In the Centaur Ring
by Wolfling and James
pun by B

Breakfast was chaos again.

That was probably not going to change until the kids were both off on
their own, college or homes of their own. Joe shook his head. 14
years, at a minimum. Between the cats on the table, the kids arguing
over the cereal box (there was some sort of puzzle on the back, which
Angie insisted Tony couldn't do, but which he didn't want his sister
to have), and Levon abandoning him to the mess in favour of feeding
the horses -- Joe was happier than he'd been in a very long time.

All the noise and chaos meant one thing: family. And he wouldn't
change it for anything in the world.

Things were a bit more chaotic than usual this morning because this
was Levon's and his first day back at work. They would take the kids
over to Jesse's after breakfast before heading in to the station for
the first time since they'd taken a couple of weeks off to babysit
Angie and Tony while their parents went on a second honeymoon.

They'd originally taken a leave of absence; Lieutenant Beaumont had
given them six months each once things had hit the fan. She'd been
pleasantly surprised to hear they'd be back much earlier. The delight
had lasted only a few minutes, then she'd told them to be in her
office at eight.

Angie and Tony seemed to be looking forward to spending the day with
Jesse. Joe suspected it was because Jesse had offered to bring them
back over so they could ride Wildflower and Fuzzy Dice. Jesse was
nothing if not familiar with how to deal with kids and keep them happy
*and* in line. They would be in good hands.

It didn't stop Joe from having a twinge of guilt at leaving them,
however. Even though things had had time to settle down some, the
whole situation was still so new to all of them.

"What's wrong? Coffee too weak?" Levon asked as he came into the
room. Tony looked up and complained that Angie wouldn't let him have
the cereal box. Angie counter-complained that Tony couldn't read so
he didn't *need* it.

Joe shook off his mood and grinned at his husband. "Weak coffee is the
least of our problems. As usual."

"But the one easiest to solve," Levon replied as he grabbed Joe's mug
and tasted the coffee. He spared a glance at Angie and told her to
share the box, pointing out that if Tony couldn't read, it wouldn't
take him long to be done with it. The girl pouted but did as she was
told. Things quieted down then.

For a few minutes.

Levon made a face at the coffee and headed for the kitchen -- with
Joe's mug. Joe sighed and followed grabbing another mug for himself.
Things like that had never happened when he was dominant. At least he
could have stopped them when they did, if he'd cared to.

He found Levon testing the coffee in the pot. His husband made a face
and poured it out. "Which one of us made this? And *when*?" He got
the grounds out and started to prepare a fresh pot.

"Didn't you make it when you got up this morning?"

"Yeah. Apparently I wasn't awake yet." Levon gave him a smile.
They'd been up early, that morning. In a manner of speaking.

Joe grinned back. "I can put up with bad coffee for mornings like this
one."

"Tell you what, I'll buy you a real cup of coffee at the station."
Levon stopped before pouring any grounds into the filter.

"We have been away from work too long if you think the slop they serve
there is real coffee."

"You're forgetting about Burglary." Levon grinned. It was an open
secret at the station that the best place for a cup of coffee was the
sixth floor. The trick was, of course, convincing Sergeant Anderson,
whose desk was right in front of the coffee pot, that you had a reason
to be there. The cops in Burglary were more than a little possessive
about their coffee.

"Got a way to get by Anderson figured out?"

"Oh, yeah." Levon nodded, but didn't explain. He left the coffee pot
sitting by the sink, and headed back toward the dining room just as
Tony's voice raised in pitch and volume.

"Le' GO!!" he was shouting, tugging on the cereal box, as they walked
back in. He looked up at them, retaining his grip on the box. Angie
had let go of it as soon as Joe and Levon had stepped in the room.
Tony frowned at Joe. "She won' gimme the box!"

Levon gave him a look. "I think from now on we should buy two boxes
of cereal."

"Good call."

"You two about done?" Levon asked.

Both kids nodded, after shooting one last accusing look at each other
over the top of the cereal box.

"All right. Get the table cleaned up so we can get going."

Angie picked up her bowl and glass and headed for the kitchen. Tony
triumphantly grabbed the cereal box. After a moment he realised he
didn't want it anymore, and set it back down and took his bowl to the
kitchen as well.

"You know," Joe began conversationally staring after the kids, "I
think work is going to be quiet compared to this."

Levon just grinned.

**************

They dropped the kids off at Jesse's, though they could have easily
walked the distance. Joe and Levon told each other that they wanted
to make sure Jesse was ready for them -- but privately they'd admitted
they wanted to make sure the kids made it that far. The corral was
between the two houses, after all. Stopping 'just to pet the horses'
had already proven to be a good way to lose a kid's attention for an
hour.

At Jesse's, they each gave each kid a hug good bye and got back into
the truck and started for work. Again Joe felt that twinge of guilt
for leaving them. He sighed.

"You can call 'em when we get to the station," Levon said as he put
the truck into reverse.

Joe's mouth quirked up slightly at the corners. "Am I that
transparent?"

"No. I just know you too well." Levon paused, then said, "And I was
thinking the same thing myself."

"Nice to know I'm not the only one." He reached out and laid a hand on
Levon's thigh.

"Careful; don't make me drive into a tree." Levon sounded only
half-serious.

Or was that 'only half-kidding'? Joe mused. "This is Texas. What
trees?"

Levon pointed. "What do you think those are?"

Joe pretended to look. "Big shrubs?"

"Cottonwoods, Joe. Maples, willows...." Levon trailed off from naming
each species. "OK, that one's a big shrub," he conceded as they went
past a mesquite.

"Told you." Joe grinned smugly then looked back out the window. "All
the rest have to be transplanted from somewhere else. Like me."

"You saying we've got Italian trees everywhere?" Levon asked in a
clear tone of disbelief.

"Yeah. That's a spaghetti tree over there." He pointed.

Levon was suddenly laughing too hard to reply.

"What?" Joe pretended wounded dignity. "Don't you believe me?"

Levon nodded as he tried to maintain enough composure to drive without
hitting anything. Including trees and shrubbery.

Joe was quiet then, letting Levon regain his composure. Then, totally
straightfaced, he said, "Watch out for that linguini bush."

Levon gave him a dirty look. It was marred by the laughter he was
struggling to hold back.

"What? Do you know how hard linguini is to get out of the front
grill?"

This time Levon just rolled his eyes. "I think I'm gonna reconsider
getting you a cup of coffee from Anderson. You're already wired."

"Oh, like you haven't been keeping up with me."

"Yeah, but I can pretend otherwise."

"Not that you're fooling anyone." He was still smiling; he just
couldn't seem to stop. It felt so good to be on their way to work,
teasing each other like this. Reassurance that for all the changes
they had gone through in the last couple of months, some things had
remained the same.

"I can fool Anderson. Ain't that all that matters?" Levon sounded and
looked like he felt the same way.

"Only if you remember to get two cups. Otherwise I'll just have to
steal yours."

"Hmm. Stealing coffee from Burglary... sounds kinda bad, don't it?"

"Only if we get caught."

By this time they were pulling up to the station. Levon fell silent as
he negotiated a line of police vehicles all trying to leave and arrive
at once.

"Sheesh," Joe muttered. "We need cops directing traffic in *here*."

"Careful, or the Chief'll let you volunteer."

"If I get volunteered, so will you," Joe pointed out.

Levon gave him a startled, outraged look. "Me? What makes you think
I'll claim to know you?"

"What makes you think they'd take your word over mine?"

"Seniority." Levon managed to pull into a parking spot without being
sideswiped, and got out of the truck.

Joe joined him, sidestepping a car that didn't seem about to stop.
"And you complain about Chicago drivers."

Levon just grinned. "Must be the pollen from all them Italian trees,
making everyone nuts."

"Must be."

They continued bantering as they headed for the elevator and then up
to Major Crimes.

As Joe started to get off the elevator and Levon didn't follow, Joe
stopped, and looked back. At his confused look Levon just mouthed
'Anderson?'

Oh. Right. "I'll meet you at our desks?" he asked.

Levon nodded. "Don't catch any crooks 'til I get back."

"I'll make sure to slack off."

Levon just grinned again, and motioned for him to step back so the
doors could close. He did as he was bid, then headed into the
bullpen.

"LaFiamma!" He heard as soon as he stepped past the door. He looked
over at Beaumont, who asked, "Where's Lundy? I thought he was coming
in today, too."

It felt.... strange. It had been so long since they'd been at work and
things had changed so much in the rest of his life, it seemed like
things should've changed here as well. And they hadn't. That's why it
felt strange: because it was so normal.

Beaumont was giving him an impatient look. "LaFiamma?"

"Yeah, Lieutenant." That, too felt normal-strange.

"Where's Lundy?"

"Stopped to get some coffee. Should be right up."

"Coffee?" She sighed. "I want you both in my office ASAP."

That sounded serious. Joe felt a weird of combination of anticipation
and worry. Not five minutes back at work and already it looked like
something big was brewing. The lieutenant turned and went back into
her office, closing the door firmly but not slamming it. Whatever it
was, wasn't too bad news, then.

Joe sat down at his desk to wait for his partner. It wasn't very long
before Levon was handing him a full mug of coffee. "Thanks." He took a
sip then nodded towards Beaumont's office. "Lieutenant wants to see
us."

Levon gave him a nod, and they headed over.

"What's up Lieutenant?" Joe asked once they were all in Joanne's
office.

"The Cranston case, last fall." She pulled a folder out of the stack
on her desk and handed it over to Joe.

He opened it and quickly scanned the contents. "This has been
verified?" he asked, looking up quickly.

"Has what been verified?" Levon asked, even as Beaumont nodded.

"We've got a witness willing to testify against Cranston."

"Hot damn. Who? Where?"

Joe handed his partner the folder. "Some kid who was at the wrong
place at the wrong time. He's in San Antonio right now."

"And now he's in trouble, and wants to bargain with the cops." Levon
summed up the remainder of the report.

Beaumont said, "And since it was your case, you two are the natural
choice to go get him. Unless it's going to be a problem for you,
Levon?"

He shook his head, and smiled. "Not anymore."

"Other than making plans for the kids," Joe interjected.

"The herd can take care of 'em," Levon responded matter-of-factly.

"They could at that." He turned back to Beaumont. "So when do we
leave?"

"This morning. SAPD wants to be rid of him -- apparently he's being
'annoying'."

"Is that a direct quote?" Levon asked.

She just turned a brief glare on him. "Here's the address. You'll be
meeting a Sergeant Barnes."

"Got it. We'll leave soon as we make the arrangements for the kids."

She nodded, and they were dismissed. As they headed back towards
their desks, Levon commented, "Hope you weren't serious about not
wanting traffic duty."

"How's this translating into traffic duty?"

"Not this. This," Levon indicated Joe's coffee mug with his own. He
was grinning devilishly as he headed for his desk.

Joe followed. "I might actually been worried if you got the coffee
from traffic instead of burglary."

But Levon kept grinning. "Worked a trade."

For a few seconds Joe was concerned, but quickly dismissed it. "Guess
you're going to have to work out another trade then, since we're not
going to be around."

The brief look Levon gave him made him shiver. "Yeah, you can work it
out in trade," he agreed.

"I'm sure we can come to some arrangement," Joe replied, letting his
voice go husky.

Levon reached for the phone, not taking his eyes off Joe. He dialed,
and a moment later was speaking to Carla.

Joe listened as Levon made arrangements for them to drop the kids off
right before they left. He noted that it wasn't a question, Levon just
assumed that they would take them.

And of course they would -- the kids were part of their family,
besides which the herd did whatever Levon told them to do. Still, it
was just another little reminder of Levon's new status. A status that
Joe still hadn't completely assimilated.

When Levon hung up the phone he looked over at Joe, about to speak.
He stopped when he saw the expression on Joe's face. "Joe?"

"I'm okay. I just..." He shrugged. "Still getting used to that."

Again the devilish grin appeared and Levon leaned forward, whispering,
"You want me to help you get used to it? I can order you around...."

Joe had to fight not to shiver. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

Levon didn't reply. The look said it all.

"I hate to interrupt what looks like something very fascinating,"
Esteban said from beside Joe.

"Not interrupting anything that can't wait." Joe leaned back in his
chair. "What's up Esteban?"

"Wanted to say 'welcome back' before you left," Esteban said with a
laugh. "And to tell you Traffic called while you were in with the
Lieutenant. They want you," he said to LaFiamma, "to call and let
them know when you'll be down."

Levon stood up from his desk hurriedly, gathering his things and
moving towards the door. "Thanks, Esteban. We'll catch you tomorrow
when we get back." He pointedly kept the other man between himself
and Joe.

"You can run but you can't hide, Lundy!" he called after the rapidly
retreating form of his husband. Levon made a dash out of the bullpen,
manoeuvring Williams to serve as another obstacle for Joe.

Some things never change, Joe thought as he chased Levon out.

****************

Levon had said nothing for the first ten minutes of the drive. He'd
given Joe a 'cute' look when they'd climbed into the truck, and
received a scowl in return. He'd laughed, but kept silent.

They headed back to the house to pick pack a bag, and take the kids
out to the ranch. The kids were naturally excited at the prospect of
staying with the herd -- the excitement overcame their unhappiness at
hearing that Joe and Levon were going out of town for a couple days.

The drive out to the ranch was full of excited questions from Angie
and Tony that Joe and Levon were barely given a chance to answer.
They were more than happy to finally hand the kids over to Joy,
redirecting the focus of their questions with relief.

Levon excused himself for a few minutes, and went off to speak to
Stuart.

Which left Joe at loose ends. He watched the kids interact with Joy
and the young centaurs, leaning against the truck and waiting for
Levon. Joy walked over to him with a cheerful smile. "Joe, how are
you doing? Didn't get to see much of you last time you were here."

He felt himself blush. "Levon and I were sort of... distracted last
time."

"Yes, I know." Her smile made him think she knew *exactly* what
they'd been doing, right down to the individual positions, and words
murmured. "Levon seems to be much happier," she continued with a
glance back towards where Levon had gone.

Joe shrugged. "He's where he wants to be. Home."

She nodded. "I never had the chance to apologise to you, Joe. For
calling him." Her smile was serious, now. "I know it disrupted
things."

"I know it was necessary. If there had been any other choice, I know
you wouldn't have."

"You still sound upset." Her words were hesitant, but certain. Joe
realised she probably didn't know exactly where *he* stood, in the
hierarchy of the herd.

He wasn't really sure of that himself. "I was upset at the situation,
not at you, Joy," he clarified.

"And now?" she asked carefully.

"I've got Levon back. What could be wrong now?"

"Other than the fact that you're standing here, barely talking to me,
looking as if you'd prefer to get back in your truck and drive away?"

Joe fidgeted uneasily. "Guess I still worry about him coming back to
stay," he admitted quietly.

Joy gave him a smile, which looked more sad than anything. "And here
I worry about him coming back, at all," she said in a hushed voice.

"What?"

"I know how much he'd rather be with you. Even as much as we need
him... I don't doubt he'll do his duty; I *do* trust him. But all the
time he was here, his heart and mind were gone. Sometimes I find
myself wondering what would happen, though, if Stuart couldn't handle
the herd and I had to call Levon back. Whether he'd--" She shook her
head. "I *know* he'd come. That's not what I'm saying. But I know
he'd hate it."

There wasn't much Joe could say to that. She was right. If Levon had
to come back he would but he would hate every minute of it. But if it
ever happened they would find some way to deal with it, to cope and he
said as much to Joy.

"I know. Luckily, I think Stuart is going to be wonderful as herd
stallion. He needs a little time, of course. He hasn't matured yet,
but by next season I think he'll be ready to take over for Levon"

Next season. For the most part Joe was relieved but there was a
niggling fear at the back of his mind....

"When Stuart takes over, it'll be peaceful, right? No challenges at
the last moment or anything?"

She shook her head. "No challenges, unless Levon changes his mind or
Stuart decides he won't wait. But I don't see that happening --
they're both going to get what they want, there's not going to be
anything to challenge for." She rested her hand on Joe's arm.
"Besides, as I understand it you've offered to shoot Levon if he
tries?" She was grinning now.

He found himself grinning back at that. "I've had to come up with more
extreme threats since I'm not dominant anymore."

"You know, a water gun filled with koolaid works wonders."

Laughing, Joe shook his head. "I'll have to try that."

She glanced over to where Levon was heading back, and said quickly,
"Grape. He hates purple."

Levon arrived before he could reply. "Everything okay?" Joe asked him.

"Yeah, fine," he answered with a nod and a quick grin. "You ready to
head out?"

"Yeah." He turned back to Joy. "Thanks for the advice."

Levon gave Joe, then Joy, a suspicious look which only grew when Joy
returned a look of polite innocence.

Joe did his best to emulate that look as he headed back to the truck.
"Shall we get moving?"

"Reckon so," Levon agreed with no diminishing of his suspicion. But
he only gave them each another look, then headed for the driver's side
of the truck.

************************

The drive to San Antonio was uneventful and they talked quietly about
nothing in particular most of the way. It was actually fairly nice,
even if the scenery outside the truck was a bit boring. Joe almost
always enjoyed time spent with his husband, and lately they'd had
little time to just sit and talk about nothing in particular.

He resolved to himself to try and make the time for that in the
future.

When Levon pulled the truck into a Visitor's parking spot outside
Station 21, he shook his head. "Must be something in the air, today.
Everyone's driving like a -- like Yankees."

"Pollen from the Italian trees?"

Levon snickered. "Come on, let's go find Barnes. Maybe we can get
this Davison kid back to Houston, today."

"I doubt it, but stranger things have happened."

They headed towards the front entrance as Levon asked, "Like what?"

"Falling in love with my partner who turned out to be mythological."

"That's strange?" Levon asked in the same tone of mild surprise.
"Didn't you ever expect to fall in love?"

"Truthfully?" Joe asked, glancing sideways at his partner. "Not
really."

That seemed to surprise him for real. "Huh." Levon just glanced over
at him a few times as they entered the station and made their way to
the front desk. No one in the lobby gave them a second look -- few
even bothered with a first look. Finally he said, "You forget,
though, you're the one who's mythological."

"I am?"

"Don't you remember my telling you about the stories I was told 'bout
Santa Claus and Billy the Kid?" Levon gave the desk clerk a smile and
introduced himself and Joe, and asked to see Sergeant Barnes. She
told them to wait, and picked up a phone.

"So we're both mythological then," Joe said, continuing the
conversation as they waited. "Depending on your point of view."

But Levon shook his head. "I can prove I'm real."

"This I've got to hear."

"I'm standing here arguing with you, aren't I?"

"I could just be imagining you."

"Nope." Levon just shook his head.

"You sure?"

Levon nodded. "You can't be imagining me, because you're
mythological."

Joe was saved from answering by the desk clerk telling them they could
go upstairs and giving them directions to Sergeant Barnes' desk.

Levon thanked her, and they headed around the desk and through the
security gate. Barnes was on the third floor and when they started
towards the elevators Levon stopped, and looked hopefully towards the
stairwell.

"You wanna hoof it up?" Joe asked, trying to keep the question as
casual as he could.

"You wanna feel the floor swaying underneath your feet as you dangle
over a pit in the ground?" Levon returned the question equally
casually.

Joe wasn't fooled. But he grinned and started towards the stairs.
"When you put it that way..."

Levon followed. They headed up two flights, then emerged to find a
typical mid-morning chaos at the police station. Uniforms and
plainclothes officers heading back and forth, persons in handcuffs
shouting for one thing or another, and amidst them all various clerks
and support staff trying to wend their way through.

They found Barnes without any trouble -- five steps towards the
bullpen and a man was approaching them, hand out. "You HPD?"

Joe nodded, shaking the man's hand. "I'm LaFiamma, he's Lundy." He
nodded in Levon's direction.

"Barnes. Nice of you guys to get here so fast." Barnes sighed. "Too
bad the paperwork is still on somebody's desk at HQ."

So much for getting back home that night. "So it's hurry up and wait,
huh?"

Barnes shrugged. "You're welcome to wait here, but honestly I don't
think he'll be released until morning. You wanna go find a hotel room,
see the sights or whatever -- call me this afternoon and see if it's
ready."

"We'll do that and get out of your hair," Joe answered without even
glancing at Levon. He knew what his husband's preference would be.

"Wonderful. Here, take one of these," Barnes handed Joe a business
card. "If you end up someplace with a phone, lemme know the number
and I'll call when we're ready."

He nodded his understanding and thanks, then turned to leave.

When they were out of earshot, Levon asked, "What do you wanna do?"
His tone was unmistakable.

Joe grinned. "Probably the same thing you wanna do."

"Figure there's a motel nearby?"

"I'm sure we can find one."

"Why don't we ask that nice desk clerk in the lobby?" Levon was
hurrying them down the stairs, trying for casual unobtrusiveness. And
failing.

Joe just shook his head, grinned and followed. Feeling less than
unobtrusive himself.

****************

There turned out to be a hotel just down the street. They were able to
get a second floor room, and retired to it with all due haste.

"Second floor okay?" Joe asked as they headed up the stairs.

"Hell, yeah. Plan to be thoroughly distracted; besides which, you
didn't hear me complaining back at the ranch, did you?"

Joe grinned. "You were distracted there as well."

"See what I mean? For a mythological creature, you can be *very*
overwhelming."

"So are you, especially for a figment of my imagination."

"Wanna know what I'm imagining, right now?"

Joe figured it was a good thing there was no one else in the hallway,
as he tried to unlock the door to their room. "You gonna tell me or
show me?" The lock opened with a click and he held the door open for
Levon before following him inside.

"Both?"

Joe grinned as he turned and closed the door behind him. Turning back,
he found Levon looking at him like he was a dinner entree. "You look
hungry."

Levon didn't bother to reply. He lunged forward and slammed Joe
against the door -- which was only a few inches away so it did nothing
more than startle him -- and kissed him, hard.

*That* did more than startle him.


The next half hour or so Joe didn't think much at all. Just felt. And
acted. Afterwards they lay sprawled on the dishevelled bed.

"If you aren't real I've got one hell of an imagination," he muttered.

There was a moan which sounded utterly content, then Levon rolled over
and grinned down at him. From the gleam in his husband's eyes, Joe
could tell Levon was going to wear him out, completely.

"Give a guy a little time to recover will ya?"

"OK." Levon began nibbling at Joe's jaw.

He chuckled wearily. "That's your idea of giving some time?"

"You can wait," Levon told him. "Take all the time you need." Then
he went back to nuzzling, kissing, and licking his way around Joe's
face and chest.

Joe groaned. "You don't play fair."

Levon glanced up. "How do you *want* me to play?"

"Hey, I have nothing against not playing fair, cowboy."

Levon grinned at him, and rested his chin on Joe's chest. He lay
there for a moment, watching Joe.

"What are you grinning at?" Joe asked, finding himself grinning back.

"Feel good," was Levon's reply.

Letting his hands roam aimlessly, Joe nodded. "Yeah, you do."

"You rested up, yet?" Levon's eyes were growing less focused.

Joe didn't answer in words, instead leaning in and kissing Levon
lingeringly.

That seemed to be answer enough.

****************

After more activity and a brief nap, Joe phoned the station and got
the word that the paperwork had gone through and that they could go
back to the station and pick up their witness. They would then have
to guard him at the hotel that night, since it was too late to get
back to Houston that day.

Levon said nothing about it after rolling his eyes and complaining
about the hassle of convincing HPD to pay them back for the cost of
staying the night. They got dressed and headed back to the police
station.

Barnes met them on their way to the holding cell, paperwork in hand
for them to sign. Levon took the papers and scanned them over while
Joe went ahead. He found Davison was sitting in the cell, looking
belligerent.

The uniform behind the desk seemed all to happy to hand Davison over
to Joey. "We need the space, unfortunately; at least this way I
won't have to listen to him anymore."

"Great," Joe muttered, eyeing Davison doubtfully. It was looking like
it might be a long drive back to Houston.

Davison just eyed him back with the unmistakable attitude of a young
man with an attitude. Davison was out to prove he was a real man, and
no 'pig' was going to prove otherwise.

Levon joined him them, handing the paperwork to the officer at the
desk. "All set?" Joe asked. He was startled, to put it mildly, when
Davison sneered at his partner -- and when Levon just grinned, and
shook his head.

"If I didn't have these cuffs on...." Davison began.

"You got a problem?" Joe asked him bluntly.

Davison didn't even glance his way; his attention was firmly on Levon.

Levon just nodded towards the door behind him. "Let's get going." He
didn't take his eyes off Davison, despite his casual demeanour.

The man slowly and grudgingly got to his feet and proceeded them out
of the room.

"What's going on? You know him or something?" Joe asked his partner in
a low voice.

Levon shook his head, following Davison closely.

"You boys have fun," Barnes said before he took off down another
hallway.

"Oh yeah. This is going to be a laugh a minute." Joe moved to catch
up with his partner. As he drew near, he saw Levon reach out to grab
Davison by the shirt sleeve, no doubt to steer him through the small
crowd. Davison jerked away, turning on Levon.

"Hey!" he yelled, closing the distance and grabbing onto Davison's
shoulder. "Settle down!"

Three other cops quickly moved forward, and Davison quickly stepped
away from Levon. He gave Levon a fierce glare, but made no more moves
towards him. Throughout this display, Levon merely watched him with
what looked like tolerant amusement.

Joe was definitely missing something here.

As soon as they got him outside and away from the other cops, Davison
stopped once more and turned to face Levon. "I'm not going anywhere
with you."

"Who said you had a choice?" Joe asked.

Davison turned his arrogant sneer on him. Levon interrupted,
"Don't worry about him, Joe. Just a colt with an attitude."

"I'm not a colt!" Davison hissed back.

Joe felt his eyebrows lifting. "He's a centaur?"

Levon nodded. Davison gave Joe a measured glance. "You're not gonna
get in my way." He looked back at Levon. "You'll have to kill me
before I let you drag me anywhere."

Levon raised an eyebrow. "So?"

"Hey, if you want to spend the drive back to Houston in cuffs buddy,
that's up to you," Joe interjected.

Davison gave them both a defiant sneer, and Levon just reached over
and gave him a slight shove towards the truck.

"You going to be okay with this?" Joe asked Levon in a low voice,
remembering some of his lover's reactions in the past when faced with
another stallion.

Levon gave him a smile. "I'm fine. Might have to tie him up and
throw him in the back of the truck... but I don't reckon you'd mind?"

"You just saying that because I've got these on," the young centaur
said, holding his wrists out. "If my hands were free I'd--"

"Get your ass kicked," Joe finished pleasantly. "Be thankful you are
tied up, kid."

"What do you know, human? I can take this old man."

"More than you, obviously." He nodded in Levon's direction. "I've seen
him take on a lot tougher than you."

"Yeah? You don't know how tough I *am*. You think you're so smart,
got me in these cuffs. But you can't keep me in 'em forever. And as
soon as I'm free... you're mine!"

Levon had listened to the tirade with the same amused grin on his
face. When Davison fell silent, Levon just unlocked the door to the
truck, and grabbed Davison by the arm. He tried to jerk away but Joe
was there to help shove him into the vehicle.

Once they got him inside, Levon gave Joe a triumphant smile. "Like
the man said, we're gonna have fun."

"I think you need to rethink your definition of fun."

Levon just laughed.

They managed to get back to the hotel without any threats or taunts --
or anything other than irritated silence -- from Davison. Once they
got him into the hotel room, that changed. They listened to him for a
few minutes, then finally Joe turned on him and yelled, "Either shut
up or I'll lock you in the closet!"

Davison looked like he was going yell back, but the combined glares
from Joe and Levon seemed to finally cow him. He subsided, and
stalked over to sit in a chair.

Not sure how long that would hold the young centaur, Joe let out a
weary sigh.

"Don't worry about him, Joe. I can handle him." Levon stepped
forward, speaking softly, giving him a smile reminiscent of the loving
smile he'd been so full of the last time they'd stood in this room.

"Just keep in mind we need to return him to Houston in one place," Joe
warned.

"We do?" Levon gave him a surprised look.

Joe just looked at him steadily, knowing from long experience that it
was the only way to deal with his husband in this mood. When he got an
'I'm really adorable and you love me' grin, he shook his head and
smiled. "We gonna get some dinner? Or just order room service?"

"We'd probably better order room service -- unless you wanna go get
take out?"

"Can I trust you two to play nice when I'm gone?"

Levon looked over his shoulder at Davison, apparently considering the
question seriously. "Maybe I'll go get take-out," his husband offered.

Joe nodded. "Thought so. Just try and remember to bring me back
something that isn't barbecued."

"In San Antonio?"

He sighed again. "Do your best, okay?"

Levon nodded, and gave him a tip of his hat. Then he gave Davison a
cheerful, taunting grin, before he left.

Which left Joe alone with their witness.

Davison glanced his way, then dismissed him as unimportant. He began
looking around the hotel room, as if it might be interesting. Joe
wished him luck, settling down on the bed and picking up the remote to
the TV.

Unfortunately, San Antonio daytime television was as boring as it was
in Houston. Or Chicago. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Over by
the window, Davison began kicking at the bed.

"Keep that up and I'll hobble you," Joe warned.

Davison gave him a sneer, but stopped the kicking. Instead he began to
pace to short length of the room from wall to wall. "You know I'm
gonna take down your partner," he said suddenly.

Joe snorted. "Yeah right, kid."

"You don't know." Davison shook his head, arrogantly. "I'll take
him."

"It's your funeral." He shrugged and turned back to the TV. A second
later though, he turned back. "But you better be aware of one thing
Davison. If, by some fluke of the universe, you do manage to take down
Levon, you won't have a chance to enjoy it. *I'll* take you out."

For a moment, Davison seemed startled. Then his bravado re-asserted
itself and he sneered again. "Yeah, you think. I can take you easier
than *him*. Don't have to fight by the rules for you, do I?" The
young centaur seemed amused by the realisation, and jabbed a finger at
Joe. "Yeah, I can do *anything*."

"Keep up with that attitude and all you'll be doing is bleeding."

"Heh." Davison resumed his pacing, with an over-stated cocky swagger.
He kept quiet, though he sent Joe several smug glances.

Restraining his irritation, Joe went back to looking for something
even vaguely interesting on TV. He hadn't found anything before there
was a knock on the door.

Joe got up and looked through the eyehole. Seeing his partner loaded
down with bags of food he unlocked and opened the door.

"Found a good barbecue place," Levon began with a grin.

"What a surprise," Joe replied, rolling his eyes for effect.

"Brought you this," he added, handing Joe a couple of paper cartons.
He moved past Joe to set the other bags on the table, glaring at
Davison when the younger centaur didn't move out of his way.

"Thanks, partner," Joe said, unaccountably touched by the gesture.

Levon gave him a nod before resuming frowning at Davison. "You gonna
get out of my way, or you rather miss lunch?" supper

The tension surged between the two centaurs, building until it almost
seemed to be a fourth person in the room. Joe held his breath, his
hand involuntarily moving towards one of his guns.

Davison took half a step to the side, and Levon responded by simply
pushing past him and setting the bags on the table. Levon seemed
unconcerned. Davison lost his balance and fell against the bed. He
turned, fists balled.

"Don't," Joe warned.

Davison looked back at him, and for a moment his expression darkened.
Then he relaxed and walked over to a chair, brushing against Levon as
he did -- obviously brushing hard, from the way he bounced off when
Levon didn't budge.

Joe retook his seat on the edge of the bed and began eating. All the
time keeping a wary eye on Davison. The immediate tension may have
lessened but it was still very much present. Levon took one bag and
dropped into the chair opposite Davison's, taking out his food and
watching the centaur with an amused smile.

Davison scowled, and started to grab for the other bag. Then he
stopped. "You're pushing it, fly-stand."

The tension once again spiked and Joe felt his appetite diminish. But
Levon just looked at Davison, and took a bite of a barbecued rib.

Davison glared for a few more moments, then said, "You don't think I
can take you? You're too old to be any one any good, you know. Out
on your own, no matter what *he* thinks." Davison nodded towards Joe.

Ignoring Davison, Joe asked his partner conversationally, "Were you
ever this much of an asshole?"

Levon grinned and started to shake his head. Then he stopped, and
looked abashed. "Maybe with Alexander. Or Rudy. Possibly once
with--"

"I'm glad we didn't get partnered until you grew up then," Joe shot
back with a grin.

Levon returned the grin. Davison, however, seemed to take being
ignored as an affront. He reached out and poked Levon in the
shoulder. "Hey!"

Levon reacted instantly, knocking Davison's hand away and pushing his
chair back, though he didn't stand up.

"You don't keep your hands to yourself, you'll find yourself in
handcuffs." Joe pulled out the cuffs as he spoke.

Davison barely glanced his way. Levon grinned. "Boy, you got the
worst sense of timing. You really think we're gonna have *any* kinda
fight here? In front of him?"

"Ain't going to happen," Joe added.

Davison shook his head. "Knew you were a coward. Hiding behind a
human...."

This time Levon made it to his feet, before he stopped himself. Joe
shot him a look of concern. He didn't make any further move towards
Davison, however. The younger stallion laughed, and shook his head.
"Come on, old man, go for it. You know you'll lose... that's why
you're hiding behind having a "witness"."

"Hasn't stopped him before."

Davison sent him a startled glance.

Joe shrugged. "Fair warning."

Davison frowned, and took half a step back from Levon. Levon went
back to his dinner, confrontation apparently forgotten. Joe allowed
himself to start to relax again and turned back to his Chinese food.

For a few moments it was silent. He and Levon ate, while Davison sat
-- sulked, rather -- in his chair. He seemed to be waiting for
another chance to antagonise Levon, but Levon wasn't giving him the
opportunity. Joe did not relish an entire night spent with this
tension. "You want to start back to Houston tonight?" he asked his
partner?

Levon eyed Davison before answering. "Might be best."

Joe nodded. "As soon as we finish eating then."

With the decision made, the tension seemed to drop even more -- or
perhaps it was merely overlaid with the re-focusing of their
attention. Whatever it was, he and Levon were able to finish their
meals in relative peace.

Davison was only halfway through his when Levon gathered up his trash,
and told him to hurry it up. Joe's concern resurfaced at the
unaccustomed harsh tone from his partner. Davison took offense - not
surprisingly - and began eating more slowly.

"Smooth move, cowboy," Joe muttered.

The glance Levon sent him conveyed his apologies; as soon as he looked
back, Davison threw a wadded napkin in his face. "You want my trash?"

Levon took a step forward and swept Davison out of his chair, and onto
the floor.

"Lundy!"

Levon stopped, but only because he didn't need to make any further
moves. Davison was sprawled on the floor, obviously half a second
away from leaping up and going for Levon.

What was stopping him, Joe didn't know.

Joe himself hovered uncertainly, not wanting to break whatever fragile
balance seemed to have been obtained, however momentarily. This
wasn't like Levon's fight against Alexander. That had been out of
control, this was... colder... more dangerous.

It was as if Levon were completely in control, and could easily choose
to kill the young stallion, rather than ignore him.

Davison got to his feet slowly, seeming a little uncertain. Joe found
himself reaching for his guns and what scared him was that he wasn't
sure who he should be covering.

Levon suddenly took a step backwards, and it was if the tension -- his
tension, anyhow -- had vanished. "I don't have time to waste on you,
boy." He turned and walked towards, then past, Joe, giving him
another repentant look as he went.

Joe wanted badly to follow and talk to his mate but he wasn't about to
leave Davison alone and free. Walking over to the young centaur he
pulled out his cuffs and one around Davison's wrist and the other
around a bedpost. "Sit tight. I'll be back."

Then he went after Levon.

He found him pacing the hallway, several yards away from the room.
Still within sight of the door, and no doubt close enough to hear
should Davison get himself into trouble. "Hey, cowboy?" Joe asked,
stopping and leaning against the wall, watching Levon pace.

"Sorry. Temper started to get away from me." Levon's words were
short, but he was clearly calming down.

"You're going to be able to handle the drive back?"

Levon nodded. "Just need some time to get things back into
perspective. Instinct is telling me I don't have to put up with this.
But his posturing... if he challenges me, it ain't like two unattached
stallions fighting. I won't be able to not kill him, if he actually
makes a challenge."

Joe frowned. "He's just a punk kid, Levon. Not a threat."

"He not a punk kid, Joe. He's a young stallion trying to pick a fight
with a herd stallion. That's what it's all about -- that's why
unattached stallions fights each other, to get ready for the real
thing. So only the strongest survives to challenge for the herd."
Levon was speaking calmly, but then he turned and looked at Joe, an
expression of amused realisation on his face. "He doesn't know. With
me here, out away from my herd..." Levon grinned. "He thinks I'm
just another nobody." The grin turned mischievous. "Wanna see
something fun?"

"What?" Joe asked suspiciously.

"Think it'll make him faint to find out?" Levon asked with an
appearance of innocence.

"Either that or go after you even more."

"If he goes after me...." Levon shook his head.

"He's cuffed to the bed. As long as you stand back, he won't be able
to touch you."

"Hmm. Then let's go tell him." Levon started back towards the room.

"Levon."

His husband turned back, and explained in a serious tone, "It'll get
him to back off. I don't think he's up to making this sort of
challenge. Once he knows what he's doing -- he'll most likely stop.
Long enough for us to get him back to Houston, anyhow. Then he won't
be my problem, any more."

"I can't let you kill him." Not that Joe had any idea how he was going
to stop Levon if it did come to a challenge. At least not without
hurting him.

Levon paused, and nodded. "I know, Joe. I... I wish I could just
promise you I won't. But I tell you what -- if I tell him, and he
still wants to fight, I'll let you take him back to Houston alone.
He can meet up with me there, if he still wants to."

Joe smiled humorlessly. "Can't let you kill him then any easier,
cowboy."

"Won't tell you about it, then."

It chilled his heart to realize Levon was serious.

His husband headed back towards the hotel room, not looking back to
see if Joe were following. Which Joe did, still feeling unsettled
about the whole situation.

Levon went to stand at the foot of the bed where Davison was still
securely cuffed. The young stallion looked incredibly pissed;
underneath the anger Joe thought he saw a little fear. Levon folded
his arms and said, calmly, "I'm gonna tell you this once. Then you can
decide what you want to do about it."

Joe stood quietly, watching, hoping Levon was right about the kid
backing down when he found out. If it came down to a challenge...

Davison just continued glaring at Levon.

In a tone that sounded eerily like Taylor, Levon explained. "You're
pushing me for a fight. As a cop, my job is to get you back to
Houston in one piece. I'd just as soon do my job, as kill you. But
if you push me, I will."

It took a lot for Joe not to object to that. Levon sounded absolutely
serious. Serious about killing the kid if he was pushed.

"Yeah?" Davison sneered. "Talk is cheap when you've got me chained."

"And you're gonna *stay* chained, until I decide otherwise." Levon's
voice dropped. "You're in my territory, and I'm getting real close to
deciding you shouldn't be."

Joe watched the kid's face closely, wanting to see his reaction to the
statement.

"Your territory?" he asked, the anger gone from his face. Nothing had
replaced it -- yet.

Levon just glared at him, not deigning to continue explaining. Not
that he needed to, Joe thought, as he watched dawning comprehension on
Davison's face. Davison tried to scoot back, against -- or possibly
through -- the wall.

Levon slowly grinned. It would've been comical if it hadn't been so
serious.

"Your territory? But... what are you..." Davison stammered.

"Do you really want to know?" Levon asked, coolly. His smile was hard.
"You want me to sit down and explain it to you?"

"No!" Davison squeaked, shaking his head. "I don't.. that is.. I'm..
I didn't mean... I won't, sir. I won't," he whispered. The change
was incredible, from belligerent to totally cowed in less than a
minute.

Joe wasn't sure if he liked knowing that Levon could do that to
another centaur. Levon, for his part, lost his silent intimidation
and smiled once more. Relaxed, confident -- hell, he had right to be.
He gave Davison a friendly nod. "Fine. You behave yourself, then."

And as fast as that, the tension had disappeared. At least the
tension between the two centaurs.

Levon glanced over, and asked, "You wanna head...." He frowned, but
then simply asked, concerned, "for Houston now?"

"Yeah," Joe replied. "Let's go home." Home. Where hopefully he could
forget how willing Levon had been to kill.

Levon nodded, and went over to uncuff Davison. Davison held very, very
still. They got him down to the truck without any problem -- yes sirs
and no sirs the entire way.

"You want to drive first?" Joe asked as they reached the vehicle.

Levon nodded, and got behind the wheel. Davison settled in silently
behind the seat, apparently the very picture of cowed cooperation.
Then again, Joe thought, could you say that about a centaur?

He was obviously getting punchy if he was wondering about bad
puns.

The drive was long, and relatively boring. Levon didn't offer much
conversation, and Davison, none at all. It left Joe with a lot of time
to think. His thoughts kept going back to the confrontation in the
hotel room and the conversation in the hallway that followed it.

It was, he tried to tell himself, something he should have expected.
Now that Levon was Herd Stallion, certain things had changed. Levon
had authority and power over other centaurs. And he used both well.

But the idea that Levon could and would kill if challenged...

He'd known that, already. When Levon had fought Alexander, Joe had
known it was a fight to the death. But somehow... it wasn't the same.
Maybe it was because with Alexander, Levon had seemed out of control,
totally at the mercy of his emotions and instincts. But this....

It was all about control. Even if he knew it was still instinct, the
way it came across now was that Levon was in control and was making a
conscious decision. Joe had to decide whether or not he liked that.
He had to decide whether or not he could accept that.

And if he decided he couldn't... what then?

He hadn't come to any decisions by the time they reached Houston. They
went directly to the station and dropped off Davison. They decided to
go home and get a few hours of sleep before driving out to the ranch
to pick up the kids. Still, Levon said little. He didn't seem tense,
or worried... or anything, besides a little tired.

It was like he'd already totally put the incident out of his mind. Joe
wished he could as easily.

When they pulled up to the house, Levon jumped out. "I'm gonna go
check on the horses."

As late as it was, Jesse would have already done everything necessary
before putting them in their stalls. Joe just nodded and headed for
the house.

It didn't take long for Levon to rejoin him. When he did, he gave Joe
a determined look. "You gonna tell me what's on your mind?" he asked
in a much gentler tone than his gaze.

Joe shrugged. "Not sure it's something you can help with, cowboy."

"You wanna try me?"

Did he? In the past when he'd had problems coming to terms with
something centaur related, Levon hadn't taken it well. But that had
been when he saw Joe as dominant. Maybe now... He sighed. Levon was
still staring at him. "I'm having problems with this challenge thing,"
he finally admitted.

Levon nodded, his face changing from determined to understanding. "A
bit extreme for you?"

Relief flooded him at his husband's calm reaction. "Yeah, a little."

Levon just shrugged, looked away. In a quiet voice he said, "I wasn't
really thinking about it at first. Soon as I saw the kid I knew what
he was up to. Didn't bother me a bit. Just a kid, no danger. Knew I
could beat him."

"When did it change?"

"When I lost my temper." Levon looked back up at him, obviously
trying to figure out how to explain it. "He kept pushing, and I...
pushed back. Just to make him stop bothering me."

"And you would've... killed him? Just because he was bothering you?"

Levon didn't answer right away. He took a deep breath, then stared
down at a cat who was wending its way around his feet. "If he'd
challenged me, Joe, yes -- I would have fought him. And I would have
killed him. Which is why I couldn't let him challenge me."

"I know. You told me that. I just..." He trailed off, frustrated by
his efforts to put his feelings into words.

"Wonder what sort of person I am? Willing to kill if it comes to
that?"

"I know what kind of person you are."

Levon gave him a pale smile at that. "What bothers you, Joe?" he
asked, patiently.

It struck him, all over again, that he was not dealing with the
submissive stallion he'd loved, fought with, and learned *not* to push
around. That made it easier to talk about this kind of thing, even as
it necessitated the talk in the first place. "I guess I'm worried
about how I'll react if it happens. If I'll be able to deal with it."

"You mean if it comes to a challenge?"

Joe nodded mutely.

His hushand looked away again. "You want me not to tell you about
'em?"

"I didn't say that."

"Would it help if I told you why it happens?"

"Yeah," he said, after a moment's thought. "It would."

Levon nodded, and moved around to sit on the couch. He waited for Joe
to sit, as well; Boots jumped onto his lap and began purring loudly.

Automatically he began petting the cat. "So?"

"You know what it's about when it's two unattached stallions," he
half-asked, half-reiterated.

"Yeah." He half-smiled. "I've seen it enough."

"When it's a herd stallion... first off, it's always the other who
makes the challenge. Ain't no point for a herd stallion to challenge
another stallion. Because it's all about the herd."

Levon looked over at him, apparently checking to see if he were
following, or had any questions. "Yeah. Family first. That I know
about."

"If I let a challenge go unanswered, it'd be like saying I didn't want
the herd any longer. And if I let a challenger go, leave him
alive...."

Joe suddenly realised why Levon's tone sounded so odd. He was
figuring out what to say, as he said it. As if he'd never put these
thoughts into words, before.

"It'd show my *herd* that I wasn't able to protect them."

That made sense. With what he knew about centaurs, what he'd
experienced being dominant for Levon, it made a hell of a lot of
sense.

Levon continued. "I'd be showing them I wasn't qualified to be Herd
Stallion. It may not seem... rational, to have to kill him when I
could just leave him having lost the fight...."

"But you could never be sure he wouldn't come back," Joe finished. "He
would always be a threat."

Levon nodded. "Even if he *knew* he lost, he'd leave thinking that
maybe I hadn't killed him because I couldn't. And that would give him
a good reason to try again."

"So you have to make sure he can't."

"Yeah." Levon looked uncertain, as he waited for Joe's response.

"I think I can understand that," Joe said slowly.

"Then you're all right with it?"

"As all right as I can be. Still don't like the idea of you having to
kill anybody, but..."

"I know."

"But I'll deal."

There was silence, then, while Levon simply looked at him.

Joe grinned then. "I'm getting better at dealing with this centaur
stuff I think."

With a laugh, Levon replied, "Should be an expert, before long."

Joe saw the look that followed the laughing smile -- saw and
recognised.

"Requires a lot of hands on practice, though," he mused.

"That it does," Levon agreed. His smile became welcoming, and the
glint in his eyes foreshadowed a more familiar vagueness.

"And no kids." He grinned back.

"So what are you waiting for?"

"Nothing." Joe leaned over and caught his husband's mouth in a
passionate kiss.

"MWROER!" screamed Boots, before running for the kitchen. 'Forgot
about the cat,' Joe thought vaguely before giving his full attention
over to more important things.

Like the way Levon was pulling him back down, to the couch.


the end