Disclaimer: The characters from Mag7 belong to MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy, which is a damn shame. <g> No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.
Thanks to Ra, Charlotte, Lumina and Erika for editing this story at its various stages of production. <wg>
In water one sees one's own face,
It should never have happened.
And Buck probably wouldn't have opened that particular can of worms if he hadn't been drunk out of his skull, enjoying a week's vacation in Eagle Bend with Ezra. After dealing with bank robbers, rustlers, power-hungry ranchers, thieves, and renegades, to mention but a few, during the past exhausting months, sharing the last available room in town with the gambler seemed like paradise on Earth.
Once inside the room, they had locked themselves away from the outside world, sitting shoulder to shoulder on the double bed, backs against the headboard. The next hours were spent depleting their large supply of whiskey, stopping only occasionally for a drunken doze, never really achieving a hangover state, as they drank almost continually.
It felt good to be free of cares for the first time in lord knew how long. So good, in fact, that Buck began to relax, to loosen up, and before he knew it, the words were leaving his mouth, forming the question haunting him for so long.
Buck had discovered Ezra's secret by accident some months back. A large group of cowhands had traveled to Four Corners, filling the saloon to the seams, and all Seven had remained close at hand, keeping watchful eyes on the men, wanting to avoid the usual fights that broke out whenever alcohol was freely consumed.
That night, long after most of the crowd had left for the comfort of their homes, Buck had walked up to the swinging doors and heard one of the ranch hands ask Ezra if he wanted some company. There was something soft and seductive in the words, leaving no doubt as to the man's intentions.
Afraid that Ezra might take offense and shoot the insolent bastard, Buck had eased into the saloon, only to find that Ezra and the other man were the only ones there. Ezra hadn't seemed particularly angry or upset; in fact, there was something lurking within the green eyes that made Buck strangely uneasy. He had remained hidden in the shadows, not wanting to be seen, and watched as Ezra rose gracefully from his chair, gesturing for the cowboy to follow him up the stairs… to his room.
Buck didn't know how long he stood there, silently brooding, trying to digest this newly found knowledge of his friend. It certainly explained a lot, particularly why no one had ever seen Ezra with any woman, be it for a casual affair or something more serious.
What Buck couldn't explain was his own reaction to what he had witnessed. Maybe his need to barge in on the scene hadn't been solely to prevent Ezra from hurting, and possibly killing, the other man. Buck freely acknowledged that he was protective of Ezra, had been for a long time, perhaps even more so than with JD on some levels. But the pain that had ripped through him as his eyes followed the two men climbing the stairs hadn't been a surge of his protective instincts, or even concern for a good friend. He just wasn't sure what it was, or if he ever wanted to find out.
The next morning Buck had gritted his teeth as an extremely relaxed, sated-looking Ezra sauntered down to join the others for breakfast. He had decided not to mention what he had overheard to Ezra. He didn't want to cause any awkwardness between them or for the other man to feel the need to distance himself from Buck. He truly cherished his friendship with the gambler and didn't want anything to ruin it.
But now, weeks later, filled with whiskey up to the roots of his hair, Buck suddenly needed to know why Ezra chose men over women.
Ezra stared at him through glazed eyes, obviously too plastered to have understood the question. "What?" he mumbled.
"Why lay with men?" Buck repeated. "Why not women?"
Apparently, Ezra was in as bad a shape as Buck, for he didn't even seem surprised by the question. He merely shrugged. "And w-why not?" he slurred. "While women might be delicate, soft, curvy, and whatever else you m-may wish to say of them, there is something to be said for male loving."
"Can't think of anythin'," Buck muttered, taking another swig from his bottle. "But, to each his own, I reckon."
Ezra gave him what might have been a wicked grin had the effect not been spoiled by bloodshot eyes and disheveled hair. "You, sir, are missing out. If done with the r-right person, sex between two men can be as enjoyable, if not more so, than with a woman."
"Now that I refuse to believe, pard. Women are..." Buck trailed off, lost for words, a wistful sigh escaping his lips. It had been too long since he had shared a bed with a fun-loving, sweet-scented female.
Ezra narrowed his eyes, challenging him. "So, you would never c-consider it? Even if you were deprived of the fairer sex for an unsrumoun- unsurmont- for some time? Even if your only companion was a handsome, and willing, man?" He shook his head, feigning sadness. "Pathetic, Mr. Wilnim- Wili- Buck," he finished, with a hiccup and a belch.
It was Buck's turn to shrug. "Men ain't for me, I guess. I just wouldn't be able to... You know," he added, making his wrist go limp, cheeks burning from more than just alcohol.
Ezra chuckled evilly. "Oh yes, you would, my friend. Any man would, given the right sitm- stimulation. You would be n-no different."
For some reason, Buck felt insulted, as if Ezra was suggesting he was easy. "Oh, yeah? Well, I bet ya five dollars you can't get 'The General' to attention!"
For the first time in hours, Ezra seemed to sober up slightly, a troubled expression stealing into his eyes. "Buck, I don't think-" he began, hesitantly.
"What's the matter?" Buck taunted, with a smirk. "You're a gamblin' man, ain't ya? Well?"
His gut tightened, and a corner of his mind wondered if he wasn't pushing Ezra too hard. What had started out as drunken curiosity into a friend's sexual preference was turning into a very dangerous game. Maybe he should just laugh it up, pretend he had been jesting, pulling Ezra's leg, but it wouldn't have been the truth. The truth, the honest to God truth, was that he was curious, and not just about Ezra's sexuality.
And then it was too late, as Ezra nodded his head, wincing slightly at the movement. "Very well," he said, "but this is hardly a fair bet."
Buck raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
Ezra's whole face contorted in a drunken leer. "I have done this b-before, my friend. I know exactly how to seduce a man so that he craves my t-touch," he boasted between hiccups. "I would v-venture to say I could even make you beg, should I wish it. You, sir, won't stand a chance."
Buck smiled, accepting the challenge being issued back at him. "We'll see. Let's start, then. The bet is on." When Ezra remained still, he tilted his head quizzically. "Plannin' on startin' sometime today, Ezra?"
Ezra smirked. "As ni- ein- inebriated as you are at this moment, my friend, not even Miss Molly would be able to r-rouse 'The General'. I suggest we wait until we are both somewhat more... rational."
Feeling oddly disappointed, Buck glanced up at the ceiling, wondering if he hadn't completely lost his mind. Closing his eyes, he allowed his mind to drift, slumbering lightly, losing track of time until he felt movement by his side.
"Hmmm?" he questioned sleepily.
"Ready to lose that bet?" Ezra murmured in his ear.
"Ain't the one that's gonna lose it. Give it your best shot," he drawled with a grin.
His assent seemed to spur the gambler into moving closer. Ezra's gentle fingers reached out to ghost over his neck in a feather-like caress. He took his time, seemingly content to merely run his fingers over Buck's collarbone, throat, Adam's apple, the contact kept to a minimum, until Buck shivered in response to the obvious teasing. Ezra seemed to be luring him into acceptance, awaking the wanton sensualist in him, holding him captive by the power of his touch alone.
Slowly and seductively, Ezra unbuttoned Buck's shirt, thumbs moving to his nipples, stroking one then the other, pinching them lightly until they were erect. Buck gasped at the mixture of pleasure and pain, his whole body now focused on Ezra's hands, and nearly whimpered when the younger man leaned down and lapped at one of the perky nubs, tonguing it until Buck was ready to plead for mercy.
Nimble digits ran up and down Buck's writhing torso, searching for his most hidden secrets, while kisses trailed up to his throat, teeth nibbling softly just behind his right ear. He was panting harshly by the time his trousers and undergarments were pulled down, his eyes screwed shut, head back against the wall, knowing he was doomed as sure hands spread his legs apart and kneaded his buttocks. A moan escaped him as his balls were caressed tenderly, a sigh swallowed as Ezra finally took his lips in a deep, probing kiss that left Buck aching for more.
He grunted a protest as Ezra's mouth left his, hissing as those same lips closed around the head of his straining cock, firm hands gripping his hips to prevent him from thrusting into that hot, moist haven. Ezra licked and sucked the weeping shaft, drawing it deep into his mouth, skillfully manipulating the throbbing length until Buck thought he could take no more.
Then, just as he was about to surrender his very soul to the other man, those wonderful hands left his body and the talented mouth released him, leaving him feeling cold and bereft.
"Wha-" he managed to get out.
Ezra grinned broadly. "'The General' is saluting," he announced huskily, gesturing towards Buck's erection. "I won the bet, sir, and I demand you hand over m-my five dollars."
Buck groaned, torn between laughing and strangling his green-eyed tormentor. He was so painfully aroused that his whole body felt on fire.
"Anythin'," he moaned, at his wits' end. "I'll give ya anythin' ya want later, but for pity's sake, Ezra, do somethin'! Don't leave me like this!"
A hand cupped his chin gently, commanding his attention. Ezra's face was abruptly inches away, concern winning over drunkenness for the moment. "Buck, are you sure?" he whispered, whiskey-scented breath breezing over Buck's cheek.
Buck realized Ezra was giving him a choice, a way out, leaving it to him to stop or give in to the madness that seemed to have taken hold of them both. Only, it was already too late. There would be no turning back. "Yes. Oh god, please," he shuddered, reduced to begging as Ezra had said he would, but beyond caring.
Ezra was evidently satisfied with the answer, for his hands returned to roam greedily over Buck's sprawled body, and his mouth once again strove to drive Buck out of his mind.
When it finally came, Buck's orgasm was wild and unrestrained, explosive and devastating. He felt Ezra swallow his seed, spurt after spurt, but he was unable to watch for fear that his heart might break, knowing he had lost more than a mere bet to the other man. Body shaking uncontrollably, weary and drunk beyond reason, he allowed darkness to take him over and passed out.
Buck awoke to find dusk settling over Eagle Bend. He had the hangover from hell, complete with a throbbing head, nausea, sore throat, and a foul taste in his mouth. Groaning softly, he rolled onto his right side, breath hitching as he spotted Ezra sleeping soundly next to him, empty bottle of whiskey clutched in his hand.
Remembering what had happened between them, Buck felt an abrupt pain in his heart, as if it were shattering to pieces. Once again the memory of Ezra going up the stairs with that cowhand came unbidden to his mind. He had been a fool. He knew that now. What he had felt that night hadn't been protectiveness, or worry. It had been jealousy. He had desperately wanted to be in that cowboy's place. He had wanted to be the one holding hands with Ezra, the one about to see what the gambler looked like in the throes of passion. But he hadn't been ready to admit that maybe, just maybe, what he felt for Ezra was more than deep friendship, might in fact be the kind of love that only grows stronger with time, and never fades away. And so he had preferred to let it go.
But now... Now he knew. Knew why sometimes his eyes focused on Ezra for no particular reason, why his mind sometimes played tricks on him, making him imagine what it would be like to bed Ezra, to just be with him.
But what about Ezra? Buck hadn't exactly been thinking straight during their tryst, if at all. Now he couldn't help wondering exactly what had been going through Ezra's head as they had been together. Did Ezra love him? Was it just an attraction? The effect of too much booze? Or just the compulsive gambler in him unable to pass up a bet?
Buck looked down at the beautiful, bedraggled man next to him. Tenderness, desire and loss swelled within him. Suddenly, he knew with absolute certainty that he wouldn't be able to stand being in the room when Ezra woke. He rose silently from the bed, donned his clothes, and left the room after a final, sorrowful glance at the slumbering man.
Ezra groaned pitifully as he came to. Taking slow, careful breaths to steady his upset stomach, he took stock of his surroundings. He was in bed, fully clothed, a bottle of whiskey in his hand. For a moment, he was disoriented, then, little by little, the alcoholic haze cleared.
Eagle Bend. He was in Eagle Bend for a well-deserved week away from his law enforcement duties.
But where was Buck?
Thinking of the other man brought forth the recollection of their earlier activities and his immense stupidity. What the hell had he been thinking? He rolled on his back, staring up at the ceiling dejectedly. That was precisely the problem - he hadn't been thinking at all. He should never have let his guard down; he should never have indulged in such a drunken binge.
More than anything else, he should never, ever have heeded Buck's challenge.
He had never seriously considered Buck as a potential lover. It was far too dangerous a thought. They had become good friends over the last year and a half, worked closely together, and lived in a backwater dwelling place where dark secrets were nearly impossible to keep. Of course, all of that notwithstanding, Buck was the ultimate ladies man, chasing anything in a skirt.
So Ezra had dismissed that particular avenue of thought, never allowing the seed of attraction to grow, content to enjoy the older man's friendship, for that in itself was a new experience for him. Never before had he been this close to anyone, and he treasured their bond, as well as his relationship with his fellow law keepers.
But now it was too late. Pandora's Box had been opened, and deep down, Ezra wasn't certain if he wanted it closed again. Being with Buck, kissing him and having him succumb to his touch, had been intoxicating. His own excitement had been such that he had come in his pants, merely from watching Buck's flushed face and dark, lust-filled eyes as he reached orgasm. And lord help him, for now he craved more, so much more. He wanted to know what it would be like to truly share a bed with Buck, to be touched in turn, to lose himself in the older man, to have him and be had by him. But that would never happen.
Buck was probably off somewhere licking his wounds, sore that he had lost a bet that should never have been made. Things would undeniably change between them, for Ezra had forced Buck to face something no man finds easy to accept: that one's body knows no gender.
Sorrow surged through him then, causing him to curl into a fetal ball on the bed as he realized all he stood to lose. His heart squeezed painfully in his chest. It was the beginning of the end. Buck would never trust him again. The others would guess something was wrong and undoubtedly blame him. Dynamics within the Seven would change, maybe even forcing him to abandon the place he had become accustomed to calling home.
He released a shuddering breath, forcing his body to uncurl, and sat on the edge of the bed. Then, as he slowly calmed down, determination replaced the sorrow. He wasn't ready to give up, to surrender to the inevitable yet. Not without a fight.
He had to speak with Buck, make him understand, try to gauge the other man's feelings. He was in love with Buck, he realized that now. Given the chance, he would shout his feelings for the older man from the highest mountain in the world. But he couldn't allow his whole life, a life he had come to enjoy, to be destroyed. They both deserved this one last attempt to salvage things, before everything crumbled to dust.
Plan formed, he rose swiftly, washing and donning fresh clothes. Looking out the window, he noticed, for the first time, it was already dark. The cover of night would make it easier for Buck to hide, but Ezra wouldn't let him. Even if it took him forever, he wouldn't give up.
They would talk.
Buck stood by the edge of the stream, gazing down at the glistening surface. The moon was at its fullest and it shone brightly for miles around him, giving flowing water, rock and grass alike a silvery, ethereal glow. For hours, he had remained silent and still, mind and heart in turmoil, hardly noticing the beauty surrounding him.
He was at a loss as to what to do. He knew he would have to confront Ezra eventually, to talk about what had happened. But what if Ezra didn't feel the same? What if he laughed at Buck's feelings? Should he try just to be Ezra's friend? Would that be enough? Would he be able to look at the other man, day after day, and not hope for more than a friendly pat on the back and a bland smile? How in the hell would he be able to stand it without going mad?
So deep in thought was he that it took him some time to register the rider approaching. His heart skipped a beat as Joker neighed in welcome, recognizing both horse and man. Buck himself knew who it was, even without looking up, having been both hoping for and dreading this moment.
Soft footsteps brought the other man closer, until they were but a few inches apart.
"How did you know I was here?" Buck asked in a hushed tone, as yet unready to turn and face the very cause of his heartache.
"I recalled you once mentioning a secluded stream not far from Eagle Bend, south of Lonely Grove. It wasn't difficult to find, and in this light, even I could follow your tracks," Ezra whispered back. "I did search for you in town, then I thought perhaps you might be here." He cleared his throat awkwardly, his voice now oddly hesitant. "Do you hate me?"
Buck shook his head. "Hate you? Nah," he replied gently. "I might be feelin' a lot of things right now, but hate is definitely not one of 'em." He sighed. "How could I hate you? Ya made me... see how wrong I was. I was curious, yeah, and I knew all that stuff about men respondin' to the right stimulus, but... I didn't think it would work on me... because it would be a man touchin' me, and I'd never had any interest in men that way." He fell silent for a moment, trying to gather his thoughts. "And then... one touch of your hands and I was lost. That first brush of your fingers against my neck, and I knew, I knew that you'd won."
"I'm sorry," Ezra murmured hoarsely. "I should never have allowed the situation to get so out of control."
"Not your fault. Not mine either, really; it just happened," Buck said, knowing it to be true. Mistake it might have been, a result of too much alcohol, of unconscious desires, but whatever the cause, neither was to blame.
"W-what are you feeling? Will you be all right with this?" Ezra asked him, concern clear in his tone. "I never meant to hurt you, Buck."
"I know ya didn't, pard. I liked it, you know?" he admitted suddenly. "Short as it was, it was one of the most intense sexual experiences of my life. I'm confused as hell, all twisted up inside, but most of all, I'm scared shitless."
And then he did turn around, seeing puzzlement in the moonlit eyes looking at him.
"'Scared shitless'?" Ezra echoed carefully.
"Yes," Buck exhaled, swallowing thickly. "'Cause, ya see, I figured out why I got so excited, so quickly. I know why I loved it so much." He spoke fiercely now, moving closer to the younger man, until they were breathing the same air. "It was you, Ezra. It has probably been you for a long time, and I just didn't see it. And I'm scared shitless that it might never happen again, that I might never get to touch you, and hold you, and kiss you, and make love to you. And lord help me," he brought both hands to caress Ezra's face tenderly, "I want to."
Their kiss was surprisingly affectionate and warm, almost chaste in comparison to their earlier encounter. When they parted, they were both smiling, unspoken yet welcomed emotions mirrored in each other's eyes. Buck's heart was lighter, at peace, and he felt strangely giddy.
"What now?" he asked Ezra.
Ezra tilted his head to one side, regarding him affectionately. "Now, I suggest we journey back to town, lock ourselves in our room and... talk."
Buck startled. "Talk?"
Ezra chuckled quietly. "Yes. We went about this the wrong way, Buck. We are friends, yes, but if we are to take this to the next level..." He trailed off, the last words sounding like a question.
Buck nodded. "Yeah, I want to see this through, wherever it may lead."
"Then I suggest we pace ourselves, take things slowly. Haste might ruin our relationship, and that would pain me greatly," Ezra told him candidly.
Buck grinned. "So, you're sayin' we should... court?" He laughed quietly. "Should I ask Chris to chaperon for us?"
"Good lord, no!" Ezra cried, eyes wide in mock terror. "Mr. Larabee would make a most strict chaperon. Why, I bet he wouldn't even allow us to hold hands! And I do wish to have my way with you occasionally, if only to steal a kiss."
"Oh, do ya now?" Buck leered, wiggling his eyebrows playfully. "What about if I want to have my way with you?"
Ezra smiled, brushing his knuckles over Buck's cheek. "Then, by all means, Mr. Wilmington, do as you wish. I am at your mercy."
With a final kiss, at least for the moment, to seal their commitment to each other, they parted reluctantly and mounted their horses, riding slowly back to Eagle Bend, towards a new future together.