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DISCLAIMER: Hell no, they ain’t mine! They belong to each other ;-)

NOTES: This here is a li’l medicinal fic for my pard Ruby, who’s been feelin’ poorly lately. I figured if she was gonna have trouble breathin’, I might as well give her a good reason <g> Feel better soon, sweetie! Also, this is a PWP.

No plot whatsoever. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. But, hey, at least it's finished!!!



Tanner made his way through the darkened town with his usual stealth, his steps nearly silent even on the boardwalks and despite his limping gait, his lean body seeming to slip through the air without so much as a ripple; a shadow ghosting through other shadows, no more substantial than the night itself. He didn’t purposely move with such caution, knew if he were safe anywhere it was here, but the habits of the hunted were hard to break.

He paused once in an alley between two buildings and cast a considering glance at the saloon across the street, narrowing his eyes and licking his lips slowly as he struggled against the pull of that place upon him. No, not the pull of the place so much as what he knew he’d find within – a seat waiting for him, a jovial welcome, companionship, friendship. Surprising how strong that pull was on him, who’d gone most of his life without it but had never really felt its lack because he wasn’t a man who wasted time on wishing for what he’d never have. But he had it now, and only now realized what he’d missed in never having it before.

Still, strong as that lure was, there were others even stronger…

He pushed aside the temptation of the saloon with a firm will and resumed his limping walk through the darkness. Saloon looked inviting, was inviting, but right now inviting wasn’t nearly enough. What he needed couldn’t be found there, and, a deeply practical man by both nature and necessity, he’d long ago learned to subjugate his wants to his needs.

He spied his destination just up ahead and allowed himself a small sigh of relief. He was half tempted to quicken his pace, but again resisted. He already felt like he had a knife lodged in his lower back, the blade biting sharp and hot through strained muscles and pinched nerves, and his left knee was throbbing like a sonuvabitch. He’d have an ugly bruise there, he knew for certain. Hell, it just wasn’t possible to get thrown by Peso and not walk away with a passel of ’em.

Not that he could blame the big, troublesome gelding. This time. It was that damn rattler that had caused all the fuss, appearin’ out of the rocks like a fanged demon from hell and sending Peso into a conniption fit. All horses naturally hated snakes, but Peso seemed to hate ’em more. Hell, Peso hated everything more. Between one breath and the next, the black had launched into his impersonation of a hide-wearin’ tornado, tossed his rider onto ground baked solid by the summer sun and proceeded to stomp that snake into a greasy spot in the earth.

Of course, just to give the horse a little help, he’d come up from the ground, shaken off the pain of being thrown and pumped three shots from his mare’s leg into what was left of the rattler, just to make sure it was dead. Shit, he hated ’em worse than Peso.

But the satisfaction of having sent another of the no-legged bastards back to hell had worn off as soon as his back and knee had begun protesting the abuse heaped upon him. True, his back was always touchy and didn’t require much excuse at all to hurt, but bein’ slung from the back of a scared and pissed-off Peso onto ground as hard as brick surely didn’t help. And naturally his knee had collided with the biggest fuckin’ rock around…

He shook his head and sighed. Hell, his life always seemed to work out that way.

The dark outline of a building loomed before him and another soft sigh escaped him. None of that mattered now. He’d gotten back to town in one piece and without losin’ any blood – always a nice surprise when he’d been thrown by Peso – and gotten the still-fractious horse calmed, tended to and bedded down. Now he could see to his own needs, and have that long soak in a hot tub that had been his sole and driving desire for the last ten miles or so.

The bath house was dark, empty, locked, but that was all right. He knew where ol’ Pete kept the key and had the man’s permission to use it any time he wanted. He’d saved the man from a bunch of cowhands whose drunken shenanigans had gotten way out of hand, and, as a reward, Pete had shown him the key and told him to feel free to use it.

And free had always been a feelin’ Tanner liked…

He went around to the back door of the building, made sure no one was around to see, and felt along the wall for the broken board, counting planks as he went. He reached the fifth one, smiled and grasped its edges in long, strong fingers, pulling the lower end out just enough to reveal the small hiding place there. He snagged the key with his other hand and released the board to let it settle back into place, a slight smile upon his face.

Finally he was gonna have some sweet relief.

He unlocked the door and opened it quietly, then slipped into the dark building and closed the door behind him. He stood for long moments, just drinking in the silence and solitude. Too bad he couldn’t do all his business in town after hours, when it was just him alone…

He shook his head and chuckled softly at the ridiculousness of the thought, then reached into his jacket pocket for the small pack of lucifers he always kept handy. He took out one and struck it against the wall, then stuck the pack in his shirt pocket. Shielding the flame with his hand to keep it steady, he moved to the nearest lantern and lit it, bringing forth a small circle of light. He blew out the lucifer, took the lantern down from its hook and made his way further into the bath house, whistling tunelessly under his breath.

He settled on the tub nearest the stove and set the lantern down beside it, then dropped the beaded and fringed parfleche he’d brought from his wagon to the floor. His hat and coat followed in quick order, and he raked both hands through the tangled mess of his dirty, sweat-matted hair. Lord, it’d be so good to get the grit off his scalp! Retrieving the lantern, he crossed the short distance to the stove and smiled to feel its lingering heat. A quick check of the water in the buckets set atop the stove showed that it, too, was still quite warm and wouldn’t take long at all to get hotter still. Ol’ Pete must’ve had a long and busy day.

Still whistling, and mindful of his aching back and knee, he squatted carefully and opened the stove door, then quickly got the fire going again. When that was done, he closed the door and rose slowly, stiffly, to his feet, grimacing and pressing a hand to the small of his back as the knife seemed to twist deeper.

Goddamn, but he hated snakes!

While the water heated, he gathered all he’d need for the long-awaited bath – towels and scrub brush, a fresh cake of the soap Pete’s wife made herself – and went back to the tub. Kneeling, he laid them within easy reach and turned to the parfleche that gave mute testimony to his time among the Comanche. Opening it, he pulled out the clean clothes he’d stuffed into it, then drew out a smaller pouch. This one had come not from the People, but from Nathan, and was filled with the various remedies the healer gave him to ease the chronic pain in his back. There was a pack of teaberry leaves for his bath, a small jar containing the makings for a poultice of sweet elder and chamomile, and a tin of sunflower liniment. He reached into the parfleche once more, drew out another item, and smiled.

The whiskey was his own remedy.

He returned the makings for the poultice to the pouch – he didn’t plan to be here that long – but kept out the whiskey and liniment. Then he picked up the packet of teaberry leaves, opened it and sprinkled the leaves throughout the tub. That done, he gripped the edge of the tub and slowly raised himself to his feet – goddamn fuckin’ snake! – then peeled the broad leather suspenders from his shoulders and let them fall loose around his legs. He unbuttoned and removed his sweat- and dirt-stained shirt, dropped it to the floor and carefully toed off his boots. Next he untied the leather thong at his right thigh, unbuckled his gun belt and lowered it to his jacket, within easy reach of the tub. He unbuttoned his filthy tan trousers and pushed them past his trim waist and narrow hips and finally down his long, lean legs, stepping out of them and stripping off his socks. He straightened again and wriggled his toes, exhaling deeply and smiling happily.

Sweet relief.

With a cross and quick flex of long arms and supple shoulders, he stripped himself of his undershirt and dropped it onto the heap of discarded clothes, his smile widening at the caress of night air against his naked chest. Lord, he felt better already! He picked up the lantern once more and crossed to the pump in the corner, clad only in his underpants. Setting the lantern on the nearby table, he grasped the handle of the pump and primed it with sure, strong strokes, finally rewarded with a gush of water. Going once more to his knees and sticking his head under the spout, he worked the handle again and gasped sharply as cold water sluiced over his head and shoulders and down his torso. Steeling himself against the chill, he raised his other hand and scrubbed it through his hair, wanting to rinse as much as the dirt from himself as he could before his bath.

Wasn’t no sense soakin’ in a tub of mud…

Finally he released the handle and stilled the flow, then scooted away from the pump and threw back his head, combing both hands through his wet hair. He wiped the water from his eyes and face and rose to his feet, shivering. His underpants clung to him in a sodden mass, revealing plainly the narrow span of his waist, the sharp jut of his hip bones, the firm, taut curve of his ass and slender length of his hard-muscled legs. But giving no thought to his appearance, simply glad that the first few layers of grime had been rinsed away, he retrieved the lantern and went back to the stove.

He carefully stuck a forefinger into one bucket and pulled it out, nodding in satisfaction. The water was hot, right at the edge of being bearable, but he wanted the heat for as long as he could have it to soak out as much of the pain and stiffness as he could. Once more he set the lantern down on the floor, then grasped the wooden handle and, bracing himself for the strain, lifted the large bucket from the stove, trying to use his shoulders and arms rather than his back, but feeling a sharp twinge down there nonetheless.

Goddamn, he hated snakes!

Trying to spare his back and knee, and only marginally succeeding, he lugged the heavy pail to the tub and emptied its contents, then returned to the stove. Each bucket seemed considerably heavier than the one before, but at last the tub was filled and he sank down into the hot, teaberry-scented water with a sound somewhere between a sigh and a groan.

Lord, it was better than he’d imagined!

He slid as far down as he could and closed his eyes, making another small sound of relief and contentment as the wet heat began seeping into too-tight and aching muscles. He’d been out on the trail for four days now, helping Sheriff Stains in Eagle Bend track down and capture a renegade half-breed named Hank Two Feathers who’d raped and murdered a saloon girl from that town. Stains hated the Seven with a bitter passion and likely wouldn’t have asked, however grudgingly he’d done it, for help from them if Judge Travis hadn’t suggested in his sternest tone that finding a cold-blooded killer was more important than the sheriff’s petty grudge.

And it took a stronger man than Stains to refuse Orin Travis when the man was dead-set on hangin’ somebody.

So he’d gone over to Eagle Bend and gone out with Stains and his posse. And he’d hated every minute of it. The sheriff was an arrogant sonuvabitch who thought he knew more about everything than anybody else ever could, and never missed a chance to insult or harass the tracker he considered no better than the man they were tracking. It had taken all of Tanner’s considerable patience and self-control not to shoot Stains on several occasions, and twice he’d found himself giving serious thought to just slitting the man’s throat.

That second time he’d actually had to put his knife back in its sheath…

But that was all over and done with now. Two Feathers was dead – he’d chosen to fight rather than hang, and Vin couldn’t say he blamed him – and he was back where he belonged. In a nice, hot tub, just relaxing and letting the water soak away his weariness and pain. For all he cared, Stains could go to hell.

Sounded like a good reason for a drink.

He lifted his arm from the water and reached over the edge of the tub, groping for the whiskey bottle without ever opening his eyes. He found it, opened it and raised it to his mouth, swigging deeply from it. He exhaled roughly as the fiery liquor burned its path to his stomach, then drank again. By the fourth drink he barely noticed the burn, but welcomed the warmth seeping through his body.

Damn, it was good to be home.

He gave a soft snort at that thought and treated himself to another drink. Home. Hell, who would’ve thought that a fiddle-footed stray like him would ever slap such a word on a place? He’d been drifting from fire to fire for so long that he’d come to think it would always be that way. Never belonging anywhere, with anybody, and never imagining it would ever be any different. Never imagining it could be any different. ’Til he’d drifted to this fire and found himself belonging with the goddamnedest bunch of men he’d ever seen gathered in one place. Suddenly he didn’t feel quite so much like a stray anymore, and while he still wandered, he always came back…


He snorted again, took another small drink, then set the bottle down. Hell, it just about figured that this’d be the kind of home he’d have. Dusty, piss-ant little town on the backside of nowhere that attracted trouble like a dog did fleas…

Once again, though, he knew it wasn’t really the place that held him so much as what he’d found here. And that was six men who’d stepped into his life and somehow made themselves a part of it before he’d ever known it was happening. They’d caught him off guard, which damn few others had ever managed to do, and slipped with surprising – and sometimes frightening – ease past the high, thick walls he’d spent a lifetime building against just such an intrusion. Never quite understanding just when or how it happened, he’d found himself no longer standing apart, no longer standing alone, but joined to those men in ways he still couldn’t comprehend and a part of something unlike anything he’d ever imagined existed. And joined to one man in particular and a part of something that still caused him to quake inside from its sheer depth and power.


Immediately the man’s image sprang to mind, wringing from him the shiver and soft gasp it never failed to evoke. A long, lean shard of black broken only by the bright gleam of golden hair, the flash of ivory and sheen of conchas at his gun belt, the silver shimmer of his spurs. Beneath the flat black brim of his hat, deep green eyes alternately smoldered with the heat of raging passion or glinted as hard and cold as ice, and a wide, mobile mouth curved into a teasing, wolfish smile with the same ease with which it set into the hard, thin line of anger.

Darkness and light, ice and fire, angel and demon and heaven and hell all wrapped into the one beautiful and deadly man for whom Vin Tanner would gladly have given his soul.

To whom he’d given it without a moment’s hesitation.

He loosed a slow, unsteady breath and rested his head against the back of the tub, feeling something unknot and settle within himself as thoughts of the gunman filled his mind. This, too, was new, this feeling of peace, of completion, that came from being part of another. Hell, he’d never even known that a piece of himself had been missing until he’d found it Larabee. But now that he’d found it, he sure as hell didn’t want it back, because he knew it was safest right where it was.

With Chris.

He exhaled again and licked as lips, eyes still closed, as, even absent, the man filled his senses. The sharp, acrid tang of tobacco tickled his nose as the taste of whiskey teased his mouth. He could hear that low, smoke-roughened voice whispering in his ear while warm breath fanned across his skin, could feel long, strong fingers skimming over his body, stroking, kneading…

And himself needing

The warmth that flared through him now had nothing to do with the whiskey and everything to do with the mere thought of Chris Larabee. Head thrust hard against the tub, eyes squeezed tightly shut, his breath coming in fast, shallow gasps, he raised a shaking hand to his neck where Larabee’s mouth so loved to play, then slid it slowly down his chest to one small brown nipple and rolled the bud into erection between his thumb and forefinger. The scent of teaberry leaves faded and was replaced by that of sweat, whiskey, leather and Chris, and he arched his back, forgetting its ache, as the familiar knife edge of want seared down his spine.

He slid his hand to his other nipple, played with it, and groaned as heat spiked through him. Green eyes glittered before him, a full, wet mouth pursed in wicked teasing, and a hoarse, ragged moan broke from him as his cock rose to throbbing fullness. Still stroking and rolling his nipple with one hand, he dragged the other below the water, down his taut, flat belly and through the thick, coarse curls at his crotch to the swollen length of his erection. He closed long fingers about himself beneath the water and slowly stroked, every nerve sparking as his calluses dragged across his over-sensitized skin.

He pumped himself in a sure and steady rhythm, biting his lower lip as hot waves of pleasure swept through him. The scent of tobacco grew stronger, the soft jangle of spurs rang like music in his ears, and he could feel green eyes boring into him with a tightly focused intensity. His heat rose, took on a sharp edge, and he pumped harder, faster, as he neared the crest. But his own wasn’t the touch he wanted to get him there, and though it hadn’t much mattered in the past, it mattered a great deal now. Refusing to cheat himself this way, he released his cock with a mammoth act of will and slumped back into the tub, clenching his jaws and breathing sharply through his nose as he forced himself back from the edge.

But, Lord God, the man was a test of his self-control!

"’S jist plain bad manners ta stare," he called shakily, forcing open his eyes and staring just beyond the circle of the lantern’s light.

Chris stepped into the light, a cheroot clamped between his teeth, and glared down at the tracker in frustration. He’d held still and silent in the darkness, hoping to see Vin bring himself off, hungry for the sight of that lean, hard body jerking in the frenzied spasms of release. But Tanner – goddamn his contrary soul to hell! – had killed that hope and left Larabee choking on his own desire.

And looked so fuckin’ smug about it, too!

But Larabee had to admit that "smug" wasn’t all the tracker looked. Tanner’s long hair framed his face and fell over his shoulders in a wet mass of curls, his blue eyes were gone dark and hazy, and a soft flush from a heat that had nothing to do with the temperature of his bath water suffused his naked, sweat-beaded flesh. Vin had to be the most beautiful man Larabee had ever seen, and his utterly shameless display of a few moments ago still had the gunman’s blood rushing hotly through his veins.

Which very likely had been Tanner’s intent all along. The man was pure aggravation!

"What do I have ta do ta sneak up on you?" Larabee growled, irritated by the uncomfortable tightness of his jeans and the knowledge that his "delight" was more obvious than he would have liked.

Vin’s gaze tracked slowly downward from Larabee’s face to the prominent bulge at his crotch, and he slid his tongue across his lower lip in patent appreciation. Then he lifted his eyes once more to Chris’s and arched a brow, smirking unapologetically. "Losin’ that cee-gar ’n them spurs’d be a good start."

Chris snorted and shook his head at his own foolishness. Hell, of course those had given him away; Tanner had the nose of a bloodhound and the hearing of an owl. He removed the treacherous cheroot from his mouth and stared at it a moment, then dropped it to the floor and crushed it out beneath his boot as if in punishment for its betrayal. "I’ll remember that next time."

Vin shivered as that low, warm voice scraped like sandpaper across his still-jangling nerves. "Plan ta do a lotta sneakin’ around?" he rasped, his wide, dark blue gaze focused intently on the man before him. Larabee was dressed for the shadows, in black shirt and black pants, his black, flat-brimmed hat concealing the gold gleam of his hair. He was dark, dangerous… and the most beautiful thing Vin had ever seen.

Chris strode slowly to the tub and folded himself into a crouch at its side, crossing his arms on its edge and leaning forward, his long mouth curving into a wicked grin. "When there’s somethin’ worth sneakin’ around for," he said. He surveyed the long, lean body beneath the water with hungry interest, then swept his gaze back to Tanner’s flushed face and arched a blond brow. "You clean yet, or d’ya need a hand?"

Vin swallowed hard and licked his lips, his brain quickly losing its ability to function. Chris was so close he could smell him, feel him, and everything in him except his mind rose sharply in response. "C… clean?"

"Yeah," Chris breathed, his gaze never wavering from Tanner’s. "Clean." He unfolded one arm and dipped his hand into the water, cupping it and bringing it up, and poured water down the tracker’s chest. "That is why you’re in there, isn’t it?" He raised another handful of water and dribbled it over one bare shoulder. "For a bath?"

Vin shuddered and gasped as that water slid down his heated flesh, as Larabee seduced him without ever once touching him. His nearness was enough to have Vin harder than ever and Larabee, goddamn him, knew that.

Knew it, and wasn’t at all above taking advantage of it.

Chris reached down for the brush and raised it, holding it negligently before Tanner’s unblinking, unfocused eyes. "Thought ya might need some help," he suggested lazily. "Y’know, get all them hard ta reach places."

Vin narrowed his eyes and managed to scowl at the man. The part that needed attention most wasn’t at all hard ta reach, if the grinnin’ bastard would just do it!

"Can manage on my own," he growled, grabbing for the brush.

But Chris pulled it away and dropped it. "So I saw," he said with a wink. "Well then," he grasped the edge of the tub and pushed himself to his feet, looming like a long black shadow above the staring tracker, "I guess if you don’t need me, I’ll just head back ta the saloon–"

"Yer a goddamn lowdown bastard, y’ know that, Larabee?" Vin spat, slapping the water in frustration. "G’on then! Who the hell needs ya?"

Again a blond brow rose, and again the long mouth curved into a slow, predatory grin. "That mean ya want me ta stay?"

Vin exhaled sharply and glared up at the gunman. "Hell, yeah," he said sulkily. "Been without ya fer four days now ’n ain’t been thinkin’ a’ nothin’ else. Though why I’ll never know." He lifted his chin defiantly and narrowed his eyes menacingly. "Y’ain’t ever been nothin’ but trouble, ’n y’ain’t ever gonna be, either. Hell, ya make my goddamn hair hurt!"

Chris sank once more to his heels and dropped his gaze to Vin’s cock, still stiff and erect under the water. "You sure it’s your hair that’s hurtin’, pard?" he purred in a soft, silky voice. He broke his self-imposed restraint then and reached out, sliding a long forefinger slowly down Tanner’s wet, naked chest. "Seems ta me," he mused, frowning slightly as that finger traveled lower, "ya got another problem," his finger dipped below the water and trailed through the thick thatch of dark curls, "here." His whole hand closed abruptly around the tracker’s cock, grasping it firmly and squeezing.

"Jesus Christ!" Vin yelped, damn near shooting out of the tub. A hard shudder racked him and he clutched at that tormenting hand, keeping it clamped around his hot and throbbing flesh. "Oh, God, cowboy," he gasped, arching hungrily into that hand, "please…"

Chris leaned closer still and tilted his head to sweep his mouth slowly over the strong line of the tracker’s square jaw, his hand still gently squeezing and pulling Tanner’s cock. "Please what, Vin?" he whispered, breath fanning hotly over the younger man’s face.

Vin shivered and groaned and tipped his head back, his breath coming in shallow, ragged gasps. Chris’s mouth was moving down his throat, kissing, licking, nibbling, and the gunman’s hand was gradually intensifying its ministrations to his cock. Heat was rolling through him in hard waves, threatening to char him from the inside out. He was leaning into Chris’s mouth and thrusting into his hand, the pain in his back as nothing compared to the raw and blistering ache of his need.

"Goddamn… uppity… gunfighter!" he snarled as lightning danced along his every nerve. He swatted the hat back off Larabee’s head, then knotted a hand into the man’s black shirt and pulled him closer. "Want… want ya… ya sonuvabitch!"

Chris chuckled softly against Vin’s throat. "You sweet-talker, you." He found the throbbing pulse in Tanner’s throat, laved it with his tongue, then sank his teeth sharply into the warm, wet flesh.

"GOD!" Vin shrieked as his whole body convulsed in pain and pleasure. "Chris!"

Larabee immediately pulled away and looked over his shoulder in a momentary panic. Vin Tanner was normally the quietest, most reserved man he knew, but he’d forgotten how incredibly vocal the nearly-silent man could be in the throes of passion. Hell, he could put a pack of howlin’ wolves to shame!

He had a fleeting urge to thrust a hand over Vin’s mouth to silence him, but stifled it at once. He knew what instincts, what fears, the attempt at restraint would arouse, and had no desire to bring that upon his lover. Or upon himself. Instead, he brought both hands to Vin’s head and cradled it gently between them, staring intently into dilated eyes.

"Listen ta me, pard," he ordered in a low, firm voice, ignoring Tanner’s whimper at having his cock released. "We can do this, God knows I wanta do this, but you gotta be quiet, okay? The last thing we need is for the whole town ta come bargin’ in here and findin’ out just why you like bathin’ at night. You understand?"

Vin licked his lips and nodded weakly, then twined his arms about Larabee’s neck and drew the man to him. "I’ll be good," he whispered hoarsely, lifting his mouth to the gunman’s. "I promise."

Chris groaned and sank helplessly into that hot, hungry kiss. Hell, he didn’t doubt that for a minute! Vin was always good, and it was gonna be the death of him yet. But he could no more deny his need for the Texan than he could stop breathing. With another groan, he rose to his feet and pulled Tanner up with him, ignoring the water soaking into his clothes as he crushed the man’s naked body close against his own.

"God, I’ve missed you!" he breathed against the lips ravishing his. "Next time, Stains can do his own damn trackin’–" Any further words were silenced as Vin’s tongue thrust past his lips and through his teeth, plunging deeply into his mouth. He responded eagerly, hungrily, his own tongue rising to meet and meld with Vin’s, his mouth devouring greedily all that the tracker offered. Heat ignited within him, bringing his blood to a boil and scorching his nerves and he clutched Tanner to him, fanning the flames higher still.

Vin buried his mouth in Chris’s and dug his fingers into Larabee’s back, his senses reeling beneath the onslaught of the man’s heat and hardness. The gunman’s taste, scent and feel swept through him with a potency no amount of whiskey could ever match, stripped him of all restraint and shattered his every defense. He plumbed the wet depths of Chris’s mouth with his tongue, feasted ravenously at his sculpted jaw and down the long column of his neck, and wanted, needed, still more, always more, a man dying of hunger despite the feast within his grasp.

Chris recognized the wildness rising in the tracker, heard it in the low growls punctuating the assaults of that greedy mouth, felt it in the ruthlessness of his clutching, raking, clawing hands, and marveled yet again at the Texan’s contradictory nature. Outwardly, Tanner was as calm, as composed, as reserved a man as he’d ever known. But, God, just beneath that placid exterior seethed a savagery unlike any he’d ever known in a lover.

And that awakened an answering savagery in him.

"You need ta get outta that tub, pard," he whispered hoarsely, urging the tracker over the side.

"And you need ta git outta them clothes!" Vin snarled, trying to pull the shirt out of Larabee’s pants but impeded by the black brocade vest. "Goddamn it!" he spat in frustration, grabbing the tails of the vest.

"Oh, no ya don’t!" Chris snapped, grabbing Vin’s hands before they could do any damage. "You ain’t ruinin’ anymore of my clothes! Miz Potter’s startin’ ta wonder about all the buttons and thread I buy as it is!"

"Then shuck ’em or lose ’em," Vin growled as he pulled away, blue eyes gone almost black and burning with an unholy light. "Been thinkin’ about ya fer four days now, ’n I’m goddamn tired a’ thinkin’!"

"And here I always thought you were a man who enjoyed ponderin’," Chris teased with a wicked grin as he slowly unbuttoned his vest.

Vin scowled and stepped close again, then idly flicked a forefinger against one of the still-fastened buttons. "Y’ don’t hurry up," he warned in a low, dangerous voice, "’n it’s you who’ll be ponderin’ jist where’n the hell all these purty damn buttons’ve gone."

"Thought you were patient," Chris said, unconsciously working faster at the threat he knew from experience was not an idle one.

Vin stepped closer still, his body brushing against Chris’s, his breath whispering against the gunman’s face. "’At’s the trouble with you, Larabee," he rasped softly. "Ya think too goddamn much." His arms snaked up and he grabbed Chris’s head in his hands, pulling it forward and reclaiming Larabee’s mouth in a hard and hungry kiss.

Chris gasped and shuddered and his knees buckled, and he only barely caught himself before falling. Tanner’s mouth was plundering his with a desperate greed and the tracker shoved a hard thigh between his two, thrusting his thick-swollen cock furiously against Chris’s crotch. White heat exploded through him in a searing storm and he wound his arms tightly about Vin’s lean, naked body, crushing the man to him and abandoning all thought of restraint.

Jesus, much more of this and he’d be the one howling!

With a desperate act of will, he tore his mouth from Vin’s with a thick groan and pushed tracker back, holding him at bay with hands pressed to his chest. "Gimme a minute!" he snarled as Vin struggled against him. "You’re the one who told me ta shuck my clothes! Well, I can’t do that if you’re hangin’ all over me and tryin’ ta suck the air outta my lungs, now can I?"

Vin stopped fighting at that and stepped back, eyes glittering wildly in the lamplight, breath tearing from him in short, sharp gasps. "Do it then!" he spat through clenched teeth.

Chris ran an unsteady hand over his face and through his hair, trying to gather his thoughts, then, at a low growl from Vin, quickly began undressing. And only as he removed them did he realize just how wet his clothes had gotten. Should’ve brought a change, he chided himself in irritation. Shit, he really needed to start thinkin’ these things through!

Though Vin always seemed to suck the ability to think right out of him, too…

No sooner had he shed the last of his clothes than Vin grabbed him by the forearms, yanked him close and again buried his mouth beneath a devastating kiss, destroying what was left of his reason. Then that excruciating, exquisite mouth was gone from his and he was being shoved – blind, breathless and rubber-kneed – toward the tub.

"Git in," Vin ordered hoarsely. "I ain’t finished with m’ bath jist yet."

Chris had no choice but to comply, would have thrown himself off a cliff if Vin asked it of him just now. He stumbled into the tub and all but fell into the warm water, little caring if he drowned so long as Vin was with him when it happened.

Jesus God, what had Tanner done to him?

Vin gave a wolfish grin and climbed into the tub, straddling Larabee and facing him. He breathed Chris’s name and leaned forward, reclaiming the gunman’s swollen lips with his in a kiss that was as slow and gentle as the one before had been hard and fast. His hands wandered through the golden wealth of his lover’s hair, down his head and neck to his shoulders and over their broad span, then down the muscled length of his powerful chest. While his fingers stroked over Chris’s smooth, wet flesh, his lips, teeth and tongue glided over the chiseled angles and planes of Larabee’s face, tasting, teasing, nipping lightly, his hunger for the man insatiable.

Chris closed his eyes and shuddered hard, clinging tightly, desperately to the edges of the tub as Vin seduced him with a shattering slowness. The tracker’s mouth and hands whispered and danced over his body like a gentle rain, wringing thick, wordless groans from him and sending frissons of heat thrumming along his every nerve. Then Tanner’s hand was at his cock, long fingers wrapping around him and stroking, a callused thumb was dragged over the sensitive head of his shaft, and he damn near wept in pleasure.

"Oh, God… Jesus God… Vin!" he whispered raggedly in a mindless litany of need.

Never varying his rhythm at Chris’s cock, Vin bowed his head and laved a tongue over a dark, taut nipple, then closed his teeth about the small nub and sucked slowly. His free hand wandered to Larabee’s other nipple, his fingers pinching and rolling it to pebble-hardness, his whole, formidable concentration focused on the man writhing and moaning against him. He’d been thinking of this, dreaming of this, for the past four days, and now he was finally gonna have what he’d been wanting.

He was gonna have his sweet relief.

Heat churned in Chris’s belly and groin, and every drop of blood in his body now pounded through his cock. He clutched at the tub, at Vin, at whatever he could reach, his entire existence reduced to the desperate need raging through him.

"Please!" he gasped frantically as that mouth, those hands, tormented him with so much skill and not a bit of mercy. "So c… so close… please!"

Vin knew he could bring the man off right here and now if he chose, but had no intention of doing it this way. He’d been aching for too long, been empty for too long, and what he wanted most was to feel the man who’d become his heart and soul filling him as only he could.

"Hang on, cowboy," he rasped lifting his head and dropping one arm over the side of the tub to feel for what he wanted. "Gonna take care of us both, I promise."

"Do it!" Chris snarled, opening glittering, unfocused eyes and fixing them on his lover’s face. "Goddamn, you say I’m slow!"

"Well, y’are," Vin drawled easily, finally finding and raising the tin of sunflower liniment. "Hell, I thought you’s never gonna git them clothes off." He had a brief moment of indecision with the liniment, then realized he would need both hands to open it. With a resigned sigh, he released Chris’s cock and pried the lid from the tin.

"In case you ain’t noticed," Chris growled, trying not to reach for his abandoned flesh himself, "my clothes’ve been off for a while now, and you still ain’t doin’ much about it!"

Vin tossed aside the lid and lifted his gaze to Chris, blinking slowly, serenely. "Ain’t much fer patience, are ya?"

"I swear ta God, Tanner, I’m gonna shoot you yet–"

"Best be thinkin’ of a real good explanation fer why we’re both nekkid then," Vin pointed out with unassailable logic. "I mean, somebody’s bound ta notice that." He dipped his fingers into the liniment and scooped out a generous amount, smiling and winking at the seething gunman. "Don’t reckon this is what Nathan intended it fer, but what he don’t know won’t hurt him."

Chris recognized the smell; he’d applied it to Vin’s back often enough to know it by now. "You hurtin’?" he asked with a sudden, worried frown.

Vin’s smile grew. "Yeah, but I reckon we’re about ta take care a’ that–"

"I meant your back."

Vin tilted his head to one side and narrowed his eyes, thinking. If Chris thought he was in too much pain, he’d call this off right now. But if he said no, Larabee would know he was lying and would call it off anyway.

The man could be plumb troublesome when he was worried…

"Reckon it hurts a mite," he finally allowed, deciding truth would serve him best. "But not enough that I cain’t do this. ’Sides," he winked again, "I got a real good way ta take my mind off it fer a while."

Chris chuckled softly and shook his head. "You’re hopeless," he laughed, trusting that Tanner would know what his back would and wouldn’t allow. He’d admitted to hurting too much for this often enough in the past for Chris to doubt him in that regard.

"Naw," Vin breathed, smiling again. "I got me lotsa hopes, ’n yer damn near all of ’em."

Chris was oddly touched by those words, by what they revealed to him of this man’s heart. "C’mere, you," he breathed, reaching for Vin and pulling him close, claiming the tracker’s lips in a long, deep kiss.

Vin shivered and only barely remembered to hold on to the liniment before it fell into the water. But, Lord, it was so hard to think straight when Chris kissed him like this…

"All right," Larabee murmured, ending the kiss and gently pushing Tanner away, "let’s see if we can’t get your mind off your back."

Vin arched a brow at him. "I’s kinda hopin’ there might be somethin’ in this fer you, too."

Chris smiled slowly, green eyes gleaming. "Oh, I’m sure there will be," he said, running a long forefinger slowly down Vin’s chest and eliciting another shiver from the man. "Usually is." He reached out and took the liniment from Vin’s loose grasp. "Give me this before you drop it." He set the tin onto the floor. "Unless you want to explain ta Nathan why you need another batch so soon."

Vin blinked and swallowed hard. "Gonna need that," he whispered distractedly.

Chris nodded toward the stuff already globbed into Tanner’s right hand. "Think that right there oughtta do, pard."

Vin blinked again, then looked down at the liniment he’d forgotten. "Oh," he rasped. "Reckon it should."

Chris gave an evil grin. "Think you remember how ta use that stuff?"

Vin snapped out of his dreaminess at that and scowled at his lover. "Uppity sonuvabitch," he griped. "Hell, I’s doin’ jist fine by m’self ’fore you ever showed up!"

"Yep," Chris agreed easily, "you were. And ‘fine’ is… fine, but," he pursed his lips thoughtfully, then shrugged, "I’m thinkin’ we could do better."

Vin watched that mobile mouth, saw the dip in the full lower lip deepen in the way that never ceased to send a spear of heat through him, and forgot about the liniment again.

"Tanner?" Chris called softly, taking a deep and wicked delight in his ability to fluster the normally unflappable tracker. "You still with me here, pard? Water’s gonna get cold soon." He slid a hand to Vin’s hip and lightly stroked the man’s wet, smooth flesh with the pad of his thumb. "Be a shame ta waste all this heat," he breathed.

Vin licked his lips slowly and leaned into that caressing hand. "H… heat… Yeah…" He swallowed again, pulled himself together again, and wished Larabee would stop doing this to him. Then immediately took back that wish. He hoped the man never stopped doing this to him. And didn’t think he ever would. "Reckon we’d best git to it then." He dropped his gaze to Chris’s erection, which had begun to flag slightly. "If ya think ya can," he teased.

Chris glared at him. "My gun’s within easy reach, Tanner," he growled.

"Gonna shoot the li’l feller?" Vin asked innocently. "Put him outta his mis’ry?"

Larabee clenched his teeth and glared harder. "So help me God–"

"Naw," Vin breathed, smiling slyly, "’at’s my job." He closed his fingers once more about Larabee’s shaft and slid his hand slowly along its length, feeling it grow full again as he lubricated it. "’N I always take my work real serious."

Chris gasped and shuddered as those strong, sure fingers brought him once more to throbbing hardness, as Tanner’s touch again brought his hunger to a fever pitch. He grabbed the sides of the tub and thrust helplessly into that hand, groaning each time those fingers pulled.

God, God, the man was a devil!

But the devil wasn’t finished yet. When he had Larabee’s cock well coated, he rose onto his own knees, lifting himself off his lover’s lap and just breaking the surface of the water. Intensely aware of Chris’s fascinated gaze upon him, he wound long fingers about his own cock, slicking it slowly and bringing it to twitching, weeping fullness, keen ears catching the exact moment when Chris’s breathing changed to match the rhythmic stroked of his hand. From his cock, his fingers glided over his balls and finally to the tight, puckered entrance behind them. His cock stood erect, his breath came in short, sharp gusts and his eyes darkened and dilated as he massaged the liniment around and over his hole, then slid his finger into his body. A gasp tore from him and he tensed, his blood draining in a heated rush to his groin, but he held himself in check and slipped in another finger, preparing himself for his lover.

Chris watched in fevered fascination, panting along with Vin, naked flesh bathed in a sheen of sweat, his heart pounding like a runaway horse. The fierce thrill he’d felt earlier at watching Vin satisfy himself returned in full. Tanner was so beautiful in his unselfconscious pleasure, so uninhibited and unfettered in his actions, that once again Larabee was reminded of the wild, free creature housed in the quiet tracker’s body.

The man was a goddamn marvel…

Vin knew he could bring them both off this way, too, but didn’t want to. His own hand might have sufficed once, had sufficed more times than he cared to recall, but such was no longer the case. He had Chris now, and as long as he had him, nothing and no one else would ever suffice again.

He was done settlin’ for whatever he could get.

Slowly he withdrew his fingers, unable to suppress his groan of loss, but had only to look at the man before him to know that much better awaited him. "Time ta ride, cowboy," he said in a low, husky rasp, his smoky blue-black gaze still holding Larabee’s. As Chris’s eyes widened and darkened in comprehension, Vin grasped the edge of the tub with one hand to steady himself and took Larabee’s hard, slick shaft in his other, guiding the blunt, flushed tip to his entrance, then pressed himself down onto the rigid flesh.

"Jesus!" he hissed as the familiar burning, cramping pain of penetration assailed him.

Chris tensed and sucked in a sharp breath as Vin took him inside, then reached out and grabbed the tracker’s narrow waist to hold him steady. Intense, almost intolerable pleasure flooded him as Tanner’s wet heat engulfed him, but he fought back his immediate instinct to thrust deeper, not wanting to move before Vin was ready.

But, God, it felt so good!

Vin balanced his weight between Larabee’s lap and his own trembling legs and clutched at Chris’s shoulders, holding himself still and trusting completely that Larabee would never let him fall. Within moments his body adjusted to the intrusion, and pain was replaced by the exquisite sensation of Chris’s heat and hardness filling him. He slid lower, took Larabee deeper, but still it wasn’t enough. Could never be enough.

"Oh, Lord, Chris!" he moaned on a hitching breath as the rest of the world spun away and dissolved into nothingness. All that existed for him now was the man beneath him, inside him, and the wondrous pleasure that bound them as one.

Chris shifted slightly in the tub to give himself a better angle and gathered himself to thrust, but was stopped by Vin’s hands pressing against his shoulders. He stared in confusion at the tracker, but Vin only shook his head and gave him a wicked smile. Well acquainted with the devilishly inventive mind behind that smile, Chris licked his lips and shivered as hot wave of anticipation swept through him. He nodded and subsided with an unsteady breath, trusting the man atop him as he did no other.

Vin recognized that trust and held it as one of his greatest treasures, knowing as he did how rarely it was given. His smile softened and he leaned forward, brushing his lips against Larabee’s in a kiss not of lust, but of love.

"Gonna take care of ya now, cowboy," he whispered against Chris’s mouth. "Gonna make it real good fer ya."

Chris lifted a shaking hand and brushed the wet, curling hair away from Tanner’s face, green eyes locked with blue. "You always do, pard," he breathed huskily, even now amazed by the depth and force of the love the Texan had awakened in him.

Vin kissed him again and straightened, his hands still resting on Larabee’s broad shoulders. He smiled, winked and, mimicking Chris’s own familiar command, rasped, "Let’s ride."

Larabee opened his mouth to ask what Tanner intended, but instead gasped and stiffened as Vin took all his weight onto his legs and lifted himself off the gunman. Flexing his iron-hard thighs, the tracker pushed himself up Larabee’s shaft to its head, stopped and held there for long, breathless moments, clenching the muscles of his ass tightly around Chris, then sliding back down. And just when Chris thought he remembered how to breathe, Vin rose again, held, clenched, and sank. Tanner groaned, bowed his head and closed his eyes tightly, his long hair falling forward, the cords in his neck standing out as he settled into his rhythm, as he rode Larabee with a determined slowness, torturing them both with his unhurried pace.

Chris thought Vin had finally found a sure way to kill him. Each movement of the tracker’s body sent new shockwaves of chaotic sensation slamming through him, wrung unbearable pain from him and then turned it to even more unbearable pleasure, set his every nerve screaming for immediate relief even as he struggled with his own body to keep it from rushing toward much-needed climax. It might be the death of him, but he didn’t want to rush this, didn’t want to miss a moment of such heavenly hell, didn’t ever want to be shaken from this place where everything he was and everything he had was Vin Tanner’s for the asking.

Never, ever wanted that.

Vin felt the exact moment when Chris surrendered every bit of control, every bit of himself, to him and gave a sharp hiss of triumph. He lifted his head slowly and opened his eyes, and, with a predatory smile, gradually quickened the pace of his movements. Up and down, faster, harder, taking Chris deeper every time until he was rocking frantically against the shaft now fully embedded in him. Thick groans mingled with his panting gasps and he threw back his sodden head and arched his neck, his own need pounding furiously through him.

Oh, God, God, he was so close!

Touched by that same wildness, Chris shifted again and began thrusting into Vin, unable any longer to deny his body’s need. Tanner’s heat washed over him in waves, feeding his own, and he moved one hand from Vin’s hip to his cock, closing his fingers about it. He stroked in time with his thrusts, rewarded by a guttural cry, then moved once more inside Vin to find the angle he sought. Again and again he drove himself against the tracker’s prostate while pumping ruthlessly at the man’s cock. They were in a shared frenzy, their bodies working in perfect concert, two souls racing toward the precipice as one.

And together they flew over it, Vin jetting into Chris’s hand as Chris shot his seed into Vin’s bowels. The shattering force of their mutual orgasm threatened to sear the flesh from their bones, tore the breath from their bodies and wrung the strength from their muscles as it flung them into the abyss. Chris shuddered and fell back against the tub, spent and shaking, and Vin collapsed against him, completely drained of all feeling.

For long, long moments they lay like that, heaped and tangled, neither knowing quite where he ended and the other began. Never caring, because there truly were no such distinctions between them. Even when Chris’s softened flesh slipped from Vin, breaking the physical bond, the union of their souls remained intact and each could still feel the other imbedded in the deepest part of himself. Only when Chris vaguely noticed how quickly the water was cooling did his sluggish mind begin to think that it might be time to get out.

Though God knew he could lay with Tanner atop him forever…

"You still alive, pard?" he rasped at last, his voice as weak as his body.

"Don’t think so," Vin murmured faintly, snuggling closer to Chris to escape the chill that had crept into the air. "Think I done died ’n gone ta heaven."

"Never figured heaven’d be a bath house," Chris chuckled, idly combing his fingers through the damp, tangled strands of Tanner’s hair.

"Is if yer in it," Vin breathed contentedly.

Chris smiled slightly, softly, and lifted his head, planting a gentle kiss on the top of Vin’s. "C’mon, Tanner, we gotta get up and dressed. If ol’ Pete finds us in here like this, he’s liable ta take away that key."

Vin sighed resignedly and struggled to sit up, then blinked owlishly at Chris. "Ain’t washed my hair yet," he suddenly remembered.

"Hell," Chris sighed.

Vin scowled defensively. "Ain’t my fault. Some long, tall, ornery-assed gunfighter come creepin’ in here’n interrupted my bath."

Larabee arched a golden brow at him. "Didn’t hear you complainin’," he pointed out.

Vin shrugged easily. "Reckon I ain’t the complainin’ type," he retorted.

"Like hell," Chris grumbled. He sighed and sat up. "All right, turn around. Let’s get your hair washed so we can get outta here–"

"Don’t need no help," Vin said stubbornly, his chin lifting. "I can do it m’self."

"Yeah," Chris snorted, reaching over the tub and retrieving the soap. "Just like you were doin’ it yourself when I came in. And look where it got us."

"Didn’t hear you complainin’," Vin returned with a smirk.

"Only thing I’ll complain about is havin’ ta bury your sorry ass after I shoot ya," Chris growled. "Now, turn around. I ain’t spendin’ the night in a tub of water!"

Vin sighed heavily and scowled deeply, but turned around anyway. "Goddamn uppity gunfighter," he muttered. "Ya keep this up ’n I’ll take ta bathin’ durin’ the day– Shit!" he gasped in shock as Chris poured water over his head from cupped hands. "Jesus, Larabee, a little warnin’ next time!"

"And deprive you of somethin’ ta complain about? Now where’d be the fun in that? Here," he gripped Vin’s shoulders and pulled him back, "closer. Now," he took up the soap again and worked it into a lather in his hands, "sit still and behave."

Vin opened his mouth to protest, but immediately closed it and sighed happily as long, strong fingers began working the soap gently through his hair. He closed his eyes and smiled, leaning into the hands caressing his scalp.

Sweet relief.