Universe: ATF

Characters: Chris/Vin

Author: Ruby J.

Disclaimer: They aren't mine. They belong to the usual alphabet soup, MGM, CBS, Mirish, Trilogy, etc. I'm not making any money. But playing with them is its own reward -- I guess. Sigh.

Note: This is a double debut: my first ATF and my first Slash fic. Blame it all on Sue N., the best beta-reader and pard around. Thanks for getting me through this!

Feedback: Please, please. But be gentle.

Email to: Ruby J

 

 

It had been a long night. Chris Larabee hated stakeouts; the stress, the inactivity, the boredom. Worse, he hated stakeouts without Vin Tanner. He had appreciated Tanner's steady presence during the long hours, even before they had become lovers. The intimacy of that relationship was intensified by the quiet isolation; the tension of their duty providing a trigger for the release of passion when the assignment was over. The absence of the sharpshooter at his side was an agony of worry that he couldn't betray. He cast a sidelong look at the Treasury agent next to him. Tom Stevens was assigned to Denver and Team Seven because the case he had been working on in had been found to have Denver ties. He was a decent man; had come with citations and commendations up the wazoo, but he wasn't Vin Tanner, and that absence had left Larabee feeling slightly unbalanced.

Stevens was on the trail of a nest of cyber-terrorists: something Chris and the rest of his team had little experience with. But they did have experience with arms smuggling, drug dealing, and explosives -- all of which were tied in with the group called the Prophets of Chaos. Nice label; Chris thought. Pretty much summed it up in a neat little package.

They'd been sitting outside of this warehouse in a seedy district of town for four hours, and all Larabee wanted was to get out of here and go home. Home to a cold beer, a warm fire, and Vin ...

Chris brought his thoughts up short. No, better not think of what else he wanted. Could be damned embarrassing. Couldn't help what his mind wanted, it just kind of ran off with his body as soon as he thought about the sharpshooter. Concern, passion, love, all wrapped up in that slight package of a man. Chris suppressed a tremor of worry. Tanner was close, he could feel it; knew he was in the building across the street, a regular arsenal of weapons at his command, and none of them sharper or more lethal than his mind.

"Larabee!" Stevens hissed. "We got something happening."

"Shit!" Chris spoke into his mouthpiece, knowing that JD and Buck were less than a block away. "Fellas, you up?"

"Hey, Jefe. What's happening?"

"Don't know. A van just pulled up at the side of the building. Looks like three men. Vin, you copy?"

"Gotcha, Larabee. C'n see three guys. Briefcases." He gave a snort of laughter. "Hell, I swear one of 'em's got tape on his glasses."

"Not briefcases," Stevens broke in. "Laptops, gentlemen. The weapons of the future. Hit enter and your history, your finances, your life, are disappeared."

Chris felt his stomach cramp with acid. "Shit."

JD whistled. "No shit."

Vin's disembodied voice whispered again. "Two other guys jist got out. They got weapons, too. Th'old-fashioned kind. I'm goin' in fer a closer look." There was a crackle of static as the sharpshooter moved, then silence.

"Vin! Goddamnit, check your wires!" Chris' hand tightened so hard on the steering wheel that his knuckles gleamed white as bone through his skin. "I hate these fuckin' mikes!"

He turned to Stevens. "Let's go."

"Go?"

"Yeah, go. As in 'go get these guys.' That is what we came here for --" He checked the clip in his gun.

Stevens looked at him like he was nuts. "I need those guys alive!"

Chris gave a short laugh. "I'm not aimin' on killing a bunch of computer geeks. But if we want what's on those hard drives, we gotta move, now." He redirected his question. "Buck, you with me?"

"On my way. I'm leavin' the kid to man the fort, ya don't mind."

"Aw, Buck ..."

Chris grinned at Dunne's protest. "JD, you're our computer geek. We need your brain, not your brawn on this one."

Another groan, but without real emphasis. "Okay. Make sure Buck don't shoot up the hard drives." A muffled 'oof' from the kid as Buck cuffed him on the head. Chris grinned.

"See you in a few, Big Guy."

"With bells on, pard."

Chris pulled down the velcro tab securing the flap over his ATF badge. "Let's ride."

Stevens gave him a sour look. The eastern agent wasn't used to the wide open, Wild West mentality of Team Seven. He half-envied, half-despised it. He'd heard rumors about these guys, and it seemed they were all true. When he'd told his partner in Baltimore where he was headed, Mike had laughed and asked him if he'd ever seen the movie The Magnificent Seven. "I don't watch westerns," Stevens had replied, and his partner had roared with laughter, before wishing him the best of luck and a safe return.

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

Vin drifted through the darkness. Black jeans, dark jacket, soft-soled shoes. He liked the knowledge that he was invisible; liked the shadows and the feeling that the air was parting softly around him like cool, dark water. There'd been too many times in his life when he had not had the power and could not hide. Payback was a bitch, he thought, and a grim smile caught at the corner of his mouth.

He'd heard the lock catch on the big double doors the men had entered through, but there were other ways into the building. Vin had scouted it out earlier, and found a narrow window opening into a storeroom. His slim body had about an inch of wriggle room. He slipped his regulation ATF jacket off. Beneath it, he was wearing one of Larabee's black turtleneck sweaters, slightly too big for him, but carrying the scent of Larabee's soap and musk. A quick spark of desire flared, and was tamped down. Later he'd tell Chris -- show Chris -- that he appreciated that reminder of his presence.

Feeling along the window ledge, he located the bit of putty he had squeezed between the frame and sill earlier. He worked it out, pushed his fingers through the gap and cautiously forced the window open as far as it would go. His rifle was stowed in a scabbard between his shoulder blades, and he had a small-caliber pistol strapped to one ankle, and a knife to the other. Boosting himself up, he wriggled through the tiny space, hoping that his shirt would not get caught on anything. Damned embarrassing to be found by friend or foe like that. He made it through, scraping some skin off elbows and ribs but slithering intact to the floor.

He got to his feet, brushed the dust from his black clothing, slid his rifle from the scabbard. He tapped his earpiece. Dead, damnit. He'd told Chris the damn thing wouldn't work. Regulations, Larabee had said. Well, fuck regulations if they wasn't gonna work to begin with.

He moved from the storeroom into the corridor. He opened the iris of his flashlight just enough to shed a finger of illumination into the darkness. He wasn't keen on announcing his presence by tripping over packing crates or debris.

He made no more noise than a shadow passing over the moon as he crept towards the narrow line of light he saw beneath a doorway. He was not a big man; by the daylight, he could be so slight and insignificant that he vanished in a crowded room, but he had developed the self-protective instincts of a predator, and the hunt sent sparks of adrenaline shooting along his nerves, heightening every sense.

He drew himself into the slight recess of the doorway, listening. The door itself was thick and insulated; he could hear voices, but not even his acute hearing could discern words. Cautiously, so cautiously, he took hold of the knob and turned it, fingers sensitive to any hitch or resistance that could make a noise. The click as the latch disengaged was so soft that the men speaking inside, didn't hear it. Vin opened the door a scant inch and put his eye to the crack.

The three men had set up their laptops on a long folding table, the sort they used in school cafeterias. Two powerstrips on the floor were loaded with wires and plugs, so they weren't depending on battery power. They were going to be there for a while. The two men with the automatic rifles were standing at a set of double doors that were the main access to the outside. Vin was grateful that they'd never paid attention to the access door to the storage area. When their boss found out, he'd be pissed they'd been so incompetent. Hell, if he was anything like Larabee, they'd wish they'd never been born to make a such a mistake again.

Vin startled and caught his breath as his earpiece crackled back to life, and Chris voice was whispering to him. "Tanner! Think we've got you back, can you answer?"

Hell. Of course not. He tapped on the microphone clipped to his collar, hoping that it sounded like a deliberate answer and not static.

"Copy, pard. We're on our way. Don't do anything until we get there."

Vin tapped again, impatiently. He knew that. Still, hearing Larabee's voice was reassuring. Made him feel like Chris was walking behind him like a guardian angel, and nothing could happen to him. He'd never had that before. Been alone since he was eleven, on his own since he was fifteen. No family, no real friends, no place to call home and no one to care. Until that day he met Chris. And not just Chris, either. The other member of Team Seven had become his friends, his family, his home. But it was Chris who held his heart. He'd never trusted anyone that deeply, and it still shook him. Not so much that he didn't keep his mind on matters at hand, though.

He steadied his breathing, knowing that the adrenaline kick was a two-edged sword. It gave strength and speed, but also could make him careless with its power. C'mon, Chris. Hurry. He felt the cool metal fittings of his rifle beneath his fingers. He closed his eyes, uttered a thought that wasn't quite a prayer, and waited for something to go down.

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

Those two brief taps in his earpiece let Chris breathe again. Vin wasn't speaking, but at least he could hear, and wouldn't feel so cut off when the rest of the team made their move. Chris waited until he saw Buck moving into position, then he and Stevens left their car and joined him.

"Vin's mike is working again," Chris informed Buck. "Or at least it was two minutes ago."

Buck nodded. "Yeah, I heard him tappin' away. Don't like that he couldn't answer."

Neither did Chris, but there had been nothing but reassurance in those brief contacts. Still, he knew the sharpshooter had a penchant for being in dangerous places at the wrong time, and that worried the hell out of him.

"JD, you still with us?" Buck asked softly.

"Yeah. I'm looking right at you, Buck."

"You got them cameras rollin'?"

"Yes, Mr. DeMille." The kid's voice was cocky and Buck shook his head

"You've been hanging around Ezra again -- watchin' them old movies."

"Shit, Buck!" JD's voice rose. "Another car just pulled up on the other side of the building. Lights off. We got company."

Chris' eyes widened. "Vin! You copy that?" Dead silence. "Vin! Aw, fuck!" Chris cursed. "We've gotta move. Stevens -- get your boys ready to join in."

He heard the Treasury agent calling in on his own radio, heard the whispery electronic reply. Stevens nodded. "They're on the east side."

Chris nodded at Buck. "Vin -- if you can hear me, we're moving in on the west side. We've got 'em surrounded." And then a prayer. Lord, I hope he heard me.

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

"Vin!" He heard the urgency in Larabee's voice even through the static on his earpiece. He'd never had trouble like this, made him wonder if there wasn't some sort of interference field set up to jam the frequency. He couldn't reply, and with the static, he was pretty sure that Larabee wouldn't pick up any signal he could send. God, he hated flying blind!

"... movin' ... west ... surround ..." The radio crackled, and Vin nearly started out of his skin. He couldn't make much sense of what he heard. Who was moving west? Who was surrounded? The only clue was in Larabee's voice; he knew every tone and nuance it carried, and Chris hadn't sounded desperate, or panicked, just edgy. Must be on the move, then.

Suddenly a staccato sound of gunfire burst into the silence. Adrenaline and instinct flared through his nerves and Vin knew he had to go into that room, now. He pulled an ATF cap from his pocket -- the only visible identification he was carrying, put his shoulder to the door and shoved with all his weight.

"FREEZE! ATF!" He yelled , burst into the room, his rifle held at his waist, ready to fire. From the corner of his eye, he saw one of the guards reaching inside his coat. "FREEZE!" he screamed again, not wanting to fire on the man, and all the while his finger was pressing on the finger, reflexes begging to be released.

There was a glint of metal in the guard's hand, and Vin's finger squeezed the trigger -- not jerking, not tentative. Some men were just too dumb to live, Vin thought, as his shot took the man down.

He ducked, rolled beneath one of the long tables, skidding across the slick concrete floor. The double doors on the far side of the room shook beneath a heavy impact, but they were locked with a thick chain and padlock. Vin aimed his rifle and fired at the chains -- the vulnerable part of the apparatus. The door was armored, he was certain, and the ping of the ricochet confirmed that, but one of the links was severed. He aimed at another link, fired and watched as the metal loops fell away, weighted by the padlock. The doors burst open, three Treasury agents came through, badges held high.

The guard put his gun down on the floor and kicked it aside. The computer guys came out from behind the tables, hands held high. Could it be that easy? Easy was good, Vin told himself as he uncoiled from his crouch, his ATF cap in his hands. "Hey, fellas. I'm one of the good guys --" The guns that had swung in his direction remained trained on him. "Really. Agent Tanner."

He heard voices from the corridor, Larabee's being the most prominent. Chris came in the door, followed by Stevens and Buck. When he saw Vin standing with his hands in the air, he paused for a moment, smiling at the sight. "It's okay, boys. He's one of us."

The guns were lowered and Vin should have felt relieved. Instead he felt the hackles on his neck rising in alarm. Something wasn't right. "Chris!"

The door behind Vin swung open and four men armed with automatic rifles barreled in. The room boiled into chaos. Vin dove back beneath a table and began shooting. He took down two men, was about to go after a third, when something burned across the side of his head; he heard a bang loud enough to make his ears ring, and then a wave of dizzy nausea swept over him. He dropped his rifle, and toppled over onto the cement floor.

It was over quickly. The Treasury agents recovered their wits and made short work of the remaining shooters. When the gunfire died down, two Treasury agents had been wounded. But between them, Vin and the Treasury agents had killed or wounded four of the five gunmen. It was a lot of blood and a lot of lives for a bunch of data on computer hard drives.

Chris' ears were ringing from the gunfire in the small, concrete-walled room. It disoriented him for a moment, and as he watched the Treasury agents milling about the room, Buck came over to him and set a hand on his arm. "Chris?"

"What?" Short with Buck, because he couldn't hear him.

"Vin's down."

The words were fuzzy, but he could read Buck's lips easily enough. And those words made the pit drop out of his stomach like he'd swallowed stones. He brushed Buck's hand aside. "Where?"

His eyes sought and found a black-clad leg sticking out from behind a table. "Shit!" He was at Vin's side in two long strides, followed by Buck, who was giving directions to Treasury Agents as to what he knew Chris wanted done.

Vin had toppled right on his side, falling into a curled position on the concrete. The floor was spotted with a spoor of crimson, and his cheek rested in a pool of his own blood. Nausea wrenched at Chris' stomach. Jesus, oh Jesus! He couldn't go through this again. Not again!

He dropped down on his knees at Vin's side. Afraid to move him, he just laid his hand alongside Vin's throat and felt the reassuring beat of his pulse. It seemed strong and steady. Alive, and as far as Chris could tell, not too badly wounded.

"He alive?" Buck asked.

"Yeah." Chris lifted his head. "Where are the damned paramedics?" Even as he spoke, a team of them came into the room. "Get someone over here!" he hollered. "Officer down!"

Quickly, one of the EMT's came over. Chris thought she looked familiar. But then most of the EMT's in Denver knew Team Seven. Chris moved aside, but stayed hovering over Tanner. The EMT did a quick check on Vin's vitals, and gave a nod of satisfaction. "So far, so good," she said. "Anyone see him go down?"

Chris shook his head. "No. We found him like that."

"You didn't move him?"

"No."

"Okay. I'm gonna put a cervical collar on him just 'til we get him to the hospital. Then we'll have a look at where the blood's coming from." She took a foam collar from her bag. "You want to help me?" she asked.

When she had gotten the collar around Vin's neck, she and Chris turned him over carefully. He was white beneath the smear of blood on his face, but his eyes were moving beneath his lids, like he was starting to come to. The tech parted the blood-soaked hair at the side of his head, and nodded. "There it is. See?"

Chris saw a deep, bloody groove torn through Vin's scalp. His stomach, which was just calming down, twisted again and he closed his eyes. The tech gave him a wry look. "Listen, if you can't take this, go tend to your own work. Never took you guys to be squeamish."

Squeamish. That did it. Chris' mouth hardened. "Are you gonna do something about his bleeding t'death or just try to rile me up?" he asked.

She grinned. "Both." She ripped open a steri-pad and pressed it against the score. Vin moved suddenly and she stroked his cheek. "It's okay. You're okay."

Chris recognized the unreasoning streak of jealousy that a stranger could comfort Vin with a touch, and he couldn't. Well, damn them! He looked at the tech. "Take care of his head. I'll hold him still." He took Vin's hand, felt the fingers tighten, and a glimmer of blue beneath lowered lids. "Tanner?" A slight pressure on his hand. "Hold still, partner. This lady's got to bandage you up before y'bleed too much more." Comprehension in those eyes before they closed again. "Go on, miss."

She went to work, swabbing quickly with antiseptic and then bandaging the wound with more gauze. When she had finished, she sat back on her heels. "We'll take him to the ER. He's gonna need stitches for sure. And when he fell on the concrete, he knocked his head. He's got a lump the size of Pike's Peak just over his ear. No wonder he was unconscious."

"Concussion?"

"At least," she grimaced. "Hey, guys! Over here!" She called out to a team with a gurney. They came, and carefully lifted Vin onto the bed. The tech covered him up with a blanket and strapped him down. Chris knew it had to be that way for safety in transport, but he was afraid if Tanner came to, he'd go wild. Being held down and helpless was a particular nightmare for the sharpshooter; a panic that could come through even in love play. Chris knew how much he could stand without fighting back, and it wasn't much.

"You want to ride with him?"

"Yeah." He looked around for Buck, and saw him talking with Stevens. The wounded Treasury agents had already been transported, and the Medical Examiner and forensics team were arriving. "Give me five minutes. He'll keep?"

"Sure. He's stable. But no longer than that," she cautioned.

Chris went over to Buck. "I'm riding to the hospital. Can you handle things here?"

Buck frowned. "Thought you said Junior was gonna be okay?"

"Concussion, and a deep scalp wound. I'd feel better riding with him. You know how he can come to kinda sudden."

Buck nodded. "You go ahead. I'll mop up here and meet you there in an hour or so." He looked over at Stevens. "That okay with you Treasury guys?"

Stevens had agents of his own down, and acknowledged Chris' concern. "I'd like to start debriefing first thing in the morning. Have your guy with the surveillance tapes ready to go through them frame by frame. I want to know if we can get any ID's on the dead guys."

"All right by me," Chris said. "How's your team?"

"Living." Stevens said. "They'll be all right. That Tanner is sure something else."

"Yeah," Chris tried to keep the emotion out of his voice. "He surely is."

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

The ride in the ambulance seemed to take forever even with sirens blaring and running full throttle. About halfway through the trip, Vin startled awake, realized that he was tied down, and nearly ripped the IV out of his arm in the sudden panic that hit him. His eyes opened wide, and he gasped. He seemed disoriented, and Chris took his face in his hands, forcing Vin to look at him.

"It's okay, Vin. It's okay. You were shot."

"Chris?"

"Yeah, partner. It's me." He watched awareness come into Tanner's blue eyes. He took Vin's hand in his, their linked fingers hidden by a fold in the blanket. He glanced up to see that the tech was too busy with her monitoring equipment to notice the gesture. "How're you feelin'?" Chris asked quietly.

"Got a headache the size a' Texas."

"Fallin' headfirst on a concrete floor'll do that to you."

Vin grimaced. "M'head feels funny."

"A bullet creased your scalp real good. We're on the way to the ER so you can get stitched up."

"Aw, hell."

Chris grinned, relieved that Tanner was lucid and acting cantankerous. "No arguments, pard."

Vin subsided, content to let Chris retain hold of his hand, and needing that physical reassurance that he was all right. He'd been hurt and alone so often in his life that he found it hard to believe that someone like Chris could care for him, could care about him, could love him. He'd never had that, and he curled into that comfort like a warm blanket on a cold night. As long as Chris was with him, he would be all right.

They arrived at the hospital and Vin was carted away on a gurney to the treatment area. Chris followed and sat outside the curtain as a doctor who looked like he should be in high school did the examination. Chris could hear the doctor's questions and Vin's terse, one-word answers. Physical exams were torture to the quiet Texan, who shrank from being touched, prodded and fussed over by strangers. Chris knew some of the history that prompted those feelings, and he hated that Vin had been so abused in his life that he instinctively resisted any gesture of comfort.

It had taken a long time to overcome those experiences; weeks before Vin was comfortable enough with Chris to allow the deep physical intimacy that had cemented their relationship. They had been linked emotionally from the first moment they'd met -- and oddly, the soul-shaking realization that they were fated to be together had been harder for Chris to accept than the physical shock that he was in love with Vin.

"Mr. Larabee?"

Chris looked up quickly. "Is he all right?"

The doctor looked at the chart in his hand like he hadn't just written on it. "I've stitched up the gash on Mr. Tanner's head. Is his tetanus up to date?"

Chris smiled. "Yeah, and then some."

"Umm, the x-rays came back negative for skull fracture, but he does have a slight concussion. He refuses to be admitted overnight. Is there someone who can stay with him if I release him?"

"Yes."

"The nurse will give you a packet of pain pills, and some instructions for him. If he shows signs of drowsiness or confusion, or if he falls asleep and can't be awakened easily --"

"He knows the drill, Doc." Vin shoved the curtain aside. He was wearing a disposable scrub shirt in place of the black turtleneck. It was too large for him and the color made him look pale and waxy. "Ain't the first time I been hit on the head." He was on his feet, but hanging on to the green curtain for dear life. The room was spinning in an alarming fashion. "Git me one of them wheelchairs, Larabee, and let's skedaddle."

"Skedaddle?" Chris' brows rose. "The doctor's right, Tanner. Your brain's scrambled."

A nurse came over to the treatment area with a wheelchair and Vin sank into it gratefully. She handed Chris the bag with Vin's bloody clothing in it. "If you want to bring your car around, I'll have him at those double doors down the hall."

Chris called Buck to tell him that Vin was all right, and not to bother coming to the hospital. In a few minutes, he and Vin were on the road to the ranch. Vin slumped in the seat. He couldn't rest his head against the window without putting pressure on the wound, so he tried to keep upright, fighting the vertigo and the nausea that seemed to be at war inside his head and stomach. "What happened after I was shot?" he asked.

"You sure you want to hear this?"

Vin looked ghostly pale in the dashboard lights, and the occasional flare of neon from the street lamps exaggerated the planes and hollows of his face. He nodded. "Keeps me awake."

Chris talked, but since his own view of what had happened was limited, there wasn't much he could add. But the sound of his voice soothed Vin, and he listened to Larabee with a small smile on his lips. His hand lay open on the seat between them, and Chris set his own in it.

"Hang on, Vin. Almost home." Vin's grip tightened in response, but his eyes had closed. Chris tugged at his fingers. "C'mon, Tanner. I don't want to have to drive back to the hospital, but I will, if you don't stay awake for a bit longer."

"Fuck you," Vin whispered. The drawl in his voice turned the words impossibly erotic, and Chris felt a jolt of desire run straight from those fingers to his crotch.

"I don't think so," Chris managed to say. "When we do that, I want you to remember it."

Vin sighed. "Hell, I remember ev'ry time, Chris."

Larabee swallowed. God, what had he done to deserve that sort of love? All he could figure was that Sarah, up there in heaven hadn't wanted him to be alone. Why she had sent him Vin, he didn't know, didn't care. Having him was enough to last him through to eternity. "Me, too," he said, and felt Vin's hand stir in his.

He talked some more, things about the ranch that he knew Vin was interested in hearing, and Tanner stayed awake, making appropriate responses until they reached home safely. Chris got out of the truck, and went around to Vin's door. When he took his arm, the sharpshooter protested. "I ain't old 'r crippled up, Larabee."

Chris backed off. "Fine, prove it."

Vin stood up, a bit wobbly in the knees, but no longer as dizzy as he had been at the hospital. "See?" He took three steps, wavered a bit, and then relented, letting Chris slip his arm around his waist and support him up the drive and into the house.

He stood in the middle of the den, trying to decide between bed, or a shower. He only had the strength for one. It had been a long day and the adrenaline let-down was intensified by concussion and pain. He felt sticky, hot, uncomfortable. "Chris, I'm gonna clean up. Feel like shit."

"I ain't so sure that's a good idea, partner. Not the way you're staggering around."

A wicked glint came into Tanner's eyes despite his exhaustion. "If'n yer so all fired worried 'bout it, ya could join me," he suggested.

Chris made a strangled sound in his throat. "Behave yourself, cowboy. You'd just pass out from the exertion." He tried to sound stern but the image of Vin, naked and slippery, just about sent him to his knees. Jesus, but the man made him ache in ways he'd never imagined just by giving him one of those lazy smiles. "Get in there," he growled. "I'll get you some clothes and sit outside the door 'til you're finished."

If his head hadn't throbbed so abominably, Vin would have made an effort to turn his suggestion into reality, but couldn't work up the ardor or the strength to make it happen. He'd caught the hot flare of desire in Larabee's eyes, though, and decided to file that suggestion away for the future. He went into the bathroom, turned the shower on hot, stripped and stepped inside, careful to keep the gauze bandaging away from the angle of the spray. He heard the door open, the soft thump of fabric hitting the floor, Larabee's voice asking if he was okay. "Yeah, I'll be out in a minute."

The hot water beating on his shoulders took some of the ache away. He tried to wash the blood out of his hair without soaking the gauze, and gave up, figuring Chris could bandage him up again when he was finished. He turned off the water, and carefully stepped out of the shower, a bit woozy still. He'd been concussed often enough to recognize the woolly, disoriented feeling. There wasn't much he could do but take a pain pill and lie down.

Chris had left a pair of ATF sweatpants on the floor. Vin pulled them on, towelled off his hair, and went back into the den. "See, Dad. I made it home jist fine," he joked when he saw the worried look on Larabee's face.

The worry evaporated in a flush of heat. Chris looked at Vin with naked hunger in his green eyes. The dark sweatpants hung low on Vin's slim hips, his belly was flat and taut. A few beads of water glistened on his patch of fine golden-brown chest hair. He'd draped a towel around his neck to catch the water dripping from his hair, and that hair clung in damp waves to his throat and square jaw. His blue eyes were vivid in their frame of dark lashes. He was utterly beautiful, and he had no awareness of it, except as a weapon that others had used in the past to cause him pain. He tried to hide it beneath layers of ordinary clothing, and didn't know that the grace and strength of his body was not easily disguised, any more than his long hair hid the fine, strong features of his face.

"Did I turn green 'r somethin'?" Vin asked.

The blush on his cheeks told Chris that Vin was not unaware of the loving study that had been focused on him. He sat on the sofa next to Larabee, and gave him that twist of a smile that made Chris' blood run even hotter. He reached over and took Vin's face in his hands. "Not so's you'd notice," he rasped. That mouth was too tempting. He kissed Vin, tasting him, feeling the warmth of his moist skin as he moved his hand across Vin's shoulder. His lips roved lower, to the base of Tanner's throat and the vulnerable pulse beating there. He felt, rather than heard the vibration of a breath drawn in as desire began coursing through the younger man's body. But he also felt the slight resistance that betrayed how much he hurt. Chris pulled back, knowing that Vin was in no shape for anything more strenuous than that reassurance of being loved. He took Vin's slender body in his arms. "Scared me half to death out there, partner. Seeing you lying there in your own blood."

"It was good fer me, too." Tanner's voice was faint, and despite the humor in the reply, Chris felt a shiver run through his body.

"You feelin' alright? Aside from being shot and concussed?"

A slight shake of the head. "Feel awful. Like I been run over by a truck and left flat. Be better in the mornin'."

Chris stroked his damp hair. "I'll bet. I'm gonna get those pains pill the doctor gave me, and then you're gonna get some rest. You want anything else?"

"Ya know I do ..."

"Give it up, pard!" Chris set him back against the sofa cushions and pulled the afghan down from the back. Sarah had crocheted it, and as he spread it over Vin, he imagined her smiling down at him. It never hurt a man to have a guardian angel.

He went into the kitchen for the pain pills and a glass of water. He opened a can of ginger-ale and took out a pack of saltines. The information with the pills had suggested they were best taken with food, and Tanner wouldn't eat anything heavier, feeling like he did.

When he went back to the den Vin's eyes were closed, but the draw of his mouth spoke of pain. Chris laid a hand on his shoulder, then, when his eyes opened, he slipped his arm behind him and raised him.. "Got something here for your head, but first you have to have a couple crackers and some ginger-ale."

Vin groaned. "Jist give me the pills."

"Eat." He held out a cracker and Vin squirmed away from his supporting arm and pushed himself upright.

He shot Larabee a rebellious look, but he ate. There was no sense in arguing with him when he had that look in his eyes. He drank the ginger-ale, and blessedly, Chris relented and handed over the pain pills. He swallowed two, and then sank down, worn out, and weak. "Chris?"

"Yeah?"

"Got the bandage on my head wet when I showered. Needs changin'. Sorry."

"Tanner, you're more trouble than you're worth," Chris said, but he was smiling. "You are gonna make up for this, you know."

Vin opened one eye. "I's plannin' on it. Got an idea or two t'make it all go away." His drawl was more pronounced than usual as fatigue and medications began wearing him down.

As Chris went to get the bandages, he wondered about those 'ideas' of Tanner's. The man was downright dangerous when he got to thinking. Inventive didn't cover the range of ways he had of riling and arousing Chris. Almost made the aggravation and worry of his being shot worthwhile.

Vin was only half-awake as Chris carefully parted his soft hair from around the wound, and patched it up with dry gauze. "Vin? Partner? C'mon, let's get you into bed." Vin just nodded sleepily, and swung his legs over the side of the couch. Chris slipped his shoulder under Vin's arm to help him up. They made a slightly unsteady progress to the bedroom.

Chris yanked the covers down and lowered Vin to the mattress. Tanner curled on his side and lay still. He was gone, Chris thought. He set the alarm, then took a shower, and poured himself a shot of whiskey. He drank it down, appreciating the slowly spreading warmth that made his muscles heavy, and his eyes want to close. Certain he would sleep like the dead, he slipped into bed, feeling Vin's body relax and curve against his with a sigh. Tomorrow would come too soon, he thought.

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

The alarm woke Chris at seven. He reached out a long arm and hit the snooze button. Vin was tucked up against him, breathing softly. The man was even quiet when he slept. Chris's body stirred with lazy desire at the feel of Vin's smooth, warm skin. He smelled of soap, musk, and sleep, heady scents that brought Chris to full, aching arousal. He cursed. Damn Texan had better get well soon, else Larabee's physical well-being would be in jeopardy. He crawled reluctantly from the bed and went into the bathroom. His image in the mirror looked haggard, and he wasn't sure that the pale glints showing in the stubble on his chin weren't more silver than blond. Shit.

"You finished admirin' yerself, handsome?" Vin rasped from the doorway. He was hanging on to the frame, but he was upright, and his eyes, though still dull with sleep, had lost the bleary look of concussion that had Chris so worried the night before. "Some of us have a reason fer wantin' t'be in the necessary, y'know."

Chris snorted. "Glad t'see you're back t'yer usual charmin' self, Tanner." He tapped Vin's cheek lightly. "I'll start the coffee. You up to eatin' breakfast?"

"Jist toast. M'head hurts."

"Still dizzy?"

"No." One word answers were all he could manage without caffeine. Chris left him and went into the kitchen. A few minutes later when Vin opened the door, the aroma of brewing coffee greeted him. He padded into the kitchen. Chris had gotten dressed, brought in the newspaper, and was sitting reading the front page. Vin went for the funnies first, being the easiest to deal with until his brain kicked into gear. His dyslexia was still a problem, better than it had been thanks to Chris and Mary Travis, but it was hard work to make sense of the rows of newsprint, and not worth the effort in the morning.

He spread a mess of honey and butter on the toast Chris had set in front of him and sipped at the strong coffee. Two pain pills, another cup of coffee, and a glass of juice later, he started feeling almost normal. He cleared his throat. "Anything about last night in the paper?"

"No. Stevens said to keep it quiet."

"Shit, Chris. It was like a war zone in there. Pretty hard to keep something like that quiet."

Chris sighed. "Yeah. Are you feeling well enough to go to this debriefing?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"I'd say no, but I'd back you up if you told me you were sick."

Vin looked at him intently. Chris knew how much he hated being questioned about things; that he hated being closed in the small briefing rooms with too many people, that he would be asked to read reports that were minefields of words and meanings to someone with his difficulties. He was offering a chance to duck out of it, and if Vin hadn't already loved Larabee with all the trust in his heart, he would have loved him for that alone. And it was that love that gave him the strength to endure the debriefing for Chris' sake.

He finished eating and went to get dressed. He kept a few articles of clothing at Chris', but not much, not enough for anyone to guess that their relationship was more than a close friendship. It was hard keeping emotions locked up, but both he and Larabee had years of practicing deception. That, and the enormous respect they owed the other members of the team, had kept them circumspect beyond suspicion. Vin was pretty sure that Ezra, Nathan, and Josiah knew the truth, but neither he nor Chris, had yet to approach Buck or JD. Vin had nightmares about that -- not wanting to be the cause of a rift between Larabee and his oldest friend. And JD? Hell, you couldn't tell about JD. He could be as naive as an infant, or as old and wise as a grandpa. You just never knew which was gonna show up at the table.

Vin rubbed at the ache that had formed between his eyes as he had stared into the closet. He finally took out a faded blue chambray shirt and a clean pair of jeans. He used Chris' electric razor, and was ready to face the lions.

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

It was every bit as bad as he had feared. The room was tiny, and ten men could take up a powerful lot of air and space. By the time they had gone over reports in triplicate, answered dozens of questions, and signed an equal number of affidavits, Vin was exhausted. Every nerve in his body was screaming, and his head was a throbbing lump of pain perched on a stiff neck and tight shoulders. If not for Chris' presence at his side, he would have gone mad. But he was there, his shoulder and elbow -- forced close by the crowded table -- a comforting pressure against Vin's. Calling for a break when he saw the Texan start to slip away. His voice asking questions that guided Vin through the reams of paperwork.

The other member of the team saw nothing more than Chris' concern for Vin's well-being, and support for a man who deserved all of their respect. When it was over, and Stevens and the ATF honchos were satisfied that no stone had been left unturned, Buck laid his hand on Vin's shoulder. "Hey, Junior. How're you doin'?" he asked.

"Not so good, Bucklin. But I reckon I'll live. Hell, if we gotta go through this every time we fire our guns, it's hardly worth tryin'."

"At least we got some of 'em. And good leads on the big guys. We'll get 'em all before they empty the Denver Mint."

"Yeah." He didn't sound convinced.

Chris set a cup of water and two more pills on the table. "C'mon, Tanner. It's time for your drug of choice. Then I'm takin' you back to the ranch."

"I c'n go home, Chris."

"I don't think so, not with a concussion." He gave Buck's arm a light pat. "Thanks, pard."

"Sure, Chris. Is he all right? He looks awful rocky."

"Yeah. But tomorrow's Saturday, and I'll keep him at the ranch all weekend. By Monday, he'll be fine."

"You need anything, or Junior needs anything, you let me know."

Chris nodded. "Will do. Thanks, Buck." He watched as JD said a few words to Vin, saw Tanner shake his head and give the kid a wan grin. Chris' cell phone went off in his pocket, and he flipped it open. "Larabee."

"Chris?" Nathan. "Heard you had a bit of a dust up last night. Everything okay?" Meaning, was anybody hurt. Chris smiled.

"Vin got a bullet crease alongside his head and then concussed himself fallin' down on a concrete floor." Nathan cursed, and Chris reassured him. "He's fine. Worn out from the debriefing, but lucid." He looked around the room. "I'm keeping him out at the ranch with me this weekend, so don't worry."

"Yeah, well take care of him. Those after-effects of concussion can sneak up on ya real fast."

"Don't worry." And knew that telling Nathan that was about as useless as telling him to stop breathing. "See ya on Monday, Nate. You and Rain have a good weekend." He clicked off, closed the phone and went over to Vin, talking now to Stevens.

"You finished?" he asked the Treasury agent.

"Finally."

"How are your men?"

"Good. Both of them are due to be released today. We were lucky. There's still a lot of work to be done on this, though. I figure we'll be around for a while." He shook hands, and headed out of the room, his men trailing behind him.

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

Vin was quiet on the way back to the ranch, and Chris didn't force conversation on him. Once inside, Vin sank down on the couch in the den, laid his head back and closed his eyes. Chris looked at that beautiful profile, and ached. There was a frown of pain between Vin's brows that the pills had failed to erase. Chris went behind the sofa.

"Loosen up that shirt and lean forward."

Vin did, and Chris set his hands on his shoulders and began a deep massage. His long fingers and warm palms worked their way across the breadth of Vin's upper back. He kneaded the tension from his neck, his thumbs moving in small circles on either side of Vin's spine, and the base of his skull beneath the fall of his hair. Vin groaned, pain and pleasure intermingled into a sensation beyond description.

That groan made Chris' throat go dry. He kept his hands moving. "You got yourself tied in more knots than a troop of Boy Scouts on a rainy Sunday, pard."

Vin laughed. "Jist don't stop what yer doin'." He tipped his head up, gave Chris a smile that just about stopped Larabee's heart. "Though I c'n think of a few other places achin' worse 'n my back right now."

It was Chris' turn to groan, a deep purr in his throat that made Vin turn sharply and grab Larabee's forearm. "Want yer hands on me. Want ya t'make it all go away."

Chris leaned over the back of the couch. The blue chambray shirt had fallen open over Vin's chest. He ran his palms down that smooth skin, over brown nipples and lean hard stomach. There was a shadowed gap between the waistband of Vin's jeans and his flesh, and Larabee's long fingers slipped into that darkness to close around Vin's shaft. "Does it hurt there?" he asked huskily. His fingers moved down the hard length. With his other hand, he deftly undid the button and slid the zipper down to give himself working room.

"Jesus!" Vin pulled on Chris' arm. "Git down here, Larabee, b'fore I kill ya." Chris' blond hair had fallen forward over his forehead, and his eyes glittered like jade and diamonds, hard and hot. He bent his mouth to Vin's, sucked on that luscious bottom lip, ran his tongue along the inner edge until Vin's lips parted to take him in a deep kiss.

On fire, not caring, Chris crawled over the back of the couch and lay the length of his body across Vin's legs. He'd gone from being the seducer to the seduced, and as Tanner's fingers started working on his shirt buttons, his own went to work on freeing his aching cock.

Vin spread Larabee's shirt wide and ran his hands down that lean, strong, perfect torso. He could not look enough, feel enough, want enough of that flesh. He raked his nails lightly over the dark nipples, raising them to hard pebbles and making Chris gasp. His callused palms played on that smooth skin, feeling the set of bone and muscle, the strength that he could reduce to quivering pleasure. That could reduce him to shaking wonder that such beauty and perfection was his.

Chris saw Vin's eyes darken and knew that it was more than physical passion that caused the change from sky blue to sapphire. He reached up and stroked Vin's cheek. "You want this?" he asked.

"Want this. Want you."

It was all Chris needed to hear. "Let's move this somewhere, cowboy." He stood up, pulled Vin up with him, and they made a stumbling progress to the bedroom, kissing, feeling, finding enough time to pause and laugh even in their urgency.

They wound up on the bed in a tangle of limbs and clothes. Chris took hold of Vin's jeans, grateful that they weren't skin tight, and slid them along with his underwear down his narrow hips, revealing the hard beauty of his body; long, lean legs, tight ass, erect and swollen sex. He worked his fingers up the length of those legs, aware of the scars that marred the smooth skin, the lump of a badly healed break on his shin. Tanner had led a hard life, and it hurt Chris to think of what he had endured to get to this point.

Vin writhed as Larabee's fingers and mouth worked their way from shin, to thigh. Then warm breath brushed across his groin and those fingers were on his cock, kneading his balls. He moaned and grasped Chris' head in his hands, guiding him to what he wanted. Chris' mouth closed around his cock, and Vin cried out, arching off the mattress, lost in the exquisite sensation of Chris' touch.

Larabee's tongue ran the length of his shaft. He sucked at the juice gathering at the tip of Vin's cock, rimmed it with a gentle slide of his teeth, worked it with his fingers until Vin was incoherent and shaking. His breath was harsh, catching in his throat in whimpers of need and pleasure. Chris took his hips, holding him steady as his mouth and tongue drove Vin to his climax. His body convulsed as he came, unable to hold back the tide of his release. It swept through him; thighs, spine, groin, cock. He gave a harsh, triumphant cry, and poured himself out into his lover's mouth. Chris drank that essence greedily. Salty-sweet. Vin. He could not get enough of this man, could not show him enough that he was loved. But he was damn well gonna try.

He laid his head on Vin's abdomen, against the damp, warm skin and heard the throb of blood in the big veins. Life. He'd come so close to losing it the night before. A quarter of an inch -- less. That bullet could have been fatal. He lifted his head. Vin's ribcage was still trembling with the force of his heartbeat, and Chris was concerned that he'd let his passions lead Vin where he shouldn't have gone. "You all right, pard?" he asked.

In response, Vin's hands pulled Chris up to face him. He pushed him over to his back and gazed down at him, his breath coming quickly. "Hardly. But feelin' a hell of a lot better 'n I was." His blue eyes were clear, focused. He leaned forward, kissed Chris, tasting his own scent and seed. "'Member the first time, Chris?' he whispered.

"Kinda hard ta forget."

"Mmmm." His lips were busy. He kissed Chris' forehead, the hollow at his temple, the arch of those hard cheekbones. That mouth with the firm lower lip. His tongue ran the length of those lips, swept down the strong column of Larabee's throat, along the ridge of his collarbone. God, he loved Chris' throat. Could worship there forever, if he'd had the time. His teeth took a nip of the tender flesh between neck and shoulder and he heard Larabee's breath catch. "Ya like that? Tastes good." White teeth nipped again and this time Chris' body moved.

Vin smiled, trailed two fingers down the center of Larabee's chest, down the concave hollow of his belly, felt the quiver of muscle as he touched a nerve. He kept his eyes on Chris' torso, feeling his own anticipation rising with Larabee's. He suckled one nipple, teased the other with his fingers until Chris groaned. and shivered. He spanned the hard arc of his ribcage with his hands, marveling at the beauty of Larabee's body. He tasted his lover's sweat, inhaled his scent, sucked and bit and teased until Chris was shaking, and still did not touch what he knew Larabee wanted him to touch. Chris' hands moved toward his cock, and Vin captured them, held them tight. "Not yet. That's mine. Ain't gonna let you git there b'fore I do." Still holding Larabee imprisoned, he turned his attention to the vulnerable, enticing bend between hip and flank; wringing a deep, primal groan from Larabee's throat as his tongue lapped at the flesh.

Then, with devastating care and excruciating slowness, his breath whispered towards Larabee's throbbing sex. He flicked his tongue over the head of the shaft and Chris arched up hard. He took the head in his mouth, suckled on it, explored it with his tongue and Larabee nearly bucked off the bed. Vin released him, and ran his fingers down the hard, warm flesh, to cup Chris' balls. His own body was alive, aching with the need to be buried deep inside Chris. He drew back long enough to fumble in the nightstand drawer for the tube of lubricant. "Soon, Chris. Real soon," he soothed. "I'll do fer ya what ya done fer me. Make it all go away."

The anticipation was driving Chris wild. "You talk too damn much!" he groaned. He reached for his cock, needing something, anything to ease the throbbing ache Tanner had aroused.

"I'm through talkin'," Vin whispered roughly, knocking Chris' hand aside. He closed one slick hand over Larabee's cock, and slid a finger into Chris' body, working the ring of muscle. Chris cried out at Vin's touch on that sensitive flesh, sweat started out on his skin, and the world seemed to spin out from beneath him. Jesus, he was gonna die.

"Easy, easy," Vin whispered, as much to himself as to Chris. He wanted so much to be inside him, but knew he had to be patient long enough to prepare Chris' body for his. Two fingers slid inside that tight ring, and Larabee was shaking. Three fingers, and Vin pushed up against the pleasure spot, making Chris convulse and strain against that torturing hand. Finally, finally, when he was so close to coming that he thought he would die, Larabee was ready. Vin positioned himself between Larabee's thighs, and slowly slid into his lover's body. Smooth heat wrapped around him, urging him to move, but he hesitated as Chris' breathing caught at the momentary pain of entry. For a moment he was poised there, between heaven and hell, then the tightness eased, and he took Vin deep inside.

Unable to hold back any longer, Vin responded, stroking into Larabee's body, feeling Chris rock to meet him. They moved in the age-old rhythm of lovers, flesh quickening, every nerve on fire. Vin pumped Chris' cock, felt himself falling into darkness and let himself fall.

The pleasure of Vin's hands and body drove Chris along into that same darkness. Blood throbbed in his temples, in his chest, in his spine. Vin's fingers were working his cock, his flesh was pounding into his body, and the sensations were driving him into delirium. He surrendered to the fire in his loins, and cried out in fierce pleasure as his seed spurted over them both, and Vin emptied himself, collapsing onto his chest, completely spent and past strength.

When the dark passion receded and light came back into the world, Vin reluctantly withdrew from Chris' body. Larabee's hands gripped his upper arms hard. "Not yet," he said and pulled Vin down. Vin laid his cheek over his lover's heart. He listened as Larabee's heartbeat slowed to a normal rhythm, and wondered what could be wrong with feeling this way. Feeling safe and playing with fire, all at the same time. Chris' hands tangled lightly in the damp waves of his hair, and his breath fanned Vin's cheek. His lassitude was complete. His eyes closed, he sighed, and was still.

"Vin?"

No answer. Chris smiled and carefully moved out from under Tanner's lax body. He didn't stir, just burrowed deep into the pillow. Chris drew the sheets over him, and pulled the blanket up, because knowing the Texan, he'd start feeling cold without Chris to heat up the bed. For a moment he stood looking down at the proud, stubborn, passionate man who had come into his life and filled it with his love. He moved aside a lock of hair with a gentle forefinger. "You are something else," he said softly, thinking of Stevens' earlier comment, and indulging in a quiet laugh at what the Treasury Agent didn't know about the taciturn sharpshooter.

After he had showered and dressed, he poured himself a whiskey and took it out to the deck overlooking his land. He'd have to feed the horses, soon. But he didn't want to leave Vin alone. He probably shouldn't have succumbed to the temptation so willingly offered, but judging from the sound sleep that had come over Tanner, he was truly relaxed for the first time in days.

When Vin didn't appear in an hour, Chris looked in on him. He laid a hand on the back of Vin's neck. Cool, moist. His breathing came easily and softly. Chris left him, and went to do the inevitable chores. When he came back to the house, Vin was sitting on the deck. His slim denim-clad legs were propped on the railing, and he had a long-necked beer in his hand. Chris' brows rose. "Your head stop hurting?" he asked.

"Pretty much." His eyes narrowed against the setting sun. "Figure I'm cured." He held out the beer. "Ya want some?"

Chris took the sweating bottle and drank a deep pull. He hooked a chair over and settled next to Vin. The sun spread its last golden rays over the landscape, and a slight breeze sprang up. Chris opened his hand and Vin's fingers twined loosely through his.

Vin tipped his head back, let the air wash over him, felt the thrum and pulse of Larabee's presence like wind through the wires. Seemed he'd spent the greater part of his life wishing that he felt nothing; not pain, not grief, not love. Especially, not love. He'd been betrayed by it, scourged by it, left hollowed and empty and bleeding by it. He had scars. Hell, all he had to do was look in the mirror to see them; and the scars he bore on the outside, weren't nothing compared to the wounds on his heart. He was ashamed of those scars, inside and out. Believed that they made him unworthy of being loved.

With Chris, the scars didn't matter, the hurt didn't matter. When Chris touched him, loved him, he made it all go away. Vin turned wide, calm, blue eyes to Chris, and Larabee, sensing the weight of that study, met it, and understood it, as he always had. They sat in silence, and when the last light faded, they rose and went inside.

 

 

The End