When the door closed behind Jake, the room seemed unnaturally quiet. Carrick and Malcolm could only stare at each other across the room. Each surveyed the other, as if they were assessing the other’s strengths and weaknesses, probing for ground unguarded and vulnerable.

“Fuck it!” Malcolm threw out then launched himself into the space between them. Suddenly he was right there-right in Carrick’s face, taking a moment to delve deep into his eyes before Carrick felt his head grabbed between Mal’s hands and roughly brought to Mal’s lips. They dueled. First, a thrust, then a parry. Both men fighting for the upper hand, both of their arms were tangled as they sought to control the other’s movements by cupping the other’s head at the nape. Almost violently, they strained urging the other’s submission.

“God, I need you.” Carrick whispered, preoccupied by feel of Mal’s skin on his fingertips. Carr felt sorry for any person who felt touching, or being touched by, another man could never be as enticing as the touch of a woman. Is it different? Certainly, but the feel of Mal in his arms was pure bliss. Like this, pressed together, shaft to shaft was unfettered, unadulterated intoxication. Doing this, only few steps away from Camille being put back together again, was selfish, but Carr needed a fix, badly. “We need to stop, someone might come in.” Carrick forced his mouth away from Mal’s and pressed his cheek against his partner’s, praying a silent prayer to find the strength to step away.

Quietly and separately seething over the day’s events was creating barrier between them that had never existed before. Mal needed Carrick. He needed a jolt of Carr’s strength and stoicism. Carr is the balm for everything that ever ailed him-and so much hurt right now. Mal, for a little bit of time, wanted to wrap them up in the tight cocoon of their love and physically express and renew it. With Carrick to guide him he knew he could find his humanity again. “If I don’t cum in you in the next ten minutes, or you in me, I will kill someone or take this place down brick by brick.” Mal promised.

Mal’s meaning pulsed through Carr’s body. The tension and viciousness of the day was unrelenting. The ultimate salve to their shared pain was human contact - physically demonstrating just how different they were from the evil they had witnessed seemed like an oasis. Their humanity and love was their shield from the evil. Carrick could no longer fight his need for Mal. To gain the advantage, Carrick let his hands longingly and languidly slide down his lover’s chest, almost sighing at the shortening and lengthening of Mal’s muscles as he explored its contours. When he grasped Mal around his trim waist the savage motion ground Carr’s length against Mal’s. They both exhaled in a loud burst of sound, appreciating the feel of lean muscle playing against its match.

Abruptly Mal disappeared, one moment he was in his arms and the next second Carrick was staring at the wall. That is, until he was almost shoved in the flat, cool surface. His face’s contact with the cold surface briefly brought everything into focus. Again, Carrick felt the urge to press pause. There were things they needed to discuss, plans needed to be made. Then he felt Mal’s fingertips run slowly across his shoulders and down his arms. Time was infinite as Carrick closed his eyes so his body could more fully enjoy the pleasure of Mal’s touch. Carrick didn’t want to be bothered with any other stimulus but Mal’s body stretching along the back of his. Malcolm’s arms rested alongside the outside of his till Mal had threaded his fingers through Carrick’s. For a moment they rested, again, cheek to cheek, with Mal’s hips were grinding, almost drilling in to Carr, in rhythm that was sure and possessive.

Carrick had to brace himself, leaning his weight against his hands and forearms, as he felt Mal, thrust his fully clothed dick deep into the space the space that separated the globes of his ass. Carr made a sound of contentment.

“Changed clothes?” Mal whispered against Carr’s neck.

For a moment, language meant nothing to Carr. He couldn’t make sense of the syllables emerging from Mal’s mouth. He knew Mal’s could feel his confusion as well, because Carr felt the stretch of his lover’s lips, in a smile, against the nape of his neck. Then it clicked what Mal was asking.

“Grace.” Was the only word that Carr could offer in explanation? The effort to utter even that brief response seemed to tax him severely. Carrick was focused on trying to hold his body up, along the wall, while Mal’s began to slowly undulate in a pattern reserved for the timeless act of love.

“Good. Ever prepared, Grace,” Mal panted and smiled. With each syllable, Malcolm’s tongue seemed to graze the delicate contours of Carr’s ear. “I am sure that she sent a spare.” Immediately, Mal reached down so that his hand lightly ran down Carrick’s core. Efficiently, Mal brought his hands up close to Carr’s neck grabbed the halves of the cotton material stretched across Carrick’s chest and pulled in one swift motion. For a moment it seemed the rent material rained buttons everywhere.

Even under the onslaught of Mal’s carnal captivity, there remained a gossamer barrier between Carrick’s urge to surrender to Mal’s campaign against his senses and his innate need for self-preservation. Self-preservation was a Caudwell hallmark, it was imbedded in his family’s DNA, Mal’s pull was overwhelming and powerful, but Carr’s essence required him to bow to a long lineage of clarity and control. There were important things that needed to be said, business had to be settled first.

Carrick balled his hands in fists, effectively preventing Mal from continuing to thread his fingers between his. At the sound of Mal’s groan of protest, Carrick turned to meet his lover eye to eye. Carr felt weak, but some semblance of strength allowed his lust hooded eyes to meet Mal’s equally passion filled ones.

“What do you want from me?” Carrick tucked his hand behind his body as he leaned heavily against the wall behind him. He didn’t want the exquisite pull of Mal’s nearness to overpower his common sense.

The abruptness of Carrick’s question served to significantly cool Mal’s ardor. One moment he was almost crazed with the want to be immersed in the act of making love to Carrick and the next he was stone, cold sober. “I have never wanted anything from you except your love and our life together.” Malcolm move toward Carrick in an attempt to touch Carr’s hand.

Carrick quickly batted his hands away. “Bullshit, that may have been enough a month ago, but we both know things have changed!” Carrick would not allow Mal to mistake his point. “She has the medical attention that she needs. I am moving her to Lion’s. She will enjoy the privilege of my considerable protection. Now, what else do you want from me, Malcolm I am willing to be more patient with you than most, but know I have my limits.” Though Carrick’s voice was clear in conveying his warning, his face was naked and vulnerable, stark in his need to know how present events bore on their future.

The knowledge that he had brought his fearsome, golden haired lion to the point where he had to almost beg understanding of his position in Malcolm’s affections brought Mal low with shame. Mal almost felt compelled to provide some banal assurance of the sanctity of their relationship, but they both knew something has changed over the last few weeks. Their lives together had never been based on lies or subterfuge. Mal had to be honest. “I need you to give her a real chance. See if she can fit into our lives.” Mal’s countenance was equally as vivid in its need for Carrick to understand.

“Did I miss something? During my few encounters with her she did not seem at all interested in any type of relationship with us. Carr placed heavy emphasis on the last part of his statement. “You, you she seems to have a soft spot for, but she can barely be in the same room with me, without causing a scene.”

“I think you both get high marks in the ‘scene starter’ department.”Malcolm mumbled as he thrust his hands in his pockets, then turned from Carrick and moved to the office’s sofa and fold himself into its plush confines.

Carrick arched his eyebrow as his eyes followed Mal’s movements while he digested Mal’s words. “Mal, I am not going to apologize for my instinct to protect the people I love. I may have gone too far, where Camille is concerned, and truth be told I feel a certain responsibility for her being so badly hurt, but I need to know how we are going to move forward. Can we move forward?’

“Are you in love with her?”For a second Carrick believed the thought had only whispered through his mind. Then he saw Mal’s head drop between his forearms, as they rested on his knees and then Mal clasped his hand behind neck. Carrick realized that he finally put it out there-he had asked Malcolm to finally declare his feelings for Camille.

When Malcolm finally looked up he was momentarily distracted by Carr’s careless elegance, he looked all tousled by their early attempt at lovemaking, leaning against the wall, with his hands in his pockets. There were haute couture designers who would kill to have that shot marketing their togs. Mal had to toss all those thoughts aside and concentrate on the elephant in the room. Carr had demanded that he show his hand. “Carr, this is so hard, so strange for me. I have only ever been interested in relationships with men. Being with you, having our life together was more than I ever dreamed I could have…I met Camille. She was nice. She was a woman, I only thought of her as a friend. Things changed, slowly, over time. Somehow I felt something more than friendship, more than just physical attraction. I felt connected to her…like what I feel for you, but so different-independent of what I feel for you. Malcolm ended his uncharacteristic rambling disgusted with himself. Knowing that he certainly didn’t give Carrick any clearer idea of how he felt so much for both of them.

Carrick straightened and stood in the power position, his feet planted shoulder length apart and looked at Mal with a curious combination of bemusement and sympathy, but he was compelled to push him further. “So where does all of this leave us now?”

“You feel nothing for her?” Mal defiantly shot out, almost before Carr could finish his sentence.

“Mal, I hardly know her.” Carrick replied quickly.

“The terrace last night…” Mal began

“The terrace was lust, fueled with a huge dose of annoyance,” Carrick finished, allowing his hands to make his point, as they unfolded, palms out, then bringing them together with a terrific crash.

“Who is bullshitting whom now?”Mal disgustedly snapped back with instant acuity. Then Mal went in for the kill-the truth was not a one person game. “What made you angrier?” Mal stood again and crossed the room so that he was a hair’s breath away from his lover. “That she was in my arms, or that you weren’t included? When her legs were wrapped around you and you had complete control of her body, you felt nothing? Or where you as hopelessly lost, as I was? When you two are in a room together the energy is kinetic.” Malcolm eyes dared Carr to contradict him. “Carrick, when you really can’t stand someone you give them cold indifference, when you argue with Camille she brings you outside yourself, you act like a madman. So don’t give me that you hardly know her. Something inside you RECONGNIZES her, that’s what really pisses you off. You were immediately just as attracted to her, but you didn’t want to rock the boat.