Hazel '03: Pretense

He felt the hand on his back, moving in a slow caress along his shoulder. Soft kisses laid against his neck, and he sighed in spite of himself.

He didn't know why he kept doing this – to himself, to Chris. It wasn't right for either of them, but Chris would never admit that. As long as he didn't, they would continue on as they were.

The hand slid down to the small of his back and rested there. He felt Chris lay his cheek against his shoulder and enjoyed the feel of stubble tickling his skin. Chris had come to him tonight in a dark haze as always, just enough whiskey to make him sullen but not enough to make him violent. It was that delicate balance that always made the gunslinger weak, unable to stand alone. So he sought out his friend and they committed themselves once again to the lie that had built up between them over the years.

Buck was sure Chris probably knew the truth. Larabee wasn't the type to not know the truth, but he was just the type to refuse to face it when it suited him. And this was a lie Larabee wanted more than anything, because it meant he could avoid all the complications that could arise without it.

"Love you."

Buck squeezed his eyes tight at the sound of the words. Words Buck longed to hear more than anything else in the world. Words that, in any other circumstance, would cause Wilmington's soul to sing and his heart to swell. Words that could make him give up all the women in the world and lay himself at the feet of the man who spoke them, give over his life to his oldest, best friend, his long-time lover, his soul mate and savior and devil-spawn.

Slightly slurred, not quite whispered, not entirely untruthful words… but not truthful in the way they were meant at this moment.

Therein lay the problem.

Chris Larabee didn't love Buck Wilmington. Not in *that* way, the way that leads one person to give everything to another, to cleave and cling to and forsake all others.

Not the way Buck Wilmington loved Chris Larabee.

Chris would claim to – even sober, he would declare if confronted outright that he would always belong to Buck, body and soul. He would lay with the man and give himself over completely, and he would fight with and against and beside the man until his last breath. He would call Buck his own savior and beloved and dearest friend in spite of his newer, seemingly more simple and less-complicated friendship with Vin Tanner. If push came to shove and Chris was forced to choose, Buck had no doubt that Chris would choose him.

But it wasn't the truth.

It wasn't love for love's sake. It was simply a place to hide. It was… safe.

With Buck, there was no risk. Chris would never have to really get over the deaths of his family, which tore at the very heart of him, because Buck understood. Chris would never have to opening himself to someone and risk rejection because Buck had proven time and again that he would never, COULD never do that. Chris would never have to explain himself or his actions because Buck knew where they came from and why they arose when they did. T

he moods, the furies, the panic attacks that people simply thought were him being ornery or angry, Buck knew it all. He didn't question, he simply accepted and was there for whatever Chris needed – be it or a fist fight or a drinking binge a good hard fuck or a slow, gentle night under the trees and stars making the sweetest love anyone could have ever experienced. Buck was the calm for Chris' storm.

But it wasn't love.

Buck sighed as he felt Chris nibbling his neck. Oh, Chris did love Buck… but if Larabee was ever truthful with himself he would see it was the kind of love you felt for a brother in spirit, for someone who had stood by you through all the horrible times. For someone who loved you so much that you had no real choice but to respond. It was a friendship type of love, the deepest kind of friendship love. But it wasn't the love Chris would pretend it was.

It wasn't the kind of love he'd felt for Sarah, given freely and without reservation, without a history behind it or the expectations in front of it. Sarah had been *real* for Chris. And on the day of their wedding, Buck had both rejoiced and mourned, thrilled beyond words that his friend had found that special someone… and devastated to the core that that someone hadn't been him.

Before Sarah, Chris had never said those words to Buck. After Sarah's death… he had.

And Buck had mourned again.

Chris often said them now, but now Buck knew better. They were said to ensure he would never have to face the idea of never saying them again. The idea of finding someone else to say them to. The idea that to say them again… *really* say them… would mean putting Sarah behind him and starting over. With Buck, he didn't have to. Because after all, Buck had been there first, had been there during, and had stayed with him after. Even when they'd gone their separate ways for a few weeks or months, they'd always met back up again. And Buck would always take Chris back.

Because Buck loved Chris. In the way Chris pretended to love Buck.

"Know you do," Buck murmured softly. He felt Chris' body shift beside him as the smaller man drifted into sleep, and he sighed. Chris always needed this after, the confirmation that the lie continued on. That Buck believed him when he said it, so that in the morning he could believe it himself.

Buck could never take that away from Chris. His love.

He listened as Chris' breathing evened out into deep, restful sleep, and felt the arms which had been clutching him so desperately relax into a more tender embrace. Only then did he shift, turning onto his back so he could wrap his own arms around the man and tuck the blond head tightly under his chin. Their bodies would curve together comfortably, years of experience teaching them how to fit together in so many ways. Buck would spend the next few hours savoring the feel of his lover against him, the ghosting feel of having had him inside, and he could make believe… just for a little while.

"Love you, too."