Troy turned down the street, bone-deep exhaustion warring with anticipation. Tired as he was, the double shift before Thanksgiving was worth it so he and Derek could have two days free. Thanksgiving for Derek's family and the day after for just the two of them. Even after two years together, he still couldn't believe how happy he was. How eager to come home to Derek. How thankful he was they'd found each other.
He caught sight of Derek's Toyota in the driveway as he pulled near the house. Derek shouldn't be home. He'd been scheduled to work at his family's restaurant until early evening, and that was still hours away. Derek's schedule had never run unexpectedly early.
Troy's stomach clenched. He had a bad feeling about this. A very bad feeling.
As soon as he'd parked, he grabbed his duffle bag and hopped out, barely tugging his coat from the car before the door shut. He trotted up the walkway to the front porch. Gut still roiling, he paused for a long, deep breath before he slowly opened the door, unsure of just what he would find. He was sure it wouldn't be good, though.
He heard a loud clatter from the direction of the kitchen, followed by a snarled curse. Oh yeah, not good at all. Nothing in the kitchen ever fazed Derek, not even the time they'd gotten too distracted by the recreational uses of clarified butter and their dinner had caught on fire. Troy had been the one who'd almost fallen over when he rushed to get the fire extinguisher from the pantry, forgetting his pants were around his ankles. Derek had laughed hysterically at Troy's shuffling hop, but still managed to put out the fire with a pan lid and even retained the presence of mind to silence the smoke detectors before a neighbor called the fire department.
It had taken him three tries to get the oily spots out of his favorite jeans, and to this day Derek persisted in cracking jokes about the perils of buttering him up. At least he'd not hurt himself and had to explain that to his coworkers.
He quietly set down his duffle bag near the stairs, took off his coat, and hung it and his keys on their respective hooks. It only took a moment to sit on the wrought-iron bench and take off his work boots to set them next to Derek's chef's clogs before padding toward the kitchen.
The kitchen island had several grocery store bags on it. Why had Derek gone shopping when they were eating at Derek's parents' house tomorrow and would have leftovers enough for a week?
Turning the corner, he spotted Derek standing in front of the large stainless double sinks. He was still dressed for work in his white chef's coat and a pair of his tacky baggy pants, this pair with brightly printed chili peppers on them. A big tub sat on the floor near the sink, half full of some liquid, and he was vigorously washing a rather large turkey with the spray nozzle.
Still no response, and the sick feeling in the pit of Troy's stomach only got worse. He walked over to Derek and ran his hands up his lover's back, slowly and firmly. Then back down Derek's sides and around his waist.
Tense. So tense. Derek felt almost brittle to the touch. Not something Troy was used to feeling in his lover.
"What's wrong, Derek? Why are you home already?"
No answer. He just continued to scrub at the poor abused turkey. Then a telltale catch in his breath. A sob. Derek never cried; he just got angry and yelled a bit. What the hell had happened?
Troy reached over and shut off the water, then coaxed Derek to release the very clean turkey and the sprayer. His lover grasped the edge of the sink so tightly, his knuckles were white through the thin latex gloves he was wearing. Tiny, not quite stifled sobs shook his body. "I'm here for you, love. What's wrong? What's happened?"
Troy rested his cheek briefly on Derek's back, then pulled Derek's wet hands off the sink and overcame his token resistance to turn him around. Troy caught sight of his face. "What the fuck? Who did this?"
Rage burned through Troy at the sight of the bandage below Derek's right eye and the bruise that was blooming around it, the skin already swollen and a dusky purple. "What happened, Derek? Tell me what happened."
Derek's beautiful blue eyes swam with tears, his blond lashes clumped and dark from those he'd already shed. He attempted a weak smile. "Well, we don't have to hide the fact I'm gay from my family anymore."
His feeble laugh made Troy's heart lurch. "What happened? Did someone tell them? One of our friends?"
"I told them. Dad went off on his marriage-and-the-family-name soapbox again, and then he started to tell me you were the source of all my problems. How living with you was why I didn't have a love life. Then he started demanding that I give up my 'loser roommate.' I just lost it." He shook his head slowly. "I got so angry. I told him you were my love life and he could stop setting me up on dates with 'nice girls' right now. That I had no interest in any girls."
Derek gave another quiet sob. "I thought he was going to faint. Or have a heart attack. For the longest time he just stood and stared at me, completely speechless. I even started to hope that he'd walk away and think about it. Maybe he wouldn't react as badly as I feared. Then, out of the blue, he punched me. He told me to get out and not to ever come back. That I wasn't a son of his because no son of his was a fag."
Tears trailed down Derek's cheeks, and he started crying in earnest. Oh God. Derek had always feared losing his family's love and respect. He even made his living as head chef and part owner of the family's restaurant.
"Dammit, Derek. I should have been there. I knew your father was a bigoted son-of-a-bitch, but I never thought he'd take it out on you like that. I certainly never thought he'd hit you."
Troy tried his best to keep his temper under control. He really wanted to jump in his car and give Derek's bully of a father a taste of how it felt to be beat up. How could anyone do that to their child?
Troy's own family lived a few states away now, but he still felt close to them. Loving and accepting, they'd never made a big deal out of his being gay. He was who he was, and that was fine by everyone. It's not like he'd changed when he told them.
God, he was so grateful for them.
"Let me look at your face." Troy tilted Derek's up head and reached for the bandage, only to be stopped by Derek.
"It's okay. It's just a small cut that kept bleeding, so I stopped by my doctor's office and he took care of it. Some cleaning and steri-strips and I'm fine. He just covered it with the square to keep it clean since I work in a kitchen. Not even any stitches."
It was all Troy could do not to snarl out loud. Not only would that soon become a Technicolor bruise, he'd been bleeding as well. He pulled Derek up against his chest and wrapped his arms tightly around the slightly shorter man. Tucking his lover's head against his shoulder, he buried his lips in Derek's short blond hair. For once, his lover actually let him coddle him for a second or two before he pushed away.
Derek rubbed the tears from his eyes on the upper sleeve of his chef's coat. "Dammit, I still have gloves on."
Backbone stiff as a board, he turned back to the sink and rinsed the turkey one more time, then slowly lowered it into the waiting liquid before pressing a plastic lid onto the tub. "The turkey needs to brine overnight so I can cook it for us for tomorrow. I stopped at the store and got all the rest of the trimmings before I came home."
Troy ignored the small voice in his head that tried to tell him this was not the time to argue. "You sure you want to do all that work? We could go out."
His gloves stripped off and in the midst of soaping his hands, Derek glared over his shoulder. "Not a chance, stud. Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends and home-cooked food. You're my family, and I'm damned well going to cook for you. There's no going back, Troy."
That look and the snarled words said it all. "Okay. I just didn't want you to feel you had to cook, that's all. You know I love your cooking." Troy grinned and gave Derek a teasing leer. "Among other things."
"Good. This year you get to help cook, too. Please move the turkey into the garage fridge, and then I have potatoes for you to peel."
Troy dramatically rolled his eyes and hefted the very heavy vat of turkey and brine. Derek laughed, then dried his hands and held the garage door open.
If the not-at-all-subtle caress of his ass was any indication, Derek was trying to not let the day's events affect him too badly.