Long Winding Road Trip Away From The Asylum Part Five
Okay, so not gonna lie. 2020 hit me hard this week.
I can be here with you and it's EVERYTHING.
And happy reading!
No bets being shouted, no shouted reminders not to fight in the bar, no one rushing forward to intervene.
Except Wren, though...rushing might not be the best word for it. Bottle held tight in his hand, he struggled to maneuver through the gathering crowd, squeezing past big bodies, avoiding touching anywhere close to breasts on proud display because he wasn’t that clueless about life beyond The Asylum. And didn’t particularly want to get slapped. Polite—but urgent—requests to be allowed to pass weren’t heard for the most part with all the noise, but touching a woman’s arm to get her attention seemed much too close to the danger zone.
Seeing space between two women, Wren sidled over, sucking in his breath as one of the women turned and her breast bumped his cheek.
“I’m sorry.” He retreated as much as possible, groaning as something soft hit his back. More breasts. “I apologize, I am not trying...I’m not attracted to...I mean, you’re very attractive, but...I just need to get through.”
By the time I get there, I’ll need to check Reed for a pulse.
Facing him, a taller woman with frizzy red hair came very close to getting her breasts in his face again. She followed his gaze and laughed, not unkindly, but definitely amused. “I didn’t think you were, honey. You don’t need to look so afraid. I can tell when a man’s being an asshole and trying to cop a feel.”
Thinking of the handsy Doms at The Asylum, Wren nodded with understanding, breathing out a sigh of relief. “That’s very good to know, ma’am.” He glanced at her chest again, which was directly in his path, then met her teasing blue eyes. “If you could let me by, I’d appreciate it. I’m trying to stop my friend from getting beaten up. It usually wouldn’t be a problem, he likes fighting, but he won’t be able to donate his liver if it’s damaged and I don’t think any of the doctors will believe he’s in the right mental state if he’s covered in cuts and bruises. I should have told him not to come, but he was having fun and dancing and...Jared’s going to be very disappointed.”
Eyes going wide, the woman looked past him to her friend, who seemed to have decided his back was a very good place to prop up her breasts for the time being. He didn’t like people he didn’t know being this close, but at least the women didn’t appear to be armed. Or recognize him.
Behind him, the second woman’s heavy sigh travelled right through him. “Kathy picked up a new one to rile Martin up. It worked.”
“It always does.” The redhead put her hand on Wren’s shoulder, using the other to push a few people out of the way, ignoring their protests. “Easy way to settle this? Tell Martin his girlfriend isn’t your friend’s type. He’s a neanderthal, but that’ll spoil her game and leave him with no reason to continue this nonsense.”
That sounded very reasonable. Wren smiled at the woman, grateful for her help. He was about to tell her as they reached the space the patrons had cleared for the impending fight.
His thanks died on his lips as he took in the scene. Reed effortlessly dodged one punch, then another, grinning as the crowd began to get invested, those who obviously weren’t fans of Martin giving Reed suggestions for how to take him down.
Which Wren had no doubt he could do. Even without anything other than very basic self-defence training himself, Wren had seen the core members fight often enough to tell Martin used brute strength without any particular skill.
The problem was, he wasn’t alone.
One sidestep brought Reed too close to one of Martin’s friends. The man latched onto his arm, holding him for the other man until they both had him secured. Martin flashed a feral grin when Reed struggled.
He drew back his fist, aiming right for Reed’s nose.
Without thinking, Wren bolted forward and thunked Martin in the head with the bottle.
A dull thunk.
No satisfying Smash.
The bottle didn’t break.
Very disappointing. Wren frowned at it. He’d have to ask Curtis what he’d done wrong.
Focus, Wren. The fight’s not over and the man isn’t on the ground unconscious where he should be.
A rough sound escaped his throat as Martin grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. He twisted, swinging the bottle again, only to have Martin wrench it out of his hand.
“Martin, stop it!” The redheaded woman shoved Martin, looking like she wouldn’t need a bottle to take him down. “Pick on someone your own size. And not the other one either. He doesn’t want Kathy.”
Thick brow pulling together, Martin glared at Reed, almost like he’d forgotten Wren entirely. “He was dancing with her. And he didn’t deny it.”
“You’re misunderstanding the situation.” Wren pried at Martin’s fingers, gasping in air when the man finally let him go. Since he couldn’t physically take the man down, maybe following the redhead’s advice would be best. “Reed’s engaged. He’s never dated a woman...that I’m aware of. Or slept with one. He’s gay. Very gay. If you don’t mind, we’d like to go now.”
Martin let out a growl that proved the redhead’s assessment of him was definitely on point. “You’re lying. No gay man dances with a woman like that.”
The dance hadn’t seemed particularely erotic, but maybe heterosexual people had very different rules? Wren straightened his shirt and lifted his chin, backing up a few steps to get closer to Reed and further from Martin, who seemed a bit unstable. “Why would I lie? You suspected we were gay when we walked in. I’ve just confirmed it. You don’t want us here. We’re leaving.”
Shaking his head, Martin folded his arms over his chest. “He went after my woman. He don’t want her like that? Prove it.”
“But…” Wren’s brow furrowed. Dealing with unreasonable people was exhausting. “How?”
“Kiss him.” Martin’s eyes took on a gleam Wren recognized very well from the bit of time he’d spent in school. From the crueler Doms and subs at the club. The same one every bully had when they knew they had all the power and could make you do anything they wanted. “Let everyone see exactly what you are. Then you can fucking go and never come back.”
Frozen in place, Wren met Reed’s eyes. The crowd had gone quiet. It wasn’t a terrible thing to ask, but...it felt wrong. Like this, it felt so wrong. Something meant to humiliate and shame them and…
And doing it means we can get out of here.
Throat tightening, Wren stepped forward.
Reed shook his head, his gaze locking on Martin. “Tell them to let me go. I’ll fucking prove it, you barely sentient, rancid beef sack.” At Martin’s nod to his friends, Reed was released. He strode forward, winking at Wren as he passed. “You teach me all the big words. I love you, man. Get ready to run.”
Blinking, Wren tried to make sense of Reed’s words. “What?”
Walking right up to Martin, Reed grabbed him by the back of the neck and planted a kiss right on his lips, flicking his tongue over the stunned man’s bottom lip. “If you weren’t so pathetic? Once, you’d have been my type.”
The sound of rage Martin let out hardly reached Wren as Reed grabbed his hand, bolting for the front door. Everything was dark from the heavy rain, but the downpour had subsided. Shouts from Martin had a few other men grabbing for them, spilling out onto the parking lot, blocking them from reaching the SUV. Wren tripped as Reed dodged them. His shirt tore as someone grabbed at him, but he jerked free.
Instinct kicked in. He tugged Reed toward the treeline. They needed to get out of sight. Wait until the patrons went back to drinking. Until they got bored and gave up the chase.
The way the few that followed trampled through the trees made it clear they didn’t spend much time in them. Which was good. Lights from their phones flashed through the darkness along with excited murmurs. Keeping low, Wren planted his back against a massive oak, shaking his head and pressing his hand over Reed’s mouth as the other sub shook with laughter.
If this was a horror movie, there would be the sound of a chainsaw. Or singing. Or whispers, taunting them. Because, in a movie, they’d be found.
In real life, they hadn’t done anything to make most of the people following them look that hard. Martin and his buddies continued stomping around for a bit, but when the rain picked up again, they turned around.
And there was nothing except for the patter of the raindrops against the leaves.
“That was awesome.” Reed used the collar of his shirt to dry his face, then grinned at Wren. “Not what I planned, but...damn. I feel alive. Don’t you?”
Shaking his head, Wren bit back a smile. “I am alive and so are you. We were very lucky.” He examined the tear in his shirt. It was ruined, but that wasn’t the problem. If Noah saw it, he’d be worried and upset and know something terrible had almost happened. He’d blame himself, like he always did. Wren pressed his eyes shut. “I knew better. I did it anyway. I don’t mind being punished, but...I can’t…”
“Hey.” Reed pulled him close, wrapping his arms around him and smoothing some of the moisture from his cheeks. “We’ll get back before they wake up. We don’t have to say anything about what happened.”
“My shirt’s ripped.”
“But you are okay. Even if they somehow find out, we’re fine. And that’s what matters. Some of the rules…” Reed brushed his hand over Wren’s hair. “Some of them go beyond a power exchange. I get that. And, most of the time, I accept it. Tonight, I couldn’t. I needed something my Dom couldn’t give me. Not because he wouldn’t have come if he could, but...he was fucking exhausted. And if I’d asked? He’d be up all night worrying. Noah would’ve had to choose between staying with him or coming with us.”
“It was their choice to make.” Wren held Reed’s gaze. “We took that from them.”
Reed lowered his gaze. “I know. But not everything is the lifestyle. Sometimes, it’s just life. This whole trip? It’s about my life. And I’m so happy you’re here, but I have to make a lot of choices for myself. This was one of them. One that felt good.”
“Reed, I...I’m okay with that. But…” Wren brought his hand up to Reed’s cheek. “You’re making these choices because you’re afraid you might not get another chance. You’re not going to die. You know that, right? Yes, this procedure has risks, but—”
“The risks aren’t what’s getting to me. Sure, it’s in my head that I could go under the knife and something goes wrong and that’s it. The end of me.” Reed let his hands fall to his sides. “I keep thinking about him. My father. How much what he did messes with my life. With what I will and won’t do. With how...how fucking terrified I am, trying to make everyone happy to keep them around. I want people to want to stay. I want to be okay if they don’t. I want to believe the people who do stick around aren’t doing it because they feel sorry for me. I want...I want to be worth...more than I was to him.”
“You are.” Wren wrapped his arms around Reed when the younger man shook his head and tried to draw away. “I’m here, Reed. I can’t make promises for anyone else. I can’t say if they’ll do things that make you feel this way again. But...I won’t. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not as long as it’s in my power.” He tightened his grip when Reed looked away, rain streaming down his cheeks, like the tears they likely hid. “Not everyone leaves. And you? You’re worth more than that man will ever know. Your father can’t have you. He doesn’t deserve you. None of this is for him. Nothing you’ve built is his. Not the man who you are, who is...is better than anything he can imagine.”
Reed bowed his head, his shoulders shaking. “Why wasn’t I enough? Why didn’t he want me? My mom...she was there. And I hardly remember her anymore and that fucking kills me. But...I remember feeling like I mattered with her. It was all fake with him. He’d pretend when she was home. Because it made her happy. I believe he loved her, I really do. But...he never loved me. And...why? He was my father. He was supposed to love me. It was supposed to be real. But he...tossed me aside. He had three more kids and...I saw the pictures. He brought my brothers to baseball practice. He was there...really there for them, even after he split with their mom. And my sister? He...he’s terrified he’ll lose her. He believes what he said to the press. He didn’t even try to ask me to help her and he believes I wouldn’t. What did I do, Wren? What… I need to understand. Where did I go wrong?”
Hand fisted in Reed’s shirt, Wren held his gaze. “You didn’t. He was the one who was supposed to love you and he didn’t. Couldn’t. It wasn’t in him. I don’t know why. I can’t explain what was different with your brothers. Or what’s different with your sister. And your brothers died before you could know them. You want to keep away from your sister and...that makes sense. Right now. But...after? Don’t let your pain make that choice for you. Because...I think… She’ll want to know you. He hasn’t changed. It might look like it, but her mother left him for a reason.”
“Yeah?” Reed’s brow furrowed. “I hadn’t thought of that. I figured he was all perfect now. I didn’t want to be the one bringing that imperfection back in.”
Wren lifted his shoulders. “I don’t know what he gave her. The kind of father he was. But...from the sound of it, his kids were only useful as long as they kept the relationship with the woman he wanted strong. Which is...so wrong. It would be interesting to know how things are with your brother’s mother now, or if he simply moved on without that shallow connection he’d made. With how quickly your sister’s mother agreed to help set everything up? She sees right through him. He went to the press. Played his last hand. And you called his bluff.” He swallowed hard. “If it was about your sister’s life, he would’ve reached out to you. He didn’t. It was a show. And...I think her mother knows that now.”
Paling, Reed tried to pull away again. “I can’t...I still can’t—Wren, I can’t see her and try to be...something I’m not. This isn’t a family. I know what she’s facing when this is over. If you’re right, if her mom is done with him? He won’t be there for her. I want him to be. I hope he’s become...someone else. But...if he is, it’ll hurt and I won’t let her see that. If he’s not? Maybe one day, I can...I don’t know. But not now. Not...not because she might die. That’s not fair. No one gets to use that to get close to her.”
“No, they don’t. And you’re doing the right thing, Reed. Listen to me.” Wren rubbed Reed’s arms. “It’s not a family. It could be, one day. You and her? You could get past all this. Maybe. Wanting to do it the right way isn’t wrong. Not wanting to build the future on her owing you her life? That makes sense. Not wanting it to be all about her possibly dying? Think about it. She wouldn’t want that either. Would you?”
Lips curving slightly, Reed fingered the ring on his left hand, shaking his head. “Do you think...I made a mistake? Agreeing to marry Curtis because he almost died? I love him. So much. I want this. But...I know. I know we still had shit to deal with. I’m not sure we did. But I almost lost him and...I think we could be good together. There’s...still a lot to work through. I saw that when Pike showed up. That part of his life he needs to...deal with. I just...I always remember the day he...was gone. Just gone. And I didn’t think he’d ever come back. Sometimes...I wonder if he will. He walks out the door and he...doesn’t look back.”
“I think he does.” Wren really liked Curtis, but he could see how some of the things he did would leave a lot of doubt. His relationship with Noah. That he still hung on to his past and, at times, couldn’t be in the present. He’d fallen in love with a sub who was everything he wanted, but...sometimes it seemed he couldn’t let himself feel the joy he had with Reed. He wanted it. They’d had moments where everything fit into place. But then it was like he stopped. He let himself get swept into the moment and...and it was like they were all in the water again. Reed and Curtis reaching out for one another and being swept away by the current.
Reed didn’t look away. He held his breath as though waiting for Wren to give him an answer.
And Wren gave him all that he could. “I think he looks back and he knows you’re there and it’s...comforting. I think he wants to fix things. I think, sometimes, he...needs to know you’re safe with someone else while he figures things out. He couldn’t count on Noah, not with how things are between you. But he can count on Lawson. Like Lawson could count on him when he was taken away. This is what we have that very few people do. It’s not...one person, trying to be everything. It’s...connections and love that has no limits. And...we all need that. I...Jared’s not here. He’s with Jamie. But Noah is here. Well, not here, but—”
“I know what you mean.” Reed smiled, moving closer to Wren and wrapping an arm around his waist. “You’re here here. And I have you because of Jared and Noah. And...it’s new, but I like it. A lot. I love you. I meant that.”
“I know.” Wren let Reed pull him into a tight hug. Breathed out, letting go of all the tension that came with not being sure anything he said would make a difference. Because...Reed had shown him it had. “I promised you a dance. I’m sorry I didn’t give you one.”
Reed’s brow rose. “The night’s not over. My phone might be in the car, but I bet you still have yours. Choose a song. Any song. I want to dance with you before I’m on that table, thinking about how we never had this. Because...we might get in trouble if they find out, but...it’s just us. Right now. And...it’s worth it.”
Hand in his pocket, Wren pulled out his phone, frowning down at it. This was him and Reed. What they were building together. Just them. And...he couldn’t push it aside because it did mean something. Every relationship he’d built was precious. This one, with Reed?
Was worth giving his all.
What they shared wasn’t only the issues he could tell Reed he understood because his aunt had stopped finding him useful and had walked away. Trying to put that out there didn’t feel right. It was ignoring the now. Attempting to limit everything to the little Wren could understand from his own experiences, rather than...letting Reed hurt. And be afraid. And...being here.
In a way Reed didn’t really trust anyone to be.
One small request.
And just saying...yes.
The song he chose wasn’t what most would. It was slow. It had feeling. And it was slow and let him hold Reed close and move. Sway in the rain. Let him feel everything he did.
Say You Won’t Let Go by James Author. All the things he wanted to do...all right, not the kids part, but the future. The trust. The idea of being there. For longer than Reed could see right now. Telling him he saw what the other man offered and he wanted to give it back.
I won’t leave you.
Please believe me.
Believe me because...I mean it. So much.
But there was one condition.
Keep fighting. You’re going to need to hold on.
No one knew. He’d come across the information and filed it away. Too much was happening for him to lose himself in wondering what could have been. What he should have done. It was too late.
His aunt was dead. From the medical reports, it had been peaceful. But she hadn’t reached out to him. She’d had the people she’d wanted close.
He could lose himself to the sadness, but...he didn’t want to. He wanted to be right here. For someone who needed him. Who wanted him. Who was here, asking for nothing else. His value wasn’t determined on what he could give. He could be himself. And that...that was enough.
“Wren...if anything goes wrong…” Reed’s arms tightened around him. “Tell Curtis he didn’t do anything wrong. And I loved him so much. And we would’ve—”
“Stop.” Wren wrapped his arms snug around Reed’s waist. “You’ll tell him. Because you’ll still be here to do it. But right now? You don’t have to try to fix anything. I need you to...tell me that me being here is enough. It’s selfish and I’m sorry but...I’m here, Reed. I’m here.”
Reed shook his head. “It’s not selfish. You’re here.” He ran his hand down Wren’s back, brushing his lips along his jaw. “This is a huge deal. I won’t forget it. If I get through this—”
“Okay. I will.” Reed kissed him, letting out a soft laugh. “It’s a good thing you’ll never be a doctor for real. You’re not supposed to say that. You know the odds. You should be getting me ready for them.”
“Reed, the odds of you dying from this procedure are under one percent.” Wren studied Reed’s face, trying to understand what was really bothering him. “We will go home after this. You will heal. It will take time, but...you will be you again.”
Pressing his eyes shut, Reed laughed. “It’ll take long enough for people to decide if they want to wait for it.”
It hit Wren, right then, what Reed was afraid of. He would be able to pretend he was okay, and strong, and things were normal. He’d still had the strength to hold his own. To get in the ring. To control how people saw him.
The kind of control Reed needed because there was no option when things went bad. He might be the wild card, but everyone expected him to be okay in the end. Now...he wouldn’t be. He wouldn’t be as strong. As sparkly. And he was terrified, by the time he got back to ‘normal’...there would be no one left. The ones who stayed would do so out of pity.
“If the worst happened? There are a lot of people who’d still be there.” Wren looked up. And refused to look away in the face of Reed’s uncertainty. “I would. And even if you get grumpy and pull away? I’ll keep coming back. I don’t have many people. You’re one of them. Even if you tried to kill me, I’d look past it. And you haven’t.”
Reed breathed out a laugh, sinking down against the tree, holding Wren close as the rain eased off. Wren wasn’t cold, he never was, but Reed’s warmth was still a comfort. It told him he wasn’t alone.
Arms around Wren, Reed spoke softly. “I didn’t want you having to follow that man’s orders. To put on a show for anyone. I know you would have. It still counts.”
“Yes. It does.” Wren drew Reed’s cold fingers into his, warming them the best he could. “We need to get back to camp. Be there when they wake up so...so they can focus on getting you through this. And not wonder where they failed.”
Pushing to his feet, Reed pulled Wren up with him. “They didn’t. This was something I needed to do. With you. And I did, so...thank you.”
“We can stay a bit longer.” Wren laced his fingers with Reed’s. “Whatever you need, it's okay.”
“I know.” Reed looked back toward the parking lot, not as far as Wren expected if he was to go by the headlights. “But we’re all in the same tent tonight. And I want to be cuddled up with Lawson. And know you and Noah are there. I need to wake up and see you. I… It was weeks, Wren. I waited for him to come back for weeks. I mean...my dad. The oldest brother who died? My father moved on fast. He forgot me. I didn’t matter anymore. The neighbors called social services, but I was...still hoping he’d come back. But he never did. He never even considered it.”
Taking Reed’s hand, Wren led him back to the SUV. He tried to think of what Jared would do, buckling him in, speaking to him softly, getting in behind the wheel to bring Reed back to where he needed to be.
He parked the SUV. Walked with Reed back to the tent. It was raining again. Reed seemed a bit numb, so Wren helped him change into some thick, warm pajamas. Almost forgot his own clothes until he had Reed snuggled up next to Lawson.
Noah woke, his gaze blurry. Without questioning anything, he carefully removed Wren’s wet shirt. His black jeans. Held him naked, looking over every inch of him.
Then, he smiled.
“I don’t like not knowing where you are.” Noah buttoned up the top of a warm pair of black plaid pajamas, tapping Wren’s chin with two fingers. “But...you’ll tell me when you’re ready. And…from what I’ve just seen.” He looked to where Reed snuggled up to Lawson, already making the soft sounds of sleep. “I approve.”
Trembling, Wren slid close, into Noah’s arms. He looked up at his Dom. “Sir? Can you...be there when I wake up? And...make sure Lawson is there for Reed. I know you can. Please?”
Arms wrapped around Wren, Noah watched as Lawson whispered to Reed, tucking his snuggly into his sleeping bag. Noah smiled and inclined his head. “I will, my little bird.”
Then he said the last thing Wren had expected after the night they’d had, telling him his Dom knew exactly what had happened.
“He’s a hard one to reach sometimes. It’s important...that you don’t give up.” Noah kissed Wren’s cheek. “Well done.”
Of all the things Wren had needed to hear?
This was it.
The journey had just begun.
And...he wasn’t too off track. Not yet.
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!
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