Long Winding Road Trip Away From The Asylum Part Fourteen
Yule plans and life messed up my plans a bit, but hopefully this nice long part will make it worth the wait! I know the last one left some of you on edge.
If all goes well, there will be another tomorrow.
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And Happy Reading!
The night stretched on, silence keeping Wren on edge as he watched Noah refuse to let the doctors or nurses examine him. Eyes closed, his Dom claimed he needed rest to be ready to move in the morning every time Rhodey returned to the room with Dr. Lorne. The kind of act he’d put on in prison when he’d had to hide injuries. Which Wren had understood.
But this wouldn’t get him the necessary treatment to repair whatever damage had been done—either when he’d been shot, or during surgery.
Wren had no idea how to approach the issue. Loyalty was important and his Dom deserved it more than anyone. Damn it, simply watching him breath and knowing he would heal made it tempting to push everything else aside. But...Wren was so fucking scared.
Worst case scenarios never occurred to him. He’d never really thought about them until he’d met Danny, and then he’d always try to use logic to help his friend see his way around them. At one point, Wren saw nothing beyond statistics. Math. Using the odds, the numbers, to guarantee a win.
Life didn’t work that way.
The morning was all set up, the transfers, the plane. Rhodey had gotten a hold of Quint and made sure he’d meet them at the safehouse to continue Noah and Reed’s care.
Calling Jared himself seemed...like a betrayal. Maybe Rhodey was right. Maybe he and Jamie would be safer if they didn’t know what was going on. If they stayed out of reach with Jamie’s fame giving them a spotlight that would bring their protection beyond anything even Rhodey could manage. They could enjoy themselves and return after the worst had passed. They’d understand.
But what if they don’t?
When Lawson came in to check on Noah, Wren walked with Avery over to the other end of the hospital, where Reed was recovering from his surgery. Arm wrapped over his stomach, he eyed the other man as they made their way down the long, quiet hall.
“Do you always follow orders? Every one of them?” Wren took a deep breath. “Even if...you’re not sure?”
Avery cocked his head slightly. “On missions? Yes. Rhodey has more experience than I do. Any doubt could get us both killed.”
“What if it’s not a mission. Or...not quite?” Wren knew Avery was probably the wrong person to ask. He understood why the other sub fit so well with a man who most had believed would never find his match. He didn’t just give up control, he became part of Rhodey. Almost like another limb, one he could no longer survive without.
The edge of Avery’s lips curved. “I have my own mind, Wren. And Rhodey isn’t perfect, no matter what he or everyone else likes to think. I love him, and sometimes that means looking out for him in ways he wouldn’t think of. Like when Dallas was in the dungeon with Curtis. I knew it was messing with him. So I did something about it.”
Thinking back on what he’d learned of that night made Wren smile. “You were sneaky about it. So was Reed. And you suffered for the choice, but...it was the right one.”
“Mhm.” Avery put a hand on Wren’s shoulder. “And the suffering wasn’t in a bad way. It was to let us know we didn’t have to keep taking control. They got it. And they reset the balance.” The edge of his lips quirked. “If you’re asking me what I think you are? Yes. Do what you’ve gotta do. You might be wrong. Or he might be. Either way, the balance is off and until that reset?” He lifted his shoulders. “The next move is in your hands. You’re a sub, my man, not a program. There are still choices you have to make.”
Being a program would be so much easier, but Wren understood what Avery was getting at. He couldn’t stand back and let things happen around him, not when he had information that needed to be shared. But he also lacked the experience to make the best decision.
So he had to reach out to someone who had it.
Pulling out his phone, one arm across his ribs, he leaned against the wall by the door to Reed’s room.
The surprised, but pleased ‘Hello’ made the next words come a bit easier.
“Quint, I need your help. I don’t know what to do and...I’m hoping you will.”
If nothing else, Jared’s first sub was easy to talk to—at least when Wren didn’t let all the messy stuff get in the way. There had been moments when it was...almost too easy. Letting Quint in, accepting the way the man could be the perfect submissive one moment, then the one in command the next. He wasn’t sure how the man did it, but...he took comfort in it now.
After he’d explained everything, Quint went quiet for a moment. “Wren, are you with Reed now?”
“I’m right outside his room.” Wren glanced over at Avery, who was eyeing the halls without seeming to at all. His hands were relaxed by his sides, but Wren knew how fast he moved. Whatever weapons he had concealed would be out before he could blink if there was any danger. “Avery’s with me.”
“Good.” Quint let out a soft laugh, and Wren could imagine that smile, always on his lips, curved to soften his words. “You’re a horrible liar, even when you’re not saying a thing. Stay there. I’ve got this.”
Hanging up, Wren took a deep breath, then slipped into Reed’s room. The walls were a very strange shade of pale green. Almost grey with the lights dimmed, and so wrong surrounding Reed. He didn’t belong here. This place seemed to mute him in a way that made Wren’s insides clench. As much as he prefered being inside at home, out of the sun, he would give anything to bring Reed out in it. To make this night end and see Reed at the edge of a lake again, water sparkling in tiny waves behind him as he tried to get Wren to absorb all the life he soaked in at every opportunity.
That was who Reed was. He’d been in the darkest places— At some points, he even craved them. But they hadn’t managed to dim his light yet.
And Wren hoped they never would.
“Wren?” Reed’s eyes slit open and he curved a bit on his side. “Something’s wrong. Lawson wouldn’t tell me, but I saw the look in his eyes. The one he has when he’s trying to make things all right for everyone else. He looks...tired. And worried. My doctor has to tell me if there’s something wrong with me, but everything was normal. So what is it?”
This was not something Wren wanted to have to tell Reed, but he did his best to put himself in the other man’s place. What would be better? For him to find out now or to keep wondering? To believe no one trusted him to be strong enough or for someone to believe he was?
Wren pulled a chair to the edge of the bed and took Reed’s hand. Held his gaze. “You have to promise me you’ll stay here. That you won’t prove saying nothing would’ve been better. I think you can handle this, but you need to listen. And heal. And be okay.”
Looking past him, likely to where Avery stood in the doorway, Reed nodded. “I can do that. Just...if someone’s dead, tell me that right away. If they’re not, if no one is… Fuck, you have to tell me or I’ll keep going over what it could be and drive myself fucking crazy.”
“No one’s dead. Noah was shot. They were aiming for Lawson, but Noah saved him. It happened really fast. I stopped the bleeding and the doctors got to him and he had surgery to remove the bullet and repair the damage.” Wren spoke in a rush, trying to keep in mind all the times he’d spoken to one of his Doms, or Jamie, and gotten off track, then they’d gently stop him and bring him back where he needed to be. Another deep inhale and he continued, squeezing Reed’s hand as he paled. “Rhodey is here. He’s moving you and Noah to a safehouse in the morning. And I called Quint because…” Maybe this part was too much?
Reed brought Wren’s hand to his chest. “Keep going. Please, Wren. This is...it’s a lot. But Noah’s okay. Lawson is safe. I can handle anything else.”
Nodding, Wren met Reed’s eyes. “Noah can’t see. And he won’t let anyone check him. He doesn’t want to—”
“Wren.” Reed nudged his chin toward Avery.
Pushing to his feet, Wren rushed across the room, grabbing Avery’s phone from his hands before he could send the text he’d typed. Deleting it, he lifted his gaze to meet the other sub’s. “Don’t. Not like this. You said I had to make a choice and I did. If you tell Rhodey, Noah will think I broke his trust. And...I’m trying hard not to. Either he tells Rhodey on his own or…”
“Or what, Wren?” Avery made a frustrated sound, pacing away from him. “You called Quint, so he’s making this choice. And now I know what’s going on and I have to keep it from my Dom?”
Wren ground his teeth together, shaking his head. He knew what Avery meant. The struggle he was dealing with. But he wouldn’t back down now. “It’s not your information to share. Quint outranks you. Noah’s not wrong, not...completely. It wouldn’t be good for this to get out. He might tell Rhodey if they’re alone. If they’re not… Rhodey is worried about him. If this gets to him the wrong way…”
Blowing out a breath, Avery laced his fingers behind his neck. “You have until morning. I won’t stand in front of my Dom and keep intel from him. If there’s something serious going on and moving Noah could…” He shook his head. “If you hadn’t spoken to a doctor who understands the risks, I wouldn’t even consider it. Well played.”
The words twisted Wren’s guts, but he couldn’t deny them. And they made sense. The games Noah played, the way he made his moves was one of the reasons Wren had built such a strong connection with him. And Rhodey likely knew how to play that game. Maybe he’d been the one to break it down so Noah could see when he’d moved his life to that place. Good or bad, it was a way to manage how he’d been forced to compartmentalize his world from such a young age.
Those kinds of games were bad for Wren. He was...very good at them. Only from a different angle. They didn’t just mean survival. They meant a high. They had become a way to avoid pain and loss and anything he didn’t want to deal with. Another kind of drug, linked with the one thing he’d thought was good about himself. That rush when he could win.
“This isn’t a game.” Wren shook his head when Avery’s lips parted. “No, I know. You didn’t mean it that way. But I had to say it. I had to because...that would be simple. I could put this into that box. Gambling, weighing the odds. It would...feel good. And it’s so tempting. I learned how to detach really young. There were times I lost and it hurt, so bad. I would go at it again so my aunt would be happy to have me. Not feel like I was a burden. That’s not my life anymore. I don’t want to go back there.”
Reed ran his hand up and down Wren’s arm. “You won’t. This is just you, doing what you knew you had to. But now we’ve gotta wait. Quint is a merc. Let him have this. And we’ll...wait.” He looked around. “What time is it?”
“Just after one.” Wren lowered his head. “Rhodey wants to move early. If Noah keeps hiding this, if we go to the safehouse—”
That got him a raised brow from Reed. “Avery will tell him before he makes that choice. You bought Noah some time to either come clean himself, Quint to figure things out, or for Rhodey to get the info. That’s good, Wren. You did good.”
It didn’t feel like that, not when he closed his eyes and saw Noah’s. The way his eyes couldn’t focus. How he’d fought to pretend. This game he was playing was dangerous.
And yet...Avery was right. Quint was a doctor. If he’d thought something needed to be done immediately, he would’ve said so. He hadn’t.
The next move was out of Wren’s hands.
“Come here.” Reed shifted over a bit, his brow tensing with pain. “I need to be okay with waiting and so do you. And...it’ll feel better if you’re with me while I’m doing it. Close. I need you close, Wren.”
Looking over the monitors attached to one of his best friends, Wren hesitated. He wanted Jared here, telling him it was safe. That he wouldn’t hurt Reed by doing what he’d asked.
Jared wasn’t here. And this was another choice.
He closed his eyes and nodded. Climbed onto the bed, slipping in beside Reed, careful for the monitors as he laid his arm over Reed’s hip. He spoke softly. “If you need more space or you’re uncomfortable or—”
“I’m not as cold with you here. But if Avery could put a blanket over us, that would help.” Reed put his hand on Wren’s arm. “Stay. I just...need to know someone will stay.”
Moving soundlessly, Avery pulled the blankets over them both. Then he brought his lips close to Wren’s ear. “I trust Rhodey’s experience. Now I’m trusting yours. You gained a lot of medical knowledge from Jared. If he’s cold...do we need to worry?”
Looking over at the monitors, Wren took in all the stats and shook his head. “Not yet. He might be feeling some shock from the information, but it’s not having a negative impact. If it does, the doctors will see it. I think...this is what he needs.”
“Okay, but if any of those monitors does anything weird, I’m telling Rhodey.” Avery kissed Wren’s cheek. “I’ve got you, my man. I owe you more than you’ll ever know. But I have my orders.”
So do I. Wren thought back on the ones Jared had read over with him. The times he’d frightened his Dom enough that they’d had a long, hard talk about how Wren should approach things as a merc who really wasn’t one.
“Look at me.” Jared’s hand closed around Wren’s phone, his laptop already tucked out of sight. “Do no harm. You have this responsibility, and sometimes, what I learned as a doctor might not apply. But when you’re not sure, I want you to remember this. What you do should do no harm.”
Blinking fast, Wren shook his head. “I can end this. It would be so easy.”
Jared let out a soft laugh. “You could. But does Rhodey shoot every teacher who gives Coal less than an A+? A cop giving Jamie a speeding ticket was mean to him. Is that worth ruining the man’s whole life?”
“But Jamie needed to get to the Center because one of his students needed him. Jamie talks about him all the time. He’s a foster kid who’s ready to give up on a future and he’s so talented. His sister needs to go into rehab again and if Jamie hadn’t gotten there in time, that boy would’ve been sent to a foster home far away and not the good one.” Wren blew out a breath. “He shouldn’t have to deal with a ticket while doing something good.”
Shaking his head, Jared put his hands on Wren’s shoulders. “Jamie getting there ten minutes later wouldn’t have changed anything. I understand his passion. But he put himself and others in danger. And the cop was doing his job. Jamie will be able to live with a few points and the price of a ticket. And Noah beating his ass for being reckless. The good he’ll do isn’t erased. Neither are the consequences for going about it the wrong way.”
The nuances often escaped Wren until they were spelled out. That time, he’d eventually gotten it and Jamie really had been okay. He’d helped the kid and accepted he could have driven safely. Noah gave him punishment and praise in equal measure. The pieces fit into place.
Snuggled up close to Reed, Wren hoped this time would be the same.
Even if he’d been wrong, some good would come of it. He’d be shown his mistakes and also...wouldn’t have made them for nothing.
Hours later, fast asleep, he heard a soft, very welcome, familiar voice. “I’ll get him one more day whether Rhodey likes it or not. He’s not dealing with this alone. Another day and I think he’ll be stable enough to move. And we’ll get the tests to make the right decisions. Get me all of his scans.”
My Dom. Jared is here. Everything’s going to be okay.
For a minute, he wondered if he was imagining things.
If I am...I don’t want to wake up. I need him here. For real.
Blinking his eyes open, Wren stared into familiar, brilliant green eyes. Smiled softly as Jamie leaned in close. He smelled like sunshine and a tropical suntan lotion, his skin lightly tanned giving off an almost golden glow even under the overhead lights that seemed to washout every other color.
“I love it when you find loopholes.” Jamie brushed a soft kiss over his lips, helping him slip carefully out of the bed so he wouldn’t wake Reed. They moved to the far side of the room, Wren glancing over at Jared, who was looking over Reed’s charts. The fingers laced with his tightened a little. “I felt horrible for having so much fun when I heard what happened. I was so worried I didn’t even think before getting on the redeye flight with Jared so we could get here in time. Then we were in the air and...I panicked. But he got me through it. I only puked once.”
Lips parted, Wren pulled Jamie into a hug. “I didn’t...I didn’t even think of that. I’m sorry. Noah probably realized telling you would force you to do that and wanted to avoid it. I should have slowed down and considered everything, but I didn’t know what was right or wrong and he needs you. He needs you and Jared. And...so do I. Jamie, I missed you so much.”
Jamie’s fingertips brushed the short hair at the nape of Wren’s neck. “Yeah, I could see him not wanting me to have to get on a plane, but...this was for a good reason. I did it, Wren. That’s the point. I did it and I’m here.” He brushed a strand of white hair away from his brow before bringing his hand up to Wren’s cheek. “How did you manage to spend a week camping and not get any sun?”
“I managed it on the island.” Probably not the best subject to bring up. Wren turned a bit to watch Jared again, his presence bringing back that balance Avery had spoken of. “Rhodey was trying to make the best decision for us all, but…” He swallowed, not wanting to overwhelm Jamie any more than he’d wanted to with Reed. “There’s a doctor here who’s one of Vani’s men. I think he’s trusting him because he has to, but he wants Noah where he’ll be fully in control of the situation. Noah can’t usually get anything by him, but he is this time. I’m sure it’s nothing terrible. It can’t be. There was...some trouble during surgery, but Noah woke up. He’s able to speak.”
Jared made a thoughtful sound as he placed Reed’s chart, then held out his arm for Wren to come to him. The second Wren closed the distance between them, he pulled him snug to his side. “You did well, having Quint get in touch with me, my sweet little raven. And I won’t lie, I’ll take some pleasure in reminding Rhodey this is why there are rules against operating on family—it clouds judgment. His taking over this mission is no different, he’s holding Noah’s life in his hands and it’s scaring the hell out of him.”
“Does that mean you won’t operate on Noah if he needs it, sir? But you’ve treated him for injuries before and you’re very good at your job.” Wren didn’t like the idea of having to bring in someone else. He looked up at his Dom, who seemed to have a little more grey and white in his dark hair, but despite the concern shadowing his light blue eyes, he seemed more rested than he had in a long time. “He won’t talk to this doctor, but he doesn’t keep things from you.”
That got him a sideways smile before Jared pressed a kiss to his forehead. “No, he doesn’t. That’s not the point, though. Superficial wounds are one thing, this sounds like it could be something more. I’m not a neurosurgeon and we may need one for him. I’ll accept my limits as I did for you. I am here to take care of the man we love, to give him support.” His tone went dry. “Whether he likes it or not.”
Soft voices came from the bed, where Jamie handed Reed something he must have gotten from the luggage Avery had moved against the wall by the door. A big, fluffy white teddy bear, which Reed hugged tight.
“I would’ve brought some get-well-soon balloons or flowers or...something, but there wasn’t any time.” Jamie looked around the room, wrinkling his nose a bit. “Do they make hospitals look depressing on purpose?”
Jared huffed out a laugh. “It’s meant to be soothing, my boy. Besides, I don’t think Rhodey would be very pleased if we’d tramped in here and drawn attention to ourselves. I’m impressed with the way you managed to avoid the press getting wind of our movements after how difficult it’s been over the past few weeks.”
The edge of Jamie’s lips quirked. “It wasn’t difficult at all, sir. The press was exactly where they were supposed to be. We needed the exposure for the new album. The speculation from me being seen with a hot older guy who’s not my husband is going to sell tons of magazines.” He gave Jared a cheeky grin. “Just think of how good you becoming famous will be for the economy.”
“Wren, remind me to beat his ass when we get to the safehouse.” Jared’s expression was stern, but there was some amusement to his tone. “If he hadn’t made such good use of his massage skills, and tempted me with that damn hot tube every night, I might consider doing it now. Spoiled little cat.”
Warmth filled Jamie’s eyes as he climbed onto the bed with Reed, carefully snuggling up to him. “Yes, sir.” He turned his attention to Reed. “Does it hurt really bad?”
Adjusting a bit, Reed shook his head. “It’s all right. Seriously, you guys should be with Noah. I’m fine. This was planned and all, but what happened to him…” He inhaled slowly, looking up at Jamie, who’d braced himself with one elbow on the pillow. “Why aren’t you freaking out?”
Bottom lip between his teeth, Jamie glanced at Jared. “Quint got all the information he could and told Jared. I cried when I first heard what happened, but I feel better, knowing he’s okay. That he’s gonna be okay. I trust Jared and he said so.” He released his bottom lip at a pointed look from Jared, then fussed with the blanket a bit, smoothing it over Reed. “I was worried about you, too. I wish you’d told us what was going on.”
“I didn’t want to ruin the whole experience for you with my shit.” Reed ducked his head when Jared’s gaze shifted to him. “I get a free pass while I’m healing.” His dimple showed a bit at Jared’s ‘Hmpf’. “I know how much you were looking forward to working with Berney and I was excited to hear how it went. To know you were having fun out there.” His curls frame his head as he rested it on the pillow. “How was it, by the way? Was Berney cool or was he a total douche?”
The question had Jamie sitting up, like he was more than happy to latch on to the distraction, both for himself and for Reed. “He was uber-professional. Jared wasn’t crazy about him at first, he plays up the whole Hollywood lifestyle with all the cars and women and money, but when the cameras aren’t on he’s all about business and music and he doesn’t mess around. There was this band who was supposed to do a collab with us and he found out they were doing coke in their hotel room. He ripped up the contract on the spot, it was so badass. I bet he’s a Dom. And his voice…” Jamie let out a happy sigh. “It’s even richer than it was when I listened to him as a teen. All deep and dreamy. I wasn’t sure how I’d sound with him at first, but he taught me a lot. I can’t wait for you to hear the songs, you’re gonna love them so much.”
Closing his eyes as Jamie talked, Wren smiled. Having his Dom’s arm around him, listening to Jamie describe doing what he loved with so much passion, made it feel like a huge piece that had been missing from his world was back in place.
On the road here, there had been many stops. This was another one. And the destination had changed.
But for the first time it was like they were getting a refill. Or like maybe their car had broken down and was being put back together. It might not run the same for a while, it had taken a beating on the journey.
This wasn’t their stop, though. It was a detour, bringing them where they needed to be.
At a sound by the door, Wren opened his eyes and looked over. Exhaled roughly at the mix of regret and relief in Lawson’s eyes.
He took a step forward, then hesitated. “Jared, I should have known this might happen. He shouldn’t have put himself in harm’s way. Not for me. I’m sor—”
“Now I know why Rhodey hates that word so much.” Bringing Wren with him, Jared crossed the room and pulled Lawson into a tight hug. “You have nothing to apologize for, my friend. Noah did what he will always do and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Now stay with your boy so I can go talk some sense into my man.” Releasing Lawson after one last squeeze, Jared held out his hand to Jamie, who kissed Reed’s cheek, then scrambled off the bed. “Are you ready, little cat?”
Hiking up his chin, Jamie nodded. “Between the three of us, I think we’ve got this.” He took Jared’s hand, clinking his tongue ring against his teeth as some uncertainty passed through his eyes. “But, sir...what if it is permanent? What if he loses what he loves so much? He wrote to me about wanting to paint and he’s only just started doing it again. I...couldn’t wait to watch him. It’s amazing and I get why he loves watching me make music. There’s something so peaceful and beautiful about it.”
Jared nodded, bringing Jamie’s hand up to his chest. “There is. And we will deal with that if the time comes, but we’re not there yet. This next step will be getting Noah to accept the help he needs, which he’ll be more likely to if he knows you and Wren are safe. If he can accept he doesn’t have to do this alone.”
“And he does, sir. When it comes from you.” Jamie’s expression reminded Wren of what his own must’ve been like after he’d called Quint, when more capable hands had taken over. As they reached the elevator, Jamie pressed the call button. “But I can’t blame him for wanting to get out of here as soon as possible. It’ll be cool to be in a safehouse with him while he’s getting better. I’m not big on roughing it, but I’ll show him I can do it. Maybe I can learn to chop wood for the fireplace and scavenge for mushrooms.”
Some laughter hinted at Jared’s tone as the elevator door opened and he motioned Wren and Jamie inside ahead of him. “Which neither you or Wren like and Noah’s not terribly fond of either?”
Head canted, Jamie seemed to consider the dilemma for a moment. “True… What else do you do when you’re roughing it? I’m not sure where tacos grow.”
“Now you’re being silly, my boy.”
“Ayup.” Jamie flashed Jared a smile, the playfulness in his voice making it clear he was taking comfort in the bond the two had built on their own trip. “Seriously, though, I hope Rhodey will let Keiran come. And Dallas. There has to be a way to get the family together. We’re safer and stronger when we’re together.”
“That we are.” Jared brushed his hand over Jamie’s hair as they got off the elevator at Noah’s floor, then glanced back as Wren hesitated. His gaze held Wren’s for a moment, his Dom giving him an encouraging smile. “He might not be pleased at first that you didn’t keep his secret, my little raven, but what have I told you about following orders from idiot Doms?”
It was hard not to smile back at Jared when he worded it that way. Blowing out a breath, Wren nodded. “Noah’s wrong. And that’s okay.”
“Good boy.” Jared curved his hand around the back of Wren’s neck, leaning in close to whisper in his ear. “I’ll try not to rub it in, but it may be difficult. I so rarely get the opportunity.”
Walking backwards, Jamie snickered. “You get it a lot, sir. And you always enjoy it.”
The wack Jamie got on his thigh for that only had him grinning wide, the whole exchange reminding Wren of home.
Maybe they weren’t going there just yet, but the part of it that he needed most, that made it so special...
Had come to him.
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