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Sweetest Remedy


DISCLAIMER: Yet again, Iíve put them on my Christmas list. But until Santa comes through for me, they belong to those people. And we all know who those people are.

PAIRING: C/V. Can you believe it?


NOTES: Some months ago I wrote a liíl PWP called "Sweet Relief," featuring two purty men in a bathhouse doing, well, what two purty men in a bathhouse do. And, me being me, Iíd banged Vin up pretty good before he got there. Then several (!) folks kindly pointed out that I had neglected to let Chris properly tend Vinís owwies and started throwing around that "s" word. I caved, and hereís the sequel. This was written especially for Jean, whoís been having a hard time of it lately. Hon, I hope this makes you feel better! Thanks as always to Ruby, my beta, my buddy, the dear friend of my heart. Thanks also to Gayle, who knows why. ;-)



Larabee scowled and swore softly in irritation as he pulled on his damp pants. Why the hell hadnít he brought a change of clothes? He shouldíve known that after four long days and even longer nights without Vin he wouldnít be able to muster either the patience or presence of mind enough to undress before taking the man in his arms again. Shit, clothing was usually the first casualty when they came together!

Though at least this time all his buttons and seams were intactÖ

He looked up at the sound of a bitten-off groan a few feet away, and his vexation quickly gave way to concern as his gaze lit on Vin. The tracker, too, was struggling to dress, though he was hampered not by the state of his clothing, but by the state of his body. After spending those four days in the saddle on a hard chase after an outlaw desperate not to be caught and then getting thrown out of that saddle during Pesoís violent altercation with a rattler, his touchy back was out again and he sported a collection of increasingly spectacular bruises. Vin had so far managed only to don his underpants, wincing at even the smallest pull on his back, and was now kneeling slowly, stiffly, to retrieve his undershirt. His face twisted into a deep grimace of pain and Chris sighed and shook his head.

"How bad is it?" he asked quietly. "And I want the truth."

Vin found the shirt and steeled himself, then straightened carefully, trying to avoid aggravating the various deep aches that plagued him. But the effort failed when his back seized up, tearing a sharp breath from him as an invisible knife seared through his lower spine.

"Shit!" he gasped through clenched teeth, closing his eyes tightly and holding himself perfectly still to keep the knife from twisting any further. "ReckonÖ it hurts a mite," he whispered hoarsely.

Chris was at Vinís side in two long strides, the discomfort of his wet pants forgotten amid his concern at his loverís suffering. Standing so close to Vin that their bodies touched, he slipped one strong arm about the manís trim waist to steady and support him, then closed his other hand firmly about Vinís, offering it freely for the tracker to hold.

"Itís all right," he soothed, not liking at all the tightness of Vinís face or the way the manís long, strong fingers curled about his own in a death-grip. "Just take your time. I gotcha. I wonít letcha fall."

Vin kept his eyes closed and his jaw clenched, blowing out sharp gusts of air through his nose as he waited for the hard, hot spasms to subside. Even through the pain, though, he felt Chrisís warmth, his strength, and let himself lean into them, instinctively seeking refuge in the man.

Lord God, how had he ever existed without this?

"Could be that makiní love in that tub wasnít the smartest thing weíve ever done," Chris mused, taking more of Vinís weight against him, ready to do whatever it took to ease the agony written on his loverís face. "Next time, maybe we oughtta wait until we can find a bed."

"Didnít wanta wait," Vin rasped, still clinging with all his strength to Chris. "Wanted you. Missed ya." He stiffened and swallowed hard as another spasm gripped him, then loosed a shuddering breath as it relented. "Reckon yer worth a liíl painĖ"

"But this ainít a little pain," Chris pointed out, worry roughening his voice, "and Iím not worth any of it." He carefully pulled Vin more closely still against him, knowing from experience how Tanner could move and how he couldnít when the spasms were upon him, and gently coaxed the manís wet, shaggy head onto his shoulder, condemning his undershirt to the same dampness that afflicted his pants.

And not caring one damn bit.

"I missed ya," Vin said again, slowly relaxing as the pain gradually eased to a more tolerable level. "Been away from ya four days already. I jistÖ missed ya."

Chris sighed and rested his cheek against Vinís hair. "I want you ta listen ta me," he said gently. "I missed you, too. Hell, I always miss ya when youíre gone. And I imagine every damn thing weíre gonna do when you get back. But I donít wanta do any of it at your expense, you hear me? Itís not worth it. Not if it only ends up causiní you more pain."

"Didnít wanta wait no more," Vin said stubbornly. "Couldnít see makiní you wait."

Chris chuckled quietly. "Trust me, pard, youíre always worth the wait. I think we just proved that."

Vin raised his head from Chrisís shoulder and turned it toward his lover, smiling crookedly. "Yíainít sí bad yerself, cowboy," he drawled. "Hell, if you was any better, I wouldnít be able ta walk at all!"

"I do aim ta please," Chris said with a grin. He arched a golden brow. "Can you get dressed all right?"

Vin pulled away with a snort. "Hell, yeah!" he said impatiently. "I been dressiní myself fer a long time now, yíknow."

Chris heaved a sigh and shook his head at the familiar show of independence. "Mule-stubborn," he breathed. He arched a brow at his lover. "You mind telliní me how youíre gonna pull on your pants when you canít even bend over?"

Vin opened his mouth to answer, but closed it again when he realized he had no idea. Chrisís mouth curved into a grin, and Vin shot him a withering glare. "Ainít gotta look so goddamn smug," he grumbled. "Hell, if it wasnít fer you I wouldnít be in this fix!"

"Me?" Chris barked in surprise. "How the hell is this my fault? Youíre the one who dragged me into that damn tub!"

"Yep," Vin agreed, crossing his arms against his bare chest and lifting his chin to stare belligerently at Chris, "but I wouldníta had ta do that if ya hadnít come sneakiní in here aní interruptiní mí bath. Iís gonna stay in here aní soak long enough soís my back wouldnít trouble me none. But you just had ta show up aní shoot that plan all ta hell, didnít ya?" He nodded once, firmly. "Face it, Larabee, yer jist a bad influence on me."

Chris gaped wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the tracker, unable to believe what he was hearing. Vin, knowing he was watching, had purposely tormented him by nearly bringing himself off in the tub; Vin hadnít been able to wait for him to undress and had soaked his clothes; Vin had ignored his own aching back, had all but thrown him into the tub and damn near fucked his brains out; and he was the bad influence here?

"Yíknow," he finally managed to croak, still staring stupidly at the man, "thereís just somethiní wrong with you!"

"Hmph," Vin snorted. "Try beiní honest with some folks." He regarded Chris almost pityingly a few moments longer, then finally dropped his gaze to his clothes and sighed softly. He really didnít know how he was gonna do this.

Chris could see Vin puzzling over exactly how heíd get his clothes on without bending his back and exhaled sharply in frustration. Of course it would never occur to the man just to ask for help. Cursing his loverís stubbornness under his breath, he turned and stalked across the bathhouse to the front door, where the attendantís stool sat. Shaking his head and muttering darkly the whole time, he snatched up the stool and stalked back to Vin, setting it down before him with a solid "thump" of the legs against the floor.

"Sit," he ordered tersely, glowering at Vin and daring him to refuse. "Iím gonna help you, and youíre gonna take it!"

Vin stiffened and straightened Ė or came as close to it as his back would allow Ė and returned Larabeeís glare with equal ferocity. "And if I donít?" he growled, not liking at all the manís tone. "I ainít yer dawg, Larabee, ín I ainít gotta jump at yer command!"

Chrisís mouth clamped into a thin, hard line and his eyes narrowed dangerously. A thousand and one threats sprang immediately to mindÖ

And he immediately let them die unspoken, knowing that not a one of them would have any effect on the man before him. His expression alone would have had anyone else hunting cover, but Vin Tanner wasnít anyone else. The tracker couldnít be pushed, wouldnít be pulled, and for damn sure couldnít be threatened. And any man who tried would either get laughed at or shot. Or both.

Goddamn it.

Chris exhaled slowly and scrubbed a hand over his face. Then, with a forced patience, he ground out through clenched teeth, "Please sit and please let me help you, you stubborn sonuvabitch! You can barely move and youíll only hurt yourself worse if you keep goiní. So just this once, do as youíre told." He clenched his teeth harder. "Please."

Vin stared at Chris for long moments, caught between pain and sheer stubborn independence. It was all he could do to keep standing and he knew that bending over was out of the question. But, goddamn it, he really hated beiní ordered about!

Chris could see the battle raging in Vinís eyes and forced himself to release his anger, knowing heíd taken the wrong tack. The tracker had been taking care of himself for so long that heíd simply forgotten there was any other way to do it. Chris had willingly taken upon himself the task of reminding him, but sometimes he forgot how carefully he had to go about that task. Like the wild and wary creature he was, Vin required a gentle, patient hand or heíd pull away with every defense snapping rigidly into place.

And Chris would rather die than see Vin pull away from him.

With that in mind, he stepped closer to Vin and reached out to run his fingers through the wet, curling strands of his hair. "Iím sorry for snarliní," he said softly, his fingers sliding slowly down Vinís neck and stroking lightly. "But you can be so stubbornÖ You donít have to do things on your own anymore, yíknow," he breathed, feeling Vin relaxing under his touch. "Youíre not alone. Iím here ta help you. All you have to do is ask." He slipped his thumb under Vinís chin and lifted until the trackerís eyes met his. "I promise I wonít say Ďno.í"

Vin bowed his head and closed his eyes, nestling his cheek into Chrisís hand and treasuring the warmth and gentleness of that touch. "I know that," he whispered. "I do. Itís jistÖ"

"The habits of a lifetime are hard to break," Chris finished softly, knowing more than he wanted to about the life that had forced the forming of those habits. "I keep forgettiní how new all this is ta you."

"Yeah." Vin opened his eyes and lifted them to Chrisís, studying the man intently. The green eyes that could glitter with icy murder were now soft and deep and filled only with concern for him. He tilted his head slightly to one side and frowned thoughtfully, then lifted a hand to Larabeeís face and traced the strongly sculpted features he knew so well with feather-light fingers. "I keep telliní míself Iíll git used to it," he breathed, sinking helplessly into those eyes, "but I jist ainít sure I ever will. Ya beat all I ever seen, Larabee, aní, believe me, I done seen an awful lot."

Chris captured that wandering hand in his own and pressed it to his lips, tenderly kissing the callused fingers. "That mean youíre gonna let me take care of ya?" he asked softly, his breath stirring lightly against Tannerís skin.

Vin shivered and exhaled unsteadily as that low voice and gentle kiss swept like silk against his soul and softly shattered his every defense. No man had ever asked to take care of him before; hell, no man had ever wanted to take care of him before. Yet here was Chris Larabee, of all men, asking that very thingÖ

"Donít seeÖ how I could refuseÖ when yí ask sí nice," he whispered hoarsely.

Chris cupped Vinís face between both his hands and pressed his lips to Tannerís in a slow, sweet, lingering kiss. "Then donít," he breathed against his loverís mouth. "Let me do this for you." He kissed Vin again and then pulled away, grinning at the soft sound of loss that escaped the tracker. "Letís get you dressed and up to your room. See if I canít do somethiní about that back of yours."

Vin licked his lips, relishing the taste of the man that lingered there, and reached once more for Chrisís hand, not ready yet to have their physical connection broken. "Can think of a few things Iíd like ya ta do," he rasped, blue eyes gone dark and smoky. "Ainít thought aí nothiní else fer four days now."

Chris arched a brow and forced a stern look, willing himself to ignore his bodyís instinctive response to Tannerís touch. "Weíre not gonna do a thing that I donít think youíre up to," he said firmly. "I donít wanta have to explain ta folks how you crippled yourself!"

Vin gave a slow, crooked smile and circled his other arm about Chrisís lean waist, pulling the man to him. "Might be worth it," he breathed, pressing himself against Chris and lifting his mouth to the gunmanís. "íN you jist might be surprised at what Iím up to."

Chris groaned and shuddered as the tracker licked and nibbled lightly at one corner of his mouth. "No," he rasped as hot slivers of pleasure speared through him, "I donít think Iíd be surprised at all."


Vin trudged slowly through the night toward the boardinghouse with a limping gait, the pain in his lower back having long since sunk deep into his right hip and now working its way down his leg, making each step a fresh taste of hell and a test of his stubborn will. One foot in front of the other, that was all he had to do. He kept his head down, his eyes fixed on the ground only a few inches before him, not wanting to see how far he had left to go. Not sure he could take knowing. He reckoned heíd likely pay the price for this reckless lapse in vigilance one day, would be so intent on the ground that heíd fail to see the warning shadow of a bounty hunter or lawman and would be taken even before he knew the danger was upon him.

But, Lord God, sometimes he just got so tired of haviní to look around every corner, search every shadow, see everything before it, he or they saw him! Got tired of not lettiní himself ever be surprised. Took a lot of the flavor outta life when you stripped it of its surprises.

Still, it beat the hell outta findiní himself on the business end of a gun or the hangmanís nooseÖ

He exhaled sharply and shook his head to clear it of such grim thoughts. He knew it was weariness and pain that brought them on, but knew also he had a sure-fire remedy waitiní for him in his room. Chrisíd be up there by now, and that thought sent a welcome warmth curling through him. Hell, Larabee was the cure for everything that ailed him, had been since the first time those green eyes had lit on him and seen straight through to his soul.

íCourse, the body that went with those eyes did a powerful lot for him, tooÖ

A tingle of anticipation rippled through him and he licked his lips, then quickened his pace as much as his back would allow. Chris was upstairs waitiní for him, waitiní to take this pain from him, and Lord knew he needed what the man had to offer! He gave a low chuckle.

Not that it took a backache to have him neediní thatÖ

He raised his head slightly, saw the boardwalk that led to the boardinghouse just before him, and stepped gingerly up onto it, drawing a hissing breath as even that careful movement sent a heated blade slicing through him. Goddamn, it hurt! He stopped and reached abruptly for a post that supported the overhang of Digger Danís Saloon, leaning against it and swallowing hard against a sudden twinge of nausea.

Damn, but he wished Chris was here!

That couldnít be, though, and he knew it. Understood why, too. Hated it, but understood. Wouldnít do for him to be seen leaniní into Chris like he knew he would if the man was here. Right now, neediní Chrisís strength and care like he did, heíd give too much away and likely ruin everything. The townfolk already tolerated a fair amount of less than respectable behavior from their peacekeepers, but when it came to two of those peacekeepers loviní each otherÖ

Hell, that just didnít bear thinkiní on at all.

So heíd bitten back his pain, his need, and told Chris to go on before him. They couldnít risk being seen leaving the bathhouse together at this hour. Granted, heíd damn near had to pull his gun on Larabee to make him go, but the stubborn sonuvabitch had finally seen reason and slipped out without him.

And all the while Vin had felt secretly pleased Ė hell, delighted Ė that it had taken so much to persuade Larabee to leave him. It was still new and wondrous to him, having someone who cared enough about him to be ready to risk everything for him. He hadnít mattered that much to anybody in a long, long time. And if it took feeliní like he had a heated knife stuck in his back to remind him that he mattered that much to somebody now, that he mattered that much to ChrisÖ

Well, hell. It was just about worth it.

When the nausea subsided, he pulled away from the post and released it, then started once more down the boardwalk. He didnít have so far to go, not really, and the knowledge of what awaited him when he got there drew him steadily onward. One foot in front of the other, that was all he had to do. Chris would make it better. Chris always made everything better.

Nonetheless, by the time he reached the boardinghouse, slipped inside and limped across the parlor, he was all but at the end of his endurance. He stopped and stared dejectedly at the stairs that loomed before him like a mountain, made almost sick by the mere thought of climbing them. He groaned softly and slumped against the wall, bowing his head and closing his eyes against the hateful sight.


"Vin? You all right?"

The concerned voice at the top of the stairs brought his head up and wrenched a gasp from him as his eyes flew open. Chris stood up there and stared down at him, looking for all the world as if heíd just come from his own room, almost ready for bed. He wore only his undershirt and pants, dry pants, and was barefoot. A freshly-lit cheroot smoldered in his right hand, and the light of the oil lamp on the wall just over his right shoulder combined with the smoke from the cigar to cast a soft and hazy halo around his golden head. Vin could do no more than stare at the man like an idiot struck dumb by the sight of an angel.

Lord God, he was beautiful!


Conscious of the need for discretion, but gripped solidly by anxiety for his lover, Chris started slowly down the stairs, holding himself tightly in check. As much as he wanted just to rush to Vin and take him in his arms, he could allow himself only the appearance of a concerned friend.

But, God, the pain in Tannerís eyes and face tore at him like claws!

"You donít look too good, pard," he said quietly. "You all right? Somethiní happen out on the trail?"

Snared helplessly by the soft, deep green eyes that held such worry for him, Vin frowned in confusion at Chrisís odd question. Larabee already knewÖ Then, finally, reason kicked in and he managed to think clearly enough to play his part in the deception.

"Backís out," he rasped tightly, reminding himself that Chris wasnít supposed to know what had happened. "Had a hard chase, caught Two Feathers ín kilt him. On the way back a rattler spooked Peso, damn mule threw me." He stared at Chris, pain and need darkening his eyes and etched in every line of his face. "Reckon Iím hurtiní some," he admitted hoarsely.

Chrisís heart clenched at the suffering in Vinís soft voice, but he permitted himself no outward show of it. He merely stuck the cigar between his teeth and stepped off the last stair to Vinís side, then casually drew the trackerís right arm across his shoulders and slid his own left arm about the younger manís waist.

"Letís get you upstairs," he said with a brusque tenderness, taking his loverís weight against him as he would anyone elseís and starting him carefully up the stairs. "Miz Collins donít need you scariní off the payiní boarders."

"Fuck you, Larabee," Vin whispered unsteadily through clenched teeth.

Chris gave a soft chuckle and shook his head, green eyes gleaming warmly. "Nice ta see you, too."


Chris stood close behind Vin and removed the trackerís hat, tossing it onto the bed just a few steps away. "You just stand still," he ordered softly, dropping his hands to Tannerís shoulders. "Let me do the work."

"Sounds good ta me," Vin rasped, closing his eyes and entrusting himself completely into the gunmanís care. "I ainít lookiní ta move any moreín I gotta."

Chris slid his hands to the front edges of Tannerís hide coat and peeled the garment from him, slipping it down the manís loosely hanging arms and then sending it flying after his hat. Next was the gunbelt and Chris stepped closer still, his left arm winding about Vinís narrow waist and gently pulling back until the tracker was cradled securely against his chest, his right hand sliding down Tannerís thigh to the leather thong that secured his holster. As his fingers worked nimbly to loosen the knot there, Chris closed his eyes and pressed his face into the wealth of Vinís long hair, delighting in the feel of the soft strands against his skin and inhaling deeply of the fresh, clean scent of soap that clung to the freshly scrubbed tracker.

Funny how just the smell of the man could make him so ridiculously happyÖ

The ends of the thong fell away and Chris slid his hand around to the back of Vinís thigh, stroking slowly. "It down in your leg yet?" he asked, familiar with the path the pain traveled through his loverís body.

"Yeah," Vin breathed, letting the movements of Larabeeís long, strong but gentle fingers against him divert his mind from knowledge of pain to awareness of pleasure. "Reckon you was right about earlier in the tub not beiní real smart."

"Iím always right," Chris purred, still stroking Tannerís thigh and nuzzling lightly at the soft, warm flesh just below the manís right ear. "Thought you knew that."

Vin tilted his head to the left to give Chris greater access to his neck, his breath quickening and his flesh heating beneath that questing mouth. He licked his lips and tried to think of one of his customary smart-ass rejoinders. But Chrisís teeth grazed against the pulse in his throat, and the only reply he could put together was a breathless and feeble, "Oh yeah?"

Chris chuckled at that, taking a deep and shameless delight in dulling that sharp wit. Tanner could greet the direst of circumstances with a steady supply of wisecracks, but Larabee could disarm him with just a few well-placed kisses. It was a most satisfying sensation.

Still, his purpose here wasnít to seduce Vin, though that was always a pleasant diversion, and he turned his mind back to the matter at hand. With slow, sure movements, he unbuckled the younger manís heavy gunbelt and tossed it onto the bed, then slipped the wide leather suspenders off the sinewy shoulders. All the while, he showered a series of slow, soft kisses over Tannerís long neck and square jaw, distracting him the surest way he knew from the pain that plagued him.

And Vin was distracted, blissfully so. Braced securely against the lean, hard body behind him, supported by the strength that had never failed him, he kept his eyes closed and surrendered without hesitation to Chrisís will, knowing he was safe with this man as heíd been with precious few others. Hands so skilled at killing now treated him with the utmost care and gentleness, avoiding causing him pain when they could and helping him bear that pain when they couldnít. Vin had never felt so loved as when this gunfighterís deadly hands cherished him with their every touch.

Chris worked with a practiced skill at stripping Vin, careful never to place unnecessary strain on abused muscles or to jar his back with sudden movements. Kissing and caressing when he could, he removed the trackerís bandanna, shirt and undershirt, then unbuttoned the high-waisted tan trousers and pushed them and Vinís underpants as one down over his trim hips to just below the tight curve of his ass.

And there he stopped.

"All right," he breathed, stepping around in front of Vin and smiling into confused blue eyes, "time to get you in bed. Iíll take off the rest while youíre layiní down. That way you wonít have to lift your legs or bend anywhere."

Vin glanced down at the pants bunched around his legs, then looked back up at Larabee and arched a brow. "íN you donít think itíll hurt when I fall down after tryiní ta walk like this?"

Chris met that bemused stare placidly. "You trust me?"

"Yí know I do!" Vin answered without hesitation.

Chris smiled at the fierce sincerity of the words, then leaned forward and gently kissed the tracker. "Then you know I wonít letcha fall," he breathed against Tannerís mouth. "You know Iíd never do that."

"Reckon not," Vin whispered, all his apprehension banished by that sweet kiss. Chris started to pull away, but Vin reached out quickly and grabbed a handful of the manís undershirt, pulling him close once more. "Still," he rasped, raising his mouth hungrily, "might could use a liíl more reassuriní."

Chris laughed and shook his head. "You got no shame, Tanner," he chided. Nonetheless, he kissed the man again, unable to resist the lure of those warm, supple lips.

"Never said I did," Vin sighed happily.

Chris laughed again and set his hands on the trackerís narrow hips. "Much as I like kissiní ya, we got work ta do."

"Damn slave-driver," Vin grumbled.

"Yeah, I know. Itís a hard damn life," Chris said without a trace of sympathy. "All right, turn this way," he guided Vin through a half-turn, positioning him with his back to the bed, "and go back about, oh," he peered over the trackerís shoulder and quickly calculated, "maybe four small steps. And take it easy, because if you trip and I have to catch you, itís gonna hurt like hell."

Vin nodded, but trusted Chris not to let him trip in the first place. Slowly he backed up to the bed, stopping when he felt it against the backs of his legs. With a grateful sigh he eased himself down upon it, relieved to be off his feet and knowing even greater relief was coming.

One day he was gonna go out, hunt down and kill everí goddamn snake in the territory. Then he was gonna shoot Peso.

Chris gathered Vinís hat, coat and gunbelt from the bed and carried them to the dresser. At a sudden and sharp hiss behind him, he turned and saw Vin trying to lift his legs onto the bed, his whole body gone rigid with pain.

"Stop it!" he ordered harshly, hurrying back to the bed and pushing the trackerís legs back down until his feet were once more on the floor. "Didnít I tell you ta let me do the work?"

"Jist wanta lay down," Vin ground out through clenched teeth as another spasm wrenched hard at his muscles.

"Weíre gettiní to that," Chris snapped, his worry finding expression in anger. "Now," he dropped to one knee and grasped Vinís legs at mid-calf, "you just behave and let me do this, all right? Iím gonna take care of you if I have ta cold-cock you ta do it, you stubborn sonuvabitch!"

Vin threw a weak, strained smile at the glaring gunman. "Regular olí sweet-talker, ainítcha, cowboy?" he drawled hoarsely.

Chris exhaled sharply and stood upright, lifting Vinís legs as he did. As he lifted, he slowly turned Vin and finally set his feet on the bed. "You bring out all my charm," he growled. He helped Vin lay back, but when a groan escaped the tracker, his irritation instantly melted away. "You all right?" he asked worriedly, his gaze intently searching Tannerís. "I can get the laudanumĖ"

"Donít want it," Vin rasped, closing his eyes and holding himself still and straight. "Donít like it. Makes me sleep too deep. Keeps me woolly-headedÖ Cainít afford that."

Chris sighed and eased himself onto the edge of the bed at Vinís hip, gazing sadly into his loverís pain-lined face. He always hated the shadow that hung constantly over the younger man, robbing him of so much, but he never hated it more than at times like this, when that shadow robbed Vin even of the ability just to rest. He winced and shook his head slowly, then leaned forward and reached out to brush the hair back from Tannerís face with gentle fingers.

"Take it if you need it," he urged softly. "Iíll be here, you know that. Iíll watch overĖ"

"Cainít stay here all night," Vin breathed, wanting desperately to accept that offer even as reason told him he couldnít. "Youíll have ta leaveĖ"

"Like hell," Chris interrupted quietly, firmness in his voice and determination in his eyes. "I can spread a bedroll on the floor, make it look right. How many times has Buck camped out in JDís room when the kid needed him?"

"I ainít a kidĖ"

"Maybe not, but you still need lookiní after. Hell," Chris sighed, "everybody needs lookiní after sometimes. If folks in this town canít understand that, then to hell with íem." He gave a crooked smile and arched a brow. "Might as well say yes, Tanner, ícause I ainít leaviní. And right now you canít make me."

Vin scowled, not wanting Larabee to leave but not liking the manís smug assurance of victory, either. "Could shoot ya."

Chris thought a moment, then nodded. "You could." He winked. "But youíd miss out on a helluva back rub."

Vin gave a soft, rueful laugh and shook his head, knowing heíd lost. "Ya beat all I ever seen, cowboy," he breathed, blue eyes soft and dark. "Yer worseín a burr under the saddle."

"Yeah, but," Chris caught Vinís chin in a gentle hand and stared deeply into the midnight eyes, "as long as Iím the burr under your saddle, then thatís all right. Now," he slid his thumb lightly over Tannerís lips, "letís finish gettiní you undressed, then see if I canít do somethiní for your back."

Vin closed his eyes and opened his lips helplessly to the thumb brushing across them. "SoundsÖ like a plan ta me," he whispered.

"You let me do all the work?" Chris asked, continuing to caress his loverís mouth. "Let me take care of ya?" He slid his thumb from Vinís mouth to his throat and stroked the warm flesh there.

Vin groaned and shivered, willing to promise anything so long as Chris continued to touch him. "Yeah," he whispered unsteadily. "Cainít think of anything Iíd like more."


Chris ran a hand slowly over the small of Vinís back, applying the liniment heíd warmed in his palm, and smiled at the shiver that rippled through Tanner at his touch. Unable to resist, he dragged the nail of his forefinger lightly up the trackerís spine, eliciting another, harder shiver and an unsteady gasp from the man.

"Evil bastard!" Vin hissed.

Chris only chuckled and gently brushed aside Tannerís long hair, then leaned down and pressed a series of soft, wet kisses to the base of the manís neck. "Evil is," he whispered between kisses, "as evil does."

"Oh, Lord!" Vin groaned as Larabeeís breath stirred warmly against his moistened skin, sending sparks shooting along his nerves. "Thought youís síposed tí ease my pain, not add to it!"

Chris laughed again and sat up, sliding his hands down the length of Vinís spine. "Just seeiní if you were still awake," he teased. "Thought youíd drifted off on me."

Laying on his stomach, Vinís ability to glare over his shoulder at the man straddling him was limited, but he did his best. "Keep this up," he warned, "ín yer gonna find out jist how awake I am!"

Chris heaved a dramatic sigh and frowned deeply, shaking his head slowly. "Try and help some people," he lamented, pressing his thumbs into the flesh at either side of the trackerís spine, just above the start of its unnatural curve. "You got no appreciation, Tanner."

Vin opened his mouth to speak, but whatever answer he wouldíve given was swamped by the groan wrung from him as Chris dug deep into his tight, aching muscles and began to knead with a wondrous force and skill. The gunman started at his spine but moved outward along and across his muscles, finding every knot of pain and working at it with fingers and the heels of his hands until it released. After only a few minutes of this, Vin lost the ability to think, could only close his eyes and moan out his delight.

Chris smiled slightly, softly, as Vin first relaxed under his hands and then began to writhe against them in cat-like ecstasy. He knew how carefully the tracker avoided unnecessary physical contact with others, could read the reasons for that in the numerous scars that marred his body, and it both hurt and angered him that a man still so young should be more familiar with the pain human hands could deal than with the pleasure they could give. But he was determined to change that and, working sometimes even against his own natural reticence, often just touched Vin whenever he could Ė a pat on the back, a squeeze to his shoulder or the firm forearm clasp that was theirs alone Ė to show the man how pleasant, how comforting, even the simplest of such gestures could be. And his reward came at moments like this, when Vin abandoned the instincts of his hard and often hurtful life and reveled joyously in the feel of Chrisís hands upon him.

If Chris Larabee never did another thing right in all his life, this would more than make up for it.

So he concentrated now on giving Vin reason to revel, pouring all his effort and his whole will into ridding Tanner of even the memory of pain. His strong, sure fingers found and kneaded every muscle, pressed into and traveled up the crooked spine one vertebrae at a time, stroked lovingly over smooth skin and tenderly caressed every scar. He worked up the long column of Tannerís neck to the base of his skull and massaged there, then paid the same slow and thorough attention to the rangy shoulders. Finally, draping himself over Vinís back, he worked down the manís arms to his hands. And as he massaged each finger in turn, he pressed kisses into Tannerís shoulders and neck and sucked on the hard knob of bone at the top of the trackerís spine.

Vin was by now all but sobbing in ecstasy, his pain long since given way to pleasure. Chrisís touch ignited a thousand fires beneath his flesh and sent sparks shooting along his every nerve. His blood throbbed hotly in his veins and his whole body thrummed with awareness of the manís warmth and weight against it. Each time Chris leaned forward his crotch ground into Vinís ass, and each time he pulled back his ass rocked into Vinís thighs. Larabeeís iron-hard legs were clamped tight against him, and Vin thrilled to their power. His heart pounded and his flesh burned as tidal waves of want and need crashed through him.

"GodÖ ChrisÖ please!" he begged brokenly, rolling his hips in a desperate attempt to free the hardening cock trapped beneath him. Chrisís teeth scraped the base of his neck and he shuddered convulsively, lacing his fingers through Larabeeís and clenching their twined hands into fists. "I needÖ" He rolled his hips again as his aching shaft grew ever more insistent. "Oh, God, I need!"

Chris shifted his mouth to the junction of Vinís shoulder and neck and sucked hungrily, all the while thrusting his crotch into the trackerís ass. The pressure of his filling cock against his suddenly too-tight pants was all but unbearable and his every nerve screamed in pain. He was breathing harshly, heavily, a fine sheen of sweat glistening over his skin, yet despite the force of the desire slamming through him, a thin, small voice sounded a note of caution in his mind.

But I donít wanta do any of it at your expense, you hear me? Itís not worth it. Not if it only ends up causiní you more pain.

His own words to Vin in the bathhouseÖ

"Your back," he gasped, burying his face in the heat of Tannerís neck.

"Ainít my backÖ troubliní me now," Vin answered roughly, thrusting his ass needily into the gunmanís crotch. "Jesus, Chris, please! It hurts!"

Chris nestled his face into Tannerís hair, trying to think but only confusing himself more with the trackerís scent. He breathed that scent deeply into himself, found tender flesh beneath that hair and tasted it, curled his fingers over Vinís and let the feel of the man sear through him. His every sense fed on Tanner, feasted on him, and his aching body urgently demanded its share of the banquet, too.

His will crumbled helplessly beneath the fierce onslaught of his need.

"You let me do this," he ordered shakily, dragging himself reluctantly off Vin and rising to his knees. His green eyes glittered wildly in his darkly flushed face, and his chest heaved in the ragged rhythm of his breathing. "And the second you feel any pain you let me know, you hear?"

"Iím feeliníÖ a fair bitÖ now," Vin panted, rolling onto his side and freeing his cock. It jutted up hard and thick and glistening at its head. He closed his eyes and licked his lips, closing a shaking hand about his length and stroking hungrily.

"No, ya donít," Chris breathed, leaning over and reaching out to still Tannerís hand. "Not that way. Not anymore." He unwound the hand and raised it to his lips, brushing a tender kiss over Tannerís knuckles. "You sure youíre up ta this?"

Vin gave a strangled laugh. "Bit late ta be worryiní about that, ainít it?"

Chris swept his heated gaze over the sharpshooterís long, lean body and swallowed hard. "Can I help it if you keep distractiní me?" he asked harshly. He glanced around the room, frowning slightly, then looked back down at Vin. "Whereís that extra pillow you put under your legs when your backís hurtiní?"

Vin closed his eyes and licked his lips, trying to think. "CÖ closet," he finally rasped.

Chris released Vinís hand and slid from the bed to the floor, standing on shaky legs. The painful constriction at his crotch reminded him that he was still dressed and he stripped hurriedly, groaning in desperate relief as his throbbing cock sprang free. Leaving his clothes where theyíd fallen, he went to the closet and wrenched it open, spotting the pillow on the floor and bending over to retrieve it.

Vin gave a choking gasp and stared fixedly at that beautiful ass, those long, strong legs, and remembered with excruciating clarity the feel of that lean, hard body joining with his own. Pain seared through him in white-hot waves, but this time it had nothing to do with his back.

"Chris!" he croaked, again reaching for his leaking cock.

Chris straightened and turned and saw where his loverís hand rested. "Just hold on, partner," he urged, returning quickly to the bed and climbing onto it. "Iím gonna take care of ya now." He leaned over Tanner and swept the manís lips with his own. "Gonna take care of us both," he breathed.

Vin twined an arm about the gunman and pulled him closer still, drawing him into a deep and hungry kiss. He rolled onto his back, bringing Chris atop him, and buried his mouth in Larabeeís with a throaty groan, plunging his tongue into that warm, wet cavern and delighting in the taste of whiskey, tobacco and Chris.

Larabee uttered an inarticulate sound of pleasure as that talented and greedy mouth claimed him, as the trackerís lips moved against his own with a fierce and devastating mastery. Vinís tongue plundered him and his own rose at once to meet and dance with it, helpless to resist the lure of its mate.

Goddamn, the man knew how to kiss!

At long last, breathless and shaking, Chris managed to break that kiss and pulled back, having to pry Vinís clawing hands from him to do so. "Easy, pard," he rasped weakly as the tracker whimpered and reached once more for him, "I ainít leaviní." He grinned and winked. "Just moviní on to other things."

"íKay," Vin breathed. He closed his eyes and licked his lips, trying to slow the torrent of need raging through him. And failing. "Jesus, ChrisÖ"

"I know," Chris crooned, in little better shape than Tanner. "But I ainít rushiní this. Iím not gonna risk hurtiní ya."

"I donít careĖ"

"Well, I do." He rolled the pillow in half and laid it on the bed, patting it with long fingers. "Címon, cowboy," he rasped, voice smoky with desire, "time ta saddle up."

Needing no more encouragement than that, Vin rolled over onto his stomach and pulled the pillow beneath his hips. Heíd much prefer to be looking at Chris, but knew this way offered the least strain on his back. And Larabee was just ornery enough to stop this at the first sign of pain from him.

But, Lord, it felt good knowiní he was loved like thatÖ

Chris watched the tracker settle himself, mesmerized by the beauty of the long, lean body displayed before him. Smooth, supple skin drew his hand like iron filings to a magnet and he reached out, brushing callused fingertips lightly down the length of Vinís back and over the tight curve of his ass. But mere touch could not assuage his hunger and he, too, "saddled up," moving behind Tanner and bracketing the trackerís legs between his own.

Vin shivered as he felt Chris come up behind him, then groaned breathlessly and shuddered as the gunmanís hard cock pressed into the crack between his ass cheeks. He tried to speak, but breath and words solidified in his throat and coherent thought fled his brain. Then a warm body draped over him, a wet mouth and gentle hands trailed slowly down his back, and his world exploded into sheer sensation. He wanted to beg, to scream, but was beyond speech, beyond even sound, beyond everything except his raw and raging need.

Chris used the liniment to coat his cock, then cast the tin aside. Again he bent over Vin, pressing his mouth to the manís back and trailing kisses down that misshapen spine while his hands cupped and caressed the firm flesh of the trackerís ass. When his mouth reached the start of the crack between the cheeks, he lifted his head and slid a finger into that valley, following it to the entrance he sought. His whole body ached and his own cock wept with anticipation and need, yet still he held himself in check, clinging desperately to his promise of caution.

But, God, Tanner never made that easy!

Vin was pushing back against him, ass thrusting against his cock in an unspoken but urgent plea. Chris clenched his teeth and swallowed hard, found the hole and slid his finger into it, rocking instinctively into Tanner as he did so.

Vin gasped harshly and clenched tight about that finger as it pressed and played within him. Pleasure radiated through him, but it wasnít enough. Not when he knew what could be. Then the finger was gone and a whimper of abandonment escaped him.

Jesus, better that little bit than nothing at all!

But Chris wasnít finished. To his relief, Vin was still loose from their earlier lovemaking, his body ready without further preparation. Not inclined to waste time on what wasnít needed when he was nearly burning alive, he placed the flushed and glistening head of his cock at that beckoning hole and pushed into his loverís body.

Vin convulsed in a violent spasm of pain and pleasure at that penetration, as Chrisís heat and size pressed deep inside him, filling every empty place heíd ever had and destroying any memory of cold heíd ever known. A sobbing cry wrenched from him as Chris slid deeper still, imbedding himself not just in his body, but in his soul as well.

Chris waited for the tremors racking Tanner to subside, then began to thrust with slow, measured strokes into the trackerís body. But Vinís channel pressed so close against him, the manís sweet, wet heat invited and engulfed him, and soon, unable to resist that lure, he was driving with a gathering force and speed, losing himself in the body that rocked frantically back against him. His grunts mingled with Vinís groans, and those sounds were joined by the slapping of flesh. Two bodies worked as one, melded into one, and two sundered halves once again came together in a perfect whole.

Harder, faster they moved together, their overwrought bodies racing frantically toward the precipice. Chris growled and reached beneath Vin for his cock, pumping in the furious rhythm of his thrusts. Worked inside and out, his flesh damn near melting from his bones, Vin cried out harshly and rocked mindlessly against the hardness invading him or into the hand torturing him. Pain and pleasure were one now, his nerves too shattered to register the difference. Chris drove through him, raked against his gland and hit it again, and his body could take no more. Heat slammed through him and he erupted into release.

The feel of Vinís muscles clenching hard about him in orgasm and the smell of the trackerís seed drove Chris over the edge as well. Buried to the balls in the trackerís body and straining to drive further still, he threw back his head and dug long fingers into Vinís narrow hips, then shot his stream into Tannerís bowels.

They collapsed in a twined and boneless heap onto the bed, neither certain he had the strength to breathe. Blood pulsed warm and heavy through their veins and their bodies thrummed lightly with the memory or what they had shared. Finally, remembering Vinís back, Chris groaned and pulled carefully out of the younger man and rolled weakly off of him.

"Jesus," he whispered, laying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. No sound came from the man beside him and he turned his head, struggling to see the face hidden beneath the veil of long hair. "You in there, pard?" he rasped.

"Hnnh," Vin moaned thickly.

Chris chuckled quietly and lifted a leaden arm, reaching out to Vin and brushing the hair away from his face. Tannerís eyes were closed, his mouth slack, his face a mask of exhausted contentment. Larabeeís smile turned tender as he tucked the strands of hair behind the trackerís ear. The lines of pain were gone from the beautiful face, as well as the habitual wariness, revealing the youth that Vin so rarely showed to anyone but him.

"You are a sight," he murmured, absently stroking his knuckles over one whiskered cheek.

Vin sighed and reached for that hand, folding it in his own and dragging it beneath him to press against his heart. "Ainít sí bad yerself," he breathed, his voice thick and his drawl heavy with exhaustion.

Chris laughed. "Your eyes arenít even open!"

"Donít need ta be, cowboy," he said drowsily. "Donít need eyes ta see what mí heart knows best."

Chrisís smile faded and his eyes softened. "Címere, you," he rasped, pulling the younger man to him and holding him close, resting a cheek against Vinís head.

Vin went willingly into that embrace, curling easily against the body that was the surest shelter heíd ever known. Those strong arms closed securely about him and he sighed happily, listening to the steady beating of Larabeeís heart and knowing he was home at last.

"Still gonna stay ín look after me?" he asked sleepily. "Even though I didnít take the laudínum?"

"Want me to?"

Vin raised his head and set his chin on Chrisís chest, gazing soberly into the strongly chiseled face he knew better than his own. "Yeah," he breathed, reaching up to brush the bright golden hair off Larabeeís forehead, then trailing a finger down the manís nose and over that full, wide mouth. "Been without ya too long already. Been alone too long already. íSides," he shrugged one shoulder, "backache could come back. Might need ya tí take away my pain again."

Chris sighed. "Vin, listen ta me," he said softly, green eyes intent upon his loverís face. "You donít have ta be in pain ta want me ta stay, and you donít have ta be in pain for me ta wanta stay. Itís okay ta want somebody with ya when you justÖ want íem here." He slid a hand to the small of Tannerís back and rubbed slow circles into it. "When I say I wanta take care of you, I donít mean only when youíre hurtiní or sick. I mean all the time, whether you need it or not, whether you want it or not. Itís not your pain that makes me wanta do that, Vin, itís the fact that I love you. If you never felt another twinge of pain for the rest of your life Iíd still be right here. You donít have ta need that, partner. You already got it, and youíve had it from the first."

Vin stared at Chris in wonder, blue eyes wide and dark, and held himself perfectly still, poised on the edge of something too powerful and profound to comprehend. Nothing in his life had ever prepared him to understand this. No one had ever offered it, had given him even the smallest reason to believe it might exist. To want without needing, and to have just because he wantedÖ

"I cínÖ I cín jistÖ ask ya ta stay, fer no reason," he whispered haltingly, a tracker trying to read sign heíd never seen before, "and ya will?" He licked his lips and furrowed his brow. "Fer no reason?"

Chris nodded slowly, hurt to see how alien such a thing was to Vin but determined to devote what time and life he had to helping him understand it. He reached up and cradled a hand gently to Tannerís face, loving the tracker with his touch and eyes. "For no reason except that you want it," he said. "And for no reason except that I love you." He shrugged easily. "If thereís a better reason than that, then I sure as hell donít know what it is."

Vin stared at Chris a few moments longer, then slowly laid his head back down over the gunmanís heart and closed his eyes, listening to that steady throb of life and feeling its echo in his own chest. This was his, he told himself, this strong heart, this strong man; all this was his for all his life. And for no good reason that he could seeÖ

Except that he wanted it to be soÖ

He sighed softly and slowly relaxed against Chris, letting himself settle into the new and sweet sensation of just wanting, and having. One of Chrisís hands was cradled lightly to his head, the other rested tenderly against his back, and the manís warmth and love washed through him with every beat of that fierce and gentle heart.

And as simple as that, Chris Larabee took away the last of his pain, the sweetest remedy heíd ever known.