Author's Note: Oh man, sorry this took so long! My schedule at work just got completely revamped, so I've had to adjust my work out schedule, my sleeping schedule, everything…I've ended up working until late at night, exercising in the very early morning, and then sleeping until I have to work again. It's not a schedule that's conducive to writing…or anything, actually XD And then they tell me they're changing it again so I'll have the graveyard shift next month…Oh god. Money…my only weakness.

But enough about my enslavemen-…job. Don't be afraid to tell me if this particular chapter seemed sporadic; it was obviously written over the course of a few weeks, forgotten for days at a time. I was in a different mood every time I picked it back up – so I'm more than a little worried it doesn't flow right. Plus, there were quite a few parts I just kept rewriting until I was like – "Fuck it. Get off my desktop" and uploaded it. Haha.

On a final note, I really, really want to thank everyone for their reviews. They make me amazingly happy, I can't even express it. I do write largely for the sake of writing since it's a lovely way to pass time and relieve stress, but you wouldn't believe how excited I get when I get a text on my phone saying someone's left a review. Though at some point I'll probably have to surgically remove my brain and start wringing it out for ideas…but I will, for you guys!

"Mr. Blake, that was my fire flower!" Shaun pouted indignantly, tearing his eyes away from the flat-screen TV to glare at the offending party for his crime.

Carter snorted, pausing the game to glare right back at the brat seated next to him. "Snooze you lose, kid. Next time be faster."

With a huff, Shaun leaned back into the leather seat, waiting expectantly for Carter to unpause the game so they could continue the level together. Carter rolled his eyes at the boy's impatience, though he quickly complied with his unspoken wishes. He had to admit, this was the last place he expected to be spending his last evening before his forced vacation was over; the living room of the Mars household, playing video games with Shaun while his parents were out buying groceries for dinner.

Allegedly, it had been Madison's idea, though it had taken a good amount of convincing on Norman's part to get Carter to go along with it. His argument was that since Carter hardly knew the Mars family, it'd be a good idea to spend a little more time with them before their wedding. Otherwise, things were bound to be horribly awkward for all parties involved.

For the life of him, Carter didn't understand why he had been invited to the wedding in the first place. Not only did he not know Madison at all (except for a few interrogations after the death of Leland White, but none of them had been one-on-one), but he had literally beaten Ethan Mars into the ground during the Origami case, shortly accusing him thereafter of being the killer himself. According to Norman, however, Mars was firmly set in the mindset that there was no harm done. That was the infuriating part. Carter could handle being wrong – it came with the job. Half of his work was trial-and-error; formalities and bullshit investigating in order to narrow down a list of suspects. What he couldn't handle was feeling guilty about being wrong- and that was the exact feeling being around Mars brought out of him. He certainly didn't regret hitting the man; he had confessed to 'kidnapping' his son, for Christ's sake. After hearing his ex-wife and therapist's testimonies, the conclusion was fairly obvious at the time. And since he hadn't complied with Norman's good cop routine…Well, different methods had to be used, and said methods were his specialty.

But now it was plainly obvious he had been in the wrong, even if there was little way for him to have known it at the time. Yet Mars just acted like nothing had happened, going so far as to invite him to his goddamn wedding…even if Carter tried to apologize, he probably wouldn't hear anything of it. It left him feeling as if he was somehow in the man's debt. In Carter's mind, there was one quick, easy solution. If Mars would just deck him across the face, the books would be balanced and they could start off on a clean slate. But he knew Mars was far too decent of a guy to do so, and it drove him insane. If there was one thing Carter couldn't stand, it was nice people.

It was a large factor as to why he found himself getting along with Norman fairly well after the case concluded. This wasn't to say Norman was unkind or not empathetic – he was just also an asshole. Hell, the man had punched him twice before Carter had ever laid a finger on him, something completely unprecedented for him. When treated with respect and compassion, Norman responded as such with a smile, happy to help to the fullest extent of his abilities. But if confronted with hostility or patronized, the agent could easily do a complete 180 and turn into a beast that could rival even Carter…and he rather admired that about the younger man. He held his own, something Carter hadn't been forced to deal with in ages. Not that he'd let him know, of course – it'd just encourage his already lacking respect for authority.

In fact, Carter was quite certain the agent had a direct involvement in the turn of events. No doubt, it was somehow his fault; the only party more guilty than Norman was the boy sitting next to him. A boy now crying out in utter frustration as Carter maneuvered his character to jump on his head so he could more easily reach the next platform.

"Mr. Blake, you're the worst teammate ever!" he cried, dropping his controller irritably.

"Hey hey, don't insult me – there's no way I'm worse than Jayden."

"Mr. Jayden doesn't kill me to save himself or steal my power-ups," Shaun replied stubbornly in defense of the FBI agent.

"Well then, Mister Jayden's bein' too soft. I'm just preparin' you for the real world, kid. It's a cutthroat place…" Carter was incapable of keeping a straight face once Shaun shot him a skeptical look. With a laugh, he paused the game to give both their eyes a break for a moment. Speaking of Jayden, he'd been awful quiet the past half hour or so…

Rubbing his sore eyes, Carter's vision flicked over to the room's other couch. The two pieces of furniture were arranged in an L shape around the TV, easily allowing for the entertainment of multiple people. Though Carter suspected it was more to provide a comfortable, low pressure environment for interviews than parties.

The sight he was greeted with made his grin widen. While he and Shaun had been distracted, Norman had passed out into the piece of furniture, curled up into a ball as he slept without making a sound. Shaun followed his line of vision curiously, blinking in slight surprise as he took in the sight as well. Without a word, the boy jumped off the couch and left the room.

Carter's laziness beat his curiosity towards the action as he leaned back into the couch. Truth be told, he wouldn't mind passing out either. Despite the entire point of his vacation being resting and recovering, the last week had been full of the exact opposite after Norman had casually dropped the idea of them working out together. Behind the suggestion, Carter could easily sense an unspoken challenge, causing his competitive nature to rear its head as he immediately accepted. The results of said match were quite clearly on display as the agent slept away his exhaustion while he sat wide awake on the other couch.

Fuckin' wuss.

Though if he was honest, Norman's cardio was actually pretty damn impressive. It was enough to force Carter to manipulate the circumstances, under the guise of 'not wanting to strain his shoulder'- a manipulation on his part of Norman's naturally nurturing nature, certainly, but not entirely untruthful either. Instead, he dragged Norman to the gym to aid him in muscle building (though he limited upper body work-outs, for obvious reasons). God knew the scrawny little bastard needed it. Still, Norman had kept up a hell of lot better than he would have expected; it'd certainly prove as motivation to not let himself fall behind in working out.

The sound of footsteps made Carter look away from the sleeping agent as Shaun returned into the living room, a blanket and pillow in hand. He threw the pillow into Carter's lap as he unfolded the blanket, carefully draping it across Norman's sleeping figure. Shaun stepped back with a small smile on his face as Norman made an incoherent yet obviously satisfied noise, subconsciously grabbing the cloth to drag it closer to his form.

That little brat is so…not a little brat at all. Takes after his father to a fuckin' T…

With a sigh, Carter stood up with the pillow in hand, taking the few steps to the furniture Jayden was sleeping on. Shaun directed the smile at him now as he looked up in approval. "I knew Mr. Jayden couldn't be serious about you being a bul-" He broke off with a strangled cry as Carter took the pillow and shoved it into Norman's face, cutting off the man's air supply temporarily. Norman woke up almost immediately, his own cry of confusion and panic muffled by the pillow. His arms shot out from under the blanket, flailing around to locate his attacker.

"Mr. Blaaaaake! You're suffocating him!" Shaun jumped forward to try to push Carter away from his victim, just as Norman finally blindly located his arms and shoved them aside. With a gasp, Norman jolted into a seated position, breathing heavily. For a moment he looked at both of them, trying to piece together how exactly he had been so rudely awakened.

"Wha-…Why'd…G'awd dammit, Cart-uh…" His angry accusation was interrupted by a yawn. He raised his hand to cover it, blindly grabbing the pillow and throwing it back at Carter all the while. "Is there even a compa'shionate bone in your body?"

"I dunno, are there even any muscles in yours?" he teased back immediately, sitting back on the couch with a smirk.

Norman's eyes narrowed, shooting him a glare before looking away. His gaze instead lowered down to his form still half-covered in a blanket. "That's cute, Blake, did'yah tuck me in?"

Carter snorted, scratching the side of his bearded face before jerking his head in Shaun's direction. "Please. Shaun did that."

Norman's expression softened upon hearing the child's name. He looked up at Shaun, shifting himself into a seated position to give the boy room to sit down next to him. "Thanks, Shaun…S'ahrry about fallin' asleep. Were you okay alone with this monster f'ah so long?"

Shaun grinned a little, his eyes flicking between Carter and Norman. "Yeah…He's not a very good team player in Mario Bros, though…"

The ghost of a grin flicked across Norman's face as he turned his neck slightly to shoot Carter a coy look. "Not the best of partn'ahs, is he? Violent…self-servin'…aggressive…"

This time it was Carter who narrowed his eyes as he easily caught the double meaning in Norman's insult. "It's not really self-serving if it's mutually beneficial, is it, Norm?" Norman's cheeks flashed in embarrassment as he sent him a heated warning look.

"Like when you made me lose my mushroom so I could be small enough to get us those extra lives?" Shaun suggested thoughtfully.

Carter grinned horribly in response as Norman coughed, trying to regain his composure. "Y-yeah…"

The sound of the front door of the Mars residence opening cut short Carter's chance to verbally abuse the younger man more. Looking up revealed Mars and Madison both walking in, arms full to the brim with groceries. Norman jumped up from couch to help, making Carter follow with a slight sigh.

"What's all this?" Norman asked curiously as Mars passed off a few bags to the man with a grateful smile. Sticking out from one of the them was a long nylon rope.

"Oh – Me and Shaun are going to set a swing up to the tree in the backyard…Well," he broke up with a slight laugh as he set the groceries onto the counter. "Try to, anyway. I don't have too much confidence in my abilities there…"

"Aren't you an architect?" the agent replied, amusement heavy in his voice. Mars leaned against the counter to face Norman, his now-free arms folding in front of his chest in mock defense.

"Yeah- I design things, not build them," Mars countered.

A small tug on his arm drew Carter's attention away from the exchange as he looked down to find Shaun dragging him forward. "Maybe Mr. Blake can help us, Dad?"

Mars looked between the two of them in surprised. "Well – I don't want to burden you-"

Unwilling to deny the request from the boy looking up so pleadingly at him, Carter sighed and gave an unenthusiastic nod. "…Sure, why not? I'm pretty decent with knots…"

"Great – that'll clear up the kitchen so Norman and I can cook," Madison interjected, setting the groceries she'd been carrying next to Mars's as she turned to flash Norman a smile. Carter couldn't help but grin horribly again, barely containing his desire to laugh uncontrollably at the fact that they'd been divided up by household chores– him outside building while Norman stayed inside cooking dinner. It was fucking perfect.

Norman scowled at both at Carter's reaction and Madison's all-but-demand. "Since when was I the one cookin' dinnah?"

"Since I studied journalism instead of culinary arts – C'mon, Norman, lend me a hand. I can barely cook spaghetti without burning it."

"She's not lying," Shaun mumbled quietly, quickly ducking behind Carter as Madison glared at him, a slight grin tugging at her lips nonetheless. Still safely behind Carter, Shaun tugged his arm again, "Can you help me put away the games, Mr. Blake?" Carter gave a slight nod as Shaun turned to address his father next. "We'll meet you outside, Dad."

Mars nodded politely to Carter as he grabbed the supplies necessary for the swing before heading outside. The simple yet friendly gesture made him feel intensely uncomfortable, and he found himself grateful the man had walked away. From the corner of his eye he spotted Norman and Madison pulling out various food items to begin cooking – it put him back into a good mood again as he smirked and began putting the gaming system back into the box Norman had given Shaun.

"The door in the corner leads to my room," Shaun pointed, jogging slightly with the controllers in hand so he could lead the way. Carter followed him into the indicated room, setting the box down to take in the sight.

The walls, though painted blue, were hardly visible underneath the huge amount of clutter they contained. Not only were they littered with posters, but the entire wall behind the bed was covered in pictures – both drawn and actual photographs. Almost every photo was of Shaun and his family, making Carter smile slightly. In most of the older photos, Shaun's mom was present; as well as a boy that looked slightly older than Shaun himself.

Oh, shit, that's right…In Mars's testimony, he had mentioned that Shaun used to have an older brother before he was killed in a car accident. Carter grimaced slightly at the depressing thought, moving away from the older photographs and on to the ones displayed on Shaun's desk. Only one displayed a picture of Shaun's older brother, holding Shaun in a headlock as they both laughed into the camera.

"That's one of the few pictures Mom ever took of both of us…She never managed to get Jason to sit still." Shaun chuckled, brushing past him to pick up the photo.

At that moment, there wasn't a place in the world Carter wouldn't rather be in. He felt like he should say something in response, yet all he managed to do was uncomfortably watch Shaun distantly gaze at the photograph with a smile on his face that could only be described as lonely. He shifted restlessly where he stood, his mind racing as it searched for the appropriate course of action–it was a situation he certainly didn't feel he was qualified in tackling.

After spending so much time with Shaun in the hospital, he felt he had a decent grasp on the boy's personality. The staff there constantly praised the child for handling the horrifying ordeal he'd been through so well, but being one of the few that saw Shaun at his worst during his panic attacks, Carter knew better. Shaun was without a doubt a stoic child; a trait he'd normally admire if it wasn't for the fact that he was still a child. The poor kid deserved the opportunity to just fucking cry – needed it, really. But he refused to, bottling it up instead so it exploded all at once during his attacks.

Back then, he hadn't known about Shaun having a deceased older brother. It only made the entire ordeal seem far worse for the boy – he could only imagine the horrible questions running through Shaun's head. If his brother had still been alive, would he have been the one kidnapped instead? Why was he the one to survive while his brother died? If he had died, would it have reunited them?

The thoughts made even him wince in their harshness. If Shaun wasn't suffering from a serious case of survivor's guilt, he'd eat his fucking badge. He did his best to hide such emotions – probably to avoid making Mars feel even worse about the incident – but Carter didn't doubt the thoughts existed for a second.


"Hm?" Shaun set the photograph down, turning to face him. The forced smile flickered off his face upon spotting Carter's serious expression. "Is, um…something wrong?"

Now that he had the kid's attention, Carter found himself at a loss for words again. What was he supposed to tell him? 'Remember all those times at the hospital where you panicked and starting bawling into my shoulder? You should do that again, it'll make you feel better.' Or how about 'Hey, I know you're trying to hide the fact that you're traumatized as all fuck from being kidnapped and nearly murdered – and it probably hurts a lot more because you did survive, unlike your brother – but cheer up'?

Scratching the back of his head awkwardly, Carter sighed and let the first words that crossed his mind roll off his tongue, "I'm…sorry."

Confusion flicked across the boy's features as he made another attempt at smiling. "Uh…What for, Mr. Blake?" His eyes danced between Carter's expression and the photograph before they casted downward. "Oh!…That's…not your fault."

"It's not yours either." Carter watched the kid's head snap up in shock before he averted his gaze again. "No – look at me, Shaun," he ordered, his tone sharp. Startled at the harsh tone, Shaun complied, uncertainty plain in his expression. "It's not your fault."

Complete and utter discomfort flooded his system as he spotted tears in the young child's eyes. He couldn't handle crying, never mind that he'd seen the kid do it before. It was one of the very few parts of his job he absolutely couldn't tolerate – if a case called for an empathetic figure, he always tried to get out of it, let someone else take the role.

But there wasn't anyone else he could pass the duty onto – and this wasn't just some stranger he had to break bad news to, it was Shaun. A kid that had been thrown into complete Hell and came back, and was now just trying to live again.

Immobilized by uncertainty, it was Shaun that broke the silence, "…I know. I know, but…" He took a shaky breath, wiping away in frustration the few tears that he had permitted to escape. "…It does feel good to hear it." He took a couple steps forward, closing the distance between them before burying his face into Carter's shirt.

Don't just stand here gaping than an idiot, do something…

Obeying the thoughts, Carter raised an arm and wrapped it around Shaun, pulling him in closer as he silently patted his back. Words continued to fail him, much to his frustration – but it seemed to be enough, as when Shaun pulled back, he was wearing a tremulous yet legitimate smile.

"Could you…go out ahead of me? I don't want to go out looking like this," he huffed, actually sounding more annoyed than upset as he wiped the rest of his tears away.

Rather surprised, Carter hesitated, lowering his arm slowly back to his side. "You sure you're okay?"

Shaun sniffled before giving a firm nod. "Yeah. I just need a couple of minutes…"

Thoughts of whether or not he was doing the right thing by leaving plagued him, but he had to admit the dismissal came as a relief. At any rate, he doubted Shaun wanted him to see him break down again after so much time had passed – undoubtedly, the blow to his pride would just make him feel even worse. As he opened the bedroom door to leave, however, Shaun's voice caused him stop in his tracks.

"Mr. Blake…Uhh…Thanks."

Taken aback, he turned to give the boy a rare smile, nodding his acknowledgement at the words before slowly shutting the door. Once he heard it click from behind him, he leaned against the wooden structure with a huff.

'Thanks'. Right. 'Thanks for standing around like a complete moron, Mr. Blake! You sure were fuckin' supportive!'

His face scrunched up at the thought as he began making his way to the house's backyard in long strides. He could at least be grateful he didn't have to pass by the kitchen, thus avoiding contact with Norman and Madison – interaction with either one of them would do nothing to quell his bad mood.

Carter's quick pace came to a sudden halt when he found himself outside – not realizing until that very moment that leaving Shaun by himself for a little while meant he'd be completely alone with the head of the Mars household for what was sure to be many long, uncomfortable moments. He wasn't sure how much more of this awkwardness he could take before he went completely insane. This little "visit" of Norman's had to be the worst thing he had gone along with in ages.

Mars was just throwing the ropes onto the tree towards the back of the yard when he heard Carter approaching. Twisting his neck back, his eyes flicked to Carter himself before looking behind him. "Where's Shaun?" he asked, not concerned so much as merely curious.

"Uh…Still inside. Wanted to organize all the games he got…" Carter lied lamely without making eye contact.


"Yep," Carter replied, still finding the ground beneath him far more agreeable to look at than Mars. Norm, I'm going to murder you when this is all over.

"Well…That's convenient," Carter raised an eyebrow at the words as Mars stopped fiddling with the ropes, turning to completely face him with a serious expression on his face. "Listen – I don't want you to feel cornered. You've been tense since the moment I came home. I think things will go a lot smoother for both of us if we just get everything on the table."

Without missing a beat, Carter accepted the obvious invitation to speak his mind, the stress from earlier fueling his ire. "Right. Well, sorry if I'm just a little uncomfortable about the fact that a guy who's life I actively tried to ruin is now trying to accept me into his home with open-fucking-arms." The filter he had put into place for Shaun's sake broke away immediately, allowing him to vent his frustrations in his usual belligerent style of speaking. Hell, he wanted to offend Mars – he'd say whatever it took to make the guy see reality for what it was.

"…Ruined my life?" Mars repeated, his tone more amused than curious. The nonchalant answer made Carter's eyes narrow in annoyance.

Mars slid his hands into his pockets, leaning back against the tree with an amused look on his face as he observed Carter's reaction. "After the case, you could've easily pressed charges against me for something, to make yourself look better. I mean, I resisted arrest twice, among a few…other things…" Mars coughed, bringing a hand out of his pocket to conceal the act before continuing.

"But you didn't, and instead I only had to wait a couple weeks for the paper work to be cleared before I was free to see my son. And then I found out you'd been taking care of him while I was away…Well, you can't blame me if I didn't have it in me to resent you."

He paused to collect his thoughts, giving Carter the chance to interject. "All right – Look. I just wanted to finally be done with that case, and if that got you home to Shaun faster…Well, good for you. It wasn't my motivation, that's for fuckin' sure. I'm not saying I hate you or anything, but Christ…you're twisting everything I did in order to paint me out to be some kind of fucking knight in shining armor here."

Mars listened to his argument calmly, without interruption. Once he was certain Carter had finished, he tilted his head and regarded him with a curious expression on his face. "…Blake, why are you so determined to project yourself as a bad person?"

Carter coughed in shock, temporarily rendered speechless out of sheer disbelief. After a moment of sputtering, he managed to find his tongue. "Mars, did you forget the fucking time where I beat the shit out of you? I'm sure I have a video of it – Wait, no, I don't, because I had the camera turned off so you wouldn't be able to prove it. Jesus fucking Christ, Mars, does that sound like a good person to you?"

"It might have slipped my mind, yeah. That week alone, I broke three of my ribs, tore open my arms and legs, electrically burned myself, and had my finger cut off…Honestly, at that point? Your punches kind of tickled." Despite his irritation, Carter couldn't help but laugh a little at the remark. Mars's eyes glinted in amusement before his expression grew more serious as he continued, "I can't blame you for thinking I was the Origami Killer, Blake…I thought I was the Origami Killer, for Christ's sake. Put me in a room with a child killer and I would've beaten him to the ground too.

"I mean…I'd be lying if I said I didn't…Well, hate you, at first. Especially after the second arrest…" Mars stopped for a moment, running a hand through his hair as he sighed audibly at the memory. "I'd never felt so helpless. Even after Norman helped me, I couldn't stay free long enough to save Shaun…If there was ever a time I honestly thought Shaun was going to die…that was it.

"But it all worked out in the end, and that's really all the thought I care to give it," he finished with a slight smile, extending his hand.

Rather taken aback, Carter shook it with a grimace. "…No offense, Mars, but you're so forgiving, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth."

To his surprise, Mars grinned widely at the statement as he pulled his hand away. "You sound like Norman." He gave a sharp laugh upon spotting the absolutely offended look on Carter's face. "He couldn't believe I didn't hate you either. Seeing how much the guy disliked you... I nearly went into shock when Madison told me you two had become friends."

"Uh…right. World's just kinda funny that way…" Carter coughed, avoiding eye contact as he shifted uncomfortably where he stood.

Somehow, hearing the term 'friendship' to describe his relationship with Norman felt…misplaced. It wasn't even because they were sexually involved with one another – or perhaps it was, but because they had started off only sexually involved. But the more time that passed, the less exclusively physical their relationship became. Going out drinking, hospital visits, seeing the sights in D.C. together…Hell, Carter had even taught Norman a little self-defense, and he loathed teaching. It required a level of patience he simply didn't have for most people. Those kinds of activities weren't done with someone you just wanted to fuck around with. But their relationship simply wasn't platonic enough to be called a friendship…Was there even a label for two people that shared both sexual and platonic moments together?

Yeah, dipshit, it's called dating.

The thought alone made him visibly cringe as heat rushed to his face. A small cough tore him away from the revelation – Carter jumped slightly, only now remembering Mars was still standing in front of him. Looking slightly bewildered, he opened his mouth to speak; Carter cut him off quickly, not desiring to hear the obvious question.

"-Like I said, you leave a bad taste in my mouth, Mars," he answered smoothly.

His eyebrows furrowed in amusement, but he dropped the issue. "…Call me Ethan, Lieutenant."

The hypocritical use of his title made his lips twitch upward. "Well then…drop the "Lieutenant" bullshit and call me Carter. The only people that address me by rank are suck ups and assholes…and you're neither.

"Speaking of both of those things, though…What was that about Norman helping you, Ethan?"

It was Mars's – Ethan's – turn to go slightly red in the face as his expression otherwise became quite blank. "…He stopped you from hitting me, as I recall…"

"…Right. And that's the only help he gave?" Carter asked dryly, wondering how far he could push the man before he got some honest-to-God confirmation about the "mystery" of their red herring suspect vanishing from a packed police station.

"Well…He saved Shaun. I'd qualify that as helping, wouldn't you?" Ethan replied with a smile, folding his arms. Carter couldn't help but be rather impressed by his easygoing composure as he lied right to his face.

"You're a much more convincing liar than he is, I'll give you that." he sighed, hoping to end the subject – he knew a losing battle when he saw one. Turning around, he found that Ethan had already attempted to hang the ropes from one of the tree's sturdier branches. Carter moved in to examine the knots for durability, observing the architect's handiwork with a wince. "Oh, Christ…it's not a fucking shoelace, Ethan." With an irritable sigh, he undid the double knot Ethan had made with the rope. "C'mere…I'll show'yah how to do it properly."

Ethan closed the distance between them, looking up curiously as Carter threw one side of the rope over the branch. "For something like this, you wanna use a bowline knot…Form a loop at the tail, see?" He moved over slightly so Ethan could observe his work. "Then pass the short end –" he pulled the side of the rope hanging off the tree to demonstrate the difference, "– around the standing end…pull it through the loop…" He paused for a moment, trying to remember the next step. "Then wrap the short end around itself, and back through the loop again." Carter took a step back, nodding towards his handiwork. "Then…just pull." He yanked the rope down harshly, satisfied when the knot tightened, secure against the tree branch.

"Where'd you learn that?" Ethan asked, sounding rather impressed. "Something they teach you on the force?"

"No…" Carter froze where he stood, a cold chill running down his back as an image of the man who had taught him the trick flashed through his brain. "A uh…a friend of mine taught me how to do it. Used to be a Marine, so he was pretty familiar with that kind of stuff…"

Ethan nodded thoughtfully before looking around on the ground. "Ah…dammit, I think I left the seat inside. I'll be right back."

Carter hardly registered the man's departure, exhaling deeply before looking up at the rope hatefully, as if it was its fault. It had been ages since he had thought about the man he had referenced - something that was exceedingly more painful to do in front of one of the man's attempted victims. Not even just Ethan – every person in the house had almost fallen victim to Scott Shelby in some form.

'Might have tried to kill you too, if the investigation in that clock store had gone differently...

That gut wrenching, stabbing thought was a first, yet Carter didn't doubt its truthfulness. Even long after the case's closure, he thought back to when Scott had stood in the middle of the station, arrest warrant hanging over his head due to his suspicious role in the murder – and he had just fucking let him go. Because they had been friends.

Or at least, that's what Carter had always thought. Had murder already been on his former partner's mind during all their years on the Philadelphian police force together? And not just any murder – Scott had targeted kids, for god's sake. All to test their fathers, in an attempt to find a decent parent in a declining society. If Scott had targeted the fathers of abused parents, Carter might have been more sympathetic – it was something that certainly hit closer to home to him as well – but to kill a child was unjustifiable by the very definition of the word. It certainly didn't help that Scott had barely even alluded to having a troubled childhood; if he had just trusted his partner a little fucking bit to open up to him, the whole incident could have been avoided. Yet at the same time, he couldn't throw the blame on Scott completely; it wasn't like he had ever asked. That failure on his part cut deeper than his failure to keep Scott under arrest. Not that it mattered anymore… Scott was dead.

And the man who had caused said death was inside cooking his fucking dinner, hardly fifty feet away. He'd never be able to sit and listen to Scott's story - the history of someone he once considered one of his closest friends - because Norman had killed him. Somehow, despite all the time that had passed, that connection had never fully clicked in Carter's brain like it was now. An unprecedented kind of anger surged through his system now for the agent now, more powerful than any ill-will he had felt for the man previously. The only word he could compare it to was an ultimate sense of betrayal. Despite his best intentions, Norman had somehow snuck past his defenses and secured an undeniably intimate role in his life. Yet all along, he had been the one who was responsible for the death of another person that Carter had permitted to get close to him, albeit in a different sense of the word. Carter had never been able to do the same for his ex-partner – and now he'd never be able to.

"Mr. Blake? Can you tie the other side now?"

The words of a child were the equivalent of an electric shock, snapping Carter back to reality utterly and completely – he hadn't even noticed Shaun had joined him. Trying to regain his composure, Carter closed his eyes tightly before opening them to look down at the boy that had almost been Scott's ninth victim. His eyes were still slightly bloodshot from earlier, but his usual cheerful demeanor was back, meeting his eyes with a smile.

No. Norman didn't kill Scott…he killed the Origami Killer. Scott died the moment he killed that first kid.

His expression softened at the realization, hatred leaving his body in order to make room for the guilt flooding his system instead. Forcing a smile, he bent his knee to meet the kid on his level. "…Nah…You tie it, it's good practice. I'll help'yah up."

Lifting from his knees, Carter caught Shaun around his waist and lifted him up with a grunt of exertion. "Christ – you're heavy, kid."

A small laugh caught Carter's attention as he spotted Ethan returning with the swing's seat in hand. He flashed them both a smile before nodding in agreement. "I know, right? Hard to believe I used to be able to carry him around on my shoulders."

Carter rolled the words over in his head for a moment with a slight smile, remembering the first time he had picked up the child in question. Back then as he carried Shaun from the warehouse to his car, he hadn't really registered the boy's weight – his mind was in far too many different places to even give it any thought. Having spent days without food or water, Carter doubted he had weighed all that much anyway. Now, however, he was properly nourished, and seemed to have grown several inches since the incident - he must have had a growth spurt.

He ignored his exhausted muscles screaming in protest at the exertion of lifting the boy as he quietly reiterated the instructions on how to form the knot, closely observing Shaun's work. From the corner of his eye, he could see Ethan watching even as he tied the swing's seat to the edge of the ropes, a peaceful expression on his face.

Perhaps visiting the Mars's house hadn't been that terrible of an idea.

"Two aces…" Norman mumbled, reaching forward to set the cards on top of the pile in the middle of the table.

"Bullshit," Carter called, barely looking up to spare Norman a glance. He smirked lightly when he heard a loud thump on the table before Norman slid his arm to slide the sizable deck into his own pile.

"How'd you know he wasn't telling the truth?" Madison asked, sounding rather impressed as her eyebrows rose in surprise. "Could've fooled me…"

"His accent gets thicker when he's makin' shit up," Carter explained. Upon looking up, he noted Madison had a tiny smile on her face, eyes glinting similarly with amusement. Carter's eyebrows furrowed in confusion as he opened his mouth to speak, yet Norman overrode him.

"No it-…does it really?" Norman asked in a startled tone, suddenly self-conscious. The reaction made both him and Madison laugh before the sound of a door closing cut them off. Looking up, Carter spotted Ethan quietly walking his way back to the kitchen table.

"Shaun go to bed okay?" Carter asked lightly once Ethan situated himself into his chair, grabbing his own cards.

Ethan chuckled in response. "Nah, he didn't want to with everyone still here, but even with school out I don't want him up too late…What're we on? Threes?"

"Twos," Madison corrected, leaning across the table to kiss the side of Ethan's clean-shaven face.

With a slight grimace, Ethan leaned forward to set down a card. "One two…"

"-…Bullshit," Madison called in an upbeat fashion without missing a beat, retreating back to her chair.

Sighing, Ethan pulled the card back into his hands. "You know I can't lie to you, Mad…"

"Nah, she looked at'yah ca'hds when she kissed you, Ethan," Norman interjected without looking up, his eyes squinted as he continued the task of rearranging the huge amount of cards in his hands. Carter grinned at the look of indignation on Madison's face as she glared at the agent.

"Norman, this is why nobody wants to play cards with law enforcement!" she exclaimed, slamming her cards on the table in mock frustration.

"Where the hell's that put me?" Carter asked dryly.

"You don't count. Think I didn't notice you slipping a third card in when you claimed to put down two last round?"

Carter coughed in shock, taken aback by the observational skills of the woman across from him. Clearly, Madison was someone he needed to keep an eye on. In an attempt to avoid the accusation, he turned to Ethan and asked, "So…you been finding work okay out here?"

His desire to change the subject wasn't lost on Ethan as he smiled slightly before replying, "Yeah, work's in pretty high demand in the suburbs. The city limits keep expanding, so a commission's never that hard to find. As long as the area's crime rate stays down, the work'll keep coming…Though," he added, the corner of his mouth twitching upward again, "with Madison around, I don't have too much hope…" He sighed, though the exhale implied amusement more than resignation. Madison sent him a glare nonetheless, prompting Norman to join in so she couldn't focus her anger on Ethan entirely.

"You do kind of attract serial killah's, Madison," he pointed out fairly.

It was Carter's turn to interject now- he didn't quite know Madison well enough that he was comfortable making fun of her just yet. Besides, Norman was a much more entertaining target. "What, and you don't? How many times did you get the shit kicked outta'yah during the case?"

Madison sent him a grateful look, and he had to admit he smirked lightly back at her, his irritation for the woman diminishing slightly as she joined him in the game of abusing Norman. "Maybe they just think we're cute," she suggested dryly, reaching forward to grab him by the cheek with her thumb and forefinger. His eyes narrowed slightly before jerking his face away.

Carter watched the interaction in amusement, taking a sip of his drink before lowering the glass back onto the table. "I think I remember something about handcuffs in your report about Jackson Neville…" He was forced to turn a grunt of pain into a cough as Norman harshly kicked him in the shins under the table. Fortunately, Madison and Ethan were too busy laughing to make note of it.

"They're not wrong…" Ethan tilted his head slightly to meet Madison's eyes, who flashed him a playful smile in return. As she leaned forward to hug his arm, he added, "…Once they realize what they'd have to put up with, though, the serial killer side wins out…"

The grin on Carter's face grew; upon a shared glance of sympathy with Ethan, he found himself laughing with the other man as Norman and Madison watched them with plainly annoyed looks on both their faces.

"You know, it's getting pretty late," the reporter pointed out with exaggerated volume, her grip tightening around her fiancé's arm with entirely too much force. Ethan winced, his laughter cut short; though he displayed difficulty in making his grin disappear entirely.

"Yeah, we should probably get goin'," Norman agreed loudly, setting his huge pile of cards back on the table irritably. Carter drained the rest of his glass with a grin, setting it back on the table again as he joined the three in standing up.

"Don't let the wedding be the next time we see each other," Ethan said, the firmness in his voice spoiled by a smile as he reached out to shake Carter's hand.

Carter couldn't help but smile back slightly at the man as he grasped his hand. "You know, Ethan…I might take'yah up on that."

From behind him, he felt a hand clasp his shoulders with a little too much force. The length of the nails told him before she even came into view that it was Madison. He spared her a glance and she grinned back, walking past him to approach Norman. The young woman was tall enough that she was able to reach Norman's ear when she stood up on her toes, leaning in. Carter couldn't make out what she whispered to the agent, but it made his face flush with mixed anger and embarrassment as he scowled down at her. She just grinned back, playfully hitting his arm before affectionately patting his shoulder. The interaction made Carter narrow his eyes slightly as a small flutter of jealousy rose in his stomach. With a huff, he leaned forward and grabbed the bureaucrat by the arm and pulled him closer.

"C'mon, it's past your bedtime," he mocked, dragging the scowling agent towards the front door.

Ethan chuckled at the sight, following them out. "You know, Norman, you're more than welcome to stay the night here if you haven't booked a hotel room yet."

The offer made both men intensely grateful the darkness outside hid their faces as Norman stumbled over his words to respond, "Oh! Th-thanks, but I uh…ah'lready paid for the room…"

Ethan nodded thoughtfully before raising his hand in a farewell gesture. "Ah, well…Keep it in mind next time. Take care, you two."

"Y-you too, Ethan."

"What was the point in showerin'?"

The shudders of the agent beneath him grew as his lips slowly made their way from his shoulder to his neck. Carter couldn't help but admire the smooth skin underneath his lips, listening almost hungrily to the soft yet still highly audible breathes Norman was fighting to control. For a moment he tore his lips away from the delicate flesh, soaking in the sight of the man underneath him lying on his back as Carter straddled his hips.

Fuck…I'm gonna miss this.

His acknowledgement was almost as irritating as the fact itself. Tomorrow, he'd be going back to work, leaving Norman to return to D.C. After spending the past couple of weeks together, interrupted only by Norman's own job…it would take some time to adjust back to his usual routine. It was enough to make him feel like a kid again, gloomily packing their backpack as the weekend before the end of summer vacation came to a close.

Carter pushed the thought aside, using it instead as motivation to milk to moment in front of him for what it was worth. He leaned forward, pressing his lips to the side of Jayden's face. His facial hair tickled the skin of his clean-shaven partner, making the man jerk away immediately upon contact. Grinning slightly, he moved a hand to cuff Jayden's face, pushing him back against his lips as they slowly made their way to his ear.

In response to the agent's still-standing question, Carter bit down lightly on the piece of flesh before drawing back. "You really thought I'd let you go without doin' this one last time?" Without waiting for a response, he slid the hand cupping his face to the back of his head, pushing the agent up into a bruising kiss. A muffled noise of surprise left Norman's lips before he returned the motion in kind.

Without breaking off the kiss, Carter's free hand began trailing down Norman's side until they made contact with one of the few blemished parts of Norman's otherwise soft body. Without thinking, Carter traced the lined scar from his stomach with a finger, following the curve it took to his back. Norman broke off the kiss in response to the unusual act, looking down to watch before meeting Carter's eyes.

"…That's the one Sco-…Shelby gave you, right?" he mumbled, his good mood spoiled as he thought of the late man again. The guilt from earlier hit him full force, making him avert his eyes. The teasing from earlier this evening aside, Carter could easily recall a few times when he had given Norman shit for getting sliced by a katana of all things. But the situation seemed significantly less comical now – and he couldn't help but wonder why that was. He reasoned it was likely due to seeing Shaun again; the living proof of how dangerous Scott had been. Fuck, the size of the wound was already significant...if more force had been applied, Norman could've easily died. The thought made his chest tighten uncomfortably as he shifted on top of the man in question.

"The Origami Kill'ah? Yeah." Norman sounded disinterested in his response, more focused on Carter's tense demeanor. He found himself under the profiler's scrutinizing gaze as he sat himself up as much as Carter's weight on top of him would allow. To his relief, he didn't push the subject, instead leaning forward to lightly press his lips against the side of Carter's face.

Carter didn't even acknowledge the unusually affectionate act, his mind completely elsewhere. Obviously Scott's assault on Norman in the rather sketchy club hadn't ended fatally, but the next time they had met...Even knowing Scott's demise, Norman could have easily been the one instead who died. He almost was, if Carter recalled the report correctly...Allegedly, Norman had actually helped Scott up after he had almost fallen into the grinder the first time.

A rush of a wide array of emotions flushed through his system at the recollection. Concern was certainly one of the most prominent, but anger wasn't far behind. Norman was so fucking naive! Helping the guy who was actively trying to kill you just seconds ago? What had he expected Scott to do - shake his hand, realize the errors in his ways, and fucking resurrect all the kids he'd killed? What if Norman hadn't reacted quickly enough to his attack and died instead, all because he had to be god damn good natured?

A small growl rose from his throat just as Norman's lips brushed against it. In surprise at both the noise and feel of it, Norman peered up at him to shoot him a confused look, his puzzled expression contrasting greatly with Carter's infuriated one.

"...Cartah, are you ah'ka-"

"You're so fucking stupid, Norman." Without waiting for a response, Carter grabbed his face with both hands to force him back in for another kiss. Once their lips met, his hands slipped down slowly to Norman's sides again before wrapping his arms around the man entirely, pulling him in to a gruff embrace. Given the close proximity, Carter could feel Norman's eyebrows furrow in surprise. He took advantage of Carter pulling away slightly in order to catch a breath to jerk his head away. "Why-"

Not particularly desiring to put into words his gut wrenching concern, Carter broke off the question by pressing his lips to Norman's again. The agent pulled his face away, seeking to finish the interrupted line of questioning. "…am I stupid…?"

With great irritation, Carter shot a hand up to cup his face again. "Jayden, you want to stop runnin' your fucking mouth for a minute and kiss me back?" He felt the lips underneath his twist into a grin before the man complied.

It was Norman that finally broke off the kiss after a few charged moments. His eyes now half-lidded, he regarded the cop still seated on top of him thoughtfully. "Let's focus on you for a change…Lieutenant," Norman mused quietly. The use of his title in the midst of the current situation sent a heat of arousal to his already hardened member. It wasn't quite enough to quell the uncomfortable thoughts still stabbing at his stomach – but it was enough for him to allow the agent to shift out from underneath him.

Now on an equal level with Carter, Norman raised his hands before gently laying them to rest on his shoulders. The soft pieces of flesh were completely at odds with Carter's worn skin. His fingertips slid downward, brushing similarly against Carter's own copious amounts of scars and other long-since healed wounds. To an outsider it'd prove as an indicator that his occupational choice was far from safe either – but to Carter, the scars were proof, gathered over a long career of close calls, that he knew how to take care of himself. Norman was still green in his profession, as far as he was concerned. Even putting aside his physical well-being, his job posed a threat to his mental being as well; evidenced after the closing of the Origami case. Panic attacks weren't out of the ordinary after such a close run-in with death, but the symptoms Norman exhibited lasted a full two months after the case's closure. Even after witnessing the man resolve to take care of the problem, he had caught, despite Norman's best efforts, small glimpses of them every now and then. Though not recently, it was true…Still, the memories of Norman so pale and skinny after working a tough case were still fresh in his mind. Though his current case appeared to be relatively without stress, and Norman hadn't worked a particularly dangerous assignment in months, Carter had no doubt both types of cases were simply a part of the job that would continue to come as long as Norman himself continued his career. Carter couldn't place why it bothered him so much – it was Norman's choice, and obviously something he was passionate about. He didn't exactly have the high ground either, with his recent hospitalization. With all those factors combined, he couldn't just tell the kid to start from scratch and pick a less self-destructive job…so why did he want to so badly?

"Cartah, are 'yah even payin' attention?"

The comment snapped Carter back to the present as he glanced down at the man currently straddling his thighs, hands pressed against his sides. Despite sounding rather offended, Norman was wearing an amused grin as he studied Carter's face carefully.

Carter shifted uncomfortably, trying to shove aside his newly realized preoccupations for the young agent now on top of him. Seeking to alleviate the tension, he forced a jackass grin and said, "Maybe you should put more effort into holding my attention?"

He had to admit the younger man's next action caught him off guard. Though he looked rather taken aback to the jibe, Norman recovered quickly before shoving his full body weight into pushing him down by the shoulders so he found himself lying flat on his back. Before Carter could voice any objections at the sudden display of dominance, his lips were captured once more with unprecedented force. Such an act put Carter on the defensive immediately; he tried to sit up again, only to quickly be shoved back into the bed. Being on the receiving end of such an action by Norman of all people was not only shocking – but the sudden shot of pleasure it sent to his groin proved it to be arousing as well.

Norman's lips left his, though he made no move to get up in case Carter tried to get up again. Hot air now brushed instead against his face; it was oddly refreshing, despite the heat, as it smelled strongly of the minty toothpaste the man had just used.

"C'mon, Cartah…" Despite the completely compromising position, Norman's words were surprisingly reassuring in their gentleness. There wasn't a hint of a demeaning undertone in the words – it was enough to make Carter's cheeks flash red in embarrassment. "Just relax'n leave it to me…"

Carter complied with the latter order, but "relaxed" was the last thing he felt as the agent's hot breath trailed from his neck down his torso. It was joined by his hands, which left his shoulders and slowly moved down as well, gently caressing the muscular form beneath them. Carter clenched his eyes shut upon feeling the breath make contact with his cock, the organ stiffening even further at the sensation. Gentle yet firm hands clasped his waist, making Carter jerk slightly in surprise. All thoughts of protest died instantly as he felt Norman's warm mouth slowly wrap around the head.

"Ohhh fuck, Norm…" Carter groaned as the younger man removed his mouth for a moment to run his tongue down the base of his cock, allowing him to take in more when he ran his tongue back up and wrapped his lips around the throbbing organ again.

The sensation made his eyes snap open. Looking down he was greeted with the sight of Norman's drying hair beginning to curl in every direction, stubbornly defying its owner's normally uptight nature. It was another feature about the younger man he had come to admire; precisely because he was the only one who got to admire it, as Norman always tamed it in order to maintain his professional appearance. The fact that he didn't feel the need to do so around Carter anymore further solidified the idea that Jayden was his.

He longed to reach down and grab the locks, to use them as leverage and something else to focus on so he could continue enjoying Norman's ongoing ministrations – yet as he propped himself up on his elbows with those intentions in mind, Norman withdrew his mouth entirely from his still throbbing member, precum practically weeping out of the tip from the sudden neglect. The loud growl that rose from Carter's throat in response was met only with a highly amused laugh as the agent wiped away the trail of fluid that connected the two.

"Oh, now you're payin' attention?" The taunt was matched with a mocking grin Carter had to admit he had never expected to see from the usually good-natured man. It made all feelings of control slip away – he found himself wanting to punch the smirk off the little smartass, or shove his dick between the mocking lips – do something in order to regain dominance –

The thought was interrupted completely as Norman ran his tongue down his shaft, eliciting a soft moan from Carter as he laid back down again, unconsciously signaling submission. Instead of wrapping his soft lips around the incredibly stiff organ again like Carter so desperately wanted, Norman's tongue continued downward until it made contact with his swollen balls. For a moment he lapped at the engorged things, making Carter gasp with pleasure. His tongue continued to move down, licking at the sensitive spot between his ass and testicles…before moving down entirely to lick across his anus.

"Whoa – Norman, what the fuck-" Completely startled, Carter pulled his hips back in disbelief and disgust despite the pleasurable feeling it had brought.

"We just showered," Norman reminded him dryly before moving back in to trace his tongue around the entrance again. Carter couldn't quite bite back a small moan, making Norman stop for a moment. Without pulling away, he asked, "…You want me to stop?" Carter bit his lip in pleasure, trying to convince himself more than Norman that the answer was yes. After a moment's silence – and to his complete disappointment – he did.

The cold air of the bedroom hit against his crotch and ass as Norman pulled away, made worse by the fact that both places were soaked in saliva. It served as a cruel remainder of the complete lack of stimulation in both areas. It was enough to make him growl in sexual frustration again as he gave in to the question. "…No."

Norman complied with his wishes wordlessly, leaning forward to trace the ring of muscle again before the soft, sopping wet muscle punctured its way inside completely. Disapproving thoughts of the action in general were shoved aside to make way for the pleasure it brought. Without giving it any more thought, Carter thrust his hips forward to allow Norman's tongue to enter him further. Soft yet surprisingly strong hands made their way from Carter's hips to his thighs, thumbs gently stroking the flesh there for a moment before lightly pushing them apart more. Carter was too unfocused to concentrate on the implication that Norman was spreading him apart like a girl in order to gain better access to his body.

Then without warning, the pleasure slowly faded away as Norman withdrew his tongue completely, bringing his head up to meet Carter's eyes, which had just snapped open in both confusion and heavy irritation. A small smile played at Norman's lips again as he began to back away from his body entirely.

"Norman, I swear to God…"

The agent just chuckled in response to the open ended threat, lazily propping his arms back on the bed to better regard the man lying in front of him. "What, Cartah?"

The little bastard's arrogance had finally reached an intolerable level. A growl escaped from Carter's throat again as he rose quickly to show Norman exactly "what". The movement was swift enough to not allow Norman time to react, with the exception of the cocky grin disappearing from his face. Pushing the man down so he was once again lying down on his back underneath him, Carter kept a firm hand pushed against his chest before casting his gaze downward to Norman's fully erect, yet still untouched member. Grimacing slightly, Carter accepted his next plan of action to be the best way to continue uninterrupted. It was thus with minimal hesitation that he leaned forward, taking into his mouth as much of the man as he could without causing himself discomfort.

"J-Jesus Christ, Cartah!" the younger man cried out, shooting a hand down to grip his hair. Carter made a face- this was exactly why he had tied up Norman last time he had performed such acts on the younger, more readily submissive man. The idea of being touched back whilst administrating pleasure in such a fashion was embarrassing and demeaning to say the least. In response, he removed his mouth entirely, leaning back in to work his tongue around Norman's dick instead, slathering it with saliva before pulling away. The small whimper that followed from the loss of contact made him smirk.

As Norman squirmed from underneath him, scooting to put himself into a sitting position again, Carter tried to fight every last one of his instincts that screamed at him to take the reins of control back and fuck him into the bed. His body's craving for an entirely different type of stimulation won out as he straddled the younger man's hips, the action causing him to stop struggling entirely. The distance closed between them now, Carter's first reaction was a desire to once more force the mouth still slightly opened in surprise into another kiss – but said desire was quickly and efficiently squashed as he remembered where both their mouths had just been. He pulled the man's face closer nonetheless, resting his bearded face against it as he growled straight in the agent's ear, "You're such a little bitch, Norman. Can't follow through without someone holdin' your fuckin' hand? Don't start shit you can't finish." With that, he shoved the shoulders of the startled agent into the bedframe, raising his own hips in preparation for what he was about to do. Quickly, as to not allow for Norman or his conflicted subconscious to get a word in, he adjusted himself so that the tip of Norman's cock was pressed against his opening – and pushed down, impaling himself in one clean movement.

His entire body tensed up as his brain began to fully register the searing sensation. In a rather desperate search for comfort, his hands tightly clenched around Norman's shoulders, the man crying out in both pleasure and pain as a result. As much as he hated to admit it...Jayden wasn't small by any means. The pain was almost enough for him to feel guilty for being so brutal with the man all the time. Not to mention it left him quite confused as well – he remembered it hurting last time, but not nearly on this scale. Other than the position, he didn't note anything particularly different…

It was then that Carter recalled how exceedingly gentle the man underneath him had been during the act. Lubing him up, starting off slow…treating him like a doting lover would more than anything else. He wasn't sure whether to feel flattered, grateful, embarrassed, or completely furious. He settled with the last emotion, as it was easily the one he had the most experience with.

Reading his still pained expression, Norman bit his lip before reluctantly saying, "We shouldn't do it this way, it's not-"

"What, you think I can't fuckin' handle it, Norm?" he interrupted with a sneer, ignoring the pain receptors throughout his lower body that were screaming for compliance to Norman's suggestion. Denying it, and subsequently Norman himself, gave Blake back a sense of normalcy - of control - as he unsteadily pushed his hips down, taking in more of Norman's considerably lengthy shaft. The urge to prove that he at least could handle a little bit of pain overshadowed the searing and unpleasant sensation.

It couldn't completely do away with his discomfort, however. In response to a small grunt of pain Carter hadn't quite managed to conceal, Norman slowly opened his eyes. "It'll hurt a lot less if you relax, Cartah…" All traces of the teasing undertone from earlier were gone, replaced instead by that same gentleness that made Carter's face heat up in embarrassment. As much as he wanted to shove aside Norman's advice, it simply made too much sense to completely ignore. He rolled his shoulders forward, taking a deep breath in an attempt to rid his body of tension before moving his hips downward again. It was significantly less painful, allowing him to continue the rhythm much easier. Still, he couldn't help wondering why it wasn't as pleasurable as last ti-

The next push downward caused an intense wave of pleasure to wash over his body, dwarfing the pain. Taken so completely by surprise, he had no time to attempt to subdue the sharp moan that followed. His already half closed eyes narrowed further upon seeing the tiny hint of a smile playing at Norman's lips.

"You all right, Cartah?"

Recalling what Norman often did to him in response to his own taunts during sex, Carter tensed up and shoved his hips down. It did have the desired effects of drawing out a hushed moan from the condescending little prick, but the action inadvertently hit him just right again, his own pleasured cry much louder as he thrust down for more. Through his now blurred vision, he could see Norman grinning again.

"Fuck – Fuck you – Fuck…" His hips were moving rapidly now, almost as if they had a mind of their own. If Carter was completely honest with himself, he wouldn't have stopped them if he wanted to. Now that the highly sensitive organ inside him had been so effectively stimulated, he didn't want the pleasure to stop.

He could at least relish in the fact that Norman was no longer grinning at him like a jackass, his eyes tightly clenched shut instead, mouth parted to allow his own pleasurable pants to escape. He began thrusting up to match Carter's movements – humiliation at the deed took a backseat to the increased pleasure it caused them both. The warm, tightening clench around his abdomen served as an indicator that he wasn't going to be able to keep this up much longer; in response, Carter shot his hands out to grasp the agent's shoulders, using him as leverage so he could quicken his own pace, milking the final moments for what they were worth. The sudden increase in speed was too much for the man underneath him; as Norman cried out in pleasure, Carter felt the organ inside him pulsate before a shooting warmth filled him. The surprisingly pleasant sensation, combined with the look of rapture on Norman's face, was enough to throw him over the edge as well. Gritting his teeth in an attempt to bite back a highly pleasured moan, Carter pushed his hips down one last time before resting his face into Norman's shoulder, further muffling the noise as he came all over his stomach. For a moment he remained there, panting heavily into the soft flesh as Norman's own breath hit the back of his neck, both of them trying to recover.

Wincing only slightly, Carter pulled himself off Norman's now softening member, losing his balance completely as he fell on his back onto the bed with a content sigh. He opened an eye, spotting Norman lean his head against the bedframe, still panting slightly. A rush of satisfaction surged through his exhausted body, stemming from the thought that he had effectively worn the cocky agent out. Smirking lightly, he shifted himself up on his elbow, loosely capturing Norman's wrist with his free hand. The agent blinked in surprise, but allowed himself to be pulled forward, falling back onto Carter's arm. Carter took advantage of this to pull him closer before adjusting the limb into a makeshift pillow for the man.

"Don't spoil this by runnin' your mouth," he warned lightly, shifting his back into the bed in an attempt to make himself more comfortable, eyelids growing heavy with exhaustion.

"Wouldn't dream of it," Norman replied sleepily before lazily nuzzling his face into Carter's chest, drifting off to sleep before either could get in another word.