Catch the Thunder

BY : Rhov
Category: +. to F > Fairy Tail
Dragon prints: 14385
Disclaimer: Fairy Tail is the property of Hiro Mashima. I make no money, I just do this for my own pleasure.

A/N: I know many found the recording to this chapter and the next one online two months ago.

The reason for the delay is my wrist has not healed even after nearly a year, torn ligaments apparently take a long time, and I'm still in therapy to regain mobility. To make matters worse, apparently a curse falls upon anyone who tries to help me by typing up my audio recordings. Seriously, they are cursed! I got help, for which I am immensely thankful, but my transcriber was also cursed with computer failure. I am so sorry! You have my gratitude. I'm sure everyone else is glad to have a new chapter. Three cheers for my transcriber!

I mention three musical talents: Juice Newton, Bette Midler, and one of my favorite modern composers, Frank Ticheli. My concert band has performed his works numerous times. I am also two degrees of separation from him. My college music professor has performed with Frank Ticheli.

Disclaimer: I do not own Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning" or any of the lyrics.


Chapter 30


Angel of the Morning

Morning came too early for Freed. It was one of those mornings when he would have told his mother "Five more minutes" and slept in another twenty. This time there was no alarm, just the sun streaming through. He forgot to shut the curtains.

Wait. He never opened the curtains at night normally. Who pulled aside the curtains?

That was when he realized there was an arm draped around his waist and breathing in his hair.

Laxus! He was home!

He rolled around and saw the blond god, here, in his bed. The sight was glorious. His face was smashed down into Freed's pillow until his cheek and lips puckered out. His naked shoulders swelled and sank with deep, steady breaths. Freed looked at the ink just under the skin, those swirl-patterned tattoos. He remembered washing this body last night, scrubbing every inch of it, and more. So much more! Freed blushed as he thought about waking up to this sight every morning from now on, feeling these arms around him, spending every day with Laxus. It would no longer be a matter of scheduling in one another between work, school, studying, and family. They were living together now. They obviously could not spend every moment together, but they could at least see one another in the morning, just like this.

As Freed moved, a beam of sunlight hit Laxus in the eyes. He snorted, his face squinted up, and the heavy breaths stopped. One eye cracked open. He saw a green glow. Mornings were not supposed to be green, but this verdant sunrise made him smile faintly. The room smelled of lube, sweat, and Old Spice. Laxus didn't use Old Spice. Freed did.

He closed his eye again, and his arms squeezed around Freed a little tighter.

He was home!

Laxus had a moment when he realized, from now on, his sunrises would be green. He would wake up with his arms around Freed, this soft bed and satin pillows, this smell until it blended into his own, greeting the dawn with his angel of the morning.

"Hey there," Freed said softly, his voice scratchy from last night's moans. "You awake?"

"No." Laxus did not want to wake and find this morning to be normal and bland, or worse, all a dream and he was still in some cheap hotel in Greece. He wanted to stay like this for as long as possible, wrapping his arms around Freed.

Long, delicate fingers raked through his scalp. "Your hair is … shining in the sunlight."

It felt so good. Smells swirled: the Old Spice, morning breath, some sort of air freshener that smelled like fresh laundry. "Don't talk. Still sleeping."

Freed chuckled and continued to run his fingers through the golden glow of Laxus' hair in the sunlight. "You have really bad breath in the morning."

"Fuck you," Laxus grumbled. His breath was bad? The brat should smell his own!

Freed laughed and stretched, feeling his muscles pull against the stiffness. He had a cramp in his thigh and ached absolutely everywhere. It was an amazing feeling, the muscle burn and the small bruises, all of it. The masochist in him loved waking up with pain in all of his most sensitive spots.

Laxus opened his eyes again and watched Freed secretively. Seriously, was this brat trying to look like an angel? The way he stretched his arms above his head, how the sunlight framed a halo around him, the sweet music of his morning moan, the way his face looked in ecstasy with his eyes close and his mouth open in a yawn … Laxus swore, if he was just a little more awake, he would have ravaged Freed again just as punishment for looking this damn sexy first thing in the morning.

Laxus wanted more sleep, his body was utterly worn out, his brain was still in jet lag, but there was no way he wanted to miss seeing the way Freed's muscles tensed and corded as he stretched. He was too thin, though. He had been eating poorly, probably more focused on studying than on his own health. Laxus felt compelled to change that. He would take Freed out to eat. Or maybe he should cook for him. They could sit on the couch together watching television and feed him popcorn or grapes or something he could slide into that mouth and feel the lips lightly suck his fingers. He would have to make sure his sweet angel did not wither away.

"You wake up too early," he grumbled.

Freed glanced at his alarm clock. It was nine in the morning. "If you think this is early, you wake up way too late."

Laxus finally shifted, feeling the stiffness of his own muscles. He could only imagine how much worse this was for Freed. "I'm used to working until two in the morning, getting home around three, eat some dinner, watch the sunrise, watch some crap TV," he chuckled, realizing how pathetic this all sounded, "and go to bed with the windows blocked to keep the sunlight out." This was normally his bedtime, not wakeup time.

"So you're a night owl."

Laxus barked a brief laugh. "Yeah, that's putting it one way."

He had not adapted to a nocturnal lifestyle by choice, but by necessity. The strip club closed at two, and if he had a client that night it was common to not come back home until late morning, then crash out for any sleep he could get. 'Like a dragon that hunts by night' one of his former neighbors had put it. He felt that more appropriate than saying he was an owl, filled with wisdom. He had felt more like a fierce dragon, out hunting for the next rich bastard he could tie up and beat.

His mind thought about it: a dragon and an angel of the morning!

He seriously needed to listen to some heavy metal just to get Juice Newton out of his fucking head.

"No clue how I'd sleep now," he shrugged. "I don't have to worry about all that." Those days were over. The days of working at the strip club, allowing himself to be put on display, touched and ogled, acting like a dominant thunder god for a roomful of perverts, the loud music, lap dances, masochistic clients, even the fetish club that had sated him for a time. All of it was over. He was starting fresh.

"Uh, yeah," Freed whispered, and he laid back down. Although he did not mind the fetish club, the shadow of those early days, the darkness of what Laxus had been, would always be there, somewhere in the background.

"I'm glad," Laxus smiled, seeing the pensive look in Freed's face. He rolled over, popped up onto an elbow, and stroked his fingers over the sallow cheeks. "I just wanna be yours."

When his words made Freed smile, that little gleam of happiness melted Laxus' heart. All his! All Freed's! He did not hate his time as a strip dancer since it was what worked best at the time, and he never regretted it since that was what led him to finding Freed. The South Pole Club was a place where heaven and hell met, where a dragon of the dark could change into an Aesirian god, and where an angel could alight for a moment and rescue him from the pit.

He realized Freed's eyes had closed again. Laxus let his fingers drag over the warm skin. There were bruises, small marks from where his thumbs had dug in or where his lips sucked a little too hard. Although Laxus felt a twinge of guilt for hurting him, he also felt proud of each mar on his skin. They showed that Freed was his again.

"Are you still tired?"

Freed moaned softly, enjoying the touches, so tender after last night.

"I don't blame you," Laxus smiled softly. He had pushed Freed far beyond his limits, enough sex to make up for those weeks of loneliness. "How 'bout I make us some coffee while you rest a little more?"

"Mmh … Sounds good." Freed's voice trailed off, and his shoulder sank into the mattress.

Laxus laughed softly as he sensed him drifting off to sleep. "All right." He kissed Freed's hair and shifted out of the bed.

Freed dreamed of something, but he could not remember the details, only that Laxus had been there. They were on a beach, or maybe an island, their own island far from everything, from families, from deadbeat fathers, from homophobic assholes, just them sitting on the beach, sand in his toes, Laxus' chest behind him like a solid rock, and lumbering arms wrapped around him as the sea breeze brought the smell of bacon and coffee.

Wait, what?

He stirred, the sand and sea gone, but the savory aromas of breakfast became reality. Something smelled good! Freed finally pulled himself out of bed and ran to the bathroom. Laxus had really filled his ass the night before.

He did his business, washed his face, put on boxers and a faded teeshirt from some fencing tournament he won five years ago, and draped his robe around him. Barefoot, he padded out, following the scent like a dog being beckoned.

In the kitchen, he saw him. His master!

Only this morning, Laxus was in yellow boxers and a skintight black tank top with Freed's apron tied around him to protect him from the splashes of bacon grease. Freed paused, taking in the scene. He wanted to remember this: waking up, their first morning as a couple living together, and Laxus fixing him breakfast. For the rest of his life, he wanted to remember this scene of domestic bliss.

"Hey!" he called out. He wanted to see Laxus' face. He wanted his blue eyes in this memorable moment. When he turned around, Freed blinked, like a camera lens snapping a picture. He would remember this when he was old, remember the sunlight on the yellow boxers and yellow hair, the blue apron and blue eyes, and his mind would label it: First Morning Together.

Laxus paused when he turned around. Freed was standing in the doorway, just casual Freed, not an angel or succubus, not the sex fiend from last night sucking his cock like a damn porno star. Just Freed, wearing a robe and comfortable old clothes with messy hair and cheeks blotched from scrubbing away the sleep. Laxus loved this sight. Freed Justine. His Freed!

"Hey, s'up?" he called out, trying to sound casual.

Freed stepped in, wrapped himself around Laxus' back, and looked over his shoulder to see the stove. "Is that … is that bacon? I thought you're Jewish."

Laxus scoffed softly as he watched the meat sizzle. "Everyone loves bacon."

"Right," Freed muttered, thinking about the ham dinner at Christmas. "You're not really that Jewish, right?"

"Yeah, not really," he muttered, more focused on the food. "Not into all that Jewish stuff. A lot of it … eh." He gave a shrug to show he was not all that interested in his heritage. "I mean seriously, have you ever read all the rules and stuff and the Bible? I mean, you can't mix your clothes, like silk boxers and your cotton robe, that's wrong. Eating bacon, that's wrong." He frowned and muttered, "Hell, what we do is wrong!" He heard about it too much on the news, religious groups going after gays, reports of people getting attacked, even killed, just because they were homosexual. It sickened him. "So you know, fuck all that stuff. Some of it's good, though," he insisted. "Do unto others, that thing."

Freed chuckled softly and rested his cheek on Laxus' back. "I think you're quoting the wrong part of the Bible." He remembered his Sunday school lessons and those words from Jesus.

"Yeah, whatever," Laxus grumbled, not all that interested in New versus Old Testament quotes. "So, you like bacon, right?"

"Of course."

"All right," he smiled, glad he got that right, but then instantly realizing it was a stupid question. This was Freed's apartment. He had bought the groceries himself. Freed would not have bought bacon if he did not like it. It was still hard to realize that this was Freed's own place, not a dorm with Loke, but his own. Theirs! It would take a while to sink in. "There's bacon, but I have no idea how you like your eggs, so I just scrambled them."

"O-oh." Freed laughed nervously, stepping aside so Laxus could cook. "I like them over-easy, but scrambled's fine!" he assured.

"Right, over-easy. I'll remember that for next time." Laxus filed that away. He wanted to make awesome breakfasts for Freed, so he needed to learn how he liked to eat. "Oh, some toast. I just used whatever you had."

Freed roamed around and saw bits of breakfast already prepared. Laxus had been busy. He saw the brown bread with toasted bits, a little too dark for his taste, but he could adjust to what Laxus liked, or at least learn how he liked to eat things. Freed prided himself in his cooking, and he was determined to fix Laxus a good meal one of these days. Then he realized he had bought wheat bread. Gluten! Did Laxus have celiac?

"Is wheat all right with you?" he asked in worry.

"Yeah." Laxus took the bacon out, turned off the stove, and brought the plate of fried meat over to the table. He laughed softly as he set it down by the toast and the eggs getting cold.

Freed saw the humor in Laxus' face and arched an eyebrow. "What?"

"We're figuring out all sorts of crazy stuff about each other, aren't we? How we like our eggs, what we like with toast…"

He shook his head. Simple domestic things, so every-day and banal, yet it was amazing how much they still did not know about each other. Something as simple as breakfast showed how far they still had to go, how big their future was, discovering everything about one another.

There were days when Laxus felt like Freed had always been in his life, and whatever came before him was just a dream, a fantasy, no more real than the spectacle he put on the stage with a brass pole and tricks of lighting. And then there were days when he realized he and Freed had so far to go, so much to see, so many things to learn about one another. Life would never be boring. Thirty years could pass, and he would still be discovering things about Freed.

"How do you like your coffee by the way?" He moved off to get two mugs he had found earlier. "It might be a bit strong but, uh … I like it strong." Not knowing what else to do, he simply made it the way he liked it.

"If it's too strong, I can just add creamer."

"Yeah, all right. I saw the creamer somewhere."

Freed rested his cheek on his hand as he sat at the table and watched Laxus moving around. Seeing his ass sticking out of the apron was so sexy, Freed's mind whirled. Only this discussion about food kept him grounded.

"You don't take creamer?

Laxus shook his head. "No, just some sugar. Where's your sugar?"

"U-um, third cabinet over."

"All right." Laxus shifted over to the cabinets and opened one. "Oh, okay."

Freed chuckled to himself, gazing at him with hazy eyes. Laxus, here in his kitchen, making breakfast! "I gotta show you where everything is, huh?"

"I figured out most of it," Laxus said, slightly defensive. "I'll just look around and see where things are. I've got time."

Time! He had plenty of time, but how long really? Months? Years? Would they still be a couple ten years from now? Did he want that? Fuck, hell yes he wanted it! He wanted a lifetime with Freed. Thinking about it made Laxus fumble, and he almost spilled coffee as he brought the cups over.

"Well, here you go: bacon, eggs, with toast. Coffee." He set the coffee mugs down. Then he bolted to the refrigerator and pulled out some orange juice. "And a little cup of juice."

Freed looked around at the setting. Laxus had actually put a lot of effort into this. Freed was stunned that he even put the fork, knife, and spoon in the right order. "That's quite a breakfast." He never ate this much in the morning.

"Most important meal of the day, right?" Laxus said sagely.

Freed hummed in agreement. He gingerly tasted the eggs. They were plain, no salt or pepper. Laxus left seasoning to Freed, which was considerate. He fixed up his eggs was munching on a strip of bacon.

After sipping some coffee, Laxus picked up his headphones and put them on. He seriously needed to get away from Juice Newton and any sappy love songs. Classical would be good. Something with no lyrics to bother him as he ate.

Freed frowned. "H-hey, um, why're you putting on headphones?" He had wanted to talk, although he had no clue what they could say.

"Well, to listen to music, of course," Laxus shrugged.

"Oh, um, I-I thought we could talk … or something."

"About what?

"I don't know. Just … I guess there's nothing really to talk about," he admitted quietly.

Laxus gave a shrug and buttered his toast. "I like to listen to music when I eat."

Freed glanced up dubiously. "You've never done that."

"'Cuz every time we eat, it's out somewhere, at a restaurant or your parents' place. I can't listen to music then. If you're on a date, you don't put on your headphones; it's kind of a standard rule, you know. This isn't a date. This is just…" He shrugged and took a bite out of the toasted bread. "…breakfast."

"Just breakfast," Freed repeated in amusement.

He thought about that. Just breakfast. He knew Laxus was right. Every meal they shared so far had either been in a restaurant, café, a shop around the campus, or one of his family's parties. They had never just sat around the dorm or the tenement and ate a meal together. Now, they were just … eating. They were sitting together casually, a couple having breakfast at home … in their home!

"H-hey, what do you … what do you listen to?" Freed asked eagerly.

Laxus looked up and lowered the volume. "Huh?"

"Uh, well, when you eat. Maybe I wanna hear it."

"Get your own headphones!" he snapped. He saw the hurt expression and laughed at how cute Freed could be when he pouted. "Here, take a listen."

Freed instantly snapped back into a happy-puppy mode. Laxus plopped the headphones over his ears, startling him slightly, but he immediately heard something he was not expecting. Maybe it was due to his days as a dancer, but Freed expected something powerful, percussive, and maybe a little racy. Instead, there were soaring French horns and fluttering clarinets as timpani pattered and thundered behind.

"It's rather nice. I don't recognize it, though."

"Modern composer. Frank Ticheli."

"It's pretty." He handed the headphones back.

Laxus placed them over his ears again. The sound of flutes calmed him. "Yeah."

Freed let a soft giggle slip out. "I still don't picture you as the classical type."

"Screw you! Of course I like classical music. I mean, I like classics—AC/DC, some Metallica sometimes—but," he smiled, sipping his coffee, "nothing beats the classics."

Freed hummed happily to himself. Laxus was a man filled with surprises. When he first saw him, there were plenty of stereotypes Freed had assumed. When he got to know Thor as Laxus, he thought he knew everything. Then he surprised Freed. Just when he thought he knew everything, something else popped up.

Like this food! As Freed and Laxus ate in silence, Freed was truly impressed. He had been skipping breakfast many times, opting to grab a granola bar or just buying a muffin from the coffee stand at the university. He almost forgot the taste of eggs, especially scrambled like this. He still thought the toast was too dark, but it was not bad, and the coffee was strong but not bitter.

Laxus finished first, and he refilled his coffee cup, sitting back in the chair, sipping steaming black coffee as he watched Freed. Cooking for someone else … he probably had not done that since his mother was alive. There were times as a child when he would make dinner for both of them, since she had to work late. It felt good, seeing someone enjoy the meal he made.

At last, Freed lifted his napkin and dabbed his mouth, the plate scraped clean. "Thanks for the meal."

"Yeah, no problem," Laxus smiled. Under the table, his foot tapped Freed's. He watched as the sallow cheeks flushed.

Freed remembered what Laxus said the night before.

"Hey, I was thinking something. Come morning, our seventh time, that perfect time … I want you to fuck me."

Freed gulped now. Was this foot-tapping a signal? Was Laxus ready for … for that?

"Don't you think I want more than just that?"

He wanted more! More than BDSM, more than blow jobs and taking Freed's ass all the time. He wanted more! That!

"I want you in my ass. And I wanna videotape it."

Oh God, he wasn't serious, was he? Freed was pretty sure he could make Laxus feel good, he had thought about asking if Laxus was ready to try it that way, but … videotaped? His first time topping? All the awkwardness? Hell no!

"I'll do dishes."

Freed jolted at the words. "Uh, okay."

Laxus got up, collected the plates, and washed them quickly. Meanwhile, Freed squirmed in his chair.

"We'll have breakfast, some coffee, and then you're going to top."

The time was coming. He would do it, since Laxus wanted it. His body still ached, but he would do it. He would fight against the videotaping, and he would lose against Laxus' stubbornness. Then he would give Laxus a show worth rewatching. Still, it made him nervous. He had never entered someone. What if he totally screwed it all up?

Laxus dried his hands and turned to Freed, smiling as he walked back to the table. Freed's eyes dropped, bashful that maybe Laxus could see the lewd things he was thinking about.

"So, um … um, what do you wanna do next?" he asked breathlessly.

Where would he want to do it? The bedroom like normal? On the couch? Right here, spread out on the table?

Laxus looked around casually and hummed to himself. "It's morning still. Let's watch the news."

Freed jolted. "T-the news?"

"Well, yeah! You know: TV, news anchors, crazy weathermen."

"Oh uh … um, okay. I mean, is that something you do?" he stuttered out. Was he setting this up to have sex on the couch?

"Of course," Laxus said firmly. "Gotta keep up with what's going on."

"Oh." Freed laughed nervously.

Once again, Laxus surprised him. He thought a man like him didn't give a shit about politics, government scandals, Hollywood gossip, foreign travesties, and local miscellaneous. He stuttered nonsense again before agreeing. He heard Laxus moan, saw him stretch out some stiff muscles that reminded him of his own weary aches, before the blond took his mug back to the coffee pot.

"Another cup of coffee?"

The blond looked down at his cup, then up to Freed as if wondering what the problem was. "That's only my second."

"Only?" Freed drank coffee, but one cup had him buzzing all day. "You drink a lot of coffee, huh?"

"Hell yeah. Bad habit. Don't get into it."

Freed laughed, remembering how his mother used to warn him about drinking coffee every morning.

"No seriously." Laxus poured the coffee and stirred in a little more sugar. "I'm, like, addicted to this crap and get a headache."

He marched over to the living room, and Freed scrambled to follow him. They walked together to the couch, sat with their thighs touching, and Laxus turned on the news. He sighed as he settled in to the weatherman cracking jokes about the heat. It then cut to sports, something about golf, and Freed waited in boredom. Unless it was fencing, he had no interest in sports. Entertainment was slightly better. At least Freed knew the actors, although he thought it was sad when they mentioned about possible scandals. Maybe these weren't scandals at all. Maybe that photo of a chaste kiss was totally out of context. Freed could hardly help but think 'What if that happened to us?' What if he and Laxus were the ones everyone wanted a scoop on? He was not famous like Brad Pitt or Benedict Cumberbatch, but his father was a powerhouse in his own right. On a bored week without political rants or Hollywood sex tapes or a natural disaster in some remote part of the planet, the news might latch on to the gay heir to a fortune and his former-strip-dancer BDSM master-slash-boyfriend.

Freed turned his attention away from some report about an actress adopting a new cat—really, who cared—and looked at Laxus. His eyes were unfocused as he sipped his coffee, one leg crossed over his knee, an arm draped over the back of the couch, looking surprisingly comfortable in these new surroundings.

"You don't really seem to be watching the news," Freed pointed out.

Laxus took another sip as the news changed to some protests in Russia. "It's the relaxation in the morning."

"Oh." Freed was not sure what to say about that, but if this was part of Laxus' routine, he wanted to let him do it. They would slowly learn what each other's routines were and fit into the ebb and flow of normal life together.

"I watch it," he insisted. "I like to know what's going on. Especially if it seems like it's my dad."

Freed tensed up at that. "O-oh … yeah, I guess so."

His dad! Laxus had just come back from hunting down his father. He failed, but he had not given up, not yet. What if that man's face showed up on the television screen? Would Laxus race off again? Would he leave, just like that, quicker this time, no chance to lose him, fly away and maybe be gone for weeks, months, a year?

Laxus slid his eyes over and saw the pinch between Freed's brow. "Hey, don't worry about it." Still, Laxus wondered as well. What if he had another chance? Would he leave? He wanted to stay here forever, but he wanted that sonuvabitch to pay. Revenge now battled against love, and both were powerful forces. "Oh! Stocks report." Not like he followed the stock market, but it was a distraction, it was domestic, it was not going to mention people wanted by Interpol. "Hey, that's your company, huh?"

Freed snapped his head up and saw the logo for Justine Corporation. "Y-yeah. Man, we went down." He muttered to himself, "I wonder what happened."

"Is that bad for you?"

"Uh, well, overall it usually balances out." He knew a drop in stocks was nothing to panic over. If stocks went down, they were bound to come up. Unless, of course, something major happened in the company. If that was the case, the news would be all over it. Freed shrugged, not paying the issue much mind. "Something might have happened, who knows." It would be his problem one day, but not yet.

"Hey, um." Laxus frowned as he ignored the rest of the Wall Street news. "If people found out about … us, would that make your company's stocks go down?"

Freed gawked over at him. "Laxus!"

"What? I'm a little worried now. I mean," and he scoffed softly, "what is there to me? You know, I don't really have anything, my grandpa's retired, parents are out of the picture. If people find out about me being with you, who cares? But you! I mean, your family's kinda famous."

"We're not famous," Freed laughed wryly.

"Your dad runs a freaking corporation!"

That was true, and he hated that he had just been thinking about something similar. "Well, we're not famous," he said stubbornly, mostly to convince himself that the news would never give him a hard time.

"You're rich!" Laxus cried out. "You have a lot to lose."

Freed looked hurt and worried by his arguments. "Laxus?"

"Look, I'm not leaving you," he assured. "I don't care if your whole company goes bankrupt because of me, I'm keeping you!"

Hearing that felt nice. It made Freed smile and lean in a little closer. "Well, you know, I don't think it would actually go down. I think … y'know, there's so much support lately for homosexual couples, I think the stocks might actually go up."

Laxus glanced down in surprise. "Really?" He could not imagine that.

"Sure! I mean, I don't wanna go onto the evening news and say, 'Hey, guess what, I'm sleeping with this guy,' y'know, but if it happened to come out…"

He gave a shrug, playing it off as not really being a concern, although there were moments when it really was for him. Not the business aspect of their relationship, if it would help or hurt the company. He heard plenty of that when he first came out as being gay as a teen. His father was in a rage that he was the eldest son, he had duties to carry on the company, have children, be respectable to the outside world. If people found out he was gay, stocks would go down, investors would pull out, and people would stop doing business with them. Surprisingly, it had been Liberty to calm Llewellyn. She was not happy about it either, but he was still her son. She had to respect who he was. The world could change.

And the world did change. Over the years, people became more tolerant. Being homosexual was no longer the taboo it once was. Now, some liberal business professor in Freed's university had the audacity to say "being pro-gay can boost business." Freed did not want to flaunt his sexuality either. It was no one's business if he liked women or men or anything in between. Orientation should affect business no more than race or gender. (It was just a shame that pretty much anything really did affect the prosperity of companies.)

"I'm not going to make it public," he assured Laxus. "It's my own private life. It's my business."

Laxus smiled proudly down at him. Freed was used to this; he had to remind himself of that sometimes. He had grown up with bodyguards, security cameras in every room, being announced at grand galas and débutante balls, maybe news cameras and reporters shouting questions at his father. Laxus had hidden his name as much as possible; Freed did not have that luxury, but he was used to it. He could take care of himself. Those moments when it was blatant that he was no quivering mouse made Laxus so proud.

"That's right," he praised with a soft laugh, patting down Freed's hair. A few strands were still frizzy from the morning. They had not even showered yet. Freed's hair felt a little stiff in the back from sweating, and two parts on the top kept breaking free and sticking out like alien antennas. "And if they do say anything, screw them all. Besides," Laxus smirked slyly, "I'm still able to blackmail a few people."

His past! Freed hated that past. "Laxus, don't!"

"Nah, I won't use them as blackmail," he promised. "That's shitty. But if anything ever happened—anything to you or to your family—I'd be willing to."

"… Thank you." It really did mean a lot, knowing Laxus would take care of not just him, but his family. Family was everything to Freed.

Freed focused on the television again, but his eyes saw little. His biggest concern was the privacy issue. His family was used to it. He had some vague memory of hiding behind his mother's skirts as cameras flashed and his father spoke with boisterous strength about opening a new building for the company. He grew to be used to it, to face those cameras, when to answer and when to keep quiet even when you wanted to answer their questions. Laxus knew nothing of that. Freed did not want Laxus to be smothered by paparazzi. Knowing him, he might punch a reporter if they moved in too close toward Freed. That would definitely hurt business. If they both lived a quiet, normal enough life and kept the Justine Corporation running smoothly, there was no need for the media to dig into his personal life. If, behind closed doors, he liked being spanked and tied up to the bed, that was certainly none of their business.

Mmm … spanked! His ass still hurt, and he shifted positions on the couch.

Freed hummed softly, growing nervous. Sitting here and watching television was not calming him down. What Laxus wanted kept running through his mind.

"Um, about … l-later, when we … you know." He tucked his chin down, although Laxus was focused on the television screen. "You … a-and me … and…"

"Hey!" Laxus shouted without warned.

Freed jolted up. "What?"

"That's Bickslow!"

"Wh-what?" Freed swiveled back around on the couch. "Oh!" Sure enough, his younger brother was grinning at a camera with his tongue hanging out so far, you could see the tattoo he got there not long ago. "Oh my God!" he muttered, amazed to see his brother's face on TV. He glanced around the screen for clues about the report. "I didn't see it. What was it about?"

"He got busted."

"Drugs again?"

Laxus looked over in amazement. "Again?"

"Eh, yeah, it's a thing," Freed shrugged, not all too happy at Bickslow's horrible hobby. "What happened?"

"Something about heroin?"

"Oh God," Freed groaned. Not the first time. "Idiot! Is he okay?"

Laxus turned the volume up. "They just said he's in the hospital."

"Wh-what…?" The news then showed a shot of the hospital building. "Oh! I know that hospital." Magnolia General Hospital. There was no way anyone could miss it.

Freed watched, but that was the end of the clip. It was now discussing a house fire across town. Laxus turned the volume back down and looked over to this boyfriend with concern. Freed looked pale and lost, and Laxus had no clue what to do for him.

Freed's ears buzzed. Bickslow was in the hospital. Overdose. Heroin.

"I … I need to tell … my family … and … and…"

Family. The family had to stick together. Something his mother once said ran through his mind, drowning out something Laxus was saying to comfort him. 'If anything bad ever happens in this family, just stay by them. No matter how bad, the Justine family sticks together. We never abandon one another. Our strength is in our family.'

Family. He needed to contact the family. Maybe they didn't see the report. Maybe they didn't know. The family had to come together now. All differences had to be placed aside. Bickslow needed to see that his family was there for him. Whatever drove him to overdose, he had to see that he still at least had his family. The family stuck together!

The shrill ring of his phone, a tone he used only for family members, made Freed jolt. He ran to the bedroom where he left the cellphone last night and picked it up, seeing his sister's profile picture on the front.


"Did you see it?" she asked, her voice filled with dread.

"Yeah, I just saw it right now." He glanced to the living room where Laxus was turning off the television.

"Where's Dad?"

Freed jolted at the question. "Uh, I don't know." He had not spoken to his father since graduation.

"I tried calling him, but he's not answering." Her voice was climbing with panic.

"It's fine," he said, trying to use his older brother voice, something he had not needed to do since they were children and Evergreen would get scared of the dark. "I mean, maybe he's in the bathroom."

"I called the house." He heard her breathing going erratic. "They said he's been missing for three days!"

Three days? The report, stocks going down, now Bickslow had overdosed, and his father was missing. Freed had been ignoring the drama in the family as much as possible, putting all focus on school, but there had always been clashes between his brother and his father. What the hell was going on?

"Oh God." He rubbed his face and spun around, looking for something to anchor him. Here he was, getting fucked until he nearly passed out, and something dreadful was happening in the family. It made him feel guilty for abandoning them all. He had to take control now. It was one of those moments he knew would come, the day he had to step up and be in charge of the family. He had to guide them through this. Until their father was found, he was in charge.

"Okay, you stay calm," he said to Evergreen, keeping his voice level. "Go to the hospital and see how Bickslow's doing. I'll meet you there. Okay?"

"But what about Dad?" she shrieked.

"I'll … I'll look for Dad." He had to be in charge until Father was found. "Just make sure that Bickslow's okay." He wished she would understand. Their mother was in France. Their father was missing. It was up to the two of them to show solidarity.

She let out a breath, and Freed could practically see her coming to the same conclusion. "Right, okay."

"All right," he smiled, proud his little sister could also rise to the occasion when needed. "I'll see you there."

"Freed," she called out before he could hang up. "Um … how are you doing?"

"Uh, I'm fine," he said with a shrug. He had calmed down now. He had a duty.

"I heard from that roommate of yours, that guy is back."

"Laxus, yeah." Just then, Laxus walked into the bedroom still holding his coffee cup. "Yeah, he's back." Seeing the blond made Freed smile. He could do this if he had Laxus with him.

"Did you two make up?

Freed laughed and looked at the messy bed. "Uh, yeah." Made up, and then some!

"That's good." She sounded genuinely relieved, as if she now had confidence Freed really could take charge since he had such a solid rock to support him. "I rather like him. He's good for you."

Freed's mouth dropped and his eyes softened. "…Thank you."

He had only vague approvals from his parents, mere acceptance out of propriety, never thinking Laxus was a truly good match, never really wanting such an uncouth man for their son. Knowing his sister saw how good Laxus was, how needed he was in Freed's life, deeply touched him. He would have hugged her and cried if they were together.

He felt a touch on his shoulder and jolted. Laxus had a soft smile, probably guessing what was being said.

Freed focused back onto the phone. "Uh, I'll see you…"

"…R-right, at the hospital," she finished, both of them jolting out of the moment. "I'll see you there!"

"All right, take care"

"You too."

Freed ended the call and set the phone down. He felt the tenseness between his brows, and when Laxus stepped up, all Freed could do was look up at him, lost and struggling to stay strong, stay in control. This was about the world outside, and out there he was Freed Justine, heir to a corporation, a man in control of his destiny, a son who would control the fate of all of his employees.

"Your sister?" Laxus asked.

"Yeah, she must have seen it."

"What was that about your dad?"

His father. Shit! His father! "Uh … he … he's been missing for three days." The stability was cracking. He knew he could crumble. Here, in this safe room that was theirs alone, he did not need to stay strong. He still tried out of a sense of pride, but it was a struggle. "She tried calling his phone and he's not answering, and the house, they don't know where he is." Dread turned to anger, and Freed burst in outrage. "Dammit, Bickslow! Why did you do this again?"

He kicked the edge of the bed and collapsed with his face buried in his hands. He had to be strong. The family had to stick together. His father was missing. He was in charge. He had to be strong!

Laxus sat beside him, but he did not touch Freed. He knew this was one of those moments. There would be many, he supposed. He could break Freed's pride and crumble him at any moment, but today was one of the times when Laxus had to be the foundation, rock hard, lifting Freed from shame, and fixing his broken wings. His angel had to fly, had to be perfect, a pure being for the world to gaze upon in awe; Laxus had to be the shadow in the background, the wind beneath his wings—'Fuck, I just went from Juice Newton to Bette Midler!'—supporting him without being seen. Freed needed to be the perfect son today, the proud plutocrat, a symbol of strength. Laxus was prepared to give him all the strength he could spare.

"Look, you go be with your brother."

Freed raised his head, and there were tears on his cheeks. "B-b-but … my dad! He needs to know."

"I'll deal with that," Laxus promised.

Freed stared in confusion. "What?"

"I'll search for him."

"You'll search for him?" he repeated blankly.

"Oh c'mon! I've been searching for my dad for years! I can find your dad."

Find Father. Find Dad. Find him. Laxus could find him. Laxus knew people. Be with the family. Leave the searching to Laxus. "Um … y-yeah, I guess so," he muttered, his mind still in chaos. "You'd do that?"

"Of course," Laxus said with a tender smile. He leaned over, wiped away the tears, and kissed Freed on the forehead. "He's your family."

Freed let out a soft hum. "Thank you."

Laxus rubbed his arms, hoping to instill confidence back into him. It seemed to work. Freed's back straightened and his chest filled up. Laxus could see the aristocrat returning.

"Now, go be with your brother. Give him a smack on the head for me."

Freed laughed softly and nodded. "Yeah, I will."

He got up and took a shower. Laxus straightened up the room and pulled out some clothes for Freed. It was a businessman's attire, good brands, a simple but nice tie, nothing overly formal or dreary. It would look like Freed rushed there from a business meeting, not that he saw the news while sitting in boxers and bathrobes with his boyfriend.

Freed came out and dressed mechanically, not all too surprised to see his clothes picked for him. He was used to it while living at home, a maid choosing the best combination. He did pause and picked different shoes. Laxus had made a small error, but it was understandable. The difference was subtle.

Laxus straightened down his hair, which still tried to stick up. "Are you okay to drive?" he asked, smoothing the hair and tucking the collar a little tighter.

Freed nodded. "Yeah. I'll be okay."

"Are you sure?"

He sniffed up some of the dread and pressed it back down. "Yeah." Still, he trembled as he tried to smile with reassurance. "Not the first time this has happened." He nearly broke down right there. Bickslow needed help, serious help. The press were all over this already. The family could not hide his addiction this time. He would get rehab and counseling; Freed would see to it. Finally! Finally, he would get real help.

Why had they never helped him before. The family knew he had a problem. They knew he was about to cross some border and fall off the edge. Why? Why had they done nothing? Months! Years! How long had this been going on, and never … to keep up appearances, to hide the family's secrets … never … they never helped him. Why?

Laxus finally hugged him and crushed away all those feelings of guilt. "Hey. It'll be all right," he whispered, kissing Freed's hair.

"Yeah," he said with a soft sigh. He wanted so badly to be strong, but he still had to turn to Laxus. It had always been his mother or father to deal with these issues, not him. He had always closed his eyes and simply wished it was not this way, dreamed it would get better, things would change. This time, Bisckslow would clean up for good. Father would deal with everything, Bickslow would come back, and things would be normal again.

This time, he was in charge. He had to be strong. He kept repeating that as a mantra to give him strength. He pulled himself out of the hug and squared his shoulders. Laxus could not be there, not this time. He had to face this on his own, and he could not break down, not even a little. He had to be strong and represent the family. Laxus would find his father. Father would come and deal with things. Until then, he was in charge. He had to be strong. For the family!

Laxus saw the stiffness, how Freed was already bottling down his emotions and fears. He wished he could be the strong one this time, but it was a family matter. He could only be the draconian shadow beneath his angel.

Freed laughed sadly and shook his head. "We had plans." What they talked about last night, all of that anticipation building, the sexual tension growing, and then real life dashed away all of it. In an instant, he had to abandon fantasy for cold reality.

"Plans can wait," Laxus assured him, rubbing his arms again, wishing he could cast a magic spell that would give Freed strength and fortitude. "Go be with your family. It's most important."

"Right," he nodded. The family needed him. The family stuck together. Our strength is in our family. Perhaps that was the ancient family motto of the Justines; he didn't know, but Freed knew that was his motto for the day. "I'll see you later."

"Yeah." Laxus leaned over and gave Freed a peck on the lips. "Be careful driving. Don't spaz out. Keep your speed down. You'll get to the hospital in time."

"All right," he smiled, happy to hear all of this fretting for his safety. He began to walk to the door. "I hope you can find Dad. And let me know!"

"Yeah," Laxus nodded, following him.

Freed paused at the doorway, turned back around to Laxus, and sighed as he tweaked his lips up in gratitude. "Thanks."

"Sure." He kissed Freed again on the forehead. "Bye."

"Bye," he whispered.

Laxus gazed down, and Juice Newton played through his head again.

Just call me angel of the morning, angel.

Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby.

Maybe the same song was in Freed's mind, or maybe he saw the need in those blue eyes. They both reached out to each other at the same time. Laxus gripped Freed's cheek, desperately wanting him to know how much he loved him. Freed reached up and placed a hand on Laxus' gruff jaw, letting him know that he felt the same. The gentle action made Laxus smile in relief. He leaned into those slender fingers. Then Freed tiptoed up and gave Laxus a kiss on the mouth, smiling with thanks, apology, love, everything he felt in that moment. He looked like he really did not want to go, but knew he could not stay any longer than this.

If morning's echoes say we've sinned,

Well, it was what I wanted now.

Laxus opened the door for him and watched Freed walk out. Before he had a chance to turn around and second-guess himself, Laxus closed the door. Freed was on his own for this one.

Laxus leaned against the door and stared out at the condo. His new home, living together with Freed, and already he had to help out the family. It would have been fine if Freed had his whole family with him. Instead, it was up to him and Evergreen. They had to help support Bickslow alone.

He seethed in anger. "Goddammit, Llewellyn! What the hell did you do?"

That bastard! Disappearing! For three days!

Laxus marched through the pristine condo, eyes sparking with frustration. Freed … his Freed … had to go out there alone. He had to rise to the occasion, because someone wasn't there. Family was supposed to be there. That bastard! Abandoning his kids!

Laxus picked up the phone. He had a few names he could call, but he had a suspicious feeling. He scrolled down and picked someone. The phone rang against his ear, and then a voice was on the other end.

"Hey. Yeah. Ye- … Yes, it's me. Yes!" he said in annoyance. "I know." He suddenly pulled the phone away from his ear and cringed at the screaming voice on the other end. Then he bellowed back at the person. "Will you shut up!" The voice went quiet. "Sorry. Look, I'm looking for someone; kinda average height, a little paunchy, turquoise colored eyes, kinda moosey-colored hair, and… Yeah! Yeah, Llewellyn. He's there?" he cried out in shock. "Are you kiddin' me?" he sneered. "Uh, no! No, don't get him. I'm coming down there." Then whatever the person said made him smile. "No, I'm not gonna start a fight. Actually, his son is looking for him." He scowled at the voice on the other end. "I said I'd be down there, okay? Don't tell him I'm coming." He groaned in annoyance. "No! I'm not gonna cause a fight. I told you, his son is looking for him, okay?" He glared at whatever was being said. "I'm fucking his son! Is that good enough?" He smirked at the shock on the other end. "Yeah, thought so. All right." He smiled as the voice went smoother. "Heh, yeah. Good to be back. See ya soon."

He hung up the phone and stared ahead. The thunder god was crackling with anger now.


Next Chapter: Blessing

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