December of Long Ago

Kermit walked into the apartment and saw his lover sitting on the couch, looking up as he came in. Sunglasses dangling in his hand, Kermit could not hold his gaze; as Peter stood up from the couch, he averted his eyes. This was not going to be easy. He hadn't expected it to be, and even now that he knew he could no longer avoid it, it was still not easy. But last week Peter had mentioned, oh so casually, that this would be their first holiday spent together. For the last few days Kermit had been tormented by what he should do. He was no closer to an answer, but they had to turn in their requests for the time off by tomorrow.

"What's wrong?"

He shouldn't have expected to be able to hide it for very long, either. He almost smiled. "Pete, I--" Kermit didn't need to glance over to see Peter was coming towards him. Silent as he was, Peter still could not sneak up on him. He did finally look up to see his lover's face when Peter stepped up beside him. "I don't know how to say this."

"Then just tell me."

Kermit started to shake his head. "I don't know--"

"Then don't tell me," Peter interrupted gently. "You don't have to tell me everything, you know." He teased, "If you did you'd probably give me a heart attack."

For a moment Kermit considered it, studying the honesty he could see so clearly on his lover's face. Peter had changed a great deal in the last year, before they'd become lovers and after even moreso. He had calmed down, not in his professional life as much as in his personal, accepting the needs and habits of others to the point that the last time his father had disappeared on one of his journeys, Peter had simply shrugged and told Kermit they'd meet him for dinner when the man came back. Kermit did not want to threaten that newly-won stability. He had a feeling this would.

"If I didn't tell you, and left, would you follow me?" he asked, to test that assumption.

Peter blinked, and in that image Kermit saw what he needed to know. The elder Caine had only won his son's trust by returning every time he had left. Kermit had yet to challenge Peter's trust in him, and no matter how difficult it might make things he could not bring himself to make Peter doubt him even for an instant.

He spoke again before Peter could. "Or if I take you with me, and don't explain why we're going?"

"Kermit, I trust you. You don't need to explain anything, and if you don't want me along...." he shrugged, and Kermit saw that old, once familiar, devil-may-care attitude shadowing his lover's gesture.

Two simple questions and already his trust wavered. That made it necessary to tell. He looked away. "Peter... I want you there with me. I want to tell you why.... I just don't know if I can."

Peter placed a hand on his arm, and Kermit looked back up into soft, concerned eyes. This, at least, had been done. The offer to tell was apparently enough to restore the flicker of faith. "Can't as in not allowed, or it's just too hard?"

"It's too hard."

Peter smiled. "Then tell me anyway."

"Pete, I don't--"

"Shh," Peter wrapped his arms briefly around him, then stepped back, giving Kermit a tug on one arm. Kermit followed the other man up the short flight of stairs to the bedroom, bemused when Peter led him directly to the bed. Stopping only to pull his pistol from its holster, Kermit let Peter pull him down into a cuddle. He said nothing at first, closing his eyes and soaking up the sensations.

"I don't know how much I can tell you," he began.

"OK."

He heard the encouragement echo where his ear was pressed against Peter's chest. With a deep breath he decided to get it over with. "It's about Christmas." He stopped. It was still too hard.

He felt strong arms squeezing, then Peter whispered, "And why you go away every year?"

"Yeah."

"Love, you don't have to tell me. Go, and when you come back I won't ask if you don't want me to."

"It isn't that easy." Kermit closed his eyes, then opened them and tilted his head up to look at Peter. "I need you to know about this. I need--" He stopped, swallowed and the words poured out. "I need you to go with me. It's hell every year; every year I go and I never do what I'm supposed to... I need you to go with me and help me. Maybe I can finally fulfill a promise I made a long time ago."

Kermit watched as his lover realised what he was asking. Peter leaned down and kissed him. "I'll do whatever I can. You know that."

Suddenly Kermit relaxed, falling limp against Peter; he found himself saying more, as if the balloon in his lungs was now punctured and deflating, the air pushed the words out. "I go down there every year, just like he asked me to and I've never been able to do it. Sometimes I haven't even been able to let him know I was in town. I've never been able to tell him. One simple sentence and it'd be all over -- my god, by now he's a friend and I still can't do it. Every year I leave not knowing why I couldn't just say it. It gets harder every year and every year I swear I'll do it next time. But I haven't. I don't know if I can."

"Do you want me to do it?"

The offer surprised him, and being surprised surprised him even more. "I don't know. I don't know if I can tell *you*."

He felt another kiss land on his temple. "Then I'll go with you and offer moral support. And at night I'll offer immoral support."

Kermit laughed at the unmistakable leer in his lover's voice. "It's a deal. You fuck my brains out every night and maybe I'll be so tired I won't be able to talk myself out of it this year."

"Can I start now?"

"Oh, yeah."


Three months later Kermit had still said nothing more about it. Peter had never mentioned it, beyond enticing him to bed by asking if he could practise some more, and once had asked about the travel arrangements for their holiday leave. Kermit made the arrangements for both of them and offered no more explanation. He usually spent most of his Christmas vacation hanging back, watching, spending no more than a couple of days with the man he visited every year. This year was already different, he'd called and said he and a friend would be down for eleven days.

It wasn't until he started packing the night before that Kermit realised he had yet to tell Peter where, at least, they were headed. It wasn't until he headed for the living room to tell him, that he realised that Peter trusted him so much that he had not even asked.

He found Peter sitting on the floor, adding some new detail to the train set that threatened to take over the entire room. Kermit had asked Kwai Chang to come in while they were gone and build the track Kermit had designed. It was a three-level track made to sit against one wall, giving Peter plenty of room to add to his set and giving the living room another few months of being a living room. In the spring they'd simply have to move to a larger place.

"Pete?"

Peter turned, holding a miniature tree, and gave him a grin. "Hey, wanna give me a hand?"

Kermit shook his head, enjoying the view of his lover lit from one side by the lamp. His skin looked so smooth and his eyes were shining -- Kermit wanted to cancel the flight and spend the next two weeks in bed. He remembered Peter's promise to fuck his brains out every night during their trip and decided they might as well go. "I thought you might like to get packed... I hadn't realised until now I never even told you where we're going."

Peter stood and faced him easily. "All I wanna know, is it someplace warm?"

Kermit finally returned his lover's blazing smile. "Yeah. It is."

"Then I am *all* yours!"

Kermit opened his arms as Peter stepped up, and held him close. "Thank you, Peter."

"Anytime."


Two men stood at a gate in the Houston Hobby airport. One man was dressed in the typical Texan city style: hat and boots and jeans, ready at any moment to step out of the concrete and into the dust. He had sandy brown hair and a young face already weathered by the wind and sun. The other looked like he'd just stepped off a plane from the north, wearing a current style of tailored slacks and loose jacket, and top dollar sunglasses. His dark brown hair was similarly cut in an expensive style, making him look as if he should be posing for a fashion magazine. They both watched the arriving flights, the Texan a bit more closely.

The other man shook his head. "It'd help if I knew what he looked like."

"I already told you what he looks like, LaFiamma."

"Yeah, and more than a dozen people have walked by who fit that description. Lundy, don't you have a photo of this guy?"

"No, I don't," Lundy answered with the tone of one who has answered the same question several times before.

"That sounds kinda weird to me, you know. You see this guy every year, friend of the family stopping by for Christmas on his way through Texas, and you never got a photo of him? No happy faces around the Christmas tree, opening presents?"

"No."

LaFiamma shook his head again. "Sounds a little suspicious to me."

Lundy turned from watching the crowd and gave him a glare. "I've a mind to send you out to wait in the car."

The other man smiled. "That's good, it'll give me a chance to re-program the radio."

"If you touch-- hey!" He broke into a wide grin. "There he is!" Lundy began making his way through the crowd of touristas and family coming home. When he reached his friend he held out a hand. "Nice to see you again, Kermit. Glad you were finally able to make a vacation out of it."

"Yeah... Levon, this is Peter Caine."

They shook hands, and Lundy glanced over his shoulder to see his partner had joined them. "Nice to meet ya, Peter. This is my partner Joe LaFiamma." Lundy waited as they shook hands, then made the last introduction. "Joe, this is Kermit Griffin."

"Pleasure, I'm sure." LaFiamma gave the man a polite smile.

"Likewise."

Peter glanced from one man to the other then grinned at Lundy. "You ever feel like hiding his sunglasses?"

Kermit smiled and Lundy laughed, ignoring the glare he got from LaFiamma. "All the time, man. Come on, let's get y'all's bags and get going." He turned to lead the way to the baggage claim, giving his still glaring partner a smiling 'what?' Then he returned his attention to Kermit and Peter. "Kermit, I know you said y'all were gonna stay at the Marriott but y'all are more than welcome to stay at my place. There's plenty of room, you wouldn't be putting me out at all."

"Thanks, Levon, but I'm looking forward to some room service and a king-sized bed." Kermit grinned. Behind them LaFiamma and Caine trailed, making no real effort to do more than listen in on their partners.

"Yeah, but ten nights at the Marriott ain't cheap -- don't tell me cops make any more money up north than they do down here."

"Fine, then, I won't."

Levon laughed again, then glanced back at Peter. "You ever been to Houston before, Caine?"

"I've never been in *Texas* before. My pop has, a few times. He didn't tell me much about it though."

"Boy, you're in for a treat. Ain't nowhere like Houston--"

"That's the truth," Joey muttered with a slight smile.

"Watch it, LaFiamma, or I'll send you back with Caine and keep Kermit."

"I'm flattered."

"Oh, no you won't."

"Do you have snow this year?"

The conversation melted into a four-way bantering on the topic of snowy winters. They collected Kermit and Peter's luggage and settled two in favour of snow and two in favour of sun, confirming Lundy's claim that the trade would be a fair one.


Peter kept half an eye on Kermit as they headed towards a car -- Lundy claimed he'd borrowed it from a friend, as neither he nor his partner owned a vehicle that would hold more than two. Peter was pleased to see that Kermit was no longer as obviously nervous as he had been on the flight down. It meant he retained enough presence of mind to fake being relaxed -- his lover would not truly relax until this was over and done with. There was nothing Peter could do to help right now so he was free to concentrate on the two Houston policemen.

There was something strange going on here, and while his instincts told him it was nothing dangerous, it *was* confusing. Kermit had told him the two men were partners, had been ever since LaFiamma had been transferred to Houston from Chicago. The initial impression he'd had was that the two men didn't get along -- that they respected but didn't like each other. As he watched them give each other a hard time he began to wonder. Neither man seemed very upset about anything the other man said. Peter revised his opinion, deciding they were just playing an old familiar game from a time long past when the verbal duel had been for real.

Then he started noticing the little things. Once Lundy's comment had provoked only a half-hearted response from his partner; a quick glance had shown Peter that LaFiamma had been staring into the crowd, face blank except for a slight sneer. Lundy had caught his partner's gaze and in a second they had exchanged something -- LaFiamma smiled and shook his head and the verbal jousting was off again. Peter realised it was as if Lundy had asked if he had gone too far, and LaFiamma had assured him it was all right. Their bantering seemed to take on a new light, and Peter suddenly saw that more often than not one man's comment elicited a hidden grin, showing only in the other man's eyes.

Once he realised the two men were in fact friendly, he began watching more closely. He fielded their questions as they drove to the hotel; sitting in the back with Kermit he was able to see how LaFiamma spent as most of the trip watching his partner. He was wondering what it meant when, as they sat at a red light, Lundy reached over and touched LaFiamma's hand briefly. Peter assumed it was his hand -- as he couldn't see through the seat he conceded it might have been something else. Peter glanced over to Kermit and saw by the slight smile his lover sent his way that he wasn't the only one seeing things.

It could have been perfectly innocent, Peter knew, except that he had not imagined the wide smile that had flashed across LaFiamma's face when Lundy reached over. Peter leaned back in his seat, relaxing. One mystery solved -- now all he had to do was keep his lover reasonably calm until he could get around to doing whatever it was they had come here to do.

Lundy brought them to the hotel, and briefed them on the next few days' plans. "Kermit said y'all wanted the rest of the afternoon to 'recover' from the flight." The way he smiled told Peter that Kermit had said -- or at least implied -- more than that. "We'll be back at five to take y'all to dinner. LaFiamma and I have this weekend off, then we've got two more cases to wrap up before we can take the next week off. I told Kermit y'all could take my truck next week -- and he assured me you wouldn't get any tickets, speeding, parking, or otherwise."

Peter gave the Texan his best innocent me look. "Never happen, Levon."

"Uh-huh. We'll see y'all at five."

Peter waited until they were headed inside the hotel lobby before he asked, "Why do I get the impression he didn't believe me?"

"He's a good judge of character."

"Very funny."

"I'm a million laughs."

Peter stopped, and tugged at this friend's arm. "Hey." A serious look met his. "Are you OK?"

"We'll find out, won't we?"

They said nothing more until they reached their room -- Peter stayed back as Kermit prowled, inspecting every corner and closet under the guise of being impressed by the luxury. Once the ex-mercenary's paranoid instincts were satiated, Peter dropped his bag in the bedroom and reached for his lover. He began removing Kermit's tie as he asked, "Have you decided when you're going to do it?"

"No." The other man made no move to help or hinder.

"You could do it now, get it over with."

"And risk ruining the next two weeks for everyone." Kermit remained still as Peter threw the tie towards a chair.

"You could wait until right before we leave." He removed Kermit's jacket.

"Hit and run... what if he has questions? It's not the sort of thing one should talk about on the phone."

"So tell him halfway through, next Friday." Peter was starting in on Kermit's shirt.

Kermit finally closed his eyes and leaned his head on Peter's shoulder. "I still don't know if I can do it at all."

Peter leaned forward and kissed the spot of skin he'd just uncovered, right between the neck and shoulder. He heard an 'mmm' from his lover and smiled, uncovered a bit more skin and kissed again.

"You're going to distract me, aren't you?"

Peter looked up. "Oh, yeah."

"Oh, yeah."

Peter grinned and went back to his chore -- such as it was -- of undressing Kermit. He unbuttoned the remaining buttons of the shirt and pulled it open, admiring the way Kermit's skin goosebumped in response to his caress. His lover continued standing as if unaffected or even unaware of his ministrations; that would soon stop. Peter kissed a trail along Kermit's chest, nibbling slightly at each nipple. He heard the intake of air from his lover as he did so, and smiled to himself.

Hands on Kermit's hips, he lowered himself to a kneeling position and looked up. Kermit was looking down at him, face completely clear of any pretense. Love looked at him through Kermit's eyes, graced in the curve of his smile, shining in each caught breath. Peter returned the smile and mouthed 'I love you'.

"I love you, too -- oh god," Kermit closed his eyes as Peter rubbed his hand across his lover's hardened cock. With a flash of triumph Peter unzipped Kermit's pants, pulling them open and tugging the waistband of his shorts down, out of the way. He left his lover standing there, in the middle of the hotel room, clothes divested just enough to expose. Kermit was breathing harder, now, and Peter felt the hamstrings tighten beneath his grip as his lover tried to remain standing.

Peter wasted no time; he tilted his head just enough to reach the underside of the erect cock. Licking it drew a gasp from above. Sucking at it drew a muffled groan. He began to lick its length, nuzzling at the balls and leaning up to catch at its tip. Kermit had his hands firmly on Peter's shoulders, now, trying to preserve some balance. Peter held onto his lover's legs and continued sucking.

He listened to the familiar sounds as Kermit came closer to orgasm. The panted breaths, the long drawn out groan as he sucked the very tip, the whisper of his name as he licked each of the balls; the noises guided him to repeat certain motions and draw his lover closer to the edge. Finally Peter lifted himself up slightly and opened his mouth; with a sharp intake of air Kermit called out his name as Peter took him in fully. It didn't take long for Kermit's fingers to dig in tighter, weaving in place, and cry out again as he came. Peter swallowed carefully, holding his lover's hips firmly.

As Kermit's cock began to soften Peter let it fall from his mouth and looked up. Kermit's dreamy smile met his and he heard a soft, "Oh yeah."

He watched, amused, as Kermit visibly deflated. As he'd known it would, the building tension had left in a rush. He jumped to his feet to catch the other man and guided him easily to the bed. He helped Kermit lie down and began pulling off the rest of his clothing.

Kermit helped by not moving as Peter undressed him and pulled the blankets out from beneath him. Already beginning to cuddle the pillow, Kermit was falling fast asleep as Peter tossed his own clothes to the floor. He laid down beside his lover, tugging him closer, and nestled in beside him.


Lundy pulled Esteban's car into the drive in front of the Marriott at ten til 5. He glanced over at LaFiamma, amused to see the other man still trying to adjust his tie and hair. "You look fine, LaFiamma. They've already seen you."

The other man met his glance. "Yeah, but that was before I got all rumpled."

"You sorry you got rumpled?"

A slow grin spread across the man's face. "Nah. I like the way you rumple. I just wish I'd left some clothes at your place."

"Sooner or later you're gonna have to give it up and move in with me." Lundy winked, knowing his partner was not yet ready to do so. Neither of them worried about it -- for now it was easier, even if they did occasionally have to scramble the next morning to go home to change and not be late for work.

"Sooner or later you're going to give up listening to country music so I can tolerate living with you."

Lundy's rejoinder was interrupted when he saw Kermit and Peter leave the hotel. A moment later the two were climbing into the back seat. Lundy gave LaFiamma a grin at the slightly rumpled look of their two guests. LaFiamma gave him a look which clearly said 'at least they got to change clothes.'

"Sorry we couldn't come up after y'all -- traffic is hell around here this time of day. We couldn't have parked closer than a mile away without flashing a badge."

"Not a problem, Levon," Kermit replied.

"Kermit tells me we're going to be having 'the world's best barbecue'," Peter said as Lundy pulled into traffic.

Lundy gave the traffic his attention and heard LaFiamma reply, "It grows on you. Don't be fooled, Peter -- every Texan is gonna tell you they've got the world's best whatever. I think it's a state law or something."

"Then how do you explain what you told Kris the other night?" He gave his partner a quick look. "Something about the 'world's best lasagna' wasn't it?"

"That's different, Lundy. That was Aunt Teresa's recipe."

Lundy just laughed and was glad to hear laughter as well from the back seat. Peter Caine seemed to be an all right guy -- a bit strange, but anyone who hooked up with Kermit would have to be. He had a feeling that he could trust Peter, though, and that was all that mattered. What worried him was Kermit. While it was true he had never seen much of the man at any given time, he had seen him often. Nearly every year around Christmastime, for at least a day or two, since he was sixteen years old. He'd seen the man change over time, and while there had been bad times and good, there had been fewer of the bad in recent years. This visit reminded Levon of the first year Kermit had shown up, the son of a friend of his father's -- who had been out of town, as usual, but Kermit had been welcomed with open arms by Grandmother Minnie. Those first few visits had been awkward, Kermit seeming on guard and distracted.

Levon had never been able to learn why, and had stopped wondering about it as they'd become friends and the visits became relaxed and easygoing. Briefly he wondered if his friend's tension were due to Peter's presence, but Levon quickly dismissed that. Kermit had met one of Levon's boyfriends one Christmas, and had never hidden from him his own sexual proclivities. This was the first time he'd ever brought someone with him, however, and Levon suspected this was a serious thing. //Maybe he's planning on popping the question while they're here,// Levon mused. He glanced in the mirror and saw Peter, talking with Joe and Kermit about traditional family recipes. //Could do a lot worse.// Peter caught his eye and Levon smiled, then focused again on the road.


They had dinner at Chicken's, who graced them with a few stories about Lundy and LaFiamma's exploits -- both embarrassing and silly. Kermit responded with a few of their own, displaying his vivid eye for detail and wicked sense of humour. When Peter threatened to get him drunk in order to shut him up, Lundy decided it was time to head for home. He'd seen Kermit drunk exactly twice -- both times he'd become quiet and still until you couldn't tell exactly when he'd passed out.

Lundy and LaFiamma took them back to their hotel, bade them a good if not restful night (Levon was amused to see Peter blush) and headed for home. They didn't bother debating where to stay the night -- LaFiamma had no clothes at Lundy's place whereas Lundy still had a few at his. Besides which, as his partner was quick to point out, his place was closer. Lundy just grinned and headed for Joe's apartment.

It wasn't until they walked in and Joe began chucking accumulated mail on the desk that Levon reminded him, "You realise this means we've got to get up even earlier to make it out to my place in the morning."

"What are you talking about? I thought Dustin was taking care of your horse."

"Not tomorrow. He's outta town until Tuesday." Levon walked forward, removed the handful of mail from Joe's grasp, and set it aside. He took ahold of each jacket lapel, and pulled the other man against himself. "That means we get up early."

Joe smiled. "Early to bed, then, so we can early to rise."

Levon leaned in to kiss him. "I think I've already risen."

"Yeah, I'd say you have."

Levon felt Joe press himself close as he brought him in for a kiss, pushing his erection tight between their bodies. He heard a soft moan, and then he was let go so fingers could reach in. He shivered as Joe's hands brushed his stomach, reaching his own arms around to hold his lover. A moment of caressing then it stopped. In unspoken understanding they stepped away and headed up the stairs. Levon kept his hands to himself, even as a buttock taunted him, inches from his face. He kept his hands to himself as they reached Joe's room, each removing his pistols and hanging them up in long designated places.

Levon began to remove his clothes, keeping his eyes glued to the motions of his partner as he did the same. Hat, boots, belt all in a pile beneath the hook where his holster hung, then jeans shed a few steps closer to the bed and shirt dropped just beside it. Underwear was kicked free across the room and he lay down, taking his lover's embrace as they met, naked, in the middle of the bed. Then they kissed again, long and driven with desire to pull each other deep within. Levon let his lover take the lead, letting him pull him close and then nudge him down. Levon went, willingly, rolling onto his back as hands caressed teasing reactions from him and gathering up the groans in returned kisses.

He shivered again as Joe brushed teasing fingers along the length of his cock, legs falling aside as he spread his feet. He reached out and grabbed his lover's erection, tugging gently at it in the same rhythm as his own was now being held. Moaning again, he pushed himself upwards, trying to hurry Joe up, but as he'd known, Joe moved at his own pace. One hand caught at him, rubbing lightly over the head of his cock, the other now beneath his back, holding him tightly against Joe's body.

The hand left and he opened his eyes; closing them again with a welcome gasp as one finger pushed its way against his anus. He lifted one leg, and Joe wrapped his arm around it, tracing a ring around the exposed sphincter before pressing against it again. Levon heard himself whimpering this time, and gave the cock in his hand an encouraging tug. He smiled when he heard Joe breathe his name in his ear, and continued as best he could to rub his lover as his brain quickly shut itself down. He was barely aware of the moment the finger slipped inside, gasping only as the muscle was stretched suddenly as Joe pushed his finger in a tight circle. His hand tightened involuntarily and Joe groaned again; Levon concentrated for a moment on making him repeat the delicious sound.

Joe began pushing himself into Levon's hand, and Levon opened his eyes again to find his lover, face strained, eyes closed, inches away from his own. He gave the man a kiss and pulled him down on top of him. Joe quickly positioned himself between Levon's legs, aligning their cocks so that each motion rubbed them together. Levon wrapped his arms around Joe, holding him as close as he could, as the other man began to thrust against him.

He heard Joe's panting in time with his own and it spurred him on, feeling his lover's body tense on top of his own pushed him further until he gripped Joe's arms tightly and pulled him down to smother the scream with his lover's mouth. He felt a hand tangle in his hair, holding him in place as his mouth was devoured, then it all receded as the orgasm crashed through them.

Levon held his lover in the embrace until they both dropped, exhausted. For a moment Levon lay still, then he turned towards Joe, head buried against his shoulder. "You wanna crawl under the covers?"

"I wanna sleep for a week. Then talk to me about blankets."

Levon smiled, gave his love a kiss, and closed his eyes.


The next morning found Levon at home out in the corral trying to rope Fooler. She'd dropped a shoe somehow early that morning. He'd already called Jeff, the farrier, who was now on his way over. Not knowing how long it would take to take care of his horse, he'd let LaFiamma go without him to get Kermit and Peter. Now he stood, glaring at his horse, trying to convince her to stand still.

Usually she was good enough to come when he called her, but this morning she was feeling frisky and kept dodging his hand. When he'd finally pulled out the rope to lasso her, she'd merely jumped out of the way and ran alongside the fence.

"You keep that up and when Jeff gets here you're going to regret it," he warned her. "You know he don't take no foolishness from horses, especially on a Saturday morning." She ignored him and weaved away from the lasso one more time. Levon sighed. "Don't make me do this, Fooler. Don't make me come over there and bribe you."

He was glad his lover wasn't there watching. Joe would be rolling on the ground, laughing at him -- and riling up Fooler even more. Finally he heard an engine, coming up the drive. The noise distracted the horse and he tossed the loop around her neck. She tried to shake him off but he just grinned. "Got you." Fooler gave him a dirty look, but he brushed it off.

With Fooler caught, he glanced over and saw Joe driving up with their guests. He took up the slack in the rope and tied her off to the railing. The others came over.

"Nice horse." Peter smiled, giving Fooler the once over.

"She got her foot fixed?" LaFiamma asked, giving him a sneaky look. Joe knew nearly as much about Fooler as Levon did himself, by now, but he still liked teasing him by sounding like an ignorant city boy.

"Jeff hasn't been by yet. You two had breakfast yet?" It was still early, and the two had flown into another time zone.

"Does coffee count?" Kermit faced him, wearing his ever-present sunglasses. Peter looked decidedly more awake, and nudged his partner.

"I offered you a roll."

"My stomach wasn't awake yet."

"How 'bout I whip us up some omelets?" Levon checked the rope to make sure Fooler couldn't get loose and climbed over the fence.

"Don't you have to wait for the blacksmith?" Peter asked.

Levon headed for the house. "Nah, he knows Fooler. He's just gotta replace a shoe, ain't nothing to it. We don't call 'em blacksmiths anymore, they're called farriers nowadays."

"Oh." Peter nodded. "You know I think my grandfather worked as a blacksmith..."

"Peter, your grandfather worked as *everything* at one time or another. He was worse than your father." Kermit herded his partner towards the house.

"I wouldn't go that far," Peter protested. Then he stopped. "Well, OK yeah I would. But I don't think my father ever was a blacksmith, or a farrier." He gave Kermit a rueful look. "Not that I would know necessarily."

Levon listened with interest as he began pulling things out for breakfast. Joe dug out the frying pan and a bowl, and began breaking eggs.

Peter kept talking, perched on a barstool. Levon gave them all mugs of coffee and left the milk on the counter. "My father spent a lot of time wandering around the country. Fifteen years, to be exact."

"Fifteen years?" Joe asked, the question clear though unspoken.

"He left when I was fourteen -- he thought I'd been killed, so he thought there was no reason to hang around. We only met up again by accident a few years ago. He basically drifted, never staying anywhere for long. He's told me a little bit about it, but not very much."

Levon looked down at the peppers he was chopping. "My old man was never around much either. He didn't have any good excuses, he just couldn't understand what being a father was supposed to be about." He felt the sudden tension, although he didn't understand it. Joe had heard this story often enough, and Kermit certainly knew by now. Peter shouldn't care that much -- he glanced up, and found to his surprise that Kermit was the one not looking over, trying apparently to pretend he wasn't hearing this. Confused, he added, "It didn't matter so much, my grandparents took real good care of me." He gave Peter a shrug. "I just know what it's like, not knowing where your dad is or what he's up to. When or if he'll be back."

Peter had also noticed Kermit's discomfort, but did not comment on it. Instead he looked out the front window as a truck pulled up. "Is that your farrier?"

Levon glanced over and saw Jeff's truck. "Yeah, that's him." He went back to the peppers, chopping the last of them and adding them to the small bowl beside the cutting board. Joe had the onions chopped and was working on slicing some cheese. Levon reached for a handful of mushrooms and stopped, asking, "There anything y'all don't want in these, just say so."

"No, it looks great." Peter gave Kermit another quick glance when the other man didn't reply.

"It's fine, Levon."

Levon gave him a close look. He'd never gotten used to never seeing Kermit's eyes. "You all right, Kermit?"

This time Kermit grinned. "I'll be fine."

Levon wasn't sure he believed it, but he let it go. Peter took up the conversation again, obviously to draw the attention away from his lover. Levon found he approved, glad to see Peter's protective instincts working on Kermit. It boded well if his friend really were planning on asking Peter to make it a serious relationship.

"I remember my father telling me about this one time my grandfather was in Arizona working for a rancher. He'd originally signed on with the guy to help herd the sheep, and ended up working as the local blacksmith. I never did find out how he learned how to be a smith." Peter continued the story until the omelets were ready and served.

They made short work of the food, even with the canned biscuits Joe had thrown in the oven. Soon they were stacking dishes in the sink, finishing the pot of coffee, and trying to decide what to do with the remainder of the day. Levon was describing one of the trails nearby, having already made arrangements to borrow a neighbor's horses should they decide to go riding. Peter was all for it and was trying to talk Kermit into going --he'd barely begun to plead when Kermit caved -- when they heard Jeff's truck start up again. Peter looked over at him, surprised. "Is he leaving?"

Levon just nodded. "If he's finished. He should be, it wasn't a difficult job."

"But.. you didn't go look at it, you haven't paid him...?"

Levon grinned. "Peter, Jeff does fine work. There ain't no need for me to go check up on him. He knows he'll get paid, and he's got all his regular jobs lined up for today so he hasn't got time to come in. Believe me, otherwise I'd have made twice as many omelets as I did."

Peter didn't try to hide his disbelief. "You trust each other that much?" He shook his head. "You must be old friends or something?"

"Good enough, known him a few years." Levon smiled again.

Joe laughed. "Welcome to Texas, Caine. Land of the spit and a handshake."

"I feel like I'm in Never Neverland. Don't you people know you're not supposed to trust each other?" Peter barely hid his smile. "Everyone's a thief or a conman or worse?"

"Really?" Levon asked, sounding surprised. Then he laughed again. "I'd gonna get Fooler out of the corral before she decides to jump it. Excuse me," he said as he grabbed his hat and headed for the front door.

He hadn't gone far when he heard the door open behind him. Glancing back he saw Kermit.

"Hey, Kermit. Are we gonna finally get you on horseback this year?"

"I doubt it... but Peter sure wants to. Maybe Joey and I will stay here and do something sane while you two go ride."

Levon saw through the joke, saw that Kermit's tension had grown since morning, grown much more since yesterday. He headed for the corral and greeted Fooler with a rub on the nose. "Kermit? You wanna tell me what's bothering you?"

He didn't expect an answer, not without a lot of stubborn denials. He was surprised when Kermit spoke. "I have something I need to tell you. I -- It's hard, I should have told you years ago. But I couldn't..." Kermit made no move to meet his gaze, watching Fooler, instead, bumping her head against Levon in request for a treat.

"Told me what?" Levon prompted.

Kermit sighed, looked away, then faced him through green shades. "It's about your father."

"My what?!"

"Your father." Anything else was cut off as behind them the front door banged open. Levon looked over and saw Joe, followed by Peter, coming towards them. He realised his partner had heard his exclamation and was coming to see what was wrong. He would have smiled -- Peter wasn't the only one with protective instincts -- but he was more concerned with what the hell Kermit was talking about.

He looked back at his old friend. "What about my father?" Joe and Peter were close enough to have overheard; they stopped just behind them and waited.

Kermit looked at them, then apparently decided it didn't matter if they heard. He returned his attention to Levon. "I don't know how much of this will make sense, so bear with me. It's about something that happened a long time ago," he added, suddenly noticing Levon's impatience. "It was 33 years ago, when you were just a baby. Levon Lundy Senior and my father knew each other pretty well back then. They were very close, right up until my father died." Kermit stopped, and Levon waited patiently.

"My father asked Big Levon to take care of something for him. He -- my father -- was in some trouble, nothing illegal but dangerous all the same. His wife and three older kids were safely up north, but his youngest son had been stolen. Dad tracked the men who'd done it, and Big Levon helped him take care of them. Unfortunately my father became a marked man -- the kidnappers were part of a larger and dangerous organization. My father went into hiding to save his life -- it was years before he could risk going home again, and even then it was only a few months before they found and killed him."

"What happened to your brother?"

Kermit stared at him, then answered. "My father asked Big Levon to look after him until he could come back for him. Turns out, dad was never able to go back."

Levon stared at the other man. Part of his mind was totally still, unable to think. The rest, the cop's mind honed to work through shock, flashed a thousand questions. "You showed up when I was sixteen."

"That was right after dad died. He told me what happened -- until then we thought you were both gone. I came to see you, found you were perfectly happy with the family dad left you in. It wasn't until later I found out what kind of father Lundy Senior turned out to be. When I did, I wished..." Kermit reached up and removed his glasses. "I wished I could have found you sooner, brought you home. When I did find you.. it didn't matter anymore. Dad had made me promise to find you though, tell you... But I couldn't. At first I thought you didn't need to know, it wouldn't have changed things. Later, when I realised it would have... I couldn't. I had no idea how to tell you, how to apologise for leaving you there."

Levon stared at Kermit. He felt a hand on his shoulder and heard a soft, "Levon? You OK?"

He looked over at his lover. "I don't know." Slowly he turned to Kermit. "You got any way of proving this?"

Kermit spread his hands. "No. I don't."

Somehow that was the right answer. Levon felt the world spin, anchored only by the firm hand on his arm and the piercing gaze he was now seeing for the first time in his life. He waited until it began to settle. "You're telling me... we're brothers?"

"That's what I'm telling you."

"You gonna tell me my name ain't really Levon Lundy?" He narrowed his eyes. He didn't know why he was arguing.

Kermit half-grinned. "Actually, it really is Levon. Griffin, originally, but always Levon."

Levon swallowed and the world came to a stop. He looked back to Joe, wondering what he was supposed to do now. Joe leaned in closer. "You want to send them back to the hotel for a few days until you're ready to deal with them?"

"No." He stared at Joe, close and strong, holding him steady. "No, they don't--" He looked at Kermit, saw that Peter was standing beside him... his brother.... "You're really my brother?"

"I'm really your brother. Levon, I'm sorry I couldn't bring myself to tell you--"

"It's all right, Kermit." He took a breath, let it go. "I think I understand. But if you think you're going to get away with anything now, boy, you've got another think coming!" He took a threatening step towards his brother, ignoring the way Peter moved into a defensive stance. "You owe me a *hell* of a lot of stories, and you've got this weekend to get started."

Kermit stared, then grinned. Peter looked from one to the other before he relaxed, and Joe kept his hand on Levon's arm. Levon just met Kermit's gaze. "Three siblings you said?"

Kermit shook his head. "David's dead. So is mom. Marilyn is still alive and well, though... you'll have to come up and meet her sometime." As if just thinking of it, Kermit added, "She has two kids, a boy and a girl. Your niece and nephew."

Levon stared, only now feeling the full effect of the shock Kermit had induced. "Niece? Nephew?" He glanced over at Joe, seeing the understanding in his lover's eyes. When his grandmother had died last year, Levon had been left without any family at all, beyond his absent father and his partner. He turned back to Kermit.. his brother. "Are you telling me I've got a family?"

The smile he saw was one Levon had never in his life seen on Kermit's face. It felt like... it felt like family. "Yeah, Levon. That's what I'm trying to say. What I've been trying to say for seventeen years."

Levon saw the sorrow returning to Kermit's eyes. Knowing it meant guilt as well, he stepped forward and offered his forgiveness. He took Kermit in a hug, and after a long moment felt it returned. "Thank you."