The Evidence Before You
Old West Crossover with CSI-Fossil Hunters
by Sammy Girl
Disclaimer: None of them are mine, never were never will be.
Note: Thanks to Firefox for the very, very speedy beta work.
Pairings: Buck/Ezra, Nick/Gil
Feedback: Yes please.
Buck was bored, very bored. The town was quiet and there was nothing for him to do. Nathan had the sick and injured to tend to, not to mention babies to deliver. Josiah was still working on the church, Buck personally thought he'd never finish it, but that was okay, he seemed to need to work on it. Chris had gone out to his shack - cabin, he had to call it a cabin, Chris really hated people to call it a shack - to start clearing the ground for a barn. JD was out at the Wells farm helping out and, no doubt, mooning over Casey. Vin, well who knew where Vin went to, sometimes he just took off for a few days. Ezra was, of course, in the saloon. There had been a fair few travellers through the town lately, and the gambler had been happily relieving them of their cash most evenings and late into the night. All this left Buck with little to do all day but take jail duty.
Sitting outside the jail he watched two riders come down the street, trailing no less than three packhorses behind them. They had an eastern city look about them, weren't carrying side arms, though the younger of the two men had a rifle strapped to his saddle. Buck watched with a mixture of professional analysis and idle curiosity. As the travellers stopped at the livery and began negotiating with Tiny, he decided they were no threat to the peace. Now more relaxed, he continued to watch them. The older one was well built, a little on the stocky side, as he pulled off his hat and looked around, Buck noted his hair was similar to Josiah's and that he had a moustache. The other man hadn't taken his hat off, so Buck had no real idea what he looked liked, but he got the impression he was younger, and he was clearly subordinate to the other man.
Best go and say hello, I guess, Buck decided.
"Mornin'," he called breezily as he strolled over.
"Good morning," the older man greeted as he turned around.
"Welcome to Four Corners." Buck raised his hand in greeting to the other man, who he could now see was much younger.
"Hello," came the cheerful response.
"Name's Buck Wilmington, I'm the law around here, well part of it at least. So you fellas aiming to settle down around here?" he asked, gesturing to their packhorses, still waiting to be unpacked.
"Oh, no, we are scientists, geologists, from Boston, we're going to be doing some work around here this summer. I'm Nick Stokes." The younger man explained, as he thrust out his hand, "and this is Professor Grissom."
Buck shook hands with both men, he had no idea what a geologist was but it sounded harmless enough.
"We're just staying here tonight, then we'll head off into the hills around here, see what we can find," Grissom explained.
Buck helped them unload the horses and then showed them to the hotel. "If you feel like a drink later, I recommend the saloon across the street. Or even a meal, Inez is a great cook," he added.
+ + + + + + +
His good deed done for the day, Buck breezed into the saloon. As he always did, his eyes scanned the room for friends and, on spotting Ezra, he pulled up short. The southern gambler was seated at his usual table, on the small raised platform in the corner. The afternoon sun was streaming in through the window directly behind him, framing the younger man in a halo of golden sunlight. Buck's heart stopped, for a second he couldn't breathe, how could anyone be so beautiful? He desperately wanted Ezra to see how he felt about him, but so far either his attempts had failed or Ezra was ignoring them. Buck was beginning to think that he'd been wrong, that Ezra wasn't capable of returning his feelings. Pulling himself out of his 'Ezra daze' he walked over to the bar and ordered a beer.
"Are you alright senor?" Inez asked, as she gave him his drink. Now he was lusting after Ezra, Buck had more or less stopped chasing Inez, which made her much more sympathetic to him. "Buck, you look…"
"What?" Buck looked away from Ezra and back to Inez.
"Nothing." She smiled at him, a genuine, soft feminine, inviting smile, and he didn't react. That was when she knew for sure why he'd all but stopped flirting with her.
As afternoon moved to evening more of the seven arrived and their evening began to follow its normal pattern. Just as they were about to eat, the two geologists strolled in.
"Hey there!" Buck greeted.
"Mr Wilmington, good to see you again," Grissom returned the greeting.
"We're about to order, wanna join us?" Buck offered.
"If you're …" Grissom began.
"Sure that'd be great." Nick was already pulling up a chair.
It was a pleasant evening, new company was always welcome, educated company doubly so. JD happily chatted about Boston. Josiah and Nathan were fascinated to hear of the Professor's work with fossils and investigations into sedimentary rocks. The other's didn't fully understand it but listened with interest anyway.
"When do you plan to leave?" Josiah asked.
"In the morning," Nick explained. "Soon as we get fresh supplies, we normally aim to stay out for a few days at least."
Grissom looked up and around the assembled company. "We could use a guide, if you know of anyone?" he asked hopefully.
They might be fascinated by the men's work but not enough to spend even one day in the summer sun looking for rocks.
"You're looking for animals stuck in rocks - right?" Buck clarified.
"Essentially yes," Grissom confirmed.
"I seen stones like that."
"Really? Where?" Grissom suddenly sat up straighter. "Can you show us or draw a map?" he asked eagerly.
Buck thought about drawing a map, but decided to take them in person, it would be a change from doing nothing, and might even distract him enough to stop pining after Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
"How much further?" Grissom asked. He didn't sound annoyed or even bored, just interested.
Buck shrugged. "To a the rocks, about an hour, there's a good camp sight about fifteen minutes from there.
Grissom nodded and once more directed his attention to the rocks and landscape they were passing. He had a small board strapped to his leg and on it, secured by a leather straps was a block of paper. He made notes on the paper with a pencil as he rode.
Buck let Beau drop back until he was level with Stokes. "You been doing this long?" he asked the younger man. It was a fairly lame way to start a conversation, but better than nothing.
"You mean this summer or geology in general?" Came the response.
Buck shrugged. "Both, either?"
"This summer - we got off the train three weeks ago. But I've known the professor three years, I was in his class in my final year as a student and since then I've worked with him as a research assistant while I study for my masters."
Buck nodded his acknowledgement. He liked Stokes. He was open and easy to talk to, not that Buck had difficulty talking to anyone, but Stokes was one of those with whom it was a real pleasure, you didn't have to extract information from him as if you were pulling teeth.
"So what are you studying for this masters?" Buck didn't actually know what a masters was, but is sounded impressive.
"Fossil flora," Came the response. Buck looked at him blankly. "Plants preserved in the rocks." The light of understanding spread over Buck's face. "Have you seen any?" Nick pressed eagerly.
Buck grinned broadly. "Sure have, not far from were the critters are, just a bit higher up is all."
Just then their chat was interrupted when Grissom started to point excitedly and shout. "Nicky! Nicky! Look at that."
Buck and Nick both looked up and, on locating Grissom, followed his arm to see what had him so excited.
"My God!" Nick breathed. "That's impressive."
"What?" Buck asked mystified.
"That!" Stokes enthused. "That basalt columns - look!"
Buck frowned. "You mean the Devils Wood Pile?" he asked.
"Is that what it's called here?" Grissom asked. Not waiting for a reply he continued, "they are basalt columns. Look how they are twisted Nicky, almost lying horizontal at this end."
"It's amazing," Stokes admitted.
"Worth a picture I think," the professor instructed briskly, already dismounting.
The two easterners had three pack animals, since Buck had helped pack them, he knew that each man had full saddlebags, which he assumed carried personal items. Grissom's packhorse was carrying food and cooking utensils. The first of the two horses Nick led was carrying a tent and more food, there was plenty of room in each pack. The last horse carried three boxes and a tripod, such as the kind Buck had seen railway surveyors use. He had no idea what was in the boxes, which were sturdy and made of polished mahogany.
"Buck do you mind holding the horses?" Nick asked, as he dropped from his mount.
"Sure," Buck responded automatically. As he stood there, with the reins of all their mounts in his hand, he watched Stokes unload the boxes from the last horse. It proved to be a camera, though it was considerably smaller than the ones Buck had seen.
"That really a camera?" he asked Stokes incredulously.
"Oh, yes it uses one quarter size plates, very new, only three in the country," the younger man enthused.
"Where'd you get it?"
"Grissom, he imported it from Switzerland, had it made to my specifications, paid for it himself."
That was when Buck got the first inclination, that was when he began to understand. The enthusiasm, the sheer degree of admiration and excitement in that short exchange, hinted to him how Stokes really felt about his mentor.
Photographing the hexagonal stone pillars took over an hour. By the time they were done the light was failing. Buck said they should push on to the camp sight while they could still see what was they were doing. Though it was clearly a disappointment, the two scientists acquiesced to his suggestion.
+ + + + + + +
The camp sight was a small clearing by a spring fed stream, the fallen logs in a rough semi-circle and the blackened patch in the centre indicated it had been used before.
"You've been here before?" Grissom asked.
"A time or two, yeah." Buck managed to convey in his tone that he didn't want to discuss the matter. The last time had had come to this clearing, he had brought Ezra with him, after he'd been through a particularly trying visit from Maude. Standish had been most appreciative, but he had missed or ignored all the overtones of affection Buck had directed at him. "What some help with the tent?" he asked, hoping to direct attention away from him.
"Oh no we'll put that up in the morning."
Buck was confused - to say the least. "Ya not gonna sleep in it?"
"It's not really a tent," Nick explained as he came up behind Buck, with a bundle of firewood. "More like an awning, keeps the sun off while we work on our finds."
Grissom turned out to be an accomplished camp cook, producing a very passable bacon and bean stew and griddle biscuits. Buck described the kinds of things he had seen. Each description set the other two to talking, using words he'd never even heard Ezra use. And when they did, it made him think of Ezra all the more. He found himself imaging the long fancy word he was hearing in Ezra's sweet soft accent. Ammonite, Cephalpod, Brachiopods, Ichthyosaur, even as he heard them he could hear them rolling of Ezra's tongue, and - in his imagination at least - each one really meant 'come to my bed and take me now'.
+ + + + + + +
In the morning, they were all up at the crack of dawn, and after a quick breakfast, Buck led them up the valley to a point were there had been a whole series of small landslides.
"There you go." Buck waved at the tumble of lose rocks and boulders below a jagged cliff.
"Where?" Grissom asked.
Buck dismounted. "Everywhere." He toed a few rocks with his boot then bent and picked up a small slab. Smiling he showed it to the professor. On the underside was the imprint of a snail like shall. "That any use?"
Instantly Grissom was down and beside him. "Ammonite, good one too."
"Well look around, they're everywhere," Buck explained.
For much of the morning the two geologists found fossil after fossil. Several times they found new fossils, becoming as exited as schoolboys. Buck failed to see why anyone should get so existed about dead animals in rocks. As noon approached and the sun rose to it's zenith, they packed up and headed back to camp. Buck has assigned himself camp duty, lighting the fire for lunch, seeing to the horses and such. While the sun was at its afternoon peak, they rested in the shade.
After short siesta Stokes and Grissom put up the awning and made more detailed examinations of the rocks. When things cooled down a bit they returned to the rock fall. This time they toted the camera with them. Apparently there was a particularly large and exiting fossil stuck in the cliff face. Since it couldn't be removed it had to be recorded.
"You take pictures of all the rocks you see?" Buck asked.
Nick shook his head. "Can't carry that many plates, so I only picture the really interesting stuff, the rest I do sketches of.
Buck headed out to see if he could shoot some game for the evening meal, since Grissom insisted on paying him, he felt he had to do something to earn it. He returned to the camp with a good size jackrabbit, which he skinned and gutted before impaling it on a spit. While it cooked he set about collecting more firewood. Returning with a large bundle he tripped over Stokes' saddlebags, which had fallen to the ground after the old dry branch it was hanging from broke.
"Damn it!" he cursed as papers, presumably the young scientist's drawings, spilled out. Dropping his load of wood he desperately began to gather up the papers before the wind could take them. He was so intent on saving them, he didn't even look at them until he had them all back. When he did look he was more than a little surprised to discover that not one picture was of a rock. These clearly personal pictures were of one subject - Professor Grissom. In most of the pictures, which were drawn with surprising skill, the older man was in repose, or drawn from behind and it was clear to Buck he was unaware he was being sketched. That inkling he had gotten about Stokes now became glaringly obvious. Nick Stokes felt about his boss the same way Buck felt about a certain fancy, southern gambler.
+ + + + + + +
Grissom had found a fish, a big fish, intact too. "We have to take this one," he insisted.
Nick stood back and surveyed the slab of stone containing the fossil. "Well we'll need one of the pack horses to get it back to camp and then I guess we're about full. I'd say we have about as many as the horses can carry right now."
The professor pondered a moment, how long they stayed out looking for fossils was dependent on how successful they were, once they had collected all their mounts could carry there was little point remaining on site. They would head for the nearest town with a telegraph office and a freight or stage office. Catalogue their finds, chisel off as much superfluous rock as they could, and then ship them back east.
"Very well, go and collect a horse and we'll head back in the morning, we can always come back to this place, in fact I see no reason to move on, we can do a whole summer of research right here in this valley."
So Nick headed back into camp early. As he came out of the trees into the clearing he spotted Wilmington. At first he was about to call a greeting until he saw what it was the tall gunman was looking at.
"What the hell do ya thing you're doing!" he bellowed.
Like some schoolboy caught in the teachers desk, Buck fumbled to push the pictures back into the saddle bag, while blurting out his explanation, gesturing to the spilt pile of fire wood at his feet as he did. By now Stokes as almost beside him.
"Yeah? Well dropping them is one thing, looking like ya were, is another altogether!" he accused angrily as he snatched them back.
"Sorry." Back gave and apologetic shrug. "If it's worth anything, I think they're real good, you're quite an artist."
"Private is what they are," Nick reminded.
"Yeah, I know, I really am sorry." With that Buck began picking up the firewood again, he was about to turn and head toward the campfire again, when he turned back. "You're not the only one, you know?" he commented enigmatically, before moving off to busy himself with the fire once more.
Nick didn't give himself long to ponder over that remark, he just buckled his saddle bag securely, hung it on a much sturdier branch, and returned to his task of collecting a pack horse.
"Need a hand?" Buck's sudden question behind him as he was tightening the cinch on the packsaddle startled the younger man.
+ + + + + + +
"Can I ask you something?"
Buck's question came not five minutes into their short ride back to the dig sight, though 'look and pick up' would have been a more accurate description. Since Nick had already explained about the large rock slab they were going to collect and about heading back to town the next day, his stomach tightened at the prospect of another question, it could only be about the pictures.
"Could you do a picture of someone for me?"
That was not the question Nick had been expecting. "Um. Well I, that is, I don't know," he stammered. "Why?"
Buck smiled. "Same reason you have them, but I can't draw at all, stick men, that's as good as I can get. I could pay you," he offered.
Nick almost didn't hear the last bit, he was still getting past 'same reason you have them'. Could Wilmington possibly know? No, how could he, no one understood how he felt - and yet, what was it Buck said? 'You're not the only one'.
"Well?" Buck prompted, when his offer brought no response.
"I don't know, who is she?" If Buck felt about someone the way he felt about Grissom then it had to be a woman.
"He," Buck corrected.
HE! Oh shit he does know!
"You seem to be good at sketching someone without them knowing," Buck continued. "It'd mean a lot to me to have one of him." He sounded confident, easy, even relaxed, while the truth was quite the opposite. Inside his guts were as tight as the young man beside him, he was laying his most private secrets on the line, to someone he barely knew.
"I, well - I'll give it a go, you don't need to pay me. Can I ask who it is?"
Now Buck's smile went from nervous and hesitant to a huge bright grin, whenever he though of Ezra he wanted to smile. "Ezra." Nick looked quizzical. "He's the gambler, wear's fancy duds," Buck reminded.
The light of recognition dawned on Stokes' young face. "Yes I remember him. Does, that is, do you think he knows?"
Buck shrugged. "I'm not sure, I used to be sure he did, now … There have been times when I think he does, I catch him looking at me and I'm sure he knows and even feels the same, but …"
"This is Ezra, there is no way he lets his face show you something he doesn't want it to show…"
"So? That's good, right? He wouldn't look at you that way if he didn't mean it - right?"
Buck took as deep breath and cast his head to the sky, trying to get his confused thoughts on the subject in some kind of order and not let the young man beside him see how traumatic the whole subject was for him. Finally he looked down again.
"That's what I thought, so I gave him every opportunity to say something, whenever we were alone. I thought I made my feelings plain enough - without actually coming right out and telling him I'm in love with him…"
The last statement hung in the air between them, Buck was frankly amazed he's said it at all. Not once had he ever voiced his love, not even to himself.
"But, well," he continued. " he never responded. Ezra's real smart, he can read people, read them like a book, that's how come he makes so much money at poker, so he has to know, but he still hasn't said anything."
Nick looked across sadly at the older man. "I'm sorry."
"What about you, does he, the Professor, does he know how you feel?"
"Like you, I used to think so, now? Who knows? He picked me to be his research assistant, I wasn't the smartest person in the class - that was my friend Greg - or the richest, just the opposite. If he wanted lots of funding he could have picked someone whose family would support them, but he didn't, he picked me." A small happy smile accompanied that memory. "I told myself, that once he was no longer my teacher and I was over twenty one, then it would all happen, somehow he would just know and understand." Stokes fell silent.
"But nothing happened," Buck guessed.
"No, he's not married, never even come close - if you believe campus gossip - he's married to his work and it's not like he isn't good looking, educated, good income. They say half the wives on campus have thrown their daughters at him at one time or another, but he's not interested, so I thought…" He shrugged.
"Thought you had a chance?"
"I guess. He calls me Nicky, have you noticed that?" He looked over at Buck, who nodded. "No one calls me Nicky. You call me Nick, my friends call me Nick, my students call me Mr Stokes, my family call me Nicholas, only he calls me Nicky. I've tried calling him Gris occasionally, I'd heard some of his friends call him that."
"And?" Buck prompted.
"And nothing, he didn't react, one way or another. What am I meant to think? He made sure I got the rooms next to him, there's even a connecting door, we spend all this time out here," he waved his arm up to emphasise the great expanse of wilderness around them, "but nothing."
"Well maybe he's waiting for you to make the first move? After all he's older than you, he's in a position of authority over you."
"I thought about that, but I don't know how, I -"
"What don't you know Nicky?"
The professor's voice cut through their very private conversation. So distracted had they been, they hadn't even realised the horses had taken them all the way to the dig.
"Oh, nothing," Nick blustered, swinging down from his horse.
"I'd dispute that," Grissom commented good naturally.
"That you know everything."
It took Nick a while to work out what was being said, then he laughed. Buck had lost the tread but had decided sometime ago to treat much of what Grissom said, the way he did Ezra, when he used those long fancy words - just 'grin and agree'.
+ + + + + + +
There was no further opportunity for the two younger men to talk privately until the afternoon of the next day, as they rode back to town. Leading a horse is tiring, even more so when the pack animal are heavily loaded with rocks and reluctant to move. Thus they decided to share the burden, one-person rode ahead and the other two lead the pack horses. After a short stop for lunch, Grissom took his turn at point, leaving Buck and Nick in the rear. They let him get some way ahead of them.
"So," Nick began.
"So," Buck agreed.
"Have you ever - you know - with a man?"
"Yeah, once or twice," Buck lied. Once or twice of my own choice, a lot more often when someone paid me, but that was a long time and a different life time ago. "What about you?"
Nick shook his head. "I'm not a virgin, I've slept with a few women, that is I paid a few times, but, well… guess I'm not that good at it," he admitted sadly.
"Nothing to be ashamed of, it's a skill that needs practice, besides, maybe your heart's not in it? With a girl that is," Buck speculated.
"Yeah, I reckon so." Nick smiled, he felt relived that someone else thought his lack of performance with women was because he really only wanted Grissom. "I think about it, try to imagine what it will be like, what might happen." Yeah me and my right hand do a lot of that, he admitted to himself.
Buck reached out and patted the younger man on the back. "When the time come, if it comes, I'll be happy to give you some more detailed instructions, if you know what I mean."
Nick looked up hopefully. "You'd do that for me?"
"Sure I would."
"What about your Ezra, think he's ever …you know?"
Buck had wondered that a few times. Ezra was beautiful, in anyone's eyes, not just his. Buck suspected he was a man of the world, had been wise to the world and all its ways even before he was a man. Ezra wasn't a man to let an asset like his beauty go unused. But had he used that beauty on men as well as women? Who knew?
+ + + + + + +
Ezra looked up the street and found himself smiling. Buck was back. The tall jovial gunman had only been away a short time, but Ezra missed his loud presence more than he cared to admit, even to himself. He knew how Buck felt about him, when it came to Ezra the man was a transparent as the cut glass windows of New Orleans' Grand Hotel. But as yet he hadn't dared let himself show just how receptive he was to any advance Buck might make. He'd been hurt before, physically, emotionally, financially, publicly humiliated, all because he trusted someone, someone who claimed to love him. Buck wasn't like that man, he wouldn't steal from him, he wasn't going to blackmail him and then expose him to public scorn anyway. Buck wasn't going to stand by and let him be beaten and spat on in the street. But Buck was a philanderer, a scoundrel, who flitted from one woman's - and for all he knew men's - bed to another. True Buck never seemed to leave them crying, but Ezra wasn't interested in a quick night of base gratification. So, despite his own attraction to the tall dark man with the twinkling eyes, the infectious laugh and the seductive voice, he kept his distance. Nevertheless it felt good to have him home and safe. That slight knot of unease in his gut released.
Professor Grissom rode past, not even acknowledging Ezra's presence, behind him, trailing three heavily laden packhorses came Buck and the other scientist. They both turned and touched their hats as they came level with Ezra, both giving him huge toothy grins. As they passed him Ezra turned to follow their progress to the livery. As he watched, they leant in toward each other and laughed, then looked back at Ezra.
Now what was all that about? he asked himself.
Buck helped unload the hoses and sweet talked Mrs Jarvis at the boarding house in to letting the two scientists have the two ground floor rooms at the back of the house and the use of her yard to clean up their finds. He hung around, watching, learning, chatting with Nick, fetching and carrying until it was time to eat. Strolling into the saloon together, behind Grissom, chatting happily and smiling, they walked close enough for their upper arms to press against each other.
"Hi guys," Buck greeted, steering Nick over to the seven's customary table.
Grissom looked around and then changed his own course, so he too was heading for the large circular table. Nick sat down next to JD and Grissom moved to sit beside him, but Buck slipped in first, claiming the seat before the professor.
"Were you learned gentlemen successful?" Ezra asked.
"Indeed we were," Grissom confirmed. "Spectacularly so, hence our quick return. Once we have catalogued our finds and packed them, we will be returning. I anticipate spending the whole summer here. The site Mr Wilmington showed us is very productive."
Vin looked up. "Ya take 'um to that rock fall down the little valley, off the muddy wash, up north of Red Bluff?" he asked.
"Yup that's the one," Buck confirmed.
"Dang, thought I was the only one knew about that place."
"You might like it more than most, but ya aren't the only one who likes to find a bit of peace and quiet - you know?" Buck explained.
Vin nodded and touched the brim of his hat.
Ezra turned his gaze on Buck. That's where he took me, he took me his private spot. Mind you, he took them there too. No, wait, he didn't know they were coming. He took them to his private spot because it was exactly what they wanted. I can't deny he's generous.
"It's a great camp site - right Nicky?" Buck asked the young man beside him.
Nicky! Grissom's head short up. When did that start, he didn't call him Nicky before!
"The best Buck, the best," Nick confirmed, all but purring.
"I only take people I really like there," Buck confirmed with a smile.
"You never took me there," JD commented indignantly.
Buck reached out a long arm to ruffle the young sheriff's hair. "I said people I like, not tolerate," he joked. "By the way, talking of people I like, were are Nate an' Josiah?"
"Out at the Seminole village," Chris explained.
Buck grinned. "Reckon ol' Nate's getting serious about Rain?"
"Could be," Chris conceded.
"I'm glad, man's not meant to live alone, not forever," Buck commented, he looked over at Nick and smiled as he said it.
+ + + + + + +
In the next few days, Buck spent as much free time as he could in the yard of the boarding house. He chatted, mostly with Nick, helped carry rocks, helped to draw the numerous buckets of water from the well to clean the rocks and help reveal the creatures imprinted in them. He became quite interested in the fossil record, especially the idea that once upon a time the land all around him had been at the bottom of the sea. Together Nick and Buck were very tactile, touching each other, not intimately, just pats on the back, hand shakes, sitting close together so that knees, hips, legs, shoulders and the like were in contact.
Grissom gave the impression he was oblivious to this, he concentrated on his work, genuinely excited about the quality as well as the quantity of the finds. He ate, he slept, but most of the time he just worked.
Ezra did his duties, played cards and generally hung about the saloon. He was however aware that, on occasion, the young geologist had been watching him closely. Evidently he was under the impression Ezra was unaware of his scrutiny, but few people could watch Ezra P Standish and him not be aware of it. It was hard to be sure, but he fancied Stokes had a sketchpad in his hand.
After three days most of the work had been done and Grissom declared they would be heading back to the valley to collect more fossils after the weekend. Buck looked into the saloon and spotted Ezra.
"Hey Hoss you seen JD?" he called.
Ezra looked up from his game of solitaire. "I believe your young sheriff is escorting his paramour to church this morning," Ezra drawled.
"Darn, I wanna ask him to swap jail duty this afternoon, so me an' Nicky can go fishing. Guess I'll have to wait until he's out. How long does Josiah usually take?"
Ezra looked back at his cards. "I have no idea, the church and I are not on speaking terms."
Buck, who knew exactly were JD was, smiled and left the saloon, seating himself in front of the jail to wait.
+ + + + + + +
It was a hot day and fishing quickly turned to swimming, naked swimming.
"Here we go," Buck commented softly as he swam up behind Nick.
"Who is it?" the younger man asked in hushed tones.
"Ezra, he really isn't that good at sneaking, well not out here anyway."
"He's on the rock's up on the left of us - no don't look. Reckon it's time I gave you your first lesson."
Stokes turned around so that they were now facing each other. "Lesson?" he gulped.
"Yeah, a lesson in touching." He reached out and ran his finger through Nick's thick dark hair. "Men like to be touched, remember that." Nick nodded. Buck ran his fingers down his student's neck and around to his strong jaw. "Don't be afraid to caress, softly - got that?"
"Caress, yes, oh that's nice," Nick admitted, as Buck drew his thumb over the younger mans cheekbone.
"It'll feel better if Grissom does it."
"Oh shit, don't put that vision in my head. How am I gonna get out of the water now - especially with an audience?"
Buck laughed. "Boy if you don't know how to deal with that problem, I really do need to give you some lessons."
Nick glared at his new friend and tutor. "I just never did it in company," he explained.
"Oh hell that's half the fun, puttin' on a show - but not for me! Don't worry I can't see anything under the water. Turn around and close your eyes."
Nick frowned but complied. Buck's large hands came to rest on his shoulders, and began to gently massage them.
"Let yourself go, think about him, your Gris, think about him being here behind you. It's his hands on your shoulders, his hand on you cock. Feel him?"
"Yeah," Nick breathed softly.
"His big strong hands, strong but gently, safe and loving," Buck purred.
Nick let Buck transport him to one of his most cherished fantasies as his hand, almost without conscious thought, began to stoke his hard aching shaft. His midriff might be below the water line but no one watching could have any doubt what was going on.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra had already shed his jacket, it was inordinately hot. Sunday was not a good day for gaming, at least not until the evening. So, consumed with curiosity and a creeping jealousy, he had followed the two men to the fishing hole. Now he lay on the sun-baked rock and watched the two men below him. He was confused, and that worried him, because, with the exception of Maude, very little confused Ezra. He had rejected Buck's overtones of - of what? Sex? Affection? Love? No not love, no one was interested in loving him, use yes, love no. Life had taught him that many times over. So if after all this time, Buck had given up on him and was having a little fun with a good looking young man, who seemed to be receptive to his charms, why was he feeling jealous? Why was he imagining himself down there with Buck's hands on his skin? He shifted so as to relieve the pressure on his groin. Had he been in his normal, razor sharp mind, he would have noticed that Buck's hands never went below the waterline. As it was he only saw young Nick Stokes responding to Buck's touch in a way that was increasingly arousing. He wanted Buck to touch him like that, to run his hands over his smooth soft skin, to caress him, to bring him to a wonderful climax.
Me! Touch me! he shouted silently, but it was hopeless and he knew it. Damn it Ezra, you had your chance and you threw it away.
Without bothering to do anything about his own hard-on, he moved himself away from the edge and then stood up. So what if Buck had only been looking for a quick fling, was that so bad? Clearly young Stokes didn't think so. He grabbed Chaucer's reins roughly.
"Come trusty steed, take your idiot master away from this place." With that he swung up into the saddled and headed back to town.
Ezra's anger with himself was short lived, it mutated into anger at Buck. From what he'd seen young Stokes was an innocent, at least when it came to the love - no, not love, he reminded himself, 'relationships' that was a nice euphemism, he'd use that - between two men. Buck would no doubt pluck him and enjoy him, and then leave him. Well it wouldn't do, it just wouldn't, not if he could stop it.
Filled with righteous anger, Ezra pushed Chaucer in to a steady lope and headed back to town with renewed purpose.
+ + + + + + +
Buck and Nick, who had actually managed to catch a few fish, parted company after leaving their mounts at the livery. While Nick turned toward the boarding house, Buck strolled across the street and around the saloon, so he could deliver their catch directly to Inez's kitchen door.
"Got a little something for tonight's 'special' he announced, holding up the string of plump fish.
Inez wiped her hands on her apron and crossed the kitchen to meet him in the doorway. "Gracias senor, the usual arrangement?" she enquired.
"That'd be great darlin'." The usual arrangement meant free drinks to the value of the fish. "Think I'll start with a little of that coffee I smell brewing."
The petite Mexican woman handed him a mug of fresh coffee and then stood back to regard her old sparring partner. "You are looking very happy Buck," she commented.
"Well you know me, I'm always happy," he countered.
"No, you always pretended to be happy, but you are not always so happy as you seem, especially in the past few weeks."
Buck always knew Inez was a smart lady, and he told her so.
"That's most kind of you, but why the sudden change?" she persisted.
"I think something is about to get sorted out, something that's been gnawing at me fer a while now."
"Well I am certainly pleased to hear it, is there anything I can do to help?"
He shook his head. "Don't think so, just…"
"Wish me luck."
"That I can do, happily. Good luck senor Buck." With that she kissed him on the cheek.
+ + + + + + +
Unaware that Ezra was watching him, Buck left Inez to her cooking and headed out across the yard toward the outhouse, which was screened from the saloon by a small knot of dense scrub and stunted trees. As he rounded this thicket, he was decked by a powerful blow to the jaw.
"Wha' the?" he complained, rubbing his jaw as he tried to pull himself up out of the dust. Squinting up into the sun he identified the dark from looming over him as Ezra by his distinctive hat.
"What the hell was that for?" Buck demanded as he finally made it to his feet.
"That was a warning," Ezra growled.
"What are you talking about?"
"You and that boy Stokes."
Buck moved slightly so he was no longer looking into the sun, he also backed off a bit. Ezra might be smaller than him by nearly half a foot, but he was well built and packed a powerful punch.
"Nick is no boy," he pointed out, still rubbing his jaw.
"He's an innocent," Ezra countered. "He's not like us."
"He hasn't been kicked in the teeth by life enough to know what you're like."
Buck hadn't been expecting that. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You'll take him and have your way with him and then leave him, just like you do all your other paramours," Ezra accused. "He's got a life and a reputation to go back to, I won't let you hurt him."
Buck forced himself to keep calm, it wasn't true, it never had been true, but at least he now knew where Ezra's reticence was coming from. Why hadn't he seen it before?
"Why'd ya think I'd do that?"
"Because you always do that, you - "
"No, no Ezra I don't. Yes, I've bedded a lot of women and even some men, but I never, ever give them false expectations, never. It's true, in the past I wasn't looking for a lasting relationship, and they - all of them - knew that."
Ezra gazed into dark blue eyes, he searched for the lie, and found only sincerity. 'In the past' that was what Buck had said, did that mean he and young Stokes were serious? No how could they be, they hardly knew each other.
"So you claim," he challenged. "But I saw you, at the fishing hole, together."
Passing over Ezra's spying on them, Buck challenged his assumptions. "What did you see Ezra, what exactly?"
"You and him, together, touching, you were touching him - intimately!"
"No I wasn't. Think back Ezra, what did you really see?"
"Well you - and him - in the water - and you were…"
"What Ezra? What was I doing?"
Ezra thought back and tried to recreate the scene in his head. Now he stopped to think about it, he couldn't remember Buck's hands ever going below the water.
"Yes he was, but he wasn't thinking about me, and I wasn't thinking about him, we both had someone else in mind, someone who didn't seem to be able to see how we felt about them."
The light of understanding finally dawned on Ezra. "You mean, you and him aren't?"
"He's, that is he's interested in someone else?"
"Yes, someone he works with. So far all his advances have been ignored. He has good reason to believe the other party knows how he feels and is receptive, but no matter what he tries the other party doesn't seem to be interested in anything other than friendship."
Ezra nodded. "Maybe the other party has reason to be cautious."
Buck gave a small head bob and smiled ruefully. "Maybe, but he has no reason to be worried."
Ezra fixed his gaze on Buck. "Really?"
Words failed Buck who just smiled and nodded. Seeing a smile begin to spread on the face of the man he now knew for sure he loved, he reached out a hand and caressed Ezra's cheek the way he had taught Nick to do it. Ezra lent into the caress, seeking more contact.
At that very intimate and tender moment, Buck was grasped by the shoulder, spun around and punched in the face. Once more he found himself on his backside in the dust outside the saloon outhouse.
"What is this?" Buck held a hand to his mouth, were his newly split lip was now bleeding freely. "Beat on Buck day?" He looked up to find Professor Grissom standing over him and Ezra moving to stand between them.
"You bastard," the big academic hissed at Buck, who was once more struggling to his feet.
"Don't call me that," Buck snarled back at him.
"You used him, you used my Nicky, while all the time you and this, this popinjay were…" Grissom advanced on Buck, only to find the snout of Ezra's derringer in pressed to his side.
"Sir, you have it wrong, totally wrong," Ezra informed him coldly. "As did I," he added. "Now can we all try to act like gentlemen and sort this out?"
"Gentlemen? Him?" Grissom snorted, still glaring at Buck.
"Sir, if you do not desist in your unfounded insults, I may have to shoot you."
Grissom looked around at Ezra and then down at the small gun, as if he had only just noticed it.
"Aw Ez, I never knew you cared," Buck joked.
"Always sir, always." With that he tipped his hat with his free hand. "Now let us adjourn from this less than salubrious locale to somewhere more private and with a less pungent bouquet."
Buck thought Ezra was laying on the fancy talk a bit thick, but he did love to hear that soft southern drawl, so he just let the man he loved get on with it.
"Might I suggest your room Professor, since we really need to find the missing corner of this particular square."
+ + + + + + +
Still seething with jealous rage, but now more than a little confused, Grissom led them to his room at the boarding house. As luck would have it, Nick was outside packing the last of the finds, ready for shipping back east.
"Hi fellas," he greeted breezily. Then he stopped short and frowned at Buck. "What the hell happened to you?"
Without breaking stride as they walked into the room, Buck pointed at Ezra. "Him," he explained. "and then him." He pointed at Grissom. By now they were all inside. "Seems our plan worked," he explained. "Almost too well."
"Plan?" Grissom turned to face his young assistant. "What plan?"
"The plan to make us jealous," Ezra explained.
"You know," Buck walked around so he was facing Grissom and shoulder to shoulder with Ezra. "for a smart man, you're acting real dumb."
"Gris, do you have feelings for me?" Nick asked straight out.
"What? I - that is, I'm…"
"'Cause I got feelings for you, strong feelings. And I need to know how you feel, I can't go on like this otherwise." He glanced over at Buck who gave him an encouraging nod.
"I, the thing is I'm your superior, I can't be seen, well we couldn't be seen anyway could we, not two men, we'd have to keep it a secret. But I can't influence you, can I? It wouldn't be right …"
"You're rambling." With that Nick reached out and took hold of Grissom's shirt, pulling him in close and kissing him. This was no gently peck, no platonic kiss of friendship, this was a full on, deep, claiming kiss that just went on and on.
"You teach him that?" Ezra asked.
"Yup, have to say the boy's a quick study." Buck beamed with almost fatherly pride as his protégéé continued to kiss the man he loved.
"Wanna teach me?"
"Love to, once this heals up." Buck pointed to his split lip.
"Well my sainted mother always said 'kiss it better'."
Buck looked at Ezra incredulously. "'Kiss it better'? Maude? Who are you trying to kid Ezra?"
"Very well she never said it, still, worth a try don't you think?"
"Oh I do."
Buck tasted of coffee and blood, but to Ezra it was the sweetest taste in all the world.
Finally both pairs broke apart, each gasping for air. "I'm not a boy or a kid and I'm not your student any more," Nick pointed out firmly.
"No you're not. We'll have to be careful, if anyone ever found out…"
"Gris, you worry to much."
"Gil, my name is Gil."
"So it is."
"I'd like you to call me that, but if you ever - ever - call me Gilbert, I my have to shoot you, clear?"
Nick grinned. "Very clear."
Just as Ezra and Buck were leaving, Ezra turned back. "Can I ask?" he began, fixing his eye on Nick. "Just why you have been following me?"
Nick just looked at Buck.
"Come up to my room Ez, and I'll show you." With that Buck took hold of Ezra's red jacket and pulled in out into the sunlight.
+ + + + + + +
"So what do you think Gil and Nick are doing right now?" Ezra asked a few days later, while he and Buck were swimming.
Buck shrugged. "Picking up rocks or fucking each others brains out."
"I'll lay you good odds on the fucking bit."
"So, now that you have me in the water, just want was it you and Nick were doing?"
Buck lend down and kissed the perfectly smooth shoulder in front of him. "Oh we don't want to do that, I can think of much more interesting things to do."
"Oh really, do enlighten me."
"I intend to."
"Oh kind sir, be gently with me."
"Right up until you beg me to fuck yer brains out."
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