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by SueN.

ATF Universe

Disclaimer: Nothing personal, but if they were mine, would I be spending time with y'all?

Notes: Um, let's see, if you like to see Chris getting taken care of, this one's for you.




Chris groaned heavily and leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the paper-strewn desk and dropping his head into his hands, thrusting his fingers through his blond hair. The headache that for days had been a permanent fixture in his skull was now staking its claim on the rest of his body, stabbing through his neck and down his back, seeming to hammer at every single vertebrae in his spine. He groaned and parted the fingers covering his face just enough to peer through them at the ibuprofin bottle before him.
Empty. He'd taken the last of the pills three hours ago, and knew for a fact there was not another bottle to be had in the whole damn office. Knew because he'd looked. Thoroughly. Frantically.
With another groan, he dragged his hunched and hurting body off the desk and sat back in his chair, laying his head against the cushioned neck-rest and closing his eyes. In a two-week string of days that had totally sucked, this one had been the absolute worst. Travis had called him into the office today to tell him that another agent had killed himself. And not just any agent, either, but a supervising agent like himself, a man he knew, a man he'd liked, a man he'd respected.
A man he'd destroyed.
Well, no. He'd just had a hand in ending the man's career. Mac Peters had actually destroyed himself, after the rest of his world had gone to hell. His 16-year-old son had committed suicide a year and a half ago, and his marriage had unraveled as a result, disintegrating under a crushing load of grief, denial, guilt, blame and rage. Mac's wife Leah had sought solace in tranquilizers, then ever more bizarre forms of "therapy," and, finally, divorce. Mac had turned to the bottle, drowning himself, his grief and, finally, his 15-year-career.
Three weeks ago, his alcohol-impaired judgment had gotten two of the agents on his team killed, and a third wounded. An investigation had been launched, and, armed with the findings, Assistant Director Orrin Travis had convened a review board to determine what to do with the broken man. He'd "asked" Chris to sit on it, citing his rank and experience, and Chris, out of respect for Travis and a determination to do what he could to make sure Mac got the help he so desperately needed, had agreed. But it had been harder than he'd anticipated.
He hadn't foreseen all the pain from his own dark past the ordeal would dredge up, hadn't expected to relive the hell of losing his wife and son, or the shame of his own bouts with the bottle. He'd never dreamed he'd have to look into Mac Peters's dull, dead eyes day after day and see himself mirrored there.
He'd looked into those lifeless eyes again yesterday as Travis had read aloud the board's findings of negligence and reckless disregard, as he'd asked for Mac's badge and gun. He'd looked into those eyes, and felt a cold chill of premonition. On some level he'd known what Mac was thinking, because he'd come damn near doing the same so many times himself.
But last night, Mac had actually done it. Had gotten another gun and eaten it, downstairs, in his car, in the building's parking garage.
A wrenching, anguished groan tore from the depths of his soul and bent him forward in his chair. He knew what had driven Mac to do it, could guess what thoughts had gone through the man's mind as he'd loaded the gun, put it to his mouth and pulled the trigger. Jesus Christ, he knew Mac's hell because he had lived Mac's hell! All except for the ending...
He forced himself to sit up, and looked around his office, then out into the bullpen beyond. Empty, except for him. Well, shit, why shouldn't it be? It was 3 p.m. on a Saturday, and God knew his team took weekends seriously.
A thin, tired smile pulled at his mouth. His team. His family. They were the reason his career, his life, hadn't ended where Mac's had. Six men who'd given him a reason to step back from the brink and the strength to do it. Six men who'd grabbed his heart, his soul, and breathed life back into them. And two in particular.
His gaze sought a framed photograph set on the file cabinet to his left, and his eyes picked out the tall, grinning mustached man standing at his right. Buck. God, why couldn't Mac have had a Buck Wilmington in his life, someone whose friendship and loyalty knew no bounds, whose arms were strong enough to hold a friend back or down when that friend seemed intent on doing himself harm, yet were gentle enough to hold that friend, to cradle him, when he cried? Why hadn't Mac had a friend like Buck, someone whose heart was big enough to shelter the world, who didn't have it in him to give up and turn his back on a friend, someone who cared enough to pick up every single piece of a broken heart and hold them in his keeping until his friend was strong enough to try and put them back together?
Mac should have had that. Should have had someone like Buck to save his life. And someone like Vin to save his soul.
His gaze, still on the photograph, shifted from Buck at his right to Vin at his left. Vin Tanner, who gave light and purpose to his days, and fire and meaning to his nights. Whose blue eyes never looked at him without seeing straight to his soul, whose hands never touched him without reaching into the depths of his being. Who knew him better than he did himself, knew him completely, without illusion, and loved him completely, without reservation. Vin, who'd shown him the powerful difference between just being alive and truly living.
God, why hadn't Mac had someone like Vin, someone whose very presence was life itself?
And why hadn't Chris realized he had that until this moment?
He stared at Vin's face as it was in the photo -- relaxed, open, happy, wreathed in the brilliant, boyish smile that lit Chris's whole world -- and realized he'd not seen that smile, that relaxed and open look, in at least two weeks. This whole mess with Mac had spilled over into their relationship, putting a strain there that Chris hadn't recognized until just now. Or, at least, hadn't acknowledged.
A long, shuddering sigh escaped him and he bowed his head, closing his eyes against a sudden stab of pain that had nothing to do with his headache. He'd let the horror of his past shadow his life with Vin, had let the torment of what he'd lost overtake the joy of what he'd found. But where in the past he might have reacted by trying to push Vin away, this time he over-reacted by clutching his lover too tightly to him, clinging to Vin in the insane, irrational fear that he might somehow lose this, too. He'd tried to curtail Vin's freedom, his independence, tried to rein in the very spirit that he so loved in the man. And Vin, knowing what was going on with Chris even when Chris himself had not, had been patient, understanding, and gentle.
Up until the day almost a week ago, when Chris had lost it and demanded -- demanded, as if anyone could demand anything of Tanner -- that Vin move out to the ranch. Lost it, and come so near losing Vin, because Vin had gotten hurt.
Chris exhaled sharply, disgusted with himself, and rose to his feet, pacing about his office and running a hand through his hair. God, how could he have been so stupid? Sure, Vin had been hurt, but not badly. But Chris couldn't see that because he'd been too blinded by his own ridiculous fear. And it had caused a rift that still needed mending.
He remembered the incident with painful clarity. Vin had been taking a long overdue and much-needed day off, and Chris had been here, poring over Mac's file and the details of the botched bust that had left two members of Team Nine dead. Then he'd gotten the call from the emergency room and his soul had gone cold as it had seemed every one of his most hideous fears were coming true.
Vin had been stabbed.
He'd flown through the early afternoon traffic to the much too familiar doors of Mercy Hospital, prepared to see his lover hooked up to any one of the various machines that he now knew by heart. Instead, he'd burst in a panic into an examination room, and found a very annoyed Vin sitting up on the bed, clutching the pathetic excuse of a hospital gown to him and arguing with the nurse about just why they'd had to call Larabee when he was perfectly capable of driving himself home.
And it had gone downhill from there.
Vin had a gash along the ribs on his left side that had required twenty-one stitches. But it was shallow, more painful than serious, and he'd been pissed-off as hell to learn that the hospital staff considered it incapacitating enough -- in conjunction with blood-loss and pain-killers -- for him to require a ride home.
"Hell, I drove m'self here!" he'd insisted to the unrelenting nurse. "If I can drive m'self when I'm bleedin', I don't see why the hell I cain't drive m'self now that y'all got the bleedin' stopped!" Then he'd looked up and met the Larabee glare. "Aw, hell," he'd rasped in disgust. "Reckon I'll be bleedin' again in a minute!"
Chris had tersely demanded an explanation, and gotten one equally terse. Some punk had tried to mug a woman in front of Vin's building, and Vin had broken it up. The kid had slashed him with his knife, then Vin had flattened him with a few punches and kicks, and sat on him until the cops arrived. He'd given them his statement, gone upstairs to clean up, then driven himself to the hospital. End of story.
And then Chris Larabee had exploded. "You could've been killed!" he'd shouted, stalking up to the man on the bed and staring furiously at him. "He had a knife, Vin, a knife, and he could've killed you with it! What the hell did you think you were doin'?"
Vin's eyes had narrowed and hardened, and his square jaw had set into its familiar stubborn lines. "Thought I's tryin' ta keep a woman from harm," he'd said in a voice gone soft and hoarse with anger. "Thought I's tryin' ta keep that little shit from takin' what wasn't his. Thought I's tryin' ta protect somebody that needed it."
"Protect?" Chris had spat contemptuously, his eyes boring into his lover. "In Purgatorio? Shit, Tanner, there is no protection in Purgatorio! That place is one big crime scene! And everybody there is either a criminal or a victim waiting ta happen!"
Vin's head had come up and his eyes had flashed at Larabee's insult. "'At's my home you're talkin' about," he'd warned softly. "Best you remember that."
"Then why the hell don't you move?!?" Chris had shouted. "There's no goddamned reason a federal agent should be livin' in the middle of a goddamned war zone! If the gangs don't get ya, the crack dealers will! Or the muggers, or the addicts needin' money for a fix, or any one of the thousand other kinds'a scum that live in that sewer!" He'd reached out and grabbed Vin's arm, his long, strong fingers digging hard into the younger man's flesh. "You... don't... belong there!" he'd spat through clenched teeth.
But Vin had jerked his arm away with a low hiss of fury and surged to his feet, glaring at Chris through glittering eyes. "I lived in Purgatorio b'fore I's ever a federal agent, and b'fore I ever knew you," he'd rasped through clenched teeth. "And I reckon I belong there 'bout as well as I do anywhere else. Don't forget, Chris, I damn near grew up on them streets. Wasn't so many years ago that I's part'a that 'scum' you look down on!"
Chris had sighed heavily, his anger dulling into weariness. "You were never scum, Vin," he'd said tiredly. "And maybe you belonged there once, but not anymore. You're better than that." He'd reached out and cupped a hand to the back of Vin's neck, squeezing gently. "It's time you left that behind. Move out to the ranch with me, where you belong. It's time we were together permanently."
Vin had stared at him then with a mixture of confusion and distrust. "Thought we were already together permanently," he'd said in that soft, gravelly drawl. "Thought you said we was it for each other. Y'know, through life, through death, all that." The blue eyes had narrowed slightly as he'd studied his lover's face. "Remember?"
"Of course, I remember," Chris had sighed. "And I meant it. I just... I want you with me, Vin. I need you with me. I need to know you're safe. I want to protect you, keep you from harm--"
"What're you gonna do, wrap me in gauze and stick me on a shelf?" Vin had asked softly. "Cage me up and only let me out on a leash?" He'd shaken his head, his blue eyes flooding with sorrow. "Ain't gonna work, cowboy. I ain't ever been one for cages 'n leashes. Thought you knew that."
"It's not like that!" Chris had protested sharply as impatience flared within him. "Damn it, Vin, why can't you see reason just this once?" he'd demanded, the dark fear that had haunted him overcoming his own reason. "It's time you left Purgatorio and moved in with me! Damn it, you belong to me!"
And Vin had stiffened as if he'd been shot, sucking in a sharp, hissing breath, his blue eyes going hard and cold. For long, long moments he'd stared at Chris, then, with a low, soft growl, his mouth curling into a sneer, he'd stepped forward, jabbed a finger into his lover's chest and snarled, "Git this in yer head, Larabee, I don't belong ta nobody. I'll love you 'til I die, and there's not another man on this earth I wanta spend my life with, but I do not fuckin' belong ta you. And the day you start thinkin' I do is the day I'll leave you forever, you got that?"
Chris had stared at him in horror, unable to believe Vin's words, unable to believe his own words. Jesus, how could he have said that? He'd meant to say "with," not "to."
Hadn't he?
Vin had turned away, thrown down the hospital gown, then leaned on the bed, supporting his suddenly weak and trembling body with equally weak and trembling arms. Chris's words had struck to his very soul, chilling him, frightening him, angering him. Others had tried to own him, to cage him, to break him, but not Chris. Never Chris.
Not until now.
Chris had wanted desperately to reach out and lay a hand on that slender back, to stroke the smooth, warm skin that was his delight. Instinct warned him, though, that if he did, Vin would come around swinging. And Larabee figured they'd hurt each other enough already.
"I'll talk to the nurse," he'd said softly, sadly, "get you signed out, find out if you need any meds. Then... I'll take you home." He'd winced and bowed his head. "To your apartment."
Vin had nodded wordlessly, never raising his head, never turning around, and that had been that. Chris had gotten him discharged, and gotten him home. To Purgatorio. And then he'd left.
He turned and stared again at the picture, at the open, happy face and broad, bright smile he'd not seen since that debacle at the hospital. He and Vin had talked-- couldn't help it; hell, they worked together -- but hadn't been together since then, and, each time they had settled upon him, Vin's eyes had been filled with a haunting mixture of sorrow, fear, pain and longing. The lack of what they shared -- not merely their lovemaking, but the spiritual connection that went far deeper and was much more intimate than any physical joining -- was a cold, consuming emptiness in Chris, draining the light from his world and the life from his soul. He'd thought hammering that last nail in the coffin of Mac Peters's career had been the absolute low point of the past two weeks. He'd been so wrong.
The worst had been looking into his lover's blue eyes, seeing the terrible hurt and confusion in them, and knowing he was the cause.
He looked around his office, skimmed his eyes across his desk, and sighed dejectedly. No point. There was no point in trying to do anything more today. Hell, there was nothing more he could do. It was time to go to the house.
Shit, maybe he could run over a dog on the way. Destroy one more thing while he was at it.


He turned onto the long, rutted drive to the ranch, but felt only a cold emptiness when he saw the waiting house. Like him, it was dark inside, and it looked as lonely as he felt. How strange, he thought suddenly. When Sarah and Adam had been alive, it had always been "home." After their deaths, it had become "the house." But once he'd let Vin into his life, into his heart, it had once again become "home." Now, though, it was back to "the house," because everything that made it home was in a shabby little apartment in a run-down building in the hell-hole that was Purgatorio.
Christ, what had he done?
With a sick clench at his gut and a painful wrench at his heart, he maneuvered the truck along the drive, dreading the moment he'd actually have to go in the house and the hours, the days, he'd have to spend inside it. No, he couldn't do it. He'd call Vin now, go to him if he had to, get down on his knees and beg if that was what it took.
He had to make this right. He needed this too much. Needed Vin too much. What they had was too important to let it get fouled in ghosts and stupid fears. He wouldn't have his and Vin's relationship added to Mac Peters's body count.
With that determination, he turned the truck along the side of the house, and hit the brake at the sight that awaited him. A Jeep. A dirty, dented blue Jeep whose ratty top had surely seen better days, and whose rusted bumper proudly sported a Dallas Cowboys sticker.
He threw the Ram into park, killed the engine and hurriedly opened the door, then leapt out of the truck as if he were on springs. He raced to the Jeep, laid his hand on its hood, and smiled at its coolness. He was here, he'd been here, and he was waiting.
Waiting for Chris to come home.
Larabee whirled around and searched feverishly for any sign of his lover. His gaze stopped at the corral, and his heart gave a hard twist at what he saw. A large black, blaze-faced gelding running at an easy, long-legged lope about the corral, topped by a slender rider in fringed buckskin jacket and slouch-brimmed cavalry hat pulled low. The hat's brim left the face in shadows, but Chris didn't have to see the face to see it. By heart he knew the curve of brown brows, the long, straight nose, the high, hard cheekbones, the soft purse of shapely lips, the set of that beautifully square jaw. He knew those features better than he knew his own, and loved them as he'd only loved the features of one other.
But she was gone, dead and buried, and Vin was alive. And Vin was here. And Chris Larabee's world once more had light and warmth.
He made his way on suddenly unsteady legs across the yard to the corral, his gaze never leaving Vin. Tanner seemed not to know his lover was here, seemed wholly intent on the big gelding beneath him. Horse and rider moved as one, melded together in a graceful, flowing whole, responding to each other with an instinctive ease. Vin wore spurs, but never used them, didn't need to. He guided Peso with knees and hands, the subtle shift of his body in the saddle and sometimes, it seemed, by thought alone.
Chris stopped, drew a long, slow breath and stared, mesmerized by the picture. God, it was the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen!
The playful afternoon breeze lifted the ends of Vin's long hair and stirred the fringes of his jacket, giving them the look of feathers. Then Vin's head lifted skyward, and with the fluid grace that was his alone he stood in the stirrups, hands loose on the reins, arms bent slightly outward at his sides, hair and fringes streaming behind him. For one long, breath-stopping moment, Chris almost expected to see him take wing, to soar aloft to the heavens and fly like the hawk he so suddenly resembled.
To fly free, as he'd been born to do.
Chris felt it then, the wild spirit that did take wing, though the body that housed it remained on the horse. In that moment, Vin was a part of everything around him, of earth and sky and wind, bound to nothing and no one, belonging to nothing and no one. Belonging with, yes, but not to. Never to.
In that instant, Chris knew the only way he could keep his lover with him was to set him free. To let him fly, and simply trust that Vin would always fly back to him.
Christ, why hadn't he seen this before?
Vin turned Peso in the corral, and saw the man standing outside. Two gazes locked -- dark blue and deep green -- and a single jolt of electricity raced through two men, joining their bodies and souls even across the distance. In that moment, all hurt, all anger, all fear fell away from them, chains dropped away from spirits and those spirits rose sharply and rushed together, joined by the love and the intimate, immediate knowing that was theirs alone. The rest of the world disappeared and, right now, all that existed on this earth was the two men who were no longer bound to it, who were bound only to each other.
Before he knew it, Chris was running to the corral, feeling lighter than air. Vin was dismounting, was at the fence and then over it, his gaze never leaving Larabee. Chris was swimming in the vast sea of that gaze, was drowning in its depths, and simply let himself go. Then all at once, sea became sky and he was soaring aloft, lifted high on wings that were not his, taken out of his body and borne up by the wild, free creature that was Vin Tanner.
And he let himself go, wanting nothing more in this life than to fly with this man.
They met in a fierce crush of arms, bodies and mouths, coming together as if they'd never been apart, claiming each other now as if they'd never been joined. It was always this way with them, ever new, yet as old as the world itself. Time simply had no meaning for and no power over a love like theirs, could neither measure nor define it, could do nothing except stop and step aside and acknowledge that they lived and loved outside its realm.
Chris felt every ache in his body disappear, every kink in his soul relax, every knot in his gut release as Vin's love flowed around and through him. He let go, let Vin take control, and, for the first time in what seemed forever, knew what it was to be free.
There were no words between them; none were needed. Their hearts, souls and minds spoke to each other in the language they alone knew, spoke truths more profound than any words could ever frame. And in that silent, intimate communication, Vin felt and heard Chris' submission, felt the man give himself completely into his keeping, and felt his own soul take wing.
No more chains to bind them.
He ran his long, strong fingers through Larabee's hair, down his neck and over his shoulders, then raked them down the man's powerful back and over his narrow hips, reacquainting himself with the feel of the strong body he'd so missed. His mouth, meanwhile, worked hungrily at Chris's, biting, kissing, devouring, his tongue laving against Larabee's full, firm lips and then thrusting between them to explore and plunder the riches of the warm, wet cavern of his mouth. His tongue found Chris's, stroked it, teased it, twirled against and danced with it, eliciting low growls of pleasure from Larabee. He made love to Chris's mouth, worshiped it with his own, leaving no part of it untouched or untasted.
From Larabee's mouth he trailed his own down to the slightly-cleft chin, tonguing the indentation there, then swept it slowly over that strong, sculpted jaw. He licked, kissed and nipped with his teeth at the warm, whisker-stubbled flesh, and all the while breathed the rich, heady scent of the man ever more deeply into himself.
Chris groaned and let his head fall back, and immediately that glorious mouth was playing over the long expanse of his throat. Vin's breath fanned over him, sending shivers through him, as lips, tongue and teeth claimed him for their own. Vin sucked at his Adam's apple, licked and kissed his throbbing pulse, bit sharply at and then blew lightly over the tender flesh at the base of his throat. Chris felt himself trembling, heard himself moaning, and slipped shaking arms loosely about the lean frame of his lover.
"You c'n hold me tighter," Vin whispered against his throat. "Cut's near healed, 'n I won't break."
But Chris held himself in check. "I don't... don't wanta hobble you," he rasped harshly. "I want you ta be free."
Vin raised his head at that, gazed deeply into Chris's smoldering green eyes and smiled, lifting a hand and gently cupping his lover's face. "I am free, cowboy," he breathed, eyes as wide and as deep and as blue as the sky. "Ain't ever freer than when you hold me."
Chris groaned and crushed Vin to him, burying his face in the junction of Vin's shoulder and neck. A hard shudder shook him and a low, sobbing gasp tore from him. At once, Vin's arms tightened about him.
"'S'all right, cowboy," he soothed, holding Chris close and rocking him gently, his passion given way to love. "I know ya been havin' a hard time lately, I know your soul's been cut open and left ta bleed, and I know ever' dark thing you've ever known's been reachin' out ta drag ya down. But it's all right now, it's over. I'm here, I'm right here, and I won't let nothin' hurt ya."
"God, Vin, I'm sorry!" Chris whispered tightly, still cradling his face in his lover's warmth. "I'm so sorry! I never should've said those things... I never should've tried ta force ya... But I just got so scared... I just needed to know you'd always be with me!"
"But I am always with ya, Chris," Vin said softly. He lifted Larabee's head from his shoulder and gently pushed him back, then laid a hand against the man's chest, over his throbbing heart. "Right here. That's me beatin' in there, cowboy, just like this is you beatin' in me." He took Chris's hand and pressed it to his own chest, and smiled softly into his lover's eyes. "Feel that? That's you. So we ain't ever farther apart than the beatin' of our hearts. Y'ain't ever gonna lose me, Chris. Ya cain't. 'Cause I'm a part of you just like you're a part of me. Don't matter how far apart our bodies are, don't matter if you're here and I'm in Purgatorio or the South Pole. We're always together in here. And cain't no amount of time or distance change that."
Chris smiled slightly, tiredly, and reached out, running a forefinger lightly over Vin's cheek. "Jesus, what would I ever do without you?" he whispered.
Vin tipped his head slightly to one side and regarded Larabee through wide and serious eyes. "Don't know. And I don't wanta know. You're it for me, cowboy, you're all I want. Wouldn't nothin' else in this world be worth havin' if I didn't have you."
Chris frowned thoughtfully and studied the young man before him. "God," he breathed in wonder, "you really mean that, don't you?"
Vin smiled softly, his blue eyes glowing. "Ain't ever meant nothin' more. We were made for each other, Chris, we were born ta be together. Had ta go through a lotta shit before we got together, but I reckon it was so's we could learn what we needed ta know. And I know this -- we were meant ta be. From the minute God first blew life inta this world, you and me were set on the path that led t' each other. And I reckon God's smart enough ta know what he's doin', so I ain't about ta fuck with his plans."
"Always the poet," Chris said with a chuckle.
Vin shook his head. "Ain't gotta be a poet ta know this, Chris. Just gotta have eyes ta see it."
"And such eyes," Larabee breathed, raising a hand and gently stroking Vin's cheek with a thumb as he lost himself in that shimmering dark blue gaze. "So beautiful. So full of light... and sometimes so full of sadness..." He frowned. "And so very, very old. God, Vin, how can someone your age have such old eyes?"
Vin shrugged lightly. "Reckon I just seen a lot. Lot of it's been bad, but a lot of it's been so beautiful... Kinda like you are right now. Most beautiful damn thing I ever seen in my life."
Chris gave a wry chuckle and bowed his head, shaking it. "No, not beautiful. Not right now. Just tired... God, I'm so tired! And I feel older than your eyes. I need... I don't know. I need ta get away, ta let go--"
"Then do it," Vin said softly, seriously, taking Chris's hand and holding it between his two. "Let go, Chris. I won't letcha fall. I won't ever letcha fall. You carried me often enough when I needed it, now it's my turn ta carry you. Let go, cowboy," he urged, tightening his hold on Chris's hand. "Just let go and let me catch ya. Let me carry you away."
Chris's head came up sharply at those words, and he stared at Vin through startled eyes. He remembered the thoughts, the feelings, that had run through him as he'd watched Vin on Peso's back, and suddenly wondered if his lover knew of them.
"Chris?" Vin called softly, frowning in confusion at Larabee's expression. "What is it? What'd I say?"
"Carry me away," Chris murmured absently. He raised his other hand and ran it through the ends of Vin's hair, then dragged it through the fringes adorning one jacket sleeve. "When I came up," he said in that same distant tone, "I saw you. On Peso. You were ridin'... and then you were flyin'. You looked up, then stood up, and for a minute you were flyin', like a hawk. You were so free, so wild, so beautiful... You were flyin', and in that minute all I wanted was ta be flyin' with you."
Vin regarded Chris through wide, dark eyes, gone perfectly still inside. He remembered that moment, remembered because he had been flying, in his mind had been soaring with the hawk he'd seen gliding through the sky above.
A slow, brilliant smile spread across his face and lit his eyes, and he clasped Chris's hand to his heart. "Then do it, cowboy," he whispered. "Just let go, and come fly with me."
Chris stared at him for long moments, then shook his head slowly, sadly. "I can't, Vin," he sighed, the weight of all that had happened over the past two weeks settling once more upon him. "I don't know how ta fly."
Vin laid a hand gently against his lover's cheek. "Then let me show ya," he rasped softly, tenderly. "It ain't near as hard as ya think, and you know I'd never letcha fall."
Confusion rose in Chris. "Vin--"
"Hush," Tanner breathed, laying a finger over Larabee's mouth. "Don't say nothin'. Just go inside, change inta your ridin' clothes, and I'll saddle Pony for ya. We'll ride out t' the west meadow, make love on a carpet of wild flowers, 'n I'll teach ya how ta fly."
Entranced as he was by his lover's words, Chris nonetheless felt his natural practicality rise. "Gonna be dark before we could get back-- What?" he asked sharply as laughter greeted his words.
Vin shook his head. "First rule of flyin': stop thinkin' and just let yourself go. Yeah, it's gonna get dark. So get our bedrolls 'n pack some food, and we'll camp out." He stepped closer, then lifted his head and brushed his lips against Chris's in a tender, teasing kiss. "And here I been thinkin' all along you's the brains of this operation."
Chris shivered and gasped at the fleeting touch of that mouth. "Sometimes, Tanner, you make it awful hard ta think!"
Vin grinned mischievously and winked. "Gonna make it a lot harder 'fore I'm done," he warned. "Hell, I ain't even started yet!"
Chris shivered again as a sudden warmth pooled in his groin. "West meadow's a long way," he rasped, absently shifting his hips to ease the building pressure at his crotch. "Got a nice bed right here--"
"Nope," Vin said firmly, enjoying the sight of the mighty Chris Larabee squirming in need before him. "Cain't fly in a bed. Need wide open spaces fer that." He stepped close again and lapped his tongue lightly against Larabee's chin. "Gotta have room ta spread m' wings," he whispered.
"Jesus!" Chris gasped harshly as fire erupted at his crotch. "Damn it, Vin--"
"Y'know," Tanner sighed, shaking his head slowly, "one'a these days I'm just gonna change my name ta 'Damn-It-Vin' or 'Goddamn-It-Tanner,' seein's how you're always growlin' one or th' other at me. Now, git inside 'n do like I told ya." He grinned wickedly and patted Chris's crotch. "'S'been too long since I played with my favorite toys."
Despite the white heat pounding through him, Chris managed a passable semblance of his infamous glare. "I am so gonna kill you, Tanner!"
And, true to form, Vin merely burst out laughing, utterly unfazed by that glare. "What did you say?" he howled. "'I am so gonna kill you'? Aw, shit, Chris," he crowed, "ya gotta stop listenin' ta JD!" He screwed his face into an imitation of Larabee's glare, and mimicked the older man's growl. "'I am so gonna kill you.' Jesus!" He exploded again into laughter and went to the barn, cackling all the way.
Chris stared after him in mute, pointless fury, seething at the hoots of laughter that drifted to him on the breeze. Goddamn sorry-assed, smart-mouthed, long-haired, good-for-nothin', sonuvabitchin', blue-eyed...
Blue eyes. Chris exhaled unsteadily and slid a hand to his crotch, then shook himself and came back to the present. Unable to stop the smile that spread slowly across his face, he turned and went hurriedly to the house, feeling lighter than he had in weeks.
Light enough to fly.