slash/Backslash 4.0 Contest. I was totally floored to receive a Judges' Honorable Mention. Thanks to the organizers and judges: avioleta, Capricorn75, donnersun, Chicklette, Prassacut, Ms. Ambrosia, and MBMassin.
Thank you to my wonderful beta, Discordia81, for being a rock star word wrangler.
Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight.
Warnings: There will be slash.
"…we would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright."
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
The food truck is visible from the window of the doctors' lounge. It is painted with bright green leaves, and the line of customers stretches a block long. The crowd is always enormous, even when the weather is poor, and Carlisle often sees staff from the hospital in line.
"Forchette," says a voice behind him.
Carlisle turns as Esme joins him at the window. "I beg your pardon?"
"The food truck's name," she replies. "Forchette."
It takes him a second to recognize the language as Italian and he smiles when the penny drops. "Forks? As in forks and spoons?"
"As in forks and spoons," Esme agrees. "Forks is also the name of the owner's hometown. He grew up in northwest Washington, in a city called Forks."
"With a name like that, I'm guessing the truck serves pizza and pasta."
"You're partly right. They make pasta in that truck, but not pizza. Have you had lunch?"
Carlisle shakes his head. "I was just going. Care to join me?"
"I have rounds in ten minutes; I don't have enough time to eat and get back." She frowns, eying the loose collar of his dress shirt and his baggy pants. "You should go, Carlisle; you could use a good home-cooked meal."
"Lunch from a food truck doesn't qualify as home-cooked, does it?"
"Trust me, the food from Forchette qualifies. Would you mind picking something up for me? Since you're going anyway."
"I hadn't actually decided I was going, Esme."
"Yes, you had. You just needed a little convincing."
It takes fifteen minutes for Carlisle to work his way through the truck's line. He checks his phone, thumbing through emails as he waits. There are a few from his mother and sister, several from friends and coworkers, even one from his father. There is also a message from the name he both yearns and dreads to see. Jasper.
Carlisle's appetite fades, as it often does when he thinks about his ex. Esme is waiting, however, expecting an order of her favorite pasta, so he sticks it out.
"What can I get you, doc?"
Carlisle's body jerks in surprise when the voice calls from the order window and he pockets his phone with a grimace of apology. "Sorry, you caught me napping."
"I'd say I caught you texting."
He looks up and swallows when he meets a pair of lively grey eyes and a beautiful smile. A young man wearing a black t-shirt and green bandana over his head is waiting for Carlisle's order. He is leaning against the counter while people work busily in the space behind him. His gaze is friendly, but knowing, and seems to look inside Carlisle, making the world around him fade. He forgets about Jasper's text and Esme's pasta, that his legs are tired from walking, and that the spring air is humid.
"You okay, doc? Have you decided what you'd like to order?" The young man's forehead puckers in confusion as he watches Carlisle.
"Oh! Yes, I have." He feels his cheeks grow warm. "Two orders of the pasta with cheese and pepper."
"Cacio e pepe, two," the young man calls over his shoulder before looking back to Carlisle. "It's spaghetti today, in case you were interested. Anything else?"
The young man nods and turns into the truck to work on the order, portioning field greens and whisking dressing. Carlisle has difficulty not staring at his striking looks, and particularly at the half-sleeve of intricate tattoos that curl from under his t-shirt to his elbow. The young man's brow furrows slightly as he works, and his pink lips curl up in enjoyment.
With a wide grin, he places the steaming take-out containers in front of the window and produces a grater and small block of cheese with a flourish. He garnishes the hot noodles with curls of parmesan, followed by several turns from a pepper grinder. The luscious smells of cheese and black pepper rise, waking Carlisle's forgotten hunger.
"Don't wait too long to eat these," the young man says. His long fingers nimbly crimp the plastic covers onto the containers while the inked designs move on his arm. "The sooner you eat this pasta, the better, doc."
"No worries there." Carlisle hands the young man his money and narrows his eyes. "What makes you think I'm a doctor?"
"Your white jacket kind of gave it away."
"Right… lab coat."
The corners of the young man's eyes crinkle with enjoyment.
"Buon appetito," he says, handing the bag and Carlisle's change through the window.
His tongue darts out to wet his bottom lip and Carlisle's face heats again before he turns to go. He gets about ten steps from the truck when the young man's voice rings out again.
Carlisle turns and blinks. "Yeah?"
"You'll have to let me know what you think of the spaghetti." The young man's smile is impish when he turns to the next customer.
The food is wonderful. When Esme returns to the lounge, Carlisle has finished his meal and is eyeing the second one.
"Told you." She wordlessly pushes her container toward him in invitation to share.
"It's very good. I found some pignoli cookies in the bag, too, though I didn't order them."
"Oh, that's a little bonus for ordering the house special pasta. Cacio e pepe is the owner's favorite dish. He likes to thank the customers who order it."
Carlisle smiles at the thought behind the simple, charming gesture. "That's sweet and rather quirky."
"So is the owner," Esme replies with a chuckle.
Carlisle finds himself in line at the food truck again on Tuesday, under the friendly gaze of the young man in the window.
"Back for more, I see. The spaghetti met with your approval then?"
Carlisle nods and tries not to stare at the young man's lips. "It was very good. Best meal I've had in a while."
He beams. "That's what I want to hear, doc. Can I tempt you with something different today? The gnocchi with pesto is especially good."
"That sounds perfect. And a pignoli cookie, too, please."
The young man's grin warms his eyes. "For you, doc, the cookies are on the house."
On Wednesday, the young man talks Carlisle into the eggplant parmesan panini. He grins when he finds the cookies in his bag, wrapped in parchment paper decorated with a hand drawn smiley face.
Carlisle goes to the hospital cafeteria on Thursday. He sits at a table eating a turkey club and feels strangely let down. Even the chocolate-chip cookie he bought for dessert seems lackluster. As he eats, he realizes that he misses the young man's warm smile as much as he does Forchette's food.
"Goddamn," he says softly to himself, and wonders what he can be thinking.
"Hey, doc." As always, the young man is smiling, though today he seems somehow shy. "I wondered if we'd see you again anytime soon."
"Ah, yeah. I went to the cafeteria yesterday, just for a change."
"It was shitty."
The young man's laugh is loud, filling the air with a wonderful sound that turns people's heads. The noise is infectious, and makes Carlisle laugh too.
"In the words of the Borg, doc, resistance is futile," he says his eyes sparkling with enjoyment. "Let me hook you up with today's lasagna. It'll blow your mind."
"Make it two, please," Carlisle replies with a grin. "I owe my coworker some lunch for introducing me to your food."
He hands the bag of food over a few minutes later, and gives Carlisle an apologetic look.
"Not sure if you work weekends, doc, but you'll have to fend for yourself. Forchette handles catering gigs on Saturdays and Sundays."
Carlisle feels oddly deflated. "I'm off tomorrow, and I'll have to brown bag it on Sunday. Have a good weekend-"
"Edward," the young man supplies with an eye-crinkling grin. "My name's Edward."
Carlisle and Esme have lunch later the next week and chat over orders of Forchette's house special pasta. Edward slipped not only pignoli cookies into the bag, but also two crusty rolls and a container of herbed butter that makes Esme roll her eyes with delight.
"Garrett and I are having some friends over for dinner Friday night," she says. "Will you come?"
Carlisle wipes his lips and considers how long it has been since he has been to a dinner party. "That sounds nice. I'm off at six."
"Perfect. Be there at seven."
"Can I bring anything?"
"That's not necessary. Still… we can always use more wine at dinner."
"Is that so?"
"Including you, we'll have eight. The chances are high that we'll go through more than a few bottles."
Carlisle's fingers pause as he considers what Esme has said.
"Eight? You're not-" he puts his fork down and shakes his head. "No, Esme. Please tell me you're not setting me up on a date."
"Relax, Carlisle. I wouldn't do that to you. I just happen to have an even number of guests for dinner."
She laughs sweetly when Carlisle looks unconvinced.
"There's no subterfuge or master plan, I promise. My brother and I host these dinners once a month when we can. Dinner and drinks with friends."
"Your friends, Esme; I won't know anyone there."
"By the end of the evening they'll be your friends too," she says, looking at her friend fondly. "Let yourself live a little, Carlisle."
His chest aches at her words. He knows, too, that she has a point. "All right then. Dinner at seven."
Esme presses a kiss to Carlisle's cheek as she shows him in.
"Here's Garrett," she says, beckoning to her husband. "He'll introduce you to everyone. Your timing is perfect; we'll be sitting down in about ten minutes."
Garrett swats his wife's backside gently as she darts by and then shakes Carlisle's hand. "Come on in, Carlisle, and I'll get you a drink."
A glass of Cabernet makes its way to Carlisle's hand, and a stream of names and friendly faces follow. He smiles at Mike and Isabella, and Emmett and Brady, all lovely looking people who seem comfortable and happy in love. He sips his wine and makes small talk while not thinking of the empty space beside him that Jasper once filled.
"And Esme's brother," he says, looking toward the kitchen. "I'm assuming he's cooking?"
Garrett's eyebrows rise with interest. "Edward? He's been here all afternoon. He comes over right after work when he and Mae throw these dinners."
Carlisle blinks. "Edward?"
"Quit saying my name, all of you. My ears are burning."
He turns to see Esme and the young man from the Forchette truck carrying platters of food. They're wearing broad smiles, though Esme's falters when Carlisle frowns.
"Soup's on!" Garrett crows. The others cheer and stand to file past the siblings on their way to the dining room.
Carlisle's initial surprise gives way to a rush of irritation and for a moment, he considers leaving. As he hesitates, Edward catches his eye, flashing that familiar, warm expression that he has come to expect. He forces himself to move, trailing slightly behind the rest of the group.
As he gets closer, he realizes that Edward is more than simply striking; he is beautiful. His uncovered hair is a lighter brown than Esme's and unruly. Instead of a black Forchette t-shirt, he is wearing a blue button-down with his dark jeans. The colors flatter his pink cheeks and deepen the color of his eyes, making them very blue.
"Hey, Carlisle. Mae told me you might be joining us tonight; I'm glad you could make it."
"Hi, Edward." The young man's forehead creases in confusion at Carlisle's cool tone, and he continues in a gentler tone. "Esme mentioned that she had a brother. Though not his name or that I talk to him several times a week."
Carlisle feels a pang of regret when Edward's face falls, and both men turn to look at Esme, who appears flustered.
"Oh, Mae. You didn't," Edward murmurs. A fleeting expression of hurt crosses his face that makes Carlisle feel worse.
"I didn't tell you Edward was my brother," Esme says to Carlisle. "And I see now that I should have. I'm sorry. I just thought the two of you would have made the connection by now."
"Not everything is about you, Mae," her brother scolds.
"I know that. I honestly assumed that it would come up."
Her pretty face is apologetic when she turns back to Carlisle. "I meant what I said. We're here, as friends, to have dinner and some drinks. Nothing more or less. You just have a bit more of a head start with Edward than with the others."
Carlisle nods and she heads for the dining room, where another chorus of cheers ring out. Edward, however, is watching him worriedly, nibbling the corner of his bottom lip.
"I'm sorry," he says quietly. "Please don't feel like you need to stay if we've made you uncomfortable, Carlisle. We really are just here to hang out and have dinner. I was looking forward to talking to you some more, that's all. I understand if you'd rather go."
Edward's subdued demeanor is so different from the sunny smile Carlisle has come to expect, that he knows at once the young man is being truthful. The urge to see him cheerful again makes him step closer and lay a hand on his arm.
"It's okay." Carlisle assures when Edward appears doubtful. "I'd love to stay for dinner."
A slow grin lights Edward's face. "Well in that case, I should formally introduce myself." He shifts the tray to his left hand and holds out the right. "Edward Masen."
"Carlisle Cullen. Also known as doc."
"After you, doc," the young man says, and nods toward the dining room.
Dinner is a success. They start with tempura-fried meatballs and a mozzarella caprese salad, emptying two bottles of red wine in short order. Garrett opens more when Esme and Edward serve the second course, a veal osso bucco with polenta.
Carlisle is a stranger to the group, but the conversations flow easily, and he never feels awkward or out of place. He is seated between Garrett and Bella, and across from Edward. The young man is up and down often, clearing and setting dishes, while making sure that everyone is happy. Their conversations are disjointed as a result, but their eyes and smiles often meet, and Carlisle becomes increasingly intrigued as the evening passes.
"No house special pasta tonight?" he teases as Edward takes his plate.
"I had to talk my sister out of it, believe me. We served polenta with the veal, and having two starches seemed a bit much... though maybe she was right."
Carlisle shakes his head quickly. "Jesus, no, I was joking. Don't think that everything was less than excellent."
Edward's pleasure in his enjoyment is evident. "I'm happy to hear that. The next time we all get together, I'll be sure to serve your favorite."
"You mean my favorite," Esme says, poking her brother with an elbow as she passes by. "I'll make coffee if you put out the cheese course, bro."
It is past ten when the coffee and port are served, but they linger at the table, chatting over cheeses and a luscious pear tart that Isabella serves. Edward takes Garrett's seat, and the two men are at last able to spend more time talking.
You don't just work at the food truck, do you?" Carlisle asks as Edward pours more wine.
"I'm the owner. Forchette has been my baby for three years now. I parked my first truck in the financial district and sold spaghetti and tempura meatballs to the stockbrokers. The truck at the hospital is my second; I'm there to make sure everything goes as I want it to.
"I'm sure that makes me sound like a control freak, but Forchette is important to me. I promised myself when I graduated from culinary school that I would make a success of myself before I turned thirty, or go cook for someone else. I made it with two years to spare," he says.
"Twenty-eight… quite an accomplishment for one so young," Carlisle murmurs and feels his face flush when Edward's mouth turns up on one side. "I'm sorry; that sounded condescending."
Edward waves him off. "It's okay; I didn't take it that way. I've been lucky and I have a great team, inside and outside of the kitchens. We work hard, and we're doing really well."
"Your parents must be proud."
Edward's eyes cut away, and he stares at his wine.
"Oh, I'm adopted. Mae's parents are happy with the way things are working out for me, though. They've always been really supportive."
His tone is light, but Carlisle can read the discomfort in his body language. He feels a strange urge to make the young man... happy, comforted, and content. Before he can consider his thoughts, Edward looks up again.
"Friends of mine are throwing a party tomorrow night. Why don't you come with me?" He holds up a hand at Carlisle's arched eyebrow. "Just friends hanging out. Emmett and Brady will be there, so it's not as if you'll be stuck only with me."
Carlisle laughs softly, struck by the self-deprecation that seems at odds with his business acumen.
"Okay. Give me the address and I'll meet you there."
Edward's friends are intimidating. Like Emmett, Brady, and Edward himself, they are young and vibrant. They're gorgeous, really. Carlisle looks at the groups of stylishly dressed young men and feels... old. He worries that he is making a fool of himself, that he does not belong, and he licks his lips nervously when Edward's warm fingers curl around his elbow.
"Let's get something to drink." He tilts his head at Carlisle's expression. "Something wrong?"
"No, I just... it's been a while since I went to a house party."
Edward's eyes scan the room and his teeth catch the corner of his lip. "This isn't really your scene, is it? Jake and Paul work in the theater and they like to have these parties whenever one of them starts a new show. They're break-a-leg celebrations, and not as wild as they might seem.
"Would you rather go out for some dinner? Or if you want to go home I can help you get a cab-"
"Edward, stop." Carlisle feels oddly touched by the young man's rambling. "This is fine. I don't really have a scene right now, to be honest. It just… it took my brain a second to adjust. I'd love a drink."
The young man watches him closely, keen eyes moving over his face as if looking for a lie. Then he nods toward the kitchen with a grin, catching Carlisle's arm with his hand once more.
Edward's friends welcome Carlisle with genuine warmth. He learns that Jacob and Paul have been partners since college, and that there are a few men in the group close to his age. He realizes that everyone in the crowd is coupled up, with the exception of Edward.
Watching the young man as he talks and laughs with his friends, Carlisle wonders why he is unattached. Surely someone with his appeal and success would be snapped up... unless remaining single is his intention. His stomach twists slightly as the thought takes hold. He wonders if, despite Edward's assurances, he has something in mind besides friendship.
"You're looking way too serious over here, doc. We need to do something to loosen you up."
His eyes snap up at Edward's teasing tone and his body floods with a hot rush of anger. The humor drains from Edward's face when he sees the man's expression, and Carlisle feels a jolt of shame. He escapes to the bathroom and locks the door, splashing cold water on his face. He studies his expression in the mirror, battling to calm his wild thoughts. They are unfair to Edward, who has done nothing beyond extending his friendship.
A tap at the door makes Carlisle's stomach sink. Slowly, he unlocks the door and steps back as Edward slips in.
The young man's face is pensive as he looks at Carlisle, and his grey eyes are somber.
"What was that about?"
"Why are you still single?"
Edward blinks in surprise before his expression grows thoughtful. "I haven't always been. Emmett and I were together through school, but it didn't work out. We figured out that we're better as friends. I've dated since then, though nothing's worked out. I guess I just haven't found the right man."
His shoulders rise and fall as he shrugs. "Are you going to tell me what happened out there, Carlisle?"
"I... I freaked out."
"Yeah, I got that part. Was it something I said?"
"It's not you, Edward. It's me."
His nose wrinkles. "Isn't it a little early in our friendship to be using that line?"
Carlisle can't help laughing and the tension breaks.
"I'm sorry for being such a head case, Edward. I'm... I've been starting my life over for a little while. I still get thrown off."
Edward nods and seems to consider Carlisle's words. His eyes glaze over in thought for a moment, and when they focus again, they are clear and determined.
"Tell me what happened."
They find a quiet corner and spend the evening talking. When the party ends, they go to a diner in Chinatown to eat Dutch pancakes and corned beef hash. For hours, Carlisle tells Edward about the life he had with Jasper.
They met when Carlisle was in med school. Jasper was five years younger and a first year undergraduate, but pursued the older man adamantly. They were still together as Jasper began graduate school and Carlisle was working through his residency in emergency medicine. Three years later, Jasper had joined a very successful advertising firm, and Carlisle was on the staff at the city's central hospital.
They seemed happy. Carlisle knew that he was. They celebrated his thirtieth birthday in the suburban house they had bought. They adopted a dog and two cats, and bought a condo on the beach to spend their summer vacations.
"I spent sixteen years with Jasper," Carlisle said, stirring his coffee. "I thought... he was it. That I had the life I wanted. Am I making sense?"
Edward's eyes are sympathetic when he nods. "What happened?"
"He left me for someone," Carlisle says simply. "A was a mutual friend of ours. It took a long time for me to catch on that something was wrong. They were… carrying on, shall we say, for at least six months before I caught them."
"What an asshole," Edward grumbles, making Carlisle laugh.
"Pretty much. I know now that I overlooked a lot. I dismissed things I shouldn't have, because I didn't want to believe them. I forced Jasper into couple's therapy, which was a disaster. Then we had to sell the houses. It was almost two years before things really ended.
"I used some of my share of the property sales to buy an apartment in the city last year. So... I'm turning forty this year, and I'm on my own for the first time in my adult life."
Carlisle smiles at his careful tone. "Starting over. Seeing a therapist for my depression. Accepting the rare date. Mostly working or staying in. Becoming a hermit and a social misfit."
Edward rolls his eyes. "Please. You're not a proper social misfit until you've hung out with theater geeks and cooking nerds. Oh, which you've now done. You're fucked, dude."
The two men laugh and Carlisle realizes again, how far he has retreated from simple human interaction. The dinner at Esme's and this strange evening with Edward mark the first time in months he has socialized outside of work. It feels good to laugh and talk with the young man, and to enjoy his easygoing charm.
"Let's get you a cab," Edward says when they leave the diner, his eyes scanning the street.
"What about you?"
"Oh, no worries. I live five blocks from here; I can walk."
"Are you sure that's safe? It's almost one in the morning, after all."
"It's perfectly safe, Carlisle." He flags down a cab on the opposite side of the street. "There's always lots of people out, even at this hour."
They wait for the cab to swing around and pull up to the curb. Edward seems to consider something for a moment before he steps closer, taking Carlisle's hand in his. His cheeks flush and he licks his lips, and his voice is quiet when he speaks.
"I'd like to see you again. We can just be friends if that's what you'd prefer. But I like you. I had a good time, last night and tonight."
Carlisle opens his mouth to tell Edward that he is crazy. To ask why he is interested in a man more than ten years his senior, who spent the entire evening unloading about a failed relationship. Before he can speak, Carlisle sees the sincerity in Edward's lovely face, and nods humbly instead.
"I'd like that."
Edward's eyes shine as he leans to press his lips to the corner of the man's mouth. "Good."
Carlisle feels his hand on the small of his back as Edward helps him in to the cab and he waves when the young man's grin flashes in the window. For a long time, even as he lays in bed waiting for sleep, his skin tingles with the memory of Edward's lips.
After their awkward start, getting to know each other is almost effortless. Carlisle wonders at how easily things fall into place, and what it is about Edward that makes everything simpler.
Carlisle buys lunch from the Forchette food truck when he can, and Edward slips treats in the bags, often decorating the packages with drawings and notes.
They exchange numbers and send texts back and forth, though Edward is more prolific. Carlisle's phone buzzes throughout the day with quirky trains of thought.
Watermelon flavored gum makes everything better.
Omg, don't ever let me on the train without my iPod again.
Is it weird to eat falafel for breakfast?
I liked that blue shirt you had on the other night. Rawr.
On Carlisle's nights off, they have easy, no fuss dates. They see movies and meet Emmett and Brady for drinks at a bar in their neighborhood. They eat out and talk for hours about whatever pops in their heads.
"What's the meaning behind your tattoos?" Carlisle watches Edward rub his thumb over the ink under his skin.
"Different things." He points toward an elegant tree in the center of the design. "The tree was first, in memory of my parents. They died when I was twelve and I went to live with Esme's family a year later. I've been building on the design since then. Things that mean something to me… important events in my life."
His expression is thoughtful as his fingers moved over the dark lines. He looks down at his skin and his long lashes hide the emotions in his grey eyes. Carlisle's heart squeezes for the loss he has suffered, as well as for the things he has accomplished.
"What about the other arm? Will you get inked there too?"
Edward's eyes are clear and he smiles when he looks up. "Eventually. I'm saving that arm for what happens next in my life. For when I have my own family… new memories and experiences."
Before they part ways on their evenings out, Edward kisses Carlisle. Their lips meet with the perfect amount of heat and restraint for just a moment before Edward pulls away. He insists that Carlisle set the pace, and says that he is willing to wait until the man is ready for whatever comes next.
Carlisle appreciates the young man's consideration. He also finds himself imagining things. He imagines feeling Edward's long arms wrapped around him. He imagines sliding his fingers through Edward's unruly brown hair. He imagines the rasp of Edward's stubble against his own cheek, and the way his lovely mouth would taste.
He isn't sure that he is ready for something beyond flirting. The twelve years separating them worry him, too. Still, he likes Edward, and he likes the way the young man makes him feel. He feels awake again, at last, after the long period of numbness that followed Jasper leaving.
A few weeks later, Edward gives the man a tentative push. They're waiting for the bill at the Chinatown diner, and after a minute of lip nibbling, he asks Carlisle to come to his apartment for a drink. The mix of pleasure and surprise when Carlisle agrees makes the man frown.
"Don't look so surprised."
"I'm not! Okay, I am," Edward chuckles. "I know you're working tomorrow, so I figured I had a fifty-fifty shot."
As they leave the diner, Edward threads his fingers through Carlisle's. They've held hands before, for a moment here and there and when they kiss goodnight. This, however, is the first time he has taken the man's hand simply to hold as they walk together. Carlisle knows it isn't a big deal. It just feels like one.
Edward lives in a renovated building in the heart of the harbor district. The white painted brick and steel décor of the loft are masculine and striking, even in the bathroom, where Carlisle pauses to a get hold of his nerves. Afterward, he finds Edward in the sitting area, pouring glasses of wine.
He lets out a low whistle as he walks toward a wall of enormous windows looking out onto the water.
"This is gorgeous, Edward."
He feels the young man's hands on his shoulders, pulling gently as he helps him out of his jacket.
"Thank you. I love it here."
"Is there another room... or do you sleep hanging upside down in the closet?"
Edward turns and points to a staircase behind them that leads to a second level over the kitchen. From where they stand, the bedroom is just visible, partially obscured by privacy panels.
"I bought this place when the housing bubble burst." Edward carries Carlisle's jacket to a nearby armchair. "Sometimes I think it might be nice to have a yard... and then I remember how much I hate mowing grass."
"Yard work is overrated." Carlisle's smile falters as he remembers the time Jasper proudly spent on the upkeep of their gardens and lawns.
Always observant, Edward crosses the room to stand before him. He raises one hand to Carlisle's cheek, his eyes moving calmly over the man's face. Carlisle's breath seems to stop as they watch each other.
"I poured some wine," Edward murmurs, pausing when Carlisle shakes his head.
"I don't need any wine."
He lifts his hand to cover Edward's fingers resting on his face. His heart beats wildly, and the blood rushes in his ears.
Edward licks his lips before leaning in, so slowly, to brush his lips against Carlisle's. This time he doesn't pull away. He lingers, and the sweet pressure of his mouth makes Carlisle feel warm.
His eyes close when the young man's hands frame his face. Strong fingers cup his jaw and long thumbs stroke his cheekbones. Carlisle grasps Edward's waist, gripping his shirt lightly, and the kiss deepens, their mouths moving together as they learn each other's tastes.
Carlisle's breath hitches when he feels Edward's tongue on his lips. He opens his mouth and a soft groan rumbles in his chest. They kiss slowly and thoroughly, the warmth in Carlisle burning hotter. His cock hardens and he pulls Edward closer, his hands splayed across the young man's lower back.
Edward utters a low moan when their hips meet. He pushes Carlisle gently against the window and grinds against him slowly, making him shudder at the overwhelming sensations.
He breaks away panting, and kisses the line of Edward's jaw. "Oh, God, you feel so good."
"You too, Carlisle," he murmurs, his lips moving against the man's neck between kisses. "I've wanted to kiss you like that for such a long time, you have no idea."
With sure hands and steps, he leads Carlisle to the sofa without their lips ever parting. When the man is seated, Edward climbs onto his lap. His knees press against the man's hips, and he winds his arms around his shoulders, pulling their chests together.
Carlisle's hands move hungrily, rubbing Edward's back, arms, and ribs. He can't remember when he last felt so good. The intensity of his body's responses frightens him, but it has been so long since he was touched, and made to feel desired and attractive. His nerves fade under the craving he feels for the young man in his arms, and all he knows is that he wants more.
Edward's hips roll against him, turning his bones liquid. He groans low in his throat and kisses the young man deeply, thrusting up to meet his hips. They shift on the sofa until Carlisle is on his back with Edward on top, the young man licking and sucking the skin of his neck.
Edward swears when their cocks connect through their clothes. Carlisle arches up with a gasp, needing to feel Edward hard and straining through his jeans. The young man's mouth is searing against his, and their hands roam, seeking out as much contact as they can find.
"God," he says desperately when Edward pulls away. The young man presses deep, wet kisses to Carlisle's throat and swirls his tongue around his Adam's apple, making his eyes roll.
The young man's lips press against Carlisle's ear, his breath hot and close when he speaks. "Tell me to stop if you don't want this."
"I do. I want this. Please just… oh, God, touch me."
"I am." Edward pulls back to look at him with burning eyes. "You're so beautiful, Carlisle. You have no idea, do you?"
He slides his hand between them, palming Carlisle's cock, and the man is sure his heart will punch through his chest. His body reacts, hips bucking up without warning as a low cry fills his throat.
"Fuck. I want you." Edward's voice is gruff. "I want you so badly. Can I take you upstairs?"
Carlisle is so aroused that he can hardly speak. He makes some affirmative noise and nods, and they scramble up, Edward holding out a hand to help him up.
The men climb the stairs quickly and without speaking. Once behind the privacy panels, Edward turns, reaching for Carlisle with a hungry noise. Their mouths connect in a wet crash of teeth and tongues and they stagger toward the bed, hands pulling urgently at each other's clothes.
Carlisle's breath catches when his hands meet the skin on Edward's shoulders. He pulls away to stare at the tattoos in the sleeve, realizing only then that the design extends onto his chest, covering most of his pectoral with graceful black swirls.
Edward helps the man to sit, bending with him to keep their mouths close. Carlisle's hands move over the skin on Edward's ribs, guiding the young man over him as he lays back. Edward's tongue traces a hot, wet line along his throat, one hand dropping to stroke Carlisle through his boxers.
Carlisle moans when those long fingers touch him.
Edward uses his mouth well, kissing and licking, sometimes gently biting the man's skin, making him hiss with pleasure. He laps at Carlisle's nipples and nibbles his ribs, dipping his pink tongue into his navel.
Carlisle is trembling, so overloaded with sensation he feels dizzy. Little moans escape him with each breath, and he claws at the young man above him, desperate to see and feel him.
Edward's face is flushed and his mouth hangs open slightly as looks at Carlisle. He cups the man's balls in his hand before reaching further back, massaging the area with slow, maddening circles.
"What do you want?" he asks breathlessly, his fingers carefully moving to tease the cleft of Carlisle's ass.
"Oh, Jesus," Carlisle moans out. He stares into the grey eyes that anchor him to the bed, needing to be filled, to feel that spiral of razor edged pleasure. "Please, please don't stop. Don't stop, Edward."
"I won't," he murmurs, kissing Carlisle again, his tongue deep in the man's mouth as they hold each other tightly.
They're breathing hard when Edward pulls away, getting to his knees to reach for the nightstand. Carlisle hears the drawer scrape and grins when the young man drops a bottle of lube by his knees.
Edward hooks his thumbs under Carlisle's waistband, slowly dragging the boxers down over his cock, and pausing to kiss the soft skin of the man's groin, making him whine.
He sits back again, murmuring, "Up," and pressing his fingers into Carlisle's hips. The man obeys, allowing Edward to draw the boxers over his ass and down his legs. Edward's movements are deliberate, and he pauses often to press his lips against Carlisle's body.
Carlisle is trembling and so, so hard when Edward slides his own boxers off. He hears the click of the lube bottle, and watches Edward slick his hands. He jumps slightly when cool fingers trail up his ass, and lets his knees fall open with a sigh.
"Let me make you feel good," Edward whispers. Their gazes lock and burn, and he pushes a finger slowly inside.
Carlisle opens his mouth, and any words he might have had are lost. He grunts instead, pushing his head back into the pillow, his eyes never leaving Edward's. A sweat breaks out over his skin and a rush of pleasure coils down his spine and into his belly.
"Fuck," Carlisle breathes when a second finger slides inside, his mouth falling open as he battles for control. When Edward wraps the wet fingers of his other hand around Carlisle's cock, he is lost.
"Feels good, doesn't it," Edward murmurs, his voice rough.
Carlisle can see the desire in Edward's eyes and feel him hot and hard against his thigh. Before he can think to reach for him, Edward bends and takes him in his mouth. Every thought he has flies out of his head. When the young man's fingers curl inside him, Carlisle's pleasure detonates.
He swears weakly, his eyes clenching closed, and he writhes under Edward, his fingers winding tightly in the young man's hair. His skin feels tight and hot, like a berry about to burst.
Edward takes him deep, swallowing around him with a muffled groan, and Carlisle thrusts up into the heat of his mouth each time it rises and falls over him.
"Oh, God. I – I need to… fuck, Edward."
Edward's mouth and hands unravel Carlisle's control and he feels his orgasm begin to spiral. His eyes snap open and he looks at the beautiful young man moaning around his cock before his body stiffens.
He lets go, coming so hard he can hardly breathe. He hears his own voice, and feels the heat of Edward's mouth and his fingers, all as if from far away. He floats down slowly, finding the young man on top of him. Edward's weight is solid and warm between Carlisle's legs, and his arms hold the man tightly.
"Mmm," he hums against Carlisle's throat, pressing kisses there while the man comes back to himself.
Carlisle feels it then, Edward's cock like steel against his thigh. He turns to kiss him, and groans at the taste of his come on the young man's tongue. Edward lets out a shaky breath when Carlisle reaches for him, shuddering when he runs a thumb over the head. He's mumbling nonsense when the man pulls back, and Carlisle knows from his rolling eyes and panting breaths that he is too aroused to last very long.
"Come on me, Edward," he urges, angling their bodies together and pumping faster.
The young man's body curls inward when he comes, and he calls out hoarsely as his cock pulses hot and wet on Carlisle's skin.
They are lying, cleaned and drowsy, in Edward's bed, and Carlisle's head is on the young man's chest. Their arms are warm around each other and their legs are tangled beneath the sheets. Carlisle runs his fingers over the ink on Edward's chest, listening to the young man's heart thud under his ear.
"I should go."
"Stay." Edward's lips move against Carlisle's hair and his arms tighten a little more. "I'll make sure you get up in the morning. I'm working tomorrow; I have to get up early, too."
"You don't mind?"
Carlisle tilts his head back to see the young man's face. Edward's lips turn up on one side and he watches the man with sleepy eyes.
"You being here is the last thing I'd mind, Carlisle. Stay."
The young man's kisses are deep and sweet, and a warm feeling unfurls in Carlisle's chest.
Esme smiles when she pulls the cover from the takeout container in front of her.
"What's that face for?" Carlisle asks, cutting his chicken parmigiana with a fork.
She shrugs and eats a bite before answering. "You look good, Carlisle. Better."
"Better than what?"
"Than before. After…." She pauses and licks her lips. "I know we weren't close when you were with Jasper. When things ended with him, you retreated from everything."
He says nothing, knowing Esme is right. There is nothing to explain.
"You've been coming back, these last few weeks. You seem happy. It's nice."
"It feels nice," Carlisle murmurs.
Edward cooks beautifully that spring, learning Carlisle's favorite dishes, and introducing him to some of his own. They sometimes work together on Edward's sofa while watching movies, discussing Carlisle's paperwork or Forchette's menus. They meet Edward's friends at the diner, and have game nights at Jake and Paul's. And they spend their nights at Edward's loft, learning ways to pleasure each other.
Occasionally, Edward suggests cooking at Carlisle's apartment or that he'd like to meet his friends. Carlisle finds reasons to refuse or deflect, aware that he is shutting the young man out at a certain level. He sometimes catches a mixture of hurt and confusion on Edward's face, but he cannot bring himself to let him in that far.
Carlisle often wakes when it is still dark to find Edward spooned against him. The young man's arm is curled around his waist and their legs are pressed together. His breaths are warm against the back of Carlisle's neck, and he mumbles quietly in his sleep.
Carefully, Carlisle turns in his arms. He watches the young man's eyelids tremble and hears his breaths change as he dreams. His pink lips curve up in a smile before they purse together in a pout, and slowly, slowly Carlisle leans to kiss them, sighing at the softness he finds there.
Edward wakes gradually, inhaling a long breath through his nose while his fingers grasp Carlisle's waist. His groans are quiet when the man's tongue slides between his lips.
Edward's mouth and fingers send fire racing under Carlisle's skin. He gasps when the young man slides his cock inside him and pulls his lean frame close, trying to erase the space between them.
He shakes and moans in Edward's arms, painting their bodies with come. Only then does Edward let himself go, burying his face in Carlisle's skin when he unravels.
Jake and Paul hold their annual Pride Party on the rooftop of a boutique hotel near Carlisle's neighborhood. Forchette caters the food, which, unsurprisingly, meets with raves. Though he is technically off-duty, Edward is drawn to the kitchen. Carlisle waves off his apologies and sees the pride in the young man's face as they watch the servers return again and again with empty trays.
"You look surprised that the food is a success," he teases.
"I'm not." Edward's ears turn pink and he sips his wine. "I know how well my staff can cook and that my recipes are strong. This party means a lot to Jake and Paul, though, and I wanted it to go well. For people to enjoy the food and…." He trails off and looks away.
Carlisle runs the backs of his fingers over the young man's cheek and waits until their eyes meet. "What is it?"
"I wanted to impress you, too," he confesses, his cheeks reddening. "You've never been to an event I catered. I didn't want anything to go wrong."
Carlisle's chest swells at his words. Edward threads their fingers together and swings their joined hands gently.
"That probably makes me sound silly."
"Not at all."
Carlisle wonders how to tell Edward that he is impressed every day with his skills, intelligence, and integrity. That he is kind, fearless, and lovely. That he makes Carlisle feel alive.
One of the kitchen staff waves at Edward before Carlisle can speak.
"Sorry." Edward kisses him sweetly before turning away. "I'll be right back."
Carlisle walks to the edge of the roof, gazing at the city lights spread out around him while he sips his wine. He is so taken with the view that he misses the sound of approaching footsteps and is unprepared for the familiar voice that speaks.
"What are you doing over here all by your lonesome?"
For a moment, he is frozen. Inhaling deeply, he forces himself to turn and meet Jasper's blue eyes.
"Hello, Jasper. Thought I'd take a look at the city. My date had to step away for a minute." Carlisle feels pleased that his voice is steady.
"Oh? Where's he gone off to?"
"Kitchen emergency from what I gather. He should be back in a moment."
"I see." Jasper smiles, his eyes curious. "I suppose I knew you wouldn't stay unattached forever, Car."
"Yes." Carlisle takes a long sip from his glass and tries not to notice Jasper's dimples or the way the breeze stirs his curls. "How's Peter?"
Even after two years, his old friend's voice makes Carlisle's jaw clench. He bites the inside of his cheek as the tall blond joins them.
"Glad to hear it."
Peter's eyes move up and down Carlisle's body with approval. "You look good, Car. Even better, I daresay, than you did when you were with Jasper. Wouldn't you agree, sweetheart?"
"There's no surprise in that," Jasper murmurs with a frown. "Car always looks good."
"I'm intrigued more than surprised. I assume that there is a 'who' that has put the spark back in your pretty blue eyes, Car? Or are you still out there playing the field?"
That cold steel edge is what Carlisle has always disliked most about Peter. No one is spared its sting, not even Jasper himself, and it infuriates Carlisle as much tonight as it has in the past.
"I was just telling Jasper; I'm seeing someone. He's a friend of Jake and Paul's."
"I know Paul through mutual friends," Jasper offers, stepping into the role of peacekeeper as he often does when Peter and Carlisle are forced to share space. "Maybe I know your friend, too."
Carlisle's stomach sinks at the idea of Edward having ever been around either Peter or Jasper, though he knows the likelihood is high. The city's gay community isn't particularly small, but it is tight knit. It is easy to trace connections from friend to friend and group to group.
A movement in the crowd catches Carlisle's eye and he looks up to see Edward waving from the bar. He nods when the young man holds up a finger to indicate he will be another minute longer.
"That's him," Carlisle murmurs, tapping his wristwatch with his finger, and smiling again when Edward winks.
Peter's brows are high on his forehead when Carlisle turns back, while Jasper's face is curiously blank.
"You're seeing Edward Masen? As in Forchette Edward Masen?"
"You know him then?"
"Do I- yes, I know him," Peter scoffs. "He's one of the better known chefs in the city. He was on a Travel Channel show, Car."
The man frowns and licks his lips. "I suppose that's true."
Peter lets out a harsh laugh. His smile stretches wide and mean, and his eyes narrow shrewdly.
"Fucking hell, Car. You really went for it this time, didn't you? Successful, beautiful, and so, so young. Honestly, I would have thought your experience with Jasper was lesson enough."
Carlisle's voice is hard. "And what lesson would that be?"
"That you should stick to what you know. You need the familiar: boring doctors with boring lives. There's no shame in it. That world is safe for someone like you. It's what you need."
"Enough, Pete," Jasper says quietly. His face is set in a deep frown that softens when he glances back to Carlisle.
"It was good to see you, Car. I'm glad things are working out for you."
Carlisle listens numbly as they say their goodbyes, their words bouncing off the bubble of fear that has formed itself around him. He sips his wine, and looks at the view, trying very hard to remember how to breathe.
He knows that Peter is right about Edward. They don't make sense. However genuine the young man's feelings appear to be, they can only be infatuation. One day, they will fade and he'll be gone, just as Jasper had gone before him. It is this realization that pushes him toward the exit.
Carlisle makes it a block before he hears footsteps pounding on the pavement behind him.
As badly as Carlisle wants to keep walking, he forces himself to stop and turns around. His lips press together when he sees the upset and confusion in Edward's expression.
"Where are you going?" the young man asks, panting lightly from running.
"I have to go home, Edward. I- its best if I go home now. Goodnight."
"Wait! I'll walk with you. Just tell me what happened up there."
Carlisle shakes his head slowly, watching as Edward's face falls. "That's not a good idea."
Edward watches him for a long moment, realization dawning slowly in his eyes.
"No. Don't do this, Carlisle." His voice is strained. "I don't know what happened upstairs; if someone said something to you, or…. I'm asking you to please, please, not do this."
"I have to, Edward. I've tried to tell myself that this could work. I know now it can't."
"Don't say that."
"We're not a good match, Edward. We don't… we don't make sense."
"Everything I feel about you makes sense," the young man exclaims.
Carlisle's throat tightens at the young man's mounting distress. "You won't feel like this forever."
"You're so young, Edward. You have so much life ahead of you."
The young man throws his hands wide. "A life I would be happy to share with you for as long as you'd let me! But you won't let me in. And… I don't understand why, Carlisle. Why won't you let me?"
"You're not going to want me in a few years-"
"You have no idea what I want."
"Probably not." Carlisle breathes deeply, badly wanting to hold Edward's shaking hands. "And I am sorry about that. But I know what I want. I know what I need. I need to end this Edward, for both of our sakes. I'm sure you think me cruel, and I hope you can understand that I'm doing this for both of us."
"I don't want this, Edward. Us. I don't want it."
Edward's throat works in a convulsive swallow. Carlisle braces himself for more arguing, and is surprised when the young man turns away, his shoulders tight with tension. He is quiet for a moment before raising a hand to his unruly hair. The man's heart aches when Edward rubs roughly at his face. His heart breaks when the young man turns around. His big eyes are red and shining with the tears he tried to hide.
"I want to be what you need," Edward says quietly. "To make you happy. To make you feel the way I do when I'm with you. I'm sorry that I couldn't. Maybe… well, who knows."
His smile is sad when he steps forward to grasp the man's fingers with his own. "I hope you find him, Carlisle. You deserve to be happy."
He jams his hands in his pockets as he walks away, his long legs moving with grace and speed. Carlisle watches as he slips out of sight into the crowds, and then for a long time afterward. He feels cold and empty, and his fingers ache where Edward held them.
Later the next week, Esme sits down at Carlisle's table in the doctors' lounge. She says nothing as she unpacks the carrier bag of food, and slides a takeout container across the table toward him.
"I'm not very hungry, Esme."
"Indulge me." Her voice is quiet and she watches him for a moment before they pull the lids off the dishes.
The familiar smells of cheese and pepper fill the air. The melancholy Carlisle has felt since watching Edward walk away threatens to overwhelm him. It isn't until Esme nudges his hand that he remembers he is not alone.
"Did he say anything…?"
"When I bought lunch, you mean?" She frowns. "No. He's not there. He's cooking over in the financial district again."
Carlisle's appetite disappears completely. "Why would he do that?"
"He didn't want to make you uncomfortable. And… he said it would be easier for him, too."
Carlisle buries his face in his hands. "Shit. I really fucked this up."
Esme lays her hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently.
"I didn't mean to hurt him."
"I know. He's… he'll be okay."
"I didn't know how to let him go without it being so… so fucking painful."
He hears the hesitation in her voice when she speaks. "I know you worry about Edward being younger than you."
"He's much younger, Esme."
"Yes, well, whatever the case, I understand your concern. Especially after Jasper."
She tugs at Carlisle's wrist until he drops his hands. Her eyes are earnest and sympathetic, and she wraps her fingers around his reassuringly.
"Edward is… different. He's not careless with his emotions or his heart. When he wants something, he is fully present. All in, you could say. He would never hurt you the way Jasper did, Carlise. He doesn't have it in him to do that to someone he cares about."
Carlisle's throat tightens and his eyes sting. "You don't know how badly I wish I could believe that."
"That's just it. I don't trust myself. Not my instincts or my head, and especially not my heart."
Her mouth lifts on one side, reminding the man so strongly of Edward that he bites the inside of his cheek.
"Edward can teach you how. He has a genius for affection. You just have to let him in."
The next day, Carlisle switches his schedule for the evening shift and goes across town to the financial district at lunchtime. The green Forchette truck is parked at the cross streets Esme described, and the line snakes along the pavement for over a block.
Edward is in the order window, talking to customers, and handling bags and orders. He looks lovely, as always, and also careworn. He seems subdued, and his easy laugh is absent.
Carlisle waits until he steps out for his break before forcing himself to get closer. Edward freezes when he sees the man, his face blank with surprise. Still, he nods when Carlisle points toward an empty bench nearby.
"Hey, doc." His voice is soft when Carlisle sits beside him. "Did you get lost on your way to lunch?"
"A little." Carlisle's heart is thundering again, this time with nerves and what he recognizes as relief. He feels right again, for the first time in days. "I had to see you, and it's not easy now that you're all the way over here."
Edward's brow furrows. "What about?"
"About forgetting everything I said to you the other night. About how wrong I was, and how unfair I've been to you."
A slow flush works its way over Edward's cheeks. He crosses his arms his fingers move over the designs of the tattooed sleeve on his skin.
"I'd like to try again, Edward. If you can forgive me."
"I'd like that," the young man says, his eyes glowing. "I'd like that very much."
Carlisle smiles and clasps his hands together to keep from pulling Edward into his arms.
"I have to work tonight. But I wondered if I could make you dinner tomorrow."
"I'd like to. I'd like to make you dinner at my apartment… if you trust me not to burn pancakes, that is."
Edward's face lights up with his laugh. "And why will you be making pancakes?"
"They're the only thing I know how to cook." Carlisle chuckles as the young man laughs harder. "I'm afraid I'll need help with the bacon, however."
Edward smiles before leaning in, so slowly, to brush his lips against Carlisle's, and sighs when the man takes him in his arms.
Siiiiigh... you like? :)
Thank you for reading. I enjoyed writing this so much. I made a banner for this story and will link it on my profile.
If you haven't read the other SBS 4.0 entries, do yourself a favor and go read - they were all really quite wonderful.
And thanks to my fellow CW/RFach lovers on Twitter and Facebook. You guys make me laugh and smile, and post drool-worthy pics that inspire. Love you guise!
The title of this story was inspired by both Helen Hunt Jackson's essay, A Genius For Affection, and Marilyn Sides's novel, A Genius of Affection.
Cacio e pepe is a pasta dish served with a pan sauce comprised of butter (or evoo), fresh cracked pepper, and cheese. One of my readers pointed out that pecorino stagionato is used, and added peppercorns and salt to the mix. Thank you, ArekWithlock :)
Pignoli, or pinoli, are also known as pine nuts.