"Me? Why me? And why in hell did ya go and tell someone a damn fool thing like that, anyway?" Buck Wilmington straightened up from his habitual slouch and glared at his coworker in outrage.
"My dear Mr. Wilmington, if you'd had a close encounter with the redoubtable Mrs. Blossom Harrington, I do believe you would have said or done whatever was necessary in order to escape. Much as I did." Ezra Standish's slight drawl was laced with amusement.
"Oh come on, Ez. It wasn't like she was trying to kill you or nothin'. She just wanted to go out with you, for pete's sake. Did ya have to tell her you were gay?" Buck's voice rose plaintively on the last few words, which caused more than one of the listening men to smother a laugh.
"How'd you like to walk home?" Buck twisted slightly to the left in order to frown at JD, who was rapidly turning the same color as the leftover ketchup on the conference table in his efforts to stifle his amusement.
"It ain't like you're gonna have to kiss him goodnight or anything. It's just dinner," JD pointed out breathlessly, finally surrendering his losing battle and bursting into laughter.
"Just think of it as a night off from the ladies. Even God rested on the seventh day, you know," Josiah suggested, eyes gleaming.
"Ha Ha. Ain't you all just the font of wisdom all of a sudden. You'd be singin' a different tune if it was you," Buck said darkly, glaring around the table impartially.
"But none of us have your animal magnetism, Bucklin. We just ain't worthy of bein' chose." The sharpshooter's seldom seen grin was out in full force.
"Chris!" Buck appealed in anguish to the blackclad leader of Team 7.
"It's not just a job, Buck. It's an adventure." Chris Larabee had no pity. "We can't afford to lose this woman as a connection. She was the one who led us to the leader of that gun smuggling ring last year. And we're hoping she'll have some information on Davis this time. The guy who runs the arson for hire business that we'd like to shut down. Remember?" Buck winced. No one could do sarcasm like Chris Larabee.
"But..." A warning glare from Chris caused Buck to lapse into a rather sullen silence.
"May I point out the need for a small outlay of ATF finances for the occasion? I fear dear Blossom will never believe our fashion challenged friend here to be a serious contender for my affections without a few necessary alterations. And of course there is the dinner itself. And perhaps a few drinks before and after..." One of Ezra's favorite pasttimes was finding new ways to finagle money from the notoriously tightfisted agency.
"What's wrong with that outfit he wore to the awards banquet last month?" Chris countered, folding his arms and staring suspiciously at the southern agent. Trying to justify some of his team's more unusual expense reports gave him a major headache. He should start adding a monthly supply of Tylenol to the requisition forms.
"Well, to sum it up in three words or less...everything, Mr. Larabee. That was what was wrong with it."
"Hey, now. Wait a minute. If you don't like the way I dress than why are you even asking me to do it? Why don't you ask Nathan? Rain picks out all his suits so there ain't nothin' wrong with the way he dresses." Buck was quick to the draw, trying to pass the buck. Or in this case, the Ezra.
"Uh uh. You the man. I'm just an ex medic with a girlfriend who's got good taste in clothes."
"What about Vin, then? He's prettier than I am." Buck was getting desperate.
"Ain't purty. I hate when people say that," the sharpshooter muttered, hands going instinctively to his hair.
"End of discussion, people. Buck, I suggest you go make yourself as pretty as possible. Ezra, I'm going to ok the money for tonight, BUT I expect you to restrain yourself and keep it within reason. Understood?" When Chris Larabee spoke in that tone, not understanding could be fatal to one's health.
Ezra gave his usual abbreviated salute and rose to his feet. "Come, Mr. Wilmington. Our reservation is for seven o'clock sharp. And we have our work cut out for us." Ignoring Buck's ferocious scowl, Ezra sailed towards the door of the conference room. A man on a mission.
"Go on, Buck. Don't want to keep your date waiting. He might not let you have any dessert tonight." Josiah could say the most awful things with the most saintly expression. Buck really hated that.
"Anyone ever tell you fellas that ya'll ain't in the least bit funny? I wouldn't give up my day jobs if I were you." With a sigh of resignation, Buck got to his feet and followed Ezra out the door. Adventure. Yeah right. "
+ + + + + + +
"I still don't understand why you had to go and tell her something like that. Why didn't you just tell her you had a girlfriend?" Buck finished buttoning up the shirt his companion had handed him and turned to look in the mirror.
"This don't look any different from the one I tried on at the other store." Buck frowned at his reflection.
"That's because you are a philistine. Since the lady in question is married, I didn't think a mere girlfriend would be a deterrent. And I also had no desire to annoy her husband, who was known as Crusher to his intimates. Telling her I preferred men seemed a reasonable enough solution at the time." Ezra reached out and made a slight adjustment to his companion's shirt before handing him a jacket.
"How did you meet her in the first place?" Curiosity caused Buck to temporarily forget his litany of complaints. Something Ezra was more than happy to encourage.
"Working vice. The details are unimportant. Suffice it to say that I recognized her potential and saved her from suffering a bit of embarrassment at the hands of our beloved legal system. She wished to express her gratitude in a rather personal way and was not accustomed to taking no for an answer. Hence, here we are. Just be grateful she spends most of her time in Atlanta." Ezra tilted his head back and studied the results of his handiwork. He had to admit he was rather pleased. Buck cleaned up much better than he had expected.
"I do believe that perhaps you may not embarrass me after all," Ezra pronounced, glancing down at his watch. "And we have just enough time for a short refresher course on table manners."
"Gee. Kill me with the compliments, Ez. Are you like this with all your dates? Maybe I oughtta give you a lesson in the old Buck Wilmington type charm."
Ezra snorted. "I am from the south, remember? We invented charm. I just do not always choose to squander it on cretinous individuals who lack the proper appreciation." Ezra was a bit stung by the dig.
"I bet I could teach you a few things the south don't know about." Buck grinned slyly, his good humor returning as he saw Ezra's eyes narrow in response.
"I beg to differ." Ezra was at his most haughty.
"Is that a challenge?" Buck smoothed down the front of his jacket and grinned cockily at the other man.
"I don't believe it will be any challenge a'tall since you have never evinced anything that I can recollect as remotely resembling charm."
"I could have you eatin' out of my hand in less than an hour," Buck predicted confidently.
"You could try. And you would fail."
"We'll see about that." Buck closed the door of his dressing room and began changing back into his own clothes.
Buck was silent as Ezra paid for their purchases. He was obviously thinking about something. It wasn't til they'd reached the Jag and Ezra had unlocked and opened Buck's door with an exaggerated flourish that he appeared to have reached some sort of conclusion.
"Ez? You realize that you just challenged me to seduce you, don't ya? One straight all american guy to another."
"It's not the game that's important, Mr. Wilmington. It's the winning," Ezra replied, going around to the driver's side and opening the door. He slid in behind the wheel with a smooth economy of motion and flashed a superior smile at his companion.
Buck stared out the window as Ezra drove. He wasn't sure exactly when this had gone from onerous duty to interesting evening, but he found that he was actually looking forward to tonight. He'd show his southern companion a thing or two about how to charm people, no matter what their gender!
+ + + + + + +
"Gee Buck, you look almost pretty in that getup. Ezra must've picked it out." JD Dunne stood in the doorway of Buck's room, watching while his roommate twisted and turned in an effort to make sure the elegant suit he wore was hanging properly from his large frame.
"C'mere and tell me if the seam is straight here, JD. Make yourself useful."
JD obediently moved forward and inspected the area in question. "Looks fine to me. You're sure fussing a lot, Buck. If I didn't know you were going out with Ezra, I'd think you had a hot date tonight." He sniffed the air appreciatively. "You're even wearing that fancy cologne Maude brought ya back from Paris."
"There something you and Ezra ain't told us? Should we be expecting wedding invitations in the mail?" JD grinned and dodged the halfhearted punch aimed in his direction.
Buck adopted the slightly patronizing tone that he knew drove JD crazy. "Watch, listen and learn, son. There ain't never a good excuse to be sloppy about work. That's the kind of thing that comes back and bites ya on the ass. Ezra and that Blossom gal are both gonna get the full complement of Buck's Famous Animal Magnetism tonight. If she knows anything about Davis, I'll have it out of her before dessert arrives."
"Oh brother. Buck, you gotta do something about that animal maggotism of yours. It's making you delusional." JD shook his head and began making his way out the door. Just before he disappeared around the corner, the young agent stuck his head back through the doorway long enough to make one final remark. "Just don't forget that Ezra is your date tonight and not what's her name. Wouldn't want the poor guy to get jealous now."
Forget? Hah. Not likely. Ezra Standish was going to admit the awesome power of his charm before the night was through or his name wasn't Bucklin T. Wilmington.
Buck could hear JD still chuckling to himself as he clattered down the stairs. How bare feet could make so much noise, he had no idea. But then, the kid's idea of quiet was to turn the volume down to ten. He took a deep breath, inhaling the mingled scents of soap, shampoo and cologne. Had he overdone the cologne? He'd found that a lot of women preferred the plain old smell of soap and water, so he'd gotten out of the habit of wearing the stuff. But he just knew Ezra was gonna smell good tonight, which meant he had to smell better.
Hearing the doorbell chime downstairs, Buck hurried over to the bureau and carefully picked up an elegant vase containing a single perfect red rose. It was a good thing he'd stayed on friendly terms with Liza, who happened to own a florist shop. Good roses were damn hard to find this time of year. Let's just see what Ezra had to say about this.
"Buck, dear. Your young man is here," he heard JD call out in a falsetto tone that surely must've made Ezra's eardrums ache at close range. Maybe he should delay going down a bit? See if JD could manage to make Ezra bleed from the ears next go around? Naw. He couldn't. He was supposed to be charming Ezra tonight. And letting him suffer more of JD's attempts at humor than were strictly necessary definitely didn't fall into the category of charming.
+ + + + + + +
"I hope that puerile display of humor gave you immense satisfaction, JD. In another ten or twenty years, you might even be funny." Ezra hoped he sounded his usual insouciant self. He was feeling a bit... twitchy tonight. And it had absloutely nothing to do with Buck, no indeed. Ezra would have no trouble resisting that temptation. He must be coming down with the flu. That would account for the slightly feverish feel to his skin.
And the shortness of breath. The flu would account for the shortness of breath. Because the mere sight of Buck coming down the stairs wouldn't make him feel that way. That was ridiculous. No matter how well the suit accented his tall, muscular frame.
"Evening, Ezra. I have to say, you look good enough to eat." Ezra wondered if JD found the words as suggestive as he did. Buck couldn't possibly be serious about... They weren't actually going to do... Ezra resisted the impulse to pull out his handerkerchief and wipe his brow. Never let them see you sweat. That was a maxim passed down from Mother to son through the generations. Or had it been a commercial for anti perspirant? Oh Lord, now he was becoming delirious. Marshalling his thoughts, he stepped forward to greet his "date".
"Thank you, Mr. Wilmington. You are looking remarkably well this evening, yourself. I trust you found some time to practice more than just mere innuendo, however. Perhaps table manners? Relearning the use of proper eating utensils rather than one's fingers?" Ezra smiled lazily, feeling more in his element now that he had reestablished control of the situation.
"Actually, I spent my time searching everywhere for this. Just a little token of my affection." With a look of studied innocence, Buck held up the gleaming vase with its single perfect rose. It was perfect. Liza had said so and even a blind man could see it was a prettier than usual kind of flower.
Ezra reached out an elegant hand and took the vase gingerly from Buck's grasp. "My, my. I'm touched by your thoughtfulness. A rose. How perfectly... "
Dull. Ordinary. Completely unoriginal. What Ezra actually said was "delightful", but Buck knew what he really meant. So that's the way he wanted it then. Fine. War was being declared right here and now. And all was fair in love and war. Everyone knew that.
"Uh, Buck? Ezra?" JD glanced back and forth between his two friends, seeking reassurance. He was getting some very strange vibes here.
"It's all in the details, JD. Remember that." Buck spared no more than a brief look at his young roommate.
"Shall we go? It wouldn't do to keep our lovely dinner companion waiting." Ezra was rather pleased with himself. He'd managed to puncture Buck's conceit a bit and the weak, feverish feeling of earlier was in abeyance for now.
"Here. Allow me." Buck placed his hand on the small of his companion's back and guided him toward the front door. He could feel the muscles tense beneath his fingers, but Ezra couldn't pull away without seeming churlish. Buck grinned and winked at JD, who stood watching them go with a look of confusion stamped across his features.
Ezra quickened his pace. The feel of a large, warm hand against his back was disconcerting, to say the least. And he didn't even have to turn around to know that Buck was wearing a grin bigger than his current stepfather's bank account. Damn him anyhow.
"I shall have him home early, Mr. Dunne. You need have no fear on that account." Ezra's voice was drier than the Sahara as Buck paused to open the front door, his hand still pressed gently against Ezra's back.
JD just nodded, looking more confused than ever.
"Don't bother waitin' up, JD," Buck contradicted, closing the door behind them. His thumb was now rubbing lightly across Ezra's spine. Back and forth. Back and forth. Ezra sighed inaudibly. It was going to be a long night.
+ + + + + + +
"I declare if you two aren't the cutest couple. And to think that I was beginning to wonder if you even existed, Mr. Wilmington." Mrs. Blossom Harrington was already seated and waiting for them in the restaurant. She had eyes the color of violets. Her black hair was loose, cascading in waves down to the middle of her back. Her dress clung to her like a second skin. She reminded Buck of a young Elizabeth Taylor. Ezra had turned this woman down? Was he crazy?
"I'm real enough for Ezra, Ma'am." Buck sat down in the chair across from the extremely lovely Blossom.
"Yes. I can see that," she murmured, giving Buck a frank look of appraisal that had him blushing by the time she was through. He was relieved when she turned her attention to the southerner, who was lounging casually in his chair and studying the wine menu.
"Ezra. Ezra. Ezra. The one that got away. I don't generally allow that, you know. But I have to admit that I've become rather fond of you, despite your refusing me. I may even forgive you now that I've seen the reason." She gave Buck another look and the predatory gleam in her eye made the hair stand up on the back of his neck. He was beginning to understand why Ezra had said what he did. This was a woman who could suck the marrow from your very bones while she... Never mind. Buck didn't want to go there. Not even in his dreams.
"I'm gratified that you approve of my taste, my dear Blossom. Naturally, I was devastated at having to refuse you, but..." Ezra shrugged his shoulders and placed one cool hand on top of Buck's, giving it a brief squeeze. Then the southern agent began running his fingers lightly over the back of Buck's hand.
Buck was grateful for the long tablecloth which hid his sudden hard on beautifully. He'd have to stop looking at the gentle swell of the lovely, if deadly, Blossom's chest. He picked up a menu, determinedly ignoring the tiny little voice that told him it wasn't until Ezra had touched him that anything had happened. Unobtrusively, he tried to remove his hand from Ezra's reach, but the southerner merely closed his fingers around Buck's hand, effectively trapping it. This was gonna be a long night.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra tightened his fingers instinctively around Buck's hand as he felt his companion attempt to pull away. He removed his hand a few minutes later, deciding that discretion was the better part of valor. And no. He was NOT going to examine why he had been so reluctant to let go.
"I seem to remember Ezra tellin' me about a friend of yours that used to throw the best parties. David? Davis? Do you remember, hon?" Buck leaned close to Ezra, who was beginning to feel rather warm as he breathed in the clean, faintly spicy smell of Buck's skin.
Dammit. It was bad enough that he seemed to be falling prey to a very disturbing form of the flu, but now Buck was doing his job for him. Surely he had faced greater challenges in his thirty-two years on earth. He simply could not recall them at the moment was all.
"Davis? He likes parties, all right. Especially barbeques," Blossom smiled. "He's skinny and he smells bad and I don't like his hair. Scoot on over a little closer to Ezra and let me watch you two play touchy feely while I tell you a few things about my friend Davis. But first just let me go freshen up a bit." She was gone before either Buck or Ezra could struggle to their feet.
Buck scooted his chair all the way over til you couldn't have squeezed a shadow in between the two of them. He was wearing a positively wicked smile. One that annoyed Ezra long enough for him to ignore the feeling of a firm, muscular thigh pressing against him.
"Would you perhaps like for me to open my coat and let you crawl inside, Buck? Or do you feel we are sufficiently close?"
"Close enough for now, Ez. We are in a public place you know," Buck whispered the words into his ear, sending an involuntary shiver down Ezra's spine.
And thank God for that. Ezra thought fervently. Wishing desperately that he hadn't insisted on driving - he could really use a drink right about now - Ezra signaled the waiter over. He just wanted to get this damn dinner over with.
+ + + + + + +
Maybe JD was right. Maybe his animal "maggotism" was making him delusional. He could've sworn Ezra had been responding to him earlier, even if the southerner hadn't wanted to. All during dinner he'd taken every opportunity to touch Ezra - he'd been right, too. Ezra did smell good. He'd used the correct fork. He'd talked about all the things Ezra liked and hadn't mentioned hockey or wrestling even once. And in return, he'd caught Ezra looking at him a couple of times like he should be on the dessert menu or something. So what had happened? Where had he gone wrong? Why wasn't Ezra saying anything?
Buck glanced at his companion as they waited for the valet to bring the Jag around. Ezra looked impatient, as if he couldn't wait to get home. And, more importantly, get rid of Buck. There was no sign of the desire he was sure he'd seen in the restaurant.
"So now what?" Buck asked, mainly trying to get Ezra to turn at look at him, rather than because of any real interest. He already knew what Ezra's answer was going to be.
"Now we are going home, where I shall pray very hard that Blossom Harrington never decides to visit Denver again in my lifetime. Then I shall go to bed. And when I wake up I will call Chris with the information we garnered this evening. Is there anything else you wished to know?" Ezra's tone was clipped, his drawl almost nonexistent. He sounded pissed off at something. Most likely Buck.
Had he gone too far trying to prove he could charm Ez into wanting him? But no. Ezra had started it. And he'd rubbed Buck's hand like it meant something. But he sure wasn't acting like he wanted anything from Buck right now except to see him leaving maybe. And they said women were complicated. Awww hell. He couldn't leave things like this.
"Ez?" He started to say tentatively, just as the valet finally appeared with the Jag.
Once they were on the road, heading towards downtown and the apartment that Buck shared with JD, he tried again.
"Ez? You mad about something?" Buck wondered guiltily if Ezra was aware how much he'd enjoyed their "date" and that was why he was so upset.
"Why would I be mad?" Ezra's voice was cold enough to give him frostbite.
"Cause my animal magnetism was too much for ya and now you have to admit I was right." Buck reverted to his usual joking around, trying to regain their old comfortable footing instead of this new one fraught with tension and anger.
Ezra yanked the wheel furiously to the right, pulling over to the curb and throwing it into park. The street was dimly lit and there was very little traffic. A perfect place to kill your friend and coworker and dump the body.
"Fine, Mr. Wilmington. If your vanity demands satisfaction, far be it from me to deny you. Your charm astounded me. I bow down before the master."
"We're friends, Ez. No need to call me master. Just plain old Buck will do." Still trying vainly to make things like they were.
Ezra sighed and bowed his head. "May we continue home now? Is honor satisfied?"
"Goddammit, Ezra." Now Buck was abruptly angry. "This ain't about honor. Or work. It ain't even about who can charm what."
"Then what is it about?" For the first time, Ezra gazed directly at him.
"It's about this." Buck leaned over and kissed the southerner, molding his lips across the mouth gone pliant with shock.
Buck ran his hands through Ezra's carefully arranged hair, still keeping his lips pressed firmly against the warm mouth beneath his. His fingers slid through the hair like it was silk. One hand reached around and cupped the back of Ezra's head, while his other hand moved down to reach under Ezra's coat and tug free his shirt so that he could feel smooth, warm skin under his fingers.
Buck felt Ezra's mouth finally open up under his and he began licking lightly at the corners, sucking gently on the full lower lip. He slid his lips down across Ezra's jaw to his neck. The southern agent clutched his shoulders and moaned as Buck nipped at the tender flesh of his neck, before moving back up to nuzzle his ear.
"So what do ya think of this?" Buck murmured. His voice was a bit unsteady as he continued to run restless hands over every part of his companion's body that he could reach.
"I think I'm probably going to regret this." An emotion Buck couldn't quite place was threaded through the rough whisper.
"You want to stop?" Please Lord, let him say no.
Ezra didn't answer right away and Buck began to pull reluctantly away. What the hell did they think they were doing, anyway?
"No. I don't want to stop. Dear God, I can't even blame it on drink, since I had nothing stronger than seltzer water all night." Ezra sounded as if he were teetering on the brink between horror and amusement and wasn't certain which way he was gonna fall. Buck felt kind of the same way himself, now that the edge of desire had been blunted a bit by fear and doubt and second thoughts.
They sat there quietly for a minute, Ezra with his hair mussed and his shirt half untucked and his pretty coat in serious danger of being fatally wrinkled. He looked damn good that way. The hell with doubt and second thoughts. Life was too short for regrets.
"Just blame it on my animal magnetism," Buck growled, before reaching over and pulling Ezra close.
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