Sometimes love can be found in the most unlikely places, or so Danny discovers once he finds himself in a bar brawl. With a life of abuse behind him, he's more than ready for a new, happier start and Mike seems to be exactly what his damaged soul needs.
With a completely different background, Mike is close to a ray of sunshine. Always optimistic and happy, he anchors Danny and shows him life can be about love instead of hate.
But chapters of the past are rarely completely closed, and once Danny's nightmares come back into his life he has to make a choice—to fight or to save the one who showed him life is worth living.
CONTENT ADVISORY: This title contains a HFN ending, violence and explicit rape scenes. These dark subjects, including but not limited to abuse, rape and non-consent sexual acts, are not in any way meant for titillation, but may be a trigger for some people.
NOTE: This is a previously published work. The title, author, and/or publisher may have changed.
Zadar, Croatia 2012
I WOULD say the life I had been expecting happened unusually, and I certainly didn't see it coming. There were no romantic encounters, no trip-and-fall eye contacts or sweep-you-off-your-feet smiles. I was a guy who walked into a bar and found out a bar fight could be a life-changing event.
It was freezing outside, the feeling when the cold sticks to your skin even though it shouldn't actually be that bad. As my luck would have it, the closest thing to a warm place was a gay bar I sometimes went to, mostly for the stuffy heat of the over-shared air, but also for the rare company. Being on my own for so long made me grateful for even those small touches and heated looks I sometimes wished for. I watched the people, allowed a kiss or two. I felt comfortable in my skin as long as I ignored my past and let the little things feed my soul. There were so few nice moments in my life and I'd decided long ago to cherish every one.
Of course, it couldn't have been a normal night. I was tired, cold, and grouchy after a particularly rough day at work, and instead of a warm and cozy atmosphere, the first thing I saw as I cleared the door was this massive fist heading for my face. I twisted at the last possible second, my body acting on learned instinct. It caught my chin instead, sending me to the hard floor.
I've never been a big guy, just the opposite with my skinny hundred and seventy centimeters and all of seventy kilograms. When a fist hits me directly in the head, I'm more likely to end up in a hospital with a concussion than to walk away from it, and that's if I'm lucky enough to be allowed to go to a hospital.
I came to after what appeared to be only a couple of eventful minutes. Following my instincts, I scrambled away on my ass and pushed my back against the nearest wall. Looking up had my eyes going wide, as the last thing I expected in this particular place was a bar brawl. There was no sign of the gorilla who'd hit me, and it looked like it happened to be just one random fist finding a target. Since I was far from a fighter, I hid in the dark corner on the floor and decided to wait it out.
I wasn't completely defenseless, not anymore anyway, but being so small hadn't made my life easy. It took a while, but one of the first things I'd learned, when I got the chance, was how to handle a blade. These days, I made sure there were always a few of them somewhere on my body. People liked to pick on little guys, sometimes it was just for fun, and sometimes, seeing them as an easy, eventful fuck. I was familiar with both.
Staying hidden in the corner meant I didn't have to hurt anyone, and it was an excellent way to leave my head firmly attached to my shoulders. Well, as intact as it could be, given its current state. My jaw was sore, it was almost too painful to swallow, and my head was a bit shaken from the blow, so I didn't think I would have been a real challenge anyway.
It took me only a couple of minutes of looking around to realize the cause of the fight. Maybe ten huge, hockey-player-sized guys were in the middle of the wrecked bar and they were hitting and insulting everyone still left in sight. Bigoted straight guys in a gay bar. That actually scared me more than the fist, especially considering the fact they were winning.
That was about the time I started looking for a way out, because there was no way this could end well. The door I came through was blocked and I swore profusely under my breath while I cast another hurried look around in the hopes of finding another way out of there.
Instead of a way out, with just the corner of my eye, I caught sight of this huge guy flying right at me. I tried moving away quickly, more out of a reflex in that fraction of a second I had, but there really wasn't any space to move. His whole weight landed on me and he was a big fucker, easily twice my size and weight.
His back hit hard against the side of my arm, and I could almost hear the bones crack. My wild scream was lost in all that surrounding noise. I tried catching my breath, hoping my ribs weren't damaged. Unwanted tears clouded my vision, and pain made sure they kept on escaping from my eyes. After a few minutes, I pushed through it, still feeling the throb but pretending not to, and I took my first real look at the flying object that had landed on me so conveniently. He was one of those giants I usually stay away from, naturally. Blond, gorgeous, all muscle and long limbs. The perfect recipe for disaster.
I was scared and in pain, with both my arm and my ribs hurting. I felt my teeth aching from that first forceful blow. I'm far from a doctor, but I'd been pushed around before and my arm all but screamed "broken." Touching each rib as softly as I could and feeling just one big unmarred space all around made me let out a breath. At least the ribs were whole.
Then I looked at the spread-out body at my feet. I couldn't decipher if he was one of them or one of us. In those moments, the world was narrowed down to only two sides, gay or straight. In my case, it meant life or death because there was no way I could survive another full-fisted blow.
I reached into my boot with my uninjured right hand and extracted my black boot knife. I turned it in my palm efficiently so that the sharp edge was aligned with my forearm. The guy in front of me was sporting the beginnings of a bruise on the left side of his face and wasn't waking up. I suspected he'd hit his head pretty hard, but there was no way I was getting any closer to him. There was still no sign of the police, and the only thing that separated me from possible death was the knife in my hand and my sense of self-preservation that kept me out of the way of others.
My eyes started to close on their own despite the fact that no more than a few minutes had passed since I'd entered the bar. That terrified me because I couldn't afford to lose consciousness. About the time that thought passed through my head, the guy in front of me started stirring. I focused my gaze on him instantly. He opened his eyes, must have realized where he was, and ended up sitting surprisingly quickly. He turned toward me and lifted his hand while words looked for a way out of his mouth. But as soon as he moved, I had my blade next to his throat. The position was awkward, my left arm was pulsing, and tears were threatening to spill again.
He lifted both his arms in the air and said, "It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you. I just wanted to apologize for landing on you and see if you're all right."
I just stared at him, dispassionately. What was there to say?
"It was you I landed on, right?" he asked again, his eyebrows high on his forehead.
"Yes, it was me."
"Are you okay? Did I hurt you?" He sounded genuinely concerned, which was all the more weird considering the fact I still had the blade pressed against his neck.
"Gay or straight?" I asked, getting to the real point of my interest.
His eyes narrowed a bit, but he answered, "I was here when they came in. I'm not one of them."
What struck me as strange was that he didn't answer my question, not exactly, but I also had no strength left in my body. I moved the blade back to my side and rested my head on the cool wall behind me. He moved next to me and searched my eyes for approval to touch me. I just closed them, having little strength to do much else, and almost immediately felt his fingers on my arm. I flinched and hissed under his soft examination. It was as if he had listened to my voice and body, because he gentled his touches. Nothing could have surprised me more in that moment. His kindness startled me, and I didn't know how to react.
"I think your forearm is broken. We shouldn't move you from here."
"Yeah, well, it's not really like I can move. The room is sort of spinning and my whole left side softened your landing." I tried for resentful, but it came out more tired than anything.
His gaze lowered under the assault of my words and he mumbled a sorry. There was still no sign of the police and, for the first time, I wondered if maybe no one called them at all. The giant must have had the same thought.
"Looks like the police aren't coming. We should probably get out of here. I don't want to jar your arm, but you could end up getting even more hurt if we stay here. Do you think you could make it out the door now that those assholes have gotten out of the way?"
I looked in the same direction he had focused on a few moments earlier and found that he was right. Trust was sorely lacking on my side, but I wasn't in a position to refuse help and there came a point in life where the past had to stop being a measure for every situation. My eyes were barely open, so I pushed my usual caution and fear aside.
"You wouldn't mind helping me up and driving me to the hospital?"
"Of course not. Come on," he said instantly and tried to help me stand on my own two feet.
But I couldn't really get up, and even the attempt pulled a scream from my lungs. He came to my right side in the blink of an eye and wrapped his strong arms beneath my knees and around my waist. I was too surprised at how careful and considerate he was in handling me. By the time I remembered to protest, I was already in the air with my head resting on his wide chest. I felt vulnerable and small, almost like a child.
The stranger carried me with such ease and caution that it made me wonder about the kind of man he really was. My eyes closed somewhere between the pain and my thinking about the strange rescuer holding me in his arms. When the cold nipped my skin, I realized we'd managed to get outside. Shame overwhelmed me and I hid my face in his chest. Being comfortable in some stranger's arms, who probably saw me as nothing more than a weak creature who needed a keeper, embarrassed me. But there was no way I was moving unless he made me. His warmth and smell intoxicated me. Sweat and cologne and something dark that was completely male. I wanted to sleep while he was holding me, so safe, just rest…
Floating somewhere between dreams and reality, I felt the roughness of the car seat underneath my back, the vibration of the closing doors, soft fingers stroking my hair… Maybe I leaned into that touch a little bit because it felt like a dream, and in my dream, I was safe.