Long Winding Road Trip Away From The Asylum Part Two
Did everyone survive Friday the 13th?
Role call! lol
And Happy Reading!
There were no fatalities from the grocery trip. Definitely a win, though there had been some close calls in the bread aisle. Shoes gritting against the pavement, Wren hefted two bags out of the back of the SUV, following Noah, Lawson and Reed, who all carried full boxes. In the bar, everything was set on tables while Reed rushed off to get the coolers.
Coming out of the galley, Keiran wiped his hands on his apron, surveying the spread with a satisfied smile. “Oh good. Between this and a few things I’ve prepared for you, no one will starve on the trip.”
Lawson arched his brow at Keiran. “Was there any reason to doubt we could manage?”
Not looking the least bit fazed, Keiran glanced between Lawson and Noah, then lifted his shoulders. “Not at all, sir. I spoke to Matt and put aside enough coffee beans for there and back.” He looked to where Reed backed in from the gym with the first cooler. “Matt texted you to tell you where the hand grinder and French Press are.” As Reed patted his pockets, Keiran chuckled, picking Reed’s phone up from where he’d left it behind the bar. “You might want to keep this close. He said he’ll call as soon as he’s back at the hotel.”
“Thanks, Keir-Bear.” Reed grinned at the other sub, taking his phone and dashing off to the stairwell.
Going to the first box, Wren began to empty it, organizing the condiments in one of the smaller plastic containers from the stack Keiran brought out for him. So long as he focused on the task at hand, he could avoid thinking about actually going on the trip. How far away from The Asylum he’d be. How the danger would increase with every mile, bringing them beyond the protection established here over years.
Without him there, Reed would be okay. He left The Asylum for trips to Manhattan with Jamie, or other random outings with Curtis or Matt. Even Noah, when he went on missions, managed to come back without so much as a scratch.
Most of the time, in any case.
Wren’s hand shook as he lifted it to adjust his glasses, absently brushing his fingertip over the scar above his eye. It had been a while since there’d been any credible threat toward him. The systems put in place shielded him, but only here. What if he put everyone else at risk by agreeing to go along?
Like last time…
No. Last time, he hadn’t been the target. He lifted his eyes to meet Lawson’s grimly determined gaze. The Dom took extra precautions now, but he didn’t lock himself away, afraid to step out of the building.
Some of those precautions involved Wren keeping an eye out for anyone who might be paying too much attention to Lawson’s location, or his schedule. It would help if Wren was with him and knew where that was. Noah was making sure their route couldn’t be easily tracked. Something else Wren could help with.
Besides, Noah had mentioned needing someone who could be ‘diplomatic’. Reed was many things, but definitely not that. His relationship with Noah could be tenuous at times, and he’d always side with his Doms over his guardian. He pushed the man who’d helped raise him from his teens more than anyone else in his life.
Maybe...maybe because he knew, deep down, Noah would never leave him. But part of him needed to test it.
Human psychology could be strange. The more Wren researched it to try to understand the people around him, the more confused he became. Still, he knew one thing for certain. Reed needed Noah with him.
And if Wren stayed here, Noah would have no one to reassure him that he was needed when emotions ran high. Which they would.
“Tell me right now if you have any doubt you can manage this.” Standing by the bar beside Noah, who was checking over one of his two new generators, Rhodey kept his voice low. “You’ve been stable for a good amount of time, but this could get rough. And no one will be there who can drag you back from the edge if you get too close.”
Fisting his hand on the bartop, Noah pressed his eyes shut, nodding slowly. “I know that. I’ve been working on catching myself. I need him to know he can count on me, but if you think I’ll only make things worse—”
Rhodey put his hand on Noah’s shoulder. “I didn’t say that.” He gave Noah a light shake. “Look at this like the missions you’ve been on alone. Prove all the bastards who see you as a loose cannon wrong. And don’t shoot Lawson.”
“That would be very much appreciated.” Lawson glanced over from where he was double checking the long list of supplies he’d made, sending Reed off for one item at a time once he came down from the loft. “He’ll be fine, Rhodey. This isn’t a mission, it’s family, doing what family does. It’s not about you or me—not that there won’t be any tension, but we’ll work through it. We always do, in our own way.”
Brow creasing, Noah studied Lawson for a moment. “I’m not going to lie, you’re the last person I expected to have that kind of faith in me.”
The edge of Lawson’s lips quirked. “You keep forgetting how well I know you, Noah. Yes, you’re a man who struggles with the aftermath of a lot of brutality and a toxic upbringing. You’re flawed and overprotective and controlling. But I’ll always remember that man...the one who put down wildflowers he’d brought for his mother to take down my abuser. Then picked them right back up and guided me toward a second chance at life.” He gave Noah a level look. “One day, maybe you’ll remember him too.”
Holding still, Noah met Lawson’s gaze, inhaling slowly, then inclining his head. He looked at the generator. “Maybe we don’t need both of them.”
“There’s plenty of space. And it doesn’t hurt to have a backup.” Lawson went back to his list, glancing up for a second to catch Wren’s eye and wink. “How’s that for diplomatic?”
Wren smiled at the Dom, relief easing away some of his worries. The risk remained that something would trigger Noah, but Lawson had a point. He knew who Noah really was.
They’d make better friends than enemies. Maybe...maybe they’ll finally see that.
Maybe Wren could help them on this trip.
Like anyone who faced specific challenges, Noah was more than his trauma or his disabilities. He’d taught Wren a man needed to own his decisions, his mistakes, and never stop trying to learn and grow. No matter what else Noah struggled with, he cared about those he loved deeply and would do anything for them.
For the majority of his prison sentence, Wren spent his free time in the cell because there were limits to the protection Noah could offer, between the rigid structure and underlying chaos. But Noah kept him company as much as possible, without neglecting the influence he’d gained to keep them both alive.
During those moments Wren had begun to feel something for him he hadn’t been able to put a name to then.
“What in the world are you reading?” Stepping into the cell, Noah came over to sit on the edge of his bunk, where Wren had curled up with his head on Noah’s pillow. He tipped up the edge of the book before Wren could answer. “Cell? I didn’t know King had anything new out.”
“It’s not that new.” Wren carefully placed his simple, glossy black bookmark between the pages and sat up. “There’s a movie based on it. I was thinking of asking if it could be played in the day room, but…”
Noah shook his head. “You can’t go to the day room, you’d be too exposed.” He brushed his hand over Wren’s hair, then stood again. “I have an idea. Wait here.”
Focusing on the book was impossible as curiosity overtook Wren. He sat up, absently lifting Noah’s pillow and holding it to his chest as he often did when he was alone and couldn’t find a good distraction. Noah’s scent clung to the material, the subtle hint of a crisp, winterfresh shampoo and notes of something warmer, like cinnamon. Did Noah think it was strange? All the years of only having ‘relationships’ online made it hard to know what was considered ‘normal’, but everything about Noah made Wren feel safe.
About twenty minutes later, there was the sound of footsteps outside the cell. Wren tensed, his eyes widening as Noah came in with his arms full, another inmate a step behind him.
The strange thing Noah was carrying appeared to be a television. With an entirely clear casing. While he set the gadget on their small desk, the other inmate hooked up a transparent blu-ray player.
“Thank you, Gus.” Noah patted the inmate on the back once everything was set up, turning his attention to Wren as the man left. He held up a disc. “He’s a fan of Stephan King, too.”
Biting back the huge smile that wanted to escape, Wren slid to the edge of the mattress. “But, sir, you said there was no point to getting a TV in here. You never watched much before prison and there are plenty of books and, well, if it’s any reassurance, my aunt felt the same. I didn’t watch anything until I was on my own and I’d just play it in the background while I was breaking into—”
Noah laughed, grabbing Wren by the collar of his shirt and tugging him in for a kiss, cutting off his words. “What have I told you about random confessions?”
“I’m sorry, sir.” Breathless, as he always was when Noah kissed him, Wren stared up into those gray eyes he’d never get enough of having look back at him. His lips tingled and he almost forgot the cell block was active and anyone could see them like this.
Which Noah had been avoiding, not wanting Wren to draw any more interest than he already did.
Reluctantly, Wren tried to slip away.
But Noah didn’t let him go. He brushed his lips softly over Wren’s, smiling against them. “Stay where I put you, my boy. I want to give you a new experience you’ve never had.” He pressed Wren back onto the bunk. “Do you like popcorn?”
Noah chuckled. “I didn’t think so.”
“But I’d enjoy some, if you would, sir.” Wren rubbed his hands on his thighs. “Not...not only because you’re in control. Because...because this experience you’re giving me, with you? I...want it all.”
The look in Noah’s eyes brought a strange sensation, deep in Wren’s core. A fluttering, almost like something was wrong with him. What he imagined it felt like in Aliens before a chestburster ripped itself out, only...in a good way.
Stepping closer, Noah cupped his cheek. “And I want to give it to you.”
Reality had set in after that. The increased attempts on Wren’s life, Noah’s determination to get him out and keep him from getting too attached. Naturally, Wren accepted his Dom’s decisions, but he’d never wanted Noah to be alone.
He’d hoped, someday, there would be someone he’d let love him. That he’d love in return.
Finally, Noah had found that someone. And Wren couldn’t be happier for him. For Jamie.
And that he still had a place with them both?
There was no way he’d ever take that for granted. Part of why he hadn’t finished the list. It would have been a very good list, too.
I don’t need it anymore.
Wren continued separating the groceries into their appropriate containers, putting the labels he’d printed out earlier on each. His head came up as Noah moved to his side to take two of the containers. He took a deep breath. “Sir…?”
Arms full, Noah stilled. Concern filled his eyes, along with some of that doubt Rhodey had unintentionally put there. “What is it, my little bird?” He put the containers back down. “I know you have a lot of reservations about this trip, but I need you to trust me to protect you. Please?”
“I do.” Wren reached out, putting his hand over his Dom’s. “I always have. I won’t pretend I’m excited about leaving The Asylum or a very long trip to areas where civilization will be scarce and I don’t particularly enjoy relieving myself in the dirt or picking leaves out of my hair. But...I’m glad you want me with you, even if it’s only because Jamie and Jared aren’t here.”
Wincing, Noah latched onto Wren’s wrist before he could draw away and go back to preparations. He gave Wren a hard look. “Is that what you think? Damn it, my boy, it wasn’t from lack of options. You have a very special place in my heart. I know I haven’t always done a good job showing you that, but I swear to you, I will.”
This conversation had gone in a much different direction than Wren had expected. He frowned, shaking his head. “I know my place with you, sir. There’s nothing wrong with it. I understood, once I left prison, how things would be. That changed. You wanted to keep me after all. But you gave me the chance to meet Jared and...I love him. And I love you. And Jamie.” There. That should clarify things. He smiled up at Noah, hoping he’d regain some of the confidence he seemed to have lost. But Noah wasn’t smiling back at him. Wren’s brow furrowed. “Maybe you should call Jamie, he’ll make you feel better. He’s not in the studio now.”
“I’ve spoken to Jamie, my little bird. Don’t change the subject. This is about you and me.” Noah brought his hand up to Wren’s cheek. “You’re enough. You’re the one here with me and I don’t want you believing someone else could do better. That’s not how this relationship works. Would you rather be with Jared?”
Wren blinked. “He’s with Jamie and that makes me happy. LA is a horrible place, but they can make it better for each other. You’re here and I love being with you. Am I supposed to choose? I wouldn’t like that. Did you get in a fight with Jared? Or with Jamie? Do you want me to talk to them? You’ll need to tell me what you did, first. Or what you didn’t do, which can be more complicated.” His lips parted. “Did they find out you kept what’s happening with Reed from them? I should call Jared. Explain that Reed didn’t want anything to distract Jamie from the opportunity to sing with his idol or for Curtis to find out and get hurt during training and it wasn’t my place to—”
“Shh.” Some humor filled Noah’s eyes as he shook his head. “How you can get the point of the matter, and yet still miss it entirely, amazes me. No, you shouldn’t tell anyone what Reed asked us not to, he has good reasons and we’re going to respect how he wants the situation handled. But let’s keep this simple. You’re here. And I love being with you, too.”
“Thank you, sir.” Wren exhaled roughly, leaning into Noah’s side, needing to hear those words more than he’d realized. He could get through this trip if he could stop questioning whether he was the right one to go on it at all. And he rarely questioned his Doms, so that shouldn’t be hard. He looked over as Reed skidded back in, wincing as the duffle bag he was carrying swung heavily against his thigh. “I should make sure he packed something other than comic books and candy.”
Shaking his head, Lawson went over to Reed, taking the duffle. “I’ve got it. You and Noah get your things ready. We should head out shortly after lunch.” He let out a soft laugh. “And before you ask, Noah, no, I won’t be wearing any suits while we’re on the road. But I am bringing one or two for when we’re in Orlando.”
As Noah nodded, Reed frowned at his bag, looking uncomfortable. “I’ve only got the flashy practice suits Keiran leant me. Jacks’s still making the one for the wedding…” His voice trailed off and his throat worked. “Umm...should I—”
“No.” Lawson’s tone was hard. He set Reed’s bag on the bar. “You’ll wear whatever you’re comfortable in.” He unzipped the bag, gave a firm nod, then closed it again. “That looks fine. You even remembered socks and boxers.”
Brightening, Reed wiggled his brows. “Most of them are the nice soft ones you got me. I know how much you like how my ass looks in them.”
Lawson spat out a laugh as Noah groaned. Leaning in, Lawson kissed Reed’s forehead. “Thank you for settling the debate about why we need two tents. In case Noah was still leaning toward the idea of bringing only the larger one.”
“Nope. I am convinced. You win.” Noah shook his head, rubbing his hand up and down Wren’s back in an absently soothing gesture. “Come, my boy. You might pack better, but I want to make sure we stick with something practical.”
In other words, likely jeans. Hopefully polo shirts and not T-shirts, because Wren didn’t like the way he looked in them. As though he was pretending to be someone else. He had some clothes in a more gothic style he enjoyed wearing on occasion, which...wasn’t exactly practical.
Yes, Noah helping him would be good. He didn’t mind his Dom choosing how to dress him—it could be comforting. One less decision he had to make. He couldn’t say that had been a good thing about prison, but the uniform avoided the need to worry about his own choices being judged. People found the strangest things important. As a teenager, he’d only cared about being neat, clean, and functional.
Not many his age had shared his priorities.
The bags were packed fairly quickly, Wren agreeing to most of Noah’s choices, grateful his Dom clearly knew him well enough to make ones he was comfortable with. The jeans were practically new, sturdy and black, with extra pockets that would be very useful. He blushed when Noah put a pair on him and commented on how nice his ass looked in them, echoing Reed’s playful remarks.
No matter how long he’d been with this man, something about actually feeling seen by him, being the focus of any of his attention…
It was special. Precious.
Wren wasn’t sure for how long it would be his, but he’d cherish every moment.
Back downstairs, all the containers were already moved. Noah went to pack their personal belongings in the SUV while Wren joined Reed and Lawson where they were already eating lunch. Bent over a small notebook, Lawson jotted down something next to what looked like specific dates and times.
“We could make it there in two days with Noah and I taking turns driving, but we’ve agreed to make it something of a camping trip so we can all enjoy the sights and the wilderness along the way.” Lawson jotted down another note. “Your appointment at the transplant center is at the end of the week, which gives us plenty of time. On the way back, we’ll make less stops. Only enough for you to be comfortable while you’re recovering.” His voice softened as he lifted his head to meet Reed’s eyes. “Or just so we can get home, if this doesn’t work out for any reason.”
Reed poked at the taco salad Keiran had made special for him, a disaster of ground beef, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and little curved corn chips he usually devoured. He spoke with his gaze locked on his plate. “If it works, I’m in the hospital for a week, and I’ll be...recovering for, like, six months. I’m cool with all that, but...I don’t think I want to meet them. My sister or her mother. I’d rather just be anonymous, if that’s okay. I’m not doing this to prove my father wrong about me and…” He blew out a breath. “She’s a little kid who already has to deal with him while being sick. Some stranger popping into her life would be fucked up.”
Reaching out, Lawson laced his fingers with Reed’s. “You don’t have to see anyone other than the staff at the center. I’ll do everything in my power to keep your father away from you as well, all right?”
“Yes, sir. Thanks.” Reed forced a small smile. “This whole trip will be a blast. I’m glad we ain’t just sitting in the SUV for two days straight, I’d go out of my mind.”
Maybe Wren could help with that? He sat up a bit as Keiran came out, bringing a plate of nice, simple pork slices with raw vegetables on the side and a bit of plain rice for him, and another taco salad for Noah. Wren placed his napkin on his lap. “I could pack something to help keep you calm on the trip if you’d like?”
Fork in hand, Noah shook his head. “No, he shouldn’t be on any medication not approved by the doctors there. The basic medkit that’s already in the SUV will do.”
Wren finished chewing the lightly flavored meat and nodded. “Understood, sir. And I have plenty of water filters. Lawson wouldn’t put a liferaft on the list, which I think might be shortsighted. He did pack lifejackets. Surviving in cold water for a length of time leaves us open to risks of hypothermia. I know several treatments, so I won’t argue if you insist on not being well-supplied. I’ve done a lot of research on how to remove damaged tissue.”
“Yo, man, I’m eating.” Reed poked Wren’s shoulder, letting out a little growl when Pike came over, looking like he was about to offer to finish off Reed’s food if he wasn’t hungry anymore. “You already had two helpings, you bottomless pit. Back off, I bite.”
Pike grinned, leaning back against Quint and sticking a spoonful of chocolate icing in his mouth. He sucked it off, then smacked his lips. “Kinky. How much time you got left?”
The banter seemed to cheer Reed up, because he didn’t even pause before leaning over to check Lawson’s watch, flashing Pike a wicked smile. “Long enough, what you offering?”
“Nothing except for some positive energy and a quick recovery.” Quint barred his arm across Pike’s chest, huffing out a laugh when Pike pouted up at him. “Insatiable brat. Tell Reed you’ll miss him, then get back to the galley and finish peeling those potatoes for Keiran.”
“Okay.” Pike rubbed his cheek against Quint’s chest, slipping away to give Reed a hug and speaking to him softly before striding off to the galley while pushing up his sleeves.
Blinking fast, Reed appeared torn between laughing and crying. He shook his head as he took the last few bites from his plate, standing and glancing around like he was a bit lost.
Hand going around Reed’s waist, Lawson tugged him onto his lap. The other sub was a bit big to fit there as easily as some might, but Lawson made it work as Reed relaxed in his arms. “What is it, my boy?”
“He said he’ll look out for Ez, but he won’t offer to suck his dick to cheer him up. And...and that he’s just teasing with the flirting.” Reed sniffed, wiping under his eyes with the back of his wrist. “He said...he just wanted to see me smile for real. I’ve been trying to. I’m happy I can do this, I’m just...ugh.” He looked up at Lawson. “But I’m not hiding my feelings or anything. When I figure out what they are, you’ll be the first one to know.”
“I’m going to hold you to that.” Lawson gave Reed a tight squeeze. “But sometimes, there are no words for how you feel, just a mess of emotions to sort through. I love the way you’re able to bounce back. That you’re getting better at reaching out when you need support. It’s okay if you’re not okay all the time. Or if you need to pretend, just a little, to get there. Don’t get lost in it, that’s all I ask.”
Reed nodded, letting Lawson hold him for a few moments before pushing to his feet. “Can we go now? I need to do this thing.”
“We’re all ready.” Noah stood, taking Wren’s hand before he could begin gathering the plates. “Quint, would you mind taking care of this for us?”
“Not at all, sir.” Quint gave Noah a respectful nod, cleaning off the table with a smooth efficiency Jared would appreciate.
One of the many reasons Wren didn’t mind that the man was back in Jared’s life. He’d somehow managed to work past the initial issues and found a way to fit in perfectly, never demanding too much, always willing to lend a hand or stand back as needed. Wren wouldn’t quite call him a friend, not yet, but he hoped they’d get there eventually.
Hand still in Noah’s, Wren walked out of the front door of The Asylum. Into the blazing sun, the noise of the city, the damp, acrid scent of the streets assaulting his senses. When he took short trips to Tracey’s, he hardly noticed it all, but today, everything seemed amplified.
He glanced up at Noah when his Dom stopped, then realized it hadn’t been him.
Wren was the one whose steps had faltered.
“I’m sorry, sir.” He drew in a measured breath. “I can do this.”
Expression softening, Noah turned, lifting Wren into his arms. “Yes, you can, my little bird. But I made you come here with a stranger. I left you alone, in so many ways, much longer than I should have. There’s no quick, easy fix to the distance I put between us. But there’s the first step and all the ones after that.”
Usually, Wren was uncomfortable being carried, but this was nice. And even more, he saw something in Noah that he’d only gotten glimpses of since prison. The part of him Lawson and Curtis had spoken about with longing after Noah returned. When he’d become harder, calculating, and always on guard.
Once, Noah had been a man who’d been tough as a trainer, but also nurturing. Passionate and protective, giving love with only one caveat. In the end, he’d believed he’d only done his job if those he cared for could move on without him.
He wasn’t doing that anymore. Instead of pushing people away, he drew them closer.
One arm around Noah’s neck, Wren watched Reed teasing Lawson, kissing his Dom’s neck and trying to tug him toward the backseats. Laughing, Lawson shook his head, picking Reed up and planting him behind the front passenger seat. He snapped his sub’s seatbelt on, then straightened to face Noah.
Noah slowed his pace. “You’re going to insist on driving, aren’t you.”
“I am. I already know the route to the first campground, I’ve been there before with Curtis and our boys.” Lawson held out his hand. “It’s longer between that one and the next. You and I made a deal. If I swore not to push myself too hard, you’d trust me to know my limits.”
Brow lifting, Noah pulled the keys out of his pocket, pressing them into Lawson’s hand. “What limits? From what I see, your mind’s as sharp as ever. I’m willing to admit when I’ve been beat. That damn logic of yours never fails.”
A hint of a smile played at Lawson’s lips. “You? Admit defeat? There’s absolutely no way that’s ever happened. I’d remember it.”
“I’m not sure that says more about my performance or yours.” Noah lowered Wren into place behind the driver’s seat, doing up his seatbelt, his tone deceptively light. “You were on top.”
Reed made a pained sound. “Damn it, I both really want to hear this story, and really don’t.”
Starting the engine as Noah climbed in beside him, Lawson glanced back over his shoulder. “You wouldn’t like details about how much your father-figure likes it nice and slow and gentle? He’s also…” He used the teasing, dramatic pause to focus on pulling out of The Asylum’s back lot. “Quite cuddly when he’s properly worn out.”
Hands over his ears, Reed sang some random song to himself while shaking his head.
“I still cuddle.” Noah sounded a bit unsure of that, his brow creasing as he looked over at Lawson. “I’ve never been ashamed of that. Maybe I haven’t always been as affectionate as I should be, but I try to give my subs what they need.”
Sitting forward, Wren put his hand on Noah’s forearm. “You do, sir. I didn’t even know I liked hugs until I met you.”
Lawson glanced at him in the rearview mirror. “I’m sorry, my boy. That couldn’t have been easy as a child.”
“I couldn’t miss what I didn’t have.” Wren gave Lawson a reassuring smile. “Besides, all the people who wanted to hug me wore too much cologne and perfume. It was very uncomfortable. They also held on for a very long time and it was considered rude to try to slip away. Which seems strange, since hugs are supposed to be a show of tenderness. Restraining a child isn’t tender—I imagine Anastasia wouldn’t tolerate it. Did you know she broke a chair on a boy who tried to grab her? Avery was very proud.” He tried to recall the original subject when Noah’s hand covered his and his Dom’s patient look told him he’d gotten off-track. He hesitated, then nodded. “I was much happier being left alone.”
“How about now?”
Turning a bit, Wren smiled softly at Reed. “I don’t remember what it’s like, I never am. And I prefer it that way.”
“Aww, come here.” Reed tugged Wren close to his side, putting an arm around his shoulders and snuggling in as much as their seatbelts would allow. “Gotta say, I didn’t expect you to come in the end. I thought...it would be too much. And I wouldn’t have been upset if you couldn’t do it, but...you didn’t even look back.”
That was true. Wren was familiar enough with the area to know he wouldn’t see The Asylum out the window, even if he turned around. But he didn’t need to. That wasn’t where he was going.
The road he needed to be on was ahead.
As always, comments welcome! At the end of each month when a serial like this is running, I'll choose one commenter to send merch from The Asylum to. This month, it'll be either a face mask or socks, winner's choice!
Winner will be chosen at random and announced before the first segment of each month. All comments made before then will be entered.
If you want to discuss spoilers or what you think might happen next, make sure to join the spoiler group HERE.