The sun rested back in the sky, nestled against a misty blanket of gray and gold. It lay there, dozing on the horizon, in no hurry to rise up into day. Instead, it stretched itself out luxuriously, savoring the fresh breath of morning.

Ike sighed contentedly. He knew how the sun felt. There were days when duty and responsibility shoved their way through the dawn and yanked you by the throat, demanding to know why you weren't hard at work and unwilling to accept any excuse for laziness. But then there were mornings like this. Mornings when the world and all its obsessive worries went on vacation. Mornings that rewarded you for sleeping and drowsing and reveling in slow motion. Mornings that didn't just signal the dawn of another day—but the birth of a new life.

Ike closed his eyes and gently stroked the strong arms that held him close. He felt Buck's breath on the back of his neck. Its soft rhythm signaled to him that his friend was still asleep. He leaned back into Buck's embrace, pressing himself against Buck's warm, familiar flesh. Every muscle, every curve in Buck's body, seemed to perfectly match his own. He breathed deeply, inhaling the wild, earthy scent that enveloped the two of them. He felt the Indian stir behind him and he smiled as Buck nuzzled his face against his neck and kissed him with tender, trembling lips.

Ike reached down and grasped Buck by the hand. His long, smooth fingers felt soft and unique like exotic flowers. He brought them up to his nose and brushed his lips against their lengths. He tasted them each in turn, slowly savoring their sweet flavor as Buck carefully probed the inside of Ike's mouth with a gentle touch.

The night they had shared unfolded again in Ike's imagination as they lay entwined on the lush carpet of grass. He remembered how Buck had looked, rising out of the stream, his golden skin rubbed raw from his diligent attempt to scour away every insult and dirty look that had clung to him like leaches since they'd left Julesburg. Ike had witnessed Buck struggle with years of abuse from the white world—both at the mission school and beyond. Buck always liked to say that only weak men threw insults and mere words could never bring down a warrior. But Ike wasn't so sure of that. Maybe words couldn't slay him in a single attack, but no one, not even a warrior, could survive a constant barrage of hate without being wounded. Ike never failed to notice how, after each insult, Buck's gaze would fall a little lower and his shoulders droop a little further than before. But Ike had never seen Buck look as lost or as hopeless as when he stepped onto the stream's muddy bank that night. No matter what other people thought of him, Ike loved Buck more dearly than his own life and he'd suddenly felt the need to tell him as much. Yet, when he'd approached his friend, scraped red and dripping wet, no word seemed powerful enough to do justice to his feelings. Instead, he'd decided to show his love for Buck in the only other way he knew how.

He felt a smile cross his lips as he remembered how Buck had shuddered when he'd stroked his shoulder. At first, he'd thought Buck might refuse him. But one touch naturally led to another and another, and before he knew it, they were both lying naked on the grass, lost in a lover's embrace. He'd let his lips roam over every inch of Buck's body, proving with each kiss that, far from being ugly and dirty, Buck was a rich delicacy to be savored. He only hoped that Buck had enjoyed himself as much as he had.

Ike knew what the world thought of their love. The nuns at the mission school would condemn them both to hell for it. Any man from any town would brand them as perverts and string them up because of it. Ike had to admit, there had been a time in his life when the thought of loving a man seemed twisted and wrong. But Buck wasn't just a man. He was his help-mate, his confidant, his best friend. He was a reflection of Ike's own spirit. . .the only piece in the puzzle of Ike's broken life that truly fit. Buck sighed and Ike rolled over onto his back. He looked up, wondering what was wrong. . .hoping that Buck didn't regret their night together. His intense eyes searched the Indian's with concern, but Buck just tossed the hair out of his face and smiled sheepishly. Ike grinned. Buck had enjoyed what they'd shared, too.

Ike closed his eyes and listened to lively stream laugh playfully as it wound its way past them. He heard the birds' song gather strength above them as the sun rose from its misty bed and dawn became day. The morning was hot and it wasn't long before he felt the stream beckon him. He sat up and glanced over at Buck who lay sprawled out on his back—one arm tossed carelessly over his face in an attempt to block out the sun. Ike nudged him in the ribs. He pointed to the stream. Come with me, he signed. But Buck shook his head—a look of bored indifference pasted across his face.

You go. I want to sleep, he signed back and rolled over.

Ike frowned. Only a moment ago, Buck had smiled at him and held him close. Now all he wanted to do was be left alone? Ike had tried more than once to figure the Indian out, with only limited success. Though they were as close as two earth-bound souls could be, he wasn't sure he'd ever completely understand Buck's moods.

He stood up and shuffled silently toward the stream. It winked at him suggestively and he stepped in. He waded up to his knees, smiling as the cool, clear liquid lapped at his legs and then bubbled past him as it wandered downstream. He bent down and slowly dipped his hands into the running water, allowing the current to caress his fingertips. He cupped his hands, carefully gathering the water between his palms, and brought them to his lips for a taste. The water smelled fresh and crisp. It washed past his tongue with an easy grace, sliding effortlessly down his parched throat and settling itself comfortably in the depths of his stomach.

He rose as a soft, sweet breeze stirred in the air. He watched as it brushed by the bushes and wove its invisible fingers through the trees' trembling leaves. He closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of life and love. He'd never before realized how passionate nature was—how love lived in each of the stream's swollen ripples, in the seductive sway of the prairie grass, in the clouds' breathless and billowy embrace. He heard an eagle cry above him and wondered if he was looking for his mate.

He leaned his head back, allowing the sun's touch to penetrate his skin. The gentle breeze suddenly shifted and Ike opened his eyes with a start, but he closed them again in pleasure as the familiar lips brushed against his shoulder and kissed him gingerly.

Ike reached back and stroked Buck's thigh. I thought you wanted to sleep, he signed.

Buck breathed deeply, running his nose along Ike's neck until he reached his ear. He caressed the tip with his tongue, taking his time to taste it's full flavor before he kissed it tenderly.

"I lied," he whispered, gathering his lover into his arms.

Buck brushed his cheek against Ike's shoulder. His long dark hair cascaded down Ike's chest like a blossoming vine, lush and fragrant. He ran his hand along Ike's left arm and soon, their fingers were laced together.

Ike felt the breeze gather strength around them. It panted breathlessly through the trees, causing the water to quiver restlessly against their legs as Buck slowly moved their entwined hands lower over Ike's body.

The pitch and toss of the ripples grew and grew. The trees shuddered and moaned. Ike felt Buck's desire pulse at the base of his back, pushing against him like the roots of a vine, struggling to find a way to mesh with him completely. All at once, the wind gasped and the world tumbled forward as they sank to their knees and Ike released his essence into the eager current.

Ike rested his head back on Buck's chest and sighed. He had never before felt anything as right as this love. His love for Buck was to him as real as the sun and as easy as the breeze. It was as true as the flow of the stream or the cry of the eagle. Ike opened his eyes and watched with wonder as the stream wrapped itself around their waists. It caressed them like a silky sheet adorned with liquid jewels as all of nature reveled in their love.