Ash '06: Love, In Spite

When I retire, I swear I’m going to move out of the ranch and buy a place that has only two rooms.

That way when I ask him where something is, and he waves vaguely in the direction of the rest of the house – and tells me that it’s “in the other room” – I’ll know which room he means.

I am tempted to ask him if there is a specific room he has in mind that doesn’t already come with a label – like dining room, den, bedroom, barn. For all I know he carried whatever it is out there and lives in the eternal hope that I will fancy a merry scavenger hunt. Idiot.

Buck and I have lived the greater portion of our lives in tandem: going to the same college, signing up for the Navy together, moving to Denver, being partners for almost ten years, and finally lovers for the past six months. I didn’t think he had habits I wasn’t aware of, moods I hadn’t experienced, smiles I hadn’t seen before – and that’s not entirely inaccurate.

Now that he’s moved in, I’m gradually learning to adapt to certain changes; however

When you live alone, you know where everything is. You know where you left it last, barring early-onset Alzheimer’s, and you don’t have to spend ten minutes every morning asking yourself what you’ve done with the keys to the truck. The keys go on the dresser by your shield and your wallet. They do not go in the pocket of Buck’s jeans which have ended up tossed over the back of the chair in the den. That’s not where they belong – the keys or the jeans. A place for everything, and everything in its place. It’s a good motto. I grew up with it. It suits me and guarantees that I don’t have to search through every drawer in the kitchen to find the bottle opener.

We carried in the last of Buck’s boxes five weeks ago. A lifetime of being a bachelor meant that he’d never had to think about making a home with someone – and it showed. He’d accumulated a lot more crap than I would have imagined, though I didn’t call it crap to his face. Junk was the word I used.

I just can’t understand why he bothered saving some of the things he’s saved, and I’m not specifically referring to the dog-eared Playboys from the early eighties. Among the items of note: theater playbills from Vegas, concert stubs from our college years, pieces of old costumes his dancing friends once gave him, electrical cords to things he no longer owns, and outgrown t-shirts so faded there’s only guessing what was once on them. He had empty photo albums stacked next to boxes of loose photos. Now I ask you, where is the sense in that?

I guess I always assumed he only had enough to fit into his truck, that he could just pick up and move on at the drop of a hat. I guess I don’t see him now as any different from the man I knew in the Navy when everything we owned fit into a single duffle bag. I was amazed at how many books he owns.

Mercifully, He didn’t bring any big furniture with him when he moved in, save for his favorite chair and his dresser for the bedroom and a couple of lamps – one that I make him hide when we have company – but by the time we had all his boxes inside I was already feeling crowded. His boxes contained the evidence of years I hadn’t spent with him, a lot of things I didn’t know he owned, things other people had given him. Things that were to become permanent disruptions in the organization of my household. I know I sound like a hard-assed bastard but I honestly didn’t know if I had room for it all.

Unpacking all these unruly things was delayed for about an hour when Buck proclaimed that we needed to christen something. Typical.

This is Buck’s de-facto solution to everything: sex. I already knew that, but what I hadn’t known was that sex is also his way of commemorating special occasions. Any occasion, really. Waking up, getting home, having the day off.

The auspicious occasion of his officially moving out to the Ranch was not about to pass us by.

On a side note, I can’t say as I find fault with his method of celebration. We thoroughly christened his favorite chair before moving it into the den. I’m not ashamed to admit it’s quite comfy, no matter the position.

It was strange to be surrounded by all his unpacked things, blind witnesses to all the noise we made humping on his recliner, but I have to confess that everything appeared much more manageable in the shimmery haze of afterglow. I’m fairly certain that was his plan.

I know I was surly for a couple of weeks – big surprise – with all his stuff being underfoot, and all my stuff being moved around. I don’t think I ever said it aloud, ever explained to him or to myself what precisely was so unsettling about having all those constant visual reminders of such a profound disturbance in the strict order of my life. I can look back on it, but at the time I only knew that it was difficult for me to accept such a shift in my routine, all my routines. I think I’m the kind of person that accepts changes only if they occur in geologic time.

Buck tried to keep his belongings contained, out of sight, out of mind, neatly keeping himself and his things out of my line of fire. It was working well enough until the afternoon I discovered that he had four or five boxes unpacked and stored in the loft of the barn.

As much as I’d thought I disliked all the commotion of his shoes underfoot and his wet towels on the floor – and the fact that within a week of his moving in, he had misplaced every pen in the house – I absolutely hated seeing those boxes gathering dust in the barn. Were they things he really didn’t need or did he just not bother unpacking them? Were they things he hadn’t found room for?

It made me nervous enough to check under our bed where I found two suitcases, still packed, as though he expected to have to leave suddenly in the middle of the night. Everything he might need was right there where he could toss it in his truck and move on.

I had never felt guilt that crippling, even when he got hurt on the job. I hadn’t thought, hadn’t thought it through, that he might be waiting for just that – the night I’d get sick of him here and would kick him out.

It hadn’t occurred to me that I needed to make room for him, not just in my house, but in my life– and the boxes and the suitcases were painful indication of just how much I was keeping him out.

All his things packed and kept out of sight were just a physical extension of him keeping parts of himself away from me – because he thought that’s what I wanted.

Him keeping a distance that I was imposing on him.

And I couldn’t handle that.

I tore open his suitcases and threw his clothes all around the bedroom, over the bed and the dresser, littering the floor. It looked like an explosion in a Chinese laundry. It was wonderful. I went and found him and took him by the hand and told him I wanted him to unpack the rest of those boxes, damn it, and either throw stuff away or stick it somewhere – and that he better not ever think of packing a suitcase unless we were taking a fucking vacation. I think I yelled that last part.

Then we made love on the floor, all over his clothes. I have to admit that there is a certain genius in his penchant for christening things, even if it meant four extra loads of laundry.

Once again, afterglow yielded a certain insight: there’s a reason they’re called belongings.

Since then, I’ve gotten better about accepting his chaotic intrusion into the rigid order of my home. I’m giving him all the room he needs.

Buck’s ties belong hanging on the doorknob; his half-empty beer bottles are sitting wherever he left them last, his dirty clothes never quite make the hamper, and he leaves the butter tub out on the table – with toast crumbs scraped on the side – because this is his house too. And more often than not, the keys to the truck are in the other room.

Guess I’ll have to get used to that.

Now I take the time to remind myself that the fact of Buck’s jeans being in the house at all is a very good thing. I really shouldn’t care where they are or what he’s done with the keys, because it means that he’s here. He’s not here just for Sunday cookouts or Saturday rides. He’s not just here to crash on the couch.

I may grumble about having to search for the cordless phone because he’s abandoned it somewhere, or having to locate the TV guide – which only belongs in the living room under the coffee table, I’ve told him a hundred times – but then he wraps his arms around me and kisses my neck, and I am so glad that I have him here to disturb my life that I can’t speak.

If he ever stops leaving his dirty socks lying around, I’ll start to worry.

Little Things

I’ve been a bachelor my whole life, and ‘til they change the laws, I legally always will be, but I’ve had roommates. I had a roommate in college (who always smelled like cheese) and I had bunk-mates in the Navy (which is living a lot closer to most men than most men would care to) and I’ve been living with JD for the last four years. So – it hasn’t taken me real long to adjust to this sharing-a-home routine.

Except for the major difference being that Chris sure ain’t JD.

Never thought I’d miss fighting the kid for the remote control, fighting for the last piece of pizza, fighting for the recliner because he damn well knows my legs are longer and it’s my favorite chair and besides that he still owes me back rent from 1998. So there.

It should be, I dunno, easier sharing a house with someone I’ve known pretty much all my life. Until recently, me and Chris shared everything but a bed. We did share a couple of women once on a three-day shore leave, so technically we have shared a bed, but not, you know, just us.

I know his default setting is grouchy and he double-lines his trash cans and there’s a lot I will put up with in the name of romance, but I swear – since I moved in – I’ve learned that sharing a bathroom with Chris Larabee is like trying to put on a pair of wet jeans. A constant source of friction.

“I am not your maid,” he tells me, dropping my wet towel at my feet.

It doesn’t matter what part of the house he finds me in; he will bring me that wet towel as State’s Exhibit A, proof of the fact that he’s not my mother or my housekeeper and that I need to pick up my own Goddamn laundry.

“You know where the laundry basket is. Use it.” He’s so cute when he’s cranky.

And yeah, I know where the basket is, but sometimes I don’t think about it right at the crucial moment. Sometimes I’ve got other things on my mind, like the fact that Chris is in the kitchen in his underwear and I haven’t kissed him good morning yet. Or maybe he’s still asleep, so what am I doing out of bed? Who could possibly be expected think about wet towels at a time like that? These are life’s little trials.

I try, I do try to keep him happy. It was touch and go for a while because he drives me up the wall with the mandatory coasters on the coffee table and no eating in bed unless I’m eating him and the bookshelves with books lined perfectly flush in descending order according to height. Jesus – who does that? Sometimes I walk around and push a couple an inch or two deeper than the rest just to see how long it takes him to straighten them back out. I can’t help it.

Sometimes – and don’t you dare tell him I said this – sometimes he will know something is bothering him, but he won’t know what, and he’ll wander around with this little frown on until he figures it out. Then he’ll straighten something and suddenly all is right with the world. I just watch him and try to control my laughter. It’s way more fun than it should be to watch him look for his keys.

But when I first moved in, I really didn’t know if he could handle me being here in his life twenty-four-seven. He was a royal pain in the ass. If it had happened that he couldn’t handle it, well, let’s just say that to have gotten that close and then to have him tell me to move out – I would have done him one better and moved out of the country. I didn’t wait all this time for him to finally admit he’s in love with me just to have him kick me out of his house because I couldn’t pass his white-glove dust test.

He doesn’t really do that, but this is still his fortress, his territory, the only place he can relax. And he can’t relax if the pictures are hung a little crooked. Speaking of which – no, I shouldn’t say that. He’d never forgive me if I mentioned what else is hung a little crooked.

To be fair, I’m no slob, but I’m not military-rigid either. I don’t care if I can bounce a quarter on the mattress; there are much better things to bounce on a bed, and wrinkled sheets are happy sheets.

Times past, I’ve always kept my home nice for the ladies. You never know when you might have company, and I almost always had company, but I never cared if my jacket was on the chair instead of on the peg by the front door. I didn’t mind my boxers in the corner of the bedroom or my socks on the living room floor. No woman I ever knew minded either; I gave them plenty else to think about. And women, well; not all of them are homemakers. Some of them live like bachelors too.

Chris, though, he cares about these things, so I’ve been training myself to care, too. I know it’s the little things. I know a married couple that didn’t speak to one another for three days after an argument about how to load the dishwasher properly. Honestly, it had begun as an argument over dishes and had ended with a screaming-crying fight about how she was a harpy bitch who was never satisfied and how he had never appreciated or loved her. Doors were slammed; divorce was threatened.

They’re still married, but I swear if loading dishes appropriately is a sign of undying affection, then I’m gonna damn well pay attention to how Chris loads his dishwasher. Never let it be said that Buck Wilmington didn’t learn something from women.

I learned a lot over the years from every woman I’ve ever been with. I know that seltzer water can get wine stains out of sofa cushions and you never, ever put a wool sweater in the washing machine. Not that I mention any of this to Chris. God knows the man defines territorial, and he can get jealous as all get-out if I start reminiscing. That can be fun too – but some of my past lessons were truly fantastic in that I learned what I never wanted in a partner. Some of those lessons were even better in that I learned about how to truly show someone I care about him on a day to day basis. And it’s always the little things, even the little annoying things.

When he’s done showering, Chris always folds his bath towel on the rod – not on the door knob, not on the bathrobe hook we never use – so I try to remember to do the same. It only takes an extra second.

He doesn’t want a wet towel on the floor or on the bed – fine. He may need to loosen up a little, but I need to remember that I no longer have my own bathroom.

I also need to make sure I remember which toothbrush is mine. I used his one day when I was in a hurry, and I quickly learned that there are many things he will share with me, but his toothbrush is not one of them. I don’t get it at all. Way I figure – he has rights to stick his tongue anywhere he wants to on my body, then he has rights to use my toothbrush. No new territory there.

He’s been on the inside of my mouth, among other places, without toothpaste – so what’s the problem? The problem is that he doesn’t share his toothbrush. Okay, if that’s one of the little things I can do for him to keep him happy, then it’s no longer a problem at all.

Same thing with the soap. I have more hair on my body than he does, and it’s darker, more wiry; it stands out on the bath soap. This grosses him out.

“It’s soap, Chris. It’s clean. That’s its definition. And I think you have more than passing familiarity with my body hair.”

He doesn’t budge. Hair on the soap is one of those things that married couples eventually end up in counseling over. So I make sure to rinse off the soap in the shower, and rinse out the sink when I’m through shaving, and put the cap on the toothpaste when I’m done.

He may be an anal bastard, but he’s my anal bastard. I personally love just how anal he can be.

If my being considerate makes him smile, then it makes me smile. His quirks may be weird to me, but it’s the little things, you know?


It has been said that I’m not the most perceptive of men. When women say this, they are pouting or scowling and it means that I’m not paying enough attention to them – and I’m definitely not getting laid.

When Buck says this, he’s usually shoving me against a wall and undoing my belt buckle. It means I need to stop being such a jerk and pull my head out of my ass, because there’s not room enough in there for his dick and my bad attitude. I’ve been thinking about it, and it may be some unconscious passive-aggressive ploy on my part to push just that much too far so that he’ll take me bareback in the foyer. I would ask Josiah – but, no.

All this aside, I know I’m perceptive where it concerns the job. The politics, the procedures, the details. I’m damn perceptive. Elsewhere, I admit that I can be clueless about a lot. The trouble is – if I’m clueless, then I don’t have any idea what I’ve missed. I’m missing something important, but if I don’t know what it is, then how can I know to look for it, or where to look for it? As they say, it is always the last place you look, because if you keep looking after that, then you’re an idiot. Most of the time, though, I don’t even know I’m supposed to be looking.

Buck can be so infuriating sometimes because he wants me to figure things out on my own. He leaves me to puzzle things out and the only hint I’m given is the fact that he’s upset. He’s upset and I don’t know why. It is his single most annoying quality – the fact that he will wait for me to catch on, except that once I do catch on, it’s long past the point that I could have done anything about the problem.

There seems to be a certain logic to this, though. If I’ve fucked up seriously with one of the team, if I’ve been a real dick to them and need to be straightened out, he takes no time in straightening me out. For this I am grateful. He’s the emotional watch dog of the team and won’t waste a second in yanking me aside to snarl at me.

Yet when it comes to him, I think he’s so accustomed to dealing, to taking everything in stride and setting his own comfort aside for the sake of someone else that he’s ridiculously hesitant to complain. Solely in this regard, he’s like a woman. He wants me to be able to read his mind.

He loves me enough to put up with me – for that alone he’s earned a front row seat in heaven – and I think maybe he gets stuck on autopilot. As though putting up with me is a marathon event and if he puts up with one thing, he should put up with everything. After all, he’s in it for the long haul. He sets a pace and keeps breathing in and out and ignores the nagging pain in his side.

I will learn months later that something I said or did made him feel less than the most important thing in my life – and that just kills me.

“Why didn’t you say something?” I ask him.

“Because you didn’t know you were doing it,” he tells me.

“Yes, that’s the point. How can I keep from doing it again if I don’t know I did it in the first place?” I am exasperated, and by the expression on his face I know he thinks it’s cute.

“I know you’re an insensitive prick, Larabee, but it hasn’t kept me from loving you going on ten years now.”

Did I mention that he’s an idiot? “Buck, did it ever occur to you that I might want to know when I’ve done something wrong?”

“Right, because you react so well to being told you’re wrong.”

“Don’t make me hit you,” I threaten.

“Now there’s the surly bastard I know and love.” He grins and teases and somehow we always end up in bed.

Like I said, his de facto solution to everything – but I don’t like to earn forgiveness in bed. It’s as though he suffers through whatever pain I’ve caused to the point that it no longer bothers him, and then>/i> he brings it up so we can have make-up sex for a fight we never had.

We fight – oh yes, we fight and bicker and he’ll goad me and I’ll dig in my heels – but it’s never over the important stuff. The stuff I’ve missed. If I’m being too stubborn to admit I’m being stubborn, he’ll egg me on until I want to throttle him, but we’re still not talking about what’s wrong with him.

Maybe we haven’t been together long enough yet. Maybe that one big deal breaker of a fight is just around the corner. My sincere hope is that it won’t arrive because of something I’ve been too clueless to see. I don’t ever want to lose him to my own thoughtlessness.

I guess I’ll have to try a little harder.


A ways back, Chris caught me flirting with Susan in the secretarial pool. Now that sounds worse than it is. There wasn’t much to catch. It’d be better to say that Chris found me flirting, but judging from the smoke coming out his nostrils, he’d just call that semantics and not be able to see the difference.

I can’t help myself; I see a woman, I flirt with her. I’ve been that way my whole life. My mother said I was born with it, was flirting when I was eight years old. I don’t doubt it. The great thing about women, among many great things, is that they know the difference between flirting with the intent to bed and flirting with the intent to flatter. There ain’t no woman who don’t love to be sincerely flattered, and I’m always sincere.

I still get asked out a lot; nothing new there, and it’s still nice. The difference is that now I turn them down faithfully – faithfully, but not without a healthy dose of ego-boosting so that my turning them down feels more like picking them up. It’s the only right way to go about it.

The problem is Chris. The problem is, now that I’m with Chris, he takes offense. A little offense, a lot of offense, doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t have guessed before, and he will never admit it – as long as he lives, with his last breath – but he’s insecure about me. He is. The way he searches the house for me when he doesn’t know where I am, well; it warms he cockles of my heart. My cock, too, but it has a home, all warm and snug, and we’re not talking about that. Now where was I?

Oh yeah – I didn’t mistake the meaning of the none-too-subtle episode about a month after I moved in. He dragged me into the bedroom to show me that he’d thrown half my wardrobe all over the place and then he ordered me to unpack my boxes from the barn. I got a little misty; I think it’s the most romantic thing he’s ever said to me. And then he hauled me down and we screwed all over my clean clothes. Didn’t stop him from bitching when we had four extra loads of laundry to do, but the point is that he’s insecure.

And he doesn’t have any reason to be.

Except when he thinks he does – and that reason is me and my immediate reaction to women. Or maybe, their immediate reaction to me.

It’s aggravating, and endearing. That’s Chris.

I hate feeling like I have to change who I am just because he’ll go and sulk like a teenage girl if he sees me turning the Wilmington charm on someone else – especially one as stunning as Susan. And she is stunning. Full of life and intelligence, fire green eyes and legs up to here. Chris said he didn’t notice, but he’s a liar, otherwise he wouldn’t be insecure about it.

I don’t like his insecurity for a lot of reasons. I can’t say I blame him for it exactly, but I don’t like that it means he might not trust me. Actually, that downright pisses me off.

I didn’t get the reputation I have by being known for wanting to settle down and have kids, but he’s been in my life forever. He’s been my life, and I haven’t been riding tandem with him this long because I couldn’t commit.

He knows me, or at least I thought so, and if he thinks that I’m figuring to cheat on him every time I smile at a pretty woman, then he needs a smack upside the head. Or a good hard fuck.

Mostly, though, I don’t like his insecurity because of what it does to his eyes, because I can see way down deep into all that hurt, and I know that he’s angry at me for being insensitive and angry at himself for being too sensitive, and then we’re back to him finding my unpacked boxes in the barn – and him thinking I’m gonna leave. The end result is a whole lot of anger that has nowhere to go but home with us.

He’s accused me of flirting on purpose, getting him all riled up so we can have make-up sex. Can’t say that him reasserting his claim on me doesn’t have its appeal, but I’m not that shallow. I would never hurt him for hurting’s sake, and the real issue is that I’m not being insensitive. I’m just being me.

He knows this, but he’s too stubborn to admit it. Then it becomes my job to wait him out until he realizes he’s being a world-class dunce, by which time he thinks I’m upset at him – which I very well may be – but I just don’t see either of us as likely to change any time soon.

He acts like an asshole, then I get upset because he doesn’t trust me, then he mopes and I get quiet waiting for it to blow over – and can I just tell you that the man will walk around like Atlas with a world of guilt on his shoulders if he thinks he’s hurt my feelings?

Well, he probably has hurt my feelings, but I’m made of tougher stuff than that. Chris, though, is the softest hard-ass in the world, and blind to everything but his fears.

“I don’t like thinking of you with other women, Buck.” He speaks to me with his back turned, arms braced on the rail of the back porch, his whole body tense like piano wire.

“Then don’t think about it, ‘cause it ain’t happening.” I walk up beside him, talk right into his ear.

He snorts. “It’s hard not to think about it when you toss it in my face.”

I ignore his tone, steeling myself not to get drawn into a useless fight, though Chris can bring it out in the very best of men. “Chris, come on now. You know it don’t mean nothin’. You know that.” I tap him in the chest over his heart. “It might have meant something before, but it don’t now, and it ain’t going to.” I draw him into my arms and he sighs.

“I just don’t like seeing you be that way with other people. God help you if I ever see you flirting with another man.”

I chuckle. Yep, God help me alright. Good thing that thought never crosses my mind. He just doesn’t get it that he’s it for me. All women are beautiful, but I don’t even look at other men. Why would I – when I can look at him?

I’m still trying to figure out what to do. I know actions speak louder than words, so my telling him not to worry doesn’t matter when my actions are telling him he should worry plenty. But, damnit, he should trust me more than that. I don’t flirt with women ‘cause I intend to sleep with them or because I want to make him jealous. Hell, I know I’d make other women jealous if I flirted with him in public. Now there’s a thought.

It’s hard because I can’t even really fault him for getting riled up; it only proves how much he loves me. But I still hate it – because I hate it when he’s insecure – because I hate it when he’s hurting.

I never want to be the cause of that. I guess I’ll have to try a little harder.

Second Verse, same as the first

I swear to Christ there are days I wish I didn’t love Buck, and I was angry enough to say so about an hour ago.

That’s when he finally went outside – and I feel like shit.

I guess I don’t have to wait any longer for that one big fight. We just had it, and now I wonder what the fuck I was thinking wishing we could fight over something big instead of all the minutiae in our conjoined lives. I was wrong. I don’t want to fight over this; I don’t want to be the kind of person who talks with his fists. Not anymore.

God damn it.

I fucking hate it when I blow up at him and say a whole lot of things that a lesser man would never forgive.

I hate days like this and I hate my God damn temper.

I hate that this will be the fourth coffee pot I’ll have to replace in two months.

And I hate how he always makes everything sound like it’s my fault, but he’s always the one who apologizes first.


It is definitely not the first time he’s embarrassed me at work in front of the team. But it is the first time he has both undermined my authority and brought up our sex life all in one breath. I have a tough enough time getting the team to follow orders without him playing it like he can talk me into changing my mind once he’s gotten me into bed.

He says it’s not that serious, swears that’s not what he was saying – but it doesn’t matter, because that’s what they heard. And Jesus, what about what I heard? How can I know that’s not what he’s actually doing? I have the orgasm of my life and he’s just doing it so he can convince me to let Vin ride point on the next bust?

I hate that I’m even asking that. I hate that he’s making me question him.

If he would just stop for one second and think about what he’s saying before he says it, we wouldn’t be in this position. I wouldn’t be in this position. He wouldn’t be out on the porch giving me space before I hit him instead of just smashing the kitchen appliances. God damn it I hate being this pissed off.

I know I was hard on the guys today – but it’s my job to be hard on them. I have to answer for their mistakes, and when they get sloppy, lives are put in danger. The decisions I make aren’t easy and they aren’t made casually. There’s a reason I’m in command. Everything starts and stops with me, and I accept that. I shoulder that.

People think I get off on the power – fuck, I bet Buck even thinks I get off on it – when the bottom line is I just don’t trust anyone else to hold that power over the lives of my men. I don’t trust anyone else to watch out for Buck. I know I’m better at it than anyone else in this field branch; our record agrees with me.

And still, God – it’s not enough that the Brass scrutinizes and questions every single fucking thing I do; I have to get it from my own men too. Buck is supposed to back me up. He’s my second, my right-hand, my Deputy Special Agent in Charge. Even if he does disagree with me, he’s supposed to show me the Goddamn fucking respect I’ve earned.

What was he thinking –"Oh don’t worry boys, he’ll settle down once I’ve worked some of the stress off of him. If he’s not too sore from getting screwed by McFarlin, that is."

So not only do I bend over and take it from my superiors, the rest of the team knows I bend over for him, too. He didn’t even bother to wait until I was out of earshot. I’d hardly even left the room. At first I thought he meant for me to hear it, until I saw the look on his face. He knew he’d fucked up, knew how bad it sounded – but there are some things you just can’t take back. Christ, what else does he say about me when I’m not in the room?

Sure, he got everyone to laugh. He got them to relax after I reamed them for not following procedure and getting a case kicked out of court. But they shouldn’t be relaxed about it; it isn’t fucking funny, and by God neither is what he said about me.

It’s bad enough that he flirts with every woman who smiles at him, but to have him say that shit out loud … Fuck.

God, I hate this. I hate it when we fight, but I hate it that he never fucking thinks before he opens his mouth. He does it all the time, making comments that if he took half a second to think about, he’d know were inappropriate. Most of the time he slides by on a lot of charm, but he acts like normal rules don’t apply to him. There are things you don’t say in public, even to friends.

Our love life is none of their business.

God, he does shit like this all the time, making off-hand remarks. Half his vocabulary is a double entendre, but I think this is the first time I’ve really been so … humiliated by it. I just flew off the handle when we got home.

He probably thinks I’ve overacted and lost my mind. And the fucking hell of it is – it’s things like this that will eventually drive him away. I’ll lose my temper one too many times; I’ll say something I can’t take back, and it’ll be one thing too many.

Damn it, I don’t want to answer my phone.

I hate this.

Love, in spite

Who the fuck does he think he is?

No – wait. I know the answer to that one.

Fucking god damn know-it-all mule-headed son of a bitch.

He’s making a huge fucking deal out of nothing. What I said was not that bad. Okay, okay, maybe it was tactless, but not as big a thing as he’s making it seem.

It’s not like the guys on the team don’t know about us, and they know I’m not celibate. It’s not like they don’t know he’s moody. It’s not like they don’t know I run my mouth. Hell, one of our more famous fights, I asked Chris if he’d like me to get him some tampons. The bruise from that didn’t fade for two weeks, but damn it felt good to say.

Fuck. I hate it when we fight. I hate it when he doesn’t tell me that something bothers him until it bothers him enough to want to hit me. I hate it that he waits until he’s mad enough to say things that can’t be unsaid. And I hate it that I’m the one who always apologizes first.

I’m his single biggest fan – I support him two hundred percent all the time. Doesn’t mean every decision he makes is the best, but that’s what I’m here for, right? I’m here to double check him and make him see a different side of things. I’m here to make sure he doesn’t get too focused and miss a bigger picture. I’m here to keep his temper in check and cook dinner on alternate weeknights. I’m here to fucking keep him warm at night.

Basically, I’m here for him. I’m always here for him. And it would be nice every fucking once in a while if he’d give me the tiniest shred of credit.

He makes jokes about bending over and taking it from the higher up’s – but I’m not allowed to make those jokes? It’s not like I do it to spite him, and he damn well knows that his favorite stress-relieving activity is sex. Okay, so, maybe I could have phrased what I said a little different. I was just as upset as he was that DeLuca got off on a technicality. A fucking tiny technicality.

I was upset, the team was upset, Chris was tearing all of us a new one, and I tried to lighten the mood. It’s not the first time I’ve done that – even at my own expense – but he picks today to get furious about it. He picks today to tell me he’s sorry that he loves me. Jesus, Larabee, of all the low blows.

Which is probably why he said it, and he probably feels rotten about it, but not rotten enough to apologize for it. Stubborn prick. Two can play at that game, so I’m gonna sit out here and make him come to me for a change. Stupid stubborn overbearing mouth-breathing –

Damn it. I wish I could read his mind. I wish I could learn to think before I speak. I wish he’d tell me something bothers him before it’s too late and he breaks up more of the kitchen. I shouldn’t have unpacked those suitcases.

I hear the door and I hear him step out onto the porch, but I don’t turn around. I’m gonna sit here taking up all the porch swing and hope he realizes that he doesn’t hold the patent on bad moods in this household.

“Just got off the phone with Travis,” he tells me. “I’m supposed to convince Josiah and Vin to take some vacation while this blows over. He doesn’t want to deal with the paperwork if he has to suspend them.”

I nod. Not much to say on that account. Can’t say they don’t have it coming.

“You cold?" he asks, as if that's what he came out here to talk about. "Front’s coming in.”

“Actually my blood's runnin’ a little warm, Chris.” I still don’t turn to look at him. I’ve been working on a good pout for about an hour now and I think we’re both still too pissed to be this close to one another. “I don’t want to fight about this,” he says, surprising, “but if you want to take a swing at me and get it out of your system, let’s head on out into the yard. Hurts less when you knock me on my ass.”

“You’re forgettin’ I’m not the one in this house who likes to hit things. But you want to hit yourself, you go right ahead. Knock yourself out.”

He chuckles a little, but I don't think it's happiness. “Fair enough," he says. "Indian leg wrestle, then?”

“Chris – ” He knows I beat him at that every single time. I think about telling him to fuck off and go back inside, but I can’t stay angry at him, damnit. He’s trying, and it might be pathetic, but it’ll do. “Chris, I’m sor – ”

“Don’t tell me you’re sorry, Buck. Not if you’re not gonna try to change what’s wrong. And I don’t mean that like – I don’t mean it to sound – ” He growls at himself. “It’s just, you must know how I felt to hear you say what you said. You couldn’t have insulted me worse if you tried.”

“Chris, I didn’t – ”

“I know – I know you didn’t mean it the way it sounded. You didn’t mean it – but that’s how it came out. Like what I said earlier. I didn’t mean it, but it’s still a shitty thing to say.”

“Yeah.” Easy enough to agree on that particular point.

“Yeah, so, we’re both sorry. We’re a couple of sorry bastards. I’m sorry I blew up at you, I’m sorry for what I said, and I’m sorry you weren’t born with an internal censor. I’m sorry,” he repeats and I’m tempted to tell him to prove it.

But that ain’t right, and hell, I don't want to fight about this either. “It’s not the first time you’ve yelled at me, Chris. Don’t sweat it.” Easy enough to say. “Reckon I deserved it.” Harder to admit.

He takes a couple steps forward, still keeping to my six. “You do know that you say some pretty stupid shit.”

“Yeah, and if I didn’t, I can always count on you to remind me.” I think that came out a little harsher than I wanted. I hear him sigh.

“Yep, you can count on that. Just like I know I can count on you to back me when it matters, and not just when I’m in the room either.”

I can’t tell if that’s a question or not, but I nod anyway. This is faster than he normally cools off and starts talking. Come to think of it, he never talks this much. Maybe I won’t end up sleeping on the couch tonight.

"I say stupid shit too,” he admits like it’s news to me, though it is a shock to hear him say it. “I am aware of that, and I know I can count on you to call me on it.”

He steps up beside me and squats to look me in the eye, puts his hand on my knee. He can be really sweet when he wants to, which isn’t often, so I try to pay close attention when it happens.

“I don’t want to fight over this, Buck,” he says real quiet. “Not over this. It’s too important to fight about. We could – we could try talking, maybe. I hear some couples actually do that.”

I can’t help it – I snort. Some couples, maybe. “Yeah, but we’ve always got to be trailblazers, don’t we?” He manages a small smile. “I am sorry, Chris. I wasn’t thinking. Never knew you minded when I make jokes. I joke all the time.” Which is most likely the problem. Fuck, I’m an idiot. “I swear, I wasn’t trying to undermine you. Okay? And I sure as hell wasn’t trying to … make it sound like I … well, like when we, you know, that I’m – ”

“I know. I know when – when we’re in bed, it isn’t about anything other than just you and me. But they don’t know that. And it’s too important to joke about. You know?”

I do know that, just don’t tend to remember at the crucial moment. Damn, this is way beyond wet towels on the floor. “Shit.” I slouch some and run a hand through my hair. “Reckon even as old as I am, I still need to learn to shut my mouth.”

“Yes,” he agrees real fast, “you do.”

He says it without heat, just letting me know we’re on the same page. Hell, this could be the quickest turn around of any argument we’ve ever had.

“Are we good, Buck?”

He leans in closer and I just look at him, at everything I ever wanted. “Yeah, Larabee, we’re good.” I never can stay angry at him. I smile. “Least we will be when I pull my head out of my ass.” I scoot over on the porch swing, pat the space next to me.

He’s slow to catch on to what I want most times, but this is our favorite thing to do of an evening, sit and watch the fireflies and wait for the scream of the Screech owl living in our barn. He’s like our anti-rooster, tells us what time to go to bed.

Chris slides in next to me and I let my arm hang around his shoulders, play with the back of his neck a little. He’s got the softest tufts back here when it gets long, like goose down or that fuzz baby horses have on their noses. I wanna bury my nose in it.

“We both seem prone to rectal blindness,” he says at length.

I have to laugh at that – feels damn good – but he frowns and shakes his head.

“I wish I could help my temper, Buck; I really do.” That makes two of us. “I never have been able to control it, not when something really matters to me. Just comes with the package I guess.”

He looks disgusted with himself, so I grin, yin to his yang. “Considerin’ the rest of the package, I’m willing to overlook it.” I tug him into me and smooch the side of his face. It smacks loud enough to get him to look annoyed. Don’t care what he says, he’s cute like that.

He’s also serious – usually is – and he sighs again. “I’m just worried it’ll be one time too many. I’m afraid that one day I’ll lose my temper with you and you’ll have had enough.”

Chris normally doesn’t say these things. I guess today really got to him. So I shake my head, poke him in the back of his. “Chris, looking back on all we’ve been through, you think I haven’t seen every side of your temper there is to see? Hell, you ask me, I’d say you’ve mellowed with age.” He elbows me in the ribs. “Well you have. And you’re stuck with me ‘til you run me off.”

“Exactly,” he cuts in. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

I give him a look that shouts not fucking likely.

“I’ve never been lucky in life, Buck. Not like this.” He reaches across and squeezes me free hand, and I feel my eyes start to sting. “Seems all my life I’ve always been half a step behind, keeping up with luck about to run out. I don’t want to fall behind in this.”

Any minute and he’s gonna have me crying. He picks the damnedest times to say things. There’s silence for long enough that I reckon he’s finished – and that he actually believes what he’s saying. Idiot. I’m not gonna let him fall behind.

He must have been thinking on this a while. Things weigh on him a lot heavier than they do me. He mulls and tries to out-think his troubles, when what he most needs is to let them go. Life’s too short – and I never put that much stock in luck.

It dawns on me, with that look on his face and that funny pain in his eyes, that it isn’t me he doesn’t trust. When he’s insecure, when he gets angry like this – it’s that he doesn’t trust himself.

He doesn’t think he’s enough for me, he doesn't think he's enough to keep me permanent.

“Of all the stubborn, hard-headed, oblivious, lamebrained idiots in the world … ” I heave a sigh. “You’re a fool, Chris,” I tell him gently, turning our hands and lacing his fingers with mine. “You’re temper isn’t gonna scare me off. Your stubbornness and your jealousy and your obsession with coffee pots aren’t gonna run me off.” I grip the back of his neck. “You are it for me. It with a capital I. Sign it, seal it, file it. Waited all my life for you – and I ain’t leavin’ unless you tell me to. You’re it. I won’t let you fall behind. You hear me in there?” I whisper, lean in close and nibble on his ear, grinning to say, “Tag – you’re it.”

He turns slowly ‘til our mouths meet and dives in, kissing me long and wet and deep. There’s poets the world over who try to write kisses like these and they must be mighty frustrated. All the things he fears and loves tumble out of his mouth and into mine. My face ends up between his hands, my fingers in his hair, our noses bumping. Sweetness itself.

After a bit, he pulls off my mouth and lays his head on my shoulder where it belongs. “I’m sorry I’m an asshole.”

I wait and hum a little sigh, like I’m gonna say something profound. “So am I,” I tell him sadly.

Then I laugh when he lets go of my hand to punch me in the chest. He laughs too, though, so that’s progress.

“But you love me in spite of it,” he announces.

“I have to. Where else ‘m I gonna keep my horse?”

“Bastard,” he mutters. That’s a term of endearment from Chris. We sit for a minute, and I wonder if love is like this for other people – loving in spite of. I can think of a dozen solid reasons why I love him and ten times that many why I shouldn’t.

I look down at his sock feet as they capture one of mine. “Feet cold?” I ask, snuggling closer. God, he smells good. Even if he is a stinker.

“Hmm,” he purrs into my neck, like he couldn’t care less if his feet are cold. Maybe they just needed a little reassurance too.

“So, are we good?” I echo him and tunnel my nose into his hair, taking some of the strands between my lips. Then I snuffle around like I’m looking for food.

“Quit it, Buck. You’re worse than a horse.” I whinny into his ear and he smacks my thigh, leaning out of mouth’s reach. He’s looking at me like I’m a prize idiot. “I’m gonna head on in. You comin’?”

“In a little bit. But you didn’t answer my question.”

He smiles as he stands, looks out over the slope of the back lawn. “Yeah, we’re good, Buck.” He sounds like he means it, so I let go of his hand. I may be an idiot, but I’m his idiot. “Don’t be too long,” he says.

He stops behind the swing on his way in and leans over, so I tip my head back to let him kiss me upside-down.

Upside-down kissing is good. I love his lower lip.

His right hand heats a path all the way down to my crotch where it stops and squeezes. “Tag, you’re it,” he whispers.

Guess I’m heading inside sooner than I thought. Can’t wait to let him apologize some more.