Centaur of the Storm

Levon slammed the truck into park and jumped out, hot on the heels of Jason McEnroy. Joe followed, barely taking the time to slam his door closed. A split second later Esteban and Joe-Bill joined them; and behind them, Joanne joined in the chase.

McEnroy dodged through the trees, heading away from the empty picnic area and deeper into the woods.

Unthinkingly moving in concert with his partner, Joe peeled off to the side as they got a little closer to their quarry, coming at him from an angle. He knew without looking that Levon was doing the same thing in the opposite direction.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Joe grinned. He couldn't help it; being this in synch with anyone would feel good. Being this in synch with Levon was...well, a damned sight better than good.

Behind them, the other three spread out as well, both tracking and trying to corral McEnroy as he fled.

He tried veering off through the trees towards the north and found Joe-Bill cutting him off. McEnroy then turned back east and continued running; at one point near sliding down a gentle slope and gaining several yards as none of the cops wanted to risk breaking an ankle following his exact path.

However, Levon was slowly gaining on him, making Joe wonder if the cowboy boots really *were* that much of a hindrance, or if he was checking himself in front of witnesses. Either way, it was all Joe could do to keep up; he was a fast runner but nowhere near in a centaur's league. Even when said centaur was running on two feet.

They broke through to a small clearing and Levon shot ahead. McEnroy glanced back and saw him, and veered again. Joe heard Esteban cursing briefly as the chase continued.

He could hear one of the others behind him slowing down; he didn't bother looking back to see who. Only one of them had to catch McEnroy -- and it looked like it was going to be Levon.

And he would be there to back his partner up, Joe thought, as he found a reserve of energy and managed to up his speed some more.

He managed to close the distance some, though dodging branches and underbrush made it difficult. Luckily McEnroy was having the same trouble; the man tripped once, caught himself, and dodged before Levon could get too close. Unfortunately he dodged in the wrong direction: a moment later he gave a shocked cry and disappeared down a ravine.

The man's yell echoed, bouncing off the rock walls as he fell. Joe skidded to a halt next to his partner and they both approached the edge carefully and looked down.

McEnroy lay at the bottom, sprawled in a position that only could be achieved in death.

"This is going to mean extra paperwork," Joe sighed.

Levon grinned. "But we don't have to haul him back and go to court, after."

Esteban, Joanne, and then Joe-Bill ran up, and Joe noticed with some annoyance that Levon was the only one not panting. Levon saw his look, and grinned.

"Centaurs," Joe muttered under his breath, only loud enough for his partner, who was standing closest, to hear.

"Anyone wanna climb down after him?" Joe-Bill asked, his tone clearly saying that it wouldn't be *him*.

Beaumont shook her head. "We'll call it in, let the Coroner get him up." She looked back, over her shoulder. "I suppose two of you should stay here while we head back--" She stopped, and looked up. "Hell."

The clouds, which had grown darker unnoticed during the chase, were beginning to let the first raindrops fall.

"Guess we're going to be hitting the showers even before we get back to the station," Joe said, scowling up at the sky. He *hated* getting soaked.

Not to mention that the jacket he was wearing was dry clean only.

"There was some sorta building, back a little ways," Esteban said. "Perhaps we should wait out the storm there?"

"Sounds like a good idea," Beaumont said. She waved a hand, indicating he should lead them to it.

As soon as the other three headed out, Levon fell in beside Joe. Closely beside. Alarm bells started going off in Joe's head at that. "You okay?" he asked in an undertone, reaching out and laying a hand against Levon's back.

"Long as it just rains, yeah."

As if on cue, a low rumble sounded in the distance. Levon bumped into Joe as he tried to walk even closer.

They saw the building ahead of them, then. It looked like an old ranger supply station, barely more than a shack. It was large enough to provide them shelter, however.

Esteban broke the rusted lock on the door, giving them a grin. "Joe-Bill can do the paperwork to replace this."

"Hey!" protested his partner.

Another rumble of thunder was heard, this one sounding louder and nearer than the last. Joe could feel the muscles in Levon's back trembling under his hand.

"Easy," he whispered, glancing over at the others, wondering if they had noticed anything out of the ordinary with Levon yet.

Esteban opened the door and stepped inside, everyone else followed. For a moment they just looked around.

"Well, at least it has a roof," Joe-Bill said.

There wasn't much else. Four walls, a roof and a door were essentially it. A few empty shelves and a few wooden crates on the floor made up the rest of the building's decor.

Levon looked over his shoulder out the door, at the rain. Joe felt him shiver.

This was not good. There was no way Levon would be able to just sit quietly in here while they waited for the storm to pass. And they couldn't use their usual way of dealing with thunderstorms, not with an audience.

"Looks like a heck of a storm," Joe-Bill said, peering around Levon. "Anybody bring a deck of cards?"

The rain began falling harder, and Joe knew from experience this would be a long one.

Joanne walked up beside Joe and touched his arm. Her expression carried the question she didn't say out loud.

Joe shrugged helplessly. He'd do what he could to help Levon keep it together, but...

There was a sudden bolt of lightning and Levon started. A second later, the thunder crashed.

Even expecting it as he must have been, Levon jumped and let out a small cry. Ignoring the others and what they might think, Joe reached out and pulled Levon into a tight embrace, murmuring comfortingly to him.

Joanne said something, but Joe wasn't listening to her. He did hear Joe-Bill's soft question, "What the hell?" but paid him no attention.

The lightening flashed again, and then thunder, and Levon was struggling in his arms to get away. Joe held on all the tighter, knowing that if Levon got away, he'd run. And if he started running now, he wouldn't stop until the storm was over. And he wouldn't be paying much attention to where he was running. The image of Levon disappearing over the edge of the ravine like McEnroy lent Joe the extra strength he needed to hang on.

Behind him, Joanne was speaking quietly and quickly to the others. Joe didn't care what she was saying, right now she could be telling them everything and he wouldn't care. Not with Levon fighting him like this.

The thunder crashed again and Levon screamed.

The sound ripped right into Joe's heart. "Easy, cowboy," he said, his own voice a bit shaky now. "It's all right. You're safe. I'm here. Nothing's going to happen." Even to him the words sounded trite and unhelpful but there wasn't anything else he could do for Levon. Other than to hold him and try to calm him down.

Joanne was at his other side, trying to help Joe hold him back. Levon was trying for the door, apparently unaware of anything Joe was saying.

Esteban and Joe-Bill were there then, too, and Esteban asked quietly, "What can we do?"

"Help me hold him down," Joe answered, grateful for the quiet offer and the lack of questions. "And block the door, so if he does get free we can stop him before he gets outside."

Joe-Bill moved to close the door while Esteban and Joanne helped Joe pull Levon away from it. It was a fight to get him down, Levon trying desperately to keep on his feet. There was another thunderclap and he jerked against their combined holds, but was unable to break free.

Joe felt Levon's hand grab his jacket sleeve and pull; he ignored the tearing sound.

Least he wouldn't have to take it to the drycleaner's now.

They finally managed to get Levon down, using their combined weight to bear him to the floor. Levon's eyes were completely dilated with fear.

More thunder came, and more screams.

Joe was trembling himself now, in frustrated helplessness. He hated this, hated watching Levon scared almost to death and not being able to do anything. He knew he was doing all that he could, but still...

'Please,' he prayed, 'let this be over soon. He can't take much more. *I* can't take much more.'

Unfortunately no one seemed to be listening. The storm raged on, thunder rattling the door and their nerves, lightning flashing across the sky, showing through the tiny window in the door.

Eventually Levon's cries diminished and he lay there limply, no longer struggling. Joe got a look at his face and felt his heart contract. Unable to get away physically, Levon had gotten away from the storm the only way he could. By retreating into himself.

"What's wrong with him now?" Joe-Bill asked in a hushed voice.

"He's gone catatonic," Joe replied wearily. "Sort of. You can let him go now."

"Let him go?" Joe-Bill repeated. As Joanne moved back, Joe-Bill and Esteban followed suit.

"Is he...?" Esteban began.

"He'll be fine," Joe said sharply. With a groan Joe settled himself on the floor, leaning against the back wall, then pulled his partner's unresisting body into his arms. Hugging Levon tightly, he continued, "I can bring him out of this, I've done it before, but not until the storm is over."

"You've... this has happened before?" Joe-Bill shook his head and added to the obvious question, "A lot, I mean?"

Levon lay limply in Joe's arms, no longer even flinching when the thunder crashed again.

"Only once." He stroked Levon's hair absently as he spoke. "Well maybe twice if you count the time he was shot, but that was more shock."

Joe-Bill and Esteban were sitting back, now, giving Joe, Levon, and each other questioning looks.

Outside the rain pounded on the roof. Joanne spoke up. "We were on stake-out once, and got caught in a storm. Not as bad as this one -- only lasted a few minutes."

"What happened?" Joe asked curiously.

"Not much. I got the door locked, and he just... panicked. Broke the window. Luckily he didn't hurt himself too badly -- once the storm passed, he calmed down. I took him home and the next day he was fine."

Joe nodded. "He usually gets over it pretty fast once the storm is finished. Though this time..." He trailed off and looked down at his partner worriedly.

There was no sign of awareness in Levon's eyes. Not of Joe, not of the storm. Wide and unblinking, it was as if-- Joe cut the thought off. It didn't *matter*. Once the storm was over, he'd bring Levon out of it.

That was when he realized he hadn't heard any thunder for several minutes.

"You think it's over?" he asked the others, nodding at the roof. He didn't want Levon to stay in this state any longer than necessary, but bringing him out of it, only for him to immediately have to face his fear again...

Joe-Bill moved to the tiny window and peered out. "Still coming down hard, and the clouds are still dark. I don't think so." He turned, a worried expression on his face as he looked down at Levon.

"He'll be all right," Joe insisted, part of him wondering who he was trying to convince.

A minute later there was another clap of thunder. Levon didn't react, but as they waited, there was no more sound but the rain.

Joe decided though to wait a little longer, just to be safe. To distract himself, he turned his attention to Joe-Bill and Esteban, both of whom were trying very hard not to look like they had a million questions. And failing.

"If you want to ask something, ask," he told them, his voice coming out more challenging than he had meant it to.

"It can wait," Joe-Bill said, surprising him.

Esteban nodded, though he looked as though he would have preferred to ask.

A few more minutes passed, the sound of the rain began to ease.

Judging it safe now, Joe began the slow process of bringing Levon back.

He shifted so that Levon was looking right at his face and then began talking softly to him, ignoring the others who were watching with interest. "Levon? You in there partner? Time to come back, cowboy. Storm's over."

At first there was no response. Levon lay motionless in his arms, eyes still staring at nothing.

The rain began to patter in a softer rhythm, encouraging Joe that the storm was really over.

He kept talking. "Come on, Levon. I know you can hear me. Give me some sign you're still with me, huh? You're way too heavy to carry out of here."

For what seemed like forever, there was no response. Then he saw Levon's eyes focus.

Joe grinned in relief. "Hey cowboy," he greeted him. "Welcome back."

Levon didn't reply, but he looked up at Joe, staring at him. Joe felt him shake, once, and tightened his hold.

"Joe?" Levon finally said in a raspy whisper.

"I'm here," he reassured him. Reaching out he caressed Levon's cheek. "How you feeling?"

"Sore," he replied, still whispering. "Throat hurts." He looked around him, seemingly confused by his surroundings.

"What do you remember?" Joe asked.

"Storm." As he said it, he shivered once. He moved, then, as if trying to get up.

Joe hesitated and then held out a hand to help haul Levon to his feet. "Storm's over," he reassured his partner.

Levon looked towards the door, then back at Joe. "I...." He glanced at the other three, and found them all staring at him. He shifted nervously on his feet and looked back at Joe pleadingly.

Joe sighed. He never was able to resist that look. Glancing back over his shoulder, Joe said, "If it's all right with you, we'll catch up with you guys later, Lieutenant." He paused. "Actually even if it's not all right, we'll catch up with you later."

"It's all right, Joe," she told him.

Levon took that as permission, and headed out the door.

"Thanks," Joe said, then hurried to catch up to his partner.

Levon stopped not far away from the building, and looked at Joe. "I need... I need to change, Joe."

Joe didn't argue. "Let's get out of sight of the cabin first, okay?"

Levon nodded and headed into the woods. As soon as the trees masked them, he stopped, and began removing his boots and jeans. He left them on the ground and changed, dancing from side to side once he had done so.

Joe stooped down and picked up the discarded clothes, wrapping the jeans around the boots, then handing it to Levon with a, "Hold this." Then, in one smooth motion, he pulled himself up onto Levon's back.

During this, Levon never stood still. Joe was glad he was so used to riding that his mate's obvious nervousness didn't worry him. Didn't worry him about keeping his seat, at least.

Levon handed the bundle back to him, and asked, "Can I?"

Looking at the uneven ground dubiously, Joe asked, "How's the footing?"

"Good enough." Levon was moving restlessly, not yet going forward, but not standing still, either.

"All right," Joe finally said, seeing how badly Levon needed this, "but be careful. If you break a leg out here..."

Levon didn't wait. He was off like a shot, running as fast as he could while dodging the trees and low branches. Joe had all he could to hang on and dodge those same low branches. The last thing he needed was to run into a tree branch at 20 miles per hour.

They came to a clearing and Levon angled along the edge of it, running the circle as fast as he could.

At first it was nothing more than running, fast and hard. Then Joe felt something else.

Levon slowed, and bucked again, this time much harder.

"Levon, wha-?" Joe started to ask, only to break off as Levon bucked again.

Another step and Levon reared. Joe dropped the bundle of jeans and boots, and hung on.

"Levon!" he yelled again, worried as much about what was going on in his lover's head as he was about what would happen if he did get thrown.

His mate didn't answer, just kept dancing around the clearing, bucking and crow hopping. Joe couldn't tell if he was actively trying to throw him or if that result was just incidental.

Incidental or deliberate, that result was also going to be damned painful, if he didn't get Levon calmed down. He clung to Levon's waist with a whiteknuckled grip. The question though was how?

Levon was tossing his head back, gathering himself for another jump. Joe suddenly recalled something he'd seen the kids doing, out at the herd's ranch. It had been done in fun, but had seemed to work. Was worth a try, at any rate. He held on as best as he could with his legs, and reached up to grab Levon in a full Nelson.

He managed to get the hold locked on before Levon seemed to realize what he was doing. When he did though, he went even crazier. Joe just gritted his teeth and held on.

Levon was unable to get free of him, though now at least his struggles were more focused. Instead of bucking and moving every which way, he was bending forward and arching back, trying to get free of Joe.

"Come on Levon, give it up!" Joe yelled, still doggedly holding on with everything he had. "I'm not letting you go, cowboy, you hear me?"

Levon stumbled, then, and went down on his knees.

"Levon?"

Levon was still struggling, trying to get free, but he could not seem to regain his feet. This was exactly as Joe had seen the two fillies do; one had been able to hold her larger sister down with the headlock. He didn't know if it had been a physical or psychological effect that kept her down and right now he didn't care.

Not if it kept Levon down, as well.

He held on, waiting for his mate to come back to his senses.

Levon continued to struggle, knocking himself over onto his side. Joe followed him down, still maintaining the wrestling hold.

Levon kept kicking, bending backward trying to get a hold of Joe and toss him off. Joe moved then, to sit straddling Levon's waist, leaning over him to maintain the hold.

"*Calm down* already!" he yelled, his frustration coming out sounding like anger.

Levon growled then, trying once more to throw him. Then he froze.

"What the hell?" came a stunned voice behind him.

'Shit,' Joe thought, still not releasing Levon. 'Can't we have one crisis at a time?' he wondered.

"Joe, what happened?" came Joanne's much calmer voice. He looked up as she hurried over, leaving Joe-Bill and Esteban standing at the edge of the clearing, staring.

"Now we know why he dropped his boots," Esteban said, dazedly.

Ignoring him and Joe-Bill for the moment, Joe answered the lieutenant's question. "Not sure. He just all of a sudden went nuts, trying to buck me off." He turned his attention back to his partner who hadn't moved since the others had shown up. "Levon? You back with us yet?"

Levon looked up at him, obviously trying desperately to restrain himself.

Joe sighed in relief at the awareness in Levon's eyes. "What's up partner?" he asked, easing the hold a little but not releasing it quite yet.

Levon's eyes were still wild and Joe could feel the twitching of his muscles. Joe knew, if he moved, Levon would likely be up and gone.

"You have any idea what's going on?" Joe-Bill asked.

"You're asking me?" Esteban replied.

"We'll explain everything later, okay?" Joe shot over his shoulder, before turning back to Levon. "Let's try and figure this out, partner. It's obvious you need to run, which is fine. I can understand that. But why try and get rid of me?" Despite his best efforts, a trace of hurt entered his voice with the last question.

Levon's eyes went wide in shock. "Get rid...?" Then his face cleared. "Joe... I didn't... I wasn't trying.... I just couldn't stop moving," he finally offered.

Joe let out a breath he hadn't even been aware he was holding. "So you weren't trying to throw me?"

"No." He sounded lost, confused, and a little afraid. Levon reached up and tried to grab onto Joe's arm. "I'm sorry."

Releasing the hold, Joe instead wrapped his arms around Levon's waist in a tight hug. "S'okay," he said. "No harm done." He glanced over at their audience. "Well to me anyway."

Levon glanced over and saw the two men staring. He turned back to Joe, buried his face in his chest for a moment, then let go. "Will you let me up?" he asked in a hesitant voice.

In answer Joe climbed to his feet and held a hand out to Levon. The gesture was mostly symbolic of course, as there was no way he'd be able to haul Levon in centaur form to his feet, but it seemed the appropriate thing to do nonetheless.

Levon took it, smiling shyly. He got to his feet and shook himself.

"Damn. I think it's real."

They turned to see Joe-Bill and Esteban still staring. "I suppose you have some questions," Joe said, resting a hand on Levon's back at the spot where skin and horsehair merged.

"Who, us? Nah," Esteban said, in exaggerated sincerity.

"Is that... Lundy, is that really real?" Joe-Bill asked, staring at the horse-half of Levon.

"Looks like it, don't it?" Levon replied, in what would have been a sharp tone had it been louder.

"It's rude to stare guys," Joe said, a hint of threat hidden in his voice.

"Huh?" Joe-Bill looked startled. Joanne smiled, briefly, and Esteban just grinned.

"You're thinking we should just shrug, say well, then, and go on our way?" Esteban gestured at Levon. "It took you how long to get used to this, LaFiamma?" Esteban sounded, for all his words, as if he was already getting used to it, himself.

Joe-Bill was still staring. Levon brushed against Joe.

"You'd be surprised Esteban," Joe answered, brushing back against Levon. "Actually it took Levon longer to get used to the fact that I was used to it."

"Really?" Esteban looked at Levon, surprised. Then he nodded, thoughtfully. "Was it after you two became--" he stopped, and looked at Beaumont, guiltily.

"Don't let me stop you," she told him.

"You know?" Esteban said, startled.

"Told you," Joe-Bill said, a tad smugly.

Joe cleared his throat. "Just so there's no misunderstandings," he began, "to what exactly are you referring?"

"Um, that you and he are lovers," Esteban said easily, though with another glance to Beaumont.

Joe felt Levon tense beside him, then he whispered, "Is there anyone who *doesn't* know?"

"Hey, at least we've managed to keep the centaur thing secret." Joe paused. "Well up to now."

"Joe? As long as we're doing this, is there anything *you'd* like to tell us?" Esteban asked. He'd stopped staring at Levon, but Joe-Bill still looked as though his jaw no longer worked.

"You mean like my being a werewolf?" Joe asked earnestly.

Esteban and Joe-Bill stared at Joe. Joanne laughed.

"Tell me you're kidding?" Joe-Bill begged.

Levon was starting to move restlessly again, at Joe's side.

Joe grinned. "I'm kidding, Joe-Bill." He turned to Joanne. "Listen, we still need to work off the storm's aftereffects. We'll make you back at the cars okay?"

Joanne nodded, taking note of Levon's restlessness. "I'll leave these in the truck for you," she said, holding up the jeans and boots that Joe had dropped when Levon had started bucking.

"Thanks," Levon told her, shifting again from side to side.

Joe-Bill tried to start staring again, but Esteban took him by the arm and hauled him along after Beaumont.

"Is it safe to ride?" Joe asked, once they were alone again. "Or should I just let you go on your own?"

"Please." Levon looked at him, almost woefully. "I want you with me... even if I do lose my mind again. Or especially."

Joe stepped forward and hugged him tightly. "Good, cause there's no place else I wanna be."

It didn't take long for Joe to get astride Levon once more, and for Levon to begin moving again. He kept the speed down this time, moving quickly but with more control.

After a few moments, Joe began to relax, ceasing to wait for his partner to go nuts. With a sigh he leaned forward, resting against Levon's back and hooking his chin on Levon's shoulder. "Better?" he asked.

"Yes. Thank you." Levon glanced over his shoulder at him.

"You had me worried there for a while."

Levon sighed. "Didn't mean to... storm just took everything out of me." He ran a few steps, then continued. "Soon as I could think again, all I could think *of* was getting away."

Joe grinned wryly. "Yeah, I could see that. And the bronco imitation was just a side effect?"

More subdued, Levon replied, "I didn't mean to. I just... couldn't get away. Running wasn't working, so I had to try something else. Anything, to get away from it. But the storm was just in my head, then. Couldn't shake it."

"Couldn't shake me, either."

"I didn't mean--"

"I know," Joe assured him.

Levon looked over his shoulder again. "I'm sorry."

"I know," Joe repeated, then grinned. "And you still couldn't shake me."

Levon ran a few more steps, then slowed and turned to look at him again, this time with a bewildered expression.

"What?" Joe asked.

"You ain't mad at me, are you?" Levon asked, with a half-grin.

"S'pose not, since it was all instinct on your part."

Levon sighed, and turned back around. He ran for awhile in silence and finally Joe felt him beginning to relax.

"You feeling better?" he asked, lightly passing one hand down Levon's spine, even as he felt his own muscles slowly start to unwind in response.

"Yeah." Levon sped up through a slight clearing, stretching his legs, before slowing back down once they re-entered the tree line. "Almost feel like I could sit still until we get home," he added in a lighter tone.

"Or as much as you ever do," Joe teased.

Levon laughed.

Judging that Levon had now calmed down enough to have a serious discussion, Joe shifted slightly and broached the subject he knew they had to address before they returned to the truck. "About Joe-Bill and Esteban..."

"Think we surprised 'em?" his partner asked lightly. Joe didn't think that lightness was completely sincere.

"Oh, I think surprise is probably an understatement," he agreed, keeping his own voice light. He was well aware that this would be a touchy subject to discuss.

"Was...."

"Was...?"

"Was either of them upset? I wasn't... really paying attention."

Joe gave it some thought, trying not to let his own emotions color his impressions. "No, I don't think so. Just... shell-shocked. Joe-Bill more than Esteban."

"Think they'll be ok with it?" There was a pause then Levon asked in a more surprised tone, "Did they really say they knew we were lovers? I didn't imagine that?"

Chuckling Joe nodded. "Yeah, they did. I don't think we've been fooling anybody for quite a while, cowboy."

"Hell." Levon sounded more resigned than truly upset. "Reckon they'll be full of questions when we meet up again."

"Probably."

"At least we kept *something* a secret."

"Yeah," Joe said with a grin, relaxing as it became apparent that Levon wasn't upset.

"Think I can convince Joe-Bill that centaurs don't buy their own beer?"

The unexpected question pulled a laugh from Joe. "Maybe if you catch him while he's still catatonic..."

Levon laughed and skirted another tree. "If you're nice and don't tell him, I'll make sure he buys beer for you, too. As an honorary centaur and all."

"Honorary centaur now am I?" Joe asked, still laughing, his relief that everything was back to what passed for normal making him slightly giddy.

"You are if you want free beer."

"What if I want something else?"

Levon stopped and looked over his shoulder with a salacious expression. "Like what?"

Joe opened his mouth to retort and find himself instead answering seriously, "Like you."

Levon twisted himself around, grabbed onto Joe, and kissed him hard. Caught off-guard, Joe just sat there and let himself be kissed.

When Levon finally broke free, inhaling sharply, Joe saw that any further conversation was going to have to occur now, quickly, or not at all.

"Much as I'd love to continue this, do you really want to take the chance of giving Joe-Bill and Esteban *another* eyeful today?" Joe asked, trying to calm his own libido down.

"They ain't here," Levon pointed out.

"If we don't show up soon, they'll probably come looking again though," Joe countered.

"So?" Levon's eyes were slightly dilated.

Joe was reminded of the futility of reasoning with a horny centaur. Sighing, he stopped trying to reason. "So just save that thought until we get home, okay?"

"We going home?"

"Yeah. And the sooner we get there the sooner we can..."

Levon kissed him again.

'Whatever happened to me being the dominant one?' Joe thought, even as he responded to the kiss in spite of himself.

Levon tried to hold onto him, then he broke off and turned slightly back around, grimacing. "Back ain't as flexible as it used to be," he sighed.

Joe reached out and ran his hands down Levon's spine. "I'll give you a massage when we get home," he said, after discarding his initial response about age creeping up on his partner. Given the differences in human and centaur lifespans, aging was not a subject he wanted to dwell on.

"Yeah?" Levon turned his head, eyes going wide again.

"Yeah. *When* we get home," he emphasized.

Levon sighed in frustration.

Joe chuckled and hugged his lover tightly. "Maybe we should get moving then?" he suggested. "The sooner we get home, the sooner we can..."

Levon turned back around and, with a burst of speed, began running. Joe hung on tightly, his laughter trailing behind them.

The storm was over and things seemed to be back to normal.


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