Author: Patrick

Story: Always My Valentine

Disclaimer: The characters are property of Bright, Kaufmann, Crane Productions and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended.

AN: I'm an idiot. I uploaded an earlier save of the document the first time. This is actually the full Part One.

This story was written for the Valentine's Day FanFic contest on Everlasting Love.

Part One

A small chrome teapot whistled loudly on the stovetop, its nozzle wildly ejaculating a plume of white hot steam that dampened the cool black metal of the overhead exhaust hood and announced the culmination of the pot's duties. The cry echoed through the cold, still air, giving a sense of life to the tired apartment for the first time that morning, something that the light of the rising sun had been unable to accomplish when it had penetrated the cracks between window frames and their drawn curtains only a half an hour earlier.

Ross tossed his newspaper on the coffee table and quickly jumped from his spot on the couch, shuffling madly towards the kitchen door to extinguish the disturbance coming from within.

"Damn it," he scolded himself as he pushed through the swinging door that led to the kitchen, his voice shades below a whisper. He frantically lifted the kettle off the hot burner and set it on the cool adjacent one. In seconds the shriek dissipated and was gone. He held the door open for several moments, listening intently for any indications that the din had stirred the other occupants of his apartment. There were none; the placid silence that had suffused all just moments ago had returned. He interrupted it briefly with a long exhalation of breath, realizing for the first time that he had been holding it throughout his entire ordeal. He rubbed his eyes as a sense of bewildered descended upon him. There were mornings when he forgot that he was no longer living on his own. This was one of them.

While the more political approach to the matter would be to say that his concern for awakening others was selfless, he knew fully that it was not entirely so. A half an hour spent with a cup of hot tea, a newspaper, and nothing else had become his sacred morning ritual years ago, one that he did far less frequently these days but was not quite ready to deny himself entirely just because he was sharing an apartment and a bed with the woman he loved. Many days he chose to spend the extra time sleeping or, when she was acquiescent to his advances, making love. Some mornings, when circumstances prompted it, the two would lie together and talk. And then there were times when he'd just watch her sleep for a while, not having the heart to wake her up but wanting to be with her nonetheless. The latter times were the hardest in a way; it was in those silences that the most difficult emotions were articulated— love, despair, lust, and fear— the sporadic waxing and waning of each mirrored in the rise and fall of Rachel's chest with every breath of air her quiescent form took in.

Ross rooted through one of the many drawers in his kitchen searching for the box of teabags, relieved all the while that his little slip had gone unnoticed.

"Purple, purple, purple…damn you multi-pack,"Ross muttered silently as he fingered through the pile of paper packets within the Lipton box. Purple was Blackberry, and that was Rachel's favorite. For that reason, Ross saved them for her, even though she almost never actually drank tea. In fact, out of the bags remaining in the box, there had to be five or six that were purple for every one that was not. Finally locating a green packet, he withdrew his selection from the box, ripped off the paper, dropped it in his mug, and exited the kitchen, cautiously easing the kitchen door shut behind him with his free hand. His first blunder had gone mercifully unnoticed; there wouldn't be a second. He sauntered lazily towards the couch, set his mug on the coffee table, and reached for the folded section of newspaper he'd dropped only minutes ago. It wasn't until his hand was touching the grainy surface of the newspaper that he saw it. Printed in small black letters across the top right-hand side of the publication was the date:

February 14th, 2005

Valentine's Day. How had that not occurred to him yet?

It wasn't that he had forgotten in general; he had the receipt for the roses he'd picked up the day before to prove it, along with groceries and wine waiting in the kitchen for the dinner he was planning, and a little pink stuffed dinosaur for his other valentine, Emma. Still, Ross was disconcerted by the fact that the subject had not crossed his mind once in the twenty minutes that had passed since he'd rolled out of bed and shuffled into the familiar rhythm of an old routine. He felt like he was underachieving; that if Rachel knew he'd forgotten, she'd think less of him or perhaps doubt how much he cared for her.

Similar feelings of inadequacy had always been a looming specter over Ross's relationships, especially the one he shared with Rachel. He had worked hard on trying to let the little things go, but those little things— a handsome co-worker that was a little too friendly, a phone message from a stranger she'd met at a bar— always seemed to become the biggest problems. This moment was miniscule by comparison; it was one of those self-contained little moments, the kind that, while they're happening, seem to carry enough weight to throw Earth off its axis but always turn out to be inconsequential at the end of the day.

Ross looked at his watch. It was 6:40, which meant that Rachel would likely be asleep for twenty more minutes before the alarm clock would attempt to dictate otherwise. This gave him an idea. He retrieved the phone from its base on the end table and crept towards the front door. He turned the lock millimeters at a time until the bolt was fully withdrawn. Then, with deft movements, he swung the door open a few feet and slithered through the crack, easing the door shut behind him. Once outside the door he smiled, obviously impressed with his execution of the escape. He dialed.

Ross tiptoed back into his apartment and locked the door. He replaced the phone in its cradle and headed towards the bedroom, completely ignoring the simmering cup of tea and the folded up newspaper on the coffee table as he passed them. The door was pushed to; he did not have to endure another round of trying to silently navigate the latch out of the jamb. He slid his fingers through the open crack and gently pushed the door open.

The room was dark; the sun had not risen fully yet and the blinds were still drawn. Nevertheless, Ross could clearly identify the figure at rest on his bed. Rachel had pulled some of the covers that he had vacated earlier around herself, but otherwise appeared to be in an undisturbed sleep. He lowered himself slowly onto the soft comforter until he was lying down completely still next to her sleeping form. The air was cold, but he didn't climb under the covers at first; doing so would've likely caused Rachel to awaken, something he was trying to avoid. In that instant he likened the moment to swimming in a tranquil pond on a hot day: The prospect of immersing one's self in the water is all too inviting and yet the serenity of the landscape commands the highest reverence. At rest, the pond possesses a beauty unique to all but itself; the relief of diving in comes at the tremendous price of disturbing that peaceful tranquility that seems to slow time and make life a little more meaningful during the moments spent taking it in.

Ross studied Rachel's face carefully. Her golden-brown hair was pulled back in a loose bun save a few strands that had managed to wriggle their way loose amidst the tossing and turning of slumber and now wisped over her cheek and brow. Ross felt so mesmerized by her and the strange ability she possessed to capture such a moment without even being consciously aware of it. Her lips were slightly parted and were every bit as soft-looking and inviting as Ross had ever remembered them. It took all the restraint he had not to dive in for a 'good-morning' kiss.

She was absolutely, devastatingly breathtaking. And equally devastating was the irony that, in spite of all the events they'd attended together (or separately for that matter) when she'd put on knockout dresses and spent hours on her makeup trying to look her best, nothing could touch this moment. It was so honest, so perfectly imperfect, and so real.

Rachel squinted in frustration as the clamor from the alarm clock came barging through her ears and into her dreams, awakening her almost instantly. As her eyes adjusted to the shades of morning that were illuminating the bedroom, face came into focus. She nearly jumped at first; it was only recently that she had been sharing a bed with a man on a regular basis again and since this particular man often rose well before her, his presence still startled her on occasions before the comfort of love and years of familiarity returned. He looked barely asleep; his eyes were closed and yet they had a look of freshness and vitality to them. She noted how his right hand was lightly outstretched towards her and that his fingers pointed in her direction as they rested upon the surface of the sheets as if he had been reaching out to her as sleep overtook him.

"Cute," she thought, before returning her attention to the alarm clock. The last song had come to end and now the station's fanfare was blaring annoyingly over the speaker. She rolled over and, just as she was about to silence the rampant beast of a thing, she felt a stirring behind her, a prelude to Ross's arm draping itself over her side.

"Don't," he pleaded softly. Rachel tensed lightly at first, startled by his unannounced gesture. She looked over her shoulder and was met by Ross's sleepy-but-charming brown eyes. She gazed into them, probing for some sort of understanding. He said nothing, choosing instead to let a confident smile communicate a message of self-assurance for which words were neither necessary nor sufficient. She was about to demand an explanation when the DJ's voice materialized through the static.

"Good morning New York," intoned the boisterous voice. Rachel wondered how someone could sound so energetic at such an early hour. "Hope you're all having a wonderful Valentine's Day morning."

As the DJ heralded the Hallmark holiday over the speaker, Ross's arm tightened around Rachel's smaller frame, pulling her body closer to his. Gentleness and assertiveness mingled in equal proportions in the warmth of his embrace and Rachel, momentarily forgetting her boyfriend's cryptic behavior, allowed herself to melt into it. She rested her hand atop his and stroked the back of his palm with the length of her thumb. The air around her became inundated with Ross's familiar scent and before long her eyes began to grow heavy as it lulled her towards a state of blissful repose. She had nearly drifted off when her boyfriend's voice pulled her back into consciousness. To Rachel's surprise, the voice was not coming from the mouth of the man behind her but rather from the small radio speaker in front of her from which the DJ had been so intrusively bellowing only a moment before.

"I'd like to make a request," Ross's voice shyly announced. While Rachel could've easily chosen to roll over and come face to face with the man behind the surfacing ploy, she decided to remain still, fearing that such an action would detract from the evolution of the moment. A small, more cautious part of her also demanded the extra time to allow her to articulate her reaction verbally before Ross could read it (or misread it) off her face, lest the latter result in another pointless misunderstanding.

"What can we play for you?" asked the DJ, the phoniness in his voice unfaltering. Rachel bit her lip lightly in suspense as she waited for her companion's response to fill the airwaves.

"'She's Got a Way' by Billy Joel," responded a nervous-sounding Ross. For someone who had to speak in front of a classroom of students 5 days out of the week, the professor had a very reserved side to him that could cause him to sound shy at certain times. This was apparently one such instance.

Rachel squeezed his hand gently in hers, signaling her approval of his choice. The song wasn't particularly meaningful to the two as a couple, and both knew it, but it wasn't really a necessary proviso for the gesture to achieve its intended effect. Indeed it seemed that almost every romantic song ever written could be applied to some part of their long (and sometimes sordid) relationship if it was listened to the right way.

"For your Valentine?" queried the DJ, the hokey sentimentality in his voice nearly sucking the meaning out of the word.

"You bet," Ross's voice stated assertively as the opening chords began to vamp underneath his voice. Rachel noted the hint of pride that vividly colored his last statement and smiled. She was ready to roll over and face her man, thankful that she wouldn't have to be faking any smiles this morning.