Dinner dishes were washed and put away and now Lundy was faced with entertaining himself for the remainder of the evening.

With a grin he realized he had a very good idea.

Ever since that night last week when he'd woken up on Joe's bed, mostly naked and stuck to his partner he'd been trying to figure out a way to invite Joe into bed again. He'd held off for a couple days, waiting to see if Joe regretted it, or if it would make working together too difficult. However, things seemed to be just fine.

Best of all, Joe had responded to the few subtle -- and not so subtle -- hints and flirts he'd taken to dropping.

He suspected that Joe was just as anxious as he, to know that everything would be all right if they slept together again and from the way his partner had been watching him this morning, eyes roaming hungrily up and down, he figured an invitation would be readily accepted.

Levon headed for the phone and dialed his partner's number. His body was already beginning to anticipate the evening -- he told himself to calm down, it'd take the other man at least half an hour to arrive. No point in being so desperate he attacked LaFiamma as soon as he walked....

No, actually, that sounded like a fine idea.

He listened to the phone ring, then Joe's cheerful voice answered. "LaFiamma. A cop's habit, one his grandmother had teased him for whenever she called.

"Hey, boy." Lundy couldn't help smiling.

"Hey, Lundy. What's up?" The cheer had remained casual, but he could tell the other man was ready to become all-business should he say anything related to work.

"Nothing much--" he broke off as LaFiamma interrupted him.

"Hey, Lundy, if this isn't about work I gotta go."

"Go?" Lundy blinked, set back a bit. "No, it ain't about work." 'Go where?' he wanted to ask.

"Great, I'll see you tomorrow, then. Callie's waiting." LaFiamma hung up without waiting for a reply.

Lundy sat still, receiver in his hand. Callie? Joe was going out with Callie?

Hanging up the phone in one quick motion, he stood and began to walk through the living room. Joe was going out with Callie? Never mind the stupidity of seeing a suspect -- for a moment he wondered if LaFiamma was just angling for information, but dismissed the idea. If he were, he would have said something about it, let Lundy know he was working and not -- socializing.

But this sounded like... a date. Lundy found himself next to the doorway and slammed a fist against the wall.

Apparently whatever had happened between them wasn't... well, it wasn't.

If LaFiamma was still interested in dating around, then he wasn't interested in anything but casual sex.

Hand stinging, he gave it a slow shake and turned around. Heading out the door, he went to the barn. Fooler nickered; Lundy reflected that it really was too late to saddle up and let a ride clear his thoughts.

Instead he went inside and looked for something to do. There was always something needing cleaning, fixing, straightening.... Maybe he'd just waited too late. Maybe LaFiamma thought he wasn't interested in anything more.

Lundy sat down on a stool, staring out at nothing. Why was he so upset, anyhow? One night doesn't a relationship make. It wasn't like he wanted.... Maybe it was.

Lundy watched as Baker and Thomason took Callie away. Joe had disappeared into the kitchen, unwilling to face either the other cops' stares or that from his partner. Lundy didn't know -- right now he didn't care. He wasn't sure he wanted to talk to the man.

Silence descended on the apartment after the door closed behind the uniforms and Callie. LaFiamma grabbed a beer from the fridge, not looking at his partner. God, when did he become so stupid?

Looking upwards, beseeching an answer from anyone who would talk to him, Lundy asked himself why he'd done it. He knew what his choices were -- walk out and ignore it, accept that their one-night stand was just that and hope it didn't ruin a barely-smooth partnership, go in and demand an explanation...

It all depended on why Joe had done it as to whether anything could be salvaged, whether anything was in danger of being destroyed. Lundy glanced towards the kitchen. There was no way he could walk away and pretend this had not happened.

LaFiamma knew he was going to have to talk to his partner, try to explain why he had... done what he did, if he had a hope in hell of saving what had been becoming an important relationship. Taking a deep breath he asked, "You want a beer?" Not the most original of openings but the best he could come up with at the moment.

Everything they had ever done or said had been presaged by that remark, Lundy realized. He almost laughed. Instead he called out, "No, thanks." He took his hat off, rubbed a hand through his head. He asked himself the toughest question he knew he might be facing -- what if Joe was going to say it shouldn't have happened?

What if he said it would never happen again?

Summoning all his courage, LaFiamma walked over and sat on the couch. "We need to talk."

Lundy felt his stomach drop. He had hated, without reserve, every single conversation he'd ever had that began this way. Gripping his hat brim tighter, he wondered if he could spare them both, take it for said, and leave now.

LaFiamma couldn't bring himself to look at his partner, so he kept his head down and his eyes fastened on the beer bottle in his hands. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I've screwed everything up."

Lundy closed his eyes. 'Get out, get out of here now.' The voice screaming in his head nearly overwhelmed the sound of his partner's voice. Briefly he thought of going for the noble stance, tell LaFiamma it was all right, he had been having second thoughts himself. The sudden feeling of fear and despair kept him quiet. He couldn't let go of his partner. Joe would have to do all the letting go, and Lundy would just have to stand there and take it.

"It's just... my uncle called and I... got scared of what the family would think or do if they knew. Stupid considering I'm already exiled. So when Callie phoned, I... well I reacted. Thought I needed to prove something to myself. It was stupid. It was wrong. I'm sorry."

"Huh?" It wasn't the cleverest thing he could have said, but it was all that came out. Levon knew he probably had a dumbfounded expression on his face, as well. But he simply stared at his partner. "You sayin' ...Callie was the mistake?" He couldn't say it louder than in a whisper, in case he was wrong.

That made LaFiamma look up. "Of course Callie! What else?"

He couldn't tell if he dropped his hat -- his fingers felt numb. "I thought...." He looked away. "I thought you meant me, that this," he waved towards the upstairs, meaning the girl he'd slept with less than an hour ago -- "was what you wanted."

LaFiamma stared at Lundy openmouthed. "No!" he stated emphatically, reaching out a hand to the other man. "You're the only thing that's been right. I just..." Again he looked down. "I don't have your courage."

For several moments Lundy stood still, saying nothing. Everything that LaFiamma had said ran through his mind, trying to realize which parts made sense and what in fact had happened. He stepped forward and grabbed his partner in a tight embrace.

He wanted to deny having any courage; he wanted to hear again how Joe thought he, their relationship, was 'right'. Wanted to ask about the phone call.

He held on tighter.

LaFiamma hugged him back, just as tightly, the hand not holding the beer bottle coming up and stroking the blonde hair. "I'm sorry," he whispered over and over, Lundy's reactions telling him just how deeply what he had done had hurt the man. God, he could be an idiot sometimes!

"S'all right." Lundy managed, face pressed against Joe's shoulder. He felt like he'd been caught in a 360, spinning out of control. He took a deep breath and told himself Joe was not telling him to leave and never come back.

Pulling back just enough to set the beer bottle he still held down on the coffee table, LaFiamma gave Lundy a rather sheepish grin. "You have every right to be mad at me."

"Mad? I ain't mad!" He said it in a rush, so relieved that he hadn't even thought that he ought to be angry.

"Well you should be!" LaFiamma shot back, his mouth quirking upward with the beginnings of the return of his sense of humor. His expression softened and he reached out tentatively caressing Lundy's cheek. "But I'm glad you're not."

"Hell, LaFiamma, I've been mad at you for nearly 24 hours. I need a break." Lundy referred to the fight they'd had the day before. He still hadn't told Joe why he'd been so mad all day. He was simply so relieved that he was willing to forget it, for now.

Then he realized what Joe had said. "Your uncle called? I thought he--" In a gentler tone he continued, "I thought he cut you off?"

"That's what he phoned about. To clarify that. To make sure I hadn't misunderstood, which I had." LaFiamma's expression was that of a child who had just been told that no, Christmas had not been cancelled after all. "Uncle Mikey only cut me off workwise. Like you said, Levon, me asking for info all the time wasn't smart for either of us. But as far as family goes, he said it would take a lot more than me pumping him for information to get him to cut me off."

Lundy couldn't help but smile at the joy in his partner's eyes. "So you can still call your family, maybe get 'em to come down to visit sometime?"

"Yeah. Actually my Aunt Teresa is talking about maybe coming down at Christmas. You'll like her. She's a hell of a lady."

"That's great, Joe." Levon realized that they were still standing toe to toe, arms wrapped around each other. He wondered if he ought to let go...

But LaFiamma chose that moment to hold on tighter, as once again he looked down, refusing to meet his partner's eyes. "They wouldn't understand about this though," he said softly, hesitantly, "about us."

"Makes it rough," Lundy sympathized. He thought of his own father, breaking bones and throwing him out of his home. He shut those thoughts off and looked at Joe. "What'd-- what do you..." He tried again. "You ain't gonna tell them, I reckon."

"I can't," LaFiamma whispered. "I don't have your courage. I'm sorry."

"Don't, Joe--" Lundy leaned forward and gave the man a kiss. "It ain't about courage. You can't risk losing your family. Not when they're all you got."

LaFiamma let out a sigh of relief. Lundy did understand. "Thanks," he said quietly, meeting the other man's gaze.

Lundy remained still for a moment, then he dropped his arms and stepped away. He wasn't sure why, suddenly nervous. Maybe it was because he wanted to take Joe upstairs and make love to him, but the thought of it reminded him that Callie had been there. The bed would still smell of her, maybe something of hers would still be in the room.

"Levon?" LaFiamma asked, not able to totally mask his alarm at the other man's pulling back. He reached out towards him but hesitated, suddenly unsure if his touch would be welcome. Dammit, had he ruined everything after all?

Levon kept himself from glancing upwards. "You wanna… go to my place?"

"Huh?" Then LaFiamma thought about the situation, about who had been in his bed only an hour before. Of course Lundy wouldn't want to stay here! "Yeah," he answered, starting to smile again. "If you want me to."

Lundy grinned and shook his head. "If I didn't, we wouldn't a just been arguing now would we?" He pulled Joe close for a second, kissed him long and deep. When he finally let the other man go, he said, "Won't never refuse you in my bed, Joe."

It was the closest he could come to what he needed to say.

The smile LaFiamma gave him in response almost made up for what he needed to hear.

Lundy was sitting in the living room. A short glass was in his hand, one finger of whiskey left. The lights, as always, were off. He didn't want to see anything, anyway.

He'd sent LaFiamma off with Legs, talked her into spending the evening with him. Wanted his partner to spend the evening in good company, the company of friends. Company that wouldn't make him wonder what his family would say.

It wasn't that he didn't think Joe would rather be with her. He wasn't sure exactly why he'd done it, in fact. Maybe it was just too much happening in too short a time. Was this his way of giving them both space?

If so, then why was he sitting here, drowning his fear that Joe would be spending the night with someone, a woman, a friend....

A set of headlights from a car pulling up the driveway shone in through the window. He sat up. Who in the world would be coming by at this hour? Downing the rest of the whiskey, he stood and headed for the door.

When he opened the door he found himself face to face with a rather surprised LaFiamma who had just raised his fist to knock.

"Damn, boy! What're you doing here?" He heard his words and immediately spoke again, knowing how LaFiamma was likely to take them. "I thought Carol'd have you out longer'n this." Lundy wondered if that had, indeed, helped.

"Yeah well," LaFiamma looked down at his feet then back up at his partner. "She wasn't who I wanted to spend the evening with."

With a smile, Lundy stepped back, out of the doorway. "You have anyone in particular in mind?"

LaFiamma stepped inside. "Who do you think?" He stared at Lundy for a long minute then reached out and pulled the other man to him, taking his mouth in a possessive kiss.

Lundy let go of the door, giving it a slight, off-balance kick to get it closed. He suddenly wished he hadn't had the whiskey -- his head was spinning slightly by the time LaFiamma let him go.

Finally LaFiamma pulled back a little, though he didn't release his hold on Lundy. "You've been drinking," he observed, caressing the other man's cheek.

Lundy looked away. Wasn't like he could deny it. He couldn't say it had only been one glass, either.

"Levon..." Gently LaFiamma steered the other man's head back so he could again meet his eyes. "You didn't think I was going to sleep with her did you?"

"Wasn't sure. I... I figured you might. Let your family know you were... doing all right."

LaFiamma's heart lurched at the look on his partner's face. As tenderly as he could he leaned in and kissed the other man. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I never meant to make you think you're less important to me than my family. I guess I'm just no good at explaining myself."

"I didn't think that," he protested, not sure if it were true. "I just thought… you might rather go out with women, give yourself a good cover... sleep with me when you could." Lord, did he really sound that pitiful? Or was it miserable? Had he hated sending Joe out with Legs that much?

'You did that,' LaFiamma's conscience whispered to him. 'You put that look in his eyes.' Embracing and kissing Lundy briefly once again, LaFiamma then pulled back and led the other man into the living room. "Come on," he said, as he maneuvered them both through the darkened room with the ease of familiarity.

Lundy let the other man lead him, not wondering where they were going but willing to let his partner take care.

He noticed they were not headed for the bedroom, as he'd expected.

LaFiamma pushed Lundy down to sit on the couch then hesitated before joining him. "Do you mind if I turn a light on?" he asked. "I really want to be able to see you when we talk." 'And have you see me,' he added silently.

"Go ahead." Lundy waved a hand, indicating permission to turn on whatever light LaFiamma wanted. He watched from the couch as Joe headed to the lamp and switched it on, giving them enough light to see. 'Sit beside me.' He waited for LaFiamma to return. Did he really need that much? 'Sit here with me.'

Once the lamp was on LaFiamma returned and settled onto the couch beside his partner. He didn't miss the soft sigh of relief at his actions. 'Is he that unsure about my feelings?' he asked himself wonderingly. 'Well why shouldn't he be?' his conscience answered. 'You certainly haven't done or said anything that would reassure him.'

"So now what?" Lundy couldn't quite work up any doubts as to what they had to talk about. There was only wondering what his unpredictable partner would actually say.

LaFiamma was silent for a long moment, wondering where to start, what he could say to fix the damage he had caused. Taking a deep breath, he decided to just try however ineptly to say what was in his heart. "I've screwed up," he began seriously. "I know that. I got scared and did something stupid and ended up hurting myself, my job, and you. That's the worst part -- that I hurt you. I'm sorry." He grinned a little, self-mockingly. "I keep saying that. But it's the truth. I am sorry. I... I just don't know how I can fix it. I want to try though."

"What part do you want to fix, Joe?" Lundy heard himself asking. He had no idea where the words had come from. He tried to think it over and rephrase the question. The only thing he could think of that needed fixing was knowing more about where they were headed. That wasn't something he had even asked himself yet.

"What part?" LaFiamma echoed. "Us. The partnership, the friendship, the..." he trailed off. "You know. The other." He looked away frustrated at his inability to describe them.

Not at all clear on what LaFiamma was trying to say, Lundy yawned and leaned over. Resting himself against his partner, he decided he didn't care. Joe was here, had come here when he could have gone anywhere else. That was all that mattered.

LaFiamma automatically wrapped an arm around his partner's body. "Levon, this thing about not telling my family, that doesn't mean I don't want us to continue, that I only want to 'sleep with you when I can.'" He was quiet for a moment then added softly. "I want more than that."

Lundy stiffened. Moving away -- not out of reach, certainly not out of Joe's arms, but back where he could see -- "How much more?" He could feel his heart beating faster.

"I want you," LaFiamma said, reaching out and caressing Lundy's cheek again. "Just... you." He lowered his eyes and shook his head in frustration. "I'm not very good at this sort of thing."

"You're better than you think," Lundy corrected, smiling back at the brief grin he got at the unintended double entendre.

It didn't sound as if Joe was asking for more than just wanting to be here, rather than anyplace else. Despite whatever they ended up doing, to maintain whatever cover they decided Joe needed, he knew Joe would prefer to be here. He smiled. That was all he wanted to hear.

They sat there smiling at each other for a long moment. "She was wrong, you know," LaFiamma said finally, fingers coming up to play with Lundy's blonde locks.

"About what?" It was very, very hard to think with Joe playing with his hair. Another thirty seconds of it and he might well be lying crossways on LaFiamma's lap, purring like a kitten. Or unconscious.

"About never having better than her."

"Oh." Lundy closed his eyes. His head had stopped spinning but now his body was shutting down. No, he corrected himself, that wasn't quite true. He was mildly intoxicated, very tired, emotionally wrung out, and getting extremely turned on. All of which meant it was almost impossible to move.

LaFiamma leaned forward and briefly touched his lips to his partner's. "Now if you had said it..." he began, a teasing glint in his eyes.

"Mmmmm...." Lundy tilted his head back, resting on the back of the couch, still wrapped in his partner's embrace. "What if I *had* said it?" he asked, brain barely functioning and happy to be that way.

"That you bet I had never had better than you?" LaFiamma asked, nuzzling at Lundy's jawline and throat. "You would've won the bet."

It was either the spot just below his jaw, or the words, or maybe even both. In an instant he was hard, needing to get these tight jeans off and spread himself out so Joe could do whatever he took it in his head to do. He laughed silently at himself -- was a time when he'd played hard to get, or at least managed to last through more then five minutes of foreplay.

LaFiamma's mouth traveled leisurely over the side of Lundy's face up to his ear. "Shall we take this to the bedroom?" he whispered in between light nips to the ear lobe.

"Uh-huh," Lundy wasn't sure he could stand just yet -- LaFiamma would have to let go of him and give him a minute to calm down. He didn't want that to happen, though, so he reached out and grabbed hold of Joe's arm and held himself in the embrace.

LaFiamma laughed softly at this action, warm puffs of air caressing his partner's ear and neck. "Or we can just stay here," he said, looking down at the iron-hold Lundy had on his arm.

Lundy turned his head and took the next kiss with his mouth, opening wide to let his partner in. Any thoughts he might have had were long gone.

The kiss went on for a long time as both men lost themselves in it and in each other. Gradually LaFiamma became aware that Lundy's hands were wandering all over his body and that his were doing the same to Lundy. Deliberately, he brushed the back of his hand against the bulge in Lundy's jeans.

"Uuuhhh!" Lundy's hips jutted upwards in response to the light touch. He grabbed onto some part of his lover, pulling him closer, and ground his hips against the other man's body.

LaFiamma sucked in his breath at the sensation, his own hips pushing back against Lundy's as they quickly established a rhythm. The feelings, sensations were so intense... and they still were dressed!

Finding himself somehow lying down, on his back with LaFiamma on top of him, Lundy encouraged the motions. Hands roamed, pushing and grabbing but they didn't matter, nothing mattered but the body on top of his, moving back and forth against his.

LaFiamma was quickly losing himself, both his and Lundy's movements becoming more frantic, more desperate. He could hear the other man's harsh panting matching his own and knew that neither of them was going to last much longer.

Braced with one foot on the floor and the other firm against the arm of the couch Lundy thrust one more time before he started hollering. LaFiamma's moans in his ear shoved him over the edge he'd have gladly leapt over if given the chance -- his eyes closed and he let his body explode.

Thrusting a few more times, LaFiamma tumbled over as well with a cry of his partner's name, before collapsing bonelessly on top of his lover.

Moments -- minutes, hours, who knew? -- passed before Lundy opened his eyes. Joe was lying on top of him, still breathing heavy but now it was slow, and deep. Didn't seem to be asleep, yet, but that would probably change soon enough.

He considered his position, found he could breathe well enough and that nothing hurt, as if wedged awkwardly between the cushions (which happened once in a while).

Closing his eyes again, he let himself drift. Two seconds later he was fast asleep.

LaFiamma lay there and listened to his lover's breathing even out into sleep. He thought briefly about getting up and doing what he could to clean them off, maybe even getting them stripped down and into bed, but he was way too comfortable and drowsy where he was to give the idea serious consideration.

On the other hand, his mind was racing way too fast for him to be able to follow his lover into sleep. So LaFiamma lay there, half dozing and letting his thoughts go where they would.

Inevitably they went back to his uncle's phone call. LaFiamma's relief at hearing from the man and being told that no, he did not want or mean to cut off *all* contact had only highlighted just how strong his need for such familial contact was and how much he feared losing it.

For his entire life, LaFiamma had always been able to count on his family being there, on their support and love. No matter how bad things got he knew he could turn to them. Even after he was exiled he could always count on being able to pick up the phone and hear their voices. Uncle Mikey's telling him not to call anymore had torn that assurance away.

When it had happened, LaFiamma had been too busy trying to save Whilton's life to dwell on how much it had hurt. But even as Lundy and he had raced across the city he had known that that night, when he was alone in his apartment, the emotional impact was going to hit him hard.

Except that it hadn't worked out that way. Lundy had gone home with him and in their mutual grief and loneliness they had turned to each other. LaFiamma had never acted on his occasional attraction to another man before, not wanting to risk what it would do to his relationship with his family. But that night none of that had mattered. His family had already cut him off, what more did he have to lose?

So when his uncle had phoned and given him back what he had thought he had lost he had panicked, doing his best to deny this new relationship in an effort to maintain the old.

When Callie had phoned minutes after he had hung up from talking to his uncle LaFiamma had found himself agreeing to meet her almost before he knew what he was doing, even as a voice inside of him kept telling him it was a mistake.

It was a mistake, not only because she was a potential suspect but because she hadn't been the one he wanted to be with.

And that was the crux of the matter; even when he had been doing his best to deny there was anything between Lundy and himself beyond being partners and friends, in his heart he had still wanted to be with the man more than anyone else.

When he had finally admitted that to himself was when he had realized just how big a mistake he had made.

The worst thing about having been forced to move to Houston was how alone it made LaFiamma feel. Always the outsider, tolerated but not necessarily liked, a fact that this case had driven home to him yet again when some of the other detectives in major crimes made it clear just exactly what they thought of him and his actions.

Lundy had defended him, got right in the other detective's face, even though a lot of what had been said had been true. That had been the moment that LaFiamma had realized that smart move or not, he could not deny his feelings for the man, not if he wanted to be anything but miserable.

That was what brought him here tonight, and Lundy's reaction was all he could have hoped for. He snuggled closer with a contented sigh, a small smile twitching his lips at the memory. Anything that felt this right couldn't be wrong, despite what he'd been told his entire life.

He still wasn't sure what he was going to do about his family, if, when, they ever found out about Lundy and him, but for now LaFiamma was content. And maybe even a little happy.

As his brain finally wound down LaFiamma drifted to sleep, curled up with his partner and lover. He could get very used to this, he decided. He just hoped that one of these times they'd actually manage to get undressed first.

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