Vine '03: Continuing Revelations

Levon Lundy reluctantly raised his head trying to pinpoint exactly what had woken him. The noise was indistinct, muffled, but unmistakable. Damn cell phone. Should have turned the son of a bitching thing off.

He sighed silently and gently disentangled himself from his partner, Joe Lafiamma. He smiled fondly at his still soundly sleeping lover. Can't understand how on the job he sleeps so light he can hear a gnat fart from half a mile away, but at home a bomb could go off and he'd never know. Just something wrong with that

Levon rubbed a hand over his face, trying to wake himself up a little more. He frowned as the phone rang again, brown eyes scanning the room in frustration. Where the hell it is? The last time he'd seen it the phone was clipped to his belt.

It was probably still attached to his belt. Which meant it should be somewhere with his pants. Not that he was entirely certain just where his pants were. I think they are in here somewhere. Levon grinned wickedly to himself as he surveyed the chaos of the bedroom. A little afternoon delight was definitely a damn fine idea. Don't know what got into Joe. Shame that. If I knew I'd find a way to make sure it happened again.

He chuckled, only to grimace as the phone rang again. "Yeah, yeah." He muttered as he stumbled around the room seeking his pants.

Finally locating his pants under Joe's shirt and somehow turned inside out, Levon huffed out a breath in quiet victory mindful of his still sleeping lover. The phone hadn't disturbed him, but he knew from personal experience too much noise from him would bring Joe into immediate awareness. Joe seemed to be unconsciously tuned into him no matter where they were or what they were doing. It was one of the reasons they made such a good team.

He stepped into the hall, unmindful of his nakedness. He snapped the phone open as he leaned one shoulder against the wall. "Lundy."

"Cousin." A soft southern drawl greeted him. "I was beginning to think I'd be left conversing with your voice mail."

He grinned, suddenly very glad he'd answered the phone. His tone shifted immediately from neutral to warm and welcoming. "Hey, Ezra, how are ya boy?"

"I'm fine, Levon."

"Uh-hunh." Something in Ezra's tone erased Levon's grin. He'd always been able to read his cousin's voice if not his face. He could tell everything wasn't exactly on the up and up. Ezra was nervous, not enough to be anxious but definitely uneasy about something. "You wanna tell me what's wrong, or you want me to guess?"

"Nothing is wrong."

"Right." Levon nodded even though Ezra couldn't possibly see him doing it. "And you are calling me because?"

"I missed you."

Levon snorted, hearing the smile he couldn't see. "Give."

Ezra cleared his throat. "About Vin and I coming to the ranch-"

"Yer still coming." It was not quite a request and not exactly an order.

"Yes." Ezra's answer was reassuringly swift and decisive.

"Good." Levon rolled his shoulder unconsciously easing the tension that had settled in. "I can hear a 'but' there Cuz."

"Chris mentioned your asking me to come by to visit…and well," Ezra sighed, "Buck and JD want to meet you."

Levon raised both eyebrows. "Wilmington and Dunne, from yer team?"


"I haven't met them, right?" The question really wasn't necessary. Levon knew perfectly well who he'd met and who he hadn't. Nathan Jackson, JD Dunne, and Buck Wilmington had caught an earlier flight and were gone from Denver by the time Joe and Levon had run into Ezra at the airport.

"No, no you haven't."

"And they want to come with you and Vin?" Levon let the unvoiced question of 'why' hang unspoken.

"We told them about us."

"And?" Levon's jaw tightened. Larabee had told him they'd be okay with finding out Vin and Ezra were a couple. If the former Marine had lied to him, and let Ezra get hurt, Levon would make him suffer for it.

"They were fine with it, Levon. Relax."

"I am relaxed."

"Then unclench your jaw." Ezra chuckled, reminding Levon his cousin knew him at least as well as he knew Ezra. "Buck is…well, free-spirited doesn't even come close to describing him. He didn't even bat an eye. And JD was surprised but not appalled. More like he hadn't honestly even considered the fact that we might be involved. They were more interested in…ah…meeting you and Joe."

Levon rubbed a hand through his hair, knowing he was probably just making the unruly curls that much more disorderly. "They want to meet us?"

"Yes. They are decidedly curious about my family." Ezra hesitated for a second. "Especially since the only other blood relative they've had the opportunity to meet is Maude."

Levon winced. He could see how meeting Maude would definitely make one wonder about the rest of Ezra's family. She's a real piece o' work that one. No doubt about it. Rather glad she's unique…can't imagine a world with more than one like her in it.


"Okay? That's it? No questions, no comments?"

"They want to meet us. What's to ask about? Figure I'll get to ask anythin' I want when we meet face to face." Levon laughed lightly. "You were gonna ask if they could come along, right? Spend some time at the ranch? Ain't like there isn't room for a few more, Ezra."

"I know that, Levon." Ezra's tone was just a bit testy. "I just wasn't sure you'd want strangers as house guests. Your invitation was for just Vin and me."

Levon shook his head not at all put off by Ezra's attitude knowing full well his sarcasm and annoyance were meant to disguise. He was worried about this? Honestly, boy, you've got ta jus' relax more. "You trust 'em?"

"Of course."

"Then it's okay to invite 'em along if you want." Levon smiled. "Place is as much yours at is mine, ya know."

Ezra cleared his throat. "Yes, well, be that as it may, you live there."

Ever since their grandfathers had died and left the ranch to both of them Ezra had been uncomfortable with the idea of being joint owner. Levon knew it was related to his cousin's mistaken belief that he somehow didn't deserve it, that he was somehow unworthy, tainted by the actions of his mother.

"What about the other one…Jackson? He comin' too?"

"Nathan would very much like to join us, but he has already made plans to spend some time with his lovely fiancé and her family."

Levon nodded his understanding. He was a bit disappointed at not having a chance to meet every member of Ezra's team face to face, but he could wait. Eventually, he'd get to size them all up in person. Nathan already ranked a bit higher in Levon's estimation by being the first to know of Vin and Ezra and being comfortable with it. And Levon definitely respected the man for keeping his mouth shut about their relationship. In his experience, very few people could keep a secret, good or bad.

"There anything Wilmington and Dunne don't or won't eat? Joe's gonna wanna know what to make." If it were up to Levon every meal would be made on the grill, but he knew Joe would revel in the opportunity to 'entertain'. Joe loved to cook and he'd be planning meals the minute he found out there was someone other than Levon to cook for.

"Buck despises green beans and JD is allergic to peanuts."

"Can't say I'm real keen on green beans myself." Levon idly scratched his chest. "Shouldn't be too hard ta avoid peanuts." Joe preferred to cook with wine or olive oil, and Levon couldn't think of any dish that Joe had ever made that required peanuts.

"What about Vin? Anything he don't care for?"

"Mushrooms…and," there was a brief pause that told Levon Ezra was asking Vin, "asparagus."

Levon grinned. He hated mushrooms. Nice to know I'm not the only one. "Asparagus ain't in season at the moment, so I'm thinkin' he'll be safe on that one." Joe only liked to make it if it were fresh out of the garden. "And you already know how I feel about mushrooms so were okay there too."

Joe had gotten tired of seeing Levon pick mushrooms out of things so he no longer even bothered with them. Levon was willing to bet there hadn't been a mushroom on the ranch in at least six years. He didn't feel the least bit guilty about that. He'd given up chewing tobacco for Joe not long after they got together. It seemed a fair trade off.

"You gonna drive up, or you want me ta send the chopper down?" Two people could fit comfortably in Ezra's Bentley but four might not make for such a nice trip. Levon didn't know if the others had a reliable vehicle that could hold them all or not. Think Dunne's only got a motorcycle. Leastwise that's all that showed up on his DMV record. And unless that truck of Wilmington's is in better shape than the age indicates, I'm bettin' it wouldn't make it all the way here without something fallin' off.

"Chopper will make it a short trip." He offered quietly when Ezra didn't respond. What would take them all day to drive could be flown in just a few hours. Ezra hadn't said yet just how long they'd be staying. Levon thought making the trip shorter might induce his cousin to add another day or two.

"Vin doesn't really like to fly unless Buck is the pilot."

"Won't be a problem." Levon shrugged one shoulder, readily understanding the desire to have a pilot one trusted at the controls. "Esteban has family down that way. He can fly down and Buck can fly back."

"You'd let him fly your chopper?" Ezra sounded positively incredulous.

"He's licensed." Levon chuckled, brown eyes easily betraying a devilment no one was there to witness. "Sides it ain't mine. Got this one on loan."

Ezra laughed. "That explains it."

"So…I should tell Esteban to pack?"


"For how long?"

"Chris gave us four days."

Levon nodded, very glad he'd suggested the chopper. If they'd had to drive Ezra would only be on the ranch for two days. Now they had three and half. "I'll have him file a flight plan. What time you want him to show up?"

There was another pause while Levon heard Vin say something in the background. "How about late Thursday afternoon…say around five?"

"Perfect." Levon grinned. "Will get ya here just in time for dinner."

"We'll have to leave Monday morning." He could hear the grimace even if he couldn't see it. "Bright and early."

Boy never was one for early mornings. 'Less he was up all night to watch the sunrise. "No problem, Cuz. I'll make sure Esteban knows. See ya soon."

He was about to hang up when he heard Ezra call his name. "Yeah?"

"I know this probably isn't what you had in mind when you asked me and Vin to come to the ranch, and I shouldn't have sprung this on you--"

"Ezra…it's fine." Levon smiled softly. "Don't worry."


It never failed to amaze him how much emotion Ezra could pack into just one word. "Hey, yer family. Don't have to thank me."

"All the same-"

"Yer welcome."

Levon smiled as he ended the call and snapped the phone closed. He hadn't been entirely certain Ezra would come to the ranch. It hadn't really been a request but that didn't necessarily mean his cousin wouldn't refuse just the same. Boy can be as stubborn as a Missouri mule. Course, so can I…but then I prefer to think of it as being tenacious.

Having a few more guests honestly didn't bother Levon. He'd wanted to meet all of Ezra's team since his cousin signed on, but timing had never been right. /Wonder what Dunne and Wilmington will be like? He laughed silently knowing full well they were likely wondering the same thing about him and Joe.

Levon leaned into the warmth he felt behind him, smiling as his lover's arms wrapped themselves around his midriff. Joe nuzzled his neck, placing a soft kiss near the pulse point. Levon tilted his head back to rest against Joe's shoulder.

"Who was on the phone?"


"He still coming to visit?"

"Yep." Levon shifted to rest more of his weight against Joe, conveniently putting his bare buttocks lightly against his lover's groin. He rocked ever so slightly. "He's bringin' a few friends along."

"Oh?" There was the slightest catch in Joe's voice. Anyone who didn't know him would never have noticed it. Levon grinned. He loved knowing that even after eight years together he could still make it hard for his normally eloquent partner to speak easily. Ain't just speaking I'm makin' hard.

"Seems Wilmington and Dunne wanna meet us." Levon deliberately dropped his voice to a rough, husky whisper, hands moving to run lightly up the well-muscled arms still encircling him. He kept his touch light enough to tease, but not so light as to tickle. Just the way Joe liked it.

"Hmmm…They want to meet us? Okay." Joe's voice was soft, warm breath puffing against his ear before Joe's tongue lightly traced the outer edge. Levon shuddered when Joe sucked on his earlobe.

"When are they coming?" Joe's speech had another hitch as Levon raised a hand to stroke the side of his neck. There was a spot just under his jaw that got to him every time.

"Thursday." He took a deep breath. "Should be here for dinner."

Joe blew into his ear ever so softly. "Got us some time then, don't we?"

"Yeah." The word came out as a drawn out sigh. He rocked back into Joe, spreading his legs, widening his stance for better balance, encouraging the burgeoning erection he could feel against his ass. Levon didn't really care about talking any more.

He moaned when Joe's hands moved to caress his chest. He arched his back trying to encourage more contact when Joe's fingers barely touched his nipples. Joe pulled him back, holding him close, warm and solid.

"What's say," Joe nibbled his neck, "we…go back to bed?"

"Sounds," he shuddered again as Joe's hands once again began roaming, "like a damn fine idea."

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Buck Wilmington whistled in appreciation. He had died and gone to heaven. No doubt about it. His hand lovingly caressed the controls of the chopper he was going to be allowed to fly. He hadn't gotten to pilot anything this new, this state of the art, since he'd left the military.

"You are such a pretty baby." Buck spoke almost reverently as he continued to peruse the cockpit.

"That she is, Senor." The Mexican pilot Ezra had introduced only as Esteban agreed, a flash of bright white teeth punctuating his statement. "You treat her well, comprende?"

"Si." Buck grinned. "I'll treat her like the lady she is."

"Good." Esteban slapped Buck lightly on the arm. "Any damage, muchacho, and you'll be the one paying to repair her."

Even knowing his salary couldn't cover the cost of replacing much of anything didn't dilute Buck's pleasure at having the chance to fly this bird. His estimation of Ezra's cousin went up a notch or two. Having a top of the line chopper was just one reason. The other was that he was willing to let Buck, a man he'd never met, fly her.

Ezra said something to Esteban in a flurry of Spanish too fast for Buck to catch it all. Something about Esteban's family and being back Monday was all he really understood. Esteban nodded and waved, picking up a small duffle bag as he walked away.

Buck checked the flight plan again as he went through the usual preflight check. He would have no trouble navigating to where they were going. Just north of Houston. Hunh. Would have thought Ezra's family would have come up long before now being so close and all.

He grinned to himself. Know better than that. Never saw a man as tight lipped about his past as Ezra. 'Cept of course for Vin. Sure do make a nice couple those two. Good for each other.

Buck hadn't really been all that surprised to learn the two of them were more than friends. He was an observant man after all, well versed in the body language and signals people sent one another be it man and woman or members of the same sex. And while he might regale his friends with stories of his latest conquests, Buck readily understood the desire they had to not be as forthcoming. As private as Vin and Ezra were, he was honestly surprised that they'd ever come clean about their relationship.

Other than a raging curiosity about Ezra's family, Buck wanted to meet the man Chris said outted them. Or more accurately, convinced him to out himself. The former Marine was still trying to decided if he was pissed at Levon for putting Ezra and Vin in a position that could have easily cost them everything if their teammates were less open minded, or if he was grateful that Levon had found a way for them to finally come clean and be able to stop hiding the fact they were in love with one another.

Love wasn't something Buck thought should ever be hidden. But then, his unconventional upbringing and experimental nature had exposed him at a young age to all walks of life. His mother might never have had much, but she made certain that Buck had an innate sense of who he was and his place in the world, teaching him to accept people as they came. He'd spent most of his life living in the moment, uncaring of what other people thought, trusting his friends see him through good times and bad.

Even though neither Vin nor Ezra had ever said much about their childhoods, Buck knew they had what Nathan would call 'trust issues'. He was somewhat disappointed that even being with the team as long as they had they were still hesitant to be completely honest. Buck didn't take it personally. He understood that there was no way for Vin or Ezra to really know how risky coming out of the closet would be with the team.

Buck's own ambiguous sexual nature had made him more accepting on a personal level than most people would expect as first glance. He was intimately familiar with the full range of human sexuality. A long time ago he had come terms with the idea that he could be attracted to both men and women.

Just as he was cognizant of his own bisexuality, Buck was also aware that the whole issue of sex was one of those where one could never be certain how conservative or liberal a person was going to be, how open and accepting or how judgmental. He'd have never guessed when he was a kid that the shy lady who directed the local church choir worked as a stripper three nights a week. Or that the leather clad biker who came to visit his mother from time to time liked wearing women's underwear and marched in Gay Pride Parades. Or that the conservative couple who harangued his mother from time to time liked to go to parties where they could swap spouses.

"We ready, Buck?" JD asked as he settled into his seat, interrupting his thoughts.

"Yep." Buck nodded, adjusting his headset. He glanced over at the youngest team member, genuine affection and pride coloring his eyes. JD made a passable co-pilot. Not enough hours under his belt yet, but getting there. It wouldn't be long before JD was ready to fly solo.

Buck smiled. The 'kid' was really not a 'kid' at all. Buck forced his attention back to the check list. It would be way too easy for him to simply get lost in studying the younger man's profile. Such a pretty boy. Down, Buck. Mind on your job here.

"Nice bird." JD gave the console an appreciative once-over.

"Very nice." Buck agreed, silently extending that assessment to the man beside him. With a firm mental slap, he refocused his attention to the job at hand. He clicked the cabin mic so he could be heard by Vin and Ezra. "You boys ready back there?"

"Yeah, Buck, we're set." Vin answered for both of them.

Having only enough room for six the chopper wasn't as big as the one the team normally used but the little lady more than made up for that in Buck's opinion when she rose smoothly in the air, engine purring like a contented cat. Buck smiled. He found himself wondering if everything Levon had was this nice.

Ezra's never said where he got his fancy car. Always figured he was living on a trust fund or had himself a ton of credit card debt, because God knows working for the government don't generate the kind of salary a man would need to pay for a sweet ride like that. Might be something Levon got him. Could see a man who owns a chopper this nice having rich taste for all kinds of vehicles. Pretty sure if he could afford this bird, he could afford Ezra's car.

Ezra hadn't really said much of anything about his cousin. If Chris hadn't mentioned meeting Levon at the airport, Buck suspected he'd have never even learned about Levon at all. Chris said he was a lot like Ezra. Buck took that to mean Levon probably used ten-dollar words, somehow managed to look dressed up in jeans and a t-shirt, and knew which fork to use.

Maude had certainly placed a great deal of emphasis on appearances, proper behavior and wealth. Buck frowned thinking about the beautiful blonde who'd descended upon camp AWOL like a miniature tornado. Lord but that woman was a nightmare in Gucci shoes.

What little Chris had said and Josiah had commented on lead Buck to believe Levon wasn't anything like Maude. But he still wanted to find out for himself. Maude's visits were infrequent and her ability to hurt Ezra limited. Buck wasn't so sure the same could be said for Levon. Chris made it seem like Levon might take a more personal interest in Ezra. Ezra was part of Buck's family and he was going to do his best to look out for him. That meant he needed to judge for himself just how much of a threat this previously unheard of cousin posed.

He cast a sidelong look at JD. The kid had taken Vin and Ezra's announcement in stride. Although, Buck was fully aware the younger man had looked to all of them, gauging their reactions, before he voiced his acceptance. Buck figured keeping his surrogate family together was likely JD's number one concern. He could tell JD was still not entirely certain of where he stood other than that he was firmly with the rest of the team.

When Josiah had mentioned sending along an anniversary present for Levon and his male lover, Joe, of eight years, Buck thought meeting them might prove to be good for JD. Not only would it give JD a chance to meet Ezra's family, he'd also get some exposure to another gay couple. If Joe and Levon could stay together for eight years, there was no reason to think Ezra and Vin couldn't stay together just as long or longer.

Maybe broadening his roommate's horizons might open him up to considering Buck as more than just a friend. While he was honestly glad that JD's upbringing had been slightly more conventional than his own, the former Marine knew all to well just how naïve the younger man was as a result. He wanted JD to be aware that gay love wasn't honestly any different than any other sort of love. He wanted him to genuinely believe that it was okay to differ from the norm. Buck was hoping this trip would open JD's eyes to the possibilities. The last thing Buck wanted was to scare the kid when he screwed up his courage to confess what he'd been feeling lately.

The tall "ladies man" smiled to himself, shaking his head slightly. This trip was definitely going to be an interesting one. No doubt about it.

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Now that the others knew about Vin and Ezra, holding Ezra's hand was something Vin could do any time he felt like it, but he doubted the novelty would ever really wear off. He loved being able to touch Ezra. Even something as innocent as holding hands just felt so right.

He had yet to really figure out just how holding Ezra's hand made flying easier to deal with, but it did. Vin trusted Buck, more so than anyone else he'd ever flown with, but the idea of leaving Terra Firma and putting his faith in machinery he knew little about still tended to make him uncomfortable. Even before they'd become a couple, Ezra's presence had made flying a less torturous ordeal. Something about how calm and unruffled the linguist always seemed, about how he managed to project an air of unflappable confidence managed to ease Vin's tension. He had no doubt that if something were to go wrong Ezra would take it all in stride.

"You okay?" Ezra asked, his mic keyed so only Vin could hear the question.

Vin lightly squeezed the hand he held. "Fine."

Ezra nodded and smiled. Green eyes fell on the package that Josiah had insisted they present to Joe and Levon as an anniversary present, albeit a bit late. Vin knew he was as curious as a cat about what was in the box.

"Leave it alone, Ez."

Ezra rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to open it."

"Good." Vin chuckled. "Wouldn't be right for you to open a present meant for someone else. Down right rude even."

"Thank you for pointing out that little bit of etiquette…again."

Vin just grinned back in response. He'd caught Ezra eyeing the package, even fingering the paper more than once. The former sniper could readily understand his lover's interest. What the hell could Josiah have gotten for two people he'd met only once? Better yet, why did he get them anything at all?

Vin had thought about sending a gift but he had no idea what to give a couple he didn't really know. The last thing he wanted to do was offend Ezra's family by giving a gift that would not be well received or inappropriate. He had a bottle of wine packed to offer when they arrived, more as a guest gift than something special for their anniversary. He'd asked Ezra for guidance one what to buy so he knew it would be well received.

"You get 'em anythin' for their anniversary?"


Vin raised both eyebrows. He'd been there when Ezra had packed and hadn't seen anything that could have been a gift. "What'd ya get, and for that matter where'd ya put it?"

Ezra smiled, dimples appearing. "It was delivered."

Vin gave his lover a dirty look. "That doesn't answer my first question."

Ezra chuckled. "No, it doesn't."

"Ah, C'mon, Ez." Vin nudged Ezra's shoulder with his. "What'd ya get 'em?"

"Ideally, an anniversary gift should be for a couple." Ezra shrugged, looking faintly embarrassed. "But somehow despite their being together for more than half a decade, Joe and Levon have very different tastes. I couldn't find anything that worked for both of them, so I got something for each of them."

Vin nodded. "Don't imagine they minded much." He didn't really know either man well, but somehow he just couldn't picture Levon as being the sort to be insulted or upset by anything Ezra did out of love for him. At least not for long anyway.

He nudged Ezra again. "Still haven't told me what you got 'em."

Ezra sighed. "Levon has quite a collection of antique firearms. I was finally able to locate a Winchester rifle from 1876. One of a thousand."

Vin whistled. He knew during that time period Winchester would test fire one thousand rifles, inscribing the most accurate with '1 of 1000'. They were rare and very expensive.

"As I'm sure you noted when you met him, Joe has a definite taste for fine apparel."

Vin nodded. The suit Joe had worn at the airport likely cost more than he made in a month. He recognized the quality of it simply because Ezra had ones similar to it. His lover didn't really wear them often. He was more inclined to dress in what most would label 'office casual', better than jeans, but not as blatantly business as a suit and tie.

"I know his tailor personally. Introduced them actually." Ezra smiled, the gleam in his green eyes hinting at a story of some kind. "So, I commissioned a new suit for him."

"Sound like real nice gifts." Vin commented, somewhat relieved he hadn't actually gotten a gift since there was no way he could possibly offer anything that expensive, or so appropriate to each man's personality. "Bet they were both real pleased."

"I believe so."

"They didn't say anythin'?" Vin's jaw tightened. Would it kill 'em ta send a thank you?

"Joe sent a thank you note but Levon prefers to say thank you in person. And we haven't had the opportunity to speak until I called to let him know Buck and JD would be coming with us." Ezra looked a bit sheepish, green eyes suddenly focused on the floor. Vin knew his lover had probably been dodging his cousin from the minute Buck asked about meeting the man.

Buck hadn't been pushy about it, but there was no mistaking the fact that the ladies man would keep asking until he got an introduction. Vin couldn't really blame him. He'd been wanting to meet Levon since the first time he'd found out Ezra had more family than just Maude.

Vin lightly placed a finger under Ezra's chin and forced him to look up. "You worried about him meeting Buck and JD? Seems like everyone got along okay at the airport."

Ezra sighed. "Yes, well, that wasn't something I had the opportunity to think about beforehand."

"Ah." Vin leaned in to place a soft chaste kiss on Ezra's lips. "It'll be okay."

Ezra nodded. "I know. I just-"

"Worry unnecessarily." Vin finished. Gotta admit if I'd a known we'd be meeting them in Denver, I'd tried to find a way to make sure the rest o' the team wasn't around. Woulda preferred something more private than the middle of Denver International. But then, looking back on it, might just have been for the best after all. Some things in life jus' go better when you don't know in advance they're gonna happen.

"Worry unnecessarily?" Ezra arched an eyebrow. "I prefer to think of it as planning for all contingencies."

"Right." Vin snorted. Call it what every you want…it's worrying. "Nothing bad is going to happen." Blue eyes held green. "And if it does… well, I'll be right there with you."

Ezra smiled. "Promise?"

"Cross my heart."

Ezra kissed him. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Vin shifted pulling Ezra so he could rest his weight comfortably against him. "Just relax. Everything will be fine."

Ezra settled in. Tension Vin hadn't been able to see, but could easily feel, was slowly easing out of his lover's shoulders. For the first time in his life Vin was honestly glad he didn't have any family. He didn't mind at all missing out on that rite of passage that entailed having your friends and lovers being accepted by your family.

The meeting at the airport had been brief and relatively painless. This one was going to be longer and far more intimate with everyone in close proximity for the next few days. Vin sent a silent prayer heavenward. //Please just let everything run smooth. That's all I ask.//

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Levon watched at the chopper landed smoothly, mentally complimenting the pilot on a nice job. He glanced toward his lover leaning casually against the suburban they'd driven to the airfield to pick up their guests. He'd half expected Joe to stay at the house fussing over final dinner preparations. Dinner was lasagna so it didn't really need to be watched every second, but Joe was sort of a perfectionist when it came to meals. Levon smiled thinking about the time he'd spent earlier hand washing Joe's grandmother's good china.

"What?" Joe nudged him.

Levon's smile widened. "Just wonderin' how we're gonna maintain our bad ass image when they find out I spent my mornin' washing dishes and you were in an apron."

Joe laughed, turquoise eyes dancing in merriment. "Bad ass? Oh, baby doll there is nothing bad about your ass or mine."

Levon raised one finger in warning, mirthful brown eyes belying his serious demeanor. "Behave."

"Party pooper."

"I'll let you misbehave later." Levon promised with a wink and a sly smile, delighted to see a faint dusting of color rise to his lover's cheeks.

He refocused his attention as the rotor blades came to a stop and the doors opened. Levon didn't hesitate to step forward and pull his cousin into a tight hug the minute his feet hit the ground. "Damn, boy, it is good to see you." He said nearly the same thing every time he got together with Ezra and he meant it every time.

Ezra returned his hug with equal enthusiasm. "Good to be seen, Cousin."

As soon as he let go of Ezra, Joe pulled him into another hug. He never knew what they said to one another because Joe always seemed so slip into a language other than English. Levon had gotten so he recognized the languages if not what was actually said. He never asked what they talked about, respecting Joe's obvious desire to establish his own rituals and private realm with Ezra.

Levon noticed two other men getting out of the cockpit, securing the chopper with the ground ties placed nearby. He already knew from the background checks he'd run which was Dunne and which was Wilmington, but figured it would be better to let Ezra introduce them. No reason to let 'em know just how much checkin' up I did.

He smiled as he held out a hand to Vin thinking the younger man might not appreciate getting a greeting as enthusiastic as the one he'd given Ezra. "Good to see you again, Vin."

"Likewise." Vin gave his hand a firm shake.

Levon watched with barely hidden amusement as Buck and JD tried to make heads and tails out of Joe's ongoing conversation with Ezra. Not every day you run into two white guys talkin' in Cantonese. Joe probably thinks he needs to brush up on that one. Hasn't had a reason to use it in awhile.

Ezra glanced toward the others and apparently realized no one had yet bothered to make introductions. He gave Levon a dirty look for allowing him to get involved in conversation with Joe, forgetting that Buck and JD had not officially met Levon yet. Levon casually shrugged off Ezra's look with an innocent expression that wouldn't fool anyone who knew him.

"Please forgive my appalling lack of manners." Ezra gestured toward Levon and Joe in turn as he said their names. "Levon Lundy, Joe LaFiamma, allow me to introduce Buck Wilmington and JD Dunne."

Levon smiled and nodded, two fingers rising to the brim of his Stetson. "Pleasure ta meet ya."

"Welcome." Joe smiled warmly, offering a hand to both men in turn. He nodded politely to Vin. "Nice to see you again, Vin."

"You're his cousin?" Buck raised both eyebrows, blue eyes going from Levon to Joe and back again.

"Yep." Levon grinned, knowing full well that his jeans, cowboy boots and hat, not to mention his accent, marked him as having more in common with Vin than Ezra. At first glance, it was more natural to assume Ezra was related to Joe.

"Chris said you and Ezra were a lot alike." Doubt clear in his statement even as Buck shook his head

Levon chuckled. "We are." He didn't bother to fill in any more than that. Time around them did more to showcase their similarities than anything he might have to say. It would also alleviate any concern that he was much like Ezra's mother.

He nodded toward the few bags that JD had unloaded. "That all your gear?"

"That's it." JD confirmed with a small nod.

"Well let's get loaded and head up ta the house. Dinner should be jus' 'bout ready."

With the third seat removed, there was plenty of room in the back of the suburban for their gear, but fitting six men into the vehicle would be a bit cramped. Should have put that seat back in. Oh well. Least it's not too far to the house.

Levon slid into the driver seat, letting the others seat themselves. He stifled a grin when Ezra slid into the front, sitting in the middle. It was the spot he'd occupied whenever ever he came to the ranch from the time he was little. Levon wondered if Ezra was even remembered why that was 'his' spot.

Vin traded a look with Joe, clearly asking if he wanted shotgun or not. Joe just tipped his head giving Vin the spot next to Ezra without batting an eye. Joe took the seat behind Levon, laying his hand on Levon's shoulder, squeezing once as he got in. JD took the center spot behind Ezra, leaving Buck as the last to get settled.

He glanced into the mirror catching Buck's gaze. "You like flying Elsie?"


"The chopper." Joe clarified.

Buck chortled. "You named a chopper 'Elsie'?"

"Gotta call her somethin'." Levon replied with a small grin. "Anythin' that works that hard for you deserves a name."

"But Elsie?" Buck shook his head. "Lady that fine, one so sweet to fly…well she should have a more refined name than Elsie."

"Well, if she were mine, I'd agree with you."

JD frowned. "I thought she was yours."

"No." Joe answered. "She's a loaner. Our chopper is getting an overhaul."

"So what did you name yours?" Buck asked, corners of this mouth twitching upward.

"Sally Mae."

"Sally Mae?" Vin looked askance at Levon and then over his shoulder to Joe.

Laughing and in unison, Levon and Ezra responded with, "Cause she's a real good girl."

"There must be a story there." JD commented, curiosity clear in his voice.

"Oh there is definitely a story." Ezra snickered.

"Which you won't be getting without a whole hell of a lot to drink." Levon added firmly. The story was amusing, about that there was no doubt, but it was also embarrassing.

"Funny," Ezra's tone was musing, definitely playful, "I seem to remember a whole hell of a lot to drink being the reason for the story in the first place."

"Shaddup." Levon directed, but it lacked any real heat. "Got a few stories on you too, boy."

Ezra dipped his head slightly, green eyes still decidedly amused. "I believe for the sake of my dignity it is time this conversation move on to other topics."

"How big is your ranch?" JD asked, sounding honestly interested in the answer.

Levon gave him points for being quick to follow Ezra's lead. "Spans just over a township, so it's a little over six square miles. Kind a small, but it suits us."

"Small?" JD looked stunned.

"Small for Texas that is." Levon laughed. "Most everythin' is bigger here."

Even though he couldn't see him do it, Levon knew Joe was rolling his eyes. His partner often accused him of 'getting all Texas' on him. More often than not Levon did it simply because he knew it annoyed Joe. Getting a reaction out of his lover had become something of a hobby for Levon, one he intended to engage in for a lifetime.

"You said you have horses." Vin's statement sounded more like a question.

Levon nodded. "Got about a dozen or so Quarter horses, couple o' Morgans, and one Foxtrotter that I'm boarding for a friend. Got a team of Belgians too."

"Mike and Ike…they're still doing okay?" Ezra asked clearly eager to know the answer.

"Yep." Levon sighed softly. "Don't reckon they'll be for too much longer though."

"Why not?" Buck shifted so he could make eye contact in the mirror.

"Because Mike's almost as old as Ezra, an' Ike's not much younger." The draft team had been on the ranch for nearly as long as he could remember. "My granddaddy got 'em when they were foals."

He and Ezra shared a smile. Mike and Ike figured prominently in many childhood memories. Levon didn't normally think of himself as a sentimental sort, but he fully intended to have the team buried on the ranch when the time came.

Levon pulled the suburban into the driveway parking it next to the pickup truck he normally drove. Joe's car was almost always in the garage. His lover didn't like leaving his baby exposed to the elements. The classic Cobra was worth more than enough to warrant the special treatment Joe liked to give it.

The house was a split-level ranch style that Elmer and Elijah Standish had built themselves. Over the years the interior had been upgraded and remodeled, but the essential character of the home remained unaltered. Ezra had always agreed with Levon that radically changing the house would seem disrespectful to their grandfathers.

Unloading the luggage took only a moment or two. Buck handed bags out with the ease of long practice. Levon gave the brightly wrapped parcel Vin held out to him a curious glance. He hadn't noticed it before.

"Josiah wanted us to give this to you and Joe." Vin smiled shyly. "Something for your anniversary."

Levon glanced toward Joe. "Must o' been more to that conversation you had with 'em than you told me about."

Joe held up both hands, palms out in a gesture of innocence. "I told you everything, Cowboy. I'm just as clueless as you are."

Levon didn't miss the slight look of surprise on Vin's face Joe's nickname for him. He made a mental note to ask Ezra about it later. He was more interested in what Josiah Sanchez could possibly have sent them for their eighth anniversary, or why he felt the need to at all. He looked at Ezra, hoping he'd have some idea of what was in the box and the reason behind it.

Ezra shook his head. "I have no idea, Cousin."

Vin grinned, bumping Ezra's shoulder with his own. "Not for lack of tryin'."

Joe gave Ezra a speculative look. "You always were part cat, kid. Being curious will get you killed one of these days."

Ezra snorted. "Bullshit."

Buck wagged a finger at Ezra, smirk dancing about his lips. "Damn, Ez, I didn't think you used such language."

Levon laughed. "Oh he's used all that an' more." He took the package from Vin, surprised by the weight of it. "We'll open this inside…after we get y'all settled in."

Vin offered Joe a bottle of wine once inside the door. When Joe raised an eyebrow, Vin offered, "Jus' a little thanks for havin' us."

"You are welcome anytime. You're family."

Vin ducked his head. "Didn't want to show up empty handed."

Joe smiled, clearly pleased with Vin's response. His smile grew as he read the label, turning it so Levon could read. It was one of his lover's favorites.

"Nice." Levon nodded in appreciation.

"Very nice." Joe agreed. "This will go well with dinner."

Joe excused himself and headed for the kitchen to check on the lasagna while Levon lead the way to the guest rooms. Unbidden the image of a mother duck being followed by a flock of little ones came to mind. Levon bit his lip to keep from laughing. Somehow I don't think they'll appreciate being thought of as ducklings.

Walking through the living room, he placed the gift on the coffee table where he and Joe could open it later. He smiled when he saw Ezra stop in front of the fireplace, jaw hanging open slightly in surprise. Mounted above the mantel, in what his cousin jokingly referred to the place of honor, was the Winchester rifle Ezra had sent him.

Buck sent a looked toward Ezra, obviously asking what the big deal about the gun display was. Ezra ignored him, amazed green eyes settling on Levon. "You took down the arabesque?"

"Yep." As the center piece of Levon's gun collection the muzzleloader had hung above the mantel for years. "Seems I got me a new prized possession. Figured I should show it off."

Ezra blushed slightly, unmistakably pleased by what Levon had said and done. He was slightly puzzled as to why Vin should look just as pleased. Maybe he helped Ezra pick it out. Ezra said Vin's got an interest in old weapons too. Course he could just be happy cause Ezra's happy.

JD stepped toward the fireplace, moving around Buck for a better look. He whistled slightly. "Are those real?"

Levon raised an eyebrow, not certain of what the younger man was asking him. "Are what real?"

JD raised a hand to point to the two pearl handled colt peacemaker pistols that were mounted below the rifle. Before Ezra had given him the Winchester he'd had a pair of flintlock dueling pistols mounted as compliments to the arabesque. Levon had owned the peacemakers for years, having gotten them at an auction when he was even younger than JD, but had never displayed them prominently until now.

JD moved closer, hand coming within an inch of touching the revolvers before Buck caught his hand, shaking his head slightly. Levon would not have objected to JD touching the guns since he routinely test fired and cleaned them, but he did appreciate Buck's intervention. Only good manners ta ask first.

Dark brown eyes met Levon's golden brown counterparts. "You know…real, not a reproduction? Genuine antiques?"

"Yeah, they're real." Levon answered with a soft chuckle.

"They would not be hanging there, JD, if it were not." Ezra added with a small smile. "Levon has quite a collection."

"Iffen you're interested, I'll show it to you while you're here." Levon offered. "Can even take those down and try 'em out."

JD grinned. "That would be so cool."

Levon wondered if the younger man was always so easy to please. "Let's get y'all settled. Dinner's waitin'."

The house originally had four bedrooms, not counting the master bedroom Joe shared with Levon, which was at the other end of the house. Six years ago he had remodeled two bedrooms to create a 'guest suite' for Ezra with its own master bath, walk in closet, and entertainment area. He wanted his cousin to feel welcome, to know he had a place of his own that was equal to Levon's. Ezra might not willingly admit to owning half the ranch, but Levon never forgot it.

"Ezra, I'm sure you remember where your room is." Levon waved a hand, shooing Vin and Ezra to the left. He made a 'follow me' motion to Buck and JD. "Your rooms are just down the hall. I'll leave it to you pick which you one you want."

Levon opened a heavy oak door and then another. Both rooms were sparsely, yet tastefully decorated. They didn't see much use and Levon had never seen the need to outfit them with more than the basics. He'd made sure everything was ready for temporary residents, airing out the rooms and changing the linens.

He pointed to the end of the hall. "The bathroom is the last door. There are clean towels all ready for you."

He turned to head back to the kitchen. "Jus' give a yell if you need anythin'. Dinner should be on the table in about ten minutes."

Levon sauntered back down the hall. He sniffed in appreciation. He loved Joe's lasagna. He figured the others would too.

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. So far things were going well. Here's hoping things keep right on going well.

<:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:>

Vin woke slowly, ears cataloging the sounds around him before he opened his eyes or moved. The first thing that registered was absence of the ocean. Living only a stone's throw from the beach, Vin had grown accustomed to hearing the steady pulse of surf advancing and retreating.

He cracked his eyes, scanning quickly to confirm his location. The ranch. Ezra's room. He'd have known it was Ezra's even if no one had told him. The simple elegance of the furnishings and tasteful colors chosen to soothe were not an exact match to his room at Camp AWOL but they were very close. Snuggling in closer to his lover, Vin smiled thinking the mattress was most definitely the same. Never slept on anything as comfortable as Ezra's bed.

He wasn't sure if his sleeping soundly had as much to do with the bed or the company he shared it with. Vin placed a soft kiss on Ezra's bare right shoulder. He grinned to himself thinking his sound sleep might have something to do with all the activity they'd engaged in last night. Never knew lasagna was an aphrodisiac. Wonder if Joe would share his recipe.

Vin sighed softly. He'd much rather just stay in bed with Ezra, but mother nature was calling. He released the hold he had on his lover, careful not to wake him. Ezra shifted, brows pulling together slightly, faint worry lines appearing. Vin soothed the lines away, stroking softly with his fingers until Ezra's face once more took on that open, unguarded look he got only when sleeping deeply.

Vin padded silently to the adjoining bathroom. He'd be suitably impressed with the sunken tub that was big enough to two. Vin idly wondered what it would take to remodel the barrack's bathroom to incorporate one there. He never would have guessed how enjoyable just soaking with Ezra was. He grinned thinking about the bubble bath they'd had the night before. Sure hope we can do it again tonight.

Dinner had been a surprisingly relaxed affair. Although, he'd nearly panicked when he saw the way the dining room table had been set. Even though he had very little experience with such finery, Vin could tell the china on the table was probably close to priceless. He was just as afraid to touch the crystal glasses.

Something must have shown in his expression. From his position at the end of the table, Levon leaned over slightly and whispered, "Might be a little too fancy and a bit more delicate than a sensible man would prefer, but it ain't nothin' but dishes, dinnerware and glasses, Vin, don't let it make ya nervous."

Vin snorted. "Can't see how it can't make me anythin' but nervous." He eyed the table warily. "What if I break something?"

"You mean like the three plates I already broke? Or the set o' glasses I had to go to England special to replace?" Levon's smile quicksilvered into a grin. "It's meant to be used, so sit down and use it."

Vin sat next to Ezra, feeling oddly reassured. If Levon, who appeared to be just as much a rough and ready sort as Vin was, could be relaxed about eating at a table set for royalty then by God he could to. Vin chose to over look the fact that Levon owned all this stuff and had more than enough money to replace what got broken.

He watched the parade of expressions on Buck and JD's faces and knew without a doubt they were just as uneasy about sitting at the table as he'd been. It was probably the first time he'd seen them sit at the table and eat with anything resembling good manners. Vin grinned to himself thinking they should have had a video camera set up to record the whole thing. Ain't no way Chris would believe the terrible two actually kept their elbows off the table.

"You always set the table like this?" Buck had asked, hand hovering for a moment before opting for the more solid looking water glass than the delicate wine glass. He handled the crystal with an exaggerated care Vin would have found amusing if he hadn't been doing the same thing.

"Whenever I can convince Levon to let me." Joe had answered as he took the seat on Levon's right.

"Hey, you were the one who told me Grandma Rosa's china was for special occasions." Levon protested.

"I also told you she considered every meal a special occasion." Joe pointed out dryly, half filling his glass with the wine Vin had handed him earlier.

Vin had quickly realized a lot of good-natured ribbing went on between Joe and Levon. They reminded him of an old married couple and after eight years together the description was apt. Vin might have made the mistake of thinking the passion between them had waned if not for the occasional deliberate touches he witnessed, the blush inducing innuendos that were somehow incorporated into the most innocent conversational topics, and the way their eyes seemed to warm whenever they met.

Vin had watched as the similarities between Levon and Ezra became readily apparent to Buck and JD. It was uncanny the way they would mirror one another. It reminded the former sniper of a set of twins he'd been in the service with.

Vin was impressed by how much information Levon and Joe managed to pull out of Buck and JD without making it seem like anything more than friendly conversation. Joe had definite way of putting people at ease, encouraging them to open up and offer more details than they normally would. It was easy to forget they were virtual strangers.

Finished with the business that had roused him, Vin pursed his lips as he regarded his reflection in the mirror. He raised a hand to rub over the light stubble that graced his jaw. Nodding to himself he reached for the shaving cream.

As he deftly ran the razor over his cheeks and jaw, he thought about what all had been discussed last night. Life at Camp AWOL, the jobs they'd taken, what they did before signing on were all topics that were talked about. As well were things like their hobbies, JD's relationship with Casey, and Buck's pursuit of Inez. For the first time Vin was conscious of the fact that Buck might be chasing Inez, but he didn't seem all that focused on catching her. And JD's interactions with Casey were always more of brother and sister than burgeoning lovers. He couldn't quite figure out how Joe managed to pull out those details when Vin hadn't noticed and he was around them nearly every day.

Levon and Joe managed to intersperse enough about themselves to keep the information flow from seeming one sided. It was nice to know they had hobbies and interests like everyone else. Vin never would have guessed that Joe was from Chicago from originally, but then accents were not his specialty. He was surprised to learn that Joe's family was connected to organized crime. The subject of why he'd left Chicago wasn't one they delved into, Levon neatly derailing that conversational gambit before it could leave the station. Vin figured it was akin to the mysterious organization they worked for, off limits.

After dinner they'd all pitched into clean up. Vin was still amazed that nothing got broken. It seemed like nothing short of a minor miracle.

The conversation seemed to naturally continue as they made their way into the comfort of the living room, a second bottle of wine being open and consumed as well. Vin had wandered over to the wall of pictures, curious to see what was hanging on the wall. Some were obvious relatives and others had to be friends. Spotting one of Ezra when he looked to be about twelve, Vin couldn't resist asking about the photo. To his delight, Levon not only told him about that one, but most of the others as well.

Vin couldn't remember ever laughing so hard in his life as Levon and Ezra took turns talking about the people in the photos and telling stories about when they were growing up. Given the number of stories and obvious delight the reminiscence caused, Vin was shocked to find out Ezra only spent a few weeks a year at the ranch rather than months at a time. It was comforting thought to know not all of Ezra's childhood had been spent alone in boarding schools and that Levon had started as a teenager the habit of routinely writing and calling his cousin.

He didn't miss the satisfaction Buck and JD had gotten from hearing the stories. Vin knew Buck was trying to gauge how good Levon and Joe were for Ezra. It was no secret the tall pilot regarded the team as his family and took protecting them seriously. Joke about him being a mother hen often enough.

JD was clearly thrilled to find out that the suave, self possessed linguist had once been as young and impulsive as the rest of the team so often accused him of being. The younger man seemed very at ease with both Levon and Joe. Although, Vin caught him looking at them as though he was expecting more obvious displays of affection, some blatant signal they were together. Only reason I pick up on it is cause he's been doin' the same thing to me an Ez since we told him we're a couple.

The highlight of the evening had been when Joe and Levon finally opened Josiah's present. Vin smiled as he remembered how his lover had made sure he got a front row seat. The intense green-eyed gaze reminded him of a cat watching a mouse.

Josiah's gift turned out to be a bronze sculpture. It was a desk size copy of a bronze done by Remington, The Mountain Man. Vin had been lucky enough to see the original once, finding himself enthralled with the authenticity of detail Remington had captured. He half expected to see the horse's lungs heaving as it struggled to maintain its footing on the steep downward slope. He could almost hear the telltale rattle of small stones that slipped freely hindering the horse's efforts.

The craggy face of the rider reminded Vin of one his foster father, David Bellows. The man looked liked he would have been right at home in the early 1800's, full beard and all. He always treated Vin with a level of respect and consideration that had boggled the skinny teenager's mind. It was such a novel experience and lasted for nearly two years.

Levon had obviously been impressed by Josiah's gift, fingers reverently tracing details as he held the sculpture up so everyone could see it. "Very nice," he whispered, eyes totally focused on the figure. Vin hadn't been sure the blond was even aware he'd spoken aloud.

Joe had smiled, looking just as pleased as his lover. He raised a hand to lightly squeeze Levon's shoulder. "Very nice indeed, Cowboy."

Although the touch was in no way really intimate it implied a deeper connection. Vin noticed that Levon, like Ezra, was somewhat cautious about physical contact. The blond did not keep people at arm's length the way Ezra was prone to, but Vin had noticed the way he tended to keep some space between himself and others. Joe was a notable exception just as Vin was for Ezra.

Watching them study the statue, Vin got the impression that while Joe didn't really relate on a personal level to western art, or honestly feel the same connection to the subject matter that he was certain Levon did, Joe seemed readily capable of valuing the talent and dedication that went into creating such a beautiful piece of artwork. Vin wasn't at all surprised to see Ezra looking just as enthralled as his cousin. His lover had gone with him to see an exhibition of Charles M. Russell's work when it was being displayed at the local university in Corpus Christi. Ezra had enjoyed the exhibit just as much, if not more, than Vin had.

"The mantel, I think." Levon's statement came out as more of a question.

"Will look good with the guns you have mounted there." Joe nodded, eyes warm. "Goes with the overall theme."

Vin couldn't really remember what happened after that. As he finished shaving, cleaning his razor, he smiled thinking that all he had wanted was to get to Ezra's room and generate the same sort of heat he'd seen between Joe and Levon. He had no idea what Buck and JD did with the rest of the night, and honestly didn't care because slipping off to Ezra's bedroom had been his top priority. Trying out the sunken tub had been a wonderful bonus.

He padded back into the bedroom. Vin smiled seeing Ezra curled up around the pillow he'd been sleeping on. A quick glance at the clock confirmed what he already knew; it was still early enough no one else was probably up and about yet.

Vin slid back into bed, deftly removing the pillow from Ezra's grasp. Sleepy green eyes blinked up at him, a soft smile curling his lips. Vin loved that look, knowing full well very few people had the luxury of seeing Ezra so relaxed, so open, so damn glad to see them.

Unbidden Vin's right hand rose to caress Ezra's cheek. Absentmindedly, he wondered yet again why his lover's face never sported the same morning stubble that seemed to forever grace his own. The satin smooth texture of Ezra's skin never failed to enthrall him. He was very glad he'd taken time to shave, not wanting to mar that incredibly warm and inviting surface.

"What time is it?" Ezra asked, nuzzling Vin's hand, placing a kiss in his palm.

"Plenty early." Vin grinned. "We got time for a little bit of lovin'."

Ezra's eyes lit up. "Do we now?"

Vin shuddered at Ezra's tone, knowing what it meant; a bout of mind-blowing sex that would leave him unable to speak coherently or move for a long time. He leaned in to taste the smile, aware that despite being first thing in the morning Ezra's mouth would still be as sweet as fresh peaches. Vin had long since acknowledged an addiction to Ezra's mouth, an addiction he had no desire to ever be cured of. Damn good thing that door is locked. Might just be here all day.

Ezra's hands moved to cup his face for a moment before fingers moved to card through hair. Vin moaned softly. Before meeting Ezra he never would have thought someone playing with his hair would be so erotic. Vin was almost convinced that under the right circumstances he could probably come from that touch alone.

"You shaved." Ezra's pleased statement came out barely above a whisper when the need for air broke their kiss.

"Yep." The hoarseness of his own voice surprised him.

Ezra's smiled warmed him right down to his toes. Green eyes met blue and held them easily. "I love you, Vin Tanner."

"Love you, Ezra Standish."

Ezra turned his head to lightly nibble on Vin's earlobe. "You want to spend some time proving that sentiment to each other?"

Vin chuckled, a deep, raspy sound. It was the same question Ezra had asked him last night. "Thought you'd never ask."

He hoped whatever hell the rest of house had planned it wouldn't include them for at least a few hours. Nothing short of the house burning down around him or blowing up was going to get him to leave this bed and Ezra's arms.

<:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:>

JD yawned as he made his way to the kitchen. He rubbed at his eyes tiredly. It was far earlier than he usually got up, but sleeping any more was simply out of the question. Not that I really was sleeping anyway.

He sniffed in appreciation at the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. A cup would be most welcome. With how quiet the house was, JD expected to find the pot on some sort of automatic timer. He was honestly startled to see Levon pouring himself a cup.

"Mornin', JD." Levon saluted him with his mug.

"Morning." JD spotted a wooden tree on the counter that held more mugs. "You mind if I have a cup?"

"Help yourself." Levon pointed with his chin toward where not one, but two coffee pots sat on the counter. "Unless you like it strong and bitter, you'll be wantin' a cup from the pot on the right."

JD frowned. "You have two pots?"

Levon chuckled. "Less arguments that way."

JD shrugged, taking Levon's advice and pouring a cup from the pot on the right. It wasn't like there weren't multiple pots at Camp AWOL. And god knows Vin's coffee is like road tar.

"There's cream in the fridge if ya need it and the sugar is in the small bowl next to the pot."

"Thanks." JD reached for the sugar, forgoing cream, liking his coffee dark and sweet.

"Yer up kinda early." Levon's observation came out with a decidedly neutral tone, leaving it up to JD to respond with an explanation or not. JD froze for a moment, caught off guard by just how much like Ezra the blond sounded. He wondered if he'd ever master the ability to ask a question without really asking a question.

JD pursed his lips and opted for honesty since he was a lousy liar and he really wanted to talk to someone. Trying to figure things out on his own simply wasn't working. "Didn't sleep well," JD admitted.

"Room didn't suit ya?" Levon asked, looking genuinely concerned.

"No, no, the room is fine."

"Somethin' else then?" The question was gentle, not prying.

JD bit his lower lip. He didn't even know where to start. He was surprised to see Levon smile slightly, lips quirking upward behind his coffee cup as he sipped it.

"Question ain't that hard. Trust me. No right or wrong answer here."

JD grimaced. "Not so sure about that."

Levon arched an eyebrow. He pushed his chair away from the table. "C'mon."


"The stable." Levon held up his cup. "Bring yer coffee with you." A quick grin lit the older man's face. "I take 'em with me all the time. Wouldn't be a problem if I remembered to bring 'em back. Reckon there's more mugs out there some days than in here."

JD chuckled. Ezra was just as prone to leaving coffee mugs scattered about. It was an odd character trait for someone who normally seemed to be so on top of where his possessions were. But then, unlike Chris or Josiah, Ezra didn't seem to have a favorite mug or one with any sentimental significance. JD realized the mug he held was heavy, well made, but otherwise nondescript.

He followed the Texan out the back door. The stable looked like something that would have been right at home in Boston where JD had grown up. The heavy oak beams and brick center aisle made the structure seem far older than it probably really was.

Several horses nickered in greeting, heads bobbing over the doors, ears perked attentively. Levon greeted each as he moved through the stable, saying hello like he was talking to old friends, hand scratching behind ears or rubbing noses. JD smiled remembering riding lessons he'd gotten at the military academy. Being on the drill team and working in the stables was the only thing from his school days that he missed.

Levon placed his mug on a shelf near what JD guessed was the tack room. He smiled seeing three others already on the shelf. Levon just shrugged. "They'll get back ta the house eventually."

He headed for several bins lining the far wall. Using a coffee can Levon filled two buckets with oats. He handed one to JD. "Each horse gets about two cups. They aren't workin' much right now so this is jus' a little treat for 'em. We'll be turnin' most of 'em out in the near pasture when their done eatin'."

JD nodded, placing his mug next to Levon's. "Why not all of them?"

"Figured you boys might want to go ridin' later." Levon executed a graceful one shoulder shrug that JD had seen Ezra do many times. "Be easier to jus' leave 'em in than try roundin' them up later."

It didn't take long for the horses to finish of the small ration of grain they'd been given. Following Levon's direction, JD opened the far doors, opening the barn into wooden fenced paddock. He could see the far gate was open leading into the pasture the Texan had mentioned.

Levon opened the stall doors for the draft team first. The two larger horses moved out, in step like they were yoked together, heading calmly for the far gate. "Always release them first," Levon explained. "Mike and Ike are too old ta put up with the foolishness the younger ones get into when ya let 'em out."

JD nodded. He was familiar with the way spirited animals could jostle one another, or how more aggressive ones would attempt to assert their position trying to physically dominate those of a more timid nature. As old as Levon had indicated Mike and Ike were, despite their size, they could still get hurt.

Levon released several Quarter horses next, then the Morgans and finally the Foxtrotter. They all moved easily through the open door jostling a bit for position, heading for the pasture. It was a routine they were all obviously familiar with. In a few minutes there were only five horses left; two bays, a gray, a sorrel and a roan.

"Won't we need six?" JD asked.

Levon shook his head. "Joe don't like to ride. Don't really care for horses much at all truth be told." The blond retrieved a wheelbarrow and two pitchforks, placing the wheelbarrow between two stalls, he handed one of the pitchforks to JD. "We'll start at one end and work our way around."

JD nodded. He'd mucked out stables before. Given how neat and tidy the rest of the stable appeared JD figured there likely wasn't much to clean out except for what had been left the night before.

"Does it bother you that Joe doesn't like horses?"

"No reason it should."

"But it's obvious that they are more than just a hobby for you." JD hesitated, the care and attention, not to mention the money that had to have gone into the beautiful animals he'd seen was considerable. "I mean I would have thought-"

"That he and I share everythin'? Spend all our time together?" Levon smiled, stopping to look at him for a brief moment before going back to work. "Everybody figures out what makes a happy medium, JD. Not spendin' every minute o' the day together gives us stuff ta talk about when we are together. I fell in love with the man for who he is…don't really see any need to change him. Don't think he feels the need to change me either."

JD nodded, working to finish cleaning the stall he was in, fork fluffing the bedding. At first glance Joe and Levon didn't seem to have much in common, and yet he was beginning to see they balanced each other nicely. He was starting to see the same thing in Vin and Ezra.

"Can I ask you a personal question?" JD kept working, not quite sure he wanted to make eye contact.

"Sure." Levon answered easily, stepping out of the stall, and moving the wheel barrow to center it between the next two.

"When did you know you were into guys?" JD glance up shyly. He could feel his face heating, embarrassed about asking such an intimate question but unable to not ask.

Levon seemed to consider the question and didn't look at all fazed by it. "Guess it would a been 'bout the time I turned sixteen and realized I was more interested in spendin' time with my best friend, Bobby, than any o' the girls from school."

JD blinked. Sixteen seemed awfully young to know so much about yourself. He was twenty-three and couldn't be that sure of his preference even now. He'd thought he had it all figured out. Had always found women interesting, appealing. But then he joined the team, had met Buck Wilmington, and suddenly there was so much more to consider, options he'd never even given a thought. Suddenly it didn't seem like he knew himself that well at all.

The blond gave him a look JD couldn't quite interpret. When he spoke his tone was gentle. "Everyone ends up in the same place, boy, they jus' don't all get there at the same time, if you ya know what I mean."

JD nodded, feeling oddly reassured by that statement. Levon leaned casually against his pitchfork. "An' jus' cause I knew I wanted to do more with Bobby than play football didn't mean I knew how to go about getting what I wanted. Took some time to figure out the details."

"Did he…did he feel the same way?"

"Not exactly." Golden brown eyes darkened and Levon turned to continue working.

JD mumbled an apology, realizing he might have blundered into something better left alone. Levon stopped working to look him in the eye. "Nothin' to apologize for. Weren't your fault."

"I shouldn't have asked."

"I could have said no when you wanted to get personal." Levon snorted. "Only way to learn anythin' is to ask."

JD remembered Ezra saying something similar to him once about asking showing he was at least interested in learning. Still, it he felt like he shouldn't have been quite so forward. He opened his mouth to apologize again but Levon interrupted before he could get a word out.

"It ain't a sore subject, JD." Levon smiled sadly. "Leastwise it hasn't been for a while."

"What happened?" JD blurted out, curiosity getting the better of him.

"Me and Bobby were real tight in school. Hung out all the time." Levon did another of those one-shoulder shrugs that seemed so characteristic of Ezra. Golden brown eyes shifted to look out the open barn doors. JD waited, knowing whatever came next would answer his question.

Levon's lips quirked upward in an expression of grim amusement. "At that age…girls were a mystery. Hell, for the most part, they still are. They seemed to know, I mean really know what it was all about long for we did. We were both too scared to talk to girls much less ask one out on a date. But if we ever got the courage up the last thing you wanted was for them to think you didn't know anything."

JD nodded his head. He remembered feeling that way. Sometimes around Casey he still felt that way, awkward and shy, tongue-tied and foolish.

"So, we got to messin' around with each other. Was mostly just kissing and some heavy petting tryin' to get the experience we thought would help us figure out what to do with a girl once we got one." Levon took a deep breath and sighed softly. "Long as it weren't serious, Bobby was okay with it. Figured once he got a girl we'd call it quits. When he started askin' Caroline out, he didn't see the need for us to fool around anymore."

Levon shook his head. "Course about the same time I realized a girl wasn't what I wanted." He chuckled dryly. "Made the mistake of sayin' as much to Bobby."

Levon's gaze refocused on JD. "He called me every dirty name in the book, and tried to take a few pieces out o' my hide to prove how much of a man he was. Ruckus we caused got my father involved. I'd forgotten he was passed out on the couch sleeping off a three-day bender. When he found out what all the hollerin' was about, he held me down so Bobby could kick the shit out of me. Old man threw me out of the house afterwards. Haven't spoken to him or Bobby since."

JD flinched, feeling nauseous. Sweet Jesus. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, at the time, so was I." Levon expression turned wry. "But it actually worked out for the best."

JD stared at him unable to comprehend anything good about the situation the older man had described. "Hunh?"

"My old man was a mean drunk who was dangerous to be around even on a good day, so not livin' with him wasn't really a hardship. Wouldn't have minded choosing my own exit, but I was out and that was all that really mattered. Ended up living here at the ranch with my grandparents, which is where I was spendin' most of my time anyway. And neither one gave a tinker's damn who I wanted to sleep with so long as I was not hurtin' anyone or bein' hurt."

"What about your mother?"

"She died when I was about nine." Levon shook his head. "Don't think my grandparents ever really approved of my daddy, an' I can't say that I really blame 'em, but think her dying jus' pushed him over the edge. Don't remember him ever drinkin' when she was alive."

Levon smiled slightly. "Iffen things between me and Bobby had worked out, I'd never met Joe. Can honestly say I wouldn't trade one for the other."

"What about Ezra?"

Levon frowned. "What about him?"

"Did he have any problems with, well, coming out of the closet?" JD really hoped not. He didn't even honestly know Levon but it still hurt him to hear about getting such a brutal reaction to being different. Thinking of Ezra as a big brother it would be ten times worse to know he'd been hurt the same way.

Levon grinned. "Well I think it might o' been a bit easier on him figurin' things out than it was for me. He knew when he was thirteen that his cousin was queer and what that meant. Also knew his great aunt and uncle were okay with it. His own grandfather was okay with it. And by the time Ezra started thinkin' he might be leanin' toward being like me, I'd already introduced Joe to him as someone I was serious about."

The blond started working again. "Know there's been some trouble 'cause of it with some narrow-minded bastards…amazin' how many bigots there are in the world, but most of the family never gave him any problems. Thinkin' that makes it so the rest don't really matter."

JD nodded. He'd been so relieved to find the rest of the team was supportive of Vin and Ezra being together. If they were willing to accept Vin and Ezra then maybe his own mixed up feelings wouldn't cause much of a stir. Assuming of course he could ever figure out how to bring up the issue in the first place. Never mind the fact that JD didn't just want Buck to be okay with him being interested in men in general, he wanted the pilot to be okay with him being interested in Buck specifically.

And he wasn't even sure he was interested, JD reminded himself, mentally back stepping. He just had this curiosity. It was just an inane desire to know what it might be like to kiss his best friend, to find out what all those women found so appealing about Buck, to find out if being with Buck would be better than being with anyone else. It wasn't really a big deal. Simple curiosity. At least that was what he kept telling himself, although, he had yet to truly be convincing. God what a mixed up mess.

"These questions got anythin' to do with why you couldn't sleep?" Levon asked, making the question sound less like an inquiry and more like a statement of fact. It was another skill Ezra shared with his cousin, one JD envied.

"Yeah." JD kept his attention focused on cleaning the stall he was in unable to make eye contact.

Levon moved the wheelbarrow again, and then retrieved his cup of coffee. He brought JD's cup as well. Handing JD the mug, Levon asked, "Ezra the first gay guy you've met?"

JD shook his head, taking a sip of the still warm brew. "Met others…just was never friends with one before. Never really even thought about it." Can't seem to stop thinking about it now.

"Ah." Levon nodded, the sound somehow conveying more than simple understanding. "And now you are thinking about it a lot."

JD blinked, momentarily caught off guard to have Levon's comment so closely mirror his thoughts. Vin had mentioned the blond did that, but this was the first time JD had experienced it. He mentally shrugged before sighing heavily. "Yeah."

"Hell, boy, sigh like that makes it seem like the weight o' the world." Levon smiled at him the teasing note in his voice unmistakable.

"Seems like it some days." JD admitted ruefully, not surprised to find himself smiling back.

"I know the feelin'." Levon chuckled and moved to continue working, putting his mug back on the shelf.

JD shook his head. Talking to Levon wasn't like talking to one of the other guys. Chris wouldn't have had time or been comfortable discussing personal issues. Josiah would have been analyzing everything he said. Nathan would have probably cautioned him to be careful about who he experimented with if he was interested in trying out what he'd been thinking about and made him aware of the physical dangers of unsafe sex. Vin was always easy to talk to since he never passed judgment nor was he overly critical of anyone else's choices, but he also wouldn't offer advice or guidance. Ezra would have likely reacted much the way Levon had been, but JD was just too embarrassed to talk to his teammate not wanting to appear any more naïve than he already did. And Buck…God Buck was out of the question.

JD refocused his attention on the task at hand, leaving his cup next to Levon's on the shelf. He'd forgotten how much he enjoyed this simple chore. It wasn't particularly difficult or glamorous, but he liked seeing the finished product and knowing that he'd completed the job.

When half the stalls were cleaned, Levon emptied the wheelbarrow into a small mechanical spreader that sat outside, off to the right of the pasture. JD assumed the manure would be spread for fertilizer somewhere on the ranch. The stables at the academy he attended sold the manure to a local business that used it in making mulch.

As they resumed working, JD screwed up his courage to ask another question. "How did you…ah…how did you tell Joe you were interested in…well, you know?"

Levon shook his head. "I didn't tell him."

"But then-"

"After what happened with Bobby I was…well, skittish would be a good word for it."

JD felt his face warm, embarrassed he hadn't thought of that. Way to go, you bone head. The man just said his best friend and father beat the crap out of him, and you think he just walked up to Joe and said "Hey, baby, you wanna?" You are such an IDIOT.

"Boy, don't be getting yourself all twisted up in knots over there." Levon's soft admonishment pulled JD from his thoughts.

"I'm sorry."

Levon gave him a stern look. "Already told you before there isn't anythin' you have to apologize for."

JD frowned. "You don't think my sticking my foot into my mouth all the way up to my knee isn't something I should apologize for?"

Levon chuckled. "If you can live with embarrassing yourself, I'm pretty sure I can too."

JD's frown shifted into a scowl that he struggled to hold against his amusement. "Thanks a lot."

Levon winked at him. "Any time, kid."

JD was suddenly aware of how easy it would be to genuinely like the older man. It wasn't hard to imagine Levon Lundy as being a friend of his. "Vin's a real lucky guy."

Levon smiled. "Ezra's quite a catch."

"No." JD waved a hand. "I meant having you as an in-law."

He was astonished to see Levon blush. JD grinned feeling even more like he wouldn't mind including Levon in his circle of friends. He's sure not what I expected. Nothing like Maude.

Levon went back to work, moving with the same economy of motion and casual grace that Ezra had. "So your real question was how Joe and I got together?"

"If you don't mind telling me." That was close enough to what he wanted to know. Even though Levon had waved off his apology, JD was still reluctant to force the issue.

"Got a feelin' you're lookin' for something specific here." Levon gave him a sly look. "You keep askin'. Eventually you'll get the answer ya need."

JD ducked his head. Ezra had always told him he was incapable of being subtle. Guess he's right.

"Met Joe on a job and ended up getting partnered after that. He was green as grass in some ways and cocky to boot. Course I wasn't much better. Both o' us not much younger than you are now." Levon's eyes took on a distant look and he smiled fondly at whatever he saw.

"Joe looked good enough to eat first time I met him. Damn near bit through my tongue to keep from sayin' what I was thinking." Levon laughed lightly. "Course we went at each other like a couple o' rabid dogs the first year or so."

"All that emotion had to go somewhere." JD observed sagely, knowing he roughhoused with Buck more than really necessary simply because he liked having his best friend touch him and it gave him a good, innocent situation to make that happen.

"Yep." Levon nodded. "Could o' got ugly though."

"But it didn't."

"Not really, no." The blond smiled. "We got to be friends, but it was still nip and tuck there for awhile."

"You said you didn't tell him…but well, you obviously got together. So..what happened?"

"I damn near died."

JD's mouth dropped open. "What?"

"Job got hairy. Kind where you know you ain't gonna come away whole." Levon sighed and leaned on his pitchfork. "Ever been on one of those? "

JD nodded slowly. He was familiar with that sort of job. Probably more familiar than he really wanted to be, although, for the most part it was usually one of the other guys risking life and limb. His duties with the team focused more on gathering intelligence, surveillance, and how to get them in and out again.

"Joe was madder than hell when he found out I made sure he got a clean get away." Levon looked away. "I had to stay behind to do it, but I couldn't let them catch him."

JD winced. He had a feeling he knew where this was going, but having opened the can of worms he was hesitant to stop it. Buck's right…I really need to think before I open my mouth.

"Won't bore you with all the gory the details." Levon cleared his throat, weight shifting in a movement that wasn't quite what JD would call nervous but the tension radiating off the other man was almost tangible. "Not much I could tell you 'bout that anyway."

JD nodded. He already figured this wasn't related to the legitimate, more public work that Joe and Levon engaged in testing security systems. Testing a security system was hardly the sort of job that would get hairy enough to threaten someone's life. That was more like a game, one that let the players quit as soon as they got caught.

"Joe and a couple o' the other guys went rogue to come back in to get me. Others were pretty sure they were jus' going to bring my body back, but they were humoring Joe since he'd have gone in alone. If they had been a day or two later, they'd have been right." Levon shifted his weight again, hand tightening on the fork, knuckles going white. "I wasn't doin' so good by then."

JD couldn't help but think of Levon's observation as being something of an understatement. Coming that close to dying is more than just 'not doing so good'. Wonder how Joe would describe Levon's condition then?

"I'd taken a hit in the side." Levon's left hand moved to rub across his lower ribcage, a gesture JD was certain the other man wasn't consciously aware he was making. "And my playmates were none too gentle about lettin' me know they didn't appreciate havin' a good ole boy raid their party."

JD quickly understood the older man was talking about being tortured. He wasn't going to ask for details. That was definitely something he didn't need specifics on.

"Somewhere during all of that," the blond shook like a wet dog, ridding himself of what JD assumed were memories he'd rather not relive, "I came to the conclusion I didn't want to die with Joe being mad at me. Didn't want him to only remember me as snarlin' at him all the time. Wasn't so far gone as to be ready to tell him I might be in love with him, but I wasn't far from it either."

The Texan smiled a bit sheepishly. "Joe must have come to the same conclusion I did. Only he didn't have any reservations 'bout speakin' his mind. He made this declaration about bein' in love with me the second I woke up in the hospital. Said I scared the shit out of him, and that I better not ever do something so dumb again. Then he says if I was plannin' to get all idiotic and macho about another guy being in love with me, I was gonna have to get well enough to kick his ass first, and he was gonna make damn sure I got that well come hell or high water."

Levon shook his head. "Can still see him sitting there, next to my bed. He looked like nine miles o' bad road…don't think he'd slept in days, hadn't shaved, hair and clothes all messed up." The Texan laughed softly, golden brown eyes warm. "And he was still the most beautiful thing I've ever laid eyes on."

Levon fell silent seemingly having forgotten for a moment he wasn't alone. JD moved closer, raising a hand to nudge Levon's shoulder, thinking he should bring the older man back to the present. Levon neatly sidestepped his hand the same way Ezra often did, deftly putting space between them again, weight shifting to the balls of his feet.

JD made sure to look non-threatening. Ezra had relaxed his guard more around the team and he knew JD well enough to know he meant no harm, but Levon obviously hadn't known him long enough for that. He waited, letting the blond set the pace.

Levon made another of those graceful one-shoulder shrugs. "Sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry for." JD parroted back the words Levon had used earlier, earning himself a quick grin.

"Best get finished here. Joe'll have breakfast ready soon." Levon went back to work and JD did likewise, not wanting to ask any more questions just yet. Very quickly the only stalls left were those with the six horses Levon had kept in.

"Sorrel's name is Toby." Levon tipped his head toward the leggy gelding who was watching JD with interest. "He's a gentle sort. Won't bother him for you to clean 'round him."

Levon opened the stall with the gray. "This lady is Mattie. " He lightly slapped her hindquarters encouraging the mare to move to one side of the stall, which she did without complaint. "She's another gentle sort."

"You train them yourself?" Talking about horses seemed like a safe topic for the moment.

"Yep." Levon quickly worked around the mare. JD noticed that the Texan would periodically pat Mattie, letting her know where he was at all times.

"You sell any of them?"

Levon nodded. "A couple o' young'uns go jus' green broke and I can usually sell four or five finished horses a year. Not a big operation really, but it pays for itself."

JD finished Toby's stall, closing the door. "How much do they go for?"

Levon stepped out of Mattie's stall. "A finished quarter horse trained as a cutting or roping horse, but unproven…I can get anywhere from twelve to fifteen thousand. Get a few competitions under their belt and the price goes up considerably. Got a couple o' champions which adds to the value of my trainin'." Levon grinned. "Sold a filly from one for nearly fifty thousand once."

JD blinked. He knew horses were expensive, but hadn't realized just how expensive they could be. He mentally tallied up what sort of income four or five horses would garner. The ranch would indeed pay for itself.

"Those trained just for pleasure…might get anywhere from six to eight thousand. Always get a few buyers looking for a kid's horse, something they can go to the local fairs with. Worth it to pay a little more knowing you're getting a horse that won't run away with 'em or bite 'em. Morgans are good for general purpose…can teach 'em to pull a cart, do dressage, western or English riding. Even had a couple o' kids use 'em for jumpers."

The Texan moved to the next set of stalls. "Green broke is someone paying for the bloodline, so price usually reflects the potential there more than anythin' else. Don't ever bring as much as say a thoroughbred race horse would, but never really expect them to either."

Levon nodded toward the bay gelding with a blaze. "His name is Eddie. Make sure you watch he don't try to pin you up again the wall. He ain't mean…just likes to lean on you."

JD nodded. He was familiar with how horses could crowd a person. He worked quickly and efficiently, making sure Eddie knew to give him space.

The other bay kept fidgeting in his stall, earning a quiet reprimand from Levon. "Stand still, Chaucer."

"Chaucer?" JD raised both eyebrows. That didn't fit with the other names at all.

"Ezra named him." Levon laughed. "Up to me, I'd have named him Mud." The blond lightly patted Chaucer's neck, reaching up to scratch behind the delicate ears, a gesture of affection that didn't go unnoticed. Chaucer stretched out his neck, clearly trying to encourage Levon to continue. "Stupid pain in the ass." The tone belied the insulting words.

Levon moved on to the last horse, the roan. "This little lady is Fooler."

"Fooler?" JD leaned against the wall.

"Yep." Levon chuckled. "As a filly, I thought she wasn't going to be worth a hill o' beans. Jumped at her own shadow, and couldn't seem to learn anything. Thought about sellin' her cheap, but I jus' couldn't bring myself ta do it. Ezra kept sayin' she was going to worth the effort, said she was just fooling me."

Levon lightly rubbed Fooler's belly, something the mare seemed to enjoy if the soft huff of pleasure was anything to go by. "Took some time, but she turned about to be a damn fine cutting horse."

JD had a sudden flash of insight. "She's one of your champions."


JD grinned. He liked being right and it didn't hurt for Levon know he was paying attention. The chores finished for now, JD returned the pitchforks to the tack room as Levon emptied the wheelbarrow.

"Just so you know…It isn't necessary to wait for a life threatening situation before you screw your courage up to talk to another man about how you feel. Probably better not to wait for a situation like that, truth be told."

"What?" Levon's statement caught JD completely off guard. He'd thought that conversation was finished.

"You heard me." Levon answered he moved past him to close one of the large end doors.

JD grimaced. "I don't even know how I feel. I--"

"Sure you do." The older man neatly cut him off. "Or you wouldn't have even bothered asking the questions. Sure wouldn't have lost sleep over it."


"What if he gets all idiotic and macho?" Levon smirked. "He won't."

JD eyes the blond warily. "How do you know that?"

"Got experience, kid. I know."

"You don't even know who." JD shot back.

"Sure I do." Levon winked. "Tall, rangy looking fella. Goes by the name o' Buck Wilmington."

JD swallowed hard, suddenly feeling his chest tighten. "I'm that obvious?"

"Now don't go getting yourself all in a lather." Something of his sudden panic must have shown on his face.

"Why not?" JD winced when his voice cracked.

"Because this isn't anythin' you need to panic over."

"Right." The sarcasm laced in that one word would have done Ezra proud.

"Look..JD…you wanna stay in the closet, that's fine. I'm not going to out you."

"No," JD snorted, "you don't have to. I seem to be doing that myself."

Levon rolled his eyes. "It isn't obvious to anyone who hasn't been there himself."

JD took a deep breath and reined in his scattered thoughts. "You think Vin and Ezra-"

"If they weren't so caught up with each other at the moment, yeah, I'm pretty sure they'd know." Levon gave him a cheeky grin. "New love has a tendency to put blinders on those involved."

JD nodded. Vin and Ezra certainly had eyes for only each other last night. He wouldn't mind if Buck looked at him like that. A wave of frustrated hopelessness crashed over him. And who are you kidding? You know full well the only person Buck's ever looked at like that was a woman. Inez maybe, but not you. Not going to happen. Besides you don't even KNOW if you want anything to happen.

"Wouldn't be so sure your 'ladies man' hasn't played a round or two for the other team."

JD stared, surprised to have Levon responding to his unvoiced commentary. "How did you…" He waved a hand in dismissal. "Never mind."

"Joe dated women like they were going out of style when I first met him." Levon offered quietly. "Dating them didn't mean he wasn't interested in me…and it didn't mean he couldn't be part of an exclusively monogamous relationship. Buck isn't that much different."

JD sighed heavily. "I just don't even know where to start."

"I'd say the logical place to start would be to talk to the man."

"And when he gets all 'idiotic and macho'?" JD asked, dark eyes challenging the other man. It was easy enough for Levon to tell him what to do, he wasn't the one who had anything to lose.

"You call me." Levon held up his right hand in the traditional boy-scout pledge. "I'll come kick his ass for you."

JD stared at him. That offer wasn't expected. "You don't even know me."

"I know what it's like to be on the receivin' end when tellin' your best friend you love him goes to shit." Levon stated matter-of-factly. "And I know you are Ezra's friend. That's more'n enough."

JD was speechless. He honestly couldn't remember a single time in his life when he hadn't known what to say or at least had a few words at his disposal. And other than his teammates, he'd never had anyone offer to stand up for him.

Levon patted him on the back and headed for the house. "C'mon. Breakfast will be waitin'."

JD felt oddly lighter, like some weight he hadn't realized he'd been carrying had been lifted. He shook his head. I was right. Vin's a real lucky guy.

<:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:>

A morning spent riding had been invigorating for Buck. He'd forgotten how much he enjoyed being in the saddle. As much as he loved machines and engines, there was still something decidedly appealing about the feeling of true 'horse power'. The gray mare Levon had suggested he ride had a gait as smooth as glass. He wouldn't mind owning her, but there was no place at Camp AWOL for her, and when he'd casually asked what she might cost, Levon had simply laughed.

"You can't afford her." Levon sat easy in the saddle, like he'd ridden most of his life. Based on earlier commentary, Buck was guessing that the blond probably had learned to ride almost before he would walk. What was somewhat surprising was that Ezra was clearly just as skilled as his cousin.

"But if it's any consolation," Levon smiled easily, "I'm plannin' to breed her this year, so she'll be here for at least another two years."

"That mean I can come back to ride?"

"Sure." Levon's casual acquiesce hadn't surprised Buck. Ezra's cousin is a real down to earth sort. Not at all like Maude. Makes me wonder what Ezra's father was like.

Buck wasn't quite sure what to make of Joe. The Italian was one hell of a cook, and most of the time he seemed like a slightly older version of Ezra; cultured, articulate, well dressed. Be easy to mistake them for a couple o' candy asses except that I know Ezra is as tough as they come, and Joe definitely isn't a push over. Man can obviously handle himself just fine.

Buck was astute enough to spot several concealed weapons on Joe. The pilot thought it said something about his own life that he didn't find it odd for a man to be armed in his own home. Watching the man wield the kitchen knives while making some afternoon snacks Buck harbored little doubt Joe could lay claim to skills far more lethal.

Buck took a sip of water from the bottle he'd gotten out of the fridge earlier, leaning lazily against the counter. Since he'd called dibs on the shower, Buck was the first one to get cleaned up after their ride. JD was in the shower now, and if Buck had to guess, Ezra and Vin probably wouldn't make an appearance for a bit. He smiled to himself, thinking that the two of them were so much like newlyweds it wasn't funny. Couple o' bunnies in heat have gotten nothing on those two.

He was duly impressed watching Joe chop and dice vegetables for a snack platter. The lanky pilot was certain he'd lose a finger or two trying to do what Joe was doing. "Where'd you learn to cook like that?"


"What?' Buck nearly dropped his bottle of water.

"Culinary Institute of America." Joe laughed, turquoise eyes twinkling.

Buck pointed a finger at Joe. "You are an evil man."

"I know." Joe didn't sound at all repentant.

Levon padded barefoot in to the kitchen. He had on a clean pair of jeans and long sleeved t-shirt, damp curls mute testament to his own recent shower. Buck expected some obvious affectionate greeting between the two men, but Levon simply reached around Joe to snag a carrot. Joe reached out with amazing speed to lightly slap Levon's hand. Levon pulled back just as quickly, grinning broadly when Joe missed, popping the carrot into his mouth.

The blond turned to open the fridge. He frowned as he looked in. "We out o' beer?"

"Should be a case in the garage, Cowboy." Joe answered.

"You want anythin' else while I'm out there?" Levon tossed over his shoulder.

"Bring in some chicken from the freezer. I'll want it for tomorrow."

"Will do." Levon lightly patted Joe's shoulder as he moved past. Buck trailed after him, idle curiosity about the rest of the house and the possibility of a cold beer drawing him along.

Buck stopped in the doorway of the garage, eyes wide, a low whistle escaping before he could stop it. Sitting in the center of the two-car garage was a vintage Cobra. The cobalt blue color gleamed faintly, almost teasing Buck to come closer. He stepped over to the car, hand ghosting over the hood, not quite touching the mirror like finish.

Buck never heard Levon leave, unable to take his eyes off the beautiful machine in front of him. The clearing of someone's throat brought him back to himself as he was peering over the door to check out the interior of the car, wondering if he dare pop the hood. He glanced up to see Joe leaning in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest, an understanding expression on his face.

"Levon said you were out here falling in love with my baby." Joe raised an eyebrow, making the statement seem like more of a question.

Buck grinned, not at all embarrassed. "He's right."

Joe chuckled as he stepped into the garage. He walked over to a refrigerator that stood next to a deep freezer. Buck hadn't noticed either he'd been so wrapped up in the Cobra. Joe pulled out two beers, offering one to Buck before opening the other. He tossed the cap toward a garbage can that sat near the door, easily making the shot.

Joe reached into the car and popped the hood. Buck held himself back with an effort, not wanting to seem too eager to get a look. He knew his effort was wasted if the look on Joe's face was anything to go by.

Joe took a long swallow from his beer. "You want me to fire her up?"

Thought you'd never ask. Buck grinned. "Sure."

Joe opened the door and slid into the driver's seat, turning the ignition. Buck sighed as the powerful engine came to life with a deep rumbling growl that bespoke of lots of horsepower. He could almost feel eagerness from the car, like a dog straining at the leash. Bet she moves like greased lightening on the highway.

The engine was as clean as if it were right off the showroom floor and from what Buck could see the bulk of the engine was original parts. Bet good money he has it detailed regularly. A quick glance around the neatly arranged garage was all it took to convince Buck that Joe likely worked on the car himself.

"You always leave the keys in it?" Buck asked as he closed the hood, unable to fathom leaving something so valuable that accessible.

"Only here at the ranch."

Buck nodded. From what he'd seen the ranch was about as secure as Camp AWOL. The tall Midwesterner couldn't really see anything wrong with that. He realized some time ago that his view of the world was skewed by what he did for a living, and that it wasn't at all unlikely that other people suffered from a similar condition.

"You want to go for a spin?"

Buck nodded eagerly. He'd been dying to ask but didn't want to push. It just didn't seem polite. Hell, I already pushed the bounds of good etiquette by inviting myself here. Not sorry I did though. Two seem like real good guys, and I'm glad to know Ezra's got someone else in his corner. Vin too, if the way they've all but adopted him is anything to go by.

Joe hesitated for just a second, taking another sip of his beer. "You want to drive?"

Buck could feel his eyes getting wider. He hadn't expected Joe to make an offer like that, given how obviously he prized his car. "You sure?"

Joe smiled, getting out of the driver's seat. "Wouldn't have offered if I wasn't."

Buck grinned feeling like it was Christmas morning and he was ten years old. He might never own a vehicle like the Cobra, but being able to drive it was still enough a thrill for him. He would have left his unopened beer on the nearby workbench, ready to get into the driver seat, except for the look Joe gave him. Haven't gotten a look like that since Momma died. Feeling a bit sheepish, Buck went the fridge and put it back inside.

Joe walked over to the door. "Just let me tell Levon we're headed out."

"Okay." Buck sat in the driver's seat, hand's lovingly caressing the steering wheel. He settled into the seat, enjoying the cockpit like feel of the car. His eagerness to test the car made him glance up impatiently, looking for Joe.

Joe was in the hallway, barely visible through the open door. He was kissing Levon, and it was not some sweet, chaste good-bye peck on the cheek. Buck hadn't the opportunity to witness a kiss that passionate and intense in years. Joe had his lover pinned against the wall, hands buried deep in unruly blond curls. Levon had his arms wrapped around Joe, hands cupping and kneading the tight ass Buck couldn't help noticing earlier.

The pilot swallowed hard and averted his gaze. While watching two good looking men kiss like they might never lay eyes on one another again was decidedly erotic and one hell of a turn on, it made him feel like some sort of peeping tom. Accidentally seeing them was one thing, getting caught staring would be something else.

Buck fiddled with the mirrors, positioning them to suit him, trying to find something to occupy his attention long enough to allow Joe and Levon to finish their good-bye. Unfortunately, the height difference between him and Joe was not enough to warrant much adjustment or take up much time. He briefly considered turning on the radio but nixed the idea quickly. He wanted to be able to hear the engine speak to him.

Buck was pondering other things to focus on when the passenger door opened. He instinctively gave Joe a quick once over. If he hadn't been looking for it he would have missed the slightly bruised lips and flushed skin. Joe's eyes practically sparkled. Buck felt a brief flash of envy, wishing he could sneak a kiss with JD the way Joe just had with Levon, wishing he was the one looking so pleased with himself.

Buck's gaze wandered to the door where he could see Levon leaning lazily against the jamb. The Texan looked debauched even though the only thing about him in disarray were the unruly blond curls. Unbidden the lanky Midwesterner found himself wondering what it would take to make JD looks as self satisfied as Levon did.

He shook off thoughts of JD. "We ready to go?"

Joe nodded. He hit the button on the garage door opener, hand moving in a lazy wave that Levon returned. Buck backed the car out smoothly. They hadn't even gone twenty feet and he already loved the way the car handled.

"Might was well head out to the highway." Joe pointed in the opposite direction from the airfield. "Open her up and let her run."

Buck grinned and did as Joe directed. The only other vehicle that had made him feel this free was an F-14. Nothing else had ever accelerated so smoothly, so effortlessly, handling almost as though it were a living thing responding to his lightest touch. He'd never been so grateful for the straight stretches of highway that dominated this part of Texas before.

He glanced over at Joe to make sure the other man was okay with how he was driving. Joe had his head tipped back, eyes closed and was smiling broadly. Taking that as a sign Joe was enjoying this as much as he was. Buck pushed the accelerator to the floor. Letting the car top out was as close to flying while still earth bound as Buck had ever come.

Having satisfied his need for speed for the moment, reveling in the way the powerful engine purred, Buck backed off, letting the Cobra coast back to the posted limit. Even in Texas, in the middle of nowhere, there were cops who'd probably think nothing of pulling him over and rightfully so. Going a120 miles per hour was not something everyone should be doing. Last thing Buck wanted was to get busted for speeding while on vacation and in someone else's baby. And I don't want Joe to decide he made a mistake letting me drive her.

"How long have you had this car?"

"About eleven years." Joe turned to look at him. "If you count the time she was stolen while I was still making payments."

"Stolen?" Buck gave him an incredulous look. With the arsenal the man had on him and the general 'prepared for anything' aura it was hard to picture anyone taking something he valued away from him.

Joe's expression turned wry. "I was younger then."

He said that like it should explain everything and in a way it did. Buck nodded. It was hard to remember but there was a time when he was naïve and foolish, convinced of his own immortality and infallibility.

"How did you get her back if-"

"Levon and I were working a job together. Not long after we were partnered up actually."

Buck wondered if this was for the shadowy outfit they worked for or something legit. He refrained from asking not wanting to interrupt the story. He was fairly certain doing so might halt the flow of information completely.

"Our focus was on shipments going overseas without clearing customs first. Lots of trafficking in illegal goods. Everything from designer clothes to stolen cars." Joe waved a hand in a meaningless gesture. "We weren't interested in the harmless, valuable things. Our objective was to shut down the weapons and people but," Joe shrugged looking a bit sheepish, "the real upside of that case was getting my car back."

Buck chuckled. He could understand that. This car was definitely something special. The conversation from the day before prompted his next question. "So what's her name?"

"Levon calls her his competition." Joe grinned. "But I call her Mamacocha."

Buck raised both eyebrows. "Mama Cocha?"

"No." Joe shook his head and repeated the name, correcting Buck's pronunciation and inflection. "Incan goddess of wind and rain."

Buck wasn't sure what to make of that, but it seemed to fit. He really couldn't claim to know Joe well, but he couldn't see him picking out a common name like 'Mindy' or 'Debbie' for his car. The cobra certainly warranted a name with more finesse and style. The exotic moniker Joe had given her seemed appropriate.

They drove in silence for a few minutes. Buck contemplated the passing scenery, debating with himself if he should ask more personal questions. He had come here with the intent of getting to know this family of Ezra's. And while he'd learned a lot about both Joe and Levon there were still some things of a more personal nature he wanted to ask. Oh for crying out loud! You've faced down guns, bombs, and vengeful husbands…you can ask the man a question.

Buck flexed his fingers, tightening and relaxing his grip on the steering wheel as he thought about what he wanted to know. Okay, Buck, my boy, you can do this. "Can I ask you a personal question?"

Joe gave him a quizzical look and then shrugged. "Sure, you can ask." Whether or not Joe would answer remained unspoken.

"Have you always been interested in men?"

Joe chuckled. "Always? As in exclusively gay?"

"Yeah. I guess." Buck eased off the accelerator just a bit, his attention more on the conversation than the road at the moment.

"No." Joe made another one of those meaningless hand gestures that Buck noticed punctuated his speech from time to time. He figured it had something to do with Joe being Italian.

"Before I'd met Levon, I mostly went for women. Oh sure, I'd seen some attractive men, and knew I thought of them as good looking, but I wasn't interested in doing anything with them." Joe snorted. "Was too busy trying to prove how much of a man I was by dating nearly every woman I laid eyes on."

Another of those vague hand gestures appeared before morphing into Joe brushing back wind blown bangs from his eyes. "Don't get me wrong…I liked each and every one of them. Enjoyed spending time with them, but looking back on it, I understand why Levon thought I was acting like some dog in heat. Sure didn't give the appearance of really caring about any of them or that I had any interest in anything more than a quick, meaningless fuck."

Buck nodded. His own dating pattern was regarded by most of the team in the same way. Although in his defense, Buck was often friends with most of the woman he dated and they all knew that. He offered them a sympathetic shoulder to cry on, someone to call on if they needed their car fixed or the washing machine died, someone they could be with and know there were no strings attached. He flirted all the time simply because he thought every woman deserved to think of herself as attractive and worthy of attention.

Lately he found himself wanting those attachments he'd found so cumbersome before, to have the chance to focus his attention on one special person instead of seeing everyone around him as special. He just wasn't sure JD was ready. Nor did he think the younger man would believe him.

Thinking over what Joe had said raised another question. Having met Levon, and seeing how much he had in common with Ezra, Buck had no doubt the Texan was an all or nothing sort. Neither Ezra nor his cousin were the type to give their trust and affection easily. Buck had an inkling of why Ezra was that way. No one who met Maude could ever really wonder at why for long, but seeing the same traits in Levon was one more mystery.

Being able to divide his attention between looking at Joe and keeping his eyes on the road somehow made it easier to ask his next question. Buck was fairly certain if he were forced to make continuous eye contact he'd never be able to get it out. "If Levon thought you were just playing the field…how did you convince him you were serious?"

"Wasn't easy." Joe looked away, blue eyes focused on the view out the windshield, but Buck got the feeling he wasn't really seeing it. "I think for the first six months we were together he really didn't believe me when I said I loved him." There was a wealth of sadness and self-recrimination in Joe's voice that was easily discernable in spite of the road noise. "He'd get this look on his face. Can't quite describe it but it was like…this odd blend of joy and resignation. It was like I'd just offered him something incredibly rare and priceless, something he'd wanted forever, but I wouldn't let him touch it or keep it."

Joe's glance flickered over to Buck and away again. "I asked him about it once it was pretty clear we were going to be together for a long time, once he stopped looking like that when I said 'I love you'. He said he knew I wasn't lying…at least not to him, but he figured I was probably lying to myself." The Italian's eyes closed. "He might have had good reason to think that."

"Why?" Buck asked softly.

"He was badly injured when I finally confessed how I felt for the first time." Joe paled slightly, left hand resting on his thigh curled into a tight fist. Buck had a feeling badly injured meant something more than just a broken leg. That feeling was confirmed when Joe continued speaking quietly, "Thought he was going to die on me. Christ." Buck barely heard Joe whisper the curse. He could see Joe swallow hard. "Never been so scared in my life."

Buck wanted to offer some sort of reassurance but honestly didn't know what to say, letting the sound of humming engine and rushing air full the void. He'd been there several times himself, seeing friends and teammates on the verge of dying, and he had yet to find the right words that would make it all seem okay even when the crisis had passed. He was beginning to think there were no words for that. He shifted slightly in his seat wishing the road had more twists and turns so that he had something else to concentrate on.

Joe cleared his throat, eyes still closed. "Levon told me he thought I was confusing being terrified he was dying and feeling guilty with thinking I was in love with him. He…ah…he said that he thought once he was back on his feet and things were back to normal, I'd realize I'd made some sort of mistake."

Joe opened his eyes, his lips quirking upward in a small smile. "Only mistake I realized I made was in waiting so long to say anything in the first place."

Buck smiled, relieved to have moved back to a less awkward topic. "Happy ending all around."

"Sure seems that way." Joe's smile grew and he winked. "Got the feeling you are looking to find a way to write your own story here."

Buck winced internally, barely managing from keeping it show on his face. He should have realized the other man would pick up on his reason for asking. Why can't Ez have family that are dense?

Joe patted him on the shoulder. "Unless I'm way off base here, you got some pretty strong feelings for JD."

Buck sighed. "I don't suppose you'd let me plead the fifth here?"

"If you want to, sure." Joe shrugged, shifting in his seat to more directly face Buck, hands moving again to punctuate his comments. "But I really don't think you want to."

No, he didn't want to. Not really. Buck shook his head. "I'm beginning to think everyone Ezra knows outside the team is some sort of psychic."

"Psychic? No, not just no, hell no." Joe laughed. "Stuff like this is easy to recognize when you've been there yourself. You know?"

"I'm beginning to."

"So you're trying to figure out how to convince JD that you are serious?"

"Something like that." Buck pursed his lips, right index finger tapping the steering wheel. The first real hurdle was trying to explain to JD that he was interested without having the younger man take offense, or worse yet be disgusted by him. He sighed and wished he hadn't started this conversation in a confined space. Being able to pace right now would have helped tremendously.

"You want some advice?"

Buck chuckled. "I have a feeling I'm going to get it whether I want it or not."

"Good man." Joe grinned. He held up his fist and then extended the index finger. "First…do not wait for some life threatening situation to finally tell him how you feel. Aside from the baggage that goes with all of that…it could easily be too damn late."

Buck nodded. It was hard to argue with the voice of experience. And he hadn't really planned to wait for something so severe. Course, I rather doubt Joe planned to wait that long either. Let that be a lesson to you.

Joe held up a second finger. "Second…when you talk to him, and you will talk to him, be honest and straightforward. Don't bother trying to beat around the bush. He might be young, but he's not stupid."

"I know that." Buck snapped, angry that Joe would think he hadn't realized JD had a genius level IQ.

"Make sure you remember it when you talk to him." Joe didn't seem the least bit perturbed by Buck's outburst. He held up a third finger. "Last and most important…know what you want."

Buck frowned, giving Joe a sharp glance. "Come again?"

"Know what you want." Joe repeated, hand moving to brush his bangs out if his eyes again, turquoise eyes intense. "You can't be half-assed about this because you are probably only going to get one shot at it. So be committed to a course of action, otherwise you will only come away empty handed here."

Buck swallowed hard and unconsciously pressed the accelerator to the floor. What Joe said didn't surprise him, not in the least. It was the main reason he'd been hesitating for so long.

"What do I say?" Buck smacked the steering wheel in frustration, wanting some sort of physical release to compensate for his inability to find the right words. Realizing what he'd done he quickly sent an apologetic look at Joe and eased the car back down to the speed limit.

Joe shrugged and made a 'don't worry about it' movement with his right hand. "Not really sure I'm the best person to tell you what to say. I really don't know you or JD all that well. Probably wouldn't hurt to talk to Vin and Ezra. Two of them should have a better idea of what would make a good approach for both of you. I figure they'll know how to get the ball rolling for you."

Buck considered that. He hadn't really thought about asking his teammates. It wasn't that he didn't trust them or think they'd have valid input, but until recently he hadn't even known Vin and Ezra were interested in guys, much less each other. And he was hesitant to interrupt their recent newlywed like behavior. It didn't seem right to burden them with his problems when they were here to enjoy themselves.

"They would be happy to help."

Buck raised both eyebrows. "And you know this because…"

Joe laughed. "Because people in love want everyone to pair up and be just as happy as they are."

"That's a cliché."

"And no less true for being one." Joe pointed out with a quick grin. "For what it's worth…it wouldn't hurt for you to relax a bit. Take small steps and let JD set the pace."

Buck cocked his head. He was confused. Just a moment ago Joe told him it wouldn't be wise to wait and now he was telling him to go slow.

"Remember you want more with him than just a quick fuck." Joe smiled slightly evidently having no problem at all discerning Buck's confusion. "JD might accept and be happy hearing a declaration of love from you, but I doubt he's going to be ready for everything that goes along with being in a same sex couple. Give him a chance to get used to the idea that kissing a guy isn't any different than kissing a girl. You have some experience with this but I don't think he can really say the same. And the first time you do anything is always just a bit unnerving."

Buck nodded. Rushing into the physical end of things wasn't what he'd planned to do anyway, but it was oddly reassuring to have someone else confirm his idea was a good one. "How did you know I had experience?"

Joe arched an eyebrow, giving him a knowing look. "You mean aside from the fact that no totally straight guy has ever checked out my ass the way you did the other day?"

Buck felt his face warm. He hadn't thought the other man had even noticed. "Yeah, aside from that."

"You were totally accepting of Vin and Eza. Of me and Levon." Joe shrugged. "When you talked about Inez last night, you didn't sound like you were really chasing her with the intent of catching her. And you are just a bit closer to JD than a man with truly platonic feelings would be."

Buck blinked. He hadn't realized he was that obvious. Guess Ezra was right when he said I couldn't be subtle.

Joe patted his shoulder. "Don't worry about it. It wouldn't be that apparent to anyone who hasn't been there and done that." He glanced at his watch. "There anything else you need to talk about? Too much longer and Levon will send out a search party for us."

"I'm good." Buck was surprised to find he actually meant it. He felt better, more at ease and sure of himself than he had for a while. He still didn't honestly know what he was going to say, but he didn't feel quite so lost as he had before he talked to Joe. It was decidedly reassuring to know someone else had dealt with a similar problem and managed to work it out.

The crossroads provided ample room to turn the car around and head back. Buck was fairly certain he could have gotten the Cobra to spin on a dime, but he didn't think Joe would appreciate it if he made the tires squeal and burned some of the rubber off.

"You know, Vin and Ezra are real lucky guys."

"Yeah, I know." Joe nodded. "They have each other and that's pretty special."

"Not just each other…they have you and Levon too. Nice to know they got family in their corner." Buck was surprised to see Joe duck his head, clearly embarrassed.

Joe cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. "You'll talk to them when we get back?"

Buck nodded, letting Joe change the subject. "If I can get them alone, sure." He didn't really want to bring up how to approach JD if the kid was within hearing distance.

Joe grinned. "Leave that to me and Levon. We can keep the kid occupied for you."

<:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:>

Other than the sunken tub Levon has specially installed in his personal bathroom, Ezra's favorite spot on the ranch was the swing on the back porch. It had always been a great place to relax and unwind. When time allowed the back porch had just seemed to be a natural gathering place for the family before and after dinner.

The swing was big enough for three people, but lounging the way he and Vin were at the moment, it was ideally suited for two. They both had their right legs hanging over the side, bare feet easily reaching the floor to gently pushing to make the swing sway ever so slightly. Ezra contemplated what it would take to create a similar spot at Camp AWOL. Shame none of the barracks have porches, or even a deck. Wonder if Chris would mind if Vin and I renovated our quarters? I know Nathan has expressed a sentiment of making the compound look a little more homey. Perhaps some sort of gazebo. Hmmm.

"Hey." Vin 's soft call got his attention.


"Yer kina quiet, Ez." Vin's right hand lightly caressed Ezra's upper arm. "What are you thinkin' about?"

"Adding a gazebo to camp AWOL."

Vin snickered. "A gazebo? You mean one those little round wooden things with all the cut outs?"

"Not exactly." Ezra laughed quietly at the mental image that arose at Vin's description. A Victorian gingerbread style gazebo wasn't exactly what he had in mind. "I'm thinking more along the lines of a simple, more utilitarian structure. Something that provides some shelter from the elements and," he tilted his head to smile up at Vin, "a good spot for a swing."

Vin grinned, hugging him briefly. "Can definitely see where a swing would be a good addition."

Sharp green eyes shifted their focus to contemplate Buck as the taller man leaned against one of the porch pillars, half sitting on the railing. Under normal circumstances Buck would have commented on their conversation, made an observation or joined in their discussion in some fashion. Looks like he's a million miles away over there.

Over their late lunch Joe had managed to relay the gist of the conversation he and Buck had while they were trying out the Cobra. It wasn't particularly difficult for him to keep the details from JD. Joe simply switched languages to tell Ezra what he thought he needed to know.

Levon managed to convey enough of what he and JD had spoken about in the stable with just a few significant looks and gestures. Ezra was always impressed with how well his cousin could communicate without ever opening his mouth. He wasn't sure if Levon 'spoke' that well with everyone or just him.

"You going to ask Buck or you want me to?" Vin's softly asked question again recaptured his attention.

"You know what to ask?" Ezra pitched his voice so only Vin could hear him.

He felt Vin shrug behind him. "Might o' missed the specifics since I got no idea what Joe said ta you. But I caught most o' what Levon was tryin' ta say." Vin's laughter was whisper soft. "I'm good at readin' 'tween the lines."

Ezra smiled, not really surprised by his lover's perceptivity. He should have expected Vin to catch on to what Levon 'said'. And on the fact that it had to be related to what Joe was telling him. Vin was no fool.

In light of that understanding, it would have been hard to overlook how Joe and Levon subtly maneuvered to give them time alone with Buck. Levon had promised JD a chance to try out the colt Peacemakers he'd been so impressed with when he arrived. It was a simple matter of making an invitation and heading for the firing range they had set up on the ranch.

Ezra realized that Levon had probably talked to Joe at some point or his cousin would likely have extended the invitation to include Buck and Vin as well. Levon was skilled enough to make it seem perfectly natural not to include the others. I'll have to be sure to compliment him on that particularly well executed approach.

"I'll do it." He patted Vin's leg and then directed his attention toward Buck. He called out pitching his voice to carry. "Buck?"

Cornflower blue eyes turned to meet his. "Yeah?"

"Joe said you had a question?"

Buck took a deep breath. And then another. "Yeah."

Ezra shifted, sitting up straighter so he could face Buck more easily. He waited patiently, wanting to give Buck whatever time he needed to organize his thoughts and express himself. Ezra felt Vin shift behind him, one hand resting lightly on the small of his back.

"Joe tell you what all we talked about?" The question was hesitant.

"Not all, but enough for me to understand the situation." Ezra smiled slightly. He didn't want Buck to feel as though Joe had betrayed any confidence. "He mentioned Vin and I might be able to give you some guidance with respect to starting a relationship."

Buck sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, fingers moving to smooth his mustache in a telltale sign of his nervousness. "He tell you who with?"

"Yes." Ezra answered simply. It seemed better to take the straightforward approach.

Buck gave him a hard look. "Will it be a problem?"

Ezra arched an eyebrow. Might have let him think a bit too long here for him to ask that sort of question. "Why should it be?"

"Because you all think I'm a dog in heat humping the nearest table leg." Buck stood up and started pacing. "Because the kid deserves better. Because I'm just going to hurt him." Buck waved both hands in an expansive, meaningless gesture. "Because JD is straight and he doesn't need-"

"Stop." Ezra commanded, not raising his voice but effectively cutting off Buck's rant. "Just stop."

Ezra rose smoothly to his feet so he could face Buck. He saw Vin sit up, but waved a hand to motion him to stay put for the moment. "Buck…while I might not wish to play the field the way you have in the past, I don't necessarily see anything wrong with doing so, provided the activity is between consenting adults. I am sorry if I ever made you feel less worthy or valued by teasing you about exercising an option I have no desire to engage in. Please believe it was never my intent to belittle you."

Buck's gaze dropped and he looked embarrassed by his outburst. Undaunted Ezra continued. "And I would like to believe that I do not present myself as being so closed minded as to think anyone incapable of changing their behavior or adopting a new objective for their life."

"Me either, Bucklin." Vin offered quietly. "Figure you are as likely to settle down as the next man if you wanna. And you aren't the first one to switch teams ta do it." Vin raised a hand to lightly slap his chest. "Think I'm proof enough o' that."

Buck sighed. "Sorry."

Ezra waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. "I'm going to assume this is related to nerves." He gave Buck a sly wink before moving to rejoin Vin on the swing, giving the taller man room to pace. He knew Buck dealt strong emotions better if he had room to move. "Although you are without a doubt the last person I would have expected to be nervous about something like this."

Buck huffed out a laugh. "You and me both." He sobered quickly, pacing again, albeit slower than before, his tread less a sign of anxiety and more thoughtful. "Just that this is…well, this is important."

"Good." Ezra nodded firmly. "It should be." Vin's hand on his shoulder let him know his lover felt the same way.

Buck ran his fingers through his hair, turning to face them. "I don't want to scare him. Or worse yet, offend him."

"I really think there is little danger of either, Buck." Ezra shrugged one shoulder, resting slightly against Vin. "JD is hardly some shrinking violet."

Buck blinked. "But-"

"But nothing." Ezra snorted. "He's a grown man. Fully capable of handling himself or Chris would never have hired him." He made a wry face. "Mind you, I agree with Joe that going slow is probably the best course of action, but you don't have to treat JD like he was made of spun glass."

"I wasn't going to." Buck snapped. "I just don't want to ruin our friendship."

"Don't think that's really possible, Buck." Vin commented as he lightly pushed the swing in motion, putting one arm across the back half hugging Ezra to him. "You guys are tight…have been for a long time. That's gotta count for something."

Vin gave Buck an earnest look. "JD don't have a problem with us, or Joe and Levon. Kid is okay with the idea o' guys bein' together."

"Doesn't mean he's okay with the idea of being with me." Buck was quick to point out, pacing again.

"Well there is really only one way to find out." Ezra shrugged apologetically. There was no getting around that fact. "JD was talking to Levon this morning."

Buck stopped moving, frowning, eyebrows pulling together. "When?"

"Before breakfast. In the stables."

"About what?"

Ezra smiled. "If I understood Levon correctly, pretty close to the same thing you and Joe discussed."

Buck blinked. "Seriously?" The one word question was loaded with cautious hope.

"Seriously." Ezra nodded.


"All you really need to do is talk to him." Vin said calmly like he was commenting on the fact the sky was blue.

"But what the hell do I say to him?"

"The truth would be good." Ezra offered dryly.

Buck gave him a dirty look before he started pacing slowly. "Where do I start?"

Ezra pursed his lips considering the question. The starting point was generally the hardest part. He could feel Vin waiting for him to answer Buck. The former sharpshooter likely had an answer but probably felt Ezra's was going to be better able to articulate what he wanted to say.

First steps always are the worst. "Have you thought of simply talking to him the way you anyone else you are interested in?"

Buck snorted. "I can't use a pick up line."

"Do not be obtuse." Ezra rolled his eyes. "You only use those when you expect to be turned down."

Buck looked at him in surprise and then ducked his head. "Didn't think you noticed that."

"Buck, verbal communication is my specialty." Ezra smiled slightly, green eyes bright with amusement. "I understand more than just numerous languages. I can follow tone, context, nuance, inflection…it's how I know more than what is being said by the words alone. So I know when you are seriously making an attempt to get a date and when you are hoping to be shot down."

Buck laughed and shook his head. "You never cease to amaze me."

Ezra tipped his head in an abbreviated bow. He shifted his weight slightly to move closer to Vin, delighted with the simple fact that he could do so without experiencing any negative repercussions. He sighed softly. "Now, back to the problem at hand."

"Why can't you just ask JD out on a date?" Vin asked, his tone curious and oddly matter-of-fact.

Ezra smiled. "He already has."

"I have?" Buck blinked, staring at Ezra in surprise.

"He did?" Vin cocked his head to look at him.

"Many times." Ezra shrugged not the least perturbed by their incredulous expressions. "Every time the two of you went out to see a movie, have a beer, went to a ballgame."

"Those weren't dates." Buck argued. "That was just hanging out with a friend."

"I fail to see the difference." Green eyes met blue. "The whole point of dating is to get to know each other, to establish common ground and interests, to build a rapport that will lead to more intimate contact assuming of course both parties are interested in doing so." Ezra waved a hand in a meaningless graceful gesture. "You just need to up the ante."

Buck snorted. "Just like that, huh?"

"Yes." Ezra chuckled. "Just like that."


"Vin wasn't far off."

"I wasn't?"

"No you weren't." Ezra patted Vin's thigh offering his lover reassurance, while his eyes remained focused on the tall pilot. "Buck, you need to formally ask JD out. To let him know you are genuinely interested in more than just 'hanging out with a friend'. That you have intentions of taking your relationship to another level. And I really think it is has to be you who takes the first step."

"Why me? Why can't it be him that asks?"

"Because you know the way." Ezra smiled slightly, choosing to overlook the near plaintive quality of Buck's questions. "JD is far too worried about losing his place with the team, about losing your friendship. It is unlikely that he will take the initial step without some indication from you that you want him too."

Buck nodded and sighed quietly. "I get that." He made a wry face. "Just don't know how."

"Sure you do. Ya do it all the time." Vin grinned. "Ya jus' got to stop thinkin' of JD as being any different than anyone else you've ever been interested in."

"Vin's right." Ezra nodded. "You're over thinking this. Relax. Just be honest. Be yourself. That is more than sufficient."

"You really think so?"


Buck gave him a quizzical look. The twinkle in his eyes gave away the fact that he wasn't genuinely confused. "That a yes?"

Ezra gave an exaggerated sigh. "Yes."

Buck laughed. Ezra smiled feeling better at seeing the tension ease out of Buck's shoulders and stance. He felt Vin squeeze his shoulder and knew his lover felt the same way. Matchmaking wasn't exactly their forte but it was nice to know they could help out a friend in need.

"It shouldn't be too hard to arrange some time alone for you and JD while you are here, if you would like." Ezra made the statement more of a question, leaving it up to Buck. He would understand if the other man wanted to wait until they were back at Camp AWOL, in more familiar settings before undertaking his 'courtship' of JD.

"Joe and Levon wouldn't mind?"

"Mind?" Ezra rolled his eyes before arching an eyebrow. "They are matchmakers, Buck. Or did you miss they way they neatly arranged for JD to talk to Levon, for you to talk to Joe, and for us to be talking now? They will not have a problem with giving the two of you some time together."

Ezra shrugged one shoulder. "And neither of you were actually supposed to be here when this weekend was originally planned so I'm sure my cousin had something set up at one time for just the four of us that we can fall back on."

Buck flushed, ducking his head. "Sorry about-"

"Nonsense." Ezra waved a hand in dismissal. "If I really hadn't wanted to include you, no amount of insistence or outright nagging on your part would have been sufficient to induce me to bring you here." He winked, smiling slyly to let Buck know there was no reason to apologize or feel embarrassed. "You are welcome here, and I'm glad you had the opportunity to meet my family."

If Levon had said no to Buck and JD's presence then it would have taken some seriously dire circumstances for Ezra to even consider allowing them to come to the ranch. He would not trespass on proper rules of etiquette and force his cousin to allow strangers into his home, no matter Levon's continued insistence that it was Ezra's home too. From Ezra's point of view Levon and Joe had welcomed them with open arms so the issue was moot and not worth dwelling on.

Ezra really was pleased to have his coworkers meet his family. He'd been leery at first, uneasy with bringing the two halves of his disparate life together especially since Maude had made such a dismal representation of his family to his friends. Things going so well during their accidental meeting in the Denver Airport made him feel foolish for ever being concerned in the first place. It was oddly reassuring to know that Joe and Levon liked his friends, and that his friends liked the family he cared about the most.

"You think you could set something up for tomorrow?" Buck's question jerked him back to the present.

Vin laughed lightly before leering at his friend. "Eager are ya, Bucklin?"

"Shaddup, Tanner." Buck gave Vin a one finger salute.

Ezra lightly squeezed Vin's thigh in a gentle reprimand, keeping his lover from teasing Buck any more. There would be plenty of time to tease the other man once he mastered this hurdle. "I'm sure we can arrange to be gone tomorrow. Or would you rather it be arranged for you to go somewhere with JD?"

Buck rubbed his chin, fingers moving to brush his mustache. "Think it would be better for us to stay here."

Ezra nodded. They hadn't been at the ranch for long, but it was probably a more comfortable place for both Buck and JD than anywhere else in the area. And even though he's been talking to Levon, I'm sure JD is probably still uncertain. Being in a comfortable place will make it easier for him. For Buck too. Not like he would know the local hotspots first hand the way he does at home.

"I'll talk to Levon." Ezra smiled, knowing his cousin probably already had something in mind. Probably has ever since he spoke to JD.

"Thank you." Buck fidgeted slightly. "I mean it. Really. Thanks." He huffed out a sigh. "Not sure I could do this on my own."

"You are most welcome." Ezra's smile softened as his sentiment was echoed by Vin.

"Any time Buck." Vin rested his chin on Ezra's shoulder, fingers sliding down Ezra's arm to entwine their fingers. "Any time."

<:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:>

JD didn't ask the questions that were on the tip of his tongue when Levon casually sent him and Buck in one direction while he, Ezra and Vin rode off in the other. Levon had alluded to wanting some time with his cousin, and a chance to get to know Vin better. JD knew it wasn't his place to argue with that. Already sort of intruded enough. Hell, Levon hasn't had much time at all with Ezra. And I sort of thought the whole point of them coming to the ranch was for Vin and Levon to get to know each other better.

And a chance to spend some time alone with Buck wasn't something he was going to be upset about. Even though he suspected the blond cowboy might just have sent him off alone with his love interest on purpose, JD was comfortable with how it had been arranged.

Sort of figured Joe might go along with them, but given that he doesn't ride guess it was sort of stupid to think that. Maybe the four of them have plans for later. JD smiled thinking he might get even more time alone with Buck. It certainly wouldn't be a bad to spend the evening. His smile faded somewhat as he realized that he could still do something stupid to mess this up and then spending time alone with Buck would be agony.

Buck glanced over at him a question readily visible in his eyes. "Something wrong, kid?"

"No." JD smiled. "Just thinking Levon sent us on a wild goose chase because I can't see anything wrong with this fence."

Buck looked away, his expression vaguely guilty. "Yeah, don't seem to be anything wrong with it, but he did say it went on for several miles. Might be a break or rotted post somewhere further on." Blue eyes dark with an emotion JD couldn't name met his again. "You rather be doing something else?"

"Nah." JD grinned. The last think he wanted was for Buck to think he'd rather be anywhere else.

Buck grinned back at him. "Good."

JD took a deep breath and tried to just relax. After talking to Levon it all seemed so simple and straightforward. Now that he was here at the moment of truth, for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what to say.

"So what do you think of Joe and Levon?" It seemed like a safe place to start.

"Think they are good people." Buck chuckled, the look on his face bordering on being secretive making JD wonder what his friend was holding back.

"What do you think?" Buck bounced his question right back to him.

JD took time to think about his answer. "I think Vin is damn lucky to have them as in-laws."

"That he is." Buck nodded. "Nice to know not all of Ez's family is like his mother." The tall pilot cocked his head to one side. "You okay with them being a couple?"

"Joe and Levon?" JD raised both eyebrows.


"Sure." JD shrugged. He realized Buck was fully aware of his hesitation when Vin and Ezra announced they were involved, but his friend probably didn't understand the cause. Maybe it was about time he fixed that.

"You know, I didn't have a problem with Vin and Ez. I didn't think any less of them for being gay." JD lightly pulled the reins to bring his mount to a halt, dark eyes meeting Buck's sky blue counterparts. "I was just worried the others might…well, might be difficult about it. Chris can be…"JD hesitated not knowing how to finish that statement without upsetting Buck.

"I know. " Buck smiled, one hand waving in a dismissive gesture. "Known Chris a long time…and if it weren't for that, I wouldn't have known he could be so open minded about things. Man can be a real rat bastard at times, but he's still a good man."

JD nodded. He understood that about Chris. It was one of the reasons he'd stayed with the team. And while he could easily predict how the team leader would handle job related issues, he still wasn't quite certain of how Chris would handle personal things. Glad he was okay with Vin and Ezra. Real reassuring to have him take it all in stride.

"Nathan was really cool about it." JD shook his head, still somewhat amazed by the medic's matter of fact reaction. "Probably didn't hurt that he knew before the rest of us."

"Never thought I'd see him blush." Buck laughed. "Betcha he knocks good and loud from now on."

JD laughed too. He had similar thoughts when Nathan had confessed to them he already knew about Vin and Ezra, and just how he'd found out. "And Josiah…"

Buck nodded, still smiling. "Big man is always a hard one to figure out."

JD took a deep breath, sobering as he forced himself to be honest with his best friend. "Was worried how you'd act too."

"Me?" Buck's voice squeaked, looking as shocked, nearly stricken, as JD had ever seen him.

JD winced, biting his lower lip, eyes focused on the ground. "Didn't think you'd understand them wanting to be together. You're always flirting with woman and talking about what it means to be a-"

"JD most of that talk is just talk." The older man interrupted, the earnestness of his voice making JD smile inside. Levon might have been right about him being interested. No reason for him to make that statement otherwise. JD slapped his growing optimism hard. He didn't want to jump to conclusions.

"I know I tell a good story. Hell, I tell great stories, but you gotta know I'm not that shallow."

JD had never thought of his friend as shallow. Fun-loving, easy going, capable, gentle, an absolute wizard with machines, handsome, sexy as hell but never shallow. His concern that Buck might not accept Vin and Ezra had more to do with his fear that the pilot might not accept him. JD swallowed hard and knew he was going to have to tell Buck that.

He cleared his throat. "I wasn't worried you wouldn't accept them." JD winced knowing how lame that sounded given what he'd just said a moment ago. Somber dark eyes finally stopped staring at the ground. "I was worried you might not accept me."

"Accept you?" Buck blinked, brows pulling together in confusion. "Think you lost me."

JD took a deep breath and drew courage from his discussion with Levon. It was decidedly reassuring to know if this conversation went badly, he still had somewhere to go. "I'm not straight. Or at least I don't think I'm completely straight."

Buck cocked his head to one side, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "You don't think?"

JD scowled at his best friend, a blush dusting his cheeks. "I haven't really tried out being with a guy yet to know for sure."


JD wanted to ask what the hell that meant, but kept his mouth shut. So far things were going okay, no reason to mess that up just because he was impatient.

"But you want to try out sex with guys?" The question was genuinely curious. The small notes of longing and eagerness in Buck's tone made JD's heart hammer in his chest. God I really hope I'm not reading him wrong.

"Not just anyone. Not just sex." JD admitted, chin rising in a mixture of hope and defiance. He didn't want Buck to misunderstand him. He wasn't just curious about the mechanics or how it would feel to sleep with a man, he wanted more than that. More than just an experiment. A lot more.

"I want to try having what Joe and Levon have. Try having what Vin and Ezra have. And I want to do it out with you."

Buck blinked, mouth falling open in an expression surprise that would have been comical if JD weren't so focused on trying to keep his own emotional roller coaster from getting the best of him. He waited anxiously for Buck to say something. He tried not to read anything into the silence.

Buck's mouth closed and JD was fascinated by the way his throat worked as he swallowed. "Me?"

"You." No hesitation, no backing down.

Buck smiled, blue eyes brighter than JD ever remembered seeing them before. "You're sure?"

"I'm sure."

"You know what you're getting into here? Cause this ain't all that easy, you know?" The questions could easily have been misinterpreted as reluctance on Buck's part, perhaps an effort to dissuade JD, if not for his tone of voice. It was obvious he was eager to take JD up on his offer, but equally concerned that his young friend was fully aware of what he was asking him for.

"I know." JD made eye contact and held it, moving his horse closer to Buck. He leaned forward, reaching out a hand to lightly caress Buck's cheek. "I know."

Buck sighed softly, turning his head to place a light kiss in JD's palm, making the younger man shiver in response, feeling a sudden unexpected rush of heat. Never would have thought of the palm of my hand as hot spot. Guess you learn something new every day. Looking forward to what all Buck could teach me.

Buck tilted his head, removing those warm, tantalizing lips from JD's skin. "You know what you're doing?"

"I don't really have a clue." JD grinned unabashed.

Buck laughed. "And you think I do?"

JD shrugged, not really concerned. "I think we can figure it out together."

"I like the way you think." Buck leaned toward him, balancing easily in the saddle, hesitating for a second. "Can I kiss you?"

He blinked, considering the question knowing the significance of the moment. JD tried not to sound as uncertain has he really felt when he answered. "Yes."

Buck's lips lightly met his, warm and soft. The kiss was neither tentative nor was it aggressive. JD was surprised by the complete lack of awkwardness. The taller man's mustache felt a bit odd, totally different from kissing Casey and it tickled slightly, but JD didn't find it distracting or repulsive. He leaned closer, wanting to deepen the contact, thrilled that Buck let him, opening his mouth to sigh softly into JD's.

He was unprepared for the rush of heat that followed making him moan softly. JD couldn't believe how good Buck tasted, his tongue eager to explore the moist, hot grotto of his friend's mouth. What started as an almost chaste kiss was rapidly growing into something far more ardent and demanding.

JD bit back a growl of frustration when Buck's mount picked that moment to move, sidestepping away just far enough to force them to break their kiss or end topple to the ground. He raised a hand to lightly touch his lips, feeling a bit dazed. Man wasn't bragging when he said he was a good kisser.

JD only just barely managed not to preen when he looked at Buck, noting the older man appeared to be just as dazed as JD felt. His eyes were heavy lidded with unmistakable passion, skin flushed slightly, and JD was thrilled to know Buck was breathing just as hard as he was.


"Wow is right."

They shared a smile. JD licked his lips, feeling shy but not wanting to lose momentum. "Can we do it again?"

Buck nodded and nudged his mount closer again. He leaned in, tilting his head slightly, lips hovering only a hair's breathe away. JD's eyes unwittingly fluttered closed as he moved to eliminate that distance.

JD sighed when Buck nibbled slightly on his lower lip, as though asking for permission. He eagerly opened his mouth, more than ready to explore and taste again. Tongues dueled lazily, teasing and enticing. JD reached out to cup the back of Buck's head, fingers unconsciously tightening in the silky dark strands, trying to prevent Buck from pulling back even though the older man didn't seem inclined to stop doing what he was doing.

Unfortunately, their desires were once again were interrupted by their mounts. This time it was JD's horse that moved, stepping forward and sidestepping to the left. The move nearly unseated JD. He caught is balance, releasing his hold on Buck to catch the saddle horn to maintain his seat. He bit out a curse, just barely managing to refrain from roughly jerking on the reins not wanting to unjustly punish his mount.

Buck laughed softly, blue eyes bright with sympathetic amusement. "Horseback might not be the best place to do this."

"No kidding." JD snapped.

Buck raised a hand in a placating gesture. "Easy, kid."

JD hung his head. "Sorry."

"I know." Buck's tone was soft and warm, readily forgiving. "It's okay. Probably should take this slow, you know? Take our time…do it right."

JD nodded, taking a deep breath. He gave Buck a wry glance. "Didn't really expect to get this far."

"Yeah, me either." Buck ran his thumb and forefinger over his mustache, a gesture JD found enticing since it drew his attention back to those delectable lips and wonderful mouth. "Was really just planning to ask you out on a date and then take it from there."

"A date?" JD felt his eyes widen.

"You know…dinner, a movie, maybe a little romance. As Ezra would say, the opening gambit of the usual courtship rituals our society dictates we engage in." Buck grinned when JD shot him a dirty look. "I know you know. I'm just jerking your chain."

"So where were you going to take me?" JD gave him a sly look, dark eyes bright with a mixture of lust and laughter, his voice a little rough, tongue peeking out to wet his lips.

"Quit looking at me like that." Buck shuddered, sounding just a bit desperate. "We won't make it back to the house if you don't."

"Okay." JD agreed easily, not least bit repentant. He had a feeling this courtship period could be a hell of a lot of fun. "You still didn't answer my question?"

Buck blinked. "What…Oh. There's a nice restaurant in Houston that Joe recommended. Place called Andre's."

"This Andre's…is it an upscale place?" JD frowned slightly, considering what he knew of Joe. He didn't seem like the sort who'd recommend a place that would serve clientele dressed in jean and a t-shirt. And in all honesty, JD wanted their first date to be something more than a casual thing. He wanted it to be something special. "Only stuff I brought with me is jeans."

"Joe said he and Levon go there all the time." Buck shrugged. "Can't see Levon dressing up too much, so I doubt the place has a dress code. If you want something a little dressier to wear…Ez might have something you can borrow."

JD nodded. It would have to be Ezra. Buck and Joe were both too tall for anything they owned to fit him decently. And JD was too stocky for anything of Vin's or Levon's to fit.

"You going to borrow something from Joe, then?" JD hadn't noticed Buck packing anything more dressy than he had.

"If he'll let me." Buck smiled, blue eyes twinkling. "Figure with the wardrobe that man has there's bound to be something he wouldn't mind sharing."

JD grinned. He couldn't believe they were actually discussing dressing up to go out to dinner together. Together. As in 'on a date'. Man.

"You think Levon really expects us to check this whole fence?" JD was suddenly eager to be done with this task, ready to get back to the house, clean up and go out on his first date with Buck.

Buck laughed. "No, kid, I think this fence was nothing but a red herring."

"Cool." JD grinned, wagging his eyebrows. "You wanna head back?"

Buck gave him a sly look. "You going to need help washing your back?"

"Maybe." JD batted his eyes. "But that'll have to wait for another night."

Buck grinned and winked. "Knowing there's going to be a next is almost as good as there is going to be a now."

JD cocked his head, deciphering that sentence, grinning when he got it. He hadn't expected Buck to feel that way…the same way he did. This is going to be an interesting first date. And I'm looking forward to it.

<:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:>

Levon sighed softly and settled more firmly against Joe. He loved being able to lounge on the couch with his long time love. It wasn't really cold enough tonight to warrant a fire in the fireplace, but Levon had started one anyway, enjoying the look and feel of it. Somethin' about a fire just makes the whole room seem cozier. Nicer to cuddle with.

The blond smiled when noticed Vin and Ezra mirrored his and Joe's position. His cousin and his lover seemed to be just as comfortable lounging together on the other couch. For reasons he couldn't explain if asked, Levon found the similarities of their positions faintly amusing. God…we keep this shit up and people are gonna start mistaking us for each other. Can just tell people were twins from different mothers.

The look he got from Ezra told him his cousin knew what he was thinking and that Ezra harbored similar thoughts. They shared a smile. He saluted Ezra with his glass of scotch, getting a sly wink in return.

"Stop that." Joe whispered in his ear.

Levon tipped his head back so he could look up at his lover. "What?"

"Talking without saying anything."

Levon chuckled softly, patting Joe's right thigh. "Not like I don't do it with you."

"That," Joe placed a soft kiss on his temple, "is beside the point."

Levon grinned. "Right." Brown eyes shifted to regard the other couple again. He asked, "Y'all need a refill over there?"

Vin shook his head, blue eyes half closed, expression one of contentment. "Think one was enough for me."

Ezra sighed and sipped at his half-full glass with evident pleasure. "This is very good, cousin."

"At sixty years old, it should be." Levon pointed out dryly. Johnny Walker Blue didn't come cheap but it was one of Levon's favorites when it came to 'sipping whiskey'.

"Sixty years?" Vin blinked, looking at his empty glass and then at Levon. "This must o' cost a fortune."

"Life is too short to drink bad whiskey." Joe told him, his tone easily relaying the smile Levon could hear but not see. "If you're going to spend money on it, you might as well get something worth the money you spent."

"Amen." Levon seconded with a sip from his glass, reveling in the smooth, rich taste of well aged scotch.

Vin cleared his throat. "Was a…a real nice thing ya both did for Buck and JD."

Levon snorted. "I didn't do anythin'."

Ezra arched an eyebrow, green eyes regarding him with an unblinking gaze that always reminded Levon of a big cat. "The hell you didn't."

Joe hugged him. He could feel his lover's deep rumbling chuckle as well as hear it. "Face it, Cowboy, you played matchmaker. Just admit it."

Levon scowled. "It wasn't like I did it all by myself, boy."

"And there were the clothes." Ezra continued to stare at him. "I seriously doubt you just had silk shirts, dress slacks, and suit coats lying around that would fit them both perfectly or ideally match their respective coloring."

Levon sighed, feeling his cheeks warm. "Reckon the first date should oughta be somethin' special."

"How'd ya know their sizes?"

Joe shrugged behind him. "First day you were here…when all four of you went riding that morning, I checked their clothes for sizes. Put in an order with my tailor and picked them up the next day."

"Real confident weren't ya?" Vin asked with a cheeky grin.

Levon made a wry face. "Shit, boy…Only way ya could o' missed the way they was jonesing for each other was to be deaf, dumb and blind." He grinned. "Or so damn in love yourself you never looked at anyone else."

Vin flipped him a one finger salute. Levon returned the gesture, his sly smile making it clear he felt no real hostility. "Right back at ya, kid."

"Fight nice children."

Ezra and Levon both laughed at Joe's admonishment. "You sound like Legs."

Vin raised both eyebrows. "Legs?"

"Carol." Levon explained with vague hand gesture. "She's on our team. Real nice lady with a great pair o' legs and a tendency ta sound a bit like an overworked mother."

"Your team?" Vin's jaw tightened.

Ezra reached to capture one of Vin's hands, interlacing their fingers. "Not that team, Vin." He brought their joined hands to his lips, kissing Vin's knuckles softly. "She works in the office in Houston and helps test security systems."

Levon felt a flash of regret for having so carelessly mentioned something that ruined the relaxed, contented look Vin had been wearing. It had been an innocent comment, but there was so much about their lives that was far from innocent. Kid's handled the whole thing better than I really thought would. Course he hasn't had to handle Ezra on a mission since they got together. No way that ain't going to be ugly.

He sighed silently, regretting the fact that he couldn't allow Vin to join. Ezra would skin him alive if he did. And rightfully so. But he knew first hand what it was like to have his lover off on a mission without him. He and Joe rarely went without each other anymore, having earned that particular concession, but the few times Joe had gone without him had been absolute agony. He really couldn't decide if it would be better or worse for Vin since the younger man didn't have a clear idea of what it was they did or why.

Joe's arms tightened around him. His lover bent his head to lay his cheek against Levon's. "It'll be okay, Cowboy. We'll make sure of it." The whispered promise made him feel a bit better.

"Do you think Buck and JD are enjoying themselves?" Ezra mused once more drawing attention back to safer ground.

"Would be hard not to enjoy Andre's." Joe responded.

"It a nice place?" Vin asked, sounding openly curious.

"Yep." Levon smiled noticing that Vin had continued to hold Ezra's hand. "Food's not as good as Joe's but the ambiance o' the place makes almost makes up for that."

Joe chuckled. "Not as good as mine, Cowboy?"

"Nope. Close," he held up one hand, thumb and forefinger about an inch apart, "but not quite there." Levon knew he was a bit biased where Joe's cooking was concerned. And while he didn't mind eating out, he definitely preferred eating at home. It was nice to have quiet time together, jus the two of them, able to talk about nothing or everything without having to worry about interruptions or someone overhearing something they shouldn't.

"You think they'll be able to go the distance?" Joe tossed out the question, clearly expecting Vin or Ezra to answer.

"It's possible." Ezra sipped his scotch thoughtfully. "Buck, while something of a light-hearted, happy-go-lucky sort, has a surprising amount of depth to him. He is not one to give his heart away without due consideration. And I do not think he's would have undertaken wooing JD without being fully aware of the consequences of the outcome, good or bad."

He took another sip of his drink, sighing softly, settling more deeply into Vin's embrace. "And JD…that boy is loyal to a fault. I think he's loved Buck for a long time and just didn't realize it until now."

Vin seemed to nod to himself, agreeing with Ezra. "Hard ta say they'll make it…but at least they'll have tried. Think that's what's really important."

"Think yer right, Vin." Levon raised his drink slightly, considering the amber liquid remaining in the glass. "Gotta feelin' that they'll do okay. Reckon it can't really turn out any way but all right."

Ezra arched an eyebrow. "And you reckon this because?"

"They got themselves some damn fine friends." Levon grinned. "And they got family. That's enough ta see you through anything."

Ezra raised his glass in salute. Levon mirrored the gesture and together they finished their remaining scotch. He took a deep breath, and reluctantly pulled himself away from Joe, moving to get up. He didn't look for Buck or JD to be back until very late, or more accurately, very early.

No point in spending my entire evening here on the couch. Not when I could be doing better things with it. He held out a hand to his lover once he'd gained his feet.

"You boys bank the fire when 'fore ya go ta bed, will ya?"


Joe shook a finger at them. "Don't stay up too late."

"We won't." Vin and Ezra answered in a sing-song voice together making Levon laugh lightly.

He was real glad they'd come to visit. Wonder how long it'll take until I can convince them to do this again. Hmmmm…may have to see about taking a trip to Camp AWOL if I can't get 'em to come here.

At the moment, that could wait. There were still a few more days to be enjoyed. And he had a very handsome man who needed to be ravished as a reward for all his hard work so far. Pretty damn sure we won't be the only couple in this house doing the wild thing.

He chuckled. One quick glance back in the living room at Vin and Ezra still on the couch told him they'd already forgotten he and Joe were even around. Joe gave him a questioning look.

Levon pointed toward the younger couple with a small tip of his head. "You remember being like that?"

"Remember?" Turquoise eyes twinkled. "Cowboy…we are still like that."

"Amen." Levon gave his long time lover a light kiss, one that promised of more to come. He flirtatiously looked up at Joe from under lowered lashes. "You wanna prove it to me?"

"Oh…definitely." Joe's voice dipped into a husky whisper that made Levon shiver in response.

Levon patted Joe's ass, before reaching to flip on the small hall light that would illuminate the foyer enough to help Buck and JD find their way through the house when they returned. "Last think I want is for you to come outta our room, guns at the ready 'cause the two o' them tripped coming in through the front door." He gave Joe a sly wink. "Specially since you're likely ta be naked."

"You're damn right I'm likely to be naked." Joe urged him down the hall with a firm grip on his arm. "And I don't intend to be the only one."

"Yes." Levon answered vehemently. "Not just yes, hell yes."

As usual, several heated kisses were exchanged slowing their progress to their ultimate destination. Once there, the door was firmly closed, barring any unwanted interruptions. Playing matchmaker for Buck and JD might have been fun, and taking time to appreciate Vin and Ezra as a couple was nice, but it was time to enjoy the match they'd made with each other years ago.