A Cullenary Coupling Christmas One-Shot: The Gift
Thanks to LJ Summers and Pomme_de_terre for their beta skills!
I wrote this story for EternalSummerc79, to thank her for all that she has done in helping me become a better writer, and generally being a fantastic human being. Enjoy!
Thanks to everyone for reading, reviewing, favoriting this story. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones! Books
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot of the Twilight Saga are the property of its author. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended, nor will I ever make a dime from this. But Starched Shirt Edward, Jugurtha, Arria, Fergus and the Beast from Chicago are mine. So there.
Snarky Summary: Hi there, this one-shot takes place during the course of Cullenary Coupling and ends at a point past the currently posted chapters. It helps if you have read the story, but I don't think you have to know it to understand this piece. Before he left town Edward broke up with Bella for entirely different reasons than in the book. Now he kinda sorta regrets that. A lot. Sue and Harry Clearwater are both dead, a traumatized Bella is ill with a heart ailment and in the hospital recovering following a tumultuous trip to Italy, as is Edward (long story. That.). Edward often has mental conversations with himself symbolized by the character of Starched Shirt Edward – that is a parody of the superego, of Jugurtha – that is a parody of the id, and the Beast from Chicago –that he thinks is a part of Jugurtha that Edward prefers not to recognize so thinks of as a different voice. And he does not suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder – just my wit as I am satirizing Freud's take on how we think. And Edward's range to read minds is far expanded from canon jsyk, and he has expanded powers that give him human symptoms, like passing out, the need to sleep, a beating heart, and migraines. We begin with Edward trying to figure out a way to get out of the doghouse that he's talked his way into. With a sparkly fist pump, let the snark begin.
Bella slept, wheezing restlessly in a drugged fog. The monitors showed her condition was stable, but that did not stop it from feeling like Chinese water torture as I heard the uneven kilter of her heart. The rays from the pale snow-light that filtered through the windows emphasized the hollows of her cheeks and blue-gray shadows under her eyes. My best friend in my human life, Horatio, had once frightened me during a thunderstorm at night by holding a candle under his chin in a dark room. The pits where his eyes were and valleys where his cheeks resided had startled me into speech. I could not help but recall that practical joke years later examining the play of shadows across Bella's pale face. Only this time no one laughed.
She had almost died. Because of me. I had literally shattered her heart leaving Forks to tilt after windmills, feeling I had the moral high ground in sacrificing my life to save my family's and hers. My wounds stung and my fever had lowered. All of a sudden, the blistering remorse that feasted upon my entrails became too much. I needed to get out - if only for a moment. Because of our peculiar mate bond, I feared my emotions could disturb her, even though I lacked Jasper's gift. I just did not want to pollute the room in the miasma of my self-flagellation and bitter regret.
Christmas would be here in three days. Despite the money sitting in my bank accounts gathering interest, I had nothing to give my dear little silent-as-the-night one. Indeed I might has well have resided in the proverbial poorhouse. Alas, I could think of nothing that would spark a smile.
Bella had objected vociferously to going to the hospital. I had literally dragged her here kicking and fulminating over my wounded shoulder. If looks could kill my kind forevermore, I would have died a thousand deaths upon the pyre of her gimlet eyes.
Fortuitously, Father and Rosalie had convinced Bella of how sick she was so she grudgingly remained.
We shared a hospital room. And at night, a bed. For supernatural healing purposes, of course. Really. Bella's touch cured me. Somewhat. And mine aided her immune system. Usually. So sleeping in bed together at night with a chaperone to ensure that I did not chomp upon her lovely throat was perfectly appropriate. Except Bella was not really speaking to me. And cuddling was not practical with a festering wound from a cranky European werewolf on the shoulder. My life was a graveyard of almost buried hopes. I was an expert in multiple fields. Surely I could solve the conundrum of one angry woman and convince her to accept my suit? She seemed the forgiving type? She had not murdered Lauren Mallory. Yet.
Speaking of the allegedly fairer gender, why did women not come with manuals on how to understand them? Especially human women? And most especially ones from her line? I needed one right about now. And issues of Cosmopolitan seemed a complete waste of time unless I wanted to learn about how to make myself scream in bed. Which I already did, thank you very much. Just not at her hands. Or mine. Thank you very much. Ok fine, once at her hands. But before you get your mind in the gutter, it was entirely her fault. I mean, she had placed her hand directly on a large wound on my shoulder and had treated it like a bongo drum. So that time I had screamed – from pain not passion. Currently, I had both hands firmly placed on my knees. There would be no incidents of accidental or on purpose venom leakage on my watch. No sirree.
Jugurtha the predator emerged from his lair and traded a dollar bill with Starched Shirt Edward. "You win."
Starched Shirt Edward put the dollar bill inside a volume of Ptolemy.
"What was that for?"
"Um, I bet you would be able to come up with a suitable Christmas gift for Bella by now. Instead you are thinking about masturbation, which is not a good idea when you are in bed with Bella pressed against you." He shook his head at me and clicked his tongue in sympathy.
Right. I shifted to my left. She clung to me like a winding vine. And I was not aroused. Really. My dear little snoring-like-a-sailor one then put an accidental - I am sure - elbow in my manly parts. Hard. Her elbow, that is.
She muttered, "Men. Bozos," in her sleep. I wondered if she was having nightmares about some man named Bozo. I would have to ask around to see if there was anyone by that name and if I should kill him now or later. We had just left Italy, after all.
"We're making a point here. Focus," my predator instructed. Oh. Right. I uncoiled from the pain and carefully extricated myself from our bed. I left her hugging my pillow and shuffled to a nearby chair. Doubling over, I hung my head in my hands.
Honestly, I did not want to know what the smug bastard in the suit standing to Jugurtha's left had bet. Grandstanding Gasbag. But rather than leave me to stew in my misery, Starched Shirt Edward tapped me on the unwounded shoulder and told me anyway.
"I bet you would be pondering seeking Divine intervention by now. Would you like me to pray to Saint Jude the patron saint of lost causes for you?" He said that so sincerely.
"Please," I grumbled.
Well. It couldn't hurt at this point. And it kept him occupied and out of my hair. He all but skipped to his prayer bench before the Blessed Mother and made a show of ostentatiously genuflecting fifteen times before actually beginning to pray on my behalf in pristine Latin.
Bella did not have a petty bone in her body. It was not like her to sulk. Instead she slept. And slept. When awake, she pretended to read. Rosalie did not have to explain to me that my mate battled depression although it made me proud to see how hard she fought against that insidious foe. Bella craved silence, so I gave it to her. Because I loved her so. And it seemed the only tangible thing I could give.
Seth and Leah were grieving, as Bella was, the loss of their parents. Both had been murdered months apart. Sue had died right before their eyes from an arrow to the head just a few weeks back. Festooning the room with gifts and twinkling decorations would be insensitive. Even I knew that.
Using my gifts, I extended my mind around the town of Forks. Families sat by fireplaces with children scampering about, waiting for Father Christmas to bring them toys. Couples walked hand in hand in the bracing cold. An elderly couple sat on a sofa watching a black and white movie. Some of my family stood in groups around the hospital waiting room. Emmett and Mother played poker. Rosalie sketched out an idea for a new modification to her car, while mulling over my lab work. Father stood over a culture in his office, trying to make sense of the Children of the Moon bite that stubbornly refused to heal. Charles Swan paced through a local shopping center trying to find something to give his child, as well as Seth and Leah.
And my chest squeezed like a ravenous python surrounded it, because I was now going to have to talk to someone. What had transpired months back between Bella and me was no one's business. Ironically, my family believed that she had broken off our engagement. Mary Alice suspected the truth, but held her tongue. I needed my sister. She would know. She always had an answer. Well, not lately, as my recent gifts interfered with her ability to have accurate visions. But still.
But usually, Mary Alice had good ideas. Not that she knew much more about humans that I did. My sister had what I lacked: a kind heart. At the moment she hunted with Jasper. I texted her, knowing she would not receive the message until hours later. It would be all kinds of inconvenient when sneaking up on a Roosevelt elk about to pounce to have your phone ring. I needed to think and I could not do that here, sitting in the sackcloth and ashes of my well-earned remorse.
I managed to put on a robe and shuffled outside into the hallway wearing slippers Mother had kindly provided for me.
"Edward what are you doing out of bed?" Rosalie asked.
Interrupting his wife, who planned on lecturing me on my abundant supply of foolishness, Emmett said heartily, "Buddy, you want to stretch your legs?"
"Rosalie, can you please sit with her?" I dodged. "Bella is not sleeping well."
Perhaps I behaved like a complete bastard for pointing that out, but dangling Bella like a carrot in front of my too-observant sister worked like a charm. She nodded and rushed into the room. I heard my sister's thoughts as she assessed Bella's condition and winced.
Emmett clapped an arm around me, hiding that he was all but holding me up.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I could not think with all the machines functioning. It is too loud and my head hurts."
"What's on your mind?"
"Yeah, I know. And you want to get a gift for Bella, right?"
I gulped, blushed, and nodded.
"I stopped by her place to get some clothes. She had been dividing her time between the farmhouse and Arria's."
"Living surrounded by that group of vampires in a cave could not have been healthy." For crying out loud, they lived in an underground fortress. Like bats. And I could totally see the local coven leader Arria hanging upside down from a branch at night. I knew Emmett was holding back by the silence in his mind.
"Edward, she threw away almost everything she had. All the clothes you arranged for her to have. All her music, most of her books. Even her car."
"What did she do with them?"
"I heard Charlie grumbling that she gave it all away to charity." Emmett swallowed and cleared his throat. "He seemed to think she believed she was dying because of her heart condition and did not want him to have to do it."
I blinked away tears that I should not have been able to cry. To his credit Emmett pretended not to see.
"She is not going to die."
Well, actually I realized how wrong that claim was after it tripped from my teeth and splattered on the conversational floor like a shrieking jumper from a skyscraper. Bella was going to die. Marcus had declared that we would be turning her. Just not right now.
"Buddy, you need to slow down your breathing there, you're hyperventilating." Emmett put me in a chair like a rag doll and shoved my head between my knees. I lacked the strength to push him away.
Jugurtha, my inner predator, said, "Your brother is right. Slow, deep breaths. Find your mental happy place. You cannot lose control right now in front of an audience. Bad form and all."
"I have no such happy place." Aside from thoughts of Bella. Which made my chest hurt more. Due to that whole my being an utter ass and all.
Looking up from his prayer bench, Starched Shirt Edward said, "You do indeed have a happy place. Now you have all your human memories back. Why not find a festive recollection about Christmas? Our mortal family was happy. We were right and truly blessed."
Right. Good point. The suit he always wore was the very same one I had worn at Christmas mass in the Cathedral all those years past. I dove into the part of my brain that had only recently been uncovered.
Mother walked ahead, arm in arm with a female friend, chatting as we left mass. You could feel the excitement in the air from the people around us as we made our separate ways home to celebrate Christmas.
"Father, I have long stopped believing in Father Christmas. Why is everyone so excited about Christmas? They are not children."
My human Father was quiet like me by nature. But he always made an effort to speak to the family. "Christmas is a time when all things are possible."
"No, Edward. But people believe they are. They hope. That is why everyone is so excited. And that is why we thank the Lord each year and show our generosity to those who have not been blessed with the abundance that our family has."
He had made sizable donations to several local charities. I hoped that I could be half the man that he was.
A car, moving entirely too fast on the icy road, careened around a corner. Father and I both dashed to move Mother and her friend out of the way as the car slammed into another, sending the pedestrians running from the shower of shattered glass.
I felt the flying shards hitting me and covered my face. The memory went dark in my mind.
"Edward," someone slapped my face a time or five. I could hear children singing Christmas carols. "Father, Edward fainted again!"
My new minions - nurses imported by Marcus - came running, followed by Father's regular staff. Realizing his gaffe, as it really would not do for them to take my blood pressure and temperature, Emmett stood and hauled me like firewood back to my hospital bed. Father and his colleague Fergus both came into the room.
Since Chief Swan was not around, being at work and all, my Father had no qualms having me stuffed in bed with Bella - who woke startled.
"What?" I wished she would say my name. But at least she appeared concerned on my behalf and did not hit or kick me. That was progress.
"I am sorry that I disturbed you." There. See? There was no end of my remorse. I was an apology professional by now. Once again, I had proclaimed my unending contrition for my boorish behavior months past. Women liked that, so I am told. Cosmopolitan magazine said so.
"Come here." She patted the bed at her side. I tried not to read anything into her placid tone. She was, after all, drugged. Reluctantly, keeping in mind we had an audience, I scooted towards her. My very being sang at the soothing touch of her hand. My family vanished, save Mother, and I pretended she was not in the room while enjoying quality-pressed-against-the-flesh time with my singer mate. Chaste quality time, might I add. Pervert.
Hours later, someone shook my shoulder. "Wake up. You texted me. Oh, sorry Edward!" Mary Alice smirked when I almost whined. Not about her moving me when I was wounded and all. Being torn from my woman's arms was enough to make an almost-grown man weep. Mary Alice helped me outside. I was steadier on my feet.
"Man, you've got it bad," she thought at me as I longingly craned my neck for one last view of my love.
At vampire pitch I might possibly have yelped, "Bella" and "Christmas."
Fergus saw me weaving in place and kindly administered a drink of blood loaded with pain killers.
Mary Alice said, "Leah asked for us to pretend that it was not Christmas so she could cope with the first one without her parents."
"Right. So how do I do this?"
"You honor their wishes and give Bella a gift later. Something small. She's not into owning things. And she would feel self-conscious if you gave her a gift when everyone else gave nothing to Seth and Leah." Well, that was an excellent point. I could not have my dear little one feeling needless discomfort due to me. Well. More needless discomfort.
"I will have to think on this. Thank you, Alice."
Guided by my sister, I wobbled back into the hospital room and sat in a chair. I pretended not to watch my mate as she, awakened by my leaving the bed, toyed with the lunch that Mother had brought her.
So I gave her the gift of having her almost-siblings, Seth and Leah, staying with us during the holiday season and the week after. And it was a dear sacrifice on my part. Not that I did not like the Clearwaters, and they were quite good to Bella. Leah certainly had some making up to do with her, so I watched them every chance I could as they played cards or traded newspaper sections. Bella and Seth worked on the crossword puzzle every day. I wanted to call out the answers to the clues, but Jugurtha suggested that it would end their time together prematurely and that I should wait to be invited.
So I thought back to things that I knew my Bella enjoyed. She loved reading about military history. After what had happened in Italy . . . battles? It would not do to overwhelm her with books of blood and gore caused by humans long dead. I asked Mother if she could find that Agatha woman I remembered from months back who had offered to teach Bella how to embroider. Aside from stabbing her fingers, there seemed little harm that could come to Bella from that past time. Her Tetanus shot was recent. And I could treat her for infections or gangrene. So this seemed appropriate.
And weeks passed while I listened to Bella take embroidery lessons and grow stronger and gain much needed weight. Then I had to go and have a disturbing dream of Sue Clearwater telling me that I had to make her recalcitrant daughter give out the Christmas presents that she had stored in their attic. And I had asked Leah nicely once. Despite agreeing to it, nothing had happened. Although, to be fair, Leah had done some growing up, fought a few battles with irritating enemies, had her hands full with her late parents' estate, helping with the tribe, and attending college. She seemed swamped. And a promise was a promise. I had given my word to the shade of her late mother.
So it looked like I would have to take matters into my own hands. We had left the hospital and were back home. Two months had passed. I asked Emmett to see to the matter since I spent so much time training. He was only too happy to help break and enter into the Clearwaters' residence and rob them of Christmas gifts. My brother was nice like that.
After returning from rifling through the Clearwaters' attic, he tossed a small package that I caught, "Merry Christmas, Bella!" Emmett said. He made a quick exit to find Seth and Leah, who had guest rooms downstairs.
"Why is Emmett throwing a present at me?" she asked cautiously. "Christmas is over."
"I had a dream where Sue asked that I make sure her gifts were distributed. We did not pass out Christmas gifts last year because Leah asked that we pretend the holiday did not happen."
Bella stared down at the box like it had transformed into a viper in her hand.
Bella stammered, "I don't want it." She put it down with shaking hands.
"Sue wanted you to have it."
"I know. But I can't even look at it."
"Bella, it is not your fault she died. And she has been coming into my dreams to tell me that you needed this. I highly doubt that Sue would ever do anything to hurt you. She loved you."
"In your dreams . . . does she look happy?"
Aside from the arrow sticking out of Sue's eye, and blood streaming down her face, she had not appeared distressed. I did not think my dear little quiet one needed to hear that particular detail. I was not born yesterday.
"Yes, she seems at peace. But she is worried about you and Seth and Leah. You do not have to open it now, you know."
"Ok." She put it in a drawer and shut it.
Months passed. Bella acted like she had forgotten about it, but I certainly had not. It was winter, and the eve of Christmas Eve.
Sue came and visited me in my dreams again. "Edward, please tell her to open the box."
"I will do my best, Sue. She wants to know if you are well. Pardon me for asking, but are you really having to walk around the afterlife with an arrow piercing your eye? That hardly seems fair."
"Edward, that is your memory of me that causes you to see me this way. If you would get over your guilt, I would look different."
"You are not to blame for my death."
In a small voice, feeling like a child I said, "I am sorry. I was not there to protect you."
"There was nothing you could have done differently, Edward. Now I need you to tell Bella that I am just ducky. Use those exact words. And thank you for looking after Seth and Leah. Harry and I are grateful. Don't forget what I told you, and tell all my children I love them."
She vanished. I felt someone shaking me.
"You were sleep-talking." Bella said. "Are you . . . having bad dreams?"
"No, Sue Clearwater visited me." I blurted, "She told me to tell you to open the gift and that she loved you and Seth and Leah, and that she is just ducky. I am not sure what that last part means."
Bella covered her mouth and laughed through bittersweet tears. "She used to say that to me when I was little to cheer me up. Fine. I give up."
She opened the drawer, and brought the gaily wrapped package back to our bed. Sue had picked gold paper with the three kings on it and had used silver and gold ribbons to keep the box top in place.
I pulled Bella onto my lap. "Open it. I will be right here."
"Promise?" She leaned against me.
"Here goes nothing." She unraveled the ribbon first. Then, like a surgeon carefully tore open the paper.
Starched Shirt Edward said, "That is her last gift from poor Mrs. Clearwater. How sad. I shall pray for that poor woman's departed soul again. You should recall our human Father's words and give our dear little peach hope."
"You are resourceful. You will find a way," Starched Shirt Edward pontificated. Magnificent.
Bella opened a flat box. Out fell a note.
Sue had written, "Bella, I wore this on my wedding day to Harry. I want you to have it. I have never seen you so happy as you are with Edward. My dear, I have a feeling that he is the one for you. Wear this and think of me and know how much Harry and I love you."
Inside was a gold pin of a dragonfly –a tiny one at that - bejeweled with purple and blue and green stones. It could fit on a shirt collar. A modest piece; most people would have overlooked it due to its size.
"Oh. . ." Bella's voice trailed off. "We tore the house apart trying to find this. She almost always wore it. We were going to bury her in it. We thought that it had gotten lost when she died. I searched Harry's grave in the rain for hours until my guards . . ."
By my memory of that event, Sue had not been wearing the pin when she had been killed. Having learned the fine art of tact and diplomacy, I was not going to inform my dear little one of that. She had been mightily disturbed by the arrow that had stuck out of Sue's eye, and with trying to survive, and all that. Too ghastly.
"Change the subject." Jugurtha suggested. "I think she would thank you for it."
"People used to believe that dragonflies were transformed dragons, did you know that?"
"I cannot think of a better gift for you to have. It symbolizes depth and power."
"A few reasons. Some faiths believe that the dragonfly ferries souls to the afterlife."
"That would be awesome. Why else?"
"Because dragonflies can move in all six directions with little effort. They can move up to forty-five miles an hour only flapping their wings thirty times a minute. It takes a mosquito six hundred flaps per minute."
"I'm not fast. It's a safe bet to compare me to a turtle."
"You might not be physically, but you certainly are mentally. And they say still waters run deep." I hugged her.
"What else do you know about dragonflies?" Bella whispered against my neck.
"Well, they are iridescent in color, and that means that from different angles of observation that they can seem like they have a different appearance."
"How is that good?"
"Because it is symbolic of being able to unchain yourself from your fears and limitations and discover the true power within that you have always had. And that definitely fits you, my dear little Grandmaster."
"Kidder." She toyed with my shirt. Which was, for the record, fine by me. She could toy with any part of me any time she – especially if she wanted to reach a little . . .Never mind.
Starched Shirt Edward smacked me. "We are comforting her. Stop acting like a drooling beast. No offense," he said to the Beast from Chicago.
"None taken," the Beast rumbled back. "He should focus on the matter at hand."
Pulling at the tatters of my dignity, I ignored them and said to Bella, "I kid you not. Let me tell you more about the wonders of this magnificent creation, my little dragonfly. Did you know that because of the way that its eyes are shaped that it can see all 360 degrees?"
"No, thank you. I am staying put. You are much more fun that the snow outside," I teased. "So it symbolizes the ability to see things that others cannot."
"Really? 'Cause the story of my life does not read that way."
"Truly. When we came to town, you extended your hand to us in welcome. You saw things in me that no one else did. And my life and that of our family is infinitely blessed with you in it. Sue was a genius. Some Native American cultures saw the dragonfly as a symbol of purity and happiness."
"Do you think Leah would mind? This was Sue's."
"Leah also has a gift waiting for her. I do not think that she would begrudge you this token. Besides, Leah does not seem the type to like jewelry."
Carefully, Bella fastened the pin to the collar of her shirt. "Edward, thank you."
"For what? I did nothing. I did not even give you a gift last Christmas."
"You gave me time to heal. I know you arranged for me to get embroidery lessons, which was sweet. And this Christmas, you gave me Sue back." Her wedding ring glinted in the light as she stroked my hair. "And you made me your wife. I call that a two for one win. I love you. Now turn out the light."
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