A Fine Pair of Asses

Orithain & Rina

February 2004

Disclaimers: You donít honestly think they belong to us, do you? We only wish.

"You need a break."

As he spoke, Jeremiah leaned against the doorframe leading into Markusí office, looking at the other man. Ever since Meganís suicide, Markus had become even more driven to building a new world for the survivors of the Big Death. Jeremiah understood loss and how it ate at you, but ever since losing the woman heíd been in love with, Markus seemed to have lost all emotion as well.

"I donít have time for a break," Markus replied distractedly, not looking up from the report he was reading. Nor the inclination to be alone with my thoughts, he added mentally. "Shouldnít you be heading out?" Jeremiah was too good at seeing through him, better than people whoíd known him for years.

"Thought a guy got more than a day downtime between missions," Jeremiah chuckled, walking into the office and sitting on the edge of Markusí desk, plucking the report from his hand and trying to make heads or tails of it.

"And from what Erin told me, you have about a weekís worth of breaks owed you."

Markus shrugged. "That may be, but how many more people will die because I took a break? Iím not willing to risk that." He did slump back wearily, eyes closing momentarily. "What crusade are you here to argue me into this time?"

Tossing the report back on the desk, Jeremiah leaned forward and rested his hand on Markusí shoulder. "One called Ďsaving a friendís lifeí."

Markus stared blankly until realization dawned. "Itís not that bad," he argued weakly, refusing to admit how exhausted he was.

"Hey, I thought we had a Ďno bullshití zone here." Jeremiah sighed and met Markusí eyes squarely. "Working yourself to death isnít going to bring her back."

Markus flinched, eyes closing as if to shut out the world. "I miss her so much, Jeremiah," he admitted painfully. "Sheís gone, and I never even got to touch her."

Jeremiah tightened his fingers on Markusí shoulder. "You would have died if you had. She didnít want that, Markus. At least you got to say goodbye." He let his hand fall away and sighed. "Not much help, I know."

Markusí eyes opened again, showing his pain and anger. "Not only do I miss her, Iím mad at her for dying, for choosing to die," he said harshly. "Iím so tired of being alone, Jeremiah. But this takes up so much of my life, how could I expect anyone else to put up with it? Megan... couldnít ask for more. How insane is that?"

"No more than anything else in this fucked up world," Jeremiah answered, pushing off the desk and getting to his feet. "Címon, I meant it about getting out of here."

"I really shouldnít," Markus replied, but it was obvious he was wavering. He met the challenge in Jeremiahís gaze and suddenly pushed his chair back and stood up. "All right then, after you. Maybe a little while away will help."

"Damn well canít hurt."

As they walked along the catwalk over an open area, Jeremiah stopped and leaned on the railing, looking down at the children playing below. "This is why youíre doing it, remember?"

Watching the laughing youngsters, Markus felt the tension slowly seep out of him. "Thank you. I do forget sometimes. Often. I think the day that you and Kurdy arrived here at the End of the World was the luckiest day for us."

"You didnít think that at first," Jeremiah chuckled before growing more serious again. "We helped each other. I wouldnít have found my dad the way I was going."

"And we would have continued on in isolation, never reaching out, never making the friends weíve made, never helped the people weíve helped. We were stagnating here and didnít even realize it. We helped each other."

Jeremiah nodded. "We make a good team," he said, looking back out at the children below them.

An idea struck Markus, and his eyes widened as he wondered if there was any way to make it happen. Maybe... if Jeremiah sided with him. "Since Kurdy has a new partner, that kind of leaves you on your own, doesnít it? Want a new partner, at least sometimes? Like your next trip for instance."

"You think Erin would let you go?" Jeremiah asked, tilting his head to the side to look at Markus, pushing down the pain at the loss of his partner.

"Let me?" Markus raised fair eyebrows. "I am in charge around here, little though it seems it some days. And she keeps telling me to get out of the office for a while." He smiled faintly. "How can she argue against me following her wishes?"

Jeremiah arched an eyebrow as he glanced at Markus again. "I suppose thereís no point in disagreeing with you, is there?"

For the first time in quite a while, Markus grinned as he shook his head. "None at all. Partner." He slung a companionable arm over Jeremiahís shoulder.

Jeremiah winced and gave a sickly smile. "Why do I have the feeling Iím going to be regretting this?" he asked, grinning when Markus looked offended.

"Iím starting to think you donít trust me," Markus retorted. "Itís not everyone I choose to run away from home with, you know."

"Weíll see how much youíre thanking me after a few nights of sleeping out... in the rain."

"Rain." Markus made a face. "Iíd better bring a couple extra changes of clothes. But the tents are waterproof, right?" He was starting to wonder what he was letting himself in for, but he still didnít want to back out. Jeremiah always seemed to make him feel better, and right now, he really needed that.

"Tents?" Jeremiah laughed aloud and clapped Markus on the shoulder. "Who said anything about tents?"

Markusí eyes widened in dismay before narrowing suspiciously. "I know every team has a tent. I wrote the supply list myself. So why are you trying to convince me otherwise?" He was trying not to laugh as Jeremiah teased him into a better humor.

"You know, just because somethingís on the list doesnít mean itís used, oh great leader," Jeremiah answered. "If we have to hump it anywhere, the tent stays with the car Ďcause Iím not carrying it."

"Youíd rather get rained on?" Markus eyed him askance. "Personally, I prefer sleeping dry."

"You get used to it after a while," Jeremiah shrugged, suppressing a smile.

"Sounds like a recipe for mildew to me. Are you sure thereís nothing you want to tell me?" Markus opened the door to his room and motioned Jeremiah inside, intent on packing and leaving before anyone tried to stop him.

Jeremiah arched his eyebrows. "About what?"

"Anything at all. After all, weíre going to be in rather close quarters for the next while. What should I know about you?" Markus rummaged through his drawers, trying to find sturdy clothes that werenít in such pristine condition that they would draw attention outside.

"And here I thought you knew everything about everyone."

Markus shrugged. "I know the necessary things, but I donít know if you prefer the right or left side of a tent, whether you snore, if you can make a good cup of coffee over a campfire." He smiled quickly.

Jeremiah chuckled. "Left, not that Iíve been told, and yes. Anything else?"

Markus had to laugh. "Why is it that when I want you to shut up, you wonít, but when I want to talk, I get one word replies?" He hesitated over a pair of socks, finally deciding that heíd have to make do with the two pairs already in his bag. More than that would be suspicious if anyone went through his belongings.

"I just like to keep you on your toes," Jeremiah laughed, taking Markusí pack and going through it, removing extraneous items and then repacking it. "Keeps you from getting bored."

"I donít think thatís really going to be an issue." Markus watched mournfully as Jeremiah dumped several items heíd considered essential. "Not even one extra sweater?"

"Gotta make do," Jeremiah answered, looking from the items on the bed to Markus. "Or canít you hack it?"

"I hope you like listening to the sound of teeth chattering at night!"

"Iíll consider it a lullaby. So since youíve managed to cajole me into going out in the field when Iím supposed to be off, just what is this assignment?"

"Thereís a settlement in Arizona thatís supposedly turned the lights back on - hydro-electric power. We want to make contact with them, find out if itís true, and find out if theyíd be good or safe allies."

"Thatís a long trip." Jeremiah mused, picking up the extra sweater and putting it back in the pack. "You sure you can be gone for that long?"

"I think I need to be," Markus admitted, sitting down on the bed. "The people here are making me into some sort of icon. I canít live up to that, and they need to remember that they can do things for themselves. Besides, itíll only be a couple of weeks at most."

Jeremiah sat on the edge of the table and studied the other man, noting the lines of weariness around Markusí eyes. "Guess Iíd better get you back in one piece then, or Eriníll kick my ass."

"And I would take great pleasure in haunting you."

"God, thatís enough to give me nightmares!" Jeremiah was relieved to hear Markus joking again. "Of course, your lecturing probably would put me to sleep damn fast." He picked up the pack and tossed it to Markus. "Let me grab my stuff and weíll get out of here."

"Iíll have to let Erin know Iím going," Markus sighed, not looking forward to that conversation but determined not to give in this time. "But Iíll wait for you so we can tell her and leave right away."

"So she can yell at me, you mean," Jeremiah commented, straightening up again and moving to the door.

"Actually, so that I can hide behind you," Markus replied cheerfully.

Jeremiah rolled his eyes and opened the door. "Well, Iíve been told the viewís pretty good back there."

Markus made a noncommittal sound in reply, but he did look, and he had to agree. "Itís certainly safer when Erinís annoyed."

"Címon," Jeremiah slung an arm around Markusí shoulders and led him out of his room, "letís go deal with the big bad Erin and get on the road."

"You might not want to say it quite that way where she can hear you. Because Iím fairly certain that she could huff and puff and blow you down."

"Careful there, Markus, or Iíll let her get you."

"Partners are supposed to support each other," Markus replied loftily.

"And I will, all the way to the infirmary after sheís done with you."

"Wuss!" Markus shook his head, already feeling his burdens slipping away from him. Jeremiah didnít have the same expectations of him that everyone else did, so Markus could relax and just be himself. "Afraid of a girl, Jeremiah?" he taunted laughingly.

Jeremiah arched an eyebrow. "How about I ask you that question after locking you in a room with Theo for several hours?"

"I was hoping you wouldnít think of her," Markus admitted, coming to a halt just out of sight of Erinís office door. "Okay," he said, taking a deep breath and squaring his shoulders, "Iím in charge, and if I want a couple of weeks off, thatís my right. Right?"

"You sure youíre in charge?" Jeremiah asked once they escaped the office, his ears ringing with the volume and length of Erinís diatribe. "Damn woman is going to stake me out for vultures if I let anything happen to you."

Looking somewhat dazed, Markus blinked at him. "Hurry up and letís get out of here before she changes her mind! You know, I may never come back," he muttered, shooting a wary look over his shoulder.

"Then sheíll just hunt us down, kill me, and drag you back; you really donít want that, do you?" Jeremiah asked blandly. "Just let me grab my gear, then weíre off."

Eyeing him Markus didnít say what he was thinking, but the look in his eyes said it all. "Fine," he sighed, glancing back nervously again to make sure Erin hadnít changed her mind and come after them.

Sprawled comfortably in the passenger seat of the jeep, wind from the open windows blowing his hair wildly, Markus sighed contentedly, feeling himself slowly relax. "This was a good idea." He glanced sideways at Jeremiah. "You know," he drawled, "I never get a chance to drive..."

Jeremiah looked away from the open road in front of them and quirked a grin. "Is that a hint, oh great leader?"

"You couldnít tell? Iíll have to try harder." Markus decided that this probably wasnít the best time to tell Jeremiah that heíd never actually driven, aside from around Thunder Mountainís secure underground parking area. How different could it be?

"You could whine and grovel some," Jeremiah suggested, snickering at Markusí look of outrage before stopping the jeep and putting it in park. "Fine, you want to drive, you drive; just donít get us lost." That said, he climbed out of the car and walked around the hood to lean against the passenger side door. "Well?"

Momentarily startled by Jeremiahís sudden acquiescence, Markus grinned widely as he slid across the seat to the driverís side, mentally reviewing his years-distant lessons. "Iíll just follow the road, Jeremiah."

"And try not to run anyone over," Jeremiah said affably as he climbed in and closed the door behind him. "I think Iíll just take a little nap since youíre so accomplished..."

Markus darted a slightly nervous glance at him. "I thought passengers were supposed to provide conversation? You know, to keep the driver from falling asleep?"

Jeremiah opened his eyes and looked over at Markus. "And here I thought youíd be so excited about getting to drive that that would keep you awake."

"Well fine, if you donít want to talk to me..." Markus managed to keep the grin from his face. It was so refreshing to be around Jeremiah, who treated him like anyone else, not with the near awe of the other inhabitants of Thunder Mountain.

Jeremiah groaned. "Fine. What do you want to talk about, Markus? The fact that you should really get the car out of second gear before you burn the engine up?" He grinned as he said the last.

Markus looked down quickly, flushed, and switched gears. "I donít know. Tell me why you decided to stay, what made you try to shake us out of our rut instead of leaving us to stagnate?" He grinned suddenly. "Or tell me why you keep ducking the invitations from half the women at the mountain."

"I decided to stay because Kurdy threatened to shoot me if I walked away from that much food," he said wryly, before turning more serious. "Actually, it was because you proved that you were willing to try to change, to take an interest in people."

"Iím glad you did. We needed to be shaken up." Markus glanced over quickly before returning his attention to the road. "But you didnít answer my question about the invitations."

Jeremiah shrugged. "Not any particular reason. Why does it matter?"

"Just curious. Youíre something of a puzzle, Jeremiah. Iíd like to get to know you better."

"Youíre one to talk," Jeremiah answered, half turning to lean against the door and watch Markus. "Never met anyone as full of secrets as you are."

"You know all my secrets," Markus retorted defensively. "Megan, Quantrell, my whole lifeís an open book." He smiled wryly. "Do you know that youíre the only person who questions me? Everyone else just accepts what I say or do. If it really confuses them, they have Erinís favorite Ďhe was a child prodigy, and theyíre always eccentric.í But you insist on knowing my reasons. I glad youíre here, Jeremiah."

"Not all the time," Jeremiah replied easily, grinning over at the other man. "Besides, questioning you makes my life interesting."

"That used to be a curse, you know, Ďmay you live in interesting times.í These are certainly interesting times. Most people donít go looking for more. But youíre not most people, are you." Markus glanced over again, finally giving his curiosity about Jeremiah free rein.

Jeremiah shrugged. "Call it trying to remedy the past, I suppose. Help the people I can now that Iím able to."

"And make the people around you better too? Youíre not comfortable to have around, Jeremiah, and yet I feel better knowing that you are." Markus laughed at himself. "Even if you make everyone crazy. Things have changed more in the last year since meeting you than in the prior ten years."

"I believe the term is shit-disturber," Jeremiah chuckled, shifting in the seat and settling against the door once again. "Though Iíd say youíre doing some of that yourself what with bringing all of the individual alliances together. Itís a new world, Markus, and youíll be a big part of it."

"Thanks to the kick in the pants you gave me," Markus replied, also laughing. "None of us were very happy about having our rut disturbed, but things are better now. Maybe weíll be able to start rebuilding civilization so our kids can have something like the lives we remember. Itís a nice dream anyway."

Jeremiah bit his lip to keep from grinning before finally giving in. "Starting with Theoís baby... Leo or Cleo..."

"Umm... if that kidís anything like its mother, it would end up taking over the world, so no, not quite what I had in mind." Markus steered around a car abandoned and rusting at the side of the road. "Thatís strange. I thought theyíd all been moved and scavenged for materials."

"There are still a few out there; more in the cities." Jeremiah caught Markusí confused look. "Not everyone has the means and abilities to fix them."

"Or fuel for them, I suppose." Markus shook his head. "Iím starting to think we need to make sure everyone at Thunder Mountain spends some time outside. Itís too easy to forget what the rest of the worldís like."

"Now thereís an excellent idea, Markus. Iím proud of you."

"Gee, thanks, Dad. Does that mean I can stay out past my curfew tonight?"

Jeremiah contemplated hitting Markus on the shoulder but refrained. "Only if you tell me where youíre going and who youíll be with."

Laughing, Markus shook his head. "Youíre nuts. And Iíll be with you in case youíve forgotten."

"In that case, nope, canít let you stay out late, son. Who knows what kinds of trouble that Jeremiah will get you into."

"Oh, something earth-shattering probably that will involve death-defying heroics and save countless innocent lives. Iím starting to believe Jeremiah read too many comic books as a kid," Markus said confidingly. "What do you think, Batman or Superman?"

"Batman, definitely Batman. The dark loner who sweeps out of the night and avenges wrongs..." Jeremiah chuckled as he spoke. "And what about Markus Alexander? I say he read Spiderman."

"Iíll never tell." Markus mimed sealing his lips and tossing away the key, eyes sparkling merrily and a mischievous expression on his face that no one at Thunder Mountain would have recognized.

"Oh, I think you will," Jeremiah mused. "Or Iíll let you dig the latrine alone."

Markus made a face. "I want my running water back."

Jeremiah burst out laughing. "Baby."


"Donít you be calling me Conan."

"Naw, He-Man. Or maybe the way Theo likes you it should be Beastmaster."

"For that you are digging the latrine alone!"

"Captain Marvel," Markus said hastily.

"Is that the guy who said ĎShazamí all the time?"

"Not all the time, only when he wanted to turn from mild-mannered teenager Billy Batson into Captain Marvel."

"Markus, if thereís anything Iíve learned about you, itís that youíre not mild-mannered," Jeremiah chuckled.

"I am so," Markus retorted. "Ask anybody."

"Considering thereís only you and me in the car and I donít want to talk to myself, I doubt Iíll get an honest answer."

"Now youíre impugning my honesty. Iím hurt, Jeremiah."

Jeremiah shook his head. "Want me to kiss your pride and make it better? Youíre soft-spoken, Markus; you arenít mild-mannered."

Markus finally laughed. "Most people donít realize that until itís too late, if ever. It helps me get my own way."

"What was that old phrase? Speak softly and carry a big branch or something..."

"Something like that," Markus agreed with a grin. "Of course, all that means that I donít react very well when things donít go the way I want them to. Like with Megan."

"You loved her enough to die to touch her," Jeremiah said slowly. "Do you love her enough to live without her?"

"You do ask the hard questions, donít you," Markus sighed, pulling over to the side of the road as this wasnít something he wanted to discuss while driving, even if they were unlikely to encounter anything else on the road. "If youíre asking if I want to die after losing her, the answer is yes and no. But I donít want to kill myself; I just want it to stop hurting. And I know it wonít, not right away, just like when my mom and dad died. I just... canít talk to anyone about it, not when they all expect me to be their leader."

Jeremiah nodded slowly. "Keeping it locked inside doesnít help eitherówhy do you think I kept writing all those letters to my dad?"

"Well, my personal theory was that you were nuts," Markus retorted, lightening the mood and hoping Jeremiah would understand that he just wasnít ready to deal with that yet.

"Well, there is that too," Jeremiah chuckled, changing the subject. "Could be because of all that time on the road alone."

"See, I knew it." Markus pretended to look worried. "Do you hear voices too?"

"Only annoying ones that sound like pain in the asses," Jeremiah smirked.

"You hear Erin too?"

"Such wit! Maybe you should go into stand-up." Snickering, Jeremiah twisted around in the seat and dug a protein bar out of his pack. "Want one?"

Realizing he was hungry, Markus nodded. "Yeah, thanks. I donít suppose you have coffee back there too?"

"Not without a fire and you really donít want one of those in here, do you?" Jeremiah asked, digging out another bar and handing it to Markus. "Weíve got plenty of water though."

"I guess that will have to do." Markus sighed. "Do you remember Starbucks? I was just old enough that my folks would let me have one sometimes. And even when I just got a juice, it smelled so good."

Jeremiah nodded and sighed. "Sorry, no espresso makers to be found out here."

"Oh well, I can dream." Markus started down the road again, glancing over his shoulder as he did. "Are we going anywhere in particular, or should I just drive till I hit something?"

"You planned this junket; are you telling me you donít know where weíre going?" Jeremiah asked.

"I planned my escape and the destination; I left the route up to you."

"Well, Iíd say we stay on this road until we reach another one. What we do then, Iíll let you know."

"Oh good, I like a detailed plan," Markus laughed. "If we get killed, Iím letting you explain it to Erin."

"And you wonder why I like you so much," Jeremiah laughed. "Itís your sunny disposition."

"Jeremiah, name me one place youíve gone that someone hasnít tried to kill you."

Jeremiah considered that question for a moment. "Good point, but if you were that worried about this trip, why didnít you ask Smith to come with you? He could have gotten the inside scoop from God as to if you were going to die."

Markus gave him the look usually reserved for Mister Smith. "Iíd rather turn myself over to Daniel." He shook his head vigorously as if to dislodge the idea. "I canít believe you said that."

"Donít say that to Kurdy," Jeremiah mused. "And why canít you believe that? The look on your face whenever Smith talks to you is priceless, like you donít know whether to gape or run away." He paused and studied Markusí face. "Just like the one youíre giving me now."

"Can you blame me? The guy is nuts, but he somehow makes it seem like the person talking to him is the crazy one. Just thinking about him gives me a headache."

"That mean you want me to drive now?"

Markus just glared at him. "I think I should partner you with him for a trip or two. Now that would be funny."

Jeremiah just shrugged. "Youíd have to listen to the report afterward."

"Thatís why I have Erin." Markus gave him a toothy grin.

"And then sheíll kill you, which is what you wanted to avoid in the first place," Jeremiah answered, smiling smugly.

"Youíre enjoying this much too much." Markus glanced back at the road in time to swerve around a huge pothole. Once sure that the road was clear again, he looked back at Jeremiah. "So are you settling into Millhaven all right? Donít miss the constant traveling?"

"Itís keeping me on my toes, as is Libby. Never figured that when I finally had a home, Iíd be sleeping on a couch though." Jeremiah chuckled as he spoke. "Itís a good place though, and itís getting better."

"Youíll do a good job there. I trust your judgment and abilities, Jeremiah." He smiled crookedly. "And I doubt youíll be sleeping on the couch for long." He wondered why that thought bothered him so.

Jeremiah arched an eyebrow. "Thanks, I think. Guess weíll just see what the future brings for all of those."

"Guess so," Markus replied, half laughing. "You really canít take a compliment, can you?"

"Only in bed, Markus, only in bed."

Fair eyebrows rising, Markus turned to look at him again. "Well, I wouldnít know about that, now would I?"

Jeremiah mimicked the expression. "Did I say you would?"

Markus started laughing. "Apparently Smith isnít the only one who likes to say things for the reaction theyíll get."

"Itís because youíre just so cute when youíre flustered, didnít you know that?" Jeremiah answered innocently before roaring with laughter at Markusí expression.

"I am not CUTE," Markus replied in tones of utter disgust.

Jeremiah snickered. "I guess that leaves out adorable and cuddly too."

"Only post-coital would that be even remotely acceptable," Markus growled.

"Is that an offer?"

"I usually wait to be asked."

"Ahhh, that explains it," Jeremiah murmured, nodding sagely.

Markus eyed him suspiciously. "Explains what?"

"Oh, nothing," Jeremiah said quickly, leaning over the seat and digging in his pack. "Jerky?"

"Better than a jerk," Markus muttered before giving him a patently false smile. "Sure. Grab a canteen too though."

"Just remember, donít use leaves from a bush with three types for toilet paper or you wonít be sitting for a week," Jeremiah called as he watched Markus head off away from the fire.

"Ha ha. Iím not an idiot, you know." Markus shook his head, though he did look very carefully at the bushes before picking a spot. Returning moments later, he sat down beside Jeremiah and leaned back against his pack. "God, this feels good, no responsibilities, nothing and nobody needing my attention."

"Here, here." Jeremiah handed over a flask after taking a swig. "To no responsibilities - at least for a while."

"And having fun." Markus toasted him with it before taking a healthy swallow.

"And having fun," Jeremiah echoed, leaning back on his bedroll, keeping one eye on Markus and the other one the fire. "Hopefully the next generation will have more of it than we did."

"Either way, itíll be easier for them. They donít remember before the Death, so they donít miss the things we do. There are some days Iíd give anything to lie on a couch in front of the TV and just watch for a few hours. And Iíd really like to know what Star Wars Episode III would have been."

"Letís see... Amidala dies, Anakin turns bad, Obi-Wan gets fucking ugly, the Jedi all die, and ummmm... Luke and Leia were born somewhere."

"Gee thanks. That was so helpful. Now I donít miss it at all." Markus rolled his eyes and half-heartedly aimed a punch at Jeremiahís shoulder.

Jeremiah dodged the punch and grabbed for the flask at the same time. "Well, you asked!"

"Remind me not to do that again." Markus tried to grab the flask back and lost his balance, falling across Jeremiahís lap.

"What? Fall in my lap? If I didnít know better, Iíd swear you were making a pass at me, Markus."

Markus snorted, trying to sit up without putting his hand someplace it really shouldnít be. "You should be so lucky."

"Or crazy," Jeremiah grinned, amused by Markusí predicament. "Besides, I thought you said you wait to be asked."

"I thought Iíd throw myself at you and overwhelm you with my irresistible sex appeal," Markus replied dryly, finally levering himself back up.

Jeremiah bit his lip to keep from laughing at Markusí expression, one that reminded him of a drenched cat heíd once seen clawing its way out of a river. "Consider me overwhelmed," he gasped before falling onto his back, holding his stomach.

"I think itís time to get some sleep... before I give in to my overwhelming desire to murder you."

Jeremiah didnít move where heíd fallen. "Thereís another place to check off the list."

Markus stared blankly. "What list?"

"The one I was making of places Iíd been where nobody has tried to kill me."

"Iím beginning to understand why." Markus took advantage of Jeremiahís position to grab the flask again and take another gulp.

Jeremiah snorted. "See if I save you from Erin the next time."

"You will. If you donít, you have to deal with her all the time," Markus snickered.

"Iíll let Libby talk to her," Jeremiah decided. "Itíll be an official proclamation."

Markus stared at him in horror. "Youíd let the two of them gang up against you? Are you insane?"

"Iíll have Smith on my side," Jeremiah confided in a hushed tone before taking the flask and sealing it.

"Assuming you could pry him away from Kurdy. And I donít think that would be too easy. For which Iím grateful since it means I can mostly just deal with Kurdy. Though it is strange not seeing the two of you together."

Jeremiah nodded as he sat up, the smile slowly vanishing. "It feels strange, but at least heís talking to me again. Maybe one day weíll work things out."

"Iím sure you will," Markus replied, laying a comforting hand on Jeremiahís shoulder. "Youíre too good friends for you not to. He just needs time to get over losing Elizabeth. I know how I felt when Megan died, and Iíd always known that was doomed."

"No, you had hope that one day you could be together." Jeremiah clasped Markusí arm for a moment. "Get some rest, Markus; we should be there tomorrow."

Markus was disoriented when he awoke, startled by the blue sky above him, but the slight snore behind him reminded him of where he was. He rolled over to watch Jeremiah contemplatively, wondering why he felt so much more comfortable with this man than with people heíd known more than half his life.

Hearing a noise, Jeremiah opened his eyes, reaching for his gun while scanning the area around the camp for intruders. Seeing none, he sat up and yawned before looking over at Markus. "Howíd you sleep?"

"Great. Better than I have in a long time actually. I didnít even dream," he finished almost inaudibly.

"An honest dayís work will do that for you," Jeremiah offered, hoping to lighten the mood. He stood and stretched again, scratching at his bare stomach when the move pulled his shirt up. "Iíll see what I can put together for breakfast, then we can clean you up and get on the road. Canít have our fearless leader meeting people looking scruffy."

Markus finger-combed his hair ruefully. "I donít think much can be done about that, but Iíll try to uphold our reputation. And food would be good," he added with a chuckle as his stomach rumbled.

"I think a comb would be better," Jeremiah laughed, watching Markusí attempts to set his hair to rights only make it worse.

"You should not talk," Markus retorted, eyeing Jeremiah laughingly. "Iíve seen tidier sheepdogs."

"Excuse me?" Jeremiah asked, his tone one of extreme offense. "Sheepdogs? Though I suppose thatís better than you mentioning the thinning up there..." He grinned at the last.

Markus grinned. "I would never hit a man in his bald spot."

Jeremiah grumbled. "Just in his pride. Keep it up and youíll be making your own breakfast."

"Then you would have to eat it too."

"In your dreams!"

Markus lost his battle against laughter. "Why donít you start breakfast while I try to clean up some? Iíll be right back," he called over his shoulder, heading for the stream that had been the reason they chose to stop there the night before.

"Just donít fall in," Jeremiah yelled before squatting to build up the fire and get their meal going.

"Iíll count on you to rescue me if I do!" Markus yelled back, laughing.

A few minutes later, hair tamed and after a quick shave, he came back, sniffing appreciatively. "I never did master making coffee over an open fire."

"Could that be because youíve never had cause to make it over an open fire?" Jeremiah asked.

"Well, I did try a couple of times, but Erin and Lee begged me to stop. It was pretty bad," Markus admitted, accepting the cup Jeremiah passed him. "But this smells great."

Jeremiah poured himself a cup as well and drank as he stirred the oatmeal. "One of my many talents, Markus, and another reason to keep me on the payroll."

"Either that or marry you."

"Iím all aquiver. Who do we want to perform the ceremony?"

"It would probably have to be Smith, so weíll just have to live in sin."

"True, canít have you fainting before you said ĎI doí."

"It might be worth it though to hear you promise to obey."

"Only if you do, sweetie," Jeremiah mugged, fluttering his eyelashes at Markus.

Markus made gagging sounds. "Can we try for seen and not heard? Youíre much easier on the eyes than the ears."

Jeremiah groaned. "Drink your coffee, Markus, so we can get going."

Chuckling, Markus made short work of his breakfast and helped clean up so they could get back on the road. "I wish we didnít ever have to go back," he sighed as he settled in the passenger seat, just wanting to enjoy the ride for a while.

"Do you really mean that?" Jeremiah asked, looking at the other man sharply as heíd never heard Markus speak about Thunder Mountain that way.

"Sometimes, yes. Iíd love to not have the responsibility, to just be able to do what I want, to have time to find someone to be with." Markus shrugged. "But Iím sure that within a month Iíd be trying to organize wherever I ended up and feeling guilty about leaving Thunder Mountain to fend for themselves. So itíll never happen. But sometimes I like to imagine it."

"Maybe one day youíll get to. When someone else is ready to take over, we can throw a big retirement party for you and set you out on a rocker on the front porch."

"I donít think so. Suddenly, the mountain sounds much better." Markus rolled his eyes. "You can be such a jerk sometimes."

Jeremiah shrugged. "It keeps you on your toes." They rounded a curve, and he took his foot off the gas, seeing a roadblock up ahead. "And it looks like thatís where weíll need to be now."

"Oh, now what?" Markus sighed, though he wondered why he was surprised. Things always happened to Jeremiah. He peered through the windshield. "Well, weíre headed south, so I donít think it could be Danielís people."

"Could be our welcoming committee; I hope so anyway." They rolled to a stop about ten feet away from the makeshift barricade, and Jeremiah set both hands on the steering wheel, waiting to see what their reception would be.

"Letís just hope itís not any hotter than we expect." Markus forced himself to relax as the two menóno, it was one man and one womanócame toward the jeep, guns at the ready.

"Weíre here to meet with the Council," he said as they came up to the open windows. "From the End of the World."

The woman eyed both of them closely before nodding to her partner. "Weíll take you through from here. Weíve had trouble with raiding parties lately, so the road isnít safe for strangers. Our people are nervous; thatís one of the reasons Leah wanted to meet with you."

"Raiding parties from where?" Jeremiah asked, now noting the burn marks in the trees at the side of the road. There had been a firefight here, and not too long ago.

"Daniel hasnít come this far southwest yet, has he?" Markus asked with concern. If he was moving already...

"Not that we know of," the woman answered. "Iím Rachel, and this is Samuel."

"Jeremiah. This is Markus," Jeremiah answered. "But I gather you know that already."

"Pleased to meet you. But if itís not Daniel, who is it? I wasnít aware of any raider activity. Leah didnít say anything about this in her message."

The other two shared a look before Samuel spoke. "Weíll let Leah explain when we get to town."

Markus glanced over at Jeremiah, seeing the same wariness he felt. "After you then," was all he said, secure in the knowledge that Jeremiah would have his back.

After he watched the other two head for their own jeep, Jeremiah turned to Markus. "Why canít things ever be simple?"

"Itís not meant to be for us," Markus sighed, looking around as they drove into the town. "Should we bet on who tries to kill us or when?"

"Dibs on Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick."

Markus burst into laughter. "Thatís probably the only person who hasnít tried yet. Iíll vote for the first person who meets you, so that would be Rachel."

Jeremiah snorted out a laugh. "Your confidence in my charm is overwhelming."

"Iím going by past experience," Markus retorted. "Itís a virtual certainty that people who meet you try to kill you. Iíve been tempted myself a few times."

"So much for the romance, and here you only proposed last night," Jeremiah sighed. "Well, I suppose weíll see whatís up soon. Maybe theyíll have comfortable beds at least." He pulled in behind the other vehicle and turned off the engine.

"Ah, but you didnít accept, so I have to look elsewhere now. And youíd better hope they have more than one bed. Kurdy told me you snore, so if not, youíre out of luck."

"In your dreams!" Shaking his head at the thought of it, Jeremiah climbed out of the jeep, scanning the compound. "That must be Leah," he added, seeing a tall redhead walking out of the building.

"It is," Samuel said, coming up beside them.

"Welcome to Lake Havasu City. Weíve heard a lot about what you and some of the others are doing, and when the raiders started hitting us, we thought you might be able to help. Weíre very glad to see you."

Markus stared at her. "So why didnít you tell us about these raiders?"

"She was afraid we wouldnít come," Jeremiah put in before she answered, earning himself a glare from the others.

"Partially," Leah said. "Mainly because we thought a smaller group from Thunder Mountain would draw less attention."

"And you didnít think that honesty would be a good way to start a new relationship?" Markus asked coolly, earning himself glares as well.

"We thought meeting face to face would be the best idea."

"First impressions are fairly lasting." Markus evaded Rachelís attempt to move between him and Jeremiah, moving closer to him again.

"Especially when theyíre made at gunpoint," Jeremiah added.

"You have my apologies for the deception, but I stand behind my decision," Rachel said.

"And I stand by my belief that youíre going to have to overcome distrust now. This feels more like a set up than a meeting of new friends." Markus made sure to keep close to Jeremiah and to keep Leah in sight, trusting to Jeremiah to watch the other two and warn him if necessary.

"We simply want a chance to explain our situation to you. If you want to leave after that, we wonít stop you."

Jeremiah spared a glance at Markus and gave a slight shrug.

"I told you allowing them to come here was a bad mistake," Samuel muttered. "They only want the hydro."

"We only want people we can trust. Several of the communities whoíve joined us have nothing to offer but people. Thatís what weíre about, recreating a sense of community." Markus gave Jeremiah a wry glance, remembering that he was the one who had drawn Markus and the others out of the mountain and back into the world.

Rachel gave him a disbelieving look, and even Leah seemed less than convinced.

"We have helicopters. If we wanted to just take things, we wouldnít need to pretend," Markus pointed out.

"Which would make you as bad as Daniel," Rachel pointed out.

Jeremiah looked around. "Do you see any helicopters? No, just us two, Moe and Larry."

"Maybe we should go have that meeting we came here for. After this beginning, we have no place to go but up." He started toward the building, confident that Jeremiah would stick with him. As he moved, he glanced toward Leah. "Coming?"

"I see why he stays in charge," Leah muttered to Rachel. "But Iíll bet he pisses a lot of people off."

"If he helps us stay alive, Iíll deal with being pissed off," the other woman murmured.

"Well, this started out well," Jeremiah muttered as he shadowed Markus inside. "Think theyíll throw us off the dam next?"

"Better start figuring out a plan to save us if they do." Markus smirked at the look he got from his companion. Despite what heíd said, he didnít sense danger from these people, but he wasnít going to make things easy for them after the trick theyíd pulled.

"Iíll pack my lightsaber," Jeremiah said dryly.

"I was talking to Rachel." Theyíd been at Lake Havasu City for two days, and the meetings had been going well. "They sighted some scouts at the eastern guard post; there might be another attack."

"Then we should probably help them. Pity we donít have anyone else with us." Markus eyed him. "Got that lightsaber handy?"

"Sorry, traded it in on a rifle," Jeremiah sighed. "Guess weíll have to do it the hard way."

"Nothingís ever easy," Markus sighed, checking the clip on his own gun. "You know that Erinís going to be incredibly pissed at both of us. Weíd almost be better getting killed." He grabbed a rifle and headed for the door.

"How is it our fault this place is being hit by raiders?" At Markusí expression, Jeremiah sighed. "Never mind."

"For a moment there, I thought you forgot who Erin was," Markus laughed. "But Iím telling you right now, Iím letting you tell her, and Iím hiding behind you when you do."

Jeremiah chuckled. "So weíre back to you wanting to stare at my ass again. I told you it was a fine one."

Markus eyed him. "Are you insinuating your ass is better than mine?"

"Well now, not to sound superior or anything but... yes."

Markus walked around him, checking him out closely. "Not bad, but no, mineís better. Tighter." He smirked.

"So you check yourself out that closely?" Jeremiah asked. He arched an eyebrow before reaching out and patting Markusí ass. "Hmmm, not bad, but I still donít think itís better than mine."

"Tell you what, we both survive this and we can compare. Then youíll see that Iím the best." Markus smirked at him as he turned toward the door again, sticking his hands in his pockets to pull his pants taut over his ass.

Jeremiahís eyes dropped to Markusí ass and stayed there until the other man left the room. "We both survive this and I damn well want a hands-on comparison," he murmured.

"Thunder Mountain is looking better and better," Markus groaned, collapsing onto the bed in the room theyíd been assigned in Lake Havasu City. "But Iím not moving for a while. We can stay here for a couple more days."

"Did Erin say that?" Jeremiah asked as he dropped onto the chair nearby. "Because if she did, Iím going to go stand in the shower for an hour or soóthis hydro power is a good thing."

Markus grinned. "I havenít spoken to Erin. Weíll let her know how it goes when we get back to the mountain. In the meantime, we can relax... and take that shower."

"And... compare?"

Markus sat up abruptly and stared at him. "Well, if you really want to lose."

Jeremiah shrugged. "Canít lose if I havenít seen the competition."

Eyes narrowed, Markus stood up abruptly. "Fine." His hands went to his belt and he started to unfasten his pants, never looking away from Jeremiah. "Though I think we both should be in the same state for a comparison."

"Well, it might help." Jeremiah reached for his own belt and undid it and bent to kick off his boots. "Better hurry up or Iíll think youíre shy."

Surprised since heíd thought Jeremiah would back down when he called his bluff, Markus still shrugged and pulled off his boots, then pushed his pants down, leaving himself naked from the waist down. "Next?" he taunted.

"Canít leave things half way," Jeremiah smirked, standing to push down his own pants. He stepped out of them before pulling off his shirts. "You calling or folding?"

Eyebrows rising again, Markus stripped off the rest of his clothes and stood in front of Jeremiah with his arms crossed over his chest. "I call. Show me what you got."

"Finest pair youíll ever see," Jeremiah chuckled, turning so his back was to Marcus and spreading his arms.

"I think I trump you." Markus turned as well, thrusting his ass out slightly.

"Didnít think we were playing bridge here," Jeremiah laughed, looking back over his shoulder. "Well, well, well. Not bad at all, Marcus. All that sitting around in your meetings doesnít seem to have flattened it any."

Markus gave him a look over his shoulder as well before his attention was drawn downward to Jeremiahís ass. "As if it would be. Yours doesnít seem worn away either, and I will say that itís the finest ass other than mine that Iíve seen."

"You make it a point to study your own ass? Kinky."

Before Markus could reply, there was a knock at the door immediately followed by Leah entering the room. "Markus, I..." Her eyes widened, and she stopped in mid word, flushing. "Sorry, I didnít realize..." She started to back out of the room.

"This isnít what it looks like!" Markus exclaimed, blushing darkly.

"We were just arguing over who got the shower first," Jeremiah added. "And since you need Markus, it looks like I do." He glanced over at the other man and arched an eyebrow. "You may want to get dressed though, unless you want someone elseís opinion."

Markus glared even as he yanked his pants on. "You better not use up all the hot water," he warned, unable to tear his eyes away until Jeremiah had left the room. He turned back to Leah and blushed again when he met her knowing look.

"I just wanted to let you know that youíre welcome to stay as long as you like." She smiled. "Iíll see you at dinner... if you make it down." With another grin she left.

Markus collapsed onto the bed with a groan to wait for Jeremiah to come back.

About ten minutes later, Jeremiah returned, his hair still damp and a towel slung low around his hips. "What? No big meeting? Did she at least grade your ass...ets?"

"Very funny. Actually she basically said that she doesnít expect to see us for dinneróor pretty much anytime was the implication. Looks like weíre living in sin whether we like it or not." Markus made a joke of it, but he was somewhat flushed as he thought about it.

"Us and the rest of the world. Go take a shower, Markus; itíll clear your head some."

"Better not be because thereís no hot water left," Markus grumbled, grabbing a towel and heading for the shower. What was the matter with him? Jeremiah was his friend, so why was he started to feel... well, horny, not to put too fine a point on it, around him? It looked like he was in for one hell of an interesting trip back.

"You know, I think Rebecca was giving me the glare of death last night. Think that counts as a murder attempt?" Jeremiah asked as they drove out of Lake Havasu City, headed back for Thunder Mountain. "Your ass seems to have been more to her taste than mine."

"In which case I thank you for saving it from her." Markus made a face. "Iíd rather sleep with Smith!"

"Didnít realize you swung that way. Bet heíd be a talker too - can you imagine? God says harder!" Jeremiah glanced over at Markus and howled with laughter at the expression of horror on his face.

When he could speak again, Markus growled, "Iím going to have to kill you now. Which would be a shame since youíre supposed to be my wife." He smirked. "And your ass did look worthwhile."

"Wife?" If they hadnít still been within the sight of the town, Jeremiah would have pulled the car over. "Excuse me?"

"Well, you did say that Iíd proposed, and you didnít say no."

"I didnít say yes either, especially since you havenít told me where weíre going on our honeymoon."

"Well, Niagara Falls is out, so I guess itíll have to be Vegas." Markus was grateful that no one else ever heard these conversations. "But Iím not carrying you over the threshold!"

"Wimp. Didnít even get me a ring, I should hold out on you."

"I donít remember you putting out in the first place, so how could you hold out?"

Jeremiah waved a hand. "Semantics."

Markus snorted. "If thatís all you think it is, I donít think much of your previous experiences."

"So you want names and locations now or just positions? Didnít realize I needed references." They slowed to drive through the checkpoint, and Jeremiah raised a hand when Samuel waved them through.

"I really donít want details," Markus retorted, surprised by the surge of... it couldnít be jealousy? He looked over at Jeremiah searchingly, trying to understand what was going on inside him.

"Then what is it you do want, Markus?" Jeremiah asked, his voice losing its teasing tone.

"I... Iím not sure," Markus admitted, turning in his seat to face Jeremiah, eyes searching his face as if hoping to find the answer there. He was beginning to think that perhaps the face itself was the answer.

Jeremiah looked away from the road, his eyes meeting Markusí. "Wanna talk about it or figure it out on your own?"

"I think this is definitely something that needs to be talked about."

"Now or later on?"

"Iíd rather talk about it before I lose my nerve, but itís probably not a conversation we should be having while youíre driving."

Jeremiah nodded. "Well, we can camp earlier tonight. Losing a few hours more wonít make Erin any more pissed than she already is."

"Might be more than a few hours," Markus muttered.

"In which case sheíll be so glad youíre back safely, she wonít rip us new onesóat least at first."

"I think the old one will be sufficient."

"Well, it is a damn fine one in your case." Jeremiah smiled as he said the last, hoping to lighten the tension.

"And you ought to know since you got such a good look," Markus chuckled. "Weíll have to call that contest a draw."

"Probably safer, though I never did get to check your boast of how firm it was..."

"Thatís something else we can discuss tonight. You did say you wanted a hands-on comparison."

Jeremiah nodded slowly, glancing at Markus out of the corner of his eye. "Better have that talk first though; donít want to get slapped."

"Talk then test. Makes sense to me." Markus smiled faintly. "And I donít think thereís much danger of anyone getting slapped."

"Thank God," Jeremiah breathed. "Or should I mention him? I mean donít want you thinking about Smith and freaking out on me."

"Ha ha. I try to forget about Smith whenever possible. Or donít you think you can manage to keep my attention?"

Jeremiah chuckled. "Well, if you get bored, you can call in and talk to Erin; Iím sure sheíd have some choice things to say to you."

"Umm... no! I am not a masochist. Itís bad enough Iím going to have to listen to the lecture on safety, responsibility and duty when we get back," Markus sighed. "Maybe Iíll just go back to Millhaven with you."

"No way! Thereís hardly room on the couch for me!" Jeremiah laughed.

"There are two of us and only one of her. We should get the bed."

Jeremiah looked away from the road again and arched his eyebrows. "Are you going to tell her that?"

"Good point. How about we put her and Erin in charge of Millhaven, and you come back to the mountain?"

"Thatís... absolutely brilliant," Jeremiah laughed. "Wish it would work."

"Donít think theyíd go for it, huh? Weíll just have to get Libby her own place then."

Jeremiah nodded. "Thatís it, though knowing Libby sheíll want to know why."

"I have no problem telling her we want the bed." Markus realized what he had said, and his eyes widened, but he didnít take it back.

"So, uh... guess we might be having that talk even sooner than we planned to."

"I appear to have already said what I wanted to."

Jeremiah nodded slowly. "Guess thereís only one thing left to do then, but itíll have to wait until we make camp."

"Do you think you could give me a hint whether it will involve a fist in my face or something a bit more in line with what I said?"

"Markus, Iíve been outside the past fifteen years," Jeremiah murmured, running a hand through his hair and making it stand up in all directions. "Iíve seen and done things you wouldnít believe, but Iíll tell you now, the one thing left to do does not involve putting a fist in your face."

"In that case, that clearing up ahead would be a good place to make camp, donít you think?" Markus watched Jeremiah closely, surprised, and yet somehow not, by what was happening between them.

"I dunno... weíre still not that far from Lake Havasu City. I really donít want anyone on a long range patrol walking into our camp."

Markus imagined that and blanched. "Another good pointóyouíre just full of them today. Iíll leave it to you where we camp. But, uh, daylight would be nice." He flushed again, but he did want to see Jeremiah if they were going to do this.

"Well, firelightís not bad..." Jeremiah began, "but then daylight would give you more of a chance to appreciate my ass."

"I keep telling you - mineís better," Markus laughed.

"Weíre really going to have to have you see someone about these delusions, you know."

"Are you saying that you donít appreciate my ass?"

"No, I think itís a fine ass; Iím just of the opinion that mineís better. Of course, that might change after tonight."

Markus snorted. "Iím starting to remember some of my momís comments about beauty pageants. Good thing I think itíll be worth it."

Jeremiah grinned and glanced over at Markus again. "I think so too."

Starting to laugh, Markus shook his head and leaned back in his seat. "You really do like to get people going, donít you? Poor Kurdy, first you, then Smith."

"You know, I think thereís a leaf over there you didnít move," Jeremiah chuckled as he watched Markus pace around their camp, full of nervous energy. "Want me to get it, or can it stay where it is?"

Markus stopped and looked at him sheepishly. "Sorry, Iím just a little nervous." He took a deep breath and sat down next to Jeremiah. "So... I think itís your turn to talk?"

Jeremiah nodded. "So it would seem." He stretched out his legs in front of him, half-turning to look at Markus as he did so. "Itís different out here, Markus, youíve seen that now. There are times you take whatever companionship you can get just so you donít feel so alone."

He paused, studying the unlit fire, before continuing. "This isnít about taking what you can get though. Itís about friendship and trust and a damn fine ass." He smiled slightly at the last. "And Iím talking about yours, not mine. Weíve been dancing around it the past few days, so Iíll lay it on the table. I want you, Markus."

Markus had to swallow hard before he could speak. "Well, I donít think this is going to be much of a surprise, but I want you too." He smiled crookedly. "Which is really not something I ever imagined myself saying, but there it is. Part of me feels guilty for it when Meganís dead, but... Iím not. Youíve been my friend for a while, and somewhere along the line that feeling changed... grew into more."

Jeremiah nodded. "Which leads me to that one thing I said I was going to do when we got here."

Markus shifted so he was facing Jeremiah directly. "Which would be?"


A slow smile curved Markusí lips. "Then I guess I have to answer." He leaned forward, his hands going to Jeremiahís thighs for support, and kissed him, the merest brush of lips over Jeremiahís mouth. He only pulled back slightly, however, to look at Jeremiah, hunger darkening his eyes.

"Just the kind of answer I was hoping for," Jeremiah murmured, raising a hand to curve it around the back of the other manís neck, drawing him in again for a longer kiss that gradually deepened as his tongue sought entrance into Markusí mouth.

A gasp parted Markusí lips, and Jeremiahís tongue slipped past to trace the sensitive inner curves. It was amazing, so much more intense than the few stolen kisses of his teens, and Markus found himself shifting up onto his knees to move closer, wanting more. Just being able to touch Jeremiah... Heíd given up hope of this after years of loving Megan, but now he thought that it had been worth the wait.

Moving as well, Jeremiah slid his other arm around Markusí waist, his hand going under the other manís shirt and sweater to stroke warm flesh, and he gave a pleased sound at the resulting shiver. "Easy now."

"Easy for you to say," Markus mumbled, copying Jeremiahís motion so that his palm was pressed to bare skin. "Oh God."

Jeremiah pulled back to look in Markusí eyes. "Donít tell me heís talking to you now too."

Bursting into laughter, Markus sank back onto his heels. "Not quite," he chuckled, nerves forgotten now. "Let him interrupt Kurdy and Smith. Twoís company after all."

"Kurdy. And Smith??? God, Markus, way to ruin the mood!" Laughing, Jeremiah caught Markus around the waist and tumbled them both to the ground.

"Okay, forget them. Think of my perfect ass," Markus suggested with a smirk, arms going around Jeremiahís waist as his legs parted slightly to let them fit together comfortably.

"Mmm, speaking of that..." Jeremiah slid both hands downward to cup Markusí buttocks, squeezing them slightly. "Damn, I think you may be right, thatís the firmest ass Iíve ever felt."

"Told you so." Markus smirked.

"And here I thought you were the modest one, Markus." As he spoke, Jeremiah leaned in, nibbling his way along the other manís chin.

"Sometimes. This doesnít seem to be the right time... for modesty." Moaning, Markus let his head fall back, his fingers combing through Jeremiahís hair as he tried to draw him closer, loving the sensation of Jeremiahís mouth on him.

"True," Jeremiah answered, moving along Markusí jaw to his ear and swirling his tongue around it. "Immodesty seems best right now."

"Immodesty equals nudity, doesnít it?" Markus gasped, releasing Jeremiahís head to begin exploring his body, feeling the lean form beneath his hands.

"Eventually, yes," Jeremiah said, arching his back against Markusí hands and letting his own roam again, this time between them to circle and rub at Markusí nipples.

Markus was embarrassed to realize that he was whimpering, but not even hearing himself could make him stop. It felt so good! The few girls heíd experimented with hadnít had any interest in a boyís chest, but Jeremiah was showing him what heíd missed. He tried to do the same for Jeremiah, but he was clumsy as the new sensations overwhelmed him.

"Markus..." Jeremiah pulled back though he left his hands under the other manís shirt. "Am I right in guessing this is your first time with a man?"

Markus nodded, blushing and praying that Jeremiah wouldnít ask anything else. He dragged his hands down Jeremiahís ribs, hoping to distract him.

Deciding that asking if Markus had ever been with anyone was a bad idea at the moment, especially considering how heíd felt about Megan, Jeremiah just nodded. "Just curious," he said, bringing his mouth to Markusí again, wanting to explore his taste more.

Happily abandoning the conversation in favor of kissing, Markus finally worked up the courage to slide his hands under the waistband of Jeremiahís pants, thankfully unfastened or heíd never have managed it with the skin-tight leather. His palms cupped the ass heíd admired the day before, and he pulled Jeremiah closer while arching up to meet him.

Chuckling under his breath as he felt Markusí appreciation for his butt, Jeremiah leaned forward, rolling the other man to the ground and looking down at him before beginning to work his shirt over his head.

Practically licking his lips with anticipation, Markus watched, then reached out to stroke Jeremiahís belly, unable to resist the bared flesh. "Your ass isnít the only gorgeous part of you."

"You didnít realize that the other day?" Jeremiah asked, feeling his stomach muscles quiver at the almost reverent touch. He reached for Markusí sweater and began to work it up, stopping when the other manís expression turned strange. "What?"

"You feel a lot better than roots and pebbles." Markus sat up and tried to brush the ground behind him free of debris, but it was impossible. Sighing, he bunched up his shirt and tried to use it as a cushion for his back.

"Thereís a reason we have sleeping bags, you know," Jeremiah chuckled, grabbing Markusí shirt and his hand at the same time. "Címon, nature-boy, letís move."

Markus let himself be pulled to his feet. "Well, since you didnít like the idea of tents, I thought maybe you had a philosophical objection to any comfort," he retorted, blithely ignoring the fact that theyíd used the sleeping bags on their way to Lake Havasu City.

Jeremiah eyed him baldly. "Well, if you want to lie on the ground, go right ahead. I do know that having a stick poke you in the ass isnít quite as good as the real thing."

"Iíll need some empirical evidence... of the benefits of the latter," he added hastily, knowing Jeremiahís sense of humor.

"Good thing you added the last or Iídíve had to go looking for a stick just so you could appreciate me more."

"Um, no. No sticks. I prefer dealing with living body parts, thanks. Thatís going to be enough of a stretch." The moment the words left his lips, Markus realized what heíd said and flushed again.

Jeremiah bit his lip to keep from laughing and simply nodded. "Well, thereís no rule that says we have to get to that tonight; thereís plenty more to explore." As he spoke, he walked Markus over to the sleeping bags so they could lay one out.

Markus looked mutinous, but he didnít argue... for the moment. Instead he busied himself helping Jeremiah get them set up for the night, then sat down on the thick fabric. "Much better." He eyed Jeremiah. "My ass is much too fine to bruise on rocks."

"Sure you donít want a pillow as well?" Jeremiah asked, dropping both their shirts to the ground beside them and sitting down behind Markus, pulling him back against his chest.

"I could always just sit on you." Again, Markus was too late to bite back the comment, and he groaned, "I think Iíll just stop talking now."

"Might be safer." Chuckling as he spoke, Jeremiah ran his hands over Markusí chest as he nuzzled his neck. "Though groans are acceptable."

"More like inevitable," Markus gasped, his head falling back against Jeremiahís shoulder. His hands fell to Jeremiahís thighs and kneaded the hard muscles, enjoying the smooth leather beneath his fingertips and simultaneously wanting it gone so he could touch the warmth of bare skin.

"Fine with me." One hand drifted lower to run over Markusí inner thigh, his own tensing beneath the other manís hands.

Markus groaned throatily, biting off the Ďoh Godí that wanted to escape in case Jeremiah started talking about Smith again. He thrust up uncontrollably, begging for more without words, and another hoarse sound of lust fell from his lips as he felt Jeremiahís erection against him.

Jeremiah couldnít resist thrusting slightly against Markusí ass when he felt the other man squirm backwards. His hand dipped lower, his thumb stroking along the crease between Markusí leg and body, and he tugged at the taut nipple under his fingers, wanting to hear more sounds.

Whining, Markus rocked back and forth between the teasing thumb in front and hard shaft behind. "Jer," he moaned, one hand finally grasping at Jeremiahís and dragging it from his thigh to the bulge at his groin, while he shivered and gasped as Jeremiah continued to tease his nipple.

"Relax, Markus," Jeremiah breathed, mapping the length of the other manís erection beneath his khakis then working his fingers to begin undoing the button and zipper.

Markus twisted his torso around to give Jeremiah a look of utter disbelief. "Relax? Are you insane? Oh!" He lost the ability to verbalize or even to think when Jeremiahís fingers curled around his erection, making him arch into the grip and gasp for breath.

"Then just breathe, okay? Donít want Erin killing me because you died this way." He spoke the words into Markusí ear as he stroked his cock.

"But what a way to go," Markus gasped out between moans of pure pleasure. No one else had ever touched him like this, and for a moment he thought he truly might die. Instead he came, so quickly he would have been embarrassed had he been capable of thought, his body convulsing as his seed spurted over Jeremiahís hand.

Jeremiah closed his eyes, savoring the feel of Markusí come sliding over his fingers. He kept stroking the slowly softening flesh, ignoring his own throbbing groin in favor of continuing to make Markus writhe.

Markus whimpered as Jeremiah fondled his climax-sensitized flesh, but even the faint pain was pleasurable, excruciatingly so. "You too," he moaned, rocking against the hard cock behind him.

"Want to help?" Jeremiah asked, scooting back enough to get a hand between his body and Markusí, popping the rest of the buttons on his pants open.

Markus mustered up the energy to turn around, his eyes immediately focusing on the rigid length pushing free of the leather. Another incoherent sound of lust escaped him, and he bent down to lick tentatively at the head.

"Markus..." Jeremiah hissed, spreading his legs wider and raising a hand to the back of the other manís head. "I meant lend a hand..."

Markus raised his head to smirk up at Jeremiah. "You know me, I always let my mouth run away with me." He licked again, finding he liked the somewhat bitter flavor, though that probably had a great deal to do with it being Jeremiah.

Jeremiah chuckled, though it sounded more like a moan at that point. "Well, Iím not going to complain about it, thatís for sure." He threaded his fingers through Markusí hair, feeling the tight curls tug at them.

The answering laugh made Jeremiah jump, which made Markus chuckle again. Greatly daring, he opened his mouth and let the head slip between his lips, remembering to keep his teeth covered. He just held it for a moment, then began to suck gently.

"Oh fuck," Jeremiah groaned, his head falling back on his shoulders as he felt the heat of Markusí mouth around his cock and the light suction. "You sure you havenít done this before?"

Markus had to stop what he was doing to answer that. "Iím fairly certain Iíd remember if I had." He dragged the flat of his tongue over Jeremiah again.

Jeremiah managed a nod and thrust upward, rubbing his cock against Markusí tongue and feeling his balls draw up to his body.

Markus almost gagged, but he controlled the reflex and managed to keep sucking Jeremiah, head bobbing slightly up and down while his tongue played along the length of the shaft in his mouth. At the same time he slid a hand down to cup Jeremiahís balls, rolling them gently in his palm.

"Markus..." Jeremiah gasped, trying to pull back as he wasnít sure what the other manís reaction to his coming in his mouth would be. The inexperienced seduction did him in, however, and he came just after he spoke.

Startled by the suddenness of it, Markus choked slightly before he managed to swallow, a small trickle escaping to trail down to his chin while he continued to suck on Jeremiah, drawing out every last spasm of pleasure.

"God..." Jeremiah gasped, shuddering, then pulling Markus up to kiss him again, enjoying his own taste in the blondís mouth.

"I thought we agreed to leave him to Smith," Markus chuckled when they finally stopped trying to devour one another.

"And leave Smith to Kurdy," Jeremiah laughed, pulling back to look into Markusí eyes. "So should I ask how you liked it?"

"You couldnít tell?" Markus asked wryly. "Considering I couldnít hold out more than a minute, I think itís safe to say that I liked it... and hope to do better next time."

"Hey, I think itís a compliment," Jeremiah answered, leaning back on the sleeping bag and puling Markus down with him.

"Well, Iíd still like a chance at some of the parts that take a little longer." Markus sighed contentedly as he lay half against, half atop Jeremiah, his head pillowed on the other manís shoulder.

"I think weíll be able to manage that soon," Jeremiah murmured, stroking a hand over Markusí back before twisting to trail his fingers through the semen on Markusí belly.

Markus shivered and pressed closer. "Oh good, I still have something to look forward to."

"I hope you arenít telling me you thought this was all there was."

"No, Iím not quite that much of an idiot. But I wasnít sure about Ďsooní till you said it." He stroked Jeremiahís shoulder and upper arm, all he could easily reach without moving, which he was loathe to do, as comfortable as he was.

"Why is that?"

"Well, I know this isnít exactly new to you, so you might not be as... eager." Markus shrugged a little uncomfortably, still surprised by how much he wanted Jeremiah.

"Sex might not be new to me, but you are, so I think youíll find me more eager than you thought," Jeremiah murmured, tilting Markusí head up so that he could kiss him.

Markus smiled even as they kissed, pleased to know that he affected Jeremiah as well. And even though he was sated for the moment, the sensation of their half-naked bodies pressed together and the taste of Jeremiah sent a thrill of pleasure through him.

"Mmm. Better get the fire going and dinner on so we donít have to worry about it," Jeremiah finally sighed.

Markus really didnít want to move, but Jeremiah was right, so he forced himself to sit up, absently scratching at his belly as the drying semen itched. "Much as I hate to admit it, youíre right." His stomach rumbled as if in agreement, making him laugh.

Jeremiah smirked. "As always."

"As if," Markus snorted. "And we should probably at least get our pants done up in case anyone happens by. Which theyíd better not. I have plans for tonight."

Jeremiah got to his feet and fastened his pants, reaching for his shirt and tossing Markus his as well. "Well, since Iím hoping those plans include me, I may have to shoot anyone who does bother us."

"I should probably make some comment about the value of human life," Markus mused, amusement sparkling in his eyes, "but under the circumstances, Iíll just offer to reload for you." He eyed the shirt, then dropped it again, deciding that heíd enjoy the sun on his skin for a while longer.

"Smart man," Jeremiah laughed, taking a moment to admire the lines of Markusí chest. "Or you could offer to lecture them, it might be more effective than bullets."

"Oh, very funny. You can slay them with your wit instead."

"You calling me a comic?"

Markus just looked at him. "What do you think?"

"That you are because, as I said, youíre a smart man." Jeremiah smirked and nodded toward their packs. "So, you want to get water or start the fire?"

"Iíll get the water." Markus didnít want to have to admit that his fires had a tendency to fizzle out if he could ever get them started at all. There was a reason he hadnít been a Boy Scout. He picked up the canteen, then hesitated and kissed Jeremiah quickly before starting toward the stream.

"Markus?" Jeremiah waited until the other man turned. "Be careful, okay? Iíve got plans for tonight too."

Markus smiled. "Oh good. Iíll be looking forward to it." He backed away before he gave in to the impulse to pull Jeremiah back down to the sleeping bags. "Be right back."

Jeremiah watched Markus until he vanished into the brush, then busied himself with starting the fire and putting together the makings of a meal. He kept most of his attention, however, on the sounds around him, waiting to hear Markus returning.

"So whatís for dinner, honey?" Markus announced his return with a smirk.

"Blackened eye if you call me that again," Jeremiah growled.

"Sweetums? Sugarbear? Honeybun?" Markus suggested, backing away as he spoke.

"Psycho man," Jeremiah sighed, shaking his head. "I think Iím going to be indisposed when Erin comes down on you."

"Like hell! Youíre not leaving me to face her alone." Markus sighed. "At least sheíll be better about... this," he gestured vaguely, "than Lee would have been."

Jeremiah looked incredulous. "Do you really think Lee isnít going to find out?" He decided it wasnít mentioning the fact that he was almost certain Erin wanted Markus herself.

"Not at the moment. Heís trying to be unobtrusive since that whole fiasco with Valhalla Sector. Iím sure he wonít be happyóyouíre not exactly his favorite personóbut I doubt heíll say anything."

"This is Lee youíre talking about, Markus."

"Okay, he wonít say anything to me." Markus smirked knowingly at him.

Jeremiah shuddered. "You know, this isnít earning you my good will."

"Iíll find a way to make it up to you." Markus leaned closer and brushed his lips over Jeremiahís, then licked them, savoring the elusive flavor of his lover.

Jeremiah purred and leaned into the kiss. "Iíve tasted your cooking," he murmured, once their lips parted. "That isnít going to do it."

"I wasnít thinking of food. Though Iím hoping youíll make some eventually," he added as his stomach rumbled again. "Then I can provide dessert."

"Hmm, with that as incentive, I suppose I could whip something upójust to keep our energy high."

"Good plan. Iíd hate for either of us to fall asleep."

Jeremiah pulled Markus in for another kiss. "Especially before dessert. Now do me a favor and pour some of that water in the pot; Iíll even make you coffee."

"Ohh, if I hadnít already proposed, that would make me do it."

"And you still have to get me that ring or people will say Iím a slut."

"But will you wear white at the wedding?"

"Only if you do."

Flushing scarlet, Markus mumbled, "I really hope not to."

Jeremiah cocked an eyebrow at that comment. "Once weíre done eating, Iíll see what I can do to help you there. Guess itíll be black for both of us."

"Red would be nice. Very cheerful. We can be sluts together," Markus chuckled.

"Whoís going to officiate? Maybe we can get Theo to do it, Iím sure sheíll have something appropriate to say. Or, I know, Smith of course. From Godís mouth to his lips to our ears."

Markus choked. "No! Nonono! Anyone but Smith. That..." He shuddered.

Jeremiah snickered. "One thingís for certain; if I ever want to get a reaction out of you, all I have to do is say his name."

"Ha ha." Markus glared. "Youíre lucky I like dessert too or you might find yourself on a diet after that."

"Now whoís holding out before putting out?"

"I only said I should, not that I would." Markus kissed him again to make sure Jeremiah understood the distinction.

"As I said, smart man. Now get that water boiling or your dessert will be coffee-less."

"Never!" Markus snatched up the battered metal coffeepot and filled it before setting it next to the fire. He sat watching it, waiting for the water to boil so he could have the coffee he could practically taste.

Jeremiah chuckled even as he opened a few cans and poured them into the pot. "Remind me never to get between you and coffee, Markus. It could be dangerous to my health."

"Iím glad you understand that. We should get along fine." Markus glanced over to see what Jeremiah was making and made a face. "Do you remember McDonaldís?" he sighed wistfully.

"Liked Burger King myself, and thinking about that is not making this look any more appetizing."

"Very true. Sorry. Think about dessert instead," Markus suggested. "That sounds very appetizing to me."

Jeremiah nodded and stirred the canned stew. "Actually, you sound more appetizing."

Eyeing the stew, Markus stated wryly, "Iím glad to hear it. But we need to eat that first, or we may not make it through the best course."

"And that would be a damn shame." Jeremiah stirred the stew again, looking thoughtful. "Mind if I ask you something?"

"Of course not. I think weíre a bit past keeping distance." Markus turned to face him fully, curious. "What is it?"

"I know you said youíd never been with a man before, but with things like they were with Megan..." He trailed off, trying to find a polite way to ask, but unable to.

Markus sighed. Heíd hoped to avoid having to deal with this, but after his earlier commentówhich had been intentionalóhe knew he couldnít. And it was only fair that Jeremiah know what he was getting into. "Yes. I am."

"Oh." Even though heíd been expecting the answer, Jeremiah hadnít been prepared for it. "Thatís cool."

"Well, it doesnít really matter since I hope to change that very soon. If you still want to, that is."

Jeremiahís eyes widened. "You think Iím backing out? No way! Like I said, itís cool. To love someone that much... itís cool."

"Yeah well, I think Iím ready for something hotter and sweatier."

Jeremiah chuckled. "Dinner and coffee first, Markus."

"Not even you are better than coffee," Markus agreed.

"So you say now."

"Iíll get back to you later." The water finally boiled, and Markus poked Jeremiah. "Itís ready to make the coffee you said youíd make."

"One track mind," Jeremiah sighed, taking the packet of grounds from his pack and measuring them out into the pot and moving it away from the fire to brew. "Sometimes I worry about you, Markus."

"You should know better than to get between a man and his coffee. I mean, have you ever tried to talk to Erin before her first cup in the morning?" He shuddered. "Thank God weíve managed to maintain a supply of it."

"Yeah, and what are you going to do when you run out? Send me to South America to find you a new source?"

"We could go together. It could be our honeymoon." Markus gave him a bland smile while waiting for the coffee to brew.

"Oh, now that sounds romantic, fending off bandits so you can pick coffee beans,í Jeremiah chuckled. "Iím holding out for Vegas."

"Iíve heard the headliners have really gone downhill," Markus said confidentially. "I vote we lock ourselves in somewhere where no one can find us for a month."

"Sounds good to me, though getting food and water might be an issue."

"Good point. Weíll just have to find someplace far enough away that no one can track us down. What was it my dad used to say... Oh yeah, a slow boat to China. We could try that."

Jeremiah nodded, smiling at a memory. "Maybe weíd find Claire out there on the ocean," he murmured.

Markus looked blank for a moment, then smiled slightly as he remembered Jeremiahís report from several months earlier. "Anythingís possible, but remember that twoís company on a honeymoon... honey."

Jeremiah arched an eyebrow. "You do realize if you call me that in front of anyone, Iím going to have to kick your fine assóand pour your coffee on the ground."

"Not my coffee!" Markus shook his head. "You are a vicious man, Jeremiah. Here I am trying to be nice, and you threaten me." He sighed mournfully, head down to hide the laughter in his eyes.

"Thatís not being nice. This is being nice." As he spoke, Jeremiah pulled Markus toward him and kissing him deeply.

Markus met him enthusiastically, shifting into Jeremiahís lap as he pressed closer. "Youíre right," he panted when they finally paused in their attempts to devour one another, "that is nice. I think we should try again." He shifted, enjoying the sensation of Jeremiah against him.

"Choosing me over coffee, it must be love," Jeremiah murmured, his hands roaming over Markusí back and down to his ass.

"I donít propose to just anyone, you know." Markus squirmed, enjoying Jeremiahís touch.

"I sort of gathered that," Jeremiah murmured. "You sure you donít want that coffee first? Gotta keep your energy up after all."

Markus rolled his eyes. "Youíre so good to me." He picked his cup up again and raised it to his lips, taking a sip, then a bigger gulp when he didnít burn himself. "Oh God, thatís good!"

Jeremiah shifted them so that Markus was sitting beside him once again. "Guess I was wrong about being over coffee."

"Iíll never be over coffee. But weíll be a happy threesome."

"Threesomes, eh? Never knew you were into kink, Markus."

"Thereís lots you donít know about me, Jeremiah. Yet." Markus smirked at him over the coffee cup.

Jeremiah took his own battered cup and drank, eyeing Markus over the rim. "Uh huh. Feel free to tell me more while we eat."

Chuckling, Markus leaned back against a convenient tree trunk. "Wish I could but I donít know that about myself yet. Lack of experience and all."

"So I get to mold you, eh?" Jeremiah asked, leaning in to stir their meal and grinning back over his shoulder at Markus.

Markus snorted. "Dream on. We can explore together."

"While we explore each other?"

"Exactly. Tonightís going to be a lot more interesting than last night was," Markus said eagerly, looking forward to it.

"You mean last night as when we sat through a meal and hours of listening to Rachel and her people trying to convince us we were better off having them in the Alliance?"

"That was a lot like listening to Erin trying to convince me of something. Heaven help anyone around if those two ever disagree.

Jeremiahís eyebrows rose. "Are you planning on introducing them?"

"Itís inevitable if Rachelís people join us." Markus shuddered. "Were women always like this, or is it because of the Death? Erin, Rachel, Liberty, Theo... Iíd rather face ten of Lee."

"Maybe itís because theyíre women." Jeremiah shrugged and looked into the fire. "Theyíve had to be stronger because theyíre weaker, if that makes any sense."

"I suppose it does. But I certainly wouldnít call them weaker where they could hear you... even if physically they are." He shrugged. "Weíre just lucky that most of the strong ones come to us because we value them and give them the opportunity to do their best."

Markus stared into his coffee, then chuckled. "And how did we get to talking about women now of all times?" He shook his head. "Isnít that stew ready yet? Iím eager to get to dessert."

Jeremiah chuckled. "Itís called passing the time in a way designed not to frustrate us," he commented, peering into the pot. "And yeah, itís about as ready as itís going to get."

"Oh joy." Markus sighed. "I really hope we get things running again in my lifetime because I want to try those meals I used to see on TV." He eyed the dish Jeremiah handed him with disfavor and sighed again before digging in.

"Going to find us one of those French chefs while youíre at it?" Jeremiah asked, scooping up some stew and eating it.

"Oh, wouldnít that be nice? But thisíll keep us going and give us energy for that dessert we want, even if itís not a feast. It could be a lot worse."

Jeremiah sniffed. "Iím not a feast? Iím wounded."

"You are, this isnít. Or did you think you were a plate of stew?"

"Naw, I think Iím dessert."

"I can agree with that."

"Then eat up and youíll get some."

Markus made a show of shoving a huge bite into his mouth.

"Good boy," Jeremiah chuckled.

"Woof." Markus considering throwing something at him, but he really didnít want to knock him out before dessert.

"If you roll over later, Iíll rub your belly."

"I hope thatís not all youíre planning to rub."

Jeremiah grinned and ate another mouthful. "Not a chance, this time Iím planning a more in-depth exploration."

"I definitely like the sound of that." Markus looked at his plate, suddenly wishing it gone, and he started eating faster.

"Just donít choke, okay?" Jeremiah cautioned, though he began eating faster as well.

"No, Iíd rather swallow."

Jeremiah snickered. "I noticed that."

"Are you complaining?"

"Did it sound like I was?"

"Not really, but I thought I should make sure." Markus laid aside his empty plate and leaned toward Jeremiah, eyes intent. "Done?"

Setting his plate aside as well, Jeremiah reached for Markus, pulling him closer. "I think Iím ready for dessert now."

"Finally!" Markus straddled Jeremiahís lap, lining them up so they could feel each other grow. "So who gets to eat first?"

Jeremiah leaned in and nuzzled Markusí neck before replying. "I thought we were going with tactile desserts this time around?"

"Well, I didnít want to scare you off." Markus let his head fall back, baring his throat to Jeremiah.

"Not a chance of that happening," Jeremiah laughed, running his hands up Markusí back and nipping at his throat. "Matter of fact, Iím not running anywhere."

"Well, I know someplace Iíd like you to go," Markus half-laughed, fingers clutching at Jeremiahís short hair.

"Hopefully not to hell."

"Iíd say to heaven, but that would sound really cheesy," Markus chuckled. "How Ďbout I just say inside me."

Jeremiah cocked his head to the side and pulled back enough to look at Markus. "You sure?"

"Am I going to have to knock you down and jump you to prove it?"

"Considering weíre already sitting, is there a point?" Jeremiah rolled them to the side so that Markus was lying on the sleeping bags once again and he was looking down at him. "And thereís no need to jump me, none at all."

"Then could I convince you to jump me?" Markus raised one knee, letting it rest against Jeremiahís hip, and his fingers idly traced the waistband of Jeremiahís leather pants.

"Iím working on it, quit trying to be in charge," Jeremiah chuckled, sitting up enough to undo Markusí pants once again then leaning in to nip at his flat belly as he undid the zipper.

"But Iím always in charge," Markus tried to joke, but it fell flat. "Thereís a whole mountain full of people whoíll tell you that."

"Not now you arenít," Jeremiah murmured, licking his way lower as more flesh was bared to his gaze.

Markus only moaned and caught his lower lip between his teeth as his hips rose, seeking the heat of Jeremiahís mouth. He thought he would go crazy if he didnít touch him soon, but this felt so good he never wanted it to stop.

After getting Markusí shoes and pants off, Jeremiah removed his own and lay down beside the other man, reaching for the small container of oil heíd bartered for in Lake Havasu City before theyíd left. "Roll over, Markus," he rasped, resting his hand on the other manís hip.

Markus stilled momentarily, eyes wide and dark with lust, then slowly rolled to his belly, hips rocking to get some friction on his cock. "Now," he groaned, "please."

"God, yes," Jeremiah answered, moving between Markusí legs and setting the oil alongside him to run his hands up Markusí back, then back down to rest on his ass. "The closer I can get to this fine ass, the better." There was a hint of laughter in his voice, but it was mostly filled with hunger.

A breathless chuckle burst from Markus. "Glad you finally appreciate it," he panted, writhing wantonly. His legs spread more, and he raised his ass slightly, trying to tempt Jeremiah into taking him.

"Never said I didnít." Leaving one hand on Markusí ass, Jeremiah reached for the oil and spilled some on his fingers, trailing them between Markusí cheeks and circling a fingertip around the tight ring of muscle he found there.

Markus inhaled sharply at the touch, his body tensing momentarily before slowly relaxing. He shivered with arousal, hands fisting in the fabric of the sleeping bag beneath him. "Yes," he groaned.

"Thatís it," Jeremiah breathed, brushing kisses over Markusí shoulders as he pressed his finger in farther, groaning at the clinging heat of Markusí body.

"Not nearly it," Markus gasped, twisting around to grin back at him, though it was more a grimace of pleasure as Jeremiah slid deeper.

Jeremiah nodded, holding Markusí gaze as he twisted his finger, moving it in and out and waiting until the strain left the other manís features before pressing even deeper, searching for and finally rubbing over Markusí prostate.

Markusí eyes flew open, and he cried out, rising to his knees as he thrust back urgently. "Jeremiah!"

"Soon," Jeremiah promised, adding a second finger, his own erection throbbing with the need to be buried in the man before him.

"Not gonna live that long!" Markus groaned, writhing and crying out every time Jeremiah stroked that sensitive spot inside him.

"Promise you will." Pulling back, Jeremiah slicked up his cock and steadied it with one hand while he rested the other on Markusí hip, pushing inside and groaning as the tight muscle clamped down on him.

Markus inhaled sharply, fighting not to tense up as he felt the burn of Jeremiahís entry. "Oh... that feels so..." He twisted again to stare back over his shoulder, trying to see where they were joined, and gasped again as his movement caused Jeremiah to shift inside him.

"Good, I hope." Jeremiahís tone was strained as he tried to hold still and let Markus get used to the feeling.

"Oh yeah! More," Markus panted, pushing back, the slight pain fading into the pleasure.

Gasping out a word of agreement, Jeremiah began to thrust, the feeling of Markus driving back to meet him every time threatening to blow his mind. He leaned in more and reached around the other manís body to circle his cock, glad to find that it was rousing once more.

Nearly overwhelmed by the incredible sensations radiating through him, Markus could only rock between the cock in his ass and the hand stroking him, whimpering breathlessly. He managed to follow Jeremiahís rhythm, his body taking over and slowly increasing the pace, urging Jeremiah to follow.

"Like that, just like that," Jeremiah panted, losing much of his restraint when Markus writhed under him, angling his strokes to find the other manís prostate as he gritted his teeth to keep from coming.

Markus couldnít talk, couldnít tell Jeremiah what he was feeling, but he could and did twist so he could kiss Jeremiah hungrily, pouring his pleasure into the contact. He groaned, the sound muffled by Jeremiahís mouth, and his balls drew up as he neared his climax, fighting to hold on to his control to make it last just a little longer.

"Markus..." Jeremiah groaned, breathing the word into the other manís mouth, pulling Markus back as he sat up, the move pushing him even deeper into the blond and setting off his climax.

A wail escaped Markus at the unexpected shift and deep thrust, and he whimpered frantically as Jeremiah stilled under him. Gasping, he reached down, curling a fist around his cock, desperate to come too.

Groaning, Jeremiah let his hand cover Markusí, and he twisted his hips, needing to feel the other man come as well.

That was all it took, and Markus was coming, crying out and forcing himself down on Jeremiah, body shaking with the incredible pleasure that radiated through him. His head fell back against Jeremiahís shoulder, eyes closed and mouth open as he panted, trying to catch his breath.

"Damn," Jeremiah murmured, stroking Markusí belly as he tried to keep them both upright. "That was intense."

"I think you killed me," Markus whispered, chest still heaving with his ragged breaths. "You have to keep me now."

"I thought that was given, considering weíre getting married."

"Good point." Markus opened his eyes and tilted his head to the side so he could see Jeremiah without moving, not wanting to give up the sensation of being filled by him yet. "Guess itís a good thing there are some double beds at the mountain. Iíll have to get one."

Jeremiah chuckled quietly. "Well, you could always sleep on top of me."

"I plan to do that regardless. But it would be nice not to fall off the bed when we roll over."

"Good point. I suppose youíll just have to keep visiting Millhaven until you get one to avoid that fate."

"Will I be able to stand it?" Markus snorted, absently stroking Jeremiahís arm, which was loosely wrapped around him. "Weíll definitely have to get Libby her own place though. Falling off the couch just doesnít sound like fun to me."

Jeremiah nodded. "Yeah, getting one of these bony elbows in my ribs would suck."

"I hope youíre talking about her and not me. I am not skinny!"

Jeremiah snickered and trailed a finger up Markusí ribs.

Markusí eyes narrowed even as he shivered and squirmed, trying to get away from the tickling finger.

"Of course, even if you are skinny, you do have a damn fine ass, and we are supposed to get married, so I guess Iíll put up with it."

Markus growled. "Skinny? Put up with it? Youíre going to be lucky to get near it the way youíre going."

Jeremiah snickered. "Last I felt I was still in it."

"It could be the last time for a while."

"So, you gonna do me then? Okay."

Markus started to laugh, sighing when Jeremiah slipped out of him. "If Iíd known you were this easy, I wouldnít have waited so long."

Jeremiah wisely didnít point out the fact that until a few months ago, Markus had been willing to risk dying to touch the woman he loved. "If you say you wouldnít have proposed first, Iím going to have my feelings hurt."

Markus rolled his eyes. "Iím going to be hearing that for the rest of my life, arenít I?"

"Probably." Jeremiah shifted so that Markus was sitting beside him. "Problem with that?"

Markus turned to face him, wincing slightly as his ass settled onto the ground. "Actually, I think it sounds pretty good."

"Me too. Hell, Iíll even get a rocker to go with yours once they make you retire."

Markus laughed almost bitterly. "Make me retire? Iíll be lucky if I can run away when I get older. Theyíll try to wrap me up and stick me on a shelf where Iíll be safe."

Jeremiah pulled Markus in for a hug. "Then I suppose Iíll just have to play shit-disturber again, drag you off that shelf and kidnap you away."

Markus leaned into the embrace, relaxing. "Sounds good. And we know how well you can play that role."

"Damn right. Now how about I play the role of getting you cleaned up so we can get some rest?"

Grinning slightly, Markus raised fair eyebrows. "You mean I donít even have to bathe myself anymore?"

"Oh, now thatís fucking funny. I was offering to give you a hand, but if youíre that crippled..."

"No, no," Markus laughed, leaning closer again and kissing Jeremiah till he stopped complaining. "Iíd love your help. Though I think that might make it a while longer till we get to sleep."

Jeremiah chuckled. "Oh well, Iíve never been one to need a ton of sleep."

"Oh good. I have a lot of time to make up for."

"You do realize that if Erin shoots me, Iím going to be really pissed?" Jeremiah said conversationally as they pulled inside the massive outer doors that kept Thunder Mountain secure.

"Not nearly as much as I will," Markus retorted, then laughed as he realized what heíd said. "Okay, youíd probably be more pissed, but Iíd be a close second. And sheís not going to shoot you."

"Give me one reason why I shouldnít," Erin stated from where she stood in the parking area.

"Because I brought him back safe and sound?" Jeremiah offered.

Markus stared at her in surprise. "Why would you?"

"Just... never mind. Iím glad youíre back."

"Thanks." Markus was still watching her curiously. "But itís just for a couple of days. Iím heading back to Millhaven with Jeremiah. I want to see how things are going there."

"Uh huh..." she said, nodding slowly. "Well, the reports on whatís been going on are on your desk."

"Which I will read before we go so Iím up to speed." Markus crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her. "Whatís wrong?"

"Nothing," she stated flatly. "Iíll let the council know youíre back, but that it wonít be for long."

Markus shrugged. "If thereís nothing else then, Iím going to get a shower. It feels like forever since I was able to have one." He wasnít able to keep himself from darting a glance at Jeremiah, hoping he would join him.

"Go ahead, Markus. I need to talk to Erin for a few minutes," Jeremiah said quietly.

Deciding that he wasnít going to pretend that things hadnít changed between him and Jeremiah, Markus nodded. "Come join me when youíre done?"

"Depends if you save me any hot water or not." Jeremiah waited until Markus was gone after a quick kiss, then looked at Erin. "Heís got enough shit to deal with; he doesnít need yours as well," he said mildly.

"Iím not the one giving him something else to deal with," she replied angrily. "What are you doing, Jeremiah?" Sheíd hoped the message from Lake Havasu City had been a misunderstanding, but clearly it wasnít.

"Why does it matter, Erin?" he retorted.

"Because Markus doesnít do anything halfway! And youíll hurt him, and how will he be able to function then?"

"Nice to know you have so much faith in me."

"You end up with a girl in every town," Erin retorted. "Markus is going to expect more."

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Iím not playing with him, Erin. I saw what losing Megan did to him."

She paused, surprised. "You... Iím not certain I understand you, Jeremiah," she said carefully.

"Iím saying I want more from him too. Can you understand that?"

"I... I hope you mean that." Erin sighed, deciding that sheíd done all she could.

Jeremiah regarded her steadily. "I donít fuck friends over," he stated.

She had the grace to wince. "I didnít think you would... intentionally."

"So youíre expecting me to - unintentionally?"

"I hope not. Markus deserves to be happy." Her wistful expression made it obvious that sheíd hoped it would be with her.

Jeremiahís eyebrows rose. "And Iíll do my best to see that he is. Itíll be easier if he doesnít get crap from people, you know?"

Erin nodded slowly. "I wonít say anything to him. But if you hurt him, Iíll kill you," she added fiercely.

"I didnít expect anything less," he chuckled, pulling his pack from the truck and setting it on his shoulder. "Now if youíll excuse me, Iím going to take a shower."

"What took you so long?" Markus asked, looking up as Jeremiah came into the bathroom. Heíd never enjoyed having the base commanderís quarters and personal shower as much as he did just then.

"Mom was giving me the fifth degree to make sure I was good enough for her little boy," Jeremiah answered, shucking out of his over shirt, then his t-shirt, admiring the sight of Markus standing in the shower.

Markus groaned. "Sorry. I was hoping she would just let it go. I guess weíll just have to give her time to calm down." He watched Jeremiah undress, his eyes heating as more flesh was bared to his gaze.

Jeremiah shrugged and continued stripping. "If she hadnít, that would have worried me," he said, climbing into the shower and wrapping his arms around Markus. "So, looks like thereís some hot water left..."

"Well, I certainly donít want either of us to take a cold shower!"

"I think you could get me through even that issue."

Markus chuckled. "Iím flattered, but Iíd rather not test it." He leaned into Jeremiah, smiling widely, and his arms looped around Jeremiahís waist.

"What?" Jeremiah asked, sliding his hands over the wet skin of Markusí back and down to his ass.

"Hmm? You say something?" Markus was losing track of the conversation as they touched, enjoying this opportunity to be together and comfortable.

Jeremiah chuckled and kissed Markus before slowly sinking to his knees, closing his eyes against the water dripping into them even as he licked at Markusí erection.

"Oh God!" Markus breathed, head falling back against the cool tile as Jeremiah instantly turned him hard as a rock. "Youíre trying to kill me!" he groaned, fingers combing into Jeremiahís dark hair and holding him to himself.

Jeremiah murmured a negative response and continued to lick at the heated flesh, nuzzling Markusí balls before returning to Markusí cock.

Markus raised his head, needing to see Jeremiah, and a strangled whimper echoed in the steamy enclosure when he saw the dark head at his groin.

Feeling the shift in Markusí body when he moved, Jeremiah looked up and, seeing the blue eyes gazing down at him, sucked Markusí cock into this mouth, licking the flared head and tasting the bitter salt of precome.

"Jeremiah!" Markus shook, body trembling with the sensations and his emotions as he stared down into Jeremiahís eyes, seeing everything the other man felt as he pleasured him.

Sliding his hands up Markusí thighs, Jeremiah traced the taut flesh, rubbing his thumbs over the thin skin at the junction of his legs and torso. He held Markusí gaze as long as he was able as he swallowed more of the other manís erection, only closing his eyes when his nose brushed the wiry curls of Markusí groin.

Whimpering, Markus couldnít restrain himself from thrusting forward, sliding another fraction into Jeremiahís mouth. Needing to touch him as well, he slid his hands down to cup Jeremiahís face, watching him as he felt his climax start.

Jeremiah sighed and sucked harder, feeling the rush of Markusí climax flood his mouth. He swallowed it down and felt Markus shudder at the sensation, and his own erection throbbed in sympathy.

Markus pulled Jeremiah to his feet and kissed him hungrily, tasting himself and moaning. "Fuck me," he groaned when he finally pulled away.

"Gladly," Jeremiah panted, dragging Markus out of the shower into the main room and onto the bed. He paused only to grab the oil from where heíd set it on the desk then moved back to the bed, rubbing up against Markusí back as he joined him.

Markus practically purred as he pushed himself onto his hands and knees and rocked back against Jeremiah. "Feel good," he moaned.

"Yeah, you do," Jeremiah murmured, nipping his way down Markusí spine as he opened the vial of oil and coated his fingers, teasing Markus by circling the tight entrance to his body.

"Jer," Markus groaned, arching his back and spreading his legs wider, his elbows locked to hold himself up. "Oh yeah." His fingers flexed against the faded cover on the bed, his body quivering with the tension as he waited.

Jeremiah hummed out a response and pressed his finger inward, rubbing his cock against Markusí hip as he felt the muscle stretch.

Markus gasped, feeling the dull burning as his body adjusted, but even the faint pain only added to his arousal, his cock twitching slightly despite his recent climax. He pushed back, feeling precome paint his hip and Jeremiahís finger sink deeper into him.

"Okay?" Jeremiah asked, nuzzling the damp hair at the nape of Markusí neck as he twisted his finger, waiting to add a second until he was sure Markus was comfortable.

"Not enough!" Markus exclaimed, squirming as the finger inside him teased without satisfying. "Please, Jeremiah," he groaned.

"Soon," Jeremiah promised, adding another finger and groaning at the tight heat. "Want you so bad, Markus," he rasped, nipping at his ear.

"So take me!" Markus thought he would go crazy if Jeremiah didnít stop teasing. "Want you."

"Yes, sir, oh great leader," Jeremiah snickered, pulling back and slicking up his erection. He leaned in over Markus and placed his cock at the entrance to the other manís body, pressing inward lightly and groaning when Markus lunged back, impaling himself.

"Aahhhh!" Markus gasped harshly, body tensing momentarily before he slowly relaxed, letting Jeremiah sink deeper into him. "Now move," he groaned.

Jeremiah snorted. "Fuck a guy one time and he thinks he knows everything."

"Know what I like," Markus retorted. "Like you."

"Thatís good to know since youíre sort of stuck with me now." As he spoke, Jeremiah began to move, rocking back and forth and groaning at the tight slide.

"Not stuck. Moving very well," Markus rasped, back arching even more.

Jeremiahís groan this time was because of the bad joke, and he thrust forward sharply, snaking a hand under Markus and stroking his filling shaft.

Markus cried out, jerking back then forward. "Glad youíre here," he managed to say around his sounds of pleasure. A moment later his elbows buckled, making his upper half fall to the bed, and he wailed as the sudden shift in position stabbed his prostate forcefully.

"God, yes," Jeremiah gasped, falling forward as well and circling his hips forcefully, his climax coming swiftly and forcefully.

It was too soon for Markus to come again, but he groaned as he felt a ripple of pleasure as Jeremiah came, and he pressed back, keeping Jeremiah deep inside him for as long as possible.

Jeremiah mumbled out a nonsense reply and rubbed his face against Markusí back. "Sorry, guess I was a little on edge there."

"Donít apologize, I loved every moment," Markus murmured, not even caring that the bedding under him was wet with the water from their bodies.

"Glad to hear it; maybe next time we can try it the other way."

That thought sent a bolt of lust through Markus, making his body tighten around the shaft still inside him. "That would be... nice," he managed throatily.

Jeremiah chuckled throatily at that, the sound rumbling against Markusí back. "Yeah, it feels like you might like that idea."

Markusí grin was buried against his forearm as he was still slumped over. "I could be convinced to give it a try."

"Just so long as it doesnít send you on a power trip." As he spoke, Jeremiah rolled off Markus and to the bed beside him, the arm around the other manís bringing Markus with him as they settled on a dry part of the bed.

Nestling comfortably into the curve of Jeremiahís body, Markus chuckled wryly. "I have to be in charge every other moment of the day. Itís a relief to be able to relax with you, so no, no power trips."

"Oh, good, because Iíd hate to have to kick your fine ass because of it."

Markus snorted. "You like it too much to damage it."

"True. Guess Iíd have to think of some other way to make you pay." Jeremiah yawned and lightly smacked Markusí stomach.

"I donít think so." Markus shook his head, chuckling quietly. "How about we just enjoy each other instead?"

"Now that is the best idea youíve ever had."


  since 02-03-07

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