Heat in the City

Levon slouched deeper in the chair, pulling the brim of his hat lower over his eyes. The florescent lighting now blocked, he could doze without squeezing his eyes closed. He just hoped no one would-- "Hey." A sharp nudge in his arm accompanied the hissed whisper. Levon ignored it; it was only his partner. Another jab, and "Lundy!" made him crack open one eye.

"What do you want, LaFiamma?" He drawled his words more deeply than usual, partly because it annoyed the Chicago-bred cop and partly because he was tired.

"Stay awake, huh, Lundy?"

Levon blinked, watching as Joey turned his attention back to the front of the court room. Shaking his head slowly, he settled back down. Eyes closed again, relaxed, soon he was almost asleep....

This time the nudge knocked his arm and he nearly spilled out of the chair. Levon gave his partner a glare which LaFiamma returned with a hiss, "What's wrong with you?"

"What's wrong with me? Can't you leave a man in peace?" Lundy blocked a yawn with the side of his fist. He whispered, trying not to gain the attention of anyone sitting around them.

"We're in court, can't you show a little respect?" LaFiamma gave him a brief look of disgust; Levon knew it was due to embarrassment and disapproval. He almost smiled.

"And I'm tired; can't *you* show a little respect?"

"We'll argue about this later, Lundy; for now just look like you're paying attention, all right?"

"But I'm not. Why do you think *you're* here?" Levon grinned, but sat up straighter and focused on the lawyers up ahead. No one seemed at all interested in the activities in the back row. Instead of pointing that out and trying to get some rest, Levon resigned himself to staying fully awake for another hour.

Afterwards he was going to put his head back and stretch out -- as best he could -- in LaFiamma's tiny sports car, and get some real sleep. Even though that meant leaving his partner alone to pick out the radio station.

"Thank you." Joey gave him a short nod.

"Wasn't doing it for you. Couldn't sleep with you shoving me." Levon didn't glance over to see the reaction that got. He teased his partner as much now as he had the day they met, but he no longer cared about seeing Joey get riled. The game wasn't getting old, he just wished they could play it differently. He'd prefer to tease his partner and get a laugh, rather than a friendly sneer and sarcastic 'ha'.

Maybe he should just watch the hearing. Beaumont had suggested it as a way of learning more about the district's new prosecutor, Harmon Sands. He was a transplant from the Kansas State Attorney General's Office, where he'd been working as an assistant. The man never actually served as the prosecuting attorney until moving to the Houston courts, and no one had much of an idea what sort of person -- or lawyer -- he was. Today's hearing was the third case to which Sands had been assigned, and the first time Beaumont had anyone free to watch him.

The Kansas City courts had a reputation as being tough on cops, despite being the state prosecution and therefore on the same side. The lawyers Sands had worked under were overly strict by-the-book, and never gave the police an inch. A Kansas City policewoman who was a friend of Beaumont's had complained to her more than once that it was like being tried with both sides for the defense.

Beaumont wanted to find out if Sands had learned the style too well, and sent Lundy and LaFiamma in so they'd know what they might have to deal with. Levon had protested though he'd known it would do no good, correctly objecting that they had cases to be working on. He'd been told that he could consider this courtroom visit as being on his own time, and devote his working hours to those cases. He'd ignored LaFiamma's laugh and agreed to show up at the courthouse.

He hadn't counted on going today, however; exhausted from the night before and wanting nothing more than to sink into his chair at the station, feet up and waiting for Records to find the files he'd asked for. Joey had been unsympathetic and dragged him down to the courthouse, fielding all suggestions of going it alone and letting his partner owe him a favour.

He'd dropped the offers when LaFiamma started asking for details of the night before -- why was he so tired, what had he been up to and with whom had he been up to it? Levon had just laughed and shook his head. Not about to explain where he'd been, he'd resigned himself to a long afternoon with little or no catnaps.

He found himself getting quickly bored by the courtroom theatrics: a man charged with two misdemeanors of vandalism. The evidence looked neat and straight-forward, the lawyers being civil to each other and the judge. Now, robbed of his chance at more rest, he tried watching again.

"Your honour, the tapes clearly show my client in the parking garage at the time of the incident, we don't dispute that. But there is no evidence that he was even on the same parking level at the time the cars were damaged. The tapes show him entering the garage fifteen minutes before, and then on level C ten minutes before, and leaving twenty minutes later from the same gate he entered. At no time was he shown to be on level D where the damaged cars were."

The defending attorney was Michelle Darling, bright, beautiful, and hard-nosed. Levon had been cross-examined by her before, and always enjoyed the experience. She gave no quarter and often left you saying more than you'd intended -- but she never tried to trick you, nor twist your words around to mean what they didn't. Seeing her here now made Levon suspect her client was innocent.

Harmon Sands had his turn. "Your honour, we have testimony from three witnesses identifying Mr. Ching as being on level D at the time the damage occurred. There is also the fact that when the security guard confronted Mr. Ching, outside the garage only moments after he exited, Mr. Ching was found to be in the possession of a large Philips screwdriver, with traces of blue paint on it. One of the damaged cars was a blue Rolls Royce, which the police forensics team determined had been, among other things, scratched by a metal tool. Although the defendant claims that he found the screwdriver discarded on level C he cannot pinpoint exactly where."

More of the same. Levon found his attention wandering again. There were a few others in the courtroom listening to the hearing. Three were obviously students -- young, attentive, scribbling more notes than a journalist would on such a minor case. Another was a relative or friend of Mr. Ching's, a young Oriental woman, sitting directly behind Ching and holding herself very still. A third group was the usual type of hangers on: law groupies, Levon called them. They were people who came to court for the simple -- though inexplicable -- reason that they enjoyed it.

For the most part the crowd was perfectly normal. It was the last two men who confused him. He tried to figure them out, consciously practicing the skill that worked so well subconsciously when on the job. Each man sat alone. The white one was dressed in a suit; the other, a Hispanic, was dressed as a ranch hand. Each man seemed alternately bored, or interested, as the hearing progressed. It was possible that the first man was a bondsman, but the second he couldn't figure out. Maybe they each had had a car damaged, and were here to watch justice be served. That was the obvious answer, Levon realised. But was it right?

Only the man in the suit seemed interested in the appropriate parts of the trial for that to be true. Listening intently each time Darling stepped forward and to the judge's remarks, but sitting back bored when Sands spoke. Levon watched as the man leaned forward again as the pretty defender took her turn. He suddenly smiled as she made a particularly creative statement, and Levon realised who he was. Michael Johnson, Michelle's boyfriend, no doubt here during his lunch hour to watch his girlfriend in action.

The show of support made Levon smile; the puzzle of the remaining man made him dismiss the first as solved even if it turned out he was wrong. Maybe the ranchhand was a car owner, for he was doing much the same as Johnson, only with Sands: interested each time Sands stepped forward with more reasons why Mr. Ching should be brought to trial, nodding when the Prosecutor presented his arguments, looking bored whenever Michelle spoke. It didn't seem quite right, though, for the man didn't seem to be agreeing or disagreeing with the arguments.

In fact, Levon noticed, he seemed to be acting much like Johnson -- interested in Sands and not the legal display. Levon let himself smile. Maybe the young man was Sands' boyfriend. He didn't seem the type, but then neither did a dozen others Levon knew. He found himself hoping to see the end of the hearing to see how Sands reacted to the young man.

He was startled to notice that his musings has spared him the boredom of nearly half an hour. He glanced over at Joey and found his partner wearing a politely bored expression. Levon smiled.

Now maybe they could leave. Before now, LaFiamma had been politely interested -- whether in the pretty face of the defender or in the legal proceedings (Levon remembered his partner's aborted Law career and wondered sometimes if the man missed it as much as he pretended he didn't.) LaFiamma caught him looking, and half-grimaced.

"OK, Lundy, I think we can go now."

He bit back the sarcastic response that he'd been willing to stay awhile -- LaFiamma might just take him up on it. Interesting though it might be to find out who the man was, it wasn't more interesting than the possibility of getting some sleep on the drive back to the station. He nodded and followed his partner out.

As they headed down the hallway towards the stairs, LaFiamma glanced over at him. "I think he's gonna be an OK prosecutor."

"Mm." Levon realised he hadn't done more than form an initial impression before taking his nap. "Strikes me that way, too."

"But?"

The tone told Levon his partner was getting too good at picking up those unsaid things. Couldn't explain to the man that things went unsaid because you wanted them unsaid. He opted for not passing it off as lack of attention and shook his head. "A pretty straight-forward case. Who knows what he'd do when things get complicated." He half-grinned and waited for his partner to defend the law community.

Surprisingly, LaFiamma just shrugged, not rising to the potential argument. "Not our fault this is the case the Lieutenant sent us to watch." Joey gave him a brief smile. "But if you want to come back some other time..."

"No, thanks. Once is enough for me." They reached the front doors, and Levon held the door open as his partner walked through. "Let's go get some real work done, shall we?" Levon watched as LaFiamma slipped his sunglasses on and briefly surveyed the parking lot before them. He watched his partner watch the people and cars moving and found himself, for once, not thinking anything at all.

It was only later that he wondered why.


The rest of the day was spent tracking down old leads on a case they'd re-opened a few days before. Braxton and Colby had uncovered a new piece of evidence on an auto-theft ring case they'd had unsolved for nearly a year. Every person they'd picked up in connection to the thefts was unable -- even when willing -- to identify any but other low-ranking cohorts. Instructions were received via telephone and cars were delivered to a new location each night where a cash payment was waiting in a small unmarked bag. None of the carjacks ever saw any car picked up, and the recruitment for new thieves was done by their peers when instructedto do so by the person on the phone.

No one knew who the ringleaders were, and Lundy and LaFiamma were unable to track them down despite a dozen arrests and ten subsequent convictions for grand theft auto. Beaumont had finally told them to leave it alone after working the case off and on for several months. Last week Braxton and Colby had, while investigating a real estate scam, discovered a series of buildings owned by Horace Dulbonque. Over half of those buildings had been used as drop-offs for the stolen vehicles. With new evidence for a possible identity of the man in charge, they'd re-opened the investigation.

The problem was the man could not be found. His last three last-known addresses were public buildings in West Houston: one community center and two churches. No one at any of those places could identify Dulbonque. None of the suspected theives they'd been unable to arrest knew anything more than they had the first dozen times they'd been interviewed.

Early the next morning LaFiamma sat down at his desk with the phone book and started calling all the Dulbonques asking if Horace were home. Lundy just gave him partner a grin and started digging through the paperwork on more time, looking for anything they'd overlooked or forgotten. He listened to his partner strike out rather quickly three times in a row; then he looked up and waved at Joe to stop before dialing a fourth time.

"You got something, Lundy?"

"No, not exactly. Thought of something. Dulbonque's a French name."

"Yeah? So?"

"So with a name like Dulbonque, and given the location of the address we've been checking, we might be looking for a Haitain."

"The woman I just talked to had an island accent. She hung up on me pretty quickly, too," LaFiamma said.

"She can probably tell from your Chicago accent that you're a stranger -- somebody she doesn't want to talk to."

"I don't have an accent, Lundy. You Texans are the ones with accents."

Lundy paused before replying, trying to keep his half-smile from becoming a grin. "My point is maybe I better make those calls. I can at least speak the language, even if I don't have a Haitain accent."

"Be my guest." LaFiamma handed over the phone book without hesitation.

Levon took the phone book, and looked for the next number. LaFiamma had marked off the numbers as he'd made the calls and now there were only three left. Levon looked at the list and reached for his phone. Some instinct told him to call the second number, first. He was aware of his partner watching him as he dialed the number.

A man answered the phone with a bored, "Hello?" The accent was thick.

Levon said in a casual Creole, "I'm looking for Horace."

There was a moment of dead silence, then the man babbled a warding and hung up.

Joe chuckled. "Didn't like your accent?"

Levon caught himself frowning, forced his expression to neutral then shook his head. Another hunch told him to dial the last number on the list; he repeated his question.

"You looking for death?" the man asked. "Because that's all you'll find."

"Where will I find it?" Levon kept his tone steady. He picked his words carefully, knowing that what he said -- and what he was told -- could be powerful, enough.

A long pause, then with a heavy sigh, he was given an address. "On your own head be it," the man said, and hung up a second time.

Levon hung up the phone, and looked up at his partner. He knew he ought to just give over the information so they could check it out. But if this were something police normally didn't handle....

"You got something," Joe said, eyes narrowed.

And if he tried to pass it off from something it wasn't, LaFiamma would call him on it. Damn the man for knowing him too well, anyway.

Levon nodded.

"Well? You plan on telling me?"

"Got an address," he said, giving himself a mental shake. He tried to think of what preparations he might make before they went -- anything sufficiently unobtrusive so as not to be noticed by LaFiamma would likely have little effect on whatever he found.

"Great. Let's check it out." Joe stood and took a few steps for the door, stopping when Lundy didn't immediately follow. "Something wrong?" he asked, frowning at his partner.

"No, nothing." He shook his head, and grabbed a small item out of the top drawer of his desk before joining LaFiamma. He stuck the talisman in his front pocket. Any effort, no matter how small, was better than none.

"You sure? You look... worse than usual."

"I said I'm fine, LaFiamma." He tried to give the other man a nudge out into the hallway, hoping that getting him moving would stop him from talking. He knew better, but he still sometimes hoped.

"If you're coming down with the flu or something, you better keep it to yourself."

"The flu? What--" He shook his head. He wasn't going to argue with his partner. Not about this -- his luck he'd end up saying exactly what he didn't want to.

They headed down to the garage and Joe's car in silence. "So where are we going?" Joe asked as he slid behind the wheel.

"Head for Jacinto City."

Joe nodded and started out.

Levon tried not to worry, feeling the slight pressure of the talisman in his jeans pocket. He whispered a short entreaty, silently, as they pulled out of the garage.

"So how do you want to play this if he is there?"

"I don't--" think he'll be there, Levon stopped himself from saying. He couldn't explain the feeling to his partner, so he said, "Hell, all we got is his name on a bunch of property records. Tell him we're looking for someone else. See if he cooperates."

Joe nodded. "Maybe he'll let something slip. Probably not, but you never know."

"We'll just have to see what we find." Levon settled back uneasily in the Cobra's bucket seat.


They pulled up in front of a non-descript building at the address Levon had been given. There were no signs, indicating a business, nor were there any cars out front.

"You sure this is the right place?"

"That's what the man said." Levon looked up; the building was seven stories high, and most of the windows were closed off. Beside him, he could see Joe looking around as well. "Looks real friendly."

It *felt* downright unfriendly, but there was no sensation of immediate danger. Nothing more than they'd get by simply coming to the attention of... whoever it was the two men on the phone had warned him about. Probably Horace Dulbonque, but not necessarily. Dulbonque might be working for the man in charge.

Levon headed for the door. No reason not to go inside. Joe fell in at his side and as they entered the building, then shivered as they passed over the threshold. "Feels like someone just walked over my grave," he muttered.

Levon gave him a sharp look, but said nothing.

The foyer told them nothing -- no directory, not even signs of occupation. The hallway extended in two directions.

"Got a preference of direction?" LaFiamma asked.

Levon was tempted to say "Back the way we came." Instead he pointed to the right.

Joe nodded. "I'll take the left then."

It was on the tip of his tongue to say he hadn't meant them to split up. Not explaining was less important than letting his partner walk into something dangerous. But Joe was already headed off, and Levon told himself that there was nothing *here*, now.

At least there didn't seem to be.

He glanced back down the empty hall he'd indicated, then hurried after Joe.

Joe turned, startled at his approach. "Thought you were going the other way."

"I don't like this place," Levon explained. Cops had 'hunches' all the time -- this needn't sound too out of place.

It earned him a hard look but then Joe nodded and they continued down the hallway together. They found the first door unlocked, and behind it an empty room. Levon said nothing as they moved to the next.

This one was locked.

The two partners exchanged looks and despite Levon's misgivings, he helped kick it open. Inside was a desk, and two filings cabinets. To first impressions it appeared to simply be an office, recently occupied.

Levon checked the doorjambs, and walls, before going inside. Joe went over to one filing cabinet immediately and began going through the files he found within. Levon followed, heading for the desk. Again he looked for any signs of protections, or warnings, before rifling through the drawers.

"Hm. Well there's some files with Dulbonque 's name on them but nothing incriminating in itself." Joe looked up. "You find anything?"

"No." Levon glanced over as he pulled open another drawer. He snatched his hand back as soon as he saw the charm.

Joe caught the motion. "What? What is it?"

He didn't want to touch it, but if it were here, there was *something* in this drawer. Evidence, or something important. The problem was removing it. He looked around, but saw nothing he could use -- there was.

Without explanation, he walked over and reached for his partner's tie. Just as he'd thought -- pure silk. For once he blessed Joe's tendency towards being a clotheshorse.

"Lundy?"

He didn't answer -- what could he say except the truth, which they didn't have time for? He wrapped the charm in the silk, carefully not touching it with his skin. When it was safely wrapped, he moved it to the desktop. He'd replace it when they left, though it would not fool whoever had placed it that it had not been moved.

Joe had fallen silent, just watching what he was doing. But Levon could almost feel the weight of the questions in his partner's gaze. With the charm out of the way, he quickly went through the papers he found. Some looked like nothing worth guarding -- no names that meant anything to him, nothing connected to the current case.

But there was a contract, there, as well. Signed by Dulbonque.

"You found something." It wasn't a question.

He showed the page to LaFiamma.

"It's a start," he allowed.

"Something to follow up on." Levon quickly replaced it, feeling nervous suddenly. He set the charm back down, unrolling it from the tie. He didn't return it to Joe, wadding it up and sticking it in his pocket with the talisman.

"Hey-!"

"I'll replace it," he said shortly. "Come on, I don't think we're gonna find much else useful, here." Not without stirring up more trouble.

Joe gave him another hard look, then nodded. "We'll talk about this." It was half question, half statement.

Levon had no doubt the conversation would be loud, and frustrating.


They went back to the station to dig out the records on the property listed in the contract they'd found. Levon had no idea how long it would take and didn't relish the thought of spending the day sitting around waiting, all while ignoring the looks he was already getting from Joe. The more he ignored him, the more visibly irritated Joe was getting.

Levon glanced Joe's way, wondering if his partner really wanted to have this conversation *here*. But then, LaFiamma probably didn't know what sort of conversation they would end up having, and wouldn't know privacy would be better.

On the third hand, not having the conversation at all would be nice....

He glanced at his partner who was giving him another one of those looks. Nope, that choice wasn't going to happen. Resigned, he tried to decide where he'd be willing to have the conversation. Not Chicken's, though the excuse to leave for lunch would be the easiest. But he didn't want to risk being overheard.

He suddenly realised that he had something to prepare, and soon, before Dulbonque took notice of them. He grabbed his jacket. "Come on," he told his partner.

"Where are we going?" Joe asked, even as he got up to follow.

Levon didn't answer, heading instead for the elevator. He knew he was testing LaFiamma's patience, but this was not the place he wanted to start answering questions. He heard Joe muttering under his breath as he followed.

"Will you just give me some time, LaFiamma? Ain't something I care to explain here," he dropped his voice as they stepped onto an occupied elevator. His heart was already pounding; he had no idea how Joe would react. Lately, Joe's opinion of him had become important. More important, rather, than usual.

Joe nodded, apparently partially mollified. "Where then?"

Levon shrugged. His place? Probably the best choice. But if he wanted to get an arret, he needed to go to Lula's. Or have her meet them at LaFiamma's apartment, since that was where he needed the arret.

"A shrug's not very informative, Lundy."

They stepped off the elevator into the parking garage before Levon answered, "Your place. But I need to use your car phone."

"Fine." Joe headed for the driver's side of his car.

Levon could tell he was still pushing his partner's good grace. When they pulled out of the parking garage, he picked up the phone and made a call. The phone rang a couple of times, then Lula's cheerful voice greeted him.

Levon responded equally cheerfully, genuinely happy to be talking to her despite the circumstances. "Hey, Lula. It's Levon."

"Somehow I knew I'd be hearing from you, chile."

"I'm not surprised. Look, I need something. Can you meet me?"

"I can't be leaving just now, Levon. You come by the shop and I'll be here." She paused and then added. "You take care, boy, hear me? There's some bad mojo stirred up."

"I know. I'm looking to be in the thick of it, real soon." He glanced over at Joe, grateful that for the moment his partner's attention seemed to be on traffic. "I need an arret for my partner. How soon could you have one made?"

"For you, this evening. Eight o'clock?"

"We'll be by."

Lula hung up then. Levon tried to ignore the once-again impatient look Joe was sending him.

"I suppose you're going to tell me later about what that was about?"

With a sigh, Levon said, "I'll tell you now. I just don't know how you're gonna take it."

Joe glanced sideways at him. "Won't know until you try."

"Yeah...." Funny how Joe's words echoed the ones he'd been telling himself, late at night when he dared imagine telling him other things. He took a deep breath and dove in. "Called a friend of mine to arrange for an arret for your apartment." He knew that didn't explain anything.

"That might tell me something if I knew what an arret was."

"It's a sort of good luck charm. A bit more powerful than the usual."

"A good luck charm." The very lack of inflection in Joe's voice told Levon exactly how serious he was taking this. Which was to say, not very.

He'd love hearing just exactly *why* Levon thought he needed it.

"So is there a reason you're trying to make sure I get lucky?"

"Trying to make sure you don't get attacked." Levon sighed. There was no easy way to do this, so he might as well just say it. "I think Dulbonque's a bokor -- a vodoun sorcerer. Or maybe somebody connected with him is."

"Voodoo," Joe repeated.

"Yeah." He didn't bother correcting the slight difference in pronunciation. He *did* wait for LaFiamma to tell him he was crazy.

"Zombies? Little dolls with pins stuck in them?"

"Yeah."

Another sideways look. "You believe in that mumbo jumbo?"

Levon shrugged again, not knowing if Joe saw it. He wasn't prepared to tell Joe *everything*, but he had a feeling his partner wouldn't stop asking questions until Levon had revealed it all.

"Is that a yes shrug or a no shrug?"

"You believe all them fancy rituals do any good when you go to church?" he countered.

"That's different." Joe pulled the cobra into his parking spot at his apartment building.

"How so?"

"It just is," Joe snapped back.

"Praying to saints, hanging crosses or figures from the rearview mirror? Performing ceremonies and saying prayers to get God's attention?"

"Yeah, but God's real."

Levon didn't hold back the brief smile. "Vodoun believes in Bon Dieu, as well, Joe. One God in charge of everything."

Joe just stared at him like he was seeing him for the first time. He felt nervous, which he'd expected. What he hadn't expected was how worried he felt at the prospect that Joe would let this come between them. "You really believe this, don't you?" Joe asked quietly.

"It's what I grew up with," he finally said. Prelude to so many other things he didn't want to say, but somehow he felt like saying it would help Joe understand.

"I thought you were Presbyterian."

"Mother Minnie took us to church when we moved in with her."

Joe cocked his head and gave him a strange look. "This is going to be a long story, isn't it?"

Levon nodded.

"Then come on. Let's have it upstairs."

Levon followed him up, slightly relieved. He took the time going up to sort through his thoughts. There *was* a lot to tell, and some of it would prove easier than others.

Joe unlocked his apartment door, letting them both in, then headed for the kitchen. "Beer?"

"Thanks." Levon waited until they both had a bottle. Then he tried to figure out where to start. His partner didn't push, just leaned against the counter, waiting patiently.

"I was born over in Louisiana. Me and my folks lived there until I was about eight. Then... my father died, and we had to leave. My momma didn't think she could protect us from whoever had killed him. We moved to Houston first, but then she met Levon Lundy, Sr. Married him, he took us to Lombard."

"Wait. Levon Lundy's not your real name?"

He shook his head. "Was born Remy de Chavelier." The name felt odd to say. He hadn't said it since they'd left.

Joe tilted his head and looked at him, consideringly. "No," he finally said. "You don't look like a Remy."

Levon laughed. "You'll have to talk to my father about that. Named me for his dad." He felt a slight lessening of the tension in his stomach. Joe hadn't told him he was nuts, yet. Hadn't walked off, or told him to go.

If only everything could be told so 'easily'.

"So you were raised with this voodoo sh... stuff. I guess vivid first impressions would stick with you," Joe allowed.

Looking away, Levon replied, "It ain't just first impressions. My momma... up until she died, she kept teaching me. Her uncle was a houngan."

"A what-gan?"

"Vodoun priest."

"Oh."

Levon waited for more; when Joe didn't say anything, he continued his story. "When I made those two phone calls, earlier, I got warned off looking for Dulbonque. The wording of the warnings makes me think there's something more than auto thefts involved."

"That Dulbonque is a whatchamacallit, a houngan?"

"He's probably a bokor. Could be both. But whatever is going on, it ain't good."

"And what's a bokor?"

"Sorcerer. Um, the evil version of the houngan." Levon wondered if Joe were really taking this calmly, or just playing for time until he found out how nuts his partner really was.

"So what can he do if he is one of these bokor? Turn us into frogs or something?"

Levon narrowed his eyes as he realised his partner was humouring him.

"Or, sorry, would that be zombies?"

"I'm glad you're taking this so well, LaFiamma. Maybe I oughta introduce you to a zombi." He turned on his heel, angry with himself for saying anything. Granted, he'd had no choice -- and even if Joe didn't believe, he deserved to be warned.

"Well what am I supposed to say Lundy? I mean this is so...so..."

"You think I'm spinning tales to keep you amused? When we're in the middle of an investigation?" he snapped.

"Of course not. But come on, even you got to admit it sounds a bit out there..." Joe sighed deeply, in frustration. "I'm sorry, okay? I just-"

Levon nodded. "I *know* what it sounds like. It's why I never said anything about it, before. But now -- even if you don't believe in what's going on, what is *going* to be going on, you oughta be prepared. Or at least... accept that there are reasons for what *I'm* gonna be doing."

His partner was silent for a minute, considering. "This stuff you're gonna be doing, it'll make you feel better about all this?"

Levon nodded.

"Then go ahead and do it. I'll... keep my opinions to myself."

"I appreciate that." Levon wasn't sure if he felt better about this -- he knew what Joe had to be thinking, despite his willingness to keep quiet about it. But this way, at least, he wouldn't have to argue with the man everytime he had to do something to counter the bokor's actions.

He felt the sudden urge to say something else, in a perverse desire to throw his partner even more off-balance, which he promptly squelched.

Joe's next words were said quietly. "Thanks for telling me."

He nodded. Looking down at his beer, he realised he had better think about putting some food on top of the alcohol. Somehow, all of his nervousness had gone.

"You want to stay for supper?" Joe asked, heading for his small kitchen. "Or do you want me to drive you home now?"

"Um, supper's fine -- if it ain't no trouble." Levon shook his head at himself. "Lord, at this rate you'd *never* tell him," he said to himself.

"Tell me what?"

'Hell' Levon closed his eyes, and told himself he was ten kinds of an idiot. He frantically searched for something to say -- something else about the vodoun, his family, that he could offer. When he opened his eyes again, he saw Joe watching him closely, seemingly open. For some reason, he found himself smiling. "Hell, you already think I'm crazy."

"I've known that for years," Joe said returning the smile.

"Today hasn't made it worse?"

"Not really."

Levon raised his eyebrows. "Should I be worried, or grateful?" He found the proximity of his partner a little disconcerting. Joe had moved closer, and was standing near enough to touch.

"I'm not going to call the men with the white coats, if that's what you mean." He leaned even closer.

"Then you won't think I'm crazy -- crazier -- if I tell you you're keeping me up nights?"

The corner of Joe's mouth turned up. "You telling me I'm so aggravating I'm making you lose sleep?"

Levon shook his head. He wondered, in some still-sane corner of his mind, why he was trying his best to convince his partner to get rid of him. First the vodoun, now this?

"Then what?" Joe asked, voice turning softer and the smile not completely fading.

He opened his mouth, but didn't say it.

"Hey..." Joe reached out and touched his arm. "You know you can tell me anything, right? I'm sorry I made fun of you before, I-"

"It ain't that," Levon said quickly. His head was spinning; he could barely sort out what he needed to say from what he wanted not to say, from what he knew Joe would need to hear.

Above all of which was the simple joy of the touch on his arm.

"Then what?"

"You don't have to say anything. You don't have to admit I said it, even. I can pretend afterwards--"

"Lundy." Joe's voice that overrode him was faintly exasperated, with more than a hint of amused affection. "Just tell me okay?"

"I love you." He wondered if the floor would be able to swallow him up, in case he needed a get-away.

Joe stared at him for a long moment. In a strangely strangled voice he finally asked, "You're not talking like a brother here right?"

Levon stepped back a half-step. "I hadn't meant to tell you," he began.

A hand reached out and grabbed his arm again, holding him in place. "Lundy. Levon! It's okay."

"Yeah?" Then why was his heart beating so fast, he wanted to ask. He grinned. "Never thought your partner would turn out to be so strange?"

Joe laughed. "Lundy, I knew you were strange the moment I met you."

"Thanks." He rolled his eyes, not sure if he'd been let off the hook, or if LaFiamma were simply trying to stall while he figured out what to do. Maybe he ought to leave, and come back when Lula was due to arrive, and let his partner get used to all this.

But Joe hadn't let go of his arm. And he was still talking. "You're lucky I love strange," he said.

For a second Levon wasn't sure he understood what he'd heard. Then he was sure he *hadn't*. Unless Joe was really about to....

He was, pulling Levon into a full embrace.

Finding himself grinning like he knew what he was doing, Levon settled into the embrace. Then he titled his head slightly, and leaned forward. Joe meant him halfway, the first touch of his lips on Levon's hesitant, but determined.

Levon felt the light touch of his lips, and shivered. Pressing his hands against Joe's back, he pushed his mouth harder against Joe's, wanting to feel as much as he could before his brain asked him what the hell they were doing. His partner responded in kind with the same hesitation/determination combo.

They kissed until Levon found himself needing air -- needing, despite himself, a reality check. He leant back and looked at Joe. The expression on Joe's face could only be described as shell-shocked. Uncertainly, Levon waited for the shock to descend into something else. Pleasure? Regret?

Anger?

"What?" he asked, a tad harsher than he'd meant to.

And then Joe pulled him back into another kiss, with twice the determination and none of the hesitation.

This time he wrapped his arms around Joe's back like they were molded to fit. He could feel his heart pounding, and could something else, something rather interesting.

He grinned, and gave Joe a nudge. "Is that a garde in your pocket or are you just happy--"

"Yes," Joe interrupted, then continued more softly, "I am."

Levon laughed. "Good." He brought one hand up to caress Joe's cheek, running his fingers back through Joe's hair. "Good."


They managed to somehow occupy themselves until just before 9 p.m. Lula was due to arrive soon, and Levon was getting worried. It hadn't gone unnoticed, either. "What is it?" Joe asked.

"I hope Lula's all right," he said, trying not to start pacing the living room.

"That's the whatsis that you have coming?"

"Mambo."

Joe snorted. "Sounds like a snake."

Levon gave him a grin, glad his partner was no longer sounding quite so disbelieving, though he suspected LaFiamma didn't believe it any more now, than he had before. "It means she's a priestess."

"So she should be able to take care of herself, right?"

Levon gave his partner a look. "So that makes it all right for her to be in danger?"

"I didn't say that." Joe bristled.

Sighing, he nodded. "I know. I'm sorry, I'm just feeling jumpy." For the last hour the feeling had grown, from a barely noticeable trickle of worry to what now felt like full-blown dread. The trouble was, he couldn't figure out just what the trouble was centered on.

"If I didn't know better, I'd be insulted by that." He reached out and pulled Levon back into his arms. "Listen, do you want to go look for her?"

"Insulted?" Levon tried to pull his thoughts back on what his partner was saying. Then he shook his head. "Nah. It ain't nine yet. She'll be here." He glanced at the clock. "And if she's late, *then* we can go look for her."

"You're the expert."

Deciding to distract himself for the ten minutes before Lula was supposed to arrive, Levon went over to Joe. Taking his partner's hand, he took them both over to the couch, and sat down. Scooting sideways, he put himself into Joe's arms. His partner froze for a second then relaxed, pulling Levon closer.

"Thanks," he said quietly. He knew that it might be asking a lot for Joe to take *everything* in stride, but right now he needed the balancing that being with Joe seemed always to bring him. Although, he had to admit, arguing with the man usually served to keep him balanced, as well.

"It's not like it's a hardship, you know." He could hear the smile in Joe's voice.

"Yeah... but right now you could be bouncing off the walls, freaking out. Don't mind if you want to, later," he added.

Joe laughed. "I'll keep that in mind. But, at the moment..." He sighed contentedly, tightening his grip on Levon.

Levon let himself relax, trying not to think about all the things that could befall Lula, before she arrived. Or after, in case this brought her to the attention of the bokor.

Before he could get himself worked up again, there was a knock on the door. Joe pulled back and looked at him, then got up and went to answer it.

Levon knew it was Lula, even before Joe got to the door. He stood up and waited, wanting to see Joe's reaction to meeting his old friend.

And vice versa.

Joe opened the door and just looked at the woman standing there for a long moment, then he turned to Levon. "It's for you."

Levon grinned, and moved forward. Lula, however, was still regarding Joe. When he turned back to her, she gave him and Levon a smile. Lula was only two years older than Levon, but she alternately looked years younger, and decades older. Right now, with her warm smile smoothing out her soft brown cheeks, she looked like a girl of twelve. "This is good," she said in accented English. "It will give your strength, and balance," she said.

"What's good?" Joe narrowed his eyes as he asked the question sharply.

Levon laughed and asked her, "Is it that obvious?"

Lula walked over to him, holding out one hand in greeting. As Levon took it, she said, "Only to one who knows you so well." With a glance back towards Joe, she added, "You resonate so well."

"Oh." It looked like Joe was restraining the urge to roll his eyes. "Resonate. Right. I've always been a good resonator."

Levon glared, but Lula just shook her head. "I've brought what you asked for. An arret, for you partner's home." She brought a canvas-wrapped object out of her large handbag. After setting her bag down, she faced Joe, holding the bundle in both hands.

Joe was looking at it dubiously. "That's the arret thingy?"

She nodded, then began to unwrap it. She peeled back several layers of cloth, first, then revealed the object she had brought.

It was a small cross, made from light wood. She held it up for Joe.

He blinked. "A cross? But I thought..."

"You are a Catholic, are you not? I did not think you would find protection in a frog's foot dangling from your wall." She handed the cross to Joe.

Levon gave her a nod of thanks. He knew what would have gone into the preparation of the arret, and knew it would provide more than the appearance suggested to his partner.

Joe must've sensed something however, because his expression took on a puzzled reverence that hadn't been there before. "Thank you," he told Lula, with none of his prior sarcasm.

"You are welcome. You should hang in this room, or upstairs by a window. Then simply leave it where it is, and it will do as it was made."

After a few seconds' thought Joe turned and hung it over his couch.

"Thanks, Lula," Levon said, taking her hand again and giving it a light squeeze.

"You're welcome, Levon. Do you need anything?"

He shook his head. "I've everything still taken care of. Just needed this place--" He stopped, watching Joe checking the arret.

Lula tugged at his hand ever so slightly and said in Creole, "You shall be his garde, will you not?"

Joe looked up at that, frowning at the unfamiliar words. But Levon nodded at her and didn't explain what she'd said. His partner didn't say anything, but the look Levon got told him that he would be asking later.

Lula went over and held out a hand to Joe. "I must go, now. But I would like to see you again. I've known Levon a very long time -- I'm sure we have much to talk about."

Levon narrowed his eyes -- that sounded much too much like something he didn't want happening. Lula knew a lot of *embarrassing* stories.

The glint in Joe's eyes were a sure sign that he was thinking much the same thing. "Sounds interesting. I'll look forward to it."

Lula gave them both a wide smile -- which told Levon he was right -- and took her leave. She paused at the door, and said, "There are things happening, out there. Be on your guard."

There was a silence after Lula left, with Joe looking from Levon to the arret and back again.

"Joe?" Levon prompted, knowing Joe had to have a thousand questions.

"You could have told me it was a cross."

"I didn't know *what* she'd bring. Vodoun uses a lot of Catholic symbolism, though. Missionaries in Haiti tried to convert the slaves and freedmen; they only pretended to take to it."

Joe frowned. "Then that's still..."

But Levon shook his head. "It's no more and no less than you think it is. It's for *you*. Wouldn't do no good if it were a piece of superstitious, backward, mumbo-jumbo, would it?" he said lightly. Levon knew he was walking a fine line between saying only the truth, and saying too much. It *was* what he was saying, but not what he was trying to let Joe believe. He didn't think Joe needed to hear how the wood would have been hung in the hounsis, dangling over a fire in which ashes of bones and herbs turned to smoke, while Lula chanted and her assistants danced, singing to the loa for assistance.

"Belief..." Joe muttered.

Levon shrugged. "It's all about what you believe. Doesn't mean what you don't believe, ain't real. Just makes things a lot harder to work with." He waited to see which way Joe jumped.

"But if you believe strongly enough in something, it doesn't matter if it's real or not."

Levon nodded. It was heartening to hear, though he still wasn't quite sure where Joe was going. He wondered what his partner would say if Levon told him that he knew the arret would work because of the ritual Lula had performed and that the shape meant little. He wondered whether Joe would have cared if Lula had simply purchased the cross on her way over and wrapped it in cloth she'd found.

"So Dulbonque would have power over people with the bokor thing if they believed. Even if it's not real, it's going to be a problem for us if they believe it."

"Yeah," Levon nodded. "For those who understand his powers -- and believe in it," he added, though he wasn't sure he was comfortable with the apparent dismissal of his beliefs. "He can be dangerous. We're talking life and death, dangerous. Like as not there won't be ways to trace the responsibility back to Horace; not in ways the DA will believe, anyhow."

"And that-" Joe gestured at the arret, "-will stop him?"

"No."

"Then what is it for?" Joe asked in a tone of surprise.

"It'll stop some of the things he could do. Slow others down, make them less dangerous." Levon shrugged. "We still have to find him, and stop him. If the arret was all it took, everyone'd have one." Levon could tell he wasn't exactly convincing his partner.

"If he's so powerful, how are we going to stop him?"

"Magic." Levon grinned.

Joe rolled his eyes. "I should've known."

Catching sight of the clock hanging in Joe's kitchen, he realised he had to be going if he didn't plan... on staying. He cleared his throat, feeling nervous again. "We've a lot that needs doing tomorrow. I'd best be getting home."

His partner opened his mouth then closed it and nodded with a sigh. "I'll drive you," he said shortly.

It was on the tip of his tongue to offer to catch a cab; it was followed by the impulse to invite Joe to stay over the night. He was left standing there, staring at Joe, saying nothing.

Joe's eyes met his own and finally he seemed to relax. "Hey."

"Yeah?" he found himself smiling, slightly.

"I love you."

"I love you, too." He moved in, and found himself being kissed.

When Joe pulled back he smiled, ruffling Levon's hair. "Come on. I'll drive you home."

Hesitantly, Levon said, "There ain't much point in your driving all the way out to my place, then driving back."

"I don't mind," Joe said quickly, the more hesitantly, "At least driving there..."

"You wanna stay?" Levon felt his heart pounding again. It was ridiculous to feel so nervous about this -- it wasn't like Joe was a total stranger.

Then again, he'd never had trouble inviting a stranger to stay the night.

"Yeah."

With a short laugh, he asked, "You wanna grab your stuff? Or head to work wearing the same clothes, tomorrow morning?" He gave Joe's jacket lapel a tug.

"Give me a moment." Joe moved away heading for the staircase up to his bedroom.

Levon watched him go, admiring the figure he'd finally gotten to see again, the way he wanted. "Or you can just go without."

Joe paused for a moment at that, then continued up the stairs.

Levon chuckled, then settled in to wait. He caught sight of the arret on the wall, and gave it a nod. Lula was a powerful priestess, and the arret would be strong. Hopefully, it would be strong enough.

Hopefully, he would be, too.


'I never thought I'd get to do this,' Joe thought in contented happiness as he showed Levon around Chicago.

His partner was giving him a hard time about something -- smiling as he spoke, following Joe willingly enough as they went from old haunt, to old haunt. With a grin of his own, Joe leaned over and kissed him, noting that it was the fastest way to shut him up. And the most fun.

He wasn't prepared for Levon to push him back.

"Wha-"

His partner was giving him a hard glare. Then he turned, and begin walking away. The sky turned cloudy, and the wind began to pick up.

"Lundy!" Joe called after his partner, reaching out for him, something clenching tight in his stomach. But his partner disappeared in the crowds, which appeared suddenly, thick and impassible. Someone brushed past him, and he felt something touch his back. He turned and looked.

"Welcome home, Joey."

Szabo. His old partner, his old dead partner. The man looked it; the gaping hole in his chest mute testament to how he died, the stench of decay testament to how long ago.

Horrified, Joe stumbled backwards, scrabbling to get away from the... thing that was grinning at him in a terrifying caricature of the easy smile Szabo used to always wear. The creature -- the zombie -- staggered forward. Reaching out with one hand in a classic mimic of the old horror movies, the corpse of his old partner followed him through the crowd.

"Joe..." he heard, whispered in the distance.

"Keep away!" Joe yelled, more than a touch of panic in his voice.

"Joe!" This time the voice sounded more familiar.

Hands closed on his shoulders and Joe yelled, louder this time, desperately trying to push them away.

"Joe!" He heard his partner -- his still-alive partner -- call his name.

Blinking dazedly, Joe realized it was Levon who was holding onto him, staring down at him worriedly. "L-Lundy?" he asked, not surprised to hear the tremble in his voice.

"You all right?"

"I-" He floundered mentally, trying to find his equilibrium.

"Have a bad dream?" his partner -- lover -- asked, gently, pulling him closer into an embrace.

He laughed humorlessly. "Understatement."

"Wanna tell me about it?"

Memories from the dream were still vivid enough to make Joe shudder. "It was Szabos."

Levon's arms tightened briefly, but he didn't say anything.

"Being dead for a couple of years hadn't improved his looks," Joe joked half-heartedly.

"I wouldn't imagine it would," Levon replied, lightly. There was something in his partner's tone, though, that made Joe want to ask. But if he did, he'd probably get an answer he didn't want to hear.

"This is what I get for listening to all that voodoo sh... stuff," he muttered.

"Yeah, and if you hadn't listened you'da been sleeping alone, tonight." It sounded like Levon were trying to tease him. It might have worked if he didn't sound worried, instead.

"What's wrong?" he asked bluntly.

Levon looked at him steadily for a moment. "I'm sorry," was all he finally said.

"You apologizing for my bad dream?" Joe asked, trying for a teasing tone and succeeding about as well as Levon had the moment before.

With a shrug, Levon replied, "Like you said, it's what you get for listening to all that voodoo shit."

"But you believe in it."

"And you don't," he said simply. Joe didn't hear any recriminations. "Well 'cept for the zombies in my subconscious," he joked.

Again, Levon didn't say anything. They lay in the dark for a while, his partner's arms still close around him.

They probably should try and get some more sleep, but Joe was reluctant to risk a return of the dream. And having his naked partner pressed up against him suggested other activities than just sleep.

His hopeful wriggle must have been sufficiently obvious, because Levon chuckled. "You getting restless over there?" he asked, this time in a genuinely lighter tone.

He grinned. "That's one word for it I suppose."

"You got anything in mind?"

Joe's grin widened. "Oh, I can think of a thing or two."

Levon shifted slightly, not letting go of him, but moving around so that they were almost pressed together, front to front. His partner was already obviously interested in a thing or two.

"Looks like you can, too." He leaned in and kissed Levon, his tongue sliding in to explore his partner's mouth.

It felt odd to be doing this -- despite how much he was enjoying it. If he wanted to, he could count how many times he'd kissed Levon. How many times Levon had kissed him back. He didn't particularly feel like making the effort to do so right now, of course.

He was too busy adding to the total.

When Levon broke the kiss, he began laying a trail of more down Joe's neck. His hand was moving, too, sliding down Joe's side. This was still new, too, having his partner touch him like this. Having the freedom to touch him back. Suiting actions to his thoughts, he ran his own hand lightly down Levon's back. He heard a slight moan, and Levon's hip pressed against him.

That wasn't the only thing pressing into him. He shifted position, hand sliding down over Levon's hip. His lover responded by coming even closer, hands and mouth still devouring inches of Joe's body even while his own arousal made itself known. Joe's hand continued sliding along and around his partner's hip until it closed around that arousal.

The reaction was immediate -- and encouraging. Levon growled, thrust himself into Joe's hand, and bit down where he'd been nibbling. The bolt of arousal that sent to his groin forced a moan from his throat and caused his hand to tighten.

That set Levon off again, and soon their foreplay exploded into wild thrusting and furious kisses.

It didn't last long after that. He heard Levon gasp his name helplessly and that was enough to put him over the edge. He could feel Levon moving equally out of control; his partner shouted something he couldn't make out as his hands tightened where he was gripping Joe. Joe watched Levon's face, breath catching at the expression there.

When Levon opened his eyes and looked at him, his breath caught again.

"I love you," he whispered, the naked emotion he saw pulling the words out of him.

Levon came closer and kissed him lightly before replying. "I love you, too." His eyes sparkled suddenly, but he didn't say anything more.

"What?" Joe asked, feeling his mouth turn upward into a smile.

"Hate to say I told you so...."

"But?"

"But I told you so." He leant down and gave Joe another quick kiss.

"Told me so about what?" He reached up one hand happily tangling itself in Levon's hair.

"That you'd like it here."

That startled a laugh out of Joe; Levon had told him that years ago, back when the hurt of his exile had still been so fresh he could think of nothing else.

"Yeah," he responded, kissing Levon. "I do."

His lover snuggled down, resting his head on Joe's chest and tugging the blankets back into place. In a sleepy tone he said, "Tomorrow we'll have barbeque for lunch."

"Don't push it."


The next morning, he woke up still encased in Levon's arms. Carefully he moved, rolling over so he could watch Levon sleep without moving out of his arms. The sun hadn't yet begun to rise, so he could barely make out his partner's features. He knew the alarm would go off, soon; Levon rose even earlier in the mornings than he himself usually did, so he had little time to indulge.

It wasn't the first time he had indulged in this; there had been many a night on stakeout when Levon would be catching a quick nap that Joe would spend as much time watching him as watching their suspect. From the occasional hastily-diverted glances he'd intercepted, he knew he wasn't the only one. He was glad to finally know that what had been behind those looks, was the same reason he'd spent time looking, as well.

And now he could look his fill, and even better he could touch his fill. Actions followed thoughts and he reached out, lightly tracing Levon's features with a finger. Levon sighed in his sleep, rolling slightly towards Joe, towards his hand. The movement for some reason made Joe catch his breath, that even asleep his partner responded to him.

He waited a moment for Levon to settle back into deeper sleep. Then he resumed his tactile explorations as his thoughts drifted. Images of Levon throughout the years of their partnership; they had been at each other's throats at the beginning, so much so that Joe had seriously doubted their ability to work together.

When had his feelings changed? There wasn't one particular moment that he could pinpoint. All he knew was he had turned around one day and realized he was in love with his partner and had been for some time. For a long time he'd thought he would be suffering in silence -- despite their becoming friends, and better partners, there had been no let up of the arguing. Levon seemed to find Joe irritating, as often as he didn't.

And he found himself sniping at Levon just as often, though it was more out of frustration for what he couldn't say than anything else. Maybe, he realised, with the past twenty-four amazing, unanticipated hours behind him, Levon had been sniping out of similar frustration. Arguing because it was habit, and because saying anything was a little too frightening. Until yesterday, when Levon had been forced to say a lot of things he probably had wished he hadn't had to say.

If nothing else, Joe was grateful to all this voodoo stuff for that, that bringing it up had somehow given Levon the courage to finally break their mutual silence. But what a subject to finally break, over. Voodoo? Though, granted, his partner was not always cool-headed, Levon Lundy was at least the most down-to-earth person Joe knew. He was supposed to accept that Lundy believed in voodoo?

It seemed unreal. Something that belonged in a B-grade horror movie. Or a nightmare. But he had looked into Levon's eyes when he had told him about this; it was clear his partner did believe this wholeheartedly.

So what was he going to do about it? Levon had already tried to give him room to disbelieve, hadn't asked him to pretend to believe or even pretend to like it. But it was clear that Levon wasn't going to apologize for believing. He probably wasn't going to stop believing, either.

Joe would not ask him to, even if he, personally, thought it was a load of mumbo jumbo crap. It certainly wasn't the first thing they'd disagreed about. He was probably going to be seeing a lot more mumbo jumbo crap in the next few days -- and Levon was going to be taking it all seriously. He'd probably thought there was something behind his nightmare, earlier, though he hadn't said so aloud.

Ridiculous though that was. His nightmare had been just that: a nightmare. It hadn't been the first time he'd have nightmares about what had happened to Szabo, after all.

The fact that he'd dreamt about Szabo being a zombie was just because of the conversation last night. If it hadn't been that, he might have dreamt something else, equally bad. So the dream didn't mean much of anything. Now if you could just convince Levon of that...

"You gonna stare at me all morning?"

Blinking, Joe focused on Levon's grinning face. "Would you have a problem if I did?"

"No. Just wondering if I should go ahead and turn off the alarm now, or if you're gonna need the timer."

He grinned back. "Am I?"

Another grin, much more inviting this time. "I don't know. Are you?"

"Better leave it on, just to be sure." Then he closed the small distance between them and kissed him.

It turned out to be a very good thing they'd left the alarm on. They were caught dozing when the radio clicked on and a loud, strident song about someone losing his horse jolted Joe awake.

"What the-"

Levon was rolling over him, and slapping off the radio. He paused, perched half on top of Joe, and grinned. "*Now* we better get a move on."

Joe grinned back, leaning up to kiss his partner good morning. "I tell you, Lundy, if I'm going to be sleeping here regularly, you're going to have to get rid of the country music alarm. I can't take that this early."

Levon just laughed.

"I mean it. I'll put that radio out of my misery if I have to." But he wasn't able to hold the scowl he was trying for, the smile kept slipping through.

"Fine. You can pick the radio station here." Levon looked entirely too agreeable.

Joe was instantly suspicious. "What's the catch?"

"I'll pick the station on your radio."

"What happens when we move in together?"

Levon blinked, looked faintly stunned, then he smiled. "We have one radio on either side of the bed."

Joe grinned. "I can live with that."

Levon laid there grinning foolishly at him for another moment, then with reluctance, he nudged Joe away. "If we don't get a move on, we're gonna end up late for work."

"Yeah." He sighed, getting up. He stretched then turned to see Levon staring at him. "What?" He grinned. "See something you like?"

"Everything," came the reply.

"Then you've got good taste."

Levon rolled his eyes and didn't bother to reply. He did get out of bed and move past Joe towards the bathroom -- providing him with a nice, full-length view.

"And so do I," Joe added, letting his own eyes rove.

When his eyes reached Levon's face, he found his partner glaring. "Work, remember?"

"Yeah." He continued grinning. And watching.

Levon just rolled his eyes and went into the bathroom -- then shut the door.

Feeling better than he had in a long time Joe borrowed Levon's robe and headed for the kitchen to start breakfast.


They stopped by the station to pick up the records pulled from the contract Levon had found yesterday. It didn't seem like much to go on, two names and one address, but hopefully it would get them closer to Horace Dulbonque.

Levon had held his tongue with some difficulty all morning, knowing that talking about things Joe wasn't ready to accept was no way to get him to accept them. Though it was clear Joe was also trying to hold his tongue, and not say anything that might offend his partner. Extremely out of character for the man, of course.

Levon couldn't decide if he was grateful. He *knew* they were going to run into more dangerous things than a bad dream. He knew his partner would brush him off, though, if he tried to warn him. Reluctantly, he decided to keep his peace, and simply stay with LaFiamma until Dulbonque was taken care of.

Not that that was any particular hardship, or something he thought his partner would object to. Especially now that he had the excuse to stay nights with him.... He glanced over, glad that Joe was the one driving.

Sensing eyes on him, Joe looked sideways and grinned at him. "Thought we were supposed to be working."

"Ain't at the station, yet."

"So it's only at the station then?"

"In front of folks we're trying to question," Levon added. He asked himself how he could have ever thought this was something to be afraid of.

Joe nodded. "Outside of that?"

Levon considered the question carefully, and seriously. Finally, he could think of only one other place. "Not in the middle of intersections."

"Right."

With a grin he hoped he could control once they reached the station, Levon decided to stop staring and starting thinking about how to deal with Dulbonque. The trouble was, there wasn't much to think about until they had more information.

He was still trying to figure out how to deal with a more or less unknown when Joe pulled into the police garage. For the moment, at least, he could set aside worrying about future possibilities, and focus on what they *could* do. Namely tracking down the other names he'd seen on the contract, as well as looking into the address listed.

Good solid police work. That's what they were paying him and Joe for after all. Anything else, he'd have to do at no charge. He smirked at himself, as he followed Joe upstairs.

He lost the smirk, however, when he got to his desk.

There, sitting right in the midst of the files he'd left stacked neatly to the side, was a wanga. A bad one, he could tell, leaving no doubt as to whom had sent it.

Joe had moved around to his own desk. He sat down, glancing up when he realized Levon was still standing, staring at the desk. "What?"

There was no good, quick way to get rid of it. Not without drawing a lot of questions. On the other hand, picking the damn thing up was heartily stupid.

"Lundy?"

"Oh... uh, hang on." He'd deal with his partner's incredulous questions, later. First he had to neutralise the wanga, then dispose of it. Ideally he'd call Lula and have her come prepared. But he couldn't exactly avoid his desk until then.

Joe stood up and came around to stand beside him. "What's wrong?"

He glanced up at Joe, and discarded the notion of asking him for help. With a sigh, he realised there was no way around it but to discard the object and dispense its effects, later. Lunch would not be too late to avoid most of the ill will it engendered.

He borrowed a handkerchief off of Rory, who was just walking by. He glared off the protest, and went to pick up the wanga.

Only to find it gone. Looking around, he saw it in his partner's hand.

"Dammit, LaFaimma!" He couldn't hide the strength of his anger as he used a cloth-wrapped hand to sieze the wanga. He shook the kerchief over it, covering it completely.

"What the hell? Lundy what's your problem?"

"What's your problem, LaFiamma? Not one day ago I *told* you--" He cut himself off as he saw the odd looks he was getting from some of the other detectives. A couple of them he knew would understand. Most, wouldn't.

Joe noticed the looks as well, grabbed Levon's arm and dragged him out into the hall, away from the immediate stares. He kept a firm grip on the wanga he'd been sent, not wanting to lose it *now*. It'd be a lot harder to break its power if it were lost. And if Dulbonque had been clever enough to aim it towards himself *or* his partner instead of just him, then Joe was in as much danger, or more, than he was.

"Are you going to tell me what's going on now?" LaFiamma demanded.

He whirled on his partner, furious. "I realise you don't believe in this 'mumbo-jumbo', but I'd have thought to credit you with *some* sense." Levon wanted to fling something at Joe, wanted to grab him by the shirt and shake him until he understood and promised to stop doing things without thinking.

Joe bristled. "I'm not the one acting like a crazy idiot. Lundy, for Christsake it's just some feathers!"

Lowering his voice, Levon replied, "It is *not* just some feathers. Even if you don't wanna admit it, it's dangerous! And now I gotta get it offa you, instead of just disposing of it properly!" He headed for the elevators, intending to go straight to Lula's, for just that.

Only to realize Joe wasn't following. He muttered under his breath about the things he was going to do to LaFiamma -- and none of them pleasant -- as he started back after him. He stopped as his partner came out of the bullpen, once more. "You can play around with your feathers but we won't find out anything without policework," Joe said, glaring and holding up the folder. "Which we need this to do."

He resented the accusation, but held his tongue until he could get his partner someplace more private. He was glad to see, however, that LaFiamma had only been placating him earlier, playing along and pretending to accept his claims that the vodoun was a real force to be dealt with. As he stabbed at the elevator call button again, he wondered what had gotten into him to sleep with the man last night.

Joe was muttering under his breath, shooting angry looks at Levon every few minutes.

Probably an aberration on both their parts, he decided as they headed for the Cobra. No doubt LaFiamma would find some reason to throw it in his face that he'd ever asked, that he'd ever admitted how he felt. They got in the car, and when Joe started the engine he also turned the radio on, set to some rock station.

Then he turned the volume up.

Levon gave him a glare, but opted not to argue with him about the petty thing. He had more important things to do, like -- "Do you even know where the hell you're going?"

"The first address in the file," came the clipped answer.

Of course. Levon suppressed his first response. "We're *going* to Lula's."

"More of this voodoo crap?"

"It ain't 'crap', LaFiamma," he said in a low tone.

"Right. I forgot. This is real crap." Joe rolled his eyes. "God, Lundy, sometimes you're just so... so..."

Eyes narrowing, Levon dared him, "Say it. Say it, LaFiamma." As soon as Joe stopped the car, he was going to get hit.

But Joe remained silent, jaw clenched, hands in white knuckled grip on the steering wheel.

He gave Joe Lula's address, and waited to see if his partner would head there. With a muttered curse and another glare at Levon, Joe did just that.

He relaxed, slightly, relieved that for whatever reason LaFiamma was willing to give him this much. Not that he wouldn't have gotten out and headed for her place on his own, if he'd had to. Though that would've required Joe to stop, he thought as his partner leadfooted the car. Or at least stay below warp speed.

"You trying to get us killed?" he snapped.

"If I do, your friend could just bring us back."

"You wanna be a zombi?"

"Don't be stupid."

"Take your own advice, then!"

Another muttered curse and, if anything, Joe sped up.

Levon'd have to strangle him, once they reached Lula's. If they reached Lula's, alive. He gripped the door, and whispered some lengthy, whole-hearted prayers.

They made it there in one piece, though there were a couple of close calls that were way too close for Levon's comfort. As soon as they pulled to a stop outside Lula's building, he jumped out of the car and stalked over to Joe.

Joe just stood there glaring at him. He grabbed Joe's jacket, and yanked him forward as if dragging him towards the front door.

"Stop it!"

Both men froze and looked over at the speaker; Lula was standing with her hands on her hips glaring at both of them. Neither moved as she came down and took the wrapped talisman from Levon's hands. Giving them each a stern look, she said, "Come with me."

Levon followed meekly and with surprise, realized so was Joe.

She took them inside, heading down the hallway towards the rear of the building. Levon knew where she was headed, the inner room of the hounfour. As he drew nearer it, he began to feel a tingling in his fingertips. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Joe wiping his hands on his slacks.

Lula lead them into the room, and directed them to be seated. Levon went willingly, knowing that at least she'd get rid of the wanga, and maybe in the process his stubborn partner would learn a thing or two. He watched as Joe opened his mouth then shut it again without saying a word when Lula glared at him. Then he sat down.

She called two assistants in, and they began to prepare. Levon watched closely, keeping an eye both on the girls helping Lula, and on Joe. If his partner mouthed off in here....

Surprisingly Joe remained silent. Levon could almost feel the disbelief rolling off the man but he didn't say anything. Luckily, his belief wouldn't really affect the outcome of this particular ritual. Lula would render the wanga powerless, and free Joe from whatever it had done to him. *Then*, if his partner apologised, he'd consider forgiving him for being a jerk.

Maybe.

Lula began directing the girls helping her into the next part of the ritual. One began singing, loudly, and dancing around the large room. Another took over stirring the pot in which Lula was preparing a potion.

Levon risked another glance at Joe. The man was sitting there, glowering. Sulking. Levon considered giving him a warning nudge. It wasn't like he could convince LaFiamma to have a good attitude without a lot of shouting, so he didn't. Wouldn't be likely to work, anyhow.

Least he was being quiet.

He turned his attention back to Lula. Things seemed to be progressing well, he could almost feel the loa gathering, listening to Lula's requests. Beside him, Joe was beginning to look uncomfortable as the power grew.

The air was slowly growing thicker with smoke from the fire, not enough to make them cough, but enough that Levon could smell several of the ingredients Lula had added. The chanting was growing louder, accented voices punctuated by the drumbeat.

Joe was getting any more agitated with every second. Levon wondered if Joe was going to change his mind and leave, before the mambo could administer the cure. He reached over and grabbed Joe's arm.

His partner turned and glared at him, but there was something in his eyes, something almost desperate. Levon scooted closer towards him, draping his arm over Joe's shoulders. "They'll be ready, soon," he said quietly.

"I -I don't..."

"You don't what?" Levon fought back the spike of anger at his partner's behaviour, concentrating for the moment on whatever was obviously distressing him. Probably the wanga, he realised, feeling like slapping himself on the forehead. It might already be working.

"Dizzy..."

He glanced over at Lula; she was still working. "Hang on, Joe. It won't be long."

Joe didn't answer, but moved closer to Levon, seemingly unconsciously. Turning back to the ritual, Levon silently urged them to hurry.

In fact it was only a few minutes later that Lula poured the potion into a cup and brought it over to them. "Drink," she said, and handed it to Joe.

Joe hesitated, but then his eyes drifted to Levon and he drank. After a couple swallows he lowered the cup, and held it back to Lula. She took it and held it out to Levon.

Levon shook his head. "I'm all right."

Her stern glare told him to take it, anyhow. He did. That was it, though Lula wouldn't let them leave just yet. When Joe looked over at him, questioningly, Levon just shook his head and remained seated. Lula moved away, and began cleaning up. Her assistants helped her, clearing everything away with as much ceremony as they had performed the ritual.

The anger and irritation Levon had felt earlier was gone and he suddenly realized what the wanga had done. And how much he'd been affected as well as Joe. He was relieved to have it gone, now, having a rational explanation for the sudden, heated anger he'd felt.

He was glad he hadn't *done* anything, while suffering the curse's effects. Joe also seemed to be regaining his equilibrium, looking less angry and more confused.

Levon didn't try to get up yet, in part waiting for Lula to return and verify it had worked, and in part to give Joe a chance to fully regain his composure. That, and if they were going to have a scene -- apologies and questions -- he'd rather have it here, in private.

After one or two false starts, Joe managed, "Sorry."

Levon grinned at him. "Ain't no apology necessary, Joe."

"Wha-What just happened?"

"You picked up the wanga on my desk. Lula just broke it's power." He didn't think that explanation would be enough, but he wanted to see how much the man was willing to accept, now.

"A what?" Joe frowned. "You mean the feathers?"

He nodded. And waited.

"And that's why we were at each other's throats?"

He nodded again. "I tried to keep from touching it, but apparently the cotton cloth wasn't strong enough to protect me."

Joe was silent, seemingly absorbing that. "I didn't mean what I said."

"I know. I didn't mean most of the things I said, either."

"Most?"

With a rueful laugh, he said, "I meant it about you not picking it up in the first place."

Joe smiled ruefully. "I still don't know if I believe this, but..."

Levon was sorely tempted to give his partner a push, convince him to accept what had happened to them. But there was no doubt Dulbonque would try again and, in case Joe *didn't accept it, he needed to be kept safe.

Reasonably safe.

"Would it help if I told you there was something coating the 'feathers'?"

"There was?" Joe's eyes narrowed. "Some kind of drug?"

"That's how the 'curse' is laid. A topical poison of some kind, making us crazy. Lula gave us the antidote."

"That I can believe in."

"So you won't go picking up anymore strange wangas?" Levon didn't mind that LaFiamma was disregarding everything else about what had happened in exchange for a concrete, scientific explanation. As long as he was careful, from now on.

"I won't pick up anymore strange whatchamacallits."

Levon nodded, satisfied. "Does that mean you're gonna listen to me from now on?"

Joe grinned at him. "Lundy, I'm not drugged anymore."

"We can fix that." He raised his voice and rattled off a request to Lula, in creole.

She laughed, and replied in the same tongue that she would be right back.

"What was that about?" Joe asked suspiciously.

"Nothing," he told his partner, in a casual tone.

"That I *don't* believe."

Lula came back over, holding a small item. Levon grinned as he recognised it, and accepted it from her. He showed it to Joe.

"What's that?"

He held it out, but Joe refused to take it. "It'll make you do whatever I want you to," he said, tucking it into his own pocket.

"In your dreams, Lundy."

"Don't worry, you won't even notice. It'll take a few days to have it's full effect, of course." He looked over at Lula, who was watching them, and gave her a nod. "We best be going. We've a lot of work yet to do."

"Yeah. Before people send us any more feathers."

He gave his partner the once-over, to double-check he was recovered. The triple-check was just for the scenery.

Joe grinned at him. "Hey."

"Yeah?"

He leaned over and captured Levon's mouth in a kiss. Lula's laughter echoed in the room, and she said breezily -- in Creole -- that Levon had better put the charm away if he wanted to get any work done. He felt himself blush.

Joe chuckled and then gestured for Levon to precede him out of the shop.

Stepping outside was, as always, a strange experience. The transition from hounfour to Houston was never jarring when he went inside. Walking out was always like stumbling out of an unnoticed circle of power, into loud, dirty, city streets where the spirits stayed in hiding.

If Joe sensed the same thing, he wasn't admitting it, though he did give Levon a strange look when they hit the street.

"Where now? The first address in the folder?" Levon regained his bearings quickly, quashing the impulse to turn and run back inside and stay where he knew it was safe. Safer.

"Good a place to start as any, I guess."

As he headed for the car, Levon realised he felt a *lot* calmer than he had earlier. That he hadn't even realised he'd been acting abnormally, worried him. Though, to give himself credit, he and Joe sniping at each other wasn't exactly that unusual. Though the viciousness of it was. He'd simply have to be on the lookout for extreme, as well as unusual, behaviour.

"So where we going?" he asked, as Joe pulled away from the curb.

Joe tossed him the folder.

"Careful you don't toss it out the window next time," he said as he grabbed onto it.

"Guess you'll have to make sure you catch it, huh?"

Instead of replying, Levon muttered under his breath about the foolishness of falling in love with cheeky Italians. He didn't say it in English, though, not being *entirely* foolish.

Joe threw him a grin and pulled out into traffic.


They spent the rest of the day going from one address to the next, trying to talk to people who were more interested in slamming the door in their faces.

The only useful information they got was the confirmation that Dulbonque was a bad, and powerful, man -- feared more than the police, no matter how eloquently Levon tried to convince them they had more than the law at their beck and call.

By sunset both were willing to call it a day. "Your place or mine?" Joe asked with a grin, as they agreed to put the case on the shelf for the evening.

"Mine," Levon replied. He was tired, frustrated, and worried. He wanted a shower and a hot meal -- and, he added as he suddenly realised he *could* have it -- a evening's gentle loving.

Or even not so gentle.

Looking at Joe's grin, it was obvious his partner's thoughts were taking a similar path.

It didn't take them long to stop by Joe's place so he could grab some clothes for tomorrow. Then they headed to Levon's place. He was glad Joe hadn't simply invited him to stay there -- arret aside, he felt safer at home, where the protections had been in place longer and were more firmly entrenched.

"Hey."

"Yeah?"

"Stop thinking about it."

His eyebrows rose, as he looked at his partner. "About *what*?"

"The case. All this voodoo stuff. We agreed to put it aside for a while."

"*I* know that. Dulbonque doesn't." As they drew nearer his home he began wondering what sort of welcome they might find. Protected or not, Dulbonque might well have left *something*....

Joe gave him an exasparated look. "Fine. Let's talk about it, then."

"I thought you didn't believe," he said, trying to keep from speaking too sharply. "So what would there be to talk about?"

"I just thought you might want to talk instead of sitting there brooding. My mistake. I'll just shut up and drive."

"I'm not brooding!" Levon sighed. Maybe the wanga's power hadn't quite dissipated, yet. "Sorry, LaFiamma."

Joe was silent for a minute. "I'm not trying to make fun of your beliefs, Lundy."

"I know. I just don't know what I can say, that you will understand. If you don't believe, then maybe you can't relate to what I'm worried about." They were getting closer; Levon tried to tell himself he could handle whatever he found.

"Ever heard of empathizing? I'm trying here, partner."

"I know. I'm just on edge, OK? I wanna get home--" he paused, then gave his partner a grin, "Where I can pace."

"I can think of other things to do."

Levon's grin grew wider. "Thought you wanted to talk."

Joe grinned back. "Only if you're going to brood. Much rather *not* talk."

"Careful, or I'll start brooding more often." He was feeling a lot more relaxed -- until Joe pulled into the driveway.

His partner immediately caught his tension. "What?"

But he shook his head; there was no point in explaining the feeling until he knew what he'd find. If there was anything. They pulled into the driveway, and he looked around. Joe kept giving him worried looks.

It didn't take long to spot Dulbonque's offering. Levon jumped out of the car and walked over towards the near end of the porch. The wanga had been left well away from the door -- which made him wonder what had been done to the door. Levon stopped, and stared at it. It was the headless body of a rooster. He suddenly thought of what else might have been done, and spun and ran for the barn, hollering for Fooler. He was barely aware of the sounds of his partner following him.

He found Fooler in her stall, eyes wide with fear, ears back even as he came up to the stall door. There were no signs that anyone had been in there, but he spoke to her calmly, and eased himself over to her to check her out.

"She okay?" Joe asked, coming up behind him.

"Looks like. She's probably just spooked from whoever brought that out." He inclined his head back towards the house.

"Wasn't Colonel Sanders, I take it."

"Dulbonque." Or one of his lackeys, at least. The chances of the bokor delivering the message himself were slim, in case the cops had come home, early.

Making twice sure that Fooler was all right, and reassuring the mare that she was, in fact, all right, he headed back to the house. He had everything he needed to get rid of whatever had been left, as long as he were careful enough to spot it all.

Joe continued following along, guns in his hands just in case. Levon stopped at the first step, before stepping up to the porch. There were no immediate signs that anything had been left other than the rooster. It, by itself, would simply be a warning. After the wanga on his desk that morning, he suspected there would be more.

"I see he wasn't satisfied with just the feathers this time," Joe muttered.

"Be careful where you step -- and don't *touch* anything!" Levon started looking around for other signs. Doorways were the best bet.

"Yeah, yeah. I'll be careful. Sheesh."

Levon spared his partner a glare, then continued looking. Finally he found what he was after -- a fine layer of black dust, scattered down the front door.

He felt Joe come up behind him looking over his shoulder. "More drugs?"

"It's something," he replied, not knowing exactly what it was. For all a chemical analysis could prove, it might be charcoal dust. Not that the right kind of charcoal dust wouldn't be just as bad.... "Joe, there are some burlap bags in the barn. Go get a couple, and toss them over the rooster, there. Don't touch--"

"Anything. Yeah, I know. Trust me." Then Joe was heading off to the barn.

Levon shook his head, at himself as well as at Joe. Then he considered the problem of the door. He couldn't just wash it off -- though if he gave Joe a chance, his partner would no doubt simply recommend just that.

But he felt awkward doing what *needed* doing, in front of him. Maybe he could send LaFiamma on another errand, that would give him the time to do it in his absence. He tried to thing of something that would convince his partner *and* keep him gone long enough. Drive down the road to dispose of the rooster, maybe? As long as he thought there were nothing on the rooster's body, that might work.

He muttered a "Damn!" and turned to head around to the side of the house where he had a tin can in which to mix the potion. Joe came back carrying the sacks which he laid over the rooster as instructed. Then he drifted over to where Levon was working.

"Um, Joe...." The hell with it, he decided. Send him down the road to the creek, and have him toss it in, he told himself resolutely. "You mind getting rid of that while I clean the door?"

"Sure. Where do you want me to throw it?"

"There's a creek down yonder," he pointed as he grabbed up a piece of rope. He used it to lasso the corpse through the sacks, then tied everything carefully together. He left a piece of rope dangling, as a handle. He handed Joe his keys. "Throw it in the back of the Jimmy."

Joe hesitated, keys in hand. "You gonna be okay here, alone?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine." The question surprised him a little. "I just need to get the door cleaned. Dulbonque ain't likely to come around; the dirty work's already been done."

"Just be careful okay? I'll be as fast as I can."

"I will."

Joe nodded, then headed for the Jimmy.

Levon watched him go. As soon as he was out of sight, he headed for the barn to collect his supplies. He discovered he was short a couple of ingredients, but fortunately they were easily substitutable. With everything in hand, he moved to the center of the barn and began preparing.

It had been a while since he'd done anything like this, but he found the movements and the words coming as easily as if he did this all the time. He rushed himself as much as he dared, wanting to be done before Joe returned. Soon enough it was done, and he was carrying the full tincan towards the porch. Walking up the steps to the front door, he whispered once last chanting, then began tossing the liquid at the door, washing it clean.

Just as he was finishing, he heard the Jimmy coming back up the driveway. He dumped the last of it across the porch, then checked to make sure the dust was all washed away. It appeared to be. He set the can aside and hoped Dulbonque hadn't done something unusual, like mark more than one location.

He groaned at himself, as he thought it -- now, of course, he would have to check *everywhere*.

Joe got out of the truck and headed back to his side, handing him the keys back. "One dead rooster in a watery grave," he reported.

"Good. You wanna help me look around, make sure there ain't more strange dust waiting for us?"

"Sure. Anything in particular I'm looking for?"

Levon shook his head. "Dust of a colour you wouldn't expect to find. Like black dust on the door. Hell, anything that looks odd, that's in a spot a person's likely to come in contact with."

Nodding, Joe began his inspection. Levon spared a second to feel relief that at least Joe was taking this seriously. Even if he didn't believe why the things were dangerous.

They inspected the rest the outside of the house, and found nothing. Relieved, Levon headed back to the front door. He knew there wouldn't be anything inside. He opened the door and they went inside. Joe sank down onto the couch with a groan. "Long day," he muttered.

"Yeah." Levon headed towards the kitchen, then stopped. "Joe... thanks."

Joe had closed his eyes; at that he opened one and stared at Levon. "What for?"

He shrugged and said quickly, "For helping." It sounded dumb, but it felt worse to explain further. He continued towards the kitchen. "You want anything?"

"Yeah." Joe grinned. "You."

Levon stopped in his tracks. His partner's warm chuckle sent warm vibrations down his spine. He turned back towards Joe, kitchen forgotten.

When he reached the couch, Joe reached up and grabbed his hand, pulling him down beside him. He settled in, wondering faintly at how easy it was to get physically comfortable with his partner. Feelings aside, they'd never been much for touching -- until they'd become lovers. Even now they didn't touch a lot, but when they did, it was just... easy. Comfortable.

Joe's hand casually ended up in Levon's lap and suddenly he was thinking of a few more adjectives for the way they touched. He tilted his head just a bit, inviting Joe to move closer with more than just his hand. His partner eagerly took the invitation, leaning in and kissing Levon gently.

Levon brought his arm around behind Joe, embracing him. When the kiss broke off, he grinned. "Wasn't what I was thinking of, for supper."

"If you'd rather wait..." Joe made to pull back.

But Levon didn't let him go. "Ain't hungry."

"I am." Joe grinned. "But not for food."

Levon didn't reply -- verbally. Instead, he pulled Joe's head close again, and resumed the kiss. It was a while later before communication went back to mere words.

"Should I ask if you're ready for supper? Or will I get another pass thrown at me?" Levon grinned.

"I'll throw one if you want," Joe offered casually. "But I could eat."

"Good." Levon levered himself off the couch -- pushing Joe out of the way as he did, though Levon didn't refrain from groping him again. "I have a feeling I'm gonna need to keep my strength up."

"Good call." Joe grinned.

Levon just gave him a look, over his shoulder. "You gonna lounge there, or you gonna help?"

"I get a choice?"

"You want barbecue?"

"I'll help, already!"

They talked shop while preparing dinner. Levon tried to steer the conversation away from Dulbonque-as-bokor, and focused on the car thefts and possible avenues of sale or disposal of the missing cars.

"However he's doing it, it's a slick operation," Joe said as he set the table.

"Yeah -- if we could find *one* of the cars that's gone missing, it would help."

"He's probably shipping them overseas. He wouldn't be the first one to do that."

"Yeah, but usually we can at least find 'em at the ports." Levon swallowed his comment that Dulbonque must be using his black arts to hide his activities. Surveying the dishes, he asked, "We missing anything?"

"Looks like we've got everything. Let's eat."

Conversation died for a bit as they began eating. Levon couldn't stop thinking about Dulbonque, though. He'd struck twice in one day. Obviously he wasn't going to stop until he and Joe had stopped going after him. The question was, how far was he willing to go?

"Okay, spill it Lundy."

He blinked, and looked up. He hadn't realised he'd been brooding so loudly.

"You're still worried about Dulbonque and this voodoo thing."

"Shouldn't I be? He's attacked me twice and there's no telling what he's left at your place."

"My place was clean when we stopped for clothes," Joe pointed out.

"Since then... if he realises this one missed." Then again, he thought, Dulbonque might not consider Joe a target.

"So I'll get you to de-curse it then," Joe said with a teasing smile.

"What if it involves you dancing around your apartment, naked?"

"You don't need to resort to voodoo to get me naked, partner."

Levon gave him a wink, though he didn't quite feel amused. If Dulbonque *wasn't* targeting Joe, was it only because he knew LaFiamma was a non-believer? And did *that* mean he would resort to other methods of dissuasion? He sighed. "Sorry, guess I can't help 'brooding'."

Joe watched him for a moment. "What can I do to help?"

"I don't know. Don't know what to do about Dulbonque." The more he thought about it, the more uneasy he felt. There was something about the man that went beyond what he was seeing.

"He's really got you worried."

He nodded. "He's liable to do any number of things, now that he's started. If he's serious about keeping us out of his way.... It won't be bullets we'll be dodging. Vodoun can be a lot harder to fight. It's a lot harder to see, sometimes. If you don't know what you're looking at... anything could be dangerous."

"So this means you don't want me to touch anything until you clear it?"

"I wish it were that simple." Levon rubbed his temples, beginning to feel a headache coming on at all the ramifications, consequences, and information he wished Joe already knew.

Joe reached over and touched his forehead with gentle fingers.

Levon looked up, smiling gratefully. "It ain't just by touch. Sometimes it's in what you eat, or breathe, or--" Or what you dream.

"Or?"

But he just shrugged again. He felt tired, suddenly and thoroughly tired.

"Hey."

"Hmm?"

"We'll get him."

"Yeah." He wasn't sure he believed it. He knew that attitude wouldn't help, but right now he couldn't change it.

"We will." Joe grinned nastily. "I owe him for this morning."

Levon gave his partner a half-smile, feeling somewhat amused, and somewhat grateful.

"I'm Italian. We don't forget about people who owe us."

"Remind me never to piss you off -- more than I already have."

Joe grinned. "I don't think you could piss me off more than you already have, if you tried."

Levon looked at him, trying to hold a shocked, hurt expression on his face -- with only a little difficulty.

"You can't tell me I haven't pissed you off just as bad," Joe countered.

"But I was trying to be on my best behaviour."

"That's the scary part, partner."

With that, Levon lost control, and laughed. Joe grinned, watching Levon with a warm affectionate gaze. When he calmed down, he nodded. "Thanks. Feel better, now."

"Good." He leaned in and kissed Levon gently.

They were well on their way to a second kiss when the phone rang. Levon sighed, and went to answer it. "Lundy."

"Levon, it's Lula. I have some bad news."

"What it is?" He told himself not to overreact until he heard her news.

"I did some asking around. There's some major bad mojo involved with this."

He was almost afraid to ask. "Like what?"

One word sent chills down his spine. "Zombi."

"Where?" he managed to ask.

"Down on the docks."

"Dulbonque's warehouse?" It was one of the properties they'd found, registered to Horace Dulbonque, but used -- apparently -- for receiving. Not shipping.

"Near there, yes."

"Do you know who it is? Who it belongs to?"

"I didn't see it myself, but I can guess. Who else can it belong to?"

He didn't say it; he didn't have to. "Did anyone manage to free it?"

"No. It disappeared again before anyone with the skill could be called."

"All right. Thanks, Lula. Is there anything else?"

"Just be careful, chile. This is even more serious than we first thought."

"We will. Thanks for the information, Lula."

He hung up and turned to find Joe looking at him questioningly. "What's up?"

He paused only a moment before relaying the news. "Lula says there's a zombi been spotted near Dulbonque's warehouse on the docks."

Joe blinked. "A what?"

"A zombi." He waited for the inevitable disbelief.

"So what are we going to do about it?"

He blinked, astonished. Then slowly replied, "We have to go down there first to see if we can find it. But it gives us a lead to Dulbonque -- it might explain how he's getting the cars out of here when all his legitimate workers have air-tight alibis."

Joe nodded. "You want to check it out tonight?"

"Yeah. If he's using zombis, chances are he ain't doing it in the middle of the day." As they headed out of the dining room, Levon caught his partner's arm. Joe stopped and looked at him questioningly. "I'm probably gonna keep saying this; but, thanks."

His partner grinned at him. "You're welcome." Then he sobered a little. "I'm not going to make fun of your beliefs, Lundy."

"I know... I guess I just expect more questions. Less blind acceptance. We--" He shook his head. "We better get going."

Joe nooded and fell into step by his side. "About the questions... I figure you'll tell me stuff when you're ready."

He laughed, once. "You let me do that, I won't ever think to tell you." He led them down the hallway, gathering his hat and jacket and holster.

"It worked with your feelings for me."

"That was panic." He didn't dare turn around, to see his lover's face -- or the memory of that confession would keep them here, instead of going out to find Dulbonque.

"You should panic more often, then."

Levon gave him a mild glare, then headed for the front door.

And stopped. He turned around. "What do you mean, it worked with my feelings for you?"

Joe grinned again. "What do you think I mean?"

For a moment he was too stunned to speak. Then, "You knew?"

"I'm a detective, Lundy."

"And you didn't say anything." He made no move to leave, instead feeling himself growing angry. He waved it off, until he heard Joe's explanation.

"I wasn't going to push you. I had a pretty good idea of how you felt, but wasn't sure about how you felt about how you felt."

He nodded, but took a minute to think about that. "You weren't--" He ducked his head, then turned back towards the door. "Didn't make you wait too long?" he asked instead of what he wanted to ask, heading outside.

Joe was silent for a long minute. "I would've waited forever."

Levon reached back with his hand.

His partner caught it and squeezed tight.


Lundy pulled the truck to a stop down the street from Dulbonque's warehouse. They didn't really know where the zombi had been seen, exactly, so they were going to have to search the area.

Carefully, of course. Levon prevented himself from reminding Joe *again* not to touch anything. His partner gave him a look as they got out of the Jimmy that said he heard the thought anyway.

Levon half-grinned at him, and they headed across the street. The sun had been down long enough for the shadows to get solid; it would be easy to avoid notice. They moved from shadow to shadow, in perfect concert. This, at least, was familiar, they way they worked together. Zombie, vodoun, new relationship not withstanding.

They could see movement ahead, as they drew closer to the main warehouse building. Levon waved Joe to one side, indicating the door and order through which they would enter. Levon had his gun out, but he wasn't convinced it would help. It was something he'd never had the chance to find out -- would a bullet stop a zombi?

Joe nodded at him and Levon mentally counted to three, knowing his partner was doing the same. When he reached three, he went through the door, Joe a comforting presence at his back.

There was no sign anyone had noticed their entrance. Moving ahead into the room, Levon glanced around, keeping an eye out for wangas. A slight sound ahead of them and off to the right made both men stiffen. A figure moved into view, carrying a crate of some sort. It shuffled into, then back out of view. Levon recognised it as a zombi; he glanced over to Joe, to see his reaction.

Joe had paled slightly but his expression remained resolute. He nodded at Levon and moved forward.

They came up to the edge of a large, open room. They could see several people moving around, carrying things or simply moving according to unheard orders. Among the figures -- zombis all -- were cars. Expensive cars. Stolen cars.

Jackpot.

Levon gave his partner a nod. All they needed now was a search warrant. They didn't need to mention the zombis to Joanne -- although it explained why all Dulbonque's regular employees had alibis when they'd tried to find who was moving the cars out. Levon turned, to back out of the room as quielty as they'd come -- and stopped.

No.

It couldn't be....

He stared at the ghost from his past, frozen in place. He heard his partner whisper, "What is it?" but didn't respond. A hand closed on his shoulder and he jumped, finally pulling his eyes away to look up into his partner's worried face. "Levon?" Joe whispered.

Levon stared at his partner for a second, then turned back and headed after the zombi he'd seen. He must have imagined it -- he had to have imagined it. But the zombi in question seemed to have vanished.

He started after it -- or where he thought it must have gone. The other zombis ignored them; Levon wanted to grab one and demand answers, but knew he would get none. "I thought I saw--" He stopped. He had probably just seen someone who looked like him. It had been 25 years, after all. He shook his head. "Let's go."

Joe gave him another hard look, but nodded and followed Levon out of the building.

They made it all the way back to the truck and into the cab before Levon lost his momentum. He looked over at his partner. "Joe, would you think I was crazy if I said I think I just saw my father?"


They drove back to Levon's place in silence. A few times Joe tried to broach a question, but Levon was staring too straight ahead to respond. When he pulled to a stop in front of his house, he sat there for a moment and stared at the face in his memory.

Joe leaned across the cab of the truck and touched Levon's cheek with the back of his hand, concernedly. He glanced over. He felt stunned. Utterly off-balance. "Joe...?" He wasn't sure what he was asking for, but he knew he needed help.

"Come on," his partner said, giving Levon's hand a quick squeeze before letting go. "Let's go inside."

He moved, then, at his partner's direction. They headed inside, Levon following silently behind as Joe moved ahead, first checking the porch, then going to unlock the door. Once they were inside, Joe turned and pulled him into his arms.

Levon held him closely, reassuring himself that the while the world had changed radically, they hadn't.

"No," Joe said cryptically.

"No?"

"No, I wouldn't think you're crazy."

The statement seemed to break down the repeating litany he'd been telling himself. It couldn't have been, he had only imagined. Shaking, he held on tighter. "My god, Joe... my *dad*!"

A zombi. All these years....

"You saw your father." It was more statement than question.

"Joe, he died when I was eight. He *died* and we buried him and then we just left...." It was true, though not the entire truth. They had been running for their own lives; staying to make sure his father's corpse wasn't reclaimed had not been on either of their minds.

"Now it looks like he wasn't dead after all. Well, all the way dead."

"Dulbonque must have been the one to kill him, turn him into a zombie that very night."

"So he's not really dead." Joe paused. "Is there some way to...to.. de-zombie him?"

The question seemed to startle him back into thinking again. "Um, yeah, if we can catch him, Lula can... Joe...." Suddenly, his knees gave out.

His *father* was still alive.

Joe held him up and got him to the couch, sitting them both down. It was several moments before he realised he was shaking. The only thing he could say, though, was "I'm almost glad my momma isn't alive to know this."

"We'll get him out, Levon, I promise."

He took a deep breath, and tried to think clearly. "I saw him, lying in his coffin. I remember seeing him... so clearly... and he wasn't really dead...."

"Don't," Joe said softly, one hand rising to stroke through Levon's blond hair. "You were just a kid. You couldn't have done anything."

"I know. I know I couldn't have, then. But somebody should have checked. They must have known, unless they thought grandma would have checked, or protected him."

Joe shook his head. "I can't imagine what you're feeling right now, Lundy. This is..."

Levon looked at him, and tried to put his feelings into words. "I can't decide if I'm delighted, or appalled."

"Sounds like both."

"I guess. I think...." Again his train of thought stopped, and he had to wait until he could start it, again. "I need to call Lula, and ask her to arrange to get him out." All he wanted to do right at the moment, though, was stay in Joe's arms.

"Yeah. We need a plan." Joe made no movement to let him go, however.

"Yeah." Levon couldn't think of what they needed to do. Lula would know.

Joe held him for a moment more than got up, heading for the phone. "What's her number?"

Gratefully, he gave Joe the number, then half-listened as he talked to Lula. The conversation was brief and then Joe was back, pulling him back into his arms.


They sat on Levon's couch for half an hour. Levon never said a word, staying in Joe's embrace with no apparent desire to move. Joe didn't push him. He couldn't even conceive how his partner was feeling. To think your father dead for most of your life and then....

Fortunately he didn't have to deal with this by himself. As soon as Lula had heard what Levon had seen, she'd told him she was coming over. Joe hoped that she would know of a way of rescuing Levon's father. His mind at least. Rescuing his body, Joe suspected, would be up to him and his partner.

Levon tensed when the doorbell rang, and slowly started to push himself up off the couch, to go answer it.

"Stay," Joe told him, pushing him back down. "I'll get it."

He acquiesed immediately, telling Joe just what state of mind he was in. Leaning over, Joe dropped a quick kiss on his lips before going to get the door. That drew a brief smile from his partner. Joe smiled back, then went to the door.

It was, as he had expected, Lula.

"Hello, Joe." She spoke quietly, as if not wanting to disturb Levon. She was carrying a large bag, clutching it tightly. When she caught sight of Levon, she headed over to him. Joe closed the door and followed.

She sat down on the couch beside Levon, who was looking at her like he was completely lost. She took his hand, and held it. "Tell me what you found," she said in a quiet, calming tone. Levon seemed to relax before he began to describe what he'd seen.

Through it all Joe stood and listened, any disbelief he had relegated to the back of his mind as counter productive. Lula asked for details which Joe had not even noticed -- nothing that seemed significant to a cop, but which appeared highly important to the mambo.

Finally, she nodded. "It sounds like him."

"Can you cure him?" Joe asked bluntly. "De-zombify him or whatever?"

She nodded solemnly. "We can break the bokor's power that holds him. Whether he is the same man...." She cast a glance at Levon.

Levon looked at Joe. "His mind might not recover. He might never remember who he is... might not even regain his sanity at all. But he'll be freed."

Joe reached out and laid a hand on Levon's shoulder. "If he doesn't recover, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. But for now, let's assume he will." He thought, but didn't add, that if he was half as strong as his son the man had a good chance at recovery.

Levon gave him a brief, but grateful, smile.

Lula spoke up, "Jacques was a strong man. If anyone can recover, he can. But it has been a long time that he has been a zombi."

"Well, it's not getting any shorter while we sit here. So what do we need to do?"

"He must be rescued, first. It will not be so simple as to go in and take him away. Dulbonque knows you two are after him. If he knows who this zombi is, he will be watching."

"He may know, but does he know we know...?" Joe trailed off before he could confuse himself.

"It will not matter," Lula replied. "If he knows who the zombi is, he will know his son will come after him. The power in their family is too great for them to leave one of their own a zombi, now that he has been discovered."

"Power...?" He glanced at Levon puzzled. "Something you forgot to tell me partner?"

Levon hesitated before saying, "My grandmother was a mambo, as strong as Lula, here."

"Stronger," Lula interrupted.

Levon half-shrugged at her, but continued, "She taught my momma, and my father's father was a hounsis -- apprentice, or assistant to a priest. My father... had he lived, might have become a houngan, himself."

Lula took up the story, when Levon stopped. "My mother told me the story after Levon and his mother came to Houston when his father was killed. Jacques had attracted the wrong kind of attention for his interest in becoming a houngan. With his power, combined with Marie's -- the local bokor was afraid that he would be forever defeated. So he acted before Jacques had the ability to defend himself."

"The local..." Joe murmured, a sudden thought striking him. "If Dulbonque has Lundy's father wouldn't that mean that he was...?"

"Either that, or he knew him. It doesn't matter now if Dulbonque is the one who turned him into a zombi." Levon sounded oddly calm, as he said the words again. Either he was getting used to the idea, or he was shoving his feelings aside for the time being.

If it was the latter, Joe would have to keep a close eye on him. Feelings that are shoved down have a way of coming back up at the worst possible moment.

"What we must do first, of course, is get him away from Dulbonque," Lula spoke up. "Anything else, we can deal with as it comes."

Joe nodded. "So do we do this simple or complicated?"

"Depends on how close an eye Dulbonque's keeping on him. We might be able to just walk up, and take him outta there." Levon sounded less excited about the prospect, as Joe would have expected. Probably just worried. "We'll have to go back and take a look around."

"Too late tonight. Tommorow?"

"Yeah, reckon so," Levon agreed. He suddenly looked tired; Lula gave Joe a meaningful look.

Like he needed it. "Come on partner," he said casually, reaching down and pulling Levon to his feet. "Let's get you to bed."

Levon nodded, but turned back to Lula. "Would you be willing--"

"Go to bed, Levon," she interrupted, a kind and worried expression on her face. "Don't worry about your father."

"Thanks," Joe told her softly.

"You're welcome. Take care of him," she gave Levon a nod, then picked up her bag. "I must do a few things here, tonight, then I will meet you in the morning." She was already turning to her business, and waved a hand as Joe opened his mouth. "Don't worry, I will let myself out. It won't take me long."

Deciding he really didn't want to know anything about what she'd be doing, Joe just nodded again and urged Levon in the direction of the bedroom. His partner went, easily enough. Apparently he knew what Lula was doing, or trusted her and didn't need to ask. He headed quietly to his bedroom, going to sit on the edge of the bed.

Joe followed, kneeling in front of him, making eye contact. "Lundy?"

"Yeah?"

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask him if he was all right but the answer was pretty obvious. Instead he leaned forward and kissed Levon gently. Levon responded instantly, pressing his mouth to Joe's, reaching out to draw him closer. Joe went willingly, gently pushing Levon back to lay flat.

Levon seemed to be holding onto him as if he were afraid Joe would vanish. Arms wrapped tightly, one leg thrown over Joe's, even maintaining a desperation-tinged contact with his lips on Joe's. Trying to soothe his partner as best he could, Joe ran his hands over Levon's body, continuing the kiss all the while, trying to gentle the desperation he felt from Levon.

Suddenly Levon let go, and let his arms fall onto the bed beside him. "This ain't working," he said quietly.

"I kinda sensed that." He stroked Levon's hair.

With a sigh, his partner closed his eyes, leaning slightly into Joe's moving hand. "Can you just stay here a while?"

"I'm not going anywhere."

He nodded, and drew Joe in a little closer, snuggling this time. Lula's voice drifted back, then, her soft words sounding in rhythm. Joe didn't understand them but there was something about them that was soothing, reassuring. They seemed to be soothing Levon, as well. Joe saw him focus in on her voice for a moment, then he relaxed completely.

"Love you," Joe whispered to his partner, feeling him start to drift off.

Levon smiled, never opening his eyes. "Love you, too."


He let Joe drive back to the warehouse. Neither said anything about it, but Levon knew he was having trouble focusing on anything other than finding Dulbonque. Finding his zombis.

Finding his father.

He'd woken that morning still wrapped in his partner's arms, and all morning Joe had been keeping an eye on him, inconspicuously making sure he was all right. It was the one bright spot in this whole mess: he and Joe finding each other. Maybe he'd thank Dulbonque. Yeah, inbetween cuffing him and throwing him into the bay.

"You okay?" Joe asked for the fourth time that morning.

He nodded, still frowning about what he anticipated finding. Then he glanced over at Joe, realising he wouldn't convince Joe if he didn't try to act like he was okay. "I just wanna get this over with."

Joe nodded. "We'll get him Lundy." There wasn't a shred of doubt in his voice.

When they pulled up outside the warehouse again, it appeared to be deserted. With zombis as workers, that might not mean anything -- it wasn't like they would carpool to work, or go otuside for a cigarette. Levon touched the butt of his revolver as he got out of the truck, reassuring himself that it was there.

His partner came up on his right side and touched his shoulder. "Play it cool, partner."

He nodded, and headed towards the building. They knew the layout, and had discussed where anyone might be located who could tell them where Jacques de Chavelier would be. They'd agreed on the offices at the east end of the building; they'd also agreed to go directly inside rather than trying to sneak in.

They had no way of knowing what traps Dulbonque might have laid on the entrances other than the one most likely to get visits from those with genuine business there.

The place was quiet and empty when the entered. Glancing around, Levon saw nothing that struck him as odd, or dangerous. They moved carefully and cautiously towards the main offices. They appeared empty as well, at first, but as they drew closer they heard a voice. It was a voice they both recognized from their surveillance and investigations.

After everything that had happened, everything he and Lula had done, Levon wasn't certain he was ready to face the man. He glanced to his left and saw his partner.

He could do this.

"Ready?" Joe mouthed at him.

With a nod, he turned back towards the office. A few more steps and they were nearly at the door. It swung open, and a man emerged.

Dulbonque.

"I was wondering when you'd get here," he said pleasently in way of greeting.

"Been expecting us, were you?" Levon responded calmly. "Why am I not surprised, after the calling cards you left."

"You were messing in my business. Only seemed fair to warn you."

With a shrug, Levon replied, "You were breaking the law. Only seemed fair to stop you." He gave Dulbonque a hard look. "More than one law, as it turns out."

Dulbonque looked unconcerned. "There are laws and there are laws." His eyes narrowed as he looked at Levon. "You know something about that, don't you?"

He ignored the accusation, knowing that any reaction he gave would only give Dulbonque something more to attack with. "You're under arrest, Dulbonque. Grand theft auto, and kidnapping."

That seemed to amuse him. "Really."

"Or you gonna tell me all your zombis came to work for you willingly?"

"Whether they did or not is immaterial. It's whether you can prove it in a court."

"I can prove you have one against his will."

"Oh?"

"You've got my father." The words chilled him even as he said them.

If he was expecting a big reaction he was disappointed. Dulbonque just smirked. "Don't recall having a Lundy working for me."

"Jacques de Chavelier ring a bell?" Levon held himself back from grabbing Dulbonque by the throat and shaking the smirk from his face.

That got a reaction. "Well," Dulbonque said with a smile. "Well, well, well. Always wondered what happened to de Chavelier's whelp."

Which meant Dulbonque knew. Knew a lot, enough that he couldn't claim to have simply acquired a nameless zombi from someone else. He clenched his fist, reminding himself that he couldn't get away with simply taking the man down, right here. Not if he wanted to find his father.

Joe spoke for the first time. "Where is he?"

Dulbonque shook his head slowly. "How would I know? Do I keep track of all the dead people in Louisiana?"

Levon took a half-step forward. "Where *is* he?"

"Suppose I do know. Why should I tell you?"

Levon took another step forward, glaring into Dulbonque's eyes. Suddenly, he wasn't afraid of the man or what he might do. He hadn't been aware of the fear as more than worry, looking out for curses laid, until now when it vanished. He recalled Lula's voice, remembered what she had been saying. They would be protected, today. If they captured Dulbonque, they would be protected forever.

"Oh, I think telling us would be in your best interest," Joe replied. "If you enjoy the shape your face is in at the moment at least."

Dulbonque didn't look worried. The man behind him crossed his arms, giving the two cops a glower.

Levon ignored him. "Where is he?"

"You ask me for information and then threaten to arrest me? That is not the way it works gentlemen." He gave Levon a hard look. "You know that."

"Fine; you want to make a deal?" Levon had no intention of honoring any deal which let Dulbonque free. But hearing him out wouldn't hurt, and might get him to reveal where his father was.

Dulbonque's eyes took on an acquisitive gleam. "A trade."

He had a feeling he knew what was coming. If he were right, there was no way he could say yes.

But how in hell could he say no?

"You're not in any position to be making demands," Joe growled.

Dulbonque spread his hands. "Then we have nothing to discuss. Arrest me, then, gentlemen, and see how far it gets you." He narrowed his eyes, and Levon could see how this man could keep the locals too afraid to tell the cops anything.

"If that's the way you want to play it." Joe started forward with handcuffs.

"You don't want your father back, then?" he asked casually. The fact that he'd asked at all, told Levon that Dulbonque was getting nervous.

"We'll find him without turning you loose," Levon told him.

"Will you?"

"Even if we don't, the price you're asking is too high. I'm not going to compromise myself, my partner, and the lives of who knows how many people, by letting you go."

Dulbonque shrugged. "As you will. I will be out soon enough. And then we will deal. If you ever want to see your father again."

"With you out of the way, I reckon I can find him, myself." With that, the discussion was over. Levon reached out to take Dulbonque's arm, to cuff him and take him away.

He sensed Joe at his shoulder, a steady comforting presence ready to back him up. Dulbonque drew his arm back, raising in it a warding gesture. He started to speak, got as far as naming the spirit whose attention he wished. Levon grabbed his hand anyway, interrupting him.

In creole, he said, "They're not listening to you anymore, Horace."

The bokar frowned and continued with his incantation. Levon brought the arm he was holding around, and grabbed for the other. Joe stepped forward with the handcuffs.

Levon relished the look of shock on Dulbonque's face at the metal restraints snapped shut on his wrists. The bokor tried to take up his chant again, but Levon interrupted, feeling more confidence as he realised that Dulbonque's power *had* been squelched, at least for the moment. "Cut it out. You're gonna give the loa a headache and you *know* how cranky they can be when they're upset." He gave Dulbonque a smile.

Dulbonque shut up. Joe started to read him his rights as they led him out of the place.

The other man they let go, whatever charges they could level against him would likely not be worth the paperwork. When they got to the truck, Joe called in their arrest, and requested backup to come secure the scene. Levon looked back over his shoulder. "You think you can keep an eye on him for a bit?"

"No problem." Joe eyed him. "You going to search?"

"Yeah."

Joe nodded. "Be careful."

Levon returned to the warehouse. A thorough search turned up only stolen vehicles being prepared for transport. There was no sign of any of the workers he and Joe had seen last night.

No sign of his father. If, he found himself doubting, it had been him at all. Twenty five years was a long time. But he had been so sure the night before...

Regardless, there was nothing here to tell him where the man was now. Levon took another look around, trying to call up his memory of the man he'd last seen when he'd been barely eight years old, and compare it to the brief sight he'd caught of a gaunt face with unseeing eyes.

He still *thought* it was him, but there was nothing, now, to confirm that. And apparently nothing to lead to finding him, either. Levon headed back outside, working hard to hide his frustration and fears before Dulbonque saw them.

Joe was leaning against the truck, having shoved Dulbonque in the small backseat. When he saw Levon he came forward, eyes concerned. "Nothing?" he asked softly.

Levon shook his head. He heard Dulbonque say something; fortunately the closed windows muffled the sound enough that he didn't have to hear the words.

"We can try and sweat it out of him," Joe offered.

"He won't tell us. We'll have to find him ourselves... maybe Lula or Durango would know where to look." Durango was another houngan, a friend he'd known since he'd come back to Houston. Nowhere near as strong a practitioner as Lula, he did at least keep in touch with what was going on in the community.

Joe nodded. "We'll find him, Lundy. Whatever it takes."

"Thanks."

Over and over he found himself being surprised by his partner's unquestioning support. It wasn't something he should have been surprised to have, he realised. Even when they'd felt nothing but dislike for each other in those first few weeks, they supported one another. No matter how much they were fighting, or what he might privately think, when the chips were down, Joe was always there.

With a glare towards Dulbonque to help stifle him during the drive, Levon headed for the passenger side-door. "Let's get this bokor to a cell." The sooner he was out of their sight, the better, Levon figured, powerless or not. He could still be annoying.

"Right. And then we have to face the real curse." Joe headed for the driver's seat. "Paperwork."

With a laugh, Levon suggested, "Maybe we can drop Dulbonque off and sneak back out before anyone sees we're there?" Despite everything, suddenly he felt better. Not less worried for his father, but better anyhow.

He gave Joe a smile. It wasn't hard to figure out why.


Two days later, Levon headed into his house, barely preventing himself from slamming the door as he went. Joe was following behind him, somewhere, but for the moment he didn't care. He didn't want his partner to receive the brunt of his anger -- a sure sign he was totally head over heels, he thought idly.

They had spent most of the past two days trying to find even a hint of a trail of his father. They had come up with nothing. They'd split their time between searching and canvassing the neighborhoods asking anyone if they knew where Dulbonque's zombis had gone. But the whole lot of them had vanished, as soon as Dulbonque had been put in jail.

Levon started pacing the living room, wondering what to break, first. He heard the door open and shut again, signaling his partner's arrival. Turning slightly, he sent a swift kick into the base of the couch. He was too close to yelling things he didn't want to say.

"You ever considered getting a punching bag?"

"Never needed one before now." He paced back the other way, trying not to throw another kick, or swing at something he'd regret destroying.

"Oh, I can recall a time or two..."

He held back the first two or three things that leapt to his tongue, reminding himself he wasn't mad at Joe. He didn't want to argue with *him*. Hell, he didn't want to argue with anybody.

He wanted his father.

Joe left his position by the door, crossing over to him, then pulled him into his arms. "We'll find him, Lundy. I don't know how, but we will."

"He could be *anywhere*, Joe! And it isn't like we can issue a missing persons, since he died twenty five years ago!" He tried struggling out of Joe's grasp.

His partner wouldn't let him go. "So it's not going to be easy! Hell, when was the last time anything was easy for either of us?"

He stopped trying to pull away, and found himself collapsing against his partner. He felt exhausted.

One hand came up and stroked his golden hair. "We're not giving up, Levon. We'll keep looking until we find him."

"I know." Levon nodded, resting his head on Joe's shoulder. He could feel Joe taking some of his weight, holding them both upright. "I just...." But how could he explain the shock of it? Finding his father, losing him again? Fortunately, he didn't have to explain it, at all.

"I know," Joe whispered, holding him tighter.

"I think I'm glad momma isn't around. Knowing what had been done to him... she'd blame herself for us leaving, think we might have found him had we stayed...."

"It wasn't her fault." A pause. "And it wasn't yours either."

"I know. I barely even knew what was going on, when he died. One day he was gone, and momma was hurrying us out the back of the house in the middle of the night. Drove all the way to Houston with only one bag of our stuff between us."

"You must've been scared, having your entire life uprooted like that."

Nodding, Levon moved away from his partner, needing to be moving as he explained. "I had no idea what was going on. I didn't really understand that my father was dead, not until later. I think," he thought back, remembering that night and the days just after their flight. "I didn't feel safe until we got to Mana Suzan's. That was Lula's mother. She took us in and hid us. Helped us find a place to live."

He remembered walking into a small house that had felt warm and welcoming, soon after their arrival in Houston. At the time he hadn't know where they were, hadn't even known they were in Texas. They'd simply stopped at a house, and a large, friendly black woman had let them in, and put him to bed with kind words and a softly sung lullabye.

"Is that when your name was changed?" Joe stood where he was, eyes following Levon as he paced.

"Yeah. I--" He stopped, suddenly, realising something for the first time. Half-grinning, he said, "I don't even know if it was legally changed. Momma got us papers and everything, but I don't know from where." It had been very disconcerting to learn to answer to his new name, in his new school in Lombard. "Momma had to keep reminding me to use 'Levon'. Used every trick she could think of, I reckon, to make me remember not to tell anyone. I finally... I finally started pretending 'Levon' was a just imaginary, that I was only gonna be him for awhile."

Only until they got to go home. Which, of course, had never happened.

Joe shook his head. "I don't know if I could've done that. To pretend to be someone else..."

"After awhile, I kinda forgot who I was. Took moving back here, meeting up with Lula, to straight me out." He gave Joe another half-grin, remembering how his friend had given him hell for losing himself so thoroughly. "I guess I ain't surprised, looking back, that Caroline fell out of love, once I started being myself, again."

Joe was looking at him, somewhat strangely. "I probably should wonder if I really know you at all...but I don't."

That made him stop. He looked up at Joe, saw the measuring, confused stare he was receiving back. Upset at the thought that Joe -- the man he knew and trusted and love more than any other -- thought he didn't know who he was, he hastened to try to explain. "I stopped pretending to be something else a long time ago. At least... except for a few details about my life. I'm still the person you knew last month. I just--" He wasn't sure he wasn't just muddling things more.

"You're just sharing it all with me." Joe smiled, moving back over to Levon and wrapping his arms around him again. "So should I call you Remy? When we're alone?"

He shivered at the sound of his name coming from Joe. "I don't... I don't know," he said honestly.

"Does it bother you?"

"No, it doesn't. It just... I haven't heard anyone call me Remy since I was a kid. It sounds... strange." Then he smiled. "I like it."

Joe nodded decisively. "Remy it is then."

Tilting his head slightly, he reached up and placed his hand on the back of Joe's head. Drawing him closer, he gave his partner a kiss. "Yeah. I like it a lot."

Joe leaned in and kissed him again. "I love you, Remy," he whispered.

"Love you, too."