Notes: Many thanks to Mog, for creating this universe and for allowing the rest of us to play in it.

Nothing New Under the Sun, Part Five

Moorings by Lumina~

Remnants of the New Year's Eve snowfall rimmed the parking lot of The Saloon in blackened heaps, combining with the present gusting snow flurry to muffle the sound of Buck Wilmington being forcefully shoved against the side of his pickup. Chris Larabee's fingers flexed with tension, his knuckles whitened with rage as his hands clenched, and he gave his friend another smaller thrust against his truck. The thunk of that body meeting metal, as well as the abrupt exhalation of air from lungs a moment ago, registered with Chris Larabee then as he stared at his own hands curled tightly into the fabric of Buck's coat.

Buck. This was his friend, his oldest friend. Chris caught Buck's eyes then, saw the absence of anger there, the presence of understanding, a shared sorrow and compassion. The first shamed him as Buck allowed himself to be manhandled, unresisting. Trusting. The last was his undoing as his fingers relaxed and as the violence he'd felt curling within him since he'd left Ezra's dissipated.

His oldest friend. The urge to strike out physically was gone as years of kinship were remembered, but the anger driving it remained. The sight of Ezra in Buck's arms New Year's Eve leapt in front of his mind's eye as the words "Man said no" whispered a challenge in his ears.

He pushed away from Buck and stepped back, his gaze held by the steady blue eyes of his friend. Chris continued to glare at Buck where he still leaned against the pickup, the sting of snowflakes on his skin providing a staccato counterpoint as images of the past hour flashed through his mind.

The maelstrom of confusion and sadness mixing with his own anger and reflected in Ezra's eyes as he'd asked for his chance.

The endless echo of the word "No" in his ears as Ezra moved away from him.

The defiance in Buck's eyes as he stood in Ezra's living room.

Buck's touch on Ezra's skin.

Buck. His oldest friend. As Buck faced him, unwavering and calm, his own fury surged anew with the wind now beginning to pelt snow against metal and glass and flesh in its own furious rhythm. His heart rate matched that beat as he voiced hoarsely, "How could you do that to me?"

Buck stared at him for an instant before shaking his head and turning to his pickup, his shoulders lifting slightly in a mirthless laugh that ended on a sigh. Buck faced him again and, in a voice still quiet in the rising storm, asked, "Do what to you, Chris?"

Chris's eyes narrowed as he ground out, "You know what." Then, taking a step towards Buck, "You-" His breath hitched on an inward wince at his own feeling of Buck's betrayal, at his own loss before he hissed, "You slept with Ezra."

"Yeah, Chris, yeah I did," Buck said, his tone even and quiet, a marked contrast to Chris's own rough and broken words.

Chris squeezed his eyes shut as he shook his head against that affirmation, that matter-of-fact admittance. Slowly opening them again, his voice rose on his anger. "You knew I was in love with him, and yet you did this thing." His words formed a question, but his tone put an answer to it even before he heard Buck's reply.

Buck took a step closer to Chris as his own voice lowered. "Ezra doesn't belong to you, Chris. Just 'cause you want him that doesn't mean he's yours." Then, a slow emphasis on his next words, he said, "Ezra doesn't belong to you." Buck paused briefly before continuing as he swiped a hand through his hair. "Hell, Chris, he might belong with one of us, but Ezra won't ever belong to anybody. And that'll only be if he allows it. No one can own Ezra."

As much as he wanted to deny that truth, as much as he wanted to be able to claim that Ezra did belong to him, Chris knew he couldn't. A quiet but firm Southern accent uttering "No" flit through his mind and wouldn't let him. A calm and daring pride edging green eyes denied it for him. One thing proved it most of all.

Buck's touch on Ezra's skin.

A fierce, almost feral possessiveness swept through Chris at that evidence of Buck's mouth having tasted fully what his had only sipped at, of Buck's body having taken what his had never been offered. But he tamped down on that jealous need to claim, to hold Ezra as his own. Buck was right. One of the things he loved most about Ezra was his independence, his stubborn sense of self-determination. Ezra shouldn't and couldn't ever be owned by anyone. But Chris was damned if he wouldn't prove that Ezra did belong with him. With him. But doubt niggled at his heart with one thought, one sight, one remembrance.

Buck's touch on Ezra's skin.

Buck and Ezra had had sex. It didn't prove that Ezra had chosen Buck. It didn't. It did show a faithlessness in his friend, in Buck, that Chris would never have suspected, and with that thought, his anger strengthened like the storm around them. He returned his attention to the man opposite him, his friend, and asked again the question that had been a gnawing hurt within him for two days.

"How could you do this to me? How could you do this after I told you, after you've known for the past month that I love him?"

Buck gave the same hollow laugh he had moments ago and moved closer still to Chris. Chris held his ground, kept his gaze steady with the blue eyes staring into his with a now angry intensity, but was surprised to see there as well an earnest regret that seemed to match that he himself had felt earlier while still with Ezra. That sorrow and the anger mixed in Buck's voice, creating a riveting brew, as he started to speak.

"How could I do this to you? Lord, Chris, you don't have any idea, do you? You think you're the only one who loves Ezra? The only one who has a right to? The only one who has loved him so long that you can't remember not feeling this ache inside for want of him? That if it wasn't there, no matter how much it cuts, you'd miss it 'cause it just ain't life anymore without loving Ezra?" Buck's eyes flicked to the ground then, a deep breath filling his chest as if he was trying to ease an inner wound before he raised them again to Chris. The lines of his face hardened, even as his emotion-filled voice accentuated his soft drawl. "You stand there thinkin' 'cause you got this want for him, this need, got this feelin' for him that he's yours." His words firmed then, a match for his expression as he continued. "He does not belong to you."

"I do not want to own him!" Chris said, with quiet vehemence, before his tone gentled with an old longing. "I just want to love him."

Buck's eyes roamed his face with silent listening. The same wistfulness he'd heard in his own words tinged Buck's and laced his small smile as he replied, "So do I, pard." Chris saw the anger ease in Buck's face, heard it lessen in his voice as he asked, "How long you loved Ezra, Chris?"

Chris's anger simmered still, but Buck's yearning met his own. It was something they shared, and with that understanding he breathed, "Two years-" His reply was cut off, surprise flaring, as he heard Buck answering with him and without hesitation.

Buck's smile widened at Chris's unspoken question. "How'd I know?" Buck shrugged. "I know you, Chris. Didn't need you tellin' me last Thanksgiving when you felt so lost and lonely you got shit-faced drunk and told me about your achin'. Knew it the first time I saw you smiling with your eyes again since Sarah and Adam died, and you were lookin' at Ezra. Saw it in the way you fight with him, for the pure joy of it. Being challenged by him, you challenging him. You had that with Sarah; you have it with Ezra. You thrive on it. Makes you feel alive. And you ain't wanted to live since Sarah and Adam died." Buck nodded as if confirming the truth of his own words, then said softly, "I knew it. So I stood aside for you."

Chris moved over to Buck's pickup and slumped against it, his eyes sweeping the nearly empty parking lot sightlessly as Buck's words repeated themselves in his head. He'd known for two years that Chris loved Ezra. He himself had only just begun to suspect Buck's feelings for Ezra that same Thanksgiving, suspicions he'd shared only with Vin, but the implication was there that Buck had loved Ezra for just as long as he had. He'd seen that soft yearning he heard in Buck's voice now, in his eyes then, that night as he'd poured out his own longing for Ezra to his oldest friend, just as he'd tipped the whiskey bottle into his glass over and over again. It'd been an ephemeral flash, a look into Buck's heart in an unguarded moment. It was the same haunting he'd seen in his own eyes, in his reflection in the mirror, as his love for Ezra grew. He wondered how he'd missed it in Buck's for two years.

So I stood aside for you.

Chris closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the truck, his previous anger fading, cooling even as the biting wind of the storm was now felt through the layers of his clothes. That chill crept within, too, and spread into a pool of sorrow as he considered Buck's revelation.

So I stood aside. For you.

"God, Buck…. Why?" Chris shook his head as he opened his eyes and continued. "You've loved him for, what, two years?"

Chris did his own questing search of Buck's face as that man whispered, "Longer." He didn't find his answer there, in his friend's open features, so he asked his question again.

"Why, Buck? Why stand aside for me?"

"'Cause you asked me to, Chris." Buck waved his hand at the denial that rushed to Chris's lips. "I know. How could you ask me when you didn't even know I was in love with Ezra too? You did though. Every time I saw that light in your eyes, that life. Every time I remembered seeing you without that. You got a family in the Team now, but it isn't what you had with Sarah. You need that kind of anchor to keep you from drifting. Me, I had you and Sarah and Adam for my family. Now I have you and the Team. You. You've always been my family, what kept me grounded. So I stood aside."

Chris's lips opened, mouthing wordlessly for a moment as he shook his head before he met Buck's eyes again. "Buck, I didn't know. If I had-"

Buck cut in, his voice gentle. "Weren't supposed to know, pard."

The need to understand Buck's actions of the last two days fired another question. "What changed?" At Buck's quizzical expression, Chris continued, "What made you change your mind about standing aside?"

Buck took a deep intake of breath, letting it out slowly, as he tilted his head back to meet the rushing snowflakes. He looked back at Chris then and answered. "I've changed, Chris. Ezra is my anchor now."

He shivered then and hunched his shoulders against the wind. Cocking his head towards The Saloon, he asked, "What say we get out of this weather and get that drink?"

Chris nodded silently, his mind still running over Buck's words. As he followed Buck towards the entrance to The Saloon, he stopped abruptly and called, "Buck?"

As Buck turned, Chris hesitated, not sure if he knew his own answer to his next question, not sure if he wanted to know Buck's. He couldn't not ask it though, so he said, "If I had known you loved Ezra all this time, I would never have asked, never have expected you to stand aside for me. You know that don't you, Buck?"

Buck's eyes met his steadily, a trace of warmth, of a familiar kinship lightening their depths as he said, "I know."

Ezra left the kitchen, the untouched dinner he'd cooked to share with Buck now in the refrigerator, and moved across the living room towards the window, extinguishing the one lone lamp casting a soft glow as he passed. He leaned his head against the pane, his eyes on the reflection of the flickering embers of the fire behind him before lifting to the storm beyond. A sigh escaped him, a small puff of warmth against the cold glass, a meeting of opposites just as the reality of this night was contrary to the expectations he'd held for it just this morning.

I wish I'd understood two nights ago.

A heartfelt truth, but a feeble apology for the hurt he'd seen in two pairs of eyes and heard in two different voices speaking his name. Pain he had caused.

Two nights ago he'd believed two men desired him. One night later he knew one of those men loved him. And because he wanted what no one had given him before, needed that love that Buck offered, he'd taken a chance.

What'd it hurt?

Now he knew. He'd taken a reckless chance that had wounded two men who loved him.

If he had known two nights ago that two men loved him, Ezra would not have taken that chance. Not until he knew his own heart.

The anger he'd felt at the arrogance of one man who thought he could have him with a touch had kindled anew at the sight of Chris on his doorstep. He still felt its heat sparking through him, but it was offset now by regret and sorrow for that pain caused and that hurt felt.

Ezra still wanted a chance, but now he knew, so did two men. He knew also what it could hurt now. He'd not take that chance again.

Not till he knew his heart.

"Senor Wilmington?"

Buck slowly pulled his eyes away from the amber liquid swirling, untasted, in the glass he held. He raised them instead to Inez, hovering over their table a frown creasing her brow, and wondered distractedly how long she'd been trying to gain his attention.

Shifting upright from his slouched position, he asked, "Yeah, Inez?"

Throwing a pointed glance towards the front of the saloon, Inez said, "The roads, Senor. They are getting bad." As Buck continued to gaze at her blankly, she rolled her eyes and said with exaggerated patience, "The snow, Senor." As she briefly watched Chris Larabee staring unseeingly into his own drink, she said more gently, "You and Senor Larabee should go home now." Then, sweeping their glasses from unresisting fingers and depositing them on her tray, she patted Buck lightly on the shoulder as she moved past and repeated, "Go home."

Buck swiveled in his seat, his own eyes registering the truth of Inez's words. The earlier promise given in the sting of flakes on his cheek was now fulfilled as snow, carried on a driving wind, fell steadily even as it lightened the night sky. Several inches building a miniature snowdrift on the window ledge and a quick look at his watch confirmed that it'd been over three hours since he and Chris had arrived at The Saloon. Over three hours since harsh and bitter truths had been exchanged and brought understanding.

Over three hours since he'd left Ezra.

I wish I'd understood two nights ago.

Ezra's softly spoken words of apology wafted through his mind, like a snowflake borne on a gentle breeze, yet speaking still of a sadness and an anger raging like a storm behind a pair of green eyes. They had found their mark as they'd been spoken and as their echo lingered in the twisting in Buck's belly and in the pang in his heart. The reflection of his own storm was seen in Chris's eyes as he turned back to that man and found himself now the object of his intent focus.

Sighing, Buck said quietly, "C'mon, Chris. Let's go home. You can stay with me and JD tonight. It's too far to drive out to your place in this mess…." He trailed off as his attempt to rise was halted by a firm grip on his arm, by a pair of eyes continuing to bore into his, and by hoarsely whispered words that set the tumult within him surging like a gale of renewed force.

"What'll you do if Ezra picks me?"

Buck tried to pull away from that hand, from the ache brought on by that one question, only to feel Chris's fingers tighten and to hear him ask again, more insistently, "What would you do, Buck?"

He heard his own words come back to him then, words he'd offered as a promise.

I'll only take what you're willing to give.

He'd meant those words that night. He still held them as a vow. They were his touchstone. To contradict them would be to deny his love for Ezra.

Buck faced Chris then, saw his curiosity, his understanding, saw his fear, and with quiet conviction replied, "I'll do whatever Ezra wants."

Chris held his gaze for a moment, scanning Buck's face as if looking for the truth there, before he released his hold and sat back, a slight smile accompanying his short nod. Buck sought an answer of his own and asked, "What will you do if Ezra picks me?"

Chris' smile slowly withdrew as he continued to steadily meet Buck's eyes before answering. Then he said, "I'll drift."

To Be Concluded in Nothing New Under the Sun, Part Six~At the End of the Day

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