Birch '04: First Kiss

It's funny what you remember. Not funny as in 'ha-ha', but funny as in ironic. Clearest memories I've got always remind me of Polaroid snapshots. They're not complete and don't really encompass more than but a moment in time…and yet one picture, one brief second, somehow manages to define the turning points of my life. Those snapshots that are clear, so sharp they could make you bleed, manage to somehow become so much more.

I can still remember how it felt the first day on the job as a cop. I was sure I was ten feet tall. I could take on the world. Snort. Oh to be that young and naïve again. Although, I felt the same way when I signed on with the ATF and Team Seven. First bust and the last weren't didn't feel any different…or maybe was me that wasn't much different. Chris was fond of saying I never really grew up.

Chris. Man, some days it still hurts to think about him. We have been friends for so damn long, I'm not sure I can remember what my life was like before he was a part of it. Know him getting married and having a family is what he thinks he needs, is probably what he wants, but hell I don't think I'll ever truly understand why he thought he couldn't have the team and a family. Or for that matter why he never thought of the team as his family. Know what he's probably told himself. Hell, I'm betting I could give you his argument verbatim, but don't mean I really understand it or him. Kind of an odd feeling to realize in spite of knowing him so well, he and I will never see things the same way.

Guess that was what made our working together so easy but our ever being together nigh on to impossible. It took him getting married again, accepting that promotion and leaving the team for me to finally understand that, to accept it and move on. Remember having what Ezra would call an epiphany that day. I remember that feeling very clearly. It wasn't earth shattering or even mind blowing really, was more like I'd just flipped a light switch on in a dark room. I could see the hand writing on the wall and started looking for a new line of work.

I couldn't see myself working on a team without Chris or staying with the ATF, so I had to find something else. And I wasn't the only one there. Josiah retiring after Chris took his promotion wasn't exactly a huge surprise. Hell, truth be told, the man should have retired years ago. Only reason he'd hung as long as he did was because we were family. And Hannah is family too. Nothing wrong with the man wanting to be closer to his sister. Josiah still calls regularly, writes almost as often, so he doesn't feel as far away in another state as Chris does even though he's only across town. I can picture Josiah in my head as easily as ever, but I gotta work to see Chris and even then all I get is old images. Hunh…makes me wonder what Chris sees when he thinks of me, assuming he thinks of me that is.

Ah well, whatever. I'm okay with the choices I've made. Starting my own investigation agency has been one of the best decisions I ever made. Having Vin and Ezra as partners is also right up there in the top ten. Wouldn't have minded having JD sign on but I think he made the right choice for him.

JD quitting the ATF to go to work for a computer company wasn't a huge surprise. Kid has always been great with technology stuff. And he could make more money with that than he ever could working for the ATF, or with me for that matter. Hell, in another year or two JD will probably be up to full partner status there.

Never would have thought him quitting the team would be the thing that broke up him and Casey. It wasn't…not really. I figured she'd be all for him having a less dangerous job, something with regular hours and good benefits. And she probably was except for the fact that the little bitch was cheating on him with some fucking grad student of all things. Guy by the name of Nichols. And with JD working regular hours, coming home at the same time every day you would have thought she'd have been smart enough to not get caught. Man. On one hand I'm sorry the kid got hurt that way, but on the other I'm real glad he didn't make a huge mistake and end up married to her.

Was all I could do to be civil to Casey when she came crying to me to help her patch things up with JD. The look on her face when I told her no was something I think I'll always remember mostly because I still can't decide how I felt at that moment. I wasn't mad at her, I was just real disappointed. I mean, I flirted with all sorts of women and more than a few men…and yeah, I knew a lot of them had spouses or steady companions, but I never knowingly slept with one that was already promised to another. And all the stories I used to tell notwithstanding, I was always faithful to the one I was with while I was with 'em, never lied to any of them, not once, and I never broke a promise to any of them. Besides, JD was my friend and he'd told me in no uncertain terms to stay out of it, and by god, that was just what I was did. Kid was old enough to make up his mind about what he wanted.

Was probably something of a turning point in our friendship actually. He stopped being my 'little brother' and I started to see him as a grown man capable of handling his own problems. Honestly, I think JD is happier now. Leastwise he looks it and sounds it. Know he's been dating some again, so I'm thinking that broken heart is healing just fine.

Nathan and Raine setting up shop at a local clinic was a good thing. Know Nate had that dream for a long time and it was nice to see him finally get it. Them finally tying the knot was not a huge surprise either. Never saw a more lovely bride, right hand to god. Still makes me laugh thinking how much Nathan looked like he was going to pass out that day. Poor bastard. Vin suggested reserving a seat up front just in case Nathan needed to sit down. Wise ass will be getting his turn some day if Eve has her way.

Eve is good for that boy. She's a real down to earth sort. Has a practical nature that meshes well with Vin's and a beautiful smile that seems to light her up from the inside out. Remember the day the two of them met like it was yesterday. Bet Vin does too. I'll have to ask him some time if he remembers it the same way I do. Doubt it. Bet Vin don't remember my finally seeing Ezra, right there in front of me the best thing in the world just waiting for me to notice, the same way I do either. I laugh to myself thinking that is in large part because I'm pretty sure Vin didn't know about me and Ezra until there was a me and Ezra. Not that it matters. Not really.

My seeing Ezra, really seeing him, didn't happen at once. Was more like a gradual realization, sort of like the way spring comes to the mountains. I didn't wake up one day and suddenly think Ezra is the one for me. That fact doesn't make how I much I love him any less real or the emotion any less deep. I was just slow to catch on that what I wanted from Ezra was more than a friend and business partner. And of course, once I realized that, then I needed to find some way to figure out if he felt the same way.

I knew a long time ago that Ezra played for both teams, but just because he swung that way didn't mean he was interested in swinging MY way. I had a reputation as a flirt…which for the first time in my life I actually considered a bad thing. I wanted Ezra to take me seriously. Wanted more than just a quick fuck. I wanted to wake up with the man every morning. Still want that and I have a feeling I always will.

Got my chance to see if he might be interested right after Three Aces Investigations closed its first case. We were celebrating in the Saloon. Inez still owned it then. JD, Josiah and Nathan had all stopped by to help us celebrate. Josiah had plans to head out for Arizona in about a week so our party was sort of a combined a congratulations with a good-bye.

I drank more than I should have, but even three sheets to the wind I still remember the first kiss Ezra and I shared. Hell, I planned that kiss. I'd been dreaming about it for weeks, spent many hours on stakeouts trying to find a way to make it happen, too scared to follow through with any of those crazy plans until I had enough liquid courage I couldn't do anything else.

That sort of worked in my favor. Had too much to drive myself home and Ezra volunteered to see me home safe and sound. Bless that man. Even though I didn't need his help to walk straight, I wasn't going to tell him that. A little stumble and he's pinned between me and his car. First time I got to feel him full length, all solid muscle and heat…It still ranks as one of my all time favorite memories. The kiss that followed is the only thing that beats it.

His lips were soft and warm and so much better than I ever imagined. He'd been drinking scotch earlier and he should have tasted smoky and dark, but he was fresh, moist and sweet like recently picked strawberries. Knew I was taking one hell of a risk and trying to suck out his tonsils definitely qualified as more than just a pass at a long time friend, so I figured I might as well go for broke. I never wanted to stop kissing him and first time in my life I ever resented having to breathe.

That only lasted until I caught his fragrance. Spending so much time with him I was familiar with his cologne, but not really the essence of Ezra. Hours in a smoky bar and he still smelled incredibly good. I can't even describe it, but I dropped my head to nuzzle his neck and breathe it in deep wanting to memorize it just in case I never get another chance to do this. Reminded me of crisp autumn day…clean, earthy and somehow promising good things to come like the scent coming from an orchard.

Couldn't resist tasting his skin to see if he tasted as good everywhere as his lips did. That's when I found out about that little spot under his ear lobe. The little moan I got that first time is the same one I get every time. Love that breathy little noise; it just seems vibrate all the way through me.

He'd raised his hands to cup my face, to pull me away. I didn't fight him. Didn't think I had the right to do that. Figured I'd already pushed the line as far as I could and it was time for me to take my punishment. But rather than belt me one or yell at me like I thought he might, he just stared at me with those green eyes of his looking right through me. To this day I don't know for sure what the hell he saw but it made him smile…a soft, honest to god, happy to right here kind of smile. That's one Polaroid memory I keep handy at all times.

"It certainly took you long enough, Buck."

He'd whispered that when he leaned in and placed his cheek against mine, arms reaching around to hold me close, his skin against mine was just as soft as his voice. I hugged him to me and reveled in just how well he fit against me. Reminded me of two puzzle pieces, connected and yet separate parts of the whole. That one is another of my favorite memories, and I relive the feeling of him in my arms every chance I get.

"Well, I never said I was the sharpest tool in the shed." I rubbed my cheek against his hair loving the baby soft feel of it. "Better late than never, right?"

"Indeed." He chuckled, a sound of genuine amusement and affection. Made me shiver just to hear it. "Perhaps we should explore this new development in more comfortable surroundings."

We've been doing a lot of 'exploring' ever since. Some philosopher said a journey of a thousand steps starts with only one. Damn glad I finally wised up and took that first step.