Long Winding Road Trip Away From The Asylum Part Twelve
All right, so things might get a bit rough. And I'm posting this early because I couldn't wait.
The next part is coming soon so you won't have to either.
Its' one hell of a journey.
Let's see where this goes.
Florida was very hot. Wren already hated it, but he did his best not to complain as they made their way into the small motel just outside of Daytona. They’d be staying here until Reed’s assessment was done, then using it as a kind of ‘home base’ during his surgery and recovery if all went well.
The room was basic, but clean, with two queen-sized beds covered in white quilts, the floor covered in a light grey carpet, not a single fingerprint on the mirror above the desk, either of the small dressers, or the large windows that looked out on the private pool. After leaving his luggage by Noah’s near the door, Wren inspected everything, pulling out his phone and running a few basic tests to make sure there were no cameras or listening devices.
So...the room was clean in every way. Reassuring, but Wren suddenly wished they were back in the woods. Even with the dirt and mud and bugs, even with how uncomfortable it had been, it was still...removed from the kinds of threats they’d often faced in the past. Being here, all to aware that Noah and Lawson had chosen the place at the last minute so their movements couldn’t be easily traced, was a stark reminder that nowhere was really safe.
“Wren, put that away. We’re fine.” Noah rubbed his shoulders, then slid his phone from his hand, tucking it away in his own pocket. “Why don’t you take a nice, long hot shower and then relax for a bit.” He kissed Wren’s cheek. “There’s a real bed. I know how much you loved sleeping on the ground, but—” Quietly laughing, he picked Wren up and plunked him down on the end of the surprisingly soft mattress. “—I have a feeling this will be more your style.”
Not really, it’s still not...home.
But Wren wouldn’t say that. Looking up at Noah, catching the way he glanced over at Reed, clearly trying to hide his concern, all Wren wanted was to make this as easy on him as possible. From Reed’s bright smile as he put some music on his phone and began dancing around Lawson, he was doing the same. For all of them.
Reed was the one in a strange place, about to give away part of himself under the care of doctors he didn’t know, after years of only being treated by one he knew and trusted. It was his past that had come back in such a painful way when his father used the media to lash out. No matter what Reed said, there was no way part of him wasn’t trying to prove his father wrong. Prove that he was worth more than the man who’d abandoned him made him believe.
The idea twisted in Wren’s guts and he wanted to grab Reed and tell him no. Tell him...tell him that it was too risky. Not the surgery itself, but...but why him? His sister was young, there had to be others who could donate their livers. That’s what donor lists were for.
But he kept his mouth shut because even he knew how wrong voicing any of those thoughts out loud would be. He was here to support Reed, not make him doubt his decision.
This was so much easier when it felt like just a road trip. I don’t know how to do this part.
He’d rather go fishing. Or hike for miles and miles in the pouring rain. Or...or get back on a plane. Anything other than stand back helplessly and know the sparkle in Reed’s eyes would be gone in a few days, replaced by pain and a healing process that would take months.
There was some merit to the idea of ‘fake it until you make it’. Maybe if Wren pretended things would be okay, he’d eventually believe it himself.
After unpacking his and Noah’s luggage and arranging it neatly in the drawers of one of the dressers and half the closet, Wren took over unpacking Reed and Lawson’s things as well when Reed got distracted by one of his mangas. Lawson gave him a smile of appreciation when he carefully placed the two suits he’d brought well away from the sparkly outfits. A rolling lint brush got the worst of the damage from those off the carpets, and also gave Wren some reassurance that the room really was as clean as it looked.
But when he started checking under the rest of the furniture to see how thorough housekeeping really was, Noah snorted and picked him up off the floor, landing a light smack on his ass and sending him to the shower.
Over the length of the trip most of the bathing had been done with cloths and water warmed over a fire, which Wren had decided was downright barbaric. Stepping under the steady stream of the shower was now on his top ten list of favorite things in the world. Using the travel sized bottle of his favorite, vanilla scented shampoo, Wren washed his short strands twice, then scrubbed from head to toe until every part of his body was tingling. He grabbed a towel, his mind wandering as he thought of the things he should catch up on today. Where had he put his laptop? It wasn’t often he misplaced it, but he couldn’t remember if he’d given it to one of his Doms because of a difficult mission with boundaries he couldn’t quite grasp yet. Drying every inch of himself, he stepped naked into the bedroom.
Not into the master bedroom at home.
He blinked at Reed’s low whistle, the other sub grinning at him from where he’d sprawled on the floor between the motel beds to read. “I always figured you for one of the shy ones, when you’re not following orders on your way to getting wrecked in the dungeon. I’m not sorry I was wrong.”
“I…” Wren’s face heated, but not so much because he was naked in front of Reed—this wasn’t the first time. But they never interacted that way in front of Noah, and rarely around Lawson. Rather than feeling like the natural order of things—just being naked in the bedroom because those were the rules—it seemed...presumptive. Careless. All things he wasn’t.
Clucking his tongue, Noah left the desk where he’d been writing a long letter with his new quill and some good quality stationary he’d picked up. He stepped into the bathroom, returning with a big towel that he wrapped around Wren. “No need to be embarrassed, I hadn’t considered what the rules would be while we were sharing a room. Are you uncomfortable being naked in front of all three of us?”
Without hesitating, Wren nodded, struggling to explain why exactly, but needing to be honest with his Dom. “I don’t understand your relationship with Reed, exactly, but I know it’s almost like… You’re like his…” There was no label that fit quite right. He took a deep breath. “I know there are certain limits and I respect them. Like with Rhodey, only not quite. I wouldn’t sleep with Rhodey, I can imagine that would be uncomfortable for you. Though, if Jared did, it doesn’t seem like it would be the same...or would it? Maybe there would need to be some space between when the encounters occurred…”
“Dude, you might want to stop talking.” Reed’s eyes were getting wider and wider, but he cut off whatever he’d been about to continue with at a look from Lawson.
Noah rubbed his hand over his mouth, amusement in his eyes as he sat on the edge of the bed and pulled Wren between his spread thighs. “I am relieved to hear you wouldn’t sleep with my uncle, I wouldn’t be comfortable with that, with either you or Jamie. With Jared...that would be something we’d have to discuss, but I’d rather they didn’t go there, since we’re being honest.” He lightly rubbed his hands up and down Wren’s arms. “As for you and Reed, you share a Dom. What he has you do together is between the two of you. If you sneak around, don’t get caught or I will beat your ass, but the same applies for you and Jamie.” The curve of his lips and his wink made it clear this was one of the milder rules, not like those set for protection that Noah set more severe consequences for breaking. “I still want you naked in my bed, but you may wear clothes until then. Does that clarify things?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.” Wren leaned in, resting his head against Noah’s shoulder and speaking softly. “I...forgot where we were for a minute. And when I remembered it seemed very complicated. I’m glad you simplified things.”
Noah made a quiet sound of understanding and gave Wren a little hug. “I’m glad you told me what you were struggling with. Go get me a pair of your lighter pajamas and we’ll get you comfortable. Then I want you to help me with this letter.”
Brow furrowed, Wren glanced toward the desk, nodding as he slipped away, returning with a pair of plain, black cotton pajamas with fine white stripes. He smiled at Reed as the other sub called dibs on the shower and bolted by them, with Lawson calling after him to be careful not to slip on the wet tiles.
Not that Wren would have left them wet. It was still sound advice.
Holding still as Noah dressed him, something settling in Wren’s mind now that the balance had been restored. “Do you need help spelling something, sir?”
Chuckling, Noah shook his head. “No, I’m writing a letter to Jamie, and I thought it would be nice to do it by hand and make it all fancy, give him something to hold rather than just talking on the phone and texting every day. But he might have a hard time reading it, so I’d like you to use one of your programs so he can have a copy on his phone that will change the cursive to print. If that’s possible?”
“It is, sir. That won’t be any trouble at all. If you get tracking for the letter I can even make it so the digital version gets to him around the same time.” Wren went and got his phone from where he’d left it with their luggage, joining Noah as he took a seat at the desk. Noah’s penmanship with the quill was beautiful, much like his paintings, and there was something romantic about the gesture he knew Jamie would love. “I wish I knew how to write like that, it’s amazing, sir.”
Noah cleaned the quill and smiled over at him. “Thank you, my little bird. I could teach you, if you want. My mother taught me when I was very young. When I got...sidetracked by other things, I stopped doing it, but when Rhodey trusted me enough to see her again...it was one of the ways we reconnected. She encouraged me to start painting again. And work on this.”
“I have many skills, sir, but anything artistic isn’t among them. I bet Jamie will want to learn after he sees this. He’s working really hard on his reading, too, so he can get into all the books you love.” Wren took pictures of the pages, making sure all the words were clear. “I can’t wait until he decides what genre he likes best. We can have Curtis make more shelves, just for him, and fill them up. Maybe we can find some autobiographies of musicians he loves? I think he’d like that.”
Finished storing his new writing tools in their case, Noah nodded as he began carefully folding the letter to place it in the envelope, pulling out his own phone to search for the address of the hotel in L.A. He used a regular pen to jot it down on the envelope in neat print. “How about we find a bookstore around here and grab him a few to give him when we all get home?”
“We could probably just order them.” Wren loved books, but he wasn’t terribly fond of stores in general. But the way Noah’s brow lifted, that had only been worded as a suggestion. He cleared his throat. “I will go into the bookstore if it pleases you, sir.”
In the bed closest to the window, Lawson looked up from where he was reading something on his phone. “Don’t pressure him into it if he doesn’t want to, my man. This whole trip was already pushing him beyond his comfort level.”
“I’m aware of that, Lawson.” Noah's tone was dry as he tucked the envelope into the folder that held the stationary. “This isn’t double fisting, it’s a bookstore. I think he’ll enjoy it if he gives it a chance.”
Rather than push and turn this into yet another of the strange debates he seemed to both love and hate having with Noah, Lawson simply inclined his head. “That’s possible. And I hope you’re right. I’m just aware of how...different things will be for all of us over the next few days, than they have been so far this week.”
Noah’s expression softened. “It will. We haven’t gotten a chance to talk about how you feel about all this. I understand if you don’t want to talk to me, but...maybe it’s time to tell Curtis. Or even Matt.”
Pressing his eyes shut, Lawson shook his head. “Matt’s still in Seattle with his brother. He’s excited that Garett’s showing some initiative and...I think more than a little relieved he’ll be away from Anniston Falls and his history with the gang. He was worried for a bit when Garett reconnected with a few of his old friends. I don’t want to ruin that for him any more than Reed does.” His lips curved. “And Rhodey let me know Curtis is on a recon mission with one of Vani’s teams. One of the safest, more boring things she could have assigned him, but he still needs to focus. And there’s no way to reach him.”
“Then I guess that leaves me as your only option.” After tucking Wren into the second bed, Noah went over and sat beside Lawson, putting his hand on his forearm. “You’re allowed to be worried. Even afraid. And I know that sounds strange, coming from me. I didn’t train you that way, but...you were already drowning in fear. I wanted...I wanted to show you ways to get past that, to show you how strong you really were. There were times I went too far with both you and Curtis and—”
“Don’t apologize, Noah. Not again. I’ve already forgiven you for the mistakes you made.” Lawson sat up a bit, his gaze level with Noah’s. “You helped me get where I needed to be, one way or another. I loved you for it in the end. I still do, even though I use those skills you taught me against you when it’s necessary, whether or not you agree.”
Noah’s lips quirked. “I rarely do, on principle alone. I’m too hard headed about being the one in charge. The one keeping everyone safe. Between you and Jared and Rhodey, I know that’s not on me alone anymore. Hell if you’ll let me forget it. But part of me can’t let go of that one last thing. Of knowing, if nothing else, what I am can keep you safe.”
Leaning forward, Lawson squeezed Noah’s forearm. “Who, Noah. Not ‘what’. You’re not a thing. You’re a good man with a lot of twisted parts, but you’ve spent a long time learning how to manage them. And I respect that. It doesn’t mean I won’t keep challenging you.” He let out a soft laugh. “It means I don’t doubt that I’ll survive doing so anymore.”
Jaw tensing, Noah shook his head. “Don’t, Lawson. Don’t get that comfortable with me. You don’t know that.”
“I do. I’ve seen how far you’ve come. I’m not afraid of you, Noah. I trust you.” Lawson brought his hand up to curve it along Noah’s jaw, brushing his thumb over it lightly. “The next step? Is you trusting yourself.”
In bed with Noah, later that night, Wren replayed Lawson’s words in his head, his cheek rested on Noah’s chest. He’d never considered Noah might question himself like that. Over the years, he’d learned the signs of Noah slipping over the edge and needing to be pulled back by Rhodey or Jared. To Wren, it was a lot like his gambling addiction. Needing that support. Needing limits in place to manage the most normal life he’d ever have.
Not everyone would want to be with someone like Wren. Would be able to accept his flaws...and he had even more of them now. The way he forgot simple things. His need to give up control, while also maintaining it in a career he’d built to survive. His inability to relate to other people on basic levels most learned as children, his lack of social skills and filter.
Wren knew he was a little strange, but to the people who loved him?
That was okay.
Noah was one of the people who’d taught him that.
Maybe, just maybe, he could teach his Dom the same.
He was imperfect. He had flaws. He was human.
And...he was loved.
Forty-eight hours. Only forty-eight hours for all Reed’s medical and psychological tests before he was approved as a donor for his sister. And no time passed before he had to go in for the procedure. His sister couldn’t afford to wait any longer.
In the room in the clinic where Reed would return after the surgery, Lawson helped him change into a hospital gown, dropping all Reed’s clothes on the floor, running his hands over Reed and speaking to him softly as Wren picked up each item and folded it carefully while Noah stood silently by the door.
Shivering, Reed grabbed Lawson’s wrist and stared up at him. “Don’t let him come here. I don’t want to see him. I don’t want to talk to him. I...please, sir? Lawson, I can’t—”
“Shh.” Lawson drew Reed close, petting his thick curls. “Noah and Tracey are the only ones with any right to make decisions for you. Remember all the legal forms I went over with you? A lot of it was already in place, but there’s nothing left to chance. He gave up guardianship a long time ago. He doesn’t have a goddamn leg to stand on if he tries to get near you.”
Jaw working, Noah looked like he wanted to say something, but simply inhaled roughly, folding his arms over his chest.
“Noah…” Tears spilled down Reed’s cheeks. “If anything happens, I trust you. I know I haven’t always done a great job showing that, but...I love you. I’m sorry for all the times I was a jerk and—”
Crossing the room in two long strides, Noah put one arm around Reed, still against Lawson’s chest. “Don’t you ever apologize for that. I always want you to feel you can say whatever you have to. But nothing will happen. You’re doing something good, my boy. Something so good and brave and I’m so fucking proud of you. But this is all you need to do. After this? We take care of you. We take you home and love you. It’s that simple.”
“Okay.” Reed took a deep breath as the nurse came in, waiting quietly with the door open. He flashed a brilliant smile. “Wish me luck!”
After Lawson and Noah hugged Reed, Wren stepped forward, wrapping his arms around the other sub. He wasn’t sure what he could say that would help, but there had to be something. He looked up, meeting Reed’s deep blue eyes. “Curtis has some amazing scars. You’ll never catch up, but you’ll have a new one to show off. And an amazing story. A whole journey to get here. We...don’t get many opportunities to be the hero. That takes control we don’t want. But sometimes...there are things we can do. Important things.” He swallowed as his throat locked. “And you’re doing it.”
“I’m not a hero, Wren. I’m a big brother.” Reed lowered his head, pressing his face against the side of Wren’s neck. “And I can’t be one for her after this, but I can give her something. Then she can have a future and...and so can I. And neither of us has to look back. The one thing that connects us? The one person? He won’t have any power anymore. Anything he can use to hurt us. What I’m doing is...selfish in some ways, I think. But I don’t care.”
“That’s not selfish. It’s self-preservation.” Wren thought about his aunt. About coming across the information that she’d passed and...not being sure what to feel. She hadn’t wanted him anymore. He’d accepted that. And, in doing so, he’d given her what she’d needed to move on with her own life, while moving on with his own. It had turned out to be a good thing. He’d also learned she’d been overlooked as someone to use against him.
There was no bond there. He couldn’t say if those who’d wanted him dead had been right or wrong. Didn’t know what he’d have done if she’d been in danger. He could only be grateful that she hadn’t been. That they both were able to live their lives apart.
So he understood Reed’s need to do the same.
“Look out for him for me while I can’t?” Reed pressed his lips to Wren’s cheek before drawing away. “Even big tough Doms get roughed up by life sometimes. They try not to be. They face everything head on—our Doms, anyway. It makes me think of what one of the kids in school told me their Dad said a lot after he came back from his AA meetings. ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’” He inhaled roughly. “I’m not into religious stuff, but...it’s a good way to think. For anyone.”
“How can we change anything when we’re not the ones in control?” Wren latched on to Reed’s wrist, meeting his eyes, needing the answer before he let him go.
Reed smiled at him. “Giving up control is control, Wren. And we decide when we can’t. Like you did when you went after Keiran. Like I am now.” He lifted Wren’s hand to his lips, kissing the back of it. “I love you. Now let me go and take care of our Doms while I can’t. That’s part of this whole deal. It’s called an exchange for a reason.” His throat worked as he took a step back, still holding Wren’s hand and whispering to him. “Wren...I’m scared.”
Squeezing Reed’s fingers, Wren nodded. “But you’re doing it anyway. That’s what brave means.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Reed grinned, squaring his shoulders as he faced the nurse. His voice carried as he followed her down the hall to where he’d be prepped for surgery, something he’d asked for because he didn’t want any of them there ‘when things start getting serious’. “Do I get one of those caps the doctors are wearing? I like the dragonflies on the one that hot doctor had on.”
The nurse’s delighted laughter was cut off as Noah closed the door and cut across the room to pull Lawson into his arms as the other Dom trembled. “Deep breaths, Lawson. He’ll be fine.” He motioned for Wren to get the door. “Let’s go outside and get some fresh air. It’s hard to see the bright side when you’re in a building like this. It smells like…” Noah’s words trailed off, like he’d thought the better of them. “The area’s beautiful. You were the first one to give me the idea to take pictures of things I might want to paint later. If you hadn’t been so obsessed with contracts and numbers, I would’ve pushed for you to go into photography. You’ve got a good eye.”
“No I don’t.” Lawson seemed to latch onto the distraction as they rode the elevator down to the main floor. He shot Noah a knowing look. “I notice things, but whenever I tried to capture something I thought you’d like, either you saw it or you’d get a blurry picture. I am not good with technology.”
“You sent me a great video of that sunset you and Reed were watching over the river.”
“I was trying to send a picture. You must’ve heard Reed laughing when I caught on.”
Noah grinned. “I did. I was trying to be nice.”
In front of the clinic, Lawson paced out to the edge of the wide walkway, lacing his fingers behind his neck. He shook his head, pacing back, talking under his breath. “I should have found a way to tell Curtis. He’d want to be here. If something goes wrong—”
“Nothing will go wrong, Lawson. But it might have if he’d found out at a bad time.” Noah’s gaze followed Lawson, as though not sure if he should try to keep him still or not. He let out an even breath. “Reed made that choice for a reason. And he wasn’t wrong.”
“I know.” Lawson stopped a few feet away from them, tipping his head back. “Fuck, I hate this. There’s nothing I can do but wait. I should have demanded to be there until the very last second. Why did I let him have his way?”
Noah folded his arms over his chest. “Because you know Reed. If he saw you like this, he might’ve changed his mind. And he couldn’t do that. He didn’t want you to worry, but he knew you would. He trusted me and Wren to be here for you, and we are.”
Blowing out a breath, Lawson continued pacing. “You shouldn’t have to be. I know it’s a safe procedure. I know he’s healthy. I know… Noah…” Lawson’s voice broke. “I know what this will do to him and I don’t want this. I want our boy. I want him moving too fast, shining so bright, never slowing down. All the things we’ve dealt with, he’s always gotten back there. I’m fucking terrified this will be the one time he doesn’t.”
“He will, Lawson.” Noah hesitated, as though not sure what kind of comfort Lawson needed now. If the words were enough, or if he needed to be held. Like he wasn’t sure the latter was his place. “It’s him. It will always be him.”
A bit to the side, Wren hugged himself, shivering even though it was much too hot outside. He moved out of the way as a couple walked by, whatever they were here for seeming to have them in very good moods. Maybe they were getting a lifesaving transplant. And, while he was happy for them if that was true, a small part of him resented it. That feeling of taking, rather than giving. He’d read over everything Reed would go through, when this was over. Complicated emotions made worse by the trauma of his father’s involvement. Pain and loss. Possible long term issues.
What must it be like to come here, knowing someone else would go through all that to give you what you needed. A few more years. A lifetime.
From the corner of his eye, Wren saw something dark approaching. In the heat, most of the colors people wore, even the cars, were bright. But this thing was black. A van. There was a man leaning out as the side door opened. A long black barrel. Aimed. Fired.
Sound tore through every other. Familiar. Wren moved without thinking. Toward Noah.
Noah shoved him back. His side hit something hard. Sliding behind it, Wren fought to close off the echo in his head. The feel of the impact to his skull that never came.
He heard his Dom’s shout and watched him as he fell, Lawson under him.
Neither moved as tires screeched and the van raced off.
Time passed. But it didn’t. Wren forced himself to crawl over the rough pavement. Blood spread under his palms, but he didn’t stop.
“Noah…” Barely a whisper came from under Noah’s still body. Lawson lay on the walkway, his eyes wide as he pressed his hand to Noah’s chest. “Noah, say something. Wren...Wren, he was hit. Get someone! Noah!”
Tugging Noah off Lawson, Wren took in the damage. The hole in Noah’s chest. He needed to stop the bleeding. He ripped off his shirt, pressing it over the wound. It soaked through, too fast.
“Sir, get help.” Wren thought over all he’d learned. Not enough. He watched Lawson pull out his phone. Moved his shirt. The blood was still flowing. It needed to stop. He pressed his fingers against the hole. Slid one inside, praying he wasn’t going to kill his Dom. But there was something hard against his fingertip. The pressure of the blood above it. His finger was in deep, and all he could do was put some pressure there. Where he felt the flow.
And lowered his ear to Noah’s chest to hear him breathing. Make sure he still was.
“Don’t stop, sir.” The flow of blood had slowed. But it wasn’t enough. Noah’s pulse was weak. Wren knew what to listen for. “Please, keep breathing. Don’t move. Help is coming.”
A promise he shouldn’t make, because he wasn’t sure.
They weren’t home.
There was no one else to fix this.
But...sometimes, all that remained was that voice. The one that said to hold on as the snow fell. Hope, almost out of reach.
It was there, though. Still there.
In his hands.
The next part will be posted tomorrow. Like I said, I don't want to leave you hanging. This story still has a long way to go.
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