by Dierdre

ATF Universe

Part 3

He refrained from playing music during the short drive to Vin's. He didn't want the melodies to interrupt his pain. He felt every inch of Vin's anguish. Losing someone you love is hard enough. Like most people, he had his own painful flashbacks tied to certain songs. But at least he had memories of Sarah and Adam. Vin didn't have that, well not until tonight. Something deep in his memory, buried a long ago by a brave little boy, had resurfaced with a vengeance. He thought on how much better the blue-eyed soul sharer had made his life. Thanks to Vin the sky was blue again. He wondered if he had ever taken the time to actually thank Vin. He pulled up to Vin's and grabbed the jacket off the seat next to him. He shivered and zipped his own black leather coat, as the cold wind went through him. He saw the darkened windows and frowned. His green eyes flicked to Vin's motorcycle. He closed his eyes and shook his head.

"Damn..." He swore silently, jogging around the side of the property and up the wood stairs that led to the rooftop. This was Vin's sanctuary. A place he retreated to every time he was hurt or troubled. Chris peered over the expanse of roof. The lone bulb on the wall reflected down on the slumped figure below. Vin had his back to Chris. He knees drawn up and his arms resting on them. The gravel crunched under his shoes, as he strode over.

Vin didn't move, not a muscle. He knew it was Chris Larabee. He had a feeling the blond would be arriving. Either Casey left a message about him or him not showing up at Buck's for the fight, would have sparked concern. Not answering his phone would have turned the concern into action. He'd heard it ringing a while back.

"Here." the gentle voice said, tapping his back. "It's freezing. You left this at Buck's."

"Thanks." Vin nodded shucking his jacket on. For a few moments neither moved. Vin hadn't actually seen Chris. He remained seated, eyes burning from brutal combination of wind and tears. His cheeks stung where the strong wind burned into the salty-tear tracks. His throat hurt too, he hadn't cried like this since she died. That angered him too, that he remembered crying, but couldn't visualize her or the funeral. Why tonight? Why did that tune pop in his head? He flinched and saw the painful pictures return. He was so lost in thought, when Chris touched his shoulder he recoiled and skittered backwards, gasping.

"Jesus, Vin." Chris bent over and reached a hand out, "Take it easy." It wasn't just the red-rimmed swollen eyes that tore through Chris; it was the little boy fighting to break free. That was who Chris saw huddled on the roof. A small boy lost in a painful storm. Huddled against the world, not letting anyone close, not letting his heart get broken again. That was it...that was what he saw reflected in the haunted blue stare. He'd made a silent vow a long time ago to protect that fragile soul and that's what he intended to do.

"Sorry..." Vin rasped, chest heaving.

"Can I give you a hand?" Chris asked, not wanting to force the younger man's hand. Vin remained locked in place. Chris thought for a minute then turned to leave. "Come on, let's go to Madigan's" he said of a nearby coffeehouse. "I'm buying'" Still no movement. He tilted his blond head and pursed his lips. "Double Dutch Hot Chocolate?" He saw the head turn slightly and smiled. "...with whipped cream?" The body moved, and the head rose up slowly.

"...with lots of them chocolate bitty things all over..."

"With lots of the chocolate bitty things all over," Chris repeated with a small smile. "How about it, Cowboy?" He waited for the shaggy head to nod and the arm to come up at him. He took the hand and frowned as he pulled Vin to his feet. "Your hand's like ice. You been out here long?" Vin's reply was a shrug. His legs wobbled and Chris steadied him.

The trip to the busy Coffeehouse was a silent one. Chris eyed Vin a couple times, but the younger man's face was turned sideways. He'd stopped shivering as the heat blasted on him. The blond leader saw the pain in the reflection of the window glass. Vin slid out of the seat and entered ahead of Chris. He went to the counter, watching Vin disappear. He knew where he'd be...in the darkest corner booth, tucked away from the crowd and seeking security. Chris carried the large cup of Hot Chocolate and Viennese Cinnamon Coffee to the booth. Vin was hunched over, resting his head on his fists on the table. Chris slid the cup across at him and watched the head rise up long enough to take a sip and a spoonful of whipped cream.

"How'd ya know?" Vin said, eyeing Chris's concerned green gaze. He saw the sandy eyebrow raise as if to challenge him. "Sometimes that's a curse." He said of the electric-connection they shared.

"But not tonight." Chris replied thoughtfully, sipping his coffee. "You wanna talk about it?"

"Yeah...gimme a minute." Vin rasped, taking a deep breath. "Damn, my chest hurts..."

He winced and closed his eyes. He felt a hand grip his wrist and felt the quiet voice soothe him.

"Easy, Cowboy...take a deep breath. We got all night."

"I ain't sure how it happened." Vin sighed, running his hands through his hair. He flexed his frozen hands and wrapped them around the hot paper cup, embracing the warmth. His eyes darted back and forth. "I was rockin' the baby to sleep. I started hummin'. Not anythin' in particular, just hummin' and rubbin' 'er back. Then it...like...a song came out." He paused, taking a sip of the hot beverage and a big spoonful of chocolate sprinkled whipped topping. The remnants clung to his upper lip, giving him a mustache. Chris's slight grin at this disappeared when Vin's voice began to break. "A picture busted into my head. I ain't never seen the likes of it. It was right there...in color. My Ma in a hospital bed. There was a machine..."

Chris's brow furrowed at Vin's large vacant eyes, lost in time. He felt his breath catch as Vin's journey began. Vin's hand pointed to their right as if the machine in question was sitting there. "it was beeping and a bunch of lines was jumpin' around on a screen. I...I...was curled up next to her. She's sick...real sick...I's cryin' fer her. She...She..." Vin cocked his head as the pictures formed again. He could see her speaking, the gaunt face, hollowed blue eyes full of pain. Her voice weak and broken. "She's singin' me a song. Same one she sung to me at night. I ain't sure...I think ya might know it."

"Smile tho' yer heart is achin'...smile even tho' is breakin'..."

The voice wasn't smooth this time, it was jagged and hurting. Chris felt hundreds of icy shards ripping through his gut. He recalled all to well his own anguish, when he found Sarah and Adam. But he was an adult and had Buck to save him. Vin was only five and all alone in the world.

"I know it," Chris eased, his own voice catching as he placed his hand tentatively over Vin's clutched fist on the table in front of him. He shuddered, remembering Vin's painful solo on the tape. He was glad when Vin didn't pull away. "Charlie Chaplin wrote it."

"Yeah?" Vin blinked. "How about that?" He took another sip and spoonful and licked his chocolate-coated lips. "Until tonight, " His voice shrank into a painful whisper and the haunted eyes began to fill up. "I couldn't remember her voice. I couldn't hear 'er no more, Chris. My own Ma." He choked, gripping his hands tightly under the table.

Chris eyed the crowded room and thought maybe his idea wasn't so good. It might have been better to get Vin in his own place. He didn't want his best friend to break down here. "You don't have to do this now, Vin." His voice was low and gentle. He winced catching the full eyes.

"Yeah, I do." Vin replied, rubbing his eyes, "Gimme a minute." He whispered, ducking out of the booth.

Chris watched him disappear into the men's room and frowned. He rubbed his forehead as the image of an undersized, scrappy five-year-old with large blue eyes and unruly curls settled in his head. Vin never told him how she died. Hard enough to lose your mother...but she was all Vin had. That song was last link he had to her. A hospital bed...she was near the end maybe. Her little boy, the love of her life, was crying. She did the only thing she could. She wrapped her love around him and poured herself into that moving ballad. No wonder he's got such guts...he gets it from her. How it must have torn her up...knowing she was leaving him behind. Chris couldn't image that...he'd never have that kind of bravery. Leave Adam...he couldn't fathom it. He shook off the feeling as Vin returned. His face was washed and eyes were a little clearer.

"Better?" Chris asked as the sharpshooter took a large sip and finished his whipped cream and chocolate bits.

"Yeah...sorry. Didn't mean to turn into the Denver Water Works."

"It's me, Vin." Chris said quietly, "No apology needed. I happen to admire the Denver Water Works."

Vin smiled and nodded, grateful for the man sitting across from him. How much his life had changed since Chris Larabee sailed into it. He dropped his head as his hand slid inside his coat and under his sweater. He pulled out a five by seven frame and held it against his chest. "It's all I got of her...Like to see it?"

"Of course I would, Vin." His voice was deep and Vin heard the change in tone. Chris was moved. by the offer. One look at the wide eyes and the pride in the voice did that. Vin slid the photo over and saw the blond man study it, before his face softened. "I's a mite scrawny..." Vin offered, blushing.

"I can see that." Chris replied, smiling. Vin was exactly as he pictured, an undersized urchin with unruly, long, dark-blond curly hair. Large blue eyes and that heart-breaking grin looked back at him from a five-year old face. The clothes were too big, and very worn, but clean. Vin was sitting on his mother's lap. She was a pretty blond with the same emotive blue eyes. She was very young and painfully thin. Chris recognized the effects of an illness that had ravished her. "She's beautiful Vin...inside and out. You're just like her." His voice caught and he bit off the waver.

"Thanks, Chris." Vin choked, when the unfiltered pride and deep concern laced his friend voice. He saw Chris trace a finger over his picture. "It was right before she died...I guess. Somebody at the hospital took that...I guess. Everytime I look at that, I remember how safe I felt when I's with her. Never felt that way again...until I met y'all." He hushed, dipping his head.

"She was a very brave woman, Vin. You should be proud. Damn proud. I couldn't have been so courageous. That fire you have inside, shines right through your eyes...her eyes. She'll always be a part of you. I'm proud to be your friend Vin Tanner...it's an honor." His voice thickened and he swallowed hard. He handed the photo back. "Thanks for sharing that Vin. I know how you treasure it."

"I ain't never showed no one...not until now. She was younger than me when she died. I can't imagine bein' so young and all alone."

"Surprised she wasn't bald. Having half of the Terror Twins to look after." He teased and was glad for the smile it brought. "I bet you were a handful."

"I's shy...I reckon ya could painfully shy." Vin recalled. "Until tonight, I couldn't find her. Ya don't now many times I tried. I'd stare at that picture 'til my eyes crossed. Then tonight..." He paused swallowing hard and taking a heaving breath.

"Easy Vin." Chris saw the crack forming, twenty years coming. He stood and disposed of the trash. "Come on, let's take a ride." He offered and saw the body move gratefully. Vin shot ahead, his hand snaking out at the napkin dispenser on the way. Chris followed and wondered how to mend a broken heart.

Vin was lost in thought on the short ride to his place. He unlocked the door and flipped the light on. He was already slumped on the couch, cradling the photo when Chris entered. He hesitated and shut the door. He tossed his jacket on the chair by the door and sat next to Vin.

"Come on, Vin. Finish. You need to let it out." He coached, watching the frantic pacing Adam's apple. The eyes were wide and darting and the hands trembling. He rubbed his hand across the slumped back and felt the heart hammering hard.

Chris was right. Vin felt the strong hand on his back and welcomed the calming surge it brought. He took a deep breath and bit his lower lip. "Tonight...I saw her again. One minute I's rockin' Jasmine and the next…Bam...there she was. I swear Chris, I felt like I got shot." He rasped painfully. The grip on his shoulder urged him onward. "She was cold...I remember curlin' up close, tryin' to keep 'er warm. She pulled the blanket up and started to sing. She ....she..." Vin paused, "Aw, hell..." He choked as the tears threatened to spill.

"Let it out, Vin." Chris encouraged, seeing the damn about to burst. He gripped the back of the downcast neck and heard the sob. He winced and cast his own eyes skyward, hoping for salvation for his lost friend.

"She didn't finish...the last verse..." Vin choked, swiping his damp eyes. "I waited Chris, but she never finished. I thought she was sleepin'" He sobbed, covering his face with his shaking hands.

"Jesus..." Chris swore, his throat tightening. He glared angrily at the ceiling, his green eyes shot a laser to heaven.

How could you? He raged silently at the Creator, He was only a little boy...You left him all alone.

"She never woke up..." Vin continued, voice broken, "I fell asleep...they...they..."

Chris heard the change in the shattered voice. Vin sat up straight and his eyes were full of fear. He licked his lips as the movie unplayed before him. Chris realized this was a new memory, and Vin was reliving it for the first time. He wrapped an arm around the trembling shoulders.

"They took me away from her...they covered her up...I's screamin' fer her." He quaked, wrapping his arms around his chest and rocking. "I couldn't find her...nobody would tell me where she was. I thought she was mad at me." He broke and Chris did the only thing he could to mend a broken heart. He gathered the fragile form in his arms and held on tight.

"I'm sorry Vin." He managed, "They were wrong. You were the love of her life, her crowning glory. You have to believe that." He urged, pulling Vin to arms length and waiting for the head to nod.

"I can't remember her funeral. What if I wasn't there?" He worried, giving his best friend such a soulful stare it took his breath away.

"You were only five years old, Vin. Not many people can remember anything back that far." Chris eased. "You got any Jamison's?"

"In the kitchen, under the sink" Vin rasped. He watched Chris depart and stood, shaking himself off. He picked up a tee shirt that was lying on the table and wiped his face with it. He took several deep breaths. He placed the picture on the stereo, next to one of him and Chris white water rafting the summer before. He stared at Chris's image on the picture, then at his mothers.

Didn't I tell ya Ma? he asked, tracing her smile in the old photo, Didn't I tell ya how special he is? Iffen yer passin' God on yer rounds, ya thank 'im fer sendin' Chris to me. I couldn't live without 'im.

The soft footfall and clink of glasses caused him to turn back. Chris was approaching with the Irish Whiskey and three glasses. He gave Vin a glass and placed the other two on the stereo. He filled all three.

"One for me, one for..." He paused and waited.

"Katherine Rose Tanner." Vin supplied, with a proud grin.

"Katherine Rose Tanner," Chris nodded and held his glass to Vin. "and one for Katherine's boy. To Katherine Rose Tanner, she was a helluva mother."

"That she was, Cowboy." Vin agreed, clinking both glasses and draining the amber fluid.

Chris clinked Vin's glass and then touched the glass near the picture. Fate stepped in and sent the picture off the stereo and crashing to the floor.

"Shit...I'm sorry Vin. I didn't think I touched it." Chris apologizing, squatting to pick up the glass. Vin picked up the frame.

"'s'okay, Chris," Vin disarmed, "Ya didn't touch it, Reckon it just shifted on..." He stopped as the matting fell away and a folded paper slipped out. "What the hell..." He laid the picture carefully on the stereo and opened the frayed sheet of loose-leaf.

"Vin?" Chris deposited the glass in a trashcan and saw the color leave the younger man's face. "What is it?" he asked, coming abreast of the shaken man.

"It's a letter...from my Ma." He rasped. "I never knew it was there. All these years...she must have wrote it 'afore she died. That picture was on the nightstand in the hospital." He took a deep breath and read the fine script.

My brave little man, So Sir Vin, the time has come for you to start on your quest. Remember when we talked about King Arthur and his knights? That each man must make his own quest and follow his heart. That is your mission, Son. Be brave and true, follow your heart and know that your faith will always guide you. I'm so proud of you. Remember you're a Tanner and that I'll always love you.

Chris watched the tears rolling down Vin's face silently and wondered how the well hadn't run dry yet. His friend's hands were trembling and he watched as Vin held the paper against his chest and closed his eyes. He saw the lips moving silently and turned away, allowing Vin to make his peace. The soft voice and gentle tap on his shoulder, caused him to look up.

"I'd like ya to read it." Vin asked simply, holding out the gift.

Chris studied the blue eyes closely before nodding. He read the moving letter slowly and once again wondered where this remarkable young woman found such courage. No wonder Vin was so proud of the Tanner name, he had every right.

"It's beautiful Vin. What a fine legacy she left for you. One day you can show that to Katherine's namesake." He guided, handing the tribute back. "Yeah...gotta find me a bride first, Larabee." He whispered, carefully folding the letter. "She meant fer me to find it...tonight. I believe that, Chris. She knew it was the right time. I'm glad ya were here. It means somethin' to me..."

"Me too, Vin." He replied as they locked forearms.

Chris felt as tired as his best friend looked. The emotional trip had taken a heavy toll. Vin needed to get a good night's sleep. Chris needed to be nearby in case Vin needed him. He worried that the memories would return. He saw the uncertainty in Vin's face. He laid a hand on the weary shoulder, "You look beat Vin. Get some sleep. I'll take the flea hotel." He nodded at the couch.

"...had it deloused a few months back." Vin teased quietly and nodded, "I'll getcha a blanket."

Chris slipped his shoes off and poured another shot. He took the bottle with him and sat on the lumpy sofa. His back would pay the price tomorrow, but it would be worth every ache. Vin returned bearing a blanket and pillow. Chris stood and took the makeshift bedding from the tired host. He placed it on the sofa and felt Vin's eyes.

"Listen Chris." Vin started, staring hard into the green eyes, "I couldn't have got through tonight...I wouldn't have tried...been strong enough to try. Iffen y'all wasn't here...Damn, this is comin' out all ass backwards." He scowled in frustration, but the deep laughter and hand on his shoulder changed that.

"I hear you just fine, Vin. It was my honor. Now get to sleep." He ordered, "You look like shit"

"Reckon I do at that," Vin agreed and nodded. He paused in the doorway of the bedroom. Chris had picked up a Sports Magazine that was lying with the morning's mail. He watched this fine man carefully and once again felt humbled to have such a friend. Chris suddenly looked up.

You're welcome. the green eyes spoke warmly.

Part 4

The unearthly growl caused the blue eyes to crinkle in mirth. Two green slits peered at him with hostility. Vin was hovering over the painful guest, and slid a cup of coffee in front of the disgruntled face.

"Mornin'" Vin boomed, wrinkling his nose. "Damn ya look a bear what got woke up in the middle of winter."

"I'm not a morning person." Chris groaned, raising his head long enough to see the black coffee. He eyed the dark blue and sky and frowned. "What time is it?"

"Just after six."

"A.M.!" Chris growled. "It's the goddamn middle of the night." He complained, burrowing his head and shielding his eyes from the harsh light.

"I's hungry. Figured ya might want to take a hot shower 'afore we leave out." Vin suggested, pulling the blanket back and getting his hand slapped.

"Leave out?" Chris squinted, sitting up.

"Yeah. I got a hankerin' fer them chocolate chip pancakes at that diner on the interstate."

"The interstate?" The blond croaked, taking a meek sip of coffee

"Damn Larabee." Vin laughed at the sour face and confused stare. "Get with the program. We best get movin' if we're gonna get a full day in."

"Full day?"

"At the ranch." Vin exasperated, "Y'all this bad every mornin'? It's a wonder ya manage to find the office."

"Ranch? My ranch?" Chris squinted, wishing Vin wouldn't make so much noise.

"No, Roy Rogers place." Vin tossed back, shaking his head, "Yer barn roof needs mendin' and the corral gate's busted. Now, shake a leg 'afore I lose my generous nature." He pulled the protesting body up and pointed him towards the bathroom.

Chris felt almost human when he showered and made his way to the truck. Vin was packing an overnight bag. Chris eyed the familiar Bronco across the street and made his way over. Sure enough, dozing behind the wheel was his oldest friend. He tapped on the window and the slumbering form woke with a start. He pointed to the window and waited for it to go down.

"Team okay?"

"Yeah...everybody's fine." Buck answered. "How is he?"

"How long have you been out here?" Chris inquired.

"Which time?" Buck sighed, rubbing his sleepy eyes; "I was worried when I didn't hear from you last night. I came over. It was late. I heard Vin through the door. I didn't want to eavesdrop..."

Chris winced at the pain in the voice that matched Buck's face. "It was a rough night. But it was a wound that festered too long. He needed to purge it."

"I felt awful Chris," Buck said softly, remembering the painful sound of Vin's recollection. "I heard...when he said they took him away from his mother. I didn't sleep too much, kept seein' them damn blue eyes of his. I want to do something for him. Let him know...but I can't. I don't want him thinking I heard. That was private."

"You do what you do best, Bucko," Chris patted the arm in the window, sympathetically, "You be his friend. You make him laugh, clap him on the back. Hell, you can make Vin blush better than anybody. He needs laughter Buck, that's your gift."

"Yeah...I guess I'll head back home. Thanks, Chris"

"Bucklin? What are ya doin' here?"

"Shit." Buck swore as Vin ambled over. "Uh, hey Vin. I was worried about you."

"Why?" Vin asked.

"You left without your coat and never came back for the fight. So, I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd check on you."

"Hell, it ain't bad enough I got me a green-eyed nursemaid, now I got one with a mustache." He teased, spotting the dark circles. "Looks like y'all was busy." He misread the lack of sleep. "She must have been a handful." Chris smiled behind Vin's back, seeing the relief wash over Buck. His secret was still safe.

"More than a handful is too much." Buck teased, cupping his hands and giving Vin a good laugh. "Course youngsters like yourself are still wet behind the ears. You couldn't handle a real woman."

"Hey, Chris is buyin' breakfast. Wanna come? We're headin' for the ranch." Vin invited, leaning into Buck's window.

"You're awfully damn generous with my money, Tanner." Chris growled playfully smacking the back of the damp head. "Go dry your hair, it's below freezing out here. I don't want you calling in sick on Monday."

"Quit motherin' me." Vin scowled, "Take it easy Buck. Sorry about not callin' last night. Didn't mean to be a worry."

"s'okay Junior," Buck smiled "Worrying on you and J.D. keeps me young. Don't let Chris work you too hard."

Chris nodded and waved as Buck pulled away. He saw Vin toss a black gym bag into the back fo his truck. Chris climbed in his truck and waited for Vin to reappear. He saw the buckskin jacket in his rearview and frowned when he saw the urban cowboy headed for his motorcycle. He rolled the window down and voiced his concern.

"Vin..." He protested, "Use the Jeep. It's too cold." Vin just grinned and waved as he roared by. "That boy is gonna give me premature gray hair..." He mumbled as he pulled out.

The waitress left a thermal carafe of coffee and took their order. Chris poured them each a cup of the hot beverage. He studied the ex-bounty hunter's face carefully, the blue eyes were a little puffy, and his face was drawn. He wrinkled his nose at the large amount of sugar disappearing in the Texan's cup.

"Shut up, Chris." Vin rebuffed without looking up.

"Morning Has Broken." Chris said simply, staring at the mountains in the distance.

"Huh?" Vin queried, looking out the window for whatever Chris was noticing.

"I was in a bank at lunch a few weeks after Sarah died." Chris paused, pulling his gaze from the sunrise and back to Vin's puzzled face. "There was one of those snake lines and it wasn't moving. Morning Has Broken came on the radio." Chris shook his head. "You want to talk about the Denver Water Works. It seemed to take forever to get past the people in line and find the door." He paused and took a long sip of coffee. "It was our wedding song. It was the first time I heard it after...well sometimes a song can trigger a memory. It hurts..."

"Yeah..." Vin agreed, eyeing the clarity in Chris's gaze. "Big Wedding?"

"Nah," Chris smiled, "Hank Conley hated me. No man was good enough for his little girl. We snuck away to New Mexico. Sarah had a friend down there from college who was a minister. She did the ceremony. We said our own vows. We got married at sunrise on a beautiful vista outside Santa Fe. Buck brought his guitar and started singing Morning Has Broken, so we started dancing. It became our song after that."

"Ya know," Vin acknowledged, "Bucklin ain't a bad singer. Matter of fact, he's pretty good."

"He knows..." Chris smiled, thinking on Buck's solos during Open Mike Night at a nearby bar.

"It still bother ya?"

"Not as much." Chris admitted, "A little maybe...not like Danny Boy." His voice dropped. "That's still painful."

"Aw, hell, Chris," Vin replied, "Everybody cries during that song. Talk about sad..."

"Sarah was...uh..." Chris's eyes got a dreamy look and his face softened, "a real artist. She could paint, sketch, write poetry, songs, create pottery and she had a voice...like an angel." He remembered. "She made a tape for Adam, of Celtic lullabies. One night he was really wailing, nothing worked. She tried every song she knew. I took him from her; she was exhausted. Danny Boy was the only Irish song I knew...and it worked. He stopped crying and stared at me...really hard. He reached his small hand up and touched my face." Chris's voice wavered and Vin flinched at the longing in the murky green eyes, "I swear Vin, it was like he was touching my soul."

"Reckon he was." Vin said quietly, lifting his arms from the white Formica table as the waitress set his pancakes and sausage and Chris's Western Omelet down. They ate in silence for awhile. Vin could see it wasn't the easiest information for his friend to part with. "Thanks for tellin' me, Chris. I know it weren't easy."

Chris looked over and saw nothing but sincerity pouring from the blue eyes. "It's easier to bear when someone's sharing the load."

"I hear ya." Vin agreed, digging into his stack of pancakes.

They managed to complete most of the work by late afternoon, before the clouds opened up and freezing rain poured down. They washed down the steaks and fried potatoes with Coors. Chris went upstairs to get a shower. He directed Vin to pick out a movie. As the hot water pulsated over his taut body in the shower, the image of Vin's mother singing came to mind. Chris thought on the words carefully. Sarah would have echoed those thoughts. She'd never have buried his memories and memorabilia away. She loved him too much. He eased his body from the warm cocoon and got dressed. His sea eyes lingered on the top shelf of the closet.

If you smile through your fear and sorrow, smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun comes shining through for you.

Chris shivered and spun around eyeing the empty room. It was Sarah's voice he heard, as clear as if she'd been standing next to him. It was the answer he sought. It was the right time and the right person was downstairs, his own heart mending. He walked over to the dresser and picked up a picture of Sarah. He kissed his fingers and brushed them over her image.

"Thank you," He breathed, "A dilis rún!" The Gaelic expression for 'Oh true love" which Sarah learned from her Grandmother.

Vin eyed the videos stacked in a cabinet by Chris's television in the den. He was still moving through the titles when Chris appeared. His hair was damp and sticking up and he was barefoot under the sweatsuit. Vin saw the tape in his hand.

"Whatcha got?" He inquired, ambling over.

Chris didn't reply, he hesitated momentarily before handing the tape to Vin. He walked to the couch and sat down. The hesitation stuck with Vin, and he knew the silent blond well enough to read the body language. Chris's face was blank, but the green eyes were baleful. Whatever the tape held, it was painful. He drew his gaze away long enough to read the title.

"Ya sure?" He asked and saw the damp blond head dip once. "Okay" He slid the tape in and rewound it. "Ya want a beer?" He asked and saw the head nod again. He returned with two beers, and slid one over Chris's shoulder. He dropped on the floor with his back resting against the sofa. He sat cross-legged, with Chris's knees to his left.

The picture appeared, a dark desert area with three figures in the foreground.

"Lights, Genius." A female voice called. Vin heard Chris's sharp intake of breath as the lights came on revealing a stunning beauty with dark curls cascading down past her shoulders. She wore a simple white dress, but on her it looked divine. A crown of flowers rested on the top of her head. Then she smiled and it was Vin's turn to lose his breath.

"My God." He whispered, turning slightly, and saw the longing in his friend's cloudy eyes, "She's beautiful, Chris."

"Yeah..." Chris's reply was hoarse and Vin caught the moisture beginning to build.

Sarah went onto explain the ceremony and introduced the minister, her girlfriend Melissa. Then a familiar voice boomed forth, giving both men a grin.

"This is your last chance, Darlin'. How about it? Make an honest man out of me." Buck pleaded as he appeared in the picture. Vin took one look at the younger Wilmington and laughed so hard, he choked on his beer. He heard Chris chuckling and felt his back being smacked.

"That's mighty tempting, Buck." She teased, "But the words 'Wilmington' and 'honest man' just don't mix well."

Buck mocked a broken heart until Sarah hugged him.

"Damn...Bucklin looks like he outta be followin' Jesus around the Sea of Galilee." Vin sputtered, still trying to recover his breath. Buck's hair was shoulder length and he wore a long white cotton shirt and had sandals on.

"You think that's funny,” Chris warned, preparing the giggling body next to him.

"Last chance Pard. You're a brave man, givin' up your freedom." Buck advised and moved in close. "Gimme that thing...it's time."

Chris winced in preparation of the explosion that was sure to follow. Sure enough, right on cue, Vin exploded in laughter, falling sideways onto the floor. Chris kicked him lightly with his foot.

"It's not that damn funny." He chastised, wearing an impish grin.

"It's fuckin' hilarious." Vin choked, through moist eyes. "Damn, Cowboy, ya had hair!" Vin amazed at the shoulder length blond locks. He wiped the tears of mirth from his eyes, and sat back up. The more he saw the youthful Larabee, the harder he laughed. He felt Chris smack the back of his head. He eyed the young Larabee male in the video. Chris was thinner and radiated happiness. The light that glowed from his eyes could have lit up the city. He also looked different due to the pale colored clothing. The khaki pants and beige linen shirt looked out of place. The ceremony started and after the minister was finished, Sarah turned towards the camera. Her voice was rich and full of emotion as she took his hands in hers. By the conclusion of the moving testimony, tears ran down her pretty face.

As dawn awakens, and raises her head,
Stretching her arms over this sacred place
I look in your eyes and feel my heart soar
For tis my soul reflected there, stolen in swift repose

There was never a love as mine for you Sweet Thief
There lives not now, never did, nor will,
One who so masterfully captured my rapturous heart
Securing forevermore our own Shangri-La.
Do not torment me, A dilis rún
As the break of morn bespeaks a new birth
Let us wed, my handsome Chris
I pledge my heart and love
from this moment and for all time eternal.

Vin heard the sharp intake of breath and the single, strangulated sob from behind him. Sarah's voice was so full of love and the words so moving, it left him speechless. As she slipped the gold band on the beaming groom's finger, Vin swallowed hard and gripped Chris's knee. He saw the absolute light of adoration shining from the youthful Larabee in the video. Then it was Chris's turn. He eased one hand from her grasp and brushed it reverently against her silken cheek. He took a deep breath and pulled a piece of paper from his pocket.

I'm gonna love you
Till the heavens stop the rain
I'm gonna love you
Till the stars fall from the sky for you and I

Vin hit the pause button on the remote. "The Doors..." He turned and whacked Chris's leg. "The most beautiful woman in the universe pours her heart out to ya and ya give her...Jim Morrison?"

"There's more..." Chris defended, his voice shaky. "That was something between us...I sang that to her the first time we..."

"I get the picture." Vin interrupted, "But I'm holdin' out the right to pop ya one iffen ya don't do justice by her." Vin warned, unfreezing the action. He grinned as another critic's voice spouted.

"Real catchy, Chris," Buck chuckled, "You ought write that done. Might make a great song." Buck zoomed in on Chris's narrowed green eyes, threatening to burn the videomaker. Chris turned back to his bride and continued.

I own the heavens and the stars. Their glorious rapture is born everytime I look into your eyes and see my soul, whose child love is, reflected there.
When we lay together, you take me to a distant sun, where only two hearts exist.
You possess all the color and majesty of the Creator; rich, vibrant, lush and satiny.
It fills me every time your grace shines through your smile.
Perfection, thy name will be Sarah Larabee
Yes, I own the heavens and the stars, and the magnificent universe.
This love eternal, which even Death's callous hands will never quell, begins at this moment.
I pledge myself for all time to you beautiful Sarah. I am humbly defeated by all that is you.

"Hey Chris?" Vin rasped, when his hostage held voice was finally liberated. He pushed the pause button, sensing the tension in Chris's chest. He heard his friend's labored breathing and furrowed his brow in thought. Smiling, he held his beer bottle backwards over his shoulder and waited for the other's to clink the glass. "Tres magnifique, virtuoso” He crowed proudly, and heard the breathing ease as a soft cough turned into a chuckle. He grinned broader, sending Larabee his profile and arching his brow boldy. He saw the smirk and got his reward.

"Don't go Ezra on me, Vin." Chris croaked, smiling as he ruffled the brown head on the floor beside him.

"Hey, I do crossword puzzles." Vin argued, mocking anger.

"Cereal boxes don't count." Chris countered, tapping his empty bottle against the younger man's back.

"Hey, I'm the guest." Vin complained, rising to get them each another brew. "I ain't supposed to be fetchin' and totin'"

"You're younger." Chris called after him, watching the shaggy head leave the room and feeling humbled by the incredible gift of Vin Tanner.

"...and prettier." Vin hollered back, shutting the refrigerator door. He cast an eye at the large bag of potato chips on the top of the icebox.

"Dream on, Tanner." Chris countered from the other room, "and don't touch those chips." He settled back on the sofa, enjoying the string of curses that preceded the beer-bearing owner.


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