Once showered and dressed in clean clothing, Ash returned to the living room where Crandall leaned against Mike’s chest, mouth hanging open as he dozed. Mike rubbed his back in tender, long strokes, his cheek resting against the top of Crandall’s head.
They looked happy. The comfort they took from each other as obvious as the kick in the ribs Ash received earlier. He’d convinced himself he didn’t need that – didn’t need the intimacy, the sex, the desire to be with one person forever – but seeing his friends pressing close together in silent comfort broke down the flimsy wall of denial Ash had carefully built. No one understood who he was or who he needed to be. Women wanted a real man, with a hard cock and a clear head, not some broken wannabe who couldn’t even bear to wash his own body for fear of the physical reminder of incompleteness.
Ash sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he found Crandall staring at him with those sharp eyes that seemed to see everything Ash didn’t want the world to know. He’d taken a long shower, sitting in the hard tub, letting his mind run through so many scenarios as the water ran over his bowed head. He hadn’t been able to find one where the prophecy Judas believed in would leave any of them alive. Maybe, if they could wait him out, hope he got bored and looked for other games, but not if Ash could so easily lose the strict, tempered control he’d worked so hard to cultivate. He was a liability. He who had the most focus couldn’t sustain it when it mattered most.
“I quit,” he said, just as he felt he’d lose his nerve. “I can’t do this. I can’t risk bringing more pain because I can’t resist the need to destroy them. I can’t be allies with them, even to destroy their leader. I… I just quit.” He turned and hurried down the hall, closing himself in Mike’s room. He leaned against the door, held his breath, and prayed they wouldn’t follow and demand he talk it out. He’d decided, and he wouldn’t let them sway his decision. He was broken. Again. And in so many ways.
* * * *
“Wait, Ash,” Mike shifted to get up, but Crandall wouldn’t move.
“Leave him,” Crandall said. He eased slowly to his feet. Mike helped with a hand on his ass.
“He can’t quit.” Mike followed Crandall down the hall.
“So I’m going to–”
Crandall held up a hand, pressing it against Mike’s chest before he could walk past their bedroom to Ash’s. “You’re going to go to bed. You’re both too fucking worked up to actually talk.”
Mike sighed through his nose. “You’re probably right.”
“I am.” Crandall walked into the bedroom in the dark, not bothering with the light switch by the door.
Mike stared at the closed door, wondering if Ash was going to be able to sleep. He seemed pretty upset. Crandall was right, though. Mike was still on edge, and with Ash angry too, they’d likely argue and snap at each other, accomplishing nothing.
Besides, he thought as he walked into Crandall’s bedroom, he didn’t want to let Crandall out of his sight just yet. The danger had passed, but the stark fear hung heavily around Mike’s head. The man meant too much to him. If something happened to Crandall, Mike wouldn’t know how to pick up the pieces of his life.
By the time Mike stripped out of his clothes, Crandall looked to be fast asleep already. Mike frowned at him, trying not to be disappointed. Their argument, and the amazing-as-always sex just before it, seemed days ago. He wanted to peel Crandall out of his cotton pants and ratty t-shirt, and kiss him from head to toe. Logic prevailed; Crandall needed his sleep to keep up with the accelerated healing of his hunter blood. Mike pulled on a pair of pajama pants and crawled into be behind Crandall.
Once pressed against Crandall’s back, Mike couldn’t keep his eyes closed. He wrapped Crandall in a snug embrace, fitting Crandall’s ass against his hips, and their thighs pressed together. Safe. He felt safe cocooned around Crandall. He let his thoughts wander back to their disagreement. Crandall wanted to marry Ash to help him out. They could do it. Biologically, Ash was female, but it surprised Mike that Ash would want to use that to his advantage.
Mike tightened his embrace and pressed his mouth against the nape of Crandall’s neck. Fine, red hairs tickled his lips. It was too dark to see, but he could picture the freckles there, just under Crandall’s hairline. He’d kissed them many times in both intimate and lust-filled moments, pressed together like that, with nothing more than a condom between them.
Mike would do anything to help his friends. Anything, almost. He still couldn’t stomach the thought of Crandall marrying someone else, even if he knew it didn’t mean a thing. Even if he knew he could never be that person. Even if…
“Let up,” Crandall muttered.
Crandall squirmed, and Mike loosened his grip and mumbled an apology against Crandall’s neck.
“Can’t you fucking relax?”
“I can’t,” Mike admitted quietly. “I want you. Forever, Crandall. I…”
Mike flinched inwardly. “Thanks,” he said sardonically.
“What do you need me to do?” Crandall asked quietly and calmly.
Mike bit back his first response. Deny Ash. Instead, he went with something sure to relax him and help him sleep one more night. “Suck me off.” He brushed his lips over Crandall’s neck, slowly, teasingly, until Crandall shivered and rolled in his arms.
“I’m the one who got my ass kicked tonight. You should blow me.”
Mike grinned, and said, “You got it, man.”