LaFiamma laid on his bed and listened to the resounding silence that filled his apartment. He fancied he could still hear the sound of the door closing as Dani departed echoing through the empty place.

'What the hell am I doing?' he asked himself. 'A beautiful woman practically throws herself at me and I say no.'

It wasn't like he had never had a one-night stand before. There was a time back in Chicago when they had been a fairly regular occurrence.

But this case had made him take a look at himself and just what exactly he had gotten out of those encounters. He had gone into them, like everybody else, looking for a way to keep the loneliness at bay.

It had never worked. Waking up next to a stranger had only succeeded in making him feel more alone than ever. That was the last thing he needed here and now when he was still pining for all that he had lost when he'd been forced to leave Chicago.

Great. He just had to think about that hadn't he? Now he was really depressed. He wondered idly if somewhere there was a cure for loneliness that wouldn't leave him feeling even emptier the next morning.

Unbidden came the memory of an evening of trading childhood stories and shared laughter over an Italian meal in an empty roadside diner. He'd woken up alone the next morning but he hadn't woken up lonely. Just knowing his partner had cared e nough to arrange that whole thing had been enough to chase away the feelings of isolation and depression.

'Guess that's the cure then,' he thought. 'Friendship. That wasn't so hard to figure out after all.'

He ignored the little voice in the back of his mind that was telling him that it was a lot more than that.

Levon held her face, kissed her lips. A thousand voices whirled in his head, asking him if he knew what the hell he was doing and whether this was such a good idea. But Sue Ellen had looked as lonely as he felt and here she was, offering them both the chance to forget for one night how alone each was.

'You get lonely, what are you supposed to do?' He heard her words echoing as he held her gently.

'Take a stranger home, just to be close to someone.' He'd said it as if unable to understand, unable to accept. How many times had he done it? How many times had he gone to the bars and let some stranger -- male or female -- pick him up and take hi m home, trading a night of sex and broken sleep for the chance to wake in the night and not find himself alone?

Lundy let Sue Ellen take the lead, letting her determine how far and how fast she was willing to go. He needed to forget. There was so much he needed to forget -- why Rhonda had died, why he hadn't been there to help her, why he hadn't responded to her offers to stay together. Why he had run from her to a long run of nights in the backrooms of seedy gay bars and nights in the apartments of men he couldn't put names to, much less much of faces. Why he lay awake at night thinking of his partner. Why Caro line had died and left him alone to face the choices he had run from through high school and college.

He took the woman in his arms, held her close and smelled the sweet aroma of a woman, a stranger whom he barely knew. He took her down the hall to his bedroom, letting her make the moves that got them undressed, got them lying on the bed. As they touch ed the voices faded into darkness.

Only once did he have to bite back crying out the name he knew he could not call.

LaFiamma stopped the Jimmy in front of Lundy's place and shut off the motor. He turned to his partner, who was lying back against the seat with his eyes closed, the white bandage standing out on his skin. 'Too close,' LaFiamma thought for the hu ndredth time. Reaching out he touched his partner's shoulder gently.

"Lundy, we're home."

Lundy slowly opened his eyes. His head was pounding and he still felt nauseous despite assuring the doc that he felt well enough to go home. "Thought I recognized the place," he muttered, giving his partner a brief grin.

"Come on, let's get you inside," LaFiamma said, undoing his seatbelt and opening the door, even as he returned his partner's smile.

Lundy waited as LaFiamma came around and opened the door. Carefully he climbed out of the truck, grateful for the steadying hand on his arm. As he walked towards the house the hand didn't leave; he didn't try to shake it off, even if he might have ma de it on his own.

He knew his partner would be staying the night -- the condition the doctor had given them to let him come home was that someone be there to keep an eye on him.

LaFiamma paused once they were inside the door. "Bad?" he asked, ignoring the conflicting rush of emotions that were running through him. He couldn't help but remember the last time he had stayed the night here, the last time he'd been in Lundy's bedro om, how he tried to help soothe his partner's nightmares.

"Nah, it's nothin' a night's sleep won't fix." Lundy made his way towards the bedroom, intent on shucking his clothes and getting into bed. Halfway down the hall he stopped and looked back at his partner.

"I can find my way to the guest room, don't worry," LaFiamma said with a reassuring smile before Lundy could open his mouth. "Go to sleep. I'll come check on you in an hour like the doc said."

"Lookin' forward to it," Lundy said dryly, knowing his wish for a restful night would have to wait until tomorrow. Turning back towards his bedroom he left his partner to fend for himself.

LaFiamma stood where he was and watched until his partner disappeared from view before turning and heading down the hallway in the opposite direction, towards the room he'd slept in once before. He got ready for bed on autopilot, trying to ignore the l ow-level anxiety he felt at having his partner out of his sight. 'Give it a rest,' he told himself. 'The man is perfectly capable of getting ready for bed by himself. If not, he'd have said something, right?'

Lundy sat on the bed, leaving the light off as it hurt his eyes. He removed his jacket and let it fall behind him. His head was beginning to swim slightly, so he waited a moment before proceeding.

He wished someone were here -- Caroline, even Sue Ellen -- who could help. He leaned forward to grab hold of one boot and stopped, leaning heavily on his leg, as the world swayed and threatened to turn black. Pushing himself back up he tried to figure how he was going to do this.

'The hell with it,' LaFiamma thought as he exited the bathroom and stared down the hallway towards Lundy's room. 'I'll just go check. He'll be fine, yell at me for mother henning him and then maybe I'll be able to go to bed.'

Decision made, he walked swiftly to Lundy's bedroom door. Pushing it open a bit he asked, softly in case the man was already asleep, "Lundy, you okay?"

For a moment Lundy wanted to say yes, but then realized he was acting like a fool. Didn't want his partner fussing over him, would he rather sleep in his clothes? Wouldn't work, LaFiamma would only yell at him in an hour when he came to wake him up.

"Can't get my boots off," he said casually.

LaFiamma bit back an exasperated comment about the Texan not asking for help until forced to; the last thing he wanted was to start one of their fights now. Besides, he doubted he would have acted much differently if the positions had been reversed. I nstead he wordlessly walked over, knelt in front of Lundy and pulled the boots off for him.

Lundy was grateful when the flash of irritation did not turn into a verbalized remark. He said nothing himself as his partner removed his boots; he stood to remove his jeans and found himself still less steady on his feet than he liked.

His partner swayed and LaFiamma automatically reached out and grabbed his arm. "Easy." His concern and worry were simple to read in his expression. "Maybe you should've stayed at the hospital like the doc wanted..."

"I'm fine, LaFiamma," Lundy snapped. Then he sighed. He wasn't mad at his partner, he just wanted to sleep. He wanted to forget everything that had happened this week. Hell, this year. And it wasn't like he'd forget what he'd done the other night, inviting some stranger into his bed. "Sorry, I'm just tired," he apologized. "I can take it from here," he added when LaFiamma made no move to leave.

"I'll hang around just to make sure," his partner replied, still maintaining his light hold of Lundy's arm. "It's easier to keep you on your feet than to pick you up off the floor."

"Thanks a lot." Lundy said it as sarcastically as he could, hoping to hide the gratitude he felt. Trying to hide how he felt to undress in front of his partner, standing here in the dark -- in his bedroom -- wishing for someone to hold onto so he cou ld sleep.

Quickly he undid his jeans and pulled his shirt free. His head swam at the too-fast movement and he clutched Joe's arm.

LaFiamma grabbed onto him with both hands, steadying him once again. "Easy," he repeated, then suggested tentatively, knowing he was probably going to be rejected but unable to not make the offer, "Maybe you should let me help you..."

Lundy didn't say a word, wanting to say no but knowing it would be better -- easier, less arguing -- if he just said yes. He nodded and in less time than he might have feared he was down to his underwear and being helped gently back to bed.

LaFiamma pulled the covers up over his partner. Reaching around he tucked Lundy in, like he remembered his mother doing when he was little. He smiled slightly at the automatic action, then his smile softened and turned into something infinitely more te nder when he looked up and saw that Lundy had already fallen asleep.

He couldn't stop himself from reaching out and gently brushing the hair back off his partner's forehead. 'I should leave,' he told himself, even as his hand continued stroking the other man's hair. But the only movement he made was to sit on the edge of the bed.

'What's the point of leaving anyway?' he thought, justifying the action. 'I'll only have to come back in an hour. Easier to stay here.' Once again he ignored the tiny voice that insisted there was more to this impulse than that.

He felt warm. Warm, relaxed, and as comfortable as a man could be with a raging headache. He thought about waking up, briefly, then dismissed the idea as unnecessary. Settling in to go back to deep sleep he heard what had woken him the first time. "Lundy, wake up."

His partner's voice, soft and close to his ear. At first he was confused, then he remembered the doctor's instructions. LaFiamma would be waking him several times tonight. Lundy let himself begin to wake up, ready to open his eyes and prove to his p artner that he wasn't brain-damaged.

Then he realized why he felt so warm.

"Lundy," LaFiamma called again, unable to keep his growing anxiety out of his soft voice. His partner should've woken up by now shouldn't he? A trickle of fear passed through him. What if he didn't wake up? The trickle grew into a full-fledged torrent at that thought. "Dammit Lundy, don't do this to me!" he pleaded, shaking the man's shoulder a little harder than he had meant to.

"Ow! Dammit, LaFiamma..." The sudden spike of pain made him growl, made him forget what had brought him completely awake. He rolled over and glared at his partner. "When they said wake me up they didn't mean throw me out of bed!"

The relief LaFiamma felt was almost dizzying. "Sorry," he apologized shortly, his struggle with his emotions making it hard to speak.

Lundy blinked, seeing what he'd felt and not quite believing it. LaFiamma was lying beside him, above the covers, and if his sleeping perceptions were anything to go by, he had been there since he'd fallen asleep. "Boy, what're you doing in my bed?" He tried to make it sound accusing, to hide the complete lack of annoyance he truly felt.

LaFiamma couldn't help himself, he blushed. His tone when he did speak was a bit harsher than he had meant it to be, out of embarrassment. "I was checking on you and fell asleep. You got a problem with that?"

"Depends. You getting any mud on my bedspread?" Lundy nodded down towards the foot of the bed, where LaFiamma lay, shoes still on his feet. He gave his partner a glare, letting him know he better not have. Preventing him from seeing that what he rea lly wanted to do was roll over and go back to sleep, knowing someone was there beside him.

LaFiamma gave his partner a long look then sat up and deliberately removed his shoes, dropping them on the floor beside the bed with a soft >thunk<. "Satisfied?"

For a moment Lundy didn't say a word. Then he nodded. "Can I go back to sleep now? If you're through making sure I'm not goin' into a coma?"

"I don't know Lundy. You were pretty slow to wake up," LaFiamma said, his concern only partially feigned. "Maybe I should keep you awake for a bit, make sure you're still all there."

Lundy stared at his partner. Blinked. Told himself his partner had not just said what he'd thought he'd said. Hadn't meant it the way it sounded. "You wanna talk about the Oilers beatin' the Bears last week?" He tried to keep his tone neutral, know ing he had imagined what he'd heard.

"If you want." LaFiamma shifted, slightly uncomfortable. "I just want you to stay awake for a bit. It took me four tries to get you to wake up." He wouldn't look at his partner. "It had me a bit worried, okay?" His voice was defensive, as he tried to m ask just how scared he had been when Lundy hadn't responded.

"Yeah, I heard you yelling... didn't remember I was supposed to wake up is all."

"You think I was yelling at you to stay asleep?" LaFiamma asked incredulously.

"Well hell, I just heard you yelling, I didn't know what for. I was too comfortable to wanna wake up--" He broke off. 'Great, just tell him you loved being cuddled why don't you?'

"Great. Next time I'll remember to poke you or something."

"Just take care what you poke me with." Lundy shook his head, winced and told himself never to do that again, then asked, "Can I go back to sleep now?" His tone was quiet, no sign of the earlier argumentative note. He was exhausted, and figuring out why his partner seemed to be leaning closer wasn't something he felt up to handling.

LaFiamma immediately noticed the difference and felt like kicking himself. 'Now is not the time to get into this,' he told himself firmly. "Yeah, sure." He started to lie down beside Lundy again then hesitated. "You okay with me st aying here?" he asked, his voice carrying a quiet yearning. "I could go back to the guest room if it's not..."

Lundy had closed his eyes as soon as he'd heard 'yeah, sure'. Falling asleep rapidly he heard the question and mumbled his reply as he rolled over. "Just don't yell next time."

"Remember you're supposed to wake up and I won't have to." LaFiamma shot back. He resumed his earlier position, lying on top of the covers, his partner's sleeping form close against him. For a long moment all he did was watch the other man, then, unabl e to resist any longer, he reached up and stroked his hair gently.

Lundy sighed and leaned into him; LaFiamma froze for a moment until he realized the other man was already asleep and it had been an unconscious reaction. Deciding to risk doing what he had wanted to do since he had lain down, he reached out and put his arm around Lundy, pulling him into a loose embrace.

LaFiamma sighed in contentment, feeling the other man relax against him. This was what had been missing with Dani -- the emotional element. He didn't stop to think what it meant that he was more comfortable snuggling with his injured partner than going to bed with a beautiful woman, he just knew that it was so. Closing his eyes, he finally allowed himself to drift asleep.

It was warm. Lundy didn't want to move, but the call of nature was telling him he'd better if he didn't want to embarrass himself.

He didn't want to get up; a night full of being wakened and questioned hadn't been nearly as restful as he might have hoped but it hadn't been too bad. LaFiamma had woken him much more easily after the first time, and let him go back to sleep rather q uickly.

Today Lundy planned on lazing about the house, taking a few naps, and hopefully by tomorrow he'd be feeling fine. Better, anyway.

He opened his eyes as a first step towards getting out of bed when he realized he was being held down. Surprised, he looked. LaFiamma's arm was draped over his middle. He sighed and stirred when Lundy moved, tightening his grip to hold him in place b ut did not wake.

Lundy couldn't help grinning, thinking of his partner's reaction when he woke up. 'Must think I'm one of his girlfriends. Reckon he hasn't ever slept with anyone else.'

Lundy tried again to move towards the edge of the bed -- relieved to find that his head hurt much less than it had the night before. Again the arm tightened, pulling him back. LaFiamma muttered under his breath, becoming agitated until Lundy stopped tr ying to move away. Then he relaxed into a deeper sleep again with a sigh of his partner's name.

Oh hell!' Apparently LaFiamma knew exactly whom he was hanging onto. Lundy didn't know whether to bolt from the bed or stay where he was and enjoy it while he could.

He had to admit it felt wonderful, but he knew when LaFiamma woke up... on the other hand, maybe his partner had been coming onto him last night? Lundy sighed. He had to go to the bathroom.

'Warm. Comfortable. Not alone.' LaFiamma slowly drifted awake with a contented sigh. Memory returned as he considered who his arm was draped over. Lundy. He smiled slightly at the thought; despite the circumstances and the oft-interrupted sleep, the experience of sleeping snuggled next to his partner had been wonderful. But he really didn't want to have to explain all this to Lundy so he figured he had better move before the other man woke up.

Lundy felt the arm finally move. Briefly he considered his options -- embarrass the man and ensure this would never happen again, ignore it and wonder if it ever would... or say thanks and head for the bathroom and maybe next time -- Lundy rolled ont o his back as LaFiamma moved away.

The sudden movement froze LaFiamma in his tracks. 'He's already awake. Shit!'

Feeling the sudden tension in the body next to his, Lundy decided on his best option. He looked over at his partner and saw his eyes were tightly closed, as if pretending to be asleep. He found himself smiling. "Morning."

LaFiamma sighed in resignation and opened his eyes. "Morning," he replied, surprised to find Lundy smiling at him.

"Thanks." Lundy was amused by the surprise on the other man's face. "You gonna fix me breakfast, too?" he teased, suddenly feeling wonderful.

"Do you want me to?" LaFiamma asked, blinking in confusion. Lundy wasn't upset. Why wasn't he upset? Why wasn't he yelling?

Lundy laughed. "Can you scramble eggs? I think that's the only thing I've got in the house. Lessen' you want leftover ribs."

"Don't be disgusting," was the automatic reply. LaFiamma was still a bit confused but decided to just go with it for now. "Eggs it is then." He started to get up, then hesitated, looking back at his partner. "You okay?" he asked, which was the closest he could bring himself to asking if Lundy was okay with waking up in his partner's arms.

"I'm okay. My headache's gone -- all I need is some coffee and I'll be great." Lundy made no move to get out of bed. Funny how badly he'd had to go earlier, now he wanted to stay where he was. LaFiamma looked cute as hell barely awake and tousled. H e wondered if LaFiamma'd mind if he said so.

"Good." LaFiamma also didn't move to get up, eyes never leaving his partner. There was something happening here between them, some kind of connection being formed, and he didn't want to question it, didn't want to disturb it.

'If one of us doesn't move, I'm gonna kiss him,' Lundy thought. 'Just to see how he reacts.'

The tension between the two men kept building. Finally LaFiamma shifted a bit, though his eyes didn't fall from his partner's face. "Lundy, about last night..." his voice trailed off uncertainly.

"You gonna tell me you don't respect me anymore?" Lundy asked, trying to keep a straight face.

LaFiamma blushed. "No, I was going to thank you for saving my life," he scowled.

"Oh." Lundy was taken aback; for a minute he actually had to think back to what LaFiamma meant. He shrugged. "S'what partners are for, ain't it?" He couldn't put it off any longer. He pushed himself up, to climb out of bed.

Reaching over, LaFiamma put a hand on his arm to halt his progress. Their eyes met for a moment and LaFiamma felt a warmth kindle deep inside at what he saw in his partner's gaze. That couldn't be what he thought it was... could it? Flustered, he let go and started to get up himself. "I'll uhh.. I'll go start the eggs," he said, hurrying out of the room.

Lundy watched him go. Something told him to go after the man, ask him what had sent him scurrying out of the room like a scared jackrabbit.

Afraid he might already know, Lundy headed for the bathroom. If, and it was a big if, what had happened was really happening... was it really such a good idea to fall in love with his partner?

Lundy stopped halfway to the bathroom. 'Love? Who the hell said anything about falling in love?'

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