The bell above the door jangled cheerily as Edge pushed it open, stepping inside The Beanery. As always, there were plenty of patrons, either sitting at a table with their coffees or waiting patiently in the line, staring at their phones as they shuffled forward until it was time to place their order.
In a corner at one of the booths, Stretch was settled in like he’d been there for hours. He probably had. The chalkboard had a new time recorded on it, a sign he’d ordered some horrific monstrosity when he’d arrived. Around his open laptop was a scattering of cups, a sign that he’d already drunk more than his fair share caffeine for the day. That was another good indicator that they were busy; normally Debbie would have cleared them away for Stretch in an attempt to help him hide exactly how many he’d had.
Considering that Stretch usually paid with their shared debit card, it was less than successful, but Edge was both exasperated and amused by the attempt.
He’d been exasperated enough when Stretch texted him he was going to the coffee shop. After what had happened with Jeff, Edge was leery of Stretch going into Ebott on his own, at least until things settled down again. Not that he’d ever demand anything of the sort from him; for one, it was a surefire way to get his obstinate love to do the exact opposite and his twitter would likely be filled with pointed comments about where in the city he was going that day, all by himself like a big boy, and if anyone in particular doesn’t like it, he could tell him where to stuff it up their pelvic cavity.
Not that Edge knew from experience.
That he stopped at The Beanery a couple times a week himself made his argument even thinner and wouldn’t, couldn’t, tell Stretch where he was allowed to go.
But oh, there were days he wished that brilliance of Stretch’s included a healthier amount of self-preservation. Even with the local news siding firmly with Monsters, to the point there had been protesters outside the Ebott Police Station, there was enough online malcontents spreading falsehoods to be worrisome. It wasn’t strictly his job to keep track of anti-monster blogs and online rumors, there was an entire department at the Embassy dedicated to it, but Edge got reports on it daily.
It was a constant balancing act and his husband always somehow managed to be in the middle of it.
The line was moving steadily forward, and Edge was nearly at the counter when it happened. A Human stopped by Stretch’s table, a tall male without a cup or a pastry in hand. Stretch smiled up at him automatically and Edge couldn’t hear what was said, but that smile faded quickly, his eye lights shrinking.
Afraid or angry, most likely a combination of both, and the visceral reminder he’d had outside the Chinese restaurant that Stretch was more than capable of handling himself was a distant thought as Edge automatically started forward.
Only for Debbie to beat him to it. She all but ran from behind the counter, her blonde ponytail bobbing, and she inserted herself between Stretch and the Human fearlessly.
The Human’s words didn’t carry through the bustling noise of the shop, but Debbie’s did, loud enough to send a hush through the shop. “You need to leave, right now!”
Debbie was perhaps five feet tall, if she was wearing shoes. It was always a point of amusement to see her next to Stretch, the way he had to lean down to hug her while she stood on her toes. Her height didn’t keep her from glaring up at the Man, quivering with all the ferocity her tiny form could contain.
The hush allowed the Human’s next shout to carry, echoing into the silence, as he leaned in too close to her to sneer, “It’s cunts like you keeping the government from sending these things back underground where they belong!”
That started Edge forward again, his own vision tinting to crimson. He nearly lashed out at a light touch on his arm, barely catching himself. But it withdrew quickly, and he turned to see the other barista, Hussain, standing next to him.
“Edge,” he whispered urgently, “don’t get yourself in trouble over that asshole, we all saw how the cops were. Let me back her up.”
“You’re here on a work visa,” Edge hissed back. It was true and he knew it, knew all the workers here, either from his own questions or from Stretch chatting happily about them. He knew Hussain, knew Daniel and Alisha and Jennie, and every one of them knew him, always offered him his usual.
This was not the usual.
Hussain only smiled crookedly. “It expires soon, anyway.”
With that, he walked quickly over to where Debbie was arguing with the Man. He said nothing, only stood at her shoulder glaring, and he wasn’t as tall as Stretch, but he still made for an intimidating presence. All the other baristas quickly joined him, and then a few patrons were standing by them, all of them glaring, allowing Debbie to scold and shoo him back like a stray dog until he finally stormed out the door with a few last snarled insults, the bell jangling in his wake.
The smattering of cheers and claps were incongruous as Debbie walked back to Stretch. Her face was reddened, and she scrabbled a tissue from her apron pocket, wiping away angry tears as she sat herself in the booth with Stretch.
The other baristas returned to the counter, smiling and serving as the line slowly shuffled back into place.
Edge stayed where he was, kept his distance for the moment as he listened.
Debbie took Stretch’s hand gently, squeezing. “You okay, sweetie?”
His smile was tremulous but warm, “yeah, but damn, you didn’t have to do that, deb, he could’ve hurt you!”
She lifted her chin, blue eyes flashing. “This is my shop,” she sniffed, “so I decide who stays and goes. I would have called the police but—"
Stretch’s mouth twisted wryly, “yeah, i’m good on that. well, damn, i can’t even post about this on my twitter; when I say everyone clapped, no one will believe me.”
It was a good attempt, but one thing Edge knew was that Debbie was not easily distracted. She looked at him sadly, shaking her head. “I’m so sorry, Stretch. You’re supposed to be safe here. Safe from bastards like that who think they’re so precious to the world when they’re really a waste of oxygen.”
“i am safe,” Stretch assured her, gently. He squeezed her hand, long bony fingers against her fleshy ones. It would be so easy for her to hurt him; with his HP, it would only take the Intent. “i’m safe as houses, deb.”
The feel of a presence beside him made Edge reluctantly look away to see Hussain joining him again. He gave Edge a thumbs up and a wry smile as he leaned in to whisper loudly, “See, she took care of it. No one messes with the badass coffee mama.”
“I heard that!” Debbie called and the laughter that followed eased the last of the tension.
Before Hussain could step back behind the counter to help the others, Edge said his name, stopping him. “If you’re not interested in leaving Ebott to go back overseas, you may wish to apply at the Embassy. Working there would override the limitations of your visa.”
He blinked, considering, and the hope in his dark eyes was palpable. “You really think they’d hire me?”
Yes. “We accept all sorts of qualified applicants for a variety of positions. Apply. You can use me for a reference.”
With that, he finally gave in to the agitated urge in his soul and went over to his husband. Debbie gave over her seat to him with a murmured greeting, pausing to drop a light kiss atop Stretch’s skull before she hurried back behind the counter to help the others.
“hey, babe,” Stretch said, softly. His pale eye lights were gentle, both his hands taking hold of one of Edge’s and it took him entirely too long to realize Stretch was trying to comfort him. How must he look if Stretch was worried for him? His control was taking a battering lately and Edge inhaled slowly, let it out, and worked to school his expression to impassivity. Whether or not he was successful, it wouldn’t fool Stretch, he knew that, and instead, he tangled their fingers together, his gloved ones sliding alongside those slender, delicate bones.
“Hey, love,” he murmured. He drew their joined hands up to his mouth, brushing a kiss across their knuckles. “Do you want to go home?”
“nah,” Stretch’s grin turned lopsided, “ain’t calling this game on account of a little rain.”
“Is that happening often?” Edge asked, low. He glanced around the shop. No one else was paying them any attention; their focus was on their laptops or their companions. There was another group of Monsters sitting opposite them, a few that he recognized, but it was no surprise that the wretched Human would attack Stretch. He was known, popular on the internet and in the city.
That his husband was a target was not a new thought. It was always a painful one.
“nope, first time.” And at Edge’s silent stare, Stretch sighed, “okay, first time since everything went down with andy. i promise. happy?”
“Not really,” Edge said dryly. He kept his hold on Stretch’s hand. “I’d rather you promise to tell me if it happens again.”
To his surprise, Stretch nodded readily. “okay. and you can put the shock away, i get it. you guys need to know about this stuff. even if i can handle myself and shortcut away, not everyone else can.” He tipped his head towards the other group of Monsters. They were young and if they’d been subdued during the shouting, neither had they left and now they were grinning and chatting happily.
Debbie walking up cut them off from view. She set a plate at Stretch’s elbow with several lemon bars and cup at Edge’s, hot and fragrant. She was away again with a smile and a whirl of her blonde ponytail, back to the counter. Edge freed one hand to take his cup and that first sip was familiar and warming, as was watching Stretch happily eat his lemon bars.
Safe as houses, Stretch claimed, and perhaps it wasn’t entirely true, but they were trying.