Taming the Stray Ch. 02byOrangeRibbon©
Part two, as promised!
"This is... nice." Seth sipped his coffee as he looked around the cozy house. Rye was still sleeping hard, and Derek was glancing through the open door to check on him every two minutes or so. The boy's ribs had become too prominent again, and he was desperate to put more meat on those bones. The worry spinning through Derek's mind meant he was having a hard time keeping his attention on conversation. It took him far longer to process Seth's comment than it should have, and Seth looked almost startled when he finally answered.
"It's quiet. I needed quiet."
"So you're turning into a recluse, then?" Seth asked lightly. He reached down to scratch between Fritter's ears, and the rabbit held still for the attention.
"Probably," Derek admitted. "New York was too loud. I couldn't concentrate, and Ruben doesn't need me in person that often. I could get away with living this far out."
"So what do you do here?" Curtis asked.
"Read. Cook. I go into town a lot, to power up my laptop and cell phone, and I'm working on a couple screenplays."
"I never pictured you as a writer," Curtis said. They both shared a passion for theater, and had been in a few of the same productions during college.
"I never said they were any good," Derek said with a chuckle. "It's like therapy, though."
"I believe it," Curtis said. "You're too contained and in control, most of the time."
"You think this is bad? You should have seen him right after he found me half-dead. The boy practically ruled my life. He felt so responsible for what happened to me, even though he couldn't have done anything else."
"That was another of the reasons I moved out here," Derek said. "I had to learn to let go, and handing myself over to mother nature was pretty effective. I still have to be a shark when I'm working, and it all sort of lost its appeal." Derek eased back in his chair, feeling twice his age. "I've burnt out far too soon to be of any good, I think."
"At least you've found a way to deal," Seth said as he swirled the dregs of his coffee. "Burnout can be explosively nasty."
"Yeah. I've seen it."
"Can you quit?"
He could, but he wouldn't feel right, quitting on Ruben now. The company was growing in leaps and bounds, and his strange expertise was essential in steering his best friend in the right direction.
"Not yet. I want to save a little more before I cut ties completely with the rest of the world."
"Is that what you'd do? You wouldn't just change careers?" Seth asked, alarmed. "This hermit thing really is serious, isn't it?"
"I'm not a hermit," Derek argued. "I just like--"
"To be a hermit," Seth finished. "You didn't want Curtis and I to come visit, did you? Have you had anyone else out to the house, besides the kid?"
"And how long have you lived here, little brother? How long have you been coming up here?"
"Pretty much since college graduation. Five or six years. They were selling this place at land value, and I fell in love. I have an apartment in New York, as well--"
"Is this why we'd never hear from you?"
"In the beginning, I did a lot of traveling around with Ruben." It had been international travel, mostly involving cutthroat logistics. It had been glamorous, and he'd loved it, for the first year or two. Then his mother had died, and he'd started looking for things to pare out of his life. "These days, it's mostly a lack of electricity. I gave you the new cell number last year—I have the cellphone for emergencies, but I rarely use it."
A weak groan from the bedroom effectively ended the conversation. Derek motioned for Seth and Curtis to stay where they were before closing the door behind him.
Rye was just awake enough to start panicking. Derek flinched at the sharp sensations roiling from the boy as his long fingers clawed at the t-shirt around his neck. Derek dashed forward to pull the offending fabric away.
"Rye? Rye, calm down. You're safe. We had to put ointment on the rope burns; you aren't restrained. I'll take the bandages off now, if you want me to."
"No, no, don't hurt me," the boy cried. "Please, please, please no--"
"Rye. It's okay. It's just me. Derek. The guy who keeps feeding you. I'm here to help you."
Panicked eyes flew open, and Derek made sure he was easy to spot. Dealing with Rye was so, so much worse than dealing with a panicking submissive.
"See me? I won't hurt you."
Rye nodded, the movement slow and hesitant.
"Speak to me, Rye. You can always talk with me."
Rye stared down at the blankets for a moment. Then he jerked upright, panicked.
"I didn't wipe my footprints. I should have wiped my footprints. He'll find me here."
"Who will find you?"
Rye began to shake.
"Hang on." Derek padded back to the door and slipped back out for a moment.
"Seth? Curtis? Can you go out and see if you can demolish Rye's footprints? He's petrified that someone will follow him. Maybe if you take a rake to them, or cover them with your own, or something..."
"We'll figure something out," Seth said, not even blinking at the strange request.
"Thanks." Derek slipped back inside the room and sat down again. "Your footprints will be taken care of. Don't worry."
Rye fell back like a marionette with cut strings. Derek's chest ached at the boy's obvious trust.
"Are these your shirts, sir?" Rye held up an arm.
"Yeah, they're mine. Do you want me to take them off? You have some pretty nasty burns going on beneath them. They're to keep bacteria out."
"I thought I was--" He shuddered violently. "I'm sorry, sir. It feels too much like I'm tied up."
"Don't be sorry. If they make you uncomfortable, we'll take off the shirts. Here, give me your arm."
Rye held his trembling arms out immediately, and Derek untied the makeshift bandages as perfunctorily as he could. Rye started to pull back the blanket, and then froze.
"You came in naked. I have some sweat pants for you. We kind of threw you in bed as quick as we could. You were cold."
Rye's panic spiked. He sat up and pushed himself back until he hit the wall.
"What's wrong, Rye?"
"Talk to me, Rye. I won't hurt you, no matter what you say to me."
"Who's we, sir?"
"My brother and his husband are visiting for the holidays. They won't come in here, if you don't want them to. And please, Rye, don't call me sir." The honorific sent little fissions of desire down his spine, and he didn't need that. Not here, not now.
Rye took a deep breath.
"Your brother is gay and married?"
"Yeah. He is. I'm gay too. Is that a problem?" Derek asked, trying not to sound defensive.
"No," Rye said, and then bit his lip.
"I told you, Rye, you can talk. Any time."
"Are you married, too, sir?"
Apparently the request not to title him was being totally ignored. Derek winced. At least he was speaking. Rye was acting like a full-fledged submissive, and that both excited and terrified Derek. Excited, because Rye pushed every Dom button he had. Terrified, because Derek was pretty sure Rye's mannerisms came from a very unhealthy situation. Maybe from an abusive Dom. The wounds Rye bore could easily have come from abuse within the scene.
He considered the situation carefully. If Rye was handing him full control, then Derek could hand Rye a little something in return. Answers and trust. Dirty secret for dirty secret.
"No, I'm not married." Derek said. "I haven't even seriously dated. I'm not exactly comfortable around most people. I'm different."
"I feel other people's emotions, so I tend to stay away from crowds."
Rye exuded mostly curiosity, now, and the underlying fear diminished greatly.
"You feel them how, sir?"
"I think of it as kind of an aura, though it's mostly physical sensation. A little light or dark, a little sound, but usually touch of some kind. Each emotion carries a different sensation, and the mix of sensations tells me a lot about a person. It can also hurt like hell when I'm around more than a few people."
"What does my aura feel like?" Rye asked, tilting his head to one side. He looked a bit like a small animal, all curled up and curious.
"You're always afraid of something, and fear prickles. Like thorns when it's strong, like laying your hand on the bristles of a hairbrush when it's not. Right now, you're also curious, and that's like... it feels like when you're standing in the snow and looking up at the sky, and you're trying to catch a snowflake on your tongue. Little fluttery bits of cold."
"What does happiness feel like?"
"It feels like being surrounded in fur."
"Are a lot of people happy?" Rye asked, moving forward just a touch. The blanket pooled around his hips, forgotten.
"More than you'd expect. Most people don't even realize they're happy while they're happy. They just know they aren't sad, or worried, or frightened."
"I think I'd cherish the feeling," Rye said softly. "Though I wouldn't really know."
Sadness and longing rippled over them both, chill wind followed by a slight numbness. Derek reached out to touch the boy's cheek, wanting more than anything to take the chill from the boy's aura, but Seth's advice about not initiating unsolicited contact crept into the back of his mind, and he let his arm fall to the comforter.
Rye's gaze strayed to Derek's brace. "What happened to your foot?"
"I fractured my ankle a few weeks ago. I collected your stuff from the shelter when the snow got bad. It's in a box in the big room."
"You found my shelter?"
"I was scared for you, after the snow fell. I wanted to make sure you were okay. Stay here, Rye, for as long as you need to. I'd feel a lot better if you were sleeping here, and not wandering around in the snow."
"Why?" Rye asked. "I always wanted to know. Why did you care enough to leave me food and clothes, when you got nothing in return? You could have chased me off, or just left me with those first cookies, or tried to take something in payment. Why did you keep feeding me? Why do you care now?"
He blushed and dropped his eyes, and he flinched as Derek took a breath.
"I'm not entirely sure why I got so attached to you. I'm usually a loner."
"Because of the weird aura thing, sir?"
"Right. That's why I moved out here, to begin with. I have to work out in New York City a couple times a year, and by the end of the month, I'm ready to jump off a fucking bridge, I'm so sick of people and their auras. When I first met you, your aura didn't annoy me the way almost everyone else in the world does."
"That just tells me why you didn't chase me off right away, not why you fed me."
"You were so skinny, the first time I saw you. Initially, I think I felt morally obligated to fatten you up. I have memories of my mother practically shoveling food down my brother's throat because he was too thin, so maybe I'm channeling her. Then I felt like I accomplished something by making you dinner every day, and you intrigued me quite a bit. Now... I don't know. I'm not very good with my own emotions, despite my ability to read other people's. Perhaps I have a hero complex and want to rescue you from whatever the hell is going on, perhaps I just want to keep you around so you'll sketch for me."
"You don't want to fuck me?" Rye looked at him askance. "I've seen you... touching. Yourself. A lot."
A lot? Rye had been spying on him more often than Derek had thought, though he hadn't been masturbating nearly as much as he'd done in college. And he'd been doing most of that in the bathroom where Rye wouldn't have been able to see.
"Rye, masturbating is normal for almost any man, gay or straight. It doesn't mean I want to jump you. I'll admit that you're attractive, but I don't plan on trying to fuck you. That's not part of the reason I'm asking you to stay. I won't do anything you don't want me to," Derek promised.
"Normal?" Rye blinked owlishly. "I suppose I wouldn't know normal. What about your brother and his husband?" Rye asked, eyes drifting to the closed door.
"I don't have a clue about their masturbation schedules," Derek said as seriously as he could. "And I would give good money to keep it that way."
The corners of Rye's mouth twitched just a bit.
"Don't worry about Seth and Curtis bothering you at all. They're monogamous. They don't look at anyone but each other. It's sickeningly cute, actually. Do you want me to keep them away?"
"If I stay here, and they stay here, and you stay here, I'll end up running into them one way or another, right?"
"You'll stay?" Derek asked, delighted.
"Tonight, if you really want me here, sir." Rye's golden eyes met Derek's for a moment before he dropped his gaze, and his fear prickled just a little harder than it had been. "I think I'd be okay with them, if you promise they won't hurt me."
"They won't," Derek assured him vehemently. "Seth is one of the most tender-hearted people I know, and Curtis lives for him."
"Okay." Rye took a deep breath, and then eased his legs out from under the blanket. "Do you think you could get those pants for me? I don't think I want to meet anyone else naked."
Rye untied the shirts around his ankles and feet and began inspecting the damage. Derek pulled sweats from a drawer and tossed them on the bed.
"I think I ruined your shirts," Rye said, holding up the bloodstained tees. "I'm sorry, sir."
"Don't worry about it. Just heal up, stop calling me sir, and we'll call it even."
"I don't know how I'll ever repay you for what you've done for me," Rye said quietly. "Food. Help. No questions, and no police." He narrowed his eyes. "You didn't call the police, did you?"
"No, though Curtis might try talking you into it. I do have about a million questions, but they can wait until you're comfortable answering."
Rye gave him an incredulous look. Yeah, comfortable might not have been the right word.
"Hungry?" Derek asked.
"Starving, sir," Rye said.
Derek was sipping another cup of coffee next to Rye's bed when Seth knocked on the bedroom door.
"Can I come in?" he asked softly after opening the door a crack, and Derek looked to Rye for approval. Rye just stared back at him, trusting. The kid had been sketching with cheap pens and notebook paper, using thick bold lines and delicate shading creating a very good likeness of Derek's face.
"It's your call, whether or not you want him here," Derek urged.
"Um," Rye answered, flustered. He glanced down at himself, as though to make sure he was clothed, and then set the drawing to one side. "Come in."
"Hey," Seth said, delivering two large mugs of soup to the small table on the side of the bed. Rye had devoured the first round of soup and sandwiches, though he'd told Derek not to make more on his account. "I'm Seth, the big brother. Curtis wanted a midnight snack, so I delved into the cans of tomato soup."
"I'm Rye," the boy answered softly.
Derek watched Rye carefully as Seth flicked the hair out of his face. Everyone stared, when they met Seth, but Rye was trying hard not to. Though he did look like he was trying to calculate whether or not Seth was going to kill him.
Derek took one mug and sipped it as his brother did his best not to stare back at the boy on the bed.
"That's amazing. That most definitely did not come out of any can I own," Derek said, trying to break the tension.
"I might have also found some spices in the back of that cupboard," Seth said, grinning.
"One of these days I actually need to learn to cook," Derek said with a chuckle. "If spices can do this to canned soup, I've been missing out.
"You cook just fine, sir," Rye reassured before grabbing the other mug and sipping. "Oh, that is good."
Sir? Seth mouthed over at Derek, and Derek winced.
Later, he mouthed back.
"See?" Derek said. "I can heat a can like nobody's business, but I don't know a thing about spices. I just sort of choose one at random."
"Perhaps I'll have to order you a cookbook for Christmas," Seth mused. "I'm sure one exists that caters to wood-stove cooking..."
"I might even use it," Derek said with a snort. "A little guidance might be good. Poor Rye has been on the wrong end of my exploratory cooking skills, and I know for a fact some of my attempts at food were..."
"Creative," Rye valiantly finished for him. "But still very edible, sir."
"He's giving you far too much credit," Seth laughed. "I've had your cooking before. I'm pretty sure 'edible' wasn't the word I used."
"It's true," Curtis called from the other room. "I nearly threw up."
"I'd like to think I've improved," Derek said with a theatrical sniff.
"I'd better get back to my baby," Seth said with a chuckle. "I think he's getting lonely by himself."
"I didn't mean for him to stay out," Rye said, curling up against the headboard. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I just get so nervous around strangers." Derek didn't have to feel the panic to know it was there, this time. The boy was cowering, trying to be as obedient as possible.
"It's okay," Derek said, voice low and soothing. "You don't have to have him in here, if you don't want him in here. It's your decision."
Rye blinked slowly at him.
"We're not offended, kid. I know how hard it is to trust, sometimes. Especially after bad things happen." Seth smiled wryly, and the scars across his cheek and forehead wrinkled and puckered with the movement.
"Okay. I'm okay with him here, I think." Rye swallowed hard and fisted his hands in the sheets, but Seth took him at his word. He pushed the door open and stuck his head out.
"Curtis? Be a good boy and come introduce yourself."
Curtis came to the door, soup mug in hand.
"Hi," he said with a rueful smile. "You know you should call the cops, right?"
"Curtis," Seth growled. "Don't talk about things you know nothing about. He might have a very good reason for not wanting the police involved."
"Please, no police," Rye said, balling himself up further. Derek felt his fear spike again.
"No police," Derek said. "Curtis will respect that decision, even if he doesn't agree with it. Right, Curtis?" He turned and glared at the older man.
"Right." Curtis sighed. "Oh well. I tried."
"A valiant effort," Seth said, rolling his eyes. "Now. Rye. I hear that you can draw."
Rye touched the notebook lying on the sheets next to him and nodded. "I like to sketch."
"Can I see?" Seth asked, and Rye obediently handed over the notebook. Seth took a look at the sketch of Derek's face and whistled. Curtis peeked over his shoulder.
"Oh, that's good. The proportions are perfect—he's even captured your stubble, Derek."
"Do you like colored pencils? Charcoal? Conte? Pastels? Chalk?" Seth asked, getting excited.
"I don't think I know what half of those even look like. I've only used pen. It's all I've ever had available."
Seth gave Curtis with a giddy smile. Derek knew that look. His brother had found someone new to spoil.
Seth and Curtis disappeared the next morning, heading into town to check in at the hotel and get some more groceries. Rye was still weak and his feet were causing him all sorts of pain, though he insisted on getting out of bed at least once on his own. Derek showed him to the bathroom, and while Rye sat on the toilet seat catching his breath, Derek ran the tub and brought in a few buckets of near-boiling water from the stove.
"Hot water takes some serious effort here, doesn't it?" Rye said, wide-eyed, as Derek poured them in and checked the temperature.
"It does, but it makes me appreciate the comfort that much more." He chuckled. "It takes a little adjusting, but after a while, it becomes second nature to work with oil and propane and gasoline instead of electricity. An old friend from the city keeps telling me that it'd be cheaper to run wires to this place, but I think I've just gotten used to it. I'm prepared for the apocalypse out here, without meaning to be. I don't have to worry about when a storm takes out power to the rest of the area, and I've got supplies to last me months simply because it's easier to buy canned food without a fridge and I tend to buy in bulk."