Horse Sense

Joe came awake with a start, flailing blindly for the ringing alarm clock. It was silenced before his hand could come anywhere near it. He relaxed back against the pillow, eyes still closed. "I swear I am going to shoot that thing one of these mornings."

Beside him, Levon barely moved. He couldn't be sure if his partner just wasn't awake, or was doing a damn good job of ignoring the commotion once he'd gotten it silenced. Turning onto his side and prying one eye open, Joe looked down at his seemingly still-sleeping lover. With his features relaxed and his blond hair tousled from sleep he looked almost otherworldly. Angelic. Joe grinned at his fancy; if there was one thing Levon Lundy was not, it was an angel.

Shifting a bit, Levon turned slightly towards Joe. Without opening his eyes he moved closer, as if blindly seeking warmth. Joe saw, however, the grin Levon was no longer able to keep hiding.

Definitely not an angel. Downright devillish at times, in fact. Like now. With a rather diabolical grin of his own, Joe leaned over and kissed Levon deeply. Levon rolled over easily onto his back, pulling Joe with him. Accepting the kiss, he made no move towards getting out of the bed.

Joe pulled back slightly after a moment, bringing a hand up to caress Levon's cheek as he continued to watch him. He could spend hours just doing this, just lying there and watching Levon. Joe loved him so much that sometimes it scared him.

A wide smile almost covered the nervous tone as Levon asked, "What're you thinking 'bout?"

"You," Joe replied honestly, returning the smile.

Levon grinned, seemingly shy. "I'm thinking I have to get outta bed before Fooler comes in here after me."

"Yeah, I suppose we should be getting up," Joe admitted with a sigh, climbing out of bed and reaching for the pants he had worn yesterday. He picked them up and looked at them, considering. Dry cleaning was damned expensive.... "Hey Levon, you mind if I borrow a pair of jeans to wear out to the barn? These weren't made for taking care of horses."

Levon stopped halfway to sitting up. "Taking care of horses? What're you talking about?"

"Well, I'm going to have to learn aren't I?" Joe asked. "What with you being a...centaur and all." He shook his head slightly in wonderment. He still could hardly believe that. Saying it out loud didn't make it seem any more real.

Levon didn't move. Staring up at Joe, who was waiting, naked, for a pair of jeans, he shook his head slowly. "You're serious, aren't you?" There was something in his tone that said more than just amasement.

Remembering the insecurity his lover had displayed when his secret had come out Joe quickly moved back over to Levon and sat down beside him. Again he leaned over and kissed him gently. "I've been serious about you for a long time. Nothing's changed. 'Cept now I understand why you've been pestering me about the horsecare thing."

"I ain't been pestering you," Levon began.

"Yeah, you have. And I'm giving in already. So you going to lend me some jeans or what?"

For a moment Levon didn't answer. Then he shook his head and climbed out of the bed. "Fine. I've a pair somewhere in here that outta fit you." He went to the dresser and dug through one of the drawers, finally pulling out a pair of jeans and tossing them over to Joe.

"Thanks," Joe said, as he caught them. He hesitated, feeling a bit unsure, given his lover's reactions. "Levon?"

"Yeah?" Levon stopped as he'd been about to put on a pair of jeans himself. He left them in his hand and walked over to stand beside Joe. With a slightly evil grin he asked, "Ain't you ever worn jeans before?"

"Course I have! Don't be stupid." Joe shot back glaring momentarily at Levon. "It's just, I'm not assuming anything here that I shouldn't be am I? About wanting to learn...this stuff?" He felt stupid, and realised he needed to hear it was okay from the horse's mouth. So to speak.

Levon put one hand on Joe's cheek, tapping it once slightly then cupping it. "Never had to explain this to anyone -- any humans -- before. You're right, though. You outta learn. If you're gonna be around here much, you should know how to take of horses and centaurs." He gave Joe a quick kiss. "Come on, Fooler ain't very patient when she's hungry."

After watching his lover cross the room, naked, again, Joe put on the borrowed jeans. They fit well enough -- no risk of hurting himself as he zipped them up without underwear on. He caught a flung pair of boots as well and after opening his mouth he let the retort die and slipped them on. Dressed appropriately for 'mucking', or so Levon had said with a mischevious tone, he followed his lover out to the barn.

"Levon, is Fooler -- I mean, you change into a human, right?" The uncomfortable thought occurred to him as he saw Levon's horse.

"Huh? Oh, no, she ain't a centaur." Levon was moving around the barn, grabbing items and doing things Joe couldn't quite follow. The seed and whatever else Levon was mixing together for breakfast was easy to figure out, though. "Just pour it all in there," Levon instructed. Then he expliained, "Centaurs keep horses, not as pets exactly. More like... taking care of kinfolk. Way back, horses and centaurs were related--"

"Really? That would explain the resemblance." Joe gave his lover a cheeky grin. He'd emptied the pail and returned it to its previous place. "Is that enough food?"

"Yeah, she'll graze most of the day. This'll just get her started." Fooler had, indeed, begun chomping at the mash as soon as Joe had moved the pail out of the way.

"Is this... I mean," he stopped, then said, "Oh hell, Levon. Anything I ask is going to sound stupid and embarrassing. Do you eat this stuff too?"

Levon's answering smile was amused, but affectionate. "I eat just what you've always seen me eating."

Despite Levon's easy answer, Joe looked away. It probably had been a stupid question, but how was he to know any of this stuff unless Levon told him?


He looked up to find his lover standing close beside him. "Yeah?"

"One thing you should know is that centaurs can't take heat as well as humans do. Better'n horses can, even them desert breeds, but that still ain't as good as a human takes the heat. I can get overheated a lot faster'n you can, no matter which form I'm in."

Joe saw the calm look in his partner's eye, appreciating that he was treating this seriously. "I'll keep it in mind. First aid same as for heat exhaustion in humans?"

"Yeah, although if I'm in my other form you can just hose me down."

He couldn't help grinning. "I can, huh?"

Levon gave him a sharp look. "Don't be getting no ideas, boy. You don't need no practise."

"Relax, Levon." Joe didn't stop grinning at the idea, though. "Anything else I should know?"

"Yeah -- one difference between humans and horses, and centaurs in either form, is that we can't vomit."

"Can't vomit?"

"Can't do it. If I swallow something that's gonna hurt me... well, if the pain gets too bad you'd have to stick with me, keep me from doing anything stupid to stop it."

No longer grinning, Joe asked, "Stupid how?"

"Horses and centaurs have been known to injure themselves, kicking at the belly, usually. If you get me to walk around, or if I won't walk get me to lie down and I'd be all right."

"How serious is this?" Eyes narrowed, he tried to gauge his lover's expression. Levon wasn't looking directly at him.

"Colic can kill a horse--"

Staring, eyes wide, Joe couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Kill? You telling me you could die from colic? I thought colic was an upset stomach!"

"Calm down, Joe. It usually ain't that serious. But I'll give you the phone number of the herd's ranch up in Prairie View. There're doctors who'll be able to help if the need arises."

"Usually not that serious?" He felt chill suddenly. First there was the Challenge, which Levon had dismissed casually despite the fact that it was, essentially, a fight to the death. Now this... "Levon, dammit, I told you I can't lose you."

"Easy, take it easy." Hands held his arms, and Levon's face was right up to his. "I ain't never known a centaur who died from colic. We're better able than horses to take care of ourselves, keep from getting it in the first place, or keep it from getting bad. I just figured you oughtta know, just in case."

Joe stood still for a minute, looking at Levon. His lover stared back at him, concerned. "I guess... I guess I do need to know. Like they teach us CPR. Probably won't ever need it, but just in case...." He tried to convince himself that everything was all right. He suspected that the first time he saw any sign of distress from his lover he'd completely overreact. "You know anything good you can tell me?"

With a short laugh, Levon nodded. "Come here." He went over to an array of shelves across from Fooler's stall.

"What is this?" Joe half-smiled, still shaken by the information he'd just been given. His lover's still easy smile reassured him as he walked over. Levon handed him something, and he looked down. "Brushes?"

"You ever hear a centaur purr?" Levon stepped up closer, pressing his body against Joe's side. Joe could practically hear him purring, now. He glanced back down at the two oval-shaped brushes, stuck together bristle-end.

"You're telling me it feels good?"

"I'm telling you if you ever need me just as damn mellow and pliable and horny as you'll ever see, you'll use those."

Joe looked into Levon's eyes, seeing them bright and dilated as if his partner was getting relaxed and turned on by just thinking about it. "Is that a fact?" He wondered if he could get Levon to change, so he could find out just how mellow and pliable that was.

Levon nodded, suddenly all business-like. "That's a fact. Ain't been brushed in about three years... probably fall asleep on my feet the first time then wake up ready to be nailed into the ground."

Joe stared, then looked down at the seemingly innocent brushes. "Thanks for the warning."

"No problem." Levon smiled, and glanced over at Fooler. "Damn, she gets faster with her breakfast all the time."

"Well the phrase 'eat like a horse' had to come from somewhere," Joe pointed out absently, his mind still on the possibilities of the brushes.

"Cute, LaFiamma. She eats too fast, though, and she's gonna give herself-- a tummy ache." Joe heard him hesitate on the word 'colic', but didn't call him on it. Levon headed over and checked Fooler's foodbin. "Fooler, I've told you before no one's gonna steal your food. Don't need to gulp it down." His tone was light and teasing, as he unlatched the stall door to led the horse outside.

Joe drifted over. "So what's next? You going for a ride this morning?" He thought of something else. "Or would you just go for a run with her if no one was around?"

Levon looked up quickly. "Yeah. Most mornings we go out for a run." He gave Joe a thoughtful look. "Do you know how to ride?"

Feeling unaccountably embarrassed Joe shook his head no. "Not much call for horseback riding in Chicago. And I never had a reason to learn once I came to Houston. Until now, that is."

"Well, don't worry. I know a right gentle mount you can learn on." He stepped forward again, standing toe-to-toe and groin-to-groin with Joe. Arms going around Joe's waist, Levon leaned in for a kiss.

Joe happily obliged, pulling Levon even closer as he did so. Finally releasing the other man's mouth he grinned rather mischieviously. "You know, up until yesterday, when I thought about 'ride' and 'you' in the same sentence it had an entirely different meaning."

"Did it now?" Levon shifted his weight from one foot to the other, letting the resulting rocking motion push against Joe's body. "You saying you know how to ride, after all?"

"Depends on the kind of riding you're talking about," Joe replied, pushing back against Levon, hands roving lightly over his lover's back and lower.

As Levon leaned in for another kiss, he staggered forward as someone headbutted him from behind. He turned and glared at his horse, who gave them both a very innocent look. "Fooler! Why don't you go-- oh, sorry." Joe followed Levon's gaze and saw the barn doors were still closed, barring her from gaining access to the corral.

Caught between amusement and frustration Joe finally let the amusement win. "Have to teach her to open doors herself," he commented. He stole another quick kiss before stepping back. "You going to teach me to ride now?"

Levon glanced back at him. "If I taught her to open doors, she'd be inside the house. She thinks just 'cause I go in there, she ought to as well."

"I can't possibly see where she'd get that idea," Joe teased. "I mean there's absolutely no physical resemblance at all, is there?"

Levon started to retort, then just shook his head. "Lemme get changed and I'll give you your first riding lesson." He set his hat on a peg, and began unbottoning his shirt.

Joe leaned back against the wall and watched appreciatively. He could get used to this, he decided. There was something about watching his lover strip in these rather unusual locations.

Setting his clothes over the stall's fence, Levon glanced back when he was down to just his jeans. Seeing the look on his lover's face, he raised an eyebrow invitingly. "You gonna just watch?"

"Yup," Joe replied laconically, grinning.

Levon grinned and dropped his jeans. Stepping away from them he shook them out and draped them with the rest of his clothes. Without a glance at his lover, he changed.

Joe didn't blink but the whole process happened so fast he wasn't able to follow all of it. Just a quick impression of a body twisting and growing until a centaur stood where a human had a second before. Vowing to rent a video camera and tape it sometime so he could play it back at slow speed, Joe came forward and examined his changed partner closely.

Levon stood still as Joe came closer. His head was only about a foot above Joe's. Joe circled his lover slowly, looking at him from all angles. Levon was as handsome in this form as he was in his human one, Joe decided, with a tan coat that practically shone and a long silky-looking tail the same colour of blond as his hair. Joe hesitantly reached out a hand, looking up at Levon's eyes. "May I--" he asked.

"You don't need to ask, Joe."

Joe ran his hand lightly over Levon's coat, surprised at how soft it felt. "I think I could get used to petting you," he said wryly, as he realized that was exactly what he was doing.

Shivering at Joe's touch, Levon managed in a dry voice, "Yeah, I could too." His muscles jumped slightly where Joe's hand rested. He glanced over his shoulder and watched as Joe pet him again.

"Good." Looking up Joe met his lover's eyes and smiled. "Would it sound too weird to say you're beautiful?"

The stall was too close for him to turn, so Levon backed up a few steps until his front was next to Joe. "Wouldn't be weird at all," he stammered, and hesitantly leaned down for a kiss. He stopped just short of Joe's mouth.

Joe closed the remaining distance, kissing his lover gently. Pulling back he said, still smiling, "That wasn't so different."

"Not counting the height." Levon didn't quite return the smile.

"I can find a box to stand on."

Levon didn't answer. After a moment he seemed to visibly reset himself, and asked, "You realise I ain't gonna wear a saddle. You'll have to ride bareback."

Joe nodded. "Yeah I kinda figured that. You've never been into leather restraints."

Levon's hooves clattered on the wooden floor as he stumbled back in surprise. Glaring furiously, he started towards the barn doors. "Let's just get outside and get started."

"Okay." Joe ran a hand deliberately down Levon's flank and leaned in close. "Afterwards," he whispered conspiratorially, "I want to give those brushes a try."

Levon missed a step, hooves clattering again in a staccato. He didn't look over at Joe, heading instead for the corral. Chuckling, Joe followed after. This brushing thing definitely called for more research.

Once in the corral, Levon was immediately met by Fooler. She nickered and skipped away, as if asking Levon to come play with her. "Calm down, girl. We'll go run in a bit. I gotta get this tenderfoot on horseback, first." Levon had apparently regained his composure. Joe knew it was a facade of composure and that inside his lover was nervous as hell.

He was a bit nervous himself, having never been on horseback before but he trusted Levon. "So what do I do? Just climb on?" 'And exactly how do I do that without looking like an uncoordinated idiot?' he wondered.

"Come over here," Levon walked over to the fence. "Climb up on here, and then swing a leg over. Aim for sitting right here," Levon patted the spot where the shoulders of his forelegs were, right at the base of his upper torso. "Don't scoot too far back, because my backbone there can't take the weight. You wanna sit over my withers."

Joe nodded, walking over and climbing the fence. "Here goes nothing," he muttered, reaching out and steadying himself with a hand on Levon's shoulder as he followed his partner's instructions, ending up sitting astride exactly where Levon had indicated.

"Let your feet just hang for now... don't kick me! If you get me in the flank I'll buck, even without meaning too." Levon had one arm back, hanging onto Joe's waist. He upper body was turned halfway back, watching Joe. He warned, "Kick me too hard, I'll buck and mean it."

"No kicking, right," Joe nodded, making sure he let his feet just dangle. "Uhm, where should I put my hands?"

"Around my waist. Now when we're ready to move, you need to hold on with your knees. Just tighten a bit, until you feel steady."

Sliding his hands round Levon's waist, Joe squeezed with his legs just a little. "Okay, I'm ready," he said with more confidence than he felt.

"Harder, else you'll fall off. I'm not exactly made of paper." Levon grinned at him.

"Just don't buck me off if I squeeze too hard," Joe warned as he increased the pressure. After a moment Levon took a step forward. It felt weird -- like nothing he'd ever felt -- to be on, centaurback. He still felt a bit offbalance but that was fading with every moment. "Keep going," he said, as Levon took another step then stopped and looked back at him.

With that encouragement Levon took a few more steps. Fooler, who until now had been watching them dubiously, wandered over and stood beside them. "Be nice, Fooler," Levon warned. He carefully began walking, moving slowly but without stopping every two steps.

Joe reflexively gripped even tighter then slowly relaxed his grip as he found his center of balance. "This is kinda nice," he said as he became accustomed to the slow movement and found himself enjoying this novel form of travel.

"You're okay back there, then?"

"Yeah. Haven't fallen off yet at any rate." Grinning, he leaned forward and laid a quick kiss on Levon's shoulder.

"Careful, you distract the driver who knows where we'll end up." Levon said, his tone finally in the same teasing tone Joe had been using since they came out this morning.

"I 'distract' you all the time when we're in the Jimmy," Joe pointed out. "You saying walking is harder than driving?"

"I'm saying if you keep kissing me I'm gonna head back to the barn." Levon was walking in a slow circle, paced by Fooler on the right.

"And disappoint Fooler?" Joe teased, kissing Levon's other shoulder.

"Fooler's missed morning runs before now." Joe knew Levon was referring to the many mornings Joe had spent the night, when Levon was still hiding his secret. He'd taken Fooler on runs a few of those mornings, staying in human form and riding her, but hadn't been able to risk changing to run with her.

"But you've missed them too," Joe stated, with a sudden flash of insight. "You love it as much as she does."

There was no reply for a moment. Then, "Yeah. I do." Levon continued walking slowly around the corral.

"I'm holding you back here, aren't I? This," Joe gestured with a hand at the slow walk they were doing, "isn't a good substitute."

Levon stopped and looked back. "I'd rather be standing still with you, than anywhere without you. Joe..." he stopped, tried again, "Do you have any idea what this means to me? To know that you want to be here? You've accepted me the way I am, and here you are on my back.... I might feel like running, but this-- Joe, having you here with me is like flying faster'n the wind."

Joe was silent for a long moment, unable to speak through the intense emotions. He knew Levon loved him but when he expressed it like that.... His arms tightened into a hug around and he said, "I love you."

"I love you, too, Joe." Levon held Joe's arms, trapping the hug for a moment. "Besides, once you learn how to ride you can come running with us."

That thought brought a smile to Joe's face. He wanted to share that with his lover, to understand this important piece of his lover's life. "Gives me incentive to learn faster."

"Well, then, hang on." Levon started walking again at a somewhat faster pace.

"Like I ever needed an excuse," Joe muttered, even as his grip tightened.

Heading towards the gate, Levon kept his pace at a steady walk. Fooler, now excited, trotted up and waited patiently for Levon to open the gate.

Joe was struck by a sudden thought. "Don't you worry about someone seeing you? I know this is your private land and all but what if someone drove up unexpectedly or something?"

"Relax. We're at the end of the road, and the only land around here is owned by--" He stopped suddenly. "Well, my immediate neighbor, Jesse," he pointed towards the neighboring land, separated from his by a line of trees. "He used to foster centaur kids, too." He got the gate open, and Fooler pushed past them into the pasture. "I haven't told him you know, yet. I'll call him later today -- you ought to meet him, anyhow."

"Just how many people know about this centaur thing?"

Levon looked back at Joe. "In Houston? Five. Including you."

"You didn't trust me," Joe stated, as neutrally as he could.

Levon didn't move a muscle. "No. I didn't trust you. The woman I loved rejected me when she found out. I spent my entire time in high school being paranoid about letting anyone find out. Now, maybe I should have trusted you. Lord knows I trusted you with everything else before now, up to and including my life. But trusting you with my heart...." He looked away, and said sadly, "That's a lot harder, Joe. I needed you to stay with me so bad I was willing to do anything. Even not tell you the most important thing about me."

Joe considered that for a long moment, weighing his hurt against his lover's fear. Finally he nodded. "I can understand that."

Levon watched his closely. "Are you sure? Joe, if you're mad at me...." He stopped and turned back around, facing the open pasture. Fooler stamped one foot, eager to run.

Again Joe hugged him tightly again. "I'm not mad. Hurt a little, but I can understand why you didn't tell me."

"I didn't mean to hurt you, Joe."

"I know. That's why I'm not mad." He shook his head slowly. "I don't know that, if I'd been you, if I would have done anything different."

Levon began to walk slowly again. Once he cleared the gate he turned carefully, and latched it shut. He didn't say anything, looking as if he were trying to decide what more he could say to apologise.

Joe was quiet also, knowing nothing he could say right now would help. There always came a time when Levon would go silent until he had worked whatever the problem was out in his head. So Joe did what he always had when his lover got this way: hugged him tightly, letting him know by his actions that he wasn't going anywhere.

Fooler paced them for a few feet, walking slowly at first then, as her patience worn thin, she began to canter and jump ahead. Levon ignored her, continuing at a moderate walk.

"I'm think I'm ready for a little more speed," Joe said after a few more minutes of the slow and steady pace. He wanted to give Levon time to think but he didn't want him to start brooding.

Instead of answering, Levon simply walked faster. The gait was still a walk, no threat of bouncing Joe off his back. Fooler didn't seem encouraged by the snail's increase, and danced a bit beside them before snorting at them and trotting ahead to investigate the pasture.

Finally Joe sighed. "You're going to make me sorry I ever brought it up aren't you?"

Without warning Levon stopped. He turned an astonished look back at Joe, and after a moment said, "You saying I can't be upset that I didn't trust you? When it's obvious you're okay with what I am?"

"I'm not telling you how to feel, Levon, that's not my place. But it just seems that you're determined to be miserable and that upsets me. When you're miserable, I'm miserable."

Levon didn't say a word, just staring at Joe somewhat awkwardly. Finally he sighed. "I can't help it. I was just so scared, and now all of a sudden it's like it's all fine, nothing to worry about, no problems. I can't believe it's real."

"You'd think I'd be the one having problems believing this is real," Joe observed with a smile. He leaned forward a bit awkwardly and captured Levon's lips in a gentle kiss. Drawing back, he said softly, "It's real."

"Yeah... maybe you'll have to just remind me every once in a while." He smiled, slowly, implying that the kiss was just the way to do it.

"I can do that," Joe replied, a matching smile on his face. "So are you ever going to go faster than an arthritic turtle or should I just get off and walk?"

Levon's smile suddenly grew. "Don't tempt me, boy. Once I get out of a walk you're gonna have to more'n just sit there, to stay on." He skipped slightly, as if showing Joe a hint of what was to come.

Joe's only reaction was to tighten both his legs and his arms around Levon's body. "I can take it," he asserted, even though a part of his mind was beginning to scream at him that he was nuts.

"Yeah, I can tell. I can feel how tight you're holding on." Levon gave him a grin, then turned around to face forward. "But let's see how you do." With that, he began to trot.

Joe gritted his teeth against the bone jarring rhythm and held on even tighter. He didn't say anything partly because he was sure that if he opened his mouth he would bite his tongue. But after a few minutes when nothing horrible happened he began to relax a bit and actually started enjoying himself. A little at any rate.

"Post a bit, now. I'm gonna pick up the pace. I want you to move up and back against me--"

"You've just been waiting to say that to me haven't you?"

"You better believe it." Levon glanced over his shoulder. "I'm serious, though. If you move with the pace, you won't get your tailbone smacked."

Joe shrugged. "You're the centaur."

"Don't you forget it." Levon began moving faster, trotting along at what felt like an extremely bumpy rate. Joe had to hang on tight to keep from falling, unable to get his body to do as he'd been instructed. After a minute, though, it was as if everything clicked and he was moving in rhythm with Levon. The pace suddenly felt smoother, and he was able to relax -- a bit -- his grip on Levon's waist.

Joe was starting to figure out the lure of horseback riding. When everything worked just right it was almost like you became one with your mount and in this case, given who the mount was, there was an even stronger connection. Joe found himself having to work to hold back a yell of exhilaration. Instead he just grinned, hugged Levon tighter and urged him "Faster."

With a chuckle, Levon picked up the pace a bit more. After a moment, though, the quick trot suddenly shifted into a gallop and they were, finally, flying like the wind. Now Joe did yell, his shout of joy immediately stolen by the wind. God, this was incredible! He felt a brief pang of regret that he hadn't let Levon teach him how to ride earlier but quickly stifled it. Riding a horse would never, could never be as wonderful, as mindblowing as this was. This was Levon who was carrying him. That made all the difference.

He heard Levon's laughter, then a warning. "Hang on!" He tightened his grip and suddenly they were pulling ahead of Fooler, speeding headlong across the pasture.

The sound of Levon's laughter sent a bolt of warmth through Joe even as their increased speed took his breath away. He clung for all he was worth as Levon sped on, his own laughter mingling with his lover's and trailing behind them. Slowly Levon began to turn, making a wide arc near the edge of the woodline separating his land from his neighbor's. Fooler cut the arc short and caught up with them again as they aimed back towards the barn. Slowing slightly, Levon continued to run at a pace matching the horse's. Too soon, though, they were nearing the corral and slowing back down to a walk.

It was with a real sigh of regret that Joe finally dismounted, once they had stopped. As soon as his feet his the ground he walked around until he was facing Levon. Hugging him tightly he said simply, "Thank you."

Startled, it took Levon a moment to return the hug. When he did, he squeezed Joe just as hard. "Thanks for coming along," he said, somewhat awkwardly.

"My pleasure Levon," Joe answered pulling back enough to look up into Levon's eyes.

Dancing a bit, Levon leaned down and gave him a quick kiss. When he pulled back up he looked at the barn, a shaded expression in his eyes. "I need to get changed so we can get breakfast."

Joe watched the shadows come back into his lover's expression. "You've just got your heart set on brooding don't you?" he asked, shaking his head with an exasperated sigh.

But Levon looked startled, then ducked his head. "I ain't... nevermind. I'm gonna--" He stopped and walked off, heading through the corral towards the barn.

Catching up quickly, Joe reached out and touched Levon's flank to stop him. "Don't change back yet. I still want to give those brushes a try."

He felt the muscles beneath his hand quiver, but Levon didn't answer. When Joe hurried forward and looked up at Levon's face, he saw why. Face flushed, eyes wide... Levon caught his gaze and looked down. "You're really--?" It was almost as if he thought Joe was having him on, just to see him react.

In answer Joe stepped past Levon and headed towards the barn. At the door he paused and looked back at his lover who was standing in the same spot. "You coming or should I just go get the brushes and brush you out here?"

Levon didn't move, staring at Joe with an unreadable expression. When Joe nodded and stepped inside the barn he called out, "Wait!" Following Joe as far as the door, he stopped again. "You don't have to do this, Joe. I just need a shower."

Joe quickly walked back over to Levon. Reaching out, he took hold of his lover's hands, squeezing them gently. "I know I don't have to," he said seriously, looking straight into Levon's eyes. "I want to. Okay?"

As if trapped by Joe's look, Levon slowly stepped forward. Hands still clasped, he walked until he was in the middle of the barn. After squeezing Levon's hands one last time, Joe released him and went to retrieve the brushes. Returning to Levon's side he hesitated. "Is there a certain way I should do this?" he asked, suddenly a bit unsure of himself. The look he had seen in Levon's eyes made him even more determined to do this right.

"Just brush down, with the grain." Levon's distracted tone told Joe his lover was not yet convinced of his intentions. As Joe raised a hand to begin, and prove his intentions, Levon said quickly, "What I said before.. I was serious, Joe. 'Bout what it does to me."

"Levon, if you're trying to discourage me, you're going to have to find another reason. 'Cause that's just more reason to do this."

With that Joe ran the brush lightly down Levon's back. The body beneath his hand froze suddenly, and there was absolutely no sound from Levon. Joe repeated the stroke, adding a bit more pressure behind it. "This okay?" he asked softly, repeating it yet again.

"Yeah..." Levon said in a shuddering voice.

"Good." Grinning Joe turned all his attention to brushing his lover's coat, listening to and watching Levon's reactions closely. For the first several strokes Levon remained stock-still, then suddenly, without warning, he relaxed. His head tipped forward, and Joe began to hear soft moans.

He was diligent in making sure he didn't miss an inch of hair as he slowly worked his way over Levon's entire coat, repeating the strokes that drew the loudest moans from his lover.

"Don't... don't..." Levon was obviously trying to wake up enough to speak and having serious difficulties doing so.

"Don't what?" Joe asked, easing up on the brushing.

"Don't forget my legs." Levon sounded half-out of his mind, and Joe thought he understood what Levon had meant by 'mellow and pliable.'

Chuckling Joe ran the brush down Levon's left rear leg. "Hedonist," he teased as the centaur shuddered at the stroke. A loud groan was his only reply.

Joe continued with the brushing until his arms began to tire, then he slowly eased up on the intensity until he finally stopped. Setting the brushes aside he walked over and saw, true to his word, Levon was asleep. He hoped that centaurs didn't fall over when they slept on their feet -- but it looked like Levon was steady enough. His face was... how to describe it? All the tension had drained away and he looked young. Beautiful.

Joe smiled, feeling his love for his partner overflow. He had always known Levon was special, it wasn't until yesterday he had discovered exactly how special. His grin turned mischievious as he turned away to put the brushes back, remembering what else Levon had said brushing made him. Turning back Joe sat down, leaning against the wall of the stall waiting for Levon to wake.

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