David had just thought that he was tired before; now that the adrenaline rush from his confrontation with the Russian gangster was fading, he felt weary to his very bones. He pulled over by the curb, and laid his forehead on the steering wheel as Mark said in concern: “Are you okay, David?”
“Yesss,” he slurred. “Just really tired. Jet lag. I was going straight to bed before you tried to brain me with the lamp.”
“I’m so sorry,” Mark said contritely.
“It’s all right. I just…don’t think that I should drive anymore. I’m afraid I’ll get us into a horrible accident.”
“Will you let me drive?” Mark asked him, touching his shoulder.
“I have no choice,” he sighed, lifting his head. “I’ll direct you to my house. Although…” he trailed off as his exhausted brain dredged up an important fact. “There’s no food in the house,” he said, rubbing at his eyes. “I’ve been gone for months. Maybe you should stop and buy some groceries before we go home. And we’ll swing by an ATM and grab some cash, so I don’t have to go into the store with you. I’ll stay in the car and doze. If you don’t mind,” he added to Mark.
“Are you kidding me? You saved my life! I’d do a lot more than just go into a grocery store alone, believe me. Besides, I need to get used to this kind of thing anyway,” he went on, “Seeing as I’ll be doing all the drudge work for you as your dogsbody. Right?”
He yawned, stretching as he undid his seat belt. “Right,” he murmured in agreement.
Mark jumped out of the car and came around to help him out of the driver’s seat, and he shambled around to the passenger’s side and got in. “You have a driver’s license, don’t you?” he thought to ask belatedly.
“Yeah,” Mark replied as he did up his seat belt and started the car. “Don’t worry about it. Uncle Sid’s let me drive his car on-and-off all the time I’ve been here, to get me used to driving in L.A. traffic. Let’s find an ATM.” he pulled out into traffic, proving to be a deft and cautious driver.
Satisfied, David leaned back in his seat and watched with half-lidded eyes as Mark negotiated the heavy traffic with ease. Maybe he’d let his own personal dogsbody act as a chauffeur and drive him everywhere from now on, he thought with a little smile. Driving around L.A. definitely qualified as drudgework. Very dangerous drudgework, a nasty combination.
Mark found a bank, and David stumbled out of the car to go and get some cash from it so that Mark could buy groceries for them. He got the limit, five hundred dollars, since there would literally be no food whatsoever in his cupboards or the fridge. He’d been traveling in Asia for almost four months, visiting Thailand, South Korea, China and Japan. Ostensibly the trip had been for research for the new book he was going to start working on soon, but mostly it had been a vacation.
He’d needed to unwind after toiling away at the seventh book in his series about a former American spy, especially the grueling book tour that he’d gone on after it had been published. And he’d thoroughly enjoyed himself, but he’d also been really glad to go home to his own house and his familiar study, so that he could get down to work again. If he didn’t write for a period of time, he started itching with impatience. And he worked best at home in his comfortable study, not on a laptop in an unfamiliar hotel room somewhere.
He returned to the car and got back in, handing Mark the money. “Buy enough to restock the refrigerator and the cupboards,” he direct Mark. “And get anything that you want, since you’ll be living in the house with me.”
“Okay,” Mark said, starting the car again. “You just relax and I’ll take care of everything.”
David closed his eyes, unable to keep himself from falling asleep anymore. He didn’t even wake up when the car stopped and Mark got out, nor did he wake up when the car door opened so that Mark could unlatch the trunk and put the bags of groceries in it. He only stirred a little and murmured in his sleep when Mark got behind the wheel and started the car, and fortunately for him the younger man knew where he lived and was able to get them home without his input.
Mark managed to open the front door with the house key on the ring, and tote the groceries inside, while David slumbered away peacefully in the car. He didn’t want to disturb the writer sooner than he had to; he was obviously exhausted. He put away the groceries, finding where David kept the plates, cups, and silverware as he worked. Finally, he couldn’t put it off anymore. He went outside and opened the passenger side door of the car. He gently shook David’s shoulder, and the writer’s eyes flickered open. He peered up at Mark muzzily.
“Hey, David. I’d love to let you sleep out here, but you’ll have a crick in your neck. Come on,” he helped David stagger out of the car and into the house, the writer peering blearily at his surroundings.
“Where’s your bedroom?” Mark asked him in the tiny foyer.
“Down there,” he croaked, pointing to the hallway that led toward the back of the house. “Second door...on the left.”
“Okay, come on,” Mark coaxed him down the hall, glad that he was stronger than he looked. David was sort of half-leaning against him, totally out of it. He got the writer into his bedroom, then paused and eyed the bed. Should he strip David before putting him to bed? Those clothes couldn’t be very comfortable to sleep in. Finally, he decided to do it. He turned to David and began to remove his clothes, while the writer stood passively and sort of swayed in place. Mark pulled David’s shirt off, noting a nice-looking chest(not terribly muscular, but sort of stocky and with a smattering of brown hair around his nipples and in a trail down his belly). He felt his underused libido stir at the sight, but deliberately squashed any feelings of arousal and continued with his task. He was David’s employee, nothing else. He had to remember that.
He got David to step out of his trousers, but left his underwear on. Then he guided the poor, semi-comatose man over to the bed and got him under the covers. David promptly went back to sleep; he probably hadn’t really been aware at all of what was going on around him. Mark stood and looked down at the kind man who’d saved his life twice in one day, and vowed silently to make David’s life as pleasant and hassle-free as he possibly could from now on. If anyone deserved it, he did.
He pulled down the blinds, shading the room in a dusky light. Then he left quietly, closing the door behind him. In the hall, he got curious and opened the other doors to see what other rooms were behind them. He found a cozy-looking study, a detached bathroom, a laundry room at the back, a tiny private gym, and what had to be the guest bedroom that he’d be calling home from now on for the next year. It was pretty featureless and bland, but he knew that he could personalize it easily. A door in the laundry room led out onto a stone patio surrounding a large pool, which Mark was glad to see. He liked to swim to keep himself in shape, and he knew that David wouldn’t mind if he used it to do laps every day. He pulled off his shoes and socks and dipped a toe into the lukewarm water, swishing it around as he felt his fears and tension drain away at last.
The money worries had been with him for the last year, growing and growing as he approached his repayment deadline and he still hadn’t made enough to even cover the interest. He knew that he’d been stupid to take the money that Vlad had offered him; but he’d been jobless and desperate when he’d met the Russian man in a little café downtown. He’d been sure that he’d be able to break into show business, and make enough to pay Vlad back in time; the more fool he. There were hundreds of struggling actors in L.A., and most of them never made it big. He’d let his ego get in the way of his sense, and it had almost cost him everything. And it would have, if it weren’t for the kindness and generosity of David Anderson…
He’d never forget what the writer had done for him. Had done without question, and seemingly without fear. He was flabbergasted by actually meeting such a person; before, he’d always assumed someone like David was a myth. That human beings were inherently selfish and self-centered creatures, who didn’t care about the woes of their fellow man unless said man happened to be related to them in some way. His Uncle Sid was kind to him, but he WAS Sid’s nephew. If they hadn’t been related, he doubted that his uncle would have cared about the mess he’d gotten himself into. And rightly so; it had been his own stupid fault in the first place. But David had helped him anyway! What an amazing man he was.
Mark wandered back into the house, going into the kitchen to break out some of the food that he’d bought to make himself something to eat. He’d been too scared and tense to eat much of anything for the last two days, and now that he was safe he was also starving. He made himself some turkey and swiss cheese sandwiches on rye, with lots of mayo and just a touch of mustard. These and a glass of milk he downed at the little kitchen table, scarfing it all down to the last crumb. A banana and a couple of cookies followed after, and he was pleasantly full and starting to grow tired himself. He hadn’t slept much in the last forty-eight hours, either. He’d been too scared of what his fate would be, to do more than doze. He yawned, scrubbing at his face wearily. Maybe a nap on the couch in the living room? It looked comfortable.
He trailed into the living room and sat down with a sigh, stretching himself out on the (decidedly) comfortable couch and closing his eyes. Soon enough he was asleep too, lightly snoring.
David awoke to morning sunlight streaming through the mostly closed blinds. He blinked, sitting up and stretching as he tried to get his brain to start working again. He was at home, in bed…how had he gotten here? He vaguely remembered a little bit of what had happened after that confrontation with the Russian gangster yesterday, but…he pulled back the blankets and discovered that he was only wearing his underwear. And there was no way on Earth that he could have undressed himself down to his skivvies. That meant that…Mark must have taken his clothes off, and gotten him tucked into bed. He felt Mr. Happy stir a bit at this thought, standing at attention in his normal cheerful morning fashion. He grimaced. Just because Mark had taken most of his clothes off to put him to bed, didn’t mean that the young actor had been ogling him as he did so. He shook his head as he crawled out of bed and went into his bathroom, feeling logy from too much sleep versus his state of exhaustion yesterday. He peered at himself in the mirror, making a face at the way his hair was standing up on top of his head, and the sleep-crusts in his eyes.
Shower time, then he’d go and see what was what. It occurred to him that he’d left Mark alone all of yesterday evening and last night, and that the young actor might have decided to rob him blind and take off while he slept. Oh, well, that was the chance he’d taken when he’d given Mark the money to pay off his debt to Vlad. If his house was empty, so be it.
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