Long Winding Road Trip Away From The Asylum Part Three
There was...something sticky. Touching Wren. Groaning, he blinked his eyes open, lifting his head from Reed’s shoulder. On his arm lay a bright blue lollipop, reflecting the sunlight streaming in through the closed window.
Taking up the candy by the stick, Wren held it up, looking around for where to put it. He eyed Reed’s slightly parted lips. Did the man usually sleep with a lollipop in his mouth? Maybe he found it comforting? He’d worry about Reed’s teeth, but it was a well known fact that he took obsessively good care of them.
Careful not to disturb the other sub, Wren slid the lollipop over his shiny bottom lip, adjusting it so it would stay in place on the side of his tongue.
Before he could withdraw his hand, Reed jumped, his fist catching Wren in the jaw. Shooting up, Reed stared at Wren. And started gagging.
“Lawson, pull over!” Not waiting until the SUV was fully stopped, Noah leapt out onto the shoulder of the highway, yanking Reed’s door open. By the time he got to Reed, the lollipop had been coughed out, but Noah still patted Reed’s back, supporting him as he bent over, rasping in air. “There we go. Deep breaths. Jesus, boy, you scared the shit out me.”
Throwing off his own seatbelt, Lawson began to open his door.
Scrambling forward, Wren grabbed the Dom’s arm. “Sir!”
As Lawson looked back at him, a fourteen wheeler rumbled past.
Much too close.
Hands on the steering wheel, Lawson bowed his head. Tension slowly eased from his shoulders. He turned a bit, giving Wren a slightly shaky smile. “Thank you, Wren. I’m usually more alert than that—I think we need to hit a rest stop sooner than expected. Are there any nearby?”
“Yes, sir.” Wren swallowed, his pulse still racing. And his hand still holding Lawson’s arm. He forced himself to let go, sitting back as Noah got a red faced Reed into his seat, hovering over him, his expression a mix of fear and a darker, harder edge. The look he got whenever someone he loved was threatened and he needed to kill the culprit.
Except, the blame lay on a lollipop.
“I’m sorry, sir.” Wren tugged his bottom lip between his teeth, meeting those stormy gray eyes. “I didn’t think he’d choke on it. I thought his mouth was used to having it there and he’d be more comfortable…” He shook his head at his own foolishness. “I understand if you need to punish me, sir. We should probably get off the road first, though. And…” He brushed his hand down his arm, cringing as his fingers stuck. “I’m sticky. I should get myself in order.” He rubbed at the spot. The sensation on his skin made it hard to think straight. “Sir, may I…”
“Deep breaths, my boy.” Noah set the example, taking a few slow, steadying ones of his own. “I won’t punish you for a mistake, you know better than to even suggest something like that. Lawson, hand me the wipes from the travel kit.”
Nodding, Lawson took out the pack, reaching over to give it to Noah.
Noah wiped gently over the candy smeared on Wren’s arm until it was all gone. “There. Is that better?”
Inhaling slowly, Wren nodded. “Yes, sir. Thank you.” His eyes teared as a wave of emotions and fear hit him. His gaze went to Reed, who already had another lollipop in his mouth, knees drawn to his chest as he watched them silently. “No. No, it’s not… I didn’t know how to fix that. I wouldn’t have been able to help him if…” He pressed his eyes shut. “I don’t know how to make any of this okay. I want to, but I need to know more. And there’s not enough time.”
“Wren, look at me.” Noah cupped his cheek. “We all know why we’re on this trip. There’s nothing to fix. Yes, we have to trust people we don’t know and it’s scary. This isn’t a movie where the fear is exciting. It’s real life. You love him and you’re scared for him. We all are. But he’s going to be all right.”
“I’m not...that scared. Not right now.” Reed pulled the lollipop out of his mouth. “Okay, choking to death before I even get there would suck, but it’s happened before.” His cheeks reddened. “Twice. First time I was fifteen and I puked on Noah’s shoes. This wasn’t so bad. I’m more thinking about how to have fun with you while I still can.”
Fun. All right, Wren wasn’t sure he could have Reed’s kind of fun with him, but he’d try. He slid closer to Noah, accepting the strength his Dom offered. “Can we make a deal? No more lollipops when you’re sleepy. This isn’t the kind of horror I like and the broken pieces in your throat would be very complicated to extract. Where we are, you’d end up at a very small hospital and I wouldn’t be able to observe the procedure. There are absolutely no benefits to that kind of injury.”
“Holy fuck, Wren.” Reed held up his hands when both Lawson and Noah frowned at him. “I can’t drink for the next few months. Sugar. I’m safewording out of not being allowed to swear.” He focused on Wren. “I’m freaked out enough when I think about a whole chunk being cut off of my liver. Don’t make me think of slicing the inside of my throat open?”
That was fair. Wren inclined his head. “If it helps, your liver will grow back and it’s a fascinating process. I hope I can watch it.”
“I hope you can do that without me being opened up again.” Reed shuddered. “Can we get to the next stop? I need to move. And clear my head. And I’m picking the songs until we get there.”
Noah settled Wren in his seat, stroking his hair again, checking on Reed, then going back to the front passenger seat. He laced his fingers with Lawson’s, studying the other Dom’s face. “Are you all right? I can drive for a bit if you want. It’s twenty minutes away.”
“I’ve got this. Thank you for...reacting so quickly.” Lawson let out a soft laugh. “I should have remembered how often you did. Like when you caught Ezran, falling out of that tree. You...were always so intuned with them. With all of us.”
“I tried, Lawson. I still do.”
After they were back on the road, chin on his knees, Reed requested the first song. “Could you put the one I’ve been listening to a lot on, Lawson? Please?”
Without comment, Lawson nodded. Put on the song.
All I want by Olivia Rodrigo. Wren had heard Reed sing it to himself in the bar before, while prepping for the night to start. Part of Wren focused on how Reed’s voice was sweet, and too soft or too loud, lacking the training both Jamie and Danny had. Jamie had commented before that Reed had some vocal skills, but didn’t have the patience or interest in training.
That aside, the words, the emotions, said a lot. Reed stared out the window as Lawson put on the next song, another of his favorites, not needing to ask. Don’t Give Up on Me by Andy Grammer. It made sense that Reed would be a bit lost emotionally. That he’d be searching for anything that would get his feelings across. He was facing his deepest issues, his father coming back into his life in the worst possible way.
The man had abandoned him. There were so many scars that might never heal, but...Wren hoped the people who mattered being here with Reed would at least help him see past them. Reed was one of the strongest people he knew, so doubting that felt strange, but this was like being presented with a wound he’d never seen before, and needing to figure out how to handle it before taking that next step.
A fighter lay on the table, reaching for his side in pain. Glancing over at Jared, knowing his Dom was giving him a chance to make the prognosis, Wren grabbed a pen and took it apart.
Shaking his head, Jared latched onto his wrist. “We’re not in the field and he’s not showing signs of a punctured lung.”
“Then...I can’t help him.” Wren’s shoulders slumped. He didn’t like having the wrong answer. It was like losing when he went all in, and he never did that. “Will he die? Can I dissect the body to know what I did wrong?”
Jared chuckled, patting the arm of the fighter who looked ready to throw himself off the exam table. “No. He’s not dying. His body needs time to heal. And he needs medication to help him get past the worst. There is no quick, easy fix, my boy. That’s what you need to learn. Sometimes, the answer is accepting you can only help in small ways. And that has to be enough.”
At the rest stop, Wren watched Reed. Sitting on the hood of the SUV, Reed was sipping at the large soda Lawson had brought him, singing another song he’d been excited to share with Jamie before he’d left. One Drink Away by Cher Lloyd. It reminded Wren of how Reed had been with Sin, that last night at The Asylum. Reed had a reputation at the club that he’d been trying to rid himself of for months. But he was still...him.
Not good. Not bad. A wild, free spirit no one could really contain.
Those who tried didn’t fare well.
Which seemed like it would be difficult for a sub to maintain. Wren couldn’t do it. He cringed at the thought of spinning so far out of control, but then he thought of the times he’d seen Lawson, or Jared, pull Reed back in when he’d seemed to reach the very end of the leashes they held. Not jerking him back, but giving a gentle tug to remind him they were there. More recently, Curtis had been working on doing the same.
What would he do if he was here now? Would he see that Reed needed a bit of slack? Would he decide now was when Reed needed to be pulled back?
But...he wasn’t here. He’d pulled to the very end of his own leash to be redirected by those who held control over him. Who saw he’d been damn close to running right into the middle of the road, focused on what was on the other side and not the cars coming at him.
Standing right where Noah had put him, breathing in the fresh air Noah said he needed, Wren struggled to figure out what he could offer Reed. He knew he was here mostly for Noah, but Reed was his friend. He hated to see him hurting in any way.
Most of all in a way he didn’t understand.
Internal bleeding would have been much easier.
“Hey.” Reed smiled as Wren approached, bracing his hands on the windshield behind him and stretching. “Come sit with me. Tell me where the campground is. I was taking a look at gay clubs in the area and thinking we should check out a few. Noah and Lawson would never go for it.”
Looking at the dirt streaked hood, then his nice new jeans, Wren hesitated. Then took Reed’s hand, letting the other sub pull him up. He sat stiffly, hoping the hood wouldn’t dent under his weight. “Reed...you need to stop drinking for at least twenty-four hours before surgery. A week would be better.”
“I know. Tonight will be my last night.” Reed put his chin on Wren’s shoulder. “I’ve read up on everything. Me never drinking much will make me a good candidate. And my body will metabolize wherever I drink over the next week if I only do it once. I want to forget. I want to dance and have fun. And be me. I won’t be...after. Not for a long time. I’ll be slow and tired and I won’t be able to fight. I know how people will react. They’ll be so fucking careful. I need one night without that. And without the drama of the club.”
“Okay.” Wren knew better. And he’d accept whatever consequences came from this, but he understood what Reed was asking for. He was better at research than the other sub and knew exactly what the future held. This one night?
He was more than willing to give it to him.
Whatever it cost.
Because it wouldn’t cost the thing that mattered in the end. Reed wanting to give a sister he’d never know her future.
He held up a hand when Reed grinned. “One condition. You stop when I say. Yes, you not being a heavy drinker helps, but it won’t if you overdo it. Your liver will need to recover. The more it has to recover from, the more risky the surgery and your healing process.”
“I know.” Reed pulled him close, taking his lips in a slow, soft kiss. “That’s one of the many reasons I need you there. Because I don’t want to damage the useful part of me. I just want us to have some good memories to tide me over.”
“We have so many.” Wren wished Curtis were here. That he could be the one setting limits that would be beyond what either Lawson or Jared would accept, but still close to tolerable. But him being where he was meant he’d be alive to be there when Reed needed him later. And today? Wren was who Reed had. “The Asylum’s bar is the only one I’ve ever been to. I...wouldn’t mind seeing another. With you. To have a new memory.”
Reed kissed him again before drawing back as Noah and Lawson came out of the rest stop with food. Hand on the back of Wren’s neck, Reed spoke softly. “Thank you.”
“If you were with any other sub, I’d be worried.” Lawson let out a soft laugh, slipping his arm around Reed’s waist and pulling him to the edge of the SUV, legs at either side of his thighs. “I never thought I’d say this, but I agree with Pike. It’s nice to see you smile for real.”
Reed snuggled up to his Dom, letting out a happy sigh. “I’m a survivor, sir. You know that. The rest is gravy.”
“You have a unique philosophy, my small, sparkly wolf.” Lawson tipped Reed’s chin up to kiss him. “Look at you. And it’s all over Wren, and likely the whole SUV. But...I don’t mind. So long as I see that shine, I know things will be all right.”
In front of Wren, looking at him like he was sure he was missing something, Noah stilled. Looked over at Lawson. “I never thought of that. But...I like it.”
“If I’m wrong, I accept the blame.” Lawson gave Noah a warm smile.
Wren pressed his eyes shut.
I don't want either of them to be wrong.
And maybe, maybe they didn’t have to be. Wren could help Reed keep his sparkle by letting him steal a few last moments of just being himself. Forgetting all the things that cast a shadow over his life.
Even in the darkness, tiny specks of glitter would catch the smallest bits of light. Which was...very Reed. The thought made Wren smile as he looked over at the other sub, the sparkles on his cheek dancing in the sun’s glow, his laughter making music for them.
They reached the campground shortly after, not an official spot, but simply a spot of woods with difficult access from the highway. Lawson was exhausted from driving, hyper-focused as always. Noah hadn’t slept much either.
Which made for a lot of stress while the tents were set up by Reed and Wren, with both Doms supervising after Reed insisted they could do it alone.
“It’s going to rain. We should find higher ground.” Noah paced, eying the lake near the clearing. “The weather’s been unpredictable. I wouldn’t chance it.”
Lawson sighed heavily. “There will be no unexpected disasters. This lake doesn’t rise enough to be an issue. These tents are highly rated. You wanted to fish with Reed. And teach Wren how to do it. This lake is perfect and being close means we can spend more time enjoying ourselves in the morning.”
“Reed hates being out in the open when there’s thunder. Maybe we should find a motel.”
“Dude!” Reed’s face was beet red. “I haven’t had an issue with that since I was sixteen. Get with the program. After bullets, thunder isn’t that scary.”
The color left Noah’s face as he turned and walked away.
As Lawson went to Reed, tugging him into a tight hug, Wren followed Noah into the woods. He kept his training in mind, moving soundlessly.
Walking right into a gun aimed at his head.
Eyes going wide, Noah lowered the weapon. Then dropped it. “Wren...I’m sorry. I thought you’d stayed with them. You should have. I…”
“Sir, if you didn’t react to someone sneaking up on you, I’d be worried.” Wren pressed up against Noah’s chest. “Now I know you can keep yourself safe. But I never really doubted that. I’ve seen it.” He tipped his gaze up. “That you didn’t know it was me...does that mean I’m getting better?”
Tears on his lashes, Noah wrapped his arms around Wren, holding him tight. “It does. But I don’t want you seeing what happened to you again because of me.”
Wren wrinkled his nose. “I didn’t see the bullet before it hit me. Or after. It upsets Keiran when I say I wish I had. My mind blocked most of it. That’s not helpful. I have absolutely nothing to work with and his nightmares...I don’t like them. They aren’t movies. He can’t turn them off.”
“Can you?” Noah slid down against a smooth tree, holding Wren and bringing him down with him. “Do you still have nightmares? You’ve always slept a bit sporadically. You’re good at being still. I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t seen you do it in prison.” His Dom plucked a leaf from his shoulder. “You could lay there for hours and not move, but I could feel you were awake. Just...thinking.”
“I loved sleeping with you. And...you holding me. I knew you’d stop when I woke up. I thought if you believed I was still sleeping, you’d stay.” The way Noah closed his eyes made Wren feel bad. He hugged his Dom. “You did stay. While I was there. That was special. Thank you.”
“Wren, that was years ago. If you don’t have anything since, I’m fucking up.”
“I have a lot.” Wren screwed up his nose, shaking his head. “You mentioned then. I’m telling you how things were. Now they’re different. Reed said the same. He’s not a little boy anymore.”
Noah huffed out a laugh. “Believe me, I know.”
Lifting his hand to his Dom’s cheek, Wren held his gaze. “Sir, I went over this route with Lawson. He’s right. Even with heavy rain, we’re safe here. And the tents are sturdy. And...no one will find us. There have been a few who tried. More for Lawson than me. Those trying for me are low level. Those trying for Lawson? I’m better than them.” He took out Reed’s phone, which he’d taken while the other sub was sleeping without thinking. “I’d be more comfortable with my own phone. But I set it up so Curtis can contact Reed if he wants to. Safely.”
“He won’t, my little bird.” Noah took Wren’s phone from his pocket. “I know him. I left...too many things open. Things Rhodey broke in me over time. With how often Curtis asked to go back in, rejecting how his disappearance ruined any chance at using his old connections? I love him. He’s a good man. But he still feels that power. And doesn’t see past it.”
“You should beat Curtis some more, sir.” Wren gave Noah a sage nod. “It would save us a lot in broken bottles.”
Noah burst out laughing. “No, my boy. This is better. He’s gaining skills without the attachments he had with me. He’s being shown what it’s like to have someone else in control without having to be beaten into submission. He needed that.”
“But…” Wren looked back toward the trees. “He has a sub.”
“And his sub has Lawson. If anyone can relax while his Dom is in someone else’s hands? It’s Curtis.” Noah’s grinned, shaking his head. “I’ll just stay out of the way.”
Somehow, Wren wasn’t sure that was what Curtis and Lawson needed from their Dom—except, Noah didn’t play that role in their lives anymore. The friendship was what had survived, changing over the years. Becoming something stronger than when the three men had almost walked away from one another.
Curtis would return when he was ready. Until then, Noah was right. Reed had Lawson. And Noah.
And...he’ll always have me, too.
Not that Wren could give him the same things the Doms could, but…
Maybe that is the point.
After they returned to the small clearing, Wren helped Reed prepare a steak dinner over campfire that was actually edible. Lawson suggested they all hang out in the bigger tent for the night, so Noah wouldn’t worry about the rain as much when he saw they were all fine.
More diplomacy. Which worked in Reed’s favor. Both Doms were fast asleep when Reed left the tent.
Keys in hand.
Wren followed, more than a little impressed with how Reed had managed to get them without waking either Dom.
Then sobered as he realized what this meant.
I have to be in control. Set the limits.
And out of anyone from The Asylum?
I am the absolute worst choice.
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