A Little Roughed Up at The Asylum Safe House - Part Seventeen-Epilogue
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Somehow, the pool area became the secret hideaway of the core. Likely intentional on Rhodey’s part, but coming down here the first time, Quint had expected...well, cells like Vani had at The Compound.
A month later and it was one of his favorite places to be.
And he wasn’t the only one.
Every morning, Curtis came down before dawn to do laps along the length of the pool, coaxing Reed to join him whenever he felt strong enough once Jared gave the go-ahead. The sub still wasn’t entirely himself, his energy not even half what it once was, but there were sparks of it coming back. His post-surgery depression seemed to have passed under both Jared and Curtis’s care, along with some time with Stephan.
Others had started their own sessions with Stephan, using the pool as an excuse to be down here at random times during the day. He was easy to talk to, offering support when that was all someone needed, and tools to work through their issues when they were ready. The subs liked calling it ‘Homework from The Dom’ in an ominous way that Stephan thought was hilarious.
Apparently, the lap dance Jamie was currently giving Noah was part of that homework. Water dripping from his hair, he grinned as Noah playfully protested about getting wet, even as he drew his boy closer.
Jamie ground his hips down, gasping as Noah finally let him up from a long, deep kiss. “We have the best killer shrink ever. I think my head’s on totally straight now.”
“You wish.” Matt set the tea tray he’d brought down from the bar on the edge of the large fire pit table Curtis had presented to the group that morning. It was positioned between two sturdy wooden lounge chairs, also creations of Curtis’, the first he’d gifted to Lawson and...no one else ever touched. The other was Noah’s, though the words had never been said out loud.
Whenever he was sitting there, Curtis appeared to walk just a little taller. As if everything he could give back to the two most important men in his life made him feel a bit more whole. More connected to what they’d all built together. His biggest contributions had always been a labour of love.
Focused on his tea service, Matt prepared Lawson a cup with the same ritual the two had established, kneeling on a pillow by Lawson’s side. The bit of tension that gathered in the sub’s shoulders every time he interacted with Jamie seemed to diminish as he let himself sink into his submission. Posture perfect, there was a deep level of peace that every single sub who found it always reached for. And it was beautiful to watch Matt settle into it.
Lawson brushed his hand over Matt’s hair, their silent exchange speaking volumes. Matt might grumble at Jamie at any opportunity, but Lawson was clearly proud of him for cutting it short and being mindful of his own task, giving the control to Lawson, rather than his own irritation.
Walking along the edge of the pool, hands clasped behind his back, Curtis made a thoughtful sound as he looked over the other Doms and subs who were in the water or relaxing around it. “You know, Law, a whole setup like upstairs might be a bit much, but...we could use a bar down here. A smaller one. I could save us a whole lot of money and make it, but between the dojo and working in the club, it might take a while.”
“I don’t want you overdoing it.” Lawson set down his tea cup, giving Curtis one of those looks that seemed reserved only for him. As though not quite taking on the role of his Dom quite yet, but letting him know he would if needed. The edge of his lips curved slightly. “Though I can’t complain too much about the impact your ‘side projects’ have had. If you keep building muscle like that, I’m going to start wondering if you’re just showing off.”
Curtis grinned, flexing one of his biceps and kissing it. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. Genetics had to give me something besides a twisted sense of humor and a wicked temper.”
Catching Jamie’s wrist as he began undoing the drawstring of his tight little white swim trunks, Noah glanced over at Curtis. “What do you suggest? I agreed with Lawson’s idea of making this area a perk for employees so it’s still part of the business.” His lips slanted when Lawson gave him a suspicious look. “That means there should be no issue investing in it.”
“Maintenance is already a huge investment.” Lawson sighed when Curtis and Noah both let out exasperated groans. “I’m open to suggestions, so long as whatever else is added is within reason. A small bar would be practical. I’d also like to get Matt another espresso machine and a few supplies down here so he doesn’t have to come all this way with hot drinks.”
Matt’s eyes shone with pleasure as he gazed up at his Dom. “I’d love that, sir. I could spend more time experimenting on drinks and still be part of everything. I wasn’t sure what to make of all this at first either, but...it really is nice. It’s secure and...you all seem more relaxed, just knowing that. It feels good.”
Sitting sideways on Noah’s lap, Jamie traced his fingers lightly over the scar on his Dom’s chest. “Do you think we could add some better speakers? The ones Rhodey had installed aren’t horrible, but the base on them isn’t great.” He tugged his tongue ring between his teeth, eyes narrowing when Matt huffed, then continued almost like he hadn’t heard him. “Some artwork would be nice too, if you’re up to it.”
Curtis ruffled Matt’s hair, cutting off whatever remark he was about to make and smiling at Jamie. “That’s a good idea.” He nudged his chin toward Noah. “I can lay out some blueprints of the space and me, you, and Law can figure out the best set up. Invite the board to weigh in, too, so it really feels like this belongs to all of us.”
“I’m good with that.” Noah reclined on the lounge chair, patting Jamie’s thigh. “As you were, little cat.”
At first, Jamie blinked, like he wasn’t sure what he was being asked. Then a sultry smile crossed his lips as he straddled Noah’s lap to continue his dance.
A presence behind Quint drew his attention from observing the group to where his Dom had stepped up to his side. “Is Pike still in Stephan’s office with him?”
The ‘office’ was the cell beside the one where Stephan was staying. Quint hadn’t expected the arrangement to continue this long, the expansion of The Asylum left plenty of space for the man to have his own loft, but he seemed perfectly content to keep things as they were. He wasn’t exactly locked up down here, but it was rare he ventured up to the levels above, and only when one of Rhodey’s men was available to watch him.
Stephan had told Quint he needed to earn back Rhodey’s trust. The oversight with Jacks’ phone shouldn’t warrant this level of atonement, but neither Dom was terribly interested in his take on the matter.
Nodding, Seth motioned for Quint to follow him around the other side of the pool. He smiled as he observed Reed with his brother, sprawled on a spread out blanket and a bunch of colorful cushions, looking over the portfolio Ezran was preparing for his application to an architect school in New York city.
There was no guarantee he’d be able to go, there were still some details being worked out to erase any criminal charges that could come from his attempt to kill the gang member who’d attacked him—how and why he’d orchestrated the situation was a gray area Stephan was trying to untangle with him. But Stephan had convinced him to have some plans for the future so he could avoid feeling stuck.
It helped that he had a lot of people who’d move heaven and earth to give him a chance to move forward from this.
Closer to the cells, Kirby was on the ground with Danny, playing with Koda. Usually, when Pike was down here, the puppy was kept upstairs, but this was the next step in the work being done to help him get past his fear.
A baby gate had been set up in the door of Stephan’s office. Inside, Pike was sitting on one of the two large, light burgundy wing chairs, arms wrapped around his knees, staring up at the ceiling. LD was curled up beside him, an interesting addition to the session that Stephan had come up with after seeing how the cat and the puppy interacted.
It had only taken a few scuffles for Koda to decide to give LD a lot of space. Which Bram took revenge for at every opportunity. Even now, the raven was nudging a glass of water closer to the edge of the small round table between the chairs.
Stephan picked up the glass, chidding the raven with a cluck of his tongue, while keeping a watchful eye on Pike.
“Anytime you want this to stop, just let me know and I’ll close the door.” Stephan set down the glass. “You know Bram will lead him away if I ask him to. You seem more comfortable with him than you were before?”
Rubbing his hands on his knees, Pike nodded. “Yeah, I mean, seeing him means the puppy’s close. But he’s a cool bird and…” Turning, Pike reached out to the low bookshelf set against the wall behind him, picking up a plush dog and making a sound of disgust. “Getting over shit with him feels better than having something like this make me all uncomfortable. And pictures and noises… I’m not some pathetic wimp. I can do this.”
Stephan sat forward, holding out his hand for the plush. “No, you’re not. You’re a young man who had certain triggers and you’ve taken steps to lessen the impact they had on you. You put in the work, Pike. Don’t diminish that because your pride’s getting in the way.”
For the past few weeks, Pike’s ‘homework’ had been rough. Quint had to push aside his own desire to just fix everything for him and follow the steps Stephan laid out. Ever since he’d met Pike, and learned about his fear of dogs, both he and Seth had gone the avoidance route as much as possible. No movies with dogs in them, no pictures, no mention at all.
That had changed after Pike’s second session. It hurt to see how frustrated he got with himself when he ended up fighting tears while forcing himself to look at a photo of a dog. Or listened to one barking on a recording until he was so stressed he got sick.
Sometimes, the struggle had left him agitated, mouthing off to Seth, closing himself away, refusing to talk to Quint at all. He’d had a few extra sessions after it reached an extreme.
“You think there’s something wrong with me! That’s why you fucking brought him here!” Pike paced the length of his art room, raking his fingers through his hair and glaring at Quint. He’d stormed out of the living room in the middle of viewing a short clip Stephan had prepared for him and slammed the door.
Seth said to give him a few minutes, but Quint couldn’t. He wanted to tell Pike they could go back to how things were before. He didn’t have to do any of this.
Instead, he stood there, silently, letting Pike lash out. Praying it would help.
Suddenly, Pike stopped short, pressing his eyes shut. “No. It’s...it’s not your fault. I’m sorry. Quint, I’m so fucking sorry. Stephan said we could take things slower and I didn’t want to. I want to get better. I want to not be afraid and…” He lifted his gaze to Quint’s. “Don’t give up on me.”
“I won’t, Pike. No matter how hard you push me away, I’ll be right here.” Quint exhaled roughly as Pike crossed the room to him, pulling the other sub into his arms. He smiled as Seth joined them, rubbing Pike’s back.
Seth kissed the top of Pike’s head. “You don’t need to rush this, my boy. I’m proud of you for wanting to work on it, but Stephan warned you about knowing your limits. Quint and I are here to help you, but…” He tipped Pike’s chin up, his tone gentle. “Don’t abuse that. I won’t accept you taking out your frustrations on Quint.”
“I wouldn’t want you to, sir. I hate myself for doing that.” Pike took a deep breath. “No. Stephan talked to me about that, too. Beating myself up about it rather than acknowledging what I’ve done doesn’t fix anything. I shouldn’t have yelled at you, Quint. Or blamed you. I’ll do better and...I’ll slow down or stop when I need to.”
Hugging Pike tight, Quint nodded. “I forgive you. And if it’ll make you feel better, you can sort the socks for me while I’m folding laundry.”
“That sounds fair. It’s one of the worst chores ever.” Pike wrinkled his nose, holding still as Seth dried his tears. “Can we...try again tomorrow?”
For a long moment, Seth seemed to consider, then finally nodded. “Yes, but only after we go down and speak to Stephan about the outburst. I need to know if there’s anything I can be doing better. I’m sure Quint feels the same. We signed up to go on this journey with you, my sweet little pixie. It’s important that we’re giving you the right kind of support.”
There had been a lot of improvements since then. Pike still wasn’t very patient with himself, but it hadn’t gotten to that level again.
And he’d been so damn happy when Stephan had agreed he was ready for this step.
Quint sent up a silent prayer to whatever higher power might be listening that he didn’t regret it.
“Can you…” Pike took a deep breath. “I was thinking maybe I’d be able to get closer to the thing, but...not today. I don’t want the door closed. I might...be okay with you holding him, standing where I can see him.” He chewed on his bottom lip. “Um...still on the other side of the gate, though.”
Giving Pike a smile of approval, Stephan pushed out of his chair. LD rose as well, following him to the gate, but staying in the cell when Stephan opened it, then closed it behind him.
A few feet away, Kirby’s attention lifted to Stephan, bright red hair flopping over his eyes while he tugged the rope he and Danny had been using to play with Koda. When Koda released the rope to run over to Stephan, Kirby tipped backward. Shouting, arms flailing.
Landing in the pool with a Splash!
“Sir, he’s not a good swimmer!” Danny shot to his feet, gaze searching everything close to them. “We need a life preserver.”
Not waiting for Danny to find what no one had likely considered providing here, Stephan jumped in the pool, taking hold of Kirby, speaking to him softly until he stopped his panicked thrashing. The sub sputtered as Stephan brought him to the edge, Seth bending down to help him up.
Grabbing a nearby towel, Quint draped it over Kirby’s shoulders. He rubbed the sub’s slender arms as the younger man shivered. “Take some deep breaths. Did you breathe in any water?”
Kirby shook his head. “No, sir. I stopped breathing. I learned to do that when my big brothers kept pushing me in the pool back home to teach me. My dad always got me just in time. My stepmom would just say ‘boys will be boys’. I tried to make sure I stayed near the shallow end, but I didn’t think of it here.”
“It sounds like your father kept you from having a fear of water, which is very good.” Stephan came to Quint’s side, taking another towel and using it to dry Kirby’s hair. “But if you’d like, I’d enjoy teaching you to swim so you’ll feel safer here.” His voice rose a bit so the core members who’d stood at the other side of the pool, varying degrees of concern on their faces, could hear him. “And now that we know the games your brothers used to play and the impact it had, we’ll all be more careful not to play that way, yes?”
Not a single man appeared to disagree with that and Kirby smiled up at Stephan, some hero worship in his eyes. “Thank you, sir. And...I’d love to learn anything you want to teach me.”
A lot of the Doms around The Asylum seemed at a loss on how to handle Kirby’s tendency to be a bit awkward and go from one extreme crush to another, as though starstruck by everyone around him. Quint could imagine the young man had been that way as a boy, enthusiastic and standing out among his peers, but loved by his teachers because he was so eager to please.
He’d found some friends here with a few other subs who didn’t seem to fit in anywhere and it was obvious how much he enjoyed becoming part of something.
Using the dry edge of the towel, Stephan wiped off Kirby’s face. “Good boy. Now, why don’t you run up and get us some tea to warm up with. I’m going to get Koda calmed down so I can finish Pike’s session. Then we can discuss your lessons and how you’ll be most comfortable beginning them.”
The request made Kirby’s face light up like he’d just been told he’d won a prize he’d always dreamed off. He gave a quick nod, then rushed off, slowing only at Curtis’s warning not to run near the pool.
Handing Quint the towel, Stephan straightened, swiping some water from his beard and undoing his soaked, blue plaid shirt with a laugh. “I should probably get changed first. Danny, keep Koda away from the door until I come back out.” He peeled off his shirt, broad muscles gleaming, not seeming to notice the interested stares he was getting from most of the subs. “And don’t let him bark. Bram knows how to keep him quiet if you have any trouble.”
“I can do that, sir.” Attention on Koda, Danny used a small towel to dry the bit of water that had splashed onto the puppy’s fur.
As soon as Stephan closed the door behind him, the sound of a glass clinking loudly on the table came, along with a yowl from LD. Quint stepped up to the gate to see what the hell was going on. Looked Pike had just missed stopping Bram from dumping the glass of water over the cat.
Ruffling his feathers, Bram danced out of Pike’s reach, whistling his favorite song ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy.’
Pike bit hard into his bottom lip, looking both embarrassed and like he was trying not to laugh. “I tried to stop him, but I was worried if I got too close he’d freak and bring the dog in here. I know it’s stupid, but—”
“Stephan’s asked you not to use that language, my boy.” Making sure Danny had Koda well away from the gate, Seth opened it and went into the office, lifting Pike up and sitting him in his lap. “It’s not stupid, it’s a connection between the two animals that you’re wary of.”
Nodding, Pike gave LD a sympathetic look as the cat cleaned its damp fur. “Poor thing. He definitely doesn’t have that connection. I like him being here, it means the puppy won’t get too close, but he and Bram have this thing… I think they need couple’s therapy. Like Jamie and Matt, but without the sex.”
“I heard that!” Matt’s voice carried over to them from where he was settling down back at Lawson’s side. “And not happening. We’re not a couple. We’re not even...anything!”
“Well…” Jamie slowed his lap dancing, arms wrapped over Noah’s shoulders. “I’m almost like Reed’s stepfather and you’re like his extra almost husband, so...that makes you like my son-in-law.”
The only response Matt had was sputtering and shaking his head until Lawson got him settled with a hand on his shoulder and a few quiet commands.
Coming back out of his room in a white and black plaid shirt this time, Stephan shot Quint an amused look. “Do you think it’s a good time to remind everyone I can’t help with issues they’re not ready to face?”
“Do you think they ever will?” Quint glanced over at Seth, who began to prepare Pike for the next step in the session. “I think even their Doms have accepted this is just how things are with them.”
“Hmm.” Stephan lifted Koda into his arms, smiling as the puppy licked his cheek. “I believe it’s what works for them right now. They haven’t devoted the time or felt the need to change it. Progress doesn’t happen by accident.”
Stepping back, Quint held still as Stephan approached the door. At first, Pike kept his gaze locked on the wall, his face pale, one hand clenched in Seth’s shirt. Then he blew out a noisy breath and looked at the puppy.
As if they knew what was happening, everyone around the pool had gone quiet. Even Kirby, who’d returned with a thermos and a few mugs, stopped a short distance away. Time seemed to stand still.
Then Pike swallowed and tucked his face against Seth’s chest. “No more. It’s still a ten. I’m trying, it’s just…”
Handing Koda over to Danny, Stephan motioned for him to bring Koda back upstairs. Once they were gone, he removed the gate and set it aside. “You’re doing better than you think, Pike. I’m going to close the door now and let you have some time with your Dom. Give yourself a bit to remind yourself that you’re safe. You’re okay. And this goes no further until you’re ready.”
Every session ended something like this, with Quint giving Seth and Pike some time alone before joining them, then continuing with their day. He was happy Pike had this way to come down. When he’d done his own therapy, he’d been alone, not wanting to ask for too much comfort from Stephan when the man must get overloaded himself, having so many emotions dumped on him, every single day.
But his training seemed to let him enjoy what he could offer, rather than being weighed down by it all.
Still, it was nice to be able to see Stephan as a friend now, rather than just someone who was there to keep him from falling apart. He’d always wondered if the man would continue to analyse him every time they were in the same place, but it didn’t feel that way.
“One day at a time. That’s what you told me.” Quint met Stepan’s eyes. “All the pain, the guilt, didn’t seem like it would ever fade. Sometimes it still hurts, but I stopped denying myself the right to move forward, even though it took longer than I expected to actually do so.”
Stephan inclined his head and squeezed his shoulder. “As I said. Progress is intentional. I gave you the tools and you decided when you were ready to use them. And look where you are now.”
Home. With the people he loved, who loved him in return. Exactly where Quint wanted to be.
Today. And all the days to come.
No matter what life decided to throw at him next.
His phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out, checking the number. Vani. He hadn’t answered any of her calls recently. The answers she wanted, he didn’t have to give. Stephan being out of contact would put her on edge, which was never a good thing.
She’d want to bring him back to The Compound. He was too valuable for her to let him stay at The Asylum indefinitely. Unless a replacement could be found or some other arrangements could be made. But he was still needed here.
None of them were ready to let him go.
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