|It was a feeling Stella was getting used to, and she wasn't sure how she felt about that but she also didn't have a choice, so she was trying to come to terms with it. That sluggish, headache based coming to consciousness that told her she'd missed some time again. At least she could tell she was in her own bed, with the comfortable sink into the mattress and the pillows her face was pressed into. It was better than the month before, when she'd woken up in Reed's lab, all sore and aching in some makeshift medical bay. Even worse, in direct eyeline of her brother in concerningly bad shape. Even without opening her eyes, Stella could tell this was better. She was in her own home, she had that telltale headache but at least her entire body wasn't letting her know something was wrong. Things could be worse. Is that how her life was going to be qualified from now on? Things could be worse?
A slow stretch, taking in the softness of her sheets and blankets, the comfort that came from the familiarity of them. She didn't have to move further, actually reach out for the physical confirmation, to know there was someone else there too. Beside her, she could hear the slow, steady breath that told her they were still asleep. They being Reed, she knew that without having to open her eyes and confirm it. Who else would it be? They'd talked about being shift buddies, their shifted personas were clearly linked and bound to spend their time together, if it had been anyone else she would have been shocked.
Stella slowly moved, carefully extracted herself from her bed, grateful Sue paid attention to the note she'd left requesting her wear more clothes to bed considering the last time she'd woken up with Reed there. It was a far less scandalous looking situation this time around, but she still wrapped herself in her robe after brushing her teeth and popping a few painkillers to try and manage the throbbing in her head. Better safe than sorry. Reed slept through it all, and Stella wasn't in a hurry to wake him. She doubted he got much sleep regularly, knew his habits of spending time in his lab and not much anywhere else, so the longer she could let him sleep she was happy to facilitate. Not that she was usually noisy in the mornings, but she was careful to be quiet as she moved about the room and slipped out, closing the door most of the way behind her.
A cup of coffee and a long scroll through her phone later, trying to catch up on what she’d missed and hoping to find anything from Sue catching her up on important points, Stella made her way back upstairs, not realizing until she was back inside her room that she’d never had to wake Reed up before. The only other time, it’d been more of a startling awake for both of them. Was he a light sleeper? Did he require jostling? Was he wearing a more appropriate amount of clothes than the last time? There was no way to know the answers to any of it without trial and error, an experiment in itself. Speaking his name softly, she gently shook him by the shoulder, hand moving up to run through his hair a moment later — much gentler than her tactics to wake her brother, but she wasn’t about to spray Reed in the face with water unless completely necessary. “Reed? You want to wake up? Reed...”
|It was Stella's hand through his hair that finally had Reed surfacing out of sleep, blinking his eyes open with a sense of peace and restfulness that he rarely had first thing in the morning. By and large, Reed's sleep habits were designed around efficiency, giving up on work and research only when the need for rest outweighed the potential benefits of a little more time at the lab bench or computer. He'd never been one for sleeping in, but burning the midnight oil had become more and more common in his life as Reed tried to eke out just a little more productivity each day. He prided himself on being a person with that kind of self-discipline, that commitment to his goals and what it would take to achieve them — but it often meant that Reed was awake all too early at the sound of an alarm clock. He hadn't startled at all now, not even as his bleary eyes recognized it was Stella who had woken him up, that he was laying in her bed after apparently making himself quite at home. "Hi," he said, voice thick with sleep, "We're back." Shift week over, he could tell by the way his brain felt a little scrambled, pulsing with a dull headache that let him know he'd been active all week, even if he couldn't remember it, yet another mystery to solve later.
The temptation to just roll over and pull a pillow back over his head was strong — what had he been up to that was so exhausting? — but as he came back to the waking world gradually, Reed noticed Stella must have been up longer than him. She looked already more alert, and the scent of coffee was in the air, not to mention it wasn't exactly his own bed anyway no matter how comfortable he felt. "You let me sleep in," he accused, hard to be anything but playful given how sorely it was needed, apparently. Reed dragged a hand down his face, stifling a yawn. "Better wakeup than last time, I take it?" No hospital beds, no pain in his body, no visible injuries in Stella.
|Reed was distractingly cute, all sleepy and waking up. It was such a contrast to the sharp, pointed concentration he usually displayed. It was a welcome change, a show that finally he'd been able to relax, to sleep, even if it had taken a week away from himself to do it. Stella felt slightly bad for being glad about it, but it was always in the frame of being good for Reed. Her want for him to take time off, go outside for a few minutes, breathe in fresh air and see the sun, none of it was for her benefit. It was always with the hope of enhancing his life, giving him even the slightest glimpse of reprieve. So yes, if giving him a chance to sleep in, to enjoy what she knew was a comfortable bed, allowed even a glimmer of that, she was happy to provide.
"We're back," she confirmed, straightening up once she was sure he was actually awake, not in some half-awake state where he'd fall asleep again as soon as her back was turned. A smile turned at the corners of her mouth as he went on, not about to argue the truth of what happened that morning. Yes, of course she'd let him sleep in. And why not? "There wasn't any reason to wake you up," she pointed out, shrugging a shoulder with a nonchalant air. "I could've let you sleep longer but..." Why hadn't she? There was no reason for him to be awake, nothing pressing, nothing that needed his attention. She switched thoughts mid-track and offered him a more genuine smile. "Much better. I mean, we're not in the lab, you're still here, no injuries that I'm aware of... we're doing pretty good, in comparison. Plus there's coffee downstairs and breakfast on the way."
|Waking up this time in Stella's bedroom was a far easier transition than the last time he'd been here, watching her shriek her way out of the bed, taking more than a few hits to his pride and body given her incredible aim with the pillows. Now, he'd almost expected to find himself here, beginning to see the pattern that happened after every off week, and there was a certain comfort in it. Shift buddies, a partner to make it all seem less frightening, less unknowable. So in that sense Reed knew there was nothing to be worried about, embarrassed for. But in the sense that he was realizing Stella's slow smile first thing in the morning was for him, or even more likely at him given what his hair must look like after sleeping that deeply, it was still a little mortifying. Nothing dreadful, not a fear of what he was going to do or say to explain it. In fact, it felt almost sweet even as much as it was agonizing to realize Stella had come to wake him up in such a gentle, nearly affectionate, way, indulging his half-asleep comments as he did so with that look on her face. Reed admired Stella very much, trusted her even more so if such a thing was possible, but to have to realize so quickly after opening his eyes for the first time that day that there was something distinctly romantic to the way he felt about her and that expression on her face — well that had to be a fun little joke from the universe at his own expense. He could almost have rolled his eyes at himself, if it wouldn't have prompted questions that truly would have been embarrassing to have to explain.
"...but you knew I'd want some of that coffee," Reed said, sitting up and finally making his way out from under the sheets and blankets. It was a very accurate guess on her part, something inside of him pleased to be known so well. He was dressed, thankfully, in his own clothes, sweatpants he recognized from his own apartment. Good to know their parallel selves were planning ahead. "I'm really glad you're alright after whatever week we just had," he added, a little more soberly now that sleep had finally shaken itself off him.
|The feeling Stella felt watching Reed wake up enough to move, to untangle himself from the covers and manage to pull himself out of bed, was nothing short of fond. Which was startling in and of itself, but she couldn't deny it was true. There was such comfort, she realized, waking up with someone else in her bed but knowing who it was, that it was him, and not having to worry or deal with that unknown. That there was a mug of coffee in the kitchen waiting for him because she knew how he liked it and wanted to give it a chance to cool and be drinkable by the time he got down there. She'd already ordered them breakfast because she knew what he would want. It felt a bit like a parallel universe, but it wasn't. It was the normal one, where she happened to know these details and think of them without realizing it. Better not to think too hard about it, all things considered.
"Yes, I knew you'd want some coffee," she agreed, shifting a step back and raking her hand through her hair as she gave him room to get up — grateful he too was wearing more clothes than their first encounter in her room months before. This was going much smoother, both in the waking up department and in overall stress levels. Stella's expression softened a bit more at his comment and she reached out to touch his arm, just barely, before letting her hand drop. "Hey, we're both alright. We're both okay, and here, and that probably means Liam is just fine too, whatever happened last week. Much better than last month."
|"We're both alright," Reed agreed with a nod. Her brief touch to his arm had caught him in place, caused him to stop for a second and reflect on the gratitude he felt for such a simple fact. Everyone was okay, in the right place, at the right time — not something he wanted to take for granted ever again, the way he might have before the shifts started. Stella had dropped her hand, but Reed couldn't resist the impulse to return her light touch with one of his own, just a second on her forearm, like that might better communicate his thankfulness for being included in that we, the certainty he felt that no matter what might occur next time or in shifts still to come it was always going to be better as a team. "Come on," he said, rather than linger on trying to figure out how to put that into words, "I heard there was breakfast, and I promise not to check my email at the table." Well, maybe just a quick peek.|
|That brief touch to her arm was enough to bring a sense of comfort, what she hoped hers had imparted to Reed as well. A physical proof that they were there, they were fine, everything was okay. It seemed important to have when there was such unknown in the gap in their memories. They were both people of science, people who looked for proof and evidence, so losing time was always a struggle. Not knowing what they, the others inhabiting their bodies, had been up to in that time was difficult. Stella didn't like the unknown, knew Reed didn't like it either, but that they were at her house rather than his lab was a positive. That they were both up and moving without pain was a positive. They were in a better place than they had been the month before, whatever the reason. That was a lot to be grateful for.
"There's breakfast," she confirmed with a nod, then paused. "Well, there will be, I ordered it. And I think it's only fair you get to check your email since I've already done that myself, so let's make a deal and say... you can check your email and catch up on whatever, but then once breakfast gets here it's over."
|"That's great news," Reed said, deadpan, "Then I don't have to worry about breaking my own promise." The draw of his email inbox was pretty hard to resist and, more than that, there was always a mischievous part of Reed that sought out reasons to make Stella huff at him just for the fun of seeing her react. Stealing candy from gift bags, pretending he absolutely could not be drawn out of his laboratory for any reason — it was a childish impulse, one he was now reflecting on in light of that affectionate, shy feeling he realized he had for her, but always present nonetheless. Most people might know him primarily as a straight-laced scientist and businessman, but, well, most people didn't know him as closely as Stella did.
Downstairs there was indeed the promised coffee, a chance to sit and catch up on the pileup of news and emails and messages that came in while he was out of the office, so to speak. Reed supposed it was a good thing that no one was trying to respond on his behalf during the shift, but the feeling of being behind on everything was never fun to handle. And when their breakfast arrived, true enough, he was putting his phone away and helping to set the table without having to ask where plates and silverware were kept, because he'd been here before, and because it was nice to do little tasks to show Stella how he appreciated her hospitality, and because in perfect honesty he was all too easily slipping into this little routine without a second thought.
|Stella knew what kind of pile of email Reed was likely walking into, if hers was anything to off. He likely had more, he was busier and dealt with more people than she did, so she didn't want to delay his ability to start in on that. So yes, he was more than welcome to try and catch up while they waited for breakfast to arrive. She sat quietly with her coffee and caught up on the news from the week before, careful to keep an eye out for anything strange. There'd been plenty of that before, so much destruction, but thankfully it seemed as though it was mostly uneventful. Then again, their uninjured state spoke to that well enough.
It made her smile, when she got back from answering the door to get their food, seeing Reed already setting the table in anticipation of breakfast. It felt good to know he was comfortable enough in her house to do something like that on his own, no questions, not needing directed to the right drawer or cupboard. There was that fondness again, like a knot of warmth in her chest that slowly unraveled and spread from there. Moving through it, she set the bags on the table and started unpacking the food she'd ordered — far more than they needed, even taking Liam into account whenever he might appear.
"There's plenty of things to choose from." Because she may have ordered what she thought Reed would like, but he was more than welcome to have anything else instead. There was plenty. "Did you want orange juice or anything?"
|Every time it happened, every time he realized Stella was beginning to smile at him, the same expression became echoed on Reed's face for no reason at all except it made him happy to see her happy, a trite sentiment he never fully understood but here he was anyway, trying to keep a cheerful at bay while he passed her a plate. Ridiculous, he tried to chide himself, but it was hard to really feel like he had to hide it. It was a pleasant morning, his email inbox wasn't quite the trash fire he'd expected, and a cursory glance at the local headlines led him to believe nothing terrifying or unexplainable was right around the corner. Life had been so strange lately, why not just enjoy this. "Just more coffee I think," he said in response to Stella's offer, "But I can get it. You're a very good hostess but I think we both know I've got to start contributing something around here." A little exaggerated — he wasn't quite the freeloader his tone would make it seem — but still, the more Stella did for him, whether it was make sure breakfast was ordered or provide a safe place to come back from after a week away from himself, there was an equal urge in Reed to do something in return, or at least demonstrate he had something to contribute as well. "Sit, I've got it," he urged her, moving to the coffee machine with little direction needed, "I already saw there's french toast in there, the least I can do is give you a head start before I eat all of it."|
|She'd already shifted a step toward the coffee as soon as the word left Reed's mouth, but stopped when he said he would get it himself because true, he didn't need her hovering around and doing things for him. His comment about contributing made the corner of her mouth twitch, her smile growing a bit as she moved her mug from the island to the table, giving in and doing what he told her to do — sit. Stella was just so used to taking charge, doing everything before anyone else thought about it needing done, taking care of everything and everyone, she felt strange sitting there while he got himself coffee. At the same time, it was that same feeling of Reed being at home enough to do things for himself, not looking the least bit out of place in her kitchen as he refilled his mug.
"It's your lucky day, because I got myself pancakes." As if to prove it, she moved some of the food laid out onto her plate — pancakes, potatoes, maple syrup over everything. "The only one you'd have to fight for your french toast is Liam and if it's all gone by the time he gets up, he doesn't need to know it ever existed."
|A little bit of effort, the hit of a button, and a few moments later Reed was turning back around to face her with a fresh cup of coffee in his hand. It felt like since waking up he'd been given a set of little pauses, brief chances to pause and really see what was in front of him, and this was another. A sun-filled kitchen he knew well, a table awaiting his presence to start in on what he could only assume Stella knew was his usual order, and Stella herself, opening containers and assembling her plate, not waiting on him because why would she when it all felt so easy, so natural. Maybe in a minute or two Liam would arrive to round them out, and he'd be a welcome addition, but even if he didn't, the whole scene just felt so sweet, so domestic, for a second all Reed wanted to do was lean back against the kitchen counter and take it all in. It felt good enough to be almost foreign — no such family breakfasts or shared meals in his own childhood — except Reed had wanted something like this for so long. If anything that was the only place hesitation came in, the slight worry that doing the wrong thing would shatter the perfect moment, but it wasn't a fear, just a protective instinct to take care of the things that were important to him. This was important to him, he realized for the first time. And then not wanting to get caught staring lest he have to explain himself, he moved back to the table to start fixing his own plate, laughing at the idea of fighting Liam for the last piece of toast. "Ever since Liam decided to become fireproof, I just don't think there's going to be winning any fights against him," Reed admitted.|
|Stella smirked at that, rolling her eyes and using her fork to separate off another bite of her pancake. "That's how I know you're an only child," she said teasingly. "I've never once tried to set him on fire and I've won plenty of fights with him. It's all about strategy." She was mostly joking, of course, but she didn't get to her thirties with a younger brother without knowing the right buttons to push or places to poke him really hard. Not that she did, they didn't have those kinds of fights — at least not since they'd both become adults, and when they were kids she'd always been bigger than him so she could just... sit on him or something. "You could always whack him on the head with something heavy, or threaten to cut holes in his designer clothes. Or invent some kind of device in your fancy lab that would get the job done somehow." She paused, leaning back in her chair with her coffee, taking a slow sip. "Oh god, is this how we find out I'm a super villain?"|
|He was in the middle of cutting into a stack of french toast, but Stella's words had him pausing to look up at her with an evaluating look. "Do you often feel like the ends justify the means?" he asked, adopting the same tone of voice he knew he used when examining a far more likely problem, "Does the idea of world domination motivate you? Is there an evil lair somewhere in this very townhouse?" Listening to her talk about picking on Liam, that classic sibling rivalry, was sweet and definitely something Reed himself was unfamiliar with, as she so clearly observed, but that didn't mean he couldn't leap onto the idea of evil genius Stella with a laugh threatening to break out across his face no matter how serious he tried to seem. He was rolling his eyes at the very idea, about to completely dismiss it out of hand with the knowledge that someone was kind as Stella could never really be a mad scientist no matter what lengths she might go to to terrorize Liam — until another idea struck. "Wait, if you're a super villain, does that make me your henchman?" The Igor to her Doctor Frankenstein — and considering the way they had snuck into the hospital labs not long ago, the metaphor was perhaps not as far off as Reed would have liked.|
|Setting her coffee down, Stella rest her elbows on the edge of the table and brought her hands together, chin resting on top of them as she considered his questions. She gave a hum of thought, her eyes sparkling mischievously when he asked if that made him her henchman. In no world did she think Reed would ever be a henchman or sidekick to anyone, so that was pretty well ruled out. Hopefully her villainous scheming could be contained to Liam and chalked up to typical sibling behavior, because she didn't want to find out she was actually a bad person. "An evil lair... you mean like the one you can get to through the secret passage?" she asked innocently, raising an eyebrow. "Well now that you mention it, I should have questioned it sooner. There's no way you're a henchman, Reed. Partner, yes, but never a henchman."|
|"Secret passage?" Reed echoed, delighted by the idea, not to mention by the way Stella's expression had shifted into something he couldn't predict in the best possible way. In return he narrowed his eyes at her with faux suspicion, no possible other reaction than to play along. "Is that what that bookshelf is covering up? Because I really feel like I would have discovered it so much sooner if you weren't distracting me with food every time I came over here." He might have kept harping on about the way her swift takeout orders were sidetracking him too, but the thought of being her partner in villainy rather than a simple henchman was too good not to comment on. Honestly he would have been happy to be relegated to the sidekick position if only because it felt so true to the way he would probably go after Stella into any adventure, big or small, perhaps even the villainous ones if he at all thought it could come to that. "Not a henchman? Stella I'm flattered," he said, covering up the truth to the feeling with a laugh like they were still joking around, and offered her an open hand across the table, his half of a handshake to seal their deal. "Partners in crime it is."|
|"It's why I'm always feeding you," she agreed, as if revealing some big secret. The corner of her mouth quirked as she glanced over to the bookshelf, then back to him. "The book to open it is about gynecology, which has done a good job of keeping anyone from ever discovering its existence." She smirked a little more, straightening up to take a sip of her coffee, but her expression shifted into something more genuine when he held his hand out to her. "Partners in crime," she echoed, placing her hand in his to shake. "Henchman, honestly, with that big brain of yours? The world is lucky you're so good, imagine what an evil genius you could be if you weren't."|
|"Are you kidding?" he asked, completely refusing her compliment on principle, although still a part of Reed was happy to receive her praise, "It would be an honor to be a henchman as you take over the world, I can't think of anyone better suited." If anything the world would be much better off for Stella's leadership no matter how it was gained — villain or not, Reed had to believe she'd be just as thoughtful and measured as she was in all things. Still he had indeed shaken her hand, their arrangement was secured, if there was going to be an unexpected heel-turn into world domination, Reed was at least certain they'd be great at it together, partners. And then realizing that somehow once again he'd been holding onto her hand for at least a few seconds too long (why did that keep happening?) Reed let her slip away, reaching for his own coffee mug with a very intentional nonchalance.|
|His compliments were too much, her cheeks tinting with a slight blush. Stella didn't think she was suited at all for world domination, and she knew they were only joking, but it still somehow meant a lot that Reed thought and said so — even if he was joking. It was a ridiculous premise to try and wrap her head around, though she still tried, which was why she likewise didn't realize their hands were still together until after Reed let go. Bringing her hand back to pick up her fork, get back to her pancakes, she still gave a pause of thought. "Now I wish I did have a secret passage and lair," she said after a moment. "Not for evil, but it seems like a fun thing to have. I don't know what I'd put in it. What would you put in your lair?"|
|"Stella, I have a lair. You've been to my lair. Clearly it's my laboratory." And when it wasn't host to friendly experiments on Stella, on Liam, on himself, or really on anyone who came to Reed of late with an interesting problem or new ability, it was strewn with machinery and petri dishes, formulas scribbled on the rolling white boards and annotated radiation diagrams waiting to be incorporated into the next round of research. To anyone else it might look crazy, overflowing with half-finished ideas that Reed insisted he'd be cycling back to in just a moment, but to him it was not just the most ideal space he could have imagined as a broke graduate student dreaming of his own lab, more often than not it was home. Which, upon reflection, had Reed second-guessing his answer. "Actually maybe that's not quite right. Everybody knows how to find me there. I guess my apartment is my lair. So secret even I seldom go there." He gave a little smile right before another bite of his breakfast, knowingly self-deprecating, aware that Stella of all people could guess how rarely inhabited that space was.|
|Stella was about to correct him when he did it himself, because no, his lab couldn't be his lair when it was clearly known and where everyone knew to find him. That was all the opposite of what a secret lair should be. And his comments about his apartment — she was well aware of how infrequently he actually went there, which she still felt like she would find a way to fix somehow. "So secret you seldom go there," she echoed, finishing off a pancake and leaning back in her chair. "So in you extra secret, even from you, lair you keep... well, I was going to say furniture but now I'm scared you're about to tell me it's more like a just out of college bachelor situation where you don't have a bed frame and there's maybe one chair but mostly it's open space and empty walls."|
|"It's a very nice apartment," Reed insisted, something pleading about his tone, and whether he was trying to convince Stella or himself, he wasn't quite sure. It was a little mortifying to have her picture a college student's apartment, something that got his pride involved, even though typically Reed felt about his apartment the way most people felt about a storage space — nice to know it was there, but rarely worth the trip. "I promise there's furniture, real furniture not milk crates, and if I'm remembering it correctly there may even be some art on the walls." There had been a dream once, leaving his academic position, that entering the world of business was going to mean he spent less time in his office — how naive he had been. "I can't let you think that the problem is the decor when, as with many things, the real problem is me." He could admit that much, at least.|
|Picking at Reed about his apartment was second nature by that point, though Stella was now worried she crossed a line. That pleading in his voice, it made her sad to think she was the cause. Not that she didn't think he should spend more time away from his lab, she did, but clearly he took decent enough care of himself so things could be worse. "I believe you," she said easily, reaching over and resting her hand over his to try and be reassuring. "Reed, I don't think there's a problem, decor or otherwise, you're fine." It didn't sit right with her the way he'd said that — "as with many things, the real problem is me." She frowned softly, studying him a moment. "I was just teasing, I'm sorry. I didn't really think your apartment was like that."|
|He'd meant to say it as a joke, but all too often Reed's self-deprecating sense of humor was hewing uncomfortably close to the truth, and although Stella's earnest response took him aback, after a beat he had to admit it wasn't surprising she'd see through him in this moment. She knew him so well, after all, a fact that was only surprising in how completely unsurprising it was. With a sigh, he turned his hand upwards under hers, his fingertips brushing her palm as a little sign that he was going to match her in that place of genuine feeling instead of continuing to deflect. "I know you don't," he promised — the thought that Stella had been trying to make him feel bad undeserving of a second's consideration, "I just don't blame the other me for wanting to wake up here every week. My apartment is just a place I sleep sometimes, this is..." Something entirely different, a place that would radiate warmth and care even if Stella herself wasn't in it at the moment. "...well, it's a home."|
|Her hand settled over his legitimately now his was turned over, an easy place for her fingers to curl around his hand as an indication she wasn't going anywhere. Stella was plenty used to deflection, the ease of it, not that she blamed Reed or anyone else — she deflected things on her own all the time. It seemed important not to brush away when Reed was actually showing a bit of vulnerability. The compliment wasn't lost on her, that he considered her house a home, something that meant more to her than some passing comment. It was the first place she'd lived that really felt like that — a home, and it was nice that someone else was able to feel that too. "I'm glad you're here. Whatever reason it is the other Reed stays here, I'm glad you aren't waking up at your apartment alone."|
|"Me too," Reed confessed before he had a chance to think about it. It was certainly a true feeling, thankful for the comfort of Stella's home and her company after what was still, and likely always would be, the disorienting and uncanny feeling of waking up with the awareness that too much time had passed but no knowledge of how it had been spent. The shifts had only gotten easier because of their little buddy system, not because Reed was any more used to sharing a week of his life every month with someone else. Easily he could imagine coming back to himself disoriented in the lab or that sparse apartment, feeling more alone, more unmoored, than ever — and just by virtue of being able to imagine it, Reed knew he never wanted to really experience it. Not a new realization, but one that made him feel suddenly precious about Stella's place in his life, the awareness that he'd have to protect this friendship with more intention that he'd usually brought to relationships of any kind. "Stella I'm..." he hesitated for only a split second, trying to parse out the right words, "Really grateful to know you."|
|The shift, all of it, was something Stella still struggled to understand. All she knew for sure was that she was glad her other self had connections with Liam and Reed, that they were all together in this no matter what day or what week it was. It felt intentional, and she was grateful for it. And it had brought her closer to Reed, formed the basis for a genuine friendship between them rather than him simply being Liam's boss and the man who stole chocolates out of gift bags at her holiday party. It was strange to think that only months ago they'd rarely interacted, definitely not on their own, and now she couldn't imagine what her life would be like without him there. His admission made her smile, a soft genuine smile that was accompanied by a squeeze to his hand. "I'm really grateful to know you too, Reed."|