Prologue (The Playroom)
The smell of disinfectant, along with other things I didn’t even want to think about, wafted on the warm air as the door opened and one of the nurses I’d seen earlier walked through into the visitors’ waiting area. I’d been sat on a seat that wasn’t built for a man my size for four hours just for the chance to have five minutes with Ferron.
Used to the feeling of disappointment as they took other visitors and left me sitting there, I went back to staring at the drab cream wall in front of me. For days I’d been coming to sit and wait in this shoebox of a room, tantalisingly close to the intensive care unit just for the opportunity to see Ferron, to touch him, to let him know I was there for him.
You failed him, why would he care if you’re here?
I pushed my palms against my thighs as the urge to punch something, anything, rose swiftly. My promises to keep him safe had been about as useful as an umbrella in a force ten gale. They’d done nothing to protect him. Fuck no! I’d allowed that bastard, Devon, to waltz right in under my nose and take… take what?
Take what? You’ve spent years watching him, yearning for him, and look what happened!
Ferron was lying unconscious in an intensive care bed, the same place he’d been ever since New Year’s Eve after his ex, Devon had…
“Mr. Corrigan, would you come with me please? We really need your help.”
It took a second to register that the nurse hadn’t gone over to the two women clutching each other’s hands. Instead she was standing in front of me, her pinched expression causing me to lurch out of my seat. “What is it? Ferron… Is Ferron okay?” Emotion thickened my throat and I willed myself to keep it together.
“He’s starting to wake up and sometimes people get distressed in unfamiliar surroundings. But he’s… well, he’s more distressed than we’d expect.” She spoke in a lowered tone, encouraging me to follow her into the unit. As the waiting room door closed behind us, she continued, “We’re hoping your presence will help to calm him down.”
At the sound of mewling coming from Ferron’s bed, any thought of explaining why he might be distressed after what I’d seen on the recording, fled. I didn’t hesitate, passing the nurse before she could say anything else. My sole focus was on the man in the bed.
His battered face was twisted into an expression I’d hoped to never see again. His terror was suffocating as machines beeped alarmingly. Several people were stood around, none of them appearing to do anything to help.
Without saying a word, I went over to the bed and crouched down, gently cupping his grossly swollen and bruised cheek. “I’m here, little man. I’m here… take a breath for me,” I coaxed, speaking softly into his ear.
Once he’d stopped fighting and was sagging against the bed, one of the nurses pressed a button on the machine attached to the needle in his arm. His eyelashes fluttered, his lips parting as his jaw went lax.
“What have you given him?” I demanded in a tight voice barely recognisable as my own. I stood, towering over Ferron’s bed.
“It’s analgesia to help with the pain,” she answered immediately, moving closer to the bed to readjust one of the tubes. “The doctor was a little reluctant to give him a dose when he was showing signs of waking up. But then he got a little panicked, which can happen. Although, it seems all he needed was your touch.” She gave me a gentle smile.
I stiffened as I examined her face. When all I could see was genuine concern though, without any condemnation, I nodded. An odd beeping noise had her looking back at one of the monitors before I could say more. Her attention back on her job, I considered the last time anyone had shown any interest in my sexual orientation.
I’d long ago got used to people’s differing reactions about me being gay. I’d been in my teens when I’d figured out what I was into, and it wasn’t girls or vanilla sex. The considerable media focus on HIV at the time had frightened my parents when I’d told them about my sexual orientation. They’d been shocked, but they were more concerned whether I might contract a disease that could kill me. After educating themselves though, they’d eventually become more relaxed about it, all except for my grandparents on my mother’s side. It had been hard going as a teenager when they’d visited and treated me like some sort of bug carrier. They’d even refused to touch anything I might have had my hands on. My mother had eventually stopped inviting them to special occasions so that they couldn’t spoil it for everyone.
I supposed though, that the experience had prepared me for being recruited into the Special Forces where men were equally as ignorant. I’d initially signed up to the Navy wanting to be a submariner, but as it had become apparent that I had strategic combat skills, I’d found my career going down a different path. A path that had led to men attempting to show me what happened to a gay man in their unit.
They’d quickly discovered what I could do though, and what happened if they messed with me. I gave a humourless chuckle at the memory. The nurse shifting caught my attention and as I met her gaze, her brow arched. I scratched my head. Had I missed something? “Yes, it appears my presence does help him. At least now I’m allowed in!” I replied, the bite of anger still present in my voice after all the hoops they’d made me jump through in order to see Ferron.
A faint blush appeared on her face, but she didn’t respond to my dig. “Why don’t you grab the seat over there and hold his hand? Touch can be very therapeutic to patients.” I took the olive branch she’d offered and went over to grab the chair against the wall.
Each space was laid out the same, with the bed in the middle of the floor space. Machines were situated on either side of the bed, some attached to poles while others were on the floor. Behind the bed were large windows that let in light, but the view was only of brick walls and sky.
As I sat, the residual anger tasted bitter on my tongue. The hospital had been dead set against me getting anywhere near Ferron to start with, their protocols stating that it was next of kin only. So I’d had to prove that Ferron lived with me, and that I, for all intents and purposes, was his next of kin.
I’d been grateful that Nathan, my boss, had missed my epic meltdown. He’d been occupied elsewhere with Lenny, his injured boyfriend. The fact that I’d managed to keep it together throughout the whole ordeal was still a miracle. But with Nathan still distraught over Lenny being kidnapped along with Ferron, one of us had needed to keep their head. Not that that had been easy after watching the fucker take what we held most precious in the world and subject it to a vicious attack. It had taken every bit of my training to keep myself under control as the bastard had ripped my world open, tearing away hopes and dreams that I’d harboured for many years. Dreams I’d held close to my chest from the very first moment I’d ever laid eyes on Ferron.
Memories of that day flooded my mind.
I wiped at the spilt beer on the bar, looking up and offering a smile to the next customer. “What can I get…?”
Eyes as bright as blue sky stared at me nervously, stealing my ability to find oxygen in the room. The hand holding the cloth clenched until my knuckles turned white as I dropped my gaze back to the bar, my train of thought lost. Heat rode up my neck and I swallowed hard before forcing myself to look back at the most alluring face I’d ever seen. Urges I tended to ignore surfaced fast. My initial search for the perfect boy when I’d first joined the scene had drawn a big, fat blank so I’d buried the need. At least until now. Now, all I could picture was the man who stood in front of me curled up in my lap and looking up at me with those adorable eyes.
I hadn’t even realised he wasn’t alone until the friend stood next to him nudged him. My eyes narrowed on the other guy as I recalled who he was: Wren. He was a sub that I’d contracted for a night or two. Wren was a pain slut and he’d been more than willing to take what I’d dished out. My gaze moved back to the man fidgeting at Wren’s side. Was this guy into the same thing? Was he only after someone to dish out pain? The thought depressed me and I had to work hard not to let my shoulders drop. “What can I get you guys to drink?” I glanced between both men, my brows rising in question.
“Do you have a cocktail menu?” was the timid response from the unknown guy.
“Hold up. I’ll grab you one.” I swung around to get one. His voice was like warm, melted honey, my groin flooding with heat. I inhaled a shaky breath as my gaze met the guy’s in the mirror behind the bar, holding mine for the longest second before his chin dipped and he broke the connection.
The seat squeaked as I shifted on it, blinking Ferron’s sleeping form back into focus. The feelings he’d wrought in me from that first night had never faded. In fact, over time they’d grown stronger and taken root, bringing with it a fear of the unknown, a part of me instantly recognising that he’d change my world. Only I’d been too chicken shit to do anything about it.
While I’d hesitated, Ferron had set his sights on Carl. So I’d kept my growing feelings to myself, watching as Carl crushed Ferron’s hopes for anything more than play dates. Then Ferron had disappeared, not contacting anyone for months. Nathan had mentioned in passing that he’d seen him with a Dom. A Dom who’d turned out to be a crazy motherfucker and the reason why Ferron was in the hospital. I pushed the hair back off his face gently, tracing a finger down over the lurid bruising. Anger sizzled in my gut, but I kept my touch gentle.
Were we ever going to catch a break? Would Ferron ever see what had been right in front of him for the whole time: me.