Levon watched his partner unnoticed from across the room. He wasn’t trying to be inconspicuous although in such a large crowd it would have been hard not to be. There were fifty off-duty cops and almost fifty spouses, dates, and friends filling the not-quite-large enough restaurant. Captain Markum had reserved his brother's entire restaurant for the yearly "Day Shift" holiday party. The other shifts held parties on their own time -- there was one rather famous Breakfast Party at Station 11. So far, this year's party had proved very successful. The buffet line was much more popular than the previous year's pot luck and the second dining area had been cleared for dancing and was, barely, large enough to handle everyone who was drunk enough to dance.

Everyone who worked the day shift on a regular basis was there, talking and laughing and generally having a good time. Levon was enjoying watching LaFiamma make the rounds with a beautiful woman on his arm, introducing her to his co-workers and friends. Levon hadn't brought a date as he hadn't had a girlfriend since Jamie moved away. The beautiful woman, however, was Joe's Aunt Teresa, finally visiting her nephew after two years of relative exile. LaFiamma had been ecstatic when they'd picked her up from the airport three days before, and Levon didn't reckon he had calmed down yet. Even now they were talking to Annie, and Levon could hear his partner's laughter all the way across the room. He smiled. It was a good change. LaFiamma would be able to enjoy his holiday, unlike the years before when he had merely suffered through them graciously.

Mostly graciously. Lundy'd had to kick him in the seat of the pants once or twice, but in the end he'd been all right.

"It's nice she made it down this time," Joanne said as she stepped up beside him.

Levon gave her a nod. "It is at that. Ain't seen Joe quite so happy in a long time. Maybe ever."

"I know what you mean." His ex-partner and now-lieutenant glanced over at LaFiamma before shaking her head. "I don't really understand why no one's come down before now. Just because he can't go home doesn't mean they can't visit him."

There wasn't much to say to that, so Levon didn't try. He'd tried, early on in their partnership, to raise that very question but his partner had ignored him and changed the subject. Levon had known even then that LaFiamma's stubbornness would prevent him from learning anything by asking again. "Maybe this'll start a trend," he suggested instead.


Before Joanne could say anything in reply, Levon saw her catch sight of someone in the crowd. Form the look on her face he knew who it had to be, and nodded in the opposite direction.

"I'll run interference for you. Take off."

"Thanks, Levon," she gave him a relieved grin and ducked into the crowd. A few moments later Charles Bristen stepped up. The man wrote a column for the Who's Houston monthly journal and had been after Beaumont for weeks for an interview. Joanne thought the whole thing was a waste of her time as Bristen had a reputation for focusing on style instead of substance. A column on one of the leading businesswomen in Houston had discussed only how she was dressed and whether she looked old enough to own a business. In short, the man was slime, but unfortunately he was dating one of the clerks at the station and she had apparently brought him tonight.

Bristen slid up beside Levon, looking around with a puzzled expression. "Wasn't Lieutenant Beaumont here? I thought I saw her."

Levon gave the man a shrug. "Haven't seen her, Chuck."

"Really? I could have sworn it was her." Bristen gave him a quick look; Levon gave him an expression of casual innocence. "You wouldn't be covering for her would you? She hasn't been returning my phone calls -- one might think she didn't want to talk to me." The huge smile that accompanied the words was intended to make Bristen's audience doubt the sincerity of his claim.

It made Levon wonder why anyone would consent to date him in the first place. Maybe young Kristy felt she couldn't do any better, Levon thought. //Reason enough for us to set her up with somebody's brother, nephew, or next door neighbor. Anybody'd be better than this.// He'd seen Kristy around and while she was what some would call ‘plain' she had a sweet sense of humour and a lot of spark. She didn't seem to be Chuck Bristen's type; his type dated overly thin women in short leather skirts and too much makeup. But instead he'd been dating Kristy, and had been for nearly a month.

As long as he'd been trying to get an interview with Joanne, he realized. Levon kept his expression neutral and regarded the man before him. An idea occurred, and he glanced over towards the back of the restaurant. "Hey, Chuck, there she is!"

Bristen spun, searching the crowd. "Where?"

"Just headed towards the ladies' room. I bet if you went and stood just outside the door you could catch her before she can get away again."

"Now there's an idea!" Bristen gave him a grin. "Thanks a lot, Lundy."

"No problem," Levon muttered at Bristen's retreating form. As soon as the man had disappeared into the crowd he allowed himself a smile. He gave Bristen a moment to get settled in for the fruitless wait and turned the other way. He found Joanne near the dance floor and warned her not to head for the restrooms. With any luck Bristen would spend a good long while standing in the back hall.

"Thanks, Levon. For him I'll gladly walk next door!" Joanne grave him a grateful smile, then grabbed her husband's hand and led him out to dance.

Good deed for the evening done, Levon wandered away. He stopped before entering the dining room, deciding he didn't feel like mingling any longer. Instead he went outside. The night was cold and dry -- the kind of night LaFiamma teased him for calling "winter". Levon smiled, thinking of the argument they'd had just the other day about the local weather. He couldn't recall what had set them off, only that they'd spent a good half hour cheerfully insulting each other's preferred climates. LaFiamma had smirked at him when his aunt arrived and remarked first thing on how warm it was to be December.

Levon headed over to his truck where he'd left his coat. Winter or not, he was cold. He'd parked at the end of the lot, arriving after most of the others. By the time he reached his truck he was most definitely chilled, and only then realized his coat would be cold from sitting in the cab. Shaking his head at himself, he retrieved it and put it on anyway. Before shutting the truck door he looked up at the restaurant. The sign on the front read "Closed for Private Party - Come Back Tomorrow!" Someone had drawn in a Christmas tree wearing a policeman's hat.

He didn't feel like going back in. His partner was having a grand time letting his aunt hear stories of his escapades -- work related and not -- and trying to prevent Teresa from spreading more embarrassing stories about his childhood. Levon had already heard several over the last three days and he knew that despite his objections, Joe was enjoying the hell out of it. It wasn't difficult for Levon to figure out why. Only family knew those things about how you ate crayons when you were four, or dressed the dog in your cousin's underwear. Once Aunt Teresa went home, LaFiamma might come to regret those stories being told, but for now he was still too happy to be with part of his family.

It *was* a good thing but this time Levon didn't smile. He had never been as surrounded by family as his partner had back in Chicago, and as such he never felt their absence as often as LaFiamma. Levon knew, though he never mentioned it, that not a day went by that Joe didn't think of his family. His partner was growing used to being apart from them but that didn't mean he ever enjoyed it. Levon knew that this visit was perhaps the best thing that had happened in a very long time. Joe had made a dozen plans for his aunt's visit, and so far it looked like she was going to enjoy every single one.

His partner's pleasure was why Levon hadn't said a word about his own plans for the holidays. Grandmother Minnie had died this past summer, leaving him without any relatives besides his father. There was no chance that Lundy, Senior would show up for Christmas and Levon preferred it that way. But that left him with no one to celebrate with. He knew himself well enough to know if he stayed home he'd only start brooding about it, thinking of Caroline and Minnie and all the rest. That in mind, he'd agreed to work through the week of Christmas, giving someone who wanted it the time off.

Tonight, though, he was alone. He pulled himself quickly into the cab of the truck, cold now from the door's being left open while he stared at the restaurant lost in thought. He started the engine, letting it warm itself up while dug into his coat pockets for gloves. He didn't need to go in and let anyone know he was leaving. A restaurant full of cops, someone was bound to notice he'd left. This way he wouldn't have to lie about why he was leaving. A glance at the temperature gauge told him the engine was warm enough to run the heater, so he switched it on and pulled the Jimmy out of the lot and into heavy evening traffic.

Tomorrow Joe would be taking his aunt to visit Hascombe Jewelers where she would, according to LaFiamma, happily spend the entire day. He had made reservations at Antonio's for lunch and Le Pria for dinner. Levon was invited to join them for lunch but he doubted he would go. Fancy Italian food wasn't his idea of a good meal, Joe's cooking notwithstanding. He'd make up for it by going with them to dinner on Sunday. He knew Joe wouldn't really mind.

He turned the truck towards home. The heater was taking the chill out of the cab and out of him as well. When he got home he'd have to check on Fooler, make sure the weather wasn't bothering him. It wouldn't be, he knew, but doing so would give him something to do once he arrived home. It was still fairly early and for a change there was little to be done around the house. No cleaning left over from the frenzy he'd gone through last week, when he'd been faced with two days off and nothing constructive to do except brood. He'd even made repairs to the barn roof he'd been meaning to do for the last six months.

Briefly he sat at a stop sign, wondering if he should turn north and head somewhere besides home. There was nowhere to go besides Chicken's, and if he stopped for a beer and a game of pool he'd have to fend off Chicken's questions. Normally he didn't mind that, knowing he could ignore his friend as long as he needed to when the questions were ones he didn't want to answer. But Chicken would eventually give Joe a call, telling him his partner was in need of a more tenacious interrogator. Levon didn't want to upset Joe's holiday. LaFiamma finally had family to be with, while here Levon was left, for the first time, without any at all.

He turned his truck towards home. Maybe he'd sit down with some of Fooler's old bridles and repair them for Justin to use at his riding school. As he approached the ranch he glanced up at the night sky and saw, as the skyline and streetlights thinned, a few twinkling stars.

Next Story: What Do You Have Left When Only Family Remains?