~ Written by Wolfling

Joe got out of the car at his aunt's house, wanting nothing more than to get inside and phone his partner.

He had already stayed out much later than he'd originally planned, but he couldn't very well explain to his old buddies why he hadn't wanted to accompany them to the local bar for some beers and some pool.

So he had grinned and went along, doing his best to act like he was enjoying himself. Well he *had* enjoyed himself to a certain extent, he admitted, but there had been something missing from the evening, something that had been missing ever since he'd landed at O'Hare.

Every time someone sunk a particularly good pool shot, every time a real zinger of a comment had been made, Joe had found himself turning to share it with his partner only to find an empty space. Levon wasn't there, he was back in Houston. And Joe found himself increasingly wishing he was back there as well.

Things between him and Levon hadn't been completely rosy lately. Every time Joe returned from one of these trips to Chicago his lover was a little more distant, a little more withdrawn. Not that Joe ever doubted Levon's feelings for him -- even at his most distant, Levon's love was always apparent, at least to Joe.

However, in the last couple of months Levon had increasingly drawn into himself, sharing less and less of his thoughts, of himself with Joe. It had gotten so bad recently that Joe had even resorted to spending some nights alone, needing a break from the unacknowledged but ever-present tension that had been growing between him and Levon. Not that that had helped. He'd just end up tossing and turning all night, worrying about his partner.

This current trip to Chicago had not come at a good time; Joe hadn't wanted to leave what with the way things stood with Levon but his Aunt Teresa had invited him personally and he couldn't refuse, not without a damned good reason.

And though he had a damned good reason, it wasn't one he could share with his family. So, like the dutiful nephew he was, he had come to Chicago as asked, vowing to himself that as soon as he got back he was going to find out what was bugging Levon, one way or another.

But the problem was always on his mind; he hadn't been able to stop worrying about his lover since the moment he'd left Houston. So much so that Joe found himself calling him more often than usual, just to hear his voice. He had even phoned Levon at work that morning -- something he'd never done before because there was no way they could talk freely, say what they really needed to say. But this morning he had needed to touch base, needed to hear that Texan drawl tease him and nag him and tell him he was missed.

And that he had gotten, Levon saying all the things Joe had expected and had phoned to hear. But there had been an undercurrent to the conversation, an almost hidden desperation to Levon's tone that worried Joe. It had preyed on his mind all through the day of hanging out and reminiscing with old friends.

And, even without the added distraction of worrying over Levon, that would have been awkward. His friends hadn't changed much, nor had his old haunts. But, Joe was quick to realize, he had. His life was totally different now, and there was much of it he couldn't talk about, that his old friends and family would never understand. It was more than just his relationship with Levon -- though admittedly that was the biggest part -- it was also his feelings for Houston.

In the years he'd been living there, Joe had come to love the city almost as much as his partner. It had long ago ceased to be a place he was exiled to and had become his home. His friends and family would find that almost as incomprehensible as they would his feelings for Levon.

That realization made Joe feel rather alone. It made him feel, much to his surprise, homesick. Homesick for Houston. And Levon.

Joe wasn't blind to the irony of it all -- he had spent all those years in exile homesick for Chicago, wanting nothing more than to be allowed to come home. And now that he could, he found that Chicago wasn't "home" anymore.

Coming to that conclusion midway through the evening, Joe admitted to himself that all he really wanted to do was go back to Houston as soon as possible. Staying until Thursday, when he was scheduled to return, suddenly seemed like an eternity. When he factored in his worry about Levon, Joe decided that there really wasn't any reason for him to wait that long. To hell with appearances, he was going to tell Levon when he phoned him that night that tomorrow he was coming home.

Of course, once Joe had made that decision, the night had just seemed to drag on and on. But now, finally, it was over and Joe was back at his aunt's place, free to phone his partner.

Or almost free. As he listened to the phone ringing, waiting for Levon to pick up, Joe noticed his cousin Vinnie lurking in the doorway. But before he could say or do anything about it, the receiver on the other end was picked up and a familiar voice said, "Lundy."

"Hey, partner," Joe replied, finding himself grinning. Just the sound of his lover's voice made him feel better.

"How're you doin', boy?" He could hear the smile in Levon's voice as well as some deeper emotion running just below the surface.

"I'm doing great, cowboy," Joe said, keeping his voice light. "You wouldn't believe this--" He broke off when he noticed Vinnie still lurking in the doorway, blatantly eavesdropping. Covering the receiver with his hand he glared at his cousin. "Hey, I'm on the phone here!" Joe waited until Vinnie had moved out of earshot before turning back to the phone. He opened his mouth to continue with what he had been saying and instead heard himself say, "I miss you, Levon."

Oh well. That was good too.

"I miss you too," came Levon's soft-voiced answer. "Sounds like you're still enjoying yourself, though."

"Yeah, I am," Joe replied, keeping it light. "Spent the day with some friends I hadn’t seen in five years. It was a real blast."

"Glad to hear it." Again there was an undertone to the words that belied what they seemed to say.

It made Joe even surer he was making the right decision cutting short his trip. Figuring it was time to start steering the conversation in that direction he asked, "So tell me why I’m thinking of changing my plane ticket?"

Silence. It stretched on for so long that Joe would've thought they'd been disconnected if it hadn't been for the fact he could still hear his lover breathing. "Levon? You still there?"

"Yeah. I'm still...." Levon's voice was calm and steady. Too calm. "So you're staying up there for awhile?"

What? Joe was momentarily stunned speechless. Levon thought he was... "Staying? I don't wanna stay..." Finding his voice Joe quickly clarified his intentions. "I want to come back early because I miss you. I wanna see you."

"You're coming back?"

The disbelief in those three words hit Joe hard. He took a deep breath before answering. "Of course I'm coming back! Levon, you didn't think I was staying here, did you?" Levon couldn't really believe that, could he?

But the silence that followed told Joe that Levon had indeed believed just that. Suddenly his lover's moodiness and withdrawal the last few months made perfect sense. If he had thought Joe was leaving him..."Geez, no wonder you always get so glum whenever I talk about flying up here again. You think one of these days I was coming up here and not coming back?"

"You're not planning on staying there?" Disbelief and growing hope all mixed up in a plea for reassurance.

Reassurance Joe didn't hesitate to give, only wishing he could be there to do so in person. "No, I'm not staying here. I never thought about it -- not seriously, anyway," he amended honestly. "There's no way we could stay together with my relatives hanging around. I'm sorry about that, Levon. I'd like to be able to bring you with me, but they really wouldn't be okay with it." He closed his eyes against the guilt, knowing there was no way he could ever meld together these two disparate parts of his life.

"S'all right," Levon said softly, offering his own reassurance in turn. "I reckoned that's why you weren't telling me you wanted to go home, because you couldn't ask me to go with you."

'We've really got to talk more,' Joe thought. "Did you really think I'd do that?" he asked, still finding it hard to believe that Levon could misread him so completely. "Leave you just to live in Chicago?"

"I didn't reckon I had much to argue with," Levon answered in a soft, exhausted voice, his matter of fact tone breaking Joe's heart.

"That's it," he stated, having heard more than enough. He couldn't deal with this long distance. He needed to be with his lover as soon as possible. Even tomorrow seemed too long to wait. "I'm coming home tonight. You pick me up at the airport? I'll call from O'Hare and let you know when I'll be in." Joe paused as another thought struck him, about how Levon had dealt with emotional pain in the past. "You're okay to drive, aren't you? You haven't been drinking?"

"No, I haven't been...." Levon's voice trailed off sounding stunned. "You're flying back tonight? Joe...?"

Joe ignored his partner's confusion, mind already busy running down a mental checklist of things he had to do to change his flight. Levon would find out soon enough that he was serious. "I'm gonna go pack, and let Aunt Teresa know I'm leaving. I'll call you in a couple hours, and then I'll see you soon."

"You don't have to do this, Joe. You've still got a couple of days--"

"I don't need ‘em," Joe replied cutting off Levon's protest. He realized that maybe he needed to make clear exactly where his priorities lay. "I *do* need to be with you. From the sound of it, I need to be there pretty badly."

"I don't mean...." He trailed off. After a moment's silence he said softly, "Thank you."

"I love you, Levon," Joe told him, wishing that he could somehow hug his partner at that moment. "Don't forget that. I'll see you in a few hours, okay?"

"Okay." Joe started to hang up but stopped when he heard Levon call his name. "Joe?"

"Yeah?" he asked, bringing the receiver back to his ear.

"I love you, too."

Joe smiled, his own feelings for his lover surging through him. "I'll be home soon," he promised, then hung up.

He sat there for a moment, then picked up the receiver again and dialed the airport to find out when the next flight to Houston was. He was still smiling the whole time. He couldn't help it.

He was going home.

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