Author's Notes: For Donna, with my undying gratitude. I hope you enjoy this little tale.
It was a terrible day -- frosty wind, a coldness that chilled you to the bone, the sky dark and sullen with the approaching snowfall Vin had been predicting for days. All in all, Ezra couldn't have asked for a more perfect moment. He ventured a glance at his lover, riding at his side, seeing amusement laced with love and understanding lurking in the blue eyes.
They both smiled.
The smiles grew wider, then turned into helpless laughter.
"Damn, we've got it bad, Maverick," Buck grinned, contentedly.
Ezra chuckled at both the pet name and the feelings behind the words. It was six months since they had become lovers, and it still felt brand new. Six months of passion and fire, of friendship and love. The six happiest months of his life, even if they had to hide their relationship from the world, to keep the harshest secrecy. It was worth it.
Of course, it was away from Four Corners that they made the most of their time together, without fear of discovery. On the trail, taking a few days away from their duties to reconnect with nature; a poker game some towns distant; delivering or collecting prisoners from other backwater burgs. Any excuse would do so long as it got them some time alone. Never before had they volunteered for so many odd jobs away from home. As was the case now, having just spent two glorious days -- and nights -- in a hotel room in Eagle Bend, having returned an escaped criminal to the local Sheriff.
About to make a rueful comment about their addiction to each other, Ezra's head turned as he heard the sound of galloping hooves approaching. Exchanging a puzzled look with his lover, he waited until the riders were within sight, wondering if some trouble was close at hand. And by then it was too late.
The five horsemen charged towards them, guns drawn and aimed. Being the only targets in the vicinity, knowing it was madness to be out in the open, Ezra kicked Rascal into a gallop. Adrenaline flooded his system, even as he noticed Buck instinctively doing the same.
He cursed the barrenness of their current location. There were no high rocks to allow them cover. No undergrowth, caverns, or natural hideouts of any shape or form; they were virtually defenseless. The bullets began to fly around them. Ezra leaned forward on his mount, attuned as always to his lover riding right next to him. Knowing that they had to at least lose some of their mysterious pursuers, he drew his Remington and began to fire, knocking one of the men out of the saddle. One down, four to go.
By his side Buck was also firing. One of his bullets slammed into the lead rider, who was thrown to the ground in an untidy heap. Three remained.
It was then that Ezra's world was rocked off its axis.
He watched in horror as abruptly Buck jerked violently in his saddle, eyes glazing in pain as the bullet hit him. Time seemed to stand still as Buck's startled blue eyes locked with terrified green, just before he fell to the ground, unmoving.
His heart pounding, Ezra was hardly aware of shouting, of jumping from his horse and standing on open ground, firing like a mad man at the bandits thundering nearer. An uncontrollable rage had taken over his conscious mind, murderous intent directing his every shot, as one by one their would-be assassins fell prey to his lead.
In the deafening silence, it took a moment for his sanity to return, for him to notice that there was no one left to shoot at, that the desert sand was littered with bodies and pools of blood.
Panting with fear, he ran to his fallen lover, a half-sob caught in his throat as he stumbled to his knees by Buck's side. The older man was flat on his back, blood oozing freely from an ugly wound on his left temple. Shaking fingers found a steady pulse, and Ezra closed his eyes against the tears that tried to escape. Buck was alive.
'Christ, but everything hurt,' he thought as consciousness returned sluggishly. He felt... strange, unsettled. His head hurt like the morning after a night -- hell, more like a week -- of steady drinking. He was freezing, and his whole body felt sore beyond belief. Despite his pain, he was also unusually comfortable in a warm, loving embrace -- 'probably my latest conquest' -- and tender fingers were gently brushing the hair from his forehead, soothing his pain.
He held back a groan with some hardship, not wanting to appear pathetic to his lady friend. He wished for nothing more than to keep his eyes closed and go back to the relief of sleep, but somehow he knew that he shouldn't, that something wasn't right. A strong hand squeezed his and he frowned. It wasn't the delicate hold he would expect from a woman, no, more like a man's firm grip. It was then that his ears picked up on the soft male voice begging him to wake up, to open his eyes.
Helpless for some reason to deny the broken plea, not wanting to add to the worry and grief he sensed in that honeyed voice, he took a shallow breath and opened his eyes. Huge green irises fixed anxiously on him, a handsome face drawn tight with worry, filled his vision.
"Buck? Are you all right?" the man asked in a whisper. "I was worried sick. Thank the good Lord the bullet merely grazed your scalp. It will leave a scar, but nothing too obvious. You probably have a concussion, though. I don't think it wise to return to Eagle Bend, we have covered too much ground and to do so would take time. I seem to recall a cabin not far from here when we first journeyed through this path; hopefully a kind soul will provide us with help, at least until you are able to travel safely." When his words failed to produce a response, he tilted his head in question. "Buck?"
He rubbed his throbbing head. "I... I'm... I can't... Is Buck my name? And who're you?"
When he looked up again at the stranger still holding him in his arms, the green eyes were as dark as the sea on an overcast day. "Oh, Buck," he breathed sadly. "You don't remember anything? Four Corners? Your oldest comrade, Chris Larabee? Our youngest, JD? Nothing at all? Me?"
Buck shook his head and immediately regretted it as his nausea and pain intensified, nearly overwhelming him. "Nothin', sorry. Reckon I'll just have ta trust ya ta help me out 'til I can remember somethin'."
The green-eyed man nodded slowly. "Very well. Ezra P. Standish, at your service, sir," he jested, although the sadness lurking behind his eyes remained. "I believe the first order of business is to reach the cabin. The snow is almost upon us and you are freezing as it is. Do you think you can ride?"
Buck gave him a weak smile. "Your guess is as good as mine, pard. Won't know until I try, will I?"
It took some doing, mostly on Standish's part, but he was finally brought upright and guided the few steps to his horse, who surprisingly stood near and still as it was awkwardly mounted. Buck swayed slightly in the saddle, holding onto the horn for dear life, as everything around him seemed to spin dangerously. His head felt twice its weight and he let it fall forward against his chest. From somewhere inside the fog that permeated his mind he heard the other man mounting as well, and attach a pony line to his horse to lead them to their destination.
He wondered briefly if he should trust a total stranger so completely. He had noticed the dead bodies lying not far from where they had been sitting. But weak as he was feeling, the other man could have beaten him to a pulp with one arm and both legs hog-tied behind his back, and he'd had ample opportunity to do so while Buck was unconscious. And if he was honest with himself, there was something about the green eyed man, in his warm southern drawl and relaxed mannerisms, that inspired trust. He would just have to wait and see.
The rest of their journey was a blur, but he was fairly certain it hadn't taken long. Finally out of strength, he felt the other man grasp his leg and slide his near comatose frame from the saddle. It seemed like an eternity before he was gently deposited on a bed. That was the last thing he was aware of for a long time.
Ezra had assessed the spartan cabin from horseback as they approached. It appeared deserted. He had knocked fiercely on the door, and upon receiving no reply had ventured inside. A thick layer of dust carpeted the interior, confirming his suspicions that it was abandoned.
Looking around the single-room abode, not wishing to linger over their plight lest he panicked, he noticed that the bed was still made, although the cover and sheets were filthy and beyond repair. He had stripped the bed down to the mattress and returned to Buck, who was swaying dangerously in his saddle. Getting the larger man off his horse, inside and finally onto the unmade bed had been an arduous task, but he had made it.
He quickly lit the fireplace -- having discovered a large pile of wood standing beside it -- as well as a couple of lanterns he found in a cupboard, wanting the room to be as warm and bright as possible. He needed to clean Buck's wound and get his temperature up, as the other man felt chilled to the touch.
He rushed outside to unsaddle their mounts and brought their bags inside, just as the first flecks of snow began to fall from the angry skies. Ezra paid it no heed, closing the door on Mother Nature and her childish tantrums. Sitting by his lover's side, he felt grateful all seven men had taken to keeping an extra set of garments and blankets in their bags for emergencies. Using a sleeve from one of his shirts and water from his canteen, he carefully cleaned the wound until no trace of blood was left. He tore what remained of his shirt into even strips, using one as a compress, while another was wrapped around Buck's head to secure it.
That taken care of, he pulled Buck's boots off, then his clothes, eyes greedily taking in the beloved body. Angry at himself for his straying thoughts at such an inappropriate time, Ezra reached for one of the blankets he had brought, using it to rub the older man's skin, helping to restore the circulation. When he felt Buck was warm enough, he rummaged through the other man's saddlebags until he found a pair of red long johns and some wool socks. Dressing the unresponsive form took some doing, but after some fumbling and cursing, he had his lover safely tucked in the bed, covered with another blanket.
Allowing himself a moment's rest, Ezra took a steadying breath, eyes now able to take their fill of the unconscious man. He recalled the fear he had felt as Buck's body lay still on the ground. Nothing in his life had ever frightened him so much, hurt him so much, left him so shaken up. The relief, when he had realized the bullet hadn't penetrated the skull, but merely grazed a temple, had been nearly overwhelming.
He suddenly remembered their horses were still at the mercy of the nasty weather. It didn't bear to think of leaving Rascal and Joker to face such a terrible storm. He didn't cherish the idea of having to go back outside, but it would have to be done. At least there was a barn not far from the cabin where their steeds would remain sheltered and warm.
Ezra prepared some food around noon, using some of their provisions, but ended up eating alone, and not much at that. He tried waking Buck every two hours, remembering Nathan doing the same when JD had been hit hard on the head during a bank robbery, but all he received in return was whispered gibberish. He watched the snow for hours on end, heard the howling wind rattle the window pane, feeling ever so lonely.
Fear was beginning to gnaw at his gut anew, even as he paced nervously by the bed, controlling the urge to check on Buck every two minutes. Had he done the right thing by not returning to Eagle Bend? The town had no doctor at present, but maybe someone might have been able to help them, someone who knew what they were doing, not merely blundering in the dark like he was. What if Buck never regained consciousness? He had seen it happen before. Or what if he did revive, but never remembered Four Corners, who he was, or their relationship?
That would kill him. Never before had he allowed himself to love as unconditionally as with Buck. Never before had he surrendered so willingly to another. How would he ever be able to go back to the way things were before? Maybe not even that, since Buck didn't have any memories of their friendship and their previous closeness was certain to be lost.
He shook his head; he was being silly, and mindless panic would lead nowhere. They would never have made it back to Eagle Bend before the snowstorm hit, and that would have been much worse. He would just have to be patient, to remain calm. Buck would wake up soon, and Lord willing, with his memory intact.
Later that evening Ezra's heart felt lighter. Buck seemed to be sleeping rather peacefully, and had actually mumbled his own name the last time Ezra had attempted to rouse him. He had even managed a few sips of water before returning to slumber. Still, Ezra was feeling exhausted, which presented a problem. It was too cold to sleep on the wooden floor, but what would happen if he joined Buck on the bed? Should the other man awake, would he react violently or with bemusement? After all, they were virtually strangers now.
Too tired to care one way or another, Ezra removed his outer layers of clothing, and carefully laid down on the surprisingly comfortable bed, careful to keep body contact to a minimum, pulling the blankets over the two of them to ward away the freezing cold. Sighing as Buck's warmth began to seep into him, he closed his eyes, feeling fatigue stealing over him. His last thought was for the man by his side, desperately hoping to see mischievous blue eyes staring knowingly into his first thing in the morning.
In some corner of his mind Buck knew that he was dreaming, but he couldn't seem to wake up or to prevent the images from shifting beyond his control. He dreamed of his mother, murdered by one of the men who regularly sought her out at the cathouse. He saw himself killing the man after months of tracking him, the hatred that shrouded his heart the only thing that kept him going. Later on, the War, the once green plains covered with the dead or moribund after a battle, some too young to even be away from their families, let alone to witness such carnage, or be a part of it. He remembered his stint as a lawman, the constant fighting, the weariness, having to watch his back every second of the day lest he fell by gun or knife. His heart broke yet again as he saw himself staring at a burnt down cabin through blurry eyes, the tormented whimpers of the man kneeling beside him almost too much to bear...
And then the dreams changed.
He saw his mother smiling down at him as a toddler, speaking about love, teaching him the ways of men, telling him of far away places she had seen or heard about. His first time with a woman, sweet Sally, how awkward it had been, and yet, at the same time, how wonderful. Meeting Chris Larabee, their friendship, the plights they got themselves into and the always spectacular ways in which they escaped them. Robert, his first male lover, the wonder at learning something new, realizing how good it could be between two men. He could almost see those vivacious hazel eyes gazing lovingly up at him as their bodies undulated together in lovemaking.
The image didn't disappear this time, and the dream was suddenly so real he could actually feel Robert's muscled body beneath him. Surrendering to his dream, he nuzzled his lover's neck, sighing as imaginary hands caressed his back and sides. He snuggled closer still to the pliant body rubbing languidly against his, breath quickening as their hard cocks pressed together.
Desperate to taste his lover's kiss, Buck leaned down to capture passionate lips, drinking everything Robert had to give and yet thirsting for more. Release was a mere moment away for both of them, and he sped up his thrusts, grasping firm hips with his hands, pinning the writhing body beneath him tightly.
They came together, moaning into each other's mouths, and as with every time they made love, Buck felt a stab of tenderness surging through him for this man who had given him and taught him so much. Once again he nuzzled Robert's neck, whispering against warm skin, "I love you, Robert."
He wrapped his arms around his lover, and fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
Ezra had smiled softly as he felt Buck nuzzling his neck. He was too tired for proper lovemaking, and not really fully awake, but it wouldn't have been the first time his lover had brought him to climax without much effort. He caressed Buck's back and sides tenderly, a willing prisoner to the older man's larger bulk, thrusting his hips up gently against his lover's. His cock had hardened in spite of his lethargy, mating with Buck's.
His lips were taken in a ravaging kiss, and he had felt Buck increase the tempo of his thrusts. Then they were both coming, lips still connected, orgasming into their undergarments. He was falling back into deep sleep when Buck's lips had brushed against his neck, and words floated up to him, "I love you, Robert."
Abruptly, Ezra was wide-awake. He recalled their current situation, and his heart broke as he realized Buck hadn't really been making love to him, but to a former lover. Perhaps sleep was bringing forth memories and if so 'Robert' was but a ghost from the past. Even so it hurt, for it shattered the sated, contented feeling from their encounter. And a malicious voice in his head couldn't help point out that it should have been him Buck had been dreaming about, not some other faceless man.
There was no further sleep for him that night.
Ezra rose with the sun. The snowstorm had let up sometime during the night, taking with it the dark clouds and leaving a bright, sunny morning in its wake. Not wishing to waste any water from their canteens, he used some of the snow gathered by the front door to wash himself, melting it in the stove until it was tolerably warm. Through it all, his gaze barely left the sleeping man on the bed.
He ate a sparse breakfast, still not hungry, but knowing he needed to preserve his strength. He managed to make Buck take some more water, and again mutter his name upon repeated insistence. The morning was half gone when Ezra finally heard the sweetest sound in his whole life -- Buck groaning as he slowly came to.
Ezra rushed to the bed, waiting with held breath as the blue eyes fluttered open, squinting at the light coming from a nearby window, and swallowing with difficulty. Reaching for the canteen, Ezra brought it to Buck's lips, smiling happily as the other man took a few greedy sips.
"Careful," he murmured, as he prevented his lover from drinking too much. "You will make yourself ill, if you drink too quickly."
"Ezra?" Buck rasped, as he tried to sit up against the headboard.
"Here, let me help you." Ezra carefully helped the other man, taking some of his weight until Buck was sitting up comfortably. Then realizing Buck had uttered his name, and unable to keep the hope from his tone, he asked, "You remember me?"
"Not exactly," Buck replied softly. "'Member wakin' up with the mother of all headaches and ya sayin' I had been shot. Know ya brought me here too. Other than that..."
"Oh," Ezra muttered, knowing his eyes and expression showed his disappointment. "How do you feel?" he queried, wanting to leave his worries behind for the moment. Taking care of Buck was what mattered most at the present.
"The headache's still here. Not so bad, though. I'm a bit dizzy too. I don't feel sick anymore," Buck answered, after a brief pause.
Ezra nodded, satisfied. "Good. You must be starving. I will prepare something light that won't upset your stomach."
He kept busy at the stove, making Buck something to eat, feeling the older man's eyes burning holes in his back the whole time. The question, when it came, caught him unawares.
"You're a southerner, right?"
He turned to Buck, puzzled. "Yes. Why?" Then seeing the strange light in Buck's eyes, and feeling his heart hammering with sudden fear, he added, "The war has been over for a long time, Buck."
To his surprise, and relief, Buck simply gave him a small smile. "Just checkin'."
Ezra went back to Buck's meal, a soft sigh escaping his lips. There was no telling what could have happened if Buck thought them to be enemies, still in the midst of the war. The last thing he needed was to have a fight on his hands with his lover, he was barely holding on as it was.
He handed Buck a plate with his breakfast, then sat on the bed, watching silently as he ate. Buck's hands were trembling slightly. He was obviously still weak, but for all his acceptance of the situation so far, it was evident that Buck wasn't about to ask for help. Ezra decided to let him proceed at his own pace, not wanting to make things between them more awkward.
Once he was finished, Buck put his plate aside and looked at Ezra, seeming much better. "So, we're friends?"
"Yes, we are friends. Good friends," Ezra replied, unable to prevent a smile from breaking through. "Have you recalled anything at all?"
"A few things, mostly from my past. I know my name, who my mother was, I know I was a Marshal and a Texas Ranger at some time or another. I also remembered the war, Chris and... his family's death. I only seem to be missin' the last few years." Abruptly, he cleared his throat. "I need ta go."
Ezra frowned at the apparent non-sequitur. "Go?" he echoed, then understood. "Oh! Well, the outhouse is somewhat distant, but I believe I could assist you in reaching it?" he half-asked, afraid of going too far.
"Better make it fast, pard," Buck grinned, and it was all Ezra could do not to kiss that wicked smile.
"Certainly." With his help, Buck staggered to his feet, and Ezra wrapped a blanket around him tightly for warmth. Supporting the taller man, they made their way to the outhouse. He stood discreetly away while Buck was inside. Their journey back to the cabin took less time, as Buck seemed to grow stronger by the minute.
Once Buck was again safely tucked in bed, he sighed gratefully. "Thanks, Ezra."
"You are most welcome, my friend. Now, anything further I can help you with?"
"Yeah. Tell me 'bout what I've been doin' these last years, fill in the blanks, so to speak."
Ezra frowned, unsure. "I believe I can tell you some of it, but perhaps it would be preferable if you were to remember on your own."
"Why?" Buck looked at him, a confused expression on his face.
"I could recount tales from the last years with you, adventures and grievances we have shared together, but they would be my memories, not yours. It might cause you harm as you attempt to remember, since all you would be hearing were my own feelings, impressions, experiences. You need to recall all those occasions on your own, with no interference from me."
Buck nodded slowly. "I think I get it. What can ya tell me?"
Ezra spent the next hour telling Buck about Four Corners, about the Seven. Speaking about each of the others, about himself, always trying to keep objective, not to imprint any of his own emotions on the subject, although he knew sometimes he fell short. He also told Buck about some of the town's most illustrious denizens, such as Mary Travis, Mrs. Potter, Inez, and even Yosemite, a queer character all of them had gotten used to over the years.
Through it all, Buck remained attentive, silent, asking only the occasional question to which Ezra answered to the best of his knowledge. When he was done, a stubborn expression Ezra was well acquainted with shone in Buck's eyes.
"I want ta get back to Four Corners," Buck stated firmly.
"I certainly hope you don't mean now," Ezra retorted.
"And why not?" Buck challenged, arms folded against his chest.
"Because you are still too weak to travel. Because even if we were to depart after lunch, it would still take some time to reach Four Corners. We would have to sleep on the trail, and frankly, I don't believe you are well enough to endure it."
"Let me be the judge of that," Buck said. Before Ezra could protest, he added, "Ezra, not rememberin' is drivin' me crazy. I need ta see Four Corners, to see the others, ta get back to the place that's been my home for the past two years accordin' to you. I feel like there's somethin' important that I'm missin', somethin' vital, like a part of me. I need to know what it is! Please?"
Ezra sighed as he gazed into pleading blue eyes. Those cobalt irises had been his undoing from the moment they met, and nothing had changed since then. If anything, he was getting more powerless to resist them as time went by.
"Fine," he exhaled slowly. "But we will eat first, you are still in need of nourishment. And we will journey at a sedate pace. Is that understood?"
Buck saluted cheekily. "Yes, sir."
"Idiot," Ezra countered, smiling fondly.
Buck kept his promise, eating as much as possible without making himself sick before they left the cabin, allowing Ezra to fuss over him and change the bandage on his head, resting in bed while Ezra prepared the horses and their saddlebags for the trip home. Finally they were ready, riding towards Four Corners at the snail's pace Ezra insisted they keep.
Most of the afternoon was spent in either comfortable silence as their mounts kept close together, or talking, as he thought of new questions to ask Ezra about Four Corners and the other regulators. It felt weird to Buck to be a part of such a band of men, and even weirder that Chris, his oldest friend, was their unspoken leader. The last time he remembered seeing the man, Chris had been a mere shadow of his former self, sorrow and desperation eating up at him, leading him on a path of self-destruction Buck was certain would only end at the barrel of someone's gun.
It was good to know that things had changed for his friend, that Chris was back on the right track, no longer searching for a violent death, but protecting others from that same fate. And that he had opened up enough to allow others close. Chris had never made friends easily, or kept them for long. Not everyone could keep up with the blond's mercurial moods.
Buck felt Ezra glancing worriedly at him yet again, and refrained from smiling. He liked Standish. From what he had witnessed so far, the other man had a quick wit, was as smart as they came, and the way he looked didn't hurt either. Buck wondered briefly if they were more than just friends. Considering the way Ezra seemed to nearly hover over him, it wasn't too far fetched, but Buck quickly dismissed the idea. He wouldn't be stupid enough to mess with someone he worked with. It usually brought nothing but trouble, and besides Ezra hadn't given him any hint they might be sharing a bed, or that they ever had.
Night fell and they made camp. Ezra didn't allow him to do much, ordering him to rest, and preparing a simple, but very welcomed meal for them both. Coffee was sipped as they stared at the starry sky, once again talking about this and that. Feeling his aches returning full force, Buck said goodnight and lay down on his bedroll. He was asleep as soon as his head hit his makeshift pillow.
Buck wasn't sure what had brought him awake so suddenly, but a sense of alarm caused him to roll over swiftly and reach for his weapon. The familiar cocking of a gun froze him in his tracks, even as a man spoke from close by.
"I wouldn't do anythin' hasty, Wilmington. Not if you want your friend here to live."
Buck turned to face the voice, seeing two men standing behind Ezra, one of them holding him by the waist, a hand covering his mouth, while the other kept a gun pressed to his temple. Both men looked familiar and he tried to associate names to the faces. It came to him abruptly.
"The Irving brothers, Colin and Billy Joe," he spat angrily.
The one still holding Ezra securely, Billy Joe, laughed roughly. "Glad to see ya still remember us, Ranger. Long way from Texas, ain't ya?"
"So are you. What do you want?" Buck asked, exchanging a glance with Ezra. The green eyes were filled with worry. Worry that Buck was certain was for him, not Ezra himself.
"Revenge," Colin replied. "We spent a lot of time in jail 'cause o' you."
"If you hadn't robbed that bank, I wouldn't've had cause ta go after you, now, would I?" Buck retorted.
"Ya ain't exactly in a position ta be makin' jokes, Wilmington," Billy Joe snarled. "Like I said, your friend here might be the one to pay for your sins."
"Okay, okay," Buck knelt slowly, hands raised up in a placating gesture. "How did ya find me?"
"Saw you in Eagle Bend a few days 'go. Last person we'd 'spect to see 'round these parts," Colin spat on the floor. "Hired some men to take care o' you, but they never returned. So we came and searched for ya. Ya might say we just bumped into ya this mornin'."
Buck cocked his head at the two men. "So, now what?"
"Guess we'll just have ta get rid of ya ourselves," Colin replied. "We'll leave your friend here tied up for the wolves, and take you with us. We'll make sure we have lots of fun with ya, afore puttin' a bullet between your eyes."
Those were the wrong words to say. Ezra, who had so far remained quiet and still, struggled against Billy Joe's grip, managing to kick Colin so hard the man fell to the ground. Taking his chance, Buck jumped the bastard, hoping Ezra could handle Billy Joe while he saw to Colin. It didn't take long. Colin might have been furious, but Buck was taller and stronger, and a few punches were enough to knock the younger Irving unconscious.
He looked up to see how Ezra was faring, his breath catching as he saw Billy Joe push Ezra away and reach for his gun. The sound of a shot echoed loudly, even as Buck watched Ezra falling to the ground with a pained grimace. In that instant his mind flashed back to a similar scene, as Ezra crumbled to the ground from a bullet wound during Mary's assassination attempt. He recalled his fear that the gambler might be dead, the pain that thought had caused, and how that single moment had been the beginning of the end of his relationship with Louisa.
A flood of memories and emotions tore through him, pushing him almost to the point of madness, as he remembered everything Ezra had told him the afternoon before; about Four Corners and the people living there, about the Seven, about what they did for a living. His memory was back... every single detail was coming back.
He crawled over to Ezra, heart in his throat. "Ezra! Ezra! Are you okay?"
The gambler sat up on his elbows. "I'm fine," he panted. "He didn't shoot me, Buck. I lost my balance when he pushed me, and fell."
It was then that Buck realized Billy Joe was lying unmoving next to them, blood rapidly soaking his shirt. "He's dead! But who the hell shot 'im?"
Buck looked up to see Chris' amused smile, as he sat proudly on his mount gazing down at them. Beside him were Vin, JD, Nathan and Josiah. "What are you doin' here?"
"When ya didn't return yesterday, we decided to come lookin' for ya," Vin stated. "Good thin' we did too."
"Yes. As usual, your timing was impeccable, gentlemen," Ezra grinned, rising slowly and brushing his clothes fastidiously. "Nathan, perhaps you could take a moment to examine our lothario here. We were ambushed two days ago and a bullet grazed his temple. I'm afraid he recalls very little from his past life or our motley crew."
Before Buck could explain he remembered everything just fine, he suffered a second ambush, being thoroughly examined by Nathan before being pushed on his horse and basically rushed to Four Corners and Nathan's clinic for even more thorough and irritating tests.
He needed desperately to speak to Ezra, to reconnect with his lover, to let him know he had found the part of him that he had felt was missing when his memory was gone, and that that part was Ezra himself. But it was hours before he was finally allowed to leave the clinic and go to Ezra's room.
Ezra opened his bedroom door to see Buck standing there with a wide smile. "I didn't think Nathan would release you this rapidly."
"I promised to behave and rest," Buck replied. "Can I come in?"
Ezra moved aside to let Buck in, then closed the door. "How are you feeling?"
Buck grimaced. "Nathan had me drinkin' one of his magic potions," he quipped. "I have this awful taste in my mouth, but the headache's gone and I feel fine." He cleared his throat awkwardly. "I needed ta talk to you."
Ezra tilted his head quizzically. "About?"
"Us. First, I wanted ta thank you for all you did. I'd probably be dead by now if not for ya. And... Ezra, when I thought Billy Joe had shot you... I remembered."
Ezra swallowed thickly. "Remembered? Everything?"
Buck nodded. "Yeah. Guess it was the shock. It was like seein' ya get shot durin' that mess with Governor Hopewell all over again. Reckon my heart couldn't take it and helped my mind remember." He shrugged. "Or somethin'."
Ezra licked his lips nervously. He had been doing a lot of thinking since he had been alone in his room, and he wasn't certain he liked where his mind was taking him. "So, are we all right? Are you satisfied with our relationship, with me?"
Buck frowned. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"It's just... That night we spent at the cabin... you were dreaming, and..." he trailed off. Did he really want to bring this up? What if what Buck had to say wasn't what he wanted to hear?
"And?" Buck prompted.
"You had a dream. An erotic dream," Ezra explained. "About someone named Robert. And I couldn't help wondering if what we had was what you truly wanted. Before we got together you changed women more often than I change shirts, and then suddenly you were ready to commit to me. I guess I have been thinking that maybe this was too sudden for you, that somehow I forced you into something you weren't prepared for."
"In other words, you're thinkin' I forgot about you 'cause I was sorry we got together," Buck correctly surmised and Ezra felt himself flush. Buck walked over to him slowly, bringing his hands to rest lightly upon Ezra's waist. "You'd be wrong, Maverick. I want this, I want us. I don't think I've ever really loved anyone before you. At least, not like I love you."
Ezra felt his heart speeding and his breath catching at those words. "You mean that?"
"Yeah," Buck smiled gently. "I cared 'bout a lot of women, Ez. Even called it love, what I felt for some of 'em. But it can't compare to what I feel for you. You're the right one for me. I'm not lettin' you go, Ezra P. Standish, not for anythin' on God's Earth. I love you. Your courage, your intelligence, your smile... I even love you when you're being an irritating, sarcastic pain in the ass." Evidently realizing the mood was getting too heavy, Buck purred wantonly in his ear. "But I especially love you when you're givin' me those bedroom eyes of yours."
Ezra sputtered in feigned indignation. "Bedroom eyes?"
Buck chuckled, nipping at his earlobe. "Ya know, just after sex. You're all flushed, lips moist and swollen, lookin' up at me with that dark-green, heavy-lidded stare of yours, so sultry... Makes me want to do it all over again... and again... and again..."
"I thought you promised Nathan you would behave and rest?" Ezra offered weakly as Buck nibbled and licked at his neck, an obvious promise of things to come.
"I can be on my best behavior tomorrow, and I'll rest after I've had my way with you. I need ya, Ezra," came the breathless plea.
Ezra felt himself being backed up to the bed, not bothering to protest or offer any resistance. After two days wondering if he would ever get Buck back in his arms again, he wanted nothing more than for the two of them to make love. And perhaps his 'bedroom eyes' would persuade Buck to go without sleep or rest for a long, long time.
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