A/N, Warnings, and Disclaimers: So up front, this will probably be difficult to read. I choose not to put detailed warnings in my AN's so if you have a question, please feel free to ask. I will happily talk it out with you.
These beautiful kids are SM's toys. I'm just playing with them for a while.
Dedication: This little ditty is for JessyPT on her birthday. I hope you know how much you're loved, appreciated, and adored. Happy birthday, baby girl!
"That kid gives me the creeps."
Using the guise of stretching, Edward Cullen craned his neck to figure out who his teammates were talking about. It wasn't difficult. When the Forks High School wrestling team practiced, there were always a few people in the bleachers. There were the smattering of siblings waiting for older brothers, a quartet of giggling, grinning girls, and the odd man out - Benjamin Touma.
Benjamin and his family were new in town, making them the subjects of gossip inherently. Sad as it was, the color of their skin made Benjamin a further outcast. Forks was a tiny, Northwestern town. There wasn't a lot of diversity to be had.
And then there was the persistent rumor that Benjamin might have been attracted primarily to members of his same sex.
Personally, Edward didn't see what any of that mattered. What he saw was how, despite the whispers that followed him, Benjamin was constantly smiling. He was unfailingly friendly. He was witty, and he was smart. He was a Junior, and yet he was in Edward's Senior level advanced placement classes. Ever since Benjamin had walked into his A.P. history class, Edward had liked him. He was on the right side of sassy - funny and confident, and usually right. He was the type to just as easily take on a teacher as a fellow student for a round of verbal sparring. Often, Edward would find himself hiding a grin behind his hand, just admiring the other boy's unwavering confidence.
"It's disgusting," Felix Scarpinato spat.
"He's not even looking at you assholes," Edward interjected, unable to keep himself out of the conversation any longer. He kept his tone light, still stretching as if he weren't really all that interested.
"What do you think he's looking at, Cullen?" Demetri Martin snorted.
Edward shrugged easily. "Ah, so what if he's perving?" He gave a pointed look in the direction of the four girls who were being extraordinarily obvious. Where Benjamin was merely watching the proceedings, they were fawning. "You don't mind if the girls look at you. What's the difference?"
"Dude, come on," James Damon said with a snort. "He probably thinks of us when he jerks off."
The other three boys looked ill. Edward just rolled his eyes. "I don't spend much time thinking about what other guys do with their dicks, dick."
"Cullen, Martin. You're up. Let's go."
"Coming, Coach," the boys said together, and the discussion was promptly forgotten.
As the school year wore on, the whispers about Benjamin got worse.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he watched the wrestling team. On Mondays and Wednesdays, he watched the basketball team. He was always in the bleachers drawing or just watching with a serene look on his face. Members of both teams had noticed.
"Someone should teach the little perv a lesson."
Edward was sure his teammates weren't aware he was standing close enough to hear them. The malice in Felix's voice sent chills down his spine, and he could hear the others murmuring their agreement.
"He winked at Alec the other day," Felix continued. Alec was his brother - a Freshman. "Kid's been disturbed about it. That shit isn't right."
Edward wanted to snort. Alec wasn't exactly a tender soul. He didn't know the context of this wink, but he doubted Alec was suffering. It would have been a funny comment if the anger in Felix's tone wasn't so obvious.
"So what do you want to do about it?" Demetri asked.
"I'm with you, man," James inserted. "What're you thinking?"
"I pass the kid every night on the way home from practice. He walks home after he pervs out on us. We can..."
Edward had heard enough. A minute later, Coach Clapp called an end to practice. Edward sprinted to the locker room and changed without bothering to shower. He knew he had to be quick if he was going to catch up with Benjamin. He wasn't sure, but since he was always gone by the time the team trickled out of the locker room, Edward was willing to bet he went home right after practice was over.
He didn't know how serious Felix and his friends were, but he wasn't about to risk it. Part of Edward understood their discomfort, but he thought the other boys were being a bit reactionary. He kept harkening back to his point from a few weeks before: When the girls watched them, no one cared. In fact, some of the boys seemed to show off more if a girl they really liked was there. Personally, Edward was indifferent. If Benjamin was getting some kind of pleasure out of watching wrestling practice, he was being discreet about it - the absolute opposite of the girls, who made it obvious.
Either way, Edward was sure whatever Felix had planned, the unsuspecting boy didn't deserve any lesson they wanted to teach him.
Heading out into the ever-misty, cold fall afternoon, Edward scanned the parking lot. He was relieved when he spotted a figure all the way across the lot, about to head out onto the road on foot.
"Hey, Benjamin!" he shouted as loud as he could, already picking up the pace.
The other boy turned and blinked in his direction, stopping while Edward caught up. "What's up?"
"Um." Edward hadn't thought it out that far. He looked around furtively, relieved when he saw his teammates hadn't made it out of the building yet. "You heading home?"
Benjamin looked perplexed – amused, but perplexed. "I thought I might."
"Well, it looks like rain."
The other boy grinned. "Yeah, I haven't lived here as long as you have, but it seems to do that a lot."
Edward grimaced. He had no idea why he sounded like such an idiot. He didn't usually have trouble articulating, so he didn't understand why he was so flummoxed. "Look, can I give you a ride? It's kind of a long walk, isn't it?"
By Forks standards, Benjamin might as well have been across the country.
"It's not too bad." Benjamin studied him, tilting his head. "Why now?"
Edward shrugged. He didn't have a good answer. He glanced again toward the front of the school. His body was tense, just waiting for Felix or one of the others to appear. He didn't want Benjamin to get hurt, but he also preferred to avoid what his teammates might have to say about him driving away with the other boy.
Benjamin ducked his head, looking suddenly almost shy. "Okay. That would be great."
After Edward began driving Benjamin home every day, they became quick friends. It wasn't long before they were hanging out nearly every day.
For one thing, Benjamin got along great with Edward's mother, Esme. She had a greenhouse in the back Benjamin was absolutely fascinated with. He was good with plants, apparently, and they had completely absurd conversations about soil, and flower roots, and the right bugs to introduce to the controlled environment. For her birthday, Benjamin had gone as far as to buy her butterflies - gorgeous and vibrant – to be released in the enclosed, warm space.
Edward made a face as they sat by the little pond area in the greenhouse. Benjamin was showing off. He'd gotten one of the butterflies to land on him and it was resting, fluttering on his palm. "You're making me look bad," Edward complained. His birthday present to his mother hadn't been nearly as impressive.
Benjamin looked up at him, his dark eyes sparking with mischief as a slow, cocky grin spread across his face. He said nothing, but moved slowly, bringing his free hand up to twine his fingers with Edward's.
"What are you-" Edward began to protest, but Benjamin held fast.
"Hold your hand out," he murmured.
His accent was pleasant, Edward thought not for the first time. He kept his hand held palm up as Benjamin indicated.
With easy movements, Benjamin drew something from his pocket and dabbed a dot or two of something sticky on the heel of Edward's palm. He moved the hand with the butterfly in it up, and again crooked their fingers, forming a bridge. Edward watched, fascinated, as Benjamin gave his hand an encouraging bump and the butterfly, wings fluttering, sought out the new source of nectar. "Be still," Benjamin said, drawing his hands back.
Edward stared down at the butterfly on his hand. He couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. He huffed because he really had no idea why this was so special. It was just a fucking butterfly, but he was hypnotized by the slow beat of its wings, the slight tickle of tiny feet and an even tinier tongue.
"Your parents know how to love."
Edward jolted, not expecting that, and was torn between his shock and the disappointment of losing the butterfly who'd flown up and away at the sharp movement. His head snapped between the insect and Benjamin twice before he sputtered an indignant, "What?!"
Benjamin laughed. "They are..." he searched for the right word, "demonstrative toward each other and your brother and sister. My family is not this way." He looked up at Edward, his smile peaceful. "I like this atmosphere." Though his smile didn't waver, there was a sadness in his eyes that made Edward want to touch him... to comfort him. "Your mother isn't like my mother. My mother loves but she isn't loving. I'm not hers, obviously, but Esme is loving toward me."
"That's Mom," Edward said with a soft snort.
"I just wanted to show my appreciation. I like it here. A lot."
Edward was quiet for a moment, watching as the butterfly flitted about, not knowing where to settle since its human perch hadn't worked out.
"You don't like going home," he realized out loud, not really asking.
Benjamin looked down, and he didn't answer.
"Why don't you like going home?"
The other boy seemed to shrink in front of him, and Edward felt terrible. Through all the teasing, the whispers behind his back, he'd never looked so vulnerable. He breathed in deep before he looked up again, his smile forced now. "I'm fine, habeeby." His voice was shakier than usual. "I've got my Tia, my little dog. That's all I need at home."
There was a want in Edward he didn't know what to do with. The energy in the greenhouse was strange. His heart ached, and he didn't know why. He knew Benjamin was hurting, and he wanted to fix it, but he didn't know how. He wanted to hug the other boy, but all the things everyone said about him flashed through Edward's head, making him confused.
Should it be different? Would it mean something different if Edward were to touch this boy?
"I'm glad you're here," he said instead, because at least that much he knew was true. Benjamin was his friend, and he was glad about that.
That brought the light back to Benjamin's eyes, and his smile brightened.
The phantom ache in Edward's chest loosened, and he smiled back.
It was months into their friendship when Benjamin finally invited Edward over to his house.
"My parents aren't home." Benjamin waggled his eyebrows playfully, reading Edward's nervousness.
Edward made a face at the other boy, but he felt his cheeks heat. He felt a bizarre rush of elation, as if the idea of being alone with Benjamin was exciting. He shook it off as he pulled into the driveway.
"Come on, habeeby," Benjamin gestured. When Edward got close enough, he curled his hand around his upper arm, pulling him along. "I want you to meet my Tia."
"What does habeeby mean?" Edward asked as they headed up the walk. Benjamin had been calling him this for a long while now, and he always meant to ask.
Benjamin looked suddenly, inexplicably shy for a fleeting moment before he shrugged nonchalantly. "It's just a word for a friend." He stared down at his feet as he said it, but he looked up as they got to the door. "Come on."
Inside, they were greeted by a sleek, small, very enthusiastic dog. She jumped up, yipping happily at Benjamin's feet. He sunk down on the floor, sitting cross-legged as the dog climbed into his lap, tilting her head up to lick merrily at the underside of his chin.
Edward's chest felt warm as he watched the boy, happy with his dog.
After a minute of this more than a little adorable reunion, Benjamin stood up, bringing the dog with him. "Here, Tia. Look. I've brought you a new friend."
Obliging, Edward held his hand out, and Tia sniffed. When Benjamin put her down, she nipped at Edward's jeans, looking up at him with a doggy grin, tail wagging. Edward bent over to pet her soft, black fur. Almost instantly, she threw herself down onto her back, giving him a belly to scratch.
"Oh, you've made a friend for life," Benjamin laughed.
As Benjamin showed him around, Edward reflected his mother would probably enjoy the decor. It was rich with the Egyptian culture Benjamin came from. As he led Edward through the house, he explained how he'd been born nearby in Portland but had lived most of his life in Egypt. They were back now - wanting to be near family in Olympia.
There was, Edward noticed, a lack of family pictures around. His own home was full of them - embarrassingly full, actually. The only picture Edward saw of Benjamin's family was a wedding photo - a handsome but severe looking man and his diminutive, beautiful bride. Benjamin's parents, obviously, but it was the only picture that hung in the house. Everything else was a painting or a piece of art.
But Edward's meandering thoughts went out the window when they got to Benjamin's room.
It was a large room, half of which was set up like a workshop.
"Are those... like honest to God sculptures?"
Benjamin's expression was shy but pleased. "Stone sculptures, yes." He picked up what looked like a piece of driftwood. "I do a little whittling as well."
Edward's eyes went wide.
More than just a little whittling, Benjamin had carefully carved an intricate cityscape into the wood. "This is amazing."
"I like working with natural things."
"Well, you're good at it." Edward traced his hands first over the fine lines of the wood, feeling how soft it all was - not a splinter in sight. "I wish I had the patience to do something like this."
Benjamin snorted lightly. "Well, I wish I could do what you do."
"What do I do?"
"The wrestling?" Benjamin shook his head. "I'm not good at any sport at all."
"There's nothing to wrestling. Anyone could do it."
"I bet I couldn't."
"Sure you could. It's just a matter of knowing the right moves." He set down Benjamin's driftwood carefully. "Like, for instance, a take-down is easy. You just have to get a good grip." As he spoke, Edward wrapped his fingers around the other boy's upper arm. He trailed off when Benjamin hissed and drew back away from him.
Edward's stomach churned uncomfortably. Looking self-conscious, Benjamin tried to get up, but Edward caught him by the wrist. Slowly, Benjamin sat back down. "I'm fine."
"You've said that before." Edward hadn't believed him then, and he didn't believe him now. He began rolling up Benjamin's sleeves. Sure enough, Benjamin's shoulder was scraped and badly bruised. Edward's throat was tight.
"I'm fine," Benjamin insisted, his tone gentle but firm.
"Who did this?" Edward demanded.
"It wasn't a big deal."
"Felix," Benjamin admitted. "Seems he was feeling just a little clumsy, and he might have tripped. He pushed me. We were outside, so I got a little banged up is all."
Edward saw red. His nostrils flared as his breathing picked up.
"It's not a big deal."
"He hurt you."
"He pushed me." Benjamin put his hand over Edward's and looked him in the eye. "I'm not angry. I've met Felix's father."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"His father is demanding and controlling. Felix acting out with me is just displacement."
Edward stared at Benjamin, and then he had to laugh. "You're unbelievable." Feeling a little self-conscious, he pulled his hand away from Benjamin's. They were sitting so close. "I don't know how you do that - explain it all away. People say some pretty shitty things about you, and Felix is the worst of them."
The corner of Benjamin's mouth quirked up. "They're all smoke and fire, just repeating the ignorant things they learn from their parents."
Edward bit the inside of his cheek. "Please, just be careful," he finally said quietly. "Felix and some of the others on the team... they got it into their heads that when you watch us in the afternoons..."
Benjamin tilted his head. "When I watch you what?" He seemed slightly bemused, and for some reason, Edward felt his heart rate stutter.
He shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck as he looked away. "They all have big egos," he muttered with a shrug. "They think you're drawing them because you're perving on them." His cheeks felt lava hot.
Beside him, Benjamin huffed. "They think boys rolling around on the floor all tangled up in each other is my thing, hmm?"
He was teasing, and Edward knew it. Still, his face got only hotter. "Egotistical assholes," he said dismissively, trying to laugh. It came out a little strangled.
"Hmm," Benjamin hummed. He shifted on the bed, angling his body toward Edward. "It's true, you know. That I like boys."
Edward looked down at his hands, rubbing a bit of the bedspread between two fingers. "I know that."
"Does it bother you?"
"Why would it bother me?"
"I don't know. It bothers them."
"Well, they're idiots."
Benjamin laughed. "They are idiots. I'm much pickier than all of that." He scooted closer, which was a feat. They were so close, their shoulders and knees were bumping. "But they were right about one thing."
Edward's head felt heavy with his spinning thoughts. Nothing settled. Thinking a million things all at once made it difficult to concentrate. "What's that?" he asked, but he was much more entranced by Benjamin's hand, now resting now on his leg.
"I like sports, but I can't play. That's why I like watching the teams... but... I did watch someone specific."
His voice was low, and when Edward raised his head, his breath caught in his throat. "Jasper, maybe?" His voice was higher pitched than normal. "I know he's very pretty, but I think he has a crush on my sister." He was babbling, but he couldn't seem to stop.
"No," Benjamin said, cupping his cheek with his free hand. "Not Jasper."
Then Benjamin's lips were soft on his.
Every single one of Edward's loud thoughts quieted in an instant, shocked into silence.
For a minute, it was wonderful. Blissful even. Perfect.
But then the voices of his teammates, his friends, filtered into Edward's head.
Someone should teach the little perv a lesson.
With a startled cry, Edward shoved Benjamin away. He stood quickly, breathing hard, reeling. "Don't... That's..." He gulped, shaking his head. "Don't do that."
Benjamin remained still on the bed. "I'm sorry." His eyes were wide, and for the first time, Edward saw real shame in them. "I'm really sorry."
What he wanted most was to tell Benjamin he didn't need to be sorry. Actually, what he wanted very most was to return to the other boy's side because he'd liked that kiss. He'd really liked it, and he didn't know what that meant. He didn't want it to mean he was suddenly so scared, but he was.
He really was.
"I'm sorry," Benjamin said again.
"I'm going to go," Edward said.
And he fled.
A/N: So this will be fairly short. No more than five chapters. I know I always say that, but I think I mean it this time. Rawr.
Thanks so much to Barburella and to harrytwifan for stepping in as beta!