Big, big thanks to Nan, my beta! You're awesome, girlie! You have no idea how much of a help you are to me with my stories. I appreciate you so much.

I hope you all enjoy this chapter. Thanks for reading!

Brady's POV

"Eddie, this sucks! I should be there! Why? Why do I have to go to work? I do not have a future in coffee making and God knows I'm shit at customer service so why are you making me go?!"

Edward looked over at me, brows furrowed in confusion as he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel while we sat parked in front of the coffee shop, "Um…you asked for a ride?"

I huffed as I flopped back in the passenger's seat dramatically, "If I asked you to drive me off the side of a cliff would you do that too?"

"Not in my Volvo."

I glared over at him as I grumbled, "Jay's assholiness is rubbing off on you."

That caused him to chuckle, "I like when Jay's asshole rubs…"

Cutting him off with a hand in the air, I groaned, "Noooo! Don't get started about your super awesome sex life, Edward! I can't take it! It's been two months since I've gotten off with anything other than my hand and Barney! And now it's gonna be God knows how long before I get to ride Brandon like a bucking bronco so no! Please no sex talk."

"Barney?"

"My purple dildo. Ya know, I love him, he loves me…"

He just gave me a sad smile as he turned in his seat and grabbed my hand, "Brady, I know this is really difficult for you but if you and Brandon are meant to be then you'll find a way to make it work. Sex isn't everything…"

I pout just a little as I mumble, "Says the man who's getting it on the reg."

He huffs and I roll my eyes as I smirk over at him, "Don't act like you can go a day without getting the D, Edward. I know you. Hell, I've seen you! You can barely be in the same room with him without getting inappropriate…"

His cheeks flare up scarlet as he grins, "Have you seen my husband?"

"Yeah I get it. Have you seen my boyfriend?"

He looks thoughtful for a moment then squeezes my hand, "I have. He's beautiful but um…I know this must be very difficult for you, Brady. Loving someone and not being there is really scary. You wonder what they're doing, who they're with, are they okay, do they need you too…"

His grass green eyes look out through the window but his mind is somewhere else as he whispers, "It makes you feel crazy…like you're going to jump right out of your skin to get to them because the pull, the draw is just too strong to fight…"

Then he blushes as grins, dropping his chin and pinching the bridge of his nose as he chuckles, "This is not exactly the motivational speech I was going for."

But it kinda was because Edward knew exactly how I felt.

Wiping the dust from eye and sniffling, I squeeze his hand back as I give him a sad smile, "Yeah, but it's nice to know I'm not crazy because that is exactly how I feel. I mean, Brandon's strong…tough…but emotionally he's so fragile and I feel like I should be there, ya know? Like he needs me…maybe I should just skip classes the next couple of days."

He bites his lip and sighs, "The first quarter is almost up, Brady. You really don't want to do anything to jeopardize your grades. You've got that scholarship…"

Scrubbing my hands over my face, I groan, "Ugh, I know. You're right. It just…ugh, it sucks. Well, I better get in there. Thanks for the ride, Eddie."

"I'll be at work when you get off. Do you have a ride home?"

"Yeah, Suzie's gonna pick me up."

"Okay, text me later, Brady. I love you."

Reaching over, I give him a quick hug and sigh, "Love you too, Ed."

I pull myself out of the car and trudge into work, eager to get the day over with.

But as it turns out, I'm way too distracted and the day quickly turns to crap on a stick.

I'm cleaning up my fourth spill of the day as I grumble apparently loud enough to hear because there's a chuckle behind me and I turn to see Oliver throwing away an empty coffee cup.

"Bad day?" he smiles as he loosens his tie a bit. It's dark blood red and really accents the thin red pinstripe in the charcoal suit he wears.

And the charcoal really makes his gray eyes pop.

I offer a small smile back, "Hey Oliver. Didn't see you come in."

He slips his hands in his pockets as he rolls on the balls of his feet, "You must've been on break…or treating your hands for third degree burns."

He smirks and I roll my eyes, snorting as I push the mop bucket back against the wall.

"Yeah, it's been a bad day. My, um, boyfriend got some bad news."

I don't know why I'm talking to him about this but in the past couple of months he has become a sort of an acquaintance.

He's not creepy or weird…he doesn't, like, put the moves on me or anything. He doesn't wait for me to serve him if one of the other registers is open and he doesn't usually say much beyond 'hello' and to maybe ask how classes are going. He actually seems like a pretty decent guy.

I'm reminded of that when his smile fades, "Oh, I'm sorry. I hope it isn't anything too serious."

I sigh as I lean against the counter and rake my hand through my hair. Normally I would be opposed to such fuckery of my coif but I'm cranky and sweaty and sad.

"No, it's just…I should be with him right now, you know? He's hurting and I should be there but I can't because I've got this stupid job. No offense Nancy," I shoot to my manager who's chuckling as she passes. She thinks Oliver is really handsome and I'm too nice to tell her that he swims in a beaver-free zone.

He looks down as he laughs softly, then he leans against the counter next to me and whispers, "My brother-in-law is a human resource director at the art museum. I have it on very good authority that the cashier in the gift shop is leaving at the end of next week and they haven't filled her position yet. I'm having lunch with my sister on Wednesday, I could put in a word for you, if you like? It's not much but it could get your foot in the door. You are an art major after all, and quite frankly I'm a little concerned for your safety and the safety of others when you handle scalding hot liquids."

I snort again as I roll my eyes. Then I smile as I lean a little closer and whisper, "Really? That would be awesome, Oliver. Thank you."

Straightening back up, he nods, "Do you work Wednesday night?"

"Um, yeah."

"I'll stop by then, let you know what they say."

I straighten back up as well and smile, "Groovy. Thanks again, I really appreciate it."

He gives me another small smile and nod as he starts to leave but then stops and turns back around with a chuckle, "You should go be with your boyfriend when your shift is over. I can't imagine anyone being around you and not feeling better. Bye, Brady."

That makes me blush as I mumble a quick goodbye.

The rest of the afternoon isn't as bad as the first part but I'm still upset about Brandon. I know the rest of the family will be on their way back to Seattle soon and my poor baby will be all alone. I hate it. Hate that I'm not the one who's there comforting him and reassuring him that I'm not going anywhere.

I love Brandon. I wanna be with him. Forever. Or as long as he'll have me because what if he gets tired of waiting? What if he decides the distance is too much and he needs someone more accessible?

The thought makes my stomach churn and on my second break, I'm buying an airplane ticket on my phone. Suzie shouldn't mind taking me to the airport; at least I hope she won't mind. I don't really have enough time before the flight leaves to get some clothes but luckily I've kept a few things at Brandon's house so he'll just have to endure me showing up in these god-awful khakis and my "Hill of Beans Café" polo that is absolutely ridiculous.

But it doesn't matter how awful I look; I need to be with him, like now.

Because the thing is, I was really disappointed too. I mean, I had plans. I already cleaned out space in my closet and cleared a few of my dresser drawers in anticipation of having him come home to me. I really thought they would say yes. He had been doing so good! What if this made him backslide?

And now it's six more months! Six freakin' months! He wouldn't be here for Christmas or Thanksgiving or Halloween…my birthday.

I wouldn't be waking up to his head on my chest and my fingers tangled in his hair or fall asleep watching our shows all curled up together on the couch. I've even been taking Spartacus to the dog park so he can get used to being around other dogs so he and Dolly would get along.

This sucked. It really, really sucked.

The only thing that was gonna help was being able to hold him in my arms, feel his heart beating against mine through his broad chest…to know for sure and see with my own eyes that he was truly okay.

Because if he was okay, then I would be okay too.

By the time Suzie picked me up, I was practically vibrating with anxiety.

"So, um…would you mind taking me to the airport?"

She smirked over at me with that trademark Whitlock dimple and laughed, "I packed you a bag. It's in the trunk. I got your schoolbooks too so ya can get some studyin' done when he's workin'. And here ya go, freshen up 'fore we get there…"

I grabbed the little bag she tossed at me and beamed at her when I saw baby wipes, deodorant, a brush, and toothpaste and toothbrush.

"How did you…"

With a twinkle in her blue eyes, she smiled, "Well, duh. You're my best friend. I know you, boo bear. Now, hurry up and get changed, we'll be at the airport in twenty minutes."

She motioned to a pile of clothes in the back seat and I couldn't help but reach over and kiss her cheek, "You're the best, Suzie."

Flipping her hair dramatically over her shoulder, she just smirked, "I know. Now get back there and take ya a whore bath."

I crawled into the back seat and stripped down as I wiped myself off with the baby wipes and hoped I wouldn't smell too bad when I got there. I put on deodorant and pulled on the tight black jeans and red graphic tee she brought me. Once I was about as good as I was gonna get, I slipped back into the front seat and brushed my teeth using the bottled water she had.

By the time we arrived at the airport, I felt a little better and certainly smelled a little better. Suzie waited with me until it was time to board the plane. When it was time for me to go, she gave me a big hug and smiled, "There's a little somethin' in your bag from me to Brandon. I know you'll take good care of him, Brady. He can be a broody little ass sometimes but he's really just a big ol' sad puppy dog. Tell him I love him."

"I will, Suzie. Promise. Thanks again for everything."

"Anytime, sugar booger. Love ya."

"Love you, too."

The flight seemed like it took forever and the taxi ride to Brandon's place dragged on and on but when he yanked open the door, I didn't even care that I was getting soaking wet from standing in the thunderstorm.

"Miss me?" I smiled, pushing my slick hair back out of my eyes.

He grabbed me, hoisting me up in his arms with not a care in the world that I was sopping wet as he held me tightly against him.

"What are you doin' here?" he rasped against my ear and I melted into him as I sighed.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be here sooner."

"You're here now, Princess…that's all that matters."

When he set me back down on my feet, I bounced up on my tippy toes, arms still latched around his neck as I nipped at his scruffy chin, "This doesn't change anything. You know that, right, baby? You know I'm not going anywhere…"

I trailed off as I bit and licked along his collarbone and shoulder while his arms tightened around my waist. He groaned, low and deep, as his hands cupped my ass and he rasped, "Don't want you to go nowhere, Princess…want you right here with me…miss you when you're gone."

Smiling against his neck, I whispered, "I miss you too. Now welcome me home properly…"

He chuckled and I could feel the rumble against my body as he whispered, "I like it when you call this home…"

Peppering kisses along his neck, I started to mumble something ridiculously cheesy like 'this is my home' as I press my hand against his chest, feeling the strong beat of his heart beneath it but then I heard the tapping of excited little paws on the entryway.

Pulling away from Brandon, I crouched down and gave Dolly lots of rubs because she looked like she was about to go into convulsions if I didn't pet her right this instant.

Brandon chuckled, raking a hand through his sexy blond hair as he smiled down at us, "She missed her papa."

I scratched her up and down, chuckling as she covered my face in little doggy kisses.

"I missed her too. Oh my God, she's gotten so big!"

"Yeah, she thinks she's still little though. I been workin' on her not jumpin' on people."

He bent down and scratched behind her ears as he told her what a good girl she was being.

After she rolled over on her back to get belly scratches, Brandon chuckled, "Alright, baby girl, you gotta let daddy get some alone time with papa now, okay? Go on. Couch."

She whimpered and he looked at her with a raised brow as he chuckled, "Couch, Dolly, be a good girl."

Rolling back over to her paws, she huffed and trotted off to the couch, jumping up on the cushion and laying down with an annoyed little sigh.

I stood up and grinned at him, "She's really good. You're doing a great job training her."

He shrugged as he gripped my hips and looked down at me through lidded baby blue eyes, "Yeah, I got lots of time to spend with her. But I ain't got enough time with you so let's get back to that proper welcome, Princess."

I slid my arms back around his neck and sighed as he leaned down to kiss me soundly. It wasn't crazy, frantic like how it usually is the second I bounce through the door; it was deep and slow and full of relief at finally being together again.

Tangling my fingers in his hair, I moan softly against his ear as he gently starts peeling my wet shirt up over my head and drops it to the floor. Then he's trailing soft, wet kisses down my neck, his scruff tickling and scratching my oversensitive skin just right as I slide my fingers underneath his t-shirt, dancing along the hard muscles of his stomach and brushing through the soft dust of hair at his navel.

He barely pulls away as he tears his shirt over his head one-handed and drops it to the floor with mine and resumes the slow, gentle torture of soft, wet kisses along my collarbone. Falling to his knees in front of me, I gasp when he latches onto a nipple and begins undoing the button on my jeans. My back falls against the door as he starts to pull off my shoes, all the while nipping and licking his way down my chest.

Once my shoes are off, he's peeling down my jeans and underwear, scruff driving me crazy as he buries his nose in the short hair around the base of my cock. My back arches, hands digging in the hair at the nape of his neck as his hands slide back up my bare thighs. I'm hard against the scruff of his cheek when he licks a long stripe up the underside of my cock before slurping the head between his lips.

My fingers tighten in his hair and one hand braces on his shoulder while he takes me down his throat, slow and easy like he's savoring the taste of me on his tongue. It's enough to drive me crazy with desire but then his hand is gripping the bottom of my thigh and lifting it up until one leg is wrapped around his shoulder. My head falls back against the door, eyes squeezed shut as that perfect mouth bobs up and down so slowly that I'm sure I'm gonna die at any moment.

But oh what a sweet way to go.

I moan his name breathlessly as I feel his wet finger teasing and circling around my hole and I stutter out in a rasp so low and broken that it even surprises me.

"Oh fuck, Brandon…please baby…need it so bad…"

I get what I want when I feel his thick finger pushing inside of me. It's more slow torture as he sucks me down deep, burying his nose at the base of my cock while he strokes me softly on the inside, just teasing my prostate as I push myself against him for more.

He's not relenting on the steady pace, hand against my hip to keep me from fucking myself on his big, thick finger. One hand is still tangled in his hair, the other flails out absently scraping against the door behind me as another finger pushes inside of me. My back arches into him as my heel digs into his back, the other foot cemented to the floor to keep my balance.

This delicious torture lasts for ages until my thighs are burning and my chest is heaving while he dips his tongue into the wet slit of my cock and fucking moans as the sticky tip leaks into the scruff on his chin.

That's it…I'm done for. My body constricts around his fingers and I'm gasping out a strangled, "Brandon…" as I begin to cum. He laps at the milky, white stream, letting it pool on his tongue before he swallows the head into his mouth to take the rest of it.

My body is so relaxed as it droops against the door, my thighs burning already from the exertion that it completely takes me by surprise when he shifts his weight and lifts my other leg and onto his shoulder as he bounces up on his feet, bringing me with him.

I gasp and flail forward wrapping my arms tight around his head as he holds me easily above him, both legs wrapped around his shoulders. My cock is still surprisingly hard as it now lays nestled on that scruffy cheek as Brandon looks up at me with a wicked grin that causes it to twitch in anticipation.

Sometimes I forget just how big and strong he actually is.

I can't help but giggle like an idiot as I curl and contort my body to press my lips to his. It's a stretch but I'm pretty flexible so I start licking out my tongue and give him kitten licks to lap up the rest of my cum in his scruff.

He groans a pitiful sound as he rasps, "Fuck, Brady, can you suck your own dick?"

I can't suck it, but I can lick it…don't ask me how I know that.

So I give him my own little evil grin as I lean down just enough to slide my tongue along the still sticky tip.

His eyes are so lidded I can barely see the blue, and his Adam's apple is bobbing like crazy. Then I feel fumbling and hear the sound of his basketball shorts hitting the floor. A moment later, I'm being pulled down to wrap my legs around his waist as he grunts, "God damn it, we need lube…hang on, Princess…"

Then I'm giggling as he carries me with him across the room to grab a bottle of lube from his nightstand drawer. I'm prepared to be thrown down on the bed but he just turns right back around and walks us back to the door.

I chuckle against his shoulder as I kiss it, "No bed?"

But my back hits the door and the sound of him slicking up his cock makes me crazy as he huffs, "Fuck that God damn bed…"

Then he's pushing into me with a groan and that little trick must've really got him worked up because he wasn't being slow and gentle now, no, he was pounding into me, frantically pushing me half way up the door before slamming me back down onto his stiff cock.

All I could do was hold on as he fucked me, harsh grunts of pleasure snarling from his lips and rough fingertips digging into my ass cheeks.

He was growling raspy dirty things like, "Take that motherfuckin' dick…you like that, huh, like my big dick in your tight little ass…fuckin' tell me, Brady…"

I was a dripping, aching mess of pleasure as I breathlessly answered him while I bounced up and down on his cock.

"Yes, Brandon…love it…love your dick…feels so good…need it…yes, baby, yes…"

He had one arm underneath my ass as the other one came up, his hand grabbing the back of my neck as he pulled me in for a wet, sloppy kiss.

Holding me tight against him so that I was barely moving, I could feel him cum inside me, his dick swelling and bursting liquid heat as he whimpered into my mouth. I was so close again that a few tugs at my cock had me shooting my nut all over his chest.

We kissed through stuttered breaths until he finally broke away, hand tangled in my hair as he leaned his damp forehead against mine and whispered, "I love you, Brady."

I smiled with my eyes closed and nipped his scruffy chin, "Love you too, Brandon."

He grinned, blue eyes sparkling as he peppered my face with kisses, "Bet you're hungry…"

I laughed, pushing against his shoulder as I smiled, "Famished."

Sex always made me hungry.

So we showered quickly and soon I was sitting on the countertop wearing only my undies and one of his long white t-shirts as he made us some grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.

Swinging my feet back and forth, I smiled as I handed him the package Suzie sent him.

"It's from Suzie. She says she loves you."

He takes the little package with a grin and tears open the wrapper. Then he's laughing as he mumbles, "That girl's pure evil…"

"What is it?" I lean closer and raise an eyebrow at the two DVD's; The Princess Bride and Beauty and the Beast.

His scruffy cheeks are crimson as he holds them up and laughs, "I used to watch movies with her a lot when she was a kid…"

You were a kid too, baby…

"And these were two of my favorites. I made her watch Beauty and the Beast so much that she eventually hid it so I'd quit grabbin' it whenever I chose the movie."

I smiled and wondered how I got so lucky that I could have the heart of a man as incredible as Brandon Whitlock.

"Cool, I love those movies! We can watch one if you want while we eat?"

He set the movies down and nodded as he picked up the spoon, suddenly very focused on stirring the soup.

"Um, hey Brady?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"I, uh…you know how much I love you, right? Like you know I ain't ever felt for nobody what I feel for you, ya feel me?"

My heart dropped as I looked at his huddled shoulders and the blond hair being tucked behind his ear.

"Um, yeah, I know," I whispered, afraid of what was coming next because I was terrified it was gonna be followed with a 'but'.

"I kinda need to talk to you 'bout somethin'…but I don't want you gettin' upset."

My palms were itchy with nerves as I gripped the countertop and rasped, "I won't. Just tell me, Brandon."

Don't freak out, Brady, just don't freak out…

He scooped out the sandwiches and slid them on a plate before setting down the spatula, turning off the stove, and turning towards me. His arms were wrapped around himself and he looked down at the ground, blond hair hanging in front of his face as he spoke.

"I ran into Angel's sister the other day…"

He told me everything that happened and I felt guilty for being so relieved that this is what he wanted to talk about instead of something like he loved me but this wasn't gonna work out.

When he was done telling me everything, he stared at the floor again, hiding behind his hair. He didn't seem to know what to do with his hands, and I could almost swear he was holding his breath. So I reached my feet out and hooked them on his hips, shimmying him closer as I grabbed him by the arms and tugged him the rest of the way to stand between my thighs. When I got him close enough, I reached up and cupped his jaw as I whispered, "You okay, baby?"

His eyes snapped up to mine as he furrowed his brows, "You ain't mad?"

I leaned up to press my lips to his. Then I pulled away and spoke softly, "Of course not. I think it's good for you to finally know that what happened to Angel wasn't your fault. It was a horrible, sad thing but it wasn't your fault and you couldn't have prevented it no matter how much you wanted to. I think it's really sweet of his sister to let you know that. As far as the barbecue, I won't tell you to go or not, I'll just let you know that whatever decision you make, I'm with you. If you wanna go, I could go with you…if you don't, that's okay too."

He smiled in surprise, as his baby blue eyes shining with relief as they looked back and forth between mine. He cradled my jaw in his big hand, thumb stroking my cheek gently, "You'd go with me?"

I give him little kisses all over his face as I chuckle, "Of course!"

He grabs my face and plants a big, fat kiss on my lips. Then he pulls away smiling as he grabs two bowls and starts to pour our soup. We skip the movie and just sit at the counter, him on a barstool, me on the countertop, as we eat and talk.

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.

.

"Yeah, I get why you freaked out, Brandon. The judge sounds like a dick but believe it or not, you still did pretty well considering…"

He shrugged his shoulders, dipping his last bite of the sandwich into the soup as he sighed, "Yeah, I know, I mean I didn't go to jail or nothin' so that was pretty good for me but still I shoulda known, ya know? Shoulda seen it comin' from a mile away. I just feel stupid for even thinkin' they'd let me leave early."

I swallow my bite and nudge his hand so he'll look up at me. When he does, I smile, "It's not stupid. It's good to have hope. And we were all pretty much blindsided, you know? I kinda thought Carlisle was Superman and could make things happen just by willing it, but none of us ever had to deal with this sort of thing before. We had no idea what we were up against and we should've been smarter about it. I'm sorry you got so letdown."

His lips quirked into a soft, sad smile as he patted my thigh and looked up at me, "I shoulda known. But yeah, it sucks. I was really lookin' forward to livin' with you, Brady."

Trailing my hand along his scruffy cheek, I gave him a sad smile back as I whispered, "Yeah, me too."

Scooting down into his lap, I laid my head against his chest, cuddling up to him as he wrapped his big, strong arms around me.

For a while we were quiet, just content to hold onto one another until his raspy whisper broke through the silence.

"When I was sixteen I was…this monster. I been on the streets awhile and I was so fuckin' sick of it. I hooked up with some guys, started sellin' dope…whatever I could get my hands on. But I wasn't real good at it; I wanted to do it more than I wanted to sell it. So, then I figured robbin' would be easier. People were scared of me, always have been…but they was real scared of me when I had a gun pointed in their face as I was takin' their shit."

My heart raced at the images floating through my head of the monster he saw himself as. And maybe he was…maybe he'd always have a little of that monster in him but I refused to believe that that was all he is.

"Brandon, why are you…"

I wanted to know why he was telling me this. Was this some sort of confession? The need to just say these things aloud?

His eyes snapped to mine, hauntingly clear blue as he whispered, "The judge told me that one of the cops I assaulted had his jaw wired shut for six months. I know I should feel bad…should feel remorse or somethin'…but I don't. I can't bring myself to give a shit no matter how hard I try...and I really wanna, ya know? Wanna feel somethin' so I know I ain't a monster…but maybe I just am and there ain't nothin' I can do about it."

Biting my lip, I mulled this over for a moment before asking, "Is it just with cops you feel no remorse?"

He shook his head and sighed, long and hard, "No. Mostly cops though. I mean, I don't feel bad 'bout all the people I hurt but I do feel bad 'bout the ones that was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"So, you don't feel bad if you felt they deserved it, right? Like if they provoked you."

"Yeah," he rasped out, "That's okay, right? Should I feel bad about them?"

Even with a subject so serious, I found my heart melting at how childlike and innocent he could really be sometimes.

"Well, probably not all of them, like the ones who were trying to hurt you but maybe some of them. I mean, like I know some cops are assholes but some of them are really decent people…"

Rolling his eyes, he snorted in protest but I pushed my finger to his lips and protested back, "Wait, let me finish."

He sighed and lifted an eyebrow but didn't talk back so I continued.

"So, um, when my parents kicked me out I sorta moved in with my Uncle Billy and my cousin Jacob. Jake dated this girl, Bella. Her dad is the town sheriff. She was kind of annoying but her dad – Charlie - was actually very nice. He was giving her a ride over to see Jake because her piece of shit truck wasn't running. Anyway, Charlie's friends with Uncle Billy so he came in to chat for a bit and um…well, he saw my face. My father hit me pretty hard the night before and um…well, you know, it was pretty ugly."

I felt him tense underneath me and I stroked my fingers down the veins in his arms, hoping to soothe him.

"Uncle Billy told him about what happened and Charlie was so angry for me. He really wanted to call Child Protective Services but I begged him not to, even though it was his sworn duty to call it in. I was terrified that I'd be taken away and I had finally found friends, ya know? Real friends who I didn't wanna leave. It was the first time I ever really felt like I was part of a family and I didn't want to lose that. Anyway, I was freaking out. I called Emmett and within twenty minutes, here comes the cavalry. Emmett, Rose, Alice, and the Cullen's all show up. I was scared that they wouldn't. Edward was in the hospital and Jay was just gone…I figured they had bigger problems and that I wouldn't even matter much now that Edward and Jay weren't there because I started off as their friend, but everyone came. Carlisle and Uncle Billy worked it out with Charlie, said they'd keep me safe and away from trouble. So he said he'd turn a blind eye as long as I was taken care of."

Brandon sighed, brow furrowed as he mumbled, "I guess that was pretty nice of him. I wouldn't wanna think of you in one of them state homes."

Smiling, I keep trailing my fingers up and down his bicep as I whisper, "Yeah, me neither. They wouldn't appreciate my fabulousness. So anyway, the point is, he's a decent guy. And this cop that you hurt, maybe he was decent too. Maybe he has a family, ya know?"

"He was a dick," he muttered gruffly and I shrugged.

"Yeah, maybe he was but maybe he was just scared. I mean, you said it yourself, you were being a monster. I remember Charlie getting roughed up one time during a burglary and Bella was just devastated. I mean, her dad was really all she had, her mother wasn't around much. Maybe the guy he arrested had a reason for why he was robbing someone but Charlie was just trying to do his job…trying to keep people safe. I know maybe that doesn't help much…"

With a soft smile, he moved his arm from around me to capture my hand as he nodded, "Yeah it kinda does help. It's hard for me to see things from the other side but the thought of someone like you or Carlisle gettin' hurt or robbed is real bad. I'd want the cops to keep you safe. Maybe I oughtta find that guy, that cop I hurt…maybe I oughtta apologize? Would that be dumb? I mean, he'd probably tell me to fuck off but I don't know…"

Leaning down, I kissed his lips as I mumbled, "Mmm, I think that's a great start, baby."

Then I sighed as I pulled my hand away to trace the monster in the shadows of his ink, "You know, you really don't have to hide behind the monster anymore. I know being just an ordinary human is kind of scary but you're braver now…stronger and smarter…you don't have to be a big, bad monster anymore, you can just be you and I think that the real you is pretty sweet."

He leaned forward, laying his head on my shoulder as he sighed, "You're really smart, Brady…I'm real glad you come to see me."

Kissing his forehead, I wrapped my arms around him and stroked his hair as I whispered, "Yeah, me too, Brandon."

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.

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"So, you skippin' out on work and school again to come to my rescue?"

I roll my eyes as I hand him the skillet I just washed so he could rinse.

"No. I mean, yeah kinda but my assignments won't be due until the end of the week so I'm just missing lecture. And that's not a big deal because I can just bum notes off of someone. I don't have to work again until Wednesday so I'm okay there. Oh, I forgot to tell you! This guy, Oliver, who I'm sorta friends with, is trying to hook me up with a job at the art museum! I mean, it's just a cashier job in the gift shop but still, it gets my foot in the door and totally beats working at the coffee shop."

"Who's Oliver?"

I rolled my eyes again as I handed him a soapy bowl, "I told you, he's sort of a friend, more like an acquaintance really. I met him at the coffee shop. Don't get jealous, he's like old and totally not my type anyway."

Brandon looks down at me with an eyebrow raised as he scrubs the bowl a little harder than necessary, "I'm old."

"Oh my God, Brandon, you are not old! You're like seven years older than me, it's not a big deal…"

"But you like older men…"

"No, I like you."

"What about Liam Neeson? Or Sean Connery? Kevin Spacey? John Cusack?"

"They're movie stars! It's totally different! And I told him I wasn't interested so you have no reason to be jealous!"

My eyes went wide and I almost slapped my hand across my mouth but it was covered with suds.

"He hit on you?"

He turned off the water as he looked down at me, his face deadly serious as I stammered, "Um, well once but it was months ago. I told him I was in love with you so no thanks."

Grabbing a kitchen towel, he dried his hands off and threw it on the counter as he walked away to get his cigarettes, "But you're still talkin' to him…"

"I kinda have to talk to him, Brandon, he's a customer at the coffee shop."

He just rolled his eyes and stepped out onto the porch, slamming the door behind him. I couldn't believe he was getting so upset about nothing!

One guy hits on me and he acts like it's a huge freakin' deal when I bet he gets hit on constantly…holy crap, he gets hit on constantly…not by old guys but by adorable little twinks at the club when he goes out with Lexi and only God knows what kind of people at the tattoo shop.

And now I'm kinda pissed as I step out onto the porch, thankful that his t-shirt comes to my knees.

"Don't act like you don't get hit on, Brandon. I know better, okay. I'm not stupid. That night I went with you to the club, boys were practically flinging themselves at you."

His stormy blue eyes snapped to mine as he huffed out a cloud of smoke and snarled, "Yeah, they do fuckin' hit on me…and I shut 'em down. I don't keep fuckin' talkin' to 'em like I wanna be fuckin' friends, Brady. And I sure as Hell wouldn't let one of 'em get me a job. So what, he gets you this job and then you owe him?"

My mouth dropped open and tears stung my eyes as I crossed my arms over my chest and huffed, "Is that what you think of me? That because some man helped me get a job that I would repay him in what, blow jobs? This may be a big shocker to you, Brandon, but I am capable of being friends with a man without wanting to fuck him. As much as you like to accuse me, I'm not actually a slut."

"I didn't say you…"

"No, you insinuated it."

He growled, flipping his cigarette into the alley as he yanked me down to sit on his lap.

"I'm sorry, okay? This is just…this fuckin' sucks, Brady. I trust you, I do…I just can't be there, ya know? I can't scare these assholes off and I can't help you with findin' a new job…I can't do any-fuckin-thing but sit here on my god damn ass and pray to fuck knows who that you don't realize you could do so much better than me…"

I sniffle and he wipes away the wetness underneath my glasses with his thumb.

"Brandon, when are you going to realize that I want you? Only you? That I love you and I don't care about what a man can do for me…I can do for myself, I'm a man too. All I want is someone to love me and trust me and treat me like I'm the best gift in the whole world! You make me feel like that - when you're not being an asshole."

He sighs heavily, pulling me closer as he lays his head against my shoulder and whispers, "You're the best gift I ever got, Brady…I'm sorry for bein' an asshole, I just get…I get scared sometimes that this ain't gonna be enough for you…"

I run my fingers through his hair as I lay my cheek against the top of his head and sigh, "I get scared of the same thing, Brandon. But if we don't trust each other, especially with our situation, then we don't have anything. It has to be enough when I tell you that I love you and I'm not leaving you. Ever."

We were quiet for a minute, just holding onto each other when he whispered my biggest fear out loud, "What if I can't ever get my parole moved and I'm stuck here for over three more years? That's a long time and you're so young…"

"I don't care. However long it takes, Brandon…"

"You'll be outta fuckin' college by then, Brady…it ain't fair of me to keep you from enjoyin' these years…these are supposed to be the best years of your life…"

"They are. They are the best because I have you. Contrary to popular belief, college kinda sucks. I'm not invited to the big parties and wouldn't wanna go even if I was. All I have are my friends, my dogs, and you. You're not holding me back from anything, Brandon. If I didn't have you, I'd just have a lot of lonely nights in front of the TV eating junk food until the Freshman 15 turned into the Senior 60. And I know you appreciate a fat ass but that's just ridiculous."

He snorted, burying his face in my neck as he chuckled, "You're fuckin' ridiculous, Princess."

I smiled against his hair as I pressed my lips and gave him a kiss, "I know. But you love me."

His arms tighten around me as he whispers, "I really do."

"I love you, too. And whatever happens, happens. We'll cross whatever bridge we have to cross when we get there, okay? We don't get a lot of time together so let's not waste it by arguing about stupid stuff."

"Okay. Good luck with the new job, by the way. I hope you get it."

"Thanks, babe. I hope I do, too."

.

.

.

We spent the rest of the night cuddled together watching TV and just hanging out. When I woke up in the morning, he still had me locked in his arms as he spooned me. I had to shimmy my way out to get to the bathroom and when I walked back in the room, he was awake, sitting against the headboard and rubbing his eyes.

"Morning, Daddy…" I giggled as I crawled back into bed with him and curled up against him.

He snuggled me back as he chuckled, low and raspy, "Mornin' Sunshine."

We fooled around in bed for the better part of the morning before finally dragging ourselves out into the world. We had breakfast and took Dolly to the dog park. It made me a little sad that people would run up to her, petting her head and talking about how pretty she was, only to back away after asking what breed she was. She wasn't a bad dog. She wasn't vicious or mean. She just wanted belly rubs and someone to pet her little head.

She was kinda perfect for Brandon that way.

Brandon had to go to work for a few hours that afternoon when someone specifically requested him to do their ink and instead of doing my homework, I decided to tag along when he asked if I wanted to.

"You sure it's okay," I asked as I trailed behind him into the shop.

He grinned as he grabbed my hand to pull me along, "S'fine, Princess."

I was a little nervous since he was at 'work' but Sig, Lou Anne, Lexi, and Bones were all smiles when I walked in. Lexi and Lou Anne gave me hugs, Sig gave me the standard head-nod, "Sup" combination, and Bones grabbed me a little stool from his workspace so I could sit in Brandon's room while he worked.

But when I walked into Brandon's room, my mouth dropped open as I looked at the little mirror over his sink.

I looked at Brandon who was just grinning with a blush on his scruffy cheeks. I broke into a grin to as I walked closer to see all the pictures he had taped up on it. There were photos of all of us together the first time we came here. There were a few of JJ and Em J, some of Brandon and all his little cousins as kids, and then there were photos of me…photos of us together, faces smushed together as we smiled like goofballs at the camera.

I smiled as I ran my finger over a picture of him kissing my cheek as I blushed deeply but grinned like a fool.

"I can't believe you have these up here."

"I like to look at you."

"You're not worried about what, ya know, people will think?"

He grinned as he started setting up a tray filled with ink and needles, "Fuck 'em. If they don't like it they can go somewhere else."

Sitting on the stool, I chuckled, "It's good to know I'm not the only one that's shit at customer service."

A few minutes later his client arrived. He was young, extremely skinny, and a little dirty but he seemed nice enough. Brandon introduced him as 'Ghost' and he was okay with me sitting in. He even knew who I was, saying that Brandon talked about me.

I watched Brandon work on the boy's back and was fascinated as I stared in awe at the piece of art in front of me.

On the boy's pale back were faded photographs, torn and tattered images of a family all connected by shadows and smoke, with numbers of all shapes and sizes blended into the fog like something out of a trippy Alice in Wonderland.

"Wow, Brandon, this is…" I didn't even have words as he blushed while creating a hazy '62' in the shadows.

Ghost turned his face toward me and smiled, "I know, right…man's a genius…"

And then he told me the story of how he walked in here 62 days ago with a bunch of old photographs of his family. His mom, dad, and little brother were all killed in a fire a week before and after the funeral, he ended up here. He had been addicted to meth for two years prior to them dying and when he came in here, he was a mess.

Brandon sat on the floor with him while he had a breakdown, saying that he wanted to do something in honor of them for being such a shitty son and brother…that he was trying to get clean.

Brandon took the photos and put them together for him, coming up with the whole idea of the piece on his back. The numbers represent different things…the number of days he's been clean…his little brother's birthday…his parent's wedding anniversary. Brandon told him that when he got to 365 and had been clean a whole year, the tattoo would be done.

So every two weeks when he got paid, he came here and got a little more of the photos colored in and another number added.

Brandon was bright red when the boy was finished telling me his story, not forgetting to say that Brandon saved his life that day he walked in here a fucking mess.

And I think I fell a little more in love with him, if such a thing is even possible.

After Ghost left, Brandon was cleaning up his area as I doted on him. He tried to play it off like it was nothing but I knew better. He had a beautiful soul.

Later that evening when we were pulling up to the barbecue at Angel's family's house, I started thinking maybe this was a really bad idea; Brandon was practically oozing anxiety, unsure if he wanted to do this or not. I suggested we just drive-by, maybe park a minute across the street and he could decide if he wanted to go in.

He looked about two seconds away from bolting when I grabbed his hand and smiled, "It smells really good in there."

A soft smile came to his face as he squeezed my hand. Looking down at the steering wheel, his hair covered his face as he mumbled something in Spanish.

Reaching over to tuck his hair behind his ear, I sigh softly, "What was that?"

He grinned, blue eyes flashing to mine as he chuckled, "It smells like heaven wrapped in a tortilla and dipped in cheese. Jeremiah said that once."

I smiled, "He was right. So, what do you think? You wanna give this a go? Sounds like fun too."

It did sound fun, the bellowing of laughter and the fast beat of the music, in which I didn't understand a word but loved the rhythm.

I thought this might be good for him. From what he told me, Angel's sister made it sound like they would be thrilled to meet him. I was nervous, being the boyfriend and all. I mean, what if they didn't want me here? It made me really uncomfortable but even my unease didn't seem bad compared to how anxious Brandon looked.

"Or, we can leave if you want," I whispered as I grabbed his hand again.

He groaned, reaching for the key in the ignition when a voice called out, "Brandon! You made it!"

Our eyes snapped up to a girl I assumed was Melitta, leaning into Brandon's window as she bounced on her toes.

"Who's this?" she grinned at me in a sing-song voice as Brandon looked down at his lap again.

He mumbled, "Um…this is Brady. He's my boyfriend."

I reached my hand across but she just rolled her eyes as she laughed, "No way! Get outta the truck and come hug me!"

I couldn't help but smile as I got out of the truck and she bear tackled me into a big hug.

"Oh, it's so nice to meet you! You're the cutest little thing ever!"

Brandon was chuckling as he got out of the truck, raking a hand through his hair as he grinned at me.

Then she grabbed Brandon with the other arm, pulling him down as he stumbled into a hug. Then she was dragging us off into the back yard as she rambled off names of people we passed.

It was packed, people dancing and eating and talking. There were long tables setup with so much food that I was pretty sure my stomach rumbled. But I couldn't hear it over the steady beat of the music.

I politely pulled myself away from Melitta and walked around to Brandon's other side. Casting a glance up at him, he looked down at me and I could see the unease in his baby blues clearly.

There were too many people here, he didn't know any of them, and it was making him edgy.

His hands were shoved in his pockets but he wasn't looking down at the ground like I thought he would, his head was up, eyes alert as he watched everyone with a less than friendly look of caution on his face.

He looked like he could attack at a moment's notice and my hand itched to reach for his but I was a little apprehensive.

We came to a stop at a long picnic table with several older women sitting there eating things that looked wonderful.

Now Brandon looked down, his hair falling in front of his face and I reached out to hook my arm in his. He didn't look at me but he tightened his grip and pulled me closer.

"Mama, look at who I found?" Melitta bounced in excitement as one of the women's eyes looked up and grew wide.

Her hands covered her mouth as it fell open in shock. Then she was up, walking slowly over to him with tears in her eyes.

I held my breath as Brandon held his.

His cheeks were bright red when he tucked his hair behind his ear but the older woman just threw her arms around him, mumbling in Spanish all except for one phrase she kept repeating…

"You're a good boy…"

Brandon was rigid for a moment, eyes wide open and bluer than the sky.

Soon though, he closed them, letting out the breath he had been holding and easing his arm away from me so he could hug her back.

I lost my own breath and had to bite my lip as tears came to my eyes when I heard him choke out, "M'sorry…"

But she just stroked his cheek and held onto him as she whispered, "You're a good boy…"