Rowan '06: Change Of Heart


The word tore from his throat, startlingly loud in the near silence of the office, rising above the soft, wet sucking sounds and Buck's gentle hums and moans. Chris froze, despite the fact that he knew they were alone, that the rest of the team had already headed out to snag one of the wide booths at the Saloon and set up the first round of drinks.

Buck raised his eyes questioningly, his mouth surrounding the head of Chris's cock, and Chris hissed out a breath, knowing he wouldn't be able to stifle a groan if Buck pulled off him now.

"It's good," he mumbled, one hand carding through Buck's thick, dark hair, the other cupping the man's cheek and rubbing at the prickly stubble. Buck's eyes sparked with amusement and he shifted the cock in his mouth, tucking it into his cheek to press against Chris's palm. Chris moaned and arched, his ass coming off the seat to push against the heat. "Jesus, Buck," he whimpered, too far gone now to feel embarrassed at the naked want in his voice.

The smile in Buck's eyes deepened, then he deliberately shifted again and Chris's cock slid further into the back of his throat. When Buck swallowed and tightened around him, Chris surged again, both hands now gripping Buck's tangled hair and he held on tightly as his cock exploded, throbbing out its load into the warm, willing mouth.

Buck continued to suck gently as Chris slowly returned to himself, and it was just on the edge of being too much; nerve ends tingling as though an electric current had shot through them, balls aching with the suddenness of release, his softening cock twitching against Buck's lapping tongue. He eased Buck off him, oddly moved when his partner kissed the sticky tip of his dick then settled his cheek against Chris's thigh.

Chris threw his head back on his chair and pulled in a deep, shuddering breath. He closed his eyes and savoured the final aftershocks of pleasure, the tiny pulses that radiated from his groin, tingling through every part of him, the leaden warmth in his limbs, the feel of Buck's soft hair and stubbled cheek against his naked thigh, the tangle of emotions that waxed and waned with every pump of his rapidly beating heart.

He felt a sudden breeze, cooling the sweat on his chest and his eyes shot open and flew to the door. It was still closed, and bolted. Of course. He tried to settle again, if only for a moment, if only to placate Buck, but the spell was broken. He became conscious of how this looked - a sated expression on his flushed face, legs sprawled wantonly, Buck on his knees with his cheek pressed against Chris's spent cock, the unmistakable tang of semen hanging in the air - and his whole body tensed involuntarily.

Buck mumbled something incoherent and raised his head, and Chris watched as the sleepy satisfaction on Buck's face was replaced by a quickly suppressed flicker of resignation.

"Relax," Chris said, reaching to hold Buck fast, but his partner shook him off and rose unsteadily to his feet.

"The boys'll be waiting," he said, with nothing in his voice to give away what he was feeling.

"Time enough," Chris said, but Buck was already handing him a fistful of Kleenex and bending to pick up the jeans and boxer shorts he had so recently torn off.

Chris wiped himself dry, watching Buck beneath lowered lashes as he dressed again, unable to read anything from his carefully schooled expression. He reached when Buck would have turned away and pulled the man in close. "What about you?" he whispered, his hand drifting down to knead at the hard bulge he knew he'd find between Buck's legs.

Buck leaned back and smiled, warmth overriding the faint annoyance Chris knew he hadn't imagined. "Tonight," Buck murmured. "We're still on for my place, right?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Chris breathed. Buck tipped his head until their lips met, brief and filled with promise.

"Come on then," Buck said, cheerfulness restored. "First round's on you."


They were hit by a wave of noise and heat when they walked into the Saloon and Chris quickly scanned the booths until he caught sight of JD waving at them frantically from the back room. He nudged Buck and they wove through the press of bodies and wormed their way into the bench seats, facing each other across a table wet with spilled beer and already covered in glasses and empty snack packages.

Two bottles slid towards them and he and Buck snatched them up before they went sailing off the end of the table.

"Gentlemen, a toast," Ezra said, raising a glass filled almost to the brim with amber liquid. "To the conclusion of yet another successful case, to the brilliance of Team Seven," he nodded his head in Chris's direction, "and to another citation for Mr. Larabee to hang on his wall."

"To Team Seven."

The camaraderie was broken by a voice Chris had come to detest. "What's this, ladies' night out?" Chris turned his head slowly and locked eyes with Leo Payne. Irritation flared, an irritation he didn't try to disguise. Payne by name, pain by nature.

"Fuck off," Chris said hoping against hope that Payne would shift his inelegant bulk and shuffle away to torment somebody else tonight. The man just smiled, shark-like, and didn't budge.

"So, Larabee," he sneered, "whose cock you have to suck to get your latest commendation?" He leered and winked lewdly and Chris tensed, knowing damn well what was coming next. Payne didn't disappoint. "Or maybe you let Wilmington do that for you. His specialty, I hear."

It was too much to expect that Buck would keep his damned mouth shut.

"Best in the ATF," he agreed genially, though Chris heard the underlying strain in Buck's seemingly carefree response.

Payne turned mean, glittering eyes on Buck. "Says who, cocksucker?"

"Your partner, for one," Buck shot back. "Williams tells me you can't suck his dick worth shit…"

Payne took a menacing step forward and Chris threw up a hand and blocked him, sending a glare scorching across the table that told Buck clearly that if he didn't back down and shut the fuck up, Chris was gonna get ugly.

Buck caught the look, that was plain to see. Just as plain as the fact that he planned to ignore Chris and go his own way. Again.

"I could teach you a trick or two, if you want," Buck continued. "Williams would thank me for it."

"Sonofabitch," Payne snarled, shaking Chris's hand off him. "Christ, I don't know how you put up with that fucking queer on your team, Larabee," he spat.

"Shut up, Payne," Chris said tiredly.

"I wouldn't let a scumbag like him anywhere near me," Payne continued, oblivious. He shot a look around the table. "What's wrong with you, letting a sick fuck like him sit in the same office with you?"

"Maybe we don't spend as much time thinking about Buck's dick and where he puts it as you do," Vin drawled, and Buck laughed, unnecessarily loud. Chris groaned silently. Their only chance short of violence had been to ignore Payne and wait for him to get bored and fuck off. Damn it, they all knew that. He scowled at Tanner, who shrugged, unabashed.

"How can you stick up for him?" Payne sputtered. "You getting it from him, is that it? He probably does you all," he said, voice thick with booze and revulsion. "How 'bout it, Larabee? That the secret to your success?"

"No secret," Buck jumped in, his smile out-sharking Payne, his voice deceptively sweet and soft. "Just great planning and team work." He paused for a fraction of a second, just long enough to make Chris shiver in dread. "And I blow the boss to keep him happy," Buck added and Chris hissed out the breath that was clenched behind his teeth.

"You're fucking disgusting," Payne muttered, shaking his head, his angry frown bouncing off each of the grinning men in turn. He turned to Chris and wagged a finger in his face. "You want to watch yourself, Larabee," he warned. "People talk and shit sticks. Maybe he don't mind if the whole world knows he's a goddamned faggot, but you want to watch that he doesn't drag your rep down into the crapper with his." He turned gracelessly, sloshing half the contents of his glass over his already stained sleeve.

"You want me to call you a cab, Leo?" Buck taunted. "You're obviously too shit-faced to drive, and I'd hate for some poor beat cop to have to arrest your ugly ass."

"Fuck you," Payne mumbled as he shuffled away and finally left them alone.

Chris felt the scalding heat of humiliation splash across his face. Buck glanced at him across the table and his self-satisfied grin faltered.

"What?" he said, faking innocence.

"You couldn't leave it alone, could you?" Chris said tightly.

Buck shrugged. "Why should I?" he asked.

"Because everybody on the fucking planet doesn't need to know what you do in bed," Chris snapped.

Buck's eyes hardened almost imperceptibly. "It should be my little secret?" he asked, the dangerous sweetness returning. "Our little secret," he amended and Chris flinched and shot a look around the table. None of the others were listening, at least not overtly; still he stiffened and glared into Buck's eyes.

"Don't," he warned quietly and stared hard until Buck dropped his gaze, muttering a curse.

Chris finished his beer in silence, unable to pick up the celebratory mood of his friends, wound up and tense, wary whenever any of the men strayed too far off the subject of work, downright nervous when they began to tease JD about his weekend away with Casey. He wasn't in the mood for their sexual banter and innuendo and he slammed his bottle down on the table and stood up quickly.

"Put the drinks on my tab. See you all Monday," he managed to choke out.

"Wait up, I need a ride," Buck said, tossing back the remains of his beer. "Just need to hit the head first…"

"I'll be outside," Chris said quickly.

He hurried out, wincing when Buck said something that made his team mates laugh out loud, and he closed his ears to their raucous comments and pushed his way out of the door, gulping in the cool night air. He walked slowly towards his car, almost stopping when he caught sight of a group of men climbing into several vehicles a few yards ahead of him.

Fuck! Payne was with them, fumbling in his jacket, obviously searching for his keys. Chris willed the man to get his stupid act together and leave before Buck appeared and his breath caught sharply when Payne pulled a key chain triumphantly out of his pocket, then dropped it with a loud jangle. Payne yelled out a curse, and bent to retrieve the keys, and Chris tensed when he heard Buck's voice just behind him, a seductive purr, "Nice offer, Leo. Didn't take you for a bottom."

Payne straightened up quick as a shot and swung around, and even from this far Chris could see the fury on the man's flushed face.

"Get in the fucking car, Buck," Chris hissed. Buck walked around to the passenger side, whistling nonchalantly, and he slid into the seat, thankfully without another word.

"Cocksucker," Payne yelled, almost stumbling over the word. Chris climbed behind the wheel, dismayed to see that Buck had wound down his window.

"That's something you'll never find out first hand," he called.

"Save it for Larabee," Payne shouted.

"What makes you think I don't?" Buck snapped back. Chris cranked the engine and peeled away, wincing as Payne's keys bounced off the hood of his car, thrown with all the man's strength.

Buck laughed. "Serves him right if the fucker loses 'em," he said, winding up the window and settling into his seat.

They drove in silence while Chris's guts churned in anger. Buck was a boisterous loudmouth when it came to sex, but he'd always been surprising discreet about his own liaisons. Lately, though, he had become careless, almost offhand in what he said and Chris didn't like this new turn of events one bit.

Buck ignored him while they drove, eyes fixed on the window and the city's electric brightness passing by outside, and when they pulled into guest parking in front of the townhouse he shared with JD, Buck hopped out of the car quickly and headed towards the building. Chris sat motionless for a moment. He'd planned on dropping Buck off and going home, so pissed that he knew if he stayed they would get into a fight. But he couldn't just drive off without a word so he slammed out of the car and followed Buck, cursing quietly to himself.

He wasn't surprised when Buck rounded on him as soon as they were inside the door and growled, "Say what you're gonna say."

Chris paused, wavering between letting the whole thing drop or spewing up his anger. In the end, he just didn't have it in him to leave it alone. "Why do you have to go running your mouth all the time?" he snapped. "You play right into that fucker's hands."

Buck looked at him, irritation briefly flaring in his normally smiling eyes, then he turned on his heel and stalked away. Chris followed him into the kitchen and watched him reach into the cupboard over the sink, pulling down two glasses and a half empty bottle of Jack. There was a maddening smile quirking at his mouth and Chris felt his palm itch to smack the smirk off Buck's face.

"Come on, you know he asks for it."

"You play it up on purpose, just to goad him," Chris snapped.

"He's an asshole, Chris. He was just fine when he thought I slept with women…"

"You do sleep with women," Chris said, exasperated.

Buck waved him off impatiently, continuing as though he'd never spoken. "But the minute I got involved with Danny Merrick…"

"Don't get me started on Merrick," Chris interrupted again. "It ain't bad enough you're totally reckless outside of work but you had to go trawling inside the building too. You had to go find yourself a twinkie. And right under Leo Payne's fucking nose!"

"He was making that kid's life miserable," Buck said.

"Only after you got involved," Chris snapped, although he knew that wasn't a fair or accurate assessment of the situation. Buck, the inveterate champion of lost causes, the chronic defender of the underdog, had taken one look at the shy new recruit so obviously and painfully in Leo Payne's crosshairs and had instantly taken the young man under his wing. Despite Chris's vehement opposition, the supposed ladies man had deliberately revealed his own bisexuality, openly supporting the young man through a tense and difficult time. Under Buck's influence, Danny grew more confident and self-assured. He started challenging Payne's snide comments and malicious remarks and finally filed a sexual harassment complaint.

"Merrick files a grievance and Leo gets busted down a grade, then the kid gets himself a nice transfer out of Denver," Chris grumbled. "After everything you did for him he left you to face the shit storm; Leo knew you'd encouraged him, everybody knew. Now Danny's having a gay old time in NYC and you're getting pissed on by every fucking redneck homophobe in the ATF. I hope Merrick was a good lay, at least," he added cruelly.

"I didn't fuck that kid and you know it," Buck said mildly.

Chris shook his head in frustration. "Which makes you twice the idiot," he accused. "You put yourself out there and the only thing you got in return was a shitload of grief from Leo and his pals. You think what happened to the Ram was an accident? You think somebody slipped when they keyed 'Fag' all across the paintwork?"

"Aww, give it a rest," Buck sighed. "I don't give a damn what Leo Payne says or does…"

"Well, I do," Chris spat. "People listen, they talk…"

"So what?" Buck interrupted, and this time Chris could clearly hear the challenge in his voice and knew he'd pushed too far. Fuck! He didn't want to do this. He glanced away from Buck's glittering eyes, but he couldn't escape the crystal clarity of the man's voice.

"You afraid somebody might figure out that the great Chris Larabee likes to gets his dick sucked by a guy?" Chris winced. Christ, he did not want to do this. He looked back into Buck's face, silently pleading for a reprieve, even though he'd started this argument.

Buck's eyes narrowed dangerously and his voice lowered to an almost seductive whisper. "Or you more worried that somebody might find out that my cock's been up your ass so many times it's surprising you can walk straight?"

Chris slammed his glass down so hard it cracked. "Damn it, I hate it when you talk like that," he said. He turned and strode out of the kitchen, and Buck followed him as far as the doorway and leaned against the frame while Chris snatched up his jacket and slid his car keys into his pocket.

"Fine for you," Buck observed dryly. "You already got your rocks off today. Guess you can afford to act like an offended virgin."

Chris spun around, and even the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach wasn't enough to stopper his mouth against the rising bile. "You want the world to go sticking its nose into your affairs, that's up to you. But what I do is nobody's damned business and you're not gonna drag me into your fucking circus. Maybe you don't give a shit, but I'm not about to get a reputation as a god damned…"

He bit back the word, but it made little difference. Buck stiffened and straightened from his slouch. "Faggot," he said distinctly, his eyes darkening. "The word you're looking for is 'faggot'. Leo said it loud and clear."

Chris winced again and opened his mouth to repair the damage, but Buck beat him to it.

"Go home, Chris," he said, sounding suddenly tired. "You know where to find me when you remember who you are."


They had always played it straight down the line at work. Here they were nothing more than old friends and colleagues. Here they were part of a team and he was Buck's boss; neat and simple, just the way he liked it. So nobody noticed anything different between them.

Nobody but Chris.

After putting up with Buck's cold shoulder for almost a week, Chris had had enough. On Friday he kept watch surreptitiously and when he saw his chance he parked his hip casually on the edge of Buck's desk and asked, "You coming out to the ranch this weekend?"

Buck raised his eyes and for an instant they flashed in amusement. A couple of heads swiveled towards them, eyes brightening with interest. Chris knew this wasn't exactly fair, cornering Buck in front of the team like this. Still, the man had barely spoken two words to him outside of routine business. This seemed like Chris's best bet for getting something more than feigned disinterest out of him.

"Nope," Buck said, holding Chris's gaze for a long moment. "Jeez, Buck. Must be somebody really special," Vin drawled. "Haven't seen hide nor hair of you outside of work for ages."

Buck glanced over and grinned at Vin. "Gotta spread the joy, pard," he said. He winked lewdly. "Always room for one more, if you're interested."

Vin snorted. "Think I'll stick to my own side of the fence."

"Well, if you change your mind," Buck said, expansively.

"So, who is it?" Chris asked, hoping that the tight, hot feeling in his chest couldn't be heard in his voice.

Buck leaned back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head, stretching out his long legs. Chris couldn't help noticing the effect; dark blue shirt taut across the muscled chest, Buck's narrow hips sliding down the chair and coming to rest on the edge, the charcoal gray material of his slacks bunching at his groin to mould itself around the outline of his prominent dick. Chris's neglected cock twinged, desperately wanting the body sprawled out in front of him and obviously on offer.

"He's blond and beautiful, just the way I like 'em," Buck smirked, and Chris felt a fluttering in his belly and had to work hard to choke back a groan.

"What a crock," JD crowed. "The last guy you brought home had red hair…"

"This one's blond," Buck cut in. "And hornier than a boat load of sailors on shore leave. Anything else you want to know, Chris?"

Yeah, Chris thought sourly, how the hell was he going to get back to his office with a hard-on practically poking a hole in his pants?

An hour later, he cornered Buck alone in the break room.

"How long are you gonna keep this up?" he asked.

Buck didn't bother to pretend he didn't know what Chris was talking about. "I figure you deserve to squirm a little longer," he replied.

Chris sighed. "You wanna hear me say I'm sorry, admit that I'm an asshole?"

"Couldn't hurt," Buck shrugged.

"I'm sorry and I'm an asshole," Chris said quickly. "Now will you come over tomorrow?"

"Nope," Buck said, and the maddening little grin returned.

"Fuck!" Chris sucked in a steadying breath. "Tell me what I've got to say. You know I miss you, you know I want you…"

Buck's grin widened. "Course I know it, idiot."

"So come to the ranch this weekend," Chris demanded, wincing at the petulance clear in his voice.

"Can't," Buck said. "Got plans this weekend."

Chris felt his earlier frustration return tenfold. Jealousy, he silently corrected himself. It was called jealousy. Buck had never tried to hide that he played the field, declaring that he had no intention of sitting at home by himself waiting for Chris to figure out what he wanted. Chris had never been able to pretend that he was all right with it. Buck was putting him in his place, plain and simple. He gritted his teeth against his resentment, knowing he had absolutely no right to it.

"If it's serious…" He ground to a halt and swallowed hard, but Buck kept his mouth shut, refusing to help him out. Bastard. "If you and him are an item…" Christ, that sounded like fucking high school!

"Choke it up, Chris," Buck goaded, and Chris scowled at him. "Is it someone special?" he spat, his insides knotting up suddenly.

Buck held his peace for a moment; a long, agonizing moment, then he laughed out loud. "He'll just be a pickup, sweetheart," he murmured against Chris's ear, knowing how much Chris hated his endearments. "Whoever's horny and willing on Saturday night."

Chris exhaled, feeling the tension ease slightly, and the jealousy flare again, sharp and bitter. "I'll be horny and willing on Saturday night," he growled.

But Buck only laughed harder. "You haven't been punished enough."

The weekend crawled by slow and empty, the first time in as long as Chris could remember that Buck hadn't been over. He couldn't believe how heavily the time weighed on him, how much he'd come to rely on Buck just being there; sprawled all over the couch in the den or fixing breakfast on Sunday morning; dragging him out to walk the land or lending a helping hand with the numerous chores that needed attending to. And then there was the sex; hot and sweet or slow and aching, but always joyous, always passionate and filled with laughter and love.

The one bright part of it had been when Vin came up and they'd ridden out for the afternoon, just shooting the shit and hanging out together. Vin's presence had soothed his nerves more than a little, but not enough to make up for Buck's annoying and purposeful absence.

When he came into the office Monday morning to find Vin and JD alone in the bullpen, he nodded good morning. "Where's Buck?" JD and Vin exchanged a guarded look, and Chris waited for the lie.

"Erm. He's sick. A cold, I think," JD mumbled, unable to meet Chris's eyes.

"Vin?" Chris barked, and the younger man jumped slightly.

"Yeah, a cold, I reckon," Vin tried.

Chris felt the slow anger crawl up his spine. "If he got wasted on the weekend and is dogging it…"

"He got banged up Friday night," JD blurted. "He's still hurting."

And the hot anger suddenly cooled to icy fear.

He called the house and got no answer, tried again an hour later and left a terse message for Buck to call him back. JD was no help, stammering about bruising and a swollen eye, swearing he didn't know what had happened or why. Chris slammed back into his office, snatching up the phone every time it rang, practically growling when none of the voices on the other end were Buck's. He forced himself to sit at his desk until lunchtime, then grabbed his jacket. "Back this afternoon," he said, and was sure he didn't imagine the sigh of relief from his men when he turned his back and strode out.

He made a brief stop to pick up some food, then drove faster than he should have, coming to a screeching halt outside Buck's place. He leaned on the bell and hammered on the door until his knuckles hurt and was fumbling in his pocket when the door suddenly swung open.

"That a key in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?" Buck deadpanned. He turned and limped down the hallway and Chris closed the door behind him and followed.

"Did you get the licence plate of the truck that hit you?" he countered.

"Everybody's a fucking comedian," Buck sighed. He walked into the kitchen and perched on a stool. "Hope you remembered the egg rolls."

Chris quirked an eyebrow. "You expecting waiter service?" he jeered, but he pulled down two plates anyway and set the Chinese take out on the kitchen counter.

"JD can't keep his big mouth shut," Buck grumbled, shaking his head.

"I'd have seen it eventually," Chris said, reasonably. "Not like you can hide that God-awful mess."

He stole glances at Buck's battered face as the man loaded up his plate. Buck was sporting a black eye and a huge bruise was purpling his right cheek with a series of small cuts balancing out the left side of his face. Buck caught him looking and opened his mouth.

"Don't take all the chicken," Chris cut in, not ready yet to face the inevitable confrontation. He turned his back before Buck could read too much from his expression and pulled two beers out of the refrigerator, plunking them down with a loud thud.

He sat opposite Buck and they ate in silence for a few moments. "Why didn't you call me?" he finally asked.

Buck shrugged. "Wasn't in the mood for one of your lectures on how I brought this all on myself," he said.

"Did you?" Chris sniped.

"Go fuck yourself," Buck sighed.

The silence resumed and they continued to eat. Chris caught Buck's eye when he leaned his head back to swallow noisily from his beer bottle.

"So what happened?"

Buck lowered his bottle slowly. "Things got a little rough Friday night," he said simply.

"What kind of rough?" Chris asked, calling on a reserve of patience he knew wasn't going to last long.

"Couple of guys took a dislike to me."

"Any special reason why?" Chris pressed.

"Maybe they didn't like my aftershave," Buck shrugged.

"You know `em?" Chris asked, ignoring the sarcasm. His gut tightened when he noted the almost imperceptible flinch that Buck wasn't able to completely control. "Look, Buck, if you know the guys that did this…"

"I was at The Rail," Buck interrupted and Chris felt his anxious dread instantly transform into a blazing rage.

"You fucking, stupid, goddamned idiot," he snarled. "How many times have I told you…"

"You don't get to tell me squat, Larabee," Buck said, his voice tight and angry. "Not outside of work."

Chris slammed his bottle down onto the counter and fumed, "The Rail. The worst meat market in Denver. You know what kind of tricks go there, you know what they want…"

"The same thing I wanted," Buck snarled. "Cock."

Chris's mouth snapped shut loudly. Buck was only ever this crude when he felt himself backed into a corner, or when he wanted to get under Chris's skin. Chris pulled in a deep breath, determined not to let this deteriorate into another fight.

"Not like that," he managed to choke out. "You've never done that fucked up scene before."

"You don't know shit about what I do," Buck said. "Just because I suck you off whenever you snap your fingers doesn't give you the right--"

"Buck," Chris barked, and the man subsided with a growl. They returned to their food, but Buck didn't eat anything more, just moved his sweet and sour chicken and fried rice around his plate. Chris looked hard, imagining the feel of the throbbing bruise, so hot and tender, convinced he could actually see Buck's face swelling in front of his eyes. He lifted his hand and stroked, feather-soft, over Buck's purple cheek.

"Promise me you won't go there again," he said.

Buck raised his head and Chris saw exhaustion and pain etched deeply on his face and all thoughts of exacting useless promises fled. "Christ," he muttered. "Let's get you to bed."

He pulled Buck to his feet and led him upstairs to his bedroom, hovering while Buck pulled off his clothes. He breathed in sharply when he saw deep bruising up and down Buck's side, snaking around his ribs, but he quickly averted his eyes when Buck's head swivelled around and his lover stared at him, almost daring him to say something.

Chris waited until Buck had settled under the covers with a sigh, then he went into the small adjoining bathroom and poured a glass of water, watching as Buck swallowed down the aspirins and the Sominex he'd emptied into the man's hand.

"You need anything else?" Chris asked.

"A blow job would be nice," Buck mumbled and Chris barked out a laugh, somewhere between indignation and incredulity, until he saw the impish grin that spread slowly across Buck's face.

"You're serious?" he sputtered.

"I won't be able to sleep like this." Buck yanked back the covers to display his rapidly swelling erection. Chris's eyes followed as Buck's hand moved down to grasp at the hardness, stroking slowly over its length, a thumb gently circling the flared head. "Come on, pard," Buck breathed, "help me out here." Chris dragged his eyes away and looked up into Buck's flushed and battered face. Relief flickered briefly when he saw that a little of Buck's customary amusement had crept back into his expression, softening the evidence of the beating. His eyes travelled back down the well-loved body, moving over taut muscles, inevitably drawn to the dark bruising, then back to Buck's hand moving faster now in familiar rhythm.

He shook his head, "Horny bastard," he grumbled, and reached to unbutton his shirt.

"Yeah," Buck sighed and his hand stilled, then slid down to cup his balls.

Chris sat on the edge of the bed and tugged off his jeans and boxers. "Just lie still. Don't even move a muscle," he admonished.

"Not even this one?" Buck teased, his rock hard cock bouncing against his stomach, keeping time like a metronome.

"You let me take care of that," Chris said, smiling in spite of himself. He shucked the rest of his clothes and knelt up on the bed, crawling to settle between Buck's outstretched legs. The slightest touch to the soft skin inside Buck's thighs had him arching and moaning and his hand tightened on his shaft. Chris reached and gently pried Buck's fingers off, smiling at the tiny whimper it elicited.

His own cock was hard now; it had started to twitch into life when Buck undressed, had filled quickly when his partner started stroking himself, and was now rigid with desire for the man spread out before him. The puckered opening to Buck's body convulsed, and Chris imagined pushing his throbbing cock past the tight muscles, battling the involuntary resistance and sliding into the hot, gripping channel. But this wasn't about what he wanted, so instead he leaned forward, taking the head of Buck's cock into his mouth, savouring the heat and the taste and Buck's deep moan of pleasure, and he began to suck.

He lost himself in the profound satisfaction of giving and in Buck's noisy, passionate response. He was aware of Buck's hands on his head, guiding him, alternatively stroking and clutching as pleasure mounted. He was vaguely aware of the sounds his partner made, murmured words of approval and encouragement that sent a thrill through him. When Buck's body stiffened and he cried out Chris's name, Chris clutched at his own pulsing cock and his hand filled with hot, sticky fluid as Buck's orgasm overflowed his mouth.

The next thing he knew he was waking from a sated doze. Buck had turned onto his side and Chris was plastered against the warm, slightly damp skin of his back with an arm wrapped tightly around Buck's waist. He nuzzled his face sleepily into Buck's neck and breathed in deeply of the comforting smell.

Buck stirred. "You staying?" he mumbled, sounding more asleep than awake.

Chris tightened his grip momentarily then relaxed his hold. "And have JD come home and find me naked as a jay bird in your bed? I don't think."

Buck shrugged, shaking Chris off him, and rolled onto his back. "You could learn a lot from that kid about taking life easy," he said.

Chris looked away as the familiar mix of regret and inadequacy washed through him. He wanted to say something, but the words didn't come. Instead he brushed a kiss onto Buck's shoulder and climbed out of the warm bed.

By the time he'd showered and dressed, Buck was burrowed under the covers, almost asleep. Chris sat on the edge of the bed and pushed his hand up into Buck's hair. The marks on his face made him look vulnerable and strangely fragile and Chris felt a stab of unfamiliar helplessness.

"Hey," he whispered.

"Mmmm," Buck's eye cracked open a fraction and he turned his face to rub it against Chris's open palm.

"Love you, pal," Chris murmured.

Buck nodded drowsily and Chris smiled softly as his eyes fluttered shut and he sighed into sleep. Chris gave a last gentle stroke through Buck's hair, unnecessarily tucked the blankets tighter under his chin, and left the room quietly.


Chris watched Vin's retreating back and shuffled a half-inch closer to Buck on the bench seat, soaking up the warmth radiating off his body and the heady musk of his after-shave. The rest of the team had already left, singly or in pairs, to happily begin their various weekend pursuits. Vin had stuck around the longest, settling into the booth with a beer, content to trade quips with Buck and discuss the Broncos' chances against the Raiders. Eventually, though, he stood up and stretched, mumbling something about meeting JD and Casey for dinner before heading towards the door.

Chris waited until a busboy had cleared away the empty bottles and glasses before bending his head close to Buck's ear.

"How 'bout this weekend?" he murmured.

Buck shrugged nonchalantly, although the affect was spoiled by the wide grin that spread across his face.

Chris feigned disinterest, attempting payback. "Come to think of it, I might not be around that much," he continued.

Buck snorted and leaned in close. "Oh, I'm fucking you this weekend, Larabee," he whispered, his hot breath, and the hotter words, radiating through Chris and making his cock throb.

"What's this, ladies' night out?"

Chris groaned and turned his head sharply.

"Shove it, asshole," he barked at Payne, who just laughed and turned his contemptuous scowl on Buck.

"So Wilmington, got a nice piece of ass lined up for tonight?" he sneered.

"You offering, Leo?" Buck asked.

"You know what I got to offer your kind," Payne spat. He inclined his head and a smirk spread across his ugly face. "Looks like one of your tricks turned nasty on you."

Buck touched the bruise on his cheek, faded significantly now though still noticeable.

"You got your little girl gang with you tonight, Leo?" Buck asked. "What was it, three of you? To take down one faggot?"

"Don't know what you're talking about," Payne said blithely.

"So it wasn't you and your pals outside my building end of last week?"

Chris stiffened as Payne made a dismissive gesture. "If I wanted to kick the shit out of your sorry ass I'd charge admission," he sneered. "But you ever find out who did it, you let me know. I'll pin the medal on myself."

He sauntered away and Chris turned his head and pinned Buck with a hard stare. "The Rail?" he said.


"You said you were rough tricking at The Rail."

Buck looked away quickly. "Yeah, well I wasn't about to put up with you clucking and fussing," he said. "You'd only have worried at it 'till you drove me nuts."

"Look, Buck," Chris said sternly. "If you think it was Payne…"

"It wasn't Payne," Buck said firmly.

"You're sure?" Chris said, seeing something in Buck's eyes that he rarely saw there, something that looked an awful lot like evasiveness. "How can you be so sure?" he pressed.

"I had the security cameras outside the building checked," Buck cut in, sounding loath to admit it.

"And?" Chris prompted.

"Nothing," Buck said, shaking his head. "It was too dark, and they kept their faces turned away. Almost like they knew the camera was there." He paused and Chris let the silence lengthen, staring hard at Buck until he sighed in resignation and continued reluctantly.

"Leo wasn't there. He's a lot of things, but he isn't stupid."

"But?" Chris prodded again.

Buck shrugged. "I think it might have been Williams. I couldn't be sure. Couple other of Leo's pals, maybe."

Chris hissed in a breath and Buck's head turned sharply. "I don't want you going off half-cocked on this, Chris," he ordered brusquely. "There's no evidence…"

"We'll find the fucking evidence!" Chris sputtered. "It's what we do."

"Then what?" Buck said.

"Then we report the motherfuckers…"

"Yeah, right," Buck retorted. "I have to put up with enough shit around here without people looking at me like I'm some kind of defenseless, limp-wristed, fairy. Fuck that!"

"You'd rather be a punching bag for a bunch of redneck assholes than lose a little face?" Chris said, incredulous.

"Christ," Buck huffed. "Talk about losing face -- for somebody who takes is up the ass as much as you do you're the fucking straightest guy I know."

Chris flinched as the words hit home. "Bit louder, Buck," he mumbled. "Not sure the other half of the bar heard you." His eyes automatically scanned the immediate area for potential eavesdroppers, but the place was too noisy tonight, and Buck's voice had been carefully modulated.

"That what you told Danny Merrick?" Chris tried. "Just let the assholes do what they want, say what they want?"

Buck actually laughed. "Don't try that reverse psychology horseshit on me, pal. I wrote the book."

Chris turned away, feeling helpless and angry; at Leo Payne, at Danny Merrick, even at Buck. "I can't believe you're gonna let them get away with it," he said.

"Hey, I figure I got off easy," Buck said briskly. "There were three of `em. It could have been a lot worse than a couple of bruises."

"Jesus, Buck…" Chris breathed, feeling suddenly sick to his stomach.

"It's over, Chris," Buck said. "I helped get Leo knocked down a peg, he got his pals to beat the shit out of me. I reckon that makes us even."

Chris didn't answer, his head filled with images of the livid marks covering Buck's body and the thought of what else might have happened. A minute later he felt Buck's hand squeeze his thigh gently. He turned and looked into deep blue eyes, uncharacteristically serious and with an obvious plea in them. "Let it go," Buck whispered. "For me."

"Shit, Buck," Chris mumbled. "You know how much I hate it when the bad guy gets away."

Buck smiled and leaned in close. "Life's too short to sweat the things we can't change," he murmured. "Come back to my place. Let me show you what's important."

Chris pulled his head back a little. "That mean I'm forgiven?" he asked.

Buck grinned. "Pay for the drinks and maybe I'll let you make it up to me."

Chris snorted out a laugh and stood up, reaching for his wallet while Buck pulled on his jacket and headed towards the door. Chris threw a twenty onto the table and started to follow Buck, nodding to a few colleagues as he weaved towards the exit. He'd just raised his hand to wave goodbye to one of the waitresses when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Buck had come to a sudden stop and Payne was standing in front of him, barring the way.

"So, Wilmington, whose cock you gonna be sucking on tonight?" Payne sneered.

Chris saw Buck tense and in one sweep he took in the smirking faces of Payne and his cronies, who were fanning out behind his bulky body. They looked like a wolf pack, all but circling their lone prey, ready to tear him apart if he faltered even for a moment. Chris lengthened his stride and as he reached Buck he heard the man sigh, a sound so bleak, so resigned that Chris suddenly understood with sickening clarity what Buck's life had become; facing these men every day, taking on their derision and scorn, having to put up with their ignorance and loathing. And now it seemed they thought they could isolate and bully him, even beat him into submission.

"Mine," he blurted, coming to stand beside Buck.

Payne turned slowly, and all eyes swiveled towards Chris. "He'll be sucking on my cock tonight, Payne. And if all those other times are anything to go on, it'll be the best damned blowjob of my life."

Payne's mouth dropped open. He moved his head from side to side, eyes darting swiftly between Chris and Buck's faces. Then he shook his head, disgust clearly written on his face. "You're full of shit, Larabee," he snarled. "I warned you already, you ain't doing yourself no favours sticking up for that queer."

Chris heard a noise and knew that Buck was trying to stifle a laugh. Payne and the others took a step back and a discreet shove in his back sent Chris stumbling forward. He ignored the hostile glares, would have ignored all the muttered comments, if Payne hadn't waited until he thought Chris had passed by before giving Buck the finger.

It had always been his way to let Buck take care of himself, and that had everything to do with the hard years they'd had together and the fact that Buck always seemed to land on his feet. Even if he had to land alone. He was strong-willed, independent and as stubborn in his own way as Chris was and most of the time he deserved to have to dig himself out of the messes he made. But he didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve to find himself in the crosshairs because he refused to stand by and stomach an injustice. And he sure as hell didn't deserve to have to face this shit alone.

Chris stopped, so fast that Buck barreled into the back of him, then he turned on his heel and marched back towards the small knot of men.

"It stops here, Payne," he hissed. "I know it was you who jumped him; you and these cowboys you call friends." Payne stiffened and opened his mouth, but Chris beat him to it. "You so much as breathe a nasty word in his direction, you look at him cross-eyed and I'll come after you with everything I've got. I'll fucking take you apart, Leo. And I won't give a shit about the job, or my position, or your pals here who do your dirty work. I'll take you down, even if I have to go down with you."

Payne shoved hard and pushed Chris back a step. He was breathing hard and his face was flushed with fury. "Piss off, Larabee," Payne said, spittle spraying from his mouth. "Travis might think the sun shines outta your hole, but you're just a jumped up little shit far as I'm concerned."

"And you're a dinosaur, Leo. Even the ATF moves with the times. Your days are numbered."

Whatever Leo had to say to that, Chris didn't hear it because Buck grabbed him firmly by the elbow and dragged him away, manhandling him down the steps and out of the bar. The cool night air cut through the fury and cleared Chris's head. He turned to see Buck smiling at him.

"What?" he asked.

"You forget you're on the hard side of 40, Chris?"


"You forget you're an officer of the law?"

"Hell no," he muttered.

"Then what made you decide to act like we were back in college and pick a fight with the biggest, dumbest guy in the room?" Buck was chuckling now, like he'd enjoyed the show. He probably had.

"Seemed like a good idea at the time," Chris said, smiling a little himself. His blood was up and a fight in the alley would've done him a world of good. Messing up Payne would've been sweet.

Explaining it to Travis might've been hard. But not that hard.

"Guess you ain't climbing out of that closet, pal. Not tonight, anyway," Buck grinned. "It was real nice though, Chris," he continued, sounding so grateful that Chris felt a blush redden his cheeks.

"Your place?" he said quickly, to hide his embarrassment.

Buck chattered amiably as they drove, the kind of conversation that didn't require an answer more creative than the occasional grunt. Chris was grateful for that because his mind was whirling. Buck had never been happy hiding who he was. He pretty much lived by the mantra "Fuck `em if they can't take a joke" and he'd only concealed his true nature because he knew Chris didn't want their relationship revealed. Chris realized with a start that he'd have defended Vin or JD or any of his men against the shit that Buck had been put through, hell, he'd have defended a stranger off the street. But he'd left Buck to handle it alone, yeah maybe because Buck could handle most things by himself, but mainly, he now suspected, because he crawled into Buck's bed whenever he got the chance and somehow he'd felt that defending Buck would expose him and compromise his privacy. Today he'd figured out that his privacy came at a price; a price that Buck had been forced to pay.

"You're not listening to a word, Larabee," Buck's voice chided.

Chris turned his head and smiled. "I'm with you, pal," he said and ignored Buck's snort of disbelief.

It wasn't the easiest thing in the world to face the cold, hard truth but Chris realized with a shudder that he'd been acting like a coward. If anybody else had made that observation he would have set them on their ass before the breath they'd expended to say the word had cooled in the air. It wasn't something he wanted to think about himself, it didn't sit right with who he thought he was. He was all about justice, righteousness; occasionally he was about revenge when the better angels of his nature took the night off. He wasn't the kind of man who turned his back when somebody needed him, especially when that somebody was his oldest friend, and the man who'd been his lover off and on for more than a dozen years.

When they got to the townhouse, he parked and followed Buck. As usual Buck led the way to the kitchen and he was reaching for the glasses when Chris cleared his throat.

"Hey?" he said softly, hoping that the quiver in his voice wasn't too obvious. His guts clenched as Buck's back stiffened momentarily and he knew he had to do this now before he lost his nerve. But when Buck turned around that look of resignation that Chris had seen so many times before, had caused more times than he wanted to remember, flared to life.

"You don't have to say anything, Chris," Buck said quietly, shaking his head. "It was a pretty heavy scene, I know that. No point dragging you any further into this mess."

Chris stared into Buck's face, cringing when he thought of how badly he had let his friend down in the past.

"You should go on home," Buck continued gently. He reached up, but his hand stopped halfway to Chris's face, as though afraid to complete the action.

Chris reached out and grabbed at the hand, holding it tightly until Buck met his eyes.

"I thought I might stay the night," Chris said softly, watching closely as Buck sucked in a surprised breath. "If that's okay with you," he added.

Buck's head tipped to the side, assessing, speculative, eyes clear and bright. "You know JD's coming home tonight?" he murmured.

"Yeah, I know," Chris said, feeling a knot start to form in his guts in spite of what he'd just figured out, struggling to keep it under control so that Buck wouldn't suspect. Old habits died hard.

The look in Buck's eyes told him he knew exactly what was going on.

"You know I'll never be the poster boy for the rainbow flag, Buck," Chris said quietly. "I can't change. Not that much, anyway."

Buck nodded and licked his lips. "I know," he whispered. "Don't expect you to change. I just want you in my bed, Chris. I just want it to be easier, sometimes. For both of us."

"I can do 'easy'," Chris said, smiling at the look of scepticism that flared briefly across Buck's face, before he buried it under practiced acceptance. "I don't do it well," Chris acknowledged, "but I'm willing to try. Take it a few steps at a time."

Buck grimaced slightly, and Chris could practically read the emotions that battled inside him. This could get messy. There would be questions they'd feel obliged to answer, speculation, idle gossip and Buck knew him too well to think he'd be able to handle it gracefully, no matter how good his intentions were here and now. Finally, though, Buck's face cleared and he grinned.

"Eggs okay for breakfast?" he asked. "JD makes a wicked frittata."