This wasn't how it was ever supposed to end.

Lundy parked his truck out front of his house, and glanced over at the box in the seat beside him. All of his belongings from his desk at the station were packed not-so-neatly there.

He still couldn't believe it had happened. Grabbing the box he climbed out of the Jimmy and slammed the door shut. The box wasn't heavy. Why, then, was it so difficult to carry?

He didn't answer the question, simply hefted the box higher and carried it to the house. Balancing it on his hip, he unlocked the door and stepped inside. It felt cold. Middle of the day, but middle of the winter -- the house was usually quiet this time in the afternoon. He shouldn't be here.

He walked in and set the box on the desk. Time enough to go through it later. Right now, he needed... He shook his head. What he *really* needed he couldn't dare ask for.

Not now. Maybe not ever.

He closed his eyes with a whispered, "Damn!" and kicked the edge of the couch behind him. In one single day everything had come spinning apart. No clue this morning that anything was wrong, he'd gone in to work and found his partner and their cases waiting, as always. No bad feelings warning him to step carefully, no hidden looks or dropped hints the days before that something might just come crashing down around him. Co-workers had laughed and joked as always, the lieutenant greeting him with a smile like usual... Until the report came in. She'd called him into her office, alone. Asked him to sit down.

That was the first time he'd had any idea something was going wrong. He'd had no clue even then, of course, what it would be.

The look on her face stopped him from asking. They'd been friends a long time, partners for a while, and he could still read her face. She was hurt, horribly hurt, and could not bring herself to say anything. Not until he'd leaned forward, and asked her to tell him.

"I'm sorry, Levon," and he'd known only that no one he loved was dead because the only one left was out in the bullpen, waiting for him to come back out. No deaths, then, to warrant this shock. "I'm sorry. I have to ask for your badge."

The words made perfect sense. He didn't believe he was hearing them, of course, and could only stare at her in confusion. She said it again, trying to make her voice stronger, louder, and it only came out another whisper. Finally he asked, "What for?" What had he done that should get him suspended? He'd thought over everything in the last week, the last month, hell even in the last year he hadn't done anything he hadn't already been called on the carpet for.

"Am I being suspended?" He realised she hadn't said. The omnious pit welled up and he had felt suddenly cold.

She shook her head. "You're being fired. God, Levon, I'm sorry. If I had had any idea... I would have warned you, or something." Suddenly
regaining her voice she'd started on, apologising and backpedaling. But he still didn't understand.

"What for?" Maybe it was just a cover, and they needed a recently-dismissed cop to work a sensitive case. If that were so, they'd told him... someone would have warned him. Asked for his cooperation.

"I wasn't given the details. They've been squashed, actually -- none of it will go into your files and from what I understand the arresting officer has turned everything over to Captain Walsh. But I was told, when they told me you were being dismissed because I wouldn't do it just on their say-so--"

"Dammit, Joanne, what are you talking about?"

His one burst of anger. It had died so fast, when she'd explained he'd only nodded, handed over his badge, and walked out.

He hadn't looked at his partner as he packed up his desk, ignoring the stares and the questions, pushing his way past LaFiamma when the other man tried to block his way. Now he stood in the living room, two o'clock in the afternoon, wondering what the hell he was going to do with the rest of his life.

He'd only ever wanted to be a cop. Or a cowboy, when he was 10, but that job didn't hold many prospects in the middle of Houston. He didn't have enough land to go into horse ranching, the only other thing he was qualified for.

With a start of surprise he realised that wasn't quite true. There was something he could do -- perhaps even fitting, that he should consider it given the reasons for his dismissal. He took off his hat and walked over to the phone. He'd have to call Ramon, and see if there were any openings.


Half an hour later he was sitting in the living room, glass of whiskey in his hand, not thinking anything at all. Ramon had scheduled him with practically no questions asked -- offered him the job no questions asked. After they'd settled things Ramon had been full of questions and Levon had, haltingly, told him everything.

Now he was waiting to see how he would manage until the end of the day when he could safely go to bed and forget what had happened. A knock on the door reminded him there might yet be things to be handled. When he opened the front door he was not surprised to find a very angry LaFiamma standing there, pushing his way inside as soon as the door was open.

"Come on in," Lundy said, sarcastically but without much energy. Had they told him? Did he know, or was he here to fight on his partner's --
ex-partner's -- behalf?

Lord, was he going to have to *tell* LaFiamma, see his face when he learned what he'd done? He realised Joe had been ranting already, half in English and half in what was probably Italian.

"Can't believe this!" Suddenly LaFiamma whirled and faced him. "What the hell were you thinking?"

The sheer amount of rage in LaFiamma's face stunned him; he couldn't say a word, could barely think in the face of it. He tried to stammer an apology, not certain if it would even help.

"I'm sorry, Joe, I didn't--" He stopped as LaFiamma stepped up and grabbed him by the shirtfront.

He didn't try to fight the other man off. If this was how he felt about it all -- which meant they'd probably told him, and he was feeling betrayed -- then he was not going to fight.

"What were you thinking, huh? Just walk out of there, not a word, not even a single word! What's wrong with you? What the *hell* is wrong with you?"

Joe let go of his shirt, pushing him back. Levon stumbled, and asked quietly, "Did they tell you why--"

"YES! Dammit, they told me why. Now I want to hear it from you! The truth, Levon!"

He'd thought he was too far in shock to feel anything more. He'd been wrong. Another slam of a cold, hard brick through his gut and he looked at the ground. "What they said was true. Vice found some photos taken at a place called the Chamber. I was in some. Rather than risk a media circus and have me arrested, they just fired me."

It was the first time he'd said it out loud. When taking to Ramon he'd used euphemisms, talking around it though his friend had known exactly what he meant. Levon couldn't look up, couldn't stand to see the expression on his best friend's face.

Ex-partner, ex-best friend.

"Photos, huh? They said they had evidence of a moral crime commited. I take it you weren't--"

Harshly, quickly he threw out the words. Maybe once LaFiamma heard them he would go. "Yes, dammit, I was having sex. With other men. 'Crime against morality' I think it's called."

"That's not what I mean." LaFiamma had come closer, was standing almost on top of him. The words suddenly registered, and he looked up, again confused.

"What are you...?" He wasn't even sure what to ask. What did he mean, then?

"Why didn't you talk to me, Levon? We're partners, how could you let them fire you without even saying a word to me?"

He saw, behind the anger, pain at his betrayl. It sparked his own anger. "What was I supposed to say?" It didn't come out angry. It came out lost, and scared.

Joe laid a hand on his cheek. He started; the first time his partner had ever touched him so close. Quite so tenderly. "You could have told me, Levon. Before, after, anytime. Said anything except leaving without a word. Don't even do that to me again, you hear?"

The shock had never really left. Moving in a thick haze since Joanne had said the words, he had never really emerged. He only realised that now, as Joe's words tried to fight their way into coherence.

"Joe, we ain't partners anymore. I can't argue with the dismissal." Hands grabbed his arms, holding him steady. Had he been swaying? He wasn't sure.

"I know that. Lord, Levon, I won't ask what sort of an idiot you are that you'd let someone take those pictures."

"I didn't know," he protested. It was the first time he'd said it. He didn't feel as if it helped, it certainly wouldn't exonerate him. But it was vital Joe understand, now. Doing it had been what broke the law. The pictures had only been proof.

Somehow it was important that Joe understand what had happened. "I never knew there were pictures. There aren't ever supposed to be. Someone broke some rules by taking them--"

LaFiamma spoke over his tumbling words. "I know, I mean I figured as much." Joe looked at him, anger mysteriously vanished, replaced by a soft look of worry. "What are you gonna do?"

He was still swaying. He had to be, else why would Joe not be letting him go? "I got a job... friend of mine owns a few of the clubs. I worked tending bar when I was younger, still do it sometimes when I need extra cash. He gave me a job."

For the first time Joe smiled. "Yeah? I never figured you for a bartender. Which clubs?"

Levon turned red. "Some of the bars down on Montrose. He owns the Vortex, and the Eagle, half-owns Cowgirls."

"Which one are you working at?"

Joe seemed remarkably calm. Levon wondered why. "The Vortex."

"Good. It's a nice place. Levon, you know I--"


LaFiamma started to look embarrassed, then he stuck his chin out in a defiant expression. "I said it's a nice place. You think you're the only one who's ever been there?"

Lundy found himself sitting on the back of the couch, his partner staring him in the eyes with a worried expression. "Levon? You all right, man? Come on, already, breathe."

He tried to focus and got two dark brown eyes. "You...?"

Joe nodded. "I do. I am -- that's why I wasn't here yelling about you being a pervert and all. Levon, are you gonna try to argue with the department about firing you?"

Still staring, he shook his head. He hadn't thought things through yet but somehow he knew he wouldn't.

"OK, then. That means we won't be partners anymore--"

"Joe, I'm sorry." It was the worst part about it, losing Joe. He felt the urge to run back and demand he be let back on the force, just so he wouldn't have to leave.

"Joe, I never--"

His ex-partner kissed him. Long, gently; kissed him with his hands holding Levon's head carefully still.

When they broke away Leovn gasped, and stared in astonishment. LaFiamma smiled. "Now I can finally do that."

For a second he didn't move. Then, before the smile could fade into anything horrible Levon stood, grabbed Joe around the waist, and kissed him back.

This time when they broke the kiss they remained wrapped in an embrace.

"How long have you been waiting to do that?" Levon asked, feeling something tumbling inside him like paper airplanes, twirling through the

"About since the time I saw you at the airport, leaning against the counter in those tight jeans."

He grinned. "Yeah, that's about the first time I wanted you -- first time I saw you." The grin faded into a smile. "Didn't fall in love until you stopped changing the radio staion in my truck."

Joe laughed, and nuzzled his nose with his own. "Stopped changing the station when I realised I didn't mind -- loved you, you know. Wanted you to listen to what you wanted."

Sighing, Levon let his eyes close as the day started to crash in on him. Then he opened his eyes and asked, "How'd you know? Just now, when you kissed me..."

"Are you kidding? Levon, I've known you loved me for almost a year. I just never thought... I didn't think you swung that way so I never made any moves on you."

Another shock -- this time not so rough as all the others he'd had that day, but still -- a shock. "You knew?"

"Yeah, Levon I knew. That's why I hid how I felt. I didn't think we'd be able to work together if you knew I felt the same. We'd never have been left as partners, and working with you... we'd spend more time together as partners than anything else. I didn't want to lose--" He stopped.

"Oh, god, Levon. I'm sorry."

Joe pulled him closer, holding him tight as Levon let his head fall onto his lover's shoulder. Was it too soon to call him that? Levon suspected not. They'd been loving for a long time already.

He asked, "This mean we're still friends?" It wasn't quite his question, but he knew Joe would understand.

"We're still partners, partner. No one will ever change that." Joe pulled him around, and gave him a kiss.

The contact began to calm him, finally. Held in Joe's arms, feeling his mouth on his own, it was like nothing he'd ever dreamt and so it felt so much more real than anything else. The rest of the day's events disappeared until there was no police station, no lost job, no new life waiting for him. There was only Joe LaFiamma, standing in his arms, holding him tight.

Next Story: The Vortex