In Hiding

by Annie

Disclaimer: None of these guys belong to me. Really wish they did.

Follows The Twelve Pack, but you don't have to have read that one for this one to make sense. My thanks to Judy and to those who expressed interest in wanting another piece of this. Or piece of Vin, anyway.

Feedback: Oh, I'd love it.

Something was buzzing. Loudly.

A bee?

Following a muffled curse, an arm appeared. It waved haphazardly through the air then stilled and fell, its weight dropping heavily back to the body to which it was attached. And after another soft curse, the man who owned the arm roused a little more, vaguely aware his blind effort had proved somewhat successful as he heard the soft thudding of several objects falling to the carpet around him. With a low groan, he shifted, dimly registering the clattering of something else skidding across the parquet floor, then the sound faded and he let himself slip back into the dreamless sleep that pulled at him. The obnoxious buzzing was gone, his apartment immersed in quiet once again.

Somehow, he'd killed the bee.

+ + + + + + +

A few hours later the man on the floor groaned again, throwing an arm over his face to block out the bright sunlight now invading his apartment. A red-rimmed eye cracked open, only to tightly shut against the hot needle of pain that seemed determined to lance its way through to his brain. He lay still for a moment, waiting for an ebb in the throb building in momentum inside his head. Attempting to roll onto his side, he let loose another groan as his back screamed its protest at the small movement. He flattened himself out once more and lay quietly panting, trying to get his bearings as his mind waded through the murkiness surrounding it.

He remembered coming home and knew that was where he was. But the in-between of then and now wasn't too terribly clear, and he was not at all sure the reason he'd awakened on his hard floor in his living room as opposed to his soft bed down the hall. As he tried to collect his thoughts, the steady pulse behind his eyes came into synch with the insistant throb in his head, combining to create enough of a sickening beat which made him suddenly decide that maybe it really didn't matter much after all why he had slept on his living room floor. He lay still and tried not to think too hard about it as he drifted back to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

The outside sounds of street life trickled in through the open windows and for the third time that morning, the man peeked out from under heavy eyelids. He figured the day had advanced to be near ten or eleven o'clock already. Very late, by his usual standards. But then, it was the weekend, wasn't it? Nothing to do on this Saturday. No where he had to be.

He rolled his body, this time managing to ease onto his side and lay still, letting his throbbing head rest on the rug under the coffee table. His stomach churned against the shifting and he promised himself to not attempt to roll anywhere else, anytime soon. Gingerly, he let his eyes peel open wider, and came nose-to-nose with an amber bottle. He nudged it away and it rolled into another, their glass bodies meeting with a small clink. His stomach lurched, and he bit back the urge to vomit as the taste of stale beer and bitter bile shot up and down his throat.


He'd had a couple beers last night, that was right. No, more than a couple. A few. Several. Yeah, several. Now he remembered. All at once, the rank smell of stale beer seemed to consume every inch of breathable air space around him, and in an effort to escape he shot himself up to sit, cracking his head sharply on the underside of the coffee table. His hands wrapped around his skull in a futile effort to ease the pain of the newly added lump, and with a wince at the taste flooding his mouth, he realized he'd also bitten down hard on his tongue.

He backed himself out from under, grunting with the effort of rising and started toward the small kitchen. With a stumble, he fell hard to his knees and realized he'd tripped over his own feet. His jeans were undone, pushed halfway down his legs and as he pulled them up he bolted, managing to reach the sink just in time to throw-up what little contents were held in his stomach. He braced hands against the counter, wincing as drums beat a wild rhythm inside his head. His back was stiff from sleeping on the floor and he felt shooting pain from his hip to his neck, which currently seemed to be locked into some unatural sideways position. With shaking hands, he filled a glass with water and rinsed his mouth, spitting blood and bile into the sink. He hated the taste of blood. He closed his eyes, wincing again as the strong pulse beat against his eyelids. He felt miserable. His head hurt worse than ever and shit, if he couldn't still smell stale beer.

After a while he raised his head and with some tiny measure of relief, realized his eyes had begun to adjust to the bright light that suffused his apartment. His gaze drifted around the small room, settling for a moment on the collection of amber beer bottles that littered the rug. Under a window, the broken, splintered glass from another glistened in the light of the late morning sun and he vaguely remembered throwing it to get it to shatter against the wall. Several unopened food items, chips, cupcakes, couple burritos, were strewn over the floor, but looking at them made the queasiness return. The thought of a burrito turned his stomach to instant rolling lava and he managed to dry-heave once more into the sink. His body felt hot, sweat was starting to drip down his back and he leaned forward again, closing his eyes and letting his head fall onto his forearms.

He knew not to drink on an empty stomach. That was just plain idiocy. Didn't matter he only had a few beers, it always happened. If he didn't eat, it went straight to his head. A sure guarantee that he would awaken the next day with a raging headache. And it was now the next day, and his head was raging.

After a trip to the bathroom, he collapsed on the sofa, nearly crushing the life out of the now broken picture frame that lay on the floor. He picked it up, fingers tracing over the cracked glass then threw it onto the coffee table, not needing any reminders of his behaviour from the night before.

What a psycho, he thought of himself. God, first he has lustful thoughts for his boss, who also happens to have been a happily married MAN for Chrissakes, then he...then he...

It had been bad enough when the daydreams had started making their appearances in the middle of the workday, distracting him unmercifully. But he could usually manage to push them aside, try to shift his focus to something else. And though these snippets of fantasy were becoming more and more detailed, not to mention more and more frequent, it wasn't as if he'd ever think to act on them. Right? No, he wouldn't. Couldn't. He ran his hands through his hair, as his mind raced.

But now--after last night. Never mind he was alone in his thinking and doing. Never mind he'd never met anyone who stirred in him what Chris Larabee did, physically or emotionally. Never mind that he had been half-drunk and feeling so lonely and chose the image of the one person who made him feel less so--In fact, that choice alone probably made him out to be even more of a sicko. Didn't it?

He shook his head, hearing JD's voice clearly sounding the next thought. 'Reality check, please.' Here he was, living and working in a major city full of beautiful young women, the stuff fantasies could be made of, and who does he select instead? Why, the near middle aged, once married, hard-glaring man in black who sits in the head office and who is also probably dating one of the most beautiful women in all of Denver. Christ. Jacking off while visions of Larabee danced through his head. Feeling lonely--had he actually cried? Lord help him. He closed his eyes. How much more pathetic could he become?

The bee.

His eyes shot open at the sound. Realization hit, and moving as quickly as his body would let him, he looked for the object of the now familiar buzz. There, on the floor in the corner. He reached for his cellular phone, the ringer set to vibration mode, which was exactly what it was doing, even more so because of its reverberation on the parquet flooring. As he picked it up, his attention was diverted to another object that sat in the same corner. The phone's buzzing abruptly stopped but he took no notice, and let the compact receiver slide from his hand. For a moment he just stared, then his body slowly bent and he picked up the bloodied handtowel that lay in its gruesome heap. He dropped heavily to the floor, feeling nauseous and dizzy, sure the hammer in his skull would break his head apart as the scenes from the previous night rushed forward to be replayed in all their grisly glory.


God, Chris. He curled into himself, the soiled towel clutched tightly in his grasp and he let the moment of the shooting happen all over again. Last night. Had it only been last night?

Chris. He was in the hospital. He could be--

With that unfinished thought the pounding of his head became intense enough for him to groan in misery. The pain seemed to encompass his whole body, he could feel his heart's beat from his toes to his skull, even his teeth seemed to pulse with the relentless rhythm. The pressure behind his eyes turned sharp and he pressed them with one hand, not willing to let the other relinquish its hold on the grisly item. With dull realization, and not at all sure he wasn't just truly hearing out loud the throbbing in his skull, he turned heavy eyes toward the door. It was pounding in time with his head. But then he heard a voice along with the beat. Was someone saying his name?

Chris? No, wait, couldn't be Chris. Chris was...

He rolled onto all fours and slowly stood, making his way to the door. He opened it and narrowly missed being struck by Josiah's meaty fist as it pulled back to beat against his door.

"Could'a come in Josiah, ain't locked," he said softly, turning away from the man to crumple wearily onto the couch.

Josiah stared at the retreating form and tried to restrain the anger boiling inside of him. He shut the door and pointed to Vin, who sat bent over with his head on his forearms that rested on his knees.

"Just where the hell have you been?"

Vin's head jerked up at the sharp words. "Chris? He ain't--"

"No, Chris is okay. Jesus, Vin, we've been trying to reach you all last night and this morning."

Josiah's eyes followed Vin's as they locked onto the small phone that still sat in the corner of the room. He retrieved it, shaking his head as he looked up all the unanswered calls.

"What the hell good is carrying a phone, if you aren't going to answer it?" He stared at the young man sprawled on the sofa, who gave no indication he'd even been listening. Josiah looked around, taking in the empty beer bottles and food items littering the floor. "You been here the whole time?" He picked up an empty bottle and turned back to Vin. "Having a one man party?"

Vin said nothing, just sat staring at his hands. Josiah noticed he was clutching something, and with some revulsion realized it was a bloody towel.

"Vin," Josiah called, one hand grasping the young man's shoulders in an attempt to gain his attention.

Vin looked up, eyes squinting to slivers. Josiah shook his head, his anger waning at the sight of the shaky man before him. He twisted off the top of a full beer he found resting against the couch and handed it to Vin.

"Here. Hair of the dog."

Vin looked at the beer and shook his head. The thought and the movement both meshed to make him want to rush to the kitchen sink for relief.

"Lord, it smells like a bar in here," Josiah frowned. "Kind of smell like a brewery yourself, son, just how many did you have last night?"

Vin shrugged as he sat, the movement made stiff by the pain of his neck. And head. And heart.

Josiah continued. "Well, let's see, looks like--oh, six or so empties, I guess, not including the one y' must've taken a bath in, either. And counting that one you managed to smash over there by the window--lessee, that's--seven. That ain't much. For me, anyway. I guess you've got a lower tolerance, though. Makes sense. You ain't all that big a guy, no offense."

Vin looked up with a small smile.

"Y' got blood on your lip, son."

He licked his lips, grimacing at the metallic taste still lingering there. "Bit m' tongue."

Josiah stared down at the crumpled figure on the couch. "Don't look all too well, either."

Vin waved a hand in the air and sighed. "Don't really drink all that much, Josiah, you know that. Didn't have nothing to eat, neither, so I guess it all just went straight to m' head. Feels like it did, anyway. It's 'bout killing me."

Josiah sat on the couch next to the younger man. He nodded, knowing all too well that feeling himself. With a slight grin he placed a hand on Vin's back. "Well, you might be better off if it does. 'Cause if it doesn't, I know four others 'sides myself who might wanna help with that job. Lord, Vin, we all tried calling you at least a dozen times between last night and this morning. In fact, hold on a sec-" He dialed up Nathan's number, glancing over at the hunched figure as he spoke to the voice that answered.

"Hey, Nate. Yeah, it's me. Yup, he's here. Not looking so good, had himself a few too many last night. Yeah, right. I'll tell him and Nate? I'm headed on home after this, I'm beat. You should get on home too, rest up some as well. Tell Ezra that, too. 'Kay. See ya in a few. Bye."

He folded up his phone and addressed the young man to his left. "I gotta say, son, I have seen you look better. Smell better, too. You need a shower and something to eat."

Vin shrugged, not wanting to meet the concerned eyes of his friend. "He--Chris, I mean. He is okay, right?"

Josiah looked at the pale face turned mostly to the floor. Something was eating away at him, he could tell that even without the knowledge of his uncharacteristic drunk of the night before. But, knowing Vin's penchant for silence and solitude, he didn't press for answers.

"Yeah Vin, like the doc said, he's going to be fine. Did give us a scare last night, though, that's when we tried to reach you. You'll find that out if you listen to any of your voicemail. 'parently, they'd had some trouble stabilizing him, turned out they'd missed some bleeding in his shoulder, had to reopen it again late last night. Got a mite hairy for a bit, but--" Josiah stopped as he saw Vin's face turn to him, his pallor almost ashen.

"God, oh God," Vin whispered, hands shaking as the words penetrated the fog that seemed to cloud his brain. He felt himself becoming light-headed as the image of Chris bleeding out on that warehouse floor snapped front and center in his head. A warm hand grabbed his and he looked up into Josiah's concerned features.

"Vin--Vin. He's okay, I'm telling you. He is okay. The doctors fixed it, he'll be fine. He even woke up for a few minutes early this morning. I called you but---well, anyway, let's just say I'm here now telling you the news." Josiah stood, pulling the shaky man up with him. "Well, like I said, you need a shower and I need some sleep. Go have yourself a beer." He laughed at Vin's expression of disgust. "No, really, I'm telling you. Drink one, have something like toast to settle your stomach, and take a long, warm shower. That'll do wonders. Trust me."

Vin nodded, trying to get the picture of Chris's bloody face out of his mind. He looked up as Josiah headed toward the door.

"Josiah? Thanks. Thanks for comin' out here and tellin' me 'bout Chris and all. I--I guess I'll head over in a little bit. After I clean up that is."

Josiah stared at the young man standing shakily on his feet, wishing he could do or say more to help ease whatever pain Vin seemed to be holding inside. He looked pale and unsteady.

"Okay Vin. I'm headin' on home for a few hours. You go check on Chris. And Vin? Don't forget to take your phone, too, alright? In fact, y' might want to give Buck a --"

"Oh God, Buck," Vin tensed. "I forgot. Geeze, Josiah, is he okay? He got shot, too, I remember seeing his arm and--"

Josiah dismissed the concern. "He's okay, Vin. He was treated and released. Ended up staying in Chris's room most of the night, though. His arm and shoulder are sore, but he's good. 'Course, he ain't what I would call real pleased with your disappearing act at the moment. But last I saw, he and Mary were--"

"Mary?" Vin blanched at the name.

"She was around most of the night, too. Yep, seems Miz Travis might just have herself a little crush on our fearless leader. But then, we could all kinda see that one coming, hunh?" Josiah watched as Vin dropped his gaze to the floor. "'Cept maybe Chris, I guess. As observant as that man is, I swear, sometimes I think he wouldn't know something coming at him 'til it strikes its fangs."


"Yeah, Vin?"

"You just call Miz Travis a snake?"

Josiah chuckled. "Wouldn't put it past me, son. See you later, you take care of that head, okay?"

Vin nodded and smiled to himself after closing the door behind his friend.

+ + + + + + +

He had to admit, the shower did make him feel somewhat more human again. Smelled better, too. That was at least a step in the right direction. The thought of toast and beer, however, still sent his stomach into turbulence mode. For the moment, he'd pass on the idea of food. And that hammer was still beating double-time inside his skull. If he'd had any aspirin, he might've even taken one. But he didn't.

He checked his voicemail and sure enough, there had been over a dozen messages left by the various other members of Team 7. He felt a pang of guilt with every one he heard. Buck's were the most insistant. His calls accounted for a least half of those recorded and with each, his tone became more and more angry. Vin could hear the pain and hurt, and knew it didn't all stem from his injury. The last message from Buck just said, 'Goddammit, Tanner, where are you? What the fuck are you doing?'

He stood at the sink to refill his water glass, holding it in one hand as water from the faucet ran unheeded down the drain. What the fuck was he doing? Hiding, that's what. From them, from Chris. From himself. He should have been there, at the hospital. But he'd left, and then Chris wound up having to go back into surgery--God, he should have been there. It shouldn't have been left up to the others to have to track him down --he should have been there. His mind raced at what might have happened, each what-if scenario followed by another equally as horrible in imagined outcome. What if Chris had--what if he, Vin, had been here getting drunk and Chris had actually--he shuddered, his brain not letting the thought complete itself.

Again, the image of Chris lying on the cement floor of that warehouse filled his mind. Lying there so still, blood covering half his face, soaking his hair, pooling out from under him like some grotesque scene in a gangster movie. He saw himself, frozen as he hunched over the unmoving figure. He couldn't stop himself from staring at the vivid red as it stained the light floor that night. So much blood--Chris's blood. And Chris had been so still, had looked so--so--

Lord, just fuckin' say it. So dead. He had looked dead. And he could have been. He could've died on that floor, could've died at the hospital--hell, could be dead now--and what's Vin Tanner doing? Hiding. His eyes squeezed closed, then shot open as a sharp snap jarred him aware.

He held a broken glass. Without even realizing it, he had gripped the glass so intensely that it had shattered. He dropped the pieces he still held and, as if it belonged to someone else, inspected his left hand. A long splinter had sliced its way into the heel of his palm, one end jutting out of his skin as though he'd grown another digit. He wiggled his fingers feeling somewhat detached from it all, until the slight movement sent stabbing pain to their tips. The fragment felt like it had embedded itself so deeply to as scraped bone, and with gritted teeth, he grasped the end and pulled hard as he could.

"SHIT," he yelled as the shard became free in one painful rip. He threw it into the sink and looked at the rut in his palm. For a moment, there was no blood, and he thought maybe that was that. Then, his whole hand felt like it had been run through with a hot poker, and blood came pouring out the gash. He thrust it under the running water, wincing as the pain increased.

"Fuck...fuck, that hurts," he repeated as his fingers fisted involuntarily. He ground his teeth and wrapped his hand in a dishtowel, applying as much pressure as he could stand.

He kept his hand wrapped and made his way back to the living room, collapsing heavily onto the couch. His eyes closed against the pain in his head as it began a slow advance in its eager hopes of achieving migrain status. His hand throbbed as well, the nerve endings on fire from fingertips to elbow. He rested back onto the cushion and tried not to succumb to the desire to vomit, knowing that he'd end up with dry heaves which would only compound the agony.

God, why didn't he ever have any aspirin?

His eyes flew open at the shrill sound of his cellular, now set to ringer mode.

"Tanner," he mumbled into the phone, only just realizing he'd been asleep.

"Vin? That you?"

"Nate. Nathan, yeah, it's me, I--"

"Where've you been? You coming down here? Josiah said you'd be on your way and that was almost two hours ago."

Two hours ago? "Uh, yeah, 'm on m' way, Nathan. Be there in few minutes," Vin answered, hearing his own voice tumble over the words. It was almost too much effort to speak.

"Vin? You okay? You sound--I dunno, tired or something. You alright t' drive down here? What the hell you been doin'?"

Hiding, that's what. "Yeah, Nathan. 'm okay, just--just worn out some 's all. I'm on m' way." The whole sentence rushed out in one long exhale and he hung up the phone wondering if his head would ever stop pounding.

+ + + + + + +

"Okay, I'm all finished, Mr. Tanner."

Vin turned to the voice, confused.

"Your hand. I'm finished now. You can--oh wait, here's your friend. Listen, if the pain gets any worse, or the swelling increases, you'll need to have it checked. Otherwise, you can wait until the stitches are removed. By us or your own doctor, whichever you prefer. For now, I suggest you go home and--Mr. Tanner? Are you listening?"

The voice was talking to him, but he couldn't seem to concentrate on the words being said. What was she droning on about? His hand? He looked down at the white bandage encircling his palm. Why were they so concerned about his hand? It was his head that had exploded, wasn't it?

Warmth pressed into his shoulder and he turned to find Ezra squatting down, staring at him with brows drawn tight.

"Are you quite alright, Vin?"

Vin smiled at the uncommon familiarity. It wasn't like Ezra, but he couldn't quite pinpoint the reason why. He shut his eyes wishing someone would turn off the bright lights surrounding him. He sighed.

"Okay, Ezra. I'm okay."

"Yes, well, you look far from it. Sit here for a moment. I'll be right back. Here, put your head between you knees, that'll help."

His head was pushed forward, and he tried to relax his back and neck enough to find a comfortable position. It was hard.

What the hell happened?

He had arrived at the hospital and had made his way to Chris's room. He'd stood outside the closed door, willing himself the courage to make his way inside. Then he ran into Mary. Literally ran into her. She had been exiting the room just as he was entering and they had collided. She'd talked to him, he remembered that much. What had she said? He couldn't think. All he could focus on was the image of the two of them from that first night. She had been leaning so dangerously close to Chris, their faces almost touching.

Then she was in the hallway, talking to him again, and the image burst. And she had pulled on him, suddenly concerned. Why? Something about blood. And his hand. His hand had blood on it. And it was dripping.

He sat up and rubbed his head. That was it, his hand had been dripping blood all over the floor. Mary had found a nurse and he'd been led away. And here he was. And he still hadn't seen Chris.

He sighed again.

Ezra found his way back to Vin, studying the man as he sat. His face was pale and he seemed to almost be trembling. When pressed, he had finally admitted to be suffering from an excrutiating headache. And no, he hadn't eaten. And yes, he would try as soon as his stomach allowed. Ezra could tell he felt miserable. And added to that, he now also had eight stitches in his hand.

"Mr. Tanner?"

Vin opened his eyes as the voice called again, a cold wetness against his skin.

"Mr. Tanner, I've brought you a Coke. This may help ease your stomach, at the least." Ezra watched as Vin slowly took the offered can with shaky fingers. "When is the last time you ate, Vin? Do you even recall?"

Vin shook his head and mumbled. "No, please, Ez. Can't think on food right now." If his head didn't stop pounding soon, he was sure he'd end up chasing it down the hallway. And he sure didn't want to have to do that, he was much too tired. Maybe he ought just get home.

He was surprised when he heard laughter, and raised his eyes. "Somethin' funny?"

"Why yes," Ezra chuckled, "Somehow, the image of your headless body running amok down hospital corridors did strike me as a tad humorous, I'll admit. Alright then, before you find yourself collapsed somewhere on the floor, let's get you back to that lovely abode of yours. This way, Mr. Tanner."

Vin felt the firm hand on his back and let himself be led down the hall, somewhat stunned to find he had voiced his thoughts out loud.

God, he must have a worse hangover than he had imagined.

He stopped abruptly in the hall, realizing he was no longer headed toward Chris's room. "Wait, Ezra, we're goin' the wrong way. The elevator to Chris's room's that way. We need to be over there."

Ezra stared at the protesting man and wondered if anyone but him realized the extent of Vin's devotion to their team leader. "You are aware, Mr. Tanner, that you very nearly passed out while having your hand sutured?"

Vin looked down at his bandaged hand, then back up to meet Ezra's concerned eyes. "Ezra. I'm fine, I just--I just need--"

Ezra smiled, fairly sure he knew what it was Vin needed. "Fine, Vin. Proceed as you will. I, on the other hand, and no pun intended I assure you, am in need of at the minimum, a good twelve hours of restful slumber. Sans interruption. And if you know what's good for you--and Lord knows we all try to assure ourselves that you do--then you'll be brief in your visit and repair post-haste to your own domicile to rest your--"

"Lord Ezra, m' head hurts bad 'nough."

Ezra cracked a smile. "You're too kind."

Vin grinned back. "Get on home now, Ez, get some rest yerself."

"That, my dear friend, is exactly what I intend. I am hoping to avoid the impending advance of the inevitable as well--my own headache. It seems to want to be in competition with yours, which at this point I might add, I am not so sure isn't truly contagious. I mean, given the level of pain I am beginning to suffer--"

"Ezra! Vin!" Mary Travis's voice cut through Ezra and Vin's conversation. Both men turned to find her smiling at them as she approached. "Vin, how are you? How is your hand? You're looking somewhat better than a little while ago, thank goodness. I really was so worried."

Vin looked at her but couldn't seem to maintain eye contact. "I'm fine, Mary. Really. An' thanks--I, well--thanks."

She smiled again and Vin couldn't help but notice the way her whole face softened when she did. She really was a beautiful woman. Any man would have to feel lucky to gain her attentions.

"Listen Ezra, if you're leaving, I'll walk out with you. It's getting late and I need to pick up Billy from his friend's house. I got so distracted after Chris woke up that I forgot the time completely. But he's sleeping again, and I really must go. Besides, visiting hours are almost over, anyway."

"Of course, Mary, I'd be delighted to escort you to your vehicle. Vin, we shall see you later, perhaps?"

Vin nodded, watching the pair as they turned down the hall. Chris had been awake? Wouldn't you know. And of course, he'd missed him. He punched the elevator for Chris's floor and within minutes found himself, once again, staring at the closed doors of the injured man's room.

This time, he gently pushed the door open and peered into the softly lit room. Except for the man lying in bed, it was vacant. He quietly made his way inside, careful to let the door close softly behind him.

As before, he stopped at the foot of the bed and watched the man who was sleeping. Chris's color looked better than it had the night before and he reached down to let his hand brush lightly over a blanketed leg. He followed the side of the bed around and pulled a chair as close to the bed rails as they would allow.

He could just make out the slow rise and fall of the sleeping man's chest as soft breaths in and out whispered in time with the slight movement. Chris was sleeping deeply, a healing sleep, most likely a drug enhanced sleep, but seemingly restful, nonetheless. It was a comforting knowledge.

His eyes traced around the handsome face in repose. God, how could he help but be attracted to this man? How could anyone? It wasn't his fault this happened, he hadn't intended to develop this--this--this what? Crush? No, that didn't sound right, and he wasn't fifteen years old--plus, that word didn't half cover it. He hadn't planned on feeling this way, though, especially not with someone he worked with every day. Certainly not with his boss. And certainly not with another man. He'd started down that relationship road once before, it wasn't something that bore repeating.

Yet, it had happened. He couldn't say for sure exactly when during the last six months it had, but here it was. It seemed he'd always found Chris to be the easiest of the team to be around, that part had been true from day one. He'd immediately been drawn to him, the unfamiliar warmth of friendship enveloping him as if it had been a familiar blanket. But now--well, it wasn't like he'd planned to start having those little daydreams that slowly slipped their way into his thoughts.

The immediate connection between the two men had been obvious to everyone from the beginning. Shared souls, in a way. A friendship that had quickly developed into a brotherhood of sorts. So, it wasn't surprising they found each seeking out the other's company. Sitting together during meetings, at lunch, after work. Only at some point, Vin found his gaze lingering a little longer on the older man's face, watching with stolen glimpses when a certain body crossed in front of his desk on its way to the office kitchen, working a little later in the evening in the hopes of being the last one besides Chris to leave.

He shook his head. It was craziness and he knew it. This kind of longing could only be met with disasterous results. Like being jobless, for starters. Definitely a sure fire way to a broken heart, too. Not to mention a broken jaw if anyone ever found out. He didn't know if the others suspected his attraction, but he sure had no plans to let that little nugget be discovered anytime soon. Though he really didn't think they knew. In fact, if at all, they probably wondered if he was interested in anything bearing a human form. All he ever seemed to want to do was hang out with the horses at Chris's ranch. And he did like horses. 'Course, if Chris also happened to be at home--well...

He focussed again on the man in the bed, amazed at how relaxed Chris seemed. It was nice to see the handsome features softened with sleep, and he let himself gaze languidly over them, not wanting to move an inch from where he sat. Twice, he reached out to brush the hair that wisped over the semi-cool forehead, like he'd seen Mary do the night before. And twice, he pulled his hand back in hesitation, and in fear.

Chris mumbled softly, his mouth moving but forming unclear words and Vin leaned forward, completely mesmerized by the soft, velvety lips as they slid over one another. He felt his groin seize and stood quickly, turning away from the sight. 'Christ, Tanner, get a grip,' he chided himself for having such a quick reaction to the unconscious man.

This was going to be hard, lusting after the man who was the boss. And friend. It was one thing to be having the daydreams, but still, they were relatively harmless. Just silent thoughts. But this immediate physical reaction was going to be difficult to hide if his body up and reacted this way every time he was around the man. He told himself to leave, to walk out that door and go home. Go hide. But he didn't. He couldn't. Not quite yet.

Lord, he was pitiful.

So, again he turned to the man in the bed, sitting as close as he could to watch over the one person that maintained a secret hold on his heart. Would he ever have the courage to let that secret out? Or would he hide his feelings away forever--and let them die from neglect all by themselves? He couldn't imagine either ever happening. He leaned on the bed rail, his hands curling around the last rung as he let his eyes linger over those closed ones of his friend. Should he just let himself disappear?

Chris shifted in his sleep, his head turning toward Vin's, yet his eyes remaining closed. Vin silently watched the movement, letting each detail of the handsome face etch itself into his brain. With a quick realization, he found his headache had all but diminished.

"You're the cure for what ails me," he whispered to the recumbent form.

Suddenly, a hand wrapped tightly around the bedrail, covering his own and trapping it against the metal rung. He was startled to feel pressure, and winced some at the pain it was causing his stitches. He looked from his hand to Chris and was greatly surprised to find green eyes looking back into his. He opened his mouth but found nothing to say.

Chris raised his head slightly and looked directly at Vin.

"Mary," he whispered slowly, his voice soft and feathery as it drew out the name, lips curling into a soft smile. Then his eyes closed and he dropped back to the pillow. His hand relaxed, relinquishing its firm hold and fell to his side as he resumed his sleep.

Vin stared at the man, his own blue eyes wide. He felt something tear deep inside his heart. His headache was back in an instant.

"No, Chris, it's me," he whispered. "It's just me."


Well, hmmm, maybe just one more.

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