The elevator ride to my floor feels like it takes forever. The temptation to stop by his place is strong, but I'm convinced that he won't want to see me. I know he's not working today, and it's the only explanation I can think of. When I get to my door though, I feel a fluttering of hope at the sight of a post it stuck on the doorknob.


come downstairs? Dinner's waiting.



Slumping against my door I let out a shaky laugh as I run my fingers through my hair. If he says dinner's waiting, then things can't be as bad as I'd feared. With trembling hands I hurry to open my door so I can change into something more comfortable before heading down.

In record time I've changed into jeans and a polo, and I'm anxiously waiting on the elevator. I'm working on keeping my breathing in check when I finally knock on Edward's door. Brutus's enthusiastic barks put a smile on my face despite my nerves. Edward's laugh and subsequent, "Down, boy!" set me at ease – somewhat, at least.

Edward opens the door and for a moment we simply stare at each other. I'm trying to read him, but find myself utterly unable to as my own emotions are too chaotic to allow it. My heart's hammering in my throat when he reaches out to touch my cheek, and I almost want to sob with relief as he pulls me into an embrace. He kisses my neck, rubbing my back lightly as he murmurs, "Shh, sweetheart, shhh, everything'll be okay. Come, let's eat, okay? Then we can sit down and talk, alright?"

I nod, tightening my hold on him as his words replay in my mind. He said everything'll be okay, and I have to believe him. To think otherwise seems impossible without tearing at my heart. Slowly, Edward pulls back and kisses me so sweetly, I all but melt into him. How he knows just what to say or do I do not know, but I'm ever so grateful that he does.

Dinner turns out to be a fairly simple tuna casserole. He gives me a wan smile as he explains, "I'd planned a nice dinner to celebrate me getting the job, but I figured comfort food might be better for now. We can always celebrate later."

I swallow past the lump in my throat, feeling guilty to have put a damper on his excitement. He deserves better than what I've given him so far. I can only hope he'll forgive me and will let me make it up to him somehow.

During dinner we keep conversation on anything but what happened at my store, both of us knowing that it will require our undivided attention and that it's not a topic that goes with trying to eat. I know that if I were to try to explain myself now, I wouldn't be able to handle food and to be honest, his cooking is far too good to let anything spoil it. Even the tuna casserole, which was never a particular favorite of mine, tastes very good. When I compliment him on it he grins and says, "It's a family recipe. I'm glad you like it. Mom always made it for me when I was down, and her mom did it for her and my aunt."

I smile down at my plate, pushing the food around a bit. "It was always tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for us," I say before taking another bite.

Edward purses his lips playfully. "I'll try to remember that for next time."

The second Edward indicates that dinner is over, Brutus is at my knee, nudging me and making noises that aren't quite huff's or growls or even whining but something in between. As soon as I've scratched him between the ears, he trots over to Edward to do the same. Edward murmurs quietly, "It's okay, boy."

Edward scoots his chair back, taking Brutus's face in his hands and leans down to whisper something in his ear. Brutus appears to nod and half-sneezes, half-barks, then licks Edward's cheek before coming back to me. I stare at him incredulously as Brutus nips at my shirt and tries to tug at it, whining as he takes a few steps back.

"What's wrong with him?" I ask Edward.

Edward shakes his head. "Nothing. He just senses something's going on. I told him to keep you company while I do the dishes so he's trying to make you follow him."

I gape at them in turn, amazed at how smart this dog is. Shaking my head, I clear my throat. "I can help..." I offer, but Edward cuts me off. "There's not much to do, babe. Go sit down, okay? I'll be there in a minute."

Brutus barks once, then tugs at my shirt again and I relent, getting up to follow him to the living room. Edward kisses me briefly as I pass him and then waves me on with a smile. When I sit down on the couch, Brutus jumps up next to me and settles himself so his head is in my lap. We sit like that for a few minutes, with me petting him as I attempt to ward off the feeling of dread that threatens to take hold of me again while I wait for Edward.

When Edward walks into the room, Brutus merely lifts his head with a muffled huff until Edward pats his flank and says, "Down." Brutus complains as he hops off the couch and settles himself over my feet instead. He appears to frown at us both before resting his head on his front paws.

Edward just smiles and shakes his head, mumbling, "Silly dog," as he takes a seat in the vacated spot. With a sigh, he takes my hand in his, brushing his thumb along the back of it as he asks quietly, "You haven't told anyone about us yet, have you?"

Clenching my jaw, I shake my head. "No," I croak, cringing slightly.

Edward entwines our fingers and brings them to his lips, kissing the back of my hand. "Want to tell me why? What are you worried about, baby?"

His voice is gentle, not a trace of accusation in it which only makes me squirm with guilt. I have to close my eyes for a minute to try to organize my thoughts. When I feel him cupping my cheek, I can't help but look at him and the tenderness I see in his eyes takes my breath away. There's hurt there, too, but somehow there's also understanding.

So quietly I'm not even sure he can hear me, I do my best to verbalize my fears. He knows them already, I'm sure, because we've already addressed a lot of them before we ever started. Still, it's hard to come to terms with things now that we're not just in our little bubble anymore. Now, other people know. My family knows, and that is somehow more difficult to cope with than strangers or acquaintances.

Edward has positive examples in his family for a relationship like ours, but I don't have that luxury. When I tell him Garrett's reaction after he'd left the shop and how it just confirmed my initial fears, Edward sighs and hugs me tight.

"Carlisle... the only people that matter are the ones in this relationship. That means you and me. And to me, you're all I ever wanted."

Wrapping my arms around him, I take a wavering breath. "Edward, I-," I start, but Edward shakes his head and pulls back.

"I get it, baby, I do. They're your family, and their support means a lot to you. Same for me and mine, believe me. That said, though, that doesn't give them the right to decide what's best for us. They love us, but we have to make our own decisions, Carlisle. We have to do right by ourselves. I know who I want. Do you?" he asks quietly.

"I can't even imagine life without you anymore," I admit in a whisper.

Edward smiles and leans in, kissing me tenderly. "Neither can I. I know all of this has gone crazy fast, and that's probably a part of the issue here, and if you need us to slow down then please tell me, but..." he pauses, taking a deep breath. "Carlisle, I don't want you to doubt how I feel about you. I'm falling in love with you, and I need you to know that. I need you to know that I love you."

I stare at him, stunned. To hear him say with conviction what I told Garrett with both hope and uncertainty has me floundering for words. When I finally find my voice again, all I manage is a whispered, "I don't deserve you."

Edward opens his mouth to object, but I place my fingers over his lips, forestalling him as I smile and add, "I don't. But Heaven knows, I love you, too, Edward. More than I thought possible. God help me, I love you, too."

I can feel his smile spread against my fingers, his eyes lighting up as my words settle between us. Brutus lets out a content grumble, causing us both to laugh and shake our head. "I guess that means he approves?" I whisper.

"Guess so," Edward says, pulling my hand from his mouth in order to kiss me.

Closing my eyes, I lose myself in him for a while until he pulls away with a reluctant sigh. "So," he says quietly as he runs his fingers through my hair, "when are you going to tell them about us?"

I groan, then take a deep breath. "I need to call Esme, actually, and arrange to have dinner tomorrow. I told Garrett I would, so..."

He nods. "Do you want me there?"

I frown, torn. I'd love nothing better than to have him with me, but if Garrett's reaction is anything to go by I don't know that I want to subject Edward to that. With a sigh, I say, "Better not. I think this is something I need to face alone."

"Alright. If that's what you want. You know I'm here if you need me, babe," he says, smiling sadly as he cups my cheek.

I nod, smiling. "I know. It's not that I don't want you to meet them, sweetheart, I just... if they react badly..." I trail off, the look of understanding on his face letting me know he gets it and doesn't mind. Kissing him chastely, I sigh. "I'd better call her now."

"Okay. Why don't I get us something to drink, give you some privacy."

Cradling his face in my hands, I stare at him and smile. "You're amazing, you know that?"

His hands cover mine as he smiles. "You're not so bad yourself, either, you know."

I roll my eyes, snorting. "You're something else, Mr. Masen. I love you."

"Love you, too," he says, pecking my lips. "Call her," he adds, getting up. "What do you want to drink? Wine? Beer? Something else?"

"Whatever you want's fine, sweetheart."

With that he walks to the kitchen, leaving me with Brutus still lying across my feet. He lifts his head as I play with my phone for a moment. He gives a low rumbling groan that ends with a huff and I smile down, petting him. "I know, boy, I know."

Taking a deep breath, I hit the speed dial for Esme. It only rings twice before I hear Charles's gruff voice, "Platt residence."

Brutus sits up, resting his head on my knee as I ask for my sister. When she comes on the line, Brutus nudges my hand, sensing my distress even though I try to hide it.

"Carlisle? Everything alright, dearheart?"

Clearing my throat, I nod. "Yeah, everything's fine, sis. I was... kinda hoping we could have dinner tomorrow?"

I can hear the surprise in her voice as she says, "Of course. You know you're always welcome, Carlisle. Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine," I assure her.

"What about your new guy? Is everything okay there?"

"Ahh, yes. That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Oh, but-"

"Es, I promise, we'll talk tomorrow, okay? I really don't want to do this over the phone," I plead quietly.

Esme huffs in frustration and worry. "Alright, Carbunkle. Dinner's at seven-thirty as always. See you then. Love you."

My heart constricts as I wonder if this'll be the last time I'll hear those words from her. I barely manage to respond in kind before hanging up. Funnily enough, I don't remember coming out to her being as frightening as the prospect of telling her about Edward is.

Brutus licks my hand, whining quietly as Edward sits down next to me again. When I look up he hands me a glass of red wine with a tender smile. "Relax, babe. It'll all be okay. We'll be okay."

Taking a sip of wine, I settle back against the couch and close my eyes. "God, I hope so," I murmur.

I lean into his touch when Edward brushes my cheek. Turning my face, I kiss his fingers. "Thanks, Edward."

He doesn't need me to tell him for what, he merely nods and leans in to capture my lips with his. We sit for a while, sipping our wine, talking off and on, but mostly just being together. It helps quiet my fears a lot to know that he's there.

After we're done, Edward asks if I can stay the night, and I happily agree, needing the comfort of being in his arms too much to deny either of us. Despite our earlier declarations, we end up simply holding each other until we fall asleep. There'll be time for celebrating later, as Edward put it.

The next day seems to drag by. I try to focus on my work, but it's difficult as my thoughts keep spiraling. Edward stops by on his way to work, letting me know Charlotte needs him to cover for a few hours, but that he'll be home tonight.

"Good luck, baby. Stop by after, okay?" he says, squeezing my hand lightly.

"I will. Promise." I do my best to smile, but I can't quite get there – not with that queasy feeling wanting to creep back into my stomach. Edward seems to understand and kisses me lightly before saying goodbye.

I somehow manage to get through the rest of my day and home without panicking too much. The nerves don't really hit until I'm a block away from Esme's house and I freeze, suddenly quite incapable of going forward – or back. I don't know if I can face my sister, not after Garrett's reaction. The very thought of her disapproval has me balking.

Yet I can't go home to face Edward, either, if I don't talk to my sister. Taking several deep breaths, I close my eyes and try to tamp down my fears, reminding myself that no matter what happens, Edward will still be there.

Nodding firmly to myself, I force my feet to start moving again and before I know it I'm knocking on Esme's door. Charles opens the door, giving me his usual nod in greeting and a, "C'mon in," before walking to the kitchen, leaving me to close the door behind me and giving me precious seconds to gather myself.

"Carlisle? Be a dear and open the wine, would you?" Esme calls from the kitchen, where I can hear her and Charles talk quietly, no doubt she's giving him instructions, too, though I think I can hear another voice, too.

The relief I feel at this normal interaction is ludicrous, yet it doesn't stop the smile from forming on my lips as I do as asked. By the time I'm done, Charles, Randall, and Esme are carrying in steaming dishes of food – asparagus, red potatoes, and Esme's Cordon Bleu chicken.

Esme puts down the chicken and gives me a hug, kissing my cheeks. "Hello, dearheart. You sure you're alright?" she asks, holding me at arms length as she scrutinizes me. "You look a little pale."

I do my best to smile as I nod, patting her hand. "I'm alright, Esme, really."

"Hey Uncle C, been a while," Randall says with a grin as he waits for Esme to step aside so he can hug me, too.

"Randy, what brings you up here?" I say, smiling in earnest as I wrap my arms around my nephew.

We each take a seat around the table as Randall tells us about the job he's starting soon. "I just wanted to stop by here first, you know? Before life got too crazy. Feels like it's been forever since I had some of Mom's home cooked meals," he adds, patting his stomach.

Part of me is glad for Randall's visit, as it means we'll at least make it through dinner without having to bring Edward up. Concerned for me Esme might be, but this rare appearance of her one and only child takes away from it enough to let me enjoy the meal in peace. Plus, I've really missed Randall, too, so it's good to see him again and know he's doing well.

My respite doesn't last long, however. As soon as dessert's on the table and Esme has satisfied herself that her son is truly well and happy, she turns her attention back to me. "So, Carlisle, what was it you wanted to talk to me about that couldn't be done over the phone? Is something going on with your new guy?" she asks before taking a bite of cherry pie.

Randall perks up, grinning widely. "Uncle C, I didn't know you had a new boyfriend! About time, dude."

I can't help myself: I shake my head and huff in amazement at my nephews exuberance. "Thanks, Randy." Clearing my throat, I turn to Esme and taking a deep breath, I force myself to speak. "Nothing's going on, as you put it, sis. I just thought it was... time... to tell you more about him."

Charles's eyebrows raise, but he wisely remains quiet. I can see him watching his wife carefully, though. Randall is intrigued, his dessert forgotten, while I toy with mine, all appetite for my favorite dessert gone. Esme grins, dabbing the corner of her mouth with her napkin. "So spill already! Who is this guy?"

Biting my lip, I try to sort my thoughts and finally decide to just tell her everything about Edward – except his age. I want her to get to know him on other merits first, before bringing that up, hoping it'll help to gain her acceptance. The more I speak, the more I'm torn. Part of me is relaxing as I share my feelings about Edward – something I know is showing because every one of them is starting to smile that certain way they do when they know I'm happy and in love.

Another part of me is dreading the inevitable, and sure enough, after I've told them all about how we met, our first date, and the time we've spent together, it comes.

Randall grins. "This Edward guy's done you a lot of good, huh, Uncle C?"

I nod, blushing. "You have no idea, Randy. You'd like him, I think."

"He sounds wonderful, Carlisle. So why so secretive? I don't understand," says Esme, cradling her cup of coffee in her hands as she looks at me.

Running my fingers through my hair, I take another deep breath, steeling myself for her reaction. "I-I wasn't sure how you'd feel, Es. You see... Edward's... well..." I glance at Randall and frown as I turn my attention back to my sister.

"He's what, Carbunkle? Handicapped? Two cards short of a full deck? What?" Esme asks.

I blink. "Err, no, none of the above. Esme, he... he's." I gulp, then muster a quiet, "Edward's twenty-four."

Esme puts her cup down with a too loud clank. "He's what?" even as Randall crows, "Way to go, Uncle C!"

"Carlisle, you can't be serious!" Esme blusters, her eyes wide with shock. A quick glance at Charles tells me there won't be any help forthcoming from him. "That... That's preposterous, Carlisle. How could you even think to... to... For Christ's sake, Carlisle, he's younger than Randall!"

I cringe, that sick feeling settling itself in my stomach once more despite Randall's, "Mom, chill. I think it's cool Uncle C's got a hot young boy toy. He is hot, right, Uncle?"

Nodding, I grin in spite of myself. "Definitely," I assure him.


I look at Esme pleadingly. "Esme, please. Can't you be happy for me? Forget age. Edward says he doesn't care how old I am, that he knows who and what he wants in life and that he loves me. He makes me feel alive again, sis-"

Esme scoots her chair back in a huff and starts gathering dishes with a scornful, "I just bet he does. I can't believe you!"

She disappears into the kitchen and sounds of running water and clanging dishes can be heard in the otherwise eery silence that follows. Putting my elbows on the table, I rest my head in my hands and groan. Charles clears his throat lightly and mutters, "I don't know what you expected, Carlisle, but..."

Lifting my face I look at him. "I hoped she'd be a little more accepting and supportive, Charles. You know how long it's been since... since I felt like this. Not since Liam. Edward... he's an amazing young man and I'm lucky to have him love me."

Charles snorts, shaking his head. "I can't say I approve, Carlisle, but you know what's right for you."

That wasn't quite the acceptance I'd hoped for, or the person I had wanted it from, but I'll take it. Charles nods curtly, excusing himself. "I'll go check on her."

Which leaves just me and Randall, who's watching me carefully. "You alright, Uncle C?" he asks, leaning toward me.

Sighing, I shrug. "Yes... no... I don't know. I'm sorry to have ruined your night back home, Randy."

He waves me off with a huff, grinning. "Nah, don't worry about it. I'm glad I'm here, especially with... you know," he says, tilting his head toward the kitchen where we can hear the sounds of an angry, albeit quiet, argument. It doesn't take a genius to figure out my sister is upset with my choice in men.

Randall gets up from his seat to sit next to me, placing a hand on my shoulder. He looks gravely at me, all seriousness as he says, "Does Edward really make you happy, Uncle?"

I smile, nodding. "Yes, he does. More than anything."

Randall smiles. "Then that's all that matters. That the two of you love each other. Don't worry about Mom. I'm sure she'll come around eventually. She's probably just freaking out because of me, anyway."

I quirk my brow at him in question, so he elaborates. "You know... what if it was me? If someone twice my age showed an interest in me and all that crap. She has a hard enough time dealing with the fact I'm not her little boy anymore, but the thought of that probably has her in fits, know what I mean? Mama-bear instincts in full swing and all that?"

Thinking about it for a moment, I can see – sort of, anyway – where he's coming from. I can only hope he's right because otherwise I'll lose my sister and I just can't...

"Give her some time," he advises.

I nod. What the hell else can I do, anyway? Nothing. Randall grins again. "So, when do I get the chance to meet this boy toy of yours, huh?"

Sighing, I give him a half-grin. "How long are you in town for?"

Randall thinks it over, then says, "Til the weekend, I think. Gotta get myself sorted out then before starting on Monday."

Nodding again, I smile. "Why don't you stop by for dinner tomorrow? I'm sure your mom'll want one last chance to spoil you rotten on Friday before you're gone for God knows how long this time."

"Deal. What time?"


"Cool. Looking forward to it. Umm, I think maybe you might want to give Mom some time to err... get used to the idea of you and him, ya know?" he says, cringing as he glances toward the kitchen at the crash and Esme's, "No, I will not calm down, Charles!"

"Oh God," I groan, scrubbing my hands over my face as I try to cling to the hope that Randall is right about his mother.

He pats my shoulder. "Don't worry. I'll talk with her, Uncle C." With a sigh he hugs me tight. "You'll always be my favorite Uncle."

I snort, hugging him back. "That's because I'm your only uncle, Squirt."

He laughs at the old nickname and shakes his head. "Nah, it's 'cause you're the coolest Uncle, ever. Everything'll be fine, Uncle C. You'll see."

"I hope you're right," I mutter as I get up. There's no point in staying here any longer. It is abundantly clear Esme's upset, and there won't be any talking to her right now. Randall follows me to the door where he hugs me again, promising that he'll be there tomorrow, and then I'm on my way back home.

My feet feel like lead as I walk, the evening playing itself over and over in my head. When I step into the elevator I hit the button for the fifth floor without a second's thought, hoping Edward's home already.

My knock on his door goes unanswered, not even by Brutus's bark. I groan, resting my forehead against the smooth wood and close my eyes, praying they'll be back soon. At least I know he's not at work anymore. The ding of the elevator has me looking up hopefully and I watch the numbers go down to the lobby before climbing back up again. When the doors open and Brutus comes bounding gleefully out only to stop in front of me with a frown on his face and an almost strangled bark, I kneel down, wrapping my arms around the dog. "Hey there, boy. At least you'll always be there, right? You and Edward."

Brutus licks my face making sorrowful noises that only stop once Edward is besides us, one hand patting the dog and the other caressing the back of my neck as he murmurs, "I take it things didn't go well?"

I laugh shakily. "You could say that again."

"C'mon, let's get inside and we can talk," he says, getting to his feet and holding a hand out to help me up. When Edward opens the door Brutus scurries inside, heading straight for the couch. He sits down in front of it and waits expectantly. Edward laughs, shaking his head with amusement. "You're silly, Brutus."

I grin. "Maybe, but he's also smart," I say as I walk over to him and dutifully take my place on the couch. He immediately settles himself over my feet with a pleased huff. Reaching down, I pet him until Edward's taken a seat next to me.

He wraps his arms around me, kissing the top of my head. "Tell me what happened?" he whispers.

Closing my eyes, I tell him everything that happened, not withholding anything. When I tell him about Randall's initial response, he snorts, then hugs me tight when I get to Esme's. "Oh babe," he murmurs quietly into my hair. "I'm sorry."

With a sigh, I shake my head and look at him. Cupping his cheek, I smile feebly. "Don't be. It's not your fault."

He frowns.

"It's not," I insist, then hasten to tell him Randall's thoughts on the matter.

"Hmm, I suppose he has a point. I mean, look at my mom," he says quietly.

"Exactly. I just hope he's right, or..." I can't finish my sentence, nor do I need to.

"I know, baby, I know. I'm sure he is. Just give her some time."

I nod, running my fingers through my hair. Remembering Randall's request, I smile up at Edward. "He wants to meet you, you know."

"I'd like that," he says, kissing the tip of my nose.

"Glad to hear it. I asked him to come to dinner tomorrow, since he's only in town until the weekend, and I know Esme'll want to have Friday night with him. Hope you don't mind?"

Edward smiles, caressing my cheek. "Not at all. Want me to cook anything special?"

"You don't have to," I hasten, worried that Edward thinks I'm expecting him to make dinner. "I'm sure Randy'd be okay with ordering pizza or something."

Edward scoffs. "Nonsense, Carlisle. I'm off tomorrow and was going to cook for us anyway, so having him over makes no difference to me. Is there anything in particular he likes? Or doesn't, for that matter?"

I frown, thinking. "Hmm, no shellfish, since he's allergic, but other than that he'll eat anything you put in front of him, I think."

Edward grins. "Alright. No shellfish. I'll figure something out. Unless there's anything special you'd like for dinner?"

"Nah. I like it when you surprise me," I say, smiling.

He laughs, kissing my forehead. "A surprise it'll be, then."

We sit and talk for a while longer before deciding to go to bed. I'm too wrung out from the day's events to do anything, so we once again end up simply holding each other until we drift off.

The following day, Edward manages to surprise me with breakfast in bed – just simple coffee, toast, eggs, and bacon, but still. The gesture, the food, as well as the lingering kiss on my way out the door fortify me for my day. Work is thankfully just busy enough to not allow my thoughts to linger where they shouldn't.

Edward stops by around lunchtime, both with an offering of fresh rolls and chicken salad – both from scratch – as well as to ask if I'm okay with him cooking at my place. I hand him my key with a grateful smile as I ask, "So what are you making?" Edward shakes his head with a grin. "Nope. Not telling. You wanted to be surprised, remember?" I narrow my eyes at him, but we both know I'm not even close to upset, so Edward laughs, then kisses me sweetly before heading out the door, dirty dishes in tow.

By the time I close the door of my shop behind me and head home, I'm feeling hopeful and I'm actually looking forward to tonight. The smells wafting through the corridor as I step off the elevator make my mouth water. My smile, already in place, widens exponentially at this reminder that Edward is cooking – in my home. I'm coming home to him, and in a way, this makes everything seem so much more real to me. It also makes me yearn for this to be more than a one-off. It's really the first time this has happened, and I don't want it to be the last.

With that idea brewing in my head and my heart, I open the door and am immediately assailed by Brutus, who jumps up, barking and licking wherever he finds skin. I laugh, pushing him down and petting him even as I admonish him, "Down, boy. Down. I'm happy to see you, too, you goof."

Edward sticks his head around the corner, whistles sharply and points to the sofa. Brutus's demeanor is instantly contrite. He gives me a sorrowful look, then, glancing once more at his master, he skulks off to the couch to lie down next to it. He gives an almost pitiful groaning huff as he settles his head on his paws, his eyes fixated on me as I make my way to the kitchen to greet Edward, who's grinning and rolling his eyes.

The moment he's in my arms, I truly feel like I've come home. Edward's lips search out mine, and for a minute or two, we just kiss, losing ourselves in each other. There's no heat, no urgency – just sweet contentment. I smile as I pull away, cupping his cheek. "Something smells great," I murmur. "Is there anything I can help with?" Edward wraps his fingers around my wrist as he turns his head, kissing my palm. "Not really. Everything's about done now. You could set the table, though, if you want."

Nodding, I kiss him again. "Let me get changed first and then I'll be right there." Instead of moving to do just that, I stare at him a moment longer, earning me a crooked smile and a quirked brow. Blushing slightly, I brush my lips against his one more time and whisper, "I love you. So much." Edward's smile widens. "I love you, too. Now go. Randall'll be here soon," he adds with a gentle pat on my ass.

With that, I quickly go to change into a pair of blue jeans and my burgundy button down. Rolling my sleeves, I walk back to the living room to find that Brutus has moved just enough to watch me as I come out of the bedroom, still wearing those sorrowfully pleading eyes. I can't help myself and grin, bending down to pet him thoroughly as I let him know I've missed him, too, and that I'm glad he's here. I'm rewarded for my efforts with a wagging tail, a low bark, and a lick on my cheek which I wipe with the back of my hand.

After washing my hands, I make quick work of setting the table. I've just opened the bottle of Chardonnay that Edward put out when the doorbell rings, sending Brutus into a tizzie. Edward rushes out into the living room to grab him and with a stern, "Brutus!" he's soon subdued, though his tail is wagging in excitement as I open the door, and he's whining.

I can't help but laugh at the startled expression of Randall as he takes in the scenery. His eyes meet mine and with a shake of his head he steps forward, hugging me. "Wow, Uncle C, never would've taken you for a dog person." When he pulls back, he grins, winking at me as he adds, "You were right, Uncle C, he is hot." Laughing again, I turn to see Edward's face flush, though his smile is firmly in place. Holding my hand out to him, I look back at my nephew and say, "Randy, I'd like you to meet Edward – and Brutus. Babe, this is Randall, my nephew."

Ignoring the stab I feel at the reminder of Esme, I try to focus on the here and now as the two men shake hands and exchange, "Pleasure to meet you"'s. Brutus won't be left out of things and we all laugh when he pushes his way forward to sniff at Randall's legs, crotch, and hands before finally deeming himself satisfied. Brutus does his half-huff, half-sneeze as he nudges his head against Randall's thigh, grumbling with satisfaction when Randy scratches Brutus between the ears with an amused, "Well, hello to you, too, Brutus."

Edward grins, wrapping his arm around my waist as he says, "You've just been given his seal of approval, it seems." Chuckling, I nod, though a small part of me is relieved. For whatever reason, the fact that Brutus appears to like my nephew means almost as much as Randy and Edward getting along. Rolling my eyes at myself, I gesture for Randall to come in, even as Edward says, "Dinner's almost ready." Randall heads over to the couch and plops down only to be accosted by Brutus again. He happily obliges in petting the dog, though Randy's eyes are focused on us.

Edward leans in, kissing my cheek as he murmurs, "I'm going to check on the food, I'll be right back," before disappearing into the kitchen. Taking a seat on the other side of the couch from Randy, I try to appear nonchalant. Inside, however, I can feel my nerves trying to make a reappearance as I wait for my nephew to speak. Finally, Randall grins and says, "You really do love each other."

It's not a question. I can feel my chest loosen at his words, my smile widening. "Yeah, we really do, Randy." He nods. "Good. It's easy to see. I'm looking forward to getting to know your guy, Uncle C."

Right on cue, Edward walks out of the kitchen with a steaming dish. "Dinner's ready, you two. Babe, would you pour us wine? Unless you want to drink something else, Randall?" "Nah, wine's fine," says Randy as he heads to the table. Brutus whines quietly as he gets left behind, causing Randy to "Aww," and look at me almost as pleadingly as the dog. Edward catches it and shakes his head. "Nah-ah, he knows he's not allowed near the table when we're eating. No exceptions," he says as he put the last dish on the table.

Randall snorts softly. "Wow, harsh. Sorry, Brutus, I tried, dog." Brutus quietly whimpers, laying his head on his front paws so he can stare at us. Handing each of them their wine, I take my seat. Randall's eyes widen slightly as he takes in the spread. "Wow, you two didn't have to go through all this trouble. I'd have been happy enough with some pizza or something," Randy says, glancing from me to Edward and back.

Grinning, I wink at Edward, "Told you." Turning to Randall I say, "Edward's an excellent cook." Edward smiles, his cheeks hinting faintly at a blush as he spreads his napkin over his lap. "It wasn't any trouble, don't worry. And I promise, all this is seafood-free." Randall laughs. "Good! Would hate to end my evening in the ER!"

Nudging Edward's foot under the table, I smile and mouth, "Thanks for this." Edward nods, smiling, too. He clears his throat lightly and says, "Hope you both like risotto and stuffed bell peppers. There's dessert, too, so save some room."

After the first couple of bites – and more than a few appreciative moans – Randall says, "Edward, man, this is great! Hey, Uncle C, you hang on to this one. He can cook!" My eyes are on Edward, who's smiling. "I plan to," I say quietly. Edward hears me, though, and his eyes flash up to mine as he beams.

All through dinner, we talk. Well, mostly the conversation is between Randall and Edward as they get to know each other, with a comment here or there from me. The two seem to have hit it off quite well, and Randall is as amazed to hear about Edward's family as I was. They also talk about their recent time in college, something that leaves me a little on the sidelines, considering how long it's been since I was in their shoes. Still, I manage to stave off any concerns, for the first time since Edward's come into my life. I sip my wine as I ponder on that, then smile when I realize that having Randall be so accepting of us, of him and Edward getting along so well... it makes all the difference. That, and the fact that Edward and I have declared ourselves to each other.

We sit and talk for a while even after we're done with the main course, none of us in any hurry to move to dessert or to adjourn to the living room. I'm relieved at how comfortable I feel. How relaxed, and happy. It must show on my face because Edward reaches for my hand and squeezes it, smiling in a way that says, "See? Told you everything would be okay." Threading my fingers through his, I lean over, kissing the top of his hand.

When the utter silence registers with me, I look up to find Randy staring at us with a wide smile and a look of awe in his eyes. Edward ducks his head a little, and I can see his cheeks tint a faint red even as my own begin to blush. "What?" I ask, trying to keep my voice level. Randall just shakes his head, grinning as he settles back in his chair. "Nothing. You just look so damn... cute. I'm not used to seeing you like this, Uncle C. It suits you."

His words set my cheeks aflame for real. I don't recall ever having been called "cute" before, at least not by my nephew. "Thanks," I mumble. Edward laughs and kisses my cheek as he gets up. He whispers, "You are cute," as he starts gathering dishes. "Oh hush," I mutter, wrinkling my nose at Edward, which only makes both him and Randall laugh. Rather than make further comment, I decide to help clear the dishes and beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen, leaving an amused Edward in my wake.

I've started water for the coffee, and I'm rinsing plates by the time he walks into the kitchen. Edward places the serving plates on the counter before wrapping his arms around my waist and kissing my neck. "How are you doing?" he murmurs quietly. With a sigh, I lean back against him, smiling. "I'm... good, actually. You?" Edward hums, nuzzling the skin below my ear, then says, "Couldn't be better. You ready for dessert?" I nod. "Good," he says, "don't worry about washing dishes, just rinse them and we'll take care of them after Randy leaves. Don't want to keep him waiting too long."

With that, he squeezes me lightly, kissing my cheek and goes to grab the dessert plates and forks, taking them out to the table. I can hear Randall say something to Edward, but he's too quiet for me to catch the words over the running water as I finish rinsing the last of the dishes. Edward returns just as I'm drying my hands and I just have to hold him – just for a minute – so I wrap my arms around him before he can get to the fridge. He chuckles, quirking a brow even as he puts his arms around my waist again. With a smile, I brush my lips against his. "I love you," I murmur, earning me a beautiful smile as he tells me the same.

With reluctance, I let him go, knowing we'd better get back to Randall even though I'd love nothing better than to show Edward just how much I love him. Maybe later, though. Edward kisses me lightly, then asks me to make coffee while he grabs dessert, which turns out to be a cheesecake with cherry sauce. My eyes widen, and I ask, "Did you make that, too?" Edward nods. "Of course I did. Why?" Shaking my head, I smile, kissing his cheek. "You're entirely too good to me, you know that?" I say quietly. He rolls his eyes. "Don't be ridiculous," he says, grinning as he walks out of the kitchen, platter in hand.

As soon as I join them at the table, Randall points an accusing finger at me and says, "You told him to make that, didn't you?" He tilts his head to the cheesecake. For a second, I'm stunned, but then I see how he's fighting to keep a straight face. I grin, shaking my head. I'd honestly forgotten that cheesecakes are to Randall what cherry pie is to me. When I tell him as much, Edward laughs and Randall crosses his arms, feigning disbelief as he adds, "I'm sure you didn't. Like his cooking wouldn't have cinched my liking of him, you wanted to make certain of it with dessert. I'm on to you, Uncle C."

At that, Edward nearly loses it, most likely because he's watching the play of emotions on my face, I'm positive. I know Randall's only joking, but the very idea that I'd try to buy his approval or love has me utterly stunned. Finally, Edward pulls himself together enough to take my hand in his and turning to Randall he says, "No worries, Rand. I asked your uncle what you might like and he was at a loss. He just said no seafood, since you're allergic, but other than that you'd eat anything. Pure chance, I promise. That said, I do hope it lives up to your expectations, since it seems to be a favorite of yours."

Randy's lips twitch for a moment, and then he laughs, too. "Sorry, Uncle C, I couldn't resist. You know I know you better than that. Honestly, from what I can tell so far, Edward's great." He pauses, then turns his attention fully to Edward, his expression completely serious again, though I can see his eyes twinkle as he says, "And if this dessert is up to snuff, it'll be my pleasure to welcome you to the family, Ed."

There's total silence for a heartbeat and then we're all laughing. Brutus whimpers, looking like he wants to join us, but one look from Edward has him putting his head back on his paws with a huff. Edward slices the cheesecake, handing us each a piece while I go to grab the coffee. When I return with a tray filled with coffee mugs, milk, and sugar, I have to smile at what I see: Edward and Randall leaning toward each other, talking and laughing quietly.

Once I've resumed my seat and we've all doctored our drinks, Randall takes his first bite of cheesecake and moans, closing his eyes. He's barely swallowed his bite when he looks at Edward in all seriousness and says, "Dude, if you weren't Uncle C's guy, I'd so ask you to marry me right now. Well, that, and the fact I'm more into girls, but aside from that..."

Edward and I both shake our heads, laughing. Randall's always been fairly ambiguous in his sexuality, though he definitely prefers women on the whole, he does appreciate men, too. Still, it'd never even have occurred to me to be jealous of him. No matter what, he'd never do that to another person, and least of all to someone he loves, like me. Edward grins, glancing at me as he says, "Well, Randy, I'm flattered, but I'm definitely already spoken for."

Hearing Edward say that makes my heart swell. I notice Randall's approving nod as he watches us. After we've finally finished eating, we decide to have mercy on Brutus and move to the living room. It's almost funny to watch Brutus as he keeps going from one person to the next, vying for attention which we happily give. It's like he can't make up his mind who he wants to sit with – me and Edward who are on the couch, or Randall who's sitting in the lazy boy. After a few minutes of back and forth, he finally opts to lie down over my feet, as is his usual place of preference, something that continues to amuse Edward. As for me, it always makes me feel warm inside, and I relish those moments.

Randall grins, shaking his head with a surprised huff as he says, "Seriously, Uncle C. I'd never have thought you were a dog person, but just look at you. The three of you look like you belong together. You know... like a family." Edward bites his lip, blushing as he glances sideways at me. For a moment, I'm too stunned to react, the words resonating inside of me. A family. Edward, Brutus, and me. Slowly, I feel a smile spread across my lips and I nod, whispering, "I like the sound of that." Edward squeezes my thigh in response, causing me to look at him. The emotions shimmering in his eyes mirror my own and for a moment, everything else is forgotten as I lean in to brush my lips against his.

At Randy's gentle throat clearing, we pull apart, both of us blushing and mumbling apologies to him. Randall just laughs and says, "'S okay, Uncle C. You're in love. I get it." We end up talking for another hour or so after that, until it's time for Randall to go home to his mom's. With a sigh, he slaps his hands on his knees and says, "It's getting late. I'd better get going, since you have to work tomorrow, Uncle C. Not to mention, Mom won't like it if I wake them up when I come home." Brutus scrambles to his feet as we all get up to see Randall out. Brutus bumps his head against Randy's thigh, rumbling low in his throat as Randy scratches him behind the ears. Edward and I both smile at them, our arms around each other's waists. Randall grins, shaking his head again.

Walking to the door, he holds his hand out to Edward, who takes it only to get pulled in for a hug. I can just hear Randall's murmured, "Good to meet you, man. Take care of him for me." Edward nods, clapping Randall on the back with a, "I will. I promise. I'm glad you came tonight, Randy." Randall pulls back with a smile. "Me, too." Then he turns to me and we hug. "Thanks, Randy," I whisper. Randall tightens his hold briefly, then looks at me with a warm smile. "You're welcome, Uncle C. You've got a good thing going here, I think. Don't let Mom or anyone else ruin it for you, okay?"

Edward slips his arms around my waist from behind, resting his chin on my shoulder. I lean into him, placing my hand on his wrist as I smile at Randall. "I'll try not to. It really helps to have your support, Randy," I say, meaning it more than I could ever convey. Randall grins, winking at us as he says, "Any time, Uncle C. You know I love you." Randall clasps my shoulder, squeezing it lightly as I nod. "Love you, too, Squirt."

With one last scratch behind the ears for Brutus, Randall finally goes home, leaving Edward and me alone. We continue to stand for another minute, me leaning back against Edward, who's holding me close. Sighing, I turn around and smile, my eyes searching his as I ask, "So what did you think of Randy?" Edward makes a show of thinking about it, then grins as he says, "He seems like a great guy. You two are pretty close, huh?"

I nod. "Yeah. I spent a lot of time with him when he was younger. Charles had cancer and was in and out of the hospital a lot back then. Esme did her best, but it was hard on her, trying to split her time between her son and her husband who needed her, too. So I helped out a lot. I was alone anyway, at the time, and..." I shrug. "I ended up being more of a surrogate dad, I guess. We've been very close ever since."

Edward ponders this for a while, then nods. "Makes sense. You're a great uncle," he says, grinning, then adds, "Then again, you're an all around great guy, from what I can tell." Blushing, I press my lips against his, murmuring, "You're not so bad yourself." Edward chuckles. "C'mon, let's get the dishes done and then head to bed. Randy was right, it is getting late, and you do have to work tomorrow."

By the time we're done cleaning up, I'm exhausted, the emotions of the last few days finally having caught up with me. So instead of making love as I had hoped earlier that evening, we end up snuggling close and falling asleep almost straight away.