Chris and Buck entered the restaurant, completely unprepared. Apparently, Bouches was not only the fanciest restaurant in town, but in the whole of Colorado maybe even the western United States, Chris said under his breath. They stared at the intimidating maitre d' for a moment before Buck started to take off.
"Thought 'show of force' was your middle name," Chris remarked.
"Today, it's 'discretion'," Buck said as he made a beeline for the washroom.
Chris took a deep breath, steeled his nerves, and approached the haughty looking man behind a grand wooden podium from which one might expect a Nobel laureate to give a speech. The man did not raise his head, nor in any other way acknowledge Chris's presence.
Chris cleared his throat. "Standish, party of two," he said after several moments.
Finally, the man, who had a very thin, dark mustache that looked like it might have been drawn with a permanent ink marker just a millimeter above the line of his upper lip, finally looked up at Chris. "Pardon?"
French, Chris thought, forcing himself not to roll his eyes in frustration. No one had spoke French when he'd made the reservation. "Standish." Chris gestured toward the appointment book, wondering if it was possible that the man spoke no English at all.
The maitre d' stared at him for a moment, and then took his time looking Chris up and down. He appeared to be inspecting every inch of his being, judging him: Chris wondered if his hair might be out of place, if his tie might be crooked, if his shirt might not be properly tucked or his jacket not properly buttoned. He wondered if the crease in his trousers was straight, and then if there was even a crease in them at all. And, finally, he wondered if the color of his socks matched the color of his shoes, and if the bows he'd tied with his shoelaces were presentable.
"Monsieur Standish is joining you?" the man finally asked, his English heavily accented.
Shit. "Yes," Chris responded calming. "He's just gone to use the restroom and asked me to meet him at the table."
The man harrumphed under his breath, but then snapped his fingers to summon another man, this one much younger, pimple faced, and without a snooty pencil moustache. The maitre d' spoke quietly to the young man and Chris wondered if instructions were being given to escort Chris quietly out the back door.
Chris was led through the restaurant, and the further they went, the more convinced he became that his final destination would indeed be the back alley. When the young man stopped beside a table, Chris was so caught of guard that he nearly bowled the poor boy over.
"Your table, sir," the young man said, gesturing with his arm, almost as if he might bow. "Sir? Is there a problem?" he asked when Chris just stood, unmoving.
"Oh, uh, no. No problem. Thank you."
Chris slid into the horseshoe shaped booth, which was located in a dimly lit and secluded back corner of the restaurant, and then accepted a menu from the waiter.
"May I get you a drink while you wait for the rest of your party?"
Chris nodded. "Whiskey, neat."
"Very good, sir." The young man inclined his head before turning and leaving.
Chris let out a shuddering breath. This was supposed to be a relaxing evening, he reminded himself when he realized that he hadn't been this on edge since the Browner bust three weeks ago.
"Hey, pard," Buck said, sliding behind the table opposite Chris. "You oughta see the head in his place. Swank! Even got a guy in there to hand you a towel when you're done washing your hands."
"Did you tip him?" Chris asked.
"What do I look like to you, some hick from Dirt Holler?"
Chris smiled and shook his head. "They think you're Ezra," Chris said.
"Well, the maitre d' knew I wasn't Ezra. Looked me up and down like he was just looking for half an excuse to toss me out of this place."
"They're never going to believe I'm Ez. I don't look like him any more than you do."
"Well, I guess we'll find out soon enough," Chris said and then quickly shut up when the waiter returned with his drink.
"Monsieur?" the young man said, addressing Buck. "Can I get you something to drink tonight?"
Buck looked at Chris, then at the waiter. "Beer?"
"Domestic or imported?"
"What do you have on tap?"
The waiter rattled off an impressively long list from which Buck made his selection. When the young man finally left, Buck turned his attention back to Chris. "Well, I'm impressed. I've never even heard of half them beers."
"I'm just glad that waiter doesn't seem to know that neither one of us is Ezra."
"Small miracles, pard," Buck said as he picked up his menu. "So, this is your treat tonight, right?"
"How do you figure?"
"Well, it was your idea to come here. I'da been happy ordering a pizza."
"Buck, you are the cheapest date I know."
"Apparently, I'm the only date you know." A wide grin spread out beneath his bushy mustache, as it did whenever he teased Chris, which was frequently. "You really have to get out more, pard."
"Like I have time to meet anyone."
"What about Mary?"
"We're just friends. And you know there's just too much baggage there for a relationship to ever work."
Buck nodded. "What about Inez, down at The Saloon?"
Chris shook his head. "She already has her heart set on someone."
"You mean Ezra the Unattainable? All the more reason for you to just swoop in there and show her the error of her ways." Buck flashed a brilliant, confident smile.
"Because that strategy worked so well for you," Chris countered, deadpan.
"Yeah, well, we both know she is a passionate and head-strong woman. That's part of her appeal. Still, there have to be other women you know. Hell, Chris, when was the last time you dated anyone?"
"Me? When's the last time you even looked at that little black book of yours, Wilmington?"
Buck shook his head. "Too long, pard. Too long. I'll bet I'm gonna have to cross off a good deal too many of them names. Eight months is too long to neglect a woman."
"Even the married ones?" Chris was not oblivious to Buck's appetites or his stance on affairs.
"Especially the married ones," Buck said. "You go too long and they either patch things up with their husbands or they leave them all together. Either way, it's over as far as I'm concerned."
"You, Buck Wilmington, are a cold man."
"Not cold, Chris. Not at all. In fact, I'm about the warmest guy I know. I'm not about to lead a woman on, make her think there's something more between us than there actually is, just to get laid. That's not right. When you start down that road, it turns slippery really fast. No, thank you."
"I've known you all these years, Buck, and I don't think I'll ever quite figure you out."
"Well, I wouldn't want you to get bored of me and toss me outta that house of yours."
"It's yours now, too, Buck. You know that. For as long as we're fostering Vin and JD."
"Which will hopefully be a long time."
"Amen to that."
Just then the waiter arrived with Buck's beer. He took a sip and then, noticing that the waiter seemed to be waiting for a response, nodded his acceptance. "Very good, sir. Are you ready to order?"
"Steak," Buck said. "Porterhouse, rare. Baked potato with all the fixin's."
"Pasta puttanesca," Chris said when the waiter looked over at him.
"You're having pasta? We can make that at home," Buck said.
"Buck," Chris warned, completely aware of the look the waiter was now giving them. "Puttanesca," he told the waiter again.
"No," Buck said, snatching Chris's menu from across the table. He glanced over it quickly and then handed it to the young man. "He's having the filet mignon, medium rare. Don't skimp on the onions. Oh, and we'll have a bottle of Pinot Noir ... I see you have a 1987 Willamette."
"Very good, sir." The waiter nodded and then quickly left.
"Buck," Chris growled. "What the hell was that?"
Buck shrugged innocently.
"My God, I can't believe you just did that. Do you have any idea what that waiter is probably thinking right now? What he's thinking about us?"
"What the hell do I care what some pubescent waiter is thinking, let alone what he's thinking about us."
"No, seriously, Chris, what does it matter? We're in some restaurant that we've never been to before and will probably never eat at again, and you're concerned what some total stranger is thinking? What are you afraid of?"
Chris sat back in his seat and just glared at Buck. What was he afraid of?
It wouldn't be the first time gay rumors had been spread about him. Hell, the first time hadn't even been when Buck had moved out to the ranch. At its heart, the bureau was still an old boys' network, full of old boys. But, even so, it was a damn sight more tolerant than a lot of other law enforcement agencies. At some point, the bureau had figured out that a person's sexual orientation wasn't near as problematic as a person who felt the need to keep their sexuality a secret. Secrets led to blackmail and blackmail was a dangerous business.
So, while the Atlanta Police Department might have forced Ezra out, with false allegations of corruption, the bureau had no problem accepting him as an openly gay man. Chris hadn't had a problem with it either, so why was he so freaked out right now?
"It's okay. You just need to stop worrying so much. You get yourself all worked up about things you can't control. It's not good for your blood pressure."
"Yes, dear," Chris said. The words clearly caught Buck by surprise; he stared, wide-eyed at Chris. Then Chris laughed. "See? I'm okay."
This caused Buck to laugh, loud enough that a few people at the tables nearest to them turned to look.
"All right, pipe down. You're attracting attention," Chris said in a harsh whisper.
"Thought you said you were okay now."
"I am. But that doesn't mean I want to be stared at."
Buck shook his head. "You really do need to get out more. I am capable, you know, of watching the boys, if that's what's stopping you."
"I'm capable as well. So, what's stopping you?" Chris countered.
"Oh, I don't know. It's different now, I guess. I ... I don't miss it like I thought I would. I actually like staying home and playing Candyland with JD."
"You know, that game actually came with candy when I was a kid."
"No, it didn't."
Chris just nodded his head.
"Well, reckon I'll just have to take your word for it. I didn't have Candyland when I was a kid. We played different games where I grew up."
"Well, you grew up faster than any kid ought to."
"Oh, don't say that like you feel sorry for me. I know you've envied me on more than one occasion."
"Really? And when would that be?"
"Oh, every time I waltz up to some pretty little filly and walk away with her on my arm or, at the very least, with her phone number in my pocket."
Chris shook his head. "Haven't ever been able to figure out how you growing up in a brothel gave you the skills to pick up women. It seems a contradiction every time I think about it. I mean, the men come in and they just pay there's no skill in that."
"It wasn't the customers I learned my talents from. And just because a woman has to work for a living, it doesn't mean she doesn't know how she wants to be treated when she isn't being paid."
Chris wasn't sure what to say to that, and was saved from saying anything at all by the arrival of the wine steward. He showed the label to Buck, and then uncorked the bottle. He took the first taste himself before pouring a small amount into a glass for Buck. Buck held the glass up to the light and swirled the contents. He then stuck his nose deep into the glass and sniffed, long and hard. Finally, he took a slurp and swished the wine around his mouth before swallowing. Buck nodded his approval at the steward, who then filled his glass and Chris's before setting the bottle on the table and leaving.
"Where'd you learn so much about wine?" Chris asked, amazed by what he'd just witnessed.
"Samantha Dubois. Her grandfather owned a vineyard. Her favorite thing was to go wine tasting and picnic among the grape vines."
Chris shook his head. "I've known you for ten years"
"Twelve," Buck corrected.
"and you continue to surprise and amaze me."
"It's what I do." Buck grinned. "It's who I am."
"I thought you were the son of a whore," Chris said, knowing Buck well enough to know he wouldn't be offended by the words.
"How do you think it all started? Isn't much I haven't done, Chris, and there's even less that I haven't seen. I'd have thought you'd have figured out that much by now."
"What are you telling me, Buck?"
"What do you want to hear?"
"Sounds like you just confessed to something."
"Maybe I did," Buck said, but didn't continue as the young waiter finally brought their orders. "Damn, but that does look appetizing," he said.
"Is there anything else, sir?" the waiter asked.
Buck looked at Chris and then they both shook their heads, no. The waiter left them.
"Now, you cannot look at that filet and tell me you are disappointed that I didn't let you order the pasta," Buck said, gesturing at Chris's plate with his fork.
"It does smell good, I'll give you that," Chris said before cutting into the meat. The first bite nearly melted in his mouth.
"Did you just moan?" Buck asked.
"I did not."
"I think you did."
"Shut up, Buck, and eat your own damn steak."
They fell into silence as they ate. Chris heard Buck moan a few times as he chomped happily on his Porterhouse. The sounds made him smile; he didn't often think about how comfortable he was around Buck, about how easy the man made things seem, even when he was yanking Chris's chain about one thing or another. But he thought about it now and was grateful. He didn't imagine he'd be sitting here, sober and alive, if it weren't for Buck.
When they were finished, the waiter presented them with a dessert menu and then promptly cleared away their empty plates.
"They've got cheesecake, Chris," Buck said with a waggle of his eyebrows. "Chocolate, lemon, or strawberry."
"Feel free," Chris replied and so Buck ordered the strawberry along with some coffee. When the waiter returned, he set a cup of coffee down in front of each of them and then set the dessert plate equidistant between them, along with two forks.
Buck started laughing. Chris glared. "This is all your fault," Chris said once the waiter had left. "That little stunt you pulled earlier."
"Thought you were okay with it, pard. Come on, just laugh it off. And while you're at it, try this cheesecake it's incredible!" Buck held a forkful of the dessert under Chris's nose, but Chris jerked his head away, causing Buck to laugh again.
"Fine." Chris grabbed the other fork and took a bite of his own. It was good, probably the best he'd ever tasted, but he still let Buck finish off the piece. He settled for sipping at his equally incredible cup of coffee.
"Will there be anything else this evening, gentleman?" the waiter asked them before leaving the check. Buck didn't go anywhere near it, which reminded Chris that he'd been suckered into paying for this outing. Not that he really minded, since it had been his idea. He placed his credit card on top of the check and moments later it was whisked away silently by the waiter.
"So, what now?" Buck asked.
"Home, I guess. It's starting to get late."
"Chris, it's not even ten o'clock yet."
This caused Chris to laugh. There had been times when he and Buck had stayed up the whole night, greeting the dawn with raised beer bottles, but those times were long gone.
"Let's just go anyway," Chris said.
- end scene -
© C.V. Puerro, May 2005
Graphics by Pat
Thanks to Kili for writing Free Weekend and for her permission to write this scene.
Thanks to Charlotte for giving it a good once-over.
And thanks to Nancy for posting it to the Blackraptor M7 archive.