"So, I supposed you know Buck turned down the team leader position in Boston."
Chris Larabee looked up sharply. He could tell by the look on Orrin Travis' face that the AD knew full well and good that Chris hadn't known that; that he hadn't even known Buck had been offered the position.
Chris knew the AD was waiting for some reaction, he just didn't know what it was. So he asked, keeping his voice even, "He give a reason for turning it down?"
Travis grinned without humor. "Oh, he gave me several reasons. Boston is too damp, too crowded, too, hmmm, stuffy was the word he used. And then, of course, he told me he wasn't cut out to be a team leader." A beat. "We both know that's not true, Chris."
Chris hoped he wasn't speaking too loudly, but his pulse was pounding so hard in his ears he could barely hear himself. "Buck would make a great team leader."
"Yes, he would. But this is third...no, the fourth time he's turned a position down. He's good, Chris. In some ways, he's as good as you are. And God knows I don't want to break up Team Seven. But Buck needs to understand if he keeps turning down advancement, sooner or later it won't be offered to him again. He needs to be sure being a member of Team Seven, being backup to you, is all he wants. I would just hate to seem him lose the option."
"Buck always will have options," Chris snapped. He took a deep breath, let it out, and went on in a calmer tone. "He gets a couple of offers a year. Hell, probably more, those are just the ones I find out about. Good offers. He's got a standing offer from the Denver PD to come back to the bomb squad; NCIS would snap him up if he ever hinted he wanted them to, and that's not counting the private sector. One of our old SEAL buddies offered him six figures last year to join his security consulting firm."
Travis eyes him shrewdly. "And how did you find out about that one?"
"He called me when Buck turned him down. Wanted me to talk Buck into it."
"I'm sure that conversation went well. So I gather Buck doesn't tell you about the offers he receives?"
"Not usually, no," Chris admitted.
After a silence, Travis started, "I assume you and he are still--?"
"Seems like I remember a conversation in this very office, about three years ago. I had just told you I wouldn't take the job you'd just offered me if I couldn't talk Buck into being my second in command. You said something like I won't ask and you don't tell, and if there's ever any questions about the two of you don't look to me for protection."
Travis nodded. "There was a lot on the line three years ago, Chris," he pointed out. "I was new to the ATF. You were new to sobriety. Congress was watching the formation of the first three Remtef teams keenly and nothing would have delighted the FBI more than to see the whole idea crash in flames. Not to mention, your choices for team members weren't exactly what I expected. Except for Buck, perhaps. But I didn't know where the two of you stood back then. And you--" he waved a hand. "Well, you remember. I wasn't sure you were really looking for a fresh start or a chance to commit legal suicide. I was taking a big enough chance on you, I couldn't run the risk of even the look of impropriety."
"You took a big chance," Chris conceded. "Don't know myself what I was thinking." Well, mostly I was thinking about the next drink I couldn't have. I wouldn't have made it without Buck. "There wouldn’t be a team without him. It's more his doing than mine."
"I think you're selling yourself short," Travis said dryly. "One doesn't make SAC of the year three years running without some ability. But things are different now, Chris. If you and Buck wanted to make your relationship public--"
"Are you saying that would go over? That there wouldn't be backlash? I'm not running the risk of my team being endangered because some other team leader or LEO doesn't want to come to the help of the 'fags'."
"Now you're selling your fellow SACs short," Travis snapped. "No one in the Denver office--"
"Maybe not. But we're not always in Denver. And besides, at the very least there's the anti fraternization clause. I don't want some pencil pushing bureaucrat from DC deciding Buck can't be on Team Seven because we're--the people that need to know, do know. And that's enough."
"Maybe for you. But is it enough for Buck?"
Chris eyed his boss steadily. "If it wasn't, maybe he'd have taken that job in Boston."
It was late when Chris got back down to Team Seven's offices. Well after five. He was half expecting the bullpen to be empty: it was Friday, after all, and they'd just wrapped up a two month long operation with no injuries and complete success. Nobody hurt, guns off the streets, bad guys in the hands of the Feebs. Enough to make one happy Team Seven. They were probably already over at the Saloon, pouring the drinks and wondering what was keeping their team leader so late.
Well, he was almost right.
The bullpen was empty except for Buck, who was still sitting at his desk, frowning at his computer. Trying to look busy, Chris thought tenderly, when he was actually just waiting on Chris. Probably told the other guys, Might as well wait here 'till Chris takes the red pen to my report. No use letting him steam over it all weekend. Chris could hear it, Buck's long suffering tone, his implication that the paperwork was just beyond him. Of course, Buck's report would already be in Chris' in-box and Buck would be finding someway to help his teammates with theirs: tone down Ezra's five dollar words and focus Josiah, who had a tendency to wander into weird abstract statements, and JD, who got so bogged down in the exciting details of what the tech did he forgot the whole point of the thing. Most importantly, he'd have somehow managed to ease Vin through his report without inciting either the Texan's ire or his shame. Vin regarded his dyslexia as nothing less than a personal failing, and probably always would.
The dyslexia--and the lack of a college degree--had been big stumbling blocks in hiring Tanner for the ATF. Not to Chris. He'd known from the second he'd met the long-haired US Marshall that Vin would be perfect for the new team he was forming. But to those pencil pushers up in Washington, the ones in Denver, hell, even Travis--who'd given Chris cart blanche in hiring his new team, had then argued against practically every choice he'd made. Vin didn't technically meet the educational requirements--in spite of the fact the US Marshall service had the same requirements and had waived them in Tanner's case. Vin was a former Army Ranger and the best sniper Chris had ever seen. He'd fought to get Vin and eventually he'd won.
But then he'd had to fight for most of them. Ezra carried the taint of corruption from the FBI--despite the fact it was all a set up. Josiah was too old and JD too young. The only two team members Chris got without any flak from someone were Nathan and Buck himself.
"You going to stand there and stare all night?"
Startled, Chris raised his eyes and saw Buck regarding him with an amused smile. At some point his lover had stopped pretending to focus on his computer and had focused on Chris instead.
"Where's everyone else?"
"And you're still here because--?
Buck's deep blue eyes said, I'm waiting on you, you moron, and you know it. But he stretched out his long legs and drawled, "Well, you know me, Chris. Can't just get the hang of them reports..."
"Don't," Chris snapped.
"Don't pull the I'm just a big, dumb, cowboy act with me. We both know it's not true. Your report was finished hours ago."
Buck regarded him patiently. "And now everyone else's reports are done too. So as soon as you tell me what crawled into your ass and died, we can get going and join the guys." His gaze sharpened, "There wasn't any trouble with Travis, was there? 'Cause if he's got a problem with how the bust went down--"
"No." Chris shook his head. "He's fine, no problems with that. I just wish--why do you pull that dumb act anyway? You really think it fools anybody anymore?"
"Fools who it needs to. Besides, if me playing stupid gets Junior to take my help and get his reports done without shooting his computer again, it's worth it."
"Vin knows it's an act. Hell, he probably always knew."
Buck shrugged. His eyes were steady, deep blue pools. "So if it's not Travis, what's got you riled up?"
"Why didn't you tell me about Boston?" Chris snapped.
"Who did tell you about Boston?" Buck fired back.
"Travis did. Apparently he thinks I should know things like that. You know. Because you're on my team and oh, yeah, we're lovers!" Chris practically yelled the last.
"Want to say that a little louder? Because I don’t think the whole building could hear you." Buck slammed his hands down on his desk. "And we've had this conversation before. I didn't say anything because I didn't want you to go into a snit about something that wasn't going to happen. I wasn't going to take the job, never even thought about taking the job. Hell, I don't even know why they asked me--"
"Because you're damn good at your job and you'd be a damn good SAC and damn it, Buck, couples talk about things like job offers!"
"Shit, first you call me your lover and then you say we're a couple."
"Well, we are! What, do you call us fuck buddies or something? After all these years together, what do you think we are?"
Buck stood up and walked into Chris' personal space, backing him against the wall. "You know damn well what you are to me," he said, low and intent. "And I'm not leaving you. I don't ever plan to leave you. So getting you all riled up about a job you know damn well I'd never take is just stupid. So I got a job offer. So what? I stopped telling you about them a long time ago and you damn well know why."
I'm not leaving you.
Chris grabbed Buck's broad shoulders in his hands and pulled them closer together, fastening his mouth on Buck's, sliding his tongue into his lover's hot cavernous mouth. He felt Buck's arms slide around his back and his leg thrust between Chris's own.
And, oh God, this was it, this was what had kept him from going under all those years ago, this was what had forced him on that damn wagon and kept him there. The thought of losing Buck, losing this, knowing that he'd barely survived losing Sarah and Adam and he'd never, never survive losing Buck too. Knowing that if he didn't do something fast he would lose him. Because no matter how much Buck loved him--and he did love him, Chris knew that in his very soul--he wasn't going to hang around any longer and watch Chris self-destruct. And knowing, deep inside, that if he did self destruct it would destroy Buck as surely as if Chris had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
And, yeah, he knew why Buck had stopped telling him about job offers. The first couple of times, early in Team Seven's history and when he and Buck were trying to find their way back to something, when they were fucking because they never could resist each other and they loved each other but didn't know how--or even if--they could get back to where they were before, much less get on to something better, Buck had mentioned a job offer just casually, just conversation. Not They've offered me double the money for half the hassle and I am out of here, but just All that money to just sit around and read surveillance reports all day? Can you see me in a Brooks Brothers suit and tie? Laughing, joking. Never taking it very seriously but flattered to be asked. Kind of proud.
And inviting Chris to be proud of him.
And Chris failed. All Chris heard was, Someone else wants him. He's going to leave because really, why would Buck stay? For a team that might never happen and a broken down, barely recovering drunk who was drained dry and not sure there was anything left to him? Hell, he couldn't figure out why Buck stayed with him anyway. But he knew, he knew he couldn't live without Buck. And all that fear that was his constant companion came clawing up his guts and the anger that he was never without boiled over and suddenly he was yelling at Buck, saying horrible, hurtful things. Things Buck shouldn't forgive him for.
But Buck did, and he came back, and he didn't leave. And Chris calmed down and told himself that it was okay, that the next time Buck mentioned a job offer--and there would be offers because Buck was just too damn good that there wouldn't be--he, Chris, would act like an adult about it, congratulate Buck, even kid him a little, and know, truly know, that it was no threat to him or to them or to the Team. Because even if Chris could survive without Buck, Team Seven wouldn't be the same. Buck was the glue that molded seven distinct, strong willed souls into a family.
And then the next offer came, and Buck mentioned it over coffee. And Chris lost it again.
Small wonder Buck just stopped telling him about them.
He pulled away from Buck, just a little, and stared into his eyes. "I love you," he said desperately. "You know that. And I'm proud of you and I wish...I wish I could say it's okay, take the jobs--"
"Chris." Buck's voice was tender. "I don't want another job. I don't want another life. I've got all I ever wanted right here."
"But all that money, those offers--"
Buck cradled his face in his big hands. "You made me an offer. When you called that day and said you'd dumped every bottle in the house down the drain; when you asked me to come back to you. When you told me about Team Seven and said you'd only do it if I came along. You made me an offer, Chris. And that's the only offer I've ever needed."
Trust Buck to know what to say. And this time, this time, Chris thought fuzzily as their mouths fused together again and the passion rose between them, this time he would believe him.