Levon stayed in his office for an hour after Joanne's call. No one disturbed him after he'd shut his door, and he'd paced freely. He knew what had to be done. The question was how soon would it happen -- and would Joe be around when it did?

*That* was the problem that concerned him. For all his husband professed to support him in all ways, Levon knew that in some ways -- this way -- Joe's claim had yet to be tested. He didn't worry so much about Alexander, because he knew he could take care of it. Of course there was no question now of handing the herd over to Stuart until after it was done.

When Carla called dinner, Levon considered skipping the meal. He wasn't up to questions, and he knew Joe would see more in his face than any member of his herd would call him on. But if he didn't go, Joe would simply come after him and *know* something was wrong. He schooled his face into as calm an expression as he could, then headed out to the dining room.

Joe had Laurie on his lap and was totally wrapped up in the foal. Levon smiled, hoping the filly would do him the favor of keeping her dad pre-occupied. He quietly greeted a few of his herd as he passed on his ways towards his seat. As soon as he sat down, something grabbed his leg. He laughed when he saw Taylor looking up at him.

"Velcro," Joe mouthed at him, laughing as well.

Levon just noted how tightly Laurie was clinging to Joe's shirt, and said nothing. Angie and Tony were both in the midst of the older centaur children babbling on about something that seemed to involve a lot of giggling. The other members of the herd were enjoying a normal dinner -- talking, laughing, helping Carla set the meal on, and those nearest newborns were thoroughly distracted. Levon settled in, keeping a watchful eye on everything and his ears open for the sentries' call. If anyone noticed his pre-occupation, they didn't mention it.

The meal passed like any other at the ranch, in a chaotic mixture of sound and food. Afterwards, he unhooked Taylor from his leg and handed him over to Anna, wordlessly watching as the herd begin heading out for the pastures again. Some stayed to help, others headed out to relieve the afternoon sentries. A glance at Joe showed him still distracted with Laurie; Levon took the opportunity to speak quietly to some of those going on sentry duty.

He didn't tell them who he was expecting, simply told them he was expecting someone, probably soon. Though he didn't say so, he was certain they knew from his manner that it was no one he was pleased to have visit. They each just nodded and promised unnecessarily to call out as soon as anything was seen.

Feeling somewhat reassured, Levon went back to waiting. He was on edge, a feeling not unfamiliar from the many times work put him in the position of waiting, knowing that fast reflexes and split-second timing would soon be needed. He couldn't calm himself down, but neither could he allow himself to go nuts. He did go outside and change forms, feeling more ready to face Alexander in the form best able to deal with the threat.

He reminded himself Alexander never played by the rules -- at least not with unattached stallions. Would he be so bold as to try something against a herd stallion? He froze as another thought occurred to him. Would he try something against the herd itself?

With the newborns, the threat would be greater -- even the year-olds knew enough to hide when warned of danger. The mares could take care of the foals, but that didn't erase the danger, nor the dread Levon felt at Alexander's arriving *now*. He didn't fool himself that Alexander would wait until the danger to the newborns was passed. Frowning, he went to find Stuart. The boy might not be able to face another stallion, but he could certainly keep an eye on the herd while Levon kept guard.

"Hey partner, you coming?" Joe asked and Levon realized it wasn't the first time Joe had spoken to him.

He turned, careful to keep the worry off his face -- even if it did no good. Hesitantly, he asked, "You mind if I stay the night outside?"

Joe grinned. "Sleeping in the nursery field?"

He half-grinned. "Maybe not *in* the field." More likely out towards the last sentry -- there was a spot which was within hearing distance of the sentry, and sight of the nursery.

"Sounds like a plan. I haven't camped out in... well, since I was a kid."

Levon smiled slowly, honestly delighted even as he realised he'd been planning on staying out here without Joe. But the thought of his husband curled up on the ground nearby.... "Might get a little cold near midnight -- or you still enough of a Yank that 50 will seem warm?"

"I'm a Yank with a warm husband to curl up to if it gets too cold."

"What makes you think I'll be on the ground, myself?" He grinned. Even near the nursery field, he'd be able to hear the sentries. He didn't *need* to stand guard... even if he felt like it.

"Planning on taking up levitation?"

"Planning on sleeping on my feet."

Joe gave him a look. "Sure I can't change your mind?"

Levon kept himself from glancing back again, towards the sentries. Then he realised that there was no reason Alexander had to approach by the road. There was *no* way he was sleeping tonight. He gave Joe a smile, though. "Ground's too cold," he offered as an apology.

"So we'll have a fire or something."

Levon wanted to sigh. There was going to be no way out of this. Luckily, he didn't really mind. It would probably feel better to have Joe at his side, than not, even if Joe didn't know anything was going on. Outwardly, he only grinned. "Can't -- we don't have any marshmallows. How about I just get a pad to lie on?"

"Sounds good."

Angie and Tony were delighted at the prospect of sleeping with the herd. Before now Joe and Levon had insisted it was too cold, and they -- with several of the centaur kids -- had slept in the house. 'Slept' being a mere formality, of course. But now the kids busied themselves finding sleeping bags and blankets and foam pads, even crawling into the attic to dig out all the appropriate camping-out gear.

Levon thought it looked like they were planning to camp out in the middle of nowhere for a month by the looks of it -- and when Carla announced she had snacks for them to pack and take, he seriously considered *sending* them to the north fields. If it hadn't been for Alexander, he would have.

Joe seemed to take it all in stride, telling the kids stories about sleeping out in the backyard with Tony and Vinnie when he was a kid. Levon, for his part, tried to remain as casual as he could while trying to keep an eye on everyone. Fortunately, he'd been able to draw Stuart aside and tell him what was going on -- the boy's reaction matched his own, though the younger stallion agreed that *he* was not to face Alexander. Levon could see the fierce protective set in his eyes, and was heartened.

They got situated in a field near the nursery and not too far away from the nearest sentry, the kids a short distance from Joe and himself. "So..." Joe began when the kids finally began to quiet, "you going to tell me what this is really about?"

Startled, Levon looked over. The next moment he asked himself why he'd thought he could put anything past Joe -- anything that didn't have to do with the cats destroying his silk ties, that is. He was *fairly* sure Joe hadn't realised three ties had vanished without explanation. But he shrugged. "Felt like keeping an eye on 'em, tonight."

"Uh huh. Why?"

He took a deep breath. "Just feel uneasy."

Joe's eyes narrowed. "This have to do with you giving up the herd?"

"Maybe. I don't know -- I just need to stay out here, all right?" He snapped the words out. He felt uneasy lying to him, but he couldn't see telling him the truth. He was going to have to kill Alexander, and he didn't want to see his husband's eyes when he found out what Levon was planning to do. That he was *planning* to do it.

"Hey, easy cowboy. I'm just trying to figure out what's going on here, okay? I don't have the advantage of thinking like a centaur."

Abashed, Levon looked away. "Sorry. I just can't *explain* it, Joe. Will you just accept that I'm gonna be out here for a while?"

Joe smiled slightly. "I'm here, aren't I?"

Levon sighed. "I'm sorry." He hated pissing Joe off.

"I'm married to a centaur. I'm used to not understanding you."

That only made him feel worse. He was grateful when Laurie came toddling over and tugged on Joe's pants' leg. Joe was immediately distracted and the subject was dropped as he turned his attention to his daughter. Levon watched them go as Laurie pulled Joe away.

It took a while before everyone settled down for the night. Levon stayed on his feet, though in place when what he felt like doing was circling the field. He watched the youngest drop off quickly at their mothers' sides, while the older kids were gathered in two large groups divided by age, Tony in one, Angie in the other. There was a lot of whispering and giggling, and Levon suspected none of them would be asleep before midnight.

Joe came up beside him, resting a hand against Levon's back. "Still feeling jumpy?"

He nodded. He half-wanted to go check on the sentries, but didn't want to leave the herd. Maybe he ought to send someone out.... No, they'd have called. He'd leave them be.

"I thought only cats did that."

"Did what?"

"Swish their tails around like that when they're upset."

Levon gave him a mild glare, and tried to hold his tail still.

"It's still twitching."

"I'm still upset!" His tone was sharp, but not angry enough to get Joe yelling back at him.

"No, really?" Sarcasm practically dripped from Joe's words. Then he sighed, his hand idly stroking Levon's coat. "Guess I'll have to do something about that."

In spite of himself, Levon grinned. But then he turned slightly and took his husband's hand. "Better not -- I don't think I'll relax unless you do something we ought not do in front of everyone." He gave Joe a wink.

"You saying I can't get you to relax without jumping you?"

"I'm saying you can't get me to relax, right now, without making *me* have to jump *you*." He sighed. "Why not just let me be upset for a bit? It'll wear off eventually."

Joe just looked at him. "Reverse our positions and then answer that."

He thought about that. Then he laughed. "You're saying I'm driving you nuts and you wanna cuddle me? *That* I can do," he offered.

"Either that or I could brush you," Joe offered, with a raised eyebrow.

"Be safer to cuddle." Joe would *really* get concerned if he brushed him, and Levon remained wound up.

"Oh yeah. Don't want to end up being jumped in front of the kids."

He gave Joe a sharp look. "You *almost* sound as though you don't mean that."

Joe shrugged. "It's been a long week."

He shifted around, and leant down a bit. "One night a week ain't enough?" he teased gently, knowing full well it was *his* libido that got them in bed more often than Joe's. He gave Joe a quick kiss.

"Not used to sleeping alone, anymore."

"Me, either. I'll be glad--" He cut himself off. Closing his eyes, he bent his head forward and rested it against Joe's. He *wouldn't* be glad to come home. And he wanted to more than anything.

"I know," Joe said softly, his eyes indeed knowing.

He wished it were not so close to sunset -- a ride, even staying within sight, would be perfect right now. Instead, he looked over for a thick pad, and nudged Joe to get it. Joe complied, moving the pad into position. Turning himself so he could see the entire herd and still face towards some of the sentries' positions, Levon got down onto the ground.

"You staying like that?"

"For now." He was still sitting up, and figured he'd be that way all night. It was easier to cuddle this way than if he laid down, anyhow.

"Easier getting closer if you lose a couple of legs there."

He tensed, then forced himself to relax and shook his head. He did give Joe an apologetic look.

It was going to be a *long* night.

Joe shrugged again and settled against Levon's side but there was just a bit of hurt that he couldn't hide in his eyes. The warm weight against his side comforted him, and reminded him that when this was all over -- hopefully when he was back home -- he would have to make this up to Joe. Maybe by then he would have forgotten.

Maybe he'd simply be glad to have Levon home.

"You'd tell me if something was wrong, wouldn't you, partner?"

He sighed. "I wish I knew *what* to tell you," he said quietly. He turned and looked back at Joe. Warm, worried eyes met his and he felt himself caving. Reaching out for Joe, he drew him close, changing forms as he did so. His husband's arms immediately closed around him, pulling him even closer.

It *did* feel a damn sight better lying here, cuddled together. He closed his eyes and soaked it up, trusting his ears to warn him. He rolled Joe onto his back and snuggled in next to and on top of him.

Joe gave a sigh of contentment. "Much better."


They lay there for some time, listening to the herd settle in for the night. The kids continued talking quietly -- no one told them to hush, even when it grew late. Levon didn't see the need; if they stayed up, they'd sleep in the next morning. No harm done.

Joe had been absently stroking his back for some time. "You're not going to sleep tonight, are you?"

"Probably not," he admitted quietly.

His husband nodded, but didn't say anything else. Levon stayed silent, knowing there was little else he could do, or say.

They lay there for some time; he could feel Joe remaining as awake as he was, at the first. Sometime around 1 a.m., not long after the kids finally quieted, he felt Joe begin to drift to sleep. He remained carefully still, allowing his husband to fall into a deep enough sleep that the merest motion wouldn't wake him.

Soon, Joe's breathing had steadied. Levon settled himself in to wait, then, having no trouble himself, staying wide awake. His nerves wouldn't even let him keep his eyes closed for long. The night passed well enough, everything was quiet. Even when the morning sentries headed out to relieve the others, nothing much was said. In fact, nothing at all happened until the sun began to rise. Then all that happened was the foals woke their mothers for their first breakfasts of the day.

Levon carefully extracted himself from his husband's grasp and stood up, stretching. The movement woke up Joe, who muttered then opened his eyes. Seeing Levon standing over him, he rolled over onto his side and propped his head up on his hand. "Nice view."

Levon winked at him. "Enjoy it while you can, boy." He stood still for a second, then changed. He shook himself again, hoping to warm up quickly.

"That view's almost as nice." Sitting up Joe stretched then climbed to his feet.

With a huge yawn, Levon turned to watch as, one by one, the others woke. Some climbed to their feet, stretching and gearing up for early-morning runs before breakfast. Others began heading for the house. The kids, unsurprisingly, were all still sound asleep.

"Wore themselves out last night," Joe said, following his gaze. "They'll probably sleep for another couple of hours."

"Good. Us grown-ups could use the peace." He gave Joe a grin. For some reason he felt better. Not any less anxious, and certainly not about to relax his guard. Perhaps it had just been lying with Joe.

Joe grinned back and laid a hand across Levon's back. "What do you say we take advantage of it and go for a ride?"

Levon just held out his hand.

With one move, Joe swung up onto his back. "How about we head for the north field?"

"How about we head for Diogenes' Spring?" He offered, naming a spring which was much closer.

"That's not much of a run."

"Yeah, but we go any farther and we're liable to miss breakfast." He nodded towards the yawning foal who was making her way over. "And I think we'll be missed."

He watched as Joe's face softened and lit up all over again as he looked at Laurie. "I see your point."

Grinning, he said, "Who was it we were renaming to 'Velcro'?"

As if proving his point, Laurie came up to Joe and grabbed onto his foot. Joe, however, laughed aloud when Laurie *also* reached out and grabbed onto Levon's foreleg. "You," Joe answered with a big grin.

Levon looked down at her, ignoring the stifled and not-so-stifled laughter from some of the mares. "You saying we can't go? Or can't go without you?" He reached down and picked her up, causing her to squeal with delight.

"Looks like we've got another passenger."

"You want her?" he offered.

"Sure. If you can carry both of us..." Joe gave him a questioning look.

"I think I can manage," he said dryly. He handed her back to Joe, feeling the tiny hooves scrambling along his back. He heard Joe talking quietly to her in Italian and grinned. "You trying to corrupt her already?"

"Don't listen to him, Laurie," Joe continued, pitching his voice slightly louder so the words carried to Levon. "Nothing wrong with a little culture."

"Just don't be feeding her any pasta until she's three months, OK?"

"I can wait if she can," Joe replied calmly.

Laurie bounced excitedly, still standing on Levon's back. Levon grinned. "I can tell she's gonna be *real* patient."

"As long as she has taste."

Levon glanced over his shoulder, smiling at the expression on his husband's face. "She's your daughter. She'll have great taste."

"As long as I keep her away from the barbecue."

"She's *my* daughter, too, you know."

"That's why I'll have to keep her away from it."

As if hurt, Levon just said, "Good thing I have three more...." Then he grinned. "Come on, then. Day's not getting any younger, and we've a run waiting."

"We're not stopping you."

"Hang on," he said, no doubt unnecessarily. He left the nursery at a fast walk, heading out away from the herd. With Laurie on his back he had an excuse to stay nearby. At least, if Joe *asked* him, he could use it as an excuse. The foal kicked her heels in delight, laughing as Levon moved at a fast but steady clip.

Not only did they not go far, but Levon returned much sooner than he would have, otherwise. Early breakfast was nearly ready for those awake enough to eat, so Levon headed towards the house. "I'm not sure she's ready to stop," Joe laughed at the foal's happy wriggling and kicking.

"How about you carry her into breakfast? I'm sure you can distract her."

"You sure Carrie won't mind?"

"Why would she mind?"

Joe blinked. "Um."

Levon just gave his husband a querying look and waited.

"I just thought that Carrie might want to have some time with her daughter."

Levon found himself alternating between amusement and concern -- he didn't want to upset Joe, and differences this large between their species tended to do so. "She won't mind," he said simply. Laurie belonged to the herd, and Carrie knew that. Levon wasn't sure he knew how to explain that to a human who obviously felt otherwise.

Joe though simply nodded. "Forgot for a second," he said cryptically.

"Ain't no reason you shoulda known," he offered. For his part, *he* hadn't known to anticipate Joe would have thought she'd mind.

"No? I think after all this time, I should start to figure out how a centaur thinks."

"Why? I still don't understand humans." Levon winked.

"Yeah, but I'm smarter." Joe grinned at him.

Levon narrowed his eyes at Joe. "If you weren't holding my daughter, I'd buck you off." It was hard not to laugh.

"Promises, promises."

Then he did grin. "Come on," he lifted his hindquarters ever so slightly, more a nudge than any hint at bucking. "I want my breakfast."

Joe dismounted when they reached the house and tried to put Laurie down but she clung to his neck. Levon laughed at them, watching Laurie's tail swishing and whapping Joe in the arm. He waited before changing and heading in, himself, taking a moment to simply watch the two.

Joe looked up and caught his eye. "What are you looking at?" he challenged, though the grin he wore kind of ruined the effect. Levon just grinned, feeling completely not-put-off. Laurie, seeing him, lifted a hand and waved to him. That made Joe laugh. "You coming, cowboy?"

"Yeah, I'm--" He turned his head, then, as Anne called his name. "Be right there," he told Joe, and trotted off to see what the mare needed. Behind him, Joe headed inside with his daughter. "What's the trouble, Anne?"

The mare opened her mouth but before she could speak a shout came from one of the sentries. Like a shot, Levon was gone, racing towards the sentry who'd given the alert.

Even from a distance he saw what had caused the alert: a familiar figure was facing down the sentry, half rearing as he tried to intimidate her into letting him pass. She stood her ground until the last minute when he *would* have collided with her. Then she sidestepped, whirling -- and stopped, when she saw Levon. Levon, for his part, aimed for Alexander at top speed.

"You!" Alexander snarled as he caught sight of him.

Levon came to a halt barely three feet away from his brother. Julia backed quickly away, giving them plenty of space. Unless she called out again, none of the herd would come out here -- threats were his to deal with.

Alexander sneered at him. "Taylor got you fighting his battles again?"

Levon ignored the intended insult. Instead, standing his ground with a confidence and determination he hadn't realised would feel quite this way, he said, "Leave, Alexander. I'll only tell you once. Leave and don't come back."

His brother laughed. "You're trying to tell me what to do? When did you grow a backbone, little brother?"

Levon crossed his arms, but said nothing. He simply waited Alexander out.

"Get out of the way Levon, or I'll go through you."

"No, you won't." He faced Alexander, feeling his heart beating faster. He *knew* that in a moment Alexander would attack. There was a chance, albeit slight, that if he realised Levon was now herd stallion, he would back down.

"Last chance." Alexander pawed the ground warningly.

"Alexander, you are not touching my herd." His voice was hard and steady.

"Your her-" Alexander blinked, then smiled. It was not a comforting expression. "So someone finally took Taylor out. Have to admit, I'm surprised you had the guts."

The words didn't faze him. He could care less what Alexander thought about the circumstances of Levon's taking the herd. Nor would he be drawn into a battle of words. He'd told Alexander to leave. One more second, and if he hadn't....

"But I'm not Taylor. I've beat you before and I can do it again." And with a snarl he reared and attacked.

Levon was ready for him. They were on level ground, and he was far enough away that Alexander's lunge would easily fall short with a single step back. Levon expected the swung fist as Alexander drew near, and blocked it. Alexander attempted to grab and grapple with him even as he danced to the side, trying to find an opening to rear and kick out. But Levon stepped out of the way and reared. Alexander danced out of the way, then charged again.

This time they collided. Levon felt the slamming jolt throughout his body as his hooves struck Alexander, even as Alexander struck him. They knocked each other back, though neither more than stumbled. Levon charged instantly, knocking into Alexander's side. The other centaur stumbled back a few steps, but quickly rallied, kicking out viciously.

One blow landed, the other hoof slipped off. Levon ignored both and reared again. All he could see, hear, and smell, was Alexander. Everything inside him had shut down except the need to destroy him. He struck again, as viciously as he could.

A squeal of rage and pain accompanied the sickening sound of bones breaking. Without thought, Levon struck again, quickly. Alexander screamed and went down. Levon didn't stop, he just reared up. His hooves landed squarely on Alexander and he could hear the snap and the crunch as they hit.

He looked down. The fire in his lungs seemed to ebb only slightly, and he backed up a pace, watching. For a long moment no one moved: Julia still silent as anything, watching from a distance, Alexander, broken and bloody, not even trying to regain his feet as he struggled to breathe. Levon was about to move forward again, when, with a final wheeze, Alexander lay silent and still.

Levon nodded. Glancing up at the sentry, he said, "I'll send them out to deal with that." He indicated the corpse -- the carcass -- and turned his attention to himself. Bruises, a few flowing cuts, but no broken bones and nothing that pained him enough to prevent his changing form. The sentry nodded, more respectful than usual. Then Levon turned and headed back to the house.

He was still trembling slightly, but he paid it little heed. He ran slowly, letting himself cool down and stretch his legs, working off the elevated adrenaline. Not completely -- he needed something else, for that. When he approached the house he realised what exactly it was.

Joe had come back outside, still holding Laurie. "Hey Levon, what's taking you so long?"

He looked at his husband. Changing in midstep, feeling only the slightest of pains from his various bruises, he went up to Joe and kissed him, hard.

The foal between them squirmed and Joe broke away, eyes wide as he looked at Levon. "What happened?"

Levon took Laurie out of Joe's arms and handed her over to the nearest mare. He barely even registered who it was he'd handed her to. Then he grabbed Joe, and tried kissing him, again.

But Joe held him back. "Levon?"

He blinked, trying to re-focus on Joe's voice. It irritated him -- but he paused. Joe reached out and touched a developing bruise on Levon's cheek. "What?" His brain kicked in long enough to realise that Joe -- as well as most of the herd -- probably didn't know what had transpired. "Oh... Alexander...."

"What?!" Joe let him go and reached for guns he wasn't wearing. With a muttered curse he started towards the truck. "Where is he? Is he armed?"

Levon leapt after him, grabbing onto his arm. "Joe! It's all right. It's taken care of."

Joe stopped. "Taken care of? You got him?"

Levon nodded, and tugged on Joe's arm again. He *really* need him, and if he didn't start moving back towards the house Levon was gonna piss him off for jumping him out here on the lawn in front of everyone.

His partner allowed himself to be pulled but still seemed distracted by the specter of Alexander. "Shouldn't we make sure he's secure?"

"He's dead," Levon argued. "Can we--"

Joe stopped again, much to Levon's frustration. "Dead?"

"Yes! Dammit, if you're gonna stand there and stare at me I'll go find a mare!"

"What are you talking about?"

Gods, he couldn't believe Joe was this thick. "I'm talking about I'm trying to get you into the house and behind a closed door. If you're not willing I'm heading for one of the fields with anyone who'll go with me." He was very near to striking out at Joe, just to knock some sense into him. Why the hell was he arguing *now*?

Joe stared at him for a long moment then allowed Levon to pull him towards the house. "We're talk later."

That was fine with him, as long as Joe kept moving. The few centaurs between them and the upstairs scampered out of the way quickly, almost timidly. Levon just hurried them as fast as he could towards the first bedroom. As soon as they got behind closed doors he kissed Joe again. This time Joe kissed him back instead of pulling away.

Levon responded instantly, relieved at finally doing this, though, conversely, the tension soared even higher. It was a tension he was going to relieve, however, and it didn't worry him. He pushed Joe back towards the bed, nearly shoving him hard enough to knock him back onto the mattress.

Joe grabbed onto his shoulders to catch his balance and glared at him. He opened his mouth, but Levon kissed him again before he could start talking. Moving forward, Levon used his weight to push Joe onto the bed. He never broke contact as he began kissing all down Joe's neck. When he hit the shirt collar, he stopped and swore. He got his hands on the front edge of Joe's shirt when Joe's hands closed over his.

"Easy. Use the buttons." Joe was talking again. With a sound of frustration Levon kissed him again to shut him up, and twisted his hands free. He didn't really care about the shirt, anyhow. He left it alone since Joe insisted on interfering, and moved his hands to Joe's waistband. The belt frustrated him again, and he growled as he tried to release it. Again Joe's hands covered his, stopping his movements. "Let me, before you break something."

With some difficulty he pulled his hands back. As soon as Joe got his belt and pants open and started to remove them, Levon pounced again. Joe tensed as if to struggle before relaxing and going completely limp. Taking the time to pull the clothing out of his way, Levon manoeuvred Joe backwards and turned him around. There was one last thought to get lubrication, even as he touched Joe with a finger. He felt Joe tense and hiss, whether in discomfort or pleasure Levon couldn't tell.

Levon left him there, walking around the bed to the nightstand. In the top drawer was a tube of gell, left there for such occasions. He noticed Joe watching him, eyes dark and serious. The love he was used to seeing in his husband's gaze was there, but it was overlaid with something that was very much like resignation.

It stopped him for a moment. Vague, half-formed thoughts flew through his mind -- he needed this, but something in the set of Joe's face told him he should not. Except he didn't know what else he *could* do. A run wouldn't be enough, and there was no one he could fight, safely. Anger flared at being stymied, but he didn't give it rein.

Joe watched him closely, his expression unreadable, then he held out a hand to Levon. He went forward, unable to shake the feeling that this was, somehow, a mistake. But he couldn't deny that every inch of his body was screaming out for Joe, to touch him, to take him, to feel his body beneath his own. He was trembling with need by the time he clasped Joe's hand.

His husband pulled him down and kissed him, affirming and forgiveness all in the single gesture. He dropped the tube on the bedspread, moving closer to Joe. As soon as his skin touched bared skin, the gentleness and hesitancy vanished. Again, Joe let him take the lead, but this time he didn't go completely limp, touching and kissing Levon back instead of just lying there passively.

Levon nudged him to roll over, blindly reaching out again for the lube. This time when he touched Joe, he heard a familiar groan of arousal. He quickly prepared Joe, who, by the time he was done, was pushing back against him, encouraging more. He put his hands on Joe's waist and pushed into him hard, and as deeply as he could go. Levon threw his head back, feeling a sense of rightness as he hesitated there. Then with a shout he began to thrust.

Joe grunted and braced himself against the forward momentum, tendons standing out in his arms as he kept himself from being pushed head first into the headboard. Levon slammed into him, over and over, feeling the rush of blood in his ears which dimmed his outcries. Head bowed, his fingers dug into Joe's waist, holding onto him as tightly as he could. He heard Joe panting, moans now absent. He paid it no mind, though, as he continued to thrust.

Some minutes later, as his arousal began to peak, he leant forward along Joe's back. Holding onto Joe's shoulders, still thrusting wildly, he gripped tightly with his hands and bit the skin where his mouth had come to touch. Joe yelled, bucking against him almost violently.

But Levon continued thrusting, rearing his head back with a loud, throat-ripping scream. When he came, all he could see was the color of blood.

When he became aware of his surroundings again he was lying on top of Joe, who had collapsed flat on the mattress. He rolled off of him, running one hand down Joe's back. Joe didn't move.

He blinked, looking closer. He saw a reddened spot on Joe's shoulder blade, which he recognised. He wondered just how much shit he was in. "Joe?"

No answer.

Either Joe had passed out, or he was in *serious* trouble. "Joe?" he asked again, softer.

"Don't." The word was barely breathed as Levon reached out to touch him again.

His hand froze, then he very carefully drew it back. He waited a beat, then moved slightly back, away from Joe.

With a groan Joe turned over gingerly, wincing slightly as he sat up. "You finished?" He avoided looking at Levon.

"I reckon not," Levon said quietly. "This would be the part where you start yelling."

"What's the point?"

Inwardly, he flinched. Outwardly he just looked back at Joe. "Then I reckon I'm finished." He got up, and headed towards the door.

"Yeah," he heard Joe said softly as he left. "I guess we are."

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