Disclaimer: All characters belong to Stan Berkowitz. No copyright infringement intended.
"LaFiamma! Damn it, LaFiamma, will you hold up a minute?" Levon Lundy followed the Italian as he left the Houston P.D. The frustrated Texan stopped short as his equally angry partner spun around to face him.
Moments of silence passed between them as they exchanged glares. Unmindful of the oppressive Texas heat, they squared off against each other like two gun fighters at high noon.
Finally, the usually laid back Texan couldn't take it any longer. "Do you mind tellin' me who put a burr under your saddle this mornin'?" He growled.
Frustration and amazement distorted the Italian's handsome features as he tried to come up with the words he couldn't seem to express. "You-you have to ask?" He finally managed to choke out.
"For cryin' out loud, Joey," Lundy rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Are you still upset about yesterday?"
"Am I still upset about yesterday?" Joey repeated. "Did you even bother to look in a mirror this morning? The whole left side of your face is bruised and your arm is in a sling. And that's only the injuries I can see, man." He paused and took a step toward Lundy. "So, yeah, I'm still a little upset. It's not like I can forget what happened. You should probably still be in the hospital."
Lundy's brown eyes narrowed. "Look, LaFiamma, I told you I was sorry. How many times do you expect me to say it? It's not like I meant to wreck your precious Italian sports car. Quit whining about it. I know you've got insurance."
Joey froze, his gaze locking with Levon's. "Whining?" Incredulity vibrated in every syllable. "You think this is about the Cobra?"
"Isn't it?" Lundy bit out. His whole body throbbed with pain and he didn't have a lot of patience.
LaFiamma's mouth opened and shut a few times. Finally, hands at his sides, he clenched them into fists and took a deep breath. "You know what?" He answered with a growl. "Believe what you want. I've gotta go, man. I'll see you around." He spun on his heel and took off down the sidewalk, not once looking back at his suddenly bewildered partner.
"LaFiamma, LaFiamma!" Lundy yelled after him. He took a step forward in pursuit…and faltered. Pain shot through him as he stopped to consider his next move. There was a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach that he and LaFiamma were once again having two separate conversations.
Giving up on his partner for the time being, Lundy slowly turned and painfully made his way back into the police station. Thinking about how to deal with his partner at the moment made his brain hurt along with the rest of him. Wearily, he approached the elevator and pressed the button. All he wanted to do right now was wrap up the paperwork on yesterday's fiasco and go home. Provided he could find a ride. His suddenly absent partner had picked him up at the hospital that morning and at Levon's insistence, immediately had driven to the station.
"Levon?" A soft, familiar voice called, interrupting his musings.
Turning toward the newcomer, Lundy tried to smile and gave up. His facial muscles just wouldn't cooperate. "Hey, Annie. How's it goin'?"
"That's what I should be askin' you," The pretty redhead came up to him, the wheels of her chair squeaking on the linoleum floor. "You goin' my way?"
"Sure thing," Levon replied as the elevator doors opened and they entered. "You're in luck, Annie, it just got here."
"Must be your magic touch, Levon," she answered as they boarded and the doors slid shut.
"I don't know if you'd call it magic," he muttered. "It sure wasn't a magic touch yesterday."
Annie eyed him speculatively. She noted the slump of his shoulders and the despair that lined his face. The Houston detective was carrying more than the weight of his injuries. "I heard what happened, Levon," she said softly. "How're you feelin'?"
Lundy spared her a tired glance. "I'm fine. Just a few bumps and bruises is all."
Annie graced him with a small, knowing smile. "Always a cowboy, huh, Lundy?"
He managed a half shrug. There was no need to say anything. Annie was one of the few people who knew him well.
The elevator buzzed and the doors sprang open. "Mind comin' with me to my office for a minute?" Annie asked as they exited.
"Something on your mind, Annie?" Levon asked as he followed her down the hall.
"You could say that," she replied as they entered her office. She wheeled around to face him. "I couldn't help noticin' the way Joey stormed out of here."
"You and half the department," Lundy agreed drily.
"Wanna talk about it?" Annie offered, her expression kind.
"Not much to talk about," Levon replied, not really looking at her. "I wrecked the Cobra, LaFiamma blew a gasket, end of story." He absently rubbed his aching left shoulder. Joey's convertible had offered little protection when Levon had crashed into the brick wall. He had tried to avoid the oncoming obstacle by spinning the wheel, but he'd been too close and he'd totally smashed the right side of the fancy car.
Annie noticed the movement. She reached out and tenderly caressed his hand, gaining his attention. "I know it's not that simple," Annie prodded gently. "I'm your friend, Levon, and it's not just your body that's hurtin'. What happened?"
Levon sighed and leaned his good side against the doorframe. He stared off into space, gathering his thoughts. "I guess it all started at lunch yesterday. It was actually kinda unusual. We usually take the Jimmy, but LaFiamma insisted we take the Cobra. Kept prattlin' on about wantin' to enjoy the beautiful day. Said we couldn't do that in my truck."
"So you went in the convertible, huh?" Annie asked as Levon got quiet. "Bet you didn't care for that at all."
Lundy finally managed a small smile. "Oh, it wasn't so bad. He offered to buy lunch. I wasn't about to pass up an opportunity like that even if it was at some fancy Italian restaurant at the Galleria." He moved to sit in the soft leather chair in front of Annie's desk. "We never got to eat it, though," the detective said quietly.
"Bad guys interrupted, huh?" Annie asked.
"You got it, Annie. Seems like we can never get a break." Lundy shifted, trying to take some of the weight off his left side. "Anyway, there was a line to be seated in the restaurant so Joey went in to put our names on the waiting list. I think he was tryin' to get us in earlier by showin' his badge because he was takin' longer than I thought. While he was doin' that, I waited outside because it was too crowded. That's when I saw Billy Garth."
Annie nodded. "I remember him. He robbed that convenience store and killed the clerk. You guys have been after him for months."
"Yeah," Levon agreed. "I spotted him at about the same time he saw me. I ran after him, but he managed to get to his van first. I did the only thing I could. I ran for the Cobra, jumped in and grabbed Joey's emergency key. Before I knew it, I was chasin' Billy through the parkin' lot."
"Oh my, Levon," her eyes widened. "People could've been killed."
"That was his way of thinkin', " Lundy said. "He figured he'd tried to lose me by usin' the pedestrians against me. It worked too," he concluded glumly. "At the last minute, he took a hard right. I was closin' in on him and was about to make the same turn when a couple of kids started to cross the street. I ended up yankin' the wheel to the left to avoid 'em. Unfortunately, I was goin' too fast and this brick wall was suddenly in my face. I slammed on the brakes and continued to turn left. The impact totaled the right side. I ended up ramming into my door and nearly dislocating my shoulder. It was pretty bad, Annie."
"I know it was, Levon." Annie reached forward and gently touched the side of Levon's face. "All these cuts and bruises," she murmured. "And your shoulder and your knee," she added as caressed his other injuries. "But you know what? I knew it was bad even before I saw you."
Levon leaned back and closed his eyes. "I'm sure you did, Annie. LaFiamma ain't exactly quiet about things. I'm sure he told anyone who would listen about his car."
"Actually," Annie said, "I didn't know how badly damaged his car was until you told me."
Lundy opened his eyes and raised his head to look at her. "What are you sayin', Annie?"
"Levon," she said, "he was more worried about you. Seems you were unconscious by the time he got to you and he couldn't get you to come around. Someone called an ambulance and when it got there, he rode with you to the hospital. Joanne says he paced the floor until the doctors let him see you. By that time, you were conscious, but completely out of it. He stayed with you until Joanne forced him to go home sometime after midnight."
"Forced him?" Levon asked, frowning.
"Yeah," Annie smiled slightly. "Seems your partner gets a little stubborn and won't do what he supposed to. A trait he seems to share with someone else I know." She winked.
"But I don't get it," Levon said. "He didn't tell any of this to me."
"Did you give him a chance?" Annie asked, gently.
Frowning, Levon thought back to this morning when Joey had picked him up from the hospital. He remembered painfully easing into the passenger side of the rental car as he argued with the Italian.
"No. I guess not." The Texan looked a little guilty. "All we've been doin' all day is fight. This mornin' it was about me dischargin' myself against medical advice. Joey kept insistin' I should have stayed in the hospital and I made him bring me here. I figured since we lost Billy yesterday, we didn't have time to lose. I thought he agreed with me because after I told him that, he shut up."
"Then what happened?" Annie prodded.
"We were sittin' at our desks, tryin' to figure out our next move. I just sorta leaned forward and apologized about his car. He gave me this funny look and got up so fast he knocked his chair over. He stalked out of the office and I followed. Then I don't know what the hell happened. I still don't quite understand what he was tryin' to say." The detective shook his head.
"Doesn't anything I've told you in the passed few minutes give you a clue, Levon?" Annie asked. "Think about it. Why do you think Joey was really angry. Or, better yet, why do you think he was upset?"
Lundy gazed thoughtfully at the tips of his boots. Finally, he nodded slowly to himself and looked up at Annie. "I've been goin' about this all wrong. It's not the car he cares about, is it," he sighed. "I've been a real ass, Annie. Guess I'm gonna have to have a long talk with my partner."
Annie smiled. "You do that, Levon, and I guarantee you'll feel better. You both will."
"Thanks, Annie." Levon slowly rose to his feet. "I just gotta wait for him now. I hope he calms down enough and remembers that he has to drive me home." Heedful of his injuries, he slowly leaned down and gave her a small kiss on the cheek.
"Don't worry," she said as he straightened. "He won't forget. I'll see you in a couple of days. Go home and get some rest."
"I will," Lundy replied. "Thanks again, Annie. See ya later." With one last look at his wise friend, he left her office and headed for his own.
Slowly lumbering into Major Crimes, he almost failed to notice his partner leaning against his desk. "Hey, LaFiamma."
The dark-haired man crossed his arms and glared at his injured friend. In a low, biting voice he said, "Where the hell have you been, Lundy? You shouldn't be--"
Lundy interrupted, "Where the hell have I been? You're the one who took off, not me."
Joey opened his mouth to speak, anger showing in every line of his face. "Now, wait…" He sighed and his arms dropped to his sides. "Yeah, you're right." His tone was now resigned. Straightening, he turned and grabbed his jacket. "Come on, Lundy, I'm ready to call it a day. I'll give you a ride home." Not noticing if his partner followed or not, he started out of the office.
The Texan swore under his breath as once again he berated himself for letting his temper do the talking. Despite his injuries, he hurried as fast as he could after LaFiamma. There were a few things that needed to be straightened out before he could let his body get its much deserved rest.
When Levon finally made it to the dark blue Ford Taurus his partner was currently driving, Joey had the passenger side door open and was leaning against the frame. Seeing Lundy, he straightened and took a step toward him. The look on his face was one of contrition. "Aw, man, Levon." His tone was apologetic as he noticed his friend grimace with every step. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have taken off like that."
"Don't worry about it. Nothin' I can't handle." Lundy tried to wave away the concern. He settled for clenching his teeth against the pain.
LaFiamma looked at him knowingly. Instead of replying he simply waited for Lundy to seat himself in the sedan. He knew the proud Texan would reject any offer of help.
"Hey, Joey," Lundy squirmed, trying to find a comfortable position. His next words sent a bolt of surprise through LaFiamma. "Mind givin' me a hand with the seatbelt? I don't think I can manage it right now."
The other man glanced at him. "I got you covered, pal." He grabbed the seatbelt and reached over to fasten it. Giving Levon one last look, he withdrew and closed the door.
Levon watched as his partner situated himself in the driver's seat. As Joey started the engine, he spoke, "Sorry 'bout yellin' at you just now."
"It's okay, Lundy," Joey said easily. "I deserved it. I did take off on you. I'm the one who's sorry.
When Levon shifted this time, it wasn't because he was physically uncomfortable. This wasn't going as he had hoped. All he could manage was, "Oh. Well, that's all right then."
There was an awkward silence until Joey gave a slight smile and a nod. "Yeah," he agreed as he continued to drive through the streets of Houston. "We're even."
Levon didn't think that was true, but he didn't know what else he could do. He stayed quiet for the rest of the trip, thinking about what he was going to say to his partner once they got to his place.
LaFiamma, for his part, didn't seem to mind the absence of conversation. Instead, he turned the radio on low and listened to the local rock and roll station.
The miles between the police department and Lundy's home passed relatively quickly in this fashion. And as LaFiamma parked, Lundy was glad to be home.
Slowly and painfully, he tried to ease his aching body from the seat. Each movement sent new waves of agony through his abused body and he gritted his teeth. 'There's got to be an easier way to do this,' he thought.
And there was.
A firm hand came up under his elbow. With careful attention, Joey helped Lundy out of the car. With an arm across the injured man's back and a hand to the waist in offer of support, the Italian carefully walked Levon into the house.
With a wearisome groan, Levon lowered himself onto the sofa. Closing his eyes, he didn't even protest as he felt his shoes removed.
"You gonna be comfortable there? Is there anything else you need?"
Lundy opened his eyes to see his partner's concerned face peering down at him. "I'll be fine, LaFiamma. Thanks."
Joey stared at him a moment and then shrugged. "If you say so then I'm outta here." He turned to go.
Watching his friend walk away, Levon realized he couldn't let him go. Finally, he knew what he had to say. "Joey, hold up a minute."
At the front door, LaFiamma turned and looked at Lundy. "Did you need something?"
Lundy gave an exasperated sigh, knowing this wasn't going to be easy…for either of them. "Yeah, I need for you to come here and sit down."
With a puzzled look, Joey did what he was told. Sitting on a nearby chair, he waited for Levon to speak.
Lundy stared at him, trying to gather his thoughts. Finally he spoke, "Look, Joey, this isn't easy for me to say. I need to…I'm…I'm sorry."
"It's okay. I told you that," Joey replied, dismissing Lundy's obvious discomfort.
"Not about that," Levon said. He counted to ten and prayed for patience. His friend just wasn't getting it. "I mean, about everything else."
Joey frowned and stared at him a moment. Eyes narrowing, he jumped to his feet and practically shouted. "Is this about the stupid car? I can't believe—"
"Will you just shut up a minute?" Lundy roared, his patience at an end. "This isn't about your car. Of all the stubborn Italians I had to be partnered with. Sit down! I'm not through yet."
Fury still dancing in his eyes, Joey suspiciously returned to his chair. "Then what the hell are you talking about, Lundy? I hate when you play games…"
"I'm not playin' games, LaFiamma. Now keep your mouth shut and listen." Lundy took a deep breath, trying to control the pain his body was feeling. With each passing minute of the day, the agony had intensified. The tension in the air had only made matters worse. He was going to be glad when they cleared the air between them. "What I meant was—" he hesitated. "Ah, hell," he muttered still looking at his partner. "Do you have any idea how hard this is for me?"
Joey raised an eyebrow. "Maybe I would if I knew what you were trying to say. Just spit it out, Lundy. It's not like you to beat around the bush."
Levon glared. "Hold your horses. I'll say it when I'm damn good and ready. Don't you even think about leavin' until I'm done."
LaFiamma leaned back against the chair and crossed his arms defensively. "I'm all ears, cowboy."
"You're not makin' this easy," Lundy murmured to himself as he glanced away for a moment. "I've never realized what our friendship was about," he began. "Damn, that's not quite right. Man, Joey, this is hard." He looked at his friend and Joey saw anguish and desperation in the rich brown depths.
"What are you trying to say, man?" Joey said quietly.
"It's not that I didn't realize what our friendship was about," Levon tried to start over. "I know what it means to me. I'm still not sayin' this right." Frustration echoed his words. "Look, LaFiamma—Joey—I've never had to say it, never had to figure it out."
"Figure it out?" Joey asked confused. "What's there to figure out, Lundy. You think friendship's a puzzle? Something for you to solve? What are you looking for? A hidden agenda?" Joey moved to sit next to Levon on the couch and the other had to turn to face him. "Friendship's not like that, man. It's…simple and complicated all at once."
Levon nodded. "I know what you mean. Friendship is something I've never had to explain. It was something I just knew. But it wasn't until this mornin' that I realized I didn't know." The expression on his face was so intense that LaFiamma couldn't help but listen. "There's more to friendship than just hangin' out together."
"Yeah," Joey agreed, quietly. "It's standing together even when the whole world has kicked you in the teeth and abandoned you. It means…it means loving someone despite their faults." Looking away from Levon, his eyes searched the semi-darkness of the living room suddenly self-conscious.
A touch to his arm drew Joey's attention back to his friend.
Levon gazed at him steadily, his hand still on Joey's arm. "That's what we have," the Texan said in a quiet voice. "Somewhere, deep down, I've always known that. I never wanted it and I'd hoped that if I ignored it, our friendship—it would never exist." He swallowed and waited for the explosion he was sure his revelation would engender.
But Joey's whispered, "why" was like a physical blow and it hurt Levon more than any shouting could have.
"Why?" Levon repeated as he removed his hand from Joey's arm and leaned back to gaze at the ceiling. "Well, I guess…I guess it's because anyone I've ever cared about…" He cleared his throat and looked at the man sitting at his side. "...people I love... leave me. My grandfather, Grandma Minnie, Caroline." He paused, his voice full of emotion. "Get what I'm sayin', Joey?"
The Italian nodded. "I understand, man. But you have to take that chance. If not, you're as gone as they are. You're dead before you even reach the grave."
"I finally figured that out, partner," Levon agreed, looking at Joey. "Life ain't no place for a dead man. Guess I need to start livin' again."
LaFiamma smiled. "Levon, don't you get it? You've always been among the living. You just didn't wanna believe it."
"I do now," Levon returned, somberly. "You dragged me back from the grave I buried myself in." He cracked a smile. "You're one stubborn S.O.B. You didn't give up even when you should have."
Joey's eyes crinkled in amusement. "I never give up, man. I fight for what's mine."
"Thanks for fighting, LaFiamma," Levon sobered.
Joey laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Anytime, partner," he replied. "That's what friends are for."
And for once, Levon didn't doubt it.