Actions

Work Header

Rectify

Chapter Text

A/N and General Warnings: As usual, if you have any questions about the content, I'll be more than happy to talk it out with you.

Still SM’s beautiful creations.

Then

Edward could always hear them coming. Of course, a herd of stampeding elephants would have been startled by the noise they were making. For a moment, Edward’s whole body seized. His knees buckled, as if readying to run, but it was too late. They were way too close. If he walked away now, they’d definitely start something. He turned back to his locker and pretended his schoolbooks needed rearranging.

Please, please, please. He chanted the words over and over again in his head. It worked sometimes. Every once in awhile, especially when there were a lot of other kids around, they’d walk by him. Well, they usually managed to at least “accidentally” shove him as they went past, but that wasn’t so bad.

Of course, they were alone in the hallway today.

They got closer, and Edward’s hands started to shake uncontrollably. He shuffled his books back and forth. Please, please, please, please.

Something grabbed him by his shirt and yanked him backward. He was turned around in a dizzying motion and shoved up against the locker beside his. The impact pushed all the breath from his body. It took him a few seconds to remember how to breathe again.

When his eyes focused, he found himself face to face with Jacob Black and his little pack. There were four of them today. Jacob, Embry, Quil, and Garrett. Jacob was the leader, but they were all jerks.

“What are you doing, perv?” Jacob asked.

Edward knew from experience Jacob wasn’t looking for an answer. The other boy kept Edward pinned with a hand splayed over his chest while he started tossing things out of his locker with the other.

“W-hat do you want, Jacob?” Edward asked, managing to get his voice to work.

That was a mistake. The boy got right up in his face so their noses were almost touching. The pressure of his hand at Edward’s chest was crushing. He raised two fingers of his free hand as though he was going to poke Edward in the eyes. Edward craned backward even though he couldn’t go anywhere.

“What I want is to dig your eyeballs out, so I don’t have to think about you looking at me and my boys like that, you fucking queer,” Jacob said, his voice a low growl. The other boys echoed his sentiment, muttering, “Faggot,” and shoving at him as though he was trying to get somewhere.

Jacob’s fingers were so close to his eyeballs, Edward whimpered. He had to look away, off, over Jacob’s shoulder. He saw Garrett leaning against the lockers on the opposite side of the hallway and had just enough time to wonder what the hell he was doing over there when Jacob sucker punched him in the gut. He gasped, unable to breathe or buckle at the waist.

They formed a loose circle then, pushing Edward between them. Edward swung out wildly, trying to gain some kind of traction. He couldn’t catch his breath or orient himself enough to be steady on his own two feet, let alone fight back.

A shove at the small of his back sent Edward stumbling. He lost his balance and fell forward onto his hands and knees, gasping and sputtering. There were a pair of shoes in front of him, and he raised his head to find Garrett staring down at him.

For a moment, the world seemed to slow. Every once in awhile, Garrett got this look in his eyes; like he was seriously considering that what they were doing might be all kinds of wrong. For a second, maybe two, they stared at each other, and Edward thought maybe Garrett wanted to help him.

Please, please, please.

A hand wrapped around his arm, hauling him to his feet. “Fucking gross. Look. He wants to suck Garrett’s dick,” Jacob said.

“Ah, we already knew that.” Embry yanked him out of Jacob’s hold, shaking him as he did. “Maybe we should knock all your teeth out, huh, queer?”

“Naw.” Quil shoved him again so his shoulder hit the side of the locker. Again, Edward found himself pressed up against it, this time face first. Quil’s hand at the back of his head had the grates of the locker pushing painfully into Edward’s cheek. “This is what you gotta get rid of.” He used his foot to spread Edward’s legs further apart, holding his upper torso pinned when he struggled. “We should cut off your dick, fag.” He grabbed Edward roughly between his legs. “So you-”

With an animalistic shout he wouldn’t have figured himself capable of, Edward reared back hard enough that the pressure against his skull lessened. He drove his elbow back, and Quil jumped with a yelp to avoid it.

Good enough. Edward spun around, breathless and aching and more scared than he’d ever been, which was saying something when faced with these four. But he was also angrier than he’d ever been. A kind of anger that gave him strength. “You fucking assholes. You’re the ones who can’t leave me alone. Who do you think’s more fucking queer?”

It was the wrong thing to say. He could see in their eyes the need to prove he was wrong. He was furious and fierce in his anger, but they were angrier, fiercer, and there were more of them.

They stepped forward with clenched fists. It was one of the last things Edward saw.A/N: Many thanks to Mina, MoH, and JessyPT.

I know these are my famous last words, but this should be short. No more than five chapters. (Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mina already laughed at me).

Chapter Text

Now

“Edward Cullen, if you keep on huffing like that, I’m going to mistake you for a choo choo train.”

Edward looked over at his best friend, smiling at her despite the twinge in his stomach. “There’s a good pick-up line in there somewhere. I might mistake you for a choo choo train and ride you all the way down the line.”

She chuckled and returned her gaze to the road as she drove. “Smooth. So smooth.” She waited a beat before she asked, “You’re really nervous, aren’t you?”

Edward huffed again and stared out the window. He’d always thought the forest around Forks was oppressive somehow--too thick and dark to be beautiful. He hated how he felt like he was being dragged into it. This should be a happy time for his family.

But that was the great thing about Bella. He could tell her anything. Everything. He saw a sign announcing they were less than thirty miles from Forks, and he shuddered. His throat tightened. He crossed his arms over his chest and sat up straight. “The good people of Forks don’t take well to folk like me,” he said in a faux-unconcerned drawl.

“Not going to lie, I think it’s kind of shitty for your family to do this to you.”

“This isn’t about me. This is Rosalie’s week,” he said, trying his best not to sound bitter. Rosalie’s time at Forks High was very different from his.

Bella took her hand off the steering wheel and reached over to squeeze his knee. “It’s a week. A week, and then you’ll never have to be here again.”

“Yeah. Unless Rosalie and Emmett decide to move here.” He crossed his arms over his chest.

Bella was silent another moment. She reached over and caressed his hair. “Edward, you’re not fifteen years old anymore.”

His breath left him in a gust, and he laughed--a nervous sound. He hated this. He’d worked hard to be confident and fearless. He felt anything but right then. “Neither are they. You know? And there are a lot of them.”

“Yeah, well. You have me.”

Edward grinned. “Thank goodness for small miracles. “

“Don’t worry, Edward. The worst thing that’s going to happen is that you’re going to have to go a whole week without any cock.”

“No cock?” Edward threw his head back dramatically. “However will I go on? No one should be expected to survive under such conditions. Ugh.”

~0~

As much as Edward wasn’t happy to be back in Forks, he was glad to be with his family. When he and his sisters had grown up, everyone had scattered. Their parents stayed in Seattle. Edward had migrated toward California. Rosalie had ended up in upstate New York. Alice--adopted in infancy by Carlisle and Esme Cullen, Edward’s parents--had found out she had a biological sister in Philadelphia. She’d met her now-husband there on one of her visits and had stayed.

Why his socialite older sister held such nostalgia for the dreary, trashy town of Forks, Edward had no idea. If ever a town could be the antithesis of Rosalie Cullen, it was this one. But when she found out their old house was on the market, she’d bought it. She and her fiance flipped houses for a living, so they said it was an investment. Again, Edward couldn’t see why anyone would invest in a house in Forks. No use trying to polish a turd.

Rosalie had insisted the whole family take a week’s vacation to reconnect and get the house ready for her wedding. She was turning it into her own private venue for the occasion. She and Emmett had already been in Forks for three months, renovating.

“It’s Alice’s fault,” Rosalie said when they were all settled around the dinner table. “She was the one who planned this dream wedding when we were teenagers. The house is here, and now I want what we spent hours talking about. I want it in all of its ridiculous glory.”

“I planned that wedding for me,” Alice said, waving her finger at her sister.

Rosalie quirked an eyebrow at Alice in challenge. “Yeah, and then you ran off and married this guy overnight,” she said, nodding at Alice’s husband, Jasper.

“Three days.” She looked over to her husband who took a moment to smile at her even as he tried to wrangle their three-year-old son, Peter. “Although, I guess you’re right. I would have married him the night I met him if I could have.”

“I still think you’re crazy,” Edward said, shaking his head.

Alice flashed him a grin. “Hey, I just knew. We both did. Five years and one point five kids later, I have no regrets.” She patted her hugely pregnant belly. “Well, except what my maid-of-honor dress looks like with this. Elegant and pregnant aren’t words that go together.”

“This is what I like about your family, Edward,” Bella said, bumping his side. “They’re full of weird, wonderful stories. I could write a book and make millions on that story alone.”

“Your story is much more interesting,” Rosalie said.

Edward saw the look in her eyes and knew what she was about to do. It was too late, though. Before he could protest, Bella had asked, “What story?”

“How to Turn A Gay Man Straight, by Bella Swan. It has a nice ring to it,” Rosalie said innocently.

“Rose,” their mother admonished.

“No, she’s right,” Bella said. Her voice was calm, but Edward could see the fierce gleam in her eyes. “That’s not an accurate title, but our story would be interesting. Especially with a few fictional flourishes. We’re good, if unconventional, partners--more than roommates, less than lovers. I could make it sell.”

Edward smirked and leaned over to kiss her cheek. He’d figured Rosalie would open her big mouth. His sister was bigoted in that quiet, almost acceptable way. She often told people she had no problem with Edward being gay; she just didn’t want to have to see it. She couldn’t really grasp anything that existed outside her heteronormative experience--women married men and had babies. That was the reality she knew. Why anyone would want to deviate from that path, she couldn’t fathom.

She’d been more than a little miffed when Edward said he was bringing Bella with him to Forks. “Family only,” she’d said, but Bella was his family. Theirs was a society obsessed with labels, and under those rules, he and Bella were in a relationship.

Which was why they found themselves sharing Edward’s childhood room that night. It was what they were used to, after all. They shared a bedroom at home in California.

It was an arrangement they’d come to long ago. They got along famously--better than any of the actual couples they knew. They were each other’s support systems. They had an honest, deep love and affection for each other. What they had worked for them.

Bella was asexual--sex did nothing for her. She didn’t want it, didn’t need it, didn’t particularly like it. Not a lot of people could accept the idea of being in a relationship with little to no sex. It wasn’t unheard of, but Bella hadn’t found a good match yet.

Edward had the opposite problem. All he had was sex. There were two reasons for this. The first was practical. He was an admitted work-a-holic with no regrets. He worked hard at what he did, was in the midst of building a company he was proud of, and it was more important to him than finding the right man to settle down with. Everyone had their priorities--the things they wanted most in life--and Edward’s job was his. The second reason was simply that he wasn’t the easiest partner to have, and he was a picky bastard. If he was discerning about his food, his shoes, and the color of his car, why wouldn’t he be a snot about who he might potentially spend the rest of his life with? He had yet to find a man whom he wanted to see more than a few nights at most.

Still, both Bella and Edward liked the idea of a partner. Edward daydreamed of his own wedding day, standing in front of a man who challenged him and loved him for all he was. He had a vague faith that day would come, but for now, he leaned on his best friend when he needed support. He had someone to cuddle with and wake up next to. Life was good. For now.

Edward was already in bed, tapping away at his laptop when Bella got out of the bathroom. “Put it away, Cullen. I’m coming in.”

He raised his head. “Nuh uh. You and your wet hair aren’t allowed in bed. Try again.”

She put her hands on her hips. “That’s how you’re going to play it, huh, Cullen? Are you sure about that? Because if I have to send you to sleep on the couch, your sister’s head might explode.”

“It’s not even healthy to go to bed with wet hair. You’ll catch your death.”

“Your father is a doctor, asshat. You don’t catch deadly viruses just because your hair is wet.” She lifted the covers.

“Don’t do it,” he warned.

She raised an eyebrow and put her knee on the bed.

Edward put his laptop on the nightstand. “Isabella Marie.”

“Oh, now you’ve done it.” She lunged into bed at the same time he moved to block her.

A few minutes and one playful wrestling match later, Edward was on his back, flipping through e-mails on his phone. Bella was curled up against him, her head nestled on the ever spreading wet spot on his chest. She yawned, snuggling closer.

“You already sleepy?” he asked.

“May I remind you our flight left at the buttcrack of dawn.”

He snorted. “Honey, nine in the morning is hardly the buttcrack of dawn.”

She just grumbled. They were silent for another few minutes. Her breaths were even, but she wasn’t asleep. When he scoffed, she was awake enough to mumble, “What?”

“Apparently, they’ve almost got uterus donations figured out. Men, transwomen, and barren women might be able to carry their own children soon.”

“That’s cool,” she said around a yawn. “That’s what I love about science. Always providing me with ample possibly-true-to-life plot bunnies to play with.” She yawned again. “So many bunnies.”

With a grunt, she rolled over, away from him. “You’re all wet, Edward.You can’t expect a girl to sleep on a wetspot. It’s rude.”

He rolled his eyes but reached over and stroked his fingers through her hair affectionately. “Goodnight, Bella.”

Edward had to admit he was tired. After Bella was asleep, he realized he was exhausted. He’d been working double time in order to prepare for this trip. He flipped back to his business e-mails, determined to be done in the next twenty-five minutes so he could get to sleep himself.

As he worked, the article he’d read kept popping up in the back of his mind. He knew a friend who’d be very interested in the idea. So though he was tired, when he was done with business, he copied the link. He flipped through his apps on his phone, trying to find the Facebook button.

His sleepy, uncoordinated fingers hit Grindr instead, and Edward snorted as the program loaded. Right. Grinder was a gay dating app designed to let him know when other gay men were nearby. Forks was a tiny town and isolated. The nearest gay man was probably in Port Angeles. Or if there was another gay man in town, it wasn’t like he was going to advertise his presence. For being in the very liberal state of Washington, Edward knew damn well Forks was still as far behind the times as it had been when he was a kid.

Unfortunately, his phone was doing an annoying thing where the screen froze until the app finished loading. He flicked at the screen in reflexive annoyance. In reality, it only took a few seconds to load. He was about to hit the downsize button when the phone chimed, telling him he had a waiting message.

Edward hesitated, taken aback. That someone was messaging him on this app meant someone knew he was in town. Forks was tiny. This person was close, they knew he was gay, and that made him nervous.

He grunted and shook his head in self-admonishment. They knew he was gay because they were on a damned gay dating app, which meant they were in the same boat he was. Curious now, he clicked on the message icon.

Garrett: I think I know you.

Edward’s broke out in a cold sweat at those words. It was ridiculous, he tried to tell himself. He reminded himself again that Forks was tiny. It was the kind of town where everyone knew everyone else. Anyone who’d lived in Forks a decade ago could have known him.

Then again, his picture was of the statue of Adonis, not his face, so…

Edward: Really? What makes you say that.

He tapped on the edge of the bed, trying to swallow past the lump that had risen to his throat. He could have tapped on the guy’s name and brought up his profile. No need to wait on tenterhooks like this. But somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Garrett: You’re my age. I went to high school with an Edward who’s supposed to be in town for his sister’s wedding.

Fucking. Forks.

Edward felt light headed. Spots danced before his eyes.

You're my age.

He’d gone to high school with exactly one Garrett, and oh Christ, did he remember him. Garrett who so often stood off to the side, watching as his friends pushed Edward around, knocked his books from his hands, stuck their foot out when he was passing. Garrett who had thrown out the occasional, “Faggott,” while his friends taunted and threatened Edward.

It couldn’t be.

With trembling fingers, it took Edward a few tries to tap on Garrett’s name.

All the breath left his body.

It was him. All grown up and hotter than hell. His eyes seemed to pierce Edward from the screen. His smile was cocky and…

And Edward flung the phone away from him. It hit the wall with a loud thud. He felt Bella jolt awake beside him, but he’d already crumpled forward, his head in his hands, his breath erratic.

“Edward? What happened? Edward?”

He felt Bella’s hand on his back, but he couldn’t speak. He wanted to say too much.

Forks was so small. It was so goddamned small. It was small, and Garrett knew he was there. He probably knew exactly where he was.

Rational or not, Edward had the sudden fear that Garrett was messaging him from right outside. He had the urge to run to the windows to see. His skin crawled.

“Edward,” Bella said sharply. She gave his shoulders a shake.

“I’m fine,” he managed with a gasp. “I’m okay.” He was trying to convince her and himself, but they both knew he was lying.

Of course, he’d known damn well there was always a chance, a fairly good chance, that he’d run into one of them. He was as prepared as he could be for it to happen in public. Not here. Not like this.

It had taken him so long after Forks to feel comfortable with himself, to embrace his life as a gay man. For a long time, he hadn’t fit in well in either world. He wasn’t straight, but he hadn’t been confident enough to date men. It had gotten better, and these days, he navigated real life encounters and dating apps with ease.

So for that kid, that man, to find him was a violation. Suddenly, he’d lost the last fifteen years. He was just a kid, his head turned toward his locker, hoping and pleading with any deity who’d listen to let those assholes pass him by.

Please, please, please.

He closed his eyes tightly and hoped he was having a nightmare. Of course, when he opened them, nothing had changed. He was still back in Forks, cowering into his best friend’s arms, the last fifteen years of strength and progress a distant memory.

Like the fifteen-year-old kid, he had no idea what he was supposed to do.

Chapter Text

Edward wasn’t in a good mood.

He had a love-hate relationship with the night. Some of his best moments happened at night, when it seemed like anything was possible. There was magic in the darkness, under the stars, in the quiet of evening.

On the flip side of that coin, anything seemed possible in the night. There were monsters lurking in the darkness, and it didn’t matter that Edward was a grown-ass man; anyone who said they weren’t at least a little afraid of the dark was a liar. Even in his apartment in Southern California--where it never got truly dark--Edward had managed to freak himself out, looking at pictures of supposed ghosties and ghoulies.

So, yes. When Garrett contacted him, how could he help but be thrown back to a time when he was always scared? Back when Garrett’s friends had been terrorizing him, he lived every day on eggshells, waiting for them to sneak up behind him. He waited for them to tell someone else, someone even more lethal than they were. That was the worst part of those years--the belief that no one, not even an adult, would help him. Even when he wasn’t in school, he was always looking over his shoulder.

In the middle of the night, it was hard not to feel the oppression of the darkness. Garrett’s words, “I think I know you,” had given Edward the creeps off the bat. It was too easy to imagine a threat lurking out in the trees.

Even after he’d calmed down and told Bella what had happened, Edward was too jumpy to rest. Now, it was morning. The sun was shining--a rarity for Forks--and Edward was in a horrible mood. He was sleep-deprived and tense. He berated himself for his own cowardice. After all, in his fear, he’d missed a keypoint.

Garrett Damon was gay. His Grindr profile had listed him as gay. Not bi. Not questioning. Gay.

It made Edward curious, which in turn made him only more furious at himself. He'd made a promise to himself that he wouldn't lose anything else to Jacob Black and his pack of assholes--not sleep, and not time thinking about any of them. He'd been in Forks fourteen hours and he'd given them both.

Still, how could he help but wonder? Had Garrett known he was gay when he was watching his prick friends pick on Edward? It was a line of thought that always led him to nothing but more anger and frustration.

Given all that, Edward was cranky as hell. He rubbed his temple and tried to pay attention to what his sister was trying to show him.

“So what do you think?” Rosalie asked, smoothing down the plans on the table in front of them.

“I think it’s ostentatious,” Edward muttered. His filter wasn’t up yet. “You’re out of your goddamned mind, first of all. The wedding is in a week. You’ll never get this done. And even if you did, it’s overkill. I’ve never understood spending so much on a damn party, but this is ridiculous.”

Rosalie narrowed her eyes. “I didn’t ask for your damn opinion about my wedding, although, for the record, you’re a hypocrite. You’re trying to tell me your wedding won’t be the most obnoxiously grandiose party of the decade? Give me a break. I know your tastes.”

She shook the plans in his face. “I’m asking your opinion as a professional, you ass. These are final plans for after the wedding. You know. To sell the house. Am I going to need to get a permit for any of this crap or not?”

Edward took a moment to breathe in and out. He’d missed that bit. Rosalie had said at least a thousand times the night before that she was lucky. The whole family was well-suited to pulling off the wedding of her dreams. Their mother was an interior designer. Alice and Jasper worked in the fashion industry. Rosalie and Edward were in construction and remodeling. She’d already enlisted Edward’s help in constructing a makeshift tent structure to enclose part of the backyard temporarily. Since Edward was more on the large-scale projects, he knew more about codes and permits.

He grabbed the papers from her and looked them over again, this time with a professional eye. “Well, yeah you’re going to need permits. You’re going to be doing major reconstruction around a load bearing wall.” He tilted his head, re-reading to make sure he understood. “And adding a serving window. Really, Rose? Why do you need a serving window? I’d understand if there was a pool outside, but this is Forks. There’d more likely be a pond. And no one spends much time outdoors in Forks.”

“I’m hoping that will be a selling point to the house. Look.” She pointed to another sketch. “I want to make this area into a covered patio. Glass on this end, to cut off the windchill. A fire pit for warmth, and then maybe people can actually enjoy the view of the forest.”

Edward glanced out the window and grimaced. Who wanted to spend time staring into a dense, dark forest? But he’d already been grumpy enough with his sister.

“So since you know your way around permits…” Rosalie said and smiled at him winningly.

“Ah, so that’s your game.” He snorted and shook his head. Of course she had to have known she needed permits. “You want me to work my magic.”

“This isn’t a vacation, brother mine.”

“I’m supposed to be helping you with the wedding.”

“This is helping me with the wedding.” She looked the picture of wide-eyed innocence as she blinked at him. “If I can sell this thing for enough, it’ll pay for the wedding. and then some.”

“Good luck with that.” Edward sighed. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll head out to Port Angeles and get that process started.” He eyed his sister. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“I wasn’t, but it’s probably a good idea. You’re grumpier than a hundred-and-nine year old man.”

He rolled his eyes. “Yes, Bella and I will get out of your hair.”

“Do you really  need her to hold your hand?” Rosalie quirked an eyebrow.

Edward glowered at his sister. “What kind of service are you pressing her into?”

“I swear, I was just doodling,” Bella said, coming in from the kitchen. She set a platter of bacon in the middle of the table and frowned at Edward when he snatched a piece. “All of a sudden, your sister thinks I’m a muralist.”

“A muralist?”

“She’s really very good,” Esme said, coming from the kitchen carrying a platter of eggs. Carlisle was behind her with pancakes and Emmett was behind him with a ravenous expression.

“I want the hallways and the front room to have a kind of fanciful design. I suppose you could call it a mural even though it’s not floor to ceiling,” she said with a sniff. “I’d been having a hard time describing what I wanted, but what Bella was doodling is exactly it.” She shuffled through her papers and handed him one covered in drawings he was familiar with.

“All things considered, it’s a good opportunity for you,” Edward said, looking at Bella and handing the paper back to Rosalie. “You already draw this stuff all over every surface except the wall.”

“That’s true,” Bella said. She sat beside him. “But if you want me to go with you to Port Angeles…”

He waved a hand. “No.” He looked her in the eyes, communicating silently that he understood what she was really asking. She was worried about letting him go out-and-about alone when he’d been so terrified the night before. “I’ll be fine.”

<center>~0~</center>

By the time Edward was off to Port Angeles, he was feeling considerably better about the prospect of spending the next week in Forks. It looked like it was going to turn out to his benefit that Forks wasn’t anywhere close to civilization. Emmett had lamented that any time they needed supplies, they most likely had to go to Port Angeles--over an hour away. It was the nature of an endeavour like this that they would constantly need supplies. Edward was the best choice for these runs seeing as his expertise didn’t fall under the delicate work necessary for a fantasy wedding.

He pretended to pout a bit and, as he’d hoped, his father handed over the keys to his sleek Mercedes as a consolation. Edward liked to drive. Bella did, too, which is why he’d let her drive them from SeaTac to Forks, but he wasn’t at all displeased at the prospect of spending the next week zipping back and forth from Forks to Port Angeles.

Off he went with a list at least five miles long with six different stops on it. No matter. Port Angeles wasn’t Forks, and he was feeling much more like himself as he set about his tasks. He filled out the necessary paperwork and charmed his way to an early inspection time--just as Rosalie wanted. He went to three different hobby shops, looking for the exact mounts requested. He went to four different florists looking for someone who could make a last-minute arrangement in the size his sister wanted. He took Rosalie and Emmett’s photographs and put in an order for them to be touched up and made into canvas prints. He flirted with the kid behind the counter--he had to be no more than college age, bless his cute, twink heart--until he agreed that, “Okay, Mr. Cullen. I guess I can give you the coupon price without the coupon.”

The kid turned all kinds of red when Edward leaned across the counter and promised he’d be back in three days to pick up the prints in person.

Stopping for a well-earned cup of coffee, Edward caught the barista--the one who wasn’t serving him, unfortunately--casting glances in his direction. He let a smile curl at one corner of his mouth--always a well received move--and winked at him.

My, my, my but wasn’t Port Angeles full of the baby gays today? Thank goodness for summer break.

As he found a comfortable chair to lounge in, he fired up Grindr without thinking. He wanted to see if either of the little cuties nearby had a profile. If they were still in their teens, that would be an automatic pass, but a twenty-one year old might not be too bad.

Of course, he realized his mistake a moment too late. His chat with Garrett was still up on the screen with several more messages on it now.

Garrett: I’d say it’d be good to catch up, but let me cut to the chase.

Garrett: The only thing you really need to know is, when I went off to college, I majored in the fine arts--the fine art of making my guy scream.

Garrett: Want to fool around?

Edward’s hand had begun to shake so much, his phone clattered to the table. He balled his hand in a fist and closed his eyes, breathing through his nose. His face had gone clammy, and he shivered.

Want to fool around?

Those words almost always stirred the beginnings of lust in the pit of his belly. Not this time. Linked as they were to sex, and Garrett being who he was, Edward’s first thoughts were of violation. He would never forget the terrible fear and rage that had burned in him when Quil cupped him between his legs all those years ago, threatening to cut his cock off. He remembered the ugly, awful terror. He’d been a virgin then. No one had ever touched him there.

Edward’s body interpreted those words from that man as a threat. He had to struggle to keep his throat from closing off. He opened his eyes and looked out the window. The open space of Port Angeles was a far cry from the oppressive forests of Forks. He didn’t feel closed in here, and that helped him stay in the moment.

The spike of panic ebbed, leaving Edward with a sour taste in the back of his mouth. Irritation brought color and warmth to his cheeks. Who the hell does this asshole think he is? Edward wondered briefly if he could be doing it on purpose--knowing he was getting under Edward’s skin.

Any way he looked at it, Garrett was an asshole. Even if he could let bygones be bygones, what in the ever loving hell made him think Edward would want anything to do with him? Edward wasn’t sure what Miss Manners would have to say about the situation, but he was pretty sure that if one was going to approach a man he’d been a prick to in high school, some kind of apology was a prerequisite. Only a crazy person would assume Edward would not only let all that crap go, but want to fuck him as well.

Then again, it had been Edward’s experience in life that the people who left scars on others’ psyches most often didn’t even know or remember what they’d done. What was the old saying? The axe forgets, but the tree remembers.

Edward picked up his phone again, curiosity and anger both loud in his head.

He wasn’t scared of Garrett Damon. Not really. Not in the light of day when it was easy to remember he was a grown man. Not only that, but he was a well-muscled grown man more than capable of defending himself.

Edward swiped to unlock the phone, and Garrett’s chat came up. He debated a few more seconds.

Edward: Yeah, right. I think I have better taste than bullies.

He didn’t wait to see Garrett’s response to that. He shut down the app, finished his coffee, and hurried out of the coffee house to finish his errands, his good mood a distant memory.

As he walked around Port Angeles, he tried his best to forget Garrett existed. It wasn’t any use. The man lingered at the back of his thoughts, throwing an unnerving pallor over the day.

He wanted to know what Garrett had to say for himself. He wanted to demand answers. For the life of him, Edward had never been able to understand how any human being could treat another the way those boys had treated him. He just didn’t get it--couldn’t comprehend it. He had true anger in his heart. He had something close to hate in his heart for Jacob Black and his stupid friends. He had a reason, where they never had. Even with all that, when Edward thought about terrorizing any one of them, he felt more ill than anything else.

Why was a question that had haunted him for fifteen years. Why had they treated him like he was the monster when he’d done nothing but had the audacity to be gay? He knew the answer they would have given. Little boys like Jacob and his pack turned into grown men with the same juvenile thought process. Most of them got over their ‘punch anything that bothers them’ phase, and moved on to more passive aggressive gay bashing. Always, Edward wanted to know why. Forget the stupid reasons they gave--if they were really afraid every gay man on the street wanted them, they wouldn’t have such problems understanding the “Yes, all women” movement. Edward wanted to know why they wanted him not to exist.

It was a question he’d tried to convince himself he didn’t need the answer for.

To that end, he cursed himself for responding to Garrett. He should have blocked the asshole and been done with it. Fuck him. Fuck him for who he’d been when they were fifteen and fuck him for turning out to be gay. As though Edward needed one more thing to be pissed about.

His phone was burning a hole in his pocket. He wanted to see if Garrett had responded and yet…

Edward jumped when his phone vibrated. Under other circumstances, it might have been comical. He pulled his phone out as though it would bite him. Even though he knew it couldn’t possibly be Garrett--Grindr was turned off--he still cringed.

It was his sister asking for one more thing and telling him he’d better not be boy hunting on her time.

Shaking his head, Edward got back to work.

Chapter Text

With the chaos that was his childhood home these days, it was a wonder Edward could think about anything extraneous, but he managed it. Though, under the circumstances, it was inescapable. The verbal gymnastics he had to do to get out of doing any errands around Forks were incredible.

Four days to Wedding Day, Edward nearly dropped into bed, exhausted from all the running around he was doing. Bella, looking similarly tired but equally stubborn, pulled out her laptop. She was determined to write at least a thousand words a day no matter what.

Edward sighed and hauled himself upright. After a few minutes, he positioned himself before Bella and began playing with her hair. She gave a small moan of contentment. She said the motion gave her pleasant tinglies. Edward, having grown up with two sisters, just liked to play with hair. He found the motion soothed him.

As per usual, Bella didn’t have to be told what he needed soothing for. “So, here’s what I don’t get,” she said.

“What’s that?”

“Why all the subterfuge? The wheeling and dealing? I’d understand if it was only Rosalie trying to get you to get out there, but your parents are typically more understanding.”

His hands stilled for a few seconds before he started gently untangling again. “They don’t know.”

She swiveled to face him. “Excuse me?”

He grimaced. “I never told them.”

She blinked. “But...you moved away. They moved away for you.”

“No.” Giving up the fight, Edward clapped her shoulder. “Don’t look at me a second, huh?”

She studied him for a long moment, but eventually, she turned. Edward was quiet for another few moments, working his fingers into her hair again. “The last time...when things went too far…” He had to swallow hard. “I ended up with a pretty bad concussion.

“I was awake, but I wasn’t, you know? Like I could hear things, but they didn’t always make sense for a while.” His lips quirked up in a wry smile. “My mom, as you might imagine, was freaking out. I heard her first. Understood her first. She was scared, because when I talked it didn’t make any sense.

“So my dad is giving her the clinical doctor answer, right? He was talking to her about what they had to be prepared for.” Again, he swallowed. “He said I might not remember everything, but I think there won’t be permanent problems.”

Again, he fell silent. He wasn’t proud of this part, but he also wasn’t ashamed. He’d been no more than a child. He hadn’t had a chance to find his voice, his strength, his perspective. His reality was limited to his tiny ass high school with its small-minded people.

“So when I could think well enough to answer all their questions, I lied. I told everyone it was just stupid ass boys-being-boys crap.” He huffed. “It was so dumb. I mean, you know my parents. I knew, in my heart I knew, they would never hate me. They could never hate me for what I was. What I am. I knew that.”

“But you’d just been pretty badly beaten for being what you are,” Bella said quietly, reaching back to touch his knee.

“Yeah,” he said, his tone raw. “Exactly that. I was just scared out of my mind. I was scared if I told my parents, everyone would know. Everyone.” His breath shook. His lungs were too small tonight. “I thought it was my fault.”

“What?” Bella craned her head back. “You mean that they were like that with you?”

He tilted her head gently forward. “Okay, up front, I did figure out it wasn’t my fault, okay? I get it. Really, I get it.”

“But?”

“But at the time...I almost couldn’t blame them. See, the thing was, Garrett and I had a class together.” He clenched a fist at his side, his cheek twitching. “I knew him, of course. I knew him like you know everyone in this town. He was newer than others. He’d moved here when we were all in sixth grade.

“We had a class together, and we had to do a group project.” Again, he scoffed. “Jacob was in that class too.” His heart twisted painfully. “I knew him better. Not best friends, but we’d had the occasional sleepover as children.” He shook his head, dismissing that. “Anyway, by high school, Jacob was all about his group of friends who were from the reservation. His pack--and Garrett. So, I guess Garrett was the lackey, you know? Jacob basically dumped all his school work on him, so, on the project, it was just him and me.” He leaned forward, resting his head against her hair. “You’re a writer. I bet you can tell what happened next.”

“Two teenage boys with teenage boy hormones. He’s gay now, so I’d bet that he was giving off signals left and right, even if he didn’t know it yet,” she said.

“Yeah,” Edward said with a laugh. He had been rewriting that particular scenario these last couple of days.

“You kissed him?” Bella asked.

“Ah, dial it back a notch, best seller. No, I didn’t kiss him. I did, as I was getting on my bike to ride home one day, maybe, kind of, sort of, accidentally mumble that he was hot.”

She giggled. “Oh, lord. Baby Edward with his baby Edward charms would have been a sight to see.” She reached back again, stroking his hair once. “So he didn’t react well.”

Edward paused, replaying the scene for the millionth time, wondering if he remembered it wrong. “That was the thing. He reacted fine. He got all kinds of red, stumbled and stuttered and basically said, ‘Uh. Oh. Um. Cool?’ And he smiled at me.” He tapped on the bed, his rhythm restless. “He smiled at me, but the next day was the first day the pack came at me. Jacob shoved me up against the locker and asked me what I thought I was doing, going all perverted on a guy in his own house.

“That was the kind of shit they yelled at me when they were pushing me around. That I made everything uncomfortable for him. That it was sick. He had to sit there next to me in class while I was thinking about touching him.” Edward flexed his fingers. “And I did blame myself, because I did think about that.”

“Because you were a horny fifteen-year-old kid,” Bella said.

“Yes, but again, I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time. I made sense, right? Like it makes sense that you might get sick thinking someone thought of you while they jerked off. I had thought of him that way.”

“But now you know it’s natural. I mean, fantasies are natural,” Bella said, just checking.

“Yes.” He took a deep breath. “In any event, it just so happened that Mom was thinking about accepting an offer that would move us far, far away from there. We didn’t really move because of me. I didn’t want to go back to school. Even though Jacob and the others--all but Garrett--got suspended. I had a really hard time. Panic attacks. They didn’t know what to make of it. So it was the deciding factor, you know? Mom was probably going to take the project regardless, but that cemented it.

“Sometimes I think Dad has put it all together. When I came out, when I was in college, he tried to talk about it. Get some answers, I guess, but none of them knows exactly what happened. I don’t know what they think. Rosalie always talks about my dramatics, because that’s what she thought they were.”

Bella huffed. “Yeah. Go figure.”

After a minute of silence Bella turned around, and this time, Edward let her. She pushed lightly on his chest, and he lay back. She rested on her elbow, looking down on him, her long hair falling onto his chest. “I know your arrogant ass already knows this shit, but it bears repeating.” She looked into his eyes. “You didn’t deserve any of that. Nothing you did made it happen, and obviously, Garrett was a hypocritical little shithead.”

Smiling more genuinely now, Edward reached up to caress Bella’s cheek. She was pure love.

He sighed, dropping his hand down to the bed. “I’m not afraid of him. I’m not afraid of any of them.”

“I know,” she said.

“I just don’t want to see them. Not any of them, and not Garrett, specifically.”

“I know.” She laid down, curling up against his side. “Not that many more days, Edward. Then you’ll leave them behind for good, in this crappy little town, to live crappy little lives.”

~0~

Of course, Edward’s luck didn’t run that way in this town.

He barely made it in the door in time for dinner, having been on one of his trips to Port Angeles and beyond. The lunch he’d ordered hadn’t suited him, and he’d left most of it, so he was ravenous. Settling down at the table, he served himself a plate that easily rivaled Emmett’s.

The others were talking about their days. Mostly, Edward was spaced out, thinking about a potential job offer that his assistant had e-mailed to him. He was going over proposal ideas in his head when Alice caught his attention.

“Guess what, Edward.”

He quirked an eyebrow but didn’t bother answering, too busy shoveling food in his mouth.

“Rose and I ran into an old friend of yours when we were out at lunch. Garrett something or other.”

The bite of food he’d swallowed was suddenly a lump of coal. He could feel it scraping the walls of his throat and landing with a thud in the pit of his stomach. “Oh?” he said, as nonchalantly as possible.

“Garrett Damon?” Esme said, looking between her daughters and her son with concern. “Isn’t he one of those boys who gave you trouble?”

Rosalie answered before Edward could. “No, Mom. Remember? Garrett was the one who didn’t get suspended, because he never touched Edward.”

That much was true. He’d never laid a hand on Edward. Oh, he’d tripped him once or twice, but that was about it, physically.

“What about him?” he asked through gritted teeth. Beside him, Bella squeezed his knee.

“He talked about that, actually. The thing in high school,” Alice said. “He said he’d heard recently you might hold a grudge.”

Edward scoffed. “No shit,” he muttered.

“It’s time to let bygones be bygones,” Rosalie said, stabbing her fork in Edward’s direction. “We’re all dumb little shits in high school.”

Beside her, Emmett snorted and glanced at her with tenderness in his eyes. “I want to hear some dumbshit Rosalie stories. You always tell me you’re perfect.”

Her gaze softened. “I’m the exception, of course,” she said with a haughty grin. Then, she turned back to Edward. “He seems like a really nice guy.”

“Yeah, he’s charming.” Alice elbowed Edward playfully. “And hot. And he plays for your team.”

Edward scoffed again, beyond speech. His heart had begun to pound a mile a minute.

“And guess what,” Alice said, her eyes bright. “He actually lives in SoCal. Barely thirty minutes from you, Edward.”

Edward pushed his plate away. The smell was beginning to nauseate him, and there was no way he was going to eat now. No, he already felt too sick to his stomach to even look at food. “What?” he managed.

“Yeah, he’s been up here for a few months just like us,” Rosalie said. “His mother died last year, and he’s fixing up her house so he can sell it. We saw each other a lot in passing these last few months. We always waved, but today was the first time he came over to talk. I thought he was into Alice, but then I saw his tats.” She pointed to the tattoo of the equality symbol Edward had on his wrist. “Same as yours--that one anyway. Same placement, too.”

“Well, isn’t that special,” Edward said, irritated beyond words now.

Irritated and more than a little creeped out. He didn’t like that Garrett had been talking about him.

“Don’t be a bitch about it,” Rosalie said. “Whatever he was like in high school, he’s cool now, and I invited him to the wedding.”

Edward’s fist came down on the table in surprise. “You what?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You’re an adult Edward. You can--”

“No. Uninvite him.” He held his sister’s eyes a beat. “I mean it, Rose. Unin-fucking-vite him. Are you fucking crazy?”

“Are you crazy? Are you really telling me what I can and can't do at my own wedding?”

“Can’t you see you’re making Edward miserable?” Bella asked, furious.

“That’s practically his default setting the last few days,” Rosalie said with a scoff. “What’s different?”

“Rosalie, this person certainly can't mean much to you,” Carlisle said, his voice calm as ever. “Yet it seems to matter a great deal to your brother.”

Rosalie chuffed, half irritated, half chastened. “Look it's not like I even have his phone number. I just told him to drop by if he wanted.” She looked to Edward. “I don't know why it's turning into so much drama.”

Frustrated, Edward pushed back his chair. He took his plate and headed for the kitchen. Once there, he stood leaning up against the sink, staring out at the forest.

After a few seconds, he heard the sound of Bella’s footfalls coming toward him.

“I'm giving him too much power, aren't I?” he asked softly when she put her hand to his back.

“Regardless, you shouldn't have to put up with it, Edward.”

He just grunted, gnashing his teeth.

“Would it be so bad to let it happen?” he asked after another minute. “I do have questions.”

She hesitated. “I think if you're going to confront him, you should do it before your sister's wedding. She's being an asshole about all this, but it'd be a dick move to cause a scene if you could have prevented it.”

“Yeah,” he said, his tone bitter. “A lot of things could have been prevented if Rose would have picked anywhere but Forks.” He leaned forward on the sink. “And now he knows I live in the OC.”

Bella rubbed his back. “If you go, let me go with you.”

He nodded. “Yeah. I will.”

But as of right then, he was conflicted. What to do.

Chapter Text

Edward wasn’t the type to be easily intimidated, high school bullies aside. He had certainly never been intimidated by an app before. It seemed worse, somehow, that it was this app. Grindr was the first step to what was usually a good night. It represented everything fifteen-year-old Edward never thought he’d have: an open and free relationship with his own sexuality. So it really pissed him off that, as his finger hovered above the icon, his heart began to speed and his throat closed off.

He knew if he connected the app, the first thing he would see would be Garrett’s messages. He should have blocked the asshole, but since he hadn’t, Edward had been toying with the idea of asking Garrett not to come to the wedding using Grindr chat. That would be simplest. It seemed cowardly, but it was also the option with less possibility for drama.

Sure, he could have figured out where to find Garrett. Location was not the kind of secret anyone could keep in Forks. But that would have invited more questions. Why was he asking? If he and Garrett were acquaintances, why didn’t he have Garrett’s phone number? Then, it would look like he was stalking the asshole. The whole town knew he was gay. He didn’t care about that, but he didn’t need anyone thinking he was causing trouble. Just because Alice knew what Garrett’s tattoo meant didn’t mean everyone in this town did.

“This is all easily solved,” Bella said, not for the first time. “If you’d just let me go, I--”

His glare silenced her.

All things considered, he knew it wasn’t a bad idea. It wasn’t like he wanted to see Garrett. What Edward wanted most in the world was to go back to pretending the man didn’t exist. But he also couldn’t ignore the fact that if he didn’t act, Garrett would become a permanent part of one of his family’s most special days. Sending Bella to take care of it would be the less painful choice.

Nothing was ever that simple, though.

Bella sighed and touched his shoulder. “It’s not weakness,” she said, again not for the first time.

Edward laughed bitterly. “I faced all these fucking demons once, that should be enough.” He looked at her. “You remember.”

She nodded, her eyes full of sympathy. She’d been there, literally holding his hand after she convinced him it was okay to go to the LGBTQ meeting on campus. Back then, it felt like being there, with students who were out, was painting a target on his back.

It had taken time and his first boyfriend dumping him—Benjamin was so far out of the closet, he couldn’t handle setting a foot back in—for Edward to get a handle on his fear.

“Fuck him,” he muttered under his breath. “I’ll go. Tomorrow.”

“Why not today?” Bella said, the slightest note of teasing in her voice.

“Because...”

But before he could think of a good, snappy excuse, his sister thundered down the stairs. “Edward, I need you to do me a favor.”

“Imagine my surprise.”

“And I need you to take my almost-husband with you before I kill him.”

“A matter of life or death then. I’m your man.” He winked at Bella, and then went to see what his sister needed now.

~0~

Rosalie sent Edward and Emmett to Olympia first to rent a big truck and secondly to fill it with all the lumber and most of the rock they would need for the new addition. She must have been at her wit’s end with Emmett, because the trip didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to make the day before the wedding.

“She said she wants to get down to it the day after the wedding,” Emmett said.

“I thought you were going to Hawaii,” Edward said.

Emmett’s lip twitched. “She says that’s off.”

Edward pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth, trying not to laugh. “Are you sure you’re getting married tomorrow?”

Emmett flashed him a grin. “That’s the one thing I’m sure of. She says at this point, she’s marrying me just to spite me.”

“Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?”

Emmett’s smile was serene. “Yep!”

They filled the three hour drive with surprisingly easy chatter. Edward had always had a low-key fear of the kind of man Rosalie would bring home. Emmett was the big brother Edward had wished for growing up. Plus, both of them being in the same general business arena, they had a lot to talk about.

“The way Rosalie always talked about you, I thought you were some priss,” Emmett said, laughing. “When she said you were in construction, I thought she was joking.”

“I don’t know why it would surprise you. I’m gay. You think managing a business that attracts big, sweaty men with muscles and tight shirts isn’t a turn on?”

Emmett made a face. “Hey, I’ve been on a construction crew.”

“And you prove my point for me,” Edward said with a wink.

They talked about finances—Emmett and Rosalie’s plans after they sold the house in Forks and Edward’s woes as a yet-unproven, fledgling company.

The lumberyard was huge. It was an acre and a half that stretched back into the treeline, with row upon row of different kinds of lumber. Edward was eager to get his part of the job done, so he could explore a bit.

Edward set about wheeling and dealing, getting the best price for the amount of lumber and rock they were taking. It took about an hour, but Edward was satisfied. He left Emmett to the task of getting everything loaded onto the truck.

He wandered the rows of wood and rock, running his fingers over the grain. Part of his mind went over facts and fingers, comparing prices and quality between this yard and a few of his favorites in California. With another part of his mind, he built a home from the bottom up. It was one of his favorite pastimes—imaging a home he’d designed and had built for himself.

“Edward Cullen.”

Ice went down Edward’s spine. Though the lumberyard was out in the open air, he might as well have been in a tiny room. For a crazy moment, he thought about sprinting into the forest.

Then, taking a deep breath and schooling his features as best he could, Edward turned around. “Hello, Garrett.”

The man’s face lit up. He had a gorgeous smile to go with his pretty face, but Edward didn’t want to think about that.

“This is crazy, right? Running into you in Olympia.” He cocked his head. “Well, I guess it’s not too crazy. I told your sister about this place.”

“Did you?” Edward asked, his voice deadpan. His whole body was tense, but Garrett maintained a respectful distance. That was something, at least.

“Yeah. It’s great, too. I was hoping to run into you before the wedding.”

That shook loose a few more words for Edward. “Yeah, you know what? So was I. I wanted to tell you to do us all a favor and don’t come.”

Garrett’s grin fell. He huffed, looking more amused than anything. “Wow, okay. You get right to the point, don’t you?”

Anger began to win the war over his emotions. No, facing the man right now, Edward wasn’t afraid. He was getting more pissed off by the second, though.

“It’s a little funny, man,” Garrett said, a smile tugging at one corner of his lips. He gave a little laugh. “I get that you’re pissed, but is it really that serious? Whatever crap went down happened a decade ago when we were children. I told you; I know I was a little shit back then, but you’re looking at me like I killed your dog or something.”

He thinks I’m a dick, Edward realized. Garrett thought he was being an asshole about some playground nonsense. He balled his hands in fists at his side and took a steadying breath. “What is it you think you did to me in high school?”

“It was a long time ago. To be honest, I don’t remember, which is why it can’t possibly be that big of a deal. I mean, I know a couple of the guys I hung out with gave you a bit of a hard time, but we were kids. Maybe you weren’t as rough and tumble as we were. You have sisters right?”

Edward arched his eyebrows. “You’re trying to say I’m a wuss.”

“No.” Garrett held his hands out. His face now was totally serious—no hint of amusement. “I’m just saying it was an honest difference. We were used to being rough with each other.”

He waved his hands. “Look, that doesn’t matter. I know I never touched you. Like I said, I know I was a bit of a dick. Sensitivity still isn’t my strong point, but back then…” He looked uncomfortable for a short moment before he shrugged. “I mean, come on. All stupid-ass boys are brought up thinking the worst thing in the world is to be gay.” He gestured at himself. “Obviously, I was fighting it back then. Can you blame me?”

“Being in the closet isn’t an excuse to be a bully,” Edward said through clenched teeth.

Garrett’s eyes narrowed. “There’s that word again,” he said, sounding like he was trying for a lighthearted tone and failing. “I don’t think I deserve that.”

“Oh, you don’t?” Edward asked acerbically.

“No, I don’t.” Garrett’s tone was just as sharp. “It was name calling. It’s kid’s stuff. I called my little sister rude names. Hell, I still do, when she’s being an ass. It’s immaturity, sure, but bullying?”

“Faggot isn’t playful.”

“No.” Garrett ducked his head. “I’m not saying I’m proud of it. All I said was that I don’t deserve to be called a bully. And if it makes you feel any better, I got mine. You think I haven’t had that word screamed at me? I have. And not by some dick kid—by my father.”

“Not being an asshole myself, no, it doesn’t make me feel better that you had to hear that.” Edward shook his head. He was so done. “Look, whatever. Just stay away from me and my family,” he said, moving to march past the man.

“Come on,” Garrett said, following him. “Don’t you think this is overdone?”

Edward stopped so quickly, Garrett barrelled into him. He swung around, body tensed for a fight, but Garrett stepped away quickly. “You really don’t remember what you and your friends did?” Edward asked. He almost thought this had to be some weird dream. Maybe he’d fallen asleep in the car on the drive down. This couldn’t be happening, could it?

“Jacob was your friend, too, wasn’t he?” Garrett asked. “At one point?”

“Yeah. Yeah, we were friends. We were friends until they found out I was gay. When you told them—”

“I didn’t tell them to give you a hard time,” Garrett said. He looked down, shuffling a few of the pamphlets and papers he had in his hands. “Is that what you think happened? Jacob and the guys...they just didn’t react well to it. I know they got weird. I’m not saying they didn’t. I’m just saying, was it really that big of a deal? It was kid’s stuff,” he insisted again. “They didn’t mean anything by it. I mean, I know there was that one time things got way out of hand, but that happens. It was an accident that you hit your head like that. It’s not like they were terrorizing you.”

For three of the longest seconds of Edward’s life, he simply stared at Garrett. For a fraction of those seconds, he wondered if he was right. Had he made it a bigger deal than it was? Was he being an oversensitive asshole?

Then, fury took hold.

In one fluid movement, Edward closed the distance between them. He knocked the papers out of Garrett’s hand. “Hey, faggot,” he said, and then he shoved him. Garrett stumbled backward, shock on his face, and Edward shoved him again.

Not giving Garrett time to recover, Edward shoved him backward against a pillar. “Hey, pervert. What do you think you’re doing, fag?” He yanked Garrett up and then pushed him back against the pillar and then pressed his body up against his so they were nose to nose. “Why does your gay ass think you have the right to be here with us normal people, you fucking fairy?” Edward snarled.

He fisted his fingers in Garrett’s shirt, yanking him forward again and then shoving him. Garrett’s arms pinwheeled. He was still staring at Edward in complete shock.

“You think this is kid’s stuff?” Edward asked, shoving Garrett again. Garrett stumbled backward, his wide eyes on Edward as he tried to get away, but Edward kept on coming. “You think this was a game?” He grabbed him again, shaking him hard before pushing him away. “You think it was no big deal that they did this to me day, after day, after day?”

Garrett raised his hand, as though to fight back, but Edward was ready for that. He suckerpunched Garrett. The man doubled over, gasping for breath. Edward wasn’t nearly done. He grabbed Garrett by the wrist, wrenching it behind his back. Garrett cried out and then gasped as Edward shoved him face first against another pillar. Again, he swallowed the space between them so he could snarl in Garrett’s ear. “That was just once. So was this.” He grabbed Garrett between his legs. “You want me to cut that off for you, faggot?”

“Hey, stop. Edward…”

Edward twisted his arm again, and Garrett’s words cut off in a whine of pain. “And you just watched, didn’t you? You watched all of this happen to me. You could have stopped it. You could have helped me, but you just watched. You helped them do this to me, you fucking asshole.”

“Edward, please…”

And just like that, Edward realized what he was doing. The fear in Garrett’s voice, the way he shook beneath him, hit Edward like a hammer to the stomach. He let go of Garrett and took several steps away. Immediately, Garrett stumbled to the side, clutching his wrist to his chest. He looked furtively at Edward, terror easily readable in his eyes, and then shot off in a weird half-run.

It took Edward another five, stunned seconds to realize how badly he was shaking. He sunk to his knees, gasping for breath, his hands over his eyes. What the hell had he just done? Who had he just been? His stomach twisted with revulsion as he remembered Garrett’s pleading, the whine in his voice, the look in his eyes.

Edward sat back against the pillar, taking deep breaths of cold air.

Despite his initial fear, part of him imagined it would feel good to confront Garrett. This felt anything but good.

It took a few more minutes deep breathing before Edward was able to get to his feet again.

Well, at least he could be reasonably sure Garrett wasn’t going to show up at the wedding.

Chapter Text

Six Months Later

Edward ran a hand through his hair, going over his figures again. He had enough to pay everyone, including himself, but only barely. It was an improvement over the months he’d foregone his own pay to make sure his employees were paid, but it wasn’t what he’d call comfortable.

Still, it was an improvement. The company was moving in the right direction. He just wished it would move a little faster.

“Hey, boss?”

“What’s up, Seth?” Edward asked, looking up at his assistant. Cute kid. Gay, gay, gay, gay, with a hero-worship crush on Edward. Which was neither here nor there.

Seth sat on the edge of Edward’s desk in that sexy secretary way. “There’s a gal out there who says she doesn’t want to make an appointment, but you’ll want to see her.” He tilted his head. “Drama, right? I should send her away.”

A smile tugged at the corner of Edward’s mouth. “Seth. How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not a big-time CEO. I have time on my hands.”

“I keep telling you, boss. You gotta act big to be big.”

Edward didn’t think he was imagining the emphasis the man placed on the word big. “Did you ask her what it is I want to see her about?”

Seth’s face went blank. Edward laughed. “Nevermind. Send her in.”

“Her” turned out to be a woman named Katrina Ivanova. “I represent a company looking to hire a contractor for a tract of homes,” she said, getting straight to the point. She set the paperwork in front of him—the plans for the homes as well as the specifications of how many.

Edward’s eyes almost bulged out of his head. “This is a huge job.”

“Are you saying that your team can’t handle it?”

“No,” Edward said quickly. Then he laughed. “Forgive me, Miss Ivanova, but things like this don’t just fall in your lap. I’m a little lost.”

Her face took on a pinched look. “Ah, yeah. Look, this is weird and dramatic.” She rolled her eyes. “Which, if you knew my boss, you’d know is about right for him. He’s either really chill or really…” She made a popping motion with her hands, her eyes wide and theatrical. Shaking her head, she rummaged in her bag and pulled out an envelope. “He wants you to read this.”

Edward was confused until he started to read the letter.

Edward,

I thought about doing this and leaving my name out of it, but when does that ever work? I figured, after everything, you wouldn’t want to feel manipulated. This is my company, and while I did my research—the quality of your work speaks for itself—I’m bringing this to your attention for obvious reasons.

You were right, and I’m sorry.

Garrett

Edward had to struggle not to clench his fist. He stuttered and sputtered a moment, too many reactions vying for control of his tongue. He got to his feet and turned toward the window. “What the fuck kind of a sick joke is this?”

Katrina’s eyebrows shot skyward. “Wow. Garrett said you might react badly. What the hell is going on with you two?”

Edward turned back around, his eyes narrowed in suspicion, but Katrina was already getting to her feet. “Whatever,” she said. “It’s none of my business. It’s like you said. This kind of offer doesn’t just drop on your lap, normally. It’s not the way things are done. I told him he was insane. He said to tell you he’d give you time to think about it. You can call me if you don’t want to talk to him.” She extended her card, her expression cool.

He took the card as though it were an unexploded bomb, aware he seemed ridiculous but unable to believe this was as straightforward as Katrina and Garrett claimed. She gave him a curt nod. “Have a good day, Mr. Cullen.”

When she was gone, Edward almost fell into his seat. His heart was racing, his mouth dry. He looked down at the paper he still clutched in his hand.

You were right, and I’m sorry.

Now that Katrina was gone, Edward did crumple the paper. This mother fucker.

For weeks that turned into months, Edward had waited for retribution for what he did to Garrett. That was the way it worked. If not by Garrett himself, then by his little gang. That was what had happened the first time, wasn’t it? Garrett felt threatened and he sent his watchdogs after Edward.

After six months, Edward had finally begun to let himself believe he could forget about Garrett. Not that he could ever forget, but he could let everything about what had happened in Forks—when he was fifteen and when he was grown—fade into the background noise of his life. He was an out and proud gay man, and if nothing else, he had proved he could defend himself.

Now this. What the hell was he supposed to do with this?

~0~

There was no trick, at least not in the paperwork. The development was legitimate—indeed owned by Garrett’s company. The language of the contracts was clear and normal. Everything was in order. It was a fair deal too—a solid, long term job for his crew that paid the standard rate.

And there was no denying this would be a great move for his visibility. If his crew pulled through on a tract as large as this—and he had no doubts they would—the word would spread, bringing in more clients.

What Edward wanted was to tell Garret to fuck the hell off. He wanted to tell him exactly where he could shove whatever the fuck this was supposed to be. But there was that voice in the back of his head; the voice that had employees to think about and a future for his business to plan.

Three days after his meeting with Katrina, Edward reached his limit. He’d gone over the crumpled note a thousand times. There just wasn’t enough in the words to figure out Garrett’s intentions.

Which was why Edward found himself headed to the southernmost reaches of Orange County towards Garrett’s headquarters. His heart thumped hard as he drove. He tried to tell himself to calm down. He remembered only too clearly what happened the last time Garrett got under his skin. He hated that he had to live with the knowledge he was capable of hurting someone like that, victimizing them as he’d been victimized.

By the time he parked, he was outwardly calm. No need to scare any assistants, after all. It was a calm he quickly lost when he walked in the door and ran straight into the man himself.

Garrett had his head down, looking over some paperwork as he walked. He didn’t see Edward. Focused so intently on keeping his voice even for the front desk clerk, Edward didn’t see him until the split second before collision. It was enough to keep Edward upright. He reached out automatically to steady Garrett.

“Whoa. Sorry, man. I—” Garrett’s eyes met his and his mouth fell. He took a step back at the same time Edward did.

The proximity and surprise had thrown Edward off. He had to press his lips into a tight line to keep his words in. Who knew what he would say if he opened his mouth.

Garrett swallowed hard. His skin had gone pale, and it was easy to see the nervousness—or was it fear—in his eyes. He gave a curt nod. “Do you want to follow me to my office?”

His tone was even when he spoke which annoyed Edward even further. He was anything but calm himself. But the honesty in the question didn’t escape his notice. It was as though he knew the suggestion wasn’t innocent to Edward. The idea of being alone in a room with Garrett wasn’t comfortable.

Edward nodded, still not trusting himself to speak.

Garrett led the way past the curious eyes of the desk clerk. Katrina sat at a desk outside an office that had Garrett’s name. “No interruptions,” he said, holding the door open for Edward to enter.

It was a comfortable office. Garrett and his business were doing a bit better than Edward and his. That irritated Edward too.

Garrett closed the door and walked over to a squat refrigerator. “Do you want—”

“What the hell is this?” Edward spat, throwing the folder Katrina had brought onto Garrett’s desk.

Garrett stood, two water bottles in his hand. Before he could speak, Edward continued. “What’s the catch? Or is it just that you get off on having power over me? What the hell are you going to do? Let my crew put their time, energy, and my money on the line, and then claim we’re not doing our jobs?”

“Jesus Christ.” Garrett sat heavily on a low filing cabinet. “It’s not a trap. It’s not a scheme. It’s just a gesture, for chrissakes.”

“A gesture of what?”

“I already told you in the letter. You were right.” Garrett’s shoulders slumped. He swallowed several times. “Look, I had a lot of time to think about it after…” He shrugged. “After. And you were right. About what I did. Or what I let the others do, I guess.”

“Oh, your memory improved, did it?” Edward knew he was glaring, but he didn’t care. As much as he didn’t want the monster to reappear, he much preferred scathing anger to fear.

Garrett’s expression hardened a fraction. “Yeah, man. It was a few months almost half my lifetime ago. I didn’t remember it the way you did.” He held his hand up in a placating motion before Edward could interject. “Yeah, I get it. Probably I remembered it the way I wanted to, but looking back, I can see how shitty it was. Hence, the gesture.”

“So you give me and my company this contract because you don’t like feeling guilty.”

Garrett laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound. “Guilty doesn’t begin to cover what I feel, okay? I mean, I guess to an extent you’re right. I felt like I had to do something, so maybe it wasn’t an entirely altruistic move.”

“But this is supposed to make us fair and square. You get your asshole friends to torment me, but it’s okay because you let me build your houses? So whatever success I have from here on out, I get to know I owe it all to you?”

“For fuck’s sake.” Garrett shook his head. “I’m a businessman. It doesn’t matter that I wanted to do something nice. I looked into your company. If I thought your crew couldn’t handle the job, I wouldn’t have offered it. But as I said, the quality of your work speaks for itself. I know what it’s like to be the new guy in town. You needed a break, and I happen to be in a position to give you one.”

“Because you’re such a great guy,” Edward said sarcastically.

Garrett huffed. His eyes narrowed, and he crossed his arms. “Yeah, you know what? I am a great guy. I’m a great guy who did a really horrible thing. I’m a great guy who was a coward when I was fifteen years old. And yeah, maybe that makes fifteen-year-old me an asshole, but I’m not an asshole now, okay? What I do now doesn’t erase that I was an asshole back then. That’s what you’re saying, right? Well, it goes both ways. What I did when I was fifteen doesn’t erase the good things I’ve done since then. It doesn’t make me a horrible person.”

“Well that’s just precious, sunshine. Just because your asshole friends say—”

“Jacob’s dead. Did you know that?”

Edward’s breath left him as though he’d been punched in the gut. “What?”

Garrett didn’t look as pale as he had before. His face was red with anger, and there was a coldness in his eyes. He turned to stare out the window. “He committed suicide when we were in college.” There was a beat. “Because he was gay.”

Startled, Edward almost fell into a chair. That had pushed every thought out of his head. He had no idea what to say.

“Look,” Garrett said, his voice quieter now. “I don’t know how much it means to you, but none of what they did to you—what I let happen to you—happened in a vacuum. Believe it or don’t—when I realized exactly what we put you through, I felt pretty damn low.

“And I know.” An edge crept into his voice. “You couldn’t care less about how I felt. I get it. That’s fair. But after all the shit I’ve been through, knowing I put you through something maybe worse than that, I had to try something. I wanted to explain, but I didn’t think you’d want to see me. So, this was the best thing I could think of.” He gestured to the file folder.

“Maybe I went about it the wrong way. I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s a right way to do something like this. But this isn’t about you owing me something. This isn’t about me trying to torture you with my presence or any other thing you might think. It’s my honest attempt to make amends. Like Alcoholics Anonymous or something. And hey, I’m open to your suggestions too. If there’s something I can do, I—”

“No.” The word came out gruff. Edward wasn’t looking at Garrett. He took a deep breath. “I don’t want anything from you.”

They lapsed into silence then. Edward’s skin had begun to crawl. He resented being put in a position to feel sorry for the other man. He couldn’t imagine losing a friend to suicide. He didn’t want to put Garrett and Jacob in the same league with him and every other gay man he knew—all victims of cruelty because of who they were attracted to.

“When do you need a final answer?” Edward asked.

“By Wednesday.”

Edward nodded and stood. “Fine.”

He stormed out of Garrett’s office, to his car, and was miles away before he let himself think about anything. He let himself feel the horrible roil in his gut. He’d hated Jacob and Garrett and all the others for so long, but he’d never have wished them dead. He didn’t want to think of what Jacob must have gone through to push him to the point he’d take his own life. Jacob, who had been Edward’s childhood friend.

What had Garrett said? The fact he’d been an asshole didn’t erase all the good things he’d done. The same went for Jacob. Edward couldn’t forget the friend he’d been before everything changed. He couldn’t help but grieve for that little boy.

He wanted to know what happened. He wanted to know how two bullying kids turned out be gay. He wanted to know what made them that way when they could have been allies, the three of them. Everything would have been so different if he knew he wasn’t alone back then.

He burned with resentment, because good intentions or not, Garrett was forcing Edward to deal with him again. Edward couldn’t go back to a place where Garrett was a blemish in his distant past. There would always be Olympia, and now this.

Pulling up to his own office, Edward banged his forehead against the steering wheel.

It was every bullied kid’s dream to face his bully and come out the victor, wasn’t it? Yeah, well. Be careful what you wish for.

Chapter Text

Edward accepted Garrett’s contract. He made Seth’s entire life by letting him do the on-site inspections for him. He tried to put Garrett out of his mind.

It was impossible, of course. Stories of Garrett filtered back to him. Seth, in particular, wouldn’t shut up about the man. He was funny and charismatic. He was kind—he frequently had lunch catered, and not just because it was Edward’s crew. His own people said it wasn’t atypical for him to treat them. Last year, for Christmas, he’d taken his whole damn company and their significant others on a cruise.

It turned out Garrett had been right—he was a great guy. Irritating as it was, everyone seemed to like him.

Edward could lament all he wanted at the idea this painful spectre of the past had reappeared in his life. He'd thought he'd come to terms with everything that had happened to him. Garrett had thrown him for a loop, reminded him how low he'd been, and left him with that one burning question.

Why?

It was the question that agonized and plagued every victim, and the one that was, most often, doomed to go unanswered. Yet Edward knew he could have his answer. Garrett had said he wanted to tell him.

What was the point? Was there any answer that would soothe the deep wound Garrett and his friends had left Edward with? It wasn't going to erase the years Edward spent terrified. To this day, when Edward revealed his sexuality to someone new, he cringed and held his breath, waiting for a terrible backlash. Those boys had put that anxiety in him. They were the reason he'd struggled so hard to accept himself, to embrace all he was. He’d spent years of his life emotionally crippled. Was there anything that could possibly make him okay with that?

But Garrett was on his radar now, and Edward knew this time, he'd need resolution. Whatever it meant, he needed some type of closure. Regardless of who Garrett was now, how great a guy he was, his reappearance in had brought all the bullshit Edward had fought so hard to overcome to the surface.

It was a very specific day that Edward chose to drive to the site. Not for malice, though he knew it might be perceived that way. He'd gathered, from the stories his people told, that Garrett didn't have a significant other by his side. No one here knew much about his life in Forks.

Edward risked Katrina's suspicious glare to find out if she knew where Garrett might go if he needed a drink. He suspected the ornery man would want a drink today. He might have been wrong, but it was worth checking out, he thought. It took some smooth talk, but Edward got the information he needed.

He found Garrett at the second bar on Katrina's list. He was sitting at the bar, his shoulders slumped and his gaze vacant as Edward sat next to him.

Garrett looked to the side and winced. “Christ,” he said under his breath. He rubbed his temples, staring forward for several awkward seconds before he looked back. “I know I don’t deserve any favors from you, man, but this? This is not a good day.”

“It’s the anniversary of Jacob’s death.”

Garrett blinked at him.

“Do you do whiskey?”

“Um.” Garrett looked so confused, it would have been funny if his eyes weren’t full of so much damn heartbreak. “Yeah. I like whiskey.”

Edward hailed the bartender. “Two shots of Jim Beam. Black if you have it. Regular Beam is fine if you don’t.”

“What are you doing?” Garrett asked. He had both his elbows on the bar now and was rubbing his eyes. He sounded so tired.

The bartender came back with two full shot glasses. He took Edward’s card and moved on down the bar.

Edward pushed one shot glass at Garrett and raised his. “I am raising a toast to Jacob Black.”

Garrett eyed him with suspicion and took the shot glass up gingerly. Edward raised his glass, and it seemed to sink in to the other man that he was serious. “That’s fucked up. Look, I appreciate the thought, but it’s fucked up. I know what he was to me, but he was your bully. You shouldn’t have to toast your bully.”

Edward gave a short, somewhat bitter laugh. “Yeah, well. The world is a little fucked up.”

Garrett scoffed. “No kidding.” He clinked his glass against Edward’s, and they both tossed their heads back.

Silence fell between them. Edward ordered a Moscow Mule. He rolled his shoulders, mentally steeling himself for what he was about to do. He knew how unfair it was if he couldn’t keep his feelings about Jacob off his face. “So what was he to you, anyway?” he said, his tone light.

Now it was Garrett who laughed. “Come on. You don’t want to talk about him.”

“What I know is that if I were in your shoes, mourning a friend alone, I would want to talk about him.” Edward didn’t look at him, so he couldn’t see his reaction. “I didn’t want him to die, Garrett.”

For a full two minutes, neither of them spoke. They just drank. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, and Edward was grateful for that. He didn’t want to make a day like today worse for Garrett no matter what their history was.

“I don’t know that Jake and I ever had the time to define what we were,” Garrett mumbled. “How did you know, anyway? About Jacob and today.”

“I googled him after we talked. I found the article.”

“Yeah.” Anger seeped into Garrett’s tone. “Let me guess. The one about Forks’s hometown hero. The unlikely basketball hero who got a ticket out of here only to overdose.”

“The paper called it accidental.”

Garrett shook his head. “It wasn't.” He took a long pull from his drink. “I was there. I found him. It's the same as it always was in that fucking town. They didn't want to believe the truth. They didn't want to believe they had a hand in driving him to that point. No one takes responsibility for what they do to other people.” He grimaced, glancing at Edward. “Though I guess that's the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it?”

Edward was quiet at that. It was his instinct to comfort someone who was obviously in a tremendous amount of pain, but this was Garrett and the person he was upset about was Jacob. No matter what had happened to Jacob and who Garrett was now, they had been the cornerstone of his nightmares for years. Garrett deserved to live with what he’d done.

No, Edward wouldn’t excuse him. Not even today. But that didn’t mean he had to dwell on it. “What do you mean the town was responsible for what they did to him?”

“It’s hard to explain. I guess it came down to mob mentality. Atmosphere or something. I think...I think if we lived somewhere else… Everyone in that little town had an opinion about everyone else, and if you were gay, it was toxic. You know, Jacob was all his dad had. His wife passed away. Jacob’s sisters both lived far away. I think he could have accepted the one child who paid attention to him, gay or not, if he could work through it on his own.” Garrett shook his head. “I don’t know. It was confusing.” He ran a hand through his long, dark hair, pushing it back from his face. “I’m sorry. I’m so fucking morose today, I’m driving myself crazy.”

“I think it’s pretty understandable for you to be morose today.”

“Yeah. What I mean is, it’s hitting me harder this year.” He polished off his drink. “Course, that’s kind of your fault.”

Edward arched an eyebrow. “What?”

Garrett winced. “Fuck, man. Look, I’m not sober. I told you before, I’m not real good with tact. I’m worse when I’m drinking.” Abruptly, he sat up straighter, his eyebrows furrowed. “You know, I was just trying to get my drunk on in peace. I didn’t ask you to come.”

“Hey, I just asked what you meant,” Edward said, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. “It’s okay. Really.”

That seemed to be all Garrett needed. He twisted around in his seat, facing Edward. “I’ve been processing a lot of what went on when we were kids since I, uh, ran into you in Olympia. You don’t really think about it when you’re a kid—all the bullshit going on. It’s just life.”

Garrett ran his hand through his hair, searching for words. “You remember when we did that project together?”

Edward scoffed. In spite of himself, his hands had clenched into fists and his body had tensed. The project where Edward had admitted he thought Garrett was hot. “Yeah, I remember that. That’s where it all started.”

“Yeah,” Garrett said so softly, Edward almost didn’t hear him over the din of the bar. “But it wasn’t like you think. I didn’t ask them…” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Fuck. This is what I mean. I hadn’t really put all the pieces together until recently, you know? The timeline of it, I guess.” A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth and he looked up at Edward. “You telling me I was hot was a good thing.”

Edward huddled his arms around his drink, hunching over the bar as he glanced back at Garrett.

“It was,” Garrett said. He signaled the bartender to bring him another drink. “I didn’t know what to say when you said that. But it was a good thing. I was excited. That was what I remembered when I saw you on Grindr. Like, hey, here was this kid, all grown up and hotter than sin, who had a crush on me in high school. I didn’t think about why it didn’t happen. I had a general memory of that time—I wasn’t really in the closet, but only because I hadn’t even accepted I was gay. I hadn’t thought about it. Though, if I had thought about it, I know I would have been in the closet. That was why I thought it didn’t happen back then.”

He shifted in his seat, ducking his head. “But then I remembered how it was. What really happened.” He took a deep breath. “I told Jacob because I needed to tell someone. I don’t know what I thought. I thought he would help me out. Help me figure out how to respond. But he flipped out. Like he really flipped out.”

“Yeah, Garrett, I’m well aware of that, being the one he flipped out on.” Edward grunted. “Sorry.” He was trying, but tamping down so many years of anger was difficult.

“No, I get it. But I meant he flipped out right then.” Garrett sighed. “Goes back to what I said about mob mentality. Forks was poison, man. It was in the air. See, about that time, I guess there was a big upset on the reservation. One of the younger guys—he was maybe five years older than us—had brought a boyfriend home. Needless to say, it didn’t go over so well.

“Looking back, I can put the pieces together. Jacob was beginning to figure out he was different. He heard what his dad—what everyone around him—did and said about boys like him. Like us. He lashed out.”

It was a common enough story, Edward knew. The biggest homophobes were so vehement because they were gay.

Garrett tilted his head. “I think he was jealous, too.”

“Jealous? Of me?” Edward asked

“Of my interest in you.” A small, wistful smile turned the corners of Garrett’s lips up. “In high school, there were a few, uh...incidents between us. Me and Jacob, I mean.” He huffed. “Which was fucking confusing as hell. How do you dry hump a guy one minute and then go on a homophobic rant? That kind of bullshit.”

Garrett set his mouth in a thin line. Edward wasn’t entirely surprised when his eyes shone bright with tears. “I know what he was to you. I do. I get it. And that…” He took a sharp breath and shook his head. “It broke my heart to remember what he did to you. He lived practically his whole life scared, Edward. It was like the other boys, the men, in that town could smell it on him.” Garrett’s lip curled in disgust. “He had to prove over and over again he was the alpha male.

“Fuck.” Garrett pressed his balled fists into his eyes and breathed deeply. “By the time we got to college…” He shook his head again, obviously fighting tears. “He wanted so much to be free, and that was the exact opposite of what he got.

“So I’m sorry, you know. I am. For all of us. I can’t stand the thought we made anyone feel like that—the way we felt. I can’t stand it, man. I hate each and every one of the fucking assholes who drove him to do what he did. I hate them.” He took a ragged breath. “I don’t want to hate myself, and I definitely don’t want to have to hate Jacob. We were more than that, even then. But I hate that we did that to you. I hate it. Fuck.” He put his hands flat against his eyes, his shoulders shaking with quiet tears.

Edward, his eyes stinging, put a tentative hand to Garrett’s shoulder. He didn’t know what the hell he was feeling. He didn’t know anything except that the other man’s misery was too palpable—and he understood it too well—not to comfort him. “I don’t hate you. And I don’t hate Jacob,” Edward said, and in that moment, it was true.

Garrett shifted and, to Edward’s shock, threw his arms around his shoulders. He clung, whispering, “I’m sorry,” over and over again.

He was drunk, Edward realized. Beyond drunk. He nearly toppled them over. Edward wasn’t so steady on his feet either. It wasn’t a good combination.

“Come on, man,” Edward said, standing and easing Garrett out of his seat. “I’m going to get you home.”

Chapter Text

Edward woke up with a neckache. It took him a minute to orient himself. His surroundings were utterly unfamiliar. Right. Garrett had been drunk last night. Very drunk. Edward wasn't quite sober himself, and he'd been tired. Last night, the idea of calling an Uber had pushed him right into exhaustion, so he'd curled up right where he was on the couch.

With a sigh, Edward closed his eyes again, rubbing his temples. He wasn’t hungover; he just wasn’t quite sure what he should be feeling. Garrett had asked him about a thousand times what the hell he was doing there, and Edward didn’t have a satisfactory answer. It was true that he’d felt sorry for Garrett, having to mourn his friend alone, but that wasn’t Edward’s problem.

After Garrett had told him of Jacob’s death, Edward couldn’t stop thinking about it. There weren’t many gay people who hadn’t experienced some kind of trauma. It was a soul-rending experience to be hated for some inherent part of yourself. Even those who weren’t rejected or ostracized by their friends, family, or community faced the near constant sting of stigma—a constant reminder that they weren’t normal, and in so many ways, weren’t wanted or worthy. Edward had never been desperate enough to consider suicide, but it wasn’t a far leap.

The conundrum, of course, was that, for Edward, Jacob was the one who had shattered his inherent sense of safety. Edward remembered all too well what it was like to look in the mirror and see ugliness, wrongness, because what else would make people do what Jacob had done to him? So for Edward to feel kinship with Jacob’s struggle was confusing to say the least.

Then, there was Garrett. Despite his best efforts, Edward was drawn to the man. He’d given him the answers to questions he’d had for fifteen years. For all these years, he’d been the face of the nameless—all the people who looked the other way when a gay person was being pushed around. The ones who said nothing when people told offensive jokes; who maybe even laughed, and told Edward to have a sense of humor. The quiet ones whose silence reaffirmed the bullies and biggots’ hate.

Yet hadn’t Edward too been silent? He had told no one about what had really happened—why Jacob and his friends had beat him. He’d wondered more than once what his silence meant. Had those boys gone on to torture other kids? Other adults as they grew up? He’d comforted himself, telling himself he was just a kid and a victim. But Garrett had been just a scared, confused kid, too.

“Oh, hell. I didn’t dream any of that.”

Edward looked up and bit the inside of his lip. Garrett was standing in the hallway just off the living room. He was still in his jeans though they were unbuttoned, hanging off his hips in a haphazard way that drew Edward’s attention whether he wanted it to or not. Not that there was a safe place to look. He’d pulled off his shirt at some point, exposing a muscular chest and tribal tattoos that crawled up his sides. His hair was rumpled, and his face stubbled with a five o’clock shadow.

If it weren’t for the glazed look in his eyes, Edward would have said he looked like pure sex. He sat up straighter. “How are you feeling?”

Garrett scoffed.

Edward nodded. “Yeah. Dumb question, I guess.”

Garrett ambled over to the other side of the couch and sat down heavily, rubbing his eyes. “Look, I’m sorry.” He winced. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t drunk enough to forget all the things I said last night. That wasn’t anything you should have had to deal with.”

“I was the one who went to you, remember?”

“Yeah,” Garrett said. He hesitated. “Don’t know if I understand why.”

Well, that made two of them, Edward supposed. “You’ve been good to my people.”

“That doesn’t mean you owe it to me to be friendly—to even see me.”

“No. I don’t owe you anything.” Edward drummed his fingers against his kneecap. “I guess I got sick of the ugliness of it all. I was sitting there, lamenting the fact I have to deal with the memories of all that shit. And you were sitting where you were, having to deal with the guilt as though it wasn’t something that happened half our lifetimes ago.” He shook his head, not looking at Garrett. “I think you were right, Garrett. You’re a good man. Maybe you were a dickhead kid, but you’re a good man now. Maybe I wouldn’t mind getting to know that for myself.”

Garrett glanced at him, his expression wary as though looking for a catch. When none was forthcoming, the tiniest of smiles tugged at the corners of his mouth. “You’re serious? You want to, what, start over?”

“If you want.”

“Uh, yeah.” Garrett rubbed the back of his neck. He laughed. “You’re all kinds of crazy, you know that?”

“Guess neither one of us is the same person we were at fifteen.”

Garrett chuckled. There was some light in his eyes again. “I need to brush my teeth. My mouth tastes like ass, and not in the good way. But, uh...after I become more human, do you think I could make you breakfast?”

Edward eyed him. “Starting over means you don’t owe me anything, you know.”

“Not as retribution. Trust me, my eggs aren’t that fancy. Just a thank you.” His easy smile fell into something more serious and sincere. “I was fucked up about Jake last night. Listening to some of the things I said couldn’t have been easy, and it wasn’t your responsibility to get me home. So let me make you some runny eggs and some truly excellent coffee.”

“Ah, there’s the magic word. Coffee.”

“That I can definitely do.” Garrett stood up and stretched. “Okay. I'll be right back.”

When Garrett ambled back into the kitchen a few minutes later, Edward went for his turn in the bathroom. Again, he wondered what the fresh hell he was doing. He was having a morning after sensation, and it was throwing him off.

It didn't help that Garrett was still half naked when Edward emerged from the bathroom. The whole thing was strangely intimate. Maybe he should have suggested coffee at a diner or something.

Then again, whatever Garrett was making smelled amazing. He couldn't tell what it was, and found himself following his nose into the kitchen to find out. “What's going on here?”

Distracted by his curiosity, Edward hadn't noticed how close he got to Garrett. When the other man turned to answer him, anything he was about to say died on his lips. Garrett's eyes went to his lips, and it was only then that that Edward realized he'd swept his tongue out in anticipation, seeing filled French toast.

There was a hint of powdered sugar on Garrett’s lips, and Edward thought maybe that was the clincher. That was what made him press forward, catching the other man's lips with his. Garrett made an odd, choked noise that vibrated against Edward’s skin. But it only took him a moment to catch on, for his shock to drain away. His hand went to Edward’s waist, pulling him in closer.

It was crazy, and it was obvious. Garrett was a kind person, charismatic, and charming. He was obscenely good-looking. But most of all, he'd been open and devastatingly vulnerable. That kind of vulnerability created an intimacy between them.

Edward broke the kiss, stumbling backwards several steps with his hand over his mouth. He licked his lips again, tasting the sugar he'd kissed off the man. He didn't know how to deal with the conflict raging in his mind. Garrett reappearing in his life had reopened a horrible wound. As much as Edward did believe he wasn't the same person who had let his friends torture him, he also hadn't forgotten.

Garrett turned back toward the stove, moving the toast off the burner. He laughed—a sound of incredulity, not humor.

Edward licked his lips again, considering the line of Garrett’s bare back. He allowed himself a brief moment to wonder what might have happened if they didn't have the past they had. If Garrett had been any odd classmate hitting him up, Edward would have been more than a little interested. That gorgeous smirk with the novelty of it being a fellow repressed classmate? He'd have been there in a heartbeat.

What the fuck was he doing? Whatever it was, Edward decided to do it again. He reached out, taking Garrett by the arm and turning him around again. This time, there was no surprise. Garrett's fingers threaded through his hair, pulling him the rest of the way in. This was the kiss of a man who not only knew what he was doing, but was used to leading.

Well, to hell with that. Edward was still angry enough that he didn't want to be submissive to Garrett, not ever again. He took the other man by the arms and pushed him back against the counter.

Garrett was wonderfully responsive. He tilted his head back, letting Edward enter his mouth with his tongue. He whimpered, and that sound did things to Edward. He leaned closer, and Garrett arched up against him.

They parted, breathless, their arms still wound around each other. Edward swayed on his feet, dizzy with what had just happened. The sweet scent of Garrett's hot breath did nothing to shake off the sense of intoxication. He opened his eyes slowly, finding Garrett watching him. His eyes were lust-dark, but he seemed to be waiting for something.

Waiting for the punchline, no doubt. Waiting for Edward to turn it around on him.

Edward closed his eyes again, laughing softly under his breath. It wasn't funny, but it was also hilarious.

“So, when you said you wanted to start over, this wasn't what I thought you meant,” Garrett said with a note of cautious teasing.

Edward laughed, pressing a softer kiss to Garrett’s lip. “Ah, that wasn't planned.”

Garrett’s lip twitched. “No, shit.”

Edward managed to disentangle himself and stepped back then, crossing his arms over his chest. He hated the painful uncertainty, and worse, the guilt that wracked him. He wasn't a fan of games or the potential of playing with someone's heart. He always made sure he was on the same page with any partner, no matter if they were just going to make out or he was looking for more. But he had no idea what his intentions were when it came to Garrett.

“How about we try that again? Third time’s a charm.” Garrett said with an easy smile. “Want some breakfast?”

Edward let out a breath, relief lightening the weight on his chest. He shot Garrett a smile, appreciating the out. “Yeah. Thanks.”

~0~

Another hour later, Edward walked back into his own door, happy to be home. He found Bella in the living room, reading. She put her book down and gave him a superior look. “Well, well, well. So Edward Cullen does the walk of shame.”

“You have no idea,” Edward muttered. He went to Bella and laid across the couch with his head on her lap. She stroked her fingers through his hair, and he sighed.

He told her everything he'd done the night before and that morning. “You can tell me I'm crazy,” he said.

“You're a lot of things, but crazy was never one of them.”

“Okay.” He swallowed hard. “If you know me so well, tell me why I kissed him.”

“Ah, I like to think there are no dumb questions, but I'm not sure what else to call that one.” She traced a finger over the bridge of his nose. “You kissed him because you like him.”

“And you see nothing wrong with that? He's part of the reason I was scared to come out to my parents, why I still tense up when I have to tell anyone I'm gay.”

“No one is denying that, including him. You forgave him, Edward. Honestly and truly, you forgave him for his part in all that.” She tilted her head, studying his face. “Do you realize you have what everyone who has been bullied wants? When someone hurts you the way those boys did, isn't what you want most, even more than retribution, for them to really understand what they did to you? Isn't that the part that drives you truly crazy? To feel this terrible fear and pain, and to wonder how one human being can do this to another? Because you know if you ever made someone feel the way they made you feel, it would churn your stomach. You want them to be sorry. You want them to be so sorry, they're wrecked.

“And that's what you got, Edward. Garrett is sorry. Truly sorry. He's distraught and guilty. And more than that, hearing what he went through with Jacob, you know he gets it. He's been where you were, even if it was slightly vicarious.” She cupped his cheek, stroking her thumb over him. “Watching someone you love in pain is its own kind of agony. I know that part well.”

Edward chewed on his lower lip, considering her words.

“You've always been an excellent judge of character, Edward. Trust yourself.” She smiled. “It would be such a beautiful thing, wouldn't it?”

“What?”

“I know he brought ugliness to your life, but I don't think he meant to. People are basically good. I don't think any of us means to hurt each other the way we do. Life is never easy. Not even right and wrong and wrong is as simple as we’d like to believe, and none of us are as pure as we want to be. I've always found peace in being able to forgive. But to be able to see past those wounds and be able to appreciate a person? That's rare.”

“I haven't forgotten, you know. I still feel the anger.”

“Yes, but it's dim enough it didn't stop you from feeling other things. Don't deny it, but don't try to hold onto it either. I know you never expected to like a man who once hurt you badly, but you do. It's as simple as that.”

“Simple,” Edward said with a scoff.

“Let me ask you this. Yes or no. Do you want to see him again?”

“Yes,” Edward whispered, still incredulous. Seeing his face when he went back to Forks had been one of the worst feelings in his life. How could he want to be around Garrett now?

“Do you want to kiss him again?”

Edward groaned. “Yes.”

“For now, that's all you need to know.”

Chapter Text

Seth was understandably perplexed when Edward showed up on the job the next day. The kid had been walking around all puffed-up with importance since Edward had given him the task of overseeing the job site. He reminded him of a little puppy, always at his heels, barking somewhat anxiously.

“Boss, if you had any reason to doubt—“

Edward held up his hand to stop Seth’s babble. “Take it easy. I swear, I’m not here because I’m unhappy with your performance. You’ve done a great job here.”

Seth straightened up. “It’s just that you’ve never shown interest in being on site before.”

“Well, I had a chance to talk a few things over with Garrett. Mostly, I’m here to see him, but I did want to get a look at the site myself while I was here.”

“What did you want to see me for?”

Edward and Seth both turned to see Garrett approaching. His enigmatic smile made Edward’s breath catch, much to his annoyance. It was a beautiful smile he hadn’t had much cause to see to that point.

Clearing his throat, Edward angled his body away from Seth toward Garrett. “I came to see if you’ve had lunch yet. I know it’s late, but—“

“No. Not late. Well...” Garrett laughed, shifting from foot to foot. “It is late, but I could eat. Sure.”

His answer pleased Edward, and he fought a wide smile. “Good. That’s good.”

They both nodded at each other. Edward didn’t notice how prolonged the moment had gotten until Seth shuffled, reminding him he was still there. “Okay, then,” he said, looking some combination of disappointed and amused. “I’ve got a thing, so…” He waved a hand and headed off in a random direction.

“You know, he has the most adorable school boy crush on you,” Garrett said, his eyes following Seth down the road.

Edward huffed. “Funny. I was about to say the same thing about you.”

There was that grin again. “Poor kid,” Garrett said. “I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t think about it. He’s very sweet, and not hard on the eyes.”

“Plus the body.”

“Oh, I know. Does he bench press motorcycles? What’s going on?”

“Did you know he’s one of those people who can do a backflip right where he stands?”

Garrett gave himself a full body shake. “Damn. That kind of flexibility gives me ideas.”

“Lucky is the man who ends up with that one.”

“Hmm.” Garrett glanced at him, his tone nonchalant. “But you’re not interested.”

Edward bit the inside of his lip. “No, ah… This is going to sound strange, but he’s a bit too sweet, if that makes any sense. I tend to be more attracted to rough around the edges. Not the bad boy per se, but not a positive puppy either.”

“Someone with a gentle bite?” Garrett suggested.

There was a teasing yet cautious glint in Garrett’s eyes as he spoke, and Edward felt a thrill go down his spine. He licked his lips, meeting Garrett’s gaze. “Yeah. Exactly.”

Garrett hummed an acknowledgment, his eyes on Edward’s lips. After a beat, he swept his hand out. “Late lunch. Early dinner. I’m ready if you are.”

“Sure. Let’s head out.”

~0~

They settled in a chain restaurant with a colorful drink menu. Garrett declared that work was done for the day, so surely a fruity drink wouldn’t go amiss.

“That’s what makes drinking at three in the afternoon okay, you know. If it’s got more sugar than alcohol,” Garrett said after they’d ordered.

“Alcohol is sugar. Technically.”

“You know what I mean. Insert a different bullshit excuse why drinking this early, before work is done, is acceptable.”

Edward smirked. “I’m going to go with the fact we want to and we can are good enough reasons.”

Garrett tipped his imaginary glass at him. “I’ll drink to that. Ya know...in a minute.” He looked eagerly to where their waiter was returning with their drinks.

“Here’s a question for you,” Edward said.

Garrett looked at him over his drink. He set it down, his smile cautious, as though he knew this was probably a conversation he didn’t want to have. “Shoot,” he said.

“We’ve gone over the good reasons I have not to want to hang out with you, but we haven’t talked about why you’d want to hang out with me. Not for nothing, Garrett, but all you’ve really seen is my anger.”

Garrett laughed and looked down at his drink. “That’s not true,” he said in a surprisingly soft voice. Then he laughed, the sound wry. “I don’t know, Edward. You throw me for a loop.” He took a long drink and lifted his eyes to Edward’s, leaning over the table. “You want to know the truth? I don’t know what to do with this guy you bring out in me. I’m smooth and charming.”

“If you do say so yourself.”

At that, Garrett’s smile curled up one side of his mouth, his eyes flashing with humor and heat. “Oh, sweetheart. You have no idea. I’m good at getting beautiful boys into my bed.”

Edward bit the inside of his cheek. His heartbeat sped, but he held Garrett’s stare, taking a long sip of his drink as though his words had no effect.

Garrett chuckled. “Let’s just say you have my attention. I’m a go with the flow kind of guy, Edward. I don’t need more of a reason than that.”

“Go with the flow,” Edward mused. Then he shrugged and polished off that first drink. “Oh, well. I’m already drinking in the middle of the afternoon. Why not?”

~0~

Lunch and two drinks later, Garrett had coaxed Edward down the street to a bar with pool tables. Edward was highly amused when the bartender greeted him by name.

“Regular, huh?”

Garrett shrugged, leading them over to the table closest to the jukebox. “They don’t skimp on the alcohol. They make kick ass potato skins and the boys who come in here run in two varieties: cuties and hard asses.”

“Cuties?” Edward quirked an eyebrow, bemused.

“Sure. You know the type. They pretend not to know how to play pool so you can show them. It’s adorable.” Garrett’s smile wasn’t condescending but fond as he returned to the table with his chosen stick.

“And the hard asses?”

“You know. The bad boys. Lots of leather. The ones who come in here fresh off a construction site, pretending they’re not gay even though this may as well be a gay bar and everyone knows it.” Garrett rolled his eyes. “Pretending that pool is the pinnacle of all that is manliness. They’re fun, because they’re not looking for a guy like me.”

“They’re looking for the cuties,” Edward said, choosing a stick of his own and chalking up.

“Exactly. And vice versa, really. I mean, we all like a bad boy now and again.”

“Mmhmm.” Edward looked across the table at him. “Where do you fit in?”

“Me?” Garrett’s grin turned wicked. “I’m just here to play pool.” He set up the balls and waved his arm wide, indicating Edward should break.

Edward lined up his shot, wondering if he was really about to do what he thought he was about to do. He huffed, laughing at himself, and took his shot.

The cue ball barely did any damage. The balls remained packed together, only slightly less tight than they had been a moment before. He straightened up and met Garrett’s eyes. He shrugged. “I’m a little rusty, I guess.”

Garrett eyed him, his eyes going dark but uncertain. The look was fleeting. Then he smiled. “Hey, no problem. Whacking a ball with a stick is something you have to practice if you don’t want to lose it.” Garrett went to his side of the table and stepped purposefully into his bubble space.

Edward resisted the automatic urge to step away. Bad enough that he was playing this game instead of being straightforward. He knew what he wanted, but he didn’t want to want it. As a result, he couldn’t make his words work. So he was left to this—inviting the chase.

They played. Edward had to flub two more moves before Garrett made his. “No, babe. Look,” he said, stepping up behind Edward. “You’re not getting low enough,” he said, his voice rough and low in his ear. He placed one hand at Edward’s waist, the other on his back, pushing gently so he bent over. “And you do this twisty thing with your hips.” He put both his hands on Edward’s waist now, his grip firm. “Take your shot, babe. I’ll keep you steady.”

As Edward bent forward, his ass brushed up against Garrett’s crotch. Garrett’s thumbs pressed lightly into his back, but the pressure was enough to send electricity up his spine. This time, he messed up the shot because he was distracted and his head was cloudy. “Fuck,” he mumbled under his breath.

When he straightened up, Garrett didn’t step back right away. The man chuckled, his mouth so close Edward could feel his hot breath on his neck. He patted Edward’s side, his hand lingering just a beat too long before he pulled away. “Don’t worry.” He picked up the chalk, holding his stick firm in one hand as he looked Edward in the eyes. “It’ll come back to you.”

And just like that, Edward was done playing games. He felt overheated and out of sorts. Whatever this tension was, he wanted to deal with it, better or worse. He stepped to Garrett’s side, taking his wrist and putting his lips to his ear. “Do you want to get out of here?”

He held his breath. For the first time in his life, he dreaded being turned down. He’d never taken rejection personally. Attraction was chemicals, and if someone else wasn’t feeling the pull, well, it was no skin off his back, really. But he didn’t want to be rejected by Garrett, and he wasn’t sure if it was only because of who the man was to him.

Garrett turned his head, looking Edward in the eyes. His expression was lust-dark and eager but with a hint of incredulity. He licked his lips. “You’re sure?”

No. He wasn’t sure, but Edward nodded anyway. Garrett instantly gathered up their sticks and took Edward’s hand. Once they settled the tab, Garrett pulled him out into the parking lot. He wrapped an arm around Edward's waist, pulling him in close and claiming his mouth.

It was a thorough and consuming kiss. It was rare that Edward felt so claimed, owned. Garrett was only an inch taller than him and perhaps the slightest bit broader, but just then, Edward felt dwarfed. It was a disorienting sensation, but not terrible. No. The way Garrett’s arms framed him, his hands alternately grabbing and caressing up and down his back, was more thrill than anything else. Part of Edward really liked how it seemed that he could tuck himself up against Garrett and be completely ensconced.

Yet, in some part of his mind, his skin crawled. He was too aware of how Garrett’s strength could be used against him. It was silly in a way. Edward was no scrawny, fifteen-year-old boy anymore. Still, this kind of trust with this man didn’t come easily.

Their ride from Uber pulled up, and Garrett didn’t say anything when Edward interrupted to give the driver his address. He kept his hand on Edward’s knee, stroking the inside of his thigh even as they exchanged small talk with the driver.

At his place, as he fumbled for the keys, Garrett wrapped his arms around Edward’s waist, pulling him back against him. He kissed and nipped at his neck. Edward gasped, tilting his head and trying to remember how to unlock a door.

Inside, he turned and tangled his fingers in Garrett’s long hair. He couldn’t get enough. It was so soft, and he loved the way Garrett moaned into his mouth when he gave it a little tug.

Garrett walked Edward backward until he was pressed up against the wall. Edward hooked his leg up around the other man’s waist, grinding up even as Garrett bore down. The friction was perfect. Desire and need coiled in Edward’s gut, putting a frantic edge to the movement. He moaned when Garrett ran his hands down his chest and belly.

When he reached down to cup him between his legs, Edward let out a gasp. He splayed his hands wide on Garrett’s chest and pushed him backward. Not away, just enough.

They stared at each other. Garrett’s eyes were a storm of confusion and desire, but there was no malevolence. He pressed his lips together and swallowed hard. “Edward—“

Edward didn’t let him finish. He surged forward again, taking control of the kiss, catching Garrett’s startled yelp in his mouth. Hands at Garrett’s sides, Edward spun him around so he was facing the wall. He took Garrett’s hands and pressed them above his head. Swallowing the space between them, he pinned the other man to the wall with his weight, running his hands over his ass and up his sides. They both paused.

They weren’t talking, which was both good and bad. Edward didn’t think he could talk just then. He wanted action. He wanted to settle this ongoing war in his head, his dual desires to hate this man and to have this man. He didn’t know if this was okay—the way he dominated Garrett just then. He would have asked; he should have. There had to be some part of Garrett that worried this was Edward taking his revenge, making him helpless. Edward knew he would stop if Garrett asked, but he wasn’t saying it out loud.

Garrett turned his head to the side, resting his cheek on the wall and pressed his ass back against Edward. Permission granted, Edward pulled him back. He reached around, running his hands over the bulge in Garrett’s jeans. Garrett arched back, his hair brushing Edward’s cheek and his guttural groan driving him crazy.

They still didn't speak, yet they were communicating. Edward peeled Garrett off the wall and led him to his bedroom. He pushed Garrett face down. He wasn’t gentle. He wasn’t violent, but he didn't hold back, and he couldn’t say his actions were without anger.

There was part of him that wanted to prove to Garrett that he was powerful—in charge. So long ago, when Edward was at his most vulnerable, Garrett had watched those other boys take a part of him. He’d watched them take his power, his trust, his pride. Now, all these years later, how could Edward help but take some of that back?

He remembered what it was like to be manhandled. He remembered the stark fear as those boys pushed him around, touched him, hurt him. He didn’t hurt Garrett. He was better than that, but he was in control. He was saying, shouting, all the things he had no words for with every move he made—the way he pulled Garrett’s clothes down. The bite mark he left on Garrett’s shoulder—not enough to break the skin but enough to make Garrett cry out. The way he grabbed instead of caressed.

Yet, for all his roughness, Edward was cognizant of what he was doing, how easily he could cross a line. He watched Garrett like a hawk. The man never cowered, never hid his face, bit his lip or showed any signs of trepidation. He was speaking too, in silent body language. He submitted to Edward’s dominance, let him take instead of give.

Which wasn’t to say the man wasn’t enjoying himself. He pushed back into Edward’s hand when he touched him. He tilted his head of his own volition, inviting Edward’s kisses. He spread his legs wider when he was slick and ready. And when Edward entered him, clasping his hands above both their heads, Garrett twined their fingers together, grasping hard.

Still no words as Edward drove into him hard and fast. No words, but grunts, groans, and cries sung to the rhythm of the slap of skin coming together.

When he knew he couldn’t hold out much longer, Edward reared back, bringing Garrett with him onto his hands and knees. He reached around, taking the other man’s hard cock in his hand and stroking him in time with his thrusts. When he felt the pulse of Garrett’s release, he let out a long, low moan. He came hard—they both did—and then collapsed to the bed in a sweaty pile.

Edward groaned and rolled over, off of Garrett. He took off the condom, tieing it off and tossing it toward an open bag of trash near his bed. He slung his arm over his eyes, listening to Garrett’s pants as he tried to catch his breath.

That was, Edward thought, the most primal experience of his life, and he wasn’t sure how to feel about that. He was a giving lover, even with his one night stands. It had never been like that before—no hot words, no questions asked. He’d never done exactly as he pleased with no input from the man he was with.

And for all that, despite the curl of guilt and trepidation building in his stomach, Edward felt impossibly lighter. This was without a doubt the most unorthodox way to get closure he’d ever heard of, and yet, it had worked. For the first time since Garrett’s name popped up on his phone, he was free of the torment of his memories. Absolved of his powerlessness. Jacob was long dead. Paul and Embry were non-entities. Garrett was forgiven, and Edward was free to feel something other than anger toward the man he was beginning to really, really like.

With a groan, Edward rolled over. Garrett was still face down, his head cradled in his arms, his shoulders rising and falling with each breath. Edward reached out a tentative hand, running shaking fingers through the other man’s hair. When he didn’t flinch, he let his hand rest on Garrett’s back. “Are you okay?”

To his surprise, Garrett laughed. It was that deep chuckle that Edward enjoyed so much. He raised his head, and his eyes sparked with sleepy amusement as he looked back at him. “Jesus Christ, that’s a stupid fucking question. Did you not hear me scream?”

“Uh, yeah, but screaming isn’t generally a sign of you being okay.”

Again Garrett laughed. He grunted as he made an effort to roll onto his side. He cupped Edward’s cheek in a surprisingly tender motion. “That was hot, babe. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It feels like I’ve been ridden hard and put away wet, but fuck, what a ride. I’m okay with being a little sore in the saddle.”

At that, Edward couldn’t help but laugh. He hid his face behind his arm, covering his chortle.

Garrett traced light patterns across Edward’s stomach. “How are you doing?”

Edward peeked at him with one eye and smiled almost shyly. “What do you mean?”

Garrett shrugged. “I don’t know. It was… You know, it was hot. It was really hot, but it was tense.”

“Yeah,” Edward agreed, looking down briefly, watching Garrett’s lips.

“But it isn’t now,” Garrett said.

Edward looked up at him. “No.”

“So what now?”

Edward tilted his head, letting his fingers come up to brush the underside of Garrett’s chin. There was a lump in his throat he couldn’t quite explain, and he had to swallow hard around it before he could speak. “Do you want to see me again?” he asked, meaning did Garrett want to see him like this.

Garrett rolled again, leaning over Edward. He watched him, held his gaze for a moment, before he leaned in and kissed him. It was a sweet kiss, slow and savoring. “Yeah, I do,” he said when he pulled back.

Edward smiled. He leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss to the bite mark he’d left on Garrett’s shoulder—an apology. And then he kissed him again. A promise.

Whatever it was they were doing. It was only going to get better from here.

Chapter Text

That day, the last day, Edward snuck into Bella’s room in the middle of the night. She wasn’t asleep, as he’d expected. She smiled when she saw him and lifted the blankets so he could climb in beside her. He pressed in tight against her, his chest to her back, and wrapped her up in his arms. She sighed, relaxing into his hold.

“I missed this,” she said. Another sigh. “I’m going to miss this.”

“I’m sorry I’m away so much.” He squeezed her tighter. “And I’m sorry I’m moving.”

She snorted and turned around in his hold. She scratched her fingers through his hair, her smile playful. “You have a boyfriend, numbskull. It is a perfectly natural thing to do this with him instead of me.” She scrunched up her nose. “Believe me. I get that lecture all the time.”

“Bella.” He bopped her on the nose. “You know better than to go listening to people. The mistake that people make is assuming everyone should be living life according to their rules. As though they’ve figured out the one key to happiness, and everyone else is wrong.”

She gasped in mock surprise. “What? You mean it’s conceivable to be happy without sex?”

“Well, maybe for you. I like sex.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “But I like you too.”

“Aww. So sweet.” She played with the collar of his shirt. “How are you going to live without me anyway?”

“I thought you trusted Garrett to take care of me.”

“You take some looking after.”

Edward snickered and kissed her—a tender kiss of two good friends. “So, the end of an era.”

“Yeah.” She had a small, sad smile on her face. “Life is so fucking weird, isn’t it?”

“How’s that?”

“Who could have guessed this. You’re such a picky bastard, Edward. For you to end up with a man who used to haunt your nightmares?”

“Well, that’s a little dramatic,” Edward muttered.

“You know what I mean.”

“I do, but as we’ve discussed over and over, it was the boy who tormented me. Neither of us are those boys anymore.”

“I know.” She smiled more genuinely now. “He’s good to you. He’s good for you. It’s just like I said. Life is strange.”

He snorted. “You have no idea. Did you know Garrett was a confirmed bachelor before me?”

“Uh, yeah I’m well aware of that. Remember all the nights you kept me awake moaning that you just knew he was going to leave you?” She waggled her eyebrows playfully.

“Hey, there’s a reason I never got involved with guys like him.”

“Guys like him? You mean sexaholics or bullies?”

“He’s not a bully.”

Bella chuckled. “I know that. I’m not going to stop giving you crap about it though.”

“But not to him, right? He’s sensitive about that.”

“As he should be.” She smacked his chest lightly. “No, I know better than to tease him about it. Really, it isn’t funny, what kids do to each other. Hell, what adults do to each other. But your story has a happy end, so I’m going to tease you about it.”

“Fair enough.” He ruffled her hair playfully. “You know, Garrett said you’re welcome to come over for a good cuddle anytime. He said we could make a totally platonic Bella sandwich.”

“Platonic Sandwiches is totally a good band name.” She tightened her arms around him. “I’ll be okay. Promise.”

~0~

About a week after they moved in together, Garrett sent a text to Edward just as he was leaving work.

Garrett: Babe, running late. If you’re tired, put on something sexy (but comfy), pick out a movie, and I’ll be home with Chinese in a bit. Or….

Edward smiled at his phone, shaking his head fondly.

Edward: Or…?

Garrett: Or, slip into something sexy (not so comfy...the black jeans that look like they’re painted on your ass would work) and meet me at this bar.

Laughing, Edward started up the car, heading toward home and his sexiest black jeans.

Another hour later, Edward strutted into the bar Garrett had texted him about. He knew he looked good. His ass looked fantastic, His shirt hugged the definition of his chest and arms. His hair was on point. He was ready for a night on the town.

Edward: Here.

Garrett: Ah, hell. Fifteen more minutes. I’m right across the street, babe. Promise.

Edward: Relax. It’s no problem. I’ll be here.

Edward found a seat at the bar and ordered a mixed drink to sip. Thirty minutes and two mojitos later, he was still alone. He glanced toward the door and to his phone for the millionth time.

“Uh oh.” The bartender—a sprite of a woman who reminded Edward of Alice—leaned on the bar. “Don’t tell me. Blind date, right? She stood you up?” She looked him up and down. “Honey, she must not know what she’s missing.”

Edward had to duck his head to cover his smirk. He looked up at the woman from under his eyelashes. “My boyfriend is running late; that’s all.”

“Oh,” she said, her eyes going wide. “Sorry about that.” She coughed, covering a laugh. “Wow, that was really my bad. Anyway. Can I get you another?”

“I better cool it. At this point, I won’t be able to talk to him by the time he shows up. How about an iced tea. Minus the Long Island.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Feeling relaxed from his previous two drinks, Edward was in a good mood. He hummed to himself, doing a little people watching as he drank his iced tea.

It took him a while to feel the weight of the glare from the man beside him. It was a prickle on his skin at first—the vague awareness of being watched. He caught a glimpse of a glower out of the corner of his eyes and snapped his head straight forward. The man beside him scoffed.

“Fucking faggot,” Edward thought he heard the man mutter under his breath, but it was loud in the bar.

Still, Edward’s heart began to race. His skin grew clammy to the touch. He hated this moment. This moment where he was fifteen years old all over again and scared. Scared because someone hated him. This man was angry that he existed, that he had the audacity to sit on a stool beside him and admit to the wide world that he had a boyfriend.

It struck Edward as ironic. He always wondered if these people realized what they were really obsessing over was a penis, or lack thereof. That was what it came down to. The person he dated, made love to, had a penis, and he did too. That was what made them so angry. If the person he had sex with didn’t have a penis, there would be no anger, no hate.

Edward took a deep breath. He reminded himself he wasn’t fifteen, and he wasn’t helpless. This horse’s ass could mutter all he wanted. He breathed, and within a few seconds, his stark fear had faded to the heat of anger. Fuck the hell out of this guy.

But, getting into an argument wasn’t going to be productive for either of them. Edward dug into his pocket and produced his wallet. He left enough to cover his drinks and headed outside to wait for Garrett. A little fresh air would do him good.

Too bad the asshole followed him.

Edward didn’t notice at first. The night air was cool on his heated face. He tilted his head skyward and just breathed for a minute. Then he felt it again—the creepy-crawly sensation of being watched. He opened his eyes and turned his head, finding the man staring at him as though he had no right existing in the same place.

Edward let his eyes flit beyond the man. They were further into the parking lot than was wise; not close to the door at all. He’d purposefully put some space between himself and the door so he wouldn’t disturb anyone, but now he was regretting it.

Shaking off the fear that gripped him as best he could, Edward finally looked at the man. “Can I help you with something?”

The man scoffed. “Yeah, I got a quest for you, queer.”

“That isn’t my name.”

“Like I give a fuck, you fucking fairy.”

“Obviously, you give no fucks. That’s why you followed me outside,” Edward said, hoping he sounded more blasé than he felt.

The man took a threatening step toward him, fist clenched at his side. “I came out here to make sure you were leaving. Don’t they have bars for people like you, huh? You gotta come here and ruin the night for the rest of us? Get the fuck out of here.”

Edward widened his stance, getting ready to stand his ground, but before the action could go any further, he felt a hand on his arm. He jumped, but then he heard Garrett’s voice near his ear. “Babe, I know you can take care of yourself, but I’m begging you. Let me handle this one.”

“Christ, that’s disgusting,” the angry man sneered. “You sick motherfuckers get the hell out of here.”

Edward swept one hand out. “All yours, sweetheart.”

Garrett grinned and then took a step forward, putting himself between the angry man and Edward. “Look, friend. Why are you so angry?”

“I’m not your friend, fag.”

Garrett clucked his tongue. “Now was that a nice thing to say?”

“I don’t give a shi—”

Before the man could get another word out, Garrett darted toward him. He grabbed the man by the arm, twisted it behind his back. “Let’s try again. Was that a nice thing to say?”

“Fucking, pansy-ass faggot. I’ll kill you.” The man swiped at him with his free hand, but that only made him twist harder. He huffed out.

“All right. Let’s try this. This fucking pansy-ass faggot knows a shit ton of martial arts, and guess what? He’s pissed the fuck off because you were threatening his boyfriend.” Garrett gave the man’s arm a twist. “So here’s my suggestion. Get the fuck over yourself, first of all. Stop obsessing about men having sex with each other—that’s creepy as fuck, bro. And if you ever so much as look at my man again, you and I are going to have words. Get it?”

“Get off!”

Garrett pushed the man away from him, watching as he stumbled to the ground. Then, he extended a hand toward Edward, cool as a fucking cucumber. “Babe, you look hella fine tonight.”

Edward, beyond words for the moment, took Garrett’s hand and let him lead him inside. His head was spinning. When they were in the bar, Garrett pulled him closer, wrapping an arm around his waist. Out of habit and nerves, Edward glanced around the bar, but no one was looking at them.

“Are you okay?” Garrett asked in his ear.

“I…” Edward laughed, the sound slightly maniacal. “I think I’m turned the hell on. Mostly.”

Garrett quirked an eyebrow. “Mostly?”

“That could have gone a whole lot of other ways.”

“But it didn’t.” Garrett grinned at him. “Tell me you’re okay with it, because I’ve been wanting to do that since you walked back into my life.”

Nothing had happened, and he hadn’t hurt the man after all. And Jesus Christ, he’d been so commanding, cool as ice, and hotter than hell. Edward swallowed past the lump of nerves in his throat and grinned. “Yeah. I, uh… Do you think we can get out of here?”

Garrett’s grin fell. “Edward, you’re not scared, are you? Because—”

“No.” Edward leaned in so he could growl in his ear. “My jeans are too fucking tight to concentrate. I want you to fuck me. Right the fuck now.”

“Now that is an order I can follow.” Garrett took his hand, and all but dragged him out the door.

~0~

Another hour later, and they were lying in a tangled heap in their bed, out of breath and covered in a sheen of sweat. With a groan, Edward rolled over, off Garrett, and threw an arm over his eyes. After another few seconds, he started to chortle.

“What’s wrong with you?” Garrett asked, amused.

“Nothing.” Edward lowered his arm, looking at his lover. “I was remembering the look on that guy’s face. Like he couldn’t understand how a fucking fairy had him on the ground so quickly.”

Garrett snorted, then he sighed, a serious look coming over his face. “After what Jacob went through with the others…” He swallowed. “I started taking different martial arts courses when I was in college. Then, when I figured out I was going to be working in construction...I mean, some of those guys can tear me apart, you know? So I learned everything I could about defensive fighting, pressure points, all that.”

“Wow. Thorough. I’m glad I have you to protect me.”

Garrett huffed. “It’s about time.”

Edward rolled over and splayed his hand on Garrett’s chest. With a smile, Garrett took his hand, stroking a thumb over his knuckles. There was a tinge of misery to his eyes, as there always was whenever their past came up. “I don’t blame you anymore,” Edward said quietly. “You know that, right?”

“Yeah.” Garrett took his hand and raised it to his mouth, kissing his knuckles. “Maybe after tonight I’ll feel like I deserve your forgiveness.”

“Garrett. You’re good to me. And you were right. You’re a good man.” Edward’s lip twitched. “Mostly.”

“Hmm.” Garrett reached up to stroke Edward’s cheek. “Were you afraid?”

A lump rose to Edward’s throat and he shrugged. Of course he’d been afraid, but he hated to admit it. He hated that fear.

“I was afraid,” Garrett said, tracing the line of his jaw. “When I saw you in the parking lot, and the way that guy was looking at you.”

Edward shivered and lay down with his head on Garrett’s chest. “Yeah. People like him make no fucking sense. I can be an asshole, you know? So if you’re going to hate someone, let it be about the shitty thing they did to you.” He raised his head again and waggled his eyebrows. “You were hot, though.”

Garrett smirked at that. “Hot is my default state.”

“Modesty not so much, though.” Edward kissed him.

Garrett returned his kiss but broke it quickly with a sigh.

“Don’t dwell,” Edward said. “There’s no point, Gar.”

“I know. I just really hate that I was on his side, you know? Once upon a time.”

“There’s such a huge difference between being a scared kid and being a dickhead adult. Guys like him are why you were a scared kid.” He kissed him sweetly. “You had a choice, and you became a better person. That fuckwit has a choice too. And who knows, maybe someday he’ll change. People do that. They change.”

Garrett looked at him, his smile more genuine. “You think so, huh? So there may be a chance you end up with him in some distant future?”

“No. Not a chance.” Edward kissed him again. “I’m yours.”

“That’s a good thing.” Garrett rubbed his back and over his ass. “I kind of like you, Edward. A lot.”

Edward rolled his eyes at Garrett’s total inability to say love. “I kind of like you too.”

~The End~