Coffee With Bear Milk And Friendship

by MMW

Part of The Friendship Collection

Chris frowned as a distant sound caught his attention. Tilting his head to the side, he listened intently and soon identified a familiar sounding car. He couldn't think of anyone who would be coming out to see him, though he supposed it might be one of his team.

Wiping his hands on a bandanna, he stepped out of the barn and waited at the top of the drive. A soft curse escaped when he identified Vin's jeep.

A few moments later, the jeep came to a stop and Vin stepped out.

"You need something?" Chris asked, trying to harden himself against the feelings of friendship he had for this man. They had just met two weeks ago and, while Larabee was ready to work with him, he wasn't at all sure he was ready to acknowledge the friendship he felt.

"Nope," Vin replied, heading toward the barn.

Following the younger man, Chris stepped into the barn, disconcerted to see Tanner in the tack room gathering equipment for the horses. "I have work to do," he said plainly, his voice neutral.

"We'll do it when we get back," the younger man stated, thrusting a saddle into Larabee's arms. "For now, we're going riding and you're going to tell me what's eating you," he commanded, lifting a saddle for himself and picking up the tack he had set aside for his use.

Looking down at the saddle in his arms, Chris clenched his teeth. "I have work to do," he reiterated, his voice harder this time. Meeting the blue eyes of the other man, he continued, "I'm sure you have something to do too. Somewhere else."

A broad smile broke out on Vin's face. "Nope," he replied, nudging Chris in the direction of the horses. "And we can do the work after we get back," he informed, emphasizing the word 'we' both times.

"Fine," Larabee growled, deciding it would be quicker to just get go along with Vin for now and get this nonsense over with. As he prepared his horse to ride, he kept telling himself he wasn't going to allow a friendship to begin with Tanner. A man like him just couldn't have friends; there was too much to lose.

"Ready?" Vin asked, pausing outside the stall in which Chris stood.

With a short nod, Chris waited for other horse to pass before leading his own outside.

Once out of the barn, the two men mounted up. Turning away from the house, Chris lead the way across a field. As the two men rode in silence, the movement and rhythm soon melted away the tension and stress that had been bothering Larabee.

Before he knew it, Chris found that he had led them to one of his favorite places, a quiet pond on the edge of his property. Dismounting and ground-tying his horse, Chris headed over toward his favorite rock, almost forgetting that anyone was with him.

Tanner pulled his horse along side of Chris' and dismounted as well. He left his horse ground-tied and petted it for a few moments, allowing the other man a few minutes of solitude before joining him.

Chris was aware of Vin's presence when the other man took up a seat nearby. He noted that Tanner was sitting near enough to be known, but far enough away that he wasn't invading Chris' space.

The two sat in silence, enjoying the peace of the world around them. It was Chris who finally broke the silence. "Why are you here?"

Vin stared out at the land around him and thought about his answer. "It seems to me that trying to live without friends is like milking a bear to get cream for your morning coffee. It's a whole lot of trouble, and then not worth much after you get it."

Chris was unable to stop the smile on his lips. "You come up with that?" he asked, amused.

A soft chuckle escaped the other man. "Nah," he admitted. "Woman named Zora Neale Hurston did." Then, turning toward the blond he waited for the hazel eyes to meet his. "Reckon she's right, though," he advised.

"It's a good quote," Chris allowed. "But it doesn't tell me why you're here."

Vin's eyes drifted around the clearing before staring off into the distance. Taking a deep breath, he began his explanation. "I've been on my own pretty much all my life. Spent a lot of time going here and there when I was little. They didn't have any openings in long-term foster care, so I would spend a few weeks or a few months in one place and then move on to the next. Problem was, by the time I started making friends, I was gone. Soon I didn't see much point in trying. By the time the army'd take me, I figured I was loner - didn't need people."

He paused in his monologue to skip a stone across the water.

Chris just looked at the ripples on the surface of the pond. He was struggling not to accept the words, not to let his heart feel for the younger man. Vin's voice never changed, never wavered, never reflected pain or rejection, but the story struck a chord in Chris. It resonated with something inside of him - isolation and loneliness.

"Got out of the army and figured I still didn't need anyone. Kicked around for a while and hooked up with this old bounty hunter. Got along real well with him and realized how wrong I had been, how much I needed people, needed friendship and support." A smile flitted across Vin's mouth. "Scared me near to death to realize that," he admitted, his eyes drifting to the horizon and becoming lost in thought.

The silence stretched for several minutes before Chris asked, "What happened?"

Tanner shook himself, focusing on the present and meeting Chris' eyes, allowing the pain to reflect in them. "We went after a bounty, a bad one. Made one mistake... Bounty saw us, and shot him, shot my friend. I held him while we were waiting for the ambulance. I'd seen wounds before and knew he wouldn't make it. He knew it too." Taking a deep breath, Vin continued, "He told me to go and find myself some friends. I told him having friends hurt too much, especially when you lose them. He told me that quote I recited to you. Told me not to be stupid, that I was stronger with friends than without and I knew it. Told me not to hold onto the darkness or it would destroy me, but the light of friendship would see me through."

Chris struggled with the words, with the story Vin had shared with him. He could remember the strength that filled him when he was with Sarah and Buck, or when he was surrounded by his friends at the station. He could feel the light and life flow through him and fought against it. With the loss of Sarah and Adam, everything had changed. His wife and child had been stolen from him leaving only darkness and pain. He had forced away all his friends until it was just him and the unbearable pain. After so long living with that ache of loss, he was afraid to feel anything else, afraid the heartache and loneliness was all he had left of Sarah and Adam. What if he let his team bring light back to his life and he lost Sarah and Adam forever? He was already struggling with remembering them - their faces, their voices... "I'm afraid to lose them," he whispered out loud.

The words hung in the air, neither man willing to break the silence for a while. Both knew it was the first time Chris had admitted it out loud.

"What's the first thing you think of when you think of them?" Vin asked quietly.

"Laughter and light," was the immediate response.

"Then why are you looking for them in the dark? You let in light and laughter, they'll still be there," Vin advised.

Silence once more fell in the clearing. After a few minutes of silence, Vin stood, mounted and left.

Chris sat contemplating the words of his friend. Grieving not only for the loss of his loved ones, but the loss of himself. Sarah loved to laugh and Adam was just like her. "How do I get it back?" Larabee whispered to the wind.

It was nearing dark when Chris finally entered his yard. He immediately noted the cars in his driveway. He wasn't even to the barn when he heard the laughter coming from the house. Buck's booming laughter and Josiah's low rumble carrying furthest.

Pausing to allow the sound to wash over him, the memory of Sarah's face as she laughed, mouth open, eyes sparkling, head tilted back, came to him, strong, powerful and clear. Tanner's words came back to him as well, "Why are you looking for them in the dark? ... let in the light and laughter..."

Urging his horse forward, Chris dismounted and entered the barn. He had spent too long in the darkness for it to ever leave him entirely. There would still be rage, pain and anger in his future, but, perhaps, allowing himself to become friends with his team wouldn't be so bad after all; especially if it brought to mind the memories of his family and the warmth of their love.

"Guess I won't need to milk a bear," he muttered to his mount as he settled the horse in for the night and headed toward the sound of laughter.