Days of Diamonds, Days of Coal

Levon wanted to rest his head on his desk -- actually he wanted to bang his head on the hard wood, but he didn't dare attract the attention. The station was full; strange for so early in the afternoon. Most of the detectives tended to be out, tracking down clues and criminals, this time of day.

He ought to have been no exception. He and LaFiamma should have been out there, pounding the pavement and tracking down leads. Instead they'd spent lunch arguing over just which lead they ought to follow up next. LaFiamma wanted to find the dead girl's roommate from school. Lundy figured that since the spring holidays were still on for another three days, the girl would be nowhere to be found -- probably down in Corpus Christi, or even La Pesca, a little town on the coast of Mexico the college kids seemed to have discovered this year. She'd be gone until the following Monday. Or Tuesday.

Therefore Lundy had suggested visiting the girl's cousins, her only family in Houston, once more. They had stopped in that morning but had gotten no answers as to who or why the girl might have died. Lundy thought that one cousin in particular had been acting suspiciously, as if he knew something he didn't want anyone to know. Might be something as inconsequential as a marijuana plant in his closet. Might be something more relevant. Lundy wanted to talk to the 18-year-old again, push a little harder.

LaFiamma had, as seemed usual, argued with him. Said it would be a waste of time, even if the kid did know something it was too soon to start pushing. They had argued all through lunch, to the point that even Chicken had asked if they wouldn't rather get back to work instead of offering dessert. After exchanging determined glares, they had climbed back in Joe's car and returned to the college -- LaFiamma was driving, therefore got to pick the destination. Lundy had said nothing about it.

When they found the roommate gone, they'd called the cousins' house only to find the answering machine picking up all calls with a message about the family being in mourning. With the station between the college and the cousins' house, LaFiamma had opted to stop by and see if records could find anyone else they could question. They'd sat down to search her work history, school history, even DMV records for other towns she had registered her car in. For nearly an hour they'd managed to sit more or less quietly, looking through files.

LaFiamma had broken the silence by asking a simple question. "Have you found any records of Sharon's ever working in Tallahassee?"

"No." Lundy's answer had been short; he was still irritated that his partner hadn't agreed to at least go out and talk to the boy, if not later today then at least first thing tomorrow morning.

"Her father registered the car there, about three years ago. But neither he, nor Sharon ever lived there."

"Maybe it's cheaper, LaFiamma. Tag and titles run pretty high for a new sports car." He'd given his partner a glance over the top of his folder, which had been returned with a slight sneer.

"I was just asking, Lundy. Let me know if you *do* see anything that might tie in, OK?"

Lundy had nodded. Unfortunately, ten minutes later LaFiamma had leaned forward and hissed, "It never cost as much to register my Cobra in Chicago as it does here."

It was part of an old fight, one they had had every year since the Cobra had been recovered. LaFiamma's registration fees had nearly doubled in the state of Texas, and he complained about it every September when he had to reregister. Lundy was tired of hearing about it -- and he wasn't sure why he'd taken this opportunity to snipe at his partner about it now. LaFiamma had left the bullpen soon after, saying he needed a cup of coffee and a break from reading.

That was when Lundy felt like banging his head against something solid.

It was so typical of their partnership. LaFiamma would do his best to antagonize him, then *he'd* be the one to get mad at something Lundy had done and that's when they'd stop talking. At least when they were arguing, they were still talking.

Levon hated things this way, but after four years he wasn't sure if things would ever change. Maybe he should go talk to Joe, offer whatever sort of apology he could think of, and they could get back to work without butting heads. Then he sighed. The last three times in a row this had happened he'd been the one to offer apologies and each time it had been like this -- they'd both been to blame, they'd both carried on the arguing. Lundy was tired of taking the first step to stop it.

He turned back to the folder, and scanned it again. After staring at the list of employments, he realized what he was looking at. A summer spent volunteering with GoodWorks, a charity organization that gave meals and helping hands to poor communities. He'd seen one of their ads, several months before. In it there had been a mention of groups of volunteers, going to other cities, as a sort of 'mission'. Sharon had spent the summer working with them.

Lundy grabbed the other folder, the one with transcripts of interviews of friends, and classmates. He'd seen something... He found it. A boy named Chad Wilson had volunteered that same summer. According to the interview -- they'd been sent to Florida. Jumping out of his chair, folders in hand, he went in search of his partner.

He found LaFiamma pacing the hallway, down by the snack machines. As soon as Joe looked up Lundy saw the recalcitrant expression on his partner's face. He paused before sharing what he'd found, wondering what it was LaFiamma was going to say.

It didn't take long. LaFiamma looked him in the eye, briefly, then looked away. "Lundy... I'm sorry. I know if I really wanted to, I could just sell the car and get something cheaper."

For a moment it appeared that would be the extent of the apology. Lundy was willing to take it, and get on with the case -- for now. Then LaFiamma spoke again, almost too quietly to hear.

"I meant to ask you before... you wanna come by for dinner tonight? I've got gnocchi from this little import shop gets their pasta straight from Italy. It's real good, even if it isn't barbecue." This time he looked up at Lundy, up through the wisps of bangs hanging down his forehead, giving a sort of hopeful half a smile.

For a moment Lundy forgot why he'd come out here in the first place, staring at his exasperating partner. He shook his head slowly. "LaFiamma, how do you do this? Get me all wound up and ready to kill you, then you invite me over. Is dinner part of the apology?"

"Can be, if you need it to be."

He met LaFiamma's eyes, saw all of the sincerity and none of the hostility that had been there earlier. Lundy nodded, and watched as the half-smile blossomed into a wide, happy grin. Giving himself a mental shake, he remembered the folders in his hand, and what he'd found. He held them out, and as LaFiamma took them he began to explain.

"Could be why she was in Tallahassee. Course, still might not lead to anything but at least it's something to check on."

"We got this Wilson guy's address?"

"Right here." Lundy tapped the folder.

"Then what are we waiting for?" LaFiamma threw his half-empty cup in the trash, and headed for the elevator. Lundy followed close behind.

Five hours later they had heard all they needed to. Wilson had confirmed their charity assignment had been in Tallahassee, and that Sharon had indeed had use of the car. It explained the registration but not -- at first -- anything else. It was when Chad mentioned Sharon's cousin had stayed with her for nearly a month, that pieces began to fall into place. Chad was aware there had been some trouble, apparently with the boy's family, but had no details. A quick call to the Tallahassee police department and another visit to the cousins' house, along with a long talk with the boy himself, revealed that the apparent murder had in fact been a suicide.

Sharon had, during that summer, become pregnant by her cousin while they had both been using a drug called 'Ecstasy'. She'd had an abortion, but her upbringing left her no room to forgive herself or expect forgiveness from her folks. The boy admitted that he had argued off and on again with her in the months since, but eventually failed to convince her to tell someone, accept whatever punishment their adults meted out, and get on with her life.

They went back to Sharon's dorm room and found her diaries, tucked away where the boy said they would be -- under the baseboards, behind her desk. The journals confirmed what they had learned, and with a quick call to Lieutenant Beaumont, and a much longer call to Sharon's relations, the case was officially closed.

When all the forms were signed, and files stamped and sent to other departments, they headed back to LaFiamma's apartment. Lundy didn't mention dinner, though by now he was well on to starving.

LaFiamma didn't say anything either, shedding his jacket and holsters just inside the door. Lundy moved past him, leaving his own coat on. It wasn't that he wasn't planning on staying, it was just... he had never, in all the times he'd been here, figured out where he should leave it. It seemed like a trivial thing, but there was no room and no hangers in the tiny entryway closet, and LaFiamma had never told him where he was welcome to hang it. The only other spot was over the back of the couch... or upstairs, discarded on the floor.

That was one reason he hadn't mentioned dinner. He wasn't sure whether, like most often this last year when one of them ended up at the other's place this late in the day, they would end up in bed together. Sometimes it was fun, friendly; sometimes it was physical release after a stressful day.

Always, always it was a reminder of how much he felt for this man.

Today he wasn't so sure he could handle it. His sometimes lover, his sometimes pain-in-the-neck, always his partner. Lundy had to admit that whether the emotions were good or bad, they were always strong. Joe fought as fiercely as he made love.

Often as they fought, often as he wondered just how in the hell he was supposed to work with the man, sooner or later one of them would stop. Apologies would be tendered and they'd forget all their arguments long enough to come together, and for a few days they'd be relaxed again, friends again.

Until the next time one of them did something that drove the other one nuts and it started all over again. Levon sat down on the couch, and sighed.

"You want a beer? Hey, Lundy?" He looked up to find his partner standing before him, holding out a bottle of beer. Lundy took it, but didn't drink. "You all right?" LaFiamma sat down beside him, and the simple contact of his partner's leg against his comforted him.

Lundy wanted to lean into the other man's arms. Instead he asked, "Joe? How long we gonna do it this way?"

"Do it what way?" Joe was obviously confused by the question.

"The fighting."

Joe didn't answer; Levon glanced over and saw his partner watching. Finally, he said, "How long are we gonna drive each other up the wall?"

"Joe, I'm serious--"

"So am I! You really think we're gonna just stop making each other nuts? Stop arguing when we don't agree on something?"

"I wish we could," Levon admitted. "I wish that for one week, we could stop fighting and just l-- get along. Just..." He stopped, closing his eyes. He had almost said it.

"What?" Joe prompted, nudging him gently with his arm.

"I don't know." Levon took a drink of the beer he'd been ignoring, and stood up, turning to face Joe. "Am I staying here tonight?"

"Do you want to?" For a moment LaFiamma's expression was unreadable.


"Then yeah, you can stay." Joe shrugged, as if this question, too, made no sense.

Maybe it didn't. Levon wondered what it was he was trying to say. Or was he trying to ask? He set the beer down on the endtable, and paced towards the dining table. He was still hungry, but no longer felt like sitting still long enough to eat.

"Lundy? What's wrong?" LaFiamma had come up behind him, touching him lightly on the back.

"Nothing. Hell, I don't know." Levon shook his head. Why was he feeling so restless tonight? What made tonight any different from any other night they'd done this?

"Come on, help me with the gnocchi and then we'll go upstairs."

Levon didn't answer. It was the way he said it, so casual, as if there would be no reason not to simply say yes. There *was* no reason not to say yes. So why was he hesitating? He looked at his partner, saw Joe waiting, patiently, no sign of more than simple worry in his eyes.

With a nod, Lundy let LaFiamma lead him into the kitchen. This, too, was all part of the evening -- he'd even learned to cook a little, after a year of standing around in the kitchen with LaFiamma.

An hour and a half later they were upstairs. Joe had headed for the bathroom, shedding his shirt as he went. Levon watched, and as the door closed behind his partner he turned and began to remove his own clothing. Draping it over a chair, he felt for a moment like he had in the middle years of his marriage to Caroline. Before things had gotten bad, after the newness of their love had worn away, it had been like this. Not quite a matter of routine, but so familiar that they didn't have to talk unless they wanted to, wanted something different or wanted to share something new. It wasn't boring, wasn't past that point where it was no longer worth the hassle of even trying.

But he felt as if he knew everything that could occur this night, every motion and every word spoken would be something he'd seen or done, heard or said before. But it was still worth it because he was still in love.

Joe loved him, as well. It wasn't something Levon had ever doubted, despite the fact that neither of them ever said as much, out loud. It wouldn't change things if they did. He set the rest of his clothing on the chair, wearing only his briefs, and walked over to the bed. He was tired, and wondered if Joe would let him stay anyway.

"Hey, what are you waiting out here for?" Strong arms wrapped around him from behind, and again that feeling of comfort washed over him.

Lundy leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and inhaled slowly. It was late, much too late to think any more. He turned, never moving out of the circle of Joe's arms, and gave his partner a kiss. Joe returned it, already passionate, as he entwined his fingers in Levon's hair, holding him tightly as they embraced. When they let go, Levon let his head fall against Joe's shoulder.

"Levon? You all right?"

"I'm just tired, s'all."

"You wanna just go to sleep?" Joe's voice was tender, understanding. Levon nodded, and Joe took his hand, pulling him towards the bed. "Come on, then. It's been a long day."

Levon let his partner put him to bed -- tucking the covers over him before disappearing only long enough to turn off the lights. Then Joe was crawling in beside him, scooting over to cuddle him from behind.

"Need anything?" Joe's voice came softly in the darkness.

"No." Levon felt himself already falling asleep, lulled by the warmth pressed against his body.

"Good night, Levon."

"Night, Joe." //I love you.//

With that, he fell asleep.