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DISCLAIMER: Oh, jeez, I really hate this part! Yeah, yeah, yeah, they boys aren’t mine. They belong to all those alphabet people. However, the Twins are mine (there’s a thing to admit to), so, y’know, no borrowing without asking.

RATING: NC-17 for explicit (the best kind!) m/m sex. If that ain’t your thing, now’s the time to exit.


NOTES: This is for my own little padawan, my apprentice, the innocent soul I have turned to the dark side. Happy Exceedingly Belated Birthday, Kerry!!! Hope you enjoy my little gift. Thanks, as ever, to Ruby, my steadfast beta and steadfaster friend, and to KET, yet another super beta (and, no matter what she claims, this is her fault! She started it! That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.) And, to KET, my apologies, also <g>




Chris Larabee drowsed contentedly in the pre-dawn darkness, feeling the warmth and stillness of the body pressing close against his, listening to the deep, even breathing that was the only sound in the room. He knew it was still much too early to be awake, but couldn’t bring himself to return to the oblivion of sleep just yet. He’d gone so long without this, the simple yet profound pleasure of just lying with another, and, now that he had it again, he wasn’t about to surrender it.

There would always be time for sleep. But he’d learned the hard way that there was never enough time to savor the feeling of holding the one he loved.

So he savored it now, moved his head closer to the one so near his own and pressed his face into the tousled wealth of silken hair, slipped his leg further between the two long, strong ones bracketing it, draped an arm over the lean, narrow waist and slid his hand beneath the heavy t-shirt to press it against the tight, flat stomach. Of its own accord, his thumb found the shallow navel and stroked it lightly, inducing a ripple in the firm abdominal muscles and causing the sleeping body to move back further against him. Smiling in sleepy satisfaction, marveling yet again at how perfectly this man fit against him, he planted a soft kiss against Vin Tanner’s warm neck and finally gave himself over to sleep.

And just before it claimed him, he heard the scratching in the wall.


Vin kept his eyes closed and lay absolutely still, not sure what had awakened him, but certain that something was not right. Instincts honed over a hard life kept him where he was, forced him to wait until he knew what he would be waking to. Even without opening his eyes, he knew the room was bright, too bright, and realized he’d slept much later than usual.

He also knew the brightness wasn’t what had awakened him.

Except for him, the bed was empty, but that wasn’t it, either. He’d awakened many times to find Chris already up, either to feed the horses or sometimes just to read the paper. He always missed the warmth of Larabee’s body, but its absence wasn’t enough to jar him so suddenly from sleep.

Besides… He remembered now. It had been a sound.

So he lay there, still unmoving, still without opening his eyes, and listened intently, sifting through the familiar morning sounds of the ranch in search of the one that didn’t belong. And there it was.


He frowned and canted his head just slightly, getting a better fix on the sound. A metallic banging. More like a clanging. Coming from the direction of the kitchen.

Lord God, what was Larabee doin’ in there?

Once his instincts assured him there was no danger, he opened his eyes and sat up, then glanced at the clock on Chris’s bedside stand. Eight-forty-five. Jesus! With a sharp hiss of surprise, he threw back the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed, rising quickly to his feet. He ran his hands through his hair and scrubbed them over his face, then went into the bathroom to take care of a suddenly pressing need, scowling all the while at his own laziness.

Hell, Chris must’ve worn him out last night more than he’d realized!

Once finished in the bathroom, he started back to the kitchen, going through Larabee’s spacious den and the rarely used formal dining room. As he got closer, the sounds of banging and clanging, accompanied by frequent and filthy curses, grew louder, and his puzzlement grew deeper. Chris was in a rage about something, but God only knew what.

Jesus, no wonder Travis was always sending memos about anger management seminars to him!

He finally reached the kitchen, and was stopped short in the doorway by the sight of every pot and pan Chris owned laid out in the floor, and Larabee himself on his knees and in one of the bottom cabinets up to his butt. Still more curses poured out, and Tanner had to admire the man’s fluency. He waited in silence for several minutes, occupying himself by studying the tight, denim-clad ass before him and licking his lips absently. Then, just when he’d about decided Larabee had somehow gotten stuck, that ass started to back toward him.

"Need any help there, cowboy?" he drawled quietly as broad, powerful shoulders appeared.

The unexpected voice startled Chris and he rose quickly, too quickly, cracking the back of his head sharply on the cabinet frame. "Shit!" he yelped as pain exploded through him.

Vin winced and looked away, knowing that had to hurt. Then, returning his gaze reluctantly, he watched as Chris, one hand pressed to the back of his head, crawled slowly, carefully out and sat down amid the pots and pans littering the floor. Half expecting to see blood spilling between the man’s fingers, he went to Chris and knelt behind him, gently pushing away his hand.

"Lemme see," he urged softly.

"Gonna put a goddamn bell on you!" Chris ground out through gritted teeth as pain stabbed through his skull.

"Wouldn’ta heard it anyways with all the noise you was makin’," Vin said easily, peering intently at his lover’s head and running long fingers carefully through his golden hair. "Y’ain’t bleedin’," he announced with audible relief. "Still, you’re likely gonna have a knot. Reckon even yer head ain’t invulnerable."

"You come in here just ta torment me?" Chris growled.

The familiar crooked grin split Vin’s face. "Cain’t rightly start my day without it." Even as he teased, his slid his hands down to the base of Larabee’s skull and began massaging it with his thumbs. "’Sides, ’s hard ta sleep when you’re slingin’ pots and pans all over creation." He cast a wry glance over the mess about them. "This some kinda strange Saturday mornin’ ritual I ain’t ever seen before?"

Chris exhaled slowly and relaxed as Tanner’s long, strong fingers worked at his head and down his neck to bring the pain down to a manageable throb. "Mice," he breathed, all but sinking into those hands.

Vin blinked, then frowned, cocking his head slightly and staring at Larabee from beneath lowered brows. "Mice," he repeated.

"Hell, yes!" Chris barked, straightening once again. "Mice! You know, little furry creatures–"

"I know what mice are," Vin said quietly, wondering just how hard Chris had cracked his head. He glanced around the kitchen again, but saw nothing amiss save the mess Larabee had made. "You seein’ ’em now?" he asked cautiously.

Chris exhaled sharply. "Of course not! Hell, they’re better at hidin’ than you!"

Vin nodded slowly, but said nothing, not sure what he should say about his lover playing hide-and-seek with mice.

"You don’t believe me," Chris growled at the silence from the man behind him.

"I didn’t say that."

"You didn’t say anything!" He turned and stared at Vin. "That means you don’t believe me."

Vin narrowed his eyes and licked his lips as was his habit when thinking. "Thought it jist meant I got nothin’ ta say."

Chris snorted angrily and scowled furiously at the Texan. "Shit, Tanner, I know the difference between you not sayin’ anything because you don’t wanta say somethin’ and you not sayin’ anything because you got nothin’ ta say! Don’t you think that by now I know exactly what you’re tryin’ ta say when ya don’t say anything?"

Vin’s eyes narrowed further as he tried to work through that question. "Jesus, cowboy," he breathed at last, "now you’re makin’ my head hurt. Ya mind if we put this talk on hold ’til after I’ve had my coffee?"

"Y’know," Chris said harshly, his green eyes hard, "you could be just a little more sympathetic! Hell, for all I know, you’re the reason they’re here! Thanks to you, I’ve got more cookies, chips and boxes of sugar-coated cereal here than I ever had before, and now I’ve got mice." He narrowed his eyes and stared accusingly at his lover, his face set hard. "I’m thinkin’ there’s a connection."

"Yeah, well, think again, cowboy," Vin said, rising to his feet and going to the counter where the coffee pot sat. "I keep all that stuff and more at my place, and I ain’t ever had mice."

"They’re probably just afraid of the neighborhood," Chris muttered.

"You’re a regular comedian, ain’tcha?" Vin opened the dishwasher and pulled out a clean cup, then filled it with coffee. "Cain’t imagine how you ever got mice, though." He shot an irritated stare at Larabee. "Ain’t like you attract warm ’n fuzzy critters."

"Then how the hell did I end up with you?" Chris asked, arching a golden brow at his long-haired, unshaven sharpshooter.

Vin smiled and winked at him. "Jist lucky, I guess." He lifted the top off the sugar bowl and scowled when he saw it was empty. Stepping to his right, he opened the cabinet there and stood on tiptoe, straining to reach the bag of sugar on the top shelf. "There some reason y’ keep puttin’ this up so high?" he rasped.

Chris studied the long, lean form stretched taut before him, his eyes darkening with desire, a wolfish smile spreading across his face. "I like watchin’ you work for it."

"Ya got a one-track mind, Larabee," Vin growled, finally snagging a corner of the bag and pulling it toward him.

"Yep," Chris agreed easily, his gaze traveling slowly over every inch of the Texan’s lithe, sinewy body. "Helluva track, though."

"Got it!" Vin announced triumphantly, finally getting a good grip on the bag and bringing it down. "No thanks ta you– Shit!" he yelped in shock as a stream of sugar suddenly poured from one bottom corner of the bag and sluiced into his hair, face and clothes. "Goddamn it, Larabee!" he snarled, flinging the bag into the wall and whirling on his lover, glaring down at him in a furious, sugar-encrusted mess. "It ain’t funny!"

But it was, and Chris laughed helplessly as he saw the sugar glistening in Vin’s hair, on his nose and over his cheekbones, across his tightly compressed lips. He tried to stop, but only laughed harder still, until he was practically rolling in the floor.

"See?" he managed to gasp, tears rolling down his face as Vin got madder still. "I told ya. Mice!"


"Just hold still and quit complainin’!" Chris scolded yet again as he tried to brush the sugar from Vin’s neck and back with a towel. "You’re worse than a kid."

"It’s sticky!" Vin spat, trying to get the stuff out of his eyebrows. "Hell, ya coulda told me ya had mice–"

"I did–"

"Not up there!" he shouted, turning on Chris and yanking the towel out of his hands. "You were lookin’ fer ’em in the bottom cabinet! How was I ta know they’d got up there, too?"

Chris shrugged, grinning unrepentantly. "Maybe they’re free-range mice."

Vin scowled deeply and glared at him. "Nobody likes a smart-ass!"

Green eyes gleamed wickedly. "Then how the hell did I end up with you?" he asked again.

"Bastard." He pressed the towel to his face and tried to wipe away the sugar there, but only succeeded in rubbing more onto it. "Son of a bitch!" he spat in frustration, hurling the towel to the floor to join his already-discarded t-shirt and sweatpants.

"Here, settle down," Chris urged, stepping closer. "Close your eyes." Vin only narrowed them suspiciously, and he sighed. "Please? I’m just tryin’ ta help."

"No more laughin’ at me?" Vin asked sulkily.

"Cross my heart," Chris said seriously, tracing a cross over his heart.

Vin sighed and closed his eyes, then relaxed as Chris’s fingers began to brush over his face, sweeping across his forehead, his eyebrows and cheekbones, his nose, chin and jaw, with a light, deft touch. Then those fingers moved slowly down his throat, brushing gave way to stroking, and he gasped and shivered reflexively.


"Ssh," Larabee whispered, his breath fanning warmly over Tanner’s face. "I’m busy here." He leaned closer still, extending his tongue and licking the sugar from his partner’s mouth.

Vin gasped again as that warm tongue slid over his mouth, then down his chin, laving, tasting, teasing, sending sparks jumping along his nerves. Chris’s mouth moved slowly, slowly along his jaw, tearing a small, breathless moan from him. His knees buckled and he would have fallen but for the strong arms that closed tightly about him and cradled him against a lean, hard body.

Chris licked, nibbled and sucked at that beautiful jaw, delighting in the mingled taste of sugar and Vin. He followed its line all the way up to one ear, swept his tongue against the soft lobe, and chuckled to find sugar there, as well.

"You need a shower, pard," he murmured, lapping at the delicate and unnaturally sweet shell of Tanner’s ear.

"Kinda like the bath I’m gettin’ now," Vin breathed contentedly, turning his ear more fully into that warm, wet tongue.

Chris chuckled again, his breath causing Vin to shiver, then swept aside a mass of sugar-crusted hair and pressed his mouth to the long neck beneath, licking and kissing a path down to Tanner’s shoulder. "Damn, you taste good!" he whispered, his blood warming. "Gonna hate gettin’ this stuff off you."

"Like the way you’re doin’ it, though," Vin gasped as that mouth seared its way over his flesh. Then the man’s hands began skimming lightly down his naked back, igniting a fire in his blood, and he pressed himself closer still against Chris, his craving for Larabee again rising sharply through him. "Damn, you’re good!" he whispered shakily.

"Any job worth doin’," Chris breathed against the pulse throbbing in Tanner’s throat, "is worth doin’ right." He slid his hands down to Vin’s ass, cupping and kneading the firm mounds of flesh and pulling the younger man more tightly still against him, delighting in the warmth and hardness of that lean body. He kissed his way back up Tanner’s throat and over his chin, finally reclaiming those full, supple lips with his. "God, Vin!" he groaned harshly, burying his mouth in his lover’s and kissing him with a desperate hunger.

Tanner growled deep in his throat and dug his long, strong fingers into Larabee’s back, returning the hard pressure of that deep, demanding kiss. He thrust one leg between Chris’s and rubbed his crotch against his partner’s, shuddering as the friction of Larabee’s jeans against his naked flesh ignited a blistering heat in his hardened cock. He raked his hands down Chris’s back, then began tugging the man’s dark green flannel shirt free from the waistband of his pants, determined to get rid of every barrier between them.

Chris groaned again and shuddered as Vin’s mouth and hands moved hungrily against him, then had to take a sudden step back to keep his balance. Though he had a good two inches and at least fifteen pounds on the wiry Texan, Tanner was all hard muscle and was using it now, pushing him steadily backwards until he had collided with and was bent back over the sink.

"Got a job needs doin’, too," Vin snarled, catching Larabee’s lower lip in his teeth and working them slowly over the tender flesh. "And you’re wearin’ way too many clothes!"

With Chris imprisoned between the sink and his body, Vin released his lover’s lip and swept his mouth down to Larabee’s throat, nipping a path down the warm flesh to the notch in his collarbone and tonguing the indentation there, then sucking at one hard corner. His hands, meanwhile, were just as busy, unbuttoning Chris’s shirt and pushing it open, stripping it from the man with the ease and skill of long practice.

Chris closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the mirrored medicine cabinet, never feeling the pain radiating from the knot he’d gotten earlier through the pleasure of being ravished by Vin. Tanner’s wildness had surfaced and was running rampant, and Larabee was in no mind to stop it. The sharpshooter growled in frustration at the obstacle presented by Chris’s t-shirt and grabbed its hem in his hands, then ripped it open up to its neckband with a ruthless strength. A fierce light leapt into his dark, burning eyes at the sight of his lover’s naked chest, and his lips thinned and pulled up from his teeth in a predatory smile. A long, slow, shuddering breath escaped him and he pressed shaking hands lightly, worshipfully to the broad shoulders, caressing gently with callused thumbs and licking his lips hungrily.

"God, Chris," he rasped in his low, sandpaper-and-smoke voice, running his hands slowly down Larabee’s powerful chest, "in all my days I ain’t ever seen a sight as fine as you!"

Chris gasped at the raw passion, and at the raw love, in that voice, those eyes, that touch. He felt that same passion, that same love, coursing through himself in pulsing, pounding torrents, heating his blood, bringing his flesh to throbbing life, causing everything that was in him to rise sharply toward Vin. He wanted Vin, needed him, felt hideously empty without him. The ache of it was more than he could bear.

"Jesus, Tanner," he nearly wept, "what the hell have you done ta me?"

Vin leaned over the man bent beneath him, pressing his mouth to that naked, inviting chest and licking a path between the beautifully defined pectorals. "Claimed ya," he whispered, his hot breath stirring the golden hairs there. "Made ya mine." With that, he closed his mouth hard about one dark nipple.

"God!" Chris gasped, jerking upward as lips, tongue and teeth tormented him without mercy. Vin moved back and forth between his two nipples, licking, biting, sucking, wringing sharp cries and wrenching groans from the depths of his soul. Then Tanner’s hand was moving against his crotch, stroking, kneading, and a powerful shudder racked his whole body. "Vin!"

"Easy, cowboy," Vin whispered, pressing a series of slow kisses against Larabee’s chest while he pushed open the button at the waist of Chris’s jeans and struggled to pull the zipper past the thick, hard bulge straining against it. "Gonna take care of ya real soon, I promise." At last the zipper was down, the jeans were open, and Chris’s thick erection sprang free. Vin rubbed his thumb over the weeping head, collecting the pre-cum and coating his fingers with it. He bowed his head once more to Larabee’s chest, closed his mouth again about one taut nipple, and grasped Chris’s cock in his moistened fingers, stroking and pulling the length of velvet steel.

"Oh, Jesus!" Chris groaned, arching toward that mouth and thrusting into that hand. "God… Jesus… Vin!"

Tanner raised his head and stared into his lover’s darkly flushed features, thrilling to the knowledge that he could reduce this proud, strong man to such utter helplessness. Chris’s need was written in every line of his sweat-slick face, showed in every straining cord and muscle of that beautiful body, and Vin reveled in the fact that this, all this, was only for him.

"Want me?" he rasped, his own body on fire with need. Chris loosed a hissing breath and nodded tightly. "Want me in ya?" Larabee shuddered hard and nodded again. "Good," he breathed roughly, stroking Chris’s chest with one hand and his cock with the other. "’Cause there ain’t no place I’d rather be." He leaned forward and pressed a devastatingly tender kiss against Larabee’s mouth, then released him and stepped away.

"No!" Chris moaned, all but shattered by that abandonment. "Vin–"

"Ain’t goin’ nowheres," Tanner assured him. "Jist gotta get things ready." He went to the shower and opened the door, then leaned in and turned on the water. "Yer the one said I needed a shower."

Chris knew he should get off the sink, but feared he’d simply slide in a boneless heap to the floor if he so much as moved. Not knowing what else to do, he licked his lips and slid a shaking hand to his cock, in desperate need of relief.

"Oh, no, ya don’t!" Vin growled, leaping forward and slapping that hand aside, as territorial as any wolf. "’At’s mine, ’n I don’t want ya ruinin’ m’ fun!"

"Then get on with it!" Chris snarled, coming back to his senses. "I could die of old age waitin’ for you!"

Blue eyes glinted with a dangerous light and a slow, feral smile curved about Tanner’s mouth. "Ya might die," he said huskily, "but it won’t be from old age!"

Chris blinked and swallowed hard, not certain whether to be relieved, or afraid. Nor was he exactly certain when this role-reversal had taken place. He had started out the seducer, he was sure of it, had set out with every intention of bending Tanner to his will.

Exactly when had that plan gone awry?

Vin could see the confusion, the disorientation, in Larabee’s clouded green eyes, and felt a sharp thrill of satisfaction. He knew of Chris’s instinctive need for dominance, understood the man’s bone-deep drive to command and control every situation in which he found himself. That innate power was part of what Vin what loved about him. But there were times he thought that Larabee got a bit too sure of and comfortable with that power, times the man needed to be reminded that surrender was not always a sign of weakness, but sometimes only of humanness.

There were times Larabee needed reminding that he was not the only top-loving male in this relationship, and Vin figured this was as good a time for that as any.

With that in mind, he stepped closer to Chris and stripped him of his shirt and the tattered remains of his t-shirt, tossing them aside. Moving closer still, his body just brushing against Larabee’s, he returned his hands to the broad shoulders before him and slowly stroked the warm, smooth flesh, kneading, caressing, scraping calluses purposely over highly sensitized skin. He slid his hands down and back up the long, strong arms, delighting in the hardness of the muscles there, then over and down the powerful chest, relearning, as he never tired of doing, the feel of this man. Thumbs brushed lightly, teasingly over dark brown nipples, bringing them once more to pebble hardness and tearing a sharp gasp from Chris. At that, Vin bowed his head and pressed his mouth to Larabee’s chest, lapping catlike first at one taut nipple, then the other, while his hands slid down Chris’s taut, flat belly, through his gaping jeans and over the soft cotton of his briefs to the thick, hard flesh pressing so insistently against his own stomach. His mouth still alternating between Chris’s nipples, he grasped the man’s erection and began to stroke and pull in a steady rhythm.

Chris groaned harshly and clutched desperately at the edges of the sink as white heat seared through him. Vin’s teeth scraped against his throbbing nipple and he cried out helplessly, thrusting all the while into that tormenting, talented hand.

Vin raised his head, gazed into his lover’s flushed and sweating face, saw the cords of his neck standing out, and slowly licked his lips. "Seems ya got a problem," he whispered hoarsely, still stroking Chris’s hard, thick cock. "Reckon I oughtta do somethin’ about it."

"An… anything!" Chris gasped in agony. "Jesus… Vin… please!"

Tanner licked his lips again, then released Chris’s cock and stepped back slightly. "First thing we gotta do," he breathed, setting his hands at the waist of Larabee’s jeans, "is shuck these clothes." He pushed down jeans and briefs as one, and went down with them to his knees. When he had them around Chris’s ankles, he gently lifted each of the man’s feet in turn and pulled them free, then shoved the garments away. But he remained on his knees, and a slow, wolfish smile tugged at his full mouth. Leaning forward, he pursed his lips and blew softly over the purpling head of Chris’s cock, delighted by the violent jerk that convulsed the man’s whole body. Leaning closer still, he blew once more over the swollen head, then extended his tongue and slid the tip lightly over the weeping slit, licking away the salty fluid pearling there. He traced slow circles against the head, then turned his head and ran his tongue just as slowly down the rigid length. While he licked his way up and down Larabee’s cock, he raised one hand to the man’s balls and fondled them with nimble, talented fingers, kneading them, rolling them, squeezing them, sending another hard shudder through his lover’s body. Then, sliding his palm across the sacs, he sought and found the hole behind them, pressing one long forefinger to the puckered entrance and slipping it inside.

"Je-SUS!" Chris howled as a hard, hot wave of pain and pleasure erupted through him. He was close, so close, and if Vin would only…

But Vin didn’t, and Vin wasn’t going to. Taking Chris over the bathroom sink was not at all what he had in mind. Withdrawing his finger slowly, ignoring his lover’s moan of misery, he pressed a soft kiss to the leaking head of Larabee’s cock and rose slowly to his feet, his own flesh darkly flushed and bathed in sweat, his own sex grown hard and stiff with need.

"Time fer a shower, cowboy," he rasped, absently dropping a hand to his own cock and lightly fingering its rigid length. "You’re lookin’ a mite over-heated."

Chris couldn’t talk, couldn’t move, could barely breathe. Nor he could mount a protest when strong hands gripped his upper arms and pulled him upright, then circled about him to keep him that way.

Vin laughed softly as he guided his lover to the shower, knowing there were men who would pay to see Larabee so submissive. But this was for him alone, and he’d guard this man’s vulnerability with his very life.

He helped Chris into the shower, then got in behind him and closed the door. Steam already filled the stall from the heat of the water, but he knew they’d be adding to it soon. Turning Larabee to him and wrapping sinewy arms tightly about him, he held their bodies close and backed under the spray of the water, then reclaimed Chris’s mouth with his in a deep and hungry kiss.

Chris responded immediately, twining strong arms about the Texan’s lithe body and returning that kiss with a ravenous ferocity. Water pulsed against them and streamed down them, soaking into their hair and running in rivers from their bodies, its warmth adding further to the heat scorching through them. They clung to each other and kissed fiercely, one mouth plundering the other, tongues sweeping, searching, diving, dancing, each man seeking to devour the other. Hands clutched and clawed at wet, naked flesh, slick bodies pressed ever more tightly together, and swollen, aching cocks rubbed and thrust against each other until the heat pounding through them was simply too much to be borne.

Vin tore his mouth from Chris’s, snarled, and sank his teeth deep into one broad, wet shoulder. Chris loosed a sharp, keening wail and threw back his head, driving his fingers hard into Tanner’s hips. Then, before he could fight it, he was spun around and shoved against the back wall of the shower, and hard hands held him in place while sharp teeth nipped their way down his spine.

Jesus God, this time Tanner was gonna kill him.

Vin wasn’t thinking of killing him, wasn’t thinking of much at all except his raging, driving need for the beautiful man before him. He swept his mouth back up to the hard jut of bone at the top of Chris’s spine and sucked hungrily at it while raking his fingers down the long expanse of Larabee’s back to the tight globes of his ass and kneading the firm flesh. Then he lifted his mouth from Chris’s spine and seized with it upon one ear, taking the pale shell between his teeth.

"Want ya," he growled around that ear. "’N I’m gonna have ya."

Chris’s knees buckled at the raw, savage need in that hoarse voice, and he would have fallen but for the body forcing him to stay upright. His every muscle strained and ached from the force of his own need. He couldn’t have denied Vin if he’d wanted to, and he certainly didn’t want to.

Still holding Chris’s ear in his teeth, Vin reached blindly for the body wash he knew had to be nearby and snatched it from the shelf when he found it. Flipping the top open with a thumbnail, he upended the bottle and squeezed a generous amount into one palm, then closed the cap and just dropped the bottle. Breathing harshly, heavily, his heart pounding in his chest like the hooves of a running horse, he coated both hands and his cock, shuddering uncontrollably as his own touch sent hard shocks jolting through him. Then, still imprisoning Larabee’s ear between his teeth – the same trick he’d been known to use to subdue Peso – he slid one trembling hand between the cheeks of Chris’s ass, only barely able to keep himself from just plunging into the man’s body.

But not even to relieve his own need would he ever risk hurting Chris.

Larabee jerked and hissed as a finger breached him, as what little blood wasn’t there already shot straight to his groin. That finger was soon joined by another, the two stroking, stretching, and he began thrusting down upon them, his breath coming in short, thick grunts. Then a third finger entered, and it was all he could do not to scream out in frustration.

"God, Vin… do it!" he finally spat through clenched teeth.

Vin released Chris’s ear, withdrew his fingers, and placed his cock at his lover’s hole. Gripping Chris’s hips and pulling back on them, then nudging Larabee’s legs further apart with his own, he clenched his teeth, gave a low, soft growl, and pushed into Chris’s body.

Two men cried out as one – one from the pain of penetration, the other from the pleasure of being enveloped in his lover’s wet, living heat. Quickly, though, very quickly, Chris’s pain faded and his own pleasure arose at the sensation of being filled by Vin. He sometimes forgot how wondrous that feeling could be, didn’t allow himself this nearly often enough, was too hell-bent on being top-dog in everything, even sex, to let himself become too familiar with the exquisite joy of cradling his lover inside him.

And, God, was he missing out!

When he heard the hitch in Chris’s breathing and felt the body beneath him relax somewhat, Vin began to move. Slowly at first, sliding in, pausing, then pulling out, forcing restraint upon himself when all he wanted was to ram home. But with the iron will that at times had been the only force that sustained him in his life, he fought for and held onto that restraint, rocking into and out of Chris in a careful rhythm.

But Chris wanted more, much more, and began thrusting back against Vin, determined to drive him deeper. He wanted this, craved this, needed this, needed to feel Vin in every fiber of his being, simply could not get enough of the hard flesh impaling and driving through him.

And Vin was only too glad to oblige him. Quickly abandoning all restraint, he drove faster into the body that thrust back to meet him, plunged ever deeper into the warm, close haven that was Chris. Larabee’s movements against him sent his body and senses into overdrive, heightening and giving a desperate edge to his need. Uttering sharp, short gusts of breath, he reached around his lover’s body and grasped his cock, pumping in time to his deep and forceful strokes. Even through the water cascading over their joined bodies he could smell Chris, and, as if he were a wolf on a blood trail, that scent awakened his need to taste. Still driving into Chris, still pumping at him, he suddenly leaned forward and sank his teeth sharply into the wet skin at Larabee’s shoulderblade.

Chris threw back his head and howled as those teeth marked and claimed him, as Tanner’s flesh pounded through him, as the man’s hand worked at him. Then Vin shifted his angle slightly, raking time and against his gland and sending shockwaves of excruciating pleasure through him. His overwrought body simply could not withstand the shattering barrage of sensations, and, in a convulsive burst, exploded into orgasm. Another cry tore from him as the tide slammed through him, and, thrusting back hard against Vin and clenching fiercely about him, he shot his seed in a long, hot stream.

The feel and scent of Larabee’s cum and the frantic tightening of the man’s body about his cock drove Vin over the edge. His blood boiled, his balls tightened, and, with a force and heat that threatened to fuse his bones, he erupted into Chris, pouring himself into his lover’s bowels.

For long, long moments they remained wrapped around each other, sheathing and sheathed, wringing each other dry. Chris slumped against the shower wall and Vin slumped against Chris, their bodies shook and their knees turned to water, yet somehow they managed to hold each other up, each determined not to let the other fall. And when at last he could, Vin withdrew slowly, carefully from Chris, then sank bonelessly to the shower floor, simply letting the water run over him.

Chris joined him and sat close by him, still needing to feel Vin against him. Once he had his heartbeat and breathing back under something approaching control, he reached up with a rubbery arm and knocked the shampoo off the shelf, only now remembering what his original plan had been.

Get the damn sugar out of Tanner’s hair.

He slid around to the back wall, still needing its support, then gripped Vin’s upper arms and turned and pulled him to him. Tanner fell back against him, but Chris gently pushed him forward, and Vin obligingly raised his knees to support his chest. Without a word, Chris groped for the shampoo, opened it and squeezed some into his shaking hand, then began washing Vin’s hair.

Vin moaned and let his head fall back as those long, strong fingers worked through his hair and massaged his scalp, adding still further to the heavy lassitude infusing his body. His every muscle was lax, sapped of strength, and his every nerve still hummed faintly with the pleasure that was Chris. He’d had other lovers before, but not one of them had ever brought him to this perfect state of utter and complete contentment.

"You’re not goin’ ta sleep on me, are ya?" Chris asked at last, leaning forward to gaze into his lover’s slack and peaceful face.

A slight, lazy grin lifted one corner of Tanner’s mouth, but he never opened his eyes. "Ain’t far from it," he sighed. "Ya got magic hands, cowboy."

"Yeah, well," he continued working his fingers through the soapy mass of Vin’s long, thick hair, "these magic hands ain’t fishin’ your ass outta the drain, so I suggest you stay awake."

"Yer the soul of compassion, Larabee," Vin groused, his smile twisting into a scowl and one blue eye opening. "A real humanitarian."

Chris arched a blond brow. "You’ve been hangin’ around Ezra too much there, pard. Startin’ ta sound like him."

"Jist tryin’ t’ expand my vocabulary."

"You mean beyond your vast store of four-letter words?"

"Fuck you."

Again, the blond brow shot up. "See?"

"Okay." Vin raised his head and turned it to stare at Chris. "Fuck you, asshole."

Chris laughed and shook his head. "God, you are hopeless." He swooped forward suddenly and claimed Vin’s mouth in a quick, hard kiss. "Good thing I’ve always been a sucker for hopeless causes."

Vin slowly licked his lips, where the taste of that kiss lingered. "Reckon I could be hopeless some more," he breathed.

Chris stared at the younger man incredulously. "Jesus, don’t you ever get tired? You damn near sucked the marrow from my bones, and you want more?"

A wicked glint flared in the dark blue eyes. "Must be hell gettin’ old," he smirked. "Need some help ta yer rockin’ chair, gramps?"

"All right, that’s it," Chris declared impatiently, rising to his feet and glaring down at the Texan. "Get up."

Vin’s smirk widened into a hungry leer as he stared up at the lean and powerful body looming over him. "Ya gonna punish me now?" he asked hopefully. "Show me the error of m’ ways?"

Chris heaved a dramatic sigh and rolled his eyes heavenward. "God give me strength!" he pleaded. Then, returning his eyes to his lover and narrowing them, he ordered sternly, "Stand up and let me wash the goddamn soap out of your hair before it runs into your eyes and blinds you. I’m goin’ huntin’, and I need a tracker."

Vin was instantly on his guard, cocking his head slightly to one side and regarding Larabee cautiously. "And jist what, exactly, am I gonna be trackin’?" he asked warily.

Chris’s eyes narrowed further and a predatory light shone in them. A grim, feral smile twisted at his mouth and a deadly power radiated from his naked form. "Mice," he hissed.

Vin stared up at him in disbelief, certain he had to have heard wrong. Mice? He had worked a couple of summers as a wilderness guide; was a former Army Ranger, a former sniper, trained to hunt down and kill men over the hardest of terrain and in the worst of conditions; had been one of the best goddamn bounty hunters in the Southwest; was the best marksman in the entire Western division of the ATF; and Larabee wanted him to use his finely honed skills to track down… mice?

Oblivious to his lover’s horror, Chris reached up and took the shower nozzle from its cradle, his long fingers caressing it as if it were a gun. "Gonna track the little bastards down one by one and kill ’em all like the vermin they are," he vowed in a low and menacing voice, gleefully envisioning the slaughter to come. He turned the nozzle on Vin and carefully rinsed the suds from his hair, a hunter bathing his prized bloodhound. "It’s time to end this."

"Aw, hell," Vin groaned dejectedly as water and shampoo streamed over his body. "This is humiliatin’!"


"See anything?" Chris asked for the third time in ten minutes. This time, Vin was the one crawling through the lower cabinets, which ran in a continuous series with no dividing walls between them, and Larabee stood beside one booted foot, the only part of the sharpshooter that was visible. "Vin?" Silence met his call, and he kicked his lover’s ankle. "You’re not asleep in there, are ya?"

"Kick me again," came a growl from the depths of the cabinets, "and you’ll find out jist how awake I am."

Chris frowned and shook his head. "Damn cranky Texan…"

"I heard that!"

Chris gave a slight smile. That was another reason he was glad Tanner was around to help. The man had the hearing of an owl, and everybody knew how owls loved to hunt mice.

This owl, though, was not a happy hunter.

"Goddamn sonuvabitch shit!" Vin snarled, smacking open a cabinet door and twisting his upper body through it to glare at Larabee, his face streaked with dust. "When the hell’s the last time ya cleaned under here?" he spat. "Shit, it’s no fuckin’ wonder ya got rats! It’s a wonder y’ain’t got the plague, too!"

Chris crossed his arms against his chest and regarded the furious man calmly, ignoring the dust balls hanging from his just-washed hair. "So I’m not Martha Stewart. Sue me. And I don’t have rats, I have mice. Field mice, to be precise."

"Oh, well, ’scuse me. I didn’t know you’s so particular about yer pests."

Larabee’s eyes narrowed slightly at his lover’s insolent tone. "I’m beginnin’ ta think I’m not picky enough," he groused.

Vin opened his mouth to voice a retort, but whatever he’d been about to say was blown from his mind by the violent sneeze that tore from him. Another sneeze followed, and a third, then he stared up at Larabee through red and watering eyes. "I could shoot you right now, ’n there’s not a jury in the world that’d convict me!" he declared hoarsely, wiping his itching, running nose on the long sleeve of his shirt. Unfortunately, he also only rubbed more dust into his nose, and sneezed yet again.

"Need some tissue?" Chris asked, unmoved by the sight of his lover’s sinus distress. This was war and casualties were inevitable.

"Bastard." Vin narrowed his eyes, as much to see through the water in them as to show his anger. "How come I’m the one doin’ this, anyway?" he demanded. "They’re yer mice–"

"They are not ‘my’ mice!" Chris spat, dropping his hands to his hips, his eyes all but shooting flames at Tanner. "I didn’t invite ’em here. This is a ranch, not a goddamn wildlife preserve! And you’re doin’ this because you’re the tracker. Mr. Wilderness and all, Mr. ‘You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide,’ Mr.–"

"Oh, yeah," Vin interrupted in disgust, pushing himself back into the cabinet. "This is a real test of my skills. Trackin’ mice through the vast wasteland of your cabinets. Yeah, I reckon this puts me right at the top a’ the heap!"

Larabee regarded what he could see of his lover with a martyred patience. "I asked you because you’re good–"

"No," Vin contradicted from the depths of his wooden prison, "ya ordered me ’cause I’m here– Shit!" he yelped as he banged his head on the shelf above. Another sneeze exploded from him. "That’s it!" he snarled, scooting and snaking almost spinelessly out of the cabinet. "I quit. Y’ain’t payin’ me enough fer this."

"I’m not payin’ you at all–"

"Exactly!" He finally slid out into the open, pulled himself to his feet and thrust himself into Larabee’s startled face, jabbing a bony forefinger hard into the man’s chest. "I crawled into a cabinet fer you, breathed in so much dust I could lodge a complaint with the EPA, got caught in cobwebs that belong in a horror movie, banged my head ’n my knees ’n ever’ other damn part a’ me, got rat shit all over m’ clothes–"

"Mouse shit," Chris corrected tersely. "I have mice, not rats–"

"I don’t fuckin’ care what the hell ya got!" Vin shouted hoarsely, his blue eyes blazing. "I jist know I ain’t trackin’ ’em no more! I ain’t climbin’ back inside them cabinets, not even fer you! Ya know I don’t like small spaces!" He exhaled sharply and scowled deeply, his lean frame taut with anger. "I’m done. You track yer own goddamn mice!" He rubbed his other hand almost feverishly over his face, wiping dust from his eyebrows and lashes and running a forefinger back and forth against the end of his nose. "I’m fixin’ ta take another shower!" He turned and stalked furiously out of the kitchen, swatting at his face, his hair, his clothes, and sneezing convulsively.

Chris stared after the furiously departing sharpshooter, then turned back and surveyed through icy green eyes and with a tight-lipped frown the mess that was his kitchen. Every cabinet had been emptied and their contents laid out in plain view. The garbage can nearly overflowed with boxes of this and bags of that, all chewed through by mice, and spilled sugar, flour, rice, macaroni, oatmeal and dried beans littered the wood parquet floor.

"So that’s it, then," he said softly in a tone many a gunrunner had heard just before his fall. "Psychological warfare. Well," he grinned savagely, "I don’t break as easily as Vin Tanner!"


Vin towel-dried his hair – for the second time that morning – and tried to figure out exactly when his lover had gone crazy. Mice. Lord God, who’d ever have thought that mice could drive Chris Larabee over the edge?

Just went to show you never could tell about some folks.

He tossed the towel over the top of the shower stall to dry, then reached for his briefs and pulled them on, followed by yet another pair of jeans. Yep, he definitely needed to start keeping more clothes here. He grabbed a long-sleeved t-shirt and put it on, then followed it with a heavy gray and blue flannel shirt. Mid-way through tucking both shirts into his jeans, he paused.

Maybe he should just wear the tactical clothes he still had in the duffel in his Jeep – black t-shirt and fatigue pants, combat boots, ATF windbreaker and cap. Maybe the mice wouldn’t be so cocky knowing they were going up against a government-trained sniper…

Aw, hell, now he was soundin’ like Larabee!

He finished tucking in his shirts, zipped, buttoned and belted his jeans, then sat down on the commode to pull on his socks and boots. Chris definitely needed to get out more. Hell, everybody accused him of being a near recluse, but at least he knew enough to get out of the house when the walls started closing in on him. Larabee just stayed inside…

And declared war on small, furry animals.

He sighed heavily and shook his head slowly, wondering why he’d never seen the breakdown coming. True, Chris had been a mite tense of late… well, okay, for about two years now… but still… There had to have been some warning sign that he’d missed. Men like Chris didn’t just snap overnight. Or did they?

A loud, unholy shriek and a loud crash from the direction of the kitchen shattered his musings and brought him lunging to his feet. Without a second thought, he leapt to the door, snatched it open and raced into the bedroom, grabbing his gun off the dresser as he sped past. Down the hallway, through the den and into the dining room he sprinted, gun cradled to his shoulder at the ready. Halfway into the dining room, he slowed to a more cautious and utterly silent walk, creeping toward the kitchen door as if stalking a perp. Another pained cry rang out, and Vin launched himself through the doorway, hitting the kitchen floor and rolling to his feet.

"Freeze!" he shouted from the safety of a recessed corner, extending his gun and holding it securely in both hands. "ATF!"

"Jesus Christ!" Chris yelped, spinning around at the hoarse shout and horrified to find himself in his lover’s gun sights. "What the fuck are you doin’?"

"Chris?" Vin blinked in confusion, then glanced quickly around the kitchen. "You… you alone in here?" He’d fully expected to find someone beating the shit out of Larabee after all that commotion, and was almost disappointed to see only the man himself. And JD would’ve been so proud of his entrance, too; it was just like something on a TV cop show. He finally dragged his bewildered gaze back to Chris and blinked again. "Ya all right?"

"You mean other than the fact that I’m bein’ held at gunpoint in my own kitchen?" Chris snarled.

Vin looked down, and was startled to see that he still held his gun trained on his lover’s chest. "Oh." He smiled sheepishly and lowered the weapon, slipping on the safety. "Sorry."

"And just what the hell was all that about?" Larabee spat in a strained, harsh voice, his jaw tightly clenched, his face pale and tight. He held one hand behind his back, but had the other planted firmly on one lean hip. "You coulda shot me!"

"Now, Chris," Vin soothed, stuffing the gun into the waistband of his jeans, "ya know I never fire ’til I’ve properly identified my target." He shrugged easily. "Most I woulda done is winged ya." He suddenly noticed the older man’s hidden hand and was immediately intrigued by it. "So… what’s goin’ on? Sounded like them mice a’ yers done changed inta buffalo."

"They are not my mice!" Chris seethed through gritted teeth. "And I just… knocked a few things off the counter and onto the floor. Now, go put that gun up before somebody gets killed–"

"Hurt yerself somehow, didn’t ya?" Vin asked knowingly, easily able to read the pain behind the anger in his lover’s face. "One a’ the li’l bastards bite ya?"

"Don’t you need to go comb your hair before all the tangles dry in it?" Chris rasped, knowing he was starting to sound desperate, but unable to help himself.

"Why?" Vin retorted. "The way this day’s goin’, I’ll likely be needin’ another shower soon. I’ll jist wash ’em out then." He cocked his head to one side. "What’s wrong with yer hand?"


"Then lemme see it."

"I said nothin’, goddamn it!" he growled.

Vin’s blue eyes brightened, and his wide mouth curved into a smug grin. "Then if it’s nothin’, ya got nothin’ ta hide. Lemme see."

"Gimme your gun," Chris snarled.

Vin raised an eyebrow and studied him warily. "Why?"

"So I can shoot you and be done with it!"

Vin heaved a sigh and shook his head. "Damn, yer cranky when yer hurt. Might’s well show me, cowboy," he said patiently, crossing his arms over his chest. "I ain’t leavin’ ’til ya do."

And Chris knew he wouldn’t either. Tanner could out-wait a glacier when he had to, was fully capable of staying in one spot so long he had to dust off the cobwebs when he left. It was a truly admirable trait in a sniper, and a truly maddening one in a lover.

He narrowed his eyes and shot a murderous glare at the Texan. "You so much as snicker and I’ll kill you with your own gun, you hear me?"

Vin stared at him in wounded innocence. "Would I laugh at you?"

Deciding not to dignify that with a response, Chris merely ground his teeth and slowly brought his left hand out from behind his back, showing it to Tanner.

Vin looked, blinked, and immediately had to bite his lower lip – hard – to prevent his own death. He blinked hard, swallowed hard, and finally had to press a hand to his mouth. Hard. Attached to Chris’s hand was a mousetrap that had snapped shut over the man’s forefinger, between his first and second knuckles.

"Damn," Vin finally managed to choke out through hard-clenched jaws. "’At’s gonna leave a mark."

Chris thought that if Tanner tried any harder not to laugh, he’d just explode. "If you’re through now," he spat in mingled pain, anger and humiliation, "get this fuckin’ thing off me!"

Vin started forward to comply but halted after his first step. Seeing the fire in Chris’s eyes, he pulled the gun out of his waistband and laid it on the small table beside him, out of Chris’s reach. "Jist a precaution," he explained. "Ya know what kinda paperwork killin’ me would cause ya?" Chris gave a wordless snarl, and Vin exhaled sharply, again moving toward him. "Jist hang on. Hell, it ain’t like ya been shot!"

"It hurts!" Chris hissed, feeling the pain all the way up to his wrist.

"Well, yeah, I reckon it does," Vin snorted, taking Larabee’s hand in his two and staring down at it. "So, what?" he asked, unable to help himself. "One a’ them li’l critters set this out baited with whiskey ’n a cigar?"

"You can be replaced, y’know," Chris growled.

"Oh, yeah, there’s jist dozens of folks linin’ up fer this job. There," he finally removed the trap and dropped it to the floor, then took the injured finger in one hand. "Now it can rejoin the herd." He felt up and down the finger with a careful but thorough touch, ignoring Larabee’s hisses and curses of pain. "Don’t think it’s broken, but there’s gonna be a helluva bruise. Prob’ly oughtta ice it real good too, ’cause it’s likely gonna swell up somethin’ fierce." He turned away from Chris and swept his gaze over the cluttered kitchen floor. "Don’t suppose ya know which pile the ice pack’s in?"

"Had ta throw it away," Chris said, trying to flex his finger and stopping immediately as sparks of pain shot up and down it.


Larabee’s face twisted into a tight mask of rage. "Mice!"

"Oh, yeah," Vin answered weakly, swallowing uneasily at that tone. Someone usually died when Chris used it. "Mice." He swallowed again, then turned back to his lover. "Here." He took Chris’s hand in his and raised it toward his mouth. "Mebbe this’ll help." Just before he kissed the finger though, he abruptly stopped himself and lifted his gaze to Larabee’s. "Uh, that trap," he asked thoughtfully, "’s it new, or has it been used?"

Chris frowned in confusion. "Why?"

"We-ell," Vin drew the word out thoughtfully, "I jist ain’t sure I wanta kiss a finger that’s been in a used mousetrap. I mean," he grimaced and shuddered, "I seen what them things can do."

"No, it’s never been used," Chris grated. "But I’ve had it a while and wanted to make sure it worked." He saw Tanner fighting back a smirk at that, and narrowed his eyes resentfully. "Y’know, Vin, I’m sensin’ somethin’ less than full sympathy here. It seems ta me that you’re not takin’ this whole thing just real seriously–"



Vin regarded his lover through mild blue eyes, his lean body curving into its familiar relaxed slouch. "Ya got yer finger caught in a mousetrap, cowboy," he said in his slow, lazy drawl. "When the little sonsabitches start pullin’ assault rifles on ya and shootin’ up the joint, then I’ll take it seriously and give ya all the sympathy ya want. ’Til then, well," he stuck a thumb into his waistband and cocked his head to one side, "I reckon one of us needs ta keep a grip on reality, and it’s lookin’ more and more like I’m the one. Now," he raised Chris’s finger to his lips and pressed a tender kiss to the swelling, darkening digit, "I’m real sorry ya got hurt," he kissed it again, "but I do think you’re gonna live." He kissed the finger one more time, then raised his head and winked. "Now, go sit down while I fix ya up an ice pack."

Chris sighed heavily and nodded, then, holding his injured finger up to lessen the throbbing, picked his way through the mess strewn across the floor to the small kitchen table. He pulled out a chair and sank dejectedly into it, set both elbows on the table and, still holding his left hand upright, dropped his head into his right.

He couldn’t decide which was more irritating – the mice, or Tanner.

Vin knelt and rummaged through the various piles on the floor, searching for the items he’d need for an ice pack. As he did, he began to sing a song he’d not thought of since his childhood.

"Little bunny Foo-Foo,

hoppin’ through the forest,

scoopin’ up the field mice

and boppin’ ’em on the head…"

Chris cursed softly as the off-key rendering of that song answered his question.


He lay on the couch in the den, one arm folded over his eyes, and listened half-heartedly to the one side of the telephone conversation he could hear. Vin had given him some Tylenol and fixed up an ice pack out of a zip-lock bag and a washcloth, then had given him a hand massage that had damn near left him purring. But, thorough man that he was, Tanner had wanted to make sure there wasn’t something else he should be doing. Which meant, naturally, that he’d called Nathan.

Chris was beginning to suspect that Vin was in league with the mice.

"I don’t think it’s broken," Vin said into the phone, wandering idly around the den as he talked. "Didn’t feel any give in the bone and Chris didn’t slug me, so I reckon it’s all still in one piece. Got a real ugly bruise though, and it’s swelled up like ya wouldn’t believe." He fell silent a few moments, then arched his brows sharply and shot a startled look at Chris. "Really? A fracture? Them things is strong enough ta do that?" He was silent a few moments more, then nodded thoughtfully. "Well, yeah, I reckon they are made fer that." He nodded again. "All right, I’ll keep an eye on it, ’n if it gets worse, I’ll haul his butt ta the nearest clinic fer x-rays."

Chris groaned miserably, praying his finger got better soon. This was not an injury he was eager to explain.

Vin clearly had no such hesitation. "Well, hell, I don’t know how it happened! I was in the bathroom. But I heard this scream–"

"I did not scream!" Chris protested defensively.

Vin rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Anyways, I heard this scream," he stared pointedly at Chris, "and a crash, so I grabbed my gun and went runnin’ inta the kitchen–" He abruptly pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it in disgust, then replaced it. "Hell, yeah, I grabbed my gun!" he said sharply. "Sounded like somebody was dyin’ in there. And, by the way," he scowled fiercely, "it’s sure as hell reassurin’ ta know that none of y’all trust yer sharpshooter with a gun! I ain’t shot any of y’all yet, have I? And Lord knows there’s times it takes a powerful lotta restraint not to!" He fell silent for several moments, and the righteous indignation gradually faded from his face. "Well, all right," he allowed. "I accept."

Chris stared at Vin in frank astonishment. Nathan had apologized? Vin had come racing into his kitchen waving a gun, and Nathan had apologized for objecting to that? Were they all going crazy?

"So I went inta the kitchen with my gun," Vin continued, "and there he was. He’d knocked a whole mess of pots and canned goods off the counter and onta the floor, I guess when that sucker snapped shut on him. I don’t know how," he said again. Then he glanced at Chris, smiled wickedly and drawled, "I reckon he was cleanin’ it and it jist went off."

Chris glared at Tanner and proceeded to prove that his middle finger still worked perfectly.

Vin only laughed and resumed his casual strolling about the den. "Yeah, I’ll keep an eye on him, Nate, don’t worry. If it doesn’t get any better, I’ll call ya. … Yep, mice. There’s signs of ’em ever’where. I think he needs ta get a cat, but he said he’s tired of tryin’ ta house-break willful critters who won’t obey the simplest order." He shrugged. "Hell, I don’t know what he’s talkin’ about."

Chris smirked at the willful, disobedient creature pacing about his den. There were a lot of things he could imagine doing to Vin, but breaking him was not among them.

"All right, I’ll letcha go. And thanks, Nate. I appreciate it. Tell Rain I said ‘hey.’" He listened for a few moments, then smiled warmly and blushed slightly. "I reckon," he breathed. "’Bye." He pulled the phone away from his ear and turned it off, still smiling.

"And what was that about?" Chris asked, his curiosity aroused by the younger man’s blush.

Vin ducked his head a moment, then lifted it and gazed at Chris, his lips curving into a slow, shy smile. "Oh, Nathan jist said he knows he don’t have ta worry about ya none," he rasped softly. "Said he knows I’ll take good care of ya."

"Smart man," Chris breathed. He sat up and turned, sliding his feet to the floor and holding out his good hand. "C’mere," he beckoned quietly, his eyes intent on Vin’s. "Think I need some of that takin’ care of."

Vin only barely held himself in place. "You sure?" he asked softly. "What about yer hand?"

Chris smiled and winked. "I think we can find a way ta take my mind off the pain. Tylenol ain’t workin’ too good." He let his gaze rake slowly over the Texan’s wiry frame, taking in the way the worn jeans hugged the narrow hips and long legs, and pursed his lips appreciatively, deepening the dip in the lower one. "Think I need somethin’ stronger."

Vin tossed the phone into the nearest recliner and started forward at once, his hunter’s gaze fixed on Larabee. He read the hunger in those deep, dark green eyes and licked his lips as an answering one awoke in him. Mice be damned. He had bigger prey to catch.

Chris watched, transfixed, as Vin approached. Tanner moved like a cat, silent and supple, seeming more to glide than to walk. He was all fluid, flowing grace and latent power, lithe and loose but controlled, wasting neither effort nor motion and acknowledging no obstacles. There were times Chris could have sworn Vin simply bent matter and the elements around him to his will.

God knew, Tanner could certainly bend him

Then Vin was there, in front of him. The sharpshooter put his right knee on the couch by Chris’s left hip, his calf resting along the length of Larabee’s thigh, then balanced on that knee and brought his left leg up and over, as if he were swinging into the saddle. And as easy as that he was settling into Larabee’s lap, his legs bracketing Chris’s, his hands sliding up his lover’s chest and over his shoulders, deep blue eyes boring into smoky green.

"Somebody here call fer a doctor?" he asked in his low, husky voice.

Chris swallowed hard and stared into those eyes, feeling his soul tumbling into their fathomless depths and content to let it go, knowing it was where it belonged. "Could use… somethin’," he rasped as the familiar tightness built in his crotch. Vin was slowly stroking the back of his neck, the light movements of those fingers over his skin stoking the fire in his groin. "I got this… this pain…"

Vin frowned slightly and canted his head to one side, brows drawing down low over thoughtful eyes. "Hmm," he breathed, pressing his ass into Chris’s crotch and smiling as he felt the hardness there. "Seems y’ got a swellin’ too." He slowly licked his lips, not missing the sudden hitch in Chris’s breathing. "Reckon I’d best take a look." He winked. "No tellin’ where-all them mice mighta got to."

"They ain’t been there!" Chris growled, his face pulling into a deep scowl.

"Still," Vin sighed, leaning forward so that his breath teased Chris’s mouth, "cain’t ever be too careful." He leaned closer still into Larabee and traced his tongue lightly over the man’s warm, full mouth, then slipped its tip slowly back and forth through the dip in that luscious lower lip. His hands, meanwhile, wandered up the long column of Larabee’s neck and into the thick wealth of his blond hair, twirling and twining long fingers through the silken strands of gold. "Y’know how mice are," he whispered, nuzzling hungrily down Chris’s chin and along his jaw. "They git inta ever’thing."

Chris shivered and groaned unsteadily as that talented mouth and those nimble fingers ignited a fire beneath his skin and brought his blood to a slow boil. Then Vin’s mouth was skimming down his neck, finding the throbbing pulse in his throat and sucking hungrily. Chris groaned thickly and shuddered hard, letting his head fall against the back of the couch to give Vin still greater access to his neck.

"Jesus!" he whispered harshly.

"Nope," Vin breathed, licking his way down Larabee’s throat to his collarbone. "’S jist li’l ol’ me."

Chris uttered a thick, strangled gasp, certain that "li’l ol’ Vin" meant to kill him in the slowest – and most delightful – way imaginable. Yep, Tanner was definitely in league with the mice. Maybe even their ringleader…

"Gotta shuck this shirt, cowboy," Vin rasped, never lifting his mouth from Chris’s throat. As he sucked and nibbled at Larabee’s collarbone, his hands grasped the man’s flannel shirt and pulled it and the t-shirt beneath out of the tight black jeans.

Chris gasped sharply as fabric scraped against his over-sensitized flesh, sending frissons of electricity sparking along his nerves. Tanner’s long hair was brushing lightly against his throat, the man’s mouth laying a warm, wet trail over his skin, that tight ass grinding into his crotch, and it was all Chris could do not to scream.

Vin heard his harsh, quickened breath, felt the tremors running through the taut, lean body, and knew this wouldn’t take long at all. His nimble fingers made quick work of the row of buttons, and with the ease and speed of long practice he soon had Chris stripped to the waist. Fire leapt into his eyes at the sight of Larabee’s naked chest and he bowed his head with a snarl, seizing with his mouth upon one taut brown nipple.

Chris hissed sharply and stiffened as every drop of blood in his body shot straight to his groin. Vin’s hot, wet mouth sucked and bit greedily at him, feasting first on one nipple, then the other, and the sharpshooter’s long, strong fingers raked up his sides and down his sides, bringing his every nerve to screaming life. Larabee’s blond head thrashed back and forth against the couch. His breath came in harsh, heavy gasps, and he clutched with shaking hands at Tanner’s lithe, lean body, his need a pounding, driving force within him.

But Vin wasn’t nearly through with his torment. He laved his tongue slowly over Chris’s well defined pectorals, blew soft puffs of air through the fine golden hair glinting against the man’s smooth, pale flesh. He licked and kissed his way down Larabee’s powerful chest and stomach, tracing the hard curve of ribs and the tight six-pack of abs, tonguing and sucking on the shallow navel. All the while, he scooted back on the man’s lap, then slipped deftly down between his thighs, the downward progress of his mouth finally stopped by the barrier of Chris’s jeans.

He lifted his head and scowled at the obstruction. "I’m beginnin’ ta think them nudists got the right idea," he growled, his fingers going to work at once on the belt and fly that were keeping him from what he wanted.

Chris managed to lift his head from the back of the couch and stared down at his lover, arching one golden brow. "Vin, it’s early March in Colorado. I ain’t goin’ nudist, even for you. Besides," he smirked at the Texan, "you’d be dead of pneumonia or hypothermia in ten minutes."

Vin smiled slowly, wolfishly, and licked his lips. "Not if I had you ta keep me warm." He winked. "Yer better’n longjohns, cowboy."

Chris chuckled and shook his head. "You sweet-talker, you."

Vin’s blue eyes twinkled mischievously, and he returned his attention to Chris’s fly. "Yeah, well," he eased the zipper down and slipped his hand through it, "ain’t exactly talkin’ I got in mind."

Chris closed his eyes and sucked in a hard, hissing breath as long fingers eased his erection free, then yelped and jerked violently as a warm, wet tongue slid over the sensitive head. Vin licked at him like a kid with an ice cream cone, swirling that magic tongue around him in long, slow strokes and driving shards of agony into his swollen, throbbing flesh.

Goddamn, but the man knew how to use that mouth!

Vin licked up, down and all around the thick shaft, tracing the prominent vein that ran its length, nibbling at the excruciatingly sensitive skin on the underside, laving the darkly flushed head and lapping lightly at the salty fluid seeping from the slit. He brought all the fiercely focused attention for which he was known to bear on that cock, treating it as if it were the only existing thing in the world.

And steadily driving Chris Larabee insane.

Each soft breath that whispered across his flesh fanned the fire raging within him, each stroke of that clever, darting tongue was like gasoline thrown upon the flames. Chris drove his head back into the couch, thrust his long fingers into the cushions and arched his hips toward that talented, tormenting mouth.

But Vin wanted far more of Chris than the man’s jeans allowed him to reach, and knew it was time to get Larabee out of them. He also wanted it done with as little wasted time or effort as possible. Settling quickly on his course of action, he raised his head from Chris’s crotch and reached down, grasping the man’s feet and placing them against his own thighs for leverage. He then leaned forward and moved his hands to Chris’s lean hips, urging him to lift his butt. Larabee did, and Vin began working at his jeans, dragging them and Chris’s briefs down over the tight ass and hard thighs, and finally pulling them off entirely. When he had Chris stripped, he showered a series of slow, wet kisses along each inner thigh, then lifted the long legs and swung them up onto the couch, turning Chris in the process. As Chris lay down and settled onto his back, Vin gazed through dark and glittering eyes upon the lean, hard length of that beautiful body and reached down to unfasten his own jeans, needing to release their pressure against his hard and hurting cock.

Chris stared at him with hooded eyes, seeing his pupils dilating until their black had all but swallowed the surrounding blue, watching as his tongue slid slowly over slightly parted lips and his skin darkened with the flush of hunger. In such moments as this, Vin was so completely open and unguarded, all the wildness in him exposed, his wonder and wanting written so plainly on his face, and to see it brought every bit of the love Chris felt for him surging hard and fierce to the fore.

"C’mere ta me," he ordered roughly, raising an arm in invitation.

Vin nodded slowly, dazedly, and rose to his feet in a single, feline movement. Never taking his eyes from Chris, he unfastened the first two buttons of his shirt, then pulled it and the long-sleeved t-shirt beneath it over his head and off his arms with a quick flex of supple muscles. He toed off his boots, peeled off his jeans, then lowered himself onto Larabee, stretching out his length over his lover’s and moaning in soul-deep appreciation at the perfection of their fit.

His injured finger forgotten, Chris closed his arms about Vin and cradled him close, stroking his broad shoulders, narrow back and slim hips, savoring the feel of smooth skin stretched over sinewy muscle and hard bone.Then his lips sought and claimed Vin’s and, while his hands played over silk and steel, his mouth buried itself in warmth and wetness.

They writhed upon the couch as one, bodies pressing and rubbing, arms twining and hands clutching, legs clamping hard as each sought to fuse himself with the other. Hearts pounded in furious tandem as mouths kissed, sucked, bit, devoured, and hips ground together as they drove each other toward the precipice. Rigid cocks crossed, sawed and thrust like sabers in a duel, then Vin closed a hand about Chris, and Chris about Vin, and as their mouths dove ever deeper and their hips drove ever harder, they stroked and pulled and pumped each other into shattering orgasm. Vin came first, spewing his seed over their hands and between their bodies in a convulsive heave, with Chris following immediately behind. They milked each other dry with slick and shaking hands, the pungent scent of their mingled sex heavy in the air.

Vin collapsed shuddering against Chris, his head sinking into the junction of Larabee’s neck and shoulder. He lay there gasping and trembling, while Chris panted and shook beneath him. Neither of them spoke, neither of them needed to. All that they thought and felt was plain between them.

When he could manage it, Chris lifted an arm to the afghan draped along the back of the couch and flipped it over their twined bodies, not yet willing to surrender this time of closeness for the mundane tasks of cleaning off and getting dressed. He would have spent his whole life locked in the feeling of this moment if he could, with Vin’s body snugged up against him and the man’s whole soul open to him.

Vin was no more eager to move than Chris, wanted nothing more than to lie there forever with this man’s warmth and strength wrapped around him. He knew it couldn’t be, knew sooner or later they’d have to abandon this for something less perfect. For now though, he had it, and he’d hold onto it for as long as he could.

And when it did come time to let it go, he’d have to take another shower.


Vin dropped a load of laundry into the washer and closed the lid. Figuring he and Chris had already put enough of a strain on the water heater, he set the dial to cold wash, then turned and walked out of the utility room.

Best go see what Larabee was up to now…

He went into the kitchen and saw nothing. Well, except for the mess that had become a permanent part of the floor. Exhaling slowly and shaking his head, he shoved his hands into his pockets and walked through to the dining room. So far it had escaped any damage, but he had no doubt that its time was coming.

Larabee on a tear was a powerful force.

He went on in to the den and stopped. Chris was standing just to the right of the fireplace on the foot-high brick ledge that ran the length of the far wall. He was wearing the stethoscope Nathan kept at the ranch – hell, Nathan had probably left one in each of their homes – and had its end pressed against the paneling. His eyes were closed, and his handsome face was a mask of intense concentration.

"Aw, hell," Vin sighed, having visions of himself being made to shimmy up the chimney. "Ya found a pulse yet?" he asked more loudly.

Startled by that voice, Chris straightened, whirled, misjudged a step… and went crashing to the floor before he could recover his balance. Vin winced and averted his face as Chris landed with a foul curse.

"Damn, cowboy," he rasped, turning his head back to see Chris rising slowly to his feet, "ya sure catchin’ them mice is worth the beatin’ yer takin’?"

Chris scowled darkly at Vin. "You’re enjoyin’ this way too much," he growled.

"Oh, yeah," Vin snorted, settling into his familiar slouch and fixing a wryly amused gaze on his lover, "I’m havin’ a ball watchin’ ya beat the crap outta yerself over a few furry pests." He arched a brow. "Y’ever thought about gettin’ professional help?"

"I am not crazy!" Chris seethed through gritted teeth.

Vin sighed patiently and shook his head. "Not a shrink, cowboy. An exterminator."

Chris blinked, and his scowl faded. "Oh."

Vin gave a slight smile and another shake of his head, then crossed the den to Chris with his loose, easy stride. "Y’know, Lar’bee," he drawled, blue eyes teasing, "ya really gotta learn ta relax. Quit lettin’ these little bastards get to ya." He winked. "Ain’t nothin’ sadder’n a proud ’n powerful man bein’ laughed at by a pack a’ mice."

"Or a scrawny Texas sharpshooter?" Chris added, his eyes gleaming warmly as one corner of his mouth lifted in a slight, self-mocking smile.

"Aw, hell, Chris, ya know I don’t laugh at ya," Vin said with his lopsided grin. "Much."

"Mm hm. Much."

Vin thought he could spend the rest of the day just gazing into Chris’s face, watching the constant but subtle play of emotions and expressions across it, memorizing every flicker of light and feeling in those deep green eyes. But while it would have been infinitely pleasurable to spend his day in that fashion, it wouldn’t be at all productive. And he reckoned he’d already side-tracked Chris about as much as the man would tolerate.

"So," he finally said, though his voice was much huskier and much more breathless than he’d intended, "ya hear anything in the wall?"

Chris found he had to force himself to concentrate on Vin’s words rather than his dark blue eyes, then had to stop himself from staring at the Texan’s mouth. It didn’t help, though, when Vin licked his lips…

"What?" he croaked. "Oh…" He blinked and tore his gaze from that wide and captivating mouth, then shook his head to clear it. "The wall… No, I…" Vin’s eyes widened slightly, his head tipped gently to one side, and Chris had to wrench his mind once more to the subject at hand. "I heard ’em a while ago, but when I started listenin’ for ’em, they got real quiet."

Vin sighed softly. "All right," he said resignedly, "where’d ya hear ’em first?"

Chris pointed to the wall behind his big screen TV. "Back there."

Vin turned and looked at the wall, a feeling of dread creeping through him. The mice seemed determined to make Larabee’s life a living hell, and he knew of one sure way they could do it. "Y’know," he mused reluctantly, "if they’re in there, they’ve more’n likely chewed through the cable. Ya checked that yet?"

Chris’s face instantly hardened. "Oh, yeah." He stalked to the coffee table, snatched up the remote, aimed it at the TV and thumbed the "power" button. The TV clicked on, showing only a blue screen.

"Hell," Vin breathed dejectedly, "that Turner movie channel’s gonna be showin’ ‘The Alamo’ this afternoon, too."

"Fuck ‘The Alamo’!" Chris barked. "The Avs are playin’ in two hours–"

"Now hold on there," Vin said in a low, cold voice, eyes like blue ice cutting back to Chris. "Don’t ya be talkin’ like that about ‘The Alamo.’ It’s purt’ near a religious movie, y’know."

Chris shot his lover a withering look. "That movie is a prime example of the bastardization of history, and you know it! Hell, you can’t even watch it without counting the mistakes–"

"Did you jist call John Wayne a bastard?" Vin interrupted, his slim frame tensing, his eyes going colder still.

Chris exhaled slowly and rolled his eyes. "No, I did not call John Wayne a bastard. But you know as well as I do – hell, better than I do! – just how wrong that movie is! They didn’t even get the rivers right! And in one scene, there’s a truck in the distance, for God’s sake!"

"Yeah, well," Vin muttered, still not entirely convinced that Chris hadn’t insulted The Duke, "mebbe it didn’t happen jist that way. But that’s sure as hell the way it shoulda happened! ’Sides," a contemptuous eyebrow rose, "I don’t see a whole lotta movies about Indiana history bein’ made, now do I? Y’all do have history up there, right?"

"We got history," Chris snapped defensively, certain there must be something in his home state’s past to rival the glory and tragic, mystical romance of the Alamo. "We also got better sense than ta hole up in some damn mission we know we can’t hold–"

"Well, mebbe the defenders woulda been better off if they’da had Bobby Knight armed with some chairs!" Vin shot back. "I reckon them Mexicans wouldn’ta stood a chance then!"

Chris simply glared at his lover, refusing to be goaded into defending a psychopathic basketball coach.

Vin noted the lack of response and slipped back into his slouch. "’S about time ya saw reason," he declared with smug satisfaction.

Chris heaved a sigh and hung his head. "I’m not sure reason ever really enters into any of our conversations," he muttered. "Arguin’ with you is like tryin’ to find my way through a maze in the dark."

"Then don’t argue," Vin suggested with a shrug. "Seems simple ta me."

Chris raised his head and stared at Vin in something akin to awe. "You could drive a Quaker to murder. You know that, don’t ya?"

Vin swooped forward and planted a quick kiss on Larabee’s lips. "We all got our talents, cowboy!" He chuckled quietly at Chris’s startled expression as he pulled back. "’S a diversionary tactic," he drawled, winking. "Learnt all about ’em in the Army."

Chris licked his lips unconsciously, still able to taste Vin there. "They taught you that in the Army?" he asked weakly. "So much for ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’"

Vin smirked and arched a brow, his eyes dancing wickedly. "Ya wanta get back ta the mice or not?"

Chris frowned absently. "Mice? Oh, yeah…" He roused himself with an effort. "Mice." He gestured once again toward the wall behind the huge TV. "Back there."

"I’ll see if I can hear anything. We gotta find out where they’re comin’ in."

Chris removed the stethoscope and held it out to Vin. "Need this?" Tanner shot him a withering look. "Oh, sorry," he grunted, remembering the man’s uncanny hearing and lowering the scope to his side.

Shaking his head in disgust, Vin went to the TV and slipped behind it, then placed an ear to the wall and closed his eyes, listening intently. Blocking out all other sounds, he moved slowly along the wall until he heard the unmistakable sounds of scratching. Pulling his head back and setting a hand to the place his ear had rested, he drew back further and stared up, trying to envision the other side of the wall.

"Porch runs all along this side of the house, don’t it?" he asked thoughtfully, neither expecting nor requiring an answer. "So does the overhang… I reckon that could be how they’re gettin’ in. I’ll bet ya got some wood that needs replacin’ where the overhang meets the house. Hell, probably need ta check all around, look real good at yer eaves ’n gutters… Ya been up in yer attic lately?"

"Hell, you know I don’t go up there!" Chris snorted. "Can barely stand up straight, hardly enough room ta move around–"

"Fer you, sure. But unless ya got some mutant strain here, mice are considerably smaller’n you. Don’t need nearly so much head room." He turned around and gazed evenly at Larabee. "Time ta recon, cowboy."

Chris sighed. "All right, you–"

"I ain’t goin’ up in yer attic," Vin said firmly before Chris could give him that job.

"Now, Vin–"

"Mebbe you didn’t hear me," he said, not an inch of give in his voice. "I ain’t goin’ up in yer attic."

Chris stared at him a moment, saw the steely resolve in his eyes, and knew there’d be no getting around him. And, truth to tell, he couldn’t bring himself to try. He knew of Vin’s claustrophobia, knew that attic would be nearly unbearable for him and couldn’t see forcing that kind of suffering on his lover. He wanted to find the mice, but not so badly that he’d risk hurting Vin.

"All right," he agreed with a slight smile, "I’ll take the attic, you take the outside work. Just try not to fall off the ladder."

Vin snickered softly. "I ain’t the one been beatin’ the hell outta m’self here, cowboy," he reminded Chris.

Larabee scowled deeply. "No, but you seem to enjoy the hell outta watchin’ me do it," he pointed out acidly.

"We-ell," Vin drawled, giving a slow, seductive smile, "I do kinda like givin’ ya first aid."

Once more, Chris’s attention strayed from the mice as that smile and soft, raspy voice set his nerves tingling, and once more he had to force his mind back to the hunt. "You’re an evil bastard, Tanner," he accused, his voice rougher than he would’ve liked.

"Yeah, I know," Vin breathed without a bit of repentance, watching the heat flaring in Larabee’s eyes and deciding to add a little fuel to it. "Jist bad t’ the bone. Reckon there ain’t no hope fer me at all." He sighed deeply and shook his head slowly, his blue eyes shimmering like sunlit lakes. "Likely I jist need somebody ta take a firm hand ta me ’n show me the error of my sad ’n sorry ways."

Chris swallowed hard, his throat and jeans tightening at the same time. He’d always been a man of unshakable resolve, of iron control, of fierce will. Until Vin Tanner had come along and shown that he could snap him like a toothpick. He knew he should probably resent that, but, God help him, he couldn’t. Not when Vin broke him into pieces and then put him back together into a whole that was more complete and more alive than he’d ever been before.

Nope, wasn’t anything sad or sorry about Tanner’s ways at all.

"Ladder’s in the barn," he finally managed to say when he could think of something other than those ways.

Vin gave a small, triumphant smile as he took in the evidence of his power over Larabee. He knew that power wasn’t based entirely on lust though, knew that wasn’t even the biggest part of it. He’d had lovers he’d wanted, or who’d wanted him, for nothing more than physical gratification, the soothing of an itch he’d grown tired of scratching himself, and knew only too well the frustrating, aching emptiness that came immediately, inevitably, after release. Between him and Chris, however, though the physical pleasure was unlike anything he’d ever known before, there was so much else, and most of it had nothing whatsoever to do with sex.

When he could put words to it at all, it seemed to him that it was nothing more, and nothing less, than two restless, lonely men finally coming home.

His eyes and smile softened, losing their teasing edge, and he nodded at Chris. "I’ll get on it then," he drawled. "’N you…" He chuckled and shook his head. "Jist try not ta fall through the floor, all right?"

Chris scowled yet again, a strangely frequent occurrence when Vin was near. "Nobody likes a smart-ass," he growled.

Vin laughed aloud and started toward the door. "Then how in the hell did ya end up with me?"

Chris watched as Tanner stopped at the coat rack near the door, took down his buckskin jacket and pulled it on, and turned to give him one last wink before going outside. Only when the insufferably cocky sharpshooter had disappeared through the door did Larabee allow his scowl to fade and a slight, soft smile to take its place.

"Just goddamn lucky, I guess," he whispered.