You and Me
Three years later
Rhett could practically hear his pulse in his ears as his heart pounded away in his chest, nerves and excitement coursing through him at an alarming pace. His eyes hooked on Cory's as she approached him, arm in arm with Avery, and all logical thoughts left his head.
He'd never seen anyone more beautiful than her. He'd said it a million times before, but it had never been more true than in that moment. Her smile was soft and it reminded him of the one she'd given him after their first kiss, nervous and excited and a little terrified, if he was being honest with himself. He was positive he mirrored her expression exactly.
He felt like there was nothing in the world that could have taken his attention from Cory as she walked down the aisle of the church and though he'd promised himself that he wouldn't let his nerves get the best of him, he felt his palms sweating. Not because he was unsure of the commitment he was about to make, but because he recognized that this was the beginning of what would be the rest of his life – their life – together.
As Avery lifted her veil and kissed her cheek, Rhett inhaled and watched as she approached him, his serious expression fading into a tender smile. Memories of the past three years flooded through his mind as he took her hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze. Did every man feel like this on his wedding day, he wondered, or was he just a giant sap? Was it normal to feel like he didn't deserve any of this, no matter how hard he'd worked to get there?
Liam must have seen his expression, because he caught his brother's eye and sent him a reassuring smile. Rhett nodded and looked back at Cory, suddenly more aware than ever that there was no one else that might have been able to make him feel how he did when he looked at her. There was something weird about their connection, something almost magical, and he knew that she was the only one he'd ever feel that with. Though it might have been completely crazy and illogical, Rhett had always known that Cory was different. It was more clear than ever that he had been right. He swallowed, feeling a surge of love and affection for her that surpassed all other emotions, and smiled. "I love you," he whispered, reveling in the way his words lit up her face like they always seemed to do.
Her head shook in a tiny movement, as if she couldn't believe that she was here. "I love you, too."
This was it, Rhett thought. There was nothing else in the world he could have wanted more – of that he was certain.
"Good God, that was the most boring thing I've ever had to stand through in my life," Liam said, slapping a hand on Rhett's shoulder. "I mean, damn, would it have been too much to ask for a little excitement in there somewhere? Maybe an ex-lover to burst in and speak now instead of forever holding their peace? A drunk relative? Anything?" He grinned at his brother's expression. "Congratulations, man."
Rhett rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Thanks. Asshole."
Liam laughed and turned to Cory, shrugging his shoulders as he faced her. "He says that like he expects more from me or something."
Cory couldn't help but shake her head at the brothers' antics as she reached out to pull Liam into a hug. "Oh Liam," she said affectionately in his ear. "No one expects anything from you but complete and utter debauchery, you know that."
Liam laughed and gave her arms a squeeze as he pulled back, taking her in. She had always been beautiful, but today she was glowing, radiating happiness. It was tough to admit that he'd been wrong about her, but now, three years later, he couldn't have been happier for her. Now he had nothing but love for her all the same, but it was a much different kind of love than he would have ever expected. It felt right.
Rhett nudged his wife's shoulder as he wrapped an arm around her waist. "Don't give him any ideas, Cory. He hasn't seen the open bar yet."
The three of them laughed together, something that they were all accustomed to now, despite the weird way everything had come together. Transitioning into their new roles had been strange and had taken plenty of work, but now it felt like they'd been this way forever. It had been difficult, any one of them would have admitted that, but it didn't change the honest warmth that each of them felt for the other. After a little bit of time it had just become another funny story, another fun fact to throw out at parties.
Liam grinned at the two of them and then looked away, holding up his hand. "Ugh, you two are making me sick," he said, shaking his head. "I'm getting a drink."
He heard Rhett's laughter as he walked away and well into his walk towards the bar. After ordering himself a drink, he stood back and took it all in. It was weird that his older brother was married now, to his ex-girlfriend of all people, but Liam was happy for him. So happy, in fact, that it helped ease the pain that he got when he thought of how close he'd been to a day like this.
A few weeks after Jack was born, Emma surprised everyone – Liam most of all – by asking Liam to move out. It had gone against everything Liam had planned and everything his friends had reassured him of. Emma didn't want to take him back. The shock was painful. They still spent time together of course and Liam was over at their place every day to spend time with the baby, but he knew it was going to take some work to get back into Emma's good graces. She'd been more than open to giving him another shot, but after he'd screwed it up for a second time – not to mention after he'd disappeared the day Jack was born – Emma had had enough.
Liam didn't blame her. Their relationship had been strained ever since and though it wasn't ideal, Jack spent a lot of time with his father despite the rockiness between the two of them. Liam could still remember the day she'd asked him to leave as if it happened the day before. It was funny, Liam thought, how you really don't realize what you have until it's gone.
He raised his eyebrows as he thought that to himself, taking a sip of his drink. Live and learn, buddy, he said to himself, his eyes searching the crowd, stopping at familiar faces. Just as his eyes skimmed over a cousin and his wife, he found himself staring into Emma's blue eyes from across the dance floor and his heart seized in his chest.
"Can we skip all this and just go home and have newlywed sex?" Rhett whispered in Cory's ear, twirling her to the beat of the music.
Cory's head tilted back in laughter and Rhett leaned forward to press a kiss to the side of her neck. "If you keep doing that, yes," she said huskily, capturing his lips with her own.
Rhett grinned against her skin and sighed happily into her, pulling her body into his. "So how does it feel to be a Callahan?" He asked softly, swaying in time with the music, enjoying every last second of having her pressed so close to him. "You officially have a stake in the family business now. Maybe it's time I teach you how to change your own oil."
Cory smiled and swayed her hips against his. "Maybe not," she said. "Now that you're my husband it's pretty much required that you do all of the dirty work for me."
Rhett smirked. "I can think of plenty of dirty work I need to get done," he said, nipping at the skin beneath her ear. "I'd even let you help."
Cory rolled her eyes and leaned her head against his chest. "You know how everyone says that this is the best day of your life?"
Rhett nodded and hummed his agreement.
Cory looked up and met his eyes. "Well I disagree," she whispered, leaning forward to kiss him softly. "The best day of my life was the day you kissed me in your office."
Rhett's heart thudded in his chest just like it had that day and he felt himself pulling her even further into him, pressing her even tighter against him. How was it possible to feel so much love for someone? How was it possible that a feeling this strong would never fade? He didn't know, but he didn't want to question it. Instead, he smiled at her, tilting her head up slightly as his hand ran along her jaw and to the back of her neck, and pulled her forward. As his lips met hers he thought to himself that there was not one single man on the face of the earth happier than he was in that moment.
As Emma approached him, Liam felt like his tie was choking him. He couldn't breathe and suddenly the room was hot, hotter than hell it seemed, and he needed fresh air. Still, he couldn't look away. It had been months since they'd had an actual conversation, alone, and even then it hadn't been about much. It definitely hadn't been about giving their relationship another shot.
He wanted so badly to take her into his arms and tell her how sorry he was, how he knew that it didn't matter how many times he said the words, how he couldn't mean it more than he did in that moment. He'd wanted to do it since she'd asked him to leave. He'd dated a few girls and had even been out four or five times with one of them, but something about it felt wrong. He wanted his life back.
At this point it seemed impossible. If Emma wasn't going to change her mind after three years, there wasn't much hope left. All he could do was be civil, be the best person he could be and hope that one day it might be enough. "Hi," he said softly as she approached him.
Emma smiled. "Hi, Liam." She was quiet for a moment, tucking her hands behind her back. "I hope it's okay that I came," she said, looking up to meet his eyes. "I know that you…I mean…Rhett invited me and said…"
"It's fine," Liam said, cutting her off. "It's good to see you… outside of the house. I know it means a lot to Rhett that you're here. You look…beautiful," he said, taking her in, the yellow dress she was wearing reminding him of the color of the nursery at home. His home, where he belonged. The thought stilled him.
She smiled softly. "Thank you."
Liam cleared his throat and took another sip of his drink, letting the whiskey burn it's way down before he spoke again. "Where, um…where's Jack?"
"He's staying with my mom," she said quietly. "I wasn't going to come at first and…" She almost sounded guilty as she spoke.
"Emma," Liam said, touching her shoulder briefly. "I'm glad you're here."
She nodded and looked back at the bar, her eyes lightening at the sigh. "Wow, I could use a drink," she said, laughing lightly. "I'll be right back, okay? I mean if you're still…"
"Okay," Liam said, cutting her off, not letting her finish her question. He gulped down the rest of his whiskey and set the glass on the nearest table, inhaling deeply. He looked up and saw Rhett and Cory dancing in the middle of the room and he felt a pang of jealousy shoot through him. He wanted that so badly.
"It's pretty strange to see them like that, huh?" Emma asked as she came up beside him, drink in hand. "I mean, not really since they've been together for so long now but…" She raised her eyebrows and took a drink. "Wow."
Liam nodded as he watched them dance. "Pretty strange. I always thought my brother would die a grumpy old fart. Under the hood of a car, of course, covered in grease, wrench in hand. Never imagined he'd find a girl that could tolerate him like Cory does."
Emma nudged him. "And look, all because of you." She smiled at him but took another sip of her drink, masking most of her face.
Liam sighed and tucked his hands into his pockets, unable to meet Emma's eyes. "So… I can pick up Jack tomorrow, right?" He'd made plans with another single dad buddy from the station to spend the day at the zoo with their kids and Jack had been looking forward to it since Liam had mentioned it to him a day or two before.
Emma nodded. "Of course." She looked down at her hands around the glass and sighed.
They were silent for a minute or two as Liam's mind raced with all of the things he wanted to say to her. He wanted to tell her that he hated how things were between them most of all, that if he had anything to do over in his life it would be the way things turned out between them.
Finally Emma turned to him, setting her glass down next to his. "Liam, look," she said, searching his eyes. "I hate that we have to do this to each other. I hate that you feel like you have to ask if you can pick up Jack and I hate even more that I feel like I barely even know you. I mean…three years is such a long time and…" She looked away and sighed. "I'm not sure what I'm saying, Liam, but…"
Liam reached down and took one of her hands. "It almost hurts to look at you, Emma," he said, practically a whisper. "I can't forgive myself for what I did if you don't forgive me first. I can't…I don't know how else to apologize. I don't know what else to do, Emma, but I swear to God there's nothing I could want more than to be back with you and Jack. It's…God, it's all I think about. I can't even…" He stopped at the look on her face and took a step back. "What is it?"
She sighed and Liam saw the beginnings of tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head. "You've apologized plenty of times, Liam. I forgave you a long time ago. It's not the words or even what you did…" She stopped and wiped at her eyes. "I…up until recently I was seeing someone. Someone I met at work." Liam's heart thudded at her words.
"Up until recently?"
She nodded. "He was a good guy. Great with Jack…treated me nicely. I don't know why it didn't work out. Probably because every time I looked at him, I'd wish for you instead."
Liam stared at her, his mouth open in shock. "Emma, I…"
She shook her head. "And then I realized that I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. I don't know why I pushed you away when you were so desperate to make it up to me and I took you away from Jack, too, and that's what hurts the most. I feel like I'm the one that ended up making the huge mistake. And I'm not asking for a second chance and I'm not even saying that we should try again, but I just…" She looked up and met his eyes again. "I just miss you, Liam."
He let out a nervous breath and squeezed her hand. "I miss you, too, Em. I've missed you every single day."
Cory sighed and rested her head against Rhett's shoulder, closing her eyes. It had been a long day – a wonderful day, but a long one still. She couldn't remember a time when she felt happier than she did in this moment and though it was all she could do to keep her eyes open, she didn't want to fall asleep and miss one minute of what was left of the day.
"Well I know one thing," Rhett said, nudging her. "I'm never getting married again. That was exhausting."
Cory made a face but kept her eyes closed. "Hmm. You're right. You're not."
He chuckled and tightened his grip around her shoulders. "I talked to Liam before we left," he said, absentmindedly thumbing the beads on her dress. "With Emma."
Cory looked up at that. They both knew how much Liam hurt when it came to that situation. "And?"
Rhett shrugged. "They seemed happy. Liam was ecstatic. He said they were going to spend some time together and see what happened." He smiled and rubbed at the skin on her shoulder. "I'm happy for him."
Cory nodded. "Me too," she said, shaking her head. "That's…that's incredible. After all this time? I wonder what changed her mind?"
Rhett shrugged, then looked down at Cory, bringing his arm from around her to trace his fingers along the line of her jaw. Their eyes met and he smiled at her, then leaned down and pressed his lips to hers gently, only pulling back slightly to whisper, "I guess when you know…you just know."
AN: I'm choking on ridiculous amounts of fluff. I disgust myself. :D I don't know that the Emma/Liam thing came across in the last chapter - technically he wasn't off the hook there, but whatever. Details, details. Three years later he gets the girl so who gives a shit. It's a happy ending all around! Like I'd have it any other way. ;)
*Chapter Title = Dave Matthews Band