For Both Of Us

by Firefox

Disclaimer: Don't be silly, of course they're not mine, how could they be - they belong to each other! Mitch is mine – but I’m happy to share him if you treat him nicely. No infringement intended, no money made… and litigation will only get you a massive unpaid Visa bill, three demented felines and a truly psychotic car, also unpaid for…

Author's Notes: This is in response to the March 'Green-Eyed Monster' Challenge on the Black & Buckskin Adult List:

'Someone from the past enters the picture, and Chris
finds himself dealing with a healthy dose of jealousy.'

As usual for me - it's far more slush than slash… and I try so hard <sigh>… sorry, Obi-Wan! Dedicated to the aforementioned extraordinary females of the B&B purple list (and Rick & Joe of course!!) especially Sue, LaraMee, Muse, Annie, KET and Ruby. There are a few naughty words, lots of angst, pots of treacle and a mild tissue warning (with any luck <g>). My thanks to Margaret for the beta, and to an old rocker for the inspiration! <g>

All feedback and comments welcome.

The phone on Vin Tanner's desk was ringing. Buck Wilmington glanced up quickly at the clock on the wall - Chris and Vin were gonna be late again, he thought with a quick smile - then scooted his chair sideways with a single push from his long legs, swivelled half a turn to the left and snagged the receiver, all in one fluid motion.


"Buck? It's Murray on the desk - is Tanner up there?… oh, forget it… it's okay, I can see him - he's just coming in the door - sorry to have bothered you…"

Buck replaced the receiver and tried to think of a suitably acerbic comment to welcome his boss and oldest friend, Chris Larabee, and the young, long-haired sharpshooter who had strolled in to the office, the team, Chris's head, Chris's heart and Chris's home, in roughly that order.

Buck grinned when he thought about it - in the space of less than two years, Chris had gone from a workaholic almost-recluse, hiding from the pain of losing his family in the office and the bottle, to a reasonable semblance of the man Buck could remember from their early days as friends. That haunted, hollow-eyed, short-tempered, acid-tongued figure, wracked with guilt and anguish was gone, and Buck had never been more pleased to see the back of anyone.

The Chris Larabee that sat in the Team Leader's office these days was calmer, quieter, the green eyes repossessed by that fire that Buck remembered so well, the tongue still razor-sharp, but more often than not these days the words were good humoured, well-aimed and dripping with wit. He had even put on a little weight, the thinness that had worried Buck now transformed into a healthier, sleeker frame that moved with the grace and power Wilmington remembered more than one female heart missing a beat for.

Yep, he decided, 'Stud' was back. Buck was the only person that could ever get away with using that particular nick-name for Chris, and then only by virtue of their long-standing relationship. Larabee had railed against it from the first time Buck had ever uttered it, God-alone-knew how many years ago, but by now Chris realised that his discomfiture only made Buck more determined to aggravate him with it, so he ignored it.

Buck was more than grateful for the return of his oldest friend but, he realised, he had had very little to do with the revival. 'Stud' was indeed back, but no thanks to Buck. The kudos for that particular miracle rested on the head, or rather in the phenomenal heart and bottomless blue eyes, of one Vin Tanner, whom Buck had more than once suspected of being one of the most extraordinary people he had ever met.

If someone had told Buck ten years ago that his oldest friend would find true love and soul-deep happiness with a long-haired, no-account, scruffy, skinny-assed Texan less than two-thirds his age; who couldn't stand up straight and never wore a suit without a fight; yet could shoot the eyebrows off a mosquito a mile away, take one look at you with those eyes and see straight into your soul, Buck would have laughed out loud, then probably punched who ever had said it. But that was exactly what had happened. Like the final piece of a jigsaw, Vin had walked into the team and made it complete, and walked into Chris's life and made that complete, too. And with a very satisfying symmetry, had himself found contentment and happiness at the same time.

Sometimes, Buck thought, life had a way of working things out when you least expected it. Which just proved what he had always suspected - Fate was unquestionably female.

Shaking his head with the irony of it, Buck's grin grew wider. Life was good, and today, even the sun was shining. His phone rang.

"Bring it on! Today's gonna be a good one!" he laughed, picking up the receiver, completely unaware that downstairs, Fate, that most contrary of females, was preparing to unsheath her claws.


"Why the hell don't you get a decent car…" Chris was saying as he strode towards the door of the ATF building.

"S'nuthin' wrong with the Jeep! It's old, but it's reliable…" Vin retorted as he punched Chris playfully on the arm, "…kinda like you, Cowboy…" he smirked.

Chris glared at him, but he was smiling. "It is not 'reliable'! Half the time the goddamned thing won't even start!"

"It always starts eventually", Vin returned with a wide-eyed look. "Sometimes ya jist have ta 'coax' it a little… but, like other things I cud name, once ya get it warmed up it runs like a racer…" he grinned, winking slyly at Larabee, who shook his head, but felt the warmth rise in his heart.

"We're late - again - Vin."

Vin snorted. "Coupla minutes! Hell, Ezra won't even be outta bed yet!"

Chris pushed the door open and the two agents strode in, out of the bright sunlight and into the cool foyer.

"Agent Tanner!"

Vin turned his head at the shout and smiled at Murray behind the desk. "Hi Murray!"

"There's someone here to see you!" Murray indicated the man facing him, who turned towards Vin, a tentative smile on his face.

Vin frowned, taking a few steps towards the figure, squinting slightly as his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light inside the building.

Chris stopped on his way to the elevator, and turned.

The man standing in front of Murray's desk was about Vin's age, but there all similarity between them ended. He was taller than Vin - could probably even top Chris by an inch or so in height, and possessed of a broad yet compact physique that, even under the black leather jacket and blue jeans he was wearing, gave the impression of solid power. His hair was longer than Vin's, black and shiny as raven wings, and would have looked Indian, were it not for the mass of loose curls that spiralled down its length. Dark eyes, the colour of plain chocolate, sparkled out of a broad, high cheek-boned, tanned face that, whilst not flawless or handsome in the traditional sense, was full of character. And he was smiling.

As Vin drew closer, his frown deepened. The stranger's white smile widened.

"Hi Vinny…"

Vin's eyes widened, the frown vanished, only to be replaced by a look of pure astonishment. Vin's jaw dropped. He seemed to be frozen for a few seconds, unable to find his voice. When he did speak, it was a disbelieving whisper.

"M…Mitch? Is it….. is it you?"

The figure nodded.

"Oh…my…God… Mitch?"

The figure nodded again.

Chris's brow furrowed.

Vin suddenly rushed forward with a shout, and he and the figure threw their arms around one another in an embrace of pure joy, hugging each other and laughing out loud.

Chris was perplexed. Vin rarely allowed his feelings to show, and almost never in public. Such a display of unrestrained emotion was disconcerting - particularly towards someone who was, to Chris at least, a complete stranger.

"My God…" Vin's voice was hoarse, constricted with feeling. "…I never… I… thought… Jeez Mitch, I thought you was probably dead…"

"No…leastaways, not yet…" the young man replied, hugging Vin then gently pushing him back to arm's length and studying his face, his broad hands squarely on Vin's shoulders. "Now, lemme look atcha…"

Chris could scarcely believe his eyes. Vin was always wary of human contact, hated to be grabbed or touched without warning and, even when the two of them were alone, Chris was always heedful of startling or scaring him with an over zealous hug or an ill thought out embrace. More than once Vin had lashed out instinctively when Chris moved too close, too fast, or held on too long - yet here he was, hugging this man and standing completely calmly whilst being held by the shoulders. Who the hell was this guy?

The man was still talking. " Well, well, well….'Agent' Tanner…who'd've thought it?", he growled good naturedly, then grinned and widened his eyes at Vin. "Good God bro - don't you know what a barber is??"

As this guy's hair was considerably longer than Vin's, this was obviously intended to be amusing, Chris thought.

They both laughed out loud and hugged each other again.

Murray was beaming from the other side of his desk at the obviously warm reunion. Chris was starting to feel like he was the only person here who wasn't a member of the Brady Bunch, but he attempted a smile.

Finally, Vin turned around, one arm still firmly around the shoulders of the stranger, and Chris was somewhat taken aback to see those brilliant blue eyes awash with tears and a smile of total delight on Tanner's face.

"Chris", Vin said, voice still a little hoarse but smiling fit to burst, "I'd like y' ta meet Mitchell Cooper…" Mitch disentangled himself from Vin's arm and still smiling, strode towards Chris, his hand extended. Chris grasped the offered hand and shook it with probably a little more strength than was necessary.

"Mitch… I'd like ya ta meet Chris Larabee - my…my…boss." Chris felt a jolt pass through him at the tiny hitch in the words, and tried not to feel disappointed at Vin's somewhat impersonal introduction. He felt his face muscles tighten to keep the smile from slipping. Vin's next words would have wiped the smile right off his face if he hadn't already been working so hard to keep it there.

"Mitch… is… my blood brother…" Vin beamed.

There was an uncomfortable pause. Uncomfortable for Chris and Cooper at least - Vin was still grinning from ear to ear, oblivious to the look that passed between his lover and this stranger.

"Look Vinny, I don' wanna keep you from workin' - I'll see ya later.." Mitch was protesting as Vin all but dragged him into the elevator.

"No! You gotta come up an' meet the rest of the team, and gimme a chance t'get m' breath back…ain't that right Chris? Chris? "

Vin turned, wondering why Larabee had ignored him, and was momentarily startled to see a hard glitter in Chris's eyes. Instantly, the broad smile dropped from Vin's face. "Chris? You okay?"

Mitchell Cooper was obviously not unobservant, he had caught the expression on Chris's face and read its faint hostility in an instant. "Vinny, it's okay. I'm not goin' anywhere", he said with a smile and a reassuring clasp to Vin's arm, which, Chris noticed with raising disbelief, still did not spark a negative reaction. "You're supposed ta be workin'… I'll come back at lunchtime and we'll catch up then…", he started to turn away.

Chris suddenly felt guilty - but not quite guilty enough to stop him.

"No!" Vin cried, real alarm in his voice.

Chris's heart seemed to spasm at the raw edge of Vin's cry, and he was suddenly embarrassed at his churlishness. He looked at Cooper and attempted another smile. "No, no really… come up and meet the others…" he said, holding the elevator doors open, "…please", he added, swallowing the lump in his throat when he caught Vin's radiant smile of gratitude.


Yet another burst of laughter penetrated the closed door to Chris's office and he looked up, unable to resist a scowl. The timing was unfortunate as, at that precise moment, the door opened and Vin appeared around it, a dazzling smile still illuminating his face. The smile vanished as his eyes registered Chris's expression.

"Sorry…" Vin said, looking uncomfortable. More laughter from the bullpen, and Vin blushed, coming into the office fully and closing the door behind him. "Mitch knows more damn rubber chicken jokes than Bucklin - 'n I would've thought that was impossible!"

Chris couldn't help but notice Vin's face - bright, alive and as happy as Chris could remember seeing him, that soul-searing smile bubbling just under the surface. His scowl faded.

"Chris", Vin started, and Larabee noticed he looked suddenly uneasy, "…I know I gotta get that report finished today, but Ez's offered ta finish it off fer me, 'n I was wonderin'…. could…I mean, would you mind if…I know it's awful short notice, but…"

Chris nodded. "Course you can have the day off Vin", he said slowly, sounding more magnanimous than he felt. He cocked his head to one side and regarded his young lover. "He means a lot to you, doesn't he?"

Vin nodded forcefully. "More'n I kin explain…" he said, locking his gaze with Chris's, his blue eyes clouding slightly at whatever memory had surfaced behind them.

Chris debated pushing for more information, but thought better of it. He had seldom seen Vin so unconditionally happy and, whoever he was, if this stranger was the reason for that, he could live with it - the questions would wait.

"We known each other since… since…a long time…" Vin looked down, a slight blush rising on his cheekbones.

Larabee felt something flutter through his stomach that he wasn't proud of. It left a bitter taste in his mouth and an ache in his heart.

"Go, Vin - go, and have a nice day." Never had those horribly trite words sounded more horrible or more trite, Chris thought as Vin left the office, closing the door noiselessly behind him. A few minutes later the bullpen fell into silence.

Chris returned his attention to the stack of papers on his desk, re-reading the first paragraph of the report in front of him for the tenth time. Still the words did not register. He simply couldn't concentrate. He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger, trying to relieve the tension he felt building in his head, and sighed deeply.

Who was this guy? This total stranger who seemed to have just wandered in off the street?

Stranger to you Larabee, he reminded himself, but not to Vin. No, whoever this guy was, Vin obviously thought a great deal of him - enough to take a day off at the drop of a hat, something unheard of for Tanner.

Blood brother. That was the term Vin had used. Blood brother. What in hell did that mean? Chris turned the pen he was holding over and over in his hand, trying to get his thoughts in order. This Cooper looked as if he might have Native American blood somewhere, and Vin, Chris knew, was deeply interested and knowledgeable on the beliefs and history of Native Americans - were these somehow connected? How? And where had they met?

Vin had said they had known each other a long time, yet he had never mentioned Cooper's name to Chris. Not that that was indicative of much, as Vin's past was something of a mystery. Chris knew what a miserable young life Vin had suffered, and in the same way that Chris was reluctant to talk about Sarah and Adam, neither of them relished opening up old wounds, so the past was left where it belonged, behind them.

Until a piece of it walked in off the street and caught both of them by surprise - and made Vin smile with more joy than Chris could ever remember seeing on his face.

The feeling surged back in Chris's gut, gnawing and sour, as the thought he had been trying to avoid surfaced again in his imagination. Had Cooper and Vin been lovers?

He shook his head, trying to clear the disturbing mental image of Vin with this guy. He knew Vin had had other lovers of course, but somehow that was easier to ignore when they were nameless, faceless, anonymous others, rather than a tall, tanned, smiling stranger, about whom his sharpshooter obviously still cared - a lot. The picture of Vin in Cooper's arms would not fade, and Chris felt the bile rising in his throat.

Who the hell was this guy? He could be a criminal, a freeloader, a junkie…. someone who had found out from somewhere that Vin was a federal agent and probably had something from Vin's past he thought he could use as leverage to get…get… what? Information? Money? A hiding place? Perhaps Cooper was a mob runner, using his connection with Vin to set Tanner up as an information base.

Chris decided he would pull a few strings and see what the federal government databases had stored on Mr Mitchell Cooper. He picked up the phone to summon JD into his office, but paused with his hand halfway to the call button, and pulled himself up sharply.

What in the name of heaven was he doing? This was Vin for crying out loud! He grimaced at his own shortcomings and replaced the receiver with a bang. This was none of his business. He loved Vin, but he didn't own him - and Tanner would not appreciate this kind of behaviour from someone he trusted as much as Chris. Chris sighed, feeling ashamed of himself, but still trying to ignore the persistent images in his imagination.

"Deal with it Larabee", he said softly to himself, turning back to the unread report.


The knock on Chris's office door was followed by Buck entering the room, without waiting for an invitation. Chris looked up from his desk and pursed his lips.

"Well, I see you got the knocking part licked Buck, but the idea is that you then wait for me to tell ya to come in - otherwise that makes the knocking part rather superfluous…. got it?"

Buck pulled a face, completely unabashed. "Superfluous? Whoa! There's a Standish word if ever I heard one!"

Chris sighed. "Somethin' I can do for you, Agent Wilmington?"

"No… I just came to ask if you were ready for lunch - we're all gonna meet Vin an' Mitch at O'Grady's for their Friday steak special…"

Now it was Larabee's turn to pull a face. "No thanks…"

"Come on Chris! It'll be fun! Mitch knows some great jokes… it'll do you good to come out for lunch - you've been holed up in here all mornin'…"

Chris shook his head. "No thanks…"

Buck refused to be dissuaded. "Oh, come on Chris! Ya never know, y'might just have a good time and surprise yerself…"

"I've had more than enough surprises for one day, thanks."

Buck paused, noticing Chris's refusal to look him in the eyes, then raised an eyebrow and bent down over Chris's desk until Larabee had no option but to look at him.

Buck grinned. "Ooohhh… that's attractive…" he said, seeing the look on Chris's face, an edge of sarcasm tinting the words.


Buck laughed and stood up, before hitching a hip on the corner of the desk and fixing his dark blue gaze on his scowling Team Leader. "Well, I always known ya got green eyes Chris, but I never knew ya suffered from 'em…"

"What the hell are you babblin' about, Buck?"

Buck snorted. "You're jealous!"

"Don't be ridiculous!"

"Ha! It's as plain as the nose on your face!"

Chris sighed. "Buck - if you're going to lunch, please go, and let me get on with my work… as you obviously don't have enough to keep you occupied…"

Buck's expression softened. "Chris - it's only lunch… come on…give the guy a chance…"

Oh great, Chris thought - now Buck was a member of Cooper's fan club. Suddenly, he felt angry. "Why the hell should I, Buck? A chance to do what?" he shouted. "He walks in off the street like some stray dog, and the next thing I know he's all over Vin like a rash, an' the two of 'em take off for the day! We don't know anything about him - he could be anybody!" Chris knew he was ranting, but he didn't seem to be able to stop himself, the words that had been festering all morning just tumbled out of him in a vitriolic stream.

"I know Vin knows him from years ago, but hell, he could've committed mass murder since then! We know nothing about him, but he strolls in here, tells a few jokes, and suddenly you lot are his best buddies! How come Vin has never mentioned him? How come he's never called Vin or written to him? Why turn up now? He could've just come outta jail for chrissakes…." Chris ran out of breath, his chest heaving uncomfortably.

"Colombia actually", Buck said softly.


Buck took a breath. "Mitch Cooper is a freelance photographer, a very good freelance photographer as it happens, who has been in Colombia for the last six months helping Greenpeace with pictures covering an anti-deforestation project. He was in Denver at the Greenpeace offices, where he happened to see a local newspaper report of the illegal arms bust we did two weeks ago. He saw Vin's name mentioned and thought it might be worth dropping in to the ATF building to see if it was the Vin Tanner he knew from years ago. It was… Are you happy now?" Buck stood up, his voice rising a little in temper. "…Though if you'd shown a little common courtesy and come out there and chatted to the guy, you would've known all this, rather than havin' to sit hidin' in here all mornin', stewin' in yer own green juice!" His voice was heavy with sarcasm.

"And you believed all that, did you Buck?" Chris said, equally sarcastically.

Buck groaned and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Shit! I give up! Okay, Chris, you win! He's a mass murderer on the run from the mob who thinks Vin is a millionaire…you're right!" He wheeled around, yanking the door open.

"..An' I'm goin' to lunch!!" The door slammed shut with a resounding bang that echoed through the office.

Shame washed over Chris in a cold wave, dousing the heat of the jealousy he felt. The explanation Cooper had given seemed perfectly plausible, a lot more so than some of the wild thoughts that Chris had conjured up that morning. He was behaving like a jerk. Buck was right, it was unattractive. Suddenly, he stood up and grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair, running for the door.

"Buck! Wait up!" he shouted, running out of his office, only to see Wilmington sitting, all alone, in his chair in the bullpen, feet up on his desk, pointedly looking at his wrist watch.

Buck grinned. "Not bad… only 90 seconds fer you to come around…"

Chris grinned right back. "Sometimes, I hate you Buck…"

"Only when I'm right, Stud… only when I'm right…"

O'Grady's was noisy and crowded, but the Friday lunchtime steak specials were, in JD's words, 'to die for', and Team Seven always got good service from the waitresses, who flocked round the agents like bees round a honey-pot, so it was a relaxed bunch who leaned back in their chairs, nursing glasses of beer and full stomachs.

Josiah belched noisily. "Better out than in, brothers…"

Ezra' nose wrinkled. "That is a matter of opinion."

Josiah smiled. "My apologies Ezra, blame the beer - always has that effect on my digestion."

Mitch laughed. "The only thing I've ever eaten that had that effect on my digestion was…" he grinned and nudged Vin and they looked at each other, a spark of something flashing in both pairs of eyes.

"… cold mashed onion and potato!" They both chorused in unison, laughing.

A shared memory, obviously - something they were both 'in' on - a flash of something happy from somewhere in the past. Chris hid his pang of envy in another mouthful of beer.

"Where did you two actually meet?" Ezra asked.

"Oh… years ago, in Texas", Mitch said quickly, neatly avoiding a direct answer. For Ezra to pursue the question would have looked rude so he didn't.

"Schoolmates?" Buck asked.

Vin looked at Mitch. "Like you and Chris - we go back aways", he said, just as neatly side-stepping the query.

Chris was becoming more and more certain that the two of them were hiding something. He also suspected that he was right in his assumption of what that 'something' was. He closed his eyes against the sight of them sitting together, but that only caused the mental picture of Vin and Cooper in the passionate embrace he had imagined earlier to reappear in his mind, so he opened them again to find Cooper's gaze locked onto his. Unconsciously, Larabee turned the glare up to full power. For an awful moment he thought Cooper was going to deflect it, but eventually the brown eyes disengaged, a slightly pained expression crossing them fleetingly.

Chris clenched his beer glass tightly. You want him back! he thought savagely, still glaring at Cooper.

Too late, Mr photographer. Too fuckin' late.

He caught sight of Vin, still hanging on Cooper's every word, still smiling.

I hope.

Buck had not missed the exchanged looks between Chris and Mitch, and decided it might be a diplomatic moment to end the gathering. It had been pleasant enough, Chris had held his tongue but not actually relaxed for more than a few moments. The oddest thing was that Vin, normally so sensitive to Chris's moods, seemed oblivious. Buck liked Cooper, and was generally a good judge of character, but then he didn't have the same feelings for Vin that Chris did, and God knew, love could make the sanest man behave like a raving lunatic, never mind the volatile Chris Larabee.

Buck stood up. "At the risk of being a party-pooper, I oughtta be gettin' back…"

Ezra joined him. "Sadly, I am forced to agree", he shot a playful glare at Vin, "especially as I have a rather tedious report to finish for an AWOL agent…"

Vin flushed. "Thanks Ez…I'll pay ya back - honest."

"I shall merely add it to your account Mr Tanner - where the interest you owe me is accumulating quite splendidly."

With much scraping of chairs and stretching, the party began to disperse. Vin followed Chris out into the small lobby, waiting until he was sure he could catch Chris's attention without the others seeing. "Chris?"

Larabee swung round, finding himself face to face with Vin. A wave of heat washed over him at the nearness of the young Texan. "Vin."

"If'n it's okay with you, I'm gonna stay in Purgatorio tonight…. put Mitch up at my place …" The blue eyes met Chris's levelly, no trace of guilt reflected in them.

Chris swallowed, the mental images suddenly getting more lurid and more painful. "Fine…" was the best his strangled voice could muster. Vin frowned quickly, catching the tone of Chris's voice, the quick flash of something in the green eyes.

"You sure that's okay, Cowboy?"

Chris almost winced at Vin's use of his personal nickname, but managed to nod. After a quick, furtive sweep around them to ensure they were alone, Vin kissed him, quickly and softly, then was gone. Chris shivered. It was going to be a very long night.


Carrying the large mug of steaming coffee, Chris wandered out on to the deck, leaning on the rail to watch the first streaks of greyish light silver the horizon. Almost dawn. He yawned, stretching his neck to ease the kinks out of his back. He felt like death warmed over. Unable to face the huge double bed without Vin, he had opted for the recliner in the den, but sleep had eluded him, his imagination running riot with what Vin might be up to in the Purgatorio apartment with Cooper. Chris hated himself for feeling this way, but the harder he tried to quash it, the more bitter it tasted, rising in his stomach until it almost choked him.

He trusted Vin. He did.

It was that goddamned photographer he didn’t trust.

But that shouldn’t matter if he trusted Vin. Which he did.

He stared at the mountains in the distance, just beginning to emerge in the pearly light. Why had Vin introduced him as his ‘boss’?

Because that’s what you are Larabee, you jerk.

What had he expected Vin to say? ‘Hi Mitch – oh by the way, this is my lover, Chris.’ No, of course not, but ‘friend’ might have been nice. ‘Best friend’ might have been nicer. ‘Partner’ would have been the jackpot. To a complete stranger. Yeah, right.

Larabee, you’re a jerk.

He sighed, taking a long pull at the hot coffee and feeling the welcome rush of caffeine. He needed a shave and a shower and some fresh clothes, as he hadn’t bothered to get undressed the night before and was now feeling like week-old garbage.

Why bother? It was Saturday, he only had chores to do, and wasn’t planning on socialising. And Vin wasn’t here. No Vin. No point.

Get a grip, Larabee, for Christ’s sake, he chided himself, before you damn well choke on this self-pity you’re wallowing in.

He heard a car and turned his head to see Buck’s old Chevy pulling to a halt in the driveway. Wilmington climbed out, clutching a breakfast box of pastries and two giant styrofoam cups of coffee.

"Mornin’!" Wilmington cried.

"It’s 5.30am, Buck."

"Well, that’s mornin’ ain’t it?"

"Buck, what are you doin’ here?"

Buck tilted his head to one side. "Feelin’ mighty unappreciated at the minute, Stud…" he grinned. "I make the supreme sacrifice of deserting the warm embrace and comfortable bed of the beautiful Katy at some ungodly hour to come all the way out here with breakfast", he rattled the box at Chris, "…and find you with a face that looks like it lost a fight with last night, smellin’ riper than JD’s Reeboks, and with a disposition that could hardly be described as ‘sunny’…"

Buck looked at Chris, taking in the strained face, the dark circles under the shadowed eyes and the tense stance of that lithe frame. Chris looked beat. One night without Vin and this was the result. Just as Buck had suspected it would be.

He grinned at his oldest friend, and winked. "Good thing I came along…"

Chris smiled. "Good thing you did."


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