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New Things - Secret Santa for Reader (M)


BlueRandom

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Hey @Reader! Hope you had a great festive season, and here's your Secret Santa :)

New Things

The string lights above their table in the bar cast a cool glow over the walls and little glowing reflections in each of the glasses. Festive décor was very much in place but muted to complement the room's style: oranges studded with cloves and soft candles in jars.

Eric's focus broke suddenly away from his surroundings, his dark eyelashes fluttering. He shifted his body to the left, cupping one hand over his mouth and nose and the other over the first as though trying to let no air escape. Not quite inaudible, the sound came out muffled. A moment's reprieve, followed by another, less prepared-for outburst. “Heh'TCHHoo!”

“Bless you,” murmured Imogen.

Across the table, Sam had started on an elaborate anecdote involving himself, the cousin of his boss's wife and a stolen paddle board. Jess was still attempting to steer the conversation onto climate change. Imogen was vaguely listening, but she couldn't help noticing that Eric was making that face again: the half-squinting, pained expression that had preceded each of his sneezes that evening. His eyebrows had taken on a particularly cute puppy-dog aspect, bunched up expectantly in the middle. “Huh'EHSHhoo! Hh'IHSHhew!”

“Anyone want another drink?” Imogen offered, picking up a couple of the empty glasses to take over to the under-staffed bar.

Eric shook his head, distracted again by the prickling at the base of his nose. He let his thumb and forefinger rest on the outside of his nostrils, pinching them slightly together as they flared. He made a soft 'huhh' noise, eyelids pulling shut. “UHH'TSHhoo!”

“Bless you!” Sam cut off his own story for a moment to pat Eric fruitlessly on the back.

Eric smiled awkwardly and grabbed a fistful of napkins to blow his nose. His head was heavy, and he excused himself to get some air.

Imogen was already out on the balcony when he reached it, looking down at the passing cars in the street below. She looked so serene that he watched her for a moment, struck as he had been recently by how beautiful she was and wondering why he hadn't realised sooner. He'd been living in her spare room for a little over a month now: his ex had kicked him out and Imogen had been around when he'd been drowning his sorrows with their mutual friend, Sam. She had been sweet but kept a somewhat wary distance and, until the last week or so, they'd settled into a routine of sharing the apartment with a careful respect for the other's space.

“Hey,” she greeted him, as he came to stand beside her at the railings. “It's lovely out here.”

He put a tentative arm around her waist. It wasn't the first time, but the feeling was still new and curious for each of them. “Been counting the Range Rovers again?”

She looked up to meet his gaze and the atmosphere thickened, honey-sweet. Imogen held her breath as he touched first his hand to her face and then his lips to hers.

“Where did you guys go?” Jess's voice, drunk and lilting from just behind the balcony doors, interrupted them.

Eric squeezed her hand gently as they followed Jess indoors, before picking up his jacket and turning to the others. “I should go; I've got a ton of work to do tomorrow.”

*    *    *    *   *

Hhh'EHHShoo!”

Eugenie sprang up, hair standing on end, hissed and fled from the room. Eric sniffled and rubbed a hand down his face. Not how he would have preferred to wake up, but he supposed it did the job. He cleared his throat, frowned at the congested sound, and did it again. Great. Too much shouting the night before. Or sneezing.

He stretched, back muscles aching in protest, and made his way into the living room. Imogen was standing by the kitchen counter, holding Eugenie. “Morning, cat whisperer."

“Very funny. Did you already finish in the bathroom?"

“It's all yours.”

The running water from the shower didn't quite cover Eric's coughing, Imogen noted with mild concern. He emerged after a while, still buttoning up his shirt and holding back the residual coughing with visible effort.

“I'm heading out. Do you need anything?”

Eric shook his head, and gestured at his laptop. “Gotta get through some of this reading.”

As the front door clicked shut, he tried to turn his attention to the deal documents. His boss was pushing to close by the end of the next week and he'd barely skimmed the surface. The asset was a profitable business, although he'd not yet had time to review the accounts, but the seller was hesitant to negotiate any further on the price. He pulled up the briefing notes and made a start, words spinning like insects through his mind.

He wasn't sure when his concentration had lapsed, or how his head had come to rest on top of his folded arms, but he woke for the second time that morning to the sound of Imogen dropping a carton of orange juice.

“Oh, shoot – no, it's fine; it's still closed.” She looked at him properly, taking in the flushed cheeks and slightly confused expression. “Did you fall asleep again?”

“I guess.” He pulled himself a little more upright and sighed. “I think I might be getting sick.”

“Sort of seems like it.” She crossed the room, and pressed a cool hand against his forehead “Definitely feels like it. Maybe less of the getting, and more of the sick.”

“Awesome,” he groaned, spreading his arms dramatically.

“You know,” she began, suggestively, “we could always binge-watch that new true crime series. To make you feel better, of course.”

“I …” He hesitated. “Huhh … hu-eh'TSHhoo!”

“Bless you.”

“It's just a cold,” he objected. “I've got so much to get through.”

“Or you could wait until you're not running a fever.”

He chuckled softly. “How much do you want to watch that show?”

“Oh, a lot.” She took both of his hands and led him towards the couch, instructing him to “stay” as she went to switch on the kettle.

He wasn't exactly reluctant. The couch was inconveniently comfortable and the tea was welcome: the company even more so. Eugenie was apparently of the same opinion, as she nestled herself disdainfully in the corner next to Imogen.

The steam irritated his already sensitive nose, and he ducked his head into the crook of his arm. “Huh'IHSHhew! Uuh'ETSHhoo!” Imogen started to bless him again, but he rolled his eyes impatiently, slinging an elbow across his face. “HUHH'SHoo!”

“Done?”

“Yeah.” Eric winced as he heard his voice come out gravelly and low. He knew Imogen had noticed, because she cuddled up to him and took the throw blanket from the back of the sofa to spread over them. “You're being very cute.”

“Just this once,” she teased, lifting up his arm to scoot under it.

“Do you think Jess saw us, yesterday?”

She looked surprised at the question – reasonable, he thought – but shrugged. “Would it matter if she did?”

“Not really.”

“What was it she would have seen?"

“Well. Something along the lines of the most beautiful woman in the room and a guy trying his luck.”

Imogen felt her ears burn and fidgeted with the edge of the blanket, but Eric had already broken the moment with a coughing fit. It went on slightly too long, and she started to rub slow circles on his hunched over back.

When he straightened up again, he grimaced and massaged the back of his neck. “Ow. Sorry.”

“Oh, hush.” She was unsure whether he was apologizing for the coughing or for crossing the previously unspoken line, but decided not to ask further. She glanced furtively at his face: eyes shadowed underneath and nose just a touch pinker than usual. His knuckles were grazing it again, trying to hold back the inevitable.

Uh'EHSHhoo!” The vocal part came out roughly, and he was beginning to sound tired. “Mm, this kind of sucks.”

“All of this?”

“Fine. I'm okay with the tea and the snuggling.” He picked up the mug demonstratively, and Imogen laughed.

“I can always supply on the hot beverage front. Snuggles are extra.”

Eric paused again, the familiar sensation hitting him with only a fraction of a second's warning. His left arm was trapped behind Imogen's back, and since he was holding the mug of tea he couldn't quite get his right hand to his face fast enough. He compromised by turning his face sharply towards the back of the couch, but Imogen still felt a light spray on the side of her neck. “Uhh'ISHHhew!”

“Bless.”

“Thanks. Think I've had enough of all the sneezing.”

Imogen switched on the television show, taking her time selecting the right one so Eric could opt out if he wanted. No protest was made and they settled into the pilot episode, Imogen relaxing into the rhythmic rise and fall of Eric's body next to hers.

As the credits were rolling, his breath hitched and he cupped a hand over his nose and mouth, leaning away from her. “Huhh … hh'IHSHhew!”

“Bless you all over again.”

“Immy?”

“Yeah?”

“I feel like crap.”

She kissed his face. “You sound like crap.”

“I don't want you to get sick.”

She kissed him again, harder. “It's just a cold.”


*
 

Edited by BlueRandom
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This was outstanding!! Just amazinnngggg!! Thank you so much! I loved the gentle budding romance and how comfortable they were around each other, the caretaking was beautiful, and Eric’s relentless sneezing was just all the yeses!!! The descriptions were so detailed and yummy too!! The dialogue was so cute and sweet as well! 

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