He had given his blessing to Georgina but all the while his heart was breaking. He had wanted her for so long that it had taken until hearing Quintus repeat Daventry's words from a night weeks earlier for him realize that he was simply holding onto a past that no longer existed. He had loved her once - truly and deeply - but she had chosen first one Rance brother and then the other over him. Even the photograph on his pocket watch was a lie, for it had been Lloyd Rance's pocket watch. Never his own. He had won it from Lloyd only hours before his friend was killed.
After the terrible accident on Guadalcanal, where a dying soldier had let loose the searing heat of a flame-thrower in the wrong direction, Garnet had clung to memories of the past to overcome the intense pain from his burns. He had used his feelings for Georgina to stave off the nightmares, and he fortified those walls, built against the despair in his heart, with communications that likely puzzled and disturbed her.
He had needed to believe that he was no monster, and that the disfiguring scars across half his face and down the left side of his body did not mean he could never again be loved; that he was no longer worthy of love.
Potter Daventry had changed everything.
Potter had stumbled into his world, tearing down all of his carefully built defenses with his soft touch and gentle words. Many a time Garnet awoke from a particularly terrifying nightmare, where he relived the horror of war and the trauma of his injury, to find Potter seated beside him. Sometimes the younger man was asleep, and Garnet was loathe to awaken him. Other times his smile was bright as he helped Garnet to sit up in his bed, and held a glass of water steady to his lips so he could quench his thirst.
Such gentleness had worn Garnet down, along with the fierceness with which he defended Garnet when the busybody, Mrs Gondess, had paid a visit to his home with unpleasant news of back taxes owed.
Now, as he made his way to the long abandoned dance hall, needing the respite of his secret place and the good memories it invoked in him, he wondered if he would soon be destitute and homeless too. The wind was starting to pick up with the approaching storm, so prevalent at this time of the year, with winds that could turn into twisters that devastated the land. As soon as he crossed the threshold, he allowed the fears for his future, and the despair of his present to slip away into those fine memories of happier days. He placed a favorite record on the gramophone and swayed to the music as he moved between the candles placed around the hall.
Those words from Quintus played through his head.
"He don't love the widow," Quintus had said. "I love Garnet, he said."
And Garnet wished he could believe those words even though they opened up wounds that went deeper than the burn scars across his skin. They reminded him of what he had wanted as a young man, before realizing the world did not accept the kind of affection he felt towards others of his own gender. Too often he had swayed in this secret place with imaginings of Georgina in his arms but now he wished only for the feel of Potter's gentle hands and firm body.
The sudden, sharp sound of the needle shoved across the record had Garnet tensing. he turned and found Potter standing on the other side of the dance floor. His eyes were wild and his face pale as he stepped towards Garnet. Glass crunched beneath his feet and he froze for a moment before stooping down to pick up a single shard.
Confused, Garnet could only watch as Potter stalked towards him, speaking of them being two tormented halves of one soul. He held the shard to Garnet's throat, offering both of them a way out of their torturous existence, promising that only death would part them - and Garnet finally believed that Quintus had spoken the truth. The shard dropped from Potter's hand, blood dripping from a cut across his palm, and Garnet grasped Potter's wrist to bring the hand to his lips, pressing a desperate kiss into the bloodied palm.
"Don't leave me," he whispered hoarsely, only to realize they had both spoken the same words, melting into the strong arms that held him, lips seeking Potter's.
The full force of the storm brushed the outside of the dance hall, causing them to step back from one another, and Garnet saw a different wildness in Potter's eyes. One moment he was standing before Garnet and the next he was gone, and Garnet could not say if he had rushed away or been snatched by the wind. All he knew was that he could not let Potter go. Not now.
He raced out into the storm and found Potter holding tight to a tree, grasping his hand and using all his strength to pull him back towards the dance hall. With the storm now raging around them, Garnet drew him beneath the stage where they lit two small candles and huddled together, buried in each other's arms. Above them the world was being torn to pieces, and Garnet's own desires raged with the storm. He felt Potter's hands slipping beneath his shirt, the touch strange against the ruined skin but intensely pleasurable as Potter divested them both of their clothing, spreading it out beneath them to serve as a blanket before drawing back.
"Show me how to please you, Garnet. Show me how to bring you pleasure rather than pain," he pleaded, and Garnet could not refuse his request, touching himself intimately for the first time since before the fire seared his body.
Any lingering repugnance for his own scarred flesh faded at the look of adulation in Potter's dark eyes as he watched Garnet lose himself in this uncomplicated pleasure. When Potter finally reached out to him, his touch was electrifying. Pain and pleasure merged as Potter's hand replaced his own, and Potter's lips sealed against his, and Garnet was lost and found in that single intense moment.
Later, after the storm had passed and the sun had risen, Garnet awoke to find himself cradled in Potter's arms, with his head pillowed on Potter's shoulder. When he drew back to gaze across at the beautiful man's sleeping face, he saw the jagged cut along Potter's forehead and wondered if it would scar. It would not matter though, not even if the scar covered every inch of the handsome face for it was only now that Garnet truly believed that beauty came from within.
He rested his head back down and allowed the strong beating heart lull him back into dreams of a wonderful future.