Joey de Vivre

Levon rolled over and grinned at his lover. Joe was still, or so it appeared, sound asleep. He reckoned he ought to do something about that, but Joe looked so adorable stretched out like this: naked, relaxed and smiling, that Levon didn't want to disturb him. Unfortunately, the ants would probably be doing that, themselves, soon.

Levon watched his lover sleeping in the sun for another minute then reached out a hand and gave him a gentle shake. Joe muttered something incoherent, brushed Levon's hand away, then rolled over. Levon scooted closer and gave his lover a kiss on the shoulder. The sun was still warm, but the breeze was picking up and soon the day would remember it was not quite yet spring. Joe stirred slightly in response, but still seemed to be hanging onto sleep stubbornly. With a sigh, Levon moved over until his entire body was pressed against his lover's. He leaned over and whispered in Joe's ear, "The ants'll get ya."


"Ants," Levon repeated. "Crawling up your butt."

That seemed to get through. Joe stiffened, then sat up abruptly, looking around wildly. When he saw they were alone, he relaxed and turned to glare at Levon.

Levon looked back, innocently. "Was trying to warn you to move before they found you."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Nothing. You ready to head back inside?" Levon placed a hand on Joe's chest and brushed his hand slowly down the sun-warmed skin. The bruises had long since faded. He had to keep telling himself that.

Joe covered Levon's hand with his own, meeting his lover's eyes with an understanding look. "Are you?"

"No." Levon leaned forward and kissed his lover.

Wrapping his arms around Levon, Joe responded enthusiastically. When they finally parted both men were breathing heavily. "Didn't think so," Joe said with a smile.

Levon shifted his knee off of a twig, and returned the smile. "Have I told you--"

Joe put his finger on Levon's lips. "Yes. You have." Levon had been saying it nearly twenty times each day since he'd gotten Joe back home.

"It's mutual you know," Joe added, completing what had almost become a sort of ritual between them.

"Good. Then you don't mind if we--" Levon stopped, and looked towards the house. "How does it know to ring when we're all the way out here?" The phone had interrupted them three times in the last week. It had been one reason why Levon had enticed Joe outdoors today.

"It rings if we're inside as well," Joe pointed out with a shrug.

"Reckon we oughta answer it?" Levon laid himself across Joe's torso, sighing. The day had been nearly perfect.

"It could be important," Joe replied, but he made no move to get up.

Levon waited, but there was no next ring. "If it's important, they'll call back." He closed his eyes, ready to spend another hour or so lying around with his lover. Then he jumped, and swatted his leg. Glaring, he muttered, "Damn sight easier with a tail."

Joe chuckled. "You're not lying on top of me in centaur form," he warned.

"Spoilsport." Levon stood, and held out a hand for Joe.

Joe took it and let his lover pull him to his feet. "So what's on the agenda for the rest of our day off?" he asked as he looked around for his discarded clothing.

"Ain't here," Levon told him. He'd pulled Joe's clothes off near the back door. He headed towards the house, and the phone began to ring again.

"Suppose I oughta get that."

"Suppose you should." Joe was trailing along behind, stopping to pick up his jeans as he came to them. His shirt was closer to the house. Levon watched Joe gather his clothes, ignoring the look he got when his lover pulled his socks from a bush, then hurried inside to grab the phone.

"Lundy." This had better be good, he thought, rubbing a toe he'd jammed along the way.

"Hey Levon, it's Tony," came the Chicagoan-accented reply. "How're things?"

"Other than a sore toe, fine." He glanced up at his lover, just coming into the house. "How about yourself?"

"Same old, same old. Hey listen, is that offer for us to come visit still open? I know with yours and Joey's schedules as cops it might not be, so if it's not..."

He didn't hide his grin, ignoring the querying look Joe sent him. "That sounds great! Anytime is fine, we'll work around you. Can always trade a case with somebody."

"How about two weeks from now? Angie's on spring break and I have a little vacation time saved up...?"

"Sounds good. We'll should be able to clear some time outta our schedule, at least a few days." He pretended to ignore Joe's mouthed, 'who is it?'.

"Okay, great. I'll call back with the details when we get everything arranged." There was some noise in the background and Levon heard Tony's muffled voice responding. "Listen, I gotta go now, I'll be in touch, okay? Say hi to my cousin for me."

"Will do, Tony." He hung up, a moment after the line clicked dead. He looked up to find his lover's expression changing from the merely curious.

"Tony?" Joe repeated, arching his eyebrows. "You gonna tell me what that was about?"

Levon glanced down his lover's still-naked body. "You gettin' into some non-human habits there, partner?"

"I'm going to take a shower. Not much use to get dressed just to take it all off again five minutes later. Stop trying to change the subject."

"Can I help?" Levon focused in on the more interesting part of Joe's statement.


"What?" He blinked, not sure why Joe would get so upset about sharing a shower. "Oh. It was Tony. They're coming down two weeks from now. Can I help you shower?"

"They are?"

"Yeah. Angie's out of school for spring break. Tony wants to bring his family down. We'll have to ask Joanne about getting some days free. Are you heading for the shower or not?" He really needed to get Joe under a spray of warm water. Really needed to be pressed up against him as he was. Maybe run a soap washcloth all over his lover's body....

Joe opened his mouth to ask another question, took a real good look at Levon and closed it again without saying anything. Instead his lips curled up into a hint of a seductive smile and he gave Levon what was very definitely a come hither look. "Scrub my back for me?" he asked in a husky teasing tone.

Levon had a hand on Joe's arm and was propelling them both towards the bathroom before Joe could say another word.

They were eating dinner and trying to ignore the two feline beggars when the phone rang again, several hours later. This time Levon let Joe answer it.

"LaFiamma," Joe said into the receiver as he nudged a rather vocal Trouble away with his foot.

"Joe! How are you doing, pais?"

Levon glanced up to see Joe grin. "We're doing just fine, Joy. What's up?"

"Well I've been talking to Patricia, up in Chicago. She told me everything Carl told her and I want to know just exactly *when* you were going to tell us?" She sounded mad, but delighted as well.

"Tell you what?" Joe asked, shooting a confused look at Levon. Levon shot the look right back at him.

Joy continued, "Carl tells me you said your vows. When exactly were you planning on saying something?"

"Oh *that*. I didn't really think about it, it just sorta happened after all..."

"Didn't think about it?" Joy's disbelieving voice came back at him. Then she continued, calmly, "Well you'll need to come out here straight away. Can't have a proper wedding without a ceremony and a party afterwards. Don't know how you humans do it but *we* intend to celebrate for three days."

"Proper wedding?" The words came out sounding something like a squeak.

Levon stood up fast, eyes getting big. He went over and put a hand on Joe's arm, and repeated Joe's words. "Proper wedding?"

Joy repeated, "A proper wedding. Taylor wants to make it official. And the rest of us need a feast and games for a few days. Besides, don't you want a real wedding?"

Joe ignored Levon as he tugged again, trying for an explanation. Joe said, "I didn't think we'd be able to have a real wedding." Levon tightened his grip on Joe's arm and stared wide-eyed at the expression on his lover's face.

Joy answered in a soft, affectionate tone. "Joe, you are going to have the best wedding you ever imagined. It's been a long time since we got to plan one, when Maggie and Terry got married. We plan to do you boys up right."

Joe seemed unable to answer for a moment or two, but finally managed a shaky "Thanks."

"You're welcome, Joe." There was a pause, then she added carefully, "Taylor said you should invite any of your family or friends that you like. Ones you trust, of course, but all the same, any you like."

The shock changed suddenly as he exclaimed, "You'd let my family know about centaurs?" Joe sounded halfway flabbergasted. Levon stared at him, dumbfounded as well, even as he tried to figure out what was going on.

Joy explained, "It's your wedding, Joe. They have a right to be here. If... if they want to."

"Thank you," Joe said.

"You're welcome, Joe. Now, you let me hang up and start getting things organised. You let me know as soon as you can when would be good for your family to come down."

"Actually they're coming down in two weeks

"Wonderful! Then I'd better get going. You tell Levon we expect you both for as long as you can stay. Oh, congratulations, Joe."

Joe mumbled, "Thanks. Bye." He hung up the phone as if he'd gone totally numb.

"Was that what it sounded like?" Levon asked.

"Probably. What did it sound like?"

"Sounded like the herd wants to throw us a wedding." Levon stepped closer to his lover, resting against Joe's legs, and hips.

"That's what it was." Joe slipped his arms around Levon's waist pulling him closer.

Levon wasn't sure whether to be worried, or excited. His family had never mentioned anything of the sort when he'd married Caroline. Of course, Caroline hadn't known about Levon's family. About Levon. But he'd *had* a wedding before, and wasn't sure he really want to go through the entire rigmarole again. He looked up at Joe, and saw the stunned expression still there. "Two weeks from now?"

"Apparently. Joy said to invite any of my family I wanted to...and since they'll be here in a couple of weeks anyhow..." Joe still seemed to be in mild shock.

Levon gave his lover a long, hard kiss, complete with a fondling of the back of his neck. Harder to do, now that Joe was dressed. When he broke it off, he gave Joe a nudge with his chin and kissed his neck. "Good. I think Rosa'll be beside herself, meeting a herdful of centaurs."

"You don't mind them knowing about you?"

Levon blinked, surprised. "Mind? Mind having your family know about me so I don't have to lie to 'em, so you don't have to lie to 'em, so we can bring them here for any celebration, holiday, or get-together we feel like having? Mind having them be as much a part of the family as the herd is of yours?"

Joe blinked back. "Oh," he said. "Well when you put it that way..."

"You best call Tony back."


The next day, Levon was standing outside Lt. Beaumont's office. Joe had abandoned him there, saying something about heading off to find Annie.

He knocked once, and was waved inside.

Joanne was sitting at her desk, head buried in paperwork. She glanced up briefly. "What is it Levon?" she asked, gaze returning to the file open in front of her.

"Wondered if Joe and I could get some time off in a couple weeks," he said seriously, knowing her immediate reaction would be one of disbelief. They'd quite recently had, combined, nearly two months off.

He was correct. Joanne's head snapped back up and she stared at him. "Levon, I know a lot of the time you had to take off at the end of last year was for medical reasons but I still have to count some of it as vacation time, since you couldn't see a doctor. It's unfair but that's the way it is."

"I understand. We'd be willing to work a few overshifts before and after. Just a couple days if you can spare 'em." He kept his face serious, though it was damned hard not to grin.

Joanne's eyes narrowed. "What's up?"

"Herd's throwing Joe and I a wedding. Was hoping you and Brad could come--"

"A wedding? You and Joe?" When Levon nodded with a shy smile, she was up out of her chair and hugging him in five seconds flat. "Congratulations!" she told him.

He laughed, and returned the hug. "Thanks, Joanne. You reckon we can have those days?" He gave her a sly grin.

She nodded. "It'll take some finagling, but I'll manage it."

"Thanks, Joanne. We appreciate it." He winked. "Joy'd have our tails if we don't show."

"So when exactly is the big day? In a couple of weeks, I know, but if I'm going to not only get you two time off but get myself the day off as well..."

"Joy says it'll be on Friday. Don't ask me to repeat why -- get a lecture two hours long on Norse mythology and how it was stolen from the Greeks originally."

Joanne grinned. "I'll take your word for it. She turned back to her desk and pulled her calendar over. "Hmm, I think I'll be able to give you and Joe from Wednesday until Sunday off, barring an emergency situation. That's the best I can do."

"That's great! Joe's cousin Tony and his family are coming down that week... I really do appreciate it, Joanne. Like I said, we'll work extra hours before and after if you need us to."

"I'll try and make sure that's not necessary. Consider it a wedding gift."

"What, no toaster?"

"Maybe I'll get a halter and bit," she teased.

Levon suddenly found himself blushing. He ducked his head, glared at Joanne from beneath the brim of his hat, and was grateful -- for only a moment -- when Joe rapped on the door.

When Joe entered he glanced between the smirking Joanne and the blushing Levon and ventured, "Am I interrupting something?"

"No," Levon said quickly. "We got the time off."

"That's great." He turned to Joanne. "Thanks, Lieutenant -- I knew we were probably pushing it asking for more time off so soon after Levon's sick leave but--"

"It's okay, Joe," she replied with a smile. "Couldn't have you two working on your wedding day now could we?"

"Besides which I wasn't the only one taking sick leave," Levon gave his mate a mock-glare.

"Go on, you two. I've got work to do -- and if you're taking time off, so do you." Joanne waved them towards the door.

Joe followed Levon out of the office and back over to their desks.

"You find Annie?"

Joe nodded. "Yeah."

"She coming?" Levon kept his voice low, but casual, so the other officers wouldn't catch on that there was something going on. It was the one thing he didn't care much for, about their relationship -- the need, doubly important, for secrecy. They were lucky Joanne knew about both, and supported them.

"Said she wouldn't miss it." Joe smiled. "It'll be good not to have to lie to her anymore about any of it."

"Yeah." Levon sighed. There was, of course, always the chance that someone they were planning to tell wouldn't take it well. He didn't *think* they'd have a problem -- if he had, he'd simply refuse to tell them.

But still... it was nearly as nerve-wracking telling folks about getting married as it was to tell them about being a centaur. He grinned, suddenly. Wasn't something you often read about in those self-help articles. "How to come clean about not being human." Might be a fortune in it, though.

Joe continued, "I invited her over for supper sometime after Tony and his family get here... figure we can tell Tony and them first, get them used to it, then tell the rest. And give them a practical demonstration so they won't think we've both been sniffing too much horse manure or something. Unless you want to do it the other way around, tell Annie and Chicken first?"

Levon rolled his eyes. Just what he wanted -- being on display. Granted, they were friends, and the whole point of this was to put himself on display for everyone at a wedding ceremony. He looked at Joe, and lowered his voice. "Wanna just run across to Mexico?"

"Do you want to explain to Joy why we didn't show up for our own wedding?" Joe asked in the same low tones.

Levon thought about it. Compared facing Joy, to facing everyone...

He thought about it some more. Joy could hold a grudge for a very, very long time. On the other hand, there were going to be a *lot* of people at this wedding....

He thought about it a third time.

He'd obviously been silent too long because his partner's expression turned to one of concern. "Levon, if you really don't want to do this, we don't have to."

"Oh, it ain't that," he said easily. It *was* true. He didn't mind so much celebrating being married to Joe. It was just.... He nodded towards the door, so they could discuss it without anyone overhearing. "You have no idea what they're gonna do... you'll get off easy."

Joe got up and followed Levon out of the office. "So enlighten me. What are they gonna do?"

"You'll be in a tux. Nice and simple." Levon thought about all they'd done for Maggie and Terry. Granted, they were women and they *liked* that sort of thing.

He shuddered.

"If a tux can be called simple, yeah. Though if there's going to be riding involved I would rather wear something a bit more... practical. But what about you? I assume you'll be going four legged so clothing won't be a problem."

Levon glanced at Joe. Riding? He hadn't thought of that.... But he figured Joy would have Joe in a tux, regardless. No matter what Joe had to say about it.

"Yeah, I will be. But that won't stop Joy. I'm telling you, Joe, if so much as *one* of them tries to braid anything--"

Joe looked startled. "Braid?" he repeated, then burst out laughing.

Levon glared. "It ain't funny."

"If you say so." Joe made an effort to get his mirth under control, but didn't succeed very well.

Levon held his glare. He reached out and stabbed the call button for the elevator, since they did have work to do and didn't need to be hanging around the station all day. The elevator doors opened and they stepped inside. Joe hit the button for the garage and leaned back against the wall, eyes on his partner as they started descending. "Seriously Levon, if there's something in this you don't want to do, we don't have to. If you don't want to tell the others about being a centaur you don't have to. We'll work something out. Have a ceremony at your place instead."

"I know... it isn't that I don't want to do this. I do." He looked at Joe. "I want to tell everyone I know, everyone I see how I feel about you. But... actually *doing* it... if any of 'em say no it ain't like we can pretend we didn't tell 'em."

Joe shrugged. "If they can't accept us -- accept you -- then they weren't really worth being friends with to begin with."

"That's easy to say, Joe. But it doesn't change how it feels to hear it." He stopped himself from asking if Joe knew what it was like, to have someone reject you simply for what you were. His aunt and uncle had, for the most part, done just that.

Luckily, they would be surrounded by those who could, and did, accept them. He suddenly smiled. "I need to call Mother Minnie, too."

"You mean you haven't already?" Joe teased. "I thought that would've been the first call you made when we set a date." He paused, looking thoughtful. "Then again, you were just a bit... distracted right then, weren't you?" Joe licked his lips and Levon shivered at the memory of exactly how he'd been distracted.

The doors opened, and he followed Joe out. He recalled just exactly what had distracted him the most -- running a soapy cloth down Joe's legs as he knelt on the floor, right in the perfect position.... He blinked and found Joe looking at him with a smile. Levon could see the tip of his tongue.

Joe chuckled, then reached out and plucked the keys to the Jimmy out of Levon's lax fist. "Better let me drive."

"Where we going?" He made no move towards the truck -- from where he stood he could see Joe. If he moved, he wouldn't be able to. Joe was wearing his dark blue slacks which hung just so....

Joe's smile said he knew exactly what Levon was thinking and didn't mind a bit. Nonetheless his tone was all business when he answered his partner. "Work, remember Lundy? We have witnesses to question, a couple of suspects to track down."

Levon blinked. "Yeah?" His tone was still distracted, but he headed for the truck. It *really* wasn't fair how humans could just *ignore* things like that.

"Keep that thought in mind for tonight though," Joe told him with a wink as he slid behind the wheel of the truck and put the key in the ignition.

Slowly, Levon turned towards his lover. His mate. His about-to-be-wedded-for-life-in-front-of-Hera-and-family. "I'm supposed to think about it all damn *day*?"

Joe appeared to consider. "Well I suppose I can remind you tonight if you forget," he allowed.

Levon gave his mate a glare that said everything he needed to say. Chuckling again, Joe put the truck in gear and pulled out of the police station.

They stopped by Chicken's for a late lunch. For Levon the morning had been a difficult one -- he'd tried to concentrate on his work, but then Joe would say something or step into his line of sight and he'd be off. Joe hadn't helped much, laughing about it every time he'd noticed.

Before they got out of the truck at the restaurant, Joe asked, "We gonna invite him?"

Levon stopped, hand on the door. "I... reckon we ought to." He had never told Chicken, essentially because there had never been a need to. But he trusted the man. And Chicken would be upset if he ever did find out, and they hadn't even mentioned it.

"Me, too."

"Well, then. Let's go tell him." Levon opened his door and wondered just when the sense of unreality would fade. He wanted to go home and make love to Joe. That, at least, would be normal. Not to mention more fun.

Joe seemed to read his thoughts. Or maybe it was his body language, Levon reflected ruefully. Either way, as he reached Levon's side and they started towards the building's entrance Joe leaned over and whispered, "We could always skip lunch and just go home for a quickie."

Levon stopped and turned back towards the truck. Unfortunately Joe grabbed his arm and hauled him back. "Still have to talk to Chicken, remember?"

"He'll be here tomorrow," Levon gave his lover a pleading look.

"I never should have mentioned a quickie should I?" Joe asked with a sigh.

Levon gave him a pout. "Not if you weren't planning on following up immediately."

Joe casually ran his hand down Levon's back, causing the Texan to quiver. "You've really got it bad today haven't you?"

Levon grinned. "Your fault, you know. Wearin' those pants. Lettin' me see you putting those silk boxers on."

"I'll get dressed in the bathroom from now on," Joe said deadpan.

"So? Where do you think I was when you got dressed this morning?" Levon followed Joe back towards the diner.

"If I remember correctly, right behind me. Actually you were the reason it took me so long to get dressed in the first place." He waited for Levon to catch up with him and nudged his shoulder. "You've got busy hands."

Levon raised an eyebrow. "I was just trying to get past you to the counter."

Joe gave a disbelieving snort. "You ever hear of the words 'Excuse me'?"

"Why bother? More fun my way." He nodded at Chicken as they made their way towards a table. He was suddenly feeling nervous again. He realized the thing he was worried about most was Chicken's asking why the hell it took him so long to say anything.

His partner had been watching him closely, and when they sat down, reached out under the table and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. "You want me to ask him?"

Levon shrugged. He didn't like chickening out -- no pun intended -- and he had, after all, been friends with the man longer than Joe. "I'll ask him," he decided.

Joe gave him a long look. "How about we both ask him?"

Levon grinned. "On the count of three?"

"What'll it be, gentlemen?" They were interrupted by Chicken's arrival.

"Can you sit down for a minute Chicken?" Joe asked. "We've got something we need to discuss with you."

"Sure," Chicken replied easily. He looked from one to the other, and added, "This sounds serious."

"It is," Levon nodded. "We need to ask you... oh, hell. Need to invite you to our wedding," he finished in a rushed, low voice.

"Nothing official or anything, but it'll be real for us and it'll mean a lot to have our friends there," Joe added, his own nervousness evident in his rushed words.

They both stared as Chicken just looked at them.

"Chicken?" Levon ventured.

The other man just shook his head. "Well, it's about time."

Joe blinked. "Huh?"

Chicken looked mildly surprised. "It's about time you two made it official. When's the occasion?"

"In two weeks," Levon managed.

"You telling us you *knew*?" Joe demanded.

Chicken looked at them with more than mild surprise. "Of course I knew. You two been all over each other for three years now. Don't tell me it was supposed to be a secret?"

Levon closed his eyes, and groaned. "That had sorta been the idea, yes."

"I guess we're not as good of actors as we thought," Joe muttered.

"Well, not with people who know you," Chicken said. "Some of us just figured you didn't want to talk about it."

Joe glanced at his partner. "So you're not upset we didn't say anything before...?"

"Nah. I understand -- you gotta be careful. Even friends sometimes don't want to know... There's a few here I wouldn't suggest telling. But I'm glad, real glad for you two."

"So you'll come to the wedding?"

"Try and stop me!" Chicken looked surprised again. "Where is it gonna be?"

Levon gave his lover a slightly uncomfortable look, and answered, "It's gonna be out of town. We'll be having a group of people over to my place a few days before; we'll give you the directions. It's only a few hours' drive, but there's room to stay the night if need be."

"There'll be a bunch of people coming, including some of my family from Chicago." Joe gave an almost shy smile. "I'm glad you'll be able to meet them."

"Well, I'm looking forward to it, then!" Chicken stood up, and took back the menus. "Lunch is on the house, boys."

"Thanks, Chicken." Levon felt an immense relief. Momentarily. He knew Chicken wouldn't react quite so calmly when they told him the *rest* of the news.

But that he was kinda looking forward to.

Joe echoed Levon's words as Chicken went back to work. "That went well," he said neutrally.

Levon rolled his eyes. "Except for the part about nearly *everyone* knowing, you mean?"

"Nobody's said or done anything though," Joe pointed out.

"Yeah. Reckon that's a good thing." He gave Joe a half-grin. "Maybe we should just stand up and tell everyone?"

Joe just gave him a long look.

"Nah, I didn't think so."

"Good call."

Levon stood in the airport, not nearly as anxious as he had been the last time. Granted, this time he wasn't expected to actually get *on* a plane. No, this time it was his lover who was suffering from a bad case of nerves. Joe stood beside Levon, tension radiating off his body, fidgeting and checking his watch every five seconds.

"Relax," Levon said. Then he grinned. "Kittens'll be fine."

Joe gave him a startled look, then chuckled ruefully as he placed the line. "Am I being that bad?"

"Well..." Levon pretended to reconsider. Then he nodded. "Yes."

"Sorry. It's just...." His voice trailed off and he checked his watch again.

"They're nearly five minutes late?" Levon guessed.

"Six minutes," Joe corrected.

"Oh." Levon nodded, as if that made all the difference. Then he rolled his eyes. "Am I gonna have to drag you into the restroom and get your mind off--" He stopped as they announced the arrival of the flight from Chicago.

If anything Joe's nervousness got worse at the announcement. "They're here," he said, eyes a bit wild.

Levon took his lover by the arm and held him more or less still. He didn't try to tell Joe to calm down, though; he figured it wouldn't happen until they'd gotten back home and everyone was settled... maybe not. They still had to tell Joe's relatives about Levon.

Maybe he'd calm down sometime next week, after the honeymoon.

Passengers were starting to file out and Joe was visually searching for his family. Then they heard an excited child's voice cry out, "There they are!" and suddenly young Angie LaFiamma was there, bodily throwing herself at the two men, confident that her "Uncle Joey" would catch her.

Which he did, swinging her around in a circle before setting her on her feet again. Levon greeted Maria and Tony, as their daughter monopolized Joe's attention for a moment. He smiled broadly as he saw a fifth, unexpected, guest.


The old woman came forward with a big smile and hugged Levon. "Don't look so surprised," she admonished. "You didn't think I was going miss your wedding did you?"

Joe was staring at his grandmother in openmouthed shock. "But-" he stammered, "You hate to fly!"

Rosa dismissed that with a wave of her hand. "A few hours of discomfort are a small price to pay."

Levon hid a chuckle -- or thought he did. Joe gave him a brief glare before he went to hug his grandmother. He got one, himself, when Joe let go of her. Then he found an eight-year-old attached to his side, looking at him with huge, pleading eyes.


"Can we go see your horse, first?"

From his place standing by his mother's side, Tony Jr. demanded, "Howse!"

Levon ignored his lover's bemused grin, and answered the girl. "Fooler's waiting for you back at the house. Warned her she'd be getting a lot of exercise this week."

"That's all she's been able to talk about for the past two weeks," Tony confided, with a fond grin for his daughter. "I'm afraid she's been more excited about meeting your horse than seeing either of you again."

"Daddy!" Angie protested.

"That's all right," Levon told him, with a smile back at Angie. "Sometimes I feel the same way."

Tony Jr. tugged imperiously on his mother's hand. "Howse!" he demanded imperiously.

Maria gave him a smile. "Yes, dear. You'll get to meet the horse, too."

Satisfied, the toddler nodded. Joe got everyone moving more or less towards the baggage claim. Levon found himself with Rosa on his arm.

"So this is Houston," the old woman said, looking around them with interest. "So far it doesn't seem much different from Chicago."

Levon laughed. "Wait 'til we get outside."

"Houston's not that bad," Joe tossed back over his shoulder, having heard his grandmother's comments. "If you can get used to the heat and the country music."

Levon tried to insist it wasn't that hot, but as soon as the northerners stepped outside they voted him down. Joe had just given him a blissful smile and shot him a "Told you so" look.

As they headed through the parking garage, Levon got close and whispered, "Who was it glad it was warm here, just last week?"

On the drive back, Levon was busy pointing out various sights and things to watch for. Joe interrupted often with explanations of where they'd be going while in town, and some hints as to what they could expect when they left for Prairie View.

Mostly the hints consisted of "lots of flat fields with crops and cows," and was always accompanied by a teasing look at Levon. His lover was definitely enjoying himself. Levon was glad -- he loved seeing that look of joy on Joe's face.

When they arrived home, the car (borrowed from Maggie for the week) had barely stopped before the kids were out of it and running towards the corral where Fooler was standing.

"Hold it!" Levon fairly shouted, leaping out of the car barely a second after he'd slammed it into 'park'. Angie paused and turned but Tony Jr. kept moving. Levon shouted again, this time in Greek for Fooler, "Freeze!" He ran forward after the boy, though Fooler would hold still until he told he her could move.

He got to Tony Jr. as the boy was crawling under the railing. He scooped him up and pulled him back. "Don't you *ever* run towards a horse that don't know you." He looked from the boy, who was probably too young to understand, to Angie, who wasn't. "For all you know this ain't Fooler, and one kick from a scared horse's hoof could break a bone." He'd stopped himself from saying 'kill you'.

Though it was true, he realized he didn't need to scare them that badly. Angie visibly wilted under the scolding, more upset that Levon was angry with her than that she had been in any danger. "Sorry," she whispered, eyes downcast.

Levon continued to glare at her -- his heart rate hadn't slowed yet. He was angry as much at himself, for not having warned the kids -- or their parents -- on the drive here. He'd never had kids around who hadn't grown up with horses, and it hadn't occurred to him until he'd seen them running that he had a *lot* he had to teach them.

Tony, Jr. was squirming in his arms, still trying to reach Fooler. Levon sighed, and handed him over to his father. Tony apologized as he took his son. "I didn't realize...."

"Not your fault," Levon told him. He looked down at Angie and held out his hand. "Now, let me show you how to deal with a horse so neither you nor she will get into any trouble."

She looked at him wide eyed. "You still going to let me meet her?" she asked, the hopeful tone in her voice almost masking the tears she had refused to shed at the scolding.

"Of course! But you have to promise me you'll do as you're told -- as soon as you're told. Fooler's well trained, but she's used to folks who know how to handle horses. She's gentle, and friendly, but she's real heavy -- she could hurt you without meaning to. It's your job to prevent her from doing that."

"Okay. I promise. Cross my heart!" Angie suited actions to words, making a big "x" over her heart then taking Levon's outstretched hand.

"All right, then." He looked back up and Fooler, and told the mare she could relax.

Levon and Tony spent the rest of the afternoon introducing the kids to Fooler. Levon gave Angie all the instructions he thought she could remember -- reminding himself to ask Joe how good a human's memory was at that age. Angie was disappointed that she didn't get to do much more than sit on Fooler's back, but Levon promised she'd get the chance to do some real riding before the week was out.

Joe had spent the time talking with Maria and Rosa, helping them get settled in the guest rooms. Finally everyone was in the kitchen and dining room, making a concerted effort to get dinner served. Levon thought it a bit chaotic, himself, but it seemed to work. At least all the food ended up cooked and on the table by the time everyone had sat down.

Conversation over dinner consisted of updates of what had been happening in Chicago since their visit and sanitized accounts of Levon and Joe's latest cases, suitable for the little ears that were listening. Levon found himself getting nervous again -- the more relaxed his lover appeared, the more Levon found himself wondering *when* he was going to tell them. Surely he wasn't going to wait until they were headed to the herd's ranch.

Not nearly that long, as it turned out. After the dishes from dessert were cleared Joe shot him "the look." Apparently it was going to be now. Levon felt his heart skip a beat. This was even worse than telling Joe had been. At least then they'd had an excuse to just get it over with.

Maybe he should get them all locked in a cellar.

"Uhm, there's something Levon and I need to tell you," Joe began, his eyes taking in all of his relatives. "It's kind of unbelievable but..."

Everyone grew silent. Levon tried not to fidget; he saw Rosa give him a querying look.

"It's about Levon's family. His heritage." Joe stopped and glanced at his lover, asking with his eyes if Levon wanted to say anything here.

Levon shrugged, indicating Joe should handle it. Joe knew his relatives, knew how best to tell them. He did glance towards the back door, asking silently if he should go ahead and go change. Joe gave a minute nod, before turning back to his family. "You remember Angie, the Greek myths that you were studying?"

Levon got up from the table and headed for the door. He didn't look back, though he knew they were probably all completely baffled. That wouldn't last long. He stepped out the back door, took a deep breath, and began to undress.

He was standing under the trees where he and Joe had made love, when he heard the door open again.

"--might be easier just to show you," he heard Joe say before calling his name. "Levon?"

He didn't answer. He didn't have too -- Maria and Angie were the first ones out, and both had the same reaction. Stopping still, mouths dropping, staring. Angie recovered almost instantly, taking two running steps towards him before halting, and looking at him uncertainly.

"Can I--?"

He laughed. "Of course, Angie."

She ran up to him. Tentatively, she reached out and stroked his coat and Levon found himself remembering the first time Joe had touched him in much the same manner. Looking over and meeting his lover's eyes he found that he wasn't the only one remembering that.

The moment was broken when Tony Jr. yelled delightedly, "Howse!" and strained at his father's hand in an effort to run to Levon. The adults all laughed. Joe told the boy that the word was 'centaur'; Levon watched Angie who was staring wide-eyed and patting his coat again.

She looked at him in awe. "You're real!" she finally exclaimed.

That got a chuckle out of Joe who had walked over. "Yep, he is," he told the young girl. "Pretty amazing isn't he?"

Angie nodded emphatically. "Uh-huh!"

Levon didn't know what to think about having five humans staring at him in quite this manner. He hesitantly looked; Tony and Maria were like their kids, wide-eyed and stunned. Rosa, on the other hand, looked like she'd just been given the nicest gift of her life.

She saw him looking, and smiled. "My grandfather said it was true. When I was young, I believed him. As I grew up I thought of course he'd been telling stories. As I got older I decided that I would believe, anyhow." She walked up to his side, looking up at him. She looked like Angie did -- eight years old and wide-eyed with grateful wonder.

"Your great-grandpa's stories about centaurs were true! Was he really a centaur like you said, then?" Angie turned to her great-grandmother.

"He really was, Angie." She gave Joe, who was still gaping, a half-shrug. "I never wanted to mention it... never thought any of my family would believe me. I didn't want to get locked away," she grinned. Levon took a careful half-step forward, and reached out for her hand. She turned her smile back to him and continued, "I never dreamed I would meet one. Even when I believed."

"Let alone have your grandson marry one," Tony added with a grin.

Joe, who was still looking a little shell-shocked, told his cousin, "You're taking this in stride."

"Pretty much, yeah." Tony shrugged. "Joey, long ago, I learned to always expect the unexpected from you. Okay, this may be a bit more unexpected than I had, well, expected but still..."

Levon spoke to Tony, with only a brief glance towards his partner. "Zeus said you'd be ok with this."

"Zeus," Tony repeated slowly, staring. "Old dude from Greek mythology, Zeus?"

Levon nodded. "He's the god who made us. Talk to him every now and then." He saw Joe nearly successfully hiding his amusement at seeing his cousin get rattled.

"I see," Tony said, nodding, trying to maintain his casual manner. Trying and failing. "And... uhh... does he often answer back?"

Levon gave him a flat look, like he was an idiot for asking. "Answer? Said he's planning on coming to the wedding."

Tony was beginning to look like he was wondering if they made straitjackets for centaurs. Joe finally lost it, laughing out loud and slapping his cousin on the back. "Had you going there didn't he?"

Levon grinned as well, enjoying the look on Tony's face. Seeing him act so nonchalant about seeing a centaur, after all he'd gone through worrying over how they'd take it -- fortunately he knew Zeus wouldn't mind.

Angie pulled on Levon's hand until she got his attention. When he looked down questioningly at her she whispered, "Do you think, maybe, I could learn how to ride you instead of Fooler?"

Levon answered her, seriously, but with a grin. "That's what I reckoned we'd do. Once you learn how to ride, you can move on to riding Fooler." He let it sound like a challenge, like riding him was easy, but riding Fooler would be an accomplishment. From her expression, he figured it had worked -- soon enough she'd be after them to let her ride the horse, instead.

The rest of the evening passed quickly. It was quite an enjoyable time now that Joe and Levon could fully relax, knowing that the last of their secrets had been told. They'd let Angie up on Levon's back for awhile; he'd promised her a full riding lesson the next day. He expected to be woken early, tomorrow.

Finally they went back inside, Maria heading in to put Tony, Jr. to bed. Angie hadn't wanted to go, but Rosa took her great-granddaughter by the hand and offered to tell her a story her grandfather had told *her*. Then it was just Levon and Joe. Levon changed back quickly, and stepped close for a kiss.

"Went well, didn't it?"

Joe wrapped his arms around Levon's waist. "Yeah, it did. You better put on your jeans, just in case. Wouldn't want to give Tony any more shocks tonight." He sounded distracted.

Levon frowned. "Can't have any fun that way."

"We're not going to have any fun out here any way tonight. We have guests, remember?"

Levon sighed. "Didn't mean that kind. Well, not *only* that kind," he amended. "Was talking about messing with Tony's mind." He tried to give his lover a cute look, hoping Joe wouldn't roll his eyes and sigh in exasperation.

"Oh, that. We can do that tomorrow." Joe still sounded distracted.

Levon gave him another kiss, and headed over and grabbed his jeans. As he put them on, he looked at his lover. "What're you thinking about?" he asked softly.

"About what Rosa said. About my great- great- great-grandfather being a centaur."

Levon gave his lover a gentle hug. "Kinda throws you for a spin, don't it? Being 1/32nd centaur."

"You never told me centaurs and humans could interbreed." Joe's tone was neutral. Almost too neutral.

Levon looked back, surprised. "You never asked. Joe, I didn't know -- I mean about your having centaur blood. I wouldn't have kept something like that from you."

It was Joe's turn to look surprised. "I never thought you would. Besides how could you have known?"

It was Levon's turn to look uncomfortable. "When I met Rosa.... She sorta, don't know, acted, smelled like a centaur."

Joe looked at him considering. "So what do I smell like?" he asked, voice curious and suggestive.

Levon leaned closer, breathed deep, and answered honestly. "Like you're ready to throw me down and fuck me."

That was the last coherent thought his brain gave him.

Levon was woken by an elbow nudging him in the ribs and his lover calling his name. He opened one eye and saw Joe leaning over him. He smiled and reached up to draw him in for a kiss.

Joe fended him off. "We don't have time for that now," he told Levon. "It's morning."

"Yeah? So?" He frowned as Joe moved out of reach. He rolled after his love, brushing the straw off his arm, and sat up.

"So unless you want to explain to an inquisitive eight-year-old why we slept in the barn last night, we have to sneak back into the house before everyone wakes up."

Levon looked around. They were in the barn. He was confused for only a moment, before he remembered. He gave Joe a grin. "Could tell 'em we were out for a ride." Which was, in a sense, true.

"With straw in our hair?" Joe reached out and picked a piece from Levon's hair.

"Brushes out," Levon told him. He got up, though, and began looking for his clothes.

"Uhm, shirt's in the loft," Joe offered, blushing slightly.

Levon raised his eyebrow. "Musta been some throw." He didn't really remember that part, but when he climbed up, sure enough, there it was in the hayloft.

"I was... uh... in a hurry."

"You coulda just asked. I'd have taken it off."

"Where's the fun in that?"

Levon climbed back down, shirt in hand. Joe had his pants back on and was putting on his shirt. Levon went over with a grin and began cleaning the straw out of his lover's hair. Joe put his arms around Levon's waist, pulling him close and leaned in for a long kiss. "Good morning," he said with a smile when their lips finally parted.

"Morning. Want me to get dressed or changed?"

His lover considered. "Suppose we *could* get in an early morning run before everyone wakes up."

With a grin Levon stepped back, and changed. Then he turned and looked towards the door.

A few moments later the door swung slowly open and an eight-year old girl peered in. She broke into a grin when she saw them. "You're up already!"

Joe sighed and schooled his face into a welcoming smile. "Morning Angie. Sleep well?"

"Uh-huh," she nodded, staring at Levon. "Are you, I mean, is it too early to go for a ride? Can I?"

Levon held back a sigh. He had figured Angie would be up early, but he'd wanted to at least go running once with Joe. He exchanged rueful glances with his lover who reached out and patted his withers in commiseration.

"Levon and I were about to go for a run," Joe told the little girl, "but I think maybe you could come along. If Levon doesn't think that the two of us would be too much for him to carry?" He shot a questioning look at his partner.

Levon nodded, hiding his disappointment. "You'd be too far back on my spine with her in front," he explained. He smiled at Angie. "Reckon we can get Joe up on Fooler?"

"You want me to ride a horse?" Joe sounded shocked that Levon could even suggest such a thing. Angie giggled.

Levon shrugged, casually. "Or you can go start breakfast. Have a few more mouths to feed than normal." As he spoke, one of the mouths -- which had gone into hiding when the strangers had arrived -- peered out from a pile of hay.

"Mew?" Boots ran to Joe.

"A kitty!" Angie cried, getting down on her knees and holding out a hand to the cat, who gave her a suspicious look.

"Come on, Boots. She won't hurt you none." Levon hid a grin. Maybe they'd be able to leave Angie in charge of Boots while he and Joe snuck off.

"Angela?" Tony's voice called from the direction of the house.

Joe looked down at his niece. "Did you tell your parents you were coming outside?" he asked.

Angie suddenly started fidgeting. "I didn't want to wake them..."

"You'd better go tell 'em where you are." At her look of protest, he added quickly, "We can ride later. Don't worry, I ain't going nowhere."

"Okay," Angie said, heaving a huge put-upon sigh. Getting to her feet she yelled, "Coming Daddy!" and left the barn.

Boots, who had jumped several inches in the air at her yell, contrarily decided to follow her. Levon watched the cat go. He wondered where Trouble was hiding, but didn't feel like hunting him up. He *did*, however, feel like getting his lover on his back and getting out of the barn.

He suggested as much to Joe.

"Sounds like a plan," Joe agreed with a grin, pulling himself up onto Levon's back. He caught a glimpse of two faces at the living room window, as they left the barn. Dismissing them, he turned towards the field. The morning was perfect. Barely an hour past dawn, it was still cool enough to warrant a good, hard run to warm up. He quickly accelerated to a gallop and stayed there until they were a good distance from the house before slowing down again.

Joe chuckled. "You trying to make a fast getaway?" he teased.

"Never. Just trying to get out here before the dew dries." He grinned. After a moment, he came to a halt. He looked over his shoulder. "Joe?"


"You all right?"

Joe looked startled. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Dunno. You never did say, last night, what was bugging you about finding out about Rosa's great-grandfather."

"Wouldn't it bug you if you suddenly found out your great-great-great grandfather was human?"

Levon frowned. "You saying there's something wrong with having a centaur for an ancestor?"

"Of course not. It's just..."

"Just what? Upset at finding out you're not entirely human, yourself?" Levon tried to keep his voice controlled, not show how angry he suddenly felt.

"No!" Then after a brief pause, more softly, "Yes. In a way."

Levon remained silent. He wanted to ask Joe to get off his back, but he'd never done so and wasn't sure he could now without upsetting his lover further. He stared at the trees, not willing to risk speaking until he calmed down.

"Levon?" Joe ran a soothing hand down Levon's arm.

Levon took an involuntary side-step, away from Joe's hand although his Joe on his back it wasn't like he could get away from him. "You think you're gonna be OK with it?" He managed to finally ask.

"Of course. Just as soon as I can get my head around the new self image that comes with the new family tree."

"Self-image, huh. Suddenly you're someone you weren't before?"

Joe shrugged. "I know I'm still the same person but knowing I have centaur blood... Makes me feel, I don't know... Special I guess."

Levon froze. "You what?" He tried to turn around to see his lover.

"Kinda presumptive of me, ain't it? I mean, it's so far back that it shouldn't possibly make a difference, but it does." Joe suddenly looked very shy. "Makes me feel closer to you."

Levon continued staring at his lover, feeling much like he'd just fallen off a cliff. A short cliff, granted, but fallen. He tried to re-engage his thoughts as the anger spiraled away. "You do?" He smiled slowly.

Joe smiled back. "Yeah, I do. Silly, huh?"

"No." Levon shook his head. "Not... Joe, I thought you were upset." He wondered if he could explain what he'd felt.

"Why would I be upset?" Joe sounded truly puzzled.

Levon looked away, untwisting his neck. "No reason, I guess." He looked around and saw the sun was getting high enough to warm the air, soon. "We should get back, soon. They'll wonder what's keeping us." He didn't feel like going back. He felt oddly uneasy, but supposed it was only due to his emotions spinning so wildly out of control for a few minutes.

That, and being so enraged with his lover -- even though he'd been wrong -- had unsettled him.

"They can wait. Levon..." Joe reached up and gently turned his lover's head to look at him. "You gonna talk to me?"

He tried to pull free of Joe's hand, but it was hard. His grip was strong -- wrapped tightly around his heart.

"What's got you so skittish?" Joe asked, his tone more gentle than the words.

Trouble was, much as he knew Joe was going to keep after him to talk, Levon didn't want to tell him. He'd been wrong, and that should be an end to it.

Joe stared at him for a long moment then finally dropped his hand with a weary sigh. "Fine," he said, sounding defeated.

That made Levon feel even worse. He closed his eyes, and forced himself to say, "I didn't understand what you were going on about. I thought you were upset. I thought... I was angry at you for being upset about being a little bit of something I *am*."

Joe was silent for a long moment thinking that over.

Levon waited, getting antsier the longer Joe was quiet. He didn't think he could have made Joe mad, unless he was angry that Levon had gotten so angry with *him*. For a moment he found himself wishing they were back, years before, when he hadn't acknowledged Joe's power over him and he could fight back without jeopardizing his place. Even though the anger he'd felt had frightened him, the thought of angering Joe because of it worried him more.

"You thought I was ashamed because I had centaur blood?" Joe finally asked.

Levon hesitated to answer. He couldn't tell if he'd managed to get Joe pissed off, or if his lover was going to just get exasperated. "Not ashamed," he tried to explain. "Just... felt like it was something to accept. Something to have to deal with... when it'd be easier not to." He wondered if he should try to explain how it felt, being the only one of three of his kind in a city the size of Houston.

"Do you feel that way?"

"No. Wouldn't trade what I am for anything." His voice was soft. It was true, but sometimes it was so hard.

Joe nodded. "But it's hard sometimes," he said softly, echoing Levon's thoughts in that uncanny way he sometimes had.

Levon reached back with one arm, and got a hold of Joe's hand. "Sometimes, I wish things were just... built with me -- us -- in mind. I have spent my entire adult life surrounded by... aliens. Trying to pretend I was human, as well. Some days I just had to tell myself it was as good as I could expect, and it had to be OK. Then you came along and I fell in love, and for the last two and a half years it's been worth it. Your knowing has made it nearly perfect. Then I thought you were upset about being a little bit like me and I just... couldn't believe you'd be upset about something you could hide, that gave me so much trouble for so long."

"No wonder you were angry," Joe breathed, barely audible. He slid off Levon's back and walked around until he was standing in front of his lover, meeting and holding his gaze. "I've never been nor will be ashamed of you or anything you are," he said quietly, his eyes willing Levon to believe what he was saying. "To be a little like you is an honor, not something upsetting."

Levon looked away, reassured and feeling worse. Joe's words reassured him that his mate loved him, loved what he was; they made him feel badly that he'd believed so wrongly of Joe. He stepped forward, and leaned down on Joe's shoulder.

Joe's arms automatically came up and around him, holding him as tightly as he could while Levon was in centaur form. He let Joe hold him, refusing to change back simply because it would make it easier, make their bodies fit together better. After a moment he said, "I'm sorry."

"It's forgotten," Joe told him, still holding him tightly. "I know it's gotta be hard for you to totally give your trust about this stuff -- considering what's happened in the past..." With Caroline, he didn't say but Levon heard it anyway.

"That's just it, Joe. I keep thinking I do trust you. I feel like... like there's nothing I could ever doubt about you. Then something like this happens and it hits me outta the west-forty. I never thought... I could get so mad at you."

Joe chuckled softly. "You've obviously forgotten our relationship when I first came to Houston."

"That wasn't the same, Joe. It didn't mean what it does, now."

"What -- that you care enough to feel strongly about things?"

Levon looked at him, startled. "What? No... that I'd risk being so mad at you. For anything." He had a sinking feeling he'd just stepped up against one more of the alien differences which had begun this whole mess.

Joe again caught and held his gaze. "Do you believe I love you?"

"Yes." Levon's heart started beating faster. Unfortunately, it was in fear.

"I know you love me -- is there anything I could do that would make you stop loving me?"

Levon frowned. "No."

"So what makes you think you could do anything to change how I feel?"

Levon blinked as he realized Joe didn't get it. Maybe he didn't, either. He tried to explain. "Joe... you could, if you wanted to -- I don't think you would but you *could* leave. I can't. Even if you love me, even if I love you. You can decide it ain't worth it and go." He could tell by Joe's suddenly angry expression that he wasn't making himself clear. "I ain't saying you would! Joe, listen to me. I just... if I got you mad at me, I mean really mad... there's nothing I could do. Don't you understand? You're my herd stallion. You know how the women are with Taylor. His word is law and if any of 'em gets outta line, whatever the reason, they do what he says. Or -- or they ain't got a place in the herd anymore." He hoped he was getting through.

It seemed that he was, at least a little; he saw a flare of understanding in Joe's eyes. Joe reached out and caressed his cheek gently. "Is there anything I can say or do that would make this easier for you? To make you believe that there's nothing you can do, no way you can get out of line that would make me leave?"

Levon half-smiled. "Ain't you *leaving* I'm worried about. It's you wanting me gone. Joe, it ain't right for me to get so angry at you," he began.

Joe gave him a half-smile back. "Levon, I'm Italian. In my family, fighting with the people you love is just a way of working up an appetite for dinner." He grew serious again. "You getting angry at me isn't going to make me leave. It isn't going to make me want you to leave either."

"But it ain't right," Levon persisted. "Joe, I was so angry I wanted away from you. Didn't want you touching me, anywhere near me."

Joe sighed. "You've never been angry at someone you've cared about before?" he asked.

"No," he said simply. "Not at someone who was... over me like you are. Like Taylor was before I left."

"You know, sometimes I really wish you hadn't decided I was dominant," Joe complained softly.

Levon looked away. "It wasn't a decision." He let go of his mate.

"Damn..." Joe immediately reached out and grabbed hold of Levon again. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I know it's not something you have control over. It's just... I don't know how to convince you that you're allowed to get angry!" His exasperation was clear in both his words and expression.

Levon looked at him, and blinked once. "I am?" He asked for clarification.

Joe blinked. "Of course you are! That's what I've been trying to tell you!"

"Oh." Levon waited, and realized he felt better. Now, of course, he had a completely exasperated mate to contend with, and a house full of guests waiting breakfast. He gave Joe a hopeful look.

His lover just looked at him disbelievingly. "You mean all I had to do was tell you it's okay and everything's fine?"

Levon rolled his eyes. "What the hell do you think we've been arguing about, Joe? Whatever you say, goes. As long as I know you know what you're talking about I won't argue."

Shaking his head, Joe muttered, "Centaurs."

The hopeful look dropped away, along with the relaxation. He waited, holding his ground uncertainly.

"What, now I can't tease you?" Joe asked exasperated.

Levon moved forward again, back against his lover's shoulder. When Joe wrapped his arms around him, he felt the world settle. He felt safe again.

"Crisis over?"

"Think so." He closed his eyes, and felt the emotions drain out of him. "Thank you."

Joe squeezed him tightly. "Anytime. I'm always going to be here for you. Couldn't get rid of me if you tried."

"Won't try. Might try your patience a time or two," he offered. He felt as well as heard Joe's chuckle. Feeling better, he straightened up and held out his hand. "You wanna ride back?"

Joe smiled. "Yeah."

The next two days were busy ones. While Joe and Levon were working, Maggie and Jesse took turns showing Joe's relatives around town. Angie got her rides, as well as did Tony, Jr. in Joe's arms. Levon got to introduce them to the world's best barbecue, and was pleased to see Rosa agree with him about the taste. Joe blamed it on the centaur influence.

They brought Chicken and Annie, as well as Brad Beaumont, out to the house, and introduced them to Levon's true nature. The revelation went better than Levon had feared it might -- Annie thought it wonderful from the get-go, Brad stared dumbly until his wife explained she'd known for years, and *that* discussion distracted him nicely. Chicken just looked at him silently for awhile, then shook his head and said, "Just when I thought I'd seen everything."

Now they were packing up Maggie's car and the Jimmy for the drive north. Tony had been given a map, and Maggie had a CB in her car which they tuned to the same civilian band as the police radio in Levon's truck. Tony would follow them up, but if they were separated they all felt confident he could find his way to the ranch.

The wedding was scheduled for the following day, and Joy had insisted they arrive at least a day early to make sure everything went smoothly. On the drive there, Joe seemed unable to sit still. He kept squirming in his seat, shuffling his feet and fiddled with the radio, the window, his seatbelt. He was slowly driving Levon crazy.

Finally Levon shot a glance at him. "You need to take a pit-stop, boy?"


"Gotta take a leak?" he asked again. "Or you just got ants on your leg?"

"Oh. No." Joe seemed to finally realize what he was doing. "Sorry. I'm just..."

"Nervous?" Levon ventured.

"Yeah." He looked a bit embarrassed to admit that.

"What about, exactly?" When Joe looked at him like he was crazy for asking, he added, "Which of the dozen, I mean?"

Joe gave it some thought. "Mostly the ceremony, I guess," he finally said. "Not sure exactly what to expect and I don't want to blow it."

Levon grinned. "Don't worry. Joy'll have everything so mapped out you won't have to think about what to do and when to do it. That's why she wanted us up here a day early." His grin died, as he realized; Joy might have forgotten that humans didn't have the same sort of memory as centaurs. If she had a hundred or more details to give Joe....

Joe seemed to be thinking the same thing. "You think she'd be upset if I used crib notes during the wedding?" he joked weakly.

"Nah. She'll probably have someone beside you, whispering your cues and lines to you." He smiled, hoping his lover would find that reassuring.

"Oh. Great," Joe replied with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

"Joe? We'll have a chance to talk to her about it. Make sure it ain't more'n you can handle. Reminds me, Angie asked if she could be a flower girl. Don't know if Joy was planning on that or not, but we need to tell her to work it in."

That earned him a genuine smile. "That child's got us both wrapped around her finger."

"Yeah? So?" Levon grinned. "Shensen was the same way. Will be, when we get there."

"Maybe it's a good thing we're not going to have any kids of our own. We're way too much of a couple of pushovers."

Levon grinned.

The drive to the ranch was nearly the same as it was every time. They stopped for gas, spoke with Marvin who mistook both Levon and Tony for Taylor, and Rosa for Adele. They left the man fifty dollars richer and soon arrived at the dirt drive leading onto the herd's land.

Levon had warned them they might have escorts, and as they drew near he grinned to see he wasn't mistaken. Joe chuckled as he saw the kids head for the vehicles. "Here comes the welcoming committee."

"Yeah." He glanced in the mirror and was glad to see Tony had slowed down, even more so than Levon had. Probably because he couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"They've grown," Joe observed as he watched out the window.

"Didn't you expect them to?" Levon teased.

"Not that much. It's been less than a year."

Levon raised an eyebrow, glancing over briefly before turning his attention back to the dirt road. "Centaurs grow fast, Joe. Remember what I looked like when I was four?"

"Yeah, I know. But knowing it and seeing it are two different things, y'know?"

Levon didn't reply. It seemed normal enough to him. He grinned. "Always thought humans aged too slow."

Joe grinned back. "Centaurs are just in too much of a hurry to do everything -- even grow up."

"Didn't hear you complaining this morning."

"We were in a rush this morning." Joe's grin widened.

"My point." Levon smiled. He paused as the truck hit a rather large hole in the road, then they came around the last bend near the house. The young centaurs raced ahead and began celebrating their win as Levon pulled up.

"You know, we should bring ribbons or something for them one of these times."

"What was that you were saying about being wrapped around somebody's finger?" Levon gave his lover a look before getting out and being bombarded by excited kids. Tony pulled up and parked behind them. The kids barely glanced over as they greeted Joe and Levon, chattering wildly about all the plans the herd was making.

That is, until Tory looked over. Her eyes got huge and she grabbed her sister's arm. "They brought a girl!" she whispered. All of the kids turned and stared. Angie, who had been in the process of climbing out of the car, froze uncertainly.

Levon reached out for Hanna's hand -- the leader of this group -- and when she took it he led her over towards Angie. "Hanna, this is Joe's niece, Angie."

He got no further, as Hanna, hearing the introduction, let go and surged forward. "You're Joe's niece? That means we're gonna be cousins!"

Angie blinked at that and then smiled slowly. "I guess it does." She stuck out her hand. "Pleased to meet you." With that, the rest of the centaur kids came up and Hanna made introductions then offered to show Angie around. Her parents let her go -- both looking a bit shell-shocked. Levon gave his mate a nudge to go take his relatives in hand.

Joe walked over to where his family was standing. "Bit overwhelming, isn't it?" he asked, clapping Tony on the shoulder.

"I -uh...." Tony's voice trailed off as a couple of mares appeared. He stared, then quickly averted his eyes. "Not very body conscious are they?" he asked in strangled tones.

"Sorry about that," Levon answered for them. "Tend to only wear clothes in town." He frowned at Marta and Dusty, saying, "If it bothers you...."

Marta returned his frown until she heard his words. Then she grinned. "Sorry, Levon." Then she winked. "Promise to wear jeans if I change."

"How about a shirt?"

"No, that's okay," Tony interjected, though he was still looking anywhere but at Marta and Dusty. "When in Rome and all..."

Joe grinned. "You're just hoping Maria would act Roman."

"Well...yes." He turned to his wife and gave her a lascivious leer. Maria just swatted his arm. She was smiling, though.

Tony, Jr., though all this, was trying to get out of his mother's arms. Finally in frustration, he yelled, "Cen-aur!" and reached out.

From around the other side of Levon's truck, Jolene came over and held out her arms for him. "How would you like to meet my son? Shensen's been waiting *very* patiently for someone near his age to play with." From behind her Shensen looked shyly out at the newcomers.

Joe smiled at him. "Heya kid."

The colt's face brightened, and he jumped up, changing halfway up as Joe caught him. Levon watched as Joe and Jolene introduced the little ones. A hand touched his shoulder and he looked over. Marta was smiling down at him with her best 'older sister' expression.

"Yeah?" Levon asked, suspicious.

"Want to know what Joy has in store?" She teased.

Levon shook his head. "No." He walked over to stand beside his partner. If he heard about the plans now, chances were he'd throw Joe in the truck and drive away.

Joe was watching Shensen talking a mile a minute to Tony Jr., the human boy nodding and interjecting words where he could. He looked up when his partner came over, then looked closer at the expression in Levon's eyes. "Problems?" he asked.

"No. Marta's just trying to spook me." He gave Joe a grin.

"Looks like she almost succeeded."

"Almost?" Levon asked. "Every time Marta gets that tone in her voice, ends up being something I regret."

"What was she trying to spook you with this time?"

"What do you think? The wedding." He ignored Jolene's smirk and Tony's expression of sympathetic understanding. Tony got another swat on the arm.

Joe shifted uncomfortably. "Still not too late to run."

"Don't even think about it!" Jolene said. "We can outrun you." She smiled, "Why do you think the road up here is in such bad shape?"

"Who says we'd be taking the Jimmy?"

"You think Levon can outrun us with you on his back?"

"If I'm motivated, I can," Levon replied.

"I'm sure he can," Joe agreed.

"Then we won't tell you until it's too late," Marta said.

Levon looked at Joe. "That's it. We're outta--" Marta grabbed his arm.

Levon's family managed to get them inside the house, luggage stashed away in various rooms, and Joe's relatives surrounded by eager centaurs sharing stories and answering their questions. It didn't stop Levon from feeling apprehensive, but he finally got Marta to stop teasing him by simply not responding to her.

Joe stuck right to Levon's side, smiling as he watched his family interact with Levon's. "Never thought I'd ever see this," he confided.

"It's nice, ain't it? Makes me feel..." He shook his head.

"Yeah. Me too."

They were interrupted by Taylor, who walked up and greeted them warmly. "Levon, I hate to drag you away from all this chaos," his look said he knew Levon probably welcomed it. "But Duke has said he'd like to see you. He didn't want to come in until you've talked. He's down by the Littles Spring."

"Want me to come with you?" Joe asked.

"Nah, it's all right," Levon reassured him. "Duke probably just wants to know if he can come to the wedding."

"The spectacle of the day, that's us."

"What's the matter, boy? You don't like being the centaur of attention?"

Joe rolled his eyes.

Taylor was glaring at him good-naturedly. "I thought I told you not to make bad puns."

Levon grinned back. "You did. But Joe hasn't. He owns me, now."

"We own each other," Joe corrected, obviously uncomfortable with Levon's assertion.

"Joe, let me give you a piece of advice," Taylor put a fatherly arm around Joe's shoulders. "Tell Levon he can't make bad puns. Save you so much grief."

Levon gave his father an outraged look, then shook his head. "I'm gonna go see Duke. I'll catch up with you, later," he said to Joe.

"Right." Joe still seemed a bit discomfited.

Taylor waited until Levon had gone, then said in a low voice, "Joe? Maybe you and *I* should have a talk, as well."

Startled, Joe tried to bring his mind away from Levon's retreating form and back to the present. "About what?"

"Come on." Taylor led the way towards the den which was, for the moment, empty. Joe followed, having flashbacks to his childhood and meekly following his Uncle Mikey into the study for a dressing down.

Taylor shut the door and turned to him. He appeared totally at ease. "I realize there aren't very many people you can talk to...people who would understand. Thought you might appreciate the chance."

Relaxing slightly as it became apparent this wasn't going to be a lecture, Joe said, "You mean about the dominance thing."

Taylor nodded. "I imagine it's been difficult to get used to. Humans don't normally establish dominance over one another."

"They do more than you might think," Joe observed dryly, "but not in the kind of relationship I have with Levon."

Taylor smiled. "Yes. That is what I meant." He added with an amused tone, "If you *do* do the whips and bondage bit, I don't really need to know."

Joe blushed deeply. "No. No whips or bondage."

Taylor laughed. "Told you I didn't need to know. Come on, sit down. You *must* have a question or two. I can't guarantee I can help, but I do, at least, understand what it's like."

Taking the proffered seat, Joe was quiet for a moment then said, "Sometimes it's like we're talking two different languages."

Taylor nodded. "That should change, as you learn more about centaurs in general."

"I hope so. Seems as soon as we straighten one misunderstanding out, another happens." Joe knew he was still talking around the real issue but wasn't sure he was ready to talk about it. After all, Taylor was a centaur too. Joe wasn't sure if he could understand Joe's feelings. Or fears.

"That's to be expected in any relationship, Joe. The only difference here is that you haven't the background. Levon probably doesn't explain too much of himself, though, does he? He always was a bit reticent."

"It's like pulling teeth," Joe agreed. Honesty forced him to admit, "Can't say I'm much better."

"Was there anything in particular you wanted to know?" Taylor asked. "I can tell you everything I know -- some of which Levon wouldn't know. It might take us a few days though."

"I just... I don't want to hurt him." 'And I seem to do so way too often,' he added to himself.

"Hurt him? How?"

Biting the bullet, Joe plunged into the heart of the matter. "This dominance thing mostly. We never seem to get it right. Either he's upset because I accidentally come down too hard or he's upset because I'm not coming down hard enough. I..." He sighed. "I just want us to be equals."

"I don't know what to say that will help you *accept* how things are. Levon can't change who he is or how he views your relationship. It's hard-wired into him. It's how centaurs *survive*, by letting the one they trust most to handle the herd, be in charge." Taylor paused, and said in a different tone, "You've seen how Joy and Carla treat me, haven't you?"

"Yeah." Suppressed amusement was in his voice. Joy and Carla behaved as if *they* were in charge, and they were just indulging Taylor's belief that he ruled the herd. Joe knew that wasn't the case, but it was how the two mares typically behaved.

"They behave as equals, have as much responsibility in taking care of the herd as I do. The only difference is, mine is the final say." Taylor shrugged. "It's a balance. You and Levon will find it, sooner or later."

"Levon got angry at me the other day because he misunderstood something I said. And he was terrified 'cause he'd got angry." How much this bothered Joe was clear on his face. "I don't want him afraid to show his emotions to me. I don't want him afraid of me."

Taylor remained silent for a moment, then sighed. "That doesn't often happen... it sounds to me as if -- Joe, have you two ever sat down at talked seriously about what it means for you to be dominant over him? What he expects of you?"

"Not really. We're both uncomfortable talking about it."

"You should. I think if you both understand exactly what the other expects, it will allay some of the difficulties. For instance, Levon's being afraid of having been angry with you. That isn't right."

"That's what I told him. Talked till I was blue in the face, trying to convince him he was allowed to get angry, and finally he told me all I had to do to convince was tell him it was all right."

Taylor nodded. "That should take care of it, then." He half-smiled. "You'll only have to tell him something once." The smile faded. "That might not always be to your advantage, if you say something you don't intend." He frowned, as if suddenly seeing the myriad of difficulties facing the two.

Joe groaned, leaning his head against the back of the chair. "That's what I'm the most afraid of. That I'll say or do something meant as a joke and it'll just..."

"He'll think you meant it."


Joe looked up at Taylor. "It's come close to happening a few times already," he admitted, remembering Levon being ready to take the kittens back because of a joking remark he'd made to him.

"I wonder if..." Taylor trailed off, and sat silent for a moment. "Was this before you decided to get married?"

Joe shook his head. "After. He'd asked me on the way home from visiting here the first time."

"Hmm. I would have said it sounded like he was still uncertain as to his position -- he'd already acknowledged your dominance over him, but if you hadn't made it clear to him your commitment to *him*... My herd doesn't worry about what I say, whether I'm serious or joking. But they don't have to worry about their place, either. They *know* I'm here for them, no matter what happens, I'll take care of them. If Levon is, or was, feeling at all in doubt as to your acceptance of being dominant over him... since, as a human, you wouldn't necessary know what he'd expect of you... it might explain his behavior."

Taylor looked at him, suddenly very serious. "If he thought you didn't *want* to be dominant over him, he might worry that you would one day decide you would no longer take the responsibility."

"He-he knows I'm uncomfortable with it sometimes," Joe stammered, his eyes wide. "But he has to know I'd never leave. That's not an option. I've told him that over and over."

"I don't mean your leaving him, Joe. I'm talking about your willingness to accept being dominant. It's a heavy responsibility, I know -- but it isn't one you can shirk. Not if you intend to make your relationship with Levon work. Joe, when it comes down to it you are *not* equals. If he feels secure that you will, when necessary, take care of him, then he *will* relax and behave as if he were your equal. He will still obey you, even when you don't expect or intend him too, and it sounds as if you need to discuss how to differentiate joking with him and being serious. But he will be able to treat you the way you need, if he knows you will treat him the way *he* needs you to."

Joe nodded slowly, turning over what Taylor said in his mind. Take care of Levon. He could do that. He already had been, he realized with a start. The only times he hadn't questioned being dominant or been made uncomfortable by it was when Levon had needed to be taken care of. It was when everything was going smoothly that the concept gave him trouble. But, maybe, now that he understood better, that wouldn't be the case anymore. "I can do that," he said slowly.

Taylor returned the nod. "Is there anything else?" His manner was one of patience. Joe realized he was ready to spend the next several hours talking, if Joe needed to.

"Not that I can think of right now. Most of our problems are about the dominance thing." He paused then said sincerely, "Thanks."

"You're welcome, Joe. If anything does come up, you know you can call or come visit."

"Thanks," Joe repeated. "I... It means a lot that you've accepted me."

"We couldn't do anything less. Levon really loves you, and he's made you a part of his life the way he never did with Caroline. I am very pleased to be performing your wedding."

To his mortification Joe felt himself blushing at that.

Taylor raised an eyebrow, and for a moment he looked exactly like Levon. "You're that nervous?"

"It's my first time getting married," Joe said a little defensively. 'First and last.'

"Not to worry. You could screw *everything* up and you'll still end up happily married."

"That's reassuring. I think."

"It's meant to be, Joe. Perhaps we should go find Joy and let her start filling you in on the details?"

As he followed his soon to be father-in-law out of the den, Joe wondered if it was too late to talk Levon into eloping somewhere instead.


Levon changed forms in the barn, and headed out towards Littles Spring. Several of his family had stopped him along the way, congratulating him and wishing for the best for the following day. As he got away from the herd and began a slow run towards the spring, he found himself relaxing. He wished Joe were with him. Maybe they could go out early in the morning. They'd both need something to calm them down, then.

The spring was nearly a half hour's run from the ranch house. Levon wasn't sure why Duke hadn't just come up to the house, or stopped by his and Joe's place before they'd left to ask permission to attend. Didn't matter. Levon'd just let him know he was welcome, and that would be that. Surely the two of them could behave for two days if they tried. He drew near the spring, and looked around. He didn't see Duke.

"Bout time you showed up. Always were slow." The voice coming from behind him was most definitely not Duke's.

He spun quickly, eyes narrowing, adrenaline spiking. "Alexander." The other stallion stood leaning against a large rock, regarding Levon with contempt.

"Levon," he said coolly, with a nod.

Levon shifted his weight until he stood in a ready, defensive position. He'd been expecting Duke, his younger brother whom he'd always jostled with but never really intended to fight seriously. Alexander, on the other hand, was a different story. His older brother by ten years had tried three times to challenge Taylor and been driven from the herd's land each time. He'd fought with, and killed, two stallions from their herd already.

The look he was shooting Levon made it clear he was planning on adding to that total. "Hear you're getting married again," Alexander continued in a deceptively casual manner.

"You heard right." Levon told himself he did *not* need to rise to Alexander's taunts. Unfortunately, he'd stopped with the spring to his back. It did not make for a very defensible spot, should Alexander decide to charge. The spring was quite deep, though not very large around.

"My sources have always been reliable," Alexander agreed pleasantly. "Though I find it hard to believe that what else they told me is true. I mean you couldn't have possibly submitted to a *human*, could you? You may not be the strongest in the herd but you're not that much of a weakling."

At that, Levon merely shrugged. He didn't expect Alexander to understand his relationship with Joe. He certainly didn't owe the other centaur an explanation, regardless.

Alexander shook his head, a false smile plastered on his face. "I've never understood you. Always trying to fit in, here and in the humans' world. You had the potential to be a leader, to have others do what you say, even maybe have a herd of your own. Instead you 'fit in', 'obey', 'submit'." Alexander's mouth curled in derision.

"What do you care? Ain't like I'm standing in your way." Levon was, so far, hanging on to his temper. He knew from experience Alexander would soon enough push him past that control.

"Well now," Alexander began, standing up straight and taking a step towards Levon, "that's where you're wrong. You support Taylor. I intend to have Taylor's herd. That puts you directly in my way." He paused, making a big show of consideration. "Though I suppose we could come to another arrangement, if you do what you seem to do best." All pleasant pretense dropped Alexander ordered, "Submit."

Levon smirked. "I don't think so." He was glad, suddenly, that he'd so many years experience as a cop. Outside he was holding the cool facade while inside he was beginning to wonder how -- and if -- he was going to get out of this.

Alexander sighed as if disappointed, but the look in his eyes told a much different story. "If that's the way you want it..."

Levon tried suddenly to circle sideways, get the spring out from behind him while keeping his attention on Alexander and the other's first move. This was, not surprisingly, a very bad place to fight. The ground was rocky and sloped towards the spring. Alexander had placed *himself* in the best spot to attack. Levon found himself wishing Joe would show up. Preferably with his pistols.

Alexander pawed at the ground a bit, then charged. Levon held his ground until the last moment then he leapt sideways. He'd timed it perfectly, Alexander didn't have the chance to veer after him and the other centaur went stumbling past. Levon whirled, ready for the next attack he knew was coming.

The other stallion was just coming around for another charge when the sound of a shotgun's blast reverberated through the air.

"I don't think so buddy."

Levon looked up to see his partner standing beside Marta, pointing his two guns directly at Alexander's head. He didn't relax -- Alexander was still too close. He turned in time to see Alexander backing up slowly. "This isn't any of your affair, two-legs," Alexander snarled at Joe, though he was careful not to make any sudden moves while Joe's guns were pointed at him.

"You attack my partner, you can bet your ass it's my affair."

Levon smiled slowly. "I'd take off, if I were you, Alexander. Ain't nobody here gonna complain if he shoots you." He stepped sideways, carefully maneuvering until he was closer to Joe than to Alexander.

Alexander danced nervously in place, then finally started easing backwards. "This isn't over Levon," he warned before turning tail and galloping away. Levon watched him go. Only when he could no longer see him, did Levon relax and turn towards his lover. He found Joe right beside him, looking up at him.

"You okay, partner?" Joe asked, sliding his guns back into their holsters.

"Didn't realize you brought those. Glad you did." He nodded once, answering Joe's question.

"You know me, I never leave home without them." Casually, Joe reached out and ran a hand down Levon's back. He shivered as Joe touched him.

"You all right, Levon?" This time it was Maggie, asking for professional reasons. Levon gave her a nod. "We'll see you two back at the house, then." She, Marta, and Dusty headed off.

Levon watched them go then, with a shake of his head, said, "I didn't think Maggie still traveled with her shotgun."

"She's a tough lady," Joe said, also looking after the retreating forms. Then he turned his attention fully to Levon. "I can't let you out of my sight for a minute can I?" he said teasingly, though the worry and fear he had felt was plain in his eyes.

"Oh gods, Joe..." he changed and was instantly in his lover's arms. Joe just held onto him tightly, not saying a word. "I thought --" Levon stopped, jerking back. "Duke! Is he--?"

"He's fine," Joe assured him, pulling him back into his embrace. "Alexander tied him up after forcing him to set up the meeting, but he got free and phoned the ranch with a warning. That's how we knew there was trouble." He squeezed tighter. "I wasn't sure we'd get here in time."

"Good...." Levon felt immense relief that Duke hadn't been hurt -- or killed. He lowered his head back onto Joe's shoulder. "I hate meeting up with him," he said softly.

Joe nodded. "He's your Vinnie, huh?"

"Guess so," Levon replied. "Reckon the only difference is, I *know* Alexander'd gladly kill me. Vinnie took you kinda by surprise."

"Alexander looked a lot more serious about it than Vinnie ever was too." Joe reached up and almost absently stroked his fingers through Levon's hair.

"He always is. Glad he stopped to taunt me first, else you might not have--" Joe's arms suddenly tightened their hold on him in denial of that thought. Levon took a deep breath, and let it out. Alexander had failed this time. He raised his head and looked into Joe's eyes. "Thank you."

"Anytime," Joe replied. "That's what partners are for."

Levon gave his partner a long, deep, kiss. "Can we take our time getting back?"

Joe grinned. "Yeah."

Levon gave his lover another deep kiss. When he broke it off, he closed his eyes and tried to tell himself it was over. He had a quick flash of the last time he and Alexander had tangled. If Joanne hadn't come into the alleyway looking for her partner, he might have been killed.

Joe rubbed his back soothingly. "Want to talk about it?" he asked softly.

Levon sighed. "It's just... Alexander. Last time he hurt me pretty bad - I hurt him, too. But it's the things he says...."

"Like what?"

Slowly Levon shook his head, wondering if the things Alexander really mattered. "I know he was just trying to get a rise outta me. But he seemed to think it was hilarious I...." He stopped. Joe didn't really like being dominant over him; he might not like hearing that Alexander thought it amusing, but maybe it wouldn't be for the same reasons.

"It was hilarious you...? What?" Joe's concerned eyes caught and held his own, refusing to let him not answer.

"That I'd submit to you."

Joe froze. "I'll kill him," he said clearly. Levon stared at his lover like he'd grow a third head. Noticing the look Joe asked, "What?"

"I thought..." He hoped Joe wouldn't take what he was about to say, the wrong way. "You don't care much for it, either. I wasn't sure--"

"I just didn't understand it. The dominance thing. What it means to you. I do now."

Levon stared. For a moment he couldn't say a word. Finally he managed, "You what?"

"I understand," Joe repeated. "I know I haven't actually done the best job I could with it up to now but I'll do better from now on." He shrugged and grinned a little. "I was looking at it all wrong but I'm not any more. It's all about taking care of you. That I have no problem with."

Levon tilted his head sideways, looking at his lover closely. "Joe? You get kicked in the head?" He didn't understand how in the space of an hour his mate could have made such an apparent about-face. He could have *sworn* that Joe already knew dominance was about taking care of those you were responsible for. In exchange, they did whatever you needed them to do.

Joe's grin widened. "Maybe figuratively. Your father and I had a talk. He explained things to me. I'd been assuming... well it doesn't matter. I was wrong."

Again Levon could only stare at his lover. Slowly, though, his grin forced its way out. "Then you're ok with things, now?" he asked.

"That's what I've been saying."

He'd been holding Joe tightly all along, so Levon had to just mesh his body a little closer and yell. He looked up at Joe again, found him smiling, and grinned.

"Guess I'm as slow on the uptake as you are, cowboy," Joe commented, stroking his fingers through Levon's hair again.

Levon found himself relaxing, totally and quickly. He pressed himself against Joe tightly then looked his lover in the eye. He saw everything there he'd ever wanted. "Do you want to hear about Alexander?" he asked, easily.

Joe nodded. "Yeah." That was it, no long explanations or justifications, just the one word request for information.

"How far back you want me to start?"

"I'll leave that up to you." Joe moved over and sat down, leaning against a rock, then pulled Levon down into his arms. "Any time you're ready."

Levon thought about it for a moment. He found that he no longer cared as much about what Alexander had done, either today or years past. He felt safe. Alexander was irrelevant. He didn't want simply to say nothing, though, as Joe had asked to hear about him. He realized there was something he needed to say. "He's gonna try again, Joe. This is the third time he's tried to fight me. I keep getting lucky, getting interrupted before either of us can kill the other."

"He's welcome to try," Joe said, the implied threat obvious.

"That's easy for you to say," Levon teased. "You ain't the one he's aiming for."

"I'm the one he'll have to get through to get to you," Joe replied. "And I fight dirty."

"I know. Glad you do." Levon snuggled a bit into his lover's embrace. "He's likely to try something underhanded. He usually does, though... well most stallions are pretty straight-forward. Walk right up and get in your face."

"So he wouldn't expect a lot of tricks and ploys."

Levon looked up at Joe. "From who?"

Joe just stared at him levelly.

"Joe... I don't think I can do something like that. Not to him. Even if he deserves it," he began hesitantly.

"Good thing I can then, isn't it?" Joe chuckled.

"You..." Levon stopped. He wasn't sure he wanted to know the details of whatever Joe was planning. Then again.... "What do you have in mind?"

Joe considered. "Depends on what the circumstances are the next time we run into him, but I figure we should be able to find something to arrest him for. How do you think Alexander would like a nice private cell on the fifth floor?"

Levon smiled. "I think he'd hate it."


A thought occurred to him, and Levon frowned slightly. "Do I need to warn you that he's liable to make a move on you now? Because you forced him off me?"

"I figured that much out on my own." Joe shrugged. "Won't be the first time I've had someone after my head."

"Reckoned you knew...." Levon thought back over everything he knew about Alexander, trying to decide what he needed to explain, and what Joe would take as given, from what he already knew. "He's never used weapons of any kind, before. Never heard of *any* stallion attacking another with a weapon. 'Bout the only thing he does right."

"You think he might change that in the future?"

"Dunno. If he goes after you, he might figure he's free to. You did hold a gun on him first, he might use that as an excuse. I never did understand why he bothered not using weapons. He breaks just about every other tradition, rule, or instinct. Maybe he just don't know how to use any." Grimly, he added, "He hit Justin with his car. Only knocked him down, but that was enough. Justin couldn't get up to defend himself...."

Joe's arms tightened around Levon. "Sounds to me he uses weapons. Just not the weapons anyone would expect."

"If he'd killed Justin outright with his car, Duke, Rudy and I would have killed him." He sighed. "Maybe we should have."

"I can't second guess you. I wasn't there." He nuzzled Levon's neck. "We'll deal with Alexander when the opportunity arises. With his attitude it will."

"Whatever you say, Joe." Levon said it bitterly, still thinking of how maybe Rudy would still be alive if they had done something about Alexander years ago. They hadn't, and that was it. It felt wonderful, however, to concede to his mate. He looked up, with a pleading expression. "Can we have sex now? Or you wanna talk about Alexander some more?"

Joe laughed. "I think we've talked about him enough for now," he said, blue eyes glinting with arousal. He leaned in and kissed Levon.

When they broke for air, Levon said, "Good. Was worried I'd have to seduce you while we were still discussing him. Don't find Alexander much of a turn-on."

Joe was already removing his clothes. "Me neither. There's only one centaur turns me on."

"Good thing I came out here naked, then, isn't it?" Levon attacked his mate before he could finish undressing.

The next hour or so passed quite enjoyably, and left both men smiling, even if Joe had to go diving after his shirt in the spring. Levon looked suitably sheepish as Joe rung the shirt out. "You want, I'll run real fast on the way back. Maybe it'll air-dry?"

Joe tried to scowl at his lover but was unable to hold onto the expression. "It's okay," he said. "Weather's nice anyway." He grinned. "Besides, that was worth a wet shirt."

"Worth a pair of wet pants?" Levon asked from the safety of his centaur form. Joe couldn't toss *him* into the spring, as he was.

"Luckily, my pants managed to stay on dry land." He pulled the still wet shirt on; it clung to his chest rather nicely, Levon thought. He walked over and helped Joe smooth the wet fabric down. Joe gave him a look. "You know, I may not be able to throw you in there but I could just order you in."

"I was only trying to help." Levon grinned.

"Uh huh. That's why you were falling down laughing."

"Didn't fall." Levon gave his lover an innocent look, then took Joe's hand and helped him onto Levon's back. He turned his head for a kiss. "I love you, you know. And thank you."

"For what?" Joe asked sounding bemused.

"For taking me. For understanding." He wondered if he was making sense.

"You're welcome." Joe slipped his arms around Levon's waist and hugged him, dropping a kiss on his shoulder. "I'm sorry it took me so long to figure it out."

"Does this mean I can bring you back and let Taylor kick you again, next time you're being slow?" Levon took a step towards the house, ready to run in case Joe decided to order him into the spring.

"Dealing with you, I may need the extra help," Joe shot back.

"Careful, Joe. I'd hate to have to drop you... and there's another spring up ahead." Levon was making his way towards that spring, on his way back towards the house.

"I'd just have to order you to come in and get me if you did."

"Wouldn't have to order me," Levon said with a hurt tone. "If I threw you in the spring I'd come after you."

Joe chuckled. "Kinda defeats the purpose, doesn't it?"

"Not at all. Lemme show you."

"Levon--" Joe began warningly.

"Yeah?" he asked innocently.

"If I have to wear wet jeans the rest of the way back...."

"You could take 'em off," he pointed out.

"That would be inviting you to throw me in."

"I meant afterwards. Wouldn't have to wear them back."

"Levon you may have forgotten but my family's back at the ranch, including my eight-year-old niece and my grandmother. I am not riding back in the buff."

"Oh. We'd have to stay out here then, wouldn't we?" Levon said, thoughtfully.

"Do you want to explain to Joy why we're late for our own wedding rehearsal?"

Levon thought it over for a few moments. "Suppose we could elope...."

"Joy would have our heads. Correction, she'd come after me because I'm the dominant one."

Levon grinned. "Hadn't thought of that... you're right! We should definitely stop."

"Are you trying to get me killed?"

Levon stopped, suddenly. He turned his head, frowning, heart suddenly beating wildly. "Don't even joke about it." He'd had another nightmare about it only two nights ago. He hadn't woken Joe, hadn't told him he was still dreaming about Joe being killed.

Joe reached up and laid a hand against Levon's cheek. "Sorry. I--" He sighed. "It was just a joke. I didn't think."

He leaned into the touch. "I know... but it still hurts, Joe. I can still see--" he cut himself off.

"Don't," Joe said softly, pressing as close as he could to his lover. "It's over and done with. And I'm still here."

"I can't help it, Joe. I know you're here but it doesn't seem to stop me from seeing it nearly every time I fall asleep."

"What can I do to help?"

"I don't know. If I did I'd have asked before now." He leaned his head back, towards Joe. "Maybe... maybe knowing you've accepted being dominant will help. I don't have to worry about...."

"What? Me deciding I don't want the responsibility?" Joe shook his head. "That would never happen."

Levon looked at Joe, completely bewildered. "Never happen? Joe, you spent the last seven months trying to get out of it."

"I didn't. I--" Joe sighed, sounding defeated. "I wasn't trying to get out of it. Well, not the way you mean. I just..."

"You just what?" Levon tried hard to keep the note of pleading out of his voice. He didn't understand, hadn't ever, in fact, understood why Joe had disliked being dominant. He knew it was something new for the man to be faced with, but that hadn't explained his outright refusal, at times, to accept it.

Joe was silent for a moment, seeming to struggle to find the words to explain. "I thought being dominant was -- I'm not sure I can find the words. Not the way you saw it though. I thought by being dominant it meant that we weren't on equal footing anymore." He looked at Levon. "Does that make any sense?"

"Not on equal footing? Joe... I don't think I get what you're saying." He picked his words carefully. "We *aren't* on equal footing. That's what it means."

"But I didn't want you to suddenly stop talking back to me, to stop arguing with me, even getting angry if you think I deserve it. That's what I thought it meant."

"You were afraid I'd get a personality transplant, you mean?" He had to try real hard not to grin.

"Well..." Joe had the decency to look embarrassed, "yeah! And not without reason. You freaked on me when you got angry."

"Of *course* I freaked. I didn't want to push you into deciding you didn't want to be with me, anymore. You kept saying you wouldn't leave, but if you said you'd only stay if you didn't have to be dominant... we'd have both been miserable."

"So what you're saying is I didn't want to be dominant because of the way you were acting, and you were only acting that way because I didn't want to be dominant?"

Levon remained silent for a minute. "Sounds stupid when you put it that way, doesn't it?" He stopped trying to fight his grin.

"I think we both deserved to be kicked in the head," Joe muttered.

"Can I kick you first?"

"Taylor kicked me. I get to kick you."

Levon frowned. "Who do I get to kick then?"

"Who says you get to kick anyone?"

"No. I ain't letting you kick me if I don't get to kick anyone." He glanced back. "Can we get a third mate? I could kick *him*. Esteban's cute," he suggested.

Joe gave him an exasperated look. "You do remember in the wedding vows where it says forsaking all others?"

Levon glanced again. "Whose vows you talking about? You're marrying a herd animal."

"And you're marrying a monogamous one. Who you've already submitted to." Joe grinned evilly. "Besides, I already talked to Joy."

"You did? She said we couldn't marry anyone else?" Levon said it with a note of disappointment. "How am I supposed to fulfill all your sexual needs by myself?"

"You've been doing pretty good so far cowboy. What, you don't think you're up to the challenge?"

"Depends on whether I can keep you away from the wine."

"I'm sure you can think of ways to distract me." Joe was silent for a moment then gave Levon a squeeze. "So we're not going to have any more problems with me joking with you now? I mean about the dominance thing?"

"I don't reckon we will," Levon replied in a similar, serious mien. "I can't promise I'll always know when you're joking. Didn't always know, before we became lovers." He looked back at his mate. "If I get it wrong, just tell me?"

"I will. If you ask if you're ever in doubt."

"I will."

"That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Reckon it wasn't." Levon smiled.

"What took us so long then?"

"You're slow, remember?"

"Takes one to know one."

"Does not." Levon began heading for the house again.



"I love you."

"Good. You can tell Joy why we're late, then." He nodded towards the approaching mare.

"I'll just blame it on you."

Levon thought long and hard about staying in bed. It wasn't just that the bed was warm, or the company friendly and cuddly. It wasn't that as soon as he showed his face his friends and family would be in his face trying to make sure everything went off without a hitch.

It wasn't that he still would be willing to elope, if they could just find the damn truck keys Marta swore she couldn't locate. No, what he *really* wanted to avoid was the line at the bathroom.

Beside him, Joe rolled over and snuggled closer, still more asleep than awake. Hands started wandering Levon's body.

Okay, maybe not that much asleep.

Levon wriggled, and the hands latched onto him. "Careful!" Levon whispered in case anyone was in the hall within earshot. Not that they wouldn't have heard them last night....

"Careful?" Joe asked, nuzzling Levon's ear. "We're getting married today. I'm pretty sure everyone knows what we're doing in here." He paused. "Especially after your performance last night."

"That's not what I meant. If you squeeze that too hard I'm liable to piss in the bed." He had to stop himself from laughing at how fast Joe sprang back. Levon looked at his lover's face and stopped trying not to laugh. That, unfortunately, made him have to go even worse. "Hell, maybe I can sneak outside and change... normally having only two bathrooms isn't a problem."

"It wouldn't be, around here."

Levon snuggled a little deeper into the cocoon of blankets and Joe, then decided he was simply going to have to risk it. He stepped out into the hallway in his robe, and that was the last quiet moment he had for the entire day. He'd barely taken two steps when he was pounced on by Angie. She threw herself at him yelling, "Happy wedding day, Uncle Levon!"

Catching her easily, Levon gave her a good morning kiss on the cheek. "Thanks, Angie. Have you seen the end of the line to the bathroom?" he asked in a slightly conspiratorial air.

She giggled. "There's not a line up at that one," she said, pointing at the one at the far end of the hallway. "Joy told us all last night that that one was off-limits 'cept for you and Uncle Joey. 'Cause you have to get ready and 'can't be wasting precious time standing in lines.'" The last had obviously been a quote.

"Really? Remind me to be nice to Joy, later today." He let the girl down, then realized what this meant. They'd have to be doing a lot more than shower and shave, to get *ready*. He rolled his eyes, and headed for the bathroom.

By the time he made it back to their bedroom, Joe had finally roused himself from the bed. He was just putting on his own robe when Levon came back in. "We're in luck, or not. Depends on how you look at it -- bathroom at the end of the hall is free for our use." Levon walked over and ran his hands beneath Joe's robe.

Joe gave him a lecherous grin. "Care to conserve water and share a shower?" Somehow his hands found their own way beneath Levon's robe.

"Sounds good to me," Levon said just before Joe's mouth touched his.

After a brief moment of indulging in the kiss, Joe pulled back with a sigh of regret. "We better get moving," he said. "Joy will kill us if we fall behind schedule."

"I reckon she put this into the schedule," Levon said as he went in for another kiss.

Joe held him back. "Shower," he reminded. Levon blinked at the visions of being under a spray of hot water with his lover.... Chuckling, Joe shook his head. "Move your tail cowboy." Levon let his lover lead him back to the bathroom.

The shower took just as long as they expected it to.

Finally they dressed in casual clothes and headed downstairs for breakfast. "Getting nervous?" Joe asked as they paused on the stairs for one last private moment before letting the chaos of the day catch up with them.

"Getting?" Levon teased. Then he stopped, staring at his lover's face for a moment. His smile widened. "Hey," he said.


"You wanna get married?" He asked softly.

Joe smiled back. "Yeah," he replied just as softly, reaching up and caressing Levon's cheek.

"Great! Would you mind doing it someplace other than the stairs?" came an amused voice from behind and above them.

"Keep your shirt on, Marta," Joe told the woman, his gaze never leaving Levon's face. He leaned in for another kiss. "Some things can't be rushed," he said as their lips finally parted.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Marta returned. "Don't mind those of us starving up here."

Levon didn't. He kissed Joe again, only partly to spite his sister.

"What do you think?" Joe asked after a moment. "That enough for now?"

"Probably. We try for another one, she's likely to climb out the window." He stopped, and considered. "Actually...."

"Don't try it, horsehead. I'm not the one who got in trouble climbing onto the roof when he was five."

"The roof?" Joe asked. "I thought you were afraid of heights."

"Why do you think he's afraid of heights?" Marta asked, when Levon just glared at her. She came down another step, and patted him on the shoulder. "He didn't realize the roof was *high*. He was always kinda slow..."

Glaring, Levon asked, "Don't you have somewhere to be? Dub Creek, maybe?"

"Well I *would* go to breakfast," she replied, "if someone wasn't blocking the stairs."

Levon grinned and stepped out of her way -- by pressing himself up against Joe. "Way's free," he pointed out.

"About time." She made her way down past them muttering under her breath things Levon was sure he was glad he couldn't hear. He turned his grin back to his lover. The sight brought back all the things he'd been feeling before -- warm, fuzzy, safe, and loved.

Joe gave him that boyish smile he loved and hugged him tight before releasing him. "Come on, partner. We better get down there before all the food is gone."

"Nah. They'd never risk not feeding us. Don't want one of us fainting from hunger during the ceremony." He did step back, however, and followed Joe downstairs to the dining room.

The room brought a new meaning to the word "chaotic". He'd thought it bad when just the herd, or Joe's relatives, were together for a meal. Putting the herd *and* Joe's relatives together increased the chaos factor by at least 10.

The chaos didn't seem to faze Joe one bit. If anything, it seemed to relax and energize him; he waded right into the middle of it, greeting his cousins, teasing the children, exchanging 'good mornings' with Joy and Carla. Joe seemed completely in his element.

Levon sighed, only mildly jealous. If this was something he *wanted* to be used to, he'd be more jealous. As it was, he sought out a clear seat at the table and sat down, avoiding as best he could each moving body. He caught his father looking at him; Taylor gave him a knowing wink.

He smiled back, feeling a little bit better. He felt even better when Joe made his way back to his side, with two dishes of food and sat down beside him. "Found food I see. Must be a pretty good hunter."

Joe grinned. "Having to fight Tony and Vinnie growing up for the last helping of whatever we were having was good training for this mess." He set the second plate down in front of Levon. "Here. Noticed you didn't look too thrilled about plunging into the middle of that mess."

"It showed?" Levon said sarcastically. He leaned closer to Joe, and said in a low voice, "What I said about being a herd animal... I lied."

He picked up a fork and dug into what looked like a wonderful breakfast. Joe's laughter was his only answer.

To Levon's dismay, the chaos continued. He'd expected it to, but he hadn't quite anticipated what it would be like to have half the herd, as well as his friends, all focused on him.

The other half was focused on Joe. Levon overheard 'cummerbund' and decided he didn't want to know.

Joy and Carla were running around, trying to make sure everything was where it needed to be and that everyone knew what she or he had to do. Every few minutes someone would run up with another last-minute instruction, or a 'have you seen'. It was making Levon's head spin. Every once in a while he'd catch sight of Joe, and his lover would send him another of his boyish, delighted smiles.

Before he knew it, Levon was being taken by the arm and tugged towards the barn. "We have to get you ready, Levon." He swallowed his increasing nervousness and let himself be led away.

"Uncle Levon?" It was Angie who had trailed after the group heading towards the barn.

"Yeah?" He turned towards the girl.

"I was wondering..."

"Yeah?" He waved the suddenly-shy girl towards him.

"This is a special occasion, right?"

"About as special as they come." He grinned, crouching down in front of her. "What's up?"

"I've been reading about horses and stuff and...." She paused then finished in a rush. "Can I braid your tail?"

Levon was *extremely* glad his work as a cop had given him the ability to hold a straight face. He put his arm around Angie's waist, and gave her an understanding smile. "How about you braid the girls' tails? They'd look real pretty."

Angie's expression fell. "You think it's stupid."

"I don't," Levon protested. "I happen to know Marta's already got some ribbons cut." He could see she wasn't entirely convinced, and tried again. "Those books your read... they say it's the mares who get their tails and manes braided?"

"Not just the mares. Gel-geldings too." She stumbled over the unfamiliar word.

"Geldings." He had to work *very* hard to keep a straight face. He was glad the mares behind him weren't giggling out-loud. "Do you know what a gelding is?"

She nodded. "It's a boy horse -- I mean stallion -- that can't make baby horses. Foals, I mean."

"Right. Well, there's a reason geldings can't make foals. And that reason don't apply to me."

He wondered for a moment at the absurdity of having this particular conversation, surrounded by relatives, on his wedding day. He understood why he'd agreed to marry Caroline in the church at Lombard with no relatives invited.

"So was a stupid idea to want to braid your tail." Angie sighed. "Sorry." She turned and started back towards the house.

He grabbed her by the shirt, and hauled her back. "Angie? It wasn't a stupid idea." He leaned closer, and whispered in the nearly-panicked tone he was feeling. "I just *really* don't want a braided tail. Even if it *would* look nice."

Angie considered that. "Can I at least brush it out for you?" she asked after a moment.

"That you can do. In fact, if I know my sisters, they've more'n that planned." He was relieved to see the upset expression totally replaced by Angie's smile.

"But no braids," she teased.

He gave her a wink. "No braids. Ask Marta, though. Or Hanna -- the fillies might want some help, too."

"Okay." Good humor completely restored, she followed him into the barn.

He sighed, and hoped the rest of the day would go more smoothly. He was glad to see Dusty's sympathetic look, and hoped it meant no one would try telling him he *should* have a braid. The barn was filled -- at least it looked that way. Mares in both forms moving back and forth, gathering what looked horribly like --

"Uh, Dust, I've already had a shower today."

Dusty grinned at him. It was a rather evil grin, Levon thought. "So you'll be real clean when we get finished with you then." She dragged him over near the lockers. Jerking her thumb at one, she ordered, "Get 'em off and change. We have work to do."

"Mind if I come back when you're through?" Levon asked.

"Get 'em off or we'll get 'em off for you," Dusty warned, eyes narrowing.

"All right, all right." He started unbuttoning his shirt. He wondered what they were doing to Joe, back in the house.

"Quit dilly dallying. We're on a schedule."

He tossed his shirt at her.

Dusty gave a long suffering sigh. "Stallions..."

He threw his boot, next.

Dusty just ducked, grinned and stuck her tongue out at him. His second boot hit Marta on the hindquarters -- which was where he was aiming as it startled her into backing up a step, and hitting Dusty. He gave them both an innocent look. "It slipped." He did, however, finish undressing and changed before either could advance on him.

"Behave, little brother or I'll ask Joe to order you to let us braid your tail," Marta told him."You don't scare me." Levon faced his sister squarely, now that he was an inch taller. "I can still outrun you both."

"Have it your way." She turned to head back to the house -- and Joe.

He sighed. "All right, I'll behave." He heard Angie giggle, and gave her a grin.Marta smiled brightly. "Good." She reached for the hose. "Might as well get started. Time's awasting."

They were, Levon had to admit, thorough. They scrubbed and brushed everything he owned, even polishing his hooves. Angie had helped with that, eagerly getting down on the floor with Dusty, learning more than Levon suspected she'd anticipated about how to care for an equine.

Finally, though, he was ready. At least when Joy came through and gave him a once- twice- and thrice-over, she was satisfied. "You'll do," she said, nodding with a smile. "Good thing too, because it's almost time to begin."

"Thank gods," Levon muttered. Marta came over and took his arm, and smiled seriously.

"Don't trip."

Which of course, almost assured that he would. He glared at her.

They left the barn, and ahead of them the mares and fillies arranged themselves. Angie was standing beside Tory, in front, both with baskets of flowers. Angie's hair and Tory's tail were braided identically, with matching bright yellow ribbons.

Levon looked around, and found Joe standing near the house with Tony. He was wearing a tux -- and Levon realized it was the first time he'd ever seen his lover in a tuxedo.

He stared.

The cut of the tux was simple and elegant and only served to highlight Joe's good looks. The man had been born to dress in formal wear, Levon decided, as he watched the way his lover moved, with an understated grace, seemingly totally at ease. It was only when Joe got a little closer and he could see his eyes that Levon realized that his lover was as nervous as he was.

He felt better, and sent his mate a smile. Then Marta nudged him, and they began walking. He and Joe met at the head of path left between the assorted guests, centaurs and humans both. For a moment Levon continued to stare at his mate. Then he grinned and held out his hand for Joe's. He felt a gentle squeeze then they began to walk down the path.

Joe's face was perfectly calm but his eyes darted anxiously over the watching crowd. "Suppose it's too late to back out now huh?" he whispered under his breath. His grip on Levon's hand tightened.

"Marta's got a lasso, I think." Another couple of steps, and Levon said in a carefully measured tone, "You sorry you're doing this?"

That got him a startled look. "Of course not! I just don't like being on display."

Levon glanced at his lover. "I kinda like seeing you dressed up like this." He said nothing more, only a few feet now from where Taylor was waiting. Anything he wanted to add would only get them both in trouble when his brain shut off. Joe gave him a shy grin and turned forward again, his attention on Taylor as they came to a half before the head stallion.

Taylor gave them a smile, and then addressed the crowd. "Friends, loved ones, we have gathered today to witness and celebrate the marriage of this centaur and this man. It is a great blessing to find such love in life to bind yourself heart and body to a single person. That is why we ask those who watch over us, those who created us, and those who love us, to stand over us as this union is forged.

"Let this day mark the beginning of a long and treasured life together. In matrimony, as in all things, let us all remember that it is our loved ones who make this life worthwhile." He looked at Joe, then Levon. "It is my honor to bless this marriage as well."

Then he turned slightly, and looked at Joe. "Do you, Joseph Anthony LaFiamma, take this centaur to be your husband and mate, to have and to hold, to love and respect, as long as you shall live?"

"Uhm..." Joe stammered then turned and caught Levon's gaze with his own. He smiled, relaxing a little at what he saw there. "Yeah. I do."

Taylor gave him a proud, understanding smile and turned to Levon. "Do you, Levon Elmer Lundy, take this man to be your husband and mate, to have and to hold, to love and obey, as long as you shall live?"

Levon nodded. "I do."

Taylor nodded to Marta and Tony, standing off on either side. Tony approached first; from Joe's expression it was obvious he wasn't expecting this. Tony held out a ring, and Taylor asked, "Will you speak your vows?"

Joe glanced from Taylor to Levon and back again. "What?"

"We find that vows, spoken from the heart, are much more honest than those prepared beforehand. It is not required; you may simply place the ring on Levon's finger. Or you may say... whatever you feel appropriate."

"Centaurs never heard of stage fright, have they?" Joe muttered, but turned back to Levon. Reaching out for his partner's hand he begged, "Give me a second here, okay?"

Levon gave him his hand, and looked Joe in the eye. He smiled slowly, and mouthed "read me my rights".

Joe's mouth twitched as he tried to hold back the nervous laughter at that. Shaking his head he warned, "One of these days cowboy..."

"You love me and you know it," Levon smirked.

"Yeah," Joe replied, smiling softly. "I do." Then his expression became serious and his grip tightened on Levon's hand. "Do you know everything you are to me? When I came here, to Texas, to Houston, I'd just lost my partner, my family, my home. You gave me all those back -- gave me a partner I could trust to watch my back, became my family when I needed it and shared yours with me too. You're the only reason that I stopped looking at Houston as a prison and instead began seeing it as my home. And you made me believe in magic again. After all there has to be magic if you could love me." He smiled and looked down a little self-consciously, then slipped the ring on Levon's finger.

Levon waited until Joe looked up at him again before glancing back at Marta. She held out the ring, and he took Joe's hand. He held it tightly, and spoke. "There was a time when I swore I'd never love anyone. Time when I thought being alone was the best thing I could ask for. I thought that my life was gonna be just about surviving. When I fell in love with you, I discovered that I needed a lot more than just survival. I needed you -- and I still cannot believe that you have taken everything I have given you and returned only love and acceptance. It means more than I could possibly say to have you here with me. I love you, Joe, and there ain't nothing more important than that. And nothing more real."

He took the ring, and slipped it on Joe's finger.

For along moment the two men just stared at each other, getting lost in each other, their eyes continuing the conversation without words. Taylor's voice broke the spell. "By the power invested in me by the people we stand before, I now pronounce you mates. You may kiss," he added in an amused tone.

Joe seemed startled at first, then grinned and wrapped his arms around Levon's waist, tilting his head up towards his partner's. Levon met him halfway, and they kissed. About two minutes later the crowd began laughing, then applauding.

Two minutes after that, there were catcalls.

Finally Taylor cleared his throat and asked, "Can we move on to the reception now?"

Joe waved his hand in a 'go on' gesture, not breaking the kiss. Levon laughed back in his throat, holding Joe closer, not breaking the kiss either.

"Shall we just send your gifts home, and cart you two out to Rosling's?" Taylor asked, sounding only partially joking.

That started Joe laughing, which finally forced the two of them apart.

"Quick, somebody grab them before they go at it again," Marta said.

Levon flicked his tail, swatting his sister.

"Jealous?" Joe asked, one arm still around Levon's waist.

"Hardly. I'm *hungry* and I want some of those barbecued ribs."

Joe groaned. "This is what I get for marrying a Texan. Barbecue at my wedding."

Levon winked. "Not to worry. Saw some trays of lasagna, and *somebody* brought about two dozen spumonis."

"Compromise?" Joe asked. "There's a novel concept."

"Here's another," Levon said, and gave Joe's hand a familiar tug. "Know you're supposed to be carrying me," he winked.

"Yeah, if you want me to spend our honeymoon in traction."

Levon pulled as Joe leapt; when his lover was firmly astride his back, Levon turned and headed back down the pathway. "Watch out for the popcorn," he said.


Levon didn't have to answer. As he stepped down, everyone suddenly pulled out small paper bags and began to throw handfuls of their contents at the newlyweds.


Laughing as he ducked the barrage, Joe leaned close to Levon's ear and asked, "Did we just get married or act in a movie? Popcorn?"

Levon glanced over his shoulder. "Popcorn won't kill the birds. Rice will."

Joe considered. "Could be worse," he finally admitted, brushing popcorn off his lap.

"How so?"

"Could be dyed bird seed that hadn't dried yet." He spoke as if from experience.

"Who'd you do that to?" Levon came to the end of the path, and stopped. He held out his hand for Joe's.

"Tony and Maria." He grinned as he put his hand in Levon's and dismounted. "Blamed it on Vinnie too."

"Good." Levon approved.

There was a table set up, with a pile of gifts and cards stacked almost neatly on one half. The other half was left clear; Joe jumped up and sat on the edge, Levon stood beside him. "So what's next? Food or gifts? Or is there some other centaur tradition nobody told me about?"

"Didn't know he was gonna do that," Levon said quickly. Joe rolled his eyes, but smiled.

Hanna stepped forward, looking official and serious. "First the gifts. Tory and Rusty and I looked up all the stuff on Catholic weddings and told Joy everything she needed to know. We left most of it out," she looked apologetic, but still quite serious. "Sorry, Uncle Joe. But Taylor isn't a priest."

Joe startled a bit at the "Uncle Joe" bit but recovered quickly, grinning. "That's okay, Hanna," he told the young filly. "Levon and I wouldn't be able to get married in the Catholic religion anyway."

She nodded. "That was the other reason. But we can give you gifts, like they do at human weddings. And we have a big cake, for afterwards. Then food!" Her serious demeanor dropped, all at once.

"You the master of ceremonies?" Joe asked her teasing.

"Yes. I get to present the gifts." She danced forward, lightly. "Can I start?"

"Go for it."

Joe watched her canter over to the pile of gifts and leaned closer to Levon. "You know, I think they're getting a bigger kick out of today than we are."

"That's what weddings are for," Levon said. He recalled how excited Caroline's family had been - for months they made plans, talked about the wedding, and in general made a lot more of the occasion than he -- or Caroline -- had. He grinned as Hanna pulled the largest box out of the pile and carried it over.

Joe reached out and took one side of the box while Levon grabbed the other. "Starting out big, huh?" he asked Hanna.

"It's the best one!"

They set the box down, and Hanna stepped back. Levon pulled the card out. "To Joe and Levon -- to uphold the finest in wedding traditions. Love, anonymous." Levon glanced down at the box. "You open it."

"Anonymous, huh?" Joe asked as he started undoing the wrappings. "I wonder who that could be." He winked at Hanna.

She looked back, innocent and wide-eyed. They all heard Shensen's voice saying, "Momma, is 'anonymous' Hanna and Marta's name?" That elicited a general round of laughter as Jolene leaned over to whisper something to her son. Joe meanwhile had gotten the paper off and was holding up a plain white box.

"Well?" Levon wasn't sure he wanted to rush his husband into opening the box.

"Keep your hooves on, I'm opening it," Joe shot back, suiting actions to words.

Levon waited, then laughed as Joe pulled the gift out.

A toaster.

"I guess we really are married now," Joe said when he stopped laughing. He set the toaster on the table beside him. "Thank you Hanna. And Marta. Or should I say anonymous?"

"You weren't supposed to know," Hanna sighed, sending a dark look towards Shensen.

"That's all right, Hanna. Why don't you bring us the next one."

Hanna scampered off to get the next gift. Joe was looking over the toaster. "Least it doesn't barbecue," he said.

"Don't speak too soon. There may be a grill in that pile someplace." Levon wondered what Joe would do, if they *did* get a backyard grill. Maybe he could convince him that you could roast the meat for the pasta on it.

Joe just shot him a look and waited for the next gift. Levon smiled. Hanna brought an envelope over, to which she had been directed by someone in the crowd. With a confused look, she handed it over. "I was going to bring the other big box," she explained.

"We'll get to it," Joe assured her. He looked at Levon who had made no move to take the envelope. "What, I have to open them all?"

"She handed it to you, Joe. I'm just here to help if the glue proves too much for ya." Levon gave Hanna a wink, and she giggled.

"Considering what some glue is made from, I wouldn't be making any glue jokes if I were you," Joe shot back, as he opened the envelope and pulled out the card inside. He opened and read it, then looked up, eyes searching out Chicken and Annie. "You've *got* to be kidding!"

"What is it?" Levon leaned forward, trying to read the card.

"A backyard grill." He handed the card to Levon.

He read the card, and gave a whoop! "This is great! You know how long I've been wanting one of these? Hey, and a year's supply of barbecue sauce from Alan's Homestead Smokery."

"You just had to do it, didn't you Chicken?" Joe asked in an aggrieved tone.

"Don't worry, Joe. In a year or two, you'll be loving barbecue as much as Levon does." Chicken called back.

"And it'll snow in July in Houston," Joe replied.

Levon leaned over and whispered in Joe's ear. "Can bake in it too. Ravioli and stuff - I checked it out last year."

"I know," Joe whispered back. "So did I. Was thinking of getting it for your birthday."

Before Levon could form a reply to that, Joe was asking Hanna for the next present. This time she picked out the other large box. She carried it with less difficulty than the first, but when she held it out -- to Levon, this time -- he could hear its contents rattling slightly. He set it on the table's edge and looked at the card.

Open carefully. Children are watching.

"Oh, gods," he sighed.

"What?" Joe asked, leaning over to get a look at the card.

Levon tore the wrapping, and turned the box so it opened away from those watching. He peeked inside and stared. "What the *hell* is that one?"

Joe took a look and did something he rarely did. He blushed. "I'm not sure I want to know."

"What is it?" Angie asked, from her spot not far away, jumping up and down and craning her head trying to get a peek inside. Levon closed the box and sent a look towards the girls' parents. Maria took her daughter by the arm and leant down to whisper in her ear.

Levon nudged the box backwards, out of sight, and looked at Hanna who was waiting patiently. "How about you bring out the next one?"

In a matter-of-fact voice, Hanna asked, "Was it the right size?"

Joe stared at her. "What?"

She looked back, then shrugged. "I don't know. They told me to ask."


"I was told not to tell you that." She fidgeted slightly. Behind her, the adults were giggling again.

"Seems a lot of these are coming up anonymous," Joe commented, starting to regain his composure.

"What'd you expect? They gotta get all of it outta their system with us. Ain't likely Duke's gonna get married anytime this decade." He looked at the no-longer innocent looking pile of gifts. "Should we ask for the next one?"

"Well I don't think they could get much worse," Joe observed cautiously.

"Last time you said something like that, we got a grill."

The gifts did not, in fact, get worse -- with one exception that made Levon mutter dark threats towards their lieutenant and her husband -- and things settled down. Finally there were two gifts left: a small box and an envelope. Hanna brought to box over to Joe.

Taking it, he read the card, then smiled up at his grandmother, before carefully opening the package. Levon watched as Joe opened the lid, looked inside... and froze. Joe looked quickly up again, eyes seeking out Rosa. "Is this what I think it is..?"

"Yes," she said simply.

Levon looked from her, back to the box. All he could see was a glint of metal. Reverently Joe reached in and pulled out an antique pocket watch with trembling fingers. Levon waited until Joe held it up, and then hesitantly reached out for it.

Joe relinquished it to him but his eyes never left it. Levon turned it gently, and finally opened it. Looked like just a pocket watch. He handed it back. "Whose was it?"

"My father's." Joe's voice was slightly husky. He absently ran his fingers over the object as he continued. "I... always thought it had been destroyed when the house burned down." Levon leaned forward and kissed Joe on the cheek.

Rosa said, "I didn't know you thought it gone, Joey, or I would have told you. I was keeping it until you were married. Your father would have... he would have wanted you to have it."

"I..." Joe swallowed and tried again. "Thank you," he told his grandmother. "It... means a lot."

"He'd be proud of you, Joe," she told him.

Levon took his lover's hand and gave it a squeeze. When another moment had passed, Hanna stepped forward and held out another envelope. "Is... I mean, here's the last one. Open it and we can go eat," she added in a rushed whisper.

Joe grinned at that, carefully setting the watch aside. "Getting hungry?" he asked her.

"Er," she looked worried, and then nodded, slowly. "And we still have to do the cake and Carla won't let us eat cake before dinner."

"Guess we'd best get on with it, then," Levon said, and took the envelope. He opened it carefully, pulled out the enclosed letter, read it, turned it over to look at the map drawn on the back, then read the letter again.

"What is it?" Joe asked as Levon read it for the third time.

Levon looked at him. "We've just acquired another fifteen acres of land, and a crew's out today and the rest of the weekend replanting the trees so the enclosure goes all the way around."

Joe's jaw dropped and he grabbed the letter from Levon's hand. "You're kidding!"

Levon waited while he read it. Taylor had walked over, and when Joe looked up, he explained, "When I asked Levon, he said it was the only thing he really wanted."

"I... We..." Joe stopped with a rueful grin. "I seem to have lost the ability to speak in complete sentences. Thank you, Taylor. Levon's right. This," he held up the letter and the deed to the land it contained, "was all we wanted." He glanced at Levon. "We already have everything else."

"Except for that second truck," Levon said.

"I'm *not* getting a truck!"

"You didn't say you wanted a truck," Taylor said. He looked at Joe. "If we'd known you wanted one--"

"I don't!"

Taylor grinned. Levon laughed, and tugged at Joe's hand. "Come on, we'd best get to cutting the cake before someone heads to the food without the rest of us."

"Yeah." Joe hopped down off the table and started towards where the food had been set up.

"Yea!" Hanna cried, and ran ahead.

"Guess she really was hungry."

There was a man in a tux, and a centaur on top of the wedding cake. Carla saved it and the top piece after they cut the cake, and soon chaos regained its hold. Everyone was everywhere, gathering plates of food, cake, and talking loudly about the proceedings. Joe and Levon managed to slip to the sidelines for a bit, for the first time all day no longer the center of attention. They ate their food and watched the chaos of the party.

"Everybody seems to be having a good time," Joe observed.

"Yeah. Glad we thought of this."

Joe snorted in amusement. "Like we had a choice."

As they stood there, enjoying the food (Levon noticed that Joe had as much barbecued ribs on his plate as lasagna), Taylor walked up.

"Congratulations, you two."

"Thanks," Joe replied around a mouthful of food.

"I have something I need to give you, Joe. I didn't think it needed to be in front of everyone." He waved a hand towards the crowd. "I wasn't sure how you would take this, but it's something necessary."

"That sounds ominous." Joe shot a questioning look at Levon.

Levon just shook his head; he didn't have a clue.

Taylor smiled. "It isn't that bad. It's just, well until now it's been my responsibility to make sure Levon's taken care of. He hasn't needed much help, but even so, the resources have been there for him. It wouldn't be right for me to simply hand him off to you, and expect you to be able to do the same." He handed out another envelope. "You can think of it as a dowry, if you like."

"Taylor!" Levon felt himself blushing. Taylor just raised an eyebrow and Levon quieted. He knew it was true, but still, to have it admitted out loud....

Joe was still looking a bit confused as he opened the envelope and looked at the financial statements it contained. Then his eyes widened. "I can't accept this," he said, trying to hand it back. "It's too much."

"It is what has been held in my name for Levon, in case he needed it. Technically it is his -- or would be, if he weren't your responsibility."

Levon didn't even try to sneak a peek at the papers Joe was holding. He was remembering the argument he and Joe had had before going up to Chicago. Joe was looking down at the papers again. "I'm lousy with money," he said suddenly. "Ask Levon. He's been telling me that for years."

Taylor laughed. "You needn't do anything with it, Joe. The accounts are in your name now, but the same accountant can take care of them. She can handle your household accountants and bills as well, if you like. Her card is there," he pointed to the business card clipped to the top sheet.

"You trust me with this?" Joe asked, eyes darting between Levon and Taylor, making it clear the question was to both of them.

"Of course," Levon replied.

Taylor nodded, as well. "If I didn't think you could take care of him, I wouldn't have married you."

"I was under the impression, sir, that I had married Levon," Joe said, lip twitching slightly as he suppressed a smile.

Taylor rolled his eyes while Levon stifled his laughter. "You two deserve each other, I can see that."

Joe grinned. "No argument here."

"Does this mean you've no argument with this?" Taylor tapped the papers Joe held.

Hesitating, Joe sighed. "It still makes me uncomfortable -- between the two of us, Levon's the one who knows how to hold onto money." He held up a hand to forestall any protests. "But you say it's my responsibility now. I don't shirk my responsibilities. Especially those towards Levon."

Taylor nodded, satisfied. Levon waited for a moment, then when Joe didn't seem to realize it he said, "You could always tell me to take care of the money."

Joe looked at him. "I could, couldn't I?"

Taylor clapped his shoulder. "If you like. Part of being responsible is knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Why do you think I let Carla tend the household, and Sarah tend the legal matters?"

"Levon never mentioned that part," Joe said, a hint of accusation in his voice.

"I thought you knew! Wasn't like it wasn't obvious..." he trailed off, seeing Joe's glare holding.

"You just like seeing me squirm."

"Not dressed I don't."

"You could've mentioned it."

Levon didn't respond. Taylor gave them both a nod, and walked off to give them privacy. Joe stuffed the papers in his jacket pocket, and reached out and laid a hand against Levon's back. "Levon?"

"You aren't really upset, are you?" Levon asked quietly.

"Course not." He paused for a moment, petting Levon comfortingly. "Exasperated, yes, but that's nothing new with us."

Levon grinned. "Maybe we should grab the duffel bag Joy's packed and sneak on outta here for Rosling's?"

"Sounds good to me." He lowered his voice. "We can try out some of those gifts."

"What do you think's in the duffel?" Levon pulled his lover close, and kissed him.

"A centaur after my own heart," Joe replied, then kissed Levon again.

Levon glanced over towards the crowd of family and friends. He noticed several glances their way, accompanied by grins. Apparently everyone was just waiting. He spied the duffel in question, and nodded towards it.

"Why do I feel like we're about to reenact the pony express?" Joe asked, with a grin, as he went and got the duffel then swung smoothly up onto Levon's back.

"I could walk if you like," Levon offered. He headed away from the house, away from the crowd -- and as expected, various shouts and catcalls erupted.

"That would kind of negate the meaning of a 'quick getaway' though."

Levon looked over his shoulder with a grin. "Your wish, my command." And he exploded into a full gallop.

Joe let out an exhilarated war whoop as they sped away from the party.

The cabin was a good two hours' run from the house, even at top speed. As soon as they were well away from the house Levon slowed slightly, and made it a more leisurely run. Two and a half hours later, they arrived at the cabin.

"So this is it, huh?" Joe asked as he slid from Levon's back, giving the outside of the place a once-over. "Looks... rustic."

"Has all we need. Roof, soft bed, running water." He gave Joe a grin. "Reckon someone's been out here to stock the place up."

"Knowing Joy, I'd say that's a given." He took a few steps towards the door, still looking around. "You've ever stayed here before?"

Levon nodded. "A time or two. It ain't often used... most prefer to stick with the herd. But sometimes when you need to get away...." He took another step to the door, and sent Joe a slight pleading look.

Joe grinned and took off his jacket. Throwing an arm around Levon's waist, he urged the other to move with him inside. "Let's see if they remembered to bring your brushes."

"Maybe you oughtta grab a towel, first." He gave Joe a sheepish smile.

"Sure, cowboy." He ran a hand lightly all the way down Levon's spine. "I was planning on giving you the *full* treatment." Levon shivered, and stood very still while Joe checked the bag. Pulling out a towel, Joe moved back towards him, but paused before beginning the rubdown. "You want to do it out here?"

"Huh?" Levon looked at his husband.

"Do you want to do this out here? Or go inside? I'm assuming this place is set up inside for centaurs..."

"Oh... yeah... ain't no one coming by this weekend, though." Levon spoke slowly. Joe was looking at him like he was highly amused and it made his eyes shine.

"Good. I'm not planning on being in the mood for company." He paused for a long moment, then said, "So? In or out?"


"Outside it is." With that Joe closed the distance between them and began the rubdown. Levon closed his eyes with a sigh as Joe touched him.

Joe took his time, going over every inch of Levon's body. Twice. Finally Levon forced his eyes open. He'd nearly fallen asleep under Joe's ministrations and still felt much too relaxed to walk. He smiled when he found Joe looking at him.

Joe had discarded the towel and held up what he now had in his hands. Levon's brushes. He looked at his husband questioningly. Levon grinned. "You gonna let me use those on you this time?" he asked.

"I don't have a coat," Joe reminded him, though the way he was suddenly shifting feet showed that he wasn't totally against the idea.

"Don't need one," Levon told him. "Course, got better brushes than these..." He'd made sure those brushes had been packed, hoping for the chance to introduce Joe to them, this weekend.

"Really?" Oh yes, there was definite interest there.

Levon reached out for the bag, and for Joe. "You want to stay out here or head inside?"

"Inside." Then Joe grinned. "If this has the same effect on me that it does on you, I better be lying down. I can't fall asleep standing up."

"Good point." Levon headed for the door, slinging the bag over his shoulder.

The door, and the entire cabin, was built for two centaurs to be comfortable in either form. The floor was brushed clay, soft enough for bare feet but firm enough for hooves. The ceiling was high, and the bed was nestled against one wall -- the corner opposite was empty, for the centaurs to sleep standing.

Joe brushed by Levon and sat down on the bed. "Cozy."

Levon dropped the bag on a chair and changed. He peered in the bag long enough to verify that what he wanted was there.

"I suppose I should get out of this monkey suit, huh?" Joe asked, looking down at the tux he still wore.

"Let me?" Levon asked softly.

Joe smiled and leaned back on his hands. "Be my guest."

Levon raised his hands to Joe's tie. He pressed his fingers against the silk, smoothing it down, then gave one end a gentle pull. As it came loose, he left it hanging and began slowly unbuttoning Joe's shirt. He took his time, rubbing the silk shirt against Joe's chest as he worked his way down.

He could hear Joe's breathing start to accelerate, hear the tiny catches in it as he continued. Looking up, Levon found Joe watching him, blue gaze practically smoldering. "Moving too fast?" he teased.

"If you were moving any slower I'd have to hurt you."

"Hurt me?" Levon gave his husband a look of innocence. "You mean you wouldn't want me to," and he moved his fingers even slower, along Joe's chest and down his sides.

That earned him a moan. "Levon..." Joe warned. At least that was probably what it was supposed to be.

Sounded more like someone begging, Levon thought. Ever so slowly, Levon trailed his fingers down Joe's side. Almost with meticulous precision he finished unbuttoning Joe's shirt and slid it back. It took nearly five minutes to actually get the shirt off and onto the floor.

"We only have until Monday," Joe reminded him dryly, the effect somewhat marred by his breathless tone.

"Yeah? Plenty of time." Levon lowered his hands to the small of Joe's back were the cummerbund was fastened. He tugged slightly, and pulled... then walked around to look down at the stupid fastener.

Joe turned his head to look over his shoulder at him. "Problems?"

"How the hell does this... oh, got it." The cummerbund came open and Levon dropped it with the shirt. From behind, he stepped up to press himself against Joe. He reached around and felt for the top of Joe's pants. It took him a bit of searching... his hands kept straying too low.

That earned him a low chuckle that quickly turned into a moan and then Joe's hands were covering his. "If you're not gonna..."

"I'm getting there, lover. Not my fault if I keep getting distracted." Levon moved one finger up the hard length of his lover's erection. "You just hang on. Still have to get those pants off."

"That was what I was pointing out."

"You're getting pushy, oh dominant one, you know that?" Levon grinned and began opening Joe's pants.

"What did you expect when you're being so pokey?" Joe arched forward into Levon's caress as he spoke.

Levon poked Joe in the ribs. "You trying to tell me you want it fast?" He had Joe's pants open and around his lover's ankles the moment he finished speaking.

Joe didn't answer with words, but the way his body was responding to Levon was answer enough. Levon decided that Joe was probably right -- taking one's time was fine. In some situations. Given that Joe hadn't put on any underwear... he suspected his husband was ready to get on with making love.

With a sudden move Joe turned and pushed Levon back on the bed, mouth descending and capturing Levon's in a incinerating kiss. Levon let his hands drop to his side as Joe kissed him.

That caused Joe to pull back. Well, slightly. "Sorry," he whispered into Levon's ear, his hands still wandering and caressing but in a more calming fashion. "Forgot, your lead this time."

Levon blinked. He could see his lover above him, but the sensations he was feeling from his lover's hands weren't connecting with what he was feeling elsewhere.

"Levon?" He got a good look at his lover's expression. "Mind's turned off," he muttered with a sigh and with a supreme effort pulled back, giving Levon's mental faculties a chance to recover.

After a moment they did so, and Levon levered himself up onto his elbows. "Joe?" He recalled the conversation before they'd started, and grinned. "No wonder you wanted me to hurry..."

Joe gave him an abashed smile. "Didn't mean to take over like that. Just..."

"Impatient?" Levon smiled. "Brain shut off?"

"Something like that." He reached out and ran one finger down Levon's chest, his eyes following it. "I find you pretty hard to resist."

"Good." Levon pulled him down for a kiss. Then he rolled Joe onto the bed beside him. "Now you gonna let me have my way with you?"

Joe grinned and stretched out, raising his arms above his head and posing for his husband. "Have away, cowboy."

Levon titled his head, taking in the sight. He nodded. "Think I will."

He got up and went over to the small bag he'd spied inside the duffel, earlier. Bringing it over to the bed, he set it aside and began kissing spots on Joe's body, randomly. Eyes at half-mast, Joe watched him, trembling slightly at every touch as he fought not to move. Levon continued kissing him, licking tender spots with his tongue and giving a few choice places gentle sucks. Soon Joe's eyes closed.

Levon grinned and reached for the bag. He removed a brush he'd bought for this occasion and brought it up to his lover's erection. He brushed very lightly across the tip of the penis with the soft bristled toothbrush.

It had an immediate effect. Joe's eyes sprang open and his hips bucked into the touch. Blinking dazedly at Levon he asked, "Wha-?"

Levon held Joe down with an arm across his stomach, and brushed again. Joe's hips bucked again, and he moaned loudly. "God, Levon..."

He played the brush all over Joe's testicles, brushing underneath the balls, up and down the entire length of his penis, and ever-so-lightly across the tip. It was getting more difficult to hold Joe still. His lover by this time had stopped talking, seemingly beyond words. He wasn't silent, not by a long shot, but the sounds coming out of his mouth were far removed from spoken language. Though they did communicate to Levon exactly what Joe was feeling.

Levon grinned. Looked like he'd get to start 'brushing' his lover as often as Joe brushed him. He played with the toothbrush for another moment, then shifted up a bit and slid his mouth over Joe's erection, as deep as it would go.

That was all Joe needed. His hands flew to Levon's head, his hips bucked upward as much as he could and he came with an incoherent yell. Keeping his hands on Joe's hips, Levon left his mouth where it was until Joe completely subsided.

Then he leaned up, and grinned at his exhausted-looking mate. "Can I slow down, now?" he asked cheekily.

Joe just blinked dazedly at him, brain still obviously trying to catch up. Levon waited. It was a novelty, and a rather nice one at that, to be in this position. He watched as his lover tried to regain coherency and wondered what he could do in the meantime.

He began playing with his lover again. What he wanted required his mate's cooperation. His mate's cock's cooperation, at the least. Joe groaned at Levon's touch. "You're going to kill me," he complained, though at least one part of him seemed to disagree with that. Indeed it seemed quite lively, considering.

Levon ignored Joe's protest and continued playing until he had what he wanted. He reached back in the bag and got a fingerful of lubricant, and began laving it over his lover's returning erection.

Apparently somewhere along the line, Joe's brain had started to work again as well. He watched Levon through narrowed eyes, then asked, "What have you got in mind?" as he reached out and ran a caressing hand down Levon's chest.

"Just the usual," Levon said nonchalantly. He sat up and straddled Joe. "After a fashion."

Joe's eyes widened and then he grinned. "Ride 'em cowboy."

Levon reached back and began applying lube to himself -- and enjoyed seeing his lover's reaction.

"You know what you look like?" Joe whispered, awe in his voice and expression, as he again reached out and ran a caressing hand down Levon's chest. Only this time he didn't stop.

"Tell me?" Levon asked. He rested his hands on either side of Joe, ready to lower himself.

"Like sunlight. Like happiness." His fingers closed over Levon's erection. "Like love."

Levon lowered his head for a kiss, and then lowered himself onto Joe's erection. He closed his eyes as they came together, almost unable to bear the sensation. The love in Joe's voice echoed in his mind and he began shaking.

"Levon?" Hands that had been teasing and arousing, now moved to soothe and comfort.

Levon tossed his head back and moved, up and down, trying to fuck himself as best he could with everything inside him turning to fire. He gasped, unable to hold himself upright any longer.

And then he didn't have to. Joe made some kind of move, and suddenly Levon was the one lying on his back with Joe moving over him. And in him. He tried to reach up for Joe, but he couldn't see and could barely breathe. All he knew was that he needed to come. Needed to feel more of Joe, inside his body and inside his heart. He opened his eyes -- to stare into Joe's which were wordlessly conveying everything the Italian felt.

At the same time Joe thrust as deep as he could go, as if trying to touch Levon's very soul. Gasping and trying to moan, Levon grabbed onto Joe's arm with one hand and tried to pull. He wrapped his legs around Joe's waist and tried to get him to thrust harder. He was still shaking, and the fire he felt inside was burning in his lover's eyes. He shoved his head back onto the bed, feeling his body writhing but still unable to reach the point of release. It was as if his body was insisting on climbing higher, just because it meant so much more. He cried out.

Joe's hand found its way between their two bodies and closed around Levon's weeping erection. He began stroking it in counter rhythm to his thrusts, which were beginning to lose some of the smooth cadence they had had as Joe was getting closer to his own release. Levon felt his body tightening, and pulled harder on Joe, trying to bring him closer. He shoved his hands against the mattress, pushing his own body upwards, and soon the fire began to explode. His body jerked once, then it all came down crashing about him.

When he next came aware of his surroundings, he was lying curled up against his husband's side, Joe's hands running over his skin idly, Joe's mouth dropping the occasional kiss to the top of his head. He was still shaking, and he tried desperately to inhale. The touch of Joe's hands was soothing, as before they'd drawn fire now they were cooling.

"You back with me?"

Levon moaned. He pushed himself back a bit, deeper into Joe's embrace. He tried again to inhale, and just gasped again. He closed his eyes again.

One of Joe's hands came up and stroked his cheek, tilting his face up so that Joe could see it. "Levon?"

He turned his face towards Joe, leaving his eyes closed, and pressed his cheek against Joe's chest. His next breath shuddered in his chest.

He could feel Joe tense underneath him, though the man's hands never stopped their soothing touch. "What's wrong?" he asked, worry and love entangled in his voice. Another soft caress to his face. "Come on cowboy, talk to me."

He couldn't find any words to explain what he felt, so he simply looked up into Joe's face. He could feel tears in his eyes.

Joe's expression became even more concerned. "What is it?" he asked softly.

"Love you," he said simply.

Looking puzzled, Joe shook his head. "And that's cause for tears?"

Levon nodded.

Joe was silent for a moment, just watching Levon's face. Finally though, he asked, "Why?"

Levon took a deep breath, trying to compose himself and find words to express what he felt. He barely understood it himself, except, "Never felt it like this... never...." he looked up, frustrated and wanting to hug Joe so hard that they were squeezed together, never to be broken apart.

But what he said seemed to have been enough as he watched a dawning enlightenment appear in Joe's eyes. "This all just hit you, didn't it?"

Levon nodded again. After a moment he said quietly, "It's the first time you... you took me since you said you would have me. That you'd never give up being the way I need you to be."

Joe sighed and smiled a bit sadly at Levon. "I'm sorry I ever made you doubt that."

Levon held himself close inside Joe's arms. "Don't anymore."

Wrapping his arms tightly around Levon, Joe murmured, "Good."

Levon took another deep breath from inside his cocoon of Joe's arms, and found himself relaxing. He pressed his face against Joe's chest, still crying softly, but no longer frantic from his emotions.

Joe just hugged him tighter and kissed the top of Levon's head again. "I love you too," he whispered.

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