The Gift

by Firefox

Disclaimer: Not mine, or indeed, ours - though I firmly believe they should be. No infringement intended, no money made and litigation will only get you possession of a woman already possessed by these guys anyway…

Pairing: Ezra/Buck - what can I say? I'm addicted…

Author's Notes: Originally written last year, this is a totally sappy, schmaltzy little PWP fic-let, for which my only excuse is that I love Christmas, and am a hopeless (or maybe hopeful) romantic! Oh, and it's definitely a slush-fic. <g>.

Ezra loved this time of day.

Those that knew him only slightly would dispute that - they all thought that he had rarely even seen this hour, but they were wrong. It was true that sometimes he had met the dawn without the benefit of sleep, but not always, and certainly not today. He loved this dawn twilight, not dark, but not yet first light - it was the time of day for contemplation. For silence. For discovering the side of oneself that was usually overtaken by the normal routines of everyday life; the side that was suppressed, almost by necessity, by the mechanics of living and working. How often, he wondered, did any of them really get the time to stop and think? Think about what they had, who they were, where they were going. So often, the routine of life took over, the infuriating daily grind of habitual behaviour that dulled the senses and fogged the mind, but not today.

Not now.

Not at this minute.

Right now there was only him, this place, this time, and the approaching morning.

And he couldn't remember a time when he had felt more content or complete.

He smiled as he looked around the room. A Christmas tree, ridiculously large and with a strange lean to the left at the topmost branch, stood in the corner, festooned with hundreds of star-bright lights, tinsel, bells and baubles of every colour and size imaginable. A riotous conglomeration of styles and tastes, lacking in even the most basic of design ideas, it was a glorious, colourful, affectionate mish-mash. Another thing that those who didn't know him well would have assumed that he hated. He didn't - he loved it, right down - or up - to the tawdry little plastic Las Vegas showgirl that stood in as an angel, perched on the top of the tree in her blue and red sequinned bathing suit. She summed up his life as it was now, so perfectly that his smiled broadened. Looking strange and out of place on the surface, but so right, so perfectly right, when you knew that story that lay beneath. Not traditional, normal - whatever the hell that meant - but suited to him like his own skin.

An untidy circle of brightly wrapped packages lay beneath the tree, and he found himself anticipating opening them with a stomach-fluttering excitement that he associated with being a child, but had no personal memory of from his own childhood. Most of his early Christmases had been spent in the homes of relatives, where he was unfamiliar with both the people and their familial habits. He vividly remembered being scolded by an aunt for diving into his Christmas stocking with all the normal gusto and excitement of a six-year-old, only to have it snatched from his hands and be told that, 'gentlemen invited into this house did not conduct themselves with the manners of a peasant.' As punishment, he was not allowed to open the stocking until the following day, by which time the very sight of the thing had reduced the pleasure and excitement to embarrassment at his own shortcomings. He had always hated the sight of Christmas stockings since then. Not now, though. Now, a large, glaringly-red one, decorated with green holly and an oversized bow and bulging invitingly, hung from the mantle. His fingers itched to open it.

A huge green fir swag decorated the mantle, twisted with real holly, ivy and mistletoe, and studded with creamy-white candles that now burned with steady, bright flames. Making that horticultural centrepiece had been something akin to a Laurel & Hardy movie - the huge box of greenery shedding needle-sharp leaves, red holly and white mistletoe berries everywhere on the cream carpet, and turning the room into an obstacle course. He could not remember the last time he had enjoyed himself so much. The scent of the fir branches, carried on the warm waft of air from the candle flames, more than made the effort of constructing the thing worthwhile.

Beneath the swag, a fire burned in the grate, low and glowing, the coals deep ruby-red, sending waves of warmth out into the furthest corners of the room. He could feel it from where he sat, swathed in a terrycloth robe at the far side of the room from the fireplace. He would stoke the fire in a while, adding more coal and some of the sweet-smelling cedar wood logs he had purchased especially for it, so the flames would be bright and cheerful in time for breakfast. Not for a while, though. For now, he would simply enjoy the quiet warmth and silence, and revel in the special sense of wonder this particular time and this particular place had created.

The black sheepskin rug in front of the hearth sparked another smile, this one bordering on salacious. The rug had been a special purchase, imported from England at a truly ridiculous price, but the sheer, exotic uniqueness of it had proved irresistible. Black sheepskin. The very notion of it held connotations. It sat on the cream coloured carpet in pride of place, another incongruity, another perfectly carved piece of the neatly fitting jigsaw of his life. His life now.

The top of the small mahogany table under the window was almost invisible beneath a plethora of more candles, boxes of candy, several bottles of extremely good wine, champagne and a large, furry reindeer, clad in a Santa Claus suit and playing a saxophone. He played 'Santa Claus is Coming To Town' if you pressed his right boot, weaving comically from side to side, his antlers waving in time to the music. It was the most ridiculous thing he had ever seen, but it made him laugh, and the temptation to buy it had been beyond resistance, so there it sat, in pride of place, among the Chablis and champagne. Another seeming mis-match of taste that on the surface seemed so incongruous, but that beneath that surface was a perfect reflection of him and how he felt.

The window drapes were open, and outside he could see the sky beginning to lighten from deep lead grey to early morning silver. It had snowed overnight, and the morning sky looked full of the promise of more to come. Ridges of powdery white diamonds outlined the window panes and sparkled through the glass. The cold glitter made the warmth and comfort of the room seem even more inviting, and a small, self-satisfied sigh escaped him. Part of him wanted to stay here, in this moment, for as long as possible. To somehow capture and keep this safe, to be able to return to it whenever he needed to, to savour and enjoy the sense of real joy and peace he felt. He closed his eyes, willing his memory to retain every detail, every scent and sight and sensation.

A small sound and his eyes flew open, instantly focussing on the huge, maroon-leather Chesterfield sofa which took up more than its fair share of the room. The figure sprawled comfortably beneath the brightly patterned Native American blanket was not waking up however, just stirring in sleep, the dark head shifting slightly on the disarranged pile of burgundy cushions and white pillows, a long arm swinging carelessly from left to right, a proportionally even longer leg bending beneath the blanket to a new, more comfortable position.

His heart skipped a beat, but the smile returned.

Buck Wilmington.

Asleep on his sofa, six feet plus of long-limbed, midnight-eyed, dark-haired devilment, but who fitted into his life like the final part of the jigsaw - the part that completes the picture and makes the whole puzzle worthwhile. They say 'opposites attract', and, on the surface at least, he and Buck were about as opposite as it was possible to get. Buck was loud, gregarious, open-hearted, vociferous, a lover of practical jokes, a dare-devil seemingly with the morals of an alley-cat.

He was quieter, more reserved, with a tongue that could be quicksilver-coated and acid-dipped if necessary, a lover of subtle humour and fine things. And things surely didn't come much finer than the figure asleep on that sofa.

It was as if they filled the spaces in each other's souls - Buck could be a pushover, he was far too suspicious, Buck acted first and thought about afterward, he procrastinated and examined things. Buck believed in giving of himself to anyone that needed it, and regarded any pain he got for it as par for the course, whereas he was wary of giving too much because he was wary of the pain.

Two vastly different personalities, two very different people, but together they complemented, balanced and completed each other. Alternately acting as Captain and First Mate to each other, between them they could cope with just about anything. As he had told Buck once; 'I teach you the advantages of being a gentleman, and you teach me the advantages of being a gentle, man'.

And, Lord knew, Buck could be gentle. You only had to watch any female or child within 50 paces of him, and their innate, instinctive 'radar' would draw them to him like bees to honey. Tall and imposing as he was, Ezra had yet to see any woman afraid, or even wary, of Buck. His genuine smile and true heart were as visible to them as if he were made of glass, and they responded to him as easily and trustingly as a trained hound to the master whose kindness it knows.

If he had been a little more trusting, a little less wary, who knows how much more time they might have enjoyed together? He bitterly resented all the time he had wasted before he had finally taken the plunge, finally trusted Buck enough to let him slide in under the well-built and well-defended Standish reserve.

For so long, it seemed, he had felt the attraction, the almost magnetic pull of Buck's personality, his spirit, his heart, but, as with so many things in his life, Ezra had resisted.

The legendary Wilmington 'animal magnetism'. A standing joke in the team, but Ezra had felt it as surely as his own heartbeat.

So many times he had almost succumbed, almost thrown his customary caution to the winds and told Buck how he felt, but at the last moment, his fear of losing Buck as a friend always outweighed his desire for Buck as a lover. Their professional relationship and personal friendship, born out of a likeminded loyalty and respect, was, Ezra told himself, worth far more than the yearnings of less reliable portions of his anatomy, chiefly his stubborn, recalcitrant heart. There had been times when Ezra had wondered if he were heart-less. More than one person had accused him of being untrustworthy, unreliable and yes, heartless.

As a child his heart had belonged solely to his mother, who treated it with impunity, lavishing attention on him when it suited her requirements, ignoring him completely when it did not. Each time she left him, he got back a little less of his heart than he had given out to her. Eventually, his instinctive self-preservation had kicked in, and he had consciously decided to preserve what remained of his heart and soul exclusively for his own survival. All his early life, surrounded by a bounty of fine material things, the thing every child needs the most - love, had been totally absent.

Buck's early life had been the complete mirror-image of his own. Born to a single mother who did whatever she had to in order to survive, living on the edge of poverty, always on the move to escape debt or trouble, the one thing that had always been a constant in Buck's young life was the unwavering love of his mother. And that single thing more than made up for everything else. No wonder the Wilmington heart was so strong, so robust and large enough to share around with whoever needed it.

Ezra could not be jealous of such a strong maternal relationship, because he had no idea what to be jealous of. All he knew was that he had finally found the courage to trust whatever remained of his heart to Buck, and had never regretted that decision, not for one moment.

He still doubted his good fortune. There was still a small, shadowed part of him that expected to wake up one day and find himself alone again. But that expectation became a little less daunting and a little less feared with every day that they spent together. Ezra's trust was hard-earned - this hound had good reason to doubt the motivations behind any master's kindness.

Buck stirred again as Ezra watched him, almost as if he could feel the green eyes on him even in sleep. Do you know how happy you make me? Ezra thought. Do you have any idea how wonderful it is to share things with you?

Like Christmas. Ezra had never cared much for Christmas - all that false bonhomie and enforced jollity. Making the effort to be with people you cordially disliked, but felt obliged to visit because of some accidental blood tie that made them 'family'. Sitting in some anonymous restaurant with his mother, discussing the finer points of the wine or the food for lack of anything more meaningful to talk about, wishing the days until January would simply disappear so that he could return to the only world he truly enjoyed - his work.

He had, frankly, never understood why people referred to this time of year as 'special' or, even more confusingly, 'magical' - to his eyes it was over-hyped, ruinously expensive, commercialised until the meaning of it was all but lost - a frenetic, unpleasant necessity of the time of year, to be got through with as much speed and as little effort as possible.

Last Christmas he had been forced to review his somewhat cynical outlook however, when Chris had invited all the team out to his ranch for the day. Ezra had genuinely enjoyed himself, relaxing with the only people in the world he had ever truly trusted, sharing friendship with the men he now regarded as closer to him than any real family he might have, and had come away feeling warm and reasonably content with his life.

This year his outlook had changed beyond belief. This year he finally understood what those who used those words, 'special' and 'magical', were actually referring to. Because this year he had Buck, and special and magical scarcely covered it. He would never have believed how much simple pleasure could be gained from choosing and decorating a tree, for example. They had spent a freezing cold hour in the market, trying to choose exactly the right one and had ended up with one at least two feet too tall and three feet too wide, with a lopsided top and an interesting kink in the trunk, but the pleasure of covering their rather unique find in as many different decorations as they could fit on it, was something that he would never forget.

At his age, he suddenly felt as if he were celebrating Christmas for the first time.

Not tolerating it, but truly celebrating it. The goodwill and bonhomie he had always been sceptical of in others now radiated off him in waves. It was indeed a special and magical feeling. And he was enjoying every moment of it. Enjoying discovering a side of himself that, until now - until Buck, had always been there, but buried so deep that he had never really recognised it. The side that could buy a silly, saxophone-playing reindeer because it made him laugh, and he knew that it would make Buck laugh, too. The side that could buy a lopsided tree and cover it with as many shining, shimmering, store-bought ornaments as would fit on it, irrespective of whether it looked tasteful or not, simply because the sight of it, and the sight of Buck decorating it, was beyond price. The side that did not need to be 'proper' at the expense of pleasure, because the people whose opinions he valued and whose judgement he trusted, had already accepted him just as he was.

Whose judgement he trusted. Trust. It had taken Ezra a long time to really believe that it was possible to trust without rejection. Time, and the extraordinary leadership skills of Chris Larabee, who had taken a long, hard look at a wary, flawed former FBI Agent named Ezra Standish, and seen through the armour of verbal skill and acerbic wit to the real abilities that no-one else had spotted. Oh, Ezra had kicked back against it at first, concluding that it was much better to not give of yourself at all and walk away intact, than it was to really believe that someone could trust you and then find out that they were just using you, but Larabee was having none of it. He had pushed Ezra, hard sometimes, but always, always his word had been his bond. Not once had Chris Larabee, or indeed any member of that maverick, mercurial, mis-matched bunch of individuals he called a team, ever let Ezra down. Time, and the team, had given Ezra Standish something he hadn't experienced for as long as he could remember - trust, and a more valuable gift had been hard to imagine.

Until Buck. It was Buck who had convinced him that the trust he got from the others was solid enough for him to risk trusting in return. That real friends forgave your shortcomings, and, if occasionally you made mistakes, just picked you up, dusted you off, and carried on as if nothing mattered less. That trust was a two-way street that it was really possible to travel on and enjoy the journey. Buck's patience, his seemingly inexhaustible good humour and genuine love of life and laughter, had finally convinced Ezra that the results were worth the risk and that not everyone gave affection and friendship with strings attached.

The fire shifted slightly in the grate, sending a shower of sparks up the chimney, and Ezra realised that he really should move soon and begin the preparations for breakfast. Perhaps it would wait just a few more minutes, he was reluctant to wake Buck and unwilling to break the silent spell of the quiet morning. The coals still glowed vibrant red, so the fire would have to be patient for a while longer, he decided.

It was ironic that in all the time he had lived in this house, he had never used the fireplace until Buck had suggested it. It scarcely seemed worth all the effort and mess to have a roaring blaze just for one, particularly when the heating system was efficient and required no effort at all to warm the house. It had been Buck that had turned up one afternoon with wood and coals, had checked the chimney for blockages, laid the fire and lit it, and within half an hour, the large room had been totally transformed from purely functional and practical into the centrepiece of the house. Very few days had gone by since then without a fire burning in the grate.

An open bottle of whisky stood on the hearth in silent testament to the previous evening, when he and Buck had consumed a couple of glasses before the roaring fire. The excellent Glenmorangie single malt had been a Christmas gift from Chris, who was something of a connoisseur when it came to the amber liquid, and Ezra and Buck had raised a glass in toast to the good taste of their friend. Ezra realised that he had not replaced the top on the open bottle and smiled as his mind rewound the hours and remembered the distraction that had caused that oversight.

Two bodies, sheened in firelight, spooned together in the deep, soft pile of the black sheepskin, their whole world reduced only to the fire and each other. The wonderful sensation of Buck moving gently within him, Buck's arms around him, Buck's voice in his ear, Buck's hands on his skin.

They hadn't even made it as far as the bedroom afterwards - a smiling, exhausted Buck had simply curled on the Chesterfield and held out his arms, and Ezra had sunk into that warm, safe circle and slept. A shiver of delicious memory skittered up his spine.

Buck's stirred, exactly as if he had felt the same sensation, and Ezra marvelled again at whatever spirit of good fortune had decreed that the two of them should be destined to find each other.

A gift so rare and precious, so valued and cherished… Ezra looked at the warm, comfortable room, the Christmas tree, the firelight, and Buck, and offered up a silent prayer of thanks.

He really must move from this chair.

It was time to celebrate.

~the end~