Author: Ruby J

Universe: ATF

Pairing: C/V

Rating: NC-17 Slash. Explicit m/m sex. If it ain't your thing, stop here.

Disclaimer: They belong to the Alphabet folks at MGM, CBS, etc. I'm only borrowing them. Sigh ...

Authors Note: A big thanks as always to Sue N., for comma-wrangling and beta-reading. And thanks to Mog for the ATF Universe which works so well.

 

 

Part One

The August heat spilled down from the mountains like lava. It settled and curled around Denver, forming a temperature inversion that trapped the smog in a choking bowl over the city. It was unbearable everywhere, but it turned Purgatorio into Hell.

Vin Tanner's apartment didn't have air conditioning. It was on the top floor of a red brick tenement, and the sun had beaten down on the flat asphalt roof overhead all day, turning the poorly insulated rooms into an oven. The only relief was provided by an oscillating fan on the floor, and that wispy flow of air did nothing to lower the temperature of the room, or cool Vin as he lay on the couch. He was trying to be as still as possible, since movement brought out more sweat. One hand lay on his stomach, the fingers of his other hand just brushed the rim of a glass of ice water placed on the floor. He had stripped down to his jeans, but had run out of ambition to peel those off. He would, eventually. Maybe. He scarcely had the energy to flip through the channels on his TV.

Hell, a program about smoke jumpers, yeah, that was all he needed. Another about volcanoes. The Weather Channel only told him exactly how hot it was, which sure didn't make it feel any cooler. He turned off the TV and waited in vain for the coming of night to break the relentless heat. A scrawl of sweat slid down his cheek and ran into his hair. He lifted the heavy waves from his neck, picked up the glass of ice water and drank deeply.

He didn't have to lie there and swelter. There were places he could have gone to escape the heat. Buck would have put him up at his place, or Ezra in his luxurious condo. He could have gone to a bar and had a cold drink with any of the other ATF agents he was honored to call his friends, but the one man he wanted to be with, had asked to be alone.

It had hurt, to have Chris Larabee, friend and lover, tell him that he needed solitude. It had been Buck who had informed him that it was Larabee's wedding anniversary -- and instant comprehension and compassion had flooded Vin's mind and heart. The magnitude of the loss of Sarah and Adam could not be glossed over, or healed. It had torn a chasm in Chris' soul, had nearly killed him, and even now, years later, he still bled. Vin would have stanched that blood, he would have taken that pain on himself, but Chris had spurned company, and had driven to the ranch, leaving Vin and the others who would have shared his grief, behind.

Vin sat up and padded to the window. The view was the only amenity his apartment offered. The tall window showed a vista of city lights, hazy in the night heat. Beyond the city the mountains were grey shadows against a purple sky. As Vin looked out, the strobe of lightning on the horizon delineated the mountains. Heat lightning. No thunder, just the electricity from far away storms.

He felt it on his skin; his nerves hyper-sensitive to heat and the heavy air. The apartment seemed so small just then that he set his hand on his chest, as if it there were not enough air to draw a breath. Jesus, Chris, I wish ya'd let me be with you! A soft moan escaped his lips and he leaned his forehead on the window frame. He faced the room, slid his spine down the wall and sat, knees bent and wrists curved over them. Alone, in the pale city illumination, with the flare of lightning playing across his body.

********************

Miles away, Chris Larabee stood on the deck at the back of his house and watched the same heat lightning on the horizon. There was a bottle of whiskey on the rail in front of him, and he held a glass in his hand, but the glass was empty, and the bottle was nearly full. He had planned to drink himself into oblivion, but instead found himself staring out into the darkness and thinking.

Thinking about his life, then and now, and the years of black despair in between. It was as if he had three separate lives; with Sarah, without Sarah. With Vin. The sorrow and the sweetness of his two loves broke his heart.

With Sarah, he had everything: a passionate marriage, a life any man would dream of, and Adam -- Dear God, his child, who he had loved with all the strength in his soul! Even now, when he looked over his land, he imagined what it would have been like to teach Adam to ride, to live life on the ranch, to make him proud of his father. He had lost it all, in a blast so searing, that if the lightning in the sky forked down and struck to his heart, it could not have killed him. He was already dead.

Or so he had thought. Until a long-haired sharpshooter, with eyes like midnight sky and a drawl like smoke and honey, had walked through the door of his office, and brought him back to life.

It had taken only an instant to recognize that Vin Tanner was like a missing part of himself. The realization that there was far more to their relationship than that immediate mental fusion, had been the greatest shock of his life. He had fought so hard to deny his love for Vin, to turn away from what his heart was telling him, from what felt so right. It had taken the near loss of Vin's life, and the acceptance of the love he had been given, to overcome his fears.

What had he feared? Losing his masculinity, ridicule? Being thought different or queer? Dishonoring Sarah's memory and their marriage vows? Losing the respect of his friends?

They had all played a part in his struggle, and they were all wrong. He had made love with Vin, and had lost nothing but his ignorance. He was no different in the morning than any other man, no different in the eyes of the world. He had done more dishonor to Sarah by drinking himself senseless and wishing himself dead than loving Vin could ever cause her.

The last doubt was the most troubling. Josiah and Nathan, with their perceptive awareness, had both seen how things were between Chris and Vin, before Chris himself was ready to admit to his feelings, and they were both so protective of Vin that Chris had no fears for their discretion. Ezra seemed to know, but apparently found it a curiosity, rather like Buck's philandering.

As for Buck and JD, Chris figured that if they found out, they would have to deal with it in their own ways, to accept or reject. Meanwhile, he and Vin were discreet. Christ, they'd both had more than enough practice at disguising their emotions.

Chris drew in a breath and looked up at the stars, and the lightning. His loves. Sarah and Adam, as far away and as ever-present as the stars. Vin, like the heat and startlement of lightning, near and distant at the same time.

Why the hell was he alone, when he had love waiting for him?

*************************

Vin stayed sitting on the floor because the slight breeze from the fan made it seem cooler. The sounds of the city on a hot night drifted through the window. Sirens, the thumping bass of rap music, and the faster throb of salsa like a spicy counterpoint. Voices, some laughing, some tense and fretful with heat, babies crying. A distant report that might have been a car backfiring, or might have been a gunshot.

Vin closed his eyes, and felt the sweat gather and slide down his throat and chest. Hot. It was just too damn hot, like the city was in a fever.

The shrill of his phone made his muscles jump, but he didn't get up to answer it. Hardly seemed worth the effort. Three rings, and then the click as the machine picked up. "Vin, if you're there, partner ..." A pause. "... It's got to be like hell there in the city. And ... and I need you." Chris' voice faded to a soft whisper, and he hung up before Vin could reach for the receiver.

Vin stood over the phone, poised to answer. His heart was beating quickly, his hand was trembling. He replayed the message, listening to Chris' voice. He knew how hard this day was for Chris; he wouldn't have blamed him if he drank to insensibility, but there was no telltale slurring of his words, no desperation to his plea, just the simple statement of want.

It never occurred to him not to go.

Vin packed a bag and in less than half an hour was driving out of Denver, winging his way down the highway, towards his lover. As he left the city behind, the air became less thick, the smog and artificial light giving way to the scent of grass and darkness. Still wasn't what he would call cool, but at least the heat was not refracting off asphalt and concrete. And the lightning was still dancing on the horizon.

He didn't turn on the radio or tape player. He rolled down the window and drove with the whine of the tires on the asphalt counting down the miles. As he passed from suburbs to country, he increased his speed, slicing through the night, while the flashes of lightning matched the pulse of his heart.

 

He could have found his way blindfolded; his instincts ran so strong that it was like he was following his heart, rather than that innate sense of direction he had been gifted with. He allowed his mind to wander and his reflexes to take over the physical task of getting him to the ranch and Chris.

He still marveled that he had found Larabee. Still marveled that someone like Chris could overlook his ugly and hurtful past and love him for what he was, now. He woke sometimes at night, alone in his apartment, and thought that the times he was with Chris had all been part of a yearning dream. Then he would catch a look in Larabee's eyes, and know that it was real, that it was for always. And when they were together, their love burned as white-hot as that lightning flashing on the horizon.

He would have died for Chris. And if Larabee said he needed him, it didn't matter if it was for silence, for tears, or for love. He would be there.

*****************

He pulled his jeep to the front of the ranch, fairly leapt from the seat and ran up the steps to the front door. He turned the knob, opened the door and stepped inside. "Chris?"

Silence. A wisp of a breeze brushed his skin as he stepped into the den. The door to the deck was open. Chris was standing at the rail, his back to the room. The moonlight silvered his hair, and his arms looked pale and cool below the sleeves of his dark tee shirt. In the darkness, he was silhouetted by the shifting moonlight and the sudden strobe of lightning. He was so alone, so solitary, that Vin nearly backed away, wondering if Chris had changed his mind about needing him. About wanting him.

Maybe this anniversary was bringing home the truth of what Chris had lost, and the hopelessness of his relationship with Vin. Because no matter how right it felt, or how wonderful the loving was, he would never be able to fill that hole in Larabee's heart the loss of his family had left. That thought hit Vin with such painful clarity that he stepped back and pressed his hand flat against his heart as if to stop the bleeding from a mortal wound. He must have gasped or made some sort of small sound, for Chris turned and saw him standing there.

He came! Chris thought with incoherent joy. And then he noticed his lover's pale, stricken face, the hand pressed to his chest as if he were in pain. "Vin?" he whispered. And when Tanner remained frozen in the doorway, he took a step towards him. "You all right, partner?"

Vin's hand dropped back his side. Move, ya damn fool, he thought, and forced himself to adopt a casual lean against the frame. "I got yer message," he rasped. "Thought I'd see if it was cooler out here."

Chris studied his lover: the angle of the body that he knew better than his own, the twist of those lips, the rough whisper of his voice that cloaked his emotions, the same way he tried to hide physical pain when he was hurting. Every one of those tells spoke of evasion, of reluctance, and Chris didn't know why. "Is it?" he asked, looking for time to puzzle out the complicated Texan.

"Cooler? Yeah." He still couldn't look at Chris. "Listen, Chris, maybe I shouldn't a' come. If ya don't want me here, I'll just dr --"

Chris took two long strides and set his hands on Vin's shoulders. He gazed into those beautiful, doubting eyes, and brushed his knuckles lightly across Vin's cheek. "God, why would you think I don't want you here? I need you."

Vin couldn't resist turning his cheek into that caress. He sighed, drawn toward Chris' body, yearning. Chris thrust his fingers into the richness of Tanner's hair, bringing the smaller, slighter man close. He slid his lips lightly across Vin's, love edged with heat. "God, I need you."

Vin's knees nearly buckled at that touch, and when Larabee moved his hand to rub the nape of his neck beneath the heavy waves of his hair, he dropped his forehead to rest on Chris' shoulder.

Chris gave a throaty chuckle. "Think I can convince ya t'stay, partner?"

Instead of the jocular response he expected, Vin met his eyes, searching them. "All ya have t'do is ask, Chris," he said. "I'd follow you t'hell and back, if ya asked."

"I was there when you found me," Chris whispered against Vin's hair. "I was there."

They stood close in the darkness as the lightning flickered on the horizon. Vin breathed in Larabee's scent; the spice of his aftershave, the faint acrid undertone of sweat, the rich, earthy aroma of hay and horse ... he smiled. Chris had been out at the barn earlier. His breath went out in a sigh.

Chris felt the warmth of that exhalation. He closed his eyes and moved his hands over Vin's shoulders. God, he loved how Tanner felt beneath his hands; the spare strength of him, the fine bones beneath the hard muscles. Vin's fingers curled into the knit of his tee shirt and pulled it from his jeans. Chris caught his breath as the Texan's palm found skin. His heart began a heavy beat, and Vin pressed closer, so that Larabee could feel the quickening in his chest.

Vin stroked his palm up Chris' waist, up the lean rake of his ribcage. His lips moved up Larabee's throat, relishing the rasp of whiskers and the taste of sweat as he found the angle of that chiseled jaw. He nipped it lightly and Chris shuddered. "Ya want this, Chris?" he asked.

"Yeah, I do," he groaned. He ground his pelvis against Vin's, felt sweet electricity as the hard flesh beneath the denim rubbed against his erection. Vin was tugging at his tee shirt, and Chris lifted his arms, then quickly stripped Tanner's shirt from his body. It was hot, and they were both sweating, their skin slick as if they were standing beneath a shower. Chris swore every nerve of his body was on fire as Vin's lips started playing across his chest, as his tongue lapped against his clavicle, as he sucked at the hard knob of bone before dipping into the hollow where his pulse raced. Chris cast his head back, giving Tanner access to the whole of his throat.

Vin took his time there. He loved Chris' throat. Loved the length of it, the taste of it, the heat and life he felt throbbing beneath his lips. When he had feasted there enough, he raised his head. "Ya want t'take this somewhere else?"

"Ain't nobody out here t'see us," Chris said. The lightning was reflecting in Vin's eyes, The breeze was catching in his hair, and there was something so elemental, so wild and beautiful about him, that to confine him seemed like sacrilege. "Be right back," he said, kissing him hard, before he went inside.

He returned with blankets and a bottle of oil. Vin had kicked off his boots and pulled off his belt. He was leaning against the railing, facing Chris. The moonlight silvered his body, light and darkness, bone and hollow and muscle faintly sheened with sweat. As Chris stood there mesmerized by his lover's beauty, Vin licked his lips and slowly pulled down his zipper, freeing his cock.

Chris nearly dropped the oil. He managed to set it down, somehow spread the blankets over the decking, and then stalked over to where Vin stood. He hooked two fingers in the belt loops of Tanner's jeans and pulled them down. Vin kicked free of the denim and stood there, naked.

"Thought you'd never git here."

Chris' eyes glittered hotly. He ran a deliberate finger down the center of Tanner's chest, down the taut belly to the glistening bead of semen at the head of Vin's erect cock. He rubbed it over the velvety skin, then raised his moist fingertip to his lips. His other hand snaked behind Vin's neck and pulled him close. He rimmed Tanner's mouth with his tongue, then plunged in deep when he felt him yield.

Vin groaned. The essence of his desire mingled with Chris' sweet, whiskey-tasting breath was so damn intoxicating that he nearly passed out. His usually deft fingers fumbled with the buckle on Chris' uncooperative belt. Gasping, he broke off the kiss, pushed Chris back a pace and yanked at the leather. Snarling with impatience he pulled it free, nearly tore the metal rivet off the jeans, and pulled down the zipper.

By then the touch of Vin's fingers moving across the denim had just about driven him wild. Tanner's hand closed over his cock, his thumb sliding over the head. Chris uttered a cry that made Vin look up at him. His blue eyes were nearly black, his mouth swollen from Chris' kiss. The wind was rising now, tangling in those tendrils of long hair that were no longer golden brown, but silvery and dark in the moonlight. He set his hands on Chris' shoulders. "Lay down," he whispered. "Lay down so I c'n love you."

Chris stumbled, somehow finding the blankets, winding up on his back, and caught beneath the sharpshooter's lithe body. Tanner pulled off his boots, stripped off the black jeans and knelt over his lover, worshipping him.

Chris' body was beautiful; perfect to Vin's eyes despite the scars that marked the flesh. Each was a badge of honor, and he kissed them one by one. Larabee's skin was pale as alabaster, nearly translucent where it stretched over the strong bones. His muscles were smooth and hard, and Vin passed his hands lightly over Larabee's chest, over the brown nipples that pebbled beneath his palms. He stroked down the lean waist, paused with his hands on Chris' hips, so narrow that he could bridge the pelvic girdle with his thumbs.

Chris was breathing hard, his ribs rising, the throb of his heart visible. Vin bent his head and laid a trail of kisses down Larabee's belly, smiling when he felt the tremor of laughter as he hit a ticklish spot. He moved on, knowing that he was pushing the limits of Larabee's patience with his lovemaking. He heard the gasp as his whiskered cheek brushed against Chris' shaft, and then Chris' hands were guiding him, and he did not resist what he wanted, taking his cock in his mouth, tasting the salty musk of his semen. He sucked, tongued the slit, took his lover deep in his throat. His fingers played over Chris' balls, finding the sac and squeezing gently. Chris writhed and gasped, his fingers twined through Vin's curls.

"Vin!" he whispered hoarsely. "Wait --"

Oh God.

He should have trusted his instincts. He knelt, aching and wanting, unreleased.

Chris' warm hand caught his wrist. "Wait." He smiled at the confusion and hurt in Vin's eyes. "No, not like that," he said. He sat up, gathering Vin into his arms, feeling the trembling in that slim frame. He caught Vin's lower lip between his teeth. His thumb stroked down his throat, felt the movement as he swallowed hard. "Like this ..." he growled against Vin's shoulder as he laid him down. And proceeded to show him exactly what he meant.

 

Part 2

He brushed the long hair back from Vin's ears and explored the curves and dips with his tongue, he sucked and nibbled on the lobe, then turned his attention to his other ear, making the Texan shiver. His lips traveled to Tanner's cheekbones and eyelids, trailed light kisses to the angle of his jaw, the roughness of his beard setting his lips to tingling. His hand continued to stroke Tanner's long throat and he could swear his wildcat of a lover purred beneath that caress.

He moved his hand down Tanner's slick chest, finding his nipple and flicking it into a hard nub. He fastened on it with his teeth, gently tugging, and a small yelp escaped Tanner's iron control. Chris mirrored his actions on the sharpshooter's other nipple with an identical result. He could feel the tension building in Tanner's body. He ran his tongue down his belly, nuzzled and nipped at his navel, then whispered his way to Tanner's cock.

Vin's hands tightened on Larabee's shoulders at that touch. He could scarcely breathe, was afraid that if he moved, he would come, and he could not bear to lose those sensations Chris was unleashing with his loving. No one had ever loved him like this, had made him feel like lightning was racing along every nerve. Vin no longer cared why Larabee was doing this -- if he was loving him, or exorcising Sarah's ghost, or seeking sexual oblivion. As long as he did not stop ...

Chris drank down the potent liquid welling on the tip of Vin's cock. He could have brought him to climax with a few hard strokes of his hand, but that was not what he wanted. He released him, heard the small, desolate groan as the hard flesh slipped from his mouth. "Shh," he soothed. "I ain't going anywhere without you, partner."

"Have t'shoot ya if ya do," Vin rasped. He was in pain, he was in Paradise. He watched Chris pour oil into his palm. He held his hand poised over Vin's cock. Vin gasped as the cool drops hit his skin. He closed his eyes, dizzy with so many sensations that he could not begin to separate them.

Chris stroked the length of Vin's shaft, coating it with the fragrant oil. He smoothed oil over his own cock, fighting against the urge to bring himself to climax. The pain of his arousal was making him lightheaded, but he wanted this to be right for Vin. He wanted to show him how much he was loved, how much he was wanted and needed.

He raised Vin's legs over his and gently took the weight of his balls in his hand. He slipped his finger into the dark, tight entrance to Vin's body, and felt the ring of muscle close around him. He moved his finger, seeking the small hard gland, finding it and massaging it. Vin cried out and his body arched up as a bolt of pleasure shot through him.

Chris eased two, then three fingers into the channel. He stretched the muscles, stroking, scissoring, his other hand on Vin's belly, steadying him. Even with the light of the moon leaching color from his skin, he could see the flush of heat and sex on Vin's face, the gleam of sweat, the hard knot of his clenched jaw. Chris withdrew his fingers, positioned his cock at Vin's hole, and carefully eased inside his warm, tight body.

Vin gasped as pain assailed him, but Chris was whispering to him, and his hands on his hips held him steady until the cramping ceased and he adjusted to Chris' presence. Chris began a rhythmic glide, pulling his shaft out, leaving only the tip in Vin's body, then driving deeper with each thrust. His hand closed over Vin's cock, working in the same rhythm.

He could feel the tension building in Vin's flesh, felt an answering ache growing in his thighs and at the base of his spine. Vin was rocking, seeking to bring Chris' cock against his gland, making small incoherent cries with every brush of that hard flesh inside him.

When they were close, so close to the edge of that precipice of sensation, Chris stopped all movement. He braced himself on his arms. "Look at me," he said.

Vin opened his eyes. Inky pools reflecting moonlight and lightning. "Move, damn you!" Breathlessly, overwhelmed with the pulse of blood, with the sight of Chris's face, with the knowledge that he and Larabee were one flesh at that moment.

Sweat ran from Larabee's temple to his jaw, and still he did not move. Vin's eyes widened, and Chris swore he could see clear to his soul. Completely, totally unguarded.

He moved.

Vin's body clenched hard around Larabee's cock. His cry as he came was as wild and primal as an eagle's scream. His seed spurted, and Chris shot into his body, his climax hard and hot; an endless fall into night as the world shattered around them.

*******************

The air had the texture and temperature of warm milk on their bodies. Chris lay collapsed over Vin, the weight of him welcome, the hollow ache of being well-loved left by the withdrawal of his softened flesh making Vin faintly melancholy, like the ghost-pain of a phantom limb. He sighed, and Chris moved off his chest, so he could breathe.

Vin gripped his shoulder. "Don't want ya to move."

Chris chuckled. "You were just beggin' me to move, Tanner. Make up your mind."

"Move then, stay now," he grumbled softly. "How hard c'n it be?"

"Ain't nothin' gonna be hard for a long time, partner," Chris grinned. He stretched out like a lazy cat. Magnificently naked in the moonlight, sated. Complete. The pearls of Vin's cum spangled his skin.

Despite his own satisfaction, Vin felt a stir in his cock at the sight of Larabee, awed by the beauty and the strength of this man who loved him. He picked up his discarded tee shirt and gently wiped the drying semen off Chris' body.

Larabee watched him with hooded eyes, a flare of arousal in their depths as Vin's hands brushed lightly over his limp sex. He caught his wrist. "Come here."

Vin let Chris gather him close, and that willingness to be held touched Larabee deeply. Vin didn't like physical contact -- hadn't liked it for a long time -- and that reluctance showed even with other members of Team Seven. That he trusted Chris enough to overcome his deeply ingrained fears, was humbling and exhilarating, like he had gentled a hawk. Even felt a bit like it, too; startling to realize how slight Vin was, like feeling the bones beneath the thick fluff of feathers on a bird's wing. But tough and fierce and proud, all the same.

Despite the heat of the night, Chris continued to hold Vin, savoring the feel of him close to his body. He moved the veiling strands of hair away from Tanner's face, and studied him for a moment as he framed his thoughts. "Suppose you tell me why you thought I didn't want you to stay," he said finally.

Vin's shoulder lifted. "Bucklin told me what the day was. Said it was better for you t'be away by yourself."

Chris didn't answer right away. He thought of how it used to be; him going out to Sarah and Adam's graves and coming back so stripped of everything but rage and hurt that for anyone to come near him was literally life-threatening. He'd nearly killed Buck that first year and still found it miraculous that Wilmington had enough compassion in his big heart for forgiveness. But afterwards, the big man had left him strictly alone when he knew Chris was going to the cemetery. He'd call though, leave a message to have Chris check in when he was able, and that voice on the answering machine was all that kept Chris from blowing his brains out, some days.

Chris' long silence made Vin uneasy. Hell, he'd come out here t'help Chris, and maybe he had for a while, giving him a respite from loneliness and memories, and he sure as hell didn't regret doing it, but if Chris wanted him to leave, he would.

Larabee felt the shift from ease to tension in the muscles beneath his hand. "What?" he asked, his lips moving against Vin's hair. "What's goin' on in that head of yours, partner?"

"Was he right, Chris? Ya want t'be alone?"

"No." The word was out before Chris had a chance to think it. "No, I don't want to be alone," he said slowly. "Can't promise to be good company ..."

Vin laughed softly. "Reckon ya been good enough." He tilted his head, so that his blue eyes glittered up at Chris. Humor played at the corners of his mobile mouth, but when he spoke, his words were solemn. "Won't matter none t'me if ya don't say another word."

"Might say one or two," Chris said with a smile. They lay close and entwined, watching the stars and the persistent lightning over the mountains. There was an odd feeling in his heart, one he never expected to feel, not on this day. Peace. And in that peace, there were things that were waiting to be said, and Chris wanted to say them, even though he didn't know if he could make the words convey his feelings.

But not now, not with Vin naked in his arms. He intended to savor that for a while longer. They had so few moments like this, and so many more when they had to guard every thought and every expression.

He began a leisurely exploration of his lover's body. Long fingers stroked muscular flesh, fine, hard bones, the angle of Tanner's beautiful jaw. "Don't have to talk to do this," he murmured feathering his mouth against Vin's.

Vin lay still beneath that exploration. He was Larabee's captive. And depleted as he was, he let Larabee's touch flow over him like water. No one had ever touched him like this; he'd been with a few fellas who hadn't hurt him, but not one had loved him the way Chris did.

Chris' hand roamed down his ribs, moved with a sure touch to the jut of his pelvis, traced the crest of bone with his thumb. Vin's breath drew in sharply. He captured Chris' wrist and brought his palm to his lips. "You willin' t'start somethin'?" he rasped.

"You willin' t'let me?"

"Willin's one thing, able's somethin' else," Vin challenged. "Yer welcome t'try."

"Y'ought to know better than to call me out," Chris said, those wolfish eyes of his ablaze in the dim light.

*******************

Later, showered, shirtless, and barefoot, they sat on the deck, sharing one of the lounge chairs; Vin settled between Larabee's long legs, his back against Chris' chest. The bottle of whiskey was on the chairside table, and two glasses with ice and a splash of the amber liquid rested on the wide wooden arms of the chair.

Vin's eyes were fixed on the horizon, watching the lightning. The play was no longer as distant, and, yet so faint as to be more sensed than heard, thunder rumbled. The air which had been so still, stirred Vin's hair. He took a sip of whiskey and leaned his head back against Chris' shoulder. "Weather's comin' in."

"We could use the rain."

"Should cool it off some."

Chris sighed and folded his arms around Vin. "Glad you're here, partner."

"Wouldn't be anywhere else."

For once, their oblique conversation, which said so much with so little, wasn't enough for Chris. His cheek rested against Vin's damp hair, and he breathed in the light scent of soap and warm skin. "I'm gonna tell you something, Vin. And I want you to hear me out, to the end."

Stillness in that slim frame, and a nod.

"After we brought this place, and after Adam was born, Sarah and me got to thinking about making our wills. We were talking about it one night, right out here on this deck, on a night pretty much like this one. Sarah knew what I did was dangerous, knew that there might come a call someday, tellin' her I didn't make it. We used to kind of joke about it, you know -- because we couldn't bear thinkin' of what it might be like if it really happened. I used to tease her, say that she'd run off with Buck if anything happened to me, and she'd play along with it, and we'd end up laughin' about it. That night though, she turned the tables on me and asked what I would do if she ... Jesus ... "

Chris' throat closed for a moment, and it was the hardest thing Vin had ever done, not to move, not to make some gesture of comfort. But he waited, attending to his promise, and after a struggle, Chris continued.

"... I answered like I usually did -- that whoever I went for, it wasn't gonna be a redhead with a smart mouth -- but she didn't laugh this time. She just kissed me and said that she'd make sure I found someone special. Asked her how I'd know -- and she gave me one a' those damn half-smiles I never could figure out, and said she'd make it a surprise -- someone I'd never expect in a million years."

Chris' arms tightened around Vin and he kissed his temple, savoring the warmth and the sweetness beneath his lips. "I kept lookin', pard. But I never felt I'd found it, 'til now."

Vin pulled away from Chris' hold, turning to see his face. God, how he loved this man, still couldn't believe Chris could love him back, even when he was twined in his arms and filled with his body. "You sure about that?" he rasped. "I cain't give ya what she did ..."

Chris eyes were like pale jade as they bored into his. "I ain't lookin' to replace what I lost -- I couldn't in a million years. But you gave me something just as amazing. You made me fall in love, brought me back to life. And I want that life to be with you." His gaze softened and he looked into Vin's wide, wondering blue eyes. "Even Buck'll tell you that once I find what I want, I ain't a wandering man."

"Reckon I done enough wandering fer us both," Vin whispered.

"'Bout time for you to stop," Chris said. He captured Vin with a kiss, felt his body curve back against his shoulder as he gave himself over to the deep, searching exploration of his mouth. It was not seduction, it was love, and Vin sank down into it, felt all the jagged edges of pain and loneliness soften and wear away like sharp glass beneath the relentless flow of the ocean. His sigh breathed its way into Larabee's mouth, and he felt those firm lips curve in an answering smile before Chris withdrew from the kiss.

A breeze came up, rustling the grasses and the leaves of the aspen trees near the house, raising rough flesh on Vin's arms. A shiver raced up his spine, and Chris gathered him close against his chest. The blue flare of lightning showed deep-bellied clouds gathering over the mountains, and dark riders chased across the moon. Thunder rolled down a distant valley and the air tasted like rain.

"You ready to go inside?" Chris asked.

"Long as you're comin', too." Vin reluctantly left the warm shelter of Larabee's body and picked up his glass and the whiskey bottle.

"Wouldn't be anywhere else."

They stood for a moment, side-by-side. Chris laid his arm over Vin's shoulder, felt the Texan's hip bump against his comfortably as he settled into a slouch. They watched the storm coming in until the first heavy drops of rain slapped down on the planking.

Inside, they undressed in silence, with the storm battering overhead. Weary, content, they crawled beneath the covers. Chris reaching out to snag Vin close, his head on his shoulder, the smooth length of his body lying all along his. Tomorrow, they would wake and love some more, maybe take Peso and Pony for a ride in the hills, but, tonight, he would sleep.

The storm rattled and banged its way down the long valley, the rain slowed to a drowsy whisper on the shingles and a cool breeze drifted through the windows. Vin sighed and curled close to Chris' warmth. His last waking thought was a line of poetry he remembered reading:

"Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hills."*

Seemed him and Larabee were where they were supposed to be.

 

The End

 

*Robert Louis Stevenson.