All he could see was Caroline. The car burning in front of him was no longer the small red sports car but the black coupe sitting in their driveway. All he could hear was the ghost's voice in his mind, screaming his name. When his companion was finally able to coax him away from the hanger door he headed for the jeep and sat in the passenger's side. Too responsible by half, his father had always said. There was no way he could drive.
LaFiamma gave his report to the lieutenant but he found his attention kept wandering to the silent, still figure sitting in the passenger seat of the jeep parked nearby. The scene with the car exploding kept playing over and over in his mind's eye. The explosion, his partner yelling as he tried repeatedly to rescue a woman who was already dead, only to be driven back by the heat of the flames again and again.
For the first time he had seen his partner's blithe exterior crack and, much as that light attitude had annoyed and angered LaFiamma, seeing the pain and guilt and grief it had been concealing was almost worse.
Absently Lundy registered the flashing red light that lit up the windshield of the jeep. Back-up had arrived -- when, he wasn't quite sure. All he knew was that he wasn't needed here. He wanted to go home. He hoped the Chicago policeman wouldn't try to drag him off to a bar to 'unwind', as cops usually did. Levon glanced out into the dark airfield. He wanted to run, take off into that emptiness and lose himself. Anything but to see those images, exploding in his mind.
Finishing with the lieutenant, LaFiamma walked over to the jeep. He climbed into the driver's seat; it was more than obvious that his partner was in no shape to drive. Joe looked at the other man for a long moment, not liking one bit how withdrawn into himself he had become. This wasn't the Lundy he knew -- albeit only for a week, he knew Lundy wasn't the type to hide too much of himself very deeply in a facade. "You okay?" he asked finally.
"Fine," came the monotone reply.
"You might want to inform your face," LaFiamma shot back, echoing the words Lundy had said to him the day before. 'You can't bluff me partner,' he thought, 'any more than it seems I can bluff you.' He started the jeep and began the drive back to Houston.
'Lord save me from partners with a sense of humor.' Levon remembered his training sergeant's words from years before. He almost smiled -- then the flames rose and he heard her voice again. The car was burning, and he couldn't reach her. Couldn't get to her to pull her free.
Each time he tried, the flames drove him back until something held him back, kept him from reaching in and pulling her out.... His partner's arm, across his body, holding him as he stared at the woman's tomb. His partner's voice, low -- he couldn't remember what LaFiamma had said, only that it had not held a hint of the edge that had carved everything the man had said since he'd arrived in Houston.
Levon closed his eyes and leaned back. He just wanted to be home.
Lundy remained silent the whole drive back which gave LaFiamma time to think. 'Too much time,' he grumbled. His entire life had changed in the past week and he didn't want to think about it, didn't want to come to terms with it, even though he knew he had to. Had, in fact, already started doing just that.
He glanced at the silent still form beside him. His new partner. Somewhere along the line he had accepted that, just as he had accepted that Houston was going to be his new home for the foreseeable future, like it or not. Partners were supposed to be able to rely on each other, help each other. But he was barely dealing with his own problems at the moment. How could he help his partner deal with his?
"Where're we going, Lundy?" A soft voice interrupted the replay of burning vehicles and funerals. Levon opened his eyes and looked around.
"Turn left up at the second light."
He continued to give directions, letting his attention focus on the neighborhoods around them and figuring the easiest way to get a stranger through the city traffic. He wondered, briefly, what Chicago traffic was like. He hoped it was bad, because Houston drivers were -- like any other big city -- maniacs and morons. The only difference was that half of the drivers here did it in slow speed, the other half way too fast.
Levon didn't want to be saddled with a partner who couldn't drive around Houston. Grateful for the distraction, he spent a moment watching, evaluating. It seemed -- for late night driving at least -- that the other man could handle himself.
LaFiamma followed the directions he was given, grateful that his partner seemed to be a little more animated. He was still subdued but at least it wasn't the complete withdrawal of earlier. Making another turn at Lundy's behest, he tried to figure out where he was in relation to his apartment and wasn't too surprised when he discovered he had no idea.
He hated not knowing where he was; back home in Chicago he knew the whole city like the back of his hand, something he had taken great pride in. Here in Houston he found himself lost more often than not, an experience that was not only annoying but just a bit scary. It only served to drive home the fact yet again that he didn't belong here. He was the outsider, the exile. For someone who had spent his life surrounded by family and friends being that alone was a horrible sensation.
Levon noticed they were finally on his street. The ranches along here were spaced out, each sitting on a few acres of land. He glanced over at his partner, feeling better -- or at least in more control -- than he had before. He saw the brief, upset expression on LaFiamma's face before it vanished. "Third drive on the right. That's mine."
He realized LaFiamma was probably lost as hell. He sympathized -- Houston streets were not exactly laid out in a logical fashion. The fact that every road had two or three names didn't help much, either. He waited as they pulled to a stop in front of the ranch house, and glanced over. He didn't want to be left alone just yet -- then he started. How was LaFiamma going to get home, now? He shook his head. He'd have to drive him....
All he wanted was to go inside and stay there, with the shadows.
'Now what?' LaFiamma thought as he shut off the engine. He supposed he could call a cab to take him home but the last thing he wanted at the moment was to be alone. He had already done too much brooding on the drive here. If he went back to his empty apartment now he would think himself right into a full-blown depression. 'Besides,' he rationalized as he watched the other man climb out of the jeep, 'I can't just leave Lundy alone after everything that's happened tonight.'
Decision made he got out of the jeep and fell in step with Lundy. "So you got anything to drink around here?" he asked casually.
Lundy glanced over, and was surprised to find himself relieved that LaFiamma was still there. He wouldn't have thought, earlier, that he'd ever want this man's company but he conceded that right now it was better than being alone.
"I got some beer." He grinned, suddenly and briefly. "Warn you, though, beer in Texas is stronger than it is in other States." He unlocked the front door and led his partner inside. He started through the living room, then remembered the other man wouldn't be able to navigate the house in the dark like Lundy usually did.
He reached over and flipped on the light switch and blinked. The house looked so huge. So empty. For a moment he simply stood still.
LaFiamma glanced around the room; it had a cluttered lived-in down-home look that reminded him of his partner. He kinda liked it. Not that he would ever tell Lundy that though. He took a few steps further into the room only to realize that Lundy hadn't moved. Glancing over, LaFiamma caught a familiar look on the other man's face. It was one that he had been seeing in the mirror a lot in the last week.
'The difference is,' he thought feeling a pang of guilt, 'Chicago is still there and I'll get to go back to my life there... some day. Lundy ain't never going to get his wife back.' Without really thinking about it he reached over and squeezed Lundy's shoulder.
Startled, Lundy looked over and saw his partner watching him. The expression of understanding made him want to reach back, explain what it was he was seeing, what he wasn't, but he held himself. "I'll get us a couple of beers." He moved away, knowing LaFiamma would have heard the way his voice cracked into a whisper.
He walked into the kitchen and found the fridge, hand going exactly to the handle in the near-darkness. So many nights he'd walked through his house, alone, lights off, wondering when he would find something, anything, to help him forget. Only in the last year had he been able to sleep the nights through... but he had a feeling that would no longer be the case, not for awhile. He heard the explosion again and then the smack of glass against tile as he dropped one of the bottles.
The sound of glass shattering sent LaFiamma running to the kitchen. He stopped at the door, eyes straining to make out details in the gloomy darkness. Fumbling along the wall with his hand he found the light switch and clicked it on... to see his partner standing with the fridge door open, looking uncomprehendingly at the broken beer bottle at his feet.
Seeing no visible threat, LaFiamma sagged against the doorjamb and tried to get his racing heart under control. "Jesus, Lundy! You scared the crap out of me!"
"What?" Lundy looked over, confused as to why LaFiamma was standing in the doorway. He watched as the man walked up, staring at his feet and he looked down, saw the beer bottle smashed to pieces, beer puddling around his boots. "Oh hell."
The curse was soft; he couldn't work up much serious emotion. He suddenly felt very, very tired. He handed the other beer to LaFiamma and stepped back, looking for the broom.
LaFiamma watched uncomfortably, wanting to say something but not knowing what. "You okay Lundy?" he finally asked lamely.
Broom in hand, Lundy cleaned up the broken glass. His partner's hesitant question made him pause, then without looking up he forced himself to answer. "Yeah, I'll be all right." He reminded himself he was not alone, and could not afford to indulge himself in his memories.
"Sure you will," LaFiamma responded, trying to sound more affirming than sarcastic. The silence lengthened between the two men until LaFiamma's need to say something, anything, overcame his discomfort. "You know they say that it helps sometimes to talk about... things," he began awkwardly.
Lundy stepped back, dustpan in hand. "Yeah, that's what they tell me." Carrying the glass over to the trash he dumped it and grabbed a towel to wipe up the beer. He avoided looking at his partner again until he was sure he wouldn't accidentally take him up on his no-doubt well-intentioned offer.
Again the silence stretched out taut and uncomfortable between them. 'Hypocrite!' LaFiamma berated himself. 'When have you ever opened up about your problems?' Feeling slightly ashamed of himself for trying to push another into what he himself was not willing to do, he headed back to the living room, giving his partner the space he so obviously wanted.
Levon heard LaFiamma leave the room and breathed a sigh of relief. He knew that the offer had been sincere -- and he knew that talking about what had happened would eventually be necessary. But he wasn't going to talk with someone he'd known for less than a week.
It only took him a few moments to clean up, and then he grabbed a third beer and took it with him into the other room. He saw LaFiamma standing by the wall, staring at the photographs hanging on one wall.
LaFiamma heard the footsteps behind him and turned away from the pictures he'd been examining to look at his partner. He opened his mouth, intent on once again attempting to break the cloying silence but found he had nothing to say.
Levon saw what his partner was trying to do, and decided to make it easier on them both. Neither of them had opened the beers that had given LaFiamma the excuse to not leave, but sitting up and talking about trivialities was not going to work, either.
"Gettin' late... I reckon I better get you back to your place." Levon hoped that the long drive would do him some good -- clear his head, at least. Unfortunately he had a feeling he'd just get them killed in a car wreck if he tried. Mentally he counted up how much cash he had in his wallet, and hoped it would be enough if LaFiamma ended up needing a cab home.
Part of LaFiamma wanted to jump at the chance for getting out of this uncomfortable situation but another, larger part still didn't want to be alone. Looking at Lundy, it was obvious that being alone was the last thing the other man needed as well. "No way Lundy. You're in no condition to drive. You'd probably crash the jeep and get us both killed. I didn't just survive this last week just to die in a car accident."
Belatedly he realized that, given what was bothering his partner, talking about car wrecks was probably not the best choice of words. "Look, I'll just crash out here on your couch and you can drive me home in the morning, after we've both gotten some rest."
Lundy shook his head. Before LaFiamma could object he clarified, "Guest room down the hall." He nodded in the direction of the second bedroom. Then he realized he'd taken the man up on his offer and froze. With a sigh he conceded there was no graceful way out of this.
'It couldn't hurt,' he told himself. One night with someone in the house... as there hadn't been since Caroline died. Suddenly he felt a little better; the thought of letting LaFiamma stay was no longer quite so threatening. Was it because the man was obviously trying to help, though just as obviously unsure as to how to reach out? Or was it that anyone would have done?
Caught a little off balance by Lundy's agreement -- he hadn't expected the other man to give in so easily -- it took a few seconds for LaFiamma to answer. "Right. Uhh thanks." He shuffled his feet nervously. "Guess I'll, uhm, just uh turn in now then," he said, gesturing towards the hallway.
Levon stayed where he was in the living room, toying with the bottle of beer. He glanced up. "Bathroom's on the right, everything you need's in there..." His voice faded as he completed the extent of his duties as a host.
He should follow Joe's example and head for bed. It *was* late, and he was exhausted. He was afraid, though, that he would wake up screaming as the memories returned. Unfortunately, with work tomorrow, sitting up all night was not an option.
It didn't take long for LaFiamma to get ready for bed. Stripping down to his boxers, he turned off the light and climbed between the crisp clean sheets. He settled back and closed his eyes, half expecting to have his thoughts keep him awake all night. But his body's need for rest was greater than his mind's disquiet and in only a few minutes he was fast asleep.
Levon walked up to the building. His partner was somewhere inside, with the men they had come here to catch. He reached down to his holster for his gun but came up empty.
Alarmed, he ran up to the large bay doors and looked inside. He saw a helicopter, and beyond it he could just make out a shiny red sports car. With a bad feeling growing in his gut, he headed towards it. There was no sign of LaFiamma or anyone else.
Suddenly he saw a flash; someone was opening the car door. He could see, as the figure got in the car, that it was a woman. Breaking into a run, he tried to shout. As Levon stepped past the chopper he saw the woman turn and look at him. Caroline. His wife smiled, waved, and then the car exploded.
LaFiamma was woken out of a sound sleep by a loud, grief-stricken scream of denial. He was rolling out of bed and grabbing for his guns even before he was fully conscious. 'Lundy,' he thought as his brain finally caught up to his body. He ran through the darkened hallways following the cries to their source.
Reaching Lundy's bedroom, he found his partner tossing and turning as he continued to utter the horrible heartbreaking sounds, obviously caught in the grip of a nightmare. Taking a deep breath to try and settle his jangled nerves, LaFiamma put his guns down on the nightstand and sat on the edge of the bed. "Lundy!" he called, reaching out to shake the other man's shoulder.
A familiar voice caught him as he tried to run for the burning wreckage. Hands held him back; the voice yelled his name again. Struggling to break free Levon suddenly found himself sitting up in his bed. He realized that LaFiamma was sitting on the bed, holding his arms and watching him. He was glad it was dark, to hide his sudden embarrassment.
Once he saw Lundy's eyes open and aware, LaFiamma released his hold on the other man, not wanting to make an already awkward situation even worse. "You awake now?" he asked, just to make sure.
"Yeah, I'm awake." Levon flinched as he heard how hard his voice sounded, and consciously tried to calm down. "Thanks for waking me up," he said in an easier tone.
"Well, I wasn't going to get any sleep until I did. You were, uhh, yelling kinda loud."
"Sorry 'bout that." Levon shifted uneasily. Now that he was awake, why didn't LaFiamma just go back to bed? He had an uneasy feeling he might try again to ask questions Levon didn't want to answer. Lundy didn't try to look over at his partner, hoping the other man would get the hint and leave. What he didn't understand was the urge he felt, deep down inside, to grab the man and make him stay here.
"Don't worry about it," LaFiamma said, waving off the apology. "Sounds like it must've been a hell of a dream," he added.
'Dammit, LaFiamma, can't you take a hint?' Levon ignored the fact that he had not said such out loud. He cursed silently as he heard himself admit, "It was." Inside he railed, 'Don't you know I don't want to talk about this?'
Silence fell between the two men again and LaFiamma considered getting up and going back to his room. But something, some instinct, told him he should stay, that -- uncomfortable silences or not -- he was needed. Putting himself in his partner's position, the last thing he would want was to be alone. So he stayed where he was, sitting on the edge of the bed, not pressing for information, but being there for support nonetheless. 'Partners help each other,' he repeated to himself again.
When LaFiamma didn't move, Lundy looked up at him. The stubborn set of his partner's face was clear in the moonlight -- as was the concern. Levon held his mouth closed as if by relaxing he might say too much. Trying desperately for casualness, he shrugged.
"Just dreaming about Rose Lynn. Too much like Caroline...." He stopped before he could let the feelings out.
'God, what do I say to that?!' LaFiamma thought frantically. Anything he could say would sound trite and only serve to belittle the pain his partner was feeling. So, again acting on instinct, he reached out and squeezed Lundy's shoulder, much as he had earlier in the evening.
Before he could stop himself Levon leaned sideways until he was up against his partner. LaFiamma froze for a second, then slowly, hesitantly wrapped his arms around the other man, trying to impart with his touch the comfort he couldn't find the words for. He didn't try to explain himself, didn't try to move away or apologize. Levon was embarrassed as hell that he'd done this but as soon as the arm went around him he felt safe and comforted in a way he hadn't felt in far too many years. He closed his eyes and let his head rest on LaFiamma's shoulder.
Feeling Lundy slowly relax in his arms, LaFiamma let out a sigh of relief. It had been the right move to make. He didn't say anything, just held onto the other man, rocking a little like his mother used to do when he was a child. Slowly Lundy's breathing evened out as his body relaxed into sleep.
LaFiamma gently disengaged their embrace and laid the other man down onto the bed, moving slowly and carefully so as not to wake him. He tucked the blankets around his partner then picked up his guns and headed back to his room and his own bed.
The next morning Levon woke before his alarm. He made it all the way to the master bath before he remembered what had happened the previous night. "Damn." He had no idea what he would say to LaFiamma when he saw him. Maybe, now in the cold light of day, the man would leave him alone when he tried to not say a word.
Maybe, if neither of them said anything, he could pretend none of it had happened.
He grabbed some clothes then headed outside to feed Fooler, and stopped to watch the sunrise. The day looked a lot like the day Caroline had died. Same cold morning wind, a hint of the day's heat to come. Somehow that thought didn't hurt as much as it had yesterday.
With a glance back towards the house where his partner still slept, Levon headed towards the barn and thought about LaFiamma's behavior last night. From the moment he'd arrived LaFiamma had been abrasive and arrogant and Lundy had assumed there was nothing more to be said about him. However, maybe his initial impression of the man had been wrong. With a flush of guilt he realized that perhaps the other man was just having troubles of his own and hadn't been at his best until now -- when he'd needed to be.
Next Story: Demons