Disclaimer - Only Wilson and the plot is mine.
Thanks to Rita01TX for the edit and Keye for the preread.
Hey, long time no see. Accept my apologies for the delay in bringing this to you, it was partly because the kids were on school holidays and I was off too, so plenty of days out, and partly because Rita's computer blew up and left her unable to beta my scrawl...but it's here now :D
Emmett's anger set the pace for his feet and he wasted no time returning to the entrance gates of the King property. Stumping along behind on one crutch, I could only hope he wasn't mad enough to drive off without me since I was in no shape to make it home by myself on only one good foot.
Instead of leaving my ass, he waited by the white painted, wrought iron bars flicking at a loose flake with his thumbnail. His face was thunderous with disappointment that I hadn't told Daddy King to stick his money where the sun don't shine but it wasn't entirely my decision. More than anyone, Rose deserved a say in all this.
The less said the better so I didn't try to reason with him. It would only spark an argument neither of us was going to win. Fortunately, I was saved from speaking when the gates began to open. They clearly weren't moving fast enough for Emmett and he barged his way through, catching his shoulder as he went.
The air in the car felt heavy and still…pressurized, as if too much of it had been squashed into the confined space. My temples throbbed as that innocuous piece of paper bearing the signature of Peter King and flaunting all those zeros burned through the denim of my back pocket.
The bastard might not have meant to harm me physically but he'd certainly thrown my soul square onto the horns of a dilemma. The amount of money he'd so casually scrawled on the check was life changing for a guy like me. Hell, I could buy a house, start my own garage business, give me and Ella an easy start in our new life together.
It was too easy and that was part of the problem. Aside from proving what Peter King probably thought of me; that I was a greedy, opportunistic bastard who'd happily profit from his stepson's misery, it didn't feel right to suddenly ease off the throttle like that. I was too young and hadn't even started my working life. I didn't know what Ella would say but I'd already pretty much convinced myself I wasn't going to accept it.
"Swear to God, Cullen," Emmett grumbled, shifting in the driver's seat. "If this sets Rosie back in any way, I will take it out on your ass…right after I burn that fucking check."
Ah, fuck. He had to be seriously pissed off to Cullen me. A quick glance showed him hunched over the wheel, red faced, teeth clenched, the vein in his neck pulsing as he breathed heavily through his nose. I almost laughed out loud imagining someone had squashed a prized bull behind the wheel. The way he was carrying on about my sister's mental health instead of reeling off ideas about what the money might mean for them was pretty damned admirable. I suppose I could've put his mind at rest but I was having too much fun provoking his riled up, protective side.
"Yeah, cuz she'd just looove watching you maim her little brother," I snorted and he tightened his grip on the wheel, his face turning a deeper shade of red as he struggled to control his temper and drive at the same time.
"You think this is a joke?" he roared. "I'm telling you, no good can come from cashing that check."
"I know that," I sighed, finally. "But the girls still have a right to decide."
He grunted which was as close to an acceptance as I was going to get.
The rest of the journey back to Mom's house was made in silence. Ella knew where we'd gone and why but we deliberately hadn't told Rose. After all, if things went well, no blood no foul…if not, then she'd have had the benefit of another day in ignorant bliss before we had to burst her bubble.
It suddenly dawned on me that Peter King had meant it when he'd said there would be no more retaliations, which meant it really was over. The whole persecution, having to sleep with one eye open, constantly looking over my shoulder was finally done. I ran my hand through my hair as a giddy sensation swept over me.
It felt so good, my lips lifted into a one sided grin.
Ella must've been waiting for us because she opened the door before Emmett had pulled the key from the ignition.
"How did it go?" she asked, jogging down the steps.
"I think we need to come inside first," I replied. "Is Rose here?"
"Um, yeah. She's working in her studio." Ella looked especially nervous chewing on her bottom lip with her arms crossed over her body, hands cupping her elbows.
"She needs to hear this," Emmett growled.
Although she had no idea what had gone down, she nodded before hurrying back inside to find my sister while Emmett and I made our way to the dining room and settled ourselves at the table. Fishing the check out of my back pocket, I carefully smoothed it out and laid it face down right in the middle.
It wasn't long before Rose and Ella's footsteps came clattering down the staircase into the hall before taking their places beside us – Ella next to me, Rose next to Emmett – for all the world like a serious Mafia sit down you might see in the movies.
An uneasy silence engulfed the table and, as surreptitious glances were cast between me and Emmett, Rose quickly deduced she was a step behind the rest of us. With a puzzled expression, she turned to her boyfriend. "Em, why are we all here? What's going on?"
He cleared his throat but it was me who spoke.
"We went to see Peter King."
She gasped, her eyes shooting between me and Ella who looked decidedly sheepish as she avoided my sister's gaze.
Et tu, Brute?
"I...we needed to know there would be an end to the stalking and craziness," I explained.
She opened her mouth but I didn't give her a chance to respond.
"The last thing I want is to leave town only to find out you or Emmett were having problems with another one of the King clan for mowing down Shelia King with his car."
"Why didn't you tell me before you went?" she asked, her face a mask of confusion.
"Because you probably would have tried to stop us," I retorted, then sighed. "Look Rose, I'm sorry we went behind your back but I knew you'd either try to stop us or worry yourself sick if you caught wind of what we were planning and this was something I had to do."
The desperate look she gave Emmett showed him how hurt his plotting with me behind her back had made her feel. By way of apology, he wordlessly took her hand and kissed her knuckles.
"Soooo…what happened?" Rose eventually asked and I fingered the edge of the check.
"He promised there would be no more retaliations," I said.
Such good news deserved more excitement than I was giving it but having to explain about the money was still hanging over me.
"Well, that's good news...isn't it?" Ella asked, her eyebrows raised hopefully and Emmett blew out a long breath.
"Yeah, I guess. He swore he didn't know what his son had done to Rose but he wasn't exactly surprised to hear it, either. Apparently, she wasn't his first victim," he related.
Rose gasped and bit her bottom lip to keep from crying out at the revelation she hadn't been the only one to have suffered at the hands of Royce fucking King.
Still face down, I slid the check across the table. "He also gave me this and said I should split it with you."
The instant she turned the piece of paper over, her mouth dropped open. "A quarter of a million dollars! What is this?" she shrieked.
Sure, I could have given the standard, sarcastic, little brother answer, "it's a check," but when Ella gasped at the amount involved, I understood this was no time for cracking jokes.
"I don't really know...an apology, compensation, hush money, a bribe so we don't give testimony against his wife? Take your pick," I shrugged.
Rose frowned as she re-read the figures before shoving the paper back towards me as if it had burned her fingers.
"I don't want it. I don't want anything from that family!" she cried. "Why would he even do that? Why would he want to give us money?"
"It's okay, Rose," Ella said trying to soothe her. "No one said you have to accept it."
"Yeah and I reckon Old Man King would accuse you of blackmailing him if you cashed it, too" Emmett grumbled.
"It's enough to give us all a fresh start," I pointed out to Rose. "You could buy a house or even set Emmett up with that gym business he's been..."
"Give it back to him, Eddie," she interrupted. "I don't want to feel like I owe that family one damn thing." Her voice wavered and Emmett put his large arm around her shoulder to keep her from shaking while the look he shot me said "I told you so."
Picking up the check, I read the hypnotic words one more time. It really was a huge amount of money for someone to cough up on a whim. I tapped it on the table as a stray thought moved front and center for consideration.
"You know, there might be another reason King handed this check over so easily," I said, locking eyes with Emmett.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"The smug bastard doesn't expect me to actually cash it," I snorted. "Hell, he's probably laughing his ass off right now assuming I'll rip it up or burn it in a fit of pride."
"Holy fuck! You could be onto something, there, Kermit," he agreed. "So what do you want to do with it if you're not going to cash it or destroy it?"
"Well, that's the sixty-four thousand dollar question now, isn't it?" I deadpanned, secretly pleased at coming up with such a witty line under pressure.
"Um, you could always donate it…maybe to a rape crisis center," Ella murmured as if thinking out loud and everyone fell silent as they turned to stare at her.
"That's actually not a bad idea," Emmett chuckled and Rose nodded emphatically.
"It would be like a legacy," she declared. "The one good thing to come out of this whole mess."
"Not to mention how much King would hate it," I snorted. "Let's do it."
There was an excited babble around the table as we each put forward our best suggestions for disposing of the money and Rose brightened visibly at finally being able to get something over on the King family. I watched her lips flicker into a small smile at Emmett's crack about imagining Peter King's face when he realized where his blood money had gone.
But cold fingers of dread crept up my spine and the smile fell from my face. It wasn't so long ago I could count the number of people who knew about her ordeal on one hand…Rose, me, Tanya and Emmett. Now, I had to add Ella, Peter King and maybe even his butler, if he'd listened at the door as I suspected, and the more people who knew, the greater the chance of word finding its way back to Mom.
"You need to tell her," I blurted and the chatter died down almost immediately. "Mom, I mean...she needs to know."
"I...I can't," Rose stammered. "She'd want to know why we didn't tell her when it happened."
"But what if one of Royce's other victims speaks out at Sheila King's trial? Or Peter King tries to distance himself from her and his stepson by outing him as a rapist? It won't take long for people to put two and two together and start asking if that was why I beat him half to death."
Rose's eyes were huge and I could almost see the sickening wave of panic welling up inside her.
"She'd be devastated that we kept it from her," she whispered, shaking her head from side to side. "I can't do that to her."
"It's time she knew the truth," I insisted. "We could tell her together."
"She'll hate me...us," Rose whimpered.
"Obviously, it's gonna upset her but she's still our mom and she's a survivor...stronger than we ever thought she was. She'll understand why we didn't say something sooner and she'll forgive us."
Or so I hoped.
"Easy for you to say! You're running away to Phoenix with Ella. What if the truth about Royce does come out after you've gone? I'll be the one still here having to face the rumors and the gossip on my own," she cried.
"You're not alone, baby," Emmett declared, leaning in to kiss her temple. "I'm with you and I won't let anyone hurt you."
"And you think I should tell her, too?" she asked, defeat heavy in her voice.
Ella stayed quiet but the way she took my hand under the table let me know she agreed with me. Emmett nodded and Rose slumped back against her chair with the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Browbeating my sister into taking the lid off the box she'd kept sealed for the best part of a decade wasn't something I was particularly proud of. I knew how deep her scars ran and how much she'd wanted to keep it a secret but, with new beginnings on the horizon for all of us, it was finally time to come clean.
A couple of days passed before Rose plucked up enough courage to tell Mom, delaying the moment until after she'd spoken with Jane, her counselor. She surprised me by wanting to do it alone; then again, I suppose I could understand not wanting her baby brother at her side while she opened up about being violated.
Still, I wouldn't have minded a heads up. It might have made it easier when I stumbled onto Mom huddled in the garage.
Her soft sobs and sniffling reached my ears before I saw her.
"Mom?" I inquired cautiously, the coward in me ready to high-tail it back into the house. Knowing this conversation had to be faced, I forced my feet to press on to where she sat. "Are you okay?"
"Edward," she responded stiffly.
I settled down beside her and saw she was holding something in her hand…one of my father's dark blue sweatshirts from the boxes I'd helped her clear out to the garage a few months ago.
"What are you doing in here?" I asked softly, knowing full well she was hiding away from Wilson while she let loose her emotions.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she demanded and I swallowed hard. "All that time, Edward...years and you never said anything. When I think of what that bastard did to my baby girl, how he hurt her, and I didn't even know. I could have, I...urgh. I'm so mixed up, I don't even know if I'm more outraged about what he did or at you for keeping it secret from me!" Her hands gripped and twisted the piece of cloth in her lap. "Do you have any idea how hard it's been? I never understood why you'd done it…crippled someone for no apparent reason. I used to wonder where I'd gone wrong to have raised a monster like that. Now I know you had a damn good reason."
"I'm sorry, Mom," I said, unable to look her in the eyes. "Rose was adamant she didn't want to report the attack. She was so frightened of people thinking she was lying, or that she somehow deserved it, but I kept thinking I couldn't let Royce get away with it so I made him pay the only way I could."
"But you still should've told me. I've had to go through almost seven years of seeing you in that prison, deep in my heart convinced you didn't belong there. I've had to deal with people looking down their noses and judging you...and me, and I had nothing to cling on to, no answers to make me feel better about why you did it. Can you understand that?"
"I'm sorry," I said again and, in the face of the hurt on her face, the words were small. "You were struggling to deal with Dad's death and I was...young and...foolish, I guess. I thought if you knew the truth, it might push you over the edge and one broken soul in the family was already one too many."
She wrung the fabric in her lap until her knuckles turned white so I laid a hand over hers until she relaxed her grip a little.
"I was wrong to keep it from you, Mom, and, if I could turn back the clock, I would do things differently."
Or would I? I thought back to the raw emotion of that fateful night and couldn't, in all honesty, say I wouldn't have still beaten the asshole senseless.
"Well, I'd probably still mess that fucker up but I'd have made Rose come clean, at least to you," I huffed.
"It might have kept you out of jail or at least reduced your sentence. Six years, Eddie. You lost six years of your life." Her tears welled up until they spilled over her cheeks and, since seeing my mother crying was one of my weaknesses, my throat instantly began closing up with emotion.
"I doubt it would have made much difference," I said simply, swallowing down the big lump.
"You don't know that. So much wasted time," she sighed.
"It wasn't wasted, Mom," I said without taking offense. She had no idea what I'd been through during my time inside or how those years had made me into a man. "And don't forget…if I hadn't been sent down, Rose wouldn't have Emmett and you wouldn't have Wilson."
"So you believe everything happens for a reason?" she whispered and I nodded. "And now you're moving to Arizona?"
Fuck! Rose told her before I'd had a chance but I suppose it had to have been a highly emotional discussion and Rose could easily have thrown me under the bus as a way of deflecting the conversation when it was becoming too hard for her to deal with.
"Yeah, I'm planning to apply for a transfer to Phoenix," I replied and she sniffed against the back of her hand. "Lahote thinks it could be possible."
"But it's so far away."
I nodded again.
"It's only a three hour flight," I declared, as if I could fool her into thinking it was closer than it really was. "After the Chief fucked up, Ella feels like her brother is the only real family she has left and she wants to be close to him while he's growing up. I can understand that."
"A son's a son 'til he takes a wife," she murmured sadly and I frowned before she continued, "But a daughter's a daughter the whole of her life."
"Mom, I'll always be your son. Emmett is staying in town and Wilson seems to have a thing for you." I nudged her with my shoulder and she returned a weak smile. "I just need to be with Ella...I love her."
She studied me a while, the tenderness of her gaze making me feel awkward and uncomfortable.
"I know you do, sweetheart, and she's a good girl but it's not always easy for a mother to let her only son go."
Tears stung my eyes and I covered them up by enveloping her in a tight hug, the kind I might have given her when I was a young kid.
"Just promise me you'll keep in touch," she snuffled into my chest and I nodded.
"You'll get sick of us Skyping," I promised. "And remember…it's a great place to come for a vacation. The sun might even do Wilson some good."
She straightened, briskly shaking off the blue mood, and wiped her eyes on Dad's sweatshirt before folding it over her knees.
"I understand and I truly hope you'll be happy there," she offered, her lips finally turning up at the corners.
"We'll give it our best shot," I grinned.
Making a move to stand, I held a hand out to help her up but she shook her head and plucked at the garment in her lap. "You go ahead. I just need a little longer to straighten my head out."
A little longer in the company of my late father's spirit, no doubt. I nodded and left her alone, closing the connecting door to the kitchen behind me.
"Edward." Ella's bright voice was out of step with the heavy sadness in my heart. Of course, she instantly picked up on my lack of enthusiasm. "What's wrong?"
"Ah, nothing," I sighed, fighting against my natural instinct to deal with my issues alone. "I had a difficult discussion with Mom. She knows we're going to Phoenix."
"And I'm guessing she wasn't too happy about it?" Ella asked, catching her bottom lip between her teeth.
"Um, she was surprised, I think, but she wished us luck. I just...I feel a bit weird about it, like I'm letting her down," I groaned.
Ella wrapped her arms around my waist and I rested my chin on the top of her head.
"She can come visit us any time," Ella said. "And once your parole ends, we can come back for visits, too."
"I know, baby," I replied, pressing my lips against the part in her hair. "Rose told her about the rape, too, and I guess I feel guilty about not telling her sooner. Hell, she's barely had a chance to process that crap before another bombshell drops on her that we're leaving town."
"God, I'm so sorry it's putting you in a position where you feel like you have to choose," she murmured, clinging a little tighter to my body. "But I'm finding it impossible to live here after what Dad did."
"No apologies necessary, baby. I understand completely," I reassured, my fingers rubbing gentle circles against her shoulder. "And I do think a fresh start would be good for us."
"I love you so much, Edward."
"I love you, too."
And I meant it. My heart had been mercilessly squeezed through an emotional wringer and Ella's soft, warm body against mine was both arousing and familiarly comforting. Wordlessly, I pulled her with me through the house and up to my room where we slowly undressed each other with reverent touches, kissing, licking and nibbling each inch of bare skin as it was revealed. One man and his woman connecting in the most primal of ways.
We'd done it enough times to have erased any awkwardness between us. There was only acceptance and healing and I realized how much I needed to be with her…not just here and now to lighten my burden but for the rest of my life. Following her to Phoenix, or wherever the hell she wanted to lead me, was my only real choice. Family would always be family and I was leaving Rose and Mom in a much better position than when I'd first come home. Now, with the support of Emmett and Wilson, I could finally go carve out a new life for myself with a clear conscience.
Letting my body melt into hers, honest words of love were whispered as the final strands of tension snapped. Ella clung to my sweat soaked skin as she shuddered and cried out my name, my own release following with a roar and, in a moment of absolute clarity, I suddenly understood something so fundamental, it blinded me with its rightness.
No matter where we ended up, as long as I had her arms embracing me at the end of the day, I was already home.
A/N - This is where I intended to hit complete for this story. Our hero has battled his demons and those who would do him harm and come through the other side. But, I'd like to share a vision of how things work out for everyone, so a three part epilogue is coming your way...it was originally going to be a single chapter, but the word count was getting a little out of hand, lol.
Until next time.