Horses of Different Colors: A Houston Knights Series
Horses of Different Colorsby Wolfling and James Walkswithwind
Levon rolled over in bed before the alarm could go off. He wasn't sure why he still set the darn thing since he woke up every morning at least half an hour before it was set. He smiled; as he'd rolled over he'd come nose to arm with another warm body.
There were advantages to waking early, of course. Slowly he snuggled in a little closer. He wondered just how *much* time they had....
He felt Joe waking as he was busy working on a passion mark on his lover's shoulder, his other hand caressing Joe's chest in lazy strokes. Leaving the spot, now nicely red, Levon began to kiss his way towards Joe's chest. He could tell from the tension in his partner's muscles that his lover was getting interested, and he grinned. Continuing his carresses, he began nibbling a trail along the pectorals. He laughed when he heard a sharp inhalation.
"You know if you're that hungry we can always get up and eat breakfast early," Joe said in a conversational tone, reaching a hand up and running it through Levon's blonde locks.
Levon didn't answer; his mouth was otherwise occupied. He'd made it to the small aureole and began tonguing it. With one hand he held Joe down as he tried to buck upwards, teasing the puckering nipple with the tip of his tongue. Joe arched upward into his lover's touch, his breathing picking up speed as he squirmed and shifted under Levon's deft caress.
With that encouragement, Levon leaned forward, rising up on one elbow to get a better angle. He slipped his tongue around the nipple once, then lowered his mouth and gave it a gentle sucking. A soft moan was his reward and then hands were tangling in his hair pulling him back upwards so that Joe could claim his lips in a wildly passionate kiss.
He went with the motion easily, shifting so that he lay on top of his lover, sheets catching partway in between their bodies. He could still feel what he was most interested in feeling, and he ground his pelvis into Joe's. The resulting moan made him smile and do it again.
Hands had come up around his back, holding him and pushing up and down trying to contiune the motions when he heard a very unwelcome noise behind him. "Damn alarm..." He glanced at the clock, and saw the time verified. "Shoulda checked it afore I started this...."
Joe groaned, letting go of Levon and flopping all the way back onto the bed in disgust. "I swear one morning I'm going to shoot it."
"Hell, boy, be my guest." Levon waved towards the holstered colt hanging on the back of the closet door. "But you'll be the one to call in the the Lieutenant why we're late." He grinned, and slapped the alarm quiet.
"I'd just blame it on you. Left hanging by my partner." He grinned back. "She knows what you're like so I'm sure she'd believe me."
For a second Levon froze. Then he grinned and gave his partner a light wallop on the stomach with his open hand. Joanne *did* know certain things which his partner did not. Things which, someday -- hell, someday soon if he was going to keep sleeping with him -- he'd have to explain. But right now all he needed was to get his partner to make breakfast while he went out and dealt with Fooler. She'd be getting restless in her stall by now, used to him coming out earlier in the mornings.
Seeming to read his mind, Joe started getting up, grabbing his robe. "I'll go start breakfast while you go walk your horse or whatever it is you need to do."
"Walk my... LaFiamma, one of these days," he paused as he searched for the jeans he'd discarded late the night before. "I'm gonna drag you out to the barn and teach you how to take care of a horse."
Joe snorted. "Yeah, like that's a skill I'm ever going to need."
Levon turned, not saying a word. He saw his jeans and picked them up. There were too many things to say, things he could not risk saying, that he couldn't even begin to figure out how to replay in kind.
Sensing his partner's mood but not understanding the reason behind it, Joe silently reached out and gave the other man's arm a brief squeeze in mute support.
"Hey, you seen my shirt anywhere?" Levon looked around, glancing only briefly up at Joe. The concerned offer made him feel worse -- less sure *what* he ought to do. He didn't want to deal with it this morning, not when he'd woken up in such a fine mood. Granted, that mood had been thoroughly destroyed by the alarm clock, but still....
Joe gave him a probing look but didn't ask the questions that were visible in his eyes. "It's in the living room, on the floor by the couch, remember?"
Levon flushed. "Oh. Right." They'd started early last night, barely waiting until the dinner dishes were put away. There'd likely be clothes strewn all over the house this morning. Stepping into his jeans, he still didn't look at his partner. Voices in the back of his brain started chastising him, but he brushed them aside. Jeans on, he headed down the hall. Behind him he heard Joe following.
Sometimes the direct way was best. "Something bothering you, Levon?" Joe asked as he watched the man search and find his shirt shoved under the couch's cushions. "No." He shrugged into his shirt, planning on changing into fresh clothes after dealing with Fooler. He felt bad about lying to Joe, though, so he stopped and looked at his lover. He saw Joe watching him, concerned and -- god help him -- loving.
"You know you can talk to me about anything, don't you?" Joe asked, holding Levon's gaze with his own, willing him to believe his sincerity.
He couldn't hold the gaze; Levon looked away and wondered what his lover would say if he *did* tell him. Lock him up, no doubt. "Yeah, Joe. I know. I'm--" He stopped. He couldn't even think of a good way to misdirect the man. The bad part about having a cop -- a detective, no less -- for a lover. They always picked up on the tiniest of clues. That's how Joanne had found out. She'd figured it out and one day up and asked him. "I gotta go feed my horse." Levon turned and headed for the door.
He stopped on the porch and grabbed his old boots, grateful to hear that Joe hadn't followed him. Maybe by the time he finished with Fooler and got back inside for his shower, Joe would have dropped the matter. Right. Who was he kidding? Joe would just wait for a time when he thought Levon wasn't expecting it, and he'd start asking again. The man was like a horse worrying over a bit. Levon sighed. Best he could do was put it off as long as he could. If he ended up losing Joe over this, he wanted... he wanted as much of the loving as he could get, before Joe left. Trying to shake it from his thoughts, he headed into the barn. Fooler whinnied a greeting at him, as always glad to see him. "Yeah, girl, you're just happy to see me so you can get fed." Teasing her, he began to feel a little better. No matter what he did or said, Fooler was always there to keep his mind on what was important: a good breakfast and a run in the early dawn hours.
He'd been missing those, lately, with Joe staying over so often. Early mornings meant an entirely different sort of exercise. Fooler didn't seem to be holding a grudge, though. As he rubbed her nose, he promised to take her for a run the next morning, and then let her loose into the paddock.
He leaned against the fence and watched her run. She had no cares in the world. She didn't think about what might happen tomorrow, whether he'd be around to take care of her. As she ran, enjoying the morning sun, Levon felt envious.
Then he remembered the way Joe had smiled at him last night, when they'd been laughing so hard they'd both fallen off the couch. The look of love, of delight, was one he hadn't seen in a very long time. It was worth... it was almost worth everything.
He headed back inside to Joe.
Showered and dressed, Joe looked up from the omelet he was making when Levon came in. He didn't say anything just nodded and turned back to his cooking. "Smells good... whatever it is." Levon smiled. He wanted to get the morning over with without any more awkward questions. Hopefully they could just take it easy, and head to work without starting an argument. If Joe insisted on pushing him, he'd end up digging his heels in and they would just ruin the day's chances for good moods.
Still silent, Joe dished up breakfast and brought the plates to the table. He sat and watched his partner for a long few moments before asking quietly, "Is it something I did?"
"Oh lord, no," Levon looked up from his plate. The sound in his partner's voice -- that pain, that sound of rejection he hadn't heard in over a year -- made him want to explain everything. He caught Joe's eyes and stared right at him, so he would believe it. "It ain't nothing you've done, or didn't do. It ain't nothing about you. Joe, I love you," he stopped as the words registered on the other man's face. It wasn't often he said them out loud.
Joe closed his eyes briefly, letting Levon's words wash over and warm him. Opening his eyes, he reached out and squeezed his partner's hand. "I love you too," he said, his voice somewhat shaky.
Levon smiled. He had to remember to say that more often, if the expression on Joe's face was anything to judge by. Then he remembered why he didn't say it more often and tried not to look away in guilt.
But Joe caught the flicker of feelings passing over Levon's face. "What is it?" he asked, his growing exasperation apparent in his tone.
Letting go of Joe's hand, Levon fought the urge to stand up and run away. He fought it down, realising that he owed his partner as much as he could give. If, as he told himself late at night when he was alone, he loved this man and wanted to spend as much of his life with him as possible, then he ought to at least try to make it happen. After all, he trusted Joe with everything else, including his life. He couldn't just say it, though. Not without being taken in to the Hale Institute for tests to verify his sanity.
Maybe he should try approaching this from another angle. See if there was even a chance Joe would believe him. "You ever read stories from the greek mythology?"
Joe blinked, obviously caught off balance by the seemingly non-sequitor. "Back in school, yeah," he answered, puzzled. "You ever.. wonder how much of them were real, and how much were just stories?" He knew the questions were strange, and the way Joe was looking at him told him that his partner had no clue what he was doing. Just as well. If this didn't work out he could claim it was just a way to throw him out of the saddle, distract him from his own questions.
"Some, yeah. I mean there really was a city of Troy and a Trojan War for example. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the myths didn't have some basis in fact." He shook his head. "Why?"
"I dunno... was just thinking about it. I..." How was he going to do this, now? He'd started, now he had to finish it or risk Joe thinking he was nuts, anyhow. "You reckon any of the... wilder myths mighta been true? Mermaids or griffins or creatures like that really being around?"
Joe shrugged. "Anything is possible I guess. 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...' Why? Did you find a unicorn or something?" he teased.
"Nah, I was just... had a strange dream this morning. Just trying to make sense of it, I guess."
"A dream," Joe repeated. "That's what this has all been about?"
Guilt pushed him to admit, "Not entirely. The dream just brought it up. Things I..." He took a deep breath and faced his lover. "Joe, I find myself wishing I could spend the rest of my life with you." He had to stop again, at the look on his lover's face.
A smile lit up Joe's face. "Me too," he whispered, leaning over for a kiss.
'Oh Lord, not like this makes it easier,' he thought even as the smile was mirrored on his own face. He gave Joe a kiss, stopping only when his hand knocked a breakfast plate off the table. Laughing, Joe pulled back, looking down at the pieces of the broken dish and egg remains on the floor. "I'll clean it up. You go shower and change or we're going to be late." He briefly kissed Levon again then went in search of a broom.
Lundy stared at the room around them, noting for the third time the lack of windows or doors other than the one that stood firmly and securely locked. Even the sole vent was barely a foot in width, offering no assistance at all for their escape. LaFiamma sat slumped against the wall, watching his partner pace and prowl around the confined space.
"Sit down already, will you? You're driving me nuts!"
"Driving *you* nuts? Who's idea was it to check out this place, anyhow? Didn't even have a chance to call in and let anyone know where we were going..."
"And whose fault is that? I said to check in before we came but you were so sure this was a wild goose chase..."
Levon sighed. "Whatever. The point is we have to get ourselves out of here. Ain't no one gonna be looking for us, unless it's Richards coming back to shoot us." He sat down on his heels, across the room from his partner.
"Well, pacing for no reason is just going to wear you out. We need to come up with a plan."
"Plan? How 'bout this -- we teleport outta here. 'Cause I don't see any other way out. That door is solid." Levon looked away, not wanting Joe to see him lying. Not lying, exactly, he told himself. He closed his eyes. 'Lord, help me through this....'
"Yeah..." Joe got up and went over to the door, idly running his hand along it's surface. "You've got a point." Turning, he came over and sat beside Levon. "So what do we do? Any bright ideas, cowboy?"
'Yeah, I got one. Ain't sure if getting out of here is worth it, though.' Hiding his thoughts from his face -- he hoped -- he looked at his partner. "What're you asking me for?"
Joe scowled at him and opened his mouth to retort, then closed it with a sigh. Leaning his head back against the wall and closing his eyes he said, "Because I'm all out of clever ideas."
Levon watched his lover, saw how the frustration and anger gave way to resignation. He glanced at the door again. If they didn't get out of here, they would be stuck. No, they'd be *dead*. Only Richards' and his men knew they were there, and they had promised to be back to check on them sometime next month -- when Richards came back to town. No one would know to look for them here. They'd sit here, die of thirst in a few days, unless....
Was it worth it? Was it worth hiding? Levon shook his head and stood up. "Guess I'll have to get us out of here," he said quietly. He looked at Joe, who had opened his eyes. "I hadn't wanted to tell you like this...."
"Tell me what?" Joe asked, shaking his head in puzzlement.
Levon didn't answer. It wasn't like he could explain, without... showing him. He took off his hat, and handed it to Joe. "Hold this for me?"
"What are you going to do?" Joe asked, eyes becoming bright with concern as he took the hat from his partner.
"Getting us out of here." He shucked his jacket, and then heeled off his boots.
"By stripping? Levon...." Lundy didn't look over, just continued taking his clothes off. Standing up, Joe reached over and grabbed Levon's hands. "Talk to me!" "Can't, Joe." He let his shirt fall in the pile. "If I tried explaining this before you saw it... well, there ain't no way you'd believe me. Just trust me?"
There was a long moment of hesitation as Joe looked deep into Levon's eyes. Finally he stepped back and nodded. "I trust you."
Again, the admission of trust made it worse. The tightness in his belly made Levon want to stop this before it was too late. Instead he removed his jeans and socks, and then glanced over. "I need a little room." He turned around until he was standing with his back to the door.
Still looking mystified but not asking any more questions his partner backed up to the rear wall of the room. He didn't look at Joe; he didn't want to see the look on his face. Without a second thought, he changed into his first form.
Joe stood still gaping for a long moment. "Jesus," he breathed finally. "You're a horse..." His voice trailed off as he rubbed his eyes, making sure he was seeing what he was seeing.
Levon glanced down at Joe, stared for a moment at the expression of shocked surprise. Then he forced a casual, "Yeah, good thing, isn't it?" and kicked the door clean off its hinges. He changed back quickly, not wanting anyone to see, and walked over to the pile of clothing.
Joe waited silently while he got dressed, then handed him his hat back. "So," he began easily, "I take it this is what you didn't want to talk about?"
Levon froze, then accepted his hat. He didn't understand Joe's tone of voice. It was like nothing had happened. Did this mean he was going to wait until they got someplace more appropriate to let him have it? "Let's get out of here," he mumbled, still not looking at his partner. At least, he consoled himself, if Joe needs to be reassigned we can tell Joanne the truth, and she'll be OK with that. At least, she'd assign them new partners without arguing.
Nodding, Joe headed towards the doorway. "First things first. We get out of here and then we're going to talk. First chance we get. No more dodging, Levon."
"Yeah...." Levon followed Joe out of the storeroom. He wondered what the other man would have to say. Should he give Joe the rest of the day to think it over, get used to it and make his decisions? Or would it be better to hear it now, find out just how badly he'd messed things up by letting him know he'd taken someone for a lover who wasn't even human.
They made their way out of the warehouse encountering no resistance. Joe kept muttering under his breath the whole time and if Levon concentrated he could pick out words. "I do not believe this... This has got to be the weirdest most surreal day I've ever experienced. I need a drink."
The tone told Levon all he needed to know, even if the words hadn't. He didn't look at Joe as they headed for his partner's car. Standing beside it, he waited as Joe radioed in.
Joe called in, reported where they were and what had happened (well, most of it) and had an APB put out on Richards. Hanging the radio speaker up he turned to Levon. "Looks like Richards slipped through the dragnet."
"Great. It'll be weeks before he's due back in town. Looks like a wasted day after all."
"Wasted maybe, but not boring."
The light tone didn't fool him. Levon didn't want to face it, though, so he simply climbed into the passenger seat of Joe's car.
"Levon..." Joe began.
"Let's go, LaFiamma." He hid the hurt, not wanting to make this breakup any harder than it had to be. With Caroline it had been long, drawn out, and more painful than their marriage had ever been joyful.
When she'd found out, almost two years before she was killed, she'd immediately stopped sleeping with him. She pretended that nothing else had changed -- still claimed to love him -- but that was also when she started drinking more heavily. Nothing he had done or said had changed it. In the end she'd died, disgusted by her marriage. Disgusted by him.
"Fine," Joe said, climbing into and starting up the Cobra. He pulled away and headed towards his apartment, it being closer than Levon's place, driving much too fast the entire way. Levon said nothing about their speed. He figured if Joe wanted to get this over with as soon as possible, why fight it?
When they pulled up in front of Joe's apartment building, he got out of the car and stood there. It occurred to him that his truck was at home. If he decided he needed to leave suddenly....
Joe started heading for the front door but stopped when he realized that Levon wasn't following. "Are you coming?"
"Yeah. I'm coming." Levon followed him into the building and up to Joe's apartment. They'd never spent many nights here together; Levon had always told Joe it was because he had to be home to take care of Fooler but in truth it was simply that he didn't like sleeping so far above ground. Once his partner let them into his place Levon went to get the bottle of whiskey he knew Joe kept in the kitchen and poured them each a shot.
"So we going to talk now?" Joe asked, as he sat down on the couch, eyes never leaving his partner. "What do you wanna hear?" Levon settled himself on the chair, near the other end of the couch. He still hadn't looked at Joe's face. "You know if you want a new partner Joanne'll approve it. She knows about me." He said it quickly, surprising himself.
"What the hell are you talking about? Why would I want a new partner?" There was honest bewilderment in Joe's voice.
Slowly Levon looked up. The bewilderment in Joe's voice echoed on his own face. "You want... you're willing to keep working with me?"
"Of course I'm willing to keep working with you, you're my partner and not just on the job either." He paused and his eyes widened as he finally figured out what Levon was going on about. Reaching out to the other man he asked gently, "You thought I was going to leave when I found out you're a..."
"Why wouldn't you?" Levon heard the harshness in his voice but couldn't be sorry for it. "What kinda person would want to be with someone who ain't even human?"
"I would, you idiot," Joe answered, standing and quickly pulling Levon into his arms.
Levon was too startled to say a word. The embrace surprised him, but he stood still and let Joe hold onto him. After a moment he raised his arms and returned the hug.
"You... you really... Joe, how can you say that?" Maybe he'd heard it wrong. Maybe he didn't understand.
But Joe's arms tightened the embrace. "I love you," he said simply.
For a moment Levon relaxed. His head rested on Joe's shoulder, and he believed. He remembered Caroline's words: she'd said the same thing, every time he'd asked if she really meant it. But she'd never sounded the way Joe did. He meant it.
"You really thought I'd leave?" Joe asked softly, one hand gently stroking Levon's hair.
"Yeah," Levon nodded. "Caroline wanted to--" He didn't want to go into that. He closed his eyes. "You're really OK with this?" This time he heard the wonder in his voice. Only wonder. No fear.
In reply Joe captured his lips in a deep kiss. "What do you think?" he asked when he finally pulled back. Levon felt his legs shake, and had to grab onto his partner to keep from falling. Joe smiled and kissed him again. This time he didn't try to keep on his feet; he wrapped his arms around Joe's waist and let him hold them both up. He felt Joe easing them onto the couch and wondered if either of them remembered they were still on duty.
When lack of oxygen forced them to break off, Joe slipped a hand under Levon's chin and forced the man to meet his eyes. "Now get this through that hard head of yours. I love you. I'm wouldn't leave even if you turned into a giant pink flamingo. I'm not going to leave now. Got it?"
He couldn't help it -- he laughed. "Flamingo? Joe, folks don't turn into giant flamingos...." He smiled. He gave Joe a quick, hard hug, burying his face against the other man's chest. "Thank you." He wasn't sure if he'd said it loud enough for Joe to hear.
"You're welcome," Joe returned softly, against the top of Levon's head.
Levon stayed where he was, no attempt to move out of Joe's embrace.
"So you going to tell me about the whole horse thing?" Joe asked, still not letting go of his lover.
"I ain't a horse," he half-snapped. He felt too good to be upset, but he wasn't about to let Joe start calling him a horse. "We're centaurs."
"We," Joe repeated. "There's more of you?"
"Course there's more of us." Levon settled in, leaning against Joe and getting comfortable. Looked like Joe was gonna be in for the whole story, and that would take awhile. "My home herd is about a hundred miles outta town. Taylor's Herd Stallion... if you're serious about staying with me I'll have to introduce you."
"Herd Stallion. Is that like taking me home to meet the folks?"
"Yeah. He's my father. He'll... well, chances are he won't disapprove, but I need to ask, anyway."
"What happens if he does disapprove?"
"Depends on why. It ain't like he can do much except not let me bring you back. See, being a young male I got two options - either fight him for the herd, or stay outta the way. I reckon on staying out of his way, so he lets me go home to visit every so often." Levon noticed that Joe's questions were matter-of-fact, calm and collected. He relaxed a bit more.
"So he couldn't uhh make you leave or anything?"
A hint of insecurity had crept into Joe's voice and he wouldn't meet Levon's eyes. Levon reached up and touched his face. "He can't make me leave you. Not unless I need something from him he doesn't want to give me. Same as anyone's folks, I reckon. But I think... I think he'd be glad to see me with someone I love. Someone who's gonna love me, back." He grinned suddenly. "He'd be able to stop worrying about me coming home and making a challenge, ifn I was taken already."
Joe shook his head. "Challenge....?"
"For the herd. If I wanted to take over for him... I don't want it, though. I like being in Houston... and I like Taylor. Don't wanna kill him." Levon let his head rest on Joe's shoulder again.
Joe stiffened and pulled back so he could look at Levon. "Kill?" he sputtered.
The shock in Joe's voice made him look up again. "Yeah. That's how it's done. Kill him or he'd kill me, if I challenged him for the herd. But like I say, I don't want it. He knows that... and when I introduce you to him, he'll know why I don't want it." He waited for Joe to relax again -- or decide this was more than he could deal with.
Joe held onto Levon tightly. "No challenges, okay Levon?" he pleaded. "I couldn't take losing you."
"Hey, Joe, don't worry. I'm not going to challenge anybody for anything that's gonna lead to me losing you." For a moment he remained in Joe's hold, letting his lover reassure himself. Then he changed the subject -- rather, returned to the original question. "There's about twenty herds in North America that I know of. Maybe... a couple thousand centaurs."
"And nobody's ever noticed?"
"Well, most of 'em keep in human form as much as they can. But a lot of so-called 'wilderness' areas are owned by herds. Just enough room to live on...."
"Wait a minute. What about your grandmother?" Joe asked. "Is she a centaur too?"
"Huh? No, Mother Minnie's like a... a foster mother. She takes in boys who're ready to leave the herd -- before they start making trouble with the fillies. Taylor sends 'em out to Lombard and a couple of other towns in the area, when they get to be about 13." Levon sighed, and wished he could stay right here, for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, they couldn't. Not unless... "Joe? Ain't we supposed to be heading back to the station?"
Joe nodded. "Yeah. Dammit." He leaned in and gave Levon another hard fast kiss. "We'll talk more tonight?"
"Whenever you want, Joe." He brought his lover back for a slightly longer, gentle kiss. "Whatever you want." He stood up and stared at his lover's face. He was damned lucky to have found this man. He knew that, and decided to call Taylor that night. Once Taylor gave his official approval, maybe they'd *both* be able to relax. He smiled at Joe, still holding him in a loose embrace. A slow, easy grin appeared on his partner's face. Maybe they'd be OK.