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"Use all the hot water?" Vin asked as Ezra finally emerged from the bathroom slightly more refreshed and definitely more awake than when he went in.
"Inhale all the doughnuts?"
Vin just gave a grin, brushing at the crumbs on his shirtfront and Ezra got the distinct feeling that though he won the bathroom battle, he might have lost the breakfast war.
"I'll have you know he pinches," Ezra said to Chris and Buck as Vin took his turn in the bathroom. "I might have beat him to the door, but it was not without suffering, I assure you." Buck strode over to help him with his shirt and then eased his arm back into the immobilizer sling. Limping over toward the small kitchen area, Ezra sat down and looked at the remains of doughnut shrapnel littering pretty much every inch of table surface. "Good Lord, are we now swine?"
Buck grinned. "If the oink fits."
Ezra held up the nearly empty doughnut box. "Well apparently it does. One doughnut. You left me one doughnut." He picked it up. "You could have at least saved me something other than plain. I just detest plain...and it has a bite out of it!"
"Vin did that," Buck told him. Figured.
"We did save you one," Chris said and handed over a napkin-wrapped glazed doughnut. "We hid it from Vin."
"Mr. Larabee, you have my utmost gratitude."
"You're welcome, Ezra, just eat it before Vin sees it."
"Yes, I can imagine I wouldn't want to lose a finger in the feeding frenzy should he catch a scent of this last sugary soul."
"Save your appetite there, Ezra, I'm makin' eggs. An' we got bacon here, too."
"Just assure me someone has thought to make coffee...and that it wasn't Vin." A steaming mug appeared in front of him and he released a contented sigh.
"Vin didn't make the coffee," Chris assured him.
"There is a God."
The bathroom door opened and Vin appeared, hair wet and dripping onto his shirt which had been left undone. He made a beeline for the kitchen. "That coffee I smell?"
"Just made," Chris answered.
"Fresh and hot," Buck said, offering up the pot with a huge grin. "Kinda like yours truly."
"Well, you truly ain't mine," Vin said, "but I'll take a large mug of what you got in your hand with a double dose a sweet." He watched with anticipation the dark, steaming liquid fill his cup then helped himself to several of the sugar packets Estelle the nurse had thankfully thought to include and stirred it all together. Carefully, he took a sip, then choked. "This some kinda joke? What the hell is this?"
Buck frowned as he turned from the eggs. "Well here on this planet, we call it coffee."
Vin lifted the mug and sniffed. He pushed it away. "That ain't coffee."
"Just because it didn't melt the spoon doesn't mean it's not coffee, Tanner."
Vin stared at Chris, realization dawning. "Buck made this." That explained it.
"You don't like my coffee?" There was nothing wrong with it as far as Buck could find and he was feeling a tad bit resentful Vin found it so less than worthy. "You drink it at the office."
"Hell, Bucklin, I never drink the stuff you make. Tastes like dirty water," Vin started, then ducked his head as a spatula came swinging. He groaned from the movement, a new-found throb immediately filling his head.
"Jeeze, Vin, I'm sorry," Buck said. He was, too. Seeing the pain etched in Vin's features made him feel badly for coming at him with a kitchen utensil. "Here, have another doughnut."
"That's mine!" Ezra grabbed his half-eaten doughnut just in the nick of time as Buck's meaty hand reached over him. He frowned at Buck, then handed Vin the box. "Here. I believe this already has your markings all over it."
"That's that plain one."
"Why, yes. I know."
"I don't like the plain ones."
"Why, yes. I know."
"Hell," Vin moaned, eyeing best he could the glazed remnant in Ezra's hand. He sighed, then grabbed the plain one anyway. First weak coffee and now the plain doughnut, never mind he'd already eaten several of the chocolate coated ones earlier.
"Life's a bitch, ain't it, Vin?"
"It is when all's y' get is dirty water and the plain doughnut."
"Tanner," Chris began, shifting in his seat and easing his injured foot onto Vin's empty chair, "just eat the fuckin' doughnut and get me some more coffee while you're up, will ya?"
Vin slid his working eye over to Chris. "You're gonna milk this broken ankle thing for all it's worth, I c'n tell. Why don't you take a happy pill?"
"Speaking of," Buck started, handing meds to both Vin and Ezra with a smile, "time to take your medicine, kids."
"Is there juice?" Because if there wasn't, no way was Vin taking anything. Choking down a pill on water or that weak so-called coffee Buck made was just not going to happen. "I can't take 'em without juice."
"You really are a child, you know that?" Ezra scoffed.
"Best watch it, Ez, or you'll wake up t' find a spider in your shoe."
"For all you know I already did."
"Maybe yes maybe no."
"Buck," Chris asked, "those eggs ready yet? Cause if these two don't stuff their mouths with something and stop talking, I'm going to do it for them."
Vin slid into the chair next to Ezra. "Hell, Cowboy. You'd have t' catch us first." He grinned, nodding to the cast around Chris's foot.
"Don't tempt me, Tanner."
"Wouldn't even think of it. Gimpy."
"Good heavens. What, pray tell, is that?" The doughnut in Vin's hands was covered with something he was scooping out of a can.
"Icing? That woman bought icing? How odd."
"Nah...she didn't buy it. I found it in the fridge."
Ezra was horrified. "And you ate it?"
An incredulous glance to Buck and Chris first, then Vin was looking at Ezra like he was the village idiot. "You're watchin' me eatin' it now. What, I shouldn't? Stuff tastes good on a doughnut...anything's better'n plain."
"But...but you don't know where it's been!"
"It's been in that refrigerator," Vin explained, suddenly thinking maybe Ezra hit his head, too. "It's real tasty...just fine." He scooped out a spoonful and held it out. "Here, try."
"Kindly remove that from my face before I upchuck."
"Take it you don't like icing."
Ignoring the muted laughs from Chris and Buck, Ezra sighed. "Mr. Tanner. You will find there are a good many things of which I am not fond, you being--"
"Especially icing. Unless, of course, there are cookies." Ezra sat back in his chair and watched Vin lick the creamy frosting off the spoon. "There ah, aren't any cookies...are there?"
Vin shook his head no, his mouth stuffed with a huge dollop of icing he was eating right off the spoon.
A knock at the door had Ezra looking around. Buck seemed engrossed in cooking his eggs--and just how long did it take to cook a few eggs, anyway? Chris clearly wasn't about to rise from his spot at the table...and after witnessing the man wielding those crutches, Ezra was actually grateful.
The knock again.
Vin was digging deeper into the plastic container of icing, apparently wanting to consume every lick of it, so Ezra rose slowly and carefully from his chair and headed for the door. "No, don't get up. I wouldn't dream of inconveniencing any of you. Allow me."
He made his way to the door and opened it, half-expecting and wholly dreading to find nurse Estelle on the other side, needle in hand. With a quick caress to his own backside, he opened the door.
Staring at him was the most hugely buxom woman he'd ever seen. It would have to have been years since she'd seen even a glimpse of her own feet.
"Hi! I'm Bootsie," she announced.
"Yes, I'm sure you are," Ezra replied. She giggled and he turned and called back into the room. "Buck, it's for you."
+ + + + + + +
Watching two women handle a tow truck was poetry in motion as far as Buck was concerned. Long hair swept up and out of the way, buttons on blouses near to bursting, long-legged ladies looking lusciously lovely...glory be to God, he'd died and found Paradise.
He'd curiously stepped outside at Ezra's beck and was more than pleasantly surprised to find that this Bootsie person and all her most ample trimmings had been accompanied by her friend and partner, Bitsy, who was most definitely anything but. Both co-owners of a local garage, and he watched them move around the vehicles like old pros, happy they'd seen fit to have both his truck's flat fixed, and Vin's Jeep gassed up and ready to go, or as much as that decrepit thing could ever be.
The truck had been towed in on a flat bed by Bootsie, Vin's Jeep Bitsy had driven to them herself, and Buck couldn't help grinning as the two women delivered up the vehicles wearing not much more than what looked like thin pieces of kleenex. Very sheer kleenex.
"Hot out, huh?" he said as they worked, more a statement than question, and not really expecting much of an answer--just enjoying what view there was, which at the moment was a lot.
"Hot enough," Bootsie answered with a wide smile.
"Ain't it the truth," Buck murmured as the woman then bent over to check the new tire's air pressure one last time, his eyes following the line of her leg from ankle to thigh.
It was just too damn bad they'd declined his offer to stay on for breakfast. Really too bad.
"Enjoying yourself?" Not that it wasn't perfectly obvious to anyone who might care to witness the whole disgusting display that he was--Buck fixated on the girls' most ample flesh like one would gaze at a Picasso. For heaven's sake the man was near to drooling.
As if one cue, Buck wiped at his mouth, and Ezra shook his head in disgust. "You're pathetic."
"I'm just a hot-blooded American male, Ez." Buck grinned, adding a wink to Vin who had just moved from the kitchen table to lean against the doorway to watch what was going on outside.
"And just what does that imply the rest of us are?" Buck opened his mouth to answer but Ezra cut him off, not at all wanting to be the butt of yet another less than amusing joke. "Oh, for heaven's sake, don't say it," he told Buck.
Buck held out his hands, his grin widening even more. "But you left that one wide open and..." his words faded as he caught the hot flash of green laser eyes. With a slight shrug, he then craned his neck and waved as the two women bade their goodbyes and drove off in their truck. He sighed loudly. "Damn shame I didn't get a number or two."
Ezra's eyebrows raised. "Surely you got their number."
Buck threw him a slanted look as he digested Ezra's meaning, then whipped his head to watch the truck as it disappeared around a corner. "No! Those two sweet little things?"
"Certainly more than a few notches have been cut into their toolbelts, I would say."
"Just what are you implying here, Ez?"
"All I'm saying, Buck, is you might very well have come away with more than just a new tire should you have partaken of anything those two had to offer."
"Nahhh...y' think? They seemed like they'd be such fun...I'm pretty sure that Bootsie was winking my way."
"Mr. Wilmington," Ezra began, ignoring the rolled eyes sent his way at the use of the more formal surname, "There are times to venture forth, and times to cut and run. Be eternally grateful you were allowed just that."
"So you think those girls were one of those times," Buck stated, brushing past Vin as he headed inside.
Ezra followed him in. "Precisely."
Buck thought for a moment, his eyes assessing Ezra. Maybe the man had a point--there was a time and place for everything. And they certainly weren't planning on sticking around this place for too much longer. "Yeah," he said, "Maybe. Still though, it's hard to take a pass on that kind of afternoon delight when it's thrown at your feet."
"Carpe diem, eh Buck?" Ezra finished with a slight grin.
Vin stared after them a moment, then turned and moved back inside. Chris looked up from the table.
"Buck's admirers still out there?"
"Nah," Vin answered, "they took off. Guess they got bored, what with Buck 'n' Ezra talkin' about fishin' 'n' all."
"Fishing?" That was news. "I didn't think Ezra liked to fish."
Vin shrugged. "Me neither, but when Buck asked him about 'bout them girls, Ezra started talkin' 'bout carp. Got me."
+ + + + + + +
A few hours later and the four agents were seated in Buck's truck and ready to hit the highway...just as soon as some of the minor details were worked out.
"Still don't see why I can't drive m' own Jeep." Vin was grumbling as he peered out the back window at his Jeep being towed behind the truck, his eyes half-slits against the sun shining brightly into the windows.
"Hell, Vin," Buck answered from behind the truck's steering wheel, "you can hardly see through that squint you got goin'--how the hell would you be able t' drive?"
"Not to mention..." Chris began.
"But yer gonna," Vin said, scowling and knowing exactly what was coming.
"Not to mention...you nearly passed out this morning when you got up too fast from the table."
"Aw hell, I did not," Vin said, protesting. "Jest got t' reelin' from lookin' at all them colors in that tablecloth Bucklin's callin' his shirt."
"Concussions aren't to fool around with, Vin," Chris stated.
"Neither's that shirt Buck's got on. Damn, Buck, you tryin' t' make m' head hurt worse?"
"What's wrong with my shirt?" The words cut through Buck's Bootsie/Bitsy daydream and he realized he'd just been insulted.
"You really looked about to drop, Vin," Ezra said.
"Wasn't 'bout to drop," Vin argued. "Jest lost m' balance fer a sec."
Buck brushed over the front of his favorite garment. "Girls liked my shirt."
"If Buck hadn't been standing right there, you would have hit the floor," Chris said.
"Nah," Vin explained, "see, was that shirt a his caused me t' waver--all them colors blindin' me like that."
Now Buck was getting a mite angry. "You got some nerve blamin' your weakness on this shirt. This is a great shirt."
"And besides, Mr. Tanner, I seem to recall you were reeling even before you stood up."
Vin scoffed. "Oh that...that was nothin'. I's still a bit dizzy from the bad coffee is'all."
Buck's mouth flew open and he sent a glare into the rearview mirror. "Coffee! What's wrong with my coffee? I make great coffee."
Ezra was incredulous. "Dizzy? A bit understated even for you. You were most definitely heading due south, my friend, with or without the added misery from either foul coffee or loud shirt."
"Great coffee. Great shirt, ya mean. I happen to love this shirt!" Buck slapped his hand on the steering wheel for emphasis.
Chris snickered, shifting his leg a bit. The skin under the cast was itching like crazy. "Well, you'd be the one to think that shirt was great."
"What?" Buck fingered the front of his highly beloved, brightly striped shirt. "Ain't a thing wrong with this shirt--it's a classic."
Ezra sneered. "Classic! You're not serious. It's positively hideous."
"Still don't see why I couldn'a driven," Vin mumbled from the back seat, sending Chris's leg a nasty scowl as it began encroaching on his side of the bench seat. He rubbed lightly at his still throbbing head, trying not to irritate the stitches above his eye any more than they were already.
"Work with me here, Buck," Ezra began, speaking over Vin's muted noises, "as one who is familiar with the finer makes of clothing--"
Buck smiled. "Why, thank ya, Ezra, I knew you liked my shirt!"
"I was speaking of myself. And the less said about that thing the better. Now when we get back home, I'll be happy to provide you with the numbers of several fine clothiers who will be only too thrilled to assist you in finding your own personal...style." A quick flash of Buck's eyes and Ezra knew the man was considering the proposition. He might actually have Buck dressed in taste for the first time in his life--will wonders never cease.
"Probably gonna ruin my Jeep's transmission towing it like 'at, y' know," Vin muttered, pressing his fingers into his temples to try and relieve the ache. "I shoulda just climbed in an' took off. Could 'a driven--no problem."
Ezra turned to stare into the back seat, wincing as his shoulder sent a protest. "Has that fall done something to your hearing?"
"Vin, leave your head alone and listen. You driving with a concussion is just not an option. No way. No how," Chris said, wholeheartedly agreeing with Ezra, strange as that seemed. He wiggled his toes to alleviate the aggravating itch inside the cast. It didn't work.
"Him driving without a concussion is barely an option, quite frankly."
"Speakin' of which," Buck said, the thought that crossed his mind earlier now coming to the forefront, "how is it Vin drove up here, anyway? I thought you were supposed t' be driving, Chris."
Ezra's ears perked up. He'd forgotten.... "Our Mr. Larabee lost some sort of wager, as I recall."
Buck jumped on that. "Yeah? A bet? What was it?" Had to be good.
Vin began to open his mouth and Chris quickly clamped his hand over it as he breathed words into his ear. "You wanna live to see tomorrow, you'll shut up now."
Vin nodded and after a beat, Chris slowly withdrew his hand. With glaring eyes emblazoned onto Vin, he explained to Buck: "Wasn't really anything you'd find all that interesting any--"
"'Sides, Bucklin, wasn't really the bet so much as the after--"
"Vin," Chris warned.
"Ah, go on, Vin." Buck desperately wanted to know what happened. "What can he do to ya?"
"So sayeth the man safely ensconced in the front seat," Ezra mumbled.
"See, we was..." Vin slowly let the words slip, his eyes directed forward but his peripheral vision completely glued to the dark, glowering cloud that was Larabee. He just couldn't seem to stop the words from escaping his mouth.
At the sound of his name, Vin shifted a bit more away from Chris. Thing was, riling the glowering cloud sometimes was just too fun...though sure as he was breathing, he was gonna pay for it later. Hoped he'd still be breathing later, too. "See...we was walkin' back up from the barn out at his place, an' I found this penny...."
Vin's eyes didn't waver--though neither did Chris's. "An' I told Chris it was heads up which meant we was sure t' have good luck on this trip...."
"I forbid you ever to pick up another so-called lucky penny," Ezra said grimly.
Vin continued on, not missing the low groan emanating from the man to his left. He sent Larabee a quick glance and proceeded on... "Anyway, so--"
"I'm warning you, Tanner...."
"So then he found a dime a couple'a steps later an' was walkin' all proud 'n' smilin' an' all like he'd done found buried treasure or somethin'--"
"You're walking on thin ice here, Vin...."
"An' then a bit more an' I spied me a quarter an' picked it up which I think just pissed him all the hell off--"
"You cheated, that's why--threw that quarter down yourself thinking I didn't see."
"Nah," Vin denied, "you just can't shove change all the way down inta the pockets a them tight jeans a yers so it's always fallin' out the top all over the ground. An' I found it 'cause I got better eyes 'n' you." He turned toward the front seat. "See, was just like that bear thing, Ezra...."
Buck was confused. "Bear?"
"Don't ask--completely inane," Ezra said, shaking his head.
"So then," Vin continued on, "I suggested maybe he ought'a try getting a pair a bifocals...."
"Oh, and I'll just bet that went over real well."
Vin chuckled which really hurt his head, but not enough to shut his mouth. "Like a lead balloon." He grinned and turned to Chris then, the smile fading quickly at the sight of the glower on the man's face--not that it stopped him from continuing on.... "So I'm sayin' how I got eyes like an' eagle 'n' c'n spot a fly's ass from twenty paces...."
"Flies have asses?"
"He's on a roll. Resume, Mr. Tanner."
"And if'n I had my gun I could prove it by shootin' that ass off from twice as far an'--"
Chris chimed in, suddenly realizing defeat by the mouth running over. He picked up the bag with the meds in it, wondering if it wasn't time for Vin's pill yet. "And then I said to eagle eye here, 'Fine. You've got such great eyes and aim, here's a rock, hit that weather vane on top of my garage from here."
"Um, Chris?" Buck asked. "Have you forgotten just what it is Vin does for our team? Sharpshooter, you know?"
"No, I didn't forget--but he was throwing the thing, not shooting."
"So I hit it," Vin finished.
"Not without almost breaking a bedroom window first," Chris scoffed.
"Vin," Buck asked, "how'd you almost break a window on the second story of the house when you were aiming for a garage that's not even near it?"
Vin frowned. "Wasn't my fault--"
"Like hell it wasn't."
"No, I's just aimin' to shoot and that neighbor lady," he gave almost a perfunctory glance to Chris, deciding to plow ahead at his own peril--the tale too good not to tell. "You know, the one got the steamin' pants for ol' Larabee here."
Buck laughed. "The one looks like she could be Nettie Wells's sister?"
"Yeah," Vin replied, "only older."
"Bigger," Buck added.
"And incredibly meaner," Ezra said.
"She is not that bad," Chris said stiffly, not at all liking the direction this was now heading. He'd allow Tanner a tiny leeway, and that was it.
"Anyhow," Vin continued, leaning against the back of the seat and trying to ignore the percussion playing inside his skull, "I was lining up my shot, all ready to go, and outta nowhere she shows up in them short shorts a hers, all sweaty 'n' waving at Chris. Swear to God she was smackin' her lips 'n' winkin' at him--"
"So that's where you picked up that obnoxious habit," Ezra said.
"She's wavin' 'n' yellin', 'Yoohoo, Mr. Lar'bee--Chri-iss!' Woman didn't have a clue I was even around--an' then she's runnin' toward us with those big ol' arms flappin' in the breeze as she come out from up near the house. I swear she was just layin' in wait fer ol' stud muffin' here t' show himself."
Vin snickered. "So jest the same time I launch off my shot she yells out real loud to Chris, 'I got goodies for ya I think you'll like, honey!' I swear I just 'bout wet myself--"
"Tanner, you are so dead."
"So, my shot goes wide 'n' then I hear this loud crack 'n' figure either I come close t' breakin' a window, or Chris here's close t' breakin' bones from the woman squeezin' the air out of him in a big ol' bear hug...an' so then I say, 'Double 'r nothin' I can hit that vane from here no problem.' An' he says fine an' so I send another that hits dead center an' gets the whole thing t' spinnin'...an' then she's jumpin' up 'n' down hootin' 'n' hollerin' an' tellin' me she's just damn sure Chris can beat that...."
"I'm about to beat you right now."
"Hell, you can't hurt me, I'm already wounded!"
Chris just grinned which sent chills down Vin's spine. He continued with his one good eye fixed on Larabee. "An' so he picks up this big, huge rock an' says 'course he can beat me, an' I'm figurin' he's jest wantin' t' show off to her--"
"Who am I? JD? I do not show off."
"Anyhow, she's yellin' 'Go Chris honey, go!' An' he winds up like he's the Big Unit all a sudden 'n' sends this thing flyin' in the air...only it sails right over top a the garage 'n' then we hear glass breakin'...."
Buck glanced at Chris's face in the rearview mirror. "Ohh, Chris. Tell me ya didn't hit your--"
"Oh yeah," Vin said between laughs which made his head pound with fury but he didn't care, "right smack in the center of the windshield."
Ezra was only grinning, but Buck couldn't help letting loose a soft snicker. Then another.
"Shut. Up. Buck," Chris growled. "You, too, Ezra."
"Oh hell, Chris, you gotta admit, that was all pretty funny."
"No, wait," Vin choked out, "it gets even better...."
"Vin. That's enough," Chris said.
"Swear to God, Tanner, I'm warning you!"
"See, funniest thing...when he threw the ever-lovin' shit outta that rock--standin' there with that glare, windin' up tight an' then lettin' go with all he's got like he's gonna send it to the moon.... Then, right then--as the rock goes flyin'--is the sound a somethin' rippin'...an' I look over...an' she's looking over...an' he's split the ass right out them jeans a his from back t' front.... Oh, and hey, didja'll know Chris wears them boxer-brief things? Thinks he's that Calvin Klein model, Marky Mark or somethin'--"
"Anyway, she's starin' and lickin' her chops 'cause Chris's ass is just hangin' out the back fer all to see--" Vin ducked sharply as Chris's hand came speeding toward him, barely able to spit out the rest of the story all the while Chris's powerful arms wrapped him in a chokehold and he could barely breathe and his head was killing him but he didn't care 'cause he sure as hell couldn't stop now.... "An' she says, 'Lord, have mercy on my soul will you look at the fine be-hind on that man--gives a whole new meanin' t' the words kiss my a --"
His last word was more a sharply released breath as Chris's hand found a home in his shirt collar. As Vin sucked in a startled breath, Larabee yanked him down to his lap and clamped a vise-like hand over his mouth and another around his torso, effectively pinning his arms to his sides.
"Buck," Chris said sharply, "Drive. Ezra, keep an eye out for bears--because the minute you find one I'm gonna throw them some dinner. And in the meantime, not one word, snicker or sound out of anybody about my ass. Got that?"
Vin nodded under the pressure of the hands holding him down, his eyes trying to catch the hard green ones above him in hopes of gaining a release....
Ezra stared mutely out the windshield and tried not to snicker--he did value life, after all....
And Buck merely nodded, eyes glued to the road. "Uh-huh. Yep. Got it...Marky."
+ + + + + + +
Not ten minutes later and a soft snoring gently reverberated inside the truck's cab. A warm pressure against his shoulder, and Buck shifted to allow Ezra's head to better pillow against him. The man had slipped into sleep as elegantly as Buck would've expected, his tired body slowly leaning until he unknowingly came to rest against Buck's shoulder...his breath a faint whisper against Buck's neck.
Good thing no one had a camera handy, Buck thought.
A quick glance in the rearview mirror offered him explanation for the silence pooling there as well. Chris was leaned against the back of the seat, mouth open as he breathed in deep slumber. Buck smiled at the sight--his boss's hair in boyish disarray as it fell lank against a line-softened forehead. Chris's face was relaxed, shaving years of stress from him and it made Buck's heart pang to see traces of the man he knew years ago emerging in the sleep-softened features. Even as he watched, though, Chris shifted, frowning in his sleep, as though aware eyes scanned over him.
The sudden change of Chris's position resulted in a faint moan from the man that rested in his lap.
Resting in his lap. Buck grinned at the sight he never thought he'd see.
He craned his neck some, then adjusted the rearview mirror to better view the scene in the back seat.
He could just make out the top of Vin's head as it cradled still in Larabee's lap, the sharpshooter also sound asleep, having drifted away quickly as he'd lain there...as Chris had held him there to shut him up.
Wouldn't Chris just die of embarrassment over this...wouldn't Buck just love to needle him about it...needle Vin over it all. He could imagine the furious blushing Vin would suffer, the hard glare Chris would deliver--then again, he amended his first thought--maybe a camera right now would be a good thing--a great thing.
His stomach rumbled then, hunger calling to him from the hollow of his middle and suddenly he no longer cared about cameras or anyone's sleeping positions.
Teasing would be fun...food would be better.
He watched the exit signs, foregoing the usual fast-food ones in hopes of finding someplace a bit more substantial and....
"Bingo," he mused, eyeing the small sign for home cooking ahead. "Here we go. Real food."
"Food?" A groggy voice spoke up from the backseat. Buck wasn't at all surprised to see a shaggy headed Tanner rise up from the backseat, mumbling, "Someone say food?" Vin's eyes were still closed and Buck watched, amused, as the young man's head began a weave and bob on a rather unsteady neck.
Buck wasn't sure Vin was even half awake, but leave it to him, of all people, to be pulled to awareness by his stomach.
"Thought we might get something to eat," Buck explained, "you at all hungry?" Talk about your loaded question, he thought.
Vin was nodding...wasn't stopping nodding, as though his head began the slight movement and had no idea how to make it come to an end. "Burger," he mumbled then, still nodding. "Fries...fried pie."
"Oh, that's healthy."
Buck watched as another head rose and grinned at the sight of his boss. Chris's hair was doing its best imitation of a mohawk, both sides pushed high to form a peak in the middle. For a fraction of a second he thought about telling him to fix it...but just a fraction.... "Thought we'd stop and get food," Buck told him, "I'm hungry. Vin here's hungry--"
"Vin's always hungry," Chris said, blinking the sleep from his eyes and staring back into the rearview mirror at Buck. "I could use something to drink, though." He rubbed at his face. "Maybe a pit stop, too."
"No maybe's about that," Buck said, shifting behind the wheel as pressure from his own need made itself known. "That's a definite must." He pulled off the next exit ramp. "Sign said place up ahead's s'posed to be home cooking at its best--"
Chris moaned. "Oh Christ, Buck, not another of these 'finds' of yours!"
"You're never gonna let me forget that, are you?" Buck shook his head, he'd had this conversation too many times to count. "'Sides, I still blame you for that whole thing."
"What! Me? I didn't tell you to order the fish. Who the hell orders fish in a truck stop, anyway? Had to be outta your mind, I said. No, you said, it looks real good...got this cream sauce." Chris rolled his eyes disgustedly. "Cream sauce."
Buck was chuckling, though he'd never forget how many days he suffered from that fish and its cream sauce. "Yeah," he laughed, "gave me the worst diarrhea and upset tummy I ever had...bad fish. Major bad fish."
"Somebody call me?" Ezra suddenly asked, total confusion gracing his features as he sat up stiffly and pushed himself from Buck's side. Buck's side?
"Oh yeah. Bad fish sounds exactly like Ezra Standish."
"Hell, Ezra," Vin managed, eyes still closed but obviously listening. "They's both just talking about you...indigestion...Ezra...'s all 'bout the same."
Ezra sat up straighter, shaking his head, not understanding. He hadn't been leaning against Buck, for heaven's sake...had he? "What?"
"Forget it, Ezra," Buck said, "we're here." He pulled into a parking spot, grinning and eyeing the front of the old diner happily. "Now, who's hungry?"
+ + + + + + +
Passing out meds to each and they were quickly downed, all three of the injured feeling the effects of their long trip and wanting some sort of quick relief.
"How's the head?" Buck asked Vin.
A grimace, and then a nod followed by another grimace...a shake and a groan. Vicious cycle. "Okay," Vin said softly. He gulped down a healthy swallow of Coke, paused for a moment and then allowed an enormous belch to follow...and then a long sigh.
Staring at Vin and waiting some more....
Finally: "Was that absolutely necessary?"
Vin blinked. "Huh?"
"What do we say after an explosion of that magnitude?"
Vin looked around, confused. Buck lightly nudged him. "Think he's talking to you, Junior."
Vin blinked again. "Oh hell, Ezra. Did I get some on ya?"
Ezra grimaced. "You are just a pig."
"Ain't I heard this afore?"
"I can only imagine perhaps countless times."
Vin burped softly again, then grinned at Ezra's scowl. "Reckon it's just somethin' I'm good at!"
They fell silent for a few moments, Chris reading the menu, Buck scanning the other tables, Vin leaning forward, eyes closed, fingers gently rubbing his temples...sipping at his coke and trying to muster up a better burp.
Ezra studied the fork in his hand, eyeing with distaste whatever substance still adhered to its surface. He picked up the knife and wiped it down with a paper napkin and then shivered. "You can't possibly be considering actually ordering food from this...place."
Buck pointed to the menu. "Says here they got a hot turkey plate special today. Lookee, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy. Even comes with cranberry sauce, man, I hope it's the kind with the ridges."
"Yeah," Buck said, "y' know, Ez, the kind comes from a can like you get at Thanksgiving. I love that stuff."
Ezra stared at him, lips forming the word, 'ridges'. "Ugh."
Vin slid out of the booth. "Order me a cheeseburger, no stuff on it 'cept cheese and lots a ketchup. Oh, an' barbecue sauce, too. An' fries with gravy...extra gravy. Be back in a sec. Gotta go see a man about a horse."
Ezra stared at him, mouthing, 'fries with gravy'. "How vile."
Chris watched Vin walk, or rather weave unsteadily, to the bathroom, then rose himself, a sudden vision of their sharpshooter cracking his head on a sink sending him into movement. "I'll have the western omelette." He stood and headed toward the bathroom as well. "Be right back."
"Well," Buck grinned, "Guess it's just you 'n' me."
"Oh lucky me."
"What're you havin', Ezra?"
"Now let me see... hmm... Dyspepsia, perhaps?"
"What--just a drink?"
Ezra sighed. "Remind me to work on broadening your vocabulary once we return, Buck." His eyes flitted over the menu just as the waitress came to take their order. "I suppose...I'll have the fresh fish," he said. "With cream sauce."
+ + + + + + +
Another few hours and at last, the Denver skyline came into view. They all loosed a collective sigh.
Home again, home again, jiggedy jig.
"Surely you jest," Ezra replied, sending Buck a pointed look.
"I take it that's a no from you?"
"That's a no from me, too," Chris added wanting nothing more than to get home, get showered and get to bed.
"I could use a beer," Vin said eagerly. "Two, even."
"Oh you can't be serious," Ezra scoffed and stared at Buck next to him. "Never mind adding alcohol to the medications he's taking--we're all taking--but may I remind anyone sane here--though I realize that's a relative term--that the man is suffering from a concussion. Isn't he addled enough as it is?"
"Anyone so willingly choosing to wolf down the amount of grease laden hunk of cow I was misfortunate enough to witness this night, has got to have a screw or two on the loose. In Mr. Tanner's case I will assume the concussion has just made him take leave of what little sense he had to begin with. And adding anything even remotely alcoholic to his system would be akin to pouring kerosene on a lit fire." He glanced over his stiff shoulder to Vin and Chris in the back seat. "It really was a disgusting display of gluttony, Mr. Tanner, I must say."
"Ah, you're just jealous 'cause all you had was that green stuff 'n' that bitty bowl of soup 'stead of a real man's meal. What was that, anyway?"
"Something vaguely reminiscent of dirty dishwater, near as I could figure," Ezra mumbled.
"Better'n the fish, though, huh, Ez?"
Ezra groaned. "Don't remind me." He slid his eyes toward Buck and shuddered.
Buck frowned. "Don't you be lookin' my way--you orderin' that fish had nothing to do with me."
"You assured me it would be fine. Delicious, to be more accurate."
"And you listened to Buck?" A wonder in itself, Chris thought.
Buck shook his head. "All I said was it sounded good--salmon with a dill cream sauce. It looked good. Probably was good--"
"Well, it wasn't."
"How would you know? You never even tried it!"
"It smelled fishy!"
"It was fish!"
"Do you really know that for sure? Hard to tell what that was under all that lumpy sauce," Ezra said. "And there was that flyer for the missing cat that was posted near the hostess' desk."
"And that's another thing--"
"Oh, do tell." Ezra rolled his eyes.
Buck alternated between staring at the road to staring at Ezra. "Telling the waitress that you distinctly heard meowing from the kitchen was not funny...and you know damn well I hate when you do that."
"Do what?" Ezra asked, rolling his eyes once again.
"That. And that look you get...that one you gave the waitress when you told her to whisk away the platter of inedible carnage."
"Well it was drawing flies...and I don't get a look!" Ezra said with a pinched look.
"You're doing it right now!"
"You are, Ez," Vin offered, just to to be helpful and because he was so enjoying that he was merely a bystander for once.
"Flies." Now Buck rolled his eyes.
"Well it was perfectly awful. I should have known better than to let you talk me into it ordering it."
"Oh, so now it's all my fault."
Ezra nodded at Buck. "Well for once we're in agreement."
Buck's mouth gaped.
"Don't push it Bucklin," Vin suggested. "I've been roped in this sorta thing with him before...it ain't pretty 'n' all you'll get out of it is a wicked headache." He rubbed his forehead as if to prove just that.
"Well, least the pie was good," Buck offered.
"Marginal," Ezra said.
"You ate the whole thing!"
"Simply because there was nothing else edible on the table. And I'll have you know I'm still famished."
A hand thrust in his face from the backseat. Ezra eyed the wrapped snack cake. "Thank you, no, Mr. Tanner. I wouldn't dream of depleting your hoard of petrified goodies." He turned back to Buck. "Besides, the only reason you ordered it was because it gave you an excuse to inquire to the woman next to you what kind of pie she was eating."
Buck grinned. "Got that right."
"Too bad she only had eyes for our Mr. Tanner--not that he'd noticed."
"Huh?" Buck asked. "Whaddaya mean she only had eyes for Vin?"
Vin let loose a smug breath. "Reckon I'm jest a chick magnet."
All eyes turned to him.
"What?" He slouched down further down in the seat, mumbling. "Nobody laughs when Buck says it."
"She did have a thing for Vin, though, you're right," Buck admitted. "Now how much of a shame was that? Pretty, pretty woman, though. Said her name was Diana. Goddess of the hunt."
"Yep. And goddess of the moon...ooh, and virginity, too," Buck added and looked at Vin in the rear view. "Diana...hunting virgins by the light of the moon. No wonder she was after you--"
A bright glow emanated from the cheeks of the man in the back seat. "What's that s'posed t' mean? I'm not a--"
"How do you know all this about that name, Buck?"
Buck smiled. "Oh, I've done a Diana or two before. Heh, one time, I had this rash and the nurse at the doctor's, Diana, was--"
Ezra turned stiflly to the back seat. "Please tell me he's going to say she just gave him a prescription--"
"For lo-oove," Buck grinned.
"Well, Diana's friend was checking out Vin here, too."
"Yeah," Buck sighed. "Talked to her, too. Judy, oh, Judy..."
"I think you just like saying Judy."
"Judy, Judy, Judy."
"You're no Cary Grant," Ezra scoffed.
"Well, the pie was good," Chris said, returning back to the original subject. He yawned and shifted his leg. "God, I could use a night in my own bed."
"Me, too," Vin said, now yawning as well.
Buck laughed and poked Ezra in the side. "Hear that? You gonna join 'em? How 'bout it, Chris? You gonna miss having these two sleeping with you?"
"It never happened," Chris stated sharply.
"Sure it did." Buck glanced back in the rearview mirror. "I was right there, saw and heard the whole thing. Way I see it, you, Junior and Ez, here--"
"Listen--we drove up. We fished. We ate. We came back. Period. All anyone ever needs to know. It was a great time."
"Oh, okay," Buck said. A pause, then, "Guess the cast, bandages, stitches an' all aren't gonna tip anyone off that something more might've happened."
"Nothing happened," Chris said again.
Ezra turned slightly. "No dragging me along against my will, I take it."
"Now that never happened," Vin scoffed.
"No bird, bunny or bear-spotting, either."
"I never said bunny," Vin protested. "An' it damn well was a bear an' you know it, Ezra."
"A mock bear."
"You all really did see a bear?" Buck was still trying to figure where this bear was.
"No bear," Chris stated flatly.
"No bear? Fine. Then there weren't no mosquitoes, either," Vin said. "All jest a figment a yer 'maginations."
"Well then I must have one vivid imagination," Ezra said, a host of bites suddenly flaring up to generate renewed maddening itching. "I suppose we have to forget that Vin, here, had no problem filling his stomach instead of his gas tank, then, too."
"I got us where we was s'posed to be, didn't I? Jest 'cause you don't like t' hike..."
"Hike! You and your map." Ezra turned to Buck to explain. "It's just up ahead, he says. Just a bit more, he says. Honestly, for the entire first hour, we were wandering that wood in a complete circle--"
"That was only forty minutes!"
"Twenty." Chris sighed.
"Ahh, and then I saved you!" Buck chimed in with a nod and a grin....
And was met by several sneers. "Yeah, right."
"You know really, Mr. Larabee," Ezra began, "I believe if you hadn't lost that bet to begin with--"
"Shattering your windshield--" Buck added.
"Splitting your pants--" Vin said and chuckled softly because it really was too funny.
"Letting Vin drive at all--"
"Hey!" Now that wasn't all that funny.
Chris gave a round of glares. The thought of the looks on Nathan's and Josiah's faces...the way the story would spread like wildfire throughout the federal building the minute JD got hold of it and unleashed his mouth... He shuddered. "It never happened!"
Then, "Whatever you say, boss. Just a pleasant little vacation."
"That's what I said." Chris relaxed into the seat back and watched the scenery and smiled. "Just one helluva good time."
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