Ivy '05: Weak Point

"Sit," Travis ordered without looking up.

Chris didn't move.

Travis knew it and didn't say anything; they'd been here before. After a suitably long, and silent pause, Travis sat back and looked up.

"I've read your team's reports."

Chris continued to glare at him.

"It's a mess isn't it? Which, considering that is the biggest pile of bullshit I've ever read, is saying something. What went wrong?"

"It's in the reports," Chris told him flatly.

"Crap! I was reading reports while you were still in uniform giving out traffic tickets and I know a piece of fiction when I read it! It may interest you to know that each of your team has a very distinctive writing style - if you can call it that. Ezra corrects Vin's reports, Josiah does Buck's." He picked up one of the reports. "This is Buck's report and it was written, not just corrected, by Ezra." With that, he let it drop back down onto the desk. "I've got the DPD ranting at me for wasting their time, not to mention Customs! Now I don't know what happened. I don't know if there was a technical problem, did JD forget to turn on someone's microphone? Maybe someone recognised Buck or Ezra? I don't know. What I do know is that this," he slammed his hand down on the reports, "isn't it! I don't expect you to tell me what happened, I know better than that. You guys are the best at what you do, I know it and you know it. I **will** sign off on these reports and I'm not going to put any comments on anyone's permanent record."

"Thanks," Chris said, his voice still emotionless.

"Be warned Chris, you guys get more leeway then anyone else, in all areas." He looked up at Chris meaningfully, "but this largesse is not a bottomless pit, understood?"

"Yes Sir."


Chris walked back to the team offices. Travis was right, the reports were fiction, the trouble was he still didn't really know what had gone wrong. It was meant to be simple bust, Ezra had infiltrated a gang selling illegally imported Mexican cigarettes. The big 'buy' had all been set up; Buck was playing the part of Ezra's muscle and driver. The cigarettes were being brought in by trucks carrying perfectly legal imports of cheep gifts and ornaments. It was early October and the company warehouse was almost fully stocked in preparation for Halloween and Christmas. Vin had scoped out the place the week before, and picked his spot on top of one of the fixed shelving units against the wall. JD was outside in the van. He, Josiah and Nathan were wearing headset radios. Buck and Ezra had concealed microphones; every word spoken during the meeting would be recorded.

Travis had asked for the recordings, but Chris told him there weren’t any, he'd pulled the plug before JD started recording. That was a lie, JD always recorded from the moment they put the equipment on. He'd listened to it; it didn't help him much. Travis had thrown them a lifeline, now he had to use it; he had to work out what had gone wrong.

He was half expecting their office to be empty, it was after six when he'd been called into Travis' office and he'd told them all not to wait, especially since it was Friday. They were all there, all five of them, which he'd also been half expecting.

"Go home boys, it's okay, Travis won't make waves. Go on, we'll see you on Sunday as normal."

"Are you sure?" Josiah asked.

Chris took a deep breath, then nodded. "I'm sure, we're sure."


Chris watched the others leave, before entering his office. Buck was already standing there, waiting for him.

"Did you hear?" Chris asked.

Buck nodded.

"Let's go home." Chris turned to go.

"I…" Buck began.

"Not now, at home." With that Chris continued out of the office.

The drive out to the ranch was accomplished in uncomfortable silence. The bust had been pulled because Buck froze. It hadn't lasted long, after a few moments, standing stock still at the beginning of one of the warehouse aisles; he had simply turned away and walked out of the place. When Chris finally got to him, he was pacing outside the surveillance van. Chris had looked over at JD, who had simply given him a 'search me' shrug. The trouble was there was no time to try and ask Buck what was wrong, as the senior agent in charge, he had to try and sort out the fiasco the operation had descended into. It wasn't that the smugglers got away, they were still arrested, but now all they had was the smuggling, the chance of convicting them of dealing and distributing was lost. By the time he returned Buck was more himself, but was still unwilling or unable to tell him what had happened. It was that, more than anything, that had angered Chris. Buck wasn't just a member of the team, he wasn't just Chris' oldest friend, he was the man he loved and who loved him - why wouldn't he tell him what had happened?


As they drove on in silence, it gave Chris time to think. It was clear to him, hell anyone who saw him, that something had frightened Buck, scared him so badly that he'd been paralysed by it, but as far as he knew Buck had no phobias. He certainly wasn't afraid of spiders, he'd happily capture even the biggest spider in the house and carry it outside in his hands - something Chris wasn't prepared to do, not without a glass and a piece of card. Chris himself was none too fond of snakes, he freely admitted that. They didn't freak him out totally, but he didn't like them and had no desire to get close to one, ever. On the rare occasion that they had encountered one, Buck had casually grabbed a stick or a broom and removed it. It wasn't heights; the warehouse was at ground level, besides Buck had jumped out of planes with a parachute from 20,000 feet. He'd never considered if Buck was claustrophobic, besides the new, high-ceilinged warehouse hardly qualified as a small enclosed space, it hadn't bothered Vin - and he was claustrophobic. He also dismissed rats, Buck shot rats, but they didn't bother him.

That left one thing that Chris could think of. Mortality, maybe Buck's had lost the ability to put his life on the line, knowingly, willingly. It happened all the time, pilots, fire fighters, cops, soldiers and federal agents. Men burned out all the time, lost their nerve. He had to admit it wasn't something he'd ever considered happening to Buck, but no one was immune. Some retired behind a desk, others left the profession altogether.

When he'd climbed into the car he'd been angry with his partner. Angry that Buck wouldn't talk to him. Angry that his fear - what ever it was - had put people and the mission in danger. Angry that he'd been put in the position where he might have to discipline the man he loved. That was when they set out, now, as they neared the ranch, he was more worried than angry. Unable to conceive of any reason for Buck's fear other than losing his nerve Chris made a resolution. If Buck had to leave the ATF it wasn't going to break them up. He'd loved exactly two times in his life. He'd had one love cruelly taken from him. He was not going to lose the second. If he had to, he'd transfer, or even quit altogether. He'd do what ever it took to keep them together. It wasn't a pleasant prospect, breaking up the team. But they - the two of them - were more important than anything else.

The trouble was all this was just speculation, since Buck wasn't talking.


By the time they reached the ranch house it was dark, the automatic lights over the front door and the barn doors welcomed them as Chris pulled up.

"Let's get the chores over with." With out further comment, Chris turned off the engine and climbed down from the cab.

Buck followed. They went about their routine tasks, taking care of the horses in silence. Chris swept the last of the straw out into the yard and put the broom away in the rack by the door.

"You done?" he asked.

"I guess," Buck admitted. It was the first words they had exchanged since they left Chris' office.

Once inside Chris crossed the hall and walked into the kitchen. "You hungry?"

Buck shrugged. "Some."

Though Buck couldn't see him, Chris nodded and pulled some chilli from the freezer and turned it into a dish, before set in it in the microwave to defrost. With that done he grabbed a couple of beers and returned to the living room. Buck was standing at the window, gazing out at the blackness.

"I got you a cold one," Chris announced.

Buck turned around. "Thanks."

"Chilli's defrosting, take a seat."

Chris dropped down into the closest recliner, Buck didn't move.

"Take a seat." This was not an invitation, this was an order. With clear reluctance, his lover sat down on the far end of the couch.

"My mother always told me to never go to bed on an argument," Chris stated softly.

"We're not arguing," Buck defended.

"We will be if you don't tell me what happened. Whatever it is, I'll stand by you - you know that don't you?"

Buck nodded, but avoided eye contact.

"So tell me."

Buck took a long pull on his beer. "It's not important."

"Not important? In case you haven't noticed we screwed up today, my ass is on the line. I don't call that nothing, don't reckon the others do either. Do you know how long Ezra worked on that case?"

"God damn it, Chris! Of course I know, I was with him most of the time. What I meant was…"


"It'll probably never happen again."

"Then there's no reason not to tell me."

"It's pathetic, I'm pathetic," Buck muttered, leaning forward he rolled the can of beer between his palms as he studied the carpet.

Pathetic wasn't a word Chris had ever associated with Buck. His lover was many things, strong, confident, loud, he could be crass and crude, he liked to give people the impression he was an ignorant red neck - which he wasn't. He could be courageous to the point of stupidity and he was an inveterate flirt, but he wasn't pathetic.

Even more concerned that Buck might have lost his nerve, Chris got up and crossed the room, seating himself on the sturdy coffee table directly opposite Buck.

"Tell me," he said softly. "Tell **me**, not Agent Larabee, it's just us here."

There was a long silence, and then Buck said something so softly Chris, sitting no more than a foot away didn't catch it.

"What was that?"

"They were looking at me, laughing at me."

Chris opened his mouth to respond then closed it. Who was looking at him, laughing at him? He tried to remember what had happened just a few hours ago. No one was laughing at him; precious few people were looking at him. Besides Buck had never minded being looked at, he was practically an exhibitionist!

"I don't understand." Chris placed a hand on one of Buck's knees.

"On the shelves, rows and rows of them, all looking at me. They…" Finely he looked up at Chris and their eyes met. The shame in Buck's deep blue eyes cut into Chris like a knife. "scare me, freak me out so I can hardly think, always have."

"What do? I don't remember what was on the shelves."

"Clowns." Buck dropped his head again.


"Yeah, told you it was pathetic."

Chris wasn't sure how to respond. He couldn't honestly say he'd noticed any clowns, but considering the kind of tack the warehouse was stocking he could well believe there were clown figures there.

"Wait," he finally started. "let me get this straight, clowns, as in circus clowns?"

Buck nodded.

"But…wait Rodeo's; we've been to rodeo's, you've competed in them, there are clowns…"

"I hate them - Rodeo clowns - but they're not the same, I can handle them, just about," Buck cut in.

"McDonald's, Ronald McDonald."

Buck visibly shuddered. "I never go in there."

Chris was about to challenge him on this; everyone had been in McDonald's - hadn't they? But the more he thought on it, he couldn't actually remember Buck ever going into a McDonald's. His junk food of choice was Pizza or hot dogs. If they, as a couple or with the team, ever did talk about going to a burger place Buck, always voted for some independent place, or if pushed Burger King or Wendy's; voted very forcefully, now that Chris thought about it. He usually got Nathan on his side - Nathan never actually approved of burgers, but he disapproved of McDonald's above all others – as did Ezra.

"Do you know why they scare you so much?"

"No," Buck looked up. "Ma told me she took me to the circus once, when I was real young, three or four. Apparently I freaked before we even got into the tent; she had to take me home. Told you it was pathetic, great big tough federal agent, armed to the teeth, scared of a harmless clown. Not even a real one, just a small model - pathetic."

"Will you stop saying that."

"Why, it's what it is, a pathetic baby." Buck looked up. "You remember, back when we were rookies in uniform, we had to do crowed control for the Fourth of July parade?"

"I guess, vaguely."

"They were two hundred yards away, maybe more, the clowns, I saw them coming and I peed my pants, literally, like a scared three-year-old. Had to deliberately walk into this guy carrying a full cup of soda, just to cover up what I'd done and have an excuse to leave and change my uniform."

Chris nodded. "I remember now."

"After that I always…"

"Volunteered for traffic duty at the big fireworks show, over at the stadium, crap assignment."

"No clowns. Like I said, pathetic."

"It's not pathetic, it's a phobia. An irrational fear, the operative word being irrational - something you have no control over. It's probably got a name…"


"See, well there you go, everyone is scared of something. With me it's snakes."

"Not the same, you don't freak out so that you can't move. Besides, snakes are dangerous, you're allowed to be scared of things that are dangerous."

"And clown's aren’t?" Chris challenged.

Buck looked up and gave him a withering look. "Well no."

"What about that Stephen King film, what was it called?"


"Yeah and John Wayne Gacy, he was a clown."

Buck shrugged.

"You have a phobia, it's nothing to be ashamed of. I don't like snakes, Vin's claustrophobic, everyone is scared of something," Chris reiterated. "Now I know, I can help you avoid them. I just wished you'd have trusted me sooner, that way we might have avoided today's fuck up."

Buck looked down again. "Guess I screwed up - huh?"

"You only just noticed that? Yes you did, but no one outside the team knows and whatever Travis knows or thinks he knows, he's not going to make trouble."

"This time, what about next time?"

"There won't be a next time. I'll protect you from the clowns and you can protect me from the snakes."

For the first time Buck smiled. "My hero."

"You better believe it." Chris moved his hand from Buck's knee to the back of his neck and pulled his head down until their foreheads touched. "We're going to have to tell the others."

"Oh Jesus, no…" Buck made to pull away.

"Trust them. If one of them had a phobia, a genuine, irrational, uncontrollable fear, would you belittle them or make fun of them?"

"No, of course not."

"So why do you think they would do it to you. Trust them they way they trust you. It's only fair, operationally as well as personally."

"I guess," Buck admitted reluctantly.

"My hero." With that Chris tilted his head and captured Buck's lips with his.